Greek Mythology in D&D 5e

Published on July 7, 2021, Last modified on July 14th, 2021

Some of the greatest stories of heroes and monsters originated from classic Greek myths. This article breaks down how to run a Greek mythology setting in D&D 5e.

Why Greek Mythology?

Greek mythology is the perfect setting for a D&D campaign. The tales told in classic Greek fables almost always involve heroes taking up the call for an epic quest, during which they encounter dangerous beasts, bickering gods, and powerful magic.

While it’s not a traditional high fantasy setting, Greek Mythology has a lot in common with the worlds featured in published D&D works. This allows it to be integrated seamlessly into the 5e ruleset, as opposed to something like science-fiction which requires an entire rework of the rules.

Greek mythology is also heavily featured in popular media. This means that players will have a good idea of what to expect when coming into a campaign.

Looking for a Prewritten Greek Mythology-Inspired Adventure?

Heroes of Karatheon is a self-contained 6-7 hour 5e adventure for three to five 5th-level characters. It was created by the team here at Arcane Eye and will easily fit into any Greek mythology-inspired campaign (or run as a one-shot). 

The premium module includes a full three-part story that evolves based on the players’ performance and choices, battle maps and custom NPC stat blocks, new rules for chariot racing, a 4-stage relay race, and a “capture the flag” encounter, a random table for 6 fleshed out Greek mythology-style encounters.

Purchase Heroes of Karatheon here.

Seeing as we appreciate the fact you’ve read this article, you can enter IWANTHOK at checkout to get the module 50% off!

How to run a Greek Mythology setting

Now that you’ve sold your table on playing a “swords and sandals”, Greek mythology-inspired campaign, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty and start planning. Below we have listed the most important aspects to take into consideration when crafting a world based on Ancient Greece.

The Pantheon

Keranos, God of Storms – Wizards of the Coast – Daarken

It simply wouldn’t be a Greek mythology campaign without the involvement of gods and their minions.

There are a number of aspects that remain constant across Greek gods in popular media that are a great place to start. Incorporating these aspects into your game will help provide your players cues that they are in fact playing in a world similar to that of Ancient Greece.

The gods need the mortal realm 

Even though the gods live in their own realms (mainly Mount Olympus and The Underworld) they require the worship of mortals to remain powerful. In most Greek mythology, the gods are constantly orchestrating plans to wrest power from another god. The most common way they can accomplish this is by influencing the mortal realm, which is the perfect way to get your players involved.

A god’s plan could be as simple as destroying a rival god’s temple, or as complex as weakening the prison of a kraken and driving it into a frenzy so it destroys an entire coastal city. 

The interaction between gods and the mortal realm will likely be the centerpiece of your Greek campaign’s storyline. For more help with this plot device, see the section Greek mythology Plot Hooks.

The gods are not omniscient or all-powerful

If the gods of your pantheon can see all and know all, they cannot be deceived or plotted against. It would be extremely disheartening for players to get foiled at every turn when they are attempting to go against the wishes of a deity.

That being said, the gods of Greek mythology are primal beings that wield immense knowledge and power. It would be almost impossible for a party of mortal characters to stand against a god in open combat. Seeking help from other deities, mythological figures, or powerful magical artifacts should be necessary to defeat a god head-on, even for a party of level 20 characters.

There exists a force that can threaten the gods

In classic Greek mythology, this force comes in the form of the Titans. The Titans were the children of the two original deities, Gaea and Uranus. This pantheon ruled the mortal realm but were strict and unyielding rulers. Their leader, Cronus, was the father of Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Zeus, and Chiron. 

Cronus began to grow suspicious of his children and believed that they would try to overthrow him. Acting before his children could carry out their plans, Cronus tried to eat them to imprison them within himself.

Zeus and the other gods managed to overthrow Cronus and the Titans by a mix of diplomacy, cunning, and sheer force, thus locking the Titans that sided against Zeus in the depths of the infernal Tartarus. 

