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The D&D Boss Fight (Part 3)

August 7, 2010

The problem with adopting a highly descriptive name like “The Angry DM” is that people assume that the name tells the entire story. And, while it is true that I am generally angry and I run a lot of Dungeons & Dragons games, I have many other fine qualities. For example, I am manic when it comes to new projects and extremely lazy about following through. So it was that six months ago, I bought a domain and a few books about Word Press and website hosting and came up with an online persona and decided to call myself a webmaster. Once those tasks were done, I promptly starting ignoring all of them. And then, in March, I came up with a brilliant idea for fixing solo monsters and decided to make that my flagship piece. With the idea invented and the decision made, it hardly seemed important to actually write anything. Instead, I went back to ignoring this whole website thing. A series of odd events jarred me into writing the first two parts of my three-part article on boss monsters, but those were the easy ones to write. The first involved me criticizing and complaining, which I am very good at and enjoy a great deal. The second involved me suggesting some things that might be good ideas and ended with a promise that I would shortly show what those ideas looked like in execution. And then, you can guess what happened next. But people just keep asking me to follow through. I find this very unfair.

You see, I did the hard part. I had the brilliant inspiration. I wrote down a lot of words about the inspiration. I set up the website. I got almost one quarter of the way through Word Press for Dummies. It seems to me that the execution should be easy. In fact, I’ve heard from a few folks who have executed their own boss monsters based on my ideas. That means that I did enough. D&D is a do-it-yourself game, after all.

Okay, the truth is execution is hard and I’m lazy. But lately, I’ve been shouting on my soapbox about a lot of high concept stuff and offering very little in the way of useful things you can use in your game. So, here you go. Something useful. A boss monster. I’d say I plan to do more, but I don’t think any of you will believe that for a second.

If you haven’t ready Part 1 and Part 2 of this article, you really should. I’m not going to do a lot of review here. Also, if you’ve gotten used to my weekly walls of text, you might be surprised to discover that I am splitting this article between several pages. Don’t miss the links at the bottom of each page.

The Birth of Bloodknuckles

Bloodknuckles was always going to be my boss monster “proof of concept.” The simple, straightforward first attempt that shows how a boss should be put together before I started doing fancy things with extra creatures or skill challenges. I’m not taking the boss monster system out on the autobahn yet, just taking it for a spin around the block.

Some of you might recognize Bloodknuckles’ name from Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron (DDO). This is no accident. When I was first thinking about boss monsters, I was also working on a fun little adaptation of several quests from that game for 4th Edition. Specifically, I was working on a three adventure series that would incorporate the first two quests from the “Waterworks” quest line and “The Kobold’s New Ringleader.” The latter ends with the party slaying a kobold chieftain but, before they can celebrate, a brutish ogre enforcer smashes his way through a door to slay the party. His name was Bloodknuckles.

I suppose it is worth mentioning that I am intimately familiar with Bloodknuckles as that quest is the favorite of my cousin, best friend, and D&D weekly victim, Ryan. When he was away at college, we used DDO as a way to spend time together and we frequently ran through “The Kobold’s New Ringleader” on every difficulty level. Ryan is a very patient and understanding player and will sit still and listen to me drone on about my latest innovations and ideas at great length. Consequently, he was sort of in the development of the boss monster concept and I look forward to slaughtering him with his favorite nemesis. After all, I believe in tough love.

A Boss in Three Acts

As you might remember, the basic idea behind boss monsters was to find a way to fix some of the problems with earlier solo monster designs. While the Monster Manual 3 and other recent products have done a great deal toward fixing solo monsters, I think there is still room for improvement. Beyond that, I the boss monster offers a different play experience.

The key defining trait of the boss monster is that it exists as three stat blocks, not just one, so the battle is split into thirds. The party beats up the boss monster for a little while, but after a certain amount of damage has been done, the boss does something to change the battle. At that point, he is replaced by the next stage monster and the fight continues. The transformation can be as simple as a change in tactics or as elaborate as a transformation into an entirely different form.

With the monster into three different stages, the battle becomes more dynamic but also includes a sense of progress. Further, it prevents the battle from devolving into a grind. Ideally, the tactics that work against one stage don’t work against the next, so the party will have to adapt to each stage. It also forces the party to spread out their best attacks and abilities rather than using them all up early on.

The three stage fight does not address all of the problems with solo design that I outlined in Part 1. Specifically, the three stage fight does not really address the problem of solo monsters being unable to act often enough. And, while the boss monster has two opportunities to eliminate all adverse conditions effecting it by being removed from the battle and replaced by a new creature, the disproportionate effect of such conditions is not entirely mitigated.

As you look over these stat blocks, you will notice that I have made a number of mechanical tweaks to help solve these problems.

Annotations and Notes

I think that the stat blocks speak for themselves at this point. I’ve been very careful to ensure that each individual stat block is recognizable and works like any other monster. In fact, there are only two changes to the structure of the stat block itself and the reasons should be fairly obvious.

I have put all three stat blocks together into a single PDF file for you to download and use freely in your game. You can download it by clicking this link: Bloodknuckles.pdf. I ask only that, if you do use Bloodknuckles in your game, you share your experiences by commenting on this site or by e-mailing me at

However, for those of you who are interested in creating your own boss monsters or just curious about the process I used, I’m going to give a quick tour of the three stages of the fight on the next couple of pages. Again, I am very interested in any feedback you might have.

Finally, please be aware that the annotations are extemporaneous and not cleanly edited. Think of them as a record of my thoughts while I developed Bloodknuckles and forgive any odd wording or typos.

Download the complete Bloodknuckles PDF

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