D&D General Does Character Lifespan Even Matter?

No, it it doesn't normally matter except for world building, and perhaps for rare fast aging effects.

But I think the sort of campaign that would span decades would be cool. A lot of downtime, perhaps add some sort of politics/domain management minigame that adds some crunch to the years between "adventures". I haven't done this in D&D, but I have done it in Exalted. Though the characters were long-lived dragon-blooded, so old age was not an issue, but it was kind of cool to follow them from their teens as boarding school students to middle-aged movers and shakers of the realm.

In a world where there are characters with differing lifespans, you must either limit the campaign length according to the shortest lived species, or alternatively have the players agree that they need to eventually switch characters, perhaps to a descendant of their original character. Granted, In D&D the levels might make this a tad weird, if you want the new characters to start at the same level that the old one had reached.
 

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Davies

Legend
Way back when? Absolutely. In 1e and 2e Haste used to age you a year. Not a problem if you were an elf, but a real problem for humans and half-orcs. And Wish used to age you 5 years. I vaguely recall other spells having aging effects but those are the two which stick in my mind. Then there were monsters that aged you, like ghosts.

But not for many years.
This. It stopped mattering at all during 4th, and 5th hasn't seen it restored to what limited prominence it enjoyed in 2nd and earlier.
 

Celebrim

Legend
In just about every D&D edition that I've read or played, I've seen rules for a character's maximum lifespan...Has your campaign ever run long enough for lifespan to matter?... I've been playing for decades, in several different editions, and I've never seen it matter. Not even once, and not even a little bit. I'm wondering if I'm the only one.

I have never seen it matter. The only time it matters even a little in any game I've ever played was 1e AD&D fighting ghosts where you didn't want to age so much that you ended up taking permanent attribute loss.

In college I was in a game for 5 years that ran about 5 years of game time and it kept going for like 10 more years of game time over the next few years after I left it so that it was verging on dynastic play (some PC's had children by that point), but even then it didn't really go long enough for aging to matter.

My own games I have a D&D campaign 10 years real time go only 6 months game time. I'm running a Star Wars game right now for 2 years that's gone 5 months game time and that mostly because there are assumed to be several weeks down time between adventures.

In order for aging to matter you have to deliberately be aiming for dynastic play where there are one or more years between adventures.
 



Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Yeah, I remember there was a potion of longevity and a staff of withering in BECM, too. Pretty handy to have, in a world where ghosts could age you just by looking at you!

Have you ever had a character die of old age, though? Or even get close to it?
Only with ghosts and the haste spell(back in the day). If you weren't an elf or dwarf, ghosts and haste wrecked you.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
But has this ever been an issue at your table? Has anyone ever taken this into consideration when creating their character? Has your campaign ever run long enough for lifespan to matter? Has a character ever been artificially aged by magic so much that they were worried about their expiration date? Has a player ever deliberately shortened their lifespan (by choosing to play a venerable-aged character) just to get a better Wisdom score (back in 3rd Edition)?
I remember using age-based stats adjustments in early 3.0 to play an old wizard, but nothing else. Even in the longest-running campaigns I've been in, characters didn't have time to grow old. I find aging rules interesting but typically unbalanced. The main problem though, it's that almost every RPG ruleset is designed to make your PCs go from 1st to high levels much faster than aging.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
But has this ever been an issue at your table? Has anyone ever taken this into consideration when creating their character?
While playing a Pathfinder 1st Edition wizard, I wanted to put myself in the oldest age category in order to gain the mental stat bonuses (+3 Int, +3 Wis, +3 Cha) and didn't mind taking the aging penalties associated with doing so (-6 Str, -6 Con, -6 Dex). The GM agreed, but noted that he'd then make the random roll on the associated table for how many years I had left.

I found out after the campaign ended that he'd rolled a 1, and that he'd been carefully keeping track of how much time was passing over the course of the game, since there was a very real chance I'd have died before old age before it ended (unfortunately, the pandemic put the kibosh on that particular game).
 

I have used some settings multiple times across campaigns, so it can matter when a later campaign still has living characters from the former campaigns. Both as NPCs that can be met again, and discovering the fate of former PCs.

Some players will literally squee with joy if old characters show up to help.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Only with ghosts and the haste spell(back in the day). If you weren't an elf or dwarf, ghosts and haste wrecked you.
Well, one thing to remember is that, in AD&D 1E and 2E, any form of magical aging – including from spells such as haste – required a system shock check, which if you failed caused you to die instantly. The percentage chances of survival were usually in your favor if you had a decent Constitution score, to be sure, but you didn't want to make that particular roll too often if you could help it.
 

I try to factor it in when roleplaying; for an elf character laying low and waiting a few decades is totally an option and barely an issue, so they'll suggest it when it makes sense (from their point of view.)

But it's rare that any of the things we're dealing with have that kind of timescale - usually the world-ending threat is going to happen at the end of the month if we don't stop it. I could play a race with a maximum lifespan of 1 year and it wouldn't matter.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Mechanically? Not really.

But it has a big impact on how we play our characters.

My forest gnome is quite young, only in his mid thirties, not even so old that anyone expects him to settle down any time soon. His closest friend is a Goliath. Dresden will, assuming no one gets killed, watch Thumi’s great grand children grow old.

So, he makes the most of the time he has with her, and her family, and he refuses to play the long game or take his time with the mission they’re on, because he knows that in 30 years Thumi won’t be fit to adventure.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
It doesn't really matter mechanically, but it can matter in the abstract and plot-wise. For example, recently my group found two Potions of Longevity. One player was very skeptical, considering it "useless" because "we aren't going to play that long."

However, later when they thought to trade those potions to an aged politician with lots of influence in return for an important favor they had their weebay moment.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Well, one thing to remember is that, in AD&D 1E and 2E, any form of magical aging – including from spells such as haste – required a system shock check, which if you failed caused you to die instantly. The percentage chances of survival were usually in your favor if you had a decent Constitution score, to be sure, but you didn't want to make that particular roll too often if you could help it.
Yes. That's true as well, but as you said the chances of death were low. Generally we ended up aged into a new age category and occasionally dying of old age(if ghosts were involved).
 

lall

Explorer
When I first played in 2e, I chose to be an elf because of their lifespan and because they didn’t show signs of aging until late in life. It mattered because I wanted my character to maintain his good looks for as long as possible after he retired. Why try to save the world if you’re going to be ugly or dead soon? In 5e, I just ensure I take Clone, so it matters less.
 

Azzy

KMF DM
No. Even back in the day, where there were aging effects from monsters and spells and stuff, it rarely mattered. Nowadays, it would have to be an important part of the campaign (skipping decades or centuries) to really matter.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
That is, our party Bard has, for legitimately only heroic reasons, absorbed a bunch of devilish power originally coming from his powerful devil ancestor on his father's side (identity remains undetermined, but the narrowed options are scary), and also a bunch of demonic power from his now-former-succubus great-grandmother, who is his maternal-line ancestor. As a result, he is now effectively half-human, half-devil, half-demon.
My partner has a Dhampir character built using the lineage from Van Richten’s Guide on a half-elf base, whom we like to joke is half-human, half-elf, and half-vampire. And then I usually add “and stronger than both!” in my best Bill Nighy impression.
 


Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
But has this ever been an issue at your table? Has anyone ever taken this into consideration when creating their character? Has your campaign ever run long enough for lifespan to matter? Has a character ever been artificially aged by magic so much that they were worried about their expiration date? Has a player ever deliberately shortened their lifespan (by choosing to play a venerable-aged character) just to get a better Wisdom score (back in 3rd Edition)?
Absolutely.

In the current campaign I run I have an Eladrin Bard who has been making appearance in the material plane for close to 100 years. She is exceedingly well known, and equally hard to disguise or sneak around with. I have a 700+ year old High Elf at the end of his life who remembers back to when the High Elven Houses had power before they scattered during a civil war, which is a major influence in the current campaign arc. He's also old enough to remember before the dwarves were genocided 640 years ago and has provided insights to the magic ritual that was used to do so, leading the dwarf-out-of-time character to realize that she can perhaps undo the effects of that ritual.

In another campaign I was running the shorter lived Dragonborn had multiple cultural details around how quick there maturation and old age was.

Back in AD&D & 2nd, Haste used to age you a year. This got to be a big deal, and we had multiple adventures where potions of longevity were rumored to be found, even though each one you took had a cumulative 1% chance to undo all of the previous ones. I think eventually we came to an agreement with a number of elves for some of their blood so we could brew them ourselves. (Our DM often required blood from multiple for item creation recipes, such as a girdle of giant strength needed the blood from one giant of that type for each point of STR it granted.) Also had a friend cast Haste on a bunch of giant bugs so they all died of old age since their lifespan was less than a year.

I've run campaigns in the same setting. Last was an 80 year gap. So there were plenty of dwarven and elven NPC who were still alive (and often more powerful), vs. the decedents of other races.

It definitely influences my cultural design as part of setting building.

So it is very rarely a sessions-to-session matter in these days were Haste doesn't age you, but a sentence or two in the racial information can more than pay for that minimal weight if you incorporate it, same as any other lore.
 

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