"When you work in intelligence, the worst feeling in the world is knowing nothing; being caught in something you don't begin to understand. Because it's not the enemy you see that gets you. It's the one you don't."The most basic definition of The Conspiracy is "a secretive group with an Evil Plan". Let's break it down:
— Burn Notice, "Long Way Back"
- Secretive. The conspirators always hide their evil agenda or even their very existence. They live as far from a Card-Carrying Villain as possible. As a result, most of them appear benevolent or neutral at first but are then revealed to have been Evil All Along, creating an atmosphere where neither the protagonist, nor the reader knows whom to trust.
- Villainous. The conspiracy always plays an antagonistic role to the heroic protagonists. If a conspiracy isn't evil, it's an Ancient Tradition and is discussed elsewhere.
- Group. The number of conspirators ranges from a dozens to thousands. Depending on the scale, the conspiracy may be between individuals or entire organizations. Some of them are obviously evil, some appear benevolent, some don't exist at all in the public eye. There may be an Omniscient Council of Vagueness, The Man, The Man Behind the Man, a Big Bad, The Dragon, The Mole, and tons of Faceless Goons among them. Conspiracy is like the Lernaean Hydra: every time a head is cut off, it just grows another.
- Evil Plan. The conspiracy always has a very specific objective: power, profit, selective destruction, etc. Without this unifying objective, a secretive villainous group turns into The Masquerade.
- Ancient Conspiracy: A secret society consisting of otherwise unrelated individuals who pursue some (possibly esoteric) goals that, as the name implies, is pretty old (likely going back to The Knights Templar, The Illuminati, etc.), and very, very well-hidden. Their power comes either from long-term strategic planning or mystical sources.
- Government Conspiracy: A secret project uniting a small number of members of a powerful but otherwise benevolent organization, usually but not necessarily The Government (hence the name). The project can hardly be older than the government itself. Their power comes from their Front Organization's resources and the trust that Normal People put into it.
- Nebulous Criminal Conspiracy: An informal alliance between seemingly benevolent organizations or individuals and/or obviously evil/criminal/obscure ones. It's likely to be very recent. Their power comes from controlling everything from both sides, though they may be too loosely organized to take full advantage of this. The Syndicate isn't a conspiracy in itself because it's Obviously Evil, but it's almost always a member.
- Benevolent Conspiracy: An organization that acts like a conspiracy in many ways, but works for the benefit of the non-conspirators (thereby averting/inverting two of the four criteria of the basic definition above).
- Conspiracy Theory is a Scrapbook Story detailing the progress of their plan at different times and places from different perspectives in Faux Documentary style.
- Conspiracy Thriller is a more traditional Thriller narrative centering on the conflict between The Hero and The Conspiracy.
Examples of works/series featuring conspiracies of more than one type:
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Anime and Manga
- The less known thing about Bee Train's Girls with Guns trilogy is that in addition to playing into three distinct action movie genres (see Trivia.BeeTrain), they also each center on a different type of conspiracy:
- Noir pits the protagonists against a cult-like Ancient Conspiracy of Les Soldats, a secret society formed (probably) by the Cathar survivors after the Albigensian Crusade to oppose the rule of the Roman Catholic Church. Their (or rather, Altena's) Evil Plan, Le Grand Retour, involves reverting the Western society to Medieval norms.
- Madlax revolves around a Nebulous Criminal Conspiracy between The Syndicate of Enfant, the Bookwald Industries, The Government of Gazth-Sonika, and the Galza leadership, who prolong the War for Fun and Profit indefinitely. Also, said war is only a stepping stone in the Big Bad's master plan, which is far more destructive.
- El Cazador de la Bruja deals with the aftermath of a Government Conspiracy called Project Leviathan, a top-secret CIA project to produce Psychic Child Soldiers. More specifically, CIA attempts to cover the whole thing up, which includes killing the few surviving test subjects, one of whom is the amnesiac protagonist.
