DnD 5e - Practical Guide to Mounted Combat
Last Updated: September 15, 2018
Do you like horses? Do you like the idea of charging into battle atop a mighty steed? If you don't like horses, how about a pegasus or a dragon? No? How about riding around on a party member's shoulders? Well, settle in. I'm going to break down 5e's mounted combat rules in excruciating detail, which will hopefully answer any question you've ever had about mounted combat in 5e.
UPDATE: Roughly 6 months after I initially published this article, WotC's Dragon Talk Podcast (the official Dungeons and Dragons podcast) did a Sage Advice segment on mounted combat. The segment starts roughly 10 minutes into the episode, but they don't get into the rules until roughly 17:30 after discussing the significance and history of mounted combat in fantasy and in Dungeons and Dragons in general. I have updated the document below to address the guidance provided by the podcast.
Mounted combat is simultaneously simple and confusing. The entirety of the text for mounted combat is half of a page in the Player's Handbook split into three sections. One which is almost entirely flavor text, and one of which is devoted entirely to getting on and off of your mount, and the third is the actual meat of the mounted combat rules.
This article generally assumes that you are using a grid in combat. While this is technically a house rule, I have never encountered a group that leans on the rules heavily enough to need this article but doesn't use a grid.
Thanks to the magic of the SRD, I'll reproduce parts of the rules text below for easy reference. If you want to read the text in its original form, see page 198 of the Player's Handbook, or download a current copy of the SRD.
Why should I use a mount?
Historically, horses have provided a massive tactical advantage. Until World War I, cavalry was a defining component of any military. A unit of cavalry was more mobile and frequently much more lethal than infantry with the same number of people. Even in single combat, being mounted presented a huge advantage. In addition to superior mobility, striking downward at a foe is easy, while your opponent is forced to strike upward at you, and possibly to hold their sheild uncomfortably high if they have one.
Unfortunately, not all of those advantages exist in 5e's rules. Instead, you just get the improved move speed of the mount, a minor advantage with lances, and some extra stuff if you take the Mounted Combatant feat.
Some people will inevitably make this mistake, so I'll mention it here: Your warhorse can't trample people while you ride it. It's a "controlled mount", so attacking isn't allowed, and Trampling Charge requires the horse to make a hoof attack. You could allow your warhorse to act as an independent mount, but that has complications which I'll discuss below.
TL;DR: Move speed.
What is a mount?
A willing creature that is at least one size larger than you and that has an appropriate anatomy can serve as a mount, using the following rules.
Let's break that down:
- A willing creature: The creature must be willing. There are no rules for riding unwilling mounts, but I suspect that using the rules for grappling would yield roughly the same effect.
- At least one size larger than you: Horses are large, and mastiffs and ponies are medium. Those are the typical mounts.
- That has an appropriate anatomy: This is probably the trickiest part. What defines "appropriate" is extremely subjective. Horses, ponies, donkies, and mules all make fine mounts. What about zebras? They have the right anatomy, but they're not ridden in real life because their bones are fragile. Real-world dogs aren't built to carry weight on their backs like a horse, but riding dogs have been a thing in DnD since at least 3rd edition. If the answer isn't immediately obvious (yes to horses, no to oozes), consult with your DM.
Jeremy Crawford's opinion from the Sage Advice podcast segment is that a mount should be built in such a way to comfortably bear a rider for extended periods of time. The example provided is a parent carrying a child on their shoulders for several hours without discomfort. Speaking as a parent, carrying children on your shoulders for extended periods of time is exhausting, and my daughter happens to weigh roughly as much as an average halfling. Greg Tito and Jeremy Crawford seem to agree, which would mean that humanoids don't qualify as a suitable mount. Of course, Mr. Crawford is clear to state that this is a rough guideline.
