Games Where Player Characters are the Bad Guys

From the way you're describing it (haven't read it, life's too short for all the great media out there), sounds like they were going for Dredd being the best of a bad lot, i.e. he's a relatively humane person in a very inhumane role. Lots of excellent fiction has been made out of depicting moral shades of grey, including areas where it's not clear who's more evil or what the right thing is.

Vampire lets you play bad guys or worse guys (or gals), and Kult characters can definitely behave in an evil fashion. Mage had guides to playing the Technocracy, though they had gotten more morally ambiguous by that point. Munchkin was made into an RPG briefly, and leaned heavily into the more sociopathic elements of dungeon fantasy. As people argue, by-the-book D&D could be considered a bad guy game.

Delta Green, ironically, is less of a clear case than people are saying. Yes, they engage in all kinds of extrajudicial killings of innocents and the things we criticize governments for doing, but in this case they actually have a valid point-- the escape of the Cthulhu Mythos entities would mean the end of humanity in many cases. IT's definitely aimed at a noir (Vantanoir?) atmosphere, though.
 

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Celebrim

Legend
Delta Green, ironically, is less of a clear case than people are saying. Yes, they engage in all kinds of extrajudicial killings of innocents and the things we criticize governments for doing, but in this case they actually have a valid point-- the escape of the Cthulhu Mythos entities would mean the end of humanity in many cases.

Again, I go back up to the surprisingly strong definition of good the OP gave, and if we accept that definition and we accept the conceits about the situation that humanity finds itself in any CoC campaign, then it's very hard for the investigators to be anything but good guys. So long as the investigators remain free of mythos taint and are helping humanity remain free of it, then almost anything is justified. Only if their motives are compromised so that they are actually helping the mythos or helping bring about the end of humanity can we really condemn them. But IME the players accept without question that they should be stopping the mythos as one of the conceits of the game and stay on plot. And in doing so we do often get into a situation where the ends are justifying the means. After all, if the ends couldn't justify the means, what else ever could? And under the terms of CoC the means not being justifiable by the ends would probably be using the mythos against itself to the point that the PC's are mythos tainted and becoming the very danger that they were trying to stop. That is to say, it's almost impossible to become a mythos sorcerer without going insane and becoming a mythos sorcerer, which would therefore be a case of questionable means despite the claimed ends (like attempting to use the One Ring to overthrow Sauron).
 

Ah, I forgot. A little obscure but the 90s RPG Nephilim has players playing spirits who possess humans and take over their lives, which most of us would consider evil. I think WW's Geist in the New World of Darkness got around that by having them die first.
 


In 'black crusade' you play chaos worshippers in 40k. They tend to be pretty bad types.
I was going to list that one. They kinda copped out a bit though, all the published material was based around your chaos worshippers fighting other chaos worshippers for dominance, rather than actually crusading out into the imperium and fighting space marines etc.
 

MGibster

Legend
Warhammer 40k isn't a game where the PCs are necessarily the bad guys, but the Imperium most definitely isn't the good guy. In many ways, the biggest threat to humanity is the Imperium itself. Anything you do to keep the shambling corpse of the Imperium moving for just one more day means supporting the most vile regime in human history.
 

Delta Green, ironically, is less of a clear case than people are saying. Yes, they engage in all kinds of extrajudicial killings of innocents and the things we criticize governments for doing, but in this case they actually have a valid point-- the escape of the Cthulhu Mythos entities would mean the end of humanity in many cases. IT's definitely aimed at a noir (Vantanoir?) atmosphere, though.

I don't think any of us who've pointed to Delta Green as an example of playing the bad guys are necessarily saying that you're playing clear-cut, moustache-twirling villains. But it definitely up-ends a lot of common tropes—in basically any other story where unsanctioned federal agents are not only suppressing the crusading journalist's bombshell expose, but possibly framing or even killing the journalist, those feds would be the bad guys. So your reasons might be righteous and considered, but you're certainly no great hero.

And I think it's worth considering the subtext of Delta Green, and who's writing it. The Arc Dream crew is not exactly composed of cop-loving supporters of the wars on terrorism/drugs/other countries. And yet they've made a game where you play what are essentially unhinged super cops. You're playing out a tragedy in DG, by playing products of past tragedies. It's a dark game!
 

