If you’ve never played a roleplaying game before, the core idea is simple: you get some friends together and start to tell a story about a cast of characters you make up. The game’s moderator (GM) will present your player characters (PCs) with obstacles and challenges. Then you describe how the PCs react.
That’s the essential game: you have a conversation back and forth between players and GM, collaborating to create an engaging story.
Gameplay isn’t 100% conversation. Sometimes the game’s rules bring uncertainty into the story. Players will roll dice to see how they cope. You can think of these roll results like prompts in an improv show: the dice tell you a new challenge or twist, and your characters have to react.
In Ruralpunk, you’ll tell stories about fledgling heroes trying to save their fractured small town from a myriad of cyber, mutant, and human threats in a cyberpunk future. What does being a hero mean? That’s something for you to decide. You will shape your character’s beliefs and goals as you play, dynamically responding to the story you all create together.
Starting a game of Ruralpunk is pretty simple. You need:
If you’re a new player, all you really need to know are the rules covered in this chapter and character creation (which you can read as you create your first character). Gameplay is broken into two phases: a venture phase and a town phase. You can learn the specific procedures for those phases as you play them.
Players & Game Moderator
In any game of Ruralpunk, you are either a player or a game moderator.
If you’re a player, your main role in the game is to portray one of the protagonists. You create a player character (PC) that works with the other players to define the basic identity of your team and town. The players focus on using their PCs to challenge the established powers, build relationships within their community, and push for a better future for their town. Each player decides how much they compromise their ideals, or try to hold onto their integrity despite the costs.
The players work with the GM to define tone and style of the game. This partnership starts with choosing your starting community, but will continue through all of play.
If you’re the game moderator (GM), your main role is to establish the scene and describe the world’s response to the players. The GM brings the danger and weirdness of the world to life around the PCs, especially the indifferent sledge-hammer of elite factions, deep schisms between the people in their small town, and the slow grind of scarcity wearing away at their community’s ability to survive. The GM balances the impersonal power of the factions by bringing non-player characters (NPCs) to life with individual drives and secrets.
The GM does not design a story. The GM offers hooks for the players to pursue, and presents them with obstacles to their goals. As the players react, the GM continually ties consequences and outcomes into a wider web of relationships between the PCs, town members, and factions. As the PCs improve or strain their relationship within the community, the GM will portray how the political world of power influences their pursuits.
Play is organized into two main phases: the venture phase and the town phase. Each phase has three main stages of play.This structure provides momentum to the game by keeping players focused and giving a sense of pacing.
When your team identifies a specific way to help a town member, called a Contact, they will need to pursue the venture.
First, they will create the venture plan. Out of character, the group answers a few brief questions to sketch out the main obstacles of the venture. In character, the PCs choose a plan type, i.e. their initial approach to the task. This will help frame the initial scene of their venture as they face their first obstacle. Planning ends when each PC decides their Load, how much equipment they take with them.
Second, the group will make an engagement roll. It answers the question of how well things are going for the team with their plan type when the action starts. Essentially, this roll determines the tension level in the initial scene.
The rest of the venture plays out through action. For most of the action, players simply narrate their character’s actions as they work towards their goals, and the GM will narrate the world’s response. Narrative play continues until an obstacle enters the fiction.
An obstacle is anything that blocks the PC’s goal or challenges their safety. There are two steps to overcoming an obstacle:
At any time, a PC can invoke a flashback to before the venture to describe how they planned for a present obstacle. That PC marks stress based on the complexity of the flashback (zero to 3).
When a player character does something challenging, we make an action roll to see how it turns out. The core process is simple.
When you roll, always look at the highest result on any one die:
1-3: a bad outcome. Things go poorly. You don’t achieve your goal and you suffer complications, too.
4 or 5: a costly success--you do what you were trying to do, but that success comes with some complications like triggering a new threat or using up a resource
6: a full success--things go well. Two or more 6’s: it’s a critical success and you gain some additional advantage.
You have two opportunities to improve your dice pool before you roll.
The PCs have special reserves of endurance. They can change a roll outcome in two ways.
Resistance roll. You quickly use an attribute to mitigate the severity of the complication. After the GM describes a complication, propose a way the PC stops part of the complication and roll your attribute. Resisting costs 6 stress minus the highest result on any one die of the roll.
Overcome limits. You turn any roll into a full success, as if rolling a 6. Mark a condition in the related attribute.
Once a condition is marked, the PC has an ongoing vulnerability in that area. Anytime they make an action roll with a related action, they will also need to roll a separate condition die.
1-3: condition fallout. The condition you have adds a new complication to the situation. Propose what that looks like to the GM.
4 or 5: keep your cool. The condition doesn’t affect your roll.
6: dig deep. Your condition inspires an advantage or helps you in an unexpected way. Propose to the GM how your condition gives you better insight. Note: this does not affect the success of your action. This is an advantage separate from the base action.
