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So, as you may have seen from my earlier question about this campaign, I am a DM in a Star Wars D&D campaign. The climax of a long series of adventures is a fight with a Sith Lord.

After watching several YouTube videos on how to create top-notch boss fights, one thing was consistent- have a variety of monsters, rather than just one. the DM Lair in particular advised this.

However, the entire campaign is focusing on one villain. How can I have a boss fight with a loner like my Sith have multiple enemies?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi! Since this is an idea-generating question, it might be off-topic for the main site, but I think lots of folks will be ready to help you on the Role-playing Games Chat side. \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Jan 10 at 20:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sold that this is purely idea generation. There may actually be a "right" answer to this for D&D 5e... I'm not familiar with the system myself, but I know they added Legendary (and/or Lair?) Actions that allow single enemies to be much more difficult than in other RPG's. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Jan 10 at 20:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do think the final line should be reworded to be more directed at operating a boss fight in D&D 5e, not Star Wars Lore (unless you legitimately want to know about Sith Lords' minions, in which case there are better forums for that) \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Jan 10 at 20:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ifusaso That is partially true, but I know many GMs consider Lair actions, Legendary reactions etc to not be sufficient to make solo monsters on-par with diverse encounters (a sentiment I personally agree with) \$\endgroup\$ – kviiri Jan 10 at 20:26
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Give them minions like Stormtroopers or Battle Droids.

There's a number of scenes from Star Wars media where this sort of thing happens - just off of the top of my head, one of the first scenes where Darth Vader shows up in Star Wars Rebels involves him attacking the protagonists and engaging the group's Jedi in a lightsaber duel while his stormtroopers get into a gun battle with the blaster-wielding rebels.

Moreover, because you're playing this game using DnD 5e rather than one of the numerous Star Wars games, you've got the advantage of 5e's Bounded Accuracy design, which means that low-level foes are still capable of credibly threatening high-level players, since leveling affects damage and HP much more than it does accuracy and AC.

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Don't

Now, this might seems like a non-answer at first, but bear with me.

The reason boss fights "need" more than 1 monster in 5E is due to the action economy. Legendary actions are supposed to offset this, but sometimes you hit level 20 and not even a Tarrasque can slow down your band of murder hobos.

Paragon Creatures are your solution. That web page has a lot of info on it, so I'll try to summarize it here.

First you choose an amount of creatures to Frankenstein into your Paragon.

Now you set up the HP Pools. Your Paragon has an amount of HP equal to the sum of all the creatures that make it up. Keep track of total HP, but also each Pool. Once a Pool hits 0 HP it is gone and no excess damage flows over to the next pool. Healing, likewise, can only apply 1 one Pool at a time, and once a Pool is depleted it can't be remade with healing (It counts as if you had killed a creature).

After each Pool is lost the amount of Paragon Actions the creature can take is modified, and if you're so inclined, it's abilities may be modified too.

Paragon Actions

Paragon Actions are what make these creatures special. A Paragon Action is similar to a legendary action but instead of specific things costing an amount of legendary actions the monster gets an entire turn. Full move, full action, everything. These Paragon Actions are full turns that the creature gets and they are inserted into the initiative after any PC (You pick, but the creature can't take 2 turns in a row). There are 2 ways to approach how the creature gets and uses these actions.

  • Paragon Enrage: As the creature loses HP Pools it gains an additional Paragon Action
  • Paragon Exhaustion: As the creature loses HP Pools it loses a Paragon Action

What you're essentially doing here is making a World of Warcraft boss fight out of D&D monsters. I've used this many times to my players delight, as it feels much better (to them) to fight 1 big bad guy than a medium bad guy and his 4 wimpy buddies, or 2 moderately bad guys at the same time.

If you want more characters in the fight you could have a Paragon Bad Guy and his Paragon Minion (Which you can read about in the first version of the Paragon Monster blog)

This type of creature might be more susceptible to crowd control (hold person, etc) because they work as normal, but they do get additional tries per turn to break out of it. This is potentially abuse-able so you could give them legendary resistance, or when a Pool runs out the creature shrugs off all current effects on it.

To determine which HP Pool is hit first you choose an order for the HP Pools to be damaged in. Only one HP Pool can be "active" at once though, so the DM shouldn't have all pools get damaged down to 1 HP then switch to a different one, they must be fully depleted.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This looks like a really cool concept. Would you mind giving some more details on your experience about playing Paragons? Specifically (1) How does the Enrage vs Exhaustion changes the shape of the fight? and (2) How do you determine which HP Pool is affected? (Player's choice? DM's choice? Random?) \$\endgroup\$ – Matthieu M. Jan 12 at 13:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Seems like a great idea for a start, but could you expand with some details like for instance, how does this interact with things like crowd control effects (Hold Person / Hold Monster), Banishment or even something as pedestrian as a Net? \$\endgroup\$ – Cubic Jan 12 at 18:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MatthieuM. The HP pool is the DM's choice, they're usally in an order like MMO phases of boss fights. As for the Enrage Vs Exhaustion: Engrage definitely feels like it ramps up and gets more intense as the battle goes on and exhaustion is more intese in the beginning and you feel like you're wearing your foe down \$\endgroup\$ – Glenn Driver Jan 12 at 23:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Cubic Crowd Control affects it as if it was one monster. It might be an oversight in the design but they do get twice as many tries to break the CC. I might add a thing where once and HP pool is depleted it breaks any current negative (or all) spell effects on it \$\endgroup\$ – Glenn Driver Jan 12 at 23:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Relevant meta: Don't signal your edits in text. Instead, you should edit your answer to read as if it were always the best version of itself. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jan 14 at 0:04
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I agree with what you've found that having some sort of minion-esque thing is important, if not necessary.

