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What systems/mechanics have proven most effective at giving each player about equal spotlight-time and enforcing that equality between look-at-me players and 'turtles'? There's a pretty shy player who will be participating in a campaign I'm going to run, and we're also going to have some loud personalities playing alongside them. I am looking for systems that mechanically lend themselves well to having all PCs be solidly enmeshed in the problems and plot of the campaign (possibly some kind of explicit star-of-the-scene rotation system or in-world complication counter) or a specific mechanic that encourages this that could be grafted onto other systems.

Related to this question, but I'm curious if there are crutches out there that could supplement good GM social practices. Obviously there's no substitute for the latter, but I'm interested in what aids are available.

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Scene Budgets are a mechanic used in Burning Empires to enforce equal access to scenes.

Each character gets to participate in a fixed number of scenes per "session". The GM also gets a budget of scenes. The player frames the scene, and may invite other PCs and significant NPCs; the PCs may opt not to participate.

Further, the scene budget system limits how many rolls a character can make, and so it restricts "Mr. Action Man" from dominating a non-combat scene.

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How does this limit a player that hogs social interaction time? – David Allan Finch Mar 29 '12 at 9:48
It limits them by their not being invited into those scenes by others. – aramis Mar 29 '12 at 18:22

There are many mechanisms used to encourage sharing-the-stage in groups. Probably one of the oldest is the native American tradition of the Talking Circle/Talking Stick wikipedia and some modern forms team mascot, ancient tool. I have heard of this approach for some groups - sometimes a small boon is granted by giving up the "stick", other times the GM moves the stick to the player that is empowered to speak.

Another set of modern variants is Meeting Tokens Merlin Mann.

I recall some design work where chips/tokens were given out and "spent" by speakers over time. There were a fixed number (to fit the meeting length) and each person started with an equal amount. You were free to give tokenseconomy to others, but it was your own choice. I'm having problems finding the source though there are papers on the subjectBonieckli2003...

Me? As a GM, combat initiative makes it easy to match my focus to each player in rotation. If things get noisy out of combat, I use the in-game situation to control my attention. And then I give the shy ones a particular situation to 'care' about enough to speak upnarrow spotlight.

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Does anyone else find this superscript style hard to read, compared to normal links? – okeefe Mar 28 '12 at 23:42
Hmm. Maybe I'll just drop in [1] and [2] links... – F. Randall Farmer Mar 29 '12 at 5:40
@okeefe: I think it's kind of cool, actually. – RMorrisey Mar 29 '12 at 14:54

I'm not sure this method counts because it's game system agnostic, but it could still be described as a system.

Here's how I do it. When I'm prepping the game I make sure that each session includes a scene for each character where that character gets to be in the spotlight. In my notes I actually keep a page with some outlines of ideas and next to each heading is the name of the PC that section focuses on.

None of these scenes have to take place and their order isn't set in stone. Instead I deploy the scenes when a player looks bored. If someone isn't involved in the game, his scene gets queued up. Whatever events are needed to make that scene happen will begin transpiring and the bored player is suddenly shoved into the spotlight.

I will readily admit that this works better for some games than others. It worked best in my Game of Thrones campaign because the players were managing a castle and rarely left home. Ravens were bringing in messages constantly. All the NPCs were available. In a dungeon crawl, you'd be harder pressed to come up with excuses to talk to certain players, unless you played in a world where basic sending spells were used in place of text messages.

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A number of games require players to choose archetypes, classes or areas of specialisation for their characters. Then, because certain situations that arise in-game require particular talents, abilities or social roles only posessed by one of those archetypes, the player whose character posesses that archetype comes to the fore.

Admittedly, while such systems ensure that every player at least a little spotlight time, they don't ensure that players get any more than that. Still, that's a decent starting point: Once a quiet player realises that they can contribute something valuable, it becomes easier for them to do so. The quietest player in my first campaign eventually became as vivacious as the others once he realised that he could do stuff without following everyone else's lead...

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My gut feeling is that it is not generally possible as not all people want to pro actively do things, some are only there for the vicarious enjoyment of watching others or being with their mates. One system I have used in the past was to make sure that, I, as a referee go around the room several times in a scene and ask each player if they are doing anything or want to say anything etc. You could formalise this with having a card for each player and use an egg timer on long winded people but I don't see this as personally fun. As a referee you could basis event so that the quieter players suggestion are more likely to succeed but that does not quite seam correct, as the pro active have put more into the game. As a referee you control the game and plot if you want all players to have a chance at the spot light you have to make sure that each session that there is a scene that each character can star in. Players are normally good at spotting these and stepping back to allow the most competent character to shine and increase the chance that the party can overall succeed in their mission.

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There are a few games that do this:

  1. Primetime Adventures, in this game, players take turns setting scenes. In this way, a player can try and grab spotlight or they can set them selves up to support another player in the group...
  2. Remember Tomorrow has a mechanic where each player takes turns setting a scene.
  3. Blowback has a planning stage where each character is given a task on the operation.
  4. Greg Stoltze's ...In Spaaace! game has a mechanic where the more you win, the less influence you have and the more the loser gets influence. this is a way to organically control scene time.
  5. A game in beta called Ensemble is great for this, the player with the least dice gets teh spotlight, but they get an edge in the form of the spotlight dice.
  6. Finally, my game, Steampunk Crescendo also has a system where players take turns setting scene.

Hope that helps,

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The problem you seem to be entering is making sure that everyone gets their "hero" moment, and that all comes down to how you construct the scene. Some of the best ploys to make sure certain characters are the ones to make certain accomplishments involve the back story for each one. Many's the time at a table where someone's said "I know what I would do, but this is your guy/gal's deal" and it adds an edge of excitement for everyone regardless of how short or long the scene is (seemingly).

Another method is to play the old "you got split up" card so that even the rambunctious characters who (un)intentionally step on toes because they get caught in the moment. Get the players divided in a way that their skills apply to their situations and you just need to know when to shunt attention between the two because it allows anyone "off camera" to work out their problems.

In the end, it's all about your illustration and planning as the DM/GM/ST/etc. I might recommend 7th Sea because it is very forgiving about player mistakes without coddling them. In the same token, it might be too rewarding for the outspoken players who end up stealing the scene, but that's why you would refer to the tools above, especially because what languages a player knows can easily change the focus.

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