Fighting From Horseback

Fighting from horseback is one of those exciting factors which really brings a lot of fun and diversity to a game, however it’s handled differently then normal combat. While the PC doesn’t have a morale, his mount might. For the purposes of this article, we are going to be dealing solely with war-horses. All other horses are not fit for battle, if a player attempts to take a riding horse or any other kind of horse into a battle, there is a 90% chance that any loud noise, strange smell, or sudden movement will cause the beast to make a morale check every round; additionally, characters attacking while riding an untrained mount do so with a –2 penalty to hit because the horse is skittish and unwilling to get to close to enemies. Specially trained War-horses are only 10% likely to start making morale checks. Paladins with a bonded war-horse never have to worry about this happening. Those who have the NWP Land-based riding can keep mounted when a horse bolts, but he has to make a second check to regain control of the animal, however the horse will not enter melee again unless the PC can train the horse to become a war-horse.

War-horses are more expensive then the standard horse, because of the harsh training involved in making them the way that they are. A light war-horse costs at least 150gp, a medium horse starts at 200gp, and the heavy war-horse will cost you 400gp at minimum.

Fighting From Horseback

A rider gains a +1 to hit any creature smaller then his mount: The horse is a large creature, which makes you, a large creature, at least in a sense. You gain this attack bonus against all foot soldiers, but not against giants or other mounted enemies.

Opponents have a –1 penalty to hit the rider: Unfortunately the horse is hit normally, thus it is wise to armor your mount just before entering combat.

War-Horses attack on the 2nd round, and each attack there after: War horses have 2 attacks per round, caused by rearing up and striking the enemy with its hooves, causing the damage listed in the Monstrous Manual Game Accessory (MM). Of course this assumes that you are not charging, and are engaged in melee combat. The mount can attack only those which are in front of the mount, but it can move to put the enemy in the proper flank. Typically, in a fight, the fighter attacks first, then both of the warhorses attacks are taken, then, if the fighter has additional attacks he can make them.


This is the preferred weapon while fighting from horseback. The lance, by itself, is not dangerous. If a foot soldier attempts to use it, it won’t cause any damage. The lance requires the momentum of the mount to inflict its damage. Because of this, there are additional things that both players and dungeon masters need to be mindful of.

  • Lance attacks require a charge, thus they allow the rider to attack every other round as they need to turn around and start a new charge.
  • Heavy and Medium lances are very stiff and inflexible, for each successful attack the DM makes a saving throw against crushing blow, failure indicates that the lance has shattered.
  • Light lances are made of more flexible material, they only break if the To Hit number is rolled exactly after adding all bonuses.
  • All successful attacks hit with a lance do double damage


If the horse is stopped, you can fire normally, but often times you are on the move. Short bows work best, however if you are a warrior who is specialized in long bow then you can use it too. Of course firing a missile weapon is only an option to those who are proficient in horsemanship, it is more difficult then what it sounds. Light crossbows can be used normally, but heavy crossbows aren’t because they can’t be reloaded, once you fire your bolt, you have to get off of your horse to cock it again.

The rate of fire for missile weapons is easy enough to figure out, just subtract 1 from the ROF. It is, however, harder to hit your targets when racing upon the back of your horse. If you’re going less then ½ the beasts normal rate, -1 to hit. ½ to ¾ normal rate comes with a penalty of –3. And any speed over ¾ the beasts normal MR carries a stiff penalty of –5 to all attacks until the horse is stopped.


Men and humanoids have developed many humorous ways of forcing brave knights and other mounted Cavalrymen off of their horses. Here are some of the most common methods and how to run them.

Killing the mount is probably the easiest method. The mount is much easier to hit then the rider is, and because most mounts are size L, they also take size L damage. Once a mount reaches 0hp it falls, and so does the rider. If the rider is a proficient horsemen he may be able to save himself, but if the roll fails, he takes 1d3hp of damage and is prone to attack until he can get up. Plenty of time for vicious Kobolds to pepper him with insults and arrows.

Lassoing is the preferred method, after all, a horse is worth lots of money! It requires a successful attack with your lasso. Now, if the rider is a proficient horsemen, he can stop short, granted he’ll still be lassoed, but he won’t be dragged off of his horse.

