Centaurs in the Flanaess come in two distinct varieties, the woodland types and the free roving centaurs that roam the expanse of plains in the Baklunich west and the grasslands that stretch across the northern Flanaess.
It is surmised among scholars that the centaurs encountered in the forested regions of the Flanaess are originally from the same stock as their plains cousins, despite being slightly smaller in stature. This is supported by the centaur's own mythology as they claim their origins are in the vast western plains.
According to centaur legend, which is handed down orally in stories and has only been written down by a few scholars, they began a migration east as the men who would become the Bakluni moved in and began competing with them territorially. During these wars for dominance over the plains, around -3,000 CY, the centaurs were at a significant disadvantage due to the humans' advantage in numbers and their more prolific use of magic.
While many centaurs were displaced and moved east, some still live in their ancestral homes, adapted to a life of competition, and continued ranging and staying away from the humans. Centaurs in these western lands are far more aggressive against humans and will attack them on sight if they have a sufficient numerical advantage, otherwise, they will flee and avoid confrontation. The centaurs that moved into the east are very wary of humans but far less bloodthirsty.
Moving into the northern plains of the Flanaess these centaurs dispersed. Tribes settled into what is now the lands of the Tiger Nomads, Wolf Nomads, Cold Marshes, much of what is the empire of Iuz, and the Barren Plains. At this time, some tribes even abandoned their traditional hunter-gather lifestyle upon the plains and took to living in the forests, with large numbers taking up residency in the Burneal, Vesve, Forlorn, and Fellreev forests. As the centaurs moved into the Flanaess, those who took to living in forests came in contact with the elves. With both races having strong ties to nature, they became mutual allies despite the centaur's general wariness towards other races. The elves living in the forests at that time helped the centaur’s transition to life there. This is particularly true of the Vesve centaurs, who have very strong ties with the elves and have adopted many of their elven customs.
Some groups of centaurs did push further south and east into the Flanaess, but the bulk of them remained in the north. However, of those tribes that did continue migrating south and east, they were nearly exclusively of the woodland variety.
The centaurs lived in the northern Flanaess for nearly a millennium before they came in contact with Flan tribes that had moved into the Flanaess and migrated into the north around -1740 CY. These encounters were relatively peaceful compared to the next wave of Flan people, the Ur-Flan lead by Vecna. The Ur-Flan and centaurs' meetings were brief and violent, leading to the centaurs fleeing east and westward away from this new Flan empire in the center of the Flanaess.
Eventually, this empire and the Ur-Flan faded from history. The Flan that remained on the plains afterward learned to live in an uneasy peace with their centaur neighbors.
The next wave of people to move into the centaurs domains in the Flanaess were the descendants of those ancient Bakluni tribes that had driven the centaurs out of their native lands in the west. These Bakluni fleeing the war between their people and the Suel moved into the lands now controlled by the Wolf and Tiger Nomads. These Bakluni, unlike the Flan, carried with them hatred and distrust of centaurs because of their experiences with them in the west. This lead to a violent clash between the two peoples. Like they had in times gone by, the centaurs were outnumbered and overwhelmed by the Bakluni tribes.
The tribes of centaurs in the northwestern were pushed eastward or sought shelter in the Burneal and the Vesve forests. The centaur tribes that fled eastward were moving into lands already dominated mostly by Flan tribes. The longstanding peace between the Flan and the centaurs turned into hostility and warfare. These conflicts were short-lived as many centaurs in the east moved into the Fellreev, and Forlorn forests seeking shelter. In the end, those tribes that remained on the plains were transformed into strong nomadic warrior tribes that learned to live alongside the Flan in peace.
The centaur tribes of the modern age live in relative harmony with their neighbors, be they elves in the forest or the nomadic Flan. Unfortunately, the animosity between the centaurs and the Bakluni tribes that evolved into the Wolf and Tiger Nomads remains.
During the Greyhawk Wars, as Iuz waged a war of genocide against the Barrens nomadic Flan, he waged war against the centaurs of the Barrens as well. Like the Flan tribes, the centaur tribes found themselves pushed to the edge of extinction before the war turned against Iuz, forcing him to pay more attention toward his enemies in the south.
Since then, the plains' centaurs have grown a strong bond of camaraderie with the remaining Flan tribes, and the two peoples now look upon one another as allies.
The centaurs of the Vesve were caught up in the war as well and fought alongside their closest allies, the elves. These centaurs still do not trust humans and work only in conjunction with them at the Veseve elves' behest.
Of all the centaur tribes, those who live in the cold Burneal forest have fared the best over these centuries of warfare. They have only contended with local tribes of Chakji and the Uirtag Flan they share the forest with. The centaurs have learned to share the sprawling forest with their human neighbors and are on good terms with them. The wars that have thinned the other centaur tribes of the Flanaess, fortunately, have never found their way into the Burneal. These centaurs are the most culturally savage of all the centaur tribes having the least contact with the outside world.
