The short answer is that Pathfinder Society lodges vary wildly due to autonomous leadership, loose requirements, and difference of political and physical environments. Those differences lead to some lodges necessitating secrecy due to the venture-captain's agenda, the way the lodge was formed, and/or the lodge's location.
The long answer requires looking into why lodges vary and what examples Pathfinder Society scenarios provide.
Secrecy is often needed in the Pathfinder Society
Pathfinder Society modules provide many examples of when secrecy is desired or necessary in a lodge.
- Reputation: The Society has a bad reputation in certain parts of the world due to unethical agents or rumors created by the Society's enemies. Because uncooperative locals can hinder an agent from completing their mission, it's often best practice for Pathfinder agents to not reveal their affiliation until they are certain of the Society's reputation in a location.
- Political Reasons: The Pathfinder Society's goals conflict with that of certain governments. It especially has a strained relationship with Old Cheliax in which one of its lodges were destroyed and robbed under suspicious circumstances. Thus, it's necessary for some lodges to form in secret in order to avoid political issues.
- Distrust of the Decemvirate: The Decemvirate is mysterious, powerful, and the only oversight a venture-captain has in the organization. The scenario What the Helms Hide also reveals the evil and unethical acts of past Decemvirate members. A lodge has a reason to keep its operations not entirely transparent to the Decemvirate.
- Sensitive Intelligence: The Pathfinder Society frequently deals with sensitive information, dangerous artifacts, and enemies capable of causing serious harm to the world at large. A lodge needs to keep such operations a secret. The Dark Archive, Vigilant Seal, and Grand Archive factions all deal with keeping artifacts and information hidden and secure.
- Corruption or Secret Agendas: Corruption exists in Pathfinder Society, which has had its own share of traitors and leaders with secret agendas.
Why do Pathfinder Society lodges vary in size and operation?
Lodges vary because of the power of venture-captains and the ease of setting up a lodge. As a result, a lodge can become secretive because of the venture-captain's whims or due to the nature of the lodge's formation.
Venture-captains have great power with little oversight
Venture-captains form the backbone of the Pathfinder Society. Each venture-captain runs their lodge autonomously and has full control of the facility. A venture-captain answers only to the Decemvirate, the council of the organization's ten leaders. The Decemvirate rarely interferes with the operations of a lodge. Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Inner Sea World Guide explains this fairly well.
Operatives known as venture-captains coordinate
teams of Pathfinder agents in their assigned regions ..
Venture-captains are fairly autonomous but still answer to
the Decemvirate. The ultimate goals of the Decemvirate are
inscrutable, and not even the venture-captains understand
the full picture of what the Pathfinder Society does with
the information it collects.
Venture-captains in cities or especially
remote locations usually run lodges where they conduct
Pathfinder business. Typically a house or building owned
by the Society, a Pathfinder lodge is completely under the
administration of the local venture-captain.
As a result, venture-captains can run their lodges as they see fit with little oversight.
Lodges have few requirements
As Seekers of Secrets: A Guide to the Pathfinder Society explains, almost any dwelling or community can serve as a Pathfinder lodge. The only five requirements for a lodge are:
- It can only be founded by a member of the Pathfinder Society.
- The lodge founder must own a minimum of one volume of the Pathfinder Chronicles, to be kept in the lodge.
- The lodge must provide access to texts that specialize in the region in which the lodge resides: geography, flora/fauna, demographics, etc.
- The lodge must honor the requests of any Pathfinders seeking aid.
- The lodge must uphold the policy of tolerance and respect to all Pathfinders. The lodge is a safe-house for all Society members, regardless of religious beliefs, political persuasion, gender, or race.
Lodges tend to form from clubs or cliques
The Pathfinder Society was founded by a small group of adventurers who regularly met up in the Wounded Wisp bar in Absalom. Many lodges tend to form in similar ways and rely on informal facilities until enough resources are pooled by the venture-captain to have a proper building. As a result, many lodges have that "club-like" or "secret society" feel to their operations and structure.