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

dave2008

Adventurer
I would say he has at least a 16 Strength and 16 constitution. Probably 18. The bow being one example he could string every time. His son could do it but it took 4 tries. None of the suitors could string it and it was twelve axe handles.

He physically restrained at least three of his men I think they were lured by sirens.

He clung to a rock during a storm conjured by Poseidon.

He was a warrior leading other warriors. He was cunning, brave, strong, handsome and wise to say the least. A lead from the front kind of guy. The guy up there is a fine specimen as far as scholars go but far too frail to be the hero of the Iliad or the Odyssey.
Though I generally agree with you, I believe the intent of this series is to make it as RAW as possible. As such, it is difficult if not impossible to get all high numbers and the feats you need to create Odysseus and use point buy (which is what I think he is using). I would revise some things, but I don't think you can reasonably get three 18s with the concept of this series.
 

Beowulf

Villager
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.
 

dave2008

Adventurer
I mean, Odysseus was a warlord in the actual sense of the word, but he doesn't act like the Warlord class. He doesn't run around in battle healing people, giving up his attack so that others can attack, etc.
Assuming your talking about the 4e warlord, but other than utility powers there is only 1 at-will power (in the PHB) where the Warlord gave up its whole attack action. All other powers involved the Warlord attacking + changing the battlefield, or inspiring an ally to attack, or aiding an ally in some other way. That seems a decent fit for Odysseus mechanically.
 
For the life of me I don't know why you give such (relatively speaking) low ability scores for mythological figures. A 12 Strength of Odysseus?! That's just the obvious one, but all of them are way too low.

Part of his greatness is that he was well-rounded and good at everything, without the flaws of some of the other heroes. He was a bit prideful, is all. But I can't see a justification for lower than 14 in anything, and most scores will be 18-20.

I assume you want to design them as if they were PCs with the standard array (although even then, shouldn't he have higher scores by 20th level?), but that just doesn't fit with mythic figures.

Again, Odysseus is no mere mortal. He is the last of the great Greek heroes and in some ways the greatest of all.

My recommendation would be to imagine an optional "Heroic Status" rule, as follows:
+2 to all ability scores (if using standard array, 17, 16, 15, 14, 12, 10), or re-rolling 1s and 2s if doing 4d6;
+4 for ability score increases
ups the maximum to 22.


That would give something like STR 19, DEX 14, CON 14, INT 19, WIS 19, CHA 19

Even then I think you could argue for some of those being in the 20-22 range.

You could also have some kind of "Blessed by the Gods" feat that allows him to connect with Athena (who adored him) and gain advantage once per encounter, or something like that. Or perhaps more Inspiration than usual.
 

TheCosmicKid

Adventurer
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?"

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.
 

Mike Myler

Explorer
I'm familiar with the Happy Hour warlord but disagree with the assertion that it'd be a good fit for Odysseus. Does he do a lot with his minions other than, like, constantly sacrifice them? Over and over? I mean some walk away alive or escape otherwise but none of my readings of the Odyssey (which were done more than a decade ago) gave me the sense that "this is a commander, it was much more "this is one canny bastard and being his friend is dangerous".
 

Kobold Stew

Adventurer
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.
Remember that all others try before Odysseus successfully strings the bow.
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.
That is one interpretation.
If Homer described a magic bow that has a trick to stringing it, I'd accept that. But he doesn't.
Odysseus is the only one described as sitting when stringing the bow. All others are standing.
He repeatedly describes the bow-stringing challenge as a contest of strength, and Odysseus himself boasts of his strength immediately after stringing the bow.
Odysseus has been disguised as a beggar, remember, and has been made to look other than what he is by Athena. The boast you mention (I presume you refer to Od. 21.426) -- eti moi menos empedon estin -- does not use a straightforward word for physical strength, but rather menos:
View attachment 103496. the semantic field is much less focused. Note also the word eti ("still") -- it is against expectation [because of the disguise].

Remember also what's going on here narratively: this is a demonstration of Odysseus' right to wed Penelope and rule Ithaca as king.
That's what the suitors think, but there is much more going on than this, as noted.
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.
Odysseus has married Penelope, and he is returning to his home, and restoring it to its right state. In his mind he is not part of the contest.

Remember also that the contest is Penelope's idea. She has been consistently putting off acceding to the suitors, despite their testosterone-soaked inappropriate demands. The shroud trick worked for a long time, and now this. It is possible she doesn't expect anyone to be able to string the bow, let alone make the trick shot. The bow hasn't been attempted to be strung in 20 years, after all.
 
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Arnwolf666

Adventurer
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.
 

