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The spell Phantom Steed, summons a creature that "uses the statistics for a riding horse". The Phantom Steed does have the extra benefit that it has a base speed of 100 feet, and that it does not tire (the latter is not in the spell, but can found in the DMG on p. 243, "Similarly, a phantom steed spell creates a magical mount with a speed of 100 feet that doesn't tire like a real horse.")

Under normal encumbrance rules, a riding horse can carry 480 pounds, easily enough for two medium-sized creatures with clothing. So, if needed two medium creatures could ride it, at least for a short time, for example one in the saddle, the other sitting behind or slung over. This also has been confirmed by the Q&A: Are there any rules or rule clarifications regarding multiple characters riding a single mount?. There possibly could be even more (if smaller or lighter) riders.

However the spell also says: "For the duration, you or a creature you choose can ride the steed." You or a creature would only be a single rider. So the spell states the steed behaves like a normal horse, meaning multiple riders are possible, and that only one creature (you or another creature) can ride it.

How many creatures can ride on the steed?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don’t think I understand what your confusion is here. You seem to answer the question…and then ask the question. Voting to close for “needs details”, it isn’t clear what you’re asking since it seems like you answered it already. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 28, 2022 at 3:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Dupe seems like a good target too. But explaining the confusion you’re having here might explain why that target doesn’t answer your question. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 28, 2022 at 3:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov I think it's a dupe if the question is "how many riders can a steed carry assuming the only relevant feature is the riding horse stat block" and it is not a dupe if the question is "it seems like phantom steed says only one person can ride it, does that supersede the riding horse stat block"? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 28, 2022 at 4:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ One cannot ride a mount shotgun (beside the driver), at least a mount whose girth is narrow enough to be straddled by the width of one's legs. One rides shotgun on the front seat of a wagon, or the driver's box of a coach. On a horse, one person would be in the saddle, and the second behind the saddle or, if small enough, in front of the saddle. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 28, 2022 at 5:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin Indeed, you might have a prisoner (or an unconscious ally) slung over the horse; if there is a more specific word for it, I don't know what it is. The term 'shotgun' quite literally comes from the shotgun (or coach gun) carried by the person sitting on the seat next to the driver of the coach or wagon. Since the driver handled the reins, the person 'sitting shotgun' was in charge of defending the wagon or coach, but this term would not be used for a second rider on a horse. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Nov 28, 2022 at 6:47

3 Answers 3

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Just the one you designate

Phantom Steed says (emphasis mine):

The creature uses the statistics for a riding horse, except it has a speed of 100 feet and can travel 10 miles in an hour, or 13 miles at a fast pace.

Spells do what they say they do - except when they don't. It surely would be convenient if we could take this spell as written, where the only difference between a riding horse and a phantom steed was its speed. But in fact, most of the rest of the description of the spell is a list of exceptions, even if they are not explicitly called exceptions the way the speed is.

A riding horse has 13hp, and so does the steed - except that it disappears after taking a single point of damage.

A riding horse's equipment exists independent of the horse itself, and so does the steed's - except that it disappears if it is carried more than 10 feet away from the steed.

A riding horse is a creature, and can tire if ridden hard, for example in a Chase. A phantom steed is a creature - except that it cannot tire.

A riding horse yields 50xp if defeated, and so does the phantom steed - except that as a cast creature, it might yield no xp except those reflected in the awarded for defeating its caster.

Within this context, we understand that the steed has many differences from a real mount, even though its speed is the one one explicitly called out as an exception. When the spell says:

For the duration, you or a creature you choose can ride the steed.

we then understand that this is yet another way the steed differs from a real animal (which can be ridden by anything physically able to do so). As an Illusion spell, you are in effect targeting a single creature, choosing for whom the steed will be real enough that it can be ridden, when it is not substantial enough to interact with anyone else. On the other hand, the creature you choose as the target could conceivably be one that could not actually ride a real horse, such as your war dog or even another mount.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What about another creature put as "baggage" (slung over and such)? Riding normally means directing the mount, so maybe they would not technically be riding, and you could transport another creature, even though only one creature can be the one riding? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 28, 2022 at 7:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GroodytheHobgoblin I assume this would go into DM ruling territory, especially for such specific scenarios, and which definition of "riding" you want to use. After a quick online search, the word "ride" seems to have definitions both for controling and simply being a passenger. But as written, it seems you can only have one creature "riding" the steed at a time, either you or a creature you choose. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Nov 28, 2022 at 7:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you are using raw so strictly then you need to cover all cases such as people slung over the back wrapped in a carpet, a weasel around your neck etc, and if raw doesn't cover it (hint; it doesn't) then we shouldn't be answering as "raw says" because clearly raw isn't enough. This creates a horse which works like a horse, you really don't need to lawyer all the bits that don't and our experience should tell us that much. The bits that are different are the bits that a normal horse doesn't have to deal with. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Nov 28, 2022 at 12:49
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You or the creature you choose

That is what the spell says:

For the duration, you or a creature you choose can ride the steed.

