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Ninja Looting

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The act of dishonorably acquiring items at the scene of a kill in an MMORPG (but can also happen in Tabletop RPGs). Ninja looting takes many forms, but the end result is that a player obtains an item that they were "not supposed to," much to the ire of other players present who put in the hard work of actually making the kill in question. Ninja looting is often, but not always, a form of Griefing. A couple ways this can happen:

  • Some games, especially early ones, have no built-in system for distributing loot and the first person to get to a corpse can take from it whatever they like. This can lead to players rushing to a monster killed by someone else and taking the loot before the person who did all the work has a chance to. Other games only allow the party that killed a monster to take items off of it, but that can still lead to situations where one member of the group tries to loot every kill first and leaves nothing for the others. This is the type of system that the term "ninja looting" directly comes from, with the logical basis being that they are "stealthfully" (or just very, very quickly) taking loot from a kill. Especially horrible if one is playing an archer, since every single melee fighter will be closer to the target and have a better chance to loot the corpse.
  • Most modern online games will allow loot to be picked up by other players after a set amount of time has passed. In games with unrestrained player killing enabled, this means that a player could kill a hundred creatures before obtaining a coveted item, only to be backstabbed by their party member just as they reach over for its loot, and having to watch as the griefer runs off with their loot. Another variation exists in games where players drop loot after death: Said Griefer will wait until you defeat a foe and pick up its loot, before killing you while you're still weak and taking your entire inventory without warning.
  • Other games have a treasure pool system, where every item from a particular kill is placed in a "pool" that the party can lot or roll on the contents of using a random number generator. The act of "loot sniping" is when somebody waits until everybody else has cast a lot or passed, then lots on an item against the group's rules, usually with the group agreeing on who should get the item or some form of "need or greed" system. A person trying to do this will often try to gauge their chance of success, such as if the other party members rolls were very high or low. A frequent attempt to play off such an attempt is they would claim they didn't mean to roll before saying they are glad they didn't win the item if the attempt fails. Upon success, often the griefer will simply log out of the game if they succeed (so they don't need to deal with their outraged party they betrayed). This method isn't sure to be effective due to the random number generator, but the intent is still viewed negatively even if it fails.
  • The treasure pool system also sometimes has a feature where somebody can be set to receive all the items that drop (often called "quartermaster", "master looter", or another like term). One tactic is to set somebody as the quartermaster without the consent of the people present to insure they get a particular item. This is mostly unheard of due to the fact that such a system usually requires the party leader to set it, but some cases of it still pop up.
  • A third variation on treasure pool-based ninja looting is to lot on items when everyone else is too distracted to lot, such as by fighting for their lives. This is something jerks do in Final Fantasy XI, particularly WRT seals. This is harder to do in more modern games as they will tend to make item drops more obvious, such as a popup on the screen asking if the player wishes to roll on the item.
  • With some systems there's also kill stealing: The person who deals the deathblow gets the XP (unless they're grouped with others, in which case the XP is shared), so some people will let another player wear an enemy down to their last HP, then swoop in and take the kill.
  • Depending on the group setup, it's also possible that an item will be claimed under the assurance that the player really needs it, while it is really just grabbing it to sell for money.

The one thing that all ninja looting has in common is that the other players present feel the perpetrator used a method that goes against the "rules of conduct", using some underhanded tactic to ensure that they receive an item. The rules of conduct vary from group to group, but are generally based on Need Before Greed and some level of having "earned" a particular item through prior conduct.

Note that the rule being broken by a ninja looter is almost always an unofficial rule which was made up and enforced by the community rather than a "real" rule set by the developers of the game (much like the way swearing during mass is not illegal, only frowned upon).

Further, note that one of the big design goals for modern MMOs is avoiding this in some way, and making the "code" rules sufficiently well-designed to match up to most player's expectations.

Can happen in Real Life (or be perceived that way), if the "first come first served" rule is in effect.

Almost automatically causes Loot Drama.

See also Kill Steal, Mooks Ate My Equipment, and Hoarding the Profits.

