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One of our players (our Fighter) has started complaining about "kill stealing". Not overly much, like throwing a tantrum or anything, but they're still voicing their opinion about it.

Some instances of this:

  • The group were fighting a monster in a dark cave. After a brief game of cat and mouse, the group set up a trap (which ended up with everything going horribly wrong), but the Fighter managed to pull off a critical throw, catching the beast in its escape. He then succeeded to grapple it, and hold it beneath the pool of water ("holy water" that was fatal to the beast). However, before the monster stopped kicking, another player walked up and shot it in the face, delivering the final blow. The fighter was not pleased after all the (self proclaimed) "excellent work" they had just achieved.
  • The group was up against a group of three Ogres. The group made quick work of two of them, and decided that they needed to pursue their target (whom the Ogres were blocking). Everyone (including the Fighter) agreed that the Fighter could take the last one, or at least keep it busy while the rest of the group dealt with the target. They again performed admirably, taking little damage from the Ogre, only to have an NPC step in and deliver the killing blow. (The GM admitted that the ogre had less than 5 HP.)
  • In the same encounter, once the Ogre had been dealt with, the Fighter joined the others who, due to bad luck, had not been doing so well against their target. After a bit of a scuffle, the Fighter did then manage to deal the finishing blow, only to be met with a Hellish Rebuke. Again, the Fighter was not appreciative.

Again, their reaction is probably relative to that of a "sore loser", saying it's unfair, accusing other players of kill-stealing, etc. They don't try to hold a grudge, but sometimes bring it up if it's relevant to something happening at the time. (Maybe when a player steals a kill off another player — "yeah, like that time when that happened to me!"). I think they may feel cheated?

As a player, I'm not really sure how this should be handled.

Edit: As per the comments, the group is awarded XP in milestones, not on a per-conflict basis. If anything I believe they may just be feeling sore about all their effort ending with someone else stealing the limelight.

And to clarify the question, I'm looking for ways to approach the group about handling this. Either to try and calm the player, or to try and make the group more aware of this, and more accomodating, because I feel the player may feel a bit shunned by everyone else's lack of consideration to his objections.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm a little confused on the last point. Why was he frustrated that a spell caster made a final attempt as the killing blow was struck? And what does it have to do with kill stealing? \$\endgroup\$ – Levi Aug 2 '16 at 5:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Levi It's not kill stealing, but he might be annoyed because of this. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Aug 2 '16 at 5:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does the player have any mechanical reason to be concerned about whether they get the kills or not, or are they just, I don't know, bringing in some kind of principle from MMORPGs or something? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Aug 2 '16 at 5:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ You have two separate problems here, Ben. Two of them are players sharing spot light, one is a DM-NPC judgment call. You need to address the two issues separately, because as players only two of the situations are for the group to address. The DM needs to address why the NPC did that. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 2 '16 at 13:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just for some perspective... I spent many years in the infantry, in various warzones. I have witnessed and had similar things happen to me in actual combat. In reality, there are two very powerful forces at work when this happens. Surprisingly, one of the answers here provides an either/or touching on both. First, you survived. Next, the euphoria of doing the job that you have been trained to do -- to kill the enemy -- has been stolen at the last moment. I have seen soldiers screaming at one another on the battlefield because of this. Crazy, I know... But we mostly survived. Nice question! \$\endgroup\$ – L0j1k Aug 4 '16 at 15:35
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I'd suggest you put yourself in their shoes. For a better understanding of how they feel, imagine the game as a movie with their character as the hero.

In a movie, if the hero heroically struggles with evil and some bystander steps up and kills it when it was almost defeated by the hero, would you think that's a fun scene? Would you want more scenes like that in the movie?

Chances are, your answer is "no". Their answer seems to be "no". The relative rarity of movies that work this way implies a majority of people does not like this, even though mechanically, the audience does not get anything from the scene, no XP, no money, they just take away how it felt. And it did not feel good.

I think they may feel cheated?

They probably do. They put in effort and risk and it seems the reward for it is claimed by others that did not put in either. The reward might well be that feeling, not loot or XP.

