Gaming The Horse – Part I

From Garry & Susan Stahl

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0241

A Brief Word From Johnn

First Game Of A New Campaign!

Well, this week I finally got my first game session under my belt after almost a year hiatus from the GM seat. It felt good to be the old windbag again, though it’ll take a couple of sessions to shake all the rust off. There were a couple of wrenches tossed into the works, but it all worked out in the end. The players were excellent. They dove head-first into the roleplaying, characterized their PCs very well, and relished their fight with some supernatural forest critters.

The borders on some of the encounters blurred, but I’d say we were able to fit in character introductions, a combat, and five distinct roleplaying encounters over the course of 4 hours. The PCs performed an important ceremony for their village, enjoyed the Summer Solstice with friends and family, diplomatically handled an accidental shooting, and then successfully bargained with some mysterious goblins bearing a magical apple that heals disease, wounds, and illness.

We ended the session with the characters deciding they’re going to track the goblins back to their lair and learn more about the apple (and to see if there’s more).

Woohoo! I had more fun at a game!

Gaming The Horse

It’s important to be able to make decisions quickly while GMing. Indecisiveness can delay the game, ruin atmosphere and pacing, and frustrate the players. Horses are prevalent in many different milieus and tech levels, so I think this week’s article is great for helping GMs maker faster and more confident decisions when dealing with matters of an equine nature. I hope you find it useful too!


Johnn Four
[email protected]

Gaming The Horse – Part I

The Greyhawke Campaign

I have noticed through the years that many gamers have tried to define and quantify the horse. In every example I have seen to date, they have failed because the definer did not know horses.

Herein is an attempt at defining and quantifying the horse for gamers by people that both understand the horse and understand games. It is not intended to be a manual on how to raise and keep horses, and several subjects of horse keeping will not be covered for that reason. Any number of books or websites that detail horse keeping can be found.*

I have carefully left out exact numbers and quantifiers so the reader can adapt this work to the game they play.

The Average Horse

The average horse is a placid, though skittish, animal. Horses are naturally a plains-living herd herbivore. They are prey animals and have those traits that aid survival in that environment: good hearing, good smell and eyesight, swift legs. Horses are strong. All these traits looked good to some ancient hunter, and he decided that he would rather ride the horse and get it to work for him than eat same. Of all the figures in history, I would like to meet that genius.

The average horse avoids the unknown. The unknown might eat it. The horse’s first reaction to perceived danger is to run. Danger might eat it. You can see that not getting eaten is high on the horse’s agenda. Other than battling other horses for dominance, a horse will fight only if there is no other choice. They much prefer to flee. Training can counteract these instincts somewhat.In the wild, horses form brood bands. A number of females and young, and one stallion.

In domestic circumstances, horses likewise seek “herds”, other horses, or, lacking other horses, they will form attachments to animals of other species, even humans. This is one of the ways man binds the horse to him.A horse is sexually capable at the age of two. Gestation is 11 months long and mares will generally have their first foal at age three. Male horses are driven out of their birth band by their herd stallion as they approach sexual maturity. These youngsters will band together in small “bachelor” herds until they are strong enough to challenge an existing herd stallion for control of a herd, or at least to steal a few mares.

For this reason, stallions in the wild will not usually sire their first foals until age four, five, or even six.

A mare will have one foal, and only one foal, per year, usually born in early spring. Successful births of twins are extremely rare. Only ONE successful birth of triplets has ever been recorded. Being that these circumstances are so rare, it is assumed they do not happen for game purposes.

Average Horse Capabilities

The average horse can:

  • Walk at 5 miles per hour, no fatigue checks. 0.5 mph less for size under average, 0.5 mph more for size over average.
  • Trot at 10 miles per hour (a carriage horse can trot up to 15 mph), normal fatigue, size doesn’t matter.
  • Canter at 16 miles per hour, double fatigue, size doesn’t matter.
  • Gallop at 28 miles per hour, triple fatigue, size doesn’t matter.
  • Jump:
    • 10 feet horizontal. Drop two feet for each size category over or under large.
    • 4 feet vertically. drop 0.5 feet for every size category over or under large
  • Carry (on its back) 20% of its body weight without strain up to a maximum of 250#.
  • Pull: (in proper harness)
    • Sledge on hard level ground: 50% it’s body weight without strain.
    • Wheeled cart on hard level ground: 150% it’s body weight without strain.
    • Greater amounts or less than ideal conditions risk injury to the horse.
  • Swim at 2 miles an hour, NO LOAD. A rider can hold on to a swimming horse by the saddle or tail but trying to remain astride will force the horse’s head under water. Pack animals must be unloaded to cross water over their heads. Horses stay afloat very well, they do not swim quickly. Hooves make lousy paddles.

