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Powers That Be
aka: The Powers That Be

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"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers."

These unseen forces, usually unnamed or only known by a somewhat-vague epithet, are pulling the strings. They can be good, evil, or ambiguous.

Bad Powers that Be are mysterious and abstract; they will exist As Long as There Is Evil. They will also be too vague to engage the heroes directly and so a lesser villain will act as The Heavy and carry out the Powers' Evil Plan.

Good Powers That Be will also be mysterious and abstract; concerned with the Balance Between Good and Evil or the sanctity of The Lifestream and because of this, too distant to understand the heroes' concerns and protectorate. Nevertheless the heroes will be the Powers' champion against evil.

One variety of the Powers That Be is the Ancient Conspiracy, another is The Omniscient Council of Vagueness. Another one is God himself. If the powers are warring with each other, it could be Heaven Versus Hell or a "house divided against itself." Contrast Pals with Jesus, where the relationship is entirely personal and personable. See also Physical God and Sentient Cosmic Force.

Sometimes, this term is used by fans to refer to network executives or other forces behind a work's fate.

Not to be confused with Anne McCaffrey's Petaybee series, which has this at the title of the first book and an alternate series title. Or, a short-lived sitcom produced by Norman Lear that starred John Forsythe from Dynasty (1981) and featured two pre-famous actors, David Hyde Pierce & Joseph Gordon-Levitt.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Morganna the AI from .hack//SIGN was only depicted as a voice from the sky that can smite the main character and sends out monsters. In fact, it never even states her name in this particular anime series.
  • The Godhand in Berserk. They (as ordered by the Idea of Evil) are responsible for pulling the strings of Causality to bring as much suffering as possible upon the world.
  • In Bleach, Soul King serves as one of these, having created all of reality and sustaining each and every part of it through his separated body parts.
  • A Certain Magical Index has more than a few of these, since the setting is Fantasy Kitchen Sink with All Myths Are True thrown in, any Powers That Be in mythology and religion are also one here. The magicians who become Majins (lit. Magic Lord) are fully capable of becoming one of these, as Aleister and the True GREMLIN group can clearly manipulate events subtly but surely. The former demonstrates it by one-shotting Fiamma and creating the whole Academy City and its espers, while the latter is the true master mind for the GREMLIN group.
  • Implied about Amaterasu in The Five Star Stories.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, these powers are represented by Truth and the Gate, two ambiguously malevolent entities that supervise every alchemy process in the world. They will come at alchemists trying to sacrifice their own limbs or other's souls, ripping them off in order for the transmutation to succeed.
  • Future Diary has plays with the trope. Deus Ex Machina is the god of time and space who sponsors a tournament with the main characters as its participants, so that he can choose the victor as his successor.
  • The Data Overmind in Haruhi Suzumiya is the actual power behind the humanoid interfaces (Who are basically just mouthpieces, or better, agents). The Overmind is mainly neutral, wishing only to observe. There is however, another such entity called the "Sky Canopy Domain" which is much more alien. Also, there's the Agency that Itsuki belongs to and whoever runs the time travellers.
  • The dead Original King or Shinou Heika from Kyo Kara Maoh! could fall under this trope as well, since he has been controlling and manipulating almost every action of the great demon tribe for the past 4000 years!! Despite this, however, he is not evil and is actually working to defeat the Big Bad of the series, Shoushu. Could also fall under Ancient Conspiracy.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi has the Lifemaker, creator of the magic world.
  • Both Madoka Kaname and Homura Akemi become one of these at the end of Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Rebellion, respectively.
  • No one will disagree if you say the titular character in Serial Experiments Lain is one of these.
  • All of the Great Old Ones are these in Soul Eater, considering their mere existence influences the world with madness.
  • ZONE in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds seems to fit this, seeing as he can CONTROL TIME.
    • He also says strange things that don't entirely make sense, like giving Yusei Shooting Star Dragon so that "all possibilities become equal".

