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.
 
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Mike Myler

Comments

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
True -- charisma is solid (see also him taking over from Agamemnon for a minute in Iliad 2; admittedly in Iliad 9 when speaking to Achiles, he is little more than a mouthpiece, and it is Ajax that rolls well, as it were.

In the Odyssey, we see him learning wisdom, I would say. By his own account, he has learned nothing as he leaves Troy (Od 9 -- the first thing he does is lay siege to another town; and he foolishly reveals his name to Polyphemus), but by the time he's with the Phaeacians 9 years later, he as matured and (I'd say) is wise. The transition comes in the Underworld, when (ironically) it is Achilles who provides hi with a true understanding of the human condition, which he then adopts (Od. 11). The comment from Athena in Od 13 reflects both Wisdom (boule -- council) and charisma (muthoi -- stories/speech).

That said, all the stories of him at Troy from the Odyssey reflect his compassion, insight, and understanding (e.g. Menelaus' story of his Insight roll vs. Helen's deception in Od. 4).
That may be the case with learning of wisdom over the course of time and story (it might not be a good story without learning) but it doesnt imply as much someone directly blessed by Athena
and naturally with a gift of that style

AND wrt what the Greeks meant by "Wisdom"

here is a professor who taught greek mythology pointing out how Athena's Wisdom is different than you might expect.
https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-examples-of-Athena-displaying-her-own-wisdom-in-Greek-myths

Specifically this In reference to Athena's mother who was Wisdom "Metis" ---- > This story tells us something important about the Greek idea of wisdom: "metis" is subtle, clever, tricksterish. <---

And to me that is Charisma's cleverness not wisdoms due diligence and persistent measured discipline

It was also something I recollected from some elaborate discussion in high school how the words were not being used the way we expected.
 
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Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
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
 

Mike Myler

Explorer
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?").

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.
[MENTION=83242]dave2008[/MENTION] 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! :D
(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)
[MENTION=23484]Kobold Stew[/MENTION] 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.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
. 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)
 

dave2008

Adventurer
You presume he didn’t read it. I read it all and agree entirely with his assessment. Just sayin’.
I did yes, but not for the reason you surmise. After all I agree with his assessment (which I have stated many times and I assume you know since you read it). I made the comment because I think the debate is an interesting read and it might interest [MENTION=1013]Flexor the Mighty![/MENTION]
 

dave2008

Adventurer
RAW, the primary method of stat generation is to roll for it, so it's entirely legal to say that Odysseus naturally started with multiple 18s.
Yes, but that is not a common point of reference from which we can analyze and discuss his choices. You could, in theory, roll all 18s. It is just not a realistic constraint.

I believe he stated he was using point buy (or standard array) for this series. So arguing you can do it differently is kinda pointless as it is not the concept of this thread / series.

The idea is: you have certain constraints and then how to you make the best version of X based on those constraints. It is an interesting idea and I enjoy the results, even if I don't always agree with his choices. How do you make Odysseus while giving him whatever stats and abilities you want is not as interesting, IMHO, as how to make him within the constraints of the expected stat array (point but or standard array) and D&D race and class system.
 

dave2008

Adventurer
This doesn't fully address some of the comments, though, like Why is STR so lacking when Odysseus was renowned for his strength. There are feats in this build (eg Brilliant) that could be traded for STR without apparent loss.
I agree. I am not saying I agree with where he put the stats, I am just explain why he didn't simply use a bunch of 18s. The point of the series is to present an NPC and then discuss why and what we would do differently within the concept of the series (NPC made with PC rules using point-buy / standard array). This was pretty thoroughly reviewed with Conan I believe.

EDIT: Mike usually jumps in and explains his choice and then we can discuss some more if you so desire. I think one thing he should address is why Str is so low.

Also, the OP does say

So the build is intended to be a NPC, not a PC, and there is no requirement in the 5e rules that a "real person" NPC follow PC build rules - eg NPCs have proficiency bonuses that follow their CR, not their PC level (insofar as that might be inferred by, say, spells useable).

There's also a bigger question, also relating to your idea of "real person" - it's at least open to argument that if the ruleset can't model a hero like Odysseus then there is a weakness in the ruleset.
Yes it is an NPC. But you can build an NPC with PC rules and I believe that it the concept of this series. Hopefully @Mike Myler will jump on here soon and clarify this one more time!
 
