How to Solve the Problem of Players Becoming Murder-Hobos

Marie Cham asks:

Dear , From one dm to another, how can you stop/prevent your players from always becoming murder-hobos and killing their way through your campaign? Sincerely yours, a desperate dm that has tried for 4 years.

Well, I may not be Matthew Mercer, and I may not play a DM on a Youtube show, but as someone who has DMed and been a part of groups that have cured players of their murderhoboing, I may be somewhat qualified to answer.

My recommendation is simple:

  • Play B/X
  • Do not use negative hitpoints
  • Let Characters die because Players make bad choices

The first point really is mostly a preference choice that facilitates the third point. But if you let the choices that players make have serious consequences, even power players will shift their play-style towards more creative solutions than “kill everything”.

Your players party WILL go through a “kill everything with fire” phase of abject terror, where they realize that the horrors out there will kill them, but they haven’t quite figured out how to deal with it. Parties will learn quickly, however, that stone structures do not burn well…

Murder-hoboing is a behavior that CAN be trained away. Social contracts and pleading for your players to behave differently is ineffective because behavior is often facilitated by the game itself (not just the system, but “game”, meaning the sum of the system, the players, the DM, the adventure, etc.). B/X is an excellent training ground for changing this behavior because it shifts the equation in favor of that change. Characters are not overpowered and mistakes/bad decision making can be lethal. No, don’t kill characters to kill them, but allowing characters to suffer the consequences of their choices can put a kibosh on murderhoboing pretty quickly.

This approach is a great remedy for “always chaotic evil” guy, who will start coming up with characters who contribute positively and meaningfully to the group. And it helps murderhoboing parties because that situation usually comes from the whole group rather than a single player. It’s a mind-set that consequences can break.

“Oh, my asshole character died because I made bad choices” is going to bring about real change in a way that sitting everyone down and saying “Can you please not play an asshole this time?” simply will not.

As an addendum, I will say that I absolutely HATE people who say things like “Just tell everyone that you won’t tolerate a murder-hobo campaign! I mean, we’re all mature adults, right?!”

It treats people’s gaming groups as disposable and interchangeable. Sure, kick out intolerable players whose behavior can’t be changed, many people have a limited supply of friends with whom they can play D&D. And the behavior CAN be changed by teaching. Such an approach is needlessly reductive and an unhelpful suggestion, because even though players CAN be taught to play better, this is saying “it’s not worth it teach your players a new way of playing; get new friends.”

You don’t need new friends. You don’t necessarily need a new game–after you’ve done your road-work on B/X, you can switch back to other systems, the skills your players picked up will carry over. What you DO need to do is understand that behaviors at the table can change and are shaped by consequences–reward and punishment, carrot and stick.

 

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Goblin Slayer and the PulpRev

With the first series of Goblin Slayer wrapping up, I wanted to touch on the show that’s been not only one of the number one animes in North America but has also been rather popular among the PulpRev crowd.

I enjoyed Goblin Slayer, but when all was said and done, it occurred to me that not only was it not a great anime, it was not even a particularly good anime—what gave it the illusion of greatness was that it met all of the meager expectations it set, delivering in heaping doses what little it promised. It set a low bar and clears it with ease. You want to watch a show where a guy kills goblins? This is it, chief. The utter lack of pretension is far more delicious than the “fake depth” many shows try to coast on before crashing in a mess at the end. Goblin Slayer needs no apologia, and there are no great divides in the fandom over thema, symbolism, and other minutia.

goblin slayer

Is Goblin Slayer pulpy? The only reason I ask is that it’s pretty well loved by the PulpRev crowd. And thinking about it, not only is it not particularly pulpy or Appendix N-style fantasy, it’s Pink Slime fantasy to a degree even worse than Record of Lodoss War; it’s pure, in a vacuum, D&D fan-fic.

