Saturday, June 2, 2018

Adventuring Isn't Just A Young Man's Game (5 Questions You Should Ask For Older PCs)

When you think of adventurous characters, chances are that you picture plucky farm boy heroes or fresh-faced wizards' apprentices. Acolytes who have only recently felt the touch of the divine are common, as are young warriors out to prove their valor. However, some heroes have gray in their hair, and crow's feet round their eyes. More than a few of them have already laid aside a lifetime in a trade before they hear the call to adventure.

Yeah... now you're getting it.
Sometimes we play older characters because it gives us stat boosts when we need them. Sometimes we do it because it fits the concept we have in our heads. But if you're going to do it, here are some questions you should ask yourself before you get started.

If you enjoy these, you should consider checking out my ongoing series of class-based advice at 5 Tips For Playing Better Base Classes (The Complete List).

Also, feel free to check out Simon Peter Munoz's thoughts on the subject over on the CRB with Age Is Just A Number.

Question #1: What Were You Doing All This Time?

Perhaps the first thing you need to ask is what has your PC been doing all this time that they haven't been out looting tombs and saving the world? Were they a simple farmer, trying to live a peaceful life? A woodcutter? A blacksmith? Did your PC settle down to raise a family, and now that the kids are grown he finds there's time on his hands? Or did this character used to be an adventurer, but it's been so long they're back to first level these days?

You've got a lot of options, here, but it's a good idea to know what you spent the earlier part of your life doing. Especially since that earlier part could be a few decades for a human or a half-orc, and the better part of a century or more for longer-lived races.

Question #2: Why Now?

Of all the things your character could be doing, what made them step up to the adventuring plate later in life? Is it a tale of revenge, but in this case it's a mother or a father coming to collect on someone who killed their children? Were you a late bloomer magically, with your sorcerer bloodline only awakening once you'd hit middle age? Did a god choose you after you had left your wild youth behind? Or have you just been quietly using your skills in your town as a healer, a guardsman, or an entertainer until there was a need for someone to deal with a threat, solve a mystery, or find a long-lost treasure?

This doesn't have to be a terrible event, like your town being attacked by goblins, or your grandkids being carried off by trolls. It might be that once you retired you finally felt you were able to go treasure hunting without risking your family's income and well-being. Sometimes adventurers are born out of convenience, instead of tragic circumstances.

Question #3: What Have You Seen?

When you're a young PC, you don't typically have much experience of the world. Even those who grow up in a cosmopolitan place likely don't know much beyond their own little patch of the city. While that might be equally true for older characters, you often have a lot more leeway regarding what events you've lived through.

For example, if you're a middle-aged dwarf or elf, how many established capitols were frontier outposts the last time you came through them? What wars do you remember that are little more than footnotes in history books? What major movements did you survive culturally that are just stories to the younger generation?

Keep in mind that not every character with silver threads in their beard is a world traveler, or was caught up in great doings. The local druid might have just been wandering the same patch of forest for the past three or four decades, and only knows what's happened this side of the mountain. Alternatively, the elven bard who's been a caravan master has traveled through six or seven countries, has seen empires rise and fall, and has friends and business acquaintances from the Bay of Stars to the dune riders of the Empty Crescent. Just because you're level 1 along with everyone else doesn't mean you haven't seen things in your time. Of course, it doesn't mean you have, either.

Question #4: What Is The Attitude Toward Your Age?

Different cultures will have different expectations for people as they age. For example, do people think you're a fool for putting your life in danger when you're over the hill? Or do people see it as noble that you, as an elder, are willing to stick your neck out so those with more life ahead of them can avoid the risks you're taking? Does age put an extra fine edge on your primary skills (such as wisdom, charisma, or intelligence-based magic), or are you struggling to overcome the sands of time as your strength is sapped?

Also, how does your character feel about their age? Are they constantly grumbling about being too old for this, with their creaking joints and aching muscles? Are they defiant that age effects them, showing how they can keep up with any young pup? Or do they accept their age and the limitations that come with it?

Question #5: Why Do They Do It?

This is a question you should ask of any character, but it becomes a lot more interesting with older characters. For example, are they called to duty? Is it the thrill of adventure after an ordinary life? Is it a mid-life crisis? Do they have no other options but to take up a dangerous trade after their home was destroyed, or a pestilence ruined their crops? Or are they seeking to make their lives mean something after a time that (to them, at least) felt mediocre and pointless?

There are all sorts of options here. So take a moment, and consider which ones fit your character best.

That's all for this week's Fluff installment. Hopefully it got some folks out there thinking, and contemplating fielding their own team of Expendables-style PCs. If you'd like to see more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. If you want to stay on top of all my latest releases, then you should follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support Improved Initiative, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or tossing some loose change into The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Both options help out more than you know, and there is some sweet than-you swag waiting for you when you become a supporter.

1 comment:

  1. I recently created an older half-orc fighter for my friend to try her first DM experience. I always wanted to play an old sheriff type of character. This one is former military, but he got an injury that forced him to work as a captain of the guard most of his life. He's starting at level 3, so that accounts for his experience, while being out of real combat for over 20 years explains why he isn't higher level. I wrote a great detailed backstory and am looking forward to playing old Tobias, who has just been assigned as constable to a town called Ashenwake.