I enjoy themed Games. I will have a game that will take on some of the cultural meta-narratives of our world and apply them to my own.
Birthdays of the players often translate as the characters getting a gift in game when the birthday is close to game night, usually by way of a new magic item in fantasy or a price of tech or equipment in a SciFi game. Other holidays such as Christmas or Halloween often result in Games themed to the holiday, much like many TV series do.
Halloween is my favourite to do this with. Partly because it is fun and easy to set the mood with costumes and the spooky nature associated with ghost stories, and partly because I use Halloween to add to the story in ways that makes the game that much more collaborative.
On a Halloween game I allow players to dress as their characters. They are not forced to, yet if they do they get a level worth of experience points – in games that do not use experience points I simply give a character advancement of some kind.
Then I have candy at the table. I suspend the typical inspiration or action points or benefit ship system that the game we are playing uses and supply them with a small chart that matches up to the candies that I have provided. As the player eats the candy, the character gets the benefit. As an extra bonus I always have a candy that provides the player with narrative control. This candy should be explained a bit before hand, it is not a wish, if the player goes too crazy here may be unintended consequences – “ I want to be all powerful.” In this case I would remind the player that this could result in something like the character becoming a lich (a very powerful D&D monster) and thus removing them from the game, are they sure they want to proceed. You don’t really want to eliminate the character from play, so you might find another way, but the ie that you could, should reign the player in a bit. The idea behind this narrative candy is to ive the players the chance to do something extraordinary even beyond what they can already do, “I jump on the back of the giant bat that is swooping down at my comrades and stab it in the back. As it crash lands I simply step off like I had been flying giant bats all my life.” Perfect. “We don’t just find one, but five magic items.” Great! “The lord of the town offers us an old mansion that we can use as our home base, saving us the cost of building one.” YES!
Basically it is a way for the GM to show that they trust their players. You believe in that GM/Player contract you all signed when you decided to roll some dice. Now you get to give them the power to literally do that.
My Halloween games are well known in my groups. They may not remember the overall plot to that story that night, but they def remember the epicness that eating that chocolate ball or oh-henry bar gave them. And that’s the best motivation for a fun I game I can think of.