What separates it Lodoss, however, and many other pink slime fantasies is that the D&D it draws from (if indeed it is drawing from D&D; evidence abounds) is of the older, classic variety, in which the purpose of “adventurers” is to kill monsters, because monsters represent an existential threat to mankind and because they have treasure. Goblin Slayer lacks the pretense of the game in which great and powerful forces are at work and the heroes must act because the fate of the world is at stake and the party represents the champions of all humanity and all that is good.* There are no destined saviors, chosen ones, lost princelings, who are going to stop the Dark Lord. That none of the characters in Goblin Slayer even have names beyond what they do or have accomplished or what their profession is almost serves to lampshade this lack of “special” and “important” fantasy heroes in its narrative. In D&D terms, these are characters who lasted a couple adventures and gained reputations around the table, rather than being wadded up and thrown in the trash because they died—this in contrast to the contemporary trend in D&D to craft intricate backstories for the very-special-snowflake characters who are destined for great things and will almost certainly having nothing too bad happen to them because the player might throw a hissy-fit.

The first episode of Goblin Slayer, which created quite a stir for its brutality and graphic nature**, mainly served to illustrate that the kind of game that inspired Goblin Slayer*** is the kind in which level one characters die in the dungeon and you have to roll up new ones. There’s no point in bringing your very special bisexual tiefling princess with daddy issues who is the most beloved of her tribe to the goblin cave, because the goblin and his spear that will kill her don’t give a shit about your character’s backstory.

I think that, even though Goblin Slayer is shallow and derivative fantasy to the extreme, this is the reason why it resonated so well with the PulpRev crowd, a group that grew largely from the OSR and which preferred the more brutal old school style of Dungeons & Dragons to the modern narrative-driven style of play that’s come to dominate tabletop gaming.

*: This is going on to some extent in the background; the setting is the aftermath of an earlier such conflict—but the climactic battle is not to save the world or even a town, but rather the farm where the girl who likes the Goblin Slayer lives.

**: Yo, the way everyone was talking about that first episode, I was expecting Mezzo Forte levels of gratuitous…

***:Look at all the goddamn dice rolling and talk of gods rolling dice and try to convince yourself it’s anything but TTRPG inspired.

The Holidays are Upon Us!

Which means new reads! And new games!

Honestly, part of the reason why I’ve been hard pressed for blogable content has been that I’ve spent the last couple months reading the 156 stories we received in submissions.

The other part has been that most of my reading that hasn’t been for Castalia House has been in the form of Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People. Which has been absolutely fantastic, but just hasn’t been great for blog-fodder, at least insomuch as I can’t easily relate it to D&D or the Pulps. Not that Churchill’s hot takes haven’t gotten me in a bit of trouble. But that’s neither here nor there.

I’m hoping that by the new year I’ll be finished with it and be able to plunge headlong into some Jack Vance. PC Bushi has been kicking my ass in the Vance area and by now has probably read more than me! I’ll need to catch up.

I’ve also been steeped in Battle for Wesnoth, which DolusMiles recommended to me, and OMG, this is up my alley. I’ve been working my way through the core campaigns, but I may have stalled out late-game in the first really big elf campaign.

Asshole elf-brother: Now that we’ve exhausted our forces fighting orcs, it’s time to exact additional retribution on the lizardmen that we fought once. By the way, I am totally not turning evil from that philtre of invisibility extracted from the blood of lich that we used to assassinate the Orc Warchief.

Healer: This is messed up, dude. I’m going home and taking all of the fairies, sorceresses, and ents with me.

Lizardmen: Please don’t murder us! ::sends a bunch of max level sorcerers and spearmen to slaughter my meager forces::

I don’t think I did well enough in the previous mission, because I’m starting with too little gold to recruit enough troops to hold off lizardmen in a mission with a)no healers and b)no friendly villages to recover health at. Of course, it’s a cascading issue.

The Human Alliance mission has infinite Trolls, and a little over half-way through, I did what I could to fall back but I lost a few really good units. The next mission in the ice fields, I won, but I had too little gold and too few troops to get a lot of bonus gold by finishing early. So, I’d need to go back two or more battles to substantially improve my situation. Oh, well…

I’ve been savoring Outsiders Vol 2, and I think I’m putting off finishing it because it’s been one of the best Outsiders titles I’ve read so far. I may do a cap on it here once I’m done.

