Minotaur are a hardy warrior race native to Mael and a large number of small planes on the Western side of the planar system. They are fairly menacing to the uninitiated, because of their large size and horns. Male minotaur have the head and legs of a bull with the torso and arms of a well built, trim, human man. Standing erect, they are usually between six and eight feet in height, not counting their horns. The horns are up to four feet long (usually closer to two), typically curving at about half their length to point up, making them appear taller.
They are usually reddish-brown in color, and covered in fur from head to hoof. Their hands are also hoofed, with three hard "fingers" (one in opposition) affording them very little dexterity. Even with this disability minotaur have been able to craft effective weapons, but no more than crude armor.
Male minotaur are very strong. They are often compared to orcs for strength and physical endurance. While orcs over match them in sheer power in the upper body (which is closer in strength to a extremely strong human), minotaur have unquestionably stronger lower legs. Their legs are the same strength as a bull's would be, and bulls usually weigh almost ten times more than a minotaur does (though they are still proportional to their size). This gives them phenomenal jumping height (minotaur could compete in the pole-vault without a pole) and a back kick resembling an pneumatic impact hammer. Their legs also make them excellent runners, and they have been known to maintain speeds rivaling a galloping horse for several hours. Their tough hooves are able to absorb the impact of any terrain comfortably, so shoes are unnecessary. An angry minotaur in a head down charge is very imposing. Like most creatures with horns, minotaur have a very thick patch of skull right between the horns.
Female minotaur look completely different than the males. They are milky white in color, and very closely resemble a cow. They can walk on two legs, but are often seen standing on all fours as a cow would. Their torsos are much less human, and are with udders. They are typically slightly smaller than an average cow, and they still have the distinctive minotaur "tri-hoof". Perhaps the easiest way to tell a female minotaur apart from a bovine is that they have very short tails. Female minotaur legs are even stronger than the male's, and they better runners because they use a four-legged gait.
Minotaur have fair senses. Their large, wide set eyes allow them to take in a larger field of view than most races (almost 180°), but their vision is not remarkable beyond that. They have good hearing and olfactory senses, typical of herbivores. Their sense of taste is muted, but still fair. They only eat plants. To maintain the amount of energy they put out minotaur men must eat nearly a quarter of their weight each day in grains, vegetables, and fruit. The women are better adapted to eating fibrous plant matter (multiple stomachs) but must still eat a large amount. Minotaur can survive on grass alone for a while, but will become sluggish and weak. Female minotaur can survive much longer on grass alone, but they too will eventually weaken and die.
Male minotaur are on par with humans in intellect. They do have a tendency to be more literal minded than humans are, and will generally choose very direct solutions to problems. Other races have called minotaur uncreative, though they would call themselves practical. Minotaur women however are not bright. They are on par with retarded human children. While they are capable of being trained to do simple tasks (many farming tasks) they are too simple minded to comprehend most language and complicated instructions.
Minotaur breed quite slowly. They have a long gestation period (16 months) in which they only bear a single child. Multiple births among minotaur never happen. After a birth there is a long period varying between two and four years in which the female cannot conceive again (this period lengthens as they grow older). Because of this and the enormous amount of farmland required to feed a minotaur population, their numbers have always been fairly small. Minotaur will typically live about 70 years before they are overtaken by age.
Minotaur seldom have magic. The rate at which they have magic at all is about half that of humans (1 in 2000), and they are always much weaker. A minotaur shaman might reach an aura level of 20 if they are quite gifted. While minotaur women might also receive magic, they are too simple to learn how to use it.
The minotaur's culture is one of law and order. Male minotaur exorcise total control over all aspects of their society, both dominating and protecting their females. Minotaur are fiercely protective of their women, doing whatever possible to prevent any harm or discomfort from coming to them. Next to that strong sense of chivalry, the most important parts of life are honor and discipline.
