Hi all, firing up a new game of BW this fall, and I’m in need of some advice.
For this go around, the folks in my group are all playing members of a prestigious merchant house (probably in the wine business). The game takes place in a city-state that has separated itself from the worldwide church, and decides who will be at the head of its reigning merchant counsel (called The Chalice) through a two year cutthroat game between the up and coming city magnates.
The businesses and their leaders are watched and judged on their abilities over the course of these two years, and at the end of things the most proficient of them is welcome into The Chalice with open arms.
As you can imagine, a game like this has the business side of things as a large focus. The Resources chapter provides a number of tools for handling this sort of game, but I’d like a way to represent to the players exactly how well their enterprise (and their opponents) and doing over the course of the game. Finding a way to mechanize and represent the growth and losses of a business, without deviating too far from the system as written would be ideal.
I’ve had the following ideas already:
Treat the business as a fund, allowing players to roll it with Resources rolls for Lifestyle checks, and any other roll that’s directly related to the family business. Certain events could add dice to the fund, or grant disadvantages to rolls that use the fund. The fund could also be divested with Admin or Accounting test, to avoid massive losses (at the cost of less available capital).
Give the business it’s own Resources score, allowing it to advance like a character. This means it could help players with their Resource rolls (risking tax to itself), create funds for new ventures, or generate cash when necessary. This seems the most realistic to me, but doesn’t really seem to follow intent of the rules.
Play it completely freeform, allowing single resource rolls to crash major parts of the business if failed (and bring them back if passed). Only issue with this is that the business funds are essentially the players own Resource scores. This seems to be what the rules intend, but doesn’t feel granular enough for me.
Btw, we fully intend to use DoW to broker deals and all that.
Anyone have any other solutions or advice for how to do this? Has anyone ever run a game like this before? Any tips would be greatly appreciated.
Something feels off here. Maybe the focus is a bit too far from the characters; maybe expectations of what the players will do is too rigid; maybe the situation is too clean – What does having a successful business really have to do with getting into The Chalice? Surely bribes, seduction, and sabotage are going to play a bigger role than something as nebulous as a business valuation…
How does The Chalice determine whether one business is doing better than another? Presumably there’s an auditor (or more likely several) that make an accounting of the businesses’ worth? How do you imagine you, the table, are going to determine who wins this contest – a big Resources Vs Test; comparing Resources Exponents + Biggest Funds; Duel of Wits before the council? Knowing what this is building up to player-side would be helpful. I suspect a “business tracker” is going to be a red herring. I would describe what’s expected by The Chalice and then play from there. (I would probably go with all applicants making competitive donations to The Chalice – A big Resources Vs Test – with the second most generous applicant being given an opportunity to appeal their runner-up status against the winner before the council – A Duel of Wits where the previous winner’s margin of success gets rolled over into their Body of Arguement.)
Burning Sands: Jihad had a special Rps purchase you could make that was a communal cache: One person bought it with 45Rps, then others could buy into it with 15 point increments. Divide the total by 15 and that’s the dice-value of the Fund. Anyone who bought into it could use it.
I think the extra constraints you were talking about were kind of extraneous, unduly restricting, or “pre-playing”.
I’m pretty skeptical of this, especially if you all are new (the impression I get). Focus on the characters and get familiar with the system first.
Like what? What are some obstacles you imagine throwing at the players?
What’s the issue here? Can you elaborate what you mean by it not being granular enough? It seems like it’s the most granular option on the list.
It’s also the one I recommend. I would add the business to the property list and let players buy into it in 15pt increments. The total amount determines the size of the business starting out. I might even give them 5 Rps each to spend on it as a discount. Now all of their individual wealth is tied together through the business. The rules already encourage Helping each other, so for big purchases they’re incentivised to collectively take on the risk of Tax – so they can contribute financially through the business thanks to Help, and they can be Taxed collectively by same. They can also build Funds and get Cash as normal, and use that to supplement their expenses. You can throw obstacles at them that threaten the business and collectively penalize their Resources tests, and they can deal with those obstacles organically. The business becomes a point of context for their Resources abilities, and they’re encouraged to grow and protect it . Likewise, each shareholder becomes a liability to the company as their personal financial troubles will burden the company as a whole – which we see happen all of the time.
It seems pretty straightforward to me once you grok that they can all invest into the same business as property for (partially) setting their Resources exponents.
Mechanically, all that the Business also existing as a 2D Fund means is that all the players have access to an extra 2D when they want to buy something, and that they risk that 2D when doing so. Which is fantastic!