Batman & the Outsiders Vol 3 has been postponed until at least March, which had me hopping mad when I first heard about it, but honestly, since issue 5, Terrifics has been giving me just about everything I could want from an Outsiders title except for having more than one actual Outsider in it.

Amusingly, I’m back in a spot where I’m hardly buying any new comics except for the Wal-Mart giants; quite the shift from about this time a year ago, when I’d been following Metal, Batman and followed Snyder’s story into the Justice League. I may post a full on breakdown of my comic reading at some point, but I went from all-in on Tom King’s Batman to done with both him and Snyder’s arc, which lost momentum hard after No Justice.

The best contemporary comic books I’ve read this year have been Valiant’s Britannia: Lost Eagles of Rome and DC’s Brave and the Bold and Batman: Kings of Fear mini-series.

Anywho…

The lineup for Cirsova 2019 is almost finalized. We have one outstanding offer that needs to be resolved, and I need to see that people who asked for checks received them, but we should be able to make our official announcement pretty soon.

The Franco-Angevin Wars Continue! (More Richard I the Lion Heart)

The first three games of our series of Richard I the Lion Heart went “Surrender for Richard” (Dad wins), “Philip captured, French Army routed, Richard dies in battle” (draw), and “Philip stalls Richard, deploying troops everywhere, refusing to fight in pitched battles, conquers Touraine and Maine, endlessly subverts vassals, and wears Richard down to a state of recklessness, at which point he falls in battle” (I win).

We played another game to break the 1-1-1 set, and my dad wanted a second go as Richard. I enacted a similar strategy as in the previous game, using Philip and the Count of Au to move troops to French border castles where Richard would hopefully be bogged down. My dad spent next to nothing on diplomacy in the first turn, which mean on one hand, he had a lot of troops, but on the other hand, almost of his provinces were in rebellion.

Rather than get stuck in sieges or get wiped out early on, I sacrificed my siege trains and would send Philip and the Count out of Normandy to meet up with the rebelling barons. By the second year, I had a massive surplus of funds to replenish lost troops. So, even though I hadn’t won any battles (nor even stood to fight), I was never in too bad a shape, and Philip could always escape. Despite having a field army considerably damaged and bruised, I maintained several strongholds in Normandy with very large (in some cases unassailable) garrisons. The game ended rather early with Richard dying in a siege.

While this broke the tied set in my favor, it meant that Richard was 0-4. I wanted to give it one last go as Richard myself before we put this one to bed.

We’re only into the second year of this one, but I think I may have this one in the bag as Richard. I’ll admit that while I was lucky in that, while the diplomacy phase was a wash for vassals mostly, Baldwin of Flanders joined my cause for 1194. My dad had sent Philip down with most of the troops and the French siege train to subjugate Touraine, which meant the only real opposition in Normandy was the Count of Au with a small force along the border trying to harangue loyal English border castles.

I put everything I had on Caen to take it early, and a lucky first turn roll meant no siege. Rather than having Richard lead a mighty charge, I used him to move and reposition some troops to hold the fort on the road to Maine and reinforce the loyal border castles. Meanwhile, I sent Mercadier with the siege train and some of the troops north towards Dieppe, where he would meet Baldwin and take the city. The Marshal took most of the rest of Richard’s forces and went about overawing French border castles and burning them to the ground. Richard, meanwhile, stayed behind with John in an administrative capacity, only jumping in once to raise the bonus on a siege attack that I desperately wanted to win before the winter turn of 1194/1195.

All that’s left right now for Richard to win are two border castles, Gisors, and Les Andelys. Plus, Gisors has only one SP of garrison left. Best of all, I’ve used Richard so sparingly that there’s a 0% chance of his death! [Death # starts at 15, goes down by one each turn Richard is in battle, and goes up by one each winter—having only made two attacks with Richard in 1194, going into 1195, his # is 14; needless to say, it is impossible to roll over 14 on 2d6.]

I didn’t spend any money on knights, because I’m hoping I can wrap this up without any pitched battles. Though Philip seized Maine at the end of 1194, I have 15 SP + 5 garrison SP (worth 40 total should Philip try to storm) in the castle blocking the road. My goal in the next two turns is to have Marshal and Mercadier take most of the troops between them to overawe the two remaining border forts. All I need is kill a single SP of garrison in Gisors, so I’ll leave just enough SP with Richard to see that it’s a sure thing. This should all be accomplished in the March turn.

