Saturday, May 21, 2016

Misunderstood and Improperly Played: Reaction and Morale Rolls

  I was reading a solid post by Trollish Delver, a blog I am sorry I just found, and it inspired me (thanks, Scott!) to write a new post in the Misunderstood and Improperly Played series, although I fear a better titled might be Forgotten About and Never Used.

  Scott makes some good points in his post which I will not sum up - go read his stuff! The link is in the first sentence and it is a great, quick read and you'll like his blog!

  When I have new players being introduced to the game I often use weak undead for the second or third encounter: everyone knows they should be destroyed, so no moral qualms, and there is a reason they fight to the death. But immediately after that? As soon as they get the upper hand I have monsters try to surrender.

  I also use the reaction roll. You do, too, right? I mean, here is the quote from the DMG,
  "Any intelligent creature which can be conversed with will react in some way to the character that is speaking Reaction is determined by rolling percentile dice, adjusting the score for charisma...."
  The section on generating NPCs has a chart showing how their various personality traits affect their reaction rolls. And the section on random encounters also discusses reaction rolls (which I will cover later).
  In short, 1e assumes the DM rolls reaction checks with every encounter he did not explicitly set a reaction for. Walking through the briars and encounter a few men? Roll a reaction. In a dungeon and burst in on a group of dwarves? Roll a reaction. Bump into an ogre? Roll a reaction. Cast a Speak with Animals and talk to a cow? Roll a reaction. Gnome is asking the badger for direction? Cast Speak with Dead?
  You get the idea.


  Anecdote from a game to illustrate the point:
  The party had finally found the pirates' hidden base, a sea cave large enough to hide an entire dock and their ship! The party slipped in under cover of the morning fog and collapsed their Folding Boat before creeping along the dock. Suddenly a pirate turned a corner! Rather than attack Doomsman hissed 'stand fast!'.
  Surprise check: No one is surprised
  Reaction check: Base of 84, modified to 109 by Doomsman's reaction adjustment from Charisma. The pirate is enthusiastically friendly and immediately accepting.
  The pirate utters, 'Thank the saints!' and begs for their help. He explains that most of the sailors were press-ganged from captures ships are are effectively slaves to the pirate captain and - his pet dragon turtle! The pirate explains who the 5 truly loyal officers are and their names, sketches a map of the lair, and warns them of how dangerous Captain Starbinder is. He introduces them to the rest of the enslaved crew.
  Reaction check: 55, modified to 80 by Doomsman's charisma and further to 85 by the support of the first slave encountered.
  The party sends the enslaved crew with the party's henchman to the pirate ship and they prepare to sail to the nearest city and surrender the ship to the Crown.
  The party heads towards Starbinder's quarters, which lie behind a huge cavern with a tide pool when - a dragon turtle begins to emerge from the water! Darkwalk uses his Ring of Spell Storing to cast Speak with Monsters and calls out 'Hold, friend! Let us parley!'
  Reaction check: 100! Increased to 110 by Darkwalk's charisma (only he is under the spell)
  The dragon turtle parleys and soon enough it turns out he has been Charmed and bribed and has no real loyalty to Starbinder. The party gives him a trinket to thank him for what he told them and press on....

  This was from an adventure I wrote specifically to reward parley and conversation over combat. I first ran it in 1984 for my High School group, modified in 1988 for Lew Pulsipher and his crew, and then in 2008 for my Blackstone campaign. If any of the parties had started fighting off the cuff? Dozens of Scoundrels and Men-at-Arms with thief and fighter leaders would have pinned them down until Starbinder and a freshly Charmed dragon turtle hit them from the cove. Ask my high school party, which had a TPK....

  The reaction roll is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which it prevents the DM from becoming complacent and predictable. It also can trigger some great vignettes. Let's see the DMG, again, from the Outdoor Encounters, Castle sub-table,
  "The actions of the castle or other stronghold to the adventurer party are discovered and [rolled normal]... ...a friendly reaction will result in the welcoming the adventurers... feting them... A neutral reaction would be refusal to admit them without facing one or more fighters in non-lethal combat (such as jousting)...A negative reaction could result in feigning good fellowship, getting the adventurers drunk, and then stripping them and imprisoning them for ransom."
  I mean, look at that! Gary explicitly turned each and every random encounter with a fortress into a potential stand-alone adventure just by interpreting one reaction roll!

