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Mythic Odysseys of Theros: An In-Depth Review

The latest Magic the Gathering card set converted for 5th Edition Dungeons of Dragons is Mythic Odysseys of Theros. I was expecting it to be fresh yet familiar like the Guildmasters Guide to Ravnica book since original D&D borrowed monsters and gods from Greek mythology, which was also the inspiration for the Theros card set.

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Theros still has the 5th Edition D&D core – the same classes, spells, rules, etc. – but if you expected elves and dwarves in Grecian-inspired armor you guessed wrong. The only race that carries over is humans (of course). Theros also has a different tone, bigger scale, two new subclasses, one new background, supernatural gifts, new races, new and variant monsters, plus revised and new rules.

For those who haven't played Magic the Gathering, Theros isn't just a setting that uses Greek mythology as is. Instead MtG designers Erik Lauer, Zac Hill, Dave Humpherys, Shawn Main, and Tom LaPille with art director Jeremy Jarvis used Greek mythology as the inspiration to make a new world, recreating the Greek pantheon of 12 gods into one featuring 15 deities where they're active in the world. As with the inspiration source, these gods are a family with all of the rivalries and friendships that entails.

In Forgotten Realms, 5th Edition D&D's default setting, gods exist – they power clerics and paladins – but they've taken a step back. They aren't directly acting in the realms, or even indirectly for the most part. Theros is very different. The gods are involved in the world. They squabble with each other, using people and monsters as pawns. More importantly, the gods need followers. In Theros, belief and dreams can become real over time. The people of Theros have dreamed the gods into existence and their belief keeps them alive. They don't realize that – but the gods do and often resent it. That drives some of their behavior, quests, and schemes. So in Theros, more than any other plane, devotion from mortals provides the gods with their divine power. But Theros is a true polytheistic setting, not a monotheistic philosophy with pantheons awkwardly grafted onto it. That means worship isn't a zero sum game. While gods may jockey for attention and devotion from worshipers, many people revere all the gods or a grouping of gods based on the person's needs. So no matter how much Erebos loathes Heliod, they're not trying to convert or universally wipe out each other's worshipers. The presence of the gods in Theros is one of the elements that creates its mythic feel.

Fate and destiny are another aspect. While there's no mechanical impact of either one, they're important concepts for creating characters and adventures in Theros. Fate is your predetermined lot in life. Average people (NPCs) go along with it, but heroes (PCs) seek to rise above their fate and chart their own course in life. Destiny is spun from the hair of the god Klothys. Rather than setting a predetermined future, destiny establishes an order that binds both mortals and gods. The creators of Mythic Odysseys of Theros put this explanation early in the book, partially to set the tone but also to make it the foundation for later things Fate and destiny then factor into the “Heroic Drive.” While that same drive is a factor separating regular people (NPCs again) from heroes across the D&D multiverse, in Theros, “the power of fate and myth destines every character for legend; all one must do is act and discover their own immortal tale.” Fate, destiny, and the heroic drive then combine to amplify a character's ideals, bonds and flaws. While you can continue to use the bonds, flaws, and ideals in the Players Handbook, it's strongly suggested that they're phrased it in the grandest possible terms.

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Another mythic aspect of Theros is expressed through supernatural gifts – something new players get at character creation. These abilities could come from a god or an encounter with a sphinx, etc. Most of the supernatural gifts are fairly straightforward, like heroic destiny, pious, unscarred, etc. Longtime companion is also simple, but the chart defining the relationship could be used in any other D&D setting to establish relationships between characters.

Other supernatural gifts make it clear that they're very different than feats. Two of them – Anvilwrought and Nyxborn, could be confused with races at a brief glance. Instead they're overlays to a character's race. Nyxborn look like mortals but have a fragment of divinity. Nyx is the mystical space where gods and monsters are born. Charts for Nyxborn origins and quirks that give away its supernatural nature help to customize the character. Even with those charts it's best to coordinate with your DM if you want to play a Nyxborn so it can be woven into the campaign. In name, Anvilwrought sounds like a mythic version of Warforged, but like Nyxborn it's a supernatural gift that is paired with a race. You look human, centaur, etc. but with a metallic sheen from your origin at Purphoros' forge, visible joints, resilience, no need to eat, drink, or sleep, resistance poison and immunity to disease. The flavor of Anvilwrought actually remind me of Prometheans in World of Darkness without causing blight in an area.

