Games Where Player Characters are the Bad Guys

MGibster

Legend
I think it's fair to say that the majority of table top role playing games operate under the assumption that the player characters are the good guys. But now that I've typed that out, what does it even mean to be the good guy? To start with, it doesn't necessary mean that the PCs are paragons of virtue free from moral ambiguity. In some games, like Cyberpunk Red, the PCs are most often criminals but are they the bad guys? Well, no, I wouldn't say so. The PCs are usually going against violent gangs and mega corporations that toy with millions of lives in an effort to raise the price of their stock a few points. In my experience, PCs are more likely to protect a food co-op in the inner city from corporate interest seeking to kick them out so they can turn the building into a condo. For the purposes of this thread, I'm going to define good as leaving things better than you found it without harming innocent people. This may be a bit simplistic, by philosophers are still debating what is good and we're probably not going to come to a satisfactory answer in a thread on En World.

How many roleplaying games out there exist where the PCs are the bad guys by default?

Vampire the Masqurade is the best example I can think of. In Vampire, the PCs are, well, vampires, who literally have to prey on other humans to survive (though a PC could theoretically live on animal instead of human blood). Especially in 5th edition, it's only a matter of time before a vampire hurts or kills a human being and this includes those the PCs love. The PCs are monsters.

An early release version of Blade Runner is available for those who backed the Kickstarter. Based off the 1982 movie of the same name and the recent 2017 sequel, characters are blade runners, police officers tasked with hunting down rogue replicants and retiring (killing) them. These replicants are nearly indistinguishable from human beings making Roy Batty and company runaway slaves. In Blade Runner, player characters make their living tracking down and killing runaway slaves. You might argue that Roy Batty was a dangerous murderer, but a slave rising up and killing his oppressors is perfectly natural in my book.

What other games are there were the PCs are bad guys by default? Feel free to disagree about whether the PCs in Blade Runner or Vampire are "bad guys" if you'd like. I can't control you guys and it'd be foolhardy to try!
 

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Stormbringer was a game where the main character in the setting (Elric) literally destroys everybody he loves, his own Empire, and the entire universe he is in (it’s a multiverse setting) utilising pacts with demonic forces. Whether PCs follow this antihero pathway is not necessarily enforced in the game, but many of the scenarios have this type of self destructive element to them. The Warlock Class in D&D and character types like the Doomed in Masks: The Next Generation also have individual characters that can follow this story arc.

Paranoia has Troubleshooter characters who a nominally good guys, but they spend most of their time backstabbing each other for obsequious favour ti a tyrannical and autocratic Computer. They are essentially playing a SS group of enforcers for a totalitarian state, if you think too hard. The Inquisitors of Dark Heresy and the Operatives of SLA Industries are also doing the same, in a way, but straight.

We’ve mentioned Vampire: The Masquerade already, but we could also cite Kult which, in its original edition at least, made it more favorable to play characters that were increasingly psychopathic in behaviour. Other horror games, like Unknown Armies could potentially play out that way too. Of course, the WoD has other games where you play the monsters too, but yes, I’d cite Vampire as being the most archetypal ‘bad guy’ RPG.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Blades in the Dark and many of it's progeny.

Plus any 5E game where anyone plays a Gnome or a Bard.

Or Any game of FATAL.
 



Random Task

Explorer
Maybe Cyberpunk Red hasn’t taken the same turn yet, but a lot of modern Shadowrun PCs are just doing jobs for various corps as only decently paid cogs in the machine. The pink robin hooding part of it has fallen by the wayside.
 


Hand of Evil

Adventurer
Epic
Any Warhammer or Zweihander has the potential for characters to be bad. Well, you are 'not' all that good, but survival is like that. It is easier to do bad things and play races like Skaven.
 


There are quite a few modules out there designed for evil PCs, for lots different RPGs.
I guess Dune 2d20 you could certainly be "evil"
The newish Talisman RPG can go all Evil.
 

aramis erak

Legend
How many roleplaying games out there exist where the PCs are the bad guys by default?
If we ignore the KTAATTS (Kill them all and take their stuff) mode of most dungeon crawlers....

most of WoD (both old and new).

Kobolds Ate My Baby - inept but bloodthirsty critters stealing babies for a feast for their king. Failing to find a baby, farm stock will be grabbed instead.

Depending upon point of View, the Klingon Corebook for Star Trek Adventures casts the often-but-not-always antagonist Klingons as the party heroes.

