Art by Moebius
Sorcerer has Kickers, Hillfolk has Dramatic Poles, Primetime Adventures has Issues, and 13th Age has One Unique Thing which is also used in Jack Shear’s Singular Curiosities. These are all different methods to give characters in games something interesting and to mechanize it.
When you play a game with the intent of making it character focused, you need to ensure each character has a reason we are focusing on them. These aren’t just things a players puts on their character sheet and ignores – these are things that the GM is required to take into account when dealing with the character. It is part of the game!
The games mentioned are already character focused, and already drive a certain style of play. But if your favored roleplaying game is focused on looting and killing, it can be difficult to shift it to be character focused if it’s what your group wants. I suggest looking first at Kickers and then at Singular Curiosities.
A Kicker is a player authored scenario that requires immediate action or reaction and doesn’t have a clean, easy solution. You find a headless corpse in your bathtub; a strange woman hands you something wrapped in cloth and uses your name when telling your to keep it safe; you stumble upon a ornate crate containing carefully worked and expensive looking jewelry; etc. The reason this is particularly useful is that the player is specifically telling you a hook they will bite on.
Singular Curiosities are things that make the character stand out among others and their peers. I have horns on my head; my fists are as deadly as a blade; I am a clockwork automaton in the shell of a woman; etc. Like Kickers, these are things the player is telling you they are interested in and want to see tested in play.
So if you want to try out some character focus in your games, take a look at one or both of these techniques and see if they work for you.