RPT#230 – 4 Tips For Spotlighting PCs
A Brief Word From Johnn
Just got home tonight from a weekend away and turned on the Weather Channel. They were posting a warning about tornados in our area. I looked out the window and saw horizontal trees from wind gusts, our patio table and chairs smushed against the side of the house, sheet lightning, rain, and some decent hail. I still had power to the computer though, so figured it couldn’t be all that bad, could it?
So, I reached into my dice bag and rolled a d20–18. Bah. Tornados are a natural 1 on my random encounter chart. Nothing to worry about then! Sweet.
I hope the weather is being nicer to you where you live.
Oh hey, anyone know how to get 1d4 owlbears out of a garden?
Johnn Four firstname.lastname@example.org
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A guest article by Jeremy Hogg
You have a character. So does every other player, just like every actor has a part in a play. However, imagine a play in which no character ever received spotlight time or extra stage time. Everyone has an equal number of lines, and they share stage time in equidistant short intervals. Boring. Doesn’t work.
GMs and players might be afraid of spotlighting a character, giving away the show to one character for a time. The GM might worry that the other players would feel left out. A player might feel his fellows will resent giving away centre stage. Put these fears away, for players like to see each other shine.
There are a lot of details on a character sheet. In most campaigns, a portion of them are used just about every game and the rest come into play infrequently at best. However, if you ask a player about his character, he is likely to tell you about those unique aspects of the character that normal don’t see the light of day. The unique things about a character are what make them interesting to play and game with. They should not be relegated to mundane ‘usual’ uses. They should have a chance to be showcased.
That being said, here are a few ways to help put characters onto stage centre with the spotlight on.
- Focus On Unique Abilities
List the unique, unusual, and ‘character hook’ abilities of the PC and its player.
For example, let’s take a look at the D&D 3rd Edition bard character class. This PC is often viewed as a supporting character. Let’s break this class down to find it’s unique abilities.[For class details: http://www.d20srd.org/srd/classesI.htm#bard ]
Combat: Nothing here really stands out. Some bards have hidden weapons in musical instruments. That’s pretty cool.
Magic: bards have the most unique spell list of the core spell casting classes. Their spells deal with sound and bewitching, which is pretty cool.
Special abilities: Enchanting song. This is the most unique ability of the bard.
Skills: The bard has a large skill list, but not as large as the rogue. However, the bard is the only other class besides the rogue that has all the social type skills. Since the bard is more likely to have a higher charisma than the rogue, the bard is, in general, the very top class for social skills.
Other: Bardic Knowledge is a unique ability in that it provides the bard with otherwise extremely rare knowledge of esoteric facts (usually of a social nature).
Next, let’s examine the player who is running a bard in our example game. The bard’s player, Bill, is good at math. This ought to get added to the list if puzzles in the game are normally solved by the players rather than by dice checks.
Having this raw material list of facts helps set-up a spotlight situation. The GM just needs to consider how to craft an encounter such that the bard has a good opportunity to steal the show.
- Activities In An Encounter
A common encounter in most RPGs is group vs. group combat. In general, group vs. group plays out in a clash of magic and weaponry with everyone participating in the destruction of the other side. However, more complex and engaging encounters are possible in which activities of different characters differ widely.
For instance, the cleric might take care of the undead advancing down the corridor while the mage studies the sigils inside the room to turn the teleportation circle back on. Meanwhile, the illusionist continues to distract the over-powered golem in the next room with the illusion of a rogue peaking out from different shadows. Characters in this kind of scene are really ‘doing their thing’. This is a great party-pleaser.
This type of encounter (complex with differing activities) can be leveraged to spotlight a certain character. While everyone else manages the bulk of an encounter, the spotlighted character performs the unique activity utilizing his unique abilities.
Here is an illustration using the bard again:
With a Knowledge (Architecture/Engineering) check, the bard discovers that this area of the evil fortress is an echo chamber that carries sound to most other parts of the stronghold through air ducts.
Using this knowledge, the bard sings an enchanting song while the rest of the party blitzes through the castle to kill the evil minions while they are enthralled. However, the captain of the fortress figures out what’s going on, and through investigation, finds the bard by himself.
The bard is unable to cry for help because he must not let up his enchanting song (his party is inside the fortress proper), but since he can still cast magic with no verbal components, he uses an action to cast a silent flare (for help). Then he draws his rapier, and the two fight until the bard is disarmed.
