M is for Minotaur, Rarely Barbaric

I took an atypical path to tabletop gaming, and I’ll probably talk about that in more detail one day. The first D&D book I ever picked up was the 3.0E Monster Manual, and when I opened it the first monster I saw was this one. I don’t know if that’s why I like them so much, but it couldn’t have hurt.

Minotaurs are half-bull, half-human creatures you’ve probably already heard of, if not from Greek mythology then from playing Tauren in World of Warcraft. Given that original capital-M Minotaur lived in a maze, they typically have some resistance to getting lost or some bonus to determining direction. In every edition I can think of they’re also really good at charging enemies, because that’s what bulls do. Beyond that they’re vanilla, low-level beatsticks.

Most editions go out of their way to not talk about minotaur society. After all, monsters only exist as things to punch on the way to a reward. It doesn’t matter whether they have legends or hobbies or religion, only that they like mazes and they generally charge in the first round of combat. But their simplicity is a lot of what made them viable monstrous PCs. As long as you can wrap your head around Effective Character Level as a concept, you already know everything you need to be a minotaur. There are no weird powers, no strange interactions with spell casting classes, no abilities that require three other books to fully understand. Just a few physical buffs and some Hit Dice. It’s like the Lolth-touched template with legs.

The first monstrous PC I ever saw was a minotaur, but that’s not my story to tell. I can tell you about Kulgrim of the Held Fist, the first NPC in the Unnamed Monster Campaign, where the players were all monstrous PCs. The party was tasked with killing a minotaur who had been terrorizing the locals. When they found that minotaur, he was meditating under a waterfall. After a very short period of confusion, he agreed to help the players kill the real culprits, and that set the stage for an entire campaign about being the good guys when you look like the bad guys.

I think the players liked him for the limited amount of time he appeared on screen, though he didn’t leave a strong impression, and that was the point. A minotaur monk wasn’t supposed to be a unique, weird thing. It was supposed to be normal, and to redefine “normal” in the context of the campaign. The players mostly remember him for being a skeleton (he wasn’t, but that was the only minotaur miniature I had at the time), and for this exchange:

DM: You see a minotaur meditating under a waterfall. He opens his eyes as you arrive and greets you.
Player: Spot check for a weapon in the minotaur’s pants!
DM: Um.
Other players: Um
Other people passing by: Um.
Player: No wait stop. I want to see if he’s hiding something. Because the pants are wet, right? So they cling.
DM: Um.
Player: Never mind.

Weirdly, the edition where minotaurs get the most character is the official edition of ignoring fluff text, 4E:

However, many minotaurs are civilized and cultured. These minotaurs are smaller than their savage kin, and they gather in settlements of all sizes.

This is a nod to the appendix at the end of the book, which had minotaurs as a playable race. They wouldn’t really be part of the system until Player’s Handbook 3, but even the Core books said “look, not every monster is…well, monstrous.” I just wish it wasn’t tucked away in the lore section of a monster so common few think to read its lore at all.

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