Archive for September, 2015

Note: You can now find the magic items in this article as a part of 50 New Magic Items, a Pay What You Want product on the DMs Guild.

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme is “Curses! Cursed Items, Spells, and Campaign Stories,” chosen by Johnn Four over at Roleplaying Tips. This is one of my favorite themes yet!

On Tuesday I posted my first entry for the carnival and showed off 20 cursed weapon properties that can be added to any magic or mundane weapon. Now I’ve got another 80 curse properties that can be added to various items. Some of the information from Tuesday’s post is repeated here for you convenience, if you’ve already seen that one, skip down to the armor table.

Designing Curses – You Take the Good, You Take the Bad

When it comes to cursed items, I find it helps to mix the good in with the bad. For instance demon armor on page 165 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide has a lot of beneficial properties, but also has a curse associated with it – the user cannot remove the armor without a remove curse spell after donning it and and suffers penalties against demons in combat. This presents an interesting conundrum for the player. Should the character wear the armor to gain its awesome infernal benefits, but know that whenever its time to doff a 3rd-level spell better be waiting and that combat with demons is extra deadly? Or is it better to wear some normal armor without awesome magic claws and a bonus to AC?

I understand wanted to create a purely cursed object with no benefits whatsoever, but once the players get over the shock and surmount the curse, then the item is pretty much done. If the item has some sweet benefits they may keep that bad boy and that makes the game and the item’s story more layered.

With that in mind I’ve created a bunch of cursed magic item properties which can be added to any existing magic items (homebrew or published). Of course, if you prefer to have a purely cursed item for your game, go ahead and simply add a cursed property or three to an existing item.

Cursed Item Properties

When giving a magic item (or a non-magical item) to your players, you may choose to add a cursed property to the item. These cursed properties are in addition to any other properties the item may already have. To give an item a cursed property, first determine if the item is a weapon, armor, spellcasting focus, consumable magic item, or non-armor wearable item (such as rings, cloaks, boots, etc.). Then roll or pick a cursed property for the item on the appropriate table.PDF

How would you like the information above in a handy-dandy PDF? Ok you got it! The links below have just the information above in one document and the cursed item properties along with the other 200+ magic items I’ve designed in another document.

These documents will live forever on the Free Game Resources section of this site so if you ever need them again, go there to find them alongside monstersD&D fifth edition rules modulesbackgroundsspellsadventures, and more.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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Curses! This month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme is “Curses! Cursed Items, Spells, and Campaign Stories,” chosen by Johnn Four over at Roleplaying Tips. This is one of my favorite themes yet!

Recently I designed 100 common magic weapon properties and 100 common wondrous items. These two posts are currently the most popular ever in this blog’s history. Since I love designing cursed items and people seem to love reading about them, I thought for this month’s theme I’d design another 100 magic item properties – this time it’s all about curses. This post includes the first 20 properties, which can be added to weapons.

Designing Curses – You Take the Good, You Take the Bad

When it comes to cursed items, I find it helps to mix the good in with the bad. For instance demon armor on page 165 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide has a lot of beneficial properties, but also has a curse associated with it – the user cannot remove the armor without a remove curse spell after donning it and and suffers penalties against demons in combat. This presents an interesting conundrum for the player. Should the character wear the armor to gain its awesome infernal benefits, but know that whenever its time to doff a 3rd-level spell better be waiting and that combat with demons is extra deadly? Or is it better to wear some normal armor without awesome magic claws and a bonus to AC?

I understand wanted to create a purely cursed object with no benefits whatsoever, but once the players get over the shock and surmount the curse, then the item is pretty much done. If the item has some sweet benefits they may keep that bad boy and that makes the game and the item’s story more layered.

With that in mind I’ve created a bunch of cursed magic item properties which can be added to any existing magic items (homebrew or published). Of course, if you prefer to have a purely cursed item for your game, go ahead and simply add a cursed property or three to an existing item.