Mounting / Dismounting
Once during your move, you can mount a creature that is within 5 feet of you or dismount. Doing so costs an amount of movement equal to half your speed. For example, if your speed is 30 feet, you must spend 15 feet of movement to mount a horse. Therefore, you can't mount it if you don't have 15 feet of movement left or if your speed is 0. If an effect moves your mount against its will while you're on it, you must succeed on a DC 10 Dexterity saving throw or fall off the mount, landing prone in a space within 5 feet of it. If you're knocked prone while mounted, you must make the same saving throw. If your mount is knocked prone, you can use your reaction to dismount it as it falls and land on your feet. Otherwise, you are dismounted and fall prone in a space within 5 feet it.
There's a lot to unpack here, but with a careful read the whole section is very straightforward. We'll start with the first half of the section before moving onto what can knock you off of your mount.
- Once during your move: You can only mount a mount once, and it takes place as part of your movement for the turn. So no using your movement to jump between multiple mounts in one turn. "During your move" is a bit of a weird phrase since there is no distinct "move" part of the turn in 5e, but it just means that it's part of your movement and not an action of any kind.
- you can mount a creature that is within 5 feet of you: The mount needs to be within 5 feet regardless of your size, its size, your reach, etc.
- or dismount: All of the same rules for mounting a mount apply to dismounting; movement cost, etc.
- Doing so costs an amount of movement equal to half your speed.: If you speed if 30 feet, it costs 15 feet. If your speed is 25 feet, it costs 12.5 feet, and you may have 2.5 feet movement of movement which is unusable at the end of your turn.
- Therefore, you can't mount it if... your speed is 0.: The logic of this section is absolutely not correct (half of 0 is still 0), but the important part is that if your speed is 0 feet, you can't mount or dismount.
This leaves you some room to maneuver. You can use up to half your speed to reach your mount before mounting it. Once you're mounted (on a turn after the turn in which you mounted your mount), you can dismount and move up to half your speed.
There are several ways to dismount a rider. First, we'll examine the text specifically included in the mounted combat rules.
- If an effect moves your mount against its will while you're on it: This can be any number of effects: Your mount could be grappled or shoved, it could be hit with Thunderwave, or it could fall. These are dangerous possibilities, especially if you're on a flying mount.
- you must succeed on a DC 10 Dexterity saving throw or fall off the mount, landing prone in a space within 5 feet of it.: Bring prone in 5e is fairly gentle compared to previous editions, but it's still a problem. If your mount is flying, you are now falling. It's not immediately clear if you place yourself before or after your mount is moved, but I think the intent is to place yourself after. So if your mount is pushed 20 feet, your place yourself within 5 feet of your mounts new location. Your mount isn't wisked out from underneath you; you're both displaced, and that movement shakes you loose.
- If you're knocked prone while mounted, you must make the same saving throw.: Knocking you prone may unseat you without affecting your mount. It's unclear what happens if you're knocked prone but pass the saving throw. I think you're prone, but still mounted. That's technically possible, but weird to imagine in a practical sense. I think it would mean that instead of sitting upright in your saddle you might be hanging off the side of your horse, or flopped back on your horse but you somehow haven't rolled off of it.
- If your mount is knocked prone, you can use your reaction to dismount it as it falls and land on your feet. Otherwise, you are dismounted and fall prone in a space within 5 feet it.: You don't get a save in this case; instead, you can burn your reaction to stay standing. If you took an opportunity attack or something, you're out of luck.
On top of these mechanisms, other methods can be used to dismount a rider. Grappling the rider and moving them, shoving them, or otherwise forcibly moving them would dismount the rider.
This leads to an interesting question: What happens if a rider and a mount are both moved the same distance by the same effect? Thunderwave is a great example. If both the mount and the rider are forcibly moved, it triggers the "If an effect moves your mount against its will" text, but it's not exactly clear what happens to the rider. I would rule that the affect moving the rider overrides the Mounting / Dismounting text, but that would mean that the rider ends up on top of the mount at the end of the push. I would then force the rider to fall prone within 5 feet of the mount as though they had failed the DC 10 Dexterity save.
Controlling a Mount
While you're mounted, you have two options. You can either control the mount or allow it to act independently. Intelligent creatures, such as dragons, act independently. You can control a mount only if it has been trained to accept a rider.
