A loud and dirty table-top role-playing game about grease monkeys with fuel to burn and an axle to grind, driving a powerful hauler away from their grimy past, towards a future of opportunity.
They'll race in cut-throat rallies, carry deliveries across dangerous terrain, and somehow seem to have an ever-growing horde of enemies chasing them down.
This game is intended for four players and a machinist.
Before you start, decide who will be the machinist. Typically, the machinist is whoever happens to have gathered a bunch of friends to "play this cool TTRPG I just found". If you're unable to decide, pick whoever would be most likely to set fire to a car in an outburst of fury.
About this document
This game involves some potentially difficult or distressing themes. These themes are somewhat core to the intended experience: Angry misfits riding dangerous machines through a blighted wasteland.
While this is the intended experience, if you play this game, it's your game, your story, your rules. My true intended experience is for you and your friends to have a good time and weave a story that you will love.
If the themes I built into this game don't work for you, feel free to hack them out. Make the game yours!
Also, to keep the game fun and safe for everyone, please read the TTRPG Safety section before playing.
Let's burn some fuel
Eighteen studded all-terrain wheels.
Twin sixteen-cylinder quad-turbo engines.
Forty-four tons of rusted metal, fuel and flesh.
A machine made of fire and rage, tearing through the dirt at eighty knots.
Roll a die to choose your opening scene, or discuss with your group what greasy situation you're tied up in at the start of your story.
|🎲||Your opening scene|
|1||The rig's rightful owner isn't far behind, they want it back, and you dead|
|2||The last round of repairs cost more than you could afford, the creditor expects payment this week|
|3||You made a promise to a local Baron, and you have no idea how to fulfill it|
|4||You've made a lot of people angry, it's time to find a way out of this turf|
|5||You're carrying contraband, it would be wise to offload it soon|
|6||There's a bounty on your heads, your only choice is to keep moving, for now|
Who are you?
Fate has bound you together on this monstrous screaming machine. A rig like this needs a hard-working, fearless crew to keep charging forwards, and when behind you there are only creditors and mistakes, and ahead of you a fresh road of opportunity, where else would you want to go?
You are individuals, each with your skills and experience, your flaws and baggage.
You are comrades, maybe even friends, perhaps? You need each other, for companionship, to survive.
You are machine parts, not unlike the wheels, engines, and pumps, powering your rig, your home.
Choose your background.
(Roll a die, pick from the table, or come up with your own. Write it down.)
|1||A criminal on the run. The long arm of "the law" will catch up to you one day.|
|2||A wanderer travelling for no reason at all. You've never had companions before.|
|3||A worker looking to make enough money to someday go home and make it all better.|
|4||A daredevil seeking thrills. Anything that's loud enough to drown out the pain.|
|5||A nerd with a deep understanding of machines. So much easier than people.|
|6||A hero making the world a better place. It's easier to fix the world than yourself.|
Figure out who you are.
What do you look like?
Are you grizzled and worn, but wise with experience? Or are you an inexperienced child, full of energy and hope?
How much of your body is still made of flesh and bone?
What do you carry with you? How much of it is replaceable?
Where are you from? Does that place still exist? Could you return there if you wanted to?
Who or what have you left behind? Do you regret it?
Do you have scars or tattoos? Do they have stories? Do you remember those stories? Who would you be willing to tell them to?
(You can write the answers down if you like. Ask yourself more questions, maybe?)
When fate comes knocking and everything is against you, what skill can you rely upon? What single thing can you honestly claim to be your best quality?
(Write it down, and tag it with Skill.)
I stay cool under pressure
When I punch someone, they stay down
I can sense when foul play is afoot
I can talk my way out of dangerous situation
What is the flaw that will almost certainly spell your doom? What is the crack in glass that will cause everything to shatter?
(Write it down, and tag it with Flaw.)
I crumble under pressure
I couldn't throw a punch to save my life
I'm terribly naive and trust too easily
When I open my mouth, it always makes things worse
Decide how you all came to be together aboard your rig.
Did you know each other before boarding?
Had you lost sight of each other for a while?
Was the reunion a happy one?
Are you all here by choice?
Do you trust each other?
No, really. Do you actually trust each other?
Do you know each other's secrets?
Would you kill for each other?
Would you die for each other?
When this is all done and dusted, will you stick around?
(You can write the answers down if you like. Ask yourself more questions, maybe?)
Choose another member of the crew, and write down something you hope for them. It can be positive or negative.
Maybe you'd like to see them open up and enjoy life, or maybe you think they ought to face some justice for what they've done.
(Write it down, and tag it with Bond.)
I want Jesse to track down their childhood friend
I want Quinn to see how brutal life can be in the wastes
I want Avery to make amends for their treacherous past
As machine parts
A rig needs a crew.
Everyone on the crew knows how to do all the jobs, in a pinch, but you have your specialty, your role.
- Driver: Hands on the wheel, feet on the pedals, head in the game. You can feel the momentum of your rig. Your seat connects you to the chassis, to the suspension, to the wheels, to the ground. Every stone, bump, and patch of loose soil translates to micro-corrections in the steering.
- Spotter: Crawling up on the roof, binoculars dangling off your belt. Swinging around the hull checking for damage and intruders. Smelling the fumes blown your way by the wind and figuring out what kinds of vehicle are up ahead. You sniff out opportunities and dangers alike.
- Gearsmith: Deep in the guts of the rig, metal, fuel and oil churn away relentlessly. To most, it's a dirty cacophony, but to you, this is an orchestra, and you're the maestro. You know how to push the engine to its limits. Its actual limits, not the ones written in the manual.
- Wrench: You make broken things fixed and fixed things broken. "Tool" kit in hand, you dash around the rig mending damage and fighting off intruders. Occasionally, you might even hop onto your pursuers' rigs for some light sabotage and intimidation.
(Decide together who does what, write it down, and tag it with Job.)
A crew needs a rig.
The rig is your home. It's also your means of transportation, your workplace, a weapon, and a character in its own right.
When running the rig full-speed through the dirt, the Gearsmith and the Wrench are tasked with engineering duties. But at rest, you're all responsible for repairing and upgrading it.
Is the rig a machine that was slowly modified over time, or was it designed the way it is?
Could an expert recognise the original chassis?
How many crews has it had? Has the crew evolved over time, or was it passed from crew to crew?
Is it painted? Decorated?
It is flying a flag? What does it look like, and what does it mean?
What Class is the rig?
- Bullet: Speed
- Juggernaut: Robustness
- Mauler: Combat
- Cutter: Maneuverability
(Write this down and tag it with Class.)
What modifications have been made to the rig?
(Each player describes a modification, write them down, and tag them with Mod.)
- Boudica wheel spikes that stick out and can cut or mangle vehicles we side-swipe.
- Expanded living quarters with a working kitchen and medical supplies.
- Carapace cladding that can protect us from projectiles.
- Over-tuned fuel pumps that lets us run the engine much harder when we need more "oomph".
Finally, decide on a name for your rig. Something appropriate for a gnarly machine. Your home. Your ticket to a better life.
Character sheet and rig sheet
Your character sheet is a document that tracks gameplay and story information that will be important while you play. It should include the character's name, the things you picked out above, and some room for notes.
It can be on a piece of paper, in a notebook, or in a digital document. Ideally, you should be able to share it easily with the guide and the other players.
If you're playing more than a one-shot, your character will gain new Skills, Flaws, and Bonds, leave some room to add them later. Sometimes you'll lose some of these attributes, so either use a pencil or erasable pen, or embrace the grime and get ready to do a lot of crossing-out.
Your character sheet is yours, have fun with it!
Draw your character on it.
Make it look like an in-world laissez-passer that your character has forged.
Scribble notes and theories about the story.
Keep a record of your character's thoughts.
Format it like a letter that your character will send home when they can.
