Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Younglings and Elders

Perfectly logical, reasonable, and suicidal
Every once in a while, I have players come to me asking to play characters who are cheekily young or venerably old. I don't really have a problem with that, if they have a story to tell, but I can't abide the fact that their stats shouldn't be the same as fit, able-bodied adults in the prime of their life.

If we look at character creation, it's possible (albeit rare) for a PC to obtain a 19 or 20 in a creation stat roll. If the player is optimizing/min-maxing their character, it's actually very likely they start with a 16 or 17 in their prime stat.

Obviously, a 20 represents the pinnacle of humanoid ability in a particular field. Arnold Schwarzenegger maxed out Strength a while back, Billy Mitchell aced his Dex rolls, and Ghandi made up for low Str with high Con and Cha.

But even a 16 is still far above the ability of an average human, much less the young or elderly. In the Monster Manual, an Assassin (MM pg. 343) has a Dex of 16. That means a trained killer who relies solely on Dexterity to do their job only has a 16. A Berserker (MM pg. 344) has Str of 16. A Priest (MM pg. 348) has Wis of 16. A Noble (MM pg. 348) has Cha 16.

So, if someone has a score of 16, they have the ability to use that stat to work an adult profession in their field. Which means most children couldn't do it, and many elderly folks would lose the ability to do so as well.

How can we build a system that incorporates such ideas? Well, lucky you, I did it and it's pretty sweet.

The Folly of Youth

Essentially, the system comes down to when a character is considered physically, mentally, and culturally mature for their race. The physical/mental stuff is actually estimated in the Player's Handbook under the respective races. As for the cultural aspects, that applies to a few specific races, and mostly in the areas of spellcasting/proficiencies.
Too young! TOO YOUNG!
Here's how to make a young character:
  1. Roll stats normally, using whatever method you prefer.
  2. Divide the age of the character by the physical and mental maturity age for their race.
  3. Multiply the resulting percentage by the relevant stat to get your new stat (minimum 1).

As an example, let's say you want to play a 12 year old Dragonborn. Dragonborn grow up quickly but aren't considered adults until age 15. So, your physical stats could be on-par with an adult Dragonborn, but your mental stats would be 12/15 (or 4/5) what they normally would be.

That means, if you got really lucky rolling your Dragonborn Bard's stats, they could technically have a Charisma stat of 15 (19 * 4/5 = 15.2, rounded down to 15). They would nearly be talented enough to start working as a professional Bard before they were considered an adult. Because of the rarity of such a roll, however, I think that's perfectly fine.

Additionally, on the character's birthday, their stats would be recalculated. So by that Bard's 14th birthday, their Charisma would be 17 (19 * 14/15 = 17.73, rounded down to 17), more than enough to get out in the world and start adventuring.

Now, what about characters that are young enough to still be child-sized, in addition to being less developed? Here's how we can handle that:
  • From birth until you reach 1/6 of your physical maturity age, your size is two categories smaller than a full-grown member of your race (minimum tiny).
  • From 1/6 to 2/3 of your physical maturity age, your size is one category smaller than a full-grown member of your race (minimum tiny).
  • At 2/3 your physical maturity age, your size becomes normal for your race.

Which means humans are considered Tiny until age 3, Small until age 12, and Medium after that. Halflings are considered Tiny all the way until age 13, when they finally become Small.

Finally, let's talk about cultural maturity.
Elves: messing up age-based systems since forever
Each race's features divide into three categories: physical, social, and cultural. All cultures have all three, but some cultures have more cultural traits than others. Let's use Gnomes as an example.

The physical traits for Gnomes are fairly apparent: Ability Score Increases, Speed, and Darkvision. The real division comes between Social traits and Cultural Traits.

Social Traits are those that a character picks up naturally by being a part of their race's community. Their race's language is the best example, but for Gnomes includes Gnome Cunning. Any Gnome raised among Gnomes will have this trait.

But Cultural Traits aren't a given. They are the result of specific training given to a Gnome, and usually vary between subraces. Since these skills are considered staples to Gnome culture, a young Gnome isn't really considered an adult until they've mastered them, even if they are both physically and mentally mature.

Some races incorporate Cultural Traits into their community at the expense of Social Traits. Half-elves pick up Skill Versatility as a result of not having a dedicated culture to teach them Social Traits. Some humans forsake the "jack of all trades" adaptability of their race to take an apprenticeship and gain a specialization (basically, taking the Variant Human Traits).

But for Dwarves, Elves, and Gnomes, their culture is too complex to pick up along the way. And thus, members of those races will have to reach a certain age before they can claim the full benefits of their culture.

For Dwarves:
  • By age 30, a Dwarf has studied enough to gain the following traits: Tool Proficiency, Stonecunning
  • By age 50, a Dwarf has volunteered in a local militia and learned Dwarven Combat Training

For Elves:
  • By age 30, an Elf has been trained in the ways of meditation and awareness, and gains Keen senses.
  • By age 50, an elf has served in local hunting parties and raids, and learned Elf Weapon Training, which varies among the races
  • By age 70, an Elf has studied the specific ways of their culture long enough to gain the following traits: Cantrip, Extra Language, Fleet of Foot, Mask of the Wild, Drow Magic
  • Elves also generally expect the members of their race to spend 30 years in the service to their clan, home, or family, to gain perspective and experience necessary to be considered an adult. Elves who leave their homes before age 100 do not forfeit any traits, but are still seen as immature to other Elves.

For Gnomes:
  • By age 40, a Gnome has studied the artistry of their culture enough to gain the following traits: Natural Illusionist, Speak with Small Beasts, Artificer's Lore, Tinker

Now, should you ever actually play with a younger character? Perhaps not. But it'd be cool for flashback sessions, prequel sessions, or the infamous "My transmutation wizard uses his stone ability every day until he's in the body of a 13 year-old." Because that deserves some penalties.

