How old are your 1st level PCs - and why?


Advice


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Today I was wondering (read: navel-gazing) about how the level mechanics would translate in-world, or in the shared narrative of the game.

Mainly I was considering how in all APs, most homebrew campaigns, and many adventures, the PCs start at 1st level, then in a matter of months or a few years, they generally advance at least 10-15 levels. After that, it is my experience that the rhythm of growth can and often does slow down even dramatically, but in 2e APs this won't necessarily be true, since the AP will carry you up to 20th level and have you keep playing at least for a while.

So, a pc starts exceptional, yes, but not an expert (every class is at best trained at everything they do, with the exception of fighters, who start out indeed as experts with simple and martial weapons, possibly even with one - or more? - advanced weapon). Their hps are 1st level hps, the skills they know are at trained, their spells are few and 1st level only with some cantrips thrown in. It appears to me they're very much the archetype (not in a game sense) of the gifted prodigy - very high scores, inherently capable of becoming experts and masters in a few months of hands-on practice, but still untested, unbloodied, inexperienced.

In the meantime, maybe there's someone in town with less hyperbolic stats, and generally less able to fight their way out of a problem, but with 1 or even 2 skills at expert (or perhaps even master!), having trained and constantly used those skills in their more or less normal life well into their 20s, 30s, 40s or more.

What I'm wondering is - what kind of 1st level characters do you create? Are they always young and inexperienced? Are they older but lazy? Are they older and you feel 1st level is already representing someone with better skills/higher experience than the norm? Do you feel some classes better represent someone who has trained quite a bit in their field at 1st level? Do you just go with whatever age you feel better fits the character you have in mind and to hell with ludonarrative dissonance? Maybe they were experts or even masters, perhaps equivalent to a higher level pc, but they've become rusty after a while of not practicing their trade?

TL;DR: what age are the majority of your 1st level characters, and how does that fit with their (presumed?) lack of practical experience?

(Oh and before someone mentions it - no I don't want different leveling mechanics, I'm totally fine with how they work. Thanks!).


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Pathfinder Rulebook, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Roswynn wrote:
Do you just go with whatever age you feel better fits the character you have in mind and to hell with ludonarrative dissonance?

I guess this one.

One thing I'd like to point out is that your character can increase by a level in a single day. Potentially faster. You can go three levels in one dungeon before coming up for dinner.

It's inherently unfeasible to ascribe life experience to levels, so there really can be no way to categorize people like you somewhat suggest.


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WatersLethe wrote:
Roswynn wrote:
Do you just go with whatever age you feel better fits the character you have in mind and to hell with ludonarrative dissonance?

I guess this one.

One thing I'd like to point out is that your character can increase by a level in a single day. Potentially faster. You can go three levels in one dungeon before coming up for dinner.

It's inherently unfeasible to ascribe life experience to levels, so there really can be no way to categorize people like you somewhat suggest.

This sounds right by me, but I don't see much "dissonance". We have 12 year old's in college, doing gymnastics, firing bows with their feet, ect in real life. A combo of prodigy and effort can have a lot of skill and talent showing at a younger than 'normal' age.

"what age are the majority of your 1st level characters": I tend to go towards the younger end of what seems right.

Liberty's Edge

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Yeah, level and age don't correlate strongly in-universe. Nor do age and capability in the real world, in many ways.

That being the case, my characters are usually relatively young at 1st level simply because I like the idea of them being inexperienced but with great potential, but exceptions can be made without damaging my immersion or the verisimilitude of the world.

There does need to be some explanation for them only being 1st level if their backstory indicates something higher, IMO, but it could be as simple as them having been a bit higher level once but having gotten out of practice.


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Maps, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Any starting age can be made to work. Given the option, in PF1 I might choose to start a spellcaster at middle-aged because the adjustments in that age category are tolerable and shift the ability scores in the desired direction. I could be quite a bit more flexible in PF2 since I am guessing that they eliminated ability score adjustments for age.

But since experience and levels are gained for achievement in dangerous situations, PCs who are beyond late adolescence would be people who managed to stay out of dangerous situations until the beginning of the campaign.


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I like to lean on the younger side as well. It tends to seem right for recklessly exploring the obviously dangerous without a second thought, but i’ve been pushing that more and more.

