Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #242
Gaming The Horse, Part 2
This Week's Tips Summarized
Gaming The Horse, Part 2
- Horse Traits
- Horse Reactions
- Horse Fear
- Horse Trading
- Horse Tricks
- Unattended Horses
Readers' Tips Summarized
- Combat Record Sheets
From: Debbie Johnson
- Use Wheeled Backpacks For Toting Game
- Everyone Needs A Talking Head
- Split Party GMing
From: Axel Olivas
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A Brief Word From Johnn
#242 Skipped A Week
Last week slipped through my fingers and there was no issue.
My apologies! Hopefully you'll find this week's issue full
of useful facts about horses and GMing tips.
Best Quote This Issue
This line from Ryan's Leadership In Roleplaying tip made me
chuckle. I hereby declare it the quote of Issue #242. :)
"Involve everyone. Just like a GM, a leader must make sure
that everyone has a turn to be the hero. So, as a leader,
rotate the death blower to different characters."
Have a game-full week.
Return to Contents
Need a Little Inspiration?
Expeditious Retreat Press presents its newest line, Seeds.
Seeds are short, inexpensive PDFs packed with adventure
ideas in 7 different genres: Fantasy, Modern, Sci-Fi,
Horror, Pulp, Supers, Post-Apocalyptic. Stop by our vendor
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We are also accepting submissions for the Seeds line.
Please stop by our web-site for submissions’ guidelines.
Gaming The Horse, Part 2
A guest article by Garry & Susan Stahl
The Greyhawke Campaign
This article continues on from Part 1, which appeared in
Part I can be found here: http://www.roleplayingtips.com/readissue.php?number=241
Below are some more facts and interesting GM tid
bits that will hopefully allow you to referee horses in your
games better and with more confidence.
A given horse has a 25% chance of having "traits", that is,
behaviors that make it remarkable from the average horse.
Some traits are desirable, others are not. Some have good
points and others have bad points. In the rare cases of
multiple traits use common sense. A Courageous horse would
not also be Nervous.
01-75 -- No Traits
76-90 -- One Trait
91-98 -- Two Traits
99-00 -- Three Traits
Traits roll 1d4 and 1d8
Table 1 Table 2 Table 3 Table 4
1 Agile 1 Dullard 1 Loyal 1 Stayer
2 Alert 2 Easy Keeper 2 Nervous 2 Steady
3 Ambler 3 Fleet 3 Poor Doer 3 Strong
4 Balker 4 Hard Mouth 4 Rears 4 Sullen
5 Biter 5 Hardy 5 Restricted 5 Sure-footed
6 Clumsy 6 Intelligent 6 Rough gaited 6 Unsound
7 Courageous 7 Jumper 7 Runaway 7 Weak
8 Cribber 8 Kicker 8 Smooth Gaited 8 Willing
The horse can stop and/or change directions very
quickly and take jumps at speed. +10% on any dexterity check
for the horse.
This horse notices things at once. He see and hears
the environment, but does not panic. He notices and responds
to the slightest cues. A handler that is in tune with the
horse adds 5% to his own spot or "notice" checks. Any rider
has a 10% plus to his horsemanship rolls on this horse. An
Alert horse makes you look good.
A horse that can amble has an extra gait other than
the usual walk, trot, canter, and gallop. It is a gait that
is extremely comfortable for both horse and rider. An
ambling horse can cover a great deal of ground at a rapid
rate (12 miles per hour) without tiring. The gait is smooth
enough that the rider can balance a full glass of wine on
their head without spilling a drop. An Ambling horse can
travel at trot speeds with walk fatigue levels.
The horse will refuse when asked to perform ordinary
tasks within its ability. The horse may simply stand rooted
to the ground, back up, or even sit down. Such an animal can
usually be persuaded to do the job, but it will be a battle
of wills and strength between the animal & handler. A
balker requires horsemanship checks at any new task and at a
The horse will unpredictably bite whoever is within
reach for no reason even though the person being bitten may
be doing nothing more than feeding the animal.
