Riding the Tiger

Exotic Riding Animals for GURPS Fourth Edition

by Matt Riggsby

From the orc-ridden wargs at the Battle of the Five Armies to the tigers of Pan Tang to the giant Paluan lizards in The Fallible Fiend, unusual riding animals frequently appear in fantasy literature. Moreover, though they're extremely unlikely, the idea of cavalry mounted on dinosaurs, giant eagles, or some other impressive animal has an undeniable "kewl" factor. This article presents a number of utterly unrealistic but -- with any luck - interesting riding animals for fantasy campaigns.

A riding animal has to fit a few requirements. First, it has to be strong enough to carry a rider. Assuming an average combined weight of rider and gear of about 200 pounds, which is near enough for humans and other human-sized riders, the minimum ST for a mount is about 18, which puts the mount near Medium encumbrance. A ST of 22 moves that "standard" load closer to Light encumbrance, which is good for speed, or provides a lot more margin for heavy armor, which is good for heavy shock cavalry. ST values above that raise the possibility of multiple riders. For example, a mount with a ST of 24, though not terribly fast, might carry a lightly armored "driver" and an equally lightly equipped archer (or fireball-hurling magician, or some other "gunner" type) in the manner of Bronze-Age chariots, but with much better terrain handling. Typical GURPS elephants (ST 45) are strong enough to haul three lightly armored people and still have nearly 700 pounds of carrying capacity . . . enough for a small, lightly armored wooden fighting tower.

Second, the animal must be amenable to training and keeping company with humans. There's no specific trait which covers that, so this must ultimately be the GM's call. For the most part, though, any animal with the Domestic Animal metatrait can probably be trained so far as its IQ will allow.

Here, then, are several animals which may be used not just as monsters but as riding animals used by human-sized (or nearly so) characters. Almost all are carnivores, but are sufficiently omnivorous or suited for less-than-fresh meat that the Restricted Diet disadvantage doesn't apply. They eat an average of $2.5 worth of food, mostly meat, per point of ST per day. However, most can gorge themselves for a few days, then go without eating for two or three days thereafter. The exception is the herbivorous hill turtle, which grazes as it goes.

Coursing Wolves

ST 17; DX 12; IQ 4; HT 12.

Damage 1d+2/3d-1; BL 58 lbs.; HP 17; Will 11; Per 12; FP 12; SM +1.
Basic Speed 6; Basic Move 9; Block 0; Dodge 9; Parry 10 (Brawling).

Advantages: Damage Resistance 1; Discriminatory Smell; Night Vision 2; Teeth (Sharp Teeth), does 1d+1 cut; Temperature Tolerance 1.

Disadvantages: Chummy; Code of Honor (Wolf) -1.

Skills: Brawling-14; Tactics-9; Tracking-12.

Cost: $6500.

The coursing wolf is on the borderline of being a rideable animal. Goblins and other smaller races can use them as cavalry, but they're only practical mounts for humans if the human is fairly small (or lightly equipped) or the wolf very large. Their social nature can make tending them a chore as they work out the pack hierarchy, and they're restless and distracted when alone. However, they're bred for group hunting and are used to working together, making them remarkably amenable to training for group tactics. The "code of honor" is the coursing wolf's inherent loyalty to its "pack," a group of fellow wolves and associated humans. A coursing wolf will fight to the death to protect its fellow pack members and defer to pack members above it in the hierarchy. Among trained wolves, riders are regarded as "alpha dogs," and a well-trained coursing wolf is very loyal.

Giant Eagles

ST 21; DX 12; IQ 3; HT 13.

Damage 2d/4d-1; BL 88 lbs.; HP 21; Will 9; Per 12; FP 13; SM +1 at rest, +2 with wings extended.
Basic Speed 6.25; Basic Move 6; Aerial move 24; Block 0; Dodge 9; Parry 10 (Brawling).

Advantages: Acute Vision 3; Claws (Talons), does 2d cut; Enhanced Move (Air) 1; Flight (Cannot Hover; Winged); Teeth (Sharp Beak), does 2d-1 pi+.

Disadvantages: No Fine Manipulators.

Skills: Brawling-14.


