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5E How viable is 5E to play at high levels?

Tormyr

Adventurer
That'd just be another example of 'poor' design. Poor design gives you inconsistent results. One CR X monster gets curb-stomped by a level X party, the next of the same CR TPKs them. Poor design - at least, poor assignment of CR. :shrug:

Excellent design or poor, that'd still be the case.
To be fair, dice give inconsistent results too.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
To be fair, dice give inconsistent results too.
They give random results. Consistently so over enough rolls. Well, if they're fair dice.

Ok, but what about the case where there is no mechanical benefit to a monster? What if I give an Ogre an Int of 14. Is that worth a CR increase?
I suspect the solid mechanical benefit could be a guideline. A +2 to checks is nothing to sneeze at, a +2 to hit or save DCs is a big deal. It's a judgement call, but that's something to base the judgement on.

Like so many things, it's likely to be situational. Put the unusually-bright Ogre in a situation where what you judge to be 'good tactics' can give it a meaningful advantage, it'd make an encounter tougher - it might be tougher in the same sense that being outnumbered is tougher - the encounter is harder, but the CR and exp values of the participants are unchanged. In that case, the question would be moot.

How should I quantify the differences in how the Ogre performs in an encounter? And why are we limiting this to a discussion of Int?
I brought up WIS & CHA, as well. ;) But the mental stats are potentially troubling as we make decisions for our PCs & monsters that'd be influenced by those stat were we blessed (or cursed) with the real IQ/perception/personality corresponding to those numeric abstractions.

If I increased a Lich's strength to 18, it's unlikely that I would increase it's CR, as that has no mechanical effect on its combat ability.
I'm not sure why a lich would have an 18 STR, but, the lich has a nasty attack just for touching you, one that grappled you would likely be that much nastier. Just a random thought.
Likewise, what if you increased an Ogre's Wisdom?
More likely to spot you if you try to sneak past is.
What if you increased an Ogre's Charisma? I can think of all sorts of things that might play out slightly differently based on different stat abilities, but there is no way to measure the impact on combat ability, and therefore it really doesn't seem like it should have any bearing on Challenge Rating.
It's not like CR is that hard a number, but, yeah, it'd bear on the difficulty of the encounter more on the CR.

Some DMs are simply tactical illiterates.
Actually all DMs are tactical geniuses outside of tactics implicit in the game mechanics (like focus fire - well, until they overrule said mechanics), because they judge what tactics work and how well. If the DM rules that wearing pink tu-tu's and quoting Emerson is tactical genius, then when his high-INT Ogres do it, they get advantage on all their attacks.

I think the only approach that really makes any sense is to have CR guidelines that are based on mechanical effects, because those are the effects that can be measured and compared unequivocally
Sure. Of course, being a tactical genius, or more generally being smart, could be given mechanical effect, in the monster's stat block.
FREX: Masticator is smarter than his brother Crunch, and uses surprisingly good tactics in battle, whenever he moves into melee with an enemy that was not adjacent to him at the start of his turn, he gains Advantage on his first attack.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
Don't take this the wrong way, but this really seems like it's just deflecting the onus of the CR system to the DM, rather than accepting that there might be some problems with the CR system.

DM: "Man, that XYZ with CR 10 was a punk. Your party of 6th level characters wiped it out in two rounds with barely a scratch!"
Player: "Nah, you just didn't play it smart enough."
DM: "Really? The DMG says the monster likes to wade into combat. That's what I did, and you guys ROFL-stomped it! It couldn't hit you, its saves suck, and you guys hit with every attack."
Player: "Oh, well don't wade into combat next time."
DM: "What should I do next time?"
Player: "I don't know, figure it out."
DM: "..."

Trust me, I get it, any encounter can turn into a cakewalk with poor tactical choices. You can't have a discussion of an encounter without a discussion of the tactics. But the mechanics matter, and tactics shouldn't be required to make up for weak mechanics.
Sure, I agree with a lot of that. I am not dismissing the mechanics. I think that mechanics matter, but so does what you do with them. I don't think you can dismiss either, honestly. No matter what the mechanics, if the DM does nothing with them, then the encounter will be weak. No matter what the DM does tactically, a weak monster can only accomplish so much.

