Some people might find it despicable that we are talking about using orphans in D&D, but let me ask you. Have your players ever used orphans in D&D?
Using orphans in D&D is something that a surprising amount of players do. Orphans can be used as resources or plot elements.
I thought my players over the past few years were alone. I was wrong. Thinking hard about it, players in my past have tried to utilize orphans and after researching many other games involve orphans. But why?
Why we use orphans in D&D
Orphans in D&D live in a terrible world. Monsters are abundant, magic allows anyone powerful enough to what they want ethics be damned. This world is just like ours but with far more dangers. It only makes sense for there to be orphans.
Orphans can come in many forms. They can be street urchins trying to survive, the lucky few who are in a run-down orphanage, or a new acquisition that the party gains from their adventures.
Many games involve orphans. Even critical role in season 2 involved an orphan named Kiri. If you would like to see a highlight of Kiri and how they deal with the orphan watch it here but be warned, there is some cursing in this highlight.
In this highlight, you can see that people do not view orphans as normal children. Adventurers are not normal people and the experiences that a child receives with adventurers will not be normal.
There are a few reasons why we take in an orphan as a party.
- The child is alone (possibly because we killed its parents) and don’t want to view ourselves as monsters.
- As a tool to be utilized.
- They are so cute!
This group took the child in for reasons #1 and #3. These are the groups that generally have the best interest for the orphans at heart despite the players being in death-defying professions.
The second and more malicious reason is to use them as a tool to be utilized.
I last campaign had a group save an orphan child because of reason #1. That underlying reason quickly became to utilize that child. After having the child with them for a day in the abyss they wanted to know what class she favored by trying to teach her things. Eventually, they got wishes and had the child wish to be at the same level as the party.
This is a child that they did this to. The party wanted a new tool to use and always thought that she was too cute to harm.
The other reason that we use orphans in D&D is for nefarious purposes. I will go over some nefarious purposes that players might come up with when we talk about making orphans useful.
The 5 effects
When players use orphans in D&D there is always an effect on the poor orphan. These are also the top 5 ways that we end up using orphans. After reading about countless orphanages that were burned down I think I can categorize the 5 ways that orphans are affected in D&D.
The first effect that every orphan universally receives is corruption. These children are not brought up in a great environment. They sometimes have to hide and watch people be murdered or commit murder to stay alive. It doesn’t matter if it is in self-defense. If a child kills someone they will be scared regardless of the situation. If they are not scared you should be scared.
Children don’t just see or do things that are immoral, they get involved in adult activities. Have you ever seen a child in a bar? Most places do not allow this because introducing them to substances early does lead to abuse, not tolerance despite what pseudoscience says.
When we introduce children to alcohol early they are more likely to partake in it and this is not the only situation where they are corrupted! Is your adventuring party completely moral with ethical dealings? No? I didn’t think so and guess what? The orphan sees all of your dealings and is completely corrupted by it
These children will never be able to have a normal life if they are living with an adventuring group and that group will corrupt them. This may lead to them breaking the party out of jail, or just becoming an ace in the hole for the party.
Taking in orphans for any purpose is terrible for that child, but it leads to the next common step, molding.
Molding is when you try to make orphans in D&D useful to your group. Not every group tries to mold their orphans and we will get to these groups later, but many groups do.
My party tried to mold the orphan into a useful tool for themselves as a rogue. This makes sense to most people. If someone is around eventually they will want to help. Why not have them pull their weight?
Molding goes much deeper. You will have an influence on the orphan. They view you as their main adult figures and will try to learn from you. This is where you mold them to be whatever you like morally and as a person.
In my current campaign, they are molding 1 orphan to not stop drawing demonic summoning circles (long story short, she likes to draw and is good at it in an occult bar), but instead to charge people for the summoning circles.
A nefarious way to mold people is in an evil campaign. I heard of this from a friend, but they ran an evil campaign and needed minions. At level 6 they could train others of their class and decided to get a few level 1s by going to the local orphanage.
Many people try to justify their use of orphans by stating ‘its a bad world and they need homes. I’m doing a service!’ So, they provide orphans with a home only if they are able to be useful. They in this evil campaign molded them to be the parties minions and indoctrinated them from a young age onward.
Molding is the 2nd most common effect that players impart onto orphans. If you have a child who leeches from you why not turn it into an asset? This is the most common way to solve the ‘useless orphan’ problem.
The 3rd most common way to solve the orphan problem is to abandon them.
The party has learned that orphans in D&D are a burden. They are continually exposing this child to danger and it is not making life any easier. It is cute though, and that is probably why it has lasted this long. The party wants to protect the cute baby from everything! Despite this desire, they realize that the party is unable to assuredly keep the child safe.
This is where the party looks to abandon the child most of the time.
The party wants to find a good home for them and not just dump them at the nearest orphanage. That is why they try to find good contacts and give an orphan a home there.
Sometimes these contacts are truly just to dump the orphan somewhere that they will be loved and away from the party. It can also be out of a desire to see the child safe somewhere else due to constant danger and moving from place to place.
the last most useful way I have seen players abandon orphans in D&D is by giving them to a potential ally. In ancient times arranged marriages were common between nobility in order to gain alliances. This is how some players use orphans.
