Don’t be surprised to see esteemed travel writer Volothamp Geddarm wrangling a backpack and sporting a “Theros or bust!” T-shirt. Having already walked the realm of Ravnica, he joins other Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition enthusiasts in prepping a trip to its newest location. Following in the footsteps of Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica, Mythic Odysseys of Theros takes players to a setting made famous by Magic: The Gathering.
Theros is inspired by Greek mythology and is a place shaped by deities, where legends walk the lands. From the temples of omen-speaking oracles to the five realms of the Underworld, the champions of the gods vie for immortal favor and a place among the world’s living myths. Having worked as part of the Dungeons & Dragons Team for fourteen years before moving to the Magic: The Gathering Team a couple of years ago, James Wyatt was the perfect choice to help guide Theros’ inclusion in fifth edition (along with Wes Schneider as co-lead and overseeing the book’s completion, and Jeremy Crawford overseeing the final design of the book’s game mechanics). Yet James’s experience turning real-life myths into fantasy material appropriate for gaming tables began long before that.
“When I worked on the third edition Deities & Demigods book twenty years ago, I really embraced the challenge of shaping these historical pantheons to the fantasy world—by making the Greek goddess Tyche a halfling, for example. This is a great lesson in how to take historical mythology and translate it through that lens into a fantasy setting,” Wyatt explains.
“The process of world building for D&D and Magic: The Gathering is both similar and different. The Magic creative team builds an extensive guide for each world to give artists and writers enough detail to work with. Creating a D&D sourcebook for that same world means taking that and giving it a little more depth. In many ways, creating a world in Magic is like building an elaborate movie set where it’s important to be able to look at a card and feel like there’s a rich world behind it. Whereas in D&D, you need maps!”
In order to accurately recreate the geography of Theros, Wyatt employed skills that would be recognized by historians all over the world. He spent a considerable amount of time researching the novella that was released alongside a previous set of Theros-based Magic cards to get a true feel for the setting.
“That was probably the biggest challenge, pulling together all the geographical information I could find in order to create a coherent map that would not be easily contradicted by the fiction. It’s difficult when there’s no satellite image of the landscape to look at. Because people in diaries and fiction don’t necessarily say, ‘We walked 350 miles northwest.’ Instead they’ll say, ‘Two weeks later, we arrived here.’ You then have to make certain estimates about travel time and terrain. It’s likely an army moves slower than individuals hurrying on horseback.”
Although much of the hard work of turning Greek myths into fantasy gameplay had already been carried out, Wyatt returned to the original stories to properly capture them from a D&D perspective. He wanted to depict Greek society as it would have been in those days and even the religious festivals he invented took their lead from the real world.
“I researched a number of things to flesh out the description of the city states. For example, I read a lot about historical government structures in Athens,” Wyatt tells Dragon+. “I also researched the ancient Greek calendar, which was a lot of fun because it’s lunar. The calendar has twelve months most years but adds a thirteenth month to bring everything into alignment with the sun. They also named all of the months after holidays so we found ourselves inventing holidays as we went along. Most fantasy writers have a tendency to tie holidays to the sun, but if a sun god’s festival is held on the summer solstice that might appear in different months in different years.”
One of the new subclasses that will feature in the book (following feedback on Unearthed Arcana) is the College of Eloquence Bard, which also takes its lead from Greek society. “The College of Eloquence Bard is our way of trying to include the ideal of the silver-tongued orator,” he says, revealing that the Oath of Glory Paladin from the same UA release will also be featured, so that the deities Purphoros, Erebos, and Athreos offer good, playable options.
Anyone who has played Magic: The Gathering using Theros card sets will have experienced the devotion mechanic, where gods become powerful creatures once you have enough of their colors in play. Wyatt and his team wanted to recreate that feel in Mythic Odysseys of Theros.
