Monday, 28 May 2018

D&D Monsters: Centaurs

This series of posts doesn't exactly have a large audience, but I have nothing else to do this morning, so let's turn to a race that's a staple of fantasy in terms of its existence, but that, in my experience, is rarely seen in actual games: the centaur.

Centaurs, of course, originally appear in the myths of Ancient Greece, from whence they were borrowed by the Romans, and, later still, often seen in medieval bestiaries. (Similar creatures do appear in some other mythologies, but the true centaur that we're talking about here is the Greek one). They have regularly appeared in fantasy literature, with the Narnia and Harry Potter series being perhaps the best known examples. In the myths, they are sometimes wild and uncivilised hunters, and sometimes wise and noble teachers, reflecting their dual human/bestial form; novels have tended more towards the 'wise' version.

While the very earliest Greek depictions of centaurs varied somewhat in which bits were human and which bits horse, the classic look that we're familiar with today was already in place by about the 5th century BC, so it has a long pedigree, and unlike, say, goblins, there's strong agreement on what centaurs are supposed to look like. Both the human and horse parts are often said to be physically attractive for their species, and, while female centaurs appear only rarely in myth, they have been reasonably common in artwork even as far back as the Greek period.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

D&D Monsters: Kobolds

Having recently looked at the toughest of the five standard "evil tribal humanoids" of D&D, it's time to complete the set by looking at the weakest. The kobolds of D&D have, it's fair to say, generally been treated with ridicule. That's not because they're particularly silly (although there are enough examples of creatures that are), but because they're so puny: one of the very few creatures that are likely to lose to first level characters, even when they have them outnumbered. The intent may be to have even first level characters appear heroic by defeating larger bands of foes; the result has mainly been to make those foes laughable.

The word "kobold" is German, and refers to a sort of capricious or malevolent sprite, similar to goblins in English folklore. They are often household spirits, but are, perhaps, better known as evil spirits haunting mines and bringing rock collapses and toxic vapours down on hapless miners. It's almost certainly this conception that Gygax used as inspiration when he devised the race for the earliest edition of D&D.