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Morale Mechanic

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In the Dynasty Warriors games, morale is indicated with a blue and red bar, each representing an opposing side
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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 (human or computer) 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".

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Related to Despair Event Horizon and Losing the Team Spirit. Opposite of Attack! Attack! Attack!. Mook Commander may have a play on the troops' morale. 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). For a moral mechanic, see Karma Meter.


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Examples:

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    Fighting Games 
  • In Skullgirls, Beowulf has a gameplay mechanic called "Crowd Hype", where taunting opponents and performing grappling attacks that land his opponent on his folding chair builds power for his Blockbuster attacks. At maximum Hype, Beowulf can use his Wulfamania super to perform multiple grappling attacks in succession, and landing a Canis Major Press when the opponent is low on health will let Beowulf pin his opponent (complete with a ref counting the pin) and defeat them.

    First-Person Shooter 

    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.
  • The Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors series eats and breathes morale. Morale determines who wins the battles when you're not in the area, and can make enemies harder to fight against if they have a lot of it. You can reduce overall enemy morale and raise your own by killing enemy troops, defeating important enemies, and activating (or preventing) certain scripted events.
    • It's taken even farther in Samurai Warriors, where individual troops have their own morale. Killing a troop's leader or flag bearer causes him to flee in fear. Defeating an officer has the potential of making everyone cower away. The battlefield usually contains "high enemy morale zones", indicated by red spots on the mini-map. Enemies in these zones have more health, are more resistant to knockback, deal more damage, and are overall harder to kill. Several characters even have the ability to manipulate the morale of either their own troops or the morale of the enemy through their own special skills.

    Real Time Strategy 
  • Most infantry units in the Dawn of War series have a morale score, and certain weapons, among them sniper rifles and flamethrowers, do less physical damage but massive morale damage. Demoralized troops won't run away on their own, but they can't shoot straight and they run faster. Space Marine sergeants have the ability to restore squad morale, and so do the Imperial Guard Commissars—though the latter usually includes summarily executing a member of the squad in front of the others.
  • Lords Of The Realm 3 (being somewhat of a Follow the Leader of Total War) uses morale for each of your units, the base of which is modified by several factors such as your chivalry rating, unit type, and whether the opponent is showing No Quarter (a morale increase; your soldiers are aware that fleeing is more dangerous than fighting). Then, once the fighting starts, morale can increase on victory, or decrease on bad situations or excessive losses, until the unit eventually routs. Some unit types, such as Scottish Highlanders, start with such high morale that they will almost always fight to the death.
  • 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.
  • The Total War series implements a Morale Mechanic for army units that determines how long they're able to stand and fight before breaking and fleeing from the field, beyond the player's control. Professional units have better morale than levy troops or town militias, and some units have exceptionally high morale, like religious fanatics or Scotsmen. Being near an army's general will improve units' morale, while on the flipside, killing an army's general is a good way to break their line. Other ways to damage an unit's morale include but are not limited to: shooting them with Flaming Arrows, noisy gunpowder weapons or medieval flamethrowers, sending War Elephants at them, charging them with units that give a fearsome war cry, charging them in the flank or rear, throwing beehives at them, lighting a herd of pitch-covered pigs on fire and sending them squealing into the enemy ranks, or flinging a diseased cow carcass at them with a trebuchet. But when you do break the enemy, make sure to give them an escape route - completely surrounded units will go into a "Fighting to the Death" state and actually be harder to kill when they realize they have nowhere to run and nothing to lose.
    • Medieval II: Total War adds Dreaded generals as a way to damage enemy morale. The Chivalry-Dread axis acts as that game's Karma Meter, so if a character builds a fearsome reputation by employing assassins, executing prisoners, exterminating settlements, a general with an epithet like "the Tyrant" or "The Butcher" can cause entire armies to buckle and rout just by charging into them with their bodyguard unit.
    • "Awah men are running from the battlefield! Shamefur dispray!"
    • Total War: Attila noticeably adds a new way for Losing the Team Spirit - breaking and burning down the settlement's buildings in a siege will erode its defenders' morale.
    • Total War: Warhammer has a unique morale mechanic for each faction. The Dwarfs never suffer civil wars inside their own borders due to racial Undying Loyalty, but they note all the wrongs against them as "Grudges" which have to be fulfilled otherwise the Dwarfholds begin to feel discontentment and shame, leading to decreased economic efficiency and diplomatic penalties with the minor Dwarfholds. The Greenskins have a "fightiness" meter which fills as armies enter battles and drains due to losing battles repeatedly or just inactivity; a full bar will give free units and hefty bonuses to existing units while an empty one will lead to attrition losses as the frustrated and fight-deprived Orcs begin turning on each other. The undead Mooks of the Vampire Counts are immune to morale damage and never run away from losing battles or units that cause Terror, but being in battle too far from a Hero will cause it to "crumble" as the magic bindings animating them begin to fall apart: Vampire Counts also have a strategic mechanic in the form of Vampire Corruption; high Corruption in an enemy living province causes armies of undead to spontaneously rise up, and low Corruption in Vampire-dominated provinces causes revolts as the surviving peasantry grow a spine and grab their Torches and Pitchforks. Generally, the standard Total War morale mechanic stays, but this time killing the enemy commander is often easier said than done.
  • 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."

