Morale and Command : The Morale Check

The battlefield is a frightening place, with death and destruction everywhere. Under the stress of battle, many creatures abandon their army's cause for one much more immediate: self-preservation.

A creature who begins to succumb to fear progresses down a slippery slope. First he becomes shaken, then so afraid that he runs from the battle. In extreme cases a creature might completely snap under the pressure, becoming a danger not only to himself but to his comrades. Only a charismatic leader can bring such a creature back into the fray.

Morale is a creature's defense against fear. This fact is simulated by the morale check, which is simply a term describing a DC 20 Will save against a fear effect. Any modifiers applying to Will saves (or against fear-based effects) function normally. Additional bonuses or penalties on the morale check are assessed based upon the conditions of battle, as listed below.

When To Use The Morale Check

Morale has always been an important part of both real-world and fantasy wars, so it's an important factor in the battlefield adventures you create at the gaming table. The effects of morale - from brave knights rallying their fellows to hapless peasants throwing down their spears as they flee - are fundamental to the genre.

When the action focuses on the PCs battling small groups of enemies (which should be almost always), morale checks aren't usually necessary. However, if you're describing the action on another part of the battlefield - or if high-level PCs confront a big group of low-level enemies - the morale check allows you to simulate the swinging fortunes of battle quickly and effectively.

Because the PCs are the protagonists and the focus of the game, they don't ordinarily make morale checks. The decision to retreat and fight another day is for the players to make and shouldn't be forced by a die roll (unless everyone has agreed to use this rule; see the sidebar). However, their NPC allies must make morale checks just as the enemy does.

Morale in the Dungeon

You can also take these rules beyond the battlefield if you wish, using them in dungeon-based adventures, urban settings, or elsewhere. In most cases, using the morale rules means that monsters run away more often than they do in a typical D&D adventure. That situation is common in organized warfare, but rare in a dungeon because the monsters are found in their lair and have nowhere else to go. In contrast, a smart commander encourages her units to retreat (or at least make a strategic withdrawal) when they're overmatched or needed elsewhere. If you use these morale rules in a traditional D&D adventure, make sure you account for the greater likelihood of NPCs retreating.

Making Morale Checks

Typically, a creature must attempt a morale check on the first round that one of the following conditions applies:

Creature Takes 50% Damage: Once a creature's hit point total falls to 5000 or less of its full normal hit points, that creature must make a morale check.

Unit Takes 50% Casualties: Creatures make a morale check if half or more of the comrades in their unit are unable to fight, whether they're dead, unconscious, fleeing, paralyzed, or otherwise out of commission.

If a creature is required to attempt a morale check, it makes the check at the start of its turn, before it takes any other action. Depending on the situation, certain modifiers might apply to the check. (For the purpose of these modifiers, "nearby" is defined as in sight and within 120 feet.)

Morale Check Modifiers
ConditionModifier
Unit fatigued-2
Unit exhausted-5
Unit (including nearby allies) is outnumbered 4:1-5
Unit (including nearby allies) is outnumbered 2:1-2
Unit outnumbers nearby enemies 2:1+2
Unit outnumbers nearby enemies 4:1+5

Group Morale Checks

In cases when you need to know whether a large group of creatures stays or runs, a single morale check can often take the place of individual checks for each member of the unit, with the result applying equally to all creatures in the unit. This saves a lot of time and effort on the DM's part.

Use this short cut only when you're dealing with a large group and the fate of individual soldiers doesn't matter, such as when the PCs are observing part of a battle but haven't waded into melee themselves. If you feel it's important to know how each individual soldier reacts, use the normal morale check rules instead.

Since you probably aren't keeping track of the hit points of the individuals in the group, make a morale check only when the unit has taken 50% casualties. For the purposes of a group morale check, the unit is the maneuver element of the enemy army (usually a squad or a platoon of soldiers numbering in the tens). Just because two thousand orcs marched onto the battlefield one morning doesn't mean they don't make morale checks until one thousand of them are dead or dying.

For the purpose of making a group morale check, the unit's Will save modifier is the average of the individual Will save modifiers of each soldier. If the group consists of essentially identical creatures, this value is the same as any single creature's Will save modifier. In groups of differing creatures, add together the Will save modifiers for all creatures in the group and divide the result by the number of creatures in the group. If you anticipate using this short cut, you should figure out this value before the gaming session begins, to save time at the table.

Morale Check Effects

If the morale check succeeds, the creature can act normally. Each time a creature (or unit) fails a morale check, the morale condition of that creature (or the creatures of that unit) worsens by one category. Morale conditions are described in the accompanying sidebar.

