I just realized when D&D teaches us murderhobism- It runs deep.
Sometimes, one of my players will fly off the handle during a delicate or critical moment and have their PC do something incredibly inappropriate. Or outrageously odd for the circumstance or even go against their own personal goals. It could be a touch of nerdism, aspergers, or some good old fashioned needing the spotlight. But given player behaviors, I’m thinking it’s something far more sinister. A kill-and-sort-things-out-later vibe.
For example, a recent and short dungeon crawl. They found a secret door leading to a dangerous part of the dungeon. The PCs avoided all combat encounters, snuck around to rescue a friend, and tracked down a pair of arguing workers. The well hidden PCs found themselves in this perfect intel gathering moment. Even the big bad murder-y brute had walked away.
The party was left with only a timid knowledgeable worker to deal with. A disgruntled worker who expressly stated she wanted to protect the captured human, praying (out loud) her mean boss would never make it back.
The charismatic warlock PC decides he’s going to sneak up and kill the NPC instead of getting information she obviously had and lose the chance to get assistance from this disgruntled-employee, where her death would likely result in the death of the friend they were trying to rescue.
To recap: The party just overheard a worker arguing to not kill the prisoner. And somehow the party is ready to kill the friendly one, a potential ally, likely the one and only person able to help save the prisoner without putting their friend’s life in peril?
Spontaneous murderhoboism has its teeth in us, and the venom is strong.
Fortunately, this ended in a cliffhanger, and the players should hopefully recognize… something… before it’s too late.
Hmm. Not all of this can be laid at the feet of Gygax and Arneson…
However, it is important to recognize a few things relating to this.
D&D started off as a homebrew mod to the Chainmail wargame. Let me repeat that because it’s important: WARGAME.
In other words the whole point of a wargame is to kill your opponent, maybe steal their stuff, and possibly loot their base.
This attitude heavily influenced early roleplayers. Which in turn influenced the stuff they wrote and taught to new gamers. Which in turn has been somewhat inherited by every generation of D&D players since.
There is a well known saying among Greyhawkers that “your characters haven’t really started playing Greyhawk until they have been mugged and lost all their stuff after returning from an adventure.” Now that is at least partly Gygax’s fault, may he rest in peace.
As far as the specific example given, I can only wonder if the player was not fully paying attention? Maybe a recap heavily emphasizing the NPC attitude is in order?
Of course, there are always a few exceptions to the rule, and maybe your players was having an exceptional day.
And what happens when the characters go on these murder sprees? What are the consequences? If you find yourself trying to work around their tendencies in order to still allow them to be successful, stop doing that. Let them fail. Hard. You don’t bring back the person you were supposed to rescue, no reward. Or, if they had important information, make them pay dearly for not discovering that clue with an encounter that could have been much easier now turned deadly.
Oh I’m very fond of consequences. Very fond. That alone does more to keep my players in check than almost anything else.
It is quite amusing to see the players scramble to think of a logical reason for their characters to have a different idea, any other idea, after the players see me silently smile in response to a suggestion.
Echoing what @nijineko said, plus… (gonna indulge my long-windedness here, so be warned)
There are other factors that I see play into this sort of outburst:
1 - somewhat related to the ‘wargame’ background, but it also is often encouraged by the rules themselves. So many RPGs have carefully detailed combat rules, with dice to assemble and bonuses to stack, while leaving social or even stealth options to a handful of vague skills and GM handwaving. (I gave up on Hero System 6e - after running Hero for years - when I saw they were doing nothing to make their long skill list actually useful for anything more than flavor text.) Frankly, my reading of a fair number of RPGs even today is that they amount to little more than handwave/narration when it comes to character interaction. And that may be more of a feature than a bug, given the sheer variety of situations that can crop up.
2 - There are times when planning and social-RP and scheming just don’t fill the bill. Sometimes a person just wants to kill things - after a hard day at work/school/home, for example. Sometimes there is only so much planning and scheming and socializing one wants to do before wanting some real ‘action’. Of course, there are those people who (occasionally or habitually) just want to be the center of attention at any cost, or just always want to infuse chaos; but those folks generally are recognized quickly, and a group either rolls with it or kicks them out.
3 - And, let’s face it, sometimes people really are that crazy - in real life. We’ve all seen people IRL do some serious self-sabotage. Now, a good roleplayer should have some rationale, but someone doing something crazy in-character once in a long while is not unreasonable. How much and what kind of this is acceptable in any given group is highly variable, of course, and there are ways to be a little bit wild and unpredictable without sabotaging the whole mission - again, a good RPer can do this.
I’m going to expand on what Zepplin said, but I’m going to push back a bit. The wargame roots aren’t the cause for this; the best players I’ve bad bar none are big wargamers. They do not murderhobo, in fact I rarely have this problem, because I don’t run D&D and give players more agency.
So, murderhoboism? It IS the rules, and the play culture.
First; the rules. D&D does teach murderhoboism. How? Because killing stuff is the one place that players know they have agency. Especially with 5e where everything outside combat can be boiled down to “the GM decides.” This means that everything else is subject to the direct whim of another person. Combine this with the zeitgeist (play culture) of “the GM is the creative force behind the campaign.” and you have a recipe where out of combat activities are not only at the GM’s whim, but they’re more often than not judged by how they affect the GM’s carefully pre-planned plot, rather than if the PC could do it or not.
Rules let players plan, they give them assurance of outcomes, or know the odds (especially in better systems). This means that they’re far more likely to do something other than “kill” because they can have assurance that other options will work.
Farcaster is of course right that there has to be consequences, but consequences can only go so far if the players options are “kill, with known odds” or “mother, may I? with a capricious GM.”
Many early modules are little more than monster to kill/trap to overcome and loot to get. D&D0 had the mechanism of your experience was tied to you gold piece acquisition. No loot, no level.
This attitude is not universal. My group wants to deescalate everything. I hate playing to stereotypes, but mostly women?
I also lay murder hoboism at the feet of the DM. If you write it that way, they are going to play it that way. Start including challenges that require thought, or even mercy. Once they kill the “princess”/destroy the loot a few times they will learn.
Of the people at the table who I’ve known to be wargamers (including more than half of my regular group), they seem less likely to simply murder-hobo than many other people. But what they will do is focus on the in-game objective and how the rules support that pursuit. If the game rules are all about combat, then combat is what you do - other stuff is all at the whim of the GM, who can stifle or reward your efforts without regard to consistency or validity. (TBH, I’ve never been impressed by the ‘killer GM’ mode, since any GM can kill any PC any time, without violating RAW.) If they can expect to accomplish the goal by means other than combat, they often will - if for no other reason than non-combat solutions are typically more efficient (or at least cheaper in terms of resources).
I also think the portrayal of wargamers as just being interested in kill-or-be-killed can be overdrawn. Most wargamers I’ve known are not just into the combat aspect, but also get into the history and even ‘romance’ (for lack of a better word) of their favorite conflict; whether it’s examples of heroism, a just or noble cause, the cultures in conflict, the diplomatic maneuvering before, during and after the war, or the effects on history. Ripe pickings for engaging in role-play.
I am a Grognard. I like wargames and will eagerly play. I can’t argue a single point there and won’t. Murder Hobos are Murder Hobos. That cute little girly might be one. The random guy. You really do not know until you engage them in the game. My son has one guy who gets angry if a single foe escapes. You really cannot pin it on any group.