24 November 2012

Earthdawn: Anatomy of a Discipline 07 - Cavalryman

This is the seventh Anatomy of a Discipline in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.


Mounted characters have a strange place in any game where they are featured. The reasons are pretty simple: your mount cannot go everywhere you can. Mechanically they tend to be powerful when mounted and be considerably less so when on foot, creating a situation where they steal the spotlight, or have a hard to shining. This is perhaps more true in Earthdawn than most games simply because of the focus this Discipline has on its mount. Selecting this Discipline in a game that prominently features dungeon-crawling (kaers) is a commitment. Which is good, because this Discipline is all about commitment.

The most important thing in any Cavalryman's life is their mount. More important than anything else, including Namegivers. Cavalrymen are Initiated when a suitable mount is born and they are drawn to them by another Cavalryman. They will raise their mount and bond with it when it is two and a half years old. During the bonding, each half will receive a permanent mark to share with the other, ritual branding, scarring or tattooing are common.

Due to the dichotomy of their social natures and preference for livestock, most Cavalrymen prefer to travel in groups with other practitioners of their Discipline. Not many Namegivers appreciate a companion eschewing their company in favor of their steed. Choosing a mount is going to be one of the most important decisions for any of these adepts. Some Namegivers many have vanishingly few options (windlings) to one option, which isn't really an option anymore (obsidimen). The nature of the shared mark will also be important to the character, in addition to developing the relationship they have with their mount. Deciding about their Initiation, training, and the views of their master will also lend some depth, though not necessarily to the degree of other Disciplines - the bond between rider and mount is so strong that it will override a great deal. Traditions of their former company (if they rode with one) can also be of interest.

Discipline Violations

These are best not employed as a stick, but as a chance for the player to take a deeper look at what it means to follow their Discipline. For a Cavalryman, the treatment of their mount is by far the most important thing in their existence. There isn't a lot of room for drama in that area, but there is some. Not spending enough time in the mount is perhaps the most common, with the other side being the strain that relationship can put on the one the adept has with the rest of their Group. The Cavalryman makes no effort to hide the company they prefer and some Namegivers can be put out by that, particularly if there has been a Blood Oath sworn around the whole thing. This can be a source of low-level tension that causes the Cavalryman to examine their priorities, what is important, but also come to terms with the difficulties they have in their relationships because of the path the follow.

Dealing with the death of their partner is the most serious issue for adherent of this Discipline. A Cavalryman cannot allow for a permanently injured mount to live - it will hobble them both. There is a ritual for this and it should be a character defining moment. In my mind, this is not an "if" question, but a "when". The world is dangerous and their partner has no inherently magical protections - it is their sacrifice to the adept. It should be painful and emotional, nothing should be easily about this event. These are two creatures that have shared thoughts and emotions; one has spent its entire life with the other. After it is done, the adept will have to find a new suitable mount as it is being born and bond; setting themselves up once again for the inevitable. It cannot be avoided, because that is who they are.


Talent Options: Animal Training, Avoid Blow, First Impression, Haggle, Unarmed Combat

First Circle
Discipline Talents: Animal Bond, Charge, Karma Ritual, Melee Weapons, Trick Riding

Talent Options: Blood Share, Creature Analysis, Dominate Beast, Speak Language, Tactics, Tracking, Wilderness Survival

Second Circle
Discipline Talents: Durability (7/6), Empathic Command

Third Circle
Discipline Talent: Sure Mount

Fourth Circle
Discipline Talent: Thread Weaving [Rider Weaving]

Talent Options: Fearsome Charge, Frighten Animals, Heal Animal Companion, Heartening Laugh, Leadership, Mount Attack, Mount Durability (6/5), Spirit Mount

Fifth Circle
Discipline Talent: Wheeling Attack

Sixth Circle
Discipline Talent: Armor Mount

Seventh Circle
Discipline Talent: Wheeling Defense

Eighth Circle
Discipline Talent: Double Charge

While mounted, Cavalrymen are powerful combatants. Unmounted, they don't really have much to do. Realistically, they have one active Discipline Talent that does not involve being mounted. While mounted, however, there is serious potential. Charge is a damage replacement Talent at 1st Circle and charging attacks also adds the mount's strength Step - ridiculous. Wheeling Attack allows for more versatility in charging attacks: it can be exceptionally difficult to deliver them consistently. While Wheeling Defense is a physical defense adder that reduces their movement (preventing charging). 

