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The players recently acquired a figurine of wondrous power (elephant) and are considering using it as a combat platform in an upcoming boss fight (rather than just commanding it to attack).

I noted that the elephant does not specifically come equipped with a saddle / howdah and began to look for what sort of consequences would apply to riding it without a saddle. To my surprise, there don't appear to be any.

The PHB (Mounts and Vehicles) section says:

Saddles. A military saddle braces the rider, helping you keep your seat on an active mount in battle. It gives you advantage on any check you make to remain mounted. An exotic saddle is required for riding any aquatic or flying mount.

Although interpretations of this could vary, I think the most straightforward conclusion is that while a military saddle gives you advantage on checks to remain mounted, and an exotic saddle is required to ride a mount that is aquatic or flying, there is no RAW effect of a normal (riding) saddle, and no consequences for riding a terrestrial mount without one.

The PHB section on Mounted Combat describes mounting, dismounting, and what happens to you if your mount is moved against its will or knocked prone. None of these rules reference interacting with saddles, however.

Similarly, in real life a Bridle is used by a rider to guide a horse in the desired direction (the bridle is what the reins are attached to, although reins are not offered in the PHB Tack and Harness equipment list). A difficult-to-control mount might also, in real life, have a Bit, which applies pressure to the sensitive tissue of the mouth, but these are not required for well-trained or responsive mounts. However, as far as I can tell, there are not any RAW effects for a Bit and Bridle either, having checked the PHB section on "Controlling a Mount".

Thus, I am asking whether I have missed something - Are there any RAW effects of a Riding Saddle, Bit, or Bridle? Conversely, are there any RAW effects of riding a mount (such as the elephant) without these items?

I am not asking for suggestions on how to apply circumstantial effects based on the DM's power to adjudicate - I am capable of doing that myself.

An answer could argue that I am reading the PHB incorrectly, or that there are mounted combat rules tucked away in the DMG that I have not spotted.

A good answer might cite optional rules in some other official product of which I am unaware.

A humorous answer might cite an Adventurer's League situation in which a player had refused to purchase saddle, bit, and bridle for their mount to save weight and money and the DM was forced to conclude that there was no mechanical difference for them.

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There are no RAW effects of these items other than the ones you have found. You have found the complete set of rules regarding mounted combat. There are no others in published D&D material.

To confirm this, I searched D&D Beyond for saddle, bit, and bridle. None of those turn up any result for rules beyond the ones you have found. Some turn up magical items of these sorts -- the saddle of the cavalier in particular -- but none of those are rules for saddles, bits, or bridles in general.

(Personally, I'm of the opinion that rules penalizing riders without a bit, bridle, or saddle would almost exclusively punish cool scenes in which players jump on wild animals or hostile beasts and try to gain control of them, and I'm pleased such rules do not exist.)

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There is no need for explictly spelled out RAW effects

Several items on the equipment list do not have any spelled out game mechanics, for example the iron pot or steel mirror. That is because everyday things behave as we would expect them to.

There are no additional RAW effects listed for these items, but from the fact that the bit and bride and riding saddle are listed in the equipment list, you can infer that the assumption is that for riding a normal mount you use these items as you would have in the real world. It would be up to the DM to apply penalties if you don't, just as it might be hard to cook a pot of soup without a pot.

When the the exotic saddle (which costs 6 times the amount a normal riding saddle would cost) states:

An exotic saddle is required for riding any aquatic or flying mount.

The point is to point out that you need that saddle instead of a normal riding saddle for those types of mounts, not that for other mounts no saddle is needed.

Now, there is no explicit additional text for this in the rules (as Louis states, based on text search on D&D Beyond), but it does not need to be there. This is not an unusual, magical effect that you cannot apply common knowledge to. (And yes, you can probably ride without saddle, bridle and bit, but not as well as with them, or thousands of riders would eschew the costs associated with those items).

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    \$\begingroup\$ The difference with a saddle is that there clearly are rules for staying on a mount when something moves it or it falls prone, and it certainly seems like these rules should interact with the saddle as an item...and yet, they don't. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Dec 31, 2022 at 22:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt I think the default assumption is that you are in saddle, and so there is nothing special to be called out. I agree, it would have been nice for the rules to state that you have some kind of disadvantage in such situations if you have not saddle etc., but it all costs valuable space in the book, and it is easily enough handled by the DM (as you state in your question, you need no help on that part). I just think a reading that expects you to be in saddle is as least as plausible as one that comes to the conclusion because it is never called out, no saddle etc is needed at all. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 31, 2022 at 22:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I can't buy this reading, given that there are explicit rules for some kinds of saddles that don't call out the other case. "Because space in the book is valuable" is not generally accepted as a reason for rules that you think are implied. Normally, the presence of rules for closely related situations pretty strongly implies the absence of rules for other cases. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 1, 2023 at 0:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ "And yes, you can probably ride without saddle, bridle and bit, but not as well as with them, or thousands of riders would eschew the costs associated with those items" I'm not sure this appreciates the motivation for the question. If rules are spelled out explaining how bad it is to try to ride a military steed without a military saddle, or an exotic steed without an exotic saddle, why should the DM have to decide on how much of a difference a normal saddle makes on a normal steed? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 1, 2023 at 21:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KarlKnechtel Yes, I can understand that sentiment; it would be a separate question about the design process to ask why the designers chose to not spell this out too. (I can guess because they wanted to provide mechanical justification for the more expensive options, and did not think of the contrast with missing guidance for the base option this creates; I however have no documented designer statements for that, and it's not what the questions asks) \$\endgroup\$ Jan 1, 2023 at 21:38
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Keith Ammann writes in his book Live to Tell the Tale (p. 118):

It's not explicitly stated anywhere in the rules, but if you want to control a mount, you should have a bit and bridle, because that's what bits and bridles are for... Again, it's not in the written rules, but I'd give a PC disadvantage on those saves if they were riding with no saddle at all, or with just a pack saddle (which is hardly more than a thick blanket). Just use common sense, and everyone will be happy.

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