I ran into a problem with Karma in the Dark: the system incentivized roleplaying that could be...unpleasant. If you filled your stress tracker (which was even more common than in Blades because the system leaned into mechanizing overwhelming oppression/power imbalances) you gained a "jaded instinct." A little bit of your rebellious idealism wore away, replaced by tendencies to insist you were correct or distrust others or exploit others. If a player roleplayed this jaded instinct, they gained xp.
In theory, it sounds very cyberpunk.
In practice, it means that either the PCs become unpleasant people or the players give up a chance for extra xp.
I knew I wanted to find a new solution for Ruralpunk: something that still reflected back the wear and tear of pushing against an oppressive world, but allowed for a wider range of roleplaying. Something players could tailor to their own RP interests a little more.
I found the answer in a sacrifice/beliefs mechanic.
In Ruralpunk, when your character becomes overstressed they have to make a sacrifice of some kind. This is something they lost, hurt, weakened, or missed out on while overwhelmed or while recovering. A character could become more distant from their family; a romantic relationship could break up; they could miss an important town event and be seen as stuck-up; they could spend all of their money on synthetic-memories to zone out for a while; their physical health could worsen from the level of stress they experienced.
The loss is completely up to the player, as long as it symbolizes a significant sacrifice for their character. And this isn't "I am a sacrificing, nice person" type of sacrifice; this is the "fighting the system to the point of a stress break-down has consequences and takes something from you" type of sacrifice.
But that's just the beginning.
The character forms a belief based on this loss. Perhaps they believe romantic relationships will never last; perhaps they believe their family doesn't truly support them; perhaps they believe they should never break their word again. The belief can range from as cynical or idealistic, weary or inspired as the player wants.
When their character embodies that belief going forward, they gain xp.
I like this interplay for two reasons. Thematically, it turns a stress-break down into a character moment of learning. And the player/group can decide what flavor that learning takes, depending upon the overall tone of the campaign.
Mechanically, I love belief-based xp in roleplaying games, but dislike writing beliefs during character creation or a first session. Even if you can change them later, it establishes this idea that we should know the core values/beliefs/personality of our characters from the beginning. In most of the games I've run and seen, it usually takes people a few sessions to really click with a character concept and find their place in the group with the other PCs.
By gating beliefs behind the over-stress mechanic, it naturally delays writing one for 1-4 sessions depending upon how players use stress in session.
You can make up to three sacrifices as a PC, and gain three beliefs, before the grind of rebelling forces your character into retirement. As the campaign progresses, it's natural for characters to become more complex. This sacrifice-belief mechanic will allow players to reflect that growth in the sacrifices they make, beliefs they form, and gain xp for roleplaying their character in the way that interests them.
This blog is a mix of game design analysis, commentary on issues affecting indie dev spaces, and some personal reflections.