Exploring the Urchin Background

Life on the streets is tough, but for some, it’s the only life they know. Urchins are the epitome of streetwise survivors, having learned to navigate the treacherous underbelly of civilization at a young age. These characters are often tough and resourceful, relying on their wits to get by in a world that is hostile to their very existence. The Urchin background is one of the most unique and compelling character options in Dungeons and Dragons, offering players a chance to experience the dark and dangerous side of adventuring.

Urchins in D&D

Urchins in the world of Dungeons and Dragons are typically homeless and parentless, surviving through petty crime, begging, or other means of subsistence. They can be found in the most impoverished parts of cities, where they scrape out a living on the fringes of society. These street-smart individuals have honed their skills in survival, stealth, and deception in order to navigate the harsh realities of urban life. Adventurers with the urchin background often have a tough exterior and may have grown up in gangs or with other outcasts.

Some examples of adventurers with the urchin background include:

  • A rogue who learned to pick pockets and break into buildings in order to survive on the streets.
  • A monk who grew up in a monastery but ran away to experience the outside world, and ended up living on the streets.
  • A warlock who was abandoned as a baby and raised by a group of thieves who taught them how to survive in the criminal underworld.

These characters may have a distrust of authority figures or struggle with moral dilemmas, as their upbringing often involved breaking the law to survive.


Urchin Feature: City Secrets

The Urchin background’s feature is called City Secrets. As an Urchin, you’ve had to learn how to survive on the streets of a city, and this has given you an intimate knowledge of its alleys, shortcuts, and secret passageways. This feature allows you to find hidden routes and passages that others would miss, allowing you to travel between any two locations in the city twice as fast as your speed would normally allow, as long as you’re not in combat. This can be incredibly useful when trying to escape pursuers or when you need to reach a destination quickly.

City Secrets also grants you a unique perspective on the city’s underworld, allowing you to gather information about criminal activities that other characters might miss. This can be a valuable asset when trying to gather intel or track down a lead, and it can lead to interesting plot hooks as you navigate the murky world of city politics and crime. In addition, your familiarity with the city’s streets and neighborhoods can help you to navigate unfamiliar areas with greater ease, potentially avoiding dangerous encounters or making unexpected allies along the way.


Customizing Your Urchin

The Urchin background grants proficiency in Sleight of Hand and Stealth, which make sense for a character who has had to be quick and nimble to survive on the streets. However, these proficiencies can be customized to better fit the character’s backstory or role in the party. For example, a character with the Urchin background who also has a talent for searching for clues or information may want to swap Sleight of Hand for proficiency in Investigation. Alternatively, a character who spent time in the sewers may trade in Stealth for proficiency in Athletics or even in the Poisoner’s Kit, reflecting their knowledge of the toxic hazards found in the underbelly of a city.

The Urchin background also grants proficiency in the Disguise Kit and Thieves’ Tools, which are essential tools for any urchin who wants to blend in or survive on the streets. However, players can also customize these proficiencies to reflect their character’s specific experiences or interests. For example, a character who spent time working as a messenger may want to swap out proficiency in Thieves’ Tools for proficiency in the Navigator’s Tools, reflecting their familiarity with the city’s layout. Alternatively, a character who spent time working as a cook or brewer may want to swap out proficiency in the Disguise Kit for proficiency in the Brewer’s Supplies or Cook’s Utensils, reflecting their knowledge of food and drink.

This background grants you 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 gold pieces. You can customize your starting equipment by swapping out items of equal value from the standard starting equipment for their class. This allows for some personalization and helps to fit your character concept. For example, a rogue urchin may choose to exchange the small knife for a set of thieves’ tools or exchange the pet mouse for a vial of poison. It all depends on the player’s creative choices and the needs of the character.


Suggested Urchin Talents

Each class can utilize the Urchin background to create unique characters that have honed their skills through their tough life on the streets. Here is a list of some unique skills a character may have learned through their experiences. You can use them to give some extra depth to your character, or use them for inspiration to come up with your own!

  • Has an exceptional talent for salvaging and repurposing scrap materials to create useful inventions
  • Expert at identifying and analyzing technological devices and machinery
  • Has a talent for using gadgets and tools to aid in combat and other situations


  • Expert at finding edible plants and small game in the wild
  • Has a talent for creating makeshift weapons out of found objects
  • Has an exceptional sense of direction, even in unfamiliar environments


  • Has a talent for mimicry and can flawlessly imitate different accents and mannerisms
  • Expert at playing the spoons, providing rhythmic accompaniment to musical performances
  • Has a talent for finding the perfect location for a performance, even in a new town


  • Has an exceptional talent for finding hidden caches of food and supplies
  • Expert at finding safe and hidden places to rest and meditate
  • Has a talent for identifying herbs and plants with healing properties


  • Has an exceptional knowledge of the natural world and can find edible plants and medicinal herbs in any environment
  • Expert at blending in with their surroundings, making them hard to spot
  • Has a talent for communicating with small animals, gaining their trust and loyalty


  • Has an exceptional knowledge of the layout of the streets and buildings in cities
  • Expert at using the environment to their advantage in combat, using obstacles and structures to gain the upper hand
  • Has a talent for identifying the strengths and weaknesses of opponents in combat


  • Has an exceptional sense of balance and can walk on narrow surfaces with ease
  • Expert at picking locks and disabling traps
  • Has a talent for finding the hidden paths and shortcuts in cities, allowing for fast travel and escape


  • Has an exceptional talent for finding and tracking down evil-doers
  • Expert at detecting lies and deception in others
  • Has a talent for inspiring and rallying allies, boosting their morale and resolve


  • Has an exceptional knowledge of the flora and fauna in their environment, including tracking and hunting prey
  • Expert at navigating and surviving in the wilderness
  • Has a talent for finding hidden paths and shortcuts through nature, allowing for quick travel and escape


  • Has an exceptional talent for blending into crowds and remaining unnoticed
  • Expert at picking pockets and stealing without getting caught
  • Has a talent for finding and exploiting weaknesses in buildings and structures, allowing for easy break-ins and escapes


  • Has an exceptional talent for reading people’s emotions and intentions
  • Expert at creating and manipulating illusions
  • Has a talent for finding and tapping into ley lines, enhancing their spellcasting abilities


  • Has an exceptional talent for sensing and locating magical artifacts and sources of power
  • Expert at persuading and manipulating others to do their bidding
  • Has a talent for communicating with extraplanar beings, gaining their assistance and knowledge


  • Has an exceptional knowledge of ancient ruins and can decipher cryptic messages and symbols
  • Expert at identifying magical spells and artifacts
  • Has a talent for memorizing complex spells and casting them quickly and accurately


  • The urchin background is for characters that lived their lives on the streets surviving only by your own skills and cunning.
  • The background feature City Secrets allows an urchin to move themselves, and their party members, through urban environments in half the time it would normally take.
  • You can customize your skill and tool proficiencies, and even your starting equipment by working with your DM to swap them out for ones more appropriate for your character.
  • The urchin background can be used with any class to give a unique feel to your character through unique talents learned through their life on the streets.

About The Author

Justin Dixon
Justin Dixonhttps://help-action.com/
Dix has been playing D&D for over 7 years and has been a professional dungeon master for about 3 years. He has been a featured author in multiple releases from Grim Press including Creatures of the Underdark and soon The Goblins of Beetle Hollow from Crumbling Keep. He has worked with the acclaimed pop-up tavern Orcs! Orcs! Orcs! He is the producer for the Help Action podcast and played Amelia Whiteheart on the live play podcast The Swordcast Adventures.

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