RPG Design #1 – Rust in „October Rust”

I decided to write some thoughts about, what challenges and problems I’ve met, on the way of designing my TTPRGs. At first, I’d talk around my first game, October Rust. This post and the second one incoming.

First topic: Why „Rust” appeared in „October Rust”? Where that name came from?

The Context

I wanted to make „October Rust” about fallen characters. They will fall once again during play, and for good. They will try to fix the world, at least on the local scale. Those protagonists were spoiled since the beginning, because of their guiltable sin.

I drew main inspirations from the Polish TTRPG phenomena called „Jesienna Gawęda” (UK: „Autumn Story”, US: „Fall Story„), a series of articles. Long story short, it was about warping Warhammer Fantasy Role Play 1st Edition (back in the 90s it was the most popular TTPRG in Poland) into something even more dark, grim, rainy. Stripped from black humour and Monty Pythonism, with grotesque turned into naturalistic vision of a daily life. In the meantime, full of player characters’ abuse (and players too). However, in the last publications, it tried to change a direction to ” a play of hard, painful choices”.

„October Rust” aims at being more like „Jesienna Gawęda that never was”. I wanted to match both of those ideas – „human vs hostile circumstances” fallacy + „game about hard choices” – while abstaining from dirty and generaly bad GM advices…

The inspiration core

The „Rust” naming came from one of the „Four Colours” of Neuroshima (Polish postapo TTRPG, the colours: Chrome, Steel, Rust and Mercury). They were supposedly modes of the game. Neuroshima had been released by the same guys (Portal Games), who wrote and promoted Jesienna Gawęda plus another game taken into consideration: Monastyr. All of three mentioned products share the same vibe: grim verisimilitude zeitgeist of Polish 90s TTRPGs.

Neuroshima itself includes a concept of playing „spoiled characters”, by having one of the chronic illnesses. The PC is supposed to fight for medicaments, which should hold on the development of the disease.

Monastyr tried to be a game about fallen characters in faux pas XVII c. grim setting. Even diehard Monastyr’s fans think that at least ruleset of this game is abysmal. However, there’s one noticeable feature: player characters had their „dark past”. More often than not, they were past their young age. Tht alone inspired me to make the Doom Clock, which counts months and begins from May (the last month of calendar spring)…

Poison’d (Vincent Baker). This game ask a player during character creation, how hard the character had been screwed (abused) by Captain Jack Brimstone. Plus player also chooses the sins of the character (which affects their stats).

Here I want to mention, that terms „Rust” and „Sin” in October Rust are intertwined. Development of the Rust Clock (supply of bonuses to the conflict) leads to inevitable „Sin” reveal, which was the reason why the character started „to turn into rust” since the beginning. Also, I wanted to add some tension to the one-shot, so I came up with idea of ticking the progress of the Storm Clock (when the storm appears) based on acquired Rust Points.

In summary of inspirations:

  • Neuroshima: name of one of the colours („Rust”) and „spoiled/broken hero” concept.
  • Monastyr: premise of the player characters, XVII c. alike setting.
  • Poison’d: inspiration for „Sin of the Past”

Also, I would add Mouse Guard as a source of solutions to, how the storm affects the gameplay (increasing difficulty and messing with how dice works). The „rainy desperation” aspect.

The implementation

First, I mention how the game changed itself while in development (March – September 2021), because all of it had their reflection on how „Rust” worked.

  1. First „alpha” versions: Player taps „Rust” like a button to get some bonus to the conflict, and then The Storm appears.
  2. „Beta” and playtest versions: We count the Storm Clock progress by counting „rust points” acquired. The „rust points” came from certain range of values from the d6 dice, if used to resolve a conflict. BTW, personal Rust Clock was 4-sided, not 3-sided.
  3. Last playtest (0.6b) version and the current solution: Players uses „rust points” as resources, it ticks the Storm Clock. End of the Rust Clock shortens the Doom Clock of a character, from December to October!

I’ve changed the first solution due to throwing away the initial framework (engine + how the adventure works) and I wrote a new one in June 2021.

While trying out the second interation of a ruleset, I had a lot of trouble with balancing how often „rust points” should appear due to rolls and conflict. The goals were:

  • More than one character should have their Sin revealed until the end of the session
  • The storm should always appear and preferably just before the epilogue part of the session.

The problem was, the game had been pushing resources too soft. I tried to lessen the amount of resources, it just budged a bit. Now I know, that such a mess (a table with range of a success, of a rust point and of a month) was a dead end of design…

The third and last version took player’s feedback into account, including an interest of having a control over „Rust”. Players were really invested in revealing „Sin of the Past” and expected that. That 0.6b version actually started to solve all of mentioned problems! The game started to push the characters just enough.

Keep in mind, that „October Rust” is a one-shot: there’s just three to maybe four hours to grind out last resources of characters and force them to make a couple of hard decisions. On the other hand, if the game would be too hard with pushing, it could be easily solvable by just adding more resources available…

By the way, I solved another problem: interactions between the players. Now, anyone can give a rust point to support another (not only one of the trappings with fictional positioning required). OK, it works almost exactly like „Stress” in Blades in the Dark. Perhaps it should work like that.

The results

In the end, the player has almost full control on, how quickly their character turns into „Rust”. How and when they reveal the sin of the past. „October Rust” always ask, how much resources do you use in attempt to pass the obstacle. But – again – the player is in control, when they want to pick a good moment for the bleed

I tried to make a game about rainy desperation with hard choices and characters destined to fall. How it went in the end? I will not be certain for a long time. At least I’ve made a game, which forces the player to make at least one single hard choice during three hours of a gameplay…

Player isn’t forced to use that third „rust point”. Then, they won’t activate „Rust” nor reveal „Sin”. But the Storm Clock itself is made in a such way, that it will be completed even, if all of the players decided to hold on „2/3 progress” of their Rust Clock. This makes a prevalent influence of „Rust”: it affects the choices made and the fiction itself (how conflict are resolved) in the end. Even if all players will avoid using „rust points” as hell, the presence of such mechanics itself will impact the session.

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