Fun Facts and Data On Historical, Alternative Mounts – Part I

From Paul Cardwell

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0253

Fun Facts and Data On Historical, Alternative Mounts – Part I

Please note: Terminology, chronology, and movements are taken from Mythworld Bestiary, and used by permission.

I will readily admit that this essay was inspired by Garry and Susan Stahl’s superb articles, RPT#241 – Gaming The Horse and RPT#242 – Gaming The Horse, Part 2.

I will also admit that, unlike the Stahls, I have never trained any of the animals I describe here, but I have researched the subject as thoroughly as possible.

While the horse is the traditional mount in RPGs, it is neither the only one in the real-life cultures we pretend to be playing, nor is it used exclusively (or arguably, even primarily) as a mount. However, I will largely omit Equus cabalos, as it has been covered far beyond my capabilities, and proceed to the vast array of other species that can find use in our games. And, I am not even going to get into the wondrous array of fantasy mounts to be found in RuneQuest’s Glorantha setting, sticking to those that have been employed by actual cultures through history as either riding, pack, or draft animals.

  • General behaviors All but one of these animals are prey species. As a result, they are extremely wary of strange odors, sudden noises and/or lights – particularly thunder and lightning that does not announce itself from the dim distance first. Ambushes will simply compound their natural fear. While training can reduce this somewhat, this training is mainly represented in the game in a greater resistance to spooking, until the training is extensive enough for the animal to attack under command. These animals may threaten, but rarely attack unless both thoroughly provoked and are in conditions that do not permit running away.
  • Speed All the speed and distance figures included in the following descriptions are the absolute maximum for an exceptionally well-trained animal on ideal surface conditions, with no load. This would be about the equivalent of a master ability in skill-based game systems. The average animal will start out at about half these figures, and of course, even that will be reduced further because of the amount of load and the factors of terrain and weather.
  • Training Time for training is much the same for all the animals described, and covered well in the Stahls’ article, except that elephants would be at twice the age, while dogs would be half, and goats three-quarters that of the rest.

Not Quite Horses (Equines)

The genus Equus has been employed extensively for domestication, with only the four zebra species (E. zebra, burchelli, grevi, and quagga) and the Asian wild ass (E. hemionus) resisting.While the Stahls covered the horse extensively, they did leave out terminology, chronology, speed, and weaponry. (See their article for load and color data, as well as much other useful information.)Terminology is extensive, as with most domestic animals.

  • A male is a stallion, but if castrated young is a gelding, but after maturity is a stag.
  • Females are mares.
  • An unspecified juvenile is a foal, but a male is a colt and female is a filly.

There is a vast number of proper collectives:

  • Generally, it is a herd
  • A rag of colts
  • Team of draft horses
  • Harras if enclosed in a structure or corral
  • Remuda for spare mounts or pack horses
  • A stud of mares
  • A manada if a feral stallion with a harem of mares

The sound is a neigh or whinny; the home a stable if a structure, a corral if open fenced area.

The horse chronology is:

  • Gestation 11 months
  • Precocial, walk at one hour
  • Run at four hours
  • Solid food at one month
  • Wean at nine months wild, six months domestic
  • Keep-up with adults at four hours
  • Survival alone at six months
  • Sexually mature at one year, serial polygynous, patriarchal
  • Birth two years apart, one offspring (2% chance of twins)
  • Menopause at 18-20 years, death 35-40

For movement, here are metric figures for a well-trained animal:

  • 100 meters at 18 meters per second
  • 1 kilometer at 15m/s, and 100 km at 2.5m/s

It would gallop the 100m, trot the kilometer, and walk the 100 km, possibly interspersed from time to time with a canter if it felt fresh enough. There would be the appropriate fatigue penalty for each, plus that for load and terrain/weather. Swimming would be 100m at 1.25m/s and l km at 1m/s. High jump would max out at 2.5 meters and long at 8.25 meters.

Weaponry is primarily the kick, but also the paw (rise on hind legs and drop down on the foe with front legs churning). Biting may be used at close range as it is frequently used in battles between stallions. Knockdown and trample are not normal weapons and their use must be trained as the nature of the animal is to avoid such close contact and the danger of tripping.