In my “Coffee Game”, a game about a caravan of merchants selling coffee (and creating a third religious way in the process of trying to reconcile the two disparate branches of their religion), the caravan leader created a 3D coffee fund near the beginning of the game and managed to spend the rest of the game carefully shepherding it such that it almost survived the next 20 sessions intact. Any of the other PCs who lived it large were plainly told that the business wouldn’t be supporting their lifestyle (no, I will not let you use the fund) and they made sure that any large purchases were well insulated from failure by cunning use of their Call-Ons and the only Deeds they earned. Any roll that came up to target it was met with as much Artha as they could leverage. Truly, it was a powerful thing they had, and they fought tooth and nail to keep it.
What I’m saying is, Gnosego’s advice about “what to focus on” is spot-on, and just letting it act as a fund is fine. Make sure that they have tonnes of things to spend it on though. Perhaps an auditor for the Chalice requests, politely, that they show their wealth with a kind gift; perhaps the Chalice make it known that they expect a fêté to be held. This will work best if the end-result is that they are torn between how corrupt and disastrous the rulership by the Chalice is for their business and the city, and the obvious benefits of membership; don’t only challenge their desire for entry by making it hard, make them question why they even want it, and whether they shouldn’t be subverting it somehow…
This is exactly what I was looking for, it gives the players the exact incentive they needed to be engaged. I didn’t consider this because the conceit of the game is that the business already exists in a large state, but having people personally buy in is interesting. It might not work with every PC concept (as some of them are servants, and some of them are employees), but it’s a good idea.
I mean in the sense that the entire business can change with a single roll. It’s the same reason we have the Pain Tolerance scale instead of simply killing PC’s outright. I understand that certain rolls in BW can have the consequence of outright killing a player, but the game obviously wants PC’s to have to suffer through some of the steps to death first, rather than simply dying. I want the same thing with the business. We want the PC’s to roleplay through the gradual descent, rather than have the whole thing crashing down at once (and just like with wounds, have a chance to turn things around).
You’re right, there are several auditors, one of which will be assigned to the PC business to grade it. These auditors swap contestants every season (over the two years). The position of Chalice Auditor is a very coveted/lucrative job, and thus they’re not really willing to take bribes. After all, any auditor that accepted a bribe would essentially be elevating the business that knows they’re dishonest into a station of power over them. On top of that, the current members of The Chalice can always offer them more compensation than any of the contestants could match. The benefits of being in The Chalice’s good graces are simply too high.
The conditions for winning the game are nebulous by design. This way the businesses have to do their best in every area, rather than just focusing on individual points. The exact auditor guidelines are a highly coveted secret. However, there is a common metric being measured. I don’t want to say it here though. My players might browse these forums and knowing it would be a spoiler. All told, if your business succeeds while others fail, you win. This area is often where trickery, bribes, sabotage, and seduction come in. The Chalice members do their best to remain neutral (though they don’t always). This way the businesses focus on competing with each other.
I like the idea of a Resource Vs. test going into Duel of Wits, and may use it in other situations within the campaign though.
This confuses me. A mechanical measure of how the business is doing will be exactly that. The expectation from the players side should be that they need to keep their business afloat (pass Lifestyle checks), ruin their opponents, and garner profit. Having this tracker (whatever form it takes) lets the PC’s know exactly how well things are going for their business at all times.
Nah, we’ve been playing this game for over 4 years together. The only system we’ve never dabbled in is Range and Cover. Everyone at the table has a baseline understanding of how it works. There is one newbie in our ranks, but he’s played a ton of sessions of Torchbearer, so he has an idea for the style of game we’re dealing with.
Regardless, I’m fairly certain the idea of them all buying in will work alright, but I can see some of my players thinking it doesn’t make sense for their characters to do so. I should make it clear I’m still going to discuss with them how to handle this, but I do want to come to the Session 0 with some ideas.
This is exactly what I was thinking, and where the campaign will most likely head. How far are you willing to go for a seat of power? No matter what the PC’s answer it will be exciting.
That being said, I take both of your points about the importance of context. I’ve just found that unless the context is backed by mechanics, it loses some teeth. That’s mostly what I’m asking for advice on, how to use the rules as provided to give it teeth.
But it’s highly possible I’m just overthinking this. I think the idea of PC’s buying in will be good for now. I know at least 3 of them will be willing. If they really balk at it, we can simply come to an agreement about the starting size of the business fund.
Hah! I hope they’re bought-in (figuratively) and happy to play on hard-mode! Seems like their finances are still gonna be tied into the business pretty tightly. When the grape blight gives the business supply chain issues, they’re probably gonna take a pay cut and get a disadvantage to their Resources too!
