December 30, 2019

Distributing Spotlight in Your Tabletop RPG

Today’s #GMAdvice is all about the art of distributing attention, otherwise known as spotlight, among your players.

The best place to start is to disavail you or anyone else from the notion that “attention” is what players are seeking. Attention is a far too generic term that gets more play than it ought to in the TTRPG community and really any community for that matter.

Digging in deeper, what players crave from their GM is investment. Investment in their time, their characters, their group, their story. When players feel and see that the GM has put in the time and thought into how the world reacts to and evolves with their character, that’s what players mean by “attention.” They are looking for GMs to “conduct the orchestra” – use the instruments of the players creativity, wants, and actions to blend with the story world. GMs who skillfully maneuver from player plot beat to macro plot beat back to another player all the while showing each player that they’re top of mind in what transpires in each are often successful GMs.

Sometimes it’s time for the woodwinds, others for the brass, or percussion, or strings; GMs that are cognizant of where each player is in the jazz they’re creating together in story form will never have to worry about the spotlight levels of their players. They should weave each in individually or simultaneously as the “needs of the song” evolve, the story progresses, and the players grow together.

To me, that’s half the fun of being a GM: being an integral part in that evolution – helping to mold and shape the story – the song in the analogy – by dictating the rhythm of the jazz.

So if there is a spotlight problem in your group, just remember that it’s your job to ensure the song continues on!