Features | Written by Ed Fortune 28/07/2020

Mythic Odysseys of Theros: Interview

We caught up with James Wyatt and F.Wesley Schneider, the two lead designers behind the latest Dungeons and Dragons supplement Mythic Odysseys of Theros. Let’s find out more about this exciting addition to the world of D&D from the creators themselves.

How is Mythic Odysseys of Theros different from other D&D games?

James Wyatt: The thing that really sets Theros apart from other D&D settings is the role of the gods. As in Greek myth, the gods are constantly meddling and scheming, and their interactions can drive a whole campaign. Player characters, regardless of class (not just clerics) might get significant magical powers from a god and undertake quests on a god’s behalf. We’ve never put so much weight on both a character’s devotion to a god (reflected in the piety system) and the gods’ role in driving adventures and campaigns (reflected in the adventures chapter) in a D&D book before.

F. Wesley Schneider: In many ways, it’s not. It’s still D&D. It’s still heroes going on fabulous adventures and facing off against incredible evils. If you know how to play D&D, Theros offers one more set of tools for your gaming workbench. That said, Theros takes its inspirations from Classical Greco-Roman mythology—stories of Perseus and Pandora, of works like The Odyssey and movies like Clash of the Titans. The setting’s focuses are more on spears and hydras than swords and dragons, providing you with everything you need to run adventures that feel like timeless myths.

What should fans of Greek Myths being looking out for?

James Wyatt: The gods of Theros, of course, are inspired by the gods of ancient Greece, though you won’t always find a one-to-one correlation between them. The pantheon of Theros was built from the ground up to suit a fantasy world, so it resonates with Greek flavor but also works really naturally in a D&D campaign.

More than the gods, though, people who are interested in myth should enjoy the mythic scope and scale of the book. We really took the name of the book to heart and tried to help DMs and players tell the stories of grand odysseys and supernatural adventures that resonate deeply with the themes and elements of Greek myth.

F. Wesley Schneider: We want to encourage players to explore and participate in their favourite scenes and plots from classic myth: endless voyages in search of home; descents into and escapes from the Underworld; bargains and contests with fickle, fallible gods. Moreover, in Theros, from character creation on, every character is considered to be a hero—a living legend. Your deeds will shape the world for all time to come. It’s just up to you to determine how.

What should fans of Magic the Gathering be looking out for?

James Wyatt: Folks who remember the original Theros card sets (2013–14), as well as those who’ve played this year’s Theros Beyond Death, will recognize the vast majority of the art in this book, though you might never have seen it at this scale before. One of the things I love about doing books about Magic settings is the chance to show off the amazing art that our artists produce for Magic, but blowing it up to a much larger size so you can see the care and detail in every painting. You’ll also recognize a number of the named characters and monsters who appear in the book—from Taranika, the current regent of Akros, to Tromokratis, the mythic kraken—who all appeared on cards in various Theros sets.

F. Wesley Schneider: If you loved something about Theros in Magic you’ll likely find it in Mythic Odysseys. From devotion and piety being central to the storytelling to your favourite divine and mortal characters, from devastating monsters to absolutely incredible art, it’s all there. Only now, there’s a D&D spin that lets you make these stories your own.

In the Greek Myths, one of the big things is that gods have their own ‘soap opera’ going on. How did you work that in for Theros?

James Wyatt: As they’re described in the book, each of the gods of Theros has their own agenda, their own complex web of relationships with other gods, and their own values that they strive to uphold through their champions. They’re a lot more complex than just an alignment—Heliod, the sun god, for example, upholds ideals of law and good, but he’s also an arrogant jerk who doesn’t like to be overshadowed by his champions. He’s got a long-standing rivalry with his brother Erebos, the god of the dead, that’s a lot deeper than a simple “good versus evil” conflict. So there’s a lot of texture for players to explore as they go through their adventures in Theros.

There’s also a short table for each god in the adventures chapter that gives ideas for the god’s most ambitious and world-shaking schemes, which could end up shaping the course of an entire campaign. Maybe Klothys, the god of destiny, decides that mortal worship of the gods has distorted the natural order of things and needs to be stopped, so she sends her agents on a crusade to abolish religion and destroy temples across the world. Or Heliod decides that the constant squabbling of the sibling war-gods Iroas and Mogis is causing too much disruption, and he kills them both. What happens to the world in their absence? Ideas like that can help Dungeon Masters craft a campaign that feels unlike anything else that you’ve ever seen in a D&D campaign . . . and also feels very true to Greek myth.

F. Wesley Schneider: In every way. The gods of Theros are one step removed from every plot and peril. They know who the characters are and they’re watching. They’re courting these mortals to do their will or they’re opposing them for their own ends. And they’re often willing to bargain. Have a hero get in over their head? Call out to the gods! I’m sure it’ll go just great.