Just as Nyxborn and Anvilwrought could be mistaken for races, the supernatural gift Oracle could be mistaken for a class, especially since it is one in games like Pathfinder. Both mortals and gods seek the services of oracles because they can sense the whims of the gods and can establish clear communication between gods and men. They also come with a curse – dire insights and a flaw. Some of the oracle's flaws could be great fun for players who love role-play – such as being easily distracted by things others can't perceive or pain when receiving a divine vision. One flaw is straight out of actual Greek mythology – not being believed like Cassandra. The oracle flaw “I know exactly how I’m going to die, and I can’t do or say anything to prevent it” could be really annoying for the DM, though. Fulfilling that flaw at the right time, without having to save the character from premature critical failures is tricky, as is making sure it doesn't happen before the player is ready to let go of the character. Oracles also get their own Piety chart, which leads to a pet peeve. This review was done after reading the electronic version of Mythic Odysseys of Theros on D&D Beyond (more on that later), but the first references to the Piety system in the first chapter aren't cross referenced to the actual Theros Piety system information later in the book or a reference to the original Piety rule options in the PHB. That makes no sense logistically and is really annoying when reading a new book. Other things, like references to spells, produce a pop-up when you hover over them or a link to its location. Why not have a link at the crucial point of mentioning a rule set for the first time, even if 'it's just to refer you to the right spot?

The supernatural gift Iconoclast is a necessary counterpoint to the typical Theros hero. This gift allows a character to resist the influence of the gods in the world. It provides options for people unhappy with the meddling of the gods, such as Leonins who don't believe the gods deserve worship. Instead of gaining special abilities based on their Piety score, Iconoclasts get them at specific experience levels. That works, but the abilities gained feel illogical for this particular supernatural gift since they involve dispelling magic, dispelling good or evil, and casting an anti-magic shield. All three would make perfect sense if it only affected divine magic, but that's a level of complexity that 5th Edition D&D avoids. Most of the time I agree with that, but here, it feels awkward.

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Piety rules were originally listed as a rule option in the Dungeon Masters Guide where it worked as a variant of the Renown system to measure a character's relationship to a god. The DMG version awards Piety based on honoring a god, avoiding their taboos, and fulfilling their commands. Going against those dictates causes a character to lose Piety. In Theros, Piety is less about honoring a god than about advancing that god's agenda, and the gods are demanding. They expect great deeds in exchange for the abilities Piety conveys. Those abilities vary by the god, which is a level of detail I appreciate. A character's Piety score is specific to the deeds done for a specific god. The Piety you earn for the god you worship and are a champion for does not apply to another god. Generally, deeds only earn a +1 to a character's Piety. When you cross certain Piety thresholds – 3, 10, 25, and 50 – you get a special ability that varies according to the god, but only for as long as you maintain that Piety score.

The mythic aspects of Theros races are obvious, and I'm very glad they didn't just carry over the usual D&D races. In Theros the other races are centaurs, minotaurs, leonins, satyrs, and tritons.

The abilities and natural attacks for centaurs and minotaurs are the same in MOoT as they are in the other MtG adaptation, Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica. Ability score bonuses, languages, etc. are the same as are special abilities like Charge, Hooves, and Equine Build for centaurs and Horns, Goring Rush, and Hammering Horns for minotaurs. However, the flavor text and explanations for how they fit into Theros are, understandably, very different for how they fit into Theros than they did in Ravnica.

Centaurs in Theros tend to be part of roaming Lagonna bands that are usually merchant families or a raider of the Pheres band. Lagonna centaurs are broad and large, able to run for long periods of time with coats of a single color that has an almost metallic sheen in sunlight. Pheres centaurs are more lean and nimble, built for speed, with a patterned coat. Pheres bands group together more by association than family as they raid and roam the wild lands. A Pheres centaur could also be a renegade.