In the three scenes you described, was there any reason for them not to be the hero? Why did the NPC step up all of a sudden when the plan was for the fighter to hold and the others to go for another goal? Why did the PC "walk up" leisurely to deliver the killing blow in the middle of a chaotic fight? Why the hellish rebuke trap? What was it good for, other than to steal his heroic ending of the scene?

In real teamwork, the others share the risk. All fight and by random chance one will get the killing blow. If all share the risk, then it's teamwork. If only they are at risk, then they should get the good feeling of having overcome it.

As a player, I'm not really sure how this should be handled.

66% of your mentioned examples are DM made, so I'm not sure if this is something that can be handled by a player alone. Talk to the group as a whole, including the GM. Maybe do the same exercise, let them imagine the scenes as a movie and ask them if they would want to watch it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yep, this is a great answer. I also kept asking myself why the situations arose in the examples given in the question. Stealing a player's spotlight moment generally seems to be a bit of an antagonistic thing to do \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Aug 2 '16 at 10:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah the NPC one seems totally un-necessary... and the first player one could've been dodged by the GM \$\endgroup\$ – Jon Story Aug 2 '16 at 11:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ “bystander” -- I wouldn't describe party members as bystanders though, it's more like a partner. Then again, maybe this person doesn't view his party members as partners? \$\endgroup\$ – Captain Man Aug 2 '16 at 13:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ For the GM-based issues, he needs to speak to the GM before/after game; the way I see it, NPCs are basically "extras" or "supporting actors" -- while they should have personalities and depth, the focus of the game should still be on the party. If the GM is regularly one-upping the players (this includes both the Hellish Rebuke trap and the NPC "kill-steal"), the GM may not share your/other players' "cinematic" perspective where their characters are the stars of the show, and it's going to be less fun for everyone until you're all on the same page. \$\endgroup\$ – Doktor J Aug 2 '16 at 16:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Superman grapples the monster as the life slowly drains out of it, then Batman punches it in the face to finish it off. "I had it under control," Superman grumbles. "Quit grandstanding, we have a job to do," Batman admonishes. \$\endgroup\$ – user11450 Aug 2 '16 at 16:50
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Communication is how it should be handled

Next time he mentions it say something like: "I don't get the whole 'kill stealing' thing. We all work as a team and nothing in the game depends on who dealt the final blow so I don't see it as a big deal but I think you do and I'm trying to understand why?"

Then when they answer you will be able to say either: "Fair enough, I see your point" or "Really? Seems like you're being a bit silly about it." Or something in between.

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Some people really like the "glory" of slaying "themselves" the monster. This can be the case of some of the PCs and, sometimes, the players. Yeah, it's a really vain feeling, but people are people.

When it's only a character thing (think about Gimli and Legolas who compete for the most of kills) it yields interesting roleplaying scenes and can be really fun.

When it's a player thing it can be a problem if players become sour about it. Here it seems that it's what you are afraid of. It doesn't have to be like that, as long as you don't act like a dick.

First, it depends on the tone of the scene.

  • If it's a dark/serious/gritty tone, what is important is to survive the fight. Not dealing the final blow when you can do it can make the difference between a victory and a defeat (or a Pyhrric victory). Usually the players won't retain anger against KS in these situations as you don't really have a choice. This kind of game is not for braggers, and those who play them usually have a tacit agreement upon that. (see example (1))

  • If it's a light/humor/heroic tone what is important is to shine. In these case usually the final blow is done intentionally, and you can choose to delay it without really taking more risks. As a player in this situation, you can make your character be a gentleman and let your mate finish the job (by delaying for example) or be a jerk and kill-steal. If the other players don't like kill-stealer-jerks, go for the gentleman option.

