"We're the Robot Mafia... The entire Robot Mafia."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. If one person purportedly has multiple roles in the organization, there may be New Jobs As The Plot Demands. See also The Main Characters Do Everything, which is related if there are no extras in the background, and Critical Staffing Shortage. May be a result of the characters being Always on Duty. Also compare Club Stub. Two-Teacher School is a special case for school-based stories where the adult staff is severely limited to keep the focus on the students.
— The Donbot, "surrounded" by his two goons, Futurama
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Anime and Manga
- Team Rocket in Pokémon (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. Later seasons of the show have them become more competent, at one point working directly under Giovanni. At that point, however, Team Rocket literally became a 4 person organization, with Giovanni, his assistant, and Jessie and James being the only humans on the payroll. However, the boss cut off communications after a time, suggesting he either gave up or fired them.
- In YuYu 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 (all of one guy who's apparently cloned himself six times plus a stunt double); they send a messenger to tell Il Palazzo that he's not doing his job right.
- 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.
- In the manga, there may not be a higher power, but the organization is larger. They have a third "enforcer" type, Elgala.
- 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.
- Not that they actually need more than one combatant if the one is Alucard.
- 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). 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, including (Kabuto and the two men who were turned into duplicates of Kisame and Itachi), Pain had a small country at his disposal, and Kakuzu had numerous ties to collect the money for the organization. Orochimaru also might have already established the Hidden Sound Village before he quit. So while they have a limited number of full members, they certainly are able to have their own henchmen, widening their potential scope considerably. Still, they seem to handle most of their affairs personally, though it doesn't hurt that the combined power of the Tailed Beasts they're capturing would give them enough firepower to demolish entire nations.
- Akatsuki's status as this is fully averted in the Shinobi World War arc; Tobi fields an army of 100,000 White Zetsus, which are supplemented with an army of legendary ninjas resurrected by Kabuto.
- This also originally applied to most of the clans of Konoha, besides the Uchiha and Hyūga, until the Invasion of Pain arc and those following it, where we saw members of the Akimichi, Nara, Yamanaka, Aburame, Sarutobi, and (maybe) Inuzaka clans who were not directly related to the main cast, some of whom have provided vital combat support to the main cast in the Fourth Shinobi World War.
- Also, the Konoha council that advises the Hokage currently consists of two elders, though there might be more members than what we normally see; when the village thinks it needs to appoint a new Hokage, the group assembled also included the Fire Daimyo and his advisors/nobles, plus Danzo, Jōnin Commander Shikaku Nara and someone from ANBU.
- 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 Gatekeepers, 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 things getting worse.
- The Doma organization in season 4 of Yu-Gi-Oh! apparently consists at the beginning of the season of Dartz, Rafael, Amelda/Alister, Varon/Valon, Grimo/Grerimo and, at one point, Mai, and no-one else. Haga and Hakata were briefly members, but they didn't last long. And its members lose their souls one at a time over the course of the season.
- Before, we have Noah and his (actually Gozaburo's) group, the Big Five.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Kagemaru and the Seven Stars Assassins (Seven Shadow Riders in the Dub). It doesn't help that they have two incompetent and harmless members and another member who isn't that strong.
- The Dark Signers from Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's are five duelists. Then Bommer/Greiger joins them after Devack lost to the two Tagalong Twins, but he loses to Crow who wasn't even a Signer at that time. When all six Dark Signers are defeated, Rex Godwin became the last Dark Signer.
- Yliaster has only three members: Placido/Primo, Lucciano/Lester and Jose/Jakob. Then they fuse into one being.
- The Barians, the villains of the second season of Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL, are supposedly the representatives of an entire extradimensional race that are the enemies of the Astral World. However, thus far only seven of them (called the Seven Barian Emperors) have been seen, and there were only five at first: Durbe, Alit, Misael, Gilag, and Vector. The remaining two, Nasch and Merag, were actually Shark and his sister Rio in their past lives; they were recruited into the group later. They did have a few allies like Mr. Heartland and the Fearsome Four, Black Mist (who double-crossed them) and were ultimately revealed to be under the sway of the true ruler of the Barian World, Don Thousand.
- Jackal, the evil organization that created the eponymous 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. In fact here is a picture to show their entire organization.
- In Mega Man NT Warrior, the bane of Dentech City bent on causing the collapse of society, World Three, has precisely four members. However, this is Truth in Television for terrorist organizations (see below) albeit not to that extent.
- Greed from Fullmetal Alchemist is pretty vocal about wanting absolutely everything in the world for himself, yet he NEVER gets more than a handful of followers. This turns out to be for a reason: what he desires is something else.
- In the third Rebuild of Evangelion film, NERV seems to consist entirely of Gendo, Fuyutsuki, Rei, and Kaworu, with the majority of the operation being automated.
- The Lupin III franchise seems to play this straight. In the Manga, there was implied to be a large number of additional people working for the Lupin family, and the film even says that they're an extremely large organization. Despite that, the "Lupin Empire" seems to contain only 3 or 4 people, depending upon Fujiko's interests, with the occasional hired help. The perpetual crew always outnumbers the "empire" characters, even when it would make sense to gather more help.