The horse seems to have four left legs. They will
back into things, stand on handlers' feet, or trip over thin
air when walking. They tend to have many scrapes, scratches,
and patches of missing hair. This horse subjects the rider
to a -10% penalty on horsemanship checks for any activity
other than straight and level riding.
The horse displays great boldness and
determination. Such a horse will go into dangerous
situations without fear. When faced with a potential enemy,
the horse will prepare to fight rather than flee. Providing
the horse doesn't sense danger, unusual sights, smells, or
sounds are things to be investigated. As with the willing
horse, the courageous one will tax itself to the point of
utter exhaustion and beyond if the handler does not control
it. It will show no signs of fatigue, but will gallop on
until it drops dead or will continue to try to perform
despite wounds or broken limbs, and will actually fight the
handler's efforts to restrain it. A courageous horse never
checks for morale or fatigue.
(The GM should make normal fatigue and/or wound checks, and
when the horse fails sufficient checks to drop dead, it
drops. The rider gets no warning unless they inquire as to
the status of their horse.)
This is a vice usually brought on by boredom. The
horse chews the top of its stall wall or fence & swallows
air. It is a difficult vice to cure, but the behavior can be
curbed with the use of a muzzle or cribbing collar. Not only
do they damage their surroundings, cribbers are prone to
colic and bloat due to the air they swallow. Cribbers will
suffer a 20% penalty in disease checks when stabled for any
length of time (over 3 days).
This horse is lights on, no one home. His mind, if
he has one, is on something else. Once you get his attention
he is willing enough, but that loose mind keeps wandering. A
Dullard takes 20% more time and effort to train. They impose
a 5% penalty on horsemanship checks. A Dullard is not a safe
animal as they are usually the first ones the predator gets.
They give the rider no clues to the environment.
The horse has no trouble staying at a good
weight and glossy coat with minimal feed and care. A handler
must be careful not to over-feed as an easy keeper is prone
to fat. An easy keeper requires 10% less time and money to
If the horse is a saddle horse it will be an
exceptionally fast runner. If the horse is a carriage horse
it will be an exceptionally fast trotter. Fleet horses are
10% faster at all gaits.
The horse's mouth has been made insensitive by
misuse of the bit and reins. Such animals are difficult to
steer or stop without the use of a very severe bit.
Horsemanship checks on this horse are made at a 10% penalty.
It isn't unwilling, it just can't feel the cue.
This horse is tough. Circumstances that would break
another animal are to him a challenge to overcome. He has
bones of ivory and muscles of steel cord. A hardy horse
makes all health or injury checks at a 10% bonus.
This could be a blessing or a curse, depending
on your point of view. An intelligent horse has a strong
sense of self-preservation. If they feel a shoe loosen they
will refuse to go any further until the shoe has been fixed.
If they detect danger they will not willingly proceed into
the situation. Novice handlers may mistake this for
stubbornness, while experienced handlers will recognize it
as good common sense.
It is difficult to force such a horse to move toward the
danger. However, a well-loved and trusted handler can often
convince the animal to go on despite the horse's natural
instincts. Intelligent horses make poor war horses. (Go
THERE? Things are getting KILLED in there boss.) Intelligent
horses tend to get bored easily. If they are confined for
too long without sufficient work to do, they will INVENT
things to amuse themselves (digging a hole in the stall,
grabbing objects within reach and flinging them about, etc.)
Such boredom can be avoided by giving the horse plenty of
work to do and/or providing a toy for the animal to play
These horses can be taught 2-8 tricks. If not taught tricks
they can develop them on their own. Be careful what you
The horse can jump higher and further than other
horses. The jumper can clear 20% greater height or length
than the average horse.
The horse will kick anyone within range given half a
The horse will obey only one master. It will do
everything within its power to return to that master if
stolen or sold. Should the master fall, the horse will stay
by the master's side and protect him/her. The horse will
actively attack anyone or anything threatening its master.