Types Of Horse

Horses come in a number of sizes that have been bred by man from wild stock for various jobs. The most common broad divisions are listed below. Many breeds fall into these broad categories having been developed separately around the world for much the same work. A good horse breed book with brief descriptions can cover several hundred pages. That is not the propose of this article.All horses and mules are measured at the withers, which is the highest point on the shoulder where the body joins the neck.

They are not measured from the head as that moves around too much. The accepted measuring unit for a horse is the “hand” which equals four inches. A horse that is 14 hands tall will be 56 inches at the withers. We are using inches for greater clarity.

  • Small pony: under 44?, under 400#
  • Pony: 44? to 56?, 400# to 800#
  • Saddle: 56? to 64?, 900# to 1300#
  • Carriage/Light war: 62? to 70?, 1250# to 1500#
  • Light draft/Heavy war: 64? to 72?, 1300# to 1700#
  • Heavy draft: 68? to 76? (rarely 80?), 1700# to 2500# (rarely 2600#)
  • Mules: sized from saddle to light draft.

Small Pony

These horses are commonly used in tight spaces. They are often referred to as Mine Ponies as that is the work they are bred to. Such work is hard on the animals and in such conditions life is short and brutal. More refined breeds of the small pony are used as companion animals for larger horses or even people.

Small ponies can haul greater loads than average. A small pony can drag 75% its body weight and pull 200% its body weight.

Given proper care a small pony can live as long as 40 years.


The pony is the natural size of the wild horse. Ponies are strong for their size. While they cannot carry more than their weight would suggest, they are stronger pound for pound that the large draft horses. A pony can drag 75% its body weight and pull 200% its body weight.

Ponies can live up to 40 years with good care.

Saddle horse

This is the horse most people think of when you say “horse”. They are average in all respects and are best sized for riding.

A saddle horse can live 30 years with good care.

Carriage/Light war horse

While the two types are similar in size they differ in conformation. The Carriage horse will be longer in the back and of a more placid temperament. The War horse is like a large saddle horse, and the trainer of war horses seeks a more fiery temperament. The type is also called the “warmblood.”

A carriage/light war horse can live up to 30 years with good care.

Light draft/Heavy war horse

This size of horse is the largest one can comfortably be ridden for any distance.

These larger horses again differ mostly in temperament. The draft breeds are phlegmatic, suited to the work they do both on the farm and in the city. A teamster cannot afford an excitable animal. Likewise, the farmer does not consider an excitable animal acceptable. War horses are bred for the choleric fire to sustain them in battle.

A light draft/heavy war horse can live up to 25 years with good care.

Heavy draft

These are the largest of the horse types. They are too broad of back to be comfortably ridden. They work only in harness. Often called the “gentle giants,” they are bred for a placid nature, agreeable to work. One cannot afford horses of this size to be temperamental.

Heavy draft horses can live 20 years with good care.


Mules are a cross between a horse mare and a donkey jack or male. This sterile hybrid produces a creature with the best traits of the parents. The strength and willingness of the horse, and the intelligence and good sense of the donkey. Female mules are called “mares” as are their horse cousins, while male mules are called “johns.” All male mules are gelded. They may be sterile, but have more urge than even a healthy horse. As it interferes with work, it must curbed. Mules are valued as draft animals and all have the traits intelligent, sure-footed, and strong. They are as prone to vices as any horse.

A mule with good care can live 30 years.

Buying A Horse

Should you seek a random horse, use any/all of the tables below to help you determine type, color, and unusual traits. Keep in mind that the seller will do their best, as their personal ethics allow, to promote the horse’s good traits while minimizing the bad ones. Most horses are simply average for their size and type and use the performance given above.

