Designer’s Diary: Brutal Games – Corporation

Corporation is a complete role-playing game powered by a unique system and published by Brutal Games.
By James Norbury

Welcome to the fifth Designer’s Diary, a regular column where designers are given the opportunity to take readers on an in-depth ride through the design and development process of their system, setting, or product.

Designer’s Description
Corporation is a fast paced RPG set in 2500 where five huge corporations are essentially the governments of the world. You take on the role of an Agent working for one of these corporations, each of which has a very different idea of how business should be conducted. Agents are biomechanically augmented humans who take care of any of the corporation’s business which cannot be handled from behind a desk.

Typical missions might include assassination, industrial theft, sabotage VIP escort, recovery of stolen assets, investigating crimes and so on.

Primarily I’ve always loved the idea that ‘I am not you but I walk among you’. What this means is that although you look like everyone else, you have abilities which set you apart from them. Examples of this in other media include The Terminator, The Matrix and RPGs such as Vampire the Masquerade and Mage the Ascension. Corporate Agents look like everyone else but when they need to they can throw cars, punch though walls, snipe while on fire, fight with missing limbs etc.

All of this is set in a carefully crafted world, which allows most of your sci-fi dreams to be recreated. It was important to me to be able to include the wide range of science fiction ideas into the game and furthermore to let Games Master’s be able to add in any of their own ideas without compromising the setting.

I wanted people to be able to play a video game or watch a film and say, ‘That’s going in my next Corporation game.’ and it would do it seamlessly with no contrivance.

Video games were very important a few of the most influential are Syndicate, Deus Ex 1 and 2 (3 is looking good too), Spaceship Warlock, Mass Effect and System Shock 2. Some key films were the Terminator Series, The Matrix, The Running Man and of course, the amazing Total Recall. I used to also play a lot of 2nd and 3rd Edition D&D as well as Vampire the Masquerade and Mage the Ascension, these undoubtedly got me thinking about how to craft an RPG.

I research a lot of information when I write Corporation. Because the game is set in a future version of our own world you need to be reasonably accurate when making real-world references. The corporations all have sub-sects which often see their roots in real-world historical groups, for example, the Yakuza, the Tong, the Machi Yakko, the Janissaries, the SAS and the US Marine Corp. I am not usually trying to replicate these groups, rather create modern versions which are their decedents and so I like to bring in a little history to make their place in the world more believable.

A lot of Corporation is also based on science; now of course its not 100% real science but I like to make sure its believable enough for people to enjoy, even people who know their stuff. I studied biology at university which is pretty handy for a lot of this stuff and our testers have quite a few science qualifications between them so when this is combined with a little research, the result is sufficient to explain any mad science we come up with to a level most gamers are happy to accept may, one day, be possible.

Art Direction
The art is dark and generally sinister, it tends to show scarred, serious characters who look like they wouldn’t lose sleep after gunning down a crowd. This is done to highlight the highlight the brutal, cold nature of the game. What is interesting is that the book counterpoints this in many ways to create an experience that combines brutal, bloody violence and bleak dystopian politics with tongue in cheek humour and scenes which make you laugh out loud.

For example, your whole Agent division dragging themselves round on the floor looking for their legs, muttering darkly to one another after being victims of thigh level laser trap.

In order to make this kind of thing funny and memorable you need the contrast.

Gaming Experience
You can expect quick character creation, a simple system which allows you to perform any action you care to think of and a world where you can undertake any plot line your GM can come up with. The action tends to be very savage with body parts being smashed and severed and the social interactions are usually equally precipitous due to the unknowable potential of those you meet. What you imagine is a polite child asking directions could be a combat replicant sent to assassinate you.

As I said earlier, the game is big on contrast, on one side your division may have been dispatched to perform an immoral, ugly task but while doing so one of the them might end up with his personality transferred into a cleaning droid and be forced to fill his spray polish reservoir with acid so he has some way to defend himself.

Well for one Corporation makes no claims that you are in any way heroes. You are not down on your luck, you are not struggling to survive and you have not been forced to serve a despotic leader. You choose the life of an Agent knowing that you will be expected to perform immoral, unforgivable acts on a daily basis. That is not to say that every character has to be evil, many are not, but you will find Agent life very tricky if you have a strong moral code.

