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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 little to 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 The 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 your party member just as you reach over for your loot, and having to watch as said "friend" runs off with your 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 helping himself to your inventory.
  • Other games have a treasure pool system, where every item from a particular kill is placed in a "pool" that the party can take from. Most of these systems also have a random number generator (the act of using is called "lotting" on an item) that allows people to randomly determine who gets something. The act of "lot sniping" is when somebody either waits until when everybody else has cast a lot/passed before then "illegally" lotting on the item. Another variant is when they wait for near the end of the time period an item will be in the treasure pool before lotting. Neither is a 100% method 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"). 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.
  • 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, but 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 in all cases, the rule(s) being broken by Ninja Looters is 99.9% of the time a rule which was made up and enforced by the community over the "real" rules of the developers of a game (much like the way swearing during mass is not illegal, only frowned upon) or by societal "standards".

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.

Examples of Ninja Looting include:
  • A possible Ur Example goes back to the early editions of Dungeons and 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).
  • Referenced in this strip (referring back to the events of this strip) of Darths and Droids.
  • 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. 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; during this troper's brief WoW tenure, 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.
    • 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.
      • Genre Savvy 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.
  • 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. This is slightly controversial.
  • Yuffie Kisaragi of Final Fantasy VII is a literal example of this trope, and for a curious subversion, this is also exactly what people perceive her to be.
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, 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 or stupid, he can eat both of the pizzas, so that the other player will lose the opportunity to replenish his hit points. The character who hogged both pieces of pizza gets no benefit from doing this; it's just a "funny" possibility.
  • 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 on 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.
  • Some Lillith players in Borderlands doing 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.
    • This is eventually averted in Echoes and Three Houses. In the former, some NPCs can eventually be recruited and will still be holding onto the item when they join your team. In the latter, certain paralogues allow you to control characters who aren't in your house, and if they kill an item-bearing enemy the item will be sent straight to your convoy.
  • In Ever Quest, 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.
  • An interesting form of Ninja Looting that isn't mentioned here, probably because it's much rarer, appears in games such as the MMORPG Puzzle Pirates. In this form of Ninja Looting, the person who organizes an excursion abuses power to cheat everyone else out of their hard-earned pay. In the specific example of 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.
  • Successfully averted in Adventure Quest Worlds. Every player involved in a fight recieves exactly the same dropped items, since 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 recieve 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.
  • 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-universe example: in Kingdom of Loathing, finishing a battle underwater always carries a chance that a dolphin will come along out of nowhere and steal a loot drop (and since adventuring underwater carries a hefty penalty towards loot dropping at all...). The only way to get back your hard-earned loot is to buy a dolphin whistle and beat the tar out of that smiley little asshole.
    • It's not as bad as you say it is. A dolphin only steals an item if it otherwise would not have dropped (due to the aforementioned underwater item drop penalty), which means the Dolphin Whistle actually allows you to get an item you would not be able to get otherwise.
  • Largely averted 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.
  • Also averted in Video Game/Mabinogi and its sister game Vindictus. In the former, 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 the latter, 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 the Aeria hosted game 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 Tensi: Imagine, There are also methods for preventing ninja looting. The original, and best but now removed, was to have multiple channels on a server with few enough people that one grinding spot was not likely to be overwhelmed by a mass of people trying to get some easy currency. That prevented issues average ninja looting. Another issue is dungeon. However, that is well taken care of. First is that all enemies mooks drop either the same loot, and the amount of enemy mooks who can be taken care of easily, making it hard for a ninja to be greifing. Also, as this is only in party, it is quite possible that people will notice somebody not working when not approved to just be on the sidelines, meaning they go away soon enough. Also, while bosses drop rare items they never drop anything too rare, meaning that if somebody is looking for a quick steal won't get any game changing advantage. Also, the big dungeon loot is always prevented into 5 boxes, each one can only be accessed by one person, meaning that the big loot is given to everybody without the possibility of being depraved.
  • 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 invventory 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 being cleared by the other player.