Return of the Son of the D&D Boss Fight: Now in 5E

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UPDATE: Hey dips$&%s. I’m always tweaking and revising things based on feedback. Yeah, I actually DO listen to people. So, if you check The Angry GM’s Pile of S$&%, you can find a document containing a summary of all the current Raragon Rules. You can also grab a revised copy of Kurn and Targ

Time for a quick trip down memory lane. Five years ago this month, I launched this f$&%ing website with a series of articles about building awesomely climactic boss fights in Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition that made up for the shortfalls in 4E’s solo monster system. And my how things have changed. We have a new edition of D&D. We have a new edition of my website. And now all of the problems that solo monsters had in 4E (and every other freaking edition of D&D) are completely gone forever because of 5E. Hahaha. But seriously. Solo monsters still suck. So, let’s celebrate my Fifth Anniversary by doing the same thing all over again.

Plus ça Change, Plus c’est la Même Chose

If you want to get totally technical, and I know you do, solo monsters were a construct specific to 4E. Unlike 3E’s “one monster per group” assumption, 4E combat design was based around the idea that each PC needed a dance partner. Basically, five PCs get five monsters. Or thereabouts. Where 3E needed a complicated and confusing system to equate groups of monsters to single monsters, 4E needed a system of equating single monsters to groups. Hence the CR system in 3E and solo monsters in 4E.

As near as I can tell, 5E is attempting to split the difference. Though it is hard to be sure. It seems like the 5E combat system works best for pairs of monsters or small groups. Sure, the challenge/XP system is based around lone monsters, but the numbers actually seem to line up best with about two or three baddies against a party of four or five.

The thing is, even with the 3E “one monster per party” assumption, lone monsters never really worked great. Fights were too static, too focused on dogpile strategies where the party would surround the enemy, keep it pinned down, and hammer away until it was dead. The action economy just worked against the monsters. 4E struggled through its entire lifespan to find a good solution to that problem. Solos changed numerous times and relied more and more heavily on off-turn actions that were too f$&%ing easy to overlook and slowed fights to a crawl.

Now, I don’t want to be too overly critical…

Bwahahahaha. Okay, that’s a total lie. I LOVE being overly critical. This whole website is built on being overcritical.

5E seems have combined the worst of both worlds. Most monsters are designed to stand on their own against the party, but they have the 3E problem: the fights are static, monsters are easily surrounded, and they don’t have enough actions. The frequent use of multiattack ensures monsters have a good damage output, but it doesn’t do much else. Sure, monsters are threatening thanks to their damage output, but there’s no excitement to be had to in five-on-one fights. Especially as monster hit points rapidly increase with CR and mean the fights take longer.

But 5E does provide a solution. Sort of. They’re called legendary creatures. Those things are a little bit more like 4E solos. They get a few extra actions between turns to keep the fight more dynamic. The problem is, just like the solos of 4E, those extra actions don’t do enough. There are few enough of the legendary creatures in the Monster Manual and the variety of legendary actions is actually very limited when you look at what the actions actually do. Lair actions make things a little more interesting, but not by much. And lair and legendary actions are, just like reactions and interrupts in 4E, easy to overlook and slow down the flow of the game. Which is probably why 5E worked so hard to reduce the number of off-turn actions to begin with.

I’ll be completely honest, though, legendary creatures with lair actions aren’t terrible. They work well enough, especially with 5E’s faster, more decisive battles. But then, solo monsters weren’t terrible either. But still, I’m disappointed. And I’ll you why.

I Want Boss Fights, Dammit!

Let’s be honest: D&D is a combat focused game. You can’t argue that. And you’d be stupid to try. You can stay away from combat if you want, but you can’t pretend it isn’t designed around a pretty damned cool combat engine. And the basic structure of the game is a string of mostly action-oriented encounters (including combats) that ultimately resolve a problem or achieve a goal. And, at the end of that string of encounters, we expect something big and climatic. And if we’ve spent most of the game fighting, we expect a big, climactic fight. Boss fights are cool. They are a great way to end an action-oriented game.

I’m not saying we have to expect every dungeon or adventure to end with a big set-piece encounter with some sort of mastermind or giant monster or villain or commander or warchief of whatever, but we do. We really do. In a sense, the final encounter of every adventure, the one that ends the problem or achieves the goal is symbolic of everything that you’ve been working toward and everything working against you. And I totally dig that.

I want my God of War boss fights and my Shadow of the Colossus boss fights and my Dark Demon Souls boss fights and my The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Ocarina of Majora’s Twilight Wind Sword boss fights. I’m a video gamer too. So shoot me. And no matter how deep and intriguing my stories are, I want the battles with the major baddies to feel big and grand and epic and powerful. And different.

