Wednesday 16 October 2013

Mythic Origins

Mythic Adventures introduced the base mythic rules to the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. However, these rules are setting-neutral, usable in any game regardless of what world the gamemaster uses. Of course, individual worlds are likely to have their own particular takes on the mythic rules. Mythic Realms and Mythic Origins take on the task of introducing mythic rules to the Golarion setting. Mythic Realms deals with the setting itself, describing founts where mythic characters can gain their power, places where their new abilities may prove useful, and NPCs for them to interact with and fight. Mythic Origins provides information for the PCs, providing various new options for players to use with their characters.

Despite its name, Mythic Origins doesn’t really deal much with the origins of mythic characters, apart from adding a category of mythic character known as a godling. Indeed, most of the book is simply new mechanical options, primarily new path abilities, but also a few new spells and magic items. Make no mistake, this is a book of “crunch”. While this is typical of Player Companion books, Mythic Origins goes beyond even many of them. There is next to no “fluff” at all, apart from a couple of brief descriptive paragraphs or sidebars here and there. To be honest, the amount of new options in here is a little overwhelming. This isn’t because it’s a big book (just 32 pages like all Player Companions), but it’s the fact that it comes so soon after Mythic Adventures itself. I still haven’t had a chance to use or get used to the breadth of options introduced in that book, and suddenly there’s a whole pile more here to remember and consider when making a mythic character. More so, the new abilities in this book are actually rather generic. There’s not a lot that makes them Golarion-specific, so they lack that added touch of flavour to make them memorable. Even the godling abilities, which are tied to specific Golarion gods, lack anything that really makes them stand out as anything other than abilities tied to generic gods.

I would have much preferred a book that actually dealt with becoming a mythic character in Golarion, as implied by its title. I certainly don’t expect the book to have no crunch in it. Indeed, I would expect quite a bit of crunch, but crunch that ties characters more strongly to the setting, instead of generic abilities like transformative familiar (which lets your familiar take on the shape of a magic item) or mule’s strength (which lets you count your Strength score as 5 higher for determining carrying capacity). All that said, there are still some interesting options in Mythic Origins, particularly the information on mortal heralds (which actually does have the flavour ties I wish the rest of the book had). People looking for more options beyond those in Mythic Adventures will find lots of new ideas here.

The book opens with a brief discussion on the place of mythic characters in the Inner Sea region. In this section it introduces “godlings”. These are children of the gods—not necessarily literal children (although they can be), but rather people who have been chosen by a particular god to be that god’s metaphorical children. Godling is not a new mythic path—characters of any mythic path can be a godling—but rather a label that opens up an additional path ability (determined by which god the character is a godling of) that characters can select when choosing new path abilities. The next three sections of the book look at each of the core 20 deities of Golarion and describe the new path ability provided by each one. The sections are separated based on good, neutral, and evil alignments. Each section also contains a sidebar about godlings of other divine-like forces, such as angels and demons. Each sidebar also contains a single new path ability. All of the godling path abilities are universal abilities and so can be selected by characters of any mythic path.

As I said above, though, the godling abilities are rather generic. Of course, mechanics are almost by definition generic; it’s the flavour text that makes them unique. However, the flavour text here really doesn’t accomplish that. We learn that godlings of Shelyn are often recognizable by their artistic ability or that godlings of Zon-Kuthon relish in pain (not surprising for either really), but nothing at all about how godlings actually fit into the world. Lots of people have great artistic ability. How do godlings of Shelyn stand out? Indeed, the text seems to treat godlings as nothing at all special. “Torag’s godlings often start out as smiths and artisans, with each blow of the hammer seemingly guided by the Father’s hand” (pg 7). The use of plurals and adverbs like often and usually makes it seem like there are lots of goldings all over the place, rather than presenting them as rare or unique beings. Mythic Adventures goes to a lot of effort (admittedly, in my opinion, somewhat unsuccessfully) to establish mythic characters as special and standing out from the norm. Godlings could be a great way of establishing the specialness and rareness of mythic characters in Golarion; instead, they come across as something no more special than just your average fighter or wizard.

Following the sections on godlings, there are a few sections on spells and magic items. This covers the mythic versions of spells from other Golarion sources, such as The Inner Sea World Guide and Inner Sea Magic. There are also a few brand new spells as well. I am a bit disappointed that the new magic items don’t include any legendary items (mythic magic items that increase in power as their wielders increase in power). However, the book does introduce “transcendent artifacts”. These are artifacts that grant mythic power to non-mythic creatures. This mythic power only remains so long as the creature or character possesses the artifact. The section includes one sample transcendent artifact, the Bracers of the Immortal Hunt. I really like the idea of transcendent artifacts and wish the book did a little more with them.

The second half of Mythic Origins is taken up by new path abilities for each of the six mythic paths. There aren’t really any abilities here that stood out to me—in either a good or bad way. I can see uses for pretty much all of them, and there’s a large variety, covering all the various character classes from the simple fighter to the gunslinger and cavalier. However, as I’ve said, the abilities are rather generic and could easily be used with any campaign setting. There is a sidebar for each mythic path that discusses how that path fits into Golarion, but these sidebars are brief and can’t go into much detail. As a result, much like the goldings, they make mythic characters seem quite common.

There is one section of Mythic Origins that I really like, however: the centre two pages on “Mortal Heralds”. Gods of Golarion have heralds, powerful beings who serve the deities directly and are embodiments of their beliefs and will. Pathfinder Adventure Path volumes containing a write-up of a specific god generally include the stats for the herald of the deity in that volume’s Bestiary. Mortal heralds are similar to these extraplanar beings, essentially the pinnacle that a mortal servant of a god can reach. They are the mouthpieces of the gods, doing their will in the world. Mechanically, this works as a universal path ability called Mortal Herald that characters can select. However, a character must prove his or her worth to a god by completing a “heraldic trial”, and then be contacted by that god before selecting this ability. The section includes suggested heraldic trials for each of the twenty core gods. Unfortunately, due to the small amount of space available, the trials are quite vague, but they do provide a starting point for GMs to work from. Additionally, heralds are a very Golarion-specific concept, and mortal heralds help build upon that idea and add a lot of flavour to the world. Although there is far less space devoted to them, mortal heralds work a lot better than godlings do in terms of their integration into the setting.

Overall, Mythic Origins is a book that I’m sure people will be able to find interesting and useful abilities for their mythic characters in. There are certainly a wide range of new options available. However, the book adds very little to Golarion itself. Apart from mortal heralds, it does a poor job of integrating its options into the setting and actually succeeds in making characters that ought to be rare and special seem commonplace and ordinary. As I said in my review of Mythic Adventures, when everything is mythic, nothing is mythic. Mythic Origins proves this point pretty well.

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