5e/Pathfinder/13th Age: Guide to Mini-Bosses

There’s a short story by Janni Lee Simner called Practical Villany that I particularly love. It’s from the villain’s point of view. The opening line is “The first thing I want you to know is that I drowned those kittens for a reason.” It’s a dark comedy about a villain talking to his latest kidnapee about his rebellious daughter that turned hero, betraying the family business. In the story, the author talks about how evil is a business while heroes are just one person. That is where mini-bosses come in. Mini-bosses are akin to mid-level managers. The real question is why would someone in a fantasy RPG world need them.

No matter which level-based fantasy game you play, you get more powerful by level. You are obviously more powerful at level 2 than level 1 and even still more powerful at level 3 and so on. The same is true for your main enemy. They didn’t try to take over the world at level 1. They worked to amass enough wealth and influence and easily outclass the adventurers at the start of the campaign. So why are they employing people that can’t hold their own against a plucky group of low levels?

1) Your Big Bad Has a Source of Revenue and Power that Must be Maintained

Your big bad has a source of income that still needs to be maintained, and they are busy with taking over the city/country/worlds. So the actual job of generating that income has to be in the hands of some trusted aid to oversee the operation. Whether that operation is a kobold mining company digging up gold, orc hunters that sell skins for leather armor, or an ogre timber consortium, they have to perform operations far to trivial for the big bad to do. The problem comes in when they interact with the humanoid races. Do the kobolds breech into a dwarven mine or a gnome village? Do the orcs kill the cows of a small hamlet? Are the elves upset the trees are being felled? The people doing the work need direction and someone to pay them for their work, someone that represents the big bad to the workers. That is a mini-boss. Remember, any good business has lots of moving parts to it (different managers in charge of different workers at different locations all doing the same job, different departments doing different jobs, etc.). That is a lot of different mini-bosses at a number of different difficulty levels. In this case, the employees are minions.

2) Your Big Bad Doesn’t Have Every Skill or Ability

The person at the top simply can’t have every skill or talent possible in the whole world. CEOs hire accountants and lawyers to help them navigate those arenas. Your big bad trying to take over the city/country/world needs someone to advise them on the way to the crown and how to finance it. So your mini-bosses can be advisers to the big bad in their specialty field. Other possible advisers include a cleric of an influential church and the big bad isn’t a follower of the deity or doesn’t have any divine casting ability, a public relations bard to smooth over incidents like the kobolds invading the dwarven mines, and a spiritual advisory monk.

The important thing to remember with advisers is that they should fill two roles: the official one and an unofficial one. The official one is the job for which they are known. This is their day job, how this adviser is presented in the public. The unofficial one should be the real reason that person in particular was hired by the big bad. Does the financial advisory funnel money from the crown to the big bad? Does the cleric get people (more minions) to act against their interests in the name of the religion? Is the public relations bard in charge of spreading disinformation? All of these roles a big bad needs done and these make great mini-bosses.

3) Dirty Workers

Bad guys are not known for fighting fair. Once the adventurers have been identified as disrupting some small plans, they should have someone to deal with them. Assassination attempts have been done and the players will see that coming. Instead, trying having the big bad hire the adventurers for a job they are not qualified, like killing a monster that is more powerful than they can handle. Have the public relations bard hire them, apologizing for any previous incidents involving low-level managers, and praise them for bringing such bad actors in their organization to light. The job is something like clearing out a cave where some new miners will be going soon. The adventurers aren’t told there’s a dragon in there. The dragon will be warned and compensated for it’s trouble. Naturally the dragon will have his own minions to soften you up in your way there. The idea behind this is that if the adventurers never return, no one will miss them or possibly figure they left for another problem elsewhere. As an added bonus, the public relations bard can claim they had bad information and apologize for their near deaths. By doing this, you turn what would otherwise be a single encounter into a night’s game session and they might even believe the big bad isn’t so bad.

Every mini-boss need minions and we have some excellent ones in the Book of Beasts series, available now for Pathfinder, Fifth Edition, and 13th Age. Download them now.

