Company Men

company menSometimes, neither the noble impulses to avenge a peaceful peasant village nor the fight in the employ of the King spurns adventure.  Adventure starts with more base impulses. The quest for trade, the search for easier access to far away peoples and things, and the quick buck.

Out there, somewhere, lurking in the deepest jungles and the darkest forests, the merchants argue, are things.   Things waiting for the smart and adventurous to come around and pop them into their backpacks. Things their customers pay enormous sacks of gold for.   Spices, bespoke magic items, forbidden magic spells, rare lost reagents, and forbidden knowledge.

Their clients are the rich and famous – the nobility and the royalty. Nobility loves to lay hands on things the Merchant’s men find. The nobles horde them, and pet them, and build vast showrooms on their estates to show them off to other members of their pampered and perfumed kind.  Merchants cannot price things their men bring back from the wilds, since there’s no market comparison.

In the name of sheer rareness, the Merchants price these objects ludicrously high.  They walk away with vast profits.

And profit is a great mind focuser.

A merchant is going to go after those profits.  But, adventures are risky and expensive. Adventurers need gear and transport.

A single merchant has difficulty raising investment for their ventures into the wilds alone.  Also, a single Merchant doesn’t scale:

  • One company of adventurers with one ship and one mission might bring back one rare magic item over the course of six months, if they return at all.
  • Adventurer companies are prone to total party kill. Putting all the money in one adventuring company is an absurdly high risk to high reward venture.
  • If the adventurer company returns empty-handed, the entire endeavor collapses wiping out the Merchant.

Merchants tried to go it alone, at first.  Single merchants raised money to outfit one to three adventuring companies by selling shares in their endeavor.  The merchant sent the adventuring teams out into the wilds hoping for the occasional update on the mission via Sending.

Maybe the adventuring company returned with holds of things. The merchant retired fabulously wealthy while filling the coffers of his investors.  But more often than not, the adventuring company disappeared. Or they returned, covered in worthless Deep Elf Underdark Marketing Regalia.  The failed company meant a failed merchant, poor and destitute and chased forever by his investor’s lawyers.

The nobility is all about one Noble upping the others for political and personal gain.  They have their prize adventurers and their glass cases full of magic swords. Merchants are about making profits while drastically lowering risk.  A single merchant pulling together investment for one to three adventuring companies is a business endeavor carrying high risk.  Two dozen merchants with two to six dozen adventuring companies amortize that risk while reaping a continuous stream of profits.  Merchants only need a small percentage of their adventuring companies to return to fulfill their promises to their investors.  And, as another tweak to the formula, instead of returning the money with an added percentage back to the investors and closing up shop on a successful adventure, the Merchants paid out dividends over time to anyone who bought and held shares in their company. They plowed the rest of the profits back into salaries and support for adventuring companies.

The Merchants formed a company concern, a governing board, and rules.  They raised money and built their adventuring companies out of the highest level Murder Hobos.  They took in investment and used the investment to pay for ships and weapons.

They sent their first adventuring companies out into the wilds and waited for the financial return.

The Transmuter Bankers were happy to provide facilities for turning adventure into a continuous stream of profit.  They provided the banking services to ease buying, selling, and trading shares to help whip up adventuring company frenzy. Because they’re always ready to help.

Company Outfits

The Company (as the Merchants called it) grew in wealth from successful adventures and sales of returns to nobility. They transferred wealth from those born to money to those who make it.

The Company expanded from investing in single adventuring companies venturing out into the wilderness to full adventure support services.  They built holdings on the edge of the civilized/wild frontier from which to launch their expeditions – and eventually their wars.

For adventuring companies in the employ of Merchants, the Company supplied everything free of charge assuming everyone involved is also a company employee:

  • Recruitment;
  • Training;
  • Clothing;
  • All standard weaponry, including an option to purchase price reduced magical weaponry from the company store;
  • All standard armor, including an option to purchase price reduced magical armor from the company store;
  • Magic reagents;
  • Scrolls and spells;
  • Transportation, including horses and ships;
  • Housing out on the frontier;
  • Support services – ie, meals, ship crews, tavern keepers, inn keepers, horse stables, etc.
  • Booze;
  • More booze;
  • Maps, if they exist;
  • And guides if they exist.

All Company-supplied gear must display the Company logo.  Swords have the Company logo on the pommel.  Beer steins have the company logo on their sides.  Support crews wear Company-emblazoned jerseys.  They even printed magic spells with the Company logo in the upper right hand corner.  It’s all free even if adventurers working in the employ of the Company look like walking billboards.

This was a great gig for the cash-strapped peasant villager who decided to leave the farm and go into the adventuring business.  It’s a great gig for anyone who wanted to move out of poverty and take a shot at riches, fame, and getting rivers named after themselves on maps.  The Company was a force for good in society, they said.  They’re moving people off the farms, on to boats, and into a life of adventure!  And they’re sending adventurers out to destroy bad things out there.  Bad things that want to come and eat babies!  Pay no attention to the sudden influx of new magic into society…

The Company built and supplied everything an adventuring company needed. Horses, maps, weapons, guides, food, supplies, magic reagents.  In return, the adventuring companies played by the Company’s playbook written and run by the Merchants back home.  And, the Merchants had a funny idea of what worked out on the frontier of monsters, violence, blood and sweat.  Their “good ideas on how an outpost ought to run” and how an outpost ought to run are two different things.

To enforce the Company’s playbook in the unruly frontiers of adventure, orks, trolls, hobgoblins, Deep Elves and dragons, the Company sent the Company Men.  The Company armed these tiny autocratic bureaucrats with their own small Company-supplied military. The small military served only the bureaucrat and his several inches thick rulebook.  The rulebook contained mild insanity. Limits on number of drinks per adventurer per evening. The number of allowable camp followers. Allowed limit on nightly fist fights in camp. And the like.

