"Thugs-4-Less! Pay for six hits, and the seventh is free!"
In various forms of fiction, it is terribly common to have various criminal organizations floating around with a single purpose in life: causing death to others
. In Fantasy
, it is often called The Assassin's Guild
, but it could appear under any number of other names or in any number of settings. Their goals for this vary. It's often simply for money, but it could just be a group that enjoys playing politics. In that case, there's some overlap with the Ancient Conspiracy
, except they're not that old ... and not that big.
Sometimes, Murder, Inc.
started as an organized crime group that came under new leadership and started indulging in other, darker (and probably less profitable) hobbies, such as the killing of puppies
. In that case, they probably go by a modern, Mafia
-esque name. Frequently and regardless of origin, they have a large code of by-laws that makes one wonder how they do anything without six months' advance notice.
Indeed, there's often overlap between Murder, Inc.
and other groups. Often, what makes Murder, Inc. different
from any other Organized Crime Syndicate
/terrorist front/Secret Police
is the fact that their strength comes not from their numbers or their training, but their reputation. Most such groups could, in fact, really consist of ten competent people and it wouldn't hinder their operations too much. Or two—don't forget the Old Firm
. They're feared as the ones that "take people" who are "never seen again." Usually people that "cause problems" that need to be "solved." Capisce?
In less contemporary settings—far past or far future—they are the frequent source of Training from Hell
(and, if their membership is large enough, The Spartan Way
In some cases, Murder, Inc.
might even be a force that will assist the heroes. But they should never be trusted. It's kind of like trying to beat someone to death with a rattlesnake; deadly, effective, and very, very stupid. However, if a single character leaves this group
, they will be your friend forevermore, possibly becoming the Sixth Ranger
There are more pragmatic evils out there. Why kill people when you could be doing something else? Why, for fun and profit, of course! "For fun
" usually entails that the group sees murder as an art form of one sort or another (like the Blood Knight
you never see coming). "For profit" usually invokes images of the League of Extraordinary Hitmen (tm). Sometimes, what keeps such a group together is a slavish devotion to their leader, who will serve as The Dragon
. First glance would indicate Murder, Inc.
's leader would be a good Man Behind the Man
. Unfortunately, The Reveal
is usually too foreshadowed to be useful: after all, if every person on the street fears them, it's not surprising when they turn out to be the Big Bad
. One can still play it that way, but don't expect the audience to be surprised.
These groups are typically composed of Professional Killers
, unless this trope is being played for laughs. More comedic examples often operate like a Weird Trade Union
. May be either A Lighter Shade of Grey
, or darker.
The Trope Namer
is a gang that mainly did killings for Lepke Buchalter and the National Crime Syndicate from the 1920s through the 1940s
, dubbed Murder Incorporated by journalists, aka the Brownsville Boys. They also hired their men out to other mobs. What set them apart was, unlike hitmen who worked on a per-contract basis, they were salaried
and had a benefits package.
Please note that Murder, Inc. isn't always evil.
They don't tend to let codes of morality
get in the way of their business model
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Anime and Manga
- The Red Dragon Syndicate in Cowboy Bebop was always called that, but became much more...uh...vicious as time passed. Eventually, their full-time job seemed to be killing people and antagonizing the main characters. The people that the organization was seized from were very opposed to this, and even said the organization wouldn't survive long like this.
- The various ninja villages in Naruto are partly this, but are primarily mercenaries who will perform any task for the right amount of money. None of the main characters actually perform assassinations, such tasks being reserved for high ranking individuals. None of the villages are explicitly 'evil' (except Orochimaru's), but are mostly considered enemies of each other.
- Kakashi is a main character and he used to perform assassinations, and may stil do so if not as often. The rookies later own devise their own assassination attempt against Sasuke and in the Grass Country arc the plot revolves around intercepting an Akastuki spy in the Sound village with the intent that his info. can be used to draw up plans to assassinate Orochimaru; this ran simultaneously with a secret plan to kill Sasuke by new member Sai, on orders from ROOT, for whom he had already carried out numerous killing missions.
