Saturday 12 October 2013

Mythic Realms

One potential difficulty that exists with the introduction of any new game mechanic or subsystem is integrating it into existing campaign material that it has never been present in before. For small things like new feats and new spells, this really isn’t an issue. It’s easy to say that it’s always existed; you just haven’t encountered it before. New archetypes or classes might add a little more difficulty, but are still relatively easy. However, something as major as mythic rules can threaten to unbalance the setting, as mythic rules contain within them the potential for massive power, something that doesn’t easily go unnoticed. It can leave people asking, “Why has no one ever noticed or mentioned this before?”

Luckily, the Pathfinder Campaign Setting of Golarion has preplanned for this from the start. Even though the rules themselves were far from finalized (or even started), the setting has always had creatures and characters of power levels in excess of what one can achieve with just the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook. The interesting thing here is that the things on Golarion that are “mythic” all pretty much coincide with what would have been “epic” under 3.5 rules. The setting never previously took into account what is now low-level mythic characters or creatures. But as low-level mythics don’t really stand out all that much (despite assertions to the contrary in Mythic Adventures), it’s really not that much of a concern. The setting is more than ready to encompass mythic rules without looking any different after their inclusion.

Mythic Realms introduces the mythic rules to Golarion and takes a look at how they interact with the setting. It provides information on founts of mythic power, locations, and mythic characters. Just as there is a lot of variety to mythic characters, there’s a lot of variety in the book, particularly in Chapter 2: “Places of Myth”. Indeed, each location detailed is often different enough from the others to make it feel almost like you’re reading a different book. This does have the downside that most people are only likely to use one or two small sections of the book, and few people will actually find use for the entire thing. Still, it’s a good book and definitely useful for people wanting to introduce mythic rules into their Golarion campaigns. It’s also an entertaining read for people already familiar with Golarion, as it adds detail to a number of things that have only been mentioned or hinted at before.

The book opens with a relatively short chapter detailing six “Founts of Mythic Power”. These are places where characters can “ascend”—i.e. gain their first mythic tier. Each location has two pages of description, although a significant portion of those pages is taken up by new mythic path abilities associated with each fount, leaving only about one page of actual background information on the fount. People hoping for in-depth details about the Starstone, for example, may be a little disappointed; that section reveals little more than has already been revealed in other books. Indeed, it does seem to contradict other books in that it presents the Starstone as merely a means of gaining mythic power rather than true divinity. It's an odd contradiction and one that suffers all the more from the lack of detail that might otherwise further explain this conundrum. However, lack of detail aside, what this chapter does provide is a good way to add additional flavour to characters’ ascensions, making the location relevant even after characters have ascended. The new path abilities are tied to their associated founts, meaning that characters can only select any particular ability if they ascended via that fount. As each fount has its own particular style or feel to it, there are naturally certain mythic paths that fit better with it. As such, each fount tends to only have abilities for one or two specific paths (most of the Star Towers’ path abilities, for example, are for guardians). Characters don’t have to choose the paths most associated with each fount, but those who do gain just a few more options when advancing their characters.

The second chapter, the longest, looks at five specific regions of the world where mythic characters may be most needed. This chapter goes into considerably more detail than the first, with four pages on each location. There’s very little “crunch” in this chapter, the focus being on background information, history, a gazetteer, and so on. These locations are called “Places of Myth” rather than mythic places, as they aren’t necessarily mythic in a rules sense. While some of them do have mythic creatures or characters residing in them, they aren’t really places of mythic power. However, they most certainly are places of power. All five locations are very high-powered and low-level characters will likely not survive long in them. The book is quite clear that PCs don’t necessarily have to be mythic themselves to travel to, and adventure in, these locations; however, mythic tiers certainly help. Indeed, in some of these places, even 20th-level characters with mythic tiers may find themselves heavily challenged.

The first of these places is the Black Desert, located in a massive cavern beneath the continent of Garund. The chapter then moves on to Mechitar, the capital of Geb, where Arazni, the former demigod, rules. Next up is the Pit of Gormuz, the rent in the world that Rovagug is imprisoned beneath. Then come the Tusk Mountains, an area in the north of Avistan ruled over by a mythic frost giant. Valashmai is the region in southern Tian Xia where the gigantic kaiju roam. Finally, Yjae is the last of the flying cities of ancient Shory still operating.

In addition to the history and a gazetteer of the region, each location also contains an illustration, a map, and some suggestions for mythic trials—essentially, adventure ideas that could count towards advancement in PCs’ mythic tiers. The maps are not particularly detailed. Most of them cover considerably large areas, so it’s not that surprising, but gamemasters should be aware that they will need to embellish these maps quite a bit. The Black Desert, in particular, measures over 6000 miles east to west, and its map is the plainest and least-detailed of the bunch. On top of that, it’s a bit hard to read. It’s a very dark map, using almost entirely just a couple shades of dark brown. The labels are clear (brown letters, but outlined in white), but the few details are rather fuzzy. It’s difficult at times to tell exactly where the cavern walls end and the open areas begin. The few tunnels through the rock would be extremely hard to notice if they weren’t labelled. While the Black Desert is supposed to be a dark and gloomy place, they could have lightened the map a little to make it more readable. The other maps fare much better, but as they also generally cover large areas (Mechitar being the only real exception to that), gamemasters will want to flesh them out a bit. The map of the Pit of Gormuz is a side-view, so there’s a lot of room for embellishment there.