There are essentially two sets of rules for controlling your mounts. Controlled Mounts are easy: trained horses, etc. are essentially extensions of your character. Independent mounts such as intelligent mounts like dragons or untrained mounts like wild animals are "Independent" and do their own thing while you're dragged along on top of them.
The initiative of a controlled mount changes to match yours when you mount it. It moves as you direct it, and it has only three action options: Dash, Disengage, and Dodge. A controlled mount can move and act even on the turn that you mount it.
Controlled mounts are (mostly) easy. In the simplest case, you start your turn mounted. Your mount moves (and you don't), and can take one of just three actions. Dash gets you more movement, Disengage lets you move without provoking Opportunity Attacks, and your mount can Dodge any time that you don't need Dash or Disengage.
So long as your mount can take actions (even if that list of actions is limited), it can still take bonus actions. However, warhorses still can't use their Trampling Charge while acting as a controlled mount because they can't take the Attack action in order to hit a creature with their hooves. Similarly, they can still take reactions, so they can make opportunity attacks.
Unfortunately, the simplicity of controlled mounts also reduces their usefulness. A warhorse is CR 1/2, and does as much damage as a character with a greatsword and 18 Strength. Removing that hoof attack means that riding your horse may actually make your party less effective. This will become less of an issue as your character gains levels and your mount becomes less comparably dangerous, but it's still something to consider when weapons come out.
Due to the wording of the Mounting / Dismounting rules, there's a tiny bit of abuse you can do extend your movement. You still get to use half of your movement in turn in which you mount/dismount, so you can move to your mount, mount it, then move your mount's full movement (and possibly Dash). If you're already mounted, your mount can Dash, move twice its speed, then you can dismount and move half your speed. This probably won't happen much, but it's a fun option to have available.
It's unclear what happens if multiple creatures mount the same mount. I would rule that the on rider becomes the "driver", and the mounts initiative is tied to that rider. Additional riders are "passengers", and treat the mount and driver as though they were an independent mount. In the event that a driver cannot be agreed upon, the mount is treated as independent, and the riders may need to grapple each other for control.
The rules don't explain what happens to your mount's initiative if you dismount. I think the intent is that their initiative changes back to their original initiative roll, but if you started combat mounted you may not have bothered to roll for their initiative in the first place. The rules also don't explain what happens to the mount's actions, so a rider could, in theory, jump on and off of their mounts in consecutive turns to allow their mount to attack while still enjoying most of the benefits of being mounted (e.g. they could attack with a lance one-handed).
To limit abuse, limit the actions of the mount: if they have already acted in the turn in which they are mounted, they can take no further actions that turn (though they may spend any movement which they did not spend on their own turn). On the turn in which the rider dismounts, they are still limited to the actions which they could have taken while they were mounted (Dash, Dodge, Disengage). If they rolled initiative at the start of combat, their initiative score reverts. If they did not roll initiative, they must do so now and assume that initiative result at the beginning of the following round.
An independent mount retains its place in the initiative order. Bearing a rider puts no restrictions on the actions the mount can take, and it moves and acts as it wishes. It might flee from combat, rush to attack and devour a badly injured foe, or otherwise act against your wishes.
Independent mounts are where things get confusing for people. Independent mounts usually include anything with grater than 5 Intelligence and any creature which isn't trained to carry a rider. Dragons, wild animals, and party members are all (typically) independent mounts.
In a practical sense, you have no direct control of an independent mount. You might attempt to convince your mount to do something or go somewhere, but this is no less difficult than doing the same for a creature that you aren't riding. You are less a rider, and more a passenger.
There is no guarantee that any given point you will be in a position on your own turn to do anything useful, and since your mount doesn't move on your turn you have no way to reposition unless you dismount. Unfortunately, 5e provides no way for you and your independent mount to bring your initiative scores closer together. Your DM might allow it, but that would be a house rule. Assuming no house rules, the best case scenario is for your mount's turn to occur immediately before yours so that it can position itself for you to be as effective as possible in that round. If it is practical to do so, identify enemies whose turns take place between the end of your mount's turn and the beginning of yours and eliminate them early so that your turns are lined up in the most useful manner possible.
