I have a 5-member party in D&D 5e (ranger, fighter, sorcerer, rogue and bard) who are all level 5. They will soon be meeting with the "big bad", a young black dragon, in his lair which contains pools of acid. They would most likely be fully rested before the fight.

I know the CR is 7, but I was wondering whether it would prove to be a satisfying battle, in the sense that they may come close to defeat and might be able to beat the odds.

Is this fight well-balanced? Would it be challenging?

If not, should I add some hatchlings or small mobs to adjust the action economy appropriately?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Have you read the DMG's guide on encounter building? \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Jul 19, 2018 at 5:45
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Please note whether you should or shouldn't do something is opinion-based/subjective and not something this site is built to handle. Whether the party would be able to handle the encounter is probably something we can answer but we also need to know what level the PCs are. Also, as Erik has asked, have you been through the encounter building steps in the DMG? This seems simple enough to answer by reading those rules. If you have read through it but aren't sure of something specific please include what you're confused about in your question. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 19, 2018 at 5:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've seen somewhere that any encounter with only one enemy are usually much easier than it sounds as that said one big bad can be focused down by mere numbers. However, I am hesitant to add in more to this as it might turn deadly and i do not wish to kill anyone (one player died previously already). But both story wise and tension wise, having a young black dragon for them at this point is imperative. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 19, 2018 at 5:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PurpleMonkey: The party's level is in the title. I've edited into the body of the question as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jul 19, 2018 at 5:52

3 Answers 3


This is likely between Medium and Hard difficulty encounter for the party

You can find general guidance on encounter difficulty in the Dungeon Master's Guide (DMG) in the Creating Encounters Section. For level 5 characters, the XP table shows:

Level ------- Easy --- Medium --- Hard --- Deadly


5th ---------- 250 ---- 500 -------- 750 ----- 1,100

This means that 5 level five characters would treat a Young Black Dragon (XP = 2,900) as a Medium encounter (5 * 500 = 2,500). While there are some monsters that break this mold and difficulty can be increased depending on the composition of enemies, this is a good rough metric.

Consider the level of optimization in your party

If your characters are particularly good at dealing lots of damage or protecting a single character, boss battles like this will be easier than usual and you should increase the difficulty by about 100 XP per level so 500 XP (this is a number I've used in the past and has worked wonders for me).

If you have new players and/or players who are not tactically minded or are unfamiliar with the mechanics, you should decrease the difficulty to the next lowest setting (an Easy encounter will be Medium, a Medium encounter will be Hard, etc.)

How hard do you want it to be?

satisfying battle in the sense that they coming close to defeat and beating the odds.

This sounds like you want it to be somewhere between Hard and Deadly, which a dragon on its own won't accomplish (unless your party fits the "new player" category I described earlier).

To fix this, you will need your XP approximation to equal 4000-5000. Adding just one Black Dragon Wyrmling pushes the number to the top end of this value at 5,025 due to the Modify Total XP for Multiple Monsters section in the DMG (2 monsters means a 1.5x multiplier).

For a lesser difficulty, but still a suitable challenge, try adding a CR 1 monster like a Goblin Boss or just add a couple of terrain effects to increase the difficulty indirectly.

For a higher difficulty, pushing into the Deadly range, you will need a CR 3 monster like a Bugbear Chief, or add terrain effects or traps to the Dragon and Wyrmling encounter.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Sounds good, i actually had the idea of adding like 2 dragon eggs which can hatch into wyrmlings if left unattended for 2-3 rounds. The players have seen dragon eggs before and will know it could hatch (i will make the eggs move and shake so they also know). you said that adding one wyrmling would push it to hard-deadly. So with the added delay of hatching and potential 2 wyrmlings if they do not deal with it, is it as much of a challenge as one wyrmling right off the bat? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 19, 2018 at 6:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CuriosMaximus Should be good, just keep in mind that if the party can't deal enough damage fast enough, having a dragon and 2 wyrmlings at any given time will likely result in multiple PC deaths even if they have party cohesion and experience just from the sheer amount of damage they can deal in 1 round. So, you might want to just GM-fiat that the second wyrmling can;t come out until the other one is beaten. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 19, 2018 at 6:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ good idea, maybe if the first one gets out and they seem on the losing end the second egg can be a stillborn, but the ranger and fighter both have sharpshooter and if they nuke the first baby right out of the water i'll make the second one all good. thanks mate! \$\endgroup\$ Jul 19, 2018 at 6:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, I ran through a few mock combats using a party of a 6th level Druid and Ranger, two fifth level characters (Rogue, Fighter) versus a young green dragon. It was a winnable encounter for that party, but the dragon can also win (I subbed in an elf for the original dwarf rogue for two tries and the dragon won one of those). \$\endgroup\$ Jul 19, 2018 at 18:01

No, they would likely not break a sweat defeating a Young Black Dragon.

The dragon, at CR 7, is worth 2900 experience points.

Checking the DMG on encounter building (pg 81) we can calculate that a 2900xp encounter for a group of 5 characters at 5th level would be classified as "Hard", but only barely (as anything between 2501xp and 3750xp is Hard). Note that "Hard" is described as:

Hard. A hard encounter could go badly for the adventurers. Weaker characters might get taken out of the fight, and there's a slim chance that one or more characters might die.

Not really a "beating the odds" kind of fight. Especially a party that is fully rested will likely have no problems at all defeating such a creature. Perhaps if they were already worn out from an entire day of adventuring, they might consider this scary. But if they know this is the biggest, baddest thing in the dungeon, they will just drop their powerful abilities on it and kill it easily.

You should probably add in a bunch of other threats to up the scale, to at least the "Deadly" category. The guide can instruct you further on how to do it, I'd suggest reading that section.


A GM who plays the dragon intelligently (as a dragon should be played) will likely be able to defeat a level 5 group. An intelligent enemy should be more challenging than its CR.

First off, a black dragon's lair will be underwater. She will pop up, do her breath weapon (average of 49 damage) such that it hits at least 2 party members, then (in the same turn) dives back underwater. At 5th level, 49 damage is enough to kill a 16-Constitution fighter from full health. And even if characters make their saves, it certainly outpaces damage a healer can do. An intelligent dragon will never stand toe-to-toe and facetank melee damage.

So a level 5 party COULD kill a young black dragon with some exceptional planning and some luck... but if the encounter is anything less than VERY challenging, it's because the DM is slow-pitching to the party.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi Ozy, welcome to rpg.se! Take the tour and visit the help center or ask here in the comments (use @ to ping someone) for more information. Good luck and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Aug 11, 2020 at 4:35

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