Monday, February 6, 2012

Pimp My Mount

I had the best buffalo horse that ever made a track.
-Buffalo Bill
A horse is dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle.
-Ian Fleming

From Warg Riders to a Paladin's Steed fantasy is rife with examples of Heroes and their loyal or deadly mounts. Though the utilization of these fantastic creatures may vary from table to table the desire in our hearts is to charge into battle atop a noble steed and vanquish our foes. During my last campaign I gave my party mounts. They received special horseshoes that transformed normal horses into something specific and especially tailored to their Paragon Path. It also granted each rider the Mounted Combat feat. Despite my best intentions I never got to have the big mounted battle. A few times individuals used their mount's skills to great advantage but my players seemed to be happier to dismount and fight then try to understand the mounted combat rules.

Mount Combat Rules

The mounted combat rules really seem pretty simple. To break it down for you, if the rider has the Mounted Combat Feat they don't suffer a -2 penalty to attacks, get to use the mounts unique attack and either the mounts or riders physical skills which ever is better, which is pretty sweet. There is another a -2 penalty for not having a saddle.

During combat the rider and mount are one, ie they share the same initiative pool and action pool during combat. If the PC and mount become separated (more on this further down) then they share actions for that turn only. The next important rule to remember is that single attacks like melee and ranged only target the Rider or the Mount not both, this includes Attacks of Opportunity triggered by either. The attacker always chooses whom he attacks. However, area and close blast attacks target both. A PC is also considered to be in all squares of the mount's spaces and can attack from or be attacked in any of those spaces.

Alright, pretty straight forward, now to talk about getting separated. There are two methods for splitting rider from a mount. One method is to dismount as a standard action.

The other is to knock rider or mount prone or for them to be separated by forced movement. In the case of prone, the rider gets a save when he is knocked prone. If the save succeeds they remain in the saddle. Think of it as jousting. A knight pokes you in the shield with his lance. Your balance keeps you in the saddle. This is the save. Houserule: The rider can use Athletics in place of a flat save but the DC is the attack roll. I might also allow Acrobatics in some cases.

If the mount is the one being knocked prone then the mount is prone and the rider lands in a square adjacent to the mount. It's unclear if this also knocks the rider prone or if he lands on his feet.

Basing my experience on cinema and not on my terrified weekend with reins in my hand, I would say prone or at a minimum an acrobatic check to land upright. This is the charge scene from Braveheart where they set their spears against the Heavy Calvary. That guy flipping out of the saddle or sliding to the ground adjacent is you. No save on that one bud. Houserule: I use a d12 to determine the square. North is 1 and 12 is due west. Count around clockwise. Place fallen rider.

Similarly, if a rider is subjected to forced movement he can drag his mount with him and stay in the saddle. The rules intent when the mount is the one being pushed, pulled, slid etc is unclear, but I assume it works like being knocked prone, No Save.

Houserules - Basing forced movement on the prone rules I have been ruling that the rider gets a Save when draggin' his nag under him. I have also allowed a rider trained in athletics to use their or mounts athletics check vs. the attack roll as a dc to determine if they are able to maintain control. This is usually tougher than the 50% flat save chance but my players seem to like the flavor better.

Aerial, aquatic or climbing combat rules could also come into play at higher tiers of play but for land based mounts that is really all there is to it.

Tactical Advantages and Disadvantages

For this conversation I will stick to land based mounts, but more exotic fare adds access to unique terrain and circumstances. First and for most is speed. Mounts have greater speed than their foot bound compatriots. Secondly, mounts are walking extra hit points. A PC is going to be a little tougher if an enemy combatant is spreading its attacks between you and your mount. Thirdly, a mount adds skills that your PC might not normally be trained in. Need to jump a ravine to get into better tactical position, well your wizard might not be trained in athletics but it stands to reason his warhorse is.

Mounts aren't all glorious though. They are an extra set of options and statistics you may not be familiar with. Incorporating them into your arsenal and meddling party tactics around them takes time. In a one off battle that synergy may be missing. Also, fighting mount to mount means that you need to have other effects at your disposal. The biggest of those is forced movement and prone. Mounts are typically large creatures to account for the one size difference required. This means that tactically your one size category bigger. Finding cover is more difficult. You are also a bigger target for blasts, bursts, zones and walls. The other disadvantage is squeezing, if your mount squeezes you squeeze. The biggest disadvantage comes from the fact that mounts do not level. You can use a mount's special powers of your level or lower, in most cases. This gives you a narrow window of opportunity until your mount's attacks and defenses are no longer concurrent with the threats you are facing. That means your first level warhorse becomes outclassed by third to fourth level. This can be extended for three levels by 8th level with the Martial Practice Handle Steed. However, this doesn't provide your players with mounts for more than a few levels before they are looking for upgrades.