- In 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.
- Depending on the Writer (and continuity), The Avengers.
- Fantastic Four. It's all in the name: four. And despite the fact that there have been members other than the original Four over the years, they never last long, and the original roster always returns. (Given that they are supposed to be as much a family as they are a team, most writers wouldn't have it any other way.) Of the original roster, two of them are literally family: Sue Storm and her brother Johnny. Sue later marries Reed Richards, leaving Ben Grimm as the only one who isn't related to the others by either blood or marriage.
- 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. Somewhat justified in that the X-Men is usually facing the Inner Circle of the club; the regular members are just normal but extremely wealthy members of society. This is how Archangel (who much later declined an invitation to the Inner Circle), Tony Stark and Candy Southern got their membership.
- Judge Dredd: The Judges of Mega City One are huge compared to modern police forces, but they have to patrol a city that literally covers the entire East coast of the USA. The exact numbers vary over the course of the series but there are thouands of citizens for each judge at any given time. It isn't helped by the fact that nine out of every ten recruits fail the Training from Hell and the casualty rate exceeds that of the average war. It is a running theme in the series just how outnumbered and outgunned the Judges are.
- The Enclave is a group of Well-Intentioned Extremist scientists dedicated to world domination that consists of only three members. (It originally had four, but Jerome Hamilton was killed in one of their earliest endeavors.) This doesn't mean they aren't a threat, however. Their greatest success (or failure, depending how you look at it) was creating the being who eventually became known as Adam Warlock.
- Ultimate Hawkeye refers to an early incarnation of S.H.I.E.L.D. as "You (Nick Fury), me, and a drinks tab trying to take down the Soviet Union."
- Following Secret Invasion S.H.I.E.L.D. 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 aid 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.
- The Trust from 100 Bullets seems to have the amount of members you'd expect a large crime syndicate to have. The problem is that the Trust isn't just supposed to be a large crime syndicate, it's supposed to be an ungodly powerful Ancient Conspiracy that pervades every aspect of government and crime in the North American continent. The reader never sees how they manage to pull off stunts like gathering all the "irrefutable evidence" Graves is always giving people, or shutting down the investigation of any crime where their bullets were used.
- Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: The Decepticon Justice Division, the most feared and despised part of the Decepticon army, capable of killing Phase Six class Decepticons, themselves each a One-Man Army, consists mainly of five people and their pet. Though they are mentioned to have agents and informants around.
- The Phoenix Corporation. It consists of the author and eleven "minions." Supposedly, everyone else that might have been in it, or at least connected to it, is dead.
- The version of Akatsuki as seen in Kitsune no Ken: Fist of the Fox consists of seven members (Yahiko, Kyusuke, Konan, Kakuzu, Hidan, Monjin and Deidara) whose goal is to kill the members of the Nine Terrors for having either caused them personal harm or having caused them to lose a loved one during the 365 days of violence when the Terrors were in operation, and they are backed by a mysterious figure who provides them with financial support. Despite being small in number, their reputation is so widespread that the government actually tasks Nii Yugito, one of the Terrors who's now in their employ, to warn Naruto that they are around and will likely come after him.
- 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.
- 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 eponymous 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. Explained in the sequel video game, where the Fraternity featured in the movie is only a local branch.
- In Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, The Order of the Web is supposed to be a Bangkok-wide anti-Shadaloo organization. Yet we 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.
- The book series this is adapted from explains it better; CURE has several thousand street-level operatives and informants, most of whom believe they work for an organized crime syndicate or in corporate espionage and none of whom do more than gather information - or more commonly, copy off what they're already collecting for somebody else. CURE also maintains executive-backed authority to tap law enforcement, intelligence, and military communications and issue (forged, ostensibly from known superiors) orders to same. The very small administration and enforcement arm is meant both to expedite the one order the President retains authority to give it ("disband, commit suicide and make sure nobody will ever find any trace you existed") and make it possible to quickly but fully the President on just what it's been up to so an informed decision about that order can be made.
- 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 Monty Python's Life of Brian, the resistance against the Romans is split into an innumerable number of tiny organizations that constantly skirmish with 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 has only one member remaining.) This is dangerously close to Truth in Television. It's an old, old joke that if you get two Jews in a room and propose a question you will get at least three different opinions.
- Star Wars: Both the Jedi and the Sith.
- For the Sith: "Always two, there are. No more, no less. A master, and an apprentice.". The second one is justified. The Sith was originally a very big organization, but infighting and internal strife between their leaders led to their downfall at their enemies' hands. The only survivor was Darth Bane (not the founder of the order, which some sources claim, but still an important figure). He implemented the Rule of Two, realizing that the only way to avoid the mistakes that had nearly wiped the order out was to limit it to only a master and an apprentice from that point on. However, this doesn't mean that they can't train other Force-sensitives to padawan-like levels, especially if the Sith apprentice is trying to supplant his or her master and is training his or her own secret apprentice. Loophole Abuse is common. Some sources have the Sith more like communist cells: there are only two (or one, or three, depending on whether the apprentice kills the master before or after starting to train his own apprentice) Sith in each group at any given time, but Bane set up several independent parallel groups, each of which believed itself to be the only one.
