In a recent screed, I came to the idea of making a distinction between "wemics" (stock D&D 5-hit-dice creatures with beastish features that are furry all over) and "liontaurs" (smaller, 1-hit-die creatures that are basically human from the waist up). Liontaurs, aside from not being WotC intellectual property, would have the advantages of allowing advancement from level 1 as a player race, as well as being more true to the first edition concept, analogous to centaurs.
Of course, this is not a new idea. I've had my fingers in two attempts at making rules for such creatures, which you can still see here and here. Both of these sets of rules suffer from being too powerful and not conforming to the standard 3.5 ruleset.
So let's start from scratch and build a 3.5-compliant liontaur that is not overpowered.
As I discussed in one of my early screeds, some people think that any large race automatically should carry a +1 level adjustment. In that early screed, I agreed that being large is an advantage. But back then I neglected a very key factor: Large bipeds gain reach, but large quadrupeds do not. There is no question that large bipeds deserve the +1 level adjustment given the great advantage that reach gives. But since liontaurs do not gain reach (other than the standard 5-foot variety), I feel that we can make a balanced liontaur with no level adjustment. So our liontaur is large.
Liontaurs have paws, so they have natural attacks. A liontaur making a standard attack can swipe with a paw for 1d4, or attack with a weapon like a human. A liontaur making a full attack has two options: attack with both paws, both at full normal BAB, but with no extra attacks for having a high BAB; or attack with weapons like a human, and make two secondary attacks with paws at -5 on each.
Let's give our liontaur a modest +1 natural armor. Also +1 with balance, move silent, and jump checks; and a -1 on diable device, open locks, and decipher script. That's a minimum, for flavor. And a move of 40, which gives another +4 on Jump checks.
These are hefty creatures, so do let's give them a bonus Toughness feat.
And what shall we not give our liontaur? No pounce ability, no low light vision. Illiterate, with limited languages. That should do it.
Finally, ability score modifications. You could make a case for just about every attribute, starting with Strength. But I want to make these liontaurs less brutish. So let's consider the suggestion in the Dungeon Master's Guide for a catlike race, and use +2 Dex and -2 Con.
With all that. let us put together The Liontaur.
Liontaurs are in some ways strikingly similar to humans, and in other ways, shockingly alien. They are perhaps most similar to the varied non-agricultural nomadic herders in the Real World -- the North American Plains Indian, the Bedouin, the Mongols. Liontaurs are wanderers, following the herds, living under the sky.
Personality: A nomadic, stone-age folk, liontaurs are often represented as barbaric,illiterate, and uncivilized; they are famous for being highly superstitious. Others would describe liontaurs as nature-oriented people with a rich tradition of oral history -- they live close to the earth and are in tune with the magical forces around them. As is often the case for cultures that live on the edge of survival, under conditions of harsh competition, in which wits and strength are paramount, they make necessity into virtue. Liontaurs must hunt and fight to stay alive, so they glorify bravery, persistance, and aggression. Their success at carving out a niche and thriving is evident in their proud nature.
Physical Description: Liontaurs are creatures that resemble lions from the waist down and humans from the waist up. They look like centaurs from far off, but at closer distances their feline natures become unmistakeable. Their lower portions are leonine; their short fur is tawny; they sport a lion's tail with a tuft of black fur at the end. Their upper portions are human, although the males grow long, mane-like hair, and both sexes have cat-like eyes and larger canine teeth than humans -- which partly explains their heavy accent when speaking the common tongue. Liontaurs dress mostly in furs and leather, and many braid totems or beads into their hair as clan and pride markers. They stand six to seven feet tall, and they average ten feet long from head to rump. These large-size creatures weigh 400 to 700 pounds. Here is more info on height, weight, and age.
