Reorganizing and running a business

So we’re all pretty new to Burning Wheel, and my players have recently acquired a medium sized business. The game takes place in a city modeled after Constantinople in the middle ages, and they specialize in finding quality products for the rich and powerful.

I intend to let them have their fun now, reorganizing and getting to know what it’s like running a business instead of working for one, and then let the storyline take a backseat until it’s needed.

I think I have an okay grip on how I’m going to handle it the long-term; the business has it’s own resources, which the characters can borrow if they’re doing something related to the business. There will be a maintenance test were a failure will increase the Obstacle of their personal tests.

What I’m struggling with is how I’m going to put the “reorganizing” part into action. They have a lot of ideas on what they want to do (one of my players have recently taken a course in Management & Advertising and is only too happy to finally get to use that for something), but I have no idea how to put that into a mechanical context.

What I have so far is that there will be a Resources test as a “Did these new things you tried work?”. I have this general idea using Circles, Resources and other skills as a big linked test which either gives them extra dices or a raised obstacle on that test, but I would love to hear your comments and experiences with these kinds of things.

Since you’re shifting the storyline to focus on the buisness right now, why not really push hard at setting up new fiction there instead of trying to wring mechanical bonuses out of it? Since they’re reorganizing and everyone is excited about that spend the next few sessions on securing new contacts, suppliers, purchasers, etc. Lots of room there for shady business deals, scorned competitors, etc. Resources, Circles, Wises, Accounting, Administration, etc. When you come out the other side of it you’ll have a whole bevy of new NPCs and conflicts that revolve around the business.

Depending on the outcome of all that shakes out, set up a Fund (p. 374) based on the strength of the business and go from there. But again, more importantly, there might be a lot of new awesome fiction to work with.

It sounds like your players want to make the reorganizing MORE than a simple roll, right?

The BW method is figure out what the larger scale issues/conflicts are, and then lay it out in problems that crop up.

So first ask why the business isn’t doing good (or as good as it could be) to begin with? Are there a few incompetent people within it? Is there in-fighting? Are there rival businesses that are just doing better? (or putting out nasty rumors as negative advertising?) Is there a prestige customer that if you got, other customers would follow? Are there city hall officials who are against the business and constantly upping the fees and charges, or applying rules to make work harder? Is there some kind of object or equipment needed for the business that would make things easier?

Pick a few that sound interesting, and make the situation out of that. Along the way, look at these skills:

Administration, Accounting, Bureaucracy, Conspicuous, Rule of Law, Haggling, Soothing Platitudes, Persuade…

If someone suggest something that seems especially apt and useful, give them a +1D Advantage die. Actions they take to reorganize can often be considered Linked Tests towards their final goal.

At the end of it all, they should have built up: Smart and capable employees (contacts, & a crew), an Affiliation with the business or larger guild, a Reputation (can’t make all those changes without someone noticing), a host of customers, contacts in the city, and rival business owners (contacts, relationships), and probably pumped a few skills for the effort.

Use this time to foreshadow relationships and problems for stuff AFTER the reorganization. (“Well, to be honest, the northern route is being attacked by some kind of flying beast- the horses are getting eaten every caravan…” “Did you hear? Boatmaster Kuyin is pouring his savings into backing the Councilor’s bid for the Chief Seat…”)


Really, it all depends on the state of the enterprise, and on what exactly it is that needs reorganizing. You mention that one of your players specializes in advertising; I could totally see asking him/her to make some kind of test to get the word out (conspicuous, with maybe a FoRK from falsehood or oratory?), linked into a circles test ti actually find a client. Other bussiness related tests that you could have them make:

Another thing you can do is call for an Accounting test, to figure out who owes the company money, and who they owe money to. You might follow this up with some social tests tests convince their debtors to actually pay up, and to convince their creditors to hold off until the PCs actually have money.

Really, what I do in situations like this is just browse through the skill section of BWG, take note of any that might be in some way applicable to the situation at hand, and then devise some way to work them into the campaign.

Oh yeah also, don’t forget to welcome them to their new Lifestyle Maintenance Obstacle when appropriate!

We ran a “bank” in Burning THAC0. It was essentially a loan sharking scheme. We gave out loans and intimidated people to pay them back. Once we opened an office, we had to make higher Ob lifestyle maintenance tests (as Chris notes above).

Loan sharking is such an ugly term. We provided a valuable and necessary service: short-term, high-interest loans for individuals in need who had no other place to turn.

As my character was one of your clients, I think “loan sharking” is apt, if not a bit too benign.

Make sure that the players write short term ‘goal’ style beliefs related to the re-structure of the business; then not only can they earn artha, but you have a guidline to antagonise their intrests. Sounds like a fun game!

Thank you all for your advice! We had a whole session of hiring and doing business stuff, and it was a huge sucess! Now they’ve had to make a few tough decisions (will they do what’s best for their business or try to defend themselves against the serial-killer knight that has it out for them) and many of them are very excited about advancing in the ranks.