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.
Supergirl: Hollywood Global Warming? Military upheavals in the third world? Actors elected to public office?
Green Arrow: The spread of coffee bars? Germs outpacing antibiotics? And boy bands? Come on! Who would gain from all this?!
The Question: Who indeed?
An almost 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. Likely to use a Multilayer Facade.
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 actually a force for good, but more often than not it is evil (when it is a force for good, it often still does extremely evil things, but because its members believe they serve the greater good). Occasionally (primarily in series by writers who actually 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.
This trope often has an interesting combination of Did Not Do the Research 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. But these same authors often display a horribly deficient understanding of how the social sciences actually work. This can make for very frustrating instances where a writer's knowledgeability in one area is completely 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 quite popular, as are The Hashshashin. In older works, Jewish secret domination of the world through the banks is practically 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, however, are The Illuminati, who have been used as an Ancient Conspiracy so many times that the term has practically 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 almost 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 the Xanatos Gambit 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 NGO Superpower. Not to be confused with the Adult Conspiracy.
Anime and Manga
- 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 powerful shadowy cabals like that don't just appear overnight either.
- Then again, maybe they discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls ages ago, and only informed the rest of the world in the 1950s...
- SEARRS in My-HiME, and there is at least one more, unrelated.
- Both the "Symbol" organization and the Gowa clan in Gasaraki.
- Les Soldats in Noir.
- 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 R.O.D 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.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! takes the uncommon (but not unheard of) approach in Season 4 that everything that's ever gone wrong in history was the doing of one conspiracy, namely, the Cult, Doma.
- The Shuffle Alliance of G Gundam, which secretly arbitrated nearly every world war in history and perfected the art of talking in perfect unison.
- Esset in Weiss Kreuz.
- The Bahbem Foundation in RahXephon
- The true nature of the Heaven's Feel in Fate Stay Night and Fate/Zero. Specifically, the goals of the three families Einsbern, Makiri, and Tohsaka.
- The Mage's Association itself qualifies. As does the Assembly of the Eighth Sacrament.
- The homunculi in Fullmetal Alchemist.
- In the Manga Father/the First homunculi is both the founder and leader of said Ancient Conspiracy which has some Government Conspiracy-ish traits.
- In the Anime it's slightly less conspiracy-centric but Dante acts as the founder and leader of a conspiracy dating back to a quasi-dark age. Her plan is simply to use the philosopher stone and transfer herself to a new body.
- The Book Men in Princess Tutu.
- The Lost One Hundred Years 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 Ponyglyths, as well as the location of various Lost Technology, 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.
- Scrapped Princess has Lord Browning's plan, a five-thousand-year long Batman Gambit to bring down Providence. Zefiris and Natalie keep the scheme on track whatever it takes. Notable for planning The End of the World as We Know It and manipulating the entire cast into doing their bidding without being evil.
- Yliaster in Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's.
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann has the heroes eventually discovering that humanity was relocated underground against their will by Lordgenome who himself created the Beastmen for this very purpose. Few years after killing him, it turns out that Lordgenome was only doing this for the greater good: with the population growing uncontrollably, the Anti-Spirals are now targeting Earth for extermination. During the quest to off the Anti-Spirals as well, they reveal that they are also working for the greater good by suppressing all Spiral races in an effort to protect the universe from total existence failure via Spiral Nemesis.
- The Vist Foundation from Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn.
- The Castleof Cagliostro has the Cagliostro family's secret counterfeiting ring through which they've secretly controlled global economics for centuries.
- The Daath Organization in Guilty Crown.
- The Conspiracy from the Batman Legends of the Dark Knight three-issue Arc of the same name.
- The Minutemen and The Trust from One Hundred Bullets.
- The Grail in Preacher (Comic Book).
- The Catholic Church in numerous Chick Tracts.
- The Clan Akkaba of the X-Men made up of the descendants of Apocalypse.
- The Nine Families in Le Scorpion who ruled ancient Rome and seek to control the world by controlling the catholic Church in the 18th century.
- The Secret Monarchy of the World in Ed Brubaker's Sleeper.
- The Five Archons in The Secret History. They control world events from behind the scenes, and many real-world or suspected real conspiracies are revealed to be run by the Archons.
- The villains of The Unwritten.
- The Illuminati in the Lara Croft Tomb Raider movies.
- The Masonic group protecting the National Treasure.
- The League of Shadows in Batman Begins is an example of an Ancient Conspiracy that does evil in service of a "good" goal.
- 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.
- The ninjas of Ninja Assassin.
- The Machines in The Matrix.
- The fashion industry in Zoolander.
