"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 "an evil secretive group
with an Evil Plan
". Let's break it down:
- 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.
There are three basic kinds of conspiracies, though the borders between them are fluid:
Slightly off the charts lies the Benevolent Conspiracy
—an organization that acts like a conspiracy in many ways, but works for the benefit of the non-conspirators.
The Conspiracy is generally a great antagonist in any story, but two genres make a particularly extensive use of it:
For further tips on writing both of the above, see Write A Conspiracy Theory
. For tropes commonly associated with conspiracies, see The Index Is Watching You
Multiple concurrent conspiracies form a Conspiracy Kitchen Sink
. A character believing in conspiracies is a Conspiracy Theorist
. See also Milkman Conspiracy
and Path of Inspiration
(aka Conspiracy Religion
Examples of works/series featuring conspiracies of more than one type:
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Anime & 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 conspiracies:
- 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.
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 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.
- The Church Of The Sub Genius blames pretty much everything wrong with the world on "The CONSPIRACY" (which is apparently an acronym for "Cliques Of Normals Secretly Planning Insidious Rituals Aimed At Controlling You").