Using Special Abilities
Every PC represents a special archetype in the world, from the tech jockeys who speak with machines to the survivors who rely on wisdom and experience to persevere through any danger. Each archetype has access to three core powers, which give them a variety of special abilities.
When you use a special ability, you treat it almost exactly like an action roll. The ability describes the action, you use the power rating, and roll a pool of d6 based on your rating dots. Judge the result with the same numbers for a failure (1-3), costly success (4-5), and success (6). If you want to resist the result, you use your soul attribute and make a resistance roll.
However, every powerful archetype is also associated with certain flaws. When the PC rolls less than a full success, they can decide one of their archetype flaws creates the complication. The player would describe how the flaw makes things go wrong. Or, the player can decide a flaw isn’t the complication, and turn over describing the complication to the GM like normal. Using flaws for complications earns you xp, but it also leads to dangerous attention in town.
Ending a Venture
The action stage of a venture continues until the PCs complete their task or decide to abandon it. Once the venture ends, the game moves into the Town Phase.
If the venture phases focuses in on action scenes, the town phase slows the pace and looks at the broader picture. This gives everyone a break from the intensity and allows you to see how actions tie into bigger dynamics in the town.
First, the group plays out the discord stage. This explores the community tension caused by the PCs’ actions; their entangled histories and developing relationships with town Contacts; and the group’s ability to resist conforming to the oppressive, fractured world around them.
The second stage focuses on community building. The PCs can learn more about individual Contacts. They can also unite friendly Contacts into a coalition that works on long-term improvements to the town. Bonding with Contacts and improving the town are the primary ways the group earns town advancements and special abilities.
Finally, the PCs engage in downtime. Each PC chooses how they spend their free time: recovering from conditions, working on long-term crafting projects, reducing stress, working odd jobs to build up favors, and more.
Once the PCs complete their downtime, they find another Contact who needs help and launch into a new venture.
Once a group is familiar with the rules and has built up some of the fiction of their town, they may want to spend time doing free play. This is an open-ended phase, with not set procedures.
Typically free play occurs after a town phase. Once the group finishes their free play goals, they can segue back into a new venture phase.
This section covers basic definitions for important game terms. Complicated terms will be explained in more detail in the related chapters.
Souls define a PC’s primary source of power in the world. A cyber-soul draws power from technology, a wild-soul focuses on supernatural powers from Wild Strain mutations, and a mortal-soul derives strength from humanity’s adaptability and social bonds. A PC primarily picks special abilities from within their soul.
Each player creates their character by choosing their Life Paths. These life paths represent the character’s history, from the legacy of their grandparents and parents, down to their own life experiences before the game starts. These will shape your starting actions, soul type, and abilities. They also give you a starting place for backstory without needing to decide on many details before play.
PCs address challenges with Actions. Actions describe how the character approaches an obstacle and determines how many dice you roll. All actions are grouped under a specific Attribute. When you try to resist complications you roll your attribute to determine how much stress it costs. If you take a condition, it is based on the attribute involved.
Special Abilities allow characters to act in ways that defy normal rules.
PCs are distinct from other characters because they possess a special reservoir of effort called Stress. Stress allows PCs to gain extra dice and mitigate harmful consequences. Stress is limited, and must be regained by Rebelling against the status quo during downtime.
PC’s also have the capacity to Overcome Limits, and can take a Condition to turn a failure into a success. Conditions must be recovered during downtime.
All of the PCs belong to the same community. Many different life paths may have led the characters to this town, but they all consider it their home now. After you create characters, your group will pick a Town Type. This will determine the general fiction of your town like its history (e.g. former factory town or a former tourist town), primary struggles, local factions, and potential upgrades.
Each town also comes with a description of landmarks, notable supporting characters, and possible venture hooks. While you will focus on developing your town type, you can use the other towns in your game as distant locations or even rival communities. Similarly, while the town’s local Factions will likely impact your team immediately, all of the game’s factions have competing goals and are struggling for dominance, so you will see many of them in play.
The game can be broken down into sections of different lengths. Many special abilities used by PC’s will last for one of these lengths.
A Session is the entire time your group plays in one day. So if you play for three hours, that is one session; or if you play for seven hours, that’s still one session.
A Phase refers to the three distinct play modes in the game: venture, town, and free play phases. This time lasts for the length of that phase, regardless of how long (or short) it is.
An Episode, (think of a television episode) refers to one complete cycle of phases, from the start of your venture to completing your town phase.
A Scene is shorthand for an action sequence. This could be one combat encounter, an extended chase, or be marked by literally changing physical scenes. Scenes are often organized around specific obstacle or a chain of smaller, linked obstacles, and once the group overcomes that obstacle they move into another scene. If it helps, most scenes last 15-30 minutes of real time.