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I've been here reading Q&A for some month now, and I already saw some concerning murder-hobos (or sometimes called murderous cretins).

As I'm French, I tried to directly translate it, but it gave something I guess not that accurately linked to the concern the Q&A have.

From what I have read until now, a "murder hobo" is a player who is killing everything in sight if he can and doesn't care about the actual fact of killing.

Is there anything more to the meaning of the term "murder hobo"? Is there something more deep or complex that I am missing?

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"Murderhobo", apparently a contraction of the slightly older term "murderous hobo", is a usually pejorative (but infrequently neutral or affectionate) term used to describe certain kinds of adventuring character, usually in Dungeons & Dragons or D&D-like games.

The murder(ous) part is because these characters primarily solve problems with violence/killing and are typically very quick to resort to violence, often even in situations where that's a really inappropriate response.

The hobo part derives from the American slang term "hobo", which specifically means not just a homeless person, but a homeless travelling worker; the hobo has no long term home and moves around from place to place looking for jobs (often carrying everything they own with them), which is a fairly obvious parallel to a traditional adventuring party who travel the world accepting quests.

Use of the term "murderhobo" itself generally comes in two contexts:

  • Referring to specific character or characters in a game who exemplify this behaviour, they just travel around fighting and killing and don't engage more deeply
  • Examination of how the design of a specific game (e.g. D&D) encourages this kind of character and playing/campaign style

The popular usage of the term on the modern internet appears to have spread from the online forum RPG.net, with this thread from 2007 the first apparent usage of "murderous hobo" as a term for player characters, and this 2011 post the first usage of the shorter form "murderhobo" to describe the behaviour. As evidenced in this 2010 thread, though born of a humorous reference to the standard activities of D&D characters, the concept was also being used to express dissatisfaction with a specific style of D&D game, where the characters were wandering warriors with no ties or connections to the world, just doing violence to earn money.
Credit to ForthrightRay and AllanBz in this reddit thread for some original research on that subject. Wiktionary claims origins from early Usenet, but doesn't evidence it.

Note that you can fairly describe a pretty traditional D&D character as a "murderhobo" even when that character is acting perfectly normally for a D&D character. D&D is a game which is mechanically focused on combat and combat is the expected solution to most significant problems a character faces; even the most noble Paladin can usually be summarised as a travelling itinerant who routinely kills things for money.

The takeaway is that "murderhobo" describes a spectrum of possible character types, ranging from traditional wandering mercenaries at the milder end all the way up to travelling serial murderers who recklessly slaughter NPCs at the extreme. What exactly it means for any given use therefore depends a lot on the context.

Final note: "murderhobo" is almost always a description of a character or playstyle, not a player; a statement like "My players are murderhobos!" should be parsed out as "My players are playing murderhobos", much like saying "I am a wizard" in this context probably means "I am playing as a wizard".

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    \$\begingroup\$ Even more than table top RPGs, this is very often just how computer RPGs work. A (character) person can go through a town, slaughter the inhabitants, and pick up random objects (fruit from trees, stew pot from a kitchen, etc.)...then expect to come back the next day and find everything in the starting position, ready to do the same thing again with no consequences, aka "grinding". Since the computer game has to run with a finite set of possible situations... Whereas in table top RPGs, there's more leeway for a creative solution (sneaking, bargaining, etc.). \$\endgroup\$ – user3067860 Jul 5 at 15:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not every link can be saved. I am willing to bet a pint of good lager that the Usenet origin cited in Wiktionary is where that slang gamer term originated. Because it likely got coined as a neologism before the Endless September, some will not be satisfied with that origin. (PS: nicely organized answer, with plenty of detail). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 5 at 16:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah I don't buy the Usenet origin claims either - I have been into RPGs since the Usenet days and murderhobo is a recent term, I never saw it as part of any rec.games.frp.dnd or frp.misc or related discussions, or indeed anywhere until this decade. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Jul 5 at 16:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast yeah, I elected to hedge my bets on that one by specifically saying that usage on the modern web seems to have started on rpg.net rather than explicitly saying the term was invented on rpg.net. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Jul 5 at 18:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk The odds that it was created as a neologism in meat space, not in web space, only confuses the "origin" question. A great many things happen IRL rather than 'on the web." \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 5 at 18:36
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Murder

This part is clear, you said it yourself, these players have a tendency for mindless murder.

