Shadow World Review: “All the Pretty Horses”

This blog is a bit of a spin off of my “Can It” or “Canon” series, where I delve into various aspects of Shadow World. Since it doesn’t quite fit into the “Canon” series, I’ll call it “Shadow World Review”.

Today’s topic concerns our favorite 4-legged beast: the horse, and to a lesser extent cows and cattle. Horses are sort of a given in almost every fantasy campaign, a terran creature needed to fit into existing tropes: the mounted knight etc. Cows/cattle are also a requisite, even if in the background to supply the hide for all of the leather goods also common in fantasy rpgs!

However, if you were to read the SW books, horses are not that prominent and cattle are barely mentioned. In the SWMA, horses are only mentioned 35 times and cattle twice. Of the 35 horse mentions, many are context references to steardan, pegasus or a comparison of intelligence. Only a few societies are “horse based” and reading through most of Terry’s vignettes, horses seem to be exceedingly rare. (Of course the blight that hits and decimates the horses in Emer in the Third Era also helped kill off the “horse trope”.)

Based on my use of the earlier SW books: Iron Wind, Jaiman, Tanara and my own campaigns, I’m not sure the players ever had horses! They feel more of after thought…a few thoughts:

  1. Early “Loremaster Series” books emphasized the demising nature of the Essence Flows. Travel was DIFFICULT and unpredictable–thus the need for Navigators. Most lands and countries were physically isolated from one another, making horses seem a bit impractical.
  2. Cool mounts. Terry already embraced the idea of setting unique mounts. Why bother will horses when you can add flavor to the SW setting.
  3. Land. Besides Emer, which has some open land and plains, SW is frequently small land masses, with diverse elevations, climates that aren’t that horse friendly.

Similarly, the appearance of “cows & cattle” are infrequent throughout Terry’s books. Leather is a common material in the RM system and SW books, but we don’t see that much focus on it’s source. Of course, leather is just hide, and SW creatures provide a lot of opportunity to source “leather”. Jengada recently blogged about this overall topic HERE, and I posted up some SW specific armors in a file via HERE.

Anyway the point of this blog was more a quasi thought experiment. Despite being tagged as a “kitchen sink” setting, SW has many unique elements. I don’t know where horses and cows fit into your use of SW, but I had to comment on it!

3 Replies to “Shadow World Review: “All the Pretty Horses””

  1. I would not discount horses from SW so easily.

    First of all, the Emer climate is similar to north/central africa so general horse-unfriendly except for some niches.

    Jaiman has much nicer climate for horses.

    And as Peter might ascertain horses dont need large continents for proliferation.

    As for climates the Kith and Pfurgh are more adapted for Emer.

    Yes, there are some non-magical/monsterous alternatives to Horses in SW but i would not go so far as that are directly competing against.

  2. The knight works awesome in a story or movie and terrible at a game table. Great, you can travel super fast and leave the party in the dust. Then get killed alone with no backup. Or you solo the encounter before the party catches up and no one but you had any fun. And you have to pay tons more in food and shelter. And you have this massive investment that can be stolen while you’re in the tavern because the horse is out back alone. And how are you getting it into the second-floor room of a tower where the climactic battle is happening? You could go the route where everyone are horse nomads. Then you run into the weird combats where everything is either so easy it is boring (staying outside the reach of the enemy while shooting them with composite bows Mongol style), or takes away your horse (have to go into a cave or building on foot). Overall, the fantasy RPG adventure is just easier on foot. There are ways to make it work, there is a solution to every challenge I listed. But often the GM doesn’t want to have to do that much extra work for what really amounts to one player’s speed buff. This, I think, is why so many games have animal companions instead of mounts.

    1. Me thinks that everyone and the poor farmer brags about stolen horses, being an unfair advantage, problematic speeds, or a food hog.

      First and foremost, horses are a narrative and the GM and players should acknowledge this.

      The GM may use horses as a plot hook, players may use them as a combat advantage or easy mode of travel.

      I have seldom if ever experienced a session that used them in an unfair way in relation to the tone and context of the game world.

      If the gameworld is established as nitty-gritty and you brag about horses being stolen — it may be tone, context or narrative rather than unfair treatment by the GM.

      Take time in a “Session Zero” and establish tone, context and possible safety tools for everyones enjoyment.

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