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When immortality comes into play, vampires or overpowered characters are often the first things that come to mind. There's a lot that can be done with immortality from a role playing point of view though, no matter whether you're playing a vampire, an all powerful lich, or a member of a species of eternal space beings.
In this article I'll go over ideas ranging from character specific ideas to just elements your own immortal character might have to deal with. Of course, people change and having a potentially infinite lifespan does offer far more chances for change, so many of the ideas below could apply to the same character at different times.
Do note that with immortality I mostly mean not being able to die of old age. Being killed in some shape or form is usually still possible, but the ideas below could be applied to those who simply cannot die at all as well.
Also note that in this guide I'll focus on themes, aspects, or other elements part of a character, rather than on a character trope specifically. I won't explain what a vampire is in the vampire section, for example, but delve into something different.
What is a vampire at its core? A being who has to feed on the blood of others in order to survive. Ignoring the blood part, all living beings have to feed on something to survive, so vampires aren't all that different, but they are met with more hostility. All beings who eat meat have to deal with blood loss at some stage too, but a vampire could technically feed without killing anybody. This could make for a compelling trait, but it is a delicate subject to tread on as you basically go toward vegetarianism/veganism versus being an omnivore, which isn't something people usually want to delve into during what's supposed to be a relaxing, escape-from-reality game night.
You can twist it to something different though. Perhaps your character has to feed on something different, perhaps on a very specific being, or maybe simply coming to terms with potentially spreading your own curse is the main focus of your struggle. What if feeding means living, but at the cost of creating more people like you? At what point in your eternal life do all those little costs add up to too much?
A grim reaper or valkyrie type of character is similar to the vampire idea, except these are responsible for taking people from their mortal life to whatever comes next, which could be nothing depending on how you play it. This concept has been done in movies and other works of fiction, and it can make for scenes withg a big impact. How would you deal with somebody pleading for their lives or for just a few more minutes with their loved ones? Even if you know what comes after is a form of paradise, the sheer emotions you have to deal with or the circumstances of various deaths could leave a mark.
In a way it's similar to being a doctor or nurse who has to deal with terminal patients a lot. If nothing else, their strength could offer you inspirations for how to do a character like this better justice.
Alright, change of pace, because so far it's been a bit gloomy and dark. The "jellyfish character" is an immortal character who, like a specific species of jellyfish, reverses their aging process to basically become young again, and then ages normally before starting the process all over again. This offers so much potential for hilarity or for a whole range of annoyed faces from your party group by basically reverting to a child form of your character.
The jellyfish I'm referring to, the Turritopsis Dohrnii, can revert to a polyp stage, which means it reverts to a very young version of itself, one that is attached to a rock or the ground. Now while being stuck on the back of a party member like some weird Voldermort-like being could make for a fun character as well, you're probably better of reverting to a young teenager or young adult just to keep things flowing. Being stuck on the back of someone's head doesn't offer you a lot of freedom after all, and reverting all the way back to a baby just turns the game into a daycare, which again goes against the point of what's supposed to be a relaxing, escape-from-reality game.
A character with powers similar to a phoenix will be similar to the jellyfish idea, with the exception that a phoenix can usually be reborn both after being killed and after reaching an old age. The other big difference is that a phoenix has to deal with their own death to some extent, while the jellyfish doesn't. This could offer some traumatic consequences. What if your phoenix character is reborn, but remembers everything from before, including how they died?
On the other hand, knowing you'll most likely rise back from the ashes could make your character more willing to take risks others might not. That is assuming your ashes, or however your character reincarnates, isn't destroyed or captured in the process. This itself could make for a fun story arc too, mostly for your party members of course, as your character's ashes would be stuck in a jar hidden at the back of a cupboard of the villain's grandmother's kitchen. Nobody ever suspects good old Nana Sweetpie.
On a different reincarnation spectrum are machines. Is your old body broken and bruised? No problem! Simply upload your conscience into this brand new model, now with all new flamethrower finger! Of course, you better be careful your conscience, wherever it's stored, doesn't get damaged or corrupted. No new model will fix that, so make sure you get "Back You Up!", the all new backup service to backup your conscience. No strings attached.
Silliness aside, there's a lot to play around with when it comes to machines. They're usually more durable, but, depending on the story universe, have big vulnerabilities too. In theory they could be immortal though, but they're generally far higher maintenance than other potentially immortal beings. Vampires don't usually need an oil change or replacement part, for example.
What if your body is made of puny flesh and blood? Replacement parts or not, a machine can at least replace an arm if it's lost. Not to worry, your clone can take over. They're even a younger version of you, but with all your memories!
