The surprising system was Masks, which I’ve been playing a lot of lately, and would like to play a lot more of (time permitting). As mentioned before, I’m really not a fan of games with playbooks that lock you into a certain range of characters. What Masks did with (most of) their playbooks is to make those character classes vague enough to allow interpretation, and not to tell me how the character is played, but why. The playbooks come with a dramatic struggle, not a power set, and that’s cool. They do come with suggested powers (e.g. web slinging for the very-clearly-Spiderman-inspired Janus), but as long as you realize you can ignore or change those, the whole system is awesome. There are other Masks player who disagree with me on how broadly you should be able to read a playbook, but that’s fine.
The surprising campaign was a game called Turning Tides, run in the World of Warcraft universe by my then-roommate and including people I knew personally. We played using the D&D Warcraft rules until about 4th level, but then switched to GURPS, and it was amazing. I thought the game was going to be a typical “heroes quest through WoW” D&D type deal with attrition and whatever, but it turned into this sprawling save-the-world mission with characters who legitimately grew, changed, influenced the world around them, died (or were already dead) and came back to life, rubbed elbows with the leaders of the world, irritated the powerful, concocted mad schemes and saw them to fruition, and just generally had a blast outwitting or outmaneuvering the forces arrayed against us. It was all the best stuff that I’ve been told to expect from “old-school” (read: classic D&D) gaming, but it took us getting away from the D&D rules to achieve it.