Such an animal will obey no other person unless that person
is known by the animal to be important to its master. The
horse's loyalty can be transferred to another master, but it
will be several weeks or months work on the part of both
The horse sees enemies around every corner and in
every bush. It is very much of the opinion that everything
is guilty until proven innocent. It is also of the opinion
that everything is out to get it. A leaf that suddenly
skitters across the horse's path is sufficient cause to jump
sideways or backward. Unusual sounds or smells will cause
the animal to sweat and tremble with fear. The animal may
bolt in panic or stand fearfully depending on its
relationship with the handler. A trusted handler will be
able to get the horse to move past its fear with patience.
Horsemanship checks are required at any new incident.
Opposite of easy keeper. The horse always seems
to be underweight and have a poor coat despite adequate feed
and care. They can be improved with feed supplements and
diligent grooming. The condition can be caused by internal
parasites and/or bad teeth. This horse will cost 10% more
time and money than a normal animal to keep in good
The horse will attempt to avoid work by rearing. A
handler on the ground will usually be threatened by waving
front hooves. A rider may find themselves in the dirt if
they are not ready for the behavior. In some extreme cases,
the horse will deliberately throw itself over backward with
a rider on its back. Horsemanship tests are required to ride
This horse, through flaws in conformation or due
to old injury, cannot move as easily as other horses. He
suffers a 20% penalty in speed and jumping ability.
The horse rides like it has five legs, or like
you are sitting on a jackhammer. The rider will become
overly fatigued on this horse and really nothing can be done
about it. Break him to harness. A variation is the horse is
rough gaited in only one gait, such as the trot, but easy to
ride at the walk, canter, or gallop.
The horse will attempt to avoid work by bolting at
top speed. Such an animal must be kept on a tight rein to
avoid the behavior. They will be difficult to stop once they
get going and a novice handler is likely to find themselves
sitting in the dirt.
The horse has only the normal gaits, but is
more comfortable than usual to ride. The rider suffers
less fatigue from riding this horse.
This horse take unusual sight, sounds, and smell
with utter equanimity. You could run a marching band and
full fireworks display past him and he yawns and wonders
what's for dinner. (grain... my favorite...) This horse will
take his cues from his handler or rider. If the "herd
leader" is fine, he is fine. This horse ignores "horsey"
fear checks in the presence of a human he trusts, and will
only "fail" other checks if his rider/handler does.
The horse has exceptional stamina. It will go a
third longer than a normal horse before requiring fatigue
All horses are strong, but some are stronger than
most. A horse with this trait can haul a lot of weight for
its size. A strong horse can haul or carry 10% greater load
than average horses.
The horse has a bad attitude. It must be forced to
perform and then the performance will be lackluster with
pinned ears and clamped tail. What work is done will be done
with the least amount of effort the horse can get away with.
Every command to the horse requires a will or horsemanship
check. The horse will be 10% less able in all categories of
performance even if it does move.
This horse can keep its feet in difficult
circumstances such a mud, ice, or loose ground that would
cause other horses to stumble. Sure-footed horses have a 10%
bonus to any dexterity check.
This horse has a tendency to go lame with any hard
work. Any effort that requires a fortitude or constitution
check requires an additional check to see if the horse goes
lame. A lame horse cannot be ridden or draw a load without
risking a total breakdown that will effectively destroy the
animal. Each episode of lameness will require 1d4 weeks of
rest and care to correct. The horse must be maintained as
if working to simulate the vet visits and treatments.
A weak horse is still strong, but for physical reasons
cannot carry the load an average horse can. A Weak horse can
carry or pull 10% less for their size than an average horse.
The horse will do its very best to obey its
handler's commands, even if it doesn't quite understand
what's being asked of it. The handler of such an animal must
be careful what they ask their horse to do. If being asked
to gallop for an extended period of time, the horse will
slow as it becomes fatigued, but it will continue to gallop
if the rider insists. If asked to jump a fence too tall for
it, the horse will show reluctance to do so, but will make
its best attempt at the rider's insistence. Such a horse
will tax itself to the point of utter exhaustion to try to
fulfill its handler's wishes. A willing horse requires no
horsemanship tests even for the most difficult tasks, except
to determine if the rider stays in the saddle.
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What reactions can horses have to various events, such as
ambushes, the smell of blood, or loud noises?
