Prep Techniques: Boss Monster Examples

Here, I talked about building scenarios around antagonists. I’m going to give a couple of examples of that sort of prep, as scenario sketches. I’d want a bit more personalisation if I was going to run these myself, but I would probably do that while loading up Roll20 for them.

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3rd level is the sweet spot for a lot of 5e D&D play, but it can be tricky to fit in a big damn hero encounter to it – so here’s one. A quick check of Xanathar’s suggests that 4 x level 3 characters should be soloing a CR 3 legendary monster, so let’s start with Pitgurat as a CR 2 Eye of Gruumsh and level him up using Matt Colville’s Villain Actions – making hit CR 2 legendary, but he won’t be encountered alone. He’s looking for sacrifices to complete some big evil ritual to bring ruin to the human settlement, and he’s enlisted the help of the thieve’s guild to help him – which is probably how the PCs learn of his schemes.

Here’s his boss profile

Name: Pitgurat the Blade, orc ritualist and cult leader

Goal & why the PCs care: His ritual will spread Gruumsh’s corruption and destroy the town of Greendale.

Secret weakness: He has a terrible rage when slighted, and will stop at nothing to pursue imagined slights (to tie this down as an actual weakness, this means that if the PCs can spread the word about him, he’ll track them down himself – meaning they can face him on his terms, instead of in his caves with hordes of cultists.

Description: An ambitious Eye of Gruumsh, Pitgurat’s war chief and lover was killed by adventurers from the town of Greendale three years ago. Since then, he’s gathered what’s left of the tribe, and enlisted the help of some humans, to try and enact a ritual to destroy Greendale forever. 

Lieutenants (1-3): Althadore the sly, leader of the thieves’ guild – knows Pitgurat’s weakness, and has been kept in the dark about the wholescale destruction of the town – he just wants the town council disposed of and Greendale corrupted (he’s a bandit captain in terms of stats); Yaradoth, Pitgurat’s lieutenant – a towering, one-eyed Orog who’s fiercely defensive of Pitgurat.

Mid-range Antagonists: Orcs, of course – most of Pitgurat’s tribe bear significant scars and injuries from the adventurer’s attacks. 

Minions: The thieve’s guild, human bandits, have thrown in their lot with Pitgurat as well. The orcs keep some goblin servants around too, to do their dirty work and help with Pitgurat’s rituals

Locations: The sprawling warehouses of the thieves guild, converted to a makeshift altar of Gruumsh as a show of faith with Pitgurat; the dark forests around Greendale where sacrifices for the ritual are abducted from merchants and traders; the orc caves, with a central ritual chamber.

Potential non-combat challenges: Opening scene – Althadore’s men try and burn down a tavern with the PCs in it to deter any interference. Navigating the trap-filled orc caves (I’d run this as a skill challenge / montage thing, not doing individual trap nonsense).

Star Trek Adventures – Captain Gazzad of the “Orion Space Navy”

Let’s go for a change of setting now, with an orion pirate and trickster suitable for an original series-era game of Trek. He’s set a planet up as a trap for the next Federation starship of do-gooders to arrive, with the aim of capturing a Constitution-class vessel (the PCs’ own).

Here’s his boss profile:

Name: Captain Ullad Gazzad, orion pirate and trickster

Goal & why the PCs care: To capture a Federation starship

Secret weakness: Gazzad is a sucker for a pretty face. He’s set up the resort on this planet to be the ideal retreat for a Federation captain, but it’s a little too sleazy for starfleet.

Description: Gazzad has rebuilt the settlement of Novaris on Erickron IV as the ideal pleasure planet, and presented himself as a prophet and wanderer. His crew are concealed among the staff of the resort, and he has sent an SOS – they’ve discovered volcanic activity in the caves around the resort, and need it to be made safe – or them evacuated. Of course, he’s faked the volcanic signals, and plans to trap the Captain and senior crew down there and then take over the starship.

Lieutenants: Bazzal Thor is an allied b, who’s got a cruiser in a nearby orbit for when the Captain is dealt with. He trusts Gazzad little, but knows a good scam when he sees one. Litoral is a native of Erickron IV who’s in on the deal – he presents Gazzad as his brother (a tricorder scan reveals this is unlikely) to allay any suspicions.

Mid-range Antagonists: The crew of Thor’s vessel – who try to beam aboard as a boarding action. Gazzad has several Orion crewmembers around Novaris who will help him, too.

Minions: The volcanic activity in the mines is fake, but the Erickronian Tunnel Worms – six foot long carnivorous scavengers – are very real, and will attack when the PCs are trying to escape the caves and race to their ship.

Locations: In orbit around Erickron, where sensors are weakened due to the planet’s unusual geology; the resort of Novaris, where Orions have set up the natives to provide the ultimate shore leave; the caves near Novaris, with passages rigged to blow and dangerous tunnel worms.

Potential non-combat challenges: Investigate and find out that the resort is full of Orions; navigate and escape the caves; the likely finale of starship combat with the Orion cruiser isn’t exactly non-combat, but it’s at a different scale so we’ll include it.

So, two examples of boss monster prep in action. Let me know if you’ve used the technique – or one like it – yourself.

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