Though they were ultimately defeated, the release of even a single Titan could shift the delicate balance of power, causing a full-scale cataclysmic event similar to the first Titanomachia (the war between the gods and the Titans).

Creating Your Greek Pantheon

Classic Greek Pantheon

Appendix B of the Player’s Handbook has a table that converts the classic Greek pantheon to D&D 5e terms. It includes just about any Greek deity you can think of, providing a short description of each, their alignment, which Divine Domains would follow them, and their symbol.

This is an excellent foundation for Greek campaigns but it does leave some extra work for the DM, such as each of the gods’ motivations and how they reward their followers. The ability to customize different aspects of the pantheon may be what you’re looking for, but if it isn’t I highly recommend checking out the Mythic Odysseys of Theros option discussed below.

Theros Pantheon

Mythic Odysseys of Theros is a 1st-party campaign sourcebook that was released in June 2020. This book features an extremely detailed chapter devoted to its 15-god pantheon. For more information, check out our Mythic Odysseys of Theros Review.

Custom Pantheon

In your own Greek mythology-inspired world, perhaps the pantheon consists of only three bickering gods instead of the traditional, larger group. In this case, creating your own custom pantheon could be necessary.

Planning out each deity’s domain and what they control can be quite a difficult task. If you feel yourself getting stuck, try organizing your pantheon into the format below:

Deity Alignment Suggested Domains Symbol Description

Mythic Monster Encounters

Primordial Hydra – Wizards of the Coast – Aleksi Briclot

Greek mythology has many amazing stories that center around an epic quest to kill a deadly beast. Perseus versus Medusa, Hercules versus the Nemean lion, and Odysseus versus the Cyclops are all amazing stories to be inspired by and to craft adventures from. 

Because these stories are so well known, players will be expecting to run into mythical creatures during their time adventuring in your Greek mythology-inspired world. Making sure that your Greek mythology-inspired adventure has plenty of unique monster encounters will be paramount for immersive and rewarding gameplay.

In a previous article, we have provided general advice when it comes to planning encounters but, when running a Greek mythology-inspired campaign, it will be important to pit your players against monsters that are worthy of a heroic tale. When having your players hunt a cyclops or battle the infamous Medusa, consider the following:

Give your monsters unique traits

Switching up the typical traits of a monster will result in more interesting and memorable encounters. Sure, fighting a Cyclops can be fun. But you know what would be more fun? Fighting a Cyclops that can reflect spells that target it, while being able to recklessly attack for high-risk, high-reward mega damage.

In my experience, Greek mythology settings are exciting for veteran D&D groups as a way to switch up the scenery from the classic Forgotten Realms high fantasy. Giving monsters unique traits will go a long way to make combat refreshing for these battle-scarred D&D players. 

If you’re having trouble coming up with a unique trait for your mythic creature, why not leave it to fate? The Monster Features table in Chapter 9 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide provides a long list of traits that are unique to certain creatures. Rolling a d100 on this table (or more, if you’re that kind of DM) will provide you an excellent start to your monster’s unique abilities.

Make your monsters deadly but allow for a way out

Having your woefully unprepared party go up against a mythic monster and escape by the skin of their teeth will certainly make for an epic experience. Having to face off against a monster two or even three times can force players to craft ways to outsmart a more powerful foe, leading to a satisfying conclusion once they finally defeat the beast.

Retreating can be clunky with D&D’s turn-based system, but can easily be fixed with a homebrewed mechanic:

Retreat

During encounters with mythic monsters, players can attempt to cut their losses and live to fight another day. At the top of initiative, if one or more party members have been incapacitated, the party can decide whether or not they would like to retreat. If the decision is not unanimous, the side with the greatest number of votes from conscious players wins.