If either of the two border forts don’t fall in the initial assault, I’ll send in John to move some extra troops to knock it out in the April turn. If neither falls, it could be a problem, but Mercadier and Marshal both have attack bonuses that should guarantee I take AT LEAST one with the odds I have. Regardless of the fort situation, as soon as Gisors falls, the siege train will move on Les Andelys with Richard. It would be a coup if I took it in the first round of battle in April. If things go into May, it may be a bit dicey.

Where Philip is right now, he can’t do anything that would reverse my fortunes in March. He could harry my fort on the road to Maine, but almost certainly could not take it in a single turn. He could take the road from Maine back into France and try to confront Richard’s rampaging troops. Unfortunately for him, it would take until the bottom half of the April turn to get there. So, I have two turns to knock out 4 strongholds. I am very confident I can take 3 of them.

If it comes to a pitched battle, Philip DOES have knights with him, but Richard’s generals are good enough that in a meeting battle, if one does happen between all of the English and all of the French troops outside of Les Andelys, they should be able to hold their own. The problem will be that this is the likely outcome: the English knaves slaughter the French knaves; the French knights slaughter the English knaves; one side retreats; even if the English come out with an army intact, they will not be able to challenge the French knights on the battlefield; the French knights alone will not be enough to trap an English army taking respite in a fortress; the war drags on for another year.

If it comes down to that, I do have a few things going in my favor: each stronghold in Normandy gives me 12k ducats, and I have 5 out of 6; Normandy pledged its loyalty to me for the 1195 year; Les Andelys is neutral, so even if I can’t take it, there’s a very good chance Philip can’t either, and he will be unable to garrison it with his own troops against me over the winter 1195/1196 turn. The troops I would be able to muster for 1196 ought to be enough to take out whatever’s left that needs to be taken in a single blow.

I’ll be honest: we’ve probably be playing the game wrong the whole time. In fact, I know in one spot we’re doing wrong out of convenience [a single roll for combat with results multiplied by the total troop number, rather than rolling an individual attack for every ten SP and a “partial” attack for numbers under 10]. The rules could stand to be a little clearer in places… But overall, this has been one of our favorite beer & pretzels wargames.

I’ll let you know how things turned out next week.

More King Richard!

This week, we wrapped up our second game of Richard I the Lion Heart; though the English forces utterly routed the French and captured Philip Augustus, Richard fell on the field of battle a few miles north of Maine’s border with Normandy. We called it a draw, though in retrospect it would be a long-term strategic victory for France; Philip would eventually be ransomed. The biggie would be that he would be substantially weakened in his dealing with John, and John, without perpetual holy wars with France, might avoid having to sign the Magna Carta.

It’s a game that you have to slow-play to win. I got over-eager, in part, because my dad wanted to call it, and I wanted things to go out in one last big battle, at least. I’d have likely won before the game-year was out, because there were only a couple places left in Normandy I had to take, and with Philip and the Count of Au left with maybe a 1/5th of my total forces, there wasn’t a lot they could do to seriously interfere with the ongoing sieges.

I’m trying this time as the French, and adopting a long-game stalling strategy. I used Philip to deploy garrisons in the towns and forts along the French and Norman borders, then bugged out with siege train to create trouble in Touraine. The Count of Au did similarly in the northern area of the border, but being slow, got himself caught and captured in a siege. I’m still debating whether or not it would be worth trying to ransom him back. I certainly wouldn’t want to overpay for him; he’s really not that good. But on the other hand, just having a guy around in the same province makes other strongholds more difficult to besiege. Plus, he’s the only thing besides rebelling vassal barons that Philip can use to keep from being out-maneuvered.

So, the goal and strategy:

  • create delays in Normandy, but don’t actively fight for it.
  • fight for and besiege the unguarded western Angevin holdings
    • Deny money and troops from Richard’s vassals
    • Line the French coffers with Angevin wealth
    • Build an unbeatable army of French knights while Richard’s forces dwindle
  • return to Normandy with troops to not confront, but to further delay Richard
  • wait for fate to take its course and for Richard to take an arrow through the neck

Richard I the Lion Heart

pic54653Even though I don’t really post at Wargame Wednesdays anymore [just haven’t had the time with everything going on], my Dad and I have never stopped our wargaming series. After a lengthy set of several games of Fortress Europa, where we concluded that the Germans have to drive the Allies back into the sea and essentially win or lose the game based on the turn-one set-up and how well the first two weeks of the Allied invasion plays out, we opted for something less modern.

Last week, we started playing Mayfair Games’ Richard I the Lion Heart. I completely screwed up my first go as Richard–I didn’t really understand the game at first and therefore failed to take an appropriate early-game strategy, and so took a mulligan. Things are playing out better this time.

Richard I the Lion Heart is a slightly-crunchier-than-beer-and-pretzels strategic-level game of Richard’s campaigns against Philip Augustus in France. It’s kind of an “asymmetrical warfare” game, though the imbalances are more subtle, I think, than in your typical asymmetric.

Richard has more and better leaders than Philip, meaning he can have more armies and theoretically accomplish more in a month. He also has smaller armies and less money than Philip, and must devote substantial chunks of his funds against Philip’s to prevent the nobles from various provinces rebelling against their rightful Plantagenet lord.

Each year, the amount of revenues and troop support can swing wildly, with nobles joining up or going home, refusing to remit revenues to their overlords, etc. Richard has to overcome an imbalance that generally puts things in Philip’s favor.

On the other hand, despite his superior numbers, Philip can’t easily beat Richard and his commanders in a pitched battle. Philip and the Count of Au aren’t particularly great generals. Richard can easily deliver significantly more casualties and come out ahead in a battle where he’s outnumbered 3:2 [provided Philip doesn’t have any knights]. Of course, this comes with a risk. Richard’s +2 modifier is HUGE, but it represents his leadership style, which was to command from the front and to wade into battle at the head of his troops. So, there is an every-increasing chance that after each battle he’s in that Richard will get an arrow in the neck. The Richard Death Chance starts at 15 and decreases by one to a minimum of 8 for each battle or siege Richard is present at; it goes back up by one each winter. While he starts out safe with a couple gimmes, the Richard Player must either hold back or risk an instant loss on an unlucky roll.

The goal of the game is to a)control Normandy, b)capture the opponent’s king, or c)Philip holds out until Richard dies on the battlefield.

For the Philip player, I’m thinking that the best strategy is to a)create more fires than Richard can put out with his vassals, b)avoid pitched battles except when you have knights, and most importantly c)force the Richard player to use Richard to keep and expand on strategic gains wherever possible.

As Richard, where possible, I’ve had Richard interpose between Philip’s army and a lucrative target—with a smaller force and the siege train, Mercadier or Marshel[Pembroke] can start a siege while Philip would have to fight through Richard’s troops, possibly taking massive losses, to relieve it. Richard buys his commanders time and earns a strategic win without taking the field. Of course, without Richard present, fortresses can potentially hold out for several months without giving in. But Richard can still come in, lend his bonus to the siege after a few months and only risk one death roll instead of several during the early stages of a siege where the fortress has almost no chance of falling.

Then there are knights… one of the interesting aspects of Richard is that combat is two-tiered and borrows certain tropes from miniatures gaming. Results are multiplied against the total number of troops to determine casualties. Except in the case of knights, who are worth three knaves a piece on the open field, nine knaves a piece when running down fleeing foes, and roll on a significantly advantageous combat chart against knives while they themselves are nigh untouchable against knaves. Knights, of course, are substantially more expensive than your bulk troop of knaves, but just a few of them can make a force unassailable. And having more money than Richard, Philip can easily gain the upper hand on the battlefield with just a few of these.