Minotaur society organizes along tribal lines, with the most honorable (and usually older and wiser as well) among them leading the clan. The leadership changes hands with levels of honor, and the chief is usually willing to listen to the advice of his peers. The easiest way for a young minotaur to gain honor is through combat (ritual and otherwise) with other clans, so wars between minotaur clans were frequent. More recently Lord Mael has forced the clans to stop warring on each other directly, so the minotaur exclusively use ritual combat where no one is killed.
In a ritual combat the leaders of two clans will meet and decide on the rules for a conflict, deciding what actions will be considered honorable and which dishonorable. The leaders then return and choose equal numbers of warriors for each side to compete. Sometimes there are special rules governing who can be chosen for a particular combat. The rules used to be more straight-forward objectives and rules (kill 12 of the opposing clan, capture the flag, hold the river crossing, etc), but since Mael's rule the minotaur have had to get more creative in their rules. Rules such as "ring out the opposing clan while using only one leg" or "fight blindfolded until noon" have become increasingly commonplace. Combats will also typically have more rules than before, so the warriors must be clever as well as strong to keep track of them all and achieve the greatest "score".
Minotaur are extremely traditional. Each clan has a "traditional" holding that they fight to protect. Ascendant tribes are sometimes able to win away some of the holdings of other tribes, but they are seldom able to hold onto new land for more than a few generations, as the clan whose land has been taken from them will fight to regain it. Other prizes in war included food, desirable women, weapons and other goods. Recent, very large scale ritual combats have similar prizes, though territory seldom changes hands anymore. These large conflicts have attracted a viewing audience from Pallis (and other planes) that find the massive armies of minotaur dancing around very entertaining, treating them like a sporting event. The proceeds from these entertainment programs have become part of the winnings for the leading clan.
Minotaur do not marry. Instead the leaders get first pick of fertile females, and also get to pick more often. There are a number of traditions surrounding this process that vary in detail from clan to clan, but always emphasize the most honorable getting to have more offspring.
Each facet of minotaur life has tradition and rules. The hunters will have a hunt leader (Minotaur hunt for skins, furs, and to make some bone tools. They sell or trade the meat to humans), the blacksmiths will have a blacksmith leader, soldiers have generals, etc. These positions are determined by experience, honor, and other factors that vary from clan to clan but are considered immutable laws of ancient practice. Farming is mostly left to the females, who have naturally "green hooves" and need very little supervision to maintain productive fields. There are always "ways" in which trade-craft are practiced that usually have not changed in hundreds of years. This adds the the minotaur's image of being uncreative. New methods of doing things are introduced slowly.
Magic using minotaur have a special place in the clan. They are called shamans, and use the sorcery style of magic. While minotaur that can use magic are rare, those that are powerful enough to use sorcery are so rare that they are usually accepted as members of multiple clans. They act in the role of "medicine man" as well as advisers to the leaders of each clan. They act as the mediators between clans, presiding over the proceedings that precede a ritual combat. Slaying a shaman, even by accident, brings total dishonor and exile from all minotaur clans. Should a shaman be killed by a non-minotaur, all the local minotaur would rally together and seek brutal and usually gory revenge, including the merciless slaughter of the murderer's family and children. Humans that live on Mael know how to recognize a minotaur shaman by their clothing, and recognize the folly of harming one.
Minotaur have a strong tradition of revenge, and may spend their entire life dedicated to hunting down and avenging the death of one of their brethren. Deaths in combat and ritual combat are not subject to vendetta, even in the case of wrongful death as a result of cheating. Clan leaders will punish cheaters severely, and it could take generations for the family of the cheater to recover their honor.
Minotaur have kept a detailed history of their race. In part that is because the honor of an individual is partially derived from that of their ancestors. Any minotaur can relate a flawless account of their ancestry. Minotaur also love to recount honorable tales of adventure that they have personally been involved in, their clan has been involved in, or their ancestors have been involved in. Minotaur will spend hours trading stories with each other, and it is one of their favorite pastimes. In recent times, they have even gone so far as to publish books containing collections of their greatest achievements.
