D&D 5E Character Age

Valador

First Post
Okay, so the purpose of this thread is two-fold. First, it's to explain my issue and second, to receive any advice, insight, stories of your own, etc.

So my issue is character age and how it relates to the character, specifically at low levels. My problem is that at low levels your character is an inexperienced scrub. Regardless of your character class, background, elaborate backstory, age, etc., he or she is still just a die of hit points and basically a glorified peasant PC...

This has always bothered me. I could understand if every level 1-2 character started as a 17-18 year old farmer finding his calling in the world, but not when a level 1 character that has a nice fleshed out backstory, with say a soldier background, who's in his early to mid 30's in age. I guess heroes could be late bloomers, but that just seems very lame to me. At least the fluff revolving around skills in this edition take into account your character's prior experience in the form of backgrounds, so that's a small help to my mind.

While not bothering me in the sense that it hinders my game play, it just really rubs me the wrong way and is nothing more than a personal nuisance which creates a personal hatred for the first 3 levels or so of the game. I don't want to create a level 1 character that has seen every thing, done everything, etc., but I also don't like the fact that my character could have potentially been a soldier (sorry, I'm a veteran, so I use this background a lot, lol) for possibly 10 years or more per their background, yet barely knows how to fight better than a common peasant...

Anyways, that's my complaint. Is anyone else rubbed the wrong way by this sort of thing? What do you do to ignore it? Maybe I'm just over analyzing and having an OCD moment. Hopefully this provides some kind of brain food for discussion as it's not intended to be a rant post.
 

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Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
It bugged me a bit.

When I DM, I give 1 bonus proficiency for being middle aged or older for your race but -1 HP per level.

I also give older races, an extra proficiency but double training and research costs.
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
Supporter
I think your problem isn't with starting age, but with the nature of hit points.

I have the exact opposite issue, though: too many first-level characters are 17-year-olds (or the racial equivalent). Admittedly, 5e has done more to discourage this than previous editions (with Backgrounds) but it's still too common for my tastes. I want diversity of backstories, with middle-aged heroes alongside whippersnappers, actually reflecting the diversity of the society that produces them.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
What do you do to ignore it?

I just never try and justify game mechanics to the world's narrative.

Game mechanics are there to make the game a game. To use merely to play the game. Trying to bend my head around the "realism" of any game mechanics to the "real world" of the game world is a fool's errand in my opinion because three-fourths of the game mechanics make no narrative sense.

For me... the characters in the story are who they are-- not what they can do. Because what they can do via game mechanics makes no narrative sense for precisely the sort of reason you bring up. I accepted that disconnect a long time ago. It's really all you can do. Otherwise you tear your hair out wondering how a healthy 15th level fighter can survive every single fall from a 100 foot tower then get up and walk away... each and every time it happens.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
Personally I don't think starting out at L1 works with players who want to create a long in-depth background for their PC. That would work a lot better for a campaign that starts at higher levels, or a game system where you are not creating a neophyte like GURPS. As a DM I'd tell them not to waste time making that kind of background for a PC starting at L1, and as a player I don't make long detailed histories so its not an issue.
 

cmad1977

Hero
Probably an OCD moment... But...

I'd say that while your soldier may have been 'soldiering' for years, that may not equate to combat experience. Sure he's had training(hence weapon profiviencies) but maybe his assignments were more 'guard this useless wagon/road' and less 'through the breach lads!!!' I've made an older cleric. He just spent the bulk of his life in temple and caring for the peasantry before fate cast him out into the world.
 

ad_hoc

(he/they)
This has always bothered me. I could understand if every level 1-2 character started as a 17-18 year old farmer finding his calling in the world, but not when a level 1 character that has a nice fleshed out backstory, with say a soldier background, who's in his early to mid 30's in age. I guess heroes could be late bloomers, but that just seems very lame to me.

Ouch. As someone who is in their 30s and is back in school to get an entry level position I will say that it does happen and doesn't have to be lame. My life history informs what I do now but I still have a similar skill level to others in my class.

Life is not over once you hit your 30s.

I think that backgrounds do an excellent job of providing and explaining what your character did before adventuring.

I also wouldn't say that a level 1 fighter barely knows how to fight better than a peasant.

As a level 1 fighter you get proficiency in all armour, shields, and weapons. Sounds pretty skilled to me.

Then you get a full 10 hp + con. Pretty hardy.

Then you get second wind, so you can regain your HP and keep going.

You also get a fighting style, so even more skill.

Compare to a commoner with 4hp, +2 to hit, 1d4 damage and AC 10.

Guards are closer which is essentially where your backstory gets you with 11HP, +3 to hit, 1d6+1 dmg, AC 16

I also think of character level as more than just showing the skills that your character has learned. It is tied to the narrative. It partially represents your character's drive. This is why most people don't have class levels and why protagonists survive what would kill ordinary people - because they are important and know it. It's an action/fantasy trope, but it is one for a reason.


