Okay, yes, I could have written this way back when its text dropped on D&D Beyond, but as it turns out, my brain just does not want to work through the DDB text for breakdowns. DDB is great – I like it for literally everything but this. Anyway, it’s a MOoT point now.
Part One | Part Two
Welcome to Theros
As usual, I’m going pretty quick through the setting material. I’ve seen some great commentary on how Theros’s overtly vague approach to history and lore makes it ideal for easy uptake by players and DMs. I’m the kind of player and DM who loves learning and sharing lore, so it’s a marginally harder sell for me, but the setting wants you to shift from lore to recounting myths at the table. I don’t really know Glorantha at all, but this is akin to what I assume it’s like as an outsider. And, of course, the comparison of the gods to 13th Age icons explains itself.
Chapter 1: Character Creation
So how do you create a Mythic Hero™? I like that the text starts with building a mythic personality before we get into the mechanical parts of the answer. We can sum up their answer as go big or go home. Between this and the Supernatural Gifts to follow, I don’t think it’s uncharitable to find a lot of the spirit of 13th Age’s One Unique Thing. Not that it’s a ripoff by any stretch of the imagination – this addresses the idea in a way utterly unlike the anti-mechanical approach 13th Age takes.
The supernatural gifts are fascinating, so I’m going to take them one at a time. The idea is to accept straight out that Theran mythic heroes have more going on than PCs of other settings. It’s only necessary because we, the audience, can’t really ignore the rest of D&D as context.
This makes you a warforged version of whatever you otherwise are. Presumably you’d also use it for, say, Galatea – regardless of how the d6 table of quirks revolves around the metalworking god Purphoros. In any case, it accomplishes that by grabbing the Constructed Resilience and Sentry’s Rest features of the warforged.
On the surface this seems a bit… universal? I mean, you’re a PC, fell deeds awake, now for wrath, now for ruin, and the world’s ending, et cetera, right? What it really means is “really extra unlikely to die, even more unlikely than in core 5e rules.” Defy Death grants advantage on death saves, while Hard to Kill lets you fall to 1 hit point rather than 0, once per long rest. The exciting part of the supernatural gift is that you get an extra-cool story goal, where other many others get an extra-cool origin.
This one is… a little bit of a rejection of the setting’s conceits, opting out of the whole Piety system (on which more later). On the other hand, maybe that makes it playing on hard mode, and it is noted as being a common stance among some Theran peoples. Since you don’t gain a feature progression from Piety, you gain rather more features from this supernatural gift.
- Enlightened Protection is a self-only protection from evil and good, once per long rest.
- Reject the Gods is the feature that explains your non-Pious status.
- Iconoclast Hero at 5th level grants you dispel magic once per long rest.
- Iconoclast Paragon at 11th level (yep, tier break points are the deal here) grants you dispel evil and good once per long rest.
- Iconoclast Archetype at 17th level grants you antimagic field once per long rest, and bumps your dispel magic up to a 5th-level slot.
Magic and power come from the gods, and you negate those things. Choosing dispel magic over counterspell is as much of a surprise as we see here. No objections from me.
I love the sidebar on Heroic Feats, nudging players to dig deeper into narrative elements around their feats.
This is a simple supernatural gift, for people who don’t want to shape their whole story around their gift. You’re pretty much a tower of iron will unto yourself: Psychic Shield grants resistance to psychic damage, and Sphinx’s Shroud grants immunity to thought-reading, and helps you resist Insight checks. The Inscrutable quirks are very clever and fun, because several of them alter your speech patterns at the table.
Have you ever wanted to be Patroklos? (One of the characters in my Birthright campaign did, or at least he named his character that.) After all, Achilles is sort of the worst… and anyway, we’ll be getting to his supernatural gift in a minute. Big Sidekick Energy grants:
- Boon Aura, advantage on saving throws against fear and charm for your allies within 5 feet.
- Companion’s Protection, which lets you redirect a successful attack from an ally within 5 feet onto yourself as a reaction, once per long rest.
