Challenge Ratings: Getting the Right Monsters


It’s been a while since I’ve written about Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), and I think it is about time we have another look at it.

As a Dungeon Master (DM) one of the toughest aspects of creating and running a campaign is the creation of appropriately leveled monsters.  Over the years I have put my players through challenges that are too easy, and some that are too difficult, all while trying to gauge what levels would make the most sense.  To that end, I wanted to discuss Challenge Ratings (CR) for anyone who is new to the DM world.

Challenge Ratings are a numerical value used to rate the difficulty of a monster when facing an average party of about 3 to 4 players.

An example pulled from Monster Manual I (3.5 edition) would be a Horned Devil.

This Handsome Fellow has a challenge rating of 16 (CR 16).  This means that an average party (3-4 players) would find one Horned Devil a medium challenge at level 16.  Two devils would be difficult and three would most likely be nigh impossible.

What does that mean?

Well the first thing I want to get at is this, be careful not to throw a monster at your players that is impossible to win against, unless you have a detectable way around it.  If my players at level 5 were to come across this monster they would easily be slaughtered within just a few hits from the monster.  However, I may want to have this really imposing creature that they know they cannot win against in the story at the time; so I give them the option (and strongly recommend) of going around/avoiding the creature, or rushing in foolishly and getting wiped out.  While my players still have the choice, I make it painfully obvious there is an alternate option (especially since most of my players like to run in without any plan).

The second thing I want to get at is this, be careful not to throw to weak against your party either, unless you need them to get in the way.  It is a fine balance figuring out a challenging encounter, and a distracting one.   What if the villain is trying to escape, wouldn’t the weaker monsters be a nuisance and slow the party down?

At the same time though, too many of a weaker monster can be just as deadly as a single monster on a higher CR.

Example  again from Monster Manual I: Bat Swarm
A single swarm of bats against a party at level 5 wouldn’t be a big challenge (in fact, it would be more of an annoyance), since they have a CR of 2.  However, if you were to have 4 Bat Swarms attack your party the CR has bumped up to 8 and has become a much bigger problem.

And on, and on the variety of CR combos can go.  I hope this tiny little look into challenge rating has helped you in figuring out what would work best for your world and your story.

Until next week!

Grace and Peace

Question:  What has been the best monster encounter you have had in any D&D session?


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