Created By: Maxaxle on December 8, 2011 Last Edited By: Koveras on April 17, 2013
Troped

Morale Mechanic

A game mechanic simulating the combatants' morale.

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Trope
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.

Will go under Video Game Tropes.
Community Feedback Replies: 49
  • December 9, 2011
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
    Not sure if this counts.

    Tabletop Games
    • In Dungeons And Dragons, depending on the version, NPCs will have a morale score or equivalent which the gamemaster rolls against when (for example) the heroes have made their first kill or the NPCs have suffered 50% casualties. This allows most NPCs to be unpredictable, but the most fearless creatures will almost always fight to the death while the most cowardly creatures rarely do.
  • December 9, 2011
    Arivne
  • December 9, 2011
    Ryusui
    Why would you name a trope after an obscure console command? God Mode I could understand, but WIMPY? How are people supposed to know you're referencing that and not the burger-loving guy from Popeye?
  • December 9, 2011
    battosaijoe
    This Needs A Better Title badly.

    • 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.
  • December 9, 2011
    Topazan
    Actually, I think it was a pretty common command in many different MU Ds, but it's still probably too obscure for a title.
  • December 9, 2011
    Andygal
    yes, it's very common in MU Ds.
  • December 9, 2011
    metaphysician
    MU Ds themselves are fairly obscure, however. I think Morale Failure works as a better title.
  • December 9, 2011
    Maxaxle
    Alright, I'll change it.
  • December 9, 2011
    Koveras
  • December 9, 2011
    Maxaxle
    Nah, LTTS applies to entire teams who have lost their motivation. This is about a single person or small group loosing their motivation after loosing their health, ammo, weapon, etc.
  • December 10, 2011
    Vyctorian
  • December 10, 2011
    Maxaxle
    Sorta; Morale Failure is less severe and refers specifically to combat of some sort.
  • December 10, 2011
    Koveras
    I would call this "Morale Mechanic" and expand the definition to any gameplay mechanic where the player or AI can lose control over characters or units if the latter are about to suffer a crushing defeat. This is not a universal trope: while the classical Dungeons And Dragons (and video games based on it, like Baldurs Gate) included a Morale stat for each monster and even Player Characters, in most modern RPGs, all characters will fight to the death; likewise, in the RTS corner, we have games like the Total War series, where armies can be scared into fleeing, and the Star Craft series, where all units know no fear.

    Also, the definition above must exclude games which have Standard Status Effects like Fear or Panic, which can only be induced with special abilities, because then they are just regular status effects, without an underlying mechanic.
  • December 11, 2011
    Maxaxle
    Done.
  • December 11, 2011
    Goldfritha
  • December 11, 2011
    TechUnadept
    most infantry units in the Dawn Of War series have a morale score, certain weapons do little physical damage but masive morale damage.
  • December 11, 2011
    Maxaxle
    Added both of those.
  • December 12, 2011
    Maxaxle
    As I said earlier...

    • 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.
    • Dungeons And 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).
    • The Baldurs Gate series, based on D&D, had morale rolls for human and nonhuman mooks.
  • December 12, 2011
    Maxaxle
  • December 12, 2011
    Maxaxle
    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.
  • December 12, 2011
    Maxaxle
    Is it the specific case where an enemy loses morale when about to die, or is it the more general use of Morale Mechanics? If it's the later, 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.
  • December 12, 2011
    Maxaxle
    It's the latter, and I'm adding the examples right now...
  • December 25, 2011
    Unknown Troper
    Civilization, Master Of Magic - morale translates into loyalty of the populace and thus improves productivity of cities.
  • December 25, 2011
    Unknown Troper
    There is the Break Meter.
  • December 25, 2011
    Stratadrake
    Not related to Karma Meter.
  • December 25, 2011
    Maxaxle
    This can also happen to the PC's opponents.
    • A lot of enemies in Final Fantasy, when faced with overwhelming odds, opt to run away.
    • Brutally kill a few guards to death in the Assassins Creed series and some or all of the rest may flee.
  • December 25, 2011
    Maxaxle
    ^ Final Fantasy, series-wide, generally doesn't. However Final Fantasy I at least, enemies would start randomly fleeing from you as your party levelled up, and Final Fantasy Tactics did include "courage" as a morale mechanic in combat.
  • December 25, 2011
    Maxaxle
    • 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 eleminated, or if the morale meter runs empty, the mission ends in failure and the player has to repeat it.
  • December 26, 2011
    Maxaxle
    • 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".
  • December 26, 2011
    Maxaxle
    • A rare example involving the player character in a first-person game occurs in Amnesia The Dark Descent, where if the player is in the dark too long or witnesses something scary, the Sanity Meter drops to the minimum, followed by him losing his shit and dropping to the ground in a panic, essentially surrendering to the zombie monsters if they are near.
  • December 26, 2011
    Maxaxle
    In general, this is common in Turn Based Strategy and Real Time Strategy games that aim to be more realistic combat simulations.

