Terror of the Goblins

When it comes to hiring troop types, you can’t go wrong with goblin wolf riders.

First of all, they’re cheap -15 gp/month compared to 30 gp/month for light calvary and 60 gp/month for heavy calvary.

Second of all, they’re crazy powerful. The goblins themselves aren’t too great (1-1 HD), but their wolves are 4 HD monsters, making them tougher than even heavy war horses (although they only get 1 attack versus 2 for war horses).

So they’re pretty nasty even with standard ACKS rules, but it’s even worse with the DoW manuscript. Let’s compare the stat lines of heavy calvary (3,600 gp/month) vs goblin wolf riders (900 gp/month).

60 Heavy Cavalry 3/6/9 FM 6 1-1 6 +2 2 lance & shield 11+
Charge: 3 hooves 8+ -

60 Wolf Riders 2/5/7 IM 3 5 20 0 2 spear and shield 10+
Charge: 4 bite 6+ -

The humans have better organization, being formed mounted versus irregular mounted, are faster, better morale and better AC. However, the wolf riders get more attacks and have more than 3x the UHP of the human calvary. Only bugbear heavy infantry (and hobgoblin wolf riders) are tougher.

This strikes me as mechanically unsatisfactory (I’m obviously ignoring all the problems that come with relying on chaotic goblins in your army). The basic problem seems to stem from the fact in how Unit Hit Dice and HP are calculated.

Unit Hit Dice Mount will fight without its rider: Sum of rider and mount’s HD
Mount will flee without its rider: Rider’s HD
Unit Hit Points* Mount will fight without its rider: (Unit HD) x (number of cavalry) / 15
Mount will flee without its rider: 2 x (Unit HD) x (number of cavalry) / 15

If we change the Unit HD for mounts that will fight without its rider to the AVERAGE of rider and mount’s HD, then our goblins will look like this.

60 Wolf Riders 2/5/7 IM 3 5 11 0 2 spear and shield 10+
Charge: 4 bite 6+ -

This unit is still a terror, having almost twice the HP as the heavy calvary and a bargain (costing 1/4 the amount), but seems to be less of an outlier.

Thoughts, suggestions, plans for the Great Goblin Empire?

I'm curious as to other's thoughts in this regard. Wolf Riders are definitely tough. But it's because they are really tough in ACKS. Each dire wolf is as powerful as an ogre.

The problem with having a Wolf Rider's UHD and uhp equal the average of the rider and the wolf are that it would make a unit of wolf riders less powerful than a unit of wolves by themselves. 

In a world with proficiencies such as Beast Friendship and spells such as Charm Animal, my assumption was that a unit of dire wolves could be fielded on the battlefield and would fight. As such, wolf riders need to be at least as good as just wolves.

If one doesn't think that a unit of dire wolves could be fielded as such, then this problem is less and one can say that the wolves run away without the goblins.

In general, being Irregular Cavalry is a very large disadvantage. You're very susceptible to being Charged (since you can't Ready, you can't ever counter-charge), and you don't get the benefit of being able to use your speed to Disengage or Withdraw.


I’m for keeping the rules the way they are. They make sense. It’s kind of like a phalanx of goblins and dire wolves.

Or, to quote a wise man:

“Contrary to what most people say, the most dangerous animal in the world is not the lion or the tiger or even the elephant. It's a shark riding on an elephant's back, just trampling and eating everything they see.”
Jack Handy

Does it really make sense for the wolf rider unit to be more than 3x as tough as the heavy calvary, despite being 1/4 the cost? If you look at the core ACKS statistics, a dire wolf is only 1 HD tougher than a heavy warhorse, and actually will receive fewer attacks. The wolf’s edge is fairly small. So in this case, the ACKS rules and the DoW rules will produce significantly divergent results.

Alex’s suggestion of simply treating dire wolves as animals which will not stay and fight does solve the problem, but I still think that the unit formulas should be tweaked.

On the other hand, I’m intrigued by your suggestion of elephant-mounted shark troops, and will probably spend a bit of time calculating their unit characteristics.

/In a world with proficiencies such as Beast Friendship and spells such as Charm Animal, my assumption was that a unit of dire wolves could be fielded on the battlefield and would fight. As such, wolf riders need to be at least as good as just wolves./

In such a world, we might also wonder if a unit of horses could be fielded on the battlefield.

