Saturday, April 21, 2012

Can I run away, now? Thoughts for a d20 Morale System

While re-reading through the archives over at The Alexandrian this afternoon, I stumbled upon two revelations:
  1. I miss Justin's "Creations" page, which had links to many of his house-rules and game-design articles, but which seems to have been lost in his move to a different host.  (This revelation is largely irrelevant to the main topic of this article)
  2. I think that the implementation of Morale Systems could interesting.
To a certain extent, Justin Alexander brings up a good point about Morale Systems: It really brings nothing to the game that a competent DM couldn't roleplay.  At the same time, though, I think it might be a good idea to design such a system, because it might be nice to have consistent mechanics for the point at which roleplaying alone might get a little arbitrary,  For example, It should be very easy for a DM to determine when a single opponent (especially a recurring foe, who has been established as having a certain sort of character through earlier appearances) would decide to flee from the battle.  It would also be easy to say "The orc horde's leader just fell in battle, their forces are now in a panic", but it seems to me that there should be a variety of reactions in such a horde (even if just limited to "X monsters stay and fight, the rest ran), and that a morale system would be a good way of quantifying how many choose each option.

The following are my thoughts on the requirements for a system:
  1. PCs should never be forced to run from a fight against the will of their player.  It should be assumed that the player has a grasp on what their character would do in a given situation.  A possible exception might be fear-inducing magical effects, in the same way that a PC dominated by mind control may act against their player's wishes.
  2. In the same vein, it makes sense that some NPCs (usually major plot important ones) appear frequently enough that they are essentially PCs controlled by the DM.  (I debate about this slightly with myself, because it falls a bit too close to the common RPVG design point of making bosses immune to most (if not all) status effects.  Still, this is mainly for the purpose of plot coherency).
  3. Being on a stronger side means that a monster should be less likely to flee.  Being on the weaker side means it should be more likely to flee.  This should be manifest in the mechanics for the cases of (a) Superior Numbers, (b) Stronger fighters, and (c) Tactical advantages not accounted for by the other two items (ie, better cover, better visibility)
  4. As a corollary to 3b, enemies should not have Level-dar that allows them to know automatically what fights they can win and what fights they can't.
  5. 6 Goblins are probably less likely to flee if there were originally eight of them compared to if there were originally twelve, all other things being equal
  6.  (Brought up in the Alexandrian article's comments): A Red Dragon probably won't care if one (out of a hundred) of its goblin minions is killed.  The Goblins might, though.
To cover these, I think this might be a possible solution:
  1. The base mechanic will be a Will save.  I'm not sure what DC should be used... maybe 10? 15?
  2. Each side receives a number of "Threat points".  The smallest-size participant in the combat is worth 1-point, with each size category larger resulting in the doubling of the points.  For example, it might be Small: 1pts, Medium: 2pts, Large: 4pts, Huge: 8pts.  (If an even smaller participant subsequently joins the battle, assign them a value of 1/2 pts, or 1/4, or whatever.  The important thing is the values of the size categories relative to each other).
  3. Each side gains a +2 bonus for every time their side doubles the other in threat points (+2 for double, +4 for quadruple, +6 for x8), with an additional +1 for a 40% boost above that (the 40% may be simplified to 50% for better ease of use).  Smaller sides receive a corresponding penalty.
  4. For multi-side battles, the threat points of the enemy for the purpose of determining ones own penalty are the sum of all factions that currently seem "threatening", DM's judgement. (for example, If the Orcs, PCs, and the Balrog aren't on the same side, the Orcs fear the PCs and the Balrog if they are sandwiched between the two, but if some kind of informal alliance occurs where they and the PCs only attack the Balrog, they do not count the PCs at that point.  However, they most likely will not count the PCs as on their side, either.
  5. Give Circumstance modifiers of +2 for favorable conditions (such as access to ranged weaponry while the enemy has none, fortifications, low light vision in low-light conditions, an attack that was initiated by surprise), or +4 for very favorable conditions (ranged weaponry when the enemy is extremely unlikely to reach your position, Darkvision in no-light conditions, greater invisibility).  Enemies should receive corresponding penalties
  6. A -2 penalty to checks if seriously wounded (1/3 HP).  Consider Having Seriously Wounded characters provide only half their threat points to their force, although this may be too much bookkeeping (Unless, for example, it's the injury of a Dragon commanding a dozen Goblins)
  7. A member of the force may act as a "Leader", meaning that each member of the force gains the Leader's CHA modifier as a bonus to their checks, as long as the Leader continues to make theirs.
  8. As a fear effect, a Paladin's morale boost applies to these checks (but doesn't give a penalty to the enemy).  Paladins themselves add half of their Paladin level as a bonus to this check (Their class entry says immune to fear, but I think it makes sense for that to just be immunity to Magical fear effects.  Between their usually-high WIS, the CHA bonus they receive to saving throws as a class feature, the +4 morale bonus that they're guaranteed to have, and the addition of half of their class level, Paladins aren't going to be running away very often anyway)
  9. A Raging Barbarian is immune to Morale problems while in his Rage
These will saves should be made in conditions such as the following.  In general, anything that would cause the value of one's bonus to drop or penalty to rise forces a new check
  1. Every other threat point-category reduction relative to the enemy, starting from the second.  In other words, a force made up entirely of the same race will make saves when they are at half strength, quarter strength, eighth strength, etc.  If a bunch of goblins accompanied by a Dragon see their Dragon get killed, this will effect them more than the loss of one of their own.
  2. Death or serious injury (reduced to 1/3 HP or missing a limb) of a Leader, or if that Leader flees from Morale loss (in other words, each minion would probably make two checks that round).  Consider limiting this to once per battle (ie, the death of a leader who was already near death isn't as shocking)
  3. Serious injury of the self (1/3 HP or missing a limb)
  4. The loss of a force-wide advantage, or gain of a force-wide advantage by the enemy (Ie, cover being taken away, a group-buff being dispelled (but not worn off, since the force would expect that to happen), the enemy receiving a group-buff, a castle being breached)
I still need to wok out what spells will be affected, as well as a few other thoughts.  These also have yet to be tested (which I am not likely to do anytime soon without a currently meeting gaming group.  If anybody wants to try these, I'd love feedback)

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