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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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 Frightenend 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 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.
Control: as defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary:
- to direct the behavior of (a person or animal) : to cause (a person or animal) to do what you want
and 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.
(emphasis mine). By the defintion of the word control, you cause the animal to do what you want. Its own will does not come into play. This is further supported by the mechanistic execution of the situation: 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.
As it only willingly cannot move, but its will does not matter while controlled, you could move it closer.
Is this realistic? No. For horses 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.
One could allow a successful Animal Handling check to end the frightened condition to represent this. Making a skill check consumes an action, and if you first are not successful, it may take you several rounds to calm down your horse.
A munchkin is:
A player who concentrates solely on increasing his character's power and capabilities.
Often this is done by insisting on interpreting the rules in a literal way, even if the results lead to absurd results, or do not make much sense from a storytelling perspective. I'm not saying this is neccesarily bad, but it is a very different kind of game.
To me, it seems that insisting on the RAW interpretation here will make the character more powerful -- their horse now cannot be frightened any more -- and goes in this direction.
These questions are often not easy to answer -- our own group has plenty of disucssion about when it is fair to go off the rules for "that is how it should work vs. when not.
Keep in mind that the rules are an abstraction. The rules primarily aim to enable play, they do not aim 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. Here is the take from the Sage Advice Rules companion, that counts as official rules:
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 unplayable.
The direction we chose for the current edition was to lay a foundation of rules that a DM could build on, and we embraced the DM’s role as the bridge between the things the rules address and the things they don’t.
The rules for controlling a mount simplify combat. In a normal combat situation that does not cause issues, and speeds up play for a better experience.
The situation the rule represents is mundane. The control is not supernatural, there is no sorcery that compells the horse. A peasant boy with riding skills could mount and control a horse.
With the skill not being magical, if you want verisimilitude, what happens in game should work as it would in the real world. In the unusual situation not explicitly covered by the rules, the GM would be fully in his rights to make a ruling that you cannot make a frightened horse move closer to the source of its fright.
What's more, most sources of the frightened condition are supernatual -- typcially spells like Fear or monsters like a dragon cause it. In the face of such forces, the normal rules of behaviour seem even more unlikely to apply.
Therefore my But...: I think that insisting on the rules as written in this instance would create a mechanistic, tabletop tactics battle experience, while interpreting the situation based on real-world behaviour would create a more immersive, role-playing experience. Depending on what game they prefer, your GM could rule either way.