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I am making a character who is a conspiracy theorist. If the setting were the modern world he would see the touch of the Illuminati on everything that happens, and talk about the secret cabal that rule the world.

Is there anything in lore (5th edition, Forgotten Realms preferably, but any edition and any setting is acceptable) that has a similar theme?

I know there are secret organisations such as the Harpers, but the lore I am aware of doesn't involve directly trying to control the world through subtle means.

Bonus question if there is no such lore: Is there any lore or organisation that would be directly responsible for ensuring no such organisation could exist?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Does such an organization not existing matter to your character concept? Many supposed conspiracies in the real world (probably?) don't exist, but that doesn't stop conspiracy theorists from believing they do. \$\endgroup\$
    – Blckknght
    Jun 23 '20 at 22:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Blckknght I will make something up if I have to, but it is easier to direct my DM to a wiki rather than give them the work of potentially creating a world spanning secret organisation. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jun 23 '20 at 22:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri so, are you looking for some existing FE organizations your character could shift the blame onto, or do you want a real secret cabal that actually rule the world in Forgotten Realms? That's two very different things. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    Jun 24 '20 at 8:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor doesn't have to be a real organisation, just something that people in lore believe in already. Could be a real organisation that want to rule the world but aren't quite there yet, could also be a group that actually does rule the world secretly, or anything in between. I am aiming for my character to want to seek out this group rather than blame them. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jun 24 '20 at 11:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Blckknght apparently I was tired last night when I replied and possibly misread your comment. The organisation itself doesn't have to actually exist, but that people believe the organisation exists is the crux of the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jun 24 '20 at 14:00
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There is a 2e FR sourcebook dedicated specifically to the underground organizations of Faerûn: Cloak & Dagger. It describes in detail the Harpers, the Zhentarim, the Night Masks, the Knights of the Shield, the Iron Throne, and the Shadow Thieves.

Each of these organizations are interesting as either candidates for ruling their regions or the entire continent if possible, but also as checks against other organizations from achieving such dominance.

Amongst these, the organization that fits your description best seems to be Knights of the Shield. Their logo is a single overseeing eye on a circular shield. Quoting from the Forgotten Realms wiki:

The Knights of the Shield were a group of information dealers and political manipulators that operated within the Sword Coast, Lands of Intrigue and, to a lesser extent the North, for over a thousand years, dating back before Dale Reckoning. While on the surface they appeared to be a secret society of merchants and nobles who were interested in the mercantile and civic matters of their respective lands, their high leadership were in fact guardians of a secret in service to the archdevil-turned-deity, Gargauth. This was a secret to the citizens of Faerûn who knew of their existence, as well as most of their membership.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that the Knights of the Shield do also play a small role in the 5e adventure Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jun 24 '20 at 8:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast: I have just started playing in a DiA campaign, so I do not want to add extra information myself. However, if you like, feel free to add that information with spoilers. :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – ZwiQ
    Jun 24 '20 at 9:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the most of their relevance to the campaign is already "spoiled" in the penultimate sentence of the quoted excerpt from the wiki, so I'm not sure there's much to add :P \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jun 24 '20 at 11:06
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The Harpers don't actually try to rule the world according to canon, but they're a secretive organisation. A conspiracy theorist could see signs of their influence involved in a number of different world-shaking events and come to the conclusion that they were manipulating those events for some nefarious goal of their own - the Harpers are usually trying to prevent that kind of disaster, but they could easily be secretive enough for an outsider not to realise that. This lets your GM use published material to weave your character's interests into the wider plot.

Taking this option does put you in the position of committing ahead of time to your character probably being wrong; that's certainly got the potential to be a lot of fun but it's worth noting explicitly.

The Harpers also fit the latter part of your question - they're a widespread organisation interested in preserving the functioning of the world, so opposing any secret societies that make a play to seize authority in secret is squarely inside their sphere of interest.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Alternatively, the Moonstars might work as an even more secretive and morally ambivalent but essentially good organization. That could work well for a Harper protaganist. \$\endgroup\$
    – richardb
    Jun 24 '20 at 12:31
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The Zhentarim seem to fit well, and they're a Forgotten Realms organization.

they collectively sought to dominate all aspects of the Realms, either by manipulation, outright control or, if they couldn't exert control over something, extinction.