Honestly, the CR system is, in my opinion, pretty simple. I think that's kind of a necessity, and I think it's best for people newer to the game, to serve as a guide on how to handle encounter design. But I don't rely on it myself, and I think other long-time DMs would be better served by abandoning it.

And for monsters, I think we can certainly criticize some choices in that area. I don't think the Monster Manual is perfect....far from it. But I also don't think that any version of the MM would be perfect. There's always going to be conversations about "this monster should be able to to this" and so on. Especially if you compare to the many previous versions. There will always be criticism, and opinions will always vary.

And that's fine. The Marilith came up, and I agree that it can be improved. So I easily did so. Conversations like this can be productive and can lead to solutions.

Does this mean that WotC didn't do their job? I don't know.....maybe? I look at it more as a case of them having done their job, but they could have done better. Does anyone expect the game to be perfect? Is it so bad that WotC knows that advanced players and DMs are likely to come up with their own mechanics, rules, and options? I suppose my question is why is labeling it so important? What is to be gained by saying that? Isn't the point of criticism to improve things?

I far prefer to find solutions for the problems I find with the game, rather than laying blame for them.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
Honestly, the CR system is, in my opinion, pretty simple. I think that's kind of a necessity, and I think it's best for people newer to the game, to serve as a guide on how to handle encounter design.
"MM3 on a business card" was simple. ;) CR is one piece of a not-so-simple, not-so-dependable system, that is there for DMs who really want a system - maybe even if it's just for the sake of having one, rather than for the sake of getting any use out of it. (Hope that doesn't come off as too harsh - I /do/ like having such a system, myself...)

...but:

But I don't rely on it myself, and I think other long-time DMs would be better served by abandoning it.
Agreed. DMing := ART > science. ;)

...doesn't mean I actually use it.

Conversations like this can be productive and can lead to solutions.

Does this mean that WotC didn't do their job? I don't know.....maybe?
They didn't do the job of "make a balanced game with a simple system to determine encounter difficulty with a fair degree of dependability." But, y'know, on the third try, they did get pretty close to doing that job back in 2010, so it's probably not because they couldn't do it. It's because that wasn't the job this time around.

This time around, Job 1 was 'evoke classic feel.' I think they did that job and did it well. Maybe no CR at all would have been doing it better, but there was a Job n+1 of 'also let the DM evoke later editions* if he really wants to...'










* like 3.x/PF, which had CR, which wasn't terribly dependable - job done.
Really, they must be just dizzy with success up there in Renton.
 
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Schmoe

Explorer
Sure. Of course, being a tactical genius, or more generally being smart, could be given mechanical effect, in the monster's stat block.
FREX: Masticator is smarter than his brother Crunch, and uses surprisingly good tactics in battle, whenever he moves into melee with an enemy that was not adjacent to him at the start of his turn, he gains Advantage on his first attack.
That's an interesting thought. I like your sales pitch and would like to hear more. :D
 

Mistwell

Adventurer
All I can say is that the game clearly breaks down if you use the provided options in the PHB: multiclassing and feats. Also all the cool magic items in the DMG? Forget them if you want to use monsters as-is.
I would not say "clearly breaks down" but I would say otherwise you are correct that the CR system is based on no options being used (multiclassing or feats) and no magic items, and about 5 PCs. That's the baseline, and if you use the baseline, and then use the designated number of encounters and CR for those encounters per day, the monsters and CR system for them work fine.

Once you adjust one of those factors (multiclassing, feats, magic items, number of PCs), then you need to adjust the CR system to account for your optional adjustment.

