How Often are Your Characters Orphans?

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I'm currently DMing a campaign in which 3 of the 4 characters are orphans in their backstory. I'm wondering if this is usual at other tables.
1) Was the last character you ran an orphan?
2) Do you often use the 'orphan' element in your backstory?
I'm currently DMing a campaign in which 3 of the 4 characters are orphans in their backstory. I'm wondering if this is usual at other tables.
1) Was the last character you ran an orphan?
2) Do you often use the 'orphan' element in your backstory?


I've seen this a fair bit in players who are tired of having their characters meet old family members as plot points.  Not sure if that's what's happening with your game, but it often means a period of more hack-and-slash game time is in order to get it out of their systems.
Adventurers are an odd lot, and "well, I don't have any stable family to keep me doing something else" is a good shorthand backstory way for some people to justify why their characters are adventuring instead of pursuing a real career like a normal person.  Out of the last several 4e characters I've played, there have been few "orphans" per se, but they certainly all have some kind of family dissociation:

Dragonborn Thaneborn Barbarian: second son of a noble house, removed from his Imperial Guard commission for being too impulsive and sent to wander the world and prove himself, turned out to be an excellent diplomat and leader who showed up his warlord brothers.

Shadar-Kai Artificer|Swordmage: torn from the  Shadowfell in an arcane accident, studied at arcane academy in Ebberon and developed his own combat style based on the direct manipulation of arcane force (never returned to his home plane because he got embroiled in defending Ebberon from a Tyranid invasion... yeah, that was an interesting campaign)

Human Battlemind: Never delved into family history, worked as a tavern bouncer until he was called into the militia to defend his city from an undead incursion and manifested psionic power, decided to adventure because it was more interesting/lucrative than his previous occupation.

Halfling Iron Soul Monk: Pygmy elephant hunter in magic-imbued 16th century Earth who channeled the spirits of his ancestors for superhuman speed and precision.  He was a recent orphan, since his father had been dead since he was young, and then his mother and sister were killed by European slavers when he acted to slowly to save them.  He still carried his mother's skull around as a ki focus, but otherwise his parents' existence wouldn't have made much difference, since he had left the Congo and travelled to North America for the purposes of the campaign setting, anyway.

 But yeah, I think when some people write backstories, they prefer their character to have a minimum of emotional/familial baggage, so killing off their parents is both effective toward that end and highly dramatic.  It's probably an overused trope, but so is everything worth doing in a fantasy setting.
I'm currently DMing a campaign in which 3 of the 4 characters are orphans in their backstory. I'm wondering if this is usual at other tables.
1) Was the last character you ran an orphan?
2) Do you often use the 'orphan' element in your backstory?

I've seen this a fair bit in players who are tired of having their characters meet old family members as plot points.  Not sure if that's what's happening with your game, but it often means a period of more hack-and-slash game time is in order to get it out of their systems.

The last character I ran isn't an orphan. However she was kidnapped by a witch while an infant. She's 99% sure she knows who her parents are, but she has never met them - by her choice, the last couple years: she thinks that publicly acknowledging her parentage would mean the end of her adventuring career, and she isn't done with it yet.

The one before that is on excellent terms with his parents. And so-so terms with his elder brother.

And the one before that... exceedingly bad relationship with his father. Drawn-swords bad. Mother deceased, and that's not the worst thing he blames his father for.

I have built two characters that are orphans. One was for a game that unfortunately never happened for technical reasons. The other I'd also like to play sometime - although it's the only character I've built that requires DM consent to a specific alteration of normal rules.
"The world does not work the way you have been taught it does. We are not real as such; we exist within The Story. Unfortunately for you, you have inherited a condition from your mother known as Primary Protagonist Syndrome, which means The Story is interested in you. It will find you, and if you are not ready for the narrative strands it will throw at you..." - from Footloose
Many of my characters have some kind of family quarrel or disfunction. My last two were not without parents:

Borik, a Dwarf Artificer lived in a family of three brothers. Being a cruel community, and hislack of size and strength, Borik turned to magic relics and scrolls that his siblings found in their pillaging. His cruel Father detested Borik and saught one of his other two brothers to be the heir to the throne despite Borik being firstborn. King Orsik placed the three of them in an arena and told them determine who would be the next king. Through a thrilling fight, Borik and his the arcane created friends killed the brothers in an explosive way. Barely escaping with his life from the fight, he had won the throne. Instead of taking it, he set out, passing his awed father, for something good in the world. His "friends" would be his exclusive company now.

