Content of the article: "How exactly does CR work? The party just survived an encounter that should have been an absolute slaughter based on the CR(total CR of 50 according to DM, party level 6, 6 players) so I am honestly confused about whether I am understanding CR correctly."
Before anything else, I would like to say I don't think we were supposed to win that encounter, but there is nothing to really confirm that except that it really doesn't seem like an encounter we were supposed to win given the ridiculous CR.
The party was myself, a winged variant tiefling Artillerist, a Naga stone sorcerer with a con of 20 making them the tankiest member of the party with at least 60 hp, a black or green Dragonborn Bard, can't remember which, who put on a cursed amulet without thinking due to low char intelligence, the amulet has multiple effects, but would ultimately result in possession by a literal dragon, in this encounter the active effects gave him a 50 ft fly speed with a claw attack, a human arcane trickster rogue with a portable hole, a human Oathbreaker paladin, and a human echo knight.
The amulet was a bit OP, but besides that, the portable hole, a +1 greatsword the Naga had, and my artificer infusions, we had no other magic items.
The foes were (not exact numbers, going off memory from earlier today) about 4 regular vampires (CR 16, CR 14, CR 13, CR Unknown), 4 lesser vampires or vampire spawn, the DM used both terms (I know they had over 70 hp each, not much else), about 10 wolves summoned by an ability of the CR 14 vampire, and 5 undead kobolds, one with a gun, summoned by a different vampire presumably using an actual spell instead of an ability.
Now, there were some factors in our favor. For one, the enemies were pretty much split into two waves with the second one just watching until we almost finished off the first, everyone started with 13 temp hp from my protector cannon and I used it almost every turn trying to replenish that for anyone near me, the ceiling was 50 ft so there was room to fly, and none of the regular or lesser vampires used their ability to drain max life to heal themselves until the second "wave". That no doubt lowered the effective CR somewhat
In addition, 3 of them tried fleeing when they were low, two getting away, the other making the mistake of transforming into a defenseless bat and flying up to buy time to heal, when there were two of us who could fly without making ourselves defenseless, I pretty much just tanked 3 opportunity attacks from the wolves (temp hp from cannon, 20 AC, only took 6 damage which was blocked by the temp hp), the other flew up, and together we pretty much just ganked him.
On the other hand, the CR 14 vamp, while in the second "wave" with 4 wolves, himself, and one of the lesser vampires that survived that long, had lair actions and used them throughout the battle, giving some of the enemies extra turns in the first wave, and himself extra turns in the second, among other things, and also had two actions and regenerated a couple hundred hp with his life drain.
We didn't roll well either, a lot of misses went around, the enemy critted multiple times while we never did once, the paladin was on his own against multiple enemies, while the rogue was remaining stealthed and just trying to steal things from the vampires that they may need for the first half of the fight, and the rest of us were frantically trying to save the echo knight being swarmed by five wolves, a vampire, and two lesser vampires.
To say the least, that would have almost certainly been a TPK if I chose a different cannon instead of healing like mad with the protector on my shoulder (not sure the exact number, but temp hp ended up soaking well over a hundred damage during the fight), or if the Echo Knight fell, or any number of other things happened.
In the end, the Naga and Bard were each one turn away from death by max hp drain, others were low, and we barely succeeded.
Heck, the only way the Bard was survived was a false surrender where we all dropped our weapons when the CR 14 threatened to finish off the Bard, followed by the lesser vampire trying anyways, the paladin having a tied dex check to cast lay on hands to save him before the vampire drained the last of his hp and the rogue using his portable hole to get the Bard out of the fight, then myself and the paladin distracting the vampire since we both had ways to fight without needing our weapons (my armor was a spellcasting focus, he used his shield IIRC) while the rest of the party picked their weapons back up.
However, I have no idea how we survived that at all. To my understanding an enemy of X CR should be a challenge for a full party of an equal level, right? A CR 50 shouldn't have even been a fight, and while the factors I mentioned probably lowered the effective CR somewhat, it should still have been a slaughter. Action economy was also against us in the extreme, so that can't be the reason either.
We rolled poorly overall and multiple times had people forget bonus damage, I took 20 damage in the first round from a crit by the gun wielding undead kobold (though after temp hp it was only 7, still lost a horn though), the CR 14 vamp healed hundreds from draining our Naga sorcerer, and the ten round fight lasted around 7-8 hours. We weren't even going in top form, we had our spell slots restored but still had missing hp from previous fights.
Is CR that unreliable? Was the ridiculous amount of temp hp blocking from the protector cannon that powerful? We weren't even a min-maxed party, and this was only my second campaign where the first fell apart after around 5 sessions due to covid, and aside from the amulet we didn't have any particularly special magic items. I don't think the DM even fudged rolls (at least not much if he did), pretty much all the situations where that would have made a noticeable difference the enemy won out.
The only part that seemed like DM intervention was at the end, where it seemed like the Bard should have died, but was instead possessed by the dragon soul in the cursed amulet (we have been aware that it would end in possession for several sessions with no way to fix it, given we were in a huge dungeon, were level 6, had no leads for someone to remove the curse, and there was pretty much a 1/3 chance each day of the souls merging at that point), as it technically shouldn't have happened there given the results of the multiple identify rituals we did on it, plus it was only temporary that time. Saving one character at the end of the encounter doesn't explain how we survived the rest of it though.
How in the world is it possible for a level 6 party to survive a CR 50 encounter at all (or arguably two CR ~25 encounters in a row), much less under those conditions? I heard CR was somewhat unreliable, but even then that seems rather extreme.
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