For unpleasant smells such as blood or smoke, once the
location of the smell is located, the average horse will
avoid going near it. A skilled rider/handler will be able to
convince the horse to approach, but the animal will be on
edge and alert for the slightest sign of danger.
The horse will startle and look, smell, and listen for the
source of the noise. Once the direction is determined, they
will quickly evaluate the threat level. If they can see the
source and recognize it to not be a threat, they will resume
their previous activity If there is even the smallest doubt
as to the possible threat level, they will run in the
opposite direction if there is an open path available. A
horse that is restrained will fight to break free and run.
Horses will also take their cues from those around them. If
other herd members decide the there is no danger, an
individual is unlikely to bolt. If other herd members flee,
the individual will follow suit even if they could not
detect any danger themselves.
A horse with a rider or handler will initially react the
same as the horse in the wild. However, the rider/handler
has a very brief opportunity to override the animal's flight
instinct. Their reaction immediately following the startle
will determine the horse's reaction. Novices are usually
unsettled by the horse's startle and will tighten the reins
and shout "whoa" in an effort to keep the horse under
control. The horse interprets the rider/handler's reactions
to mean that there is danger afoot and will attempt to flee.
A more advanced rider/handler will react as if there is
nothing unusual going on and addresses the horse in a calm
and soothing voice. A pat on the neck and firm cues that the
horse is to move forward will convince the horse that there
is no danger. Once the horse moves toward the source of the
noise, it will relax and be much less likely to startle the
next time, provided that something unpleasant doesn't happen
as a result of moving toward the noise.
An ambush is the classic method of attack by the predator
and the average horse in this situation will bolt in panic.
Most horses will avoid stepping on humans, but a horse
fleeing an ambush is running blind. A human in the way may
not even be seen. The horse will go around, over, or through
anything in its path to get away from the point of danger.
The horse will run only until it has put what it feels to be
a safe distance between itself and the danger source. It
will then stop and look, listen, and smell for possible
If no further pursuit is forthcoming, the horse will usually
begin grazing or it may decide to head in the direction of
"home". "Home" equals safety to a horse. This is why
panicked horses in a fire will run back into a burning barn.
Home is safety, even if it is not. A rider or handler can
control a horse under ambush conditions, but it takes a lot
of skill to be able to override the flight instinct.
Do most horses react the same way? Is there actually a
range of reactions?
All horses have the same basic instincts, but there can be a
great range of reactions depending on training, life
experiences, and personality. For example, a horse who was
once frightened while crossing a bridge will be reluctant to
cross bridges in the future. A horse that has been beaten by
a former master might very well be defensive or vicious when
interacting with all humans going forward.
Alternatively, if the cruel former master was male, the
horse may be an angel toward women and girls, but the devil
itself to any male that dares come near. A horse whose first
master kept sugar cubes in his shirt pocket to offer as a
treat when he went to saddle up in the morning is not only
going to enjoy being saddled, but will have a tendency to
want to check out everyone's shirt pocket for possible
goodies. A horse that managed to escape from a barn fire
will likely have a greater than average fear of fire and
It's probably safe to say that average horses have similar
personalities, have had similar handling/training, and
similar experiences. This is what makes them "average".
Therefore, they will tend to react similarly. The average
horse will react as described above to various situations.
They will perform as their master requests, within reason.
The master might want them to jump a 40' wide ravine, but
the average horse will refuse. The average horse will not
expend more effort than necessary to do the job and will
stop if fatigued, unless they are forced to continue.
For deciding how a mount might react to various events that
could happen in a game, the morale level is a good mechanic
to use. Horses, unless highly trained, will have poor
morale. The horse is not interested in "winning" or
"victory." To the horse, not being eaten today is a win.
Anything that accomplishes that with the least danger is a
good thing. Honor, reputation, etc. are not horse concepts.
"Run away, live to eat and breed another day" is the horse
credo. There are exceptions, but they are few enough in
number to ignore in game.
To an unfettered horse, a threat is to be moved away from,
not fought. A held horse fights only to escape if it feels
threatened. With the exception of predators seeking food,
animals will not willingly engage in combat unless they
feel there is no other option. Horses are no exception.
