Handling a new character with a business

So in my campaign, Sonya is the gossip-wise matriarch of a bordello. Burning up their character, having a “moderate sized business” ate up almost all of her resource points, and having now gone through the rules for handling Resources, I have to say it seems brutal. Practically impossible, considering the rest of the group isn’t terribly interested in making maintenance of the establishment a major focus of the story. I really don’t want to say “welp, maintenance time. Exp. 2 Resources vs. Ob 3 for maintaining a small business (and being generous here since a bordello seems bigger than “a cobbler’s shop”). You failed, so your resources are taxed and drop to Exp. 1, you can’t maintain your business, you lose your character concept and get to be a bum like your friends…whose concepts actually fit being homeless.”

Anyway, that’s what I fear the rules are pushing. Without dropping the relationship which forms her character’s hook into the main story (I won’t make her), her character can only start with B2 Resources. I understand conceptually why these systems are so harsh, but she spent hours burning this character and she’s not gonna have a good time if the rules screw her out of her concept. RAW it just seems like running a successful business 'aint happening for a 4LP character, unless substantial conflict in the narrative will be devoted to keeping said business afloat. Too late to take the concept from her though.

So, I need a way to handle it. I can see a couple ways. Earning a Fund would be enough to at least allow her to survive a maintenance cycle without dropping an exponent, although if taxed, she would just have to spend a cycle working to recover from tax and then wham, the maintenance test after destroys the business. Still, enough Funds or Cash will keep the business afloat, but only barely, since it won’t help her pass a Difficult test. The easiest method would be a wealthy patron NPC she can “help” in order to improve her exponent (and aside from buckets of artha that kind of seems like the only way to ever improve B1 or B2 resources?). That being said, without any affiliations or relationships this isn’t something I can just “give” her, and I don’t want to decide she’s gonna get that ahead of time either, as that would feel cheap and not emergent.

So I feel kind of bummed because what I thought was going to be cool flavor for her character (the business isn’t directly in her beliefs, but that’s because the other players weren’t interested in seriously involving it in the story) is actually a real pile of bees within the mechanics. I can’t let her lose it as GM because it’ll ruin things for her for sure. I know her, she has terrible luck in RPGs, it will really put a dark cloud over things if it happens early on, again…But I can’t use the Resources rules without a Deus Ex Machina to save her finances.

I know the “right” method within the rules is probably to just start over, the rules don’t support this and if I fudge it, she’ll be overpowered. But she worked way harder than anyone else on her character, and it’s way too late to tell her she can’t use this concept.

How would you handle this?

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What is the background of the campaign?

Krumsly is right. What is the big picture of your campaign? What are your PCs aimed at?

You don’t have to outright destroy the business.

Consider:

  • Giving the brothel a bad reputation if they fail their resources, now they attrack the wrong people.

  • Customers get STD’s and one of them is the local mayor/prince/captain of the guard and he Blames owner

  • A girl gets brutaly abused but, being the love interest of a local lord, he gets the owner arrested.

  • A new and beter brothel opens next door and really shows how shitty yours is.

  • One of the girls is conspiring to replace the current ‘madame’ and is gaining support to kick the old bat out.

Get creative, not in outright destroying their stuff, but use it against them, make them start hate ever buying it in the first place.

Yes my players love me as an ST.

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I want to start with saying that the initial mistake might be that she was allowed to invest so heavily into a business that seems really important to her, but no one else cares about. This is a matter of expectations during burning and aligning Beliefs and Goals.

However, as an experienced player who has characters who maintained everything from bars to entire governments, I will share what I learned.

BW assumes that the player cannot pass a maintenance test by the Resources attribute alone. It’s very mean that way! But if that’s the base assumption, what’s a PC to do?

  • Go adventure and scrape together enough Cash Dice from looting. An idle adventurer will fail as intended by the rules.

  • During play, convince other players that the business is worth their investment. Offer them a share of the profits with the promise of a Fund. Get them to Help with the Resource test. Remind them that Helping is the quickest way to earn Advancement tests.

