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Late Bloomers

Recently I returned to a WitchCraft campaign that I originally ran back in 2001-2003. Rather than pick up where we left off, I advanced the timeline to the present day. The young college student PCs of the first campaign were now hitting 30, with professional careers and families. The new campaign had a very different feel as a result. As my group (ranging from the mid-30s to early 40s) is older, it was much easier to relate to the older PCs.

This got me thinking. So many campaigns start with the characters at the beginning of their careers. Whether he or she is a farmboy looking to live a more exciting life, a hotshot pilot straight out of the academy, a young wizard’s apprentice ready to strike out on his or her own, or a high school student turned werewolf slayer, the character is ambitious and untested. He or she often has little to lose but his or her own life, with little effect on the world around him or her.

That said there’s a lot of merit to having the PCs start their “adventuring career” later in life. Such characters tend to have richer backstories (and therefore more plot hooks), and people, places, and things worth protecting. They have different reasons for doing what they do than “rookie” characters. In short, they can be a lot of fun.

Here are some things to keep in mind when creating adventures for such “late bloomers.”

A late start doesn’t necessarily mean being more experienced.

There’s no reason why a 35 year old character that’s just starting a campaign needs to be at a higher level of competence than the 19 year old PC if she hasn’t been dealing with the high intensity of the adventuring life just yet.

Most games presume that “common folk/pedestrians” are a cut below the average beginning character. The late bloomer is exactly that, a character that’s lived a fairly uneventful life until something finally pushes her into becoming a full-fledged PC.

This makes it easy to mix-and-match late bloomers with young PCs, such as in the typical seasoned cop/rookie team up (or knight/squire or superhero/sidekick), and maintain game balance.

It’s easier for “seasoned” players to relate to late bloomers.

While it’s unlikely that your married-with-children 39 year old accountant player knows much about archery, medieval battlefield tactics, and farming, he can probably better relate to the yeoman farmer called away from his family to deal with a marauding orc tribe than a junior high school player.

Late bloomers often have to balance and juggle personal and professional responsibilities in ways that are often alien to younger players. On the flip side, they find it more difficult to relate to the idealistic young PC that is looking to make a name for herself before settling down.

This also opens up opportunities for a fresh spin on old subplots. Maybe your player isn’t interested in pursuing a romantic subplot because she’s happily married, but she may find it enjoyable to follow and perhaps meddle in her PC’s children’s romances, especially if she knows something secret about the paramour’s parent.

A late bloomer can still be a “rookie.”

Sure your PC is a seasoned cop that’s seen a lot over his 15 year career as a homicide detective, but has he ever had to face a brood of vampires? Or perhaps your landed noble has ridden into battle a few times but never had to face anything like a troll before. Or maybe your career star marshall has been working in a remote sector of space primarily settling claim disputes for almost 20 years when a previously unknown and hostile alien race sends a vanguard through his sector.

Or perhaps your character was Joe Average or Jane Just-Getting-By for a decade before the meteor chunk/stressful situation/divine blessing grants him or her great powers. Perhaps your middle-aged scientist is forced to don the military battlesuit she’s been working on when terrorists strike. Or maybe your character simply retired or otherwise put his career on hold for a while, and is only know starting to once again use those skills he’d  learned long ago.

Late bloomers have baggage.

As a GM, I love mining a PC’s background for plots and subplots. Late bloomers give me a ton of plot threads that I can weave into a campaign. From ex-lovers to old rivals to unresolved issues to family, I can pull a lot from an older character’s background.

And unless your players nail down every second of their late bloomer PCs’ lives, there are plenty of gaps left for you to fill in. Of course their private investigator once had a college roomate that’s now a murder suspect. What space fleet officer didn’t have a romantic relationship during her time at the Academy? Don’t they remember that one diamond theft in which the criminal got away five years ago, the one that has suspicious parallels to the current case?

And don’t forget family. Of course the supervillain chooses to threaten the city on the PC’s wedding anniversary. Or perhaps the terrorists have taken the school that the PC’s children goes to hostage. Or worse, the superhero PC’s teenage daughter has decided to strike out on her own, as a supervillain.

