In D&D 4e, you could tell most monster's AC just from its level and role (Brute, Skirmisher, Soldier).

This is not the case in 5e, but an estimation would be very useful when you try to compare builds.
My group uses 13 + proficiency bonus, this has the benefit that you can completely remove the proficiency bonus from the calculation. However, this is a bit high at the beginning, and low at the end.

  • Does someone have a better formula?
  • Better yet, has anyone found a compilation of existing monsters, that could be used to calculate this for myself?

5 Answers 5


DMG 274 suggests these values for AC as part of the table for defensive CRs (HP also factors into defensive CR, but is not listed here):

  • CR 0-3: 13 AC
  • CR 4: 14 AC
  • CR 5-7: 15 AC
  • CR 8-9: 16 AC
  • CR 10-12: 17 AC
  • CR 13-16: 18 AC
  • CR 17+: 19 AC

According to the guidelines, the ultimate CR of a creature is the average of their offensive and defensive CRs. However, the DMG encourages additional tweaking and adjustments to individual monsters beyond the listed guidelines:

Alternatively, you can determine an appropriate AC based on the type of armor the monster wears, its natural armor, or some other Armor Class booster (such as the mage armor spell). Again, don't worry if the monster's AC isn't matching up with the expected challenge rating for the monster.

There are also a number of features that a monster can modify the effective AC for CR calculation purposes. These are tabulated starting on DMG 280. For example, giving a monster magic resistance boosts its effective AC by 2, which might result in a defensive CR that's higher than the one calculated strictly from HP and AC.

Thus, there is going to be significant variation in the AC of monsters at any CR, because there are so many factors that can change the final AC relative to the CR, including the judgment of the person designing the monster.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Like I said in the other answer's comment, you forget to mention that AC is just a part of a monster's defensive CR, and that monsters vary greatly from the values you presented here. \$\endgroup\$
    – kviiri
    Feb 27, 2017 at 7:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @daze413 The answer mentions defensive CRs and AC but not hit points - assume you've never seen the table in the DMG, it's going to seem like defensive CR is tied to armor alone. As for the point about armor, yes, it's true that humanoids tend to have their AC based on pieces of equipment but it has no difference to a natural armor from a balance point of view (except vulnerability to spells like heat metal, but they are exempt from the CR calculations). \$\endgroup\$
    – kviiri
    Feb 27, 2017 at 9:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kviiri Yeah, I guess I can see a problem if a reader hasn't read the DMG's rules on creating monsters. So it might be worth putting in a few more words to clarify that. \$\endgroup\$
    – daze413
    Feb 27, 2017 at 9:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've added in a bit more detail about the defensive CR calculation. Does this address the issues here? \$\endgroup\$
    – Icyfire
    Feb 27, 2017 at 15:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ This methodology doesn't work above CR20, but below that it is fairly close to published monsters. It deviates by -1.11 to 1.70, at CR3 (stated=13, published=14.1) and CR0 (stated=13, published=11.3). I would call this answer naïve but gets you very close to correct! \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Aug 3, 2022 at 3:44

Aside from DMG suggestions, a statistical analysis can also be useful. For example, analyzing the creatures in the SRD, gives you this chart

enter image description here

And you can see it matches the guidelines from the accepted answer.

Just keep in mind that AC is just a part of a CR, and can vary wildly from monster to monster, or from encounter to encounter (lots of tiny minions can be just as dangerous as a big monster!)

user77842 has provided us with the same graph for a much more extended group of monsters (taken from MM, DMG, Curse of Strahd, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, Out of the Abyss, Princes of the Apocalypse, Rise of Tiamat, Storm King's Thunder, Tales from the Yawning Portal, The Tortle Package, Tomb of Annihilation, Volo's Guide to Monsters, and Xanathar's Guide to Everything).

As expected, we can see a smoother curve in the mean AC over CR.

enter image description here

  • \$\begingroup\$ What is ruining the trend at CR12? \$\endgroup\$
    – András
    Nov 18, 2019 at 16:08
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ There's a much higher variance at CR12. Maybe monsters there either have a lot of attack and low defenses, or the opposite, both of which raise CR. \$\endgroup\$
    – BlueMoon93
    Nov 19, 2019 at 13:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are only 3 monsters in CR12, Archmage, Arcanaloth and Erynies Devil, and they happen to have comparatively low AC. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 6, 2022 at 12:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Here is the same chart reproduced with data from all published sources (instead of just the SRD), showing a much smoother line at CR12: docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/e/… \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Aug 3, 2022 at 3:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user77842 Thanks for this! Can you elaborate on the creatures you used, and I would add the image to the answer as well? \$\endgroup\$
    – BlueMoon93
    Aug 3, 2022 at 8:13

As mentioned in the accepted answer, the DMG offers a table with appropriate AC corresponding to the challenge rating (CR) of a creature. However, the question mentioned that this AC should be used as a reference for the sake of comparing character builds. Therefore, an average/reference AC for a given level of a PC could be useful (even though the question specifically asked for CR). Now the correspondence between the level of a PC and the CR of a typical enemy at this level is unclear (see discussion here), the DMG just mentions that

especially at lower levels, [the DM should] exercise caution when using monsters whose challenge rating is higher than the party’s average level.