However, the character is able to continue the fight (and surprise the captain) by uncapping his hidden blade in his lute. In addition, having gathered information on the captain before the quest, he leverages his knowledge of the captain’s allergies by throwing sunflower powder procured before the adventure. When the others arrive (after numerous smaller encounters) the captain is dead and the bard, although wounded, is still singing.
Separating the activities of the party is an easy way to showcase an individual.
- Sequence In Encounters
Sometimes encounters have sequenced events. Fighting a troll might wake a nearby dire wolf who might be seen by a prowling roc, leading to a chaotic encounter in which each faction is fighting one or more others.
Sequenced encounters might also focus on character actions. After sneaking into the jail house from a nearby crypt (an adventure by itself), the characters make their presence known by taking out a warden (noisily) for his keys. Now guards are looking for them, and the PCs are opening doors to prison cells (which might contain hostile prisoners) looking for their misrepresented companion. In the cell of the misrepresented, a golem stands guard.
Here, the players’ actions are triggering all sorts of different encounters that are melding into each other.
To leverage encounter sequencing, craft the encounter(s) such that the final and climatic scene goes to the showcased character. Let’s use the bard played by Bill as an example.
The party fights their way from chamber to chamber following the half-crazed alignment-changing wizard running for the artifact of power. Finally, after much danger and tribulation, the party catches up, but just too late. So, the bard steps forward, knowing the wizard is on the edge of more than one alignment and tries to convince the wizard to see the light.
After such a scene (and winning), everyone will be patting Bill on the back. And they might also be in awe that the bard’s social skills played such an integral role. (The bard has a reputation in Dungeons and Dragons as never being the most important character in a given situation.)
- Using NPCs
There are two ways to use NPCs to spotlight characters. This method is less direct than using physical encounters, but it can have a strong impact. One way to spotlight a character indirectly is to have an NPC tell the story of the character’s deed. Imagine the enjoyment a player would experience listening to the local tavern bard tell the story of how his character overcame the insane baron of the town at the last moment with his ingenious use of the arcane. The crowd cheers and the player of the wizard tries not to appear as happy as he is.
Note: this works the best if the storytelling is well roleplayed by the GM.
The other way to showcase a character indirectly is to have an NPC require the character’s service and interrogate the character in a flattering way. A fun way to do this is to have a melancholy NPC tell a PC about his troubles and how she needs a person who can help solve her problems. The PC admits she has those skills, but the NPC is too melancholy to respond positively, going on with, “that’s not all, I need some one who can…and….”
The NPC goes from disbelieving, to chagrined at her luck, to ecstatic, to disbelieving again, to… At the end of it, the player whose character is conversing with the NPC should feel pretty good about her character.
Thanks for the guest article and tips Jeremy!
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A reader’s comment on team cooperation reminded me of a constant obstacle to team play in my games: stealth.
In my first D&D group, we had two characters (a rogue and a monk) who were excellent at stealth, while everyone else wasn’t. Rogue & Monk would always go spying or looting by themselves, refusing to take the rest of us because we “would just screw up their chances”. The worst recon mission separated them from us for two sessions; they got to do all the fun stuff while we were stuck beating up random monsters and waiting for them to return.
After that, I joined a Hackmaster group. Although stealth hasn’t split up our party, it’s still dangerous. Our 5th- level rogue died at the hands of the enemy because he went scouting without backup. If someone was watching his back, he wouldn’t be maggot food.
I need suggestions on how unstealthy characters can accompany, escort, or watch stealthy characters on their runs, keeping us non-stealthy types involved with the game and giving the sneaky types the advantage of backup if (when) things go bad.
- More Missions For Encouraging Player Cooperation
From: The GMMastery Yahoo! List
These ideas were snarfed from the GMMastery list in response to Katrina Middelburg-Creswell’s tip, Encouraging Player Cooperation, from Issue #225. The intent is to give players secret missions as a way to unify the party and get the players working with each other instead of bickering and sabotaging each other.
For Fighters (Or Combat Wombats)
- Use your great strength to hold off foes while your party members escape/accomplish a task/etc.
- Weed information from someone without the use of violence
- Find someone who needs and wants protection, and see them through their trial/journey unharmed
- Test your endurance and stand vigil over the party for one whole night/watch
- Save each member of the party during combat once. Party members must actually require your help. i.e. don’t just butt-in and land the last blow.