Flying mounts are rare and expensive, but among those, giant eagles are among the most common. They're relatively fast, are individually dangerous, and can render most terrain moot, but their capacity for training is limited, they need a lot of room for maneuver, and their immense wingspan makes them easier targets.

War Tigers

ST 23; DX 14; IQ 4; HT 11.

Damage 2d+1/4d+1; BL 106 lbs.; HP 23; Will 11; Per 12; FP 11; SM +1.
Basic Speed 6.25; Basic Move 10; Block 0; Dodge 10; Parry 12 (Brawling).

Advantages: Claws (Sharp Claws), does 2d+1 cut; Combat Reflexes; Damage Resistance 1; Night Vision 5; Teeth (Sharp Teeth), does 2d cut.

Disadvantages: Sadism (12 or less); Sleepy (Asleep 1/2 of the time).

Skills: Brawling-16; Stealth-13.


Though not much good as long-distance transportation (they need a great deal of rest, so they're only good for short stretches), war tigers are among the most dangerous unusual mounts: agile, stealthy, and armed with particularly sharp teeth and claws. Their habit of playing with their prey before killing them only adds to their fearsome reputation.

Great Bears

ST 27; DX 10; IQ 4; HT 13.

Damage 3d-1/5d+1; BL 146 lbs.; HP 27; Will 11; Per 10; FP 13; SM +1. Basic Speed 5.75; Basic Move 7; Block 0; Dodge 8; Parry 8 (Brawling).

Advantages: Claws (Sharp Claws), does 3d-1 cut; Damage Resistance 2; Teeth (Sharp Teeth), does 3d-2 cut; Temperature Tolerance 3.

Disadvantages: Bad Sight (Nearsighted); Bad Temper (9 or less); Semi-Upright.

Skills: Brawling-11.

Cost: $11,500.

Few mounts are more formidable than the huge, tough great bear. In northern forests, they are used as transportation for both people and goods, and in a pinch they can be used for cavalry. Unlike other cavalry, though, they can grapple their opponents; some specimens are trained in Wrestling. Great bears are, however, sometimes hard to control, so they've yet to be regularly used in large numbers. The Rider (Bear) skill includes training on how to stay in the saddle when the bear rears up on its hind legs, and bear saddles are specially designed to allow such a maneuver.

Grand Caiman

ST 29; DX 10; IQ 2; HT 10.

Damage 3d/5d+2; BL 168 lbs.; HP 29; Will 10; Per 10; FP 10; SM +2. Basic Speed 5; Basic Move 5; Block 0; Dodge 8; Parry 8 (Brawling).

Advantages: Amphibious; Damage Resistance 3; Teeth (Sharp Teeth), does 3d-1 cut; Striker (Tail; -2 to hit), does 3d+3 crush.

Disadvantages: Bad Temper (12 or less); Cold-Blooded ("stiffen up" below 65); Laziness.

Skills: Brawling-11; Swimming-11.

Cost: $12,000.

Though strong and tough, the grand caiman has a number of drawbacks as a regular mount. It is hard to motivate, easily angered, very sensitive to temperature, and almost impossible to train. On the other hand, it has a number of attributes making it remarkably useful in its native tropical swamps. One, obviously, is its considerable carrying capacity. It is large enough to carry two or three lightly equipped men into battle, though the riders usually dismount rather than use the caiman as a fighting platform. It is also equally at home in the water and on land. Although it can swim far under water, it is trained to stay on the surface when it has riders.

Hill Turtle

ST 350; DX 8; IQ 3; HT 13.

Damage 36d/38d; BL 24,500 lbs.; HP 350; Will 10; Per 10; FP 13; SM +6. Basic Speed 5.25; Basic Move 5; Block 0; Dodge 8; Parry 0.

Advantages: Damage Resistance 3 (Tough Skin); Damage Resistance 12 (Torso Only).

Disadvantages: Cold-Blooded ("stiffen up" below 50).

Cost: Rarely sold, but at least $80,000.

The hill turtle gets its name not from living in the hills, but from being a hill. At 15 to 18 yards across and able to carry over 30 tons without complaining, domesticated hill turtles aren't mounts so much as mobile homes. In their native near-desert plains, they are usually fitted with small housing compounds. In times of war, the compounds become small wooden fortresses. Hill turtles are nearly impossible to miss, but very hard to hurt.

Article publication date: February 23, 2007

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