OSR: Boss Fight: The Wolf of Rhen

This fight is still very much in a draft stage. It hasn't been fully playtested.

The Alexandrian Dark Souls pointcrawl I'm working on will feature several boss fights.

Jussi Keteli

The Wolf of Rhen

This fight is optional. The PCs can chose to approach the Castle of Rhen by the Catacombs (leading to this fight) or by the Old Bridge (a much harder route guarded by knights and a giant eagle). It will probably be the second or third boss they face.

The Catacombs will be flux space, but eventually, all paths lead to this room. Beyond is a secret path into the heart of the Castle of Rhen (and the PC's target).

When the PCs arrive, they will probably know the following:

-Rhen was rebuilt above its own ruins.
-the first Kings of Rhen, before Iskandar's day, are entombed deep in the catacombs
-Rhen was blessed with an avatar of Nitan, god of war and iron.
-Something is deeply wrong with iron.
Pretty maps are not my strong point.

The Wolf of Rhen

1. An low iron door carved with a snarling wolf's head. Not trapped, but difficult to open. The rusted hinges howl in protest.

2. A large room, dimly lit by brass-caged flames along the outer walls. 110'x100', 20' ceilings. Four enormous pillars, crudely chipped into shape, support the roof. Ten corpses, wrapped in bandages and covered in dry resin, rest in on corroded bronze thrones, each in their own alcove.

3. Stairs, crudely carved, lead upwards to a giant bronze statue of a she-wolf. On her outstretched tongue is an iron key.

4. A low iron door with a large, complex iron lock and bars. The lock is faintly magical. With time, it could be cracked open or picked, but not easily. Even with the key, the door takes 3 rounds to fully open, though one very nimble or desperate person could squeeze through after 2 rounds.

A1-A10: The First Ten Kings of Rhen
Their names and details are not important, though a character well versed in mythology or history may remember their mythic deeds. 

1d10 Name Carries
1 Rheman A severed, crowned head.
2 Tarquin An iron tablet.
3 Marcus A masonry trowel and block of stone.
4 Severus An iron scythe.
5 Lucius A staff with the symbol of the sun.
6 Vibus An iron chain with shackles.
7 Allectius An iron shovel.
8 Caelius A pair of iron tongs.
9 Priscus A broken iron sword.
10 Gnomon An iron cauldron.

The Boss Fight

If the key in the wolf's mouth is touched, the brass lamps flare as the Ten Kings awaken to defend the avatar of their god. If players ignore the key and smash the corpses of the Ten Kings, they can spend 2 rounds destroying corpses before the remaining Kings awaken and Phase 1 begins.

Weta Workshop

Phase 1: The Ten Kings

They lurch to their feet, resin and rotting fabric falling to the ground.

Ten Kings Stats
HP: 6 each
Appearance: ancient kings in thin gold crowns. Their armor and robes are streaked with blue-green from their corroding thrones. Their steps are slow, but they do not stumble or stoop. Even in death they are proud.
Wants: to destroy interlopers, protect the wolf statue.
Armor: as chain
Move: 1/2 normal
Morale: 12
Damage: 1d6 from miscellaneous tools and weapons.

The Ten Kings are not very strong. In the end, they are just ten skeletons. They move slowly and can be herded into a group or picked off one by one. They will target anyone holding the key first.

When the last of the Ten Kings falls, Phase 2 begins.


Phase 2: The Wolf of Rhen

A few moments after the last of the Ten Kings is destroyed, the Wolf awakens. She shakes herself with a screech of iron, raises her head, and howls. Her howl grows louder and louder, cruel and metallic, and then shrieks into a orange jet of flame. The howl cuts off. She lowers her head, scans the PCs, looks directly at the best armed PC, and charges.

The Wolf of Rhen Stats
HP: 50
Appearance: a huge she-wolf, cast in bronze, with iron teeth and iron eyes. Fire drips from her jaws. She has no fur; her neck is covered with carved rings like chainmail instead. Her eyes never close and her expression never changes.
Wants: blood and conquest and death. Armor: Due to the wolf's size, all attacks gain a +4 bonus to hit. Reduce all incoming damage from iron weapons by 3. Move: normal Morale: 12

The Wolf of Rhen will only deliberately harm people with visible weapons. She will stare with unblinking eyes at swords and other weapons, ignoring everything else. Anything that a PC intends to use to harm the Wolf counts as a weapon, including spellcasting implements.

Each round, the Wolf of Rhen makes one attack from the list below. She can also move up to 30'. She will try to isolate, corner, and devour the most powerful and violent PCs first.

