Last year some young bravoes gathered together a collection of arms and armor before setting off to a forgotten corner of the realm where they did pillage an ancient barrow. The grave-robbers were first caught swilling ale and filling their stomachs with mutton in a village tavern by the local warden and forced his retreat with simple conjurations and their clumsy blades. The fools bought all the horses they could find and camped but a couple miles outside of the village where they were quickly found by the Duke and his trusted retainers, the young villains were quickly brought to justice for their debauched thievery of the remains of a Royal ally as they quickly fell to the Dukes' blades and the spells of his magister. Their remains were burnt and denied burial in the earth and their souls condemned to torment in the pit.
So, just what place is there in the classic D&D campaign for the PC as a would-be hero? What chance do wandering vagabonds of disparate origin and anti-social demeanor have?
The castles are ruled by higher level Fighters, Clerics and Magic-Users. These lords and masters have plans of their own that they dont' wish ruined by some patty up-starts. Those lords that came into power from lowly origins are likewise aware of the future danger young adventurers represent. To the lord of a castle the lowly PC is a threat to be eliminated or a resource to be exploited. Those that can't be coerced by force of law, swayed by a fat coin purse or controlled by magic will be destroyed or driven off.
The best chance for the young would-be-hero is to seek a patron as a shield agaisnt the ambitions of others more powerful then themselves. To become involed in what soem call "the end game" at the beginning. Sure there are peasant heroes that didn't start among the ranks of the nobles and their retainers but they are far less common than those who rose among the ranks of the powerful and their underlings.
But we seldom see this in D&D campaigns. Players want to be in control of their own actions and future (which I agree with) but they and their DM's fail to see the way to gain control is to become part of the controlling structure. The hobbit's were the only main characters in LotR that weren't nobles and tied to Middle earth accept as chosen by fate and their free will, every other character was compelled by association to the power structure to be part of the fellowship and some of the hobbits themselves were quickly swept up into the power structure in reaction to their actions. Sure LoTR could be seen as one colossal Railroad of an adventure as it's a novel and not an RPg campaign but it shows the precedent.
Elric of Melniboné the anti-hero of Michael Moorcocks Young Kingdoms is among the most elite of his world. He doesn't start a 1st level nobody in some remote corner of the realm. He's most certainly in "the end-game". King Arthur and the Knights of The Round Table are most certainly of the power structure. The heroes of the Illiad are bound to the power structure or to the gods themselves. The nameless peasant-turned hero and king is still of course a popular story, but you do notice he becomes the King?
Those who wish to be shortsighted wandering vagabonds should be given that privilege. Those that actually strive for more should also get the opportunity. In the main Heroes are made and usually die before they get to enjoy their status.
So what place is their for the PC? The lowly rascal, the outlaw and the vagabond offer a short but possibly longer lasting life than that of the usual would-be hero. But there is little reward and far less glory. Those that find themselves a place at thetable beside the king get to be celebrated forever.