I still don’t understand how this is different from the other options: A Fund (or separate Resources exponent) is going to get taxxed the same way individual tests will be. And you set the failure consequences as you like. I don’t get it, sorry.
I mean, fair enough. But… They’re human; they have some failings.
I’m a bit skeptical of this. The secret metric the auditors use sounds like it could make for some good conflict, but I usually find a gameable context I can wrap my head around to be critical – especially if my GM has expectations about what kinds of decisions I’m going to make. I’m curious to see how it goes!
You can DM me if you wanna share; I’m interested.
I might just use the standard linked-test rules for smaller stuff; I like the exception I described as a big set piece.
There are several vectors that the game uses to track those kinds of things, from Affiliations with workers to Resources tax to Cash and Fund dice. The players’ character sheets can break down that information into network of factors that are all tied to the characters themselves.
How do you imagine passing Lifestyle tests and ruining their opponents tying back into the business tracker? What else would tie into it? Is it a description of the business’s well-being or a tool that can be leveraged for tests? (Or both?)
Wouldn’t such a business tracker risk confusing the players about how they’re going to get The Challice? There’s a secret scoreboard thr auditors are keeping according to secret rules, right? Maxxing out the business tracker isn’t actually going to win the seat on the council? Or is the business tracker also the scoreboard showing changes based on those secret rules? Now I’m confused!
If they’re going to have any Resources at all, encourage them to tie them to the business: Buy Affiliations with the workers; buy Reputations among them too; buy Rent on the grounds! Put them all in the same boat as much as possible! That discount may encourage them to invest in the business directly.
Also! I’m glad my idea was helpful!
Maybe if they don’t want to invest in the idea, they’re just not that into it. I’ve been wanting a Resources/business heavy game for years. I’d be champing at the bit to pump as many of my points into the vinyard as possible. Offering free Fund dice for not buying in (in more ways than one) just feels wrong, man.
This straightened me out. It makes sense that all these things in conjunction, along with the context of the story can act as a fine representation. Affiliations in particular should make for a good way to represent different parts of the business. It’s just that I’m used to single abstract representations of large concepts in a game. Like a Clock or Stress track in Blades in the Dark (if that example helps at all)
I don’t want to get too confusing with it as you mention though. For the most part, the auditor rules are aligned with business as common sense would dictate. Making smart investments into new lands for vineyards, that eventually pay off, will please the auditors. Selling the same land out of desperation will displease the auditors etc. I’ll DM you about the secret metric, and explain my plan a bit more.
Oh for sure. It’s just that turning one of them will take a lot of convincing.
Oh I hope they buy in as well. The section about renting land makes a lot of sense. Mostly I’m concerned about the servant player balking at this, because why would a servant/slave buy into the business. I think if I frame it as it being a representation of her position I can resolve this conflict though.
It really depends on what the players want to do though. I’m fine either way.
This, I think is wrong. The game can be about the business, and having the money can matter. But punishing (the term punishing can be complicated, and I will accept I’m saying withholding is punishing in the same way you same providing is offering, and that’s important to accept) someone for not having fun with the same toys seems kinda meh.
I also wanna say:
The Anthologies Faction system seems tailor made for this kind of thing.
I appreciate your offering a different opinion. I’m not entirely committed, but I am inclined to disagree.
I feel like there’s an element of punishing – or at least pushing – in granting the Fund dice. If the players aren’t interested enough in the business to buy into it, then they may not be interested in the conflict underlying the situation to start with. Granting the Fund dice is a drift away from the characters and the decisions the players have made. This isn’t a notion I can articulate all that well.
If I say I’m not having fun with the same toys you do, and then you insist on giving me those toys for Christmas, I’m going to roll my eyes. I’m not saying, “Punish them for not being interested in the situation;” I’m saying, “If they’re not interested, maybe there’s another situation they’d prefer to play.”
And I think that last sentence is where the fun comes in. Maybe don’t make it a fund if it’s not fun. Something like someone else owning the business, and them being on the periphery, or being otherwise not the players in the business, but members of its operations.
The Faction system would call for giving them the Funds and then giving them a faction leader who has the power to control the funds that isn’t them.
Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. It seems like buying into a situation about running a business and buying the business to run are going to go hand-in-hand. If the players wanna play something else; throwing a fund at them is probably not the right call.
EDIT: I think we’re getting lost in the weeds here! @acoffincarver, might be besr to ignore our navelgazing; you know your players better than us! Let us know how session 0 goes!