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.
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.
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.
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.