The exception to the rule
But if you happen to have a kid sidekick NPC in your party, this could also be a good way to create stats for them in case a player asks.

Time... Is Marching On

So if that's the method for building a young character, what about an old character?

While everyone in a particular race matures at about the same rate, not everyone loses their faculties in old age in the same way. In particular, an ability you hone and maintain into old age generally continues to be useful up until your death.

So, here's the method I use:
  1. Determine your highest ability score. If you have more than one, choose one. This stat is unaffected by age.
  2. Once your character passes the point of Physical or Mental old age, subtract their age from the average maximum age.
  3. Divide that number by the Physical and Mental Deterioration Periods for their race.
  4. Multiply the resulting percentage by the relevant stat to get your new stat (minimum 7 or rolled stat, whichever is lower).

Physical Old Age is considered 75% of maximum age, and Mental Old Age is considered 90% of maximum age, as shown by the chart:

That's a little complicated. So let's walk through an example.
Just a simple bit of mathematical wizardry!
Let's say you wanted to play a 340 year old Dwarf, the equivalent of an 87 year old human. First, we subtract 340 from 350 - the average maximum age for dwarves. Then, we divide 10 by 88 (to get 11% physical) and 35 (to get 29% mental).

So our Dwarf has 11% of their physical stats remaining and 29% of his mental stats remaining. This doesn't apply to the highest ability score, but it basically guarantees that all of the other stats will be at 7.

For reference, here's what 7's mean in each stat:
  • Strength 5 = as strong as a Kobold or Baboon. Not as strong as an Goblin.
  • Dexterity 5 = as agile as a Purple Wormling. Not as agile as a Camel.
  • Constitution 5 = not quite as hardy as a Bat, Owl, or Hawk.
  • Intelligence 5 = as smart as an Orc or Troll. Not as smart as a Kobold.
  • Wisdom 7 = as wise as a Kobold or an Ogre. Not as wise as a Frog.
  • Charisma 7 = as influential as a Cat or Owl. Not as influential as a Lion.

So, obviously, we're not really playing with a heavy hitter here. But if the dwarf was a spellcaster who didn't really need a secondary ability, they could still be extremely effective in old age. I like that, since it promotes old Wizards but not old Warriors.

One last thing: the true maximum age of a humanoid is when their age hits 1 1/3 of the average maximum. When they reach that age, they die, unless they have some magic sustaining them (see below). However, each year on their birthday, if their age has exceeded the average maximum, they must roll a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. On a failure, they contract a wasting disease that will kill them within the year.

So basically, the average maximum age is the age where you have to stop adventuring and start worrying about things killing you simply due to your body being unable to handle it.

Time... ... Is Still Marching On

But why stop there? This is a fantasy world! Let's get wild.
My name is the Lorax and I'm as old as a tree
Sometimes, by magic or pure tenacity, a character will exceed the "maximum" lifespan of their race. If a character has retired and keeps making lucky Con rolls to avoid wasting diseases, then more power to them. But what about ancient adventurers and NPCs?

Powerful magic items exist to extend the vitality of those who wield them. Many allow their owner to live well longer than expected, and few legendary items can grant true immortality - though not always perfectly.

Items have different bonuses based on rarity and always require attunement:
  • Uncommon: 25% bonus
  • Rare: 50% bonus
  • Very Rare: 75% bonus
  • Legendary: 100% bonus

This bonus is added directly to the aging percentage (max 100%). So if your 340 year old Dwarf had a Very Rare Physical Ability item, his percentage would be 86% instead of 11%. This would continue into negative percentages - at 416 years old, the age penalty (negative 75%, or -66/88) would completely negate the bonus and the dwarf's stats would drop to their lowest level.

Additionally, until the dwarf reached 328 (25% physical stats remaining) they wouldn't age at all (since 25% + 75% = 100%). So it could extend your life, but it will certainly stave off the effects of age.

Items should only affect certain stats, for the most part. For example, Physical Stats, or Mental Stats. Restricting to a single stat is also feasible, since the Talisman of Immortal Strength would let the barbarian pick Con as his "immune to old age" stat.

If an item affects every stat, its rarity is increased by 1 level. So there's no Legendary item to grant 100% age bonus to all stats.

A single character can only have one bonus to each stat. So if you have the Very Rare Physical Ability talisman but also the Legendary Constitution necklace, your bonuses would be:
  • Strength: 75%
  • Dexterity: 75%
  • Constitution: 100%

Kings and Wizards hoard such items, and pay massive amounts of gold to have them. Additionally, this means that an ancient wizard may well have used all their attunement slots just to maintain their form. That's pretty neat.

I also like the idea that to truly be immortal, you're going to have to find multiple items. And the Legendary Items would probably be limited to a single stat.

That's cool. What if only one ability survived?
  • Immortal Strength: A mindless brute, existing only to fulfill its final purpose, a guardian lost to time.
  • Immortal Dexterity: Nothing but a wisp of wind, carried by its former whims.
  • Immortal Constitution: A statue, held timeless in a spot it cherished in life.
  • Immortal Intelligence: A sentient tome or record of knowledge, only able to recall things regarding a single event or person dear to its former self.
  • Immortal Wisdom: A being of pure light, capable of giving advice but unable to interact with or explore the world.
  • Immortal Charisma: A sentient object, such as a crown or sword, that overbears its wielder and forces them to complete its former purposes.

I have no mouth but I must scream
Sounds like some good lore to build NPCs and magic items on. Plus, now you can make crotchety old wizards!

Thanks for reading!

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