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General Violence and D&D: Is "Murderhobo" Essential to D&D?

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So what you're saying is that, just like Monopoly, we can just say it's a game, and therefore meaningless?
So... for mammals, play is most definitely not "merely entertainment" in general. Watch any puppy, kitten, or human child - play is a way to train and hone various skills and thought processes. It is a way to engage in complex behaviors and activities at low risk to develop abilities in youth and maintain them as adults.

Thus, in a broad sense, it would seem blithe to say that games, broadly, are meaningless.

Moreover, popular game products have a context in culture - they are cultural artifacts, just as any novel, movie, or artwork is. We can point to any number of cultural artifacts that have had great impact, both on individuals and on cultural direction. So, again, to generally categorize this stuff as "meaningless" would seem like wishful thinking.

I can understand that folks often want to be free of all that - "Just let me noodle meaninglessly with my friends about the dining table, please!" And, while a given entertainment is small, its overall impact is more limited. As things get popular, I'm sorry, but the folks who produce it have to think of their work as having greater cultural relevance and impact, and what is in the product comes to matter more.
 

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Saelorn

Hero
Murder is the unlawful (or unjustified) killing of a person. There is absolutely zero reason whatsoever that the things being killed in a D&D campaign have to be people.

One of the major benefits of playing in world with actual for-reals monsters is that you get all of the excitement of combat, but without any problematic moral issues. You can also mix-and-match the slaying of monsters, with the subdual of people; or with the justified killing of people.

There's very little reason to include actual murder in a D&D game.
 

Mistwell

Legend
In my opinion...
Violence is ingrained in human experience. In ancient times, for millennia, males had to protect the females during pregnancy, and hunt to gain food. This is the basis for male aggressivity: violent males are more likely to survive with their female and offspring. This is also the reason girls prefer bad boys to nerds. The reason for which boys istinctively prefer weapons for toys, while girls prefer dolls. The reason for which we like aggressivity in sports and movies.
On this basis, western culture built a true mystique of violence and war, glorifying the characters of the Hero as a monster-slaying warrior (i.e.Hercules) and as a knight (i.e.King Arthur).
Listening a Myth, reading a fable, or playing D&D, you can live an experience in which you identify with the Hero, who fights, kills the monsters, and saves the princess, becoming adult in the process. It is truly rewarding.
This is the reason that I am in love with this game.

So, while in modern real life violence is unacceptable, in myths, fables, D&D (but also in sports and movies) violence is positive and actually required: a man needs violence to become an adult, but since violence is controlled nowadays, at least It can be surrogated in tales and sports. It is... educative. It Is MORAL. Actually, abolishing violence in movies and D&D is a very BAD choice.
While I agree with some of what you're saying and not other parts of your position, I just wanted you to know I found your post thought-provoking and interesting. There is some evidence that playing violent video games serves as an outlet for aggression, rather than being a precursor to aggression. Your argument seems to be along those lines.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The lesson I learned at 7 years old is that it's a bad game design. I refused to play it after two games. ;)
All designs have goals. If the goal of the design is to make the action of play engaging and entertaining, it is a failure. If you consider the design goal to be education - to show you the results of certain economic models... it actually does the job pretty well.
 

Phion

Explorer
It's funny, in my teens the game started out with murderhobo style in the 80s for me, then it moved to heavy intrigue and investigation and lots of deep role playing in my 30s, and now that I have reached my 50s we're back into murderhobo style. Consider that, if it's not your thing right now, it might once again be your thing in the future too.
XD I can relate to this. Starting off violent because you are just trying to get knowledgeable on the mechanics (got to cut the new DM some slack as well), then getting all creative and becoming bit of a hipster with all these wild concepts and trying to be the "wild" one of the group and then finally becoming a generic human/ dwarf fighter who doesn't think too hard and accepts the world for what it is while still trying to do his bit.
 