The final chapter of the book is filled with game stats and background on various mythic characters and creatures of Golarion. There are some very well-known figures from Golarion history here—figures mentioned many times in other sources, but not fully detailed until now—including Arazni (a lich wizard 20/marshal 8), Jatembe (wizard 20/archmage 6), and the Whispering Tyrant (a mythic lich necromancer 20). There are also several other characters and creatures either new to the book or less-mentioned before. Agmazar, the Star Titan, is a massive kaiju that came to Golarion from another world. It was created to destroy undead, but was killed shortly after it crashed in the Valashmai jungle and rose as an undead itself. It’s a CR 26 encounter. Raskineya, the Dark Comet, is a void dragon who worships Rovagug and resides in the Pit of Gormuz. She is the least powerful of the characters and creatures statted in this book, but at CR 16, she is still a very powerful being. The legendary Oliphaunt of Jandelay even appears in this chapter. At CR 30, it represents the pinnacle of power PCs might ever have to face, being an almost unbeatable challenge for even a party of 20th-level characters with 10 mythic tiers.

Overall, Mythic Realms provides a good and varied overview of the mythic side of Golarion. Most campaigns probably won’t use more than a small portion of this book, but nevertheless, each of those portions provides just enough information to build a campaign around—with a little work from GMs. Moreover, it gives life to places and characters mentioned in previous books but never detailed until now (albeit creating contradictions and confusion in the case of the Starstone). For this reason alone, gamemasters familiar with Golarion will probably get a great deal of enjoyment reading this book.


  1. I haven't done more than flip through Mythic Adventures, but I found this part of your review troubling from a mechanical standpoint:

    "The new path abilities are tied to their associated founts, meaning that characters can only select any particular ability if they ascended via that fount. As each fount has its own particular style or feel to it, there are naturally certain mythic paths that fit better with it. As such, each fount tends to only have abilities for one or two specific paths (most of the Star Towers’ path abilities, for example, are for guardians). Characters don’t have to choose the paths most associated with each fount, but those who do gain just a few more options when advancing their characters."

    The general idea is that a whole party "ascends" together, yes? So if mythic founts are sources of ascension, doesn't it "cheat" party members who take the "wrong" path? Or encourage them to take the "right" path to get the expanded options, thus leading to a party full of, say, Guardians and no Archmages? If I were the arcane caster whose party ascends at the Star Towers, don't I have a right to feel slighted that the DM chose to reward players of tanky PCs more than me? Or, conversely, if there's a mythic fount focusing on Archmage abilities, doesn't that show bias against the melee PCs?

    As a DM, how could you possibly choose to build a mythic ascension for a well-rounded party around one of these founts? It seems you'd always be showing favoritism toward one or two paths, and once the PCs have ascended, there's no way they can visit another fount and get access to that site's abilities?


    1. Well, the new path abilities don't actually give you more power, just more options to choose from. Every mythic character gains a new path ability at each tier, but there's a huge list to choose from for every path. So the Star Towers, for example, have a new 1st-tier guardian path ability called World's Heart. Guardians who ascend from the Star Towers don't gain World's Heart for free. They still have to choose it. It just means they have a slightly larger list to choose from. It's kind of like adding a bunch of new sorcerer/wizard spells to a location. They give sorcerers and wizards a little more to choose from, but don't increase the number of spells they can actually use per day (or know, in the case of sorcerers).

      Also, I probably should have mentioned that, while each fount is focused towards a certain path, most of the founts have at least one new universal path ability that characters of any path can choose.

    2. In Pathfinder, more options = more power. A PC who can pick and choose from every feat published will almost certainly have more capabilities than the same concept limited to the Core Rulebook.

      Having the place of mythic ascension favor one path over another is similar to telling one wizard he can use spells and options out of Ultimate Magic while another wizard in the same party is limited to the CRB and APG. A DM who chooses one of these Founts to make his party Mythic is blatantly choosing which players get extra options and which don't.

      Once that sort of favoritism is revealed to be built into the adventure, if I didn't walk away from the table entirely, I'd at least refuse to ascend there and demand the DM build in a sidequest to take my PC to her path's fount.


    3. I disagree, especially as we're only talking about 3 or 4 new abilities for each fount (compared to the 40-50 for each path in Mythic Adventures). It's not at all like allowing one wizard to use Ultimate Magic and not another. I don't really see it as a case of favouritism. That said, if I were using one of these founts and any of the players had a problem with it, I'd simply remove the extra path abilities entirely. The fount would just be a place to gain mythic power and everyone would be limited to the abilities found in Mythic Adventures.

    4. Oh, and of those 3 of 4 new abilities, one is usually a universal ability and the remainder are often split between two paths. The Cenotaph, for example, is more attuned to both archmages and hierophants.

      The Doorway to the Red Star, conversely, has entirely universal path abilities, so perhaps that's the best one to use if you're worried about favouritism. Alternatively, just make up your own founts and ignore Mythic Realms. If I ever run a mythic campaign, that's actually what I will most likely do. :)

  2. I mean, it's great for a solo adventure or a higher-level PC whose ascension is presumed to have happened in the backstory. But as a GM, I'm not going to use any of these places unless I happen to have a party who are all planning to take the same Mythic Path. I don't want to have to choose which one of my players gets to be "more equal."