Not long ago, my neighborhood band of merry murder hobos were plumbing the depths of the local dungeon when they stumbled upon the trail of a lich. They were appropriately frightened and impressed, as well they should be. I was the GM in this scenario, and I knew what they were up against. This lich was all kinds of evil. It was super intelligent.  It was a powerful caster with minions out the wazoo, and there was a very real chance that the encounter would turn into a TPK.

Fortunately for my PCs, they were both clever and lucky. They managed to recruit a number of powerful allies before taking on the lich. They used divination magic to find the location of Big, Mean, and Gruesome as well as his phylactery. They avoided the minions, went straight to the lich’s door, and cast silence on the rogue before she picked the lock. That translated into a surprise round. The cavalier set up for the charge, then one-hit-killed my monster before it even got an action. There was much rejoicing.

Ecstatic about the success of my players, I told the story to some of my non-gamer friends. It’s their response that I really want to talk about. “They just killed the thing?” they said. “Well that’s kind of lame.”

And if I was describing a book or a movie or some other form of fiction, I think they’d have a point. “The heroes do everything right and then win” isn’t much of a story. And as GMs, I think it’s all too easy to get caught up in that mindset. The sense that, “This is a boss fight! It’s supposed to be an epic combat!” can be overwhelming. Suppose I’d fudged my lich’s initiative roll. Suppose it was facing that door so that there wasn’t a surprise round. It could have teleported behind its minions and cast spells from a distance. The PCs might have had to charge a whole army. Epic combat! Satisfying conclusion! Explosions!

But sometimes, you’ve got to abandon the idea of “how the combat is supposed to go.” It’s a game that we play, not just a story that we tell. And if we truly believe that RPGs are great because “anything can happen,” then there ought to be a chance for anything to happen. That includes one shot kills on the boss.

Question of the day then: Have you ever had a “boss encounter” turn into a cakewalk? What happened? Let’s hear your story in the comments!


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