The key to a good story is having invested players. Game Masters can devise sprawling adventures and intriguing mysteries, but without the player commitment there’s little hope of the story taking off. Naturally this makes the job of the GM that much more involved. Not only does the Game Master have to concern themselves with interesting plots, challenging encounters, diverse treasure, etc., but now attention must be spared to individual investment. And with such a variety of player personalities, this can be a tricky task. However, it is within these "spotlight moments" that the players/characters can actually ease the storytelling burden of the GM.
In larger groups, making room unique character spotlight may be challenging. If possible, each and every character at the table needs to have a fully developed personality and the opportunity to shine during the course of the adventure. The same goes for the NPCs (non-playing characters) as well. If a character is involved in the story, then they need to be an active part of that story. Otherwise, what’s the point? They’re window dressing at best. Facebook posts about food. New Year’s Resolutions. Nipples on the Batman suit. Useless. However, if the GM encourages player interaction, asks thought-provoking questions, and gives a good prod,the players themselves can do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to story-telling.
One easy means of doing this is to press the question "why?" when players make statements about their characters. The reason behind actions may not be clear at the gaming table simply because the player hasn't actually considered the motivation behind that action. Simple questions like this can help create a creative atmosphere of character development.
Furthermore, everyone at the table may have a chance to contribute elements of a story by allowing time at the table for "in-character" discussions. Its up to the GM at this point to figure out if some of the conjectures, theories or wild haris are more interesting than the adventure already being hatched.
If the GM is going to provide this opportunity to shine, then the GM must know both the players and the characters involved. Adventures should be planned that allow for the character spotlight. Don’t let your alpha player run the table, and don’t be afraid to throw in the unexpected curveball. Having the opportunity to shine, doesn’t always mean things will have a positive outcome. Some of the best character moments in my games have been the result of catastrophic, unexpected, or hilarious failures. These are the moments that build character, and the characters carry your story.
Years ago one of our most fearsome warriors utterly failed an Agility check while crossing a narrow bridge over a chasm. This led to an innate fear of heights brought to life by the player and became a factor in how the warrior was played from that point forward--a choice made by the actual player. This led to some truly entertaining moments in the game as this 6'6 giant of a man nearly cried like a schoolgirl anytime bridges were mentioned. Recently, in what should have been a quick “in and out” adventure scenario, a character made a critical miss on an attack roll. The scene was devised for his shining moment, but the dice had other intentions. Other characters were forced to step in and act, which resulted in a game-altering scenario that forced party members to work together in new and unexpected ways. Bonds were formed due to this, and although it was the seeming failure that brought about these events, the story itself was quite a success. This success was in no way mine. It was a collaboration of everyone there because the story was being molded in-play by everyone involved.
To really provide the opportunity for character growth within the context of a story, I think it’s worth the effort for GMs to try and run small games in addition to the larger 4-6 player games. Obviously the scope of a two person adventure will have to be scaled down, but having an intimate game like this will really encourage players to think about their character actions and the motivations behind those actions. If your NPCs are getting lost in the shuffle of a big game, this is also a chance to break them out of their shells. Developing bonds between players and NPCs can be a rewarding part of any tabletop story, so don’t sell yourself short. In these scenarios GMs will be surprised by how naturally players step up to the plate when it comes to story creation.