Whether you love or hate World of Warcraft, it’s a wonderful resource for the tabletop gamer. In D&D 4th Edition, one of the goals people strive for is to make dynamic encounters which encourage movement. Now consider that in WoW, each of the many dungeons and raids are filled with bosses which have had hundreds of man hours of development and testing to provide an encounter which is dynamic and interesting.
Here are some examples of encounters, and how I’d translate them to D&D.
Thaddius’s Polarity Shift
There is a Frankenstein’s monster-style boss named Thaddius with an ability called Polarity Shift. In short, it randomly assigns everyone else a positive or negative charge. People get a damage bonus for standing next to others with the same charge, and take damage for standing near others with the opposite charge.
In D&D terms, I’d say every 2-3 rounds have each player flip a coin and gain one of the following two auras:
Positive Charge aura 5; allies with a Negative Charge starting their turn in this aura take 1d6/tier radiant damage. Allies with a Positive Charge in the aura do an additional 1d6/tier radiant damage on all damage rolls. Multiple Positive Charge auras stack.
Negative Charge aura 5; allies with a Positive Charge starting their turn in this aura take 1d6/tier necrotic damage. Allies with a Negative Charge in the aura do an additional 1d6/tier necrotic damage on all damage rolls. Multiple Negative Charge auras stack.
This effect would probably work best with something like an angel or another immortal. You could also change up the energy types; for example, fire/cold would work just as well for an elementally-themed boss, or maybe even sonic/lightning for a storm theme.
A huge dragon named Razorscale circles around the sky. There are some massive harpoon launchers which can be used to bring her down, but it takes time for the NPC allies to set them up and man them. In the meantime, dark iron dwarves tunnel up and begin an assault. The players have to hold off the dwarves while the harpoons are being setup, and all the while Razorscale lobs fire from the heavens, safely out of reach.
In WoW, it takes a couple of tries to finally defeat Razorscale. After a few precious moments of her being on the ground, she breaks free and returns to the sky. In D&D, I’d probably just have the dragon be grounded once and then that’s it.
This encounter could be an excellent climactic finale to take down a BBEG who just so happens to be a dragon. The PCs must defend the harpooners from wave after wave of minions, and every turn on its initiative the dragon creates a burst 1 zone on the ground which is consumed in flame for a few turns. When the dragon is grounded, it continues attacking with its breath, buffeting with its wings, and swiping with its tail.
Garfrost is an undead giant. He has an aura which continually deals cold damage to players, and increases their vulnerability to cold damage. The only way to get rid of it is to get out of line of sight from him, which is difficult because the fight takes place in a wide open area.
“Thankfully,” Garfrost periodically throws huge boulders at certain people, creating an obstacle which they can hide behind to shake off his aura.
In converting Garfrost, I’d like to introduce a new keyword and accompanying mechanic: Telegraphed. A power which is telegraphed must be “announced” the turn before it is used. The DM simply says, “Garfrosts telegraphs an attack.” Any player may take a minor action to attempt a hard insight check, based on the boss’s level, to figure out what the boss is doing. If successful, the DM tells them something which should be enough for them to make a plan to mitigate the attack.
As a rule of thumb, telegraphed attacks should be significantly more powerful than normal. They might auto-hit without an attack roll, and/or they may do far more than normal damage.
For a Garfrost-esque encounter, I’d go with a magma-themed giant and give him the three following attacks.
Lob Boulder He hefts up a massive boulder and eyes [player]. The boulder is targeted at any square on the turn it’s telegraphed, and when it is thrown creates a burst 2 zone there which blocks line of sight. Anyone in the zone takes [a lot of] damage, is pushed 5 squares, and knocked prone.
Shockwave He lifts his foot off the ground and concentrates all of his strength into his leg. The following turn, he smashes the ground, sending shrapnel in a burst 20. Anyone within the burst takes [a lot of] damage, is blinded (save ends), and is knocked prone.
Detonate He seems to be staring intently at something. Following his gaze, you notice that the boulder is shaking and beginning to crack. The following turn, the boulder explodes in a burst 5, destroying itself and dealing [a lot of] damage to everyone in the burst.
The way I’d run this encounter is start off normally. After a couple rounds of combat, he lobs a boulder at the back ranks and then performs a shockwave. Give the players another round of normal combat for the meleers to get away from the boulder, then another shockwave to get them grouped near it, and then a detonate.