35 thoughts on “How do you handle wizards etc.”

  1. If you reduce any enemy to a bunch of numbers no enemy will represent a menace. 

    You have to narrate the fiction and then your enemies will be truly epic.

    A single goblin may be a bag of xp or a very dangerous enemy. Numbers maybe the same, but the diference is on the fiction.

  2. I do understand the meaning of narration and how it should work. What I meant was more “once the characters get into rolling a single target is as good as dead”.

  3. Sure it is. The trick is when you allow that to happen.

    A Wizard can levitate, create fire walls, summon elementals, make himself invisible, mind control characters…. an even when the players strike him it could easily be an ilusion double.

    Othe kinds of bosses can come with extra dangers. 

    Apart from the classic “only can be damaged by X”.

  4. I do bosses in stages. When the PCs reduce HP to a certain level it trigures an event. My favourite was once when PCs were fighting a wizard. They got him to half health and then he disolved into a swarm of rats. They had to kill every rat to kill him completely. Needless to say he escaped the first time and they spent the next three meetings finding a way to trap him so when he turned he couldn’t escape. He became a favourite returning antagonist. Not the most powerful foe but the trickiest.

  5. Once the characters “get to rolling”, then that usually means all tough decisions are off the table, and they’ve decided to fight. At this point if it takes more than 3-5 rolls, it becomes boring.

    Can you give us an actual example of what you mean? Like tell us about one of your failures so we can give you ideas for doing it differently?

  6. Boss monsters are never unprepared, they have drank the potion, called reinforcements, cast the spells, prepared the blackmail, bribe the henchmen and they always always have a backup plan or two. Think dangerous.

  7. So in essence there’s nothing wrong when the players oneshot them with good luck? I’m thinking more about how to use their moves if the players do not miss their rolls.

  8. Usually players will not have the chance to one-shot the boss because they will have to pass other dangers first. Get the magic item, find him, expose the armor, whatever.

  9. Yeah I’ve found depleting character resources by the time they reach any boss it’s a bit difficult for them. But also, echoing what people have already said, use the fiction to your advantage. He other end of this spectrum, using fiction to your advantage, a DM for a game I played made his level 1 goblins the most fiendishly evil creatures to fight. They were cunning to a fault and without using Deus ex machina they out thought and planned us. Traps. Flanking. Dead ends. We would have rather fought a dragon than those bloody goblins again.

  10. Yeah, if it’s a “boss” wizard it shouldn’t be triggering hack-and-slash right away. Since you’re using the term “boss,” I’m assuming the enemy is, in the fiction, supposed to be something like a dungeon boss from a Legend of Zelda game? If so, most of those fellows drop after a couple hits; the trick is, they have various abilities that mean you can’t just whack away at them. Think of Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time . . . you just have to whack him a couple of times with the Biggoron’s Sword and he’s done. The trick is that he keeps the pressure on the Player with a constant aerial assault of magical energy. You can’t just shoot him down with Volley without giving the GM a Golden Opportunity. Instead of just laughing menacingly, the GM leads with “The Wizard levitates into the air, hurling crackling orbs of deadly necrotic energy right at you! What do you do?”

    Likely as not, the answer will defy danger. Let moves snowball from there. It’s GOOD that bosses drop in a few hits…it’s weird to have every plot-important wizard be Rasputin, shrugging off dozens of mortal wounds.

  11. Step 1) Stat them up hardcore

    Use their moves, special qualities, and potentially their lair and gear to make them hard to get at, able to interrupt player actions, and capable of dealing with multiple foes at once. Bonus points for moves that take PCs out of the fight without actually killing them. 

    E.g. qualities like “Aura of will-sapping menace” or “Hidden by swirling shadows.”  Moves like “Reveal a preparation” or “Unleash a spell of death and destruction” or “Turn their minds and fears against them.”