I don't think any of us who've pointed to Delta Green as an example of playing the bad guys are necessarily saying that you're playing clear-cut, moustache-twirling villains. But it definitely up-ends a lot of common tropes—in basically any other story where unsanctioned federal agents are not only suppressing the crusading journalist's bombshell expose, but possibly framing or even killing the journalist, those feds would be the bad guys. So your reasons might be righteous and considered, but you're certainly no great hero.

And I think it's worth considering the subtext of Delta Green, and who's writing it. The Arc Dream crew is not exactly composed of cop-loving supporters of the wars on terrorism/drugs/other countries. And yet they've made a game where you play what are essentially unhinged super cops. You're playing out a tragedy in DG, by playing products of past tragedies. It's a dark game!
Oh absolutely. I guess my point is you're not really 'the bad guys' in the common narrative sense of an evil antagonist more evil than the protagonist--you're the 'less bad guys', since the Mythos escaping will kill everyone. The narrative structure of 'protagonist less evil than antagonist' is preserved.

Most RPG designers lean left, for whatever reason, so yeah, I'm sure you're right about that. I suspect they wanted to do a conspiracy game with the Cthulhu Mythos and ran from there. It's also interesting to consider what could happen if the Mythos was confronted by people trained in combat and investigation, rather than dilettantes and random people as in Call of Cthulhu--in D&D terms, baseline CoC is 0-levels/commoners wandering into the dungeon, Delta Green is 3rd-5th level adventuring parties (but there's a beholder on the 1st level). But the game's been around long enough they've probably talked about their design inspiration somewhere.

I mean, I think a lot of these games are excuses for people to do socially unacceptable things, including to their own social circle; maybe they found a way to play Dirty Harry. D&D is 'kill monsters and take their stuff'. Doesn't bother me that much. Lots of people like to rebel--there were medieval monks drawing fart jokes in the margins of manuscripts.
 
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Bagpuss

Hero
The only game I know where the character is a villain is Vampire: The Masquerade.

And Mage the Ascension - Where the standard campaign are the players working against the Technocracy to keep magic (like steam power, mobile phones and other labour saving devices) out of the hands of everyone else. ;-)
 

Bagpuss

Hero
Any Warhammer 40K based RPG, there are no good guys in that setting.

Judge Dredd RPG, even the best Judge is still a cog in a fascist society.

Hollowpoint, Fiasco and other similar games where players are crooks involved in some sort of heist.
 

And Mage the Ascension - Where the standard campaign are the players working against the Technocracy to keep magic (like steam power, mobile phones and other labour saving devices) out of the hands of everyone else. ;-)
I actually made this argument when I was a teenager and asked if I could play a Technocrat. No dice.
 

I actually made this argument when I was a teenager and asked if I could play a Technocrat. No dice.
I played a Technocracy one-shot recently and...it was uncomfortable. Like, you're the coppiest of all possible cops, the literal status quo hunting down "reality deviants." That sucks!
 

Celebrim

Legend
I don't think any of us who've pointed to Delta Green as an example of playing the bad guys are necessarily saying that you're playing clear-cut, moustache-twirling villains. But it definitely up-ends a lot of common tropes—in basically any other story where unsanctioned federal agents are not only suppressing the crusading journalist's bombshell expose, but possibly framing or even killing the journalist, those feds would be the bad guys. So your reasons might be righteous and considered, but you're certainly no great hero.

But again, I think you are missing it. In any other story where unsanctioned federal agents are suppressing the crusading journalist's bombshell expose the motives those agents have are selfish, greedy, corrupt, and well evil. In the trope story, there is some villain who is engaged in nefarious selfish and destructive actions that the journalist is trying to expose. And so the journalist is trying to do good and if the journalist succeed they'll leave the world a better place. So the journalist is therefore "a good guy" or even heroic, and the federal agents opposing that journalist are minions of a villain.

But while the journalist may believe that he or she is in such a story, they aren't. They are in fact a well-meaning minion of evil similar to say Syril Karn in the Star Wars Andor TV show. Presumably journalist is undermining the very walls that hold the roof over everyone's head and if the journalist is allowed to proceed death is going to be the most welcome and non-horrific of the outcomes. The agents aren't acting to protect a villain who is misappropriating funds so they can live in comfort, or misusing power for their own selfish goals or betraying the public trust. The agents are actually working in the public interest in the very largest and truest sense and the journalist is working against them.

The irony here is that the Arc Dream crew have created a setup that seems to suggest the shenanigans that governments get up to are justified, however shady they may seem on the surface, and that those that work against their governments are in fact villains. The game is subtly pushing the very philosophy that I think that they would superficially oppose, and the very argument made by the most corrupt and authoritarian governments.

