Piggy-backing a bit on yesterday’s Johnny’s Five, one tool that I’ve found useful in fleshing out characters is to ask one question at the beginning of each session and let the players answer it (and answer it myself for NPCs).
The questions are generally “every day” type of stuff, things that have little impact on mechanics (unless you’re playing an RPG that includes mechanics for such things) but really help to establish a character’s personality and mannerisms.
– Does your character drink coffee in the morning? If so, how does she take it? Doe she prefer tea, an energy drink, milk or something else?
– Is your character an early bird or a night owl?
– How does your character dress for work?
– What’s your character’s favorite comfort food?
– What’s your character’s favorite pastime?
– Is your character neat and tidy, a clutter bug, or an outright pig?
– Does your character belong to a particular religion? How religious is he?
Answering these questions not only help to color a character, but also gives roleplaying tips. A character that drinks regular coffee will be satisfied with purchasing it from the local convenience store or street vendor; a character that enjoys a specialty coffee, such as a mint mocha, will need to go to a coffeehouse. Over time, the street vendor/barista and other regular customers may become secondary characters in their own right.
As another example, an early bird might have read the newspaper, gone for a morning jog, and meticulously picked out his attire before meeting the rest of the party for breakfast. A night owl, on the other hand, may show up in whatever was handy and a baseball cap after waking up already ten minutes late.
This is a great technique for players that like to establish their characters during play. One question a session isn’t a big deal, and after a few sessions a character will have a lot of interesting quirks to play off of. Give it a try and see if it improves your game.