    For a spellcaster/magic-user, maybe think a little about the specific spells they can cast, or at least the nature of those spells.  Try to word that into your moves (“Unleash a deadly spell of fire and flame” is better than “Unleash a spell of death and destruction”). Or, make a list.  But if this really is a big bad, don’t feel constrained by the list. Think of that list as giving yourself permission to do those things, but maybe they can do other stuff, too.

    Give the baddie armor and HP by-the-book. The danger doesn’t come from the numbers, but the numbers keep you honest and make you play to see what happens.

    Yes, this means that a solid blow from the fighter or paladin will quite possibly one-shot them.  (Consider the number of times Conan murdered a sorcerer by just effing throwing furniture at them.) 

    Step 2) Show Signs of an Impending Threat

    On the way to the big bad, drop hints of what its capable of. Build it up.  Have the party encounter the remains of a village, burnt to cinders and charred skeletons all about, with a strange untouched spot in the middle where the wizard stood.  Share rumors. Show the big bad’s minions cowering in fear.  That sort of thing.  

    If they get the big bad with some built up respect, the next few parts will be more effective.

    Step 3) Reveal Unwelcome Truths, Tell Consequences & Ask

    When the fight actually starts, use the big bad’s qualities and traits to block or counter the PCs moves.  

    When the fighter rushes in to attack, the wizard glares at him and his “Aura of will-sapping menace” kicks in. Describe the fighter’s fear welling up like nothing he’s felt before, his hands shaking, his arms and feet frozen, unable to move, what do you do?  Probably, he’ll Defy Danger against his own fear and doubt.

    When the ranger takes aim and shoots, on a 10+ you reveal the flame ward surrounding the wizard. The arrow bursts into ash.  On a 7-9, if the ranger chose to draw danger or attention, you also have the wizard gesture towards him and unleash an expanding wave of fire, coming at the ranger (and the cleric next to him) like a wall, what do you do?

    When the wizard starts casting a spell, tell him that he can sense the big bad’s powerful wards in place, like there’s a contingency spell ready to bounce back at him. Do you keep casting?

    When the rogue sneaks around to backstab, the shadows themselves reach out and grab him, choke him, ensnare his arms, what do you do?

    Block and interrupt their moves with the big bad’s defenses. Ensnare and bog down the PCs with the environment and its preparations.  React to any opening in their moves with disproportionate force, affecting as many PCs as seems probably.  

    Step 4: Keep Up the Pressure

    When it’s your turn to make a move (because they rolled a miss, or a 7-9 on DD or H&S, or because they chose to Defend and ceded the intiative, etc.), go big.  Unleash a power word stun or a meteor swarm or conjure up a 12-foot tall fire elemental.  Whatever move you make, make it something that multiple PCs have to react to.  Ideally, make it something with consequences beyond damage, something that will continue to plague them.

    Step 5: Encourage Lateral Solutions

    Make it clear that a straight forward approach is doomed to failure or at least prohibitively costly, and the players will start getting creative. Reward that!  

    If they Spout Lore or Defy Danger, give them good stuff!  If they come up with clever solutions, maybe make them defy danger but otherwise let them work!  

    Step 6: Follow the Numbers

    If they get past the big bad’s defenses, identify a workable plan, and maneuver to a place they can take advantage of it, and they get a solid hit in… cool!  

    Be a fan of the heroes.  Let their blow have an effect.  If it does enough damage to drop the baddy, drop him.  They worked for it, and they won.

  12. A few sessions ago a jedi oneshotted my BBEG sith lord. Boy was I mad, untill I realized it was a learning opportunity. I plan a rathtar rampage and nikto bounty hunter for our next session. We’ll see if I learnt my lesson.

  13. Lots of great answers here already.

    The game Masks, also PbtA, has a really interesting mechanic for this. Each time a villain takes a wound, there’s a move triggered, usually a scene changing hard move. Fighting a villain in an old sub? Well, after that last punch he triggers the airlocks to explode. Now the sub is flooding and innocent people are in danger!