- The Black Organization of Detective Conan. They also deal with drugs and illegal weaponry as well.
- The Gung Ho Guns in Trigun are the murderous minions specifically of the Big Bad, selected for their power and willingness to slaughter people, up to and ultimately including everybody. In the manga, however, some slots in the Guns are explicitly filled from the ranks of The Eye of Michael, which is one of these that fronts as a Christian church and has its roots in a plant worshiping cult. They therefore tune in to the Ancient Conspiracy part of the trope. The arrangement is useful to Knives, because it means if one of these minions dies off there's already a contract in place to bring in a replacement.
- Wolfwood is one of them, of course. They adopted him around age twelvish and subjected him to horrible experimentation and Training from Hell, and he's got subversive goals, but he's very much what they made him.
- In fact, he took advantage of the 'auto-replacement' feature to shoot his teacher and infiltrate the Guns.
- Anime Chapel the Evergreen, Chapel-with-an-apple, is not shown to be from one of these. He could at least as easily be someone's pet assassin who took on an apprentice and then later fell in with Legato, although the information is sparse enough it could go either way.
- The sense of honor anime Chapel ultimately shows ("the cornered mouse will attack the cat") does not fit with the frenetic nihilism that seems to be in fashion in the Eye, although that might just be Razlo being Axe Crazy, Livio being beyond the Despair Event Horizon, and Master C being crippled and out for revenge.
- Broadly speaking, the Hell Correspondence from Hell Girl is this in a supernatural, Deal with the Devil context. They'll instantly whisk anyone you don't like to Hell, but the price is your own soul (after your natural death).
- The League of Assassins from the DCU.
- Marvel has the Assassins Guild. They were introduced in Gambit #1 and mostly appear in the X-Men-related books. They've recently returned as antagonists of the Scarlet Spider.
- There was also The Punisher: Assassin's Guild, featuring another such organization. Oddly enough it had the Punisher teaming up with the guild.
- There was an organization named Murder Inc. in the Marvel Universe in the 1940s, that would take in homeless men, force them to sign life insurance policies, then collect on teh policies after murdering them.
- Koroshi, the assassin's guild from Usagi Yojimbo.
- In the Sin City comics, the Colonel runs an organization of elite assassins.
- The DCU also has the Council of Spiders, a spider-themed group of elite assassins. Their membership includes poisoners, martial artists and a guy with six extra arms. He can oct-wield.
- In Fables, Peter Piper's wife, Bo Peep was a member of such an organization in their Homeland, after the Adversary invaded.
- The Assassins' Guild of the great city of Ankh-Morpork on the Discworld, whose motto is "Nil Mortifi Sine Lucre": "No killing without profit", is at once a parody and a lampshading of the trope. The Guild is legal, its head is an influential public figure, and it is common for nobles to send their children to its excellent fee-paying school (though often just for its normal educational excellence, as the Black Curriculum has a high attrition rate). Assassins abide by several rules, including especially that they're not allowed to kill people unless they are paid to, and cannot kill the defenseless. Though anyone rich enough is automatically considered able to defend themselves by hiring someone else to protect them.
Dr Cruces: No, we do it for the money. And, because we above all must know the value of a human life, we do it for a great deal of money.
- It is mentioned on occasion that they were inspired by a Klatchian (read Arabic) group, the drug-using Hashashin, resembling accounts of the original Assassins (Hashishim). However, descriptions of the Hashashin are sometimes parodic; apparently, they kept giggling at the way light reflected of their knives, swaying to music, and falling over. In Jingo, as Ankh-Morpork goes to war with the Klatch, Vetinari notes acidly that the Guild's boast of being so good that the Klatchians send their children there really means that Klatch's assassins know Ankh-Morpork's methods, have refined their ancestral skills, and have a working knowledge of the city's layout.
- It is also mentioned in Night Watch that the Guild does have a political opinion and will act for the good of the city, as they see it, if the Patrician's misrule is causing too much suffering. They never act on their own behalf, but are just there when needed.
