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

From Paul Cardwell

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0254

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

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

This is the second half of an article focused on providing real data and information on alternative types of mounts to help you plan and run your game sessions more knowledgeably and confidently.

Deserts: Hot, Cold, And Thin (Camels)

Most people know that there are one-hump and two-hump camels, but keep forgetting that there are four species of no-hump camels, one of which is of considerable use to our imaginary adventurers (and real-world backpackers too).Like bovines, the humped camels can be considered together, although there is no recorded interbreeding.Camels have been domesticated for millennia. The male is a bull, female a cow, and juvenile a calf. A castrated male is a gelding. The proper collective is herd, but if loaded with pack stock they are a caravan. Their sound is a bawl.

Both can carry a load up to 40% of their weight. The bactrian is almost exclusively a pack animal, although it is occasionally ridden bareback between the humps.

Both humped species have:

  • Gestation one year
  • Precocial, walk in one hour
  • Run in two hours
  • Keep-up in one day
  • Solid food in one day
  • Wean three to four months
  • Survival four years
  • Maturation in five years
  • Polygynous, birth two years, with 5% chance of twins
  • Death at fifty years.

Camelus dromedarius (Dromedary)

Overwhelmingly domesticated, there are few verifiable wild herds and only isolated pockets of feral animals – mostly in regions like Australia where they were introduced and not native. Their original habitat was North Africa and the Middle East. They drink whenever possible in the summer, but rarely and sparsely in the winter. Water is stored in their stomach and tissue, not in the hump, which is fat. They can vary their body temperature 4-5 degrees Celsius without harm and lose very little water to respiration.

They are primarily mounts and pack stock with plowing (North Africa) and pulling wheeled vehicles (mainly India) the exception. As such, it can drag 30% of its weight and pull 125%.

Color is almost uniform, giving “camel” the name of a light brown color. The rare variant may be as dark as a milk chocolate. They have conspicuous callouses of dark brown on their knees and wrists.

Speed is: 100m 8m/s, 1 km 6m/s, 100 km 4m/s; swim 100m 1.5m/s, and surprising for a desert animal, they enjoy the water. Jumping is 1.5m for high jump and 4m for long jump.

Weapons are primarily the kick that they can do in any direction, the front foot paw being essentially a downward kick as they do not rear up on the hind legs. In addition, they have a habit of spitting their cud as a defensive move, which, in game terms should cause at least a temporary lack of attack from restricted vision and general disgust. Particularly, but not exclusively, bulls will bite.

Camelus bactrianus (Bactrian)

There are no wild bactrians. They are most economically significant in Mongolia and along the classic Silk Road where they were the primary means of transportation until the mid-20th century.

They have long, shaggy, guard hair over their wool undercoat, giving excellent insulation against the Gobi and steppes winters. This is combed out when seasonally shedding, rather than sheared, for spinning and weaving into fabric (although sheep’s wool is preferred) or felting into the covering of their ger or yurt portable houses. It is normally medium brown to almost black, with some redness to the lighter colors. This is frequently bleached out for clothing and housing.

Speed is 100m 6m/s, l km 3m/s, l00 km 3m/s, and they rarely swim at all from lack of opportunity. The US camel experiment in the 1850s found they were slower in the water than the dromedary and usually had to be hoisted ashore while the dromedaries would exuberantly dive in and swim ashore. They do not jump; anything they can’t step over or around is an obstacle.

Bactrians also have the same three weapons as the dromedary, but are far less likely to use them, and the foreleg kick can essentially be excluded.

Lama glama (Llama)

Despite the binomial, the domesticated no-hump camel is a llama and properly pronounced in the Spanish, yama with a broad a. They are valued as pack stock, despite their small load, and also for their wool, guarding livestock against predators, and to a much lesser extent, meat (more often, hunted wild individuals than the valuable domestic ones).

Males are bulls, females are cows, young are crias (or rarely, lambs). The collective is a herd and the sound is a bleat.

While they can be trained to pull a sulky or dog cart, and under extraordinary training, to carry a small child, they are almost exclusively pack animals. However, they will only carry about half their rulebook encumbrance, lying down and refusing to move if the load exceeds 25-60 kg. They also limit their distance to 15-30 km per day if they are carrying a load.