  1. Age 1d101 Weanling. 6 months to 1 year. Obvious by the size of the animal. Half market price. (Horses younger than six months offered for sale will come as a “package” with their mother. Full price for mom.)2-3 Yearling to adulthood: From 1 to 3 years of age. 3/4 market price.4-5 Young Adult. 4 to 8 years. 1-1.5 market price.6-7 Mature Adult. 8 to 16 years. Market price.8-10 Aged Adult. Over 16 years. Market price to half or less market price.Weanlings cannot be worked, but they are the best age to acquire a horse you wish to bind to you and train. Note: Those specifically looking for a weanling have a better chance of finding one if they visit a breeding farm. Yearlings stand twice the normal chance of breakdown if worked or trained. Other than teaching manners and basic ground training, a horse’s formal education should begin no earlier than age three when the animal has reached its full height and weight. Horses from young adult onward can be worked normally.These ages do not vary no matter what the horse’s expected lifespan. 20 years or 40 years, all that changes is the length of time the animal can be expected to do productive work. Small ponies mature at the same rate as large draft horses. Most horses smaller than “large draft” can do heavy work into their late teens, and moderate work well into their twenties. Ponies up to about age 30. Horses in the last “fourth” of their maximum lifespan should be considered too frail to perform work harder than being gently ridden for exercise. Mares will be unlikely to conceive if bred at this point. However, stallions will be capable of breeding until the day they die, provided they are not afflicted with arthritis or other chronic illness. People that use horses for a living will seek to sell or trade away these aged animals, especially if the animal is no longer capable of breeding. Overwork or inadequate care at any stage will shorten both the horse’s productive life and its maximum lifespan.A good horseman can judge the age of a horse by its teeth until it reaches its late teens. An unethical horse seller will try to tell you the horse is younger than it might be and might even try altering the teeth to trick the potential buyer.
  2. GENDER (d100)
    Stallion = 1-20
    Mare = 21-50
    Gelding = 51-100
  3. COLOR##
    The word “points” are used in the color descriptions. This term refers to the mane, tail, and legs.Base Color:
    1-50 Bay (brown body, black points)
    51-70 Black
    71-100 Chestnut (red body, mane and tail may be either red or blond)

Color Modifiers:
1-50 Regular Color
51-80 Modified (roll once on table 3a)
81-95 Patterned (roll once on table 3b)
96-100 Modified AND Patterned (roll once on tables 3a AND 3b)

    1-25 Cream (Roll again to see if the horse is a double dilute. 1-25 indicates a double dilute.)If base color is… => Final color will be…
  • bay => buckskin (yellow-tan body, black points)
  • black => brown
  • chestnut => palomino (gold body, white mane and tail)

A double dilute will be pale cream all over with blue eyes. They are NOT albinos and do not suffer the weaknesses of albinos.

26-45 Dun
If base color is… => Final color will be…

  • bay => yellow dun (similar color to buckskin, but with a black stripe running along the spine and stripes horizontally on the upper legs)
  • black => grulla (slate gray body, black points. This color only looks gray. It will NOT get lighter with age.)
  • chestnut => red dun (pale red body, dark red points, dark red stripes as with the yellow dun)

46-75 Grey
(Horse is born a “normal” color, but will gradually turn white as it ages.)

76-100 Roan
(Roan is an even mix of white and dark hairs over the body. Therefore, the color can look rather odd from a distance.)

If base color is… => Final color will be…

  • bay => bay roan (brown head, black points, body appears dark beige with a purple cast)
  • black => blue roan (black head and points, body may appear dark or bluish gray. This color will NOT get lighter with age.)
  • chestnut => red roan (red head and points, body will appear dark pink). If the base chestnut color is light with a blond mane and tail the roaned version is called “strawberry roan”.
    1-74 Pinto (Roll again to see if the horse is solid white. 95-100 indicates an all-white animal.) A pinto is a horse with large patches of white marking the body. In the case of the solid white “pinto,” the white patches simply cover the entire horse.76-100 Appaloosa (Roll again to see if the horse lacks spots. 76 – 100 indicates a solid color animal with mottled skin & striped hooves.) The horse has many small spots over its body, skin that is mottled dark and light, and striped hooves. It may or may not have an area of white over the hips.

