What makes a good story in a roleplaying game? I do not mean a “railroad-y adventure path” kind of a situation, I simply mean an interesting situation that the party can find themselves in that can organically turn into a story.
One factor in that story telling is our collective human history, legends, religions*, and myths. To make your game world or a particular situation more real, draw from that well! I am not suggesting that a GM needs to have a doctorate in mythology and history, but what I am suggesting is peppering your gaming with a few terms / concepts from the past.
For example, if you have a militaristic society with a highly disciplined army, why not base it on the army of ancient Rome? With a little help from a search engine, I found a list of ranks in the Roman army here. Instead of meeting with a sergeant, your party could meet with a centurion. Suddenly, in the minds of your party, your generic fantasy kingdom is connected to ancient Rome. The party may treat the centurion with a little more respect because they fear the might of the Roman war machine based on the player’s half-remembered knowledge of Roman history. Suddenly, a generic contact or quest-giver is now the representative of a military juggernaut that the characters (and players) do not want to cross. Obviously, you may want to be careful with this if someone in your group is an expert in the field, but adding a little bit of real world-ness to your game world will make it more real to your players.
Here is another example: you want to freak out your players?
Bring out the angels.
There a few descriptions of angels in the Bible, but I want to focus on the description found in Ezekiel 1:4-21 (NASB):
4 As I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire. 5 Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. 6 Each of them had four faces and four wings. 7 Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf’s hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze. 8 Under their wings on their four sides were human hands. As for the faces and wings of the four of them, 9 their wings touched one another; their faces did not turn when they moved, each went straight forward. 10 As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each had two touching another being, and two covering their bodies.12 And each went straight forward; wherever the spirit was about to go, they would go, without turning as they went. 13 In the midst of the living beings there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches darting back and forth among the living beings. The fire was bright, and lightning was flashing from the fire. 14 And the living beings ran to and fro like bolts of lightning.
15 Now as I looked at the living beings, behold, there was one wheel on the earth beside the living beings, for each of the four of them. 16 The appearance of the wheels and their workmanship was like sparkling beryl, and all four of them had the same form, their appearance and workmanship being as if one wheel were within another. 17 Whenever they moved, they moved in any of their four directions without turning as they moved. 18 As for their rims they were lofty and awesome, and the rims of all four of them were full of eyes round about.19 Whenever the living beings moved, the wheels moved with them. And whenever the living beings rose from the earth, the wheels rose also. 20 Wherever the spirit was about to go, they would go in that direction. And the wheels rose close beside them; for the spirit of the living beings was in the wheels. 21 Whenever those went, these went; and whenever those stood still, these stood still. And whenever those rose from the earth, the wheels rose close beside them; for the spirit of the living beings was in the wheels.
Four-headed flying beings with calf hooves? Wheels full of eyes? That is some weirdness to throw into any campaign. That could be the building block of a session that people will talk about for a long time.
* As a person with religious convictions, I will not presume to say which parts of this are history, legend, or myth. I will simply state that whether or not some of these events actually happened, they are embedded into the Western psyche.