As long as it contains your Job, Skills, Flaws, and Bonds, it's good to go!
The players also share a "rig sheet", with information about their rig.
Like the character sheet, as long as it contains the Class and Mods, it's good to go! Feel free to dress it up like a mechanic's gripe sheet or a makeshift owner's manual.
Character sheet example
A typical character sheet might look something like this:
Rig sheet example
A typical rig sheet might look something like this:
How to play
Skills, flaws, and grit
When attempting an action with an uncertain outcome, follow these steps to determine the result:
- The machinist assigns a difficulty rating to the action:
- Normal: 1
- Risky: 2
- Reckless: 3
- ⚠️ Impossible ⚠️: 4 to 6
- The player may use their background, skills, or other factors to gain proficiency, which lowers their target number:
- None: 6
- Amateur: 5
- Skilled: 4
- Expert: 3
- The player can choose one of these options (not both):
- Invoke their flaws for a gritty roll and gain a grit token
- Spend grit tokens to increase proficiency (up to Expert)
- Other players can offer help, sharing the risk of negative consequences. They can use their backgrounds to gain proficiency, but cannot spend grit tokens.
- Dice rolling:
- The main player rolls three six-sided dice (d6). Each die equal to or greater than their proficiency target adds 1 point to the score.
- Helping players roll one d6 each. Each die equal to or greater than their proficiency target adds 1 point to the score.
- If the roll is gritty, subtract 1 point for each 1 rolled.
- Compare the final score to the difficulty rating:
- Greater than rating: Success
- Equal to rating: Partial success
- Lower than rating: Failure
- Failure - The action is unsuccessful, and there are negative consequences
- Partial success - The action is successful, but there are setbacks
- Success - The action is successful!
During play, the machinist will keep track of certain things, like time, resources, mounting conflict, and whatever other somewhat quantifiable things might have influence on the story.
They can be represented by a die, tally marks on paper, beads in bowls, or anything else that is easy to use to count.
Tallies usually count up to six, but sometimes they might count to four or eight if the machinist has a very good reason.
Tallies are an abstraction of the actual thing they're tracking, they don't have units, they're just meant as a easy way to track the shape of the situation.
For instance, things like money, favours, and valuables might all be bundled up into a tally called "Assets".
There are two kinds of tally, counters and clocks.
Counters are used to track things like resources. When they reach their maximum, they won't count any higher, and the machinist will explain that "six means a lot, okay?"
Clocks are used to track a developing situation, something will happen if they fill all the way up.
Modes of play
The game is more or less split into two modes of play: rig running and free play.
Rig running is for when you're in your rig, hurtling across the landscape, racing and battling. These are the action scenes, this is when you play your loudest and fastest heavy metal playlists, and get down to business!
Free play is everything else:
Lazily rolling though the foothills, reflecting on what just went down.
Planning your next move.
Negotiating with a parts dealer to get much-needed upgrades for the rig.
Getting into a tavern brawl over a petty squabble.
During free play, the action should mostly be driven by the players, decide on a plan, and take actions.
The machinist sets the scene and the stakes, and then lets the players move the story forwards. The machinist's main tool for progressing the story are clocks.
For instance, if the situation is that the Ruined Ravine Rally is taking place soon, and the players need to beat a rival gang as part of a bet, the machinist might first set up a "Rally Day" clock. That clock will tick up whenever the players spend time on their actions.
Other clocks can be added, for instance, if the players have decided to cheat and need to avoid detection, then a "Busted for cheating" clock can be added, with that clock ticking when they fail to remain discreet.
When clocks fill up completely, their consequences are triggered, which typically results in a significant modification to the situation and the stakes.
The players should always know about all the clocks and their status, even if their characters do not.
Free play should be about preparing for and building up an upcoming rig run.
The overarching goals and stakes should always be clear to the players, along with any potential areas of interest and opportunities.
Sometimes the goal will be to prepare for the rig run itself, but not always. If the goal doesn't involve the rig run, there should certainly be some pressure to get a move on. It's never good for a skunk to hang around in one place for too long.