    • 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.
    • The Civil War Generals games also have a morale mechanic for individual regiments / brigades.
  • December 27, 2011
    Maxaxle
    Tabletop Games
    • Avalon Hill's Squad Leader had extensive rules for handling unit morale: how and when troops broke and rallied.
  • December 27, 2011
    Lyendith
    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.
  • January 2, 2012
    Chabal2
    Dawn Of War: Most units have a morale meter that decreases in combat. If reduced to zero, their accuracy, damage, armor, and rate of fire drop dramatically while increasing their speed (they are referred to as broken). Nearly every race has a mechanic to restore it (Rally, Execute, Embolden...) or to reduce it in their enemies (Chaos buildings project an aura that reduces its regeneration, Necron Flayed Ones sap morale from surrounding units, Psykers throw lightning that does damage and is almost guaranteed to break a squad...). Nearly every race has a unit immune to morale damage for a background reason (Grey Knights have unshakeable faith, Khorne Berserkers are Ax Crazy Blood Knights, Pariahs are roboticized humans, etc.), but they are usually limited for obvious reasons.
  • January 3, 2012
    phantomreader42
    The Shadow Hearts games have a sanity meter, which depletes as battle goes on, eventually leading to characters going crazy and attacking allies.
  • January 5, 2012
    JobanGrayskull
    Planeswalker cards from Magic: the Gathering use "loyalty" counters to determine what abilities they can use. Use of certain abilities or damage to a Planeswalker results in a loss of loyalty, and a Planeswalker with 0 loyalty counters goes to the graveyard.
  • January 7, 2012
    Lyendith
    Bump. :)
  • January 7, 2012
    AceNoctali
    • The Tokimeki Memorial series has a Stress parameter that goes up when perfoming stressful activites, when a girl rejects your invitations to a date, when losing a Sports Club match, when losing a fight against an opponent, or when pulling "Worst Luck"-type charms at the Shrine on New Year day. Too much stress lead to the "Nervous Breakdown" status, a debilitating effect that cuts down in half your Studies stats, and as such is very detrimental during exams and fights. Worse, high Stress combined with low Health results in the "Illness" status, which forces you to use the Rest command until you're healed.
  • January 7, 2012
    NESBoy
    The video game adaptation of Platoon has a player character example.
  • January 28, 2012
    Lyendith
    Bump.
  • January 28, 2012
    Doriphor
    Averted in some games like Bethesda's, where even when an NPC runs away in fear screaming "I give up!" etc. and cowers in fear, you can be sure he'll be back in less than a minute.
  • January 29, 2012
    Rognik
    • Geneforge's summoned monsters act like this, as well as the few guest party members in the series.
  • February 10, 2012
    TBeholder
  • February 10, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Somebody at least change "Morale Event Horizon" to "Despair Event Horizon". One letter of difference between unrelated trope titles is bad news in the usage department.
  • April 13, 2013
    StarSword
    This needs to be sorted, namespace-cleaned, and folderized. Also, is somebody taking this over or did the OP come back?

    @Doriphor: Actually, in Skyrim's overworld, they'll sometimes just keep on running if they don't get cornered.

    Simulation Game:
    • 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.
  • April 13, 2013
    Astaroth
    Morale in Mount And 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.
  • April 14, 2013
    Koveras
    I've updated the description and categorized the examples. I have let out several that fall more under Sanity Meter (like Amnesia).
  • April 15, 2013
    Koveras
    Bumpity bump for the last hat.
  • April 17, 2013
    CardsOfWar
    Panicking in Xcom Enemy Unknown is this. Your soldiers will fire at each other, and charge to useless locations.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=vffpj9sf46kk266j7os86iee&trope=MoraleMechanic