+Charge: The Wolf moves up to 20' in a straight line towards a single target. Anyone she passes over (including the Ten Kings) must Save or take 1d6 damage. The target of the charge takes 1d8 damage. If an 8 is rolled, the target is knocked prone, pinned under the Wolf's paw, and takes another 1d6 damage.

+Howl: The Wolf pauses and howls. 1d3 of the Kings of Rhen lurch back to their feet. They are stunned for one round, but attack normally at the start of the next round.

+Leap Back: If surrounded, the Wolf leaps back 20', swiping with one paw. A single target must Save or take 1d8 damage.

+Devour: Can only be used on a prone, incapacitated, or pinned PC. The Wolf spends the entire round clawing and biting them, dealing 3d6 damage, Save for half. If this kills a PC, the Wolf of Rhen gains +1 HP for each point of Iron* the PC had.

When the Wolf of Rhen is below 20 HP, she pauses for one round and howls again. Black smoke and dark orange flames burst from her wounds. In the middle of each round she also makes one of the attacks below.

+Flame Burst: The Wolf deals 1d6 fire damage to anything within 10' (including the Ten Kings). Save for half. The pillars block the flame.

+Brutal Cough: The Wolf belches up a 40' cone of flame. Anything in the cone takes fire 1d6 damage, Save for half. The pillars block the flame.

When the Wolf of Rhen is killed, she makes on final Flame Burst attack and slowly melts.


If the PCs did not retrieve the key before the fight began, it will be in her guts.

The Wolf's ten iron teeth can be used as arrowheads or forged into a weapon. On a hit, they burst with flame, dealing an additional 1d6 fire damage.

The ten thin gold crowns of the kings, assuming they were not melted by the Wolf's flames, are worth 20gp each.

Eddie Liu

Fighting the Wolf of Rhen

Drop your weapons, grab the key, unlock the door, and run.

Alternatively, use the pillars to block the Wolf's movement. She can only charge in a straight line. During the first phase, get close and force the Wolf to leap back. When she is below 20 HP, stay at range. If she pins or knocks a an ally prone, make sure they are protected or rescued.

Design Notes for the Wolf of Rhen

The first phase of the boss fight is just ten slow skeletons. Clever players, expecting an ambush, will race around the room smashing the skeletons before touching the key. They might not expect the wolf to animate.

The Wolf of Rhen's passive ability (reducing damage from iron weapons) makes sorcery more valuable. Despite the fearsome stats, some of the Wolf's attacks do minimal damage. Howling to raise a few skeletons gives the players a chance to regroup. Leaping Back has a chance to do no damage at all and can move the Wolf away from a vulnerable target.

The arena isn't particularly interesting. There are a few descriptive "zones": behind a pillar, on the stairs, at the top of the stairs, in an alcove, etc.

The Wolf is designed to introduce area-of-effect attacks, surround-and-control tactics, and multi-phase boss fights. The fight is fairly normal in all respects. Later fights will be stranger.

*Points of Iron
Iron must be quenched in blood. Tracking the number of iron items a PC has will be important in this game. Iron makes the best weapons and strongest armour, but its song can drive a person to bloodthirsty and reckless acts.


  1. Nicely done. Thinking of the She-Wolf, the 1999 film adaptation of Titus Andronicus chose to emphasis that symbol rather than the Imperial Eagle. The choice to lean on Early Rome might also be beneficial - any chance of Caius Marcus Coriolanus showing up?

  2. Why does the Wolf not need to hit? It's attacks either automatically deal damage: Charge and Devour, or are all based on dealing damage if the PC's fail to save. What was the intent of this design choice?

    1. I figure there are 3 "tiers" of boss size. I haven't playtested this fully, so it might change, but here's my idea:

      1. Smaller Than Human to Slightly Bigger Human sized. Normal attack rolls, has a normal armour value, etc.
      2. Giant-sized (the Wolf). Usually has a bonus to be hit but reduces incoming damage. Most attacks automatically deal damage.
      3. Terrain-sized. (Shadow of the Colossus, etc.) Attacks are more like puzzles.

      Also, if HP = "don't get hit points", then automatically reducing combatants' "don't get hit" values is closer to stamina-reducing attacks from Dark Souls. Your dodging and rolling and evasion = your HP.

    2. Does armor help with saves against boss attacks?

    3. That makes sense, I would make that explicit in the text then to have readers understand why certain enemies bypass traditional mechanics.

