Horde Book 2: Maze of the Minotaur


Maze of the Minotaur is a GM's reference guide for the use of minotaurs as a full-blown race rather than a singular foe. In keeping with the aims of the Masters and Minions project, author Brian Stith has concocted five variants of minotaur for use in role-playing, along with notes on ecology, social structure, and character development for the monsters.

Before I dive into the review of the product itself, I'd like to talk a little bit about minotaurs. Sure, most of us have been comfortable with them in fantasy gaming for decades, but the source material can be important.

Almost everybody knows that the Minotaur comes from Greek mythology. The myth goes that the god Poseidon sent a beautiful bull to King Minos of Crete, with the intent that Minos would sacrifice it to him. Minos liked the bull so much he decided to keep it; and naturally this irritated Poseidon, who in typical Olympian fashion decided to get back at him by causing Minos' wife Pasiphae to fall in love with the bull. How exactly Pasiphae managed to seduce the creature is something we'll leave to one side, but suffice to say she did. The offspring of this unnatural congress was the Minotaur, a horrible monster with the body of a man but the head of a bull. Minos was appropriately horrified, and decided to imprison his, er, stepson with a maze designed by his in-house genius Daedalus. This maze was called the labyrinth, and among other things, it was the place where the hero Theseus ultimately confronted the Minotaur and slew it.

...causing Minos' wife Pasiphae to fall in love with the bull.

That's the storybook version. Some scholars now believe this tale is a mythologized remembrance of the so-called Minoan culture of ancient Crete, a civilization so advanced it was said to have flushing toilets and hot and cold running water in the second millennium BCE. The Minoans were bull-worshippers, and built massive palaces around central courtyards where their young folk performed such outlandish feats as bull-vaulting and other forms of archaic rodeo sport. Modern archeologists have suggested the many-roomed palaces might have been the inspiration for the mythical labyrinth, at the center of which could be found the minotaur (the "bull of Minos", in this case the Minoan people's sacred bulls). The mainland Greeks, whose more primitive Mycenean culture would later conquer the Minoans, were baffled and impressed by all this. Though they didn't remember it too clearly, they retained some of the essential details of the story as symbols, and hence our minotaur.

Fast forward about 3,000 years and it was a schoolboy favorite, an obvious choice for Gary Gygax to include in his Monster Manual, along with sphinxes, gryphons, medusas, and the other mythological nasties that every playground hero and tabletop warrior has ever wanted to slay. From there, it was a short twenty-five-year hop to Behemoth3's Maze of the Minotaur, subject of this review. Readers may also be interested in a Gamegrene review of their first book.


Maze of the Minotaur is a GM's reference guide for the use of minotaurs as a full-blown race rather than a singular foe. In keeping with the aims of the Masters and Minions project, author Brian Stith has concocted five variants of minotaur for use in role-playing, along with notes on ecology, social structure, and character development for the monsters.

The book is laid out in seven sections: after the introduction, there's a section on the five types of minotaur. This is followed by a discussion of how to build minotaur characters, a section on adventures using minotaurs, and a section describing sample famous minotaurs. A section on how to run minotaur encounters, including a sample minotaur maze, concludes the book, and is followed by an appendix of handy charts, tables, and so forth.

Style Critique

my eyes opened to the possibilities of the PDF medium

  • Writing: Fair/Good. Minor grammatical problems and odd word choices may distract some readers, and simple errors are somewhat common in the latter parts of the document. But this is a role-playing supplement, not the Great American Novel, so overall I'd say Stith does a competent job at getting his point across.
  • Artwork: Good. Illustrator Sang Lee gives us some vivid, fresh images of minotaurs. Some of the black and white images don't resolve very well, however; on first glance, I thought a Dwarf's hands were improperly drawn.
  • Research: Fair/Good. The author's scientific research is strong, and his first-hand knowledge of small unit tactics helps flesh out the sixth section of the book really well. However, I was struck by the almost total lack of homage to the mythical source material; Stith acknowledges himself as a fan of the myths, but doesn't really make use of them or draw on them in a meaningful way. This choice impacts his conception of minotaurs as hunters, which I'll discuss later on.
  • Format: Excellent. I give a big thumbs-up to Behemoth3 for their wonderful PDF design and handy SwoRD Project pages (an online iteration of the d20 System Reference Document). Hyperlinks embedded in the PDF allow for quick reference to game mechanics stored on their reference site, and bookmarks and internal links provide easy navigation through the manual. I admit, I was a little leery of wading through a 66-page PDF document at first. By the time I'd finished, my eyes had been opened to the possibilities of the medium.
  • Game Design: Good. The creature profiles show careful design and playtesting. The abilities of the minotaurs are appropriate -- but where, oh, where is Improved Bull Rush? The multiclassing rules seemed a bit cumbersome at first glance -- the rules for XP penalties and monster classes initially confused me. Though a thorough example section de-mystifies the process somewhat, I'd be a bit cautious about springing these minotaurs as PC-worthy racial choices on an unsuspecting player or GM. Advanced players could handle the mechanics; newbies would be better off meeting the minotaurs as foes.
  • Ecology/Creature Design: Good. Stith envisions the minotaur as a pack hunter, basing minotaur ecology on the behavior and social dynamics of real-life lions. He makes it work, but I found myself initially asking: do I believe this? Given Stith's clear understanding of herd behavior and the amount of thought he put into the minotaurs' ecology, I found lions an odd choice. Not only does Stith stray from the mythological source, he seems to forget a good deal of the biology of the source animal, which obviously is a bull. In that light, I was a bit annoyed by the assumption that minotaurs would be entirely carnivorous; the artwork uniformly depicts minotaurs as having the teeth of omnivores. I wanted to e-mail Stith and say: this creature is part bull -- it should eat at least a few plants! Setting that aside, the ecological efforts are plausible enough for a fantasy setting. The fact that Behemoth3 encourages thought in this direction at all sets the work apart from most other efforts I've encountered.

