I looked at the proposed topics and, it seems, did not find similar to my question.

I understand that the challenge rating is the creature's level of danger, and the more deadly it is, the higher the CR. But if you try to compare with real things... For example, what is the CR of the T-90 tank and how much this tank is more dangerous than a dragon. In the Bestiary you can find opponents from whom in life it would be necessary to run away as quickly as possible. Their description tells about their dangers, but their CR is only 1/2, which is the easiest test for even the weakest character.

It’s hard for me to ask the question correctly, but I would like to understand what exactly determines the danger of the creature. Can an ordinary mercenary have a high CR if he studied the art of war all his life or is this impossible in principle? What is the main and determining factor in the concept of Challenge Rating?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your patience and friendliness) This is great! I wanted to ask what exactly is decisive for determining CR. Is a skilled warrior (veteran) really worthy of only CR 3. I’ll try to clarify this - in what a veteran (CR 3) should become better in order to get a higher CR. Perhaps CR 3 for a regular mercenary is the maximum of possibilities? This refers to the role component, not the mechanical one. \$\endgroup\$
    – Darron
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 13:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Players character do not know the CR — it's the DM tool, it doesn't exist in the game world.. This also might be relevant: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/45926 (see the accepted answer) \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 13:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you have an answerable question in here, but I must admit I can't fully understand what it is yet. When you had time, if you wanted would you like some help getting phrasing the question? I could try asking you some questions and making some recommendation for phrasing this. If you want to please let me know by pinging me in the comments using @rubiksmoose and I'll do my best to help. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 13:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think I understand; is this about what CR says about the "lore" (or similar) of the creature/NPC? I know "lore" isn't quite the right word, but that kind of thing? \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 13:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think NathanS is correct in that seems to be about how CR fits into a setting and wider environment "in-universe". E.g. would you expect an "ordinary" mercenary to have a high CR because he is older and experienced (and how high is high)? What about the wise old king who leads an entire country? \$\endgroup\$
    – PJRZ
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 14:08

2 Answers 2


CR is just a mechanical abstraction that doesn't exist in-universe

The CR of a given creature (a.k.a. "monster", but creature is perhaps a more generic term that sounds better for, say, a human NPC) doesn't actually tell us anything about the creature with regards to the narrative. There are other terms we use: HP, AC, XP; these terms also do not exist in-game. PCs and NPCs won't know what "HP" is. HP has an in-game description, as explained further in this question: What does HP represent?

In short, from the PHB, pg. 196:

Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck.

So those are things that a PC/NPC might know about and understand; luck, the will to live, etc. They make sense in-game and are something that PCs/NPCs could talk about in-game.

However, CR doesn't even have that; it is simply a way to quantify roughly how difficult a given creature would be to defeat given it's HP, AC, abilities, etc. How that makes sense in the narrative is up to you, the DM, to decide.

Taking two examples, let's compare the Veteran and the Champion. The Veteran is a CR 3 warrior from the Monster Manual, whereas the Champion is a CR 9 warrior from Volo's Guide to Monsters. Both are just NPCs and both appear to fight like warriors (judging by their stats). The only difference between them are things that don't make any sense in-universe; their stats. Veterans only do 2 attacks via Multiattack, whereas Champions can do 3 attack via Multiattack, and has a few other abilities on top of that (such as Second Wind), as well as having higher AC and HP.

In-universe, you could justify this difference in difficulty by claiming that the Champion has had more training, more experience (I know the other is called a "veteran", but apparently this Champion has more experience), or simply that they are just naturally innately better warriors, even if they're technically not as experienced; you could even take Champion to mean that they are imbued by godly powers or something, and that's why they're more of a challenge than a Veteran. Either way, how you justify why one NPC warrior is better than another is up to you as the DM. The statblocks are just provided so that if you do decide that NPC A is better that NPC B for whatever reason, you have different stats to use for each case.

Another example is something like an Orc. Orcs are ferocious creatures to be feared, and yet they are only CR 1/2. However, other variations of orcs exist, and you could even create your own, coming up with homebrew statblocks for orcs with different training. They're still orcs, just like the CR 1/2 Orc, but their statblock would be different and would come with it's own CR, which you can use for any orcs you have decided for whatever narrative reasons should be more of a challenge than a standard Orc.

