I like Minotaurs.
Not really a surprise for many. I'm a large man and Minotaurs always struck a cord. They have a mythological pedigree that many monsters simply don't. While they are often portrayed as large, powerful and violent characters, their association with cattle make it not impossible to see them as peaceful either. Whether as monster or PC, Minotaurs might fall outside the standard races, but not by much.
It all starts in Classical Greek Mythology. Theseus has been written down many authors such as: Plutarch (46 – 120 AD), a Greek historian and biographer, Ovid (43BC – 17 AD), a Roman poet and Horace (65BC – 8BC), another Roman poet just to name a few. The story is likely to be much older, having been passed down the generations via word of mouth. In the epic tale Theseus and the Minotaur, the first Minotaur was a response to an affair between Queen Pasiphae and a bull sent by Zeus.
She gave birth to Minotaur, a creature half man – half bull. While the King Minos was embarrassed, but did not want to kill the Minotaur, so he hid the monster in the Labyrinth constructed by Daedalus at the Minoan Palace of Knossos. Despite being a bull, it craved flesh and the King demanded sacrifices on a yearly basis.
It was not until Theseus showed up and fell in favour with the daughter of the king that was able to defeat the mighty beast.
From a gaming perspective, it was arguably one of the 1st gaming dungeons and was also the first example of dungeon hack (the use of twine to trace your steps. It's key theme was harnessing the beast, as the Minotaur is a symbol of masculinity and virility. It also may have been an exaggerated tales of the archaeological evidence of bull dancers. Namely people trained to be acrobatic off of bulls.
This is the next major appearance and it's the same Minotaur from the original Greek myth. In Circle seven of hell, he appears on the broken slop guardian and symbol of the entire circle of violence. Dante and Virgil were able to pass by unscathed by enraging it about it's death.
One of the few fictional accounts I was able to find pre dungeons and dragon. They were used as little more then a minion of the white queen. However, in the movies, they underwent what could best be described as a heel / face turn in the modern retelling in the latest Prince Caspian Movie.
Dungeons and Dragons
Minotaurs were originally selected as one of the classical monsters of the past. It appeared in the red box and the first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual. In fact, it's one of those races that has made it in the first monster manual in all editions.
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons - 1st Edition
When it appeared in the monster manual, they had a mere 2 paragraphs, where it was emphasised the standard tropes of living in labryinth and cruel man-eaters. They were listed without fear.
For a lot of people, their first picture of a Minotaur was the legendary module/sandbox "the keep of the borderlands" on page 20. It also shows a degree of evil social interaction with it's neighbours where it agrees to help the bugbears, at the cost of one human slave for every 3 days of service. It's main difference is that, unlike it's historical counterpart, it's a true monster, rather then a victim of circumstance.
It was in monster manual 2 of the 1st edition that Minotaurs were finally defined of having a patron of sorts. The Demon Baphomet was made the lord of Minotaurs. It also setup a rivalry between Gnolls and Minotaurs as their demon lords waged war against each other.
It's first appearance as a viable player character was in the Dragonlance saga, where the Minotaurs appeared as a race of honourable warriors that believe in might makes right. They started as slaves to dwarves, ogres and then Istar. The great cataclysm freed them from the slavery and their homeland became an island. However, much like many abused people, they have now become oppressors and their kingdom has declared one day to conquer the entire world till their leader becomes Emperor of all Ansalom.
Physically, they are shorter then their monster manual counterparts, reaching only a mere 7 foot on average. They use a yearly contest known as the circus which acts as a Minotaur's rite of passage into adult society. They are family orientated. They were unusual in that they not only could get a 20 strength in 1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, but also had unlimited levels in fighter, at a time when other races were severely restricted. This is the also the first time that I can recall that Minotaurs could be magic users, in this case a wizard of high sorcery.
The Southern Continent of Krynn is even more Minotaur Infested. They have a League of the Minotaurs which consists of 5 provinces, each with their own personality and trait.
Stat wise it's hard to argue with a race that has +2 to strength, a potential maximum of strength of 20 and unlimited levels of fighter in 1st edition. I would have problems chosing another race to act as your fighter.
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons - 2nd edition
The more conventional Minotaur became available as the from the complete book of humanoids where it was the brute of choice. This creature was based on a curse or the offspring of humans and Minotaurs. It also said that all Minotaurs were male. However, it also brought up the possibility of rejecting that very evil. They also had the possibility of playing a wizard and they even had a picture of one beside the outlaw magic kit.
3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons
In 3rd, it was the monster breakdown example in savage species. It was presented as the example of how to use the savage species rules to allow a viable character race. While the rules themselves usually resulted in "glass jaw" characters, the fact it was selected showed that 1. it didn't need a breakdown of it's culture and 2. it was a draw in it's own right.
Kryannian Minotaurs were also updated as a ecl 0 race in the Dragonlance campaign setting and honestly, way more playable because of it.
4th edition Dungeons and Dragons
In 4th, it was listed as a viable pc in the monster manual under racial traits. Almost immediately after it was released a Hammer build was released on the character optimised forums. It was mostly due to the mechanical benefit of oversized, that allowed the use of weapons one sized larger.
However, the race itself was fully fleshed out in the players handbook 3. Here they were represented as a race that straddled the line between savagery and civilisation. Baphomet is presented as the devil to them, what would happen if they gave into their deepest impulses. They had a fascination with labyrinths and was used on everything from clothing and architecture. They were also presented as clan-like and compensated from their aggressive nature by using order to reign in the beast. However, what is particularly interesting is that Minotaurs were now allowed to be of both genders, which opens a wide range of Minotaur concepts and ideas. They also favoured barbarian, fighter and warden class, which emphasised their physical prowess. However the warden class was a fascinating fusion of nature's champion and wish it would have made the cut for 5e. This class, more then any other, defined the Minotaur, a fusion of the natural and the martial.