However, constructing an accurate history of the minotaur race is somewhat problematic. The minotaur suppress tales of dishonor and memory of even horrible tragedy is usually lost within a generation. Anthropologists studying the minotaur have been forced to rely heavily on the human populations of Mael to fill in the gaps. Since the human and minotaur clans were usually at odds throughout Mael's history, these accounts are suspect as well.
When the minotaur and human populations were first created on Almazan (as Mael was known for most of its history), they had no history and traditions to draw on in order to determine what it was they should be doing. This was probably the most chaotic time in Almazan's history. Even so, it was fairly orderly. The minotaur spread out and claimed most of the best farmland in the predominantly mountainous plane before the first generation was even turning gray. After a few years they came in contact with the humans also resident in plane. Humans need significantly less land per person because they can supplement their diet with hunting in the unfarmable mountains, but their population was larger. Early battles went poorly for the humans, since they had no weapons and the minotaur are naturally much stronger, faster, and have built-in weapons.
These very first battles were brutal and uncontrolled. Minotaur engaged in the wholesale slaughter of entire human villages. Humans quickly learned to fashion primitive weapons from wood and the abundant metallic rocks of Almazan, and used their greater numbers to exercise brutal retaliation.
However, when Almazan's winter arrived, the fighting came to an abrupt halt. The first long, bitter winter after the two races began fighting for territory cut into the populations of minotaur and humans alike even more than the fighting had. The minotaur are especially hard pressed in the winter months, since they are herbivores. Starvation overcame animosity and the leaders of the humans and minotaur met peacefully for the first time. Here they reached a landmark accord, in which they agreed on certain rules that would protect all the clans from destruction by the harsh climate.
- Wars should be limited in length to the spring and summer months.
- At any time any party in a conflict must be allowed to surrender and return to their lands to work the fields. Individuals should return to captivity after the first snowfall, at which time their release may be negotiated. Clans should come to an agreement as to the terms of their surrender within two weeks. Surrender terms should not deprive the loser of the means of survival.
- No clan should knowingly destroy crops of another clan.
- Women and children are off-limits. They may change hands as agreed upon prizes only.
- Failure to follow any of these guidelines will dishonor the clan.
This first set of rules would be expanded over the centuries, but these core rules remained. Those few clans that violated the accords were remembered, and when they fell on hard times no other clans would help them.
Rules for individual combat also slowly developed. Eventually these rules and accords formed a complex tapestry of tradition governing all aspects of life on Almazan.
Kings and Castles
The various human and minotaur clans slowly expanded in number throughout the plane. The leaders of large clans were still known as Chiefs, even for the largest clans. The first king on Almazan was a human chieftain that won control over several smaller clans. Rather than abolish them, he allowed them to continue to practice their own traditions, and in return they would call him king, though the word used was still closer to chieftain. This happened a few more times, but most clans avoided being absorbed by others completely. Because of the rules regarding surrender and territory, many clans entered a state of perpetual tribute to larger, more powerful clans. Minotaur have never referred to any of their leaders as king. Those few minotaur clans large enough sometimes use the title Great Chief.
At the same time technology was developing. A level of medieval technology was achieved relatively quickly because of the abundance and ease of refining various metals. Indeed, it would not have been uncommon to find armies wielding titanium swords and wearing nickel-iron breast plates. Minotaur inevitably hold the advantage on the offensive, since they move quickly and are difficult to beat in a forward charge. To counter this, human clans began building large stone castles to control key territory. The minotaur found these very difficult to breach and for a time the territories of the clans became more fixed.
However, sorcerers were starting to develop their traditions and powers among the humans. This led them to take advantage of the magically weaker minotaur. Minotaur shamans were also coming to the fore, but they were not able to do more than weakly counter the effects of the humans' more numerous and powerful sorcerers. The first war to be fought making extensive use of sorcerers caused such devastation to the defeated minotaur clan that the responsible humans were gravely dishonored, having accidentally reduced the clan to the point where the following winter none would have survived had they not received help and protection from the victors.
