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. This is done with a Rally Check.
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.


Morale has always been an important part of both realworld 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). 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.


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 50% 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.)

Table 4–3: Morale Check Modifiers

Condition Modifier
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 shortcut 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.


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
01–20 Berserk: 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).
21–40 Cowering: frozen in fear, takes no actions, –2 penalty to AC, loses Dex bonus.
41–60 Dazed: takes no actions.
61–80 Deafened: cannot hear, –4 initiative, no Listen checks, 20% spell failure on spells with verbal component.
81–100 Nauseated: unable to attack, cast spells, concentrate, or take any action other than a single move action.

Source: Heroes of Battle

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