Shrakk, a Wizard/Shaman/(invoker), was well gifted and sent to an academy of high prestige. His parents fostered and nourished his arcane talent. They didn't know of his primal ability and neither did he. The fortress of the academy was surrounded by forests and rivers. Many days he felt drawn to nature and would go out among it well prepared. Knowledge was his gift and he learnedall that he could. One evening, he was miles away from the fortress and creatures of undead origin crashed into the walls. He could see the glow of the academy on fire and defeated. A vision of a divine being intertwined with a primal being came to dreams. He later recalls not dreaming at all and now works to gain more knowledge in all aspects to aid and help those less gifted in mind.

It is very possible to have stories without death and destruction even, however, they make for complex characters.

(also note, these stories are condensed and much more detailed in play.)

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/20.jpg)

Not too often, but generally my characters are estranged from their families because I tend to play against stereotypes.  My characters are frequently the 'black sheep' of the family, as the expression goes.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
Thanks for the interesting replies. I found a neat article on (approximately) the same subject: www.rpg.net/columns/talesfromtherocketho...

I don't find that with my group they are trying to the baggage of having a family. Many of them invented new adopted families or other similar connections. I'm thinking maybe they're doing it out of habit...
Speaking as a DM, I love when my players are NOT orphans. It gives me great NPCs to horribly murder.
2/5 of my PC's did not ever have parents (built, summoned).
1/5 of my PC's killed his own parents.
2/5 of my PC's never mentioned their parents, but presumably are still living.

1 of my future characters died while pregnate, and seeks a way to give birth.

1/5 of my players killed one of his parents after he was corrupted by orcus.  His other parent is living with a clone of his dead parent.
4/5 havn't mentioned their parents, but presumably are still living.


Not sure how many orphans that is...

5e houserules and tweaks.

Celestial Link Evoking Radiance into Creation

A Party Without Music is Lame: A Bard

Level Dip Guide

 

4e stuff

guides
List of no-action attacks.
Dynamic vs Static Bonuses
Phalanx tactics and builds
Crivens! A Pictsies Guide Good
Power
s to intentionally miss with
Mr. Cellophane: How to be unnoticed
Way's to fire around corners
Crits: what their really worth
Retroactive bonus vs Static bonus.
Runepriest handbook & discussion thread
Holy Symbols to hang around your neck
Ways to Gain or Downgrade Actions
List of bonuses to saving throws
The Ghost with the Most (revenant handbook)
my builds
F-111 Interdictor Long (200+ squares) distance ally teleporter. With some warlord stuff. Broken in a plot way, not a power way.

Thought Switch Higher level build that grants upto 14 attacks on turn 1. If your allies play along, it's broken.

Elven Critters Crit op with crit generation. 5 of these will end anything. Broken.

King Fisher Optimized net user.  Moderate.

Boominator Fun catch-22 booming blade build with either strong or completely broken damage depending on your reading.

Very Distracting Warlock Lot's of dazing and major penalties to hit. Overpowered.

Pocket Protector Pixie Stealth Knight. Maximizing the defender's aura by being in an ally's/enemy's square.

Yakuza NinjIntimiAdin: Perma-stealth Striker that offers a little protection for ally's, and can intimidate bloodied enemies. Very Strong.

Chargeburgler with cheese Ranged attacks at the end of a charge along with perma-stealth. Solid, could be overpowered if tweaked.

Void Defender Defends giving a penalty to hit anyone but him, then removing himself from play. Can get somewhat broken in epic.

Scry and Die Attacking from around corners, while staying hidden. Moderate to broken, depending on the situation.

Skimisher Fly in, attack, and fly away. Also prevents enemies from coming close. Moderate to Broken depending on the enemy, but shouldn't make the game un-fun, as the rest of your team is at risk, and you have enough weaknesses.

Indestructible Simply won't die, even if you sleep though combat.  One of THE most abusive character in 4e.

Sir Robin (Bravely Charge Away) He automatically slows and pushes an enemy (5 squares), while charging away. Hard to rate it's power level, since it's terrain dependent.

Death's Gatekeeper A fun twist on a healic, making your party "unkillable". Overpowered to Broken, but shouldn't actually make the game un-fun, just TPK proof.

