• hmenear94

Ventures - A System for Running Businesses

This is part of an article I recently wrote for Black Citadel RPG. The original piece was very 5e oriented and I wanted to write something that shifts the focus back towards OSR/BX D&D play, and just gives you the rules up front.

The core of this idea came from Chris McDowall’s excellent games Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland.

Hopefully, what we end up with is something streamlined, robust, and versatile; you should be able to use this to make anything: a tavern, an adventuring guild, a network of spies, a hospital, a mercenary company – let your imagination run wild.

Beyond simple versatility, the key design objective I want to achieve with these rules is encouraging the GM/Referee and the players (who own the Venture) to work together to come up with perks and bonuses, which here are called Boons.

Ventures are defined by three things: Profit Dice, Loss Dice, and Boons.

Profit Dice determine how much money the venture produces each month. Profit Dice range in size from a d4 to a d12, depending on the health of the business. These dice are fixed and only grow or decrease from month to month in response to rather specific conditions.

Loss Dice determine how much the venture costs to run that month. Loss Dice range in size from a d4 to a d12, depending on the size of the business and other contextual matters. Loss Dice vary from month to month in response to a larger variety of factors driven by both the players and GM.

Boons are additional bonuses granted by the business. Each month, the business owners can spend any profits from their business to buy one or more of the boons attached to it. This is the juice of running a Venture. Sure, the players can just pocket any profits that remain at the end of each month, but the real allure of a Venture (whether that's a subordinate adventuring party, a pirate ship, or a hat shop) is the extra stuff that's generated specifically by the Venture's nature (magical items, captured vessels, really great free hats).

This is where the players and GM can work together, with the players "pitching" ideas for things they want from their Venture each month, which the GM either sets a price for, modifies, or rules out (they can roll for this if they want). A group might want their tavern to make them famous enough that the baron himself demands they cater his annual banquet - providing a perfect cover to investigate the castle for clues. A different party might want their pirate vessel to hunt down a specific merchant ship might be able to get an exact lead on where their target is going to be.

It's another way for players to make self-directed decisions about the world. The GM (whether at the players' direction or of their own volition (Boons are a great way to give out potential rewards, or hooks into new adventures) creates a number of Boons available each month (some may recur) and, if the Venture turned a profit (either on its own or because/in spite of the PCs' efforts) then those profits can be spent on one or more Boons.

Setting up a Venture

This process should probably be rather similar to that of establishing a stronghold. Pay for an existing site and its refurbishment, or build somethig from the ground up.

Depending on whether your players have some wealthy patron or benefactor (or just know some bad people willing to lend them some unmarked coinage at crippling interest) you could knock some or all of the initial cost of establishing the site off the bill, but the Venture starts out with a Loss Dice permanently at d10 (or even d12) for the first year of operation.

Running a Venture

Actually running a Venture involves stacking the deck in your favour as much as possible before the time comes to roll your dice (much like all good old-school D&D).

Each month, roll the Venture's Profit Dice (multiplying the result by 100 to get your income in gold). Then, roll the Venture's Loss Dice (again, multiply the result by 100 for the Venture's outgoings in gold) and subtract the result from your Profit. The result is how much money your Venture made/lost that month.

For Example: The Mangy Minotaur tavern has a d8 Profit Dice and a d6 Loss Dice. The owners roll at the end of the month and get 4 profit and 2 loss.

This means the business generated 400 gp and lost 200 gp, meaning the total profit for the month is 200 gp. They can either split the 200 gp betwen them or use that money to buy any Boon they can afford.

If the amount of money lost is greater than the amount of money earned, the owners can either pay the difference, or the Venture’s Profit Dice is degraded by a step (a d8 becomes a d6, for example).

If a business loses money (and the owners don’t step in) while its Profit Dice is a d4, the Venture folds and has failed.

For Example: After a particularly bad year, the Mangy Minotaur’s Profit Dice has degraded to a d4, and its Loss Dice is a d8.

The owners roll at the end of the month and the Venture gets 3 profit and 5 loss, meaning it generated 300 gp and lost 500 gp. If the owners don’t put in 200 gp of their own money to break even, the business folds.

If a Venture’s Profit exceeds Losses for three months in a row, increase the size of its Profit Dice by one increment.

Profit Dice start out as d4 when a Venture is founded and are only modified by successive losses or profits. However, for each significant thing done by the owners, each positive windfall, or cash injection into the Venture, the owners can reroll the Venture's Profit Dice and keep the higher result.

For Example: The owners of the Mangy Minotaur (Profit Dice d6, Loss d6) roll and get a 3 and a 5 at the end of the month, meaning they're on track to lose 200 gp. However, over the course of the month, there was a festival in town that brought in extra trade, and the party managed to bring back a cask of incredibly rare elven wine from a dungeon delve, which has been selling very well. As a result, the GM rules that they've accumulated two rerolls, which come up 2 and 6. Therefore, the Minotaur actually made 600 gp and lost 500 gp that month, leaving the owners with a profit of 100 gp.

Loss Dice are assumed to be a d6 in a vacuum. However, beneficial effects (like the owners taking time or making successful skill checks to promote the business) can decrease the size of a Venture’s Loss Dice that month.

Likewise, negative contextual effects (like a crime spree, a rival venture taking away business, a monster attack) increase the size of the Loss Dice that month.

Loss Dice always reset to a d6 at the start of the next month.

Lastly, Boons are special effects that a Venture can spend its profits on generating.

A tavern might have the option to generate hirelings for the PCs to take out on adventures, an apothecary might generate healing potions, and a spy network might create specific intel the PCs can use to their benefit.

The DM can then use Boons as a way to insert plot hooks; generate new information, abilities, or allies for the PCs; and generally make their Venture feel useful.

Example: The Mangy Minotaur (Tavern)

A sprawling, labyrinthine drinking establishment decked in rich vermillion silks and dark wood.

  • Profit: d8 (large business)

  • Loss: d6 (owners handing out fliers)

  • Boons: Hirelings (100 gp, 1d4 + 1 skilled Hirelings become available for the PCs to recruit); Local Celebrities (200 gp, the owners become recognized around town, gaining +2 on all Persuasion checks against locals for the next 2d6 weeks); Renovations (400 gp, an extensive overhaul of the interior means the Venture’s Profit Dice cannot drop lower than d8 for the next 1d6 months).

Example: The Cult of the Minotaur

A fanatical death cult with a sprawling lair and temple beneath the Mangy Minotaur

  • Profit: d4 (fledgeling cult)

  • Loss: d10 (local adventurers poking around)

  • Boons: Friends in High Places (200 gp, a powerful noble falls under the Cult’s sway, increasing its Profit Dice after 1 successful month instead of 3); Lured to Their Doom (300 gp, one or more enemies of the cult are lured into its labyrinth and sacrificed); Laying Low (100 gp, Cult? What cult? The Cult’s Profit Dice requires 6 successful months to be increased, but during this time its Loss Dice cannot rise higher than a d6)

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