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Horse Quality

Another matter where quality is important is in horseflesh. There is a world of difference between a high-spirited stallion and a broken-down nag. And it is not always apparent to the eye, although it is usually pretty easy to tell a scrawny, sway-backed old mare from a fiery stallion. Buying of a horse is something the player characters should always approach with care, lest some unscrupulous horse merchant pull a fast one on them.

Nag 50% 25%
Broken-down 75% 50%
High-spirited 133% 125% x2
Charger 150% 133% x4

Further, horses often have irritating traits that can make them less than pleasant to be around. Table 25 lists the different qualities of horses and the effects of each. Note that not all horses need to be assigned a quality. For simplicity, you can assume all horses are of average quality.

The movement rate modifier is the adjustment applied to the base movement rate for that type of horse. A broken-down light war horse would have a movement rate of 18, 75% of the normal 24. A high-spirited light war horse would have a movement rate of 32, one-third more than normal. Fractions should be rounded down.

The carrying capacity modifier is the percentage of the base weight the horse can carry. A nag can only carry 50% as much as a normal horse of the same type, while a charger can carry one-third more than normal. Again, fractions should be rounded down.

The cost modifier gives a general idea of the markup that should be applied to the horse. Poor quality horses do not have negative modifiers, since merchants will always try to get at least the average price for a horse. In this case, it is the job of the player to talk down the price.

Horse Traits (Optional Rule)

Each horse has one or two traits that define its "personality." In poor quality horses, these traits are generally undesirable, but even good horses can have unpleasant quirks. For each horse, determine the traits on Table 26, using the column appropriate to the quality of the horse. It is strongly recommended that you select the trait rather than rolling randomly, since these traits can really enhance the humor and color of your campaign.

Biters tend to take nips at their riders or those leading them, an uncomfortable but not dangerous habit. Kickers never seem to lash out on command, but only when a character doesn't want it to happen. The best idea is not to follow a kicker too closely. Fence-chewers are similar to biters except that they seem to have a taste for wood instead of their rider. While fence-chewing may be caused by a bad diet, it's a hard habit to break.

1 Biter Bucks
2 Kicks Bone-jarring
3 Steps on feet Bites
4 Won't gallop Single rider
5 Chews fences Rears
6 Stops occasionally Headstrong
7 Rubs against fences Kicks
8 Bucks Leaper
9 Untrained Knows trick
10 Use other column Use other column, or DM choice*

* Other possibilities include robust, fleet, fearless, skittish, strong, stable, gentle, sure-footed, etc.

Some horses have a seemingly malicious tendency to step on feet as they are being saddled and groomed—and then they refuse to move. Some refuse to gallop unless forced. Some stubborn horses just stop in the middle of a march and almost have to be dragged forward. Others take an almost human pleasure in rubbing against fences, walls, and trees trying to scrape their rider off. Bucking horses are always unpleasant, though at least the rider can usually feel the horse tense up just before it happens.

Untrained horses, even those broken for riding, haven't learned the basic commands of horsemanship—left, right, speed up, or slow down. They do what they think they are supposed to, but that isn't always right.

Some, while trained, are just plain headstrong and, figuring they know more than their riders, try to do what they want. Single-rider horses have been trained too well, recognizing only a single master. With time they can be ridden by a new owner, but they will not respond well to others, even friends of the owner. On rare occasions a horse may actually know a minor trick, usually learned without special training. These tricks are very simple—to come when whistled for, to rear on a tug of the reins, or to turn when the rider presses with his knees.

Particularly lively horses have their own special quirks. Some just cannot seem to move at a slow steady pace. Every step is a jolting, bouncing bone-jarring ride. Others are born leapers, making corrals and fences only an occasional barrier. An ill-tempered few will rear suddenly at the most surprising moments, especially in the midst of combat. When the horse does this, it is not attacking so much as reacting in fear and surprise. Many a rider has been dumped by this sudden move.

Risks of Horse Buying

Beyond just the quality and quirks of horses, there are other reasons to be careful when buying a horse. Horse theft always has been a popular pastime, and punishments are often equally severe for both the thief and the buyer—assuming, of course, that the buyer isn't mistaken for the thief. Unscrupulous merchants often try to pass horses off as what they are not ("Yeah, this is a heavy war horse, really it is.") Horses may not be trained, although merchants always claim they are. While it is easy to spot a horse not broken to the saddle, it's not so simple to tell if a horse has been trained for war.

Characters with the riding proficiency can avoid many of the hazards of horse-buying on a successful proficiency check. The character must choose to use the proficiency (but considering the investment he would be foolish not to). A successful roll will reveal a horse's true quality and perhaps some of its obvious quirks. Naturally, there is no way to ascertain the origin of the mount, unless you decide the horse has been branded or marked in some way. Even this may not be foolproof, since clever thieves can find ways to alter virtually any marking.