Death's Gatekeeper mk2, (Stealth Edition) Make your party "unkillable", and you hidden, while doing solid damage. Stronger then the above, but also easier for a DM to shut down. Broken, until your DM get's enough of it.

Domination and Death Dominate everything then kill them quickly. Only works @ 30, but is broken multiple ways.

Battlemind Mc Prone-Daze Protecting your allies by keeping enemies away. Quite powerful.

The Retaliator Getting hit deals more damage to the enemy then you receive yourself, and you can take plenty of hits. Heavy item dependency, Broken.

Dead Kobold Transit Teleports 98 squares a turn, and can bring someone along for the ride. Not fully built, so i can't judge the power.

Psilent Guardian Protect your allies, while being invisible. Overpowered, possibly broken.

Rune of Vengance Do lot's of damage while boosting your teams. Strong to slightly overpowered.

Charedent BarrageA charging ardent. Fine in a normal team, overpowered if there are 2 together, and easily broken in teams of 5.

Super Knight A tough, sticky, high damage knight. Strong.

Super Duper Knight Basically the same as super knight with items, making it far more broken.

Mora, the unkillable avenger Solid damage, while being neigh indestuctable. Overpowered, but not broken.

Swordburst Maximus At-Will Close Burst 3 that slide and prones. Protects allies with off actions. Strong, possibly over powered with the right party.

I think all of my Characters have had parents in their backstory, although so far most of the games I've played in havent had a big roleplaying component. Maladmud has a sister and father who are alive and well back at home. I dont think I ever came up with a story for Darun. 

Discussions like this also led to the following gem regarding Brutus, my half oc barbarian. 

"You know half orcs are usually the product of ****?"
"Not me. My parents are happily married, you Racist bastard!"
"What would cause a human woman to want to marry an orc?"
"I dunno, my mom is a orc."

that campaign didnt last too long, but i got some lulz out of it

 
I don't know that it's particularly common or uncommon. In my experience it happens about as often as you'd expect in a world as dangerous and unpredictable as a typical D&D setting.

I think I've only had one character that was an orphan, and that happens to be the character I'm playing right now. My Shifter Avenger was sold into slavery after his nogoodnick parents were killed during a robbery-gone-bad when he was 3.

Besides that, I think one other groupmate had an orphan character in a 3.5 campaign. I can think of lots of characters where their parents weren't huge parts of their backstory, but few orphans.

 Never bother to determine whether or not a character's parents are alive or dead unless it's actually integral to the character's backstory and/or reason for adventuring...
Out of all the characters I've built in 30 years of playing, there's only four or five whose parents figured prominently in their backstory...

- Had a 3.5 rogue/swashbuckler/fighter whose father ran a company of caravan guards, and the character picked up his multitude of skills being raised by men of the company while travelling the trade roads. The character was a borderline sociopath, so an emotionally distant father that the character could never please and who never showed him affection was a perfect background element - after the father's death when the character was 17 or 18, he sells the company of caravan guards to his father's second-in-command and takes off to travel on his own, drifting between working as a caravan guard, a thief and an adventurer...

- Eladrin feylock who grew up with no idea he was an eladrin - he'd been raised from birth among humans and tormented for his strange appearance. Lost his mind after getting lost in the Feydark for two weeks the first time he teleported.

- Human ranger who still carries the hatchet (magical handaxe) she killed her abusive parents with as a girl... Her backstory was an adaption of the Lizzie Borden story, extending it into a family's six-generation-long history of misfortune and madness which may or may not have been caused by their possession of a possibly-evil, possibly-cursed axe.

- Human tempest|ranger who came from a famous pirate family. Unbeknownst to most, that clan of pirates was also, in fact, secretly a family of minor nobility (famed for developing a particularly deadly and beautiful style of rapier-and-main-gauche swordfighting) who were covertly working as privateers (and adventurers) for the king.
 A political rival at Court engineers her father's fall from favor, and eventually the family is stripped of their lands and titles, and declared outlawed. The father is assassinated a few years later by the same rival, leaving the character with no real prospects other than continuing in the family business of piracy and adventuring and a burning desire to destroy the man who killed her father.

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I am the Magic Man.

(Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.)

 

I am the Lawnmower Man.

(I AM GOD HERE!)

 

I am the Skull God.

(Koo Koo Ka Choo)

 

There are reasons they call me Mad...