Cursed Item Properties

When giving a magic item (or a non-magical item) to your players, you may choose to add a cursed property to the item. These cursed properties are in addition to any other properties the item may already have. To give an item a cursed property, first determine if the item is a weapon, armor, spellcasting implement, consumable magic item, or non-armor wearable item (such as rings, cloaks, boots, etc.). Then roll or pick a cursed property for the item on the appropriate table.

Cursed Weapon Properties
d20 Property
1 When you score a critical hit with this weapon, it deals 1d12 psychic damage to you. This damage cannot be reduced in any way.
2 After attacking with this weapon for this first time it becomes grafted to one of your hands. While the weapon is grafted to you, you cannot drop or sheathe it and you cannot be disarmed. In addition any ability checks you make which require the use of both hands are made with disadvantage. Only a remove curse spell or similar magic can undo the grafting.
3 When you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll with this weapon, roll the weapon’s damage as if you had hit. Instead of the creature you attacked taking the damage, it heals for the damage amount you rolled.
4 When you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll with this weapon, you become poisoned until the end of your next turn.
5 When you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll with this weapon, you become blinded until the end of your next turn.
6 When you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll with this weapon, you become frightened of the creature you attack until the end of your next turn.
7 When you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll with this weapon, you become incapacitated until the end of your next turn.
8 This weapon only deals half damage to creatures of a certain type (chosen by the DM).
9 You have disadvantage on attack rolls made in sunlight with this weapon.
10 Whenever you miss an attack with this weapon, you fall prone.
11 When you draw this weapon it cannot be put away or dropped until it has damaged a creature. While the weapon is drawn and hasn’t dealt any damage yet, you cannot be disarmed. In addition any ability checks you make which require the use of both hands are made with disadvantage.
12 If you carry any other weapons on your person while you wield this weapon, attacks made with this weapon are made with disadvantage.
13 Each time you draw or pickup this weapon you take 1d6 psychic damage. This damage cannot be reduced in any way.
14 When you use this weapon to attack an enemy while you can see another enemy of a higher challenge rating, you have disadvantage on the attack roll.
15 This weapon cannot reduce a creature to 0 hit points. If a damage roll made with the weapon would normally reduce another creature to 0 hit points, that creature is instead reduced to 1 hit point.
16 When you roll a natural 1 with this weapon, you are charmed by the enemy you attacked until the end of your next turn. The creature you are charmed by is aware of this effect.
17 When you attack a creature with a higher Strength score than you with this weapon, the attack roll has disadvantage.
18 Creatures not native to the Material Plane are drawn to your weapon and wish to claim it for themselves.
19 In a combat encounter when all of your enemies are defeated, if you are carrying this weapon, you must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or see all conscious allies as hostile enemies for one minute. You can repeat this saving throw at the end of your turn, ending the effect on a success.
20 Roll twice on this table.

More to Come

You’ve probably noticed the four other four categories of curses are missing. Stay tuned for those on Thursday! It’s Labor Day weekend here in the US so the blog post is a little shorter than usual as I’m spending time with friends and family.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!


I sit down with Mike SheaSam Dillon, and Topher Kohan to discuss the free Dungeons and Dragons adventure, Harried in Hillsfar, featured in this month’s issue of Dragon+.


If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, Bonus Action, is up on The Tome Show’s website.

In this episode Sam Dillon and discuss the difference in spellcasting rules between classes. This is a part three in our look at spellcasting, following up episodes 007 and 009.  If you haven’t listened to those in a while, take a few minutes to go back and give yourself a refresher course on spells and terms in 5th edition D&D.

Sam’s Blog

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, The Round Table and Gamer to Gamer, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

One of my favorite adventure story tropes is people outrunning something huge and terrifying. Indiana Jones and that raging river in the Temple of Doom, the Catching Fire kids and that deadly mist, and almost any action movie with an explosion in it are perfect examples of this trope at work. Some of my favorite D&D sessions have ended with PCs running through narrow dungeon passages as some hazard like a wave of acid or crumbling ceiling chases right behind them. I’m aware that it’s impossible to outrun an explosion in the real world. So is casting magic missile.

