Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I'm Already Drunk, So Tell Me More about Your Livestock.

Worship at the alter of the Horse Gods
 Over the years I've found myself occasionally dove tailing down into the most esoteric of avenues in an attempt to mine some new territory where no one else has gone, or cares to explore. Usually it's a waste of time as I find myself just as disenchanted with the subject matter as everyone else who has avoided it like the plague; but lately I've been looking at beasts of burden in relation to Dungeons and Dragons and I'm actually fascinated by the subject. Yet this fascination does not have me ready to create a series of rules on the matter through which to torture your players ("Oh let's see, you're riding a Tennessee Walking horse? Well they can only travel fifteen miles a day before they begin to have issues so if you want to keep it healthy you'll have to double your travel time to Oklahoma City . . ."), instead I just want to talk for a few moments about the differences between horse breeds. 


One of the things that I'm learning is that each breed of horse has more benefits and disadvantages than just the color of the coat and the length of their mane. There are horses that are only for show and that can't be ridden for long distances. There are work horses who can pull tones but would fight you if you were fool enough to put a saddle on them. Then there are horses that can sense danger; that thrive in harsh environments, and some that need constant care and supervision. 

That there were such differences was surprising to me because all the horses I had ever been around didn't need any of that. A ready supply of water in the form of a pond and plenty of grazing land seemed more than enough. I've been around a dozen or so breeds so I had foolishly allowed myself to believe that all horses were so hearty. 

Then there's the war horses. By and large the majority of war horses are light breeds designed for speed and maneuverability over hulking beasts of burden that seem to dominate fantasy literature. Which only makes sense because you're not going to use the horse to run over your opponents like you would with an elephant; rather you're going to use them for the natural height advantage and for the increased speed they'll provide you. 

Granted you want something that will be able to handle all of the armor you're wearing and the bullshit you're loading them down with, but I think that's a mistake. If you look at the some of the greatest horse breeds - the Appaloosa and the Arabian for example - you'll find that they gained their greatest renown for how they were handled in combat by lightly armored, highly mobile riders. So while the game has you wanting to ride off into combat armored to the hilt like the Paladin and charging in with a Heavy Warhorse the smarter strategy is to ride a Light Warhorse and wear light armor so that you can move like a champ and gut the dork in armor.

There's a big difference between the fantasy and the reality there and I tend to like the reality better. It's more evocative of the Robert E. Howard tales that dominated my youth and that still influence how I think about combat. There's also my love affairs with the Apache, Comanche, and Mongol that push me more towards the light warhorse than his heavier counterpart. 

Arab Warriors on a Hillside by Adolf Schreyer
Mechanic wise there isn't a lot of difference. Between the Light Horse and the Heavy Horse you only have ten additional feet of movement for the Light and two additional points of strength for the Heavy. Essentially there is no real difference between the two and only your preference matters. Fuck you might as well say I like gray horses and El Cid rode an Arabian so I'll take a Light Warhorse for all the good it does you.

There's just not enough there to make any choice you make meaningful in relation between the light and heavy horses. 


Telling all ya'll it's a Sabotage!
With ponies the game completely threw up it's hands and said, "Fuck it. We're just going to make them smaller horses for the small creatures to ride." And while that's one way to play it, they were so wrong to do that! 

There are ponies that make any horse smaller than a Clydesdale look like a chump. They're used for hauling heavy loads down narrow roads that would send trucks toppling down the cliff side. They've got breeds of ponies that survive in swamps and marshes that would break your horse's leg with their first step into the muck. There are breeds that full sized adults can ride and that are used today to help shepherds fight off rustlers.

I'm really amazed at how versatile the pony is and it kind of shocks me that they're so bland as they exist in the game. I mean you could take four breeds of pony and have enough variety to match most everything you could encounter in the game. I'm still processing a lot of this information and I find myself wondering why these two are treated so blandly in the game - well in most every game I've ever played actually. 

Why are we missing an opportunity to have some meaningful differences between these breeds? Is it because we're worried about the added complexity to our games? Seriously asking here guys.


  1. Throw mules into the mix then to really mess things up - a well trained riding mule can pretty much walk any horse to death. The rider has to be a bit smarter and more politic with a mule, though - they hold grudges.


    1. Yeah, mules are the shit.

      They're actually in third edition but the entry reads like a bullshit version of copy and paste, only without the originality.

  2. I use something similar at informations you can find on this site (http://www.angelfire.com/on/ebonwolf/horses.html) to characterize the mounts in my FR campaign. :)

  3. Yeah, you're right about the ponies. It's probably a combination of laziness & ignorance. "Fantasy Wargaming" -- which prided itself on the level of historical detail that went into it -- just mentioned L, M, H, & "nag" mounts, while the price charts had donkeys, mules, riding horses, warhorses, and carthorses. But no rules about how any of that worked...I guess you worked it out yourself. :)

    I started very briefly looking to other mounts. My googling revealed:

    A yak will carry 100 kg without a problem and can haul up to 150 kg on its back. The walking speed of a fully loaded yak is approximately 4 - 5 km per hour and 20 - 30 km can be covered in a day. [yaks weigh about 450 kg for males, 275 kg for females]

    however another site says: Yaks can carry 70 kilograms (150 pounds), about a forth of what a Bactrian camel can carry and about the same as a horse. Yaks are sometimes very unaccommodating pack animals and will try to throw off packs that are placed on their backs.

    The second number seems more likely to me.

    Lastly my brother -- who is pretty obsessed with animal facts -- when I asked him about boars as mounts, because I'd seen an old photo of a saddled pig, texted me :

    generally animals can carry 20 % of their weight on their back. Exceptions are elephants (more like 10-15%) and camels (more like 30%) Comfortably and almost twice that for a short while. Pigs have high haunches which might make them tire more quickly. So a 1000 lb boar might be able to carry 300-400 lbs but it wouldn't be an easy ride since their haunches move so much when they walk.
    Should note under exceptions two things: the 2/3 square rule for size. And the entirely limited number of animals that are used for load bearing. :)

    So, there you go.

    1. Your brother just sent me down a twenty minute rule hole. Tell him thank you for knowing a ridiculous amount of esoteric facts about animals, and that I hate him because now I will never get away from this rabbit hole.

  4. Thanks for that. You've got me thinking. If those thoughts turn into an article for my own blog, I'd like to link to this one if that's OK?

    1. You can link to anything in my blog, or reshare it if you like, so long as you give me credit and a link back here.

  5. Too many folks treat horses like an ever fueled morotcycle instead of an animal with it's own limitations, need to rest, and nead too eat.
    High performance horses don't do the job by grazing at cavalry speeds carrying a warrior in plate, 100,000 gp and 10 weeks of rations.

    1. I know, unfortunately no one I play with will let me use them like that. :(

  6. Holy words, JDJarvis! :)
    Just in the last session of game, after about three days of exploring a dungeon, the PCs are coming out from the underground complex to recover the horses after they had left them tied "somewhere" without worrying about whether they had food and water nearby. What do you think they found? ;)

    1. I really hope the answer involves a bunch of bones and a group of trolls offering them a last meal!

    2. This is for the next time they do the same error. This time someone have thought that these horses left alone near a forest stay better in his farm! ;)

  7. I would welcome some guidelines about horses, ponies and mules for my game. I have no personal knowledge of these animals and an intelligent article with some fairly simple rules would aid me greatly. Since many people are familiar with these animals surely someone would be able to help the rest of us out with some crunch here.

    1. Well if GURPS is your thing you're in luck!


      that's in GURPS 3e terms. In the inferior GURPS 4e it would look different. :)

      You can probably extrapolate from real world info there!


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