5th edition Dungeons and Dragons
It has yet to appear in 5th as a viable character, but with Volo's guide to monsters coming up, I'd wouldn't be surprised if it appears when it's released.
There was an Unearthed Arcana article where the Krynnian Minotaur was fleshed out, so yet again, it shows the popularity of the race in dungeons and dragons. It keeps being used as one of the 1st choices for an optional race.
Other Gaming Resources
World of WarcraftI would argue that one of the reasons that the Minotaur has reached predominance is under the name Tauren. They are a stoic race that represents the honourable enemy to those of the alliance and an tempering ally of the horde.
Midgard Campaign Setting
Minotaurs are a prominent race of the Midgard campaign setting done by Kobold Press. They are a broken culture and now inhabit the countries of other people. Their conflict between the civilised and savagery is brought to the forefront and they are portrayed as a race that is equal capacity for good and evil because of it. The savage first, an immortal Minotaur of immense brutality and the influence of the moon and sea, that gave them a civilisation on par with the greatest kingdoms, will forever control their destiny. They are guided by family and the need to prove themselves as the Minotaurs of this setting are very competitive to be the best. By showing a civilized option, it really opens up the options for Minotaur PCs.
Dark Revelations - the Role Playing GameIn this role playing game, Minotaurs come from the far flung future where the time of revelations drove them back to the current era. They can be best described as Raiders of metal and more details are listed below.
I guess the reason they are relatively widespread as far as monsters go are the following characteristics:
- They are a long running humanoid in mythology, running back to greek mythology.
- It's a race that's easy to define (bull man)
- They are big and scary, but can be almost lovable in certain situations. Heck my nickname for them are Chewbacca Cows. They fit into the 'almost cuddly' monster race territory.
- They have a legacy beyond the original myth, in first Dragonlance, and then eventually other settings, such as Warcraft.
- They have that savage barbarian feel that all the pcs like.
- There are a lot of cow related puns which can make for amusing character names.
Minotaurs seem way more popular in gaming then other sources. They are usually presented as either the obstacle to oppose or a villain to fight, a side character, or an interesting extra. I think I will include a link to tvtropes to fill in most of the holes of these cameos.
However, there are a few that require key emphasis in showing the potential of the characters
Cairne Bloodhoof (WoW): The Tauren Chief that united the Tauren and had them join the horde. His wierd combination of honor and racism made a truely fascinating character. His son Baine was equally interesting in trying to run in his father's hoof steps and acts as a moderating effect on the horde as a whole.
Ferdinand: Technically Ferdinand is a Minotaur (or rather, a Kythotaur as he's from Kythos) who serves as a chef at the Themysciran Embassy. While more a fun concept then actually played out, I've always thought wonder woman should be a place where they play up the monsterous in everyday life and that's a fun quirk for a Minotaur PC.
Ludo (Labyrinth): This one might be stretching it, but a massive horned monster in a Labyrinth definately qualifies as a Minotaur. He was monsterous, but gentle. Plus his summoning of the rocks that are his friends gives him a primal element.
Kaz the Minotaur (Dragonlance Chronicles): This is the Minotaur that justified all pcs. A renagade Minotaur that became a knight.
Krunch (Looking for Group): Acting as balence between his good and evil companions. He is noteworthy in that he shown to be highly intelligent and his rage legendary.
Taurus (Mutants & Masterminds): This is a unique spin on the original minotaur as he grew out of his primal age and became a mob boss. The Tony Soprano of minotaurs.
Rintrah (Marvel - Earth-616): this alien minotaur is fun that it's presenting a spellcasting minotaur outside of gaming.
Personal Minotaur Characters
The following are some of my Minotaur characters in the past.
Kyle of Warrick: He was the 2nd son of a local baron, cursed by a witch, but still a knight and required to do his duty for the family. It was an interesting game where I was playing a cultured monster in a world of mostly human characters.
Angus McGuinness of the McGuinness Clan: Granted a charter by the Rulers of Cormyr. These brave clan of Minotaurs had sworn feality in the stonelands and kept the goblinoids at bay. This was one of the older sons of the clan. They were played somewhat scottish and presented how savagry could be developed. His Sister, Ethel, was studying to become a wizard. In many ways, this was an expansion on Kyle of Warrick, but instead of an individual, you had a family.
Axel Thunderpipes: From my world world, He is a legendary Minotaur in charge of the clan from Ed-town. His Clan controls the Colosseum and the musical scene in the area that would make Ozzy proud. He wields two axes, one for fighting and one for jaming and he's a master of both.
The Minotaur Trilogy by Thomas Burnett Swann: I have not read this series yet, but morbidly curious to see what it's about the Minotaur named Silver Bells. If anybody has read this series, let me know.
Ultimately, I think we have barely scratched the surface of the raw potential ofthe Minotaur as a media figure. Most gamers already see the potential and I bring out a call to tell me all about your own experiences with these mighty humanoids. :)
Dragonlance wiki - Minotaurshttp://dragonlancenexus.com/rules/minotaur/
Dungeons and Dragons
3rd edition srdhttp://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/minotaur.htm
World of Warcrafthttp://wowwiki.wikia.com/wiki/Tauren