As for how Level and Age/Time work there’s some relatability to it; even if exaggerated. Skills and talent can be gained and expanded upon by ‘repetition’ and ‘trail by fire’. A City Guard may be a Master in Sword skills by constant practice, training and constant battles; but an Adventurer becomes a Master in Sword skills by fighting undead, elementals, surrounded by magical darkness, fighting creatures with gaze attacks like a basilisk or gorgon.

To that end it makes sense that adventurers become legendary in a surprisingly short amount of time when you consider their average life expectancy. That said i do agree that even in stories there tends to be considerable downtime, weather during the entire Plot or in between adventures. I do hope they incorporate some natural times to use downtime in the coming AP’s.


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A level 1 character is someone I've always felt is better than the average person in their chosen specialty, regardless of their class or age. In fact, starting age for me always varies wildly depending on the campaign setting and the character I'm playing. In my current campaign, my Ratfolk Arcanist started things off at age 16, which is actually getting close to middle age! He spent most of his life pre-campaign living with his parents, helping out in the shop, buying beginner level magic books, and daydreaming about being a master spellcaster until he finally enrolled himself in the militia on a whim in order to force himself to take action and grow.

Really, the main times I've ever felt any sort of "dissonance" are when you start comparing long-lived races with the short-lived. When you start comparing the starting ages of a wizard between a kobold and an elf, you have the kobold with the suggested starting ages of 16-26 years old and the elf with suggested starting ages of 120-170 years old. Clearly the kobolds know something about learning magic that elves don't!


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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

I've been playing older and older characters. It's been allowing me to RP about "the good old days", have a family, and just be friendly without the character feeling the need to prove themselves.

Pappy is became a legend because of this. He is just the happiest long haul trucker you will ever meet, and always has a story about the shenanigans him and his buddies got up to.


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First, some PCs I remember well. As a running joke, I often gave them names that began with G.

Glitter Laiadon, elf cleric, D&D 3.0 - a young elf sent out by his temple on his first adventure at around 120 years old. Campaign ended at 13th level.

Graphite, dwarf bard, Kingdoms of Kalamar D&D variant - this dwarf had been a scholar until hobgoblins conquered his kingdom and he fled. Now at 200 years old he served as an agent for the dwarven government in exile. Campaign ended at 5th level.

Evariste Galwa, human cleric, Iron Kingdoms D&D variant - modeled after the French mathematician Évariste Galois, who died in a duel at age 21, so this character started at age 21 having decided to flee from a duel. Campaign ended at 11th level.

Gardain, dwarf paladin, D&D 4th Edition - a toughened dwarf setting out on his first adventure after military service, so about 70 years old. I retired him from the campaign at 7th level.

Abu Gorgani, gnome ranger, Pathfinder - this young gnome was only 18 years old when he set out to see the world. That is unusually young for a gnome, the equivalent of a human 12-year-old. I retired him at 8th level to GM the campaign myself, but the 19th-level party encountered him again as a 13th-level NPC.

Gaspar, human alchemist, Pathfinder - this human had quit his first career as a leatherworker after being inspired by a traveling alchemist, so he was about 22 years old. This campaign ended at 6th level.

Muffin, gnome barbarian, Pathfinder - I took over this character from my daughter when she moved to Seattle. Muffin had been a sailor for a while, but had left home very young, so I would guess young adult gnome, 50 years old. I moved out of state at 13th level.

Second, I ran two NPCs as party members and their age was significant to the campaign.

Amaya of Westcrown, human fighter/oracle - I moved my Jade Regent campaign earlier to 4707 AR, so Ameiko Kaijitsu was 18 years old. I didn't know whether her half-sister, Amaya, was older or younger, so I selected older at 21 years old. Amaya decided to accompany the party on their journey to Minkai, because Ameiko was still busy with the events of Rise of the Runelords. This campaign ended at 17th level.

