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How do you spotlight your D&D players?

So, you are running your Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) group and you want to do everything you can to make sure your players have a great time. (That’s a lot!) You keep hearing and reading that you should spotlight your players. What does that really mean and how do you do that?

Each player in your group deserves your effort to shine the spotlight on them! So many “tips” on running amazing engaging adventures find their way back to mentioning the standard advice - “spotlight” your player/s. But those articles rarely go on to explain what to do exactly.

What is spotlighting a player??

Spotlighting a player or group allows them to show off something about their character. Maybe it is their combat prowess, maybe it is something from their background, or maybe it is simply their NPC interactions. All these moments are them being in the spotlight. In the end, you as the person running the game are trying to get your player to do something cool that they think is fun.

Why bother? Every player gets the same turn opportunity and that should lead to equal spotlight time, right?!?

No, because player’s real-life personalities often dominate games. Shyer players might hang back a bit during role play situations and let the more extroverted players speak up more. If these things habitually occur, then there might be an imbalance in the group dynamics - especially if resentment grows. Plus, D&D game mechanics makes it so one specific player is justified to always be the one who “handles a specific situation.” Maybe it is communication or sneaking around, or scouting, reading ancient text, climbing or sharpshooting or using magic. With this in mind, every player does not naturally get the same opportunity. (Many articles out there on how to handle a player who hogs the spotlight.)

Adventuring Portal fights this phenomenon by using the Turn Order (Initiative Tracker) when not in combat during role play situations. For us, using the Turn Order is a way to inspire role play for each adventurer and to make sure everybody gets a chance to participate and be heard. After the DM describes a new situation that requires role play, we ask all players to role for initiative so they can be put in the Turn Order. Then, we ask some simple questions: “What is your character doing? How is your character reacting?” Or, not often, the dreaded – “How is your character feeling?” Then, after this step, we start rolling dice to see the results. Simple right? It is. The important thing to remember here is that the DM has to actively manage the entire group during roleplay and NOT rely on waiting for one person to simply speak up. The DM has the massive responsibility to stimulate engagement on an individual and group level. Spotlighting can be one method to accomplish increased engagement.

Best way to spotlight a player?

Giving all your players some spotlight time can be easy. Just pick a player and focus an entire scene around them. Then do the same until everyone gets their own scene. Do you need to go that far? If time is not an issue and you have a long game going …. then yes! It is necessary to arrange a scene for everyone. If time is short – then no way! This step is too extra, unless you are running a game for pre-teens. With this young age group – you need to make sure all your players get the same (treasure, magic items, spotlight time….) of everything.