Dicey Dungeons Reunion Design: The Jester

Time for the second of my Dicey Dungeons Reunion episode threads! This time, it’s the Jester:

Ok, so, as a starting point, I think I need to acknowledge that the vanilla Jester design is *weird*. (A designer friend of mine called them a “high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production”.)

Dicey Dungeons draws a lot of inspiration from the classic iOS game Dream Quest – though, most of the episodes don’t really play anything like it. Dicey Dungeons is a deckbuilding roguelike, without a deck.

The original Jester design was meant to be an explicit head-nod to that inspiration, but it kind of went off in a different direction during development, and ended up being… a little strange.

I won’t get too into the original design here, but the important way it’s unusual is that you have deck that you can draw from infinitely – you’re only limited by your available dice. The episode is mostly build around a “Snap” mechanic that depends on having duplicate cards.

(I wrote a big blog post about it during development, if you’re curious! distractionware.com/blog/2019/02/d…)

The Jester Reunion episode was the first one I made, and it came from wanting to tear down the complicated structure of the vanilla episode and start over with something simpler. Here’s the readme from the dicecord beta:

The key to the new episode is you only get a single dice! But each time you use it, it’s immediately re-rolled.

In addition, many cards in the episode now have a “Draw a card” verb attached, and you can usually only draw 3 per turn.

Instead of finite dice and infinite cards, you get infinite dice and finite cards.

I *really* love the single dice thing. It makes you really care about the outcome of each individual roll.

You’re constantly thinking about your turn order to try and maximise your odds of success, and it feels like you’re actually rolling dice!

One new Jester card I really like is “Metronome”, which a low damage card that also acts as a reroll! It appears in other episodes too, where it’s totally useless, but in this episode, it’s one of the best cards you can get.

One of the other big ideas in this episode are the “Equipment?” cards, which give you a permanent bonus for the rest of the fight.

(They’re always countdown cards, which I find really funny in this episode – like with Metronome, you can use them to reroll your dice.)

If you’ve played Dream Quest, you might have noticed a few explicit references in those screenshots, which is no accident! This episode is full of them, in big ways and small.

“Jasra’s Pendant”, for example, is referencing the many items in Dream Quest belonging to “Jasra”.

Dream Quest also influenced the mechanics of this episode a lot.

The “Equipment?” cards are pretty much my take on Dream Quest’s permanent equipment, Turbo Charge is my take on the Wizard’s “Shock” card, and this late run card is inspired by Dream Quest’s Freeze status:

The other really big way that this episode is inspired by Dream Quest is with how it generates the level – specifically, it’s inspired by the Wizard class!

The level generator for this episode works by changing what appears based on what you’ve got in your deck – so you can slightly control the level a little bit as you’re playing! Pick up mana items, and you’ll find spells, for example.

There are six main “paths” that the generator can follow, and it can get pretty complicated! Here’s a flowchart that @Jackeea_ made on the dicecord:

[click to see the full flowchart]

This makes the Jester episode in particular really interesting to replay – pick up different things, and you’ll find it plays out very differently.

Some paths are harder than others, which is intentional. If you just want to breeze through the episode, go for Lightning themed items. They’re ridiculously overpowered, and very satisfying to use!

If you want more of a challenge, try leaning toward the Fire path. It’s much harder to make it work, but with a bit of luck it can pay off big time!

As kind of a snarky aside; one of the criticisms Dicey Dungeons gets a lot is that it’s much luck based than other roguelikes. (Which – well, it’s a little bit true, but it’s more complicated than that; if you know what you’re doing, you can make your own luck.)

But yeah; I find it kinda funny that this episode, with a significantly more traditional deckbuilding roguelike design, ended up being one of the most luck-focused episodes in the game. Oh well!

I kind of love that, though! This is actually my second favourite Reunion episode to replay (after Inventor), precisely because you need to plan around the RNG that bit more. Personal taste, I guess!

That about does it for the Jester. Should have a few things to say about the Warrior episode in a few days!