There are so many more interesting ways to charge into battle than on the back of a horse… or at least in a fantasy setting there are a lot more choices, gigantic riding lizards are no longer available and we are running out of most of the other interesting large animals (seriously we need to do something, we are running out of cool animals to ride into battle). Horses and dire wolves are the classics and perhaps the most sensible options, but there are other, stranger possibilities.
Here are ten different mounts with stories to go with them, individual mounts with personal tales to tell, factions with hallmark choices of warbeasts, and one magic tree.
The Sideways Throne
The Wailing Coast comes alive with leviathan crabs when the emissary of the Sea Prince, Inorval, comes to discuss trade. The huge crustaceans carry a pair of the lean sea elves each, no more threatening than the heavily ornamented pincers, capable of snapping an armoured soldier in half, and passing the entrails up to ever-moving mouth. The warbeasts are well maintained, kept free of barnacles and parasitic corals, and decorated with fine-spun gold and jewels.
The Sideways Throne is the product of magic interfering with the breeding of the leviathan crab, creating a matriarch of even grander size, and growing a crest of spines atop its carapace, readily fashioned into a simple howdah for Inorval, or whomsoever holds her post.
The standard leviathan crabs function the same as Giant Scorpions except that they are amphibious, and their sting is replaced by a Rend attack that can be made against a grappled target that deals 5d10+2 slashing damage. The Sideways Throne has the maximum possible hit points based on the hit dice (84).
Though Kovanir the Bloodhound is long dead, brought low by a powerful and cunning sorcerer, Sunderhoof, his ageing destrier, is still in fine health and ill temper. Though aged, the heavy beast maintains a fiery temperament, only allowing a creature to ride it that has proven strength and combat prowess, throwing off any who try to mount who seem too weak, and becoming violent towards any that cast spells.
Reddish tan in colour, with great and heavy hooves that crack stone even when unshod. Sunderhoof has something of a reputation for killing with a single kick, and not just humans and elves, but dwarves, ogres, and other horses. Sunderhoof is a normal warhorse, but with two levels of barbarian, making his AC 12, his hit points 32, and granting him two rages per day, which he uses whenever in a situation he deems threatening. If ridden by a barbarian, Sunderhoof only rages when his rider rages, and he gains another level for every two levels his rider gains, up to a limit of 5.
Those who claim halflings are not to be feared have never encountered a troupe of them mounted on their great tusked boars. Though they are small, they are muscular and aggressive, and their great curled front-teeth that jut from their snouts and coil back towards their eyes make them both a terrifying sight and a worse combatant. While warfare is a rare and reluctant pursuit of halfling families, a well trained squad on boarback are every bit a match for fools on their gangly and clumsy horses.
Halflings are surprisingly pragmatic about their charges, accepting all too quickly when their trusty mount must become a hearty ration instead. In turn, the babirusa breed are brutish even toward their owners, not dangerous or particularly ornery, but capable of surprisingly violent outbursts whenever they feel threatened.
Anvareth The Oathbound
It is no small point of shame for a centaur to be ridden, they are proud, strong, and noble, not subservient and dimwitted beasts. For a centaur to permit him or herself to be ridden by another creature requires that a great deed be done the service to that centaur or their clan, and such is the case of Anvareth and the C’zjandir elves. If any member of the clan were to encounter Anvareth they would immediately and unconditionally have her trust upon learning of an elf’s heritage.
The C’zandir freed the centaur from slavery as a foal, and reunited her with her parents, but a treachery was afoot. Anvareth’s own elders had sold her and many of her siblings into slavery, part of some gruesome covenant made decades before, and so the C’zandir slew the treacherous centaur elders and the slavers. While most of the remaining herd could not forgive the elves the grim duty they undertook, Anvareth alone upholds the debt her siblings cannot bear to repay.
Slender and dark-hued dragonborn of the Three Cities are born without some of the natural advantages of their kin, not so strong, and without the potent breath weapons of their foreign cousins, but they have been swift to compensate. The clan’s Spineriders descend from the light of the sun upon unsuspecting victims on the back of their “tamed” manticores, raining spines and javelins in concert but not with intent to kill. As productive members of the Three Cities, the dragonborn use their powerful rides to gather slaves from across the world.