  • Gestation is 10.5 months
  • Precocial, walk at one hour
  • Run at four hours
  • Solid food in one month
  • Wean at two to three months
  • Keep-up at one hour
  • Survival at six months
  • Maturation at thirteen months
  • Serial polygynous, birth at two years,
    only one cria at a time
  • Death twenty years

Colors are black, brown, white, or mixtures of black or brown with white.

Speed is 100m 11m/s, l km 6m/s, 100 km 2m/s; swim 100m 1.25m/s; high jump one meter, long jump three meters.

Weapons are the multidirectional kick. Llamas spit, but only when fighting each other. However, their generally unfamiliar shape and headlong hissing charge intimidates most predators, including a feral dog pack, and makes them a rather unusual guard animal. Particularly bulls will bite, so their canine teeth are usually removed, although they can do some damage with the remaining incisors and molars.

Others (Elephants, Reindeer, Goats, Dogs)

These have absolutely no relationship to each other, except that like the previously discussed, are used by people to help transport things.

Elephas maximus (Asian Elephant)

With Hanibal’s Loxodonta africana subspecies extinct and virtually no success at taming the extant variety, the Asian elephant is the only one we have to work with. However, the extinct one may well have had similar stats.

The terms are male bull, female cow, juvenile calf; while herd is the most common collective, the proper is parade. The sound, for once, is not onomatopoetic, but simply trumpet.

The square-cube law taking effect, they can carry only about 15% of their weight. However, they can drag 50% and tow 100% in a wheeled vehicle. However, their highly manipulative trunk can wrestle loads into line for dragging and can be trained to operate a slide, and they seem to enjoy the operation.

  • Gestation is twenty months
  • Precocial, walk in one hour
  • Run in ten days
  • Solid food in two months
  • Wean in two years
  • Keep-up in one month
  • Survival in five years

Maturation is in eleven years for bulls, eight for cows; they are serial monogamous and matriarchal; birth is three years apart, and virtually always a single young; death is in sixty years.

Color is almost invariably a medium gray, with lighter shades considered so unusual that they were not worked, thus the term “white elephant.”

Speed is 100m 10m/s, 1 km 5m/s, 100 km 2.5m/s; swim 100m 1m/s; they are incapable of jumping, but can step over (or demolish) significant obstacles.

The primary weapon is a smash with the trunk; a gore with the upper lateral incisors is used if they’re long enough (mainly bulls and African genus of either sex). They may also pick up the target with their trunk and throw it aside. Trample seems to be more accidental than intentional, but they rarely make any attempt to go around.

Rangifer tarandus (Reindeer)

The reindeer is used as a mount, pack, and draft animal by the Saami and a few Siberian tribes. It is also used for meat, milk, and leather.

Terminology is easy: male is bull, female cow, juvenile calf; collective is herd, but also band; sound is a grunt, and the meat is venison.

Saami are generally slightly smaller than average humans and constitute about the maximum load for a reindeer, using a horse saddle, while packs are generally in cloth or leather panniers rather than wooden ones on a pack saddle. The primary use in transportation is in towing the pulkke, a sled shaped like a dugout canoe carrying about 150 kg of people or cargo, or towing a person on skiis.

  • Gestation is 240 days
  • Precocial, walk four-six hours
  • Run one day
  • Solid food one month
  • Wean two months
  • Maturation 1.5 years female, two to three
    years male, serial polygynous, matriarchal
  • Birth one year, single calf
  • Menopause 12 years
  • Death 15 years

Color is a medium brown with light brown undersides in the summer, to a tan with white under in the winter.

Movement is less than 100m 22m/s, 100m 10m/s, 1 km 8m/s, 100 km 5m/s. Towing pulkke: 100m 9m/s, l km 8m/s; swim: 100m 2.5m/s, l km 1.5m/s; high jump 1.5m, long jump 2.5m.

Weapons are gore with antlers (the only deer in which the female has antlers – caribou is same species) and kick.

Capra hircus (Goat)

Because of its small size, one rarely thinks of the goat as a draft animal, yet they have been used as such in many cultures. They are also valuable for milk, meat, a sheep flock leader, and with the angora breed, fiber.

The male is a buck, not billy, if castrated a weather; female is a doe, although nanny can get by; the juvenile is a kid, but can be divided into the male jumbuck and female doeling. The proper collective is trip (wild ones are a tribe); the sound is a bleat; the meat is chevon unless unweaned, which is cabrito; the hair is mohair if from an angora.

The pack load is a rather small 20% of weight, but they can pull a wheeled vehicle up to double their weight.