TheCosmicKid

Adventurer
Odysseus has been disguised as a beggar, remember, and has been made to look other than what he is by Athena.
That speech immediately precedes him revealing his identity and beginning the slaughter. The very next thing he does is give the kill signal to Telemachus. So if he is keeping up his disguise, describing himself as xenos, it is not for the purpose of continued deception but some other reason. As you say, there is much more going on here. A double meaning: he is still, with a hefty helping of irony, speaking as the old beggar, but he is also speaking as King Odysseus reasserting his power and authority.

The boast you mention (I presume you refer to Od. 21.426) -- eti moi menos empedon estin -- does not use a straightforward word for physical strength, but rather menos...

the semantic field is much less focused. Note also the word eti ("still") -- it is against expectation [because of the disguise].
Absolutely. Like I said, there are multiple meanings layered in the speech. But the line works better if one of the meanings is, in fact, that of physical strength, using the feat of bow-stringing as a metaphor for the more abstract strength that Odysseus is also asserting. And if it is against expectation because of the disguise, it is also against expectation because he has been absent, and aging, for two decades.

Odysseus has married Penelope, and he is returning to his home, and restoring it to its right state. In his mind he is not part of the contest.
Kind of? When a woman poses a challenge for her hand in marriage, and the winner is her long-lost husband, it's kind of hard (in the ancient Greek women-as-possessions worldview) not to read that as him symbolically reclaiming her.
 
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Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
[MENTION=6726030]Mike Myler[/MENTION] Do you have your OGLized content all presented someplace

This brought it to mind " rogue (genius) 9/fighter (master of battle) "
 

Mike Myler

Explorer
[MENTION=6726030]Mike Myler[/MENTION] Do you have your OGLized content all presented someplace

This brought it to mind " rogue (genius) 9/fighter (master of battle) "
I reckon folks are welcome to reference the column (Mythological Figures, Mike Myler, EN World <-- preferably hyperlinking it) until something more tangible is at hand. :)

(I have definitely done that at least once for Owen Stephens' Social Media feed :D )
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Assuming your talking about the 4e warlord, but other than utility powers there is only 1 at-will power (in the PHB) where the Warlord gave up its whole attack action. All other powers involved the Warlord attacking + changing the battlefield, or inspiring an ally to attack, or aiding an ally in some other way. That seems a decent fit for Odysseus mechanically.
And beyond that there was keeping allies on their toes by increasing initiative (by some claims one of the more powerful 4e warlord features) - Combat Leader (boostable by feats).

My favorite at-will from 4e is probably a toss up... but I like Inevitable wave where he charges across the battlefield attacking an enemy and creates/reveals a vulnerability for any ally to exploit bonus damage from warlords int (this is perhaps manifested in the bonus damage effect Tacticians Insight in Mearls proto design). I think Mearls tacticians insight might actually use some flexibility. If you attack the enemy too all allies within the tactical focus can gain tactical insight if used for damage against the same enemy you attack during the round you attack it (but the bonus is reduced to d6+int = instead of 2D10) for one expenditure - this looks to follows the spell guidelines about multi-targeting several.

Warlords Inspiring word - enabling an ally to rally their reserve of energy and perseverance ie regain hit points, is important but the leader classes were not giving up general functionality to have that (though if one chose to focus on it you could).And it was something you did in addition to other stuff you were doing.

View attachment 103678

The above does not sound much like waves hands glowy glowy scratches seal up to me.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Divine (epic) boons would be great for that, but that is not the concept of this project as I understand it. Try to embrace what it is, not what it is not.
What it is not is a good representation of the character in the stories who was known for Strength
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
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.
To me those allowed a lot of flexibility. you only need 3 attributes for defenses but which three? is very up in the air.

however any time you do the uber heros attributes are sticking points.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
What the greeks meant by wisdom in battle seemed more like cleverness and trickiness with a dash of knowing when to run (maybe). Ulysses loved taunting or rubbing it in when he maybe shouldn't have to my thinking it wasn't what we think of as wise though I suppose perception was likely there. It would be reasonable to give the character meh wisdom while riding significantly higher on Str .
 

dave2008

Adventurer
What it is not is a good representation of the character in the stories who was known for Strength
I agree that Mike's build is too low on STR and I have suggested moving some points from CHA, DEX, INT, WIS etc (capture some of those traits through prof. + expertise) to his STR score. The trick is to try to do it within the confines of a PC build using the standard array / point buy.

Also I know it has been a long time since I took classics, but I never remember Strength being a core trait of Odysseus. At least not compared to Herakles, Theseus, Achilles, or even Perseus. Similarly, he is rarely portrayed in movies as particularly strong. In general we seem to emphasis / value his other traits. The only feat of strength I can think of off the top of my head is the stringing his bow. And that could be expertise in athletics or just a bunch of wimps in his court room you couldn't do it ;) It seems like a a low strength (but training or maybe expertise in athletics) night be a reasonable approach. Though I still think a bit higher STR is in order. But like I said, my memory is hazy.
 
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