Who controls the British crown? Who keeps the metric system down? We do, we do! Who keeps Atlantis off the maps? Who keeps the Martians under wraps? We do, we do!
The Question: Reaching back to Ancient Egypt, there's been a single cabal of powerful individuals directing the course of human history. But the common man prefers to believe they don't exist, which aids their success.
An incomprehensibly powerful group that has lurked in the shadows throughout centuries of history, such as The Illuminati or the Masons. Their reach is vast, and they have unlimited numbers of Evil Minions with which to strike at the heroes. They may control The Government, industry, or both, and their goals may be refreshingly mundane (political power, wealth) or horrifyingly supernatural (summon the Great Old Ones, trigger the Apocalypse). Killing one member of the Conspiracy, even its "leader", does no good, for there is always another waiting behind him to take his place and continue the group's work seamlessly. Their Multilayer Façade is unbreakable; Resistance Is Futile.
Sometimes the conspiracy is exposed, only to be revealed in the last pages (or scenes) that that conspiracy was sacrificed to hide the real one — which leads to the conclusion that if you learn of the conspiracy, it is not the true one, which may take us into Zen territory.
Sometimes the Ancient Conspiracy is neutral or a force for good, such as an Ancient Order of Protectors, but more often than not it is evil (when it is a force for good, it often still does extremely evil things because its members believe they serve the greater good). Occasionally (primarily in series by writers who understood earlier source material such as the Illuminatus!! trilogy), the obvious Ancient Conspiracy is later discovered to be an offshoot of an even more Ancient Tradition which has lost its way; in such cases, the real Ancient Tradition may provide some veiled and ambiguous assistance to the protagonists, though they will remain aloof themselves.
It tends to be big on Only the Knowledgable May Pass, which may matter a great deal for The Infiltration.
This trope often has an interesting combination of Critical Research Failure and Shown Their Work. On the one hand, many writers clearly have spent hours poring over books on history and symbolism and can throw out dozens of completely factual precedents and weave them into an interesting narrative. Then these same authors display a horribly deficient understanding of how the social sciences work. This can make for very frustrating instances where a writer's knowledgeability in one area is undermined by their ignorance in another.
Since the Ancient Conspiracy often draws on conspiracy-theorist lore, don't be surprised when certain names keep coming up. The Knights Templar are popular, as are The Hashshashin. In older works, Jewish secret domination of the world through the banks is the norm. The Freemasons might crop up occasionally, but as a real, semi-secret society, they're generally not scary enough, so expect them to be a front for the real secret society, at best. By far the most common are The Illuminati, who have been used as an Ancient Conspiracy so many times that the term has become generic, and need not have anything to do with the historical Bavarian Illuminati at all. Occasionally they might reference Adam Weishaupt, but don't count on it.
When it appears in a television series, it is usually the Big Bad behind everything, The Man Behind the Man to all others. Expect to see a lot of them in the form of The Omniscient Council of Vagueness. They also tend to employ Evil Plan and the Gambit Roulette. In modern times, an Ancient Conspiracy commonly overlaps with The Syndicate.
The Ancient Conspiracy is a subtrope of The Conspiracy and a subset of the Powers That Be. Contrast with the benevolent Ancient Tradition and the harmlessly benign Brotherhood of Funny Hats. The Path of Inspiration is a specific type of this, and Hollywood Satanists may or may not be involved in the conspiracy. May be an N.G.O. Superpower. Not to be confused with the Adult Conspiracy.
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SEELE in Neon Genesis Evangelion has the trappings of one, but they can't possibly have existed before the 1950s - when the actual Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered - and they couldn't have done much without modern technology anyway; the Evangelion series barely work as it is.
Then again, maybe they discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls ages ago, and only informed the rest of the world in the 1950s. Or alternatively they were around much longer, but only started the whole instrumentality project after finding the the scrolls.
It is highly unlikely that the "Dead Sea Scrolls" are the actual historical or publicly known scrolls, in so much as the Lance of Longinus is not the historical spear(s) of destiny nor are Adam and Lillith their biblical counterparts. Perhaps, like the spear, it is an ancient piece of advanced technology crafted by the First Ancestral Race, acting as an outline the usage of Evas and instrumentality.
In the manga supplementary materials it is revealed that they may have a fuller version of the scrolls. Given the scrolls were first circulated in at best academic privacy, they could have some material never released to the public.
SEARRS in Mai-HiME, and there is at least one more, unrelated.
Both the "Symbol" organization and the Gowa clan in Gasaraki.
Enfant in Madlax had the feel of an ancient conspiracy and used the power of ancient texts, though the actual organization seemed to be more recent.
Both the British Library and Dokusensha in ROD the TV.
The Hunters in Spiral look this way in the anime, but the manga reveals that they've only existed as long as the teenage Blade Children have been alive.
In season 4 of Yu-Gi-Oh! the villains are a group called Doma who play with this trope-while they own the richest, most secretive and most powerful company in the world and own a piece of every company on Earth, as well as having some measure of influence on the governments of countless nations, all of the members are fairly recent recruits, and there are only a handful of them. The sole exception is their leader, Dartz, who is really 10,000 years old, is the former King of Atlantis, was present when the Pharaoh battled Bakura and Zorc in Ancient Egypt, and has been spending his immortal lifespan battling millions of people individually and stealing their souls throughout the ages, with the ultimate aim of bringing about The End of the World as We Know It.