This gets the job done in two simple features; I might think about stepping Companion’s Protection up to once per short rest instead, since it’s moving rather than negating a cost. Anyway, another option if you’re feeling like keeping your supernatural gift lighter-touch.
What if you were even weirder? A demigod waiting to happen, or a full-on supernatural being? Oh, it turns out that this is where the designers would place Galatea, judging by the origin table.
- Cloak of Stars turns you into a starry silhouette, once per long rest. For 1 minute, you impose disadvantage on attack rolls against you. Definitely handy, cool visual.
- Nyxborn Resistance grants resistance to both radiant and necrotic damage. Always useful!
The Origins and Quirks tables are very cool and weird, and it sounds like a great PC option to me. Even more than that, it gives me ideas for introducing an NPC with any combination of these Origins and Quirks into another campaign setting, to give PCs a whole lot of strangeness to wonder about and potentially investigate, maybe as an inroad to learning about big cosmic mysteries.
As a mouthpiece of a god, you gain an idiosyncratic relationship with Piety and a potentially complicated relationship with the gods as a whole.
- Ears of the Oracle gives proficiency in Celestial, and you get to be extra-cool when your god(s) have a message to deliver. DMs writing speeches for an oracle to proclaim could be a lot of fun, if the DM’s writing and the oracle’s delivery are both good.
- Oracle’s Insight lets you add 1d10 to an ability check you roll, once per long rest. You get to decide whether or not to use the die fairly late in the roll-resolution process (the same as Bardic Inspiration), which is great.
- Oracle’s Piety is your variant Piety progression.
- Augur at Piety 3 grants the augury spell, which you can cast as a ritual once per long rest. I can’t immediately think of another time we’ve seen rituals with a once-per-day use, and because of how augury works, that might be particularly unnecessary.
- Seer at Piety 10 grants divination as a ritual, once per long rest.
- Sibyl at Piety 25 grants commune as a ritual, once per long rest. You also become immune to surprise as long as you’re not incapacitated.
- Divine Oracle – bit on the nose there, yeah? – at Piety 50 grants +2 to Int or Wis, including an increase in your maximum in that score. I haven’t read the Piety progressions in detail yet, but I know this is how all of the Piety 50 features work. 5e is stingy enough with ways to push ability scores above 20 (other than “idk be a barbarian”) that it’s fascinating to see Theros stake that out as another way to set itself apart.
You also have an Oracle Curse, a d8 table of flaws that simultaneously create hurdles to being a PC Oracle (helpful for telling stories around a character with access to vast cosmic knowledge), and touches on Cassandra and other oracles of Greek myth. Oh, and a nod to Raistlin, sort of. Anyway, I like what I see here, other than the note about once-per-day ritual being a little odd.
If you want a bit of a leg up in the Piety game, look here.
- Pious Protection gives you one saving throw reroll per long rest. I like this as a baseline ability; I kind of wish it had a way to scale up to a full-on Legendary Resistance (still 1/long rest) in tier 3 or 4.
- Religious Study grants advantage on Religion checks related to your god. Sure, makes sense – though I’d sort of expect this to be a function of increasing Piety for any
- You start with 3 Piety, which gets you your first Piety ability right out the gate rather than a bit later and gets you to each new ability a tiny bit sooner.
I feel like it’s going to feel a bit thin on benefits as you advance, compared to other supernatural gifts. I think the lesson here is that, much like Heroic Chronicle stuff in Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, if you’re super concerned with all characters being precisely balanced at start of play, Mythic Odysseys of Theros may not be for you.
You’re Achilles. Maybe Heracles. Or maybe someone a little brighter than either of those two, but still very hard to injure. The benefit here is Unscarred Resilience, which is the same as a goliath’s Stone’s Endurance, negating 1d12 + Con modifier damage, once per short or long rest. (The goliath feature is also once per short or long.)
This is definitely a potent ability, and should add up to an enormous amount of avoided damage over the course of your career as long as you remember to use it.