  • Gestation is 150 days
  • Precocial; walk at one hour
  • Run at three days
  • Solid food in three days
  • Weaned at two months
  • Keep-up two days
  • Survival three months
  • Maturation one year, serial polygynous,
    birth one year, 10% twins
  • Death fifteen years.

Colors are black, brown, and white, or a combination of the darker with white.

Speed is 100m 2.5m/s, l km 1.25m/s, 100 km 1m/s; swim 100m 1m/s; high jump 1m, long jump 2m.

Main weapon is a head butt, but they can paw, but their hooves only crush, unlike the slashing toes of the wild mountainous species. Against snakes, they may spronk (jumping up and landing on all four feet close together simultaneously) as a trample attack.

Canis familiaris (Dog)

This is the only carnivore in the list. As such, it lacks the tendency to flee trouble, but unless trained, tends to overestimate its capability in battle. Dogs come in an exceptional range of sizes, but the ones to be considered here are those from wolf size to the maximum (Great Pyrenees, etc.). They are valued as hunting companions, pets, guards, herders, alarms, and even a source of fiber or food.

The male is a dog, female bitch, juvenile pup; the proper collective is kennel (packs are wild or at least feral dogs); the sound is a bark (bay for hounds).

Not bred for carrying, a load is only 20% of their weight. However, draft breeds can pull 100% on a sled on snow (a team 125% of their total weight) or travois, and 200% of their weight in a wheeled vehicle (usually a two-wheeled cart with an especially large dog).

  • Gestation is two months
  • Altricial for twelve days
  • Walk in three days
    (but not well because they still can’t see or hear)
  • Run in two months
    (very well – it is more of a “leaps and bounds” before that)
  • Solid food in one month
  • Wean at 1.5-2 months
  • Keep-up at one month
  • Survival from six months
  • Maturation at four months
  • Birth twice a year, 5 to a litter, 20% each for four or six,
    10% each three or seven, 1% each one, two, eight, or nine
  • Death by sixteen years

Color varies from white to black by way of yellow, brown, dark red, dark blue, and frequently a wide assortment of combinations of two or more. Likewise, hair varies from none through very short to shaggy.

Speed is 100m 18m/s, l km 15m/s, 100 km 4m/s; swim 100m 1m/s; high jump 1.5m and long jump 6m.

Weapon is exclusively the bite, which being a carnivore, is usually enough. Knockdown is accidental unless trained, being an attempt to go for the throat or face in a biting attack, or just being too friendly for everyone’s good.

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

Mission-Oriented Game Preparation

From Ria Kennedy

When I come up with a scenario, it is mission oriented and takes the universe into major consideration. I focus on story goals that require the PCs to resolve. These goals are usually wrapped up in one sitting. I don’t like to run or play games where a nebulous goal or event is overhanging everything; I like a conclusion one way or the other.

I try to do an epic where the PCs’ choices and actions construct the story, rather than take a story and try to force the PCs into it. I may track where the events are compared to background events (i.e. in Star Wars, B5 or LOTR) but involve the PCs in their own story where they are the main characters.

I include descriptions to set the atmosphere, but I try to let the PCs’ choices determine the tension. That way, the PC determines the response to the problem and how personal it is to them. For example, I may describe the problem and then go “What do you do?” I do not give hints, and this has nothing to do with a roll — literally – the PC must make a choice and live with the consequences. Does the scout get away and get the castle prepared for a siege before the PCs invade, or do the PCs stop the man on horseback from escaping, so they can walk into the castle and attack?

I try to keep the pacing fast and adventurous rather than laborious and plodding. Discussions are focused on decision- making. I keep rolling to a minimum where a skill is needed and generally give some information as long as the roll is not a fumble. For example, on a low human perception roll, I say “You don’t trust her,” but I don’t say why. Combat is fast and furious. Combat rolls are done on a 1 to 10 level strike table rather than calculating hit points for each wound/foe. (If you hit, do one level of damage up to level 10, give levels to villains/monsters based on hit points.)

When writing it, I try to keep my scenario’s story/plot open-ended where the PCs determine the outcome — do they vanquish the foe and solve the mystery or does the foe win or escape?

If something bad does happen (i.e. someone is sacrificed), after the game I make sure to let my players know if the situation was outside of their control (a story event, there was nothing you could do) or something that they failed to stop through poor choices/actions/rolls. This lets them see how what they did effects everything.

