As a GM, it is your job to loseYou’re there to offer adversity and to provide a challenge, but ultimately you’ve got to concede defeat to the mighty PCs. This can be a tough pill to swallow, especially when the players start talking smack.

“Awww…did a widdle orc sergeant wanna sound the alarm? I bet he wanted all his blood inside his body too. Huehuehue.”

While obnoxious, it’s pretty easy to let that mess roll off your shoulders when it’s a random encounter or an evil lieutenant. But when you design a boss monster, give him a back story, put everything you’ve got into making the encounter memorable, and then watch as the party face-stomps the poor schlub, you’ve got a call to make. Do you let the party get away with the win, bring in the villain’s escape kit, or simply add another 50 hit points to the big bad?

My thinking on the subject has been shaped by a couple of old school gamers in my group. They tell the story of a homebrew campaign in the world of Hârn. The homebrew bit involved exploding dice, and their ridiculously complicated crit charts involved that most dreaded of all random results: insta-death. So when they get to the campaign’s villain and wade into combat, it should go without saying that they immediately roll a 4 on a d4. Followed by another. Followed by another. Followed by another. And when the crit chart comes up with the inevitable “it’s dead, Jim,” gamer legend tells of the greatest travesty of the age.

“Ummm… You deal it a grievous wound. The Demon Lord flees.”

I’m not going to call out my fellow GMs for throwing a few extra hp onto their boss monsters. I’m not going to claim that giving this legendary thing one last action before it succumbs can never make for a more satisfying encounter. But if you choose to go that route, you better make damn sure your players don’t catch you in the act. Because the players in that long-ago basement of 198X could see the crit charts, and they knew that they’d been robbed of glory. That injustice still echoes down through the ages (especially after they’ve had a few beers).

How about the rest of you guys? How do you go about making sure your boss monsters provide a suitably epic challenge? And (for poor Fighter’s sake) if you find that you’ve made your encounter that little bit too hard, how do you scale it back? Do you?