I wish WOTC had put guidelines in for how to adjust CRs based on an adjustment to those options. They give us dials to turn to make the game our own, but then don't list the CR formula to turn with those other dials turning. But I don't think that means the CR system itself is flawed, nor the monsters - the baseline remains the same and functional, and as long as it remains consistent then adjustments to challenges can be made consistently too. If you learn how to adjust based on one or more of those dials being turned, the CR system continues to serve it's purpose. But like I said, I wish WOTC had put in more guidelines on how to make those adjustments. A lot of people use those options, and it would be helpful to know how to adjust CR based on each adjustment factor.
 

lkj

Explorer
I'm running a campaign for 17th level characters (have come all the way from first). It's a blast. Players are very much into their characters. And I haven't had any trouble keeping them challenged. They are plenty frightened by the situations they are in. I should note that I don't bother with CR at this level, other than as a very rough guideline to get started. Just too many variables depending on the characters and magic items, etc. So I suspect a lot of the bigger encounters they wade into would be in the 'deadly' range. I also don't ever use complete 'solo' fights. The big baddies are always accompanied by healthy bands of powerful minions. If I did do a true solo fight, I'd probably makes some adjustments. But honestly, with 5e, those adjustments are easy.

That's my experience. I haven't read this thread, but I have no doubt others have had different ones.

AD
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
I would not say "clearly breaks down" but I would say otherwise you are correct that the CR system is based on no options being used (multiclassing or feats) and no magic items, and about 5 PCs. That's the baseline, and if you use the baseline, and then use the designated number of encounters and CR for those encounters per day, the monsters and CR system for them work fine.

Once you adjust one of those factors (multiclassing, feats, magic items, number of PCs), then you need to adjust the CR system to account for your optional adjustment.

I wish WOTC had put guidelines in for how to adjust CRs based on an adjustment to those options. They give us dials to turn to make the game our own, but then don't list the CR formula to turn with those other dials turning. But I don't think that means the CR system itself is flawed, nor the monsters - the baseline remains the same and functional, and as long as it remains consistent then adjustments to challenges can be made consistently too. If you learn how to adjust based on one or more of those dials being turned, the CR system continues to serve it's purpose. But like I said, I wish WOTC had put in more guidelines on how to make those adjustments. A lot of people use those options, and it would be helpful to know how to adjust CR based on each adjustment factor.
Is the issue here with CR then? I think you made the argument concise enough that I realized: It seems like most of the discussion is using the word "CR" and talking about certain monsters, but ultimately most posts get into a discussion about encounter results.

I don't have an issue with the DMG's monster building numbers and that they primarily focus on damage and hp. It is a consistent system in my opinion even if certain situations or party configurations favor some monsters over others.

If the PCs are getting extra bonuses from different sources, it is ultimately the encounters that are easier (usually universally so). The encounter can then be made more difficult through increasing the CR of the existing monsters, adding more monsters, altering the environment, stringing more encounters together, etc., but the changes are ultimately to the encounter.

I have generally noticed two groups that complain about 5e being too easy: Optimizers/Power Gamers and larger parties. Thankfully their situations can be handled the same way: make the encounter more difficult. Personally, I see the encounter building system being built around parties of 4 if for no other reason than a monster of a certain CR is a Medium encounter for 4 PCs of the same level. For the power gaming parties, we hear how the system is not difficult enough. That suggests to me a need to universally bump the intended encounter difficulty level or two (Medium -> Hard, Hard -> Deadly) rather than immediately going to altering CR (although it remains an option).

TL : DR We can turn the dials on a monster to adjust its CR, but I think the target here probably should be encounter building (of which altering a monster is one option).
 
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Helldritch

Villager
I have generally noticed two groups that complain about 5e being too easy: Optimizers/Power Gamers and larger parties. Thankfully their situations can be handled the same way: make the encounter more difficult. Personally, I see the encounter building system being built around parties of 4 if for no other reason than a monster of a certain CR is a Medium encounter for 4 PCs of the same level. For the power gaming parties, we hear how the system is not difficult enough. That suggests to me a need to universally bump the intended encounter difficulty level or two (Medium -> Hard, Hard -> Deadly) rather than immediately going to altering CR (although it remains an option).

