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Gryphons as mounts?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by D. Gray Warrior, Aug 30, 2020.

  1. D. Gray Warrior

    D. Gray Warrior Troubadour

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    So, I want to construct a setting where gryphons are the primary mounts. I just like the idea of people riding gryphons.

    However, it seems quite impractical, as gryphons are carnivorous, and gryphons are used in wars and battles in this setting.

    It's much easier to feed a horse than a gryphon, as meat spoils. I think to get around this, I might my gryphons omnivores so that they can survive off of plants, but generally prefer meat.

    As for battle tactics with gryphons, I imagine them being used primarily for reconnaissance. The opposing side might send out their own gryphons riders to counter the recon scouts, and thus engaging in dog fights.

    Some might also function as "bombers," dropping things like rocks, grenades, Greek fire, etc onto armies below.

    The rider controls the gryphon in the way a knight controls or directs his horse. The rider is also armed. Now, that brings up why would the rider need sidearms if the gryphon itself is practically a weapon? And what kind of sidearm would make the most sense for a rider to carry? I'm thinking of either a lance or crossbow.

    Is it possible to make gryphon mounts plausible or practical? If so, how?
     
    Malik likes this.
  2. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Auror

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    Not sure how plausible or practical they'll ever be, unless you've got something like tribbles to constantly feed them. Or other fast growing rodent sorts with the occasional cow or horse thrown in. Or you can give them big crushy beaks for tackling large nuts and shelled fruits like coconuts. Or make them coastal and river fish feeders. Or all of the above.

    My own gryphons are already natural predators for the Fea and Greenskins, once able to keep booming populations in check while munching on other animals too. Humans have since turned them into a magical Apache helicopter with enough armor and magic weapons with riders (that they try to eat). They take on dragons, wyverns and other flying beasties and are fairly capable on the ground. Vicious bastards the feathery lot of them.

    But what comes with using them in battle, is the eventual counter. Someone's going to try to invent something to take out their wings or develop anti-griffon artillery. So, if you do find a way, let the arms race begin.
     
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  3. Malik

    Malik Auror

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  4. Morgoth_69

    Morgoth_69 Dreamer

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    I also have Gryphons in my fantasy world, but they are relatively rare in the current time period and only one of the existing kingdoms is able to maintain them as trained mounts, usually for scouting. These Gryphons, when out of service, are located next to a bay named after them, because that's where they live, on the top of big steep slopes. Whether it is fish or meat, there is great abundance in that place, also because a large part of the cattle that are bred in the region are specifically used to keep them fed.

    As for the use of these magnificent creatures in battle, the rider usually uses a long spear or some long-distance weapon, for the Gryphon is already a powerful and frightening weapon in itself. But as I said above, they are mostly used for reconnaissance, since the rider and the mount share a very strong bond.
     
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  5. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    I need to do a blog post on this. Seriously. I've talked about this on probably a dozen podcasts and interviews.

    You can't control a gryphon or a pegasus the way a rider controls a horse; i.e., with your legs. You just can't. For so many reasons, the first one being that you can't sit on a winged horse the way you do on a regular one. The wings are in the way. This brings up a whole massive set of problems, which we'll get to in a moment.

    Supposing you put the wings really far forward, jutting out of the shoulders, so you can sit astride the horse without throwing it out of trim. (It's a magical animal, so why not?) You control a horse by guiding her with pressure from your legs. It becomes instinctive. When you're moving in three directions at high speed, you're using your legs to stabilize yourself. The mount won't know what you intend to do; it won't be able to discern your self-righting kick in its side from an urgent request to turn left RIGHT NOW. Add spurs, and enjoy the ride. Yikes.

    Also, the wings are in the way of your arms, so you can't fight with a sword or axe long enough to actually hit anybody else. More on that in a minute.

    When you jump a horse--I studied stunts on horseback in my youth--your legs fly up behind you on the way down. This is important, because again, the legs are control surfaces; you would have no control in a dive. Not good.

    I designed a saddle that sits atop the wings; the riders are tall, and lithe, mostly women. They belt their lower legs into the saddle and control the mount with pressure from their toes but also via a series of straps and reins, which aren't in this picture; this is just the basic design. I have several pages of sketches and equations and photocopied pages of biology texts devoted to this in my worldbuilding bible.

    Saddle Side.jpg

    The problems with this are myriad; all those belts and straps cause sores, abscesses, and tack gall. I had to build an entire research and development facility staffed with basically wizard veterinarians, a training cadre, special designs for castles that can employ air assets . . .

    Moving on.

    You can't joust when you're belted in; the impact will tear you in half. Keep in mind a warhorse weighs nearly as much as a small car, and a diving bird can easily surpass a hundred miles an hour. Ick.

