D&D General Does Character Lifespan Even Matter?


Within a campaign? Rarely. Between campaigns? Potentially.

You can play the long game and introduce nostalgic storylines and former PCs that are now NPCs. I run a persistent campaign world. Although it has been rebooted a few times for different groups (running different instances), the second version of it ran over a span of 400 years. Things we saw happen in that instance of the world:

1.) Players retired characters and started new ones. As time moved forward, they'd hear of the exploits - and eventual passing of some of their retired PCs. After all, when you retire as a legend, you do have a degree of fame... I was surprised by how moved one group was when they charged into a throne room to make accusations against a political figure only to be told that the King was in mourning over the loss of a dear friend - who turned out to be a former PC that had died in his sleep. It was a memorable session in which everything in the storyline ground to a stop and the PCs participated in a wake for a legendary adventurer and got a chance to hear how the world thought of the PC. I had planned it as a lore dump opportunity, but it was something else in the end.

2.) A player killed a Devil. The Devil, as a result, was banished from the prime material plan for a period of 100 years. 4 campaings later one of the PCs discovered a Devil was hunting them - and found it was because an ancestor of theirs killed it. They did not connect the dots at first, but there was a "Holy %@#" moment when one of the players realized the puzzle pieces fit. It was 10 years between the killed of the Devil and when that descendent learned they were being hunted.

3.) A few of the players moved away. They occasionally came back to visit years later and I'd invite them to play - and I'd hand them an updated version of the character sheet they gave me to turn into an NPC when they moved. Long lived races like elves were just worked into the new party with a brief explanation for the decades that had passed. A human was discovered in a basilisk lair where he'd been turned to stone. I've also handed a current player their former PC's character sheet and a bit of a lore drop and allowed that retired PC to step into the story to deliver some lore, news on the retired PCs, etc...

These types of things can add fun depth to a game. You can see this type of thing done in Critical Role as well. We've had multiple connections between the characters of Vox Machina and the Mighty Nein and Hell's Bells. Further, you can see how they've woven together elements from Mighty Nein's last storyline into the Calamity 'one' shot. It gives your world some persistence.

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I only had it come up once. Player joined my game as a human monk, went poking around their second session and upset a ghost. Rolled for the aging after they failed their save, and they aged 40 years (maximum amount)

Player declared his character was now in his 80's and wanted to know what happened to his character.

So I scrambled through the books looking and found.... nothing. Nothing happened to his character. I wasn't going to start making up penalties out of nowhere, so I just told them I was making it 4 years instead, and it has never come up since. If there was a rule for it, I might but with no rules? No reason to make it matter beyond flavor and inter-campaign stuff

James Gasik

It's just like when people asked Sage Advice about what happens to a Wild Magic Sorceress who turns herself into a 7 year old. "Age is just a number". You can adjust Size or Ability Scores, but by default, there's no rules for it.

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