TL : DR We can turn the dials on a monster to adjust its CR, but I think the target here probably should be encounter building (of which altering a monster is one option).
That is the truest statement done so far.

Larger party can handle more. It may be obvious when it's said that way, but many DM are forgetting that fact when building their encounters.

A lone monster should be 5CR above the party average bla bla bla. With a party of four yep. With 5 or 6 (+ hirelings and henchmen...) no way.

As I said earlier, have a copy of the characters' sheets. Run a simulation to the best of their habilities and you will see what is needed to challenge them.

A lone marilith will be busted. She is not a solo monster. She IS a general. When did you last see a general up to the front, alone with no soldiers? She will have minions, lots of them and not all of them demons. To get to her, they will have to fight waves of demonic shock troopers or assassin squads (babau, nabassu etc...). She might have demon worshipers as minions and advisers. Yes a general worth his salt will heed his advisers. A warlock? A demon worshipping priest? A few succubi? The choice is yours. She will not fight fair. Hex on the fighter targeting strength. Teleport in. Grab the fighter. Teleport in the lava or poisonous pit next to her adobe leaving the poor the fighter to his death only to teleport back to take an other player or getting healed by her priest. All the while the demon worshipping priest will simply dispel magic on the party while a vrock, chasme, glabrezou and dretches will be attacking the group "en masse".

The lone marilith must have some treasure. Maybe a ring of protection? A shield? Attack is not everything you know? Well so does she. With a magical shield with a ring of protection while the demon worshipping priest has cast warding bond and shield of faith on her will raise her AC to 24! Maybe 25 if the shield is of the +1 variety. Many players forget that monsters can be boosted too. And what about a potion of haste? Devious; as she should be.

Too often do I see usable treasure laying on the ground or in a chest. I saw that so often that it's almost a joke. The marilith will know what she has. She will use it. And more often than not, she will be aware that the players are coming for her (so many invisible hidden imp ready to spy for her and eager to get a promotion in status...)

If you want a solo marilith, it is feasible. But you have to adapt it so that she is now solo. You must add legendary resistance and lair action. She might need a few spells to. But she would be a much more dangerous foe and she would not be CR16. She'd be much higher.
 

hastur_nz

Villager
I wish WOTC had put guidelines in for how to adjust CRs based on an adjustment to those options. They give us dials to turn to make the game our own, but then don't list the CR formula to turn with those other dials turning. But I don't think that means the CR system itself is flawed, nor the monsters - the baseline remains the same and functional, and as long as it remains consistent then adjustments to challenges can be made consistently too. If you learn how to adjust based on one or more of those dials being turned, the CR system continues to serve it's purpose. But like I said, I wish WOTC had put in more guidelines on how to make those adjustments. A lot of people use those options, and it would be helpful to know how to adjust CR based on each adjustment factor.
For me, the basic adjustment is pretty simple - don't adjust the CR level or anything, but dial up the damage output of the monsters. For example, give them +1 to hit and to their spell DC's, per 'tier', is a baseline for the bare minimum adjustment required for a group with PC's that have grown characters from scratch (i.e. know how to play them in real life), and/or have some magic items etc. Maybe also pump up the attacks per round or damage per hit, but not necessarily. That will help avoid the common problems with higher level play, where the monsters just can't hit the PC's often enough, or if you dial up the challenge rating it becomes a huge slog where it takes hours to whittle down all the monster HP on the table.

BTW, 5e was extensively play tested at the very lowest of levels - all the open beta tests were starting at 1st level, and in my home game we also started at first and only got to about 4th or 5th level during the closed alpha and beta phases. The higher levels were only really "spot tested", i.e. people (including WotC people) made up a group of PC's at level X, and fought some monsters. That's not a criticism - they gave a long time for play testing, there's only so much you can do without giving it a couple more years of real-life play testing in big campaigns - it's merely an observation that supports the basic observation that the maths behind 5e only assumes PC's that are "plain vanilla", whereas if you run a regular game where people multi-class, use feats, optimise, know how to play their PC well, have magic items, only have a small number of fights per day, and so on... then yes, the maths doesn't quite work and the guidelines in the DMG / MM need adjusting as the group levels up.
 

