A few of my friends who like 3.0 and 3.5 edition of DnD think that the idea of playing something like Labyrinth Lord or Swords and Wizardry is too limited. You only get 3 or 4 classes and then a few race-as-class kits to choose from. I tell them that they can create any kind of character background that they want to dream up - but they really want it to be “on-the-sheet” and have some kind of in game effect.
I have been pitching to them the idea of using a background system that would be set up something like the cliche system of Risus or the Aspect system in Fudge/Fate. You would write down a title in the background section and then the GM and you would work through the details. My thinking is that in situations where the background is relevant you would gain a bonus to any check - to roll for secret doors, or to recognize heraldry, et... as long as you can explain to the GM how your background would help you in this situation. The GM could decide how much of a bonus to give. The GM could use these backgrounds for other bonuses or penalties also. I think as a rule of thumb, the more bonuses that a particular background grants the more restrictions or penalties
Suitable example backgrounds for fighter types could include soldier, thief, ranger, barbarian, knight, warlord, archer, rancher etc. Using the thief background in this kind of system would remove the need to create a separate thief class in S&W and S&W White Box. Clerical backgrounds could be interesting as well - maybe your cleric is actually a white wizard? or a witch, or a druid, or a mystic, or shaman? Wizards could come up with catchy titles like necromancer, or elementalist, or mentalist, or the wizard character could come up with some other sage like focus, or astronomer, archeologist (this could also work with the fighter types to create a Indiana Jones type character). I’m thinking that a lot of the “kits” from the humanoid books (the Complete Book of Elves and Dwarves and Gnomes) could also be replicated to some extent with this system.
Anyway, my girlfriend is calling so I gots to wrap this up.... Overall, I think some kind of system like this would give players some extra “on-the-sheet” record of their character background and come with some bonuses (and potentially some penalties also) for use in game. It wouldn’t add much additional complexity that making specific classes does but still keep things fresh game after game.