Businesses in RPGs.

This week, I have been thinking about businesses that I have run in FRP world, and how they have evolved.  I was looking for some old (RL) finance files and came across the Role Play stuff at the same time.

The first FRP business that I have on record is the Far Flung Trading Company (or FFTC as it became known) with a spreadsheet from 1998.  FFTC came from a table-top game where the characters captured a ship and wanted to keep it, rather than sell it.  We were playing in the Al Qadim setting, which contains some basic rules for businesses run by the Merchant-Rogue class, so we developed a trading organization based on those rules.  It stayed with us for a long time.  Characters died and shares were distributed according to wills and new characters spent good money to buy into the company.  It never really made any money for the characters, but it gave the group a focus.  Even when the playing group started to break up, when given a choice, players chose for their characters to retire into something FFTC related, and many of them went on to captain ships or become master of a merchant caravan.

FFTC has stayed with me ever since.  It provided the local shipping when I started my first on-line game, it has appeared in a Traveller universe that I ran and now it is the main trade outlet in a NWN world that I am building.  It always makes me smile.

Next was the Kassen Kompany, which runs from about 2009.  I was playing in a local Pathfinder game, where the DM had pulled a number of modules from different APs together, we had just taken down the evil guild running Falcon’s Hollow and I managed to blag the local barge shipping business as part of our rewards.  Again it finished up with trade ships, after all they are easy and give the party transport options.  However, we also finished up owning a hippogriff breeding (and training) programme and a library for all the books that we collected while we were out adventuring. It expanded to include a Sword School, quarrying business and rented accommodation – all in one village right on the edge of the civilized area. Again, it gave us a party focus, with characters dropping in and out or investing in personal projects – but all under the Kassen Kompany banner. 

FFTC was focussed on trade and was little more than a glorified Merchant House although one that worked well for the party – perhaps that was my fault because (as DM) I didn’t give the characters options to move into other areas.  Kassen Komany was different, trade and ships were there, of course, but we diversified into so many other areas.   This time around, I was a player looking for opportunities in another DM’s world – and I had a couple of willing accomplices.

Then there was Jahi’s Magic Store in about 2015.  I had joined a pathfinder game at RPoL (gone now) where the DM had allowed players to build NPC businesses (with secondary characters) using the Down Time rules.   So I set up a low level Magic Shop using an Adept as the main character.  That all went interestingly pear-shaped, quite quickly!   Adepts make clerical scrolls, and have a weird spell list – which means almost no PC classes can use their scrolls.  So quickly recruit a wizard as an assistant, and then a witch, because they can get Brew Potion at L1 ….  and the shop became a bit more useful.  However, as the shop grew, so did the book keeping.  Keeping track of the business became quite time-consuming and turned into a chore.  At the same time, my PC character (in partnership with his siblings) bought an Inn, that was easy to run and developed into a minor RP focus for a number of characters.  The moral of that story – keep it simple!


Which brings me to the rules I use in my game at the moment.  Paizo’s attempts at Kingdom Building and Down Time businesses were brave and exciting – but they didn’t really come off.  Both rule sets were complex, times consuming and intrusive, and they didn’t fit together very well – you try doing a cost analysis across the two sets of rules.  However, I wanted something that offered that sort of RP opportunity to my players – so I combined the two and simplified them.  However, rather than treating the m as two separate systems, I have rolled them into one – but all very much ‘Standing on the Shoulders’ of those who have gone before.

There is a fairly simple core mechanic that calculates income and allows businesses to grow, but which discourages characters from cashing their businesses in.  You can build Noble estates (which can be turned into Kingdoms), businesses or organizations.  A Cleric can build their own churches and religious orders, Merchant Houses can flourish and you can even set up charitable or community organizations.  The complexity varies, most things are easy to run –  but Merchant Houses and Noble Estates need planning, thought and some effort.

Most importantly, growth depends on RP between characters, if you want to build a new shop, you need to negotiate with the land owner.  All very simple and straightforward –  BUT it encourages conversations between characters, and that is the basis of Role Playing 🙂

The rules are still being developed – and they are growing all the time as player think of new ways to use the rules. You can find the current rules set here although a newer, streamlined, system is under development here.

Posted in Role Playing Aids, World Building.

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