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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


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tommybahama

Adventurer
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.

You didn't watch the video based on your comments. It puts to rest a lot of your arguments. Beyond that, D&D combat is more like a skirmish than a battle. I've never come up against a pike formation of orcs in any campaign. Most combats start within 60 feet so a lone archer is dead against our knight with horse and lance.

Is it "metagaming" to buy better armor for your character because orcs are always trying to kill you? :unsure:

Of course not. A knight always acquired the best arms and armor available.
 

You didn't watch the video based on your comments. It puts to rest a lot of your arguments. Beyond that, D&D combat is more like a skirmish than a battle. I've never come up against a pike formation of orcs in any campaign. Most combats start within 60 feet so a lone archer is dead against our knight with horse and lance.



Of course not. A knight always acquired the best arms and armor available.
Actually, most knights had no horses and had pretty poor armor and weaponry. All of that cost money, which wasn't in high supply.

This was also the true reason behind tournaments. Even more than the big cash prize, it was a way for them to win "ransoms" of armor and horses from their conquered opponents.
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
You didn't watch the video based on your comments. It puts to rest a lot of your arguments. Beyond that, D&D combat is more like a skirmish than a battle. I've never come up against a pike formation of orcs in any campaign. Most combats start within 60 feet so a lone archer is dead against our knight with horse and lance.



Of course not. A knight always acquired the best arms and armor available.
I don't agree with the video. Pikes are mass combat weapons, spears and halberds are more flexible and are reasonable infantry weapons for mass combat or skirmishes. All three tend to be the weapons of soldiers who fight in units. The spear and halberd can be the weapons of individual warrior types of course. As for distances in outdoors combat... 60 feet? Do all your combats take place in forests or at night? 60 feet might be right for a dungeon setting but there aren't too many horses in dungeons.

And my PCs have fought on battlefields and met formations of soldiers. It make life... interesting :D
 

gelf

Explorer
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).
The main advantage is being where you want to be on the battlefield during your turn. Depending on the initiative order, a mounted combatant might find themselves never being able to use their Attack action during their turn, as their mount moves up to an enemy to attack and then the enemy moves away before the PCs turn.

When the initiative order is favourable, it's probably better to let the warhorse act as their own creature, and make attacks instead of just being a movement speed buff for the PC, but I wouldn't say it's always favourable.
 




What happens if a mounted rider is subject to forced movement?

My current ruling is "If a creature experiences forced movement while mounted, they are dismounted and land in the destination space of the forced movement. The creature must make a DC 10 Dexterity save to see if they fall prone in the destination space."
 

Stormonu

Legend
What happens if a mounted rider is subject to forced movement?

My current ruling is "If a creature experiences forced movement while mounted, they are dismounted and land in the destination space of the forced movement. The creature must make a DC 10 Dexterity save to see if they fall prone in the destination space."
Acrobatics, Athletics or Animal Handling might be better than Dex checks in this case.

Speaking of which, does anyone require Animal Handling checks for mounted PC actions? If so, what do you consider “a risky maneuver”? Per the PHB:

Animal Handling. When there is any question whether you can calm down a domesticated animal, keep a mount from getting spooked, or intuit an animal's intentions, the DM might call for a Wisdom (Animal Handling) check. You also make a Wisdom (Animal Handling) check to control your mount when you attempt a risky maneuver.
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
You can only mount or dismount once per round?

Seems a bit counterintuitive.
A round is 6 seconds (still?). Heaving your armored behind off the horse and getting your footing... saddles tend to be high not like modern riding saddles. Seems reasonable, and if you decided to get back in the saddle it would take you into the next round irl I think. Game wise it makes sense to separate the actions into 2 rounds as well.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Speaking of which, does anyone require Animal Handling checks for mounted PC actions? If so, what do you consider “a risky maneuver”? Per the PHB:
Yes, for any mount that isn't specifically trained for combat. So your riding horse is not certain to engage in a melee, but your warhorse is. Cough up that extra gold or you're making a check.
 

Stormonu

Legend
A round is 6 seconds (still?). Heaving your armored behind off the horse and getting your footing... saddles tend to be high not like modern riding saddles. Seems reasonable, and if you decided to get back in the saddle it would take you into the next round irl I think. Game wise it makes sense to separate the actions into 2 rounds as well.
Fast mount/dismount might be parted of some mounted warrior feat or ability (Cavalier?), or possibly an Acrobatic check (look up the historical “the Leap” ceremony/ritual of knighthood).

And not everyone is armored, like say monks, barbarians and rogues…
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
Fast mount/dismount might be parted of some mounted warrior feat or ability (Cavalier?), or possibly an Acrobatic check (look up the historical “the Leap” ceremony/ritual of knighthood).

And not everyone is armored, like say monks, barbarians and rogues…
I could see that. Still, getting off and on in 6 seconds wouldn't leave time for much else. And yes, a knight had to be able to mount without using hands in full armor. I think an unarmored / lightly armored person (say a horse nomad) would have a better chance of being able to actually do something..
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Targeting horses did happen in certain situations.
Archers for example had a much easier time hitting horses than its riders and in the case of knights the horses were also less armored. So it made sense to target them over the knight which they can't wound anyway in his armor.
And against lighter cavalry the horse was simply more likely to be hit at longer rangers because it was bigger. Archers are not all Legolas and don't have perfect accuracy so horses git hit a lot more often

There are also certain tactical situations when killing horses is preferred. When cavalry is charging you not in a line but in a wedge or even column formations like the Mongols used, killing the leading horse can cause all following hourses to crash into it which, in the best case, causes several casualties and disrupts the entire formation.

And as it was mentioned before, your characters live in a D&D world where killing horses is much more easy than its rider once you reach higher level, so why not do it?
 

Stormonu

Legend
The Interception Fighting Style from Tasha’s helps to slightly mitigate attacks against mounts, allowing you to reduce the damage of one attack a round against the mount.

Unfortunately, since D&D is primarily focused on adventures indoors (i.e., dungeons) on foot, there has been little attention paid to making mounted combat robust, and therefore viable - just enough for the occasional charge from horseback.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The Interception Fighting Style from Tasha’s helps to slightly mitigate attacks against mounts, allowing you to reduce the damage of one attack a round against the mount.

Unfortunately, since D&D is primarily focused on adventures indoors (i.e., dungeons) on foot, there has been little attention paid to making mounted combat robust, and therefore viable - just enough for the occasional charge from horseback.
Which always strikes me as the right balance - when something is sometimes good, but not always. Every now and again, having that horse is clutch in battle, but most of the time, they're good enough to increase the load you can carry and can help you go faster over short distances in overland travel than you could on foot.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Which always strikes me as the right balance - when something is sometimes good, but not always. Every now and again, having that horse is clutch in battle, but most of the time, they're good enough to increase the load you can carry and can help you go faster over short distances in overland travel than you could on foot.
The rules work okay for horses, but 5E’s mount rules fall apart when you get to things like riding raptors, flying mounts and anything more exotic than a horse. I stopped using the base rules after a combat with goblins riding wolves.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The rules work okay for horses, but 5E’s mount rules fall apart when you get to things like riding raptors, flying mounts and anything more exotic than a horse.
I've not seen any issues with it in actual play, whether it's a horse or something more exotic. Mounts are involved in every campaign my regular group plays in some way or another. If this is an objection based on "realism," then I'm afraid that's not anything I care about.
 

Dausuul

Legend
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.
Hard disagree. The tactical value of move 60 instead of move 30 is immense. When you can strip that advantage from your enemy for the cost of 1-2 attacks against a soft target (low hit points, crap AC), that is very often the right call.
 

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