[RPG] Is it appropriate to punish a PC who snatches things from under the other PCs


My players and I often have a bit of conflict or frustration in our games because one player in particular is quite controlling, and feels that they can have their character just snatch up what they want because they said they wanted to.

This isn't a form of "Instant Actioning" I feel I should be able to control. The player waits for me to finish, but interrupts the other players before they can pick up what they deserved, and often undertakes actions that weren't discussed. Since they are on the same level, I don't feel I should have the power to intervene in their play. It is their game as well and I don't believe in overruling their choices as it is their place, not mine. I'll only ever say "no" If it breaks the rules.

For example, we had this scenario where my players were in forest that was blanketed by spider webbing. They overthrew the spider inhabitants and decided to cut down one of the cocooned bodies hanging from the roof. I reward their thorough and clever searching by stating (After they cut open the webbed body) the body was that of a Dragonborn local hero in the area who wore a mask that improved his breath attack. The mask was designed for one of my Dragonborn players specifically because he is new to the game and rarely gets a chance to assert himself in battle over the other more experienced players, so I wanted him to feel like a more valuable asset. Before he or any of the others had a chance to pick it up, the controlling player snatched it up and refused to give it back (Even though she had no use for it). Nobody wants to stir things up by trying to assert themselves over it and usually just forget about it and move on. Regardless it happens quite frequently, even though there is more than enough loot to go around for everyone.

I don't want to cause meta by being this outside voice that tells her to give it to someone who deserves it. I also don't feel like I can address her personally outside of games because she doesn't take these kinds of discussions well.

The excuse is usually "My character is Chaotic, that's what they do." I have emphasized in the past that having the Chaotic alignment doesn't necessarily entail that kind of playstyle. But it fails to go heeded.

For the sake of making the game better for everyone, I'm looking for an ethical solution to ensure everyone is having a good time and that it isn't spoiled by one player trying to take control. Obviously subtle punishment that discourages snatching is an option, but is it unethical?

Best Answer

You say "Before he or any of the others had a chance to pick it up, the controlling player snatched it up and refused to give it back (Even though she had no use for it)." I feel like I can identify 2 problems from this sentence.

First of all, how are you allowing her to pick it up without anyone else being allowed an "action"? Just because a player says they want to do something does not mean you have to resolve the action right away. For example, if she says "I rush to go and pick up the mask.", you could say, "Alright, while you try to do that, what is everyone else doing?" This way, you can manage all players' actions at once, and if they conflict (such as another player also trying to grab the mask), the party or you can decide what happens next. Especially if you are concerned about quickly snatching things from the other party members, I see no reason to resolve actions in an order which benefits the fastest-speaking player most.

Second of all, a problem I identified that you didn't ask explicitly, is that you made this item specifically in mind for 1 (maybe more?) player. If your troublesome player is constantly taking items that you only want a certain player to have, it might be best to move these items as a quest reward that you can give directly. The other solution is to try and have loot that are more open-ended, so the party doesn't feel like anything they come upon just so happen to be perfect for only 1 character and no one else.

Another option (I would not recommend over-using) is to punish the player by having the item not be what they expect, eg. the bearer now is cursed and can't drop the item without outside help. As you mentioned, this can sometimes feel unethical, so I wouldn't use this too much, especially as a main solution.

Finally, although it is understandable that "she doesn't take these kinds of discussions well", if every other solution you try fails, this speech needs to happen. It is better to kick someone out and have him or her be unhappy, than have everyone else at the table unhappy.