The Big Meeting

There have been quite a good many decisions that needed to be made concerning the direction of JBE for the next few months. Yesterday, I decided that we needed a company-wide meeting to resolve them. That happened this morning. Here are the results:

  1. Focus on Fifth Edition, Traveller, and 13th Age for the next few months. This is to clear out the backlog of stuff we wanted to publish last year but didn’t because official Pathfinder support is ending. We have plans to continue supporting these games after the backlog is complete. We discussed adventures for Traveller and 5e, ships and monsters for Traveller, subclasses and more for 5e, and a PHB2-like print book for 13th Age.
  2. No final decision on Pathfinder 2e support. We are waiting to see the final rules and license before making a determination on that front.
  3. Continued support of Pathfinder 1e. That is right, JBE will continue with PFRPG 1e. We do not have anything ready to go immediately so do not expect to see anything from us before summer, but we love this game and will continue to support it and its fans. How this will interact with possible PF2 support is yet to be determined.

We are really excited about all of this and hope that you are on board as well. Tell us your thoughts and what you want to see from us in the comments below.

Final Thoughts on the Switching to PF2e Poll

Just shy of 3 weeks ago, I posted a poll asking if you were planning to switch from first edition Pathfinder to Pathfinder 2e. The results were quite amazing and not at all what I expected. So lets go over them.

The answers can be broken down into these basic answers: yes, yes with reservations, maybe, eventually, no, both, and this poll doesn’t apply to me but I want to vote anyways. The “yes” answer of “We already switched to the playtest and will switch to 2e when it is released,” was what I had assumed to be the top answer, yet that only got about 14% of the vote. That honor went to the “no” vote of “We’re not switching (tried the playtest and don’t like the direction, feel 1e is the perfect game, etc),” with about 35%. Sandwiched between them is “maybe” with “Our group is ignoring the playtest, and we will see what the final version is before we decide,” with 18%. “Eventually” got the fourth highest at 12% with “It will take years for all the classes/archetypes/feats/spells/etc we enjoy in 1e are in 2e, and we plan to keep with 1e until that happens.” 5th place goes to “yes with reservations” with 9% as “We’re sticking with 1e for the time being. We anticipate converting over shortly after the new edition is released.” “Both, thank you” is obviously the “both” answer, capturing 8%. The final 5% goes to “this poll doesn’t apply to me but I want to vote anyways” with “I don’t play Pathfinder 1e now and don’t anticipate playing 2e either.”

To put those answers another way that us gamers easily understand:

Answer 1d20
Yes 18-20
Yes with Reservations 16-17
Maybe 12-15
Eventually 10-11
No 3-9
Both 2
N/A 1

The real question is: what does this mean for JBE? First and foremost, we will take another look at continued support for PF1e. I had anticipated our final 1e Pathfinder book to be Deadly Delves: Temple of Luminescence. Now, I can’t say for sure. Am I saying that we definitely will be supporting Pathfinder 1e going forward? No. Am I ruling out further Pathfinder 1e plans? No. What I am saying is, “We’ll see.” If I had to guess how things will shake out in a year is that we’ll release products for Pathfinder 1e and 2e at the same time or one shortly after the other, but even then, that is not a guarantee.

In the short run, we will be continuing to focus on Fifth Edition, Traveller, and 13th Age since we have been ignoring them while trying to finish up those last few Pathfinder titles. Even then, we will not be doing much for the rest of the year. If you haven’t heard, my wife and I changed day jobs and moved from New Jersey to Missouri earlier this year. Well, we are closing on a house soon and will be moving again. Two moves in under six months makes finishing up projects difficult. Having said that, we should be back to normal in the new year.

Be sure to download Pathfinder books you have been wanting at the JBE Shop. We have all of our Pathfinder 1e, Fifth Edition, 13th Age, and 1e Mongoose Traveller titles there for you to download and order in print when we have that available in print. It really helps us out when you order direct from us. You can also find our titles at DriveThruRPG/RPGNow, Paizo, and the Open Gaming Store.

Pathfinder: Are You Switching to 2e?

When I ask a question, anticipating a certain answer is when I get the most surprising answers. Recently on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and MeWe, we asked two simple questions: are you still playing Pathfinder 1e, and do you see yourself changing to 2e (or the playtest) anytime soon? I anticipated a mix of everything from already switched to never gonna switch with the majority going to “skipping the playtest but converting at some point in the future.”

That was not what I had gotten. Not even close.

So I am putting up a poll to find out how you feel about the transition and what game you think you will be playing. Please answer and share your thoughts in the comments below. Make your voice heard. Please share this poll with your gaming group and other gaming friends. The poll closes Nov 9th so respond and share now.