If a creature fails a morale check by 10 or more, the morale condition worsens by two categories. For example, a heartened soldier who fails a morale check by 10 is reduced from heartened to shaken.

Panicked is normally the worst morale condition; panicked creatures can't get any worse. However, strange things can happen on the battlefield when a soldier snaps. If a creature rolls a natural 1 on a morale check that would make it panicked, it becomes crazed instead.

Morale Conditions

The following morale conditions are organized from highest morale to lowest morale, with the special morale condition of "crazed" listed at the bottom. Unless otherwise noted, all conditions last for the duration of the battle or until the character's morale condition changes as the result of another morale check or a rally check.

Heartened: A heartened character has been encouraged and is confident of victory. Heartened characters gain a +1 morale bonus on Will saves against fear effects (including morale checks).

Normal: The typical state of a combatant at the beginning of battle.

Shaken: A shaken character takes a -2 penalty on attack rolls, saving throws (including subsequent morale checks), skill checks, and ability checks. This condition lasts for 10 minutes after the battle ends.

Frightened: As shaken, but a frightened character must try to flee as best it can. If unable to flee, it will fight. A creature who becomes frightened due to a failed morale check improves to shaken 10 minutes after the battle ends (or 10 minutes after it has fled the battlefield) and returns to normal 10 minutes after that.

Panicked: As frightened, but a panicked creature drops everything and runs at top speed away from danger. If cornered, a panicked creature cowers and does not attack. A panicked creature does not need to make additional morale checks. A creature that becomes panicked due to a failed morale check improves to frightened 10 minutes after the battle ends (or 10 minutes after it has fled the battlefield), becomes shaken 10 minutes after that, and returns to normal 10 minutes after that.

Crazed: If a creature rolls a 1 on a save that would make him panicked, he assumes one of the following conditions, determined randomly, instead of becoming panicked. This condition overrides the effects of the character's normal morale condition. It remains for the duration of the battle plus one hour, or until the creature's morale improves to shaken (or better). If a crazed creature's condition is removed through some other effect, treat the creature as panicked. Crazed creatures count as panicked for the purpose of rally check DCs.

d%Crazed Effect
01-20Berserk: the character makes a melee or ranged attack against the nearest living creature, or closes with that creature if he cannot attack (if two or more creatures are equidistant, choose the target randomly).
21-40Cowering: frozen in fear, takes no actions, -2 penalty to AC, loses Dex bonus.
41-60Dazed: takes no actions.
61-80Deafened: cannot hear, -4 initiative, no Listen checks, 20% spell failure on spells with verbal component.
81-100Nauseated: unable to attack, cast spells, concentrate, or take any action other than a single move action.

Rally Check

Once morale begins to degrade, the best course of action is for a charismatic character to rally the troops with a few stirring words. This is accomplished by making a rally check, which requires a move action by any creature that currently has a morale condition of normal or better.

To make a rally check, a character rolls 1d20 and adds her Charisma modifier and her commander rating, if any. A single check allows a character to try to rally any comrades within line of sight and earshot (see the description of the listen skill). This is a language-dependent effect.

A creature can be subject to only one rally check attempt per round (measured from the beginning of that creature's turn to the beginning of the creature's next turn). Unsuccessful rally attempts make that target more difficult to rally (see Rally Check Modifiers, below).

Use the table below to determine the effectiveness of a rally attempt. The numbers in the table indicate the rally check result required to achieve the new morale condition. In some situations, modifiers might apply to the rally check.

For example, troops that are panicked can be made frightened with a successful DC 20 rally check. Those same troops can then be made heartened in a later round with a DC 30 rally check.

Rally Attempts
Initial MoraleNew Morale Condition (DC to achieve)
ConditionFrightenedShakenNormalHeartened
Panicked20253040
Frightened-202530
Shaken--2025
Normal*---20
*Can only be attempted before the battle (see below).
Rally Check Modifiers
SituationModifier
At least one failed rally check within last minute-2
Rallying character is at half hit points or below-2
Enemy troops within line of sight are fleeing+2
Rallying character has 5 or more ranks in Diplomacy or Intimidate+2
No enemies within line of sight+5

Rallying Against Other Fear Effects: Characters can make rally checks to rally creatures that are shaken, frightened, or panicked due to effects such as a dragon's frightful presence or spells such as fear. Because the morale effect has a magical origin, it's much more persistent than garden-variety fear of dying on the battlefield. Rally attempts against magical fear only last for 1 round (measured from the beginning of the shaken, frightened, or panicked character's turn), so the leader must repeat the rally check every round to keep nearby comrades in the battle.

