Games Where Player Characters are the Bad Guys

Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
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.
 

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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
Supporter
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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