Monday, March 11, 2019

AD&D: Dying of Old Age

I was futzing around with age tables, writing out some established rules for placement on the wiki, when I ran into an old rule in the Dungeon Masters Guide (DMG) that I hadn't considered for a long time: Death Due to Age.

I remember the rule of course, but it's obscure because except for one combat with a ghost a party of mine had decades ago, I haven't aged anyone with magic ... and no character has played enough years in my campaign to come close to death from old age.  I played one group for ten years and the total time that passed in the game was only six years.  My offline campaign ran for nearly nine years and they only moved a little more than three years in game time.  Die of old age?  Hah.

Yet for fun, I thought about it a bit and hit on an idea ... for a rule I expect never to use.  But what the hell; let's discuss the table on the right.

Player characters are considered above the norm as people (they roll 4d6 instead of 3d6), so we make a simple exemption (as did AD&D) to dying of natural causes before the age of 61, with the exception of disease of course.  There are no worries about it until then.

Now, my game does not recognize the extended lifespans of demi-human races; it did not work for my history or my conception of game play, so I ditched it about 30 years ago.  AD&D does give different calculations for the non-human races' starting character age in the DMG ~ when I made the change over, I used those starting ages and converted them to human age.  It turns out dwarven and gnomish clerics start very late in life; in human terms, the gnome cleric starts at 48 +1d10, while the dwarf cleric starts at 57 +2d4.  The average age for a starting dwarf cleric is 62.  Something to keep in mind.

Okay, the table.  Once a character reaches 61, the first progressive roll at the top of the chart is applied (and then scratched out by the character).  The character rolls 5d12, indicating the number of months that will pass before the character makes a fate check ... or if the reader prefers, an Atropos check.  This is a percentage roll, calculated first by the character adding his or her present constitution to 80.  John, with a 14 constitution, would calculate a 94% chance of survival.

Now, we can narrow this down to the day of the check, if the DM has it together and is keeping good records.  John's birthday is March 11th and he turns 61 in the year 1651.  He doesn't roll that well with 5d12, getting a 28.  This means he won't need to make a fate check until at least July 11th, 1653.  We can simply roll a d30, not worrying about the quibbling issue of the length of months, getting a result of 14.  On July 25th, 1653, John will make a fate check, to see if he was fated to die that day.

That's a long way off and John doesn't worry.  Look at how many years you can play a D&D campaign with 28 months of game time!  But the day approaches, and approaches ... and even though he knows the day he will have to roll, he doesn't actually know if he's going to die that day.  Let's say, he has a feeling.

But the day comes and John is fine.  He rolls a 53 and all is right in the world.  Now, he rolls the second row on the chart: 5d10.  He rolls and gets slightly below average: 25.  Again we calculate, of course from July 25th.  John will make his next fate check (rolling a d30 = 10) ... July + 25 months = same date in August, two years later, add the 10 ... September 4th, 1655.

Each time he succeeds, the number of potential months until his next fate roll reduces by average.  Provided he keeps making his fate check, by the time he gets down to where he's rolling 1d12 or 1d8, he might have been really lucky with those first rolls and could be in his early 90s.  On the other hand, he might be unlucky and find he's at the end of his tether much sooner than the table estimates.

Once the character is down to 1d4, thereafter a fate roll is made every 1 to 4 months, +1-30 days.  A lucky fellow might linger on.

But of course, there's always a longevity potion.  I think to really make this system work, I'd attach a system shock survival roll to the longevity potion ~ and for those who are familiar with AD&D, the roll to survive system shock is generally worse than the roll I'm giving to dying of fate.  That makes it a tougher decision ~ which I always like as a DM, because I am a major prick.

Seriously, though, I never expect to use this table.  A character aged by a ghost should have to make each check that is passed through by the aging process.  That's only fair.

What would death be, exactly?  Well, probably just that the character dies in their sleep.  Or rolls, fails, and collapses suddenly of a fatal heart attack.  Or a brain embolism.  Hell, I'd let the player pick.  It isn't that important.

But there you are.  A tension-building rule that could haunt a player through a year-long campaign, and seriously cause them to question whether or not they should just "hang out in this town for a few months while the mage researches something."

Maybe that's wishful thinking on my part.


James said...

I deleted my prior comment, I somehow missed it in my first read-through. I like this idea, and am going to use it in my game.

Alexis Smolensk said...

"... the character makes a fate check ... or if the reader prefers, an Atropos check. This is a percentage roll, calculated first by the character adding his or her present constitution to 80. John, with a 14 constitution, would calculate a 94% chance of survival."

This is the fate check, John has a 94% chance of NOT dying when the time comes to make the check ~ and every check thereafter, until he reaches the age of 90 and loses a point of constitution due to age. After that point, his constitution is 13 and he has a 93% chance of surviving his fate check.

Before he makes any checks, permeations and combinations says he has a 48% chance of dying in his first six checks; however, once he makes a check, he has a 48% chance of dying in the NEXT six checks. Permeatations works that way.

Incidentally, when they say your life expectancy as a male is 72, they mean AT BIRTH. If you've already lived 30 years, then you've skipped over a lot of the things that averaged out your death at 72, so your personal life expectancy as a 30-y.o. man is actually much higher. And it will continue to climb as long as you live. When you get into your 80s, however, it climbs much more slowly ~ and eventually, of course, you catch up with it.

Travis Heldibridle said...

Interesting idea. I’m currently getting rules together for a game that is intended to take place over a few generations with years broken into summer/adventure and winter/downtime, so I actually do expect characters to die of old age (players will retain control of retired characters for downtime use).

I’ve been thinking of just doing a basic roll (maybe 50/50) every year after 60 to see if they lose a point of STR, CON, or DEX. If one drops to 0, the character passes.

Ozymandias said...

The great thing about making rules for ordinary stuff, even if you never have cause to use them due to ordinary circumstances, is that you can call upon them in where the extraordinary applies.

I can see using these where ghosts and liches are concerned. Or with powerful spells. Or cursed magic items. Oh, and all those spells that age characters as a side effect? I think haste was on that list at one time . . .

James said...

This reminds me of your poison rules you did awhile back, which I also am using.

I like the math behind it. A high-Constitution character could live a very, very long time, but this feels like a feature, not a bug.

And while it may never come up, passage of time is really relevant in my game (players go on long journeys or take downtime fairly frequently, so about 5 years have passed in game time in about 4-5 years real-time).

Drain said...

I like your solution here, ingeniously combining a degree of transparency (all-important when dealing with character death) without giving away too much.