Mythological Figures: Odysseus/Ulysses (5E)
  • Mythological Figures: Odysseus/Ulysses (5E)


    In Mythological Figures today we’re headed after a person that is more popular in terms of ancient Western mythologies than probably anyone else: Odysseus/Ulysses!



    Odysseus is known for two principal things: his role in the Trojan War (recounted in The Illiad) and his long, perilous journey back home collectively known as The Odyssey. If you find yourself saying, “that word looks familiar…” that’s what I’m talking about with Odysseus’ lasting popularity--the whole reason we have a word for “a long series of wanderings or adventures, especially when filled with notable experiences, hardships, etc.” is this guy right here. I’ve no intention to repeat the entirety of that trip here and instead refer folks to better resources for that (Wikipedia, Video SparkNotes, full text at The Internet Classics Archive). Suffice to say that of the many greek heroes, Odysseus is Captain Greece.

    Design Notes: Odysseus needs to be a few things--he’s got to be clever and wise, have some agility, he’s not weak, and he’s good with a bow. With that in mind we’ve got our first ranged battlemaster build with a healthy dose of mastermind rogue to reflect his legendary cunning. The archery fighting style and a smattering of feats fill out the rest of his iconic profile, with Expertise ramping up the essential skills for his many successes to whopping +15s. For the CR equation this time around the DMG said 10.6, the Blog of Holding rubric claimed 11, and I’m inclined to agree with the latter--Odysseus here is definitely a considerably dangerous foe and as long as he’s not wasted in a suicidal charge will be an NPC that adventurers will quickly decide to focus their ire upon.


    Odysseus
    Medium humanoid (human), rogue (genius) 9/fighter (master of battle) 11


    Armor Class
    17 (breastplate or 19 with shield)
    Hit Points 101 (9d8+11d10)
    Speed 30 ft.

    STR
    DEX
    CON
    INT
    WIS
    CHA
    12 (+1)
    16 (+3)
    10 (+0)
    16 (+3)
    16 (+3)
    14 (+2)

    Saving Throws Dex +9, Int +9
    Skills Deception +14, History +9, Insight +15, Investigation +15, Perception +9, Persuasion +14
    Tools gaming set +6, thieves’ tools +6
    Senses passive Perception 19
    Languages Common, two other languages
    Challenge 11 (7,200 XP)

    Background: Noble - Prince. Due to his position as a noble, Odysseus is treated with a measure of respect wherever he goes. He is treated as royalty (or as closely as possible) by most peasants and traders (at least until it is clear he is quite mad), and as an equal when meeting other authority figures (who make time in their schedule to see him if requested to do so).

    Action Surge (1/Short Rest). Once on his turn, Odysseus can take an additional action on top of his regular action and a possible bonus action.

    Cunning Action (1/Turn). Odysseus can take a bonus action to take the Dash, Disengage, Help, or Hide action.

    Evasion. When Odysseus is subjected to an effect that allows him to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, he instead takes no damage if he succeeds on the saving throw, and only half damage if he fails.

    Fast Learner. After Odysseus has heard a creature speak for 1 minute or longer, he can mimic its manner of speaking as long as he knows the same language as the creature (allowing him to seem like he is local to a given region).

    Feat: Brilliant. Odysseus always knows how long it will be before the next sunset or sunrise, the northerly direction, and can perfectly remember anything he’s experienced within the last 31 days.

    Feat: Diplomatic. Odysseus can make a Charisma (Persuasion) check contested by the Wisdom (Insight) check of a creature that can understand what he says during 1 minute of talking. On a success, as long as Odysseus remains within 60 feet of it (and for 1 minute afterward) the target is charmed by him. Odysseus automatically fails on the check if he or his companions are fighting the target.

    Feat: Moderate Protection Master. Odysseus adds +3 from Dexterity instead of +2 when he is wearing medium armor.

    Feat: Superb Aim. Odysseus ignores half cover and three-quarters cover when making a ranged weapon attack, and he doesn’t have disadvantage when attacking at long range. When Odysseus makes his first ranged weapon attack in a turn, he can choose to take a -5 penalty to his ranged weapon attack rolls in exchange for a +10 bonus to ranged weapon damage.

    Indomitable (1/Long Rest). Odysseus can reroll a saving throw that he fails but must use the new roll.

    Maneuver Master (5d10/Short Rest). Odysseus can expend a maneuver dice to perform a single maneuver with an attack.