- Hellsing has the Millennium Organization, a group of Nazi scientists that was thought to be wiped out by Hellsing but some of whom escaped out of Europe into Brazil in the aftermath of WWII. Their purpose was to develop a means of engineering vampires and build an army of them. To what end? Why, world domination of course. A large portion of their funding came from the Vatican, although we're not quite sure why. In the years leading up to the main plot of the story, they periodically released groups of ghouls as a covert way of testing the defences of the Hellsing Organization and the world in general, as well as keeping them occupied until the moment came to unleash their undead army on the world.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Hundreds of years prior to the story, the Big Bad founded the country of Amestris to further his plan. All of the highest ranking officials in the government are in on it. They're so far along in their plans that even when the protagonists figure out what's going on, they can't do anything about it, and the only reason they aren't killed is because they're needed for the plan.
- In HHB-era Narnia fanfiction In The Fledgling Year, the princeís entourage gets caught up in a conspiracy by a group called the Finii, whose goal seems to be to systematically kill off the royal line of Archenland in order to put a distant cousin on the throne. (The fic is still a WIP, so itís not yet fully developed.)
- One of the driving plots in Families is a conspiracy by corrupt noble Olive Branch to use his media resources to discredit Princess Celestia, playing off of the public's fear after the Changeling invasion to eventually gain enough support to overthrow her. As it turns out, he didn't really care about her position, he was just trying to get into a position to force her to give him immortality.
- Jewel Of Darkness: One of the major components of the Myth Arc is the existence of the White Glove, a group with definite negative vibes that is so far reaching that its leader, the "Good Man", can walk in and out of the Justice League Watchtower whenever he wants. Jinx is their mole on the Titans, albeit one who is Becoming the Mask.
- In A Cold Calculus Euphie, Cornelia and Schneizel are aware of the Geass Directorate's existence, but not their true nature, and have been secretly cooperating to smooth things out in the Empire, oust their father and put a stop to the Directorate. We're clued into this when Euphie brings Milly into it. Heinrich Stadtfeld, in turn, knows about their conspiracy when a money trail he followed led him to the Damocles.
- In 'Marionettes there's S.M.I.L.E., also known as the Stallions in Black who seek to enforce the fate that they believe should happen, building the Marionettes and performing brainwashing innocent civilians to accomplish that goal. It turns out they were originally a Benevolent Conspiracy founded by Celestia to safeguard Equestria, especially from her in the event she fell to darkness like her sister had, and be a Hero Secret Service for Equestria's heroes. Unfortunately, since then they've become more and more corrupt until they became what they are now.
Live Action TV
- Scandal: It's not yet clear what the nature of this is, but a large part of Season Two's backstory seems to involve one including Olivia, First Lady Mellie Grant, Cyrus Beene, Hollis Doyle, and Justice Verna Thornton. The conspiracy resulted in throwing the election to get Grant elected, but he appears to be unaware of it, and the depths appear to go much further than that. Quinn's framing appears to have been related to this conspiracy, and it probably is what resulted in her former office being firebombed. Hollis seems to be the Token Evil Teammate; it is not clear how malicious or how implicated the other members are, but it has been stated that their actions would get them locked up for the rest of their lives. We know Olivia generally has good intentions, but it is possible that she is The Atoner for actions in her past.
- The Masons in Dancing on the Edge are presumably involved with all sorts of conspiracies but they're efforts to frame Louie for Jessie's murder deserve particular notice as they are able to do things like fake passport stamps thanks to their government ties.
- Orphan Black features the clones taking on two conspiracies:
- A group called the Neolutionists created the clones, monitor them and run tests on them. Known members are Olivier, Dr. Leekie, and Delphine.
- A group of religious fanatics called the Proletheans are hunting and killing the clones. This group includes Maggie Chen and Tomas and they used Helena as their assassin.
- Extant: Of the group variety, involving both the ISEA and its parent company, Yasumoto Corporation.
- Eclipse Phase has Firewall, a "heroic" (well, anti-heroic) conspiracy that does not work for any government or criminal organization, and is devoted to the survival of transhumanity at all costs. Though there's also Project Ozma, SETI turned MIB.
- GURPS Illuminati is an invaluable resource for conspiracy-related games in general.
- The Longest Journey series loves to have conspiracies for villains:
- The original game had the Ancient Conspiracy of the Vanguard, a twelve thousand years old cult led by a DraicKin and aiming to forcibly reunite the technological world of Stark and the magical Arcadia, disregarding the enormous risks to both worlds' existence.
