The term “murderhobo” gets bandied about a lot in relation to characters in Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy adventure role-playing games. It denotes the tendency for player characters in such games to be functionally homeless wanderers without much in the way of a personal history and a casual, indifferent attitude towards using violence to solve every problem they face. The implication is that this is an unwanted and frankly, lazy style of play.

This is, to a degree, true. However, I’m not here to discuss how it sucks when people don’t role-play their characters. To me, the word “murderhobo” highlights something I have been saying for years – going down a deep, dark hole in the ground to effect genocide upon orcs is not the career choice of a well-adjusted person. I do not think this fact has sufficiently wide appreciation in the gaming community.

Sure, the potential rewards are such that even one successful delve can destabilize the economy of a region (or could, if the state of economic realism wasn’t typically even worse than psychological realism), and quite likely more than one will make in a lifetime of turnip farming. However, turnips don’t try to eat your face.

It takes something of an extreme personality to seek out such a line of work, and I suspect that adrenaline junkies would be in the healthy end of the spectrum. Sociopaths would probably be overrepresented. A distinct lack of empathy is almost a career requirement. The mental makeup required to go into a cramped, poorly lit, hostile environment, prepared to kill thinking, feeling creatures, is fascinating. How does killing your hundredth intelligent being affect your ability to relate to your fellow humans?

Of course, there would always be those who are forced into the profession by desperation and those who are just too stupid to consider what they’re doing. The latter kind would get weeded out in short order. However, even the sane people would probably not stay so for long. The kind of stuff that goes on in your average D&D adventure is quite sufficient to cause post-traumatic stress disorder, and your average adventurer would probably develop all kinds of psychological problems by level 5. On the positive side, they’ll have enough gold to hire a psychiatrist.

Personally, I think Lamentations of the Flame Princess has a pretty good take on how horrible dungeon crawling would actually be. To a person who’s even approaching normal, the genre of pretty much every mainstream RPG would be horror.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone should study the psychopathology of war veterans to improve their role-playing (I might give some rather more serious reasons why everyone should study that, though), but I think it’s useful to keep these things in mind. Even if your game is of light-hearted adventure where evil orcs leave bloodless corpses, we should keep in mind that this kicking-in-doors business is not sane.