Mechanics Informing Spotlights

About a month ago, I wrote about sharing the spotlight among characters in RPGs, why it’s important players get a chance to have a character in the spotlight, and how you can make sure that happens. But since the spotlight is supposed to be about highlighting how special the characters are, how can you – as the DM/GM/whatever – create spotlight moments that fit the characters?

Of course, in order to fashion spotlights that sing, one needs to know and understand the characters. If one doesn’t know about the characters, one can design events that provide relatively generic spotlight moments – something to do with a good fight, something to do with a good sneak, something that needs magic, something that needs persuasion. These kinds of spotlights can be adapted on the fly to better suit the characters as the GM recognizes them or the players present them. This can be difficult to accomplish along with all the other tasks and responsibilities a GM has in many games, but doing so can really help to make the session memorable.

While how a player presents a character in play is perhaps the best guide to developing spotlights for that character, most systems will have hints for the GM. The games that I have designed all have a mechanic that can be used by players to signal the kind of scenes and spotlights they want for their characters. Pivots in Centurion, Nefertiti Overdrive, and Sword’s Edge all provides rewards in a slightly different manner, but the mechanic has another purpose which is the same across all three games – it signals to the GM the kind of spotlight the player wants. In general, this is by providing an indication of what is important to the character.

Sword’s Edge goes a step further, including a goal, a quirk, and a style to help fashion different kinds of spotlights. All three of these could even be used together to design a scene in which the character truly owns the spotlight. It might relate to the character’s goal, the character might be able to reveal or utilize their quirk, or the scene can require the kind of style which the player has noted. Of course, any one of these alone could inspire a scene in which the character can shine, but together could make it particularly notable.

Most RPGs have mechanics in their character design that can indicate to the GM the kind of spotlight that would interest the player. Of course there are classes or careers, but these can be relatively generic and spotlights built on them tend not to feel personal to a character. However, if a player builds a fighter with a non-traditional skill – perhaps some kind of musical or artistic ability – that should tell the GM that the character needs to have a scene in which they use that skill. D&D 5E has personality information used both for gaining Inspiration but which also should inform the GM in building spotlight moments. Fate has Aspects and Stunts that can reveal much about the kind of cool scenes the player wants for their character. Look at what the player has built and be especially aware of the uncommon and non-traditional.

Spotlights are important for players, and the right spotlight, highlighting how unique the character might be, can really fuel the player’s enjoyment and immersion.

The earlier post on spotlights.

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