The other clans (human and minotaur alike) were outraged that the accords had been so grievously violated. The following spring all the surrounding clans declared war on the offenders. They surrendered in dishonor and gave their castle to the minotaur clan they had devastated. This castle (which still stands in modern times) was the first castle ever controlled by minotaur. The minotaur have never bothered to build castles because they are most effective in a war of maneuver, shunning fixed emplacements.
This caused a ripple effect throughout the plane, and shortly using magic for making war was considered very dishonorable. It was considered an unfair advantage over most of the population. Sorcerers from that point on only ever used their magic for peaceful purposes. Conversely, attacking a sorcerer became punishable by death. They became the medics and peace keepers of the plane. Humans and minotaur alike respected sorcerers for their abilities and treated them with deference as long as they were peaceful.
After centuries of having to laboriously take castles from humans in order to gain territory, a minotaur clan discovered gunpowder. They made use of it to blast the walls of a castle and gain entry. They gave warning of their intent beforehand, allowing the humans inside time to evacuate the section of wall they brought down. The humans were able to learn how to make their own gunpowder quickly enough, and they used it against each other as well. The age of castles was abruptly brought to an end.
Castles were deemed too valuable as dwellings and shelter from extreme winters to allow them all to be demolished. After a few were destroyed or severely damaged by attacks, the kings and great chiefs of the plane met and decided that they would be preserved. Humans are more susceptible to the cold of Almazan winters, so the minotaur did not begrudge them their fortresses. The agreement was that the remaining castles would be used only for battle in agreed upon combats. These were the earliest known "ritual" combats where rules were established beforehand. A clan bordering a clan in possession of a castle might propose that they be allowed to engage in a traditional attack on their castle. If the defenders were able to hold it they would be awarded some prizes and be declared the winner. If the attacker won they may claim some agreed upon territory or prize. In this manner a whole war could be fought in a single engagement. These became popular among larger clans bordering smaller clans with strong castles but not much territory.
Gunpowder began use in the field in primitive cannon soon after its discovery. The age of castles was over and the age of cannon had begun.
Gond and Gold
The humans quickly developed rudimentary muskets to use against each other and the minotaur. Minotaur had always had an advantage in an attack, their forward charges were so fast and effective that humans had trouble breaking them. Muskets changed that somewhat, but the humans would still only get one or two shots before the minotaur would arrive, so combat strategy was slow to change. Minotaur had trouble making any gunpowder weapons other than large cannon because of their limited dexterity. Still, they were able to win better crafted weapons as part of the spoils of war and minotaur sized guns slowly spread through the plane.
Around this time, the first agents from Gond began appearing on the plane. They found a culture with very little magic and prohibitions against using what little they had for war. The arrogant mages assumed that they could easily dominate the large and resource rich plane. Unfortunately for the mages, they underestimated the effectiveness of the minotaur and of gunpowder weapons.
However, even the resources of a single city-state (the Oligarchy had yet to form) provided many powerful and magically advanced wizards. The available magic knowledge on Almazan was stunted by their tradition of peaceful use, so even the few sorcerers and shamans were ill-equipped to face the battle hardened mage wizards. As a result, their armies were forced to retreat and surrender their territory.
All the clans were infuriated at the mages' refusal to follow their accords of war. The mages ruthlessly burned crops and killed civilians. They destroyed castles and executed prisoners. Despite their protests, the clans were virtually powerless to stop the advance of the mages' armies.
Again all the kings and great chiefs met to decide on a course of action. They decided to put aside their conflicts to ally against the mage encroachment. They pooled their sorcerers and shamans to defend a combined army against the mages. This combined force was able to halt the advance of the mages, but by this time their foothold was strong enough to prevent them from being pushed off easily.
Ironically, the Iron Fist attacked Gond and the city-state controlling territory on Almazan was forced to withdraw its forces to join in the newly formed Oligarchy's defense of their own plane. The forces they could spare on Almazan were not able to hold more than a small territory around the portal. The forces of the combined clan armies forced them back into their magical fort after a few more years, but was unable to even come close to damaging their magical defenses.
Warily, the combined army dispersed and life on Almazan returned to normal for a time. The conquering impulses of the Oligarchy were diverted to easier targets for a time, and the mages did not bother to expand their foothold again.