This has an element of Fridge Horror in it. The Yu-Gi-Oh! setting essentially had twoAncient Conspiracies working independently of each other at the same time, with different motives. Truly, the show's dark nature is hardly a surprise.
The Shuffle Alliance of G Gundam, which secretly arbitrated nearly every world war in history and perfected the art of talking in perfect unison.
The true nature of the Heaven's Feel in Fate/stay night and Fate/Zero. Specifically, the goals of the three families Eizenbern, Makiri, and Tohsaka. A subversion in that they never actually finish grail ritual; they've tried it four separate times before Fate/Stay Night and each time it failed for a completely different reason, usually due to infighting between factions. It's actually impossible for them to succeed, as the Grail was corrupted beyond repair, thanks to the Einzbern clan summoning Angra Mainyu during the third war.
In the first anime Dante runs a conspiracy dating back to a quasi-dark age, which manipulates the highest levels of the nation's government. Her plan is simply to use the philosopher stone and transfer herself to a new body to live forever, starting genocides if she has to.
The Void Century and perhaps the Will of D as well in One Piece. The lost century considered to be a pretty big threat to the World Government. Such that anyone who is even able to read the ancient history will automatically be targeted by the World Government and labeled a dangerous criminal.
The ancient history is recorded on the Poneglyphs, as well as the location of various Ancient Weapons, capable of massive destruction.
Celestial Being in Gundam 00. To accomplish their goals of wiping out war and unifying humanity, they have subverted the greatest minds of the scientific community and formed a development chain that lasted over two hundred years, all to ensure utter technological Humongous Mecha domination when they chose to reveal themselves. In the process, they even executed a round trip to Jupiter.
And in a peculiar twist on the trope, this Ancient Conspiracy is mostly staffed by the heroes. The resident Big Bad is also a member, who is trying to co-opt the organization's resources for his own means.
The Marginal project in Marginal, which uses Earth as a huge laboratory to observe cultural evolution after a disaster causes women to lose their reproductive ability and human to become an all-male One-Gender Race
Naruto reveals that Black Zetsu has been using the entire world since the time of the Sage of the Six Paths, all in his pursuit of reviving Kaguya. He was responsible for the Senju-Uchiha feud by manipulating Indra into attacking his younger brother Ashura, and then altered the tablet left behind by the Sage to make the Uchiha Clan his pawns. Since then, he has watched over their descendants, until he found Madara, someone capable of awakening the Rinnegan, and saved his life after he lost to Hashirama at the Valley of the End. He then used Madara's Moon's Eye Plan to help resurrect Kaguya — a plan which also created Tobi, who caused the Kyuubi Attack (including the death of his own sensei and his wife), the Bloodline Massacres of Kiri, the Uchiha Clan Massacre, and the formation of the Akatsuki, and God knows what else. Black Zetsu is all but responsible for all of ninja history.
In Katanagatari, Kiki Shikizaki using his power to see into the future crafted the Twelve Deviant Blades and helped found Kyotouryuu, his Thirteenth Deviant Blade all for the purpose of averting the destruction of Japan in the future. The power of the Deviant Blades changed the course of history while Kyotouryuu became stronger with each passing generation. The time of the series is the culmination of Shikizaki's plan: Shichika Yasuri, a Kyotouryuu practitioner stronger than all of the other Deviant Blades put together, one strong enough to avert Japan's destruction. The end of the series reveals that Shikizaki's plan failed for one simple reason: Shichika didn't want to change the future and was content to let the people of the future handle things.
The Conspiracy from the BatmanLegends of the Dark Knight three-issue arc of the same name.
Following the New 52 reboot, the Batman comics introduced the Court of Owls, a group that has supposedly ruled Gotham in secret since colonial times.
With War of Kings, Marvel's cosmic title have the Fraternity of Raptors, who used to control the Shi'ar empire via a mixture of technology and magic, and the occasional acts of murder. They disappeared for centuries, but the aftermath of Secret Invasion wakes their tech up again. Then it turns out Darkhawk is supposed to be one of them.
The Circles from the Deva Series, who have suppressed much magic development on Earth.
The particular incarnation of the Sith that appears in the Star Wars films is similar to this, except that most of its actions were devised and implemented by Palpatine alone, as opposed to being planned out in advance.
This trope is played straight in the science fiction series, Alterien by Adam R. Brown. The Alteriens Oberon creates go on to form a massive society that spans time and space. In order to more covertly assimilate selected candidates into their society and firmly establish their fellowship on 3D Earth, they create an extension of their nation, a secretive organization they call the Community. Members of the Community are either Alteriens or humans who will soon be transformed into Alteriens. Despite their efforts to keep this secret society a secret, a human who overheard them in the mid-20th century later investigated further. Though that person's efforts to reveal them were never successful, word of their society's existence continued throughout the next two centuries, albeit within the context of an old conspiracy.
Eugene Sue was an innovator of this with the Jesuits in The Wandering Jew. And also indirectly (and unintentionally) inspired The Protocols of Zion with the last chapter of Mysteries of a People.