Mistwell

Adventurer
What I'd like is some sort of online calculator that calculates recommended CR and advice on the suggested increase to CR based on increasing the power of existing creatures, increasing the CR of the creatures used, or increasing the quantity of creatures in the challenge, determined roughly by this kind of calculus:

So you'd enter the number of party members, their level, whether they use feats and if so the total number of feats in the party, whether they use multiclassing and if so the total number of PCs who have multiclassed, whether you use magic items and if so the total number of common, uncommon, rare, very rare, and artifacts the party has, etc.. And then the calculator tells you the recommended CR for an easy, medium, hard, and deadly encounter for that particular party, and how it differs from the baseline CR, and advice on how to increase the CR from the baseline for this party.

The calculator would be based on something like this (these are rough guesstimates):

First it would calculate it as normal, so for example if Party is level X, and is a Baseline Party (5 party members, no feats, no multiclassing, no magic items) then the CR for a medium challenge should be Y.

If Party has more than 5 members, then add 0.5 to the challenge for each additional party member beyond 5 (the "Y" element of the equation), and at the end the calculator would recommended that the additional CR for this option should be (if possible) represented by additional creatures as opposed to a higher level creature.

If the Party is using Feats, then first determine the average number of feats the party members have (number of total feats divided by number of party members). Then increase the CR by 0.5 for each number of feats the average party member has. The notes at the end would recommend that the additional CR for this option be (if possible) in additional CR to existing creatures (either a higher level creature or increased abilities for the existing creature such as increased AC, HP, or Damage) in the challenge rather than in additional creatures.

If the Party is using Multiclassing, then increase the CR by 0.25 for each party member which has more than one class. So for example in a party of 5 members, if two members are multiclassed that would be 0.25+0.25 = +0.50 to the CR. You can increase the CR of the challenge by either adding additional creatures or increasing the CR of the existing creatures.

If the Party is using magic items, then first determine the total common, uncommon, rare, very rare, and artifacts the party has. For common and uncommon items, first determine the average number in the party for each type, and apply either 0.25 for each average number of common items, or 0.50 for each average number of uncommon items. For rare and very rare, add 1 CR for each rare item in the party (not average) and 1.5 for each very rare. If the party owns an artifact, the DM must determine what additional CR to apply depending on the artifact, and that would be in the notes. For this option the advice would be to add the CR in increased power for existing creatures rather than in additional creatures, if possible.

Obviously this needs more work I am just spitballing here, but this is the sort of tool I'd like. Something that really lets you drill down on your particular party's optional rules use to fine tune the CR recommendations (both number and how that CR should be increased, either in boosting foe powers or foe quantity). Because feats and multiclassing and magic items all go up with level, it also accounts for the CR system needing more tweaking from these things as the party gets to higher levels.
 
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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
What I'd like is some sort of online calculator that calculates recommended CR and advice on the suggested increase to CR based on either increasing the power of existing creatures, increasing the CR of the creatures used, or increasing the quantity of creatures in the challenge, determined roughly by this kind of calculus:

If Party is level X, and is a Baseline Party (5 party members, no feats, no multiclassing, no magic items) then the CR for a medium challenge should be 12.

If Party has more than 5 members, then add 0.5 to the challenge for each additional party member beyond 5, and it is recommended that the additional CR be in additional creatures as opposed to a higher level creature, where possible.

If the Party is using Feats, then first determine the average number of feats the party members have (number of total feats divided by number of party members), rounding up. Then increase the CR by 0.5 for each number of feats the average party member has. It is recommended that the additional CR be in additional CR to existing creatures (either a higher level creature or increased abilities for the existing creature such as increased AC, HP, or Damage) in the challenge rather than in additional creatures.

