Game: The Slayer’s Guide to Centaurs
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 12th, December 2001
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 15
Average Score: 5.00
Centaurs are an interesting race to pick for examination and often a difficult race to include in a game. Everyone knows what a centaur is, you don’t even have to be a roleplayer. Greek mythology is rife with stories about these half-human half-horse creatures. Yet, when you put your mind to Tolkien’s Middle Earth then it is unlikely that you find yourself thinking about centaurs. This is good and it is also bad, in fact, it’s a peculiar blend of them both, just as the centaur is a peculiar blend of man and beast. There are no particularly strong associations attached to the centaurs, they don’t inherit the same “race rules” from Tolkien’s world as many other races do. Have you ever wondered why dwarves always seem to have a long-standing hatred of orcs in almost every campaign setting? Tolkien said so. Why do elves and dwarves distrust each other? Again, it is because Tolkien wrote that down. You’ll find in games and stories that centaurs are equally likely to be savage barbarians as they are peaceful, sage, roaming healers.
It is from this malleable base of knowledge that the Slayer’s Guide to Centaurs was penned. Except that isn’t entirely true. The Slayer’s Guide is a supplement for the third edition of Dungeons and Dragons and is the creation of the d20 Open License agreement. The book was written to be used with D&D but I think you can use it as a source of information or inspiration for almost any other game. The title “Slayer’s Guide” is slightly misleading, the book isn’t about the best ways to hack and slash centaurs, rather, it comes from Mongoose Publishing’s “Slayer Guide” series in which takes an exhaustive look at different monster races. As a result of this the information in the book is written with respect to the half page entry for centaurs in the Monster Manual.
It is a nice book. The introduction works well; a short and succinct paragraph convinces you that there is more to the centaur race than you might think at first and then you’re told what you should expect from the book. On the page opposite there is a closed box paragraph of text that describes an adventurer’s first encounter with the centaurs and it successfully whets your appetite for more. The rest of the book follows in similar suit, game information is mixed in with snippets of in-theme text and both are wrapped around quality illustrations. This approach to layout isn’t a new one but the Guide implements it well. The flavour text is never intrusive and always in theme. The choice of formatting proves the rule “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”. The same is true of the centaur lore that the book imparts. Sprange, the author, does not attempt to re-write the short taster information about centaurs that the core rules of the Monster Manual offer. There is no attempt to awkwardly scrub out what has already been said and to start again. Instead, the author builds on what was initially created in the vanilla text and carefully extends and improves on it. The book is a complementary text to the rulebooks – it isn’t a rival.
You are given a well rounded idea of what life in a centaur village might be like and, importantly, you know what the motivations and likely responses of the centaurs will be given any initial encounter with a group of adventures. You don’t get a small list of strangely centaur only spells or yet another Prestige class. I appreciated that. I can make up weird spells on the fly myself and I can download countless Prestige classes from the Net for free in the event of my brain going dry and failing to work. I suppose there might be some Gamers who like to buy these books for the power gaming power ups though. You do, however, get a double spread of sample centaur stats. They are presented as part of a model village and there are seven sample sets that have been squeezed into the space without any sacrifice to clarity. It does”t take a big bite out of the book but it will save your skin if you have to wing a centaur encounter when there’s the need for dice. You’ll also find suggestions on how to turn the game mechanics of centaur stats into something suitable for a Player Character.
I think the Guide does a good job at fleshing out the presented image of reclusive yet communal beings as presented by Monster Manual and I appreciated the way the Greek image of the rowdy centaur was subtly presented as a possibility with the mention of the male centaur’s taste for fine wine. What I thought the book missed out on was a little more of basic centaur physiology, particularly the infamous stamina of the creatures. The Guide mentions that the beasts seem to throw off diseases and infections with ease and outsiders never really see a sick centaur, but there’s no further mention of how or why. The reader is left to assume that it is a result, perhaps, of the creature’s natural fortitude and perhaps the careful administrations of the village’s druid. Given that there is both mention and game mechanics given to the centaur’s natural woodland and environmental connections you are left to wonder whether this same affiliation to the woods helps them heal and fight off unnatural maladies. For me, it is only a small gripe, something a decent DM can decide for himself. How long to centaurs live for? I haven’t a clue. That’s something I wish had been squeezed into the book.
It is a small book, only 30 pages long but the price reflects that. If you want to compare it to the Hero Builder’s Guidebook then you’ll find that you’re paying the same cost per page as official Wizards of the Coast dogma but that you’re getting a very much better product. You may very well be surprised at how much detail is contained in the 30 pages, in addition to what you’ve read above you’ll be given adventure ideas, information on the social structure of the centaurs and on the important village druid.
I think The Slayer’s Guide to Centaurs makes the ideal gift for a fellow roleplayer or a cost-effective way to add a little woodland mystery to your game.