    Comic Books 
  • In Jeff Smith's Bone prequel, "Stupid, Stupid Rat Creatures", Big Johnson Bone would regularly incite their ire by asking them to unleash some unseasonal weather (such as a tornado or blizzard) by saying "If any part of my story ain't true, may the powers that be drop a full season's worth a snow on my head right now." And of course, it does.
    Big Johnson: Oh, I hate it when the powers that be listen to me...
  • TOAA (The One Above All), in the Marvel Comics. Even if TOAA is hinted being the biblical God (Marvel being a "mainstream" American editor, and all that).
  • Those Who Sit Above In Shadows, a council of sitting grey peoples who judge the Asgardian gods from time to time, in Marvel Comics. Presumably they were based on/inspired by the Norse Fates.
    • According to the final issue of the third volume of Thor, the Fates were actually their instruments, and their goals were considerably less lofty than their station suggested.
  • The Presence of The DCU. It is the power behind the various angels of the DCU and seems to be a part of everything in existence. It's also the one holding The Spectre's leash. In the "Day of Judgment" lead-in to Infinite Crisis, the Spectre finally went too far and killed the last Lord of Order in his bid to destroy all magic. The Presence put an end to his rampage and sealed him in his next human host; one of the few times a Power was shown to take direct and undeniable action.
    • The Source is this in Jack Kirby's Fourth World comics; it is beyond the comprehension of even those who consider themselves gods. In the wider DC canon, they are two aspects of the same being, who like The One Above All in Marvel is the Abrahamic God.
    • DC's Star Hunters had the Entity, which was shown floating next to the body of a character who had died, and later resurrected him. It looked a bit like the Eye of Providence (that eye-in-a-pyramid thing on the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States, most readily visible on the back of a US one dollar bill). Presumably it would be yet another aspect of The Presence/The Source if anyone at DC still cared about fitting Star Hunters into the greater continuity.
  • The Powers What Is in Nodwick.
  • The government are the Powers That Be that Jim continuously mentions in When the Wind Blows.
  • The seven Endless — Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and Destruction — in The Sandman (1989). They are above and beyond gods, have existed since before humanity dreamed of gods, and will be there after gods, and possibly the universe itself, have died.