- [D&D] Use an assist action to help each party member receive a +2 to their combat-oriented action at least once.
- Help each party member get the best weapons possible of the type that they use.
- [D&D] Use subdual/non-lethal damage to capture a prisoner when it would be advantageous to do so
- Listen to the wizard at least once. 🙂
For Thieves (Or Greedy Filches)
- Palm something that will be of use to another member of the party
- Use your charms/wiles to fast-talk your way into safety or out of danger
- Use a weapon to help another PC in a non-combat situation
- Give up a good battle position or an opportunity to backstab someone to rescue/aid a party member in need.
- Impress an NPC with your knowledge of roguish lore in an RP setting
- Pass up an opportunity to break-in/steal/pickpockets that would net a valuable prize, instead performing an action that greatly helps the party
- Return a stolen item for the party’s benefit
- [D&D] Use one of your many skills in an assist action with another PC
- Secretly fix a mistake made by another PC
- Help a PC by introducing them to one of your contacts
For Spell Chuckers
- Figure out a new use for an old spell to help another party member
- Use a non mind-affecting spell/ability creatively in a RP encounter
- Use a combat (damage dealing) spell or ability in a non-combat situation
- Sacrifice an opportunity to maximize a spell/ability’s affect to help the party (i.e. casting “bless” on the party rather than “fireball”–even though a fireball might catch several enemies)
- Perform research that aids the party
- Impress an NPC with your knowledge of arcane lore in an RP setting
- Research something to help with a PC’s personal problem
- Before a critical encounter (combat or RP), take as many support spells as you can and buff up the party
- [D&D] Use one of your skills in an assist action with another PC
- Turn an existing combat encounter into an RP encounter
- Turn a potential combat encounter into an RP encounter
- Greatly assist an NPC for no tangible benefit
- Flatter a party member creatively
- Bury the hatchet (“resolve an ongoing argument”) with an NPC or a PC
- Create a detailed (turn-by-turn, specific actions) plan for an upcoming encounter and get the party to stick to it. (Bonus points if the plan works the way it was supposed to.)
- Follow someone else’s plan even though you disagree with it. (Bonus points if the plan succeeds.)
- Convince two people who don’t like each other to work together. (Bonus points if they end up friends because of it.)
- Find out more about someone else’s character through in-character roleplaying. Y points if you find out the name of their immediate family members. Z points if you find out how and why they became an adventurer. Yx5 points if you learn a secret that they don’t want anyone else to know about.
- Earn a legitimate title from someone who has the authority to give such things.
- Use a skill/manoeuvre/tactic/spell that you’ve never used before for the party’s benefit.
- Have your character say something completely (perhaps even brutally) honest and truthful when a lie would be much easier and more personally beneficial for her/him.
- Defeat a challenging opponent in single combat without using your favorite weapon/spell/tactic.
- Talk your way out of a fight you could easily win.
- Gain X points if you call someone’s bluff. If you call someone out who isn’t bluffing you lose X points.
- Create something of value and give it away to a PC who really needs it.
- Set up another party member with a chance to really shine and give them all the glory.
- Play the straight man for someone else’s joke. (You only get the points if the joke was actually funny.)
- Sacrifice something you value (material or abstract) to help someone else achieve their goal.
- Convince someone else to sacrifice something they value so that another PC can achieve their goal.
- Put your well-being in the hands of someone that you have no reason to trust. (Bonus points if they prove themselves trustworthy later on.)
- Reveal one of your PC’s personal secrets to another PC (this forces the player to come up with personal secrets for their character–bingo!)
- Engage another PC in a romantic relationship (not appropriate for all campaigns)
- Resist the affections of another PC (again, not appropriate always, but think about this one and the one right above used together, with both goals secret …MWAHAHAHAHA! *ahem*)
- Crack an in-character, in-game joke that sends everyone at the table to the floor laughing
- Win for a fellow PC the respect of an NPC in a high/low position
- Gain entrance for a fellow PC into a specific guild/lodge/organization
- Write up a detailed history of your character that favorably involves another PC
- Keep a journal for your character that notes other PCs’ spotlight moments
- Display extreme ingenuity to help the party
- Do something you know is stupid but that your character would do to help the party
Thanks to the following for their ideas: Will M, Matthew Burack, and Acolyte.
