Welcome to my tiny psychology course on the murderhobo!
Sometimes half the fun of a Dungeons & Dragons game or other tabletop role-playing session can be wreaking havoc on the unsuspecting. But sometimes, players get a little too caught up in the violence and mayhem, ruining the fun for everyone else at the table.
Our job as Game Masters is to balance the destruction and keep it focused on goals that are appealing to everyone, or mostly everyone, most of the time.
Below, I have a rundown on how to deal with an ongoing aggression issue at your table. Let’s get started.
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.
Perhaps you’ve crafted one interesting NPC after another, only to have them mercilessly slaughtered before their time.
Maybe quest givers meet an early fate, or even minor characters from other players’ backstories quickly become erased. It can be a real bummer if combat scenarios aren’t a unanimous decision at the table.
Excessively violent players are sometimes known as “murderhobos,” stemming from the fact that many players in D&D or other TTRPG games don’t have a permanent residence, and commit excessive acts of violence. These players can make it difficult for our other players, or even the Dungeon Master, to enjoy the game.
First, Understand the Murderhobo. Then Act.
Before you try to address the bigger situation, it may help to understand exactly WHY your player is behaving this way. Getting to the root of their behavioral psychology can make the process simpler and more effective for you.
Perhaps you already know the answer to this, and that’s great. But if not, it may require a little bit of investigation on your part (i.e., a potentially awkward conversation with your violent friend).
I’ve outlined a few of the most common scenarios below. Read on to see how to handle these situations.
Murderhobo 1: Confidence and Accomplishment
Some players resort to violence immediately because it gives them a sense of confidence and accomplishment. They may feel self-conscious about their ability to roleplay well, but they feel good about their combat prowess, golden-path character, or tricked out feats and spells setup.
Combat for them will literally be a more fun way to play, because they feel excited to do something they have prepared for and feel confident about.
Potential Solution for this Murderhobo
Give them more combat! Not every session needs to be dominated by giant, tactical sessions, but at least give small combat opportunities each time you play, and hint towards big ones coming up (and deliver them). Let them feel excited and confident in playing the way they enjoy. Think of it as a redirection. If this isn’t feasible for you, this player might not be a good fit for your table.
How to Address the Killing Issue
You’ll still need to address the issue of them attacking inappropriate targets.
Skip this part at your own risk; generally speaking, you need to communicate expectations clearly, respectfully, and often with players. I would say something like this:
“Valuable player, I want to talk to you for a minute about combat. I really like (specific combat clever thing they do/did) and I love that you bring that creativity to the table in fights. Your tactics are A+ and the party is going to need that REALLY soon, so I’m glad you’re part of the team. They’re seriously going to need you. I wanted to let you know that I get you really love to fight, and that’s awesome!”
Starting with the positive in a genuine way sets up the next part to sting a little less.
“I’m going to be including a lot more combat going forward to keep the game exciting for you; but I really need you to make sure you’re pointing your sword/dagger/wand/etc. at appropriate targets. Everyone wants you fighting the enemies, but it honestly kinda sucks for the party when you kill off an innocent NPC/quest giver/minor character for no good reason. It breaks immersion for everyone and makes people upset. Since I’m adding more combat in specifically to test YOUR mettle and make the game more exciting for you, could we compromise in that way? I think it would make the game more fun for everyone.”
Flavor and Respect
Flavor as you’d like, but the idea here is simple: Address your players as human beings and treat them with respect. YOU have them playing at your table, which should mean you do, in fact, want them there.
Sandwich their request between genuine, positive affirmations about why you want them in your game.
And seriously: If you don’t want them at your table, why are you dealing with it? Unless there are some crazy long-term ramifications for kicking them (spouse, family, etc.,), kick them out.
Having a player that makes the rest of your table unhappy will dissolve your group over time. No one envies you having that conversation, but player conflict needs to be dealt with swiftly. You can do it.
