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More Than Just a Shaggy Ogre
Wandering Monsters
By James Wyatt

I n my last column, I discussed two humanoids, both about 9 feet tall, with Strength scores of 18 and Intelligence scores in the 5–7 range. There’s another creature that fits that description, but it has a lot more going on than just its Strength score and stupidity: the minotaur.

The Mythic Minotaur

The Greek legend of the Minotaur (capitalized!) is pretty well-known: the Minotaur was the monstrous offspring of the Cretan queen Pasiphaë and a snow-white bull sent by Poseidon and intended for sacrifice. It was imprisoned in a labyrinth created by Daedalus and his son Icarus, and young men and women were sent into the labyrinth as sacrifices and to feed the Minotaur.

In other words, the Minotaur is a horrible monster created by a divine curse, and it feasts on flesh and is imprisoned in a labyrinth.

The Classic D&D Minotaur

In D&D, minotaurs are hulking creatures with great strength, unimpressive intelligence but significant cunning, and keen senses that help them navigate the labyrinths (or labyrinthine wildernesses) they choose as their homes. They’re encountered in small groups of up to eight, and they often worship the demon prince Baphomet, who looks a lot like a great minotaur himself.

But the classic D&D minotaur is just one expression of the minotaur myth in the game.

The Other D&D Minotaurs

In the world of Krynn (the setting of the Dragonlance saga), minotaurs are a civilized race of warriors and seafarers. The Dragonlance setting introduced the idea of minotaurs as a playable race that has continued through every subsequent edition of the game. In 4th Edition, minotaurs are Medium-sized and reasonably civilized, sometimes even good-aligned, although an undercurrent of bestial savagery runs through the race. Minotaurs who succumb to “the Beast Within” and worship Baphomet are savage and evil, and these evil minotaurs dominate some minotaur cities. The large, savage minotaurs of past editions are described as being “infused with demonic blood.”

And then we have the yikaria, introduced in the Al-Qadim setting in 2nd Edition. Also called yak-men (or, unfortunately, yak-folk), the yikaria are cunning magicians who can take on human form by donning a human skin over their shaggy, yaklike forms. This distinct race, not previously connected to minotaurs, inspired the evil cabalist minotaurs of 4th Edition.

Putting It Together

As much as possible, when we look at monsters, we’re trying to take an inclusive approach: whatever you love about a monster from any edition of the game ought to still be possible in the new game, not contradicted by any lore we present. We’ve got a tricky path to tread with the minotaur, but see what you think of the following story treatment.

The creatures most commonly called minotaurs are large, shaggy, savage, and evil. They’re not a race, per se—they’re more like a phenomenon. Baphomet has many cultists throughout the world, and they view morality and custom as shackles that prevent people from living according to their true nature: as animals do. Baphomet is the lord of the Beast Within, teaching his cultists to cast off those chains and live in savage freedom. Sometimes, when Baphomet’s petitioners plead with him for strength and power, he rewards them by transforming them into minotaurs. Some cultists thus transformed view it as a blessing, others as a curse, and each viewpoint largely depends on the opinion they held of Baphomet before the transformation.

The transformation often happens to a single cultist—sometimes a leader and sometimes an ambitious underling. In some of these cases, the minotaur remains with the Baphomet cult, serving the cult as both a guardian and a totem or icon of sorts. Other times, the minotaur flees from the cult’s shrine or temple and makes its own way in the world. When a group of minotaurs is encountered, it’s typically what remains of an entire cult of Baphomet that received his blessing at once. These groups rarely number more than eight.

Much like ogres, minotaurs use heavy melee weapons (favoring axes) and hit really hard. They also have good charge attacks, butting or goring with their horns. Their embrace of the Beast Within means they fight with savage ferocity, often in a rage-fueled berserk state.

Minotaurs are not smart, but they are cunning and have keen senses—and a particular gift for navigating mazes, which echo the enormous labyrinth that is Baphomet’s domain. They can track by scent, particularly the smell of blood.

