D&D 5E Challenge Rating Is Imprecise (And That's OK)


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Tony Vargas

Legend
A common misconception is that the challenge rating system in D&D is meant to guarantee specific encounter outcomes
No.

Nobody thinks that. Some who have never tried it might harbor misconceptions like "CR is quick and easy to use" or "a deadly encounter won't be default-killed" or "an easy encounter will never TPK."

This bit is fair, tho
Factors beyond the scope of 5th Edition’s challenge rating system, for example, include:
Variance in character builds
Its not just CR, monsters not making much sense and BA necessitating that multiplier. The party is the other side of the equation, and that could be anything from all-melee unoptimized builds that rolled bad for random stats, to a collection of TTB Flagships.

Class Balance is a prerequisite for encounter balance.
 

In my experience the CR and encounter building guidelines are a complete joke. I've seen characters beat encounters way above what should be possible. I've really given up trying to use any of the official guidelines and just throw in random stuff and see what happens. I'll probably TPK the party eventually.
 

Oofta

Legend
While I use an alternate challenge rating calculator, I find that for the most part encounters are about as difficult as I expect them to be. There are a handful of monsters, most of which are in the MM, that I either beef up or are extra careful with, but once you account for that and the overall capabilities of the group it's in the ballpark.

You do have to take into consideration the PC group, the environment the encounter is going to take place in, the number of PCs vs the number of monsters, the goal of the group and so on. It will always be more art than science, there is no way to come up with a one-size-fits-all it has to be adjusted by group. I've run multiple groups simultaneously with the same levels, one group could simply handle far more of a challenge than the other.

But that's really encounter design. CR? The foundation? Works well enough for me as a ballpark guesstimate.
 

In my experience the CR and encounter building guidelines are a complete joke. I've seen characters beat encounters way above what should be possible. I've really given up trying to use any of the official guidelines and just throw in random stuff and see what happens. I'll probably TPK the party eventually.
The CR intent is to be used the other way, avoid monster to steamroll the party. Designers don’t care about monsters being slaughtered by too weak party!
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
Honestly they should just drop the "build encounters" aspect of it. You can keep CR. It is essentially the same as (and just as "reliable" as) Hit Dice plus Asterix from AD&D. Just don't try and pretend there is some real math behind it that will somehow magically work for ever possible PC party permutation.
 


Clint_L

Legend
Any experienced DM can tell you that there are so many variables that balancing an encounter is an art, not a science. So much comes down to player and DM choices, not mention the particular composition and equipment of every party, where the fight will happen, etc. (eg a dragon in a confined space is not nearly as deadly as one with room to move freely).

That’s not to say the current CR system can’t and shouldn’t be better. I hope it is improved! But there will never be a perfect system, and using the current one on the DDB encounter builder does give me a good starting place to tinker. I use it for every encounter.
 

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