For example, during a BladeRunner session (we made our own game) the subject passed the Voight-Kampf test. The PCs could not hold him or retire him, the “Major” got away. Later, the PCs uncovered evidence that the Major was a replicant. Even though the PCs failed, the players still talk fondly about the one that got away — 10 years later! The players need to know conclusively how they succeeded or failed so that their achievements have significance, and the game is ‘real’. Winning needs to be determined in the gaming arena.

I do side with the PCs, as they are the heroes, and there is no story without them. I may let them get roughed up, but I don’t let them die or become maimed unless they do something very foolish. To me, role-playing should be cinematic. And finally, sometimes even the best players may need a nudge in the right direction. You’re the GM, make sure everyone has fun.

Coming up with the adventure: do this as it comes to you. For example, if you get goal ideas first, jot them down and then fill in the rest. Try not to over-detail things because role-playing is free-form, and as they say, “No plan survives contact with the enemy,” or in this case, no plan survives contact with the PCs!

I do usually write a detailed description of the opening scene, so that I can set the mood and throw the PCs into the action, but after that, my notes are scant, focusing on necessary facts or major scenes, rather than fussy details (which always mess me up or don’t get used).

  1. Main Planning — Beginning
    1. Quick Start – Attention Getter/Trigger
      (Hook — Event or Information)
    2. Other:
      • Foreshadowing
      • Warnings
      • Prophecy
      • Dreams
      • Symbolism
      • Rumors
      • Research
      • Information Gathering
      • Investigation
  2. Main Planning — Middle
    1. Challenges/Mission Objectives (Pick A Focus: there should be 2-3 session goals, including 1 main goal)
    2. Action: Conflict/Encounters
    3. Clues: These should help determine the secret, weakness, mystery, or agenda — you must know what is known or unknown, and what can be discovered.
  3. Main Planning — End
    1. Obstacles/Complications/Dilemma. For example, did the bridge break, does he have a hostage, left or right
    2. Climax
  4. Closure: Results — What happened
  5. Rewards
  6. Things that should be considered for descriptions and planning:
    • Terrain (Perhaps it is uneven, or a sheer cliff face, maybe it is slow going);
    • Weather
    • Lighting
    • Mood
    • Atmosphere
    • Maps
    • Items
    • When along the backstory (i.e., when is it happening compared to major movie or book events — whether or not that ever comes into play in the scenario)
    • Details
    • Items
    • Major Scenes/Setting. Choose location Carefully (Rooms, buildings, areas — visualize this and jot down up to 7 descriptors so everyone else can also “see”)
    • NPCs: Major NPCs, Foes, Bystanders, Third Parties
    • Choice(s) (These may be clear before you play, but if your mission goals and conflicts are right, then these will show up during gameplay where the PC has to make a decision in the heat of the moment — do be prepared to ‘stage’ the scene. For example, someone drops the heroine over the cliff edge and escapes: do you go after the villain or the heroine?)

If your campaign setting does not have a map, make one! Campaigns with a world map (boundaries of the game universe, such as continental, planetary, or galaxy-wide) are easier, since everyone knows what is in what direction. The world map gives PC confidence and lays out possible encounters for the GM.

Make sure major places and territories are documented, or the map is useless. 5 to 7 main cities that can be revisited over and over are all that are needed for a great campaign; everything else can be set in relation. Resist the urge to keep adding main places; this is really confusing and destroys the integrity of a good map, as well as changes the balance of power in the game world. Just because there are a trillion planets in the Aliens universe, it does not mean they should all show up in your game world!

Pick a few main planets and set something important there, like a corporate headquarters or contested territory. Then watch as the players’ eyes widen and they shout, “I’m not going there!” because they know what to expect.

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Using Googlisms for Inspiration

From Brandon AdkinsHey

I found this great resource for creating character backgrounds, and storylines:


Simply type in a person, place, or thing, and it will rattle off a list of what Google “thinks” about it. The list is usually a combination of short ‘facts’ and longer descriptions, which can be used by the creative GM.

For characters, simply type in the first, last or both names (not as effective).

For example: Gorath Thundersmith.