The Prebattle Rally Check: Before the battle begins, the leader of a military unit can make a rally check to improve the troops' morale condition. This is similar to a normal rally check but takes at least 1 minute to deliver. (The most stirring example of this is the "Band of Brothers" speech in Shakespeare's Henry V.)

This rally check affects everyone who can see and hear the leader. It cannot be retried, either by that leader or another character. In other words, a leader only gets one chance to inspire the troops with a speech. That's why armies with charismatic generals try to get as many soldiers as possible to listen to a single speech. Armies with less compelling top brass rely on the exhortations of junior officers and sergeants to inspire the soldiers under their command. Characters can't take 10 on this check.

One of the fundamental concepts of the Dungeons & Dragons game is that player characters are heroes. While they might be subject to a number of fear-based effects, requiring PCs to make morale checks takes away some of the control and decision-making inherent in being a player.

On the other hand, dealing with the fear prevalent on the battlefield might add a sense of realism to your campaign. In any case, PCs have access to a number of spells, feats, classes, and items that can mitigate or even eliminate fear-based effects. Paladins of 3rd level or higher, for example, can't fail a morale save because they're immune to fear.

If your players are amenable and enjoy pretending to be scared on occasion, you can extend the morale rules to cover PCs as well. Thus, any time a PC's hit points fall to 50% or less of his full normal total, that character must attempt a morale check, as described above. In addition, if the PC's unit - that is, the player characters plus cohorts plus other significant allies such as animal companions but not including followers or other low-level NPCs - takes 50% casualties, each PC must attempt a morale check.

As with any variant rule, you must make sure that everyone at the table agrees before implementing the rule. All players should be familiar with the morale rules (particularly including the rules for making rally checks) before this variant is used.

Commanders

In a fantasy setting, commanders can take a variety of forms. Regardless of appearance or abilities, however, all commanders share a few things in common.

Commander Rating

Any character with a rank higher than private (or its fantasy equivalent) has a commander rating. The table below lists the range of values, along with some sample rank names applicable to those ratings. Commander rating acts as a bonus on the rally checks a character make to attempt to rally demoralized troops (see Morale Checks, above).

For example, a lieutenant trying to rally shaken troops gets a +3 bonus on the rally check; even if they're demoralized, most soldiers have a degree of respect for the rank the lieutenant has attained.

Commander Ratings
Commander RatingSample Rank NameTroops Commanded
0Privaten/a
1Corporal1-4
2Sergeant6-12
3Lieutenant15-25
4Captain30-100
5Major100-500
6Colonel500-5,000
7General5,000 or more

Not every army uses the same rank structure, of course - one army's captain is another's warchief is another's lord knight. Regardless of the name by which a rank is known, all characters of a certain rank have more or less the same amount of responsibility. The sample ranks summarized in below are typical of different fantasy armies.

Regardless of rank, not every officer is in command, making decisions and issuing orders. Every officer has lower-ranking officers whose job it is to offer advice, manage logistics, and handle other specialized functions such as communications and intelligence, even if this support staff consists of only an aide or two.

These staff officers make up the bulk of many armies' officer corps. They rarely exercise their authority to give orders to lower-ranking troops, instead putting their own expertise at the disposal of the officer in command.

Rank Has Its Privileges

In addition to the commander rating, rank often has benefits that go along with its responsibilities.

Access to Information: The higher a character's rank, the more information he'll get in formal briefings and other meetings before a battle begins. Such information helps him understand the overall strategic situation, which in turn helps him make better choices on the battlefield.

A lowly private might just be told "Seize that hill." But a lieutenant accompanying the unit seizing the hill knows that the army hopes to deploy siege engines to that hill later in the day, and the major who orchestrated the attack on the hill knows that those siege engines will be trained on the road south of the hill, an important line of retreat for the enemy. The general hopes that the presence of siege engines on that hill will convince the enemy to retreat through the valley instead - and into a trap (those woods are full of hidden archers).

Commander Aura: Each commander has the ability to grant certain benefits to nearby allies. See Commander Auras, below, for more details.

Entry Requirements: Some prestige classes, organizations, and feats might have rank as a requirement.

Pulling Rank: A commander can issue orders to soldiers of lower rank, and they'll usually obey. When a commander makes an Intimidate check to coerce a lower-ranking soldier to comply with a command, he gains a bonus on Intimidate checks equal to the difference between his commander rating and the lower-ranking character's rating.

