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.