D&D 5E Do the Monster Building Guidelines Work?

dave2008

Legend
So what's CR for if not as a means to rate monsters compared to PCs?
It is a starting point to compare to PCs. However, PCs and groups are so variable that a static number cannot provide a reasonable basis of comparison. That is why you need the encounter building guidelines.
He's regularly analyzed the new monsters as new monster books come out and updated his numbers.
Good to know. I think I remember now that you mention it.
He's also written or co-written several monster books for 5E and monster design systems for 5E.
I am aware, I have LevelUp and I have discussed monster design with him. I stand by my statement that his analysis of the DMG design guidelines is (or at least his explanation of his analysis) flawed. I am also aware that most of the time his CR and the DMG agree! So if CR is so flawed, then so are Paul's designs.
 

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CrashFiend82

Explorer
Thanks for the better math dave2008, I rushed my calculations and screwed up a few things but it does seem to be at CR 24. Pretty sure that was still the intent to make dragons feel me powerful than their CR suggests.
 

dave2008

Legend
Thanks for the better math dave2008, I rushed my calculations and screwed up a few things but it does seem to be at CR 24. Pretty sure that was still the intent to make dragons feel me powerful than their CR suggests.
Yes I remember that as well (I think the beholder is similar IIRC). Personally I don't like that philosophy for monsters or spells. It seems like they are walked that idea back for monsters, I hope they do it for spells in 2024 (but I doubt it).
 

FallenRX

Adventurer
Here is how I calculated, where do you think I made a mistake?

Defensive CR:
HP: 385 + 90 (legendary resistance) = 475 effective = CR 22
AC: 21 + 2 (3+ saving throws, step 15) = 23 effective = +2 to CR
Defensive CR = 22 + 2 = 24

Attack CR:
DPR:
R1 = 154 (Poison Breath, 2 targets per "Overall Damage Output") + 51 (3 tails) = 205​
R2 = 44 (2 claws) + 29 (bite) + 51 (3 tails) = 124​
R3 = 44 (2 claws) + 29 (bite) + 51 (3 tails) = 124​
DPR = 205+124+124/3 = 151 = CR 21
Attack Bonus/DC: +15/ 22 = +2 to CR
Attack CR = 21 + 2 = 23

CR = 24+23/2 = 23.5 rounded up to 24


Yep
ahh sleepy brain dumb, made a math error, nvm your good.
 

mamba

Legend
No, you are talking about the encounter building system which is related but different. CR works fine.
ok, let’s grant you that CR works fine. Unless you can meaningfully build encounters with it, this is not all that useful however. Until then it is just you applying a formula correctly, but the result is irrelevant.

Whether the issue is the encounter building rule that is broken or the CR logic is purely a matter of perspective. I could just as well argue the encounter building rules would be fine, if only the monsters had a more appropriate CR.
 

dave2008

Legend
Whether the issue is the encounter building rule that is broken or the CR logic is purely a matter of perspective. I could just as well argue the encounter building rules would be fine, if only the monsters had a more appropriate CR.
The question is: more appropriate for who? If the CR changes, that works for some groups but not others, just as the current CR works for some groups and not others. The correct method of adjustment is in the encounter rules because, unlike CR, they are dynamic. You can't easily change a monsters CR with each group, but adjusting the encounter difficulty is a piece of cake.
 

mamba

Legend
The question is: more appropriate for who? If the CR changes, that works for some groups but not others, just as the current CR works for some groups and not others. The correct method of adjustment is in the encounter rules because, unlike CR, they are dynamic. You can't easily change a monsters CR with each group, but adjusting the encounter difficulty is a piece of cake.
more appropriate as in more closely following the intended design of one monster of CR x being a challenge for 4 chars of level x

The higher you go in x, the less this becomes true, which either means your CRs are inflated, or your encounter rules are broken (and most likely it is a mix of both)

I grant you that since the CR only considers the monster and not the party, it by itself can only ever be a partial solution, but that does not mean it cannot have issues by itself
 

The reason I say they don't work is because in the most important cases they produce outcomes that are actively and aggressively bad.

Let's say you are a new DM who wants to create the world. You've little feel for the stats, but want to create some outright fey analogues to the Drow with less emphasis on cruelty and more on hiding and trickstering. You know they are relatively low level, and want to give them two types. The basic tiny people, let's call them boglins, and the small driderlings who are boglin from the waist up, spider from the waist down. Being low level fey the CR6 Drider template is right out; this is for an introductory adventure. You're looking at the quick monster stats because you really don't get the complexities and because you don't have a good feel you aren't going to adjust the stats presented; this is the easiest option.

The Boglins are low level. They're fey but weak ones. So you give them a CR of 1/8, which is pretty much the lowest possible. You're not sure about the math. And the Driderlings are meant to be much stronger at CR 1/2
  • CR 1/8 Boglin: Proficiency +2, AC 13, 21 hp (avg), +3 to hit, 2-3 damage
  • CR 1/2 Driderling: Proficiency +2, AC 13, 60hp (average), +3 to hit, 6-8 damage.
Holy pinatas Batman! You are looking at 60hp for a CR 1/2 monster.

But! It gets worse! You want to spice them up a little so give them powers from p280. The boglins are creepy fey tricksters. So let's make them good at hiding by giving them Invisibility, and good at trickstering by giving them Charm, Read Thoughts, Mimicry, and both with Shapechanger. Oh, and because we're feeling generous let's let them teleport to help with both. You know how much this changes their CR by? Literally nothing.