- Identifying Player Types Through Their Characters
I’ve learned that you can identify what style of game a player expects/hopes for by taking a look at the characters they create for that game – especially if you haven’t yet explained what style of game you are planning. (If you have already announced it, they will make the kinds of characters they think will work best with the game, so that’s not much help.) This works best for free-form or character-point systems, where a player has almost complete control over the character creation process.
- If a player creates a min-maxed character with a lot of combat skills/powers and a bare-bones character background, then you can be pretty sure the player is anticipating doing a lot of fighting. Keep in mind that these types of PCs don’t have to be fighters, they could take the guise of wizards with a lot of damage-dealing spells, rogues with tweaked-out sneak attacks, and so on.
- The player who creates a character who’s a bit weak physically, but has a lot of Intelligence/Wisdom /Wits/Perception, is looking for a game with a lot of problem-solving. This may be the standard riddles/tricks/traps of fantasy games, or it may be murder mysteries, or something along this vein. The character may or may not have a lot of character history.
- A player who puts a lot of character creation resources into social skills, and creates a detailed character history, is probably wanting a lot of character interaction.
- A player who practically writes a novel detailing her character’s history, includes lots of angst, saddles the character with several disadvantages/hindrances/flaws, and puts the resulting character points into trivial advantages, is probably looking for plenty of roleplaying drama.
Use this type of analysis to plan the pleasing types of adventures that your players are looking for.
- Pound ‘O Dice Alternative For 6 Siders
From: Mike Christodoulou
One of your advertisements (“A POUND O’ DICE”) may be a good deal for those who need a random assortment of polyhedrals. However, if you’re just looking for 6-siders, you can get about a 240 count for the same price from American Science & Surplus.
Shop there often, as their inventory changes based on whatever they can score at wholesale. I once bought a huge package of one-and-a-half inch “plastic executives”, which are perfect for setting up swarms of agents, bystanders, or any other arbitrary set of characters on the board.
- One Reader’s Filing Cabinet
From: Tyler Elkink
A recent newsletter requested file cabinet tips for gamers, and I have some to offer. I spent five years with a filing cabinet and a heavy gaming schedule, and here’s how my organization worked out.
Top shelf: loose papers. Campaign notes scribbled on loose-leaf, printed handouts, hand-drawn maps, character sheets, etc. The important thing is to organize them by campaign. I used large (9″ X 12″ or so) business envelopes because it was easy to scrawl the campaign name or setting on the front side, and they could hold a copious amount of paper. I used the top shelf because it raised the envelopes to eye level and made flipping through them to find data much easier.
Second from top shelf: books. Rulebooks, supplements, and a few reference materials like Palladium’s guide to modern firearms and the like. They’re low enough here to easily pull out, and high enough to still read the covers while I paw through them.
Third from top shelf: regular supplies. Dice, paper, pencils, screens, erasers, markers, kittens, whatever you regularly use. It’s an easy way to keep track of your supply as well, since you’ll notice you’re getting low on supply X every time you open the drawer.
Bottom shelf: stuff I rarely use, or figures. Sure, I’ll always need to keep my super-awesome mini smoke gun for fog effects, but I won’t need it every week unless I’m running Ravenloft or Vampire or something.
- PC Missions Idea
Here is a way to provide missions within a fantasy setting.
I have started using the idea of a great library for my game. One civilization has a great library similar to the library at Alexandria in Roman times. It’s just as organized as the modern Vatican library. In other words, not at all. There are 1500 years’ worth of collections, and most of it is not catalogued, let alone cross-referenced.
About 75 years ago, one brilliant scribe was poking about and found some data about where a minor treasure was hidden at one time. He was able to convince a group of adventurers to see if it was there and to get it. They lucked out and found the treasure trove.
The adventurers got to keep most of the cash, but none of the books, scrolls and similar data. The scribe got promoted and was able to hire other scribes to help organize the library. It is paid for in part by sending parties out to hunt down things that the library has a lead on. Some are busts, some are very good.
My world is an island world, so the library is fairly far from the adventuring area. The library though has field offices in the major trade areas. Adventurers can contact the field offices for adventures and turn in interesting items that don’t have any intrinsic worth such as books, papers, and such.
A real world example would be the library in London in the 1600s, but having branch offices in Boston, Norfolk, and other major ports in the New World.
A POUND O’ DICE
They are BACK! New updated version of the Pound O’ Dice from Chessex. Now contains a complete set of 7 dice set along with the usual assortment of a bazillion random dice.
So, which weighs more: a pound of feathers or a pound of dice?