Three reasons you might love it, and two you might not
Do you love Dungeons and Dragons? Great! Do you love Greek mythology, and have you ever wanted to combine the two? Well, keep reading.
What is ‘Odyssey of the Dragonlords’?
Simply put, it is a campaign guide for 5th edition Dungeon and Dragons, and in this sense is not unlike the official campaigns by Wizards and plenty of other third party products. Where it differs is its setting which, according to its Kickstarter page, aims to “blend classic fantasy with Greek mythology.” Its main selling point seems to be that it is designed by James Ohlen, former creative director at Bioware, responsible for critical darlings such as Baldur’s Gate and Knights of the Old Republic.
As someone who has long been a fan of Greek mythology, to say I was excited for this would be an understatement. As such, I approached this both as someone who loved reading the (original) Odyssey and someone who’s an avid D&D player.
So what did I think? Well, it’s complicated.
1) It’s A Well-Made Book
The campaign guide itself starts out very well, outlining its mission statement, as it were. It summarises very simply what aspects from Greek myth it will incorporate into yir auld D&D: fate and prophecy, fame and hubris, the importance of oaths. These are indeed major themes in pretty much all stories involving the Olympian gods and ancient heroes, the likes of Herakles, Achilles, Jason. Aside from that, these can make fantastic - if you’ll pardon the pun - elements to add on top of your normal dungeon crawling adventure. These can inform your roleplaying decisions, and seriously affect your characters and the world around them. To that end, I was very glad to see them included and with attached mechanics (more on that later).
Aside from the mechanical aspects, the book is well put together aesthetically too. Right from the beginning you can see the familiar format of a D&D campaign book, but with some Mediterranean flavour on top. The artwork is nice, though in some parts it can get a bit extra - it does sometimes give the impression of an anime take on Greek mythology (make of that what you will). Nevertheless, the book itself is gorgeous, and the character sheets especially are a wonder to behold.
N.B.: The “book” I’m referring to is the campaign guide itself, which is where most of the meat is. The Player’s Handbook is really just more of the same.
2) It’s Some Proper D&D
And it’s not just pretty to look at, it certainly is a competent D&D campaign. The outlined plot works well in its own universe; it even includes a major twist that the GM can have spoiled as soon as they begin preparation. You do get warned, but there isn’t really a way to avoid it if you want to be a good storyteller for the game. Also, you should get over your fear of spoilers, people.
The world that serves as your sandbox is well crafted, with place names, an established pantheon, and even constellations for you to navigate by. The world map being entirely encircled by the sea, one can imagine this will come in handy. The impressive part is that none of this is window dressing, it all has story hooks, plot hooks, with some especially linked to the unique backgrounds you can read about below. That is to say, this world feels alive.
And it’s good to get acquainted with the world, because the campaign’s story will have your party of adventurers wander all over the finely crafted map (and under it, even over it), you’ll interact with a lot of major NPCs and get to decide the fate of the world. More than that, it is a proper sandbox for your players. Not every inch of the map is linked to the story directly, but at a lull in the apocalyptic plot (yes, even the Apocalypse gets downtime), your party will want to explore some locations to discover loot, treasure, quest items, or even some side quests. At higher levels, the PCs are even encouraged to found their own settlements, which is a good way to have them truly become part of the world.
3) It Brings New Things To The Table(top)
In addition to a decent campaign, this setting offers some elements that make it more than just another D&D book. Appropriately enough, these are the Greek elements of the story.
From the beginning, the book emphasises the importance of oaths, curses, fate, and prophecy. So sure enough, these can make their way onto the tabletop. It is a good sign that the designers chose to hardwire these into the game itself by creating appropriate mechanics.
For instance, we know that hospitality is important and that breaking this custom is a heinous crime against the laws of gods and mortals. But in this world, if you break that sacred custom, you get cursed. Break an oath? Cursed. Rob a grave? Cursed! Park your chariot in the wrong spot? CURSED!
Ok, I made that last one up. But the prologue does mention a few major curses than can fall upon the heroes’ heads should they misbehave: curse of the harpy, medusa, graverobber, and the curse of the treacherous. That last one governs oathbreakers and those who abuse hospitality. Break that one and you get the furies sent after you. The literal furies. Well, not those three, but the D&D ones.
Another element, and one that is unique to this setting (in a way), is the pathway to becoming one of the eponymous dragonlords. The concept itself is not original, sure, but it carries a certain weight within the world’s own mythology. Plus, you get a dragon for a ride. Sweet! The process is thankfully more involved than that, with some more or less epic tasks that must be completed. By the end you will become a hero of legend. Which, by that point you probably will have been already, but hey - dragon mount!
