Guidance – Gibbering Mouth: Why Alex Has Stopped Talking About Mythic

Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, Alex is going to be giving his (jaded) opinion on the Mythic system.

WARNING: THIS WHOL ARTICLE IS AN OPINION. YOU’RE WELCOME TO DISAGREE AND I ENCOURAGE DISCUSSION, BUT IF YOU’RE RUDE I WILL DELETE YOUR COMMENTS WITH PREJUDICE.

Has anyone noticed that my articles have been missing something, lately? An old entry that I used to do a LOT in my earlier articles, but haven’t really done in a long time? My old “making this build mythic,” section, perhaps?

Nice one, Alex. You just spoiled the set-up!

If you’ve been reading my Iconic Design articles for the past few months, then you’ve probably noticed that I don’t offer suggestions for making my builds mythic anymore. There are a couple of reasons for that, and today’s article is going to discuss them, shining a big ‘ole spotlight on Pathfinder Roleplaying Game’s Mythic Adventures.

I have a feeling that if any of you have used the mythic rules in-depth, I’m going to be preaching to the choir with this section.

Reason #1 — Time

Time, it always comes down to time, doesn’t it? When you’re designing something to be mythic, time isn’t a HUGE factor, but it’s a factor nevertheless. Mythic is mostly contained to a single book (two if we include Mythic Origins), so researching mythic rules and options doesn’t take long. But time spent making a character or a monster mythic is time spent nevertheless. Time spent poorly as a matter of fact. Why?

Mythic has this problem that everyone has heard of. Its called “rocket tag.” I want you to imagine two people. Let’s call them Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Alexander and Aaron HATE each other. Loathe each other, as a matter of fact, so they agree to duel to the death at high noon. Both men go out, grab their firearms, shake hands, take ten paces, and duel.

In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, both men have pistols. They’re excellent, accurate, deadly weapons. They exchange several shots until eventually, Alexander Hamilton takes too many bullets to the chest and collapses, failing a few stabilization checks and dying in a pool of his own blood. The entire exchange took maybe three or four rounds (18 to 20 seconds), but all in all it was decent experience for everyone who wasn’t a Federalist.

In Mythic Adventures, both men have rocket launchers. They’re weapons that require both men to aim, flick, and kill each other. Aaron Burr readies his rocket launcher first, pulls the trigger, and explodes Alexander Hamilton into bloody, unrecognizable chunks. The entire exchange took one round (6 seconds), and no one, not even Aaron Burr, really, enjoyed what transpired on that sunny little hill.

Do you see how too little time is as much of a problem as too much time? When you’re a GM, its incredibly dissatisfying to watch Alexander Hamilton, your star NPC, die within a single round before he could have used that wicked-awesome combo that you built him for. True, this sort of exchange happens in standard play, but in standard play, its good luck or better tactics. After a certain power, however, this level of speed is simply “the norm,” in mythic play. Putting the shoe on the other foot, if a player’s PC, Alexander Hamilton, is brutally exploded by the GM’s Aaron Burr NPC before the player could react or really make any gameplay decisions regarding the combat, then the PC is the one feeling like he wasted his time. Why bother rolling up another character when really, the only roll that matters in a Mythic game is the initiative roll?

This brings us to my second disenchantment with mythic: the mechanics.

Reason #2 — All Boom and No Block

In my previous analogy, I noted that our favorite duelists, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, had rocket launchers instead of pistols. Well, what does that mean?

Mythic Adventures is designed to break the standard rules of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. And since damage ends fights, most of Pathfinder Rules restrict the circumstances upon which a character can deal damage. Difficult terrain makes moving (including making 5-foot steps) harder to try and stop characters from being able to make full attacks. The iterative attack mechanic is designed to make extra attacks unlikely to hit, plus make it so the number of attacks that a player can make is carefully limited. On top of that, you have mechanics like damage reduction, energy resistance, and more that flat-out reduce damage or prevent it out right.

And Mythic’s primary draw is breaking ALL of those rules.

