If you’re a dungeon master running a Dungeons & Dragon session, one of the most crucial things you can get a mastery of is Challenge Ratings for monsters. To put it simply, challenge ratings are attached to monsters and correlate to the minimum level you want your players to be before facing one.
Understanding challenge rating is key to creating encounters that are properly balanced for your party without being so easy they’re taking out all the enemies in one turn, or so hard they get a total party kill while barely scratching a creature. It’s a careful balance to strike to make the game challenging and enjoyable for your players.
How Do I Determine Challenge Rating?
A monster’s challenge rating (CR) is shown in its stat block under languages and can range from zero, which is pretty harmless, to 30, which will require a party of twentieth-level characters specifically equipped to handle the task.
Challenge Ratings do not stack, so six creatures with a challenge rating of five don’t suddenly make an encounter with a challenge rating of 30, and by that same token, a party of six players at fifth level will almost certainly be total party killed (TPK) by a creature with challenge rating of 12.
A good rule of thumb is: for most encounters, the highest challenge rating of a creature present should be equal to the average level of your party members.
How To Increase The Difficulty Of An Encounter Without Increasing CR
If you want to make an encounter, there are ways to make it more difficult without increasing the challenge rating of the creatures such that suddenly your party can’t damage them.
The easiest method is adding more enemies. If the players are outnumbered, they have to expend more resources to defeat the enemies.
You can also give them goals other than simply defeating all the enemies. It’s one thing to defeat a whole group of monsters, but it’s another to have to defend a town or an important item.
Banderhobbs are monsters specifically designed for kidnapping people, so are good if you want to run a rescue encounter.
A final option is to give your players a time limit. Maybe the dungeon is falling apart or they have to transport life-saving medicine. The point is they don’t have time to fight all the enemies one-on-one.
When To Use High Challenge Rating Encounters
An enemy having a higher challenge rating doesn’t mean you can’t have your players encounter it, it just means that your players can’t or require extreme luck to survive a straight fight. The best way around this is to craft encounters that aren’t straight-up fights.
Enemies that have a higher challenge rating than your party are great for encounters where you want to encourage stealth, diplomacy, or otherwise put your party in a situation they can’t fight their way out of.
It can also work as a way to keep your players from going to certain places too early. A tarrasque napping in the middle of the road is a very effective way to force the players to take a long route through a haunted wood.
As a DM, there’s nothing you can’t do, you just want to be fair to your players. So, always give them a way out if you’re throwing an incredibly powerful enemy at them.
NEXT: Dungeons & Dragons: How To Run A Tarrasque Encounter