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Black And Gray Morality / Tabletop Games

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  • Warhammer 40,000 is about nothing but this. Intentionally.
    • Every time it looks like another race, usually the Tau or Eldar, is starting to look more sympathetic than the dictatorial (among other things) Imperium, they'll start pulling off new atrocities in the next edition. In 40K, about the best you can hope for is a Well-Intentioned Extremist or Knight Templar who won't kill you too painfully.
    • On a general scale, you can't find any faction that is good by our standards, but some sub-factions and characters, like several Space Marine chapters, a few Imperial Guard regiments, a few Rogue Trader dynasties, many Eldar Craftworlds and Exodite Worlds, Ravenor and Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!) or the Tau count as good. Unfortunately, they are far outnumbered by less moral groups, Bad Bosses, people who go too far for their cause, and the Dark Eldar, Necrons, Tyranids and the forces of Chaos.
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    • Again, its not as much as normal "Good" as much as "being nicer and more rational than those around" or (at least slightly) caring about (their own) civilians and collateral. Tau is your typical militaristic expansionist state. Cain did admit that he actually shot a number of his own troopsnote , absolutely abhors Xeno races and "traitors" note  and sees nothing wrong with using criminals for target practice in a military orphanage.
    • It is saying something about the setting when you consider the "good" factions of the game: arrogant space elves who view humans as little better than filthy, stupid animals; the Imperium of Man which is an Anti-Hero at best, but would easily fall into villainy in most settings, where their policy against all aliens is shoot first, talk later and have same attitude as aforementioned Eldar regarding aliens, but with a "slight" difference that while Eldar are mostly butthurt space elves that are limited to insults and schemes, the Imperium is actually busy exterminating non-humans daily. Also they destroy entire planets of people if it is suspected to have a substantial corruption of Chaos, not to mention that their oppression is nothing short of fascism; and the communist Tau Empire, whose leaders are powerful psychics that control their followers through mind control and their MO is "join us and serve the Greater Good, or we'll kill your entire race". That said, at least Tau bother with allies, the Eldar leave you alone unless you come up in one of their schemes, and the Imperium is usually fairly tolerant of you as long as you're a non-mutated human and believe in the God Emperor, while sub-factions of it will even tolerate contact and trade with non-humans. Which is all more than we can say for Chaos, Orks, Necrons, Tyranids, and Dark Eldar.
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    • It's also probably worth mentioning that the comedic relief in the series is the Orks, a race of Ax-Crazy Blood Knights, who are hellbent on attacking and destroying as many worlds as they can, just because they love a good fight.
  • Warhammer Fantasy while not nearly as bad as Warhammer 40,000 is still quite nasty. The main "good" races are arrogant elves, isolationist elves, power-hungry humans, grim feudalistic humansnote , Mayincatec lizards who practice human sacrifice, and dwarves that are all the same, only with fatalism and grudges against everyone under the sun. You get the occasional hero; you also get regular sociopaths. Fantasy does, however, have good people like Emperor Karl Franz, Prince Tyrion, Alith Anar, and Tsarina Katerin, so it's not nearly as dark as 40k.
  • Warhammer: Age of Sigmar follows the tradition of its predecessors.
    • Just for the forces of Order, the Stormcast Eternals may be heroes all, but they will still kill you if you are tainted with Chaos through no fault of your own, and not all of them will even feel bad about it. The Fyreslayers have channeled the honor of their Dwarven ancestors into following their mercenary code to the letter. The Kharadron Overlords are Sky Pirates. The Daughters of Khaine are a terrifying murder cult who happen to despise the forces of Chaos and Death more than anyone else. The Idoneth Deepkin are isolationists being reluctantly forced to work with others, and who have to eat souls for their people to survive. The Sylvaneth range from slightly xenophobic at best to the Ax-Crazy Omnicidal Maniac, Drycha.
    • The forces of Destruction are mostly just there to fight and destroy because they like it, much like the Orks of 40k.
    • The forces of Chaos literal demons, their worshipers, and anarchic herds of Beastmen who despise civilization and want it all to burn.
    • And the forces of Death are all followers of a deity who's managed to make a compelling case for being the actual Big Bad of the setting, Nagash. The Nighthaunt in particular showcase this, because out of all the horrible people who are pressed into service in their own Ironic Hell, there are still the Dreadscythe Harridans, who were healers in life and in death are punished for cheating Nagash of his due by being forced to kill while leaving their minds intact.
  • Most of the gamelines in both incarnations of the World of Darkness present a system where the playable factions are some shade of Grey and are opposed by a faction who is Black:
    • Vampire: The Masquerade and Vampire: The Requiem both feature a faction of pragmatic vampires who try to keep a low profile and avoid pointless killing (the Camarilla/The five playable Covenants) opposing a faction of Fully Embraced Fiends vampires who just want to bring hell on Earth regardless of the consequences (the Sabbat/Belial's Brood).