Corporation also attempts to do away with a lot of rules clutter. The system is very elemental and fills only 13 pages of the 256 page rule book. You can learn the basics in just a few minutes and a typical game needs very little reference to the book. You gain your special abilities at a steady rate so you get to lean them as you acquire them, further reducing the need to look things up.

Development Process
The primary goals when writing the game was to:

  1. Create a world where almost any science fiction idea could be realised.
  2. We want you to be able to do anything you see in a game or film in Corporation and not just that, it needs to be simple, fun and dynamic when executed. If you see someone drop 300 metres from a building onto the floor, dust themselves off and then head into a noodle bar, we want you to be able to do that in the game.

When we are looking to create new material we first look for ideas, this could be news footage, video games, films, books or sometimes just ideas in your head. The great thing about the corporate world is that it mirrors our own so anything you see around you from shoes to forests can be used for inspiration. Obviously some ideas don’t fit in with the book we are currently working on in which case it gets filed away for the future.

We write up the idea, be it system or setting, and then use it in the next session. This highlights any errors or inconsistencies. It then gets rewritten and placed into the book.

Our books evolve as they are written, although we have certain things which must go in such as new Trainings (perks) and Licenses, much of the content is decided on the spur of the moment, perhaps after playing a great game or watching an inspiring film.

As regards system design, we have a policy of simplicity, generally speaking we don’t like a lot of math as this slows down play and can be hard work for those who are not great at numbers. For this reason it can be very challenging (but fun) to come up with system mechanics for new weapons, gadgets and skills.

A better gun cannot simply give you +2 to hit because this creates more sums and is quite frankly boring, instead we like to think of a more characterful advantage such as ‘enemies hit by this weapon have a chance to have one of their body parts shattered’. This is not only much more fun for the person firing the gun, it is also rather worrying for a player on the wrong end of such as weapon. It’s also hilarious for a GM who has armed all his NPCs with them.

We also try to avoid any kind of repetition with regard to abilities and equipment. Two subtly different sub-machine guns are not much fun and simply make browsing the weapons list more difficult. So instead we might choose to add a new SMG that fires plasma instead of bullets. Targets struck with plasma have a much harder time of it and so when the division see their enemy’s SMGs are in fact plasma weapons, they realise this is going to a completely different fight to the one they had come prepared for.

On a more characterful note, we try hard to integrate the players with their world so they feel they are a part of it and their actions really make a difference. For example, Corporation has a system of Licenses which allow you to sidestep and control the law. On a basic level this can allow you to carry and use certain weapon categories, on a more advanced level you can kill with impunity, commandeer war machines and arrest high ranking officials.

These licenses make a huge difference to the way you interact with the world, it makes the character into the law, which makes them both despised and respected by the game’s other inhabitants. It also adds a lot of options so rather than kick a door in and gun everyone down, the Agent with the ‘Search Commercial Property’ license swipes his ID chip on the lock and opens the door, then his colleague with the ‘Detainment’ license arrests everyone. Of course, this can still degenerate into violence but it does present more options.

Rewards are another element of game design we work hard on, offering cash, XP and equipment is all very well but in Corporation we like to give players something to add more dimension to their characters. For example:

  • Corporate Perks –  such as access to VIP clubs, bigger cars, personal tailors and better accommodations.
  • Downtime – this can be used to modify equipment, take vacations, learn new skills, run clandestine businesses, etc.
  • Assets – The Agents may be given their own small businesses to run or properties in which they could form their own businesses from scratch. It can be a great campaign to simply give the players an abandoned casino and let them restore it to its former glory (complete with a gangster subculture and notorious blood-spattered basement).
  • Backup – In a recent addition we have added backup calls; these allow Agents to call in air strikes, deploy chemical cleanup crews, have public areas cordoned off, etc. These backups are awarded to deserving, trustworthy Agents and can really change the nature of a game. Calling in an air strike on a rival city is something not many games have as a listed player option and the fallout from such as event can really help define a characters place in the world.

You can find out more at or visit the forum at

Corporation is published by under the Flaming Cobra imprint.

PDFs are available at Drivethru RPG

You can also write to if you have any questions about the game or want to know how you can get hold of it.

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment

Verified by MonsterInsights