The D&D Dungeon Masters Guide is out now, and it’s a very cool resource filled with lots of new rules for treasure, magic items, world building, new downtime activities, and optional rules! Also, my name is in the play-tester credits, so that’s pretty fun :).
Anyway, instead of doing something ridiculous, like review an entire book, I’d like to focus on one specific element I found interesting, the rules for running a business during your downtime!
The idea of running a business and making extra money during downtime is pretty appealing. It’s a great way to engage with the campaign world, a fun “simulationist” way to make money, and it opens up some cool adventure hooks for the DM. For example, maybe some mysterious cloaked figures show up at your Inn, clearly wounded and seeking shelter for the night, OR maybe a group of bumbling first level adventures meet up for the first time, planning a raid on a dragon lair that will surely result in their deaths!
However, running a business is a tricky mechanic to get right. You probably don’t want it to be TOO profitable, or else your PCs will be scratching their heads, wondering why they ever go on adventures. Conversely, if it doesn’t really make you any money, why even bother? Sure, running an Inn sounds cool, but if it’s not profitable, maybe you’re better off spending your character’s time elsewhere.
The folks at Wizards of the Coast gave running a business a decent shot that may work for casual play, but unfortunately it suffers from a few serious flaws when you dig into it:
- Running a big business is less profitable than running a small business: If you look at the table for running a business, you’ll see that lower results penalize you by forcing you to pay some percentage of your upkeep every day you spent running a business. Your upkeep can range from 5SP a day for a farm to 10GP a day for a trading post. That makes sense. If your business does poorly, you still have to pay your workers and keep your property in shape. What is pretty counter-intuitive, however, is that if you roll higher on the table, you roll a set amount of dice to determine your profit. This profit is in the same range no matter the size of your business. So a small farm makes the same profit as a large inn, but since the large inn has an upkeep that is 20 times larger, you’ll end up making a lot less money overall since it will hurt a lot more when you roll poorly and need to pay that upkeep.
- You make more money per day if you run a business for one day compared to 30 days: You get a bonus to your roll for every day you spend running a business. If you spend one day running a business, you get a +1% to your roll, where as if you spend 30 days running a business, you get a +30% to your roll. So on the surface, running a business for 30 days seems like it gives you a big advantage. However, if you crunch the numbers, you’ll find that it is vastly more profitable for your time to run a business for one day compared to 30 days. Sure, you make more money, but not enough to justify all the extra time spent. For example, if you spend one day running an Inn, you should expect to make about 13GP on average. If you run that same Inn for 30 days, you should expect to make about 26GP on average. So you’ve about doubled your profit for 30X the work! Clearly any player who can get away with it will try to game the system by making a roll every day for running a business.
- You pay upkeep on your business while you are away: On the surface, this isn’t too surprising. The property still needs to be maintained, and you’re going to need staff to keep everything running, but having this requirement means that for most campaigns, owning a business is a money losing proposition. Imagine a campaign where the PCs spend half their time in downtime and half their time traveling and going on adventures. That doesn’t seem too unusual. In such a campaign, the PC would spend 10GP on upkeep for every day spent adventuring and would make about 13GP for every day spent running their Inn. So technically, they are making a profit, but it is pretty thin, especially since they are probably spending 1GP to cover their lifestyle expenses every day they run their Inn. Now, imagine a campaign where the DM is constantly putting challenges in front of the PCs, forcing them to adventure frequently and travel across the world fighting evil. Now, they are only spending 1 day out of every 4 in downtime. Suddenly, the PC is losing A LOT of money running that Inn. For every 13GP they make on average, they are losing 30GP!
With all that in mind, I put together the following house rules:
- Every week, you make a roll to see how much money your business makes (or loses). You make this roll regardless of whether you are spending your downtime running the business or not. One of the NPCs on your staff is assumed to be managing the business if your PC is not available. The DM may elect to make this roll in secret and inform you of the results when you return from adventuring. Absent other factors, the DM determines how trustworthy the NPC is, so PCs are advised to hire NPCs they already trust to run their business for them to avoid embezzlement.
- Replace the 61-80, 81-90 and 91+ results with the following:
61-80: You cover your upkeep and make 100% of your upkeep each day in profits (since businesses make a roll every week, you are multiplying your upkeep times 7).
81-90: You cover your upkeep and make 200% of your upkeep each day in profits.
91+: You cover your upkeep and make 300% of your upkeep each day in profits.
- If you spend a week of downtime running your business, you get a +10 bonus on your roll that week. If you only spend a few days running the business during the week, you get a +1% bonus for every day you spent running the business (so it’s much more efficient to dedicate an entire week).
- As per normal rules, if you roll poorly and are required to pay upkeep but elect not to do so, subsequent rolls take a -10 penalty until you pay your debt. This effect is cumulative, so if you fail to pay your upkeep two times, you take a -20 on the roll, and so on. A PC may elect to leave funds behind to pay their debts if the business loses money while they are away; again if the NPC managing your business is not trustworthy, the DM may determine that they abscond with the money (tracking down an unscrupulous NPC could be an adventure in itself!).
- The DM may grant other temporary or permanent bonuses or penalties to these rolls as makes sense for the story. For example, perhaps one week there is an important festival in the town, and so the DM grants a +10 bonus. Or maybe a plague hits the town, and so the DM gives a -10 penalty. Alternatively, if an important rival is eliminated or a lucrative trade deal is established, the DM may grant a +5 or +10 bonus to rolls as long as that bonus remains in effect (which could be indefinitely).
If you crunch the numbers on these house rules, you’ll find that, absent any other factors, all businesses are profitable even without direct management. A farm makes about 1GP a week on average absent any management, and a rural Inn makes between 15-20GP a week on average. Of course, one wrong turn can send a business spiraling into the red. A single -10 modifier from an unpaid debt or unfortunate turn of events (perhaps goblins are attacking nearby trade routes) will turn a marginally profitable business into an unprofitable one, so PCs must remain vigilant to protect against any threats that arise through the course of play (or the DM’s whim).
If PCs are buying their businesses outright instead of, say, inheriting an Inn, they’ll find that absent direct management, they’ll recoup their investment within 4-5 years, which feels about right and isn’t too far from what you’d expect running a 7-11 in the real world! If they run the business non-stop or secure bonuses in other ways (such as lucrative trade deals), they can easily cut this time in half. In D&D terms, this may seem rather slow, but hey, there is SOME prestige to owning your own Inn or Trade-post, and you can always sell the property at a later date to get your money back (assuming you can find a buyer).
These rules can also be applied to running a barony or even an entire kingdom. As long as the manors and castles the PCs build or acquire come with the lands and rights to taxation appropriate to their station, you can factor in their upkeep and treat them like running any other business. Obviously, this doesn’t mean the PCs can spend 500K GP to build a palace in the wilderness and suddenly expect to start raking in the cash, but if the PCs are granted land or spend much of the campaign carving out their own little kingdom, I think it would be quite appropriate and a lot of fun. Bonuses and penalties to rolls take on a new meaning at this scale; suddenly a -10 negative represents a blight across the land or a war with a powerful kingdom that is taking its toll on the populace. A +10 bonus might represent a recent discovery of gold in mountains within the kingdom’s domain or a recent trade agreement with an exotic and faraway land.
This system is quite abstract, but I think it gives most DMs and Players the flexibility they need to fit it to a variety of different businesses and situations, including plenty of room for game events and PC actions to affect the development of the business. It’s also quite easy to manage, requiring one roll per game week and keeping track of a handful of modifiers (at most) and the current profit or debt of the business. I’m really excited to try it out in my campaign. I’d love to hear how it works for you, dear reader!