Cutting the Murder Hobo Out of Pathfinder

I find this idea that I have taken now to my in person game a tad ironic.  You see, we finished the play-test we were doing (and am now collating the feedback) and now we are back to Skull & Shackles.  So in essence I am trialing stuff to cut out the Murder Hobo culture in Pathfinder in an Adventure Path where all of my players are Murder Hobo’s.  Despite the irony, I had a discussion with the players that were there last night.

To start with I expressed my concern that there is too little role playing going on and I thought that part of the problem was the idea that you mainly get XP for killing things (Skull and Shackles adventure path is actually pretty good in this regard) and so that is what the players will focus on doing.  The week prior to this one I spoke to them about my ideas on Theatre of the Mind that I spoke about a while ago and they all accepted that as well.

poor repair cardboard boat
Cracked out the boat and realised it needs a good clean and a bit of TLC after being in mothballs for around 6 months!

I also discussed with them the role of experience points.  I see experience points as a player reward.  The character gains reward with constant improvement but the experience is a tangible thing for the players to point at and say to themselves (and often to others) I was involved in that.  So I told them that in future, if a character passes into Pharasma’s realm (dies) and the player is in need of making a new character that the character would come across with exactly the same level of experience.  This is a pretty big change as death happens at my table, and in the past characters would come bag at the lowest experience point of the lowest level of any character playing.  This could involve a serious drop in power.

So last night I put it in two options for them, if they were willing to take it on.

  1. They don’t worry about experience AT ALL and I would just tell them when to level up.  This is a very 13th Age concept but is also supported by the Adventure Paths from Paizo as there is always a little block saying “Characters should be x level when the dragon tries to eat them” info.  This one was my favoured option, and it is how we play in the Reign of Winter game but I knew that it would not be the preferred option for my in player group.
  2. That I hand out experience at the end of the night, not based on CR of creatures killed/defeated, but on the feeling I had of the game and loosely based on experience awards for their level of character.  The rewards would be equal for each player and I stressed it had nothing to do with what they killed and everything to do about the enjoyment and interaction we got out of the game.

They mused for a few minutes and I got asked “what if I miss a game?”  I replied that you do not get the experience.  It is the same that it is at the moment and it is appropriate.  In the first version above though people would just level, and that is one of the advantages of it, but they sided with option 2.  I stated above that I knew that this group would accept the second option.  I knew this because there are a couple of players in this group that I have been playing with longer than anyone and they are not stubborn or closed to new ideas but they are set in their understandings of certain things.  Experience just happens to be one of them.  They like to know what experience they have and what the next level requirement is. Taking those away from them would feel as unnatural to them as my first ever (accidental) game of FATE and my response to character creation.

I think this is a big win for the game.  Knowing that the game will not be predicated necessarily on the wake of death and destruction will help assist the players in thinking about a variety of options.  I have also told them as of last night that Hero points (called villainy points by the crew) are coming back.  There is a twofold reason for this.  the first is tied up with the theatre of the mind and allowing the players assistance in doing the stuff they imagine in their head.  The second is that I can use it as a reward tool.  Whenever I think “What a clever idea” or “Hell that was funny and fun” I can hand them out.  Bearing in mind I very rarely think those things whilst in combat it is sure to bring around a positive change in the way encounters and the adventure is handled.

I do need to review the hero point rules and make them fit.  I am aware that the rules as they stand are not entirely what I want in my game.  One of my jobs in the next few days is to reread those rules and build my own, which of course I will share with you all when I do.

pirate ship
The players arrived in Port Peril and undertook a series of pirating challenges to prove their worth…

Last night was awesome in another way.  We got to break out the pirate hats, eye patches, scarves, Tengu masks and the boat.  I got Syrinscape up and running again at the table through my computer and Bluetooth speakers!   We got to put the “Ahhhhhhhrgggghhhh” back into adventaaaaaaaahhhhhhrrrrrggghhhhhh an had some great fun.  There was also a fight that lasted two rounds which made me smile considering the game that I had last night is up to round 24 and still not over.  So until next time, keep rolling!


  1. Good show, sounds like you’re bringing fun back! Personally I would have voted for Option 1, but I can understand the strong tie people feel between characters and XP awards.


  2. We’re also playing Skull & Shackles at the moment and it definitely has some great chances for roleplaying, it’s our second AP thus far, the first was Kingmaker GM’d by myself.

    It was the first 3.5 style game I’d run in many years and I initially used XP and let the players track it as I had done previously, by around 3rd level though I was growing quickly frustrated by ‘get xp!’ driving everything since the players wanted, understandably, to become more powerful to tame the land.

    We discussed it briefly and I asked them to trust me for the second book of the AP and let them level as a reward for progressing the story. They were hesitant but eventually agreed, by the end of the second book they had decided they never wanted to go back to tracking XP, one player even said, “We can level by spending half the time building a kingdom and planning political intrigue… why would we ever want to go back to only leveling by punching orcs?!”

    Hopefully your new options for leveling works well for you and your players, perhaps they’ll even decide to switch to story based levels eventually!


    1. Now that is the sort of story I love to hear. I hope mine is just as successful in the long run. Thanks for sharing Rich.


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