One of the things Paizo has "lacked" during its run has been epic level content. Now, as a chronic murderer of campaigns prior to their completion, I've never felt a strong need for epic level content (for levels of 21+) to keep PCs feeling powerful or to provide challenges. Nor have I ever wanted epic level content personally, as I've never made it very far beyond third level as a player.
In 3.0/3.5 epic level mostly consisted of awesome gear, a continuing progression of class abilities, and some class abilities that were truly powerful (The perfect wight gaining greater invisibility at 21st level, though it maxes out at only 3/day, but lasts for 20 rounds each use. The legendary dreadnought gaining DR 9/- that stacks with all other permanent damage reduction.). But that's cool, at epic level you are supposed to ascend from fantasy superheroes to cosmic beings. Mundane classes like Rogue and Fighter gaining insane abilities like invisibility and the ability to turn incorporeal or stack damage reduction (which is not possible, normally) are the expected turn of events. Additionally, the gear man. Normal magic items have a maximum +10 of magic, split between actual pluses and abilities worth pluses. The enhancement to attacks and damage cap at +5. In epic gear, a look at d20srd reveals this increases to a +20 of total abilities on magic armor and weapons, increasing the cap on enhancement to attacks and damage to +10. So yeah, that's pretty neat.
Anyway. Paizo's advice for high level play has always been to just add more levels. Either add levels from new classes, or just extend the progression of single classes. Most class abilities increase by a clearly predictable pattern, so it's not hard to build them after 20th level. Saves and base attack bonuses all have a standard growth rate that is easy to extrapolate, as do bonus feats and sneak attack and so on. Even spells are predictable.
So a while ago, Pathfinder came out with something called the Mythic Adventures playtest. A short pdf kind of describing their interpretation of epic level play. It was pretty neat. It didn't go the route of adding levels and obscene amounts of experience points to achieve those levels. It came up with a few mythic archetypes with clear ties to the core classes and various abilities. Instead of experience points, it came up with a system of mythic trials to overcome to increase your mythic tier. It also displayed a system that did not require 20th level. Anyone could become a mythic character, if they overcome a mythic danger or had a particular heritage. Recently, and to my happy surprise, Pathfinder released the final version of Mythic Adventures, so I'd like to talk about that today.
So first off, I really like calling this type of advancement mythic, rather than epic. Mythic feels...mythic. It feels more like folklore and mythology than game related. To me, epic says you're reaching the end game content of a campaign. Mythic, to me, says you are creating myths and legends for the next age of the world. You are the next Bigby or Elminster. The next Robilard or Jarlaxle. The next Iuz, Kas, or Vecna. It says to me that if there were a fiction line for your campaign, you would be one of the main characters of a series, rather than a second string ally of the main character.
In the first chapter, we get into how you become a mythic character and what mythic means. It basically differentiates mythic and mundane characters by saying normal characters might save a city or something, but a mythic character will change the fate of a region of the world. There is a strong focus on working with the GM to create and define a mythic character. These rules are not necessarily something a character is entitled to or automatically gains at a certain point. Being a mythic character is something that will shape the nature of the campaign, and it not only requires the GMs approval, it requires working with them to find a place for your mythic character in the story of the GMs world.
The first step in this is your ascension. Most of the suggested methods of attaining mythic power are RP focused. It doesn't seem to be meant to be something like "Go kill a god, now you're mythic." The suggested methods are contact with an artifact, fate, being the child of a god (finding out this knowledge is when you actually ascend to mythic status, rather than being a mythic character when you begin play), being granted the power (perhaps by a immeasurably powerful supernatural immortal creature...), or having the power passed on to you at the death of a powerful supernatural creature (perhaps involuntarily...).
Once you're all mythicised, you figure out what path you ascend along. Each path is clearly geared towards a style of play. We've got the Archmage (self explanatory, I hope), the Champion (the weapon using fighty guy), the Guardian (the tank), the Hierophant (the divine guy), the Marshal (the leader and protector guy), and the Trickster (the sneaky cunning guy).
