Hit Point Morale

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I don’t know if this has become standard in other modules, but a lot of the unique enemies in Pathfinder adventure paths include a tactics section that indicates at what HP threshold they’ll try to flee (e.g., “at 10 HP or less, he tries to escape”). I figure this could be generalized into a standard morale system as follows.

For each encounter, the enemy NPCs have a Morale rating (or, more accurately, a Morale Break Threshold) that usually starts at 0. It’s tracked for the whole encounter, not per individual combatant. Any enemy whose HP drop to or below this rating (including if it equals or exceeds that NPC’s maximum HP) attempts to flee (and counts as Demoralized if prevented from fleeing and forced to fight).

This rating increases in the following ways:

  • +1/HD of allies downed in the fight (e.g., an 8 HD enemy is dropped and the Morale rating goes up +8)
  • +1/2 HD of allies that successfully flee (after they, themselves, became demoralized)
  • Intimidate Check: PC makes an Intimidate check as a standard action, DC 10 + Current Morale, +1/2 Intimidating PC’s HD
  • Ad Hoc for other demoralizing events

This rating reduces in the following ways:

  • -2/HD of PCs and PC allies downed in the fight
  • Rally Check: NPC leader makes Leadership check (HD + Cha mod + misc mods) as a standard action, DC 10 + Current Morale, -1/2 rallying NPC’s HD
  • Ad Hoc for other morale-boosting events

Particularly brave or cowardly NPCs may treat the current rating as half or double (or more fine-grained distinctions if you’re willing to do more math).

The upshot of this system is that it allows the GM to throw in more mooks without overwhelming the PCs, as technically harder encounters of multiple NPCs will actually end earlier as the PCs manage to eliminate some foes.

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D20: Ablative Morale

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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.

Dungeon Inertia (D&D/Pathfinder)

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Shieldhaven posted a system for improving the odds of fleeing characters to actually escape. I suggested that it needed a morale system to go with it, but noted that it might not be enough: in new school linked dungeons, players are never going to want to let monsters flee and potentially come back later to either add to another fight or to drag in more enemies. Below is what we came up with to try to solve these problems.

Dungeon Inertia is usable in any situation where there are a number of allied enemies broken into smaller encounters. Primarily useful in any dungeon where the enemies are allied such that rooms might reinforce other rooms, it could also be used in external encounter areas such as bandit camps or cities. Essentially, it’s for situations where a much larger enemy force is broken up into encounters where the PCs can take them on piecemeal, but where it would make sense for enemies to flee and get help once the encounter goes south for them.

The problem this concept is meant to solve is the need to utterly destroy all threats for fear they’ll remain a danger if unslain while, indeed, allowing enemies to run for aid when it makes sense. As runners tend to make it easier to take apart the morale of a dungeon, hopefully this system makes it less of a huge worry for players to experience encounters that pile on top of one another (i.e., “adds” in MMO parlance). A side effect of this system is to create a practical reason to avoid the “Five Minute Adventuring Day” even when there’s no exterior time pressure: enemies¬† recover Inertia if left to recuperate.

Setup

When creating a linked series of encounters as a GM, total the number of enemies in the area subject to morale (i.e., don’t count undead, constructs, etc. in most cases). This is the Inertia total for the area. Effectively, each enemy in the area starts with one Inertia Token when the PCs enter the area, and these will be depleted as enemies die or otherwise have their morale break.

Since every enemy starts with a token, you can actually track this in the negative: only mark the enemies that are still alive but do not have a token. The total Inertia of the dungeon vs. remaining combat-ready enemies becomes important if the PCs take a break.

Rules

Whenever an enemy is defeated (slain or dropped negative and not immediately picked back up), remove its Inertia Token. If it did not have an Inertia Token, remove one from another enemy in the same encounter.

If the enemy died in one hit and/or was the leader of the group, remove a token from one of the still-fighting enemies in the encounter. Any time something else that might appear on an old-school morale chart happens (e.g., monster is bloodied, magic is used in front of superstitious enemies, PC performs a particularly brutal attack, etc.),  you may roll or just your judgment as a GM to remove an additional token.

Any still-fighting enemy without an Inertia Token is considered Shaken (getting a -2 to most rolls). These enemies will also tend to try to stay out of harm’s way, making attacks from range or using Aid Another for their allies.

Any enemy missing a token that would gain Shaken from another source (such as Intimidate) instead gains Frightened and flees. If all remaining enemies are missing their token, all enemies gain Frightened and flee. The Frightened condition persists until the enemies either reach allies or some other area that they think is safe, at which they return to simply being Shaken.

If an enemy without an Inertia Token is encountered again, its “one-shot” threshold is set to its current HP, even if it’s already wounded (e.g., if a wounded creature without a token returns with friends, if it is slain in one hit, one of the friends will lose an extra token beyond the one lost for the death of an already token-free enemy).

If a PC is dropped unconscious, restore a token to a single enemy in the encounter that is missing one.

If the PCs take a long rest, restore all Inertia Tokens to the enemy. This will likely result in extra tokens (from the enemies that were slain). Apply these extra tokens to other enemies in the area (to a maximum of one extra token). Any enemy with two tokens essentially has the opposite of Shaken, gaining a +2 Morale bonus to all d20 rolls. This bonus represents having time to plan for the next PC assault and to become enraged at the invaders.

Intended Results

This system should have the following benefits:

  • Enemies will flee organically when a battle turns against them, especially when PCs use Intimidate as a tactic.
  • PCs will be more likely to let fleeing enemies flee: if they are stopped and slain out of view of their friends, their death will not remove an extra token.
  • Fights where multiple encounters worth of foes bear down on the PCs should be more manageable: more and more of the foes should be Shaken as the fight goes on, effectively reducing the encounter level of the fight.
  • PCs should be less willing to expend most of their resources up front and then try to take an extended rest, as doing so will make the remaining enemies more dangerous.

Random Morale Table

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Based on this post, here’s a short set of random morale rules. It’s intended to be used for unintelligent/animal monsters or for mook-type monsters (i.e., humanoids that are not fanatically devoted to killing the PCs over saving their lives), particularly when just attacking the nearest PC over and over is getting stale.

Roll 1d8 at the start of the NPC’s turn and add the following modifiers:

Enemies Outnumber PCs +2
NPC Unwounded +2
Leader Still Fighting +2
Enemies Outnumbered -2
NPCs has Less than Half HP -2
All NPC’s Allies Defeated -2

Then compare the modified result to the appropriate table:

Result
Animal Intelligent
10+ Hiss/Roar/Intimidate Gloat/Intimidate/Show Off
9 Posture/Stalk targets/No action Try fancy maneuver on nearest PC
8 Attack weakest/smallest PC Attack strongest looking PC
7 Attack tastiest looking PC Attack nearest caster PC
6 Charge random PC Attack nearest PC
5 Attack most wounded PC Attempt to buff or heal self
4 Attack last attacking PC Attack last attacking PC
3 Attack nearest PC (even if defeated) Attack nearest PC with desperate blow
2 Hiss/Roar/Intimidate/Confused Attack most wounded PC if possible
1 Charge most wounded PC Try to move to cover
0 to -4 Mindless Flight Fighting Retreat/Negotiation
-5 Play Dead/Bare Throat Mindless Flight/Surrender