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Rules FAQ How Does Mounted Combat Work in D&D 5E?

Mounted combat in D&D is often a point of confusion because unlike past editions, the systems for it are fairly slim.


This is the part of a weekly series of articles by a team of designers answering D&D questions for beginners. Feel free to discuss the article and add your insights or comments!

Mounting A Creature
To mount a creature:
  • You must be within 5 feet of it.
  • It must be willing to bear you as a rider.
  • It must be at least one size larger than you and have an appropriate anatomy (DM discretion; horse yes, gelatinous cube, probably not.)
  • You must spend an amount of movement equal to half your speed; 15 feet if your speed is 30 feet, for example. You can’t mount if you can’t spend this movement for any reason. Dismounting is the same process, and you dismount into a space within 5 feet of your mount.
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When Mounted
You can only mount or dismount once per turn, and once you’re mounted, the following rules apply:
  • If your mount is a trained one, such as a horse or mule, you choose to either control it, or let it remain independent.
  • When you mount an intelligent creature, such as a dragon, it always retains its independence. This also applies for an untrained creature.
  • If you control a mount, its initiative changes to match your own, but it can only choose from three actions; Dash, Disengage, or Dodge. It can act immediately on the turn when you mount it.
  • An independent mount retains its place in the initiative order, but can take all its actions normally.
  • In every case, if your mount provokes an attack of opportunity, the attacker can choose to target either you or the mount, so long as it can reach you.
Here’s an example of mounted combat with an independent mount:

Merlina the githyanki dragonrider is mounted on her young red dragon Cinder and making diving attacks on a storm giant. Initiative has already been rolled, and since Cinder is an intelligent creature, he has his own initiative. Merlina has a 19, the storm giant has a 14, and Cinder has a 7. On her turn, Merlina readies an action to strike with her halberd when she’s within reach. The storm giant acts, then Cinder’s turn comes up, and he flies in, making his full multiattack against the giant. At the same time, Merlina’s readied action goes off, and she attacks with her halberd. As they fly away, the giant gets an attack of opportunity on the dragon, but decides the rider is more dangerous; he targets Merlina instead of the dragon, and hits her with his greatsword, wounding her severely as the pair fly by.

Disrupting Mounts
Naturally, being mounted carries some drawbacks, as well.
  • If your mount is moved against its will, such as by a thorn whip spell while you’re on it, you must immediately make a DC 10 Dexterity saving throw. On a failure, you’re thrown off your mount, and land prone in a space within 5 feet of it.
  • If your mount is knocked prone, you can use your reaction to immediately dismount, “bailing out” and landing on your feet within 5 feet of the mount. If you can’t or don’t use your reaction for this, you are instead prone within 5 feet of your mount.
  • Apart from this, a DM can call for a Strength (Athletics) check to remain mounted in response to sudden disruptions. Of course, these checks will be much easier with the…
Appropriate Equipment
If you’re riding in a military saddle, you “have advantage on any check you make to remain mounted”. Note this doesn’t mention saving throws, unfortunately. Furthermore, if you want to ride an aquatic or flying mount, like a gryffon or a dolphin, you’ll need an exotic saddle instead; prices can be found in Chapter 5 of the Player’s Handbook under Mounts and Vehicles.

In addition, you can also buy barding, which is armor for your mount. Barding works exactly the same as armor for humanoids, but is four times as expensive and weighs twice as much; expect your DM to up this price if you’re buying barding for an especially unusual mount!

But Where Am I?
If you play on a grid, you’ll encounter the question of where, exactly, the rider is on the mount. In the center? Do they share the mount’s space?

The answer in the rules is that the rider is in a space the mount occupies, and can use its own movement to move freely on the mount.

Many people, unsatisfied by this answer, either put the rider in the center of the mount (sometimes placing them on an intersection) or just treat the mount and rider as a single creature that occupies the mount’s space. Any of these three solutions can work, but—and say it with me, folks—talk to your DM and get their interpretation before proceeding. Remember that, for especially large mounts, you may need a reach weapon to even attack from atop it!

Additional Rules
Some other game elements interact with mounted combat in various ways; a few examples are explained below:
  • Lance. The classic weapon of a riding knight, the lance is normally two-handed, but can be wielded one-handed while mounted. This technically means you can dual-wield lances while mounted with the Dual Wielder feat. Do with that knowledge what you please.
  • Mounted Combatant. Of course we had to mention this one. You gain advantage on melee attack rolls if your mount is bigger than the target you’re hitting; a major boon if you fight a lot of Medium creatures. You can redirect attacks on your mount to you instead, which is great if you’re sick of mounts dying. And creatures you’re mounted on gain the rogue’s Evasion feature. Very sweet all around.
  • The Saddle of the Cavalier prevents you from being dismounted forcibly, and imposes disadvantage on attack rolls against your mount. A decent upgrade so your mount won’t have to Dodge so often.
  • Cavalier. A bit much to dive into here, but if you’re looking to make a mounted combatant, check out the Cavalier Fighter Archetype in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything.
 
