Video Game Rules Apply

Posted on July 18, 2012 by

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My players should know by now that the special enemies they face (bosses in the strictest video-game sense of the word) are immune to almost every form of crowd control.   This doesn’t seem to ever stop them from being surprised when I tell them that their daze/slow/stun/immobilize/dominate/prone doesn’t have any effect on the extreme badass that they are currently facing.

Now yes, I have rationalized this immunity as superior willpower, magical protection, innate resistances.  I have given bosses special abilities that they can use to shrug off effects at the expense of hit points.

But you know what, bosses are just better when they can’t be crowd controlled.

D&D characters, especially those in 3rd, 3.5, and 4th edition, are designed to walk all over level-appropriate monsters, and that’s great.  Not every fight needs to be a life-or-death struggle, and it feels heroic to rock some common goons back to the Raven Queen’s icy grasp.  By early paragon tier every 4th edition character has access to area crowd control encounter abilities, rendering most challenges moot.  That’s fine.

But the special encounters in a given game are different.  Instead of another chance to throw damage at an enemy until they die, a boss fight is the DM’s chance to make their players think, make them adapt to changing tactics.

Sometimes to do this, a DM needs an enemy that moves in a set pattern, or a boss that doesn’t move at all.  Should we allow players to push, prone, slow, or otherwise mess with these encounters?  Normally I would  say “yes, let the players do whatever they want,” but this turns the encounter into another damage-throwing contest, and that’s not interesting.  They have lots of opportunities for that kind of combat.

So yes,  even though I feel guilty every time I tell a player that their crowd control doesn’t work, I don’t let it change the way I run boss fights.  However, if I plan to make 75% of my boss encounters immune to control, then I know that for the other 25% for the fights need to make crowd control especially important.

When you want your players to feel incredible, give them a boss that they can do whatever they like to.  Watch them ragdoll their foe around like a children’s toy.  Of course, I’m likely to couple this with a second stage that is not only immune to their control, but is also stupidly dangerous in its own right.

I even have an encounter planned with a giant spiked wall construct that slowly approaches the players.  They’ll need to destroy it before it can crush them, but to do so they will need to use slows to bring down its movement speed.

Leaving explosives on the field makes characters with push spells feel especially awesome, but you need to be careful not to let them abuse this.  Set up special opportunities for your players, give them moments to shine, but remember that often the only way to challenge your players, is to bend the rules a bit.

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Posted in: Game Talk