When it comes to comparing different builds mechanically, I would suggest to use the following formula to determine a reference enemy AC for a given PC level:

AC = 8 + PB + AM

where PB denotes the proficiency bonus of the PC and AM is the ability modifier that any PC focusing on increasing a certain ability score usually has at that level. That is, AM=3 at levels 1-3, AM=4 at levels 4-7 and AM=5 at levels 8-20 (starting with a score of 16 and taking ASIs at levels 4 and 8).

Advantages of this way to determine the AC are that

  • for calculations, the proficiency bonus cancels out (as in the formula occuring in the question),
  • this formula also determins the spell save DC of a spellcaster, so there is a nice correspondence,
  • this gives the same ACs as the ones given in the accepted answer (assuming CR=PC level and except for level 9) and
  • any PC that increases its ability score used for attack rolls as soon as possible will have a 65% chance to hit against the reference AC at every level; this might simplify calculations.

Note that there is also the approach to fix the "baseline-chance to hit" (which implicitly determins the reference AC) and (as just mentioned) the formula above corresponds to fixing this baseline to 65%. Another prominent choice is fixing it to 60%, corresponding to the formula AC = 9 + PB + AM that would yield an AC of an enemy with CR slightly above the PC's level.


Average Monster AC tabulated by CR

Here is the average AC for CR for all Monsters in the Monster Manual (and number of monsters at each CR), by Challenge Rating. If you are looking for a simple formula to match these numbers

Expected AC = 11 + CR/2

seems to do a pretty good job. Over all ACs, the deviation sums to about 6, mostly at lower CRs, so round up if you want to use this for typical tier one or two play. The worst deviation is about 1.6 points on CR 7, or about 1 point after rounding up.

CR Monsters AC AC rounded
0 30 11.03333333 11
1/8 23 12.39130435 12
1/4 38 11.97368421 12
1/2 33 12.3030303 12
1 31 13.19354839 13
2 51 13.05882353 13
3 26 14.38461538 14
4 16 13.375 13
5 30 14.96666667 15
6 14 15.35714286 15
7 9 16.11111111 16
8 14 15.64285714 16
9 10 16.7 17
10 8 17.25 17
11 8 16.875 17
12 3 15.66666667 16
13 10 17.5 18
14 4 18.5 19
15 4 18.25 18
16 5 19 19
17 7 19 19
18 1 20 20
19 1 19 19
20 3 19.66666667 20
21 4 20.25 20
22 2 21.5 22
23 4 21 21
24 2 22 22
30 1 25 25
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, reproducing these calculations on all monsters from all sources yields a slightly different answer. Deviation is between -1.5 and 1 (at CR20=18.14 vs 19.67 and CR12=16.63 vs 15.67). Values: 11.30,12.58,12.25,12.42,13.15,13.65,14.11,14.11,14.86,15.07,15.83,15.17,15.92,16.36,16.80,16.63,16.61,17.50,18.14,18.25,19.00,19.17,19.00,18.14,19.75,20.00,19.89,21.00,22.00,21.00,25.00 (note that there are CR25 and CR26 monsters in the other sources). \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Aug 3, 2022 at 3:33

In 5e there is no real connection between CR and AC. This was a deliberate step to move away from the number treadmills of previous editions.

Yes, increasing a creature's AC can make it tougher (which might justify a higher CR), but that doesn't go in reverse (i.e. having a higher CR does not necessitate a higher AC).

Take the Balor, it has a CR of 19, yet its AC is also 19. You know who else has an AC of 19? A level 1 fighter using Chainmail, a Shield, and the Defense fighting style (the +1 AC one).

Let's look at some others:

  • CR 1/2 Hobgoblin: 18 AC

  • CR 1/4 Goblin: 15 AC

  • CR 1/8 Noble: 15 AC (blame nepotism)

Anyway, basically in 5e AC is used to represent how hard things are to hit, not how high of a level you need to be to hit them.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Feb 27, 2019 at 1:37
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ You're definitely right in that plate is plate whether the monster is CR1 or CR20. That is a stated goal of bounded accuracy. I think what you are missing is that for monsters with natural armour this doesn't apply (compare a young dragon to an adult dragon), and that the proportion of monsters with better armor increases as CR increases. Ie at CR1 there are not a lot of people wearing plate, at CR20 there are a lot more. \$\endgroup\$
    – user77842
    Aug 4, 2022 at 2:48

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