If you are looking for new ways to infuse a sense of unexpected to your tabletop, let me suggest that you use placemats with artistic patterns that slightly vary from one placemat to the next. You can draw the patterns or look for the French design placemats.
48 heures is a collection of trompe-l’oeil illustrations that suggest a finished meal where they was good food and lots of wine. These will certainly grab the attention of your guests. I suspect that it will probably be a conversation starter.
Tailored to Each Guest
Another example is the Bella Maniera series. The idea to steal here is to design a placemat that fits the personality of each guest. Mr. & Mr played with the theme of Leonardo da Vinci’s The last Supper for their Bella Maniera collection. They design 13 placemats; each one corresponds to Jesus Christ and his apostles.