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The rules for Travel Pace in the PHB and Basic Rules are good and straightforward, with players able to travel on foot for 8 hours per day without over-exerting themselves, choosing a pace of Slow (2 miles/hour, 18 miles/day; can move stealthily), Normal (3 m/h, 24 m/d) or Fast (4 m/h, 30 m/d, take a penalty to passive Perception).

In this same section, there are two paragraphs about mounts and vehicles; they specify that mounts can gallop at twice the normal fast pace for an hour, and with frequently freshened mounts - typically only available in highly populated areas - a rider can travel fast over long distances. However when it comes to vehicles, only water going vessels or flying mounts get you travelling faster; for commonly available forms of transport:

Characters in wagons, carriages, or other land vehicles choose a pace as normal.

Rules as written it seems there is no benefit to travelling by wagon or carriage, and certainly it takes the same amount of time as walking. In my current game of Dragon of Icespire Peak, the players have spent a bit of time demanding horses or a carriage in order to travel the 65 miles from Phandalin to Butterskull Ranch, believing it would get them there faster (as the quest there seems urgent).

Looking up the travelling rules it really seems there’s no speed benefit to them paying for a ride or hiring horses, except that they might shave an hour off their travel time each day in the latter case. That makes sense for a wagon which is designed only for hauling stuff, not speed, but what about a carriage or a riding horses?

I’d like to know if there are any additional speed benefits (beyond the purely narrative) that I am missing for travel by carriage, or any ways that mounts or vehicles can decrease their travelling time (beyond the double fast pace for one hour). I am aware that a carriage, wagon or even a horse would allow them to carry more weight, but given they have little equipment and don’t need to take anything with them, that’s not of benefit to the party. So I’m primarily interested in if and how they can travel faster, and any non-carrying capacity benefits they might get, for travelling via horse or vehicle.

I’m also interested in any house rules you may have used to give players a speed boost through riding over walking, or why this might be a bad idea.

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Horses and carts can carry a lot of stuff

If you only have to travel for an hour, the horse can do so at twice the normal speed. While there is no benefit to speed over a longer distances, horses can carry a lot more stuff than most individual people can.

Any creature can carry 15 times their strength in pounds, and doubled for every size above medium. A draught-horse has 18 strength, so it can carry 540lb (including the rider), and when equipped with a cart it can pull 5x that amount (including the weight of the cart). 2700lb is a lot more weight than most adventurers can carry.

You may think that your 20 strength barbarian would have no worries about carrying all their gear and food, but your 8 strength wizard companion won't be quite as keen once they think about all the extra camping gear and supplies they will need.

That's the main advantage of using horses and carts. You can carry all your food, water, equipment, and other supplies with you in your cart or on your horse.

Using multiple horses to travel faster or further

As you noted, you can travel faster for 1 hour, so if you can frequently swap horses you can travel faster. With mount change you can also travel further. After 8 hours of travel, you risk exhaustion traveling further. You can swap horses and continue traveling without potential exhaustion. Unfortunately, I don't think there are any towns between Phandalin and Butterskull Ranch where the adventurers could swap horses--definitely not enough to swap horses every hour.

Humans are actually really really good at traveling long distances. Horses can sprint very fast, but they aren't faster than people after a couple of dozen miles. Just like in-game, the main advantage is they can carry a lot more stuff than we can, and it's less tiring to sit in a cart or ride a horse than it is to walk.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is true - and a good answer - though as the characters have very little gear and don’t need to transport anything, the ability to carry more with them is not of any benefit. I’m mostly interested in the speed benefits, but I can see I’ve not been specific enough in my question and left myself open to answers that will only confirm the carrying benefit. I’ll revise the question. Thank you though! \$\endgroup\$ Jun 10, 2020 at 7:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GuybrushMcKenzie I added a note to confirm there is no benefit to speed. Unless it's less than an hour journey, as you noted in your question. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 10, 2020 at 7:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks again; reading your answer, I can see it will help me explain to the players that their characters would know horses won’t get them there any faster. I would probably houserule that a coach would be at least a little faster - maybe 5 miles an hour? - but there’s no carriage service in these frontier lands and a wagon won’t be faster than that anyway. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 10, 2020 at 8:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GuybrushMcKenzie in real-life horses and coaches aren't faster over long distances, so I don't think there's a problem. A big advantage of the coach would be that it's comfortable. Probably not comfortable enough to sleep, but walking 30 miles a day for 2 days, then rocking up at Butterskull Ranch late in the afternoon to fight some orcs does not sound ideal. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 10, 2020 at 8:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ very fair - I guess they have the fictionalised idea of a “don’t spare the horses” coach ride in their heads! I’ll let them down gently. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 10, 2020 at 8:15
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Not speed, but distance

As other answers and comments have noted, and as real life history attests, humans trained for marching, under appropriate conditions, can travel just as far in a day as can humans mounted. The advantage of having a mount is in carrying more weight than one could haul oneself at any given speed.

