In Defense of the Murder Hobo
While usually a frustration for Dungeon Masters (we call them Quest Masters) and players alike, murder hobos can commonly be found derailing carefully-constructed plot points, fighting unarmed villagers, or murdering key NPCs. While these characters can be frustrating to deal with, they are nearly inescapable. More than likely, everyone has played at a table with a murder hobo.
Luckily, there are ways to prevents murder hobos from derailing your game and a few things you should remember when dealing with them.
Identifying Play-Style Differences
Murder hobos often get a bad rap for ruining games and upsetting other players. While many of use see the murder hobo play-style as the root of the problem, we’re avoiding the real issue: there is a play-style mismatch at the table.
Being a murder hobo isn’t a problem, unless you’re playing at a table which is geared towards role-playing or exploration. In this case, the murder hobo play-style is subverting the intricate, role-play-motivated, communal story that the Quest Master (QM) and players have worked together to build. In these games, players use a play-style that values character and story arcs, role-playing, and developing influence within complex worlds: These are all goals that the murder hobo play-style clashes with. When play-styles clash, no one ends up having the kind of game they want. Everyone ends up disappointed, even the murder hobo.
Instead of condemning the murder hobo as an inherently “bad” or “wrong” way to play Dungeons and Dragons, we should instead recognize it as an alternative play-style. When a murder hobo is causing problems at your table, inform the player that they are playing in a way that is different than what you were expecting or prepared for. Ideally, everyone should find a game that fits the play-style they want, and murder hobos are no exception.
Finding a QM and fellow players who verbalize their expectations at the beginning of the campaign and compromise when needed are better equipped to build a story together that everyone enjoys. This could be a political-intrigue role-playing game in Waterdeep, a treasure hunt and exploration adventure in Chult, or even a murder and pillage campaign in the Astral Sea.
So what should you do if you find a murder hobo at your RP-heavy table? Ultimately, each character is played by a player, and a murder hobo is no exception. The easiest way to resolve in-game disputes is often out of game, by simply talking to the player. If the murder-hobo character is acting in a way that is disrupting your fun and your game-play, just let the player know. They may not even realize that their play-style is an issue, as is often the case with new players. Most people are willing to make changes to their play-style to benefit the enjoyment of others. Most of the time, talking in person will fix the issues you’re having in game, resulting in a better experience for everyone.
Picking the Right Game
Along the same vein, try taking a walk in a murder hobo’s shoes. Instead of a murder-mystery adventure, try running or playing through an adventure focused heavily on combat. For instance, incorporate a story that involves defending a fortress being sieged by a massive enemy force. While this play style may be a change of pace for many players, taking out aggression through combat-heavy adventures can be a healthy and cathartic way to deal with real-world feelings of frustration. Perhaps you’ll find that, though this style is different from what you’re used to, it may prove beneficial for your adventuring party and helping the murder hobo acquire their “fix.”
Remember also that the player is using the murder hobo play-style because it’s something they enjoy. Ultimately, when playing Dungeons and Dragons together, you’re trying to create an enjoyable experience for everyone at the table, and that includes the murder hobo. Concessions from both sides may be needed to resolve the situation, and that may mean compromising. If you’re able to compromise and find that you all still enjoy playing together and are having a beneficial experience, then that’s great! If not, it may be time for you or the murder hobo to find a new table.
In the end, everyone is trying to have fun together. Though murder hobos have a different play-style than the average D&D player, and can often clash with group expectations because of it, that doesn’t mean their play-style is inherently bad. We all need to work together as a community to establish play-style expectations for each table, and ensure that everyone is part of a game that they enjoy playing, even murder hobos.