Equus assinus (donkey)

One of the indications of how widespread the use of this species is the variety of names for it in English alone: ass, donkey, burro (yeah, it was originally a Spanish word, but English will glom onto anything and claim it as its own), etc. The male is a jack (as in jackass) while the female is a jenny (much less commonly jennyass). The offspring is a foal, just as a horse, but the gender distinction is not generally used until well past weaning, when work training starts at a couple of years. The proper collective is pace, not herd; and their sound is a bray.

Most donkeys are about the size of a pony, and are generally ridden with the weight over the hind legs, but the Sardinian breed is the size of a riding horse and ridden with a regular horse saddle. Like the horse, they can carry 20% of their weight in proper pack saddle, drag 30%, pull sled on snow or packed land 50% (same for a travois), wheeled vehicle 150%.

Gestation is one year; precocial, walk in one hour, run in four; solid food at one month, wean at nine months; keep up with the pace at one day, survive on their own at six months; sexually mature in one year, serial polygynous, birth two years apart, 2% chance of twins; death at 45.

Color is generally a gray or light brown and the dorsal and withers stripes are a much darker shade of the general color. In fact, “donkey” is originally a Dutch diminutive of dun – dirt colored. However, with human intervention, paints now exist in significant numbers, usually brown on white, and white (with pale beige stripes) is not unknown.

Under ideal conditions and no load, speed for 100 meters is 20m/s, one kilometer 15m/s, 100 km 14m/s; swim the 100m in 1.25m/s, l km in 1m/s. High jump 1m, long jump 3m.

Weaponry is almost exclusively the kick as they mainly paw only against each other, and rarely bite.

Equus cabalosXassinus (mule)

There are two varieties of this species: mule and henny, the latter, E. assinusXcabalos. Since they tend to get their strength from their mother and intelligence from their father, a mule is valuable (equal to a horse, and in mountainous areas, more valuable) while the henny is essentially useless. Because they are smaller, Disneyworld uses hennies for their horse-drawn streetcars, which like everything else there, is 7/8 full size. I can’t find anywhere else they are used. Ironically, about 15% of hennies are fertile, while all mules are sterile but don’t know it and will try to mate anyway, thus the usual gelding.

A draft breed mare (Clydesdale, Percheron, Shire, Belgian, etc.) and a Sardinian jack will produce the equivalent of a light draft/heavy war horse, but retain the surefootedness of the average mule. However, most mules are in the saddle horse size range. Loads (in percentages) are the same as horses and donkeys, but they combine the greater size (and therefore more load) of the horse, with the surefootedness and intelligence of the donkey.

Colors are usually a light to dark gray and browns to chestnut, but dapple, roan, and paint exist. Figure modelers should note, a horse can be converted to a mule by lengthening the ears with paper and putty, reducing the amount of hair on the proximal 2/3 of the tail, shorten the mane to a brush cut, and remove the forelock. There is the invisible detail that mules have no canine teeth, but then neither do mares and geldings. At our scale, no one will notice.

Speeds are: 100m 16m/s, 1 km 1416m/s, 100 km 2.516m/s; swim 100m 1.516m/s, l km 1.2516m/s; high jump 1m, long jump 3m.

Weaponry is as with the donkey, except they are more likely to bite. Still, the kick is the main weapon.

Equus onager (onager)

There is some question as to how domesticated this wild equine is. They look like a light brown donkey with skinny legs, but were highly prized as far back as when chariots had four wheels. They would never make a mount, or even a pack animal, but are faster than a donkey and have astounding endurance. The record is incomplete, but they were probably captured in the wild about at weaning, rather than bred in captivity.

Stats are identical to the donkey, except it is doubtful that any ever carried a pack and there is no recorded case of any ever being saddle-broken. However, their 1 km speed is 20m/s and 100 km 15m/s.

The kick is their only weapon, although they have scant opportunity to use it when hitched to a chariot. In extreme, they may bite. The kick is powerful enough that the type of catapult which has a bar stopping the throwing arm suddenly (with the result that the back wheels leave the ground) is also called an onager.

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Slow But Steady (Cattle)

The genus Bos has four useful species, as well as explaining why the household milk cow tended to be named Bossie; the owners spoke Latin without realizing it. Both males and females of these species have horns (polled – bred hornless – are a quite modern development), although horn development can be prevented by burning the horn buds in infancy. For the most part, the two most familiar species can be considered together, although a fertile intergrade was not achieved until the Santa Gertrudis breed at the King Ranch in 1942.As with most domestic animals.

