Alternate Reality 03/01/2014: Running a Business, Part 1


Alternate Reality 03/01/2014: Running a Business, Part 1

Welcome to Alternate Reality! This is where we at Dice Commander bring you some alternate rules to cover situations that Wizard either doesn’t address, or badly broke in the process of trying to fix it. If you have any rules you’d like to see added or modified in future posts, drop me a line!

NOTE: Alternate Reality typically does not cover the existing rules in detail, that’s what the source books are for. Alternate Reality will discuss their effects, but pages and books will be noted for reference.

In our first Alternate Reality post, we’re going to attempt to slay one of the biggest dragons of Dungeons & Dragons since Bahamut: running a business. It doesn’t happen often, but in certain campaigns it’s possible for your PCs to find themselves in control of a large capital asset that lends itself to money-making. That asset might be something complicated like a mine or criminal empire, or something simple like a ship, shop, or tavern. In many adventures, it’s not only advisable but the right thing for the PCs to give it up, be it because they will soon be moving on, or because there’s a nearby orphanage of disabled puppies in dire need of a source of income.

In many more adventures, you’ll simply lay down the law on the PCs to prevent the situation from ever coming up. Both of these options can seem unsatisfying to certain types of players, causing them to feel cheated both out of a steady source of income and the experience of being in charge of a permanent and possibly well-known location, and the notoriety that comes with it.

The current alternatives, discussed in-depth below, are either the extremely basic “random table result” rule for professions and crafts, or the extremely broken rule set from the good old DMG2 (3.5E). We’ll dispense with these first, and then move on to the new.

Note: Followers gained through the leadership feat can affect the costs of hiring help for a business as discussed later; this should be worked out with your DM on the side when figuring out the monthly cost of running the business, whatever rules you choose to go by.

The Profession/Craft Roll (the 3rd/3.5 Edition Way)

This is the most basic level of money-making, outside of hitting a troll with a club and looting his shorts (with sometimes less-than-happy results, both for you and the troll). A d20 roll is made according to the rules for Craft (pg. 70-71, Players Hand Book 3.5E) or Profession (pg. 80 PHB 3.5E), and the roll obtained results in gold earned for the work done. The 4th Edition has done away with these skills entirely, rightly claiming that anyone using them interrupts the flow of the game.

It takes both real-time (the time spent determining and making the checks and interpreting the results) and game time (roughly a week for any profession check, and shorter or longer for crafting based on items) to complete these, and most DMs will simply hand-wave the time to get on with monster extermination and looting.

This is not a failing on their part, but on the creators for not taking into account the added dimensions a profession or craft can bring to a character and on the d20 system for not lending itself as well to this type of story-telling. While this rule will be good enough for most situations and most DMs, something occasionally comes up that requires more depth. This brings us to

The DMG2 (3.5) Rule

This method is overly complicated, severely limited, and totally broken, so I’ll forgive you for skipping it, but I hate it so much I can’t help but talk about it. I won’t recount the rules themselves here, they can be found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, Book 2 (3.5E) beginning on page 180, so I’ll simply stick to the effects.

The writer of the DMG2 rules for businesses seems to think that businesses are just a hole that you can constantly pour money into, to get even more money out. By their logic, you can build a mud hut, dump 10K gold pieces into it every so often, and sooner rather than later you’ll have gold dragons in disguise beating down the door to buy your terrible ogre-bone scrimshaw. First of all, yes, your scrimshaw is terrible, take some more ranks in that, and second, this is a ridiculous premise.

Not only is the above true, but for it to work out the PC must spend even more game time than in the Profession/Craft roll rule running the business. A 10th-level fighter who buys a tavern is suddenly a 1st-level innkeeper, and can only go adventuring if he eats his vegetables and does the books first, and that’s on good weeks. On a bad week, a poor percentage roll could cause the local protection racket to roll through and the entire party might be mired down in the day-to-day running of a business they have no stake in.

A campaign based around a business, depending on the DM and the player group, can be just as fulfilling as a monster-a-week campaign, but it shouldn’t be something that just happens, derailing the campaign already in progress. There are two ways I feel that work better for a character running a business outside these rules, and the shorter of them I like to call

The Weasel Way

Hire someone to run it. Really, this is the simplest answer in any campaign. It allows the DM and the player to run the business off-screen, through e-mail or when the other players aren’t around. Any of the dozen methods of long-distance communication available to PCs can give the player influence over the actions of his factor, while not interrupting game flow.

