While often when running an encounter as the DM, the motivations of the party's opponents is pretty clear, sometimes when the encounter was randomly or somewhat-randomly put in there, or it's not a "key" encounter to the plot, it can be hard for me to figure out what the opponents' motivations are. In particular, it can be helpful to know when an opponent might turn and run or otherwise want to stop fighting.

Many years ago I played AD&D 2nd edition, and it has a mechanic called a "Morale Check" designed to help a DM figure this out. In true 2e style, it consists of a table (DMG Table 49) listing a base morale rating for certain types of creatures, and then a whole bunch of modifiers (DMG Table 50) based on the situation and more specific details about the creature. This gave each creature its "morale rating", and if circumstances start going badly for the creature, the DM can roll 2d10, and the creature will keep fighting if the result is equal to or below the morale rating, and try to leave the fight if the result is above it.

I want to do something similar in 5e, for those cases where I want a die roll to help me figure out when an opponent wants to stay, but I'm not really sure how to do it. I suppose I could just use the 2e charts outright, but I really like how 5e has done away with those huge lists of charts and I can probably replace a lot of situational modifiers by just deciding when to give disadvantage or advantage on a check. But if I do it as an ability check (which seems like the 5e approach to this sort of thing), I'm not sure what ability to use.

  • Using a physical stat (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution) doesn't seem right, because I think I'm looking for something that's more of a mental willingness to fight, though I could see an argument for Constitution if I'm trying to model something that's more physical stamina.
  • Intelligence doesn't seem like the best fit either, but it could work to model a logical reasoning and deduction of whether they're likely to be beat.
  • Wisdom seems the closest from an intuitive understanding of what the word "wisdom" means, but 5e uses the term to mean something that's more about Perception and Insight than about making wise choices. Also, I don't know if I as the DM could easily figure out whether the wisest choice for the creature could be to continue attacking or to flee, when what I think I want is a way to have the dice make the decision for me.
  • Charisma, particularly with the Intimidation skill, is kind of the opposite of what I want. Maybe I am thinking about this all backwards, and it'd make sense for the party to make some group Charisma check to decide whether the creature surrenders.

And with any of those, I don't know how I'd set a DC, or whether passing the check would mean "fight more" or "try to stop fighting". With all that reasoning in my mind, I figure I'm probably approaching this all the wrong way. What approaches do you find work to help determine whether a creature fights or flees when you aren't sure of a creature's morale? Is there a 5e mechanic that models this concept well, or that I at least don't have to twist too hard to make work for me?

up vote 37 down vote accepted

There are optional Morale rules that can be found on page 273 of the DMG.

To determine whether a creature or group of creatures flees, make a DC 10 Wisdom saving throw for the creature or the group's leader [...] On a failed save, the affected creature or group flees by the most expeditious route.

  • @HellSaint's answer does a good job of explaining why this works. Otherwise, this answer seems like an arbitrary "just do this". – Infiltrator Jun 15 at 1:08
  • @Infiltrator While I appreciate getting credits, it is not arbitrary. This is an optional rule from the DMG, which answers exactly what the asker wanted (thus it got accepted). Usually "this is how the book tells you to do this" is the best answer possible, unless someone is asking how to do it different from the book. I'm just giving some insight in the book's possible reasoning (to clarify asker confusion on Wisdom Checks/STs) and some history of D&D :P – HellSaint Jun 15 at 3:39

Purple Monkey has already given you the short answer. I will state it again for completionism, but all credits for him. From DMG, p. 273

To determine whether a creature or group of creatures flees, make a DC 10 Wisdom saving throw for the creature or the group's leader [...] On a failed save, the affected creature or group flees by the most expeditious route.

But I would like to explain how that makes sense, given your question, especially this part

Wisdom seems the closest from an intuitive understanding of what the word "wisdom" means, but 5e uses the term to mean something that's more about Perception and Insight than about making wise choices. Also, I don't know if I as the DM could easily figure out whether the wisest choice for the creature could be to continue attacking or to flee, when what I think I want is a way to have the dice make the decision for me.

