When I wrote and DM-ed my first ever campaign last year, I created an NPC name Wand. No more than 10 years old, Wand was a street kid who had stumbled upon a Wand of Wonder as little child (hence earning their name), became intrigued by magic, and began to steal bits of wizard books and eavesdrop on them to learn spells. My campaign was set on the continent of Osse, so I made Wand a native Osselander and, unwilling to pick a gender, decide they were nonbinary. I loved Wand, writing pages of backstory and crafting adventures the party could run thanks to them.
However, Wand never really got the attention I thought they deserved by the group. Wand was a fun build and got me thinking about using children in Dungeons & Dragons not just as NPCs but as player characters. The easiest route to go with making a child character is to take the Peter Pan path, that is a street urchin or nature kid either abandoned by family or a runaway. Sure, there’s definitely fun to explore with the spoiled rich kid angle or insecure boy trying to prove his worth or girl with mommy/daddy issues, but, honestly, those bore me and we see variations on those stories all the time.
I don’t like kids in real life. I keep them at arms length. Yet I’ve always been acutely aware that children are treated like shit by adults, especially by parents. That is, they’re treated like property–‘my kids.’ It’s nearly impossible for parents to speak about children without referring to them as belonging to them, as property and not persons. Wherever I interact with a child, I treat them as their own person, someone I may or may not end up liking, and who I have a responsibility to help when they need or want it because they’re not yet able to take care of themselves by themselves.
So, what if children in D&D could take care of themselves by themselves? How would that change our moral responsibilities towards one another? What would that look like? How would it change our concepts of innocence, fun, devotion, family, friends, responsibility, relationships, loyalty, or care and kindness? Basically, playing a child adventurer opens up a huge world of role-playing.
I decide to craft several kids to not only pepper into my current DM campaign setting, Red Banks, but to serve as possible characters to play in one-shots, new campaigns, or as back-ups.
For example, in the game I’m playing now, my character and his party members were traversing the sewers of their giant city stumbling upon a bunch of homeless kids living below a very active restaurant and being harried by some giant crocodiles. We killed the crocs, and my character give the kid who looked like the leader a special dagger telling him to help others and I’d be in contact with him if he ever needed help. Part of me was trying to start cultivating a network of children spies a la Game of Thrones, but the character I’m playing genuinely wanted to help these kids given his own backstory. It was a fun bit of roleplay. It also gave me an idea for a back-up character if mine ever dies–playing as the kid the dagger was given to.
I’ve made the characters available via DriveThruRPG as 1st Level characters so players can ‘grow’ into them. So, here are some child characters you can use for your own campaign as NPCs or as player characters.
Rogue/Wizard/Bard, nb, Human
A street kid, Wand is roughly 10 years old and has never known a family. Living in the underground of a large city, they developed a friendly relationship with the less hateful members of the black market leading them to pick up rogue ability as a pickpocket and scout. In the course of their rummaging and exploration of the city, Wand discovered a Wand of Wonder and with it they were able to carve out a territory for themselves. In between busking on street corners for coin (hence the barding), Wand often sneaks into the local Peloran monastery to clandestinely study its arcane library giving him a basis in wizarding. They’ve had to endure a lot of dangers just to exist, so Wand is always looking to lend a hand but never at the expense of their own safety.
Warlock, m, Dwarf
Thim, 10, is a Urdunnir dwarf whose clan lived deep within an unknown mountain chain his people called the Briddlebell. While often mistaken for a Duergar nothing could be more distasteful to Thim as his clan was enslaved by the ashen-skinned. Fortunately, he was able to escape. In a moment of terror, Thim pledged himself to the deity Dumathoin if it would help him survive. The dwarf’s plea was heard and thus became his patron leading him out of danger. As a trained mountaineer, Thim fled out and down the mountains and hasn’t looked back since. Without any connections, he’s adrift looking for purpose.