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Cassandra Macdonald

Cassandra Macdonald

Zaukrie

New Publisher
What is the advantage of controlling a mount trained in warfare? Because it can act if you don't, and if you are on a warhorse that is trained for combat, that seems like a HUGE advantage (not controlling it).
 

tommybahama

Adventurer
If you control the warhorse you have an effective movement range of 120 feet. Or a free disengage with 60 feet of movement. Just having 60 feet of movement is a huge buff in combat.

The problem is our DM likes to target our mounts even though it is unrealistic that enemies would ignore the guy with the pointy stick to go after a mount. Find out how a DM will handle a mount before using them or it's an expensive meat shield
 

Larrin

Entropic Good
What is the advantage of controlling a mount trained in warfare? Because it can act if you don't, and if you are on a warhorse that is trained for combat, that seems like a HUGE advantage (not controlling it).
But if you don't control it YOU don't control it. It moves where it wants to and attacks what it wants. Some DMs might let you play it, some might do it themselves. If you gain the mount as a secondary PC then yes, its a huge advantage, if you've handed your fate over to a slightly enraged giant lizard mount that the DM is going to have "behave according to its nature" it might be a toss up whether you want that.
 


Zaukrie

New Publisher
But if you don't control it YOU don't control it. It moves where it wants to and attacks what it wants. Some DMs might let you play it, some might do it themselves. If you gain the mount as a secondary PC then yes, its a huge advantage, if you've handed your fate over to a slightly enraged giant lizard mount that the DM is going to have "behave according to its nature" it might be a toss up whether you want that.
I kind of mentioned a warhorse trained for combat in that question.....I'd think it would act according to that, not "its nature". But sure, I get that about other types of mounts trained to be mounted but not really for combat.

I guess, imo, there should be mounts specifically trained for combat. Also, the longer a mount and rider work together there should be some kind of additional benefits (I get I am beyond the rules at this point).
 

Zaukrie

New Publisher
If you control the warhorse you have an effective movement range of 120 feet. Or a free disengage with 60 feet of movement. Just having 60 feet of movement is a huge buff in combat.

The problem is our DM likes to target our mounts even though it is unrealistic that enemies would ignore the guy with the pointy stick to go after a mount. Find out how a DM will handle a mount before using them or it's an expensive meat shield
Great point on the movement.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
If you control the warhorse you have an effective movement range of 120 feet. Or a free disengage with 60 feet of movement. Just having 60 feet of movement is a huge buff in combat.

The problem is our DM likes to target our mounts even though it is unrealistic that enemies would ignore the guy with the pointy stick to go after a mount. Find out how a DM will handle a mount before using them or it's an expensive meat shield
Is it unrealistic to target mounts though? In the context of a situation where the mount provides, as you say, "a huge buff in combat" and the rider is often tougher to hit and kill than the mount, it seems to me to make a lot of sense to target the mount. Is that unrealistic compared to battle tactics in the real world? I don't know and D&D isn't exactly realistic to begin with. And I'm sure I've seen a few shows and movies where mounts are attacked instead of the rider for particular effect.

As DM, I attack mounts often because it's interesting to threaten something the player or character cares about other than the character itself. It changes the usual dynamic a bit - threaten a buff they've paid money for and given a name to and see what they do. If it comes up enough and they care to do something about it, they can always take the Mounted Combat feat (if feats are available) or other feats or subclass options to mitigate the targeting of mounts.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
I know that medieval analogies aren't totally useful in D&D, but the main tactic of foot soldiers confronted to knight was to kill the mount first (and finish/capture the mounted sergeant/knight before he could get up [ideally from under his dead horse]). Medieval military account often mention the number of horses killed, and it is too great to be just involuntary casualties. If it was unrealistic to attack mounts, they wouldn't be equipped with costly barding in the first place.
 



Hurin88

Adventurer
I saw the term "prone" in there quite a bit. Why is everyone landing on their bellies? I would, for the record, like to see a horse lying prone.

Yes, properly, the term should be 'downed' or something like that. Prone means especially lying face down. Lying face up would be supine.

If you do use the optional facing rules, this could matter, as there is a difference between lying on your back in combat (in which case you have a chance of defending yourself) and lying on your face (good luck). If you're lying on your face, attacks against you should count as from the rear.
 

tommybahama

Adventurer
Is it unrealistic to target mounts though?
I don't know and D&D isn't exactly realistic to begin with. And I'm sure I've seen a few shows and movies where mounts are attacked instead of the rider for particular effect.

