Game: In the Saddle: Horses and other Mounts
Publisher: Natural 20 Press
Review Dated: 12th, February 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
I’m not sure whether to introduce In The Saddle as potentially one of the most useful d20 supplements in recent years or as the download that gave us the Galloping Trollop, the Halfling Weasel Assault Chariot and the Battle Goat. Hmm. I’m going to have to go with the latter.
The Galloping Trollop, bless her, is a prestige class. The Halfing Weasel Assault Chariot is one of the half dozen famous and infamous chariots. The Battle Goat is an exotic mount. In The Saddle is a supplement dedicated to the forgotten party members: the riding animals.
Great! I know next to nothing about horses and yet they’re common in many roleplaying games (not just fantasy either) and I happily expected this supplement to offer up a gaming-centric view on our equine friends. I expected exotic mounts too. The prestige classes are a bonus. In fact, there’s a lot of “bonus” material in In The Saddle, let’s chalk in the chariots as an example of what would be a nice extra but not absolutely required in such a supplement. In The Saddle is not short on material and the PDF stretches to a hundred pages long.
Okay; on the subject of PDFs. I like the way Dark Quest set up their products to be viewed on screen. The pages flow continuously and by default they fit the full width of your window. If you jump around on the bookmarks then the pages still fit the full width of the window. This means that for many people and me the document is still readable on-screen. This is a much better approach than re-sizing the page, with each click, so that the whole page fits on the screen. The presence of bookmarks is always good. Here Dark Quest (who produced In The Saddle for Natural 20 Press) have a detailed bookmark tree. The document is in full colour, with text in two columns and coloured sidebars on alternative sides of the page. Illustrations are rare but present, especially down in the exotic mount beastiary. I wouldn’t want to print out In The Saddle since it would drink my ink. Fortunately there’s a black and white copy, without the sidebar, that comes with the purchase and that’s just for printing.
But there’s a catch. All my high expectations weren’t quite met. I’ve got to flick to the Monster Manual to check how much a horse can carry or drag. Thanks to In The Saddle I know a foal becomes a yearling after one year – easy, once you know the terms, huh? But I’ll have to look elsewhere if I want to find out how long horses live for, when a young horse can be ridden and when an old horse should be allowed to retire. I’ll have to check the Monster Manual again to see how fast horses can run but I’m still without much of an idea how long a horse can run for without getting tired and then how far there is to go before the horse gets dangerously tired. That’s a shame. I think these things should have been in In The Saddle and they’re missing. These absentees stand out as being the only few things missing from an otherwise comprehensive supplement.
Death is beautiful. Ah yes, in jokes for other Dark Quest / Natural 20 Press products. Death is beautiful, in Death: Guardian at the Gate she is a tender goth babe. The reference is made in the opening story where a young noble on the run gets into trouble with the local druid and a man sized wolf for pushing his horse too far (making the absence of the horse running stamina all the worse). The young noble becomes a druid himself and some of the book is presented as if he had written it.
The first chapter is really a collection of horse basics. There’s a difference between your packhorse and your warhorse and that’s the sort of explanation that this chapter gets into without boring you. You’ll now have to decide whether you want an aggressive stallion or a more malleable but prone to getting pregnant mare. There’s a good two and a half paged table that lets you role up a random horse as well as giving you all the official names for colours of hair – Palomino, for example, describes a horse with a combination of colours. You can bounce the dice to see what sex the horse is, stallion, mare, gelding or simple. I’m not sure what a simple sex horse is. Despite that small grumble this really is a valuable chapter and the horse generation table is an ideal candidate for printing off and tucking into your GM folder.
The miscellaneous catch all chapter shows its head early and arrives as chapter two. The first four sections within it look at four different uses for riding animals other than simply riding; there are the beasts of burden, for pulling heavy stuff, those mounts unlucky enough to find themselves in a combat arena, enough text on mounted theft and skulduggery to warrant the inclusion and then some notes on the mounts of Paladins’ Orders. The last half is made up of more specialist uses for mounts; finding riding animals from In the Saddle’s exotic beastiary that best suit harsh terrain (let’s not take the camel into the artic, okay), travelling entertainer’s animals and then just enough information for a GM to handle an arcane spellcaster with a familiar large enough to ride.