    Roguelike 
  • Cataclysm features a morale system, which measures how well your character is mentally holding up against the horrors of the zombie apocalypse. Events such as getting sick or killing zombie children lower it, while actions such as eating good food or listening to music increase it. A character with poor morale will fight more poorly, get a penalty to experience gain, and if morale gets low enough they will eventually refuse to craft or work on a vehicle. Conversely, a character with high morale will gain stat increases and will learn more quickly.

    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.
    • In Final Fantasy I, enemies would start randomly fleeing from you as your party levelled up.
    • Final Fantasy IV had early on groups of four soldiers, three troops and a commander. If you defeated the troops, the commandernote  would flee. If you defeated the commander, the troops would panic and start attacking each other.
    • The resident Spoony Bard himself had this in Final Fantasy IV as well. If his health got low or if he was faced with a high-powered enemy he would chicken out and use his hide command automatically, which was every bit as annoying as it sounds.
    • Final Fantasy Tactics did include "Bravery" as a morale mechanic in combat; if dropped to single digits, the unit would literally turn into a chicken and avoid battle; a player character whose out-of-battle Bravery was dropped too low would leave the party forever (except Ramza).
  • Kingdom Hearts II has three missions like this in the Land of Dragons, where Sora, Donald, and Goofy have to help Mulan 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.
  • This is the most important game mechanic in The Last Remnant. When your ally morale is at blue, then you can deal more damage to the enemy; however, if the enemy gauge is at red instead, then enemies will have severe advantages against you. In addition, there's also the Union Morale which has a small yellow gauge at the leader of the union's stats. If it's full, then the union leader may unleash a Limit Break.
  • Persona 3 has a Status indicator separate from Standard Status Effects that determine how well a party member can fight: "Good" is the default status; "Great" can be achieved by sleeping early or napping in class and grant bonus accuracy and critical rates; "Tired" results from fighting in Tartarus for too long and will penalize defense, accuracy, and recovery from being knocked down; and "Sick" results from overexerting oneself when tired and results in sharp stat penalties and taking ever longer to recover from being knocked down.
  • Valkyria Chronicles II has a morale meter that influences how often characters activate Potentials. At low morale, they have a higher chance of activating negative Potentials and a lower chance of activating positive ones. The reverse is true at high morale. The meter increases when your units kill enemies and capture bases, and decreases when you lose units or bases.
  • Cosmic Star Heroine has a "Style" mechanic. If a party member's Style percentage is high enough, they will survive a fatal blow with their HP dropping into the negatives. This acts like a Last Chance Hit Point: that character will die in their next turn unless the player can finish the battle or recover their HP so that it's above zero.

    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. This is not visible in-game and was uncovered by the modding community.
  • Most of the games in the City-Building Series have separate counters for an army's health and morale. If morale goes too low, they scram back to their fort.
  • In the space colony management / survival sim RimWorld, every character has a mood meter, which reflects their general satisfaction with the state of the colony and their personal quality of life. Too many negative thoughts can push a colonist into a mental breakdown.
  • In Star Traders Frontiers, your crewmen may desert your ship when you land it or even launch a mutiny if their morale gets too low. Taking too long to pay their wages, going too long without shore leave, and taking too many hits in battle can reduce morale.