  • When it comes time for the Maintenance test, BW expects the PC to squeeze the heck out of those that work for them. A lord collects taxes from their peasants. A madam collects from her whores. Test skills like Intimidation or Persuasion depending on what kind of boss she is. Successes generate Cash Dice.

  • Use Circles to hire a manager and an accountant. These NPCs can Help on the Maintenance test with Linked tests such as Administration and Accounting.

Using these four tactics will generate a lot of extra Cash Dice. Surely enough to pass an Ob 4 Maintenance test even with only a B2 Resources.

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I use an NPC’s don’t roll policy. They can help but usualy I don’t use linked tests. But still good advice.

If that’s the case, I suppose you could just Say Yes and have them grant an Advantage Die without them testing.

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It’s a booming desert city surrounded by ancient dwarven ruins buried in the sand. The upper crust of society excavates them as their frivolous activity of choice, but the nobility in charge by birthright are in a hidden war with the local trade guilds.

The players are pawns within this war, carrying out political sabotage for one or both sides (but likely the nobility, going by the player Beliefs).

Thanks a lot for the suggestions! I was worried considering the very real possibility of having the player’s resources drop to 1 at some point, but that doesn’t exactly mean the business gets confiscated from her, rather “you barely even have enough to feed yourself, so what are you doing to keep the business alive?”

I also didn’t understand how a business is actually beneficial, it sure seems like more of a burden than anything considering the increased lifestyle Ob. “But shouldn’t my business be earning the money it needs to sustain itself?” The player asked. Indeed, it would seem while this isn’t automatic, it does open up more options on a narrative level, which I was greatly underestimating the importance of.

As for the lack of buy-in, the other two players have only ever played D&D before, so it’s kind of expected. They are certainly receptive to playing something different and willing to accept Burning Wheel on its terms, but there’s still a cloud of “but if we aren’t delving into dungeons and fighting generically evil monsters, what are we doing?” coloring their perspectives. I have run Apocalypse World and Mouse Guard for the player with the Madame, so she’s pushing things in a very different direction (one I prefer, personally, but I think I have some excellent ideas for how to keep everyone engaged.)

Yes, I belief the PC already worked to get an NPC to help him. It is established the player rolled circles or what ever to get someone to help him. Making the NPC roll feels like breaking the let it ride rule. There would be a major chance the pc doesn’t get what he rolled for earlier

If the PC was tending the business instead of, you know, adventuring? Then, absolutely, the business would run smoothly and make profit. But as you correctly understand, resources are different in this game. They are narrative devices. BW forces decisions: focus on the Belief to run the business or the Belief to address the campaign goal. These two should be in constant conflict.

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I will just humbly add that, if a PC is consistently passing Lifestyle Maintenance tests over and over again it means that she can live, adventure and mostly important - be lazy and idle - without working or taking risky choices and movements. It’s quite unusual in-fiction considering that most of the world’s population works hard just to get by. It’s actually like sitting in the chair/bed all the time, get some profits and somewhat having business running without any moderation.

And Resources B2 and LM’s Ob 4 means “I need to invest/get money ASAP to hold my business!”.

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Think about fiction potential and in-game leverage concept - she has an business that can be expanded, improved, upgraded, so it will grant some adequate opportunities and possibilties in fiction. Her bordello is not just Resource B2 add-on: it’s a physical building with physical courtesans where money is flowing back and forth. If you really need to help her (a female player leading PC) you can add +1D advantage to any investments (Resources test) directly toward bordello in fiction.

In Burning Wheel, everything on your character sheet is in jeopardy. Nothing is safe. In many other games, there’s an understanding that your character is safe and sacred. But as soon as you introduce an element to the game in Burning Wheel, it becomes a target for the GM.

Businesses in Burning Wheel are sources of conflict just as much as an enchanted sword or hateful relationship. Running a business can be a source of adventure. Gathering cash, taking out loans, burning down the house of the guildmaster who won’t grant you a license — just a few of the many opportunities.

I encourage your player to dive into this world. Write Beliefs about making the business successful. Play it through. Through diligence, she can advance Resources over time and become successful and even wealthy.

But nothing comes for free. Will she pay the price in blood, tear or sweat? Play to find out!

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