For game mechanics training raises the morale of the horse.
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How do you train a horse to overcome its fear?
The goal of such training is to teach the horse that the
sound, object, or situation that is the source of the fear
will cause no harm. Horses are capable of reasoning a
problem through and they have excellent memories. The
training will work provided the problem is presented in
small steps and in a manner the animal can understand.
Rules to follow when training horses:
- The horse should not be held so tightly that it cannot
take a step back.
- Always work under the horse's panic level. A panicky
horse is not thinking and will not learn anything. If the
horse starts to become fearful, back the stimulus down a
step, let the horse relax, then try again.
- Use no punishment. You can be firm with the horse, but
the horse should never be punished for its fear. To do so
will only confirm that it was right to be afraid in the
- Your voice is very important. Keep it calm and quiet.
Talk to the horse as it works through the problem.
- Avoid sudden movements. The horse will interpret such
motion on your part as being indicative of danger.
The ideal way is to have a calm, experienced animal
demonstrate that there is no danger. Example: If crossing
bridges is a particular problem, having someone on a horse
that is calm on bridges lead the way is very effective. A
pause in the middle of the bridge where the horses can stand
side by side and the riders chat gives the nervous horse a
chance to relax. It is comforted by the presence of the
other animal and can make a firm connection between being on
a bridge and having a pleasant experience. A few repetitions
of this and the horse will be able to cross the bridge
Some methods of handling other situations:
Lead the horse toward the object. Lead him
around the object in both directions so that he has a good
look at the thing. Touch and pat the object yourself to
demonstrate that the thing poses no threat. Encourage the
horse to touch the object and smell it thoroughly. If it is
a small object pick it up and offer it to the horse to
investigate. Once the horse seems to lose interest in the
object, you can:
- If the object is large and immobile, mount the horse and
ride it around the thing in both directions.
- If the object is small, touch the horse's shoulder with
it. Rub him with the object and run it over his body and
neck. Tap him with it gently. If the object does something
unusual (like an umbrella opening) make it do whatever it
does in full sight of the horse and let the horse check it
out thoroughly again. Put it back the way it was originally
and make it do its unusual thing again. A couple of repeats
should be all it takes.
You should have no trouble with this type of object after
this. The horse now knows that such a thing poses no threat
and will be accepting of it.
The key to this one is to introduce the sound
gradually. A helper makes the sound some distance away while
you pat and talk to the horse. You treat the sound as
nothing special. When the horse stops reacting to the
distant sound, have the helper move a bit closer and repeat.
The horse will eventually reach the point where it can be
standing right next to the source of the noise without fear.
A horse that is used to gunfire will also be calm when faced
with a backfiring car or a brick hitting a steel wall. Any
sound can be introduced the same way.
Smells can be done in the same manner as sounds.
Start with the smell at a distance and gradually move it
When training an animal not to fear things, you must treat
each type of stimulus separately. To try to do everything at
the same time will overwhelm the horse. For instance, you
can introduce gunfire on week 1, floating balloons on week
2, sirens on week 3, blood smell on week 4, etc. You can
begin combining stimulus gradually as the horse learns to
accept each one.
For example, a police horse might be work through the
following course as a graduation exercise:
- Walk around and between construction sawhorses with helium
balloons tied to them.
- Go through hanging curtains.
- Go past a fire in a trash can.
- Walk into a crowd of humans waving large signs and
shoulder them aside.
- Stand still while the rider fires a pistol.
- Go between squad cars with their lights and sirens
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What makes a horse more or less valuable? What factors could
a GM add in to increase or decrease the value of a horse
that's for sale or trade?
To answer these questions during the game, first ask what
market is the horse being aimed toward? When considering
value, the best indicator is how well a given horse fits the
needs of the buyer. A buyer looking for a gentle saddle
horse for his Lady is not going to value that snorting
warhorse over there, while an up and coming knight would
value that same warhorse very highly. A farmer that can only
afford one horse might be willing to pay a bit more for a
horse that can be ridden and is also capable of pulling his
plow and wagon, rather than buy a saddle horse to ride and a
draft horse to pull the wagon and plow. People with very
limited funds might be willing to take a horse with vices or
physical defects since such animals will generally cost
There are certain things that all people want in a horse:
- The horse should visibly be in good health.
- It should be able to take in plenty of air which means a
broad, deep chest (lung capacity), width between the
jawbones, and the area where the jaw joins the neck should
not be overly meaty (plenty of space for the windpipe).
- The head should be wide between the eyes (space for a
large brain) with large eyes (the better to see with).
- Since the horse is a rear engine design, the hindquarters
should be well developed.
- Clean legs (lumpy legs can be a sign of trouble) that are
straight (crooked legs are prone to all sorts of problems)
and healthy hooves are important.
- The overall appearance of the horse should be one of
balance with no one part more or less developed than the
- The horse should move out freely with no sign of
There are some things that are considered faults in one type
of horse, but not another. Cow hocks is a good example. A
cow hocked horse has hocks that point in toward one another.
This is an undesirable trait for a saddle horse, but not for
a draft horse as it allows the draft horse to pull weight
more efficiently. Another example is straight pasterns.
Straight pasterns are inefficient shock absorbers that make
for a very uncomfortable riding animal, but they are
acceptable, if not desirable, in a carriage horse.
Beyond the basic conformation, and what is desirable for the
breed type, other things that affect the value of a horse
- Training. A well trained animal is worth more than one
that is untrained or poorly trained.
- Virtues/vices. A horse that habitually bites or kicks will
be worth less than one that does not.
- Accomplishments/ability. If you're in the market for a
good hunter, a horse that jumps well is going to be worth
more to you than one that can't.
- Age. A horse that could out-pull anything in its weight
class in its prime, but is now in the last years of its life
is not going to be worth as much as its ability can no
longer be utilized. A very young horse may be worth less
than an animal in its prime because its potential has not
been proven. On the other hand, someone may be willing to
pay a great deal for that unproven yearling if its sire
and/or dam are known to produce outstanding foals.
- Pedigree. A good pedigree can be considered brownie points
in a young, unproven horse. It is of less importance in the
case of an aged stallion or mare that can be expected to be
able to produce a few more foals. In the case of aged
breeding stock, the known qualities of their previous foals
are more important. For geldings, a pedigree is only worth
bragging rights to the owner as a gelding cannot breed.
- Appearance. Appearance is the most subjective of the
criteria. It is true that beauty is in the eye of the
beholder. In many societies, a horse with too much white is
considered undesirable, but to a Gypsy they are beautiful.
Blue eyes on a dark horse crop up occasionally and are quite
startling looking if you've never seen them before. Some
people don't like the look and some consider them weak
(untrue), but other people like them, or at least don't mind
them. Double dilutes (pale cream all over with blue eyes)
are viewed as "ugly" by some, while to a breeder of
palominos they are worth their weight in gold. A double
dilute bred to a chestnut will produce 100% palominos.
This is one area the GM can play with quite a bit. What does
that area of the world like or dislike? Do the locals have
any beliefs regarding certain colors or markings? In the
Arabic world, bay horses are believed to be sturdier than
other colors, while chestnuts are believed to be faster than
other colors, etc. A horse with socks on the three legs
other than the left fore is considered lucky, but a horse
with socks on all four feet is considered bad news.
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What tricks can a horse be taught? Can a horse come to you
To give you an example of what some horses are capable of,
Miniature Horses (36" & under) are currently being trained
in some areas as seeing eye and service animals. It takes
longer to train them than dogs, but once trained they are
just as capable of doing the job. They have the advantage of
a longer service life and they are stronger than dogs. If
their person is able to hang on to the harness, a Mini has
the ability to pull them away from a dangerous situation
Horses can be taught to sit down, bow, play dead, shake
hands, count (you signal when to start and stop), attack or
kick on command, roll over, and rear when cued. I have seen
horses trained to line dance with their families, horses
that love to chase and catch thrown Frisbees, and horses
that will open a rural mailbox and place an envelope inside.