Alexandre Dumas also laid important groundwork with his ambitious Joseph Balsamo.
Paul Féval was a vital Trope Codifier; he wrote a work entirely dedicated to being a fictional history of secret societies, and included it in The Vampire Countess and more absurdly in Vampire City, where it's implied all the elite of the world are vampires. But his masterwork in the subject was The Black Coats continuity which included John Devil.
Subverted in Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus!, in which it is ultimately revealed that spoiler - click to reveal There is no ancient organization known as the Illuminati, and that the various groups throughout history that have been using that name have been acting completely independently. Moreover, its current incarnation (the one featured in the book) was actually founded with the express purpose of preventing such conspiracies by recruiting potential conspirators into one organization, where they can be conveniently monitored and manipulated. So ultimately, it's the conspirators who are getting the wool pulled over their eyes. And if that's not enough, it turns out that there actually is an ancient, all knowing conspiracy that has its roots going all the way back to Atlantis, but — as it turns out — it has no interest in human affairs whatsoever. Finally, Fnord fnord fnord fnord fnord fnord fnord mushroom mushroom (The meaning of the previous statement will be published in heaven).
The Illuminatus theory is filled with these, and range from few decades to tens of thousands of years old, and it's perfectly possible for organizations to split, die, reemerge and resurrect, as well as their teachings to get corrupted in various ways. Somewhat rarely for the genre, the protagonists are mostly members of an Ancient Conspiracy of their own.
The Cavaliers from The Cavaliers Series Since the seventeenth century, they have been keeping the United Kingdom under vampire control, by turning promising young lords, and more recently university students, then getting them all the best jobs. Their wealth, beauty and mind control powers all help this process along. Half of government, media and the police are working for them, the other half can easily be bribed, charmed, hypnotised or mesmerised into doing what they want.
The House Targaryen from A Song of Ice and Fire, once masters of dragons, had served as the ruling family of the Seven Kingdoms for three centuries, during which they attempted to resurrect the long-dead dragons (well dead for about 150-200 years as of the start of the series - Aegon conquered Westeros for the Targaryens using his dragons) and find The Chosen One for at least a hundred years. As by the series standard, the family has not been portrayed as wholly good or evil, but some individuals frequently swerve to some extreme.
Also, in a straight example, the Maesters, the fantasy equivalent of Omnidisciplinary Scientists (they learn a little bit about everything, in order to be better advisor-types). Their love of science and the codifiable, however, has apparently lead them to attempt to destroy all magic, possibly by weakening the dragons, as mentioned above; an old legend states that without dragons in the world, there can be no magic.
In Umberto Eco's Foucaults Pendulum, the main characters invent an ancient conspiracy out of whole cloth, which is taken to be real by virtually everyone else... including a couple of groups named in it, who are rather put out that they don't seem to have all that power anymore, and want the protagonists to help them regain it!
In the novel Country of the Blind, by Michael Flynn, the ancient conspiracy is not all that ancient, going back only to the early 19th Century, when a handful of American mathematicians, armed with Babbage's Difference Engine, discovered the science of "cliology" (substantially similar to psychohistory in Asimov'sFoundation novels), which can be used to reliably both predict and manipulate the course of historical events. This underground society soon schisms into several antagonistic groups, one of which prefers to play the Ancient Tradition role of usually passive observation (while making killings in the stock market), the others seeking power for its own sake. It eventually develops that there may be another set of cliological societies that emerged in Europe at about the same time, because, as Charles Fort put it, "It steam-engines when it comes steam-engine time."
It was actually Babbage's Analytical Engine that the Ancient Conspiracy uses, the fact of its construction having been suppressed in an attempt to keep others from being able to duplicate its methods.
"It is true that all of the past fourteen presidential candidates have been Bonesmen, with the exception of Ralph Nader, who was merely of member of the much less prestigious consumer-advocacy society Scroll and Seatbelt. And it is also true that Skull and Bones was originally chartered by the Illuminati and Knights Templar in order to infiltrate the Secret World Government at Yale's New Haven campus. But having failed to make any progress in this goal, the Bonesmen now focus almost entirely on tending to the pterodactyls on their private island and on ritual masturbation."
In Angels and Demons, the Illuminati are a secret organization of scientists who oppose the Catholic Church, and try to destroy the Vatican with an antimatter bomb. Subverted in that the organization does not exist anymore and all of the Illuminati symbols were planted by the Camerlengo in an attempt to get himself elected pope and restore faith in Christianity. He...kind of succeeds.
The Grail Brotherhood from Tad Williams' Otherland. It isn't that old (its leader and founding member is a mere 200 years old), but it fits all the other criteria.
Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep contains an extremely dormant trap setup by the Blight the last time it was active, billions of years ago. Those helpful Skroderiders everyone loves so much? They were uplifted specifically so that they would remain stable—neither transcend nor go extinct—and built with backdoor code so that the Blight could use them as slaves. Hexapodia is the key insight, after all.
The Second Foundation fits in the Foundation Series, by Isaac Asimov. While admittedly they are "only" five hundred years old by the end of the series, which takes place thousands of years into the future, they nevertheless manipulate the course of Galactic events towards their own ends for centuries. And until the end, quite successfully. However, they get beaten by an even older Ancient Conspiracy, Gaia. Which itself is a 9,000 year old Batman Gambit by R. Daneel Olivaw, whose plans are more than 20,000 years old. Wow.