Hobo

This is a derogatory word for "homeless". The hobo part comes from the fact that these characters are usually antisocial vagabonds with no ties to anyone, no background, no investment in society, and they pretty much loot everything that's not glued to the floor.

What I know about murder hobos

It's a common type of player, at least in my experience. Often, young people who are playing for the first time love to enjoy the power fantasy of being able to kill anything. This freedom, though comes at a cost, since it ruins the fun and breaks the inmersion of players who are looking for a different tone (usually this includes the game master).

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    \$\begingroup\$ There's also a semi-common "rpg legend" I've heard a few times over the years, dating back to at least the 90s, I think, concerning a particular character in a particular game who was essentially a hobo (at least in appearance if not actually homeless) and who ran around absolutely destroying his GM's plots in the most unpredictable ways possible. And yes, it involved quite a bit of murder - even of other PCs. It was a modern day setting, although I'm not certain which system. I'd always taken that to be the source of "murder hobo." I'm not having much luck googling for it right now. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve-O Jul 5 at 13:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Steve-O I'm fairly certain the specific legend you're referencing is that of Old Man Henderson (1d4chan link warning, you should probably avoid at work). I don't think this is the trope namer in this case; google trends suggests the term "murderhobo" only popped into wider use a couple of years after Waffle House Millionaire first recounted the story, and OMH is not a hobo nor described as one. (I'm pretty confident the term murderhobo was first used in a D&D context, too.) \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Jul 5 at 14:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Steve-O and IIRC, Old Man Henderson was more of a reaction/retaliation against a GM who had killed off multiple of the player's characters in an unrealistic manner, than a player going and doing random murder sprees. \$\endgroup\$ – fyrepenguin Jul 5 at 14:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Carcer Yeah, that's the one I was looking for. Granted he's not a literal hobo, but look at the picture though. I can definitely see how this character - and stories of his exploits - would lead to the term "murder hobo" as an analogy. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve-O Jul 5 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Downvoted because it contradicts the nuances of @Carcer's answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Shawn V. Wilson Jul 7 at 20:34
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A murdering vagrant

'Hobo' is English slang for a vagrant, somebody without a home. The murder part is fairly obvious, somebody who keeps killing people.

The reason it's called a murder "hobo" is because the character essentially has no ties to communities or a 'home', they simply wander the countryside,like a homeless person.

This contrasts very starkly with how most people (or at least Gary Gygax who was not a fan of hack & slash D&D), expected D&D to be played in the early days, where one of the largest money sinks tended to be improving a community or a castle of sorts, and many campaigns would eventually end up being a "manage the kingdom" kind of game.

This is why it's mostly used as a derogatory term, in discussions of the game on the early internet it was a term for people who "didn't play the game how you're supposed to".

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One standard trope of classic, early RPGs like D&D is the adventuring party: A band of adventurers moving about the countryside righting wrongs, promoting justice, and protecting the locals with spells, swords, and other applications of violence who are rewarded from the treasure of the fallen monsters.

'Murderhobo' is a derogatory term for the exaggeration (past the point of stereotype or even cliche) of individuals or groups which focus on the roaming from place to place ('-hobos') looking for problems that need killing ('murder-') but not so much worrying about the justice or the protection, and often not being too choosy about what constitutes a "problem" or a "monster."

The end result is a bunch of murderous thugs wandering around the countryside killing whatever looks at them wrong.

While derogatory to the players/characters it describes, there is also an element of (rather dark) sarcasm by conflating the adventurers' rootless wandering in search of treasure and adventure, with actual homelessness or travelling workers from late 19th and early 20th century America.