They can be taught to bring something to you and come when
A horse cannot do what a horse cannot do. No horse could be
taught to whistle for example. Horses don't whistle.
Anything that is within the capacity of a horse can be
taught to the average horse. We recommend old westerns
(Gene Autry, Roy Rogers) for horse tricks. A good look at
the "airs above the ground" performed by the Spanish Riding
school will show some of the extreme things horses can do.
Every one of them useful in the kind of battle fought in the
17th and 18th century.
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What will horses do if left unattended (i.e. their master is
busy in the dungeon)? Is there an order of actions they'll
attempt to perform or does it vary by individual horse?
Horse priorities are:
- Move away from any danger. Preferably in the direction
- If alone, look for other horses in the immediate area. If
you locate any, try to join the herd.
- Graze. If there is nothing to eat in the immediate
vicinity, move to an area that does.
- Keep an eye open for predators.
This is what your average horse will do if left unattended
and unrestrained. As they move in search of fodder and
companionship they will tend to steer a course toward what
they consider to be home.
Horses can be trained to stay put for short periods of time
and they will do so unless frightened. However, even in the
case of a trained animal, leaving them unattended for more
than a few minutes will usually result in them wandering.
Last bit of advice:
Keep in mind that a horse is an animal. They are highly
intelligent animals, but animals none the less. A truly
malicious horse is rare. They do not have human priorities
and a good horse trainer will realize this. Like dogs, you
cannot train a horse like you would train a person. You have
to use the horse's priorities to your advantage. To not do
so is to have them at your disadvantage.
To the GM specifically, I urge you not use the horse to
punish players. If the player is seeking more input into the
horse in game then I think this is a good thing. The player
is getting into their role as a character that is concerned
with horses, and they are seeking reaction from the
creatures they are interacting with.
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Combat Record Sheets
From: Debbie Johnson
This is somewhat related to your article about tracking PC
stats. I have created a form that I call the Combat Record
Sheet that I use during each combat to track frequently used
combat stats. In addition, it helps me keep track of what
happened during each combat indefinitely.
There is a grid, with both horizontal and vertical lines on
the page. There is space for character names to be listed on
the left in rows, PCs at the top, NPCs starting in the
middle. There are only 14 rows on the page, so there is
plenty of room for each character. Columns are labeled with
the necessary stats to be tracked. I used Windows Draw to
create these sheets, but I'm sure there are many other
I custom made it to match the game system that I run, which
is Shadowrun. The columns on my sheet are labeled
initiative, held actions, wounds/modifiers, armor,
willpower/body, notes, and pools. When I say, "Roll for
initiative," that's when I start filling out the sheet. It
always takes me a few minutes to get the sheet ready, but
once it is, combat goes smoothly.
My players like that pause anyway, because they usually roll
their initiative, then spend the rest of the time either
talking (I don't mind a little bit of OOC planning), or
checking their character sheets for what they will need for
this combat. This also speeds up their decision-making when
we do get into the excitement of combat.
First, I write all the names involved. (At first I had
printed the names of the PCs on the sheets themselves, but
when a player was not there, it wasted space, so I stopped
doing it.) If the NPCs don't have names, because they're
critters or multiple goons, they get numbered. If we're not
using miniatures, a brief note about their location is added
(guard #1 behind Shadowblade). Then I add the initiatives
and the rest of the starting stats.
If anyone already has a wound, that is noted along with the
associated modifier. Armor they are wearing (armor jacket
5/3) which helps me calculate target numbers at a glance,
attributes, such as willpower, which is usually the target
number for spell casting, and body, which is the number of
dice rolled to resist damage, are all listed.
Finally, pools that are used up during combat and refresh at
the end of the Combat Turn, which are combat pool, spell
pool, and astral combat pool, along with karma pool
available (for instance C9, S5, A8, K4). Held and notes are
always left blank for later use.
In the Shadowrun system, whoever gets the highest initiative
goes first, and after everyone has gone once, the GM
subtracts 10 from each initiative, and then goes through it
again. When all actions are used, initiative is re-rolled,
and pools (except for karma pool) refresh. Therefore, I have
multiple columns for initiative on my sheets.
