Theory Thursday #4: Boss NPCs for GMs

Alright. So, you’ve read through the system, you like what you’ve seen, you have an idea for a campaign, and you know the rules well enough to run it. What’s left? Oh right. Enemies. Well, there’s some monsters pre-made, you can use and modify those. Still, you’ll want a human opponent at some point. That’s shouldn’t be too hard. Right?

Actually. It’s isn’t, but there are some mistakes a GM can make that’ll turn an encounter from a boss into a punching bag. The Kurosawa Corollary does a lot to keep a group of 6 adventurers from steam-rolling a boss, but even a -3 to all rolls can’t cover everything if your team works well together. Here’s some basic GM tips to help you get started and challenging your players.

1. Avoid Single Enemy Boss Battles
Unless your boss has a LOT of life, a way to regain around 10 life a turn, or is more than double the highest point total character in your party, it’s not likely they’ll stand up to a well-seasoned group. The math is just against them. Doing the 320 damage average to take down a party of 4 will probably take more life and accuracy than your boss can afford. So, in anything above 3 players, it’s often best to avoid single enemy boss encounters. There are exceptions to this with well-built bosses with strong Level 6 abilities or getting your players to do an encounter beforehand to wear them down, but for anything else, they just won’t have the staying power to take down so many experienced characters. Furthermore, if a player saves up 6 awesome points, they can potentially end the combat in one round. However, including 2 characters at a little more than half the power ups your odds considerably. The two characters can team up, support each other, and bring a lot more life to the table to use for attacks. If the players try to auto kill one, they’ll have wasted resources they may need for the second character. Ideally, a good strong encounter would be a fairly even number of combatants at a similar level to your players. This can be difficult to plan though. So, 2-3 characters decently stronger than your players should provide plenty of combat challenge. This does assume human opponents though. A T-rex is plenty of a challenge for most parties. They may not have much accuracy, but they have staying power.

2. Build a Good Defense
There are two stats that are used more for defense than anything else in Pirates vs. Ninjas. Agility and Will. Unless your encounter uses another stat for dodging through a special ability like “Lord of Parries”, these are two stats you won’t want to put low points in without reason. A good agility dodges most attacks while a high will gives good HP and resistance against insult and music based attacks (which are common enough that most parties will have one character that uses them). If you’re using an encounter with less members than the party, you’ll want at least one character with good defenses. Even at 220 life, a bad guy can go down pretty fast if they have no way of avoiding damage. If you DO plan to dump one of these stats, have a back-up plan. Feykinja bosses don’t need a high agility as they can use illusions to wear down their opponents, and a deaf character can avoid will as most will attacks won’t effect them, but most “boss” characters will want no less than a 4 in these stats.

3. Minions Help (But Don’t Overdo It).
A handful of weak minions can provide enough damage buffer for a boss, especially if the minions have awesome points and are willing to interpose for their boss. This can be a very good alternative to statting out an entire party. However, minions come at the cost as counting as people towards the Kurosawa Corollary. If the villain has more villains than the party has members, he may give himself a Kurosawa Corollary penalty and remove his advantage as the players gain the advantage to kill him in one quick rush.

4. High Attributes
When taking on a large group of enemies, attribute scores and max life have more impact than abilities. A character with a 10 in every stat and only 5 abilities is far more threatening to most parties than a character with 4 in everything that knows almost every attack in the game. They can pull some evil tricks, but the character just doesn’t have the power to back it up.

5. Buffs Help
Buffing a boss always helps. Spending a full turn preparing your combat strategy may seem like a waste, but the more bonuses you can accumulate, the more horribly off the players are.

6. No Rest for the Awesome
If you genuinely have trouble challenging your players, don’t make strong enemies, make more of them. Don’t attack the PCs with them all at once or you just risk having a PC with an AOE wiping all of them out in one attack, but having back to back encounters can be another way to challenge players. Even weak opponents can be challenging when the players have to fight 3 groups of them in a row.

7. Alchemists are Scary
This may shock some people that haven’t seen it first hand, but Alchemists, one of the most support-based combat factions in the game, make scary bosses. They can team up with a Drunkarrd to create a buffed indestructible monster. At that point, the players either have to choose between a frightening monster of the person making them worse. Even more interesting, the Alchemists have enough skills to just take on opponents on their own. Explodomania does plenty of damage for an AOE. Jack of All Planes can turn a battle into a matter of attrition. Immortality Equation can be a nasty surprise if your players don’t find out what potions the Alchemist is brewing and put their all into taking him out on the turn he uses it. Here, Drink This! can give the Alchemist an extra 40 life in the heat of battle (although, Desperate Trade-Off is generally a bad idea unless you want to give your players a real challenge since it effectively doubles the Alchemist’s life). Finally, The Absolute Zero Equation can allow the Alchemist to take problem characters out of battle until he or she is ready to deal with them. Of course, don’t overuse Alchemist enemies or your players will assume all of them are evil.

8. Don’t Sweat It
Worst case scenario, you plan out a boss and he either wipes your PCs out fast or he wipes them out in 3 turns. Don’t sweat it. Due to the relatively fast and frantic nature of combat, fighting to kill is discouraged unless characters mean it. PCs can provide valuable intel and bosses can do the same. If your PCs lose to a boss, capture them and take their items. Make an adventure out of escaping. These are the kinds of situations where stealthy and skilled character shine anyway. Bosses can always have minions or back-up plans. Some bosses may even be smart enough to continue their plans from jail or after death.

With these tips in mind, you should be able to help keep your players on their toes. Worse comes to worst, there’s always a herd of raptors. They’re vicious.

So, was that helpful? Did it give you ideas for your own campaign? Leave any comments, bad or good, below, and stay tuned for next week for more theory and game tips.

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One Response to Theory Thursday #4: Boss NPCs for GMs

  1. OverkillinOliver says:

    A bit of Beta experience on #7: This is why PCs should focus-fire on Alchemists as soon as they see someone sitting at the back of combat mixin’ potions. If a boss has support-alchemists, taking down the supporters can make winning the boss fight a LOT more possible.

    Also, #6 is a good idea for those parties that are built entirely around blitzing encounters to end combat quickly. Sure, they can take the however many minute rest to get back up to full life, but if half the party has knocked itself out to one-round-kill something, not giving them the chance to rest can make life a lot more difficult for PC’s.