Run Away! Run Away!


April 20, 2012 by deadorcs

Gary thought he was setting up the encounter perfectly. He drew out a large room with several beds – a goblin barracks – soldiers on hire by the evil mage. Gary figured that a dozen of these guys would give his players a decent challenge. Come game day, though, the story was different. His players unexpectedly used a powerful spell, and killed over half of the goblins in one round.

While most of Gary’s players ran characters more than content to slaughter the goblin soldiers, Mike had a different thought. Playing the group’s paladin, he asked Gary, “Dude, we’re wasting these goblins, if we’ve killed this many so quickly, wouldn’t the rest just turn tail and run?”

Gary thought about it for a moment, and then shrugged. “I don’t know. I never really thought of that. I guess they’ll fight to the death.”

Morale, at least in the RPG sense, is a measure of a creature’s willfulness to continue a dangerous venture (such as combat), even when faced with certain death. Player characters  have a built in sense of morale. If a player decides that his character wants to flee, he simply informs the DM of his actions. Unfortunately, the DM (at least with recent versions of DnD), doesn’t have this option. A monster in recent versions of the game simply doesn’t have a “turn tail and run” stat.

However, this wasn’t always the case. Older versions of DnD monsters were equipped with a “morale” stat. It was usually a d20 value that indicated whether or not a specific creature would run when a check was called for. The key here is “when called for”. Only under certain conditions would a monster actually check for morale. Usually these conditions had to do with how damaged a specific creature was (or in the case of multiple creatures) how many of their number had been killed. If the morale check was successful, the creature would fight on. If the morale check failed, the creature could do anything from flee to offer total surrender.

For DnDNext, I think some option for creatures other than fighting to the death, should be a given. While I’m not sure that a “morale rating” should return to the monster stat block, I do believe that morale options for creatures should be built into encounters. Seeing morale rules as part of the encounter building tools only makes sense. While certain mindless creatures (certain undead, furiously untamed elements, etc.) might fight until destroyed, most intelligent creatures will probably think twice about throwing themselves on a hero’s already bloodied sword.

In a sense, “checking morale” is simply a mechanic for allowing alternate endings to an encounter scenario. It should be in the toolbox alongside “natural/magical accident”, “bizarre unexplained capitulation”, and “sudden but inevitable betrayal”. Tools for morale can help build meaningful encounters that are consistent with the game universe you’re playing in.

Of course, if a morale “stat” becomes a part of the  monster stat-block, then I hope it’s a part of the monster’s descriptive text. Straight up morale probably isn’t appropriate for many creatures, and having an endless parade of creatures that say “NA” under “Morale” is just a waste of ink.  Instead, creatures that might actually have morale issues (humanoids, beasts, certain planar entities), should have their morale behavior explained in the descriptive text.  That way, such behavior can become a part of the narrative that makes that monster come alive at the game table.

Morale has a place in the game, and I hope it will be used carefully in order to construct the exciting and dynamic encounters promised by DnDNext.


My name is Randall Walker and This Is My Game


5 thoughts on “Run Away! Run Away!

  1. RSixidor says:

    I’ve only played 4th edition, in LFR and some home games. In LFR, whether the monsters run away is written into the adventure. For the home games, the DM decides this based on story progression. While I can see the usefulness of this in quick built from scratch adventures, it doesn’t fit to me from a storytelling perspective. While I do think it’s a good candidate for inclusion, I think in practice my and I group will largely ignore it or use it in cases where this was not decided by the adventurer’s author or indicated by the evolving story.

  2. Philo Pharynx says:

    I tend to think of creatures as not fighting to the death without good reason. Defending their home/family, led by a strong leader that punishes cowardice including gods that will punish cowards eternally in the afterlife), being mindless, etc. We should have some general guidelines in the creature and specific details in each encounter. And not everybody will fail morale in the same way. An organized group might perform a fighting retreat, covering each other until they get to better terrain or allies. Other foes might perform the “headless chicken” maneuver. This is one case where GM’s judement is more improtant than rules.

  3. Arbanax says:

    I like the whole moral question and in running the Scales of War campaign arc, I’ve often had the loan soldier, goblin, creature etc run away. What I find I perhaps need to do, is work out how they get away.

    Sometimes they’re trapped and this sets up a dilemma for the party, do they kill the surrendering creature (the party Rogue has done this one more than one occasion where the Paladin isn’t looking) or do they let it go/chain it up and come back later. Sometimes escape has been easy, but the players often feel a bit cheated if they don’t get to kill everything.

    As regards the players moral, I think this can never be down to a dice roll, players seldom will surrender or run away if they think they can win.

  4. OldSchoolDM says:

    “creatures that might actually have morale issues (humanoids,”

    Hmm *all* humanoids? If monsters have “Morale” – why wouldn’t player-characters?

  5. froth says:

    i agree, im for morale

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