How to Run a Stock Market Without Really Trying

TL;DR - Stocks are a fun mini-game that's easy to run and teach, here have a free Stock Market Tracker you can easily upload to Google Sheets to run in your own campaigns ~

There's this great moment early in Cruelty Squad where you're hired to assassinate the CEO of a company. Given that company's stocks are publicly traded, you can guess about how well those stocks do after the CEO's death. Later a (barely telegraphed) short-squeeze happens that is simultaneously the best way to make money in the game and also a hugely dangerous prospect if you don't sell all your stock in time. I was reminded of all the joys (and horrors) of a virtual stock market, thanks to this lovely Tweet X by game investigator Quinns

And let me tell you - I absolutely L O V E this stuff! It provides an additional layer of interactivity to your game, allows you to diegetically lore dump about your setting's companies, and it's a fun way to show players the consequences of their actions! After all, the stock market is one of the most lucrative games in our world, so why not add them into your tabletop game?

It's been especially on my mind recently as a friend's campaign for his upcoming GRUNTS PSI has had me and some fellow players buying, trading, hording and definitely sweating over the Stocks of that world ~

This is going to be a little walkthrough of how I've made / run stock markets in my own games, and a bit of how I weave it into the consequences of the world ~ But before we start a gentle reminder: Hey you know how in tabletop games combat never really operates under the exact logic and timing of what real combat is like? You know all those silly liberties we take that make combat fun? Yeah? OK cool we're going to do that with the Stock Market too to keep things nice and simple and easy to run! Also I'm going to assume you have a basic understanding of how a Stock Market works - for the uninitiated it's basically buying low/selling high on companies that you think will do well (re; gambling). Also this all assumes you trust your players not to cook their books.


So I've run a few games with Stock Markets now, but probably my most successful was when I ran a Stock Market for Cyberpunk 2020. Not only did this add an immersive mini-game that allowed players pick up some extra cash, but it also became a kind of pre-campaign hand-out that briefed players on what each company was about that looked something like this:

(for those who know Cyberpunk's excellent Firestrom module, you'll probably recognize why I had two usually irrelevant oceanic companies listed at the top)

It's definitely a bit primitive, but it has the 3 core elements I think every stock market mini-game needs:
  • Company Name and Ticker (duh)
  • A player-facing price for a Stock in the company (one that can be updated by you the GM at a whim and checked by players easily)
  • A Company Description (This both serves as a stealthy gazetteer and as a way to telegraph what Stocks may get volatile and when)
And truly that's all it takes to run a compelling Stock Market. Update the price of stocks up and down as good or bad things happen (OTEC's big research facility got destroyed? Lets drop the cost down to 1 instead of 1.5), or just roll some dice week by week (Flip a coin for EuroBank every week, heads it goes up by 1, tails it goes down by 1 - The literal invisible hand of the market at work!)

What's nice about this is the GM Cognitive load is relatively low for running the mini-game, while the Players have quite a bit of choice (especially if you have more than 6 stocks) and free reign to theory craft or manipulate the market. It's also incredibly easy to explain the mechanics to a new player: "Buy low and sell high." Easy. No need to add Puts, or Calls, or Options - Just Buy/Sell (and act within the wider world to cause market shifts of course).

Alright alright, let's say we want to get fancy with it... Here's two big things you can add without too much effort:
  • List the total number of stocks a company has vs available stocks to purchase - This allows Players to potentially become majority shareholders of a company they like (or are looking to tank), further expanding the mini-game into the realm of pseudo-business management.
  • Create a "Prosperity Index" kind of like the Dow Jones Industrial Average. And much like how the Dow Jones is a bit of a bullshit number aggregating how the best stocks are doing instead of an actual reflection of the wellbeing of peoples, so too is our Prosperity Index going to be mostly bullshit! In the new Sheet I've cooked up it's simply [The Sum of all stock costs] divided by [6,969] then multiplied by [1,000]. Originally I was considering having it also take into account the total number of stocks in a company, the issues is that (unless you're updating the total number of stocks week over week which is a bit of a pain) the index's history will get wonky whenever a company adds or loses stocks. So while this means the index is even more bullshit, the number will help players gauge whether the market is doing better or worse over all.
Here's what my new Stock Sheet looks like for my near-future ruleslite game Burnout Reaper (because I haven't touched that game in a while), with some added visual flair. Note this time around I'm not tracking Players' stocks on the public sheet, they keep track of that on their own. They do however need to let me know if they purchase or sell a stock so I can update the "Available Stocks" tab:

Sweet! Burnout Reaper has the extra fun nuance of having two currencies (Cold hard Authority Credit, and dubiously unstable Cyber Crypto) but Stocks can only be bought with the former. I'd probably have Stock Markets shift in some way every time the CC Markets locked and shifted. A sample procedure might be to assign each stock as being "Safe", "Stable" or "Volatile".
  • Safe: Whenever the Markets Shift, flip a coin. On heads this Stock Price increases by $2, on Tails it Decreases by $2.
  • Stable: Roll a d8 (or d4 for smaller Stocks). Flip heads or tails again to see if this Stock Price goes up or down, then reduce or increase by the value of the d8 or d4 roll.
  • Volatile: Same procedure as Stable but now you're using a d12 or d20!
Then add to this "events" like if your party accidentally kills FoodCo.'s CEO or if they help ensure a Drone Ordinance never goes through thus allowing Pantheon to thrive!


It's no secret I'm a big fan of alternative progression mechanics, so why not use the Stocks instead of Stats? We could have Stocks for STR (Steel Robotics), DEX (Donavan Experimental), WIS (Workers Institute of Science), etc and when you hit a certain amount in those stocks you get a proficiency bonus (thus encouraging players to buy skill upgrades during the "dip") - Or maybe you could inject some SMT/Persona vibes with players summoning Demons whose damage scales with the Stocks' flows or your total assets. IDK maybe there's something fun and silly there, especially if you were making a game about yuppies. 

Let me know if you end up using this Stock Market sheet or designing your own! Mini-games are a great way to flesh out a campaign world, and this is one you can run pretty successfully without really trying ~


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Very cool, I will most likely use this for my fantasy game where the region is run by a capital worshipping theocracy. If you wanted to proceduralise this some more and add some randomness you could use a ladder table a la Mindstorm, adding positive dice for every advantage and opportunity the company has and negative dice for every weakness and obstacle they face. You could also use different sized dice depending on how stable the company is and add random table results that affect world events and npc dispositions

    1. Oh this is both a spectacular application and a very cool addition ~ Definitely excited to hear how this goes eventually!!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts