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The section on mounted combat in the Player's Handbook says:

While you're mounted, you have two options. You can either control the mount or allow it to act independently. Intelligent creatures, such as dragons, act independently.

So, any mount can be allowed to act independently. However intelligent creatures always act independently.

However, I cannot find any rules outlining rules or guidelines for what qualifies a creature as intelligent (for this purpose or any other).

As a point of reference, the lowest intelligence score I can find for a dragon (white dragon wyrmling) is 5.

So, how do I determine if a mount is too intelligent to be controllable according to the rules? At what point or under what conditions is a creature considered intelligent?

If there are no rules, I'll accept experience-backed guidance from people who have had to deal with this issue before and had a certain method work or not.

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Firstly that's not what it means. All mounts can be allowed to act independently. The dumbest horse in the universe doesn't need someone to tell it what to do, and can act independently, without needing orders to walk around, eat, etc. All mounts can act independently.

However, “[i]ntelligent creatures […] act independently” — always. You can't control a dragon mount, you can only coordinate with this intelligent ally who happens to be carrying you. Intelligent creatures can't be controlled like a trained horse, they are asked nicely, bargained with, threatened, or otherwise encouraged to serve you as a mount.

How smart is an “intelligent creature”?

There's no strict rule for this — but when you understand why intelligent mounts can't be controlled and always act independently, it's easy to make such a determination. If it's smart enough to be the rider's ally rather than be a domesticated animal, it's an intelligent creature.

  • Dragon? Intelligent.
  • Horse? Not intelligent.
  • Unicorn? Intelligent.
  • Awakened horse? Intelligent.
  • Druid ally shapeshifted into a horse? Intelligent! Darn straight, that druid isn't taking orders through the reins.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do note that an intelligent mount could certainly choose to take orders via the reins (or whatever other communication system there is) they simply have not been conditioned to do so unquestioningly. Arguably even "unintelligent" mounts should refuse some orders depending on their training and how much they trust the rider. I dare you to get on a real horse and try to ride it off a clearly-visible cliff, or into a raging fire. Anything with an intelligence greater than 1 should have some level of self-preservation instinct. \$\endgroup\$ – Perkins Mar 2 '18 at 19:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Perkins Just so: they would have to have trained in it as a communication method (unlikely for most intelligent beings, but possibly an Awakened horse), and then it's still only communication, not rules-term-Control. It's still acting independently. And yes, even domestic horses refuse the reins or try to get their own head. D&D 5e doesn't model this with rules, though a DM could certainly represent an unruly horse (possibly bought from a sketchy horse trader) through roleplaying. On the other hand, warhorse training is deliberately to get the horse to ignore its instincts and always obey. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 2 '18 at 19:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie most rider communication methods are designed to take advantage of the controlled animal's instincts and kinesthetics as much as possible, so an intelligent version of one shouldn't need much if any training to understand it, but yeah, it's doing its own thing which leaves the rider free to pay attention to stuff other than providing direct instructions most of the time. \$\endgroup\$ – Perkins Mar 2 '18 at 20:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Perkins On the other hand I'd argue that an intelligent being experiencing that kind of direct manipulation is going to have to train themself to not instinctually resist the manipulations, so using it as a communication method would still need specific training in order to get the same speed-of-response as actual D&D 5e Control mechanics, much like soldiers must be trained to be commanded. (This conveniently jibes with 5e's rule that intelligent mounts are always independent.) In any case, this gets far afield of what can be folded into the answer when these temporary comments are removed. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 2 '18 at 20:23
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There are no rules, but Int 3 seems like a dividing line in 5e

The following spells seem to treat Int 3 or less as unintelligent:

  • Animal Messenger: "If the beast's Intelligence is 4 or higher, the spell fails. "
  • Awaken: "must have either no Intelligence score or an Intelligence of 3 or less"
  • Detect Thoughts: "If the creature you choose has an Intelligence of 3 or lower or doesn’t speak any language, the creature is unaffected."

It seems like a good enough guideline, but I wouldn't necessarily label it a truism in all cases in regard to mounts. Expect table variance.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I can't provide a quote, but if I'm correct, 4 INT is also the threshold at which creatures generally gain the ability to speak (or at least understand, should they have no physical means of speaking) languages. \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Mar 1 '18 at 21:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ This jives with SSDs answer as well. Horse no. Awakened Horse (int 4), yes. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 1 '18 at 21:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another effect that references this is Detect Sentience from the intellect devourer. It makes this ruling a lot more potent since the trait is literally designed for identifying sentient creatures \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Mar 2 '18 at 20:36
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I don't see anything in 5e that describes the difference, but in 3.5e an ability score of 1-2 was unintelligent and required Animal Handling checks. If the score was 3 or higher, you needed to make Diplomacy checks. I would use that as a base unless there is a better answer out there.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't downvote, but people probably downvoted because you're talking about 3.5e. That's usually the cause, from my experience. \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Mar 1 '18 at 21:04
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If the mount's intelligence score is 8 or higher

Altough Matt is correct in pointing out that there are no direct rules determining a mount's intelligence besides the one you quoted, the scaffolding to determine wether a creature is intelligent is readily available in the Player's Handbook. The Wizard's School of Necromancy "Command Undead" feature gives us a clear dividing line between intelligent and unintelligent creatures (PHB. 119) (emphasis mine).

"Intelligent undead are harder to control in this way. If the target has an Intelligence of 8 or higher, it has advantage on the saving throw. If it fails the saving throw and has an Intelligence of 12 or higher, it can repeat the saving throw at the end of every hour until it succeeds and breaks free."

This language would suggest that creatures are not considered intelligent until they reach the INT 8 threshold. Barring the possibility that ability stats are intepreted differently per creature type (highly unlikely), a Worg with an intelligence of 7 can be controlled or allowed to act independently, but a Giant Eagle with an intelligence of 8 will always act independently.


An important caveat I should mention (but ignore myself, chalking it up to human error) is that the language quoted by OP tells us that a Guard Drake with INT 4 is considered intelligent since it has the Dragon creature type, but an Undead Ghoul with INT 7 isn't, creating a web of contradictions.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like what you found, but I do wonder if there's a specific vs general case here where intelligent undead are different than intelligent [other creature type]. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 10 '19 at 20:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Couldn't find anything, Everytime the intelligence of a creature is mentioned though the stat is used as an indicator on how to roleplay it. Making it seem that an intelligence of let's say 10 is universal among creature types. \$\endgroup\$ – Rikkard Sep 10 '19 at 20:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ It might help to look at find steed which is an unusually intelligent mount with an INT of 6. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 10 '19 at 21:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great point, the find steed spell gives the player an unusually intelligent mount, contrasting it against its regular counterpart. Jeremy Crawfords remarks: "The mount summoned by the find steed spell serves the summoner. It isn't an independent creature." Unfortunately Wizard's of the Coast has developed a reputation to bend the rules specifically for spells (the jump spell letting you jump farther then your movement would allow for example). So Jeremy Crawford's advice on this topic could be seen in the "but only if you use magic" category, further validating your point. \$\endgroup\$ – Rikkard Sep 10 '19 at 21:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Crawford Tweeted: "Find steed / find greater steed—when you ride the mount in combat, you decide whether it follows the rules for a controlled or an independent mount." twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/970111071955464198 \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Vincent Sep 10 '19 at 22:30

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