15 September 2021

Better Opposition - d4 Effective Organisation Types

tl;dr: some templates for organisations let you know quick strengths and weaknesses for effective groups.

Inspired by the freely-available thinking of a well known real world organisation that identifies the 'key ingredient' practices that make up various recipes for success. We can grab these archetypes for effective organisations and use them for villains or heroes depending on your needs. It gives us some ready-to-go bones that we can throw a skin over as appropriate for the organisation.

The four key archetypes are:
1. Leadership driven
2. Goal focused
3. Masters of their Craft
4. Team of Heroes

First of these are the the followers of a charismatic or dominating leader - where the leader sets the goals and the organisation strives to meet those.

In its light version, a charismatic leader sets the standards and inspires their organisation to deliver those goals; one could say King Arthur in the scrubbed up versions of the legends, Optimus Prime or Commander Shepard could be examples of this. Those who follow them trust their vision and strive to help deliver it. In their dark form this is Admiral Thrawn from the Star Wars EU or early MCU Thanos with various villains working schemes they think will win them favour with the boss.

Leadership driven organistations can move rapidly once the boss decides the new way but can be slow to react or go the wrong way if little or poor information is fed to the boss. In their best form, people in the organisation believe the leaders vision and do their best independently to deliver it. In the worst form everything log-jams across the bosses desk and people are afraid to deliver bad news to them leading to an increasing disconnect between what they think is going on and reality.

Next archetype is the goal-focused organisation. Here there is less of a mission and more a principle or principles. These organisations tend to be reactive, watching for the next big thing and jumping on it.

In its best version this type of group has high awareness of what is going on around it and different sub-parts adopt whatever methods suit to achieve their shared goals. Organisations like this can try many different things, see what works and abandon what does not. Getting to the goal is the point, whatever the road leading there, whoever came along. In the dark version, this is a back-stabbing bucket of crabs with the most ruthless climbing to the top on the backs of their rivals.

Members of such an organisation would be expected to jump on opportunities as they arrive or dangers when they threaten. This type of organisation is very adaptable with multiple parts angling towards the same shared goal, with no single point of failure and lots of paths towards success. The cost of this is redundancy, waste and occassional working to cross purposes when different strands of the organisation are not talking to each other. Examples could be a resistance movement, a thieves guild or a cult - specifically the Harpers of the Forgotten Realms, Aegis from Conspiracy X or Cerberus from Mass Effect.

Third archetype is the masters of the craft. Success comes from being better at what it does than anyone else.

In good examples of this, long traditions of discipline, improvement and time-tested techniques are handed down through training and mentorship with new joiners formed into the mold of the masters and indoctrinated into the secrets of the craft. In dark versions of this brutal gauntlets are held for those who wish to progress and only those shown willing to sacrifice are granted leave to rise within the organisation. Success is measured in continuity, persisting at the thing they were doing and potentially expanding to do it in other places as well when they prove more able than others.

This type of organisation tends to be limited to their area of expertise - war-fighting, mining, crafting, etc. They persist for a long time through continuous incremental improvement but are not open to rapid or revolutionary change. They are the epitome of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. Something completely outside of their context may be able to overwhelm them. Examples could be the archetypal dwarven craft guild, the Black Company with knowledge passed down through the Annals or 'the Hand' from Marvel comics with its passing down of mystic secrets and training.

The last archetype is the team of heroes which involves assembling a group who are very good at what they do and allowing them free hand to deliver results.

A good example of this would be a school of sorcerers - each independent of one another but all motivated for the general good of the school. They view success as an inevitable by-product of become individually better and plough a lot of time and resources into making sure they have the right people in the group and fully support them. This organisation can tend to have a tiered structure with the 'talents' being served by the rest of the organisation. In dark versions of this type of group vile lore and secrets are passed down, with dread powers revealed to those who prove worthy. The key difference between this and a technically competent organisation is the perception that this type of organisation is polishing rough gems to their full perfection, only talents can aspire to the inner circle.

This type of organisation can be troublesome in that any interaction with it is going to be with someone competent and possibly dangerous if you oppose them. They may or may not be quick to work together depending on the organisation but almost all organisations of this type will have great difficulty replacing any losses as their process for recruiting and training replacements is slow. Examples of this could be the Ithilien rangers and the Nazgul from Lord of the Rings or the Avengers from MCU.

Using these organisation tempates for foes or allies in your game gives you a rapid sense of how the organisation can be dealt with, both positively and negatively. For example the issue with a leadership driven organisation will be making contact with and influencing the leader - be that getting your petition through to the king or ramming a stake through the heart of the master vampire. A quick template like these will tell you whether there are useful lieutenants around in the organisation who could help or cause you trouble, how much latitude they will have to drop everything to come after you or assist once they become aware of you and how significant a response is likely to be - a single hard-hitting talent from the team or heroes or a squad of individually non-descript members from the master of the craft.

I also find it helpful to know what an organisation is trying to be - even if it is bad at it. This is more useful for ineffective allies where the players could potentially fix things. A leadership driven organisation where the leader is being fed the wrong information will make the wrong decisions. A goal-oriented organisation that is fixated on the wrong objectives. A team of heroes who cannot work together. Unpicking those knots and helping allies become effective can also be a good source of adventures.

I find these helpful at my table to keep response coherent when players do something unexpected using these as a short-hand for the whole organisation in place of having to work up everyone involved before knowing if it will ever become relevant.

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