- Subverted in Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus!, in which it is ultimately revealed that 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 (Note: the meaning of the previous statement will be published in heaven).
- The Illuminatus trilogy is filled with these; they 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 for 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 Da Vinci Code portrays the Catholic Church as an Evil Ancient Conspiracy.
- 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 literally learn a little bit about everything, in order to be better adviser-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 Foucault's 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!
- The Consult in Second Apocalypse.
- In Orson Scott Card's Homecoming series, the true nature and purpose of The Oversoul could be considered an ancient conspiracy.
- The Trystero, a mail-based (and possibly imaginary) conspiracy in Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49.
- 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's Foundation 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.
- Humorously subverted in The Areas of My Expertise:
"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 Jorge Luis Borges short story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" the protagonist reasons that the only explanation for the creation of the incredibly intricate encyclopedia for the fictional country known as Tlön.
- The Evil Librarians, in Brandon Sanderson's Alcatraz Series.
- In Angels & 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.
- Spoofed in the Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Trading Futures:
"The conspiracy theorists had been saying it for decades - there was a group of people, small enough to fit round a table, who were the secret masters of the world.
"Cosgrove knew of at least nine organizations, of which six were still active, who thought it was them."
- The Cahill Family from The 39 Clues.
- 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.
- The Bane Sidhe are a "good guys" variant on this, from John Ringo's Posleen War Series. Also mentioned is the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), who are working with the Bane Sidhe against the Darhel (who are an Ancient Conspiracy of their own) and human collaborators.
- 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 immortal Corrupt 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.
- David Weber is quite fond of these:
- 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 literally 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 Jacks of All Trades from The Graveyard Book.
- The Society of the Evening Star from the Fablehaven series.
- The eponymous 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 Two Crowns for America by Katherine Kurtz, the Masons are an ancient brotherhood of mysterious power who, under the shadowy leadership of the Comte de Saint-Germain, engineer the entire American Revolution and its related symbolism. Partly a case of Real Life Writes the Plot since many Revolutionary leaders were Masons (and the rituals are accurately depicted), but the magic, prophetic visions, grand schemes and subplot of hunting for lost Stuart gold take this into Reality Retcon territory.
- The Grim Reapers from the Series Grimm
- The Senior Partners and the Circle of the Black Thorn in Angel.
- The "Syndicate" group from The X-Files.
- To some extent the Watcher's Council from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, although they hover between this trope and Ancient Tradition.
- The Millennium Group in Millennium, at least as depicted in the show's second season.
- The Torchwood Institute from Doctor Who (its sinister facade of mystery fades prior to the debut of the Torchwood Spin-Off).
- Also the Cult of Skaro.
- 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.
- The Familiar cult from Dark Angel.
- The Big Bad from Season 3 of Bones, the Gormogon, attacks people he believes to be part of the Ancient Conspiracy. He somehow convinces Zach to join him in this quest, much to the dismay of most fans.
- The Cabal from Sanctuary.
- And now 'Hollow Earth'
- The Company from Heroes.
- 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.
- Illuminati, a card game by Steve Jackson Games, is made of this. Each player takes on the role of one of eight ancient conspiracies: either the titular Bavarian Illuminati, the Gnomes of Zurich, the Servants of Cthulhu, the Discordian Society, the Society of Assassins, the Network, the Bermuda Triangle conspiracy, or the UFOs (with a particular society, they can even be the cow-stealing variety!). Expansion packs introduce the Church of the SubGenius and a Shangri La conspiracy. They then have to take over various interest groups (ranging from political parties to industries to fandoms to aliens). These generate money and can take over other groups, until your cards are arranged in a web. Each conspiracy has a specific goal, although all conspiracies can win by eliminating the competition.
- 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 noteworthy 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.
- The Technocracy in the Mage: The Ascension RPG is a group of super-scientists who work to change the very nature of reality by making humanity believe in science and disbelieve in magic. Sadly, they have been more successful in eroding people's faith in magic than in making them enthusiastic about science, meaning that people now don't really believe in anything, with general apathy and despair as a result.
- 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. It's noted that 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 mankindincrease 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 pretty much 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.
- The fan-made expansion Genius: The Transgression has, among others, Lemuria—an ancient conspiracy that ain't quite what it used to be.
- 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 totally opposed goals. Well, as much sense as Chaos ever has...
- Isn't the Emperor something like this as well? He's basically as old as humanity itself, minus the lives of those first shamans.
- Hell, 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, of course, lest they be mistaken for having purely noble intentions. Of course, within the setting, doing away with the influence of the Kami would likely lead to an apocalyptic breakdown of the entire 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.