Retreating with incapacitated party members is dangerous. When a retreat is agreed upon, all incapacitated creatures need to make a death check. To make a death check, roll a d20. On a roll of 1-9, the incapacitated creature is killed in the process of the retreat. On a roll of 10-20, the incapacitated creature survives. 

When retreating with zero failed death saving throws, the death check is made with advantage. When retreating with two failed death saving throws, the death check is made with disadvantage.

In order to retreat with incapacitated party members, able-bodied party members are required to carry them to safety. The requirements for this are in the table below:

Prerequisite Effect
Large creature, ≥ 14 STR Can carry two party members out, or one with advantage on death check.
Medium/Small creature, ≥ 14 STR Can carry one party member out
Medium/Small creature, ≤ 13 STR Can carry one party member out with disadvantage on death check.

Give monster Legendary Resistances, Lair Actions, or Legendary Actions

Legendary Resistances, Lair Actions, and Legendary Actions are all tools that were crafted to make single monsters a more interesting encounter for a party of 3-5 adventurers. The CR system tends to break down when a party goes up against a single monster without any of these features because the action economy is so one-sided.

If you are running a mythic monster encounter that doesn’t have any of these features for whatever reason, consider adding them to boost the monster’s effectiveness in combat. 

Locations

Altar of the Pantheon – Wizards of the Coast – Jonas De Ro

Campaigns based on Ancient Greece won’t have to worry about the vast Multiverse described in Chapter 2 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Instead, Greek mythology only has three planes that are the focus of their tales: Gaea, meaning “Earth”; the Underworld, the place where souls of the dead go; and Mount Olympus, the home of the gods.

Gaea (Earth)

The tales from Greek mythology mainly take place around the Aegean Sea, an elongated embayment of what is now known as the Mediterranean Sea. D&D settings looking to mirror the aesthetic of Ancient Greece will be ripe with hot, dry summers, mountainous terrain with low-lying brambles, and aquatic travel across sapphire blue seas. 

The map below shows the geography of Ancient Greece. You can use this as a template when creating your campaign map to capture an authentic mix of landlocked versus water-based areas.

Seafaring adventures

Campaigns that are looking to keep as true as possible to Greek mythology would do well to include ship-based travel and combat. Unfortunately, mechanics for these scenarios aren’t included in the basic rules or in any of the core rule books. 

If you are looking to run scenarios involving ships you could purchase Ghosts of Saltmarsh, an anthology of aquatic adventures from previous versions of D&D. On top of seven short adventures, you also get access to a setting guide for Saltmarsh, as well as an entire section devoted to running adventures at sea. 

The setting and adventures could easily be reskinned into a Mediterranean environment and, while the adventures don’t necessarily equate to a whole campaign, they are generic enough to be used as plot points to an overarching story. The appendix includes everything you would need to run a campaign with an aquatic focus, including ship stats, travel, combat mechanics, and random encounters.

If you are only looking for basic ship mechanics and want to save a couple of bucks, you could also check out the free Of Ships and the Sea Unearthed Arcana supplement. Keep in mind that this is playtest material, so there may be some balancing issues when compared to the Ghosts of Saltmarsh content.

If you want to get even more granular with your ship mechanics, including ways to upgrade your ships and alternate ship combat rules, I highly recommend the Captains and Cannons: A Ship Combat Guide in D&D 5e. This 3rd-party resource is a Mithral Best Seller on DMs Guild for a reason.

I much prefer the combat system in this book to the one provided in the Ghosts of Saltmarsh book because it treats the ships as set pieces during encounters, allowing players to use the full extent of their abilities in combat. In contrast, Ghosts of Saltmarsh treats ships as their own entities. This makes the rules less clear if, for example, a wizard on the ship wanted to cast a fireball at the other ship. 

The Underworld

In the legends of Greek mythology, when someone dies their soul goes to the Underworld – sometimes referred to as Hades, after the god that rules the domain. At the moment of death, the soul is separated from the body and takes the shape of the body it left behind. The soul is then transported to the entrance of the Underworld where it awaits passage across the river Styx by Charon, the ferryman. 

In ancient times, the dead were buried with a gold coin under their tongue because souls that enter the underworld need to be able to pay Charon to take them across the river. Although Charon ferries across most souls, he turns away a few. These souls, known as the unburied, can’t be taken across the bank until the soul’s mortal body receives a proper burial.

At the end of the river, you will come across the gate to the Underworld and Cerberus, guardian of the Underworld. The multi-headed dog of Hades prevents the souls of the dead from escaping their eternal confinement. Beyond Cerberus is where the judges of the Underworld decide where to send the souls of the dead. If the soul had lived a righteous life they are sent to the Isles of the Blessed – also referred to as Elysium – otherwise, they are sent to Tartarus.

Resurrection in Greek mythology

The way that Greek mythology handles death could be a reason to change the mechanics of revival magic in your world. Hades is quite the stickler when it comes to the souls of the dead remaining in the Underworld, so revival magic could come at a terrible price if it’s even available at all.

One way to make revival possible while sticking to the classic Greek tales would be to allow players to venture into the Underworld and recover the souls of their dead. In mythology, there are a number of ways to gain access to the Underworld as a living being. These entrances are usually at the outer bounds of the ocean or beneath the depths of the earth. Venturing into the Underworld is not a task for the faint of heart, as the realm of Hades is home to all sorts of dangerous creatures, hostile environments, and, of course, the God of Death himself. 

Mount Olympus

Mount Olympus is the residence of the gods in Greek fables. Sitting on the peak of the tallest mountain is a fortress of marble and bronze that houses the palace of Zeus, lesser palaces for the other gods, and living quarters for other immortals.

Getting to this mountain-top fortress is more difficult than it may seem. Many have tried to climb the mountain in search of the palace without any luck. That is because the fortress exists in the Aether, an extraplanar dimension in the bright upper-air of the sky. Even if adventurers are able to find a way to cross over into the Aether, the golden gates of this heavenly fortress are guarded by the Horae, the goddesses of seasons, as well as automatons created by the divine smith Hephaestus.

Getting to Olympus is not an easy task. Even the children of the gods were restricted access, as mortals are not permitted entrance. If your party is plotting to go to Olympus for some reason, they will most certainly need the help of a patron god, preferably one of the twelve primary gods.

Greek mythology plot hooks

So, you’ve sat down to start writing your Greek mythology-inspired campaign and drew a blank. Fret not! Below you can find some random tables containing plot hooks for each tier of play in D&D 5e to get you started.

1st – 4th Level

Roll (d4) Plot Hook
1 Olympic Games – teams from all over the land gather to compete in contests of strength and cunning.
2 Dangerous Beasts – a village is being terrorized by a mythic monster.
3 Narcissus and Echo – a handsome nobleman was found starved to death in the nearby woods. It is said he was cursed by a wood nymph for rejecting her.
4 The Spring of Hermaphroditus – the water from a spring outside of a small town has been warping the bodies of all of those that drink from it.

5th – 10th Level

Roll (d4) Plot Hook
1 The Labyrinth – a cruel noble has been subjecting denizens of a conquered land to traverse a labyrinth containing a deadly monster as punishment for their uprising. If the monster is slain, many lives could be saved.
2 The Golden Fleece – In order to prove a soon-to-be-king’s worth to his subjects, he hires the party to take him across the sea to retrieve the fleece of a golden ram.
3 Souls of the Dead – The party needs a specific piece of information but the only person who had the knowledge is long dead. They must travel to the Underworld to retrieve the lost soul.
4 Enchanted Forest – the party must travel through a magical forest. In the forest, they encounter tricky satyrs, stubborn centaurs, and charming nymphs.