There are six significant PC races in Theros: humans, centaurs, leonine, minotaurs, satyrs, and tritons. Humans are bog-standard, and I don’t like that any more here than I like it in the Player’s Handbook. This isn’t a complaint that is going to get anywhere, but I haven’t liked it at any point. Moving on.
I’m guessing this will be one of the last official releases to include Ability Score Increases or Alignments for races. Centaurs are cool, though here as with a bunch of the races, it’s not clear that they have any cultural acceptance of leaving the community to live among other races, or to go adventuring. That’s… not ideal. Sometimes you want to be able to talk to one of your own people without the whole encounter being about how you’re a renegade, you know?
There are two main ethnicities of centaur, which aren’t separated into subraces.
- +2 Str, +1 Wis.
- Medium size. There was a Whole Thing about this a few years back, with a lot of silliness around centaurs riding centaurs riding centaurs, but as we’ll see, there’s no “Medium creatures can ride you” rule here.
- 40-ft speed.
- Fey type. That’s neither entirely a surprise nor entirely expected – humanoid, fey, and monstrosity all have some precedent here. What it does mean is that you’re immune to charm/hold/dominate person, along with probably a few other effects I’m not thinking of right now. There aren’t going to be a lot of spells or NPC actions that do have extra effect against fey, so this is a meaningful bit of effectiveness.
- Charge lets you make a hoof attack as a bonus action after you charge 30 feet in a straight line and attack a creature with a melee weapon.
- Great for any kind of melee weapon user other than a monk or rogue. I do not recommend playing a horse thief, because hooves don’t let you use Dex to attack.
- Hooves are 1d4 + Str bludgeoning unarmed strikes.
- Equine Build increases your carrying and weight capacity, but also (quite correctly) makes climbing wildly harder and slower for you. You want horseshoes of spider climbing absolutely as fast as possible, buddy.
- I don’t want to hoof to nag you about it, so get your DM to pony up.
- Survivor grants proficiency in one of four different skills.
- You speak, read, and write Common and Sylvan.
My issue with this is that it has so little to offer many types of spellcasters. Playable races that are… let’s say “previously” monstrous… tend to spend all of their allowance for Cool Features on the race’s physique, which tends to benefit weapon-wielding characters pretty exclusively. Sensory features, damage resistances, and additional skill proficiencies, on the other hand, benefit everyone about equally, or close enough to be safely ignored.
Lion people! Got it. Their writeup here emphasizes not just the pride of the pride, but so much wrath. They get a big “make sure you’re not being a jerk at the table, please” warning from me.
- +2 Con, +1 Str. Honestly amazed to see any feline race not grant Dex.
- 35-ft speed.
- 60-ft darkvision.
- You gain claws as 1d4 + Str slashing weapons, in place of your normal unarmed attacks.
- Hunter’s Instincts grants proficiency in one of four skills. Always useful.
- Daunting Roar lets you frighten creatures within 10 feet until the end of your next turn, as a bonus action, once per short rest. That… could be very good for both warrior-types and spellcasters, though some classes lean so heavily on their bonus actions that it may be harder to justify using it. (Looking at you, monks.)
- Proficiency in Common and Leonin.
These are fairly well-rounded – claws are an emergency weapon for everyone but monks (go go damage scaling!), though I do feel bad for rogues, since they can’t Sneak Attack with it. (Letting rogues Sneak Attack with slashing/piercing natural weapons, and apply Dex to most of them, won’t break the game or the fiction, y’all.)
I like tauren in World of Warcraft (me and probably everyone ever), so it would be hard for me not to like minotaurs.
- +2 Str, +1 Con. Sure.
- 30-ft speed.
- Your horns are natural weapons that deal 1d6 + Str damage. Yes, okay, you really haven’t told the essential story of a minotaur without usable horns.
- Goring Rush lets you make an attack with your horns as a bonus action after you Dash as your action. That’s… not useful in many situations, to be honest. You’re almost always going to have some better combination of options.
