Sunday, July 11, 2010

Morale and Mastery

Mr. Rients had some great things to say about the Morale rules the other day, specifically regarding my preferred edition of D&D, Moldvay Basic (aka B/X). Optional rules in B/X play, they nevertheless provide a neat little game mechanic that certainly increases the survivability of the low level adventuring party.

Why's that? Because PCs don't randomly panic and surrender/flee...and most monsters do.

I thought I'd already blogged about this in the past, but after searching through a couple hundred past posts (note to self: must someday organize this blog better), I could find nothing regarding the Morale rules...even in this post where I explained why 1st level characters are already plenty heroic.

And I SHOULD have put it in there because the B/X morale rules are yet another example of why your average player character, even at 1st level, is a stalwart hero worthy of respect. Because unlike most every other sentient being in the game, Player Characters ALWAYS have the option of mastering their fear and fighting to the death. They never test morale.

The average player, of course, probably glosses over this little point with blissful is only a game, after all, and if one's character gets killed (especially at 1st level) it is a simple matter to roll up a new one. Even this, though, can be seen as yet another example of the extraordinary nature of the players' characters. They laugh in the face of death, facing it without fear...or at least making calm and rational decisions based on careful calculation and resource management, even when they are in the middle of a horrifying situation or terrifying environment, fighting for their lives.

"OH, but they are PCs," you say. "Of course, THEY have free will, unlike the measly NPCs." Not necessarily. This is a conscious design choice. The designers could just as easily have added morale or "panic rolls" for characters in D&D...just as Call of Cthulhu has sanity checks to see if your characters fall down drooling, or like Warhammer forces "break tests," or the personality mechanics of Pendragon or Dying Earth or have "stress hit points" as in Albedo. In D&D, the "rules of the universe" do NOT apply equally to all living creatures. Player Characters are cut from stiffer cloth than other individuals...even members of the same race/class. They ARE special. I DO have an "official post" about Morale in D&D so I can move onto the real subject of this post. Namely some new, optional rules for using Morale.

Every early edition of D&D (say, all "pre-retarded editions") have a number of magic weapons dedicated to overcoming certain 'em "targeting weapons" or simply slayers. You should know the weapons I'm talking about: magic swords that are +1 except when used against a specific opponent type; for example +2 versus lycanthropes or +3 versus undead. In OD&D, B/X, and AD&D these weapons are ALWAYS +1 at base, with an extra bonus only counted against their "favored enemy."

And for that reason, I always found slayers to be less-than-desirable weapons to place/find in treasure hordes. After all, sticking a sword +3 versus regenerating creatures in a horde is fairly contrived if the big fight is against some massive troll lord...not to mention such an item might tip off players of what they'll be facing especially in pre-written dungeons.

But really, the main reason I found them to be "second-rate" magic weapons is that it felt like they were so limited in their use. After all, wouldn't you rather have a blade that was +2 against everything, rather than +1 against everything except dragons? Do you really want to run into a dragon at all? And even if you do, would it make that much difference that extra +1 that you would give up the all-around usefulness of wearing the +2 sword strapped to your side?

Now, having said that, what if these slayer weapons provided a little more oomph? What if drawing your sword versus undead could turn back those wights that the party cleric failed to before biting it? What if the dragon feared the sting of your wyrm-slayer so much that it'd back down without having to fight to subdue? What if your sword was indeed Orcrist the fabled "goblin-cleaver," and the mere sight of the weapon was enough to throw hordes of humanoids into panic?

Why not allow these "slayer swords" to instill mortal fear in the foes they are designed to slay. Just like some blades shed a magical light when drawn, perhaps these weapons, specifically designed to end a particular foe, sheds a mysterious radiance, an aura of dread palpable to their chosen enemy.

The way it works is this:

- just drawing such a weapon or presenting it, unsheathed, in a threatening fashion is enough to force a morale check in an opponent.

- actually drawing blood of a singular enemy (like a dragon) or the first inflicted casualty (for multiple opponents) forces an additional morale check.

- for all morale checks, the slayer weapon bonus is added to the creature's morale check. For example, a weapon +1, +2 versus lycanthropes forces a werewolf to add 2 (the amount of the bonus) when making its morale check. These are weapons that strike fear in the hearts of their foes!

- creatures normally immune to morale checks (like undead, constructs, or any creature with a morale of 12) may still be forced to flee (like a cleric's turning ability) if the morale check plus the slayer weapon's bonus is 12 or greater.

- a character that actually tries to negotiate or talk with a creature while openly wielding a slayer weapon that designated for that particular creature receives a penalty to his or her reaction roll equal to the slayer weapon bonus.

All right, that's it. Simple and fairly easy to remember/use. I plan on throwing more of these legendary slayer weapons into MY next B/X campaign...each with an appropriate history and reason behind its creation.
: )


  1. Great idea, might add this to my current campaign.

  2. Fantastic idea. Consider it appropriated. Will this rule be in the Companion?

  3. @ Alan: Thanks!

    @ Jim: It will NOT be in the B/X Companion. For the most part, there are NO "alterations" to the existing B/X rules. Everything in its pages are ADDITIONS (and some clarifications) for the most part.

    I am considering writing up some sort of supplemental compendium that contains a lot of the house rules and variations I've presented on this blog...but that's a project waaay off in the future (requires organizing my posts). However, any such compilation would probably be made available as a free download, UN-like the Companion.

  4. I love it all... except for the "(say, all "pre-retarded editions")" comment. Was that really necessary?

  5. @ David: it was totally UN-necessary!

  6. I... don't hate this idea. In fact I don't hate it enough to steal it. Yoink!

    Thanks :)

  7. I actually can't believe that I never thought of this. Isn't that the hallmark of a genuis idea: it seems so obvious iafter soemone finally thinks it up. Killer.

  8. @ Fitz: Right on!

    @ Matt: Dude...I felt the same way once I thought of it: totally obvious.

  9. >I am considering writing up some sort of supplemental compendium that contains a lot of the house rules and variations I've presented on this blog...but that's a project waaay off in the future (requires organizing my posts).

    Did you ever do this? I'm slowly reading through your archives and will eventually find out for myself, but it'd sure be interesting to take a look at such a supplement "ahead of time". You've presented some excellent ideas on this blog, this post being an excellent example of one.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Tipi...I'm glad you're finding my ideas fun and/or useful.

      I published "The Complete B/X Adventurer" in 2012 (a couple years after this post), which included a number of articles from this blog; however, most of that work is a compilation of new classes (and spell lists for those classes).

      Many other thoughts and ideas were incorporated in my fantasy heartbreaker "Five Ancient Kingdoms," a reimagining of OD&D with a strong "Arabian Nights" flavor.

      I might still do other supplemental material for B/X in the future, but at this time I only have ONE B/X supplement planned, and it is another "world/setting" supplement like my latest book "Comes Chaos."