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Running The Empire is hard work. No Dark Lord, no matter how powerful and feared, can manage everything on his own and a military-style hierarchy is usually the best of delegating tasks to the various henchmen and minions. As a result, if the heroes wind up having to topple The Empire, they'll end up going against a Standard Evil Empire Hierarchy.
Unlike a Five-Bad Band, which tends to be fought as a group, a Standard Evil Empire Hierarchy is defined by the roles they have within a larger Imperial hierarchy. Each member will be encountered individually, either with their assembled mooks or by themselves. In addition, the members rarely deal with each other unless the Emperor calls them for a joint meeting. Infighting is common as they all attempt to assert their authority and it's not unheard-of for one boss to aid the heroes, only to turn on them afterward.
One of the hallmarks of the hierarchy is that there is often no clear-cut Dragon role, as all of the bosses answer directly to the Emperor himself. The hierarchy usually consists of:
- The Emperor: The Big Bad himself. Although he might not be an actual Emperor, he is the undisputed ruler of The Empire and the heroes won't reach him until very late in the game, if not the very end. His Imperial Highness will very rarely do much himself, putting things in the hands of his generals and various subordinates. Is very likely to be The Chessmaster and Evil Overlord, naturally.
- The Right Hand: Commonly the Emperor's bodyguard, the Right Hand will often exist outside of the official military and police structure. While his position makes him most likely to be a clear-cut Dragon, it's also possible for him to be dumb muscle that's sent to calm down a particularly troublesome situation. A common device is for him to face the heroes mid-way through, sometimes winning, and then pop up again right before the Emperor. If he is The Dragon, having his own agenda or plans to take over will be much more likely due to his more independent nature.
- The General: Leader of the Empire's military. Most likely to be portrayed sympathetically, The General could very well be a Worthy Opponent, though a General Ripper is also common if the setting runs on Black and White Morality. A Mook Lieutenant is rare, as The General is usually portrayed as being competent, morality aside. Common for him to be The Dragon, The Brute and The Smart Guy rolled into one, though never an Evil Genius since his smarts come from his strategical and tactical abilities. In settings with more than one military branch (army, navy, air force) there can be more than one General.
- The Guard: In contrast to The General, who is in command of the field armies, The Guard is in command of a high-profile prison, fortress or other stationary strong-point. They will likely contrast with The General and be portrayed far less sympathetically, sitting back in their comfy, well-protected stronghold. Expect him to be any combination of Ax Crazy, a Dirty Coward or simply incompetent. They will usually be encountered and defeated early on, to make it clear that The Empire is evil before the heroes encounter a more sympathetic member of the hierarchy.
- The Evil Counterpart: Whether he's a Rival Turned Evil, Sixth Ranger Traitor, Turncoat or simply someone who happens to have similar powers and abilities, he's someone with similar powers and abilities as the heroes, often times creating a Mirror Match. Could fall under any of the other slots depending on the setting, but most commonly The Right Hand or The Oddball.
- The Oddball: If The Right Hand or The Psycho Ranger don't fall under this, expect The Oddball to be a Dark Chick or Evil Genius, wielding powers far different from the others, either dark magic or science. They will have their own agenda and they will be unpredictable, even for their own allies. Alternatively, they could be a mercenary or other form of lowlife hired to track down the heroes, in which case they'll employ the standard weaponry but use unconventional tactics. Either way, the emphasis is that they're connected to The Empire but different.
