Wednesday, November 13, 2013

[Urbis] Company Men of the Cold Frontier

As explained in my previous post, the PCs in the Cold Frontier campaign will be hired by the Far Shores Trading Company to explore the remote northern wilderness of Nardhome, and the same company will also eventually sponsor the colony the PCs can establish there. Thus, the Company will require further detailing, as its interactions with the PCs and the colony will have a major impact on the campaign.

The Far Shores Trading Company is intended to be loosely based on the British East India Company (including opium trade in the Far East, which will become a plot point later...). Wikipedia writes about its leadership:
The Company was led by one Governor and 24 directors, who made up the Court of Directors. They, in turn, reported to the Court of Proprietors which appointed them. Ten committees reported to the Court of Directors.
I think I will rename the Governor into the "Director-General", since that will avoid confusion with the governor of the colony. Furthermore, "Court" is a term with monarchistic associations, but the Flannish Cities don't have monarchs any more (with one exception) and it is not politically correct to associate oneself with the aristocracy these days. Thus, the Director-General leads the Board of Directors, and both report to the Board of Proprietors (which are appointed by the shareholders and review what the directors and the company as a whole are doing).

I imagine each of the Directors being responsible for a particular region or a particular trade route. Thus, there will be a Director of Nardhome which the PCs will answer to. The Committees will each focus on one aspect of the Company as a whole - types of trade goods or other issues involving more than one Director. I am thinking of these:
  • Auditing: Widely feared - "Nobody expects the Auditor General!"
  • Drugs: Including medicines, but also including the very profitable opium drug trade to the Tsan Empire.
  • Enchantment: Magic item and Azoth trade, as well as supplies for ritual magic components. In competition with Spices.
  • Finances: Intra-company loans, financial speculation.
  • Grains: Food of all types.
  • Livestock: The creature trade (sheep, cattle, etc.) and derived products (wool, leather, etc.)
  • Mining: Ore extraction and smelting, as well as timber and earth moving and construction.
  • Public Works: Political lobbying, public relations, assisting company directorates and committees with negotiating contracts.
  • Spices: Oldest of the Committees, as the wealth of the Company was originally founded by the spice trade. Has acquired alchemical products to their portfolio and is in fierce competition with Drugs over turf.
  • Textiles: Clothing and fashion.
The turfs of these Committees shift frequently as new products are developed, and the turf battles tend to be fierce - contemplate all the stories about office politics you have ever read, and apply them liberally. The leaders of the Committees have all the word "General" in their titles - "Grains General", "Textiles General" and so forth. Technically they are subordinate to the Board of Directors and report to them, but because there are less Committees than Directorates the actual power of the Committee Generals is at least equal to a Director, and often more so.

Below the Directors are the Factors, the leaders of a particular trade outpost in a particular city or region. Their actual power and prestige varies a lot - the Factor of a major Flannish city-state is someone to be reckoned with, while the Factor of the small Nardhome trade outpost the PCs start in is a drunk nobody. Factors who run an actual colony will also get the title "Governor" (note that "colonies" in Urbis terms are still fairly small trade outposts for the most part, and not the vast colonial empires of our own history). Their titles are always "Factor of <location>", i.e. "Factor of Bodenwald".

To assist the various Factors in their mercantile endeavors (and more importantly, to ensure that their interests are protected), the Committees may elect to send representatives to the various trade outposts, which may or may not have their own staff. Their titles are "<Committee> Factor of <location>", i.e. "Drugs Factor of Bodenwald". They are subordinate to and report to their local Factor but also to the General of their own Committee. The largest outposts will have representatives from all 10 Committees, while the smallest will have none. This is the case with the Cold Frontier outpost in the beginning, but as the colony grows more of them will show up like lice, and they may help or hinder the smooth running of the colony. The PCs may elect to give them leadership positions in the Kingmaker rules, though this is risky as they will have their own agendas and divided loyalties.

Below them are "Senior Associates" and "Associates" filling middle and lower management positions, respectively - these are people who have "made it" and usually have lifetime jobs with the Company and all sorts of added perks which make them largely loyal employees to their bosses (though not necessarily to the Company as a whole. The PCs start out as Associates. Below them are the numerous and largely disposable and interchangeable "writers" (clerks and similar lowly white-collar positions) and "aides" (those who are doing more physical labor). They know that they may be fired at any time should they slip up, and are often desperate to prevent such a fate.

So much for the overall structure and operations of the Company. Let us look at two Company members in particular with which the PCs will interact frequently.

John Harcourt is the Director of Nardhome, and thus the direct superior of the PCs - he sponsored the exploration mission at the start of the campaign and then convinces the Director General to sponsor the later colony. While he is in it all for the profit, he won't suggest anything too unethical as long as the payoff is truly spectacular, as he takes the long view towards wealth acquisition and doesn't want to alienate too many future customers. He knows that micromanaging the colony from a continent away would be futile and largely lets the PCs act at their own discretion unless they truly screw up big. In short, he is someone who interested in building a positive relationship with the PCs, and they should be likewise interested in a positive relationship with him - until they decide to declare their independence, in which case they should at least a bit bad about cutting ties to him.

Richard Byrne is the Factor of the Cold Frontier trade outpost, and he resents being exiled to this frozen wasteland more and more every day. Much of the time he will be drunk from home-made spirits, including when the PCs arrive. He alludes to intrigues back home which caused his exile when he is drunk, but changes the story frequently. If the PCs can give him hope that the fortunes of the outpost will be reversed he will improve his attitude and actually turn out to be rather competent. Once one of the PCs is promoted to Factor and Governor of the new colony, they can decide whether to keep him around as an assistant or send him home (with or without recommendations).

More Company NPCs will be developed as the campaign demands.