If the Party is using Multiclassing, then increase the CR by 0.25 for each party member which has more than one class. So for example in a party of 5 members, if two members are multiclassed that would be 0.25+0.25 = +0.50 to the CR. You can increase the CR of the challenge by either adding additional creatures or increasing the CR of the existing creatures.

If the Party is using magic items, then first determine the total common, uncommon, rare, etc.. magic items in the party. For common and uncommon items, first determine the average number in the party for each type, and apply either 0.25 for each average number of common items, or 0.50 for each average number of uncommon items. For rare and very rare, add 1 CR for each rare item in the party (not average) and 1.5 for each very rare. If the party owns an artifact, the DM must determine what additional CR to apply depending on the artifact.

Obviously this needs more work I am just spitballing here, but this is the sort of tool I'd like.
The problem is how to account for other factors such as number of rests and effectiveness of the party.

Personally I just come up with a factor and see how it works. If the PCs are walking all over encounters I up it. Having a hard time? I ease up a little after the 4th or 5th encounter. I have to adjust every few levels but by and large it works reasonably well.

Different groups with exactly the same options require different difficulty factors simply because of the party makeup, how well they synergize and how good the team is at strategy. One good strategist in the group can make a big difference.

So personally, I start with CR as a guide for individual encounters and then build towards an XP budget that works for the party.

Which is to say that while I agree with your concept, I just don't think you can ever create a generic rule.
 

Mistwell

Adventurer
The problem is how to account for other factors such as number of rests and effectiveness of the party.

Personally I just come up with a factor and see how it works. If the PCs are walking all over encounters I up it. Having a hard time? I ease up a little after the 4th or 5th encounter. I have to adjust every few levels but by and large it works reasonably well.

Different groups with exactly the same options require different difficulty factors simply because of the party makeup, how well they synergize and how good the team is at strategy. One good strategist in the group can make a big difference.

So personally, I start with CR as a guide for individual encounters and then build towards an XP budget that works for the party.

Which is to say that while I agree with your concept, I just don't think you can ever create a generic rule.
That's what I do as well. But I think a lot of people would like some sort of tool to help get them closer to the right CR for their party, along with that advice on whether the increase should be in more foes or bumping the power of foes or a combination of both. You can still adjust yourself based on number of rests and party effectiveness, but it's easier to adjust from a closer number and foe composition set than it is from the current system.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
That's what I do as well. But I think a lot of people would like some sort of tool to help get them closer to the right CR for their party, along with that advice on whether the increase should be in more foes or bumping the power of foes or a combination of both. You can still adjust yourself based on number of rests and party effectiveness, but it's easier to adjust from a closer number and foe composition set than it is from the current system.
I think the major categories would be
  1. Do you allow feats
  2. Do you players have more than +n weapons and armor at level x?
  3. Did your players start with higher than standard stats?
  4. Do you follow the 6-8 encounters with 1-2 rests?


Maybe even a "what level are they" modifier since I seem to have to up the factor a little at higher levels.

So figure out what the baseline is for #2 in the list and then assign a percentage between 5-10 percent with another +/- 20% based on group effectiveness.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
That'd just be another example of 'poor' design. Poor design gives you inconsistent results. One CR X monster gets curb-stomped by a level X party, the next of the same CR TPKs them. Poor design - at least, poor assignment of CR. :shrug:
Not really, though. We cannot say if these results are inconsistent due to poor design. Nor would I necessarily agree that inconsistent results must be an indication of poor design.

These results could be just as likely to stem from poor tactical play. Or other variables, but most would seem to fall under that umbrella.

Excellent design or poor, that'd still be the case.
Very true. Which is why the given examples are a poor barometer on design.

