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I am a DM for a small group. One of the players has a very sneaky dwarf from a criminal background and chaotic neutral alignment. The problem is he keeps pick pocketing his Elvish teammates, saying that he hates elves and how his criminal background means he did the same back home. He rolls very well, and his Elvish counterparts have low Wisdom (Perception). Since he is a dwarf, chaotic neutral and a criminal, it seems perfect.

He doesn't steal much, just about 10 gold out of 1000 gold. But I don't want this to continue because the players know that he has the gold but they can't catch him without metagaming. How do I stop this?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I assume you want to stop the dwarf from pickpocketing the party's elves because for you or one or more other players, that's not fun. Is that accurate? You might also be interested in this question. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Aug 9 '17 at 13:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi folks. Please stick to using comments to request clarification from the question or suggest improvements. I've removed several attempts to answer the question from these comments which we can't accept. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 9 '17 at 15:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisWilliams Have you taken into account (low wisdom) the point in the PHB that elves all have automatic proficiency with Perception as a racial feature? (Have you rolled passive or active perception checks?) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 9 '17 at 15:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Typhon What other stacks do isn't our concern. Each stack is able to work out the policies that work for them. Our policy is this: no answers in comments, not even partial or half-answers. Other stacks might do things differently but we aren't other stacks. There were several comments fitting that description so I deleted them. If you have an issue, take it up on Role-playing Games Meta. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 11 '17 at 20:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Furthermore no one wants untested personal opinion as answers on this stack. Answers that don't leverage experience or citable sources will be downvoted and/or deleted. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 13 '17 at 14:31

14 Answers 14

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Metagame

First, have a metagaming session between the dwarf player and the rest of the players.

Within that session, determine whether his desire to be sneaky and steal from his friends is upsetting the others. Make sure the players state their unhappiness with this, not you. Perhaps, maybe, the player will grasp that his play style is detracting from the enjoyment of the others.

If he does accept that maybe some players don't enjoy this style of game, allow him to ret-con his alignment and concept to something less opposed to the party (if he wants). Without penalty.

The goal of this (and it could be as quick as ten minutes before the next game starts, or as long as an hour; it really shouldn't be longer than that, if everyone really wants to game together as a group) is to find a common ground from which to enjoy the game.

Or maybe the players will all decide that, "hey, this dwarf vs elf fight that's going to happen eventually creates a cool dramatic tension and we want to keep that." Okay. That's workable. But only so long as everyone involved is on board and willing to work within that setup. Because otherwise it's just a dwarf player being rude towards the other Players, and that's no fun for them.

Not Metagame

If on the other hand, he doesn't choose to modify his character concept / play style and/or the party doesn't reach consensus on what they want the game to be about, then eventually the PCs have to discover they are missing gold. Or that the dwarf is taking gold. And then they have to decide how they react to this situation.

There is also the question of why elves would choose to travel with a dwarf who clearly despises them. And why a dwarf would choose to travel with elves when he clearly despises them. Does the dwarf role-play his distrust/dislike of elves in general, or just uses that as an excuse to rob his teammates?

From an in-character perspective, each character must take into account the fact that they are journeying with another character into dangerous situations. They know that a fight will happen eventually. And that, during that fight, their lives depend on each other. If you know the dwarf hates you, do you really trust that the dwarf will defend your life in a pitched battle?

As the dwarf, the same applies. Would I put my whole heart into a battle, protecting elves? Or would I hold back, play it safe, and see if maybe the elves will be taken down. Let the bad guys and the elves wear each other down to the point that I can then swoop in and kill them all and take their things at the end?

As the elves, I'd at least consider the above paragraph (assuming my Int was high enough to do so). And I'd think long and hard before I'd enter a dungeon with that dwarf. If I cannot trust my teammates, then I cannot be trapped in a fight to the death with them. Or at least, not if I have any choice at all in the matter.

Chaotic Neutral Alignment is one that I've seldom seen work out well for the player and the party as a whole, over time. If the PC continues to focus on robbing the other PCs, then he risks sliding from CN into Neutral Evil. But, in general, a character with CN alignment struggles to fit into a group of others, since the entire point is that they're all about themselves.

Session 0

This is another one of those situations where a session 0 would have helped. Make sure everyone is on the same page about the goals of the game before the first game starts. Make PCs that complement each other and can work together. Or if they cannot work together, then work out the dynamics of that early so the PC vs PC conflict doesn't spill over into player vs player conflict. In my experience, PC vs PC almost always becomes Player v player.

