Saturday, June 11, 2011

Horse Movement Rates - The Most Significant Post On the Topic EVER.

[The Spawn of Endra returns from the wilderness of Belize:]

A few weeks back there was the episode where Blogger ate a bunch of blogs, there was rending of garments and gnashing of teeth, and then things got back on track. All that this blog lost (I believe) was a post on Horse Movement Rates that I had struggled to write over a couple of days. A few comments I got suggested the rates were way off, the horses would be dead if you rode them that hard, etc. I'll attempt to reproduce the main arguments here in brief, mostly because there are issues in translating the per round or per turn movement rates for horses to wilderness rates in B/X and Lab Lord. And also because Jovial Priest has been politely badgering the hell out of me to repost this.

So the highlights:
Horses and mules are hell of slow by the rules. One with a cart can only move at 60'/turn or 6'/min or 1' in 10 seconds (LL p.17). I had a joke about having your ass in a sling:

And if my horse moved that slow I'd give it this treatment:

Okay, having recapitulated the yuks, here's my take. I suggest that the B/X per-turn rates are useless, but also so rarely used we don't need to think about them as a basis for daily movement rates except in a sort of relative way (e.g., horses are faster than donkeys, riding horses are faster than draft horses, unencumbered horses are faster than encumbered ones, etc.). I have looked at some info that probably represents extremes of horse ability here, though in his original comments JD Jarvis had suggested that the rates here on the same website are a better guide. I leave it to you, kind reader, to sort this out according to your best judgment.

The main details:

1) The speeds for a Riding Horse are probably okay.

2) War Horses, if we use early 20th C. US cavalry races as a benchmark, ~60mi/day is probably reasonable for an unencumbered horse (just a rider).

3) Mizarian Draft Horses are as equally awesome as a generic Arandish War Horse.

4) Any Horse should move faster than a human on foot under usual circumstances. For simplicity, though, we'll say they have an equal rate of movement.

5) Riding Horses and War Horses, per se, never pull loads.

and, the final simplifying conversion:

6) Draft Horses move at -1/3 the rate while pulling a load compared to the same conditions not pulling a load. (This might be modified with load thresholds for multiple horses, etc.)

This is our working house rule for now, as unrealistic as this may be. I'm happy to have more comments on this, particularly if they can help to improve this. In general I'm more interested in having a system that is consistent even if not realistic than to get bogged down in trying to accurately model an aspect of adventure mechanics that is, frankly, pretty boring.


  1. Return of the spawn called horse; or something like that.

    Sorry for the polite nudging but didn't want to see this post lost.

    I like it - simple.
    For my slow brain tonight, why is there enc movement given for warhorses but not for riding horses? Is enc a load?

  2. Good question, and thanks for keeping on me about this since I was ambivalent about the post form the start and it was a candidate for the cutting room floor.

    I should clarify that the encumbered rates in the second part only apply to a Mizarian Draft Horse oulling a cart or wagon, not a normal Arandish War Horse, which can't be put to work drawing wagons, etc. Maybe I'll rework that table a bit.

  3. One of the good things about working as a teenager on a ranch and learning how to ride a horse in the Rocky Mountain Wilderness was getting a feel for how far I could ride in one day.

    On my day off, Sundays, I'd pack a lunch and a rifle, and ride out into the National forest to the South.

    The terrain was rugged, foothills and mountains, mixed with sage valleys and mountain meadows, which were also known as Parks.

    On the ranch, I would ride trails, what would be defined in ancient times as good roads, that avoided bogs, marshy lowlands, and other places where vehicles would easily get stuck. On an average horse, lightly packed, I could make about eight miles an hour, at a steady walk.

    Going into the back country, riding overland, I could still do about five miles an hour... That was over steep and dense wooded ridges.

    We (five or six of us) could move cattle, herds of several hundred to a thousand or so at about 4 mph.

    In the summer we would ride from shortly after sun up, to about an hour before sundown, ten maybe eleven hours, with a stop for lunch for an hour or so.

    What slowed down the U.S. Cavalry was the mule and wagon trains, as they carried supplies. The Cavalry on campaign carried everything with them, weeks and months of supplies, ammunition, tools, food, water.

    We would run the horses only for short durations, mostly not more than a mile. One never wanted a tired or temperamental mount, and I would expect the same for any lengthy campaign. We would switch horses too, and use fresh mounts if we were riding for more than one consecutive day.


  4. Thanks, D Collins for that detail. I have been looking at something like 4mph over an 8hr day for a riding horse. So assuming one can't switch horses, do any of the numbers I've put up make any sense?

  5. Oh, and slings are used to get horses, mules, and other livestock onto boats... Them animals don't particularly care to be on water, and a sling was the quickest way to get them safely on the boat, as most of the animals would get testy if you tried to get them to walk up the ramp onto a pitching and rolling boat.

  6. Excellent. Perhaps you can clarify for me, does the proverbial "Having one's ass in a sling" refer to a donkey or one's own backside? I've always assumed it was the latter.

  7. They are good. The wagon trains did on average about 25 miles a day... on the open plains more, sometimes up to sixty or eighty, in the mountains less, sometimes fighting to go eight or ten miles.

    For a determined group in a hurry, a hundred was doable, and I understand the Pony Express riders could do 120 to about 150 miles a day.

    Bad weather of course slows thing down tremendously, rain or snow, and you could kiss those numbers goodbye.

  8. ...One final note. On the open plains, lightning was a real hazard for us... Mostly summer thunderstorms. I know of one rancher that was killed in my area during my high school years, and we would lose at least two or three cows every summer.

  9. Thanks for that last comment, Carter will surely be adding lightning to his wilderness encounter charts from now on, as he mentioned in the last session report with a landslide and random geyser eruption several sessions ago.

    But seriously, thanks for your real-world insights. One of the issues with horse movement is that it SHOULD be tractable because there are actual horses and people that ride them in reality (as opposed to something like "How fast can a red dragon fly, really?"), but there's not much standardized literature to draw from.

    And ultimately, as I say, the game is not about people riding horses everywhere. They use them sometimes, but it's not central to the action. In fact the most interesting part of dealing with the horses was after we liberated them from the hobgoblins and Innominus used Speak with Animals to learn there were from Mizar. We got intelligence about the hobgoblin operation from them. Horses as NPCs are more interesting than horses as vehicles, overall.

  10. Looks good Spawn. I have a lot of comments to add (in a helpful way, expanding on what you;ve already written more than anything else) about horse endurance, good practive for keeping your horse healthy, how long breaks need to be after food and water and so on.
    It also deals with how much food a horse on campaign trail would go through and discusses how to keep your horse well fed and healthy on a long trip.
    It was a re-post of some material I wrote years ago for a fiction writers site I was a member of.
    If you'll pardon the unintential and very rude plug of my blog, you can find the article here:

  11. Hmmm. Seem to have lost part of the comment somehow. The part that said it would be easier just to redirect you to an old blog article of mine rather than re-has them all here.

    Never Mind.

  12. Seems like blogger ate this comment as well ... That is a great post DB, thanks for sharing the link. I was casting about earlier for something like this from the usual crunchy suspects (e.g., Chgowiz, Alexis, etc) and couldn't find much on it. This helps a great deal for thinking through the problem.

  13. Thanks Spawn. Glad you found it useful.