Calling in the Cavalry: Mounted Mayhem in Paizo’s Pathfinder
From the heavy horse of medieval Europe to the marauding Mongols that dominated Asia, cavalry has been one of the deadliest forces in the history of warfare. In order to bring this kind of combat to your Pathfinder Chronicles game, all it requires is building the proper mounted warrior.
There are certain inherent benefits to playing a mounted character. In no particular order those are:
- +1 to attack against opponents of equal size for being up high.
- Added movement. Mounts tend to have 40 ft.+ as a standard move.
- Fight as a team. Trained war mounts can attack right alongside the rider when initiative is rolled.
For every benefit, there’s also a drawback. Before committing to playing a mounted character, players have to consider the following:
- The size of the mount. Horses and other mounts are Large sized, which can lead to problems.
- Space. Mounted combat relies heavily on the charge, so narrow hallways and obstacle can render you ineffective quickly.
- Ride checks. Ride checks are affected by your armor check penalty, and you have to make them with every ride maneuver, and especially with untrained mounts.
There’s no “right” way to build a character. That said, the best options you have for starting classes for a combat-related mounted character are as follows:
The paladin is the penultimate knight in shining armor. Any paladin can gain the services of an intelligent mount starting at level 5, but the shining knight variant (page 117 of the Advanced Player’s Handbook) allows you to negate the armor check penalty on your Ride checks beginning at 2nd level. That is perhaps the most advantageous ability of any mounted character.
The cavalier was born to be a mounted fighter. Cavaliers begin play with a mount that is intelligent, has Light Armor Proficiency and is combat trained. Cavaliers never take the armor check penalty on Ride checks.
Fighters make up for the lack of special abilities with bonus feats that make them deadlier adversaries. The Roughrider variant (page 106 of the Advanced Player’s Guide) takes away the armor check penalty for Ride by level 3. It doesn’t give you a special mount, but it does give you bonuses to riding in armor, and it gives you bonuses to attack and damage when fighting mounted started at 5th level.
Not to be outdone, the barbarians have a mounted variant as well. The Mounted Fury (page 79 of the Advanced Player’s Guide) gives you the Bestial Mount feature. It can be affected and benefited by your rage and rage powers. Ferocious Mount and Ferocious Trample (Advanced Player’s Guide, page 75) are mounted-barbarian specific powers that make for battlefield devastation.
There are certain feats that go into any mounted character’s build, regardless of which base class you choose.
Melee combat on a mount is defined by the ability to charge; it’s why a lance does double damage. Many of the feats you take will reflect this, but in general you want the following feat trees, listed below with page references.
- Mounted Combat (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, page 131), Ride-By Attack (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, page 132) Spirited Charge (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, page 134), Death From Above (Ultimate Combat, page 94): Increases your attack and damage, as well as mobility with mounted charges.
- Trick Riding (Advanced Player’s Guide, page 173), Mounted Skirmisher (Advanced Player’s Guide, page 155): Allows you to automatically make Ride DC 15 or less, take full attack action when mount moves its speed.
- Shield Focus (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, page 133), Mounted Shield (Advanced Player’s Guide, page 165): Get higher AC from your shield, add shield bonus to mount’s AC respectively.
- Power Attack (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, page 131), Improved Overrun (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, page 127), Greater Overrun (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, page 125), Trample (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, page 136): Gives you bonuses to overrun opponents and the chance for your mount to attack fallen enemies. The overrun feats can be taught to special mounts as they advance.
For those who want to shoot on the run (keeping you mobile and out of reach), then, in addition to archery feats such as Point Blank Shot and Precise Shot, you should take the following:
- Mounted Archery (Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook, page 131): Halves the negatives to shooting while mount moves.
Tips and Tricks
There are some other things you should keep in mind when playing a mounted character that can help make your job easier. For instance:
- Invest in a military saddle. It has a 75% chance of keeping you in the saddle if you’re knocked out.
- Remember that you can do a quick dismount with a Ride check of 20. That free action can make a lot of difference.
- Don’t be afraid to use Small-sized characters. Their mounts can go anywhere, and the added mobility for ranged shooters, or the extra damage from charging, can be just the thing to put the punch in a small package. They won’t be able to Overrun as much, but take that into account when building.
- Teach your mount tricks. Tricks are listed under Handle Animal, and the more tricks your mount has, the better a combatant it will be. Choose its feats carefully as it advances as well.
- If you fight with a lance, either keep another melee weapon ready to draw, or take Improved Shield Bash. Charging is a ranged game, and sometimes enemies get close.