In-Game Examples:

  • A possible Ur-Example goes back to the early editions of Dungeons & Dragons where the party thief was often the one called upon to scout ahead for traps and monsters. Being thieves, many of these characters could be counted upon to pocket any treasure they found while beyond the supervision of the rest of the party (or skim some off the top, if the party grew suspicious about the lack of loot). This one is referenced in the famous Emerald Rose song "Never Split The Party".
  • Combined with Kill Stealing, this can be a valid tactic in Warcraft III against your enemies, particularly if you are using the Blademaster hero. Wind Walk to go invisible. Follow the enemy force to a high-level creep camp. Wait until the boss creep is about to die, deal the finishing blow yourself, and snatch the high-level item drop. It would be griefing if you were allies, but you're enemies.
  • In the early days of World of Warcraft, there was only a need/greed system, and so a ninja could lay in hidden wait until a boss was killed, and then loot every time after everyone had passed on it. There is even a popular parody song on the subject. Nowadays this is impossible due to a "loot master" system in which the raid leader is the only one able to distribute items, and it has worked exceptionally well from then on.
    • Ninja looting itself isn't covered by the rules (as the definition of "ninja" can be blurry, and Blizzard doesn't want to open that can of worms). However, if the leader explicitly agrees to distribute the loot according to rolls, and then doesn't - such as in this case - it counts as a scam, which is a bannable offense (and the item may be transferred to the rightful winner, if you catch a GM in a good mood).
    • The 3.3 patch introduced a modified version of the original Need Before Greed dungeon loot system, which is automatically (and irrevocably) activated whenever a group uses the Dungeon Finder. You can only roll "Need" on an item if it's one that your class/spec can specifically use. Otherwise your only options are "Greed" and "Disenchant" (if someone in the group has that ability). Both use the same roll; the only difference is whether you receive the item or its disenchanted materials. In short, it's no longer possible to Need roll on anything that's not equippable by you or useful for your class.
      • One should notice that this system isn't that perfect. The large number of hybrid classes means that someone can roll need on an item for their offspec (another role their class can perform but they are not currently doing so) against someone who's actually performing that role.
      • One can also exploit the system if their class can use an item another class will benefit from more. For example, a Warrior with the DPS spec Fury can roll Need on a gun that isn't stated specifically for Hunters, even though guns and other ranged weapons are only useful to Warriors for pulling mobs.
      • Honorable mention goes to Frozen Orbs. Being totally useless for some time (Auction price fell below vendor price.), Blizzard announced that they would make it possible to buy other stuff with them. Cue lots of people rolling Need on them (After everyone else rolled Greed, of course.). They changed it now so that people can only Greed or pass.
      • The system changed with Chaos Orbs, Cataclysm's equivalent for Frozen Orbs. Now, only people with crafting professions that use them can select Need, and they were, at first, bind on pickup and thus practically worthless to non-crafters.
      • There is a less faith-destroying side; sometimes, in instances of accidental Ninja Looting (it happens), an honest player would tell other players to roll a random number and give the loot to the winner. Of course, despite the best intentions of the looter, items which bind on acquisition can't be given to another player or even sold at auction; they can only be deconstructed for materials (if the game allows that) or sold to an NPC vendor for chump change.
      • When the Looking for Raid tool was introduced, players who joined as a group would call Need on anything they could, and then trade the loot between each other, increasing their individual chances of getting loot they really do need. The LFR was later changed so that each player has individual loot rolls from a class specific loot table, and could no longer trade.
      • As of the Warlords of Draenor expansion the practice of ninja looting is more or less gone since all group finder content defaults to a 'personal loot' system, where the game rolls for loot separately for each player and deposits any item rewards directly into their inventory. Later alterations made it possible to trade these items to other eligible players but the winner has no obligation to do so as the game has already decided that the item belongs to them. The leaders of organised raids still have a variety of loot systems to choose from but many choose to use the personal loot system as it generally feels fair and causes little drama.
    • Another variant of ninja looting can occur wherever there are mining deposits, herbs, treasure chests, or lootable quest objects. Players A and B are both miners, and both see a rich mining vein. Player A lands next to the mining node, but a hostile monster is right next to it which attacks him, so Player A must spend time killing the monster before he can mine the node (you cannot perform mining while something is pounding on you). While Player A is fighting, Player B swoops in, mines the node, and rides off.
      • Experienced players keep a stun, fear or otherwise disabling spell readily available so that they can still gather the resource before the mob resumes the attack, denying the opportunist player the opening needed to take the node from the distracted player.