"Won't that mean that I technically die?" you ask? Well, your clone is an exact copy of you, they'll live on as you would, so to the world you never die. "Yeah, but I will die. I want to be immortal." you may say. Well, try out "One-Up Yourself", the new technological wonder that allows you to upload your conscience into a machine! Now with a free subscription to "Back You Up!", terms and conditions apply.
Alright, alright, enough with the silliness (for now). Clones are a strange way to be immortal, but technically it works, assuming your clone has your memories of course, otherwise you're more like an identical twin. From a story and game-play point of view, clones can offer a whole range of chaos, but in the right setting it can make for a great adventure or story arc.
I'll be delving more into aspects of immortal life from this point on, the first of which is the limits of what your immortal being can actually do. You may have an eternal life, but while time isn't a factor for you, it is to others, not to mention the limits of your physical form. This doesn't just mean regular day-to-day things, but also the far darker and potentially traumatizing parts of life. Prevent a friend from dieing of an aggressive disease? Probably not. Defeat an oppressive regime? Unlikely.
Coming to terms with your limits over such a long period of time of difficulties can be traumatizing in and of itself. Our limits in real life can be difficult enough to accept in our relatively short lives, let alone what an immortal being might have to face. But this could help shape your character from a creation point of view.
On the topic of loss, at one point an immortal being might feel they've got nothing left to lose, or perhaps is no longer willing to feel loss, so they don't grow attached to anybody or anything. This could make for a very emo, teenager-esque character, but that'd probably not be the most enjoyable to play or to play with for your group. Still, it can make for a tragic story arc or character background if done well.
Being immortal, you'll meet countless people and experience countless things, and at one point they might simply no longer impress you unless they're truly extraordinary. When something does happen to be extraordinary, you'd likely be all the more intrigued and impressed by it, perhaps not willing to just let it go without finding out how it works or who's responsible for it.
On the other hand, perhaps throughout their immortal life, your character may have found exactly what does and doesn't impress them, and they'll actively seek out the enjoyable things and avoid the less enjoyable ones. Similar to us in real life, but to a more extreme degree.
This one's probably more difficult to pull off well, but it could at least be a character trait if nothing else. If you're immortal, time doesn't mean much to you. Does something non-urgent need to be done? That's okay, it can be done tomorrow or the day after.
This definitely treads on the lines of bringing real life into an escape-from-reality game, but depending on who's in your group, it likely won't cause any problems.
Grudges can be a powerful enemy, and they can definitely shape a person. If an immortal character is unable or unwilling to let go of grudges, they'll probably collect a wide range of them over time. A war fought between two races, the rich taking advantage of the poor, a betrayal by a close friend. These kinds of things usually repeat themselves throughout time, and an immortal character might remember this and see a potential future before it even happens as a result of it.
Now I'm not saying you should have a whole treasure hoard-like collection of grudges, although that could make for a fun villain, but living forever can make you more cynical about certain things.
With immortality comes a lot of time, and with a lot of time comes the means to reach endlessly for perfection. Think about it, if you had endless time to perfect a skill (or multiple), wouldn't you do so? I definitely would. Become an amazing musician, perhaps a fantastic painter, or maybe a master of martial arts. Of course, from a game play point of view you'll want to discuss this with your group. Being "perfect" at anything will quickly lead to balance issues, especially when they're combat related. But even being a fantastic painter could potentially mean you can make a lot of money really quickly, for example.
A perfectionist would take it a step further than simply being fantastic though, they would forever chase perfection even if perfection is unobtainable. Knowing perfection can't be reached could have some adverse effects on an immortal mind after a few hundred years too.
So you might not be able to reach perfection, things are rarely perfect after all, but you can become a master of many things. Need leather tanned? No problem! Need a gem cut a specific way? I got you. What about a painted birdhouse shaped like an ogre head with a miniature version of that birdhouse attached to it? That's kind of specific, but sure!
Of course, the "Jack of Literally All Trades" would need to be discussed in a group as well, because balancing is still a thing you'll want to keep in mind. The easiest way to solve this is by being a jack of incredibly obscure trades, like being able to play the world's tiniest violin. Kind of useless, but potentially hilarious.
Let's end on a fun note, with jokes! Being immortal means you've probably come across a wide range of jokes, but being long lived also allows for some unique jokes. Like a quote from City of Ashes: "I was alive when the Dead Sea was just a lake that was feeling a little poorly.". You can apply these kind of jokes to most universes and make them as snarky as you feel as appropriate. It can lead to snarky back and forth comments between two characters too, perhaps between a very young character and the immortal one, or perhaps between two immortal characters who try to convince others they're the youngest of the two.
Plus, being so old, you'd have then ultimate collection of dad jokes. All shall fear your arrival! Faces will be palmed, sighs will be heard! None can stand in the way of this unlimited power!