LWC – Morale Checks

Pathfinder0_1000The Long Winter Campaign will not use the encounter building rules.  Thus, it is entirely possible that a party could find itself in over their heads, with few options for escape or evasion.  In general, I’m fine with the players killing themselves off through overconfidence or incaution.  However, I still think there needs to be a bit of a safety valve, of sorts, and I believe a simple morale system will fit the bill.  Indeed, in old school D&D the morale rules, while an artifact of the wargaming roots of the hobby, more-or-less filled the same role.

To be clear, morale checks apply only to NPCs.  Player characters never have to make a morale check (fear-based saves, such as caused by dragons, are a completely different thing), though any NPC retainers or hirelings the PCs bring along might, at the GM’s discretion, have to make a morale check.  So, for the most part, these rules apply to monsters.

Check morale for groups of monsters.  If you have a group of orcs and a group of goblins fighting together, you might treat them as two separate groups.  Solitary “apex” monsters, such as dragons, should check for morale individually.

Good times to check for morale are:

  • When monsters take their first casualty (or first hit, in the case of solitary monsters), particularly if the PC party hasn’t taken any casualties/hits yet
  • When the monsters’ numbers are reduced to 50% or less (or a solitary monster is reduced to 50% hit points), and the PCs outnumber them, or obviously outclasses them
  • When the monsters’ leader is killed, incapacitated or otherwise “defeated”

To make a morale check, use the creature’s Will save.  For groups of monsters with a clear leader, use the leader’s Will save.  The first time a morale check is made, the DC is 10.  If a second morale check is called for, the DC increases to 15.  If the monsters pass two morale checks in the same combat, no additional morale checks will be required during that combat.  Modifiers for bravery/vs. fear apply to the morale checks.  The GM may apply other modifiers deemed appropriate to the circumstances.

Mindless creatures, and fanatics, never make morale checks; they’re always willing to fight to the death.

Creatures that fail a morale check will attempt to flee by the most expeditious route possible.  If escape is impossible, intelligent monsters will attempt to surrender.  If their surrender is declined, they will fight to the death.

I’m inclined to not award experience points for monsters that flee or surrender due to a failed morale check.


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6 Responses to “LWC – Morale Checks”

  1. The Bane Says:

    Still reading your blog, though I don’t post comments much… Keep up the great work!

    I too dislike ‘balanced’ encounters, and keeping a strictly PFBB game alive and interesting, it would IMHO have to be thrown out.

    Also, I don’t mind if PCs die off from over confidence. But on the rare occasions that I actually get to play, the Players do, even when I warn them repeatedly OoC and IC. I don’t have the luxury of saying, “Well our gaming preferences vary, so…” because of lack of available Players.

    To that end, I had really hoped when I read the intro that you had stumbled on a palatable morale system for PCs.

    Anyway, Happy Holidays, and keep the post coming!


    • EdOWar Says:

      Well, I suppose you could still use the same morale rules on the PCs. You could rationalize it as a kind of “fear effect,” when a battle seems to be going against them. You’d just have to get buy in from your players.

      Traditionally though, players don’t like to have their agency taken away from them. Personally, I feel that most times, it should be up to the players to decide whether to fight or run, for better or worse.

      However, I think these morale rules could still help your situation. It won’t cause PCs to run away from an unwinnable fight, but with a little luck they might cause an overwhelming force of monsters to flee. That’s really the purpose of morale checks, a ‘luck’ mechanic that may just save an overwhelmed party’s ass in a tight spot.

      Happy Holidays to you as well.


  2. David Jenks Says:

    I like all of this, except the last line. If the PCs are so incredibly mighty that the enemies’ will breaks and they flee from battle, i think they should still get XP.

    Maybe 1/2 XP instead of full?

    A shame we don’t live closer–our tastes are similar and I’d enjoy being a player or DM in your group, I suspect.


    • EdOWar Says:

      Maybe 1/2 XP would work. I’m just wary about granting full XP for what amounts to a single lucky roll.

      On the other hand, granting full XP does add another tactical element to the game, where the PCs try to break their enemy’s will to fight, rather than just fighting to the death.

      Thanks for commenting. Cheers.

      • David Jenks Says:

        It’s a lucky roll, but it’s a lucky roll based on the “awesomeness” of the party–so doesn’t that count for XP?

      • EdOWar Says:

        It’s not necessarily based on the “awesomeness” of the party. History is replete with examples of elite troops that had every advantage in a battle, and yet for some reason they broke and ran anyways. Sometimes luck, in the purest sense of the word, plays a part.

        However, if you tie it to a tactical decision on the part of the players, then maybe you can reward 1/2, or ever full, XP. What I mean by this is, say the party encounters an obviously overwhelming force of orcs, but they get the initiative. Instead of running away, clearly a prudent choice, they seize the moment and try to get in that first casualty quick in order to force an early morale check, in the hope of breaking the orcs early in the fight before their numbers can overwhelm the party. Should that fail, they might then decide to single out the orc leader and eliminate him, thus forcing another, even more difficult, morale check. With this approach there is an element of risk vs. reward.

        Also, I want to stress that I would not use these morale rules with the standard encounter build rules. I’d only use them if you throw out the encounter build rules, as is my intention with the Long Winter campaign.

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