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

M_Natas

Hero
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. ;)
Second to that.
Yesterday my Group fought a Roper (CR 5). We were 4 5th Level Characters. So a medium encounters by the book.
We had full ressources.
Now, this is the beginning of a dungeon delve, so we need to look out for our ressources ...
An a roper is a mean Monster. 20AC, 96 HP restraining up to 6 creatures...

My wizard was the only one not caught in the tendrils, thanks to shield and a cloak of displacement. Which was good, because if that thing would have bitten my character she would have been out of combat.

So we had a Bardlock, cleric and rogue caught by the roper.
Trough lucky dice roles, the cleric could do an inflict wounds. The rogue never hit anything Trough bad dice rolls. The bardlock escaped in round 1 and used an Eldritch Blast in round 2.
my wizard threw two fireballs at the roper doing something like 65 damage. Together with the inflict wounds and the Eldritch Blast that was enough to kill the roper.

but it cost me 2 of my 4 fireball spell slots, a first level slot and the cleric a 2nd level slot for an upcast inflict wounds.

If I wouldn't have thrown the fireballs, the fight wouldn't have been over after 2 rounds, it would have taken 4 or 5, probably downing one or more characters, becoming a deadly encounter.
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
My wizard was the only one not caught in the tendrils, thanks to shield and a clock of displacement. Which was good, because if that thing would have bitten my character she would have been out of combat.
It's time for me to get one of those. ;)

In all seriousness, though, the last time I played 5e(I DM mostly) I was a Bladesinger. We roll stats and I started with a 17 int and 20 dex. Combine that with shield and mage armor and my AC was dumb. A few levels in a found a cloak of displacement and it was pretty much over. Rolling with disadvantage against that AC made me incredibly hard to hit.
 

M_Natas

Hero
It's time for me to get one of those. ;)

In all seriousness, though, the last time I played 5e(I DM mostly) I was a Bladesinger. We roll stats and I started with a 17 int and 20 dex. Combine that with shield and mage armor and my AC was dumb. A few levels in a found a cloak of displacement and it was pretty much over. Rolling with disadvantage against that AC made me incredibly hard to hit.
To be fair, I don't have Mage Armor (don't like spell taxes!), so my AC is 13, because 10+ dex ;).
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
To be fair, I don't have Mage Armor (don't like spell taxes!), so my AC is 13, because 10+ dex ;).
I enjoyed having a 21 AC with enemies at disadvantage, and then having shield for 5 more AC as a backup. That "tax" made it so that I didn't have to worry about concentration......................or hit points. :p
 


ad_hoc

(they/them)
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

I do.

I find it to be very useful as written.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Part of becoming am experienced DM is learning how monsters and encounters work, such that eventually you don't NEED challenge ratings or encounters builders. You can just figure out what works for your table and party on your own.

It always perplexes me why so many supposedly experienced DMs still "build" their encounters and then get all P.O 'd when the builds don't work out right. At some point you should be able to just guesstimate how things will go, and then even if they don't, you can call an audible and insert another encounter in there if you needed more attrition.

Oh wait. Of course. If you insert a new encounter in your narrative that wasn't planned previously, then that's "cheating" isn't it?
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
Back in the day, we had no encounter guidelines, at all. Becoming a good DM meant playing a lot, with both bad and good DMs, so had examples of what to do and what not to do, and so you could empathize with your players when you started running and were invariably bad at first. I suppose it was essentially a lot of dues-paying. You played in bad games for years so you could run bad games for years, so you could eventually run good games for a few years before the new edition came out....

...why am I supposed to be gripped by nostalgia again?
 

ad_hoc

(they/them)
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.

There are a ton of factors at play in a combat.

The system does fall apart at parties of 6+. 5 is even pushing it.

But 4? It is good at 4 which is what it was designed to do.

Since the game is so open ended at higher levels it also breaks down a bit 11+ because there are so many options and specialties characters have that they can trivialize more sorts of encounters while still possible being without an answer to others.

The biggest factor in combat is how the DM plays the enemy creatures. That is going to differ at every table. Some DMs play every creature as though they were a zombie. The DM also has a lot to do. Each player can devote their entire cognitive load to one character while the DM needs to manage many and also other things.

The environment also plays a huge factor. Dragons which are able to dart in for breath attacks and then retreat until recharged are very difficult for many parties to handle.

Each party is going to be better or worse at handling different types of challenges.

A system that identifies the potential deadliness of a foe is very useful. If an encounter is deadly enough that a PC has a 5% chance to die that PC likely will before long. Does that mean the encounter was easy when no one dies?

How difficult is a giant who can do huge damage with each blow? Probably not very in an individual encounter but could make the party weaker for the next one. How about if that giant also had 10 wolves which were ready to pounce on any character who hits 0? Now that is much deadlier.
 

ad_hoc

(they/them)
I think the greatest example we have of the variety of difficulty by DM is Strahd from Curse of Strahd.

Some people complain that he is a complete pushover easily defeated.

However he has the ability to walk through walls, floors, and ceilings. He can float into a room, cast fireball, and the float out.

And he can keep doing this every few hours so the party doesn't have a chance of readying for his attack but also can't rest.

So what CR is appropriate for Strahd? He could be completely weak or absolutely unfair depending on how he is played.

The advice in the book is for him to be cunning but if the party can figure out the meaning of the Tarokka reading they can trap him.

That makes for a good encounter. A better one anyway than having him come in and start punching the party.
 

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