A Criticism of Boss Edge (TL;DR Included)

Hey guys, I wondered if anyone would be interested in discussing the idea of Boss Edge as a mechanic - I’m not sure whether I like the idea or not but am interested in hearing other peoples’ thoughts on the topic.

So let me try and break down my criticisms of this mechanic, first of all I just want to say that I haven’t actually ran a game yet - when this is implemented it might work brilliantly but just reading through the rules there are a few things that jump out at me.

For no other reason than having ‘boss’ in brackets next to their name, an NPC is given not only a huge advantage in combat, but an advantage that the players can never unlock themselves. This is important to consider. When a player encounters a boss do you want them to think “Oh, this NPC has a ton of actions, they must be a boss” or do you want them to simply think (2-3 turns into combat) “Holy crap this guy is strong”?

It seems intrinsically unfair to me to grant an NPC abilities and powers that are off-limits to players. Not including things that might be story or context driven such as a kraken that can attack with multiple limbs in a single turn or a troll that has amped up regeneration powers - these things make sense contextually, unless your players are also trolls they won’t feel cheated.

Ok so that’s my gripe, but why is this important? Well there are a few reasons.

1 - Your players might feel cheated. “This enemy is strong because it has so many actions, I can’t have that many actions no matter how strong I get, that sucks.”

2 - It’s an artificial difficultly spike. Anyone with that many actions will have a huge advantage, it doesn’t need to be a well designed boss, it will be a challenge simply because of this mechanic - but challenging doesn’t always mean interesting.

3 - It breaks immersion. As soon as you go for that second attack, any player who is familiar with the rules will know they’re fighting a boss rather than staying in the moment and learning through the process of the battle that this isn’t an ordinary NPC.

So those are my three main issues with this mechanic. I hope I haven’t sounded overly negative. As I said, I haven’t run the game yet so it might go down really well but this was my initial reaction when reading through the rules.

So how do I think it could be improved?

I’ve come over from Runequest 6/Mythras and that also has a number of actions per turn, with strong enemies often having more actions. But the number of actions a character had was determined by their attributes so a character with identical attributes would have an equal number of actions per turn. Of course these attributes did have limits based on race and physiology but that was a realistic limitation so nobody minded that the troll had better regeneration than the humans or that the race with four arms had an extra action.

I know this would mean adding another aspect to character creation but I think this is much fairer and means that you can design your bosses to be slow and lumbering, powerful but with not many actions or fast and precise, rather than them all being strong simply because of the ‘boss edge’ mechanic.

If you’ve stuck with me through this mini-essay then you honestly deserve a medal, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic and the only reason I’m being so hard on this is because of how much I adore the other concepts in OL, I can’t wait to introduce my players to this system - but this mechanic sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise excellent game.

TL;DR - Here’s for those of you that are lazy (or busy) - Boss Edge provides NPCs with an unfair advantage that the players can never access, a story reason isn’t required for this advantage, they just have it by virtue of being a boss. It means all your bosses will function in fundamentally the same way and will be strong for the same reason (multiple actions). It will break immersion because any NPC with multiple major actions will be instantly identified as a boss by your players in the first turn. This can be fixed by tying action points to attributes - bosses can have higher attributes and therefore access to more actions without it (technically) being unreachable by the players, unless the boss has a higher attribute cap due to physiology.

To this, I point out the very first paragraph of the Boss section:

A Boss is a single enemy NPC that is capable of taking on a group of characters due to its extraordinary prowess in combat. Bosses could be epic villains that the party has been pursuing for the entire campaign, such as the Lich King Akrakus, or they could be monstrous beasts with little backstory that simply serve as a dramatic milestone in the course of a larger adventure, such as a bridge troll that must be defeated before the PCs can progress. Other examples of bosses include the Kraken, a legendary gunslinger, a dragon, or the general of an alien armada.

When you decide that one of your NPCs merits boss status, use the Boss NPC Build Table to generate statistics in the same way you would if using the simple build rules described previously. You’ll notice that bosses have more hit points, higher defenses, and better attributes in order to account for their ability to take on entire parties of PCs alone. When using the complex build, you can alter your villain’s hit points and defenses based on this table to better represent the appropriate strength of a boss.

The other thing is you, as the GM, don’t have to use boss edge, and you don’t have to use the quick build table. These are all just suggestions and ways to attempt to make it feel more epic. You, as the GM, are in control of the NPC and what it does.

