Lest my previous post come down too hard on one side of the axis, I generally don’t have a problem with powerful, even startlingly so, characters. My concern is with situation where a player’s style is so focused on powergaming that it acts to the detriment of play. Though I may have less occasion to express it, I have the same problem with a player who focuses on story to the detriment of play.
A D&D campaign is cooperative (Law #0 / Law #4). It’s not about what one player wants to play, or what plot the DM wants to follow, or even what all the players want if it makes the DM miserable. It’s about the game that everybody wants to play whether it’s telling the best story, or stomping the scariest monsters, or some mixture of the two.
It’s certainly possible to form a group of players and a DM who all want (or are willing to tolerate) a totally off-the-wall power level. The problem there is that the game isn’t built for it. A fighter who deals triple-digit damage each turn quickly finds himself without meaningful enemies. A wizard who can challenge a god finds that even high-level dungeons serve no purpose. A bard who turns every enemy into a fanatical ally finds that all conversations begin and end the same way. D&D has lots of ways to be “powerful”, but they often exceed the expectations of the system, so the system has no way to keep itself interesting.
Enter Mythic Adventures.
I’ve only met one person to whom I did not have to explain the mythic mechanics, so here’s the elevator version. Characters work exactly like they do in every other campaign. Due to some very important event like the direct blessing of a deity, mythic characters also have a mythic level (a “tier”) that progresses independent of their experience points. Each tier grants new benefits, the most important of which is mythic power, an intentionally vague concept players use to power a lot of their mythic awesomeness. By spending one of their daily uses of mythic power, a character can activate mythic abilities. The most mundane of these abilities is “surge”, the ability to add 1d6 to any d20 roll after you know the result of the roll.
Anybody who did a spit-take upon reading the last phrase in that paragraph can safely skip this one. D&D has a lot of mechanics that modify d20 rolls. Almost universally those abilities include either the phrase “before you make the roll” or the phrase “after you make the roll but before you know the result.” The latter allows you a little more freedom, but both require that you make a decision without knowing whether you failed. That is, you may roll a 7 and decide to apply a special +4 bonus because you think a 7 isn’t high enough to succeed but an 11 probably is. Unless you’ve been tracking DCs for a while this is guesswork, and I believe this intentional. Surge instead lets you wait until the DM has declared success or failure. The additional 1d6 may not be enough to turn a failure into a success, but a player will never activate surge unnecessarily. This means the player is more likely to have it and use it when they need it. Already we’re at a higher power level than most of D&D.
A character chooses one of six mythic paths, with no restrictions. World of Warcraft players may draw parallels to professions. Any character can be a skinner, but it provides the highest benefit if the character is also a leatherworker (to use the skins) and a class that wears leather armor (to wear the things they craft). Similarly, any character can be an archmage, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a fighter who doesn’t cast spells. These paths provide other options for daily uses of mythic power, the most mundane being along the lines of “cast a spell as a swift action without expending a spell slot” or “as a swift action move your speed and make at attack at any point during that movement” or “allow your allies to take a move action or 5-foot step right now”.
In case this doesn’t sounds impressive, mythic power bottoms out at five uses per day. A high-tier character will have more than twenty uses each day, more if they’re willing to spend feats. Spread over a party that’s a lot of opportunities to flex some might.
There are abilities that don’t require daily uses of mythic power. (Small aside: the book actually refers to it as a “use of mythic power” every time. Not “mythic points” or anything less cumbersome.) I don’t think there’s any way I can give an appropriately representative sampling of the sorts of abilities they grant. Suffice it to say that this section of the book is thirty-six pages. There are also mythic feats and spells, most of which fall into the category of “a feat or spell you already know, but extreme!” If nothing else, they show that just about any character can go mythic if the DM has the inclination.
Speaking of which, the first hundred pages of the book are dedicated to building a mythic character. Only twenty-four pages are about running a mythic campaign. I suppose that’s because much of the structure of running the game remains the same. NPCs work the same way. Encounters work the same way, after adjusting CRs a bit. Plots work the same way, though the book spends far too long telling DMs that mythic adventures really really should follow Joseph Campbell’s monomyth; I usually prefer to work with my own stories that rely on somebody else’s framework, but I’ve already said this and we’ve already had a rebuttal of sorts.. The point is that the book seems to trust DMs to run mythic games with only a few minor tweaks, and most of those are to monsters.
And oh, the monsters. Mythic Adventures takes a page from 4E in that there’s a structure to making monsters mythic, including how they advance and what sorts of tricks they can do But at a certain point the book just says “and then give the monster some crazy-go-nuts abilities.” As long as they fit thematically and the powerful ones cost uses of mythic power (ugh) there’s no guidelines for what’s fair and what’s ridiculous. Rather than lazy, I find this fairly liberating. The sense of “where do I spend my uses of mythic power” is fun for me as a DM, more so than once-per-day or once-every-1d4-rounds or recharge-5 powers are.
What really got to me about the book are the little bits here and there to remind the reader that they’re not dealing with the standard Pathfinder world any more. Mythic isn’t just about being more powerful, it’s about being more powerful in such a way that the world feels a need to react. I imagine going mythic as the Pathfinder equivalent of the arc escalation in a fighting anime, where a villain tells the heroes “There’s a much tougher world out there with much stronger opponents, and you’ve barely scratched the surface” or something to that effect. It adds a layer to the game in a way that the Epic Level Handbook didn’t, by putting it alongside the system instead of on top of it. The closest approximation I can think of is the gestalt mechanic in Unearthed Arcana, but even that’s just a louder version of standard D&D.
Mythic Adventures isn’t about power that pushes other players to the wayside while one person gets to be the big game-breaking hero. It’s about power at all points, from the characters to the monsters to the plots to the settings to the very pacing of the story. It’s not powergaming that only works at the expense of the system and the other players, it’s powergaming that takes everything along with it to make something new and exciting. It’s not for everyone, but for its target audience I doubt there’s a better idea. As the book itself says:
The colors are brighter, the sounds are more mysterious, and all of the other stimuli are sharper and more vibrant. Where the non-mythic hero would encounter a crumbling keep filled with familiar monsters, a mythic hero faces a towering citadel that builds itself from the bones of would-be invaders and is inhabited by cruel and malign creatures of nearly god-like power.
That’s powergaming I can get behind.