Adding a Morale Mechanic to Dungeons & Dragons 5e

I am not new to the concept of role playing games, but I am relatively new to the Dungeons & Dragons 5e core rules set. And, while there are many things I like about the game, like the advantage mechanic, the inspiration mechanic, and the inclusion of backgrounds, there are also some things I don’t like, the challenge rating system for example. And, while I believe that the Fifth Edition is a solid edition, there is something I miss from my Basic rules set… The morale mechanic.

Morale Check Mechanic
The beauty of the morale check is that it let’s the dice decide.

The morale check was an optional rule included in the Rules Cyclopedia (as well as the boxed sets) which gave the DM a quick (and random) way to decide how sentient monsters (not including the undead who always fight to the death) react during combat encounters and other life threatening situations. The DM would roll 2d6 against a creatures morale score (essentially a measure of a creatures courage and loyalty). If the roll was equal to or less than the morale score the monster continues combat. If the roll was greater than the monsters morale score the monster would flee or surrender.

Being optional, the morale score didn’t supplant good role play. The DM had the option to decide that any monster could retreat, surrender or fight to the death at their discretion, but it added an element of chance to the game. Let’s face it, not all sentient monsters are going to fight to the death during every encounter. Monsters want to live just as much as the players do. They will retreat or surrender in order to save their own skins too! The beauty of the morale checks was that it let the dice decide, this worked especially well for monsters of the chaotic bent. Monsters with a chaotic world view are apt to do anything by nature, and the morale check addressed this from encounter to encounter nicely.

I was honestly surprised to find that a morale check mechanic was not included in the Dungeons & Dragons 5e rules set. But, I’m thinking about adding my own, and I don’t think it’s going to be that hard.

Since monsters and NPC’s don’t have morale scores assigned to them in the Monster Manual, the hardest part will be assigning a morale score. But don’t worry, this sounds harder than it actually is. The Rules Cyclopedia actually includes a table for doing exactly this. Simply compare what you know about the monster and its personality to the table below and assign the appropriate morale score

Morale Scores Table:

  • Abjectly cowardly                                                     2 (always runs away)
  • Easily frightened or very cautious                       3-5
  • Unmotivated                                                             6
  • Disinterested                                                            7
  • Normal/ Unknown                                                   8
  • Brave, determined, or stubborn                            9-11
  • Suicidally brave, berserk, or undead                    12 (always fights to the death)

And, if you have absolutely no idea as to the monsters personality type or motivation you can leave it completely up to chance and roll 2d6, with the resulting roll being the monsters morale score. Once you have assigned a morale score to your NPC or monster simply follow the morale check rules as included in the Rules Cyclopedia (pg 103). I have summarized them below for your convenience:

How to Check Morale: 

Roll 2d6 against a creatures morale score. If the roll is equal to or less than the morale score the monster continues combat. If the roll is greater than the monsters morale score the monster would flee or surrender.

When to Check Morale:

The DM never has to check morale for a creature with a morale score of 2 or 12. A creature with a morale of 2 will always flee, and a creature with a morale score of 12 will always fight to the death. For creatures with a morale score from 3 to 11 the DM makes morale checks at the following times:

  • At the Start of an Evasion – When a group tries to evade an encounter the DM rolls to see if the creatures give chase.
  • During a Chase – Every five combat rounds success means that the creatures continue to give chase, and failure means  that they break the chase off.
  • In Combat – When a creature is first hit taking 1 or more points of damage.
  • In Combat – When the creature is reduced to one-quarter (or less) of its starting hit points.
  • In Combat – When the first death takes place. The DM makes one morale roll for the remaining creatures to see if they wish to continue.
  • In Combat – When half of the creatures are not free to act (because they are dead, asleep, controlled, etc.).

Remember, the suggestions above are merely that… Suggestions. At any point, the DM can choose to ignore the morale check entirely and gauge the morale of a creature based on the situation, the nature of the creature, or any other factors that they deem relevant.

