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"We're the Robot Mafia... The entire Robot Mafia."
The Donbot, "surrounded" by his two goons, Futurama

Occasionally, the hero(es) might meet a group of characters who make up a secret organization that either menace or help him/her/them. They are shadowy, and mysterious, known for their unique and quirky members, and the organization has a reputation for being far reaching and prevalent... Except we never see any of that - it's just talk. Whenever these guys show up, it's just the same group of misfits we know and love.

In the rare occasion that there are more of their number in existence, those characters never last. They simply show up and then disappear, with a few cameo appearances in the future, but still not enough for it to break our Fridge Logic.

A result of having an Economy Cast. See Quirky Miniboss Squad and Suspiciously Small Army for a Sub-Trope of this in Video Games.

Examples of Oddly Small Organization include:

Anime and Manga

  • Team Rocket in the Pokémon anime (less so in the games), of which we only see the two regular idiots, the beleaguered boss, and the rival group of agents.
    • This gets subverted in the movies and some more dramatic episodes, when Team Rocket show themselves to actually be the large, well-equipped criminal organization that Jessie and James are ruining the reputation of. Wild Mass Guessing goes that the main reason they keep the trio around is to provide Obfuscating Stupidity. In the games, it's a genuinely threatening and large organization.*** By "threatening" you mean beaten by a 10 year old kid. THRICE. Though at least they WERE large.
  • In Yu Yu Hakusho, the Spirit Worlds's cleanup squad for when things go wrong consists of one detective and any friends he might make along the way. Though this is rendered a bit moot by the manga's ending, where it was revealed that Yusuke might not have been needed as badly as we originally thought.
  • Excel Saga may count as a parody. ACROSS consists of Il Palazzo, Excel, and Hyatt, but has grandiose ambitions and a huge meeting area. The anime, however, included a higher authority; they send a messenger to tell Il Palazzo that he's not doing his job right.
    • Of course, this higher power happened to consist of one guy, who, to be fair, there were six of, plus a stunt double.
    • In the manga, there may not be a higher power, but the organization is larger. They have a third "enforcer" type, Elgala.
      • Excel suspects there are others working for ACROSS behind the scenes, for example, to gather the various creatures in the pit. This probably isn't true.
      • They eventually get a large workforce of people who are unaware of the organization's long-term goals and are just working for a paycheck. They don't seem to participate in any of the organization's inner workings.
  • The Hellsing organization's combatants are pretty much just Alucard, Seras and Walter (Seras is basically still in training, and Walter is for the most part retired). Other than them, there's only their leader Integra, a dozen or so people in the round table conference, and a small squad of hired French mercenaries.
    • This was not always the case. Though small, Hellsing employed over a hundred people, all of whom were killed in about a single chapter of the manga and one episode (episode II) of the OVA by the Valentine brothers. The French "Wild Geese" mercenaries were hired specifically to replace the losses from that attack.
  • Code Geass subverts this. From the beginning, the group that turns into the Black Knights is shown as a small terrorist cell. When the Black Knights grow, you see how much they've grown (as they get a submarine as well as many more members). They end up as the official military force of most of the world.
  • The protagonists of Weiss Kreuz appear to work for one. There are only a handful of Kritiker agents the team don't already know about, and most of them have distressingly short life expectancies. Their opposite numbers are rather better staffed, but most of their evil plans still appear to rely on a Quirky Miniboss Squad with a nasty case of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
  • Naruto has the Akatsuki, a sinister organization of Black Cloaks with only 10 members (actually 9, since Orochimaru absconded with their membership ring). To be fair, they seem to find replacements for lost members pretty quickly, but they never send out minions to do things, instead sending out two of their number to accomplish any task. Even their accountant is a powerful fighter and formal member of the organization - apparently they don't trust weaklings with money or something. Made worse by the fact that many of their members are constantly having arguments and trying to kill each other.
    • Sasori actually had several agents working under him (Yuura, Kabuto, and the man who was turned into a duplicate of Kisame), Tobi was a "junior," and Pain has a small country at his disposal, and Kakuzu had numerous ties to collect the money for the organization. Sasuke's teammates in Hawk are either considered his subordinates, or the whole team is subordinate to Madara. Orochimaru also seemed to have some place to conduct experiments while he was with the team, and of course the Bijuu increase their actual military muscle by a large margin. So while they have a limited number of full members, it appears as if they are able to have their own henchmen, widening their potential scope considerably. Still, they handle most of their affairs personally.
    • This also applies to most of the clans of Konoha besides the Uchiha and Hyuga. You'd expect clans to be fairly large, but, with the exception of one Akimichi clan member acting as a Red Shirt and another in a flashback, all we ever see of clans besides those two are the direct relatives of the Rookie 9 (which is even less than it sounds like because all but two of them have only one parent shown, and only one has any siblings).
      • This, too, has been averted at least somewhat in the current Fourth Great Ninja World War arc. Characters belonging to the Hyuga, Nara, and Aburame clans, among others, have appeared as squad members with significant roles in the battles (averting the Conservation of Ninjutsu as well), showing that they've been around the whole time and the reason they haven't shown up is because the main characters have usually been sent on missions with teams they already know.
      • This actually makes sense when you think about it. We usually only the characters that are part of Naruto's every day life. From the looks of it, ninjas are usually paired up with other members of their classes since they have known each other most of their lives and already work well together. Ninja teams are usually made of up to four members. Throwing random people in a group together for an important mission would not be a smart idea since which member won't know the other member's skills and talents and neither would they know how to work in concert with each other. They could discuss their skills and work it out on the mission, but if the mission was of vital importance and was exceptionally dangerous this lack of familiarity could cost the lives of good ninjas. Plus, people who already work well together are always seen together in battle like Izumo Kamizuki and Kotetsu Hagane who were the protectors at the chunin examine and the guys who went on a mission with Asuma and Shikamaru. This also counts for the Lightning ninjas Atsui (Hot) and Samui (Cold) who are brother and sister who use fire and ice techniques respectively.
    • Averted in the latest chapter, as Madara fielded an army of 100,000 White Zetsus, which are blank duplicates made of Harashima Senju's DNA, and Kabuto added plenty of Impure Resurrected legendary ninjas. Moreover, Conservation of Ninjutsu does not apply, and the whole ninja world has united against them.
    • Also the Konoha council that advises the Hokage, which consists of two people.
      • The used to be more; they just died. When the 4th Hokage was around they including Sarutobi's wife, Hashirama's wife, Sarutobi himself, and presumably the Elders, who are the two people mentioned, though under Tsunade at least and presumably before her Danzou pitched in when he wanted to as well. Also when the village thinks it needs another Hokage, a small group was assembled including the Fire Daimyo and the Head Jounin (Shikaku, Shikamaru's father). Once again this is an aversion, and we simply have only been seeing those two people.
  • There are two examples in Death Note; both are probably justified. First, L's task force. The original organization had quite a lot more members, but they were afraid for their lives, what with the whole Kira thing, and L did not want to reveal his face to a large group of people. The second, the SPK, also started off with a lot of members, but Mello offed all but Near and three smart enough not to reveal their true names to Mello's mole, which kind of put a damper on things.
  • The Bait and Switch Credits of Blue Seed seems to indicate that the Terrestrial Administration Center has Black Helicopter fleet and a navy, among other things. Some episodes, they seem to only have couple of The Men in Black, a van, and one women with a bazooka.
  • Likewise, despite being very well financed in the original Gate Keepers, AEGIS was supposedly a worldwide organization; with Japan being just the Eastern outpost. By the Darker and Edgier sequel, there was about 5 members left, though given the mood of the sequel that may be more a case of It Got Worse.
  • The Doma organization in season 4 of Yu-Gi-Oh! apparently consists at the beginning of the season of Dartz, Raphael, Alister, Valon, Grerimo and, at one point, Mai, and no-one else. And its members lose their souls one at a time over the course of the season.
  • Jackal, the evil organization that created the titular anti-hero Ratman, is this. There are the three Mizushimas (the grandfather and the two sisters), the protagonist, and a scattered number of Jackies. That's it.