- The Jedi are guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, but it's a big galaxy. Even in their golden ages there are rarely more than a few thousand Jedi and in most stories there's considerably less. That said they tend to do a pretty good job in a One Riot, One Ranger way: if you send a Jedi to solve a world-wide dispute, they'll probably succeed.
- In Charlie Wilson's War the CIA is supplying the Afghans to fight against the Soviets, but without any sort of real plan. When asked what the United States' strategy was, we get this trope:
Gust: Strictly speaking, we don't have one, but we're working hard on that.
Charlie: Who's "we"?
Gust: Me and three other guys.
- Magneto's Brotherhood of Mutants in the X-Men franchise. In the first movie, it's just him, Mystique, Toad, and Sabretooth. In the sequel, it's reduced to just him and Mystique. Averted in The Last Stand, where it expands to several dozen (or perhaps even hundred) members.
- In Kingsman: The Secret Service, from all available evidence, the Kingsmen only have a dozen field agents at most, replaced as necessary. It's indicated there's a fairly large support staff, however. Harry justifies this by explaining that the Kingsmen exist to influence world events behind the scenes rather than to try and enact sweeping change on their own.
- 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.
- The 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 (i.e., three-quarters of the world) and prevented him from bringing his full forces to bear.
- Harry Potter
- The Death Eaters appear as a rather... small organization. Depending on how loose your criteria is 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. And since that would be roughly one-tenth of the entire population, maybe one-twentieth if we allow for wizards' longer lifespans, the total wizarding population is under 10,000. Details such as the size of the Ministry and the number of Quidditch teams mentioned make such a small figure very surprising, but then, Writers Cannot Do Math. According to Word of God, there are actually 1000 students at Hogwarts, effectively tripling the "300" figure for school-age wizarding children and therefore inflating the wizarding population to between 10,000 and 20,000. It was also mentioned that wizards would have died out if they hadn't started marrying Muggles, indicating the population has always been somewhat small and probably still is. Also note that this is just Great Britain (and maybe Ireland). There are other populations in other countries. Goblet of Fire included students and staff from two other schools. There are Quidditch teams explicitly mentioned from other countries. American witches/wizards are mentioned during the Quidditch world cup. Though the magical world would need to be small compared to the muggle population to maintain the masquerade.
- 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.
- It's noted in the first novel that, when the Moscow Night Watch moved into a new building, they built three floors' worth of classrooms for newly-initiated Others. Anton notes that someone must have been very optimistic, as there are, usually, about a dozen students at any given time.
- It's noted in New Watch that the Day Watch actually has a lot more members than the Night Watch, and there are generally about 16 times more Dark Others than Light Others. However, this is balanced out by the fact that a good number of Light Others are of a higher level, while most Dark Others are, basically, grunts. For example, the Moscow Day Watch only has one top-level Other, while its counterpart has three active members of the same level with one more in reserve. Much of the Day Watch is made up of vampires, werewolves, and low-level witches/warlocks.
- The eponymous organization in Twilight Watch is made up of three Others, although they do employ human mercenaries to do their dirty work.
- 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.)
- By way of comparison, Vimes's refounding of the Watch can be regarded as corresponding to Robert Peel's founding of the London Metropolitan Police Force, which happened in 1829, when Greater London was only slightly larger than Ankh-Morpork currently. At its foundation, Peel's force had slightly over one thousand men.
- During 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. Technically there is also a border guard on the bridge into Lancre, but he lived there anyway and is a greeter more than anything.
- It's easier to just list the government jobs Shawn Ogg doesn't perform: king, queen, falconer, beekeeper, and (possibly) palace cook.
- Unseen University is like this as well. While we have Archchancellor Riducully and the Bursar, at least half of the jobs are done by one of the brightest and youngest wizards — Ponder Stibbons. And, in Unseen Academicals, he pulls some Genre Savvy and uses his large number of UU positions to his advantage; he's a voting majority on the University council all by himself.
- Not to mention that the complete staff roster for the largest, most dangerous, and most topographically-complex Library in the known universe consists of one ape, who spends most of the winter months curled up under his desk wrapped in blankets.
- 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 Norton 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. Another example in the Oz books was the army formed by Queen Ann Soforth of Oogaboo in Tick-Toc of Oz, which had only 17 members (16 or which were officers) which made sense, seeing as Oogaboo itself had a population of only 50.
- Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: For a N.G.O. 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."
- In The Day of Reckoning, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan befriend a scoundrel who takes them to Andra, the head of the POWER party, the single organization raising questions about the stewardship of Telos. They soon find that Andra is the only member; the scoundrel helps her out but isn't a member. She'd had a few other members before who had been killed while investigating, and after that happened all of her allies save the scoundrel had deserted her.
- At one point in the Haruhi Suzumiya light novels Koizumi says that there are only ten espers in the world. However, he is an Unreliable Expositor, and later novels give the espers more influence and resources than one would expect if that were the case.