So that’s the morale check mechanic I have adapted from the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia and added to my 5e game. If you decide to try it, let me know what you think. How does it work for you? Have you added any additional tweaks? Have you added an entirely different morale check mechanic? As always, let me know in the comments!

P.S. Don’t forget to follow  on Twitter in July to be entered to win a new copy of “Elminster’s Forgotten Realms” Details here –> Time for a Roll Stats Giveaway!

13 thoughts on “Adding a Morale Mechanic to Dungeons & Dragons 5e

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  1. That’s a really good idea and one that could wrap up a lot of problems in 5th edition combat. It allows the DM to have the monsters flee at the end of battle that’s gone on a little too long. And the dice deciding makes it look less like the DM has just gotten bored and ditched the encounter.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for stopping by! And, agreed! I like the fact that it adds a bit of chance as well. Of course, the DM can at any point decide that the morale of the monsters breaks. But that seems so arbitrary. I like that this brings the dice back into play. I like that it adds an element of chance. If you introduce this mechanic to your campaign, I’d love to hear how it works out for you. It’s going really well in ours.


      1. I’ve been using it for a few weeks, I’ll do a write up of how I think it’s working and stick it up on my blog with a link to your article.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I rather like this. Our new campaign wS originally supposed to be a bit more realistic, building to more epic fantasy, and one point has been the bad guys are people, too. We’ve even convinced a troll to turn, well, not “good”, but a sort of half-assed conversion to Christianty. (We’re playing in Late Rome…) and and just ran off a devil.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for stopping by! I prefer a grittier low-mid fantasy campaign as well. Survival is the number one concern (even for monsters). Having every monster, in every encounter fight to the death destroys the verisimilitude for the players. By the same token, having the DM arbitrarily decide when a creature digs their heels in or flees for their life seems a bit too meta. Re-introducing the dice to this outcome adds chance back into the outcome, which creates a good bit of drama and suspense for the players, and that is always a good thing! If you introduce this mechanic to your campaign, please come back and let me know how it works out for you.


  3. I think the morale mechanic is good. Invariably as a DM, all my creatures tend to plow into the combat and fight to the death. Partly because I lack imagination as to how they would fight in reality and partly because the players have, (usually) invaded the creatures space. As an old BECMI edition player though, I do like the mechanic and may consider bringing it back into my game. I may not explicitly mention to my players that I’ve done so though. I may just use it as a means of determining what my ‘baddies’ do next.


  4. Morale is in the 5e DMG. Quick summary: Under certain circumstances (ex: creature is reduced to half its hit points or fewer for the first time in the battle), make a DC 10 Wisdom save. If a fail, the creature flees the best it can. If escape is impossible, the creature surrenders.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Hollow Man! You are of course right, a morale mechanic is indeed included in the DMG (sorry for the oversight in the post above) in the optional rules section on pg. 273, but it treats all creatures equally. I prefer the old school way of assigning a morale score to monsters. It makes sense to me that some creatures would be braver than others, more likely to stand their ground in a fight, while some monsters will drop and run at the first sight of blood.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. True enough. And I think a DM can tweak that DC 10 difficulty depending on those factors. Or simply role play it, and if you feel your creature might decide to stop fighting, just do it (not everything has to be left to the fates)!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Definitely! Role playing it is the easiest solution, but as a DM (primarily) I like there to be some element of surprise in the game for myself. I like the idea of dice rolls playing a factor in the outcome because then even I don’t know the eventual result. Certainly you can’t do this for everythin​​g (things would quickly spin out of control) but I like to work it in where I can.


  5. I took this and combined it with the one in the DMG for a d20 roll vs morale. With morale being wisdom modified by the factors that you list but putting them on a scale from -7 to +7 (leaving out the 2 ends as not needing moral checks). Then I made it that a failed roll reduced the moral and the creature bolts and runs when it reaches 0. Things like the PC’s running away would boast morale and allies dying reducing morale. This seems a little complicated, but I will only use it when I need it to roll to see if a creature runs off. I can also use it for a line to use against an intimidation check from the PC’s.


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