What Is DifferentThis time around I've added a "One Special Thing" rule for character creation. Stolen directly from Monte Cook's Numenera, the idea is that the player can include a statement about their character from its inception which is, at least in some respect, true! Imagine! Self-determination in RPGs! What's next, diceless combat?!?!
Now that's not to say that they can go nuts. "I am the TRUE king!" will most likely get you locked up, shipped out of town or hanging from a gibbet, but... what if it's actually true? Interesting plot twists in there for the DM to fiddle with, eh? Or what if it's not but some significant NPCs happen to believe it to be true? Or some nefarious nobleman's plot can make use of this deluded fool's belief in his own royal blood?
For example one of the players chose to be from a disgraced aristocratic family. I was able to work that into my skeleton setting and expand on it to create a living segment of the game that tied directly into that character's story and thus into the player.
Another player chose to be, ahem, a KOBOLD ROGUE. For some DMs this is ground for instaneous thermonuclear TPK, but I rolled with it. The kobrog's "One Special Thing?" He (she?) is a dragonborn ("Whatever that is!") in service to Bahamut, and is merely awaiting his full maturity to inherit his full set of abilities.
True or not, it's true to the character, and it just so happens I've got something for such a character to do; a task, a hook that ties in well to this character's stated need!
So far this has been a win-win tool; allowing me to further develop the setting in which the players find themselves while simultaneously engaging them and their vision for their characters.
This has actually inspired me to develop encounter tables based on the same plot hooks. Thus I will have a "special" entry on any random encounters that will prompt a separate roll which ties into the hooks either directly or indirectly; a random encounter with a wounded dragon, a fugitive uncle from the disbanded noble family, a group of witch hunters seeking anyone wielding Conjuration spells? Or maybe the next time I roll up some lame encounter like "herd animals" I'll plop one of these into play.
The juices are flowing...