Graphic imagry, not for the squeamish.
The Centaurim at first glance look very much like the typical centaur archetype, that is a human torso complete with head and arms attached to the shoulder of an equine body. This is where similarity to the traditional centaurs end. The joining of the human and equine parts upon closer inspection is artificial, the skin and muscle held in place by stitching of the flesh. If the muscle were flayed away, the grafting continues into the skeletal system. The neck vertebrae of the horse are fused and reinforced to hold the weight of the human torso, while the human spine is also reinforced at the anchor point between the two species’ bodies. While the number of horse bloodlines and human races are quite diverse, the Centaurim were manufactured almost exclusively from the Aberthol steppe horse, and the associated Aberthol nomads who rode said horses to tend their herbs of bison and half feral cattle.
The Creation Process
Ideal candidates to become Centaurim are generally the team of an Aberthol Nomad, and his horse. The importance of the horse to said nomads ensures that riders have very strong bonds with their mounts, many being treated better than the wives of the nomads. Once a horse and rider are both captured alive, the process can begin.
The nomad, preserved by life oriented magics, is literally chopped in half just above the pubic bone. The legs, hips, and now redundant viscera are discarded or given to necromantic students to practice on. The horse is given a more gruesome treatment, the life force of the animal bonded to a temporary object. The head and most of the neck vertebrae are removed and the two spines are fused together, though a small range of movement is still allowed by this heavy joint. Arteries are connected with fine sewing, nerves aligned, and the esophagus is lengthened to connect the human mouth to the horse gut. The spirit of the animal is reintroduced and with soul altering magics, the horse and rider are literally melded into a single mind and spirit. This melding is fairly traumatic, turning decades of human memory and years of horse thoughts into a jumbled mess of incoherent dreams and half ideas.
Once completed, the new Centaurim is subjected to a battery of motor tests, administration of mind controlling magics and geased behavior programs. The monster is left to brood upon its condition, mixing the impulsive nature of the horse stew with the latent outrage of the human soul mangled. It takes a few days to two weeks before a proper level of anger and rage is reached, and usually twice as long to ‘break’ the new Centaurim to the commands of the handlers who will tend the beast and care for it before and after battle.
Care and Maintenance
The largest problem faced by the Centaurim is the small capacity of the human mouth and the large caloric needs of the equine body. Specially prepared high calorie and high fiber meals are brewed by the Handlers to reduce the rapid wear and tear of the small and weak human teeth. The rest of maintenance is based along the lines of horse care, keeping up iron horse shoes, keeping the tail and coat clean and the like. The human side needs less physical attention, but more mental stimulation. Much like a child, the Centaurim are entertained by bright colors and toys like balls and the like.
Things can become problematic when a Centaurim is filled with the urge to mate. While mares are able to handle the demands of a Centaurim, the things that are begotten in the womb are always stillborn and most of the time kill the mare in the process. This is the lesser of the problems are the Centaurim are generally only attracted to human females, few of which are physically capable of mating with a Centaurim. Those who are subjected to this, most often slaves and enemy captives either are emotionally and physically scarred for life, or die from trauma and internal bleeding.
Arms and Armor
When the call to war comes, the Handlers dress the Centaurim in custom made plate and chain barding. This is a hybrid of human and horse armors with the strongest protection being for the jointure of the neck/torso. Donning this barding takes fifteen to twenty minutes, and just as long to remove after a battle. Killing a Centaurim is generally a tough matter, as a chest shot to the human torso can only harm organs secondary to the larger and stronger heart and lungs of the equine body. Only the head is vulnerable, and a strong helm is often enough to compensate for this weakness. The most common weapons of the Centaurim are the lance, curved falchion sword, and the horseman versions of the hammer, pick, and flail. Given the stoutness of the barding, shields are only seen when archers are known to be about in large numbers.