These sessions are where you and the players can work together to agree on things like "no one can be evil" or "we agree that PvP is generally not a good idea" or "we want a campaign that includes these goals" or "paladins are the worst so no paladins!" Or whatever.

What NOT to do

As GM, you might be tempted to "solve the problem" for the party by sending in an NPC or some other arbitrary god-like process. I would recommend against that, unless the Dwarf's player asks for you to do so.

If you slam him like the hammer of Thor, then you're taking away his agency. You've turned this into your game instead of everyone's game. The railroad tracks look nice, but they aren't really what most players want.

But maybe the dwarf player recants his choices. But he doesn't have a good way to rework his concept. I've seen some players specifically say they'd like to kill off a PC and start over. It isn't likely, but it is possible. If he asks for that, I wouldn't roleplay it out in full. I'd suggest doing a fast summation and letting the player start up a new PC at the same level as the rest of the party. Work to make this transition smooth.

Be prepared for ugly.

It is entirely possible the Dwarf player won't want to change. And that elf players will want him to change. And that no consensus is reached. Or that an in-game action will lead to the elves attacking the dwarf. No one wins here. Try to steer them towards a solution that everyone likes. But if that fails, if no one will bend, then you may end up in the regrettable situation where the dwarf player has to accept that no one wants the dwarf around and that he (either the dwarf OR the player) has to leave.

Lead into all this with a reminder (to all) that this isn't personal. This isn't anything against PLAYER. This is a problem with the dynamics of elves vs dwarves, not Bob vs Jim, James, Jack, and Jill the players. That distinction matters, sometimes.

Hopefully, that doesn't happen. Hopefully, everyone can get on the same page. But this is one of those "the needs of the many over the needs of the one" situations. Trust Spock. He knows.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This really helps. A session 7 to act as a session 0 maybe. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Williams Aug 9 '17 at 13:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about what actions qualify for what alignment has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Aug 9 '17 at 16:30
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Metagaming is a fever and a ticking time bomb

Do you want your game to erupt into vitriolic in-fighting? Cause this is exactly how you get vitriolic in-fighting.

Fortunately, solving this is relatively "easy", in much the same way that picking a fight with one of your players is "easy".

Get everyone on the same page

For me and my games, and imho, D&D in general, there's an implicit assumption of trust between characters. You, as DM, are responsible for ensuring that everyone in your game has the same understanding about how much characters in your game SHOULD trust each other. Personally, I recommend requiring nearly 100% character-trust, but that gets into badwrongfun, so I won't say its the "only" way to do it.

Solve the OoC before you solve the IC

This is, imho, a mostly OoC problem, and should be mostly solved with OoC actions. However, if you or your players want to resolve this IC, that's fine. A brief redemption arc for the Dwarf would be nice, or he could just simply decide that these Elves aren't that bad, ala Gimli from LotR.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 13 '17 at 6:27
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Try talking to the player. If constant stealing is causing tension in the group, which I'm sure it is, maybe a simple talk can prevent any further group-thieving.

Your player has My Guy syndrome. He stays in character no matter if it causes trouble or loss of fun among the other players. While it sometimes isn't a problem, it starts to become one when your players stop having fun.

Besides talking with the player, you might be able to think of something in game for him to stop thieving from his party members:

  • Have him get caught by an NPC. Maybe a guard was looking at the right direction at the right time, and he gets caught and is reasonably punished. This removes 'metagaming' with the case of him not getting caught purely due to low Perception by his party members, and gives him responsibility for his actions.
  • Let his reputation precede him. If he is a criminal, and hates Elves specifically, why is is in the same group as them? It doesn't make too much sense story-wise for them to party up. Maybe a bounty has been placed on his head from his past crimes, and the Elves can strike a deal with him: we won't hand you in only if you stop pick pocketing us. We're a team after all.
  • Create a plot intervention that changes his alignment. If he is truly playing "like his character would" then set up a story that makes the dwarf a hero. Allow him to rescue a high-value princess or complete some other great deed that is so virtuous in nature that his alignment changes. If he still acts the same way after the change, he or she just wants to be a bully, and that's a problem on its own.

Whatever you decide to do, do it before it causes more tension between the players. It will only escalate.