## Roll twice. Once for base color, once for any modifiers or patterns. These tables are based on a simplification of the real incidence of horse color genetics as currently understood by science.

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The following are good references for horse facts.

  • The New Encyclopedia of the Horse, DK Publishing Inc by: Elwyn Hartey Edwards, Bob Langrish, Kit Houghton, Sharon Ralls Lemon
  • Equine Colar Genetics: 2ed Ed., Iowa State Press. by Dr. Phillip Sponenberg (considered THE authority on the subject.)
  • International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds U of Ok Press by Bonnie Hendricks


Expeditious Retreat Press Relocates to India

Expeditious Retreat Press is moving to India, where we will continue to produce GM-friendly role-playing supplements in print and PDF. We are having a sale on A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe and A Magical Society: Ecology and Culture to clear out existing stock before our move. If you haven’t had a chance to pick these great world building supplements in print, you can now buy them direct for $15 each until October 31, 2004.

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Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

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

DM Secrets for Building Better Players

From Bill (ab0b0) Mahmet

Below is some advice that all DMs can use, but that “workaholic” types will especially benefit from. The problems that the tips below are meant to solve often occur for DMs who are not as good at coordinating people as they are at writing and running adventures. Don’t be afraid to put your foot down! You are the glue that holds the group together. Give those hangers-on a sense of responsibility and watch their performance skyrocket.

Being a DM can be a lot of work, so whenever I DM a group, especially a group of less experienced or unfamiliar players, I always make sure to delegate. When the game is in session and you are doing all of the work and having none of the fun, try delegating some simple tasks. This will prevent burn-out and improve the game for everyone involved.

When DMing a group make sure to have:

  • One player take notes.
  • One who sketches player copies of maps, but only when appropriate.
  • Another who keeps track of participation in encounters, along with a running tally of experience points and treasures earned (usually they do this without asking).
  • One who keeps track of information that changes frequently or during combat, such as initiative, hit points, and unusual status. I’ll even make sure to tell them when something specific is important for them to record, although I make sure not to give away anything that should be kept secret.

In addition to their personal character sheets, I will ask all players to keep me supplied with updated summaries of their PCs.

These summaries should contain any information either I or they feel is necessary for the DM:

  • Spells
  • Armour Class
  • Attack bonus
  • Skill modifiers
  • Commonly used weapons
  • Obscure or confusing character specific rules

These summaries. If they are to be useful, must be as brief and complete as possible. If a player wants to make any significant changes, they must be made between or before game sessions, and be given suitable justifications. The DM, as well as the other players, must also be made fully aware of them. Any changes that involve something that is either new or complicated must be sufficiently explained to everyone in the group. Anything not conforming to the above rules can be disallowed at the DM’s discretion.

When an NPC joins the group as a fellow adventurer, one player should be put in charge of said NPC. This player will be responsible for the NPC’s character sheet as well as for any changes that take place. The DM, however, will still run the NPC as usual and, obviously, keep any pertinent information or secrets to himself.

The upsides of this are: instead of doing the bookkeeping and note-taking for one character who will constantly be involved in the action, the DM can instead focus on the NPCs who require more of his attention. All of the above will drastically cut down on interruptions during the game and improve the suspense of disbelief.

Another time-saver is to have the entire group–not just the DM–be responsible for looking up rules. This ensures that the flow of the game can continue uninterrupted. Try to pre- empt rules queries by having a player look something up as soon as it might become relevant.

Splitting players into groups with specific roles can often make this process more accurate and efficient. Have one group be in charge of the core rules, another in charge of supplemental materials, etc. Feel free to use any other setups that better suit your game.

Being a DM can be a lot of work, so don’t take on jobs that aren’t even yours to begin with. Always let the players help out. It keeps everyone involved during all parts of the session (no more dice stacking), and it can free up time. Time to do what it is that really matters, such as designing adventures, creating believable NPCs, and running combat encounters smoothly. Those are the things that make a good DM, not bookkeeping and pencil pushing. So remember, when everyone is involved in every part of the game, every part of the game becomes fun for everyone, including the DM.