    Stealth-Based Games 
  • Morale is a stat in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker which is influenced by Mother Base's available food supply and certain unique character special abilities which boost morale for their unit (e.g. Miller boosts whichever team he's currently on). A soldiers morale will drop massively if they are forced to work while sick or injured. If a soldier's morale is high enough they get a boost to both combat and noncombat skills, while if morale hits rock bottom they may permanently leave the unit.
  • Morale appears again in Metal Gearsolid V The Phantom Pain, though it isn't as important as it was in Peace Walker. Returning to Mother Base and standing close enough to a soldier (or using the "knock" command to get their attention) will cause them to turn and salute you, increasing their morale. This morale drops over time, and while staff members won't leave due to low morale, they'll lose the stat boost morale gives them as time passes.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The "forced withdrawal" rules in BattleTech act as this if used — a unit that has been damaged sufficiently badly but is still mobile is forced to try to retreat to its side's designated "home edge" and withdraw off the map. (An immobilized unit suffering the same fate will usually power down or otherwise indicate surrender under the same rules rather than try to fight to the bitter end.)
  • Dungeons & Dragons had a Morale score for each monster or NPC (enemy or ally), 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)—"had" being the operative term. While magical fear effects and such things as "morale" bonuses and penalties to e.g. attacks and saving throws were retained, the morale mechanic was dropped from the game with the advent of its third edition... presumably leading to an overall increase in NPC casualty rates at gaming tables across the globe.
  • In Ironclaw and Myriad Song characters (both NPC and PC) who take at least two damage from a single hit become Afraid and cannot attack until rallied by their Leader or after hiding for a round. And if someone is Overkilled (six or more damage) all of their nearby allies are scared.
  • In Hc Svnt Dracones each side of a battle has a "Nerve Pool" that is reduced whenever a combatant takes damage or suffers a near-miss. When a side's Nerve pool drops to a certain threshold, ranging from 50% for Enemies of Circumstance to "To the Death" for Relentless Enemies, they usually surrender or attempt to parley.
  • Kill Dr Lucky has Spite tokens, which represent the character's frustration at their failure to, well, kill Doctor Lucky. They add one to each weapon's score, and can be spent to stop an assassination attempt from succeeding.
  • Avalon Hill's Squad Leader had extensive rules for handling unit morale: how and when troops broke and rallied.
  • Morale is a very important part of gameplay in Games Workshop's tabletop wargames. Units have a Leadership score ranging from 1 to 10, with 7 being the average human Leadership, which they must test upon when they get stuck in close combat or have scary things happen to them. Rolling equal to or under their Leadership score on two six-sided dice means that all is well and the unit will act normally, failure means that the unit will fall back, potentially leading to them being chased down and destroyed if they were fighting something in melee. If the unit manages to escape whatever spooked it and has enough numbers to still fight effectively, they can pass another Leadership test to regroup, turning their previous fight into a Tactical Withdrawal. If not, they'll continue to leg it until they move off the table and leave the battle.
    • Warhammer had expansive rules for unit morale, and a great deal of modifiers for a unit's Leadership: how badly a unit lost in close combat, whether they were outnumbered, whether the unit had a standard, whether they were charged in the flank or rear, etc. Similar tests to flee were required in other tense situations, such as having a friendly unit wiped out close by, getting charged in the flank when already engaged to the front, or being confronted by terrifying enemies charging straight at you. There were also Fear Tests provoked when fighting certain scary enemies like daemons or monsters - failure meant that the spooked unit fought with a pathetic Weapon Skill of 1 in that turn of combat.
    • Warhammer 40,000 has morale rules that have diverged from its counterpart over the years, such as Pinning Tests where units hit by things like sniper fire or mortar shells have to pass a Leadership test to avoid going to going to ground for a turn.
    • Certain special units and characters in either game do not have to take these sort of Leadership tests, because they are either supernatural, unfeeling or just crazy: undead and daemons, crazed flagellants, death-seeking Dwarf Trollslayers, Khorne Berserkers, minions of the Tyranid Hive Mind, mindless Chaos Spawn, and so forth. Such troops are very valuable indeed, as they can be relied upon to fight to the last man, rather than turn tail and flee if the tide of battle goes against them. Certain brave and highly disciplined, but not suicidally crazy, troops instead have the "Stubborn" rule, which means they always test on their unmodified leadership, and so are much more likely to stick around against long odds.

