Horses, or more generally mounts, are common elements in traditional fantasy. This is hardly surprising. When we think of armor-clad medieval knights, we often imagine them jousting in tournaments, or going into battle mounted on warhorses. In fact, wearing heavy plate armor basically requires a mount for travel purposes.
From a practical standpoint, mounts allow people to travel faster and carry more. Harnessed to a wagon, they expedite trade and make it easier to relocate. They can also be used to perform manual labor, such as plowing fields.
In D&D, mounts allow adventurers to range farther, but they are also a complication. When playing D&D, miniatures are usually employed to represent the characters. In the early days, the miniatures were made from pewter, and came unpainted. These days, a large number of pre-painted plastic miniatures are available. But what hasn’t changed is that there is no good way to deal with mounts. You basically just have to imagine that they are there. If the characters are attacked, then you have to deal with the possibility of a mount being killed, or injured and throwing off its rider. The mount might even have attacks of its own that have to be considered. In short, it’s a mess. And this complication really detracts from the experience of playing.
Another issue is what happens when adventurers go exploring somewhere where the mounts can’t or won’t go. Horses are often left simply tied to some trees. When the adventurers return, the horses might be fine. Or they may have been stolen. Or eaten. Adventurers tend to go through a lot of horses.
When my D&D campaign moved to Andoran’s Realm—a region on a different continent—I made a conscious decision to do away with horses or anything similar. Taking their place are giant lizards. They are used to pull wagons and to pull ferries across rivers. We are told that in the past some were used as mounts, or even ridden into battle, but that is no longer the case. The lizards breed slowly and are in short supply. You won’t find villagers using them to plow fields.
My decision not only improved gameplay, but also simplified the novels I am now writing. I don’t have to deal with obtaining mounts, stabling them, what happens to them during combat, etc. It’s freeing, and it helps to distinguish my books from others out there.
In Part 5, I will discuss how I have incorporated and modified the D&D rules for magical spell-casting into my novels.