Tuesday, 30 August 2022

Setting Building through the Riding of Strange Mounts

When struggling for ways to freshen up a campaign setting you are devising, you could do worse than start off by asking: 'What weird things do the people in region X ride?'

Here is a table you can use:






Giant frogs or newts


Giant snakes


Giant gulls





Giant anteaters










Giant tortoises


Other (orcs, gnolls, etc.)


This is not just a way of 'weirding things up'. It acts as a spur to the imagination: what kind of a polity, geography and society is home to crocodile-riding dwarves, giant gull-riding elves, or giant newt-riding humans?

In the first case, I immediately imagine a riparian kingdom based in cities burrowed into the huge banks of a gigantic river, with intricate systems of dams and sluices for flooding control, and a complex schedule of taxation for merchants seeking to pass through. In the second, I see a wind-swept and rain-flecked archipelago in subarctic climes, dominated by rivalrous clans of 'gull barons' trapped in a never-ending cycle of internecine squabbling, blood feuds and vendettas. And the third calls to mind tribes of newt-riders inhabiting a great swamp or river delta, living in tree-house villages and waiting for the seasonal (or monthly, or weekly, or whatever) floods to arrive so they can go raiding on their fire-bellied amphibious steeds.

How about giant-anteater riding orcs? Ostrich-riding elves? Rhino-riding halflings? The possibilities are endless (well, 50 or so, anyway). 


  1. In our current campaign, we are all riding "pteryks" (something like that) which are big two legged birds like they ride in Nausicaa.

  2. What about bears, moose, giant rhinoceros beetles, woolly mammoths, giant tortoises and hares...? Also, what else do these societies use their mount-creatures for? Do they milk them, shear them, make armor out of shed exoskeletons, use them as draft animals or guard beasts? I bet giant anteaters would be great excavators. Halflings would love them - why dig your own burrow by hand when you've got an anteater to do it?

    1. Yep, you could easily (well, maybe not 'easily') expand it to a 1d100 table. I also like what you might call the cultural implications which you identify. A mount is not just a mount!

  3. Sometimes it takes something simple to remind me how powerful the imagination really is! The fact that we can extrapolate entire cultures from a quick 2d10 table is really amazing. I got elven rhino riders, and immediately thought how their long lifespans might make domesticating such a creature possible (assuming of course, that the elves doing the domestication weren't gored to death during the process) and also of the physical changes that might happen to the creature itself as it underwent the process of domestication. Now the rhinos have long, floppy ears and their skin has started to show interesting patterns - white and black patches have appeared in many instead of the more uniform grey of their ancestors. Their skulls have a reduced cranium size and have become more brachycephalic. All of these animals are less aggressive than they once were, but the docility depends on their breeding, for war, travel, or work. Their horns, prized by those domesticating them as both beautiful and useful, have become ever longer and some have demonstrated outré shapes as they have become specialized for goring enemies, furrowing fields, pushing heavy loads, or in rare cases, for pure aesthetics.

    1. Nice. Yes, it's fascinating how the brain fills in the details almost instinctively.

  4. The halflings are late again, can someone get them faster mounts, this is getting ridiculous.

  5. This post immediately reminded me of The Mount by Carol Emshwiller, a book about aliens who have domesticated humans as mounts. It came out in the 2000s, but feels like it could have been written decades earlier.

    What's better than elves riding anteaters? Anteaters riding elves, obvs. Some use prehensile tongues to manipulate the reins, while firing their muskets, two-clawed. In close quarters, a skilled elf-rider of the Vermilinguan Guard may dual-wield stilettos with tongue and tail, in addition to pistol and sabre.

    1. Heh. This also reminds me of the dwarf warriors in The Book of the New Sun who are carried round on the shoulders of big tall...albinos is it?