Of course, one of two things can happen with a successful lasso attack: Either the rider is going to fall on his butt, else you will. This is determined by the guy on the ground making a STR check with a bonus of +3 for every size difference that he is bigger then THE RIDER, not the mount; at this point, the mount is irrelevant. If the attacker on the ground is smaller then the rider, then he suffers a –3 penalty for each size difference. A roll of 20 always fails, and a roll of 1 always succeeds unless the DM deems it idiotic that it could happen. It should be note that the bonus goes to the characters “to hit number” and not to the dice roll themselves. If the person on the ground succeeds, the rider is yanked off of the horse, taking 1d3 and being prone to all attacks, but if the person on the ground fails . . . well, they are going for a ride, and they take 1d3 points of damage and lay prone.

Other Melee weapons can be used with a solid enough hit. Other mounted fighters can dismount their opponent if their weapon is at least 7 feet long, this happens whenever they roll a 20 on the hit dice. Foot soldiers can dismount a rider as well if they have a weapon which is at least 10 feet long and roll a 20. Proficient riders can make a check to see if they can stay in their saddles, but all others are instantly knocked off and take 1d3 points of additional damage for hitting the hard hard ground.

The Flying Tackle is an awesomely heroic, not to mention crazy, technique. If both guys are mounted, the attacker must make an attack roll against the target, if he fails, then he misses his grab and falls, taking 1d3 hp in damage (maybe more if the mount tramples him), but if he succeeds, the target must make a DEX check, if he succeeds, the attacker is still clinging on and the battle continues, but if he fails, then he falls off of his mount for 1d3 dmg. The attacker can either fall with the target, ignoring the damage, or he can take control of the targets mount with a successful horsemanship check (Bonded mounts will not allow this to happen, they will buck and fight until the new rider is dismounted).

A footsoldier can do this too, but it will fall under the rules for overbearing. When trying to overbear a mounted rider, both the mount and the rider are considered when figuring out the size difference, thus horsemen will almost always be considered size L at least.


The above works for all landbased riding combats, aerial combats are handled differently, as there is more to factor in. Naturally a fall from a flying mount is going to be much more devastating. Aerial combat is something which definitely needs to be reviewed before and during the scenarios.

When a target falls off of his horse, the terrain could factor into the damage that he receives. It is assumed to be average, grassy terrain, but most Dungeon Masters are far to mean to their players and have them fall on other terrain. Rocky ground can add additional damage, while wetter lands can reduce the damage but there is a chance that you’ll be stuck for a bit longer then normal. Falling should never be pleasant, and if you are flung from your horse on a narrow mountain pass, well I think that it is safe to assume that you’ll probably take more then just 1d3 points of damage.

Don’t forget about fragile items that the rider is carrying. All of it will have to make saving throws or be broken. Just use common sense; adventurers are excellent pack masters, it is part of their job description. A magic potion stashed in a bag with a blanket will always be protected by the blanket, some stuff may be tied to the horses saddle, or kept in saddle bags . . . which may now be the property of the bandit who dismounted the rider and stole his horse. Before you attempt to dismount a player, always make sure where the belongings are kept before hand. On my PC sheet I usually record this stuff specifically, that way if something happens then I’ll instantly know where every thing is or was at.

Charging rules apply during a charge as well, this gives the attacker +2 to attacks, but if an opponent has the right weapon (namely polearms) set for the charge, these weapons inflict double damage and some have an improved chance of dismounting the rider. Charging the wrong person can be a lethal mistake. Any opponent set for a charge enjoys a –2 to their initiative roll (after all, they can see you coming) while the charger has –1 to AC and loses all benefits for dexterity bonuses. The mount itself will probably take the brunt of this damage.

A mounted charge can usually break up enemy formations by simply charging right through the line. The horse will trample and press infantry, sometimes scattering them and forcing a moral check. The best defense against this from happening to your own troops is by using archers firing directly at the horse.

Anytime the horse is injured, i.e. every successful attack against your mount, requires a horsemanship check, this includes warhorses. Failure results in the horse fleeing until you regain control (taking for granted that you can keep on the saddle). Horses typically run straight ahead, regardless of if that is were the enemy is or not. If this retreat is blocked, the horse will run in circles bucking and kicking viciously until either the rider is dismounted, they spot a new opening, or they exhaust themselves.

ART BY: Glen Orbik


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