Troika is an RPG I'm writing. A revision of first edition Advanced Fighting Fantasy mixed with the Planescape I imagined existed when I only owned a couple of books for it.
It turned out my imaginary Planescape was more exciting than the generally stodgy fare we ended up getting. The early books hinted at vast worlds of weirdness, but then every writer who came after tried their hardest to stomp it into boxes, to categorise and order everything. Labels everywhere, nothing felt far away or mysterious. If you wanted an answer you just needed to buy their next book for it to be explained in painfully uninspired detail. Harumph!
So, ambient story telling. No essays on the definitive categories of demons, just rules and gaps to be filled. Every character made in Troika gets a random background like the two below:
Temple Knight of Telak the Swordbringer
You were once a fanatical monk, set to maintain constant martial readiness in preparation for the end times when all doorways crumble inwards.
The blessing of Telak
6 weapons of choice, kept in pristine condition and carried at all times
(Telak will withdraw his blessings otherwise)
Suit of scale armour
Traditional skull plate, affording you excellent vision for watching out for the end of days
3 in three fighting skills of your choice
Miss Kinsey’s Diner’s Club
All dining experience is open to them, nothing is forbidden at Miss Kinsey’s. Try the other, other, other white meat.
Sharp metal dentures (damage as sword) OR forked metal dentures (as knife, but on a critical you may cleanly strip all the flesh from one small appendage) OR blunt metal dentures, for crushing (as knife)
2 Trap Knowledge
They're packages, taking away the un-fun hassle of buying skills or making important decisions in a setting that is terribly vague until contact is made. Empirical campaign knowledge only, mechanical knowledge taken out of your hands. Each background gives the player a point to work from, immediately encourages fun (rather than un-fun) decision making on how they interact with the world. They can decide how Miss Kinsey's Diner's Club functions just by rubbing their character against the world. If the GM comes at it with no great vantage point they end up building in the gaps as much as the player. Which is exciting.
What's more, my Diner's Club and others' will differ greatly. It's not pinned down by essays and rules. We know they are stronger than average, they're good at tracking and trapping, and they all have weird mechanical teeth. Why they have these and how they use them is implied broadly enough for the player to come at it however they fancy.
Prompts are powerful and useful. Once there are a couple of hundred of these you'll have a broad spectrum of what the game world is about. We can use sections of it and form our knowledge from just those pieces, triangulate a bit of game world for ourselves without labouring under a weight of words. More is there for you if you want it, and every point you add multiplies the possible interactions between them, until eventually you finally have something that is very much your own. A wider planescape.