Can an intelligent creature be a "controlled" mount?
RAW, no. However, this means that there must be a clear delineation between "intelligent" and "non-intelligent" creatures, which I will discuss below.
As a DM, I recommend allowing players to decide if the mount acts as an independent mount or a controlled mount. The mount would need to consent to be controlled, so mounts like dragons or other characters likely won't be controlled, but things like the horse from Find Steed would almost certainly comply. However, even this solution introduces complications because it would allow the only mechanism to change your initiative score after combat starts. To address this, consider the initiative fix I proposed under "Controlled Mounts", above.
Jeremy Crawford state in the Sage Advice podcast segment that he recommends allowing the rider to decide if a mount acts independently at the beginning of each round. This is helpful because it would allow you to let your warhorse attack freely while you are fighting, even though it is not an intelligent mount.
How do I determine if a mount is "intelligent"?
I have no idea. I thought you could use Intelligence, but that's mostly arbitrary since animals go up to 6 Intelligence (including the horse from Find Steed). Then I thought you could use the capability to understand speech, but earth elementals have 5 intelligence and can speak. Alignment could work (anything that is "unaligned" is unintelligent), but even that isn't a foolproof method. There are no hard mechanical rules for determining what constitutes "Intelligent", so it's really up to the DM to decide.
Jeremy Crawford specifically address Find Steed in the Sage Advice podcast segment. He suggests that the mount is intelligent enough to be considered independent, but you can choose to treat it as a controlled mount, and you can decide whether to treat it as independent or controlled each time you mount it. He suggests earlier in the podcast that DMs should allow players to make this decision each round.
Opportunity Attacks While Mounted
In either case, if the mount provokes an opportunity attack while you're on it, the attacker can target you or the mount.
This is important. If your mount dies while you're riding it, you're going to be very sad. If you're on an independent mount, it's possible that your mount could get you attacked through no fault of your own. One controlled mounts, remember that Disengage is one of the three actions your mount can take. On independent mounts, you'll need to hope that your mount is cautious enough not to get you killed.
Where am I while mounted? How does reach work while mounted?
This is a question which doesn't occur to most people until you get to the table and start trying to ride around in combat. For small creatures riding medium mounts, ths answer is easy. Small is basically "medium light", so you still occupy the same size space with the same reach.
Medium creatures on large mounts (like horses) are much more of a problem. Medium creatures occupy one 5-foot square, while large creatures occupy a 10-foot square. In this case, it's completely unclear where your character is, and what you can reach.
this tweet from Mike Mearls is the closest we have to an official answer, and I don't know if it answers the question in a useful way because it introduces a ton of other complications. As such, I'll explain the "Mearls Method", then I'll propose the "Blob Method" and the "Center of Mass Method" and discuss their pros and cons. For examples, we'll consider a horse (large), and elephant (huge), and an Ankylosaurus (gargantuan) as mounts. I've intentionally avoid independent mounts of mounts which fly in order to keep the examples simple.
Any time we examine rules response from Mike Mearls, it's important to note that he is not the definitive source of rules answers. Jeremy Crawford is the lead rules designer, so the order of rules supremacy is the official Errata and Sage Advice documents, Jeremy Crawford, Mike Mearls if his arguments are good, and everyone else. I am in no way disparaging Mike Mearls; we've exchanged emails, and he has never been anything but wonderful to talk to. However, his answers occasionally conflict with Jeremy Crawford's and with those eventually published in Sage Advice, so it's important to examine them critically.
no - still use your own reach. #wotcstaff— Mike Mearls (@mikemearls) October 1, 2016
Under the "Mearls Method", the rider is essentially a free-moving creature trapped inside a box the shape of the mount's space. When mounting a mount, the creature would presumably move into the nearest space within the mount's space, and would continue to occupy that space unless the rider moved. The rider would need to use their movement to climb all over their mount in order to get to a place where they could reach foes with their weapons. This does have some backing in realism; a rider on an elephant would have a lot of trouble reaching an enemy on foot with a sword unless the rider climbed around on their mount. The rider might instead use a long weapon like a spear or lance. However, atop a horse this complication seems frustrating and pointless. With no "center" square, the rider is forced to constantly move into one corner of their horse's space to simulate leaning slightly in one direction.
Without built-in facing rules, this means that the rider would be moved about all over the mount as the mount moved around on the grid. If the mount turns around 180 degrees, a rider previously on the mounts rear end might find themselves atop the mount's head. This is one of those things where the DM either needs to ad-hoc some simple facing rules, or you need to hand-waive it and use your imagination a bit. But if you use ad-hoc facing rules to solve this issue, suddenly facing rules become a huge tactical component in combat as the rider can command his mount to pirouette, bringing him into reach to attack then out of reach again without actually expending the rider's movement. If you hand-wave the positioning, you come dangerously close to using the blob method.
The Mearls Method also complicates reach. Ranged weapons are mostly fine; you just measure from your current space and everything is good. Melee weapons are a nightmare. If the rider is using a lance while riding a horse, they can move into a space away from their target, negating the lance's Disadvantage on attacks against adjacent foes and removing the handicap which was added to balance the lance against other weapons. If the rider is on a huge mount like an elephant, using a reach weapons means that the rider is never withing melee reach of creatures with 5 foot reach. If our rider is on a gargantuan mount like an ankylosaurus, they could use a reach weapon and only be able to attack a portion of two sides of the mount's space.
Those points considered, riding a mount under the Mearls Method feels less like riding a mount and more like running around the ground and having your mount carry you by the scruff of your neck any time it moves, only to put you down again when it stops.
Pros: Possibly realism; reach weapons and ranged weapons become very important on big mounts. Cons: Extra tracking, facing rules may be required, unpleasant feel, lance abuse, complicates the Mounted Combatant feat's second bullet.
Jeremy Crawford states in the Sage Advice podcast segment that this is the official way that things work. He doesn't discuss anything about reach weapons or the Mounted Combatant feat, however, which means all of my concerns about this method are unanswered. However, it's still useful to know that there is an official answer.
The blob method is simple. When you mount a creature, you share that creature's space, effectively making the rider and the mount a "blob" of. The rider's reach is measure from the edges of that creature's space. For example: If a human mounted a horse while wielding a longsword, they could attack all creatures within 5 feet of the horse using their longsword. That same human would suffer disadvantage to attack foes within 5 feet while using a lance atop their horse, but could reach all foes out to 10 feet away from the horse.
Things break down a little bit when you consider bigger mounts. Using a longsword from the back of an elephant is clearly silly, and a lance small enough for a human to hold it comfortably might not reach very far away from the elephant. Clearly some realism is lost by this method, and the reliance on reach weapons is greatly diminished. Even on gargantuan mounts the rider could dart about making longsword attacks against foes on all sides of their mount.
Pros: No extra tracking, very easy to play. Cons: Poor realism, loss of emphasis on reach weapons.
Center of Mass Method
This method is a fusion of the Mearls Method and the Blob Method, combining some aspects of the Mearls Method's independent positioning with the simplicity of the Blob Method.
When mounting a mount, you occupy the center-most space in the creature's space. if the center of the creature's space is an intersection, you occupy all spaces which touch that intersection. This means that a human on a horse occupies the mount's entire space. On an elephant, a human occupies only the center square of the elephant's space. On an ankylosaurus, a human occupies a 10 foot square in the center of the mount's space.
On both the elephant and ankylosaurus, the rider would need a reach weapon to attack creatures within 5 feet of the mount. This seems to me to be a reasonable nod to realism without sacrificing simplicity in the common case of humans on horses. Creatures with only 5 foot reach cannot reach the rider unless they also use a reach weapon.
Pros: Realism, reach weapons and ranged weapons make sense, riding horses is still simple. Cons: Complicates the Mounted Combat feat's second bullet.
