Inherent Advancement

One of the challenges in a Pathfinder game, especially as characters advance in power level and wealth, is what is sometimes called the Christmas tree effect, wherein characters are defined as much or more by their gear as by the qualities and abilities that are inherent to them as characters. The game assumes certain commonplace equipment will be readily available, and that certain benchmark numbers will be aided and abetted by those items presumed to be commonplace. Some magic items merely provide incremental change, small bonuses or additions to existing abilities. Others provide quantum shifts that change game-play, like items allowing flight and invisibility. In all cases, the core items are well understood and expected to be found.

The problem with this assumption is that it creates its own reality; the assumption that those commonplace items will be there becomes instantiated in the expectation and belief that those items must be there. In quest of these presumably necessary core bonuses, PCs and NPCs alike demur when offered exotic or unusual items in favor of getting the maximum possible bonus on their so-called “Big Six” items: magical weapons, magical armor and shields, cloaks of resistance, rings of protection, amulets of natural armor, and ability-score boosting belts and headbands (or similar items that duplicate the effects of these items). Those items that most efficiently get them their bonuses are selected by players for their use and by GMs building their NPCs in order to get the most bang for their buck. It’s a rational program of benefit-maximization, but it also is deadly dull. The mythic rules offer several conceptual options for moving away from this style of treasure distribution.

Mythic Tiers Instead of Treasure

What PCs do in a typical adventure is rather different from the classic heroes of fantasy. With rare exceptions, the dead in battle are rarely stripped, searched, and salvaged in a fantasy novel or movie. The PCs win the day and move on, stopping only to pick up a rare or unique item with some plot purpose. Strict monetary rewards are often gifted by a patron or benefactor or found in a chest or hoard, rather than peeled from the cold, dead fingers of the slain. You could adopt the same strategy in a Pathfinder game. In encounter-building terms, moving an NPC from standard NPC-level gear to PC-level wealth results in a +1 CR increase. If you accept the algorithm that mythic tiers are worth approximately 1/2 of an experience level, you could drastically dial down the level of treasure awarded to an NPC-like amount while replacing the advantages gained from such treasure with 1-2 mythic tiers., gradually increasing this amount as PCs continue to gain levels.

Concentrate Your Treasure

You can focus magic item treasure placement on a smaller number of key items, rather than worrying about seeding the campaign with a surfeit of boring low-power items. If your campaign calls for a dozen adversaries who all have around 3000-4000 gp, you are going to have an awful lot of +1 longswords, +1 breastplates, and cloaks of resistance +1. There are only so many henchmen and allies around to gift these assembly-line items, and sooner or later your PCs are just going to want to sell them and head off to the magic shop to buy something more fulfilling. Your PCs will find one or two 15,000-30,000 gp items far more interesting and, more importantly, memorable than a pile of low-grade nothing.

If you create a world where magic items are a fungible manufactured commodity, players will view them and treat them that way. If you create a world where magic items are rarer but more precious, that is how players will view them as well. This model works better if you disallow item creation feats (with the exception of feats that create non-permanent items, like potions, scrolls, and wands) or impose restrictions on their use.

Bonuses Inherent to Characters, not Items

You can simply eliminate status numerical bonus items, and replace them with the ability for characters to advance their basic statistical modifiers based on a menu of options. These options are in addition to gaining a +1 increase to an ability score at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter and gaining feats at 1st level and every 2 levels thereafter. Each time a character gains a level, he can choose one of the following benefits. The minimum level to take one of these benefits is listed in parentheses. You can take these abilities more than once each and the effects stack, though many have limits.

Inherent Bonuses and Magic Arms and Armor

This system presupposes that magical weapons, armor, and shields exist but possess no enhancement bonus except when wielded by a character with an inherent bonus. You can treat such items as+1 weapons for the purpose of calculating enhancement bonus,- crafting time, hardness, and hit points, and as magical weapons for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction. However, unless a character chooses the enhanced armor and shield or enhanced weapon abilities, their enhancement bonus is +0.

Inherent Bonuses and Other Items

When using a system like this, items like an amulet of natural armor, ring of protection, or ability score-boosting item would not exist in their normal form. Instead of being use-activated items, they could exist as command-word items, usable 3/day, to provide the effects of barkskin, shield of faith, bear’s endurance, bull’s strength, cat’s grace, eagle’s splendor, fox’s cunning, or owl’s wisdom spell for a duration determined by the item’s caster level.

A cloak of resistance is more difficult to translate in this fashion, since the resistance spell does not scale its bonus. It could be replaced by use-activated spell effects that provide saving throw bonuses following the rules of specific spells, such as bless, prayer, or protection from evil, or it could be priced as if it duplicated the effects of shield of faith, providing a resistance bonus on saving throws rather than a deflection bonus to AC.

Character Options

Each time a character gains a level, she may choose one of the following options. If the character is 10th level or above, she may choose two of the following options (excluding perfected ability), though she cannot take the same option twice.

Ability Enhancement, Multiple (3rd)

Choose two ability scores and add a +1 enhancement bonus to each score; this cannot be the same ability you have selected with single ability enhancement (maximum bonus +1 per 3 levels, up to +6).

Ability Enhancement, Single (4th)

Choose one ability score as your primary ability score. Add a +2 enhancement bonus on that ability score (maximum bonus +2 per 4 levels, up to +6).

Competent Casting (3rd)

Add a +1 competence bonus on all caster level checks and concentration checks (maximum bonus +1 per 3 levels, up to +5).

Enhanced Armor and Shield (3rd)

Add +1 enhancement bonus to any suit of magical armor you wear or magical shield that you wield (maximum bonus +1 per 3 levels, up to +5).

Enhanced Weapon (3rd)

Add +1 enhancement bonus to any magical weapon you wield (maximum bonus +1 per 3 levels, up to +5).

Enhanced Resistance (3rd)

Add a +1 resistance bonus on all saving throws (maximum bonus +1 per 3 levels, up to +5).

Enhanced Skill (2nd)

Add a +5 competence bonus on skill checks for any one skill (maximum bonus +5, plus your number of ranks in that skill).

Enhanced Toughness (3rd)

Add a +1 natural armor bonus to AC (maximum bonus +1 per 3 levels, up to +5).

Extra Feat (2nd)

At any even-numbered level, choose one feat for which you qualify.

Insightful (6th)

Add a +1 insight bonus to AC (maximum bonus +1 per 3 levels, up to +3).

Lucky (6th)

Add a +1 luck bonus on saving throws (maximum bonus +1 per 6 levels, up to +3).

Perfected Ability (10th)

Add a +1 inherent bonus to any one ability score (maximum bonus +1 per 5 levels, up to +4). This inherent bonus stacks with other inherent bonuses to the same ability score, though your inherent bonus cannot exceed +5. If you select this ability, you cannot select a second ability.

Spell Knowledge (2nd)

Add one spell to your list of spells known of any level you can cast. You may instead add two spells known, if they are at least two levels lower than the highest- level spell you can cast.

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