The Dead Weight Loss of Plunder

gobliz faireTake the common Murder Hobo.

He’s ready for adventure.  He gathered up his buddies.  He has starting gear.

He goes to the neighborhood bar. He finds the old man quest giver skulking in a concealed dark corner.  He plops down heavily in the booth. He adjusts his various knives and axes when they poke into his leg.

The old man quest giver has a quest today.  The goblins have infested the nearby mines.  Rumor has it they’ve laced the mines with traps.  They’ve hired a small ogre clan to keep out the common Murder Hobo.  The local town will pay a nice bit of scratch if some Murder Hobo clears them out.

“You, my friend,” the Old Man Quest Giver says, “are that Murder Hobo.”

It’s a dangerous mission for a Murder Hobo on the go.  Traps, combat, ogres and irritated goblins line the path between the bar now and the bar later.

The Murder Hobo is in.

The Goblins

The Goblins bought the mine from a local university, who held the land, years ago.  They have a legal deed.  But, no one likes living next to Goblins.

Goblins aren’t the best neighbors.  They’re small, green, and weird.  They’re prone to explosions.  Occasionally, the forest around the mouth of the mine catches on fire.  And, Goblins drunkenly drive weird gadgets at night in the fields like insane fiends.

The thought that the mine, believed gone to skunk, might be fruitful for the Goblins bothers the local townspeople.  In their minds, that’s their stuff even if they sold the mine to Goblins. The fruitful produce from that mine is theirs.  After all, they’re evil Goblins and townspeople are Good and Wise.

The Goblins are well aware of the perception problem.

The Goblins have tried a variety of tactics to get the local quasi-humanity on board with their presence.  They’ve tried granting (exploding) presents to the local townspeople.  They’ve tried a Hug a Goblin marketing campaign.  They’ve held free food giveaways. Who doesn’t like free Goblin food?  Maybe the problem was a food based disconnect…

No marketing campaign could solve the root of the problem. The local townspeople did not like Goblins. And Goblins, with hydraulic drilling and Goblin engineering, drilled through a layer of rock and made a non-producing mine produce.

The Goblins decided to defend their claim.

The townspeople put a bounty on the Goblins. They set up a local Quest Giver to entrap Murder Hobos and pay them to clean the Goblins out.

The two sides buckled down. A dungeon was born.

Dead Weight Loss

Theft and plunder is not free for the Goblins.

The Goblins must budget and pay for the following:

  1. Spikey pit traps.
  2. Non-spikey pit traps.
  3. Traps involving giant rolling boulders.
  4. Poisonous traps.
  5. Even more poisonous traps.
  6. Magical traps.
  7. Even more magical traps.
  8. Arms and armor for Goblins.
  9. Ogre hirelings.
  10. Arms and armor for Ogre hirelings.
  11. Etc.

None of this is free – neither in time nor in resources.

Physical traps, like spike pit traps, giant rolling ball traps, net traps, or fire traps requires both engineering ingenuity and labor to build.  That design and labor time pulls away from investment in building better hydraulic drills.

Poison traps are the above (labor and design) but also an investment cost in searching out, developing, testing (ugh) and deployment of poisonous substances.  Goblin shamans may have this skill in their wheelhouse.  But, they still need to go find the proper weeds, process them, and deploy the poisons.  Meantime, at least three Goblins died from mining-based or explosion-based wounds.

Magical traps are worse.  If the Goblin shaman doesn’t have this skill, she’ll need to contract a local wizard to assist creating the various traps.  Local wizards are not cheap and notoriously flighty (often literally).  Finding a local wizard who will work with Goblins costs money in resource costs and time in opportunity costs.

Then there’s the Ogres.  The Goblins must house, feed, clothe, arm, and pay them.  They’re the Goblin equivalent of Murder Hobos.

These dead weight line items add up on the Goblin accounting spreadsheet.  Protection against plunder and theft does not account for any productivity.  It does not create any capital except for the leeches who pen lucrative contracting arrangements.  Building dungeon traps and protecting against theft does not create any meaningful market-based activities expect for those 3rd parties involved in trap production.  As traps production is not the main Goblin line of business, traps are a loss.