“In Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica we took the system of renown from the Dungeon Master’s Guide and blew it up into a huge thing. Our Theros sourcebook does the same thing with the piety system from the DMG as a nice echo of the devotion mechanic in the Theros card sets,” he says. “That includes all sorts of rewards and restrictions for characters who choose to devote themselves to a god and track their piety.”
The gods also make themselves felt with new magic items. These include artifacts and weapons of the gods as seen on cards in the first Magic: The Gathering Theros block. The deities also play further roles in character creation, affecting a character from the moment of their birth. This includes bestowing supernatural gifts upon them, as well as supplying portentous omens that may tie into their fate.
“Everyone gets this extra leg up that is a gift of the gods, which is separate from the usual character background. It may be a magical thing about your nature, such as you have the mind of a sphinx and your thoughts can’t be read. Or you might be an oracle, which is an opportunity for your Dungeon Master to give you plenty of adventure hooks. It’s a straight power-up but not a huge power-up,” Wyatt reveals.
“I also might enjoy making tables a little bit too much! The book includes a table of omens with 100 entries on it. You can either roll a d100 to generate an omen at random or you can choose a god and roll either a d6 or d8 to get an omen specifically associated with them. We encourage players to roll on the table to generate an omen that was present at their birth.”
A new region also provides new races for a player to choose from. Theros’ world will be thick with minotaurs and centaurs (from Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica) and merfolk (using the tritons from Volo’s Guide to Monsters), alongside the satyr and leonin.
“The leonin is a different, stronger cat person, not just a tabaxi!” Wyatt says excitedly, “and the satyr is also brand new. Satyrs are pretty much as you would expect. They’re party animals with good Dexterity and Charisma, they have a headbutt attack, they’re fast, they’re fey, they resist magic and they have musical instrument proficiency and persuasion. I hope we’re going to see a lot of satyr bards.”
Wyatt’s team has also mined the Theros card sets to find interesting creatures that belong in this setting. With many of the creatures in the D&D Monster Manual already owing their roots to Greek myth, that’s a fairly long list. In some cases, it meant providing different lore about a D&D creature based on its roots in the new setting, in other cases it only took minor gameplay tweaks to distinguish the way a creature (such as a hydra) works in Theros.
Similar to the Ravnica sourcebook, Mythic Odysseys of Theros also includes a short sample scenario in its chapter on starting an adventure. DMs looking to craft a wider campaign then have “zillions of tables” to help them generate their story ideas. This being D&D, there are also plenty of maps, including some that are linked with each god to serve up adventure sites no matter which deities the party focuses on.
“I love the work that Dyson Logos does in making these maps that you can just drop in and populate however you want. For me, that’s the hardest part of coming up with an adventure so having a stockpile of maps is awesome,” Wyatt shares. “For example, there’s a temple of Athreos in two parts, split by the river that flows between the mortal world and the underworld. I’ve already used that in my home campaign in a completely different setting, as my characters boarded a ship to be ferried across the Astral Sea to the other side of the temple. It was amazing.”
That same adjective could be used when describing the rich source of art Wyatt’s team had access to. Drawing from four sets of Magic: The Gathering cards based in Theros gave them more than 1,200 potential pieces of art to choose from.
“It’s such a gift to be able to work on something with such a huge pool of high-quality art as a starting point. This amazingly detailed art is only usually seen small on a card so getting to see it blown up or as a full-page illustration in a book is incredible,” he says, revealing that the sourcebook will also include new art.
“We are creating a cover and an alternative cover, and both of those pieces of art feature a hero fighting a hydra. Each chapter within the book will also open with a new illustration.”
Will you clash with the gods of Theros in this campaign sourcebook for the world’s great roleplaying game? Will destiny and the schemes of immortals lead you to glory or the grave? And what tales will you leave behind, celebrated in the pantheon of myths, possibly written by a man wearing a “Theros or bust!” T-shirt?
Mythic Odysseys of Theros is released on June 2, 2020 with an MSRP of $49.95 and is available to preorder now. Previous Magic: The Gathering fifth edition D&D sourcebook Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica are currently on sale.