Because unlike the real world, we have in the CoC world demons that can be fought by military and paramilitary means. We have an evil that is tangible and incarnated and can be opposed by force and violence. And so Lovecraft's nightmare world, and this is deliberate, is one where might makes right could be justified. This isn't because Lovecraft for all his many faults was a fascist - he's literally writing out his own nightmares as his world view crumbles around him - but I think there is an irony here that the Lovecraftian world by necessity requires at the least a sort of species-centric fascism. It is humanity versus the universe because the universe and its gods are blind, twisted, and evil.
 


The irony here is that the Arc Dream crew have created a setup that seems to suggest the shenanigans that governments get up to are justified, however shady they may seem on the surface, and that those that work against their governments are in fact villains. The game is subtly pushing the very philosophy that I think that they would superficially oppose, and the very argument made by the most corrupt and authoritarian governments.

The Arc Dream crew talk pretty openly about their politics, but also about the fact that it's basically a game about the war on terror, and not in a good way. It's not a situation where you need to read the tea leaves and wonder what they're up to. They chat about it in livestreams. Hell, their newest recruit wrote what might be the most blatantly anti-capitalist, anti-establishment game in the history of the hobby (Red Markets).

And even if you go strictly by what's in the books, the detailed history of Delta Green is as a litany of horrors and screw-ups and corruption on the part of the org. The adventures and GM guidance talk constantly about agents going rogue, DG cells being ordered to wipe out other cells, and the toll all of it takes on the PCs, because of all the terrible stuff they have to tell themselves is necessary, like the deep state monsters they are. It's a horror game, and some of the best horror has no good guys, just various shades of bad, including people who are certain they're murdering other people for the right reason. There's no need for the GM or players to drink the Kool-Aid or justify any of the protagonists' beliefs, any more than playing a game like Blades in the Dark means seeing the PC crew as the least villainous gang in a world of greater villains. These are morally complex, challenging games. It's ok to just lean into what the characters want and believe, and how the setting inevitably grinds them into dust, and leave the heroics to other games.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
And Mage the Ascension - Where the standard campaign are the players working against the Technocracy to keep magic (like steam power, mobile phones and other labour saving devices) out of the hands of everyone else.

That's a very Jedi "from a certain point of view" way of looking at it.
 

MGibster

Legend
And even if you go strictly by what's in the books, the detailed history of Delta Green is as a litany of horrors and screw-ups and corruption on the part of the org. The adventures and GM guidance talk constantly about agents going rogue, DG cells being ordered to wipe out other cells, and the toll all of it takes on the PCs, because of all the terrible stuff they have to tell themselves is necessary, like the deep state monsters they are. It's a horror game, and some of the best horror has no good guys, just various shades of bad, including people who are certain they're murdering other people for the right reason.
This is one of the reasons DG gets a big thumbs up from me. There are no happy endings for agents. You spend your days lying to your coworkers and your loved ones, you're exposed to violence, you likely commit or assist in the comission of heinous acts, and there's a very real risk of losing your job, getting convicted of a crime, or eating a bullet because the pressure is too great. Your character isn't rewarded for doing those bad things, those actions take their toll.
 

MGibster

Legend
So, just to throw this out there, there's perhaps a big difference between not playing the 'good' guys and playing the 'bad' guys. I suspect there's rather a lot of room between the two, room that Delta Green, for example, inhabits quite cheerfully.
A lot of times, it's up to the characters how they deal with a situation. They can choose to frame someone for the murder in order to cover up the truth, but they can also find another solution if they choose.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Yeah, Delta Green as presented is certainly not meant for the player characters to be good guys. It’s just not that simple. The characters are tasked with what is essentially an unobtainable goal. Yes, they may make small achievements or have small victories, but the expectation is that doing so will cost them their humanity.

The things Delta Green opposes are conceptual in nature. And the program itself has become part of the problem.

I mean, you can ignore all that allegory if you want, and instead play it as if they’re honorable and righteous guardians protecting the world from evil… but that’s a significant shift away from the morally gray situation that the game expects.

Now, this isn’t to say that any specific agent is a “bad guy”. I don’t think it really works to look at the world of DG that way. Agents will run the gamut of optimistic-rookie to dead-inside-veteran and everything in between. They may have goals we’d consider beneficial to humanity, and they may even try to achieve them in ways we’d consider acceptable… but they can’t maintain that over time. That’s the entire point of the game and the setting as designed.
 

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