The Video Game Notion of “Bosses”, and Why it Doesn’t Apply to Tabletop
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
A Little History
Jeffro Johnson asked me if I’d used the monsters I contributed to the Fiend Folio back in the 70s, as “bosses”
Most of them were minor monsters, but the Princes of Elemental Evil are the most powerful, and most lasting
Recently for D&D 5e, an entire large adventure module was titled after these guys
I told Jeffro that no, my campaigns were never high enough level for the Princes
Though I ran into them once as a player – and we 9th-11th level characters “fled posthaste”
Made Me Realize . . .
I have never thought in terms of "boss monsters" in tabletop D&D, that's a video game mentality.
I tend to use numerous monsters (with several different kinds) at a climax rather than one super monster "boss“
It varies, of course.
But in tabletop D&D, unlike video games, if you die you don't have a "save game" to go back to
Video game bosses are designed to kill you many times before you succeed.
You can't play tabletop RPGs that way.
No Save Game?!
So a video game “boss” tends to be much tougher than the monster(s)-met-at-a-climax in tabletop RPGs
Video gamers would be disappointed if, almost every time they hit a climax, they won first time
They’d feel cheated
It’s a matter of expectations, as much as of game functionality
Of course, there are many ways that tabletop RPGs are unlike computer RPGs, because of the lack of Save Games
So “bosses” are really a video game phenomenon, too dangerous for tabletop RPGs. You can’t lose a computer RPG, thanks to save games, but you can “lose” a Tabletop RPG, by dying.
Additional note: Much of the disagreement about game design in general can be laid to semantics, as people say the same words and mean different things. It's very common. We cannot even agree on the definition of the word "game".
For me, the boss is "the bad-ass monster at the end of the level." That's common in video games, and while less common in tabletop RPGs, that may be because the level-orientation (even though it came from tabletop RPGs) is less strong on the tabletop. I suspect that I'm influenced by level-oriented shooters as well, which may be more extreme than other kinds of video games.