Sample Ranks
Rank (rating)Chivalric ArmyBarbarian HordeTyrannical ArmyElf ArmyMystical Army
Private (0)Foot soldierWarriorShieldAche ("Warrior")Warrior acolyte
Corporal (1)Knight of the lanceBraveWhipTheniak ("Watcher")Weaponmaster
Sergeant (2)Knight of the trumpetWarmasterMaster of chainsSauliak ("Guardian")Ordermaster
Lieutenant (3)Lord of the chargeWarchiefBattle commanderArtuliak ("Sustainer")Prayermaster
Captain (4)HorselordBattle chieftainFealty commanderGutheliak ("Implementer")Warrior-priest
Major (5)Brigadier lordClan chieftainRegiment commanderShanduriak ("Choice-maker")Battle-brother/sister
Colonel (6)Battle commanderTribal chieftainDivision commanderAlanethiak ("Discerning judge")Master of blades
General (7)Sovereign lordHorde kingArmy commanderShausekeliak ("Purest soul")High master of the crusade

Commander Auras

As a character's commander rating improves, he gains access to gain special abilities that he can share with his allies. These abilities are called commander auras. Despite being a reward for military rank, these auras are beneficial to almost any group of adventurers (or, in the hands of NPC enemies, to the foes the PCs face).

Unless otherwise noted, a commander aura provides its benefit only to allies with an Intelligence score of 3 or higher within 30 feet of the commander. Characters can benefit from more than one commander aura simultaneously. Commander aura benefits never stack.

Commander auras do not provide any benefit to characters whose commander rating is equal to or higher than the commander who has the aura. Thus, a commander can't ever benefit directly from his own commander aura.

A character selects his first commander aura upon gaining rank 1 (corporal or the equivalent). Each time the character's rank improves, he can either keep his current commander aura or replace it with any other commander aura for which he qualifies. No character can ever have more than one commander aura unless specifically allowed (such as by a prestige class feature).

If a character's commander rank is reduced, he may not replace his commander aura unless he no longer qualifies for the one he possesses (in which case he must immediately replace it with one for which he is qualified).

Animal Commander

You are adept at using warbeasts to assault your foes - and bringing them back alive when the battle is done.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 1, any neutral alignment, wild empathy class feature.

Benefit: Animal and magical beast allies within 30 feet of you gain a +2 morale bonus on saving throws. This aura affects allies with Intelligence scores of 1 or higher.

Archery Commander

You have a knack for directing arrows from the archers in your command.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 2, any chaotic alignment, Point Blank Shot.

Benefit: Allies within 30 feet of you gain a +1 morale bonus on ranged attacks. Add 1 to the save DC of any volley of arrows that you direct.

Bloodthirsty Commander

You are most effective when you direct your troopers to finish off wounded enemies.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 3, any evil alignment.

Benefit: Allies within 30 feet of you gain a +1 morale bonus on damage rolls against wounded creatures.

Deathslayer Commander

Your allies battle undead with exceptional fervor.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 2, any good alignment, ability to turn undead.

Benefit: living allies within 30 feet of you deal an extra 1d6 points of damage on melee attacks made against undead creatures. This benefit is considered a morale bonus.

Defensive Commander

The orders you give in combat always keep the safety of your troops paramount.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 2, lawful good alignment.

Benefit: Allies within 30 feet of you gain a +1 morale bonus to Armor Class.

Doublestrike Commander

You direct your troops to press the advantage against enemies they have wounded.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 5, chaotic good alignment.

Benefit: If an ally within 30 feet of you rolls a natural 20 on a melee attack, that ally can immediately make another melee attack with the same weapon or natural attack, using the same attack bonus.

Dwarf Commander

You are adept at inspiring your troops to stand fast against giants and other foes of the dwarf people.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 3, dwarf, lawful good alignment.

Benefit: Dwarf allies within 30 feet of you gain a +2 morale bonus to Armor Class, or a +4 morale bonus to AC against giants.

Elf Commander

You are particularly good at safeguarding the elves under your command.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 3, elf, chaotic good alignment.

Benefit: Elf allies within 30 feet of you gain a +2 morale bonus on saving throws.

Feral Commander

You can whip animals under your command into a blood-thirsty frenzy.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 3, any neutral alignment, Handle Animal 5 ranks.

Benefit: Animal and magical beast allies within 30 feet of you gain a +2 morale bonus on attack rolls. This aura affects allies with Intelligence scores of 1 or higher.

Giant-Killer Commander

You can direct your troops to bring down enemies bigger than they are.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 2, Small or smaller size, any good alignment.

Benefit: Allies within 30 feet of you gain a +2 morale bonus on melee attacks against creatures at least two size categories larger than they are.

