Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Simpler Domains & Warbands. Part 3: Enterprise Rules from INTO THE ODD

Ok, preambles aside (here and here), let's dive directly into systems that could satisfy my desire for elegant, straightforward "mini-domain play" that let PCs run gangs, warbands, properties, or businesses - while keeping adventure front-and-center and without burning too many brain cells on administration.

Let's begin with the...


Enterprise Rules from INTO THE ODD

Into the Odd is a delightful, simple adventure game that can be hacked in all sorts of crazy directions, or played as-is with great enjoyment. Author Chris McDowall recently released Electric Bastionland, which is something between a 2nd edition and a sister-game to Into the Odd. I highly recommend his game designs. His really outstanding blog, Bastionland, includes links to free versions of Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland, or you can follow links from Bastionland to buy the full versions as well. [EDIT: on yesterday's initial post, I mis-spelled Chris' last name as MacDowall. Sorry!]

Because this stuff is right up there in the free version - and because it only takes half a page, which is a real credit to its elegance - I'm just going to walk right through Chris' "Enterprise" rules, which could cover anything from managing profitable land to running a business (whether a tavern or a smuggling ring). The rules are dirt-simple, like mud-under-your-fingernails dirt simple, but honestly...before dismissing these, ask yourself whether this wouldn't suffice for 90% of what a mini-domain game would need...

Let's look at those Enterprise rules (I won't touch the Detachment combat rules here, focusing just on the social-economic part of the domain game for now).

Into the Odd states that...
"Between expeditions, you can try your hand at business, or muster a military force. DETACHMENTS and ENTERPRISES each cost 10 Gold to establish. Detachments demand a further d6 Gold in upkeep each month, or else they revolt."

"Income: New ENTERPRISES generate 1d4 Gold of Income each month. They also face a Threat that will cause 1d4 Gold in Losses unless dealt with. If an Enterprise cannot pay its debts, it collapses. Growth: If an ENTERPRISE ends a month with Profit, its income moves up to the next type of die, to a maximum of d12. However, this larger die also applies to losses from Threats.

"Improvements: Equipping a Detachment costs twenty times the individual item cost. Detachments start with 1d6 HP and advance in Experience Levels just as individuals do." 
Chris just threw down a complete, if very basic, system for founding, running, profiting from, and maybe losing a diverse range of undertakings - his samples include "Underground Distillery," "Smuggling Ring," "Reptile Cult," and "Hidden Vineyard."

Some observations:

SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONTEXT: if the BECMI Companion rules for dominions assume a late medieval faux-European feudal context, Into the Odd's simple rules most directly evoke the latter game's implied setting: a whimsical but gritty early-modern/modern urban milieu, in which an essentially capitalist cash economy dominates society. Thus, for example, the mechanical benefit for successfully running an Enterprise = more cash (though nothing prevents players and GMs from making sure that 'Reptile Cult' has other benefits/drawbacks as well). Similarly, cash is the only thing needed to recruit and keep the services of a band of fighters - as opposed to, say, mustering men available from a given estate of land, or calling on troops bound by specific oaths of loyalty. There's nothing wrong with this, but this assumption should be noted; in a more typically ancient or medieval game setting, I'd suggest tweaking the relationships between precious metal, land, enterprise, and organized violence. As written, therefore, this stands out to me as an amazingly efficient and elegant system, but it would call for a bit more development in something like the faux-Iron Age setting I'm running for players now.

RELATIVE SCALE OF ENTERPRISES: mixing these rules with the abstract wealth mechanics I discussed here could make these even more effective. Currently, ItO's rules describe a total of five stages of Enterprise, those using d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12 to track their 'business' opportunities and risks. That is already a decent range, but one could add legs by making the puniest Enterprises cost 10 Copper to establish, and letting them 'grow' slowly up to the 1d12 Copper level - after which point they might graduate to the 1d4 Silver level, and so on. This would help accentuate the idea that regular access to the different precious metals involves not just different amounts of coinage, but different realms of social power.

