D&D 5E A campaign that lasts an entire (in-game) lifetime... what would this look like?

NotAYakk

Legend
These are really cool ideas! I really like the idea of tying milestone leveling into something tied to the campaign setting.
So, an attempt to sketch out "power sources"s that replace magic items.

Power Source: A power source has a level. Your PC level cannot exceed your total power source level.

Each power source takes an attunement slot. Some power sources have physical incarnations as an object, like magic items. Others don't.

When you gain a new power source, you are limited to 3 in total (attunement limit). You can cannibalize a power source to add 1 to an existing power source level. (goal: replace magic item as part of character build complexity, limit "I am a rainbow" ness).

Most power sources offer benefits, like a magic item does, when attuned. These benefits scale with the power source level "in use" (ie, a level 10 power source with a level 3 PC doesn't grant level 10 benefits). Need a word for that.

As an example, red dragon blood might grant stuff like:
Resistance to fire (maybe immunity when high enough, or even resistance to cold), Unarmored AC equal to (proficiency bonus)+(con bonus), flametongue weapon, flight (limited or not), fire breath, increased strength, increased size.

You could just take some magic item (like a rod of the pact keeper) and have it level up. Such magic items might tend to grant "summon to hand" as a relatively early benefit.

Gaining power sources, and leveling them up, becomes a carrot the DM hangs in front of the PCs. And controls advancement.

And when you introduce a level 10 PC, the power sources they have tell a story about WHY they are so powerful.
 
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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
I love Wildermyth and it's definitely an inspiration. I think you have a good point that the characters should have identities separate from just being adventurers. I wonder if this kind of campaign would benefit from some Level 0 sessions just to get a feel for daily life in the setting.
Absolutely, I get the players to define how they know each other and a set on NPCs who they associate with. I use an Influence mechanic too (Cha + level) which stats the highest level NPC they have a close relationship with (maybe a patron or relative) and their general ability to influence others in their village or organisation (and get given stuff as a replacement to wealth))

and yeah Adventurers arent a thing, the closest would be mercenary band, but others may be merchant caravan, temple staff, diplomats or performing troop etc etc - ie Background is far far more important than class
 
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Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
I've been running a generational campaign on and off since 1999, we're now at the 5th generation. Setting is Birthright, which of course is MADE for this kind of games.

Omg Umber Hulk as an awnshegh is freaking awesome! So great to see someone still playing a long term Birthright game
 

Staffan

Legend
The games I've seen that have aimed for long in-game campaigns have primarily been Pendragon and Ars Magica. Pendragon has already been covered. Ars Magica is a game where your campaign is usually centered around a covenant, which is a group of magi in a fantasy-fied version of medieval Europe. Each player plays both a mage and a companion (a non-mage working for/with the covenant), plus there are a group of "grogs" that are played communally – basically, the guards and workers of the covenant.

"Adventures" tend to be one of the magi going somewhere to do something for either their own magical research or for the covenant as a whole. It could be acquiring more/better laboratory equipment, finding a particular magical treatise, negotiating with some nearby power either mundane (the local baron) or magical (a faerie court), or whatever. They'd be joined on this excursion by the companions played by the other players, plus assorted grogs. When not out adventuring, magi study, research, train apprentices, make magic items, or any other of a whole lot of downtime activities, which are handled on a seasonal time scale.

These two games have one important thing in common: settlements. The PCs are not "wandering adventurers", but have an established place where they live, and a society to which they belong. Adventures are a necessary diversion from their normal life. That is what you need for a multi-year campaign.
 

Such a campaign would open up play for the retiree from the forgotten war, a trope I love.

But some of my current players wouldn't be interested.

I think getting the right group together for the concept is vital. Talk through the table speed the expect for a week, month, season, year. Have certain signals that indicates there will be a coming transition from your fourth pillar into the traditional game so the character can wrap up tasks, or not.
 

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