For all the times that I have run a game, it is never a full campaign that is talked about after the fact, but the individual moments that make the characters shine. When Sun the warrior battled the mythic beast in one on one combat, or when Quincy, Harq, and Rikana broke into the banking guild, teleported out, blamed Merrix D’Cannith and turned the Lord of Blades against him. So what inspires moments like this?
A lot of GMs would like to think the design and details of their campaign inspire these moments. In some cases this is true but it depends on how much the players connect with the world. That usually depends on how much the world setting bends to meet them. When it comes down to it, the game being played is about the players at the table. A big background detail isn’t necessarily important unless it affects the party. Some players love to pour through campaign books or grill the GM about details of a homebrew world, but often the world has to be built around the party. This doesn’t mean that the GM should build everything around the party. That would be a very singular setting indeed and half the fun of being the GM (for me at least) is to get ingrained in the details of a world.
Greasing The Wheels: Make the world geared to the characters that are actually interacting with it. If there is an archduke plotting in the background to some nefarious purpose, it doesn’t really matter if it doesn’t greatly affect the player’s characters.
Wow I’m so cool!
A lot of players just love to have cool moments for their characters. They want to make their mark on the game. So long as this doesn’t push others out of the spotlight this is a great thing. Inspired and energized players can bring up the fun level for everyone. When players keep trying to put their characters in the spotlight, it is because they want to see their character do something cool.
Greasing The Wheels: Provide a moment keyed to the character. Some challenge that only their abilities can overcome, and in doing so they get to prove how incredible their character is. Don’t forget the rest of the party though. Once one person has a spotlight moment, others usually want one as well.
Thrill of Action/Great Narrative
One of my coolest gaming experiences was acting out a one on one battle against a creature with the GM of the game. We mimed how the attacks went, threw in some cinematic description, and we captivated the other players. It was more than just dice rolling and it was better than numbers and stats while not taking away from the mechanics of the game. Having a great action scene like that play out is something that we keep talking about to this day. The action doesn’t have to be combat. It can be whatever type of action the players enjoy engaging in. Chase scene, negotiations, unique NPCs, internal conflict, kicking the door in and killing the monsters, etc.
Greasing The Wheels: Getting players into narrative descriptions and invested in the ACTION of the scene isn’t something that needs to be written into the game, it merely needs to be layered in by the Game Master AND the Players. It has to fit the desired style of play. Giving a character free reign to describe how their attack deals damage, or how their character grandly enters the room, etc. is a good way to do this.
There are an endless number of factors that can inspire a cool gaming moment and these few examples just skim the surface. The best advices I can think of for ANY GM is that the game being played has to make these kinds of moments accessible to the players. So what other cool gaming moments have you come across? What inspired the moment?