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm has the seven Endless, as well as a few mentions of the Abrahmaic God, who mostly keeps to Himself and may or may not be of the same ilk as Odin, Zeus, etc.
  • The plot itself seems to be this in the Contractually Obligated Chaos series. Over the course of the stories, the characters become more or less resigned to the idea that the plot is practically a sentient being and it will put them where it wants them to be regardless of how they might feel about it.
  • The Legend of Link: Lucky Number 13: Fate and Destiny. They hold themselves aloof from the rest of godly society (few have even seen them in person) and are thought to be the foundation of reality itself; without them, everything would collapse. Link disproves this concern.
  • The mysterious Triad that guards the Thread of Destiny in the Tamers Forever Series.
  • The Great Names, Stephos, The Weekee and other such races in Ultraman Moedari.
  • Evilhumour has developed an entire "Powers-That-Be" multiverse of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic stories that use this concept.
    • The basics are that the Powers are a set of entities with a Purpose, Role and Duties in their respective worlds; the eldest were directly made by the Creators, while younger Powers are former mortals who gave over their souls to a Purpose in order to become a Power. Each of the Powers (except for one, the Judge) has a counterpart to keep things balanced (referred to in later stories as Opposites), some working together in harmony while others are more violently opposed to one another.
    • Powers can belong to one of two factions, Order and Chaos, who were the first Creators to exist, but the Rules in place forbid a Power under one faction from acting directly against any Power under the other faction; they can only act through proxies, such as a Power under Chaos targeting the student of a Power under Order. Each can also designate a Power into a Champion for them in a respective world, who is in charge of keeping the other Powers that align with them in line.
    • Powers can be passed on to new bearers, either if the current soul is deemed unsuitable (usually via abusing their abilities) or if they simply wish to pass it on to someone else. Discord notes at one point that the latter case is how a Power is meant to be passed on.
    • Specific Powers are identified in the following stories:
      • The Pieces Lie Where They Fell: The Pieces-verse's eldest are Death, Time, War and Life; they and others were directly made by the creators. Younger Powers include Harmony (and its alter-ego Balance), its Opposite Disharmony (with the two being violently opposed) and the Nightmare, among others. The Lady of Day and her counterpart, the Lady of Night, are noted as working together peacefully. The Judge is also mentioned, serving to determine a soul's fate in the afterlife, though Death is able to bypass them if they choose when a Power is involved.
      • Death is forced to take a vacation: The Harvest-verse's Lady of Death is Helheim, who has several Reapers who serve as adjuncts working for her, each monitoring and collecting the souls of a different species; Fall Harvest is the Reaper of Alicorns.
      • Escape from the Moon: The Equestrian side of the Doa-verse (as depicted in The Mare From the Moon) has Twilight learn about the Powers, and that she and her friends are Powers (their six Powers being sub-Powers of Harmony), while Discord is the Lord of Disharmony (and his sub-Powers are Lies, Oathbreaking, Sorrow, Cruelty, Self-centeredness and Technology), after a visit to the Valley of Alicorns. Other Powers named at this time include Day (Celestia), Night (Luna), Dreams (also Luna) and Nightmares (also Luna, formerly an unidentified stallion - Nightmare Moon was the result of his trying to take over Luna's body). Twilight later meets her Opposite, the Lady of Technology, and finds they can work together rather than being enemies; Gear Shaft also identifies an individual named Bit Collector as a Power, though not which one, and mentions Life as a Power.
      • A Diplomatic Visit: The Diplomacy-verse goes even more in depth. The third story reveals the Creation Myth and origin of the Powers for the entire multiverse, in which the first Creators appeared, followed by others; from them, the first Powers were born and began to shape a world, which became the Prime. Other worlds came from ripples of its movement and the decisions of those who live there, dividing endlessly into other worlds within their own separate universes, claimed by Order and Chaos (the first two Creators) and each has their own set of Powers, which come from a Mantle, a piece of one of the Creators, binding to a mortal soul. In times of severe need, after that Power taps into the full potential of their Mantle, the two are able to speak to one another, and the Mantle is able to help the Lord or Lady gain a better understanding of their abilities. Trying to force a connection to a Mantle, however, is never a good thing. Named Powers include Time and Space (two of the earliest, if not the earliest in each world's birth), followed by Death and Life, and then the Judge (who determines a soul's fate upon its entrance to the afterlife). Others include Harmony and Disharmony (the latter held by Discord in the Diplomacy-verse), with their six sub-Powers each (as in other worlds, Harmony's six are Honesty, Kindness, Laughter, Generosity, Loyalty and Magic; their Opposites are Lies, Cruelty, Sorrow, Self-Centeredness ( which was formerly held by Queen Chrysalis of the changelings until she was stripped of it in story #2, chapter 4), Oathbreaking and Technology), Love (held by Cadance) and Hatred ( formerly held by Aputsiaq, a windigo and Lady of Winter, until Adagio Dazzle of the Sirens tricked her into letting Adagio have the Power, then betrayed her; later, like Chrysalis, Adagio was stripped of it by Discord in story #2, chapter 11, who gave it to Aria Blaze instead), the four Seasons - Winter ( held by the windigo mare Aputsiaq), Spring, Summer ( which belongs to the Alpha of the Packlands) and Fall; the four Forces of Nature - Water ( held by Queen Novo of the western seaponies), Earth, Fire ( held by Dragon Lord Torch) and Air; Day and Night (held by Celestia and Luna, respectively), and Dreams and Nightmares, the former held by Luna. The latter was held by Umbrea, "mother" of King Sombra and leader of the Umbrum, or shadow pony sect, until she took over Luna's body and remade them into Nightmare Moon. When Harmony's power - wielded by Twilight and her friends - removed her from Luna's body, she was caught by Death and taken to the Judge; Luna became the new Lady of Nightmares until she was able to pass it on to Prince Pharynx, now her husband, in the third story. Discord also mentions a group of Powers called the Four Apocalypses (later identified fully as Death, War, Famine and Pestilence), whom even he, as Champion of Chaos, is unable to truly act against outside of alerting Chaos if something's gone wrong with one of them and offering his opinion on the matter; Cadance later names their Opposites, the four Creations (Life, Peace, Prosperity and Health), with the eight ranking above all other Powers. Health later appears in person in chapter 11, watching over the dormant windigos when Aria comes to try and heal them; he approves of her actions, and Twilight's and Cadance's efforts to help the changelings. Another, unidentified Power also makes a brief appearance in story #2, chapter 6, speaking through Pinkie Pie when they have the same message for the girls after the five have spent some time speculating on the nature of their Opposites (with Discord commenting that they're closer than they might realize when it comes to identifying what the Roles and Duties are for some of them).
      • While not necessarily a Power, the first chapter of the fourth story reveals that each set of paired worlds has another Role native to it: The Guardian, who is responsible for protecting the Gateways between worlds. This person is unique in that they have no Other in each paired world. As the Lady of Life reveals, the Role is currently held by Sunset Shimmer.
      • Harmony him/herself (they'd been both in different lifetimes before becoming Harmony, and can take either form as they choose) appears to the group in chapter 9 of the fourth story after Twilight's new castle grows from the Chest of Harmony, congratulating Twilight and telling she and her friends that their ultimate Purpose has always been to be living examples for everyone, and show the world what true friendship and harmony can achieve when people work together.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 

  • In NERO there are the Elemental Lords, each of which except one has an opposite: Light and Dark, Death and Life, Order and Chaos, Reason and Dream, the four traditional elements and Time which is the most powerful.

