This is something I wrote up for Gene Demaitre, when he was running a steampunk/magic game set in an alternate 1876. He was looking for NPCs and organizations for his world, and so I provided him with the Dextera Contemnius Ultionius Domine (roughly, the Defiant Right Hand of the Vengeance of the Lord).
With a name like that, you know that there’s only one thing the Dextera can be: the Vatican’s ultra-secret wetwork team. Here’s the details on them:
It has been around for several hundred years – there is no available record to mark the exact date it was founded. In theory, the Dextera is accountable to and takes orders from the Pope; in practice, it doesn’t actually report to or consider itself accountable to anybody and it writes its own orders.
The group is comprised of 10-15 members, most of whom don’t know who any of their fellows are. The only one who does know is the head of the organization. That role is handed down personally – each leader selects and anoints his successor. The current leader is a German, Alberich Volker, nicknamed “the Dwarf”. Volker is, as might be expected, ultra-conservative in all his views. If he is forced to it, he is tough and surprisingly agile in a fight, but he prefers poison, the long-range bullet from a sniper rifle, or the knife in the back if he has to get personally involved in his work. His public role is as a secretary to the College of Cardinals, although some of his colleagues whisper that he may be more powerful and important than he seems (none of them have any idea just how powerful and important, of course!). Volker is ruthless when it comes to seeking out and removing what he perceives as threats to the Church. Before taking on his current role, Volker was a tutor and an advisor to Otto von Bismark, but has since expressed regret at the “weakness” and “soft views” of his former pupil.
The only real check on the Dextera is the group’s need for secrecy. Their methods and the scope of their activities are limited by the fear of discovery. As much as “Brother” Volker would like to, he cannot simply order the wholesale slaughter of those he views as enemies of the church (his definition of “enemies of the church” is, unsurprisingly, quite broad). The Dextera generally opts for carefully planned assassinations designed to look like accidents.
Assignments come directly from the top; Volker will meet with one of his operatives in a secret room within the Vatican Archives (to which only the Dextera has access) and give his orders. Within the scope of the orders, the operative is free to carry out the assignment in whatever way seems best. He can handle it himself, or arrange for an outsider to do the job. The vast financial resources of the church make it easy for the Dextera to pay as much as is necessary to procure the services of outside “contractors” who will not ask inconvenient questions (such as PC’s who might have precisely the skills and powers needed to handle difficult assignments!).
If you take out the reference to Bismark, you can take this as-is and use it in a modern-day campaign, or really any game set from the 19th century onward, as long as there’s a viable Catholic Church (or a suitable equivalent) in the campaign world.
The Dextera could be used in just about any capacity.
They could be played as a force for good in the game world. In that scenario, they’d be fighting against true evildoers, and possibly supernatural menaces like vampires and the like. They might be the only mortals who are truly aware of such things in a World of Darkness-like setting, fighting a hidden and lonely war to keep humanity safe. The PCs could be actual operatives of the Dextera in a game like that.
They might be a “gray” presence; doing some good, but using methods that are questionable at best. They might be patrons that the PCs reluctantly work for, or uneasy allies in a battle against the forces of darkness.
Or they could be outright villains, and the PCs will find themselves battling openly against them…