In OP's example, then, is there no benefit to having mounts or wagons if you really, really need to get somewhere fast? Perhaps, if you consider forced marches and endurance.

In the Travel Pace section of the PHB, just above that of "mounts and vehicles" is the part about making a forced march:

The Travel Pace table assumes that characters travel for 8 hours in day. They can push on beyond that limit, at the risk of exhaustion.

For each additional hour of travel beyond 8 hours, the characters cover the distance shown in the Hour column for their pace, and each character must make a Constitution saving throw at the end of the hour. The DC is 10 + 1 for each hour past 8 hours. On a failed saving throw, a character suffers one level of exhaustion.

If the party is willing to continue past eight hours and risk exhaustion, they won't travel faster, but they could travel farther in one day, and arrive sooner than they would have, had they stopped to rest. The first level of exhaustion is disadvantage on skill checks, which might bother the rogue, but which won't deter our party which is determined to arrive sooner 'at any cost'. The second level of exhaustion halves their speed, which will be a serious problem. But even if one of the party hits this after just two extra hours of travel, they will have gone an extra 6 miles at a Normal pace, or 8 miles at a Fast pace, making it more likely they will get to their destination sooner.

Mounts or draft animals can be part of this 'forced march strategy'. The question then becomes whether characters who are mounted or in vehicles are required to make exhaustion saves along with the animals. In a rules sense, the PCs are still 'traveling', even if not under their own power. In a verisimilitude sense, riding is certainly an activity and is potentially exhausting. However, the amount of exertion one needs to travel while riding depends on the speed of the horse, and if the horse is mostly walking the rider is potentially exerting themselves less than if they were the one walking. And clearly riding in a cart or wagon is less strenuous than walking - some might even claim that that it is possible to rest in a wagon.

As the DM in this case, OP has a number of options on how they rule exhaustion if they want to support the engagement of the players in the world, and their in-game efforts to respond to the urgency of the quest by obtaining mounts or draft animals and getting to Butterskull Ranch 'quickly, at any cost'. The basic strategy would be to have the mounts travel their eight hours and then begin making forced march saves against exhaustion. At the point in time when a mount would drop to half speed, the party would then abandon the mount, redistribute the gear carried to keep everyone underencumbered, and the mountless PC would continue on foot, with their own exhaustion saves somehow favored for having been previously able to use the mount.

Modding the Forced March Rules

Saying that mounted travel doesn't count as travel at all is likely too generous to the PC's, but it might be fair to count two hours of mounted movement as an hour of travel, or four hours of mounted movement as three hours of travel, against their daily limit of eight hours. That way the advantage of bringing mounts is that even if a mount began to founder shortly after eight hours of travel, the PC would be more fresh and could continue to walk for a bit before having to make endurance saves.

Circumstantial bonus

Even for a DM that wanted to count every hour of mounted travel as an hour of travel, for both mount and rider, the DM is RAW empowered to make checks and saves subject to advantage and disadvantage depending on circumstance. Thus they could have the rider's exhaustion saves be made at advantage while they were riding. The advantage of the party equipping themselves with horses, then, is in potentially extending the distance the party can travel before any of the PCs become exhausted.

Redundancy

Even if the DM has all travelers, animals and PCs alike, making all exhaustion saves unmodified, there still is benefit in the redundancy of a mount-rider pair. This is because (assuming the party will abandon exhausted mounts), it will take four failed saves to reduce a character's progress. If the mount founders first, the PC can keep walking. If the PC founders first, their reduction in speed won't matter so long as the mount is still moving.

Wagons keep going

Another option for the party would be to purchase a wagon or cart and multiple draft animals (in addition to their mounts). Walking PCs who reach exhaustion level 2 could be placed in the wagon, with it drawn by the least-exhausted draft animals. The party then could keep going. When the mounts founder, the PCs walk. When the walkers founder, they go in the wagon. The party's progress would only come to an end if either all of their draft animals were exhausted or the weight of exhausted PCs in the wagon became more than the draft animals could pull.

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