Dune: The Bene Gesserit worked for thousands of years to produce the Kwisatz Haderach, meaning they seduced every political leader that showed some talent, however inane, while portraying themselves as being mere servants to those political leaders.
Played straight in The Night's Dawn Trilogy, when one of the protagonists discovers that 27th century Earth (though not the Confederation) has been controlled for centuries by the secret "security council" B7, which evolved from a cartel of virtually immortalCorrupt Corporate Executives. Their mooks consist of the criminal underclass, who are made reliable by having their leaders be mind-controlled via bitek technology. At one stage the cartel conspired to have bitek banned so they could have sole use of this technology, thus inadvertently creating the breakaway Edenist culture. Their sole goal is to hold onto their own power, though at least one (the Western Europe Supervisor) believes they have a moral obligation to their subjects — he's something of an eccentric though; bored with his immortal life he eventually takes voluntary exile on a prison planet.
The Mesan Alignment turns out to be this the Honor Harrington novels, having arranged the actual fall of the Republic of Haven into the People's Republic by affecting their social dynamic for centuries and much more.
The first book in Empire from the Ashes reveals that the Moon's mutinous crew have been manipulating human civilization from the very beginning, sometimes to halt scientific progress... and sometimes just For the Evulz. They have complete control over a variety of terrorist organizations and have puppets in all the major governments as well. And then there are the counter-mutineers who have been waging a secret war against them.
In the Safehold novels, the entire Church of God Awaiting is a conspiracy so ancient they've forgotten about it. The counter-conspirators in the form of the Order of St Zherneau do remember things, though.
In Fury Born has a huge conspiracy as well, backing the pirate raiders.
"Comes a Horseman" by Robert Liparulo has the Watchers who were waiting patiently for Antichrist so that they can use all of their power and money to help him rise and they themselves can enjoy unbridled freedom. The twelve council members had either followed a parent into the position or have been recruited. They were created before the middle ages to combat the rise of Christianity. They also have control of the ancestors of a norse colony that dissapeared by moving deep into Canada to avoid being forced into Christianity.
The Society of the Evening Star from the Fablehaven series.
The resistance movement in Keneth Bulmer's The Secret of ZI have been preparing for Earth's liberation from alien conquest for nearly 300 years... because Earth's counterstrike was launched at sublight speeds and will take that long to reach the aliens' world.
The Dark Forest from Warrior Cats, which has influenced many cats, including clan leaders and plotted to overthrow the clans since long before Firestar came to the forest.
In the historical novel Wings of Dawn: Two of them. They hate each other.
The Immortals, a trio of immortal sorcerers who have been working from the shadows for centuries in The Extraordinaires.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and its film adaptation turn slavery in America into this. A means for Southern plantations to obtain cheap labor? No, that's just what they want you to think. Slavery was really a ploy by vampires to obtain a steady source of nourishment all along. When Lincoln's Gettysburg Address mentioned "government of the people, by the people, and for the people," he wasn't talking about democracy, he was talking about wanting a country run by human beings instead of the undead.
Plus the Silence, who have been ruling and controlling humanity secretly through post-hypnotic suggestion from when civilisation began at least until the late 1960s. The Doctor had visited Earth literally hundreds of times and never even realised they were even there since he can't remember seeing them.
Humans exist specifically so that the Fendahl could have a host.
From the very beginning, the idea that someone or something manipulated the characters of LOST to bring them to the island was a popular theory. The sixth season has finally confirmed that Jacob messed with their lives to get them to the island, something the Man in Black/Smoke Monster disapproves of.
In Community according to Dean Laybourne, the society of air conditioning repairmen dates back to fan wavers in ancient Egypt.
That Mitchell and Webb Look has a sketch featuring the sinister Inebriati, whose goal is to make sure that everyone is ever so slightly drunk because drinking actually does make you better at stuff instead of just over confident like most people believe.
From the episode "Z'Ha'Dum", we have the human emissary of the Shadows, Justin, describing things thusly:
Justin: "Who decides that the workday is from nine to five instead of eleven to four? Who decides that the hemlines will be below the knee this year, and short again next year? Who draws up the borders, controls the currency, handles all of the decisions that happen transparently around us?" Sheridan: "I don't know." Justin: "Ahhh... I am with them. Same group, different department. Think of me as a sort of middle man. And the name is Justin."
On the other side, the Vorlons have been manipulating their current allies for millennia, to make them suitable as Vorlon pawns during the next Vorlon/Shadow war.
NBC's Dracula features the titular count going up against the Order of the Dragon, a group of aristocrats who have pulled the strings of Western civilization since the Dark Ages, and are responsible for him becoming a vampire in the first place.
The Masons and whatever unnamed group the Hessians belong to in Sleepy Hollow are good and evil versions of this. So is the witches coven that Katrina belonged to (which was allied with the former).
The Camarilla (and also the Sabbat, and also the Followers of Set, and also many internal conspiracies within vampiric societies...) in Vampire: The Masquerade RPG. Vampires and ancient conspiracies generally go together like hand and glove, so this trope is often seen in vampire-related fiction/games/movies/what-have-you.
