How to solve the murder-hobo problem

It’s a dilemma almost as old as the tabletop roleplaying hobby itself: In a game that revolves around exploring and (often) looting dangerous places filled with dangerous creatures, how does a DM cure players of the seemingly irresistible urge to simply murder and loot literally every living thing they come across?

I mean, combat and finding treasure and loot are fun, but you can’t kill and loot everyone. Who’s going to cook breakfast after Gorg the Gormless has killed the innkeeper’s family in search of treasure that, being innkeepers, they probably don’t have? And what interesting and weird things might happen if Gorg actually tried to communicate with those kobolds in the dungeon passageway or that randomly encountered traveler instead of hacking into them by reflex? (EDIT: Not being familiar with details of the D&D bestiary, I don’t know if it’s even possible to communicate with kobolds; the point is that there are other options besides stabbing things.)

How do you get enthusiastic, bloody-minded gamers to consider options that don’t require bloodshed…and like it?

If this is a question that has vexed you, fear not. Cirsova has a very useful and straightforward answer for you.

Even if it hasn’t vexed you, go read Cirsova anyway, because if you keep on playing these games, it probably will at some point.

PS: One thing you may want to know if you’re unfamiliar with old-school D&D: When he says “play B/X,” he means the 1981 revision of the Dungeons and Dragons rules by Tom Moldvay and David Cook, which had a Basic book and an Expert book: thus B/X. It’s the quintessence of OSR.

2 thoughts on “How to solve the murder-hobo problem

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  1. I see two different issues here.

    The first is players wanting to attack non-combatants. To be honest, this was never a problem with my early D&D games because we didn’t roleplay encounters with non-combatants. The PCs went to town and spent this much on healing, that much on new weapons, and then went back to the dungeon. Towns basically functioned as the “turn in cards” phase of a Risk game.

    I do recall a couple of times when a player wanted to attack a shopkeeper in order to get goods for free, and the standard DM answer was, “You can’t. I’m not going to run that combat.” It’s okay to just flat out tell players, “Villagers and peasants are off limits. You can’t attack them.” Players can accept that, or go sit at someone else’s table.

    The second issue is players taking on opponents that are too tough for them. When that happens run the combat straight and let the bodies hit the floor. It’s okay to hint–“There are a dozen ogre magi with vorpal weapons in this room–are you SURE you want to charge in there?” But if the players don’t want to take the hint and charge in, then characters will die, and players can make new ones.

    There are different things that people get from playing games, doubly so with RPGs. I am a strategic player–I want to figure out how to use the forces available to me to overcome a larger and more powerful force. And I’m not offended if a GM says that he wants to run a campaign based on social interaction–I just won’t play in that game.

    I’m here to kick ass and chew bubblegum and bubblegum ain’t on the equipment list.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “I’m here to kick ass and chew bubblegum and bubblegum ain’t on the equipment list.” Ha! I’m totally going to steal that line.

      I’m the same way when it comes to roleplaying. I’ve never run a game that didn’t revolve around combat and similarly dangerous pursuits, and warriors/fighters have always been my favorite character type. But I do also enjoy other interactions and have been perfectly happy playing in sessions that consist mostly of social action or intrigue because I enjoy playing a character almost as much as fighting. “What would my guy do in this situation?” is always interesting to me. But a whole campaign of social/storygaming? Eh…no. Blood has to spill at some point, otherwise there’s just no point. RPGs are about ADVENTURE.

      Regarding the first issue, I’ve been there too, and that was my answer as a GM — just flat-out no. You don’t just randomly murder people in my games. Way back in the mists of time I did allow someone to follow through with murdering an upstanding citizen in public once, and they ended up getting cornered by the town guard in short order, gut-shot with a crossbow, and dying in a jail cell. The player learned from the experience and the next character he rolled up showed better judgment and lived through the whole campaign. 🙂

      Although I have run a couple of games where all mayhem was allowable, and they were a hoot, it’s just not my style. Part of the issue here is making sure everyone at the table understands what kind of game they’re in.

      Cirsova’s answer to the second issue was pretty much the same as yours — which I think is why he recommended playing B/X. Players need to know that character death is always on the table, and when they do they’ll probably play accordingly.


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