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D&D 5E Bosses should have half as many actions as there are PCs

I believe the best way to solve the problem of bosses not having good action economy would be to give bosses extra turns per PC. Half seems like a good number.
As a default this can work - but I prefer the 4e approach where the extra actions can depend on the boss monster. For example each dragon type got a different extra action by character (so the blue lightning struck, the green did a flyby attack, and the white just charged you down) - but while Beholders only got one action they got to eye-ray each PC who didn't spend their entire turn in the anti-magic field on that PC's turn. Then there's the third option where casters and dragons alike get inherently more dangerous with more PCs because they have a lot of AoE attacks that hit everyone.

All boss monsters should have some way of scaling to larger parties but half as many actions as PCs is far from the only way and is pretty limiting in terms of boss type.
 

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d24454_modern

Explorer
It definitely has a domino effect on several parts of the game...
  • More Reactions: The "boss" will have more reactions to use throughout the round, as the rule is: "When you take a Reaction you can’t take another one until the start of your next turn." That's a cool side effect.
  • Uneven Shaking Off: Additionally, the boss will shake off effects that last until start/end of its next turn much faster. This will make concentration or other longer duration effects more valuable. And it also doesn't mitigate effects like the monk's Stunning Strike, which last until the end of the player's next turn. I'm not sure whether that's a good side effect, because of its uneven application.
  • Susceptible to On-Its-Turn Triggers: Some spells/effects trigger on the enemy's turn, such as immolation, which states: "At the end of each of its turns, the target repeats the saving throw. It takes 4d6 fire damage on a failed save, and the spell ends on a successful one." In other words, as a side effect of giving the boss multiple turns, suddenly you've made it more susceptible to a very specific type of spell/effect which smart players will exploit.
  • Initiative & End-of-Round Hijinx: If we say the boss' buffs/debuffs last till "end of round", then what happens when the boss gets unlucky and rolls crummy initiatives of 6 and 8, and then all the PCs go first, then it does its buff/debuff which... lasts until the end of the round... which comes right after its initiative count of 8? Not saying it couldn't work, but as presented, poor initiative rolls would affect this proposed boss more than many of the baseline critters in the Monster Manual.
  • Boss' Spells End Faster: With each individual turn counting as 1 round on the boss' "spell clock", that means that the larger the PC's party, the faster the boss' spell effects end. For example, against 3 players, the boss casts a 1 minute duration spell – that 1 minute would normally be 10 rounds (of 6 sec each), but with your interpretation becomes 10 turns, which instead becomes 2-and-1/2 rounds, or thereabouts. Whereas against 6 players, the boss casts the same 1 minute duration spell – and instead of lasting 10 rounds, or even 2-and-1/2 rounds, it barely lasts 1-and-1/2 rounds. Is that intended? It seems to be an unintentional side effect?
I was think of using Octopath Traveler-esque rules where "once per turn" type effects occur at the end of the round and only happen once per round.
 

All bosses should have the Mythic Trait. One of the things that Dave2008 has done, from what I've seen on a number of his posts, is basically make something called an "Elite Trait" which works/is the Mythic Trait for elite type monsters or bosses. I like that idea a lot.

So yes a Boss Fight should have the Mythic/Elite Trait that activates after a boss's HP is reduced to zero. Another thing I saw, in a recent thread about Dragons, is that Lair actions should be added to the list of Legendary Actions that can be done, either costing one or two uses of Legendary Actions.

So an example could be if the party is fighting fighting a Noble within their own Mansion, said Noble could use a Lair Action, as a Legendary Action, to pull a book from a bookcase to cause a hidden passage to activate, allowing them to do a long range form of "Misty Step" or to take them to the other side of the combat area.
 

If it is because your group is larger than four, you might want to try this. This is what I use for my groups of 6 players and it has worked quite well so far and it does not take that much work.

Add 1 feat/ASI per 4 CR
Add 1 legendary action per players above 4
Multiply HP by (1+ 0.25× number of PC above 4) So 6 PCs means a multiplication 1.5.
Add 1.5 AC (round up this time) by PC above 4.
And let the big solo boss use magic items in his treasure if it can.

So far this method never failed me and gave players a pause when they see/know that a solo monster is or might be coming.
 
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Horwath

Hero
I would not change monster abilities at all.

As mentioned, add more mooks, they add damage and reactions but can be easily put down.
Killing them also gives players feel of advancement in the fight.


