The HR Problems of Evil

evil recruitsThe deal was going down.

The illegal shipments of Underdark-crafted high-grade weaponry sat in crates on the docks ready for delivery to the Iron King.  The Iron King’s minions packed gold bars into neat lines of identical trunks.  The date was set.  The authorities mislead.  The local Adventurers were busy chasing a complex side quest with many steps, fed to them from the local Quest Giver on the take. The leader of the operation, a retired thief turned businessman, spent weeks carefully orchestrating all the players – the weapons smuggler, the Deep Elf contracts, the authorities, the Quest Givers, and the PCs – so the deal would go down smoothly, tonight, on the docks.  All they needed was the exchange.  No bumps.

The Iron King’s courier was hanging around a local tavern waiting for the go sign.  His job was to move the gold bars from their hiding place under that same local tavern to the docks.  The agents of the Iron King arranged a hearse – paid for and paid off — for transporting the trunks of gold in caskets.  The courier needed to pack the trunks on the hearse and then drive the hearse to the arranged meeting.  Then, he’d hand over the gold for weapons and return the weapons, in the same hearse, to the tavern.  From there, Iron King’s agents would pick up the weapons in the morning and quietly smuggle them out the back.

It wasn’t a long wait.

It wasn’t far to the rendezvous.  Maybe a couple of miles.

This was his entire job.

The courier’s first act was to get very, very drunk.

The courier’s second act was to sneak into the basement, open up the trunks and gaze lovingly at all that gold.

The courier’s third act was to run out, find his girlfriend, bring her back to the tavern, and then gaze at the gold together.

The fourth act thankfully did not bring the authorities down on the courier’s head from upstairs.

And this was all well and fine. When they finished, the courier packed the gold into the casket. Then, the casket on the hearse. Then, he climbed up into the driver’s seat and drove away.

The courier’s problems started when his girlfriend, also drunk, promptly went to the courier’s jealous wife. The girlfriend happily informed the wife not only what happened, but the courier’s entire mission – the sale, the gold, the rendezvous on the docks.  And the wife, it turned out, was not only an apprentice wizard, but also a close friend of one of the adventurers busy running around after a complex side-quest.  The wife wasn’t good aligned or anything, but she wanted her good for nothing husband to get what was coming to him in pure, unadulterated Murder Hobo form.

She knew enough to get out a message.

And so that happened.

Recruiting for Evil

Management gurus repeat the mantra that the most important asset to an organization is its people.  And with evil, like any other organization, this is true.  But unlike good, evil faces two major key problems.

The first problem is recruitment. Good – and even neutral – can hang signs all over the nearby taverns recruiting for adventurers. Come save the day! Defeat the ogre! Free the Princess from the Evil Wizard in the Tower! Join the Church Corps for Good Today! Anyone with a proper alignment can pick up a hoe, convert from farmer in a peaceful peasant village to World Spanning Adventurer Hero and Save the Day. Good has an unending source of possible applicants to the Murder Hobo meat grinder. And, if some die, the applicant line to try out for Murder Hobo-dom is down the block and wraps around the corner.

Evil lacks this luxury. Evil must recruit workers in an industry that requires exacting secrecy – otherwise, the local law enforcement shuts them down. The open, available jobs cannot be advertised. No end game boss recruits minions by hanging signs in local taverns saying: “Sign up for the job of tomorrow – join the Red Dragon eating the villagers today!”  No newspaper circulates with evil want-ads in the back.  No Quest Givers sit around in taverns trying to get evil to go on evil missions and join Evil Empires.

This forces evil to go through back channels and friends to hire. Evil is all about social network connections for acquisitions. For example, the evil leader has a (relatively good) brother who has this friend who also has a brother, and that brother is willing to join up for lots and lots of cash. The leader hires him even though the brother’s friend’s brother is a half-naked drunken wild mage with a sadistic streak. Who else is the evil leader going to hire? The evil leader has this pressing opening, business must get done, he has money to spend, and this friend’s brother’s friend is the only applicant.

The leader needs jobs done.

The drunken wild mage turns into a high-powered sub-boss with some some nasty boss-fight moves and choice drops.

The worst part of evil recruitment, though: evil has high turnover. Take the courier, his girlfriend, and the entire mission to hand over gold for Underdark weapons. The Murder Hobos, once they arrive on-scene, won’t allow two groups of evil to talk their way out. Not when evil is sitting on trunks of gold and rare, highly magical weapons. And, that contraband isn’t going to the local authorities and local towns. That contraband is going right to the Murder Hobos. Once the killing is done, the Murder Hobos will suit up with their new shiny weapons and return to their interrupted, complex side-quest – which also has high Murder Hobos-based employee turnover and recruitment issues.