By 5th edition, their goals are described in the wiki (linked above) as

with the final aim of an iron-fisted monopoly on protection services in the Realms, they sought to make the merchants of Faerûn, and thus the continental economy, completely reliant upon them as an organization.

They're not a secret organization as such though, they offer superficially legal services. However, their actual motivation, and some of their methods, are the stuff of the worst conspiracy theories.

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The following examples are taken from non-Forgotten Realms settings.

In the Ravnica setting: House Dimir

House Dimir is described in Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica (p. 45) as follows:

House Dimir is Ravnica’s dark secret: behind a facade of respectable messengers and reporters lurks an association of spies and assassins whose existence is barely suspected by the populace at large. Secrecy is both House Dimir’s best weapon and its best defense, and much of the guild’s work is hidden even from other members. Dimir agents leave no trace of their covert activities, warping the memories of witnesses to their crimes and even wiping their own minds to remove any evidence of their completed assignments.

The first guildmaster of House Dimir was a vampire named Szadek, whose organization agreed to serve as Ravnica’s couriers, information brokers, and librarians. But Szadek also used his guild’s expertise at gathering information to build a vast spy network, and before long, the secret operations of the guild vastly outweighed its overt ones. Eventually the guild disappeared into the shadows, and most Ravnicans came to doubt its existence.

Their goals are described thus:

To House Dimir, knowledge is power. The guild hungers to learn everything it doesn’t already know, especially the weaknesses of its adversaries, and to exploit those weaknesses for its own gain. Conversely, the house holds its own secrets tightly, because it doesn’t want its enemies to turn the tables. The Dimir lurk in the shadows, methodically gathering the knowledge they need to remake Ravnica to their advantage.

This one seems to be spot on thematically with modern conspiracies about the Illuminati.

In the Exandria setting: the Cerberus Assembly

Possible Critical Role Campaign 2 spoilers below.

In Explorer's Guide to Wildemount (p. 41), we have the Cerberus Assembly. They are not exactly a secret society, their existence is well known (and feared), but they are described as being incredibly powerful with near universal influence:

In the centuries since, the Cerberus Assembly has subtly ingrained itself within most facets of the empire’s government, becoming a force of political and military power that many say could rival the king himself. This reality is not lost on the royal council, and tensions often simmer between the assembly and the Crown. The mages of the assembly are known for their extravagant lifestyles and intimidating history of political and economic control, and much of the populace mistrusts them, though no one dares to cross them or the king.

Further, their goals seem aligned with the modern lore of the Illuminati:

The assembly plays the long game, working to subtly increase its power across the empire and beyond. Popular decisions are often publicly presented as the will of the assembly, while conflicted issues are tailored to seem purely the “will of the Crown,” driving a wedge between the two bodies. The assembly seeks to write history to favor its members as the architects of modern law and culture, with the eventual goal of subverting the power of the king, turning him into yet another puppet of the assembly’s goals. (EGtW, pg. 41)

But it gets better! While the Cerberus Assembly may not themselves be a secret society, they do have their own secret operations task force, the Volstrucker (EGtW, p. 202):

The Volstrucker are a clandestine organization of arcane assassins and enforcers in the service of the Cerberus Assembly. Their operatives bear no official title, but are referred to in hushed tones as “scourgers” by residents of large Dwendalian cities such as Zadash and Rexxentrum. You are a Volstrucker agent. Your duty is to silence dissidents who would undermine the will of King Dwendal—and more importantly, the will of the Assembly.

Their commander's recruiting process is described (EGtW, p. 42):

Trent [Ikithon] only returns every few years to collect young students for his experiments in the mental conditioning that he calls “awakening.” Many of these students go mad and are locked away, but those who endure become zealots for the assembly and join the Volstrucker, an elite group of arcane thugs commonly known as Scourgers, who perform the assembly’s dirtiest work under Trent’s direction.

The Cerberus Assembly bear strong thematic similarity to the Illuminati in terms of their goals and influence, and their Volstrucker or Scourgers get us to conspiracy theory territory.

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If you wanted a slightly Lovecraftian feel, then aboleths are master manipulators, plotting to open a gate to the Far Realms and unleashing madness upon the world. They count mind flayers and krakens amongst their followers; maybe the Kraken society is a front for the aboleths.

Of course, there are a lot of conspiracies going on that have nothing to do with the aboleths. However your character doesn't have to believe that.

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