They want to be friends with the local blacksmith AND get discounts, but Hilda doesn’t like them very much. In order to get in the good graces of their female blacksmith, the party adopts and gives away an orphan to this person.
In these instances, the party has to go through a whole twisted plan about how to make the proposed parent bond with the child. Sometimes the party has good intentions, but when you are trying to force someone to raise a child the means might not justify the ends.
I have rarely seen players use children this way, but it has been done. They have traded orphans like commodities and abandoned them for deals, alliances, money, or items.
Abandonment is 1 way to use orphans, but making them a problem is another… interesting way.
Players don’t generally make orphans in D&D a problem. They try to use their resources as best as possible or protect these cute lovable orphans. Problem orphans are usually exclusive to dungeon masters.
Do you remember that orphan who wished to be at the same level as the rest of the party? She became a problem orphan.
There has to be a reason for an orphan to be a problem orphan. No normal child will end up causing issues for the party. This child was raised in the abyss by killer clowns though, so I had a lot to work with.
The party had maybe 12 passive perception put together and this child was a rogue. She was able to sneak out and do anything she wanted. Like eat people, torture people, destroy parts of the city, all with a smile.
This child caused no end of problems for the party and eventually was going to be the final boss that they had to face if our campaign kept continuing. If the party plans to mold an orphan you can use that to make the game more interesting.
Problem orphans creat plot points that the party has to deal with. Did half of the city burst into flame and the child that you just recently taught gunpowder to is beaming? Time to deal with that. Did the players not know what to do? Now they have to talk to the thieves guild and possibly get a quest.
Problem orphans are fun to have when the party wants to mold an orphan into a useful tool. It can also be a great way to establish a villain as we talk about in this article. (Creating a villain from your own actions.)
There is one more way how we use orphans in D&D and it isn’t pretty.
People die in D&D and orphans are not exempt from this. They might end up dying and it isn’t just accidental. How many orphanages have you heard of burning in D&D? Orphans in D&D are just a different type of kindling to some folks, and it has become a meme.
Players burn orphanages for different reasons. The end result is the same, but not every orphan dies in a fire. Orphans are with adventurers at times and that means they can be killed by just about anything. A stray fireball or arrow will do the trick, but should an orphan die this way?
Orphans in D&D generally have plot armor. It is okay and sad for a character to die but when an animal or child dies NOT by the parties hand it is sad. Players don’t like this. If an orphan dies it needs to be because the party decided to kill the orphan or off-screen.
Later on, the party can learn that the orphan they dumped in the city street died to malnourishment and neglect. This can be a powerful plot point and start a whole emotional arc. Orphan deaths are not to be taken lightly when they are killed by the dungeon master, but how do you make the party like an orphan?
How to make a good orphan
Orphans in D&D have to be cute and helpless. That is the only way to make the party even consider taking in the orphan and not killing or harming them. I have tried to have punk orphans steal from the party and it has not gone well. Unless the orphans are cute.
If you got pickpocketed by a 10-year-old scrawny boy that spat in your face you as a player might get a bit violent or send them to the guard. If that pickpocket is a chubby, scared 7-year-old who ran to his 2 other orphan friends, a player will be much lighter in their punishment.
The players might even want to take in the orphans and help them out. This is because people like cute and helpless things. It is why we have pets. The players can view these orphans as pets and as long as the orphans are cute they will live.
This is different if the players want to mold the orphan. It can become a party NPC which you can read about here and the orphan only needs to be initially cute. As time goes on the orphan can become less cute, but more of a central figure in the party like almost any other character.
This is why dungeon masters hate orphans.
DMs hate orphans
Do you want to play an extra character? Do you want something that will distract the players and completely de-rail the plot? How about something that you have to do extra work for when there is no freaking point?
That is how many dungeon masters feel about orphans. They are a nuisance and almost always bite the dungeon master later. Like having an army of 500 monks and 300 rogues who are at your disposal for…. reasons.
They are something that the dungeon master now has to consider and the players will not treat this person like a normal human being. It is a resource or something to be ogled that the dungeon master has to deal with.
These are a few ways to view orphans, but you can do so much with them.
If you need a breath of fresh air, bring in the orphan to lighten everyone’s mood. Give the party a reason to do something since they don’t want to see the orphan hurt. Use the orphan as a problem orphan or as a plot point!
Many dungeon masters just view orphans as inconveniences and don’t think about the possibilities that orphans bring.
It depends on how you view orphans.
If they are a nuisance they will only become one for yourself. If you view the orphan as a normal NPC that you can use then it can be a blessing. Use your orphans well and don’t dwell on the negative.
There are many ways that we use and effect orphans in D&D. I have gone over the 5 most common uses, and how to make good orphans.
Dungeon masters can be troubled by using orphans for a variety of reasons, but you can use them well. It all depends on how you think of orphans.
I didn’t think that this was a big topic at first, but after digging around I was surprised to find out how many groups use orphans.
I hope that I have helped you think about the most common ways to use orphans, and given you some insight on how to use orphans in your game.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!