    4. Angus: Not against this size category.
      Lungfungus: Yeah, there will be an intro section for bosses.

  3. This was a popular topic from four or so years ago on various blogs. You may want to read some of them as well:


    1. I figure it's like the weather; everyone talks about it but nobody /does/ anything about it, you know?
      Well I'm doing something with it.

    2. I think other people did things about it was well my modest friend...

    3. I'm not trying to say I got here first or anything like that. (See: most of 4E, all of 5E, Ajaugunas' articles from 2014 I linked in the previous post, the dragon subdual rules in AD&D, etc.).

      But as far as I can tell, every few years someone in the OSR crew writes a post about boss fights and design and then it doesn't /go/ anywhere. I mean, you never published a book of boss fights. You basically revisited the boss fight idea a year later (here: http://dungeonofsigns.blogspot.com/2015/06/making-beast-making-large-monsters-more.html) but again, it's just a list of concepts and principles. As far as I can tell, Brendan S. never went back to the idea either. Some of Arnold's monsters follow the principles he set down, but his stuff is (wonderfully) a bit scattered.

      It was/is/will be a popular idea, but not so popular that anyone felt compelled to take, say, 20 of D&D's most iconic big monsters and turn them into boss fights. Maybe they did and I missed it, but it seems like it's easier to write principles than examples. And that's fine... but I don't feel like it's enough, so I'm doing something about it.

  4. In case you want a bit of critique (on what I think is a great starting point!) here are a couple of questions regarding your design notes:

    "Drop your weapons, grab the key, unlock the door, and run."
    Thematically I like the idea of the wolf only fighting armed opponents a lot. However you will need to signal this to your players somehow if they are to able to take advantages, like you do with the fire dripping from its mouth. Maybe give the wolf (or the skeletons!) a disarming attack? Or throw in some clues to the fact before or during the fight. You could have the skeletons chanting ('iron calls to iron', 'Rhen fights the strong', 'they who draw iron draws blood, draws iron, draws blood'... something like that) or have a fortune teller mumble insane warnings before they head into the catacombs, which is a lovely Greco-Roman trope, btw.

    "If she pins or knocks a an ally prone, make sure they are protected or rescued."
    This is a great mechanic, but as written the Wolf has very few ways of actually pinning opponents outside of killing them outright, which somewhat defeats the purpose. Maybe give it an extra pinning attack or up the chance on knocking PC's prone on the Charge move? Perhaps reduce the charge damage a bit but make the knockdown effect a check/save or just an automatic effect, or have the Kings grapple people if they are allowed to gang up on a character?

    "The arena isn't particularly interesting. There are a few descriptive "zones": behind a pillar, on the stairs, at the top of the stairs, in an alcove, etc"
    I know your map is just a draft, but to me the stairs seems to be taking up a lot of space and potentially blocking a lot of lines of sight/attack. I would probably make them quite low so that you can easily see across them, while still being valuable as high ground and slowing players and skeletons down a little bit. Or maybe just have the room be a little bigger and add some room to maneuver between the stairs and the pillars?

    I think its good as is, but the interesting mechanics could be emphasized a bit more so that the players really have to juggle different priorities; saving pinned players, keeping out of reach, dealing with skeletons and damaging the wolf. Making hard choices while your resources (spells/hp/etc) are dwindling away is good for engaging and creative gameplay - and very Dark Souls.

    1. "However you will need to signal this to your players somehow if they are to able to take advantage"
      Agreed, I'll make a few edits. I'm not a fan of your suggestions to be honest (they're a little... blunt), but I agree that I should give a GM more guidance on telegraphing that information.

      I'm not worried about the low pinning chance. Depending on your system, dying/0HP/badly wounded characters are automatically prone, so that's one of the main routes the Wolf will take. Deal damage, then attack a downed character to savagely finish the job. Very wolf-like.

      "t to me the stairs seems to be taking up a lot of space and potentially blocking a lot of lines of sight/attack."
      That's more to the player's advantage than to the Wolf's. I may adjust it during testing, but I don't think it's possible to tell right now if they are too high or too low.

    2. Quite blunt, yeah. I'm sure you can work something out. More interesting, I think, is how this alternative to fighting the wolf will be used at the table. After all it would be a shame if the players skipped the fight entirely, given all the work put into it. I suppose a situation where one unarmed player is hustling to get the door opened without being chopped by skeletons, while the others fight off the wolf, would be interesting, but that will only happen if they grab the key before the fight starts. Playtesting will help to determin this.

      @Pinning and stairs: You may be right, though I picture it differently. I suppose this will all be evident from playtesting. It'll probably also very greatly according to how the GM narates and referees it.