There are a wide variety of precise terms:

  • The male is a bull
  • If castrated as a calf, it is a steer
  • If castrated as an adult, an ox (Ox is now incorrectly applied to any draft bovine regardless of fertility and even sex)
  • A female is a cow (while some tend to call any bovine a cow, the proper term, though virtually archaic, is kine, and cattle has taken on a singular number even though it was originally plural)
  • The young is a calf, and at yearling is either a male bullock (if not steer) or female heifer.

Strictly speaking, a herd applies only to wild or feral stock, but I have yet to hear any rancher tell how many head are in his drove – drover existed well after the trail- driving days but became obsolete in the 20th century. Oxen come in pairs, termed yoke. The sound is moo, or (particularly oxen) low. Bulls may bellow and calves bleat.

Life cycle is:

  • Gestation 280 days
  • Precocial, walk two hours (one for longhorns)
  • Run one month
  • Solid food three months
  • Wean four to six months
  • Keep-up with adults, two months
  • Survival six months
  • Maturation 1.5-2 years
  • Serial polygyny, birth one year, 2% twins
  • Death 15 years

Oxen are the main draft variety, although any mature one can be trained as draft (but bulls are too unreliable). They can drag 40%, pull sled on snow or packed land at 100%, wheeled vehicle 175% – more weight, but at a slower speed than equines.

Their speeds are 100m 6m/s, l km 3m/s, 100 km 1m/s; swim 100m 1.25m/s; high jump .5m, long jump 1.25m.

Bos domesticus (domestic cow)

As the name indicates, this is what most people think of as the ordinary domestic cow despite the gender specificity of the term. The two most common uses of this species is for milk (and its products) and beef.

They come in a wide variety of colors: black, brown, white, and red predominating, and a wide variety of bi-color patterns, depending on the breed.

Their main weapon is the gore in a forward charge with contact usually made side to side and less often an upward thrust. Kicks are rare, but do occur. Trampling is accidental rather than intentional, done in the packed mass of the herd. Individually, they will avoid it.

Bos indicus (Brahmin)

This is a separate species from B. domesticus, although it has probably been domesticated for just as long. This is commonly called the Brahmin (in parts of Texas pronounced “braymer”). Coming from India (where it is called zebu), it was not originally used for beef, but for milk and especially for draft. They are not good riding mounts, although rodeo specimens have considerable urging (and breeding) for that job. Their main economic value is in their resistance to heat and to some parasites.

There is considerable misconception about the “sacred cow.” It is venerated as the sustainer of life, but not worshipped. It has also been shown that without all those animals wandering in India, the economy would collapse. They are not feral, but have owners. Cows are milked, most have their turn pulling wagons, and the manure is collected. Partial independence from petroleum and chemical fertilizer is worth a few traffic tie-ups on occasion.

The color is almost uniformly smoky gray. However, after the red (from the shorthorn side) Santa Gertrudis, several other hybrids have been developed so a few red or black cattle will have something approaching the distinctive zebu hump.

Weaponry is the same as B. domesticus, except that they are more likely to turn sharply, hooking in only one direction in the gore and rarely toss.

Bos gruniens (yak)

There is a third bovine that generally gets left out because it is used in such a relatively small part of the world. Yet in the Himalayas, it is essential to the economy. Yaks are used both as riding and pack stock, but their native region is not suitable for carts, so while they can undoubtedly pull such vehicles, they rarely do. They not only provide milk, but their long, shaggy hair is also used for making fabric, while the underfur is a useful quality wool.

Loads are the same as for cattle, except that it can carry 30% of its weight in either rider or cargo. Its speed can be assumed to be the same as cattle, but it will not reach these speeds in normal use because of terrain and weather conditions. The practical speed of a pack train is closer to one meter per second, and even slower on treacherous footing.

Color is uniformly black.

This animal is so thoroughly domesticated that it essentially has no weapon.

Bubalus bubalis (water buffalo)

While the water buffalo is primarily southeast Asian and used as a means of transportation, it is widespread as a meat and milk producer. After all, real mozzarella is made from water buffalo milk (the cow milk version is fiordilatte). They have poor heat control requiring cooling in water frequently. The eastern B.b. carabanesis or swamp subspecies prefers mud baths, while the smaller western B.b. bubalis or river subspecies wants clear water.

