At first glance, the Diceconomy system used in Runeblade and Vector might seem counter-intuitive to most gamers used to conventional dice pools. Unlike the more standard sort of mechanic where characters have a chance of success at their own action, represented by a number of dice thrown to determine the actual success or failure, the dice in these games represent a slightly different sort of commodity.
And “commodity” is indeed an apt word, for the dice themselves, as well as what they represent – narrative control – serve as currency during play. A typical dice pool also represents narrative control: the odds of being able to interpret the outcome of the event in question are mapped to the character’s relevant skill level, but the end result is still whether the player gets what he or she wanted from the event, or whether the gamemaster complicates events with a failure or alternate result.
What’s tricky about Diceconomy is that the dice can represent both short-term and long-term narrative control. The short-term effects are immediately apparent in the assigning of narrative details based on successful dice in a roll, but the long-term narrative control occurs as the dice change hands based on successes, failures, rolling, and the Rule of Keeping. The closer a character gets to getting 10 dice of his or her character’s color, the more Denouements that player will get to narrate, and the closer to invoking the Endgame.
While cagey players might thus try to hoard dice to retain as much control as possible, especially if they come from a traditional RPG mindset, the system functions best if there is a free flow of dice around the table. According to the Rule of Colors, players get to add details to a scene if their color of dice show successes no matter who rolls them. Additionally, under most circumstances, an offering player stand to actually gain dice, since they reclaim all failed dice from their offer and get to steal failed dice of their color from the player who rolled, if any.
Let’s see how this works in practice in an example scene from a game of Runeblade. Several scenes into the plot, Joe, playing the Wielder, has control of a scene. He provides as his opening detail that he has reached the foothills overlooking the gates of the palace of the Nemesis, played by Lori. She agrees to this, adding that the entrance is situated over a fissure, through which flows a river of volcanic magma. The Blade’s player, Patty, smirks and adds that the armies of the Nemesis are closing in behind the Wielder. (Note that she did not say, “…and forcing him to move forward,” as this would break the Rule of Sanctity. If the Wielder wants to try to break through, outflank, or even face the armies instead of entering the palace, that’s Joe’s choice to make.) The Nemesis’s Boon is the ability to set an additional detail per scene, so Lori gets one more: she really likes Patty’s contribution, and suspects she knows what the Blade is scheming, so she chooses to embellish with, “…and they have a dragon.”
Joe raises a suspicious eyebrow at this, but he doesn’t quibble, and the initial details are set. Now, we’ll go through the roll without using the other Boons or Banes first, for the sake of simplicity. He decides he wants to try to make a running jump of the chasm with the enhanced strength given to him by the Blade, putting in four white dice. (He’s a heroic character with a magical artifact, after all, and his own dice will either give him narrative details to conclude the scene or just go back to his pool, so there’s no harm in putting them out.) Lori offers two red dice, with the complications “the gap is wider than you thought, and there’s only a narrow lip right below the gates,” but a white die as well: “…but there is clear room for a running start right in front of the drawbridge.” Joe thinks that Lori is setting him up to be smashed under the bridge, but takes the dice and accepting the complication. Patty then grins evilly and passes Joe a black die and a white die and returns the favor to Lori from earlier, building upon the previous detail. “With the gap slightly wider than you thought, you almost fall short, sinking the Blade into the lip of the fissure to catch yourself at the last second.”
Now Joe’s hackles are really up, but he decides to accept these as well, so he takes them and rolls. He has his own four white dice, plus two offered white dice and one each of red and black. It’s a lucky roll for everyone: Joe’s white dice are a 4 and three 5s – all successes! The white die from Lori also comes up 6, but the white die from Patty only has a 3, which is a failure. One red die rolls a meager 2, but the other and the black die each come up 5, giving Patty and Lori each a narrative detail to contribute, while Joe gets a whopping five details. Heroic indeed! He begins by narrating how the Wielder uses the Blade’s leverage to flip up out of the maw of the crevasse and right in front of the gates. He chooses to play it safe with his next detail, adding that the guards along the wall atop the gates haven’t got a bead on him thanks to the steep angle from their vantage.
Patty thinks of a good detail and interjects that the Blade twists of its own volition in the arc from the Wielder’s flip out of the fissure, slashing down of its own accord onto the massive bolt and cleaving it in two. Joe silently notes that the Blade’s Fate seems to involve getting him into the palace, but says nothing about it, though he adds that the gates creak apart just enough that the Wielder can slip inside. Lori only has one detail to contribute, so she chooses to have a crew manning a siege engine stationed inside the main entry tunnel. Uh-oh! Joe uses his two remaining details to point out that the crew weren’t meant specifically to stop him and are not properly in position, as well as mentioning that the darkness of the corridor makes it all but impossible to effectively train their massive cannon on him as a target. However, he’s still now standing in the entrance of his archenemy’s fortress in front of a siege bombard with no clear way of escape – until the next scene!
That should demonstrate how the dice function in the immediate sense of narrating a scene. As for the greater ebb and flow of dice, here are some of the things that could have happened:
* Patty could have chosen to be more devious and only pass a black die to Joe – which his Wielder’s Bane would have made him accept even without any additional sweetening.
* Lori, however, would have had to offer an equal number of white dice to her red dice thanks to the Nemesis’s Bane.
* Finally, Joe came only one die away from invoking the Rule of Keeping: he could have turned the failed red die into yet another white die for his pool. Instead, it will return to Lori’s pool to use again.
See the trade-off? A player can get narrative control now by offering a die that comes up a success, but that die leaves your pool, whereas you get your dice back for later if you don’t get a narrative detail out of it. You also get to add more narrative complications by taking the risk and offering dice, rather than being stingy with them and gaining nothing in the short term.
Hopefully, you’ve already downloaded and shared Runeblade and/or Vector, but if you haven’t yet, feel free to download them from the Games page to try at your own table. More Diceconomy nano-games are coming down the pipeline.