Gamemaster’s Guidepost: Dungeon Fantasy Boss Battles I

Today I’m going to talk about designing boss battles in Dungeon Fantasy, but to do that let’s chat  about what a boss is. Dungeon Fantasy breaks monsters down into three groups and I usually add two more (those familiar with my article “It’s a Threat!” already know about these additional two types but I’ve added them here for ease of reference).

  • Nuisance: Hardly worth the effort to kill; will never cause the PCs distress or loss of resources.
  • Fodder: A little more dangerous, but not by much; will rarely cause the PCs too much distress or loss of resources.
  • Worthy: About on the same footing as the PCs; expect 10% to 30% resource depletion.
  • Boss: More powerful than the PCs; expect at least 60% resource depletion and the possibility of a player character death.
  • Epic: Far more powerful than PCs; expect at least 90% resource depletion; unless the players are lucky, one of them is also probably going to die.

Next, let’s talk about resource depletion. What is a resource in this context? Put simply, these are all consumables whether they cost character points or money. For example, HP is a consumable – lose enough and you’re done! But healing potions are also consumables. A short (but not exhaustive) list might be:

  • Ammunition (e.g., arrows or bolts)
  • Energy Reserve
  • Fatigue Points
  • Hit Points
  • Potions (of all kinds) (e.g., Liquid Ice Grenade or Major Healing Potion)
  • Power Item Reserves
  • Power-Ups and Abilities with limited uses (e.g., Hundred-Handed Strike or Great Prayer)

To some more draconian players, hirelings may also be considered a consumable. Now that we know what consumables are, let’s talk about how these interact. Dungeon Fantasy is at its heart a resource management game – try not to die before you run out of resources. This means among other things that combats (or hazards) should probably be costing the delvers in some way. Moreover, loss of an equal amount of resources is highly unlikely (e.g., a 20% loss of all HP, FP, ER, and so on due to a specific fight). For GMs wanting to keep track a quick method to determine “total” resources for a given delver use the following method:

  • Treat each 10 ER, HP, FP, or FP gained from a Power Item as a single consumable resource
  • Treat every $1,000 worth of potions as a single consumable resource
  • Treat each power-up with a use-limit (no matter how many uses) as a single consumable resource

Count up the consumable resources “points” for each delver and then use that value to guesstimate what a given fight might look like for them with a given monster. What this may mean depends on what monster their facing and exactly what consumables they have. For example, a siege beast can inflict on average 18 points of crushing damage per hit – that’s about 2 “points” worth of HP for a wizard!

These values will change as the PCs grow in experience, get more/better gear, etc. The thing that helps here is that after a while a GM can gauge a given combat before it’s even fought – though that does take some practice and time.

Picking Over the Bones

In the next installment, we’ll talk about how a GM can pair up a decent boss encounter with his group of players and what sort of tips, tricks, and tactics he might employ to spice it up or surprise players (“Oh, look it’s another dragon boss. Yay.”). Readers may also notice this is yet another way to gauge combat effectiveness between two parties . . . except that it’s not. It’s more a simplified way for a GM to determine how much loss of resources a group of delvers might face when dealing with a specific threat. Maybe at some point I’ll see how the CER-system and this overlaps and what adding it might bring to the CER-system, if anything.

Over and over the one thing I always try to emphasize with this sort of thing is that the GM is the one who needs to make the call on what is or isn’t a good fight for his players. CER and its ilk can help, but in the end the GM has to use common sense. Hmmm, perhaps another look at “It’s a Threat!” may be in order to see how I can improve it and or patch some of the holes that have been found since it was written. Anyways, stay tuned for the next post on this subject.

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