Some of their Discipline Talents are upgraded versions of similar Talents with the requirement of being mounted. Trick Riding is effectively Avoid Blow for both rider and mount (while mounted). Sure Mount functions similarly to Wound Balance, though works against all Knockdown Tests.

Overall, this Discipline is a one-trick pony, for the most part. To be fair, Charge is a hell of a trick.

My preference for selecting Talent Options with Cavalrymen is to extend them beyond things they can do while mounted and even outside of combat. There are a few exceptions to this. The Initiate Talent Options are pretty good in this regard:
  • Animal Training - Some Gamemasters may allow you to get away without having this, others not so much. You should figure out which you have and then take this accordingly.
  • Avoid Blow - I don't like Avoid Blow when it isn't a Discipline Talent (the math doesn't work out for the investment). I like it even less when, ideally, you will virtually never be using it.
  • First Impression - This is one of my favorites for any Discipline, but particularly Cavalrymen. They tend towards decent charisma, but it opens options for them outside of combat and being mounted without continual investment.
  • Haggle - Similar to First Impression, this can be good for certain characters, though one one character in any Group needs this and whoever is most dedicated to raising it should be saddled with it.
  • Unarmed Combat - Given every Cavalryman's goal should be to always enter combat while mounted, this isn't going to be useful and will require continual investment to even remain viable.
There are a number of good options in the Novice Talent Options for a variety of characters, which is good:
  • Blood Share - Moving damage between the adept and their mount can be very useful. This one is highly recommended (even with the Karma cost associated with it).
  • Creature Analysis - Another attractive option; information is always valuable and it can give you something to do when unmounted or riding back to the fray after a charge.
  • Dominate Beast - For certain concepts, this can be valuable (friend of the beasts/trainer type characters), others may not get any mileage.
  • Speak Language - If you find yourself being one of the primary social characters and/or don't see many other Talent Options that appeal to you, this one requires little investment to start paying off.
  • Tactics - Certain concepts (leaders and officers) will want this, others will probably want to give it a pass. Few PCs will get much use out of it in a traditional campaign.
  • Tracking - With their high mobility, Cavalrymen can make excellent scouts. This also tends to be a useful Talent that not many Disciplines get access to. If there happens to be a Scout (or someone with it as a Discipline Talent), you should probably give it a pass.
  • Wilderness Survival - Similar to Tracking, though this can be doubly important for a Cavalryman as they always need to feed two, not just one.
Continuing the previous tiers' trend, there are some good Journeyman Talent Options for nearly every concept:
  • Fearsome Charge - Something like a mounted version of Steely Stare. While good, it's requirement to be mounted makes me think again simply because the adept already has so much to do when mounted.
  • Frighten Animals - If you wanted Dominate Beast, you will likely want to consider this as well. The Karma cost associated with it is can be steep as a Talent Option - it is unpredictable how much use it will see.
  • Heal Animal Companion - Extremely useful and less costly (in terms of Karma) than Blood Share. It isn't free, however - it costs your Recovery Tests to use. If you have Blood Share already, I would give this a pass. If you don't, then this will be an attractive alternative.
  • Heartening Laugh - With the cost of a Karma, there is bound to be something more useful. Also, I have never had a game without a Swordmaster and they get this as a Discipline Talent and 2nd Circle.
  • Leadership - If you took Tactics, you will want this to go with it. If you didn't, odds are you will want to give this a pass as well.
  • Mount Attack - While it doesn't give the adept anything more to do when not mounted, it certainly makes your mount more effective in combat. Before you jump on this, make certain your mount has an attack that is worth making more effective.
  • Mount Durability (6/5) - This is pretty much a must for what it means to a mount's ability to survive. Particularly against opponents that have nothing against cutting down your mount from underneath you. It's incredibly effective and much easier than killing the rider (though there is more than a small amount of gamer stigma attached to it).
  • Spirit Mount - For pretty much any other Discipline, I like this whenever it is available. For a Cavalryman - why? You already have a mount all of the time, that's what the Discipline is all about. If you can somehow convince your GM that your Spirit Mount is actually your real mount, perhaps their spirit pulled back from the beyond or whatever you can get away with, then this will allow you to take a mount into all kinds of silly places.