"MM3 on a business card" was simple. ;) CR is one piece of a not-so-simple, not-so-dependable system, that is there for DMs who really want a system - maybe even if it's just for the sake of having one, rather than for the sake of getting any use out of it. (Hope that doesn't come off as too harsh - I /do/ like having such a system, myself...)
Meh, be as harsh as you want. I find that the CR ratings and encounter building guidelines lead to a whole lot of tail wagging the dog. I disagree in that I don't think the system is all that complex, and I feel it's about as dependable as can be reasonably expected given how play will vary so greatly from table to table. But that doesn't mean I think it's all that much use to anyone except the inexperienced.

They didn't do the job of "make a balanced game with a simple system to determine encounter difficulty with a fair degree of dependability." But, y'know, on the third try, they did get pretty close to doing that job back in 2010, so it's probably not because they couldn't do it. It's because that wasn't the job this time around.
Each of us probably has different ideas aboutwhat their job was, which is why we have such avariance in the areas of the game that folks complain about.

This time around, Job 1 was 'evoke classic feel.' I think they did that job and did it well. Maybe no CR at all would have been doing it better, but there was a Job n+1 of 'also let the DM evoke later editions* if he really wants to...'
It seems entirely possible that the system was tacked on. No way to know for sure. I wonder how differently things would have gone if they hadn't included it.
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
What I'd like is some sort of online calculator that calculates recommended CR and advice on the suggested increase to CR based on increasing the power of existing creatures, increasing the CR of the creatures used, or increasing the quantity of creatures in the challenge, determined roughly by this kind of calculus:

So you'd enter the number of party members, their level, whether they use feats and if so the total number of feats in the party, whether they use multiclassing and if so the total number of PCs who have multiclassed, whether you use magic items and if so the total number of common, uncommon, rare, very rare, and artifacts the party has, etc.. And then the calculator tells you the recommended CR for an easy, medium, hard, and deadly encounter for that particular party, and how it differs from the baseline CR, and advice on how to increase the CR from the baseline for this party.

The calculator would be based on something like this (these are rough guesstimates):

First it would calculate it as normal, so for example if Party is level X, and is a Baseline Party (5 party members, no feats, no multiclassing, no magic items) then the CR for a medium challenge should be Y.

If Party has more than 5 members, then add 0.5 to the challenge for each additional party member beyond 5 (the "Y" element of the equation), and at the end the calculator would recommended that the additional CR for this option should be (if possible) represented by additional creatures as opposed to a higher level creature.

If the Party is using Feats, then first determine the average number of feats the party members have (number of total feats divided by number of party members). Then increase the CR by 0.5 for each number of feats the average party member has. The notes at the end would recommend that the additional CR for this option be (if possible) in additional CR to existing creatures (either a higher level creature or increased abilities for the existing creature such as increased AC, HP, or Damage) in the challenge rather than in additional creatures.

If the Party is using Multiclassing, then increase the CR by 0.25 for each party member which has more than one class. So for example in a party of 5 members, if two members are multiclassed that would be 0.25+0.25 = +0.50 to the CR. You can increase the CR of the challenge by either adding additional creatures or increasing the CR of the existing creatures.

If the Party is using magic items, then first determine the total common, uncommon, rare, very rare, and artifacts the party has. For common and uncommon items, first determine the average number in the party for each type, and apply either 0.25 for each average number of common items, or 0.50 for each average number of uncommon items. For rare and very rare, add 1 CR for each rare item in the party (not average) and 1.5 for each very rare. If the party owns an artifact, the DM must determine what additional CR to apply depending on the artifact, and that would be in the notes. For this option the advice would be to add the CR in increased power for existing creatures rather than in additional creatures, if possible.

Obviously this needs more work I am just spitballing here, but this is the sort of tool I'd like. Something that really lets you drill down on your particular party's optional rules use to fine tune the CR recommendations (both number and how that CR should be increased, either in boosting foe powers or foe quantity). Because feats and multiclassing and magic items all go up with level, it also accounts for the CR system needing more tweaking from these things as the party gets to higher levels.
I think that might have a few too many moving parts to be reliable (though I could be wrong). So many feats do various amounts of additional damage from nothing (Skilled) to an extra PC worth of damage in ideal situations (GWM). Multiclassing can provide increases in combat or no additional combat effectiveness as well. Similarly with magic items.