    • Command. Odysseus uses his bonus action to forgo one of his attacks and direct a friendly creature who can see or hear him. The creature uses its reaction and makes a weapon attack, dealing 1d10 extra weapon damage on a successful hit.
    • Disarm. A creature Odysseus has hit with an attack takes 1d10 additional damage and makes a DC 17 Strength saving throw or drops one held item of his choice.
    • Inspire. Odysseus uses a bonus action and chooses an ally able to see and hear him. That ally gains 1d10+2 temporary hit points.
    • Maneuver. On a successful hit with a weapon attack, Odysseus deals 1d10 extra damage and chooses a friendly creature that can see and hear him. That creature can move half its speed by using its reaction. This movement does not provoke opportunity attacks from the target of Odysseus’ attack.
    • Trip. Odysseus deals 1d10 additional damage and if the target is a creature of Large size or smaller, it makes a DC 17 Strength saving throw or is knocked prone.


    Second Wind (1/Short Rest). On his turn, Odysseus can use a bonus action to regain 1d10+11 hit points.

    Sneak Attack (1/Turn). Odysseus deals an extra 17 (5d6) damage when he hits a target with a weapon attack and has advantage on the attack roll, or when the target is within 5 feet of an ally of Odysseus that isn’t incapacitated and Odysseus doesn’t have disadvantage on the attack roll.

    Tactician. Odysseus is able to use the Help action to aid an ally attacking a creature as long as the target of the attack is able to see and hear Odysseus and is within 30 feet of him.

    Tactician’s Insight. After Odysseus has observed or interacted with a creature for 1 minute, he learns whether or not it has higher or lower Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma scores than him. In addition, he learns if the target has more or fewer class levels than him. Odysseus also knows when he and the target have equal scores in one of these categories.

    ACTIONS

    Extra Attack. Odysseus attacks three times.
    Shortsword. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d6+3) piercing damage.
    Longbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +11 to hit, range 600 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d8+3) piercing damage.
    Comments 69 Comments
    1. Garthanos's Avatar
      Garthanos -
      Starting out quite the fool does not mean a high wisdom stat in my book... it might mean he decided having it as a dump stat was a bad idea ? LOL
    1. Mike Myler's Avatar
      Mike Myler -
      Whoaaaaaaaaaa the thread is blowing up!

      To address the many people requesting higher ability scores for Odysseus here I'm going to (repeat Dave2008 and) quote myself from another article in the series (in response to "What is the point of this?").

      Quote Originally Posted by Mike Myler View Post
      1) I expect GMs to cut extraneous traits they don't need when using one of these as an NPC (I do).
      2) Often times folks want to play ____ but aren't sure how to build them. This is kind of a how-to guide in that respect.
      3) It's a fun display of the system's versatility.
      4) It is (as closely as possible) RAW. The DMG even has guidelines for class level NPCs (ignore proficiency when calculating CR).
      5) Need a neat pregen RIGHT NOW? Does the entire table? Do they need to be EPIC pregens? Blammo hit up this series.
      and I'll add that you can *easily* drop some feats here to walk away with your preferred Odysseus (Medium Armor Master is low-hanging fruit for this very purpose). He's pretty damn good at everything though which is, I reckon, very Odysseus.

      @dave2008 you are correct on the longbow thing but I can't fix the post for some reason. :/

      To the folks talking about Odysseus' strength and stringing the bow--I have never interpreted or had this presented to me as a feat of strength. It has always been (in my readings and in classics courses and so on) explained as an act of cunning and skill. In that context "stringing his bow like a lyre" is indicative of special know-how and dexterous fingers more than brute force. Maybe I got bunk tellings? Welcome to mythology!
      (I did a quick skim of the full text of the Odyssey to see if I was insane or something, but of the 70 odd mentions of strong/strength in the tale less than a dozen refer to Odysseus' physical strength so I'm thinking I'm not totally off my rocker giving him a 12)

      @Kobold Stew awww this ain't your first rodeo and you *know* I'd have gotten crucified hitting him with samurai, although your reasoning isn't bad. Glad you really dug this build. <3

      Thanks to everyone for commenting and sharing your thoughts. As ever it is an interesting set of reactions utterly appropriate for Mythological Figures.

