|Douglas Muir 406|
What if we end it two books sooner?
Honestly, most of Books 5 and 6 are unnecessary. You have the PCs discovering the truth about their obols, a fun but otherwise mostly pointless side trip to Arcadia, and -- lets' face it -- a lot of grinding to level up. So, could we end it at the end of Book 4?
At that point the PCs are supposed to be 14th level. Let's say you give them a Mythic tier before that. Around the end of Book 1 would make sense, especially since Book 1 and Book 2 are both pretty challenging. Then give them a second Mythic tier late in Book 4, once they defeat the last of the graveknights. "Getting alive out of the Boneyard" and "Defeating the five legendary graveknights of Geb" both seem like reasonable things to award Mythic for, yes? So at the end of Book 4, they're 14 / Mythic 2.
Somewhere along the way you need to reveal the truth about the obols. There are lots of ways this could happen. Heck, Barzahk could tell the PCs at the end of Book 1. Arazni could confirm it. If you want to really nail this down, you could have the PCs each lose 1 point of Con at the end of Books 1, 2 and 3. Yes, being at -3 Con would be pretty painful, but it'll drive home the point that the PCs are slowly and inevitably dying. If that seems too extreme then give them some minor but alarming symptoms. By Book 4 they should be very clear on this point: they're inevitably going to die.
Then amend the end of Book Four. Arazni still sends the PCs to turn the Knights of Ozem away -- but Tar-Baphon heads straight for Absalom and the Starstone. Arazni and the PCs pursue.
Now just run the last part of Book 6. You may have to nerf a couple of the encounters, but 14 / Mythic 2 isn't that much weaker than the level 17-18 that they're supposed to be around this point. Furthermore, in this version Arazni is fighting beside them and can bail them out if they get in serious trouble. Let them level up one more time before confronting Tar-Baphon and, hell, give them a final Mythic Tier just moments before the final battle. I'd put the ultimate confrontation at the very gates of Absalom, with TB just moments away from the Starstone, but season to taste. The PCs will now be Level 15 / Mythic 3 which is pretty closely equivalent to the Level 18 / no Mythic tiers of the original version.
Arazni can reset their obols to "reflect" before the final battle. She tells the PCs that now they're suicide bombs, but hey, they're doomed anyway. All they have to do is provoke Tar-Baphon to use the Radiant Flame. The PCs (and Arazni) fight TB, he finally loses his temper and unleashes the Flame, and... boom, there we go.
Advantages to this cut:
-- Keeps to the canonical plot (PCs are eliminated, TB is weakened but survives, Arazni is burned by the Flame and her fate is unknown). There will surely be a future AP that connects to this; if there is, you won't have to retcon.
-- PCs still get the awesome experience of fighting Golarion's biggest baddest BBEG, and bragging rights thereto.
-- Preserves the PC's heroic sacrifice.
-- Gets to the same place in 4.2 books instead of 6.
-- You miss the side quest to Arcadia, which is pointless but fun. No luchador masks, alas.
-- Arazni is in the final battle beside the PCs, so she may overshadow them. I think the answer here is to have TB blast Arazni first until she's out of action. Perhaps he can hit her with spells that paralyze or disable rather than kill -- he may have a special anti-lich spell or item just for this, developed in case of a rival. I think you can turn this into a positive: if Arazni goes down like a chump in Round 2, paralyzed and unable to do anything but blink desperately at the PCs, it could be an "oh sh!t" moment that will make the final encounter that much more memorable.
Were I to re-write Tyrants Grasp, (which doesn't need it, but whatever) I'd have some of these concerns / ambitions...
So... let's say you get to the climactic end of Book 4. The Knights of Ozem are winning against the Whispering Tyrant, because of JUSTICE and like... Iomedae's heralds and hosts appearing, and it looks like good is going to win the 2nd Battle of Gallowspire when... BOOOOOOOOOOOM!
Sooooooooooooooooooooooooooo... what do you do with the PCs? They've already escaped TWICE from this same scenario. One time they died and then had to escape through the ruins. One time they were underground and had to escape the ruins. And this time, let's assume that they are too late and they are on a mountain and they see the destruction with their own eyes (for the first time).
What do they do for Book 5? I really like the idea of a vast realm of limitless undead beneath Hammer Rock... or somewhere... which the Whispering Tyrant is trying to get to. But how about moving the action away from Hammer Rock to... THE CENOTAPH. This gives the PCs a trek across the Hold of Belkzen to Varisia for Book 5, and a massive dungeon crawl to start book 6. That'd work right?
Except the Cenotaph, and all Thasillonian Gluttony Runelord fortresses, would have been built, and shut, prior to Earthfall, therefore prior to the raising of Absalom, and therefore, there's no portal to get the characters [or the Whispering Tyrant's army] to where they have to go.
So you have this lacuna of Book 5. I guess the PCs could try to escape from the devastation and end up battling like... evil vampires and other undead who are rising and coming to fight on the side of the Whispering Tyrant? Maybe some of those awesome bad guys in the backpages of Carrion Crown? Book 5 is a great place for a dungeon crawl through a vampire palace. But you go do that in Book 6. It's a quandry which I think Paizo rightly decided to dramatically shift the action away from APOCALYPSE to APOCALYPTO (see what I did there?)
I've said this in other threads, but Book 6 doesn't need much to change it to become really cool.
But I really think the AP needs to get out of post-apocalypse death in Book 5 to remind the players that there is a world out there which is worth fighting for.
What if we end it two books sooner?
I like your idea. While i don't wish to disrespect the work behind book 5, I too see it redundant - just like book 5 of runelords was. I mean, in that book the point was do "grind" and gain weapons tailored against a transmuter ubermage. It was almost the same in book 5 of original Crimson Throne, only that they give a motivation to go there: namely find the only weapon able to permakill the Bbeg.
Regarding mythic levels, i would suggest the following:
mythic 1 is gained by leaving the realm of the dead
mythic 2 and 3 are gained either by energies given by the echoes of the Radian fire blasts, or by proper trials against mythic enemies in gallowspire.
mythic 4 is gained by conquering the fortress of Fallowdeep, after defeating the mayor bosses (with a few npc that should gain mythic too).
I would not, however, cut completely book 5.
Here's my suggestion: between book 4 and book 6 there should be a 1 long period of timeskip, in which the DM allows the pcs to describe how the fight back the raising hordes of undeads, making a name as the "last shields of lastwall" or something like that. During this period, the Pc should be visited by a "divine emissary" of Arazni, which should give them informations regarding the demigoddess fate and last will.
This herald, which could well have the shape of the elderly woman of book 5, could warm the pcs that Baphon's planning to take the kumaru tree to craft from it new shards for his weapon, and that he send there a powerful minion. In this way, the attack at the pyramid can remain in the narrative as a far away mission, bucked up by divine mandate. While there, the Pc may actually discover by themselves how to unlock further mythic power by connecting with the dead tree of to "exchange" the energy given to them in exchange of more levels or more interesting abilities. It could be a situation not unlike that of Mask of the betrayer