Since I love this trope so much, I’ve created a few rules for how I use them in my games and I thought I’d give them to you! Check them out below.

Outrun Hazards

Outrun hazards are moving bodies of hazardous materials (like acid rivers or poison gas) which travel through enclosed spaces (like dungeons) and bear down on the characters. It helps if you have a map and minis to track the encounter when using outrun hazards.

Map. You’re going to need some sort of gridded or hexed map to help you keep track of the outrun hazard, especially if the encounter takes place in tight, winding tunnels. A map you can draw on is preferable, but if you can’t draw on the map use poker chips, tokens, or dice to help you track the hazard along the map. All of the other factors of your hazard can be tweaked based on the map you pick.

Tokens or Minis. You’ll need these to track the positions of PCs and other creatures on the map as they attempt to outrun the hazard.

There are a few common traits all outrun hazards have.

  1. Trigger. All outrun hazards have a trigger which makes them start moving. This could be anything from the lighting of a fuse to the breaking of a dam wall.
  2. Point of Origin. All outrun hazards have a point of origin. This point can be as small as a 5-foot square or as large as the entire edge of a map.  This is the space in which the hazard begins its run and should appear once triggered.
  3. Height. All outrun hazards have a height which should be noted at the start and can change as the hazards moves. (Note: If you want a direct flow outrun hazard to remain effective in a place with many wide open spaces, it’s fine to give it a height of “infinite” so running through wide spaces won’t suddenly eliminate its effectiveness. Not only that, it makes your life easier since you don’t have to track the height of the hazard. More on that below.)
  4. Flow. Flow describes the direction in which the outrun hazard moves. The various types of flow are listed below.
    • Direct. From the point of origin, this hazard moves in one direction as a straight line. When the hazard moves into an area wider than its current width, the hazard’s width changes to match that area’s width. For every 5 feet wider the hazard gets, it loses 1 foot from its height. For instance if a 10-foot-high, 50-foot-wide river of acid moves into a 60-foot-wide hall, it becomes a 8-foot-high, 60-foot-wide river of acid. If an outrun hazard moves into a space so wide it reduces its height to 0 feet, the hazard ceases to move and is not effective in that new space. When the hazard moves into a space narrower than its current width, the hazard’s width changes to match that area’s new width. For every 5 feet narrower the hazard gets, it gains 1 foot to its height. For instance if a 10-foot-high, 50-foot-wide river of acid moves into a 40-foot-wide hall, it becomes a 12-foot-high, 40-foot-wide river of acid. An indoor hazard can only grow to a height which the ceiling allows. (Note: If you want your outrun hazard to remain effective in a place with many wide open spaces, it’s ok to give it a height of “infinite” so running through wide spaces won’t suddenly eliminate its effectiveness. Not only that, it makes your life easier because you don’t have to track the height.) When an outrun hazard with a direct flow runs into a wall it begins moving in a new direction. If there is only one way for it to move after hitting the wall, it moves in the only direction it can. If after hitting the wall it can move in more than one direction, the hazard divides into equal parts and retains its height. So if a 10-foot-high, 50-foot-wide river of acid runs into a wall and can move in two directions, it becomes two rivers of acid each 10 feet high and 25 feet wide flowing in their respective new directions.
    • Explosive. Outrun hazards with explosive flows usually move quickly and dissipate even faster. These hazards move outwards from their point of origin in all directions as a sphere. Essentially they are a sphere with a growing radius. When these hazards hit a wall they stop moving in that direction, but continue moving in all other directions.
    • Infinite. Outrun hazards with an infinite flow usually move slowly, but can get into almost any space and take a long time to dissipate. An infinite flow hazard acts a direct flow hazard, except that it travels in all directions, not just a single direction, and it does not lose or gain height when it enters an area of a new width. It simply continues to move in all directions as its confines allow. Once an infinite flow hazard reaches an open, outdoor area, it stops moving in that direction.
  5. Initiative. All outrun hazards an initiative modifier and roll initiative as normal. During its turn an outrun hazard can only move. It cannot take actions or reactions.
  6. Speed. The speed at which the outrun hazard moves as described by its flow.
  7. Surge. On the hazard’s turn roll a d6. If the result is greater or equal to the hazard’s Surge value, the hazard moves twice its speed this turn.
  8. Effect. This the effect the outrun hazard has on a creature when it is within the hazard.
  9. Terminal Conditions. Eventually the outrun hazard runs out of steam. This entry describes how this occurs and what the lasting effects of the hazard on its environment are.

