Immunity to Aging and other Peasant Powers

Elders from Turkey

Second Hand Heroes?

“But ability (x) is so cheap and useful; why doesn’t everyone take it?” is a fairly common, and deceptively, simple question in Eclipse. It may be applied to “Immunity to Aging”, or to Luck (specialized in Skills), or to many, MANY, other powers – and it is a good question.

In fact, here’s a version of it from Alzrius:

Immunity/aging seems to be a relatively cheap ability to purchase, costing from 2 to 4 CP (that I’ve seen here – it seems to vary depending on if you want to live for a long time, or a very long time, or indefinitely unless killed).

My question is, does purchasing this immunity affect the ability score modifiers that go with aging in d20? Will this make you immune to the penalties to your physical ability scores? Will it still let you earn the bonuses to your mental ability scores? If the answer to the latter two questions is yes, then what’s to stop someone from taking this immunity at character creation and declaring that their character is starting their adventuring career at venerable age, and earning a free +3 bonus to their Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma?

Also, given that you can presumably purchase this anytime, what’s the in-game rationale for why most characters don’t make the relatively small investment required to become virtually immortal? Fear of death seems universal, so only 4 CP to live forever seems like it’d be worthwhile; given that, why don’t we see societies where deathlessness is common?

The answer comes in a couple of levels.

Perhaps most importantly for why everyone doesn’t buy it, it’s because character points are an abstraction – which is one reason why new purchases need to be approved by the game master and need an in-game explanation if they’re outre’.

After all, pretty much anyone can learn to operate an artillery piece. Few people actually do though; it takes time, and effort, and most people have limited amounts of both – and so invest them where they think it will do them the most good. It takes a LOT more time and effort, if it’s possible at all, without a teacher and an artillery weapon to practice with – and most game masters will have serious doubts about how a character who has never heard of artillery learned to operate it no matter what the player wants to spend points on.

Thus most non-player characters won’t be acquiring luck, or immunity to aging, or regeneration, or similar powers unless they have some rare inner spark, or obtain some magical gift, or spend years working on it. Sure, they may be afraid of dying – but so are people in the real world, and they still go right on slowly killing themselves with bacon-double-cheeseburgers rather than working out and getting healthy to extend their lifespans.

Adventurers have easy reasons to develop weird powers, and often do – but rarely worry much about old age. That’s not a very common cause of death amongst them.

Still, we could easily throw together a low-cost “handy peasant benefits” package…

  • Privilege/Generally overlooked by monsters and armies and evil overlords. Specialized/only works as long as they behave themselves and pay their taxes (1 CP). Isn’t it a little odd that most evil overlords in d20 institute harsh systems of “justice”, raise the taxes, and ravage a few attractive young women, but rarely actually fulfill their supposed alignment goals of causing mass suffering save as a side effect? Are we quite sure that d20 peasants don’t already have this?
  • Universal (also affects energy damage) Damage Reduction 2/-, Specialized/only works against accidental injuries, not intentional attacks or actions (1 CP). Here, again, this may be in play for the peasantry already; they don’t have many hit points – but they don’t seem to die from trivial (but infected) injuries, or accidents, or have twisted limbs from poorly-healed broken bones, or terrible scars from falling into a fire as a child, or have any similar problems very often at all. They also don’t usually seem to die from tripping on a step, being gored by bulls, or similar causes very often.
  • Immunity/Disease (Common, Major, Trivial), Specialized/only works against more-or-less mundane diseases, not supernatural plagues and such (1 CP). This will provide a fair degree of protection against most ordinary diseases – which fits. In standard d20 powerful healing magic is rare – but you rarely encounter massive disease-based child mortality, half-cripplied polio cases, people with brain damage, or the rest of the human wreckage the plagues we now vaccinate against used to leave behind.
  • Privilege/Aided by the local spirits. Specialized/only applies to mundane accidents (1 CP). In a world of open cookfires, candles, and torches, fire was a regular occurance. Farmers lived in terror of insects, blights, and droughts. Storms washed out bridges, winds flattened crops, and hunger was never far away. People had many, MANY, children, in hopes that a few of them might live. Thus a village might have a population of fifty or sixty percent children – most of whom would soon die. With this handy knack, such minor disasters will be greatly mitigated – resulting in those cheerful little hamlets with a reasonably modern population distribution which you find in most d20 backgrounds. Welcome to the Shire gentlemen!
  • Immunity/Age. That can actually be taken in many ways – a few of which are discussed below – but the most common version acts to extend the user’s maximum lifespan – effectively slowing the aging process more and more as you upgrade your resistance. This results in more-or-less normal aging effects, they’re simply spread out over more time (and often pushed a bit towards the “quick at the beginning and the end” model, thus avoiding decade-long infancies and decades of extreme old age). This is pretty common for sci-fi and naturalistic conceptions, where drugs, or genetic engineering, or whatever can slow, but usually not truly stop, the aging process until things start to REALLY go wrong. That’s Uncommon, Major – and extends the user’s lifespan according to the degree of immunity purchased, reducing both the good and bad effects of aging. Trivial will probably give you +50% or more though. For a mere (2 CP) you can fill your villages with wizened-but-hearty elders to provide wise advice, old folktales, and other vital (if non-physical) adventuring supplies. Oddly enough, of course, such characters are quite common in d20 games – as opposed to real life, where serious elders were generally valued because of their rarity.

