When two groups meet in battle, each side does a mental calculation. If one side believes they cannot prevail, they should run away or surrender or employ diplomacy to avoid combat. In D&D, the DM uses a Challenge Rating to give the players combats that are fairly even. But what happens when that math changes? If the tide of battle is clearly going in a certain direction, and defeat is staring you in the face, is it too late to get out of combat?
That is the question posed to the DMR group this week. Does 5th edition D&D have a good morale check mechanic? Not really. Page 273 of the DMG offers a very clumsy rule system for when monsters flee from battle; the leader or monster with the highest charisma makes a DC10 Wisdom saving throw, possibly with disadvantage. The saving throw is triggered when the group loses their leader, is taken by surprise, or has lost half of their number.
The members of Dungeon Master Resources had other ways of dealing with morale:
I use morale checks for NPCs in conflict, especially when there are groups.
When the Chief and champion go down, how do the minions view their prospects?
One devastating magical blast can turn an army into a fleeing mob.
The Old System was to have a Morale Score and morale broke if the check was higher than the score. With 5e I generally only use very high (fanatic attacker results) or very low (turn and run) effects... so the number doesn't have to be precise.
Basically what I do is for low intelligence creatures a failed save means they stay and fight a successful one means they know it's better to run. For more intelligent creatures try to do whatever seems smartest for them.
I like the idea, don’t know if its wisdom save, but I do like failure causing a level of exhaustion
To me, fleeing or surrendering shouldn't require a roll. Based on their intelligence, my monsters flee or surrender as soon as they need to.
I just make the decision in the moment. If the players do something overwhelmingly powerful, monsters might feel threatened. If it looks like the players are weak, monsters may feel greedy. (Monsters/bad guys/animals, etc)
I’d rather go with the flow than slow down game play making hundreds of hidden checks per session.
Morale is great, especially when dictated by dice rather than DM fiat. For a quick fix, I recommend the Moldvay Basic rules on morale (also the Reaction rules, but that is another discussion). You can even use the Morale scores from Basic and AD&D monster books as a guideline.
When it makes sense for the bad guys or monsters to run... They do.
I generally allow the players to make a (Charisma)Intimidation check as a group vs a group Wisdom(Insight) check against any creatures who is not immune to the Frightened condition.
If victory is basically assured, the players get advantage and the person with the best Intimidation can roll.
If the battle is still very much going the person with the worst intimidation rolls flat.
And if its a roll to try and convince hostile creatures from attacking to begin with, the best person roles at disadvantage (which can be offset by meaningful help from other players)
The Insight check for the NPCs is always made by the leader NPC or by the creature with the Best Insight if there is no leader.
I try to stick to common sense. creatures with any intelligence will generally prefer to live
I don't use morale checks. If a creature feels like trying to flee they will.