Classic Traveller's Alien Modules. AM 1, 2 & 4 are aliens who are, while not cast purely as villains, are not the usual protagonists. the others, tho...
AM3 Zhodani is a recast of the evil empire of mind readers into a universal mental health capitalist paradise.
AM6 Solomani is a straight out blend of Soviet and Nazi Germany tropes, except they are no longer discriminating against humans from Earth. & its direct colonies.. only from elsewhere. And it considers Genetic uplifted apes, dolphins & orcas¹ to all be second class. Oh, and uplifted Bears, too. Humans not from Earth² are not even as well thought of as the genemods.
AM5, 7, and 8 aren't actually cast as villains at all, save by the K'kree of AM 2, who think any meat consumers need to die.
Hell, many human PCs in any edition are in the gray zone - Firefly has about the right tone. Good people doing bad things because they need to to be able to eat...

all of the 40K RPGs are pretty much bad people doing bad things for a bad religious government...

Bat-Winged Bimbos from Hell ... literally demons. The protagonists are literally bat-winged demons with ridiculously revealing garments... and a willingness to shed them and feast upon the unwary souls of men. It's a chunk of the Macho Women With Guns line. No male PCs allowed!

¹: Last I heard, Orca were considered to be technically dolphins... see Facts about orcas (killer whales)!
²: It's a setting trope that humans were spread around 300000 years before the standard setting by the Ancients... and most of those colonial subservient groups survived when the ancients had a civil war)
 

MGibster

Legend
Some of the darker superhero RPGs of the 1990s- like Aberrant and Underground- let you play darker heroes than was typical. The darkest I can think of was probably Brave New World.
It's been a long while since I took a look at BNW, but I thought you were superheroes in a fascist America fighting against The Man? I couldn't get passed the system which I thought was a terrible fit for the game.
If we ignore the KTAATTS (Kill them all and take their stuff) mode of most dungeon crawlers....
I would disagree that characters are by default the bad guys in games like AD&D. Even in the old days, you had the flimsiest of in game justifications for why it was okay to go bother those creatures living in the Chaos of Chaos near the Keep on the Borderlands.
all of the 40K RPGs are pretty much bad people doing bad things for a bad religious government...
That's fair.

Bat-Winged Bimbos from Hell ... literally demons.
I never heard of this one! Sounds like a movie they would have shown on USA's Up All Night back in the 1990s.
 


payn

Legend
An interesting topic. I prefer the PCs to be able to go any way they want. Also, there is never a definitively good answer to any problem. Though, I fully understand the folks who want escapism and just roll some dice for entertainment and not feel questionable about it.

I think most of the you are the bad guy RPGs have been covered here. There is a third party AP for Pathfinder Classic named Way of the Wicked that is also a PC gaggle of evil.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I think it's fair to say that the majority of table top role playing games operate under the assumption that the player characters are the good guys.

I don't know that that is true. I think maybe even a minority of players operate under the assumption the characters are the good guys, and of that minority in my experience the majority of them are wrong. Actual good guys are as rare in RPGs as they are in the real world - and quite possibly much more rare.

But now that I've typed that out, what does it even mean to be the good guy?

And that's the problem. Most people cannot adequately answer that question. IME, the average D&D character (to use a common marker) is one step more evil than his player believes his character to be. Maybe 1/5th of the PC's in the games I've run over 40 years were actually 'good guys' and they were generally fighting a losing rear guard battle against the rest of the group's amoral, savage, and ruthless tendencies.

For the purposes of this thread, I'm going to define good as leaving things better than you found it without harming innocent people.

That's actually a pretty strong definition. I'm surprised, as quite often I don't see people able to elucidate what good is as clearly as that. I have quibbles with the definition, but it's a very strong understanding of what good is and better than what you find in much of WotC's writings.

You might argue that Roy Batty was a dangerous murderer, but a slave rising up and killing his oppressors is perfectly natural in my book.

It is perfectly natural, but does it meet your definition of good? Roy's motivations are sympathetic, and he has legitimate grievances and you can empathize with Roy - but does that mean Roy is good or that Decker is wrong for being assigned to hunt him down? Roy's actions aren't always in fact acts of someone commiting necessary violence to earn freedom from oppression. Roy has grievances he wishes to bring against his creators, but when he meets individuals like J.F. who is partially responsible for his creation he finds an autistic savant who is highly sympathetic to Roy and hides him and protects him and even helps him achieve his aims of meeting his 'creator'. J.F. loves Roy as best as he's able, and he's betrayed and murdered by him. Does this meet your definition of good?

