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    Avatar photoMike

    Is there a tendency for sci-fi and fantasy games/settings to have clear cut good vs bad?
    I am thinking of the obvious stuff of people vs the undead, orcs vs humans, demons vs everyone, aliens vs mankind.
    Where as historical games have less clear bad guys, one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist etc?

    I am not sure this is the case, but then I don’t get out much…
    Your thoughts?


    Avatar photoNot Connard Sage

    I think we can all agree that Hitler was a baddy, and that the Waffen SS weren’t on the side of the angels.

    Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.

    Avatar photoDarkest Star Games

    I like a bit more complexity in my sci-fi settings.  I believe most people will see the side they most identify with as “good”, unless they’re the side that is slaughtering innocents, etc.  As we have seen historically, not every faction acting out of righteousness or good intentions is beneficial (UN forces seem to not be well regarded anywhere they are sent, regardless of their national make-up).


    But to answer your question, yes I do think that most game settings tend to be very delineative as to “good” and “bad”.

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    Avatar photoThaddeus Blanchette

    This is one of the reasons I so loved Greg Stafford’s Glorantha Mythos (for Runequest, as well as the Dragon Pass wargame). It had the Lunar Empire fighting Sartar. The Lunars were cosmopolitan and egalitarian. They had a high level of culture and were definitely the best place to live in the world. They were culturally pluralistic and even relatively democratic… for an authoritarian style bronze age empire. Except they fucked around with chaos magic and used beasts from the pits of hell as weapons of mass destruction. You were either for them or against them, as it were. Kind of like the U.S.

    Meanwhile, the Sartarites were a bunch of superstitious barbarians who had no problem at all working with mass murderers and terrorists… But they were also the only thing that could stop the Lunar Empire’s march towards word-domination and One Big (chaos driven) Happy.

    Most people who play in Glorantha seem to assume that the Sartarites are good guys. But if you read the relatively small amount of stuff published about life after the Gods’ War and the Lunar defeat, the dumb barbarians seemed to have fucked the world up quite comprehensively, causing a new Dark Age than lasts quite a long time.

    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!

    Avatar photoMike

    Kind of like the U.S.


    Avatar photoPatG

    Note: I should be on cold meds but I am not – what effect this has on my logic is undetermined and I take full responsibility for any incoherence.

    I think that because fantasy and SF use created rather than received realities, it is simpler to pin down good and bad into two well defined camps. For historicals, it is harder to make such a clean distinction. Even where the distinction is blindingly clear, at least to me – let’s go there and bring in the Germans in WWII – political expediency has partially rehabilitated them as defenders against Stalinist aggression. They are “fallen men” (wildings?) rather than the non-human animals (Orcs) the Japanese are still viewed as. For other conflicts like the Arab-Israeli and Indo-Pakistani wars where a player may have no personal connection to the conflict, the line becomes very blurred.

    However, in my experience fantasy and especially SF literature* as opposed to gaming, can take a much wider view. Hammer’s Slammers are mercenaries with an internal moral system but who will fight for whomever has the money. The Dorsai are the same. In fact the Childe Cycle series dedicates an entire book to show the anti-Dorsai Friendlies as human beings. Bolos are Bolos and even the earliest Marks tend to be more human than their masters.   I would even go so far as to say that Saberhagen’s Berserkers are described as “aggressively anti-life” rather than evil – malice doesn’t enter into it – they are just carrying out their designed purpose.  I am less well read in fantasy, but Fafhrd and Gray Mouser come to mind along with Conan (who to me is a bit of a dick). I know there was at least one fantasy novel that looked at its world from the Orc side.

    To come back to games, there is a built in need for an adversarial setup. To win you must defeat your opponent and so a good/evil split is almost inevitable. Even for co-op games like Pandemic, you have the good players vs the evil epidemic.  This dichotomy is however a function of the “win” condition.  Change that and the good/evil split disappears.   Again, an alternative win condition is more likely to come up in simulation games reflecting real world questions like: “How do I best defend against a Soviet armoured attack?” or “What are the best ways for an opponent to take advantage of our current doctrine and ROEs in asymmetric warfare?”  The victory lies in answering the question rather than driving the enemy from the field. In fact a clear cut win by either side may in fact mean that the effort was a failure.

    Any way those are my thoughts for now. 🙂

    *Yes I am old and I am probably missing many good examples from SF written less than 30 years ago. Get off my lawn. 😉

    Avatar photoRhoderic

    I enjoy most flavours of fantasy and sci-fi for different reasons, but the settings where “it’s complicated” tend to be the most fascinating to study. One thing I especially like about these settings is that wars usually don’t have to be apocalyptic. There can be smaller, more limited, localised, twisty-turny conflicts which are full of subtleties and will eventually end by diplomacy or other political means. In a way, that’s reassuring.

    One of my favourite sci-fi settings is Heavy Gear. I really appreciate the way each of the political entities on Terra Nova is a complex society with both pros and cons. Ultimately I could envision myself as a citizen of any one of the seven Polar leagues or two major Badlands pseudo-leagues (civil wars notwithstanding, and I’d probably be happier in some leagues than others due to my own position on the political spectrum), even though they regularly butt heads with each other. Of course, the Heavy Gear setting also has the Earthers, who are brutal fascists intent on reconquering the colonies and exploiting them mercilessly for the exclusive benefit of Earth and its lapdog Mars. But even with them there is some hope thanks to a fifth-columnist movement and some hints that the problems on Earth which have enabled such a brutal government (overpopulation, a failing ecosystem, the aftermath of WMDs, etc) might be solved through a combination of scientific progress and a concerted humanitarian effort by the colonies (assuming of course that the Earth government will surrender or implode, first).

    For similar reasons, I really like the Jovian Chronicles setting.

    Avatar photoJohn D Salt

    Not Connard Sage wrote:

    I think we can all agree that Hitler was a baddy, and that the Waffen SS weren’t on the side of the angels.

    I’d certainly hope so. But even at that, there’s Waffen-SS and there’s Waffen-SS. The first dozen or so divisions may have been strutting Aryan ubermenschen with racial superiority in their hearts and skulls in their hats, but an awful lot of the mendaciously-named volunteer divisions were recruited from people stuck between a rock and a hard place, like Russian POWs.

    PatG wrote:

    For other conflicts like the Arab-Israeli and Indo-Pakistani wars where a player may have no personal connection to the conflict, the line becomes very blurred.

    That’s an interesting remark — if true, it would tend to suggest that the clarity with which one views the distinction between “goodies” and “baddies” depends more on tribal affiliation than the facts of the case. I have made a very slight study of the 1971 India-Pakistan war, and it seems very clear to me that the Indians and the Mukti Bahini (insurgents in East Pakistan, shortly to become independent as Bangla Desh) were the “goodies”. Yahya Khan was a miltary dictator, his regime was committing genocide in East Pakistan as a deliberate act of policy, and the US (under Nixon and Kissinger) chose to align with Pakistan against India while choosing to ignore unambiguous warnings from the US ambassador in East Pakistan that atrocities were being perpetrated and democracy being suppressed (the Blood telegram).

    Getting back to the original point, it is certainly true that SF&F offer the possibility, if the writer so desires, of presenting Manichean conflicts rather than attempting a bit of moral nuance. As other postings so far seem to indicate, though, I think it makes for a much richer and more interesting fantasy if some attempt is made to capture moral ambiguity. I think it was Brian Aldiss, in a preface to some SF collection or other, who made the comparison between the then-dominant SF offerings on TV in the US and UK, “Star Trek” and “Doctor Who” respectively (and when he was writing, there really wasn’t much other SF at all on TV — maybe Lost in Space and The Twilight Zone in the US, and fading memories of Quatermass, A for Andromeda and Object Z in the UK). He said that, although the sets and special effects were much cruder and creaker in “Dr Who” than in “Star Trek”, the plots were more sophisticated, because the conflicts in Star Trek were mostly straight Us vs Them, whereas in Dr Who there were normally some of “Us” prepared to play Quisling for our putative alien overlords.

    I don’t know if anyone else recalls the short-lived UK SF BD “Revolver”, but it included a wonderfully dark re-imagining of the “Dan Dare” stories I am just old enough to remember reading in “The Eagle”. While it didn’t go so far as to show things from the Treens’ point of view, it did mention Col. Dare’s involvement in a massacre of Treen women and children, which had caused Digby to disown him. In similar vein, although I find Orson Scott Card an infuriatingly inconsistent author, I did very much like the approach of “Xenocide” in trying to empathise with the evil insectoids instead of, as in “Ender’s Game”, simply find the most effective way of massacring them.

    No doubt somebody has already done it, but I have not yet seen anything written in the setting of Middle Earth that tries to describe what things look like from the point of view of the average infantryorc.