For the Goblins to continue to extract useful profit from the mine:

  • The profit from mining > cost of traps + cost of magic + cost of mercenaries + cost of mining operations + food and lodging for Goblins.

The Goblins compete with other mines selling to Orkish hordes and other customers.  To cover their losses, the Goblins jack up the price of their iron from their ironworks.   This may price them uncompetitively with other Goblins who might not have Murder Hobos besieging them.  To save money, they must get more clever with their traps or cut dead weight loss so they can lower their prices.  This isn’t a great place for a Goblin.

If the locals send enough Murder Hobos up against the Goblins, the Goblins may go bankrupt.  Then the Goblins will take off.  The way to save the world from malicious and growing evil, in the local townpeople’s eyes, is to increase pressure.  So, they’ve jacked up their rewards to entice more Murder Hobos.

And here they are.

Dead Weight Loss in Adventuring

But wait!  It’s not free for Murder Hobos to traverse all those traps, defeat all those monsters, roll bodies, and take the treasure!  They have overhead costs, too:

  • Death and replacement of Murder Hobos
  • Murder Hobo adventuring equipment and provisions
  • 10′ poles
  • Annoying contracted Thieves
  • Find Traps spells
  • Identify spells
  • Potions of Healing
  • Potions of Cure Poison
  • Potions of Cure Disease
  • Etc.

Death and Murder Hobo replacement is the highest cost to any adventuring party.  Finding a new Murder Hobo takes time, effort, recruiting, and rolling up a new sheet.  This is a dead weight loss against the actual mission of plunder and theft.  Every moment lost is less treasure per second!

In fact, any expenditure against the worth of the treasure is dead weight.  If the Goblins didn’t need traps, Murder Hobos wouldn’t need 10′ poles, expensive scrolls, or annoying, somewhat evil Thieves in their party.  If Goblins didn’t need to hire Ogres to protect them, then Murder Hobos wouldn’t need potions to heal themselves and wait for the next fight.

For this contract to work:

  • Worth of found treasure + townspeople payment > dead weight loss of scrolls, potions, trap protection, and replacement Murder Hobos.

Murder Hobos won’t level if they avoid bevies of traps and ignore the hordes of Goblins and Ogres and whatever else lives in those nasty mining caves.  But, Murder Hobos would keep more treasure and suffer less dead weight loss in their adventure if they came up with another solution.

Plunder Contracts

Despite Goblins owning a dungeon, traps, and Ogres, Murder Hobos have all the power in this business relationship.  Murder Hobos can just keep coming until they, too, run out of capital.  Then they’re bankrupt Murder Hobos who failed to take the dungeon.  (But the townspeople keep their $$ to try again – they risk little and lose nothing).

A potential win-win solution for Murder Hobos with few Good-aligned party members* is to come up with a plunder contract. The contract stipulates the following:

  • The Goblins determine a certain % of the dead weight cost provided the provided treasure was greater than Murder Hobo expectations + value of the quest;
  • Murder Hobos relieve the Goblins of the private dead weight costs of plunder and theft;
  • Once mutually agreed upon, the Goblins pay the Murder Hobos their treasure up front;
  • Murder Hobos leave.

For the Goblins, the amount they pay in expected treasure + covering the Murder Hobo costs is far less than the costs of contracts + magic + trap construction + smelly Ogres.  For Murder Hobos, the amount they’d make is greater than their expected treasure + payout.  They no longer need to invest in equipment. Murder Hobos reduce their loss. This is mutually beneficial.

They sign at the door, Goblins hand over a chest of weapons, gold and potions, and off the Murder Hobos go.

This only works if Murder Hobos have a higher power hand in the relationship than the Goblins.  If they do not, the amount the Goblins must invest in protection sinks and it’s not worth it to pay Murder Hobos to go away.  It’s cheaper for Goblins to murder Murder Hobos.  But once they exchange information  – often with the first round of Ogres murdered – then this works for both parties.