I put a line through the initiative number of the character
whose phase it is, so that I can see at a glance who is
going next, and who is left to go during that pass. In
Shadowrun, you may hold your action to see what someone else
is going to do first, and go just before they do if you
choose. If a PC or NPC holds, I cross out their initiative
and make a note in the held column. Then I can ask the
player before my bad guys go, "You have a held action, would
you like to use it now?" I find there are less
misunderstandings that way!
Notes are used for interesting things that happen in that
combat. For example, if Ryall is affected by a city
spirit's fear power, we both know that he has to seek the
nearest safety until the fear ends, even if that means
running away from that spirit (and his team and the combat)
at full speed.
During combat, I write who has been wounded, what powers
critters are using, spirit services used, pools used, and
anything else that will need to be remembered. I have made
separate sheets with general group stats for my NPCs, such
as police, security guards, military, Yakuza, Mafia, street
gangs, and so on, that I use repeatedly. So, instead of
scribbling on those sheets and having to reprint them,
changes are made on the Combat Record Sheet.
I have explained how this sheet has been useful in making
combat go smoothly, but that wasn't the reason that I
started using it. The most useful reason I've found is when
I have to stop the game in the middle of combat. I run my
games in a gaming store, and when the store closes, we have
to leave. When I was a new GM, it seemed that I was often
having to stop in the middle of combat. Remembering details
about the combat until the next week was very difficult,
especially if the combat had already gone on for several
hours. I designed the Combat Record Sheet specifically to
keep track of where we were when we started combat the next
week. When I use the sheet properly, all I have to do
before we leave is draw a quick map of the combat location
(I usually draw it right on the back of the sheet), and
where everyone is, and I'm ready to pack up.
I keep all my sheets and file them in chronological order.
A personal side benefit of using these sheets is that I can
look back on all the combats I've run, and the brief notes
that I've made are enough to vividly recall the action and
excitement of those combats. And if you have recurring
villains like I do (mine are called the Nemesis Team), you
can go back and see what they have done to each other, and
who has a grudge against whom, and why. All players like to
reminisce about their exploits, so I use my sheets to say
something like: "Remember the time that Grog leaped onto
the back of that giant magical crocodile in the Amazon
Use Wheeled Backpacks For Toting Game
I don't use tote bags for gaming and ESPECIALLY not for
conventions--they can get too heavy/unwieldy during long
sessions or when going through a con's dealer room. Instead,
I use one of those backpacks on wheels. It can be picked up
for narrow manoeuvring or rolled on its wheels to save on
your back. It also has LOTS of pockets for pencils, dice,
and assorted goodies.
Everyone Needs A Talking Head
I've been using this for a long time now and have decided to
let you in on the secret. If you have the time or
inclination to download the demo software, it is useful to
screen capture, and copy and paste into other pics with a
little Photoshop magic. Voila, new person...
Split Party GMing
From: Axel Olivas
Hello fellow GMs in the search of new and exciting ways of
dealing (certain death to) players. I am very fond of this
list, and I find it extremely difficult to write something
useful for us all to benefit, seeing that most has been
written. Yet, I've found something to share to everyone on
It happened in my last game session that there was an undead
invasion to a very important city in our campaign. Given
that all the players had at least two characters to prepare
for the attack, the whole session bent heavily to havoc when
they all decided to split up.
The only solution I had was to run the session in two
blocks, one for each part of the "parties", then hand out
improvised NPC sheets for players to handle for me, and
finally ask each idle player I could spot to roll dice after
dice of infamous Fireball damage from the invading
Necromancer's Army (to my macabrous glee, they rolled
actually higher than my own rolls).
Surprisingly, no complains were sounded, and for a few
minutes I was left with actual spare time (which I let pass,
to the eternal damnation of my Zombie Dragon, but don't ever
My advice is this: when at some time (or most of the time if
you deal with power-hungry munchkins) you find yourself
overwhelmed with work and you have a handful of idle
players, you should hand out every roll/role/action possible
to the players, even if this means losing for a
moment/minute/half-hour the absolute control of the game.
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