Mounts and Technicalities

Probably one of the hardest fantasy staples to pull off, mounts represent a significant investment in time, resources and planning. As any one who has ever had to deal with these types of things knows, most mounts are impractical in a dungeon. They are perfect targets for DM's when left tied up outside a dungeon and if your DM is a real stickler for money matters the cost of maintenance, handling, feeding, watering and storage are a headache the average group doesn't want to hassle with. Who could blame them? The DMG offers some suggestions around DM fiat to make them easier to use. Like having them belong to a party patron, or only used on specific quests. This puts me in the mind of disappearing familiars. Blck.

Another possible solution is the Figurines of Wondrous Power. A good mechanical representation of Drizzt's animal companion Guenhwyvar, figurines of Wondrous Power allow a player to conjure a handful of types of mounts from their figurines. I like this as a one off option the same way I like the Phantom Steed ritual for wizards and other ritualists, summoning eight steeds is handy. Though these steeds are for travel only and nothing in the ritual mentions their use in combat. A combination of these two effects can make for an effective way to add mounts to the equation without hassling the players.

Though I do find it a little Mighty Morphin Power Ranger to have four or more PCs all whip out various figurines at the same time. "I the black ranger summon the Obsidian Steed, I the white ranger summon the Marble elephant, I the Pink ranger summon the Pearl Sea Horse..." (oh and the Pink ranger is my instigator. Nick I am looking at you here buddy)

So setting aside magic, how does a DM sate the hunger some players feel to ride off into the sunset at the end of the campaign on wings of ebony?

According to the 4E players handbook a decent riding horse will set you back 75 gp. This is a mundane steed mind you. For an actual beast that you can engage in combat and won't bolt you are looking at almost ten times that amount or 680 gp. Adventure's Vault added more options for players. Creatures ranging from Draft Giant Lizards, not fond of that name by the way I call them Pack Drakes, all the way up to the mac-daddy Rimefire Griffon weighing in at a whopping 525,000 gp. Now beyond the actual problems of whom is going to be selling a creature taken from the elemental chaos comes the matters of caring, training and feeding it. None of this is covered in the 4E materials. If I am wrong please comment and let me know what I have missed. The DMG does cover some basics of mounted combat, but most of these other details are glossed over. I am not one to harp on WoTC, ok I am but not publicly and not about this sort of thing. Hopefully, I can look forward to a whole supplement on mounts and mounted combat in DND Next until then here are my calculations for the costs associated with maintaining mounts.

In this matter I lean on the research of Rod Noddenberry's Emporium of Niggling Details and supplements like AV1 and Mordenkainen's. Rod created a price guide for goods and services compiled from various editions of D&D and converted it to the economy most fitting with 4E. AV1 contains a thin veneer of mount rules with a few magic items and Mordy added hirelings back to the game.

Cost of owning a 75 gp Riding Horse

Stabling 5 sp per day
Beast Handler 1st level 15 gp per day (though this hireling would add other benefits lets only charge 25%)
Hose shoes 1 cp per day (2 gp per week smith cost/ time to manufacturer four shoes/ over time between shoeings)
Feed 5 cp per day

Replacement costs
Saddle and tack 10 gp
Saddlebags 4 gp

The 8th level Martial Practice Handle Steed negates the need of a Beast Handler, and adds a few interesting benefits to gaining mounts and the Mounted Combat Feat. Daily cost of owning a simple riding horse is 4.26 gp per day or roughly 1,555 gp per year. In other words 20 times the cost of the purchase price. A significant drain on party resources. As for owning the Rimefire Griffin do you let it out everyday to go hunt? What about a blade spider or any of the other exotic mounts?

Jury is still out on when, if ever I will give my party mounts again. I suppose if they or another DM asked about them I would suggest the following:

  • Mounted Combat Feat and Saddles are a must for all PCs to keep combat effective
  • I would level the mounts' Attacks, Defenses and HP like any other Monster
  • Grant a new special ability or attack at every plateau 6th, 11th, 16th etc as part of treasure
  • Contain the mounts in items or via a ritual that would allow them to disappear to a pocket dimension
    • Or, Charge the PC's a 30 gp per week maintenance fee for each animal

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