Depending on how your financial system runs and the size of the city the business is based in, the player can receive cash, letters of credit, bank deposits, or even just have the profits plowed back into the business in their absence and generate more profits organically. For this short method, the DM should just decide on a maximum profit monthly or weekly for the business based on character wealth level found in the DM (3.5E) guide on page 135, or the monetary treasure values found in DMG (4E) on page 126. This allows for speed, but not much variety, and so that brings us to the more in-depth version called

The Devil in the Details

This is not for the faint of heart. This is not designed to be simple or easy. It can still be run off-camera, but it will intrude a bit more into the campaign setting no matter what you do. Fortunately, after setup, you can simply back off the detailed view and run it The Weasel Way, only occasionally revisiting it as your character progresses and the business grows (or doesn’t, as it may be) over time.

Player skills should be applied as discounts to startup costs, and as bonuses to profit rolls: +1 or +2 circumstance bonuses given, up to a max of +8. After all, even the most successful businesses have setbacks, and this will allow for variety while still giving a bonus for the extra salary you’re paying to the Master Artisan pastry chef baking your Dragon Cookies. See the table below for examples.

You can skip or hand wave parts of the creation steps (or steps entirely) by using a DM-approved amount. This section assumes you’re creating a business from scratch, but if buying an existing business any of the following steps can be skipped based on what the DM decides is already in place and takes no initial investment to handle.

The first step is location, location, location. Whether you’re buying an existing building or having a new one created, what will it cost? Buy or rent? The 3E Stronghold Builder’s Guide can give you the most detailed options (though very expensive for the purpose), but as long as the DM price is reasonable for the region, area, and size, anything can really go. The important thing is a hard number to start with. This gives you only an empty building though, so let’s move to the next step.

Next are startup costs. No matter what, the base cost should be at least twice the base quarterly profit. Inventory, hiring, supplies…dig in as deep or as shallow as you like. If you choose to go all out though, remember the difference between a SERVICE business (where you’ll be paying full price for things like ale and tables, but perhaps with a bulk discount to be role-played/rolled for/arbitrarily decided by the DM, and your skilled employees will generally have Profession ranks) and a PRODUCT business (where you will purchase raw materials/commodities, again with perhaps a bulk discount, and a staff that relies on its skilled members having Craft skills).

An inn is a service business; a smithy is a product business. The basics for hirelings of reasonable skill levels can be found in either the Profession rules, the DMG 3.5E (hirelings, pg. 105), or the NPC hiring rules in DMG2 (3.5E) starting on page 155, depending on the necessary skill levels/classes. Some more things to consider:

  • Will you need to transport goods regularly? Don’t forget drivers!
  • Will you need retail space outside your location (i.e. a market stall for your smithy goods)?
  • Will you need guards for caravans or your business location?
  • Everything* else!

*Everything subject to DM approval. Limited time only. Some assembly required. Offer good while supplies last.

Other Details

So you’ve got a building, and stuffed it full of people and raw materials. Great! Next up is operating cash. Approximately five percent of your business’ value should be liquid cash. You don’t get to spend this money, this is what the business needs to handle wages, rent (as necessary), local protection costs, taxes, etc.

Now we’re going to discuss business risk. Higher risk should mean higher payout, but at the cost of more things (potentially) going wrong. See the table below for my take on what that should mean; as with all things feel free to adjust as necessary. Low-risk businesses will probably only make one or two rolls per game year, a medium-risk business will need one every quarter or so, and high-risk may need one a month.

This brings us to PROFITS! Risk should play a part here as well – low-risk earns .5x the profit level, medium-risk takes the normal amount, and high-risk can go anywhere from 1.5-2x the profit rolled for! Similarly, the Wealth Level/Treasure share used to represent the base monthly profits should be adjusted accordingly. See the profit and event tables below for the range, and make sure you apply bonuses and penalties as necessary. All profit rolls indicated here are assumed to be quarterly.

Finally, we’ll cover expansion. This requires a new investment into the business, equal to six months of the current base profit. It takes money to make money, after all. This should be represented by an increase in business quality – new tools, new hirelings, increased output, and of course bigger profit margins.

Median profit should never exceed the CL treasure share of a single at-level encounter per quarter.

Note: that without expansion, the amount earned by the business DOES NOT level with the character. It stays the same unless and until this upgrade is paid for.

Figure profit with this method using the following steps:

  1. Roll on event table for outcomes
  2. Calculate bonuses/penalties
  3. 1d20 Profit check, apply bonuses/penalties as appropriate
  4. Multiply profit check result by current base profit level
  5. Multiply by risk modifier (Low-risk = .5; Medium-risk = 1; High-risk = 1.5)
  6. Multiply by population modifier
  7. Minus out appropriate expenses
  8. PROFIT!

The accompanying tables will be posted shortly; see you soon!


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