But some boss monsters could be "life leechers" to make them "faster"

I.E. a vampire could have an aura(put the radius at whatever you like) that deals 1d4 necrotic damage to every living creature at the start of it's turn.
For every creature damaged by this a vampire gets one more attack in it's multiattack action as lifeforce of others hastens it.
You might limit the number of these extra attacks. Or have any extra over the limit of attacks heal the vampire for that number of d4's. Or have both.
 

MarkB

Legend
If I were going to give a monster two turns, I wouldn't roll initiative twice for it - too much chance of it going twice in a row, which is unfun. I'd just put its next turn halfway further along in the turn order than its rolled initiative.
 

jayoungr

Legend
Let's say the boss is fighting a party of four. The boss would get two turns per round. Everybody rolls for Initiative. The DM would roll for Initiative twice for the boss. The turn order would be something like: PC #1, Boss, PC #2, PC #3, Boss, PC #4.
In my experience, depending on the group, that might not be enough actions for the boss. I've run bosses with three legendary actions plus a lair against a well-prepared group of four PCs, which means the "opposition" essentially has one action per PC, and the boss did not win.

As mentioned, add more mooks, they add damage and reactions but can be easily put down.
Killing them also gives players feel of advancement in the fight.
My problem with this approach is that my groups tend to ignore the mooks and focus-fire the boss, assuming they can eat a few attacks from the minions. Any suggestions on how to counteract that? I can't always make the boss inaccessible until the mooks are down.
 
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Horwath

Hero
In my experience, depending on the group, that might not be enough actions for the boss. I've run bosses with three legendary actions plus a lair against a well-prepared group of four PCs, which means the boss essentially has one action per PC + one for the lair, and the boss did not win.


My problem with this approach is that my groups tend to ignore the mooks and focus-fire the boss, assuming they can eat a few attacks from the minions. Any suggestions on how to counteract that? I can't always make the boss inaccessible until the mooks are down.
mooks can have sentinel-like feat, and reach weapons. That tends to lower the mobility of PCs

Lair(main hall) can also be littered with simple traps that limit/slow movement. like bear traps or falling tanglefoot bags. Speaking of it, every mook should carry one tanglefoot bag.
 

dave2008

Legend
If I were going to give a monster two turns, I wouldn't roll initiative twice for it - too much chance of it going twice in a row, which is unfun. I'd just put its next turn halfway further along in the turn order than its rolled initiative.
In 4e they gave some solos something like that. Tiamat had set initiative counts for each head (IIRC) and the Dragon of Tyr from Darksun had 3 turns on set initiative counts. Similarly, dragons in the Monster Vault line got "Instinctive actions" which were triggered on their initiative count +10. I really liked that idea.
 

dave2008

Legend
In my experience, depending on the group, that might not be enough actions for the boss. I've run bosses with three legendary actions plus a lair against a well-prepared group of four PCs, which means the boss essentially has one action per PC + one for the lair, and the boss did not win.
Not everything is an action economy issue. If the boss isn't tough enough (HP/AC/DPR) then it doesn't really matter how many actions it has. If you really want to run a solo boss fight in 5e, the CR needs to be quite a bit higher the PCs. As a general rule I would say +6-10. For a better rule of thumb (which accommodates party size) use the Epic Encounter difficulty table.
 

jayoungr

Legend
Not everything is an action economy issue. If the boss isn't tough enough (HP/AC/DPR) then it doesn't really matter how many actions it has.
To be clear, I wasn't complaining about that particular boss not providing a satisfying fight. It did. Just saying that the economy can very likely stand even more boss actions (depending on the boss, of course, as you say).
 

jgsugden

Legend
Here are some suggestions I use to keep a boss fight interesting:

1.) Use bosses with legendary/lair actions. If they don't have them, just add them.

2.) Position the boss battle in a changing terrain. If you have a Giant Ape attacking the city and the PCs are fighting it, consider the impacts the destruction of the city might have on the PCs and how they might fight.

3.) Give secondary objectives to the PCs. If a Giant Ape is attacking, there are innocent people in danger. If the PCs help, great. If not, are they blamed for the deaths? How will that impact the situation in the future?

4.) Don't. Let them be easier. Not every battle needs to be a drag out fight to the death. When PCs win big, it makes them feel like heroes. Just make sure that every combat has a purpose, even if it isn't to challenge the PCs. A Giant Ape attacking town could be an easy win for the PCs - but why was a Giant Ape attacking town?
 

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