- The Man Behind the Man: If The Emperor really isn't the True Final Boss, expect this one to be. Often times The Man Behind the Man will be allied with The Emperor, promising dark powers and victory if The Empire aids him in his quest to recover an Artifact of Doom or unlock some Sealed Evil in a Can. The Man Behind the Man is far more common if The Empire is shown to be in command of forces that would be outside what's considered mundane by the standards of the setting.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
- The Emperor/The Evil Counterpart of Simon: Lordgenome (well, more Well-Intentioned Extremist than evil)
- The Right Hand/The Oddball/The Evil Counterpart of Boota: Guame
- The Guard: Tymilph
- The General: Adiane, Cytomander
- The Evil Counterpart of Kamina: Viral (not really evil, only racist; eventual Heel Face Turn)
- The Man Behind the Man: the Anti-Spiral (again, a Well-Intentioned Extremist)
- Legend of the Galactic Heroes actually subverts some of the roles, as The Empire is not all that evil
- Britannia of Code Geass
- The Navy in One Piece:
- The Emperor: The Gorosei ("Five Elder Stars"), the head of the World Government.
- The Right Hand: The Cipher Pol groups, which act as MIB for the World Government.
- The General: Commander-in-Chief Kong, who serves directly under the Gorosei as head of all World Government forces including the Marines (under Fleet Admiral Sengoku/Sakazuki), Impel Down, and the Shichibukai.
- The Guard: At opposite ends of the Sorting Algorithm of Evil lies Magellan, Chief Warden of Impel Down and, much earlier, Starter Villain Lieutenant Morgan.
- The Oddball: The Shichibukai/Seven Warlords of the Sea, a bunch of very powerful Privateers. Also Vegapunk's forces.
- The Evil Counterpart (or rather, Lawful Counterpart): Various Marines and Shichibukai; Commodore Smoker and Tashigi, and Coby and Helmeppo to Luffy and Zorro (A Fruit-user and a swordswoman, and a Haki-user and a Kukri-wielder to a Haki- and Fruit-user and a swordsman). Mihawk to Zoro.
- The Man Behind the Man: Possibly Vegapunk, whose creations have vexed our heroes but who remains shrouded in mystery. Otherwise, the founders of the World Government, whose attempts to blot out the Void Century from history have generated a great deal of the plot.
- Mobile Suit Gundam: The Principality of Zeon
- Star Wars, the original trilogy
- Star Wars, the prequel trilogy
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The East India Trading Company, while a business, has many traits of an empire, including the hierarchy:
- You Only Live Twice: SPECTRE's Japanese branch.
- Lord of the Rings:
- The Emperor: Sauron
- The Right Hand/The General: the Witch-King
- The Guard: Saruman
- The Oddball: Shelob
- The Emperor: The Yeerk emperor
- The Right Hand: Visser One (though Visser Three fit in to a point as well even before becoming Visser One formally)later Visser Three.
- The General: Visser Three, though a rather non-sympathetic variant.
- The Evil Counterpart: David, briefly.
- The Oddball: Taylor, in two books at least.
- The Man Behind the Man: The Council of 13
- Belisarius Series
- The Elenium
- The Belgariad: Angarak Kingdoms
Live Action TV
- The Zangyack Space Empire invasion force in Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger.
- The Emperor: Oils Gil for now, though technically he's the son of the actual Emperor
- The Right Hand: Baizorg
- The General: Damaras
- The Oddball: Insarn
- The Evil Counterpart: Basco
- The Government of Rapture, in Bioshock
- The Emperor: Andrew Ryan
- The Right Hand: Bill McDonagh
- The General: Sulivan (technically, Rapture doesn't have an army, but Sullivan heads its security polce)
- The Guard: Augustus Sinclair (Owner and manager of Persephone Detention Facility)
- The Oddball: Sander Cohen
- The Man Behind the Man: Frank Fontaine, AKA Atlas
- The Rapture Family, in Bioshock 2
- Knights of the Old Republic
- Legend of Dragoon has one for the first disc
- Shining Force
- Valkyria Chronicles:
- Loghain's regime from Dragon Age Origins
- The Emperor: Loghain Mac Tir
- The Right Hand: He's too paranoid to have one.
- The General: Ser Cauthrien
- The Guard: Arl Rendon Howe
- The Oddball: Uldred
- The Almenga Empire from Exit Fate
- The Archadian Empire from Final Fantasy XII