We’ve spent a great deal of time in this space telling you that D&D is, first and foremost, about fun. It’s a social experience you enjoy with your friends, or at the very least with people with whom you share this common interest. You get to use your imagination, engage in a shared storytelling experience, eat junk food, and tell lots of inappropriate jokes (maybe that last one’s more my personal experience, but none of this is new to you if you’ve played D&D).
Of course, it’s easy to have fun in a D&D game when the attention is on you. Good DMs take opportunities to create adventures around a single character. And this is awesome. Whenever I’m in a campaign that does this, I feel more involved, more interested, and more immersed in the game and the action when my character is in the spotlight. In addition to your character leveling up through XP, your PC also gets to level up in personality as his or her personal issues are resolved (or not).
But what happens when your storyline concludes and the party moves on to pursue the agenda of another adventurer? After all, we can’t always expect the DM’s personal and undivided attention on our character’s personal life story. This is a cooperative experience, and nearly every player should receive some of this attention.
When the focus inevitably shifts, how do you stay involved? This came up recently in our game. We’d just spent an adventure focusing on my character’s backstory and reached a conclusion… of sorts (with Chris Perkins’s game, there’s rarely a true and final resolution to anything… but that’s another editorial). Now we’re off pursuing an adventure tied directly to Rodney Thompson’s avenger.
I’ll be the first to confess: I could feel my attention shifting gears as we made this transition. It’s not like I was losing interest, hooking up my iPod mid-game and checking in just long enough to toss the odd d20. I knew the adventures would still continue to be fun and engaging. But I recognized that I was taking a back seat in the story. And you know what? It was a little tough to adapt.
Rather than get on my pity-potty (as my mom would say), I cowboyed up. I remembered that throughout the previous weeks, Rodney, and by extension, his character Vargas, had shown nothing but support as my character took center stage. I wanted to return that favor. I started to think about how Deimos, my PC, would react to his buddy being in need—just as I would try to do in the real world. When one of my friends needs a hand, I’m there to schlep a couch or give a ride to the airport.
So I’ve decided to make Rodney’s quest my own. It’s not that I want to steal his moments; far from it. But our characters are lifelong friends. It makes sense that Deimos would be intimately concerned with those things that his friend would focus on. I’m making his villains mine, I’m embracing his goals. And now, I find myself looking forward to each session as much as I did a few weeks back. I want to see how Vargas comes out of this, how he changes, and how Rodney plays those changes at the table. Things came to a head last night, and Chris left us at a cliffhanger as Vargas must now make an incredibly difficult choice. (Chris will have more of that in his Io’mandra blog and wiki, so stay tuned there.)
I can’t wait for next week so I can see where Rodney wants to put his couch.
What about you? How do you deal with the spotlight being on individual players? Do you enjoy those opportunities when the light is on you? If you run a game, how do you make sure you split your attention among all the players equally? Or do some of your players prefer to avoid that attention? Send your comments and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.