How to make a D&D boss fight memorable

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Nothing is quite as disappointing as a bad boss fight.

The DM knows the finale wasn’t as epic as she had planned. The players are sitting around wondering if that’s it or if there’s something more coming.

Everyone's a little bummed it didn’t go well.

So, change things up. Make your boss fights epic! We can help.

These ideas can be used any time you have a boss fight, whether it’s the final battle of a years-long campaign, the first bad guy a party ever faces or a mini-boss that lords over a single dungeon.

Pick out the proper location. The setting — a castle’s throne room, a dungeon’s torture chamber, the top of a cliff, an ancient ruined temple — is as important as the villain. The more epic the locale, the more epic the fight will feel.

Give the bad guy something to say. Come up with a few things the boss might say. Maybe it’s a threat. Maybe it’s an allusion to previous encounters or events. Maybe it’s some sort of battle cry. But you’ll make the character more real if it has something to shout in the heat of battle.

Make the boss intimidating and ruthless. This should not be a walk in the park. The boss should be powerful, and it should not pull its punches. The dragon shouldn’t forget to use its breath weapon, and you shouldn’t fudge your rolls.

Make sure it’s fair. The boss should be ruthless (he’s not trying to lose, right?), but he also shouldn’t be ridiculously powerful to the point where it’s an impossible encounter.

Plan out how the villain will fight. A lot of high-level villains have actions, bonus actions, reactions and even legendary actions. The more you study how the monster’s powers work, the more effective it will be.

Keep a few surprises up your sleeve. When the heroes think they have the upper hand, that’s the time to bust out a surprising power or summon some allies. It gives the battle a bit of back and forth drama.

Know your players’ strategies. And counter them. If you know how the party always fights — the rogue and fighter go in for the kill while the wizard and ranger hang back and do damage from afar — disrupt their usual plans. Tie up the rogue before it can get close. Send in minions to occupy the ranged attackers.

Escape. Consider whether the boss would fight to the death or live to fight another day. If they’re the kind of villain who would rather bide their time and make another bid for resurgence, then give them an escape plan. When and how will they get out? Then execute it. It’ll give the players something to hunt in the future.

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