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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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

Holmes D&D: An Interesting Conundrum

Next month at a local RPG con, I plan on running the Holmes Basic sample dungeon, Tower of Zenopus, and I intend to run it using Holmes Basic/Blueholme rules. I’ve run it in the past before using B/X, and one of the reasons why I want to run this at the con is that I’ve run it before for a library program and know I can run it in a 6 hour timeslot.

Now, because I am a very busy person with a day job, a weekly column, a gig moonlighting as a retro-game reviewer, and will be shipping out a book I’ve published this month, I was hoping to find some reliable char-gen out of the OSR community so I wouldn’t need to roll up 20 characters by hand. I mean, it wouldn’t take me more than a couple of hours, but still, I wouldn’t mind saving the time.

What I found in the character generators I came across was interesting… While they had some really good features, particularly equipment generation, they either made the mistake of assuming Holmes used B/X’s magic system or they paid lipservice to the INT % modifier but did not calculate a list of known spells. Typically, they would just list one random level one spell that the MU/Elf knew.

I think part of it boils down to early D&D weirdness; the early games don’t actually work the way that most of us assume they work. Whether it’s giving all Magic Users “Read Magic” “because you need it to learn spells” or having B/X characters learn new spells from scrolls and having a spellbook containing more spells than the character has levels, DMs do a lot of stuff that’s not in the book. I’ve done it, too, sometimes from ignorance, sometimes for convenience. But we tend to make a lot of assumptions on how things works and cobble something together from memory and experience of multiple different systems rather than go by the rules.

I’ve never run pure Holmes before. In fact, this summer’s Ultralich mini-campaign is the first time I’ve tried running pure B/X [usually I’ve done weird alternate magic rules that are slightly more AD&D-esque, because those have a more Vancian feel].

I want to get that weird “this is not like D&D you’ve ever played” experience from the game I’ll be running, so I’ll be adhering to the following:

-No STR bonuses. Yes, that’s right, OD&D and Holmes did not have Strength bonuses. STR was purely a “roll under” stat.

-Magic Users will have their spellbooks with all 1st level spells, some of which they’ll know, others they will not.

-Dex-based paired initiatives.

-No Variable Weapon Damage

-Variable Weapon Speed

We’ll see how it goes! I’ll be brushing up on Holmes the next few weeks and see just how little I actually know about this edition!

Death Crypt of the Ultralich – The Artificer’s Workshop

The artificer’s workshop is below the south end of the abbey. It can be reached either by the stairs in the annex behind the hidden door or via the well.

Dungeon Level 3 - Workshop

  1. Artificer’s Bedroom. Skeleton*. Desk w/notes–Read Language will reveal his attempts to build “Daughters”. +1 Plate.
  2. Inner workshop. All manner of tools & blueprints, cogs, springs. A desk, tables, half-assembled bronze constructs. 4x “Daughters” 4HD*, AC3, 40′ 1d6*/1d6. (*stun for one round). Scrap worth 6k gold.
  3. 2x Iron Living Statues. 500 steel ingots.
  4. Workshop supplies. 100 hammers. 25 screwdrivers. 50 wrenches. 25 unknown tools.
  5. 3 patrolling bronze walkers. HD2, AC4 30′ 1d6 (will flee if attacked and summon LS then Daughters.
  6. Anvils, barrels of springs (5x 100 gp each) and gears (5x 100 gp each).

*:active if seal in L2-26 is broken.

The Ghouls’ Chapel

Last session, we had our largest party yet. One of the new players rolled a Cleric and I convinced another to play a MU to take advantage of the surfeit of scrolls the party had stockpiled.

A player who’d been a Fighter the previous session misplaced his character sheet for a bit (it was found later that evening) so ran a Cleric. The guy whose thief died last session rolled another thief, and we still had a thief who lived and was level 2.

Unfortunately, someone who’d played a fighter last session wasn’t there and had taken his character sheet and the party’s +1/+3 vs undead sword with him.

With some Clerics finally in the party, they had a bit of the benefit of the NPC party being led by a fellow member of the order. They got to know the layout of the lower abbey, some more of its history, and what the order was looking for. I figure I’ll give them more hints as they level up. If they survive…

On the way in, they noticed one of the 4 saint statues at a principal junction had been removed, but more on that later. They found the old abbot’s cell, looting it of some, but not all of its treasure (they missed out on the +1 robes). They also checked various doors that opened onto solid walls of dirt and rocks and figured out that a small central garden had probably been buried with the rest of the temple.

In the well-house, one of the thieves found the “back entrance” to the artificer’s workshop, but determined they’d be unable to easily carry any of the heavy loot through the side tunnel and back up the well. He went back up before any of the metal walkers (think children of Karras)  made their patrols through the room.

The party found a workshop for making soaps using the herbs and flowers from the now-buried garden before checking out the southeast corner of the abbey, which is just above the entrance to the crypts.

Here, there was a room full of smashed up and battered skeletons, all outside a door with the cryptic phrase “Beware the life-curse” and an indistinguishable reference to “the Blessed Resurrection”.

