Funding for Secret Leagues/Conspiracies?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by MDragonRider, May 12, 2018.

  1. MDragonRider

    MDragonRider Apprentice

    While secret leagues/organisations and age-old conspiracies are a tired trope, I'm trying to create a more realistic portrayal in a story I'm writing. However, I've stumbled upon a problem - funding. Where does all that money come from?

    For instance, in a high fantasy story... Let's say there's a conspiracy or rebellion building to overthrow the Dark Lord, as there always seems to be. How could they afford any of the materials they need? If they want a reasonably sized rebellion, especially against the forces of evil which wield cryptic black magic, they'd need a lot of warriors, magicians, strategists, etc. For this, they'd need a barracks with plenty of space. Then, they'd need to feed everyone, and they'd also need weapons, horses, funding for any magical research, said magical researchers, etc. How would they pay for all this without the Dark Lord noticing? Assuming they aren't part of or allied to any existing nation.

    Another concern I have is more modern settings, which the secret organisation trope seems to thrive. In urban fantasy, questions of technology, privacy, advanced weaponry and machinery, facilities, training, and so forth, all become very prominent. If the organisation doesn't want any nations knowing about its existence (or at least its true purpose), what method would it be able to use? Would it masquerade as a business? If so, what good/service would be most efficient for gaining money while staying mostly unknown?

    For both settings, I've been trying to wrap my head around the problem, but all the resources they need seem like they'd need a ridiculous amount of money.
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

    Pre-modern, the answer is easy: the nobility. They not only have the money, they've got the guns. Er, swords. They won't necessarily need lots for the conspiracy. In fact, the fewer the better. What you want is enough people to strike a high-profile blow at a critical moment, then trust to the common folk to rise up in support. That's what the Pazzi were expecting when they tried to kill Lorenzo de' Medici and his brother. It's what the Guy Fawkes gang were counting on. It's what was behind the conspiracy that led to the St Bart's Massacre. And so on.

    There are plenty of examples of more or less spontaneous combustion. You see it in peasant revolts, for example. There's Oldcastle's revolt, or the Pilgrimage of Grace. There's Cola di Rienzi. Or the Ciompi Revolt. In more modern times, look to the revolutions of 1848, or the Paris revolt of 1870. Or even 1905 Russia. And I love Lenin being secretly shipped to the Finland Station in Russia from Switzerland via rail car in 1917.

    IOW, it can be done. Imagination and opportunity weigh more heavily than money, which is meat and potatoes for the writer.
    CupofJoe likes this.
  3. Corwynn

    Corwynn Lore Master

    Spontaneous rebellions certainly can happen, but historically, most of them failed. From the examples I've seen across history, about 9 out of 10 revolutions that succeeded had the support of one or more foreign governments. Lenin was smuggled into Russia with the help of the Germans. The American Revolution likely would have failed if the French hadn't intervened, and so on. The French Revolution is the one major exception I can think of.

    If your rebellion must have secrecy in order to survive, and cannot rely on any outside support, you are already off to a bad start. As skip.knox mentions, if no outside faction is able or willing to give support, and you cannot get away with open rebellion (yet), then your best bet is help from the nobility or some other faction within the existing power structure. Perhaps one or more of the Dark Lord's underlings wants to overthrow the Dark Lord. Maybe they agree with the rebels. Or perhaps they merely want to use them as a distraction and then dispose of them once they seize power for themselves. In addition to material support, their friends on the inside can feed them information and help cover their tracks.

    A third possibility is if the regime has become so weak or overstretched that they cannot effectively respond to a challenge to their authority. A spontaneous revolt, that could have easily been crushed in better times, could end up being the straw that breaks the camel's back. Although, it takes away some of the drama if the Empire was going to collapse in a few years anyway.

    As for modern technology making it harder to keep secrets, this is indeed a problem. The good news is that it seems to be working both ways. It is harder nowadays to keep secrets from the government, but the reverse is also true. Even so, due to the increasing technological imbalance between those with power and those without, revolution is increasingly off the table, at least in the developed world. If the regime is so corrupt and/or authoritarian that peaceful reform isn't possible either, then one is really in a bind. Personally, I think the best option in such situations would be to create an alternative society within and parallel to the existing one, that provides means of support and survival that are not controlled by the regime. Robbed of the power of life and death over their subjects, the regime would crumble away as people abandon and ignore it. Unfortunately, the authorities could stamp these out before they gain critical mass, but it's the best solution I can think of.