    Then there's the whole vector physics angle; the "soccer ball cannon" episode of Mythbusters covered this but the short of it is that a bow isn't a gun. Top speed on even a heavy longbow (which is almost impossible to draw without having something to press your feet against, but, anyway) is around 100 miles an hour. If you were to shoot an arrow off the back of a flying horse--really, the only safe vector, for so many reasons--it would literally hang in the air and not move. Fired forward, the angular momentum of the mount gets added to the arrow speed, so the arrow isn't going to hit the mark you're aiming for when you think it will. And the whole trick to hitting a moving target with an arrow is to anticipate; read my posts in the Ask Me About Archery thread. It's really hard. It's also why bows are idiotic weapons; at anything more than 15 yards, all you have to do is step to the left when you hear the string. I watched a stuntman named Dragon Dronet cut an arrow out of the air at ten yards, drawing from a scabbard. It would be simple to juke in aerial combat and never get hit except by accident.

    (The reason for this is, as I said earlier, your opponent has to aim at where they expect you to be, and make the arrow appear at the same place you do in a few seconds--like, 150 feet per second plus or minus the speed of their mount depending on the direction, and you're talking hundreds of feet of distance at the speeds these things would be moving, so, windage, elevation, and judging the gap. All you'd have to do is never, ever, fly in a straight line in aerial combat for more than a second or two, and you won't get shot except out of stupid bad luck.)

    Lastly, calculating the difference in arrow speed for each angle off the gryphon would make you insane. If you had, say, an elf who had been practicing for five hundred years, she might be able to make it work.

    Where does that leave you?

    It leaves you with spears--not lances, but spears, thrown; one or two, tops--and with the birds themselves fighting (check YouTube for videos of birds fighting, especially eagles fighting for dominance), and the knights with longswords to break them up before they hit the ground. Time it right, and your opponent is a lawn dart and you pull up at the last minute. Assuming you have the strength, guts, and toughness to stay conscious all the way down.

    I use pegasi as aerial recon, messengers, VIP transport in a pinch, and in chevron formations doing ground-level sweeps to mow down infantry and intimidate charging cavalry. I use gryphons to kill pegasi. Pegasi are faster and easier to maintain, and harder to kill, but have no offensive ability short of running someone down, which is not to be underestimated. Getting hit by a running horse will kill you instantly. (I'm pretty sure the stuntman in this scene is not acting. He legit rag-dolls, and he knew it was coming; he even shifts his feet before impact to not get caught flat-footed. I hope the stunt coordinator bought him a case of Scotch and sent him flowers in the hospital.) Click here to see what I'm talking about: Joseph Malik WARNING GRAPHIC.

    EDIT: And this all depends on how realistic you want it to be. I mean, if you're writing MG fantasy for 9-year-olds, then you're not going to be worrying about any of this stuff. Or if you're in a magic-heavy milieu and your readers are cool with you hand-waving all this stuff and you're rolling with the Rule of Cool, go nuts. My way isn't the only way to do it, is what I'm saying.

    Anyway. Back to it. Have fun, and let me know what you come up with.
     
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2020
  6. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Auror

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    With Malik's large amount on all the physics and stuff, this is where the class of knights that fly the feathery bastards on Eld differ. They themselves are mage knights and toss around magic and have firearms to at least mid WW1 levels. So one get's all sorts of magic tossed about, goads that double as weapons and pithy banter about shock tactics whenever someone tosses about lightning. Throw in that they have been bred to be bigger and bigger as the millennia went by, they can be outfitted as bombers and fighters and infantry and calvary harnessers.
     
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  7. Morgoth_69

    Morgoth_69 Dreamer

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    I really love the passion and meticulousness with which you approach the subject, and in many cases I am also like that. I usually "waste" hours and hours researching certain real life topics in order to get a concrete picture of whether or not an idea of mine makes sense. However, sometimes I find myself thinking that this is fantasy, and as such, the vast majority of readers won't give much interest to certain details. It makes sense all the explanations you give, yes, but I think that if we find a point of convergence between the physical aspects of reality and the physical aspects of fantasy (which we can shape in any way we like), everything becomes easier.

    Regarding the difficulty in controlling a flying mount, at least in my world, the relationship between a Gryphon and a rider goes beyond a mere chemical brain reaction. In fact, it is much more than that. It is a magical bond that psychologically unites the two. This does not mean that the rider controls the creature at his own pleasure, but rather that they both share the decisions that are made while they are flying.

    PS - Excellent drawings you have there.
     
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  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Just a comment about carnivores. It doesn't necessarily mean they eat *any* meat. It would be no trouble at all to say gryphons in your world eat this or that, but not this other.
     
  9. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Minstrel

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    Adding to what has been said here already, especially the very detailed reply by MalikMalik, I'd like to point out a couple extra points pertaining the maintenance of a gryphon fleet:
    • You have to ask yourself, are they territorial? If they're like bears, mature ones may not stand to be next to another gryphon at all and they'll tend to fight each other. Of course, they might be like african lions and only one sex is the exclusive one while the other is who builds up and controls the group. This will define where and how you have to build and configure the place you keep them in.
      • Related, mind their wings. They'll probably like to have space to stretch them from time to time.
      • Also heavily related, when they're not being used, gryphons probably like to fly freely in the same way horses like to run in big open spaces. How are you going to handle this? Flying magical walls maybe?
    • Now about the maintenance itself of the gryphons. How expensive and difficult it is? I mean, you won't have a fleet of them if they're too costly to maintain.
      • Meat certainly is not cheap and harder to get, in comparison with just growing pastures for horses. And even worse, maybe your gryphons cannot eat any kind of meat, making your costs rise more.
      • And don't forget that it's not just the training and maintenance of the gryphons, this also implies their riders and the people who take care of them. So, how difficult (and, again, expensive) is to ride a gryphon? It's in the fighter-jet level of difficulty?
    • Finally, take also into account that animals such as horses or donkeys have been domesticated by humans through a long period of time. Are your gryphons from a domesticated kind (they're breeded) or must be hunted? The answer to this will also affect your costs highly, since I don't think hunting these creatures is going to be easy or cheap, even less if you want them relatively unharmed.
    Of course, you could hand-wave these and related problems with all kinds of magic, but it may cheapen your story a bit.
     
