PCs in Ruralpunk have a special reserve called stress. They can use stress to influence the action in three main ways: through flashbacks, pushing yourself, and resistance. If you fill your stress tracker, however, you must make a sacrifice and gain a new belief.
The game thrives on action, which means moving the narrative past the more static moments of a venture, like conducting extensive research or preparation for every possible challenge. While the characters might invest in such prep, as players we only show it when it becomes relevant.
Time is not restricted to a linear path. Players can declare a flashback at any point during play. A flashback pauses the present timeline and shifts gameplay back to a previous moment. In the past, PCs undertake specific actions that will influence the present timeline. Since the timeline is irrelevant to play, mechanically past actions play out exactly like present ones. PCs identify obstacles, describe their actions, and roll the appropriate action to determine the outcome. When the action is done, skip back to the present timeline, knowing that those past actions will influence it.
Triggering a flashback costs stress equivalent to the complexity of the past goal.
As you can see, flashbacks that would be a routine or simple action cost no stress. The team loses nothing by skipping over legwork and only moving back in time when it becomes relevant. This mechanic balances out because calling a flashback does not mean the PCs automatically achieve their goal in the past; past actions are treated the same as present ones, with the same level of risk.
2. Pushing Yourself
You can use stress to push yourself for greater performance. When you push yourself, take 2 stress. For normal actions, add +1d to your dice pool. For special abilities, pushing yourself can add +1d, or some special abilities will grant an extra effect. If this is the case, it is listed in the ability description. For example, the Mutant Strain’s Blur ability lets them move to an unblocked location instantly, but they can also push themselves to move past a barrier.
The majority of actions will cause consequences. You can minimize the impact of these consequences with stress. While a resistance roll cannot eliminate a consequence (you need to overcome limits for that), it will reduce the severity.
When your PC suffers a consequence you don’t like, you can choose to resist it. The player proposes how the PC reacts and how that decreases the consequence’s impact. If the GM accepts the proposed reduction (or offers a different one), that change is automatically successful. Then, the PC makes a resistance roll to see how much stress your character suffers as a result of their resistance.
You make the roll using one of your character’s attributes (Cortex, Meatbod, Ego, or Mastery). The GM chooses the attribute, based on the nature of consequences:
Your character suffers 6 stress when they resist, minus the highest die result from the resistance roll. So, if you rolled a 4, you’d suffer 2 stress. If you rolled a 6, you’d suffer zero stress. If you get a critical result, you also clear 1 stress.
A resistance roll reduces the severity of a consequence. If you were going to be thrown off the moving train, for example, a resistance roll would make it so you’re thrown off the side but grab onto the side railing to keep from falling all the way to the ground.
You may only roll against a given consequence once.
In desperate situations, or times you are severely outmatched, the GM may also threaten several consequences at once, then the player may choose which ones to resist (and make rolls for each).
“She grabs the backpack of medical supplies and then leaps off the train. You’ve lost the supplies and the opportunity to catch her.”
“I’ll resist her escape by grappling with her. Maybe when she jumps off I fall with her, but the supplies are left behind.”
Once you decide to resist a consequence and roll, you suffer the stress indicated. You can’t roll first and see how much stress you’ll take, then decide whether or not to resist.
Every PC has access to gear called “body armor.” You can mark your armor one time to resist a consequence instead of using stress. Declare that you’re wearing armor, fill in the 2 Load boxes, and describe how it helps your situation. Armor can be used for any consequences that make sense; it might protect you from getting pinned down by a rain of bullets, or it might stop someone from trying to steal your gear because it makes you look tough.
When you fill your stress tracker you become maxed out. You’ve pushed yourself over and over, and now you have no more reserves. This has immediate and long term consequences.
In the immediate situation, your tracker remains full until your next town phase. That means you can no longer use stress during the venture. Teammates will need to protect you from consequences and you won’t be able to push yourself for better performance.
The long term consequences play out during the next town phase. During downtime, you will need to mark a Sacrifice. This represents something significant you lose, give up, or destroy because you became overwhelmed by stress. This isn’t something you do to relieve stress—it is something lost because you are overwhelmed.
You could break off a significant relationship, avoid an important family event, lose time because you become sick, spend a lot of money on distractions, destroy a family heirloom while angry, etc. The most important thing is that the sacrifice is significant to the character.
Once you know what the PC sacrifices, you write a new Belief based on the sacrifice. This is something the PC believes about themselves, others, or the world. It could be something they already believed that is now a more extreme or rigid version, or is could be a new belief.
Importantly, there is no restriction on the tone of these beliefs. It could be the sacrifice makes the PC more bitter or distrustful—or it could make them more determined or thoughtful.
Joye maxed out her stress on her last venture. Her player decides Joye feels too overwhelmed to deal with people and takes off to spend some time alone. She isn’t around when her girlfriend needs her, so their relationship ends. Joye’s player doesn’t want to play a bitter character, and decides this loss makes Joye more committed. She writes down the Belief: “I will always show up for the ones I love.” Joye has lost that relationship, but she hopes with her new belief she won’t make the same mistake in the future.
You can only write a belief after you have maxed out your stress tracker. This way you will develop your character’s core beliefs over time, in play. You can change a belief anytime you recover from a condition. This way your character can be dynamic, and if a belief no longer interests you, you can adjust it.
When you embody your beliefs during the game, you will earn XP at the end of the session.
Death and Retirement
There are no mechanics for death in Ruralpunk. If it makes sense in the story, a player can propose their character dies. This can be part of a consequence, a sacrifice, or any other moment in play.
PCs can, however, become unplayable. When a character marks their final sacrifice box, they have given up too much for their rebellion. They will retire to a different life, no longer able to rebel as directly against the status quo. They might accept a job with a faction, become an NPC mentor to the team, or even take on the role of a team Contact in town.
The next town phase will be their last one. The player should have the chance to narrate a brief epilogue for their character. You can decide as a group if they become a local NPC, or disappear from play.