But, I also wanted something kind of simple. See, I don’t want to only have dragons as bosses. Or vampires. Whatever. I kind of want to be able to pull a bog-standard kobold out of the book, slap a few modifications on it, and call it Killer Kobby the Kobold Kween. And I wanted something versatile. I wanted to be able to pull off different tricks with my monsters. I want monsters that change forms and change tactics. I want monsters with heads you can sever. I want monsters with body parts you can target to limit its abilities. And I wanted a simple framework to contain it all.

You know what? I think I’ve got it. Ultimately, I came up with a few simple modifications that you can make to a stat block in D&D 5E (and also, with some tweaks, in Pathfinder) that allow you to layer on all sorts of different boss features. I fully admit it is no more or less complicated than legendary monsters with lair actions, but using the XP/encounter building system and a bunch of simple traits you can drop into a stat block, you can easily grab any creature out of the book and make a compelling boss fight out of it. Or a miniboss.

Now, I’m going to start simple and boring. Sorry. We’ve got to lay the groundwork before we build up. What I show you today won’t SEEM that exciting. But you have to understand it’s just the boring Lego pieces. The straight pieces that form the walls. We’ll start adding all the neat Lego pieces in future articles. Canopies and spoilers and things with stickers on them and those translucent pieces that look like lights.

But more importantly, we’re going to dig down to the nuts and bolts of encounter building building in 5E for a few minutes and figure out WHY this system works.

A Tale of Two Snakes

Let’s start with a tale of two snakes. Actually,it is just one snake. And I drove Twitter bonkers with it. A few months ago, while I was working on the basics of this system, I Tweeted something like the following.

“Working on a new creature: the two-headed, two-tailed, bifurcated snake. It’s a snake with two heads, two tails, and two completely separate, independent bodies.”

And Twitter lost it’s f$&%ing mind. Or rather, Twitter thought I had lost my f$&%ing mind. Everyone insisted I had created TWO snakes. But I hadn’t. It was one snake that was two snakes. And the difference is EVERYTHING when it comes to trying to make a good boss monster.

By the way, here’s the stat block I slapped together for the two-headed, two-tailed, bifurcated snake and some of my design notes.

Two Headed Two Tailed Bifurcated Snake StatsEventually, Twitter decided I was just f$&%ing with people. Mainly because I refused to explain and acted completely clueless. I got questions like:

“Do the two halves have to stay close to each other?”

“Are the snakes psychically connected?”

“Do they share a single pool of hit points?”

“So, you invented two snakes?”

“What the f$&% is wrong with you? That’s just two snakes!”

“How is that not just two snakes you f$&%ing lunatic?”

“Why don’t you just die of bowel cancer?”

“But seriously, you’re f$&%ing with us, right? It’s just two snakes. Right?”

And I answered them all with complete clueless stubborness. To the whole world, I had invented two snakes and was insisting they were one. To the world, I was a moron.

But I wasn’t. I was a genius. I was actually thinking long and hard about a serious question: what is the difference between one monster and two monsters? That might seem like it has an obvious answer, but the obvious answer is not very helpful. The non-obvious f$&%ing with Twitter answer is.

Assuming two monsters have the same statistics, the difference between one monster and two monsters is that two monsters have two pools of hit points, two turns in each round of combat, occupy two different positions, and cannot be affected simultaneously except by certain specific effects.

Why are we asking this question? Because 4E taught us that a boss monster needs to do the job of multiple monsters. So, we need to find a way to let one monster have those benefits. And you’ll notice, the two-headed, two-tailed, bifurcated snake actually does exactly that. It has twice as many hit points, but they are split between two different positions. It has two complete turns in combat. And both snakes can’t be affected simultaneously by the same effect.

So, can we accomplish the same things with just ONE monster? Absolutely. Well, mostly.

All you need to do, first and foremost, is to give the monster double the hit points. BUT you also need to put a wall between those hit points. See, if there are two orcs and each one has 5 HP remaining, and I kill one with 12 points of damage, the spillover is lost. It doesn’t magically transfer to the other one.

Secondly, you need to give the creature two turns in combat, right? BUT you also need a way to remove those turns. See, if there are two orcs, and I kill one, the orcs are down one complete set of actions.

Fourthly (we’re skipping thirdly for a moment), you need to ensure that ongoing conditions and effects don’t drag down down the whole creature. Basically, when one half of the creature is dead, you need to end everything that currently affects that creature, for better or for worse.

Thirdly is the two different positions thing. Simply put, there’s no way to pull this off with one creature (unless you make a splitting creature or cloning monster or duplicate, which is one of the neat Lego bricks we’ll add later). But frankly, it doesn’t matter so much. D&D 5E is a little less position oriented and a little less opportunity attack happy. Yeah, those things do have an impact, but the impact is mostly circumstantial. And it isn’t too serious. So I’m willing to drop it. Especially because, by giving one creature multiple turns in combat, you make it a little cheaper to spend extra movement to get a good position or what have you. Once a creature has the opportunity to move two or three times in a round, he can run circles around the melee line. So the position thing is the least important thing and I’m willing to lose it.

