What makes a game session, regardless of what game you’re playing, memorable? Is it winning? Is it the newest bit of loot? Is it turning an impossible situation your way? Why do we continue to play games as we get older?

The obvious answer is “Fun!” That’s why we remember game sessions and continue to play. This begs the deeper consideration of “What is fun? How do we define it?”

Obviously, the specifics will vary from person to person and group to group. That said, I think we can agree on the idea that the most memorable gaming moments have their genesis within deviations from expectations. Basically, these moments occur when our expectations are that A leads to B while E leads to G when suddenly C becomes F instead. And we see this most often from folks new to a game.

We’ve all experienced the well-meaning (or not) player who gives all the reasons why your plan, strategy or concept simply won’t work or is wrong for the game. Most of us have replied with “Why not?” and continued on. Sometimes, we’re the well-meaning player trying to guide the new player into a “smart” choice.

Exhibit A: A bandit/assassin came after our PCs; this group consisted of three adults with plenty of RPG experience and two mid-teens with limited to nil experience. Scaling a tree, this bandit starts taking potshots at us. Our bows and crossbows don’t work (the dice hated us). Spells were a no-go (1<SUP>st</SUP> level spells were not helpful). Climbing was an exercise in frustration since the bad guy stayed just beyond reach.

We experienced players were at a loss and brainstorming various ways of getting that bugger down where we could get our hands on him. One of the teens was in the tree after this guy. This same young man had made the case for an atypical piece of equipment at character creation – the crowbar.

What did this character do with said crowbar? He scaled the tree to the branch just below the bad guy, who now couldn’t use his bow effectively. He shimmied far enough along the branch that it started to bend slightly. He stood (thank you successful Acrobatics check), reached up with the crowbar, hooked it around the branch the bad guy was standing on, and pulled. Down came the bandit (thank you failed Acrobatics check).

We “knowledgeable” players were dumbstruck. The GM was dumbstruck. How could we not have seen the potential uses beyond prying doors open (we had a rogue for that) and improvised weapon (didn’t want the -4 for that) a crowbar was capable of providing? Well, because we weren’t in that stage of gamer development that mixes a basic understanding of the rules and a fresh outlook on what’s possible within those rules. Voilà! The anecdote of unexpected use/results made its way into our “Memorable Gaming Moments” database.

And it’s not just people who are new to a particular type of game. Sometimes, it’s a person without a complete understanding of how a particular something works, like how mixing a grain silo with flame is akin to setting off a nuc. See Exhibit B.

Exhibit B: D&D 3<SUP>rd</SUP> ed. had just hit the shelves and yoinked a goodly chunk of our budget out from under us. In the Monster Manual was this wonderful template called “Half-Dragon.” Now, I enjoy playing a powerful character that’s difficult to take out so the half-dragon template was of interest to me. I’m also a concept player, in that I want my characters to have a backstory that lives and breathes in the world the group is playing in. That means my elf/red half-dragon had a reason for being the witch that she was; her mother’s village kicked her out because she couldn’t keep a lid on her red draconic temper which left her acting too often without forethought for the village Elders’ comfort. What this equates to is an impulsive, quick to anger, chip on her shoulder character. Who also happens to be immune to fire and capable of making her indigestion someone else’s problem.

She wandered the world trying to find her place in it; she did not want to be tyrannical or a sociopath, so she was in the process of reconciling and controlling her instincts to fit within society’s expectations. She came upon a farming community with vermin and slaver problems. She checked out the grain storage areas only to chase a bad guy into one of the silos…

I’m a smart person. I’m absolutely clueless about farming, though, despite having extended family members who still reside on working farms. It never occurred to me that fire plus grain storage equals massive fireball was a possibility until my husband, who was GMing, asked what would happen to the silo after my half-dragon breathed fire at the slaver trying to climb to a ledge in an effort to get out. Oops. Thankfully, my character was immune to fire by virtue of her nature. Unfortunately, the slaver, the silo, and her equipment were not. Another “Memorable Gaming Moments” entry became part of the database as the smoking elf/half-dragon dazedly stumbled into the village without so much as a stitch remaining and the fields burned in the background.

Sometimes it’s the nature of the game that requires entry into our group’s collective memories. When the dice roll particularly well, or particularly poorly, those stories remain long after the full story fades.

Exhibit C: The same half-dragon met up with other half-dragons of various types. Read – Gaming group got larger. A new player decided he was going to play a sibling to my character, only with a worse attitude than she had. This caused a great deal of angst between the two characters since mine had already started her personal evolution into a calmer, more stable personality.

In any case, the characters routinely argued about everything from setting watch to problem solving to whether or not diplomacy should be an option. They finally…finally…agreed to work together when the group tracked a green dragon to its lair after being hired to take care of the problem. The sibling was a centaur/red half-dragon, so he had wings and could fly. My elf did not. We decided, since he could fly and was effectively a quadruped to boot, she could ride him and use her great axe to fabulous effect. The dice hated that idea.

Everything went off swimmingly. She mounted; he took off; they chased the dragon around the cavern. Their weapons were ready to go. He swung and missed, so it was up to her. The great axe was cocked back, and she let loose a powerful swing. The GM ruled I had a chance to hit the centaur/half-dragon, but only on a 1. Ok, makes sense. I started shaking my favorite d20.

Everyone at the table yelled “Don’t roll a 1!” I rolled a 1. *facepalm* The GM ruled I now had to roll to see if I actually hit or if I simply sent my great axe a little too close for comfort. I looked at the player, who happened to be my sister’s fiancé. He wasn’t quite pouting, but he was close. I reminded him I could still miss since he had natural armor and all that. He nodded. I shook my favorite d20 begging it to roll under 10. Everyone yelled “Don’t roll a 20!”…

It’s amazing to me how attached we get to our characters sometimes. It’s almost as if they are an extension of ourselves, and that may play a role in how we decide to add anecdotes to our group’s collective memories. Back to the story…

Of course, since the table cursed my die, I rolled a 20. The damage was enough to send the flying centaur into unconsciousness, which caused the centaur and elf to fall like rocks to the stone floor below. The fall was enough to kill the centaur. My elf was smart enough/lucky enough to surf the centaur down and took moderate damage instead of dying on impact. Yes, the GM, my husband, rolled the dice in the open for all to see in order to keep equanimity at the table.

Many, many items make it into our collective anecdotes, and this process and sharing serves as the thread and glue that holds our community together. What stories do you have that made it into your group’s Memorable Gaming Moments database?