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Flying Mounts
Temple of the Sky God
By Bart Carroll

Let's start with an homage to the paladin's warhorse. Players of 1st Edition may no doubt recall this Player's Handbook passage:

At 4th level—or at any time thereafter—the paladin may call for his warhorse; this creature is an intelligent heavy warhorse, with 5 + 5 hit dice (5d8 plus 5 hit points), AC 5, and the speed of a medium warhorse (18"); it will magically appear, but only one such animal is available every ten years, so that if the first is lost the paladin must wait until the end of the period for another.

This warhorse was originally a very specific mount, befitting the image of the paladin as questing knight—and very much grounded in the real-world history of cavalry. In other words, the paladin's warhorse was clearly a warhorse. As Gary Gygax further described such horses in Dragon #74 ("Warhorses and Barding"):

"The heavy warhorse, the destrier, was a huge animal of 18 or more hands in height and massive bulk. The famous Clydesdales which you see in certain beer commercials on TV are horses of this type. The power and size of heavy warhorses allowed the heavily armed and armored feudal knights and nobles to crush all opponents not likewise equipped and mounted, until the longbow and pike proved themselves . . . in the hands of expert troops."

Now, the utility (or at least, the constant utility) of a warhorse in many D&D campaigns might be debatable. As we've written before, the game often concerns the exploration of, well, dungeons—not to mention tombs, ruins, abandoned keeps, forgotten temples, lost caverns, ghost towers, slave pits, inverted ziggurats, pyramids, and occasional jaunts around cities (forbidden or otherwise). In a game of not infrequent dungeon exploration, a warhorse presents certain challenges. Is the horse turned away at the entrance, like Bill the Pony outside the Mines of Moria? Is it forced into the dungeon (which recalls the old Sage Advice question about how one’s centaur character could possibly climb a ladder)?

Nevertheless, characters certainly benefit from useful transportation across vast swaths of the game world, and the association of the paladin with a warhorse has long remained an identifier for the class. As written in the 2nd Edition Complete Paladin's Handbook:

Perhaps the paladin’s greatest asset is the bonded mount, usually a heavy war horse of exceptional strength, courage, and intelligence that serves its master with steadfast devotion. The bond is partly instinctual, partly divine; many believe that the gods bring them together to insure the paladin has a companion as noble as himself. Once joined, the mount remains loyal so long as the paladin stays true to his principles.

There's a key word in that quoted passage above: Usually.

By the 2nd Edition Player's Handbook, the description of the paladin's "warhorse" had subtly altered to state that a "paladin may call for his war horse upon reaching 4th level, or anytime thereafter. This faithful steed need not be a horse; it may be whatever sort of creature is appropriate to the character (as decided by the DM)."

Aha! Any sort of creature has nice ring to it—and for a game as fantastic as Dungeons & Dragons, why should the paladin's mount be confined to horses? The Complete Paladin's Handbook offered the following chart, expanding the options to include the following:

01–77 War horse*
78–79 Griffon
80–81 Unicorn**
82–83 Pegasus
84–85 Hippogriff
86–87 Giant eagle
88–89 Direwolf
90–91 Elephant or oliphant
92–93 Great cat (lion or tiger)
94–95 Giant lizard
96–97 Aquatic (hippocampus, sea horse, sea lion, small whale, or dolphin)
98–00 DM's Choice

* The paladin's standard warhorse
** Female paladins only

Flying Mounts

So when it comes to both fantastic and eminently useful mounts, we turn to those that can take to the air. As written in the 1E Dungeon Master's Guide: "To be able to fly is one of mankind's oldest and strongest fantasies. In the world of AD&D, this wish can often be fulfilled." Indeed, it could—through such magic items as potions, carpets, brooms, and wings of flying, as well as figurines of wondrous power (specifically the ebony fly . . . although the original goat of terror made for a truly intimidating terrestrial mount, described as destrier-like and with a horn that functioned as +6 sword!).

As Roger E. Moore wrote in Dragon #50 ("The Ups and Downs of Flying High"):

One of the most interesting things one can acquire in an AD&D adventure is a flying mount. Covering long distances at high speeds and engaging in aerial combat with other flying opponents (shades of the Battle of Britain!) is a lot of fun and adds a lot of excitement to the game. The flip side of the coin, of course, is the expense in feeding, housing, and training your steed (and minor annoyances such as falling off the saddle a quarter mile up . . .). A lot of things must be considered when choosing a winged mount before you actually get off the ground.

