07/12/2023

In the summer of 2020, to little fanfare, Wizards released a new Magic the Gather setting port to 5e Dungeons & Dragons. Events at the time conspired to bury this review, banishing it to the back-burner of articles. Today that changes. It’s time to dip back into D&D now and look at one of its most overlooked Magic the Gathering ports… Mythic Odysseys of Theros. Let’s dive in!

Background

For a hot minute, following the success of the unofficial ports of MtG settings with the Plane Shift series (Amonkhet, Innistrad, Ixalan, Kaladesh, and Zendikar), Wizards decided it was port-o’clock and started banging out official guides. Ravnica came first in 2018, and it was… very okay. Strixhaven was the most recent in 2021 and was a decent if narrowly focused (setting wise) book. But between them, sandwiched in an unfortunate piece of timing, was Theros in 2020.

Wizards created the Theros setting for a 2013 MtG expansion, drawing heavily on Greek mythology and its associated imagery. Building on success with the Ravnica release, Theros was supposed to be the big winner in 2020, but unfortunately, this wasn’t to be. Between the pandemic, pandemic related delays, Wizards’ automatic focus during D&D Live 2020 on the next project (Icewind Dale: Rime Of The Frostmaiden), and a staggering public relations disaster involving one of the creators, Mythic Odysseys of Theros fell through the cracks. It had some positive reviews, even some decent sales, but it got lost in the shuffle quickly.

The Good

Instant familiarity. The setting is deeply inspired and guided by primarily Greek mythology, with the names all filed off. And this is a good thing. The setting is instantly familiar, and the guideposts for players are clear for what the setting is all about. This means it’s very easy for players to slide into the setting with minimal exposition.

Unrelentingly diverse. The art in the book is fantastic; and it’s also more accurate to the demographics and reality of the real world Mediterranean than game books that are expressly set there. Diversity is everywhere. Light skins, dark skins, straight, gay, queer, human, non-human… It’s everywhere, screaming at you that this is a diverse and adventurous setting.

The Heroic Drive. I don’t often cite specific rules in reviews, but here we are. The Heroic Drive is a whole destiny/supernatural gift system that beautifully captures the vibe of Greek heroes and mythic figures. It doesn’t feel onerous or crushing. With the way it’s all written, it flows smoothly.

Ancestries. Still called “player races” in this book, are an amazing baseline. Humans, Centaurs, Minotaurs, and Satyrs are immediately familiar to anyone with a touch of familiarity with the more common Greek myths. Then you get Tritons, a rarer choice but established in D&D canon elsewhere and a solid fit here. Then you get the Leonin. Lionfolk. As a baseline of ancestries for a setting, this is outstanding and breaks from the D&D norm to really make the place feel unique.

All-in-One. Where Ravnica and the later Strixhaven feel claustrophobic as settings owing to the conceptualization of their planes (a city and its immediate environs, and a university), Theros is a setting. A full setting. It feels like how setting books felt like back in 2e AD&D. It has a full and complete internal cosmology, a described landscape, mechanics that make it unique, lots of examples of places to adventure, unique treasures, and then 50 PAGES OF MONSTERS. It’s a setting ready to go.

The Bad

Equipment. I feel like a broken record at this point, but would it really hurt to add an equipment section? Yes, I fully understand that so much of it ends up being palette swapped with stuff from the core books, but come on! The age of Greek mythology is literally backed with Bronze and Iron Age goodness. The Xiphos and Kopis swords. Doru spears and Xyston lances. Linothorax armour. The famous Heroic Cuirass with it s chiseled in muscles. Aspis and Pelte shields. Even a list of weapons common the thematic nature of the setting (slings, javelins etc…) would have been good! I don’t know why people keep underestimating the value of equipment as a world building tool, but we see it here again.

There’s no good “day in the life of” or real cultural section. This is a little bit excusable in this instance because of the broad (if sometimes erroneous) familiarity of the setting. But it’s still nice to see and it helps build the world a bit more. There are a few snippets here and there, but they’re easy to miss, so this one avoids The Ugly category.

The Ugly

Magic. There’s no deity of magic, no real guidance on magic in the setting. No new spells, nothing. It’s a glaring oversight and given the physicality of the setting depicted in the art, makes it hard to reconcile arcane magic users with the theme. There’s also no real guidance or options for divine magic users, who in this highly active deities putting their noses in everything setting, you’d think would have been all over the place.

Classes and backgrounds. This setting should have had a plethora of subclasses. There should have been guidance on classes and how they might be perceived. This is, I think, the biggest “D&D-ism” in an otherwise amazing setting that otherwise made the effort to break that vibe. They just didn’t include that. There’s one new background and two subclasses. Where’s the Hoplites and Peltasts? Maybe some arcane and divine magic user subclasses? More backgrounds than “Athlete”? Not in this book.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I think that Mythic Odysseys of Theros is the best and most usable by the most people port of a Magic the Gathering setting to 5e D&D. It’s not perfect, and at 280 pages, it could have used a solid 20 pages of additional material to bring it to its full potential as a standalone book. All that said, it’s a solid baseline of content to kick off a Xena, Immortals, Hercules, Clash of the Titans or similar style campaign. The art and lore are good, but the missing bits hurt the operation. Taking everything into account, this is a solid Rank B book, and if you’re into 5e D&D and Greek/Mediterranean themes, this is the book for you.

Liked it? Take a second to support Graeme Barber on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!
%d