Article: Morale in RPGs

Posted on March 14, 2011


The Morale of the Story

This is a new, non-edition specific rule mechanic I have added to the Vampire Bestiary (though I removed it from the previews so far). The basic idea stemmed from an online conversation I had about a year ago regarding published (4E) adventures. The discussion was specifically about how it appeared that the choices you make in one encounter, don’t overtly impact subsequent encounters.

I sort of got thinking that an easy way to change that would be to have monsters who run away or escape, show up again in a later encounter.

Morale in RPGs

There are four basic types of morale.

  • Shaky: Cowardly figures who will run away (if possible), or surrender (if escape is impossible) when outnumbered. e.g. Peasant
  • Typical: Will try to run away or surrender if all allies are either dead or otherwise incapacitated. e.g. Town Guard
  • High: Someone willing to fight to the death. e.g. Elite Soldier
  • Stoic: Not only will they fight to the death, but when they are the last man standing amongst their allies they receive a bonus depending on their role. e.g. Hero

Last Man Standing

The last man standing gains one of the following bonuses.

  • Artillery: +5 Bonus to Attacks until the end of the encounter
  • Brute: Increase damage by 50% until the end of the encounter
  • Controller: Size of Area Effect attacks doubles until the end of the encounter
  • Lurker: With Combat Advantage, all hits become Critical Hits until the end of the encounter
  • Skirmisher: Can make an additional Standard Action each round until the end of the encounter (4E); double the number of actions until the end of the encounter (3E)
  • Soldier: +5 Bonus to AC/Defenses/Saves until the end of the encounter

Morale Boost

The presence of a leader means that, at least while the leader is alive and conscious, all allies who can see and hear him will have the same Morale rating as the leader.


Certain spells/spell-like effects or the frightening presence of certain monsters could potentially lower the morale of a NPC/Monster.

Morale and Monster Rank

  • Elite Rank: Treat an elite rank NPC/Monster as two creatures for the purposes of morale. When bloodied, treat them as one creature.
  • Solo Rank: Treat a solo rank NPC/Monster as four creatures for the purposes of morale. Each time they lose 25% of their hit points treat them as one creature less. Solo rank creatures should never have Shaky morale.

Benefits of the Morale mechanic

  • Consequences of Actions: The first benefit of this system is to add causality to encounters. This ’cause an effect’ will manifest in the form of monsters escaping (or being let go) in one encounter, returning in a subsequent encounter. For instance a goblin might go and warn the rest of the tribe that adventurers are heading this way. Causing them to be alerted, better prepared and have at least one extra goblin (the one that got away to warn them) in the group. Another example could be that the PCs freed a wolf from a pit trap, in a later encounter, that wolf might return to help the PCs. So the consequences don’t always have to be negatives. Also the situation could spark its own encounters. What if a slaver surrenders to the party, saying he’ll testify against his organisation, they have to escort him back to the constable’s for questioning. Along the way, slaver’s might attempt to rescue or slay their man.
  • Roleplaying: While cutting down enemies in the heat of battle is one thing. What about killing an enemy that has surrendered to you or been captured? These situations could add a whole new opportunity for drama and character development. Killing someone in cold blood, someone pleading their case, telling you they have a family, begging for their lives or stoically resigning themselves to their fate will give characters another dimension. Inter-party relationships like how does the Paladin feel about the party Thief’s murder of someone in their custody. I just think theres a wealth of potential stemming from this simple mechanic.
  • Verisimilitude: I just don’t think a bunch of goblins, kobolds or peasants would fight to the death, especially not when outnumbered In contrast, what about the potential for a true hero (even amongst villains), someone courageous enough to defend his home or ‘the bridge’ against all odds.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed the article. Let me know what you think, whether you use the idea or not.