“While the horses of the Ammaran warriors are impressive, no doubt, the riders of the Kalmorath sit astride massive lizards stretching greater than ten feet! A single charge has been enough to break the most veteran lines. The combination of threshing blades, hideous claws, and maws large enough to bite a grown man in twain has been enough to break even the most veteran lines.”
-Uramik, Buramii General
Previous to this, most of the articles in the series have been focused on the natural world – land forms, oceans, currents, vegetation. Starting here, there is going to be an increased presence of the impact of the world on humans (used generally, but also include other intelligent species in the fantasy world). This time, I want to take a look at the potential beasts of burden, livestock, and mounts.
First, I’d like to get out of the way a few things real quick. While I will often take the trail of the most realistic, there are moments where I become flexible because it makes for a much better story or environment. Big animals and plants are often this way, for me. I know that huge insects and certain large mammals would suffer from the cube-square law, but often ignoring it or creating an explanation around it is much more satisfying, and many of the magical and fantastic creatures that exist in fantasy worlds already ignore it even in their conception.
We often see horses used for many different applications in typical depictions of labor animals, but there are others that have been used across the world. Oxen, mules, ponies, camels, and even elephants show that we can domesticate or train almost anything, given its ability to mate in public. Among the strongest candidates in a fantastic setting are those animals that serve similar functions as the ungulates that we have trained today. Unfortunately, most of these are relegated to background creatures. Often they are giant versions of normal creatures (cats, lizards, dogs, ect) or extinct versions (mammoth, aurochs, woolly rhino) that have been fantastically re-pourposed in order to provide a cool and visibly different creature and inject a bit of fantasy into an otherwise pretty mundane setting.
While it is painful to not have pre-generated creatures to reference, it does create an interesting space for imagination that an area more populated would not. As long as the animal is sturdy, large, and has a generally horizontal neck structure, you can invent almost anything and have had it domesticated for ages. One thing to keep in mind, however, is the availability of human labor. If the world your working in is full of slaves and other oppressed stations, the need for draft beasts will reduce. Many animals are expensive to take care of and hard to train. Humans, amazingly, can feed themselves, train each other, and are intelligent enough to adapt to new situations and improve their situation. While many, many early societies practiced slavery, often it was the extremely rich and powerful that had the money for it. When, like in the Roman Empire, even modest households had a slave or two, it created a large dearth of innovation to reduce labor. pay attention to this when looking at potential draft animals and their uses.
Much like draft animals, livestock is something that has been generally left alone. Its clearly a boring creature to create – Who wants to write up stats for a six legged docile reptile that tastes delicious, but they are very much integral to the way the people in the world eat, live and socialize. Just like draft animals, above, it takes away a bit from the immersion if you come home from dragonslaying and magical spellslinging to a meal of old beef and day old bread. While there will always be room for pigs, goats, cows and chickens, there are other, larger, and more dangerous prey that is out there for the royal and well to do restaurants, inns, and nobility to eat.
Specifically, you want to look at creatures that are meaty and large, without a lot of bone structure. They can vary, as you’re going to create them for your world, from fairly mundane to extremely strange. Especially in the newer monster manuals, it is hard to find inspiration, but the more you look back into some of the older creature catalogs, you can find some cool stuff. You’ll want docile creatures that tolerate human companionship, are either herbivores or scavengers, and can weather outside fairly well. you’re also going to want to look at creatures without easy ways to escape. Flying, burrowing and phasing creatures are non-starters. Finally, you don’t want them to be too dangerous. Any creature with the proclivity and natural ability to kill a person will likely not be domesticated easily.
Both of these sections, that of Livestock and Draft animals, are concerns to the background of the story, downtime, and reasons to adventure. A farmer loosing their herd of sheep is pretty mundane. Noble lord loosing his herd of Javira, six legged lizards bread for their amazingly tasty meat, is something of a fantasy story. A wagon being pulled by a pair of oxen is clearly a poor farmers wagon, the same being pulled by a pair of ornately festooned giant goats is another story. Using fantastic beasts this way also creates a history for the region, as often the creatures that have been domesticated were, at least long ago, part of the regions wildlife, or were introduced from afar. Its good to have these quick sketches of the background of a land.
That said, lets get to the last topic – Mounts
Mounts are the most fun of all three of these topics. Fantastic mounts are able to convey the power and influence of a country, as well as the origin and history of a region. Winged mounts tell a different story from a lizard, which tells a different story from the standard cavalry, and it all depends on how you want to flavor your setting. If you’re looking for an extremely exotic setting, creative and impressive mounts make sense for even the basic rancher or farmer. If you want to be a mid-fantasy setting, you’ll want many of the rich and powerful, as well as some middle class to have awesome mounts. If you’re trying to do even gritty fantasy, you’re going to want some kings and queens, powerful wizards and so forth to have amazing and cool mounts.
As stated earlier, flying mounts are the pinnacle of the mount hierarchy. They give humans an unprecedented and powerful advantage at the time – height and flight. Be aware, though, that if flight is common, you’ll have to take that into account when designing Castles and other defensive architecture. Medieval structures are not intended to protect from aerial attacks, and even improvised they would perform poorly. It would involve feats of engineering uninvited and would have to be created by you. Its not that its impossible, it is simply that there is work to be done if you choose that path. If that type of mount is extremely rare, however, you won’t need to worry about it.
When choosing mounts, be aware of the anatomy of what is being ridden as well as the rider. Think of where saddle and tack will go, about how the creature is controlled and how intelligent they are. Make sure that they have an appropriate size for a person to ride them, clearly, but also make sure the rider won’t get in the way of the function of the animals appendages. Its these little things that people will latch onto, as all creators know. You can try and hand wave anything you want, but people see right through it. Make sure that the mounts food is attended too, as well. The best mounts are herbivores because they are easy to take care of and let graze. Carnivorous mounts are going to be complicated to keep fed, as they require their food to be brought along on campaign and cannot simply graze for their foods. Military complications should be taken into account when it comes to the use of specific mounts.
All of that said, there is certainly a lot of play with cool, herbivore mounts that look and feel distinct and fit the style of the setting. Goats, wolves, and large cats can all be appended to perhaps include riders. Large Dinosaur like lizards are not impossible in warmer climates that don’t dip too cold to kill them off.
Hopefully, with this, you can create your own livestock, mounts and draft creatures for your world with a confidence that you’re making the right choices!
Next week, I’m going to take a look at the Megafauna – Huge creatures that create a big impact on the world around them. Until then!