Morale Mechanic
A game mechanic simulating the combatants' morale.


(permanent link) added: 2011-12-08 20:57:09 sponsor: Maxaxle edited by: Koveras (last reply: 2013-04-17 05:36:31)

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In games featuring tactical combat (particularly strategy games), players expects their units/characters to fulfill every order to the best of their capacity, e.g. by performing a heroic Last Stand when ordered. Some games, however, feature an improved AI that starts to ignore player's orders when faced with overwhelming odds and instead attempts to flee or to yield.

Morale mechanics usually concern conditions under which the AI will decide to escape rather than continue or even start fighting, such as:

  • Overwhelming enemy presence, whether by sheer numbers or technological superiority
  • Death or incapacitation of most of the allied group (squad) or just the commander
  • Use of particularly fear-inspiring weaponry by the enemy
  • Critical status of the unit's own health

Depending on the implementation, the game may either run a randomized morale check whenever these conditions occur, or slowly chip away at each unit's morale until it flees. Either way, advanced units will typically be more resistant to morale loss than more basic ones. Occasionally, enemy morale may be broken artificially via Standard Status Effects like "Fear" and "Confuse".

Related to Despair Event Horizon and Losing the Team Spirit. Opposite of Attack! Attack! Attack!. See also Sanity Meter, which similarly simulates the game characters' fear of supernatural (as opposed to fear of simple death), and Break Meter, which simulates the enemy's defenses wearing down (rather than their will to fight).

Examples:

Hack-and-Slash
  • In Ninja Gaiden 3, using the fire dragon Ninpo will cause the weakest enemies around to drop their weapons, cower and beg for their lives. If you so chose, you can finish them off regardless.

Real Time Strategy
  • Most infantry units in the Dawn of War series have a morale score, certain weapons do little physical damage but massive morale damage.
  • The Total War series implement Morale Mechanic for armies. One of the best ways to decimate a unit or entire army's morale is to kill its commander.
  • Web Games Warfare 1917 and Warfare 1944. Both the player's and the opposing forces have a morale rating that can increase (by killing enemy troops or deploying an officer/tank) or decrease (when your own troops/tanks are killed). If either side's morale reaches zero it surrenders and the other side gets an immediate "morale victory".
  • Morale in Mount & Blade affects how aggressively your army fights and reduces the chance of your troops deserting, and is decided by a number of factors, including your leadership skill, how many battles you've won, what types of food you give as rations, which companions you hire and whether or not you're at war with the faction a particular unit associates with.

Role-Playing Games
  • The Baldur's Gate series, based on D&D, had morale rolls for human and nonhuman mooks.
  • Enemies in some Final Fantasy games opt to run away when faced with overwhelming odds.
  • Kingdom Hearts II has three missions like this in the Land of Dragons, where Sora, Donald, and Goofy have to help Mu Lan defend the camp from the Heartless. The second has them scout the area outside the camp for enemy reinforcements, and the final one has them clear a path up the mountain pass to reach the village near the summit. All three missions are timed. If either time runs out before all Heartless are eliminated, or if the morale meter runs empty, the mission ends in failure and the player has to repeat it.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, when a humanoid enemy (usually bandits or civilians) reach a certain health threshold, they drop to the ground while crying out for mercy or declaring their surrender. Sometimes subverted when they run away, only to heal and attack again.

Simulation Games
  • NPC ships other than capital ships and military transports in the X-Universe games have a static and randomly determined "morale" stat that factors into the calculation on whether or not they will bail out of their ships when fired upon.

Stealth-Based Games
  • Morale is a stat in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker which can be boosted by being in the unit with morale-boosting characters and dropped if, for instance, forced to fight while injured. If a character's morale hits rock bottom they may leave the unit.

Tabletop Games
  • Dungeons & Dragons had a Morale score for each monster or NPC enemy, as well as Resist Fear saving throws. Failing the latter caused the monster to panic and run away. There were, however, fearless monsters, such as the basic undead that lack self-preservation instinct. It also had spells like Fear, which caused the same effects as regular panic attacks and could be resisted in the same way (albeit at a penalty).
  • Avalon Hill's Squad Leader had extensive rules for handling unit morale: how and when troops broke and rallied.

Turn-Based Strategy
  • Heroes of Might and Magic games include a morale modifier. High morale gives a unit a chance to attack a second time, against the normal rules of Turn Based Combat, while low morale makes them flinch and miss a turn. Morale bonuses are activated randomly, based on how high morale is: Geo Effects, artefacts, single-race armies, spells, angels and taverns all raise morale, while skeletons, dark dragons and ransacking empty tombs all lower it.
  • In Civilization and Master of Magic, morale translates into loyalty of the populace and thus improves productivity of cities.
  • The Civil War Generals games also have a morale mechanic for individual regiments / brigades.

Turn-Based Tactics
  • The Steel Panthers game has a Suppression mechanic, which indicates how rattled a unit is after coming under fire. Units under high suppression can be pinned down and refuse to move, or even forced to retreat, until they can be rallied.
  • In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, your soldiers can end up in the Panicking state, where they will fire at each other and charge to useless locations.

Wide-Open Sandbox
  • Grand Theft Auto IV featured lots of enemies that surrender when reduced to a single segment of health, somewhere between 5% and 10% of their total health.
  • Brutally kill a few guards in the Assassin's Creed series and some or all of the rest may flee.

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