5E D&D Worldbuilding Insights from Mythic Odysseys of Theros Mythic Monsters
Over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted release the kraken and talk about regular ol’ monsters and mythic monsters from Mythic Odysseys of Theros for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. Mythic monsters represent unique and extremely powerful creatures whose undeniable influence on the campaign setting catapult them into new dimensions of peril for adventurers. Along with these special new threats MOoT presents a collection of existing classic monsters whose presence in the setting shapes the stories and myths of the land. Extrapolating from this material gives Dungeon Masters and players a useful perspective for worldbuilding and how specific monsters — and how they’re viewed by people living in the world — can be a great resource to inspire storytelling and adventures in your own 5E D&D games. So let’s get into it.
Mythic monsters shape Theros in 5E D&D
Battling fantastic monsters informs a big part of 5E D&D game play, and facing off against powerful creatures very often creates the epic conclusions to campaigns. Along the journey to these significant confrontations adventurers square off with all manner of monsters from the tiniest badger to the gargantuanist tarrasque. In the case of Mythic Odysseys of Theros heroes may very well contend with the most fearsome monsters imaginable, creatures with indisputable impact on the campaign setting. Mythic monsters represent a unique kind of peril, with very special traits unlike anything seen before. Legendary creatures bring incredible power to bear in combat but they pale in comparison to these truly epic monsters who inspire myths all their own.
“While many of Theros’s greatest myths arise from storied terrors—like the hydra Polukranos or the dreaded titans—the monsters in this section have a feature that sets them apart: mythic traits. Mythic traits transform battles into truly legendary confrontations, well suited to the climactic battles at the ends of adventures or whole campaigns.”
Along with the three new mythic monsters presented in MOoT the book does a wonderful job curating a list of classic monsters found in 5E D&D with special places in the campaign setting. The list isn’t very long, but combined with the mythic monsters goes a long way towards illustrating how the significant creatures in a campaign setting become worldbuilding resources for a Dungeon Master and players in any 5E D&D game. I use this technique often in my own campaigns and I’ve discovered collaborating with players results in rewarding experiences all around. Here’s a few ways creating a curated monster list enhances your own games.
For my long running 5E D&D Spelljammer campaign one of the very first things I did was look through all the resources I had for monsters to fit the setting. Void dragons from Tome of Beasts by Kobold Press took the top spot as the main antagonists. Keeping this in mind the list expanded into a range of monsters across the challenge rating spectrum to represent agents of these terrors from the void. Over time players began to recognize whenever they encountered these particular monsters their main quest was at stake.
Curating a list of campaign monsters can certainly include player input. Consider classes and features like the rangers’ Favored Enemy, probably the clearest example how this is important. But along the same lines pay careful attention to character backstories too, which can provide wonderful details to aid in creating your campaign monster list. A ranger with let’s say elementals as a Favored Enemy in a campaign featuring zero elementals doesn’t feel very fun for the ranger player. Likewise a character whose Folk Hero background involves fending off an attack by werewolves gets a lot more bang if werewolves become a significant threat in your setting.
Your curated monster list can represent those creatures of which there are only singular versions in your campaign world. Using MOoT as an example, what if the basilisk, catoblepas, cyclops, dragon, kraken, lamia, medusa, night hag, sphinx and unicorn are all unique monsters? When adventurers catch wind of objects that look like pieces of remarkably lifelike stone carvings of wildlife with missing parts that appear to have been bitten off, you can build tension and dread as they learn it’s not simply a basilisk potentially on the prowl — it’s THE basilisk! You might even consider slapping some lair or legendary actions on such curated monsters to individualize them and set them apart in your campaign setting.
Alternatively you can take any monster you like and up the ante by creating your own mythic monster from such a creature.
Making your monsters mythic
The comments of the video above include requests for a video on to apply mythic traits on your monsters. Based on the three examples in MOoT — Arasta, Hythonia and Tromokratis — mythic traits activate once the monster is reduced to 0 hit points. At that point the monster gains new features, refreshes their hit points to varying degrees and alters their behavior altogether. They gain new Mythic Actions to use along with their Legendary Actions, plus new actions and traits. Essentially the battle begins anew with a more powerful version of the monster. For an unprepared party this can be a dire situation indeed. By the time characters face these kinds of threats, they are themselves movers and shakers in the wide world and overcoming monsters whose existence grew into living myth is the bread and butter of their adventures.
I’m gonna hold off on breaking down the nuts and bolts of making mythic monsters for 5E D&D for two reasons. First, it’s an endeavor worthy of a post all its own and two, on a related note I suspect we’ll see a video focusing on just this exact thing so I’ll keep some gas in the tank for that almost certainly inevitable follow up. In general though, mythic monster traits activate like so:
- The monster is reduced to 0 hit points
- Monster regains most or all hit points, temporary hit points or a whole new source of hit points
- Mythic Actions become available, like Legendary Actions with the same resource usage and activation time
- Special text or narration indicates and introduces the scenario
- Encounter becomes equivalent of taking on two creatures of same CR as original creature, with appropriate increase in experience points
Pairing with the video about mythic monsters from Mythic Odysseys of Theros in this companion video Dave and Ted talk about the other monsters found inside. Stay nerdy!