Maybe it is my age speaking but I don't think all heroes need to be the teenager who is striking out on their own to seek adventure for the first time. It can easily be the person who is a bit older who has finally found real purpose in their life. They have seen what the rampaging monsters have done to their village time and again, and finally, even though it is dangerous, they say no more. I actually find it odd to have a 16-18 year old character with proficiency in all weapons and armour.
 

DM_Jeff

Explorer
Doesn't bother me, I like the return to this idea. It's just old-school, per the primer to old-school gaming: "Old-style games have a human-sized scale, not a super-powered scale. At first level, adventurers are barely more capable than a regular person."

But as Defcon1 alluded to you can't always map these things to real-world equivalents. It can all be in how you role-play, too. A good example of this is the Pathfinder iconic wizard Ezren. He didn't start adventuring until late in life, and while not a youngin' with no skills he had accounting and mercantile talents, but they don't translate easily to "adventuring skills" listed on the character sheet.
 

Character starting age is rather a non-issue in a system with such rapid advancement. Going from level 1 to 20 can happen in less than a year of game time so starting age isn't really a factor. You can make your new adventurer as young or old as you please.
 

In the AD&D DMG there was this table for ageing that may be useful, stat wise.
You'd have to work out dragonborn/tiefling age ranges for yourself though.
 

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Valador

First Post
Ouch. As someone who is in their 30s and is back in school to get an entry level position I will say that it does happen and doesn't have to be lame. My life history informs what I do now but I still have a similar skill level to others in my class.

I'll be in that boat soon. Just finished my contract with the Army and will be furthering my education with my benefits. I have a feeling it's going to be like Billy Madison.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Basic Rules, page 6:

A 1st-level character is inexperienced in the adventuring world, although he or she might have been a soldier or a pirate and done dangerous things before.

...

Starting off at 1st level marks your character’s entry into the adventuring life.


One could take this to mean that all statistics for a character, while sometimes reflective of background or the like, ultimately represent the character's effectiveness as an adventurer. Thus, while you may have traveled the world as a soldier and gotten into many conflicts, at the apprentice tier, you're still just a scrub when it comes to things adventurers do. The plucky 17-year-old, 3rd-level adventurer is simply better at adventuring than the 35-year-old grizzled veteran of many wars who is only a 1st-level adventurer (by the numbers if nothing else). Perhaps this perspective will help settle the conflict the OP is having.

As an aside, I request that players don't use numbers to describe age (or height or weight), preferring them instead to use descriptive keywords like "venerable," "youthful," or the like and leave it somewhat vague and a bit more evocative.
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
This.

Whatever they accomplished in the background, they're new to adventuring. Some experience may carry over (in the form of proficiencies or whatever), but in the main, there's nothing quite like adventuring.

Also regarding age - description is preferable to a number. As with most things, numbers are accurate, but not necessarily evocative. Good, loaded adjectives are preferable because they engage your imagination in a way that numbers tend not to.
 

AaronOfBarbaria

Adventurer
This. Also regarding age - description is preferable to a number. As with most things, numbers are accurate, but not necessarily evocative. Good, loaded adjectives are preferable because they engage your imagination in a way that numbers tend not to.
Absolutely. "Fresh faced, brazen warrior" gives a lot more sense of what I should be imagining than "17 year old, 16 charisma fighter."

And when some other player asks me "what does your character look like?" or "how old is your character?" saying something along the lines of "Two-parts grandpa in too big of a night gown, one-part hobo, and a splash of the devil around the eyes" or "there might be Gods younger than he is" gives that player a much more accurate image of what I mean to look like than saying "He's 75, wearing robes, a great big long beard and hair, but an intense look in his eyes"

Or my buddy's description of his dwarf as "a suit of the finest armor, stuffed to bursting with muscles and beard, and laden with no less than a dozen things that could kill someone."

Anything to get people actually seeing something in their head - specificity and numerical accessory are for the character sheet, not the imagination.
 

redrick

First Post
I believe Frodo Baggins was in the human equivalent of his 30's when he started his great adventure, most certainly as a level 1 character.

Your standard guard NPC will have fewer hp than your first-level fighter. That's an active duty, trained guard.

No matter what age your first-level character is, the one thing you know is, "they haven't gone on any adventures yet." But, most people haven't! Maybe that's because they took up their specific adventur-y training later in life, or maybe that's because they've spent most of their life sitting at home, sneaking up on their children or picking locks in their workshop, dreaming about how, one day, maybe they'll actually sneak into a fortress and sneak attack something.
 

Valador

First Post
Replacing a number with a description still doesn't get around the problem. If anything, it makes it even worse.

