Morale and Stress (5e Variant Rule)

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Morale and Stress[edit]

These rules were created with solo play in mind (one PC with one or more henchmen) to give a structure to some game elements that would normally be handled through roleplaying in group play.

Your character has a new attribute, Stress. Its initial value is 0. When certain gain events occur, it decreases or increases.

This in turn effects the morale of your henchmen and hirelings. This can be used with the optional Loyalty rules in the DMG (p. 93): NPCs have individual loyalty scores, but morale effects the whole group.

Stressful Events[edit]

The following events increase your Stress by 1d4, to a maximum of 20.

  • Conflict. You perform an action that goes against your Ideal.
  • Threat. Something threatens your Bond.
  • Fear. You encounter one of your phobias.
  • Loss. An NPC party member is killed or captured by enemies.
  • Injury. You are reduced to 0 hit points
  • Hunger. You go without eating for a number of days equal to your Constitution modifier.
  • Failure. An expedition to a dungeon ends with less than three resolved encounters. Generally this means a successful combat encounters, a bypassed traps, recovered caches of treasure or other encounters that further the quest.
  • Curse. Gaining a curse.
  • Madness. You are forced to roll on one of the Madness tables.
  • Poverty. Changing to a cheaper lifestyle (PHB p. 157).

Reducing Stress[edit]

Presented below are a variety of ways to decrease Stress. The minimum Stress is 0. If your Stress was 5 or greater and you reduce it to 0, you gain Inspiration.

If your character has a personality trait or flaw that ties in with a stress reducing activity, adjust the Stress adjustment by +1 or -1. For example, if your character is prone to drinking or gambling, carousing decreases Stress by 1d4+1; while if they are shy or monastic, carousing decreases Stress by 1d4-1. A result of less than 0 increases Stress instead!

Expedition Events[edit]

Each of the following expedition events decreases Stress by 1d4, to a mininmum of 0.

  • Success. Completing a quest. If you are adventuring with no fixed quest, this can be any "successful" expedition with six or more resolved encounters; or returning from an expedition with two or more hoards of treasure.
  • Rescue. Rescuing a captured NPC party member.
  • Experience. You gain a level.

Downtime Activities[edit]

Pursuing a downtime activity (PHB. 187) can reduce stress.

Some activities refer to your "value threshold". This is a gold piece value that depends on your level: 500 gp at 1st to 4th level; 5,000 gp at 5th to 10th level; 50,000 gp at 11th to 16th level; or 500,000 gp at 17th to 20th level.

  • Crafting. Your Stress is reduced by 1d4 when you finish crafting an item with a market value at least that of your value threshold.
  • Practicing a Profession. Your Stress is reduced by 1 for every 10 days spend practicing a profession.
  • Recuperating. As one of the recuperation options, you can choose to reduce your Stress by 1d4.
  • Researching. Your Stress is reduced by 1 if you learn a new piece of information, and it took at least one day per character level to procure.
  • Training. Your Stress is reduced by 1d4 when you complete your training.
  • Building a Stronghold. Your Stress is reduced by 1d4 when you complete a building with a construction cost at least that of your value threshold.
  • Carousing. Your Stress is reduced by 1d4 when you finish carousing over a number of days equal to your character level (even if you were arrested or robbed!).
  • Crafting a Magic Item. Your Stress is reduced by 1d4 if you finish crafting a magic item with a creation cost at least that of your value threshold.
  • Gaining Renown. Your Stress is reduced by 1d4 if your renown increases.
  • Performing Sacred Rites. If you spent at least 10 days performing sacred rites, your Stress decreases by 1.
  • Running a Business. Your Stress is reduced by 1 if your business makes a profit (a roll of 61 or higher on the Running a Business table).
  • Selling a Magic Item. Your Stress is reduced by 1 if you sell a magic item with a base price worth at least that of your value threshold.
  • Sowing Rumors. Your Stress is reduced by 1 if you successfully sow a rumor.
  • Training to Gain Levels. No reduction other than the normal 1d4 for gaining a level.

Other Activities[edit]

Stress can also be reduced in the following ways:

  • Wealth. Changing to a wealthier lifestyle decreases your Stress by 1d4. This takes a number of days equal to the gp-per-day cost of the new lifestyle.
  • Shopping Therapy. Buying a luxury item such as an expensive bottle of wine, piece or art or exotic pet; or a luxury service such as a visit to a theatre or a "special hireling". The item or service must be a new experience and worth at least your value threshold. This reduces your Stress by 1d4.
  • Resolving Conflict. This is a catch-all category for when you end a story-based conflict not directly associated with a quest. The situation must be described fully, and you must be your own judge as to the the impact of the resolution. You may have defeated a villain that has been a thorn in your side; patched things up after a messy relationship; beaten an addiction; acquired a prized item or let go of your feelings after the loss of one; made amends with your deity after going against their ideals, etc.

Risky Endeavours[edit]

Some pursuits have a variable effect on Stress.

Addiction. If your flaw is an addiction or obsession, pursuing it can provide short-term gains with long term consequences. The addiction has a level, starting at 0. It takes a number of days equal to 1 + the flaw's level to pursue the addiction, after which your Stress is reduced by 2d4 - the flaw's level, to a minimum of 0. If the Stress reduction is 0, the only way you to reduce Stress again is by pursuing the addiction again (until the Stress reduction is 1 or higher).

This can lead to a situation where nothing can reduce your Stress. This can be relieved by resolving the addiction or obsession. This will require investing time, money or other resources, or a dramatic shift in your relationships with NPCs. Finally, the flaw is replaced with a new one.

The Effects of Stress[edit]

Stress effects different people in different ways. When you first reach 5 Stress points, roll 1d8 on the following table to see what effects you while you are at 5 Stress or more. There is a more severe effect if you are at 10 Stress or more. If you reach 20 Stress, you have a career-ending nervous breakdown.

d8 Stress Type Effect (5 or more Stress) Effect (10 or more Stress)
1 Broken Will You have disadvantage on the first Wisdom save made each expedition. You have disadvantage on Wisdom saving throws.
2 Palpitations When you recover 1 less hit point when rolling hit dice. You have disadvantage on Constitution saving throws
3 Shaking Your have a -2 penalty to initiative checks You have disadvantage on Dexterity saving throws
4 Distracted When you make a skill check, you add half your proficiency bonus (instead of your normal bonus) When you make a skill check, you do not add your proficiency bonus.
5 Abusive When you start an expedition, choose one NPC. That NPC's Loyalty is reduced by 1d4. You must pass a DC 15 Charisma check in order to gain any new NPC party members until the end of the next expedition.
6 Careless When you return from an expedition, you lose 10-percent of the coins and gems you found. Instead, you loose 25-percent of the coins and gems you found.
7 Insomnia When you finish a long rest, you regain one-third of your hit dice (instead of half). Instead, you regain one-quarter of your hit dice.
8 Inattentive Your passive Perception is 5. You have disadvantage on Perception checks.


When you, as expedition leader, shows signs of stress it effects the behaviour of the NPC party members. Unless an NPC has a Loyalty of 10 or more, they are less willing to take risks if you have a Stress of 5 or more.

Risks might include:

  • Engaging in a hard combat encounter
  • Engaging in any combat encounter if they have 50-percent or less of their hit points remaining
  • Interacting with a trick or trap

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