I think all of my Characters have had parents in their backstory, although so far most of the games I've played in havent had a big roleplaying component. Maladmud has a sister and father who are alive and well back at home. I dont think I ever came up with a story for Darun. 

Discussions like this also led to the following gem regarding Brutus, my half oc barbarian. 

"You know half orcs are usually the product of ****?"
"Not me. My parents are happily married, you Racist bastard!"
"What would cause a human woman to want to marry an orc?"
"I dunno, my mom is a orc."

that campaign didnt last too long, but i got some lulz out of it

 



Wow that's amazing ahahaha.

The only orphan character I've had (usually I shy away from orphans cuz it's a bit cliche, even though it's very possible to do an orphan chara who isn't) is a half elf half blink hound who realized how much easier it is to make a living from stealing if you know how to teleport. Still, the orphan aspect doesn't really play that much of a role, except that it makes it really awkward for the chara in that they cant find out how the hell they actually, er, happened.   

Heya everyone, here are my homebrew threads: (yes there is only one right now, but there are more to come!) And Let There Be Fish-Men: KUO-TOA
except that it makes it really awkward for the chara in that they cant find out how the hell they actually, er, happened.   

My mother never talks about that orgy
And I can't really blame her, much although
I'd love to read the guest list for that party
And if there's another one like it, let me know

"The world does not work the way you have been taught it does. We are not real as such; we exist within The Story. Unfortunately for you, you have inherited a condition from your mother known as Primary Protagonist Syndrome, which means The Story is interested in you. It will find you, and if you are not ready for the narrative strands it will throw at you..." - from Footloose
I'm currently DMing a campaign in which 3 of the 4 characters are orphans in their backstory. I'm wondering if this is usual at other tables.
1) Was the last character you ran an orphan?
2) Do you often use the 'orphan' element in your backstory?


So far I've only run one character as an orphan, and he was taken in by the Temple of Kord from a young age. The loss of his family was the driving purpose that lead him to become an avenger.

One of my characters was the member of a noble house and had a large extended family. One of our other PCs was his cousin and another PC was the cousin's body guard.

Orphan freakishly common background and because it lets the player handwave having a family. Releationships outside of the party are useful for DMs. Need a hook? Family member comes to the character for help. One way to sidestep the lack of family is to use childhood friends from the same orphanage and caretakers in place of family members.
I have a lot of characters, and will attempt to explain their stories and family as briefly as possible. Because this "brief" post isn't brief at all, I'll put it in the box below.

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Often, my character not only have parents, but are on good terms with their parents. This wasn't always the case, though; my second roleplaying character, in an Iron Kingdoms game, was an Ogre Paladin whose parents, who were insane, gave him the name of "This Is My Name." This Is My Name did not want to dishonor his family by legally changing the name he had been given, though, and when NPC's asked him why he didn't do so, he told them about his family's honor and such.

My next character, in a GURPS game, was a minotaur monk (and a very effective one, at that; he was the best melee combatant in the whole party, even better than the other minotaur, who was fully-equipped. I know it's not relevent, I just wanted to share how awesome he was.) whose clan was killed by an evil cult. He abandoned the name he was given out of shame, since he was unable to stop the cultists, and assumed the name of "Avenging Bull." The campaign was ended too quickly for any significant amount of roleplaying, and in the short amount of time it ran, the players bickered more than anything.

For a while, I didn't do any RPing, as I lacked the opportunity. However, I was re-introduced to RPing by a local game shop (Crossroad Games), where I joined my first DnD 4e game. The character I started with was a horribly unoptimized Dwarf Paladin (like most new players I encounter, I tried to overgeneralize the character's abilities), who ended up being so boring and ineffective that I switched him out for a human fighter, flavored after Guy from Final Fantasy 2. Both characters were orphans. That game became overcrowded (it was a game officially ran by the store owner, who didn't want to restrict the number of players out of kindness), so I left.

My next character was an eladrin named Mindartis, originally a Blue Mage (homebrew class), but converted to a Wizard due to DM persuasion. His parents were incredibly rich (his father obtained the money through investing what little money he had as a youth in various merchant companies, which became successful asfterward, and then he continued investing his money afterward; his mother was the daughter of one of those merchants), and could afford to send Mindartis to many prestigeous schools. As a Blue mage, his main academic interest was Zoology; after the class switch, he instead became a generalist in his sought knowledge. Another detail about Mindartis' family: breaking the tradition of hatred between dwarves and elves, Mindartis's father was best friends with a dwarf, who Mindartis called "Uncle Edgar."