Orangefruitbat, horses are prey animals. Wolves are predators. Horses instinctively flee from attackers. Wolves instinctively fight back. Horses do not pursue defeated enemies. Wolves instinctly chase and finish off weakened enemies.

There's a reason no one puts encounters with horses in their low-level dungeons. Claiming that the two types of creatures are the same simply because of HD / # of At isn't realistic.

The strength and sturdiness of horses is doubtless enormous, but a warhorse without its rider is not a meaningful combatant on the battlefield. On the other hand, a worg without its rider is still a vicious combatant. A warhorse is a means of augmenting the strength and fighting prowess of a man. A goblin rider is a way of steering a warg.

That said, *you aren't wrong* that goblin riders are cheap for their value. I think the reason is because I'm handwaving away how difficult it is to control aggressive mounts. The rules have the same weakness in attempting to model elephants without their elephant riders.

Here's an idea for handling troops like warg riders, elephants, and possibly, e.g. war dogs, dinosaurs, and so on:

1) The units must make shock rolls if they reach 1/4 uhp or less, rather than 1/2 hp.

2) Shock and morale results of "flee" are replaced with "frenzy". In a frenzy, the unit immediately changes to face a random direction (roll 1d6) and then charges towards the nearest unit (of any type on either side). If it reaches the targeted unit, it makes an immediate attack sequence against it. (If already adjacent to the unit, it simply attacks it.) At the conclusion of the attack sequence, the unit routs off the table, having dispersed into an uncontrollable mob, been put down by its mahout, etc.

That would make worg riders and elephants and similar units have quite a distinct flavor - not as tough as they seem based on uhp and with a delightful dangerous to them. 


  1. The units must make shock rolls if they reach 1/4 uhp or less, rather than 1/2 hp.

To clarify, you mean here that they reach 1/4 of their uhp, or that they have lost 1/4 of their UHP? I think from the following paragraph that you mean lost 1/4, but am not certain.

Yes, sorry. I was typing fast. When they are reduced by 1/4 of their hp, as compared to by 1/2.

This might help / I would like to chime in with my particular brand of pedantry:

A typical grey wolf requires something like 6-8 pounds of meat a day to live and reproduce and be generally happy. It weighs about 85 pounds. Let’s be generous and round that up to 8 pounds of meat a day for a 100 pound animal.

A wolf the size of a horse (a dire wolf) is going to weigh about 1,000 pounds (let’s be generous, because a Dire Wolf has more HD than a heavy warhorse, which weighs like 1,500-2,000 pounds). Let’s be generous and say that a Dire Wolf needs 80 pounds of meat and fat a day for an average animal of 800-1,000 pounds.

Meat is inherently more difficult to obtain, store, and transport than fodder for horses. An army on the march cannot graze its horses, so the 240gp/unit supply cost for cavalry includes the pounds of dry fodder for horses. An army on the march cannot allow its Dire Wolves to go foraging in the country - not that there would even be enough food for that many wolves of that size.

In ACKS, a pound of meat costs 1sp. That’s 8gp a day to feed a single dire wolf.

8gp a day. That’s 56gp a week per wolf. That’s 3,360gp a week to feed 60 wolves. You also have to feed the Goblins/Hobgoblins and supply them at the base cost of 240 for goblins, water, butchers, what have you. 3,600 a week.

All of this is to say that the base 240gp/week for a unit of cavalry just won’t cut it when it comes to wolves the size of horses.

Do they still seem like a bargain? Probably not.

But wait! We can redo these assuming you get your meat in head of cattle, which are cheaper per pound of meat. That averages to about 2cp per pound of meat. That still adds up to 672gp/week to feed 60 wolves. This is probably what I would do, and then I would add that 240gp base to that cost - have to feed all those cattle. Smooth it out and we get 912gp/week in supply costs for a unit of sixty wolf riders. You still need the base 240 added to that for shepherds and to I’d also rule that if you get defeated, your giant herd of cattle gets captured.

Run the numbers now, assuming a 4 week month:

Cost of a Unit of Heavy Cavalry per month: 3,600 + 240*4 = 4,560gp a month

Cost of a Unit of Wolf Riders per month, using cattle: 900 + 1,152*4 = 5,508gp a month.

