I was big fan of 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, but I always felt that it’s biggest shortcoming was the way that it modeled--or rather, failed to model--mounted combat. You had to take the Mounted Combat feat if you wanted play a knight or some kind of cavalryman, and that feat’s benefits were strictly limited compared to other feats, particularly those related to your Character’s race or class. None of the classes in 4e had a build that particularly favored mounted combat, not even the Paladin, which has traditionally had Celestial Charger as one of its iconic class features. I even tried setting up a mounted campaign for my gaming group, but it just didn’t work. The group felt there were better ways to move through the campaign-world than by horseback, and they didn’t see the advantages of trying to optimize their characters for combat on horseback. I tried upping the ante, adding high fantasy concepts to the game like griffins and riding sharks, but we never achieved the feel I was looking for, and after a while, I quit trying.
The argument against using mounts in D&D rests largely on the kinds of terrain your Player-Characters (PCs) are likely to explore. Even the most devoted cavalryman will find it challenging to ride his horse into the halls of a castle or down into a dungeon. That’s fine. However, being mounted offered significant advantages to ancient warriors, be they heavily armored European knights, Japan’s samurai, or the horselords of the Mongol Empire, particularly in the right kinds of terrain. This has not changed with the advance of technology. Today’s armored cavalry is the “Mounted Combat Arm of Decision”. Heavy cavalrymen may not be the optimal force for nation-building, but they take and hold ground with greater speed and more power than any other force on the battlefield. It is this kind of thing that I would like D&D to better replicate with the new edition.
There are three kinds of cavalrymen that I would like to try to model in the new edition:
- Cavalry Scout (Ranger)
- Barbarian Horselord (Barbarian)
- Heavy Cavalryman (Fighter)
Cavalry Scout (Ranger)
The new edition of D&D models mounted combatants much more effectively than did D&D’s 4th Edition. The existing Ranger class needs only one small change to make it work for a Cavalry Scout build. This same change is also extremely useful for mounted versions of the Fighter and Paladin, and in concert with the new Mounted Combatant feat, this specific change gets us most of the way towards where we want to go.
Fighting Style: Mounted
You gain +2 to damage rolls when mounted.*
This change works because of its versatility. The advantages of making melee attacks from the saddle are obvious, but mounted archery was a far more useful and deadly skill in ancient combat. Shooting from horseback was the killer application for horsemen across Asia and Japan, be they Mongol tribesmen or samurai. Modern culture has developed a fetish for the samurai’s katana and daisho, but the actual history puts equal emphasis on a samurai’s skill with a bow.
Shooting from horseback is a skill that takes years to master, but for the mounted scout the advantages are obvious. Scouts use horses because horses increase mobility. Closing with the enemy gives this advantage away. Armored knights may find the tradeoff worthwhile because of the value of shock effect, but light cavalry offers a different kind of value in battle. Light cavalry is intended primarily for reconnaissance and security operations. Cavalrymen may fight the enemy’s scouts in order to obtain information about the bad guys’ location and disposition, but their primary value doesn’t come from fighting bad guys.
Archery preserves a scout’s mobility by introducing standoff. In D&D, this means that the Ranger doesn’t have to worry about taking opportunity attacks as he moves through the battlefield. In real life, it meant that scouts could fire and retreat without allowing themselves to become decisively engaged.
The other skills that the cavalry scout needs are already included in the Ranger class. The Tracking, Natural Explorer, and Land’s Stride class features are all things I’d have added to a Scout build had they not already been present.
Barbarian: Path of the Horse Clan
You are a nomad of the steppes. Your horse is your life, and when you fight from the saddle, you bring death to all who oppose you.
Path of the Horse Clan Features
Master of the Bow
You gain +5 to skill checks related to mounts (land). While you are mounted and raging, you gain advantage on ranged weapon attack rolls against humanoid creatures that are dismounted.
While you are mounted and raging, you gain +1 to damage for every 10’ you move on your turn.
Master of the Bow
Beginning at 10th level, when you miss with a ranged attack while mounted, you can make exactly one additional ranged attack on your turn against the same target.
Fighter: Path of the Heavy Cavalryman
I’ve been struggling with the Fighter’s heavy cavalry build. There is no question that such a build is needed, but Wizards of the Coast has already added the Mounted Combatant feat, and if we add Fighting Style: Mounted as well, we go a long way towards creating a heavy cavalry build that works. This is especially true if you’re willing to model an armored Dragoon** rather than a true Heavy Cavalryman. Existing maneuvers like Trip and Spring Away are particularly useful in our cavalry build, but they don’t quite capture the feel that I want. We can rebrand Trip as “Knockdown” and get a bit more cavalry flavor, but that’s still not going to deliver the kind of advantages that armored knights saw on the battlefield.
Shock effect is the killer application for heavy cavalry. Armored knights impose their will on the battlefield through the combination of their physical and psychological power. The charge is the thing. It’s effective physically, but it’s also scary as Hell. This is the effect ewe need to capture.
You and your steed are the decisive force on the battlefield. You succeed through a combination of martial skill, maneuver, and shock effect.
Heavy Cavalryman Features
When you are mounted, and you use the Charge action against a dismounted humanoid creature, and your attack hits, all dismounted enemy humanoids within a 5’ radius must make a Wisdom Saving throw or be Frightened until the end of your next turn. The DC for this saving throw is 10 + your Strength modifier.
When you are mounted, and you use the Charge action against a dismounted humanoid creature, your attack deals +5 damage.
KnockdownWhen you make a melee attack against a dismounted humanoid creature, and you are mounted, you can make a Knock Down check as part of your attack. If you are mounted, and you used the Charge action as part of your attack, you make your check with a +5 power bonus.
**** The current version of the Playtest rules gives +1 to attack rolls for most Fighting Style benefits. I didn’t do that because it’s hard to see how shooting from horseback makes archery more accurate. I’d argue that mounted archery is more devasting, though, because the archer is firing from a position his enemy cannot anticipate ahead of time. Similarly, a melee strike from horseback is going to come from higher up and carry more momentum than a dismounted strike. It’s not easier to hit one’s target from horseback, but if the blow lands, it’s gonna hurt.
** A dragoon is a cavalryman who is trained to fight dismounted.