I'm now middle-age. I've developed an interest in ways of folding this experience into gaming. In particular, I've become interested in the starting age of player characters, less the aging process over the long term and more what it means to pick up and play a character of different ages, although I would be very interested to see serious attempts to bring that into gaming.
Here are some features of aging from my own experience that seem possibly relevant to starting characters. I don't want to suggest these are universal, but they're certainly some aspects of how aging feels to me.
- I know more than I did when I was young, having acquired greater skills, both in terms of breadth and depth. I've even learned from some of my mistakes.
- I have developed deep relationships that take time to develop, including parenting children and building a marriage and some very long lasting friendships, although I've lost many more friendships to drift and family relationships too over the years in some cases to death.
- Although I'm lucky to be about as healthy overall as I was when I am young, my body is subject to constant injuries and indignities that remind me I can't handle what I used to. I'm very aware that pushing it physically might injure me. Even when I'm doing something rugged, I feel fragile.
- Mortality is on the brain. I can survey all too clearly the delimited vista of the finite time remaining to me. For this reason, I am forced to accept that there are a lot of things I'm just not going to get to do in this life.
- This is part of the reason that I no longer have a shapeless and endless hunger to learn and experience new things. I know I have to pick and choose.
- I have a vivid sense of how hard it would be to pick up and start something altogether new this late in life, especially a career. I have always felt profound admiration for people who do this late in life, but now I can vividly imagine what that would take, especially when it would involve starting something new alongside those who are young, as beginning a new career at the bottom inevitably would. "I'm too old for this sh**," is a sentiment I get.
I'm sure there's a lot more I could say that could be relevant to gaming, for example about intergenerational relationships, understanding better where my elders were coming from than I could when I was young, and a lot of other things. But this will do for now.
With this stuff in mind, let's look at the way a few old school or OSR systems handle the starting age of player characters.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1E
Beyond the Wall
A New System for Ages of Life
- Death Save: 8
- + 10% on all experience points gained
- Death Save: 10
- Choose a former profession. You are skilled in all matters pertaining to that profession. Begin with the tools of your trade, whatever those might be. These can be substantial and valuable. A trainer of horses might have a horse, a jeweler might have jewel cutting tools and small bag of cut gems, a midwife might carry tinctures, herbs, and other medicinal remedies.
- Death Save: 12
- -10% on all experience points gained
- Choose a former profession. You are skilled in all matters pertaining to that profession. Begin with the tools of your trade, whatever those might be. These can be substantial and valuable.
- Begin with one loyal companion. This companion could be an animal, like a hunting dog, trained monkey, or horse; or a a human companion: a fastidious butler, bodyguard, thug, or sub-apprentice. If they are an animal, they are attuned to your reactions and cleverly trained to follow simple instructions the way a remarkable dog or horse might be so trained. If they are a human they may be the equivalent of a skilled hireling. Either way, this companion is utterly loyal and need not make morale checks. Describe the nature of your character's bond with this companion. If they are human are they your son or daughter? Or a very old friend? Someone who was in your service in the older profession?