Around this time the first agents from the Golden Sun arrived on plane to perform surveys. They learned of the mages' past abuses and issued a "polite request" that the mages abandon their remaining territory on Almazan. They abandoned their fort rather than risk economic sanctions from the empire. This earned a lot of good will for Solaris with the clans. Trade through Almazan to the Solarin empire increased and some amount of wealth filtered to the clans.
This situation was relatively stable for many years. Occasionally some enterprising mages would impinge on the territory of the clans, but they were usually not able to win enough support from the rest of the Oligarchy to maintain a presence for long.
Wars of Light and Dark
For most of Almazan's history, the wars inherent to the rest of the planar system largely passed over the plane. This was because for the majority of the time, the Mythos were unable to find a good way through the West side of the planar system without going through Gond, which they refused to deal with (because of the mages). By the time they abdicated and the drow took over, the Abyss was too weak to do more than hold their own on the Nexus. Solaris made some attempts to sway the minotaur and human clans to their side, but made little headway. The clans liked Solaris for the most part, but did not want to give up their way of life. They were allowed a fort on the portal to Khoel, which they won in fair contest in accordance with Almazon tradition. They used this position to send out agents to the clans to continue to influence the clans. Given time, they would have been able to erode the culture of Almazan and gain an alliance, but this was an especially slow process on the tradition oriented plane.
However, when Lord Bael lead the Abyss to a recovery against Solaris, the first envoys from the Abyss appeared on the plane. They, unlike the mages before them, did not assume they could use magic to subdue the populace of Almazan, especially given that Solaris was already on the plane. Instead, they adopted a technique usually reserved for Solaris and tried to use propaganda and economics to earn favor among the clans. Eventually they were allowed to "lease" some territory from the clans around the portals.
All this had been a means to establish a foothold. The Abyss moved troops in and began taking down clans one by one, in a manner that was consistent with Almazan tradition. Solaris saw what was happening and used their own troops to stop their advance. However, Solaris made a critical error, and failed to meet with the Abyssal generals before attacking, retaking territory without observing proper procedures.
The clans were non-too pleased with the flaunting of their traditions, and forced the Solarins to return the territory they had taken unfairly to the Abyss. This started a more active role of clan involvement in the conflict between the two great empires. Seeing that both sides needed "guidance" in the ways of how things were done. Both sides began hiring local forces and creating a network of alliances among the clans. The clans' positive image of Solaris was struck a grave blow by their attack on the Iron Fist, which had built a good image of itself. Even so, the minotaur usually sided with the Golden Sun since they had traditionally (remember, Solaris had been on Almazan for thousands of years already) been good. The humans more readily accepted some degree of change and more often sided with the Abyss.
When the Second Dragon War rolled around, the conflict inevitably spread to Almazan. The devastation wrought by this level of conflict had not been seen on the plane before, and the clans drastically reconsidered their alliances with the major powers. The dragons were also not convinced they should halt activities during the winter, drawing ire from the clans. By the time the war ended and the planes slipped into a new dark age (which included Almazan), the clans had become fed up with dealing with the empires. They agreed that they would no longer ally themselves with either side.
A few hundred years passed in relative peace. The clans had been badly hurt by the warring and had lost much of their technology. Acres of precious farmland had been rendered barren by Ultima blasts scattered across the plane by dragons (which never observed the Aether Ban Pact). Survival concerned the clans more than warfare, and several generations went by without very many conflicts. During this time, the traditions around ritual combat were developed more, as clans could not risk conflict on a massive scale.
Little was heard from the great Empires for a long time, and the clans liked it that way. They blamed Solaris and the Abyss for the destruction of their lands and continued to hate them. When Solaris finally sent emissaries to "reclaim" the territory they had abandoned at the end of the Second Dragon War, they were received coolly and only granted enough land to rebuild their embassy. Surrounding clans refused to engage them in trade or ritual combat.
