The Megacorps have the weight of society behind them: Big Seven builds corptowns, shape planets, and define the terms of vector life. Even so, they aren’t the only options. They may be the only viable options—nothing short of a planet-spanning corporate empire has the kind of near-limitless resources to write off a typical PC harebrained scheme or fund vector life cradle-to-grave.
Still, the free-market, easy-wheeling structure of corp life, and the fundamentally lawless areas at the edges of the map, provide the kind of rich corporate compost to let all kinds of fly-by-night operations and limited ventures sprout, sometimes flourish, and just maybe grow tall enough to reach the light above the canopy and grow. More likely, they’ll just be more fertilizer for the next generation of pre-failed operations, but who knows? Any business could be the next big thing. It’s a big solar system, and opportunity is an addiction.
The idea of a smaller corporation has been floated in Hc Svnt Dracones as a way for a MegaCorp to focus on a single field. MegaCorps are typically strongly diversified, investing in cultures rather than product categories. They don’t risk specialization, instead spinning off smaller corporations to manage specific deliverables. This is Progenitus’s story, the do-gooder MegaCorp was created as a Spyglass operation to expose the medical industry, and Spyglass itself was originally MarsCo’s surveillance arm.
The idea of a subcorp or minicorp isn’t well-defined though. The word itself suggests any sort of small-time operation, and as of yet hasn’t been opened up as a player option. And PCs themselves are likely to frame their own operations as a corporation.
From a game mechanics perspective, the MegaCorps provide a very small number of character sheet components. They frame the character’s Proficiency options and Allegiances; later, they influence the purchases a character can make. Much of their impact is felt in the web of resources and threats a character will draw from and encounter. These Exotic Option corp structures can’t escape the MegaCorp world, but they’re built from the same components, and create their own challenges.
♃ Subsidiary: Child company of a MegaCorp, a spin-off corporation wholly owned by one or more of the MegaCorps.
♃ Cryo Corp: Also called a “zombie,” the remnants of a fallen corporation, existing primarily in old data and valueless shares.
♃ LC: A broad class of independent business structures, usually under the control of a very small group of shareholders. Frequently AKA, “the PCs.”
♃ Hedgedog Corp: A single-use, limited lifespan corporation created to handle a small task, hide accountability, and bury bad debt. Frequently AKA, “the PCs.”
When Hc Svnt Dracones references a subcorp, it’s usually invoking the idea of a subsidiary company. Currently there’s only one subsidiary inarguably in the HSD canon: Marsco’s “Genesis” (HSD1.0 p.34), managing MarsCo’s educational resources and a large portion of the NeuroPlex[/tooltip] system. Progenitus is a former “working group” of Spyglass, itself originally MarsCo’s espionage division; implied in that origin story is a number of other working groups in the old Spyglass organizational structure, “At the time, [Progenitus] had nothing to protect them, Spyglass was an infant and each of its sub-groups operated independently of the whole for protection.” (HSD1.0 p.45) No telling how many of these arthouse groups Spyglass cultivated, as old as Progenitus. The Fate’s Fangs novel features a Subsidiary corp, Reveidolon, as an antagonistic group.
Subsidiaries can issue their own stock, traded on ledgers and other markets: one risky game of corporate thrones is staging a takeover of a subsidiary by accumulating shares and proxy employee shares.
AKA: Subcorp, child corp, spinoff
Culture and Challenges: While a subsidiary can access some of the resources of their parent corp, its needs are often secondary to the business of the parent corp. Subsidiaries have tighter budgets, more restrictions on spending, and more red tape to requisition goods and services from their parents. On the plus side, it’s possible for a single person to influence the subsidiary’s operations. In a smaller subcorp, the CEO may actually show up at the annual meeting, and a vector could actually chat with a member of the Board of Directors or become a middle manager.