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Making Kender Playable

Kender exhibit this same tendency to steal anything that isn't nailed down and makes them one of the least fun PC races in D&D's history however I've come up with a fairly simple metagame solution that can solve the problem.

  • The Kender (or Dwarf in your case) considers everything to belong to him, hence his lack of compunction at taking anything he wants.
  • He's established he can easily take anything he wants from the other PCs.
  • He'll eventually run into his encumbrance limit.

It's a simple feat to realize everything the party is carrying belongs to him, so he might as well let/make the party carry anything he doesn't particularly need at the moment, including any excess cash he has on hand. Time for some reverse pick pocketing any time he starts to get close to his encumbrance limit. He knows the party so he knows they're all strong heroes like him, and he'll probably want to stay a fair bit below his encumbrance limit so if he spots something shiny whilst he's on his own he doesn't have to leave anything valuable behind.

This allows him to keep doing his sneaky thief stuff without negatively affecting the party and could be quite entertaining. However this is definitely a solution that would require an Out Of Character discussion before implementing... That said regardless of what solution you choose you are going to need to talk to your players and find something that everyone is happy with.

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Politely explain to your player that D&D is a team game

A character who steals from allies and is not a team player does not belong in the party. This is true regardless of alignment as even evil characters usually do not want to turn their most trusted allies into enemies. More often than not, a character that blatantly betrays the party by stealing comes at the expense of everyone else's fun. As the DM, it is your responsibility to ensure everyone has fun. So politely have a discussion with the player about this.

Discuss with your player how his character can be roleplayed without jeopardizing the party's integrity. If the player wants to roleplay his character's hatred for elves, then ask why his character goes adventuring with people of a race he despises. Maybe work out a reason why he won't steal from the elves? Maybe give the elves a chance to redeem their race enough to prevent his theft? Explore why the character hates elves in the first place.

Most of all, don't directly tell your player how to play their character. Instead, turn this into an opportunity to add depth to the character.

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There's a reason kender are hated (warning: strong language).

And now that we're done with the mandatory reference, let's get to the facts.

I have had one player who behaved exactly like that: he stole from the party (heck, he even stole treasures while the rest of the party was still fighting their keepers) "because that's what my character would do." Undoubtly a serious case of the "my guy syndrome" people on this page have talked about at length.

It was a halfling in my case and he had no reason to hate the other characters in the party, but the problem is similar enough. It featured this one specific little silly thing that really ruined that game and, apparently, your game too.

The other players were really frustrated because they had no means to find out who was responsible for the thefts without metagaming in the most traditional meaning of the word (injecting player knowledge into character knowledge).

The solution?

Telling the rogue player that he was making the game unfun for the other players.

"But that's the character I want to play!", he whined.

Well, that's exactly the character six other people at that table didn't want him to play. Once he realized that, he realized that it was making other people less willing to play the game. He rolled a new character who was more focused on helping the party.

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For amounts as minor as what you're talking about, you're best off just talking to the player and confirming that this is just an attempt to play up the character's intended background. From the sound of it you're certainly running into a near textbook case of My Guy Syndrome. I seriously doubt the player is trying to steal this money because they feel it is somehow necessary to what they need to do as a character (or that they seriously want to cause the party to fracture, split, and the game to functionally end), and more that they want to spice up the game, add in a bit of party conflict and narrative flair.

Unless you are running a game where you seriously want meaningful in-party conflict (the very act of you asking this here seems to make that not the case), I would advise not actually having any items or gold change hands, but in the case of any sort of player vs. player action just encourage the players to say what their characters are doing, even do the rolls, narrate out success/failure, and encourage the party conversation and interplay through all this. Unless you want player vs. player to be a serious thing in you're game, at which point, see all the other responses on the need for a good session 0 and talking to with everyone.

This way you can avoid angry players in a metagaming sense, but still have the fun character interactions in-character. Yes, it is at a slight cost of player agency (i.e. the GM doing a hard "no, that will not have any effect"), but it can go a long way to providing those fun quips and character interactions, without having the players get mad at one another.

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There are some great answers here, and I won't restate them, but:

I know this isn't a full answer, but it should be noted that the elves would likely notice at some point that gold keeps going missing.

They will likely become suspicious of the hateful dwarf at some point if they see him interact with other elves in hateful ways.

IF your players want to solve the issue directly, in play and in character, then this should be taken in to consideration.

