I've read multiple posts on this site about determining an NPC's challenge rating, most of which mention the difficulty in doing so. I had considered a few things. First, non-combat abilities don't affect CR. Second, abilites that affect certain combat stats (AC, Hit Points, Attack Bonus, Damage/Round, Save DC) can be accounted for by the Monster Statistics by Challenge Rating table (DMG p.274). Finally, I figured the difficulty lies in combat abilities with effects that don't deal damage. Yet, at the same time, one might simulate the encounter, implementing such effects and translating their consequences into one of the previous monster stats.

Therefore, I wonder: in terms of challenge rating, what makes it difficult to create an NPC from scratch or even creating a PC character and turning them into an NPC?

Ideally answers would provide a few examples, and mention which calculations must be done with caution.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess the question can be a duplicate then, I'm not sure if I just delete it or it can be labelled as such. \$\endgroup\$
    – user80014
    Dec 31, 2022 at 16:41
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Eggman dupes are actually good. Different paths to the same question can help visibility. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Dec 31, 2022 at 16:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Eggman You could join us in Role-playing Games Chat for more open ended discussion. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 31, 2022 at 17:38

1 Answer 1


Tucker's Kobolds

Do you know Tucker's Kobolds? Kobolds are 1/4th CR per. In an open fight, you pit a group of them against 1-st level characters in open field. But 20 Kobolds pushing burning walls in tunnels that are using pikes, alchemist fire, and blowguns are deadly way beyond their challenge rating of 5, even to a party that is way over level for that. The difference? Tactics and strategy simply don't appear on the stat block at all.

The main problem is Action Economy. Many weak attackers, even if each one is easily dispatched, risk a few good lucky attacks. If you have 1 target with 10 Hit Dice, that's one enemy's worth of attacks on the group. The group with its many attacks has a much higher chance to crit - and due to statistics, to hit in general. A subset of this problem is things that Paralyze, Stun, Petrify and Dominate the PCs and can, among other things, impact the action economy a lot.

Groups sponge attacks. 10 targets with one Hit Dice each do hand out more attacks. They also swallow more attacks. Assume each PC does about one and a half Hit Dice in damage. That means the 10 HD monster takes about 7 hits to down. But without area attacks, 10 enemies require 10 hits, as there is no overflow between targets.

Terrain can totally change the encounter. Remember tucker's kobolds. They use moving walls. They get half to full cover from the wall, but their attacks don't suffer from that. However, the wall, as a piece of terrain does not impact the CR calculation at all. Thus imbalancing the results of it.

Likewise, Surprise and focus fire can change the whole event too: Tucker's Kobolds consistently gain the surprise round. They are many, and some of their attacks can and will be lucky. If they focus their attacks on the physically less sturdy ones in their surprise round, they have a good chance to down the cleric or wizard - who usually are required to keep the party in the fight or do AOE damage. Such a focussed surprise attack will shift the action economy in their favor even harder than their sheer numbers do by taking out the AoE, Buff and Healing capacity of the team.

Special group advantages

And then there are things like Pack Tactics and Swarm that make such groups punch even more above their weight class.