Character Birthdays Matter for Game Masters

Discover the significance of character birthdays in tabletop roleplaying games. Mark the occasion with random events from our birthday celebration table, enhancing immersion and player engagement.

Character Birthdays Matter for Game Masters
Photo by Adi Goldstein / Unsplash

On the character sheets of many tabletop roleplaying games, particularly Dungeons and Dragons 5e, there is a space provided for players to fill in their characters' personal details.

  • Alignment
  • Gender
  • Hair Colour
  • Weight
  • Height

And notably—age.

"Why does age matter?" you might ask; the answer is straightforward! Your character's age determines their birthdate. Knowing when your character was born holds plenty of backstory and potential roleplay value. You can integrate current events of the time into your character creation process, informing everything from your character's thoughts and beliefs to how they react to certain places, people, or situations.

However, what's most important for us, as Game Masters, is when the characters in your game celebrate their birthdays?

Sometimes, players choose their PCs birthday. Some may even align their character's birthday with their own for an extra special day. I advise caution against this unless you relish the challenge of running Total Party Kills and basking in the despondency. Regardless, character birthdays are a wonderful way to engage your players with the world, making the characters in your world feel lived-in, real, and uniquely special.

In my younger days, when Polaroid cameras were all the rage, I embarked on my first fantasy adventure. It wasn't exactly a typical fantasy journey; rather, it was more like a war-game simulation. We created characters and battled through various fantasy scenarios. Although I lost interest in the hobby quickly, one thing stayed with me over the years. The person running the game used ideas from the well-known book "Fantasy Wargaming" by Bruce Galloway. They combined these ideas with a random d12 table to make each character's birthday feel special and meaningful.

The Birthday Celebration Table

I lack access to the roll table used by the adjudicator in that game. Decades have passed, and I no longer have contact with them. However, recent attempts to incorporate the backstories and personal characteristics of the characters in my upcoming Grim Hollow game brought back memories. It made me reflect on those old days and the joy of celebrating my character's birthday as part of the game's canon.

My desire to share that pure joy with my players led me to search online for a similar roll table to what I remember being used at the time.

I present to you, the birthday celebration table:

Roll 1d12, and use the result to determine a random event that helps your player celebrate their character's birthday.

  1. An NPC gives the character a cool present. A nice surprise sure to please your player!
  2. The character has (d4: 1-3 Good; 4 Bad) luck today. That might mean advantage or disadvantage on rolls, a +1 or -1 modifier, good or bad events happening, or some other luck mechanic.
  3. The character remembers a forgotten hobby or skill from their youth, giving them a new rank or bonus to one skill.
  4. An old friend shows up and needs help with a dangerous mission or predicament.
  5. A message or parcel arrives. Perhaps timed for this specific birthday (d4: 1 Family heirloom; 2 A letter from the future; 3 Mysterious seeds, herbs, or ingredients; 4 A strange map).
  6. A lavish birthday meal hosted by friendly NPCs to boost the character's spirits, granting them a boon on their next saving throw.
  7. A bard hears of the character's birthday and composes a song in their honor, giving them advantage on Charisma checks for one day.
  8. The character stumbles upon a market deal, purchasing an item for half its usual price.
  9. A friendly animal brings the character a small, shiny object. It could be a valuable trinket or just a pretty rock.
  10. The stars align for the PC, granting them a combat, social, or exploration boon today.
  11. An item in the character's possession suddenly glows with a new, permanent, minor enchantment.
  12. The character has a vivid dream, revealing a clue about how to approach their current quest or challenge.

Some items on this table might not suit all campaigns, themes, or genres.

However, today's tip is to consider making your own birthday events table or mechanics to help players enjoy their character's special day.

There's no downside to doing this, and it's a fun little detail that rewards characters with something interesting, rewards players with the spotlight, and rewards us, as game masters, with potential hooks and interesting events.

Incorporate Birthdays into your Next Campaign

So, next time you're planning your campaign, don't forget to mark your players' character birthdays on your calendar. It's a small gesture that can lead to memorable moments and enrich the storytelling experience for everyone involved.

After all, who doesn't love a good birthday party, even if it's in the midst of a perilous adventure?