I had some thoughts on Brandes’ post about fight flow, specifically related to bosses doing stuff. So this is, in no particular order, some ideas for how to make boss fights more interesting than a big solo monster that stands there and deals damage while getting its HP chewed through.

  1. Use the Angry GM’s boss rules.
    This is essentially the idea that a boss monster is run like two or more less powerful monsters stapled together. They share a space and a pool of HP, but otherwise get multiple actions on different initiative ticks, and might have very different power sets.
  2. Which one of these is the real me?
    The boss has mirror images/lesser clones (possibly with a weaker attack) spread throughout the area that reappear periodically and can move. The boss can imperceptibly trade places with a projection as a reaction/boss action. This is more interesting than an all-in-one place mirror image spell because it can involve positioning to try to pop the clones and find the real target. This is lifted from a sidequest in Shadowrun: Dragonfall.
  3. Why did that wall collapse?
    The boss is not just load bearing, but incrementally load bearing. This can be a standard health-link, or might be because the boss is actually embodied in machinery/magical structures in the room that have to be destroyed. Various parts of the battlefield collapse/catch fire/otherwise become more dangerous as the boss’ health is depleted.
  4. True railroad encounter.
    The boss is slowly moving, either on rails or toward an objective. For whatever reason, locking the boss down in one spot is difficult or nigh-impossible. The terrain is a winding series of tunnels or otherwise full of obstacles such that keeping ranged line of fire to the boss as it moves requires repositioning.
  5. Video game standard incremental boss-freeze to summon adds.
    Either at certain health milestones or as an action, the boss can become invulnerable/shielded/insubstantial and start regenerating while additional minions are summoned. Defeating the minions is required to make the boss vulnerable again.
  6. You’re a pinball wizard.
    The boss is extremely lightweight or something: it suffers knockback from every successful hit, based on the direction of the attacker. The boss fight environment is a crazy pinball setup where there are lots of fun things to knock it into, and lots of ways for the various bouncing to become unpredictable.
  7. This isn’t even my final form.
    Why don’t more D&D games do the Final Fantasy thing where the boss changes into a bigger, different monster on death after a couple-round breather?
  8. We’re not here to kill you, you’re just in the way.
    The PCs don’t need to kill the boss, they need to get some time to destroy/activate/hack/etc. one or more nodes in the encounter area. The boss is just there to make that much more difficult.
  9. We just have to hold out for long enough.
    Contrasted to the last option, the PCs don’t need to kill the boss, they just need to hold locations. After a certain number of rounds or completed interactions, something happens to make them win. The boss is obviously trying to prevent them from doing that.
  10. This is a lovely room of death.
    A bunch of cultists want to die for their boss, who wants to absorb their souls. Kind of like 8, only instead of controlling nodes on the battlefield, you’re trying to keep cultists away from the boss and not kill them close enough that it can absorb them anyway.
  11. There’s still good in you.
    Variation on the last few, the boss itself is relatively easy to kill by just dogpiling (though it might pack a hell of a wallop), but the real objective is to somehow interact with the environment/succeed at a persuasion skill challenge to break the boss free of its antagonistic state. The fight is more about trying to maneuver and delay the boss in the meantime.
  12. I don’t think this floor is stable.
    At a certain milestone in the fight, everyone gets transported to a new location (usually by the floor collapsing and falling into a new area, but could be teleporters/dimensional rifts). While this could be the boss fleeing, it’s probably more satisfying if the boss isn’t really any more thrilled about the new location than the PCs.
  13. This is just a MOBA, huh?
    A regular stream of minions is heading out to accomplish some objective (pairs well with 9 or 10). They’re easy enough to kill, but doing so soaks up attacks that could be directed at the boss. It’s pretty easy to get them to cluster for AoEs, if you’re paying attention. There should be obvious indicators when a dangerous number of adds haven’t been dealt with, and the players are in danger of losing if they don’t go clear some soon.
  14. I’m your biggest fan.
    This is one of my personal favorites: the boss is actually a big fan of the PCs’ mission, and doesn’t think of itself as directly opposed to them. The PCs may or may not hate the boss with a passion, but the boss doesn’t actually want to kill them. The fight is more about trying to stop whatever thing the boss is doing, which might actually be accomplished by just putting themselves in danger/making a good enough case that this is a problem for them. This is especially good for when PC parents are powerful and evil, but still loving.
  15. One big boss fight.
    The boss can freely appear and disappear throughout the dungeon, though cannot stick around for long upon appearing (possibly because it’s a big ol’ coward that doesn’t like getting hit at all). This is effectively a variation on 8: various rooms in the dungeon are objectives for the PCs, and the boss would rather they didn’t. Instead of one big fight in a room at the end, the boss has been showing up briefly during many of the other fights to make things more difficult, turning the whole dungeon into an ongoing boss fight.