And, for high level Murder Hobos, it’s profitable for them to return to extort a fresh payment.  The Goblins take this payment as a write down against their profits; it’s less than they would have paid otherwise.  Goblins can divest themselves of expensive dungeon upkeep and maintenance.  And, their contracted Murder Hobos will periodically return to kill other Murder Hobos attempting to take over their extortion regime.

This all allows the Murder Hobo plunder process to happen peacefully. Adventuring as Organized Crime.

The losers are the townspeople, who are out a mine and stuck with loud, crazy Goblin neighbors. And now they have heavily armed Murder Hobos defending the Goblin miner’s rights to mine since they’re profit-sharing.

*No Murder Hobos are Good.  Given an infinite timeline, all Murder Hobos trend to Neutral Evil.

Image Credit: Art by Jaydot Sloane of Vanity Games –


  1. I’m a little confused here. How does paying off one not-especially-Good band of murder hobos lower the goblins’ defense costs? The townspeople’s whole strategy is already stated as being pressure through a constant stream of murder hobos, which means that any party that gets paid off will simply be followed the next day or week or month by another one.

    1. If the next party is Good, it can’t be paid off, so
    1A) either the goblins will incur catastrophic costs from the party raiding them, or
    1B) the goblins will still have to pay their baseline costs for traps, poison, ogres, etc.

    2. If the next party is Not-So-Good, it can be paid off, but
    2A) Either the goblins automatically pay off everyone who comes along, in which case they become targets for as much extortion as their economy will bear, or
    2B) They still need to pay for enough defenses to judge the bribe value of a given party, e.g. a supply of new ogres.

    3. Both of the above can possibly be avoided if the first party to accept a payoff hangs around and fends off other encroaching murder hobo parties, but
    3A) In this case many other parties, Good-aligned or otherwise, will simply parse the defending party as part of the dungeon and engage in mutual murder shenanigans, which raises the costs and risks for the first party again, incentivizing them to raise the price they demand from the goblins, AND
    3B) The payoff they demand is almost guaranteed to become repeating rather than a one-off or occasional bribe – it becomes their day job.

    The exact results will depend on a lot of random factors, e.g. the precise costs of spikes for the goblins and carousing for the murder hobos, but it looks like under this system, either the goblins end up only adding an extra cost… or they simply end up replacing an expensive DIY traps-and-ogres-based defense system with an expensive outsourced mercenary-based one. Is there something I’m missing here?

    • Sean Meaney says:

      So the ideal economy is to hire on with the goblins and spend what you take from the goblins/next murder hobos in the village for all their surplus food. This creates economic inequality in the village where some of the villagers economically benifit from the goblin mine.

  2. If once you pay the Dangeld, you’ll never be rid of the Dane.

  3. Sean Meaney says:

    ‘*No Murder Hobos are Good. Given an infinite timeline, all Murder Hobos trend to Neutral Evil.’

    This includes paladins who are being incorrectly played by players because taking a life is essentially an evil act no matter the reason and lawful good is ultimately an indefensible legally binding position.

    • In my experience (so take it as you will) a large amount of people believe that there are good reasons to kill some others: e.g. to prevent rape, to prevent murder of many other people, to prevent the torture/murder of a loved one.

      Each group needs to come to an agreement about what is good and what is evil in their own games of course, but if killing is inherently evil then every paladin has no right to having weapon proficiencies, since any who use weapons effectively (not non-lethally, that is) lose all of their Gods/Universe given powers and become an NPC warrior.

      Just my 2cp, you are free to metaphysically slap/reward your paladin players however you like.

    • *ahem*
      Blackguard PrC.
      *mic drop*

      No, really, if you play long enough, everyone metagames eventually towards the “high reward” game style. Max loot, max xp, max scores, screw the alignments, just this once I’m taking the dragon’s hoarde because I freakin deserve it. This is because, unlike the real world, most gm’s don’t force the players to face the mental, emotional, and economic costs of anti-social behavior. Characters almost never find themselves faced with the desperate situations of reality.