Val Baine, human bloodrager - When my wife created her character Boffin (a dwarf barely into adulthood, 42 years old) in my Iron Gods campaign as having worked for wizard Khonnir Baine for 12 years, that meant that Khonnir had been in the town of Torch for longer than the module said. So I aged him and his daughter to account for the extra 4 years. The daughter Val Baine went from 13 years old to 17 years old. This meant that she was old enough to adventure and the party unexpectedly recruited her as a 4th member. I run NPC party members as helpful support characters, so my party likes them, but the real reason the PCs invited her along was that their mission was to search for her missing father. This campaign ended at 17th level.

That gives
human: 17, 21, 21, 22.
gnome: 18, 50.
dwarf: 70, 200.
elf: 120.

All characters started at 1st level (except Amaya who started at 2nd level) and reached their maximum level within one year of internal game time.


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Roswynn wrote:
TL;DR: what age are the majority of your 1st level characters, and how does that fit with their (presumed?) lack of practical experience?

It depends on the character. I usually like the idea that they've been up to something before becoming a PC, but it's really level more than age that conflicts with that. For example, one character was a thief in Riddleport who did secret work for the Church of Cayden Cailean, spying and helping free slaves. He was in his early 20s, but it was level more than age that seemed off. So I justified it to myself by saying he was mostly doing minor things, dealing with mostly low-level goons, where the jobs weren't that hard.

For non-human characters it can be weirder. For my gnome alchemist to be in his 50s made sense, because most of what he was doing before the game was working in his shop and engaging in his various hobbies. The split focus and low intensity made sense to still be level one at that age. But when I recently started an elf arcanist, I went by the age guidelines and she ended up starting at 136... Trying to justify being over a century and just just having the basics of magic was a bit tricky. I think I managed to handle it by her being a bit distracted and having to spend years waiting tables to get tuition for a magical school, and being picky about just what school she'd go to (she didn't want the standard stuffy traditional stuff, she wanted to experiment with both ancient and brand new magic) and taking a while to hear about the right one. At one point in character generation I had the idea of her settling down with a half-orc husband and having a quiet life for his natural life. That'd explain some of the time, but having a dead husband was at odds with the care-free personality I had for her, so I didn't go that route.

Of course there was the idea that had floated around that elves and other long lived races mature much slower than humans. I always hated that idea when taken to the extremes needed for 100+ year starting age. A 20 year old still being in diapers seems both dumb and the opposite of heroic. I think Pathfnider had material stating this and others saying that they mature at a much closer rate to humans (probably based on whatever writer was doing that section), but I think now they've fully settled on the later. I can see elves taking a little longer to mature, like maybe up to %25 slower, but that's not enough to explain the roughly 100 year gap in starting ages between humans and elves.

But I noticed the playtest seemed to be getting away from those starting ages. There was no table of ages, and the descriptions said elves are physically fully mature around 20 and the 100+ is only a cultural thing. So I think younger elves and other long-lived ancestries is the new expected norm. But it was vague enough that if you like your 100+ elves you can still do that. I suspect this is going to stay the same in the final PF2. The age categories, and hard starting ages are probably gone and people can do things whichever way they like.


I always just figure out mental/emotional ages in terms of humans then adjust for whatever range that would probably be for a non-human thing, or just not bother and just write their age in human terms.

Like my dwarf who ran away to join the circus needed to be an age where that was feasible, whereas the changeling who was supposed to be SO TIRED was much much older. It's just easier to write down [16] and [37] to represent those ages in human terms.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber
PossibleCabbage wrote:

I always just figure out mental/emotional ages in terms of humans then adjust for whatever range that would probably be for a non-human thing, or just not bother and just write their age in human terms.

Like my dwarf who ran away to join the circus needed to be an age where that was feasible, whereas the changeling who was supposed to be SO TIRED was much much older. It's just easier to write down [16] and [37] to represent those ages in human terms.

Yeah. I usually think of my characters in Human-Equivalent Age and map that to their lifespan if ever needed.

Dataphiles

Generally early to mid 20s or equiv of race. Unless their backstory needs them to be older. Most of my prepared arcane spellcasters are older. Because.


Varying from early adulthood to old. But it also depends on what type of character I'm making.

There's nothing wrong at all to have an older character (in its fifties, human years or equivalent) at first level, still learning the ropes of adventure. Everything it takes is a good backstory.

