I have already suggested it once, in the wrong site, as steam community is a mess, and nobody involved in development reads it, so I thought I will also share it here. I did not just registered a few minutes ago just because of that, it just came to my mind first, that there is my idea, which nobody saw a single time yet, so it might get a bit of attention here.
In my opinion, there are already a plenty of RPG/levelling games out there, which give advantage to a player forever in form of levelling, no matter if he dies a lot. I think, rust should NOT become one like this, nor it should leave the players completely equal in case of their characters attributes.
I think, that the best idea would be using traits, just like in Crusader Kings 2. The best thing in traits, is that you are no longer just a survivor who only needs food-drink-equipment-houses, these are no longer the only way of getting linearly growing power, you instead concentrate more on your character, a much more feeling, and changing one, which gains traits based on your gameplay, and also gets random ones rarely.
Forexample, you are the typical player, garry would not like you to be (I don’t mean to control your play-style in one direction), one sitting home, safe, stacked up with equipment. You stacked up food, so you eat a lot: congrats, you gained the gluttonous trait, which gives you faster hunger level decrease, and a bigger belly. You are also having the weak trait, as you are moving less, you are tired sooner, and run slower. On the contrary you use guns a lot, so you get the aimer trait (it may randomly get terrible aimer giving flavour), which gives a bit better aim at weapons, and also you get the gunslinger trait, as you are used to manage your guns, so you will reload them faster. These traits are totally dynamic, changing ( butif you wont stop eating a lot while not moving, you won’t ever lose gluttonous) your gameplay will bring new traits, and dissappearing old ones, which may stick for longer/shorter time. Getting a life with continous scavenging, stalking in the wild, would give you a lot of advantage. You can get the fit, very fit trait giving you a lot more durable character which can run kilometres also faster (hi there “faster than player” bots!), and won’t get unconcious by a bullet in his leg. You will get brave by going into dangerous places.
I am telling a lot of traits, as there can be traits about almost anything. Both physical, and mental ones (like ambitious, surviving veteran, trusting), and also gameplay-specific ones. Ones for building, crafting, random former work, culture…