One of my main design goals with Ruralpunk is to balance narrative decision making with streamlined advancement. Today I want to share the different group advancement mechanics I've created and how they all fold into the same theme: interwoven relationships.
In Ruralpunk, you don't have different crew types, you choose a town type. This determines your starting town, the local factions, the contacts you can make, and the improvements you can build.
You advance your town through three systems: managing corruption, contacts, and town improvements.
Hold Off Corruption
The first key system measures the corruption in your town through the team's conformity tracker. Your group picks an ideal that binds them together. You increase and decrease your conformity tracker each session based on how much you sell out or uphold that ideal.
Each time you increase your conformity, the GM advances a faction's goal. This means conforming to the status quo gives power to factions, and can lead to some significant changes in the world. For example, in this town the military faction's 1st goal is to destroy the headquarters of a local gang. Each time they make progress, the GM can narrate the escalating conflict between the two factions and how people in town start hiding more...or taking sides. As you build up conformity, you team will earn powerful corruption abilities...but fill it completely and you have to retire the group, as they have conformed to the status quo.
The second key system focuses on relationships with the Contact system. Each town has 8 Contacts. These Contacts have several useful components: a town role; 2 traits; and a special ability.
All of these components are unlocked by gaining bonds with the Contact. If you complete a job for a Contact, or invest favors into the relationship, you mark a bond with them. If you need help with a task that relates to their role or 2 traits, you use your bonds with the Contact to form you dice pool and roll to see if they complete the task.
The trick is, you only know their role in the beginning. You have to form bonds and try to get to know them better to learn each of their 2 traits. When you learn the second trait, you also get access to their special ability. The special ability becomes a permanent ability your team can use.
When helping you gets the Contact into trouble, or you do something against that Contact's interests, you gain a grudge from them. The GM uses these grudges to create complications for the PCs. It will be common to be closely bonded to Contacts who also resent you...reflecting the tension of small communities.
Rebuild Your Town
The third system allows you to improve your town in three key areas. These areas will be different across town types. In this example, you can improve the sense of kinship, the economic opportunities, and health quality in town.
Your group can't make these massive changes on your own. You need to form a coalition. Every Contact with max bonds (3), or any cohort, can join the coalition. Each Contact/cohort that joins adds 1 die to your coalition dice pool. You then make a coalition roll to see how much progress they make towards that town's improvement. As you can see on the town sheet above, early improvements have short progress clocks so they can be finished relatively quickly. More advanced improvements will take more coalition rolls to complete. Each time you unlock an improvement, you earn the related benefit permanently.
In simple terms, advancing your town is defined by relationships: treat people well to avoid corruption; help out Contacts to build up bonds and get to know them; and then lead those contacts as a coalition to improve the town itself. Of course, each of these steps means resisting the oppressive status quo and fighting back against the local factions wrapped up in their own interests.
This blog is a mix of game design analysis, commentary on issues affecting indie dev spaces, and some personal reflections.