Phion

Explorer
All designs have goals. If the goal of the design is to make the action of play engaging and entertaining, it is a failure. If you consider the design goal to be education - to show you the results of certain economic models... it actually does the job pretty well.
So to you a morale/educational goal is more important than a mechanical design? Forgive me if I am reading that wrong
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Murder is the unlawful (or unjustified) killing of a person. There is absolutely zero reason whatsoever that the things being killed in a D&D campaign have to be people.
If it looks like, talks like, and largely acts like a person, claiming it isn't a person becomes difficult to make plausible. In the real world, even today, we humans take significant effort to dehumanize other humans to justify doing horrible things to them. Claiming things that are close to human aren't smacks of those efforts.

However, all it takes is a change of framing - step away from the "people" and look at the "justified". If your violence is justified, then the issue goes away.

And, really, it doesn't take all that much work. You want your players to have a good time slaying orcs? Sure - just put in the scenario setup that the orcs in question have been doing heinous things to local villages, and there's evidence to say they'll continue. Presto! Instant justification! With a few sentences of exposition, justification can be done.

The issue comes up when you present things that aren't covered by justification - just don't drop in orcs who haven't done anything yet.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
So to you a morale/educational goal is more important than a mechanical design? Forgive me if I am reading that wrong
Who am I to judge goals? People need to be taught things, so educational design goals have value. People need to be entertained. So, entertainment design goals are also valuable. I make no claim beyond that.
 

Bear in mind, people play games based on what the rules say.

I mean, Lord knows I never tried to negotiate surrender during a game of Axis & Allies, nor did I try to research a cure for the zombie virus in Dead of Winter.

The rules tell you how to play. If the rules put a LOT of focus into combat, guess what part of the game people will tend to pay attention to.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
And how many 7 year olds realistically stopped to consider that?
Modern Monopoly has taken an educational game, and stripped it of its context and debrief. It is the equivlanet of using a dining room chair as a long-term office chair. The chair isn't bad for what it was intended - that you use it for the wrong thing is hardly the chair's fault, now is it?
 

dave2008

Legend
The lesson I learned at 7 years old is that it's a bad game design. I refused to play it after two games. ;)
Like many games - it is less about the game and more about the people you play with!

However, what constitutes bag game design? It has been widely successful at its intended function: making money.
 

So... for mammals, play is ... a way to engage in complex behaviors and activities at low risk to develop abilities in youth and maintain them as adults.
So players of D&D got good at figuring out how to get what they want by exploiting rules in unintended ways, while GMs like me have honed skills of tricking people into thinking they're doing what they want, even though I'm actually calling the shots?
 

MichaelSomething

Adventurer
Wasn't the best way to get exp back in the OD&D days was to get GOLD?? EXP for gold and deadly combats discouraged fighting. The optimal play was to avoid combat unless absolute necessary and focus on getting as much treasure as possible. However, lots of people dropped the EXP for gold rule because they felt it was unrealistic (or whatever).

The design of 3E was capable of a combat light game. Though when most people looked at the rules, they got the impression it was all fighting to get EXP. CR wasn't just exp earned from killing; it could stand for a verity of different tasks. Dealing with traps, completing quests, and dealing with opponents via non-fighting methods (if a level 7 expert chef challenged you to a cooking contest and you win the contest, that counts as defeating him, and would give you EXP) . Now is most people ignoring the non combat EXP earning ways the fault of the game designers (for not focusing enough on other ways of earning EXP) or of the players(for ignoring the other ways of earning EXP)?

In 4th Edition, completing skills challenges and quests would earn PCs EXP. Though two methods only counted for about a quarter of the EXP PCs were generated to earn. Also, a lot of people disliked skill challenges; preferring other methods.

