The DMG has some really useful guidelines on creating monsters and assessing their challenge. But they seem to assume that all monster attacks will key off their attack stats or spells, and completely ignore the possibility of damage that does not require dice rolls (or that happens on a failed dice roll).

This can have considerable effect on the Challenge (CR) of a monster, and has tripped me up more than once. Are there any additional guidelines on how to calculate monster CR when it relies heavily on automatic damage or on effects with a save for half damage?

A good example is a comparison between a monster that has a normal attack that hits for 3d6 damage, versus a monster that is capable of casting magic missile. Both monster would have an expected damage output of 10.5 average per round, tagging them at Offensive CR 1. But the caster is vastly more dangerous because it will definitely deal that damage each round, whereas the other monster likely only has about a 50% chance of hurting anything.

Other examples include spells like fireball or lightning bolt or a dragon's breath weapon, but also auto-damage effects like a burning aura, an ooze's corroding touch, etc.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you further explain the actual problem you're facing? The DMG has some pretty in-depth explanations on calculating a monster's CR and seems to account for quite a bit including limited resources such as spell slots and the like. How do those rules not address and thus affect your problem? Are the monsters you create too easy for their CR or do the seem much too difficult for their CR? Is their "guaranteed damage" even a limited resource or are you creating them with infinite magic missiles (as an example)? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 16, 2018 at 8:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleMonkey I find these monsters too be much more powerful than their CR suggests, which makes using them dangerous. The example of the dragon for example says that the multiattack deals 37 damage, while the breath weapon deals 45. But the multiattacks deals 0 damage if it misses, while the breath weapon always deals at least 22. I've noticed that these half damages add up quickly and make the monster much more dangerous, yet they're not taken into account for the CR. This means that if I make a monster that uses those abilities, I'm very likely to wipe out my players accidentally. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 16, 2018 at 8:52
  • 2
  • \$\begingroup\$ It might be worthwhile to ask if your monster is going to be stronger than its CR, or if your players arent as strong as their characters can be/arent as well rounded as they should be \$\endgroup\$
    – Drew Major
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 17:04

2 Answers 2


No guidelines exist in the DMG.

The DMG assumes that all attacks will hit, even if they have a chance of missing. DMG p. 278 ("Step 11. Damage", under the "Creating a Monster Stat Block" heading) gives the following example of a young white dragon:

For example, a young white dragon has a multiattack routine (one bite attack and two claw attacks) that deals an average of 37 damage each round, as well as a breath weapon that deals 45 damage, or 90 if it hits two targets (and it probably will).

(Note: I added up the numbers in the MM, and the multiattack adds up to 41, not 37...)

The only way the white dragon can average "37" damage per round with its multiattack is if it hits with all three attacks, which is not guaranteed. Similar language throughout this section indicates that you're supposed to assume that all the attacks hit. Therefore, it's impossible to make the distinction you're drawing.

Existing monsters suggest that CR increases.

The Marut in Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (p. 213) is an interesting study for this question.

It has a listed CR of 25. Its defensive CR adds up to 28 (it has a 432 HP, plus an effective 90 from legendary resistance and x1.25 from immunities, a +1 to CR from having a higher AC, and a further effective +1 to CR from magic resistance), but its offensive CR is only 19 (120 damage per round from Unerring Slam). Therefore, its CR, according to the DMG calculation, is 23.5 (you can round it either way, technically).

However, its Unerring Slam ability is an automatic hit, and therefore it has an infinite attack bonus. Apparently this guaranteed hit is worth a CR boost of ~1.5, which puts it on par with some of the Monster Features on DMG p. 280. Based on this creature alone, you can probably estimate that guaranteed damage is worth a CR increase of 1-2.


CR (Challenge Rating) is, literally, a rating of how much of a challenge a given monster would present to players.

For game-made monsters with predetermined CR, CR {x} means that an average 4-member party with all its players of level {x} would most likely be able to defeat this monster without suffering any deaths.

Therefore, regardless of guaranteed/expected damage, that is how you calculate CR. For example, right now I play in a 4-member level 4 party. If my DM wants to give us some easy loot, he would launch a CR3 monster at us. If he wants us to have a fun battle, he would launch a CR4 monster at us. If he wants to see if we realize that we don't stand a chance and should run away, he would throw something with CR7 at us.

So, in your example, simply think about by how much the guaranteed damage would make it harder for your party to beat the monster, and thus determine the CR.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this advice for 5th edition? Your description of what CR means reminds me more of the 3rd edition wording. (It's changed quite a bit) \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 19:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erik this is for 5e, but I would not be surprised if in 3e CR worked exactly the same way. \$\endgroup\$
    – bob
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 19:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Encounter difficulty in 5e is determined by XP Budget, not CR, and CR for created monsters has a whole dedicated section in the DMG. This answer could be improved by reconciling what it’s saying explicitly with those things. It may still be right, but it’s currently hard to tell if it has taken those into account, or is just unaware of them. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 16:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yet if you think about it, the CR in most premade monsters does work how I said above. Therefore, if the DMG guidelines aren't enough, why not simplify the rest of the process? \$\endgroup\$
    – bob
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 16:20

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