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  10. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    It would be easy enough; I would think to keep flocks of sheep or goats around the Aeries. You obviously wouldn't want your mounts to get hungry enough to eat the person riding them (unless it is a "crashed in the mountains" type situation). As morbid as it sounds, perhaps a rider would gladly sacrifice themselves in disasterous situations; to save the life of the Gryphon.

    Perhaps among the people shepherding could even be a "desirable" occupation, rewarded even, to continue building the practice as the need for more and more of the feed animals becomes necessary. Maybe the "king" compensates (top dollar) the shepherd for each one eaten by a gryphon.

    I would see them bred from cubs, domesticated for years before they are ridden. Perhaps they even choose their own riders, grow up together to create a stronger bond between them and less likelihood the rider would become dinner. Anne McCaffrey did something like this in her Pern series with dragons. You could design a whole institution/academy around gryphon riders, a whole subculture of your society.

    I could also see them working well as escorts for airships. Imagine 3 or 4 aboard each ship (to save their strength for combat), then flying out at the last moment (as a surprise attack) to take on enemy aggressors. Having airships could also help with the logistics issue, if you keep livestock/meat aboard the ships. I did some world-building in this area specifically. I imagined the crewmen with "parachute" charms, in case something dire happens to their ship, or if they fall overboard. Wizards with "farseer" charms to keep an eye on the ground below, monitor battles from above and perhaps even units of marines that provide backup to the ground forces.

    I also keep this idea in the back of my head as something I want to do, but differently. I imagine my dragons as overgrown (12-15' long), flightless lizards that are domesticated from the time they hatch and are ridden into combat or simply as mounts. They aren't that common, it takes a special type of person to link with one (haven't figured out the details of this). I did think about the logistics of it, most principally, the food issue with big carnivores, but not much else.
     
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  11. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    My favorite part with the poor stuntman is how he threw his sword to the side to keep from injuring anyone else, especially the oncoming horse. Fast thinking.

    We're bringing in war bears, because war bears. We have a lot of dwarves in this book and three armies on the march. Figuring out bear physics is entertaining. Ah, war.

    Also, Malik, loving your research notes more than is entirely reasonable.
     
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  12. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    I was strongly advised to write off those readers because they were such an insignificant demographic that the ROI on getting your details correct enough to satisfy them would never pencil out.

    My debut novel sold over 10,000 copies in 18 months by catering specifically to those readers. The support of that "insignificant demographic" landed the sequel 25th on a Goodreads list for the Hugo two years later. They're a much, much larger readership than anyone in publishing has given them credit for, and they are a ride-or-die fan base if you can win them over. OTOH, some of them are insane, so take it or leave it.
     
  13. Morgoth_69

    Morgoth_69 Dreamer

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    You misunderstood me a little... I didn't want to imply in any way that certain meticulous details don't fit in the narrative, on the contrary! What I meant was that we have to find a point of unity between aspects of Wordbuilding and the narrated story. I could write a 50,000-word text detailing all the aspects of my world from the beginning of time to the present day, and only 5% of those details (if that much) fit into the narrative. That's the harsh reality.

    I'm glad for your success and I find it very interesting the explanation you just gave about your readers.
     
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  14. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    We're writers. We do homework for a living.
     
  15. Morgoth_69

    Morgoth_69 Dreamer

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    No argument against that. I spent dozens of hours (and still do) working on a timeline of my world and a detailed map of the continent where the plot takes place for some reason. I don't care if any of it (or at least the majority) will not be seen, I'm proud to think everything from scratch. It helps a lot to see the bigger picture.
     
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  16. This made me wonder two things.

    1. Would controlling it like an elephant instead of a horse work better? So instead of using your legs use a stick with a hook on the end.

    2. Why not put two riders on there? One in front of the wings and one behind them. That way, you can have one of them worry about steering the animal and one about fighting.

    It does sound like its main use is in air to ground combat and not so much in fighting airial combat.

    Also, eating meat is not always a downside. I once heat the story that the first guys to the south pole (and back) managed to be first because they used dogs to pull their sled, unlike their competitors who used horses. They could travel with fewer supplies because they could feed some of their dogs to the other dogs instead of having to bring along a lot of fodder.

    I can imagine this working in a war setting as well. Lots of meat lying around. It lets you travel faster with fewer provisions.
     
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