Our current situation stands with Richard in control of most of Normandy but fewer of his vassals loyal to him in the second and third year than the first. The second year saw some gains, mostly ruining some of the border lords’ castles, and even the destruction of most of Philip’s armies. But without knights to run down his fleeing knaves, the Count of Au was able to escape, and even without any knaves, Philips remaining cadre of knights would’ve been far too tough for Richard to take the field against. So, much of the fall of the second year of fighting was spent with some feints and continuation of sieges, but no real progress while both sides waited to buy new troops. Going into the third year of the war, I opted to supplement my knaves with 20 knights. While knaves might have been more useful in breaking sieges, I can’t afford to have an inferior number of knights against Philip and Count of Au’s replenished forces.

Fingers crossed that Mercadier can make headway on his own at the siege of Dieppe while now, with a superior force, Richard can take Philip down a peg before he captures Les Andelys. Or better yet, if Marshel can get there in time, he could take the field while Richard is off on some administrative task that keeps him from dying.

So, I said I’d screwed up the first time… Originally, I’d tried to play it like Imperium Romanum; there, you typically have two large armies with a couple leaders commanding them–there’s a bit of cat and mouse to maybe justify the stupidly complex economic and diplomatic rules, but each scenario generally boils down to one big meeting battle that one side can’t recover from. My first go as Richard, I bought a few knights, bought a few knaves, didn’t counter Philip’s political investments, allowed my French holdings to go into rebellion, and chased after Philip… who ran away. This isn’t a war that the players can win with one quick blow. It’s got much more ebb and flow to it; in this, it’s somewhat akin to Victory Games’ The Civil War, though on a smaller scale.

Cirsova #9 is out now!

Running Holmes at AR RPG Con

I only ended up with two players at the con, but one was one of my regulars, and the other was The Mixed GM, so we made it work. Players ran two characters and I ran a “hireling”.

This won’t be a full run-down, but some observations and remarks on highlights.

Both times I’ve run Xenopus, the parties have known that the sea cliff where Lemunda might be held was to the west, and both times the parties made a B-line west. Main difference, this time the party was insistent on dealing with the out-of-depth 31 HP spider instead of going around it. They didn’t kill it, but they eventually hurt it bad enough that it wasn’t going to mess with them.

The party wanted some extra muscle, so I pulled out a character sheet for a pirate I’d played in a couple other games. Following a bad ‘you had to be there’ joke, Crusty Jim became Trusty Jim. And any character named Trusty just HAD to betray the party at some point. It made for a pretty wild fight in the sea caves, as pirates kept pouring in and Jim tried to make off with both Lemunda and the contract for the reward for her return.

Crusty Jim was going to try to convince Lemunda that he was the only one there to rescue her and he was rescuing her from the party. She might have helped him row away and beat the party chasing him. This didn’t happen, because Crusty Jim has CHA 4 and is OBVIOUSLY A PIRATE.

Just for the hell of it, I ran Lemunda as a MU; she tried to Charm Person Crusty Jim when they were in the boat together, but he succeeded on his saving throw. Her class was never relevant from that point forward. The players were unaware this even happened. Oh well.

Using the Holmes wandering monsters chart can land you with some weird stuff, but I just went with it. There was no good reason for a bunch of Norse Berserkers to be hanging out, but they somehow joined the party. And one of them fought a character to the death for the right to have the +1 sword. He also guzzled a potion of growth that someone asked him to just taste, so for a few minutes, there was a 12′ Nord romping around with the party.

The climactic fight ended up being with a neutral party of mouthy elves who’d mostly rolled utility spells. A random encounter roll had placed the large elf party in the same room with the ghouls. Two sleeps would’ve been the end of everyone, but bad rolls and poor economy of action resulted in the players overcoming and looting some dead elves.

They never found the wizard or his tower. Therefore, I didn’t get to use the little monkey mini my GF loaned me.

They went through maybe half of the 18 pre-gens I rolled up for the con.

Even without playing it straight and throwing extra pre-gens at big problems, two characters would’ve reached level 2, a dwarf and a thief. If the adventure had been played straight and not like a con game one-off, it could’ve easily been more.

Mixed GM’s dwarf actually survived the adventure from start to finish.

With two players, Holmes’ wonky initiative ended up not being a problem at all.

Dammit, they went into the Rat Tunnels! I ended up having to sketch out additional rat tunnels…