Ability checks and Saving Throws are fundamentally different in what they are trying to accomplish. This is specially true for Wisdom. As you noted, Wisdom checks are about your senses, physical (perception) or mental (insight).

Wisdom reflects how attuned you are to the world around you and represents perceptiveness and intuition.

On the other hand, if you check Wisdom Saving Throws, they are more associated with Willpower. Wisdom saving throws are the call for characters trying to regain control of their own body, not being frightened, etc. Thus, a Wisdom saving throw is essentially the call for "I'm too scared. Do I have the willpower to keep fighting?"


Note: We actually had Will Saving Throws in earlier editions. They were equivalent to the Wisdom Saving Throws we have now (they utilized Wisdom).

  • 2
    It's worth going a step further on the last note and pointing out that Wisdom Saving Throws used to be Will saving throws in past editions – Pingcode Jun 14 at 2:59
  • 2
    @Pingcode oh, thought that was implied. Added clarification. – HellSaint Jun 14 at 3:06

There are already existing answers pointing you to the Morale rules in the Dungeon Master's Guide, and I'm certain those will be helpful. They're literally what you were asking for!

However, I'd like to supplement that by offering some additional resources from the DMG and Xanathar's Guide to Everything that might be helpful for your scenario as well. I'm well aware you're not explicitly seeking the techniques I'm about to list and in some situations they may be overkill, but you should consider incorporating them if you find them more flavorful and rewarding than mere saving throws, as they can serve the same purpose.

These techniques avoid the odd implications that others have pointed out about how higher Wisdom (read: willpower) results in enemies that stick around longer without providing a way from them to rationally choose to stick around or flee. These techniques still involve some dice rolls, but they are divorced from Wisdom and utilize more DM roleplaying choices to solve the problem without relying on the DM to prefabricate any elaborate personalities for the monsters.


For a roleplaying slant, try monster personalities.

There is a section on Monster Personality in Xanathar's Guide (p. 91) that includes a randomization table for determining each monster's personality (and a Monster Relationships table for interpersonal behavior among them). In short, you roll a d8 per monster and consult the table to determine whether they will fight to the death, flee as soon as possible, or so on.

Using this technique, when an enemy chooses to flee would be up to you as the DM, but it wouldn't be totally capricious, since you would have guidelines for how each monster is supposed to behave. So rather than a monster running away because it fails a save or because you guess maybe now's the time it should, the monster would run away because you know that's how that particular monster would behave under the current circumstances.

This trades dice and gamey mechanics for extra roleplaying responsibility.


For major adversaries and their minions, try loyalty.

There is a section on Loyalty in the DMG (p. 93) that describes a system you can use to track whether an NPC is loyal to their party. You could flip this around and use it to track whether minions remain loyal to their bosses and monster allies. In short, a creature has a loyalty score that starts at roughly 10 and increases or decreases by some d4's as they are affected by interpersonal relationships with their allies (you could factor in the behaviors of the player party as well). If a creature's loyalty score is 10 or higher, they remain very loyal and can fight to the death. If the score dips below 10, their loyalty wavers and they might be more reluctant in combat. If it hits 0, they might abandon their party entirely.

There's somewhat more to track using this technique (one extra number per creature and some die rolls), which is why I've only mentioned major adversaries. It might not be worth it for a run-of-the-mill encounter. However, it could be a fantastic choice to help roleplay whether mooks and minions run away from their overbearingly evil boss, especially if you allow the players to engage with the minions in dialog or otherwise use some social talent in addition to fighting prowess.


You mentioned being concerned with how to resolve fight-or-flee scenarios when the monsters aren't key to the plot and you don't know what their motivations are. I hope the techniques I've offered may give you more tools in your toolbox for handling those situations, in addition to Wisdom saving throws. Each tool is an appropriate choice for different situations depending on how much roleplaying effort you want to sink into any particular encounter.

  • Yes, this is quite helpful. (Though I haven't picked up Xanathar yet.) – Peter Cooper Jr. Jun 14 at 16:44

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