Scene 5 – Final Fight with EBG
goal(s): enable awesome war stories, tie up the plot/stakes
element(s): combat, resolve the stakes
Your Villain is Here, and is Defeated by Heroic Effort
Scene #2 required you to identify the villain. I’m gonna reiterate that notion here, but also make it clear. You must have an identifiable and named villain. Here’s something that nobody said, ever:
“I loved that action movie with the unidentifiable unnamed villain”.
In fact, one of the best scenes of Return of the King was made weaker by a lack of build-up and identification of the Nazgul. (Okay, admittedly, I have other problems with this scene not in the scope of this post).
The key here is not necessarily victory for the heroes, but the defeat of the villain by heroic effort.
Defeat of the Villain
A defeat isn’t necessarily death. I encourage against killing your villain. Your villain immediately loses entertainment value if she is killed, never to be seen again.
That does mean that you need an escape gimmick for your villain. Here’s a short list
||The villain has a door they can run through that will take time to open. This also includes a tunnel they can collapse behind them.
value: high. Your players will spend serious effort in a fight, even with other NPCs still alive, to get the door open. They won’t feel cheated by this. They can imagine that it’s possible to catch the villain in their next conflict.
reliability: high – the PCs could possibly kill/detain the villain before they can get to the hatch
key factor: you should have a phys. rep. for the hatch. Otherwise, it’s really a teleport (see below)
||Any magical NPC could have this, as well as any rich NPC that could buy it.
value: low. PCs hate this one, and not in the good sense of “hate”. They feel cheated. PCs cannot imagine catching the villain ever in future conflicts either.
reliability: complete – this always works
key factor: don’t do this one unless you cannot help it
||The villain phases out of existence, which is usually followed by a teleport while still phased out. The villain might physically flee (see below) as well.
value: medium. This is a mitigation of the teleport, because the villain can taunt the players in mid-fight.
reliability: complete – this always works
key factor: use this instead of teleport. every time
|physically running away
||The villain runs away. Perhaps they are aided by traps or NPCs laying in wait to hinder pursuit.
value: high. This enables the physical abilities of some PCs who can run fast. It creates awesome stories.
reliability: low – your villain has a good chance of not getting away
key factor: you probably don’t want a fattie as the villain
||The villain is a lich, vampire, or something else that can’t be killed normally.
value: medium. Most folks know all the tricks to liches/vampires, and aren’t amused by them. There are easy plot points (find the phylactery, find the coffin) to exploit, however.
reliability: high. This works almost every time.
key factor: Your “rules” for this kind of monster must be consistent, and should be spelled out earlier in the event.
The villain needs to be defeated because of heroic effort. This should not be a deus-ex-machina coming to save them. This should not because the players came in and steam-rolled the NPCs, or used some cheesy power to invalidate the fight.*
The defeat comes at the hands of the players, and it is heroic. Heroism requires sacrifice, or attempted sacrifice. The easiest way to do that is to scare the players with a blackpoint in the previous scene, making this scene look very grim.
Here’s the thing… all heroic combat stories involve either:
- “Hold the Line” — The hero stands in one place, defending others while they accomplish some goal.
- “Danger Dash” — The hero rushes through danger to accomplish a goal.
As a result, you’ll want to have elements that promote these meta-actions.
Heroic Efforts are enabled by large battlefields
You will want to have a large area for this. You will also also want to spread the fight out. Awesome heroic moments occur in smaller groups. As a result, you should places mini-goals in the fight, and put NPCs there. Encourage the PCs to split up.
A large area enables the Danger Dash. A player will feel empowered to run to the back and stop the ritual sacrifice if they see the room to do so.
Heroic Efforts are enabled by Gimmicks
Those mini-goals mentioned above are probably gimmicks. Stop the ritual. Break the barricade. Slay the archers. Topple the barrels.
The gimmick enables both the Danger Dash and Hold the Line. You can rush past baddies to cut the drawbridge rope, or blockade the doorway while your allies finish the ritual.
One of the best angles for this is the “taunting villain”. Have your villain taunt a player with word or deed. This can lead to an explicit “honor combat” if that’s appropriate for your villain. However, you can engineer it otherwise. Behind the scenes, all your NPCs are in on the fact that this is leading to a single combat between villain and PC. Your NPCs will acci-purposely allow the single PC to engage the villain. Afterwards, they suddenly remember that they have pushbacks/respawns/knockdowns/etc and other mechanics to make sure nobody else gets through. Awesome story, and the players are none-the-wiser.
Heroic Efforts are enabled by Minions
You want LOTS of little crunchies here, as well as the EBG. The crunchies and the mini-goals are effectively extra hit points for the EBG, giving him more screen time.
Minions enable Danger Dash and Hold the Line. A player feels empowered to dash when the stuff he is dashing past doesn’t hit very hard. Holding against waves of crunchies is extremely satisfying.
*I’m not a fan of cheesy powers, since they NEVER lead to a good story. Nobody ever said “remember that time you pointed and said polymorph potato! That was an amazing heroic moment, and the NPC loved having only 2 seconds of screen time.” I played a powergamer scum spell-caster for 10 years that could do this stuff all day. I did it once or twice and realized this was unfun for both me and the NPC.
Nevertheless, your system probably has a lot of these “one-shot kills” or combos. Don’t try to outthink the powergamer and give your villain a bunch of specific counters. Just make them immune to this stuff. The powergamer will appreciate the communication of a “no effect” call, and you still want them to have a positive experience as well.