I prefer the version of minotaurs in Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica. While the Theros version says that “minotaurs aren't evil by nature and are free to worship any god” many are raised and devoted to the tyrannical god Mogis who is said to have originally made them from not just his followers but those that had been criminals and depraved monsters. A setting having a mostly or largely evil race that's bloodthirsty in some fashion feels like a trope that could use a rest – especially when it includes a carefully inserted option for exceptions who can be heroes (Drizzt, anyone?). While conflicts between groups is an element commonly used to fuel adventures, I'd much rather see some nuance or conflicting goals. Why not give them a goal that frequently puts them at odds with another race's goals without making either one all good or all bad?
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Leonin are lion people. Regal and proud they have watched the meddling of the gods and are unimpressed. Like the Iconoclast, they're not interested in worshiping the gods, providing a contrasting point for adventures. I'm a bit surprised Leonin do not get a pounce option like weretigers do in their tiger hybrid form (and full tiger), but they do get darkvision. Leonin claws do 1d4 + Strength damage instead of the normal bludgeoning damage in an unarmed strike. I'm disappointed it doesn't allow a multiattack. While a natural multiattack could sound overpowered, the amount of possible damage prevents that issue in my opinion. If you like cat-people but prefer an option that's a bit more dignified, focused, and fierce than Tabaxi, you'll like Leonin. Their skeptical-to-distrustful attitude about the gods can add some interesting aspects to an adventure.

Satyrs are, unsurprisingly if you know mythology, high spirited and love to party. They have a bit wanderlust, which helps to feed adventures. They straddle the line between civilization and wild areas in both practice and temperament. In addition to Charisma and Dexterity bonuses, satyrs have a ram ability, a “mirthful leap” that adds a d8 to jumps, proficiencies to assist their revelry, and natural magic resistance (they're fey creatures). After the seriousness of the other races, satyrs provide some contrast though they can be serious, especially when interacting with nature.

Tritons are born in the sea but can exist on land or sea – a necessity so they're not limited in campaigns. As special abilities, they're resistant to cold, have darkvision, an affinity for sea creatures, and natural access to certain water and weather spells, including a wall of water spell.

Additionally, MOoT also provides an Athlete background as a homage to the Olympic games. The two new subclases are Bard of Eloquence and the Oath of Glory Paladin. The latter fits the tone of Theros since divine quests are more common. These paladins believe that they and their companions have a great destiny.

Players will like the fact that these paladins get a Channel Divinity option with “Inspiring Smite” that lets you give your allies temporary hit points after using a Divine Smite. While I rarely play paladins, I'd have fun with that. They also get Oath of Glory spells like Heroism, Magic Weapon, Protection from Energy, etc. At 15th level they gain Glorious Defense, which lets you turn defense into a sudden strike. At 20th level you can receive the power of legends to redo a roll, redo an attack that missed or get advantage on Charisma checks. It's a good subclass addition for paladins.

The abilities for the College of Eloquence Bard are fairly self-explanatory – Charisma and Persuasion are the key to their abilities. This bard's abilities are useful in role-playing more so than combat. If College of Eloquence sounds familiar that's because it was tested in Unearthed Arcana, and it has changed quite a bit since then. For example, the Universal Speech ability that lets you communicate with anyone switched from 3rd level to 6th. Mantle of Majesty is gone but you gain Unsettling Words, etc.

Appropriate to the theme, the chapter on gods in MOoT is quite extensive. Each entry explains the god's role and history, their influence, goals, divine relationships, how to worship them, usually a myth, signs of their favor, ideals, how to earn and lose Piety, abilities granted by Piety, and details for their champions like suggested classes, cleric domains, and alignments. While that level of detail isn't required for every D&D settings, I'd like to see more than what we usually get, closer to this format, because even if gods don't meddle as much in another setting, their worshipers, etc. could be fodder for adventures and the worship gives PCs some interesting flavor.

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Fifteen gods for Theros may seem like a lot but its serves two purposes. Two of the gods are ancient and mysterious – Kruphix, god of horizons, and Klothys, god of destiny. Think of them as the titans of Greek mythology without the split that led to the titans being imprisoned or killed. The origins of these gods are lost to time and the least impacted by humans. The next five are akin to Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. Heliod, god of the sun, Erebos, god of death, Purphoros, god of the forge, Thassa, god of the sea, and Nylea, god of the hunt, rule over the major elements and aspects of life. The remaining eight are the youngest gods, created by mortal dreams, and most connected to mortals as a result. The other aspect to the gods comes from its source material. Heliod, Erebos, Purphoros, Thassa, and Nylea, all relate to the five colors of MtG. The remaining 10 each relate to one pairs of colors.

