Monster Monday #19: Centaur
Updated: Mar 4
I've been taking some time away from the internet so haven't managed to upload anything, and I'm still going to be a little quieter than usual but I thought it might be fun to put out a post on my latest Zodiac-inspired monster, the Centaur! A bit like last week's Minotaur post choice (link here), this is a pretty well-known creature and perhaps an obvious choice for Sagittarius, but I really enjoyed learning more about this creature! Famously, the Centaur (sometimes known as the Hippocentaur) has the lower half of a horse and a human torso and head. They originate within Greek myth and are considered to be wild and carefree just like their solely equine counterparts, though are also considered to be very intelligent and are often posited as teachers.
Interestingly, the etymology of the word Centaur derives from 'kentauros', meaning piercing bull, or bull-slayer. It is often associated with a tale in which mounted archers eliminated a dangerous herd of bulls that were the scourge of the kingdom of the Lapith King, Ixion. In fact, one tale also associates Ixion with the creation of centaurs thanks to his seduction of Nephele, a cloud nymph that was made in the likeness of Hera to prove to Zeus that he lusted after her. Other tales of origin suggest that Ixion's son Centaurus mated with Magnesian mares and fathered Centaurs and Centaurides (the female equivalent) as a result. There are a number of famous examples of individual Centaurs - Chiron, who was said to be the wisest and most just of all centaurs and was taught by Apollo; Pholus a wise augur whom encountered Heracles during his fourth labour; and a less 'civilised' Nessus who tried to carry off Hippodamia on her wedding day, and Deianira after offering to help her across a river.
Around the world, there are other examples of mythical creatures that are reminiscent of or variations os a Centaur. An Ichthyocentaur or Centaur-Triton, also of Greek myth, are centaurine sea-beings with the same human torso, the fore-legs of a horse, and a fish tail replacing the horse's back legs. Indian mythology also contains a few references to Centaur-like creatures - they appear on the Kalibangan cylinder seal; a tale about a saintly Brahmin cursing and transforming a Yadava prince into a half-human, half-horse like creature; and a tribe of beings known as Kinnaras that were said to live at Mount Mandara and resemble Centaurs. In Russian folklore, Polkan is a half-human and half-horse creature that possesses enormous power and speed and is often depicted with a bow and arrow. He famously battles the hero Bova Korolevich before becoming a friend and ally. Some other honourable mentions include the Onocentaur that is found in Medieval bestiaries that means 'donkey centaur' and only has two hoofed legs rather than four, similar to a Satyr, and an Ipotane that is also a half-human, half-horse though is often seen as a 'reverse centaur' with a horse's head and human body.
Centaurs are referenced in many different pop culture and modern media adaptations of classical myths. The Disney classic Hercules features a cameo of Nessus, and Fantasia also has an animated video alongside Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony of a mythical glade filled with Centaurs. They also feature heavily in The Chronicles Of Narnia as wise and noble creatures, the Harry Potter universe living in the Forbidden Forest of Hogwarts, and the Percy Jackson universe features Chiron. For the most part, these interpretations show Centaurs as a wise and sagacious being, often specialising in divination and fortune telling. This conflicts with some of the more rambunctious and wild stories found in the original Greek Myths of them.
So now we have some of the lore down, let us have a look at some stat blocks!
First up from Wizards Of The Coast is a rather obvious Centaur (Basic Rules, page 121).
This creature is well established within the world of DnD, and they are even available as a playable race. At a CR 2, this Large monstrosity is labelled as such because of it's hybrid nature. The lore that Wizards Of The Coast gives them is very similar to that of the Greek myth - they are reclusive, are able to divine the stars, and are very much considered nomadic wanderers. Their knowledge of Sylvan implies a link to the Feywild, and they have a relatively standard warrior stat block though are able to use a Charge ability and their 50 ft. speed to great advantage. A herd of these would definitely make an intimidating encounter, even if it did not immediately result in violence. I always like to look out for unusual stat blocks that speak to the original creature, and I did also find a Centaur Mummy (Tales From The Yawning Portal, page 231) if you were after an Undead variant.