    Of course, since this is fiction, you are perfectly free to create a story where the oppressed underdogs defeat their overlords all on their own through sheer determination. These kinds of rebellions have occasionally succeeded in real life, and they're the most fun to read about.
  4. Corwynn

    Corwynn Lore Master

    Actually, now that I think about it, I can think of a few more revolutions that succeeded without (or even in spite of) foreign intervention, such as Mexico or China. I guess that's my cynicism showing. Although I will note that foreign interference was usually instrumental in enabling the revolution to occur, even if they didn't intend to cause one.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

    Also, I'm not sure of the time period involved here, but "revolution" is rather a modern notion. Yes, there's a thing called the Roman Revolution (and a grand tale it is), but for most pre-modern centuries it wasn't about replacing an existing political system with another. It was about removing the guy at the top. Which a Dark Lord indisputably is.

    For that, you don't need anything more than a stray arrow. Say, King Billy, want to go hunting?

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that there is a whole panoply of models and precedents from which to choose, so as an author you have a more or less free hand.

    But for fun, how about having all the characters in the story rebel and overthrow the author?
  6. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Mystagogue

    Um.... hate to state the obvious but... Drug Money?

    If you're working outside the established power structure and trying to overthrow said power structure, look at how modern drug cartels are operated. If you remove some of the violence from competing cartels from the equation, and their operations genuinely improved people's lives, they would probably get support by the general population that didn't like the status quo.
    Like the legendary Robin Hood mash-up with Pablo Escobar. Only Robin Hood is funding an army to take over the throne, instead of trolling the Sheriff of Nottingham by defunding his tax coffers through brazen petty theft.

    Go further back in time and study how European Resistance Fighters organized and stayed hidden in plain sight under the noses of their Nazi occupiers. Go even further, and study the spy tactics of the American Revolution.

    Find a food staple or other product (mineral ore, opium, clean water, medicinal herbs, etc.) that A LOT of people want and need across socioeconomic stations, and have your rebels control the production and distribution of said product. Funding solved.

    Rebellion is already 'treason', might as well utilize other law breaking modus operandi as a means to an end.
  7. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Lore Master

    Set up a cleaning business.

    The cleaning business would not only give your conspirators access to businesses and private homes that few other businesses would enjoy (great for gaining access to rich or powerful folks) but it provides you with a legitimate source of funding for the secret society. It would also allow you to have large amounts of chemicals coming and going without arousing suspicion.

    Even better is that the chemicals can be used for both legitimate purposes and for making drugs like crystal meth.

    Vehicles would arrive with the chemicals then leave with the drugs and no one would be any the wiser.

    Having a legitimate business makes money laundering for the drug money much easier.
    Night Gardener likes this.
  8. Simulacrum

    Simulacrum Apprentice

    Regarding outside interference from nations with an interest in sparking a war, that was exactly what the Persians did to the Spartans during the age of Spartan hegemony following the Peloponnesian War.

    Sparta had defeated Athens and became the de facto leader of the Greek world. Then the Spartans had ambitions of freeing the Hellenic states in what is now modern-day Turkey, and what was then part of the Persian empire. The Persians couldn’t fight the Spartans effectively. They learned that lesson the hard way over two invasions and several battles where they were soundly defeated.

    So what they did instead was send massive amounts of coin to Athens. A resurgent Athens was a major problem for Sparta, so the Spartan King Agesilaus was forced to turn his army around and abandon his campaign to deal with the Athenians. That was a very successful strategy.

    Regarding how people raise, hide and funnel money and resources, there are no easy answers. You are going to have to do your own research and apply it to your world. This should be something you’re excited to do if it’s an essential part of your story.

    In the real world people hide funds in offshore accounts. You can read about the Panama Papers and the revelation that many leaders and prominent people around the world were stashing their money in tax-free havens. If a rogue state or organization wants to pour money into R&D they would build labs in some out-of-the-way country that isn’t a signatory to agreements banning certain weapons research, for example, and either lacks the resources to investigate or is run by people who can be bought off. So for example, former Eastern Bloc countries are good incubators for that sort of thing — Estonia, Moldova, Georgia and so on.

    In a fantasy world you’d have to look at forces aside from the crown that have resources and certain autonomy. A powerful noble family, for example, with ambitions of obtaining the crown. In that setting you don’t have to worry much about how they hide that activity because no one will have the resources for surveillance.
  9. SithLord

    SithLord Apprentice

    You could always play on the trope that the Dark Lord is running both sides, your characters don't know, your audience doesn't know but you as the author in the head of your Dark Lord, knows. Therefore funding and hiding under the eye of your antagonist is covered, but there are agents or minions of said Dark Lord that act on the fact it's still a rebellion, try to quell the small pockets of resistance, and even THEY don't know they're being played by their leader.
    Night Gardener likes this.

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