Somehow evil managers and leadership need a constant stream of willing bodies. Every death, every Murder Hobo mission, every flip of a body for its useful pocket change, is another round of recruiting, hiring and vetting through limited, underground and secret sources. It’s a never-ending headache of finding applicants, recruiting, interviewing, vetting, hiring, and then loss. Over and over again.

Managing Evil

The second problem facing evil is that, once hired, evil must manage its staff, as well as all its evil suppliers and evil clients, without being able to resort to the law and contractual enforcement.

A big issue with executing in secrecy outside the boundaries of the legal system is the lack of access to the legal system when things go bad. There’s no way to enforce employment contracts or corporate handbooks. One cannot simply terminate an employee who isn’t working out.

If a supplier fails to deliver a supply of swords to the Evil Lair, there’s no way to sue them over breach of contract. And there’s no way to enforce any kind of cease and desist or non-compete contracts in a smooth and legal way.

The only recourse evil has, without access to a legal system with courts and enforceable contacts with monetary penalties, is violence. The more terrible evil’s violence to under-performing underlings or suppliers, the more a deterrent to poor behavior the violence is. But, deploying violence at-will also contributes to the turnover, above, deters other evil partners from acting as suppliers, and is incredibly bad for business. Simply killing off one’s underlings, after going through the extreme pains of recruiting them and getting them in place, is a high cost to the evil institution.

So what is evil to do? Running complex, large-scale secretive evil operations with unpredictable workers hired via networks who are prone to sabotaging major operations is no simple feat. It requires endless tolerance for patience, putting up with subordination, and keeping from stabbing a dude.

Some Evil Solutions

Evil has some solutions at hand to fill our their organizations and help run them effectively:


The best place for evil to go recruiting is where evil has the thickest social networks: prisons. Murder Hobos unwilling to kill the mastermind villains or their henchmen at the end of the adventure have to send them somewhere. The henchmen can’t simply go home at the end of the day after the adventure ends. So Good being Good sends them to prisons.

Prisons work as a great social network for evil. Evil henchmen are all in one place, they have plenty of time, they can swap tricks and tips, and they don’t have much to do once they get out. Evil leadership knows these are great potential employees with the right criminal backgrounds. Thieves guild recruiters and the Undead representatives of the Lich King lurk outside the entrances of prisons waiting for potential releases. All they have to do is offer a job when the convict gets out. Or, if evil leadership is particularly wily, they may break into the prisons and avail themselves of some choice recruits for their burgeoning evil organizations.

Particularly cunning evil organizations run their recruitment and training inside the prisons themselves. Once Murder Hobos capture henchmen and deposited them in prisons, the henchmen carry out their lines of recruitment, thievery, extortion, murder, and blackmail from within. The henchmen guarantees those who join their gangs jobs with the henchmen’s buddies on the outside. Of course, the henchmen on the inside demand total unwavering loyalty to their external masters. A double-cross turns into extreme violence. But such is the price of an evil job, and admission to an evil organization doing evil, with an evil line of logos and hats.


The other solution is for evil to stand up business-to-business contracts underground. Instead of putting all evil under one roof, different evil organizations can specialize in different parts of evil. This way, smaller evil organizations with hiring challenges can band together to build a world spanning, world crushing evil Empire. (Also: see Franchising.) These smaller organizations are also more nimble and agile than, say, the Evil Cthulhu-Worshipping Church or the Army of the Black Dragon. And, with nimbleness comes the ability to evade Murder Hobo blades and swords longer.

Of course, again, contracts are difficult to enforce except through the threats of violence without a legal system. But, violence means a loss of business relationship, a trail of bodies, possible future revenues, a poor reputation, and future inability to recruit. Even for evil, violence is a last resort. And, everyone has incompetent henchmen. That’s what one gets from hiring friends of friends from prisons to fill out one’s operations.

And, evil is surprisingly cordial to other evil groups. Take the original example of the thieves’ guild leader and the Iron King. This B2B transaction failed because the courier fell through. The courier is also dead. The Murder Hobos would expect the thieves’ guild leader and the Iron King to go to war over the loss of shipments. But, this is unlikely the case.

The thieves’ guild leader and the Iron King have done lots of business together in the past. This isn’t their first rodeo.  The Iron King promises to goose up 10% payment over the loss on the next exchange between Underdark weaponry and gold. The thieves’ guild Underdark weaponry supplier is fine and the Iron King’s gold supply via taxing the peasants is still producing cash. There’s no reason they cannot try another sale, this time at a different port with a different courier (who is, of course, still dead). They talk and they reach an agreement. While they have no formal legal contract, they still supply one another through what they consider a crucial relationship.