A Paragon of Monstrosity

Kurn Stat BlockSo, let’s talk about paragon monsters. Yup, that’s what I’m calling them. Because legendary was already taken, Mythic isn’t quite what I’m going for, and bada$% is a bit two anachronistic. The basics of a paragon monster boil down to four simple changes: HP, CR, Paragon Hit Points, and Paragon Actions. Take a look at my Orcish Psychopath, Kurn. Kurn started life as a simple Berserker (MM 344) with the orc racial traits applied (DMG 282) and a quick double check to make sure the CR was the same (DMG 274). And then I turned him into a paragon.

Every Paragon begins life as a base creature (or two or three or four) pulled from the Monster Manual or created according to the Dungeon Master’s Guide rules. They are just like every other creature. And then we apply the changes to turn them into a paragon.


Notice I added the word “paragon” right into the type/subtype line. That’s in case I ever want to create any effects specific to paragons. Who knows.

Hit Points

A normal orc berserker has 67 (9d8 + 27) hp. But Kurn is twice the orc other orcs are. He gets two pools, each the same. Yeah, he’s got a whopping 134 hp. But he IS two orcs.


This is where things get a little weird. In order to make this mesh with the D&D 5E encounter building system, I had to do a couple of things. First, Kurn is two orcs, so he is worth twice as many XP. His Challenge Rating is the same because all of his individual stats yield a CR 2 and thus give him a Proficiency Bonus of +2. But that CR 2 is no longer the whole story for encounter building.

Remember, when you build an encounter in 5E, you multiply the XP of all the monsters by a multiplier based on the number of monsters to determine how challenging the encounter actually is. Since Kurn really is two creatures in one body, he counts as two creatures when you’re counting how many creatures are in an encounter. So, if you have the party go up against Kurn by himself, he’s worth 900 XP, but the XP is multiplied by 1.5 for the purpose of determining difficulty. Because he counts as two creatures. Thus Kurn is 1,350 XP worth of challenge. He’s a good challenge for a party of four or five heroes at level 4 or 5. They still only gain 900 XP for beating him. But he’s worth more because he’s effectively two creatures. Don’t blame me for this part. This is the encounter building in D&D 5E at work. I’m just cramming two monsters into one body.

Just by way of example, let’s say you want to add two normal orcs to the mix. Each orc (MM 246) is CR 1/2 (100 XP). The encounter has 1,100 XP of creatures, but because there’s FOUR creatures (Kurn counts as two), the difficulty is counted as 2,200 XP. Which means you now want a level 5 or level 6 party.

As to how it’s calculated, you leave the CR of the base creature alone and list that after the word Paragon (Paragon 2 shows Kurn started as a CR 2 creature). Multiply the base creature’s XP by the number of hit point pools (450 x 2 = 900). And then list the number of effective creatures which is, again, just the number of hit point pools.

Thankfully, this is the most complicated step. But now we get into the real magic of the system. The two traits that lay the basic groundwork for some true awesomeness.

Paragon Hit Points

Paragon Hit Points is the first of two traits to create a basic Paragon Monster. It lays the groundwork by defining the rules for hit point pools. By itself, it just gives the creature extra staying power. I purposely wanted this to be self-contained so I could drop it on a creature with minimal explanation.

Paragon Hit Points. The creature has multiple pools of hit points, each of which is tracked separately. All damage and healing must be completely applied only to one pool of hit points. One pool of hit points must be completely reduced to zero hit points before any damage is applied to another pool. When a pool of hit points is reduced to zero, all ongoing conditions and effects affecting the creature end immediately. After a pool of hit points has been reduced to zero, it cannot receive any healing until after a long rest. If all pools of hit points have been reduced to zero hit points, the creature is killed.

Note the block of text accomplishes everything we already talked about. Multiple hit point pools, puts a wall between the pools, ends conditions, and also prevents a pool from being “resurrected” by healing. In essence, this block crams one creature inside of another to pop out like a birthday party stripper when the first one dies.

Paragon Actions

The second trait, Paragon Actions, is what provides the extra turns for a monster. Again, it’s written to be self-contained and gives all the rules necessary to give a creature multiple actions. It works with Paragon Hit Points, but I want it to be self contained.

Paragon Actions. The creature gains one complete turn in each combat round, including one reaction between each turn, for each pool of hit points it has above zero. When a pool of hit points has been reduced to zero, the creature loses one turn each round thereafter.

Kurn’s Pet, Targ

Targ Stat BlockLet’s modify one more monster, just to be sure you’ve got it. I’m starting with a wolf (MM 341) so Kurn can have a psychotic pet.

First, I make it a paragon beast.

Second, we give it three hit point pools. This is one tough wolf. Each hit point pool is equal to the hit point total of the base creature.