    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. In Civilization, There are also "Morale" promotions for units, which simply improves unit strength. In IV, it's just a normal promotion choice. In V, it's given to units trained in the city that has created that civ's Heroic Epic.
    • In Civilization V's expansions, a civ whose overall happiness was negative would suffer a penalty in combat (2% per point of unhappiness, which was generally between 1 and 20). This meant that attacking an enemy's luxury resources, or arranging a trade embargo from your allies, could give you a decisive edge when fighting.
  • The Civil War Generals games also have a morale mechanic for individual regiments / brigades. In fact, the game manuals explain at length that maintaining morale during Civil War battles tended to be much more important than actually killing the opposition. This is reflected in-game by the kill counts being relatively small, but desertions and captures numbering in the thousands after a decisive battle.
  • Jagged Alliance 2 has a morale mechanic which is raised by successfully killing enemies, teaming up friends, and liberating towns, and lowered by getting hurt, retreating, losing towns, and teaming up people who don't like each other. Mercenaries that are in a good mood will perform better and have exultant remarks and laughter during battle, while unhappy mercenaries will perform worse, disobey orders, complain, and possibly even permanently quit.
  • In No Greater Glory, every army has a morale meter (represented with a simple numeric value) that goes up when the army is doing well and down when it's doing badly. Soldiers with high morale fight better. Those with low morale don't, and they are likely to start deserting.
  • In Age of Wonders 3, units and cities have morale and happiness, respectively. Cities and happinesses are based on the terrain differing for different races, certain buildings and nodes, or empire happiness like recruiting heroes and winning battles. It is important to raise happiness in cities as high as possible as not only will the city not rebel against you but also will give you beneficial bonuses to you economy and may have festivals that give you additional resources. Unit and morale work based on the happiness of the city they were manufactured, the terrain they are in, the gold upkeep, alignment, etc. Like cities, raising morale is important as low morale will have a chance of the unit deserting and doing reduced damage while high morale will have a chance of increasing damage. Halflings has the Lucky skill which gives them a chance of dodging an attack based on their happiness.

    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.
    • The morale rules have the side effect of making the German Mk I tank much more useful against the Russians than it should be. Early on, the Soviet KV heavy tanks are just about immune to the guns of the available German panzers. That goes double for the Mk I as it only has machine guns. However the Mk Is are cheap to buy and fire six times a turn so the inexperienced Soviet crews can be panicked by a storm of machine gun fire even though it can't actually hurt them.
  • XCOM:
    • In the original, X-COM soldiers and aliens alike can end up in the Panicking state, where they will fire in a random direction and/or drop their gun and run away, as a result of casualties or psychic attack. The presence of a high-ranking officer can reduce morale loss from casualties, but an officer's death has a larger effect on morale.
    • In the remake XCOM: Enemy Unknown, casualties and Muton intimidation can cause panic, leading to hunkering down in the nearest cover or firing at (random? closest?) friend or foe. On the strategic level, all countries on the Council have a Panic level, which increases if the country suffers an alien attack and decreases if attacks are successfully repelled. Once the panic in a country reaches the maximum and stays there for an extended time (usually 10-15 days), it will cut all funding and secede from the Council, ostensibly to focus their efforts and funding on their panicking, rioting population. Losing eight countries this way results in an immediate Game Over.
  • Graviteam Tactics: Troop morale is connected to the soldiers' experience, fatigue, and the capability of the higher commander to "be in command". Setbacks (e.g. heavy casualties, heavy fire, squad leader killed) will result in the troops panicking and running away.
  • Morale determines turn order in both Dynasty Tactics games.
  • BattleTech employs Morale to either use the special abilities Precision Strike and Vigilance, or passively grant an Inspiration buff when above 50%.
  • Yggdra Union and its spinoffs technically have this by calling their health morale, which explains why characters still have units even after they've lost all morale for the map and recovered. However, there is one fight where morale actually functions as morale - Marietta, should you choose to fight her on the (semi-)final map. You are physically incapable of winning a fight against them, even with things that would otherwise win, such as Crusadenote  or 1v1=winnote  items. Instead, you must keep beating yourself against them until their morale drops to zero and they give up.

    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.
  • EV Nova includes a mechanic that calculates the ratio of enemy strengthnote  to friendly strength and compares it to a ratio specified for their faction, above which they will attempt to retreat rather than continue fighting.

     In-Universe Examples 
  • In Harry Potter, Wizard Chess is much like normal chess, except that it's played with semi-sentient enchanted pieces capable of arguing against, or even flat-out disobeying, orders they disagree with. Under a player whose judgment they respect (such as Ron, who is excellent at it), they're willing to sacrifice themselves knowing it's for the greater good. In the hands of a mediocre player like Harry they're more likely to rebel, convinced that their side is doomed to defeat anyway and determined not to give their "lives" in a lost cause.

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