How much did the existing art for Theros inspire the book?

James Wyatt: A lot! Most of the book’s art was previously published on cards. The book was, first and foremost, an effort to bring the world depicted on the cards—art and text alike—to life in a D&D framework. Most of the magic items in the book are things depicted on cards, and the same is true of (I think) all of the monsters.

F. Wesley Schneider: Richly. Deeply. Fantastically. The cards from Magic’s multiple Theros-focused sets provided not just hundreds of peeks into this world, but dozens of characters, in-world quotes, rules-suggested behaviours, and ongoing plotlines. It was truly an embarrassment of riches for our work. Also, my co-lead on the project, James Wyatt—on top of being a D&D veteran—is on the Magic worldbuilding team, so his knowledge of the breadth of Theros made him the perfect expert for this project. D&D team members Ari Levitch and Adam Lee also formerly worked on designing the Theros setting for Magic, and throughout the process their insights were invaluable!

What’s your favourite part of Theros?

James Wyatt: The mythic scope and scale is the thing I’m most excited about. We really tried to give you the tools to play a D&D campaign that feels super-heroic, earth-shaking, and fantastical. From creating characters with supernatural gifts (like an Anvilwrought character, forged by the hands of a god, or someone whose devotion to another hero carries magical weight) to adventure seeds loaded with divine intrigue, all the pieces fit together to make a really epic picture. I’m also personally very proud of the omens table(s)—a hundred entries, divided into subtables for each god, that the DM can use when the gods are trying to communicate something to the player characters. It’s just fun!

F. Wesley Schneider: Everyone says the mythic monsters, so I’m going to pass on that. (But they are pretty great; Jeremy Crawford, Ben Petrisor, Dan Dillon, Orion Black, and others all did incredible work bringing those epic confrontations to life.)

Those beasties aside, I’m going to say the myths. Something I wanted capture was the experience of opening up a book of mythology in your grade school library and flipping through story after story of heroes, monsters, and explanations of why the world is how it is. To that end, throughout Mythic Odysseys of Theros are numerous myth sidebars—little stories related to truths and legends, histories and tales about the world. If you want to pick up the book and just read about the exploits of gods and heroes and how they shaped the world, you absolutely can. And if that provides ideas for your own characters and adventures, all the better!

Why should I run a Theros campaign instead of Eberron or Forgotten Realms?

James Wyatt: You should run what makes you (and your players) happy! In the case of Theros, maybe it’s because you love Greek myths of the feel of super-heroic fantasy. Maybe you’re intrigued by the politics and infighting of the pantheon and the role that pious (or iconoclast) characters might play in it. Maybe you want to recreate the feel and flavor of The Iliad or The Odyssey or the story of Orpheus. Maybe you’re just looking for a change of pace and want to try something new and different.

F. Wesley Schneider: I mean, the plane shift spell is wild. Why choose?

What’s your next D&D project?

James Wyatt: I recently finished work on an unannounced D&D project, for which I had the great pleasure of working with Wes again. Now I’m back at work on Magic stuff, working on sets that won’t see the light of day until 2022 or so. The next thing you’ll see with my fingerprints on it is the Zendikar Rising card set, coming this fall.

F. Wesley Schneider: Something with slightly fewer shark-headed chimeras, I’m afraid. Conjecture away!

If you could bring back one D&D or campaign world that isn’t yet in fifth edition, what would it be?

James Wyatt: My nitpicky technical answer to that is that since we wrote the core rulebooks to be expansive and encompass the whole multiverse of D&D, all our old worlds already are in fifth edition. That said, I’d love to see a fresh take (and new art!) for a number of older worlds—Dragonlance and Greyhawk come to mind.

F. Wesley Schneider: My stars and garters—that’s sort of a personal question, don’t you think?!

There are loads of news ‘actual play’ D&D shows on the internet right now (Critical Role, Questing Time, Rivals of Waterdeep,etc) do you have any recommendations? Or failing that, recommendation for fantasy novels/works?

James Wyatt: I think it’s really cool that this genre has taken off in the last few years. (I can remember conversations, many years ago, where we discussed and laughingly dismissed the idea that people would find enjoyment in watching other people play D&D. How wrong we were!) As with running a campaign, you should watch what makes you happy: find a show where you enjoy the storytelling and relate to the players.

F. Wesley Schneider: At the moment, I’m reading and loving The Devourers by Indrapramit Das—it’s easily my new favourite book about werewolves in India. I’m also relishing my much belated playthrough of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney trilogy, which—if folks aren’t aware—features way more wizards than you might expect!

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