A problem can rise when players (and GM) don't really agree on whether a scene is supposed to be light or dark. In some game it's pretty obvious ("you are playing Call of Cthulhu, of course it is dark !"), but in some others it can be confusing. In some games the tone keeps being the same, in some it doesn't. The GM should make that the clearest possible for the players, either by telling them explicitly:

  • "this session we are playing today is a light slice-of-life chapter", "This scenario is all about horrific ambiance", etc

or with subtle clues:

  • music, tone of the voice...

example (2) is about what can happen when players and GM don't have the same type of scene in mind.


example (1)

I played as a courtier a L5R game where we ended up fighting a particularly big monster. The crab bushi did all the fight on his own (as other PCs were way behind in terms of fighting skills, none of their attacks actually hit) and the monster went down to 1HP (out of something like 80). At that moment the dice decided that my character managed to hit the monster, and inflicted to it exactly 1 damage. It was during the last session of a long campaign, and all the players looked at it like "how could you... What a KS!" but were not upset. There were no reason to think anybody intended to make things that way, it just happened and we dealt with it. Not attacking the monster would have meant not taking the fight seriously and we all wanted to take it seriously.

example (2)

We were playing guildmasters and we had to answer to many asks for quests. Our guild was gathering people for lvl 5 to more that 20 (with a D&D scale), and a random guy went to the guild to ask us about a "really big monster, I swear !" in the hills. It really sounded like a false alarm so we sent our comic relief guild members and didn't really take precaution, but actually it was a serious threat and as we did not sent the right people, they died. We could have considered this as serious, but tacitly we players have agreed that it was a "funny scene" where the GM wanted it to be a "serious scene".

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Two excellent points about tone of the setting. But I would add that the GM can go a long way to still help in the dark theme: You can still offer a finishing blow for important enemies when they reach 0 HP, they can still bark and stand on wobbly legs, even with zero HP and the fighter can finish them without a difficult roll. - Everyone will see that the enemy is essentially dealt with and can just let him drop dead on his own, or finish him. \$\endgroup\$ – Falco Aug 2 '16 at 15:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Falco: If you are playing a really gritty not forgiving dark game, and a tough enemy is close to dead (but not vanquished yet), you want it to be finished, even if you have to "give the kill" to someone else. It's of course not so true if the game/scene is not so dark/gritty. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Aug 2 '16 at 15:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sure, but the GM can set the pace between initiative-ordered battle-time and usually RPG-talk time. So I imagine the scene like this: The Hobbit stabs Saurons Mouth in the leg, reducing him to 0 HP. GM: “The Wraith sinks to its knees, wailing in a scream of anguish on the verge of dying.” GM looks at the fighter (even though the next turn in initiative would have been the bard, but battle is over): “How do you want to end this?” The fighter: “I decapitate him” GM: “As his head is separated from his shoulders the wailing stops and the lifeless body drops in the dust” \$\endgroup\$ – Falco Aug 3 '16 at 9:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see your point, here the scene is more heroic/cinematic which I associate with light/humor scenes but is indeed not the same thing. I'm going to edit to make that clear. \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Aug 3 '16 at 13:10
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I have played lots of fighters in many versions of D&D. After about level 5 (or so), the Fighter stops being the dominant player and by level 10 or so tends to be a background character like the heal-bot cleric. However, there is a very important distinction that needs to be made, is the player complaining about kill stealing or is the character?

Player complaining

If the player is complaining while taking a break, then maybe pull him/her aside and have a quiet word. It's a team game, and yes sometimes you don't get the kill. In fact lots of times I have been engaged with an enemy and tied up the big bad guy while the other team mates have dropped all the other smaller threats. Then yes, the wizard throws a magic missile or something that finally drops the big-bad. It's not "kill stealing" it's tactics. The group fights until all threats are neutralized (dead, dying, or retreating if allowed). Maybe the players/NPCs need to just give him a bit of space to let him do what he's doing, maybe talk to him to see if he is feeling left-behind by the plot (save the magical whatnot so the magic can magic better, then let's get the next magical thing to make the magician magic better, and yes, the next plot point somehow is magic making magic better). Maybe throw him a bone and have a circus or carnival come to the town with all the "strong man" games. Let him easily whoop up on all the other PCs in these carny games.