Murderhobo 2: “It’s What My Character Would Do”
In this case, more combat may help (see above), but if they genuinely feel their character gives them a full pass to steamroller the game for everyone, it’s time for a chat. If they are really stuck on this, you have a few options.
Potential Solution for this Murderhobo
There should be serious, in-game consequences for their actions.
Maybe the local authorities are investigating the string of murders in the town, or maybe the enemy’s friends and family are now out for revenge, due to the player’s killing spree.
Whatever the consequences, make sure your players understand that their actions have inherent ramifications. Try to avoid making it seem like a punishment. Weave it into the fabric of the world you wield, and encourage the player(s) to roleplay out the consequences.
Maybe the violent character will have a moment where they realize the error of their ways. Or maybe, they make the wrong family mad, and after some unfortunate events, it’s time to roll up a new character. It happens.
I’m not suggesting you kill off the character intentionally, but if the player is making everyone around him miserable, there’s a very good chance in-game retaliation would be fatal. If the player isn’t able to handle the repercussions of their actions, then perhaps they are not mature enough to sit at your table.
How to Address the Killing Issue
Some players may not feel confident enough in roleplaying to have a story or set of character traits that go outside the “safety net” of super-violence. (See Murderhobo 1.)
You could help this player develop additional, genuinely interesting character arcs or desires to help point the player in a different direction.
You could suggest they copy a famous character, when in doubt. Good GMs do this all the time–it’s an easy way to quickly assign wants, needs, and an attitude to a character on the fly.
What if a Player Character Turns Evil?
Sometimes, a player has an in-game event that makes their character turn to the dark side, and they’re not sure how to handle it. So they start killing everyone, or threatening to.
I had this happen recently at my own table, and I cut that off right away. My players LOVE roleplaying with NPCs, and I absolutely will not tolerate brazen murdering of them.
I said something like this:
“I realize you are evil-aligned at this point. You will not begin murdering our NPCs for no reason. It destroys the world and the game. If you do not have a very good reason to take an NPC to combat, do not do it.”
“There are loads of ways to be evil without direct violence. Cult leaders, politicians… there are tons of real-life examples for you to choose from to emulate. I’m not kidding–you will not be murdering my NPCs because of your alignment change. You also need to remember that you are in Waterdeep (a huge city in D&D) and there are major, real consequences for breaking the Code Legal, which I absolutely will enforce. Cool?”
It worked. By giving my player examples of characters or people they were familiar with that they could copy, it gave them not only some ideas for their character, but they ran with it and made a WAY more interesting evil character arc than simply being a serial killer.
Murderhobo 3: Crazed Maniac
You’ve spoken to them. The other players have voiced their concerns. Still, the madness continues. Sorry, but it’s time for them to go. They need to find a table that is more suitable to their style. Ignore at your own risk.
General Tips for Dealing with Murderhobos
Listed below, I have five ways to handle this aggressive table problem. These aren’t necessarily one-size-fits-all. You know your players best. You should use your best judgement to handle the situation properly. Sometimes, we just have to skip to step five.
1) Speak Privately
Talk to the player(s) privately: If you have one or more players who are being excessively violent, it’s important to address the issue directly.
Take them aside and let them know that their behavior is making the game less enjoyable for others. Be firm but polite, and try to be specific about the behavior that’s causing problems.
Remember that you don’t want to target them as being unwanted at the table or a “bad guy”; your job as the GM is to finesse the conversation so they understand that you see their combat strengths, and ALSO the needs of your other players. Make sure they understand it’s your job to balance all of that.
2) Set Boundaries and Expectations
Set clear boundaries. It’s important to establish safety rules and expectations for behavior in your game early on, especially if you’re playing with people you don’t know well.
Make it clear that excessive violence won’t be tolerated, and set specific consequences for breaking the rules. If you want to get hardcore about it, you might decide that a player who kills an innocent NPC will lose their character permanently.
It’s your table, and your job to make the game fun for everyone. Don’t be afraid to make it serious if you need to. It comes down to what you are comfortable with, and what makes your players feel safe and happy.
