One thing I’ve noted is that players tend to choose one of two age groups for their characters — they are either in the prime of their life, somewhere in the 20-something range, or they are very close to the age of the player themselves. For some types of campaign, the late teens/early 20s coming of age story is appropriate; a lot of fantasy campaigns, this is a good starting point for a first level character. For modern games, late 20s is usually the default starting age — this is about the period where a character would have finished college or whatever prior experience would give them the in two the spy/cop/mercenary world.

But some of the best characters I’ve seen in our games over the year were when folks broke the mould and played something different. One was an aging college professor/archeologist that was absent minded to the point of forgetting major details the players needed, the other was a 12 year old Chinese street urchin. Both characters required the players to think about what their player could do, how they would think, and what their limitations were…and for good characterization, it’s the weaknesses that make them interesting.

Most recently, we have a character who isn’t old — mid-40s — but who has had a few fairly traumatic accidents: a ski accident in his background that left the character with a chronic injury that hampered him in physical efforts. During the course of play, he’s been in a car accident that broke his arm (leaving him unable to fight or function for three months of game time), and who nearly had his neck broken in a fight. He’s a mess, and while he’s still young enough to be spry, the aches and pains are starting to catch up with him. Recently, the player started to reference his crappy reading eyesight, requiring him to use reading glasses. His vanity keeps him from using them as often as he should, but the character is more human for it.

The kid was a particular challenge for the player — how would a 12 year old peasant girl living on the streets of Shanghai react to things? She had to reach back to how she thought as a young girl to try and look at what would scare the character, how she would problem solve, and also had to take into account that the girl did not have the strength and training that some of the bad guys had. It broke her out of her comfort zone, but the player was able to come up with some unique solutions to some of the problems presented to her.

In a modern or sci-fi setting, it’s entirely possible for an older man or woman to be adventuring and be just as capable as their companions. Modern medicine, fitness, and diet allow for people to be active, strong, and resilient well into their 60s. They’re still rarely going to be holding the line in a foot race with a young man or woman, but they are realistically able to survive an action sequence. This isn’t so much the situation in the medieval period, where the average lifespan was 40 and hard living and bad diet broke a person much quicker. Bad medicine also meant injuries were more likely to be debilitating.

Thinking about not just the physical aspects of age, but the mental ones, is a good challenge for a player, as well. The youthful arrogance and feeling of invincibility disappears as one progresses through their 20s. The surety of their opinion gives way (if they’re paying attention) to an understanding they don’t know every damn thing. By 40, most folks have had kids and have priorities that match king or country; they also start to learn patience, or at least to tolerate things that might have caused non-career-enhancing actions (as a sergeant once described is to me.) Most of the folks I know over the age of 55 reach a point where, even if they give a shit, they often are willing to sit on the sidelines of an issue and see how it plays out. There’s also a feeling of entitlement that comes with aging, a different kind of arrogance that comes with looking at younger people doing the same stupid crap you did at their age, and knowing that no matter what you say, they’re going to do it anyway.

These kinds of insights that a player could glean from paying attention to the opinions and actions of their elders or the kids coming up behind them, could be useful in crafting an interesting and realistic character.

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