I will note that I haven’t seen a system where NPC/Creatures don’t behave differently than PCs. The biggest reason though for a lot of that is the EPIC part. You say they might feel cheated, what about when they’ve been working through the campaign, they get to the big bad, and then they kill it in 1 round. Anti-climatic.

I understand your concerns though, but part of a boss is it is 1 vs 4 (or 6, or whatever the group number is), the idea, as the first paragraph indicates, is the boss can take them on alone. Otherwise you need a number of bosses equal to the party size in a lot of cases.

Once you start playing, you will see how important Action Economy is. If you have more actions, that is more rolls, and that is more chances for explosions. Having 1 action vs 4 action is a huge disadvantage.

Bosses ARE suppose to feel different, I would say. And in most cases you end up fighting them on their home turf, and the boss edge can represent the home turf advantage.

But again, as I mentioned, you don’t have to use it at all if you don’t want to. That’s the OPEN part of Open Legend.


A level 9 swordsman doesn’t lack prowess in combat, yet he will never have multiple actions per turn, but a level 3 boss will. I’m not arguing that the swordsman should, I just think that bosses shouldn’t unless contextually relevant or by switching to an action point system that uses stats to figure out actions per turn.

Creatures do behave differently because they are different - and that’s fine. I’m not saying that because a dragon can breath fire and fly the players need to be able to do that too, (bad example because they can in OL but roll with it) I’m saying that there needs to be a reason that the players can’t (the player is a farm boy, not a dragon) and I don’t think ‘because boss’ is a good enough reason as it only works in the meta-game.

I’m not saying bosses should be made weaker, I just think that boss edge is an artificial power boost where as higher stats due to advanced training, different biology/physiology or even just a freak of nature ogre that is twice the size it should be makes sense in-game.

In Mythras the party has no chance against a dragon because they’re so damn strong, the players can never reach that dragons level of strength and speed because the dragon has a completely different physical make-up than the humanoid players so the cap on it’s attribute scores is higher (which results in more actions per turn) .

Technically speaking this dragon is capable of things the players can’t do but it makes sense within the world. Putting one swordsman against another swordsman and saying “oh by the way he’s a boss so he gets to attack more than you” achieves the same goal (creating a tough enemy) but does so using arbitrary reasoning rather than in-game logic.

And while you can come up with some in-game logic “this particular swordsman has control of a second spirit-blade that acts independently” you then have to come up with a reason why every single boss gets extra actions “Ah yes well this cave troll… he’s big and slow and powerful but umm… he’s also really fast? So he gets to attack more… yeah he’s a boss, how did you guess?”

After 10 bosses your in-game logic will be seen as a transparent excuse for why this NPC has a mechanic that no one else has access to.

And this is why I really like what I’ve read so far regarding OL - whatever I decide to do it won’t break the game which is fantastic!

But I do think this is a conversation worth having! It’s such a core mechanic of the game but it just sticks out as being a little bit flawed to me - and I do think it could be either fixed with a bit of reshuffling, or an alternative mechanic could be put in place for annoyingly picky players like me.

I do think the action point system I mentioned earlier solves the issue but that has a knock-on effect to character creation so I can’t imagine that happening (not officially at least, it could be a community thing)

I’m currently thinking that I’ll use boss edge specifically for characters that are supposed to be fast and tone it down/ignore it for more sluggish, brutish bosses, which is quite a simple solution to this very in-depth discussion, but I thought it was a discussion worth having : )

Here’s my thoughts from a game-balance perspective (there are narrative arguments to be had, but the point of OL is that narrative is flexible):

Bosses have to be powerful, otherwise they’re not bosses. The thing that Boss Edge plays with is the concentration of that power. If the power of a boss becomes too concentrated into a small number of actions, even if the total amount of damage they can chuck out per turn doesn’t change then they become one-shot machines.

To clarify: a boss can take out a single party member in a single turn (this isn’t too unreasonable in my experience), but with Boss Edge the party has time to interact with healing, defends, forced movement etc to save their party member (note that this is exactly why boss actions occur separated by PC turns if possible).

Contrast that with a boss with the same total damage output but only one action. The boss takes his turn, walks up to a PC and KOs them. The other PCs get exactly one chance to help, and defending and healing aren’t as effective given the higher damage in one go. The fight isn’t over because players can still be healed back to consciousness, and unless the boss has minions they can’t finish the PC off, but that player just got singled out and no tactical decision they made (short of not being in range of the boss) could have saved them.

