My Thoughts on Morale Checks

Tim (Gothridge Manor) recently posted this about morale checks. In summary, he doesn't like them and doesn't use them. By and large, I agree with him. I would put reaction rolls in the same category.

When it comes to morale, I generally do the following:

Improvise on the Fly: Like Tim, I usually just make a decision while the action is happening.

Roll Dice: On the rare occasions when I use dice to determine morale, I just roll a d6 and make up my target right before I roll. An example: Things going bad for the orcs? They'll surrender with a roll of a 1 or a 2, run away with a roll of 3 or 4, and fight on with a roll of 5 or 6. Easy peasy. No tables. No fuss. And it only takes a second. I've never actually used a morale table from a ruleset.

Create Thresholds: On a few occasions, I have set certain thresholds by which a creature or NPC will run, surrender, or otherwise give up the fight. Maybe it is a percentage of hit points. Maybe it is a percentage of creatures who die. Once the threshold is hit, the creatures or NPCs try to find a way out of the encounter. I base this approach on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom--when the lions and hyenas meet, they usually do not fight to the death. They fight until dominance is established and the other party runs away.

The reality is that I never think about it in terms of "morale;" I think it about it terms of what a creature or NPC will do in an encounter. I have run encounters where I have used more than one of these approaches. I am a pragmatist when it comes to gaming. Whatever works and adds to the session is the direction I go.

When it comes to morale and running an encounter, what works for you?


  1. What works for me? The system in Moldvay Basic. Especially in low-level games with high death rates.

  2. I really appreciated the rules in the new Runequest 6th edition - laid it right out for you, no table needed, for non-Name characters.

    "Rabble" cease fighting when they take any damage (fleeing, cursing or dying depending on how much damage it is) and all will flee once 1/3 of their number are out of the fight.

    "Underlings" will cease fighting after two injuries, and will rout if half their number are taken out;

    You still have to RP it out with the important bad guys, but I would anyway.

    1. Sorry, that should be "fleeing while cursing, collapsing, or dying" under Rabble.

  3. I like the OD&D reaction roll system, which can be used for morale too, especially to begin with to determine general NPC disposition and mood. I personally really like being surprised by what happens too, and that can't happen if I just always make a judgment call.

    I also find morale checks critical for determining retainer actions, to help keep them from just becoming supplemental (and more disposable) PCs.

  4. If it's really obvious how the monsters should react, I will just decide what they'll do.

    Otherwise, most of the time, I roll, just to make sure I'm not doing the same thing over and over with my monsters (I tend to fall into predictable patterns and ruts; and the dice help me avoid that, so I dice for LOTS of stuff, not just morale).

    When rolling (for morale or anything else) I do frequently just come up with a set of target numbers on the fly as you described. Specifically for morale I have also just assigned a default "morale number" of 7 or 8, potentially modified by circumstance, and let fly with 2d6.

  5. This is an example of a situation I refer to as "using the dice to simulate free will". Each orc has its own internal life, attitudes, points of weakness and strength. But we don't want to simulate down to such a fine level of detail so we just roll a dice for its reaction and it all comes out in the averages!