- This is further explored in Thud!, in which it's mentioned that the Assassin's Guild does not take contracts on people whose death they feel would be disadvantageous to the stability of Ankh-Mopork (in Vimes' words, "would not only spoil the game but toss the board out the window"). To date, this list contains the current patrician, Vetinari, and the commander of the city watch, Vimes. Both men have proven to be very assassination-resistant anyway: A Noodle Incident is referred to about the last assassin sent after Vimes before the ban; apparently Vimes overpowered him and had him put on a boat headed for XXXX.
- Another of the Guild's duties is to maintain its monopoly on the trade. Disregarding guild demarcation being the most foolhardy of Morporkian crimes (with the possible exception of street miming), freelancers lucky enough to be caught by the Watch are considered to be getting off easy.
- Also from the Discworld comes The New Firm; Mr. Pin, the brains, and Mr. Tulip, the muscle (with a bad chemical habit and a deep appreciation for antiquities). Aside from referencing Misters Croup and Vandemar, some of their dialogue also echoes Jules and Vincent of Pulp Fiction. Mr. Tulip's purse says "Not A Very Nice Person At All". Says it all, really.
- The Hashishin are identified as the (possible) forebears of the Illuminati in the Illuminatus!! trilogy, reflecting assorted flaky real-world conspiracy theories.
- The Jhereg organization in the Dragaera books. Or at least one of their subgroups, the Right Hand.
- A Song of Ice and Fire actually features multiple Murders Inc.
- The Sorrowful Men of Qarth will always say "I am so sorry" right before they kill you.
- The Faceless Men of Braavos are Warrior Monks who worship death as a universal force, with the "Many-Faced God" as its personification. They are the world's most capable assassins, but do not consider themselves to be killers for hire. Instead, the customer is expected to make a "donation" to their temple for the privilege of selecting an individual to receive the blessing of death, the cost being deliberately so high that you really have to want someone dead.
- The protagonist of Eric Nylund's A Game of Universe works for Umbra Corp, a great example of this trope.
- Michelle West's novels have a group called the Kovaschaii, who are high-quality assassins. Among other things, they take information on the target directly from the client's mind, foiling any attempts at eavesdropping. Also, one of them does leave and become a hero, but not because they're evil or even because he wanted to: a girl who can see the future convinced him that he would be needed elsewhere to help save the world.
- The Executioner series by Don Pendleton. The Black Aces are elite Mafia hitmen under the control of the Five Families. Toward the end of Mack Bolan's war against the Mafia we discover they're not above manipulating the politics of the Mob for their own ends.
- In Dreams of Steel, a novel in the Black Company series, the cult of Kina plays this role pretty explicitly. They believe that anyone they kill for the goddess Kina will go directly to paradise, so they make it their goal to kill as many as possible.
- Henry Slesar's short story "The Candidate" concerns the Society for United Action, a group of like-minded individuals who, upon deciding someone is truly "not fit to live", engages in mass wishing for the person's death, after letting them know that they've been targeted; the sheer psychosomatic effect of knowing so many people are wishing you dead has resulted in their "hits" being successful the vast majority of the time.
- The Silent Guild of History and Economics operates openly, with several of its laws not only common knowledge, but featured as obligatory reading in Introduction to Law, along with the court case "Romanez vs. the Silent Guild".
- In C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner series, the alien atevi have a strange form of government approved Guild: someone contracts with the Guild to assassinate a target, the Guild informs the government, and the government informs the target. If the target is still killed in spite of the warning, the killing is legal. If an amateur kills someone themselves, it's illegal. If a Guild member kills someone without a Guild sanctioned contract, it's illegal and ticks off the Guild.
- In spite of being called the Assassin's Guild, and the members being called assassins, most assassins spend the majority of their time doing security work or being bodyguards, on the theory of "to catch a thief, send a thief".
- A humorous novel titled Going Public (author unknown, sorry) starred three young hitmen who decided to actually offer stock options for their assassination business, 3W Undertakings. (The "W" was because the three had adopted nicknames based on "Willie" — Willie the WASP, Willie the Wop, and Willie the Watusi.)