Sample Outrun Hazards

Here are a few sample outrun hazards. Feel free to tweak them as needed for your dungeons or campaigns.

Acid River

A bright green river erupts from the wall in a burst of pressure, sizzling the stones and objects in its way.

Trigger. There is a huge lake of acid held behind a dam of adamantine in the Underdark. Configuring levers in the right sequence allows for the dam to be opened and the acid to be released.

Point of Origin. A line 50 feet wide and 5 feet long.

Starting Height. 20 feet

Flow. Direct. The river of acid moves and grows in a direction opposite the lake.

Initiative. +1

Speed. 70 ft.

Surge. 5

Effect. A creature who gets caught by, moves into, or starts its turn in the river takes 22 (4d10) acid damage and must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or become restrained while in the river and move the with the river as it flows. As an action the creature can repeat this saving throw on its turn to try and escape the river. The creature has disadvantage on this saving throw if the height of the acid river is greater than the creature’s height.

With a successful DC 15 Strength (Athletics) check a creature can swim against the flow of the river.

Terminal Conditions. After 5 minutes, the lake has been emptied and the river stops moving. Any unattended objects in the complex susceptible to acid damage in the path of the river are completely destroyed. Small puddles of acid remain on the floor of the complex where the river flowed. Any creature which falls prone on this path takes 5 (1d10) acid damage.

Fiery Explosion

The glass column of elemental energy explodes in a tremendous, fiery burst.

Trigger. Dealing 100 damage to a huge, reinforced, glass column containing the raw elemental energy of fire.

Point of Origin. The column, which is in a cylinder with a 5-foot radius

Starting Height. 20 feet

Flow. Explosive

Initiative. +3

Speed. 90 ft.

Surge. 6

Effect. A creature who gets caught by, moves into, or starts its turn in the explosion takes 33 (6d10) fire damage and must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or fall prone.

Terminal Conditions. The explosion last 3 rounds and then ends. Unattended flammable objects within the radius of the explosion are completely destroyed.

Insanity Mist

A cloud of purple mist shaping itself to look several grinning, laughing faces emerges from a vent in the floor and begins filling up the complex.

Trigger. The mind-flayer villain wears an amulet around its neck. Upon its death the amulet releases the mist from the vents.

Point of Origin. The 5-foot square of the vent

Starting Height. 5 feet

Flow. Infinite

Initiative. +0

Speed. 50 ft.

Surge. 5

Effect. A non-aberration creature who gets caught by, moves into, or starts its turn in the mist must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or gain a form of short-term madness. If the creature fails this saving throw within the mists while it has a form of short-term madness, it then also gains a form of long-term madness. If it fails this throw within the mists while it has a form of long-term madness, it gains a form of indefinite madness.

Terminal Conditions. The mists linger indefinitely in the complex and can only be removed by a strong wind blowing throughout the complex for an hour. A strong wind can clear out a single room in the complex in 1d4 minutes provided the room is sealed from the rest of the complex.

Lava River

Lava pour forth from the mouths of the massive stone heads on the walls, creating a river of the stuff headed right for you.

Trigger. An ancient red dragon’s death triggers this hazard in its volcanic lair.

Point of Origin. A line 100 feet wide and 10 feet long

Starting Height. 50 feet

Flow. Direct. The river of lava moves away from the stone heads on the wall.

Initiative. +1

Speed. 60 ft.