A check through the Monster Manual reveals a large number of creatures capable of flight, but few of those are capable of being ridden into the sky. Generally, winged humanoids, creatures smaller than man-size, and levitating monsters make poor mounts. Harpies, Pixies, and Pseudodragons can also be dropped from the list. Creatures which would carry passengers only in their claws (such as Giant Eagles and Perytons) can be left out, as can most monsters from the outer planes (Ki-Rin, Couatl, demons, devils). Continued use of a Lammasu mount (especially against its will) might draw a lightning bolt from an angry god, so it is not a viable choice either.

Moore's process of careful elimination thus left the following creatures:

  • Chimera
  • Dragon (white, black, green, blue, red, brass, copper, bronze, silver, gold)
  • Griffon
  • Hippogriff
  • Manticore
  • Nightmare
  • Pegasus
  • Pteranodon
  • Roc
  • Sphinx (androsphinx, criosphinx, gynosphinx, hieracosphinx)
  • Wyvern

Not a bad selection, although I can't help but marvel at the idea of a chariot pulled by a team of pixies, or the impression it would make flying around on a balor (and despite Moore's prohibition, Gandalf seemed quite competent to fly atop a giant eagle—and not in its claws).

All of this leads into the next D&D Lair Assault taking place starting this December. Temple of the Sky God has players taking to the air on one of four flying mounts: pegasi, griffons, hippogriffs, and manticores.

Returning to the 1E DMG, "Travel and combat in the air is often much different from that which takes place in the two-dimensional realm of the earthbound, so much so that it must needs have a special section devoted to it." This special section ("Adventures in the Air") detailed three of these four creatures that have remained among the most popular flying mounts throughout the game. To quote extensively (since the DMG makes for much celebrated reading):

Most flying mounts will be either griffons, hippogriffs or pegasi. All of these should be very difficult to acquire, and even harder to train. None of these types will mix with the others (griffons will eat pegasi or hippogriffs if given a chance, and hippogriffs confined with pegasi will bullyrag them whenever possible).

Griffons are often nasty and bad-tempered. If captured when very young and trained, however, they can become fiercely loyal mounts. Their loyalty is non-transferable once fixed, so they must be disciplined and trained solely by the intended rider. The griffon must be trained and exercised by its owner on a fairly regular basis while it is a fledgling (up to age six months) in order to accustom it to his or her presence and the bridle, blanket, saddle, etc. When the griffon is half-grown a period of intensive training must begin, which will last at least four months. The daily routine must never be broken for more than two days, or the griffon's wild nature will assert itself and all progress will be lost. After two months of this intensive training, it will be possible to begin to fly the griffon. This will be a period of training for mount and owner alike, as the rider must learn how to deal with a new dimension, and he will probably have no teacher but himself. Imagine the confusing tumult of giant wings, the rush of air, the sudden changes in altitude, and you will realize why an inexperienced rider absolutely cannot handle a flying mount.

Griffons, like all large flying creatures, eat enormous amounts of food, especially after prolonged aviation. Moreover, they are carnivores, and thus very expensive to feed. Care and keeping of a griffon will be a constant strain on the largest treasure hoard. Costs will probably run in the area of 300-600 g.p. per month. It will require special quarters, at least three grooms and keepers, and occasionally an entire horse for dinner (diet will differ, but similar arrangements must be made for all flying mounts).

Hippogriffs are not so difficult to train as griffons, but neither are they as dependable in a pinch. A training process basically similar to that previously described will be necessary, though occasionally an animal trainer can substitute for the master for short periods if he or she is tied up elsewhere. Once broken, hippogriffs may possibly serve more than one master. They are omnivores, and thus somewhat less expensive to feed than griffons.

Pegasi are greatly valued for their speed, which makes them virtually the fastest things in the air. Their training is a long process similar in many respects to that of griffons. They will serve only good characters—all others will find them totally intractable. Like griffons, their loyalty is given to only one master in a lifetime.

Temple of the Sky God

Greatest Mount . . . Ever!

Best of luck for those of you daring to take on the D&D Lair Assault: Temple of the Sky God. In the adventure, you gain use of one of four mounts—and to help determine which mount would work best for you, we've recently launched the Facebook quiz.

And for everyone, we wanted to leave today asking which mount in popular culture earns your vote for greatest, ever. Not fastest, strongest, or even most useful—just your subjective take on which mount you'd consider to be your favorite.

 Which mount is your favorite?  
Clash of the Titans: Pegasus
Harry Potter: Buckbeak the Hippogriff
The Neverending Story: Luckdragon
The Empire Strikes Back: Tauntaun
He-Man: Cringer/Battle Cat
Lord of the Rings: Oliphant
Aquaman: Seahorse
How to Train Your Dragon: Toothless the Dragon
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome: Blaster
Other: I'll tell you in the comments
Bart Carroll
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll) and at bartjcarroll.com.

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