- Dreamfall: The Longest Journey had Project Alchera, a Government Conspiracy (actually, a corporate one, but corporations ARE the world government in the setting) by the top executives and researchers of the Japanese toy manufacturer WATIcorp to develop and spread Mind Control technology disguised as lucid dream toys. Unfortunately, none of them had any idea that there was an entire world of magic that used the same wavelengths as the project. The central AI latched on in curiosity and suddenly instant chaos, test subjects manifest in Arcadia, two worlds in danger, etc..
- Dreamfall Chapters reveals that some of the higher-ups in the Goddess cult are doing things that their papal council have no idea of.
- Deus Ex and its follow up games (Deus Ex: Invisible War, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided) have these in spades.
- Suburban Redevelopment Fund in L.A. Noire.
- Resident Evil is starting to show shades of this regarding to the U.S. Government.
- Assassin's Creed: The Knights Templar have been trying for centuries to control the world. At some point they decided the best way to do this was from behind the scenes.
- And on a truly epic scale, Assassin's Creed III reveals that Juno has been manipulating humanity from before recorded history so that she could blackmail Desmond into bringing her back to rule over humanity. Just to be clear, she did this entirely through prerecorded messages left where certain people would find them. And she did it without the entirely benevolent first civilization conspirators noticing.
- The Secret World, being a Conspiracy Kitchen Sink, has plenty of these. The player character joins one of three possibly-benevolent ones early in the game, who are currently in an Enemy Mine situation due to the impending End of the World as We Know It.
- The Institute of Fallout 4 indirectly controls most of the Commonwealth through proxies and Synth agents who operate behind the scenes. They don't take a direct hand in running the place, but any time someone starts getting too technologically advanced and/or organised, the Institute will smother them in the crib before they can grow to become a threat to their power. As was the case with the original Minutemen. The Institute also have a nasty habit of destroying any pre-war technology by sending an army of Synths to destroy it and massacre anybody around to prevent them ever finding out what it is.
- Persona 5: The protagonists eventually stumble upon a hidden organization made up of businessmen, politicians and law enforcement officials who are using the Mental World of the Palace to secretly influence powerful members of society and cause accidents that will encourage social unrest, all in order to increase their own wealth and standing.
- Higurashi: When They Cry: Those who believe the chain of murders in Hinamizawa are not supernatural in nature generally believe there's a conspiracy of some kind in Hinamizawa pulling them off. Detective Ooishi, one of the most prominent police characters, suspects the Sonozaki family of being the masterminds but has no real evidence, just speculation and a hunch. The truth is there is a conspiracy... but the Sonozakis are innocent and are just as confused by the situation as anyone else. It's actually an outside Government Conspiracy that's studying the mysterious Hinamizawa Syndrome, though they are only directly behind some of the serial murders... a few of them are genuine coincidences that just happened to fall on the day of Watanagashi.
- The Wanderer's Library has a hilariously petty one. For a long time in the world of Elrich, elevators were the only method of going up. When stairs were invented, they posed a threat to the livelihood of the Elra Architectural Sub-Union, which made elevators. In order to discredit stairs, they loosen one step that the king will be going up. He falls to his death, thus making sure no one will use stairs again.
- In Alice Isn't Dead, the Narrator learns that her missing wife Alice was actively investigating a multi-group conspiracy with vague aims before her disappearance, gathering information on three mysterious parties: The Cumberland Project, Vector H, and Bay & Creek Shipping. The discovery of her scattered notes prompts the Narrator to involve herself more directly, going so far as to get hired as a long haul trucker by Bay & Creek Shipping, in hopes of locating her missing wife. However, agents of the Conspiracy, including a cannibalistic Humanoid Abomination, don't much care for her meddling, and its heavily implied that the Conspiracy causes or contributes to seemingly random deaths, disasters and paranormal activity, with tacit approval from at least some officials.
- In the South Park episode "Sexual Healing", there is a vast conspiracy between all men in the world to keep a secret from all women in the world. That secret is... that All Men Are Perverts. All those rich and famous men who sleep with lots of women, possibly cheating on their girlfriend/wife in the process? They're suffering from the horrible disease of sex addiction, which was caused by an alien who is also a wizard casting a spell on them. It's totally not because guys are horndogs and would screw any and all willing women if they had the sheer number of opportunities that rich and famous men have. Honest. Whenever any man claims that they would never do such a thing even if they were rich and famous, all the men's eyes briefly glance at the closest woman in the room, checking to see if she believed the lie.