  • 1Q84: The Little People are a group of otherworldly beings that can only enter this world through specific passageways. Their features are nondescript, they can change their size at will (though they can never be smaller than two inches or taller than four feet), and they possess the ability to make air chrysalises, change the weather, and so on. They're sense of morality- if they even have one- is very different from the average human's and the person they pick as their conduit often suffers slow muscle deterioration.
  • In Cthulhu Mythos, Nyarlathotep is responsible for many horrors lurking on Earth, although this doesn't mean all of them are caused by him.
  • The god(ess)/angel equivalents in the Young Wizards series are actually called "the Powers that Be" (or more often "the Powers") in the series, and the universe's version of Satan is called "The Lone Power". Occasionally there are references to an even greater Power That Is, most certainly the One (God). (If this series wasn't the trope namer, it certainly could've fooled us.)
  • Above Discworld gods there are eight mysterious beings called the Old High Ones. Only one is known: Azrael, the Death of Universes.
  • Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones uses this up to the pommel. The "Magids" (magicians who keep the worlds running) are supervised by the Upper Table (who are rarely seen) who are in turn supervised by Them Up There. There is also known to be more above Them Up There but they are so secretive no one even knows what they're called (or something like that, I'm not entirely certain).
  • The Dresden Files has a fairly complex structure, a lot of which still depends on conjecture and "Word of Jim."
    • It initially looks like an unstructured All Myths Are True setting, but the being that's the oldest and most powerful that sits on top of the pyramid is God, whose first and main function was setting about making and ordering Creation and keeping it separate from Outside (as in Outside of the Universe, or can more poetically be thought of Outside of God's Light) and the residents there.
    • Beneath Him are His angels, including Satan, and though the heavenly civil war did occur, in the more narrow context, Satan was "just" an angel whose big claim is that he won an argument with God, arguing against giving mortals free will. Given that they have the ability to make decisions and autonomous actions far beyond the scope of most other creatures, who are structured more for function, they could conceivably reach into the Outside and let Outsiders in. God, apparently, wanted mortals to be able to do and be good on their own initiative, rather than just being creatures following their nature. Given the state of affairs, God and Satan made a pact that they would just be witnesses to how things play out, though they both still try to thumb the scale to their side, albeit without any direct action (mostly).
    • Underneath them are deities of the old mythos. Their origin isn't exactly clear, but they do depend on offerings and worship for power to an extent. Their function was apparently as a caretaker role to humanity and the Earth. Right around the time of Christ, God told them either to retire, or give up their immortality if they wanted to keep interacting with humanity. Most of them chose the former, but a few more gregarious or heroic deities chose the latter.
    • Finally, there are the supernatural nations, things that act more organizations and associations than they do a nation state, and meaningfully interact with mortal society of modern-day Earth. Many won't like to admit it, but they are peers to the human nations that host them, and their holdings are often medieval in structure, with holdings and assets existing under legally owned properties and companies.
  • The Lord of the Rings (and Tolkien's legendarium in general) has the Valar, who are essentially angels. A variation in that they are bound in the world. However, above and beyond them is Eru Ilúvatar (who is implied to intervene at 'the end of all hope' when Frodo's will fails in The Return of the King, and is described thusly in The Book of Lost Tales:
    Eriol: Who was Ilúvatar? Was he of the Gods?
    Rúmil: Nay, that he was not, for he made them. Ilúvatar is the Lord for Always who dwells beyond the world; who made it and is not of it nor in it, but loves it.
    • All of this, however, hardly gets a mention in the three books of The Lord of the Rings: the Valar are are mentioned only in passing, and there is the vaguest reference to a Greater-Scope Villain above Sauron himself (Melkor/Morgoth), and none to Eru.
  • In S. M. Stirling's Emberverse the Change turns out to have been caused by what's best described as the Universal Mind having an argument with itself and coming up with the least awful option. Mind you this least awful option resulted in the worldwide collapse of civilization and the deaths of billions.
  • In The Acts of Caine, most of Overworld's Devotional Powers such as Khryl are examples of this trope, as well as the Outer Powers like the God of the Black Knives (a.k.a. the Smoke God). On Earth, the Blind God is also one of these.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero's Daughter, the Lady Miranda serves is one of these.
  • The Creator in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. His Evil Counterpart Lord Foul used to be this, until he was imprisoned inside the Arch of Time, rendering him "merely" a Physical God.
  • In Starman Jones, Sam discusses various planets the spacecraft is scheduled to serve, about where to jump ship and escape. One such planet consists of domed cities, where one does as the Powers That Be demand or one doesn't breathe.
  • The Aash Ra serve in this function in the Astral Dawn series.
