When players could care less about stories, NPCs and thinking their way through a situation; but, instead, kill anything that breathes, then you have a bunch of “murderhobos” on your hands. They move from place to place, killing everyone in their wake without a thought.
This can put a serious damper on the game for DMs and other players alike. So how can you stop your players from being murderhobos without “taking away all the fun”? There are a few simple tips and tricks that will convert your murderhobos into balanced players in no time, plus some suggestions to prevent the situation all together if you are starting a new game!
For new games:
- Set clear expectations
- Be sure to check/approve alignments and classes before the first session
- No evil characters- House Rule
For existing games:
- Have consequences and make it clear why they are happening
- Leave clues that the players cannot follow if the NPCs are dead
- Use their emotions against them
- Crush the “murder button” habit by rewarding other options
Set Clear Expectations
If you are starting a new game, your campaign against murderhobos begins before the players ever begin to design their characters. You need to be sure you are clearly communicating what your campaign will be like. No, you don’t have to give away your big secrets, but you do need to tell players what your world will be like.
Are they heroes coming in to save the day? Or are they simply another group of adventurers who MIGHT survive if they use all their skill, cunning, and sneakiness? These two worlds set vastly different expectations and must be clearly communicated.
Check Alignments & Classes
If you don’t have a house rule on alignments, you might consider making one. Of course, every campaign is different and every player is different, but I would strongly suggest not allowing Players to play Evil characters. I find these characters rarely gel with the group, cause huge problems for everyone, and are, almost always, murderhobos.
“I’m Evil” becomes an excuse to kill anyone, anywhere, for any reason. And if you have a Paladin in that same group, your campaign is over before it begins. This is why my house rule is no evil characters, and it has worked like a charm. Sure, I will get the occasional grumbler, but my groups have always appreciated this rule.
You will also want to check the classes of your players. While I do not have a house rule against any class (I personally LOVE assassins) I do like there to be a balance.
There needs to be at least a few players with a strong moral compass to keep the party honest, so if you find you have an entire party of barbarians and assassins, you might be heading for murderhobo junction. Someone in the party needs to be the one to question their actions and keep them, at least, semi-moral.
For Existing Campaigns
If your players are going around killing everyone they meet, then there should be consequences for those actions. Depending on what they do, this can range from being wanted by the town’s guard in all the major cities, to officials hiring bounty hunters or assassins to track down the party. Some other consequences could include:
- A patron god/being removing the powers of the cleric/warlock/paladin because they are too cruel, forcing them to prove their worthiness before they can use the entities powers again.
- A powerful demon is attracted to the strong scent of blood that is left behind in the player’s wake, and arrives to make a deal with them..
- The party is haunted by the ghosts of those they have sensely murdered, making it impossible to get any rest (points of exhaustion) and slowly driving them mad. (See my post on 5 Deadly Diseases for the madness chart!) The only way to appease the ghosts is to finish each one’s unfinished business. (This will be side quest city! If you need help one how to build an awesome side quest, see my post on 5 Simple Steps to Awesome Side Quests)
- A new, and extremely powerful, villain rises to power and systematically destroys everything and everyone the party loves. It turns out he was the son of one of the NPCs they killed without reason.
The consequences will depend on what atrocities your party commits and what will hit them the hardest. But these options can fit well into almost any campaign. Never be afraid to make players feel the consequences of their actions, especially if they were warned or had another option and they chose the violent one anyway.
You will notice that all of my consequences are story-driven.
“What about just throwing a high-level monster at them and killing one or two? Wouldn’t that teach them a lesson?”
Well…humans are tricky. If you just throw monsters at the players that are well above their level, they will think you are “out to get them.”
It doesn’t matter if you warned them to run or sneak, it will be your fault and no one will be happy. One deadly encounter never fixed a murderhobo and it certainly never helped a player DM relationship. Story-based consequences are far more lasting and remind the players of their past actions and why they are in this situation, to begin with.
Some of the best rewards cannot be looted off of dead bodies. Some quests can only be gotten from NPCs, and if they are dead, so is the quest. If your party keeps murdering random people, then make up a quest the players would love, and connect it to that NPC.
For example, your players learn of a powerful weapon that lies in the tomb of a warrior, but only Thorian Willowhand knows its exact location. The tomb has been guarded by the Willowhand family for generations and he is the only remaining guardian. He lives in the city your party went through recently. When they go back, they find out that Thorian was killed (by them).
Do this a few times and the players will start to get the hint that killing NPCs is a bad idea. Do this too many times, however, and they will start to catch on and it won’t have any effect.
Remind Them This World is Real
Unless you are playing with some truly deranged individuals, even if your players have disconnected your fantasy world from reality, there are ways to bring real emotions into the game.
Take the liberty of your position to describe NPC deaths in a way that makes the players feel terrible. When players loot bodies, make sure they find personal effects, such as a love letter and an engagement ring, a small wooden rattle, or a locket containing a picture of a baby girl and a small locke of bright blonde hair.
If your players are just murdering people because they don’t see them as “real people” show them they are wrong. Remind them that these are people with hopes and dreams and that they (the party) are the real monsters.
If that doesn’t work, I suggest finding a new group…
Reward Other Options
Sometimes, killing things is just a habit. (wow, that felt weird to write) Players are presented with a problem, they murder, and they are rewarded with that problem being solved.
If you want to break this line of thinking, then you need to reward players when they do something, ANYTHING, other than murder. If they at least try to look around the room, then they find a secret door. If they try to talk to the guard, then they find the guard has been waiting for an opportunity to get even with the lord of the castle and sneaks them in. Some other reward options can include:
- Bonus gold for doing a job without killing anyone
- Items which are given by NPCs when the players ask them for help
- Discounts on prices or options for specially made armor and weapons
- Extra loot is hidden in down the “sneaky” path
- Inspiration for actions that don’t include killing
Options for rewards are really endless, you just want to make sure you are rewarding players for being cunning, skillful and wise more than you are for killing.
Murderhobos can really ruin the experience of a game and be difficult to handle. Of course, you want players to have fun, but when it is all about combat, it can get plain boring.
If you can prevent it, make sure you do, if it is taking root in your campaign, nip that bud! Hopefully, these tips have given you ideas for how to encourage players to be more balanced so everyone, you included, can have more fun!
Until next time,
May your game have advantage, my friends!