Posted: April 26, 2020
Crawl Version: 0.24 + Trunk
This guide assumes that you're familiar with DCSS, its interface, how you set skills, etc. If you're not familiar with these things, go look at Ultraviolent4’s introductory guide. You may also already have played and possibly won a few games with melee fighters; if so, this guide is also for you. The guide will most likely not contain any advice that experienced players aren't already familiar with.
Centaur Hunters are powerful and fun and also easy to learn. When you've got that longbow going, most monsters won’t be able to touch you before they're dead. At the same time, the Centaur Hunter may be an easy ranged option if you want to get away from playing just melee brutes - it will be familiar while at the same time distinct. Centaurs are a forgiving species because they have high HP and great movement speed. It's easier to get away from fights than for most other species and that is especially helpful in the early game.
Or maybe you’re just really into kiting.
The main strategy is easy to grasp: Keep a distance to your enemies and kill them with your arrows. If there are too many enemies or you’re too injured, use your speed to retreat hastily. A Centaur will be able to outrun many fast enemies that often cause problems when you only have normal speed, including notorious early game killers such as adders and worker ants.
In character creation, choose shortbow as your weapon. You will then start the game with a +1 shortbow, 20 arrows, a short sword and a leather armour (plus a ration). On the skill screen, keep Fighting on, focus Bows, turn off Dodging and Stealth.
In the early game, arrows are a scarce resource and each one fired has a 12.5% chance to mulch. You want to conserve your arrows for the most dangerous enemies. Therefore, use a melee weapon against most enemies and kite if you must. Weapons especially well-suited for kiting are polearms (they can reach from a distance without allowing the enemy to hit back) and any weapon with the venom brand (damage over time). If you want to, you can put a couple of skill points into your melee weapon of choice to get its delay down to 1.0 for safer kiting but this isn’t necessary. It’s also perfectly OK to pick up a sling and stones/bullets and use that from range instead of the bow for non-dangerous enemies.
Remember, there are very few enemies in the early game that you cannot outrun as a Centaur. So long as you’re not retreating into the unknown, you are very safe when running away. However, when you come across a dangerous enemy, like an early unique or an orc priest, you may want to kill it as fast as possible. That’s when you whip out your bow. Unless you want to run away to set up a better tactical situation or simply avoid the enemy altogether (which is always a legitimate strategy), pepper it with arrows.
Keep an eye out for enemy centaurs in the Dungeon – in addition to being dangerous ranged threats (that move as fast as you, obviously) they are a good source of arrows. When you've found “enough” arrows, or if you've worshipped Okawaru and he's started gifting you ammunition, the bow can start to be your primary weapon against most enemies.
As you move through the Dungeon, you will also want to pick up better and/or heavier body armour as you go. Ring mail and scale mail you can equip right away, chain mail and plate when you have sufficient strength. I like to put them on when I have STR at least equal to the armour's encumbrance rating but you can always experiment. Note that the Centaur has an innate "unfitting armour" mutation, which means that the base armour rating for body armour is halved. However, the centaur also has an innate +3 to AC, and you get full effect from enchantments and raising the Armour skill. To see what's the better of two specific body armours, try them both on and compare their effect on AC and EV (and remember to factor in resistances).
I personally prefer to read-ID scrolls, which may lead to enchanting and branding your shortbow. That's ok, it increases your damage output. As soon as you find a longbow, though, you want to switch to that (unless you have some god-tier shortbow with a brand that’s owning). The base damage from a longbow is a big leap up from the shortbow, and with your movement speed, the slower firing rate isn’t a big deal.
Okawaru works really well with the Centaur Hunter and is the god I’ve used the most. He’ll gift you arrows to help with ammunition problems and he’ll gift you longbows. Also, quite often Oka will gift you the otherwise-extremely-rare centaur bardings and having one of these will make you much more survivable. Plus, Heroism and Finesse are great abilities. Very few enemies will last long when you’re shooting a longbow at double speed.
Apart from Oka, most gods work well. Ashenzari, Ru and Gozag are strong choices. Fedhas works well, too, as you can shoot through plants and allies.
Poor god choices include the other typical ally gods (Yredemnul, Hepliaklqana, Kikubaaqudgha) because the allies will get in your way, the magic gods (Vehumet and Sif Muna) because they offer little, Cheibriados because you lose your speed advantage and Trog because Berserk doesn't work with ranged weapons and he no longer gifts ammunition.
Your core skills are Bows for offense, Fighting and Armour for defense, and Invocations depending on god choice. It's perfectly viable to win the game raising only these skills (morgue), focusing only on the main strategy. However, every character gets more options with some skill in Evocations. And there are some spells that support the main strategy quite well, especially in the school of Translocations. So the option to branch out a bit is there, especially once you’ve got the main strategy well covered, skill-wise.