Yes, yes, the underling was incompetent. Yes, they lost a shipment due to Murder Hobos. Business goes on. And maybe someone should sell Murder Hobo insurance…

If the relationship is serially sour, one group will take their contract dispute to violence. But only as a last resort.

Always Have a Hostage

Evil is an equal opportunity employer. Regardless of nation, creed, gender or race, evil is there to hire. Although it seems like evil cuts along racial lines – evil orks are all orks as the statement implies, mind – this is more a problem of hiring 100% through social links and networks than any sort of choice on the employers parts. Evil employers rely on network hiring, but will hire anyone willing to work for their organization with the right criminal bent and who can find the proper super secret want ad.

That said, the last tool in the evil employer’s HR basket is to always have a hostage – to know where the ork village is back home, to know the courier has an easily bribed girlfriend, to know where the spouses are and where home is.  Because sometimes, even after recruited from the worst possible place and brought into the fold of the evil institution, the henchmen might think twice. And, at the end of the day, evil is still evil. It says it right in the title.  And threats made to far off loved ones are easier to make – and claim to enforce without proof – than threats to the here and now.

That’s the final tool in the Evil HR handbasket.  Once someone joins an evil organization, they’re unlikely to leave except feet first.

Image Credit: Art by Jaydot Sloane of Vanity Games –


  1. David Oakes says:

    Does Lawful Evil have recourse in the courts?

    Is the Agent Provocateur, attempting to stir up trouble (and perhaps corrupt a few souls!), the Chaos/Evil equivalent of the Quest Giver? It would just be franchising Evil down t the Murder Hobo level of wandering bands of independent agents.

  2. Sean robert meaney says:

    Of course not. BBEG is very careful to be invisible:

    Purchase fifty crossbows and have them delivered to Burlo’s Adventuring Shop which villain uses as an armoury. Flunkies buy equipment from Burlo’s like regular adventuring party. Expenses covered.

    Hire unwitting heroes to clear out low level problem so Rebels can use the place unhindered that evening.

    Rebels Pay for drinks at the broken legg tavern with platinum piece…which gets dropped into coin barrel slot as code that Rebel is looking for work in area.

    Has ordinary citizen grow wolfsbane in garden. Has ‘little old lady’ buy wolfsbane from gardener for use as nasty poison.

    Witch makes wolfsbane poison and hawks it to Rebels -pays them a platinum piece each to in change.

    Rebels poison baron and his travelling party with poisoned crossbow bolt while travelling.

    BBEG unknown. All components compartmentalized.

  3. Robert Duff says:

    “One cannot simply terminate an employee who isn’t working out.”

    Except through the most obvious way.

  4. Recruiting really isn’t a problem for evil, though, is it? Consider that in the real world, neo-Nazis and ISIS are able to recruit. All you need to do is craft your message in a way that local authorities permit, or that they haven’t found a way to stop. Clothe your hatred and desire to destroy in the double-speak about “protecting” something, e.g. “purity.” Or simply target people who are vulnerable in areas where Good authorities hesitate to go: show some serious gold in a dead-end slum, and you’ll likely find recruits enough to sift through and choose at your leisure without needing to rely on your brother’s friend’s crazy brother.

    Thieves’ Guild bosses may not be able to *openly* post on job-boards the way Adventurers’ Guild masters do, but surely it would be the work of a single afternoon to develop a series of dog-whistles. Protection racket? “Informal defense for life and property,” perhaps. Smuggling? “Courier for sensitive documents.” Straight up murder? “Ankheg detection and disposal.” Refurbishing the dragon’s lair? “Construction work for an exotic foreign employer in the countryside.” Then gently vet your applicants about their attitude toward four-legged mammalian “Ankhegs” or whatever.

    Turnover would be more of an issue, but as the article points out: the same problem plagues even LG adventuring parties. And the big draw is generally going to be the same: lots of money, magic items, power, and other earthly rewards.

    Similarly, it should be pretty easy for even the most evil of non-chaotic organizations to set up systems to punish breach of contract and so on. First, the powers of evil could just set up their own court system. If illegal swords aren’t delivered, then they just go to evil court to evil sue for breach of evil contract, and the court’s decision is enforced by the evil social contract that exactly parallels the above-ground social contract that they aren’t using.

    But maybe they don’t even need their own evil infrastructure. If the smuggled swords exist in the official record-books as, say, a shipment of bolts of silk (wink wink), then they can go to normal court and normal sue for normal breach of contract over the missing “silk.”