You are running a roleplaying campaign, but some players get giddy and start murdering people for little to no reason. What do you do? You don’t want to straight up tell the players that they can’t do that, but at the same time you want the world to feel real and alive, and having no consequences for murder can make the NPCs feel like they are not real people.
So the question is how to play out real consequences for murder. I’m assuming that in your world the players are powerful enough to overcome the average person in combat, but there are people and factions far more powerful than them.
The first thing the a player will get with a murder is reputation. Every person they encounter will potentially recognise them, and react accordingly.
Ideas for reactions when the murder is recognised:
- Condemn the murderer verbally “have you no shame?”
- Quietly end their buisness “I don’t deal with the likes of you”
- Sneak away as quietly as possible and look for aid
- Run away as quickly as possible and look for aid
- Plead for their lives and offer gift “let me live, take my gold but spare my life!”
- Attract attention with shouting “It’s him! He did it! Let’s get him!”
- Attempt to covertly take them down (eg. poison or knock out from behind)
- Attack the murderer while shouting: “Come on, we can take him!”
- Get a weapon and stand-off “stay away from my stuff and my family. I know who you are!”
- Offer them work “I know what you are capable of, and I have just the job for you…”
- Blackmailing them “Do this thing for me or I call the guard on you…”
So how likely are the players to be recognised? Make up your own rule for the roll, but keep the following modifiers in mind:
- Distance to place of murder (more distance less likely)
- Player is easy to recognise (scars, weird hairstyle, unusual clothing or equipment)
- Player carries visible weapon or armour – smells like danger
- Time since murder (longer time less likely)
- Observer have seen the player before
- Observer knew the murder victim well
- Observer is a guard, official or investigator
- Total number of murders the player have comited
- Importance of murder victims (status or reputation)
- Observer hear the name of the murderer
- Observer hear that the player have been to the place of the murder
When players walk in places with many people, don’t roll for everyone. Instead, add a modifier for the number of people, and roll to see if any one observer recognise them.
Now who could come to the aid of one who recognize a murderer? Some bystanders might. The guard will usually arrive. But if a small patrol of local guards are not up to the task, some other things will happen.
- A large crowd of villagers (+50) gather with pitchforks and torches to capture the murderer
- The captain of the guard personally lead the chase – might be powerful
- The guard recieve well-trained and equipped reinforcements from other areas
- A powerful local character decide to get involved (warrior or mage)
- The rich family of a local person send their personal guard to capture the murderer
- A bounty is put out, and attract bounty hunters (some of them very powerful)
- A powerful character has family in the area and go there to capture the murderer
- The local lord or king sees the players as a personal threat, and gather an army to defeat them (including powerful warriors and mages)
If they survive their hunters, the players should eventually figure out one of the following solutions to their problem:
- Hide as well as they can, fake names and use disgueses, until people forget
- Travel far away where noone know about the murder
- Join a powerful force that people will not cross (a powerful band of raiders, the king’s guard, a powerful religious cult or band of mages)
- Keep one move ahead of the people that hunt you, always on the move
- Clear your name by bribing, manipulating or enchanting the right people
- Fake your death
- Gather an army, go on conquest and become lords in their own right
- Become saviours of the realm, so people overlook the past misdeeds
All of these are great stories to be told, that does not diminish the fact that the players have become lawless outcasts. And the players can still have fun participating in the stories, it’s not just a punishment, just their players having to deal with the situation they caused as part of their adventures.
This is the outline of how you deal with murder hobos in a realistic way. Read on for some good advice on how to play this in practice.
Capture or kill
The players have gotten a reputation, and hunters start looking for them. Now, the story should not end here. The players should realise what their options are. They can fight some of the threats, but eventually encounter an overwhelming force.
As long as the players are not reckless, they should be caught alive by their hunters rather than killed. Then the players can make an attempt to escape their captivity one way or the other. If they are not skillful enough to sneak or manipulate their way out, they might be send on a “suicide mission” instead of execution.
Hunters get bored
Don’t overdo the hunters. You probably have a world with a lot of conflict, monsters and bandits lurk, maybe the neighbouring country is looking to invade. Powerful characters and military units have other things to do than chasing the murderer of some pesant.
If the murderers flee from the hunters, they should eventually give up and move on. The hunters might have some resources available to track the murderers like dogs or magic. But again, they have other things to do, and they might not want to call in favours with every mage they know to track the murderers down.
On the other hand, should the murderers ever go completely out of hand – murder several rich or powerful people, murder a whole village – that’s a different story. A lord or king might see the party as an enemy faction, and declare a war on them. In this case, the hunt will continue for months, and no resource will be spared to hunt and defeat them.
If the murder hobos start killing again, they will have to deal with the consequences again. The solution list works for past murders, most solutions do not allow players to murder new people with no consequence.