Googlism’s results (short list from tons of results):

  • “Gorath”
    • gorath is one of the lords of chaos
    • gorath is now busy with learning his new station and
      trying to find time to spend with the love of his life
    • gorath is shown as a powerful man in conflict with his
      sense of duty to his nation
  • “Thunder”
    • thunder is required to stir the chretien government
    • thunder is the main fighting force of the coalition
  • “Smith”
    • smith is at a new home
    • smith is pursued by government agents in ‘enemy
      of the state’
    • smith is in a time of change

Putting this together, Gorath could be an ex-warlord who headed the elite fighting force known as the “Lords of Chaos”. He is now trying to make a new life for himself, but is ordered to fight again or pay the consequences and be called a traitor.

Alternately, you could work from any other info about the character, such as occupation, race, hobbies etc.

For a setting you could type in key descriptive words:


The Dwarven Forge-Home, the Greenstone Mountains.


  • “Dwarven”
    • dwarven is forbidden
    • dwarven is made to last & with the utmost care
  • “Forge”
    • forge is surrounded by beautiful lakes
    • forge is a highly recognized tourist town with many activities
  • “Home”
    • home is where the revolution is
  • “Greenstone”
    • greenstone is a fast paced story of law enforcement
      and revenge until unexpectedly love intervenes
    • greenstone is the main focus of the town’s bustling
      art and craft galleries
    • greenstone is organized into four separate but
      related companies
  • “Mountain”
    • mountain is bird watcher’s paradise
    • mountain is sacred place and a home
    • mountain is possibly more seismically active
      than once believed
    • mountain is bewitched’

Putting this together, we might have:

“Once a sacred and forbidden place, the Forge-Home is now a bustling city open to traders, tourists, and explorers of all races. The government is held by four joint rulers who each govern an aspect of the city/mountain. In the deepest parts of the city recent seismic activity has revealed unknown sections of the city. Cult activity has recently increased as a result of the quakes, who believe this to be a warning to outsiders who besmirch the sacred grounds of the city. The city is changing faster than its rulers can handle, and at this rate it’s possible an all-out revolution may take place.”

As you can see, the possibilities are limited only to your imagination in coming up with words to put in, and your creativity in using what comes out.

I hope someone finds this useful in their games!

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Re: Problematic Campaign Anecdote

From Redwing

I have also found myself in a campaign I was running where I had allowed the players to “uber-strength” their characters and could no longer present challenges that were balanced for all the players. It is with no surprise that I say the players will know the talents and capabilities of their character classes, associated skills, and items better than the GM because that is all they have to focus on.

As a GM, the overall campaign/adventure draws our attention away from the specific details of each PC. And, it is only when an unbalancing situation comes up, like if the player says, “I kill the main villain instantly using X item that I bought last level,” that the GM looks up in surprise.

My solution is the following:

Control the gaming source material.

As Matthew said, it is important that all game elements (feats/spells/prestige classes) be balanced. As a GM, look over what the player wants and really think about game balance before allowing it.

Control the wealth of the characters.

In my case, I am running D&D 3.5 and fully use the character wealth tables from the DMG. For example, the table shows that when a character becomes a sixth level character, they should have 13,000gp in wealth. I take that number and subtract the fifth level value (9,000gp) leaving me with 4,000gp to be earned during adventuring as fifth level characters. Multiply that by the number of PCs and that is my amount of wealth I will give to the party for that level.

Control the experience awarded.

I do something slightly different than the rules outline for XP. I ask the players how often they want to make a level. Meaning, once every 3 sessions or maybe 5 or 10? Then I take the number of XP that it takes the average level character to advance and divide it by the number of sessions. Finally, I award this portion each game night, no matter what is done – be it combat or tavern talk.

Example: 5,000xp for next level, 5 nights gaming = 1,000xp per night for each player. I found that this made power my gamers able to relax and not fret when the party spent an extended amount of time in a town and was not out killing monsters.

Tying the three together.

By having control over XP and wealth, the GM can really maintain party-monster balance. The players also feel involved because they can choose the advancement rate and the GM gains a framework to build from. Looking over “outside” gaming material is a very hard decision because the players often desperately want to be an “everything slayer prestige class,” but it would unbalance the campaign if it were introduced.

Just talk with the players and hopefully a compromise can be found.In my campaign, I make lists of money and treasures for the party based on the limits from the table and then award it to the players over the course of that level’s gaming sessions. I try to spread it out evenly over each session, but that frequently does not work out, so I just roll any unrewarded treasure into the next session. That way the players can get their wealth by looting monsters, earning rewards from NPCs, or just being lucky and finding a hidden cache of treasure.

Using this system has really helped balance the power in my game. I have enjoyed it so much that I now use the same concept when I run my Star Wars RPG campaign.