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D&D 5E Project Monsters by Level (not CR)

dave2008

Legend

Monsters by Level (not CR)​

I loved that 4e (and now PF2e) had monsters by level and not CR. It made things conceptually clear: 1 standard monster = 1 PC at the same level. I have often thought about doing something like this for 5e, so today is the day I give it a go!

Project Goals​

  • Redefine monsters based on PC level, no more CR.
  • Bring back monster breadth via 4e style monster roles: Solo, Elite, Standard, Grunt, Minion
  • Make encounter building easier

Project Assumptions​

  • A monster of equal level to a PC is a challenge for that single PC. Roughly 1 Monster = 1 PC.
  • Use the same Monster math as the DMG, MM, etc.

What is a Challenge​

For this concept to work, I need an easy / simple definition of what constitutes a challenge. To me, a challenge is encounter where there is reasonable chance of failure. That is not the case in any of the levels of difficulty described in the DMG. Therefore, I am developing a new metric to use for this exercise.

I have decided to base a monster's challenge on the Monster's XP verses a single PCs Adventuring Day XP (AD XP) in the DMG. My first thought was to base the monster's XP on the full AD XP. However, I don't trully want a challenge to be 50/50. It should be difficult, IMO, but generaly winnable. The DM can always have more or higher level monster's to make things tougher. So I have currently decided a monster of equal level to a PC has an XP value of 50% of the PC's AD XP.

LevelAdjusted XP per Day per Character
1st300
2nd600
3rd1,200
4th1,700
5th3,500
6th4,000
7th5,000
8th6,000
9th7,500
10th9,000
11th10,500
12th11,500
13th13,500
14th15,000
15th18,000
16th20,000
17th25,000
18th27,000
19th30,000
20th40,000

Based on this definition of a challenge, a monster should fall within the following exp values per level

PC LevelStandard Monster Expected XP
1150
2300
3600
4850
51,750
62,000
72,500
83,000
93,750
104,500
115,250
125,750
136,750
147,500
159,000
1610,000
1712,500
1813,500
1915,000
2020,000

What's this about Monster Roles?​

More to come.

Examples​

Ok, let's look at a few examples using the table above. Remember this is a monster equivalent to 1 PC at the given level:
LevelMonsterExpected XPActual XP
1Orc (CR 1)150100
5Ettin (CR 4)1,7501,100
10Frost Giant (CR 8)4,5003,900
15Arcanaloth (CR 12)9,0008,400
20Death Knight (CR 17)20,00018,000

Issues​

Immediately I am seeing some issues with my idea. Clearly the 5e design monster design was not intended for this type of balance. I am also seeing that monsters are very dangerous at lower level and less so at higher levels. I will have to think about this more, but it may not be possible to convert existing monsters. I may need to make them from scratch. Also, think the metrics of a "challenge" may need to be revised.

Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts.
 
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FarBeyondC

Explorer
I suppose the first question would be, how will you determine what an average PC of a given level is?

PCs being as unequal as they are at various levels depending on their composition.
 

GuyBoy

Hero
I wish you luck with this.
I find this type of monster-math to be fascinating to watch and incredibly hard to accomplish due to so many special powers, often situational in nature eg flying, swim speed, resistances etc.
I fondly remember Don Turnbull doing his Monstermark in the early White Dwarfs. Brilliant articles.
I’ll follow with interest, @dave2008
 

dave2008

Legend
I suppose the first question would be, how will you determine what an average PC of a given level is?

PCs being as unequal as they are at various levels depending on their composition.
While I agree, I provided my assumption for this exercise: 50% the daily XP budget. That means I am assuming all PCs of the same level are roughly equal. Will that is not strictly true, I think it is good enough for this type of exercise. This also doesn't account for party and monster synergies. Those would have to be adjusted for separately.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
I'm also fascinated by these sorts of explorative maths breakdowns, even if I find they usually break down when put to the actual play test.

For example, trying to go backwards with this kind of system doesn't work. "If we say an ettin is level 5 challenge suitable for one 5th level PC, then five 1st-level PCs should be able to..." – and then you end up with some chunky salsa PCs.

Not that the CR system works well in this regard anyhow. Plus we have recent confirmation from the D&D Creators Summit that the WotC internal monster design tools do not reflect what's in the DMG (we can see this in monsters like the Quickling, for example, which the DMG scores as being CR 2 to 3, compared to VGtM which lists it as CR 1).

Recognizing that all those guidelines are pretty borked...

