When you look at superheros, you have groups like X-Men, Avengers, Justice League, the Maggia, the Brotherhood, AIM. Plus you have Wayne Industries, Queen Consolidated, Roxxon Oil, Stark Industries… Two different types of organizations that are important to the settings of the story and constantly don’t get the amount of attention they deserve. I aim to change how people look at organization design for games to see if they might find something that works for them.
Let me start with some good gaming examples. Old World Of Darkness has Pentex, which was basically an evil version of ACME: A Company Makes Everything. Using their vertical integration, as well as powerful magical NPCs, their goal was corruption and destruction, and was fully integrated to mass produce it. For example, they had companies that would use the most aggressive means to collect resources like strip mining the land, then send these off to processing plants that would use the worst means to manufacture and produce the most pollution, which would them be sold at their stores which would rake the prices and use mind control techniques in advertising shown on their televisions and their newspapers and magazines to make people buy things which would weaken their wills to make them even more subserviant. Think the way the citizens were in The Lego Movie, blindly following directions.
What made Pentex such a difficult enemy is that only the top people really knew the end goals. So when your pcs were attacking to save the world, the NPC workers are seeing you as the invaders. They are just working for a living, following orders and hey, if the company was really evil someone wouls have stopped them long ago, isn’t that what the laws are for?
Shinra from FF7 is another sort of organization the players could encounter where the majority of people are just doing the standard day job, while there are so many larger things going on behind the scenes. It is succesul division of information, having each group only knowing and designing enough to never get a full picture. Its why no one at Wayne Technologies ever looks at Batman and says “Hey, I made that”. They’re designing components of his tech, things that logically sell as well or perhaps occasionally fail and are salvaged later under guise of recycling or whatnot.
The bigger problems of aggressive groups comes from those who all know the organization is corrupt. Criminal organizations, such as the Maggia and AIM, who are all focused on how they can best commit crimes. Gangs are a street level of this, focused on sole survival and prospering like robbery, while the biggest organizations can commit larger scale issues, such as holding a whole city hostage.
As a GM, criminal organizations allow you to have different things happen. First, if there is an organization with a leader, like Yakuza and Mafia, you can have angred goons and have the PCs make amends with the boss. The goon may still lash out at the players when they think they’re safe, but then they likely are doing so against the group, making interesting RP possibilities, games like GTA, Mafia, Yakuza, and Sleeping Dogs illustrate this. Also, with having a large connected organization, as opposed to a cell of a larger group like a rebel group, information and resources are shared freely so piss off someone in one area and you could make enemies across the city or world.
Of course, give the players a chance to understand these ties if their characters could. If there is a tattoo or pin or ritual scarring the player could pick up on this, allowing them to start marking possible persons of interest like Blade did to the vampires. However, if there is no direct key, like a sleeper group or secret sect of assassins, then the first strike or two the players may have no clue of the connections.
A major factor to consider is what the player can do to make recompense. I touched on the idea of making peace with the head of the organization, or at least a superior to the one targetting tbe PCs, but the question is how. Obviously, the easiest answer is a tit for tat sort of scenario where the players have to do something similar to what got them in trouble in the first place. For example, if your PCs protected a shopkeeper from being used in a protection racket, they may have to work another store or the same one. If they took out someonr important, they may need to pay for the loss and/or take over the role. There are also quests that can be undertaken, such as those in the style of get x from y, be it evidence from the police or a mystic item from a shrine or recover the Maltese Falcon. There is the opposite of give/put X in Y, such as giving something to another criminal without being noticed or planting evidence to turn suspicion elsewhere.
One final point with some of these groups, they can be seen as the good guys on their areas. The Yakuza used to protect villages from bandits, as an example. You could have an NPC who you describe walking through town, taking something from a salesperson without paying for it and no one bats an eye, maybe have some people give them wide berth while another is a father introducing them to their daughter in hopes of marrying into the organizations power and riches, perhaps, or just seeking to curry favor. There are many ways to portray these guys as the heroes, like Robin Hood versus a corrupt (or completely absent) authority.