Expectations Example: Protect the Cats
For my table, I don’t have anything approaching that level of severity, but I do have a pretty clear expectation about violence towards cats. There simply isn’t any. A giant fire swallows a street of shops? The cat shelter is fine. Untouched.
I realize it’s unrealistic, and I don’t care. Cats are an invincible, plentiful, infinitely healthy, and happy population of creatures in my game world. It might sound silly, but to my table, it’s simply not fun to hear about cats being hurt.
I’m a cat lady, and all of my players are also cat people. Cats are on laps every session. But I do let this unfair mechanic work both ways, which can be really funny. Let me give you an example of what I mean.
Invincible Cats in Play
Once, one of my players made a minor illusion of a kitten to distract a guard patrol coming towards their hiding spot. The guards were immediately and intensely distracted by the adorable kitten, and my players were able to sneak around them.
My players know I have a weakness for cats, so I allow them to use that in relation to the game. They also know they can’t, for example, strap a necklace of fireballs to one and expect that to go over well for them.
This is my table, and the expectations I hold for my players and myself. Yours will be different. Do what works for you and your group. Just make sure you are clear, communicative, and fair about it.
3) Encourage Alternative Solutions
Encourage non-violent solutions. If you find that your players are defaulting to violence as their first solution to any problem, try to encourage them to think outside the box. Maybe there’s a diplomatic solution to the situation, or a way to outsmart the enemy without resorting to violence.
Encourage your players to think creatively and reward them for coming up with clever solutions. Some GMs like to give additional experience for creative solutions, or reward a magic item or potion. There’s lots you can do to reward your players for being creative.
Incentivize Desired Behavior: Rewards Ideas
One idea I’ve been kicking around is rewarding my players with kid charts that teachers use in elementary schools. I have used them as a parent, and they work REALLY well.
You can write whatever you want at the top, and the recipient gets a sticker every time they do (or do not) do something. It sounds juvenile, but everyone loves working towards a reward. Plus, it’s kind of funny.
How to Implement This Reward
A great way to use this would be to have a magic item or promised event at the end of the chart, or even multiple rewards throughout the chart. You could even make it a competition, and give a prize to the first person to complete theirs.
This could be a really good way to incentivize the behavior you want with multiple murderhobos. These players are usually competitive by nature and would likely respond well to a little above-table competition.
I also really like the idea of a prize chest. Again, something you’d see in an elementary school classroom, but come on. It’s fun! Who doesn’t want a surprise gift?
If you want to divvy up the costs, have everyone chip in to a fund you use to buy the prizes, or have everyone donate a couple of things to the chest. Put a dollar limit on the donation, and if you want to keep it very cheap, just throw it all in a bucket or box you have lying around. You don’t need to be fancy.
It’s the thought and execution that makes something like this really fun and special.
4) Remember, Murderhobos Must Deal with Consequences
Make violence have consequences.
If your players are being excessively violent despite your best efforts, it’s important to make sure that their actions have repercussions in the game world. (See above.) It might mean they are arrested, stalked, or even executed.
5) Kickety Kick Kick
Not anyone’s favorite solution, but don’t be afraid to kick a player out. If a player continues to be excessively violent despite your best efforts, it’s time to ask them to leave the game.
It’s never easy to kick someone out of a game, but sometimes it’s necessary for the good of the group. Make sure to explain why you’re taking this step, and try to be as diplomatic as possible. Do this privately, as long as you feel safe doing so.
There are So Many Awesome People who want to play in a tabletop game. I’m not super social, and I still manage to meet them all the time. You can find more players.
Dealing with murderhobos can be a challenge, but with some effort and clear communication, you can create a game that’s enjoyable for everyone.
I know this is a touchy subject for a lot of people. I’d love to hear about the experiences you’ve had that have gone well (or poorly).
Remember that TTRPGs are all about having fun and telling a great story, so don’t be afraid to set boundaries and enforce them if necessary. Good luck, and happy gaming!
Have you met a type of murderhobo I didn’t cover above? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
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