There. At a cost of 6 CP, that turns the usual medieval peasant into the usual d20 peasant. They DO tend to be a great deal healthier, happier, and longer-lived than genuine medieval peasants really were.

Alternative notions of Immunity/Age may include:

Preventing attribute loss due to old age. This version doesn’t actually extend the user’s maximum lifespan – but it will result in hale-and-hearty elders and prevent problems that may be interpreted as attribute loss, such as arthritis (Dex loss), senility (Int loss), sensory limitations (Wis loss), and so on. Given the basic d20 aging rules – where aging improves your mind – it’s possible that most people have this already. That’s Uncommon (aging checks are pretty rare after all), Severe (attribute losses are fairly nasty), and Trivial (since we only need a couple of points of resistance), for a net cost of 3 CP.

Cosmetic immunity to aging. This version simply makes the user look young – an effect so trivial that it costs virtually nothing. At best this is Uncommon, Minor, and Trivial, for a net cost of 1 CP.

Complete immunity to aging. This is the classic version, wherein the user remains young and vital (or at whatever age he or she invested in it). In practice, this is a lot less useful than you think. Unless they’re living a safe, secure, lifestyle, most people don’t die of old age. They die in accidents or by violence, from diseases and toxins, in disasters, and in many other ways. In most settings, those will be bigger problems than they are in daily life (at least for those of us living in countries with the leisure to worry about role-playing games). Immunity to aging doesn’t mean that you won’t die – it just means that your average lifespan goes up a bit and something else will get you.

Can you take something like the “immunity to attribute losses due to aging”, start off as a wise elder, and get (under the standard rules) +3 mental attribute bonuses?

Sure you can. Of course, that means that you’ll be dead fairly soon anyway – and the game master is likely to want a lot of backstory, a really good reason why you’re taking up adventuring in your old age, and a substantial investment in less-than-optimal (for an adventurer anyway) skills and abilities (“Parenting”, “Farming”, “Specific Knowledges / Names and Birthdays of Relatives, Local Village Layout, and fifty or sixty years worth of similar stuff – which pretty much comes down to the “Aged” disadvantage on page 18 of Eclipse. You can do it, and you can get some benefits out of it – but the cost is competitive: Spend 3 CP on that immunity, another 24-48 CP on all the useless stuff the GM is likely to demand (for a total of up to 51 points worth of unhelpful items) – and get a total of +9 on your mental attributes, Specialized/puts you close to death from old age (leaving you EXTREMELY vulnerable to aging effects) – a net value of (12 x 9 x .5/Specialized) = 54 CP.

In purely mechanical terms, this comes down to writing a long backstory, coming up with a lot of plot hooks, and getting a +3 CP bonus and some skills you’re probably never going to actually use adventuring in exchange. Overall, more or less a wash.

4 Responses

  1. […] Peasant Powers: A six=point power package to turn scrabbling medieval peasants into contended d20 peasants. […]

  2. …Why did you not include the cost for total immunity to aging? You put it in a sidebar where you explained 2 different ones you could buy with numbers, and then didn’t put a number.

    • Because it’s covered under the first Immunity/Age option: “Trivial” (at 2 CP) is “+50% or more” – so probably up to 2-3x. “Minor” (at 4 CP) might be up to 10-20x. “Major” (at 6 CP) might be a up to 50x. That’s well past the point where it doesn’t matter: the number of campaigns that cover a mere five hundred years is trivial.

      It’s the reverse of the Disadvantage Rule;

      “All disadvantages are subject to a general rule: if it doesn’t cause you significant problems, then it’s not a disadvantage, and is worth no points.”

      Similarly, a power that doesn’t do you any good might cost you a few points for style – but it isn’t going to cost much. How many campaigns last long enough for the characters to die of old age? An immunity to something that never happens anyway is cheap.

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