Third, the CR remains unchanged at 1/4, but there’s three wolves inside that wolf (no comment), so the XP changes to (150 XP). And because there’s three wolves, Targ is three creatures for encounter building math. That means, a single Targ is worth 300 XP of challenge. He could take on a level 4 party.

And that’s it.

Just to make sure the encounter math is completely clear, though, let’s do a quick example. Imagine we want a fight with Kurn and Targ.

Kurn is worth 900 XP, Targ is worth 150 XP, for a total of 1,050 XP. But they are, together, a total of five creatures, meaning they are effectively 2,100 XP worth of challenge. Assuming a party of four PCs, the table on DMG 82 tells us they are a medium to hard challenge for level 5 PCs.

You might notice this is the same answer you’d get if you put the PCs against two berserkers and three wolves. Fancy that.

Just the Beginning

Now, Kurn and Targ will provide a hell of a fight. I don’t deny that. But they don’t do anything exciting. They just keep doing the same things, round after round. Sure, the extra actions and the exhaustion effect of having the party whittle away their turns do make for an exciting fight. But what if we could do more.

What if, for example, each pool of hit points represented a different form of the creature? Or if the creature had multiple body parts that could be targeted differently? Or if the creature could split into parts and recombine like an ooze or a swarm? Or if a creature could use it’s life energy to animate and reanimate shadow versions of itself? We’re going to do all sorts of things like that.

And the thing is, it’s almost entirely doable with Traits. The whole Paragon system builds on top of the existing 5E stat block system. There’s a few minor changes to the stat blocks themselves, but most of the rules are in the traits themselves. In theory, you could actually hand a reasonably experienced 5E DM Targ and Kurn stat blocks and they could run the fight. I know. I basically gave a very small secret cabal of DMs a couple of stat blocks without any explanation and asked them if they could tell me how the creature works.

So keep coming back. We’re going to keep playing with paragon monsters and see what other things we can cram into one body. And eventually, we’ll hit the pièce de résistance and the reason I called this whole endeavor “Project Hydra” in the first place. Oh, yeah.

49 thoughts on “Return of the Son of the D&D Boss Fight: Now in 5E

  1. 2T2HBSnake is pretty much as I expected. BUT…

    I really, really like your Paragon stuff. Really. That may go directly into my game in the near future.
    I presume only one initiative is needed though. Paragons would take both of their actions on the same count?

    • If I were running this encounter, I would have separate initiatives for every pool*. Otherwise it’s still just a dog-pile with the solo in the middle. Angry has talked before about avoiding “Monsters act, then players act” stasis. Giving a paragon monster the opportunity to go between party turns makes it a more interesting fight.

      *Depends on the monster how I would handle the split initiatives. For one monster acting once and then again (i.e. Kurn or Targ here), I might use a static modifier (pool 1 acts on the rolled initiative, pool 2 acts on the rolled initiative -5) while for a monster with independent parts (2H2TB Snakes) I would roll for each. But that’s because I can’t stop trying to twist the rules into a simulation, even when they don’t need to be.

    • It’s up to the GM, really. It’s no different than dealing with groups of monsters. However, I would strongly advise breaking up the actions among multiple initiative counts. Roll twice or three times or whatever. It’s fun to roll a fistful of dice and you’re only doing it once a combat.

      In fact, my system does assume the actions are broken up a little bit. Ideally, a five pool monster would go once after each PC. The reason has to do with things like durations and reactions and how they affect the monsters and the PCs. Beyond that, a battle is more exciting when the action switches back and forth a lot. The Final Fantasy style of “we all go then you all go” is pretty much the most boring way of handling initiative and this system is designed around the idea that these sorts of fights should actually be exciting and dynamic.

      But I don’t think you’ll seriously break anything if all the actions happen on the same terms. You will, however, make me sad. And I will know. I always know.

      • You could take a cue from Legendary Actions here. Roll initiative once, then anytime after the paragon creature takes its first turn, it can act in between any player’s turn until it runs out of turns.

  2. This is an inspiring idea, but the actions part seems backwards. If combined with your segmented boss fights from earlier, then losing a pool of hit points should make them more dangerous as part of the transition.

    Speaking of video games, the Metal Gear Rising fights seem like another example of how multi-stage boss fights can work. Or maybe more suited for mini-bosses, as compared to your full 3-stage, environment changing concept. To be specific, I have been inspired for my next game by this post and the first two segments of this boss fight to have a hobgoblin captain with a magic item that gives him wings. In the first part, his two turns let him swoop down, attack, and then swoop back up without taking damage. When he loses the first pool, the wings are too badly damaged and he crashes to the ground, right on top of a formation of his own troops (if any still survive). His second in command calls for a retreat. He stands up, uncharacteristically enraged for a normally disciplined hobgoblin, grabs his second and rips his sword arm off (and by anatomical necessity, his sword as well) in order to duel wield, shouts something in hobgoblin, and charges the party and their forces.

