Your adventuring party creeps through the woods, trying not to make a single sound. There! A sudden rustle in the bushes. Your Dungeon Master moves their arms with a flourish to reveal a battle map, and the enemy appears. Everyone, roll Initiative!
So, what do you choose? Fight or flight?
No matter what kind of game you’re playing, you’ll need to make choices about the types of situations or enemies you and your party can handle. In Dungeons & Dragons, that analysis involves estimating the Challenge Rating or CR of the battlefield.
Table of Contents
What is a Challenge Rating 5e?
Challenge Rating 5e is a numerical description of a creature’s fighting ability. Challenge Ratings encompass all aspects of a creature, defensive and offensive. These ratings range from 0 to 30, with 0 being the weakest and 30 the strongest. Creatures with higher CRs confer more experience points to successful players but are also more difficult to defeat.
Some creatures may have high CRs reflecting that they’re hard to defeat even if they aren’t capable of dealing very much damage because their defenses are so well adjusted. Alternatively, an opponent may be equipped to deal massive amounts of damage with a single strike but go down in a few hits because their defenses are weak.
Calculating an Encounter’s Challenge Rating 5e
Now that you understand what a Challenge Rating is, you’ll need to know how to apply that knowledge. In an average encounter, the monsters are balanced to ensure that a single CR 1 enemy is roughly equivalent to four level 1 party members. To break it down further, each party member at that level should be able to take on a single CR ¼ enemy. Four party members could handle four CR ¼ enemies, two CR ½ enemies, or a single CR 1 enemy.
GameCows Tip: DMs don’t usually tell players an opponent’s CR, so you’ll need to estimate it based on their abilities. Don’t worry too much; your DM will likely make it clear that your party can’t handle an enemy through intimidating descriptions.
As players level up, their parties can handle tougher enemies or larger crowds. A single character at level 2 could likely take down a CR ½ opponent and, by level 3, even a CR 1 enemy by themselves. However, after level 3, the scaling doesn’t continue at a 1:1 rate. A level 4 character, for example, would be hard-pressed to win a fight singlehandedly against a CR 2 opponent, but by level 5, they’d have a much better chance.
It is very rare to find a single adventurer, so you usually need to account for your companions. The average party size is four, but it’s not uncommon to play with anywhere from three to six friends. Additionally, some people choose to build characters with specific handicaps that also need to be considered. For example, a wizard who only chooses fire spells will have more trouble with an enemy immune to fire damage than would be assumed based solely on their level.
With that in mind, start observing the bad guys to do your own math!
Challenge Rating Quick Reference
If you’re still unsure about how to build an encounter using the Challenge Rating system you can use the Quick Reference chart below. It can also be found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide on page 82. This chart gives an individual player’s Exp Threshold. You can then use this number to build your encounters based on enemy Exp.
It’s broken down into four categories:
- Easy: The party should get through unscathed or with only a few missing Hitpoints.
- Medium: The party should get through without losing anyone, but may need a rest or healing.
- Hard: There’s a distinct possibility of a character dying especially if they aren’t using smart tactics.
- Deadly: The party will need teamwork, tactics, all of their abilities, and a little luck to survive. 1 or more characters may die.
To use the chart calculate the levels of all of your party members and add them together with the desired Challenge Rating level.
Example: A party of 4 Level 1 players would have an Exp Threshold of 100 for an Easy encounter or 400 for a Deadly encounter.
Exp Threshold Chart
|Character Level||Easy (XP)||Medium (XP)||Hard (XP)||Deadly (XP)|
Once you have your Exp Threshold you can fill it up with enemies from the Monster Manual. Keep in mind, multiple enemies make an encounter harder, so you can calculate that with a multiplier from the chart below.
|Number of Monsters||XP Multiplier||XP Threshold|
Alexa spends the majority of her days explaining the ins and outs of DnD to her two cats, much to their dismay.