  • Journey to Chaos: The Three Founding Deities (Chaos, Order, and Noitearc) and the Three Natural Order Gods (Life, Death and Time) live beyond the physical world and exist as abstract beings. Though rarely seen they are responsible for daily life. In particular, they are responsible for the events in Eric's life and in the lives of the foes that he faces.
  • The Azathanai are the oldest authorities the Verse of the Malazan Book of the Fallen knows so far, responsible for the creation of the world and all life on it. In modern day they are also referred to as Elder Gods.
  • The Wheel of Time is directed by the Pattern, the structure of fate woven by the titular Wheel as it works through cyclical sequences of time. Its efforts can be inferred by the strange coincidences and omens that appear to enforce individual destinies, and its ultimate intent, while not exactly beneficent on a personal level, is good, as it ensures that the world's population is properly organized to be able to fend off the Dark One and keep him from destroying all reality. There is a Creator, but he is seen as a distant figure, not interacting directly with worlds after making them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Angel, the Powers That Be, the official name for the higher forces of good within the show, generally act in opposition to the forces of evil. They set Angel on his path as a Champion and assist him by supplying visions through a conduit.
    • For a while Cordelia had become one of the Powers, but that was ended. When Angel was trying to get her back to Earth the demon he had met before and knew what was going on also made a comment that seemed to imply Buffy's heaven might have been the same.
    • Dark Messiah Jasmine was one of the Powers. Unlike the others, she took a proactive role in attempting to better the world, but at great costs. After she is drained of most of her power, she bitterly refers to herself as "this Power That Was."
    • And then on the totally evil side are the Senior Partners, who control Wolfram and Hart (a.k.a. Evil Lawyers Incorporated). Though they are the final boss Big Bad and arguably orchestrate every major event in the entire series that isn't covered by the Powers, we never once see them.
    • Despite the ostensibly good nature of the Powers That Be, several of the main cast have a fairly low opinion of them on account of their unwillingness to actually do anything, calling them things like "The Powers That Sit On Their Be-hinds" and "The Powers That Screw You."
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer occasionally implied the existence of some kind of greater power (which might be the same TPTB as in Angel, given that both shows take place in the same universe). In particular, "Amends", the third-season episode which introduces The First Evil, has Angel's attempted suicide-by-sunlight averted by a sudden snowstorm blotting out the sun, despite an unseasonable heatwave. If The First's claims of being the root of all evil are true, then she likely fits this trope as well.
  • The various cabals in The X-Files.
  • The Elders in Charmed, and the Angel of Destiny.
  • Twin Peaks had the Little Man, the FBI, possible alien abductors, "BOB", and the woods in general. The entire series was one big, creepy Battle of the Network Powers That Be, all-nefarious, all the time. The owls are not what they seem.
  • "Management" in Carnivāle appears at first to be this trope, but during the second season many of his mysteries a revealed and thus becomes more human-like.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Time Lords of Gallifrey (the Doctor's own people), who are introduced in "The War Games" and recur now and then throughout the Third Doctor's era. (In later stories, as entire stories are set on Gallifrey, they become less mysterious and godlike, more human, in terms of their politics and motivations.) They sometimes take the Third Doctor's TARDIS to other planets (with him and his companion in it), so he can carry out a mission (with some reluctance). Also the Fourth Doctor in "Genesis of the Daleks."
    • The White and Black Guardians are the cosmic manifestations of "Order and Chaos"—or, for all intents and purposes, Good and Evil. The Black Guardian was, for a time, the Doctor's most powerful Arch-Enemy, but he hasn't been seen since the Fifth Doctor's era.
  • 24: The true masterminds of the events of Day 5.
    Christopher Henderson: You can't touch them. But they can touch you.
  • In Supernatural, the first three seasons are a case of Devil, but No God. In later seasons, The Powers That Be are revealed to be Corrupt Corporate Executive, with God himself possibly being an obscure writer, attention whore alcoholic with major lack of self confidence, who gets killed in an alternate future where his possible son takes over the world. As above, so is below, indeed.
  • Though they are explicitly stated to not be gods, the ascended Ancients in Stargate SG-1 tend to function this way, having the "watch how messed up the world is but don't do anything about it" mentality.
  • The shadow man in Dead Like Me who leaves Rube the list every week. He is working for even higher powers, known as Upper Management by the reapers, but we never see them and know nothing about them.
  • In the British kids' TV show Knightmare, the players and the Dungeon Master Treguard were representatives of the Powers That Be, facing off against the Opposition. Emphasised more in the later series - in the first series Treguard is more of a True Neutral arbiter.
  • The Fates in The Quest who summoned the players to Everrealm.