    Problem (for the party): He now spends both of his combat rounds on the ground, and can attack on both of them. Also, he’s completely Reckless in his rage, and so has Advantage on all of his attacks, though he is easier to hit, if you can catch him. So, that’s why I’ll have him keep both actions.

    As for how this interacts with XP? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    • I realize that the loss of actions does render the monster less dangerous, but remember that I also talked about the importance of a sense of progress in long battles. Players have to know they are winning and feel like they are making a difference. And, from a balance standpoint, a reduction of actions mirrors the reduction of actions that comes from culling the monsters’ numbers.

      That said, this IS just the groundwork. I fully confess these are just tough fights and don’t do anything interesting with the mechanics. Come back in two weeks for Part 2: Elemental Boogaloo and we’ll look at some monsters that actually change form as the fight progresses. They will still lose actions, but they will also demand new tactics. Some will become more dangerous, some will become less.

      There’s also an issue where battles in 5E are more decisive and more swingy than they were in 4E. A lot gets decided in the first couple of rounds. So, if the monsters don’t weaken as the fight drags on, they will most likely overwhelm the party.

      • This looks really fun. I’ve not yet used legendary monsters in my game so I think I’ll try one or two of them first, but I definitely want to see how paragon monsters pan out in play too.

        I think paragon monsters that get MORE turns as they lose hit point bars would be a nice variant to this houserule, and I don’t see it causing a problem for the party. It should work out roughly the same, ultimately the paragon monster is getting the same amount of turns to do damage/cause effects, just reversed. They’ll be less effective at the beginning, instead of at the end.

        The main risk would probably be that players might use all their best powers to nova the first hit point bar. But there’s an easy way to learn whether or not you should do that – just wait one round, and see how many turns the paragon monster takes. If it only takes one, they’ll know this means this particular paragon monster is working in reverse and can avoid using all of their best powers, because they’ll realise that this time round it’s probably not the most dangerous.

  3. Actually, maybe I’m misreading. Is the intent to have them have non-consecutive turns in initiative? That actually makes much more sense, now that I think about. Two consecutive turns would be really powerful (like the swoop, attack, and retreat thing above). Maybe roll once, and take initiative on both that slot and the, um, inverse position, I guess you would say?

  4. Great to see the new site up and running, Angry! I’m looking forward to this and your first article out the new gate has already given me some great stuff to tinker with. I’m totally using the 2H2TB snake in my next campaign. 🙂

  5. I think your hitpoint system is perfect for multipart bosses, like a hydra, or a gigantic creature, where each bodypart deserves an action, but it seems somewhat inelegant for a single monster, like your berserker. In this specific case, when my players (or I, for that matter) wound a berserker, we don´t expect him to become weaker, we expect him to grow stronger, or at least more enraged. In the general case (or in the case of your wolf), one could argue that a creature grows weaker when they lose a significant part of their hitpoints, but that´s not how 5e handles things, neither with monsters, nor with player characters. In videogames, which you mentioned in your reasoning, bosses are supposed to get stronger, the longer the fight gets. Players actually expect a tough boss to get more dangerous, not suddenly get weaker and shrug off debuffs for no apparent reason (or randomly remove the buff it just cast on itself)

    In the end, what does the hp split accomplish for you? A, a certain form of crowd control protection, B, a tiny bit of damage mitigation (on the hit that kills one half of your creature), C, a boss heal prevention mechanic, D, a justification for additional turns and E, an easy to calculate challenge rating, That´s certainly something, but you can get all of those things in an easier and more elegant way, in my opinion.

    A, if you don´t want to utilize the Legendary Resistance feat (which I understand, it feels somewhat clunky) you can add ” At X (and again at x and again at x and…) amount of damage dealt to this monster all ongoing conditions and effects affecting Y end immediatly.

    B, I think the damage mitigation part in your design is just flat out bad design and punishes players who don´t correctly guess the remaining hp a part of your boss has. Using a nova or a big spell on something with 5 hp feels pretty bad and with bosses, a player will generally lack the knowledge of how much hp a boss has.

    C, The heal prevention mechanic feels very much like a consequence of your split hp system, than a design choice, but you limit your own design space like this. With your system, adding a boss who relies on healing/life-leeching/regeneration always has the chance to flatout fail his goal of threat for your group because his healing has the chance to do nothing at all.

    D, I think your critic of legendary actions is incredibly weird. If you don´t think they do enough, MAKE THEM DO ENOUGH. By customizing legendary actions, you can let your boss do literally everything that he would have been able to do with an additional turn. You´re neither limited in the amount of actions he can do, nor what those actions are, so in the case of your berserker, you can let him get one legendary action per combat round, and have that action read “Y takes a turn immediatly. If he already used a reaction, he can use an additional one until the start of his next turn.”

    E, This is the only part that your system has going for it, in my opinion, but for every half experienced DM, this is a non-issue, as the ability to judge your parties capability and the experience they should receive is something you learn very quickly, in my experience.