Engines of War
Created by the morally bankrupt western provinces of the Old World and associated Empire, the Centaurim were made to be living breathing war machines. Larger and stronger than men, and smarter than horses, they were ideally created to hunt and kill nun-humanoids such as trolls, ogres, minotaurs and the like. In this role, they performed exceptionally well. Mentalists considered the violence demonstrated by Centaurim in battle as a vent for the rage generated by their fused souls. Given this unnatural condition Centaurim never tired of battle, but instead grew increasingly difficult to handle without regular bouts of hunting and warfare.
The death of a Centaurim is a considerable loss, taking into account the time and effort required to capture, create, and ‘tame’ the beasts before they are ready to battle. Consequently, despite their bloodlust, few were ever thrown away in pointless or suicidal battles. In the event that a Centaurim was slain in battle, a necromancer familiar with the creature’s hybrid soul could be on hand to reanimate the corpse of the creature as a greater form of undead, a zombie of exceptional strength, physical fortitude, and violent disposition.
Variations and Oddities
Female Centaurim - Few were made as the needed emotional bond between horse and rider was patently missing among the Aberthol nomads. This primarily stemmed from the fact that local taboo forbade women from touching or handling the horses, or even seeing the stallions of the tribe during the menses. Those that were made were unstable even by Centaurim standards, though the few that did survive the transition were generally used in ceremonial roles and following the Nightmare war, no more were ever made.
Other Animal Hybrids - certainly unusual and cruel, other races, notably halfling and gnomes were subjected to fusion with goats, pigs, ponies and other animals. All of these ventures were failures, as none of these races shared a bond with the given animals they were whipstitched to.
Other Horse Breeds - Experimentation showed that other human stock and horse breeds could be used, but none came close to the synchronization ratio of the Abertholian nomads and their horses. It was also discovered that for the ritual to work, both specimens had to be adults, past puberty and no longer growing. The lifespan of the horse also limited the lifespan of the Centaurim, with old age crippling the creature after fewer than 30 years, assuming a stallion no more than a six to eight years old was used in the creation process.
Of the Abertholians
Ranging across the North-Western highlands, the Abertholian natives are relatively peaceful nomads. They are certainly able to defend themselves in times of war, but are content to follow their herds of bison, unlike the savage and cannibalistic Tuyewera Nomads, whom all loath and hunt on suspicion. The heartless magi and necrosurgeons who build the Centaurim tend to ‘harvest’ their stock with as little attention as possible, and rather than entire nomad toumans vanishing, hunting parties instead go missing, or trips to sell horses to other tribes end with all parties gone. For the most part, the Abertholians will lament their dead and speak tales of keeping close to the camps, never traveling alone, and fearing the unknown monsters of the plains.
This selectivity by the magi is in no way based on any sort of squishy sentimentality. If they took too many of the natives they would damage the breeding pool of their human and equine stock. It is better to be selective and not let the herd see when the butcher comes to take his piece. For the most part, the butchers do quite well, plying their trade until the Nightmare war blasts across Aberthol, slaughtering magi and nomad alike, leaving behind naught but shattered fields of ice and smoking ghost lakes.
The Tomb - Rather than encounter the standard rank and file of zombie guardians placed in a royal tomb, instead a group of four Centaurim revenants stands vigil over a great warrior’s body. Strong, aggressive, and fast, these zombies should provide a strong and painfully unnatural foe for combat heavy PCs
The Rosy Codex - named for its rose like color, this diabolical book details the process to create the magnificent and twisted Centaurim warriors. With ample time, a wizard could take victims from overlooked tribes to create deadly warbands of Centaurim Brigands to terrorize the countryside. A variation would be a just kingdom making Centaurim from horse thieves and criminals and impressing them into the army to fight ‘the evil’
The Horror - more for a one on one game, a horse loving PC is themselves mutilated into a Centaurim and rather than being completely broken escapes. The resulting adventure can end in tragedy, of branch into a larger group affair with the Horror now serving as a living cavalry beast.