[RPG] What exactly is a “murder hobo”


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?

Best Answer

"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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