Chapter three is a bit of a luxury but it’s the sort of luxury that the inexpensive electronic media allows. In three pages there’s a tour of how the seven core character races view and use horses. It’s one of the few times that humans come up high (but perhaps not top, challenged by the elves) on such a racial comparison.
We’re back to the horses for the next chapter. This time we’re looking at what sort of tricks (yes; feats) you might expect a horse to learn, just how hard it will be to teach the animal the trick and just how long the teaching will take. This chapter is another strong success. I still have clear memories of players beginning sentences with the likes of “I want to teach my horse to…” and whatever follows next seems to range from the mundane to the ridiculous. In The Saddle gives me just what I’d want in order to rule on such requests. I’ll have to modify the suggestions as I see fit in order to apply them to the exotic mounts mentioned throughout the download though.
The mounts don’t get to hog all the feats, so to speak, and there are new feats for characters in the following chapter. Along with new riding feats there are a few new spells with riders in mind – such as the Barding spell that armours the mount without movement hindrance. There are a whole lot of specialised craft skills: blacksmith, groom, cobbling, founder and others. This chapter is a nice mix of typical D&D and some nice low fantasy as well. Take the Bardic Riding feat as an example, it allows the Bard to play music and sing from the back of the mount without penalty. On the other side of the scale spells like Blessed Mount/Cursed Mount is a divine calling that temporarily transforms the mount into a representative of the spell caster’s faith.
There are eight new prestige classes and one alternative core class. All the prestige classes bounce out well enough but there’s always the problem that if you go with a mount based class that your evil GM will keep you locked away in dungeon crawls, in sky cities or travelling the astral plane where you never get to use your abilities. Oh well, I don’t suppose that’s the fault of In The Saddle. I will sniff at some of the shaky claims to being a prestigious class though; Travelling Collector and Wandering Merchant for example, aren’t those just Experts? Is Jumping Fighter a prestige class? Warbling Barbarian? The qualifying conditions appease my nit-picking to some extent; a Wandering Merchant is more likely to be both prestigious and a class in its own right than Merchant; especially in many fantasy worlds were travelling is dangerous. Then the Mongols come along and tell me off for being such a fusspot. Really. The Mongol is the new core class presented in In The Saddle. The Mongol would be my choice for the most famous horseback warrior ever and I’m pleased by its implementation here. It’s very similar to the Fighter class; so similar in fact that it’s described in the supplement as an alternative class. If your fantasy world doesn’t have foot based warriors as default then use the Mongol class instead of the Fighter. There’s always a catch though. Remember how I praised Dark Quest for setting their bookmarks up so clicking on them didn’t shrink the page down to unreadable just to fit the whole thing in the screen? The bookmark for the Mongol class does.
The chariots, all five pages of them, are as much a bonus as the Mongol class but perhaps not as compelling. Chariots are just awkward; they’re awkward in games and they’re awkward in real life and that is why our ancestors dumped them as soon as possible. Nonetheless this chapter with its new skills and more new feats has a brave go at putting together some helpful RPG guidelines for them – and we get a hoot at the expense of the Halfing Weasel Assault Chariot too. Dire Weasels in case you were wondering.
The bunch of equipment for mounts includes more than just the promised collection saddles, there’s the predictable appearance of a few magic items as well. In fact, some of them are rather inspired, like the small series of magic masks for horses – night vision goggles and so forth.
All throughout In The Saddle there are references and even short summaries for various exotic mounts. By the end of the download I was seriously worried that there wouldn’t even be full stats for these creatures let alone illustrations to help me visualise these often bizarre sounding mounts. I was wrong; the bestiary makes an appearance to finish off the supplement and presents just shy of twenty exotic animals. Unfortunately not every single one is illustrated and I’ve been deprived of the opportunity to hack myself a Battle Goat desktop wallpaper. I know what a goat looks like though and it does tend to be the exotic mounts that have their pictures drawn. The creature collection does a good job, goes beyond hit dice to offer up carrying capacity and sometimes life spans for the mounts.
I liked In The Saddle. It had the potential to be a superb addition to anyone’s gaming library and sadly it doesn’t get there – but it falls only slightly short. Without a doubt it’s a good product. I wouldn’t have thought it but I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next in the Fur and Feathers series. If you’re searching for exotic mounts, for gamer friendly horse info, a horseback fighter class or even some horse centric spells and feats then In The Saddle is certainly one to consider.