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I frequently find that during one of my campaigns, with a specific group of players, the PCs get very attached to their mounts and very frustrated if they die in combat or become too weak to take along (especially horses and mastiffs).

We've done a few different campaigns, and it's evident that the PCs always want to stick with one mount for the whole game, from Lv.1 to Lv.20 and the end of the adventure. The best situation I ever had was when one PC stuck with a small bird for the whole game and didn't have a mount - however, it did disadvantage them throughout the game.

Are there any mounts or companion animals that are obtainable (or feasible) at 1st level, continue to be good mounts until 20th level, and have a balanced leveling system (so that they don't become too OP too quick or stay weak as the PCs level up)?

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3 Answers 3

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How I kept my mounts alive at higher levels

I used two feats for my vHuman Paladin, Oath of Watchers.

  1. Mounted Combatant. This offers a chance for the attack against your mount to be redirected towards you. You usually have better AC and More HP. (@NautArch/@NotArch who posts here took a paladin from 1 through 20 and used this feat, among others. It's where I got the idea).
  2. Inspiring Leader. Each short or long rest, you get Level + Charisma mod Temp HP for your party (up to 6 creatures). Unless you are in a very large party, you can always include your mount. (My Griffon and my three party mates always got the Temp HP).

Being a paladin, my saving throw bonus aura began at level 6 and was also helpful in reducing damage to my mount. I preferred to bump Charisma with ASIs so that the saving throw bonus helped my mount and all others more; I limited the number of feats I took. Other classes won't have this exceptionally useful aura feature.

Gift of the Metallic Dragon

A feat I have used on other characters could be helpful: the Gift of the Metallic Dragon. (If your table uses options from Fizban's Treasury of Dragons). Proficiency bonus times per long rest you can use a reaction to increase the mount's armor class by your proficiency bonus. You also get one cure wounds spell per long rest, which can heal a mount.

Work with the DM on this one

My DM was great about it. He agreed to exercise the option from the Basic Rules for my mounts: if they went to 0 HP they would go into death saves rather than just be dead. This gave me a chance to either lay on hands or use a healing spell to get them back up, or for one of my party mates to do something similar.

Dropping to 0 Hit Points
When a character drops to 0 Hit Points, they either die outright or fall Unconscious as explained below. A monster dies when it drop to 0 Hit Points, unless the DM decides to treat the monster like a character. (PHB, Chapter 9)

When our campaign ended at level 17, my Griffon had dropped to 0 HP twice. My horses had only been lost a few times, usually they recovered or weren't dropped to 0 HP. Some breath weapons just overwhelm the HP.

Note that this answer works for a paladin. A summoned steed won't come on-line until level 5. For any character, the two feats I mentioned up front will help keep one's mount alive.

Barding

As you go up in level, you'll earn enough gold to buy your mount barding. If keeping your mount alive is important to you, make the investment. Prices are listed in the PHB. For example, plate barding is 4x plate armor, so it's 6000 GP. (And stealth becomes tough to maintain).


How to have a robust mount in Tier 4 (Levels 17-20).

How my Bard, College of Lore, kept her mount alive in Tier 4. OK, this is a little bit of "cheese" but here is what I proposed to the DM.

  • She made a simulacrum of herself. (She took that spell with Magical secrets at level 14).
  • She true polymorphed it into an adult (gold) dragon (CR 17) and concentrated for one hour to make the change stick. (Pick any adult dragon, gold not required).
  • The dragon had better AC and HP than my bard did.
  • She made friends with the dragon (high charisma for the win!).

The DM let me do that for just the hour that I was concentrating on the spell, and then told me "it is now your simulacrum" since he had a world building thing about souls in dragons. Where did the soul for my dragon come from? My bard can't create souls.
Would your DM put up with it lasting until it is dispelled? Maybe.
If we take the rules literally, this will work.

As a counter, an enemy has to figure out that they need to cast a level 9 Dispel Magic to dispel that dragon, or, to make an ability check DC 19 with a lower level casting of Dispel Magic - if we look at how the current version of True Polymorph works - to change your mount back into your simulacrum. In the original version of the spell, first printing, permanent means permanent.

Once per day, for an hour, I got a very survivable mount.

A less powerful version of this is:

  • Get a chunk of rock or wood or mud that is about the same size as a young dragon
  • True Polymorph (Object into Creature) that into a CR 9 creature: a young silver dragon.
  • Concentrate for the full hour.
  • Good HP (168), Good AC (18), good saves, and you are riding around on a silver dragon 😁. Treat the dragon well, maintain a good relationship, and you've got a fine mount.

Caveat: you probably have to work with your DM on that. Mine vetoed this idea, since he didn't want to deal with the whole party flying around on young silver dragons and he did not like the problem I had created: where would we get dragon souls for each new silver dragon? None of them had hatched from an egg. I completely understood (being a DM myself) as, beyond the world building issue, it would have also put additional burden on him as regards encounter design.

(This most excellent DM occasionally posts here under user name BenjaminTHall)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Barding! :) I had forgotten about this. \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Commented May 10 at 14:45
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Sidekicks

If you want companions that are generally available and would work from level 1 and scale all the way up to level 20 you can try the Sidekicks from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. They include a "warrior" sidekick that can also work for a normal animal companion. The Creating a Sidekick section (p. 142) says:

A sidekick can be any type of creature with a stat block in the Monster Manual or another D&D book, but the challenge rating in its stat block must be 1/2 or lower.

That would include animals like a riding horse, warhorse, or wolf.

Companions scale from level 1 to 20. As an optional rule, they require the buy-in from the DM.

There are also Primal Companions for Beast Master rangers in the same book that scale with your level, or the Drake Companions from the Drakewarden Ranger from Fizban's Treasury of Dragons (thanks, @Eddymage) but they only start from level 3 when you gain these features.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I would warn that a sidekick might very much annoy any rangers or paladins in the party because they will outshadow their class features. Sidekicks are pretty powerful. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented May 9 at 17:39
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A Circle Of The Moon Druid PC

Starting at level 2, druids can wildshape into a variety of beasts that can serve as mounts. A Circle Of The Moon druid will have access to forms that scale well with the party's level. Beyond the health of the beast form, they have their normal health, so they will be much harder to kill than a typical beast.

A druid PC will have balanced leveling system (the same as the other PCs, in fact) and scales all the way to level 20. They get benefits you'll be hard pressed to find in a typical beast companion, such as attacks that count as magical (CotM) and spellcasting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If your mate can't keep your mount alive - become the mount! :) As a matter of interest, what mount could the druid wildshape into other than the obvious horse. \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Commented May 10 at 14:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Senmurv Dire wolf (CR 1) is most excellent. 😉 :) Lion. Saber Toothed Tiger. Giant Scorpion. Elephant. Some great choices. Giant Eagle after level 8. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 10 at 15:26

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