With the 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons, morale rules were no more (or were altered heavily and vaguely placed under the Intimidate skill). This staple from D&D’s formative years had its roots in the wargaming that informed the creation of roleplaying games, but after years of minor tweaks and changes, and — so it seemed to me at the time — a lot of folks who simply ignored them, Morale Checks were a thing of the past, now just a “story point” for the DM to roleplay if combat went sideways for the enemies. Often, that meant most — if not all — fights were to the death at many tables featuring a more competitive play style, which perhaps informed (or plagued) 3rd edition and 4th edition games for years.
Those that remember the morale rules of yesteryear might have hoped that Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition resurrects these rules in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, but instead discovered a simple Wisdom saving throw system. While elegant, these rules miss some of the intricacies of separating Morale Rating from an Ability Score, so what follows is a house rule based very closely on the Morale rules found in the AD&D 2nd Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide.
I have left out much of the explanatory text as that, to me, is fluff, and I have greatly reduced the modifiers. That second point is worth explaining: the number (and range) of Morale Rating modifiers in 2nd Edition (and earlier) were often pretty large, which led to the base Morale Rating often having a surprisingly small “say” during a pitched battle. Being cumulative, it was likely to rack up penalties approaching -8 or more on average, which is a huge variance on a dice roll of 2d10. To make creatures “feel” like they have different Morale Ratings in light of this, I have taken out most of the modifiers, and reduced the bonus and penalty amounts for the ones that remain.
When to Make Morale Checks
- Surprised by overwhelming force (check on the 1st round of combat in which they can act).
- Taking significant losses.
- Leadership defeated.
- Persuaded with leverage (a bribe, a chance to steal, etc.).
- No escape route.
Step 1: Calculate Morale Score
Calculate the creature’s current Morale score (ML) using the ratings below as a guideline, and applying any modifiers.
Table 1: Morale Ratings
This table is more or less verbatim from the AD&D 2e Dungeon Master’s Guide. Props to the original writers!
|Unreliable||2-4||Common rats, typically non-aggressive animal|
|Unsteady||5-7||Common dog, slave or serf, typical predatory animal|
|Average||8-10||Commoner, constabulary, bandit, mobs, kobold, tiger, wolf, goblin, monster with low intelligence|
|Steady||11-12||Soldier, worg, bugbear, hobgoblin, ghoul, monster with animal intelligence, green or regular troops, hirelings, behemoths, owl bear|
|Elite||13-14||Knight, bugbear champion, doppelganger, elite soldiers, displacer beast|
|Champion||15-16||Henchmen, most elementals, fiendish soldiers|
|Fanatic||17-18||Dragon, non-intelligent monster, powerful elementals|
|Fearless||19-20||Old dragons, kender, powerful fiends|
|Immune (AKA “Special”)||n/a||Mindless undead, constructs, automatons|
Table 2: Circumstance Modifiers
Alignment & Leadership
- Leader is of differing alignment -1
- Treated favorably by leader +1
- Treated poorly by leader -2
- Defending lair +Advantage
- Defensive terrain advantage +Advantage
- Fighting natural enemy +Advantage
- Unable to affect opponent +Disadvantage
Step 2: Roll Morale Check
Roll 2d10 once, adding the dice together to get the total for the Morale Check.
- Success! Total is equal to or less than the ML: the creature continues fighting.
- Fail! Total is greater than the ML: the creature panics and takes the appropriate action (see below).
Table 3: Failed Morale Checks
- Failed, but just barely (failed by 1-2): Fighting disengage, then flee.
- Failed, moderately (failed by 3-4): Panicked flight, will risk Opportunity Attacks.
- Failed very badly (failed by 5+): Surrender or suicide.
Limits of Morale
Creatures that pass three morale checks during an encounter no longer need to make morale checks: they are committed and will fight to the death.
If you enjoyed this article, please comment, like, and share! You can support future reviews and articles at our Patreon. We publish supplements, campaign accessories, and adventures for Dungeons & Dragons at Dungeon Masters Guild as well as other OSR games and Cortex Plus at DriveThruRPG.