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. However he does mention several other officers, such as Corporal Cartwright (who looks like an orangutan) and several are there in the final push.
- 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 nine four-man teams; over ten seasons it went up 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, and 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. Of course, the Stargate is even more secret than whatever the Delta Force and Seals do (the very existence of the Stargate Command getting out would be enough to change everything), so perhaps the small number is due to security concerns.
- 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.
- There is an unknown number of SF's and other troops who are not part of a particular SG team that act as purely combat personnel when it's needed.
- Furthermore, there may be a substantial number of 'reserve' troops who cycle on and off of teams or are called in to replace casualties.
- 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 three Hat'ak ships (which are practically obsolete, especially in the face of the Ori super-ships). Two of them get blown away in one shot each within seconds of warping in.
- The Stargate Universe pilot shows two Ha'taks being enhanced to go toe-to-toe with the newest Daedalus-class battlecruiser, so Tau'ri humans aren't the only ones who upgrade their tech. It's possible that the Ha'taks that Netan gave Teal'c were similarly enhanced. They just weren't enough.
- 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.
- 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
HerculesCaptain 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 Gibbs' team is supposed to be the best, which explains why its the one getting sent on most of the murder investigations. The other agents - and sometimes Gibbs' team itself - are presumably taking care of more mundane things like kidnappings.
- There are other members aside from the NCIS Director in the administration, though the only other member regularly seen is Assistant Director Granger, who permanently oversees the Office of Special Projects on NCIS: Los Angeles. Vance himself was promoted to his position after spending time as the agency's Deputy Director. Vance also has his own number two, whose absence from headquarters is handwaved by saying that Deputy Director Jerome Craig is almost permanently on the road attending international conferences that Vance doesn't want to bother with and doesn't enjoy being in the office in the first place.
- Abby is presumably assigned specifically to Gibbs' team; if she works on anything for anyone else we don't see much of it. This isn't very efficient (it would be much better to have one large lab for all teams to avoid duplication of equipment and to allow the more esoteric equipment to be run by a specialist in that particular piece of equipment, as well as allowing the lab to do analysis of multiple pieces of evidence at once instead of having a bottleneck because there's only one tech doing everything), but that would require a larger cast/set.
- NCIS: New Orleans seems to consist of three agents, a medical examiner and a forensic lab tech with no indication that it is has any other personnel, to the point of the main characters being called in whenever there is a crime when they are off-duty. The NCIS office in New Orleans is supposed to be the Navy's investigative centre for the entire Gulf Coast! The weirdest part? This was actually the case for the real NCIS NO for some time, which was the inspiration for the show in the first place.
- JAG: The Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy appears to be much smaller in the series than in real life, so small that Harm, Mac and Sturgis on occasions are temporarily assigned as Acting Judge Advocate General; despite the fact that in real life there is a flag officer serving as Deputy Judge Advocate General, not to mention all the Captains/Colonels (Assistant Judge Advocate General for X) serving as heads of the various departments; although it’s supposed to be the same size as in real life, as Chegwidden in the NCIS backdoor pilot stating he has 1200 people under his command, which was the actual real-world case in 2003. Plus all the Ghost Extras.
- 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 never-seen single-man 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 was...to 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 tasked with protecting the entire world. This was apparently not always the case as scenes in the '60s reveal a busy office with at least two active teams. However, flashbacks to the 90s always show just two guys (Young Artie and Young MacPherson). An alternate present where Pete was never born also has the Warehouse reduced to a single team with a supervisor.
- This is especially weird as we are shown that The Regents that is in charge of the Warehouse but never seem to do much number at least a dozen.
- 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 Unit on The Wire. Justified in that instance because the higher-ups only created it when a judge twisted their arm. So they naturally got the worst office space and cops to fill it out; the unit has to keep fighting for their very existence on account of their habit (led by Freamon) of following the case where it leads, even if—nay, especially if—it bothers people in high places, including the same higher-ups who were so reluctant to create it in the first place.
- 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.
- 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.
- 'Allo 'Allo!: We only ever see two or three members of the French Resistance and two members of the Gestapo. Both groups are actually very much over-represented, the Gestapo very much so. The large 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 spinoff 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...
- Elsewhere in Toku, Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters fights against the evil organization Vaglass. It consists of: one evil anti-Zordon and his Ambiguously Human Monster of the Week maker (and now a second one!). That's it. The Mecha-Mooks and Monster of the Week are created on the spot. Also, you will never hear either of them utter the word "Vagrass."
- Power Rangers S.P.D. has the "empire" of Emperor Gruumm. Outside the three core villains, there's the Monster of the Week in the form of alien criminals who work for him by basically continuing their previously established MO but pointed in the direction he wants - always recruited onscreen (the baddie of the week was a longtime ally on two occasions) and robot grunts and pseudo-Zords sold to him by an arms dealer who will sell to anyone. (Sometimes the MOTW was using Broodwing's wares before meeting Gruumm, or even despite never meeting Gruumm.) The all-conquering Troobian Empire just doesn't seem to exist very much.