      • Druids are the most effective class at ninja-looting any mining or herbalism node. Other characters must dismount by a node to harvest the resource, but druids can not only remain in their flight form, but can also harvest while off the ground. As such, many monsters will simple ignore the druid. Tauren druids were especially cursed for their ability to gather herbs in half the time of other players.
      • Partially averted in Legion by making all the nodes personal, sort of. Herb and ore nodes now have a delay on their despawning; when a player collects from a node, it persists for a couple of minutes so that other nearby players can also collect from it. Eventually, the node will despawn and people who don't get to it in time will miss out.
    • Referenced in the Troves of the Thunder King, filled with loot-bearing chests. In one room, opening a chest will spawn a saurok that stuns you, steals the chest's contents, and then runs away. Killing him yields better loot than average for the chests.
  • EVE Online has its own, thematically-appropriate approach to ninja looting. If someone else loots your kills, you gain the right to shoot them for 15 minutes.
    • The community of EVE being what it is, this system is the source of a whole new set of griefing and pirating tricks. For instance, particularly obnoxious griefers would kill a certain gatekeeper enemy but leave the necessary key on its corpse. Since newbies needed that key to progress, they had to "steal" it from the corpse, which then allowed the griefer his 15 minutes of "revenge" time.
    • On the other hand, salvaging another player's stuff from his wrecked ship does not count as stealing. Despite being explained by staff over and over again as a legitimate legal enterprise, players continue to complain about it.
    • Speaking of salvaging, there are plenty of players who will steal other people's loot in null-sec (where there is no law) using the noctis salvage platform. Since the noctis has a crazy long reach on its tractor beams, it can swoop in during battles and steal from a safe distance. It's not smart to stick around long enough for the battle to wind down when people have spare lasers to throw at you.
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Manhattan Project, there are pizzas that restore you to full hit points. In a one-player game, only one pizza will appear at a given location, but in a two-player game, there will be two of them. If one of the players is spiteful, stupid, greedy, or just don't care, the griefer can eat both of the pizzas, so that the other player will lose the opportunity to replenish their hit points. The character who hogged both pieces of pizza gets no benefit from doing this; it's just a negative possibility.
    • In both the original Ninja Turtles Arcade game and its sequel, Turtles in Time, one pizza is spawned per player in certain locations (Of course, due to Dynamic Difficulty multiple pizzas could spawn in if a single player was doing well enough). A greedy player can steal these pizzas, which in many cases can earn that player the enmity of the others.
    • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge went out of its way to avert this — players at full health will not pick up any pizzas.
  • In the MUD era, most programs had very little protection against this sort of theft. Even if the game had a way to ensure that people can't steal kills (kill a monster that someone else was fighting, to get the experience points), once the monster was dead it was possible for anyone to pick up items from the corpse.
    • To make things worse, in some MUDs it was possible to loot a player character's corpse after they had died. This was easy to fix though, and was quickly fixed in most programs.
    • Also, due to the fact that getting back to your corpse to retrieve your items was often dangerous (whatever killed you might still be there, and you now have nothing but your bare skin to protect you), players could send other, stronger players to retrieve their items for them. On occasion, the other player would steal everything from the corpse and never acknowledge any agreement. Some MUDs dealt with this by only allowing the other player to pick up the corpse, not the items inside it. Finally, some MUDs completely prohibited either behavior, meaning that "corpse retrieval" meant that the stronger character would simply clean out the route to the corpse, allowing the newly-revived character to walk safely there and retrieve all items. Fortunately, most MUDs had enough moderators, and not too many players, to make sure that underhandedness was not so much a problem as it is in today's MMORPGs.
    • Hell MOO operates on the basis of "If it's on the ground, it's free game." If someone, say, lands their damaged Cessna in the middle of Freedom City and sets out $1200 worth of aluminum for repairs around the plane, it's perfectly legal for someone to run up, grab it all, and sprint to Salvage Unlimited to sell it. In fact, the VICTIM of the theft will be treated as a criminal if he attacks the thief. This leads to a very dog-eat-dog world where sneaky griefing and disproportionate retribution are commonplace.
  • This is infuriatingly easy to do by accident in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Due to the way that powerups move, it's nearly impossible for everyone in a 4-player game to get an equitable share, and a character gains nothing from getting more than one of a powerup. This is part of the fun, and a key reason why some have referred to the game as "marriage poison".
  • Some Lillith players in Borderlands do nothing but Phasewalk past all of the enemies from weapon crate to weapon crate, letting the other players do all of the fighting while picking up all of the loot.
