How to Add Emotion and Depth with Fantastical Mounts

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Come on, Herbie! Just a little more!”

Herbie unleashed a thunderous grunt, his six massive legs sinking into the soft, wet earth. Mud clumped his thick fur, the torrential rain mingling with his sweat as the gantuan struggled to pull the carriage from the mire.

Panic gripped Wally’s heart as the family inside the sinking carriage clung to one another. The child, a little girl with her father’s broad features and her mother’s elven ears, pressed a hand against the glass.

5E D&D fantastical mounts
The gantuan is one of five new and unique mounts, along with information and rules for these creatures with regards to trade goods, training and adding flavor to your campaign world inside Chimes of Discordia: Fantastical Mounts. [Art by Nelson Vieira]

Fantastical mounts for your campaign world

What if we break the window?” Unique raised a hand, a chunk of earth breaking from the ground beneath her.

No!” Wally cried over the peel of thunder. “We can’t risk hurting them!”

Injury is better than death!” The hovering stone splashed into the mud as Unique released her mystic hold on it. “They’re sinking, Wally!”

Herbie can do it!” Wally ran up to his sopping wet gantuan and tugged on one of the ropes anchoring the beast to the carriage. “It’s almost there!”

Desperation clawed as Wally’s hands slid off the slick rope. He whirled to the druid. “Jesse! Any ideas?”

Jesse hugged the neck of the horse they’d already pulled from the muck. It shook its head back and forth, hooves clopping on the cobblestone road. “Kinda busy, here!” They turned back to the horse, whispering to it in the druid’s cryptic tongue.

Wally turned back to Herbie. “Come on, buddy! I know you can do it!”

Herbie roared, pulling against the thick ropes.

The carriage’s back axle splintered, freeing a wheel. With a slorp that called over the hissing rain, the carriage rose. It dragged from the mud, onto the stone pavement.

Triumph washed over Wally, and a cheer rose from the group.

The carriage door burst open, and the family stumbled from the enclosure. Unique ran up to assist them.

Mindless of the filth covering the hairy gantuan, Wally rushed up and hugged Herbie. “You did it, buddy! I knew you could!”

Herbie rested his massive head gently over Wally’s shoulder.

Another peel of thunder accompanied a flash.

From several feet away, a gruff man bellowed, “Looks like it’s our lucky day, boys! The rebels decided to come to our doorstep.”

Wally spun to see four soldiers in black iron armor, each mounted upon an armored, quadrupedal lizard. Dranthers!

His heart sank. Even if Herbie weren’t still tangled in ropes, those dranthers would outpace them quickly. Only Unique stood a chance of escape, if she tapped into her ki, but Wally knew better; the monk would never abandon her party.

The dranthers stalked closer, a breathy hiss accentuating their whiplike, flicking tongues. The lead dranther bore its razor teeth, its rider plumed to signify his rank.

Now…” The head soldier tilted his chin skyward, raising his hand. Purple lightning fractured the sky, striking his outstretched hand. Electricity rippled over his extended forearm, sparking with each rain droplet that hit it. He lowered his palm to face Wally and Herbie. “You can come willingly, or we can see how long it takes four dranthers to eat a whole ganutan and three rebel scum, eh?”

End Scene!

A dranther as seen inside Chimes of Discordia: Fantastical Mounts. [Art by Nelson Vieira]
This scene demonstrates the mechanical utility, narrative tension, and world building mounts can offer your D&D campaign. The narrative above is a loose canonization of a scene in one of my games that used the Fantastical Mounts supplement.

Gantuans, dranthers, and more can be found in this document, offering flavor and depth to your worldbuilding. However, mechanics aren’t the only thing that forge a strong narrative. Let’s discuss three questions that, by answering them, can build a stronger, more nuanced narrative when it comes to using the Fantastical Mounts supplement!

1. How do these creatures fit into your world?

While the document offers suggestions for ways to incorporate each of these mounts into your own campaign, you have to decide what that looks like. It’s weird to know gantuans are beasts of burden if the characters never encounter them on farmsteads or in villages. Knowing a cave is likely to house abizders raises suspense and tension, especially if signs of them are discovered prior to the characters encountering one for the first time. Seeing soldiers patrolling the city astride dranthers seeds these as viable encounters, should your players find themselves against the local law enforcement. As Game Master, you can make your world feel so much bigger and master foreshadowing in plot by seeding these creatures throughout your world, before the players ever engage with them.

2. What is this creature’s personality like?

No two people have the exact same personality; the same is true for animals. So, why should it be any different for these fantastical mounts?

When your players encounter a person who owns one or more of these beasts, one of the easiest ways to build depth is to assign personality traits and temperaments to each of the creatures. Especially when it comes to two creatures of the same species, assigning polar opposite (or wildly different) demeanors can make your creatures really feel alive.

Take a note from the Pokemon franchise: assigning personality type can dramatically assist in making your nonverbal creatures feel more real and nuanced, and it can also help your players build a stronger bond with them. Personality can also inform how your players’ characters engage with their mounts.

3. How can I use this creature to build emotional investment?

Mounts, pets, and other party-owned creatures are a fantastic way (pun intended) to increase suspension of disbelief and evoke emotion in your players. Imagine the hilarity of a poorly-timed sneeze that explodes snot all over the nobelwoman’s fine dress. Picture the gut-wrenching suspense as the mount makes its final death saving throw, either passing on or stabilizing to fight another day.

A well-timed moment of interaction from the party’s mount(s) can solidify into a lifetime memory, toward happiness, sorrow, or whatever. For those of you who are familiar with Avatar: The Last Airbender (and if you’re not, shame on you ;P), the moment when Appa was taken in the desert was one of the most devastating to the main party. Not only were they unable to easily deus ex machina out of the desert, but they also felt the emotional weight of losing a companion. Though he never spoke, Appa was every bit as much a part of the core group as Toph, Sokka, Katara, even Aang.

When we as GMs utilize pets and mounts as sorts of “additional player characters” and develop them, emotional investment grows, and changing that dynamic not only takes utility from the group mechanically, but it also removes a personality from the party, and that weight is a heavy one, indeed.

Want to bring fantastical mounts into your games?

You can find the Fantastical Mounts 5E supplement in Nerdarchy the Store right here! I personally recommend it as my favorite Nerdarchy material thus far.

What do you think?

How do you use mounts in your campaigns? Did I miss something about player mounts and pets? Let us know in the comments! Until next time, stay nerdy!

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Follow Steven Partridge:
Steven Partridge is an aspiring author and experienced tabletop gamer. As a child, he dreamed of growing up to be a dinosaur, but as with many children, his childhood dreams were dashed when the rules of reality set in. However, our valiant Steven never allowed this to sway his ambition. He simply... adjusted it to fit more realistic aspirations. Thus, he blossomed into a full-fledged nerd with a passion for the fantasy genre. When he's not working on his debut novel or filming YouTube videos, Steven can be found lap swimming, cooking up some pescatarian cuisine, or playing D&D with his friends. He works in the mental health field and enjoys sharing conversations about diversity, especially as it relates to his own place within the Queer community.

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