The bureaucrat’s one job was to report back via letters and spells to headquarters:

  • How are the adventurers working out?
  • Is everything peaceful out there or is the settlement in continuous uproar?
  • What is the state of supplies?
  • Is everyone following the Company’s Rules?
  • How may ork settlements did adventurers loot this week?
  • How many ork settlements the Company plans to loot next week?
  • How many new kinds of creatures the Company has found and can loot?
  • And just how much money did the Company make off the back of adventuring companies last week?

Should that last dot ever shrank, or the Company stopped making money off an investment, they packed up the entire frontier base – taverns, wenches, inns, stables and all – and moved it to a place less “mined” for its adventuring possibilities.  And they continued to do move around the world until the world was bare of the magic swords, magic items, reagents, wonder, and mystery the Merchant’s clientele so craves.

But it’s not out of adventure, not yet… so they have a worse problem…

Running out of “Employees”

The problem with this scheme is two-prong:

  1. Adventurers in Highly Risky Situations are Prone to a Bad Case of Sudden Death.
  2. Successful Adventurers who Make and/or Skim a Pile of Loot are Unlikely to Keep Returning to Adventure to Gamble with Death

The Company is a great opportunity for the farmhand to get off the farm.  Make some money!  See the world!  Learn a skill about how to shove a piece of metal into an ork! Run away from ogres screaming!  End up in an adventuring company populated entirely by evil rogues!

But the world contained an exhaustible source of loose farmhands willing to pick up a sword and go fight for a profit-seeking enterprise.  The professional adventurers, those with serious levels and their own magical equipment, signed up when the Company was new and the world full of easy opportunity.  What seasoned adventurer wouldn’t want their jobs made easier by Company-supplied beer?  But they also retired first, filthy stinking rich, and now hold shares in the Company.

Then, the next wave of adventurers signed up after hearing the exploits of the first and hoping to strike it rich.  These are the earnest, the ones wanting to see the world, the wide-eyed, and the optimistic.  The Company armed them with swords and armor, gave them horses, put them on ships, and shipped them off to far off destinations to die.  Some beat the odds, and returned home.  But the rest died in the buzzfeed maw of the newly organized ork armies who, at this point, clued in that something not particularly good was going on.

Once the Company depleted the country of farmhands who could leave their fields, the Company went after the prisons. Here lurk  known killers with no future!  Why not load them up on boats and ship them off to settlements on the frontier run by autocratic bureaucrats and arm them with swords?  They’re away from the country.  They’re fodder no one wants.  They might or might not return with great riches!  What could go wrong?  Except when they finished off the remaining farmhands…

Those actually worked out pretty well. Except, the country only has so many known and convicted murderers rotting away in prisons. The share holders demanded an increasing raise in share price and dividend payouts.  This requires more adventures, more frontier bases, and more humans for the adventure grinder.  Once the farmhands died and the prisons emptied – a fantastic social good! – the Company got creative.  First they depleted the prisons of other countries.  Then, they tried hiring the self-same orks, hobgoblins, ogres, and trolls they were killing…

When that didn’t work, the Company resorted to a fun new plan.  They sent agents to get people drunk in bars. The agents waited until the victim passed out. And then, the agents loading the new volunteer on ships bound for far off Company outposts (which may or may not still be there once the ship gets there.)  The Company didn’t much care about the nationalities, loyalties, or treaties covering their victims.  They simply loaded them on boats.

These victims end up in far off frontier Company Towns ruled by the tiny fist of a small-minded Company bureaucrat and filled with evil ex-murderers hardened and leveled by multiple trips down dungeons, into the maws of dragons, and local Underdark delves.

And most of them died, too.

But those that lived made a fortune. And became Company Men.

This was largely inspired by Henry Hudson’s trip up the New England coast and the discovery of Hudson Bay.  Henry Hudson and his crew were in the employ of the Dutch West India Company or WIC.

Image Credit: Art by Jaydot Sloane of Vanity Games –


  1. Of course, some of those adventuring companies realize that the best source of hard to get goods are the very nobles themselves…

  2. During a discussion among the among the voices in my head about your excellent article, it occurred to me that, broadly speaking, religious dogma is often an attempt to codify economic decision theory. This led naturally to speculating about incentives and disincentives, and the power/punishment models of modern corporate structuring. The screen of memory is gauzy and uncertain, but upon it I seem to see that you have made this connection before, specifically touching on divine advertising. Would it not, then, arise naturally that a god of the corporate would, well, arise?
    Just imagine! (cue dramatic music!) A domain driven by neckties instead of nooses! Water coolers instead of witch dunkings! Soulless marketing campaigns aimed at disaffected half-elves! Divinely-granted fiscal action spells! Middle-management mobs! Company Man as a Prestige Class!
    As becomes immediately and strikingly apparent, this is a Lawful Evil religion. However, 4 out of 5 voices agree that it is inevitable that the gods of craftsmen and merchants would consider the profitability of the transition fair trade for having clerics who can only speak in legalese.

    • David Oakes says:

      Oddly enough, the recent Shadowrun posts inspired me to do just that. I have created a “D&D-punk” setting, with Pantheons taking the place of Corporations, and Magic Books standing in for Decks.

      • Excellent idea! Im imagining anti-trust paladins casting new spells like Secular Oversight, which negates (level x d6) divine fiduciary spell levels when cast by such scoundrels as the Insider Trader (wizard with enchanting and divination focus), or a barbarian prestige class inspired by Marxism living on the fringes and protesting with infrequent bloody riots! Sounds like a blast.


  1. […] Company kept sending Company Men into the Underdark to kick over things, take stuff, and set up forward bulwark settlements. Once […]