Designing Epic Battles

Hello and welcome to Only On Tuesdays! This week I will be going over how to create truly epic battles. Something that is epic is more than just a big enemy facing the party. Epic battles are intimidating and overwhelming. Epic battles are larger than life, larger than anything the players could have dreamed of. Epic battles are more than just the fate of the party and the foe, they determine the fate of what the players care most about. Creating something that is epic requires an understanding of what epic is. And then, you can create something that is truly epic.

Defining Epic

What exactly is epic? Describing something that is epic is hard to do because it is such a personal emotion. Defining this personal feeling is difficult because what may be epic to one person may not be epic to someone else. But, by defining the feeling of epic, we can then use that to help create something that is epic. After doing some research, I have discovered that there are 3 things that can make a scene epic.
  • Epic is Larger than life. It is beyond the scale of things that we are accustomed to experiencing. 
  • Epic is High Stakes. The things we care about most are being put on the line. 
  • Epic is Overwhelming. Everything is culminating in this grand final moment. 
This list is not perfect by any means. But these 3 things should hopefully help us to create scenes that can be described as epic. Let’s analyze each one in detail and see how it can help us to make something epic. 

Epic is Larger Than Life

What makes something larger than life? It is not the size that makes something feel epic, although that can certainly help. Creating something that is larger than life means making it appear insurmountable. A great example of this is in the movie the Matrix. In the Matrix, the main antagonist of the film is Agent Smith, a character who can manipulate the world to make himself stronger and faster. And he has never been beaten before. He is an insurmountable foe, which makes any fight with him epic even though he may just look like the average joe. 
To create scenarios that feel dangerous, and insurmountable, I like to fall back on my technique of Creating Impossible Scenarios. Impossible Scenarios are great for creating epic scenes because it adds a sense of danger that no other scene can provide. Impossible Scenarios give that feeling of insurmountability that is so important to have for epic battles. By creating the lowest of lows, we give the players a chance to experience the highest of highs. 
Image result for surrounded fantasy art

Epic is High Stakes

Part of what makes anything epic is the amount of personal attachment the audience has towards the scene. Without any attachment, then there can be no stakes. Creating high stakes with your players means putting at risk the things the players care about most. If you want to get, your players to care about something you go after the things that they have personally invested themselves in. To the players, there is a vast difference between destroying the world, and destroying the hometown, the players started the campaign in. 
A good example of the difference the proper stakes can create is by comparing the Hobbit movies to the Lord of the Rings movies. In the Hobbit, the stakes didn’t matter as much to the audience. If the main characters lost and had to retreat, they would lose a castle and gold. However, in the Lord of the Rings, the stakes were much higher, because if the main characters lost and had to retreat, the fate of the world was at stake. And this matters to us because the movies spent a considerable amount of time showing us how important the world is, and why it matters to the characters. And that is why it should also matter to us. 

Epic is Overwhelming

Out of all the ways that epic can be described, overwhelming may not be the first thought to come to mind. This is admittedly something that is not in every scene that can be considered epic but is something that I feel is important to make the scene feel epic for the players. Creating something that is epic means creating something that feels impossible. Epic is as much an emotion as it is an adjective, and creating that emotion in your players is important to making something feel epic. And that is why I believe it is important that any epic scene in Dnd feels overwhelming to the players. 
When creating something that is overwhelming, the way I like to do it is by introducing as many mini-conflicts as I can muster. This goes back to the idea of stakes and creating scenarios that the players care about. During the battle, if I can find moments to put little things the players care about at risk, such as their horse, or magic item, I will do it and offer them a choice if at all possible. Offering many choices throughout the battle, no matter how trivial of a choice it may be, makes the players feel like they are in a whirlwind of action. It creates that feeling of being overwhelmed, which is important for the climax as it allows the players to breathe a sigh of relief and feel like they accomplished something amazing. 

Creating Something Epic

There is a lot that goes into creating something epic. Setting the scene and mood, making everything feel larger than life, and adding high stakes that the players care about all are important elements to making something epic. But there is more to epic scenes than what I have here. Epic is defined by you and your players. While what I have here may help you start making something that can be called epic, it is up to you and your players to work together to create something that is memorable. As a DM, your job is to set the stage and let the players show you what it means to be epic. Only then will you be able to create something that is truly epic. 
Thank you all for reading this week. This blog post was a blast to write, but also one of the more difficult pieces that I feel I have worked on. Creating something that is epic is a challenge, but I believe that it is a challenge worth striving for. I hope you all have a great week, and an amazing Tuesday!
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