  • Had Tru Calling not been cancelled, we would have learned that the universe was run by two abstract forces - a creator deity who assigned fate and is Jack's sponsor, and a rebellious power who believes in free will and change, and is Tru's sponsor.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • For humans, it was the gods. But then for the gods, most of the European mythologies, at least, had some version of Fate/the Fates, whose edicts no god could avoid. The Greeks and Romans mentioned it every once in a while, usually in the form of prophecies, but the Norse gods were already planning for their own deaths at Ragnarok—they knew they couldn't avoid it.
  • In Monotheistic religion, the one supreme god is always this, and always benevolent.
  • The Bible in particular, has both God as the good Powers That Be and Satan as the bad Powers That Be. Unlike most modern portrayals of them though, Satan is not God's equal, and is infinitely weaker than God as much as other creations are below him.
  • The ancient Zoroastrianism has the benevolent Ahura Mazda and the evil Angra Mainyu. They are both omniscient but not omnipotent, and both seem to have many limitations. It could also be interpreted that they both are omnipotent but they keep cancelling each other's powers out. There is a prophecy that Angra Mainyu will ultimately fail but it's not exactly told as a prophecy, rather a prediction based on the chaotic, self-destructive nature of evil.
    • Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu are definetely this to the lesser deities. These characters are either worthy of worship (benevolent guardians of nature and human virtues such as Anahita, Mithras, Srousha, Tyshtra, etc) or Divs who force people into worshipping them through oppression. These figures are much more closer to people than they are to the cosmic twins, and many beasts and even some people can rise to their ranks. All of them are bound by the powers of the side they choose.
  • Inverted by The Church of the Subgenius' (PRABOB!) reference to The Bees That Power.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • In WCW, during 1999 and some of 2000 when Vince Russo became the man in charge, the ruling force was literally named on air as the "Powers That Be". Russo came out on TV finally in April of 2000 during WCW Monday Nitro to put a face to the actual body of power.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dark Powers of the Ravenloft Campaign Setting. They are mysterious and almost never interfere with anyone outside of the Darklords, but within the Demiplane of Dread at least they're powerful enough to completely shut out divine interference (though this might be the result of a deal) and manipulate the entire demiplane to their liking. The 2E version of the Campaign Setting actually had separate arguments printed for them being Good, Evil or Neutral. Their MO is mostly to punish evil... by giving someone exactly what they wish for and precisely what they do not want. Attention-seeking manipulative child? Gets mind control powers that don't work on anyone he loves AND a corresponding curse that makes anyone he loves see him as repulsive. Wizard-King seeking to live forever to master every aspect of magic? Turns into a lich, but as a side-effect cannot learn any new spells. A bloodthirsty warlord has a country to call his own, but will never be able to conquer another, and so on. Their only real interaction with the players is with the 'Powers Check' mechanic, in which an evil deed might catch the Dark Powers' attention, at which they'll give the player a minor gift and corresponding curse. Further evil deeds will get more of the same, until they transform into a monster or a new Darklord.
  • The Messengers from Hunter: The Reckoning. They imbue mortals with superpowers and give them the ability to see the monsters that harrow humanity every day. On the other hand, sometimes the imbuing goes very wrong, and hunters who grow more powerful also start losing their grip until the Messengers take over and use them as puppets.
    • There are a few hints to their nature spread throughout Demon:The Fallen. Namely, that it's angels, or Lucifer, that imbues Hunters.
      • The "Hunter Storyteller's Guide" has the canonical truth: they are actually servants of the Ministers, the Ebon Dragon and the Scarlet Queen, the sentient manifestations of Yin and Yang.
  • The God-Machine from New World Of Darkness (often abbreviated into, fittingly, GM or G-M) is less a being and more a system. The rulebook states that you cannot 'see' the God-Machine, although you can see traces of its works in Infrastructures. The God-Machine never speaks, not even to its Angels, which are created with pre-installed knowledge of their mission. And finally, "The God-Machine is slow to react, but implacable when roused." In summary, the God-Machine is the sum of all the Infrastructures, Occult Matrices and Outputs in the setting. And this means it is in control of everything, even things outside its home setting.
  • In Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, the Dark Gods of Chaos serve as a villainous example. Their influence is felt everywhere, as they are (at least partially) gestalt entities formed from various facets of the human condition. Chaos is insidious, corrupting, and has no shortage of The Legions of Hell, but the Gods themselves never make any direct appearances and are rarely given any personal traits or desires beyond broadly-defined attributes that are shared by all of their servants (Khorne, for example, embodies hate, bloodlust, bravery, martial pride and survival of the fittest). As a result, it's up to various mortal worshippers and daemons to serve as proxy personifications of the Chaos Gods whenever a given plot requires their presence.
  • In the urban horror rpg In Dark Alleys, the "Powers-That-Be" are an ancient conspiracy that controls, or atleast influences, every government and major religion on Earth. But they are just the human agents of the "Powers-From-Beyond". The forces that created reality as a prison to keep humans from remembering their godlike power. (similar to KULT. )