- 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 the living hell out of 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.
- Human Revolution examines 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.
- The Patriots from Metal Gear Solid. 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 did not appear in any other Star Wars works, not even in the comic series of the same name.
- Granted, although they were meant to be highly secretive assassins...
- And the option is open to have Revan kill the entire Genoharadan leadership. This was 4,000 years before the first film.
- Granted, although they were meant to be highly secretive assassins...
- The Orange and Purple clans in Fahrenheit (2005 video game).
- 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.
- 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.
- Pretty much 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.
- Of course 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.
- Assassin's Creed Origins suggests that the Templars go back even further than previously believed, having evolved out of an older group called The Order of the Ancients from the Ptolemaic period.
- Pretty much 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.
- The upcoming MMORPG from Funcom, The Secret World, will see the players all over the world trying to unveil an Ancient Conspiracy or two as their primary reason to play the game.
- The Inner Circle from Max Payne. Lampshaded by Max himself; a member of the circle, Alfred Woden, provides an in-depth description of the organization and its activities, following which Max snarks: "You've been watching too much X-Files."
- The Cabal from Blood. They become more publicly known in the sequel, reforming after their god's death as CabalCo.
- Puritas Cordis from Secret Files 2: Puritas Cordis. It's unclear whether it was continued from the original, or collapsed and restructured, though.
- Final Fantasy XII has a conspiracy of the gods to "straighten history's weave".
- 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 rural New England town of Anchorhead is home to a town-wide, nearly four-century-old Cult of Corrupt Hicks that worships and aims to summon an Eldritch Abomination.
- MAG-ISA -- We have a group of baddies whose faces aren't even known... plotting with demons and /or extra terrestrials.
- Kevin and 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.
- Narbonic has "the Dave Conspiracy."
- 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.
- The plot of Dark Souls has the player falling into one for the fate of the world and the First Fire.
- Various YouTube conspiracy videos are full of information about various ancient conspiracies, from the Illuminati to the Freemasons to the Bilderberg Group and the New World Order, for anyone who is interested in listening to that sort of thing, and all of various questionable degrees of believability, and usually overlapping with subjects like chemtrails, 2012, and shapeshifting aliens for bonus fun. And if you believe these things (some of the evidence isn't... toootally unconvincing) you can file them under Real Life too.
- 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.
- Mercilessly mocked in the College Humor video 'Deceptive Deceptions'. Truly something to behold: among the things "uncovered" as part of a massive conspiracy embracing all of humanity in this "truthumentary", they include the shooting of Tupac Shakur, Dan Akroyd's role in Caddyshack 2 and Nothing but Trouble, Paul McCartney's replacement by a doppelgänger, Helter Skelter possessing Charles Manson with the spirit of the Anti-Christ, Adolf Hitler actually being "a cyberganic demon" created by Nazi scientists, NASA faking the space landings, the John F. Kennedy assassination, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dick Cheney, Nabisco, AOL, CITGO, Atkins, Adidas, the New York Knicks, Hooters, and Google. And the identity of the secret cabal that is more powerful than the American government, the Freemasons, and The Illuminati? The College Humor staff.
- The Illuminati, in Gargoyles.
- Cobra-La, the secret ancient civilization of snake people in the G.I. Joe movie.
- Parodied with the Stonecutters in The Simpsons.
- Also 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.
- As the page quote shows, The Question in Justice League Unlimited believes that a vast conspiracy has ruled the world for thousands of years, and are secretly responsible for virtually everything in human history. Given that many of the Question's wild theories are proved correct and that there are several characters in the DCAU that have lived for thousands of years, he might well be right.
- 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.
- As our Risen Savior J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, founder of the Church of the SubGenius, has revealed, in real life the Conspiracy's greatest strength is that it is not even aware it is a Conspiracy.
- Project Camelot, a defense initiative conducted by the US Army between 1964 and 1965, comes very close to "international conspiracy" status. The project was designed to study the sociological currents that caused revolutionary movements in Latin American countries (mostly Chile) and devise ways of anticipating and counteracting them. The military origins of the project were kept a secret from the US public and the Chilean government. Project Camelot quickly fell apart when the Chilean media and US public were alerted to Project Camelot's true intentions. As a result the academic community refused to participate out of fear that their work would be used towards cynical ends and the Chilean government lodged a diplomatic protest.
- A few decades after Project Camelot, social engineering seems to be coming back in style, at least if Project Minerva is any indication.
- There is no cabal.
- The Catholic Church.
- Discordianists rule the world.
Oh, and TV Tropes, whose real purpose is...well, that would be telling.