The Mage/Vampire/Whatever conspiracies are so common in the old World of Darkness that it often seemed like the Holocaust was the ONE event in history that was solely the work of normal humans (since none of the supernaturals wanted the "credit" for it). However, as these conspiracies oppose and counter each other, they often fail to really control anything.
The Revised Edition, while retconning out the "True Black Hand" nonsense, manages to deconstruct the trope fairly well. While the group in question had plenty of mortal and immortal "agents", the group itself was too fractional to do anything with them, and the agents themselves knew so little about the group in question that they were useless for anything important.
The reboot Vampire: The Requiem does this as well, although the scale of its conspiracies is much more local. They mainly influence mortal society in small ways without any overarching scheme. Sometimes they mess with people just as a game.
Interestingly for a conspiracy, their overall intentions are almost wholly benevolent. They want to better the lives of humanity by protecting them from the dangers of magic and all the other supernatural monsters out there, and the end result of their goals would be a textbook futurist utopia.
The Seers of the Throne in the successor game Mage: The Awakening are devoted to ensuring that humanity remains ignorant of the Gnostic truths of the universe by keeping as much control of human culture as possible, and directing it away from any supernatural insights whenever possible and necessary, a goal they have been pursuing since before the beginning of recorded history. The Seers are organized in the manner of an extremely convoluted bureaucracy, with none of the members knowing the entire structure of it, and with the potential for members to be appointed to offices which are ultimately meaningless, but which can be taken so seriously that they eventually 'evolve' a meaning, based on the importance attributed to them. The Guardians of the Veil and the Silver Ladder are also arguably ancient conspiracies, albeit with arguably more altruistic goals (the former seeks to prevent humanity from finding truths they are not ready for, the latter seeks to help all of humanity to Awaken).
As long as we're on The World of Darkness, there are so many ancient conspiracies in Hunter: The Vigil that it's hard to keep them straight. In fact, the largest possible organization of hunters is commonly called a "conspiracy." Ones that best fit the criteria include: the Aegis Kai Doru, relic hunters who date back to Ancient Greece; the Ascending Ones, Arabic alchemists who use the drug trade to fuel their quest against the darkness; the Cheiron Group, a recent megacorporation with some very occluded origins who perform medical experiments of supernaturals to better mankind increase their profit margins; the Lucifuge, made up of self-proclaimed children of the Devil who seek to fight against Hell and all its works; and the Malleus Maleficarum, the Catholic Church's black bag group.
In another World of Darkness example, Geist The Sin Eaters has introduced tiers of organization for krewes, the "gangs" of the game. Tier 3 is the Conspiracy level, a national-to-global level death cult that's a strange mixture of religion, mystery cult, and political group. Subverted in that there's a reason they're Ancient Conspiracies — no Tier 3 krewes exist in the present day of the setting. However, the core book does include sample Tier 3 krewes, such as an African tradition devoted to protecting the grave goods of the dead, a Hindu death cult that attacked the wicked, and a Soviet experiment in near-death experiences that eventually got taken over from within by the Sin-Eaters it generated.
Essentially, ALL the WOD books had their own version of long standing ancient conspiracies (can't overlook Werewolves and their long shadow fight to protect Mother Gaia from The Worm and their hand in all human affiars since time began). Unfortunately, this led to all the systems having to splinter off each other, as they began contradicting each other (they were intended to be interwoven).
And while we're discussing White Wolf- in the recent book, Shards of the Exalted Dream, the point of The Modern Age is that the Infernal Exalted rule the world from the shadows. The chapter does state that it's not important who is the conspiracy- the point is that there is a conspiracy.
Oh, where to begin in Warhammer 40,000? The existence of Chaos and daemons is kept secret by the Inquisition from as many people as it can be, the Orks and Eldar were originally created to fight the Necrons, the C'Tan spliced the pariah gene into proto-humanity for later harvesting, God-Emperor only knows what's up with the Adeptus Mechanicus... the list goes on.
And then there's 'effing Tzeentch, a one-god ancient conspiracy who has his hand in everything. Yes, even the plans that oppose each other.
Well, he is the literal embodiment of conspiracy. So much so that, should his grand plans ever actually succeed, thus ending the conspiracy, he would immediately cease to exist. So it makes quite a lot of sense for him to have two opposed goals. Well, as much sense as Chaos ever has...
The Emperor is something like this as well. He's as old as humanity itself, minus the lives of those first shamans.
In the grim darkness of the far future, the ancient conspiracies are riddled with ancient conspiracies.
The Ascended from Feng Shui are a conspiracy of animals that have taken human form in defiance of the natural order. They control everything in the 1850 and contemporary junctures since using Time Travel to capture enough feng shui sites to cause a Critical Shift and evict the world's previous rulers, the Four Monarchs, to the Netherworld by pulling history out from under them. Because magic is the only thing that can revert these transformed animals back to their natural forms, one of their driving goals is to suppress magic, relying on the media and scientists to discredit those who try to prove that magic is real, and Pledged hit squads to kill known sorcerers and supernatural creatures. It doesn't exactly help that most sorcerers and supernatural creatures tend toward the evil persuasion themselves.
