This is technically a review of Pathfinder: Mythic Adventures, but I’m categorizing it under Wrath of the Righteous as this is a core system for the whole set of modules, so it’s important to understand how Mythic affects the overall game.
Mythic Adventures was released in August of 2013, around the same time as the first book of Wrath, with the goal of creating a ruleset for representing “epic-level” campaigns. In the past Wizards of the Coast tried to do this with the Epic Level Handbook, and it had less than satisfactory results, leaning on the idea of running games past level 20 and providing content for just such an occasion. The problem with this is that very few campaign groups ever make it to level 20, let alone past level 20, so while virtually everybody wanted to pick these rules up, virtually nobody could actually enjoy them.
Paizo’s answer to this was to create Mythic Adventures, which introduced the concept of Mythic Tiers. The idea behind this book is that in addition to having character levels and experience points per a normal game of Pathfinder, players get a Mythic Tier. The character levels track their skill on the normal, mortal power scale, while Mythic Tiers track their power level in terms of where they sit alongside legendary figures like Hercules or Achilles, ranging from just a bit more than human to being outright immortal. The benefit to this parallel system is that characters could be of any Mythic Tier at any level, allowing GMs to set when and where exactly the game transcends into being Mythic and how, and enabling players to enjoy their super-heroic levels of might starting as early as level 1. In other words, rather than being reserved for characters of ridiculously high level, it’s something that can be added to virtually any campaign.
For nearly the past year I’ve been running Wrath of the Righteous, a campaign path for the Pathfinder role-playing game written by Paizo Publishing. Released in August of 2013, this is the first of Paizo’s adventure path series that uses the Mythic Adventures ruleset, their own interpretation of how to create “epic-level” campaigns.
If you haven’t heard, though, Wrath has some shortcomings. While pre-made adventures in Pathfinder can be a little hit-and-miss in terms of accurately prescribing a power level and pacing a game — nobody can predict what those wacky players will come up with to throw off the game balance — the consensus seems to be that later books of Wrath are particularly clumsy about creating a solid challenge for players, and a great deal of maintenance is required to handle what is otherwise supposed to be a worry-free product for GMs.
In my personal experience it feels a lot like the first two of this six-book series were written by designers who worked very carefully around the adventure formula described in Mythic Adventures while the others were much less carefully put together, almost as if they didn’t take the Mythic rules into account at all. Perhaps, though, it’s the other way around, and Paizo simply didn’t predict what the effect of Mythic Adventures would be on the already steep power curve of 3rd edition-derived games.
In any event this series of posts is going to double as a book-by-book review of this campaign as well as tips on how to spruce it up should you choose to run it yourself — and there definitely is a need to spruce it up, because if nothing else the books tend to run out of steam after the first two are over. Be aware that there will be spoilers.
The Kingdom Hearts series is a strange beast. It started as a fanciful fling between Squaresoft and Disney, a pair of very unlikely bedfellows brought together by the fact that they shared an elevator. Over the past dozen years, developer Square Enix has evolved the series into a truly vast thing: increasingly complex, adored by its fans, and alienating to newcomers. The concept was originally very appealing to me, as I tend to enjoy unlikely combinations like this. I found the juxtaposition of cartoon whimsy and melodramatic fantasy to be irresistible, and I’ve played (or at least tried to play) almost all of the games in the series since the beginning. Sadly, as the stories of each successive game built on top of the rest and the universe grew more complex, I began to notice the quirkiness fading away with each iteration, only to be replaced by half-baked game mechanics and a heaping helping of hollow plot twists. I grew tired of watching such a fun concept go to waste.
The latest game, a 3DS spin-off called Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (D.D.D., three “D”, geddit?) was released a couple years ago, and frankly, as a disillusioned former fan, I couldn’t have cared less. I had all but sworn off the series after the previous iteration delivered some of the worst writing I’ve ever seen in a video game (truly a remarkable achievement). However, some friends of mine had seen fit to praise the latest entry, so being the optimist/masochist that I am, I decided to let Sora and friends break my heart just one more time. Perhaps, as Square Enix prepares to unleash the next main entry, Kingdom Hearts III, they would be able to return to their whimsical roots. What I found was, to my shock and bewilderment, equal parts Delightful, Defective, and Depressing (GEDDIT?).
Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Pathfinder with a few of my friends via Skype and Roll20. In that time I’ve assembled some observations about how to effectively build a character in Paizo’s answer to Dungeons and Dragons.
One of the challenges of building a character in this game is the sheer number of options that are open. At time of writing the game has more than a dozen character classes, hundreds of feats and character traits that you can add to a character, not to mention dozens of spells per each level — and that’s only the tip of the iceburg. While these options are part of the core appeal of the game, allowing players to create characters very organically and find some way of making any aspect of a character into a tangible aspect of gameplay, they’re also overwhelming to deal with. There’s an infinite variety of ways to build a character, but only a handful of those options are actually worth pursuing.
The key to dealing with this challenge is realizing that Pathfinder, while descended from the same stock as D&D 3rd edition, is not D&D 3rd or 3.5. While of the same spirit as Dungeons and Dragons, it has clearly and distinctly re-defined itself as its own unique game, in that none of the intuitive conventions of 3/3.5 for building a character apply in any remote sense. Once this is understood, the game is INFINITELY more interesting and more workable, and you’ll begin to realize that any concept you can imagine is viable as a character — just not necessarily in the way that you’d think. For instance, multiclassing is, while easier to do than it was in 3e, almost entirely displaced by other options. Races have a stunningly strong influence on the viability of certain character builds, and the difference of allowing Traits and not allowing Traits can mean life or death for certain types of characters.
A friend of mine recently asked me to explain AI design, specifically with respect to predominantly Player vs. Player, turn-based games. Duels of the Planeswalkers, we’re looking squarely at you. He wondered how easy or difficult it was to fine-tune it to where it seemed sensibly challenging given the intended difficulty level without being too good. The question demands an answer more detailed than I could contain in the text messages we were trading, so here on Infinite Wrench I figured I’d try to cover the full scoop.
I’ve been working on designing a tabletop RPG in my spare time for a little while now, based on an original sci-fi setting I’ve been working on for the past few years. In the time since I’ve started working on this system I’ve found that sci-fi has some odd bumps in the road compared with a fantasy RPG. The main issue at hand is abstraction.
A fantasy RPG is very easy to run and develop, mainly due to the conceit that a fantasy game will typically take place in a setting that, apart from concessions made for magic, is less advanced than our own. The idea behind a tabletop RPG is that if players can think it, they can do it, and 90% of people can most certainly think of most of the possibilities at hand in a medieval setting.
By contrast, sci-fi demands abstraction, owing to far future technologies and complex knowledge bases that players, in all but a few rare cases, can’t be expected to understand. It leads to a lot of knowledge and skill rolls in place of the players actually understanding what their characters are doing or thinking. Someone does an engineering roll — is the ship fixed? Yes/no. Someone does a piloting roll — did they dodge another ship? Yes/no. Someone does a biology roll — can they identify that animal? Yes/no. Making the game feel exciting is a big problem, and it’s easy for all too many things to feel like a coin flip.
Here’s another thing a few months late to the party! I’ll have to beg your pardon; when E3 was going on I was in the thick of working on Heavy Gear Assault during the biggest rush the team had ever had, so I wasn’t exactly at a good spot to share my thoughts on the developing console wars. That said, now that it’s cooled off a bit and Microsoft has begun solidifying a new direction for the XBox One, I think we can have a less inflammatory discussion.