As DM, I attack mounts often because it's interesting to threaten something the player or character cares about other than the character itself. It changes the usual dynamic a bit - threaten a buff they've paid money for and given a name to and see what they do. If it comes up enough and they care to do something about it, they can always take the Mounted Combat feat (if feats are available) or other feats or subclass options to mitigate the targeting of mounts.

Here's a video from someone more versed in medieval combat and warfare, but my take is "just kill the horse!" is similar to suggestions to "just shoot the gun out of his hand!" It was impractical and not easily done in practice.

Exploring the loss of a mount one time might be interesting, but not every combat. And forcing them to metagame ways to counteract the DM doesn't sound fun either.


Ok so here’s what trips me up a bit. My mount takes the disengage action and bolts. Do I still provoke, or no because it would be “forced movement”
The rider does not take opportunity attacks because it is "forced movement" as you've stated.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Here's a video from someone more versed in medieval combat and warfare, but my take is "just kill the horse!" is similar to suggestions to "just shoot the gun out of his hand!" It was impractical and not easily done in practice.
It is practical and pretty easily done in the world of D&D though and the characters live in that world, not ours. Sorry, horsey - you are going DOWN!

Exploring the loss of a mount one time might be interesting, but not every combat. And forcing them to metagame ways to counteract the DM doesn't sound fun either.
Is it "metagaming" to buy better armor for your character because orcs are always trying to kill you? :unsure:
 

zedturtle

Jacob Rodgers
If you're riding a controlled mount (and don't need the extra speed or the disengage) have your mount Dodge each round. Now when regular attacks or OAs come up, the DM has to choose between trying to hit the mount at disadvantage or you without disadvantage.
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
Here's a video from someone more versed in medieval combat and warfare, but my take is "just kill the horse!" is similar to suggestions to "just shoot the gun out of his hand!" It was impractical and not easily done in practice.

Exploring the loss of a mount one time might be interesting, but not every combat. And forcing them to metagame ways to counteract the DM doesn't sound fun either.



The rider does not take opportunity attacks because it is "forced movement" as you've stated.
All those pikes / spears / halberds the infantry used were largely aimed at the mounts. The rider was on the (large) animals back and made a harder target for infantry. Lances tended to be aimed at the rider because they were on the same level as the opposing rider (and knights thought it was un-chivalric to go for the horse). Arrows / bolts would depend on the range / trajectory. The horse is, simply put, a larger target and the rider is reduced as a threat (injured / killed or simply dismounted) when the mount goes down. In any event, a well trained war horse was every bit as deadly as the rider.
 

If you control the warhorse you have an effective movement range of 120 feet. Or a free disengage with 60 feet of movement. Just having 60 feet of movement is a huge buff in combat.

The problem is our DM likes to target our mounts even though it is unrealistic that enemies would ignore the guy with the pointy stick to go after a mount. Find out how a DM will handle a mount before using them or it's an expensive meat shield
Actually, this is basic tactics. Take out the mount and the warrior isn't quite as fearsome, along with possibly being injured.
 

sevenbastard

Adventurer
"If your mount is a trained one, such as a horse or mule, you choose to either control it, or let it remain independent"

Even with a well trained horse it's still a battle to remind it who is boss. Horse are not cars they have a mind of their own.

I typically make non war horses freak out once combat starts. I tell my players this house rule up front.
 

The problem is our DM likes to target our mounts even though it is unrealistic that enemies would ignore the guy with the pointy stick to go after a mount. Find out how a DM will handle a mount before using them or it's an expensive meat shield
It depends on the situation. In a battle, spearmen and other conscripts would have little chance against a heavily armored, mounted opponent, which is why cavalry was so powerful. Thus the strategy was to hide behind a spearwall, and try to unmount the opponent so they could be swarmed. In a melee, you might be able to pull them off, especially with polearms specifically designed to do so (thank Gygax for his polearm obsession), but with spears it was easier to stab the mount. Of course, this usually required many opponents against a single horseman, so a handful would almost certainly be routed and run down instead.

In a skirmish (D&D combat), there's very little reason to attack the mount. A monstrous mount might be more dangerous, such as a dragon or nightmare, so taking it out first might be more important. Killing a flying mount is a good idea in aerial combat, since the rider will probably fall to their death. A low intelligence predator would likely go for the mount, since the goal is a meal, but they're also more likely to run away if hurt. A humanoid on a horse, however, should always be the target of any intelligent creature.
 

jleewatts

Explorer
What about bare back riding flying creatures. If not in combat, no real issue. Fighting bare back, then you tend to fall off. Use a bonus action to hold on for dear life?
 

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