Terminology is identical to cattle, with which it can interbreed.

Only children ride this animal and it rarely is used as a pack animal. However, it can pull 150% of its 400-1000kg weight with the traditional yolk, and up to 200% with a modern collar or harness.

Life cycle is: gestation 330 days, precocial, walk two hours, run (to the degree they ever do) one month; solid food three months, wean six to twelve months; keep-up one months, survival one year; maturation 18 months bulls, 15 months cows; serial polygyny of a bull and up to ten cows but matriarchal, birth one per two years; death 25 years.

Color runs from a dark bluish gray to black.

Speed is 100m 3m/s, 1 km 1.5m/s; swim 100m 1m/s; no jump.

Unlike bison, cape buffalo, and even cattle to a certain extent, the water buffalo is quite docile. However, if absolutely necessary, those huge horns can be used to effect.

Read part two: elephants, camels, reindeer, and more!

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Fast-Tracking Gameworld Design

From Ria Kennedy

I combined a few previous Roleplaying Tips Weekly articles to come up with a quick cheat sheet on how to make a campaign world. I find it is best to have an overall technology level, and economies are generally the same all over, give or take a few items (most places have resources, merchants, etc.).

Exceptions to these rules are:

  1. It serves the plot to have higher or lower tech.
  2. The society is aliens who value/need different things.
  3. Religion, unless it is a conflict generator (i.e. Zog vs. Mog), should be plot or character-development related.

That leaves a few details to focus on when setting your campaign world. You should use your rule book whenever possible, as your PCs expect the trappings and conventions of that universe. i.e. It’s not B5 if you add Rodians or Klingons.

Remember, this is just a streamlined list of several combined articles. Pick what is applicable, and add as many complications as you can think of. Use your guide book as much as possible when outlining this material, and try to keep the stuff you invent in keeping with the world and the intent of your campaign. You can add more people, places, organizations, or events as you campaign.

Outfitting The Campaign World

  • Top 7 Religions/Gods (focus on the most important or detail what, if any, groups there are)
  • Top 7 Kingdoms/Countries/Cities/States/Territories
  • Top 7 Power Groups (Guilds, Transport Association, etc.)
  • Top 7 High Level Powerful People (run state affairs)
  • Top 7 Lower Level Movers And Shakers (run local affairs)
  • Top 7 Military/Paramilitary People (police, guard, cavalry, rangers, etc.)
  • Top 7 Conflicts (what people fret over or talk about)
  • Top 7 Recent Events (what people talk about and have an opinion on)
  • Top 7 Standard Opponents (most oft met foes)
  • Top 7 Praises And Curses (4 curses, 3 praises)
  • Top 7 Interesting Places for Adventures, Encounters, Conversation, and Background events
  • 7 Calendar Events/Holidays and Related Ceremonies
  • 7 Historical Events (things that shaped the world)
  • 7 Legends And Myths (heroes, villains, monsters, mythic things or places)
  • 7 Superstitions And Traditions (things people believe will help counter evil/bring luck)
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Plan While The Iron Is Hot

From Loz Newman

When your group has trouble fixing on a plan (to achieve their objective) at the beginning of a gaming session, it’s often because they haven’t “warmed up.” Here’s a tip: at the end of the previous session, give them their XP half an hour early…and casually recap their next goal.

The group then has nothing more to do than invest their XP and chat about the ways and means of achieving their next goal, without pressure. Deftly directed by the DM, this lets them debate methods, plans, who to contact, what to do, potential obstacles, and how to overcome them. If you listen carefully (and don’t intervene too much), you’ll notice that they are actually laying out the plan for your next scenario…as they would like to see it happen. No need to guess, no need to plan for every possible alternative. DM happiness!

N.B. This works best when your group is fully involved in your game city/location, and has multiple contacts/ideas/skills to develop and use as elements in their daring plan. Also, they should trust each other and have a clear tactical goal to work towards.

The key to this technique is moderation:

  1. Don’t enforce “in-character” speech too much for this, and you should find the ideas flowing even more freely.
  2. Take a few discrete notes, and only if you absolutely have to. Don’t try to note everything, you won’t be able to keep up, and it may also give away your technique.
  3. Let it flow. Don’t criticize or say “But X wouldn’t play along.” That’s one of the pleasures for them to discover in- game, or for them to feel superior about because they spotted it early.
  4. Don’t overdo this. If the players spot what you’re doing, they’ll start looking for ways to exploit it.

