Weekly Reading

Upping the Ante: Candace Thomas and Designing Big Bads

Designing challenges your players will stick around for.

Earlier this month, Blizzard senior game designer Candace Thomas commented on how they create the boss monsters we love to team up on:

No one likes an easy boss. We want to feel challenged, and, ultimately, accomplished when we win. In video games this can mean a successful mashing of the buttons or pulling out that special item at just the right time, but good boss design extends to tabletop roleplaying games, too.

The Classic TPK

AD&D on extra hard is a staple at many gaming conventions, and gamers who started playing with their dads or cool uncles may remember the DM doing everything in their power to murder their party in as stylish a way as possible. Struggling to impress an older relative you look up to as a child is very different from the motivation most adults have for playing.

Winning means different things to different players, and part of the beauty of tabletop roleplaying games over video games is that you can tailor challenges to your players. Their love of loot may have gotten them into this, or their love of loot may be sated after conquering the dragon guarding its horde. No matter their motivation, destroying them completely is not fun for anyone, as you’ll quickly see when your players meta game against you.

Stem the CritFails

Major combat sequences still need to be a challenge, but look for ways of tripping up your players beyond impossible dice odds. Did the rogue rush forward without taking all of their surroundings into account? Did the bard fail their charisma check, but fail to notice?

Once they’ve had a few setbacks, let them win. Leave it to the “odds” if you must, no one has to know if you fudged the roll so they only pass out until being stabilized in the next round, and didn’t visit the land of the dead. That being said, if the Paladin’s greatword makes short work of the fleshy boss, maybe they’ll be defeated only to rise again, the puppet of a far more powerful, and perhaps less corporeal monster.

What are your favorite ways to help your players win while still maintaining your edge as a DM?

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