Updated: Mar 9
Tabletop gaming, Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) in particular, uses the term “murderhobo” to refer to a player who kills non-player characters and property indiscriminately to the extent that they ignore the story line of the game and all group goals. The game’s story takes the backseat to all fighting and this can cause group disharmony as social and problem solving skills are discarded. A good game of dungeons and dragons will have three central pillars of game play: exploration, social interaction and balanced combat. The murderhobo play-style I just described ignores two out of the three pillars.
Many kids learn the murderhobo play-style through video games because most video games are “kill everyone” and “reckless property damage is ok” situations. When kids first start playing D&D they bring over this video game mentality and need time to adjust to a table top role-playing game which is more about collaboration and group storytelling.
How can we elevate the player’s thinking to encourage focusing on the story and fight off the video game industry mentality with the aim of obtaining maximum fun for everyone in the D&D group?
#1) Have Consequences
You have to start your game with all players in agreement as to play-style. We accomplish this through a strong Session Zero where everyone agrees and talks about what they want out of the game. During your Session Zero talk about some basic house rules like “no player-vs-player” interactions or “no evil aligned characters.” Emphasize you are now working as a team. Talk about what consequences could occur during the game:
- Town Guards arrest the players,
- Merchants start to not want to buy or sell with your Group,
- Inns will refuse to serve or house you,
- Bounties for your arrest will start to appear….
A strong Session Zero will set expectations and provide a good framework for your game.
#2) Increase Player Engagement
So easy to write and so difficult to accomplish. Did all your players get a good night’s sleep? Are they hungry? Are they in a good mood? Considering these external influences, you may be fighting an uphill battle even before the game starts. How to win this battle? Level up your game!
· Create nonplayer characters (NPCs) and a world that your players care about.
· Think more about the story and create every scene as if it's an action movie.
· Try to stay away from reading lengthy descriptions.
· Have fun with the role-play – maybe try an accent even?
· Give your players the option to develop more of their character’s past. When you bring into the game something from their backstory, your player will be more invested in the story.
· Give your players a home! Sure, you get to decorate, but they will also get neighbors who could become friends and ultimately get the players more interested in the consequences of the story.
#3) Do the Unexpected
Do all your NPCs betray the players all the time? Do your players expect all the tropes? Instead of getting all their missions at an inn or from a local lord, give them their next mission through a dream or from a deceased family member. Maybe they encounter an otherworldly being that becomes their patron and sends them out on different tasks. When your players expect to be truly surprised, they will slow down indiscriminate killings and savior every encounter.
#4) Be generous with magic items and leveling up
Players become more engaged as they become more familiar with their characters strengths and weaknesses. With each level advancement, players get cool spells and abilities. Combine these with a generous quantity of magic items. Your players will be so happy with their set up that they won’t have time to bother with killing the baker who brings them room temperature bread and forgets the butter. Instead they should be able to focus more on the fun story line. As players see their advancement come through fulfilling aspects of the story, they are more likely to stay on track with magical rewards.
#5) Understand D&D’s 3 Pillars and which one your players’ love
Ideally a third of your game is spent on each of the three Pillars. But, in reality, many players love combat the most. With the understanding of your player’s tastes (accomplished through a strong Session Zero) you should be able to further reduce any murderhobo activity as your players trust that the game you are running will meet their needs. Provide variety.
If all else fails? Talk with your players both during and out of the game. Get their feedback. Encourage empathy. I love to use “Stars and Wishes” at the end of my games. I ask my players to say one cool thing someone else did during the game. Also I ask them to say one thing they want to see in the next game. These questions provide perfect feedback and shift your player’s prospective to a more outward focus discouraging the murderhobo play-style.
Paul Lazrow is the founder and one of the DMs at Adventuring Portal, an online service that focuses on running live-guided fun, safe D&D games for kids. Find out more at AdventuringPortal.com.
player art: Stonebord - Dark Elf Cleric
my favorite D&D comedy web-series on "Murder hobo"