DnD 5e - The Centaur Handbook
Last Updated: August 12th, 2020
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances.
- : Good options.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character.
I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can't assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won't cover Unearthed Arcana content because it's not finalized, and I can't guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.
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A classic mythological creature, the Centaur is a horse but rather than a horse's head they have the waist-upward portions of a human in the same place. Anatomically it's a nightmare, and much ink and countless pixels have been spilled in the name of cryptozoolical scientific attempts to explain exactly what's going on there. What do they eat, and how much? What are centaur newborns like? How does a centaur wear pants? Can a centaur touch its own back feet? These are questions for scholarly and scientific minds far greater than my own.
Regardless of looming scientific questions, centaurs have been depicted in works of fiction dating back to greek mythology. Even more recent works like Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter feature centaurs. Generally they're depicted as socially insular, and they're frequently depicted as powerful warriors, especially with bows and spears. Dungeons and Dragons has its own spin on centaurs, especially in the Ravnica setting where they first appeared as a playable race for 5th edition, depicting centaurs as roughly the size of a tall human rather than the size of a human mounted atop a horse as they're depicted in most fiction.
Mechanically, the Centaur is challenging but novel in many ways. Their ability score increases to Strength and Wisdom work for a variety of classes, but few classes can easily capitalize on both. The Customizing Your Origins optional rules solve that challenge, but their other racial traits will still encourage martial builds and melee combat.
The Centaur's 40-foot speed is matched or exceeded by no playable race except the Aarakocra, and combined with their Charge feat the Centaur is capable of quickly getting into melee combat and making their presence felt. Equine Build is essentially the same as Powerful Build, but with the added handicap of being really bad at climbing. Fortunately Dungeons and Dragons features abundant options for levitation and flight, so that won't be a problem beyond low levels.
The Centaur is notably the first non-humanoid playable race, making you immune to spells like Charm Person and Hold Person. You also get an extra skill, which is nice.
Unfortunately, the Centaur does not have rules for being ridden by other humanoids. The Unearthed Arcana version did, but the way the rules were written allowed other medium humanoids (including other centaurs!) to ride the player, leading to all sorts of jokes about parties of centaurs marching into battle stacked atop each other like a tower. If you still want to carry a rider, I suggest reading my Practical Guide to Mounted Combat. (Hint: A centaur would count as an intelligent mount).
Classes (Default Rules)
This section assumes that you're not using the option "Customizing Your Origin" rules presented in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. If you are using those rules, scroll up to the previous section.
No Intelligence increase.
The Strength increase, the extra speed, and Charge are spectacular for the Barbarian. Unfortunately you can't start Rage and use the extra attack from Charge in one turn since they both require a Bonus Action, but if you want to spend the remaining 9 turns of your Rage charging around and hoofing people that would be an excellent use of your time. The extra attack gets you the number of attacks that you would get from two-weapon fighting while still allowing you to use a two-handed weapon for the rest of your attacks. You may need to consider the Mobile feat to remove Opportunity Attacks as a persistent problem for this strategy.
Nothing about the Centaur supports the Bard's capabilities.
A Wisdom increase is all that you really need, and the Strength increase is great for martial builds. The additional attack from Charge also offers an extra attack to potentially apply Divine Strike, which can be a major source of extra weapon damage since clerics never get Extra Attack.
The Wisdom increase and the extra skill are all that the Druid really cares about. You may be better served by the Nature Cleric.
Strength, 40 ft. speed, Fey creature type, and Charge all work very well for melee fighters. Charge is a great use for the Fighter's typically under-used Bonus Action, and not being a Humanoid protects you from things like Hold Person which are often problems for fighters since you're not proficient in Wisdom savimg throws and your Wisdom likely isn't spectacular.
I love the idea of a centaur monk, but the ability scores and the other racial traits don't work well enough to make it viable for anything except a foot race.
The Centaur works for the Paladin for the same reasons that they work for the Barbarian and the Fighter. The additional attack from Charge offers an extra opportunity to deliver Divine Smite, especially if you manage to score a critical hit and can double the extra damage.
Strength-based rangers are hard, but if you can make it work the Centaur would be a great option. The ability scores work, the extra skill fits thematically, and the extra speed and Charge are great on any melee build.
Nothing about the Centaur supports the Rogue's capabilities.
No Charisma increase.
No Charisma increase.
No Intelligence increase.
Centaurs don't have any racial feats. I mostly just want to call out Mobile.
Centaurs have a base speed of 40 ft. Charge requires you to move 30 feet straight toward an enemy. Mobile increases your speed by 10 ft., allowing you to move 30 feet foward, attack, attack with your hooves as a Bonus Actionm then retreat 20 feet without provoking opportunity attacks. If you can get additional speed from a class like the Barbarian or the Monk it gets even better.