And then there are their sentient helpers the Driderlings who are domesticated ambush predators. Spider-climb, Web (complete with Web Walker and Web Sense), and Chameleon skin feels like an excellent combination here - and we're going to throw in tunneling because we've been spending too much time with funnelweb and trapdoor spiders. You know how much this tells you to change their stats by? Spider-Climb, Chameleon Skin, and Tunneling are (like all the Boglin abilities) free. And Web tells you "Increase the monster's effective AC by 1" - so how much does that change the CR by? We go back to Step 4: Final Challenge Rating and look under "Defensive challlenge rating". It states "If your monster's AC is at least two points higher than that number, adjust..." It isn't. Web only adjusts it by one so it too is free.

Bam! We've just had our new DM try to create a race of low level fey tricksters using the guidelines on their default settings and get truly horrible results. The system has completely failed them. And once bitten, twice shy. This is aggressively bad for new DMs who are, after all, the people that need the tools the most.

It's entirely possible that the table works (a) when you start above level 2, (b) when you ignore the Quick monster creation rules, and (c) when you have a good feel for what you want to create. But this needs a significant overhaul for the most important group - new DMs trying to create their first monsters.
 

dave2008

Legend
I have to run an errand so I can't review this whole thing yet, but I want to stop you here and make a comment.
Let's say you are a new DM who wants to create the world.

I don't think a new DM should be using the create a monster from scratch option in the DMG. They should be using the "Modifying a Monster."

If your whole argument is that they don't work because they are complex and difficult for new DMs, then I will not disagree. However, that is not how I am judging them. I was not a new DM, but I was new to 5e just like everyone else and I was quickly able to pick up the monster building guidelines. It took me some time to master them though.
 

dave2008

Legend
OK, I have some more time now, but not much! I will start by saying the monster building rules are not, IMO, for new DMs. They are for experienced DMs. In general, I think any of the rules for creating new things and altering the rules of the game in the DMG are for experienced DMs. New DMs should, IMO, stick to the MM for monsters, the rules in the PHB, and how to play guidance in the DMG. Once you start homebrewing that is, IMO, for experienced DMs.

So I reject the notion that the monster building guidelines are for new DMs. Additionally, despite the title in the DMG, the are not quick. There are 20 steps listed in the process with many sub-steps within those steps. These are not guidelines for the new / inexperienced DM.

If that is your criteria (that they be easy for new DMs) then I agree they are a failure. That is not my criteria. So I generally disagree with your premise and that is probably as far as we need to go. However, I do have a few more comments.
The Boglins are low level. They're fey but weak ones. So you give them a CR of 1/8, which is pretty much the lowest possible. You're not sure about the math. And the Driderlings are meant to be much stronger at CR 1/2
  • CR 1/8 Boglin: Proficiency +2, AC 13, 21 hp (avg), +3 to hit, 2-3 damage
  • CR 1/2 Driderling: Proficiency +2, AC 13, 60hp (average), +3 to hit, 6-8 damage.
Holy pinatas Batman! You are looking at 60hp for a CR 1/2 monster.
Those are boring monsters, but technically functional. I will say this is not how you're supposed to make a monster (simply picking numbers of the table). But they technically function properly.

I am by trade a designer (architect) and I have trained to design in art and building. Design is not easy and takes a lot of work. That applies to architecture, art, and monsters. I don't think simple picking some numbers off of a table will every make a good monster. That is why it is not, IMO, an task for a new DM. It takes experience / training to be good at monster design.
But! It gets worse! You want to spice them up a little so give them powers from p280. The boglins are creepy fey tricksters. So let's make them good at hiding by giving them Invisibility, and good at trickstering by giving them Charm, Read Thoughts, Mimicry, and both with Shapechanger. Oh, and because we're feeling generous let's let them teleport to help with both. You know how much this changes their CR by? Literally nothing.
A few things here. Some of my appreciation for the 5e monster design guide is based on context. I didn't play 3e, but 1e, 2e, and 4e gave no guidance on the items in bold either. 5e does in fact give guidance on a lot of monster features and traits, more than any previous addition. So some of my praise for the 5e builder is in relationship to previous ones.

Now, I also disagree that these things don't affect CR and I agree the guidelines could be better here (and I hope they are in 2024). What you listed are all spells or spell like. Step 13 has a section on spellcasting, but doesn't go quite far enough in explaining that you can convert those spells to damage (the WotC designers have explained this in interviews - but it is not in the DMG). Basically you take the spell that inflicts just that effect or condition and use the damage by spell level for the "effective" damage. If that is higher than the other attacks, it affects the CR.
And Web tells you "Increase the monster's effective AC by 1" - so how much does that change the CR by? We go back to Step 4: Final Challenge Rating and look under "Defensive challlenge rating". It states "If your monster's AC is at least two points higher than that number, adjust..." It isn't. Web only adjusts it by one so it too is free.
No that is incorrect. It could be free or it could cause in increase in CR. It depends on where everything else is. So if you are CR 1, but the calculation was really a 1.25, the +1 to effective AC could push the total CR up to 1.5 which is typically round to 2.

However, again there is an art to this. It is unlikely any guide can account for the breadth and depth of human imagination. There will need to be judgement calls made and that is, again, where experience comes in handy. Not for new DMs!
It's entirely possible that the table works (a) when you start above level 2, (b) when you ignore the Quick monster creation rules, and (c) when you have a good feel for what you want to create. But this needs a significant overhaul for the most important group - new DMs trying to create their first monsters.
No the table only works when you carefully follow the creation rules they explicitly do not work separately. I hope for only slight tweaks to improve guidance in a few areas for the 2024 DMG.

However, I would be fine with another truly: Quick Monster set of rules / tables for new DMs. It would; however, not be able to handle the nuance you seem to want. That is not something new DMs can do IMO.
 

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