Welcome to the third installment of Everyman Gaming’s GM’s Guide articles. In this GM’s Guide, we’ll be talking about Mythic encounter design.
I’m going to be blunt here: I love Mythic Adventures. It’s probably my favorite Core Rulebook product to come from Paizo because of how unique and revolutionary it is. Archetypes are nice and all, but they are built from the idea of Alternate Class Features and character kits, which come from 3.5 and AD&D respectfully. But Mythic Adventures isn’t something that you can point to one source and say, “Yeah, this is where Paizo got the idea from.” It is a truly unique concept that Paizo brought to the table, and that’s only one reason I adore it. What’s the other reason? It is flavorful and fun. Because of this, I fully recommend mythic power to all GMs but I’ll admit it isn’t for everyone. I have plenty of friends who complain about Pathfinder’s “high magic” environment compared to games like Dark Heresy or Call of Cthulhu: if you’re in that sort of crowd, Mythic Adventures might not be for you. But if you’re like me and you adore high magic games, then Mythic Adventure is calling your name!
But with all that power, how do you challenge a mythic party? Won’t they just blender on through everything in their path? For today’s topic, Mythic Adventures. How, exactly, do you challenge living gods anyway?
In GM Guide 1, we talked about the CR mechanic: what it assumes and how it pits players against monsters. In GM Guide 2, we discussed using the XP Rewards mechanic to design our encounters for us. In GM Guide 5, we discussed the concept of the 15 minute adventuring day, why it is not a strong encounter designing method, and how you can steer your players away from the 15 minute day.
Paizo on Mythic Encounters
Before we get started on designing our Mythic Encounter, it helps to reference the people who designed Mythic Adventures before doing anything else. In addition to providing plot hooks and story structure, Chapter 4 of Mythic Adventures gives us some guidelines for designing Mythic Encounters. Here they are, republished for your benefit below:
Designing a mythic encounter is a lot like designing an encounter in any other adventure. During play, the PCs will face a variety of challenges: monsters, NPCs, traps, and more. The difference is that during a mythic adventure, the challenges are far deadlier. It’s important to stress to the players, through the encounters that they face, that these are dangers beyond what they might normally expect in the game. Much of this comes through the design of the encounters, which can vary greatly depending on the PCs and how you want to challenge them. In the most basic terms, the mythic rules can be used in one of two ways: to challenge normal PCs and to challenge mythic PCs.
Encounters for Normal PCs: If the PCs aren’t mythic, then these rules can be used to present challenges of an unexpected nature. Mythic creatures and villains are more powerful than their normal counterparts, making encounters significantly more dangerous. See the Adjusting CR and Level sidebar.
Normal PCs should be rewarded with experience points and treasure based on this adjusted CR. This means the PCs will face creatures that would normally be below them in terms of their original CRs, but whose strange abilities make them true threats. Such encounters should generally be at least challenging in relation to the PCs’ Average Party Level (APL).
For example, a group of four 6th-level PCs is exploring an ancient crypt filled with undead. As they face a variety of normal undead foes, they also begin to discover a far greater evil dwelling within, sealed away centuries ago by a holy brotherhood. Upon breaching the final chamber, they face a pair of mythic mummies crackling with dark magic. The pair of mythic mummies has an adjusted CR of 8, making it a deadly threat to the 6th-level PCs.
Encounters for Mythic PCs: Mythic adventurers are ready for challenges beyond those normally expected for characters of their level. (See the Adjusting CR and Level sidebar.) When designing encounters to challenge these characters, roughly one-third of the encounters should use their adjusted APL, one-third should use the characters’ original APL, and the remaining should fall somewhere between those two values.
Of course, individual encounters can vary from these numbers as normal (such as a challenging encounter versus an easy encounter). When facing a mythic foe, add half its mythic rank to its original CR to determine the foe’s adjusted CR (as above).
