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D&D Next Q&A: 04/25/2014
Rodney Thompson

Y ou've got questions—we've got answers! Here's how it works—each week, our Community Manager will scour all available sources to find whatever questions you're asking. We'll pick three of them for R&D to answer, whether about the making of the game or anything else you care to know about... with some caveats.

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1 Why use the term Challenge Rating instead of just level for monster difficulty?

We have a number of reasons, including that we want to use fractions at the low end (as Mike alluded to in Legends & Lore). Additionally, we’re already using level in two different ways in the game (character level and spell level, for example) and adding yet another metric of level didn’t seem like a good idea. Moreover, we didn’t want to use level because we expect monsters to remain relevant for much longer in the game than in previous editions (being used in larger numbers), and the term “level” could dissuade DMs from using things that are too far below the level of the party. By going with CR, we can indicate to the DM at what point the monster should enter his or her stable of monsters for use when designing adventures and avoid making it seem like they are too quickly removed from that same stable.

It’s also worth noting that, because you use the monsters’ XP value, not their CR, when gauging the difficulty of encounters and adventures, the actual CR value is of little significance beyond being a relative gauge of power among all monsters. Since the concept of level is of high significance in gauging the power of player characters, it didn’t seem like a good idea to use the same term for two concepts, one of which was extremely important, and the other far less so.

2 How does CR work for what should be big ‘solo’ monsters? How would a DM calculate CR for a big villain that he or she has created?

The CR of a monster is based on the level at which a party of four player characters could fight that monster and have a moderate-to-challenging fight. So, for the big, solo monsters that you fight, four-on-one serves as the baseline for the CR system, and CR represents about the level at which the monster starts to pop up in adventures (there’s some leeway in this, of course; you could fight something of a higher CR, but it becomes significantly more challenging). If you’re fighting monsters in larger numbers, they’re almost certainly of a CR that is lower than player character level.

As for calculating the CR of a villain, you’ll do that just like you would with any other monster: by comparing the villain/monster that you’ve designed to a set of baseline values to determine its CR, similar to how monster design worked in 4th Edition. We’re going to present a set of guidelines that you can use to gauge the CR of a monster, whether built like a player character or built just as a normal monster. (More on this in the next answer.)

3 Will characters of a certain level have a CR equal to their level?

No, for a number of reasons. First, because CR is based on the idea that the player characters are fighting the monster four-on-one, and four player characters will not find a single player character of the same level to be a significant challenge in many cases. Additionally, although player characters are designed to have resources that are expended over the course of an adventuring day, NPC villains in adventures don’t have this same need: they are on-screen for a limited amount of time, and they can dump large amounts of resources into attacks quickly and without the need to husband their resources for the rest of the adventure. While the party wizard might dole out his or her highest-level spells one at a time out of necessity, the NPC wizard can cast those higher-level spells one after another since doing so is a matter of life-and-death. The same goes for any class, including fighters with Action Surge, paladins with Lay on Hands, and so on. As a result, this skews how difficult a fight with that NPC is. To figure out the CR of an NPC, you’ll need to do the same kind of comparisons to monster baselines, just as you would when designing a monster not built on NPC classes, and get a more accurate CR out of it.

This method should also produce more accurate gauges of the challenge player characters face when encountering a monster that the DM decides to give class levels to; adding a few levels of cleric to a high-level monster may have no real impact on that monster’s challenge, while adding those levels to a lower-level monster might have a huge impact. All that matters is the end result: whatever the monster/NPC can do during an actual fight, not how it got to those results, determines its CR.


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Instead of a single venue to submit questions, our Community Manager will be selecting questions from our message boards, Twitter feed, and Facebook account. You can also submit questions directly to dndinsider@wizards.com. So, if you'd like to have your question answered in the D&D Next Q&A, just continue to participate in our online community—and we may select yours!

Rodney Thompson
Rodney Thompson began freelancing in the RPG industry in 2001 before graduating from the University of Tennessee. In 2007 he joined the Wizards of the Coast staff as the lead designer and developer for the new Star Wars RPG product line. Rodney is the co-designer of Lords of Waterdeep and is currently a designer for Dungeons & Dragons.
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I wonder how CR will interact with player resources. With more of the newer class designs (Warlock, the new Fighter) having Encounter-recharging powers, how will that stack up against the classes with mostly 1/day spells, like Wizards and Clerics? If a 4th level party faces a CR 4 critter after several fights, it might be much tougher if the party is mostly casters who've already blown their daily allotments of spells, or it might be super easy to the mostly-fighter party that has all of its superiority dice to spend again doing awesome maneuvers, blocks, and extra damage. I don't see how CR is in any way useful, then, unless it's specifically defined as a Challenge Rating vs a FULLY RESTED party of 4, which can then be adjusted as resources are used up.
  
Posted By: JoeyLast (5/2/2014 12:55:20 PM)
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Anyone know what happened to the "weekly" forum? They've done one in the last seven weeks.
  
