Rob Donoghue had an interesting post on his blog recently, talking about the use of “spotlight” time, game balance and player equity. One thing that caught my attention was;
“The player creates a character that is so profoundly flawed that it ends up operating like the slowest member of a caravan – all travel must go at their pace. If it’s too blatant, this can lead to grumbling, but a player who embraces this tactic tends to be adroit enough to skate the line or, if you’re very lucky, use their weaknesses to draw in other players with opportunities to show off their awesome. This last is why I don’t universally object to his behavior – in a bad arrangement it’s toxic, but in a good arrangement it’s akin to having a second GM.”
Hey! Wait a minute, that’s me! I love to play flawed characters – the pulp hero that is terrified of the dark, the bold priest that is a staunch pacifist, the talented illusionist that really wanted to be a bard. Unfortunately, I am quite sure that in the past I have been the blatant attention grabbing spotlight hog. My pacifist priest in a certain D&D campaign insisted on talking to every adversary (no matter how aggressive and hostile they were) and it was a drag for the rest of the group – I know because when the good intentioned cleric was turned to stone by a medusa no-one ever tried looking for him, let alone attempt to reverse the condition! I have another bad habit when it comes to spotlight-hogging characters, too. I have played more than one character with a sense of infallibleness and arrogant belief in their superiority to all other things. While this can be fun for me to play, it can be a real pain in the ass for the other players who might occasionally want to get through a situation without fighting to the death or having things spiral out of control because one character won’t back down.
I do believe I have become a better player over time, more considerate of the other people at the table and their needs. What is interesting to me, though, is that I had not recognised the behaviour before Rob Donoghue had pointed it out. I was certainly aware of the “power gamer” who had to have the biggest sword, coolest armour, most awesome combo of magic items, and deal the killing blow to every monster, in order to feel good about their achievements. I have played with plenty of those guys. I just didn’t realise that I was one of them. Those “power gamers” get their moment in the spotlight be being bad-asses, while I grab mine by being a lame-ass. I don’t think either method is wrong, what is important is to be aware of exactly how much time in the spotlight you demand from your fellow players – the more time you take, the less time there is for them. Rob Donoghue talks about how game mechanics might facilitate spotlight time, but I think it is important for us as players to think about how we facilitate spotlight time. Take a moment to think about what you do to “grab the spotlight” for a scene or moment, and consider whether you are one of those blatant attention whores, or adroit line skaters. Ask yourself, “What can I do to put another character in the spotlight?”