    • Mage: The Awakening has the Pentacle Orders, an alliance between various Mage factions acting behind the scene who all have their individual flaws, opposing the Seers of the Throne, an Ancient Conspiracy and Decadent Court who willingly serve god-like tyranic beings into secretly ruling mankind.
    • Changeling: The Lost has the majority of Changelings (ancient slaves to insane Eldritch Abominations whose trauma has made deeply paranoid and insane) going against the Loyalists (Changelings willing to hand over their peers to save their own skin) and the True Fae (the previously mentioned abominations).
    • Promethean: The Created has the titular Prometheans, who are Artificial Humans trying to Become a Real Boy (sometimes using questionable methods) against the Pandorans (insane monsters out to devour them) and Centimani (Prometheans who embraced their monstrous side).
    • Werewolf: The Forsaken has a slightly more complicated case; at first, it seems similar, having the Tribes of the Moon (werewolve who are trying to act as guardians of the Spirit World and the World of Flesh to make sure Spirits won't mistreat humans, but don't care that much about humans and will kill some of them without much thought if it's necessary) going against the Pure (werewolf supremacists who want spirits to enslave all of mankind). The twist is, the Pure actually are A Lighter Shade of Black to a third faction, the Bale Hounds, who worship the Maeljin Incarna and just wish to turn the entire world into Hell on Earth.
    • In Genius: The Transgression, the Peerage deliberately chose to be Grey because if you have a Genius go off on his own he'll often become Illuminated, and if the choice is between accepting jerks or have them wander off and turn into Mengele, you'd better get used to putting up with jerks. The Storyteller is advised to keep the players wondering whether the Ancient Conspiracy Lemuria is really that bad compared to the barely human nutbars in high-up positions in the Peerage. (The "black" role here is played not so much by modern Lemuria, which is just going through the motions, but by Clockstoppers, the Illuminated, and the occasional Hollow Earth Nazi or Phantom Slaver Yeti.)
  • In Call of Cthulhu, the heroes are insane and the villains are even more insane.
  • Morality is a very minor point in Shadowrun. Generally characters don't question whether it is right to take a job, they question how much they get paid. Though some groups draw the line at assassination.
  • In Psionics: The Next Stage in Human Evolution there are no unambiguously good factions. Who is black and who is gray depends on your perspective.
    • The Zodiac Order are esper supremacists that want to set espers up as a the new master race and do not care about how many people have to die for that to happen.
    • Abraxis conducts horrific experiments on humans and espers and is ruled by a board of directors that is completely profit-driven to the point of being totally amoral, which itself is headed by a violent psychopath that frequently has entire families killed for the sake of convenience.
    • The Shop regularly kidnaps and forcibly indoctrinates US citizens through torture, is not above purging any witnesses who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and makes a point of isolating its espers from one another.
    • Eschaton is straight up committing genocide against espers whenever they can and has all of it's espers (all of whom are devoutly religious) convinced that they're demon-possessed.
    • The Red Orchestra is basically the psionic KGB. They want to establish Russia as the new dominant superpower and will happily use torture, mind control, and every other dirty trick in the book to do it.
    • Aleph is a cutthroat secret society fronted by several Asian corporations. They want to increase their economic power, no matter what the cost. They're similar to Abraxis in terms of their methods.
  • CthulhuTech: A crossover between H. P. Lovecraft and Neon Genesis Evangelion was bound to be pretty hard on everybody — an ongoing theme of the setting is how the horrible, soul-rending evils wage a tireless war to keep the really bad stuff at bay. To quote the Corebook's intro fiction: "Some people say war is hell. Well, I've seen Hell. This is worse."
    • The main factions are a police state, a number of secret societies (the Eldritch Society, the Children of Chaos, the Esoteric Order of Dagon), and the Rapine Storm (who are significantly more evil than they sound).
  • The Necessary Evil setting for the Savage Worlds game-line starts out with all the superheroes of the world getting killed by a precision strike by invading aliens. The only ones left to oppose them (the PCs and their allies) are the supervillains.
  • Winterweir is an Anti-Traditional Fantasy RPG in many respects. As such, the Trow and humans killing each other are more likely to be decent people suffering Fantastic Racism than not.
  • BattleTech does this a lot as well. The state usually tagged as the good guy, House Davion, was led for years by the Magnificent Bastard to end all Magnificent Bastards, Hanse Davion. A man who engineered a massively destructive war and faked the brutal cashiering and disgrace of the son of his best friend and intelligence adviser... all so he could gain revenge on one man. Yet this same state is (almost legitimately) the beacon of freedom and rights in the Inner Sphere.