To a certain extent, it makes sense. There are more rules placed on offensive aspects of the game than defensive ones and if you want your big, mythic adventure to feel big and epic the easiest way to do it is to let your players go “off the wall” so to speak. But, of course, that comes with a price. Many of the best options in Mythic Adventures aren’t limited in uses per day and as a result they get exponentially better as you level up. But that wouldn’t be as big of a problem if Mythic had a number of potent defenses instituted for mythic opponents so you could continue to challenge mythic PCs with mythic foes. But interestingly enough, there are surprisingly few defenses in the mythic system; even under the monster rules. What ends up happening is that all creatures, monsters and PCs alike, adapt a gameplay of “kill it before it kills you,” and often that has to happen within the first few rounds of combat. Traditional-sized combats become obsolete to mythic PCs; if you’re going to challenge them, then you bloody better be prepared to send two, maybe even three encounters at the PCs simultaneously, especially if they’re a well-optimized group. And chances are that your players are decently optimized, because even the most novice player can spot some of the more ludicrous powers and abilities in Mythic Adventures. (Believe me, I’ve done tests on the topic with my own players at home.) But of course, like anything in Pathfinder, the ability of power can cut both ways, which brings me to my third and final reason.

Reason #3 — Mythic and Death

Death is more tricky than normal when it comes to mythic, mostly because letting your mythic hero lay low and rolling up a new character comes with its own set of obstacles. As you might know, Mythic is a deeds-based system; rather than earning XP, you have to physically complete an appropriately challenging scenario, a “mythic event,” if you will. From a glance, one might say, “Hey Alex, how is that any different from any other high-level character just randomly showing up at the table one day?” Well, my friends, the different is scope. Mythic trials come with the baggage of needing a lot of scope, to the point where there’s an entire CHAPTER dedicated to describing what that scope ought to look like. So when a mythic character enters a party of existing mythic characters, the first question ought to be, “What on EARTH did you do to get those powers?”

For instance, in Wrath of the Righteous, your mythic “spark” ignites after you destroy a holy relic and are infused with its powers. In Destiny of the Sands, you gain a temporary rush of mythic power after becoming exposed to the shattered fragments of the Ruby Scarab, which is an ancient, powerful, Osiriani artifact. As the party’s deeds rack up higher and fighter, the death of one of their own and the subsequent introduction of a new character (if that’s the route the PC chooses to go) becomes a bit disconnected. More so than a typical party, these heroes have DEEDS behind them, a breadth of experience. If a new character is going to stand tall with such mythic heroes, she needs an equally impressive laundry list backstory, but how on earth could she have gotten it without the PCs having ever heard of her before? When you start retroactively putting information in the PC’s head that they might have acted upon if they had actually heard it before. (For instance, in Wrath of the Righteous, if another character had become blessed by said holy relic and was off doing heroic things, don’t you think that the Heroes of Kennebras would have gone off and tried to make allies or something?)

Making Mythic Manageable

So, how do we fix these problems with mythic? Honestly, I have no idea. This isn’t a small rule that can be easily fixed with a single sentence; this is a massive subsystem, and even the slightest change has hundreds of ramifications on mythic abilities, stat blocks, mythic templates, and more. I can’t see the Paizo Design Team going back and taking a serious pen to the mythic rules ever, so what will become of mythic? Honestly, I have no idea, because personally, I think it feels very dissatisfying to give players one, maybe two mythic tiers and never advance that power source any further. Of course, I’ve never tried doing that myself so I don’t have much experience with doing something like that. If you have (maybe you’re James Jacobs or one of his players), make sure to leave your opinion on the idea on the comments section below.

Speaking of the comments section, I think its just about time that I tell you to go post ALL of your questions and comments below, because honestly, I don’t have anything else to add to this topic. If a build rolls around that I think 100% needs mythic in order to make it an appropriate homage, I’ll do it, but for now I can’t see myself playing around with the system much. It booms too hard.

 Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alexs Twitter, @AlJAug.

Alex Augunas

Alexander Augunas lives outside of Philadelphia, USA where he tries to make a living as an educator. When he's not shaping the future leaders of tomorrow, Alex is a freelance writer for esteemed Pathfinder Roleplaying Game publishers such as Paizo, Inc, Radiance House, Raging Swan Press, and more, and also acts as a co-host and blogger on the Know Direction Network, where he has earned the nickname, "The Everyman Gamer." Recently, Alex has forayed into the realm of self-publishing through his company, Everyman Gaming, LLC. If you like Alex's writing and are interested in supporting him while getting professional-quality material for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game while doing so, check out the Everyman Gaming, LLC catalog, which is listed under Rogue Genius Games at the following locations: http://drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/6101/Rogue-Genius-Games/subcategory/19574_25289/Everyman-Gaming-Catalog

7 Comments

  1. This is becoming my experience with the system, too. I’m having to double, triple, enemy HPs just to keep the fights interesting. And even then it hasn’t done me much good.