  • A variation happen in the Fire Emblem series. In some chapters, NPCs help out your party. Though they're normally stupid or weak, they love to go up to an enemy holding a droppable item that you weakened and finish it off, making the item disappear forever.
  • In EverQuest, stealing items from enemies was a core part of the thief class. Cue thieves sneaking up on a monster while an unrelated party fights it, looting its items, then sneaking off with the party none the wiser.
  • In Puzzle Pirates, most players in a "party" are simply answering a job advertisement and thus are actually working for someone. At the end of a voyage, the captain of the ship gets to decide which of the participants get part of the loot and which don't - this is mainly meant to deny loot to players who did not contribute, or left in mid-battle (screwing everyone else over). But once in a blue moon you'll meet a captain who deliberately keeps the entire revenue from the voyage for himself. If the players are all newbies or don't know how to complain, he might even get away with it.
  • Ultima Online had several different systems for awarding loot to players, most of which ran on the "whoever loots the monster first gets it" system. In the early days and in PvP areas, a killed monster would be flagged as rightfully killed by whoever landed the killing hit (it was possible to kill steal, though they may have fixed the rights logic since then) but anyone else could still loot it - at the cost of being flagged a criminal, meaning that any player could attack and kill you without repercussions until the flag wore off. The non-PvP areas have it so that only the rightful slayer of the monster can loot it until the flag wears off after several minutes and the corpse becomes a freebie. Later additions had items that would appear directly in players' inventory, but some of the more valuable ones only appeared in PvP-enabled areas while performing activities that drew a lot of attention, and were specifically flagged as "cursed" (the opposite of blessed, which basically meant that there was no way to safeguard the item through being killed) so the prizes would often end up going to player groups who swooped in near the end of a run and killed everyone who had been fighting the monsters.
  • In AdventureQuest Worlds, every player involved in a fight receives exactly the same dropped items. There's no way of trading in the game, but it's possible to involve yourself in a fight by healing someone already fighting the monster, and you still receive anything it drops (including experience and gold).
    • Diablo III does it too, with random drops for each player in multiplayer modes. In fact, it's impossible to steal another's loot because you can only see the gold coins and items that are meant for you. You can do it in splitscreen mode, but that mode means you're in punching range in real life.
  • Trickster Online has a mixture of these:
    • Most of the looting that occurs is because of people being too distracted by fighting off a mob or drilling for the Bloody Rune of Fate to pick up the rest of their crap (which, if collected and sold could easily make a player hundreds of thousands of galders, especially at the times where you need hundreds of thousands of galders for advancement).
    • Card Identification automatically adds items to your inventory as you win them, but since there's both a weight limit and a stacks limit on what you can carry, it's possible for someone to get lucky and loot a Secret Card (the most common of which sells for half a million galders) because the person doing Card Identification was full and the auto-toss feature of Card ID kicked in.
    • Parties that use EQ-Com (EXP equally split among members, anyone can pick up a drop caused by anyone else in the party) have to watch out for looters in the party, since Common Items removes the one minute wait between a drop and free pickup. The moral of the story: Don't party up when drilling for your Rune or a Harkon.
  • In Earth Eternal, by default, loot goes to whoever dealt the monster the most damage. In parties other settings can be activated, including first-come-first-served and "Need Before Greed". The latter gave everyone three lot buttons on valuable items: Need, Greed and Pass. The player community is usually pretty good about choosing Greed or Pass as appropriate.
  • In Mabinogi, loot went to the party member who finishes the monster, and this privilege is usually reserved for the biggest contributor to the monster's demise.
    • In its sister game Vindictus, loot drops come in the form of "evil cores", which don't go away until everyone has looted from them.
  • Ragnarok Online has a bunch of this, ranging from other players coming in and using 'Greed' (a skill which picks up everything in a 5x5 area) while you're killing a ton of mobs... to many, many enemies which will do exactly the same. Said enemies are usually annoyingly fast, with the exception of the ubiquitous Poring - and they can't hold more than ten to fifteen items, but still loot. Also, whoever kills the looting monster gets first pick of what it drops.
  • In Eden Eternal, it uses a combination of two anti-ninja methods. The first is "minute wait" for anybody not in the party of the person who killed the monster. The second is a need vs. greed decision. In a party, you can't just go up and take an item, you have an option of saying "need" or "greed" on an item, having them be first and second priority respectively. If there are more than one choice on need, or everybody is honest and says "greed", it rolls then.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE, the big dungeon loot is always divided into 5 boxes, each one can only be accessed by one person.
