5th Edition Blog: Morale is Coming Back

Given all the retro stuff being bandied about, I am not surprised that morale will likely be making a comeback.

I vaguely recall the Morale entry in 2nd Edition's Monster Manual--probably because I think it was right above XP--but I cannot remember ever using the rule, and certainly not how it worked. When it vanished in 3rd Edition I was only alerted to the fact either when I flipped through a Planescape book looking to convert non-updated monsters, read a Design & Development article that brought it up, or someone else mentioned it. What I am trying to say is that I just never knew it was there, so I did not miss it when it was gone.

I get the idea of morale; it helps the DM make a non-arbitrary decision as to whether a monster toughs it out, runs, or at least surrenders. Kind of like a "willingness to fight" save, which is how I do it most of the time in my games; roll when bloodied, when reduced to half-or-fewer allies, when a leader is slain, etc, with a modifier depending on how cowardly/brave/fanatical the monster is. This has the added benefits of speeding up combat and potentially providing a resource for the characters, giving them some information that can be potentially used as an edge (as well as reinforcing the idea that not all monsters are mindless trail mix bags of hit points, loot, and XP).

A potential pitfall I guess could be encounter balance. Players go into a cave, find some orcs, kill their chieftain, some orcs fail morale and run, possibly triggering another morale check and causing more to run, leaving quite a few less orcs that was previously anticipated. Players might just focus fire on leaders or whatever morale-triggering events they can in order to breeze through a fight, especially if they just get the same XP anyway (working smarter, not harder). I think that this might be better tempered by adding in more of a sliding scale, where monsters that fail are shaken, then rout. Perhaps even making a three-step plan that a lot of 4E save-or-dies had.

The main issue I see there is possibly a lot of book keeping, unless monsters check in groups? The article makes it sound like that henchmen and followers will be in the bag, optional or otherwise, which would add even more to the pot (though, hopefully for players to manage). My preference in this case is a morale system that is simple, but not so binary.

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