What the heck is a Milieu?
It's a fancy word that means, roughly, "state of existence."
What we mean is, the type of game you want to play.
As we were balancing and tweaking this mass of rules, we got to thinking about the "Epic" rules, and decided that it's a bit more complex than the old "low level" and "epic" way of looking at things. Heck, for that matter, it's more complex than the old "low magic" versus "high magic" way of looking at things, too.
So here's some thoughts.
The Courageous Milieu
From levels 1 to 5 (Tier 1), most games tend to look pretty "normal." The adventurers sleep in inns, walk to dungeons, and they fight pretty ordinary things, things that you could see anybody in a magical world taking on, if only they had the courage to do so. So that's what the first five levels are called: Courageous.
The Courageous Milieu is the realm of stories about ordinary people doing amazing things. Five people meet in an inn, and decide to check out the old haunted house. Do not ever make the mistake that the Courageous Milieu is a place of dull, small adventure. Just because the bad guys aren't terribly impressive and the rewards are rather modest doesn't make the PCs courage any less amazing. Would you go into a wight's tomb on the Eve of All Hallows, armed only with an old sword and a set of cojones the size of watermelons?
The Courageous Milieu is when we get to play characters as people. Utterly worthless scraps of treasure like that blue-bird feather token are immensely precious, because the priestess' daughter made it for you with her own hands. Many campaigns never get past the Courageous Milieu, because for many people, that's where the fun is. And there's nothing wrong with that! This set of rules is very careful to present a fun play experience in the courageous milieu.
There's nothing at all wrong with the Courageous Milieu, and many of us have fallen in love with a favorite toon because we were able to flesh them out and make them live while they were still those little Courageous tykes, all ferocious ambition and nascent, unformed powers and uncertain, wobbly role-playing hooks.
Eventually, the Courageous Milieu ends. The characters get some money, they get some fame, they get some real powers and abilities, and they ascend. They stop being ordinary people with huge doses of courage, and they become Heroes.
The Intrepid Milieu is embodied by play at levels 6 to 10 (Tier 2). Heroes in the Intrepid Milieu are experienced adventurers, still noticeably like 'the girl next door', but they've got a lot more power. They have found or made items of power for themselves, they have met people, they've often travelled quite a way. They are renowned in their local village, well-known in their entire region, and even the Queen has heard their name in passing, with an approving tone.
Intrepid Heroes have been together long enough that they will usually begin to develop the powerful teamwork that sets true heroes apart from the rest. Individually, they are still very much 'ordinary people', but they are beginning to show the first signs of the true heights they can aspire too. Intrepid heroes are often setting out on their first great voyages, opening the deeper crypts that lead to world-shaking mysteries, curiously opening doors that wiser heads caution against...and thriving on the challenges they find there. There are risks aplenty for Intrepid heroes, but rewards are abundant for those who dare, and succeed.
The Intrepid Milieu is where a rag-tag band of plucky heroes truly step into their collective heroes journey. They have one foot solidly in their mundane roots, but the first hints of greatness are beginning to accrue themselves around their capable shoulders. Whether comic or noble, lackluster or stellar, each and every one is definitely someone to be reckoned with, and when they are together? They can do great things for their neighbors.
The Heroic Milieu
The Heroic Milieu is the realm of play from levels 11 to 15 (Tier 3). Heroic Characters are exactly that: heroes. They are larger than life, they are obviously in a different realm than the commoners around them, and they get treated as such. Kings and rulers fawn over them, or try to manipulate them. Religions take notice, and shady characters try to hire them, or get them killed off, for nefarious purposes. Heroes fight things out of the ordinary as well. Instead of a wight's barrow, Heroes tackle vampiric cults of death worshipers, who happen to be made up of real vampires, and more often than not they have a few pet demons summoned in to help. And of course, heroes fight dragons.
What Heroic Milieu game would be complete with a dragon or sixteen? Everybody loves fighting dragons, be it in defense of a city, to rescue an Emperor's pretty daughter, or to knock the pesky wyrm off that big pile of cash. Heroic Milieu games have a lot more money, a lot more magic, and a lot bigger scale. Players start to buy magic carpets, flying ships, or simply use spells to zap themselves around. Weapons and armor start sounding seriously bad-ass, and describing your character can take a couple of pages if you're into it.
Almost everyone has played a Heroic level game at one point or another, and they can truly be huge amounts of fun. But if you have a well-loved character, you will, eventually, reach the end of the Hero's Journey and achieve all your goals. The top end of the Heroic Milieu can see the Heroes, as they peak in their power, start to get involved in truly amazing final confrontations.
But what if you still adore your character and want to keep going?
Well, that's what the Undaunted Milieu is all about.