    Another thing I use in Fate games mostly is a cartoon super hero standard. Whenever a hero outright attacks a villain, the villain gets a counterattack. All four PCs attack separately, the villain gets a counterattack to each one.

    YMMV Good luck.

  14. Jeremy Strandberg​​ this is very useful stuff to keep in mind just before a big baddy fight… I’m pasting into a doc for future reference

  15. Taryn Fox 🙂

    1. Because we just now became circled on G+

    2. Because you must read Masks!

    3. Because so often we are caught up in the “everyone gets one turn, even the villain being ganged up on” standard set by classic style RPGs.

    4. All of the above. 😀

    Nice to meet you.

  16. Taryn Fox I feel like I didn’t get my intent across well. What I’m suggesting is that a big tough boss combat SHOULDN’T be a large number of rolls. It should be short once you’re able to roll.

    The tension and challenge should come from figuring out how to get to the point where you can actually hurt the things – use the catapult to launch the thief up at the dragon, climb up his neck, and stab it in the eye. Once you get through all that rigamarole, the combat itself should be relatively curt.

  17. Aaron Griffin I totally get what you are saying. I look at it more in terms of action scenes. The “fight” is the whole action scene which is usually building up to a killing blow/knockout punch/team beatdown. The heroes have to figure out how to navigate the scene, put their plan in motion and then bring it home with those actual Attack rolls you’re talking about. I feel like what both you and Taryn Fox are getting at is that fights should be organic, dynamic, and dramatic.

    I have suffered through so many RPG sessions where combat was anything but those things. As a GM I feel like I’ve failed if combat becomes a slog.

  18. That’s the key (see above good answer). The player doesn’t decide ‘I Volley him’. He says ‘I shoot an arrow’. You tell the player ‘Roll discern realities’ so he can find out the monster can’t be damaged by arrows a while his flame ward is up.

  19. I would further say that a boss monster should be something much more complicated than just another mob you can run up to and start dealing numbers to. Make your monsters smart. Don’t just have them stand there and trade blows. Use the environment. That big dragon is going to do some collateral damage. Light things on fire, knock down trees and buildings, send body parts flying everywhere. Make that boss SO FUCKING EPIC that the Fighter thinks, “Hey, maybe just rushing this thing is a bad idea.”

    Make the little guys smart too. No sane goblin is going to face a Fighter in a fair duel. Have him invite a few friends who can attack him from behind, yank the weapon out of his hands, or stick a poisoned knife where his armor doesn’t cover.

  20. Thank you Jeremy Strandberg ! This was something I was searching for. In my experience these kinds of things tend to (eventually) come down to a single dice roll. But your clear examples shed some light into it in a way others handle these things. Bryanna Hitchcock ‘s example was also an excellent one!

    I still feel obligated to explain my initial starting point of this discussion. What I meant (but clearly failed to explain) was that once the characters have gone through the traps and whatnots the boss throws on them the “end game” is usually a single roll. 

    Now I have no problem with that. There’s a move for hack ‘n’ slash for a reason after all. But considering the rules as written my hands are pretty much tied if I want to use the moves the “boss monsters” has (to be fair I only used the term “boss monster” to indicate the enemy as a single but powerful enemy). 

    If my players get clever and sneak upon the enemy making all their plans fail even before they are set into motion I have been torn while thinking whether I should fudge the system to allow the monster to react or if I should allow the players to enjoy the fruits of their work with an easy picking (after all, I’m fan of their characters).

    There certainly is not a clear and right way how to handle this thing. There a number of ways and that was what I was after. Sharing experiences so that we as a community may learn new things.

  21. Last night (see recap in Actual Play), one PC dropped my Mage NPC in two blasts of her Metal Hurrlant (she is a bard).  But I thought the battle, while short, was really interesting as there were lots of NPCs running around in panic and the two other PCs were up to other things, protecting NPCS and making off with the statuette to stop the ritual.  

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