As you increase your mythic tier, you increase ability scores, adding a +2 to any score at every even tier. You gain mythic feats every odd tier, and every level you gain some basic mythic abilities. These basic mythic abilities are geared towards survivability. Over time you recuperate super fast from injury, always stabilize at 0 hit points, saving throws that succeed negate all damage from non-mythic sources, culminating in true immortality (unless you died via a coup de grace or critical hit from a mythic or more powerful creature). There's also a bit of manipulation of fate, you gain the ability to add a die roll to d20 rolls, the type of die you add increases as you gain tiers. You also amass mythic power. Mythic power is usable a number of times per day dependent upon your tier, and uses are expended to power the various abilities you gain as you gain tiers.
You gain tiers by completing a set number of trials, this number of trials increases as you gain tiers. Also, there are ten tiers. To go from 1st to 2nd tier requires one completed trial, to from 9th to 10th tier, you need to complete five. The trials don't have any set guidelines. Just some suggestions that mythic tiers do not exceed 1/2 a character's normal levels. There are also some fairly obvious suggestions on tweaking how fast trials are faced and so on. The only real mandatory thing for the trials is that they be mythic in nature. The suggestions listed seem to be better classed as campaign themes, rather than specific trials. But the gist is, trials are up to the GM and they should be a big deal. Not a big deal like saving a town from bandits. This stuff needs to be something along the lines of Prometheus stealing fire from Zeus to aid humanity, Hercules slaying the Nemean Lion (a beast impervious to all weapons) by grappling it and snapping its neck, Beowulf killing Grendel, Eowyn slaying the Witch King of Angmar. The trials can't be in the vein of something you tell one gaming group about how this one time your old gaming group did this cool thing. The trials need to be something that could be told as a story, not as an anecdote that leaves everyone chuckling for a moment. At least that's my interpretation of it.
After tiers are talked about for a bit, we head on into the mythic paths and their abilities. Each path gains a path ability at each tier and also culminates in a 10th tier boost to the character, which is kind of a theme with Pathfinder. When you hit the level cap for a regular class or prestige class, you get a pretty hefty ability or boost. There are also universal path abilities which are available to all paths to pick from. The tier specific abilities are more or less what you'd expect. For instance, the Archmage can select the arcane surge ability, which lets him expend a use of mythic power to cast a spell he prepared or knows (depending on whether he's a learned or an intuitive caster) that day without expending a slot or use, even if he's already cast the spell that day). The universal path abilities are a bit more broadly focused, some let you increase ability scores, grant longevity, make you resistant to certain effects, or gain a +20 bonus on ability checks. The 10th tier cap abilities are pretty neat. For instance, the Guardian halves all non-mythic damage he takes after factoring in things like resistances and damage reduction.
The next section after characters is mythic feats. Most of those seem to be amped up normal feats, or grant you the ability to expend mythic power for a boost in the power of the basic feat, like using a certain skill as if you had rolled a natural 20. Others let you gain an extra path ability or grant you the ability to select your 10 path abilities from more than one path. Another lets you gain one of the benefits of polypurpose panacea (a 1st level spell that has several positive cantrip level effects) whenever you consume alcohol. Another lets you drink two potions at the same time.
After feats, we move on to mythic spells, which are kind of cool. They are more powerful versions of regular spells. To learn them it looks like you need either a feat or a path ability that unlocks them. To use them, you have to know and be able to cast the basic version and expend a use of mythic power. The basic change seems to be that they are more powerful, but they also have a few options. For instance, you can make them more potent and increase the DC by two and give your caster level a boost to overcome spell resistance with them. You can also make them harder to dispel. These two options require an additional use of mythic power. In addition, some of them have an augmentation option. For instance, mythic fireball. You expend one mythic power use and cast fireball. Its mythic version does 1d10 fire damage per caster level, instead of 1d6. Creatures that fail their saving throw also catch fire. The range, radius, and maximum number of damage die don't change though. However, if you are at least a 6th tier mythic character, you can use two uses of mythic power to augment it (for a total of three, unless you made it more potent or resilient as well). This changes the damage cap from ten dice to twenty, increases it to a 40 foot spread of fire, and causes the fire damage to bypass fire resistance and immunity. That's pretty neat.
