Secret societies make for fantastic long term enemies. The party keeps doing missions, each time peeling back a layer of the onion, until they find the Illuminati at the core. But how do you run those secret societies as a GM? You could do some research and try to run them the way that conspiracy theorists (and I do not see that as a derogatory term) believe they run, or you can take a look at those groups of people in our modern day world that are quite public about their desire to control the world, or at least some portion of the globe.
Before I get going - for those of you who think I get too political, click out. While I am going to describe factual situations, I cannot keep my opinions completely out of it, so there will be some “spin” here. I don’t think it’s too much, but you’re warned.
OK, now that we got rid of all the thin skinned guys ...
Let’s start smaller: De Beers. For at least decades, the De Beers Company controlled the world’s diamond supply, by some estimates peaking around 90%. They used aggressive, but typically legal means to hold and enforce their monopoly. Things change and by most accounts, they no longer have an iron fist on the diamond supply, though they are still a major player. I don’t want to get too deep into the economics of what they did, but in a nut shell, they controlled the best distribution and forced manufacturers/miners to use their distribution channels or be shut out of them. They also flooded the market when they needed to to reduce the price of other guys’ diamonds in order to drive their revenues down so low they couldn’t say in business. Plain and simple economic power.
La Raza - In case you don’t know these guys, La Raza means “the race”. Basically it would be like the KKK rebranding themselves as “The White Supremacists”. You really don’t get more blatant than this. Many (I’m sure there are some groups that describe themselves as La Raza and swear they have none of these intents, but they are probably lying) of La Raza groups are looking for the “liberation” of the assumed Mexican territories that are currently within the USA, mainly Oregon to Texas. So they are an admitted racist group seeking to take land away from the USA. OK, maybe not world domination, but definitely ambitious. I’m still waiting for the French version to demand we give them the Great Plains since we “stole” them from Napoleon. So how do these guys operate? Typically through propaganda, but there are elements willing to use terrorism. They accuse others of being racist and of discriminating against Latinos, while trying to convince others of their ethnicity to join them. The power of words can be forceful.
OPEC - The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has a lock on oil prices around the world. Before OPEC it was the Seven Sisters, oil companies that controlled the world market in oil. What happens when you attempt to work against the OPEC nations, like when the USA started fraking? OPEC turned the oil wells in the Middle East on “11”. They flooded the markets with cheap oil, and drove the price down so low that the frakers couldn’t compete (because fraking is more expensive to do than pumping oil in Arabia). Now that they’ve shut down many of the frakers, the wells slow down, supply is reduced, and the price of oil is going back up. Let’s be clear. This is not a secret society pulling strings behind the scenes. This is a global cartel with a global monopoly using thuggish economic practices to maintain that monopoly.
My last example of a group bent on world domination is the World Bank (throw the IMF and the World Trade Organization). Folks - This really is the Illuminati. These guys really do control the world. New World Order? Yep - it’s these guys. The World Bank, WTO and IMF decide “cases”, better to say arbitrations, in secret and oddly enough the richer “person” (could be a country, could be a corporation) nearly always wins. Now I’m a citizen of the USA, so my countrymen typically win, but I recognize tyranny when it’s shoved down my throat. No matter what country you live in, the WTO gets to make decisions that are binding on your government and trade within your country, and your government is basically unable to exert its own sovereignty. The problem here is that these three organizations have such a wide reach and have decided so many “cases”, that no one has the time to show the ramifications of them all. So let me hit just one of the more famous ones. Europe wanted to oppose the importation of USA beef grown using certain hormones or non-organic stuff. I’m actually in favor of huge steers, but I do think that the European countries should have the ability to govern their people. Nope! WTO said Europe has to take any beef the USA wants to export. Think about what else they can do, and have done.
Look - The point of this is not to complain about fair or unfair trade in our world. The point is that if you want to create a secret world controlling society for your game world, you have ample real life organizations to model. You may disagree with my categorization of some of these, but they are all seeking to dominate their part of the world or their part of world trade. I would think that most of them, especially La Raza, would need to operate in some manner of secrecy in a fantasy/feudal area, but how much secrecy? These organizations hold power - real, raw power. This isn’t some secret group of stock holders who are trying to buy an election. When you create your secret society - Think bigger! Then think bigger again!