My next character, Bovill Achsteir (obviously a minotaur; his class was Warden) was born into a family of soldiers who followed a homebrew deity named Rusuficier, a god of justice and protection of the innocent. His family just about guaranteed his membership in the holy order, and he remained loyal to his deity's cause despite his training in primal magic.

I also once made a character who was brain-damaged as a result of parental abuse, and who could not speak. He was based on Arthur "Boo" Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird. Unfortunately, the campaign he was in was incredibly hard due to the party's slow XP gain and party unoptimization caused by constant character switching and player absence, and he died almost as soon as he entered the campaign.

Next, I made a human rogue (sniper-type rogue, not melee) named Aaron Irving; I've used him across campaigns, and as a result have been able to develop his background nicely. His mother, Abigail, ran away from his father, with little Aaron in her arms, when Aaron was just a baby, and later entered a relationship with a hunter. The reason for this was because Aaron's biological father, Tristan Irving, was actually a powerful, evil vampire who wanted to dominate the world, who managed to hide his nature (and his goals) until the first child of the couple started developing vampiric powers of his own. By that time, the first child, Richard, was already old enough to decide on his alignment (he chose evil, as he wanted to be like his father), and so the mother could not save Richard. Aaron eventually became an adventurer, and soon found out about his true heritage. He made it his goal in life to put a stop to his biological father's goals; meanwhile, his Tristan Irving is not overly hostile to Aaron, but instead wants Aaron to join him in his goals.

Then there's Rudolph Weischel, a human psion in a Dark Sun campaign. The son of a noble merchant family (the family was good-aligned, and though they owned slaves, they treated the slaves like they were part of the family) (also, despite no cultural parallels to early-1800's Germany in Athas, they were very much German-flavored), Rudolph's goal in life was to research psionic power so that it would eventually become more viable as a power source than arcane. His parents helped him financially, and even convinced one of their slaves (a half-elf named Helga, who was a battlemind) to tutor Rudolph in psionics. Later, while on a caravan from Raam to Draj, Rudolph was captured by Dray Slavers, and found his long-lost brother, a monk (I forget his name), who was thought to be dead. After the party escaped and killed Rudolph and his brother for food, a psionic fluke caused their minds to form new bodies made entirely out of psionic energy at the family estate in Raam. I could not introduce him back into the story, though, as the campaign ended too soon for them to travel to Draj.

In the meantime, my replacement character, a human (with a little halfling blood in his veins) ranger named Lenny (and his camel, George) was a Drajan gladiator, who wanted to escape the life of a gladiator to become a hermit in the wilds. He was born into his profession because his father, a human (flavorwise the son of a human and a halfling) fighter named Apocalypse D. Reaper (the D stood for Dirge), was the best gladiator in all of Draj. Apocalypse loved Lenny, but wasn't very competent at it; Apocalypse was prone to fits of rage, and wasn't all that intelligent or wise, so he often expressed his parental love for Lenny in ways that weren't very loving at all (there was no incest, don't you worry).

Finally, there's Reginald the Unlucky a human (foulborn) ardent. After having what seemed to be the worst day of his life, the Spellplague happened, and transported him to the Far Realm in the future. He dragged himself back into the world after developing a self-sentient spellscar/alien tumor which consumed his right arm, turning it into a tentacle (in spite of this, the spellscar/alien tumor, whose name is Winston, remains Reginald's best and only friend). Reginald, upon re-entering the world, found out how much time had passed (about a hundred years), and had to adjust to all the changes in the world and his lack of any family, along with hiding his new friend/mutation.
Admittedly quite a few of the characters I've played were orphans. Maybe half of them. Although only one of them had deceased parents: A tiefling who killed her mother in self-defense, after said mother (possessed by a demon at the time) murdered her father. Grew up to be quite the schizophrenic nutjob, not that the party members ever noticed during the several weeks I've played her. And I've even given her two personalities different names! I guess they really aren't the folk to take a (huge!) pile of subtle clues and see the underlying issue.

Then there's another Tiefling orphan (these guys/gals are hard to figure out suitable parents for!) street urchin type. Never bothered to work out any parenty details for this character, really - his only family is his sister and the gang of orphans. I guess that beats having a regular family though, at least by his book.