In short, if you remove boss edge while preserving power, fights become a string of one-hit KOs and lose a lot of tactical interest.


There’s some wiggle room here, from a narrative perspective.

Your fast boss should probably take a lot of damaging attack actions, or extra movement. You slower boss maybe only takes attacks on his actual turn, but spends their boss actions simply being intimidating (Bane: Fear) or emitting noxious fumes (Bane: Sickened), or focusing its necromantic energies (Boon: Life Drain).

You still end up with a boss that feels slower without having to rebalance the mechanics!


Also, the point of Boss Edge is to create narrative, and tension.

I will say, if you have had them encounter 10 bosses in a short amount of time, you are abusing bosses. I’ve played… like… 16 (4~5 hour) sessions with a group and only had 1… hmm… maybe 2 actual “bosses”. The rest have just been NPCs.

Bosses are suppose to be a big epic showdown that has been built up to. That’s why I was referencing the first paragraphs and their descriptions, but I failed to go into the detail that it is suppose to be rare. That was the whole part you left off of. You can read that first sentence about prowess in combat, but that 2nd and following sentences further quantify it.


This is actually a really good point! I don’t have a counter to this, my issues from a storytelling perspective still stand but Boss Edge is definitely an interesting mechanic and I can see now that it fixes quite a prevalent problem.

Again good point, I was thinking more in terms of pumping out raw damage as that is most likely the best tactic if available but self-limitations like this will help create a lot of variety and make the bosses feel different. I’ll have to have a play around and see what works for me - it might be a simple case of self-limitation+dialling back the actions based on the amount of players you have. (four in my case)

My example of 10 bosses was over a theoretical and very long campaign, I know they aren’t meant to be used at the end of every dungeon or in every session, but eventually people will recognise the pattern (assuming they are unfamiliar with the rules, if they are familiar with the concept of Boss Edge then they’ll spot the boss within the first turn of combat) - though I do see your point : )

Thanks for all the input guys, you’ve definitely given me more to think about - I still think my criticisms have value but it comes down to a game balance vs ‘realism’/storytelling argument which I think will be different for everyone. I do think I’ll need to find a happy middle-ground speaking personally but after this discussion I think I’m more likely to tweak Boss Edge than I am to replace it completely.


I don’t plan on using boss edge very much. I think it’s fine for legendary creatures, but I wouldn’t use it for antagonists who could conceivably be peers to the PCs. It’s their position and the structures they’ve built up around themselves that make them powerful, and I’d reflect that by ensuring that they’re not alone when they fight the PCs. However, if the PCs do get the drop on someone, I’d totally give them the one-shot. I think it’s important to reward them for putting themselves in the position to do that.


Yes to all of this :slight_smile:

This is all exactly what Open Legend is suggesting with NPC vs Boss. Most of the antagonists aren’t “boss”, they are just NPC.


So I disagree on most points that you’ve made here @Obsidiax, but I’ll focus on the following phrase [quote=“Obsidiax, post:1, topic:574”] It seems intrinsically unfair to me to grant an NPC abilities and powers that are off-limits to players.[/quote] to demonstrate that boss edge is a necessary tool for GMs.

  • So the first point I want to make is rather an observation: I haven’t encountered a system where the players get access to all the tools a GM has (Boss Edge isn’t the only thing mechanic that isn’t available to players) and I’ve played quite a few RPGs and many of them use similar tricks to even out action economy. So if there is one RPG out there that doesn’t do that, it is the exception.

  • I don’t understand the notion of fairness in RPGs. It seems like a rather new concept in RPGs and it appears to be a carry-over from video games, where encounters are modelled around the player(s). Sometimes an opponent is just stronger than you and running away is the best option.