Fighter, f, Aasimar
With furious red-head hair, Jenavee was once the squire of a champion of a mercenary legion. Her parents apprenticed her at age six, essentially selling her to the legion. Her lord was kind, essentially becomin her father, caring for her and teaching her how to fight. Jenavee became a prodigy as a fighter. A year ago, her lord and the army he fought in were hired as supplemental support for a push against a vicious allied orc army. They were summarily defeated. With her lord dead and the army thinned, Jenavee decided to strike out on her own. Now 12, she’s looking to make her fortune and a name for herself.
Sorcerer, f, Human
Although only 11, Bek is tall and lanky leading other to think her older than she is. Sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse, her size has led many adults to expect more out of her and saddle her with responsibilities beyond her years. Recently, Bek has begun to exhibit magical abilities and seems to have a shorter and shorter temper. Not long ago, a cadre of highwaymen came to her village where they proceeded to try to extort the tradesmen. When rebuffed by the employer of Bek’s father, a fight broke out and poured into the street. The shopkeeper and Bek’s father were beaten to make them an example but when Bek saw what was going on she suddenly unleashed a torrent of flames leaving the highwaymen as gruesome charred bodies reaching out to the sky in agony. Bek’s father swept her away before anyone could ask questions. Afraid their daughter would be ostracized or punished, her parents gave her instructions to find her aunt in a distant city. As she was about to flee, her mother told her she had giant’s blood in her veins and she needed to learn to control it; her aunt would know how. Since then, Bek has been trying to find her aunt and along the way she’s felt compelled to help those she meets being bullied.
Rogue, f, Elf
Some have called Halcyon feral. Her ever silent and grinning mouth is chilling. A thief and a lover of poisons and potions of all kinds, she survives in the allies and dark corners of a city stealing from random lost wealthy citizen but usually by pilfering the ill-gotten gains of her more nefarious ilk. Many think her a mute, but Halcyon knows from experience unnecessary noise can kill. Astonishingly elegant and agile in her movements, she eeks out a meagre existence seemingly with no ambition to improve her station. However, in her heart, Halcyon longs for connection.
Lorquinn the Younger
Barbarian, m, Dragonborn
Barely out of diapers but standing as tall as most humanoid children, three-year old Lorquinn was separated from his family as their clan fled a massive tsunami swept through their coastal villages. When the waters receded, Lorquinn found himself utterly alone with no tracks of his people or remnants of his former life left. Wandering through jungle, forest, mountains, woodlands, and grassland to eventually reach a new city, the dragonborn child is still naive and trusting. Charmed by what many would consider banalities, Lorquinn has an acute sense of wonder for both the natural and civilized world. Although he can fly into bitter tantrums when sad or angry, he is good-natured and easy-going with an astonishing lack of fear. In fact, it seems as though Lorquinn always assumes the best in people exhibiting an effervescent optimism and confidence.
Cleric, m, Half-Orc
Andriss has heard that orcs are considered cruel savages by humans and dwarves. All he knows is the village he grew up in was quiet and peaceful, then a squad of human barbarians being led by shiny armored dwarves arrived. They slaughtered his village and set it to flame. Andriss, 9, survived under a pile of corpses watching as the beautifully armored dwarves ate and drank his village’s stores of meat and ale while their human brutes threw with glee dead bodies onto a burning pyre. At dark obscured by orcish ash, Andriss fled. Some might expect him to harbor a deep racial hate, but having seen such cruelty, he had the opposite reaction. Devoting himself to peace, Andriss pledge himself to serve Eldath. While not a complete pacifist, Andriss sternly resists violence.
Ranger, f, Tiefling
Abandoned in the wild by her family after birth, the orphan tiefling Teshua has lived a hardscrabble life for a 14 year-old. She has worked in logging camps as a servant, on river barges as swab and gofer, and as child laborer in an elicit mining operation. From the latter, she fled due to abuse to the city. However, with no contacts for work and regularly turned away from inns she has fallen into poverty. She lives as a beggar surviving thanks to her knowledge of the wild where she can occasionally hunt. Teshua is deeply depressed, haunted by her abandonment (which she is convinced is because she was born a tiefling) and angry at herself for what she sees as her failure at living a good life.
Look for these folk to show up in some upcoming Red Banks adventures.