And here we come to the problem. You knew what good was, but then when you looked at a situation you didn't evaluate it according to your own standards but instead evaluated it according to conventional analogies and standards and your feelings. Do those analogies really hold up? Is it really true that just because they are almost human that they are human? The book and the movie come to very different conclusions about this. The answer isn't a given and has to do with things like empathy and free will. And even if the analogies do hold up, there are few beliefs quite so evil as "Because I have been wronged, I have moral authority and can do whatever I want to avenge that wrong." That belief gets you something indistinguishable from the philosophy of the Nine Hells.

One of the great things about Blade Runner is that it's a story where no one is entirely a good guy or entirely a bad guy, and at the end of the story Roy has a bit of an epiphany about that and undertakes to redeem himself - gaining as it were a consciousness and a soul, symbolized by the dove he is caring for at the end of the movie.

What other games are there were the PCs are bad guys by default? Feel free to disagree about whether the PCs in Blade Runner or Vampire are "bad guys" if you'd like. I can't control you guys and it'd be foolhardy to try!

I would tend to say that in most games the PC's are bad guys by default, and the PC's have to work really hard to actually be heroic - and most players aren't really interested in being heroic. Indeed, I could derail the thread here with a very strong version of this statement, but IME most tables in most systems are villains. Most of them use some version of the reasoning you applied to Roy Batty to suggest that 'my tribe vs. your tribe' and 'my tribe is good' is sufficient to justify the goodness of the PCs no matter how murderous of murder hobos they are, and unlike Roy, they don't ever seem to realize the tragedy of being a murder hobo.

A better question might be are there games that do a pretty good job of encouraging the players to be heroic and good by your own definition of it? For my answer, I'll say that 'Call of Cthulhu' rather surprisingly comes up with a framework for ensuring players will tend to be heroic and that is by the simple and well trodden trope of making sure the bad guys are so utterly horrible that anything the PC's are doing to thwart them could be considered leaving the world a better place. When you are facing cosmic anti-human horrors that threaten all of existence, there is very little you can do that can't be justified by the ends justifying the means, but further that for all the immorality that shows up in published CoC adventures rarely are the players forced to do something morally compromising in order to win the day. The worst they are often asked to do is sacrifice themselves for the good of others, which generally meets the definition of heroic.
 



Delta Green is a game where, despite good intentions, you are not the good guys. You're killing or framing witnesses, covering up the truth, hoping your own organization doesn't kill you, and generally playing the villains in someone else's story. One of the misguided criticisms of that game is that it glorifies cops and Deep State stuff. It doesn't at all. It's a horror game in every way.

And I'm not super familiar with it, but given the Warhammer 40K setting I'd bet that anyone you play in Wrath and Glory is a bad guy. Maybe not the worst guy, but pretty bad.

I think that's really the key to most games where the PCs skew "bad"—bad as they are, are they better than whoever they're going up against, and how many "innocents" or bystanders are they hurting in the process? That's what I ask myself, at least, since I don't have the stomach to run a true bad guy game.
 

MGibster

Legend
Delta Green is a game where, despite good intentions, you are not the good guys. You're killing or framing witnesses, covering up the truth, hoping your own organization doesn't kill you, and generally playing the villains in someone else's story. One of the misguided criticisms of that game is that it glorifies cops and Deep State stuff. It doesn't at all. It's a horror game in every way.
I ran into someone who said he wasn't interested in Delta Green because it portrayed American law enforcement and intellgience agencies as the good guys. "Brother, let me tell you something..."
 

aramis erak

Legend
I never heard of this one! Sounds like a movie they would have shown on USA's Up All Night back in the 1990s.
In Re Bat Winged Bimbos... the full line in first edition was
  • Macho Women with Guns
  • Renegade Nuns on Wheels
  • Batwinged Bimbos from Hell
  • More excuses to kill things
Later editions combined them from folios (I forget what pagecount) to a single volume.

But that reminds me...
In Nomine (the US SJG version) Allows playing either side of the celestial war... All corebook generated characters are either angels or demons. (and, as is proper theology, neither are former humans.) Later expansions provide for former humans... on either side of the war. (I can't speak to the French original - I've never seen it.

From a certain point of view, Judge Dredd. Sure, the MC1 Judges think themselves the good guys, most denizens of MC1 would disagree... And until the last 6 years, it was good fun; now it feels a vaguely plausible endpoint... The Judges are on the ragged edge between heroes and antiheroes...
 

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