Character Complaining

If the character is complaining, let it happen. In the Lord of the Rings there is the whole plot-point where Gimli and Legolas are trying to get a higher kill-count, including a few cases like this. If it's in-character, yes a bit of friendly rivalry will happen like this. Hell, in the case where the kill was "stolen" from the fighter while drowning the other guy, I would have looked at the person who shot the bad guy and said something like, "What? Didn't have the courage to fight him till I half drowned him? You wimp!"

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In order to help the other players understand better, perhaps it would be best to look at it from a different perspective.

Imagine that the party is attempting to assassinate an NPC for some reason. They work together to create a lethal poison that he will be susceptible to, find ways to bypass all of the magical enchantments protecting the NPC, and finally the thief manages to poison some of the food or drink that the NPC will consume. Then, as their victim lays dying in bed after being poisoned, the fighter barges into the room and slays him in his bed.

It seems entirely unnecessary. The party and the thief character have had all of their efforts completely overshadowed by the fighter. Whilst the team made it possible for him to bypass all of their enchantments, and weakened the NPC enough with the poison so that he couldn't fight back, the victim was still going to die anyway. The actions of the fighter added nothing, it simply diluted all of the efforts of the others and took the glory.

Sure, as the overall story goes, nothing changes, their combined efforts were just as successful. But in role-playing terms, the fighter's personal story was affected. The action of his ally added nothing to their own story, finishing off a dying creature isn't particularly noteworthy. However, it only served to detract from the fighter's experience.

It is the same with the NPC character finishing off the ogre. If the fighter had weakened the ogre enough to finish it off easily, and at that moment someone else turns up to deal the finishing blow, it detracts from his personal role-playing experience, and adds nothing to the story.

As for the solution, I think simply better communication is needed. Perhaps state the intent of actions before performing them, allowing for other players to discuss whether those actions should be performed or not. Obviously not for every single action, but if the GM had stated the NPC was heading over to help slay the ogre, the fighter could have had the opportunity to tell them to help the other party, as they were struggling more with their opponent.

It is likely that the player feels that it happens to them an unfair amount of times. You gave three examples as 'some instances of this' which suggests that there are more. The player will recognize it happening to themselves more often than anyone else will, and more than he will notice it happening to anyone else, due to the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. Therefore simply discussing the solution as a group could help him with thinking that it is happening to him too frequently.

Also, it may help for the players to be more considerate of other players. If a character is about to perform an action, let them think how it will affect other players. Whilst it is a team effort, and winning is the ultimate objective, each individual player also experiences a story that is personal to them, that's what role-playing is. If players are performing actions that are detracting from the personal story of others but adding nothing to their own, then why bother?

Of course, if the poison had simply weakened the NPC, or if the pool of holy water had sapped the beast's strength instead of being fatal, the help would have been needed and appreciated. Or if the fighter would have been submerged underwater and couldn't hold their breath, or was losing their grip on the beast, again finishing it off would have been the smart move. So it might just require the players taking a few seconds to think how what they do may affect someone else, and whether they should choose to do it.

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When I run a game, the rolls do not mean some mundane textbook explanation of what happens. If you roll a critical hit with a bow, it does not mean the arrow hits the monster and kills it and you get 10 xp. I use much more descriptive language. The arrow thuds into it, and it staggers forward clutching it's throat. The arrow thuds harmlessly into the goblin's side, although perhaps not quite so harmlessly as the goblin loses its balance and plunges head first into the lava, thrashing in crispy agony. etc.

You can then extend this to address issues the players have. For example I have a player that LOVES it when things explode. So I make stuff explode dramatically (where appropriate).

Likewise, if your fighter is upset about not getting the killing blow, I would adjust the descriptions to help.

The first scenario is one of party etiquette, and the last one has nothing to do with kill stealing but instead is just a moan about bad luck. But the second one is the key. I would simple say something like, "The NPC stuns the ogre with a tremendous swing of his sword, and grapples it to the floor. Quickly Halk, finish him off! he cries."

