Tuesday, October 6, 2009

No kingdom for old men - Retiring PC's

One thing I thought I would briefly mull on is the concept of character retirement. A high level character is hell on wheels, why not simply reforge the whole world with one hand behind your back? Now sometimes doing just that is a good idea in a one shot world, the other option is to have a ridiculous number of other stupidly high level NPC's around to balance things out. But then you can't make ANY major changes..what fun is that?

In piecemeal, it is also very hard to level past the key points if you just pick on the weaker..you need to do grand and epic things to go up.

But eventually everyone reaches their limit. The rule I use is that when you have reached the maximum level possible without breaching a new keypoint and earn enough XP to reach the next level (past the keypoint) without breaching said keypoint. You retire (more on the mechanics further down).

What does this mean? Lets say you have done something of minor import (being local hero) and breached the first keypoint/milestone and reached level one. You battle your way up to level 5, the maximum level you can reach without breaching another keypoint (by say slaying a dragon) and becoming a national hero (or villain). You can keep earning XP and adventuring until level 6 would be reached if possible. At that point you retire (you can also change this until you would reach level 7).

You've milked your heroism/villainy for all its worth and the fates no longer favour you, you're old news. So in sets retirement.

What does retirement mean? A retired individual cannot regain any luck points they lose (HP beyond physical durability if you haven't read that article), either normally or through magic. They also no longer gain fate or destiny points (re-rolls). This makes them still powerful, but if they keep fighting it out on piddly battles they will fall eventually. Thus they shift to more of a political game (or a simple life).

How does retirement end?

Option 1.) You manage to breach a key point and regain the call to adventure! You finally slay that dragon and the fates take notice of you once more, like John Travolta after "Pulp Fiction!" you are back in action and trying to forget "Look who's talking III" with all your heart.

Option 2.) Up and coming punks try to prove their mettle by taking you on. Up until you finish up these glory seekers (who are out to get you and not vice versa) you can regain your luck and prove you aren't dead yet. You may be down but you aren't out... (also why PC's should be wary of taking out retired villains)

Option 3.) Six feet under, you finally croak and make your trip to the afterlife.

Pros: Allows PC's to have a "wrap up" period after a long campaign to make changes to the world without getting into a ridiculous and overdrawn "wank fest" that permanently despoils the campaign setting.

Cons: Sometimes PC's want to have an unkillable uber-PC who goes on said "wank fest"


  1. Interesting system.

    To provide an endgame/goal and keep campaign lower power. In my Western Marches sandbox when players reach "name" 9th lvl they must either

    1) retire to The Kingdom (safe, "out of play" area). Their level of fame and fortune will determine how well they "won" the campaign.

    2) if they achieved sufficient glory and renown they will receive a charter, knighthood, etc from the King Granting lands in the wilderness they've been "clearing out" in which to build a keep, tower, outpost, etc. [see how crafty the king is in getting characters to do all the dirty work involved in expanding his kingdom :)] Depending on player interest I might get rules together and run a side-game of domain management.

    Finally, there's always chance for a 1-shot or short series were characters come out of retirement to face some big high-level threat. Optional, change of pace from the low level sandbox slog.

  2. Most of the characters I ran that 'retired' completed their story arc, usually had some sort of impact on the campaign, but the GM and I would agree that it was over. On the rare occassion where my character became very influncial and powerful, it wasn't a matter of finding the next big thing to kill, but rather to establish and build something. Dungeons were no longer important unless they had something very specific I needed, then dungeons became not little jaunts in the wilderness, but critical to the establishing of domain.

  3. In OD&D, where the power inflation of a Fighter was pretty legitimate, being 10th level didn't mean everyone in the country had to listen to you. You couldn't go on a killing spree through the armies of the King and expect to survive.

    Magic-Users have always been ridiculous at high level.

    These days attempts have been made to beef up everyone else to match the Magic-User. In so doing rather than solving the problem of the Uranium Magic-User they just created Uranium Everyone.

    The game balance in earlier editions was such that after Name level (9th or 10th) you would be able to encounter creatures of higher and higher Hit Dice, but these creatures continued to gain HP at the full rate while yours slowed down. Tricks and traps and poisons became more frequent, and after all you might always fail that saving throw ...

    Adventuring past Name level didn't make a lot of sense because of the danger it posed. By that time you're tougher than most everyone around you, and you have enough money to establish a long dynasty of wealthy folk assuming they manage the household properly. So why risk going out and getting consumed by some random Black Pudding?

    The problem is that if the players are only interested in footloose standard adventure they won't have an endgame. If their goals include only ever-increasing wealth and power they won't have an endgame.

    For players willing to get into the stronghold thing I can offer opportunities for further adventure, but it's not the same. It's not just sallying forth from the castle instead of the tavern.

    So for the dungeoneering player with goals of only wealth and power, I have no idea how to continue things. My usual "outs" include:

    * The campaign fizzles due to a few players leaving and when we get fresh ones it's better to start a new one,

    * Encourage them to bump up to demigod status through one last epic quest and then shift them to being NPCs,

    One time I tried to convince them to just retire and continue to play their henchmen as another adventuring party. They wanted to load up their 3rd level henchmen with magical goodies and money, one player in fact was prepared to unload his entire equipment sheet on the henchman. Needless to say, this would not do and I refused to DM that game. As I recall we ended up continuing to play for a while and then we hit a long patch of bad player attendance.

  4. Also, relating to the post-climax high-level PC wank-fest:

    At the end of one campaign I told the players to each choose one thing that they wanted to have their PC do after the end of the campaign. A few wanted to do a whole list of things but I stuck with my "one change" deal. We went around the table and I took notes. And I actually included their changes in the campaign setting.

    But I hate having high-level NPCs constantly butting in and making everyone feel impotent. So no Elminster, no lame cameos from old characters, that sort of thing. Old PCs come up as names attached to spells or magic items they created, organizations and settlements they created, etc. But to date I haven't had a PC build anything in my campaign. I have my PCs build like crazy in other peoples' games. So I really just can't understand it.