Relations: Liontaurs are forced to be nomadic by their need to follow herds, so they tend to scorn settled folk as lazy, slow, and filthy (and in truth, most cities visited by liontaurs are dirty and unsanitary). They usually look down on settled folk, such as humans, as degenerate and soft. But that doesn't stop them from trading! Liontaurs are usually happy to trade, especially for metal blades, from knives to greatswords. Beads, mirrors, combs and brushes, fine cloth, and tools are all very welcome. Liontaurs usually trade in furs and ivory, but liontaur crafts are often considered valuable.
Alignment: Liontaurs are generally neutral, taking sides only when their own interests are involved. Individual liontaurs can be any alignment, though as wandering people, they tend slightly toward chaos rather than law.
Liontaur Lands: Liontaurs follow the herds they depend on for food, so they are often found in savannah, following antelope and zebra; or in the plains, following wild horses and bison; or even in the tundra, following caribou. Some have great flocks of domesticated animals. Liontaurs view these grazing grounds as their own land, and they react violently to encroachment and competition. However, they tolerate passers-through and welcome merchants.
Religion: Generally liontaurs worship racial gods (or liontaur aspects of gods that govern nature, hunting, and war). Some also honor Nature, especially Rangers and Druids. Being superstitious, liontaurs will often honor many gods, just to be on the safe side.
Language: Liontaurs speak wemic, a racial language, which includes a more limited range of sounds than other languages. Consonants include: ch/k, f, fr/rf, h, t/j, l/ll, m, n, r, s, th, v, w, wh/hw, z; vowels include: au like awe, ow like power, e like eel, eo like we old maids, i like ice, o like mold, a like major, y like yes or end, ’ like [sharp pause]. As a general rule, consonant sounds alternate with vowel sounds. Wemic has no written form.
Names: Liontaurs believe that their names reflect their individuality, so no two names are ever identical. Their names do not have any meaning per se; they are not words in the wemic language. Liontaur males and females have the same kinds of names. Here are some examples: Nijeo, Tomerj, Eojal, Nonowla, Fraweol, Vythao, Fawynth, Vauwerf, Ferfi, Eowyf, Aweth, and Liram.
Adventurers: Liontaurs often become Fighters, Rangers, Clerics, Druids, Sorcerers, and Bards. They almost never learn the arts of Wizardry, because wemics are not a literate culture. The urban arts of Rogues are not useful to most liontaurs, although some are scouts. And there is no tradition of liontaur Monks or Paladins.
LIONTAUR RACIAL TRAITS
+2 Dexterity, -2 Constitution
Large Size: As with all large creatures, liontaurs suffer a -1 penalty to both AC and Attack Rolls; they gain a +4 size bonus with most special attacks. They gain size modifiers of -4 on Hide checks and +4 on Intimidate checks. As large quadrupeds, they can carry three times as much as humans and gain a +4 stability bonus, like dwarves. They use large weapons.
Natural AC: Liontaurs gain a +1 natural bonus to AC, based on their thick hides.
Natural Attacks: As a standard attack, a liontaur has a choice: attack with a paw; or attack with a weapon, like a human does. As a full attack, a liontaur has a choice: attack with two paws only, both at full BAB; or with a weapon (or with one in each hand) and two paws, with the paws as secondary attacks at -5 to hit. A paw attack does 1d4 damage.
Bonus feat: Toughness.
Speed: Liontaurs have a base speed of 40 feet.
Skills: Liontaurs gain a +1 racial bonus with Balance, Jump, and Move Silently skill checks. Liontaurs are sure, stealthy and great leapers. They suffer a -1 penalty on Decipher Script, Disable Device, and Open Lock checks. Writing and mechanical devices are alien to them.
Illiterate: Liontaurs cannot read, and must spend two skill points to learn how. These two skill points must be spent before the liontaur can access any skill or class functions having to with reading and writing.
Automatic Languages: Liontaurs speak Wemic (a language with no alphabet) and Accented Common. Bonus Languages: Unaccented Common, Sylvan, Elven, Gnoll.
Favored Class: Ranger.