Reigning in Mr Spotlight

Recently, I read a blog post about a GM becoming  disillusioned with his campaign because one of his players had increasingly started to derail games in search of personal glory and the other players weren’t stepping up to fight for their own time.

Now, every player wants their PC to feel special and badass but when a single player (henceforth known as Mr Spotlight) begins to selfishly dominate a campaign, it throws off one of my favourite things about tabletop roleplay: co-operative storytelling.

Obviously, the ideal solution would be to sit down with Mr Spotlight and the other players and have an honest, open and diplomatic chat about your balance problems. However, sometimes this simply doesn’t work.

This got me thinking. What if we tried steering into the problem? It’s a bit drastic and may screw up the existing story but it could help to force the other players into taking a more active role.

The big problems are:

1) One player wants their character to be the star of the show

2) The other players aren’t fighting this or contributing to the story equally

So what if we stopped fighting it and embraced the idea of “be careful what you wish for”?

Begin by seeding the adventure story, mentioning that a powerful prince has heard of the party (in particular Mr Spotlight) and wants to hire them for an incredibly prestigious job.

Now, as the party approaches the town where the prince lives, people start pointing and whispering at Mr Spotlight. It appears he’s a folk-hero in these parts. He’s brought into the town in a massive celebratory parade and taken to the prince’s tower, where he’s showered with gifts (which are, unbeknownst to him, totally useless but very impressive looking. They only work through the intervention of the prince’s wizard – see below).

While this is happening, the GM splits the party. The other PCs are treated incredibly rudely and excluded from all celebration. The prince’s wizard could also try to charm Mr Spotlight so that he wants to do whatever the prince says.

Every effort is made by the prince & his court to keep Mr Spotlight happy and with them, away from his party. They could even set up some rigged, bogus enemies for him to “defeat” to keep him interested. For tone, think of the benevolent horror of the Truman Show.

A shady figure meanwhile contacts the other PCs and says that the prince is really evil and oppressive but uses both charm magic and propaganda to keep the populace in line. He wants the unwitting Mr Spotlight on board with him to help with this, since he’s become so famous for his exploits.

Now, the onus is on your other PCs to rescue their superstar party member.

This might not be right for every group, but it could be a fun, in-game way to try and point up balance issues.


My new players’ PCs feel somehow flat, is there anything I can do as a GM?

It’s my opinion that tabletop RPGs should be fun for everyone involved (including the GM!) but the onus should often be on the GM to facilitate that, since they’re generally the one with the most control and experience.

With that in mind, here are a few ideas about how to draw the best out of you inexperienced players.

Idea 1: Back-story

Ask your players to write & email you a short summary of their character’s life so far. It doesn’t have to be long, perhaps 100-150 words and certainly not more than 500 words. Make sure they include things like family members, important mentors, tragic AND joyous events, difficult choices and things they regret.

If possible, it’s always great to get a short summary of what the characters believe in, their morality and their ideals.

Now you have more fleshed out info about the characters, you can start to play with the adventures to cater to/challenge different aspects of their personalities and ideals. This will help the players & characters grow and develop.


I think it’s important that you talk with the players first and get their consent that you’re going to throw in a plot twist regarding their characters. Not all players like other people adding to their characters. If you go ahead without asking and they hate it, it not only makes the session uncomfortable, but will also make them more likely to check out and stop wanting to role-play.

Once you’ve got a player who’s OK with it, though, that’s when you can start to have some fun. Pick a character from their back-story and make up a cool twist that brings their personal life into the story. Some quick examples:

An old mentor/parent-figure of the PC has been indoctrinated into a cult. The mentor will try to persuade the PC to join them. Darth Vader that shit.

On a similar note: The BBEG is the PC’s relative! Again, Darth Vader that shit.

The PC’s home has been razed and everyone/all but one of his family killed. They must now choose between justice and vengeance. Batman that shit.

The PC is actually a sleeper agent for the baddies. They become activated and must fight the urge to be a living weapon. Hawkeye that shit.

The PC’s dead spouse/best-friend was not dead and has been brainwashed.Bucky Barnes that shit.

The PC’s sibling appears with unfinished business from the past. Perhaps the PC left them for dead or “wronged” them in some way. Sabretooth that shit.

That’s just a few ideas but there’s so many more ways you can bring their past into it.

Idea 3: Freaky Friday that shit.

I’ve done this a couple of times to my players to mix things up when they get stale. The adventure starts normally and then when the PCs get into proximity of the McGuffin of the week, they suddenly find themselves in each other’s bodies. The players swap character sheets and the adventure continues but now they must find a powerful sorcerer to get them back in the right bodies.

This can really make for some fun role-playing, even if the characters are a little boring. Suddenly the snooty mage has no magic and is running around as a charismatic bard; the impulsive barbarian is now in a wizard’s body and has the elemental powers of flame. Lots of opportunity for interesting character moments.

Those are just a few ideas for getting a bit more interesting stuff out of standard or one-dimensional characters.

Remember though, although all their character stuff might seem old-hat to you, new players are just finding their feet in the role-playing world and some standard, cliche’d things might be new and interesting to them.

As long as you keep giving them a chance to deepen and open up their characters, they should start to surprise you and bring cool new stuff to the table.

Have your players ever forced you to quickly rework/improvise an entire adventure?

I think the one that stands out in my mind is the time they killed my beautiful, beautiful Ghost Kraken in one fell swoop. Oh, my poor Ghost Kraken…

This was the end of act 1 boss fight in my campaign. The PCs had had it pretty easy up until that point, no big challenging combat, mostly investigation and plot/character roleplay, and I wanted to set them up against something scary to let them know that the story was ramping up and give them a sense of danger.

And so Ghost Kraken was born!

The PCs were trying to free an imprisoned demigod and had been collecting shards of a mysterious crystal (which were actually pieces of the baddie Goddess’ broken heart).

They progress through the demigod’s prison until they get to the final stage: An enormous ocean guarded by a ghostly, castle-sized Kraken.

Now they didn’t actually have to kill the Kraken, just rescue a seagull that represented the demigod which would have led to a skill challenge and some prophetic visions.

But being the blood-thirsty heroes that they were, they decide to take this thing down. It doesn’t go very well for them and half of the party are down to less than 5HP a round later. I’m dropping hints left and right that maybe there’s something important they’re forgetting coughcoughSEAGULLcough.

That’s when the Paladin gets his moment of epiphany.

He grabs the Crystal Shards that they’ve collected and chucks them right into the maw of my lovely monster. Cue moment of complete panic, frantic scribbling, 20 minutes of players laughing their asses off at me and, ultimately, an explosion of calamari as the divine magic of the shards reacts against the anti-divine magic of the prison totally obliterating my big bad scary Kraken.

Oh Kraken…