In short, there are many advantages to encouraging Late Bloomer PCs.

How about you? Do you regularly have “late bloomer” PCs in your campaigns or do you tend to stick with “rookies?” Does it matter what genre you are playing in? How do late bloomer PCs mix with younger PCs?


7 Comments (Open | Close)

7 Comments To "Late Bloomers"

#1 Comment By Clawfoot On July 7, 2011 @ 5:15 am

I find that the average age of the players mirrors the average age of the characters pretty reliably, mostly for the reasons you’ve already outlined. Older, more experienced players tend to identify with older, more experienced characters, and don’t have the same fascination with coming-of-age stories as younger players do.

One of my players (in her late thirties) is currently playing a paladin (in his early twenties). Every once in a while, when the player has the paladin say or do something on the mature side, she shakes her head and takes it back, saying something like, “I have to remember how YOUNG this guy is! He should be nowhere near that settled.”

#2 Comment By Lee Hanna On July 7, 2011 @ 9:15 am

In Traveller, I’d be a 6-term character. {Where’s my Free Trader?!} My own aging may be one of the reasons I have been picking up pieces of that system, despite my main group’s desire to play nothing but D&D.

For the most part, the PCs I have seen have stayed young and impressionable (read: D&D), and we’ve tried to play them that way. For our Serenity games, since the war some years ago is a key part of the background, most of us have been playing 30-somethings, or those too young to have served. I can’t remember any RPing that brought out the age differences, though.

My wife, about 15 years ago, made a memorable character for a short-lived AD&D campaign. He was a jeweler who’d always wanted to study magic, but needed to feed a family and stayed in the family business. Once his kids were grown & married, he put himself thru wizard school and began adventuring.

#3 Comment By Razjah On July 7, 2011 @ 11:34 am

I find late bloomers to be something easier to make with plot hooks for the GM to use. It is easier and more plausable to have more connections after being in the world for a few years rather than simply “fresh out of the academy.”

#4 Comment By Keianna On July 7, 2011 @ 8:00 pm

In my experience, most players do stick close to their age range. Among more experienced roleplayers though, seem to enjoy using age to make their characters more interesting. I have had 30 or 40 something players play youngish 16-20 characters and it works well when they try to stay in character. I am in my mid 20s and just had a game end where I played a 60 year widow and had so much fun. She got to be in charge and wrangled the party well for the most part. For people who make the attempt different aged characters seem to work really well.

#5 Comment By Scott Martin On July 8, 2011 @ 1:05 am

I haven’t created a lot of older characters as my primary characters–mostly due to mistaking their age for their expected experience. You raise a good point–sure a 35 year old farmer probably has a few more ranks in Profession: Farmer, but for the things that come into play in most adventures, they’re no better.

Maybe I’ll take the opportunity and make an older character for my next game. Hmm…

#6 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On July 8, 2011 @ 5:58 am

Late bloomers with more or no more experience than starting characters imply two different and interesting dynamics.

Late bloomers with more experience definitely have more skills (such as accountant or farmer, or administrator). They might have no skills that apply to the adventuring life, or they may have a few such as relevant job skills, contacts, higher mental based stats or better social skills (or just better bonuses when dealing with people old enough to think of the whipper-snappers as little snot-noses). That depends mainly on character vision and GM approval.

Late bloomers with no extra experience however implies no extra skills at all, which means you’re a 30-something who is no better at your job than the teenagers they hire for the after school shift. You’re incompetent, lazy, unlucky, or just not that interested in your professional experience. You might be immature, despondent, but you’re most likely incredibly enthused about any new opportunity. Even if it means throwing yourself at a dragon, it’s better than being a shit sweeper or a 40 year old mail clerk, right?

#7 Comment By black campbell On July 10, 2011 @ 11:18 pm

We nearly always start with more experienced characters in our games, precisely because it gives the characters more depth for the players and more hooks for me as the GM.