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Murder Hobo, Munchkin, etc.. sort of derives from early Role-playing gamer experience where players thought the whole point of the game was to simply go kill stuff.

EG: start level 1 character party.. go to goblin caves, kill goblins, go to kobold caves, kill kobolds, go to bandit cove, kill bandits, etc, etc, etc.

The roleplaying systems often exacerbate this concept of "killing = good", because many systems reward XP or skill points or whatever rewards for advancement after things are killed. (EG: In D&D, monsters have XP values for being defeated. The problem is that younger players think "death = defeat", while more mature players see "defeat" as a more abstract concept.. like if you have a band of thieves find a way to sneak around the goblin patrol, then it could technically count as "defeating" the patrol.. or if they find a way to diplomatically resolve a conflict, then the enemy is "defeated" in that they are no longer a threat).

Another aspect that rewards "kill everything" gameplay is the looting. Parties go kill stuff, they get to loot the battlefield and find all kinds of good stuff.

So, these aspects compound into this "kill everything, loot everything, level up" mentality.

And, it's OK when dealing with very simple adventures like "go kill the goblins" or "go kill the bandits".

But, it clashes when the game master tries to have more complex adventures.. like the characters need to go into town and speak to NPC's to investigate a murder or kidnapping or whatever; basically, do a lot of non-combat stuff.

The players eventually have to mature and move on from "kill everything, loot everything, level up" mindset to "I'm playing because this is fun and I want to help everyone have a fun time".

Some don't. They stay stuck in "kill, loot, level" mode.

So, you end up with stereotypical situations like...

"We're gonna go to the local weapons shop. Oh, the shop owner has really cool stuff, but we can't afford it. OK, we attack the shop owner, kill them, take all their stuff. How much XP and loot do we get?"

And the GM is sitting there going "OK, now the guards are coming after you because you did this in a heavily populated place.. and you just committed murder and theft!"

After the first time of this happening, some players wise up. But, there will still be that one player (or even that one crazy party of players) that go...

"OK, we kill all the guards, too."

Then they head on to the next town and just do the same thing over and over and over.

"Hobo" in the English language refers to a homeless wanderer, often traveling from town to town via the train/rails. Hobo had a derogatory/negative meaning because it was often associated to poor people that couldn't make it in the real world (either having a mental illness or not willing to work or whatever), basically shunned by society. Hobos would sleep wherever they could (under bridges, in rail cars, in abandoned houses/warehouses.. and they'd scrounge for whatever they could to survive.

So, a band of murdering adventurers going from town to town would be slandered by being called "murderhobos".

It's sort of common to have ONE player act like a murderhobo... it's often the one player that makes the combat character and wants to solve all problems by killing them. The rest of the party tries to keep them in line, but sometimes that jerk player gets everyone into trouble.

But, if an entire party is murderhobo-ing, then that's just really bad and is often the result of a GM/DM conditioning them to be that way by rewarding that kind of behavior.

What's really bad is when the players disregard their character's alignments to be murderhobos, e.g. if the party was filled with lawful good clerics and paladins, but went around slaughtering normal, decent people in towns just to try to get XP and loot, that would totally go against the character alignment.

So, basically, murderhobo-ing is an insult to gamers that haven't matured, and think roleplaying is just about killing/looting/leveling.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome! You can take the tour as an introduction to the site and check the help center if you need further guidance. Please keep in mind that we embrace a plurality of play styles on this site and that includes murder hobo'ing. Not that I'm a fan of it either but if you could explain what murder hobo means without saying that it is a wrong way to play I think that would be ideal. Good luck and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Sdjz Jul 5 at 18:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ To clarify: it's fine to say "the term is used in this pejorative way"; it's less fine to say "this playstyle is bad and only done by immature idiots." (Not saying you're saying the latter, just trying to help clarify the difference with extreme examples.) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 5 at 20:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ This also seems inaccurate historically, as kills = XP was the hardest way to level in early D&D, and because hobos were homeless migrant workers, not lazy homeless wanderers. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 6 at 15:46

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