  Don't get me wrong - an Orcish war patrol encountering a bunch of humans, elves, and dwarves inside their own territory are going to be hostile no matter what the dice roll. But on a very high roll they might, oh:

  • Believe the party is much tougher and avoid them
  • Demand that they leave immediately
  • Demand a large fee to pass through
  • Attack to capture one or more party members to hold them for ransom
  The possibilities are many and varied, but if you use the dice you don't get hidebound and predictable!

  Of course, as you can see in the Pirate's Cove example, the reaction adjustment from high charisma can be a Big Deal. About 36% of all base rolls are negative, 36% are positive, and the rest neutral even a +5% to reaction rolls can reduce the number of hostile encounters and potentially gain more NPC allies.

  It also explains a bit more about Druids (minimum charisma 15) and paladins (minimum charisma 17) - they are meant to be able to come into a village as a stranger and take charge - they must very literally be natural-born leaders, After all, a paladin with an 18 charisma receives a +35% on reaction rolls - her minimum modified reaction is 'uncertain, but 55% prone toward negative' and even that is only 10% of the time. Contrariwise, 60% of the time her reaction is 'friendly, immediate action' or better.

  This is why when I encounter people who state that in AD&D charisma is a dump stat I know they don't know/understand/use the rules rules as written!

Now that I have shown how critical the reaction roll truly is, let's talk about the morale check.

  Gary tells us that,
  "Morale checks are used to determine the amount of will to fight in non-leader NPC's and can be applied... to henchmen... hirelings... and groups of intelligent monsters.... Base unmodified morale is 50%"
Further,
  "[for henchmen and hirelings]...take the [loyalty] score and cast percentile dice. Adjust the score [from the associated list] and if the total roll is equal to or lower than the loyalty score morale is good. If the number exceeds the loyalty score [consult the morale failure list]"
and
  "[for intelligent monsters]... base morale is 50%, +5% per Hit Die above 1 and +1% per hit point above a die...."

  And, of course, when do you check morale? There are lists! For hirelings and henchmen it includes everything from 'offered a bribe' to 'ordered into possible danger' and 'in combat with possibly dangerous foe'.
 So - all the time, right?
  Right.
  For monsters it includes stuff like 'faced by obviously superior force', 'leader down', and 'takes 50% damage/losses'.
  With the modifiers for taking losses and such the lists, charts, and rolls tell us a simple fact,

  Very few intelligent monsters will fight to the death unless they must.

  Let's look at, oh, 30 orcs with leaders (a typical warband) fighting a party (typical five man band of fighter, mage, thief, cleric, and 'other guy'; in this case a dwarven fighter/thief) with an average of 8th level. There was no surprise, the encounter roll was bad, the orcs all shout "bree-yark" and charge!
  Morale check? The orcs outnumber their foes by more than 6 to 1 and have taken no damage - no need for a check. The orcs, as 1 HD monsters, have a morale of 50%.
  The party falls back to a large tree with brambles to prevent being encircled; the fighters and cleric fight, the thief throws, and the mage luckily gets off Fireball on the straggling orcs, killing all 10 within the radius. The party members in melee kill 2 more orcs. 18 orcs with leaders survive.
  Morale check? Total of dead orcs is more than 8 and less than 15; this meets the '25% of party eliminated or slain' threshold. A morale check is required.
  Morale modifiers: +5% for taking 25% casualties, +10% for taking casualties without inflicting any = total of +15%
  The roll: 25, modified to 38. This is under 50, so the orcs hold.
  In the second round the main fighter gets 2 attacks and drops an orc with each blow! The thief kills the orc she had previously wounded. The cleric kills a previously wounded orc. An orcish dart disrupts the mage's spell. 14 orcs plus leaders remain.
  Morale check? More than 50% of the orcs have died; morale check required.
 Morale modifiers: +15% for 50% dead, +10% for taking casualties without inflicting any, total of +25%
  The roll: 23, modified to 48%! the orcs just barely maintain morale
  At the beginning of the third round the leaders (who need not check morale) try to rally the troops with the boss ferociously attacking the fighter. Early in the initiative order, though, the fighter strikes down the orc leader with a mighty blow! This triggers an immediate morale check.
  Morale modifiers: 50%+ of team eliminated or slain: +15%, taking casualties without inflicting any: +10%, leader slain: +30%. Total: +55%
  Note: the orcs cannot pass their morale check!
  The roll: 37, modified to 92. They fail by 42 points.
  The result: the Morale Failure chart lists a failure by 31 to 50 points is a 'flee in terror' result.
  The surviving orcs scramble in every direction. Some throw away their shields and even weapons to run faster, many are screaming or gibbering in fear. 14 orcs plus 3 leader-types survive.

