Hero Spotlight #2: The Veteran

In stark contrast to the Farmboy, the Veteran represents the aged hero, the one who has experienced the world for what it is, through experiences both joyful and tragic.  While lots of characters in RPGs are built as having had prior experience or adventures, few of these concepts actually carry the hallmarks of a Veteran.

The Veteran makes for a compelling character as his struggles is unique in the sense that not only does he have to contend with external conflict in the form of monsters and villains, but he also must contend with his own limitations, as age slowly erodes his abilities.  His achievements of the past have eclipsed his current capabilities, and he can no longer deny that he truly is over the hill.

The Veteran – Experience is the the best teacher, and the Veteran has it in spades.  As a character who has seen his fair share of adventure and excitement even before the game has started, the Veteran presents an interesting opportunity for players to take on the role of someone older, wiser and altogether crankier than usual.  Veterans enjoy having the wisdom of their years, and if the GM is kind, these advantages can translate to the game system, changing the standard character generation dynamic and letting players enjoy the benefits (and suffer the drawbacks) of playing someone who is obviously past their prime.

In many ways the Veteran is the opposite of the Farmboy.  He is cynical and practical.  He doesn’t necessarily believe in destiny, and destiny in turn seems to be perfectly happy in leaving him alone.  His victories are one with blood and sweat, and rather than having a mentor, he is more likely to take on an apprentice.  Veterans are interesting characters given that their personalities lend them to being more abrupt, less patient and less impressed by pomp and pageantry.  They may have prejudices that run deep in their bones after decades of conflict, or old grudges that may serve as the only fire that keeps them fighting.

How to use the Veteran as a Character:

  • Old Scars – Veterans are survivors.  Old conflicts leave old wounds, and it is the scars and traumatic memories of these events that shape the Veteran into what he is now.  Whether he’s bitter and cynical, or possessed of a new appreciation for the gift of life and dedicated to it’s protection, the Veteran has a unique outlook that puts him in a unique position to inspire others to greatness, or to warn them of their folly.
  • Old Skills – We pick up new skills and knowledge all the time, and the Veteran excels in having the occasional strange skill that most people would never think of having in character generation.  Whether or not it’s the ability to utter choice sentences in Orcish, or remembering secret access codes to a munitions cache from the old days, the Veteran’s skillset is one built on experience and necessity, rather than pure schooling.
  • Building a Legacy – Veterans are well aware of their mortality and their age.  Even the mightiest of champions know (and occasionally dread) the day when they can no longer wield their weapons, when their fingers, locked up from arthritis can no longer flourish the rapier with the same skill and precision as they did in their glory days.  As such, the Veteran seeks to build a legacy.  While some adventurers would spend their gains on ale and whores, the Veteran hires workers to put up a school building where he can pass on his knowledge and skills to a new generation.

The Veteran’s Resources:

  • Skills – As I mentioned before the Veteran has a lot more focus on skills and know-how rather than physical prowess.  Age deteriorates physical performance, but it can’t take away the lessons learned the hard way.
  • Reputation – Veterans have a reputation.  Whether for their victories or conduct in the field, or for the invincible nature of their sword fighting technique, the Veteran enjoys fame, and a considerable amount of influence over those that know his name and his deeds.  This is very handy in social situations where he can get away with a little bit of imposition or ask for a few favors from his admirers, or intimidate those who know of his darker side.
  • Old Friends – Veterans are battle hardened fighters who have worked alongside other people.  These companions, whether members of an older party, fellow veteran soldiers, or even grateful townsfolk from a location once liberated serve as additional aid the the Veteran.

Building a Veteran

Stepping into the realm of metagaming and mechanics, I’d recommend the following tweaks to a campaign to further define a Veteran character:

  • Been there, done that – Veterans are experienced characters, and should be commensurate in terms of power.  I’d allow a D&D veteran character to begin at 2-3 levels higher than the starting benchmark.  nWoD Veterans would most likely have about 50 more experience points than the standard starting character, and L5R characters would work by being 1-2 School Ranks Higher.  However, the extra experience must be spent on skills, or backgrounds to represent the advantages of Age.  No 80 year olds with STR 22 please.
  • Can’t teach an old dog new tricks – Veterans no longer gain the same benefit from experience as younger characters.  As such they only gain half or even a quarter the experience earned by the rest of their party.  For particularly old characters, it could be set that they are unable to gain any experience at all. (I’ve played a character with this condition, and while it was front loaded, it made character creation a very careful exercise.)
  • With age, comes arthritis – Veterans should always apply any attribute degeneration rules due to age (if any) or take Mental or Physical Flaws to represent his infirmity.

Fictional Examples:

  • Druss the Legend – Old Veteran hero personified.  Druss is tough, old, and arthritic.  He’s got several dozen infirmities and more than his share of personal demons, and yet he’s a living legend among the people.
  • Walker Boh – The Dark Uncle of the Shannara Series by Terry Brooks, is angry, unhappy, and despises the destiny thrust withing him, but it was his earlier experiences that made him the perfect candidate to become the next generation’s Druid.

7 thoughts on “Hero Spotlight #2: The Veteran

  1. This is the current trope I’m having fun playing with. Jack Maclaine, and the Nameless Warlock – just to start the list.

    Dude, Insane and senile master? Never saw it before as a ‘Veteran’ character… but its true!

    Happosai ftw!

  2. Let’s round off a few more people that fit this trope/archetype:

    Beowulf the later years. When he goes off to kick Dragon ass. Arthritis and all.

    Fizban – Loved the character even when I eventually realized that he was basically the author’s character (GM’s NPC).

  3. Hey Jeff!

    I’m glad you liked the article. Druss the Legend from David Gemmel’s novel really helped shape this concept out and gave me a better understanding of the veteran’s mindset. I found the exploration between Druss the man vs. Druss the Legend to be fantastic.

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