Hacking Diceconomy – New Game Included

The Diceconomy system is intended to be flexible enough to hack or reskin into any number of different games, but it definitely has one specific goal in mind: to create stories around the conflict between three individuals who need one another to further their respective agendas even as they struggle against one another. Customizing Diceconomy, then, is a matter of coming up with what I have come to term the Premise, which can be any genre you like that fits the scenario’s parameters, and giving each of the actors in the triangle their unique way of influencing the ebb and flow of the mechanics.

I’ll demonstrate by walking through the process of creating a new game right here. In thinking up a new Premise, I decide to move away from fantasy and sci-fi and try espionage. There’s a lot of different subgenres to work with there: do I want Bond-style action? Noir? Finally, I settle on a Cold War vignette, with that mid-Sixties full-blown paranoia and uncertain allegiances, which gives players some good tense hooks for character interaction.

We’ll need three character types who would have reason to both backstab and refrain from backstabbing each other. Obviously, there’s going to be a secret agent, although the “secret” part seems to be somewhat questionable in a lot of spy media. For some reason, there’s always a foreign counter-agent or minder who knows who the Agent is but doesn’t apprehend them right away; they have a friendly rivalry or tense detente of some kind, maybe out of familiarity, or maybe because one of them has dirt on the other as a failsafe. I don’t want to define the exact nature of the reason – fleshing that out is part of the fun players get to have. Of course, we also need a femme fatale, although it bears mentioning that any or all of these roles are intended to be gender-neutral and can be swapped as you see fit. (Hey, in Runeblade, the Blade doesn’t even actually have to be a blade! Pick any artifact you like.) I can’t think of a better term or descriptor for the role, so it stays. The rules that go along with the role will be somewhat thematically bent in the direction of a fraught and deferred attraction, since that’s how I’m picturing it, but I’ll be careful to leave enough leeway that the dynamic can just as easily be non-sexual.

We’ll keep the Rules, starting dice pools, and the like the same for now; you could easily decide to tweak these, too. The real defining stroke is in the characters’ Traits. Everyone gets to define their own Mission, but it’s up to me to give Advantages and Disadvantages to sketch out the dynamic. I think of these Traits as falling into three categories: Standard, which are on all the time; Limited, which only affect some instances of the rules and not others; and Conditional, which only happen in response to something else happening first. I don’t have a specific balance or formula on how many of each are included, but it does help me balance the characters against each other to consider how often or likely their abilities are to have an impact.

I start with the Officer, as I’ve decided to name him, because the Premise implies that the Agent is on his home turf. I want to reflect the idea that he has a lot of resources to interfere with the other players, networks of informants and subordinates, etc. so I give him increased odds of getting to slip in narrative details even when he’s not controlling a scene. Bumping the odds of success from 50% to 66% is pretty good, but I curtail it by making it Limited – it only applies to other peoples’ rolls, not his. I picture him as practically compulsive about keeping the pursuit of the Agent going at the expense of doing the logical thing and just arresting him: since in films and novels this sort of indecision typically follows a visit by one of the other characters, I decide to put his ability to invoke the Endgame partly in their hands. They have to make a sacrifice to keep the game going, of course, but that’s what cat-and-mouse is about.

The Femme Fatale is a bit more straightforward (ironically). She always seems to know what to say to get others to do what she wants, so her Advantage will be the ability to make a second offer if her first offer is declined. Because she’s ultimately on nobody’s side but her own, though, she has to give at least as many of her own dice in an offer as all other colors total. The other characters know she’s playing them like fiddles, even if they don’t know what she’s trying to get by doing so.

Coming to the Agent last, I have trouble with his Advantage at first; several ideas come to mind, but none of them feel right. His Disadvantage comes to mind easily, though: since he can’t really trust anyone, he keeps his metaphorical cards close to his vest, so I decide it’s appropriate for him to cling tightly to his own dice and offer them out only sparingly. An idea for the Advantage hits me as I’m looking through research material about actual spy tricks, and it’s flavorful to boot. How about the ability to do clandestine dice swaps instead of direct offers? It takes a couple of iterations to hit on the right method, and I eventually settle on letting the Agent trade dice blindly with another player. It’s a gamble, since neither side knows exactly what they’ll get, but that’s par for the course in the intelligence trade.

I look over the Traits again to see if there are any glaring imbalances. The Agent can shake up the dice allocation around the table with his Advantage; apart from slipping them into trades, though, he’ll be holding onto his dice, perhaps making a run for the Endgame. The Femme Fatale is surprisingly giving, thanks to both her Advantage and Disadvantage. Her dice are probably going to be moving steadily out of her pool to others, which means she’ll probably get to steer plenty of scenes in her direction. The Officer is also inclined to pass out dice in order to gain from his Advantage, so he’ll get lots of short-term narrative control, but his Disadvantage will make it harder for him in the long run to tie it all together to suit his own ends. The upshot of this particular flow dynamic is that the Femme Fatale and the Officer are likely to be jockeying to sway the Agent with competing dice offers, since the Agent can be a big spoiler if drawn into participating in a scene with his exchange ability. It feels right for the genre, so we put the finishing touches on: a name. Doublecross leaps immediately to mind as both evocative of the style and appropriately ambiguous: we may not know who’s going to be doing the crossing or being crossed, but you know it’s going to happen.

Want the final result ? It’s been added to the Games section with the other nano-games, free and CC-licensed as always. (And feel free to hit the retweet button at the end, to let others know you’re checking it out.)