Animal riding was a second field in the fighter skills we want to add. I know I've already given an overview of this - of everything about what I want to do for the fighter - but as I said, I'm thinking through the process by writing these posts.
I'm still not happy with 'Cavalry' as the name for this field. I could change the name to 'Mounted Animals' or use the title of this post . . . neither strikes me as offering the dignity the field deserves. Ah well.
We need to remember that in keeping the format I've been using for sage abilities, the field is broken down into studies, which are in turn allow abilities. These studies are not interchangeable. For example, from yesterday's post, we can't assume that someone with the ability to fight with a shield automatically possesses the ability to avoid being surprised. We can therefore think of these two things as aspects of two different studies (En Garde & Awareness) that would each be included under the general heading Prowess.
The most rational way to separate the field of Animal Riding is by animal, making the argument that riding a horse is NOT the same as riding a pegasus, a hippogriff or a hippocampus, however horselike the other creatures may appear. It might be remembered that the player taking the field as their own, and then the specialty/study in that field, does mean they get knowledge points for other of the field's studies. Thus, some knowledge at riding a pegasus is gained when learning to ride a horse - just as some skill is gained at learning to ride any other animal. I'm not saying that the individual animals are isolated in their skill-set; only that if you're trained to ride a horse, you'll always be better at riding a horse than you will at some other animal.
We have a very wide range of animals to choose from. There are those mentioned above, along with griffons, elephants, oliphants, unicorns, direwolves, oxen, donkeys, mules, giant lizards, the giant striders of firenewts, nightmares, wyverns, sea horses, dragons . . . and if so desired, non-domesticated animals like bears, zebras, eels, tigers (like the Lady from Niger) or catfish (like Slue-foot Sue) . . . and whatever the hell else we want to add. I grew up on Gor (yes, yes, I know, I know) so I am partial to tarns, high and low tharlarions and kailla (pictured earlier).
This list gets long and yet it seems to me best to keep them separated - and even to add to the list as we think of more thing to add. I'm sure on some level that riding an elephant offers some kind of comparable ability that's useful in riding a catfish.
To get a sense for what those abilities should be, however, we merely need to follow the practices involved with horses.
First, most of these animals are very dangerous. Means of approach, feeding the animal, demeanour when in the animal's presence - these are the first things an amateur learns. Before anyone can begin the process of actually climbing aboard the animal, an important first step is in not being eaten. We can assume that with anything - including a donkey or a horse - that there's a fairly good chance that a rube is going to get a good hard kick or a nasty bite - even if the animal has been broken.
That is obviously a second problem. It is easier to ride a creature that someone else has broken that it would be to breaking the animal ourselves. At the same time, there might be animals that must be broken by the rider - that in turn will attack any other rider as a deadly enemy. A unicorn, for example, surely fits this; for all we know, a catfish or a nightmare may act in the same manner. This will make some of these animals much harder to ride, since breaking an animal seems a little more appropriate for an Authority than an Amateur. Choosing to learn to ride a big nasty beast may not be a good idea at low levels - simply because the character will have to wait four or five levels anyway before they have enough knowledge points to overcome the animal's thinking process.
Unlike horses, not all of the above are social herd animals. Giant eagles (tarns) certainly are not, nor are most lizards and certainly not wyverns and dragons. Therefore the argument that these creatures can be relied upon to follow a leader, like a horse, is questionable. The knowledge needed, therefore, is in communicating with these animals on the animal's level - and that, I argue, is something that cannot be simply improvised. Making an arrangement between rider and dragon would be something on the level of explaining to a fire chief (without prior training) how to fight a fire. We're not going to bullshit our way through that interview! A lot of these animals are very smart, they have peculiar belief systems and they will want to hear certain things. Knowledge of how to ride these beasts will not be just getting into the saddle and kicking with one's feet.
Too, many of these beasts don't have the fight or flight instinct that horses have. Oh, they have a fight or flight instinct; its only that the fight is a little more pronounced with some. Just a bit. Some of these animals are legitimately batshit crazy. Some knowledge abilities have to take that into account. Perhaps it all comes down to how the animal is fed. Or kept at night. Or how much love they get. It all matters.
Finally, of course, there's the question of raising the animal. As before, some of these animals may be impossible to 'break.' Some of these may need to be raised from an egg or a . . . what do you call them, a 'foul'? The raising process of these animals is crucial.
Those things are enough of a framework to grant a lot of abilities that have absolutely nothing to do with actually riding the animal. Riding the animal is a whole other ball game. Can the rider actually fight from the animal's back? What weapons can be used? How much will the animal maneuver without needing direction? Will the animal dive and catch a falling rider or go merry-by as the rider crashes to a certain death? These are all things the reader may count on me addressing.