Most Namegivers have nothing notable for this Discipline, having a wide variety of mounts available to them. Dwarfs have some particular mounts for their stature, and orks are probably the most famous Cavalrymen - particularly known for riding thundra beasts. While t'skrang have no size issues, no mounts are aquatic and there will be some interesting explanations going on for that character. Trolls have a harder time due to their size and weight, though they have a number of good, if rare, options. Between their unique racial characteristics (being part of, more-or-less, a hive mind) with relation to the fundamental nature of being a Cavalryman as well as their sheer mass, obsidimen Cavalrymen would be considered extremely rare on the best of days. For any player that wants to go that way, they have one mount availabe: the dyre. Nothing else can actually support them and equipment.

Windlings deserve special mention because they are the one Namegiver that can circumvent pretty much all of the issues all other Cavalrymen face; they can take their mount pretty much anywhere that a big dog can go. They have two mount options, one of which flies; so be expecting to see that one. While powerful, their small size means that a windling cavalryman won't be unbalancing a game anytime soon - weapon size and low strength limits their damage potential, even with Charge, considerably. Ultimately, this is the Cavalryman option that fits best into a normal Earthdawn campaign.


There are no Talents which require a Cavalryman to go first, which mean they can load up on heavy armor that most other Disciplines pass over in favor of higher initiative. Coupled with the ability to use normally two-handed weapons in one hand, shields will also be a popular option.

For weapons a lance or a pole-arm are the most common choices. The lance does 1 Step less damage, but will not break on a charge (pole arms break if they do 25 points of damage). When Thread Items come into the picture, the difference becomes moot; when weapon size is factored in the base damage for both is Step 12 and Thread Items do not break. When unmounted, a Cavalryman may consider an alternate weapon, or giving up their shield. In that situation, however polearms are the superior option; lances lose 1 Step of damage when unmounted.


  1. I wish there was a clearer standard set for what mount you started with. The book just cites "GM approval" and then offers some examples, but that feels like a cop out to me. I figure a horse is reasonable to ask for, but is a thundra beast too much? How about an elephant? A dyre? A gryphon? If the Discipline were less about forging a life-long bond with your beastie of choice it wouldn't be that big of a deal (A Cavalryman could expect to bump up to the next-coolest critter every 5 circles or so). BUt the way the Discipline is set up it seems cruel and disingenuous to take a "starter" mount with the expectation that you'll get your "real" mount later. I mean, going through the emotionally devastating trauma of losing a trusted and valued animal companion shouldn't really be an assumed part of the Discipline's regular advancement. But then again, how much MORE unbalancing is Grog the Scorcher Calvaryman going to be when he's riding a dinosaur/rhinoceros instead of a regular ol' horse?

  2. We had a Windling Calvaryman riding the winged mount in our campaign. Since the party consisted of a weaponsmith, an elementalist, a scout, and an archer, nine times out of ten she was our primary damage dealer. We did rule that, inside a kaer (or, really, anywhere she couldn't see open sky) her mount might be more skittish. Which made her botched rolls a lot of fun.

