Review – Mythic Odysseys of Theros (Dungeons & Dragons)

As a long time player of both Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons, I love to see collaboration between the two games, and I was really psyched when the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica released last year. But as much as I liked that book, and as much as I love Ravnica, Mythic Odysseys of Theros (which releases on July 21, 2020) is even better.

The plane of Theros is based on ancient Greek mythology. Beyond that, the things that most stand out about Theros from Magic are (1) heroes v. monsters and (2) the importance and presence of the gods. The former fits absolutely perfectly into Dungeons & Dragons. There’s definitely more to D&D than just hacking up monsters – but fighting monsters is undoubtedly a big part of the game. Indeed, it’s such a big part of D&D that, from the perspective of a D&D sourcebook, that theme doesn’t even stand out as distinctly Theros – of course you’re heroes, and of course you’ll fight monsters. That’s what you do in D&D.

So the part that Mythic Odysseys of Theros focuses on is the gods. Like the myths of the Greek gods (or the Hercules and Xena shows), the gods of Theros are generally up close and personal. They’re intertwined into everything – not just the setting but almost all of the mechanics and almost all of the adventure hooks. And the gods aren’t just up close and personal, but frequently all too human and petty. In Theros, most of the gods were created by the dreams and beliefs of humanity – and so the gods themselves are often all too human.

There are fifteen members of the pantheon, so I’m not going to go through all of them, but there are a few that stand out for how well they work into an RPG setting. Let’s start with Heliod, the deity who most resembles a ‘king’ of the gods. Except, he isn’t actually the king of the gods; he just wants to be. So, yeah, he’s an embodiment of order and justice – the sort of things that heroes can generally get behind. But he’s also overreaching and tends to think that his way is the only way. So he can work very well in a campaign as a friendly and revered figure. But he can also be readily used as the villain of a campaign where the characters (and their gods) want to do the ‘right thing,’ but not Heliod’s right thing. There’s also the trio of Ephara (goddess of civilization), Karametra (goddess of agriculture), and Nylea (goddess of the hunt). All three are good deities (well, Ephara technically LN, but she’s very much on the good side of that alignment), but represent a spectrum of how people should live, and again it’s easy to see how Ephara or Nylea could be set up as either a benefactor or an antagonist in a campaign. Now, that’s not true for all of the gods. But when it isn’t true, I really appreciate that the book just flags that. So, yeah, it’s really tough if you want to play a character who is devoted to Mogis, god of slaughter.

And a Theros character is overwhelmingly likely to be devoted to a deity – it’s the default posture for a character here (although there are options to be an iconoclast). Characters acting in accordance with the dictates of their patron deity will accrue Piety, which translates to additional magical effects. For example, a character who is devoted to Keranos (god of storms and insight) can accrue more Piety to be able to deal lightning damage (3+), re-roll failed Wisdom and Intelligence saving throws (15+), have advantage of initiative (25+), or just have a flat +2 bonus to Intelligence or Wisdom. Every character gets a ‘supernatural gift’ at character creation, which is reasonably likely to relate to a god. For example, a character might be anvilwrought – a creation of the forges of the god Purphoros – who doesn’t need to eat, drink, breathe, or sleep. Plus, almost the entire GM section is oriented around the gods, including motivations for the champions of the gods (like the characters).

Of course, not all of the character options are linked to the gods. Five species are presented, although only two of them are new (minotaurs and centaurs appear in Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica; tritons appears in Volo’s Guide to Monsters). The newly-introduced playable species are leonin and satyrs. The leonin – a lion-like species for players who like cat-people but not tabaxi – have high speed, toughness, darkvision, and natural claws. Satyrs (who are as much like the fauns of Roman mythology as the satyrs of Greek mythology), who are known for their commitment to having a good time, are charming, also fast, also have natural weapons, and have advantage on all saving throws against spells (which is a pretty sweet ability). Two classes get new options. Bards can become philosophers with the College of Eloquence, while paladins can take an Oath of Glory.

The world of Theros is more expansive than just the gods, although it is geographically quite small (the entire plane is probably about the size of the Sword Coast). The world of Theros is flat, with waterfalls off of the edges down into the Underworld. The center of Theros is three poleis (city-states) – Meletis, Akros, and Setessa. Meletis is the Athens of Theros, a coastal power with an interest in philosophy and magic. Akros, inspired by Sparta, is unsurprisingly more martial, heavily favoring Iroas, the god of victory, and host of the Iroan Games. Setessa is loosely inspired by Themyscira (yes, it’s inspired by a fictional Greek city, not a real one), although it is not entirely populated by women and it’s in a forest not on an island. Two details that I like are Kynaios/Tyro and the Ophis Tower. Kynaios and Tyro, blessed by Ephara, overthrew the reign of tyrannical archons and became the first kings of Meletis. They embody the ancient Greek concept of soldier-lovers, who are unstoppable in battle because they cannot bear to fail when fighting alongside their beloved. Ophis Tower tower plays a unique role in a very gender-defined Setessa, housing those who take on both feminine roles (martial training) and masculine ones (traveling outside of the polis) – so basically a gathering of genderqueer/non-binary folk.

Around and between this triumvirate of primarily human poleis are a handful of nonhuman realms. Two bands of centaurs occupy the plans between the cities. The minotaur city of Skophos, devoted to Mogis, provides a martial foil for Akros as the twin gods of war play out their rivalry in the mortal realm. The tritons – naturally devoted to the sea-god Thassa – are primarily located in the seas southwest of Meletis. There are realms for leonin and satyrs and even the Returned (mortals who escaped the Underworld by swimming across the river Tartyx, thus losing all memory and identity. It is the three human poleis that will likely form the center of a Theros campaign, however, with nonhuman characters likely originating elsewhere and then moving (the book takes pains to note that members of other species can generally find acceptance).

I really like the GM section here. It’s focused on what makes a Theros campaign. What motivations the gods might have for their champions as heroes, what motivations champions of the gods might have as villains, and how to cast the gods themselves as the villains of a campaign (not to be fought and killed; you can go to Nyx but these deities are not meant to be defeated, just frustrated). As always, it has more ‘random tables’ than I would prefer, but even those are still handy as inspiration. The chapter excels at providing good, specific guidance, not just platitudes.

If you’re a Magic player, you might want to know that Mythic Odysseys of Theros seems to be set right before the recent Theros Beyond Death set (Klothys is out and about, but the Elspeth isn’t running around). But another great thing about Mythic Odysseys of Theros is that, while there are definitely references to Magic cards and characters who are Legendary creatures and pieces of the color pie that come through, you don’t really need to know anything about MTG to enjoy the plane. It really stands on its own even if you’ve never touched the cards.

All together, Mythic Odysseys of Theros is a great book, doing an excellent job of presenting a new setting for D&D that is both distinctive and really works well with how the game plays. Ravnica might be a more popular plane, but Theros makes for an amazing D&D campaign setting. Personally, it’s got me really hyped to be playing in a Theros adventure at Gen Con Online this year.

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

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