And finally there's a gal who grew up under a kind of professor Xavier type cleric of Ioun, with his very own orphanage for gifted children and all that. She's not even a tiefling, but I never bothered to write anything about her parents either. Although I guess she might not really be an orphan anymore, being officially adopted by a crusading noblewoman when she was a teenager.

Well, there's also R.U.N.E: The Robotic Utiliser of iNscriptions and Etchings. Warforged runepriest, if you hadn't guessed. Crafted by a rather stereotypical demented artificer who is more creative with mechanical parts than he is with names. He doesn't technically have parents, but isn't an orphan either really.

Ahem. Thinking back, I'm not sure if I've ever bothered to work out natural parents for any of my characters. It just doesn't seem very heroic to have a mum and dad to fall back on. A wizened old mentor to fall back on though, that's almost mandatory for any true hero ;)
Hey, orphans mostly grow up around people too.

I have two orphan characters I'd like to get a chance to play.

One was raised by a ranger near the village where his family had lived (their house was burned with them in it, in an act of racial violence). So he knows the ranger and a lot of the ranger's regular visitors, most of whom are druids. He also knows the ranger's dogs, because he helped care for them a lot. He doesn't really know anyone from the village.

The other... well, it isn't 100% definite that he's an orphan. His mother probably didn't know who his father is (in the sense of "which one?"). She's almost certainly long-since dead. The woman who raised him (and beat him and pimped him and took every bit of wealth he managed to acquire) is dead, definitely. But the thug he hired to kill that woman knows at least that much about him; there's the slum street gang he was part of; there's his girlfriend that he doesn't know he left pregnant; there's the faculty and other students at the wizard academy he got drafted into after he learned a cantrip on his own from a stolen book.

An absence of parents is not an absence of connections.  
"The world does not work the way you have been taught it does. We are not real as such; we exist within The Story. Unfortunately for you, you have inherited a condition from your mother known as Primary Protagonist Syndrome, which means The Story is interested in you. It will find you, and if you are not ready for the narrative strands it will throw at you..." - from Footloose
With me while I have played characters who did not ever know their biological parrents, I've never actually played a true "orphan" in the sense that they never really had a family. The closest I came to that was my warlord/sorcerer hybrid, Kalgor, who was raised by a very old red dragon who essentually was a more or less a "noble line" all his own(he had a masive hoard, his claws where in all manner of merchantile ventures and he even had an assemblage of Kobald minions.)whom wanted to raise him to be his loyal minion and weapon. However, while he never knew his biological parrents(they left him in the dragon's cave to die as a baby.) it never effected him, Praxis(the very old red dragon) was his surrogate father figure and ultimatly his "patron" as an adventurer, though he did have plans of betrayal on his mind and the highlight of the campaign for him was being able to finally destroy Praxis and claim his wealth and "empire" for himself.(All the party members got their moments of awesome like this, of course.)...

Other then that, most of my characters tend to have full familes, usually because about 90% of my characters are nobles of some sort and the 10% that are not of noble birth come from some other kind of family of wealth and power(such as my aformentioned character Kalgor.). However, the reason people seem to gravitate towards the "orphan" thing is because, again, it's an easy hook for one to become an adventurer. No ties to a manor(which both pesants/serfs AND nobles have), no pressure to go into the family occupation, and of course all the drama. It's something that is eveident in a LOT of forms of role play, not Just D&D and PnP(I do signifigant freeform Forum-based RPing as well.). People like characters with interesting lives and pasts; having your parrents killed by knolls/goblins/whatever is a LOT more interesting to write and RP about then how your character lived as joe shmoe the pesant farmer until he one day picked up a sword. It's for that same reason I usually play members of the nobility; Noble's lives are just more interesting then the lives of pesants, but since not everybody is a noble and some people don't like going that route, being an orphan provides the "interesting life" that some RPers seem to crave.