Subcorps tend to be focused on a smaller set of goals and products, rather than the nebulous range of product and investments a MegaCorp is involved in. Often they have a stronger focus on research and development than a MegaCorp, created to specialize, with the overhead of manufacture (and most of the sales profits) passed up the chain. Within their kingdom, a subcorp may have stronger resources than their parent corp, and their trusted allies may have deeper access to that stockpile of knowledge and equipment.
Subsidiaries do occasionally have corptowns, though in most cases they’ll simply have ghettos within a corptown owned by their parents
Character Stuff—Allegiance: Subcorp employees and customers enjoy most of the benefits of Allegiance their parent corp offers. In general, a level of Allegiance in a Subsidiary counts as a level of Allegiance with the parent corp, but at -1 level (this includes Knowledge Checks: the distance between the parent and child corps reduces the back-and-forth flow of information.)
For many purposes, Subsidiary allegiance is more effective in-house, in terms of acquiring product and access to key employees (an effective +1 allegiance level for acquiring short-term access to equipment, employee discounts, finding contacts within the company, transport, and other services that can be provided with little or no cost…but not for loans, retainer payments, or free surgery).
Character Stuff—Proficiencies: Subcorps inherit the proficiency lists of their parent company, but up to two skills may be swapped out for proficiencies the parent megacorp doesn’t normally grant. Of the eight proficiencies, two will be specialty skills for the subcorp; one proficiency dot from a given block of proficiency points (Primary or Secondary) must be from these specialty proficiencies. Any proficiency added from outside the parent company’s list is automatically considered to be one of these specialties. If the subcorp’s parent corporation is MarsCo, characters will have access to the full list of skills and must spend a point on these required skills, but points spent on specialty proficiencies can go over the usual Marsco “no more than two dots” limits.
These specialty skills are a part of the identity of the spinoff corporation, points of pride and sources of jokes. They carry more weight than the usual corp skill list: if a spinoff corp has Navigation or Swim as a specialty skill, those are in some way why the subsidiary was created in the first place: Maybe the corporation was created specifically to explore water worlds, with a corporate culture of exploration and marine biology.
Character Stuff—Product: Subsidiaries rarely have their own buyspots, except possibly within branch offices and the occasional subcorp corptown. A customer’s a customer, and for the purposes of buyspots and equipment purchases, subcorp and megacorp allegiance is interchangable…it’s not the company’s money!
Some day, everything dies. Goldfish, the little bean in the paper cup, Vectors…and corporations. The actual lifespan of a MegaCorp has yet to be measured, MarsCo’s been around 700 or so years and shows no sign of closing its doors. There are only a few references to dead megacorps. The clearest reference is Genotype (Ext1.0 p.19), the corporation that created mice and honed the standardized rat body type. Two other large corporations were implicated in a sustained attack on Genotype, and the PR fallout closed the corporations (Ext1.0 p.23). These likely weren’t megacorps, but their leverage was enough to trigger six years of conflict between rabbitkind and Felidae—that’s some significant social presence.
When a typical corporation shutters its doors, the process is pretty standard: its stock is taken out of circulation, its assets are liquidated, and its debts are paid off. But closing down a MegaCorp is a messier business. MegaCorps fill the role of nations in Hc Svnt Dracones, with much of the tribalism, border disputes, and ferocious loyalty that you might see at, say, a 21st century international soccer trophy match. A corporation with that deep a social gravity well can’t simply be shut down. Its absence can be felt for centuries. These corporate echoes are called Cryo Corps—a mocking reference to the pseudoscience of cryonics, the idea that a recently deceased human could be miraculously raised from the dead when sufficiently advanced technology is applied. These cryos hold onto something like a corporate undeath in the form of worthless stock, arcane bylaws, and the occasional shareholder’s meeting. Theoretically, a corporation could be reinstated after it had been delisted, dissolved, and devalued, but at present no such phoenix event is on record.