Surge. 5

Effect. A creature who gets caught by, moves into, or starts its turn in the river takes 33 (6d10) fire damage and must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or become restrained while in the river and move the with the river as it flows. As an action the creature can repeat this saving throw on its turn to try and escape the river. The creature has disadvantage on this saving throw if the height of the river is greater than the creature’s height.

With a successful DC 20 Strength (Athletics) check a creature can swim against the flow of the river.

Terminal Conditions. After 5 minutes, the lava stops flowing. Any unattended objects in the complex susceptible to fire damage in the path of the river are completely destroyed. The molten lava remains in the complex though now it is simply a placid lake of the stuff which never cools and is 5 feet deep. Any creature which enters or starts its turn in this lava lake takes 22 (4d10) fire damage.

Raging River

The dam breaks, unleashing a torrent of water upon you.

Trigger. A shoddily made dam holds back a small lake. The dam can be broken open as an action with a successful DC 15 Strength check.

Point of Origin. A line 20 feet wide and 5 feet long

Starting Height. 10 feet

Flow. Direct. The river flows away from the lake.

Initiative. +1

Speed. 70 ft.

Surge. 5

Effect. A creature who gets caught by, moves into, or starts its turn in the river must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or become restrained while in the river and move the with the river as it flows. As an action the creature can repeat this saving throw on its turn to try and escape the river. The creature has disadvantage on this saving throw if the height of the river is greater than the creature’s height. Whenever the river flows and the creature moves with it, that creature takes 11 (2d10) bludgeoning damage from getting banged against walls and other objects.

With a successful DC 15 Strength (Athletics) check a creature can swim against the flow of the river.

Terminal Conditions. After 1 minute the lake has no more water and the river stops flowing.

Lighting Explosion

The glass column of elemental energy explodes in a tremendous burst of blue lightning.

Trigger. Dealing 100 damage to a huge, reinforced, glass column containing the raw elemental energy of lightning.

Point of Origin. The column, which is in a cylinder with a 5-foot radius

Starting Height. 20 feet

Flow. Explosive

Initiative. +3

Speed. 90 ft.

Surge. 6

Effect. A creature who gets caught by, moves into, or starts its turn in the explosion takes 33 (6d10) lightning damage and must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or become restrained for as long as it remains in the explosion. The creature can repeat this saving throw on its turn as an action, ending the restrained condition on a success.

Terminal Conditions. The explosion last 3 rounds and then ends. Unattended flammable objects within the radius of the explosion are completely destroyed.

Poison Mist

The statue of the dragon’s head breathes a sickly green gas into the air and an enormous cloud begins to form and take over the complex.

Trigger. A lever on the wall next to the dragon’s head.

Point of Origin. A 20-foot-radius sphere of gas

Starting Height. 20 feet (see Point of Origin)

Flow. Infinite

Initiative. +0

Speed. 50 feet

Surge. 5

Effect. A creature who gets caught by, moves into, or starts its turn in the mist takes 44 (8d10) poison damage and must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or become blinded for 1 minute.

Terminal Conditions. The mist lingers in the complex in 1d10 days. It can only be removed before that by a strong wind blowing throughout the complex for an hour. A strong wind can clear out a single room in the complex in 1d4 minutes provided the room is sealed from the rest of the complex.

Spice It Up

Obviously the examples listed here can be tweaked and modified to fit you specific dungeon needs. One quick way to make these outrun hazards even more exciting is to introduce chase complication tables and extra dash actions from the Dungeon Master’s Guide into the encounter.

PDF

For your convenience I put the rules and sample outrun hazards in a free PDF for you in the link below.

Outrun Hazards

This document will live forever on the Free Game Resources section of this site so if you ever need it again, go there to find it alongside magic itemsmonstersD&D fifth edition rules modulesbackgroundsspellsadventures, and more.

Playtest

This idea is still in-progress, so please let me know what you think in the comments below.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

That moment when we as DM’s get to reveal the boss monster at the end of a dungeon or story arch is always thrilling for us. I don’t just mean the final battle against Tiamat or Orcus at the end of a campaign. I’m talking about the boss monsters our players face at the end of almost every session before coming down from their Doritos crash. These baddies are the Crash Man to your campaign big bad’s Dr. Wily.