Posted By: WalterRuss (5/16/2014 3:44:05 PM)
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The thing that kept me away from 3E and 3.5E, at least in part, was the damned CR business. That it is going to be in DnD Next is going to suck big time. Way to fail, damned you!
  
Posted By: light_wing (5/1/2014 3:03:33 PM)
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CR is not a broken mechanic, just one that doesn't in and of itself define a perfect encounter. No system does that. It will always require a little work on the DMs part to ensure that PCs have a chance at a fair fight.

Take an example brought up in another post (I don't want to mention names because I am not flaming the guy, just trying to make a point). He put his four level 15 players up against a golem wyrm (CR 15). If they were all naked and using non-adaminium (sp?) weapons, I could see the encounter being an issue. But a creative group and a thoughtful DM would build up the encounter so they had the proper types of weapons and access to buffs to make it an interesting and difficult encounter.

On another note, I used the "level" of a creature to help determine things like hit dice and powers they may or may not have access to, like DR. I never felt that CR ever collided with level in a way that it felt redundant. At the same time, I can see that ... (see all)
  
Posted By: NormDM (4/26/2014 4:43:57 PM)
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As other commenters have already mentioned, I don't see the value of using CR and XP together instead of simply using XP exclusively.

Rodney notes that, "because you use the monsters’ XP value, not their CR, when gauging the difficulty of encounters and adventures, the actual CR value is of little significance beyond being a relative gauge of power among all monsters." Wouldn't XP already provide a relative gauge of power? Since this is the case, perhaps a little clarity on what CR brings to the table would be useful. Right now it just seems like an additional, unnecessary stat.
  
Posted By: BadMike (4/26/2014 3:43:45 AM)
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FIrst off, 'spell level' should = character level. That holdover from old editions is a stupid sacred cow that needs to go. a level x wizard gets access to level x spells and below. SIMPLE.

Secondly, in 4e it was easy to build interesting encounters for any group; from 1-2 PCs +1 DM, all the way up to 6-7PCs, a friendly NPC or two, and 2 co-DMs. You could make almost any type of encounter, from hard to easy, from one big bad boss to 20+ mooks/minions. All this and more could be done, even on the fly, with the monster level system and the minion/normal/elite/solo system. Add onto that the leader, soldier, brute, artillery labels, and any DM, from novice to 20+ year veteran could build awesome encounters with very little effort.

You are throwing all that away in favor of a 3e/pathfinder-esque system that doesn't work well at all, and confuses the hell out of people. It's going to be very annoying to build: a) INTERESTING encounters, b) ANY encounters for less than o... (see all)
  
Posted By: seti (4/25/2014 8:02:38 PM)
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Is it to late to change that? Cuz CR was an awful mechanic with no basis in any actual metric. I remember back in 3.5 I ran my 3.5 group of level 15 against an Iron Wyrm Golem, a CR 15 monster, it's AC was so high they could ony hit on 18's, it had 5 attacks, a 20d10 breath weapon, and dr 20/adamintium. Needless to say no one was pleased. In another game I ran my party level 16 against a CR16 leviathan from the MM2, it had 17 AC,no DR, two attacks, and just a bloat of HP. So it just slowly died and the players had no problem against it.

Why was it that way? Power creep, plain and simple, early MM monsters and late MM monsters of the same CR had almost nothing in common in terms of power and because CR was a completely arbitrary mechanic it was impossible to build challenging, but not impossible, encounters with it.
  
Posted By: tehsquirrely (4/25/2014 12:44:10 PM)
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CR is a terrible metric, mostly because it leads to terrible battles. It is built off the concept that a party of 4 should only fight a single monster. Monsters should never travel in groups, and never have allies. Also this game requires 5 players, no less

4th edition was much better in that the majority of monsters were on par with characters using the same "level" definition. So I have a party of 6 players, then 6 equal level enemies makes for the average fight, and to add flavor I can swing some of those levels up or down a level or two and not have much difficulty. Elite and Solo designations were great to simply this creature can fight 2-4 characters simultaneously.

So how do I create a battle for a 6 player level 8 party with CR? Intuitively I think my target number would be 12 (half again as expected), so I would expect a CR 12 = 3 CR 4's = 4 CR 3's = 6 CR 2's = 2 CR 6's = 12 CR 1's... All of these would give the same difficulty of a fight to the... (see all)
  
Posted By: nightwalker450 (4/25/2014 11:55:23 AM)
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I agree with everything you say. Except the '5 players only' thing. I've had a lot of fun with 4e with even just me DMing, and my wife playing solo.

I've also DMed, had a Co-DM running 2 friendly NPCs, and 2 'real' PCs. That worked too. The most I've had at a table was 8 (including me). That took a while, but still worked.

Encounter building was a snap for all 3 of these varied ways of playing because 4e monster design was awesome.
  
Posted By: seti (4/25/2014 8:09:42 PM)
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I did not like CR in 3rd edition and I'm on the fence with CR for this version. I was so happy that CR went away in 4th edition but if the intent is to bring it back please please please SIMPLIFY the math behind it in order to speed up play for those of us that like to DM on the fly with no prep behind us.
  