You’ll notice that this story incorporates some elements of the Greek myth back into the D&D monster, but doesn’t really address the variant minotaurs of D&D history. Well, we think we’d have to stretch the idea of the minotaur too far to incorporate both sailor-soldiers and cunning skin-changers. Both of those monsters can exist in the D&D game, but in separate monster (or player character race) entries for Krynn minotaurs and yikaria.

It’s not that I hate these monsters—I particularly love the yikaria—it’s just that I don’t want to mess too much with what a minotaur is and has always been.

What Do You Think?

This minotaur marks a departure from the normal way of thinking about monsters in D&D. Most of the time, we imagine that any fantastic creature encountered in the world of D&D is a representative of a larger race. If minotaurs are transformed cultists, the racial element of the minotaur’s story is necessarily true—there might be only one minotaur, or one cult of minotaurs, in your whole campaign world. We don’t have to posit entire species and civilizations to give you an interesting monster for players to interact with in the game. But does it work?

To try to get at the right issues, I’m abandoning our traditional 1–5 scale of monster “rightness.” These answers should let you tell us clearly what you think, but feel free to expand on your thoughts in the comments.

This Week's Polls

 How well do the minotaurs we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D minotaur?  
No good—savage minotaurs should be a natural race in the world.
Insufficient—I like the way 4E combined three approaches to minotaurs into one race.
Too far from the source—I want the singular Greek minotaur in my game, not some bizarre Baphomet cultist.
So-so—the curse sounds right, but maybe it happened a long time ago and established the minotaur race.
Pretty good—I like the story here, but I would tweak it in specific ways. (Comments!)
Awesome—this is how I will use minotaurs in my games.

 How important is it that you can create minotaur player characters?  
1—I don’t want it.
2—It’s OK for some people, and confining it to “Krynn minotaurs” is fine.
3—I would like to see a Medium minotaur variant as part of the normal minotaur race and play it as a character.
4—I must be able to play a Large minotaur character.

Previous Poll Results

How well do the ogres we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D ogre?
4--Yeah, I recognize that as an ogre. 896 60.5%
5--Never has the ogre been so perfectly summarized. 383 25.9%
3--It's starting to sound like an ogre. 107 7.2%
2--I see the vague, hulking outline of an ogre here. 59 4.0%
1--It sounds like something an exceptionally stupid ogre would come up with. 35 2.4%
Total 1480 100.0%

How well do the trolls we’ve described here match your sense of the iconic D&D troll?
4--Yeah, I recognize that as a troll. 733 49.4%
5--It nails the troll. Not that that's hard. 546 36.8%
3--You got the regeneration part right, at least. 163 11.0%
2--It takes tremendous liberties with the concept of troll. 32 2.2%
1--Not in any sense of the word 'troll' is that a troll. 11 0.7%
Total 1485 100.0%

How about the ogre mage? Do you agree that it should be a separate species?
Yes, and it should be called an oni in the rules. 814 52.6%
Yes, though I want to call it an ogre mage. 481 31.1%
No, they're ogres and they should be called ogres. 214 13.8%
Yes, but go old school and call it a Japanese ogre. 39 2.5%
Total 1548 100.0%
James Wyatt
James Wyatt is the Creative Manager for Dungeons & Dragons R&D at Wizards of the Coast. He was one of the lead designers for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and the primary author of the 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. He also contributed to the Eberron Campaign Setting, and is the author of several Dungeons & Dragons novels set in the world of Eberron.
Comments
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I appreciate the effort made to incorporate so much myth into making a classically-styled, playable monster race. I personally would play this race as one born both of Baphomet's transformation and through the natural breeding of generations of Minotaurs. The philosophy included now within the Compendium related to their labyrinthine mindset is very creative and I can see it being a wonderful jumping off point to many interesting character qualities in Minotaur characters.
  
Posted By: bodotp (9/24/2013 4:17:28 PM)
Rating: 
0.51.01.52.02.53.03.54.04.55.0

 


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