Mainly for a Modern Campaign; can be adapted to other genres and settings, especially featuring conspiracy, espionage, and horror.
The Institute is a think-tank based in a city with plenty of political opportunities, Washington or Brussels would do just fine. As many others, it concentrates on information-gathering and a little creative work on the top of it. It’s customers are mainly political parties, then some companies, and quite a few non-governmental organizations. There is even a sect or two suspected of employing them - but the customer list is a well-treasured secret.
Agenda and Philosophy
These are the doomsayers by body and heart.
There is something inherently fascinating in visions of the apocalyptic for the common man. The prophets that foretell doom are listened to with awe, those who see great times ahead are ignored.
There are a few people who feel unworthy, or inadequate, and expect punishment from above - many more see the very humanity as depraved and spoiled, with terrible justice finally looming on the horizon. Some hate or fear a facet of other people’s lives, and translate it in this way. Others in turn, love to appear as the heroes who will save the world, the only ones who embrace the truth, while all others are blinded by ignorance or low interests.
Sad thing is, it is rare that truth enters these ideas, deformed and carefully selected most often.
In addition to the most obsessed by the End Of All Things (and let’s face it, most of us find such ideas appealing to some degree), there is an opposite side, who also likes dark omens.
There are children who just love to scare others, make ugly jokes, and invent stories to shock and alarm. Many grow up of this, some do not.
Some, not necessarily evil, not necessarily cruel, simply like to spook the common man, to ‘awake him’ from the slumber of daily routine, or merely to have a genuine feeling of schadenfreude. Often an innocent hobby, some go too far and end up in jail or scorned by others. It is not an easy life annoying people.
The Institute offers the services of information gathering, with a special area of interest: doom.
Far from concentrating on the Apocalypse, there is much more to research about - asteroid impacts, diseases of man and animal, climate change and ecological disasters, even economical threats and wars: a threat real or imagined, doesn’t matter.
Is it scary enough for your purposes? Then you are the right customer here. For a decent price, they will provide you with detailed instructions on what to say, how to argument, what to conveniently forget, and how to dismiss, confuse or ridicule likely opponents. References to reliable-sounding experts or institutions are provided as well. The Institute itself is never quoted as a source of all the tables, charts and researches, that is a rule of the contract.
The Institute stays always in the background, provides the arguments, stays informed on the development, and warns clients if necessary.
As another rule, the client and all his data are strictly private.
Personnel and Work
In a typical work day, assignments like ‘Find the proof for XY’ are given, to which end is used the Institute’s extensive library, and further study in any resources available, the more respected the better.
Other employees are asked to locate the counterarguments to a claim, along with their weaknesses; all the results are finally compiled together to produce a solid product. (It happened at least once, that two customers wielded opposing views, with the Institute supplying intellectual ammunition for both; the current insight is that such a situation is too straining in the end, however lucrative.)
There are also several companies owned by the Institute (a publishing house, a few internet startups, some prank inventory supplier and more). They are used for recruiting of new employees, but also for receiving payments from clients that wish to stay really private.
The recruiting is probably the hardest part. The talent is not rare, but few have the stomach to stay, once they find out what they do. Therefore, much of their work is separated into smaller parts, performed by different employees. Individuals with twisted qualities are sought strongly after, but sadly make for a complicated human resources management.
The Internet has changed this dramatically. In its uncharted waters, many gifted potentials can be found, frequently with the right information-seeking skills even. It is easy to find people persuaded of one issue or another, and let them speak their full about their truth. Also easy is to find someone willing to write on a topic for payment; many forums and social networking websites are monitored for the desired behavior (some are maintained by Institute directly). Often it is enough to throw out a few catch question in the right places, and half of the research is done, possibly with a new prospect found.
As a result, some very disturbed folk can be found in the cubicles, staring at their screens. Most of them are basically harmless, it is their concentration in one place, and the professional approach, that makes them dangerous in the larger scheme of things.
Finally, the current heads of the enterprise are of the type that enjoys their job immensely, and has a good sleep at night. They are not doing anything wrong, are they? They have success, and that counts.
The Institute is a distant child of a tiny publishing house back from the wild sixties. A group of ‘contrarian thinkers’, as they called themselves, reveled in showing the unknowing public the causes of their actions; and what could easily happen if things went the wrong way; and how fragile and intricate is their existence they deem so safe and dull.
Some books were sold, some weren’t. And as some of the works have struck a chord in the mind of the common man, their production has been expanded, and the right people attracted… and so the whole movement grew and changed, beyond the intents of its original founders. Eventually, most of them were pushed aside.
Today, the organization is firmly lodged in the political arena, and fancies to have a great impact on the “public debate”. In private conversations with potential customers, they may hint that they have in fact started the current global warming debate, or other hotly contested topics - whether this is true is another matter.
- researching for an obscure topic, say, the effects a villains last new Toy Of Doom(tm) will have on the world, may easily lead to this place as the best source of information.
- need to know what certain a politician is going to make his campaign about? They have all the notes, go get them. (The Shadowrun option.)
- panic is spreading, as an improbable doomsday scenario seems to be coming true after all. Who is behind this all, and how comes people are so easily fooled (yet again)?
- an employee with a nagging conscience approaches the characters. It has been great fun in the firma - until now, when he has gone too far… as the results of his work border on the criminal, he can’t approach the authorities. He may have exxagerated a particular danger, or made up something dramatic, overshadowing a real danger and it’s coming right now.
- a suitably wicked character may be approached by a talent seeker. Would he like to work for such people?
- should superheroes found themselves on the opposing side of the Institute (or say its customer), terrible side effects of their activities may be suddenly found, much to the displeasure of the public. Watch out for the PR campaign.
- and lastly, if there is an evil, manipulative mastermind, this may be the perfect lair for him.
“The whole aim of practical politics, is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” H.L.Mencken