There is also the option to shift gears on your game play and character development. Multiple 'stages' that the player can advance through, rather than just sticking within a single narrow line that makes you feel like nothing has really changed from the start of the game beyond the numbers are higher and special effects are a little prettier.
It can also work really well with procedural content generation tie in.
You would start at an 'errand boy' game play. You are low level, given assignments by someone else and play on a fairly short leash. Maybe you are a member of a party, but you're the lowest of the low. As you develop more skills and abilities you can get the chance to make more and more decisions, and eventually you split off into the second stage: "Adventurer/party leader"
You are calling the small time shots. A few people will follow you, you can offer some influence on other groups (ie, telling the towns people to arm themselves and barricade their families in the castle, or convincing them to stand out and fight along side you.), and you can make your choices in what direction you want to take in "life". (ie, you head off to find the dragon to slay, or stay close to town to deal with local thieves and bandits, etc.)
Second stage is about exploring the world, gaining wealth, power, fame, etc. You begin to build contacts, collect assets, and build a history for yourself. Second stage advances into the third stage: Community.
Community stage: Eventually your character puts down roots. They get some bit of land or use of a building to call their own. Maybe they'll choose some kind of industry to generate wealth for them, or just a place to call home. The game will begin to cycle the 'story' around this location, presenting challenges and such to the player to deal with, and opening avenues for them to build more wealth and power in their chosen community.
Noble Stage: Eventually you begin to gain enough wealth and power that you can begin really calling the shots. Your choices and decisions have wide ranging impacts. You pull back from doing everything yourself, and instead are sending others to do the dirty work you started with.
Combine these elements with a generational or 're-roll' persistent world play as you have in Dwarf Fortress, and I think you have something that could be really interesting to play. A lot more to the development due to basically combining RPG, Builder Sim, and possibly Empire Strategy game, but I think it can be made far more engaging than many existing linear RPGs.