      Behold the contentious Thor build.
    1. Garthanos's Avatar
      Garthanos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mike Myler View Post
      . In that context "stringing his bow like a lyre" is indicative of special know-how and dexterous fingers more than brute force. ]
      Which is not how a bow is strung its an act of body strength to bend the wood... the ease with which he does it is being pointed out as a contrast (lyres do not involve bending them to string them)
    1. Garthanos's Avatar
      Garthanos -
      This would be something closer to my take

      STR 16 (+3)
      DEX 12 (+1)
      CON 14 (+2)
      INT 16 (+3)
      WIS 10 (+0)
      CHA16 (+3)
    1. Mike Myler's Avatar
      Mike Myler -
      Quote Originally Posted by Garthanos View Post
      Which is not how a bow is strung its an act of body strength to bend the wood... the ease with which he does it is being pointed out as a contrast (lyres do not involve bending them to string them)
      A standard bow is probably all strength aye. In the Odyssey though it's thought that Homer is talking about a recurve bow which does have a technique involved with stringing it--a technique I think Odysseus knew but others did not.
    1. TheCosmicKid's Avatar
      TheCosmicKid -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mike Myler View Post
      To the folks talking about Odysseus' strength and stringing the bow--I have never interpreted or had this presented to me as a feat of strength. It has always been (in my readings and in classics courses and so on) explained as an act of cunning and skill. In that context "stringing his bow like a lyre" is indicative of special know-how and dexterous fingers more than brute force. Maybe I got bunk tellings? Welcome to mythology!
      If I were to write a "Bambinoad" about the career of one George Herman "Babe" Ruth, and described him as hitting a home run with with "the ease of a master painter's brushstroke", would this communicate to you that the Babe is not exerting his strength? Or would it mean that he is so strong he can perform this feat without apparent effort? I'd be willing to wager an archaic Greek would have understood this scene in the Odyssey similarly. Of course there is technique to hitting a baseball or stringing a bow, but it enables the effective use of one's strength - it is not a substitute for it.

      Quote Originally Posted by Mike Myler View Post
      (I did a quick skim of the full text of the Odyssey to see if I was insane or something, but of the 70 odd mentions of strong/strength in the tale less than a dozen refer to Odysseus' physical strength so I'm thinking I'm not totally off my rocker giving him a 12)
      Well, maybe, but at least two of them are right there in the stringing-of-the-bow scene:
      Spoiler:
      Quote Originally Posted by The Odyssey, Book 21 (emphasis mine) View Post
      Just now Eurymachus held the bow in his hands,
      turning it over, tip to tip, before the blazing fire
      to heat the weapon. But he failed to bend it even so
      and the suitor's high heart groaned to bursting.
      "A black day," he exclaimed in wounded pride,
      "a blow to myself, a blow to each man here!
      It's less the marriage that mortifies me now —
      that's galling too, but lots of women are left,
      some in seagirt Ithaca, some in other cities.
      What breaks my heart is the fact we fall so short
      of great Odysseus' strength we cannot string his bow.

      A disgrace to ring in the ears of men to come."

      [...]

      Odysseus looked to Telemachus and said, "your guest,
      sitting here in your house, has not disgraced you.
      No missing the mark, look, and no long labor spent
      to string the bow. My strength's not broken yet,
      not quite so frail as the mocking suitors thought.

      But the hour has come to serve our masters right —
      supper in broad daylight — then to other revels,
      song and dancing, all that crowns a feast."
    1. Pauln6's Avatar
      Pauln6 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Garthanos View Post
      This would be something closer to my take

      STR 16 (+3)
      DEX 12 (+1)
      CON 14 (+2)
      INT 16 (+3)
      WIS 10 (+0)
      CHA16 (+3)
      I think I would go for something more along these lines, with training in athletics. Everything looks OK.
    1. Beowülf's Avatar
      Beowülf -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mike Myler View Post
      In the Odyssey though it's thought that Homer is talking about a recurve bow
      Citation needed.

      From somewhere legitimate.

      EDIT: Ah, I searched that link for "Odysseus" and didn't find anything, so assumed it wasn't mentioned. But it's there as a reference to "Odyss". Still, it's not really evidence as much as conjecture. I've always remembered it as being about strength, but I'm going to go check out what it actually says in the Odyssey. BRB.

      EDIT 2: Huh. So, upon re-reading it, all the suitors are described as not being strong enough to string it, but when Odysseus himself does so it is indeed described more as skill than strength. Interesting.

      So here's a solution: a new kind of bow on the weapon list, that is neither Martial nor Simple, but rather "Exotic" or "Other". Its description includes that if you don't have proficiency it's an Athletics DC of 25 to string it. Odysseus spends a Feat gaining proficiency.
    1. Arnwolf666's Avatar
      Arnwolf666 -
      no reason 20 character levels needs to be max. if any character cries out for epic boons it is Odysseus. And i do like that he was designed RAW. but boy is it hard to play a badass with a con 10. but i understand within the rules constraint.
    1. Kobold Stew's Avatar
      Kobold Stew -
      Quote Originally Posted by Beowülf View Post
      Citation needed.