  • In Die Frau ohne Schatten by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the plot is dominated by Keikobad, the King of the Spirits. The character never appears in person but it his Leitmotif with which the opera opens.

  • The Great Beings started to fill this role near the end of BIONICLE's run. Previously, we have had named characters such as Artakha, Tren Krom, and The Order of Mata Nui in similar roles, often manipulating the heroes without really letting them know what's going on. There was also a web serial titled The Powers That Be, which revolved around some of these beings getting violently murdered. After the serial got Left Hanging, the writer mentioned that one of the killers was probably a Great Being in disguise.

    Video Games 
  • God of War takes this trope a step further by having the main protagonist kill the forces that be by essentially becoming one by the time the plot ties up.
  • The "entity", referenced only obliquely in Chrono Trigger, oddly enough plays no role at all in the story. In sequel Chrono Cross, the all-seeing FATE plays a much larger role.
    • While they leave it vague, the "entity" is actually the planet. It's what opened the time gates, leading the heroes to eventually defeat Lavos. The main conflict in the game is essentially "the planet vs Lavos." The "entity" reprises its role in Chrono Cross by summoning Dinopolis to defend itself against FATE, only this time it fails.
  • Nexus Clash does this with the nine Elder Powers, personifications of concepts ranging from Love to Violence to Death. As the series has progressed, it's lifted some of the veil of who they are, where they came from and what they want. How exactly they determine a winner of each Breath is still a mystery, though.
  • The Powers That Be were your bosses in Afterlife (1996), although they were decidedly hands-off. The afterlife itself, and to a lesser extent its associated planet, is run by the Demiurge, i.e. the player, and control is only taken away if they screw up on a massive scale.
  • The Precursors from the Jak and Daxter series were an ancient race that have Physical God status, but they're rarely ever seen in person unless you count Daxter, who's been there since the first game.
  • Half-Life, where the G-Man and his "employers" manipulate minor but crucial things to their own ends. However, as seen in Half-Life 2: Episode 1, these powers are not all-powerful.
  • The Planescape: Torment setting is literally centered around the city of Sigil, located at the very center of The Multiverse - the only place where gods can not go and which has magical portals to every place that exists. While the city is basically pure anarchy and populated by mortals, angels, demons, undead, and even weirder beings, there is also The Lady of Pain, who is customarily considered its supreme ruler. She's unusual in that she's both a definite and well known being and that she's frequently seen physically wandering the streets of the city, but almost everything about her is a complete mystery. She appears as a completely silent figure in long robes and an intricate metal mask that covers all of her features; nobody has any clue what she is, how she came to Sigil, or what she actually does! All she does is silently float through the streets, which causes people to also call her simply "her Serenity". Only when someone actively tries to shift the status quo of Sigil, attempts to take control over its portals, or starts to worship her, does she appear to the offender and cause him to be ripped apart by her shadow, then silently continue floating down the roads. While the Planescape setting is actually highly developed, the writers intentionally left the Lady's identity completely open, stating that there is no truth the players could ever hope to unveil. This doesn't stop characters within the setting to come up with theories that range from an ancient over-deity to three squirrels standing on each other shoulders dressed in a robe and using a simple levitation trinket.
  • The Reapers from Mass Effect. Oh, they're bastards, but their level of technology is beyond even the furthest reaches of the most advanced galactic science, they have almost completely inscrutable motives, they inspire superstitious awe and they've dictated the development of space-sparing civilisation for untold billions of years. And they had a creator, who fulfils this trope to the letter.
  • The Elder Gods in Mortal Kombat.
  • The Patriots from Metal Gear are always in the background and only overshadow the games' conflicts.
  • In spite of trying to come across as this, the Seven Deities from Asura's Wrath are not this trope, though they are practically Physical God's of varying power. The real example is Chakravartin, who's a Big Bad example of this. Asura kills him and destroys Naraka, Chakravartin's home plane, with a massive punch.
  • Igor, proprietor of the Velvet Room in all the Persona games, serves as a sincerely helpful aide to the heroes, among them handling the critical mechanic of Persona fusion. While his advice on any given situation will be obtuse or cryptic more often than not, he always serves to steer the main character in the right way.
    • If we go even further up the cosmic power scale, there's his boss Philemon, the embodiment of mankind's good and constructive side, and Nyarlathotep, the embodiment of mankind's evil and destructive impulses.
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Similarly to Philemon and Nyaralathothep of the spin-off Persona series, Lucifer and YHVH are the Powers That Be of the series proper (and a few others), whose constant schemes for dominance either directly cause or try to exploit each game's central conflict. Although all MegaTen Gods are arguably immortal by default, the size of their human fanbase determines their power; Lucifer and YHVH, on the other hand, each only need one sentient life form who desires their respective thesis to continue existing; hence their neverending battle.
    • And above them is the Great Will, which created the infinitude of universes in the Megaten Multiverse, which recent games have distanced more and more from YHVH towards a more benevolent nature. Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse then introduced the concept of the "Axiom" as the ultimate creator of everything, which might or might not be the same entity as the Great Will.
  • In Dishonored, there's the Outsider, an ancient, possibly omnipotent, possibly omniscient, definitely non-human (though human-looking) entity who manifests every now and then to grant powerful magic abilities to certain pivotal individuals. He states that he gives gifts only to those he deems "interesting" - whether that individual will use them for good or evil explicitly doesn't enter into the matter, and he doesn't influence them either way. Just about everything else about him, his nature, what he represents, and the realm he inhabits is unknown.
  • In The Elder Scrolls, the Aedra and Daedra are highly active divine beings (with the Daedra more so than the Aedra). However, behind them, acting much more subtly, are Anui-El ("the Soul of Everything" and embodiment of order) and Sithis (the "Great Void", embodiment of chaos, and "Is-Not"). They are said to be the remnants or "spirits" of Anu and Padomay, the personifications of the primordial forces of stasis and change whose interplay created "creation" itself, respectively. It is from their spilled and intermingled blood that the et'Ada, or "original spirits", who would go on to become the Aedra and Daedra, emerged.