Intro level 1 dwarf Sir Awesome McAwesomesauce
"a suit of the finest armor, stuffed to bursting with muscles and beard, and laden with no less than a dozen things that could kill someone"

All of that still doesn't mean anything as it's not going to be represented fairly as a level 1 no matter how much fluff and dazzle you put into it. You can make your level 1 character sound like God himself but in the end they're barely above a normal guy, simply because "they're new at adventuring..."
 
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redrick

First Post
Personally I don't think starting out at L1 works with players who want to create a long in-depth background for their PC. That would work a lot better for a campaign that starts at higher levels, or a game system where you are not creating a neophyte like GURPS. As a DM I'd tell them not to waste time making that kind of background for a PC starting at L1, and as a player I don't make long detailed histories so its not an issue.

I like to think in terms of backGROUND not backSTORY. 5e actually handles this really well — the various rollable tables focus most on what motivates, frightens and compels the player character. They don't get into a long epic saga of "all the stuff that happened to your character before level 1."

As a DM, I want characters to have a background, because it tends to give them consistency in play. The player can go off that background and use it to inform choices for that PC, and I can play off those choices. I don't want characters to have involved backstories, because the players start expecting the elements of their personal backstory to show up regularly in play. Honestly, it's more work for me, and when I'm stroking one PC's backstory, I'm ignoring the other 3 or 4. I'd rather have PCs build those elements out through actual play. Then it becomes something we all share.
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
Replacing a number with a description still doesn't get around the problem. If anything, it makes it even worse.

Intro level 1 dwarf Sir Awesome McAwesomesauce
"a suit of the finest armor, stuffed to bursting with muscles and beard, and laden with no less than a dozen things that could kill someone"

All of that still doesn't mean anything as it's not going to be represented fairly as a level 1 no matter how much fluff and dazzle you put into it. You can make your level 1 character sound like God himself but in the end they're barely above a normal guy, simply because "they're new at adventuring..."

What?
 

So I normally don't worry about the backstory and numbers corresponding if I'm playing a campaign that begins at 1st level, but for those times I do, I've come up with several reasons why an older, more experienced character might not be any better, mechanically, than a younger newbie:

1) As someone else said, their experience might simply not match up. A scholar who's only just become a wizard won't be any better than a new wizard, and the "scholarly" aspects can be taken care of via skills and background. Similar to a priest who wasn't an adventuring cleric.

2) Old age or injury has slowed the character down. He was once a great warrior, but has lost a step or three. Part of his advancement in level isn't learning new stuff so much as regaining the physicality necessary to re-master stuff he once knew.

3) Magic. As above, but the new weakness/ignorance is the result of a curse or other magic as opposed to age or injury. I once created, but didn't get to play, a fighter who had been a powerful wizard but had somehow had all his magical ability stripped from him. He was totally starting over.

4) The character simply wasn't very good. He was a mediocre soldier or thief or whatever. It wasn't until getting into adventuring (or something else changing in his life/background) that something "clicked" in his head and he started to really excel.
 

S

Sunseeker

Guest
Age is only relevant to me for one reason: consent.

Beyond that, you're a noob because you lack experience (the very thing that makes you level up!). A person can remain a level 1 fighter soldier for years for a lot of reasons. Perhaps the lands have been in relative peace during your tenure. Perhaps you've got a Captain who doesn't like you and keeps putting you on janitor duty. (heh, duty). Maybe the life of a soldier has become ill-fitting, thus you left the service without advancing your training, perhaps you were discharged. Perhaps advanced training is limited to a select few and you haven't made the cut.

Against Flexor's advice I would not caution against deep backstories for low-level characters. This will often lead to disinterest in a character, with them being little more than a mechanical incarnation designed to "play a game" and not result in good role-play. If you don't know who your character is, how can you play them properly?

I would instead caution against backstories that build your character up to be something they can't actually start out as. A level 1 fighter is essentially a grunt in a regular set of armed forces, or might be a little higher but instead come from a bumpkin town where level 1 represents extreme skill. If you write your character (or if anyone at your table does this) to be the Captain of the City Watch, having served in 4 wars and personally protected the king....unless "max level" of your world is level 5, it's highly unlikely that your character could reasonably have done those things without gaining any levels at all.

I've played a paladin in numerous editions and a "level 1 paladin" is sort of an odd beast since it's mentioned they go through years of training. But that's years of training. That's why you have an 18 str. That's why you have a 16 int. That's why you have a 15 cha. You weren't born with those qualities, you refined them over the years of training you did. When you hit "level 1" as a paladin, that's the first moment you've been accepted in your holy order.

Honestly I would say that groups which require training (Paladins, Fighter/Soldiers, Wizards, Clerics, monks) make more sense to start at level 1, given that these classes often belong to structured institutions which pace your advancement. Rogues, Rangers, Druids, Bards, Barbarians, Sorcerers, Warlocks make less sense to start at level 1 without that change representing essentially a massive mid-life crisis.
 

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