Perhaps you're after something a bit wilder, with more magic and bloodlust? Well look no further than the stat block for an Armanite (Mordenkainen's Tome Of Foes, page 130).
This creature is a Large CR 7 Fiend (a Demon specifically) and has a lot of lore surrounding their role as the warmongering, bloodthirsty cavalry in an army. What they have going for them is their brutal melee attacks (especially from that rather lethal looking tail) and a magical Lightning Lance that unleashes an AOE attack. At a higher tier level of play, this would be a tough herd encounter too! Magic resistance and attacks also really gives them an edge in a lot of encounters! I think this is a really underused stat block within encounters and I'd definitely recommend giving it a go if you want to include a higher level Centaur in your game!
I've also had a look through some Kobold Press offerings and I found a LOT. I really enjoyed the Centaur Chieftain (Creature Codex, page 60).
It is a CR 5 Large Monstrosity and takes the Centaur stat block of Wizards Of The Coast and amps it up in power! As well as their previous attacks and Charge ability, they also have Rearing Strike (a powerful stomping attack) and Leadership (empowering its allies). I really love the lore for this one as well, it speaks to the more chaotic, lawless nature of the creature from Greek myth. I also came across the CR 6 Dracotaur (Creature Codex, page 110) which is a great way of including a dragon-themed variant, perhaps one that is a cross between a Dragonborn and a Centaur? I also enjoyed the hell-hound themed CR 4 Infernal Centaur (Tome Of Beasts II, page 216) and the snake-like CR 5 Ophidiotaur (Tome Of Beasts II, page 282) to shake things up.
My last Kobold Press suggestion would be the Alseid (Tome Of Beasts, page 15).
I absolutely ADORE both the look and thought around this deer-like Medium CR 1/2 Centaur variant. An Alseid is actually a type of Nymph, and so though it comes from the same Greek myths, it and the lore in the book are not technically associated with Centaurs. However, it's clear that inspiration has been drawn from both mythologies. I liked the Woodfriend ability, being able to discern true north feels very much like a Centaur's relationship with the stars. The CR 3 Alseid Grovekeeper (same page) variant is also a lot of fun and I truly love that Kobold Press have chosen to make this a playable race in their books. The Alseid is rather graceful and light-footed, so if you were after something sturdier and more imposing then perhaps also consider the elephant centaur - the CR 6 Loxoda (Tome Of Beasts, page 280).
Outside of these sources I also had a look at Dragonix's Monster Manual Expanded in which I found some variants on the Centaur stat block! The CR 7 Centaur Champion (page 41) gives the creature a couple of Fighter class abilities - Indomitable and Second Wind. It also has a new Slashing Gallop attack! The CR 4 Centaur Skirmisher (page 42) gives it some scout-like flavouring, allowing for it's speed with some extra bonus action (Light-footed, allowing a bonus action Dash or Disengage) and reaction (Skirmisher, allowing for it's escape from enemies getting too close) choices. The CR 5 Centaur Shaman gives some spellcasting choices.
Time to put these magnificent beasts in our game! I hope you enjoy these plot hooks!
While travelling through some grassland plains, the party observe a herd of Centaur stampeding across the fields. They seem at first to be travelling in a different direction but, all of a sudden, the herd change course and begin heading for the party.
Within the city, a human with a horse's body has amassed a crowd of spectators. They look scholarly and are lecturing the interested people on an interesting topic of some kind.
The party are attacked while travelling through a forest, but are then rescued by a lone Centaur. They tell them to leave the forest, for it is dangerous and under their protection. They do not like trespassers.
The villagers tell the party of a Centaur that sometimes visits from the nearby woods and divines the stars to tell the people their fortune - their predictions surrounding the crops, the residents, and the dangers have never been wrong.
A group of half-human, half-horse creatures ambush the party and demand they hand over their valuable possessions as a sign of respect. They are large, imposing, drunk, and heavily armed.
I hope you enjoyed this week's Monster Monday post, I apologise for my recent lack of updates and engagement! Have your party ever encountered a Centaur? Do you prefer the wise, fortune telling sage? Or the bloodthirsty, wild raider? Let me know!