- This also applies to the good guys in many a Power Rangers series. Five teenagers with attitudes is a small force to send against invading armies. It's often of a necessity, though - there are only so many Transformation Trinkets to go around.
- Played with in 30 Rock. The GE (and later Kabletown) executive hierarchy at NBC sometimes seems to consist entirely of Jack, although this is mostly because he has a large personal interest in Tracy (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.
Kenneth: Sir, I have a problem with my time card.Jack Donaghy: So, naturally, you came to me, because this company is just the two of us.
- 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). As of the end of the third season, the largest Team Machine has ever gotten was five members (Six if you count the dog), two specialists called in on a highly infrequent as-needed basis, and one independent operator who turns up when she needs their help. It's still a pretty small team for trying to prevent every premeditated murder in NYC and its surrounding suburbs.
- In Game of Thrones, the warlock Pyat Pree is the leader of a 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.
- The Night's Watch, responsible for defending the realm from the wildlings and treated as Serious Business by the show (if not necessarily by all of the characters), is at one point implied to consist of fifty men. Contrast the books, where the Watch is considered dangerously understaffed with a thousand members, and even after taking horrendous losses is still an army of several hundreds.
- The Faceless Men are master assassins from Braavos who are so renowned and feared that Westerosi nobles discuss them. All we ever see of them in the show is one man and one petite woman, and their new recruit Arya Stark. It's unclear if there're actually many more Faceless Men who all simply wear the same faces, if other members remain unseen, or if these two are really just that good.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer has the Watchers Council, an incredibly powerful and worldwide organization in charge of managing Slayers and fighting supernatural forces that has been in existence for thousands of years. We meet about six or seven of them over the course of the series, and a few more in Angel. By the end of Season 7, Giles is the only remaining loyal member (having been reinstated during Season 5) and there are only two other former Watchersnote known to be alive.
- Star Trek has a recurring plot point of the USS Enterprise being the only ship in Star Fleet available for even the most important missions. The worst case was the first movie where it was the only ship available when an unknown object of great size approached Earth. Repeat, Star Fleet only had ONE ship to defend their base of operations. Occasionally this is subverted and we do see large groups of ships appear, but outside of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, in which there was a full scale war going so it would ludicrous to keep using the "we're the only ship available" plot thread, it's extremely rare.
- They do the same thing in Star Trek: Generations, where a ship carting VIPs and press around within the solar system is the only ship in range to handle the SOS call. Note a Starfleet ship can traverse the solar system in something like 10 seconds. And again, Earth is the center of the Federation, with San Francisco as its capital. It makes sense to be the only ship in the sector when they run into a Negative Space Wedgie while exploring the vast reaches of space, but you can't be the only ship in the sector when the ships are built at a network of stations in Mars orbit.
- In Star Trek: The Next Generation, when the Borg are approaching Earth, the Federation sends three tiny fighters (probably the Federation version of traffic cops) to counter it— they all get immediately vaporized. Even if that's literally all they have left after Wolf 359, you have to wonder why the Federation would send those poor pilots on a suicide mission. What did they think they'd accomplish?
- In the Original Series episode "A Piece of the Action", Krako tries to call (what he thinks is) Kirk's bluff by invoking this trope: "I only saw three guys in that ship. Maybe there ain't no more!"
- The X-Files only consists of only two people handling the "special" cases. Good thing two cases never seem to crop up at once. Justified in the sense that they are given the "kooky" cases nobody else wants to touch.
- In later episodes of Get Smart, Control seems to consist of the Chief, Max, 99, and Larrabee, with the Chief constantly involved in field work.
- Section 20 in Strike Back barely seems to go above 20 people at most (counting silent extras), which is unusual when you consider that it's doing the jobs of the SAS, SRR, Special Forces Support Group... basically almost every intelligence and SF-related job available. And more often than not, when they actually got into the field, it's usually just Stonebridge and Scott. Series 4 was slightly better about this, in that Richmond and Martinez would regularly go in the field, along with Locke, but for much of the series it did seem that Section 20 was just 5 people.
- None of the delegations sent to Babylon 5 appear to have more than two people in them: An ambassador and an aide. Real embassies to major diplomatic postings would also have attaches, security personnel, some career foreign service officials, at least one spy (Masquerading as one of the above), and the dependents of all of the above (Well, Londo has some dependents, but they only show up in one episode - Londo and his wives hate each other, which is why they spend most of their time seventy-five lightyears away). They might even bring their own cooks and cleaning staff in order to make it harder for outsiders to spy on them. Either justified or made worse by the fact that they don't seem to have actual embassies, just two sets of personal quarters. In the Centauri's case it's explicitly because the first 4 stations were destroyed and they fully expect the fifth to be as well, so they sent someone expendable as an ambassador and waited almost a full year to even send him one aide.
- The Vampire Authority in True Blood has shades of this, they do have a seemingly endless stream of field operatives and commandos but once we get to see inside thier HQ it seems that the entire government of the international vampire community can fit around one rather small conference table and apparently run the whole thing without any admin staff. May be partially justified as most executive duties would fall on the shoulders of their feudal vassals.