The Undaunted Milieu is the realm of play from levels 16 to level 20 (Tier 4). Undaunted Heroes have Shaken The World...and they aren't ready to stop yet. Undaunted characters are usually famous everywhere in their homeland, on speaking terms with the King, and well-known to the Queens and Emperors of neighboring polities. Undaunted heroes have trod the darkest of ways, and they're unafraid of what they've found there.
In the Undaunted Milieu, it is very common to find Our Heroes seeking out new challenges. They have accrued real, serious might, and have overcome, by might of arms, clever words, skillful skullduggery, or sheer overwhelming firepower, things that would give entire nations pause. Such mighty heroes may find themselves a bit nonplussed, as the sorts of foes they have been used to fighting are no longer any challenge.
As a result, many Undaunted Heroes begin to set down roots, acquire homes, build wizard towers, as they settle into their role in the world around them. But typically, such heroes soon discover that their horizons have been limited, and now that they take the time to look, REALLY look, at the world further away from home, they will inevitably notice...Something Bad. Larger problems, terrible threats that were so enormous they did not notice them when they were Courageous, because they are so large you have to be looking from a height to see them at all.
There are many, many challenges for the Undaunted, as old enemies are revealed to be mere foot soldiers for larger, darker, threats. But Undaunted Heroes are never dismayed, and they fight on, because that's what heroes do.
The Valorous Milieu
Valorous Milieu games are real world-shakers. They run from level 21 to level 25 (Tier 5). The events that powered you up through the Heroic and Undaunted levels should have gotten you noticed by the Big Leagues. Those kings that used to pester you to do things? They're still around, and they seriously want to either be on your good side, or get rid of you. So they'll do things like arrange for your Valorous Milieu characters to "bump into" the forces of the Evil Empire, glowering just on the other side of the inland sea.
You know those dragons you killed? Their drastically nastier uncle wants to know what exactly happened to little Flamesnout's treasure trove. Oh, and that dragon-worshiping cult that was always sort of harmless? Well, it turns out the dragon's freed life force has empowered them all into unstoppable evil juggernauts, hell-bent on getting revenge on you. Remember that pool in that dark dungeon that didn't seem to do anything? Well, it turns out you were just too wimpy to notice...until now, and now the things on the other side are interested in you and your friends.
In the Valorous Milieu, the characters usually have one or several large homes, castles, wizard towers, or the like. They have huge numbers of powerful magic items, and they can literally stride the earth like the Titans of old, granting boons and laying down their wrath with mythical powers.
The Mythic Milieu
Very few games make it all the way to mythical levels (levels 26-30, Tier 6), and for good reason: Keeping a simple gaming system rational at this power level isn't simple. We think we've managed it with Epic Path, but it's still a lot more free-form in the Mythical Milieu than before.
Mythical characters have grown too large for the mundane world to contain them, and they spill out into the realm of Myth. They do things like wake up one morning and the realm is in chaos because someone has stolen the Sun!
You know how hard it is to get your Sun back? You sure can't do it in a simple dragon's lair. Mythical Milieu games go into the Outer Dark and the characters face powers and portents. This may involve journeys into the Outer Planes, where Demons and Devils are revealed to be dim echoes of the Things that live beyond. The characters learn Truths behind the face of reality, and eventually, after struggles against beasts so mighty they could literally steal the Sun as a bauble for their neck, the characters take it back, and all is right with the world.
Adventuring in the Astral Sea, delving into the Inner World, sailing the Celestial Cascade, facing the Invincible Stone Guardian of Thrax and living to talk about it, these are the things of Myths, and this is what a Mythical Milieu game is all about.
What comes, though, when the Mythical Milieu is used up? It's time to step into the realm of Legend.
Legendary Games run from level 31 to 35 (Tier 7). Legendary Heroes are known. Everywhere, by everyone. Legendary Heroes cross continents, venture into the depths of the seas, and ascend into the Heavens on a routine basis. Legendary Heroes dare the Gates of Hell without flinching, and make their way into the Outer Realms without trouble.
And in all these strange and amazing places, they find villainy. Evil is everywhere, and Legendary Heroes rise to that challenge without hesitation. Entire worlds fallen into the darkest mire of horror, vast Universal Wars that have raged for eons, numberless hordes of the darkest fiends, things so terrible you have to be a Legend to even notice, much less comprehend....
These are the adventures of Legends. Welcome to the heights, there's plenty of good deeds to be done.
If you have a group of players that really like this sort of thing, hooray for you! And for those players, there is the Apotheosis.
Level 36 exists, and can be repeated, indefinitely. If GM's wish, the foundation rules can be extended, although we make no guarantees how that will go. We do have monsters available all the way up to CR 40 (and maybe a smidgeon even above there). If you don't want to try and extend the base rules, there are feats that can only be taken at level 36, which allow characters to improve indefinitely, if that's your cup of tea.
The foundation of these rules is a sturdy one, but we're not going to extend them above 36th. Each game of that power is pretty much custom-built anyway, so we'd never presume to meddle.
Have fun, players! Your legend awaits!