  • Darkfall Online is chock full of this, since everything is full loot, and there is no sense of item binding. Though since the game also is a non-instanced full-loot PvP game, where items are not usually as time consuming to craft/acquire, Ninja Looting becomes something of an acceptable issue since it promotes world PvP encounters.
  • Super Mario Bros. 3 provides a very early example in 2-player mode. Because the bonus inventory items are held in Toad houses, the players taking turns to play meant that they were invariably open to whoever played next after the level blocking access to the house was beaten. Some wily players quickly realized they could just let their friend beat all those hard levels and just swoop in to clean out Toad houses on their own turn. And because picking one of those items didn't count as a turn, you would often see a single player hoarding all the fire flowers, cool suits and P-wings by carefully allowing the levels blocking passage to those items to be cleared by the other player.
    • On the other hand, SMB3 also featured a system that allowed the other player to fight back as well. If you walked across a square currently "occupied" by the other player (represented by a small encapsulated M or L), they could quickly press a button on their controller to initiate a minigame with a tiny Mario and tiny Luigi fighting over various objectives, such as claiming coins or defeating enemies. The winner of the minigame gets the turn and, if the original turn holder lost, switches the positions of the two players. A smart player would therefore know that, if they tried to ninja that frog suit, tanooki or other mushroom house, they could wind up losing their turn altogether!
  • In Fallout 3, the player can take the opportunity to loot the corpses of friendly or neutral NPC's killed by others (such as a merchant, for the keys to their inventory), and you will also gain XP if an NPC finishes off an enemy you attacked first.
  • Happens a lot in Realm of the Mad God, and irrespective of the item's value or rarity. Which is odd, as this game has limited inventory space, very strong equipment-to-class linkage, and no currency you can sell items for. (Even though you can now feed them to pets, doing so costs you a flat fee, meaning you don't want cheap goods for that either.) And yet there are players making grabs for unusable beginner gear...
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Dragonborn, after the player's first encounter with the DLC's Big Bad, Miraak will sometimes teleport in to steal the soul of a dragon that the player just defeated. Luckily, you get those souls back after defeating him at the end of the DLC's campaign.
  • MapleStory prevents monster drop looting by locking said drops to the player who made the kill for a certain amount of time, and everyone in a party gets any money drops picked up.
  • Guild Wars 2 has the Skritt Burglar, which steals all the loot in a chest and then runs away with a bag of goodies. You have to kill it before it can teleport away if you want the contents.
  • Earth & Beyond suffered heavily from this due to its poor looting rights system. Unlike most MMOs mobs were not "claimed" by being the first person/group to attack them. Rather, loot was granted to whichever person/group did the most damage. This led to many problems of either high level players stealing bosses from low level players slowing killing it, or by large groups swooping in and using large slow instant damage weapons to land huge damage on otherwise engaged mobs - particularly in instances where 2-3 people were slowly killing something large. The biggest problems came when dealing with extreme rare spawn bosses (as in once every few days), forced spawned encounters, and even worse multi-group encounters. The devs eventually added a text command that allowed a person/group to relinquish loot rights to a designated "raid" leader, but it was not easy to use nor could leaders force all participating parties to activate it.
    • It was actually possible to accidentally ninja loot even when using the added text command. One of the ways of letting a person without loot rights loot an item was for the person with rights to use their tractor beam to pull it off the corpse, then to disengage the tractor beam while the item was in open space, where any other person could then pick it up. Server lag, or simply being too slow on the deactivation or too close to the corpse, could easily cause the non-tradeable item to accidentally end up in your cargo hold.
  • Near the end of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Ganondorf manages to knock out both Link and Zelda, leaving the full Triforce his for the taking... only for the King of Hyrule to sneak by and touch the Triforce before him, denying him his wish.
  • Final Fantasy XIV has the need VS greed system for loot drops from coffers. If a piece of gear can be used by a player's current class, they can roll as "need", which overrides any player that rolled "greed" (it is possible to have multiple players roll "need" if they can all use the same piece of gear). Some non gear items like cards, materials, and minions can be rolled as "need" regardless of class and there always at least one case where someone gets what they want and immediately leave the party afterwards. For preformed parties, there's an option to either have the loot rules set to the default or have the party leader as the lootmaster where they can choose which player gets what item. It's depressingly common for lootmaster parties to have a lootmaster swipe all the items for themselves once it comes up and quickly disband the party, causing many people to dub lootmaster groups as "trap parties".
  • In the tabletop The Order of the Stick Adventure Game, players can draw a "Screw This!" card and play it out of turn to grab the loot at their current location. Ordinarily, they're limited in when they can "loot the room" and in how much they can take at a time.