  • In Demonology 101, those who control Hell are referred to as "The Powers That Be" or as simply "The Powers."
  • Those who approve Loki in Evil Diva.
  • The Witch's Throne: A girl is chosen to awaken as a Witch every 10 years. The one who choses them? An unknown, powerful force.
  • In Vanadys: Tales Of A Fallen Goddess, there is "The Light," who created the gods at the beginning of time and who is literally shown only as a large sphere of glowing light.
  • In Tower of God, each floor of the Tower is passively ruled over by a Guardian/Administrator. They were in the Tower before its God-Emperor explored and conquered it tens of thousands of years ago. Most of them have no names given and they're seldom seen; it seems as though they like to hang out in some parallel dimension next to their floor. They act only to enforce the most serious rules of the Tower, and they're overwhelmingly more powerful than almost anyone in the Tower.note  They're also the ones who have given the more active rulers of the Tower their powers. Additionally, some of them seem to be plotting in the background to change the story.

    Web Original 
  • In the Whateley Universe, there probably are Powers That Be interfering in some of the character's lives, but no-one has definite proof or any idea of who they might be. And neither do the characters. The authors might, though.
  • To Boldly Flee introduced the Plot Hole to the Channel Awesome Universe as a sort of all-powerful entity capable of destroying the universe should it destabilize. The source of it's stability is a single person, who acts as a balancing force and prevents further damage to the Plot by seeking to minimalize the Plot Holes that form due o everyday life in the verse. The current holder of that position is Douchy McNitpick.
  • The trope is discussed in Part 6 of Lovelace ―, where Tatum says that there aren't any secret world-controlling superhuman conspiracies now....

    Western Animation 
  • XANA the AI from Code Lyoko is similar, although having a more direct influence on the real world.

Alternative Title(s): The Powers That Be, Power That Is