Mundane Item Challenge - Syn-Dicks of Pluto!

Clint Staples

A couple of days ago we did a Live Challenge Episode in which Brendan Cass challenged us to design a game mechanic, or better yet an entire game or setting, based on a mundane household item. We had a LOT of fun with this one and the discussion was very lively to say the least, though I would say that it was probably one of the toughest challenges we have attempted so far. If you want to watch the other Challenge episodes, you can find them on the D-infinity Youtube channel.

My challenge response is below:


Syn-Dicks of Pluto


This entry attempts to fulfill both the “Rule Mechanic” and the setting portions of this challenge, while simultaneously building on something that we have developed and played in a previous challenge episode. Which is to say that Syn-Dicks of Pluto is a mini-game for play in Michael O. Varhola’s Chaps & Apps TM.


In much the same way that a group of RPG characters might play a fantasy version of Poker, a video game might offer a game within a game, or a D&D party might relax with a rousing game of Three Dragon Ante, Syn-Dicks of Pluto is intended as a game that your nipponowestern clonedorks can play between jobs, when they are sitting around the Honky Tonks of New Geisha City.



It is widely known that the Syn-Dicks of Pluto, the judges responsible for determining guilt or innocence of serious crime throughout the entire System, are notoriously corrupt and venal, as befits the name of the world they inhabit. Graft and bribery are a notorious part of any legal endeavor, which has led to an increase in bounty hunters and frontier justice – such that bounty hunters are not even allowed to set food on the surface of Pluto itself, and must pay bribes in order to land and pick up the contracts for open bounties.


In Syn-Dicks of Pluto, everyone is assumed to be a Bounty Hunter, hoping to bribe his way onto the surface of the planet to collect a bounty.  And since this is a game about money, the only thing we need to play is a handful of paper currency.


Rules of Play:

Syn-Dicks is played in rounds based on the lowest number of bills available to a single Bounty Hunter. This comprises The Stake that each player puts at risk for the duration of the current game.

  • Each player chooses one bill as his Active Bill, folding the others and placing them in their Poke (under a glass, etc). The first person to settle his Poke is first player –  generally called the Fastest Gun.
  • The first player will look at the serial number on their active bill and call out a “Bid” made up of the total they can make by multiplying all the digits of the same value in the serial number (so if there were two 3s on the bill, you could bid 6).
  • Clockwise from the Fastest Gun, each bounty hunter will call out a multiple they can make with their bill. The last player, literally the Slow Poke, must act as bookkeeper for the round, tracking who bid what that round. The highest total for the round wins.
  • The player to the right of the Fastest Gun starts the next round. Play proceeds in the same way, with the Slow Poke Keeping Book. Play continues until all digits have been used. Toward the end of the Bill, this may result in simple accounting, because many Bounty Hunters have already Shot their Load and are out of digits.
  • When all digits on all bills have been called, the round is over. The Books are done and the player with the highest total wins the round and all active bills.

In the event of a tie, each of those Bounty Hunters tied may use the letters included in the serial numbers of any bills they played to make a cutting remark, insult, or sexual reference about one or any of the others involved in the tie. Those who are not involved in the tie decide whose shot hit home best, and the round goes to that Bounty Hunter.


Strategy lies in whether you want to be Fastest Gun, when you bid away your high numbers, in picking up points at the end, reading your opponents. Of course, stakes will vary too, because the denomination of the bill is your wager. There is a variant of the game, called the Hanging Judge, which allows any player other than the Fastest Gun to surrender their active bill, and draw another from their Poke blind. Purists complain that this spoils the game, because it is easy to stack your Poke so that you know what you are drawing. Proponents of the variant believe this merely deepens the strategy.

Another option, The Simpleton Rules TM (which are commonly taught to young clones when they first learn to drink) does not require the multiplication of like numbers, only the ability to count on ones own "digits". In Syn-Dicks for Simpletons, a "bid" is equal the number of times a particular number appears on the active bill. In the example above, the bid would be "Two" for the number of 3s in the serial number, the value of the digit becoming irrelevant.


Social implications:

Grudges that have existed for years sometimes begin around the Syndick table. Duels have been fought, bounties poached, relationships ruined. In fact, the Martian Mons Veneris Range Wars are said to have begun because of insults exchanged around the Syn-Dick Table.


Development Notes:

I was (playfully) chided for putting to much Math-ing in my game, so I added the Simpleton rules option. ;)