Comic Books

  • Depending on the Writer (and continuity), The Avengers.
  • The Hellfire Club in X-Men. Although presumably they have tons of members and are incredibly pervasive, we really only ever see 4-5 of them.
    • They make up for it with a crap load of nameless henchmen, many of whom can be found at the ends of Wolverine's claws.
    • Actually it more because what the X-Men is usually facing is the Inner Circle of the club, the regular members are just normal but extremely wealthy members of society, that is how Archangel, Tony Stark and Candy Southern got their membership
  • Ultimate Hawkeye refers to an early incarnation of `SHIELD as "You (Nick Fury), me, and a drinks tab trying to take down the Soviet Union."
  • Following Secret Invasion SHIELD was decommissioned and replaced by HAMMER. Following Siege, HAMMER was decommissioned and Steve Rogers, former Captain America, was appointed as the new Director of National Security. He seems to have no actual agency to direct. He seems to rely on the services of Sharon Carter, Maria Hill and Victoria Hand to liaise with the various Avengers teams.
    • Given that he's Steve Rogers, does he really need an organization?
  • The G.I.Joe team once asked for the aide of a man named Spigou of the resistance in communist Borovia. When the mission goes sour, Stalker asks Spigou where the rest of the organization is. Turns out Spigou is the whole thing. Spigou is then killed.


  • There are five members of the Boston mob in The Departed, twenty to forty percent of whom are undercover cops.
  • Even though there are many (well, up to 26 going by the naming scheme, thought the animated series also uses non-English letters as well) Men in Black, it seems it falls to two agents to take care of most serious potential Apocalypses.
    • Then again, it could simply be that they haven't made movies about all of the potential apocalypses averted by the other agents.
  • In Spike Milligan and John Antrobus's post-apocalyptic play (and movie) The Bed-Sitting Room, The BBC consists of just one man, because he's the only surviving member of the organization.
  • Plan 9 from Outer Space: the entire alien fleet? Three aliens ships with, seemingly, three or four aliens inside.
    • And the titular plan only succeeds in creating a mere three zombies.
  • The Fraternity in Wanted. For an organization tasked with keeping the world in balance, they are a pretty small group of people.
    • The game shows the ones in the movie were just the US branch.
  • In Street Fighter the Legend of Chun Li, The Order of the Web is supposed to be a Bangkok-wide anti-Shadoloo organization. Yet we only only see three members: Gen (the "leader"), Chun-Li, and a dead vagrant Chun-Li literally stumbles across at an airport. Further enforcing the trope is the fact that the "dead" guy turned out to be a not-so-dead Gen, who set himself up as a clue to put Chun-Li on his trail.
  • Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins: a former cop is forcibly recruited by a secret government organization called the CURE, founded by President Kennedy to safeguard the country from all threats by any means necessary. The entire organization consists of only three people (including the new recruit) and a powerful computer (for its time). There is also an Old Master who trains Remo, but he's not officially a member.
    • Worse, the count drops to two after the man who recruited Remo commits suicide to prevent the enemy from interrogating him.
    • In the source book series, we eventually find that CURE has both full access to the intelligence gathered by all other federal and state agencies (without their knowledge), and a network of part-time informants and agents numbered in the thousands - it's just that none of these people actually work for CURE or suspect it exists. (A lot of them think their beneficiary is a criminal or anti-U.S. organization.) One female cop works semi-knowingly for CURE for a short period (maybe 10 books of the 200+) as well.
  • Subverted in Quantum of Solace, when Mr. White's secret interrogation triggers the attack of an unknown associate. M responds: "When someone says that they have people everywhere, you expect it to be hyperbole. Lots of people say that. Florists use that expression. It doesn't mean that they have people in the bloody room."
  • In the Monty Python film Life of Brian, the resistance against the Romans is split into an innumerable number of tiny organizations that constantly fight each other: the 'Judean People's Front', the 'Judean Popular People's Front', the 'Campaign for a Free Galilee,' and the 'Popular Front of Judea' (which incidentally has only one member).
    • "Splitter!"
  • The Sith: "Always two, there are. No more, no less. A master, and an apprentice."
    • Of couse the Expanded Universe has decided this means only two Sith Lords at any one time. This doesn't count acolytes, assassins, non Force-using Mooks, spies, droids, etc. Then there's the Secret Sith Apprentices that keep popping up. "Officially" there's only two. Unofficially the "Sith" could consist of many more.
      • Typically, a "Secret Apprentice" comes into play when the current Apprentice is about to betray the Master, bringing the number of Sith back down to two. It makes sense to have the next Apprentice lined up in advance rather than having to search for one after you've taken the top spot, after all.
    • And the EU also justifies the formula: when there were more than two Lords, they usually argued, fought, and killed each other due to Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
    • Though this only applies for the "Rule of Two", which is only for Darth Bane's Order of the Sith Lords. There are several other Sith orders before and after that, and as mentioned many of it's members bent the rules where they could- Bane only enforced it because the one he belonged to prior to that was comprised of hundreds of Sith Lords who kept fighting each other more than the fought the Jedi. Older orders have even been intergalactic empires with thousands of Sith, though they were much better organized into a strict hierarchy so they didn't collapse so easily. And The One Sith from Star Wars Legacy used the "Rule of One", which operated as a cult whereby they had dozens of Sith but the Order was put above the individual (the complete opposite of the previous orders, which stressed selfish personal ambition), therefore they were all "One Sith".