MOoT has a section on the world with details on mortal realm, Realms of the Returned, the Shining Sea, realms of the gods, etc. I was puzzled, though, as to why the map of Theros looked like the map of the Sword Coast – greater populations on the west coast of a continent thinning out as you moved east. Yes, people tend to build civilizations on the water, but the world map doesn't even show the east coast. It turns out that the enclosed world map is the first one ever made for Theros. MtG had no need of one so they never bothered. The D&D design team combed the cards for location references to make them work but otherwise created its own map. I hope the next time they introduce a new setting we get a different continent and city layout.

The chapter on creating adventures in Theros details how to create adventures for or influenced by the gods, nautical adventures, and much more. One thing I really like is a series of omen tables, one for each god, that you can roll on individually or, if you want a a general omen without selecting a god, you can role percentiles and select as if it's one giant chart. I plan on stealing that for other adventures and just customize to the setting as needed.

This chapter also has guidance on how to handle divination and divine intervention in a campaign. Each god also gets a section on how to use them as the villain in a campaign as well as charts for NPC champions of that god. Quests are also covered as are villains or monsters associated with the gods for an adventure, as well as information on how to run an underworld crossing adventure. The latter happened a few times in Greek mythology.

Charts for creating adventures based around a location are also in this chapter. Ideas and charts for other specific circumstances, like sun temple adventures and nautical adventure info round out this section. Basically this chapter has a lot of charts that will be quite handy for DMs.

To help you understand the flavor of a Theros campaign, the book includes the short adventure No Silent Secret. Like other similar adventures in Eberron and Ravnica, it's a good adventure that helps 4-6 first-level characters get a feel for the setting. This particular one involves an oracle and people who returned from the underworld so it captures the feel of Greek mythology nicely.

MOoT includes new treasures. What I like even more are its instructions on how to take regular magic items, even simple ones like a +1 spear, and give it a sense of history and purpose. Those sort of details can elevate any campaign.

I really like the subsection on artifacts, specifically, weapons of the gods. These are special items like Ephixis, Bow of Nylea, or Akmon, Hamme rof Purphoros. What makes them so cool is that in addition to their regular abilities these artifacts have additional abilities that unlock as the wielder gains Piety for that god. So not only does the weapon further encourage acting for the god's causes, but it's almost like the character has a separate experience track for the weapon. My complaint about the weapons of the gods? That there are only five. Considering how everything else is handled, each god should have an entry and if they don't feel a weapon is appropriate for a given god, make it a non-weapon artifact.

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For sheer coolness, in addition to the artifacts, the monster section will probably be a favorite. A lot of the classic creatures in D&D throughout the editions come from Greek mythology. MOoT contains a section for how those creatures change, if they do, with revised stat blocks if needed or just new descriptions, and a section on new monsters. Some changes are small, like the number of legs a basilisk has and a description that ties it to Pharika. Others are more extensive, such as eliminating all dragons except for blue and red dragons on Theros. Those dragons “are barely capable of speech.” While Greek mythology has plenty of formidable creatures and dragons feature less prominently in them than other mythologies it just seems odd to limit them so drastically. While it might bother me mostly because I'm very fond of dragons, I doubt I'm the only D&D fan who feels the same way. Krakens are “bound by a sea lock” to restrict its area of travel. That does prevent them from running amuck but let's be honest. The main reason this was probably included was so the DM or players could say “unleash the kraken!” at some point. I approve.

New creatures include things like archon mounts, like winged lions and bulls, as well as new variations of classic creatures. The Cerberus gets both a two headed and an underworld version. Chimeras get the biggest makeover with charts that allow you to customize them by body type, head attacks, breath weapons, and tail attacks. It's a very fun option to have. The eater of hope and nightmare shepherd live up to their creepy names. The best new creatures are the mythic monsters. These are all formidable creatures on their own – Arasta of the Endless Web, for example, has a CR 21. A DM can run them exactly at that level with their core abilities and legendary actions.

But the idea of mythic monsters is that they have a special mythic trait or are infused by a god with that mythic trait. Using Arasta of the Endless Web as an example, she already has spider climb, a web walker ability, a multiattack of one bite and two claw attacks, and a rechargeable Web of Hair to trap opponents. She can take three legendary actions choosing from a claw attack, a swarm (that counts as two actions) or a toxic web. The legendary actions can be done at the end of someone else's turn. On top of all of that now comes the mythic action option. When invoked, each mythic action has a box of flavor text to be read to players to explain their new, even more terrifying appearance that signals additional abilities.

