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A place for Minotaurs

Over the weekend a young acquaintance mentioned his desire to play a (D&D3) minotaur paladin, and some resistance he had met to the idea. I took the time to explain that the resistance was probably not to the idea as such, but the extra work that would be required to align the DM's world such that any minotaur character and their companions would not be confronted by torch-and-pitchfork wielding mobs / local adventurers / bounty hunters / heroes of the realm in every dominion and at every outpost of civilisation.

By the time the conversation had finished however my worldbuilders brain had come up with an outline for how a larger race with a reliable number of relatively peaceable members would probably be incorporated into a fantasy society without ending up in charge. I present a minotaur version of that below as a plug-in suitable for dropping into a fantasy world, but first would like to take off on a couple of tangents.

Firstly, on really looking at the 3E monster manual oh how the minotaur has changed from my mental picture, now more beast than the large bull-headed man of myth.

"Now": the 3E illustration of the Minotaur

Then: the Minotaur from iconic D&D module B2: Keep on the Borderlands

Another aspect which "owlbear fantasy" has over time added to the minotaur is a complete immunity to mazes and the like; whereas the original Cretan minotaur was imprisoned in a labyrinth with no better chance to find his way out than any other individual and the Basic Set minotaurs merely "often live in tunnels or mazes".

Secondly considering why the standard roleplaying fantasy worlds do not have larger races commonly available.

In the first instance of course the tolkienesque and greco/roman standards have (almost) all the larger humanoids portrayed as fierce enemies, or still dangerous and unpredictable individuals even where they may deign to aid the protagonists. Even in more recent, enlightened games there is a subtle underlying throwback to the unpleasant idea of "humanoid" races being irredeemably base; simple, violent and brutal purely by virtue of birth. (The vast amounts of violence and brutality by the PC races on the other hand being handily justified.)

The second traditional instance is called balance; given the combat advantage that a larger race gives in the violent world most fantasy adventurers inhabit, and the predominance of dungeons scaled for them to navigate #10footcorridors you can either construct your large races with "unrealistic" penalties, power-creep up your other races with other advantages, or leave it up the the poor DM to shoulder the work and the burden, if they are willing, of enforcing on the larger characters situations where their size is sufficient disadvantage to counter the times it is a benefit (narrow spaces, hostile social situations, the increased cost and rarity of equipment).

(This is related to what I have seen referred to as "the elf effect", the effort spent powering down the powerful NPC tolkein-like elven race to be on a par with human adventurers.)

Fortunately D&D3E (or more generically, the d20SRD) allows for this balance issue to be addressed within the mechanics. Arcana Unearthed has civilised giants (or be they only of ogrish size)(who are the rulers in the setting) as a PC race, but while greater in stature than most humans they do not actually break through into the "large" category until three levels have been taken in the "Giant" racial class (sacrificing three levels of advancement in whatever adventuring class/es the character is taking). Similarly the D&D3E supplement Savage Species breaks apart monster abilities, including size and ability score increases, into abilities gained through taking racial classes. Conveniently they use the minotaur as their main worked example.

The minotaur has an ECL of 8 in the rules, meaning a full grown minotaur could not be introduced with a single level of PC class (eg Paladin) until the party reached level 9. Savage Species rules enforce that no non-racial class levels may be taken until the racial class progression is complete explicitly to prevent players making characters with one or two levels in the race to get a particular nifty ability. I kind of agree but find it less interesting from the perspective of exploring the relationship between a monster character's race/POV and their class and would house-rule this to be that a character can have no more character levels than racial levels until the racial progression is complete.

(The minotaur reaches Large size at level 6 as compared to the AU giant's level 3, but gains a lot more ability score boosts and a natural attack along the way.)

In a game where the first and last courses of action usually come down to someone inflicting violence on someone else size might not be a balance issue at all, but that game is unlikely to be D&D.

Coming back to fitting minotaurs into society. My proposed minotaur is back to the man-bull archetype; clearly related to or at least relatable to human stock. They can be fierce and dangerous when aroused but are generally calm, both simple and single minded by human standards. They tend to be solitary, especially in relation to their own kind, and it is rare to find more than three choosing to reside in the same area and on good terms with each other. Pairings resulting in a child usually split up after a year or two, the youth accompanying one or other parent to learn their trade.

Wherever they travel their size is usually greeted with equal parts fear and awe, but they are welcomed not only for their willingness to labour (at least until someone inevitably treats them like "cattle"; their INT may be low but their WIS is as good as any of the other races) but for the skills they bring. Minotaurs are master crafters and artisans in their chosen fields, creating items whose quality endures and whose intricate beauty entraps the mind as their mythical ancestor entrapped men within it's labyrinth. Those who have the skill points to spare and access to Knowledge: Architecture & Engineering as a class skill (usually through levels in the Expert NPC class) are sought after as architects, not only in human lands but among the fortress builders of giantish races.

Minotaurs do not work well together, two or more applied to the same task will almost inevitably compete to do it best and fall into a violent argument. Some canny foremen take advantage of this rivalry by assigning one minotaur per work crew set about similar tasks. An exception to this rule are certain elite units of minotaur personal guard, sought after by nobility across the realms. Most however can only afford the upkeep of a single minotaur bodyguard, which given the reputation of these fighters is generally considered enough.

Those who choose to devote themselves to holy orders (often to deities of strength or crafting/art) also generally work well together but tend to become wandering champions of their faiths and rarely meet. Hushed rumours whisper of minotaur blackguards dwelling in conquered fortresses and leading armies through the wilderness, or minotaur devotees of Erythnul slaughtering groups of travelers single-handedly.

Other minotaurs who consider themselves not (or do not wish to be) welcome among the "fragile humans" do retreat to the wilderness, some even establishing lairs and constructing maze-like tunnel systems in honour of "the first minotaur". After all, who is the hero and who is the villain depends very much which side of the story you are on.

This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth.
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