Last Updated on January 9, 2023
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.
What is a Challenge Rating 5e?
Challenge Rating 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!