I think @Oofta is closer to something that is going to be easier to make work because a DM adjusts it for their own party. If you want a calculator, you can look at the Excel spreadsheet I made. It smooths out the jumps that are otherwise in the calculations when adding PCs or monsters. Basically, if DM wanted to make an encounter hard for their level 16 party, but the party was very effective, the DM can make a hard encounter for a level 17 or level 18 party instead. The idea being that the effort is just that little bit more with each encounter.

http://www.enworld.org/forum/rpgdownloads.php?do=download&downloadid=1186

The nice thing about working with a group for a while is that a DM gets a feel for how much added difficulty is need. Each time the party levels up, the power level creep is less than if the group just jumped into an adventure at the high level with all their cool stuff.

I get that you want to adjust CR of creatures, but I think adjusting the encounters is a more straightforward way to go here. It seems like there are too many variables otherwise, and the unmodified creatures can still be used when modifying the encounter.

That being said, I have successfully run solo encounters through the entirety of my Age of Worms campaign. What I did with the extra characters was add another 30 hp per PC (90 hp at CR 20 or higher). If the monster has legendary resistance, they could use an extra legendary resistance in place of one hp boost if it was needed.
 

Sadras

Explorer
I don't need WotC to provide me with a slower XP advancement table - I can do that myself by multiplying the XP requirement by 10 or whatever.

What would be nice would be additional varriants for a hardcore-mode (as some ppl here refer to Advanced) such as:
- MM2 or Deadly Monsters book with additional traits for monster types: goblinoid traits/feats, troll traits/feats...etc that could be tacked on monsters from MM1. The CR would change depending on how many additional traits you tacked on.
- Additional Lair options
- Enviromental threats and effects.
- Low Magic Variant ideas such as (Rituals cost HD, magic cost - defiling, aging or fatigue, no cantrip variant..., Item creation cost)
- Additional Consumable Magic Items
- E6-type variants of 5e
- Extended skill challenge examples/use
- Equipment quality variants and additional properties for weapons/armour.
- Redefine the abilities to ensure use of odd numbers are worthwhile, not just the even numbers.
- I would say Rest Variants, but Enworld did their job for them already on this :)
- A chapter on gold/treasure consideration for setting (spend and recovery)

Now to be honest, a lot of the above I have already started sorting out myself for our table, borrowing/stealing ideas from here or other systems. I believe using Hardcore-mode variants would assist in high-level play.

At our table, I'm running an E13 style game, where Level 13 is the cap, but in order to reach the power levels of 12 and 13, you are required to make, through the in game fiction, a permanent sacrifice of an ability Point. The higher the ability point spent (lost), the greater the number of XPs earned.
 
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CapnZapp

Adventurer
A lone marilith will be busted. She is not a solo monster. She IS a general. When did you last see a general up to the front, alone with no soldiers?
This is fantasy. Not real life.

Have you ever heard of the trope of a boss so awesome it takes on the whole party all by itself?

That's what D&D needs to support, but currently doesn't.

But she would be a much more dangerous foe and she would not be CR16. She'd be much higher.
She sure as hell aint CR 16 now. She's mentioned so often precisely because she's one of the most underwhelming monster designs in the whole of MM. She can do absolutely zero against a party that denies her the opportunity to just waltz up to the PCs. She has zero tricks up her sleeve that gives her a chance to shish-kebab anyone.
 

Eubani

Explorer
I believe that because the devs tried to simplify everything in this edition that in some areas they oversimplified, areas such as Mid - high level monsters, certain classes, healing and several other areas. Due to this oversimplification many creatures either lost abilities or were given watered down abilities which impacted function.

Oh yes and CR system is crap and once again the devs failed to learn from past issues.
 

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