Not all fantasy characters have the luxury of waiting until adulthood to begin their adventuring careers. The dangers of fantasy worlds don't discriminate between the ages of those they threaten. Even the infant Hercules had to strangle the serpents Hera sent to kill him in his crib. But though they're often underestimated, such youths are rarely the ready victims they're often treated as. By default, newly made characters are adults, their ages randomly assigned or at least influenced by Table: Random Starting Ages. However, should you wish to play a young prodigy getting an early start on her legend, the rules here detail how to bring such a character to life.
Young characters are essentially normal characters with an age category younger than any presented in the standard rules. Characters of this age category are able and intelligent, curious and talented, but not yet experienced or worldly. They are on the threshold of great things, but still a step away. This youthfulness is represented in three ways: ability score adjustments, restrictions to available classes, and slower trait acquisition.
Ability Score Adjustments: In the same way an adult character gains adjustments to her ability scores as she reaches middle, old, and venerable age, a young character occupies a new pre-adulthood age category, and therefore has altered physical ability scores, though the vigor of youth does grant some benefit. a young character has a +2 bonus to Dexterity and a –2 penalty to Strength, Constitution, and Wisdom. (A young character's potential inexperience and awkwardness are represented by having only the skill ranks of a 1st-level character rather than taking a penalty to Intelligence or Charisma.)
When a young character reaches adulthood (see Table: Random Young Starting Ages), she loses these ability score adjustments.
Available Classes: a young character does not have access to the same classes as adult characters. Not yet trained in the advanced techniques of war, arcana, faith, and varied other pursuits, a young character is a squire, apprentice, acolyte, or student on the path to expertise. As such, you can select only NPC classes while in this age category, beginning play and advancing in level as an adept, aristocrat, commoner, expert, or warrior, according to your interests and social background. As soon as you reach adulthood, though, you may retrain those NPC class levels as levels in any base classes of your choosing (see Retraining).
Traits: Because character traits represent your character's background before becoming an adventurer, the GM might limit you to selecting only one trait at 1st level instead of the normal two traits allowed. When your character reaches adulthood, you select your second trait. Note that normally you can select a new trait after 1st level only if your character takes the Additional Traits feat, so this option allows you more flexibility in choosing your second trait, as recent events in the campaign might make some of your trait options more valuable than they originally appeared when the campaign started.
Unlike higher age categories, there are two common ways a young character might advance into adulthood.
Age: The simplest way for a young character to reach adulthood is by aging into new age thresholds. Table: Random Young Character Starting Ages includes the age when members of the core races reach adulthood. Once a character reaches that age, she loses the ability score adjustments related to youth and may retrain NPC classes. If you aren't playing a core race, find a race with the lifespan that most closely approximates that of your character's race and work with your GM to create reasonable age benchmarks for youth, adulthood, middle age, and beyond.
Reward: The pace at which characters gain experience varies widely from campaign to campaign. In one campaign, a character might gain multiple levels in a single month of in-game time, while in another a character might spend years at the same level. If adulthood were purely tied to the passage of time in a campaign, a young character might gain extensive adventuring experience but still be restricted to selecting only NPC classes.
A GM may grant a young character the option of passing into the adult age category early after achieving some noteworthy goal. Potential accomplishments include surpassing your instructor's skill, defeating a powerful adult foe, overcoming a threat to your home, or completing a lengthy journey. The completion of a published module or adventure of similar length might warrant a youth advancing to adulthood, or perhaps attaining a certain level in an NPC class (perhaps at 3rd or 5th level). If your GM grants your young character the ability to advance into adulthood early, you may choose when to take advantage of that benefit. Your ability scores do not change to reflect your new age category until you retrain an NPC class level.
You might choose to play a young character to gain insight into your PC's life or indulge a character concept you haven't tried. a GM might start your campaign at a young age to mimic adventures common in young adult fiction, video games, superhero teams from comics, and various other media. If you are thinking about playing a young character, consider the following points. The GM planning for this should be aware of and have methods of addressing each topic.
Roleplaying: Unlike modern society, which tends to treat even very competent youths like children, medieval societies usually treated children like adults as soon as they proved they were able to handle adult tasks and responsibilities. This means NPCs might treat a group of young PC adventurers just like they would treat adult adventurers, though any physical shortcomings could be a source of jokes or disdain.
Uneven Parties: NPC classes are not as powerful as PC classes. Therefore, if some players have young characters and others have adult characters, the adults in the group will be more powerful and have other advantages. Even if you are fine with playing an underpowered character, the other players in the group might not be okay with a weaker character tagging along, especially if your character's relative weakness potentially jeopardizes the group. Before you create a young character, make sure that all players are willing to accept a young character into the party.
Child Endangerment: It's one thing to throw traps, monsters, and deadly magic into the path of willing adults, but another thing to threaten young people with such dangers. Although fantasy fiction is filled with instances of peril giving juvenile characters the opportunity to be heroic and prove their potential, not all players are going to be comfortable with putting young characters in danger. Before including them in a game, the GM should discuss with the group whether or not this might negatively impact any players' enjoyment of the campaign.
Weakness: Young PCs are weaker than standard PCs. Published adventures are designed assuming PCs have the abilities, skills, flexibility, and full potential of base classes, making them too lethal for young characters. As a quick rule, the Average Party Level (APL) of a party of NPC-classed characters is approximately 2 character levels lower than that of a party of PC-classed characters of the same level.