In 5th Edition, the DM is supposed to be empowered to make the game whatever they want. So if a DM desired, they can make the game as combat heavy or light as they like. Of course, this makes it all DM dependent; which can be both a blessing and a curse depending on table.
 

dave2008

Legend
Another nexus for discussion is the CR system. When the players know that the encounters are balanced for their ability then the stakes for choosing combat as your resolution tool are pretty low. If your game doesn't use CR, and the players are actually supposed to think hard about whether or not the beast in the cave is going to eat their lunch with ease, then players tend to look harder and longer at non-combat options.
I agree with that bold part, but that is not a result of the CR system itself. For example, when my group was about lvl 5 they came across a CR21 black dragon. I used the CR system to show them that they can't assume they can handle every encounter.
 
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Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I don't thinks that the purpose of the CR system though, although it can certainly be used like that. The purpose is to balance encounter difficulty. We can use the phrase balanced encounters though, instead of CR.
 


The ability to decide to perform a nonlethal take-down once the opponent hits 0 is a great change in 5e (and far more elegant than prior stuff like subdual damage), though I do question limiting it to melee attacks. Surely an archer can pin a foe to the wall instead by the clothes, or that ray of frost chill them into unconsciousness, though I get that there probably isn't a non-lethal fireball.

However, I think a part of the preference for 0 = dead is that it makes it easier on the DM - they don't have to RP a dozen hostages, don't have to have the game get sidetracked while the PCs decide what to do with them, then go do it.

Second, I think it is vital for people to understand that while combat often occurs, taking a creature to 0 HP =/= death or murder. A creature at 0 HP could fall unconscious, drop its weapons and surrender, etc.
It took playing the game with my uncle for me to decide never to play it again. He played it like a robber baron, making deals then breaking them as soon as it was more profitable. Can't say that wasn't an eye-opener. That was the last time my family ever broke Monopoly out at a gathering.

The lesson I learned at 7 years old is that it's a bad game design. I refused to play it after two games. ;)
I've also found that changing to ACP rather than XP dramatically changes the tone of the game. When RP is equally valued as combat for purposes of advancement, that changes things. Yes, there are people that still like combat. I enjoy combat. But your advancement is no longer tied to how much murdering and violence you do, nor how much coin you acquire (in past editions).
 

Galandris

Adventurer
However, all it takes is a change of framing - step away from the "people" and look at the "justified". If your violence is justified, then the issue goes away.

And, really, it doesn't take all that much work. You want your players to have a good time slaying orcs? Sure - just put in the scenario setup that the orcs in question have been doing heinous things to local villages, and there's evidence to say they'll continue. Presto! Instant justification! With a few sentences of exposition, justification can be done.

The issue comes up when you present things that aren't covered by justification - just don't drop in orcs who haven't done anything yet.
I don't think players who ask for "supernaturally evil" opponents instead of "human-like opponent" are asking that because they want to play a scene where they meet at the tavern and say "hey, it's saturday night, let's go the orcish village to kill most of them and eviscerate their elderlies and children". They are already no longer playing murderhobos and are facings opponents who have done something.

Your proposed solution (if your violence is justified, then the issue goes away) doesn't work if you're part of a society where violence is never justified. Hundreds of countries have moved past capital punishment, and some even have most of their police forces without lethal weapons. In these societies, violence is banned because the victim of violences are human. Violence against animal can be OK (you're not to torture your dog, but it would be OK to hunt a tiger if it was threatening people). Hence some players (of which I am) who prefer "intelligent tigers" as opponents rather human-like opponents for exercising violence to let steam off.
 


AaronOfBarbaria

Adventurer
The approach to D&D in which kill-it-because-it's-there intersects with characters depicted as 'the good guys' is absolutely not a necessity.

In fact, I don't think the murderhoboism of it all was actually intended despite the game's focus on combat and acquisition of wealth from creature-filled lairs. I think it came into being as a result of morality not being the point, so the questions of whether actions were appropriate or not took a backseat to everything else and that went on just long enough that by the time it became common for someone to question "was that acceptable?" the answer fired back was "must be or the game doesn't work."

But hey, maybe I'm crazy and my "good guys don't kill things they don't have to" play style is just a tiny blip of an outlier among the sea of "yes, we absolutely must kill all the baddies and take everything that we can get our hands on"
 

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