I’ve been obsessed with labyrinths for a long time. Some of this can be blamed on Jorge Luis Borges, but even without his writing, they pull me in, both visually and philosophically. Thinking about what I wanted to play in the D&D game I was recently invited to join, I decided to look at minotaurs and see if there was anything I could work with there.
I liked the material on minotaurs from the old D&D Taladas setting (the obscure opposite hemisphere of the Dragonlance world), and I also like Blizzard’s take on minotaurs (sorry, “Tauren”) in World of Warcraft. But both of these settings downplay what is to me the most fascinating aspect of minotaurs: their connection with mazes and labyrinths. (You knew mazes and labyrinths were two different things, right? Yep, sure are!).
So I’ve come up with my own take on civilized minotaurs for use in our as-yet-unnamed D&D world. Here’s what I send our DM on the character I developed, Jholi Narrh…
The minotaurs of Professor Lostcarriage’s World fall into two distinct populations: the Keepers and the Wanderers (sometimes called “Savages” by the Keepers). Wanderers are your typical D&D world minotaurs: unpleasant, savage humanoids feared by civilized races. Keepers are civilized. They dwell in enclaves bordering or in some cases completely surrounded by the nations of other races.
Keeper enclaves are called mazes. Each is a settlement completely enclosed by a maze, ranging in size from small hamlets up to minor city-states. The mazes are almost always magically grown hedge mazes, although in major settlements, some of the mazework may be of stone (particularly if strong fortifications are needed). Far-flung mazes may be of other materials, though these are less common. In places where plants won’t grow, such as the arctic, the maze might be of ice; in the underworld, of cave walls and dense fungal growths; in a jungle or desert, of vines or cacti. In some regions, the minotaurs cultivate fields or maintain pastures outside the maze; in others, they fish, hunt, or trade for food.
Minotaur life revolves around maintaining and enlarging their mazes (and the structures found within them), contemplation of the Labyrinthine Mysteries (see below), artisanry, and trade with the outside world and other minotaur enclaves. The organization of a minotaur community is somewhat monastic, which is why such a large, fearsome-looking people can co-exist among other races: their attentions and aspirations are focused inward. However, young minotaurs are encouraged to travel the outside world to hone their skills, learn the ways of other races, and if the opportunity arises, to convert the heathen Wanderers.
Minotaurs have two equally important spiritual traditions, a bit like the Japanese adherence to both Shinto and Buddhism. On one hand, druids are very important in their communities as representatives of the natural world (and to grow labyrinth walls). On the other, the minotaurs worship a human god, Parn, god of labyrinths. Parn has almost no human worshipers; the few who do exist treat minotaur mazes as holy sites and may visit them as pilgrims. The minotaurs believe that their ancestors were human, but were cursed for some now-forgotten sin to be part beast. They do not believe that their condition can ever be reversed (nor would they wish this), but they do believe that moderation and contemplation of the Labyrinthine Mysteries, as taught in Parn’s scriptures, keeps their lives in balance.
Jholi Narrh is the lowest-ranking warden of the Maze of Xiphin (pron. “ky-fin”), a small (village-sized) minotaur enclave not far from Haven (the main city in our game world). His elders have sent him out to wander, explore, and learn. Jholi’s maze is known locally for producing honey, mead, ink, and cloth dyes. Xiphin is nicknamed the Flower Maze by other races; the hedges themselves bloom riotously throughout the warm months and are the source of many of the town’s products. Couples of all races may visit in Spring to receive blessings of fertility from the local druids. The town’s standard is a stylized beehive set within a maze of hexagons (like a honeycomb).
I had fun with this character in the first session I played him. There was some misunderstanding when he first joined the party; he naively translated “Warden” as “Beekeeper” because of his role back home in the maze. It was a good time playing a big, humanoid beastie with a contemplative side — without falling back on the now-too-familiar shamanism of WoW’s Taurens.