Everybody wants to be young and beautiful forever. That’s just part of being human. That fear of our creeping mortality, the stiffness in the joints, how everything works slower as we age, it’s all a little frightening. The knowledge that sooner or later, we will get old, and die, is a heavy thing to think about.
For the most part, when people set up characters in Dungeons & Dragons, they aim to relive those times when they were young. Some, if they are already young, try to get a grasp on what it’s like to be an adult. A small few are sticking with what they know.
It’s to them that I really want to talk.
In my over thirty years of playing D&D, I’ve rolled up a lot of characters. When I was a kid, they were my idealized version of adulthood. Brave, smart, strong, and resourceful. In my teens, they were more complex versions of myself, trying to figure out who I was through my characters. By the time I hit my late twenties, I was starting to play around with a different idea.
Old age, to be blunt about it.
Of course, now I am getting old and gray, and it’s not much of an adventure, but that’s a different story.
One of my first experiences with a character that was older came due to a random creation. Like my first female character, Teresa, what I ended up rolling was a human fighter, which at the time, was my go to preference for character. Except when I rolled his age, I got a high number, 52.
I named him Thomas, and gave him a backstory of having spent his life being a city guard, trying to save up for retirement. As he got older, he was passed over for a lot of promotions in favor of people related to prominent citizens. He was never bitter about that, long use to the way the world worked. However, the day came when he was discharged from service without warning, no longer able to keep up with the younger folks around him.
With his retirement savings no where near enough to get by on for the rest of his life, he decided to join up with some adventurers, figuring he could make some cash that way, then settle down and live out the rest of his days in comfort.
In D&D, as a character ages, certain physical scores diminish. The same was true for Thomas. He wasn’t as fast, strong, or tough as he used to be, but he had wisdom, intelligence and charisma buffs in exchange, having learned how to think, observe, and talk people up in his many years as a guard.
It made for a real challenge, playing a fighter who wasn’t strong and tough. I had to rely on his other abilities a lot more, and often as not, Thomas could talk his way out of a problem rather than fight. When it came time, though, he could hold his own well enough.
It taught me that getting older comes with an upside as well as a downside. As with most things in life, nothing is ever simple, and when we lose something, we often gain something in return. Thomas wasn’t as strong as younger fighters, but he could figure out how to overcome an enemy with his insight and intelligence, or just talk a potential enemy into being a friend.
My DM hated that about him. The party loved it. Thomas was an affable fellow, always ready to share a pint and have a laugh. Easy going, and warm, he made friends easily, thanks to his higher than normal Charisma for a fighter.
All that said, here’s four reasons you should consider rolling up an older character.
This really requires the DM’s approval, but in my own games, when I am the DM, this is the system that I use. Talk with your DM and see if they would be willing to give it a try, or just go with it you are the one running the game.
As a character ages, they start to experience certain ability scores getting lower. Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution all begin to go down as their age goes up. When rolling up a character who is already in the later years, I offer a straight trade off. Losses to the physical comes with pluses to the rest. A -2 to Dexterity, for example, gets a +2 to Wisdom. The character may not be as nimble as they once were, what with arthritis starting to set up in their knees, but they have more life experience and as a result, are more well versed in the ways of the world, and in people.
This works just as well in all areas, really. They may not be as tough as they were, but they have a certain sense of self that makes their Charisma higher. They may not be as strong, but they have years of learning under their belt, making them more intelligent.
For some classes, this comes as big benefit, but for others, it requires a complete rethinking of how they go about dealing with everything. Fighters and Barbarians, for example, have to be much more resourceful, while Wizards and Clerics just get to be more awesome.
Rogues have it rough, as they are not as silent or quick, but they are a lot more insightful and persuasive, allowing them to ply their skills in new and interesting ways.
It creates a different experience as you play, when you have to think outside the box in terms of how your class operates, and that can be a lot of fun.
If you don’t want to go the straight trade off, another option is to give the character a feat called, simply, Life Experience. This feat allows them to add their Wisdom modifier to any roll they make a certain number of times per day. Personally, I go with half their level, rounded down, but you can tweak that by dividing it half more if you feel it to be too overpowered.
Basically, what Life Experience is, is the total of the knowledge the character has gained just from being around for fifty years or so. The player can use to give them insight into their attacks, making them more likely to slip past armor, able to read people better, be more persuasive, or a better liar. Whatever. It’s a gift of age that with it comes Wisdom, after all.
Combining this with the previous entry allows for some really interesting events, as the old timer is already getting a plus to their Wisdom, making their attacks more accurate, if not as powerful, or their spells harder to resist to reflect the many years they spent learning just how to make it work.
Over all, it’s a fun mechanic to toss in to help the older members of the party keep up with the kids around them. Plus, they get to look cool and be able to tell the rest that that’s how it’s done, all while giving them that old person smirk.
If the first two options feel a little too much like a cheat to you, then you aren’t very old. Or you may just be the kind of person who prefers to stick to the established rules, in which case, you probably aren’t very old.
Regardless, a third possible way to handle to an older character is to just give them a bonus to any Knowledge roll. They’ve been around a while, and have picked up a thing or two, and at the very least, they should get to be able to pull on that from time to time.
It doesn’t have to even be a big bonus. Say, a +1 for every point they lose in one ability. If they have a -2 to their Strength, then they get a +2 to Knowledge checks to see if the have encountered some bit of information somewhere along their long life.
You wouldn’t have to stack this with other ability score losses, either, A +2 is a pretty big bonus already, so just one ability score would be enough. It grants the older character more to offer, especially if the rest of he party is younger adventurers. They can play a more mentor like role, and act as an information source when the rest are stumped, or don’t know what to do to deal with a problem.
It also grants you, as the DM, the ability to parcel out bits of knowledge the players may need, all while making it seem as if the older party member just happened to know about whatever it was because they’ve been around a while.
Just For The Role Play
This is really the best reason. It doesn’t come with any special bonuses, or trade offs. It falls entirely inside the rules, and no extra anything has to be figured out to make it work. It is, simply put, just plain fun.
Playing an older fighter who is starting to slow down? Complain about your back a lot. Younger party members running ahead of you? Call them names and shake your fist at them. Is everybody arguing about what to do? Be a crotchety old cuss and tell them all to shut the hell up.
Basically, just act like your grandparents.
As a wizard, new spells aren’t as good as the old reliables. For a Rogue, cracking a safe by ear is still the way to go. Just let your imagination run wild with all the ways you can apply being an old timer to your role play of the character. At the very least, it’ll be a fun, new experience, and you’ll get to remember that time your grizzled and grey haired character showed them young whippersnappers how they did in the good old days.
That alone is the best reason to go with an older character. You can be an ass, and everybody will still love you for it.
Especially if you give them candy when they do well.