Before playing RPG's, I thought my favorite part would be min-maxing the hell out of the game and creating mechanically sound characters, like I used to do in MMORPGs and RPG's in general. But after starting, I quickly realized that the best part was coming up with an interesting character and a well developed backstory.

So, having "age-appropriated" character does not feature in my character creation, although they so far, have been within a reasonable spectrum (young adult to mid-life). But I'm yet to make an old character and a very young one.

Liberty's Edge

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Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

I am going to relate the background of what will be my first level character in PF2, but know that he is the grandfather or grandson of my first character in PF1 and his age will not be a factor in his adventuring carreer.

See, this Gnome, Lemtwist Bratham Mallentwine Flannelfoot Smyth Olgen Jeebs Nathers Bingham (Senior) has been lost in time for quite some time. He has been seen in places as a see through ghost like figure, sometimes oblivious to others around him as he leaps to catch an errant paper clip, other times he asks weird questions about the state of things, like if that door had been closed for a long time or if the drunk had touched the stone yet.

As he has gathered his senses going through moments in time, appearing to his grandson/grandfather (?) from time to time, (Lemtwist Bratham Mallentwine Flannelfoot Smyth Olgen Jeebs Nathers Bingham the third) hoping that he wasn't to late, the old gnome realized that to stabilize his phased being, he needed to start over, to learn magic and control, relearning lessons long forgotten because of the ... Incident...

So, when he first appears, looking at everyone, he is going to ask the most important question.

"When am I?"


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graystone wrote:
WatersLethe wrote:
Roswynn wrote:
Do you just go with whatever age you feel better fits the character you have in mind and to hell with ludonarrative dissonance?

I guess this one.

One thing I'd like to point out is that your character can increase by a level in a single day. Potentially faster. You can go three levels in one dungeon before coming up for dinner.

It's inherently unfeasible to ascribe life experience to levels, so there really can be no way to categorize people like you somewhat suggest.

This sounds right by me, but I don't see much "dissonance". We have 12 year old's in college, doing gymnastics, firing bows with their feet, ect in real life. A combo of prodigy and effort can have a lot of skill and talent showing at a younger than 'normal' age.

"what age are the majority of your 1st level characters": I tend to go towards the younger end of what seems right.

I don't find very young 1st level pcs hard to believe at all - what I was having some problems envisioning were, say, 1st level pcs in their 30s.

Deadmanwalking wrote:
There does need to be some explanation for them only being 1st level if their backstory indicates something higher, IMO, but it could be as simple as them having been a bit higher level once but having gotten out of practice.

This is becoming one of my favorite ideas for older pcs who still start at 1st level.

David knott 242 wrote:
But since experience and levels are gained for achievement in dangerous situations, PCs who are beyond late adolescence would be people who managed to stay out of dangerous situations until the beginning of the campaign.

It's true - adventurer levels are gained for adventurous activities... still, as I mentioned, you could meet a totally risk-averse npc who's an expert or a master in their key skills, unlike a 1st level adventurer who, barring fighters' weapon proficiencies, will uniformly be just trained.

I reckon this was probably even more of a problem in 1e, where everyone had classes, and, say, a blacksmith could have been an 8th level expert with tens of hps and a better combatant than you, to boot.

Still, avoiding dangerous situations could be an element that helps out in modeling the background of a 1st level pc, I agree.

Doktor Weasel wrote:
For example, one character was a thief in Riddleport who did secret work for the Church of Cayden Cailean, spying and helping free slaves. He was in his early 20s, but it was level more than age that seemed off. So I justified it to myself by saying he was mostly doing minor things, dealing with mostly low-level goons, where the jobs weren't that hard.

What I feel is that level 1 is a perfectly fine level to start adventuring... if you're in your teens or at most early 20s (with exceptions made for the background elements mentioned above) - it's the combination of level and age that sometimes seems a bit perplexing to me. Like, level 1 as I was saying is great for a young adult, but the older you get, the higher I tend to expect your level to be - it sounds a bit on the under-achiever side for a 30 years old character, even more for a 40 or 50 years old one, or at least that's my impression.

Again, you can say the character was better at a certain point but got rusty, or that they simply never practiced their skills much and had a very quiet, boring life till now. And, of course, you can see nothing wrong with an older 1st level pc.