The narrative is up to you. Bending it to your player's likes and dislikes makes an adventure fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you want to write your own answer, go ahead - don't make extensive edits rewriting everything I said. \$\endgroup\$ – NibblyPig Aug 4 '16 at 7:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ I mostly just moved around your words to improve the organisation and readability. Right now the part that tells the reader “why am I even reading this?” is three paragraphs down, which is called “burying the lede”. The long examples about goblins and such don't make sense until the reader has already finished reading the answer, and then they have to go back and read a second time to fully understand. Most won't bother. That might not be obvious, because of course you can read your own mind; but the 7000+ readers of this page can't. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 4 '16 at 7:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ That is not relevant, as the site is sourcing other people's answers from the community. If you don't like my answer, you can downvote it. I wrote it this way deliberately. You can correct minor grammar errors etc. but totally rewording what I said isn't cool, I'd rather you just delete my answer, or flag it as 'I don't like it'. You should follow the 5 rules of editing, see point 2 here: blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/03/the-great-edit-wars \$\endgroup\$ – NibblyPig Aug 4 '16 at 7:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am and did follow that. (I have no intention of further editing the post, let alone edit warring.) I felt this offered a clever and as-yet unmentioned solution, but that its presentation obscured its meaning and thought it didn't deserve to be downvoted like it had been. So, I edited while "preserving its meaning", just moving its sentences, to put its best qualities up-front and bump to draw attention to it. As you don't like the change and rolled it back, that's the end. I definitely won't be deleting it or flagging it, as that would be very inappropriate uses of those tools. Best of luck! \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 4 '16 at 7:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with SSD here: this answer has a very good point. And I, as a player who likes to play a fighter and strive to make an interesting and detailed fight, can see this as a great tool for creating fun for players. \$\endgroup\$ – RollingFeles Aug 10 '16 at 1:48
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Well, I'm going to go ahead and approach this from the other side, since most people seem to be on the side of the fighter -

  1. Grappling in the pool - grappling should be one or more checks each round to hold something down. If he fails a check, the encounter potentially gets worse. If another character had no better option than shooting the defenseless target, it was a good move. If the fighter needed < 5 on his grappling check to keep the target held and the other character could have done something else, he probably should have done the other thing.
  2. Ogres - If the fighter was low on hp, the NPC acted fine. If the NPC's character was to 'try and be heroic' or something, he acted in character. If the NPC had his thumb up his butt and was supposed to stay that way, maybe the DM was worried the ogre had a special move coming up that would kill the fighter and was trying to prevent him from dying. Or maybe the DM had something else going on.
  3. One of the comments on your question implies that scenario violated the rules, but beyond that it could've been the DM's last attempt to kill (or at least render unconscious) someone. DM's like to kill things too.

If your fighter has played MMOs, I would imagine he understands he's a tank and he isn't supposed to kill things. He's supposed to keep them busy and from killing the squishies in the party. Every time an encounter ends and everyone is standing, he has won. You could maybe try pointing that out.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I understand where you're coming from, and I did omit the situational information that you're going on (I would disagree with the situations one the first two points in this case), they are still valid points of view, though I do especially like your last point, "Every time an encounter ends and everyone is standing, he has won." \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Aug 2 '16 at 22:15
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It's a RPG - it shouldn't matter whether the 'player' is bothered by it as it's not real... But it should matter how the character feels about it. If the character doesn't like it then character should do something about it... like clobbering the kill stealer over the head or something else that is in line with what the character would do.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE. I see that you are active in other stacks, but please take the tour and visit the help center to see how we may differ from other stacks. Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 2 '16 at 17:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ RPGs are for fun. Issues that bothers players should be top priority issues. And violent response within the game will just create more hurt feelings. I can say that you're wrong, because I did just what you described. Responded on ingame disturbance by hiting other character just because that what my character would do. I've offended other player and spoiled his fun. And I was wrong. RPGs are for fun and especially group fun. If something that your character would do spoils fun for others. Well, it's better not to do these things. If something bothers player, than group should handle this. \$\endgroup\$ – RollingFeles Aug 3 '16 at 2:59

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