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A lo-fi sci-fi space trucking tabletop RPG, Powered by the Apocalypse.
159 backers pledged $5,659 to help bring this project to life.

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Rust Hulks is a tabletop roleplaying game about playing space truckers in a low-fidelity science-fiction future. The game is Powered by the Apocalypse, meaning it uses the rules found in Apocalypse World as a foundation, and builds from there.

In Rust Hulks, you will play as the crew of a large, derelict spaceship. You will fly around the solar system picking up jobs, earning credits, scraping through hulks, improving your skills, and expanding your ship. 

On its face, it's simple; in practice, it gets messy fast: You're aboard a flying scrapheap halfway to Mars and three of your fuel canisters blow; the crew, while tentative friends, are mostly here for money—when things go real south, what will you do?

If you grit your teeth and drive hard bargains, you'll make it out the other side. Profit, even, if you're lucky. If you can't cut it, well, let's just say there'll be one more hulk out there for the scavengers.

The game is, at its core, about going through highly tense and stressful situations as a group, and examining the relationships that form and break because of it.

Rust Hulks is like Alien. Or Firefly. Or some parts of Star Wars. Everything is used, rusty, and worn-down. Your ship is cannibalized from a dozen other ships and tweaked or patched with every piece of junk and scrap you can find. It's really less a singular ship than it is a collection of individual rooms, held together with shoestrings and chewing gum. 

There are no laser blasters, no energy shields, and no gleaming computers. Instead, there are wooden crates, canned rations, and radar scanners. Your computers are little more than fancy calculators, your ship is armored with scrap metal, and your guns spit hot lead. 

The world is always dirty, usually decrepit, and often desperate.

The kind of ship you might fly in Rust Hulks.
The kind of ship you might fly in Rust Hulks.

First, you and your crew get to make a ship together while you make your characters. You elect a Captain, and then you get a job.

Jobs vary; simple ones are just hauling cargo or ferrying passengers. More complicated ones might be escorting merchants, running hits on pirates or outlaws, or doing search-and-rescues. Real dangerous jobs will see you pulling heists, smuggling contraband, and assassinating high-profile targets.

When you play, you'll be good at some things on the ship, and worse at others. As you complete jobs, you'll earn credit to repair and upgrade your ship, and you'll advance your own skills to learn new abilities and moves.

Rust Hulks is a roleplaying game; you sit around a table and describe what you do. The other players and the Master of Ceremonies—what this game calls its Game Master—will do the same. Occasionally, you'll roll some dice. If the roll goes well, you describe what you get to do; if the roll goes badly, the MC will describe what happens to you; if the roll goes midway 'twixt the two, you and the MC will both figure it out, together.

It's Powered by the Apocalypse, which means things that involve dice are divvied up into things called Moves. When you make a move, you roll the dice: roll two six-sided dice and add the results together; you'll often add some other modifier to that roll, too. If that total is 10 or higher, things go well; if it's a 6 or lower, things go poorly; if it's a 7, 8, or 9, things end up with a bit of both. That's the entire dice system in a nutshell: everything else is variations on that theme.

At its barest bones, Rust Hulks is a game about telling stories, together, out in the hulks. Anything that doesn't add to that in some way has been stripped out.

You also get to draw your ship together, and then change it as time goes on!
You also get to draw your ship together, and then change it as time goes on!

There are lots of roleplaying games about flying around in spaceships. There are even a few games that are also Powered by the Apocalypse that are about flying around in spaceships.

Rust Hulks is different, first and foremost, because the scale is much smaller. The game is entirely set in our own solar system, and there aren't any aliens or magic; you don't explore new worlds as much as you skim across the existing ones. Your goal is not to save the galaxy, it's to stay afloat. If anything, the only thing you're saving is the crew—and even that isn't salvation from some alien warlord, it's escape from running out of fuel halfway to Neptune. The scope is smaller, more detailed, more intimate.

Rust Hulks is also different because it's a little more intricate, a little more tangled. Your relationships with the other crew members change in more ways than one; you've got relationships with the ship and the individual rooms that make it up; there's a Captain that's somehow supposed to oversee everything as it's happening. Things will get messy between you, the others, and the ship—and quickly. 

The game is not really about the goal you all set out to achieve; it is on some level, sure, but it's really about how all of you change along the way.

Nine different playbooks, with special moves, gear, and options for each: 

Plus a playbook for the ship, with all of its moves. You can see a sample character playbook and the ship playbook below: 

Click this image—it links to a PDF!
Click this image—it links to a PDF!
  • Rules, guidelines, and suggestions for all of the above, plus detailed explanations, examples, and possible ways to twist them around.
  • Some intermediate rules, for governing things like relationships, resources, legality, that sort of thing.
  • Moves, guidelines, and advice for running the game as MC; what you can and can't do, what you should and shouldn't be doing.
  • A list of jobs, rules and moves for each, and how they affect the broader game as a whole.
  • Some brief high-level worldbuilding and history, indices of descriptions for locations and objects, and a quick overview of what you might find on each planet and moon in the solar system.
  • Suggestions, advice, and guidelines for hacking the rules of the game past what's already here, including possible options and modifications for stuff like mechs and landcrawlers.

The book itself will probably be about 200 pages, give or take. The book will be printed in a  small format (about 6" x 9"), in black and white with a color cover, with some basic art done mostly by me. 

As stretch goals are reached, the page count will likely increase.  

(On a related subject, if you're a publisher of tabletop RPGs and this seems like the sort of thing you'd be interested in picking up, I would love to talk to you—contact info's below!)