      From somewhere legitimate.
      This is a well-established idea in the scholarly literature. See, e.g. Caroline Sutherland, "Archery in the Homeric Epics", Classics Ireland 8 (2001) 111-20. I've attached the first page, where the presumption is at the start of the second paragraph.

      It's not certain, because Homer doesn't give enough information, but it is the explanation that accounts for what is in the poems, and I (at least) know of no other explanation that does. Name: Unknown.gif ► Views: 39 ► Size: 38.7 KB
    1. Mike Myler's Avatar
      Mike Myler -
      See? I'm not a crazy! I swEAr I"M NOT A CRAZY!1!!

    1. TheCosmicKid's Avatar
      TheCosmicKid -
      Quote Originally Posted by Beowülf View Post
      So here's a solution: a new kind of bow on the weapon list, that is neither Martial nor Simple, but rather "Exotic" or "Other". Its description includes that if you don't have proficiency it's an Athletics DC of 25 to string it. Odysseus spends a Feat gaining proficiency.
      The way 5e handles bows is far too outlandish already for me to really protest, but in actual archery there's no magic trick (short of mechanical aid) that will allow you to string a bow, recurve or otherwise, without the exertion of strength. If you want to translate the concept to D&D, the relevant proficiency would be Athletics letting you add a bonus to your Strength check by using proper technique. Still a Strength check.

      And then, remember, Odysseus pulls the bow. Again, no magic trick that will let you pull a hundred-pound bow without exerting a hundred pounds of force.
    1. Beowülf's Avatar
      Beowülf -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kobold Stew View Post
      It's not certain, because Homer doesn't give enough information, but it is the explanation that accounts for what is in the poems, and I (at least) know of no other explanation that does.
      Yes, I totally get that argument. AND we don't worry about trying to "explain" the Cyclops, or the Sirens, or any of the other wondrous things that happen in the Odyssey. So I'm not sure I get why it becomes necessary to find an historically/technologically accurate explanation for this one detail, or why such an explanation should hold any weight. This is a myth, not history.
    1. Beowülf's Avatar
      Beowülf -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheCosmicKid View Post
      The way 5e handles bows is far too outlandish already for me to really protest, but in actual archery there's no magic trick (short of mechanical aid) that will allow you to string a bow, recurve or otherwise, without the exertion of strength. If you want to translate the concept to D&D, the relevant proficiency would be Athletics letting you add a bonus to your Strength check by using proper technique. Still a Strength check.

      And then, remember, Odysseus pulls the bow. Again, no magic trick that will let you pull a hundred-pound bow without exerting a hundred pounds of force.
      You're willing to accept lightning bolt spells, but not a bow that has a "trick" to stringing it?

      Ok.
    1. Saelorn's Avatar
      Saelorn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Beowülf View Post
      You're willing to accept lightning bolt spells, but not a bow that has a "trick" to stringing it?
      A trick bow wouldn't prove that Odysseus was a better person than any of the suitors present. Otherwise, they could watch him string it, and then repeat the trick. Superior strength would prove that he's innately superior.

      The story always made perfect sense, in any edition of D&D that included Strength bows. Odysseus had Strength 18/00, and a bow built to support that. Only one in 21600 individuals could possibly match him.
    1. TheCosmicKid's Avatar
      TheCosmicKid -
      Quote Originally Posted by Beowülf View Post
      You're willing to accept lightning bolt spells, but not a bow that has a "trick" to stringing it?

      Ok.
      If Homer described a magic bow that has a trick to stringing it, I'd accept that. But he doesn't. He repeatedly describes the bow-stringing challenge as a contest of strength, and Odysseus himself boasts of his strength immediately after stringing the bow. The Odyssey has fantastic elements, but this is a mundane scene. The setting is Odysseus' own home, the antagonists are ordinary men. The action would have been personally familiar to many of the original listeners -- hell, it's familiar to me, with my mere amateur dabbling in archery: a novice straining to string a heavy bow, then an expert saying, "Hey, give it here", and smoothly stringing it without apparent effort. It's not that there's no trick to it. Of course there's a trick. But the trick is useless without strength.

      Remember also what's going on here narratively: this is a demonstration of Odysseus' right to wed Penelope and rule Ithaca as king. In one of the most testosterone-soaked cultures in human history. There are indeed parts of the Odysseus where Odysseus is a sneaky weasel. This part is reassuring us that he is also a mighty badass warrior.
    1. Beowülf's Avatar
      Beowülf -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheCosmicKid View Post
      If Homer described a magic bow that has a trick to stringing it, I'd accept that. But he doesn't. He repeatedly describes the bow-stringing challenge as a contest of strength, and Odysseus himself boasts of his strength immediately after stringing the bow. The Odyssey has fantastic elements, but this is a mundane scene. The setting is Odysseus' own home, the antagonists are ordinary men. The action would have been personally familiar to many of the original listeners -- hell, it's familiar to me, with my mere amateur dabbling in archery: a novice straining to string a heavy bow, then an expert saying, "Hey, give it here", and smoothly stringing it without apparent effort. It's not that there's no trick to it. Of course there's a trick. But the trick is useless without strength.

      Remember also what's going on here narratively: this is a demonstration of Odysseus' right to wed Penelope and rule Ithaca as king. In one of the most testosterone-soaked cultures in human history. There are indeed parts of the Odysseus where Odysseus is a sneaky weasel. This part is reassuring us that he is also a mighty badass warrior.
      Wait, are we (by which I mean 'you') talking about the Odyssey, or D&D? You seem to be jumping back and forth.

      But if we're talking strictly about the Odyssey, I think you should go re-read the text. Based on my memory of the story I was skeptical, too, then I re-read it. I now think there's a strong case to be made that he did it with finesse. But I'm not arguing that is the definitive interpretation. Just that it's interesting, and plausible.

      YMMV, of course. That's cool, too.
    1. Beowülf's Avatar
      Beowülf -
      Quote Originally Posted by Saelorn View Post
      A trick bow wouldn't prove that Odysseus was a better person than any of the suitors present. Otherwise, they could watch him string it, and then repeat the trick. Superior strength would prove that he's innately superior.

      The story always made perfect sense, in any edition of D&D that included Strength bows. Odysseus had Strength 18/00, and a bow built to support that. Only one in 21600 individuals could possibly match him.
      Sorry I missed this response earlier.

      Yes, that's always been the party line in D&D, but I see some good arguments for the "trick" version:

      1) If it were really all about physical strength it would literally be the only example in the entire story of Odysseus, across both the Iliad and the Odyssey, where his physical strength is what sets him apart. And it would happen when he's an old man. Hmm.

      2) I was not assuming that the "trick" is something you notice when you're watching, such as using a bow stringer. (A good analogy might be the "trick" of holding your body horizontally on a flag pole.) And if nobody knows there's a trick to it, then it wouldn't necessarily be apparent that he used a trick rather than strength.

      3) On the other hand, even if it were obviously a trick when viewed it wouldn't matter because moments later anybody who might have complained was dead. He wasn't actually winning the right to marry Penelope; he was tricking all the suitors into thinking it was a contest to win that right, so that he could kill them.
    1. Beowülf's Avatar
      Beowülf -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kobold Stew View Post
      This is a well-established idea in the scholarly literature. See, e.g. Caroline Sutherland, "Archery in the Homeric Epics", Classics Ireland 8 (2001) 111-20. I've attached the first page, where the presumption is at the start of the second paragraph.

      It's not certain, because Homer doesn't give enough information, but it is the explanation that accounts for what is in the poems, and I (at least) know of no other explanation that does.
      The problem with this interpretation is that if recurve bows where sufficiently well known to Greek audiences that they would all get the reference without it being spelled out, then presumably the suitors would also be familiar with recurve bows. So if that's the only explanation for why only Odysseus could string it, something doesn't add up.

      I mean, that's fine if his bow was a recurve. But is that sufficient to explain why nobody else could string it?

      Maybe there was some cultural thing we wouldn't understand where it would be assumed that people from Ithaca wouldn't know a recurve bow if they tripped on it. Imagine a scene where a bunch of guys from a small town in (insert your least favorite state) try to figure out a sous vide machine. Erudite audiences would get the joke.

      In the year 4018? Maybe not.
    1. TheCosmicKid's Avatar
      TheCosmicKid -
      Quote Originally Posted by Beowülf View Post
      Wait, are we (by which I mean 'you') talking about the Odyssey, or D&D? You seem to be jumping back and forth.
      I'm trying to answer the question, "Does the Odyssey portray Odysseus as a man of prodigious strength?"

      Quote Originally Posted by Beowülf View Post
      But if we're talking strictly about the Odyssey, I think you should go re-read the text. Based on my memory of the story I was skeptical, too, then I re-read it. I now think there's a strong case to be made that he did it with finesse. But I'm not arguing that is the definitive interpretation. Just that it's interesting, and plausible.
      I did reread the text. I quoted it at some length just a few posts back. I think the case for "finesse" (as an alternative to strength rather than a facilitator of it) collapses after considering the textual, narrative, and cultural context of the scene. Odysseus' line, "My strength's not broken yet, not quite so frail as the mocking suitors thought", is just beating us over the head with a point that is already obvious.
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