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For Arasta the mythic trait is Armor of Spiders. When reduced to zero hit points, instead of falling unconscious or dying, she regains 200 hit points (she usually has 300) while her children swarm over her body, granting her an additional 100 temporary points. While Armor of Spiders is invoked, she can also do swipe attach, Web of Hair (it recharges separately from its normal recharge) or Nyx Weave (creatures restrained by her Web of Hair must succeed on a Con save or take 4d12 force damage and lose any active spells on them of 6th level or less. For a setting all about mythic adventure this addition level of special abilities, especially when they kick in just when the players think they might have won, this ups the stakes appropriately and adds tension. My complaint about mythic monsters is similar to my complaint for weapons of the gods – the book only includes three mythic monsters. One for each god would make more sense. In the absence of that, I would have liked to see some options for customizing those three monsters based on its relationship with a god.

MOoT was supposed to release in hardcover and on D&D Beyond in June but due to the pandemic, WotC chose to push back the hardcover release while keeping the D&D Beyond release. I think that was a mistake. Game stores have had a difficult enough time financially before the pandemic. Stay-at-home orders made that worse. A certain percent of the D&D audience want the latest book now and if they usually buy it in hardcover but have to wait for that, they'll switch to D&D Beyond and bypass the stores.

The only good thing about the D&D Beyond version of MOoT is that they put the artist credits directly under each image and in clear, bold type instead of hiding it in the seam in small type. Please, WotC, make the artist credits in the books easier to find and read like in the DDB version. Speaking of which, the art was terrific. Each piece helped to convey the tone and feel of Theros very well. I especially liked the artwork for the gods and the races.

Overall, I really like Mythic Odysseys of Theros. Despite having similar monsters and the standard rules as a foundation, it feels fresh due to the grander scale. If you're a MtG fan who also plays D&D, it's a must buy. If you play D&D, don't care about MtG but want a different setting that will challenge your players and make the word “epic” feel tame, it's a good choice. I can't wait to get my hands on the physical book in July to reread without the technical difficulties.
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

My understanding on why we haven't seen an integration of Magic's colors into D&D is that it's been a sticking point for every failed attempt prior. Wizards of the Coast tried repeatedly to develop a Magic-D&D crossover, from the very acquisition of the IP. But every time it failed, if I recall interviews correctly, when they tried to combine the colors of magic with D&D's established magic system.
 

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robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
My understanding on why we haven't seen an integration of Magic's colors into D&D is that it's been a sticking point for every failed attempt prior. Wizards of the Coast tried repeatedly to develop a Magic-D&D crossover, from the very acquisition of the IP. But every time it failed, if I recall interviews correctly, when they tried to combine the colors of magic with D&D's established magic system.

If I were keen to have Magic colors play a role in D&D I would simply limit the magic user types to Druid (but rename them Manacaster or whatever) and have them choose their Land circle (and adding a couple to make a better fit). When manacasting in their preferred terrain they'd get advantage; when casting in their oppositional terrain, disadvantage. Something like that. Anything beyond that just seems like getting too much mustard in my peanut butter... :)
 

Tyler Do'Urden

Soap Maker
Michael Morris made a pretty good take on the colors for 3e 20 years ago, but it had to be taken down for copyright reasons... I wonder if he still has it somewhere?
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
" Instead of gaining special abilities based on their Piety score, Iconoclasts get them at specific experience levels. That works, but the abilities gained feel illogical for this particular supernatural gift since they involve dispelling magic, dispelling good or evil, and casting an anti-magic shield. All three would make perfect sense if it only affected divine magic, but that's a level of complexity that 5th Edition D&D avoids." - this is according to what I read actually appropriate to the Theros world lore the divine are the source of magic itself and distinguishing them would seem artificial it would be pasting D&D on a world that is different.
 

Digging the book. Finally came in today I wish the Create-a-Chimera section was more indepth, but it's a great section still.

REALLY enjoyed the section about The Returned. I may just have to jack them from Theros and toss em in the Forgotten Realms as invaders.
 

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