 The PDF is just that, a PDF of the game. The hardcover book is, likewise, a hardcover copy of the game. The hardcovers will be printed through DriveThruRPG; PDFs will be distributed via DriveThruRPG and itch.io, as well as potentially others in the future. I've worked with DriveThruRPG before, and as a student, my printing resources are otherwise limited.

The Playtest Kits are a bit more involved. A couple times over the course of this year, in August and then again in December or January, I will release playtest versions of the game, which you will get to play. You'll also get access to a Discord server I've set up, where you can give me feedback on the game and I'll do my best to answer questions. (This is also the tier where, if we make it to stretch goals that include digital content, you will receive that digital content for free.)

The crew patch is a 2"-3" embroidered iron-on patch, which will feature the image of a derelict spaceship, much like one you might fly in Rust Hulks. It's suitable to put on a jacket, backpack, or wherever else you can iron on such things normally.

The dog-tag is a military-style metal dog-tag, which you can customize the text of, about five lines' worth. Once you've chosen your custom message, I will then use chemical shenanigans and my own two hands to artificially rust the tag, so when it comes to you it will already have seen a decade's worth of space-trucking.

The oneshot session is a single session of Rust Hulks run by me, Sam. You can pick a handful of friends and we'll get together online (or in person, if you're in the Boston or Rochester areas) and play a session sometime before the game's release. It'll likely run about 3-4 hours, enough for an evening's game.

The etched steel brick is exactly what it sounds like. It's a big block of steel etched with a message of your choice, and then once again artificially rusted by me. It makes a fantastic paperweight, building material, or murder weapon.

A potential mockup of what the rusty dog tag might look like.
A potential mockup of what the rusty dog tag might look like.

A chunk of it is going towards printing costs and getting the orders in for the various rewards.

It's also going towards software, like InDesign and Photoshop; towards artists for a few pieces of artwork I'm not confident I can do myself (like the cover); and towards other expenses, such as travel to playtest sessions or materials needed for testing.

Mostly, though, it's going towards my rent, so I can work on this instead of having to hunt down some other job. 

The main goal for the campaign is $5,000, which will get everything listed above.

At $7,500, I will have the funding to be able to hire a better artist than me, and so the book will have several much-nicer pieces of artwork throughout, plus fancier cover artwork.

At $10,000, a tenth playbook will be added to the game, tentatively called the Machine. It's a robot or other mechanical entity, one with unique abilities governed by highly specific laws. 

At $12,500, I will have the funding for even more better art. This will include a separate piece for each of the ten (or eleven?) playbooks, some rad diagrams of ships, and more art throughout the book as a whole.

At $15,000, an eleventh playbook will be added to the game, likely called the Stranger. It's a weirdo, someone with oddball powers; a psychic, a cyborg, or something far more alien.

If the campaign goes beyond $15,000, there will be more stretch goals added. This might be short hacks, more in-depth worldbuilding, or something else entirely. Who knows?

Hello! I'm Sam. I'm a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where I'm going into my senior year of studying game design, with a focus on roleplaying games. Currently, I'm back on my home turf in the Boston area of Massachusetts, but I'll be back in Rochester come fall.

Over the past few years, I've developed some other RPGs and RPG-ish stuff with some success, which you can see on my portfolio. I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign just a few months ago for my cyberpunk zine as a part of ZineQuest (the PDFs of which just shipped, and the zines themselves will ship over the summer). I also run an experimental homebrew Dungeons & Dragons campaign on Twitch; it's on hold for the summer months, but we'll be back in the fall (if you're curious, check out our VoDs). 

Outside of RPGs, I'm into theater, music, and running giant games of moderated tag.

If you've got questions, comments, or just want to talk, feel free to hit me up on Twitter, @HeadOfTheGoat.

Thanks!

Risks and challenges

This project is just me, Sam. I'll be doing all of the design, writing, layout, illustration, and cartography—the whole nine yards. (Unless the stretch goals are reached, in which case I'll have funding to commission real art.)

Rust Hulks is my largest project to date, but it is also the one that I will have the most time and resources for. As with any solo project, it won't be easy—if I come down deathly ill or suffer major setbacks, that will affect the game's release.

Still, I've done this before, and being able to work full-time on this over the summer is a huge boon, one that I've never properly had prior to this—all of my previous projects have been for classes or done on the side or done in snippets and bits over breaks and weekends.

If I falter, I will be transparent and open about it the whole way through. I'm confident I can deliver.

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    You get a PDF of the game when it releases, plus the Playtest Kits as they release, and you get your name in the book.

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    SCRAPPER

    You get a hardcover book and PDF on release, the Playtest Kits as they release, and your name in the book!

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    CREW

    You get everything in the SCRAPPER tier, plus an iron-on embroidered crew patch!

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    VETERAN

    You get everything in the CREW tier, plus a customized rusty dog-tag!

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    • Name in the Credits
    • Crew Patch
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    CAPTAIN

    It's everything in the VETERAN tier, but I will also personally run a oneshot session of Rust Hulks for you and a handful of your friends!

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    AUTHORITY

    It's everything in the CAPTAIN tier multiplied by 4! You get 4 PDFs, 4 Playtest Kits, 4 Hardcover Books, 4 Crew Patches, 4 (different!) Custom Dog-Tags! Plus, I will run a oneshot session for you and a handful of friends of your choice, AND I will send you a highly-exclusive single rusty steel brick, etched with pretty much anything.

    Includes:
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    • Hardcover Book
    • Playtest Kits
    • Name in the Credits
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    • Custom Dog-Tag
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Funding period

- (25 days)