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We have a player at our table who wants to join the weekly game as a level 7 human druid. His description of the character so far in the conceptual stages is, "an old dude who lives in the woods with animals" — presumably some sort of hermit backstory.

3.5 has an age modifiers table. If our druid in question is Venerable and has the cumulative −6 to physical / +3 to mental stats that come with age, will the aging penalties apply when he wildshapes? That is, will an old man shapeshift into an old wolf? What impact would this have if he survives (and the game persists) until level 15, such that he has the Timeless Body class feature? Will the aging penalties during wildshape then go away?

To me it seems power gamey to allow a player to begin play with 21 wisdom (18 +3 from age) at low-mid level then to allow him to shrug off the physical penalties to his stats while in a melee-oriented form such as a wolf/lion/bear/etc.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ To confirm, you're neither the DM nor the druid player here, correct? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 30 '17 at 0:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's correct. I'm the party beatstick. The dm asked me to help the druid get his character together. \$\endgroup\$ – Micah Sep 30 '17 at 1:04
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When a druid uses the supernatural ability wild shape, the druid assumes an alternate form, and that means the druid "gains the physical ability scores (Str, Dex, Con) of its new form." The druid's own physical ability scores have no impact on its alternate form. (The extraordinary ability timeless body won't change the ability score penalties due to aging that've already occurred.)

Since the venerable druid is entering play at level 7, the druid will've avoided much of the hassle that comes from those low ability scores at early levels and will now be spending 21 hours per day in an assumed form, dodging all those physical penalties.

You're correct that's kind of power gamy—being venerable at this point for the PC means the PC gains +3 to the ability scores that matter to the PC while largely ignores the corresponding minuses. I suggest asking the potential venerable druid's player if the player'd still want the PC to be venerable if there were no bonuses or penalties involved with being so elderly—just to find out if the PC described is truly the player's creative vision or if the venerable age thing is the player's vision because of the mechanics. Then, if it turns out the player wants a venerable PC because old people are cool, the DM should totally let the player play the PC… without any bonuses or penalties.

That's because—like KRyan does—I tend to view the aging modifiers as an unnecessary mechanical limitation on a player's vision for a PC, and getting rid of them is good for the game.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Alright cool. I'll run this past the player and see if he just wants to rp being an old hermit without specifically applying the venerable age adjustment to his stat block. It seems improbable that death from old age will come up in the scope of the game since this is supposed to be a short campaign, so it should all be mechanically sound. \$\endgroup\$ – Micah Sep 30 '17 at 1:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Suggestions for improvement welcome. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 30 '17 at 2:13
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It seems to me that these modifiers don’t get changed by wild shape—neither wild shape nor alternate form, which it’s based on, mention them. They do mention gaining the physical ability scores of the new form, but any modifiers would remain and continue to modify the new scores.

Note that even so, wild shape is an incredibly potent ability and most druids will dump Strength and Dexterity since their wild shape forms will replace them. This is very powerful, and one of many reasons why druid is one of the most powerful classes in the game.

Anyway, I strongly recommend eliminating the aging modifiers from the game. If you can eliminate aging penalties, they’re free +3 bonuses to three ability scores—overpowered—and if not the −6 penalty to three scores is crippling—punishing if not nixing many character concepts. If an old character is wise and learned, then just choose higher mental scores. If they have kept in shape, high ability scores are fine—it is possible, if difficult, to stay in fantastic shape as you age, and this is fantasy anyway. And if not, just pick lower scores. Extra bonuses and penalties are unnecessary—and problematic for both mechanical and narrative reasons. The game is better off without them.

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It is true, wildshape lets a druid get the physical ability scores of a standard animal in its prime (the standard stats for an animal of that kind) while still getting the enhanced mental stats for old age.

However, old age is still very detrimental to the druid because that -6 to Con in its natural form will still reduce their HP total, and the HP won't change when wildshaping.

About timeless body, it only reduces aging penalties yet to come, so it does not apply here.

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If I were the DM, I'd rule that the venerable age penalties/bonuses are already included in the stats you roll/buy for the new character. That way you avoid the power-gameyness. I view the aging effects as something that happens outside of character creation.

Sorry this doesn't answer your direct questions, but hopefully it's a useful solution to the underlying problem.

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