The Founders were a group of Changelings from the Gamma Quadrant, responsible for both the creation of the Dominion and all strategic decisions undertaken throughout its history. Though generally considered mythical by many Gamma Quadrant races, they remained, as of the late 24th century, the embodiment of the Dominion itself, and the ultimate reason for its existence. (DS9: "The Jem'Hadar", "The Search, Part I", "The Search, Part II")
At one time, the Founders were a peaceful, curious race that explored the galaxy, possibly including L-S VI. (DS9: "The Alternate") Unfortunately, their overtures of peaceful cooperation were met with violent rejection and persecution. Many Gamma Quadrant races, including the Yaderans, had fables and mythical tales of Changelings, often depicting them as being a race they couldn't trust and had to fear. (DS9: "Shadowplay") As an adverse reaction to being hunted and rejected, the Founders accepted the pejorative "Changeling" as their own and retreated to a rogue planet. They then determined that, in order to be safe, they had to set themselves the task of creating order from the chaos they saw around them.
- What you can control can't hurt you. - Founder (DS9: "The Search, Part II")
- The solids have always been a threat to us; that's the only justification we need. - Founder (DS9: "The Search, Part II")
The Founders viewed chaos as dangerous, as it would allow the persecution to arise once more. Therefore, they must have order but this was an order that they controlled, for their benefit and only incidentally for the benefit of the "solids."
Once they consolidated their control, they sent out a number of their kind across the galaxy, to learn more about any other solids. The two most notable of these lookouts were later known as Odo and Laas. The mission of the lookouts was to learn as much as possible about the solids in their area, and report back. (DS9: "The Search, Part II", "Chimera")
- See also: Dominion history
As the leaders of the Dominion, the Founders lead a vast Empire, with the assistance of two genetically engineered species, the Vorta, to whom they delegated the day-to-day work, and the Jem'Hadar, to whom they delegated most military matters. During the Dominion War, the Founders relied heavily on one Vorta in particular, Weyoun, whom they trusted more than any other "solid." Both the Vorta and the Jem'Hadar considered the Founders to be gods. This unwavering devotion to the Founders made the Dominion a formidable enemy. (DS9: "Hippocratic Oath", "Tears of the Prophets")
Background information Edit
Not long after the three-pronged concept of the Dominion was invented, Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe started theorizing about the nature of the trinity's masterminds, the Founders. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 158) One thought the DS9 writing staff had was that the Founders were actually a group of shape-shifters, of whom Odo was the once and future king. (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, p. 79) This notion was a private theory between Wolfe and Behr, which they conceived as a joke at about the start of the second season. Noted Wolfe, "We figured we'd never see [the Founders] over the course of five years or whatever." The pair of writers joked about the idea of the Founders being revealed as shape-shifters throughout the second season. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 158) "We always said that with a laugh," Behr reminisced, "because we figured it would be too big a character thing to spring on both the audience and Rick [Berman] and Mike [Piller]." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, p. 79) Behr clarified, "We never thought they'd go for it in a million years." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 158)
Although the concept of the Founders was established in the second season finale "The Jem'Hadar", the writers hadn't yet made any firm decisions about precisely who the Founders were. During the hiatus between seasons two and three, Michael Piller called a production meeting and, thinking the writers would reject the idea straight away, he suggested that perhaps the Founders could indeed be Odo's people. (The Birth of the Dominion and Beyond, DS9 Season 3 DVD, Special Features) Recalled Behr, "Michael said, 'I've got a crazy idea. You're all going to think I'm nuts; what if the Founders turn out to be shape-shifters?'" (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, p. 79) At the same time that day, Piller additionally proposed that the Founders were Odo's people, another idea he thought was "nuts." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 159) When Piller suggested these notions, Behr burst out laughing, he and the other staff writers having come up with exactly the same ideas but having expected them to be dismissed. (The Birth of the Dominion and Beyond, DS9 Season 3 DVD, Special Features) Behr continued, "We just cracked up, and Michael said, 'What's so funny?'" After Piller learned the other writers had been thinking along the same lines as him over the past several months, he and Behr took the idea of the Founders being Odo's people to Rick Berman, who agreed the concept was a good one. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 159)
Subsequently, Odo actor Rene Auberjonois was immediately informed about the idea of making the Founders actually Odo's race. "We had lunch with Rene Auberjonois to clue him in," stated Ira Behr, "and that's how it came down." Although the actor had originally become interested in playing Odo due to having been fascinated by the character's uncertainty about his origins, Auberjonois happily supported the plan. "I must say," he admitted, "that I was and have been very satisfied with the solution they've come up with, which is something equally complex." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, p. 79)
There was a little uncertainty about precisely when to reveal the Founders as Odo's people. "[That] was actually something they were planning for a third season cliffhanger," Ron Moore recollected, "but Michael [Piller] said, 'Let's do this at the beginning [of Season 3].'" (Cinefantastique, Vol. 27, No. 4/5, p. 90) Moore thought the revelation, ultimately exposed in third season opener "The Search, Part I", was "a risk." He concluded, "I think it was ultimately a good decision to just go for it, because now we can play all the [complex emotions and] things with Odo and his people out there who want him back." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, p. 82) The script for "The Search, Part I" describes the Founders thus; "Their faces have the same 'unfinished' look that Odo's does and they appear to wear simple tunics." 
During development of Star Trek: Voyager, a Founder (referred to, in a summary of discussions that initiated the series, as "Soup Guy") was briefly considered as a main character of that series. (A Vision of the Future - Star Trek: Voyager, p. 177)
Ira Behr approved of the Founders being established as omnipresent in DS9 Season 3 closer "The Adversary". "It [....] represented an interesting way to use the changelings, making them more of a threat," he remarked. (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages, p. 80)