    Let me end my criticism by saying that I´m really happy to see you back, your writing about combat and fights is what motivated me to become better in that aspect, something that my player group greatly appreciated.

    • I noted several times that this is laying the groundwork for several possible ways of building boss monsters. I even outright said “these creatures are boring by themselves but these rules are necessary for what you can lay on top of them.” I promised, in the last paragraph, we’d have monsters changing forms and tactics, we’d have multi-body-part monsters, more elegant swarms, clones, and all sorts of goodness. So, have some patience, eh?

      • You´re right, fair enough. I just found it somewhat alienating, and not boring as you said, that your base design has such an inherent, in my opinion, flaw.

  6. Omega_Advocate, I think Angry is establishing ground rules here. If all you’re doing is building super-orcs then I agree with you that there are probably better ways to do it. But we’re just getting started and this reads to me like a framework for building interesting solos/bosses quickly. These here are the most basic examples of what could be done and a test case for whether the proposed framework could work. (no one is actually going to use a 2h2tb snake, despite my assertion above).

    We could hand-craft strong solos individually using legendary actions and “if X then y” traits but it looks like Angry is trying to find a solid method to systematize that and also help ensure the DM gives solos the fun dynamics of a multi-opponent fight.

    So I agree with you on A and D if you’re only building one monster, but not if you’re trying to create a solo-builder’s toolbox.

    On B, I’m reading your point as: over-damage at the hp pool threshold will frustrate players who feel like they wasted their nukes. If I’m getting that wrong, please correct me.
    In Angry’s earlier boss monsters overdamage was a feature, not a bug. It’s a subtle weakness of solos that a group of 5 monsters with 20 hp get 5 opportunities for overdamage (and thus require more dmg output by the players to put down) while one monster with 100 hit points only gets one (and that one comes too late to do the solo any good). If we’re counting a solo as multiple creatures we may need to keep that dmg-waste to keep the balance. Players are essentially more efficient against single monsters than against multiple opponents. Multiple HP pools and over-damage at the threshold mitigates that.

    As for your specific concern about player frustration wasting nukes, I think the presence/absence of player knowledge self-corrects for your frustrated player concern.
    Scenario 1. No information – Players don’t have any idea much hp a given stage/pool has left (or even that there ARE pools): In this case, they also don’t know that they’ve overdamaged the first pool and left points on the table. No irritation. They do still get the indication that the state has changed because now the monster is taking fewer turns: “Your fire ball staggers it and it starts moving slower.” still sounds like a victory to me. Even if they know there are pools or stages, the decision to drop the nuke is still an interesting one (“We’ve been hitting him for a while, I might waste this but we really need to drop that thing, do I risk it?”) and is exactly the same for players with no information about monsters with single pools.
    Scenario 2. Perfect Information – Players know exactly what it’s going to take to drop the monster to the next stage. In this case, it’s easy to decide not to drop the nuke when it only has 1 hp in its next pool (or TO drop it when the monster has a million points); the interesting decision moves closer to the middle of the pool (“The nuke output is almost guaranteed to knock it down to the next level now but it might be worth saving that damage until later. Can we afford a few more turns of getting hit twice before then?”)
    I think most of us run games in-between those extremes but either way the degree of player knowledge about the situation impacts their interpretation of the effectiveness of the attack. The only time I see that as a drawback is if they don’t know what hp is left when they make the decision but do know exactly what happened afterward “Haha! Your 10d6 only did 1 point of damage!” and that feels like bad information management by the DM.

    Finally, on B, it’s worth discussing how we would handle area effect or multi-target attacks. As written right now, I’d rule that fireball affects all the pools at once, not just the next in line (to keep it more consistent with how it applies to multiple opponents). I’d be interested to see Angry’s approach, though.

    About C: this hp pool arrangement gives the monster a threshold, a mid-point for players to target. “If we can just hurt it badly enough, we can slow it’s recovery!”. Then see pretty much all the points for B above. 5 healing monsters have 5 opportunities to run out of room to heal, etc… (I’d rule each pool heals independently if dmg’d separately by an area effect or the like). Related to that, keep in mind that Angry is starting with one smaller monster and multiplying it to get a bigger monster. He’s not starting with an existing monster (already balanced for expected healing over time) and dividing it into pools.

    I DO have some concerns about how movement works for single-monsters using multiple turns. Right now, Targ up there gets 120 feet of movement a round without dashing. He’s the fastest creature in the world, able to outrun dragons in flight. He has to split it up across three of his turns but all three of those turns occur while the players only get to move once. If he’s just dashing around an enclosed space, this partially mitigates the 3 monsters in 3 places discrepancy between a solo and a group (although the solo still doesn’t have the same capacity to occupy territory and control movement that a group would), but it changes things more when talking about closing speed or chases (then again, it’s come up before that chases really need to be handled with a different system). Players spotting Targ across an open field are going to have a very different experience than players spotting 3 wolves (very cool for a boss fight, but maybe bosses shouldn’t be quite THAT fast unless that’s their shtick)

    So those are my questions: area effect vs multiple hp pools in a single creature? handling excess movement as # of hp pools grows?
    I’m looking forward to the multiple forms, recombinations, and behavior-change triggers as we delve into what this tool can really do.

