5e/Pathfinder/13th Age: Guide to Evil Organizations
Last year we started our Guide to series with the Guide to Mini-Bosses and Guide to Minions. Today we are continuing the series with the Guide to Evil Organizations.
Lets call our evil organization “Evil, Inc.” This doesn’t have to be a corporation; this works equally well for a dark religion, cruel governments and the like. Understanding how such groups operate will make your portrayal of them more believable and realistic. So what are some things you can do to make Evil, Inc. more memorable.
1) Clearly Define the Goals
The goals of Evil, Inc. should be will defined and easily understandable. A corporation wants to make money. The Cthulhu cult wants to end the world as we know it plunging it into chaos, while the Nyatharlotep cult wants to end the world utterly. A terrorist group wants to cause chaos and destruction. A potential usurper wants to unseat the current ruler and place their own person on the throne. All of these are clear and easy to understand.
Having said that, having clearly defined goals does not necessarily mean that those goals are well known. Best example of this is Die Hard where they present themselves as terrorists but in the end are “nothing but a common thief.” “I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane. And since I’m moving up to kidnapping, you should be more polite.” This actually leads into the other half of this point, Evil, Inc’s schemes may be complex and difficult to follow, either by deliberate deception or because their plan is just ridiculous and hard to figure out. A thieving organization may take the fractions of a penny rounded off and divert them to their own bank account. The usurper may plan to discredit the girlfriend of the ruler’s grandchild and insinuate they have ties to their enemy, thus weakening the ruler. The Cthulhu cult may try to end the world’s protectors like David Bowie by casting a spell causing them to age faster and depart this world before their time.
However, in reality, the more straight forward plan is more likely to work out well. A corporation may undercut their competition, driving them out of business and then raise their prices. But that is hardly something that requires a hero to rise up and slay a dragon.
2) Transactional Loyalty
If there is one trait that an evil organization has above all others, it is transactional loyalty. What do I mean by that? They don’t stand by anyone in the organization when times are tough. If any one member becomes a liability, they are ignored, cut off, and quickly forgotten about. The liable person is left to whatever fate awaits them for working on behalf of Evil, Inc. This could be a lawyer that suddenly grows a conscience and will no longer lie for Evil, Inc. and has to go to jail for their past crimes. It could be a government that does not make retrieving captured soldiers a priority or a corporation that blames the bad actions on the whistle-blowing former employee. X-Files once had a cult that ate one of their own that was going to talk to Mulder and Sculley.
Mind you, this does not mean that Evil, Inc. has no loyalty, just that loyalty ends as soon as the person is no longer useful, or no longer convenient, to the organization. While the person is both useful and convenient, Evil, Inc. will treat that person exceptionally well. This is so the person will stay long after it is convenient for them. All they have to do is give away a piece of their soul every day.
3) Feeling of Not Making a Difference
The third thing that all evil organizations have in common is they make everyone around them and everyone in them feel like they have no ability to stop them, that you cannot make a difference. They announce something is happening against the public interest, people get upset, but it happens anyways. After this happens a few times, standing up to Evil, Inc becomes more difficult and it is easier to just lose hope. An evil government will telegraph they are doing nothing against something basic like a plague, claiming they are doing all they can even though thousands upon thousands die. The evil cult ends the world’s protector’s lives by aging them prematurely. The corporation robs people of quality healthcare.
This is where heroes come in, in that they shake off that feeling of hopelessness and do something that makes a difference. They stand up to their boss. They vote. They protest. They contact their government official. And that is just the everyday heroes of our day. In a fantasy world, heroes stop the demons of despair, put down the ogres of oppression, and right the wrong committed by wights. But all of those heroic acts are meaningless unless there is an overriding feeling that there is nothing that can be done about a given situation. That is something that must be conveyed to the players. Hydra said it best when they said, “Where one shall fall, two shall rise.”
One example of this is the adventure Deadly Delves: Temple of Luminescence. This adventure features a normally good religion trying to end the world by having it fall in the sun. As the planet gets closer and closer, a feeling to inevitability will fall over the planet. That is where the heroes come in and stop it. This high-level adventure is available for Pathfinder 1e at the JBE Shop, DriveThruRPG, and the Open Gaming Store. The D&D 5e version can be found at the JBE Shop, DriveThruRPG, and the Open Gaming Store.