I’m not terribly fond of the expression, “murder hobo.”
Oh, I get the origin of the term. It’s a clever way to describe an often old school style of play where the adventurers are essentially homeless wanderers who travel the world looking for monsters, killing said monsters, and then taking their stuff. It’s a style of play encouraged by older editions of Dungeons and Dragons® due to the requirement that characters reach “name level” – somewhere in the range of 8th to 12th level – before being allowed to settle down, build a stronghold, and gain followers. While I agree that player characters should probably have some experience and renown before attracting followers, that earlier requirement? Pure bunk.
Heroes don’t simply materialize into a campaign setting like a World of Warcraft avatar. Good characters have an origin. They come from somewhere. Because characters come from somewhere, it stands to reason that they would have homes. Of course, the lives of player characters can be dreadfully short, so I can understand that a player might hesitate before spending the time describing their home. However, the 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons® makes determining a character’s home base easy. The game does this in a couple of ways:
The 5th Edition of D&D (which I’ll shorten from this point to 5e), is the first edition to formalize a character’s background as a regular part of the creation process. It is tremendously easy to use backgrounds to give the character a head start on how to describe their home. In fact, I’ll do some of that work for you, and give you a list of suggestions:
|Acolyte||Temple apartment or cloister|
|Charlatan||Traveling caravan trailer|
|Criminal||Virtually anyplace, but likely an urban apartment|
|Entertainer||Traveling caravan trailer, or apartment overlooking a pub|
|Folk Hero||Small farm or homestead, probably rural|
|Guild Artisan||Small house or apartment overlooking a shop or other business|
|Hermit||Cave or decrepit hut on the fringes of civilization|
|Noble||Manor house or penthouse with rooftop access|
|Outlander||Small shack or natural shelter in the wilderness|
|Sage||Small hut, library cloister, or basement apartment complete with lab|
|Sailor||A ship’s cabin or berth|
|Soldier||A barracks or perhaps a small house or apartment|
|Urchin||A room at an orphanage or a hidden nest in an abandoned storm drain|
These are just suggestions off the top of my head, but you can see where I’m going with this. In a moment, I’ll explain what these things might mean to your campaign, but let me talk about the other 5e “home helper”, first.
The other addition that 5e has added to make managing a home easier, is the concept of Lifestyle Expense. This has been touched on in other games, and I believe supplemental information from previous editions. However, it’s 5e that has made it a part of the character creation process. Essentially, instead of worrying about all the little details involved in maintaining a residence, 5e simply assigns a monetary value to the standard of living you wish to maintain. Right now, there are seven different classifications from Wretched to Aristocratic, so it’s up to the player and dungeon master to determine what that means when describing your residence.
This isn’t a difficult process, and once again I’ll help you along with some suggestions. Let me use the example from the Sailor background above. In that example, I use a ship to describe what the Sailor’s home might be like. However, the simple description of “Ship”, could mean a lot of things based on the lifestyle expense the character wishes to contribute:
|Wretched||A hammock near the bilge pump OR a lean-to on a shipwrecked beach|
|Squalid||A hammock in the crew section of a merchant ship|
|Poor||A berth in a tiny cabin for a minor ship’s officer|
|Modest||A small cabin suited for a ship’s officer OR a small lived-in fishing boat|
|Comfortable||A naval captain’s cabin OR a private river boat|
|Wealthy||A merchant captain’s cabin OR a large lived-in fishing boat|
|Aristocratic||A private yacht OR a large private river boat|
Of course the Dungeon Master can tailor any of the suggestions to her own campaign, creating lengthy lists to accommodate the various living environments found there. Do you really dig elves? Well, you could come up with all the different tree dwellings a elf might utilize based on lifestyle expense. Spoiler alert – you don’t want to be that wretched elf that lives under the bush traveling gnomes use as a urinal.
Putting it all Together
In my own campaign, I use both of these devices to give a sense of grounding to the characters in the game. I also use the following house rules that I think add a little color to the campaign setting:
1 – At the time of character creation, I allow the player to choose what lifestyle they wish to live. The caveat is that at the end of the game month, the bills come due. If a character can’t fork over the required sum, then some unfortunate things happen. Automatically, the character slips down to the highest lifestyle expense they can now afford. This doesn’t mean the character actually loses their home (although it can mean that), but it might mean the home has been severely damaged, is in the process of being repossessed, or it might even mean that something is happening in the neighborhood to bring living values down.
2 – I always provide places in the campaign locale that characters can choose to call a home. By default, this is a rental situation, & represents the value listed in the Player’s Handbook® under Lifestyle Expense.
3 – Finally, if characters wish to actually wish to buy a home, then I take the amount of Lifestyle Expense and then multiply that by 360 months (30 years). This gives me the total amount the home will cost. For example – let’s say that your character wishes to purchase a comfortable home. A comfortable lifestyle will normally cost the character 2 gold pieces. Multiply that amount by 360 and you get a cost of 720 gold pieces. Now that doesn’t sound like a lot when you’re talking about people that regularly cash in dragon hordes, but we’re not talking about fortified castles or other strongholds, either. If a home is purchased, then I reduce the lifestyle monthly expense by one half.
Remember, that the things noted above are my own house rules. The flexibility of the given rules allows you to make any number of accommodations for your characters and campaign.
While the 5e rules I’ve noted here are a part of the character creation process, I encourage you to consider them for campaign must-haves and not one-shot must-haves. For one-shot games, it’s enough to know what lifestyle expense your character might have so it’s relevant to their chosen background. Otherwise, you can hand-wave the rest and let homeless fall where they may.
But don’t call them murder hobos.