You know me, my commentary on Dungeons & Dragons is rather limited. I’m the Level 1 GM, not DM, and usually my writings on D&D are couched (no pun intended) within posts about Star Wars Saga. But today, I’m going to talk about something which more or less relates just to D&D, and we will get to a little bit of Star Wars later.
What got me thinking about this was when I was rolling up my new Paladin (not a Bard now) for the game we will be playing within a few weeks. So, thinking along the lines of the Middle Aes, naturally I started to think about Mount & Blade. And of course, thinking about that got me thinking about…couched damage.
There’s Nothing Better Than a Cavalry Charge
Just so we’re all on the samepage here, I took the liberty of getting a few definitions for you.
Firstly, there’s the word itself “couched”, which Dictionary.com defines as “to lower (a spear, lance, etc.) to a horizontal position, as for attack”.
This is basically what happens in Mount & Blade if you are carrying some sort of polearm when mounted. Once you pick up enough speed your spear or lance will “couch” and you simply ride into the path of an enemy and impale them.
I also took a look at actual cavalry tactics, and this wasn’t as used as we might think it was. Usually due to the lack of ideal conditions for a cavalry charge. Hills, rocks, boggy ground etc. Also, some horses tend not to like charging head-long into a line of infantry.
Of course, in video games everything is ideal conditions because we make it so! Likewise in roleplaying games.
Also needed to be mentioned are anti-cavalry tactics. Such as pikemen which i think is best observed in this little video about the Battle of Stirling Bridge (sans bridge).
Why am I going through all this? Well, couching, charging and pikemen (or rather sheltrons) are a few things to bear in mind when looking at how the mechanics of this would be set up.
A Closer Look at a Cavalry Charge
What needs to be taken into account here are the basic elements of a cavalry charge so they can be statted.
- Speed – Obviously as they are mounted, but it is rather hard for infantry to chase cavalry, not that they should anyway.
- Force– It’s basic Newtonian physics (okay, maybe not so basic but you get the point). The faster something is moving and the heavier it is, influences the amount of force it has. To put it simpler, a fully armoured knight astride a destrier at full gallop is heavier and exerts more force than a lone man with a sword and shield. If they run at each other at their maximum speed and clash, it’s clearly no contest who will fall over. Of course, as is evident in the above video, this can be turned on it’s head with the pikemen, particularly if the men on horses are not given warning until the last possible moment when there is not enough room for them to stop. After all, Newton also says that the greater force is upon an object, the more force is needed to act on it to get it to stop.
- Reach – That lance, spear or polearm couched in front of you means that the enemy you are riding towards is likely going to be dead before you get to him, even if just seconds before. So, you skewer him with your weapon and then trample him under your horses hooves for good measure, if your lance didn’t kill him your horse definitely will.
Now that we have these in mind, we can take it a step further and look at it in terms of game mechanics.
Statting it Out
All of these elements have to be taken into account to stat it out properly. Firstly…
Key to a cavalry charge attack would be the actual mount and what it could do, as this would determine how much movement is needed to get up to the right speed. Take the warhorse for example. It has a speed of 8 squares, for this to work it would have to move it’s whole speed and then for the attack to happen at the very end when the horse should be at its full acceleration. A success with this would perhaps cause the horse to move at half its normal speed for the remainder of the players turn in order for it to stop.
The strange thing is with speed is that it is inversely related to the size of the animal, which is understandable as it takes longer for a rhino or hippogriff to get up to speed than a mere horse. But with this sort of action it assumes that the mount can get up to full pelt faster, and slow down faster. A statement which would have Newton spin in his grave.
You could play about with the Strength score of the mount and the player to make it more realistic, to illustrate this principle. Say a rhino whose Strength is 21 does more damage than a hippogriff with a Strength of 19, but it seems uneccesary as a lot of the mounts have similar Strength scores. Likewise, you could attempt to take this into account with the amount of weight carried by the animal, but this again can seem rather fiddly.
The best way I can see this taken into account is the amount of movement needed to do it. Say you charge with a rhino which has a movement of 4, you add four to the damage. But again, this does not make sense as it simply flies in the face of the physics mentioned above. Then again, you have moved comparatively less to a warhorse.
This part is obvious, as one would need a polearm in order to make this attack, which can be done from two squares away with a long spear in the Rules As Written. The speed would be added to one’s damage. However, I would like to see some sort of momentum taken into account with other weapons while mounted, yet that’s an idea for another time.
The Final Bits
Taking all this into account is rather complicated, but then adapting real life to gaming usually is. However, how would a character actually do this? I would suggest a feat, with the following qualifiers:
- Comes off the back of Mounted Combat: This makes sense, as one would learn to fight on a horse before learning to charge on it. You need to learn to walk before you can run, you need to take Mounted Combat before taking Cavalry Charge.
- Need a high Strength score: Again, this makes sense but mostly due to our friend Newton again: for every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. You may deal damage with your lance against the mook as you charge, but you also need to be able to stay on your horse while you do it. I would suggest a prerequisite Strength of 16.
- Need the right mount: Not all horses liked charging, and not all mounts in D&D would like it either. A Riding Horse is meant for riding, and would likely bolt or turn tail at being urged to charge into a line of infantry. A Warhorse would probably not object. With this, there is something within the mechanics to be taken into account: the level of the mount itself. I would suggest a mount of Level 3 and upward could be used to do this feat, which is the level the Warhorse is anyway.
- Restrict class requirements: This sort of thing needs a bit of grunt behind it, so to make it more specialised perhaps only the Barbarian, Fighter, Paladin and Warlord could take this feat.
When you look at these requirements together, it seems rather evident that the Cavalry Charge would be off-limits until players are getting towards midlevel. Which is rather how you want it, as players would need to want to go this way, and the DM would need to let them.
And if players just tend to spam cavalry charges, just throw pikemen at them.
Of course, with technology there are far, far more ways to attack them and break the group up.
Besides, it’s so just cool!