Monday, May 7, 2012

The Unsavory Tendencies of the Vagabond

A friend recently spoke to me about a term he had either created (or heard of, I misremember) as an alternate title for player character.

It was, and is, simple, elegant, and possesses a shockingly large amount of truth to it.

The term is: murder-hobo.

A murder-hobo is a person of dubious background and no fixed abode who travels the land, murdering and robbing those that society deems antagonistic (orcs), threatening (dragons), or terrifying (mind flayers). On the frequent side of occasionally, the murder-hobo also murders and robs those that society has no particular grudge against, but this is oft-times o'er-looked because the murder-hobo is of great use in keeping down dangerous species. Also, the murder-hobo typically spends what wealth they rob, thus being a wondrous boon to the economy.

 And have you seen these people? They are damned scary... Crawling out of the ruins of a mad wizard's keep gleefully waving about barely understood and less controlled magical things that a sane person would want destroyed...

Let's just say it's often easier just to tell a murder-hobo about a new, unexplored, and conveniently far away, ruin and let them traipse off rather than lose good lives putting them down.

Frighteningly, and all kidding aside, the term makes sense.

There were many published adventures where the NPCs who are asking for the PCs' aid nevertheless treat said PCs like garbage. And suddenly that was perfectly reasonable: the NPCs thought they were murder-hobos!

And let's be fair, many PCs are murder-hobos.

They smash in a door/wall/gate, lay about with a dazzling array of deadly effects, strip the place of anything and everything remotely valuable, and proceed on to do it again until they get tired.

This is not what playing a role-playing game is all about, this is what my lovely companion refers to as "playing Duck Hunt".

There is a place for "Duck Hunt", but I am well convinced that computer games do it faster, better, and without the sinking feeling that a DM gets when their campaign goes to pieces because someone wanted to mouth off to the Duke...

Murder-hobo syndrome can be avoided, just pause before you start the slaughter and think of something else to do.

Like talking.

It won't always work, but those seven foot tarantulas might be reasonable.

The other tip to avoiding being a murder-hobo, give your PC a home. Even if it's a dive bar, something that connects that PC to the world, even a story about why the PC lost their home will work. Just make it so that your PC cares about something more than descending into a terrifying, trap-filled netherworld to loot and pillage.

And stop telling the Duke that you can eat him for breakfast, you're seventh level and he's second, of course you would wipe the walls with him, that's why he's asking for your help...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


The real reason you're helping the Duke isn't because of the reward money. It's because if you're nice to him and solve his problems, he will trust you and like you, and you might get to marry his daughter and live in a nice castle etc.

Mouth off to the Duke and next time he has a problem he'll just say "nah actually let's get some lower-level but not-douchebag heroes instead of these guys". Eventually there are no more employers and the name-level murder-hoboes have to settle in a wilderness fort gnawing on cold mushrooms on the stone floor.


2nd level Duke has money. Money buys things and people. You think you're talking to the Duke? That's an Improved Phantasmal Force his 3rd level M-U cast and when you run up and fruitlessly stab it all hell breaks loose: his 3rd level Cleric from behind a secret peephole does Hold Person on half the party (mainly spellcasters), a dozen 2nd level archers pop in having been Blessed and fire 24 arrows at anyone not held. And that's probably just the surprise round.

The survivors are stripped naked and thrown in the dungeon until an unfair trial can be held without their presence or lawyer.

That's not even a very outlandish outcome, we could include war dogs and platemail-armored knights and Web without going over 3rd level.

I guess some players will want to take their ids for a walk, but they'll soon realize the game is more enjoyable if they try to actually roleplay a D&D PC instead of a bro on Xbox Live. That assumes, of course, that the DM wants to have the world react with some kind of sense to player input. If he's fine with players just browbeating NPCs and random ultraviolence, I guess the players might never notice any backlash.

I figure NPCs typically want what PCs want, and will work toward those goals if able. That includes getting some kind of basic respect (as in not walking into the Duke's place and shitting on his hospitality, daring him to react in any way but obsequiously).