Support the Spotlight as a Player

Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rick Hershey / Fat Goblin Games

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about supporting the spotlight as a GM. Now it’s time to discuss supporting the spotlight as a player.

In that previous post, I defined what the spotlight is, which I’ll quote below:

What Is the Spotlight?

I’m sure for players who are old hat, they instantly understand what is meant by the term spotlight. In fact, if you’ve never played an RPG before, you can probably still figure it out based on context clues. Still, I think for the purposes of this blog post, it helps to define it.

The spotlight refers to the story’s focus at any given time, specifically a focus character. In other words, if your game’s story were a staged performance, it’s where the spotlight operator would be pointing the beam of light. In film terms, we might use a close-up metaphor. In an orchestra we might call it a solo. You get the idea. It’s a standout moment or a time to highlight a character in the story.

I’ve often seen spotlight moments referred to as a character’s “time to shine,” but I’m not sure this is entirely correct. The story can focus on a character’s failure or sadness and be just as dramatic and compelling for the player and story as a heroic moment. Spotlight moments should be more than just, “You were awesome at that and we knew you would be.” They should involve the player character being an active participant and driving the story of the scene. For instance, if the characters are caught in a Saw-style deathtrap and the rogue manages to reach her thieves’ tools and tries to disable the device, the spotlight is on them, whether they succeed or fail at disarming the trap. If they win the day, their friends are saved. If they lose, the story continues… and now the rogue feels responsible for the wizard’s missing arm or the cleric’s death.

In this post the big question is how can we, as players, support our fellow players’ characters when they are in the spotlight? There’s more to do than just sit quietly or zone out when someone else is the focus of the story!

Encourage

The first thing you can do when it is someone else’s turn in the spotlight: encourage them to take center stage and become the focus of the story. Not all players grab such moments with gusto because they’re afraid of stepping on the others’ toes. The same way you might push your friend to talk with a crush at a party to seize the moment, when the spotlight hits them (be it in the form of a villain their character is hunting, a long-lost family member, or a trap only they can disarm), tell that person to have at it. Give encouragement in character. “You’re the only who can do this,” “Have at it,” or, “I’ve got your back,” are cues for the person in the spotlight to grab the story by the horns.

Ask Questions

When another player’s character has a big moment, help them savor it by asking one or two questions in the voice of your character. Don’t make it an interview, but stay curious and engaged. If the rogue disarms a trap with a great roll of the dice, ask, “Whoa! How did you do that?” so the moment is more than just a d20 toss. The character in the spotlight can respond with the actual information of how they performed the task, or they can give a snarky answer like, “I’m just that good!”

If the character’s rival comes in and challenges them to a duel, ask, “Who in the Hells is this?” It gives that player a chance to do more than just wait for the GM to reveal the story. The player can respond in character to your questions and savor their moment in the spotlight while deepening the story.

Help Out

When someone else sings in the spotlight, be that person’s backup vocalist. Sure, your wizard could lay waste to the fighter’s mummy nemesis with a fireball spell, but why not let the fighter have the glory by using that spell slot to cast haste on the spotlight character? Buff spells are the easy example in combat, but non-spellcasting characters can knockdown and grapple enemies or hold off the minions while the personal enemies duel.

Of course, many spotlight moments happen outside of combat. You can still support players in other ways! Spells that make folks invisible or fly help them sneak around. Loan a friend a piece of equipment that might help them do their job. Stand behind them looking tough as they try to intimidate someone. Watch their back as they try to solve a puzzle which requires full concentration.

Note that many RPG systems have an action in which a player can simply aid a friend doing a task. Sometimes the bonuses granted from such an action stack. If you want to support someone in the spotlight, this is one of your best options, especially if everyone else in the party also aids the spotlight character.

Pay Attention and React

Perhaps the most important thing you can do when someone else is in the spotlight is to continue to pay attention and react as a member of the story’s audience. Don’t reach for your phone or click away from Roll20 to check on Facebook. Stay engaged and cheer for your friend. Applaud victories and sympathize with defeats. Respect begets respect and ensures your friends will pay attention when it’s your turn in the spotlight. Plus paying attention helps you enjoy the game more and get a deeper understanding of every character’s story.

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