Do it right and have the players do half your session prep for you. They’ll then be amazed about the level of detail you prepared for the next scenario.Now take it to the next level. Try dropping this phrase into the conversation: “Hmm. what do you think would be the worst surprise you could inflict on your enemies?”

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Cribbage Boards And Pegs

From Jessre: Brief Word #251

I love the idea of tracking combat with a crib board and have a suggestion: use Mastermind pegs instead of cribbage pegs. That will give you 6 colors of pegs in case multiple PCs or foes have things going…just assign a color!

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Let The Wookie Win

From The Chicken Reborn

I thought I was doing, well okay, in my game when one Sunday my group suddenly asked, “Dwayne, how do you think you’re campaign’s going?” At which point my mind went, “Oh crap, here it comes.”

My group had a few major problems with the game. These were not rules-based, just a little blindness on my own part in not seeing what the group needs. Luckily, it was decided that these things could easily be turned around, I just had to see what they wanted. This might sound weird or one- sided, but let me tell you, I think it was a very good conversation. My tip is the offspring of the changes I’ve tried to make in response to their requests:

Let the players win.

Now, what exactly does this mean? Well, it doesn’t mean roll no dice and describe how they do it in detail, and then say congratulations guys, you beat the evil overlord. Next campaign? Not at all.

What I am saying is that oftentimes, we GMs get caught up in the gaming as though it were more like a board game– competitive, I mean. We often get it in our heads that we’re competing with the PCs, even if we don’t outright think this. But the truth of the matter is, this is a cooperative game. Everyone wins or most of us lose. If the GM works to help the story progress in a fun and interesting way, well then everybody wins.

How you do this is by allowing the PCs their dues. They are (in every gaming scenario I’ve been in) heroic types who want to feel powerful and experienced. Don’t make everyone have ridiculously high abilities to bluff or lie or act. Don’t make every bad guy a hardcore, well-armed and armored fighter. Sometimes, they’re just cannon-fodder. Let the player take him out easy, noting the style and finesse and relative ease with-which they dispatched their foe.

I can give you two examples from my last gaming sessions:

The female assassin sensed something suspicious about how the seneschal for the lord they’re trying to help dispatched some information. She went in to question him herself. Immediately, my competitive instinct kicked in, and I wanted to give her nothing. Instead, I was realistic. Her detect lies skill was pretty much expert level. Guess what? She knew he was lying on the spot and was able to reveal a major clue behind the conspiracy going on (though she might not know it yet).

The bounty hunter was staying in a room in an inn. The group had bought rooms in one inn, trying to make it look like they were staying there in case the baddies wanted to get rid of them. I could have ignored it and said, the bad guys are smarter than this. But then again, I knew what would be more fun. So, one night, the bounty hunter wakes to the sounds of the fake rooms next door being broken into through the window. They had set a trap in the bed of that room, something like a big wolf-catcher trap.

I could have made this an expert assassin who easily noticed the trap and counter-attacks. But instead, a fairly normal thief is hired for the job. The bounty hunter hears the bed- trap go off (as the killer runs his sword through what he thought was one of the good guys), hears the thief cursing and then running back to the window. Long story short, the bounty hunter gets out the window, sees the baddie trying to leave, and puts a crossbow bolt in his leg. The baddie screams, falls off the rope, and is a captive.

In both of these cases, I could have fought the players, but instead, things went mostly according to plan. I want to make a few points though. The first is that I didn’t make it super-easy. I used the rules. I rolled the contest of detect lies verses the seneschal’s acting every time. Also, I rolled the thief’s observation to notice the trap and his Will to stay on the rope when he was wounded. Second, I tried to be realistic and make people react as most normal people would.

Now, one important note. I have a demon-in-human-body foe who is a powerful enchantress and controller of emotions. When the PCs start to get close to her, is the same thing going to happen? No. I also have a big fight coming up with the main baddie of this storyline. Is he going to be easy? No. The characters are supposed to be heroes. They should be overmatching the peons, challenged by the “bad guy sub- bosses,” and really challenged by the super baddie. That’s the way it goes most of the time.

Something I really like as a GM is for the players to come up with their own plans to solve the story. Well, instead of fighting them at every turn, competing, I went along with what they had done. This encourages more of that kind of activity.