woman with microphone stands with her eyes closed while a spotlight shines on her

A few nights ago as I left my dinner spot, a lady behind me on a scooter handed me a rose and told me she just liked to brighten people’s days. She rode around with a bouquet of flowers all day and handed them to people. The rose is beautiful and it smells divine, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the kind of emotional giving that’s possible in a tabletop rpg. I was lucky enough on a few weekends ago to sit down with Ryan Macklin and fellow gnome Angela Murray so that Becky Annison could run us through her upcoming Kickstarter game, Bite Me. I loved the game — it’s all werewolves and feelings — but the people at the table reminded me of an important role player skill: shining the spotlight.

 When I land in a game where the spotlight isn’t being shared freely and generously, it’s rough both as a player and a GM — it can feel boring, or like a power struggle. 
We frequently talk about sharing the spotlight, and sharing it is key. Sharing it is how we work as a team and collaborate to create a story (and fun times for all). Sharing the spotlight is when I bring someone in to my scene, or hook them in to the story in another way; give them fodder to play to with my character and engage with them. Without sharing we have a group of disparate characters who are loosely held together by the fact that the people at the table are in the same physical space. When I land in a game where the spotlight isn’t being shared freely and generously, it’s rough both as a player and a GM — it can feel boring, or like a power struggle.

Shining the spotlight to me is a little different. When you shine the spotlight on another character, you are making them the most important part of the scene or story. Shining the spotlight requires selfless players, creativity, and an ability to prize the group story over the personal story of a single character and individual time in the spotlight. It also requires trust — trust that the other players in the game will shine back to you when you shine on them. In this particular game, Ryan did two things that I thought were spectacular examples of shining the spotlight on another character: he tossed Ang’s character Jax into the front lines of a negotiation, and he sank a thousand teeth of creepy prophecy (we’d agreed there was one, but that was all) into my character. So how can you shine the spotlight at your table?

  • Be on the lookout for story beats that you can toss others into. When our werewolf pack needed a negotiator, Ryan, playing Old Dog Miller, didn’t use his pack status to jump into the negotiation role — he actually did the opposite and thrust the situation on Jax before disappearing from the scene entirely on a mysterious errand of his own. Narratively, he created the story that seeing his face across the table would only have made the negotiations go even more poorly than they did, since his sister led the opposing pack.
  • Trust that you will receive play time in return. Trust that when you take the spotlight and point it at someone else, they will do the same for you in return. Instead of hoarding or fighting for your time, allow the spotlight to be gifted back to you, which leads directly to…
  • Celebrate your fellow players (and GM).  When you are excited not just about what someone else’s character is doing, but what they could be doing, when you are just as excited about their story as your own, then you can shine the spotlight on them selflessly, and the game is better for it. Be interested in the ways that your fellow PCs will react to situations, and then help build those interesting narratives. That’s not just tossing Jax into the lion’s mouth on negotiations, it was also building up a prophecy related to my character further and further without my character’s knowledge, until we could have a moment where it all came out in the open.

And finally, when the spotlight is being pointed at you, accept the gift with grace…and share the moment. When the beam of story is aimed at you on high, now is the time to share that light out and make sure that others are involved with you. Take the story offering that is handed to you (given that it is safe and consensual), and make it the coolest moment you can. Once your moment is past, take the light and reflect it on someone else. Give someone a rose, just to see them smile.

What is a memorable time someone shone the spotlight on you? Do you have any other tips for shining vs. sharing as a player?

If you are interested in more information about Bite Me, which is coming to Kickstarter in February, you can follow up here!