We’re back with May’s Unearthed Arcana taking a look at playable races for Centaurs and Minotaurs! Minotaurs previously appeared in 2015, but they’re back and revised alongside their fellow ‘taur.
Even as a DM, I love seeing new player options, especially races, come out. I was relieved initially when the Monster Manual did not have any statistics for using monsters as races, meaning I had good reason to keep my players to the options in the Player’s Handbook. But it has been a few years and I’m ready for some monstrous characters, so bring on ‘taurs!
This is the first time we’ve seen rules from our friends at Wizards of the Coast for playing a centaur character, and I think from a fluff perspective they’ve done a good job of capturing what the Centaur is all about. Comparing them to being “Nature’s Calvary” and the information on their communities and names paints a nice picture of what it means to be your average centaur and provides some nice snippets for character potential. In particular I like the part where it mentioned that most foals are given the name of the most recently deceased family member to carry on their memory and spirit, as that could have ramifications in both the character’s backstory and future session roleplay.
From a mechanical perspective, I’ve decided to compare with both the Monster Manual entry for Centaurs, alongside another race from the Player’s Handbook to see how it stacks up. I was torn between Dragonborn and Wood Elf, but I opted for the latter as they both fit the same theme and probably have more interesting compare and contrast potential.
Let’s start with changes from the Monster Manual; size, speed, and their Hooves attack are the three most obvious traits to look at. These have all been reduced to better fit the capabilities that a player should inherit from their race, but that doesn’t mean that all make sense. If Centaurs are normally Large (they are horses, after all), I find it odd that the playable version marks them at Medium, even with noting their larger size compared to other Medium creatures. If anything, this makes them more vulnerable, which I think is the point, but it just doesn’t fit too cleanly in my mind. Likewise, their speed has been reduced by 10 ft, from 50 ft to 40ft, and their Hooves attack went from 2d6+4 down to 1d6+strength. Both of those changes don’t bother me anywhere near as much as the size difference, so I can understand these. Their charge ability has also understandably been changed as well alongside a few other minor tweaks, but let’s not dwell too much longer on the Monster Manual version.
As I said previously, we’ll be comparing the Centaur to the Wood Elf to see how they stack up. Their +2/+1 modifier is standard fare, going into Strength and Wisdom, making for a great druid, cleric, ranger, or even fighter. And their 40 ft movement is only just ahead of the Wood Elf’s 35 ft movement, meaning that their speed is not in egregious territory. The Centaur’s Survival proficiency is on par with the Wood Elf’s Perception, though the Wood Elf also has Darkvision to help it out. And while the Centaur has its built in Hooves, the Wood Elf gains some weapon masteries that keep it on par via swords and bows- something I honestly would expect the Centaur to have with Spears and Bows. And then we have the Centaur’s Charge, which is usable once per rest. This is basically a weapon-die-only automatic critical, meaning it allows you to roll an extra weapon damage die, but not other dice that would normally double such as from Sneak Attack. On the contrary, Wood Elves can hide outside when lightly obscured, are immune to sleep, and have advantage against being charmed.
Right up until the end I would say it was pretty even, but I think that the Wood Elf slightly edges out the Centaur- which in my mind is a good thing. It means that nothing is broken, and the Centaur is welcome in my game! Also of note, Centaurs can carry as though they were large creatures, but climb horrendously slow due to their builds, and count as both Monstrosities (the Monster Manual creature type) as well as Humanoids, which is key for being affected by certain spells, both bane and boon. Their aforementioned changes from the Monster Manual also keep them level with similar abilities such as natural attacks, so overall, it gets a thumbs up!
Ah yes, the Minotaur, one of my all-time favorite monsters. I played a Minotaur once back in 3.5 for a couple sessions and loved every axe-cleaving moment of it. Also, as someone who played Tauren in World of Warcraft, it’s nice to bring that to the tabletop. Since the Minotaur appeared back in 2015 and this is a revision, not a lot of fluff was given for this version of the Minotaur other than that they are suitable for Krynn-based Minotaur and other places where Baphomet’s influence has not reached.
Same as the Centaur, let’s compare to the Monster Manual entry to identify changes, and then compare to it’s easiest direct comparison- the Half-Orc!
Right away, we see similar changes as we saw in the Centaur; size, speed, dual-types, and their built-in natural weapon. I can see a better argument for causing the Minotaur to be a Medium than a Large than I could for the Centaur, and the playable information places these particular Minotaur to be just over 6 feet, which is smaller than how they are presented in the Monster Manual (likely due to the lack of Baphomet’s influence!). Likewise, speed has gone down from 40 ft to the standard 30 ft. So far so good! Their horn natural attack, called Gore previously, changed from 2d8+4 down to 1d6+strength, matching similar natural attack changes. They had some other changes that we will look at while we compare to their barbaric soul brothers, the Half-Orcs.
Minotaur and Half-Orcs have a lot of similarities. Both have a +2/+1 into Strength and Constitution. Both are proficient in Intimidation. Both… uh… like big axes? Ok, so maybe they’re only similar on the surface, but surely their abilities reflect similar taste! While Half-Orcs have the Savage Attacks ability that adds another damage die when they land a critical hit, Minotaur can make a Goring Rush. They can dash and immediately make a Horn attack as a bonus action, allowing them to cover a lot of ground and then make an attack. It may not be as much damage as a greataxe, and it may not be an additional damage die, but it is likely to come up more often than a critical is landed so there is definitely some potential there. The other abilities we can compare are the Half-Orcs Relentless Endurance, where they can, once per long rest, drop to 1 hit point instead of 0, surviving all but the most brutal attacks. Minotaurs on the other hand can using Hammering Horns which allows them to use their reaction to shove a creature away after a successful attack. This is a great ability as it had potential to save your more fragile party members if they get too close to the action and don’t want to waste their turn disengaging. It’s not quite as life or death as the Half-Orc ability, but again it can be used as often as needed so long as the Minotaur has their reaction.
I think if you held up both race’s abilities in a vacuum, the Half-Orc seems stronger by virtue that their abilities are a lot more potent. The Minotaur, however, is not limited to rolling a critical or surviving damage once per day, and the fact that those abilities are ready whenever and however often the Minotaur needs them evens things out, if not slightly puts them in the favor of bovine. Similar to the Centaur again, the Minotaur is both a Monstrosity and a Humanoid. I think the Minotaur gets a thumb and a horn up, because it is situationally, and not objectively, better than the Half-Orc. Also, this:
I’m pretty happy with May’s Unearthed Arcana. I would even call it a monstrous success! Both the Centaur and revised Minotaur seem balanced, and even with a few iffy changes from their Monster Manual versions, they are ready to be played in a campaign without causing too much fuss or issues due to size or strength. Both have a lot of potential as well with storytelling and roleplaying opportunities that are unique to the race, and even in settings where Baphomet has touched the Minotaur population, there is nothing stopping the character from somehow being free from his influence and seeks answers or some other quest.
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