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I'm designing an encounter for a skilled group of level 1s. What I'm trying to do is set up a villain that the party would have to fight later; thus, this encounter is supposed to be a forced loss. (Think the first Bowser battle from the original Paper Mario.)

My question is, how should I create this villain at so that he looks beatable but, even with the players' skill, he is not and a wipe would be guaranteed? Thanks!

EDIT: There are five players in the group: a paladin, a monk, a barbarian, a cleric, and a ranger.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by daze413, LegendaryDude, nvoigt, Wibbs, doppelgreener Dec 7 '16 at 14:45

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How exactly do you define "looks beatable"? Do your NPCs have their levels tattooed somewhere so PC can see them? \$\endgroup\$ – nvoigt Dec 7 '16 at 14:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, they don't. Their HP levels are visible to the group, but their character levels are not. \$\endgroup\$ – PSDuckie Dec 7 '16 at 14:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ FYI, the close votes on this question were split, it wasn't just closed as opinion based despite the message. 2 were for "unclear", 1 for "too broad", 2 for "primarily opinion based". But close messages only pick up one reason. I voted to close as unclear myself, because what you're describing involves far more than just picking a level. We do not know what your party composition is like, which is necessary for evaluating challenge. We also do not know what the villain is like, despite the fact we're being asked to pick a level for them. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Dec 7 '16 at 16:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah. I guess I just didn't give enough information; I apologize for that. \$\endgroup\$ – PSDuckie Dec 7 '16 at 20:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm voting to re-open because this addresses DM mechanics specifically. In my opinion, the question is very clear: He wants to know how to design an encounter that will keep the villain alive even if the party finds a way to outsmart him. Many DM's run into this kind of problem, and I for one have some very examples of tools he can use to help him with something like this that are not opinion based. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Dec 9 '16 at 16:07
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  • Make the villain some kind of sorcerer so he doesn't necessarily has a lot of HP.
  • Have him confront the party while the party has some helper NPCs (guards e.g.).
  • Have him pull out an unexpected magic protection, a group of supporters and/or a devastating attack spell which would wipe out the helper NPCs at an opportune moment.

What this should accomplish is:

  • Make him look beatable as far as players are concerned.
  • Demonstrate his power while not wiping the player characters (see Dungeon World: Announce future Badness).
  • Give the players a clue that a retreat would be wise.
  • Give them a hint to how they can stack the next encounter in their favor (not let the villain's mooks ambush then, find countermeasure against his magical attack/defense).
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Very similar to my answer so I will add differences here. I like to have the NPC companion fight one small fight with them in the hall outside the "boss room" and have them decimate low level enemies. Then, the players can see how strong the companion is, then see how easily they are taken down by the boss. That gives them a good context for the boss' power level. \$\endgroup\$ – Calvin Smith Dec 7 '16 at 14:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @CalvinSmith If you have an answer that differs, even slightly, you should add it as an answer instead of commenting on someone else's. Comments are ephemeral; answers are not. Of course, don't do that now because the question is on hold until we get further clarification from the querent. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Dec 7 '16 at 14:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd somewhat caution against a caster... they can end up being glass cannons. I like some of the ideas you have though... maybe have the bad guy destroy an NPC that is super powerful? like the players have seen this NPC just destroy bad guys, then BOOM, he get's one-shot. \$\endgroup\$ – Jeff Dec 14 '16 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jeff The idea comes from the Dungeon World rules. They are intentionally informally written and can be read as a book of GM advice. The main thing is the GM making "soft moves" like "Announce Future Badness" or "Announce Distant Badness" and then following up with "hard moves" like "Inflict Harm" or "Take Their Stuff Away". \$\endgroup\$ – Zalktis Dec 15 '16 at 1:27

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