Making Mounts More Momentous

The Overlooked Advantages of the Riding Animal

Most game systems relegate mounts into a kind of travel buff – treating them essentially like vehicles that boost overland speed. Other mechanics grant combat stats and carrying capacities, but mounts can be more than that. A clever GM can make it worthwhile to drop some hard-earned cash at the stable and add some interest into any scene that includes such pragmatic pets.


A common feature in the realm of video games is the zone-wall: an uncrossable barrier that corrals a player into the area where the game designer wants them to stay. It might be a string of pixelated mountains, an ocean, a bridge-less river, or just an obnoxious invisible impediment. A zone wall can help guide players into the necessary bottlenecks where the plot is happening and prevents programmers wasting time creating chunks of world that, though realistic, aren’t needed for the game. How does one accomplish the same thing in a table-top roleplaying game where players have the imagination and magical or technological powers to overcome obstacles of all sorts? Mounts (or the lack of them) can help.

Imagine designing a low-level area for your game – it’s a little valley where you want the players to explore and do some easy quests before venturing forth into the wider world and harder challenges. But your gamers are rebellious explorers and don’t care about the obvious clues that the NPC’s are dishing out, like: “Don’t go too far south – there be dragons!” Instead of just flat out refusing to let them cross the invisible line, discourage their curiosity by surrounding the noob area with terrain that is tough to traverse without a mount. Here are some examples:

  • High Grass: Very tall grass blocks vision and is frustratingly difficult to walk through without slowly cutting a path first, unless you’re on top of a nice, tall animal that can glide past without slowing. Most grasses that are left uncut or ungrazed will grow to a height that would be at the very least annoying for an unmounted, average-size humanoid.
  • Overgrown Forest: Like the high grass — the shrubs, bushes, briars, and fallen logs of an untended woodland would make crossing them without clearing a path exceptionally slow and labor-intensive. Here is a video on the differences between managed and unmanaged woods. A truly overgrown forest would be much closer to a jungle than the park-like woods that most modern people have experienced on nature walks. Long-legged mounts like horses could cross such territory much more easily and large, strong riding animals like buffalo or elephants could simply muscle their way through, plowing a new trail as they go.
  • Marshland: Anyone who has ever lost a boot or a shoe in the mud can already see how this type of landmass could serve as an effective barrier. If any obstinate player tries to wade their way through without a mount, just have the muck steal some footwear and sprinkle in some leeches – they will turn back and wait until they can afford a mighty (tall) steed.
  • Deep Snow: Digging your way through deep, soft snow is a real chore when you could just finish the farmer’s quest and be rewarded with a team of shaggy-haired horses who can plod right through it. Watch out for clever players who know about snowshoes.
  • River: Even small volumes of moving water can be deceptively dangerous, but a four-sure-footed friend can ford or even swim their way across more easily than a person trying to keep their adventuring gear high and dry. Additionally, rivers are handy GM tools because they can suddenly rise whenever it’s convenient to prevent a crossing.

Once your adventuring party has leveled-up sufficiently to leave the starting area, you can make suitable mounts available to allow further exploration.


Once your players have mounts, pack animals, or even herd animals, you can start using them as a GM. Here are some quest ideas for the newly-mounted mercenary:

  • Pony Express: A message must be delivered with extreme speed, and the only people with fast-enough mounts just cantered into town.
  • Roadside Service: A heavy cart has fallen into a ditch and the driver’s team spooked and ran off. He has the harnesses and rope but no horsepower to haul it free.
  • Parade Day: An embarrassed noble will be the laughing stock of the city if the peerage finds out their family doesn’t have enough money to buy a single horse for the upcoming parade. If only someone could wash the dungeon-dust off their ponies and loan them out for a few hours of pomp and circumstance!
  • Cattle Drive: A huge herd of livestock animals have gotten loose and are trampling the crops. Rounding them up requires the speed and intimidation factor of a band of experienced riders.
  • Steeplechase: Mounted obstacle course and race all in one? For prize money, you say?


There are plenty of other advantages once players have mounts. Having the high ground while fighting is one that is already built into some combat mechanics, and being able to use weapons like lances or ride-by attacks can be decisive. Simply being able to use both hands while mounted also changes the game (assuming your game system allows for guiding the mount with the knees or using one hand for both reins and a weapon or shield). Mounts in combat defined warfare for thousands of years.

Obviously, travel is where mounts make the biggest impact – their endurance and speed are great, they can carry kit, and the rider can reserve their own energy for whatever dangers lie at the end of the road, even sleeping in the saddle if the rules allow for it. Another convenience when commuting on the back of a mount is the slight height advantage that increases the maximum distance a person can see. An average horse is about 5 or 6 feet tall at the withers (shoulder-height) and a seated rider would add about 3 feet of their own height to that, increasing their effective height for calculating line-of-sight at a distance:


Eye Ht.           Line of Sight Distance

5 ft.           = 2.7 miles or 4.4km

6 ft.           = 3 miles or 4.8km

7ft.            = 3.2 miles or 5.2km

8ft.            = 3.4 miles or 5.5km

9ft.            = 3.6 miles or 5.9km

10ft.          = 3.8 miles or 6.2km

Animals have a set of natural skills, too. They instinctively know how to find water and food, so letting them loose when hungry and tailing them can sometimes lead to resources the rider might not have discovered on her own. (And if survival is really at stake, then the four-legged companion might be the last hope for a sad little meal – reality is harsh, sometimes). Don’t forget that horsehair can be used for a great number of things (and the bones can be used to make glue – sorry, again).

Finally, mounts in games can be trusted allies that provide help when treated well – don’t forget, they are intelligent enough to be trained and so are intelligent enough to lend aid when they’re able. Mounts can lend warmth on cold nights, act as service animals to those with disabilities, and can help to calm the fearful. When done well, a mount is part of the party.



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