As for elves... it has never been overly clear what their deal was to me, but from what I had read, my feeling was that, given they have all the time in the world, they spend a lot of it playing, interacting socially, ending up in endless soap operas of avenging wrongs and befriending nemeses, doing art projects, getting tired of them and picking up something new, perfecting almost meaningless movements and gestures that give an otherworldly grace to their physical actions and allow them to dive into dangerous situations without having to think about it for a year and a half, and so on for their whole life, interspersed with training and practice in their vocations (which can very well change multiple times over a period of 700 years). I wasn't sure of how fast they physically matured, but psychologically I'm quite sure they're a bit on the slow side (although I'll attentively read the new products to make sure my interpretation is correct).

All that said, yes, 100 years to be an adult is definitely a cultural requisite, they should be done with puberty at most in their 20s I think, if not at the same time as humans.

thaX wrote:
See, this Gnome, Lemtwist Bratham Mallentwine Flannelfoot Smyth Olgen Jeebs Nathers Bingham (Senior) has been lost in time for quite some time. He has been seen in places as a see through ghost like figure, sometimes oblivious to others around him as he leaps to catch an errant paper clip, other times he asks weird questions about the state of things, like if that door had been closed for a long time or if the drunk had touched the stone yet.

Love the name, perfect for a Golarian male gnome. The "adrift in time" angle is very interesting as well - that's something else one could use to come up with a credible background for an older 1st level character - the "magical mishap". Being stranded in the Phantom Zone, being encased in an iceberg in suspended animation for 100 years... you could definitely come out of the ordeal a little worse for wear. Hell, maybe it was a ritual by an hostile faction, maybe in PF 1e you took negative levels from some undead.

Oh, and I was thinking the mishap needn't be magical. Maybe you were gravely wounded during a battle and that affects some sides of your everyday and adventurous life (a bit like Azaersi for instance).

Okay, anyways, good stuff, guys and gals. Thank you for indulging me, you definitely gave me some food for thoughts. And if you come up with anything else, please do share! =)


For the few character ideas I have, two are maybe around 20. One is an enthusiastic sorceress wanting to travel and go adventuring, one is an elf with ancestral holy-site-guarding duty. So both are active and either want or have to to some adventuring and conflict solving, so their level 1 age is early.

One character would be a never-do-gooder around 30. Basically a living-with-mom man-child that hasn't achieved anything yet. So he's still level 1 despite his age.

I would say a character can be level 1 until they experience something great (adventure starts) or until the story requires them to stay at level 1. ;) Or they forgot stuff due to long hiatus and are level 1 AGAIN.


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The Glass Canon podcast has made good use of the "older character who used to be high level but got rusty" at a couple points. One of their first PCs was a Black Arrow who retired to a city guard after losing his squad and taking a horrible injury to his knee, and has since been rocking a desk job bringing him back to level 1. Later they meet a midlevel elderly wizard who broke out of Academia to start adventuring again, and is shaking the dust off to gradually level back up. Both are pretty fun.


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Roswynn wrote:
I don't find very young 1st level pcs hard to believe at all - what I was having some problems envisioning were, say, 1st level pcs in their 30s.

Oh, ok. Myself, I find that easier to see. A layabout who gets spoiled by their parents and didn't have to do anything. A jack of all trades that never sticks with any one thing to gain any real experience. The lifelong scribe that accidentally finds a book on magic and gets inspired to learn. Heck, even a wandering farmhand/handyman can work too.

Myself, I imagine a lot of people stay 1st level or non-level [in pf2] in a peaceful local: growing and/or selling veggies doesn't raise your character level IMO. Now if your formerly peaceful farm gets overrun with goblins when your 30 and you have to pitchfork a few, then that seems a good reason for some new experience points.


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Roswynn wrote:
I don't find very young 1st level pcs hard to believe at all - what I was having some problems envisioning were, say, 1st level pcs in their 30s.

I mean, my 37 year old Changeling Paladin had, at a younger age, gotten a steady job working in the stacks of the library at a large university, and as she was incapable of sleeping, she vowed that she would read every single book in the building- it took her two decades.


