Boss Monsters

From gdp3
Jump to: navigation, search

Powerful enemies players have to overcome to reach goals in games.

While many games where players have to fight enemies, usually some of these are made to be more powerful or require special tricks to defeat. These Boss Monsters allow players to have more challenging fights to mark out the end of levels, quests, or the game itself. Besides allowing players to experience that they have reached closure points in the games, the abilities of Boss Monsters often also requires them to play differently than they can against "ordinary" enemies.


Roleplaying Games quite often have Boss Monsters during the final part of a dungeon, adventure, or campaign. Not too surprising, in Dungeons & Dragons this is often some form of dragon but other unique monsters that appear as Boss Monsters are the devil Asmodeus, the demons Orcus and Demogorgon, and the evil goddess Lloth. The computer-based game Torchlight has Boss Monsters at the end of each of its eight levels, including Brink the Corrupted, Krag, Medea, and the final enemy Ordrak.

First-Person Shooters make regular use of Boss Monsters. The Doom series have various forms of demons, including Sabaoth, Spiderdemons, and Cyberdemons. Of the special infected in the Left 4 Dead series the Tank best fits as a Boss Monster. Although it is met randomly in some levels it is specifically used as a final challenge in the Rooftop Finale of the first campaign (Mercy Hospital) of the first game in the series. The immense final enemy players have to defeat in Crysis can also count as a Boss Monster.

Bowser is used as a Boss Monster in many of the games in the Super Mario series, and often met at the end of several different levels of the same game. Although the Tomb Raider series has many different Boss Monsters, in the first three games it uses a Tyrannosaurus Rex as Lara Croft's opponent at various points.

Side-scrolling games such as Zaxxon and 1942 also use of Boss Monsters at the end of levels. The God of War series is noteworthy in the huge size differences between the players' avatars and the Boss Monsters in the games; Shadow of the Colossus has the same characteristic but here the Boss Monsters are the only type of enemies encountered.

Using the pattern

A primary design choice for Boss Monsters is if they should be based on types of Enemies that can be encountered or if they should be unique Enemies. Basing Boss Monsters on other Enemies and then making them more difficult is done through adding specific Invulnerabilities or abilities that are either Improved or Privileged (simply adding more Health does rarely change gameplay enough to make the encounter qualitatively distinctive). These are often then somewhat balanced by adding Achilles' Heels or Vulnerabilities although the overall difficulty should be increased to distinguish the Enemies as Boss Monsters. Unique Boss Monsters are typically designed as some form of Non-Player Characters.

One pattern which rarely are used with ordinary Enemies but may work with Boss Monsters is Lives. Used for example in some fights between Mario and Bowser in the Super Mario Series, basically this means that players have to defeat the Boss Monsters several times either through depleting their Health or through exploiting Achilles' Heels.

Diegetic Aspects

Given that Boss Monsters are either "better" or unique types of Enemies, they often also have Diegetically Outstanding Features, typically restricted to not break the game's Thematic Consistency, so that players can realize this difference.

Narrative Aspects

Although Boss Monsters may be randomly encountered in games - the Left 4 Dead series is an example - they can be, and often are, used as integral parts of Predetermined Story Structures by providing finales to Instances, Levels, and Quests (as less often Game Boards) . When used for this purpose, Automated Responses such as Cutscenes can be added right before they are confronted through Game Element Insertion and right after Combat has ended to frame the encounter within the Narration Structures of the games. Due to these confrontations being specifically planned and the Cutscenes surrounding them being produced, Boss Monsters are more likely to enforce that the goals to Overcome or Eliminate them are Enforced Goals (ordinary Enemies can often be avoided without negatively affecting any Narration Structures). This is especially true when the goals are part of Goal Hierarchies linked to games' Predetermined Story Structures.

When the Boss Monsters are also the driving forces for causing the events in Predetermined Story Structures, there is often a need to create them as Non-Player Characters to define their nature, history, abilities, and even appearance so that their behavior is part of the games' Thematic Consistency.

While Boss Monsters may be placed in Levels, they typically define Scenes so the latter pattern modulates Boss Monsters by allowing narrative focus to be placed on them. Levels can center upon specific Boss Monsters when they are Finale Levels.


Boss Monsters are a form of Enemies, and given that they differ from these encountering them may be Surprises to players. When placed at closure points, e.g. the end of Instances or Levels, Boss Monsters ensure Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses and Thematic Consistency. They are quite likely to be used in conjunction to possible resolutions of Rescue goals since they can balance the diegetic importance of those that are to be rescued. Regardless of where they are placed in Game Boards, Game Worlds, Instances, or Levels, the presence of Boss Monsters can cause Tension to a higher degree than other Enemies and also Anticipation if foreshadowed by Cutscenes or other narrative means.

Puzzle Solving can emerge from Boss Monsters with Achilles' Heels if this is the only way to defeat them, or if players are made aware that the Boss Monsters have Vulnerabilities but have not been told exactly what they are. Somewhat paradoxically, the use of Achilles' Heels or Invulnerabilities may make Combat less likely to be solutions to Boss Monsters than for other types of Enemies. Due to this, trying to Overcome them are likely to result in Varied Gameplay for players, as is coping with any Privileged Abilities the Boss Monsters may have. This possible variation, and the simple fact that Boss Monsters are more difficult Enemies, make them suitable devices for creating Challenging Gameplay - at least for specific parts of games.


Can Instantiate

Challenging Gameplay, Eliminate, Enforced Goals, Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses, Overcome, Predetermined Story Structures, Surprises, Tension, Thematic Consistency

with Cutscenes


with Achilles' Heels or Privileged Abilities

Puzzle Solving

with Privileged Abilities

Varied Gameplay

Can Modulate

Game Boards, Instances, Levels, Quests, Rescue

Can Be Instantiated By

Enemies together with Improved Abilities, Non-Player Characters, or Privileged Abilities

Can Be Modulated By

Achilles' Heels, Automated Responses, Cutscenes, Diegetically Outstanding Features, Finale Levels, Game Element Insertion, Invulnerabilities, Lives, Predetermined Story Structures, Scenes, Thematic Consistency, Vulnerabilities

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Boss Monsters that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.