A cornerstone addition for any fantasy or medieval roleplaying games is the trusty steed. Whether mounted by a knight or pulling the cart of 💩, if a game has swords, it is ripe to have equine to swing swords from.
Here’s how they get implemented in the BITS system, though the rules below are quite system-agnostic.
Horses are a Tier 3 creature, meaning they have 3 hit points and are fairly difficult to hit and dodge (a 9+ roll to succeed against). However, unless it is a trained war horse, a horse should be unlikely to attack unless driven to, and that with disadvantage.
As for temperament, horses naturally avoid doing and receiving harm. Rather, eating and herding with other horses is the preference.
Being atop a horse automatically gives one a height advantage over other characters. Whether attacking or seeing over low cover, a mounted character has it.
However, the height comes at a price: A mounted character can be picked out from a crowd and has little (if any) cover themselves.
There is a bonus to speed though. Walking or galloping, horses give double the speed of a human for longer. E.g. instead of moving into the next area as a move, the horse can move into one area and then the next, or instead of ~10m run a horse may sprint ~100m.
If a horse suddenly stops (either from an obstacle or legs being shot out from under a rider), anyone mounted must suffer the consequences.
If walking or standing still, a d6 roll of 4-6 means the rider is fine. 1-3 means the rider is trapped under the beast and needs a Body BITS test to get out. A 1 also breaks the leg of the rider.
If galloping, roll d3. The result is how many 10s of meters the rider is thrown (e.g. 2 is 20 meters), with 3 damage for every 10 meters thrown.
For the number of those mounted, only one armored (or especially large) rider can be on a horse at a time. If unarmored, the horse can mount two at a time, even if one or both riders are injured.
What’s a horse without flared-nostril panic?
Horses must roll for panic if anything ever surprises them. These can inclusively be attacks (including surprise slaps to the behind), sudden visions of much and rapid activity, horrific scenes and smells, and loud noises.
A sample panic list, where failing a 7+ Insight BITS test sees the animal lose control:
- Buck. 11+B BITS test to hold on.
- Rear up on hind legs. 9+B BITS test to hold on.
- Bolt. The horse gallops randomly d6 times. 7+B BITS test to hold on.
- Shriek. All horses a room away (~10 meters) also panic.
- Sudden stop. If not moving, the horse backs up d6 times (or stops when going into a wall or the area to the rear).
- Nothing happens. After a start, the horse is controlled.
Chariots, Coaches, and Carts
Chariots are two-wheeled carts that need at least a driver and one horse to operate. They can be large enough to carry one or two passengers / archers / lancers with two or four horses, respectively.
Though lacking the height advantage of a mount, a chariot offers half-cover to those inside from at least the front if not the sides. War chariots can also include armor and bladed wheels.
Coaches are enclosed boxes that need a driver on the outside to work. Any number of horses can be used to pull a coach.
Those inside a coach have full cover but no height advantage. Those on top or driving have height advantages, but no cover. Coaches can be armored and even outfitted with weapons.
Carts are the basic of basic. No cover, and no height advantage unless standing on top. One, two, or four horses can draw carts, but so can mules, ox, and teams of goats (if the game is so inclined).
War Horses – Can attack with hooves for 3 damage whether striking or kicking. May be armored and are much less likely to panic or panic badly (e.g. immune to any panic except physical injury). Can also charge and trample without impunity.
Charging – Get hit by a running horse, get knocked prone to the ground. Simple as that.
Trampling – d6 damage to be run over by a horse (average at 4). Worth rolling to see if a horse jumps over something first, but there’s always the risk of harm when being both prone and in a horse’s way.
Saddles / Packs – Any horse properly equipped can carry more gear than a person can. If a character in BITS can carry only 2 items naked, 4 to 6 items clothed, and between 6 to 10 in a pack, a horse can carry a minimum of 10 extra items that stay with the horse when equipped to do so.
Stirrups vs Bareback – An optional consideration. Stirrups help a rider stay mounted and leaves their hands virtually free. Bareback requires one hand in the mane of the horse if the rider doesn’t want to have a disadvantage to their mounting or moving. Not a recommended rule, but a historical acknowledgement of what is available.
Other Devices – Things like blinders could reduce panic chances from certain sources. Whips and lashes could force a horse to go faster. If ignoring the cruelty of some of these devices, this topic is far too granular for what BITS aims to abstract away.
There it is: Horse mounts in BITS. Catering to a fantasy setting in this one, but westerns (like the very applicable Gunslinger in The West) or any setting with an equestrian-bent should use these rules for game inspiration.
Could this be extrapolated out to other kinds of animal riding? Dire wolves, bears, dragons? Of course! Though, attacks, temperaments, panic reactions, and other stats would need a bit of contextual tweaking, but that is the easy part!
What animals do you like to ride into battle? Is this ruleset missing anything (other than feeding [daily, and water, too!] and maintaining [horseshoes!] a mount)? Hit me up with your knowledge here – I am too naïve to know much else 🙃
Toodles and cheers.