Some people like to train many skills at once while others prefer fewer skills in order to reach higher skill levels faster in those skills. For the Centaur Hunter, I would train Fighting all game and focus Bows skill until you have 14 (which is mindelay for a short bow). If at that point you've found a longbow, focus Bows further until you reach 20 (mindelay for a longbow).
When you've found your god, start training Invocations, if appropriate. Once you've reached a speed of 1.0 or lower for your bow (i.e. Bows skill of 6 for shortbow, 14 for longbow), you may want to spread out into more skills. Evocations if you've found good wands, spell schools if you've found some good spells, Armour if you've found heavy armour that you want to get more out of. Generally, I would raise Evocations before Armour and spell schools, but it really depends on what you find and when. Late game you may want to put some points into Dodging as well - it will never be your main defensive skill, but some EV is always helpful.
For stats, raising STR will almost always be the most valuable because a Centaur Hunter generally wants to end up in the heaviest armour possible and that probably means gold dragon scales or crystal plate armour. The additional damage from STR is nice too.
Your centaur is much stronger once it gets a longbow. If you follow Okawaru, chances are he'll gift you one before you find one in the dungeon. As soon as you get one, enchant and brand it if you can - your first longbow may well be your end-game weapon. Of the common brands I prefer freezing over flaming, because it slows a lot of monsters and also works somewhat against orbs of fire. Venom is nice in Spider and ok elsewhere, and vorpal gets the job done against any enemy. It's not uncommon to get multiple branded longbows during the game, so it's often possible to switch between different brands depending on the enemies' resists and vulnerabilities. The best brand on a bow, however, is speed; if you find or get one of these, that's your end-game weapon. With finesse and a longbow of speed you'll have a weapon delay of 0.3 on a ranged weapon with base damage 15. The damage output with this is just insane.
Remember that you will meet some enemies are faster than you now. Killer bees and black mambas are scary examples. Also, some enemies are hard to hit with ranged attacks so you will want to switch to a melee weapon for those. Wind drakes and spriggan air mages are two examples that repel missiles.
Mid and late game is where you might want to get some spells going. Apportation, Blink and Portal Projectile are all very useful spells that are in the Translocations school. If you have Portal Projectile then Animate Skeleton is also a great spell. You can have your skellies in front of you while you shoot past them using Portal Projectile. A good strategy against dangerous enemies.
Both Vaults:5 and Slime are good choices for the third rune. Which one you choose, depends somewhat on your equipment and resistances.
Slime works well if you have at least rC+ and rCorr (and summon butterflies to block LOS to those shining eyes is a nice luxury). Portal Projectile (for shining eyes and The Royal Jelly) can be very useful too. There are many strategies for taking down The Royal Jelly but for a Centaur Hunter of Oka that has portal projectile, simply firing at TRJ with Heroism, Finesse and Portal Projectile should be good enough. You can also use immolation scrolls and ranged attacks to good effect in the open. Have your escape options ready, though. Note that as a Centaur you move slightly faster than TRJ and faster than the jellies he spits out.
Vaults:5 is more straightforward: shoot and stairdance while using Finesse and Heroism if you have them. If you prioritize any vault wardens that show up, so they cannot seal the stairs, this simple strategy might allow you to clear the stairs without needing to teleport or blink away to safety. If you do need to teleport or run, try to get to one of the corners.
By the time you reach Zot, you may have gotten into the habit of just tabbing enemies to death. Don’t do that in Zot - getting surrounded by a pack of draconians will bring your health down really fast. Rather, utilize your speed and pull enemies with you into safe territory before you fight them. Being a ranged character, it’s often a legitimate strategy towards curse toes to quaff lignification and shoot them (so long as nothing else dangerous is around).
Zot:5 is always dangerous. However, with your speed and ranged attack, you’re in a better position than many mages or melee brutes. You’re slightly faster than orb guardians and only slightly slower than orbs of fire, so you can pull them farther than most other characters can. Use this to create as safe fighting situations as possible.
You may try a Centaur Arcane Marksman instead of a Centaur Hunter. This will ensure access to the Portal Projectile spell but means you’ll start with a plain shortbow instead of +1 and a robe instead of a leather armour.
So that’s it. Centaur Hunters may seem a bit slow at first, with more kiting and retreating than you may be used to if you play mainly melee brutes. But they are a good introduction to ranged characters and when they pick up and get going, they’re fast and fun to play. I hope this was useful, enjoy!
About the Author:
trondwin, a.k.a. wineyard, played Moria and Angband back in the days. After being distracted by other games for a few decades, he rejoined the roguelike family when he found Crawl in late 2017. His first wins were with typical melee brutes but he found a favorite combo in the Centaur Hunter of Okawaru. When he wants to just relax, that's his go-to character.