After spells, we move to loot. Mostly this is just a new selection of magical enhancements and new specific items. There are also some new artifacts. One that I thought was neat is Aegis, which in Greek mythology is the shield of Zeus. The shield has a preserved Medusa head on it, which does what you'd expect. I didn't spend much time on the gear section in my skimming of the book, but one chunk really caught my eye. It's called legendary items. It's a fairly small section, and I don't quite get the mechanics at the moment, but I haven't read it in depth yet. It is guidelines for a character's gear becoming mythic alongside them. So hypothetically speaking, say a character becomes a mythic character after being granted power by a supernatural entity and then kills and steals the power of another one. Say this karacter has a battered old masterwork revolver on his hip and never really thinks too much about spending some of his thousands and thousands of gold on a better one or an sorcerous enhancement to this his trusty shooting iron. Over time, this revolver would sort of become mythic as well achieving minor and major artifact status in theory.
There is a universal path ability that automatically makes a character's possession into a legendary item, but the section on how they come about also states that sometimes it just happens, so the path ability isn't mandatory. It seems like characters can use their mythic power to fuel some of the item's abilities, and the items themselves also have an internal pool that can be used by anyone possessing them. Some of the legendary item abilities are geared towards only being used by a certain person. One makes the item more easily enchanted by mundane magic. Another makes the item intelligent. It's some neat stuff. I've always liked the concept of your gear gaining power as you do, but I've never conceived of a way to work it mechanically that ultimately wasn't just a different system of enchanting. I definitely like the concept of legendary items. It kind of ties in with what I spoke of earlier about mythic characters becoming the myths and legends of the next age. Indiana Jones is diminished without his whip, Aragorn by the absence of Narsil, just as Sauron is diminished by the absence of his ring, and Gandalf is apparently powerless without his staff.
After gear, we come to mythic monsters. Hehe. This is a pretty neat section. There are some iconic monsters like the hydra, phoenix, and vampire in here as examples. There's also some neat stuff like Owlbear, The First. It's just a CR 10 owlbear that happens to be the first of his kind and hangs around with a harem of his lady friends (bears, giant owls, and owlbears). Mythic monsters seem to more or less be basic monsters with a pseudo-template of mythic abilities designed to make them challenging to mythic characters. That's why you find a bunch of lines in the sections on character abilities stating that an effect only applies against non-mythic characters. I'm not going to break it down too much here., other than to say that the included mythic monsters are tough. For instance, the mythic troll increases his regeneration by 5 every turn he takes damage, up to a maximum of 25. Yup. A CR 6 troll regenerating 25 hit points a round. That sounds fun. Additionally, fire and acid only impede its regeneration, halving the current amount, rather than stopping it.
I've completely left out the game running section of the book, mostly because it's primarily just a lot of guidelines and suggestions about suitable campaign types and styles and calculating CRs based on mythic ranks and tiers.
Overall, I'm pretty pleased with this book. I like the concepts a lot. Much more than I liked the epic level book from 3.5. I think primarily it stems from the fact that in this book, characters are not assumed to be entitled to demigod status simply because they've crushed the skulls of a billion kobolds and then killed a billion more to move to 21st level. The mythic stuff sits outside of the level based advancement. Mythic tiers are made to be an achievement, something worth doing, something intrinsic to the character and their story and the story of the campaign. This isn't just epic level abilities that you gain. This systems is kind of making a game mechanic for the story of how a character becomes part of the campaign world's structure. It isn't anything like leveling to me, it's not something you achieve by busting heads for a mobster for fifteen levels. This stuff is achieved by seeking out the greatest challenges and succeeding in them where no other creature of your era has.
What I'm saying is that to me, mythic adventures seem heavily influenced by the RP aspect of the game. You don't achieve mythic power by running through a scenario and killing a bandit lord, you achieve it by RPing an encounter with a deity or trying to discover your mysterious heritage as a child of a god or an instrument of fate. Now, yeah, you can go out and kill a supernatural entity and steal its power (assuming the GM allows it), but what is the window dressing of that? How did you find out about this creature, or that its power can be taken? Where did you have to go to find it? What deals did you have to make to gain knowledge of it and its weaknesses? What rituals and secret knowledge was needed to pry power from it? Even this combat themed method of achieving mythic status has more to it than just wandering into a cave and killing a supernatural critter.
I like the book, that's what I'm saying. I think it is a real neat interpretation of epic level status that I'd definitely love to include in my game. Too bad killing the Hound doesn't count as ascending.