Have you ever been excited about a climatic reveal of one of these boss monsters only to have your players be unimpressed? Why should they be? They haven’t been thinking of this foe for a week or more the way you have. They might not know the villain’s backstory which is the reason the baddy had to monologue for five minutes before throwing down. They don’t know that the Monster Manual tells you that their blood should be running cold when they see a grell for the first time, which is why your description of a floating brain with tentacles was more confusing to them than intimidating. Odds are this is the first time they’ve met this enemy and I believe that is the problem.

Consider this. In almost every great movie the hero and villain meet several times before the climatic end encounter. That makes the fight personal and gives it meaning. Odds are that many of you are doing this with your big bads, but what about your medium bads? A big monster at the end of the dungeon is not necessarily as scary as you think when the players have no idea what they’re up against. This is even more true if you’ve got experienced players. They’ve taken down dragons in the past. Why should this one be any different?

In this blog post I’m going to give you some tips and tricks for introducing your boss monsters to players before the climax of the adventure so that your battles with these foes have some real dramatic weight. Many of these tips can easily be applied to published adventures, which often have boss monsters who players meet for the first and last time in battle at the end of a sprawling dungeon.

The One That Got Away

If the player characters can meet your baddy in combat once or twice before their final battle that’s always great for the story, but it’s also tricky. Odds are you don’t want your boss monster to die early or run away badly injured with the PCs laughing. On the same hand you probably also don’t want your players to get so throughly trounced that they all die or run away from the challenge thinking the villain way out their league. You also may not want your villain to reveal every trick and ability in its repertoire so the battle needs to be properly staged.

There’s a few way to handle meeting the baddy in battle before the winner-take-all-climactic battle.

During the first battle with the villain…

  • The boss monster is under-powered. The first time our heroes meet the boss monster in battle, the villain is not at full strength. Maybe the baddy is coming fresh off another battle and has used some resources. Maybe it has weaknesses in the environment where the first battle takes place (like a drow wizard fighting in the daylight).  Maybe it’s a creature that grows more powerful overtime and is rapidly evolving like in the video game Evolve. Maybe the villain doesn’t have all the minions in tow it plans on having during the final encounter. When the PCs reduce the foe to somewhere around half its hit points, it flees vowing vengeance and the culmination of a dastardly plan the PCs must stop. Giving this foe an ability, consumable item, or spell to aid their escape is not a bad idea. Flight, teleportation, and invisibility come to mind as options. You can always fudge the numbers to let the boss monster get away. Make it clear to them they caught the fiend unawares and next time they will not be so lucky.
  • The boss monster is over-powered. This is the opposite of the last idea. The PCs run into the boss monster at the peak of its power, perhaps on terrain ideally suited for the baddy, after the heroes have used lots of their own resources in other battles, during an encounter in which the villain gets a devastating surprise round, at a time when the enemy has some powerful artifact that’s powering it up, or at a time when this foe has many, many minions in tow. Make it clear to the PCs this is a fight they probably can’t win (at least without heavy casualties). I like to have a reason ready for the baddy to leave and not kill the PCs in case they don’t take the hint (like being suddenly called away or deciding the pathetic characters aren’t even worth its time), but that choice is yours. Maybe you even want to run a chase scene after such an encounter. When the PCs meet the villain again, this time they’re more prepared because they’ve got more resources, aren’t surprised, have powered down the foe in some way, or have thinned the ranks of enemy minions. Do this well and the climatic battle is tense, personal, and deadly.
  • The boss monster is in a vehicle. Much like Liquid Snake in Metal Gear Solid who is first fought in a helicopter, then a bipedal tank, and then hand-to-hand (and then in a truck), put your villain inside some sort of vehicle for the first battle and then have the baddy escape by disappearing mysteriously from the wreckage of appearing after an explosion no one should have been able to survive (without magic and/or mad skills). If the villain is in a vessel equipped with weapons, maybe the PCs don’t even get a taste of the boss monster’s real abilities as it uses those weapons instead of its own to attack. You might want to try one of Exploration Age’s mechs if you go this route.
  • The boss monster is just trying to accomplish a specific goal. When the PCs first run into the boss monster it isn’t too concerned with them because it has bigger fish to fry. Maybe the villain is stealing items from a magic shop for profit or to build some doomsday machine. Maybe the baddy appears to kidnap or kill a specific target. Whatever the reason once the goal is accomplished or clearly thwarted by the PCs, the enemy leaves, promising more mayhem to come. The boss monster might even leave some henchmen to battle the PCs and ensure its escape.
  • The boss monster has a pressing reason to leave. As the PCs engage the boss monster in a battle, something pulls its attention away from the PCs. Maybe it’s a higher-ranking villain contacting the boss monster with new, pressing orders. Maybe the boss monster’s lair is being attacked by a third party and it has to return to defend it. Maybe something shiny wanders through the battle and the boss monster chases after it. As the baddy leaves it promises some future pain for the PCs.