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Game Room Ideas

From J. Hartmann

Some years ago, some friends and I toyed with creating a gaming house for others to come to play in. Though it never got off the ground, we did come up with some great ideas.Theme Rooms
Each room’s walls would reflect the environment the game was set in. Deserts, jungles, oceans, mountains, caverns; whatever was needed would be placed on the walls.

For home games, this can easily be adapted using posters and particle boards. Buy nature posters or other scenic vistas and mount them on the boards. If you anticipate more than one landscape in a session or adventure, use both sides of the particle board and flip them over at the appropriate time. Half a dozen of these around the gaming table can put your group in the right mindset.

Background Sounds

Part of what puts you into a setting is hearing what goes on behind the action (besides music). CDs containing sounds of the rainforest, ocean or a marketplace etc. can be found in gift shops and nature stores. If you can’t find them there, then try searches online…it’s surprising whats available for free.


Nothing fires up interest like an object that players can actually handle and examine. While having swords and battle axes at a game is expensive (and hazardous to furniture!), smaller props can be sprinkled into the game.

Some items like scroll tubes or potion bottles can be used to illustrate the standard look and feel of a commonly used item. (i.e. this is a standard bottle used for healing potions). Finding such things later among treasure hoards becomes more exciting, especially if you include coloured water or other noxious concoctions to intrigue your players! “Healing! I’m not drinking that foul goo!!”

The players’ interest is piqued when they get objects that differ from the norm. Ornate jewelry or carved wooden boxes become mysteries to be explored. Inexpensive stand-ins for such things can be found in out-of-the-way shops and garage sales for little money. Napkin holders become giant rings; tiny wooden boxes for saffron or incense become secret message holders or magical chests.

Just go into such places with an open mind and let your imagination suggest what these finds might be. Then simply integrate them into your adventure to fit the role you want them to play. For a real treat, give the players something whose function or purpose you haven’t decided on, and listen to all their guesswork. Chances are, your players will come up with something even juicier than you might have thought of!

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Build A Game Table Leaf

From Jason Liddic

I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons for about 15 years. I have been with the same group now for about 3 years and we play every Monday night religiously. With all the groups I have been with, I am usually the DM, and I am always looking for ways to enhance and simplify the experience. Well, one of my players owns a really old, big dining room table that can be pulled apart so that a rather large leaf can be added (2’x3?).

On this leaf, that he actually built himself, he has attached his own homemade vinyl battle map. This way, on the other nights of the week, he and his girlfriend can enjoy the normal table, but on Mondays the table gets 3? longer and accommodates 6 players, a DM, and various other roleplaying accessories.

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Laptop With Sound Effects

From Chris J. Whitcomb

A local GM has devised an interesting setup for his games. He’s got a laptop plus a set of good quality speakers. On the laptop he has a macro-audio program that lets you assign each key on the keyboard to a different sound effect. He’s gone so far as to use old keyboards with all the various sound effects labeled on the keys. He has one set (keyboard + sound files) for his horror game (All Flesh Must be Eaten) and another set for his sci-fi game (Alternity).

There is nothing quite like playing a horror game where you open a squeaky door and actually have a squeaky door sound effect playing. Or turn a corner to be surprised by a squad of troopers who open fire with their machine guns and have to cover your ears due the loud gunfire sounds. Or walk into the engine room of your starship and hear the constant hum of the warp engines.

My descriptions are woefully inadequate to truly convey the atmosphere this creates….

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Use A Mirror For Drawing

From SimonHi

We play in the kitchen of our game host’s house and he has a nice big mirror. We draw maps on it with dry wipe markers. Works a treat!

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Home-made Battlematt

From Erik Luken

A friend of mine has a 3’x5? sheet of plywood covered with squares or hexes (as appropriate) and topped with plexiglass. This way we can draw out maps and the like. He has it raised above the table so people sitting on the sides can put characters, etc. under the gaming surface. Works quite well, in my opinion as GM.

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The minions of Vurfel, god of decay, await their next meal. You wouldn’t want to disappoint them, would you?

This module, from Dungeon Dwellers’ Guild Games, takes the PCs into a cursed temple writhing with all manners of evil. Equal parts traditional adventure and plot-based twists, it was written to be a harrowing journey for beginning PCs and can be scaled to fit parties up to 3rd level.