How Does CR Work in DnD 5e?


CR in DnD 5e is one of the most essential mechanics when building an encounter.
Simply put, if you don’t balance this mechanic as the DM – then the whole experience won’t be fun for anyone.

That being said, we have dabbled in this mechanic in the past. Especially when looking at Polymorph. Today, we will expand upon it.

So, to do all of that, we need to set some goals first. Before we can explain how CR or Challenge Rating works in DnD 5e. We need to explain what it is.
As always, this is only a short observation meant to guide the players on the right track. For a full explanation of the mechanic consult the Basic Rules for DnD 5e. With that said, let’s get to answering the first question.

What is CR in DnD 5e?

Challenge Rating is a mechanic in Dungeons and Dragons that gauges how hard a certain creature will be to take down – in regards to player character level.
The CR of creatures goes all the way from 0 which is practically harmless – up to 17 where the Adult Red Dragon makes its home. I believe I don’t have to explain why a fully grown dragon is deserving of that spot.

What all this means to you as a DM is this. You have to make challenges appropriate towards your players, you simply don’t put your Level 1 players against a dragon right at the start. In a previous article, we looked at how to write your DnD campaign; and one of the most important lessons we mentioned there is the importance of good flow to your story.
It’s much more entertaining and captivating if the challenge increases over time – just as it becomes a hassle if the challenge doesn’t change over time, or engagements are too challenging.

With that being answered, let’s move on to answering the question of the day.

How Does Challenge Rating Work in DnD 5e?

Challenge Rating is divided into a range from 0 – 17 as we mentioned. Each increase is meant to indicate a proportionate jump in the difficulty of vanquishing said monsters.

The lowest possible CR is 0, giving you either 0 XP upon beating a creature from that CR – or 10XP if they have any sort of attack. Emotional damage does not count as an attack here.

While the highest possible reward you can achieve for slaying an Adult Red Dragon is 18,000XP split between the group.

Now, we have to get a bit technical; so let’s do it in the following section.

How to Design a Good Encounter

As we said before. You don’t face your Level 1 players with an end-game creature – and it doesn’t get better if you face them with a mid-game creature either. You have to include a steady progression through the levels.

The first thing you should always do when building an encounter is to calculate the experience threshold of your party. After you’ve done that, you can properly challenge them. As it’s better to go under an experience threshold than to go over it.

After calculating your party’s experience threshold, you should include their opponents into the encounter you are creating. Calculate the total XP that each foe will give, calculate for Adjusted XP if applicable; and finally compare it to your party’s experience threshold.
If the number is way over their experience threshold then chances are that they will all be killed in that encounter. So play around with creatures until you get the right amount.

Of course, it’s important to understand that an encounter does not mean the entire experience. Say you create a story where the group has to search through a dungeon with multiple rooms. Each room can have a different encounter, and if these encounters can be tied into the greater story – then be as liberal as you want.


That basically covers the mechanic of Challenge Rating in Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition. It’s one of the simplest mechanics to grasp – yet one of the most important ones. Funnily enough, that’s how most of the essential mechanics are. They are simple to grasp and use – yet essential to the successful operation of the entire game.
Regardless, it will take some time to gain a feel of it. So go out there and design some encounters Dungeon Master!

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