Resource system for trade, merchants, smuggling, and economic shenannigans?

The abstraction of wealth into resource dice is great, unless you want to have a campaign based around economic shennanigans. Thing is, I still want to keep the resource abstraction and the idea of trivial costs (“Saying Yes to Resources”, pg 369), but I want to add more drama to the process of having, gaining, and losing resources.

Anyone has an idea of how to nicely incorporate a more dramatic way of managing resources and money? I’m looking for something that supports the play of a merchant or smuggler type character.

My idea is adding a new type of tax called ‘Invest’ or ‘Investment’. It is like normal tax, in that you can’t use the invested resources (barring trivial expenses) however the resource points are not so much ‘gone’ as they are ‘frozen’. So investments don’t ‘reduce’ your resources, they just freeze the appropriate dice worth of resources and lock it away into the goods you’ve bought. This means investment never ‘reduces’ your resources to 0 and thus never causes depletion in your resources.

The other component of my idea is a sort of… delayed linked test.

How the mechanics would work would be as follows:

1 - State intent:
[li]How much resource dice do you want to invest?
[/li][li]What do you want to invest them in?
[/li][li]Protip: Gather information for good trades, trading locations and traveling conditions before this point.

2 - Buy goods from appropriate seller: Haggle/Duel of Wits - Linked Test Part 1.
[li] Apply any (dis)advantages as usual.
[/li][li] Success: Carry an advantage onto Linked Test Part 2
[/li][li] Failure: Carry a disadvantage onto Linked Test Part 2
[/li][li] Regardless of outcome: You invest the number of dice you stated in your intent in the good you wished to invest in. You invest as much as you wanted to invest always. The advantage/disadvantage corresponds to getting a good/bad deal.

3 - Play through travel to the target city and all the complications and shennanigans they bring, bandits, bad weather, bad roads, asshole patrolling guards, and side quest.

4 - Sell goods to appropriate buyer: Haggle/Duel of Wits - Linked Test Part 2.
[li]Remember to apply (dis)advantages from Linked Test 1.
[/li][li]Remember to apply any other (dis)advantages as appropriate. Demand of goods, and so on.
[li]Significantly more demand for goods here? Advantage. Less? Disadvantage.
[/li][li]Selling an Illegal good to a non-Fence? Major Disadvantage.
[/li][li]Selling an Immoral good to someone opposed? Major Disadvantage.
[li]Success: You gain a succesful test against your Resource whose obs is equal to the number of dice invested for purposes of determining test difficulty.
[li]PLUS 1 Obs for determining test difficulty for Forbidden (illegal) goods.
[/li][li]PLUS 1 Obs for determining test difficulty for Immoral goods (human trafficking, etc).
[li]Failure: A number of your invested dice, equal to the margin of failure (upto the maximum of your invested dice, of course), become taxed dice.

5 - Don’t forget tests for other complications like the authorities trailing you and crashing your meeting with the underworld slave traders.

If you implement this resource system, you probably have to remove the normal method of advancing resources by spending them, but you could keep taxing as normal for non-trading/smuggling related things. I suppose you could also use trades to replenish taxed resources, in which case… you could gain the number of dice invested minus one, of taxed resources back, I guess? (Kind of like a job?).


I think you nailed down some pretty good consequences from potential failed ressources tests. Usually, character with economic kind of life path start with pretty good ressource stats, so you can make a very dramatic game about selling, trading, smuglling stuff. I really encourage you to try to focus on the intent and task rules when it comes down to ressources. Also, taxing resources is one option, but there are many more. Personally, i would prepare some ideas as you’ve done but i don’t think hacking the resource system might add something to the drama.


It seems to me that you would still be advancing resources by spending them, your just spending them on your investments, saleable goods, business intrests and what have you. The size of the investment (which is still a purchase) determines the obstacle of the Resource Test, which then becomes a fund that you can draw on later as well as another plot hook for the gm to utilize.

Sure, I mean there is a reason they reference the quote “You need to spend money to make money”… because it’s true. In fact that quote is sort of directly referencing making money from investments. So you still make money by spending money… it’s just that the making of the money with my change is more directly linked by the selling of what you spent your money on, for profit.

Usually, all of that is abstracted into the resources roll; you roll the resource test and that takes care of all the trading/investing/moneymaking/moneylosing, etc. This abstraction works great when economics and trading isn’t the focus of the campaign you want to play. But when it is you want something a bit less abstracted, with more drama and punch. Kind of like how you use Fight! and Duel of Wits for important interactions rather than a simple Intent roll.

The delayed linked test and ‘investment’ mechanics allow you to play out the drama and intensity of having something at risk, and needing to protect that. It allows for the twists and turns and risks associated with trading to be felt directly by the player, over a long period of time, rather than just rolling the dice once and finding out whether you win or lose. This is great for if you want to play a trading/economic style campaign. I think it’s also a nice solution because it doesn’t significantly change the mechanics of the game. But, as I’ve not tried it in practice, it may be that it isn’t changed enough to be fun for a really economic focused campaign.

A lot of people would say to use a different system but I really like Burning Wheel and everything it bringed to the table… except this one thing.