The forest-dwelling and plains centaurs' fighting styles have developed into similar but unique approaches to combat and warfare. Both use the same weapons for the most part, with their tactics setting them apart. Centaur warriors all carry hide-covered shields, spears, clubs, and either long or short bows.
On the plains, centaurs will attempt to keep their enemies at a distance and rain down arrows upon them. Only after they have sufficiently whittled down their enemy’s numbers do they close in to fight them. Plains centaurs are proficient at charging attacks where they will ride past their enemies just within range of their spears, stab at them as they ride past.
Woodland centaurs do not have the luxury of wide-open spaces. Still, they try to keep a distance between themselves and their enemies. Forst centaurs prepare ambushes to catch their enemies in relying on the element of surprise to inflict maximum casualties. Once the trap is sprung, they will launch several arrows, then melt into the forest and take up positions at another ambush. Forest centaurs are even more reluctant to close ranks with their enemies than their plains cousins. While slightly smaller than plains centaurs, the forest centaurs are still large creatures making it harder for them to navigate in thick forest.
The society of centaurs of the Flanaess is described for their kind in the various incarnations of the monster manuals. They are sociable with elves and gnomes, indifferent towards halflings and dwarves, and can be hostile towards humans. The level of hostility varies greatly depending on the region. The centaurs of the northern plains of the Flanaess are highly aggressive towards the Tiger and Wolf Nomads but on relatively good terms with the Rovers of the Barrens. They also hate all of those that work with Iuz.
Centaurs in the far west are isolationists speaking only with other tribes of centaurs. They are hostile toward all Bakluni and Paynim peoples. The western centaur tribes have taken to breeding and keeping packs of dogs with them, something their eastern cousins do not do.
The centaurs of the Burneal, and Forlorn forests are on good terms with local tribes of Flan and Chakji, but view all other humans as their enemies. These tribes also do not share the camaraderie with elves that the southern tribes have.
Of all the centaur tribes of the Flanaess, those of the Vesve forest is the most open towards other races and peoples. While still wary of humans, they have fought alongside rangers and druids enough to see and understand that not all humans are bad, just most of them. Their relationship with the elves of the Vesve is very strong. Because of this, the centaurs of the Vesve are the most culturally advanced of all the centaur tribes of the Flanaess.
Centaurs live in tribes existing of several extended families. The number of families varies but ranges between 4 to 8. The tribes are led by elders and the shaman of the tribe. Warriors are respected but are not the ruling class per-say. However, when a warrior reaches an older age, they are generally welcomed into the council of elders.
Centaurs of the plains live a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle and range from one campground to another in time with the seasons. They also live in large communal tents during bad weather. During the summer, they will traditionally only use lean-tos as a form of shelter.
Forest centaurs live a stationary lifestyle, usually making their homes in forest glades and clearings. They also build wooden structures or permanent tent-like structures. Forest centaurs also farm and raise certain types of livestock.
Centaur clothing is fashioned from furs and rough homespun fibers. They are not metal workers, and the bulk of their tools and weapons are made from wood and stone. They understand the benefit of metal weapons, though, and those that they can collect are prized. If and when centaur tribes barter or trade with other races, they usually are looking for metal weapons.
Unlike most other race’s centaurs have no gods that they worship. Their religion is based around the worship of their ancestors and nature. They believe that all things have a spirit that connects them to the one Great Spirt from which everything has evolved. All gods of nature and other gods are little more than an extension of this Great Spirit and should be respected but not venerated.
Each tribe has at least one elder shaman and a handful of lesser shaman that learn from the elder. When the elder shaman passes, one of the lesser shamans steps in to fill the void, becoming the new elder shaman.
Centaurs believe that one should try to live in harmony with all the spirits of the world. To them, living in harmony with nature is how one does this, and they see attempts to control, alter, and change the natural order of things as a perversion and unnatural. Damming a river, building a city, cutting down trees to sell the wood for coin are all perversions and anger the spirits.
Centaurs as Player Characters
Players wanting to play a centaur in Greyhawk should be aware of several things before choosing them, and they should talk with their DM to see how strictly they will apply them.
Most centaurs distrust humans or are hostile to them. Most centaurs also see other races that do not live in harmony with nature as evil races. To centaurs’ dwarves fall into this category. Because of this, most centaurs will find it hard to live and associate with most other races.
Humans unfamiliar with centaurs treat them with more of a sense of awe than anything else. They do not look at them with the same disdain they have for orcs and goblins. However, those with a history of interaction with centaurs will be wary or hostile toward them. Despite this, it is possible to play a centaur that has rejected some or most traditional ways of centaur life and now lives amongst humans.
The second thing that a player should consider is that the world is not designed for creatures of their size and make. Centaurs are much taller than average humans. Buildings and dungeons are not designed for four-legged and large creatures. Simple actions for a human, like climbing a rope, is nearly impossible for a centaur. Players should keep this in mind when choosing a centaur as a character. That being said, there are rules to be found in the Complete Book of Humanoids and in the Guildmasters’ Guild to Ravnica for playing centaur characters.