For example, when designing challenges for a group of four 12th-level, 6th-tier mythic PCs, approximately one-third of the encounters they face should be CR 12, one-third should be CR 15, and the remaining encounters should be CR 13 or 14. That means some of their encounters are rather easy (allowing them to dominate foes using their mythic power), some are of average difficulty, and some truly push them to their limits. The challenging encounters should be against other mythic foes, forcing the PCs to confront enemies with similar power.
Extracting the Useful Bits
That’s a lot of text! So what useful information can we take from this? Well, allow me to show you:
- Mythic PCs adjust their character level by half their Mythic Rank (minimum 1).
- Mythic parties should encounter roughly one-third of combats using their non-mythic APL, one-third of combats using their mythic APL, and one-third of their combats as any combination of mythic or non-mythic.
- An APL 5 party of four adventurers consists of four 5th Level characters. Using my XP rewards method the party has a CR of 9.
- Each character has two Mythic ranks, so each character’s Mythic character level is 6th (CL 5 + 0.5(2nd Tier) is CL 6). Using my XP rewards method, the party has a Mythic CR of 10.
- Let’s assume a 12-encounter adventure for simplicity’s sake. In that 12 encounter spread, about 4 of 12 encounters should be balanced as though the party was APL 5, another 4 of 12 encounters should be balanced as though the party was APL 6, and the final 4 encounters should be divided up as the GM deems appropriate.
Tips for Challenging the Mythic Party
- Focus on the day, not the encounter. As discussed in GM Guide 5, the 15-minute adventuring day does not make for challenging design. When you raise the stakes to Mythic, however, you need to outright banish the idea of “quick rest.” You can use any of the methods we talked about in GM Guide 5 to accomplish this, but Paizo’s rules flat-out state that you should be balancing for the long haul. This means your PCs will wipe the floor with an encounter or two: this is to be expected. Remember, long haul with little time for sitting on one’s laurels.
- Damage Reduction, and lots of it. Mythic Adventures has many options for dealing insane amounts of damage, and as a result you need to be able to mitigate and/or match that damage in order to make for a challenging encounter. To this end, I think that the invincible simple mythic template is one of the best, second only to agile.
- Focus on Action Economy. When designing a Mythic encounter, remember the action economy. If Mythic characters have one weakness, its that few mythic options allow the mythic character to destroy the action economy until 6th Tier or so. Some abilities allow you to double-up on swift actions, others allow you to perform standard actions as swift actions, but almost nothing in the Mythic Rules allows you to gain more swift, standard, or move actions. The major exceptions to this rule are the path abilities that essentially function as specialized versions of pounce, but it’s a rule worth noting. To that end, the Action Economy tactics in GM Guide 3 and 4 apply equally well to Mythic characters.
- Dual Initiative is King. Remember how I said that few options really allow you to destroy the action economy? Well, aside from all of the pouncing that players do, there is one exception and it is monster-only. That exception is the dual initiative monster ability, found in Chapter 5. Essentially, dual initiative allows your monster to act twice during a round; they essentially double the number of available actions. Chapter 5 prices this ability (like all monster abilities) at the cost of a path ability. Because you’re the GM, I highly suggest giving this ability as a path ability to all of your “big bad guy” type monsters. It gets lame quickly if EVERYTHING can act twice, but if your “big bad guy” is throwing two fireballs a round or making two full attacks a turn, it adds a lot towards making him a truly threatening foe.
Alright, and that’s all of the advice that I have for you today on designing Mythic encounters. What do you think? Have you given the mythic rules a spin yet? How did your encounters fair? Did your PCs breeze through everything or was it a constant life-and-death struggle? Would you recommend the mythic rules for a campaign you play in? Leave your answers and comments below, and I’ll see you next time!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long over 90% of his colleagues. Affectionately called a “budding game designer” by his partner at Radiance House, Alexander is the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series (Radiance House) and a handful of other Third-Party Products. Before founding the Everyman Gaming blog, Alexander gained notoriety for writing the GM’s Guide to Challenging Encounters, which remains accessible to this day. His favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/mythic tier combination is kitsune champion, and his pastime is chomping off PCs heads with the vorpal bite attack of the mythic barghest.