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May 7, 2018

D&D Monster Monday: The Minotaur

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You slow walk down dark and narrow hallway. Nervously, you round the corner and feel the hair on the back of your neck stand-up. At the other end of the hall, the glow of your torchlight shines on a creature with the head of a bull and with an enormous humanoid body. It lowers its head and charges at you, screaming. If you survive the incoming impalement, it carries a greataxe to help finish the job. The minotaur has found you.

The minotaur is hands-down one of my favorite monsters in all of fantasy. Because of this I tend to use the minotaur or its skeletal variant in my campaigns at least once. I love the flavor and the lore that a minotaur brings to the table. Its abilities, while simple, create such a unique and interesting encounter.

Minotaurs throw caution to the wind once an intruder comes into their territory. A party that engages a minotaur has to adapt to the minotaur’s environment. Minotaurs are the ultimate “I’m not locked in here with you, you’re locked in here with me!” creature.

The minotaur can be found in the Monster Manual (this is an affiliate link) and is a classic D&D and mythological creature. I tend to use some variation of them in every campaign I run as it’s a creature that everyone has heard of to some degree. It helps tie the players into the world and gives them an air of familiarity, especially if they’re new to D&D.

Minotaur Lore

Minotaur

Giant, strong, and intimidating.

Minotaur began as some form of humanoid that was transformed through a dark ritual lead by cultists. These cults typically serve the Horned King, Baphomet, who resides in the abyss. Once transformed the minotaur will become aggressive, territorial, and filled with rage. They lose their ability to speak their original languages, and simply become guard dogs for these cults in order to serve Baphomet.

Minotaur are savage, primal beings. Most minotaur work best alone due to their aggressive nature. They want to hunt and kill to their fulfill their blood lust, and a pack gets in the way of this. To quench this innate desire to kill and feast on their enemies, cultists will place animal or humanoid sacrifices within the minotaur’s domain for it to hunt.

As far as combat strategy is concerned, they may attempt to corner or surprise their prey, but most of the time they prefer to attack head-on. Their only real strategy is to kill whatever or whoever is intruding.

They have keen minds that help them memorize the dark halls of labyrinths, mazes, and other bounded environments. Once they have entered these tight-spaces they become territorial and will guard the space with their lives. Anything or anyone that enters is doomed to a certain and gory death.

That’s the basic outline of the D&D lore at least. The minotaur originated in Ancient Greek mythology in which it guarded a labyrinth and was eventually slain by the hero, Theseus. Here is the story should you want to read it yourself. I tend to use the Greek mythology in my minotaur lore more than I do the Monster Manual. Either way you slice it, the mythology has influenced the minotaur’s lore in D&D 5e what with the labyrinth guarding and the blood-lust.

The Minotaur’s Stats and Abilities

Base Stats

AC: 14
HP: 76 (9d10+27)
Speed: 40 ft.
STR: 18 (+4)
DEX: 11 (+0)
CON: 16 (+3)
INT: 6 (-2)
WIS: 16 (+3)
CHA: 9 (-1)

Overall the minotaur has some great stats for a CR 3 creature. Its only negatives are in INT and CHA which aren’t used in a lot of relevant saving throws. With a +3 in both CON and WIS it has pretty solid resistance for a lot of CC abilities and spells. Its DEX isn’t anything impressive, but it’s also not negative which is a bonus.

Its AC is pretty solid for a creature with such a large health pool. Couple this with its 40 ft. of movement and you have a very mobile behemoth!

Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills

Skills: Perception +7
Senses: darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 17
Languages: Abyssal
CR: 3

Outside of its +7 Perception, the minotaur does not have any remarkable mentions in this category. One interesting thing is that they are unable to speak any language other than Abyssal. This makes reasoning with the creature almost impossible.

Abilities

Minotaur D&D 5e

The official 5e artwork makes the minotaur a lot more humanoid.

Charge. If the minotaur moves at least 10 feet straight toward a target and then hits it with a gore attack on the same turn, the target takes an extra 9 (2d8) piercing damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 14 Strength saving throw or be pushed up to 10 feet away and knocked prone.