  As you can see, this is pretty far from fighting to the death!

  It also gives you a better idea of what humanoid troops are going to act like on the battlefield, doesn't it?
  Kobolds, goblins, and even orcs are going to be a bit shaky in battle with their 50% morale.  Hobgoblins, with a 51% are barely different. Gnolls have a 55%, bugbears have a morale of 61% and ogres have a morale of 66% - very steady! At the other end Fire Giants have a base morale of, on average, 103%!
  I did see a group of fire giants fail a morale check in the Hall of the Fire Giant King, though.
  There are exceptions, naturally. The most obvious is the troll, which the Monster Manual describes as 'knowing no fear' and that they will 'attack unceasingly'.
  They never check morale!

  But what about humans? You know, the poor, 0-level militia types?
  It is implied that they, and perhaps demi-humans, too, are treated as NPCs, not monsters, so they use the loyalty tables to calculate base morale. Now, in general this means that the morale of these types is - just like the morale of an intelligent monster.
  But! It allows for the use of loyalty adjustments for high charisma! A charismatic leader will improve the loyalty/morale of followers and troops.

  I have mentioned an old PC named Aurelius who was known for his employment of henchmen and hirelings. Lets look at both his personal secretary (Arniss the Tall, a 4th level cleric) and one of his hireling spearmen (Joe)
Modifiers Common to Both-
Aurelius is Lawful Good +15%
Both receive above average pay and a share of found treasure +5%
Discipline is firm, fair, and consistent +10%
Both have been with him more than 1 but less than 5 game years +10%
General treatment is just, kind, and invariable +15%
Aurelius has a 15 Charisma +15%
Total common bonus: +70%
Additional bonuses for Arniss-
Henchman +5%
Given choice gift recently +5%
Risked life for within a year +10%
Arniss' total loyalty/morale: 140%
Additional modifiers for Joe-
Personal guard +30%
Ransomed his life within a year +10%
Joe's total loyalty/morale: 160%

Huh. That is pretty serious. Joe, a 0-level human soldier, will probably die before he deserts his boss.

Now, let's look at Jarczy, a 3rd level Chaotic Good barbarian who has just hired a 1st level Man-at-Arms named Eirik to be his first henchman.
Base Loyalty: 50%
Modifiers-
Length of enlistment: less than 1 year = -5%
Type of enlistment: henchman = +5%
Pay: average, so far = 0
Discipline: lax/little (Jerczy only asks him to guard the camp and never inspects his gear, trains him, etc.) = -5%
General treatment: Indifferent (see above) = -5%
Jerczy is Chaotic Good = -5%
After Modifiers Loyalty: 35%
  The DMG lists this as 'little loyalty - will seek own advantage at the first opportunity'.
  But Jerczy has a 16 charisma, which gives a +20% loyalty!
Total Loyalty: 55%
  This is listed as 'fairly loyal - will support if no great risk is involved'.

  No, charisma is NOT a dump stat! Because of his charisma Jerczy can trust his new henchman a bit more. Give Eirik good pay, the occasional bonus and magic item, treat him well, and in a year Eirik's loyalty will be 'always supports his liege even at great risk' - impossible without a high charisma.

So:
  Make reaction rolls - they keep you from becoming a creature of habit.
  Track loyalty scores -they demand roleplaying from your players.
  Make morale checks - it adds verisimilitude and drama to combat.