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

Sparky McDibben

Adventurer
do they though? I find that I rely more on HD and general feel/experience more than Cr these days.
I did use the CR system in 3.5 so that might have trained me to be able to just pick suitable monsters based on narrative and feel rather caluculations
Yes, I find it to be a useful gauge of rough combat power.
 

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Clint_L

Hero
do they though? I find that I rely more on HD and general feel/experience more than Cr these days.
I did use the CR system in 3.5 so that might have trained me to be able to just pick suitable monsters based on narrative and feel rather caluculations
Yes, they do. The DDB encounter builder was a life-altering tool for me, it saves me that much time. It automatically calculates the CR as I add and subtract monsters, so that I have a decent idea of the challenge from which to tinker. It could be better, but it is a lot better than nothing and makes a great starting place.

If you don’t use DDB YVMV, but if you use encounter builder CR is very handy.
 

Yes, they do. The DDB encounter builder was a life-altering tool for me, it saves me that much time. It automatically calculates the CR as I add and subtract monsters, so that I have a decent idea of the challenge from which to tinker. It could be better, but it is a lot better than nothing and makes a great starting place.

If you don’t use DDB YVMV, but if you use encounter builder CR is very handy.
But the encounter difficulty is even less useful than CR. Anything below deadly is a pointless cakewalk, you need to go way beyond that to get any real challenge. The game doesn't actually have categories for encounters that actually need to be run. Apparently this used to be better in the original playtest, but they moved the difficulty categories one step so that playtest hard became published deadly and playtest deadly doesn't exist.
 

delericho

Legend
IMO the worst thing about CR is that it looks like it's got all sorts of calculations and maths underlying it. They'd probably do better giving CRs as a range, and thus making explicit the fact that it is an imprecise tool.

They should also divorce the XP rewards for defeating an encounter from the XP budget used to build an encounter. That way, as players become more expert in their tactics, the DM can quietly up the difficulty of encounters without excessively accelerating the rate of advancement.
 

Moonmover

Explorer
A few months ago, a friend of mine decided to try GM'ing for the first time and asked me for advice. I'm lazy, so I'm just going to copy-and-paste one if the things I told him:

Okay, so the most important advice I can give you that other people won't:
Pages 81-85 of the Dungeon Master's Guide breaks down how to design combat encounters that have a fair difficulty (not too hard and not too easy) based on the number of players you have and what level they are.

Follow these guidelines!

A lot of people ignore it because it's math, but it's low-key the most important part of the book.

You'll also find a lot of people online bitching about these encounter-building guidelines being no good because sometimes fights still end up too hard or too easy. And that's true! The encounter-building guidelines, like all things wrought by human hands in our fallen world, aren't perfect. But they're better than nothing at all, and the alternatives you'll find on the Internet just add more complication for no benefit.
 

Oofta

Legend
I think the fundamental issue with the CR system is that it doesn't take it into the PCS themselves, and there is no reason you couldn't do this. For example, just like monsters, you can get the PCs standard AC, HP, you can look at what damage models they use most of the time, and then calculate a CR number for each PC. And then use them as a comparison between monster CR.

Sure its more work, but you at most have to recalculate it one a level, or if the party gets a particularly strong magic item, so its not something you ahve to figure out constantly.

But it's not just AC, HP, etc. I've run for two different group simultaneously. Similar party makeup, same levels and so on but one group was just more effective than the other. Then you also have to throw in the tactical acumen of the DM. So no, I don't think it's doable. There should be some discussion in the DMG section where they give you the calculations about adjusting for your party but it's really just something you have to figure out with a bit of trial and error.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
But the encounter difficulty is even less useful than CR. Anything below deadly is a pointless cakewalk, you need to go way beyond that to get any real challenge. The game doesn't actually have categories for encounters that actually need to be run. Apparently this used to be better in the original playtest, but they moved the difficulty categories one step so that playtest hard became published deadly and playtest deadly doesn't exist.
Anything below deadly is a cakewalk, yes, but not pointless. The point of those encounters is to be defeatedly easily, but use up resources in doing so. Then you have so many other encounters during the adventuring day that by the time you get to the last one, you're so low on resources that it's a challenge that could beat you.

It's a dumb and frustrating way to balance the game, but it does have a point. ;)
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
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.
I've found there are two minds on this. Some folks see the art portion of the encounter balancing as a bug and not a feature. Personally, I like that it makes fights less predictable (though GMs and players will dial in from my experience over time). PF2, for instance, has an incredibly accurate encounter building system. I know by the end of round 1 how the fight is going to go exactly. Thats the bug for me.
 

Clint_L

Hero
But the encounter difficulty is even less useful than CR. Anything below deadly is a pointless cakewalk, you need to go way beyond that to get any real challenge. The game doesn't actually have categories for encounters that actually need to be run. Apparently this used to be better in the original playtest, but they moved the difficulty categories one step so that playtest hard became published deadly and playtest deadly doesn't exist.
I’m not going to argue with you about my experience, which is that it is extremely useful to have and saves me a lot of time. You might have a different experience (do you even use DDB?), but for me, CR and encounter ratings work as intended: a rough estimate from which to begin.
 

I’m not going to argue with you about my experience, which is that it is extremely useful to have and saves me a lot of time. You might have a different experience (do you even use DDB?), but for me, CR and encounter ratings work as intended: a rough estimate from which to begin.
I don’t but I used to use an encounter calculator. I don’t bother with it anymore though.
 

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