I have talked a lot about tests throughout this blog, because that is in essence what the game is about. I touched on it in my Chalenge to Combat Challenges, where they are conflict and not just combat.
I have been rewatching old cartoons to get ideas for plots and posts and so forth, and one of those cartoons was Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light. A world where technology works no more and magic has reawakened. A magician challenges all knights, good and evil, to ascend to his sanctuary and he will grant magic to each who survive. You then see various clips of challenges that are faced by the knights.
Those that make it to the top are awarded the ability to transform into animals based on defining actions during the challenge. Strength, cunning, speed, and so forth represented by the animal totems. Could be an interesting approach for a GM to do, as it gives players a personalized reward and makes them feel as if the story was crafted for them.
A varied bonus to some sort of skill or ability could be a mechanical component or, like the example above, a small magical boon like the ability to transform into an animal. You could also use it symbolically, like doing some research on the meaning of specific animal totems or their meaning in dreams and using that in narrative, enhancing their personality. You could even be mythical and have them ‘feel’ the creature when they sleep and have strange dreams or visions akin to the shared empathic link that familiars and animal companions usually share with their masters.
Maybe the boon has more to do with hidden stats like how will NPCs immediately react to them by recognition, or maybe it has a story effect like being ‘chosen’ where certain doors or items mysteriously react to the PC like Stargate with the Ancient gene. If you’re going to do that, make a collection of possible triggers so there are some triggers the PC can’t activate and maybe add in some sort of Rock, Paper, Scissors effectiveness cycle if you want them to have options to combat them. If players have gotten different marks, like the different castes in an Exalted game or the auspices in a Werewolf: the Apocalypse game, then each can act at different times.