Posted By: Nub-Shiggurath (4/25/2014 11:28:21 AM)
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This is an unfortunate turn of events. CR assuming an adventuring party of 4 doesn't accurately represent the fact that most tables do not use 4 characters as standard. It also doesn't take into account that Party makeup is at least as important as Party size, if not more so. Having 2 or even three of the same, or similar, classes changes the entire nature of adventure building.

They need a better way to define how an NPC's challenge should be determined, based on Party Makeup and Size specific to the table. Not based off a previous editions traditions, that didn't work well in any case.

Also, Fractions for CR were an unwieldy expression in previous editions, why bring them back?!
  
Posted By: LupusRegalis (4/25/2014 10:47:06 AM)
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I'm not sure I understand why we need both CR and XP budgets. It sounds like encounters are built around XP budgets, making me wonder why I even need to pay attention to CR, except maybe to make sure I don't put in a single monster that is too powerful? (Like how 4th Ed used monster levels)

This article confused me more than clarified how encounter building works in Next so I will just say I hope it doesn't change much from the last play test packet. I love being able to build encounters for any number of players as well as scale the difficulty of encounters from easy to challenging, and how that scaling helps set how many encounters I expect the party to finish before needing to rest. It lets me set up an adventure to be either a combat grind, or one that is mostly exploration/interaction with a few challenging encounters instead. I hope you are not getting away from that and I especially hope we don't go back to the days where encounter building falls apart if you don't ha... (see all)
  
Posted By: moes1980 (4/25/2014 9:27:29 AM)
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It seems like this is just a bone thrown to the 3e/PF players. One of the (many) things 4e got right was the consistent use of the term Level. It applied across monsters, PCs, spells, magic items, etc. I get why that's been changed in Next with spells, but removing Level from monsters doesn't sit well with me. I'll have to see CR in action first, but I was just fine with judging an encounter's difficulty using the XP budget. You said yourself, " the actual CR value is of little significance beyond being a relative gauge of power among all monsters" - so why not just use XP?
It's not a game breaker for me, by any stretch, but it's also not a piece of game tech I was itching to see added...
  
Posted By: tavman (4/25/2014 8:21:32 AM)
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Thanks for the clarification on CR. This time, I’m highly skeptical.

1a. Why isn’t XP used as the gauge of power among monsters if it already does measure the difficulty of adventures and encounters? Why introduce a new number and term?

1b. Don’t get me started asking why spell level isn’t changed to equate to the class level at which it can be learned…

2. You are measuring CR against a pre-supposed number of player characters again? You won’t assume they are made up of a specific class combination, or that they have X magic items (I understand and agree with such reasoning), but you’ll assume all parties are divisible by 4!?
  
Posted By: Dreamstryder (4/25/2014 6:36:40 AM)
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To 1a, it might be because of the difference between a CR 1 solo and a CR 5 normal monster, say. They might have the same XP value, but the solo would have wider-ranging attacks that deal less damage, while the normal monster would have single-target attacks that deal much more damage, and are a bit more accurate. The fight against the level 5 monster would be much more swingy because of this; it might have the damage required to outright kill a level one PC (with how low HP is, I'd be more surprised if it didn't). So you probably wouldn't want to use it, but the CR 1 solo would work just fine at both level 1 and 5.
  
Posted By: Redblue200 (4/25/2014 9:06:28 AM)
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But there is no "solo" any more. A party of 4 level one characters can face one CR1 monster and it's an easy to moderate challenges. A party of 4 level five characters can face one CR 5 monster and it's an average or moderate challenge. So the CR 5 will be worth more XP than the CR1. It isn't like 4th Ed where where you either throw one monster of level x for each party member, or throw in one solo of a level that matches the level of the party. Instead, CR reflects 3rd Ed's system. That is, a CR tells you what level a four member party can face. This is why they are talking about fractions. Goblins will probably be something like CR 1/4, indicating that you need 4 goblins to challenge a party of 4 level one adventurers. But it doesn't work well when you have a different number if players or you try to mix monsters with different CRs.

CR is just not intuitive in the same way that level is. And really, the XP budget is all you need. I really don't see myself payi... (see all)
  
Posted By: moes1980 (4/25/2014 9:57:55 AM)
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Indeed, a solo monster basically meant it had more HP, resistances, and attacks-per-round than normal for its level. If they made monster CR a single PC to single monster metric, they might not even need fractions.
  
Posted By: Dreamstryder (4/26/2014 3:49:56 AM)
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Legendary rules may be 5e's Solo rules, and it seems one can apply it to any monster.
  
Posted By: Dreamstryder (4/26/2014 4:30:17 AM)
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Thanks for elaborating on this concept, Rodney! I'm looking forward to seeing the tables and charts you mention. Customizing Monsters has always been on of my favorite things as a DM, and I'm glad you guys are working hard to support that!
  
Posted By: Ramzour (4/25/2014 1:46:01 AM)
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Sold. This is well thought out and I like the CR=solo metric.
  
Posted By: jpprichard (4/25/2014 12:48:43 AM)
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