What’s the Crock Pot? Just a simmering bowl of lentils and herbs, with a dash of DMing observations. Don’t be afraid to dip in your ladle and stir, or throw in something from your own spice rack.
One of my earliest exposures to fantasy literature was the comic book “Arak: Son of Thunder” by Roy and Dann Thomas. The 50-issue series published by DC Comics told the hero’s journey of Arak, an American Indian raised by Vikings who had a series of adventures in a mythic ninth century Europe.
The neat thing about the series was that characters out of myth and history were the “guest stars” of the series. In each Arak adventure, readers were introduced to such notable figures as the Frankish king Carolus Magnus and his peers, the goddess-huntress Artemis, and even the Christian mystic-wanderer Prester John.
But for me, the most memorable “guest star” was the wise Khiron, last of the centaurs. Khiron, who had instructed the Greek hero Achilles in the bow and the tactics of battle, was directed by the gods to reveal to Arak his own divine destiny. Khiron was a proud and melencholy character, who lamented the decline of Greek culture and that as a mortal, he had lived far longer than he should have. Visually, Khiron was a striking figure, muscular forearms and flanks, barrel chested and whose long mane was topped by a mohawk cut.*
When I think of centaurs in D&D, I think of this interpretation from the Arak comic. So I was eager to read and review Wolfgang Baur’s article “Ecology of the Centuar” in the upcoming issue of Kobold Quarterly.
Size and strength
Two qualities that define the centaur are its immense size (large, in game terms) and great strength, which enables it to pull powerful composite longbows as well as gallop with grace and speed across the plains.
All things relevant to centaurs come back to these two qualities, making them the undisputed masters of the Rothenian steppes of Baur’s own Zobeck campaign setting.
It’s a delight to absorb Baur’s writing, taking in the vivid descriptions of these creatures who set themselves apart from men and elves. Passages such as this one about a nomadic bow, being made of “layered yew and horn, decorated with an ebony handle” or this one about the autumn season “when the meadows are bare and the lure of rustling, banditry, and raiding grew strong” trigger the imagination, transporting the reader to the centaur khan’s encampment amid preparations for battle.
The author dispenses centaur lore with the voice of a practiced observer, so that when he at last declares “These horsefolk, would not – could not – live any other way” you accept it for fact and authority.
In Baur’s ecology, such lesser mortals may choose to live in homes of wood and stone, but only the nomadic centaur can move as freely across the grasslands as the easterly wind or the whispy clouds overhead. Nothing can impede the charge of an entire centaur clan, whose archers rain death upon their targets while their hooves rumble like thunder as its bandits sweep down and overrun their enemy’s defenses.
A clever twist
Interwoven among the descriptive sections are some interesting takes on the rules. In fact, the amount of rules-specific material is deceptively a majority of the piece. There are rules for the application of centaur medicines, the equipment they carry, the 4E stats for two types of centaurs, the Rothenian Centaur Bandit and the Rothenian Centaur Chief, as well as the racial traits template. There’s a new power, the Centaur Trample, and a new ability, the Centaur Leap. The nomad’s longbow is described, as are as steppe lances. And DMs should be delighted with the section on centaur tactics and combat.
The description of the centaur’s internal organs runs counter to my own inclination as to how tauric creatures are constructed. But the author went for simplicity, and in any event, his description has its own logic. Regardless, the cut-away diagram detailing the centaur’s anatomy is a real treat, and the sort of thing you are unlikely to see from other publishers.
My favorite, though, concerns a rules adjustment for centaur paladin PCs. But to say what it is would be to spoil it. As the late novelist Robert Jordan was fond of saying, for that you’ll have to RAFO.**
A sense of place
The strength of the article is the sense of “place.” Baur’s take on centaurs is clearly inspired as much by mythology, such as the centaur’s wild raid on king Lapiths’ wedding feast, as it is a melding of the horse culture of the real-world Mongol empire. These elements have been securely welded into his own Zobeck. The history of the centaurs and a description of their gods are unapologetically Zobeckish***, as is the determination of clan hierarchy and a listing of their enemies, including the Trollheim and the slavers of Harkasa. Not having a campaign guide at hand doesn’t diminish the effect at all. The names themselves evoke powerful images and one’s own imagination is sufficient to fill in the blanks.
To my thinking, this makes adapting the ecology to a homebrew even easier. Generic ecologies have a tendency to drift, like dandelion seeds on the wind, lessening their utility. By providing a solid example of how an ecology fits in a setting, DMs have the option of deleting or adding on material as they see fit.
A welcome addition
Fourth Edition players and DMs should consider Baur’s take on centaurs a solid addition to their toolbox. Gamers of other systems will find plenty of material worth incorporating, the rules aside. Certainly, if looking to add encounters to your setting’s frontier, then the Rothenian centaurs will be an adventure in itself.
* — Well, this was the early 1980s, when punk stylings and Mr. T were all the rage.
** — RAFO: Read and find out.
*** — Is Zobeckish a word? Would you prefer Zobeckan? Zobeckistani?
Want to learn more about Kobold Quarterly Issue 7? Read on…
– KQ7 Editorial: Fair Games or Fun Ones?
– Dungeon Mastering.com: What everybody ought to know about rogues
– Jonathan Drain’s d20 Source: Powder Burn: Firearms in Dungeons & Dragons
– Gnome Stew: Troy’s Crock Pot: At Full Gallop at the KQ Carnival
– Ogre Cave: Interview: Stan!
– Musings of the Chatty DM: Adventure Prep: Of Airships, Feys and Player Input
– Atomic Array: Episode 009: Kobold Quarterly 007
Drop by Kobold Quarterly.com to pick up your copy today!