Remember you can always find our Pathfinder products like the Book of Heroic Races: Advanced Compendium in print and in PDF at the JBE Shop. You can also find all our Pathfinder goodness at DriveThruRPG/RPGNow, Paizo, and the Open Gaming Store. You’ll find some highly rated monster books, adventure modules, and player supplements that you should download now. If you are planning on continuing with PF1e, show your support to those that support the game.

Holidays in Gaming

Are you using holidays in your game? If you were like me when starting out as a game master, no you’re not. Yet holidays mark various places on the calendar, help recognize important persons and groups in your setting’s history, and much more. They give your game life where it otherwise feels flat, like there’s nothing going on in the world besides what the players are doing.

In the United States there are 10 major holidays and a near infinite number of lesser holidays. To break them down the major ones into more generic terms that are easier to use in your game, they are (in calendar year order):

  1. Start of the calendar year
  2. Recognizing the birth of a civil rights leader
  3. Celebrating nation’s leaders
  4. Remembering soldiers that fell on the battlefield
  5. Marking the birth of our nation
  6. Recognizing the common laborer
  7. Remembering someone that discovered this continent
  8. Remembering living soldiers
  9. Harvest
  10. Holiday for the nation’s largest religion

So how can you use these in your game? Some of these are quite obvious and able to be used without exactly as is: harvest, remembering living and fallen soldiers, start of the calendar year, etc.

How about celebrating a civil rights leader? Well considering that the most discriminated against races (uh, ancestries) of the game are half-orcs or tieflings, how about a day where their contributions to the nation’s society are recognized. Or turn it on its head. Make it human-rights day because the elven rulers are keeping the humans from having a voice in their government. Is the day marked with celebrations or protests? Are the town’s guards brought out to prevent pick pocketing or riots?

The way you name a holiday says quite a bit about the leaders. If you call Labor Day Peasants Day that shows the rulers as looking down upon their subjects. Peasants Day would have a much different feel than Labor Day.

If you want to make you location anything but generic, come up with some quirky holidays. Something like Groundhog’s Day, International Talk Like a Pirate Day, Teacher’s Day, or Secretary’s Day. Try using something like National Health Day, a day where everyone goes down to the river and washes all the filth and grime off their bodies, which is perfect after a long winter of being inside. Or how about Hug a Gnome Day, the one day a year where gnomes are willing to sell in human markets, and the mayor wants them to come back more often so they are trying to spread good feelings among he gnomes. For the brutish types, how about Woodcutter’s Day. This day before the start of winter, all manner of trees that are unfit for being made into buildings or furniture are cut into firewood and sold to the people to help them last the winter. Naturally there would be lots of beer and other pleasures sold at such events, which can be a good cause for the reasons for the players to come together in the first place.

An important thing to remember is that while we all take the weekend (or some regular set of days off, no matter where in the week it resides) for granted today, the Five-Day Work week did not begin as a concept in the US until 1908. Europe was no better. For proof, Dame Maggie Smith in her role as the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey once asked “What is a week end?” Before that, the only days off for the average person were on holidays. This is why the holidays we now consider minor were not so minor a hundred to a thousand years ago. Not overworking your people is important so holidays were frequent.

With Halloween coming soon, why not download the Deadly Delves: Along Came a Spider adventure for Fifth Edition at the JBE Shop. You can also find it for Pathfinder right here.

Watchtower Balleron

You would be forgiven if you were not aware that the kingdom’s forced still operated out if Watchtower Balleron long after the hobgoblins took it over. Few in the kingdom did, including the hobgoblins. The lower level had a secret door to a staircase that led to the caves below. The Stone Breakers, the Queen’s elite dwarven commandos, listening (aided by magic) to the hobgoblins plans from below, slipping into the watchtower itself when vital to the mission, and stealing maps and committing various acts of sabotage.

Because of the kingdom’s internal politics, the kingdom could not strike openly against the hobgoblins so the reigning queen took steps to make sure they were ineffective. She let them operate out of Watchtower Balleron as a concession to the local Lord since he was taking bribes from the hobgoblins. However, the queen had her people to think about and detached a small force to serve as an information source. So frequently when the hobgoblins go out on raids, away from the lord’s lands, they mysteriously found the local guards prepared for an attack.