Another way to look at this would be to take a strong monsters and weaken it. The Kraken is a powerful creature with a few less powerful variants, but who's to say you couldn't come up with a kraken who isn't Juvenile or Malformed, but simply isn't as strong as the "default Kraken"? It's still a kraken, but it doesn't have as much HP or as many abilities, for whatever narrative reason you want to come up with. The only thing "CR" is interested in is how many abilities, how much HP, etc, and it doesn't care for a narrative explanation.

So, to summarise, CR makes no sense in-universe; it is just a numerical abstraction to help you, the DM, determine how much of a challenge this particular collections of stats and abilities would be (which you assign to whatever in-universe creature you decide would be represented by such stats). The fact that we usually use the Orc stats for an orc is not set in stone (you could even have an orc who uses the Champion stats, if you decided that this particular orc should be that much of a challenge...)

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    \$\begingroup\$ While this sounds generally right, the problem with "CR makes no sense in-universe" is that there are spells (conjure animals, summon lesser demon, etc.) whose effects are gated by CR. A demonologist could classify fiends by CR just by casting summon lesser demon enough times and taking careful notes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark Wells
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 17:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells The spell's description is still mechanical when talking about CR. As for the case for summon lesser demon or similar, it's true that there would be a ranked categorisation of demons or whatever that would be equivalent of CR, would it wouldn't actually be CR, which is what my answer describes (although not for this exact example). \$\endgroup\$
    – NathanS
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 17:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Re “veteran”, the word just means a soldier who has fought even just once, and survived. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 21:40

There are two ways to think about this


The challenge rating is a tool for the DM to determine the "danger" of a creature compared to a party of adventurers, who are most specifically not considered to be "normal" people (as I expand on further down).

As answered here, this means that a DM can look at a creature and note that its CR of 2 will be a challenge for a party of level 2 player characters.

This is then related to how a DM can create an encounter with the right level of difficulty. Though, it should be stated, CR is a pretty good but only rough guide depending on the composition of the party, how well-equipped or prepared they are, and even how clever the players are. Getting encounters right is something that takes a bit of DM experience.

It is purely a game concept: How much of their resources (in terms of hit points, spells and so on) will a party expend fighting these creatures? How likely are they to get injured or even killed?

From this perspective, Challenge Rating doesn't really mean anything to a character 'in-universe' at all. Sometimes it could be obvious that a creature is deadly (its never a good idea to goad a gigantic red dragon), but other times it may not be obvious at all (a human could be a simple peasant or a powerful arch-wizard in disguise).

In-Universe "danger levels"

It is important to realise that D&D generally assumes that player characters are special. Most people in any setting are simple folk going about their daily lives and will be, in a rules-sense, somewhere between CR 0 and CR 1. Even your average town guard is likely to be no more than CR 1. The extent to which this is true varies by setting, but it is generally the case - even in highly magical worlds such as Eberron. This is reflected by the relatively low CR of many of the NPCs in the Monster Manual.

Even an experienced mercenary who has been soldiering his entire life may possibly be no more than CR 3. And this means he's dangerous, at least relative to your average shopkeeper.

Conversely, the ruler of an entire kingdom may be no more than a CR 1/8 human. Just because he rules wisely (or not) doesn't mean he knows how to wield a sword or be any kind of personal challenge to an adventurer (though he will command an entire army of guards and other defenses to discourage would-be assassins).

Player characters are different. They stand out. They blaze a path through the land. They are Heroes!

I think the key to understanding CR as a general concept is probably to set your expectations and realise that the average CR of a typical human/elven/dwarven/etc population is going to be hovering between 0 and 1. NPCs and monsters with higher CRs are the exception not the norm, or at least they are not likely to be encountered by ordinary people. As long as those people don't go wandering into the Dark Forest or the Underdark...

Even a bunch of goblins and a single ogre (CR 2) attacking a town is likely to be a terrible threat for the inhabitants. The town guards will be putting their very lives in danger to defend their town.

And a dragon attacking?....well, anyone with any sense would just run away very fast. Expect entire villages to be razed to the ground.

Unless, of course, some player characters happen to be passing through.

And all this helps to explain why the world needs the player characters in the first place. Somebody needs to step up, face the threats and save the world!


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