All revved up and ready to ride – mounts as animal companions
C: So, earlier today you said to me, ‘Gee, Calder, right now in D&D there are familiars and animal companions, and there’s also mounts, which are a specific type of animal companion. And oh boy, are mounts getting a rough deal.’ Do you want to expand on that a little bit?
A: Yes—and can I just say, I think you captured my voice perfectly.
C: Thank you.
A: So this is a two-parter. Firstly, mounts which you acquire as an animal associate, as it were, through being a Cavalier, or through selecting an animal you can ride as your Druid or Ranger companion, need to be significantly better than an ordinary horse.
A: Like, if you’ve sacrificed a whole level into a particular class in order to get a mount, it should be better than any old horse you buy.
C: Okay. And we should say, when you say horse, you’re including axe-beaks, riding-dogs, weasels, anything you can ride in D&D, in this. As in, a mount.
A: Yes, I’m just using horse as short-hand, but my Cavalier actually rides a weasel. But basically, a bonded animal, mount or not, should be significantly better than an animal you can just buy.
C: Okay, and your second complaint, if I’m not mistaken, is that sometimes it makes more sense to literally get off the mount and command it to do things while you’re standing on your own feet, than it does to ride it.
C: I have a lot of anxiety about this one, because…well…is that because of our homebrew rules? I panic about whether or not I’ve created a system that’s inherently imbalanced. Because in our rules you have to use a Quick action to control your animal, which is one of your three actions, though we don’t generally make people do a check. In Vanilla you have to make a successful Handle Animal check, I think, but you have more actions, so this is less of a penalty. If you have an animal companion, you can use your Quick action to command it, which gives it its own Standard, Move, and Quick actions.
C: So in our games, if you are willing to give up your Quick action, you can give your animal companion pretty much a whole turn. But this gets a bit altered for mounts, because in my game at least, when mounted, rider and mount basically operate as a single unit, so they have fewer actions per turn than if they were separate. For example, they move together, and generally speaking, either the mount or the rider attacks with a Standard action—but both can’t attack, which a non-mount animal companion and master could do in a single turn by burning the master’s Quick action.
A: Right. But I don’t think mount problems are unique to our homebrew; I think there would still be some issues in Vanilla because this relates to things like flanking. It would sometimes be better for Farrar and her mount, Barty, to run up to a creature as separate entities and to attack while flanking, than for them to attack while she’s riding him.
C: When she charges on him, she gets bonuses, but I guess charging is a very specific attack which it’s not always very easy to do.
A: Exactly. It should always be advantageous to ride mounts if that’s the type of animal companion you’ve selected, not just for one thing. Also, a Cavalier’s Charge is specific to being mounted, not to riding your animal companion, so I refer you back to point one: bonded mounts needed to be better than ordinary animals!
C: Extremely fair point. Though as a counterpoint to what you’re suggesting, there are other benefits to being mounted. Like, mounted characters can get a lot of cool feats. There’s Mounted Combat, which allows you to avoid one attack against your mount per turn, assuming that your Ride check’s good enough. And our Ranger has put feats into ensuring that she can shoot while moving on a mount, which makes her into this badass mounted archer.
A: Counter-counterpoint: the Mounted Archery feat needs a mount, but not necessarily a bonded animal. I’m putting that under point one as well.
C: That’s very fair.
A: I came at this strong. I had a dull day at work.
C: Okay, what was your proposed solution? What did you want to give your mounts instead of what animal companions get, or what ordinary animals get?
A: Great question. I actually haven’t really worked out exactly what. Just, like, more bonuses to attacking and damage when mount and rider attack as a unit, or something. Maybe replace bonus tricks with attack bonuses?
C: Okay, well, maybe we can revisit this down the line. I’m playing around with the idea of increasing how far mounts and riders can move per turn which might be a good solution.
A: Ooh, interesting.
C: But I have a second question: do you think that the problem here is actually that we’ve let animal companions get too strong, not that mounts are too weak? We almost never make people with animal companions roll Handle Animal to do things. And since we’ve gotten rid of tricks, we kind of allow a lot at our table, in terms of like, animal companions attacking people, or knowing to flank and stuff.
A: I don’t know that animal companions are crazy strong. It will be interesting to see what happens in my campaign in the next few sessions. You guys are doing a kind of one-shot, where you’re all controlling an NPC that the main party has previously interacted with, and they’re now off having fun in the marsh. And your character is a Druid who has a bear animal companion. It will be interesting to see how that works because I think we’ve tended to play pretty careful with our animal companions up until now.
C: You’re suggesting that I’m going to play very fast and loose with my new animal companion, and I could not insist more to the contrary.
A: Well, I’m saying I may play fast and loose with the animal companions my characters will have.
A: But it’s also more that we have a lot of multiclassed animal companions and mounts in the main campaigns, so they tend to have lower health and we’re more cautious with them. Your character and his bear actually have the same health so he’s way less fragile.
C: Well, currently Barty doesn’t have many hit points because Farrar multiclassed, but soon you’ll be able to get a feat that gives him levels equal to her character level not her Cavalier level, so that’ll be spicy.
A: Unlimited power! We shall be unstoppable!
C: Now I’m worried that both animal companions and mounts in our homebrew are too strong.
A: I think you worry too much about this. I had a look at the Pathfinder 2e rules for bonded animals when I was constructing my incredible argument about mounts, and they're actually going to use pretty similar rules to what we have.
C: I feel so vindicated! They condense all the different animal companion-y stuff into a single category, don’t they?
A: Yes—‘minions’, I believe.
C: Well…maybe I’ve made too great a distinction between mounts and non-mount animal companions. Would it be so bad if a rider could use their steed the same way animal companions are normally commanded, off a Quick action?
A: We could try it next session. And then the session after we could try all my great suggestion to improving mounts, which I will have worked out by then! We can give them loads of attack and damage bonuses, and increased speed and movement!
C: Yes. No. Wait. Yes to the first of those. I think we should see how making them more like animal companions goes and then we can consider your improvements.
C: I guess we’ll definitely have to revisit this topic once we’ve tested some rules out a little more…