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?

Campaign Factors
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?

7 replies
  1. Kurt "Telas" Schneider
    Kurt "Telas" Schneider says:

    Giving a little narrative power to the players. Things like Action Points (or whatever you call them) allow the player to better ensure that the things they’re vested in come out the way they want. It’s like insurance against bad die rolls.

  2. John Arcadian
    John Arcadian says:

    That is a really good one. I love to give narrative power to the players and often ask them to describe how they complete their actions. If the dice say they hit, how do they hit. If the dice say they failed to pick the lock, how did they fail.

    Things like action points (fate points/plot points/etc.) definitely empower the players to make those kinds of jumps. I’m glad to see more and more games making use of them.

  3. Hella Tellah
    Hella Tellah says:

    The realization that good games are made up of cool scenes has really changed the way I’ve prepared for my games. I’ve got a Google Doc that I update whenever I get an idea for a cool scene, usually right after I see something awesome in a comic book or an action movie. A sample of ideas stolen from Indiana Jones:

    * Mining cart ride; hop-ons and side-by-side cars.
    * Fight in a crowded market, must avoid hitting civilians
    * Party hog-tied, villain reveals evil plan
    * Party exits a dungeon only to be surrounded by the Evil Dudes, who demand the artifact they just retrieved.
    * In a dungeon full of traps, a red-shirt goes in first and is impaled by spears set into the wall, signaling to the PCs that traps are afoot.
    * A chase through the winding streets of a city (skill challenge)
    * Villains trap the PCs in a dangerous dungeon, only escape is to go through it the hard way.
    * A room where the floor, walls and ceiling are entirely covered with bugs.
    * PCs hire a boat to take them somewhere, but once out on the seas they find out it’s the villains’ boat. They must fight they’re way to freedom and successfully pilot the boat to a harbor. They can try to keep the boat, but the villains will be looking for it.

  4. argokirby
    argokirby says:

    Player narrative is the key to getting players really invested in an adventure and it is those moments that really stand out in their memory.

    Every great story I have about past games are when the DM took a step back and let the heroes lead the story a bit. Its hard to do as a DM (and certainly not something you can do all the time), but when an opportunity arises to allow the heroes be in charge, let them!

    One great way to really start the a campaign off with a feel of player involvement is by using Group Character Creation, and I really liked the article that was posted originally on Treasure Tables and reprinted here.

  5. age
    age says:

    Very interesting article and comments. We get a lot of memorable gaming moments but they are GM narrative driven, based on just the roll results or decisions of the players. I definitely think the game would be enhanced by asking the players to narrate the results. I’ll give it a try at our next session.

  6. Omnus
    Omnus says:

    Another point that can help create a memorable gaming moment can be the juxtaposition of what is expected versus something new. For instance, take an adventure where the players are up against a tribe of kobolds (common gnome foes). The players groan when the DM illuminates the adventure, saying things like “Kobolds? One hit and they’re dead! Where’s the adventure?” Then you spring a trap and tactics-fueled nightmare upon them that leaves them shaking and fearing for their characters’ very souls. I bet if you Google “kobold nightmare” you’ll get several stories just like I’m talking about. These kind of things can shake jaded players out of their comfort zone a bit, which can lead to a memorable night.

  7. Kurt "Telas" Schneider
    Kurt "Telas" Schneider says:

    Omnus: My players groan when I pull out Kobolds, but out of fear, not boredom… Those online tales of Kobold nightmares definitely inspired me.

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