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I am currently DMing my first campaign in D&D 5E and had opened up the use of feats to the players. I really like how feats give each of the players another way to differentiate from one another. That got me thinking that this would be an interesting thing to add to monsters/enemies and NPCs. But would enemies with feats change encounter balance/CR?

Let me give you a concrete example: If I have a party of 4 Level 1 adventurers squaring off against 4 Thugs (CR 1/2), the encounter would be classified as "Deadly". Now what if I had the same encounter but each Thug had the "Dual Wielder" feat which gives +1 AC and the ability to dual wield maces. Would the encounter still be classified as "Deadly" or does it cross over into "Overwhelming"?

If I were to give feats to monsters/enemies, what would be a good way to go about incorporating that into the encounter difficulty mechanic?

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The DMG gives two approaches for making NPCs: either design them using the monster math (as all the NPCs in the Monster Manual are), or build them as PCs.

If you're going to give your Thugs feats, that means they should be built as PCs (which is more work), so that they will be naturally balanced by missing out on any ability increases they gave up to gain the feat.

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The DMG is clear on how to calculate the CR of a monster or NPC you create; you work out its AC, average damage etc and then look up what CR these give your creation.

All else being equal (and given that it is not possible for a PC to have a feat at first level, but you can do what you like with NPCs), the extra AC and average damage may bump their CR up when you do the math (which I haven't)

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