Since the queen cannot act openly against the aggressors, she hopes a group of adventurers show up and handle the problem for her. One of her advisors suggested holding a fighting competition to attract such persons but to do so they need enough advanced warning to advertise the competition so they can attract such seasoned adventurers. As things stand, they fear that only new adventurers will be present and answer the call and will likely die in the fight. She may not have much choice, however, as keeping up current operations costs more than the kingdom’s treasury can afford.

Even then, once the hobgoblins are dealt with, the lord that was backing the hobgoblins will be upset and may have against the royal court or he may run away. To catch the lord, the queen knows she’ll need the help of the adventurers to keep her hands out of it. She may have to have the Stone Breakers leave evidence of the lord’s collusion with hobgoblins and escape before the adventurers show up. But then again, they are elite troops, specializing in information gathering, stealth, and subterfuge over combat. Should the queen’s roll in all of this be made public, there could be considerable complications for her.

Watchtower Balleron

LE large fortification
Government military overlord
Population 1,300 (1,000 hobgoblins; 100 dwarves; 200 other)

Notable NPCs


Captain Teurik Deathaxe, military overlord (LE male hobgoblin fighter 5 [13A: 3rd level leader])
Lieutenant Ooknar Bloodvengence, lead raider (LE female hobgoblin ranger 3 [13A: 2nd level archer])
Iknix Flamecloak, priest of goblinoid god (NE male goblin cleric 2 [13A: 1st level caster])
Lieutenant Harnask Silverheart, leader of the Stone Breakers (LG male dwarf rogue 6 [13A: 3rd level spoiler])

Be sure to also check out Fort Strange and let us know if you want to see more locations like this.

Support our efforts to bring you more awesome material like this by downloading our Pathfinder RPG, D&D 5e, 13th Age, and Swords and Wizardry books directly from the JBE Shop.

Pathfinder: Playtest at Origins

Yesterday I got my first chance to play the demo of the Pathfinder Playtest, and I couldn’t be more excited to have been apart of it. I played in a 2 hour demo with pregen characters. So I would like to share with you my impressions of the game.

Before I begin, I would like to say that I am not going to talk about the adventure itself since I don’t want to spoil it for anyone that is going to play it. I am only going to limit my remarks to my thoughts on the game itself.

Have you ever played a sequel to a video game you loved and realized from all the changes and upgraded that this was for all tense and purposes that this is a completely different game (none of the original programming code reused whatsoever), but the design loveingly took the time and effort to make sure that the new game still look and felt like it was a successor to the original. Like those working on it loved the original game but knew the code needed to rewritten for modern audiences. That is exactly how this felt, only with a tabletop game. It is undoubtedly a different game than Pathfinder 1e, but it felt the same. That is without a doubt a good thing.

I played the Kira the cleric (my apologies to Paizo if I got her name wrong). The character had the Fire domain, giving her a bolt of fire as an attack. I was able to cure one person in the group with a touch and the whole group with a burst. The fighter moved and attacked. Traps were disarmed and on and on. All of this sounds familiar to Pathfinder 1e fans, but the way it happened is different in 2e. That fire bolt was launched from my pool of spell points instead of X uses per day. The fighter had a specific 2-action option for moving and attacking. Disarming the trap was assisted by the paladin because she had a background that helped in this matter.

All those differences are good and all, but what do I think of it? And more importantly, is this the 5e killer? Well, I like it. It currently appears to be a solid game from the little I saw of it. Is it a 5e killer, I think that is the wrong question to ask. The right questions is, are they going after the same audience? To me, that is an unquestionable, “No.” Fifth edition is an elegant game. It is fun and easy for new players to pick up and learn. It also has painfully few choices for an individual character. Sure you get a subclass in the early levels and can choose to upgrade an ability or take a feat every so often, but that is it. It is all to easy to make one elf rogue look exactly like another elf rogue in that game. Add in the fact that the number of books they sell that are not tied to a specific campaign that contain new player options can still be counted on one hand several years in, and it becomes obvious that Wizards designed their game to be played by casual gamers. They wanted someone that only had the core book five years after launch to not be intimidated by someone with the gym bag library at the table.

That is not the audience Paizo is going after. One year of Pathfinder 2e will see more pages of player options published than 5e has from their respective companies outside of their core books by the same date. Where 5e is covering the basic ideas for you to play, Pathfinder 2e is going to cover all the options, allowing you to make exactly the character you want to play. Between classes, class options, feats, skill feats, archetypes, and more, choices for your character are something you will not be hurting for in Pathfinder 2e.

