I've a question about CRs and ELs in D&D3.5 (and probably it has been already answered and I haven't understood it, so feel free to close it).
I have a party of five characters at level 11 (Fighter, Wizard, Cleric, Druid and Rogue, so pretty balanced) quite powerful and experienced (expecially the Wizard). I'm trying to understand how to balance the encounter using the DM HandBook but honestly I'm stuck. That's what I've understood till now:

  1. To give experience I have to check the table at pg. 38 (italian manual) and for every player see how much xp that mob gives and divide it for the number of PG in party. In my case for example, a CR 11 mob gives 3.300 / 5 = 660xp for player.
  2. I have to balance the EL adding or removing mobs based on the table presented at page 49...
How do I use this? The manual says that I have to calculate the average of group level, going on the relative row presenting CR of creatures and then going up to columns reporting the number of creatures I have to add. For example, for my level 11 party, a creature with CR 10-11-12 should be a good encounter (and calculating xp based on number 1).

My doubt is: what if the party is composed by 7-8 people at level 11, or a very experience party? Obviously a CR 10-11-12 it's a piece of cake and yes, it worths less experience, but where's the fun? Should I use higher CR/EL or it's dangerous? I don't want to kill my PGs, just giving them some fun.

How do you DMs out there balance your encounters?


1 Answer 1


Challenge Ratings are very close to worthless

Unfortunately, player characters can and do vary wildly in power level, which means it’s impossible to say what will “appropriately challenge” an 11th-level party, or any other level for that matter. There is no “standard” here to compare them against.

Furthermore, CRs are, if anything, more variable. There are some particularly notorious examples of both under- and over-CR’d monsters. The adamantine horror from Monster Manual II has at-will disintegrate and disjunction... and is supposedly CR 9. The tarrasque is supposedly CR 20, but has Int 3 and no ability to fly, which means it’s basically incapable of threatening a 20th-level character. These are stand-out cases, but general variance is par for the course. Angels, dragons, and fiends tend to be “tougher” than their CR indicates; animals, magical beasts, and vermin tend to be “easier” than their CR indicates. But those can vary a lot. Weird types like ooze and plant are used so infrequently it’s almost impossible to speak in generalities.

So unfortunately, the only way to design encounters is to look at what your players can actually do, look at what the monsters you’re considering can actually do, and try to imagine how the fight will go. CR might be able to put you in the right ballpark; I usually try to filter down my list of candidate monsters using CR, often going with the party’s level +2 or +3 since my players tend to be stronger than most monsters of their CR. But you have to be aware that some monsters at or even below their CR are going to be a problem for them, and other monsters at or above their CR are going to be trivial. It’s all about their actual capabilities.

In conclusion, don’t worry about the CR/EL math very much; it won’t help you. The CR/EL system is quite possibly the weakest aspect of the system. Which unfortunately leaves you with very little guidance, but that’s how it is.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you checked the possible duplicate yet? This is pretty much the same answer you gave there. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 28, 2014 at 17:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Add to this that the "Standard" CR is based on a balanced party of 4 well-rested characters. Parties of smaller or larger size or lacking an element or two of balance all have to be taken into consideration. \$\endgroup\$
    – Red_Shadow
    Aug 28, 2014 at 17:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie You're probably right, but the fact that you suggest four different possible duplicates is problematic. I suppose what should actually happen is that we go through all of them and try to consolidate... \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Aug 28, 2014 at 17:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Red_Shadow There is no "standard" so I can't say for sure that it is based on a "balanced" party. A balanced party is hardly the most powerful, though: 3.5 has as a major paradigm more spells = more power. A team of all full-casters will do much better than a team that replaces some of those with a rogue or fighter or whatever. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Aug 28, 2014 at 17:47
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Red_Shadow Wizards should have zero trouble with golems; SR: No, summon, and buff spells all exist and work wonderfully. Only the most contrived scenarios (expansive, permanent, arbitrary dead magic zones) can cause all-spellcaster parties to have more difficulty than other parties. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Aug 28, 2014 at 19:00

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .