I recently had a conversation about the fictional corporations in Borderlands — companies like Dahl, Jakobs, Atlas, and and Vladof — and how they’re used in the context of the game. It occurred to me that in spite of their presence throughout the game, they could be used to still greater effect.

The character of Tannis for example, is a former employee of the Dahl Corporation, one of the major gun manufacturers in the Borderlands ‘verse. The Crimson Lance, a major antagonist of the player in the latter portion of the game, is owned and operated by — I believe — the Atlas Corporation. (I’m not going to verify that right now.)

Each of the corporations is given something of an identity throughout the game, but it took me hours upon hours of gameplay and discussion before I came to really know any of the corporations particularly well. You can attribute that to whatever you like, as much character as the corporations have, I think they could have more.

In conjunction with several conversations I’ve had on the subject of Character Themes in Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons, I had an idea of how those corporations might well be characterized. Let’s imagine for a moment, the worlds of D&D and Borderlands collided. In addition to character class, you select a corporate sponsor.

Your corporate sponsor supplies you with many of your early quests and equipment upgrades, and acts as the “filter” through which your character sees the world. Now, depending upon the “character” of your corporation, you may get a skewed idea of the world, or you may find yourself abandoning the corporation or being “emancipated.”

Unlike the standard concepts of “race and class” present throughout many RPGs, the idea of a corporate sponsor is about choosing the first part of the game that you’ll experience. Actually, I believe several MMORPGs use this approach for one or more aspects of character creation, though it’s unlikely to be quite the way I’m imagining it.

See, in Borderlands, you can pick up and use any gun whose basic requirements (i.e. level) you meet. Obviously, some classes are more effective with some gun types than others, and you accumulate proficiency in a gun the more you use it, so eventually you’ll have to specialize, but just think about this for a moment.

You can use and interact with any type of gun, regardless of your character class. Those guns may have been manufactured by any of the major corporations — and both are omnipresent throughout the game. Apart from vague racial threats, and trace references to class, no other “character option” is quite so ubiquitous. Pervasive.

Let me leave you with this question: why not?