That is where I see Pathfinder 2e finding it’s home, among gamers that want their character the way they want it and not having characters that are highly similar. Where 5e is the Basic Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder 2e is the Advanced game.

I just want to take a moment to thank Mark Seifter. He ran an awesome game for our group and took the time to answer all of our questions about it after the game. I am sure he had to do that a million times at PaizoCon and he was still fresh and engaging with us at Origins.

Be sure to check out all our Pathfinder and 5e options at the JBE Shop.

Fort Strange

Officially known as Fort Vanderwalten, many refer to it as Fort Strange because of the numbers of non-humans and less common demi-humans present here. When Kortrill Nightfeather was appointed captain of this frontier fort and military governor over the sparsely-populated region until a noble can be entrusted with this land, she took with her many other non-humans with her—both military and civilian alike. In her new position, she made sure that all under her care have been treated equally and prejudicial actions are prosecuted. It did not take long for word of her commendable action to spread and non-humans that want to live in peace to start flocking to live here. Today, Blacktooth Blacksmith and Glittering Foundry—owned by the orc Gathic Blacktooth and hobgoblin Miktar Deathblade, respectively—may be rivals but their rivalry plays out with them pushing the other to make better blades and other wares, instead of slaughtering each other’s families as many humans would expect of their their kind.

Fort Strange is home to many hagborn, catfolk, gnomes, everborn, tengu, lizardfolk, and even a few umbral kobolds. The majority of them came since Captain Nightfeather took command of the post. Previously, the region was inhabited mostly by humans and elves. Those that stayed when a tengu was appointed commander have been far more receptive of their new neighbors. A small yet vocal minority, however, have been voicing their opposition to so many “weird” creatures living among them. While the military-police force protecting this region have made it clear that voicing such concerns will be tolerated, that is the limit; any hostile actions against another law-abiding citizen will be met with swift justice. A number of attacks against non-humans has baffled investigators considering the military forces are not set up to handle such investigations and Lieutenant Gronk Bloodaxe is looking to hire adventurers to assist in this investigation.

The majority of the humans in this region are serfs, living in the work-farms adjacent to the fort. Their owners—mostly human—are not happy with the current regional government. Normally they hate each other and actively plot against one another, but they are united in their prejudice. If they could be turned against one another, their petitioning to speed up the appointment of a noble (preferably one of human ancestry) would fall apart.

Fort Strange

LG large town
Government military overlord
Population 3,500 (1,000 humans; 400 elves; 350 catfolk, 250 hagborn, 1,500 other)

Notable NPCs


Captain Kortrill Nightfeather, military governor (LG female tengu fighter 9 [13A: 4])
Lieutenant Gronk Bloodaxe, head of special operations (LN male orc fighter 4 [13A: 2])
Faixgrop, Crafter’s Guildmaster (LN female umbral kobold rogue 3 [13A: 2])
Darren Rimeheart, Farm owner and serf master (NE male human bard 6 [13A: 3])

If you want to see more locations like this detailed, please let us know in the comments below.

To find out more about the races mentioned here see the Book of Heroic Races collection for Pathfinder, Fifth Edition, and 13th Age here at the JBE Shop. You can also find out titles at DriveThruRPG/RPGNow, the Open Gaming Store, and Paizo.

What Kind of Monster Artwork Do You Prefer?

Earlier this week, we showed off a monster that a druid or wizard can summon with the conjure minor elemental spell. I really like that monster, but there’s something I have been wondering about with the artwork: the style. It is a beautiful color image. The problem is is that I don’t have a massive library of color images. I have a much larger library of black and white image. So as I continue to work on monster books for Fifth Edition, 13th Age, Pathfinder 2e (possibly), and other systems, I want to stay consistent as much as possible throughout the entire project. So that leads me to ask, what do you prefer?

Adding a parchment background to a black and white image is quite easy and rather fun. Not only that, it gives the image a distinctive feeling of being from an ancient tome that time forgot, in keeping with the fantasy theme. However, I do love looking at the color images in monster books. So I am asking you to help me make up my mind.

Tell me what kind of image would you like to see in a monster book from us. Vote in the poll below and as always, elaborate in the comments below.

[poll id=”4″]

See our monster books we have published so far for Pathfinder and Fifth Edition at the JBE Shop.

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