Playing with Technology
Technology in Ruralpunk is a mix of futuristic invention and old-time necessity.
Creatures mutated by the Wild Strain feed on a mix of organics and technology. The more advanced the technology, the more appetizing. As a result, technology levels are heavily tied to the level of military protection and thus geography.
The metropolis thrives on artificial creation: synthetic memories, augmented reality, the Feed capturing (and remixing) every moment, self-driving vehicles, artificial cosmetics allowing people to refashion and recolor their body on a whim, even rumors of organic androids.
They are safe behind the military safe zone. The Wild cannot reach them.
Technology fades the further you get away from the metropolis. The suburbs rely mostly on contained or short-range systems: personal cybernetics, room-based virtual reality, and wired electronics.
In rural communities, almost all modern technology has been eaten or ripped apart. People rely on refurbished items from their great grandparents’ generation. Cyberware looks obviously mechanical. Computers are laptop-sized or bigger and usually wired. Walkie-talkies and radios are the preferred forms of communication.
Machines are powered off except when being used. Most towns have a relay tower to connect to the Feed, but there are strict rules about when it can be powered on and for how long. In those moments, people hurriedly log on to download messages, news, and entertainment. This means most communication takes at least a day to reach town. And if a Chimera has been spotted? Towns may go silent for weeks.
People use two strategies to work around the threat of the Wild. First, most machines are wired. As a result, people collect and protect their portable generators. They can plug a plethora of items into it, using it was a central hub that can be powered down and packed up, giving the sense of mobility. Second, tech is built from a jumble of remains, constantly being destroyed and patched with new salvage. The result is often as mixed as its parts: sunglasses that project flickering augmented reality images; headphones that pipe in tinny audio versions of Feed text and video; cyber-legs that run on car parts, requiring gas.
Does [X] exist?
Ruralpunk is a world of futuristic tech. If you imagine it, it can exist. Think about how it can be spliced with older tech or remixed with old gen limitations. Or keep it cutting edge—the Wild will come for it.
How does hacking work?
There are two flavors of hacking: breaking through digital security and overcoming the limits of existing tech.
The first version will only come into play when characters face off with factions from the metropolis who also have elite levels of security. In general, advanced technology is a beacon for the Wild and thus a gamble with death. Unless a character was raised in the metropolis, they usually won’t have the experience or exposure to break that level of security. Characters will need to break through security using special abilities or creative solutions.
The second version is the lifeblood of rural communities. They overcome technological limits on a daily basis. They are the bridge between futuristic and old-gen tech. Most devices are a fusion of the two: a virtual reality machine rigged to a hiking pack for mobility; keyboards fused with augmented reality so you can write digital images that only exist while the town relay station is powered on; decommissioned AI robots rigged with remote controls to turn them into advanced surveillance drones. All of technology in Ruralpunk is about innovating old with new to adapt to the threat of the Wild and lack of access to new devices.
Playing the Wild Strain
The Wild Strain is left purposefully ambiguous so your group can invent details that match the tone of your game. There are only three essential elements: the Wild mutates life in some fashion; these mutants target technology, with more speed and intensity on futuristic tech; and some mutants, called Chimera, have become as intelligent and complex as humans.
The Strain can be painted in a more horror style. Mutations are more grotesque or bizarre. Focus on the way the Wild hunts humanity. The motives of the Chimera remain mysterious, beyond human understanding. Emphasize the Strain Status of players and NPCs, and play up the fear towards human mutations. PCs who use Strain powers may hear whispers of nearby Chimera or dream of joining them.
The Strain can be presented in more fantastical direction. Mutations reflect creatures of mythology or fantasy. The motives of the Chimera make as much sense as humanity; perhaps they even follow a sort of code or formal etiquette players can learn. Position the Strain Status of players as primarily cosmetic. The use of Strain powers may resemble magic or an intuitive art.
The game also has space to weave together elements of horror and fantasy. The effects of the Wild Strain, and its mutants, can reflect the complexity of the characters’ town: just as conflict and caring mix together, some mutant distortions can appear striking or beautiful while others seem strange or scary.
Talk as a group at the start of the campaign about a general tone. Continue that discussion through the sessions, checking in with people’s comfort and enjoyment of the Strain elements.
Pitfalls of the weird
People frequently associate “unsettling” or “weird” with “outside the norm.” This can naturally lead to using images of disability, mental health, or other real-world markers of marginalized groups as “weird” in a hurtful and stigmatizing way.
When your group wants to explore the Wild, try and replace “strange” with “unexpected.” Instead of describing a bear that is hunched, twisted, and limping, think of a bear covered in fish scales and patches of decaying forest. Think about mixing textures, colors, smells, or sounds in unexpected ways.
The Wild Strain has warped all forms of life from plants to animals to humans. The unexpected can take the form of deceptively mundane items being carriers of the Strain: grass with teeth; weeds that speak; or chickens with roots into the ground instead of feet.
Initial sign posts
The group may find it helpful to define a few touchstones for the Wild Strain before you begin playing. As a group, you can answer three questions during the 1st session: