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.
There are certain business and legal questions we can't answer (for business and legal reasons). And if you have a specific rules question, we'd rather point you to Customer Service, where representatives are ready and waiting to help guide you through the rules of the game. That said, our goal is provide you with as much information we can—in this and other venues.
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.
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.)
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.
How can I submit a question to the D&D Next Q&A?
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 email@example.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 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.