I usually pay more attention to monster damage output compared to PC hit points (I use a d8 Hit Die and 12 Constitution as a "typical adventurer"). Basically, with my "at a glance" evaluation of a prepared battle, I'm wondering: Is there a decent probability that this monster would knock out the entire fresh party in one turn or outright kill a fresh PC in one turn? (i.e. without allowing player agency to save themselves barring reaction powers) If I answer "yes", that's a sign that the fight is probably too much and if I decide to go forward with it, I need to flex my GM artistry. That rule-of-thumb has, in my 5e games, been a pretty good guiding light.

To look over your chart with those values in mind...

Est. LevelMonsterMonster Damage (Average)PC Hit Points (Average)Difference
1Orc99= 0
5Ettin2833= 5
10Frost Giant5063= 13
15Arcanaloth (finger of death)6293= 31
20Death Knight (staggering smite)95123= 28
 


Quickleaf

Legend
Hasnt Giffyglyph done this already with his monster maker here?
Giffyglyph's "Monster Levels" seem a little different.

First, I don't see on the website that there's any correlation between Monster Levels and PC levels.

EDIT: Instead they have a rough assumption that the GM uses monsters whose Monster Level is +/-3 of the PCs' level, and if the GM exceeds that then double soemthing called Monster Points for encounter building.

Second, they never describe how they created the CR to Level conversion table. It appears to be done "by feel" or personal experience. For example, they list...

Orc (CR 1/2) = Monster Level 2
Ettin (CR 4) = Monster Level 8-10
Frost Giant (CR 8) = Monster Level 16-17
Arcanaloth (CR 12) = Monster Level 21
Death Knight (CR 17) = Monster Level 26

EDIT EDIT: I'm sure they have some system behind all this, but the way they're presenting it on their website is extremely opaque. For instance, according to their guidelines, a GM would usually only use an Arcanaloth with a party whose level was 18th or higher... which is ridiculous.
 


dave2008

Legend
I'm also fascinated by these sorts of explorative maths breakdowns, even if I find they usually break down when put to the actual play test.

For example, trying to go backwards with this kind of system doesn't work. "If we say an ettin is level 5 challenge suitable for one 5th level PC, then five 1st-level PCs should be able to..." – and then you end up with some chunky salsa PCs.

Not that the CR system works well in this regard anyhow. Plus we have recent confirmation from the D&D Creators Summit that the WotC internal monster design tools do not reflect what's in the DMG (we can see this in monsters like the Quickling, for example, which the DMG scores as being CR 2 to 3, compared to VGtM which lists it as CR 1).

Recognizing that all those guidelines are pretty borked...
Thank you for the input and feedback!
I usually pay more attention to monster damage output compared to PC hit points (I use a d8 Hit Die and 12 Constitution as a "typical adventurer").
Is there any particular reason you picked this as your "typical."
Basically, with my "at a glance" evaluation of a prepared battle, I'm wondering: Is there a decent probability that this monster would knock out the entire fresh party in one turn or outright kill a fresh PC in one turn? (i.e. without allowing player agency to save themselves barring reaction powers) If I answer "yes", that's a sign that the fight is probably too much and if I decide to go forward with it, I need to flex my GM artistry. That rule-of-thumb has, in my 5e games, been a pretty good guiding light.

To look over your chart with those values in mind...

Est. LevelMonsterMonster Damage (Average)PC Hit Points (Average)Difference
1Orc99= 0
5Ettin2833= 5
10Frost Giant5063= 13
15Arcanaloth (finger of death)6293= 31
20Death Knight (staggering smite)95123= 28
What I am realizing after my first dive is that it may be impossible, or very difficult, to convert existing monsters to equivalent level without a deeper dive into the math with per CR/level/Tier adjustments or something similar. However, I may be able to come up with a method to make custom monsters by level work the existing CR math.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Thank you for the input and feedback!

Is there any particular reason you picked this as your "typical."

What I am realizing after my first dive is that it may be impossible, or very difficult, to convert existing monsters to equivalent level without a deeper dive into the math with per CR/level/Tier adjustments or something similar. However, I may be able to come up with a method to make custom monsters by level work the existing CR math.
Sure! It's a rabbit hole, that's for sure. It's always interesting to see what you come up with, especially with all the monster design you've been engaged with.

I went with d8 Hit Dice as "typical" because that's almost in the middle of all the D&D classes assuming roughly equal representation of classes across all tables (see below). And I choose 12 Constitution because most of the PCs I've seen at my table seem not to dump stat Con, but also not to sink their highest scores in Con. But there's no maths involved, just eyeballing.

d6 = Sorcerer, Wizard
d8 = Artificer, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Monk, Rogue, Warlock
d10 = Fighter, Paladin, Ranger
d12 = Barbarian
 

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