DnD’s Deadliest Giant Proves Why the CR System Is Flawed
Dungeons & Dragons’ Challenge Ratings are notoriously misleading. Nothing better demonstrates that than its deadliest giants.
The Challenge Rating system serves as a common guideline for Dungeon Masters running games of Dungeons & Dragons to know how difficult different monsters are. Designed to measure just how costly a battle may be to help balance encounters, this information can be helpful for even the most seasoned DMs working with high-level parties avoid outright demolishing or completely underwhelming players during combat..
However, this system is far from perfect. In fact, D&D‘s two highest CR giants are perfect examples of why DMs should take this information with a grain of salt. The more dangerous of the pair is actually not nearly as much a threat as his runner-up — and the difference is massive.
The CR system is straightforward in its calculations, and by that metric it is easy to see why Borborygmos is considered the deadliest giant in the game. Coming from Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica, the giant is CR 18 due to his massive pool of hit points (a 270 average), his considerable damage output and the Legendary Actions that make him a worthy opponent for mid-level parties.
Borborygmos has many of the qualities typical of giants and boss battles around his level, such as a Multiattack that can deal an average of 46 damage on his turn, the ability to take again as a Legendary Action at the end of players’ turns and his Frightful Presence, which forces a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw to avoid being frightened.
Still, Borborygmos suffers from some obvious weaknesses that make him an astonishingly easy opponent to defeat. For one, his Poor Depth Perception imposes disadvantage on any attack roll he makes on a target beyond 30 feet. Plus, while his Siege Monster ability does extra damage to buildings and structures, it proves little threat to players in most scenarios. A high Wisdom save makes his Frightful Presence and Bellow moves similarly ineffective, and really all players need to do is maintain their distance and fight the giant from afar to chip away at his bountiful health until it drops away entirely.
The next highest CR among giants is the CR 13 Storm Giant Quintessent from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and its stat block presents a far more imposing threat. With ranged attacks like Windjavelin, Gust and Thunderbolt that do a devastating damage across an array of damage types, the strategy that works against Borborygmos would be ineffectual against Storm Giant Quintessent.
In fact, with the Quintessent’s fly and swim speeds in combination with its higher base speed, the threat is far harder to escape at all. With Legendary Actions like One With the Storm that allows it to teleport anywhere within its lair, and Lair Actions that shape the environment around it to make movement more difficult for its enemies it is almost impossible to escape the Quintessent’s wrath.
The reason Storm Giant Quintessent’s CR is much lower comes down to how overly broad and simplistic the Combat Rating system is. It favors Borborygmos’ higher Armor Class and HP despite the difference being negligible. Borborygmos’ 14 AC isn’t much more than Quintessent’s 12, and 40 extra hit points is nothing when weighed against the Quintessent’s abilities. The CR system has few ways to objectively measure the usefulness of such abilities, or to account for Borborygmos’ Poor Depth Perception. Still, even where hard numbers are concerned, the CR system poorly weighs the Quintessent’s demonstrable stat advantage.
The Quintessent’s Ability Scores, added together, total 119 points, whereas Borborygmos’ comes to a straight 100. His 8 Intelligence score is his main detriment, not only compelling DMs to make him a poor tactician in comba,t but to make him an easy mark for any spell that forces an Intelligence saving throw. A single Feeblemind or Psychic Scream likely ends combat with Borborygmos instantly, but it’s difficult for the CR system to account for such specific interplay between creatures and spells.
The comparison between the two creatures is a clear example of the Combat Rating system’s limits. There is doubtless a place and necessarily limitations to any system that serves as a general guideline for DMs, but where giants (or any other monster for that matter) are concerned, DMs shouldn’t simply grab the highest CR they see and expect it to pose a real threat. In some cases, those lower down the ladder will actually prove far more deadly.
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