- In The Flash (2014), S.T.A.R. Labs, who assists Barry Allen, only consists of Harrisson Wells (the director), Cisco Ramon and Caitlyn Snow. We later meet former employees Ronnie Raymond and Hartley Rathaway but it's still incredibly small for a research facility with a particle accelerator.
- While the Midwest Militia had more members, only three of them were ever present in WSU (at least until Mademoiselle Rachelle showed up). Their direct predecessor, Rain's Army, had many more members, both in total and on the WSU roster. However, there was a subversion in that three main militia members were just a small part of Flexor Industries.
- The Pro Wrestling Syndicate "stable" Strength In Numbers scarcely had more than two members at any given time. Then it was revealed they had five members...for a little while.
- The Extraordinary Gentlemen's Organization, made up of Frankie Kazarian, Bobby Roode and Christopher Daniels.
- Black Rose's Los Abusadores Internacional had one executive, one secretary, and nothing else. Leon El Profesional was brought in when Jorge Estrella was banned from Valkyrie Pro but as soon as that got lifted, he fired Leon, leaving just himself and Debbie Cain again. He later introduced another secretary, Natalia Marie, as if she had always been there.
- The Empire Wrestling Fedeartion's "Triangle Of Terror" kept calling themselves such even when they were down to two members.
- Thunderbirds International Rescue and Spectrum appear to operate on severely stripped-back skeleton staffs. It takes thousands of people to make NASA's space-launches a reality, for instance. Yet Tracy Island seems to manage more atmospheric and space flights with just one guy doing all the support work and maintaining the craft and the launch pads — Brains. Also, the poor guy on the Thunderbirds space station seems to be a prisoner for life — he never gets relieved or get a shore-leave.
- Similarly, in the universe of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Spectrum appear to operate on a severely stripped-back skeleton staff. A military airbase or aircraft carrier employs at least a hundred guys for every one pilot, all doing necessary background work. We see Cloudbase (essentially a flying aircraft carrier) and its complement of Angel Interceptors, yet we never see the ground crews who arm, refuel, and perform maintenance, on the aircraft.
- In Cabin Pressure, MJN Air has only four employees. In "Ipswich", they are forced to reduce that number to three by making Arthur a passenger.
- 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.
- 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.
- Shadaloo 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. This is subverted in Bison's intro movie to Street Fighter IV where we see him with a fairly large amount of henchmen.
- The Patriots of the Metal Gear 'verse were originally 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. Then they have 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 Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty), 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 six members (Otacon, Sunny, Natasha Romanenko, two pilots who are never seen up close and Snake), and they're classified as a terrorist organization later.
- This is beaten to death in the Mega Man Battle Network 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.
- In the sixth game, the public is not concerned until the Sealed Evil in a Can is released, although the public is more scared of that than the actual organization, since its influence is almost non-existent. The members at this time include The Jester, a Pirate that takes over an aquarium, and a not-so Treacherous Mentor, none of which are even remotely evil (possibly except the Jester who operates the Monster Clown, as the pair cause a lot of grief for Lan and MegaMan) compared to the members in the first three games.
- A very significant amount of members in the earlier games even become your allies in the later games!
- Anytime Raiden organizes a group of Earthrealm warriors in Mortal Kombat to oppose the forces of the Outworld, they tend to be small, and indeed, his efforts ended in failure in both Deadly Alliance and Armageddon. In Mortal Kombat 9, you could technically say he was successful (better than the alternative, at least; he saved the world and slew Shao Kahn - probably - despite horrible casualties for his side) but again, his group was a small one, starting with only seven (himself, Sonya, Johnny Cage, Jax, Sub-Zero, Liu Kang, and Kung Lao), the number later growing to thirteen as Kitana and Jade defect to his side and Smoke, Stryker, Nightwolf, and Kabal join his cause later.
- 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. And there's no sign of anyone working for the Department of Death other than Manny, Domino, Manny's boss Don, and Manny's boss's secretary Eva. Even counting the demons summoned specifically to serve the DoD only increases the count by two.
- 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. Up to Eleven and Lampshaded when Shanoa laments she's all that remains of it
- La Résistance in Beyond Good & 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 Chief himself happens to be the main character's best friend.
- The eponymous organization in the FEAR 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. An expansion shows that the organization actually consists of seven people (Raynes, Chen, and the unnamed Sergeant), but one can take that with a grain of salt seeing as the first game's expansions were third-party and the official sequel, FEAR 2, chose to at best re-interpret some notable setpieces from them.
- Organization XIII of Kingdom Hearts could very well be an aversion, as the number of members are explicitly stated (not counting Xion, who is not an official member). 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 loss of manpower from losing just 5 guys.
- 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 Cissnei/Shuriken Female, who was featured in Crisis Core) go into hiding for crimes they commit while members, i.e. letting Avalanche's leader escape (and some, beforehand), 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.
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.
- BioWare 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:
- In the game itself 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 Powered Armor.
- The team put together in Mass Effect 2 to wipe out the Collectors consists of Shepard, the 12 followers, Joker, EDI and about two dozen personnel who keep the ship running. Keep in mind when they originally planned this operation they thought they'd have to basically invade a planet at the end.
- The Scorpion Army from Secret of Mana which consists of the Femme Fatale leader and at most three gangly, green-suited male lackeys.
- All the Families in The Godfather 2, including your own, have a very small number of Made Men. Some are justified: With yours at least, it's somewhat clear that you're just a branch of the greater Corleone Family. The Manganos are also apparently an offshoot of an established Sicilian Family. The two Rosato Families are unauthorised splinters from the Corleones. The Granados and Almeidas have no onscreen-stated excuse, though.
- The Xenonauts are supposed to be the last line of defense against the alien threat. However, the force commands 20 - 30 troops at best (not counting fighter pilots, engineers, scientists and such). There are various explanations of this situation, mostly revolving around some sort of political plot.
- Trevor Philips Enterprisesnote in Grand Theft Auto V is described by its membership to be a multinational corporation that specializes in producing drugs and exporting weapons across North America. It consists of Trevor the Ax-Crazy leader, Nervous Ron the assistant and planner, Chef the meth cook, and Wade. By the end of the game, it has successfully killed off all of its competitors and remains the only criminal organization in Blaine County, despite being the smallest.
- The World Annihilation Front from Sands of Destruction is the most notorious group of bomb-throwing terrorists known to the ferals. We only meet two official members: Morte and the leader Lacertus Rex (the rest of your Player Party is "drafted" but is more guilty-by-association than true believers). Morte implies there may be more, but we never see or hear of them. Aquilla Rex laughs when Naja implores him to send for more troops when there are only five of them to fight; naturally, those five wipe the floor with his whole unit.
- Oros Phlox, the main villains in Project X Zone, only consists of three members. Due Frabellum is the leader, but it later turns out that Due as well as the Belanos brothers answer to Meden Traore, the fourth member and true leader of Oros Phlox.
- 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. This gets averted 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.
- The Order in the Breeniverse shows is supposedly a far reaching worldwide organisation, but the same individual members appear frequently. In KateModern, 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.
- The Nsburg Volunteer Coast Guard in Qwerpline consists of one person, Gordon. However since Nsburg is landlocked the volunteer coast guard is primarily responsible for inspecting sewers and culverts so more people probably aren't needed.
- Officer Steve is the only member of the Nsburg Police Department ever heard in the show, although it's not clear if he's actually the only member or not. However, since the Nsburg PD does deputize the Girl Scouts to help with riot control the department is clearly quite small.
- The Legion Ex Machina in Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot. 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.
- The 80's animated show COPS had about 7-8 police officers and roughly the same number of members in the mob.
- Parodied with the Robot Mafia, which consists of only two minions and a "Don Bot," and, temporarily, Bender.
- Most of the organizations qualify. 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 4 robots (and Bender) who 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, Broadway, 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. From that point on, of course, the trope no longer applies. There's nothing "odd" about being a small organization when the rest of the organization has been dead for a thousand years.
- 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.
- Justice League
- In the 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?" The answer is yes.
- 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.
- 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 (especially considering that the rank-and-file mooks are generally useless and serve as little more than minor speed bumps in Kim's way).
- 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. Justified in that she never passes herself off as anything other than a teenager doing odd jobs on the side.
- Several things have been mentioned in episodes that might explain the on-again-off-again presence of Drakken's rank-and-file mooks. Drakken's Villain Cred is notoriously weak, and he's sometimes short on money (and, at least according to Shego, he's tight-fisted with money when he does have it). That would make it hard to recruit and keep people.
- Almost every class we see at Middleton High School is taught by Mr. Barkin. He occasionally explains that he is substituting for another teacher who was sidelines by some random mishap.
- 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 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.
- Regular Show has seven people (if one can call them people) staffing a city park roughly the size of Central Park.
- 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.
- The Simpsons.
- The Springfield Mafia. And for that matter the Springfield Police. And every other organization in Springfield but 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".
- The entire police force in South Park in the early seasons seemed 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. By the seventh season the county/state police were the South Park Police Department, and Barbrady was apparently Put on a Bus.
- Archer: ISIS initially appeared to have a full support staff and a large number of field agents, but by about season 4 they seem to have dropped down to about six people. There does seem to have been a bit of transition in terms of fatalities and budget cuts; some of the later episodes even make a plot point about how they're forced to start using people like accountants and HR reps as extra agents. Following this, the fifth season premiere results in ISIS dissolving, the main cast together going off for other ventures, and the other surviving employees (if there were any) presumably going elsewhere.
- Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated is just one mad scientist, his robot helper, and occasionally his daughter.
- The Geheime Staatspolizei/Ge'-Stapo' (State Secret Police) branch of the Shutzstaffel/SS (Protection Service) never had more than a hundred people operating in even the largest cities under Wehrmacht military administration (e.g. Paris, Brussels) or German State Administration (Amsterdam, Warsaw). This included the secretaries and the number was usually much lower. The organisation's effectiveness was entirely dependent upon the local cooperation of its rivals - the Sicherheitsdienst/SD (Security Service) branch of the SS, the Ordnungspolizei/Or'-Po' (Order Police) which were affiliated with the SS, and the local police force of the area in question. In Warsaw the Gestapo was utterly beleaguered due to a rocky relationship with the SD and Or'po', the incredibly begrudging cooperation it got from the Polish police, and general stonewalling by the population at large. In Amsterdam, on the other hand, the German Civil Administration managed to secure direct control over the Dutch Police and the SD and Gestapo forged a working partnership to police a relatively compliant populace and so produced Germany's most effective counter-intelligence work of the entire war. This unusual effectiveness notably caused the failure of the UK's late 1944 Market Garden surpise offensive operation to take the Netherlands.
- 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 House of Representatives actually used to scale with total population; if the original ratio had been maintained to the present, instead of being halted at 435, there would be about 10,000 Congressmen. Compared to that number, the current Congress is a small organization indeed. Even among people who think the size of the Congress should be increased (to make it a bit more representative, and particularly to keep states with larger populations from being shortchanged), the proposals only bump the House up to 500, 550, or at the most 650. There is a reason for this, though; once a legislature gets above a certain size, it becomes unwieldy and can't get stuff done. The largest legislature in the world that meaningfully acts as a primary lawmaking bodynote is the European Parliament, with 751 members; the next largest are the British House of Commons and German Bundestag, with 650 and 631 members, respectively. Also, the US is a federation, so although the federal Congress can seem unrepresentative, Americans are much better represented by their state legislatures, which have a lot of power. That being said, the Congress does have an alarmingly small staff—in particular, its research and analysis departments, which are supposed to assess bills for their impact, inform legislators about policy, draft bill text, and review bills to make sure they are coherent and have no embarrassing or dangerous errors, are frighteningly understaffed and lacking in resources, meaning that legislators often have to rely on dubious information presented by activists, lobbyists, corporations, and others with incentives to present biased and incomplete analyses.
- 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. And nowadays, supreme power in China is wielded by the Standing Committee of the Politburo, which consists of seven people (reduced from nine at the latest party congress.) Which isn't all that small when one considers that in most countries it's a single president or at most a president and a prime minister.
- 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. Most game companies are even smaller.
- Some of the most popular websites in the world, like Wikipedia, are staffed by less than 100 people.
- Back during the early Silver Age, Marvel Comics barely existed and the actual office making the comics consisted of a room with two sections, one being Stan Lee's office and the other being (mostly) Jack Kirby's workspace, with Steve Ditko and a few others dropping in from time to time to get their assignments or collect their paychecks. Apart from them, there was Stan Lee's secretary "Fabulous Flo" in a desk out front, who had the unenviable task of keeping any fans who were visiting the company from taking an "unofficial" tour of the office. As she would say in a later interview, "There really was nothing back there to see."
- 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
IraqMesopotamia, 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.
- Despite its notoriety, the Symbionese Liberation Army, best known for kidnapping and allegedly brainwashing Patty Hearst, never had more than sixteen known members at one time.
- Following a particularly disastrous boat trip from Mexico, Fidel Castro hit the shores of Cuba with around a dozen guerrillas.
- The controversial Westboro Baptist Church, which has been notorious in recent years for its picketing of funerals and anti-gay propaganda, has only 39 members as of last count, most of them family members (including extended ones) of its founder Fred Phelps. His death and defections by members have shrunk the original group. They have no real affiliation with any Baptist denomination, and both the Baptist World Alliance and the Southern Baptist Convention (the two largest Baptist denominations) have denounced them and condemned their actions.
- Independent videogame developers tend to be rather small. Some examples include:
- Mojang ABnote , which is currently developing Minecraftnote and Scrolls, currently consists of 40 peoplenote , but was, initially, run by just 1 person: Markus "Notch" Persson.
- Carpe Fulgur, the 2-man localization team that brought Recettear out of Japan.
- Team Shanghai Alice, a one-man operation.
- Even Bungie, which is still pretty small compared to other game companies, only had seven members when they made Marathon, which, coincidentally, had a theme song by "The Power of Seven." Before Marathon, Bungie consisted of two people who worked on games in their basements.
- Dwarf Fortress is an incredibly intricate and detailed game with head-crushing complexity, featuring damage systems detailed down to individual tissue layers and random dwarf generation that is more complex than most roleplaying games' entire player character generators. It's a text game whose sheer depth of processing can crush a computer that can run Far Cry 3. This game is programmed by a lone individual, known as Toady One.
- 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 at a single distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. 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.
- Invoked and subverted by various historic nomad empires. Many nomadic tribes were small in population, but could muster larger armies than sedentary populations because most of their fighting age men could be mobilized to fight. For example, the Mongols during Genghis Khan's rule probably had a population of less than a million, but his army, at its height (for the invasion of Khwarezmid Persia), numbered about a quarter of million men or more, which, although not huge, was a quite large force for the Middle Ages. Of course, this also means that, if a nomad army is defeated, the whole tribe can wither away very fast.
- Britain's equivalent of "Project Blue Book", monitoring UFO sightings and assessing which could be explained and which were an inexplicable residue that baffled analysis, consisted of one civil servant supported by a part-time secretary to do his typing...