Your principles are your guides. Often, when it’s time to name a consequence, you’ll already have an idea of what makes sense. Consider it in light of your principles and go with it, if it fits:
Show what they love, and make them choose
Listen for what excites your players and how they want to invest their time and favors. Notice when they describe a situation or action with more detail. This will give you hints to what your players care about most. Also pay attention to what their characters care about: their contacts, their downtime actions, their rebellion, how often they uphold or break the team’s ideal. Know what makes the most “sense” mechanically for the team, e.g. to make an employer happy, to avoid conflict with a high tier faction. When consequences begin to build, take two of these things, and make the player choose which they prioritize.
Always make sure the conflict makes sense in the narrative, and when you can, threaten the characters with a loss of something they value instead of only threatening with danger.
Keystroke hates it when people patronize her. She also really cares about being taken seriously in this town. The GM introduces a venture where the team is asked to help a cowardly and patronizing Contact. He ignores and talks down to Keystroke more than any others. She has to make a choice: finish the task and help this slimeball, or teach him a lesson and hurt her reputation.
Tempt them with easy success...at the cost of selling out
As the threats close in and problems mount, offer the characters a clear way out—all it will take is betraying their team ideal or exploiting someone who is less powerful than them. Never paint the characters into a corner where they have to sell out, but tempt them with it at every turn. Life is easier for the corrupt. See if you can get the characters to take the bait.
Complicate their ideals
Ideals are written in absolutes . . . and absolutes are the way to zealotry. Show the players all the shades of grey around their ethics. Even well intentioned actions can cause unintentional harm.
The team decided to take the protest ideal with the trigger “speak truth to power.” When they see some soldiers bullying an isolated mutant, they step in and tell the soldiers to back off. The Broker makes a rousing speech to sway the crowd to their side, but she rolls a 4, earning a consequence. The crowd rallies to her side, but a few members of the crowd take the protest to the extreme, and start rioting.
Paint the world with color
Give every location its own color. When you reveal a new location, choose a color theme. Describe the scene first in terms of physical color, then add in a vivid detail or two. Since you create the world collaboratively, you want to show the players an inspirational canvas with open spaces for them to add their own details.
The team is sneaking into the abandoned park warped by the Wild Strain. This is the first time the group has explored outside their town.
The GM builds the canvas: “You have reached the top of the cement barrier and see the park stretch out before you. The scene is a mix of intense red and blue that hurts your eyes. The land is a bright red dirt, flat, stretching out as far as you can see. At the horizon it meets a line of bright blue sky. You can see only a few scruffy plants, short, spikey, and dusted in red dirt.”
Give each NPC a fire and a shadow
You will not completely flesh out every NPC the character meets, but try to note down two core traits: the fire that inspires them, and the shadow they fear. These two elements will provide hooks for the PCs as they form the core motivations of the NPC. When an NPC feels more comfortable or strong, they will act on their ideals, feeding the fire. When an NPC feels threatened or insecure, they will act to avoid their shadow, sometimes taking extreme measures to destroy or escape what they fear. This balance will help you fit each NPC to a range of moods: lean into the hopefulness of their fire when you want to lighten the mood, and explore the fears in their shadow when you want to darken it.
Dahlia is a Contact and the town’s Champion role. I decide that Dahlia’s fire is focused on community. This fire inspires goals to improve commerce in the neighborhood and protect them from the corrupt corporation trying to buy up all the local real estate. Dahlia’s shadow is exposure. They are related to an infamous criminal who dumped active Wild Strain into the town water supply to see “what would happen,” causing the worst of the town’s mutations. They will do anything to hide these familial connections.
Give each action a context
The fiction comes alive when you ground it in the world. You can use this grounding to fill in small details about the setting as you go. The PCs struggle to sneak into the warehouse because they are swarmed by neon-purple fireflies; the car chase is during an eco-protest; their Contact describes the task they need completed inside an AI graveyard; the corporate office stinks of incense that amplifies the Feed advertisements all around. The world is alive and changing around the PCs; place their actions inside that larger canvas. Rather than dump world building on the players, develop it gradually through the details that surround their actions.
Ask questions and use the answers
Part of playing to find out what happens is explicitly not knowing everything, and being curious. If you don’t know something, or you don’t have an idea, ask the players and use what they say.
This can focus on the players’ actions (“What do you do?”), the world around them (“What do you see?”), and the attitudes running through the town (“What do you/they think of this?”).
Whenever you describe a conflict, consequence, or new location, end with a question for the players.
Be a fan of the players
Find out what the players want from their story and ways to engage those desires. Think of the players’ rebellion as the protagonist of the story. Cheer for their resistance and empathize with their selling out. Do not confuse the grimness of the world with a need to punish or defeat the players; you give them obstacles so their victories can be even more dramatic. When you describe the world’s corruption, do so to give the group an adversary to rally against, not to make the world seem dark for the sake of darkness.
Since Ruralpunk is about the team, community, and resistance against society, this may or may not be the same as being a fan of the characters. Take your lead from the group’s goals. If your group is strongly invested in the struggles and triumphs of their individual characters, focus the story in on the characters as the protagonists. But if the group is more interested in their neighborhood or the team’s legacy, they may be less invested in heroic moments for their PC and more interested in the larger faction politics. Maintain an ongoing conversation with the group about their interests, and adjust as you go.
Think in generations
The town and the PCs operate in the shadow of past generations. Bring this sense of time into the game when appropriate. If players used the life-path system for character creation, ask them how their past complicates the present. Have Contacts bring up their parents or grandparents life-paths.
When you paint the scene, layer on details from different lifetimes. The town may not use its water tower anymore, but maybe a local gang turned it into a party spot. When the PCs venture into the Wild, describe hints of the buildings that once stood there.
And when you think about character motivations, don’t be afraid to reach into the distant past. Maybe a Contact cares about recovering that trunk from the Wild because their grandma used to talk about it. Maybe the fight today was about a misunderstanding two generations ago.
Time is not linear in this game. When it makes sense, use a flashback that shows events from years, or even lifetimes, before. Back before the Wild. Back before the corporation monopolized the economy. Back before everyone got sick from factory waste. Every immediate need is shaped by past decisions...and consequences.
Begin and end with the fiction
Everything you and the players do comes from and leads to fictional events. When the players take action, apply the rules, and get a fictional effect. When you make a roll it always comes from the fiction and propels the fiction.