The Mythic Odysseys of Theros is a realm based off of Magic the Gathering, so of course a group of undead needed to show up to represent Black Mana. And boy, did they come! The Returned are one of the less complex Undead offered by an adventure realm path, but they still have a sordid, sorry history. Their unique qualities alone transcend the realm of Theros and could make for an interesting encounter in any adventuring setting. So let’s don our masks and see why you might want to bring a Returned encounter to your campaign in the Returned 5E guide.
The Returned 5E Guide
The Returned are a new Undead enemy type. By default, Undead are normally evil. But, The Returned actually lean toward Lawful Neutral. Even a Returned under the hand of a chaotic evil master may see fit to stay Lawful evil at worst.See Also: Our Mythic Odysseys of Theros Review
In Theros lore, Returned are people who desperately crawled out of the Underworld… But found that being Undead is hardly worth it. They lost their identities, and have become separate beings known as Eidolons. Also lost were their faces, replaced with disgusting, socketless eyes and gaping maws. So all Returned fashion masks for themselves to cover them.
Unfortunately, Returned can’t build relationships due to their faulty long-term memories. Some may become non-threatening merchants or storytellers, but most become mindless slaves to dark overlords or more intelligent Returned. In rare cases, a powerful soul may become a Kakomanteis – capable of blood magic – or a Palamnite – a soul full of rage, desperate to cause suffering. In some awful cases… They may become Pseudammas – remembering that they were parents and thus kidnap mortal children, but have lost all concept of caring for living beings.
Where They Come From
In order to become a Returned in Theros, dead souls in the Underworld must pass through the Path of Theros. Because they are so distinct from mortals, and have lost all memory of their past life, they tend towards two necropoleis (or, cities of the dead).
Asphodel and the Despair Lands
On a peninsula south of the Nessian Wood, the Despair Lands leeches life from the surrounding areas. Those that reside in Asphodel simply wish to stay within their necropolis, leaving only when bursts of emotion or old memories come to pass. It’s ironically just like the cities of the Underworld – a final punishment for those who tried to escape death.
The Aphonai rule this realm with iron fists… actually, iron gestures, since these beings don’t speak. Mages, known as the Order of Phaios, must remind themselves of their magic constantly to defend their home. Also defending their home is a treacherous mire called Hetos, more dangerous for mortals than undead… Mostly thanks to the crimson cypress known as the Blood Tree, which attracts vicious beasts.
Unlike their passive Asphodel brethren, Odunos despise the living. They are driven by violence, towards themselves and the nearby living. They are driven by Tymaret the Murder King, who wishes to find Phenax to return him to the Underworld. Unfortunately, Tymaret doesn’t know what Phenax is, so he slaughters all living souls.
Those who make the treacherous journey through necromantic bogs will find it heavily guarded. Or, if they come from the north edge, they may find the bottomless chasm of the Bothros, where Returned dispose of spoils – and the captives – of their raids.
Even beyond Odunos grow countless tombs, known as the Crypts of the Lost. It’s a land of many questions; perhaps this is the origin of the undead abominations. Perhaps it’s where Phenax escaped the Underworld, and you could trace his path back down. All the Returned care for are the tombs themselves, where they may wait for a final death to claim them.
The Returned Traits
The main difference between Returned and standard undead are twofold. Their Masks are typically worth 100 gp, but those of Theros are fearful of the cursed adornments; adventurers would need to dig deep into black markets in order to sell them. In addition, while they are Undead, they actually need to drink and breath (but not eat, nor sleep). They may also think and speak, and even feel emotions, allowing them to be affected by mind-affecting and language-based spells. Those emotions are muted, of course, and likely will not last for long.
The Mythic Odysseys of Theros offers 3 Returned for DMs to get used to; a CR ¼ Drifter, a CR 4 Palamnite (with some Barbarian qualities), and a CR 1 Sentry.
Drifters are, unsurprisingly, just walls of flesh that deal pretty decent damage with their Scimitars. Palamnites are driven by pure rage, and are Chaotic Evil. They have multi-attack with a lot of bonus poison damage, making it a high-risk encounter despite the CR. They can also attack with advantage against any target that did damage to them. Sentries gain Pack Tactics, but deal much less damage than Palamnites.
The guide also presents a Kakomantis, but replaces Multiattack with an Underworld Bolt spell, which deals more damage to injured targets, and prevents the target from healing.
Why Use Returned?
In a Theros campaign, the Returned are by far one of the most universal cornerstones of strife. By introducing Returned to the party, you’re giving them an enemy that every single Theros faction despises. That can lead to peace treaties, cease-fires, or legitimate reasons to visit isolationist tribes, such as the leonin. Exploring the bogs of Asphodel, or the horrific lands around Odunos, can bring a lot of spookiness to any campaign. And Tymaret the Murder King can function as one hell of a BBEG… And Phenax, the God of Deception, can be an unlikely ally.
However, outside of their use as an enemy, the Returned are one of the most sympathetic Undead that Wizards of the Coast has put out. All Returned have intelligence and thought, and know something is missing from their half-lives; Even the Pseudammas know they were parents and are desperate for the love of a child again. If you play your cards right – and have the right party – you can present legitimate moral quandaries with Returned’s memories, experiences, personality, and anger.
It may not be realistic to make a Theros campaign where Returned are your allies… But it is possible. These are a flexible race of Undead that can really add to any campaign – within or without Theros’s background.