With the announcement from Wizards of the Coast that the second D&D release of the year will be a Theros sourcebook, the usual spectrum of reactions has been present on social media, ranging from outrage that it's still not Spelljammer to rapturous applause. Some of the comments have contained expressions of concern that being as this is now the second crossover with Wizards' other major franchise, Magic the Gathering, this may be some kind of marketing stunt.
While there is obvious benefit in producing content related to another game, and while some D&D fans may return to Magic or give it a try for the first time as a result, I feel like it's worth looking at things from another angle. I'm personally not a regular player of Magic – I have dabbled in the past but never played seriously, and it's been some time since I bought any cards. The main draw for me is, was, and will always be, the lore behind all the various planes... and in all honesty both D&D and Magic are set up in multiverses, with no reason why they shouldn't cross over.
With any new plane, there are new possibilities – whether the place we go to is old or new. In the case of Theros, we're looking at Greco-Roman influence (with more influence from Ancient Greece). However, this is not a true representation of that civilization, and there are many twists and turns for players to sink there teeth into, as well as experiencing what they would expect from a Classical setting.
For those of you who are not yet sold on a Theros sourcebook, or who have no previous experience of what Theros is, here are the five things I am most looking forward to... in no particular order!
1. The Pantheon
Theros is home to a unique pantheon of gods, most of whom are involved in the usual bickering and territorial rivalry that you would expect from divine beings. However, some of them are particularly interesting, and some are nice twists on what you would usually expect.
In Greek mythology, for example, Apollo the sun god is a paragon of virtue, the kind of deity you'd expect your lawful good Paladins to be pledged to. His counterpart in Theros, Heliod, is far from the virtuous entity you would expect. He is fiercely paranoid, and he regards anyone, mortals included, with any power as a threat to his godhood.
Mogis and Iroas, twin gods, represent slaughter and victory respectively. Ephara is the god of plenty. Kruphix is the god of horizons. But two of the most interesting deities are Erebos, the god of death, and Klothys, the god of destiny.
Klothys is a 'replacement' god, who rose to power after Xenagos, god of revels, was killed in battle by a powerful mortal adventurer (who actually came from a different plane – no, it wasn't the Forgotten Realms!). Initially the jailor of the titans, Klothys fights against those who believe they can deny their fate. She wears a mask with three faces, each of which has its eyes covered as a reference to destiny's impartiality – and perhaps a nod to the idea that justice is blind.
Erebos is mysterious, but tyrannical, a zealous protector of the underworld. He rules over his domain unforgivingly but it's Erebos who is the main enemy of Heliod. The way that Erebos treats the dead is in itself interesting, which leads me on to my next point...
2. The Returned
Those that die lose their identity, and all of their mortal wealth. They must wear a golden mask that covers their face for the entirety of their time in the underworld. However, the Returned do not always remain contained.
This interesting take on zombies really adds colour to the world. The idea of a large number of undead in golden masks seems somehow more sanitised than the traditional zombie stereotype, but at the same time just as sinister, albeit in a different way. The idea that there is a salvageable human under the mask should be enough to give members of an adventuring party serious pause for thought – do they fight to the death? How could they know for sure that dispatching one of the Returned doesn't mean they are robbing them of their chance to return to life?
3. New Races
The races of Theros are a little different to the ones found in traditional fantasy – there are no dwarves or elves, for example, but you can expect to see Merfolk, Satyrs, Centaurs, Minotaurs and Catfolk (Leonin, which we have been told will be quite different to Tabaxi). We've seen Centaurs, Merfolk and Minotaurs in previous D&D books (Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica and Volo's Guide to Monsters), but the Leonin and Satyrs will provide us with all new races that have not seen release even in Unearthed Arcana!
With new races come new opportunities - not only new gameplay mechanics, but also new ways to roleplay, new ways to craft back stories, and the chance to spin a tale in a world with a very different feel from a traditional fantasy setting. Some of the mythological races as presented in Theros have defining characteristics attached to them, such as the fun-loving Satyrs, and the barbarous, tribal Minotaurs.
In many of the D&D settings we have encountered so far, the 'real world' counts as its own plane – the Prime Material Plane. When Ravnica arrived this changed slightly, as the Magic the Gathering planes function slightly differently (they don't have a Feywild or Shadowfell in most cases or, if they do, we haven't seen them!) However, Theros is made of two separate planes in the more traditional D&D sense – the realm of mortals, and Nyx.
Nyx is the night sky, but it's also the home of the gods. Beings known as Nyxborn are created here at the will of the gods (quite often Nymphs, but others have been seen that resemble beasts). What's significant here is that these Nyxborn have an appearance not too dissimilar to the Circle of the Stars Druid as seen in Unearthed Arcana 2020. Each being has a faint starlit glow, with constellations appearing on their body. They are living enchantments, and they are able to slip from Nyx into the realm of mortals when the barrier between the two is weakened – just like finding your way through a planar gate into the Feywild!
While the battle between the gods rages away, there is one creature, if we can call them such, that's hatching their own nefarious and elaborate plans to gather power. Ashiok, the Nightmare Weaver, is a being who doesn't originate from Theros – in fact, we have not yet discovered where they do come from. Everything about Ashiok is a mystery – what they want, how they plan to achieve it, and what they will do once their plan comes to fruition. Weaving shadow magic and having the power to manifest nightmares into reality, Ashiok is one of those mysteriously cool characters, with a unique design (they don't even have a face for frick's sake! How creepy is that?) and a power set that could make for some great encounters.
The only caveat with this particular character is that there is a chance they may not show up in the book, being as they are technically non-native... but Ashiok is an integral part of the current storyline so I have everything crossed!
No list is complete without cheating and including more things than it originally said it would. The items in the list so far are just 5 of a large number of cool things about this plane, which should offer many opportunities for a wide variety of campaigns. Existing MTG fans will have the opportunity to re-enact, or put their own twist on, their favourite Theros story threads. Anyone new to the plane can look forward to things like seafaring voyages with huge sea monsters, Hydras out the wazoo, oracles, revelry, boons from the gods (or not if that isn't your bag), savage bands of wandering Minotaurs, Gorgons, poisonous snakes, heroes, champions, loyalty, treachery... you name it! With such a wide variety of things on offer, the Mythic Odysseys of Theros are not to be missed!