Street Urchin
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"Street Urchin", he thought. Urchin sounds about right - spiky, slimy and smelling slightly of rotting seaweed.

Vimes, from Night Watch, Terry Pratchett

Basic Information

A street urchin is a (somewhat romanticised) term for a (semi)feral child living in an urban area. Such children may be part of a homeless family, or even have homes to go to which they are merely absent from most of the day1, but they may equally well be at least functional orphans.

Such children - even if nominally supported by their parents - are often involved in crime to one degree or another, whether as perpetrators (typically begging or petty theft), victims (sexual exploitation is common) or both (exploitation may well end in being trafficked as a child prostitute). Street children may also be recruited into criminal gangs (Fagin's kitchen in Oliver Twist being one of the most famous examples). More honest work often involves selling small items to passers by2 or providing services such as shoe-shining, message carrying and horse-holding (or in the modern era, windscreen washing).


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Possibly a background for a PC thief (or any other urban underclass character) - even Bernard Cornwell's Richard Sharpe is shown to have grown up as a street urchin.
  • They can also be recruited as intelligence gatherers … whether you happen to be a violin playing detective or a sinister eunuch.
  • A PC could be sold something significant that an urchin has "found".
  • Finding a child that has been "lost" in a city may require extensive urchin sorting.
  • Urban campaigns could include conflict between charity workers trying to "save" the urchins and criminals trying to recruit them.
    • Inevitably the criminals will probably be more appealing to the urchins - given that the choice is liable to be "church and school" vs. hanging out with a street gang. Of course, when the actual alternative to being washed and sent to school is being perfumed and sold as a bum-boy (or shot down in a turf battle), things may look different, but by then it's usually too late … and children are traditionally slow to develop critical thinking skills.
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