In fairness, a Cryo isn’t entirely worthless. Like an ancient Terran aristocracy that lost its land, its wallpaper stock shares have a certain nostalgia-stained value on their own, and the further in the past they fade, the more that nostalgia looks like gold. There are…rumors…of dark conspiracies of shareholders trying to bring a lost, dead corp back to life. Corporate heirs chasing ancient vaults of assets that can only be activated by a true CEO, ancient ideologists looking to wake the sleeping giant of a dead business concept, loophole-seeking legalists undermining the status quo, get-rich-quick hopefuls who see a posthumous revival as a quicker route to power than the impossible task of building a new megacorp. The rumors that make the best movies involve an ancient circle of board members and shareholders, ancient stock shares as worthless as wallpaper occasionally turning over in their Ledgers, unwilling to let go of a portfolio that’s been valueless for generations and calling in ancient patents for the money to extend their lives just a few more fiscal years.
Culture and Challenges: Cryo Corps are defined by darkness: desperate hopefulness, bitter irony, ancient grudges. Their yearly meetings have a quality of ancient ritual to them, frequently because Cryo shareholders can be ancient. The surest way of holding onto the shares that keep the corporation’s morbid existence intact is by staving off physical death. Without some serious legal necromancy, dead stock doesn’t move to next of kin, and the more light these shares are exposed to, the more likely they are to evaporate in a cloud of debt repayment. Cryo corps are as a rule conservative and secretive, they don’t invite outsiders without some powerful motivation.
There are a few cryo corp corptowns, if they can be called that–decrepit towns that can’t be dissolved until a quorum of the shareholders agree to terminate their ancient leases. Because Cryos are defined by a lack of revenue, very few dead corptowns have basic amenities. But at least according to corporate horror genre films, the still-beating heart of a Cryo corp’s hometown may still have power, water…and a castle.
Character Stuff—Allegiance: Cryo corp allegiance doesn’t directly translate into the standard allegiance system of the Big Seven. It’s more of an ancient and conspiratorial network of allies and frenemies, trading favors and lore over brandy and shared oaths. As characters rise in allegiance to a zombie corp, the veils and blinders are pulled away, revealing more of the goals and secrets that bind the corp together. These favors can take the form of equipment loans and credits, many of the same assets standard allegiance can call in, although there’s usually more of a need for quid-pro-quo, favors returned down the road. Moreso than the living MegaCorps, Cryo corps tend to have access to strange and ancient assets. Want to dig up some dirt from Progenitus’s founding? Ask the shareholders of the corps Progenitus crushed and plundered on its bloody climb upward. Terran artifacts, corporate secrets, buried truths…these may be the only thing a Cryo corp board member has to trade.
Character Stuff—Proficiencies: A new convert to a Cryo corp cause likely has the standard Primary and Secondary education kit from the Big Seven. An older member or a Cryo corp heir…who knows? When designing a Cryo Corp, construct a list of eight proficiencies, like the standard corps use. Three of these skills must be from Finance, Booksmarts, Investigation, and Inspire.
Character Stuff—Product: Even in a Cryo corptown, getting new product at a dead corporation’s buyspot is impossible. Cryo Corp allegience does not give access to employee discounts or restricted products.
LCs, or “limited corporations,” are by sheer number the most common corporations in the HSD world, and come in a range of assorted flavors:
♃ Closely Held Companies, Partnerships: A corporation defined by a limited number of shareholders with tight control over the company’s assets (a typical PC-owned corporation).
♃ S-Corp: A high-risk corporation, where the corporate’s assets and debts are passed directly to the shareholders. The simplest and cheapest form of incorporation possible, with just enough red tape to give the fledgling business a name and a transaction number.
♃ Sole Proprietership: a corporation owned by a single individual. The fragile corporate shell around the owner helps keep her assets seperate from those of the corporation, but in an environment where corporate interests are de facto law, this is a delicate shell indeed.AKA: Indies, minicorps, partnerships
Culture and Challenges: Two large challenges face most indies. The first, and biggest, is a simple lack of resources. The Big Seven are ancient empires with deep treasure chests, and continually skim micropayments off the fiscal pond. Their assets approach the infinite, and it isn’t a gross oversimplification to say that they are above law. Minicorps inevitably find themselves in debt, and the vast majority never manage to make it into the big leagues: they last as long as their members can keep the financial wolves at bay, and not a pay-cycle longer.