    • I agree with some of your points, and disagree heavily with others. I think before we go more indepth, let´s see what Angry does with his base design. You raise some interesting points about movement, by the way, haven´t thought about that.

    • I was wondering the same thing(s), especially regarding the speed. Just giving a paragon “extra” movement in all of its turns seems wrong considering the intention.
      If two Berserkers start their turns 40 ft. away from their intended targets, they can’t close in. A paragon berserker will lose one of his attacks but will reach his target eventually.

      This also gives way to powerful hit and run tactics for faster paragon monsters: Move to and attack a target with low initiative. Then attack again and move away.

      This is like one of two snakes rides the other one and they swap positions after every turn. Effectively, both creatures have doubled movement speed.

      I guess this _does_ make the fight tougher and more boss-like but I don’t think this interaction was your intention.

  7. Thanks Angry, every week you inspire me a lot with new fantastic tools fo DMing. I have a suggestion, and sure you can insult me if you want : D (it’s part of the fun). We know for sure that Bosses in videogames tend to be nastier the more damage they will take. So what about an inversion in the mechanics of the Paragon Actions? When a pool is depleted, the creature get an extra turn. The damage output of the creature is the same, only reversed (instead of doing double damage the first “half” of Hp, it does in the second “half”).

    With this trick the encounter benefit in increasing climax and tension, and also rapresent a unique boss’s mechanic. Also, to accomplish the fight, the party needs a different strategy: instead of “hard focus” and “nova damage” since turn one, the party could be more conservative and unleash their best attacks for the final form of the boss. That’s all, and just my two cent : ). See ya Angry and good luck for this new fantastic site!

    • See my response above to the same suggestion above. There’s two issues there. One is an overall sense of progress and a feeling of winning. The second is that D&D 5E is designed around shorter, swingier, and more decisive combats. If PCs don’t have the benefit of action economy attrition, the balance is going to go very badly against them.

      Remember, in my 4E system, I didn’t f$&% with the action economy any more than 4E was already doing with reactions and interrupts. Here, I’m using the action economy to solve the problem directly.

      I have actually run playtests several ways: with action reduction, without any change, and with action increase. And what I’ve found is players find the action reduction the best and it gives the most stable results. So I call that a win-win.

      • Yes, i got your point: with the inversion of bonus turn, the pacing of the combat will ramp to fast from “boring” to “deadly”.

    • And again, let me remind you that the HP Pool/Action thing is NOT a stand alone solution. There are other mechanics to make sure things stay exciting.

      • Btw the overall concept is amazing and applycable in any sort of way.
        I imagine elemental creatures that split into minor versions ala “Pong” ; D

  8. This is truly brilliant and I look forward to using this technique against (for) my players. I am excited to see further installments in this series and am sure it will be a font of inspiration for badass boss fights. I’ve been working at making for more cinematic battles for the big fights and this is certainly going to make that even easier. Thank you Angry!

  9. Very interesting, Angry. I wonder how much work it would be to use this with Pathfinder?

    I had a thought about boss fights myself, but wasn’t sure how to implement it. This goes a long way towards that, but I still have some questions.

    In Pathfinder, you have the problem of the static fight; melee’s run up to the monster and stand still while whacking it, ranged characters stand still and ping the monster, rogues flail about helplessly due to an inability to hit or do damage, and wizards steal the glory by casting a single encounter ending spell. This is especially irritating in fights with big monsters; giants, dragons, etc. where even the gigantic creature is just standing still and thwacking the PC’s. Maybe that’s a failure on the GM’s part, but the mechanics of the game don’t really encourage anything else.

    I had thought to make such monsters work more like terrain, where the players had to attack and disable multiple parts of the monster in order to bring it down, certain parts of the monster acted like hazards, and so forth, but I was unsure how well this would translate. With your system, I have an idea of how to go about it, but I would like your take on the “monsters as terrain” idea.

    • As I’ve said, I’ve got more on the way. And I will also let you in on a secret: it isn’t hard to use the same system in Pathfinder. I’ve already done it once or twice and I have a friend whose modified bits and pieces of what I’ve been doing. I’ve been working on this system off and on for a while now. And yes, I will be sharing the Pathfinder stuff eventually.

  10. Great concept, but the use of the XP multiplier reminded me of an issue I’ve been having. This may just be me, but is anyone else finding that the encounter math gets kind of screwy once you get past level 4? I have difficulty challenging my players with encounters, even when I construct them above the deadly range of calculated XP at their level.

