Thoughts & Things

Murder Hobos – Good or Bad?

What happens if you find yourself in a gaming group that is just full of Murder Hobos? I find that it is more common when I play now, that I did many-many years ago. Especially in organized play D&D games. And with only one “Leeroy Jenkins” in the group, it can make a session end rather abruptly, but memorable.

So, What exactly is a murder hobo? The label comes from the fact that player characters are homeless & nameless strangers that travel from town to town, living out of their backpacks. And their default solution to any problem that they may encounter is to kill everything and collect the treasure. They just kill everything!

But is this all the player’s fault? I don’t think so…

I started to think about other examples for games that use solving problems with combat and then collecting treasure. That would be the majority of digital game that is out there. Combat encounters makes everything very linear and easy to arbitrate. Your character either wins, or dies. Then the game takes you to the next combat encounter, maybe with a little fluff, like a puzzle or key to unlock in-between. And this is the gaming style that they have enjoyed for the past few decades. And people do enjoy it. It seems to be fun. And the proof is that the marketplace has continued to create games that cater to Hack & Slash genre.

Is it really Anyone’s Fault??? If you are the Dungeon Master/Game Master/Judge, then you are setting the world stage for your game. You setup all the encounters and interactions. You may even be setting up terrain, miniatures, and 3D models on the table. You are going to all that trouble of miniatures and a 1 inch square playmat, wet-erase markers, initiative trackers, because you are creating a game that focuses on combat encounters. And because of this, I think that you are also promoting the Murder Hobo agenda. You meticulously create Combat encounters that are balanced for the level of the characters. Balanced encounters – a combat for their level that the players will be able to defeat. They never need to run away, negotiate, beg, plan, strategize, bribe, parley, hire mercenaries, or regroup. They can typically walk into any combat situation and defend themselves, and 95% of the time are victorious. Because you have placed Balanced encounters into their path.

And for organized play games we are asked to make these same level appropriate encounters, “Don’t make the adventure too easy or too difficult for a group. Never being challenged makes for a boring game and being overwhelmed makes for a frustrating one.” The players are almost assured that they will be able to go on their Murder Hobo spree without many consequences. And this is a lot easier because most of the time they have no real roots in the organized play game world.

So for me, I find the murder hobo style of play neither good or bad. It’s just a different way of playing the game for those that love Hack & Slash! And if I want a game that goes a little deeper into the roleplaying aspect, then I will run the game. I will set-up the world, and limit the option for combat encounters, or make the consequences of blindly jumping into combat costly. It doesn’t always turn out the way I envision, or limit the combat encounters. But I don’t think it promotes the Hack & Slash style of play, and helps the players plan and prepare for those big combat encounters that will eventually come about.

Have fun!

Links for Further Reading


  • Manos Ti

    I definitely agree. It’s a style of play. And as far as people are having fun doing it, it’s fine.

    The problem starts when not everyone on the table is happy with something like that. It is then up to the DM to balance stuff so everyone gets a piece of what they want.

    • Unexpected Dave

      I’ve always felt that combat-heavy adventure design comes from a good-faith desire by the DM/game designer to engage all the players at the table. During social encounters, there’s a tendency to let the party’s “face” handle all the talking, while the socially awkward Barbarians and Mages stand quietly lest they accidentally offend the NPC. In combat, meanwhile, every party member gets involved. Especially in later editions of D&D, everyone has something useful to do during combat. For the DM, it’s easy to design combat encounters where every party member gets involved.

      It’s not impossible to design social encounters which get the entire party involved, or at least encourage a “non-face” to get involved, but it is very difficult (especially in official or organized adventures, which are designed for general audiences rather than specific groups. As a weekend DM, I can design an adventure which incorporates specific characters from my PCs’ backgrounds and bonds, but an official or mass-market OGL adventure doesn’t have that luxury. All they can do is provide some general tips and opportunities for individual DMs to tie their specific PCs to the adventure.)

      That being said, there are some ways to design social encounters which encourage or force the non-Charisma classes to participate. For example, you could run into a Warlord who is deeply suspicious of magic-users (including Bards and Paladins) and will only address a Fighter or Barbarian with respect. You could isolate the players at a formal banquet where one of the nobles is secretly a traitor, and he might be more apt to slip up if he was speaking to a slobbering Orc rather than a silver-tongued Elf.

    • Manos Ti

      The way I see it, it is how each Player (and not PC) decides to play the game. There are some that want to roleplay, there are some that refuse to do so, irrespective to their PCs stats (although the how you want to play most times dictates your PC’s stats and class).

      I totally agree with the adventure design. But still, if there are players that do not want to involve into roleplaying, no matter the social encounters you prepare, they will not do it. I have suffered and I know.

    • Unexpected Dave

      That’s true, I suppose. I’ve never personally been in a group with someone who doesn’t want to roleplay at all, at least not for more than one session, so I tend to be more optimistic that all players can be reached somehow, if the DM tries hard enough. I have had groups with shy and reluctant participants who eventually came around, groups with players who “ruin” social encounters by not taking them seriously, and groups with players who can only roleplay as themselves.

    • Manos Ti

      You’ve basically described my group, as we have a mix of pretty much everything. So I try each session to present something for everyone. I have even tried to encourage (and actually continue to do so) people into roleplaying or trying something new in combat, but with little success so far.

      Who knows, maybe I do suck in GMing.

      But anyhow, I stand with the initial statement; it is up to how anyone chooses to play and have fun. As long as we are all having fun during the session, it is fine.