The reason I believe this to be the case is because a solitary fight against a creature with nothing else going on except their actions turns into a bit of a crawl, or at least a repetitive process of fighting turn after turn against the same single enemy. If your final boss is completely alone, and doesn't have underlings or minions willing to fight alongside them, then you aren't going to have very many options. Here are things I've done in this sort of scenario:

Have the Sith Lord summon minions

One way would be to have the Sith Lord summon creatures to their aid. There are many spells and magic items to accomplish this sort of thing such as a Bag of Tricks or spells such as animate objects, conjure animals, or even something like simulacrum. This is, more or less, identical to them having minions fight alongside them but there are some extra stipulations such as concentration, spell slots used, and other things that you'll need to consider.

Have the arena be the "minions"

This is a much more difficult thing to pull off, where you would have the real challenge of the boss fight be the fight's location. Things like traps and moving walls and ways to disorient the party all around. This is very difficult to pull off and I would caution against it. A lot of things can go wrong when the party takes too long to get past an obstacle, and it can start to feel somewhat repetitive on the party as well.

Give the Sith Lord phases

A final option would be to have the final boss consist of phases - giving the fight "sections". This basically turns your "single enemy boss fight" into a multi-enemy fight, it's still one at a time, but you can cheat a bit by making the phases utterly distinct. A nice benefit of this option and the previous one is that you can toss out a trap or a phase if the party isn't doing too hot.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Worth noting that the 'minions' is also how video games tend to do it. Look at the fight with Darth Kreia for example in KotoR2, in D&D terms that fight involved a lot of animated objects. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Jan 13 at 10:14
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Note: I've taken some of the great points outlined in this Matt Colville video on Running the Game.

Short Answer: Use Minions* and Legendary Actions

Minions

Yes yes, I know you said that the bad guy is a "loner", but there are plenty of minions who don't count, especially if the character would think they didn't count.

Droids, summoned creatures, bound demons, mooks, and the like. A villain doesn't have to be caring to have followers.

Legendary Actions

This is going to give your bad guy something to do between character turns in the round. It also has the benefit of removing the "four players hit the boss and it soaks up a bunch of damage and then the boss nearly kills one player haha" monotony.

The sorts of Legendary actions I see most often are "Make a Saving Throw instead of Failing" or "Make an attack against some characters" or "Gain some HP".

Matt Colville suggests an alternative/variant idea: Villain Actions. The idea is to map out 3, successive, actions that you can use over multiple rounds. The Goblin Captain he maps out has the following:

  1. "What are you waiting for " - All minions can either move towards an enemy or attack, not both
  2. "Focus Fire" - All minions can move to a specific target within range (not attack)
  3. "Kill" - All minions can make two melee attacks at a target within range.

Personal experience

I had planned to use the above "advice", but hadn't implemented it until just recently for a group of 6th level characters. I used a sahuagin Baron. The sahuagin "minions" all had 1 hp, but dealt full damage.

During the sahuagin Baron's turns he had the following options:
Action: Attack normally
Bonus Action: Summon another sahuagin
Reaction: Revive a fallen sahuagin minion
Round 1 option: What are you waiting for (as above)
Round 2 option: Summon a giant shark as a reaction
Round 3 option: Summon a lightning storm that invokes upon death

This went great. The battle felt dynamic and I got several compliments on it. I had the final death-throes lightning strike do 2d8 for every sahuagin that was within 10 feet (3, in my case, so 8d). One of the players was knocked unconscious, the druid was knocked out of beast shape, the front-liner was heavily wounded, but the enemy was defeated. It was dramatic and mostly revolved around one enemy.... that summoned minions.

"Villain actions" is 100% something I plan on utilizing heavily in the future.

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Use the Angry GM's Paragon Rules

I highly recommend reading the post in its entirety (insert warning about angry psuedo-swearing), however I will do my best to paraphrase it as per SE rules.

In essence you do use a group of monsters, however they all occupy the same space and you describe them as if they are a single tough monster. If you use four orc warriors to make your orc warchief for example, the warchief will have four hit point pools and four different turns in the Initiative order.

The main differences are that the party can only damage one hitpoint pool at a time, any status effects end when a hitpoint pool is depleted and each time the gestalt loses a full hitpoint pool it also loses the associated turn in the Initiative order.

This will give the effect of a single tough enemy who will noticeably get worn down and weaker as they suffer damage. You can even get fancy and pile multiple monsters together.

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Split the Party

This is incredibally difficult to handle as a GM, but I would advise watching how the SW films and TV shows are paced.

At the climax, most of the characters are separated. During RotJ, Luke is fighting Vader, Lando is flying with the fleet, and Han, Leia, and Chewie are leading the ground forces on Endor. The 5 of them were not in a fight with Vader.

Consider upping the stakes to more than just "kill the bad guy." Give them some sort of goal that is already in motion. Someone has to stop that plan, while simultaneously, someone has to fight the Sith to prevent them from doing it again later.

Consider for a given encounter giving each player a few rounds in the spotlight, then do a screen wipe to a different scene.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you should point out the importance of making sure everyone feels like they've accomplished something. \$\endgroup\$ – NeutralTax Jan 11 at 19:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ An idea would be split some of the players to fight the boss, then the others players discover if boss get's killed a bunch of explosives will destroy NPC's they care about. \$\endgroup\$ – NeutralTax Jan 11 at 19:21

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