      The cold algebra of necessity isn’t breathing down your fighter’s neck when he slips one of the heroically recovered missing weapons under his cloak. He’s got magic to solve all of his technological needs, and abstract rules to buffer him against ambush and disease. In reality, a quick crossbow bolt would cripple or kill a man who dared steal from the king (everyone is a level 1 npc, irl), and even just the suspicion of it would alienate you from the parish or community you rely on. Rather avoid all that bizz and rough it in the woods? Well, better hope you can recognize tuleremia in the dark, while you’re frantically cleaning that rabbit before the duke’s game wardens come across your little camp. No? Ah well, die slowly, begging for release. No reroll.

      And that’s why we play DnD. Our characters don’t have to become suicidally despondent if they are isolated from other humans for weeks or years. They can forget the soul-crushing ennui of being 75 and surrounded by memories of lost loved ones, let alone 750. PCs never have to beg their boss for a raise because their kid broke half her front teeth on the playground. PCs die epically when they sacrifice themselves holding the portal to the dungeon dimensions shut as their friends escape, not wasting away of cancer over years of playtime, rolling to see if they get to keep solid food down this week. PCs who are dying don’t anti-climactically get turned out of their hospital halfway through a round of chemotherapy when their mom’s family insurance plan payment doesn’t go through.

      Something like that comes up, and either the gm gives you an out…OR your character slides a little bit towards N-E. If my paladin is dying of magical cancer, I can either quest for the cure, or have a little “lawful efficient” walter white-style moment to balance the books before I roll up my next character.

      Because it’s a power fantasy, and very few people enjoy being the victim in their own power fantasies. In my fantasy, I’m strong enough to take what I want, and righteous enough that it’s ok when I do it.

      (The ones who do like being victims? We have a name for weirdos like them: “Monks”)

      • While you have valid points, my post raised the issue that different people have different interpretations of what is and is not evil behaviour; and that if killing is inherently evil, why do paladins normally carry swords when their main foes will be flesh and blood mortals?

        As for DM’s not giving the characters the mental, emotional, and economic costs of anti-social behavior…. Half of the job of running a great game is making the player’s choices matter, and if the DM is trying to run a “Good Guys” game they need to have those punishments in the game or else it will, as you said, devolve into evil. That is on those DMs to encourage returning the dragon’s plunder to the town it came from by having those people not have enough money or food come tax time and they start to starve or the local lord has them all flogged or something else that is directly related to the players taking all of the ill gotten gains.

        Being the guy who always does right by the people he swears to protect is also a power fantasy, and redeeming oneself when one has fallen into evil ways can be extremely empowering (and awesome to play too), but only if the DM takes the consequences seriously and makes sure the players understand where the game is going versus where the group wants it to go.

        All of that said though, the most important point is that the group should be communicating with each other about what they want from the game. Everything from the concept, to how it evolves, and how it will be adjudicated should be discussed. Good and Evil especially have to be laid down clearly (as well as what is considered over the line), especially where Paladins are involved or you may earn the resentment of the player for punishing them for something they didn’t think was out of their alignment because they see/interpret things differently.

      • @Hedisus

        Those are good points, and you are correct, especially when creating a story-driven game rather than a “And the dice shall roll like thunder!” -style of brawl.

        I was mostly chattering about the fact that gameplay vs. story segregation is a thing, and the tendencies of most games to handwave the consequences, especially after the first big climactic emotional payout. Not all gamers do that, and like all good art, it is the limitations that make the characters, not their powers. But not all games are art, and eventually even beloved heroes are recycled as the hp-grinder-of-the-week fodder, or fill in for one-off games where no one wants to spend time making a brand new epic character, never to play them again.

        Or at least, that’s how it ended up for every character I ever drew up. “19th level Paladin with a ki-rin mount and a talking holy avenger? *erase erase, scribble scribble* Yeah, close enough. Ok, I got a dungeon boss for you guys to chew on!”

  4. “or annoying, somewhat evil Thieves in their party”



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