Oh, and not to get off topic but on the subject of nobles all having to be pretty and charismatic one of my favorite characters was a prince....who was also an artificer with 8 charisma who cared more about his(rather distrubing) work on using undead for good aka as an energy source to power magi-tech(in paticular, incorporeal undead, which all of his gadgets where fluffed to run on(So yeah, this guy was literally carrying around an "army" of incorporeal undead imprisioned in his magi-tech that where being constantly tortured to power his machines.....though he also wanted to find a way to refine zombie sludge into a useable power source too...). Needless to say his rather messed-up mad arcane-science was not something his family looked on with a kind eye...and his obssession with undead just made him kinda creepy and off-putting to most...not your typical prince charming, that one.(XD) So yeah, his family actually played a major part in his life and where a major reason for his adventuring and I find that, if used right, a family can be an excelent tool to motivate adventurers to go adventuring.(In thisc haracter's  case, his family more or less wanted to keep him out of the court scene due to the fact he could be an embarisment to the family, and he just wanted more knowldage and to prefect his undead-powered magic-tech(and one day cause a magi-tech revolution creating a utopian(or perhaps distopian?) tippyverse where nobody lives in fear of undead; they are instead put to productive use as a power source and cheap labor.)..so it was a win-win situation for both of them.)

So, family can be used to enhance a character greatly, but I don't frown on the Orphan trope like some may; because I know myself a lot of people(myself included) don't find your oridinary pesant who learned to draw a sword or cast a spell interesting...we need some kind of drama or conflict in our character's past, it's just I prefer for it to come from the exsistance of a family rather then the lack of one, but both options fill the same desire for a dramatic/interesting backstory and if you can do the orphan trope with some originality or awesome despite it's "overuse" more power to you!
Not only is my longest running character not an orphan, I just found out she's become a great grandmother.  O_O
I don't think I've ever played an orphan.  I do, tend to play a lot of drow though, and like to leave angry, betrayed matron mothers behind to attempt to hunt me down later.
I feel like making the character an orphan kind of robs them of stuff to roleplay. The only character I play that's an orphan is the tiefling below which I "inherited" from another player because our characters married and he stopped playing. In fact, I like to use parents and siblings as a means to direct behavior for characters. I've gotten some interesting character development and even some practical use from having developed families for my characters.

In one game I actually rotate between members of a family. The mother is a Gnome Pyromancer who took up adventuring after escaping her family so that she could become powerful enough to kill her insane father, an extremely powerful Sorcerer. Her husband is a Tiefling rouge who throws lots of daggers and adventures mostly so he can live out the "Dashing Scoundral" serials he loved reading when he grew up on the streets. The two met each other when slaying a dragon together. The Tiefling found a women who didn't discriminate against him based on his race or profession and the Gnome found a man who wouldn't freak out if his clothing caught fire every once in a while (racial fire resistnace XD). The two kids are twin "Gnofling" girls who are a bladesinger and bard. They go on adventures mostly because it's what their parents do and with a family like theirs they just don't feel right in normal society. The bladesinger follows the combat teachings of her parents, combinging bladework and fire magic. The bard follows the more heroic teachings of her parents, being first into the fray and taking on any challange offered. It's extremely fun to play around with the personalities and having them moving seperately across the continent means the DM can get me more invested in the more epic storylines.
   
In another game I play a Half-Elf cleric whose father was a great Elf paladin who set across the continent smiting evil, but recently settled down with a human women to have a few kids as a break before he gets back in the game. As the son of a major hero, I sometimes come across allies that my father helped, enemies he thwarted and sometimes get bonus knowlege that he told me in his stories of his exploits. I've been trying desperately to follow father's example but the party I've been hanging around with are (lovable) bumbling morons who are only good at killing people. I've actually had to drop his alignment from Lawful Good to Good as I've had to stretch my code to justify some of my actions. We once wen through a dungeon crawl thick with monsters but completely empty of treasure only to find out that my father had looted it years ago. Thankfully, he missed a secret door that had some extra behind it but that was freaking hilarious. It'll be interesting when I meet up with dad again, especially since I've had to start using one of my brothers names as an alias recently.
Out of the 9 players that have come and gone in our family/friends D&D, only 1 hasnt played a character that hasn't been an orphan.
It breaks down like this:
Player 1 - Has had 4 characters. 3 of 4 have been orphans. (Doesn't remember parents / Parents killed by goblin raid / Parents died to save him)
Player 2 - Has had 3 characters. 2 of 3 have been orphans. (Doesn't remember parents / Parents died of old age)
Player 3 - Has had 3 characters. 3 of 3 have been orphans. (Killed parents himself / Parents were deities killed in the Dawn War / Never had parents)
Player 4 - Has had 2 characters. 2 of 2 have been orphans. (Doesn't remember parents / Parents killed by a dragon)
Player 5 - Has had 2 characters. 1 of 2 have been orphans. (Doesn't remember parents)
Player 6 - Has had 2 characters. 1 of 2 have been orphans. (Never had parents)
Player 7 - Has had 2 characters. 2 of 2 have been orphans. (Parents killed by raids)
Player 8 - Has had 1 character. Not an orphan.
Player 9 - Has had 1 character. Was an orphan. (Parents sacrificed by the god they served)

So out of 20 characters played, 15 of them were orphans (75%). Never even noticed so many of us were orphaned until I just did this lol. 
 
