Last week I wrote about escaping from a dungeon. Reader Paras commented that a good scenario would have the heroes locked up with the ingredients to build a battle vehicle for the escape. This comment got me thinking that vehicles don’t come up that often in regular D&D games. In novels the heroes always wind up on a boat [snl skit], and my favorite element of the Eberron setting is the lighting rail. But in my experience occasionally the characters will own a horse to hand-wave overland movement, and maybe they’ll be on a wagon once and awhile. This leaves out the bulk of transport the characters can find themselves on.
Why do vehicles rarely show up in my games? Well, to start off vehicles are expensive. A cart [DDI] is only 75gp, but it costs 75gp for a horse to pull it. If you want to go faster, a hippogriff will set you back gp 4,200, and a ship costs 10,000. If you want to arrive in style and have a cool 125,000 gp, nothing less than a flying carpet will do. Keep in mind that’s enough to get a Lilting Songblade. And at those prices, you might as well just teleport. But let’s just say that the party gets some transport as a gift. What other obstacles have kept my characters on foot in the past? Oh yeah, the rules are obscure and confusing. There’s a lot of things to keep track of in battle without having to worry about staying mounted, mount size and mounted movement. Plus there’s what about Riding checks, combat advantage, rolling saves, charge rules, etc. What if the animal gets scared or confused? I do have to say the 4e rules are the simplest yet, but they are a headache just for the novelty. I’d rather be in campaign where mounted combat occurs often, so we can use appropriate feats and have incentives to learn the rules. Otherwise it’s easier to deal with “everyone magically dismounts” at the start of combat. I wrote a bit about this a long time ago.
For my own and others’ future reference, the rules for mounted combat are on page 46 of the DMG.
These hassles are only problems if you actually want to get on a moving object. I’ll cover two places where “vehicles” would be fun and how to get your group on it. First place is… the story. Vehicles can be good stylistically for the party: you’re a horse-bound knight or a griffon-riding elf noble. Owning a wagon lets NPCs know you’re a merchanty-type, and rolling into town on your own boat or airship lets everyone know you’re successful. You can trick out a vehicle to suit the party, whether you want to decorate with bright colors, post-apocalyptic tank trim, or chrome rims is up to you. Mobility imparts freedom on party, unless the campaign is literally on rails. In addition to increasing your shared ownership of the world, vehicles can move the story forward: they can take characters quickly across great distances, or to areas that cannot be accessed by foot (high cliffs and isolated islands). Building or finding a vehicle can be the story macguffin, a reward for completing a quest, or an item won from enemies. Large vehicles can also serve as the setting for an encounter or a whole adventure.
Vehicles present phenomenal opportunities for combat. A classic scene is jumping on to a moving vehicle from standing or another vehicle. This could be jumping a guy on a horse, making it onto a ship just as it is pulling away from the dock (with enemies in pursuit or on the boat), or breaking into the lightning rail while it’s in transit. In fact, I’m willing to bet a rice and beans dinner that there is already a module with that scenario. Similarly “car chases” can happen with horses, carts, boats, etc. If you’ve got griffons or dragons, your DM can set up a 3D dog-fighting scenario with fireballs and lightning bolts. Flying is even more complicated than regular mounted combat, so I’d like to see simplified rules somewhere for both situations. Maybe if no one knows of any, I’ll think up some rules and bribe my DM to let us try it out.
So fellow players, if vehicles sound cool talk to your GM about including them. You can indicate interest by purchasing a mode of travel and taking feats that deal with riding, flying, or sailing, to show you’re committed. If your DM balks at the overhead of dealing with with transport, agree to share some of the responsibility, maybe make a rules cheat sheet for each of the players….