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      Its hard to imagine what one could do to make those encounters challenging; even adding DR 20/– doesn’t do much when an average hit strikes you for a few hundred hit points. Which it does in my Wrath of the Righteous game; I’m playing a Vital Strike sanctified slayer build and one of my friends has a Clustered Shots archer slayer build; between us alone we pump out an easy 300 damage per round at Level 10/MR3 and our party paladin isn’t too far behind us when he smites evil.

  2. Tim Nightengale Reply to Tim

    Being “one of his players”, I played in James Jacobs’s higher level campaign “Sands of the Scorpion God”, an adaptation of Gygax’s Necropolis. We did not attain our mythic powers until nearly 12th level, and by the end of the campaign, we only had reached Tier 2. With this combo, we were already pretty powerful. Mythic tiers just acted as enhancements, giving us additional abilities to battle the increasing gonzo encounters that are typical of a Gygaxian adventure (coupled with a Jacobs lethality as well). I never felt that mythic ever pushed the adventure into the issues you are finding. Now, if we would have been dealing with higher mythic tiers, that would probably result in the things you are pointing out…it becomes an arms race then, I’m sure. Or, really, it’s just a different game at that point.

    • Darrell Vin Zant Reply to Darrell

      The breaking point for Mythic starts at 3rd level as that’s when the truly crazy powers start coming into play, like one for the Champion that lets them make a full move action for free each round. Coupled with the Champion’s Strike ability that lets them move and then make a single attack, a Champion (or anyone dipping Champion) can make a free move, and then a move and attack, and then a full attack. So distance becomes relatively worthless as a limiting factor, especially if the casters start using Mythic Augmented Haste which provides another free move action.

      But that’s just movement, Tier 3 is also when the Mythic Feats that can start comboing off each other become possible. For example, Mythic Power Attack and Mythic Improved Critical are the two big ones that cause the most problems. It’s also the point where Casters start getting to really mess around with the rules for their spells, because, at this point, they have 3 Mythic spells (if they took Mythic Spellcasting), they’ve also got access to a variety of powers that let them mess with Metamagic to make obscenely powerful spells for (almost) no cost to them.

      The one big upside to Mythic is that it solidly puts martials on the same playing area as casters, because the martial damage output is so batshit crazy that even the infinite cosmic power of casters have to take pause. Casters aren’t left in the dust though, Mythic helps the SAD classes a stupid amount as they get to focus all of their ability increases onto their casting stat with no penalty or limitation. I mean, a casting stat of around ~60 isn’t exactly hard to do as a caster with Mythic.

    • Alex Augunas Reply to Alex

      Thanks for popping in to chat, Tim! I appreciate it.

      I find it interesting because in reading James’s highlights of that ultimate boss encounter, it sounded like Jacobs went all-out to try and murder your faces. Something about tentacles of Rovagug that, on their first hit, automatically knocked a PC to a number of hit points equal to his Hit Dice and on the second hit, killed them. It would be interesting if we could get James into the discussion to hear about whether he amped up the lethality of his encounters because your party was mythic or if he’s that brutal of a GM as a standard base.

      How difficult were the non-boss encounters? How long did a typical encounter last?

  3. Liked your thoughts. I am playing a storm druid in Wrath of the Righteous currently. I am enjoying the game but it does seem boring at times because our group just hulk smashes the baddies to bits. Being mythic isn’t as exciting as I thought it would be.

  4. Very well said, Alex. Now, if anyone’s read anything I write on the Paizo forums about Mythic, you’ll know that I love it. It’s a fantastic subsystem that had a failure of implementation – you’ll notice that most people start saying the wheels come off around Mythic Tier 3 (personally, I think it’s somewhere around Tier 5, but that might just be me), and James Jacobs is on record as saying that there simply wasn’t enough high-tier playtesting done (I actually feel really guilty about this, because my own playtesting was meant to include high-tier stuff, but my players wanted to actually adventure, so we leapt in around Tier 3 (with 20th level characters, no less) and I ran an actual adventure for them).

    All of these things I generally agree with – rocket-tag is prevalent, challenges are meaningless, and actually managing encounters is an exercise in futility.

    Speaking as a Mythic fan, though, I would have to say that Legendary Games (among other 3PP) have done a sterling job of continuing to support Mythic, and I have a possible “solution” to the problem presented by including Mythic in a game (please bear in mind that the above-mentioned adventure ended up with the PC’s at level 23 with 6 Mythic Tiers).