    • Granted, the 'one man' he wanted revenge on was the leader of another Successor State, who very nearly managed to actually replace Hanse with a brainwashed doppelganger who'd have acted as his willing puppet. All events laid out in the (very early and thus possibly now somewhat obscure) BattleTech novel The Sword and the Dagger. Wars have historically been fought for less...
    • Or ComStar, who are shown to be a manipulative and secretive organization, that can easily bring a state to its knees just by shutting off all communications between planets, and which is not above intriguing to keep its own interests secure — there are a few hints that the Succession Wars may well be an Evil Plan by ComStar intended to preserve its own autonomy and power within the Inner Sphere. At the same time, it is the last holdout for many destroyed technologies that humanity would need to survive and thrive.
    • When you have the likes of Word of Blake, a fanatical, genocidal splinter faction of the aforementioned ComStar that retained its pseudoreligious trappings, even the likes of the Capellan Confederation—long regarded as one of the least cooperative Successor States—looks good. Having decidedly one-sided caste based citizenship, the most ruthless secret police and special forces units around, and the occasional tendency to double cross allies for their own gain doesn't look quite so bad next to the World of Blake nuking, orbitally bombarding, chemical spraying, and bio-bombing entire planets into dead worlds.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The campaign world Greyhawk lives for this trope. The world of Oerth is always on a knife's edge between Law and Chaos, and there is an organization led by Mordenkainen the Mage (who most people will recognize because his name appears on a few spells) that ensures that neither gains ascendancy... by any means necessary. Mordenkainen, in canon fiction (Word of Gygax, however, has it that this wasn't intended originally, had he not been ousted from TSR) will work with the Big Bad one week, and then lead a group of paladins against him the next... all to keep the balance between Law and Chaos correct.
    • So does Dark Sun. A Death World reduced to a scorched, mostly lifeless desert of rocks and dust (the ocean has been renamed the Sea of Silt... take a wild guess why they call it that), where there isn't one creature (or plant) that isn't dangerous in some way (a sandcrawler looks like an adorable, fluffy, foot-long black furry caterpillar... it uses its cutesy appearance to get close to people, waits until the poor fool falls asleep, then implants its parasitic larvae in their flesh), one of the facts emphasized is that people will do terrible things merely to survive. That this is a Justified Trope for the setting goes some way towards explaining why it's a Crapsack World.
    • The city of Neverwinter, which has its own campaign book as of 4th Edition. Sure, you have the standard Obviously Evil factions such as the Abolethic Sovereignty, Thay, the Ashmadai, and a criminal empire of wererats, but even the "good" factions don't come off particularly well. Lord Dagult Neverember is unquestionably helping the city recover after being ravaged by an erupting volcano, but he's a bit of a sleazeball and his reasons for devoting resources and money to the city aren't entirely altruistic. And the Sons of Alagondar, while certainly well-intentioned in their desire to see Neverwinter back in the hands of its people, are willing to murder, riot and hop into bed with the Dead Rats and Thay in order to see their goals achieved.
    • Forgotten Realms as a whole runs on this beneath the surface, at least according to Ed Greenwood. See here.
    • Though there are heroes in the Eberron campaign setting, they are few and far between. In the core Eberron setting book, there's only 1 high-level Good NPC, and she is a young girl who only has such power while in the same city as the Silver Flame (a metaphysical source of elemental good) itself. And that person is responsible for trying to make sure her church full of Knight Templars doesn't cause too much death and destruction. Of course, Word of God from the setting's creator indicates that at least part of the reason for lack of powerful good NPCs is to keep the focus on the PCs as the heroes.
      • All of this said, while all of the major mortal factions (major nations, dragonmarked houses, and even the Blood of Vol, a creepy religion secretly controlled by one of the setting's Big Bads) are more-or-less amoral, few of them are of the Card-Carrying Villain variety- most of them simply have their own agendas that they're interested in pursuing regardless of who gets in their ways. Unfortunately, there are several extremely powerful supernatural forces that are unambiguously evil (Lords of Dust, Dreaming Dark, and Daelkyr being the three biggest) and would pretty much destroy the world and/or reshape it in their image if they had their way. Really unfortunately, all of these are creepily good at disguising their true nature and working through pawns who may actually believe they're the good guys, and the main forces capable of opposing them on their own level are morally ambiguous in their own right (the dragons, the Undying Court) and the one that is purely good (the Silver Flame) is inherently reactive rather than proactive, and influential parts of its religion have gone the Corrupt Church route.
  • Exalted tends to vary between this and Grey-and-Gray Morality, depending on your exact portrayal of the different factions.