When the rig run starts, the players' goal should already be set. We've hit the point of no return, and all that matters is carrying out the task.
The run is laid out in beats.
A normal run will be made of four beats, an epic run is made of six beats.
Each beat represents a major step or scene along the run. They can be geographical, or can represent a specific challenge, like a fight with a rival rig or dealing with some environmental effect.
Depending on the situation, the beats can be known in advance, or may be revealed to the players one by one.
To succeed on the run, the players must complete each beat in the run in succession.
Beats use clocks to determine how well the players are doing, and are played in rounds where the players try to manipulate the clocks.
How the clocks are used depend on the objective:
- Dash: Two clocks, a "success" clock and a "fail" clock. The players must fill the "success" clock before the "fail" clock is filled.
- Tug o' war: A single clock that starts half-filled. The players must fill it and prevent it from emptying.
- Chase: A single clock that must be filled within a given number of rounds.
Each round, the players are given something that they need to deal with, and must come up with a plan. They may ask the
In these cases, anime rules apply:
Entire conversations can happen in the middle of an action scene, characters will taunt and provoke each other, minor disputes will be settled, camaraderie will be forged in the cacophony of dust, fumes, and fire.
Notes for the machinist
Tone and TTRPG Safety
This game is intended to be quite flexible in how its tone is approached.
We're here to see roamers and misfits with studded leather jackets and grimy faces, we want to watch massive metal machines ram and scrape against each other as they tear their way through the wastes. Heavy metal is playing loud and furious, fire bursts from exhaust pipes, the air is dense with diesel fumes and dust clouds torn from the ground.
This can be played dark and gritty, but it can equally be a fun cartoon romp. I like to aim somewhere in between.
Before you start, have a conversation about what kind of tone you're aiming for, and make sure you know what everyone around the table would like. In doubt, err on the safer side; sometimes a scene might not hit as hard as you may have liked, but it's important that everyone can enjoy the experience and feel safe throughout.
A simple tool could be to reference film ratings.
Your session could be G-rated, with violence remaining mostly implied. PG-13 with some punching and bashing, and the odd swear word thrown around. Or if everyone agrees, you might want to go R-rated, with more graphic violence and foul language abound.
Lines and Veils
A useful tool is Lines and Veils. Encourage your players to share their lines and veils with you before the game. You can do this privately and/or as a group.
Lines are subjects or themes that will be kept entirely off-limits. These subjects will never appear in your story, directly or even by allusion.
Veils are subjects or themes that will be kept "off-screen". These subjects may appear in the story, but won't be played out in detail. Instead, you "fade to black", and continue with the story afterwards.
For example, here are mine:
- Torture is a line. I do not want to play in a story that contains torture. I never include it in my story, and refuse for it to be introduced.
- Sex is a veil, I'm perfectly fine with sex happening in the story, but I don't want to play out those scenes. Characters may get intimate, but we'll fade to black and skip to morning.
Lines and veils can be added as the game progresses. Just because you didn't think of something while preparing to play doesn't mean it's too late.
More tools and reading
Golden Lasso Games have published an excellent resource about TTRPG safety tools, I highly recommend taking some time to read it.
The goal is to create an environment where everyone trusts that their safety is respected, so that it becomes possible to build an experience that is powerful and engaging.
Credits and usage
Rust Skunks is designed and written by Gaeel Bradshaw‑Rodriguez.
Thanks to Adriel for help with translation into French and proofreading.
Rust Skunks is free to use as-is for non-commercial tabletop role-playing sessions. You may make copies of this document, in part or in whole, for personal use or to distribute with other members of a non-commercial play session, provided that a link to this page is included (spaceshipsin.space/rust-skunks).
Non-commercial "hacks", or other substantially modified versions of this game may be redistributed publicly, provided that they are shared under these same conditions.
For commercial use or redistribution please get in touch.
Basically, I made and provided this for free, so that people can have fun playing with their friends. I would like to keep it that way.