"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society where none intrudes, By the deep Sea, and music in its roar: I love not Man the less, but Nature more."
Hmm. Some of those don't really sound like orphans - "died of old age" implies that the PC was already an adult when that happened; the player 3 entries suggest that the character was probably also that (or an equivalent).
99.99% of the time, an orphan's past includes people still alive.

Unless your orphan is the only survivor of a remote village that didn't even have a road running up to it... and became an adventurer very promptly afterward. 

Did your orphan grow up in an orphanage? There are the people who ran the orphanage. The other orphans.

On the street? Other people living on the street. A gang he was a member of. A few shopkeepers he got on decently with. Maybe a girlfriend/boyfriend or six.

In a foster home? Well, there are the foster parents and maybe some foster siblings.

Did he go to school? Classmates and teachers.

 
"The world does not work the way you have been taught it does. We are not real as such; we exist within The Story. Unfortunately for you, you have inherited a condition from your mother known as Primary Protagonist Syndrome, which means The Story is interested in you. It will find you, and if you are not ready for the narrative strands it will throw at you..." - from Footloose
I see the orphan characters thing from a lot of players and tend to purposely go against that grain by playing characters with parents.  I've had a few orphans through the years, usually because it fits the character well, but even then sometimes the character was simply abandoned at an orphanage as a child, rather than having his parents being dead.
Seriously, though, you should check out the PbP Haven. You might also like Real Adventures, IF you're cool.
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Orphans, mmm

I've played my share, but mostly when I was younger and couln't think up a decent back story (and thought is was cool and mysterious). Little did I realize how cliche it was.

Default D&D Cliche Background #1

My Village was attacked by (insert humanoid race or monster). I was the only survivor. I was taken in and raised by (Insert Mysterious Benefactors, Monks, Wizards, Clerics, possibly an Order of Druids, Etc). I grew up to be an adventurer, and want to get revenge on (pervious race/monster) for killing my parents/village.

I think being an Orpan is still kind of OK, as long as the story back story is pretty decent (and not the previously mentions background). I also think that even orphans might have some extended family out there somewhere 
Embarassed
Default D&D Cliche Background #1 


Guilty as charged!  Eladrin, raised by dwarves, revenge on drow

Partly, I used it as an excuse to have an eladrin in a dwarf-populated world (dwarves found her in the caves, trying to get to the drow), but that was all basically a distant backdrop to the other background elements I had in mind.  (IE: it wasn't the focus of the backstory)



I can see a number of reasons for the orphan backstory, but I think it's mostly a combination of being lazy, disinterested, or ease of use. Cliche Backstory #1 still has room for quite a bit of elaboration, without cluttering up the story.  And sometimes nobody bothers because it's a hack-and-slash.

Now that the topic has been started, however, I find myself thinking back on all the character concepts I've had...




Deva Wizard (no parents; immortal)

Elf Druid (orphan)

Dragonborn Fighter (quest of honor, fairly large family)

Dragonborn Sorcerer (related to above somehow... never played these two for very long, or even in the same campaign, so it never came up, but i imagine they were brother/sister or cousins, or something)

Dwarf Cleric (elderly; long line of great grandkids by now, but widowed somewhat recently, and decided to see the world again before he dies)

Human Rogue (Alek Baulderdash) - This guy has a whole convoluted backstory involving a 100-generation family curse and efreets, but suffice to say he's not an orphan.



Now on to my "stock" NPCs:

Paranoid borderland (human) Warlord - Has distant family that is of noble blood, but mostly he's been disowned by his family.  He's late middle aged, so I never figured "orphan" as his early life.


Actually, the other stock NPC concepts I have don't have much of an early life backstory either.  I focused mostly on their recent (20s - 40s) lives.  Figured they were fairly average until something happend to make them important.




So of the 10 or so ideas I've wanted to play at some point, 2 were difinitive orphans, and about half were not orphans, but didn't have important backstory involving family. 

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