    • The Solar Exalted are the returned God-Kings of yore, who once went mad from the Great Curse and were executed en masse, with their souls trapped in the Jade Prison so they wouldn't reincarnate and continue their reign of terror. On the one hand, they seem to be a lot less insane now, and the world desperately needs their help, but there are plenty of folks who are worried they'll go back to their old habits...
    • The Abyssal Exalted are made from Solar shards that have been corrupted by the Neverborn, to aid the Deathlords in destroying Creation. While not all Abyssals are evil, their very nature is inimical to life, and they have to work very hard not to destroy everything and everyone around them.
    • The Infernal Exalted are also made from Solar Shards, but instead corrupted by the Yozis rather than the Neverborn. As a result, they have the power of the fallen Primordials, who want their Chosen to take back Creation from the gods and Exalted that cast them out. While the Infernals are perfectly capable of telling the Yozis to go to hell, that doesn't necessarily make them good guys.
    • The Dragon-Blooded have had control of Creation ever since the Usurpation got rid of the Solar Exalted, but they spent most of that time in petty squabbles. While they were finally united (mostly) under the reign of the Scarlet Empress, she ruled them with an iron fist, while simultaneously making herself irreplaceable in the Realm's political structure. And now, with the Solar Exalted returning, she has suddenly disappeared, ensuring all of the Great Houses are ready to vie for control.
    • The Lunar Exalted have spent their time since the Usurpation on the borders of Creation, subtly influencing mortal affairs and engaging in social experimentation to create societies that do not require divine or Exalted intervention to function. Unfortunately, most of the elder Lunars that are running the show are selfish, evil, or insane (or some combination thereof), and younger Lunars have to follow their orders or risk losing access to the moonsilver tattoos that will prevent Wyld taint.
    • The Sidereal Exalted are in charge of maintaining Fate and keeping causality intact throughout Creation, but they also have a bad habit of sticking their nose into mortal affairs for the sake of their political agendas. The Usurpation was their idea, as was the Dragon-Blooded Realm, and they constantly squabble over whether they made the right choice or not. With the Solar Exalted back, the old factions have stirred up again, with some welcoming their new Solar overlords (while trying to maneuver themselves into becoming The Man Behind the Man), and others violently opposing their return.
    • The Alchemical Exalted have humanity's best interests at heart (at least, the portion of humanity that they'r sworn to protect), but are forced out of necessity to serve and uphold the tenets of an unimaginably restrictive, totalitarian regime. Worse yet, those that end up striking out on their own end up succumbing to Voidtech, turning them into Robotic Psychopaths. And even then, high Clarity Alchemicals often end up incomprehensible to normal humans, not to mention completely ruthless in pursuit of their goals.
  • Typical for KULT, except when it's worse.
  • The premise of Anathema: Either meet a daily murder quota or let the Earth and all of humanity die a slow, horrible death.
  • Eclipse Phase: Firewall do some genuinely horrible things for the greater good, most of the factions have at least some dirty laundry...and they're still better than most exhumans and the TITANs.
  • When playing Infernum, it's either this or Evil vs. Evil. You have an order of literal Knight Templars who want to exterminate all demons in Hell, the so-called Free Tribes (which are humans who survive in Hell by being willing to do anything to survive, including using Black Magic and committing cannibalism), Fallen Angels and even idealistic demons who want to rise above their innately twisted, aberrant natures but are hampered by the limits of their biology and mentality (for starters, they can't survive without feeding off the pain of souls because it's all that holds their own souls together, and love isn't a natural emotion for them to feel). Versus these you have... well, all The Legions of Hell, who embrace corruption, torture, degradation, backstabbing, ambition and malice as the only things that matter.
  • In Bleak World This is essentially the rivalry between the Blackwood Company (who own street gangs, the prison system, and the media) and The Dark Skies Corporation (Who lobotomized an entire army to put demons in them and harvest the souls of the people they defend and/or prosecute.) There are many other examples, this is just the most notable.
  • Paranoia is divided into people who do evil things for personal profit, people who do evil things because they're fanatical nutcases, and people who do evil things because one of the first two types ordered them to. The closest people to "good guys" in Alpha Complex are members of secret societies like the Mystics, whose agendas are merely utterly selfish instead of actively destructive.
  • In The Madness Dossier, the protagonists of Project SANDMAN use brainwashing and memory wipes, discredit witnesses, and will probably kill innocents without blinking if there's no other choice. However, they can justify all of this; they are fighting to prevent humanity from becoming slaves to a bunch of monsters who couldn't even see why this sort of thing is a problem. The only snag is, even just study of the enemy can sometimes make the heroes more like them.


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