Monday, July 25, 2016

On Making Immortal Characters Seem Old

I was perusing Mailanka's Musings , trying to find something, and run across an interesting (and old) article. It was specifically about vampires being really old, and how we often just throw out the numbers without really thinking about it. And it got me thinking about how you would make a seriously old character feel real without too much effort. And it occurred to me to use some random NPC generating tools multiple times, and then to stack them all together.

The Basic Example

I'm using Collaborative Gamer's tables for making memorable NPC's. I'm not actually going to roll all of the entries. Each iteration will use a role in society, an interesting fact, and a hope/fear.  Just three items, but we'll see what they suggest.  for the first trial we'll just use four-- and leave his modern situation open.
  • Religion- Highly social: knows everyone, - Hope/Fear:The Past
  • Underworld - Surprisingly open-minded - Hope/Fear:The Past
  • Nobility - Weighs things carefully before deciding -  Hope/Fear:Love
  • Travler/Tansit - Richer than they seem - Hope/Fear:Sex
Ok, this is only four lives, but we already have a lot going on.  I originally got 'Knows you by reputation' for the last category, but that seemed to specific to PC's, and so rerolled it. A few more details are really needed here: how does this immortality work? a vampire will color these arcs differently than an elf, a highlander, or a wizard. We also could use a lot of detail about the history of the world, to give us a backdrop, and its good to know about how long each phases should last. For this first test, lets use a vampire who goes through phases every 20 years or so, and use the modern world. We're ending in 2016, so we start in 1936. 

in 1936, our Vampire (lets name him Victor) was a priest or preacher of some sort. He knew everyone around, but even then he worried about his past. We have our first sticky situation: Vampires and religion don't mix. As in the vampires can't stick around it. Does this mean he was turned later in life? Or does it mean he fullfilled some dark religious function for the local supernatural community. Or that he tried to hide himself in plain site in his position and found a work around for the religious issue? All of these work, but I'm going to go with the turned later in life option. He was a prominent preacher in the depression who knew everyone. But he had secrets, and a past. I'm not going to do much with that. Perhaps he had no great desires at this point: starting him off as a fairly satisfied preacher has appeal in light of who he will become.

In 1956, he's somehow turned to a life a crime: presumably he was turned into a vampire during that time. His wife, children, and congregation are behind him. They know something happened to him, and being a former preacher isn't going to get him a lot of respect among his own kind. Perhaps he's even wanted for murder. He's trying to find a new life, skulking in the shadows of St. Louis and other cities, just trying to start a new life. His friends are other vampires and scum of the earth. He is exploring lots of options though, and is willing to try new things ... comes of turning a man of the cloth into a creature of darkness.

When we see Victor in the 70's,  He's nobility -- which is another way of saying he's rich. He was underworld last time we saw him, so he's probably a crime lord of some sort, probably minor. He's a cautious sort, seemingly having learned wisdom. He seems to have entered an existential phase: he's looking for love. He has everything a vampire could get, at least in small scale, but wants more. His wife is old and decrepit, his kids have moved on from what their father was, and in his home town he's just a ghost story now. His street acquaintances are either dead, moved on, or part of his new empire.

In the 96, we find him traveling around sating his lusts. He presumably didn't find the love he sought, indicating a sad story. He's liquefied his wealth, and his old crime buddies don't know where he is, just that he 'retired'. He is a simple creature, but no less dangerous than before.

And then we have the modern day. Victor won't be a traveling menace anymore, just as he wasn't a crime lord in 96. We do have a history for him though. It gives us a simple idea of who he was. It also lets us know what he can and can't do. He has a decent spread of skills, but not an absolutely massive one. He actually hasn't lived that long of a life, as vampires go.

How Big a Gap

This is a very important question when rolling up an immortal: how static are they? How long do they go between phases? An elf that hangs around other immortals could have much longer phases than the result of a curse in a land with few other people. How stable the character is is really a matter of taste and situation. In fact, you don't even have to make them all the same size. You could say that the wizard of the red tower had a phase where he ran the barony for 4 years and afterwards spent 66 years researching mind control.

Of course, when playing with the length remember than everyone else is turning over every 20 years. The red mage may have spent 66 years poring over musty books, but in that time his lands didn't stay static, and his stewards probably changed three or four times, each with a different opinion of their master. walk through the 20 year chunks, even when they're part of a single phase.

Tricks and Troubles

No random table will be perfect for this -- not even the ones I just used. Feel free to tweak the tables, and reroll results that make no sense at all. Don't shy away from rethinking what a given response means. And don't take too long getting things perfect: this is a NPC generation process, after all.


I don't think this gives perfect results by any means. But it does give decent results, and for a truly deep NPC, its worth the effort.  I hope you find this useful for your games, and that it inspires you to use an immortal in your game sometime.