I always thought Elves hit physiological adulthood at around 40, but that's me going off of Eragon elves, which our campaign took inspiration from. As for my characters, both my elf and tiefling ( like the long lived races, what can I say?) were about 120 when they started, the elf was helping his parents out at their family book shop, accidentally learned a first level spell, then for taken in by some mercenaries who were wandering around looking for recruits. The tiefling was on the run from his home country, and when he settle in the place the campaign took place, he was riding a desk job for about a decade. My current character (a sorcerer) worked at a temple for a while, got word of god that he needed to head out, and met the party on a boat. He's about 17-20. Most of our characters actually start at a higher level (2-4), just so we can get to the more fun high fantasy stuff sooner. I have a plan for an old dude wizard who got clonked on the noggin and forgot how to wizard, but his body still has massive magical potential still saved up, so the skills come back faster than average.


I generally try to stay around the 18-20-something range with my characters. I think my only older characters was the pirate I made (who was around 30-40) and a duergar(dark dwarf) barbarian


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Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

I normally go for the 20s/30s, but in Mummy's Mask, I'm playing a Pahmet dwarf who's an uncle to most of the rest of the party (all dwarves plus a related oread). He was experienced at clearing undead out of tombs, but he also needed to be 1st level. So I had him run afoul of wights and get drained, get saved by the spirits of his ancestors, and now he's a Speaker for the Past battle shaman.


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Roswynn wrote:
I don't find very young 1st level pcs hard to believe at all - what I was having some problems envisioning were, say, 1st level pcs in their 30s.

This is honestly a less common troupe which tends to make it more difficult to envision. There was one fantasy genre show i recall where one of the party members was venerable; like he was old, missing teeth, completely bald with a big bushy beard. His story was he lived his youth as a bounty hunter, until his partner decided to retire, which then he started taking easier jobs. He got rusty as well as older over the course of 10 years or so, until he takes the opportunity to tag along and help the young ones on an adventure.

Even with how he was written he didn’t act like a wise teacher passing lessons on, but rather as an equal member of the group and was always expected to do his part.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I've played characters ranging in age from 12 to 33 (or the equivalent thereof for elves and the like). For the older ones, I usually have them doing non-adventuring stuff for most of their backstory, switching around what they're learning pretty sporadically, or once having been more skilled but got rusty.

Roswynn wrote:
Love the name, perfect for a Golarian male gnome. The "adrift in time" angle is very interesting as well - that's something else one could use to come up with a credible background for an older 1st level character - the "magical mishap". Being stranded in the Phantom Zone, being encased in an iceberg in suspended animation for 100 years... you could definitely come out of the ordeal a little worse for wear. Hell, maybe it was a ritual by an hostile faction, maybe in PF 1e you took negative levels from some undead.

I did this for a PC in Mummy's Mask. He was a member of an ancient civilization who had gotten himself locked in stasis by the campaign Big Bad (I was also GMing this one so I knew the story), who his civilization was at war with at the time. This character was a powerful general in his city's army. I ran a short prologue adventure where the other members of the party explored an ancient tomb and found him locked in a sarcophagus.

Thing was, he didn't remember anything, as the stasis had messed up his memory and weakened him quite a bit (back down to, say..1st level!). So his leveling up throughout the campaign was him remembering things he used to know, or deciding to learn new skills. (He gradually got his memory back throughout the campaign, leading to quite the personal grudge against the BBEG.)


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

The oldest 1st level character I had was a tenured professor of Magical Engineering at Sharn’s Morgrave university (Eberron campaign). He was still short with of middle age (for an elf) but had spent decades lecturing before the campaign started.


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AnimatedPaper wrote:
The oldest 1st level character I had was a tenured professor of Magical Engineering at Sharn’s Morgrave university (Eberron campaign). He was still short with of middle age (for an elf) but had spent decades lecturing before the campaign started.

LOL My oldest was 300: once all the kids were out of the house [with elf kids taking up to 170 years to hit 1st level], she 'let loose' and tried something new. ;)


I create the BG for my character starting with their birthing and uprising. As such, they are always young or in their prime as they start adventuring because I feel natural to get a 17-20 something (in human years, round up or down for race) to be a lvl 1 character. Then experience can create an hero out of a farmer boy in just a couple of weeks, and that's a really nice cliche that I want in my games.

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