The Kolat from Legend of the Five Rings provide the obligatory shadowy conspiracy in that particular setting. Since the basic structure of Rokugan's society was set down by mystical beings from on high, the Kolat seeks to return control of the world to the hands of mortal men. Themselves specifically, lest they be mistaken for having purely noble intentions. Within the setting, doing away with the influence of the Kami would likely lead to an apocalyptic breakdown of the society.
Take your pick of them in the Dark*Matter setting for d20 Modern game. Ancient conspiracy within ancient conspiracy facing off against other conspiracies. Aliens, humans, and odder things all conspiring for or against something or another. It's probably the main focus of the setting.
The name says it all. This is also probably one of the best examples of this Trope in existence. What is it? None other that GURPS Illuminati.
Paranoia is a game set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian city where everything is controlled by The Computer. The Computer is extremely paranoid about ancient conspiracies and has the players hunt them down. Some of the conspiracies actually exist. Okay, a lot of them do. Unfortunately, the players are always part of at least one ancient conspiracy, and have to hide this fact along with their mutant powers.
ComStar is a pseudo-religious organization from BattleTech that derives a lot of power from its monopoly on the interstellar communications network. However, the organization has also been hoarding LosTech for the past few centuries, hoping that it will give them an edge after the rest of the Inner Sphere bombs itself back into the Stone Age.
Eberron: The Lords of Dust and the Chamber are conspiracies stretching back to the initial dragon-demon war, one of the earliest significant events after the creation of the world, both of whom mostly work through intermediaries since the greatest fiends are chained and a large number of dragons getting directly involved tends to cause inconvenient side effects such as mass destruction and the growth in power of the rakshasa rajah known as Tiamat. More recently, the Blood of Vol (dating back to the destruction of House Vol and the end of the elf-dragon war) and the Dreaming Dark (originating with the severing of direct Material Plane to Dal Quor connections) are at the very least ancient enough to predate the formation of Galifar by quite some time, although they're very modern compared to the Chamber and the Lords of Dust.
Hollow Earth Expedition. The Terra Arcanum is a secret organization created by the Atlanteans to prevent humanity from finding out about or entering the Hollow Earth. Over the centuries they have become a network of power brokers who control the Earth's leaders and institutions.
In Tales of Symphonia, this is revealed when you find out that the world religion is basically just a facade, constructed so a 4000-year-old child hero can create a human vessel in which to resurrect his dead sister.
The online game Exmortis 2 has the main character seeking to save the final dredges of humanity in a post apocalyptic world ripped bare by monsters from hell. You solve the point and click puzzles, race the descending evil clouds of doom, follow the clues and scare yourself in the process, only to win and discover that the bad guy you thought you were defeating was actually kicked out of his own cult centuries ago. You've been working to get rid of the Exmortis so that he can take over again with them out of the way. Out of the frying pan and into the furnace, in other words. Oh, and your character dies anyway. Damn. (It's a point and click game, but you know).
In Deus Ex, the Majestic 12 is a Recent Conspiracy that split from its founding organization the Illuminati. There's also The Knights Templar.
Deus Ex: Human Revolutionexamines this: As it turns out, the reason the Illuminati survived for so long is that they're only an organization in the loosest sense of the term: they're more like an old boys' network whose members barely know each other. One of them even claims that "'Illuminati' is just a name used to get rich people to invest more money", meaning that at the end of the day, they're just an aspect of "ordinary" economic power. Also, every scheme they've ever done in order to control the world has backfired in some way or another, due to unforeseen factors such as Eliza developing a conscience or due to the differing goals of their members (Darrow hijacking the biochip signal). Ultimately, the real threat of Majestic 12 is that they happen to be competent.
And, ironically, this turns out to be their downfall. As Human Revolution reveals, the Illuminati's greatest strengths have always been sticking to the shadows while letting proxies do much of the dirty work and also preselecting fall guys to cover their ass. True, they occasionally failed, but they always had a fallback. In the original game, Bob Page ruined that by forcing the Illuminati to have to work directly with JC because he eliminated their other indirect options when he splintered off from them. And, by the same token, despite Majestic 12's competence, he also eliminated the ability to have a proxy to cover his ass if things went badly, which meant that he essentially undid his victories from Human Revolution at the same time.
Played with in the first game that suggests the the conspiracy in game is only the latest incarnation of an idea.
Stanton Dowd: It's true that our organization stretches back to the Order of the Assassins, or Hashishim, but not in the way you might imagine. The order hasn't so much lasted as been continually revived. Adam Weishaupt started from scratch in Bavaria in 1776. But so did Thomas Jefferson a few years later. It's the IDEA that has lasted. The SYSTEM. Or the DESIRE, every thinking person's desire to give the world some decent organization. Cecil Rhodes, for instance. Absolutely no formal connection to the Illuminati at all, but one of the greatest visionaries of centralized power. Now we have the Rhodes Scholarships, which feed recruits right into the Council on Foreign Relations... A very powerful tool. In my opinion, the history of the human race has been one long succession of conspiracies. To deceive ourselves, we call the successful conspiracies 'governments.'
The Nameless Mod, a Post ModernGame Mod for the original Deus Ex, has a very meta ancient conspiracy where aliens from the planet GameSpy are in league with the administrators of ForumPlanet to control the world ever since the apocalyptic "Planetization" occured, in which they took control.
The Patriots from Metal Gear. However it turns out the Patriots are a fairly modern conspiracy formed in the 1970s which has rather genre savvily taken on all the trappings of an ancient conspiracy as protective coloration, formed using the missing funds of another organization already on its last legs, The Philosophers, who themselves only dated back to around the beginning of the 20th century. La-li-lu-le-lo! La-li-lu-le-lo! La-li-lu-le-lo!
The Genoharadan in Knights of the Old Republic. Oddly enough, they appear in almost no other Star Wars works, not even in the comic series of the same name note The Genohardan are mentioned in later Star Wars works, such as the first Darth Bane book, as well as the Darth Plagueis novel, implying they survived at least until the years leading up to Episode I.. Granted, they were meant to be highly secretive assassins...
In the Mega Man ZX series: The very creation of the Biometal devices, even the ones made and used by the games' protagonists, turns out to be part of a vast plot put into motion over 200 years before the series takes place, courtesy of the second game's main villain, Master Albert—who is a key member of the city-state Innerpeace's governing body. Additionally, it's revealed during the course of the second game that by design, all of the Biometals require a host with Master Albert's DNA to function. Indeed, Master Albert had been randomly seeding the general population with his DNA throughout the entirety of that 200 years. Alternately, this one could be viewed as something of an extended Gambit Roulette.
It goes waaaay back further than that: Dr. Weil of the Mega Man Zero series, who is still in a state that can never grant him death as the original Biometal, is widely believed to be the one who's really pulling all the strings, including Master Albert himself.
The Templars in Assassin's Creed, though it's questionable when one considers that everything you learn about the Templars being in control of the world is coming from their own deceitful mouths, and e-mails you can secretly read imply that they're not quite as powerful as they make themselves out to be.
Every famous figure in history is a Templar/Assassin/Ally of either side. For the third variety, see Leonardo da Vinci. Yes, that da Vinci.
A few of the involved were just some poor schmucks or descendants of "Those Who Came Before", who, more or less unwittingly, got themselves rolled into the conspiracy. This group of people often caused some disruption to the balance of the power struggle, and would soon there after face a very untimely demise. People in this category includes Jesus and John F. Kennedy.
While their impact in the first seems minor, if Subject 16 can be trusted then the involvement of Templars and opposition by Assassins is even wider-reaching than originally believed.
Let's put it this way, the majority of the quote's page for the trope is taken from this series. Ancient conspiracies don't get much more ancient (or intricate, for that matter) than Assassin's Creed. We're talking about a war that's been going on since Cain and Abel, where Cain was the first Templar and Abel had an Apple of Eden. You know Atlantis? Supposedly an ancient First Civilization city. A lot of gods and goddesses, both of mythology and actual religion, were just members of the First Civilization (e.g., Juno, Jupiter, Minerva, etc.).
The Conduit has a government organization that's been kept under wraps for centuries. Turns out that the current-day leader, John Adams, is under alien authority (you hear him speaking with his superiors in the credits) and part of a centuries old plot to take over the world. On top of that, the ending credits reveal that Adams is a couple of centuries old himself, hinting that he may actually be the Founding Father John Adams, as well as an alien.
The Disciples of Andraste from Dragon Age: Origins. Originally the followers of the setting's most important religious figure, Andraste, they secreted away her ashes to Ferelden after her death at the hands of the Tevinter Imperium. For centuries they guarded the mountain temple where her ashes were kept. Interestingly, this Ancient Conspiracy lost its original purpose a long time ago and no longer care about guarding the Urn of Sacred Ashes. They have become an Ax-Crazy dragon cult who believe that their prophet has been reborn in the form of a high dragon, who also makes its lair in the mountain temple. The Player Character has the option of assisting the cultists by defiling the Ashes, which they believe are somehow holding back the reborn "Andraste" from reaching her full power.
Eternal Darkness depicts a power struggle between a trio of Eldritch Abominations known as the Ancients, and an in-story choice made by the player at the beginning of the game determines which of the three becomes the Big Bad for the rest of the game. The rest of the story depicts the Ancient's Dragon and his secret cult working behind the scenes over thousands of years, and at one point, they're depicted as being the real reason why a certain historical figure died.
Midway through the first Drakensang game you find out that the Big Bad is working with the ancient Dragon Men serving the evil wyrm Andracor, and they plan to use the Adamantine Heart belonged to Andracor's father Umbracor to take over Aventuria and restore Andracor's powers.
The plot of Dark Souls has the player falling into one for the fate of the world and the First Fire.
In Rewrite The organization Gaia is controlling familiars and is trying to destroy humanity so that the planet can be saved. The organization Guardian is trying to stop them by whatever means necessary.
In Azrael's Tear, the Prieuré de Sion (think Priory of Sion from The Davinci Code, albeit different in details) believes it has a holy obligation to acquire the Holy Grail at a specific time and has devised a centuries-long plan to acquire it.
The plot of the Legacy of Kain series is very convoluted, but it all boils down to several conspiracies colliding with each other:
First there's the Hylden's conspiracy to break out of their ancient prison by bringing down the Pillars of Nosgoth.
Second there's the Elder God's conspiracy to exterminate the Vampires who can no longer feed him.
Third there's the conspiracy to bring into existence the Scion of Balance.
Kain and Raziel have the misfortune of getting mixed up with all three. Kain because he is the Scion of Balance and the one destined to defeat the Elder God and the Hylden. Raziel because he is a living temporal paradox and thus the only being in existence who can Screw Destiny.
Kevin & Kell has the Great Bird Conspiracy, which featured the birds of the K&Kverse doing its best to civilize the various animal people of Domain and ran things in the background via seemingly subservient jobs as teacher or secretary. Once it was made Y2K compatible, the GBC left the machinations to a computer program designed to do that job for them, allowing them to retire.
The Gatekeepers of Schlock Mercenary have been using their monopoly over the Wormgates to manipulate galactic civilisations for millennia and the Pan'uri have been manipulating them for even longer. Given Petey's new hobby of engaging in social engineering experiments where he can't intervene directly the only thing stopping him from fitting this is that he hasn't been at it all that long.
In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, Earth has been legally owned by the Nemesite Empire since the extinction of the dinosaurs. They're aware of the rise of humankind, but they still consider us wildlife largely beneath their notice. That is a good thing, because the day that they do decide to declare us full citizens of the Empire, the sovereignty of every nation on Earth will become meaningless, and we'll have to pay Nemesite taxes, be up for the draft in their military, etc.
Subverted in Wapsi Square. There is a group of immortal politicians from an ancient civilization who have been subtly manipulating everything for ages. However, they aren't particularly competent, and have been controlled themselves by Jin, one of the main characters, the entire time. On top of that, all of their manipulations have been for the purpose of fixing the calender machine and saving the world, though they don't know this.
In The Gamers Alliance, the Order of the Black Rose has existed since the First Age and has plotted the rise and fall of various kingdoms behind the scenes for centuries with varying levels of success depending on who's been leading them at the time.
The Order of Denderah from lonelygirl15 and other Breeniverse series.
Doctor Steel believes (whether in actuality or whether it's part of the crazy act is anyone's guess) that the world is controlled by a cabal of alien "Illuminati".
The criminal organization known as Tarot, in the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, is a secret society founded in the late 1500s by Niccolo Machiavelli, with the express purpose of taking over the world through the power of economics. While they haven't quite achieved that goal by the modern day, they are so large and so powerful that they were beyond the power of any single superhero (or group of superheroes) to destroy.
Parodied by American Dad! with the Illuminutty, a group attempting to keep the secret that George Washington Carver wasn't the one who really invented Peanut Butter.
Subverted in Huntik: Secrets & Seekers. While the main villainous organization—unoriginally called "The Organization"—would have everyone believe that they are a centuries-old group with tendrils everywhere, they are in reality less than sixty years old.
The Legend of Korra has an ancient conspiracy that is "only" about a century old in the form of the Red Lotus, an offshoot of the White Lotus with different ideas of how to bring balance to the world. The Red Lotus believes that the governments and ruling institutions of the world are hopelessly corrupt and must be utterly destroyed. This extends to every organization and political representative which enforces order, including the Avatar.
Nazi Germany was governed by people who believed that everything except them was a conspiracy, consisting mainly of communists, foreigners of various nations including Jews, effeminate male homosexuals and corrupted politicians from other parties.
Well, they claimed they believed there was a conspiracy — the truth is a bit more muddled, and there were plenty of members who were simple opportunists or cynics who would say anything to get into power. Some undoutably believed the theories were entirely or at least partly true, if exaggerated; others thought it was simply to lend justification to Party policy and keep the populace dumbed down while the State could do what needs to be done; most, including Hitler, were probably somewhere in-between. Sometimes political enemies or ideological targets were simply said to be part of the wider conspiracy as an excuse to get rid of them, and the exact details of what they thought constituted a "conspiracy"- teaching people were equal was thought to be the great lie that Jews, Communists etc. were spreading to destroy Germany and other nations, and the conspiracy was more about what the founders of these religions and movements and ethnic groups believed rather than whether every single member of the group was actually a conspirator. Individual Nazi's had individual opinions on the matter.
Nearly all autocratic, nationalistic organizations believe that they are surrounded by organized, powerful enemies at all sides, no matter how much influence they gather.
Scratch 'nationalist'. Most dictatorships, including socialist ones (Stalin being the perfect example) must have had invented imaginary conspiracies to give their regime at last some hint of legitimation. The conspirators were people not fitting into the political milieu of the government: foreigners for nationalists, people of different racial descent for racists, aristocrats for populists, bourgeois for communists etc.
As our Risen Savior J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, founder of the Church Of The Sub Genius, has revealed, in real life the Conspiracy's greatest strength is that it is not even aware it is a Conspiracy.
Above Top Secret, as one of, if not the largest conspiracy website, is chock full of these.
Discordianists rule the world.
Song Hongbing's 'Currency Wars' is a curious case. The author portrays banking systems as the major clandestine players but at the same time he portrays bankers more as simple opportunists and adherents of realpolitik than as conspirators.
Oh, and TV Tropes, whose real purpose is... well, that would be telling.