Goblinoid Commander

You bring out the bloodthirsty, savage nature in your goblinoid troops.

Prerequisite: commander rating 3, goblinoid, lawful evil alignment.

Benefit: Goblinoid allies within 30 feet of you gain a +2 morale bonus on melee attack rolls.

Healing Commander

Your healing touch can inspire your troops to charge back into battle.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 3, any good alignment.

Benefit: Whenever you use a spell or effect to heal damage taken by an ally, you can attempt a rally check as a free action to improve that ally's morale.

Maneuvering Commander

You keep your soldiers always on the move, looking for the weakest points in your enemies' defenses.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 2, chaotic good alignment.

Benefit: Any ally who starts her turn within 30 feet of you and moves at least 10 feet gains a +2 morale bonus on the next melee attack roll she makes during her turn.

Melee Commander

You are most effective when inspiring your soldiers to take the fight to the enemy in hand-to-hand combat.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 3, any lawful alignment, base attack bonus +2 or higher.

Benefit: Allies within 30 feet of you gain a +1 morale bonus on melee attack rolls.

Mobile Commander

Your troops are exceptionally fleet of foot.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 3, any chaotic alignment.

Benefit: Any ally who begins his turn within 30 feet of you gains a 5-foot bonus to his speed. This benefit is considered a morale bonus.

Necromantic Commander

Your unliving allies battle the living with exceptional fervor.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 2, any evil alignment, ability to command or rebuke undead.

Benefit: Undead allies within 30 feet of you that have an Intelligence score of 1 or higher deal an extra 1d6 points of damage on melee attacks made against living creatures. This benefit is considered a morale bonus.

Opportunistic Commander

You can direct your soldiers to take advantage whenever your enemies are distracted or overwhelmed.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 1, any chaotic alignment.

Benefit: Allies within 30 feet of you deal an extra 1d6 points of damage on any successful attack of opportunity. This benefit is considered a morale bonus.

Orc Commander

You can hone the fighting instincts of the orcs under your command.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 3, orc, chaotic evil alignment.

Benefit: Orc allies within 30 feet of you deal an extra 1d6 points of damage on melee attacks. This benefit is considered a morale bonus.

Orderly Commander

You are adept at getting your soldiers back into the fray quickly.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 2, any lawful alignment.

Benefit: Any ally rallied by you gains a 10-foot bonus to its speed for 1 round. This benefit is considered a morale bonus.

Protective Commander

Your allies benefit from your protective guidance.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 1, any lawful alignment.

Benefit: Allies within 30 feet of you gain a +1 morale bonus on saving throws.

Pursuing Commander

You direct your soldiers to chase down any cowards who dare try to escape your iron grip.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 2, lawful evil alignment.

Benefit: Allies within 30 feet of you deal an extra 1d6 points of damage against foes who are frightened or panicked. This benefit is considered a morale bonus.

Reckless Commander

You inspire your allies to charge ferociously into battle.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 2, chaotic evil alignment.

Benefit: Any ally who begins her turn within 30 feet of you deals an extra 1d6 points of damage on the next charge attack she makes during her turn. This benefit is considered a morale bonus.

Runt-Squasher Commander

Your soldiers delight in fighting foes that are smaller than themselves.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 2, large or larger size, any evil alignment.

Benefit: Allies within 30 feet of you gain a +2 morale bonus on attacks made against foes at least one size category smaller than they are.

Sneaky Commander

You are good at surrounding your enemies, then striking from all sides.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 5, chaotic evil alignment, sneak attack ability.

Benefit: Allies within 30 feet of you deal an extra 1d6 points of damage against foes that they flank. This benefit is considered a morale bonus.

Spellslinging Commander

The spellcasters in your command are inspired by your presence and can channel extra energy into their combat spells.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 3, ability to cast 1st-level spells, Spellcraft 5 ranks.

Benefit: Any area spell cast by an ally within 30 feet of you deals an extra 1d6 points of damage. Only spells that deal damage gain this bonus. This benefit is considered a morale bonus.

Steadfast Commander

You are skilled at getting your troops to hold the line against the fiercest attacks.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 5, lawful good alignment.

Benefit: Allies within 30 feet of you gain a +2 morale bonus to Armor Class against foes who move at least 5 feet before attacking.

Tyrannical Commander

Your soldiers are more afraid of you than they are of the enemy.

Prerequisite: Commander rating 5, lawful evil alignment, Intimidate 5 ranks.

Benefit: Allies within 30 feet of you gain a +5 morale bonus on morale checks but automatically become panicked if they fail a morale check.

Source: Heroes of Battle


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