Which is… remarkably similar. Fascinating. The wolf riders still make your army more susceptible to disruptions in your cash flow and changes in supply lines.

Of course, those prices assume you can enough head of cattle a month in your local city (Hint: You can’t. You can find 100 a month with a Class I Market as a supply base. That feeds about 625 dire wolves - ten units. A class II Market can support 3 units at that price. A Class III Market can only support a single unit of wolf riders at that price. Basically, Great Goblin Empire can support a limited supply of super-predator mounted cavalry.

If you also deplete your markets of sheep and goats - other animals you can drive, whose meat is more expensive at 3cp a pound, you get about 4 more units in a Class I market, 1 more unit in a class II market, and half a unit in a class III market.)

At a price where you have to source meat at slaughter prices (that’s 1sp a pound), you’re in big trouble.

A unit of wolf riders will cost a shocking: 900 + 3,600*4 = 15,300gp a month.

Let’s take the average of those two weekly costs, though, assuming you can get half your meat from herding cattle (A big assumption): 900 + 2,376*4 = 10,404gp a month. That’s more than twice what a unit of heavy cavalry costs to employ.

I’d like to extrapolate further and find some truly meaningful average that gives us a good supply price for carnivores, but I don’t have the time. Maybe in the future.

TL;DR: If your players insist on hiring legions of wolf riders, I suggest bringing up the increased supply cost that will entail. It probably cost about twice what heavy cavalry cost, once wages and supply are taken into account.

As an aside:

I’d like to point out Wolf Riders’ inferior morale score. Makes a huge difference in play. They’re also irregular cavalry, as Alex has noted.

Brilliant analysis, Maticore. The fact that it emerges such that heavy cavalry and worg riders cost the same is a beautiful emergent property. It also addresses a gap in the rules I hadn't handled, which is supply cost for monstrous creatures.

Supply cost can be 60gp per unit of man-sized creatures. and 240gp per unit of cavalry or ogre-sized creatures or larger.  Carnivorous monsters (including units of dire wolves, dragons, wyverns, etc.) cost 4x. 


A flat 4x modifier is a good idea. It keeps us from unnecessary bean counting and means that a unit of Wolf Riders still costs a few hundred more than a unit of heavy cavalry, because you have to feed sixty super-carnivores that are eating their body weight in other animals every ten days.

Note that bear cavalry can be fed berries and some vegetables, and therefore should warrant maybe a 2x supply modifier. Bear cavalry for the win, I guess. On the other end, polar bear cavalry need an incredible amount of blubber and fat, and should probably warrant a 5x modifier.

It also means to feed an ancient dragon, you need to bring a huge baggage train of live animals - the image of which I love!

Let’s do the supply costs of a unit of rust monsters next! (joking.)

Does this apply only to carnivorous monsters, or does a unit of war dogs cost 4 times as much to supply as a unit of men?

One advantage of carnivores, though, is that you could convert prisoner ransom values into meat supply for them :stuck_out_tongue: Probably not efficient, but if you’re really out of supply…

Dogs are omnivorous.



Touche, Mr. Macris. :wink:

This is great. My players would be horrified in the best way.

On that line, you can also add the casualties as spoils of war. Even your own!

As we speak, some wizard somewhere is developing an unholy crossbreed of cow with a gelatinous cube (for the digestive ability, and for the cubic shape) with a splash of gray ooze or rust monster for a mobile meat platform that can digest anything to grow.

Mobile meat platform.

If anyone’s read Astonishing Swordsman and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, the Thew Wagon is what I’m imagining here visually.

I’d definitely see dire wolves living off enemy (or ally) casualties. So that is why wolf riders are so cheap for their effectiveness, constant bloody warfare is the only way that goblins can keep their mounts fed. You do not want your dire wolves getting hungry enough to consider you a source of sustenance.

Fun note: Goblins and their mounts are not likely to differentiate the ally and enemy casualties after a battle, nor do they necessarily care if you are dead, or merely seriously injured (if it can’t fight back, it’s food; if it can fight back, it MIGHT not be food… yet).

Problematically, casualties would spoil pretty quickly. You’re good for four or so days there.