In-Media Examples

  • Referenced in this strip (referring back to the events of this strip) of Darths & Droids.
  • In Sunstone, Ally, Elly and Dr. Stein have just downed a powerful boss in the MMORPG that Ally likes to play. Ally is celebrating like mad because it was a server first. While she's doing this, Dr. Stein, who is playing a paladin, rolls Need on a pet egg that gives mages (Ally's class) a sizable boost to elemental damage and other classes a bonus to magic resistance, and ends up with the item despite Ally's own roll for Need made at the last minute. This pisses off Ally enough to challenge Dr. Stein to a PvP duel and rage all over him.
  • In Noob, Gaea is the resident expert in the domain. The webseries has her invent "Ninja healing" that consists of placing herself between the healer and another player at the right time. Another webseries-only story has Relic Hunter guild also do this to the Noob guild at the end of an important dungeon.
  • Near-literal example in The Adventure Zone: Taako rolls a Stealth check to see if he can get the magical boots off of Merle's dead cousin on the sly. Later, Magnus distracts Merle so that Taako can lift a small fortune in Gold Pieces off another dead cousin, which he pockets rather than share it with the party.
  • The Hunger Games: That bow was meant for Katniss, but it doesn't stop Glimmer from claiming it when she gets there first.
  • The protagonist of The Noob does it once out of ignorance... With an extremely Rare Random Drop which he then accidentally causes to self-destruct.
  • Taken to its logical conclusion in Goblin Slayer: Rhea Scout is accused by Guild Girl from the Adventurers' Guild of pulling this trope during a promotion interview due to his seemingly clean attire and unconcern about his party's future prospects when they're going through a Broke Episode. That the Rhea admits internally he'd rather take easy quests to hoard any loot he finds to turn into a profit leads to his expulsion from the Guild entirely.
  • Blackbeard's rise to power in One Piece is thanks to a long string of looting, which is fitting since his main power is to draw everything into him. Why bother doing all sorts of hard work when you can let others do it for you then swoop in afterwards to take the fruits of their labor? He's done this so many times that everything he now has was stolen from someone else.
    • He joined the Whitebeard Pirates hoping they would find the Dark-Dark Fruit for him, then murdered Thatch to take the Fruit for himself. Post timeskip, he reuses this plan by finding Devil Fruit users to steal their powers.
    • He decides to capture a big name pirate then hand them over to the Marines to boost his own reputation, rather than committing his own crimes in hopes of being noticed by the Marines and getting a high bounty. He targets Luffy at first but later settles on Ace.
    • Instead of taking on Whitebeard and his crew himself, he lets them fight the Marines in a battle to the death, only stepping in once both sides are exhausted. In the aftermath of Whitebeard's death, he uses his knowledge from when he was a member to take over Whitebeard's territories.

Alternative Title(s): Ninja Looter, Ninja Looted