    All the best,


    Avatar photoRuarigh

    I don’t use other people’s settings, but my own has clear goodies and clear baddies. The Bwendi Republic (my faction) is good and it’s citizens love it. Albion (my regular opponent’s faction) is a bad kingdom with an unelected head of state who oppresses its citizens. It also spends all its time fomenting revolt in Bwendi.

    N.B. My regular opponent maintains that Bwendi is an evil dictatorship that brainwashes its citizens and foments revolt in Albion. He is mistaken and needs reeducating at a Bwendi Scout Camp.

    Perspective shapes the narrative and the background may be more nuanced and darkly humorous than the Bwendi Bugle or the Albion Times report.

    Never argue with an idiot. They'll only drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.


    Avatar photoPatG

    John – thanks for the input! My interest in the Indo-Pakistan war was limited to west on west armour.

    Avatar photoMcKinstry

    I think there are some standard scifi tropes for bad guys that generate a broad consensus. The all devouring organic wave be they Tyrannids or Scourge (Dropfleet) or Zerg seems to be  a fairly reliable bunch of baddies as do the risen robots such as Cylons or Terminators.

    Space Nazis would of course be ideal and the latest Star Wars stuff seems to be channeling some Lenny Reifenstahl moments and the Reivers from Firefly have the whole Chaos apocalyptically awful kill it/eat it/burn it down thing that’s hard to find sympathetic at all.



    The tree of Life is self pruning.

    Avatar photoMartinR

    As John says, the concept of good and bad is largely determined by one’s tribal affiliations, and much Sci Fi is merely a reflection of the time they were written in. The fascist future of Starship Troopers might as well just substitute the words Jap’s and Square heads for Skinnies and Bugs, and James Lucas never made it a particular secret that the Empire in the original Star Wars was based on the US in Vietnam, before it morphed into a hybrid of Nazi Germany and the USSR.

    Evil, as random and arbitrary cruelty and a delight in the suffering of others, is probably easier to determine than “bad” but as in all human relations, there are shades of grey. All conflicts, be they military or social, which involve the redistribution of wealth and power will have winners and losers, and so be good or bad depending where you are. The violence inherent in the system is just more obvious in some forms political organisation than others. As noted above, Sci Fi is often more nuanced than the bile we see in our daily media, who are the baddies in Ian Banks universe?

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    Avatar photoPhil Dutré

    SciFi and Fantasy stories usually are about idealized people; the decisions they have to make are rather cartoonish in nature. Moreover, books and movies etc. focus on “interesting” characters rather than the “average joes”. Where are all the farmers, factory workers, clerks, … in those invented universes?

    History is about real people that have to deal with real life, and have to make hard and very tough choices, especially during war times. That makes the distinction between “good” and “bad” very greyish.

    In a number of European countries that were occupied during WW2, there still are varied opinions about various aspects of the collaboration, which by itself had many different shades of grey (political, economical, military, …).

    Or take the Napoleonic era. Lots of pain and suffering, but also a much-needed shake-up of the ancien régime. Many European countries still trace a lot of their legislative structure to Napoleon, and in many respects, the Napoleonic way of organizing society, along with the spread of the ideals of the French revolution, was the start of the modern era.

    Avatar photoEtranger

    ‘Ze Ghermans’ are ‘popular baddies in science fiction. Historically, they only seem to become ‘good guys’ on the odd occasions that they are allied with the plucky English/British, and preferably when fighting against the French. We never seem to encounter ‘Space Frenchies’ or other quasi-historical opponents though.

    ‘Space Nazis’ are of course a popular trope but I prefer the more nuanced approach of eg the Dorsai series of books that Pat mentions. I’m also a fan of the amoral Big Corporation TM as a protagonist, with black ops, plausible deniability and lots of ulterior motives.

    Avatar photoDarkest Star Games

    Etranger: The 2300 (or Twilight 2300) SF RPG setting does indeed have “space french”, and they are a dominant force, having colonized at least 1 arm of solar systems.  Of course, the 2300 setting has it’s bad guys, in the for of the Kaffer aliens, but before they arrive it is a very byzentine setting.


    I ‘m with Rhoderic: the HG and JC settings are fantastic.  Though in both you are sort of led to believe that there are certain bad guys (Earth in both settings, and the SDR particularly in HG) and good guys (Jupiter in JC and the North and independent badlanders in HG) the very deep political, social, and racial fluff gives a much deeper sense of the world (as it was designed for roleplay before table top) than most settings can come close to.

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

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