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Whenever creatures are faced with a losing battle, they might become demoralized and seek to retreat, surrender, or flee. A morale check is made to determine this. Morale represents courage in the face of danger and possible defeat, determination, ferocity, conviction, the cohesiveness and comradeship of fighting groups, battle training, and military discipline.

When To Check Morale

A morale check is made whenever monsters or NPCs that are engaged in battle with the PCs (or, in some cases, with other NPCs or monsters) see a sign that the battle is going badly for them, that they are losing, or that they’re greatly overmatched.

Examples

In the following examples, “monsters”, read “the side making the morale check”; for “PCs”, read “the other side”):

Individual creatures: Monsters encountered individually check for morale when they’ve lost half their hit points, whenever any applicable condition from the ones listed above occurs, or otherwise at the DM’s discretion.

Morale check frequency: Morale should be checked no more than twice in a fight. If the monsters pass a second morale check, they are assumed to be fanatical and will fight to the death.

Fearless creatures: Some monsters never need to make morale checks. Mindless creatures, such as golems, vermin, and some undead, do not make morale checks, nor do some other sorts of monsters; see the morale rating table, below, for more information. Creatures that are immune to fear, whether through racial traits, class abilities, or for another reason, also do not have to make morale checks.

The Morale Check

To make a morale check for a group of monsters, the DM roll a d12 and adds the following modifiers. (Note that a monster with a total morale modifier of +0 will retreat or flee from battle half the time.)

Morale rating

Every monster has a morale rating from −6 (cowardly; monster will generally turn tail and run at the first sign that the battle might be going poorly for it) to +6 (indomitable; monster will generally fight on even if the odds are overwhelming). The DM determines the morale rating for any particular monster or group of creatures; morale ratings for some representative creatures are listed on the table below.

A group of creatures (an adventuring party, a warband, a military unit) may have a morale rating which differs from the standard morale rating of the creatures that make it up. This may be because this particular group of monsters is unusually cowardly or courageous; because the group is an exceptionally well-trained military unit; because the group is heterogenous, composed of creatures of several types, with different morale ratings; or for some other reason.

Fear reaction

The monsters’ morale is affected by how impressive or intimidating the monsters find the PCs.

Spells and abilities

Spells and abilities that grant creatures a morale bonus on saving throws against fear effects (or a morale bonus on saving throws that applies to fear effects, even if it is more general; but not any different type of bonus) grant the same bonus on morale checks. Examples include the bless spell, the heroism spell, a paladin’s aura of courage, a bard’s inspire courage ability, or a barbarian’s bonus to Will saves while raging.

Spells and abilities that cause creatures to become shaken impose a −2 penalty to morale checks (and often trigger an immediate morale check; see ability descriptions for details).

Magic items

Some magic items enhance the morale of friendly creatures, such as the breastplate of command. Some items affect the morale of enemy creatures, such as the eyes of doom.

Circumstances

Many circumstances may affect morale checks. Some examples are listed on the table below. All modifiers are cumulative.

In general, whenever a circumstance that granted a bonus to morale checks stops applying — such as a fortification being destroyed, a leader falling in battle, or a battle standard falling or being captured — a morale check should immediately be made. This check is made without the bonus from the now-defunct circumstance, of course.

Morale Check Results

Table: Morale Check Results shows the results of a morale check.

Friendly NPCs and Reputation

Player characters never need to make morale checks, but NPCs who fight alongside them do. The leader’s Charisma modifier is added to the NPCs’ morale checks. The NPCs’ morale is also affected by the leader’s reputation; if a player character has a reputation as a great warrior and courageous leader, his NPC allies get a +4 bonus to morale checks; if the PC is seen as cowardly or incompetent, his allies may get a penalty to their morale checks.

The PCs reputation also affects their opponents’ willingness to surrender to them. Cornered monsters, faced with PCs who are known for showing no mercy (or who have demonstrated a penchant for ruthlessness), will fight to the death rather than surrender.

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Morale