  • Varys of A Song of Ice and Fire is a highly knowledgeable and untrustworthy "master of whisperers," but these whisperers are nowhere to be seen. Even when questioned about his sources by a direct superior, he gives evasive answers. He almost certainly has an entire army of informers, and it's theorized that the "little birds" always telling him things are mute, literate children creeping in the secret passages of King's Landing.
  • Many of the factions in The Illuminatus! Trilogy consists of few (often, five) members, while others are more widespread conspiracies. Most importantly, the true, benevolent Illuminati, aka A∴A∴, has some five members.
  • The Good Omens witchfinders. They've dwindled down to Witchfinder-Sergeant Shadwell and Witchfinder-Private Newton Pulsifer, but apparently in their heyday there was a whole Witchfinder Army.
    • It is implied (If not outright stated) that Shadwell is paid by Crowley and Azriphale, both of whom think that Witchfinders are on their side - Azriphale because he's a witchfinder, and witches are evil, Crowley because of what witchfinders do to witches once they're found. Of course, this later proves to be true of most of the organizations they consider to be on their side.
  • Lord of the Rings makes mention of an order of wizards--of which only five exist, only three even figure into the story at all, and only two of those actually appear in person. There's a reasonable back story that the main books and movies don't detail at all: the wizards are an undercover angelic spec ops force sent by the Powers That Be. There's not more of them because (a) said Powers are still miffed, and (b) the last open attack had mountain ranges (not to mention an entire subcontinent) as collateral damage. Five is not few because Gandalf alone saves two kingdoms, spends the prequel restoring a third and expanding a fourth, and kills his opposing number, doing more for the war effort than an ICBM would. Furthermore, it's implied in Tolkien's notes that the two "missing" wizards had been working offstage to stir up rebellion in Sauron's lands (ie, three-quarters of the world) and prevented him from bringing his full forces to bear.
  • The Death Eaters in Harry Potter similarly appear as a rather... small organization. Depending on how loose are your criteria for what makes a Death Eater (and whether some of the unnamed Death Eaters are all different from one another), there's only about 3 dozen of them (And that's including the members that died after Voldemort's disappearance AND those who were freshly recruited after Voldemort's return. There never seemed to be more than 20 or so Death Eaters active at any one time.
    • Both incarnations of the Order of the Phoenix are also quite small; the original group only had twenty six members (and are said to have been outnumbered by about twenty to one), and about half of them were killed before the end. The second group is not much bigger, but has the advantage of facing a much smaller enemy (the core force of the Death Eaters appears to be about fifty wizards, with the rest consisting of the coerced, the manipulated and the brainwashed, as well as minor hangers-on, who hadn't been replenished when the second Order was formed).
    • The exact size of the wizarding population is an example of this trope. But as This essay points out, assuming the vast majority of British wizard children go to Hogwarts (something outright said in the book), that means Britain's wizarding population between the age of 11 and 18 is below the 300 mark; maybe even less than 250. Harry's class itself has only 8 confirmed members in it, with a potential of two more. Assuming an even spread between the four houses and all 7 grades, that's 224 students.
  • Night Watch and Day Watch both are pretty small organizations. Although there are still enough of them to have offices in most major cities of the world. (even if with only a dozen or so Others per Watch) Justified. A.) there are only about two hundred Others in Moscow, which has one of the "strongest watches" (Paris and Edinburgh Watches being the larger ones) in the world. One cop for every twenty people is actually an unreasonably high ratio. B.) As of Twilight Watch, the Watches can conscript any and all Others in the event of a crisis. The Night Watch trains all Light Others and Light Others unaffiliated with the Watch are even called 'reservists' a few times.
  • The other Night Watch is also pretty small: when Guards! Guards! opens, they're down to three, with an option on a fourth if anybody is insane enough to volunteer. This thanks to the fact that the Watch is pretty much a joke position anyway. As the fortunes of the Watch have risen over the series, including merging with the Day Watch under one commander, they currently number around 150 with plans to increase to over 200. Which as Vimes reflects on several occasions, is still extremely small (and amazingly effective) for a city containing a hundred thousand souls (and ten times as many people). (Though much of the actual policing in Ankh-Morpork is done by other groups than the Watch: for instance, the Thieves Guild is extremely thorough about deterring unlicensed thieves.)
    • During Discworld/Jingo the Morporkian army consisted of possibly less than 1000 hastily recruited troops, as compared to Klatch's tens of thousands of veterans. Of course, the Force that actually won was even smaller (but highly trained, and much feared).
    • It's understandable that Lancre, a kingdom a hundred miles across with two hundred inhabitants, would have a very small military and civil service. In fact, however, it consists of just one man: Shawn Ogg, who is also much of the palace staff.
      • It's easier to just list the government jobs Shawn Ogg doesn't perform: king, queen, falconer, and (possibly) palace cook.
    • The number of Witches in and around Lancre tends to vary (down to about half-a-dozen at one point, but more numerous now), but is apparently not too many, at least compared to times past.
  • The Tribulation Force in the Left Behind series, despite its grand name, is just four people. Worse, the world-conquering conspiracy they're rebelling against is also... four people (as the Slacktivist pointed out).
  • From The Phantom Tollbooth, by Martin Juster: "just as Milo got to his feet the entire police force of Dictionopolis appeared — loudly blowing his whistle."
  • Artemis Fowl's multimillion dollar criminal organization consists pretty much entirely of himself and his Battle Butler. Apparently, Artemis occupies himself primarily with grand theft and fraud, having greatly scaled down the family's usual enterprises in order to ensure that he can personally tend to all of his crimes (although he still makes use of his butler's and family's vast network of contacts). He also heavily invests his criminal earnings.
  • The Oz series from L. Frank Baum uses this multiple times in regard to armies. In The Marvelous Land of Oz, it's revealed that the entire Royal Army of Oz is one person, The Man With the Green Whiskers who first appeared in the original book. By Ozma of Oz, the Tin Woodman has expanded it to... 30 people, 3 of which are only mentioned.
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: For a NGO Superpower capable of helping the Cretan Insurrection, destroy The Empire ships and with his own language, the Nautilus crew is small: We only see Captain Nemo, his Number Two, and two unfortunate crewmen that die in the novel. And because they have severed all contact with inhabited continents, there will be no more crewmen. Aronnax made a calculation about less than sixty people:

 "... Which is tantamount to saying that the air contained in the Nautilus would be exactly enough for 625 men over twenty–four hours."

"625!" Ned repeated.

"But rest assured," I added, "that between passengers, seamen, or officers, we don't total one–tenth of that figure."


Live Action TV

  • Blackadder: in Blackadder II, the Queen appears to have only three courtiers; in Blackadder the Third, the Prince Regent has a staff of two; and in Blackadder Goes Forth, Capt. Blackadder has only two men under his command.
  • Averted in Stargate SG-1 - the government had the good sense to form a large command of at least 20 teams with a full base when they realized what they were up against. However, it's still kind of played straight, in the "many more are stated to exist, but we rarely actually see them" sense. Although this makes perfect sense when you consider the name of the show - it's meant to focus on the principal team not the command as a whole. Less justified in Stargate Atlantis whose name does not specify only one team to be the primary focus.
    • At first it was a dozen four man teams, over time they doubled it to twenty six. That's only 104 team members, and note, that usually a team has anywhere from 1 to 3 'specialists' in non-military roles. For comparison, the real world Delta Force has 360 operators, DEVGRU/Seal Team Six (who take their numbers from the best of the already elite US Navy Seal Teams) numbers around 200, as do most international forces of that level. The actual Navy Seals as a whole, who are itself considered one of the most highly trained and elite units, numbers over 2,000 operators. The 104 operator SGC seems woefully small. I'd have thought they'd go along the lines of that Navy Seals/Seal Team 6 divide, with a small core of the ultra-elite SG teams, then regular sized squads made up of regular airmen, army troopers and marines.
      • This is referenced in the aftermath of the episode "Heroes", where the General is accused of rashly committing almost his entire command, in an attempt to retrieve a single wounded trooper. The skirmish turns into a major firefight, both sides reinforce their troops, and it eventually becomes the largest ground battle the SGC has ever fought in. The battle ends up costing the life of an extremely important, invaluable and irreplaceable member of the non-combatant staff.
    • In the Season 1 finale, Bra'tac tells SG-1 that his "wing" will help them destroy Apophis's ship. When asked how large his wing was, he revealed that it consisted of him and two other guys.
    • During the Ori arc, a big song and dance is made of Teal'c going to the Lucian Alliance (pretty much Space Mafia/Drug Dealers) in an effort to gain reinforcements for a major space battle. They show up, with 3 Hat'ak ships (which are practically obsolete, especially in the face of the Ori super-ships). 2 of them get blown away in one shot each within seconds of warping in.
    • SG team sizes vary based on the team's primary assignment -- exploration teams like SG-1 are four to five people, but they can go up in size to over a dozen. SGC is still pretty small for most of the series, though, with fewer than 500 operators (not counting the Russian teams). Though if you count the crews of Earth's spaceship fleet in the later seasons, the number would of course increase considerably.
    • The 'original' SG-1 team was only three people. Teal'c joined in the first episode, but was not (in-universe) an originally planned member.
  • In one episode of A Touch of Frost, after a man kidnaps a child, he sends a ransom message saying that said child has been taken by "The Task Force". It turns out that this "Task Force" is actually just the guy, but he uses the name to throw off the police.
  • The crew of the Andromeda Ascendant. Originally supposed to be four thousand, but Hercules Captain Dylan Hunt makes do with 6 for several years.
    • When the Systems Commonwealth had been sufficiently restored, extras started wandering about in the background but they were rarely important to the plot and it remained the main cast's job to fix any and all problems.
  • NCIS, good God, yes. The entire NCIS lab consists of one person, the morgue has two, the administration has one, and so on. No other team or lab workers or anyone are ever seen. Deconstructed in that they all work sixteen hour days in order to do the jobs of an entire organization themselves.
    • There are other teams, some of which are even shown occasionally, but it's still a ludicrous waste of resources for each team to have its own lab, morgue, etc. Particularly its own lab, given how expensive analytical equipment tends to be.
  • Torchwood, they used to be a large UNIT sized organization until the London branch (Torchwood One) was dissolved leaving behind the Five-Man Band Cardiff Torchwood Three, and the single man never seen Glasgow branch (Torchwood Two).
    • There is also a Torchwood Four. It apparently got lost, but they expect to find it again one day.
  • The Company in Heroes sometimes enters this territory. Sometimes they're portrayed as a large group with many teams of two agents (one super, one normal) out taking care of assignments. Other times The Company is portrayed as just Bob, his daughter, and some Indian doctor he has to coerce into being a thug because he apparently doesn't have anyone else to send on missions anymore.
    • In the first season it is portrayed as all powerful yet they only regularly show 1 character and have guest appearances by actors for the more high ranked members. Yet in season 2 Bob is running round doing the recruiting in Cairo as well as "kidnap missions." This makes one wonder if it is falling into disarray. This is confirmed in season 3 where the company corridors are empty and Angela Petrelli is alone.
  • In the Sci-Fi Channel's The Invisible Man, the protagonist works for a secret government agency that seems to consist of nothing more than Da Chief, his assistant, the Hot Scientist, and two (three in the second season) field agents. Lampshaded as it's apparently small enough to be passed around to become a branch of various departments of The Government.
    • But then, The Agency is more just Darian and his handlers, and a running theme is that those in charge keep individuals in the dark to an unreasonable degree.
  • The Sanctuary apparently has a total of five staff members for the entire planet. Fortunately they're five hyper-competent people.
    • It is later revealed that this is just the head branch. Other sanctuaries are shown and mentioned, although many of them are destroyed by the Cabal. Since Helen's father was the founder of the sanctuary, and Helen herself probably established a fair number of them, hers is considered the de facto head office.
  • The Federal Marshal's office from In Plain Sight has 4 people, of which only two do fieldwork and one is a secretary.
  • In the War of the Worlds series, the US government's response to a planetary invasion by aliens who had previously almost devastated the Earth put three scientists and one soldier to work on the problem. The project was later assigned a military squad as well, but still.
  • The team from Warehouse 13 consists of just four people backed by an Ancient Conspiracy. Before the show there were only two operatives.
    • Until they went back to the '60s, when the office is suddenly very crowded and with more teams implied to be out retrieving artifacts.
  • In Lie to Me, the Lightman Institute always has people wandering around the the background but only four characters seem to do any work; everyone else seems to be there to run the video cameras for them.
  • The Major Case Squad on The Wire. Justified in that instance because the superiors only created it when a Judge twisted their arm. So they naturally got the worst office space and cops to fill it out.
  • The Duck Factory takes place in an animation studio, yet it never seems to have more than a handful of employees. In reality, even the cheapest TV cartoon can easily employ at least a hundred people.
  • Spooks reduces MI:5's entire counter-terrorism operation to a team of five or six people.
  • Section 31 is the plausibly deniable black ops wing of The Federation in Star Trek (Specifically Deep Space Nine). While Section 31 shows up in three episodes, we only really see one guy (And a couple of extras). Justified (maybe) as the organization being secretive enough that they only show up when they want to, and only reveal one operative to any given group to maintain secrecy.
    • A less extreme example, but considering the sheer size of the Dominion, it does stretch belief a little that the Female Shapeshifter is generally the only founder to be seen doing anything meaningful. This was compounded in the last season after their union with the Cardassians and the Breen, when many scenes took place at the very heart of their military operations, yet the only commanders ever seen to be giving orders were Weyoun, Damar and that Breen guy.
      • Possible justifications, in order: Shapeshifter, Clone, Damar and environment suit.
      • And in the first case, it may be the converse: when the single mass consciousness of the Founders splits off a part of itself to do anything meaningful (and administrative), that part assumes the Female Shapeshifter's form and personality. The species is surprisingly uninterested in variety, after all.
      • Other than the ones on infiltration duty, she was the only Founder left in the quadrant after the wormhole was closed and recaptured by Sisko. She had mass-produced ranks of Vorta to do all the work of actually running things.
      • Even at the height of the period when the Federation and its allies were terrified of Founder infiltration, one Founder took amusement in informing Sisko that there were only three operating in the entire Federation, pointing out that the fear of the Founders was doing more than the Founders themselves ever could.
  • Same as with the Lightman Institute above, try and count how many people are doing anything remotely related to tracking terrorists at any given time at 24's Counter Terrorism Unit.
  • Allo Allo: We only ever see two or three members of the French Resistance and two members of the Gestapo, possibly justified in that it's only a small town. The Wehrmacht presence is harder to explain though - in one episode an outing is announced "to be attended by all officers below the rank of General" - and sure enough, that turns out to be just the three regular officers. And one of them is Italian.
  • The "others we hear about but never see" is a running joke on Criminal Minds. Whenever a character doesn't want to take a case, they'll point out that the BAU has many other teams. They always take the case, and only one of these other teams ever appears, in a Poorly-Disguised Pilot for the Spin-Off show.
  • Kamen Rider Kiva has the Wonderful Blue Sky Organization, a dedicated Fangire-hunting organization that seems to consist only of an Eccentric Millionaire, The Chick, and The Rival--at most. Then again, outside of The Rival, they're usually too useless to warrant more members...
  • Played with in 30Rock. The GE executive hierarchy at NBC sometimes seems to consist entirely of Jack, although this is mostly because he has a large personal interest in Tracey (who is high maintenance and a mainstay of their income) and Liz (who he has an interest in grooming for the elite). There have been several occasions where Kenneth comes to him with a problem, prompting Jack to remind him that there are numerous people in between the two of them.
  • In Person of Interest the team initially only consists of Finch and Reese. Reese quickly recruits Fusco, a Dirty Cop, as an informant and general helper. Their small number proves to be a serious problem when they have to follow three different people at the same time and Finch has to go out into the field rather than perform his usual Voice with an Internet Connection role. In the pilot Finch has a bunch of bodyguards and a lawyer working for him so it is possible that he employs a large number of people behind the scenes to support his operation but he deliberately keeps all that secret from Reese (and the audience).
  • In Game of Thrones, the warlock Pyat Pree is the leader of an coven called "the undying", who are spoken of as a multitude. However, no other warlocks are seen in the House of the Undying, only Pree's many, many clones.


  • Watchers of Les Misérables could be forgiven for thinking that Inspector Javert is the only policeman in all of France. We first see him as Valjean's parole officer. When Fantine attacks a sea captain in Montreuil-sur-Mer, Javert is the officer who comes to arrest her (coincidentally running across Valjean in the process). In Paris, when Thenardier tries to mug Valjean, who should show up but Javert (who had already been established as the primary police presence in their neighborhood)? Who tries to infiltrate the barricades? Javert. Who catches Valjean and Marius on their way home? Javert. Aside from the two men who bring Valjean to the Bishop in the first act, no other law enforcement officers show up at all.

Video Games

  • In Chrono Cross, in mild contrast to its base (where it was comprised of three people), the band of thieves called the Radical Dreamers is...really just Kid.
  • Shadoloo in Street Fighter. As far as we know, there are only five or six members. Even if you count the brainwashed Doll Squad, they are still quite small.
  • In the anime of the game Sands of Destruction, the World Destruction Committee consists entirely of two people and a teddy bear; Before the second half of the first episode, it was only one angry human woman. Admittedly, it was a name that her enemies made up to demonize her, but she ran with it because it's intimidating.
  • The Patriots of the Metal Gear 'verse are Six Fallen Heroes.
    • Plus a few hundred to several thousands of clueless mooks, who have not the slightest idea who they are really working for.
    • Actually, they are a collection of artificial intelligences set up by those fallen heroes and left to run the country. The 4th game reveals the identities of those ex-heroes, and knowing who they are you see, even by the start of Metal Gear Solid (and bear in mind we don't even learn about them until MGS2), two of the members were already dead (including the first hostage you fail to rescue), the leader was basically retired all along (and is a vegetable by the time Solid Snake meets him) and the other three had went their own way and turned against the group. Of the two that were dead, one of the latter actually murdered him. The "new" Patriots avert this trope since, thanks to their enormous influence, they equate themselves with the entire country, and are even compared to the prevailing global system.
    • Or Philanthropy, an anti-Metal Gear organization, which, as Otacon puts it, "is officially recognized by the UN", to which Snake replies, "Recognized, but still fringe." At no point does Philanthropy ever consist of more than two members (Otacon and Snake), and they're classified as a terrorist organization later...still consisting of two members.
    • Nastasha Romanenko was stated in Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty to have donated the proceeds from In the Darkness of Shadow Moses to Philanthropy, and Sunny is also a member-- despite being a little girl, she has enough programming skill to qualify as an asset. In addition, the organization's members fly around in the Nomad, a large aircraft with at least two other occupants: the pilots. Snake and Otacon are always seen discussing the missions during Briefings, implying that there are others that keep the plane going, and two distinct pilots can be seen in the cockpit during the Act 1 Briefing.
  • This is beaten to death in the Mega Man Battle Network/Rockman.EXE series. The amount of villains you face in each game while fighting against the various rebirths of the same organization is already quite small, but they sound less threatening and even laughable as the series goes on.
  • Grim Fandango has the LSA, which at first literally has 2 members, and later on, has only two more that you are able to talk to, one of whom joined after you met her.
  • Snatcher: The Junker organization the protagonist belongs to is tasked with tracking down and eliminating people-snatching robots in the city of Neo Kobe. Their headquarters is in a skyscraper. There are maybe five members, and only two are on active duty at the start of the game. Shortly reduced to one. There were three other guys, but they were killed just before the start of the game.
  • Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia: The titular Order of Ecclesia consists of... 3 people. This seems bizarre when the leader says things like "It is the desire of the Order of Ecclesia" or describes what the Order of Ecclesia is supposed to do.
  • La Résistance in Beyond Good and Evil appears to consist of about five people in a basement.
    • Justified in the game; this branch of La Résistance consists of five people in a basement, plus a leader whose real identity they don't know. Said leader is the leader of several (if not all) of the other branches of La Résistance as well, but this branch doesn't know how many branches there are under his command, how many people are in those branches, or who they are. All this inter-organizational secrecy is so that, in the (unfortunately likely) event that any of the branches are captured, the locations and identities of the rest of La Résistance can't be tortured out of them. Possibly the sequel will shed some more light on it.
  • The titular organization in the F.E.A.R. games appears to consist of four people (the Point Man, Jankowski, Jin, and Betters). It is implied the agency is somewhat larger, and that they are deployed in very small units as specialists, using conventional military as muscle.
  • Kingdom Hearts' Organization XIII could very well be an aversion, as the number of members are explicitly stated (not counting Xion). They're really more of a Quirky Miniboss Squad centered around a couple Magnificent Bastards.
    • What makes the Organization unusual is that they count as an example of this trope despite having an army of nobodies at their beck and call. This gets Egregious in 358/2 Days in which the other nobodies don't even appear except as enemies and some members worry about a lost of manpower from losing just 5 guys.
    • The Chinese army in Mulan's world appears to consist of about five people.
  • The police force of Palm Brinks in Dark Chronicle are explicitly stated to have just three officers, two after you recruit Sheriff Blinkhorn. This is stated to be because the town in so peaceful. One cop even notes they are overstaffed.
  • The Turks from Final Fantasy VII. Implied to be quite a big covert ops department, in the original game and the movie we only see four members (Reno, Rude, Tseng, and Elena) and one former member (Vincent). The Japan-only Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII, however, puts the group in the spotlight.
    • The end of that game has all the members introduced in it (Including Cisssni/Shuiken Female, who was featured in Crisis Core) go into hiding for crimes they commit while members, IE letting Avalanche's leader escape, (And some, before hand), only coming out of it once to help stop Jade WEAPON. They were all Doomed by Canon due to their lack of appearance in other media anyways.
  • Near the end of Mass Effect 2, EDI implies that Cerberus is something like this, with a paltry 150 or so officers across a galaxy in which the writers generally do have a sense of scale. The Paragon ending implies that you just took a good chunk of those officers off as your own crew.
    • Cerberus may be a tad larger than that 150 figure. There are only two people on the SR-2 that are referred to as officers, meaning that the real number could be in the thousands or ten of thousands, not to mention the various front companies and organisations the Illusive Man has to work with. It's still a drop in the ocean in a galaxy of trillions of sentients. In the Paragon ending, the issue for the Illusive Man is the amount of resources that went into building the Normandy and resurrecting Shepard, as well as losing all the technology from the Collector Base that would have made it worthwhile, as well as losing Miranda, the closest person he had to a second-in-command.
    • The 150 probably refers to the people who are officially members of the group. They make use of a lot of "non-company" resources like mercenaries and front organizations. Think of it like 150 CEOs, each with an entire corporation working under them.
    • EDI also mentions that The Illusive Man intentionally keeps things small so as to give him the maximum level of oversight.
    • Fridge Brilliance: Keep in mind, this number of agents and operatives, is given after Project Lazarus, Project Overlord, the headquarters and research facilities from the first game, the IFF recovery operation, and the personnel from Jack's "uplifting escape story", were all slaughtered. Taking those casualties into account, they probably had more than a thousand people.
    • Even a thousand seems like an awfully small number, considering that they managed to duplicate the most impressive ship in the Alliance fleet, complete with its top-secret stealth technology, and they added on an illegal AI that surely required her own team of specialists to create and test.
      • It's no mystery how they pulled off this feat: Cerberus actually owns the corporations that made the original Normandy. They just commissioned another one with custom additions.
    • BioWare has already Lampshaded this in preparation for the third game, where Cerberus is an active antagonist. To quote from the official website's page on the Centurion troopers:

  How the Illusive Man recruited and trained such a large number of top-line battlefield commanders is a worrying mystery. Cerberus, once comprised of small, covert cells of agents, is now a burgeoning and unconcealed threat to the galaxy. In the face of the immediate Reaper threat, Alliance Intelligence has scuttled their attempts to infiltrate Cerberus to find out how the Illusive Man managed to quickly swell his organization’s ranks.

    • And now that the game is out: Most of Cerberus' new troops are indoctrinated human refugees, many of them having been taken against their will and implanted with Reaper tech, essentially turning them into lightweight husks disguised with Power Armor.
  • The Scorpion Army from Secret of Mana.

Web Comics

  • The Martians in Irregular Webcomic.
  • The Inquisition in Exterminatus Now seemed to consist of only the four main characters plus a few recurring characters. However, the truth is that while the Inquisition is much bigger, the reasons main characters are so rarely seen with other Inquisitors is because A: they are blackmailing the chief to have a large, well-furnished building to themselves, and B: everyone else in the Inquisition hates them and hope that they die, so they rarely send backup. They even have a betting pool. However, the reason they don't just murder them themselves is because they are useful due to their absurd amounts of luck.
    • Completely subverted in one arc where they take command of a small Badass Army.
  • Spec Ops in Turnus. The boss's office is a broom cupboard.
  • Kelly Turnbull, for her part in a Original Character Tournament called The Coliseum, does a beautiful justification of an Oddly Small Organization here and here. It perfectly illustrates just how EFFECTIVE a small band with loyal, professional and capable members can be.
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob, when Earth is attacked by the Pirates of Ipecac, their ship turns out to contain only two pirates.
  • In the Tales Of Gnosis College a student named Jill Keeney joins an organization she believes is devoted to the overthrow of the hated dictator of Monte Blanco. Once she's joined it, it appears to consist of three people.

Web Original

  • The Order in the Breeniverse shows is supposedly a far reaching worldwide organisation, but the same individual members appear frequently. In Kate Modern, these typically include Michelle Clore, the Shadow, Kate's Watcher and Rupert van Helden. In Lonelygirl15, more Order members do appear, but the gang still seem to run into Carl, Lucy and Bree's Watcher surprisingly often.

Western Animation

  • Lampshaded with the Robot Mafia in Futurama, which consists of only two minions and a "Don Bot," and, temporarily, Bender.
    • Most of the organizations of Futurama. The megacorp Momcorp and all its subsidiaries seem to be staffed entirely by Mom and her three sons (though Dr. Farnsworth worked there before). During the film "Into Wild Green Yonder," the Wongs, who are building a mini golf course the size of an entire arm of the galaxy, have 4 construction workers on staff, and one security guy - Fry. The New New York Police seems to have two cops on staff, with the chief introduced in one of the movies. Similarly, the League of Robots is composed of... 5 robots.
      • Actually, there are many more, but presumably those 4 (and Bender) are the leaders. They all happen to be particularly affluent 'bots (Hedonism bot, that Rich banker, a soap opera star, and an Ultimate Robot Fighter)
  • In Gargoyles the main group of Gargoyles consists of Goliath, Hudson, Brooklyn, Lexington, Bronx, and Demona. They are the only Gargoyles that are formally introduced in the beginning and the rest are only briefly seen (for 1-2 seconds mind you) before they are killed and the main group becomes the Last of Their Kind....which is kind of downplayed cause you haven't grown familiar with any other Gargoyles.
  • The Dark Hand in Jackie Chan Adventures was often referred to as being a superpowerful world-reaching crime net, with operatives everywhere... but we only operatives who seem to exist are the four henchmen (who aren't too bright), a black-belt temp, and their leader, no matter where Chan goes. Oh yeah... and the leader's driver. It would appear that their reputation is greatly exaggerated. Eventually the writers figured, "screw it," and the four/five characters were, by the end of their run, referred to as the Dark Hand exclusively, with no other members. Which of course raises further questions...
    • In earlier episodes the Dark Hand had a lot of nameless henchmen, but they probably all quit when they heard that their boss was taking orders from a statue.
    • Not to mention that in later seasons, the organization has completely collapsed due to Valmont putting all his eggs in the Shendue basket, and now even those minions have moved on to other employment.
  • The Springfield Mafia in The Simpsons. And for that matter the Springfield Police. And every other organization in Springfield but for the Stonecutters, wait, No-Homers.
    • The police are an odd one because, when necessary, they do have a large force (even if we only know the names of three), and other times it is explicit they're just the three.

 Wiggum: We gotta get the whole force on this!

Lou: Chief, we are the whole force.

Wiggum: OK, we gotta start recruiting, Lou!

    • When Spring Shield took over policing duties, it consisted of just Homer, Lenny and Carl. "You can kill me, but someone will take my place. And if you kill him, someone will take his place. And if you kill him, then that's basically it, the town will be yours".
  • In the Justice League episode "Legends," the same two cops seem to keep coming to see the Justice Guild, and later on, Flash comments "Are they the only two cops in this town?"
    • After the big reveal at the end though it's kind of justified.
    • Or, for that matter, the League itself. Just seven individuals (of whom only six are super) to protect the entire planet from any threat and to take on off-world missions? Please. It comes to bite them mightily in the ass in "Starcrossed", prompting them to go on a recruitment drive in Unlimited. Of course, that comes to bite them in the ass, too, in the Cadmus Arc.
  • On Kim Possible, Big Bad Dr. Drakken is occasionally shown to have a few dozen Punch Clock Villain Mooks at his disposal, but in most episodes they're nowhere to be seen and the whole Evil Plot Of The Week is just him and Dark Action Girl Shego doing their thing. At one point, they were briefly seen in an employee lounge and took no further part in the episode. Then again, Shego is pretty much all the help he needs.
    • Kim Possible's group itself. It consists of herself, Ron, Rufus, Wade and that's it. If it wasn't for all of the people who owes her favors she wouldn't get much done.
  • The entire police force in South Park seems to consist of just Officer Barbrady, who makes Chief Wiggum look like Joe Friday. (At least Wiggum had at least two other cops under him.) Whenever other policemen appear, it's usually county or state police.
    • Recent episodes have made the county/state police the South Park Police Department, and Barbrady seems to have been Put on a Bus.
  • Samurai Jack: Aku seems to function as his own entire bureaucracy and secret police (since he seems to spend a lot of time watching people on his view screens, and personally meets with even the lowliest informant, mercenary or dignitary). He also constantly goes to personally fight Jack or act to destroy something which might let him return to the past.
  • In an episode of the Animated Adaptation of Men in Black, MIB become this when an unknown Time Traveling assassin starts picking off the founders in the past. When only Kay is left, the entire operation consists of a dozen or so people (all human) at the back of a nail salon with an antique computer taking up another room. Jay (who has Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory in this episode) points out the ridiculousness of it all, but they have a hard time seeing the problem.
  • The 80's animated show COPS had about 7-8 police officers and roughly the same number of members in the mob.
  • The first episode of Pole Position indicates that Dan, Tess, and Uncle Zack work for a fairly large crime-busting organization, and we meet another one of their agents. For the rest of the series, there isn't much to indicate that there's anybody else in the organization but the three of them.
  • The Legion Ex Machina in Big Guy and Rusty The Boy Robot. A bit of a subversion, since that not only are they a prominent and credible threat with vast technological resources, (having an abandoned factory as a base certainly helps) but they are nebulous, as well. Despite being made of only 6 members.
  • Regular Show has seven people (if one can call them people) staffing a city park roughly the size of Central Park.

Real Life

  • The United States federal government has three branches. The executive branch includes literally millions of people, counting the armed forces, and even without them would number well into the tens of thousands. (Homeland Security, OSHA, USDA...) The legislative branch is made up of 535 congresspeople plus staffers (In the year 2000, there were approximately 11,692 personal staff, 2,492 committee staff, 274 leadership staff, 5,034 institutional staff, and 3,500 GAO employees, 747 CRS employees, and 232 CBO employees.), and the judicial branch is made up of 876 judges, their staffers, and a few more independent agencies. The legislative branch is not only small compared to the executive branch, but it's also small per capita compared to representative bodies in other countries.
  • The CIA is an example with regard to their case officers. While they are likely the largest single intelligence agency in the world, they have fewer case officers in the entire agency than the FBI has special agents for New York City alone.
    • In this case this is largely because most of the CIA's personnel are analysts as opposed to case officers. The analysts aren't heavily shown in fiction largely because of the generally boring nature of their work.
  • The Gang of Four, the small inner circle of the Chinese Communist Party during the Cultural Revolution, that manipulated the events to their advantage.
  • People tend to think of Steve Jackson Games (the makers of In Nomine, Toon, GURPS and Munchkin) as a moderately powerful force in the gaming industry. Their total staff is less than twenty people at any one time with most work being contracted with freelancers.
  • Some of the most popular websites in the world, like Wikipedia, are staffed by less than 100 people.
  • Many terrorist/freedom fighter groups can have huge world impact despite barely having enough members to fill a bus.
    • The far-left agitators Weather Underground never had more than about 30 members at any time.
    • Al Qaeda never had much more than 1,000 members, and only around forty guys were involved in 9/11. Today, Al-Qaeda proper consists of 300-500 guys holed up somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan.
    • There are "franchise" AQ groups (Al-Qaeda in Iraq Mesopotamia, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb being the ones you're most likely to hear about), but they're independent guys who started using the name, after which Osama Bin Laden "let" them use it.
    • Following a particularly disastrous boat trip from Mexico, Fidel Castro hit the shores of Cuba with around a dozen guerrillas.
  • Independent videogame developers tend to be rather small. Some examples include Mojang AB (formerly Mojang Specifications), which is developing Minecraft and currently consists of 7 people (and initially was more or less just Notch), Carpe Fulgur, the 2-man localization team that brought Recettear out of Japan, and Team Shanghai Alice, a one-man operation.
  • The Knights Templar began, supposedly, as a band of just nine knights whose ostensible goal was to protect pilgrims traveling in the Holy Land.
  • Jack Daniel's the drink counts as one of these. Despite being one of the most profitable and iconic alcoholic drinks out there, only 365 actually work for and produce the drink.
    • And (famous Scottish distillery) Glenmorangie's tagline "Handcrafted by the Sixteen Men of Tain" is more or less literal.
  • The Mafia. At any given time, there are fewer than 1,000 "made men" in the United States. Most cities that are not New York City or Chicago will have fewer than 20. Of course, each of them will have a small army of wannabes, thugs, and other followers, plus employees in any legitimate businesses they run.
  • As in the examples of the Mafia and Al Qaeda, small numbers are more of an advantage than weakness in many ways as a larger organization is more easily penetrated by opposing elements and it makes things easier to be kept secret.