April 13, 2021

What Is “Spotlight” In A Tabletop RPG? And How Does Your Character Have A Right To It?

Tabletop RPG stories contain countless journeys. From the main plot, to epic side quests, to the journeys for each individual player character, the tapestry of the story is made up of these finer threads.

Today’s post for TTRPG newbies focuses on player characters’ journeys. And how, just for investing in that experience, their characters have a right to the spotlight that comes with them.

What is Spotlight?

Spotlight is direct attention the Game/Dungeon Master gives to a player’s character as opposed to other characters or the group of players as a whole. That attention could be, perhaps, having non-player characters develop their relationship(s) to the player character. Or maybe getting powerful and/or personal items. It could be just letting the player have their character sing a song in front a crowded tavern. At a more general level, spotlight is the investment the story facilitator makes in the player character’s journey.

To be crystal clear: being a new player absolutely does not disqualify you from getting that “spotlight.”

By committing to the story, your character receives the same investment as the other players. And while you obviously won’t have a monopoly over what’s happening in the story, just know for certain that you will have a freedom to develop your character.

Naturally, every player at the table has the right to some degree of spotlight. And its distribution among the players – and group as a whole – is similar to a jazz band, riffing off one another. Or perhaps the fluid, beautiful team passing in basketball. The more chemistry the table develops with one another, the better it will self-regulate spotlight.

Mulan’s Journey as an Example

Let’s take a quick step back and give a more in-depth spotlight example. Previously, I wrote about how Mulan overcame Li Shang’s “Discipline and Strength” riddle. Mulan was tasked with retrieving the arrow and rallying her fellow soldiers with her success. That that deep-dive into solving the riddle, its trials, tribulations, and ultimate success, was a crucial plot thread for Mulan.

Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po didn’t really participate in that mini journey of self-discovery. So, if that plot thread was a tabletop RPG, then it would have been solely the player playing Mulan and the Game Master driving that progress. That’s spotlight. And while somewhat selfish, spotlight is often incredibly necessary to the development, evolution, and progression of a tabletop role-playing game story as a whole.

So when you’re new and just getting a feel for how spotlight works, don’t recede into the background. At the table, everyone is important! And everyone has a story to tell. Never forget that!