    1. Nice. Did it only have an affect on Pathetic Results, or were there other ways to reinforce that as well?

    2. Most of the other effects were RP oriented. For example, the mount was wounded in combat. She left the mount by the campfire (with another party member) to recover and fluttered about to investigate another room in the complex. Already under a great deal of stress due to being underground AND being injured, the mount was in desperate need of her rider for comfort. When the windling was out of view the mount began keening and crying, alerting a nearby cave troll... which led to a battle.

      One question? In the original rules, charge was a discipline talent, I believe. Str+Talent+Mount Strength+Weapon+Windling Karma made it utterly devastating when executed well. Is that no longer the case?

    3. That is still the case and still ridiculously powerful. In 3ER windling Karma is a *mere* d8, but it is also free and they have a large pool.

  3. Hello Morgan,

    I was wondering why you rate "Spirit Mount" that low?Sure its duration is not that Great for traveling,but it is absolut sufficiant for any Figh ,and grants a Cavalary Man acces to charge(and most other mounted fighting manovers),when he is exploring a Kaer.The Spirithorse may not be able to cary a Rider when flying,but the Rules say nothing against beeing Mounted,while beeing sunk in the ground.And eaven when not,ist is just too good,to have a Horse in your pocket,when you visit places,you where unable to take it too (for exampel,after climbing up a cliff and heaving an encounter,sneaking into enemy fortress usw.)
    In my opinion,this was allways the Mainfunction of this skill.

    1. While I agree with that assessment, what Cavalryman would ever leave their mount unattended to go explore a Kaer? From a generic fantasy game point-of-view, it's perfectly good, but taking the spirit of the Discipline into account, it's not so good. This also gets into some of the inherent issues with this Discipline: they aren't well suited for traditional dungeon crawling games. There are plenty of campaigns that they can contribute, but that is a notable area in which they will always cause problems. Which is why I consider the windling Cavalryman the best option since that is not an issue for them.

      Generally speaking, by this point you should be having discussions with the GM regarding how your Cavalryman fits into the future elements of the campaign. If there are going to be significant portions where you are delving into Kaers, then either sending your Cavalryman on sabbatical, or establishing this Talent (Spirit Mount) as an alternative will be relevant.

      Does that make sense? I will fully admit that my considerations come from how I look at the game as a whole and my experiences with it. If they get anyone to start thinking about that element more critically, how it works with the other moving parts, then that is awesome and achieves my goals more simply having it being accepted as "true" - when it's just an opinion.

  4. Hello Morgan,
    First of all,thanks for your Answer,you have raised some pretty good Points.I gues a classical cavalaryman would have some issues with that,and wouldnt let his mount lightheartly allone.But on the other hand someone could argue,that a Beastmaster should not take his Animals to a Battle at all,or an Orkscorcher (who happens to be a Cavalaryman)should not Ride to battle with his steed.I see it this way,most of time the inside of a Kaer is more dangerous,than the outside and as long as the Mount has the opportunity to flee,it is not that much more dangerous(IMHO),than to take a Room in a Guesthouse for the Night (in Kratas for Example ^^),and let the Horse sleep allone in the Stable.
    Sure....They share a special Band,but they are Individuel.....to a certain Point.
    But thats just my take on this Disciplin :-)

    1. Unattended didn't have the correct connotations that I was trying to get, my apologies.

      Leaving their mount for an evening in a stable is fine because most Namegivers don't understand and the Cavalryman has to accept how they are close-minded about such things. Leaving them while going into a Kaer is a different story, and not one about the mount not being in danger. It is one where the Cavalryman is leaving behind the thing that matters most, that has ridden into danger countless times before. They are abandoning their closest companion to face dangers without them. Not only that, put putting themselves at considerable disadvantage to do so. Their mount will be unable to protect them and vice-versa. Why would they ever want to do that? (Mount-slaying revenge scenarios, not withstanding.)

      Their place is riding and facing danger together. It's not the danger of being apart, it's the being apart while in danger. Does that make more sense?