- Hammering Horns lets you follow up a hit as that you land as part of an Attack action with a bonus action, in which you shove the target with your horns. This shove calls for a saving throw rather than a contested Athletics (or Athletics vs Acrobatics) check, and pushes the target 10 feet rather than 5.
- In combination with Polearm Master, this promises to be a ton of stickiness and control.
- Imposing Presence grants proficiency in either Intimidation or Persuasion.
- You’re proficient in Common and Minotaur. This would have been the right setting to not call it “Common.”
Imposing Presence is the only feature that does anything for you if you’re not a Strength-based melee combatant. More so than a lot of races, here I’m invested in wishing there were alternate mechanics that were more friendly to clerics, druids, or sorcerers.
Once again, I don’t really need to explain this race to you, but you do need to know that the art here is freaking amazing. I’m surprised that the girl satyr on the right side isn’t throwing the horns. (Editor’s note: I am as disappointed in this joke as you are.)
- +2 Cha, +1 Dex.
- 35-ft speed.
- Fey type. See above note on centaurs.
- Ram is, you know, the same as Horns, but 1d4 + Str instead of 1d6.
- Magic Resistance. It does the same thing here that it does in monster stat blocks. This is one of the strongest single racial features I think I’ve ever seen in official content.
- Mirthful Leaps lets you add 1d8 to the number of feet you clear in any long or high jump. It’s tricky because combat movement so often only cares about units of 5 feet, but this is still a neat minor feature.
- Reveler grants proficiency in both Performance and Persuasion, and in one musical instrument.
- Finally, you’re proficient in Common and Sylvan.
Satyrs have a whole lot to offer a wide variety of character types, because magic. resistance. Other than that (Mrs. Lincoln), they’re inoffensive. Also, their d8 table of Satyr Eccentricities is more fun than “fun for the player, annoying for everyone else.”
Bringing up the rear on races, we have tritons. Right off the bat, I like that they’re an amphibious race that takes full advantage of that fact, some of them living in poleis on the surface. It’s striking, how rare and important aquatic people, but with feet is.
- +1 Str, +1 Con, +1 Cha.
- You have a walking speed of 30 feet and a swimming speed of 30 feet.
- Amphibious does the same thing that feature always means – breathing air and water alike.
- Control Air and Water gives you some spellcasting ability: fog cloud at 1st level, gust of wind at 3rd, and wall of water (a spell from the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion, see below) at 5th. All of these are once per long rest.
- Darkvision, 60 ft. Honestly, that’s a must-have for underwater races.
- Emissary of the Sea lets you speak with beasts that can breathe water (the 5e replacement for the Aquatic tag of earlier editions).
- Guardians of the Depths grants resistance to cold damage.
- You’re proficient in Common and Primordial.
This is a good well-rounded set of features. It’s interesting to see the mild power creep of Control Air and Water, compared to the other spellcasting racial features that usually grant a cantrip, 1st-level spell, and 2nd-level spell. Within the context of Theros, it isn’t specialized toward any particular character class or playstyle, so triton characters might not seem like towering badasses – but it’s up to the player to make versatility matter.
Finally, wall of water – a close cousin of wind wall, but smaller in size, less flexible in shape, no way to deal damage, can be frozen and shattered, and less effective at keeping arrow fire at bay. In exchange, it has a much longer duration, it is difficult terrain (for that one space), and it weakens fire spells. It halves fire’s effectiveness rather than granting the target resistance, the way being underwater does, but implementing it that way is actually perfect – it means that this spell remains a useful defense against fire when you’re already underwater. A note – wind wall calls out that it blocks gaseous form, while wall of water doesn’t – but all bodies of water block gaseous form.
That’s going to be it for this article, since I’m already north of 3,000 words. Next time around, I think I might be able to finish the rest of the book, but no promises. I’m most excited about the new subclasses, since I have players using those in my 5e Birthright campaign (where they fit in perfectly). In addition to the subclasses, I want to cover the Piety progressions of each god, and at least touch on how much energy this book expends on helping DMs know what to do with this material. Then there are the Mythic monsters, and every part of that implementation deserves thorough discussion.