I Want a Pony - A Post About Mounts
Ok, so I don’t really want a pony.
I want a War Elephant.
In my humble opinion, mounts are one of the most underutilized ideas in D&D, and it seemingly always has been. Yes, they are expensive. The average cost of a War Elephant in 5e is 4000gp. That doesn’t include providing it with barding, a saddle, feeding and boarding, etc. That’s an incredible amount of gold for something that I’m basically using to travel from one point to another in most games. But what if I actually get to use the war elephant to attack those random bandits you encounter on the road?
If I were a betting man, I would say that the reason mounts aren’t fully utilized is because there isn’t much in the way of rules for mounted combat. The only “official” rules are found in the PHB, pg 198, for a total of nine paragraphs. Other than the opening section on mounting and dismounting, the only thing mentioned is the following:
While you're mounted, you have two options. You can either control the mount or allow it to act independently. Intelligent creatures, such as dragons, act independently.
You can control a mount only if it has been trained to accept a rider. Domesticated horses, donkeys, and similar creatures are assumed to have such training. The initiative of a controlled mount changes to match yours when you mount it. It moves as you direct it, and it has only three action options: Dash, Disengage, and Dodge. A controlled mount can move and act even on the turn that you mount it.
An independent mount retains its place in the initiative order. Bearing a rider puts no restrictions on the actions the mount can take, and it moves and acts as it wishes. It might flee from combat, rush to attack and devour a badly injured foe, or otherwise act against your wishes.
In either case, if the mount provokes an opportunity attack while you're on it, the attacker can target you or the mount.
That’s it. It’s a very small section that leaves a lot to be interpreted by the player and the GM. The absolute best guide to mounted combat I have seen out there can be found at rpgbot. Take the time to click on it and read through. For clarification, I will be using the Center of Mass method from the linked article.
As this is about the players perspective, it’s not so much about the rules that exist, but things as the player I would love to see.
Based on the rules above, a controlled mount can only do three things - Dash, Disengage and Dodge. That’s all fine and good, but what if I want my War Elephant to use it’s trample ability, or maybe to gore the annoying ogre in front of me. Why can’t he do that? I would argue that if a mount has been training to accept a rider, and it has melee attack options, then part of its training would be for the rider to issue a “non-verbal command” at which point the mount would use the melee attack assigned to that command. Since you and the mount are acting as one in this scenario, how about the player uses his bonus action to issue the “command” and the mounts then attacks?
Your Movement on your Mount
We’ve all seen the movies where the rider slides down the side of his horse, gives himself cover and deftly fires an arrow through the neck of his oncoming foe. ( I know Stephen, there is no targeting in DnD). While limited by the size of your mount, why can’t we move around while riding on the mount? In the example listed above, lots of things would have to be at play, and the GM may not want to deal with all of them. I get that. But for the sake of argument, let’s say he/she is willing to entertain the option. Let’s start with saying you can’t do any such act if you are wearing heavier than light armor. Don’t be an idiot and try it in full plate. It would obviously be a disaster, and cause you and the horse to topple. The GM would be well within his rights to have you take a lot damage as the horse falls on you. (and call you a moron for good measure)
I’d also say you’d you get partial cover (+2 AC) to enemies on the side of the horse that you aren’t on. This is where it gets tricky. The partial cover rules also state that with partial cover, you would get advantage to your dexterity saving throws. I’m willing to say by doing this maneuver, the GM would probably have you make an athletic or dexterity check to make sure you don’t fall off. If anything, depending on how you decide your skill level on the horse (amount of time riding, overall dexterity…I’m not really sure here, just kind of spitballing like everything else in the article) you’d probably make the check at a disadvantage. Finally, I’d say it is totally fair that you’d no longer be able to take any damage for your horse during this maneuver if you took the Mounted Combat Feat.
Lastly, how do you handle the actual attack itself. Are you going to swing a sword, and are you making the move just to provide cover from the archers on the other side the horse. Are you casting a spell? Shooting an arrow, like they do in every single Robin Hood movie made since 1980? For melee attacks, I’m sure your GM would impose some sort of penalty for the attack. But why? You’ve made your dexterity check, you know how to use the weapon and you know how to ride the horse. I get that you are no longer under the standard Center of Mass rules (see above), but there is nothing that says you can’t slide down the side of the horse and shoot the bandit through the eye with your arrow. ( I KNOW! NO TARGETING!). Maybe you don’t get penalized on the attack, but you need to make another athletic check? Who knows. I just know I want to try it.
This is just one example of movement on your mount. What if you have a Giant Snake…Can you slide down it to do something? Can I move around on my War Elephant? Talk to your GM about how you can or cannot move around on your mount. Who knows…he/she may be more willing than you think to let you try.
Types of Mounts
The lists of mounts can be found in the PHB, pg. 157. Eight mounts are listed, and they are of the standard type. Lots of homebrew mounts can be found out there, and many of them are pretty interesting. I’m not even going to get into flying mounts or sea creatures that can be mounts. But what about going off the grid and trying something really different?
My inspiration for this comes from DoTA 2, specifically the Alchemist. For those of you that have never played DoTA, the Alchemist is a hero where there is an ogre that has two giant meat cleavers who can go into a berserkers rage. What’s more important is that he is carrying a gnome, who likes to throw explosives at people, on his shoulders. The gnome has a saddle, and the two act as one hero through the game.
Who says a mount can’t be a two legged creature? What’s to say that if I’m a gnome that I couldn’t enter into a partnership with an Ogre that he would effectively be my mount? What if my halfling wizard wants to treat his Shield Guardian or Golem as a mount? Does entering into an agreement or partnership where once creature “rides” another allow one to act as a mount and the other as a rider?
I get that the rules state that an intelligent creature acts independently. In the description of the ogre in the MM, it has an entire section on the Legendary Stupidity of ogres. Does that throw out the intelligence factor when considering trying to have an ogre for a mount? Kind of hard to argue against it after you read how dumb they are. Maybe the gnome rider has taught the ogre a few basic words and he follows them as part of the agreement, unless said action will automatically kill the ogre. (such commands could be attack, flee, move left, move right) A Shield Guardian’s sole purpose is to keep its owner alive. I would argue that, beyond the intelligence question, it has no free will, therefore becoming the perfect mount.
Where I run into a problem, and I think many GM’s will also, is the issue of alignment. Can a creature of Evil alignment be a proper mount or would he screw over the rider when it is beneficial to him? Being that evilness is summed up as a lack of morals, selfishness and pure greed, I would say that no evil creature could be a trusted mount, no matter what the are promised in any agreement. This culls the list of creatures that could be mounts dramatically . My ogre mount runs into a big problem at this point. You may be able to work around it if the rider can convince the ogre this is best for him (daily charisma checks maybe?), or through some sort of charm spell. I’ll just say that I’ll now have a ogrillion (half ogre) as my mount. Yes, Chaotic Neutral creatures value their freedom, but the work around has to be easier, right?
Remember, players love to do dumb things every session. Why couldn’t that dumb thing be me launching small kegs of gunpowder from the top of my (now) ogrillion while he throws flaming hand axes at them? Or better yet, swinging like a member of Cirque du Soleil from my war elephant as I fire arrows at the groins of those pesky bandits? (THERE’S NO TARGETING CHRIS!)