Just because the dwarf rolled well doesn't mean that the elves forgot how much they were carrying (particularly if they are even reasonably intelligent). It doesn't remove all possibility of suspicion either.

I highly recommend going with out of game or pre-session discussions to look at this problem, but if solving it in character then the above can help you get there... Whether the dwarf is going to pursue a path of growth, or they are being written out of the story and replaced.

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Your assumption is wrong: the players CAN catch him without meta-gaming by using note passing between the dwarf and the DM.

Make the dwarf send the DM a secret note that he is going to attempt to pickpocket player X. The DM must roll to see if he's successful, and if not announces to whoever had the perception to spot it "Okay, player X (or Y if perception is higher) just notices your teammate trying to steal from your [backpack]".

Then, you throw it back to the players: do they try to cut off his arm, negotiate their way into getting compliance, give another chance (with some believable threat), or something else?

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Realistically, the characters would become more sensitive.

The game doesn't really model rising suspicions. In a real world, even a dull person will become more watchful generally, and/or suspicious of the dwarf. It's rather hard to pickpocket when everyone is giving you the stink-eye.

I would implement that in the game by going off RAW and adding bonuses to their perception rolls, to correspond to their increased watchfulness and suspicion, and continue to increase the bonus as things get more out-of-hand. And I would do this openly so the dwarf can realize he is digging himself a hole.

The dwarf may realize his luck is going to turn against him quite soon. Then, he'll do what he sees fit, and so will the other characters.

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In character you don't stop it. The interaction of player characters with one another, in character, is one of the areas of being a DM that you don't have direct control over, only their environment i.e. what actions are available, the outcome of skill rolls etc. Either the characters sort it out or you change the environment. More on that later.

Out of character you must ask yourself "is it really a problem? Is it damaging the fun being had at the table or the story?" If the answer is yes, which is what you basically say is the case, then it sounds like a "my guy" problem and should be handled as such. The question linked to has a good discussion of the problem and ways to handle it. Distilled down you need to talk to the player and convince them that it is not in the best interests of your game. Or you let it happen and wait for the failed skill roll. Or, in extremis, you ask them to leave.

If you need suggestions for changing the environment such that it discourages acting in such a way here are a few suggestions intended as inspiration:

  • A geas to return anything he steals
  • A magic item that detects stolen goods
  • A rich NPC elf with a high wis/perception
  • A string operation by the entire party with marked coins to find the thief
  • A detect thoughts spell
  • A zone of truth (basically a polygraph test) with a generic "have you done anything not in the best interests of the group?" that everyone has to take for some reason
  • A third party (a bard or rogue perhaps) see what is happening and blackmails the perp (this is the one I would go for in my game at the moment)

All of these are ways of manipulating the environment to discourage the behaviour indirectly as, as a DM, you don't have any real direct way of stopping it without over stepping your responsibilities. Of course as the DM you could just say "no it fails" using DM's fiat, some kind of divine intervention, but that is a dangerous and game breaking way to go.

Whatever you decide to do you have to make sure that it is inclusive, promotes fun and the story. Anything that appears like you are picking on someone or making it you vs them will not work out for the best. Make it fun. Make it part of the story, make it consistent and believable in character.

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Perhaps you should have

  1. Some NPC character pickpocket his character.
  2. Run in to some old victim who has lost some gold.
  3. Have some NPC acquaintance who knows the score and say something along the line "hello xyyz, we have missed you down the lodge, your subscription for toss the Elves is overdue! "
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As a player, I would ask the DM if the lvl 2 spell Alarm could be used to ward tiny space, like a purse, if not go for the selective alarm, and set the condition ;)

If the DM wouldn't allow me this type of alarm, I would try to purchase such an item, or if I was really pissed off a version with a trap (poison like permanent damage to ability score)

The trap version would only be if my PC knew who it was (like a mental alarm triggered before).

Then again if the DM would deny my alarm, i would go for a Stone of Alarm.

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It is a role playing game. The purpose is for people to play different roles. Maybe one of them is very greedy or kleptomaniac or whatever you call it. Either way, it's a part of the game. Sooner or later someone will roll to detect being picked and then I guess you will see what will happen. Maybe the group will kick him out or the one being pickpocketed will simply quit with or without giving a reason.

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protected by mxyzplk Aug 13 '17 at 14:31

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