4e bosses: bad design

19 07 2010

I have been playing D&D for over 15 years. In the past, present, and future of my gaming career boss battles have remained the most exciting and rewarding experience, both as a player, and as a dungeon master.  They take a lot of work, a lot of planning, and a lot of luck.  Back in the old days it was easy for a boss monster to shine.  Many of the higher end monsters one would chose for a boss had literally pages and pages of cool abilities.  I am talking about dragons that also functioned as level equivalent wizards, demons who were also priests.  I am talking about having so many moves to choose from that the players had now idea what this particular pit fiend was planning to do with his WISH SPELL.

Now I live in the modern age, and i have made the faithful transition to 4th edition.  I knew going into it, that there were a few hangups, a few design flaws.  This is natural.  Nothing is perfect.  I have enjoyed many video games or boardgames despite some very heavy design flaws.  But i had yet to really encounter something in 4th edition that stole the fun thunder out of the evening.  4th edition boss monsters apparently have that as one of their only abilities.

The amount of excitement we had built up on our none stop train ride of battle to the final fight with Kalariel (from H1: keep on the shadowfel) was palpable.  We usually end our game around midnight, but this time… we had to keep going it was just too awesome to stop.  Let’s get something straight here, the MNF group Horns of War, are some seriously awesome, well made characters.  That really didn’t help much in our fight against Kalariel.  As a level 8 monster with 200+ hitpoints and all his defenses rocking a 20+ we were HARD PRESSED to even land a single hit on him in any given combat round.  As a tacticly mobile party we were able to literally surround him, granting every member of the party a flanking bonus, not to mention a collection of other bonuses that average +3 to hit on any given round.  It didn’t matter.  Miss after miss after miss after miss.  And what did he do the whole time we danced in circles around him? The same damn at will move over and over and over.

This was, without a doubt the most boring and frustrating 1.5 hours of my gaming life.  Eventually we had to call the fight because many of the players had work the next morning.  After weeks of adventuring our reward was a pathetic and flavorless grind.

There is hope however.  Tabletop gaming is the ultimate video game in that you can literally modify anything.  I implore each and every 4e DM out there to read up on customizing your boss encounters to make them exciting and memorable instead of the stale nonesense they currently are.  Two great blogs that deal with these issues are:

Sly Flourish: beholder example

At Will: worldbreaker article

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