Content Critique

cooperating female minotrices and maze mages

  • Monsters: Good. As noted, Stith has sort of reinvented the minotaur for this work. Once you accept the monster as a pack hunter with herd instincts, the variant minotaurs are a lot of fun. The Bull Lord is an imposing centerpiece for the labyrinth, augmenting the more-or-less standard minotaur monster profile. My favorites, however, were the cooperating, female minotrices and maze mages. These creatures provide an interesting twist on the minotaur concept, and their roles as envisioned by Stith give the minotaur race a great deal of depth and plausibility. I was less impressed with the biological-bulldozer concept of the bestial Tauron, but it does serve to round out the ecological concerns the book tries to address by providing a mechanism for the creation of labyrinths.
  • Characters: Good. Though I struggled to envision the minotaur as a PC class in a standard campaign, Stith has taken great pains to create impressive monster classes with clear and balanced power development. Again, I don't recommend this section to newbies, but any experienced GM should be delighted by the ease with which a minotaur of almost any type and power level can be generated. One complaint: the sample names seemed very typical fantasy fare, the kind of stuff any junior-high-school kid might imagine. It was my feeling that a stronger basis in any of the numerous mythical bull-myth sources would've produced more original names than the sort of "generic Klingon"/pulp-Fantasy sounds I encountered here.
  • Adventures: Fair. Since I didn't really think much of the Tauron as a concept, the Tauron-based acid bag struck me as rather silly. The minotrice stonework was a much better idea. The adventure hooks didn't really move me; compared to the rest of the book, this section seemed a bit thin.
  • Denizens: Good. This section, covering examples of minotaurs with character classes in addition to their monster classes, was a fun read. Granted, it's pretty easy to come up with cool characters, or why else would we role-play? All the same, Stith has envisioned some interesting stories and laid out a few thought-provoking possibilities in this section. Again, the adventure hooks didn't do much for me, but the rest of the section was strong enough that it didn't matter.
  • Encounters: Excellent. This was one of the best sections of the book. In the descriptions of typical unit encounters and their tactics, I could see the average GM gaining a really solid benefit. The section's sample lair also provides a number of good ideas for how minotaur lairs would be laid out, and for the kinds of devious tricks the herd would use against intruders.


Yeah, I was a bit disappointed that the minotaurs in this book are something of a departure from the source myth, but I realized after a while that the freshness Stith brings to the creature helps more than it hurts. In the end, we all know the cliches: originality is something fantasy gaming sometimes paradoxically seems to lack.

the design and thoughtfulness are likely to yield excellent results over time

Would I use it? I'll give a qualified 'yes.' I'm not a very typical GM. The circumstances in which I'd use it would be specific: if I were running a history-and-myth-influenced campaign based on the Mycenean period of Ancient Greece, with appropriately modified monster lists and bronze-age gear, the use of this book would be a no-brainer. I'd tweak a few details to suit my personal tastes (mainly to bring the minotaurs closer to bulls than to lions), and off I'd go. I wouldn't use this book in a "standard" D&D campaign because the creature depth available here would be something I'd want to save for a more important race such as elves or orcs: you don't want your players losing focus on the main events of your campaign world. That said, I'd recommend this resource for almost any GM who wants to use lots of minotaurs but doesn't want to add a bunch of extra work to her already considerable task. Even for workaholic, do-it-all-from-scratch GMs such as myself, Maze of the Minotaur is a good resource for a well-fleshed-out monster race that could work in almost any campaign with a bit of tinkering. The racial detail is strong enough that you could even use it as a race/planetary profile for a sci-fi campaign, provided you were willing to give some thought to converting the Maze Mage away from the Druid class to a psionicist, Force Adept, or what-have-you.

Would I buy it? This is the acid test, since as a reviewer, I got my copy for free. $15 is a steal for a gaming book these days, even a 66-pager, but I still probably wouldn't buy the printed version. That's less a reflection on the content than on my general wariness of gaming books lately; I've had a lot of them fall apart on me, and I'd have to inspect the hard copy before I'd be willing to recommend it to a buyer. At $7.50, however, the PDF version seems like a great deal: it's far easier to use than I expected it to be, and the solid, link-enabled design is a definite plus. If you expect to use a lot of minotaurs in your campaign, this sourcebook will provide you with numerous ideas and will save you a good deal of work.

Would I be interested in other Behemoth3 products? Heck, yeah. The design and thoughtfulness are likely to yield excellent results over time. I don't know if this is Stith's first effort, but I'd be willing to bet he'll produce something of similar quality in the future.

This review is based on a complementary copy of Horde Book 2: Maze of the Minotaur.

Finally, something useful about minotaurs! Actually, they were carnivorous in the myths: they ate human flesh.

Yes, in the myth Asterius/Asterion (the minotaur's proper name) ate the sacrifices sent to him; there can be little doubt of that.

My point was simply this: when developing the ecology of a minotaur, it seems reasonable to give a nod or two to the bull aspect of the creature. No?

My fav minotaurs will always be DragonLance... I miss Kaz...

"A mind is a terrible thing to taste."