  • Let’s get to the most important point, to actual game mechanics: Sometimes you just to have a single epic enemy (let’s use a dragon, as seen it used as an example in here somewhere) and in that case the combat is actually unfair to the NPC, because of something that hasn’t been brought up so far: Action Economy. Let me paint you a picture using a dragon: The PCs have unveiled and undone the evil plans of a mastermind dragon and fought his minions to make their to the dragon’s hidden lair in a mountain. The PCs climb to the mountain top and discover the lair, but they didn’t expect the dragon not to be waiting in the lair, so they hear his enormous wings swooping in from behind. Let’s say the dragon goes first, flies within reach and breaths fire on the PCs dealing a decent amount of damage. Now it’s our heroes’ turn (generally groups consist of 3 to 5 players), so they all attack, do banes and boons, etc. Because of the way OL is set up, the fight might very likely be over in 2 or even 1 round, because more attacks means more chances to explode, so it is unfair for the huge epic dragon to only act once in a round, because the action economy disfavours him greatly. If the dragon gets hit hard by an explosion, he then can react appropriately by flying out of vision or something else. Without boss edge, the dragon becomes often a sitting duck, which leads to an anticlimactic boss fight.

Quick edit: I wanted also to address quickly this point: “It breaks immersion.” It is a game, so players will often notice underlying game mechanics and as GM I’ve experienced that it isn’t worth it to hide that part from the players, because they will figure it out most of the time anyway. After 2 to 3 attacks they will probably know an opponents Guard or if they are hit for 5 damage and that triggers a bane, then the players will realise that the opponent has bane focus. There is little to be gained trying to hide that from the players and if you are open they will trust you more as a GM, because you aren’t trying to trick them, so I don’t mind the players realising the encounter design.


I’m not the most experiened table top gamer, but I’ve played years worth of Cyberpunk 2020 and I spent around a year or so with Mythras - neither of which gave special abilities to the GM. (Or if they did I didn’t use them, our cyberpunk sessions because very house-rule oriented) They felt more grounded. If an NPC had a ‘boss’ feel to them it’s because you had to design the encounter in a clever way to give the NPC an advantage or simply do what I said before - bump up the numbers of a standard enemy and introduce it as something out of the norm (an ogre that’s battle scarred and twice the size it should be). Which both make sense in terms of the story, the latter even makes sense for Boss Edge to exist but my problem then is that every boss is strong for the same reason.

Generally speaking the NPCs were subject to all the same rules that the PCs were as the rules presented were seen as how the world works, a rule was a universal truth not player or NPC specific.

I think you’ve misunderstood me here, maybe I didn’t explain what I meant well enough. When I say fair I don’t mean balanced or even that every enemy should be beatable - Mythras is by far the most unforgiving system I’ve encountered in terms of player - creature power ratios. What I mean by fairness is the notion that they can encounter a human NPC who can do things they can never do.

“Why can this guy attack more than once? Is that a feat or something?”
“No he’s a boss, he’s basically just a badass who is out of the ordinary”
“Oh. Can I ever reach that? Two attacks a turn would be really useful”
“Why not?”
“It doesn’t say ‘boss’ next to your name”

^This is obviously a dumb way to explain it but I don’t think you can justify the existence of Boss Edge using in-game logic, you have to explain how it’s better mechanically speaking and that’s not something I want to do mid-game, the players should be in the moment.

It doesn’t matter how strong the PCs get, they can never ever do this because of an arbitrary label. That’s what I mean by fairness, one rule for one and another rule for the other isn’t fair in my eyes, if an NPC can do something then a player should be able to as well - unless that NPC has story or context dependant powers that no one else has.

While this is a good point it is specific to open legend and in truth I’m thinking of limiting each dice to only one explosion because of it. In Mythras Action Points were the tipping points in fights. Players taking on a dragon would need to use their action points wisely, they can attack and defend X amount of times in a fight, the dragon can do the same. The dragon has higher stats so can act more than a single player but if the PCs use their numbers advantage then they can potentially overwhelm it.

This created a very David and Goliath feel to taking on ‘bosses’ though there was really no such thing as a boss in Mythras. You might plan an encounter to act as a boss battle but that dragon is likely just as strong as any other.

But these things are universal across NPCs and players alike - everyone has a guard rating and feats to choose from so that’s no different than their character, in game, noticing something about their enemy. In my experience players will notice these things but it won’t take them out of the moment because these things are very minor mechanics.

Noticing that an encounter is a boss fight is different.

If I dropped a creature of person with boss potential in an unexpected place in Mythras then the players might not realise until a few rounds have passed and no one has managed to put any meaningful damage on the guy. With Boss Edge the players will know immediately that they’re fighting a boss and with that label comes a boat load of expectations on the players part regarding rewards and items and story milestones.

