Well... another year, actually. Today I turn 30. The fun part is that I've met gamers who have been gaming as long as I've been alive. As I celebrate my third decade of existence, I've decided to take a few moments to relate the subject to tabletop RPGs, as I tend to do. I think this is as good an opportunity as any to explore characters and age.
I think it a fair assumption that most characters for tabletop RPGs are in their 20's and 30's. I mean it makes sense, right? Most fantasy campaigns would involve lots of strenuous activity and require lots of athleticism. Sci fi campaigns might call for some amount of knowledge or technical expertise. Either way, it might be expected that participants would probably be in the prime of their lives. Yup. Makes sense.
Well what happens when we go against that general assumption? What if we take a look at the further ends of the spectrum?
Age Before Beauty
Older characters. Not the most common thing, in my experience. First of all, in the more dangerous professions expected of PCs, not many live to old age. Most get cut down in their prime before they can file for retirement benefits. Granted, plundering tombs full of gold beats a 401k any day. Even if you did make it to that age, you have to wonder how long you could keep it up before your age catches up to you. That is proof positive that you are in-fact a badass... or were, before you were shuffled off to the old-folks home.
Second of all, who wants to be old? Most people don't think of their characters and imagine some gray-haired old guy in sweatpants or a grandma making cookies or threatening the badguy by knitting him an ugly sweater that he'll be expected to wear every Christmas. It's just like having the ugly character. This is a character you are playing and I'm sure not many people want old or ugly characters to be reflective of themselves.
On the flip side, how about some grey haired old wizard who's been around and seen just about everything there is to see, including flying elephants. Maybe you might consider an ancient martial arts master in the image of someone like Pai Mei? Perhaps an old veteran fighter looking for that last worthy opponent to send them to the Halls of Valhalla? Heck, why not an ex-adventurer looking to show up the grandkids?
I doubt it'll be the first idea anyone thinks of for a character, but one that does have some potential for those daring enough.
Dang Kids, Get Off My Lawn!
Alright, now let's go back to the other end of the spectrum. The young ones. I think this one has the most cause for dissension in the ranks, but in some cases, I think younger adventurers could work.
On the one hand, this kind of thing is likely looked at with some of the negative connotations associated with what some would call That Guy-ism. This would likely stem from poor attempts at explaining how/why someone of such limited age would have the skills/abilities required for the tasks at hand. Then you may also get into the moral quandary of exposing a young character to some truly heinous stuff. Not to mention all kinds of other subject matter that I wouldn't even want to go into.
On the other hand, story-focused groups get access to ye olde coming-of-age plot. Longer campaigns can actually track a character's life from youth to old age and not only present a character arc but a lifetime of development. And who is to say that these characters could work at all. Just look at that one series of books about an adolescent wizard and his friend's adventures at a boarding school for magic. You know the one I'm not mentioning. It spawned a series of movies and stuff. Also think of the RP opportunities. Ordering drinks at the bar gets a little more challenging, but think of all the townsfolk who you can sweet talk because people in your age group just don't know any better. those innocent eyes can get you out of any number of circumstances if you abuse the diplomacy. Just sayin'.
Just a bit of lateral thinking in character design can open up all kinds of things. Age is one of those tools that take a concept and spin it in a direction you may not have thought of. For a quick demonstration, take one of your previous characters and put them through the same situations as before, only now as a child and once again as an old person. Does the situation go in a different direction you may not have thought of as before?
Give it a shot, have faith and Stay Classy!