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Grognerd

Villager
I did yes, but not for the reason you surmise. After all I agree with his assessment (which I have stated many times and I assume you know since you read it). I made the comment because I think the debate is an interesting read and it might interest [MENTION=1013]Flexor the Mighty![/MENTION]
Ah. Yes, I missed the subtext. Good point.
 

dave2008

Adventurer
They were not all of the same length, and he had the foresight to make sure they were arranged in a perfect parabola.
That is only helpful if he knows the arc of the flight of arrow. This of course varies by how much force is applied to arrow. So he would have to know the parabolic arc of the axe handles and then be able to draw the bow the correct amount to match that arc with his arrow. A very impressive feat. It seems just as likely that the where nearly straight and close enough that the flight of the arrow was nearly straight which only requires him to provide as much force as possible.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
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)
 

pemerton

Legend
The idea is: you have certain constraints and then how to you make the best version of X based on those constraints. It is an interesting idea and I enjoy the results, even if I don't always agree with his choices. How do you make Odysseus while giving him whatever stats and abilities you want is not as interesting, IMHO, as how to make him within the constraints of the expected stat array (point but or standard array) and D&D race and class system.
This may be a difference of taste - I tend to prefer considering how a system (in this case, D&D) can do a character based on its range of mechanical options, rather than its PC build constraints. Especially if those constraints are already known to struggle with producing mythic/literary results!

On a slightly different tangent - I think this thread brings out how punishing D&D is on certain options for no obvious reason. The punishment in question, here, is having an intellectually capable fighter; and when I say it's "for no obvious reason", what I mean is that it's purely a side-effect of a set of build constraints that are there for quite different reasons. That is, the rationing of stat points is there to stop 18 STR/DEX/CON fighters, to stop 18 INT/CON mages, etc - ie to impose some degree of mechanical balance. But Odysseus gets relatively little mechanical pay off from having high INT and WIS, but gets hosed in physical stats as a result.

The point can be brought out in a slightly different way: in a free descriptor game, Wily Soldier and Master of Magic would both look like acceptable descriptors to provide the starting point for a character. If anything, Master of Magic might be more considered a bit powerful or generic and need reining in.

But in 5e Master of Magic requires only one stat (INT for wizard, CHA for warlock) while Wily Soldier requires two to four, as we see in this case. So the system treats Wily Soldier as if it were more mechanically powerful than Master of Magic, even though in almost all D&D games it will be mechanically less effective.
 

Mike Myler

Explorer

dave2008

Adventurer
This may be a difference of taste - I tend to prefer considering how a system (in this case, D&D) can do a character based on its range of mechanical options, rather than its PC build constraints. Especially if those constraints are already known to struggle with producing mythic/literary results!
However, I think the approach of this series is a more interesting puzzle IMO. As an NPC monster build it is relatively easy to make Odysseus (or by using epic boons and/or past lvl 20 options in the DMG), but limiting to a max lvl 20 PC building is an interesting challenge that can sparks creativity (and discussion) in a way an NPC / Monster build does not. There can be value in the struggle.

EDIT: I also struggled to get behind the concept of this thread initially. Building Thor as a PC just seemed crazy to me, but I fully embrace this exercise now. I would never do this if I were to make some of these character, but that is some of the fun of it. The interesting part is trying to see how far you can push the D&D PC build to get to mythological / literary characters. This is not that if could fail, but how close can you get.

On a slightly different tangent - I think this thread brings out how punishing D&D is on certain options for no obvious reason. The punishment in question, here, is having an intellectually capable fighter; and when I say it's "for no obvious reason", what I mean is that it's purely a side-effect of a set of build constraints that are there for quite different reasons. That is, the rationing of stat points is there to stop 18 STR/DEX/CON fighters, to stop 18 INT/CON mages, etc - ie to impose some degree of mechanical balance. But Odysseus gets relatively little mechanical pay off from having high INT and WIS, but gets hosed in physical stats as a result.

The point can be brought out in a slightly different way: in a free descriptor game, Wily Soldier and Master of Magic would both look like acceptable descriptors to provide the starting point for a character. If anything, Master of Magic might be more considered a bit powerful or generic and need reining in.

But in 5e Master of Magic requires only one stat (INT for wizard, CHA for warlock) while Wily Soldier requires two to four, as we see in this case. So the system treats Wily Soldier as if it were more mechanically powerful than Master of Magic, even though in almost all D&D games it will be mechanically less effective.
That is a good point. It would be a better balancing tactic to make everyone need more than one stat. I have been strongly thinking about going back to Reflex/Fort/Will for my next campaign partially for this reason.
 
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Wiseblood

Adventurer
He then fired it through seven axe handles. Or at least the rings on the back which I would think needs a pretty strong draw to flatten the arc of the arrow. Unless they were very close together. I am not an archer so I don’t know.
 

TheCosmicKid

Adventurer
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! :D
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.

(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:
[sblock]
The Odyssey said:
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."
[/sblock]
 
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