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The Frightened condition states that a Frightened creature cannot willingly move closer to the source of its fear.

If a mount is being controlled by a rider who is not Frightened, can the rider make the mount move closer to the source of its fear?

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You should regain control of the mount before being able to make it move closer to the source of its fear.

As stated in PHB, page 178:

Animal Handling. When there is any question whether you can calm down a domesticated animal, keep a mount from getting spooked, or intuit an animal's intentions, the DM might call for a Wisdom (Animal Handling) check. You also make a Wisdom (Animal Handling) check to control your mount when you attempt a risky maneuver.

From page 198:

CONTROLLING A MOUNT. While you're mounted, you have two options. You can either control the mount or allow it to act independently.(...) An independent mount retains its place in the initiative order. (...)

Also, from Appendix A, Conditions, page 291:

A condition lasts either until it is countered (the prone condition is countered by standing up, for example) or for a duration specified by the effect that imposed the condition.

FRIGHTENED A frightened creature has disadvantage on ability checks and attack rolls while the source of its fear is within line of sight. The creature can't willingly move closer to the source of its fear

Your mount cannot move willingly to the source of its fear until the frightening condition is countered as long as you are allowing your mount to act independently.

I understand that if a mount is under the Frightened condition it is not Controlled and is therefore acting independently, since it would resist moving towards a specific direction, in this case the source if its fear. To be able to make it move closer you must counter the Frightened condition, which is something the Rider could do.

Here is how I would address the matter:

By the rider's choice, it can be controlled with a Wisdom (Animal Handling) check at a DC set by your DM. If the check is successful, the mount would be back under control (or maybe, as stated in the comments, the mount would be allowed a saving throw with advantage, but I find this approach redundant, although is indeed more realistic), thus ending the Frightened condition. This check would use your action for the turn. A controlled mount shares initiative count with its rider, so immediately after ending the Frightened condition, you could move the mount freely again.

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    \$\begingroup\$ At the DM's discretion, if there is a save at some point, then an Animal Handling check could be made (DM chooses the DC). If it passes, I would allow the mount to have a saving throw with advantage. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 8:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @QnanG5284, Is your argument that a controlled mount could be made to move closer because its movement wouldn't be considered "willing"? Would you mind restructuring this answer to make your claim clearer, and perhaps focusing in more on the question? There is stuff here that I don't find to be relevant, like the block quote about falling off the mount, the last line about dismounting as a reaction, or the block quote about ending conditions. Also, from my perspective, you can fully assume controlled mount, and so wouldn't need to consider uncontrolled mounts in the answer. TY! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 16:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Restructured the answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – user75209
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 17:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've re-written some text to make my point even clearer. \$\endgroup\$
    – user75209
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 8:17
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I think this is a hard “yes, but” if you have your player do an animal handling check, or perhaps something less ethical (like spurring it very hard or forcing it in some physical way).

It would make sense to force movement away from the source of fright on the first turn after the condition is acquired, but allow the player’s action to mitigate for the next turn.

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    Commented Jun 18 at 18:14
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Rules as written you could make the mount move closer

The relevant rules text for mounted combat says:

You can control a mount only if it has been trained to accept a rider. Domesticated horses, donkeys, and similar Creatures are assumed to have such Training. The Initiative of a controlled mount changes to match yours when you mount it. It moves as you direct it, and it has only three action options: Dash, Disengage, and Dodge.

By the rule as well as by the meaning of control1, you cause the animal to do what you want. Its own will does not come into play. This is further supported by the mechanics: the creature loses its own position in the initiative order, and the text explicitly states that that it moves as you direct.

The relevant part for the Frightened condition is:

Frightened The creature can’t willingly move closer to the source of its fear.

It only willingly cannot move, but its will does not matter while controlled, so you can move it closer.

Realism

Is this realistic? No. In real life there is no way to make a frightened mount do what you want because you "control" it. If the horse gets frightened it will jump or bolt or stop, and you will have to work to regain actual control, and it will take time.

The rules are an abstraction. They primarily aim to enable play, not to simulate the real world. They cannot cover all specific situations that could arise, or they would become so long that they would be useless. Xanathar's Guide to Everything (p. 4):

The DM is key. Many unexpected things can happen in a D&D campaign, and no set of rules could reasonably account for every contingency. If the rules tried to do so, the game would become a slog. [...]
Here is the path the game takes: it lays a foundation of rules that a DM can build on, and it embraces the DM’s role as the bridge between the things the rules address and the things they don’t.

Most sources of the frightened condition are supernatural -- typically spells like Fear or monsters like a dragon cause it. The control the rule represents is mundane. It is not supernatural, there is no sorcery that compels the horse. A peasant boy with riding skills could mount and control a horse.

If you want verisimilitude, your DM can make a ruling that you cannot make a frightened horse move closer to the source of its fright, interpreting the situation based on real-world behaviour, for a more narrative than mechanics based role-playing experience.


1 Control is defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary as:

  1. to direct the behavior of (a person or animal) : to cause (a person or animal) to do what you want
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    \$\begingroup\$ As far as the movement goes, is your argument that a controlled mount's movement isn't "willing"? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 16:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you want control to override Frightened, the horse makes no decisions and there is no willing or not, the rider decides as RAW. But I think that is not a good mechanic if you want a believable world. I as GM would rule that this is technical sophistry and not allow it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 18:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DanJurgella Hi Dan, your comment showed that my answer was not clear. I revised it, so that the answer is in the actual answer, not in the comment. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 7:48

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