Secondly, all vectors exist in a world that’s contained by the MegaCorps. It’s next to impossible to compete with the MegaCorps. The six smaller MegaCorps keep tabs on businesses that work in related fields, and can always balance the scales to favor one side or the other in a dispute. A minicorp that competes with a megacorp’s competitor might find they have a vast, dangerous, ally. The happiest ending for a minicorp that finds itself competing with the big dogs is usually an amiable buyout. If outright business hostilities break out, the minicorp had best hope for a quick death, rather than a slow starvation and the wave of crippling debt that inevitably follows. Spyglass and Pulse, in particular, has a nasty habit of destroying a competitor corporation with their own dirty laundry. Progenitus prefers to attack with regulations and PR campaigns. Surprisingly, MarsCo is the safest MegaCorp for the little guy to take on…every financial transaction or conflict in Sol lines MarsCo’s pockets, and a tiny partnership is more agile than Big M.
Character Stuff: Shareholders of a minicorp are typical Vectors, with proficiencies and corporate Allegiances like any other Vector. For 99 vectors out of a hundred, a minicorp is a day job, without the resources to make “allegiance” an important concept.
As a way of giving a minicorp its own identity is to draw from the PC’s stat pools, taking a point from the Economy or Community statistics and applying them to the corp itself, and let the corporation evolve as the PCs do, gaining stats and and resources along with the party. This can represent the separation of the corp’s assets from the Vectors that work for it, and gives the growing corp its own unique flavor.
The two most important words in the smooth governing of a MegaCorp: “Plausable Deniability.” Hedgedogs are short-lived and single-purpose minicorps. Frequently they’re built around a CEO who may or may not exist or currently draw breath. In the brief bubble of time—one or two Terran years, perhaps, maybe only a brief window of time running to precisely one minute after the end of Fiscal Year—hedgedog corps usually manage to avoid taxes and tarifs, hold a huge bucket of debts and blame, and then, like a soap bubble, vanish. Hedgedogs are a common black-book way to eliminate debt and the occasional difficult employee. They’re like fireworks with a six-to-24-month fuse, and not something any corporation wants to be holding when it goes off…but a useful tool.
AKA: Flash Corp, Toxic Corp, Dump
Culture and Challenges: There are two types of hedgedogs: those that are in on the joke, and the ones that are heading toward a nasty fall.
“Insider” hedgedog corps move fast and move light. They are often aware of the length of their fuse, or at least think they are, surprises and accidents happen. Their employees press the limits of their entertainment budgets, add to the payload of the hedgedog’s debt bomb, and spent as much time working on escape routes as whatever the corp’s alleged mission is. The cast of characters reads like the character list in a heist film: ex-crooks with a string of false identities, seductive con artists, black-hat bureaucrats…a serious rogue’s gallery.
“Patsy” hedgedog corps typically begin their careers in a cloud of cheerful optimism, usually believing they’re a bright new star in the corporate sky with a chorus of angel backers that never ask questions and never demand audits. They often buy into the bright-burning startup culture, racking up their own pile of debts with “tomorrow” as collateral. This never goes well…when the hedgedog collapses, only the corporations that created it walk away with clean hands. This is a common way for a manipulative corp to bind a promising character in indentured servitude…and all corps are manipulative.
Character Stuff: Allegiance works strangely for members of a hedgedog. If one of the MegaCorps set up the hedgedog in the first place, the purchasing power of allegiance is magnified, and the corporate wheels seem to be pregreased. All the signs of the PCs being “the next big thing” are there, low-hanging fruit for them to take advantage of…except for uses of allegiance that build relationships with high-level employees and give access to deep insider knowledge. For a patsy hedgedog team, this may be the only sign that things are going wrong, but the positives appear to outweigh the negatives…other than that, hedgedogs have no game effect until they detonate.