Labyrinthine Recall. The minotaur can perfectly recall any path it has traveled.

Reckless. At the start of its turn, the minotaur can gain advantage on all melee weapon attacks it makes during that turn, but attack rolls against it have advantage until the start of its next turn.

The abilities all fit the overall theme and lore of the minotaur very well. Labyrinthine Recall makes a minotaur the master of its domain, and makes it hard for the party to escape once they have engaged. Reckless works off of this theme of making it difficult to escape the minotaur once it has found you, and with its high perception it WILL find you. Should the party attempt to disengage the minotaur can get itself advantage using Reckless and cut down an enemy with ease.

Charge is a pretty unique ability and deals a ton of damage for a CR 3 creature. On top of that it has the potential to knock an enemy prone which can either hinder the target’s movement or give the minotaur’s allies advantage on melee attacks while the target is knocked prone.

Actions

Greataxe. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 17 (2d12 + 4) slashing damage.

Gore. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 13 (2d8 + 4) piercing damage.

Minotaurs are very heavy hitters. The +6 to attack is pretty solid, and both deal between 13-17 damage not including the possibility of the extra Charge damage. It’s just a solid amount of damage for a fairly low CR creature. That being said, its kit relies entirely on burst damage.

While this may seem strong for a CR 3 creature, its move-set is well-balanced. Minotaurs don’t have any ranged attacks, and they have no Multiattack like many creatures. Reckless gives the minotaur the ability to reduce the chance of a miss, but this is very risky as it opens itself up to attacks from the enemy which will more than likely have more than a single attack.

The Minotaur’s Strengths

Strong Opening Attack or Finishing Move

Charge is an excellent opener as it can allow you to deal up to 4d8+4 damage to a single target and potentially knock this target prone if they fail the STR save. It can also be used in tandem with Reckless to improve the minotaur’s chances of landing an enormous blow. Having to only move 10 ft. of movement in a straight line to use Charge is a simple requirement to satisfy. Since only 10 ft. is required to use Charge, you can use your other 30 ft. of movement to get into that initial position. This same combo can also be used as a finishing move, even if the minotaur is subject to attacks of opportunity as it leaves melee range with its target.

Stays Engaged

WIth 40 ft. of movement, minotaurs are extremely mobile for such enormous creatures. Couple this with Labyrinthine Recall and the enemy will not be able to escape through secret passageways or use shortcuts to its best ability. If they have been seen and remain in the confines of the minotaur’s territory, they are not safe. Should they even attempt to flee, its +7 Perception will be extremely useful for relocating the enemy.

Its high STR, CON, and WIS help it with making some of those tough CC and grapple saves. Unless you’re able to hit it with a CC that requires a DEX saving throw, minotaurs have a high chance of shaking the spell or ability off.

Again Charge comes into play here as it is a strong offensive ability that incentivizes the minotaur to keep chasing. 40 ft. of movement is typically 10-15 ft. more than most PCs will have. Coincidentally, 10 ft. in a straight line towards the target is all the minotaur needs to use Charge. Anything that tries to stay 10 ft. away from the minotaur is going to be punished severely.

The Minotaur’s Weaknesses

Minotaur Skeleton 5e

The skeleton variant in the Monster Manual is a great lower-CR option!

Melee Only

One of the worst things a player can do in D&D is not have both a melee and a ranged option for combat purposes. A Barbarian without a bow is going to be useless against anything that flies or is able to stay out of melee range. The minotaur has this same disadvantage, and depending on the enemy it can change a minotaur encounter from deadly to easy.

Spells like Ray of Frost that reduce a minotaur’s speed are deadly. A minotaur’s only play in the book is that it has more movement speed than most players, and it hits like a truck. If it cannot use that movement speed to engage the target, it cannot make those big hits. It has no ranged option.

Not having any ranged options is a glaring weakness in D&D 5e. If your party has a lot of ranged characters and spell casters a Minotaur needs to get the jump on them before they’re able to slow it down and kite it around its own lair.

