Cinematics: Transforming Boss Villains
Boss villains in adventure fiction sometimes have multiple forms in their final fight. Perhaps the apparently frail mastermind of the heroes ills becomes a towering mass of rage and muscle after being stabbed a few times. Maybe the disgusting mass of dead flesh is more cocoon than fat ghoul and attacking it just helps birth the true undead within. Maybe the psycho killer is a werewolf, who is about to become a werewinterwolf. Or maybe the villain just hasn’t let you see his Final Form yet.
The point is, sometimes you want a way for a villain to change their game stats after taking a certain amount of damage, so the fight keeps going but the paradigm changes, giving the PCs a more complex experience.
The simple way to do this is to pick a series of pre-existing creatures and reskin them as the various stages of your main villain. In most cases I recommend keeping them of the same type and subtype, though you can just change all the monsters you select to act as the same type and subtype. There can be exceptions to this for story reasons—perhaps the Fourfold Guardian specifically goes from air to earth to fire to water—but for the most part it makes the most sense if a monstrous humanoid remains a monstrous humanoid, even if you use the stat blocks for a hobgoblin, ape, and winter wolf to represent three evolving forms.
I recommend keeping all the forms picked with the easy-to-challenging CR spread of the PCs, and honestly within 2 CR of one another.
Once you have picked your forms and made any needed adjustments, just have the PCs face them in turn. When one “form” is knocked unconscious, killed, or destroyed, the boss villain moves to a new form. You can have it appear to fall dead and then stand again on its next turn, which is good for villains with just two forms, especially if the first is a typical mortal and the second is undead or outsider. Or you can not tell the PCs they’ve “killed” the first form, and just have the villain assume the second form as a free action at the beginning of its next turn. Or, you can have the villain enter a “transformation sequence” when it is killed, and take a full round action to assume the new form on its next turn, being immune to all effects and attacks until that time since it’s in metamorphosis. Which makes the most sense depends on your monster’s background and reason for being multi-formed.
Once it is in the new form it is no longer affected by any old conditions, effects, or penalties, and the fight continues.
When determining treasure for the encounter, add the treasure values of all the things the PCs killed and use that for your loot pool. When determining the XP reward, add the XP gained from the highest CR form you used, plus 50% of the XP of each form after the highest CR, to get the total XP gained by the encounter. Don’t just add all the XP together like you would if the PCs had to face all these monsters at once, because the monsters can’t team up, all act at the same time, flank, spread out, and so on. Treat the encounter as having a CR equal to a CR closest to this XP total.
For example, Scraggle is an unpleasant fey creature that lives at the edge of town and terrorizes local children. When attacked, Scraggle fights using the stat block of a derro, When killed, Scraggle lies dead until its next round… and then stand again having become Scragifulous as a result of his weird fey magic. Scragifulous uses the stat block for a drow noble, it’s “Intermediate Form.” When THAT form is killed, you describe the screams of rage and constantly growing bulk, and make it clear not new attacks seem to have any effect until the fey’s next turn, when it becomes Scragulon, filled with rage and Strength and now using the stat block of an ogre. The scraggle encounter is 800 XP for the ogre, +400 XP for half the drow noble, +400 XP for the derro, or 1600 XP, or CR 5.
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