Finally, the Epic Paths are another element that are worth mentioning. These are essentially backgrounds in addition to the ones that are part of character creation. Rather than giving you mechanical bonuses, though, they will come up regularly during the game to help or hinder the heroes. Each has a set of tasks that the respective PC must accomplish to fulfil their destiny. This not only adds flavour to the story, but can guide your party’s role-playing choices, as well as give the PCs a proactive task to work towards. Several, in fact.
That was the good stuff. Now onto the less than great parts of it.
4) It’s Really Not That Greek
In the end, it isn’t much more than a regular D&D campaign with a mild Greek flavour.
The story can function unchanged with any pantheon in the multiverse of Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, it seems to be tailored for one such game rather than staying true to its Greek origins and breaking the mould of standard high fantasy. The elements borrowed from its Hellenic source material are essentially aesthetic rather than being a core element of the campaign. Strip aside anything about it that calls itself “Greek” and you’re left with just another D&D adventure book. A good one, but still - for those of us hoping to see proper Greek mythology in play, this is a bit of a letdown.
This is made even more jarring considering that many of the elements that it hopes would set it apart were already incorporated into D&D. The so-called “high fantasy” we’ve all become used to is a smattering of the Western world’s myths all thrown into the same salad bowl. Centaurs were already known to us; harpies, nymphs, dryads, even the erinyes - the furies - these were all present in the Player’s Handbook.
The parts that do make it stand out are really just a bit of seasoning on top of the salad. A bit of added feta, if you will. The epic paths are nice, but it boils down to “get the Mcguffin, be a hero” - you don’t need to be Herakles to do this, any old paladin with an oath is a hero on a mission. The curses are rather underwhelmingly undone by casting the spell Greater Restoration. Sure, it’s a high level spell and it is a common enough element to D&D, but this does make them just another affliction that can be encountered and subsequently ignored in a high level game. At least the oathbreaker curse sends the erinyes after you - who, I remind you, are already in the core Monster Manual.
5) Thematically Uninspired
But more than that, it feels like a huge let down to me personally, as I imagine it will be to anyone who cares enough about the source material and wanted to see it better represented in our tabletop games.
I’ll list off a few elements, as going too deep into this would require an actual thesis.
The moral ambiguity and rapacious nature of the Greek gods has been replaced with your standard D&D alignment bingo - your Lawful Goods, your Chaotic Evils, and what have you. A special notice goes to the goddess of death who, rather than being the only actually decent deity in the pantheon (your mileage may vary on that one), is just straight up evil. An evil sexy woman - for those of you playing the cliché drinking game at home, take a shot. Medusae (rather than gorgons) are a playable race now - and apparently, they got snakes for hair and petrifying gaze because they were greedy in life; it’s an odd perversion of Medusa’s story, mixed with king Midas for no apparent reason.
On top of that, there are several smaller incongruous elements that add up: centurions show up out of nowhere, which are Roman, and in no way Greek, but whatever. One of the magical Mcguffins you get is boldfaced called “the Antikythera.” This part sort of betrays the fact that research into it was probably just a quick snaffle on the webs of anything “Greek.” Sure, the name is Greek, but it literally (and I mean literally ‘literally’) means “opposite to (the island of) Kythera,” which doesn’t exist in this world. The device was named for where it was found, not for any special properties it holds.
Finally, and this part really gets to me, they’ve gone and released the Kraken. Yes, the Kraken, not Ketos, Kraken.
It’s that last gripe that shows my issue with this setting. It isn’t “Jason and the Argonauts,” it’s “Clash of the Titans” - the reboot. If you came here looking to take part a faithful retelling of Greek mythology for your D&D game, look elsewhere. If you want to roleplay in an authentic reimagining of your favourite mediterranean myth, go make your own.
Ultimately, Odyssey of the Dragonlords is a finely-crafted, well-designed campaign book for D&D that many will find fun and engaging. Those more interested in the actual source material might be disappointed, while mythology buffs will certainly be let down.
It really is just D&D with a bit of tzatziki.
Anderson is a swarm of bees in a skin suit who have attained sentience and decided to infiltrate society as a writer. Their hobbies include: kendo, painting miniatures, scheduling Warhammer and D&D. When they’re not writing, they’re studying anthropology (to better understand humans).
Picture Reference: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/arcanumworlds/odyssey-of-the-dragonlords-5th-edition-adventure-b
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games