High Variance in Damage

I’ve written before about high variance vs. average for dealing damage and which is theoretically better. Typically we should value a high average damage as it is more likely to consistently pay off in a fight, especially longer fights. Because minotaurs rely on variance they have the boon of being able to hit massive damage upwards of 28 points in a single swing, but they are just as likely to hit for 6 damage on that same attack. Let me explain why this is a weakness.

The greataxe attack in particular relies on a high variance to deal a ton of potential damage. However, if you roll 2 1’s that big greataxe attack is only going to deal 6 damage. Since it doesn’t have Multiattack, we’ll have to settle on that for an entire round. This is even worse if you used Reckless to ensure that your swing hit as you open yourself up to a lot of attacks made at advantage before you get a second swing next round.

Because of this, if you’re unable to down the target in a round or 2, the minotaur is probably dead. This makes fights both risky and intense for both sides of the table, which in my opinion is a good thing, but it does not usually end well for the minotaur. When it hits hard, it hits hard. When it doesn’t, it opens itself up to massive retaliation.

How to Play a Minotaur

Claustrophobic Adventurers Need Not Apply

Minotaurs were born and bred for guarding tight spaces and labyrinths, and their overall stat-block is tailored for this type of environment. You’ll want a space where the players cannot easily escape or spread out in order for your minotaur to have a fair opportunity to deal its massive damage.

A tight hallway that is patrolled by a minotaur is, in my opinion, the ideal environment for an encounter. The players are clustered together with 2 exits, one of which the hulking beast is standing in front of, rearing its head to charge at the first person in line. If the party decides to run, the minotaur will simply continue to charge at them down the entire hallway. With its 40 ft. of movement, the chances of being able to use its first Charge attack as an opening move is pretty high.

The tightly wound corners may have some secret passageways or shortcuts, but due to its Labyrinthine Recall, the minotaur already knows of these locations. In fact, running is the worst thing the party can do in these tight spaces. If they panic, they die.

Throw Caution to the Wind

Minotaur Artwork

Capture the barbaric blood lust that the minotaur craves in your encounters.

Play a minotaur like you would a Barbarian. Rush forward and attack the weakest thing you can see. Don’t worry about things like opportunity attacks or death. If you have to take a bit of damage to potentially kill an enemy, it’s well worth it to the minotaur. All it cares about is decimating whatever steps foot in its domain.

Using Reckless effectively is what will make the difference between an easy and a challenging encounter. Reckless should be used to either land that initial Charge combo to ensure its effectiveness, or used to finish off an enemy that is on death’s door. It could also be used as a “last stand” type of attack where the minotaur is certain of its incoming demise and is attempting to land one last strike on an enemy to hopefully take it back to hell with it.

The point is, the minotaur does not care about its personal safety outside of surviving long enough to kill as many intruders as it can. Play smart, but extremely aggressive. Minotaurs will willingly get themselves into situations they may not survive in order to take down an enemy.

Conclusions

As you can tell, I love minotaurs. They’re simple creatures to use, but they have some intricacies that are often overlooked. My biggest piece of advice for using a minotaur is to craft the environment to the minotaur, don’t simply throw one into a dungeon because it looks cool. Make sure that its environment allows it to use its Charge effectively, because without it you are stuck with a high variance damage dealer with no ranged attack options.

I like to use them as guard dogs in high level play, or as a dangerous encounter in the earlier levels. Wherever you put them make sure they have something to guard for someone. This opens up a ton of lore and plot possibilities for the players to engage in. What is in this dungeon that’s so important that they had to create a monstrosity specifically to guard it?

Minotaurs are just overall a fun creature to use. I love the lore, the flavor, and the call-backs to real-world mythology that they included in the 5e Minotaur. They’re very well-balanced as they have some glaring weaknesses, but great strengths to make up for this.

Previous Monster Monday – The Banshee

Next Monster Monday – The Magma Bear

If you have a suggestion for a future Monster Monday feel free to message me on Twitter or send me an E-mail!

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