Friday 14 August 2015

Legendary Mounts (AKA 'I want a Horse +1!')

Kyrgyz couple in historical costumes.
Kyrgyz couple in traditional dress. And a horse.
I've been reading a bunch of Central Asian epics and whatnot recently, and one thing that a lot of them have in common is that the heroes have horses which are magical or otherwise exceptional in their strength and speed. It makes sense: these were people who lived on horseback, fought on horseback, and knew that when it came to the crunch, their cavalry were only as good as the horses they rode. It's hardly surprising that when they tried to imagine what the legendary heroes of the past must have been like, the first thing they thought of was: 'man, I bet those guys had really awesome horses!'

D&D has a long tradition of PCs upgrading their weapons and armour as their careers go on, so that a character might start off with a regular sword and end up wielding a vorpal blade or a holy avenger or whatever. Mounts, though, are usually assumed to be pretty much interchangeable: PCs start off riding a regular horse, and end up riding... another regular horse. Or maybe the same horse. Did anyone even keep track?

(The fact that mounts didn't scale with their riders also contributes to the lack of attachment most PCs feel for them. When a party of level 6 PCs find themselves at ground zero of a 5d6 fireball, they'll probably all live to tell the tale, but their 2-3HD horses are going to be toast.)

Now, a Horse +1 sounds pretty silly; but, really, any character from a Central Asian-esque culture should be just as happy to get a better horse as they would be to get a sharper sword or a more accurate bow. So here are some suggestions for representing that in the rules.

Turkmen women on horseback.
Turkmen women on horseback.

Mount Quality: Every mount has a Quality Level. This level is applied as a modifier to the following traits:
  • Hit Dice. Higher-quality mounts are stronger and tougher, and thus have more hit dice.
  • Armour Class. High-quality mounts are more agile, and better able to avoid attacks.
  • To-Hit and Damage: High-quality mounts are stronger and fiercer, and thus do extra damage on their attacks (including trample damage).
  • Saves: High-quality mounts are tougher and more agile, and thus pass saves more often.
  • Survive Unconscious: High-quality mounts are stubborn and tenacious of life, and do not die until reduced to a number of negative hit points equal to twice their Quality rating. (This also helps to reduce the chance that PCs who invest a lot in a special mount then have that investment wiped out by a single lucky hit.)
  • The melee To-Hit and Damage rolls of their riders when charging: Any melee attack made from the back of a charging horse already gets +2 damage (double damage if using a lance, spear, or similar weapon). High-quality mounts are able to deliver even more devastating charges, adding a further bonus to the to-hit and damage rolls of their riders.
  • Riding Checks: As I've discussed elsewhere, ATWC characters are all assumed to be such expert riders that they only need to make ability checks (usually Dexterity or Charisma) when attempting really crazy stunts. When they do, apply the quality level of the mount as a modifier to the roll.
  • Speed: Each level of quality adds 5% to the top speed of the mount. This is unlikely to matter much in combat, but over a long-distance journey or chase it means that a higher-quality mount will always outdistance a lower-quality one unless hampered by a less skilled rider or a heavier load.
Normal mounts range in quality from -1 (broken-down nag) to 3 (exceptional quality), although only quality -1 to 1 mounts will normally be for sale; quality 2 or 3 steeds are rare and precious treasures, and must be won, bred, or purchased specially. All ATWC characters are assumed to be such good judges of horseflesh that they can tell the quality of a mount at a glance, and riding a high-quality horse is a good way to win respect - and to attract the attention of horse-thieves, but that's an occupational hazard. Rich or high-status characters will be expected to ride high-quality horses as a matter of course.

Quality 4 and 5 steeds exist, but they are invariably supernatural in some way - the result of magical breeding programmes, the creations of wizards or spirits, and so on - and many of them have additional magical abilities. To discover which talent a given magical horse has, pick or roll 1d6 on the list below:
  1. Horse can talk and understand several human languages.
  2. When running at full speed, horse can cross water as easily as land. Sinks if it slows down.
  3. Horse can run all day and all night without tiring.
  4. Horse has skin of iron and hooves of steel: +3 AC in addition to bonuses from quality and barding, attacks and trampling deal 1d10 base damage instead of 1d6.
  5. Horse can breathe fire: up to once every three rounds, one opponent in melee range must pass a REF save or take 1d10 damage. May also make a normal attack in the same round.
  6. Horse can jump incredible distances - 50' or more, or 20' straight up - with a decent run-up.
In the unlikely event of their owners being willing to sell them, such steeds are worth absolutely enormous sums.

A tribal elder rides his reindeer across the steppes of Mongolia. His tribe has been recorded as domesticating their reindeer for the last 4,000 years. by reiternick
Mongolian man riding a reindeer. Looks pretty high-quality to me...

Handy Mount Quality Table

Hit Dice
Damage (Kick or Trample)
Rider's Charge Bonus
(To-Hit / Damage)
AC (Natural / Barding / Heavy Barding)
Dies At
0 HP
0 HP
-2 HP
-4 HP
-6 HP
-8 HP
Exceptional AND Magical






-10 HP


Note that these quality rules can also be applied to mounts other than horses: camels, reindeer, bears, giant wolves, brass snout rats, etc, etc. This can make the choice between mundane and exotic mounts a bit more meaningful: given the choice between riding a horse and riding a giant wolf, almost every PC is going to pick the wolf, but the choice between a quality 1 wolf and a quality 4 horse that can breathe fire might be a rather harder one to make!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! I followed your profile link to your blog, and you've got some good stuff on there. I'll add it to the bloglist...

  2. Great and useful stuff! I enjoyed it so much I wrote one for my setting and with boats!