    It’s actually an age-old issue that we all know and hate as GM’s – the “15-minute Adventuring Day”. (For anyone not conversant with that hateful situation, it’s basically when the party Alpha-strikes enemies, and then proceeds to immediately take a rest to recover spent abilities.) Mythic takes this problem, and cranks it up to 11. Your party can Alpha-strike several times, thanks to Mythic Power, and that can do incredibly unpleasant things to your adventure.

    However, Mythic Power is an expendable resource. Yes, there are recovery options thanks to Mythic Boons, but they’re relatively few and far between.

    So, here’s the deal: A standard Pathfinder game is balanced around approximately 3-5 (let’s call it 4) encounters before requiring a rest. This means that after those 4 encounters, a party should have exhausted many of its spells, limited-use class abilities, and even hit points.

    Enter Mythic, where you get 3+2*Tier Mythic Power per day to play with. At 3rd Tier, you have 9 Mythic Power, meaning that you can comfortably spend 2 per encounter, and a quick perusal of some of the Mythic Path abilities indicates that clever use of those points can (pretty much) double your effectiveness in a round – such as the Champion ability combo Darrell mentions above to move, move and attack once, and then full-attack – that’s more than two rounds worth of actions right there! – so our Champion can squeeze four rounds of normal activity into two rounds of combat, for the low, low price of that encounter’s 2 Mythic Power.

    Now, I will never advocate a complex solution like “your first three tiers are worth half a level, then every tier above that is worth a full level” when balancing encounters (though that is probably one way of managing it). The real solution is to forget the 4 encounters per day paradigm, and extend it to at least 6, preferably 8+. A good rule of thumb to be going with is that for every 2 Mythic Tiers, the party can handle an extra encounter per day – and this must be combined with the increase in APL as defined in Mythic Adventures. So, my level 23 Tier 6 party were APL 26, facing 6-8 encounters per day. Suddenly their 15 Mythic power becomes a lot less useful when spent as an Alpha-strike, and becomes a resource to hoard a bit, just in case their ever-sneaky GM decides to throw a CR 28 encounter at them in the middle of a rest.

    Unfortunately, this doesn’t entirely address the rocket tag problem, which is that it is almost trivial for even a moderate-Tier party to just one-shot almost anything you can find to try and challenge them with, but that’s a problem caused by the Mythic abilities increasing numbers rather than increasing scope – take Mythic Power attack, for example, which just increases the bonus damage by 50% above normal Power Attack. Not all that thrilling. I’d have been more excited if it had been that when you hit something, it and every adjacent creature must make a Fort save (DC 10 + your Str mod + your Tier) or be knocked prone, you are immune. Or Mythic Improved Critical (ignoring the fact that all of the monsters included in Mythic Adventures which have it use a completely different version of the feat), instead of increasing the critical multiplier (though that’s actually pretty cool, since not a lot else does that in the game), allows you to apply one of a select list of conditions to the target you critical hit.

    Unfortunately, at its core, Mythic doesn’t quite work, because the rules weren’t balanced enough to work against the core assumptions of the game, and seem to have fallen prey to “big numbers = better/more fun”, when I’m personally a fan of keeping the numbers the same, but increasing the effects (I like the burn damage Mythic Fireball does, but I hate the dice increase).

    Now, if some enterprising 3PP could find the time to write a “Mythic Revised” where a lot of the feats and path abilities presented in Mythic Adventures were re-written to have a free effect expanding the scope, and one or more Mythic Power-costing effects that mimic the abilities as written in Mythic Adventures (So, take Mythic Power Attack, again, when you pick it, you get that knockdown thingy I mentioned, and for 1 power you get the damage that the version in Mythic Adventures says you get, and for 1 power you get to ignore the penalties from Power Attack for 1 minute, and for 1 power the radius of the knockdown goes up by 5 feet (this one may be selected more than once, and you have to be able to cover the space of a large or larger creature to knock it down), and suddenly you have an ability that is thematically tied to “hitting things really hard”, the mythicness of “and all his buddies fall over, too”, the effects of the core mythic ability, and a way to encourage your players to burn some of that Mythic Power.

    Just to say, this whole discourse has been very stream-of-consciousness, I’ve not checked much of it for actual gameplay balance (though the increased number of encounters thing was what I used to judge my high-level game), and I could well be simply talking out of my proverbial, but I hope I’ve been able to prompt some thoughts.

Leave a Reply