As written, Into the Odd doesn't have a very long arc for character advancement (it goes up to Level 5, if I recall correctly). If one split the Enterprise categories into Copper, Silver, and Gold Enterprises, I'd suggest two options: either adjust the advancement array accordingly if you want the campaign to focus on the long 'domain' arc, or ... perhaps better yet...don't change it, but let each new 'generation' of PC keep running the business/enterprise handed down by their mentors. ItO already requires rearing up apprentices by the time you level up as a full veteran; handing the new guy your Enterprise, and then watching the new guy build that enterprise up into something even more grand, before trying yet again, could actually be a very satisfying way to run a deep, rich campaign using a very simple ruleset.

GIMME ADVENTURE! I noted in my criteria for my ideal mini-domain rules that I want them to function as a drive toward ongoing adventure, more than a pull away into the world of technical accounting. ItO's Enterprise rules do this by requiring each Enterprise, each month, to roll for profits against losses coming from some un-named Threat. During lucky months, a player might roll higher profits than losses and just decide to take the gain without any fuss. At other times, a player will have to tangle with those threats. This gives the GM a regular green-light to force the players into who-knows-what kind of trouble, ideally suited to the nature of each Enterprise, if they want to keep the whole thing afloat. Just imagine; what kind of Threats might impose losses for that Reptile Cult? And what kind of adventure hooks would automatically jump out from your answer? This is a very neat way to balance the needs of an adventure roleplaying game with a profitable domain system, without much overhead at all.


IN CONCLUSION

Well, I'm not sure I can settle exactly on ItO's rules as written, particularly since I want to rethink the core assumptions for a non-monetized, non-capitalist setting, but I think this shows just how short a ruleset can be while still satisfying most of the things I'm looking for - or, at least, offering a base for moving in that direction. One can imagine using the same core mechanic for non-monetary resources (like Honor or Influence or who knows what).

What do you all think, gang?

Happy gaming!



9 comments:

  1. It seems like a strong, light system that is flexible. I imagine for money-less systems, such as early civilization, I imagine a "favors" system could be take place with "Personal Favors", "Tribe/City Favors", "Royal Favors", and "Imperial Favors" taking place of income, with adventurers being able to exchange favors up and down based on consumption.

    i.e. Help enough people on a personal level and the tribe as a whole will help you with something. Help the City-State with a major issue and exchange that City-State favor for a major personal favor for you or someone else.

    This is actually kind of cool and I might be using it once I get around to finishing up my setting.

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    1. That "favors" as currency idea is interesting!

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  2. I think the generational angle could also work if the successive generations don't just take over the business but add their own new Enterprise as a subsidiary. That way you could track the growth of the back-alley Reptile Cult and watch it blossom into a Theocratic Reptile City-State. This is a pretty long game though, and the original founders would be dead by that point -- or perhaps undead.

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    1. Yeah, good point. Any 'dynastic' story could be conceived of in this way - Rollo, an 8th-level fighter, commands the detachment "Norse Raiders" - and leverages them to gain an establishment, "French Real Estate." Several 'generations' later, his player has a new PC, "William," who's gathered more detachments and secures the establishment, "England." Unfortunately, a later PC, "John," has some really lousy luck with the dice and loses control of all that French real estate... :-) Not exactly the same level as that Reptile Cult, but the basic idea could work at grand and local scales.

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  3. I'm having some trouble locating the examples of the Reptile Cult. Do you have a page number in Electric Bastionland?

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    1. Sorry, that's not in Electric Bastionland; It's in Into the Odd. If you grab the free .pdf version from Chris' website, you'll find it on page 9 (p. 10 of the .pdf). It's just a one-line asset of "Queen Essa IX, Deposed Aristocrat."

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  4. This has been a good series! For potentially more complexity and persistence of threats, looking into the Risk Dice from Machiatto Monsters could work — especially as a background network of threats

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    1. Thanks. I picked up Macchiatto Monsters earlier this summer. Neat game.

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