10 WAYS TO MAKE BBEG ENCOUNTERS MORE THREATENING
The following guidelines should only be applied to encounters that involve an important and powerful creature that the DM wants to be a significant threat to the characters: The final boss of a tier, the long awaited, much maligned bad guy that has eluded the PCs for several levels, a god, a dragon, a demon lord, etc. These should not be applied to standard, throw away encounters or even just the boss encounter of an unimportant filler adventure.
- HP & Defenses: The BBEG should have decent defenses but hittable. You don’t want a never-ending slugfest (i.e. GRIND). They should have enough hp to get them through the first two rounds of nova-blast daily power assaults. Then they can come back with, “…my turn…” >
- Accuracy: Attack bonuses should be high enough to enable the BBEG to hit the character’s defenses 75% of the time or more. Remember, they will lose attacks to debilitating conditions, so to ensure they remain a threat, they have to hit with the attacks they have left.
- High Damage Output: Each attack that hits must do SERIOUS damage and those that miss should do ½ damage or have some other effect on the character.
- Auras: Damaging auras are a must. Being in base contact with a BBEG should punish attackers.
- Vary Attack Powers & Damage Output: Attack powers should include a combination of melee, ranged and burst attacks. A locked-down or immobilized BBEG needs to be able to hit multiple opponents within reach & out of reach opponents. Also, instead of doing straight-up damage, consider having some of the BBEG’s powers affect the character’s healing surges. Once healing surges are gone, those powers take ¼ of the character’s hit points per hit. This is very powerful and is probably best pulled-off with powerful undead with necrotic powers.
- Movement: Give the BBEG the ability to stay mobile throughout the combat and avoid being locked down by the defender(s) for an entire combat. Include flight, shift-without-AOO power, teleport or insubstantial powers if possible.
- Extra actions (not action points): A non-Boss solo should be able to make at least one powerful attack per round regardless of the number of conditions placed upon them. A Boss solo should be able to make multiple powerful attacks regardless of the number of conditions. Therefore, give them additional standard, move, and/or minor actions based on how powerful this creature is meant to be. Debilitating conditions may negate some of these attacks, but not all. For example, a Mega-Boss may have 3 standard actions per round + 1 move and 1 minor. If they are hit by a Dazed condition, that removes one standard action. If they are hit by a Stunned condition, they lose either 2 standard actions, or 1 standard and 1 move or minor. An Epic Mega-Boss may have 5 standard actions, 2 move actions and 1 minor per round, or 4 standard, 3 moves and 2 minors, etc. (in addition to their action points and their immediate action/reactions). This allows the boss to absorb debilitating conditions, without nerfing player powers, and still have enough actions left to be a threat. Also, give them Immediate Actions/Reactions for out of turn attacks to keep the players on their toes and to deal out of turn damage.
- Conditions: Limit the number of debilitating conditions that can be stacked on one creature to 3. The oldest one drops off when a new one hits it. This rule should apply to characters as well, although they are rarely the target of so many debilitating effects at once. This should not apply to marks or warlock curses, only conditions. This is to avoid the blind, prone, stunned, weakened, deafened, & dominated Boss.
- Nova-Blast and Auto Recharge: The BBEG should have a nova-blast power of their own. It should do massive damage, have secondary effects and it should be able to target and hit multiple characters. It should also do ½ damage on a miss. Finally, it should recharge automatically when the BBEG is bloodied.
- Traps/Hazards: The BBEG usually fights on their terms and their turf. BBEGs will live in places of extreme elements, high altitude, crushing depths, etc. These should negatively impact characters that are not prepared for these conditions. There should be traps to plague any invaders. There should be minions at the BBEG’s beck and call. There should be escape routes planned (unless the BBEG is so arrogant to think they cannot be bested in their own lair).
5 THINGS TO AVOID IN BUFFING UP THE BBEG
- Don’t nerf the player’s powers. They plan hard to acquire cool powers and to simply negate them can make the player feel cheated. So, rather than giving your BBEG a trait that allows them to shrug off a condition, buff your BBEG so that the condition(s) aren’t as impacting to them.
- Don’t give your BBEG too many hit points AND too high defenses. This is a recipe for GRIND! Make the BBEG’s defenses hittable, so the players feel like they are accomplishing something with their hits, but make sure the BBEG’s hp are high enough to withstand the daily power onslaught or give them resistances to some of the powers being thrown at them (or just damage resistance).
- Avoid powers that take players out of the fight. Dazed conditions are okay, but Stunned and Unconscious conditions are right out. Dominate should be used very sparingly and even then, consider giving the player a psychic attack against the dominator to end the condition instead of a save. That makes the player feel like they at least contributed to the fight against the BBEG instead being its bitch for a round or two. Weakened is also good to be used sparingly. Lean more heavily on Prone, Immobilized, Blinded and Deafened, which are annoyances, but the players can still act under these conditions.
- Don’t give your BBEG too many options to heal damage. As with #2 above, this can lead to long, drawn-out battles that are boring. A one-time heal is good if the BBEG took more damage than anticipated in the daily power nova blast. Plus, the one-time heal can give your players a dramatic “WTF???” whereas multiple heals will make them feel like you’re just keeping the BBEG alive for no good reason.
- Don’t go overboard. Heroic Tier characters are probably going to be challenged by BBEGs that are as written with maybe just a few modifications or buffs. These suggestions are best reserved for Paragon/Epic Tier threats.
OOPS! I MADE THE BBEG TOO POWERFUL
Judging how hard an encounter should be can be an art more than a science. Bad die rolls on the player’s side, good die rolls on the DM’s side, can lead to a particularly deadly encounter if you prepared your BBEG to be very challenging. Consider the following on-the-fly modifications if you find that your BBEG is a TPK machine.
- Have the players make checks (perception, arcane, religion, etc.) to discover that the BBEG is being buffed by something in the environment (it’s standing in a Pool of BBEG Buffing, it’s being fed power from the 4 Torches of Bass Assness, it is bathing in the Light of Ultimate Evil, etc). By addressing these issues (moving the BBEG out of the pool, extinguish the torches, block the light, etc.) the characters can gradually depower the BBEG.
Give the characters an escape route or a reason to retreat. An ally that has a vested interest in the pc’s success has been monitoring the fight and teleports the players out, the BBEG wants them alive so a killshot actually just knocks them out, a missed power causes a cave-in that separates the BBEG from the pc’s, etc.