But what do I do if I think the steed should be able to carry two people?

From a player's point of view

If you're a player, ask your DM.

You know your DM better than I do, but often players ask questions like these because they want to present the DM with solid evidence to rule in the direction the player wants. To me, the spell as written is very clear.

From the DM's point of view

If you're the DM, you have a choice. Do you stick with the spell exactly as written, or do you consider rulings over rules?

From Tasha's:

The rules of D&D cover many of the twists and turns that come up in play, but the possibilities are so vast that the rules can’t cover everything. When you encounter something that the rules don’t cover or if you’re unsure how to interpret a rule, the DM decides how to proceed, aiming for a course that brings the most enjoyment to your whole group.

When I look at spell issues like this, I frequently think of that quote. To me, the way the phantom steed is written covers the most simple use case, that of a single rider, either the caster or some other player character rider, which covers the vast majority of cases. In order to cover every edge case the spell would be a page long, at least. When it says "you or a creature", does that mean the two of you can take turns? Can the creature be a cat, an octopus, a wolf? Can the steed pull a cart? A rope? Will it come to me when I whistle? Will it go get help?

I think in this case there are two ways a reasonable DM might decide things, in service of "aiming for a course that brings the most enjoyment to your whole group":

  • The steed can only carry one rider, the second finds the steed insubstantial
  • The steed can carry riders the way a riding horse would

I don't see how the first ruling makes the game more fun, but if that's what the DM thinks, then that is their call.

To me, it's more fun to treat it as a riding horse, let the second passenger climb aboard, and move on.

Hypothetically, I'd also let the rider be the cat, octopus, or wolf, (although the steed would give the caster the horsey side-eye, and in the case of the wolf, also that thing horses do when they shift their hindquarters a few times, and some serious tail-lashing), except it raises the question of how the steed would know where to go, and that seems highly situation dependent. The steed might pull a cart, briefly, if it were really important, but probably not. Riding the steed, you could absolutely throw a rope to your friend in the well, and pull them out, but the steed isn't going to throw you the rope; it's a riding horse, not Silver or Trigger. Yes, it will come to you when you whistle. Actually, you don't even need to whistle, it's your illusion, but if you abuse that, it won't work anymore. No, it won't go get help . . . although hmmm that could be super-cool.

The point is, the DM is supposed to make these judgments, and that's just good horse sense.

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Only one rider can direct the steed, but you can carry others

We are to use the normal English definition for words that are not defined game terms. The first definition for ride in Merriam-Webster is (emphasis mine):

to sit and travel on the back of an animal that one directs

I think we can resolve the apparent contradiction by adoption this first, and main, meaning of the term.

The spell allows you to select one creature that "can ride the steed", and the selected creature will be the only one from which the steed will take direction. Other creatures can be carried along as "baggage".

This is actually not that different from a normal horse: also on a normal riding horse, only one rider directs the horse, even if a second person sits behind them, or in front of them, or is carried along slung over.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If I understand it right, you mean to assert that if someone is carried by the horse that someone else is directing, they are not "riding" the horse, and thus can be carried while respecting the spell's condition. Is that correct? \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Dec 1, 2022 at 9:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Matthieu Yes. There are wider definitions of what riding is that would not work, but this one is the main one and it works in that way. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 1, 2022 at 9:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ To bounce back on the definition you give in your answer, doesn't the "one" given for "one directs" apply to anyone, and not just the target of the word? You could be at the back of a horse and have someone else direct it, and in this situation you'd still be "sitting and traveling on the back of an animal that one directs", the "one" here being the conductor. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Dec 1, 2022 at 9:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ To push it even further, you could be riding a horse alone even if you're not directing it, as long as someone is doing the directing, for example with a leash. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Dec 1, 2022 at 9:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Matthieu Maybe. Tbh, I think it is a stretch - one here probably refers to the subject. More importantly I am not looking for an interpretation that does not work. You can use wider defintions if you are after that. I am looking for one that helps to reconcile the apparent contradiction is a way that is within the rules. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 1, 2022 at 9:34

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