How do I keep my mount alive?
There are three options for keeping your mount alive, none of which are mutually exclusive. I recommend combining all three as much as much as you possibly can.
Pay Bethesda some money and get your mount some barding (do people still remember that? Am I old now?). It costs four times as much as armor for a humanoid, but the cost will eventually become negligible as you gain levels. Of course, animals generally aren't proficient in armor, so wearing it will impose Disadvantage on attack rolls, Dexterity checks, and Dexterity saves. Your mount won't need to make attack rolls very often, but Disadvantage on Dexterity saves can be a problem. AOE spells are good way to kill mounts and their riders at the same time.
Dodge should be your mount's default action if they have nothing better to do. It works really well, and if you don't need to Dash or Disengage there is no reason not to use it.
2/3 of the feat is devoted strictly to keeping you mount alive. If you mount use Dodge, they get Advantage on Dexterity saving throws and if they pass they can ignore AOEs. This is really nice when you're at high levels and your warhorse still only has 19 hit points.
How do I fight mounted enemies?
The most obvious solution is to kill the mount. Enemies with Mounted Combatant can redirect attacks to target themselves, so that's generally not the best option. Instead, use AOE damage effects like Fireball. Sure, Mounted Combatant grants Advantage on Dexterity saving throws and Evasion, but a warhorse has just +1 to Dexterity saves so even with advantage it's an easy target. A warhorse has just 19 hit points, so if you can deal 38 damage (admittedly difficult in 5e without very high-level spells) the horse is almost certainly dead.
If you can't easily kill the mount, your backup plan is to separate the rider and the mount. Effects like Thunderwave or Lightning Lure work very well. If the mount and rider remain adjacent (such as the rider falling in an adjacent space), this will provide little advantage. Instead, you need to create distance between the rider and the mount. Standing up while prone costs half your speed, as does mounting a mount. Therefore, if you can put just 5 feet between the mount and the prone rider, the rider will be forced to Dash to re-mount their mount in a single turn, robbing them of their action and likely preventing them from doing anything dangerous for a turn.
How do feats affect mounted combat?
There are few feats which have notable affects on mounted combat, but I'll discuss them and their relationship with the rules above to clarify their effects.
This does not work with mounted combat. It requires you to use your own action (not your mount's) to Dash.
An excellent defensive option if you don't use your Reaction frequently, this can be especially useful if you have Mounted Combatant because you can still use it when you take attacks originally intended for your mount.
Clearly the most important feat for mounted combat enthusiasts. The first bullet is the only offensive portion of the feat, and in a campaign where human-sized enemies are common it's massive. However, it means that you need to ride the biggest mount you can get your hands on. Medium-sized mounts like mastiffs and ponies will lose much of the feat's effect.
The second and third bullets keep your mount alive. This is crucial because your mount's capabilities likely won't advance beyond their basic stat block. A CR 1/2 Warhorse is the same at level 1 and at level 10, but if you take hits for your mount you don't need to worry about its relatively few hit points or terrible AC. Its saves might still be poor, but reducing AOE damage by half goes a long way to keep your mount alive.
Are lances useful?
Lance: You have disadvantage when you use a lance to attack a target within 5 feet of you. Also, a lance requires two hands to wield when you aren't mounted.
While mounted, the lance has the highest damage of any one-handed weapon. However, the difference between 1d8 and 1d10 is tiny. Reach is admittedly nice, but disadvantage against adjacent foes is a huge handicap which no other reach weapon faces. This means that if you're fighting adjacent enemies you may want to drop your lance and pull out a sword or something. This allows you to keep your shield equipped while still enjoying the benefits of reach, though you may be forced to drop your lance on the ground to do so effectively. Or, instead, your mount can take the Disengage action to move away from adjacent enemies, allowing you to continue using your lance effectively until your enemies again move inside your reach.
Depending on your group's method of interpreting space and reach (See "Space and Reach", above), lances may become crucial if you find a mount larger than a horse