One of the clerics opened the door and stepped into the room, which had a large capstone on the floor with sigils. Nine ghouls sprung out of various alcoves and were all over the cleric. And somehow, out of nearly 30 attacks, all of the ghouls missed! To be fair, the cleric was in plate and had something like AC 1 or 2, but still!

There was a brief argument about the treasure value of scrolls vs. their situational efficacy, which ended in the MU fireballing the room. But with 13 damage rolled, and half of the ghouls making their saves and clinging on with 1 HP, they weren’t out of the woods by a longshot. Oh, and the Cleric was barbecued and the loot from the soap room ruined. The party managed to kill most of the rest of the ghouls, but one lone ghoul kept dodging and taking down party members one-by-one. The MU was prepared to run when the thief finally got him. I would’ve laughed if a single 1HP ghoul had TPKed them after his buddies had all been killed.

The party waited for their paralyzed companions to come round while they gathered the coin treasure that had been scattered throughout the room (the fireball had shattered the jars that coins were in). They left the charred meat of their cleric friend on the capstone to see if that would bring him back to life. I mean, it will, but they’re not doing it right, and when it works, it won’t be what they were hoping for. Other than the faded wraiths guarding the stash of holy equipment, level 2 has been mostly empty. Because as soon as they open that capstone, the abbey will become haunted as fuck when the sealed powers of the least-lich necromancer who’s been buried there will seep out and taint everything.

On the way out of the dungeon, they ran across the NPC party trying to move out the other two statues (this time without the help of the elf’s magic; she’s a scroller and only had one Floating Disc). Unfortunately, the party had their hands full with other loot and were pretty banged up, so they declined to help the NPC party with the last statue. So, they’re slowly losing a chance to get any XP for those, or the saint statues in the library.

Still, the party got a decent haul for the session, with just over 900 XP per person. That was enough to bump the longest-lived thief up to level 3.

The only thing the party has left, really, of the lower abbey is the sealed annex to the artificer’s workshop and the more-or-less empty monks’ cells. If and when they unseal the capstone, there may be more stuff in this level of the dungeon again, but things are pretty cleared.

If I remember, tomorrow I’ll post my map of the lower abbey with my notes for it.

Death Crypt of the Ultralich – The North Library

Since my players have only explored the north part of the second level of the dungeon, I’ll avoid posting it here for now. But I will eventually, I promise.

This is a faction sub-dungeon off the north of second level. It’s the monastery’s library and at one time, it boasted a rather impressive collection. Some of it is still intact. The large collection of knowledge attracted a clan of Mage Spiders who have peacefully inhabited the ruin for nearly 200 years. Content to study the old scrolls and tomes, none have bothered the nearby village in all their time occupying the site.

If cleared out, other inhabitants from the wild or brigands might take up occupation here in this easily defended complex.

Note that the southern defenses are included on a different map. Because of the open layout of the interior, spiderlings will be quick to spread the word about intruders so that the other spiders can mount a coordinated defense. The exits lead to the north side of the hill; it’s an easy climb back up to the historical marker the level 1 entrance and only adds maybe 5-10 minutes or so to the walk back to town.

Dungeon Level 2 - Library

  1. An owlbear has made its lair here. 3k SP. 3 jewelry 800 GP each. Sword +1/+3 Undead. [1a: webs in this hall discourage the owlbear from bothering the spiders]
  2. Spider Archmage – 6HD, AC5 – Read Magic, Charm Person, Magic Missile, Phantasmal Force / Scrolls: Ventriloquism, Charm Person, Protection from Evil, Levitate, ESP / Ring of Protection +1. 2 Spiderlings 2HD AC7.
  3. 1000 gp in a chest. 100 jars of ink % still good. 20 blank codexes. 100 feather quills. 4 crates of good paper.
  4. Reading Room. 1 Spider Mage 3HD – Magic Missile, Read Magic, Light / Scrolls: Mirror image, Locate Object
  5. Lower Stacks. 1d4 Crab Spiders, 2d4 Spiderlings. Scrolls: Continuous Light, Locate Object, Mirror Image, Fireball, Know Alignment, Bless, Snake Charm, Growth of Animals
  6. Reading Room. 1 Spider Mage 3HD – Detect magic, Protection from Good, Silence 15′. 2 Spiderlings 2HD AC7. 1 Prayer book w/cleric scroll Protection From Magic, Detect Evil, Detect Magic, Remove Fear, Protection from Evil.
  7. Scriptorium. 1d4 Spiderlings. Golden quill (100gp)
  8. 1d4 Spiderlings. 3x illuminated manuscripts (150 gp each)
  9. Upper Stacks. Spider Mage 3HD – Floating Disk, Read Languages, Phantasmal Force. 2d4 Spiderlings. 10 books 20gp each + scrolls: Shield, Ventriloquism, Detect Magic, Phantasmal Force/ [cleric scrolls] Light, Protection From Evil, Detect Magic, Snake Charm.
  10. Webs cover this statue of a saint. 1 Black Widow
  11. Webs cover this statue of a saint. 1 Tarantella