This is largely meant for a low-level, gritty D20 game (like that mentioned in last week’s zombie post), but could be useful in any game that needs a morale system.

Each party (or group of enemies) has a Morale rating.

The party’s Morale cannot exceed the party leader’s Leadership bonus (i.e., level + Cha bonus; if the leader has the Leadership feat, add the same additional bonuses for retainers). If the party leader is incapacitated or another leader must otherwise be chosen, immediately lose all Morale in excess of the new Leadership bonus. For new parties and enemy encounters, start Morale at half the Leadership rating.

When Morale reaches 0, each member of the party gains the Shaken effect (which stacks with other sources of Shaken to build to Frightened or Panicked). If Morale is 5 (and for every additional 5 points of Morale), all members of the party gain a +1 Morale bonus to attack rolls, saving throws, skill checks, and ability checks (i.e., reverse Shaken). Morale has a minimum of 0. For higher-level games, the GM might want to raise this bonus threshold so the maximum is effectively +2.

During play, a party can gain and lose Morale.

The party gains a point of Morale when:

  • Any member defeats an enemy or challenge with a CR equal to or greater than the current Morale
  • All surviving party members are healed to full HP the first time after a fight that resulted in at least one lost Morale (i.e., you can only get this bonus to repair lost Morale, not raise it)
  • An incapacitated/dead party member is returned to positive HP
  • The party accomplishes something the GM deems particularly heartening (but which doesn’t have a CR); note that for a lot of games this will be a primary source of positive Morale, and the GM should award points with a frequency governed by how dark the game is meant to be

The party loses a point of Morale when:

  • Any member takes damage from a single source/attack equal or greater than the current Morale (cumulative if multiple members take damage from the same attack)
  • Any party member is incapacitated (cumulative with taking damage greater than current Morale)
  • Any party member is killed (cumulative with being incapacitated)
  • An enemy uses a full round action and successfully makes a successful Bluff or Intimidate check at a DC equal to 10 + current Morale

If the party is part of a larger force, Morale might also be tracked separately for the army and the individual squad. In this case, squads should be treated more or less as PCs for the purposes of the larger Morale (i.e., Morale is not adjusted for every single individual character). The army’s Morale stacks with an individual squad’s Morale (i.e., a positive bonus from one might counteract Shaken from the other, and if both army and squad are at 0 Morale, all members of the squad are Frightened).

Mindless creatures (like zombies) and zealots don’t worry about Morale (but also don’t get the bonus for high Morale).

Large enemy groups might be broken into multiple internal groups for purposes of Morale. This is especially useful for monsters that have minions and don’t much care if they die: the minions might well be Shaken while the main threats are not. In this case, the same creature’s Leadership might serve to set the Morale limit for both groups.

For the PC party, Morale is persistent through sessions, potentially leading to long stretches of positive or negative outlook.