For (American) football fans in Philadelphia, this is an exciting time. The head coach of 14 years was fired after a dismal season and new coach Chip Kelly was hired. While listening to reports about his arrival, I rolled my eyes when the new coach inevitably made the “Santa being pelted by snowballs” comment.
This incident, in which fans pelted a man in a Santa suit during halftime, is notorious throughout football. It’s also a little over 44 years old. The fact that it’s still brought up as if it happened in 2008 rather than 1968 and that this is somehow reflective of the current fan base is ridiculous.
Still, it dovetails nicely with a topic I’d been meaning to address, which is age in RPG campaigns. Many campaigns have individuals or species that live for hundreds of years; it’s not all that uncommon for a starting PC to be over a hundred years old. Yet, in most games I’ve been a part of, the 80 year old Dwarf or 100 year old Vulcan is played relatively the same as the 22 year old human. On the other side of the screen, the age of an elf ambassador or Wookiee pilot rarely plays a significant factor.
Giving consideration to a PC or NPCs age opens up a lot of interesting roleplaying opportunities. Here are a few:
You seem trustworthy. Would you care to join us on our noble quest?
With apologies to The Gamers, a PC with an advanced age could provide a reason for some party members to join. Perhaps the Elf that walked into the tavern was a good friend of one of the PCs’ grandfathers and still owes him a debt. Perhaps the Vulcan PC recalls the potential new party member’s mother was an honorable woman and expects the same from her daughter.
Sure, your great-grandfather was a cunning rogue that cheated many clients throughout the galaxy, but you don’t even know him; why should most of the older Minbari treat you with contempt? Similarly, a Dwarf merchant may grant the most slimy of PCs a great deal of trust because her granduncle was always an honest broker.
These Ruins are Familiar
Not long ago I took a walk through a mall from my childhood. It was eerie how different it felt after all this time and, aside from the structure itself and a handful of stores, was very different than what I remembered. If somebody asked me about the mall today my memories would hold little value. Similarly, it’s quite possible that a long-lived PC could enter a dungeon or abandoned space station that she visited in its heyday. While most of her memories are no longer applicable, she still remembers the general layout and where the important places used to be. It would provide an interesting diversion from the usual ‘forgotten castle.’
That Relic is Mine!
Many adventure plots involve retrieving powerful artifacts that were once in the hands of ancestors. How different would it be if that artifact had been pried from a PC’s bloody hands a century ago? Perhaps the perpetrator is dead, but the relic is now in the hands of his successor and the PC wants it back. Or, perhaps the party needs to destroy the artifact, but the PC needs to bring it home to restore honor or clear her name. She’s the party’s best hope of getting to the relic, but can they trust her to do the right thing?
The Vulcan Starfleet officer always regretted letting her human lover walk away; now she sees a second chance with his grandson (naturally, the grandson may be a bit creeped out by this). Perhaps the negotiations with the Minbari aren’t going well…until a late arriving Minbari ambassador recognises a PC as the grandnephew of someone that had helped her in a tight spot in the past.
Need a reason to grant a particular PC or entire party new equipment. Perhaps a PC’s great-great-grandmother lent a Dwarf a magic weapon and now the Dwarf’s son is returning it. Perhaps an old Wookie bequeaths his tricked-out space freighter to the great-great-great grandchild of his best friend.
These are just a few examples; there are many other ways to use age in a campaign. How about you? Have you ever used incredible lifespans to add a wrinkle or smooth over a problem in your campaigns?
In Heinlein’s “The Star Beast”, the family of John Thomas hands down a long-lived and nigh indestructible pet for several generations from father to son. Lummox, the dragon in question, thinks of itself as “raising John Thomases”.
I have been thinking a lot about age for my home fantasy setting. The ruling empire in the world has been around for about 300 years. Many generations for humans, and taken as status quo. But for longer-lived races, dwarves and elves, the empire is still a relatively new thing.