Harry was the only one who saw me, really saw me. So he taught me to hide and that's what's kept me safe. But sometimes I'm not sure where Harry's vision of me ends and where the real me starts. If I'm just a collection of learned behaviors, bits and pieces of Harry, maybe my new friend is right. Maybe I am a fraud.
- Dexter Morgan, Dexter
(I wanted an older picture for this, a better quote, but this is the best I have. Perhaps I'll find something more suitable later).
So, on RPG.net, this one fellow says he'll never include a family member in a back story again, because his DM always turns them into hostages. I found that a terribly tragic statement, as family, legacy, can be a profoundly important hook for any character. We are, after all, the products of our past, the products of our parents, and they are the products of their past. The orphaned dungeon crawler misses out on so much story potential.
I chose Harry Morgan, above, because Dexter cannot go an episode without discussing how his father shaped who he is, but more than that, as the series progresses, we learn that Harry Morgan wasn't squeaky clean, and that stain of sin may have been the very thing that led Harry to Dexter in the first place. But Dexter is hardly the only tale where we see the impact a father makes on his son. Legacy matters so much in Wuxia that it practically defines the genre. Every Wuxia character has family, and that family matters. Even an orphan child had some mysterious, important and powerful parent and will be driven to find vengeance for that their parent's death. By the end of the story, the martial artist will have a child of his own to pass his legacy on to (Ip Man 2 couldn't help but show Bruce Lee in a tiny vignette at the end, showing us who would uphold Ip Man's legacy). The Tudors portrayed legacy wonderfully, with initial comparisons of Henry to his father, and the constant weight of history in our mind as we watch events unfold. We all know what will happen to Anne Boelyn and we all know that her daughter would become England's greatest queen, and yet, we're mesmerized by the tale.
Legacy matters. History matters. The past shapes the present in one constantly unraveling tale. Perhaps the next time you're creating a character, stop to ponder where he came from and how his family impacted him. Think of your character as a continuation of someone else's story. What does your father think of delving into dungeons? Did he do it himself? Does he try to stop you because he knows of the dangers that might befall you? Is he perhaps disappointed that you chose a life of adventure over the path he chose? Perhaps your parents are connected to the events of the story, and the necromancer who strikes at the very heart of the kingdom to raise some fallen despot is raising the very tyrant your father and his band of heroes slew. You may find that, as you create your character's heritage, you bind him deeply into the setting and the story, and become part of a much greater, much grander story.
If that fellow sat down in my game and declared that he was an orphan, I'd want to know about how his parents died. I'd want to drag them into the story, change them from victims into heroes that he could appreciate. Even dead, a father or a mother can have an enormous impact on a character (just look at Dexter!). Such ripe fields cannot be left unharvested.