The winged cats, as intelligent beasts, take pleasure in the hunt, and the fear brought by their arrival, and throughout the streets of Kwizdin they prowl free, instilling terror wherever they go. They owe no loyalty to a single rider, instead answering the call to hunt, accepting whoever steps into the saddle as today’s “assistant”, but some do bear grudges if one rider proves too incapable or simply not vicious enough. As intelligent as they are, they are also easily swayed by bribery and promises of a violent hunt, and many Spinerider manticores lose interest in working for the slavers when a more interesting friend arrives.
What loyalty could drive a horse to return from the grave? What duty burns in the heart of a simple beast of burden that could make it find its way back from a place of rest?
Lost is dead, that much is immediately apparent, what fur remains is faded to grey and almost ephemeral, the skin is scarred and faintly translucent, in places there is no skin at all, leaving too much exposed. She is unpleasantly quiet, even when frightened or hurt, her cries sound distant as if heard from across a valley. Certainly no one would choose to ride her, instead she chooses her rider, and once chosen that rider cannot resist but to sit the ancient saddle and go where she leads.
As mysteriously as she chooses her rider, she just as strangely abandons them, seemingly without justification or reason, she simply leaves in the dead of night, and no binding can make her stay longer than she chooses to.
For Lost, use the statistics of a Revenant, except that she is large, and has the an intelligence of 5 (-3) and can speak no languages.
Ok, no writing for this one, I just have to say this. Moose are enormous! They fall under that strange category of “things that are way bigger than you think they are”, you can lie two people end-to end and the moose is about that long. Now imagine that whole thing with a pack of gnomes on its back, or a herd of them with firbolgs riding them, strangely proportional but incredibly large and dopey looking. I just like moose.
Troglodytes have a reputation for smell and devouring sentient races where other prey is available, but they are not well known for being a major threat to civilisation as a whole. The beasts are too easily driven back underground by determined fighters and bright lights. There are a few clans that emerge from the deep places that are of greater concern, the Servants of the Mushroom, the Whitebloods, and worst of all the Stonecaster Brood and their enormous basilisk charges.
The Stonecasters chosen to ride the oversized reptiles are born blind, immune to the searing pain of firelight and the petrifying gaze of their mount. They travel ahead of the broods warriors to render any opposing forces useless, either turned to stone, or turned back in terror, before the warriors emerge to prey upon the weak and fearful under cover of darkness, leaving only a few statues and an abandoned cluster of buildings to tell of their passing.
Stonecaster Brood basilisks are as large as horses, and have double the hit points of a standard basilisk. They also have an intelligence of 6 (-2), and are capable of understanding the Troglodyte language. While they are incapable of speaking, they can communicate in a limited fashion with their riders, warning of attacks, directing them to coordinate their efforts. They consider any creature that is not a troglodyte as either hostile or edible.
It has been said by many that the gods are fickle, and their whims strange. A pious farmer prayed for safety when her home and fields came under attack from bandits, and Mehregan answered. As the god of toil and sacrifice, Mehregan despises scavengers and those who take from those who work, and so he raised a beast of burden from the farmer’s field and made it into a celestial warrior, a champion clad in wondrous armour, that burst free of its stable to trample the thieves. After the beast died, Mehregan took up his soul, and now sends him to others who call for his aid.
Paladin, as he is now known, is a celestial rhino, who defends all who ride him with the rage and fervour with which he once defended his home farm. With the strength he once used to pull ploughs, he bears armoured champions of the common labourer as they fight in Mehregan’s name. Paladin is conjurable via the Find Greater Steed spell (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything), and appears as a white skinned rhino with shimmering golden eyes and horn.
Vogbough says he doesn’t mind, so that’s ok.
The Kytes have been adventuring since they were teenagers, and friends since long before that, gathering to plot excursions into the hornbeam forest near their hometown to hunt and practice and train, carving a map into the floor of their tree house, built in the branches of a great cedar which, now, calls itself Vogbough, and walks, talks, and doesn’t tend to grumble.
The Clubhouse does not move fast, and the tree house has been rebuilt and reinforced a few times over the years, with extra rooms added via pocket dimensions so as not to overburden the amicable tree, who also has picked up a few scars over the years, as the Kytes have built a reputation and acquired enemies, and the sight of a wandering tree complete with small wooden hut is quite distinctive.
They do not know who awakened the ancient cedar, but a small chest locked and hidden inside the Clubhouse contains every clue they have found to the identity of their dubious benefactor.
A storied weapon with magical properties, some true, some only from the many legends around it.
A dragon that’s a little more interesting than the classic big-red sitting on a pile of gold.
An abandoned citadel featuring clues as to its strange history.