Urchin Background 5e: How to Build Your Character

“I was abandoned by my parents. I left the orphanage at a young age and took up a life of crime. It was on the streets where I trained to be a deadly killer.” Blah, blah, blah.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this backstory before. Well, today we’re going to be covering the urchin, the background that has made millions of edgelord characters across the forgotten realms possible.

Urchin Background

Skill Proficiencies: Sleight of Hand, Stealth

Tool Proficiencies: Disguise Kit, Thieves’ Tools

Languages: None

Equipment: A small knife, a map of the city you grew up in, a pet mouse, a token to remember your parents by, a set of common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp

Characteristics:  The PHB presents us with a variety of options for personality traits, ideals, flaws, and bonds that we can use to roleplay our character. Choose some of the options presented or roll on the tables below.

Feature: City Secrets: You know how to find secret passageways and shortcuts through cities. You and your party can travel twice as fast through cities when not in combat.

What is an Urchin?

An urchin, or sea urchin, is a small ocean creature that… no I’m kidding, let me start again.

The definition of an urchin is a mischievous child, specifically a raggedly dressed one. In D&D, an urchin is a character that grew up on the streets, and definitely has more than their fair share of mischief to go around. 

Often these characters were abandoned by their parents, but there’s any number of ways they could’ve ended up homeless in a big city.

Sometimes their parents were killed, other times they went off to fight a war and left them in the (not so) trustful hands of someone that ended up being a crime lord, or otherwise rotten individual.

Considering that part of your starting equipment is actually a memento of your parents, it’s probably a good idea to think about how you were separated from them. Of course, if the entirety of the media is anything to go by, dead parents are a pretty safe bet.

Something that’s not covered too much in the official text for the urchin background is what life was like for you growing up. The implication is that you did whatever you could to get by, but there are more things to consider that often end up becoming part of the backstory. 

I’ve taken the liberty of creating a table for you to start brainstorming what it was like for your character growing up on the streets.

d6Growing Up
1I lived in a poor orphanage and stole the minimum I needed to survive.
2I was “adopted” into a gang because I could fit into small spaces that they couldn’t.
3The church that my parents left me with trained me to be an expert assassin.
4I started off as a beggar, but quickly learned that picking pockets was more lucrative.
5I ran away from home and joined a group of other kids. We’ve had each other’s backs ever since.
6I watched a group of warriors train, learning their fighting style in secret so I could avenge my parents. 

These are just a few options that I’ve tried to keep as broad as I could think, pulling from characters I’ve played alongside, movies I’ve seen, and books I’ve read.

Use the table or come up with your own backstory, but make sure that you can account for your life so far (unless you go with amnesia, amnesia is always a great cop out.)

Urchin Characteristics

Living the hard life of the streets is bound to mold who you are as a person. Not all urchins have to be dark and brooding edge lords, but most are. Below are the tables of personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws presented in the PHB that will give you the basis of how to roleplay your character.

As always, these are just suggestions that you can either take at face value or use as a jumping off point to come up with something a bit more unique. 

Personality traits are the things that make your character unique. This can be something central to who you are as a person or an interesting quirk as a result of growing up in alleyways.

d8Personality Trait
1I hide scraps of food and trinkets away in my pockets.
2I ask a lot of questions.
3I like to squeeze into small places where no one else can get to me.
4I sleep with my back to a wall or tree, with everything I own wrapped in a bundle in my arms.
5I eat like a pig and have bad manners.
6I think anyone who’s nice to me is hiding evil intent.
7I don’t like to bathe.
8I bluntly say what other people are hinting at or hiding.

These are the beliefs you have gained as a result of your lifestyle. Whatever this value is, you hold it deep in your core.

d6Ideal
1Respect. All people, rich or poor, deserve respect. (Good)
2Community. We have to take care of each other, because no one else is going to do it. (Lawful)
3Change. The low are lifted up, and the high and mighty are brought down. Change is the nature of things. (Chaotic)
4Retribution. The rich need to be shown what life and death are like in the gutters. (Evil)
5People. I help the people who help me-that’s what keeps us alive. (Neutral)
6Aspiration. I’m going to prove that I’m worthy of a better life. (Any)

Something ties you to the world and keeps you grounded. There’s a reason you do what you do, and these bonds will help you discover what that is.

d6Bond
1My town or city is my home, and I’ll fight to defend it.
2I sponsor an orphanage to keep others from enduring what I was forced to endure.
3I owe my survival to another urchin who taught me to live on the streets.
4I owe a debt I can never repay to the person who took pity on me.
5I escaped my life of poverty by robbing an important person, and I’m wanted for it.
6No one else should have to endure the hardships I’ve been through.

Last but not least, what pieces of you are less than kosher. There may only be six options here, but I’m sure you can think of plenty of unsavory qualities someone who has spent their life scraping to get by might’ve developed.

For urchins more so than most characters, a lot of these are coping mechanisms that being a part of something bigger than themselves might remove.

Let me say that again a bit simpler, you don’t have to be a shitty person for the whole campaign. Okay, rogues? Okay.

d6Flaw
1If I’m outnumbered, I will run away from a fight.
2Gold seems like a lot of money to me, and I’ll do just about anything for more of it.
3I will never fully trust anyone other than myself.
4I’d rather kill someone in their sleep than fight fair.
5It’s not stealing if I need it more than someone else.
6People who can’t take care of themselves get what they deserve.