11th – 16th Level

Roll (d4) Plot Hook
1 Of Gods and Men – a secret of the gods that could greatly benefit humanity has been revealed to the party. They must find a way into Olympus to steal it and not get caught.
2 Wrath of the Sea – Poseidon is angered that the denizens of a city decided to name their new metropolis after Athena instead of him. He sends a Kraken to destroy the city.
3 The Golden Touch – a king entered into a terrible deal with a trickster god where everything he touches turns to gold. He needs the party to convince the god to undo the deal.
4 Hades Unleashed – a Zeus worshipping priest offended Hades. Hades sends a hydra to lay waste to the temple and the city it resides in.

17th-20th Levels

Roll (d4) Plot Hook
1 Titanomachia 2: Electric Boogaloo – the Titans have escaped from the depths of Tartarus. The gods and the party join forces to send them back from whence they came.
2 War of the Gods – an event has caused the gods to go to war with one another. The party needs to discover the truth and broker a peace deal between the warring factions.
3 Curse of the Living – Death has been captured by a mortal priest who seeks to become a god. While Death is captured, no one can die. The imbalance causes various natural catastrophes that threaten to destroy Gaea. 
4 Chains of the Underworld – Hades has been killed. The souls of the damned rise from the ground and begin to destroy civilization. Only the appointing of a new God of Death can stop the end of the world.

Inspiration for a Greek Mythology campaign

Good DMs borrow, great DMs steal“.

Creating a campaign completely from scratch is a difficult task. When you’re having a hard time planning encounters, cities, or entire campaign arcs, it’s always nice to have some material to grab ideas from. 

Below are some resources that will be useful when it comes to brainstorming ideas and “stealing” inspiration:

D&D-based inspiration

Mythic Odysseys of Theros

This 1st-party resource is easily one of my favorite 5e materials of all time. It functions extremely well as a source-setting guide for Greek mythology-inspired campaigns. If you want an in-depth analysis of the book, check out our Mythic Odysseys of Theros Review.

You can purchase Mythic Odysseys of Theros at your local game store or at Amazon.

Odysseys of the Dragonlords

Odysseys of the Dragonlords gets my nomination for “greatest third-party adventure ever released”. This 450-page adventure takes players from levels 1 through 15 and was designed by the lead designer of Baldur’s Gate, Dragon Age: Origins, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. 

The adventure takes place in the Greek mythology-inspired world of Thylia. It’s got everything from seafaring adventurers, evil titans, classic Greek mythology monsters, powerful artifacts, and playable races straight from Greek myths.

There is also a strong Discord community for DMs and players running this module, check it out here: https://discord.com/invite/UxThTpW.

You can purchase Odysseys of the Dragonlords for the very reasonable price of $25 here.

Arkadia

Arkadia is a third-party source setting that is very comparable to Mythic Odysseys of Theros in the sense that it is inspired by the history and myths of Ancient Greece. 

This 100-page book is certainly more geared to players than DMs, as it consists mainly of player options (new subclasses, races, spells, feats, items, etc.). That being said, it also contains a solid amount of information on the pantheon (including Titans), cities based on Sparta, Athens, Troy, and neighboring ancient civilizations inspired by Egypt, Persia, and Atlantis.

You can purchase Arkadia for $20 here.

Heroes of Karatheon

Heroes of Karatheon is a self-contained 6-7 hour 5e adventure for three to five 5th-level characters. It was created by the team here at Arcane Eye and will easily fit into any Greek mythology-inspired campaign (or run as a one-shot). 

The premium module includes a full three-part story that evolves based on the players’ performance and choices, battle maps and custom NPC stat blocks, new rules for chariot racing, a 4-stage relay race, and a “capture the flag” encounter, a random table for 6 fleshed out Greek mythology-style encounters.

The adventure can be purchased here.

Seeing as we appreciate the fact you’ve read this article, you can enter IWANTHOK at checkout to get the module 50% off!