Having only ‘Resources’ representing economic mechanics is, to someone who wants to play trading/economic game, as only having ‘Circles’ (ie. no relationships, reputations, or affiliations) is, to someone who wants to play a social/political game. Actually in that comparison it’s probably worse for the trader.

I’m may be missing it, but I’m not sure where the hack is. It seems like this is all covered by a combination of the Funds rules and the Loans rules. Cash, Goods, Titles and Loans are the Resources equivalent of Circles’ relationships, reputations and affiliations.

To expand on that a bit:

  1. Investing, say backing a merchant’s expedition, would use the Loan rules. Make enough loans to the right people (i.e., ones that can make their lifestyle maintenance rolls with at least one extra success), and you’ll be rolling in advantage dice when it comes time to maintain your profligate lifestyle. You can also take out loans, of course.

  2. To engage in trade, buy things in one place and sell them for cash dice in another.

  3. For property or shares in a business, buy a fund.

  4. Make sure you’re tapping into Circles, of course. Use circles, relationships, affiliations and reputations to access the right people and make the right deals.

As far as making it about more than one roll, I agree.
We have done a sort of in game linked test where each link of the test was actually a goal within the storyline, beliefs were written, instincts engaged, and the story was played. We abstracted the boring parts like raising and training a militia (handled with a DoW with a minor compromise to the ruling Jarl, as well as estate management and instruction rolls), while we played out the campaign to capture and retake land and resources from the enemy tribes, protect said resources, safeguard the villagers and peasants brought in to work the land, mine the ore, produce the goods (down time skill tests), then transport the goods to market to sell for profit.
Each part depended upon the success or failure of the previous scene, with advantages and disadvantages being earned as if a link tests were performed.
Just like in fight, we slowed down and played out the important parts that could have just been abstracted into a series of link test rolls (just as fight could be abstracted into a versus or even a bloody versus test)
The beauty of burning wheel gold is that it focuses on whatever is important for the characters, months and even years can seem to pass in the blink of an eye when nothing important is happening (training, abstracted rolls, say yes, or a combination of all three) while a business deal or sword strike seems to loom larger than life and takes center stage

It’s not that you can’t do this stuff, just that the gamefeel isn’t right for someone who wants to focus on trading and so on. You could switch to another system, but everything else in Burning Wheel just seems so perfect, why not keep all that?

In your trade example, your Resources increase when you successfully buy your trade goods, not when you sell them. By the time you’ve bought the trade good, you could throw it away and you’d still have gained the resource test you want, and no tax. If you fail the Resource test, what does that mean? Sure you could abstract that into some narrative about how the planned trade got complicated by all the shenanigans associated with trading and economics… but the problem there is the abstraction. For someone who wants to focus on the drama of that, abstracting it is death. Imagine if you only had intent rolls for combat and no option for Versus, Bloody Versus, or Fight! ?

Selling for cash also feels weird because cash doesn’t directly increase your resources. It’s also not much different from generating cash from your resources, except it requires a couple haggles/DoW instead of that stuff being abstracted into the resources roll. It’s also strange, for the trading focused player, to have failed resource rolls inflict tax. I didn’t buy the item so now I’ve lost resources? Obviously it’s an abstraction and a sort of anti-causal abstraction at that. You didn’t get taxed because you failed, rather it is only because you were actually taxed, that you failed, and you’re just updating your resource status after the discovery. But this feel doesn’t work on the small-scale, detailed level of resource management that would accompany wanting to play a trade-focused game.

I think 1, 3 and 4, are all fine though, and absolutely doable in tandem with the approach I posted in OP. I fact, 4 is exactly how you’d go about finding the appropriate trade goods and people to sell them to in other cities, etc.

I agree but I just think it is kind of lacking in the ‘dramatic detail/focus’ option for Resource tests. For combat you have various options at different levels of drama and detail (Roll vs Static Obs, Versus, Bloody Versus, and Fight!), for social persuasion you at least have Roll vs Static Obs, Versus Rolls and Duel of Wits. For social relationships and politics you have, in increasing detail, Circles, but you also have reputations, affiliations, and bought or established relationships.

For Resource management, though, you really only have Resource rolls. The expansions to Resource management are simply different kinds of resource rolls. Like if instead of having affiliations you just rolled Circles vs a different Obs and treated the result differently. That is basically what generating cash or loaning is like for Resources, they’re just differently abstracted Resource rolls. I suppose you could try and make a ‘Trading/Resource Scripted Combat’ but, unlike physical combat and rhetoric combat, trading/resource combat often isn’t resolved in a quick time frame. Unless your players are entirely happy abstracting the travel, the combat or escape from highwaymen, and the dealing with authorities and laws and taxation into ‘Scripted Combat’ options then even a Scripted Combat version of trading won’t be fun for a trading-focused player.

I’ve not tried my method yet, so I’m not sure if it will be successful, but I think it’s worth a try. If anyone can spot obvious problems I’d be glad to hear them. I’m not sure how my method will interact with normal tax and normal resource progression… I suspect you may have to make changes there as well for it to work nicely.