Troubleshooting Spotlight Problems
For applied RPG games to work you need to be able to give every student time in the spotlight- that is, a scene, encounter, or aspect of the game that they get to engage with directly. This is fundamental to any applied RPG work, as it gives the student time and space to develop their skills, and as an applied GM, a chance to assess their growth. The spotlight is an essential tool in any applied GM's toolbox, and skillful GM utilizes spotlight in a way that is not only useful in achieving goals, but rewarding and fun for their players as well, as it gives them a chance to shine, develop their characters, and show off to the rest of the table.
However, when running a larger group, (and sometimes even with a smaller group), managing the spotlight can be difficult. There are players that love the spotlight, players who become anxious when the spotlight turns to them, and players that don't engage when it's their chance. Here are some common ways to deal with spotlight challenges, as well as specific tricks for working with players who struggle with the spotlight.
Maintaining the spotlight in a group without any significant spotlight issues is still important, and some of the best practices include changing up gameplay, using turn based scenarios, and writing material relevant to each player.
Changing up gameplay means identifying where each student has their strength and preferred gameplay type. There's students that love RP encounters, but hate combat, and students who live for puzzle encounters. By switching up gameplay types and encounters to meet each student where they prefer to play, you can increase the chances that everyone will engage with the spotlight. However, be aware of deadzones, that is, areas where none of the students have any interest- Running a combat encounter with a bunch of students who hate combat is likely to result in everyone having a bad time. However, it can be useful in some applied groups, if there's a purpose behind it, such as challenging the students to try something new or engage with something they aren't interested in.
Using turn based scenarios refers to situations like combat, but it can be applied to other encounters as well, such as turn based planning sessions, puzzles, or sports encounters. This ensures that everyone has equity in access to the spotlight, although it's important to keep tabs on players who may spend 10 minutes on their turn, while other players might take 5 seconds on theirs.
Finally, you can work to increase spotlight time by planning a special encounter for each player that you can pull out as needed to build engagement. I've found that players will often give you knives when requested, but failing that, you can often times pull from the character background or recent encounters to create engagement. If all else fails, a goblin creating a documentary that has become enamored with the non-engaging player can prove an excellent motivator.
Next, it's important to look at players who struggle with the spotlight, beginning with the spotlight lovers. These are players who love the spotlight, whether that's in combat, role playing, situational planning, or just table talk. It's very easy to dismiss these players' behavior as detrimental, but they can be incredibly helpful in bringing out more quiet players. When you have a player that loves the spotlight, put them in a situation where they need to engage a less involved player. Interested in having a chance to be in the spotlight, they'll take the bait and work to engage the other players. Another very easy way is to ask the rest of the table, "What do your character's think of that?" The spotlight loving player will immediately want to hear the feedback from the rest of the table.
Next up is the players who, for reasons that may be why they are in the applied group, are anxious about the spotlight. They benefit from situations that they are familiar with, so identifying what they are confident in is particularly helpful, as you can prompt them with those situations. In other times, finding a peer who can help them find their voice is useful, especially if you can use various gameplay elements to increase the urgency of their involvement. Again, the documentary goblin can be very helpful here, as he might try to get the anxious player and a more outgoing player in a group interview. Other times, combat and more mechanically based situations can be helpful, as if a situation requires a more anxious player to use a magical item, or utilize some combat ability, they may feel far more able to do that as it's a highly structured social encounter with little ambiguity.
Finally, there are the players who just struggle to engage with the spotlight. In these situations, the most useful thing is to identify where the challenge is. Sometimes it's anxiety, other times it might be that they're on their phone, other times they may just be confused about the rules and not want to say anything due to shame. Having a side conversation to glean what the concern is can be very helpful in addressing these players' challenges.
Hope these tips on maintaining and troubleshooting the spotlight were helpful. If you have any thoughts on how you use the spotlight, reach out to me on twitter @rollforkindness! Thanks!