Last Dragon War
The Iron Fist showed up again on Almazan around 1000 years ago. There they met a reception similar to the one that had greeted the Solarins. They were not pleased and left. Bael had decided it was time to mount a serious assault on Solaris again, and chose Almazan as his battle ground. A few years after Abyssal emissaries were turned away, a huge Abyssal army materialized through the portal to Gond. The clans were unprepared to deal with this massive force, and began falling quickly. The Abyssals used strong magic, Legendary Weapons, and brutal tactics to utterly destroy the combined forces of the clans.
Solaris immediately responded and dispatched their navy and a similarly large army to the plane, and the Last Dragon War had begun. The clans were largely ignored in this conflict once Solaris had brought their army to the plane. They were forced to abandon the territories between the portal to Gond and the portals to Khoel and The Grey to the warring empires, a vast tract of land accounting for more than 1/3 of the plane.
Fortunately for the minotaur and other denizens of Almazan, the war would not last long (only a little more than 2 Almazonian years). Unfortunately, the final (and most destructive) battle would take place on their plane. A huge force of dragons wielding Legendary Weapons devastated almost a fifth of the plane. The loss of life and destruction of the land in this final battle between dragons is unparalleled in the history of all the planes. Tens of thousands of minotaur and humans were blasted and vaporized in the crossfire. Shortly afterward the remaining forces from both empires withdrew. The dragons were never seen again, but the land was left scarred and broken.
To make matters worse, the winter that followed was one of the harshest ever. Thousands more starved and the minotaur population shrank a great deal. Several clans ceased to exist, their stores of food destroyed and their land ravished beyond repair. The human populations suffered similarly.
Two hundred years later the plane was still recovering. The memories of the last war were beginning to fade, but had not yet disappeared, so when a powerful man appeared on the plane and declared himself to be the ruler, he was met with firm resistance.
Lord Mael proved over and over that he was invulnerable. He agreed to challenges from various clans and whatever the terms they posed, they were not able to best him and his fantastic sword. Clan after clan capitulated to him, accepting him as their king. However, the minotaur clans refused to be conquered so easily and continued to make war on the holdings of the increasingly large domain of Mael. While Mael himself is invulnerable and all powerful in battle, he can only be in one location at a time, and Almazan is a large plane.
Taking advantage of this fact, clans on the borders of Mael's domain organized quick wars to regain territory on the edges of his realm where he was not. Quick battles were fought and concluded before he could transport himself across the rugged terrain to deal with it. When Mael arrived he would retake the territory only to lose it again the next time he was away. Human clans were often forced to submit to his rule, but minotaur clans would accept ruinous terms to keep their independence. They would win release from these terms in the same way they regained their territory.
However, Lord Mael was not to be stopped. He organized an army to fight for him when he was not available. He had modern forts built all over the frontier to defend against raids and make arranged battles more difficult.
The only minotaur clan that ever swore allegiance to Mael is the Minoguard. This clan's core territory encompassed the site of the city that Mael envisioned as the heart of his realm. He relentlessly bargained and fought with them until they finally capitulated to his power and embraced him as their chief. No human had ever managed to win such a concession from any minotaur clan, let alone one as respected as the Minoguard. They took to their new allegiance with ferocity, and went forth through the plane to help Mael secure his domain.
In combination with the Mael's growing human riflemen corps, the Minoguard forced concessions from clan after clan. While no other minotaur clan acceded their independence, all were convinced to accept certain boundaries for Mael's territory as "permanent" and to relinquish their right to challenge this territory. This final area encompassed almost half of the plane. The remaining minotaur clans (and a few tough human clans with strongly positioned castles) also agreed to a yearly (Almazan long year, not Solarin standard) tribute to Mael.
The independent clans more or less withdrew completely from the planar system. Under pressure from Mael they abandoned warfare in favor of complicated ritual combats for the purposes of establishing honor amongst themselves. They were not happy with what Mael was doing with the plane, but had no means of combating him and relegated themselves to their fate. This stable state was finally reached about 300 years ago. By that time the minotaur had completely accepted the situation and any chance of change completely evaporated.