Caught your attention, didn’t I? One of the most commonly discussed issues GM’s often have is regarding the idea of “murderhobos”. Characters who kill with great abandon and who litter their campaigns with corpses. Now the term “murderhobo”, while technically correct, isn’t particularly fair because few players actually want to roleplay murdering someone.
They don’t want their targets to have pre-existing lives they’ve been plucked from, don’t want to see family members on the news making pleas for anyone who knows something to please come forward, and if their “victim” has a dog who will soon be sent to the pound, you can bet your bottom dollar that dog is getting adopted and looked after with every kindness. Or more rarely shot dead by players who are finding this play on their heart strings irksome and wish to discourage it.
Also be mindful that wanting to play trigger happy characters or even fully-fledged serial killers aren’t bad things. Hell, most games actively encourage it by linking loot and experience points directly to your kill count and by golly can it be hard to run a game where your PCs are trying to arrest everybody or give CPR to your Big Bad.
But why do we get trigger happy? What inspires us to pull the trigger, so to speak? Well some of the reasons are pretty positive and some indicate deeper problems in the game. Take a look and see what some of these reasons can be!
- Combat is fun. It has little progress bars (hit points), a clear objective (stab more), provides closure (bye bye NPC), some autonomy around precisely how it happens, really high stakes (life or death) and it’s all abstracted through hit points.
- It helps the GM run the game. Most games revolve around providing final solutions to an area’s pesky bad guy problem. There’s also far less logistics to worry about when you’re killing rather than arresting people. Typically you don’t even need to hide the bodies!
- Combat is a simple solution where death equals closure. In most games, unlike real life, you can remove problems by removing the people causing those problems. A dead NPC will not be seen or heard from again in most games. Compare this to the messy world of diplomacy, theft and imprisonment where the NPC could always return to haunt you.
- Everyone’s a bad guy, anyway, so killing them is a good deed. This is common in Grim Dark worlds where most people are doing terrible things. Even if this isn’t actually the case, if this is all the players see (or what they read about in the setting material), they will respond accordingly.
- It’s incredibly abstracted. Losing hit points just isn’t the same as the sensation of ruptured organs and screaming nerves. Few GMs describe what it really feels like to break someone’s arm and unless combats are rare such descriptions would become cartoonish or dull with repetition.
- The player characters are holding weapons not megaphones. You know what they say about how when you have a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail? Plus combat often has the most system support and is the most mechanically interesting part of the game.
- Conflict is story. There are many forms of conflict but life or death stakes are big and attention-getting. While you can make life or death stakes with environmental hazards, they’re often harder to represent mechanically and less interesting than those that involve competition with other people (i.e. the bad guys trying to stab you).
- It seems strategically sound. Can I really trust the prison system to hold these mooks in this dystopian universe? Negotiations also take a really long time and can go very wrong with bad guys coming back more powerful than before or using the conversational time to wait for their back up to arrive. This only needs to happen once or twice before PCs (and players) start getting paranoid.
- Murder is an “off switch” for plot they don’t like. This suggests some toxicity around the table or in the LARP as its pretty mean to literally kill a plotline just because you don’t happen to like it. Please be aware that a player killing plotlines isn’t always the cause of this toxicity although they have definitely become a big part of the problem. It can come about due to the actions of other players or game masters ignoring boundaries, frustrating player autonomy or outright hitting triggers and the player feels that they can’t opt out of in any other way.
- Punishing the GM through in character means. Too many GMs try to punish the players for actions their characters do rather than have a face-to-face talk person-to-person about everyone’s needs at the table. Some players will do the same. This often happens if there’s a lack of autonomy. I can’t choose to imprison or talk down the NPC, but you can’t stop me from shooting them in the face without being ham-fisted about it.