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Morale and leadership


First Post
If the Leadership feat is being thrown over (and GOOD RIDDANCE to it), then alternatives should be explored. Leadership was a direct replacement of 2nd Edition AD&D's "instant retainers at about 9th level" rule, and in fairness to the feat, it was an improvement. But just about anything would have been an improvement on the 2e rule! :p If we go deeper into the history of the hobby, there were alternatives.

While the notion of a dump stat didn't exist back then, Moldvay's 1981 Basic D&D rewarded Charismatic characters with superior retainer acquisition and retention abilities. And retainers were important when facing those demanding old school dungeons. The DM was advised not to "allow beginning players to hire retainers [because they] tend to use retainers as a crutch, letting them take all the risks". Emphasis mine - that's not advice to keep 1st level characters from having staff on the pay roll.

I suggest making it fairly easy to hire retainers, only requiring a Persuasion check if the PCs attempt to haggle on pay or if they're recruiting to go on an expedition known to be very dangerous. (If they're dishonest about their plans, it's quite reasonable to have retainers demand more money and/or desert on finding out the truth.) Try limiting PCs to no more than 5 + Charisma modifier in retainers, and making it very expensive to hire dungeoneering companions. (A lad to care for the horses, or to monitor comings and goings at a local inn is quite another matter.)

A definite consequence of having retainers around is that the DM needs morale rules. Players will complain about you being an arbitrary git if you decide that their under-paid, mistreated retainers run away from their utterly charmless masters when faced by overwhelming odds. On the other hand, they rarely complain about a DM saying things like, "OK, you've taken your first casualty, time for morale checks. Hendricks the bard has -2 on his morale check because you wouldn't go back to town to bury his brother, and another -2 from your Charisma modifier - let's see if he wants to tough it out!"

The same player sensibilities will demand morale checks for the opposition. While lying and/or fudging the dice rolls is always an option, I think there's a serious argument for just letting the dice fall where they will.

Oh, yes, you'll want some guidelines for morale. OK. I've taken Moldvay's probabilities as a baseline and loosely translated them into the d20 system.

  • Check morale at the end of any round in which the combat takes a serious turn (e.g. first casualty, half of one side is down, the cavalry arrive, that sort of thing).
  • The DC of a morale check is 10. Retainers have a modifier equal to their master's Charisma modifier, adjusted for treatment (see the example of Hendricks, above). Other NPCs typically vary from -2 (herbivores, peasants) through 0 (goblins, militia), +2 (predators, soldiers), +5 (hobgoblins and veteran soldiers) to +7 (demons, knights), though other values are certainly possible. Creatures that do not understand death (by default, this includes the PCs ;)) never have to check morale.
  • When a creature fails a morale check, it's had enough of the fight and will look for a way out in its next action. Unintelligent creatures generally just flee, intelligent foes may attempt to surrender or carry out a more orderly withdrawal.
  • Once a combatant has made two morale checks successfully, they are prepared to fight until death or victory.
  • Rallying the troops with a Persuasion or Intimidate check is possible. Doing the latter will harm morale in the long run, as will unfulfilled promises.
It's probably a good idea to use a Morale check at the end of an expedition (or at any other point when a retainer could resign or desert) to see if they're prepared to carry on in their current line of work.

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Getting lost in fantasy maps
I always thought morale checks made combat unacceptably swingy based on the randomness of dice rolls.

I used them back in 2nd ed days, but everytime I just overruled the die (thankfully I rolled them behind the screen in those days) when it was something I didn't like. If I was just going to overrule it that much I might has well just wing it period.

Admittedly, I was amateurish in my capability as a DM in those days. My confidence in judgement calls was low so I stuck hard to the rules as a crutch.

That said, I am liking where this is going. I think with further development this could become a good source campaigns with small numbers of players to round out the party bringing them up in effectiveness.

Halloween Horror For 5E