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How do I not TPK my party in a boss fight, but keep it interesting?

Content of the article: "How do I not TPK my party in a boss fight, but keep it interesting?"

Hi y'all. I'm gonna apologize in advanced for my rambling question.

I am DMing for a group of 5 level4 players, (Paladin, Grave Cleric, Lore Bard, Shadow monk, and blood hunter) who are preparing to enter a dungeon with the theme being Melora the Wildmother. In that dungeon, I plan to have several puzzles and opportunities for smaller combat encounters that will drain their spell slots. I was thinking that as a final test, they would fight a Horizonback Tortoise (pg 292 EGtW).

I want it to be a tough fight but i don't want to kill them, so I wanted to make a few changes. As standard, they have AC of 17 and ~220 HP, but i tend to be flexible with HP as long as it's within their hit dice range. Additionally, they get 1 action that is +12 to hit, and deals 3d12+9 damage, which I'm certain will 1-2 shot each of my players.

I was going to allow them to find a necklace of fireballs inside the dungeon, and most of the characters have a +1 weapon. Additionally, they have between them, and a wand of magic missile.

I had a few ideas for changing the stat block to allow for a more interesting fight, but also adjusting the difficulty to try to make it fair, but I am relatively new to DMing, and don't know much about balancing combat. The Terrain is a large (like 400×400) underground chamber with a whole ecosystem, a lake, a desert area, a forest area, and a rocky cliff about 30 off the ground (high enough to jump on the turtle's back without taking fall damage).

As for dealing with the turtle, I felt the bite attack with 3d12+9 was a bit much for a mean HP of 34(±2), so I would reduce that to 2d12+7 and reduce the attack bonus from +12 to +10. The casters obviously tend to stay away, so I was thinking of including 2 mounted cross bows with AC10, 15 HP, +6 to hit and deal 1d10+3. It would still only have 1 attack action that it could use either on its bite or two shots with its crossbow.

Read:  Let your PCs be awesome... and don't let any PCs into your game whom you don't want to be awesome.

I was thinking though, the bard loves to cast vicious mockery, but the fact that it has an INT of 4 means that it will have no affect. Should I raise its int to 5?

Because I'm concerned about action economy, I was thinking I could give it 2 legendary actions/round. 1) Fire 1 crossbow bolt. 20-60/180 feet 2) Attempt to shake off characters on its back (costs 2 legendary actions). Any creatures on its back must succeed a DC17 strength saving throw, or be thrown to the ground (which is 20 feet in the air, and as such will result in 2d6 damage).

In short, what changes do you recommend so I can give a dangerous and interesting boss fight, but don't completely steamroll them? Thank you!

Source: reddit.com

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