Maybe the dragon is just a damn dragon, or the swordsman they encounter on the road is just the best swordsman in the country on a pilgrimage - two enemies worthy of boss status but not bosses in terms of story progress or rewards. But the players will expect this if they identify them as bosses rather than just accepting them as strong NPCs they’ve happened across.

I think here lies the problem: You don’t need to justify the existence of Boss Edge in game, because Boss edge is a game mechanic, trying to solve the problem of an action economy skewed in favour of the PCs if they fight a single enemy. Giving them more HP will not solve that problem, giving them multi-attack won’t solve that problem, so that’s why Boss edge exists, so that our epic thousands years old dragon can be an interesting encounter on his own, without needing any minions or other gimmicks.

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Also if it doesn’t make sense in game for your swordsman to have multiple attacks per round, don’t make him a boss. The dragon on the other hand has a tail that’s thrashing round, wings that are beating, and many other things that could be “actions” in game, but you don’t have to say that they’re actions. For example:

GM: “player you’re standing behind the dragon right?”
Player: “Yeah I wanted to be out of range for his fire”
GM: “Ok when he gets hit for that last attack his tail starts whipping around in pain” rolls dice “Your take five damage and are knocked to the ground by the tail”

The dragon gets multiple actions, but game emersion isn’t broken


The argument seems to come down to verisimilitude. It can be jarring for some people to have their internal model of the world upended by a mechanic that exists for gameplay reasons. Having run for players who are bothered by those things, I’m sympathetic to that perspective. My group couldn’t get into D&D 4e because it felt to gamey to them. However, I think the example is a little silly. It’s a self-inflicted wound. If it doesn’t follow from the fiction that someone should be extraordinarily better, then don’t give them Boss Edge. Narrative permission is just as important for the GM as it is for the PCs.


This has been what I have been saying.

LIke I said, I have only made a “boss” 1 time in 80+ hours of play for one group, and… I think… maybe 2 times for my other group. All were for non-human NPCs too as I recall.


Yep, I agree definitely. But it’s not about any particular mechanic. It’s a good rule to follow in general as a GM. :smiley:

A level 1 swordsman can have multiple actions in combat by taking Multi-Attack Specialist. At level 2 that swordsman can make two attacks per turn without disadvantage.

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So, here is something I wanted to add to this whole discussion.

Right out of the Core Rules:

Video games are balanced: they are designed to present players with incremental challenges that grow in difficulty alongside the power of the player. Because of the inherent lack of openness and choice in most video games, players would easily get frustrated if the challenges weren’t balanced to their progress in the game.

Role playing games, on the other hand, aren’t meant to be balanced all of the time. They are meant to be immersive. They are meant to allow players to push the limits of possibility in fantastical worlds. This level of freedom means that sometimes the heroes will come face to face with threats that they cannot overcome.


I’ve said this a few times now but I think you’ve misunderstood what I mean when I say balance or ‘fairness’ - in a video game you progress in a fashion where you encounter gradually stronger enemies, usually ones you can beat (as long as you go in order).

This is not what I mean when I say balance. I don’t mean for my players to be able to beat everything they encounter or even for them to encounter things in a specific order.

When I refer to balance or ‘fairness’ I simply refer to the concept that I could make a humanoid with Boss Edge, a legendary swordsman, but the players, who are also humanoids cannot ever have that ability for no in-game reason. This seems far more gamey to me as in other systems I’ve played humans are humans and if you encounter one NPC who can do something then with the right training and experience you can eventually do that thing too.

After the mass amount of people disagreeing with me (and making some very good points) I can say that I’ve been convinced to give Boss Edge a go and to use it sparingly - but I wanted to clear up this misunderstanding as I never intended to imply that role playing games should be balanced in the same way that video games are - in fact it’s the opposite, when I first read boss edge it sounded very gamey to me, an npc having ‘boss powers’ just because they’re the designated big bad for that area.

This is probably the line that threw me as it makes it sound like you can sprinkle bosses in whenever you want - which I suppose you can but that doesn’t mean you should.


And I wasn’t just throwing in that line for you, but as a general reference for the whole thread :wink:

The whole point is how you use boss edge, of course. I don’t think I’ve used boss for any humanoid NPCs yet, but I could see myself doing that, especially if they are powered up by something (god/goddess/other thing). A Lich makes sense, b/c of what it takes to become a Lich, and losing your mind and all that lore associated with them.

But yeah, the key is the rarity of them for sure!