A Tense Meeting

Of course the PCs don’t have to battle the boss monster before the climax. Sometimes it’s even better if they can meet the villain in some way and have a face-to-face conversation. If the PCs first meet the boss monster in a crowded place where battle might hurt a lot of innocent people, while the baddy has a hostage or two, in a place the foe has prepared with lots of snipers and undercover agents ready to attack the PCs, or during a time which they don’t yet know the evil-doer is indeed evil, the PCs can be convinced or tricked into have a conversation without drawing steel. Make sure your villain has a reason for confronting the PCs in such a way other than you wanting them to meet before hand. Ask yourself, “Why does the boss monster need to talk with the PCs?” There’s plenty of answers to that question – to call a truce, to brag, to lure them into a trap, to arrange a trade of hostages or items, to get some information from them, etc.

Beyond Face-to-Face Communication

An easy way to have the boss monster meet the PCs before their climatic battle, is to give the villain some magical means of communication. If you’ve ever player Arkham Asylum, you know the fight with the Joker doesn’t happen until the end of the game, but that during the entire experience the Clown Prince of Crime is taunting Batman over the PA system and watching him with security cameras. Maybe the boss monster has a magical technology or connection with the dungeon the PCs are crawling through which allows him similar capabilities. If you don’t like that idea, maybe the villain has enhance telepathic abilities which allow it to speak to the characters in some way and it’s up to you as the DM whether or not they can respond. If all else fails, you can give the villain access to a spell such as dream, which allows it to enter the PCs dreams and speak to them while they sleep.

I Know You, But You Don’t Know Me

If the PCs don’t have a chance to directly interact with the villain, it helps the boss monster’s story if they have seen it in action or heard about it in some way. A tyrant queen gives a speech from a balcony right before executing innocent villagers. The PCs pass through a torched town and hear the people’s tale about the great dragon that burnt it to the ground and demanded gold. Rumors about the hag who lives in the swamp at the edge of town speak of her child-eating appetite. The PCs have never seen a mind-flayer, but by the looks of the former thralls they just found, the monster they are going up against is something entirely alien and terrifying. Giving the PCs a lot of little facts and rumors to go on will increase their fear and respect of the boss monster. Ask yourself what you’d like to have your PCs find out about the villain before facing it, and then make sure they have some way to get that information in a scene which also displays a good reason to fear the villain.

Sometimes It’s Ok to Surprise Them

Of course sometimes it’s ok to leave the boss monster’s identity a secret until the end of a dungeon or story arch, but make sure you have a good reason and that the surprise is a great twist that’s actually surprising. The PCs think they’re hunting a red dragon only to discover it’s a gold wyrm gone mad. The werewolf they’ve been tracking is actually the son or daughter of the patron who hired them to take it out. Finding a bugbear chief at the end of a tunnel full of bugbears is expected and boring if you haven’t given the PCs any reason to fear or hate the leader. Finding a kobold chief  who is surprisingly good at spellcasting leading the bugbears is surprising and fun just on its own.

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