- The Shadow once fought an organization that offered death insurance. People would buy insurance on a person and would be payed if they did not die by a certain time. Of course, this was really a paper thin disguise for a murder for hire business, though when the organization failed to carry out a hit they did pay up.
- The Brotherhood of the Hand from The Death Gate Cycle is part Murder, Inc. and part Thieves' Guild; they are the most powerful criminal organization in their world and have their hands in all sorts of dubious enterprises, but are most well-known for producing highly competent assassins, including Anti-Hero Hugh.
- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman has "Croup and Vandemar, the Old Firm, obstacles obliterated, nuisances eradicated, bothersome limbs removed and tutelary dentistry."
- Subverted in John Moore's The Unhandsome Prince. The capital of Melinower does have an Assassin's Guild—but it's actually a fake, run by the palace guard, to catch people who might want to hire or join such an organization.
- In Sherrilyn Kenyon's The League series they have "The League", who also offer education. The entire futuristic soceity runs around a very public assassination contract system. Things like "Spill-Kills" offer bonus payment for everyone killed trying to get to the target.
- The Gray League in Diamond Sword, Wooden Sword is part assassin's guild, part information brokers.
- Homicide International Trust on MacGyver.
- G'Kar from Babylon 5 was once targeted by someone from the Thenta Makur, a Narn assassin's guild. Their signature is leaving a red flower on the target's bed, which is a signal to get one's affairs in order.
- The Mal Noche from CSI: Miami are supposed to be one of these. A street gang originally from South America, it's repeatedly mentioned that their business is solely in murder for hire (avoiding other lucrative businesses like selling drugs). Considering the sheer number of Mal Noche members operating in Miami, one has to think the Miami market for hired killers is booming.
- Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer is once targeted by the Order of Taraka, an assassin's guild hired by Spike to take her out.
- In The West Wing, Toby Ziegler's father was a member of the historic Murder Incorporated.
- One episode of Mutant X featured Blue Bolt, an organization of Badass Normal assassins with acute hand-to-hand skills and cutting-edge technological weaponry.
- The Junshi clan from Jake 2.0.
- Tarot in The Cape.
- Modesty Blaise has several examples, starting with "La Machina" in the very first story arc; most notably Salamander Four.
- The Assamites in Vampire: The Masquerade and other Old Worldof Darkness role playing games are used as hired vampiric killers. Their back story ties them to The Hashshashin.
- In Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 members of the Assassin prestige class are typically supposed to be members of an assassin's guild. This may or may not hold true in a given campaign.
- One of the most famous of such organisations is The Garrotte, a multi-planar guild of assassins with operatives virtually everywhere. They are also the only apparent epic level assassins guild.
- A considerable number of organizations in The Elder Scrolls, including the Morag Tong (a government-sanctioned assassin's guild in Morrowind Province) and the Dark Brotherhood (a fully criminal offshoot of the former).
- Interestingly enough, the Dark Brotherhood is not just an assassin's guild, it is a psychotic cult whose main deity feeds on death. The other deity they worship, the Night Mother, ascribes to The Spartan Way, as she allows the player character to slaughter his/her way through the upper ranks of the Brotherhood because they were stupid enough to let someone specifically out to destroy them reach the inner circle of their organization.
- Although, while the members are crazy, they seem to have some firm standards. You lose part of your paycheck for anybody else aside from the intended target dying in the mission area. They appear to very much dislike the wholesale slaughter of innocent people, but one unnoticed target or another they do seem to encourage as that is how you gain entry into the guild, just no mass murdering people for the hell of it. Also, the lower level leaders are very much sane in a professional way, and generally only care if you are doing your job right.
- By the time of Skyrim, the Dark Brotherhood is now down to a single chapter in Falkreath. As such, the current leader Astrid has taken a less religious approach to things. She later proves to be quite the Control Freak when the player is recognized as the Listener of the Night Mother fairly early on in the story, eventually resorting to dealing with the head of the Emperor's personal guard to try and sell you out, only for this to backfire horribly on her.
- The Assassin's Guild in the video game Summoner 2.
- The Lotus Assassins in Jade Empire
- The Howling Voice Guild and Nether Gate in Suikoden. The latter even has no fewer than four defectors. They're all, naturally, quite loyal to the cause once recruited.
- The main character of Assassin's Creed I, Altaïr, is one of the Hashshashin, and the game depicts the Syrian branch; future games would depict successor incarnations of the Assassins as being more politically-motivated (namely opposing Templar schemes to consolidate control over humanity).
- In Knights of the Old Republic, you encounter the Genoharadan (which is claimed to be an Ancient Conspiracy). Sorta. This particular league of assassins is so shrouded in deception and mystery that you never really find out what it's really all about. And by the time you finish the associated quests, it may not even exist anymore. Or maybe it does. Who knows?
- Thugs-4-Less in Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando. Boasting such mottos as "If it ain't broke, we'll break it!" and "Pay for six hits and the seventh one's free." Thugs-4-Less flunkies challenge Ratchet throughout the game, and the Thugs-4-Less leader serves as one of the game's main villains, even though you end up on the same side as the person who hired them in the first place. Right around the time it's revealed the thief is a good guy, and Mr Fizwidget doesn't really want anything more to do with you, the Thugs-4-Less leader gets a phone call to make him switch sides, and still be opposed to you.
- The UAA from the video game No More Heroes follows this trope. Interestingly enough, it also sets up deathmatches between members of its own organization, allowing ambitious killers to climb their way up the UAA's assassin rankings.
- Though this is mostly because the player wants to climb the ranks.
- The International Contract Agency and the Franchise in the Hitman video games, though the Agency could be considered more of a Villain Protagonist in the sense that they seem to only take hits against scum-of-the-earth criminals who escaped justice, while the Franchise are the go-to people for the scum-of-the-earth criminals.
- The Molochean Hand in Arcanum Of Steamworks and Magic Obscura. They are secretive, with an ancient and actually very compelling history, and they're quite literally everywhere you go - hot on your trail, keeping lookout in bars, and waiting for you in plot-relevant dungeons. Sadly their fearsome reputation becomes a bit implausible when you realize you've killed two dozen already, and you're not even playing a combat-oriented character.
- The Antivan Crows in Dragon Age: Origins fall under this category, with members being raised and trained for the sole purpose of assassinating and... well, sex. The protagonist can also choose to take assassination side-missions from a representative of the organization.
- There's a dubious group on your space station in The Perils Of Akumos that deal in explosives, among other less legal activity.
- Dark Souls has several factions that basically exist to murder other players, Particularly the Darkwraiths and the Forest Hunters.
- Team Vorg, from Cwen's Quest, is a "business" in CQ's fantasy world who's whole business model is based around having large armies going about conquering city's and towns at the behest of their psychotic and unstable but also Reaganomic, corporate minded & business savvy leader.
- The titular group in Suicide for Hire, though it consists of just two teenagers, and their clients and their victims are the same people.
- A league of assassins assaults The Dragon Doctors and the magical doctors are forced to use their spells and skills to fend them off. A magical mishap turns one of the assassins into a tree, rooted to the spot in front of their clinic, and until the spell wears off (which could be years) they have to take care of her and keep her company.
- Tales From My D&D Campaign features The Organization. Originally founded as La Résistance against the evil Kua-Toa occupation forces, it has more recently branched out into assassination and bounty hunting. Angel Bloodright, one of the protagonists, is a member.
- The Bob Clampett short Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs has the queen hire assassins literally called Murder Inc. to "black out So White''. On their van, they even have "Midgets 1/2 Price, Japs Free" proudly lit up on it's side.
- Batman Beyond had the Society of Assassins (also known as the Society of Shadows.)
- The Guild of Assassins from Adventure Time.
- First, there's the politically-motivated Black Hand, a group commonly blamed for the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, beginning World War I.
- The Trope Namer was Murder Inc., an organization run along corporate lines during the heyday of the Italian Mafia, and employing mostly Jewish hitmen. They fell apart along with Omerta at the end of the prohibition period.
- The Hashshashin (see here) were a group of assassins during the Middle Ages. They also were a Muslim sect (Nizari Ismailis). Their name is the origin of the word "assassin" in western languages.