Like it or not, if you’re playing a tabletop RPG such as D&D 5e, there is a story that your table is playing through. I’m not saying that your table is putting on a theatrical performance (you could be!), but there is a story being told here.
Usually, this story involves a group of adventurers combating their adversaries and attempting to accomplish something spectacular. However, the life of an adventurer is not as glorious as you might imagine. People die, actually people die gruesomely. Not to mention surviving these trials will certainly impact you physically, mentally, and emotionally for the rest of your life.
Not everyone is cut out for this difficult life. Some can last a while, but eventually, they have hit their limits and want out. Thankfully, adventurers are generally paid quite well for their efforts so early retirement is easily in the cards for them!
What I mean by this is that not every player character’s ending needs to be either the character’s death or the end of the campaign. Allowing your players to retire their characters gives them more control over their portion of the story. Which in my opinion is a good thing.
Hilariously, retiring a character to safety is one of the improvements you can choose from after a “level-up” in Apocalypse World. This certainly is not the first mechanic that I’ve borrowed from PBtA games either.
Let’s talk about retirement and how an adventurer can afford a life of comfort after like a year of working their ass off. What? I’m not bitter.
Why Retire a Character?
Before you pull the trigger and retire your character you should first understand why you want to do so. Is this a narrative decision that your character would make? Is this a personal decision because you want to play a new character? There are no wrong answers.
The only suggestion I would make is that you talk to your DM/GM before you do so. Giving them a heads-up that something is going to change drastically is a nice thing to do. It’s also beneficial for you as you can both then brainstorm the best way to give your character an exit from their current situation.
Here are just a few reasons why you might retire a character before they’ve seen the campaign through. There are, of course, a plethora of other reasons as well!
A Change of Heart or Circumstance
Sometimes the situation just changes. Your character joined the group for a reason and either that goal has been met or the situation has made that goal impossible to accomplish. At this point, the only reason your character is still with the party is that they’ve bonded deeply with the group.
Honestly, that’s reason enough to stay for most people, but there’s nothing wrong with realizing that this situation is not what it once was and your character wishes to take their leave. What they’ll do next is up to you and the DM.
Keep in mind that you can always come out of retirement if the situation changes yet again. Also, your character could still assist the party as an NPC from the sidelines if that’s more in-line with what they would desire as well. You’ve got options!
A Desire to Seek Out Personal Goals
Every character has their own goals and desires separate from the party. This could be related to their background or their ambitions.
Adventuring is such a dangerous profession, but it comes with tons of benefits assuming that you can survive its hardships. Your character will befriend influential people and obtain a vast amount of wealth. They may be in a position to meet their personal goals at some point in their adventuring careers.
While that’s all well and good, your personal goals may intersect with the party’s. Your character may be in a position where they must choose between getting what they desire and continuing with the party. There is no correct answer in this scenario, but they must make a choice.
Splitting off from the party – temporarily or permanently – is a valid choice if your character’s desire to accomplish their goals is strong enough.
You Just Aren’t Having Fun Playing as Them
There are plenty of in-universe or role-playing reasons for retiring a character. Yet, we need to keep in mind that D&D is a game, so you should be having fun. If playing your character is not or is no longer fun for you, that’s a perfectly acceptable reason to retiring a character before the campaign is over.
This is a situation where you (and your DM!) will need to work backward for it to work. You know that you’re going to be retiring the character, but it’s for more of a metagame reason. While it’s not required to find a narrative reason for your character’s retirement, it’d certainly make the transition smoother.
The important part is that you are not enjoying playing this character and wish to play a new one. If you can make the transition easy for your DM and party that’d be awesome but don’t set yourself on fire to keep the rest of the table warm.
How Might You Retire a Character?
We’ve talked about why you might retire a character. Let’s go over a few examples as to how you might do so.
Like the previous section, this is not an all-inclusive list of examples. The how is considerably more subjective than the why when it comes to retirement. There are no wrong answers. Just think of a reason and way that makes sense from a narrative perspective and go for it!
Perhaps your character set out to adventure to gain money or connections to help their family. They may have a sick family member or some other issue that desperately requires these resources. Whatever the case, the character now has the means to fix this issue or at least meet it head-on.
If your DM is particularly evil, this family problem could even be a result of your adventures, either directly or indirectly. I will say though if you’re a DM that loves killing off/harming player characters’ families you may want to rethink this approach. It’s not fun as a player if every single time you have an actual backstory, said backstory gets used against you.
Also, your character could retire to run the family business back home. It’ll be easy to expand it or keep it afloat thanks to all of your adventuring riches
A New Opportunity
As I’ve said before, one of the perks of being an adventurer is that you’ll be introduced to various new opportunities that most people wouldn’t get. These opportunities will not always sync-up with the party’s goals or your life as an adventurer.
Such an opportunity may be too enticing for your character to pass up. If that’s the case, then retirement is the answer! They can pursue their new goals, life, or opportunity safely.
This doesn’t have to necessarily be the end of your character’s relationship with the party. Your DM could certainly utilize your character as an NPC that assists the party if you both felt that it would be a good idea.
A Quiet Life
Adventuring is a rough life. Most people who choose this path in life wind up dead or somehow worse.
Your character has probably been through hell, literally or figuratively. After enough trials and tribulations, they may want to close this chapter of their life and settle down for a comfortable life away from it all. Who can blame them for this?
Perhaps if the need ever arose your character may be forced to unretire and meet evil head-on as they did in their adventuring days. Until then, though, they’ll live out their days as a peaceful farmer raising a family.
I don’t have a limit that I impose on players for retiring their characters. I do ask that they wait until it makes narrative sense for them to swap characters (i.e. not in the middle of a dungeon unless we can make it work).
If someone is constantly swapping between characters and that bothers the group, that’s an issue you should hash-out with the player privately first. You may want to set some guidelines or help them make a character that they’ll be sure to enjoy.
Regardless, allowing the players to retire their characters before the campaign is over is a good thing. Sometimes a player is enjoying their character, but they know that their character would certainly retire at this point rather than forge onward with the party. Retirement opens up a whole new narrative that the players can take part in.
Not every adventurer’s life ends in death or glory. The smart ones leave and afford themselves and their family a life of comfort and possibly luxury. That is, assuming they can relax after all of their adventures!