Non-D&D-based inspiration

Below are some of my favorite media that are based on Greek mythology:

TV/Movies

  • Blood of Zeus – A great anime series that centers around Greek mythology.
  • Hercules – This 1997 Disney classic was where I first discovered my love for Greek mythology. It definitely holds up 20+ years later.
  • Clash of the Titans – The 1981 one is definitely the best. 2010 one was okay and Wrath of the Titans 2012 was a trainwreck.
  • Immortals – A slow-mo action fest that capitalized off the 300 bandwagon. I still go back to this movie for some of the epic action sequences
  • 300 – Not much needs to be said about this movie. One of the all-time greats as far as movies about ancient Greece are concerned.
  • Troy – Another solid ancient historical Greek movie, Troy is probably one of the more “down to earth” films as it doesn’t involve any gods or magical abilities, unlike its source material in the Iliad.
  • Spartacus – One of my favorite shows to watch with my university friends. This show focuses heavily on the life of a gladiator in Ancient Rome which isn’t technically “Greek mythology” but is close enough.

Books

  • The Iliad and The Odyssey – These are essentially the Bible of Greek mythology. If you don’t want to deal with the language barrier of the original books, I suggest this translation by Robert Fagles
  • Percy Jackson series – Pretty much as far as you can get on the other end of the spectrum from Homer’s works. These books are targeted towards young adults and it shows. If you can get past the kitschy writing and YA tropes, it’s actually quite an enjoyable series. Do yourself a favor and give the movies a wide berth.
  • Song of Achilles and Circe – Greek mythology-inspired series by Madeline Miller. If you’re going to read one, choose Circe.
  • Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold – Audiobook series by Stephen Fry retelling classic Greek myths.

Games

  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey – Assassin’s Creed has really strayed from its original formula but honestly, this is a really fun game that emulates the feel of ancient Greece very well. Sure the dialogue isn’t great and the characters are forgettable, but the gameplay and scenery definitely make up for what the story lacks.
  • Age of mythology – AoM is a real-time strategy game that pits different mythologies against one another. This was easily one of my favorite games of my childhood. I’ve always enjoyed Greek mythology and, back in 2002, there wasn’t much for a younger guy to consume. I probably spent hundreds of hours on this game and, in my (un)professional opinion, it definitely holds up. 
  • Hades – One of the best rogue-like dungeon crawlers ever created, Hades has amazing gameplay, witty writing, and lets you interact with pretty much all the gods in Greek mythology.

Podcasts

  • Let’s Talk about Myths, Baby!
  • Myths & Legends
  • Mythology from Parcast

Conclusion

Thanks for reading! We hope this article has given you some direction when it comes to running a D&D 5e game in a Greek mythology-inspired setting.

Have you run a swords-and-sandals campaign before? We’d love to hear about it, or any tips you have for running Greek mythology-inspired campaigns in the comments below

Mike Bernier

Mike Bernier is the lead content writer and founder of Arcane Eye. Outside of writing for Arcane Eye, Mike spends most of his time playing games, hiking with his girlfriend, and tending the veritable jungle of houseplants that have invaded his house. He is the author of Escape from Mt. Balefor and continually strives to help players and DMs have fun playing D&D. Mike specializes in character creation guides for players, homebrewed mechanics and tips for DMs, and one-shots with unique settings and scenarios.

2 thoughts on “Greek Mythology in D&D 5e

  1. If you’re looking for more inspiration, stop whatever you’re doing and go read Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles and Circe. They’re both great, but if you only read one, read Circe. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in years.

    Also, Stephen Fry’s retellings of the Greek myths are highly entertaining: Mythos, Heroes, and just released last month, Troy.

    You could also add an entire category for inspirational podcasts. My go-tos are: Let’s Talk about Myths, Baby!, Myths & Legends, and Mythology from Parcast.

    And for anyone running Odyssey of the Dragonlords, do yourselves a favor and join its Discord; there’s an incredible community there for support, ideas, and resources.

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