Ever since I’ve read people’s posts or listened to podcasts, I’ve been thinking about this. In most RPG systems, you can’t count on combat lasting a fixed number of rounds, nor how successful the players will be on their die rolls. If the BBEG rolls phenomenally well and consistently and the PCs don’t, then you’re looking at a possible TPK. Inversely, if the PCs are the ones getting all the good rolls, then the big finale you were likely hoping for is cut short, and as an occasional player, not just a GM, I find it not totally satisfying if the BBEG is defeated in one round.
Many people have made suggestions and gave out advice, most of it will be good for someone out there I’m sure. But no definite answers on how to prolong combat, since there are no definite solutions I believe. There are just too many variables (exactly how tough is the BBEG, how tough/good are the PCs, the location and advantages of the terrain, any allies, what each character has access to, whether its gear, magic items, etc.).
And let’s face it, if you have only one BBEG to face-off against your PCs, he still only gets to act once per round (even if he’s able to perform multiple actions), against a group of say 5 players, who might be able to perform multiple actions of their own and use their bennies to get a better result and cooperate together, our BBEG won’t last too long, especially if you draw a low card for the initiative for said BBEG.
I have some of my own suggestions but I’ll reiterate what others have already mentioned here for purpose of completeness:
1- Play the BBEG smartly; keep his goals in mind, how devoted is he (is he willing to die for his cause, is he able to escape to fight another day)?
2- Use cover, high ground and/or difficult ground to his advantage.
3- Fanatics; let some Extras take that mortal hit for their leader (For the Royalty!!).
4- And maybe a few more I haven’t heard/read
And below are a few of my own suggestions, based on my own experience as a GM;
Give him the Quick and Level Headed edges, that way you make sure he gets two cards and he’ll at least have a 6 or more. With the Improved Level Headed he gets three cards. That should increase the odds of getting a face card or even a Joker.
One suggestion I had read about, and I have used quite a few times, was to allow the BBEG to act twice per round. Give him two initiative cards. How many times do we see characters in movies and TV shows act and re-act multiple times in a very short period of time, especially in martial-arts movies.
As a GM, we should allow ourselves some leeway to make the encounter worthwhile for our players. I’m not talking about cheating or fudging rolls necessarily, but if you can explain it within the game setting or within the rules, then by all means, go ahead. Even if you just improvised a reason that makes the BBEG last one more round. Perhaps the BBEG is able to soak at least one wound every round minimum, despite the Vigour roll (he’s got a magical device or Nanites that mitigates the wounds, whatever).
Even if it’s not on his stat sheet before the game, add it, allow it, if it will make the game more FFF!! And once the heroes have defeated the Mastermind, the Dragon, or the evil Overlord, it will most likely make your player’s feeling of accomplishment that much greater.
That being said, as a GM, we shouldn’t take away the players’ successes. If they’ve planned ahead and used sound tactics, and thus defeated their foe quickly, I think I should let them. They will feel powerless if the GM simply ignores all their preparation without having a good reason for it. Not every combat should be a 3 hour long ordeal, sometimes a fight should just end with a gunshot on the scimitar wielder.