Does the Challenge Rating assume a party or a single PC?
The challenge rating represents how difficult it is to defeat in combat. How does that statistic change if you use the monster in an encounter with just one character? Does the monster’s challenge rating change if you want to use it as part of an encounter with multiple personalities? It depends on what else you have planned for the meeting—a monster might be easier or harder depending on whether it’s going up against one or more PCs, so you should adjust the challenge rating accordingly. The instructions here will give you a better idea of whether to hoist the challenge score when using psychos in particular scenarios.
Why challenge ratings are good
Challenge ratings are good for one main reason: They’re shorthand for difficulty. We can’t always use CRs as stand-ins for how hard it is to kill these guys because that depends on how optimized your group is. Still, challenge ratings tell you two important things about an encounter: How many creatures will be there and what those creatures should be able to do.
If you’ve got five goblins with shortswords and shields, If you have a cleric in your party who can smite them all in one round (in which case they’d have a CR 1/2), they shouldn’t be too difficult. But suppose they’re five goblins with shortswords and shields and another goblin with a net. In that case, their numbers suddenly aren’t so scary anymore (CR 2). And if they also have access to some nasty spells like grease or sleep, then suddenly that’s not such an easy fight anymore (CR 3). In other words, challenge ratings help us figure out whether we need to run away from something or charge at it headlong.
What challenge ratings mean
A creature’s challenge rating tells you how significant a threat it is. A well-equipped and experienced party of four voyagers should be able to take down a beast with a conundrum rating equal to its level without starving to death.
For example, if you are playing in an epic-level campaign and your PCs are level 30, you shouldn’t face any monsters with CR 30 or greater. Suppose some monsters with CR 30 do appear. In that case, they might be there only for flavor (as in This demon lord was so terrible that it took six epic-level PCs working together to kill him), as part of an otherwise easy encounter (such as if they have spellcasting abilities but no combat abilities), or because they have powers other than those related to their combat abilities.
How to use challenge ratings
Think of each creature’s challenge rating to measure how powerful that creature is relative to other creatures in its cohort. Use it as you would use size and power: combine it with additional variables (Alignment, class levels, feats, etc.) to determine whether one creature is more or less a threat to another. One way to make combat exciting is to have monsters that your party outmatches. If every fight were an evenly matched battle between well-matched foes, games would get dull fast. By ratcheting up the monster level as you add PCs (or vice versa), you can ensure your players never become complacent about their characters’ power.
When is it OK to ignore CR
The rules for building encounters and running combats can get pretty complicated. However, using these rules is not always necessary to combat. A GM is free to ignore challenge ratings and balance encounters with fewer rules if they desire.
For example, you might decide that an orc captain (challenge rating 1) and ten orcs (challenge rating 1⁄2 each) are challenging enough without worrying whether every orc has a CR equal to his level-adjusted equivalent in another game. Or perhaps you’re creating an encounter involving fighting multiple monsters simultaneously, such as two ogres fighting alongside an owlbear. Use your best judgment when deciding which creatures to treat as minions versus opponents.
What else can you do with CR?
In a game like Dungeons & Dragons, your characters grow stronger as they gain levels. If you take on a challenge that seems like it might be out of your league, you might ask yourself: How many stories will I have to go up to face that challenge? The problem is that few challenges are best suited for such a specific approach. And too often, our PCs don’t die; they just get knocked unconscious and wake up sometime later, fully healed and good as new. That’s no fun—and it prevents us from challenging ourselves with truly tough encounters.
Does the Challenge Rating assume a party or a single PC?
The challenge rating assumes that you’re dealing with a party. If you’re designing an encounter for just one player character, use their appropriate level as your guide. For example, if you’re planning to challenge an 8th-level fighter and want to design an encounter using monsters built using Table 3–2 in Building Combat Encounters (page 90), refer to 8th level rather than CR 8. For example, suppose two PCs face off against three CR 2 goblins. In that case, each goblin uses Table 3–2 on page 89 to determine its stats—they should be equivalent to two CR 1/2 monsters.
It’s up to you. Many Dungeon Masters like to play with groups and make more enormous challenges for them, so CR ratings are based on groups in that case. However, suppose you want to put your mighty level 14 fighter against an ancient black dragon (CR 15). In that case, it might not be that hard because most characters have trouble surviving just one round against that creature! It all depends on how many player characters face it and whether they’re taking their attacks together or one at a time.
The main thing to note is whether these figures are signified as principles rather than complex – and – fast rules. If you don’t think something is challenging enough, throw another monster into the mix! If a party of four PCs seems too complex for a group of six kobolds, consider adding more kobolds instead. Don’t let any rating stop you from doing what makes sense for your game. After all, as long as it’s fun and challenging—and isn’t causing problems—it doesn’t matter if there’s one goblin or twenty goblins waiting around that corner!