    Also the 6 player math just sucks. So you reduce by a level of enemies considering you have six, which means a single enemy only counts as half the XP for the encounter math, but the second you add ANY additional creature (even a 50XP one, it SHOOTS up). It’s weird and I haven’t quite figured out the appropriate way to get it balanced, mostly because I’d like there to be a realistic challenge but not accidentally murder everyone in the process.


    • Its tough balancing battles, its more organic than 4e and 3e. Its much more like 1e and 2e. It breaks down very quickly after level 4 AND if you have more than 4 characters. In particular against a single solo-type monster.

      For example according to the standard rules my party of 6 level 8 characters can take on a Pit Fiend which is “only” a hard challenge. What happens when they are level 20? I need to throw Tiamat at them?

    • It took me a while to figure out 5e combat balance, but I finally figured it out.

      Basically, you tailor it to the players, and you MUST make sure that the enemy mobs have equal or greater Actions Per Round than the players. That’s what creates the sense of fear and desperation. Also, add crazy abilities.

      I have a super tough barbarian player that resists all physical damage. So, I made an Alhoon who has super long tentacles and the ability to reach out, grab, physically damage, and drag people over to him–and doing that (if he hits) costs 2 of is 4 actions per round. “GET OVER HERE!”

      The barbarian got tentacled, physically beaten down to about 20 hp, and then, once sucked in, received a brain drill attack for 89 piercing damage. Players shat their pants. Problem solved.

  11. Thanks for the read! I must say I was skeptical to think that 2 snake monsters were different from one monster that is 2 snakes, but you have proved me misguided. I look forward to implementing this and reading the next post!

  12. I have done something similar with my 4e solos. I recently built a dragon with 5 moving parts: head, body, tail, and two wings. Destroying the head and body was the kill condition. Destroying just the body meant the thing couldn’t walk, destroying just the head meant the head wasn’t really destroyed, but had been pulled closer to the body, which then gained a new power or two. Destroy a wing and the thing couldn’t fly, and the wings had interrupts to absorb damage directed at the head or body (basically the hp came off the wings first). The tails was a brute designed to punish melee characters who tried to flank. Each body part had its own initiative count, so it was essentially 5 monsters that couldn’t move more than a couple of squares from each other. The parts had long enough leashes that the head, for instance, could flank a character with a wing. A condition affecting one body part did not necessarily affect the others. I haven’t had a chance to run it yet (next session, if they get far enough), but the plan is to have a dynamic battle where the slaying of the creature has a progression that can be tracked, as, for instance, when one wing is dangling uselessly at its side.

  13. I ended up using your 4e rules to create a 5e boss which my group defeated in 9 rounds last week – 3 rounds per phase. I was pretty happy with it but I kept forgetting things during the battle. So interested to see where you go with this. Especially if its faster than custom building as it took me a long time to build and balance the boss phases using all the funky 5e encounter rules.

    Here is the fight and boss:

  14. Paragon hit points seem wonky to me. I quite like the idea of giving a monster two turns, though. Why not just double the HP and at half HP the monster loses the extra turn?

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  16. Standing on its own, I don’t see how your 2H2TB-Snakes are any different from 2 snakes, but I get that it’s just the concept of something greater. I get that it’ll look like the drunken, pale stepbrother to the final product.

    So basically this is my reaction to the article:

    I feel like way back in the 1st/2nd Ed days there was a Hydra or Cthulhusomething built kind of like what this seems to be getting at, a lot like Beoric’s Dragon. Maybe it was just at my DM’s table; that was a couple decades back, after all.

    Insert bootlicking here, you’ve earned it!

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  25. I used the CRAP out of your 4e boss monster mashup; what I consider the highlight of my 4e DMing career was when I threw a Kraken at the party that underwent the boss process and became Harutha, the Soul of the Sea. I sprang this encounter on them with NO prior knowledge, and it was the most tense, engaged combat table I ever ran in 4e.

    I’m tracking what you are doing here. I’ll be stealing this, as well.

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  27. I immediately went to work on a Vine Blight / Chain Devil and realized just how many questions needed to be addressed to even implement this system, which kind of makes it most elegant when you’re using creatures of the same CR or near to there. Even so, it kind of looks like you’d just be better off homebrewing a monster under the standard rules you’re given in the DMG, recycling the attacks of the two creatures, and giving the creature some way of stealing back their lost action economy, either with some very powerful crowd control abilities, legendary actions that the creature gets more than 3 of or can recover over time, or just extended multiattacks or multiple standard actions.

    I think this system you came up with has some serious value, but also some areas of uncertainty that have to be explored to see if it actually works.

  28. Just one question: how would Kurn be affected by AOE spells? Each hp pool takes full damage? The damage is equally split between all pools? Sounds like the first option would be the right one when we think about your THTTB Snake, but it isn’t quite right when I think abourt Kurn…

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