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All-Powerful Bystander

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Guardian of Metal: Me? Oh, I'm nobody. I'm just The Guardian of Metal!
Eddie Riggs: Oh, cool! So, you wanna help me fight demons and stuff?
Guardian of Metal: Nah, I'm not really a fighter. I'm more of a... keeper of timeless secrets.

Our heroes might be good at what they do, but this person is on another level altogether. For some reason, this makes them useless.

An All-Powerful Bystander is a being who is so powerful that it seems likely they could just solve the entire plot with a snap of the fingers. They are, effectively, God, but they're not going to fix the problems facing the universe. Why? There are a variety of reasons:

  • It would mean breaking an Obstructive Code of Conduct.
  • It's not "fair", or will end up destroying free will. This is our universe and we deserve to be allowed to live our own lives by our own rules without having a Deus ex Machina solve our woes.
  • They're "not allowed". There are other All-Powerful Bystanders out there, so any action they take would be cancelled by an equal and opposite reaction by one of them. Also, they would likely punish the All-Powerful Bystander for trying anything.
  • Using their power would have horrible side-effects. For instance, it might draw the attention of something far worse than what they used their power to destroy. Or it may be that the All-Powerful Bystander doesn't have precise control over their own power, so using it is likely to do a lot of unintentional damage.
  • The Bystander likes to watch lesser creatures grow and develop organically, perhaps eventually to ascend to the Bystander's own plane of existence. Such a test or experiment is ruined if the bystander helps them "cheat".
  • They enjoy the suffering.
  • Everything they put the Heroes and Villains through is part of a plan of such subtlety and scope that mere mortals can't comprehend it. Whether or not anyone ever finds out the end result is iffy.
  • They don't really care. They're gods, not the universe's babysitter. They might also see the problems of the protagonists as absurdly minor in the scope of things as they perceive it.
  • Who knows? They have an Omniscient Morality License, and we can only guess at their long-term agenda.
  • It's not fun for the audience. The problem would be solved in just a few panels, and we just wouldn't have a particularly interesting story to read/game to play.
  • The Bystander will not intervene unless somebody asks for their help. The one in need hasn't asked, whether because they're ignorant of the Bystander's powers, or because they assumed the Bystander would refuse to help for one of the above reasons.

Sometimes a Sufficiently Advanced Alien, but most of the time, they're presented as something beyond the "simple" notion of an alien being.

Usually, they just show up to give the hero a mission and some cryptic advice. Often overlaps with the Spirit Advisor.

There are both good and evil Bystanders. The evil sort usually give you superpowers in exchange for your allegiance. The good sort do this less often, mostly just giving you a new +2 sword when you've proven yourself sufficiently.

Sometimes, on very rare occasions, when you are really totally boned, you might be able to persuade, convince, or shame them into bailing you out. However, this usually comes at some tremendous price, and "the consequences are dire". Often, so dire that you end up wishing you'd solved your problems yourself.

Sometimes, the Bystander is also a Trickster Mentor. Their advice is no less cryptic, but is at least more interesting.

While some Bystanders appear in a form mortals can comprehend, others simply don't care.

For more information about their Power, see The Omnipotent.

The Great Gazoo is similar in power but more active. In videogames, they may be the Exposition Fairy. The Interactive Narrator is a No Fourth Wall version. See also: Deism and The Gods Must Be Lazy. Not to be confused with Badass Bystander.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Don Fua from Battle Angel Alita: Last Order, who seemingly has space-time manipulation powers, can phase out any attack, launch black holes from his fists, jump into people's mind, ascend to the Quantum World on his own when others need the help of Quantum Computers, knows the future. He does not even feel threatened by Alita, who just got a massive upgrade thanks to a fusion with Melchiziedek and a infinite energy Wormhole or Zekka. Even the Big Bad himself confess the guy he feared the most was not Alita or even Zekka, but this guy, and notes that Don Fua has theoretically become a god-like entity through the use of a Doomsday Device. Fortunately, he went to another dimension, after destroying the Big Bad's super-powered brain and physically taking Alita's inner ghost with him.
  • Seravy from Akazukin Cha Cha. By far the most powerful character in the series, he was already able to unconsciously defeat the most powerful veteran adult magicians even as a grade-schooler without even being aware of it. In fact, he is considered the only real threat by the Big Bad and in fact is likely the only reason why the rest of the magical world hasn't actually been conquered yet at the start of the series.
  • Ryuk, from Death Note. He's an incorporeal entity who can't be killed by any of the other cast, and could use his shinigami eyes to kill L and solve all of Light's problems at any moment, but chooses not to. This is because, in his own words, "Humans are so interesting." He actually set the plot in motion by "accidentally" dropping the titular Death Note in the human world because he was bored. He serves as an Audience Surrogate and warns Light from the beginning that he won't bail him out of any trouble because that would take the fun out of it. Ryuk at various points does help Light in odd ways, including following orders about what to do with the Death Note, but even then in indirect manners to keep things interesting. When Light is at the end of his rope and directly asks Ryuk to bail him out of a jam, Ryuk takes that to mean Light's finally out of ideas and kills him.
  • Ajimu from Medaka Box. She usually only interferes subtly because she's more interested in finding something she can't do than in doing the things that she can. So far, no luck.
  • Evangeline in Negima! Magister Negi Magi. She's quite possibly the most powerful character to make an appearance yet (curbstomping a demon god and Fate Averruncus, who Rakan was only slightly better than) yet is completely uninterested in helping out (though she has the excuse of being under a Power Limiter most of the time). In fact, she stops the headmaster from interfering during Mahorafest and makes him sit on the sidelines and watch the events unfold! After the Mahorafest Arc, she becomes a much more active ally.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena: Played for Drama and Horror with Anthy Himemiya. No limits to their power are even implied, and they are directly responsible for much of the inexplicable magical happenings taking place at Ohtori Academy. While they could resolve the central conflict around the Duels at any time, they've been so thoroughly emotionally destroyed that they cannot imagining using their power for themselves outside of minor miracles. Utena's Act of True Love in the finale restores enough of Anthy's self-worth that she then immediately leaves her toxic environment. And, sure enough, there's nothing that the Big Bad can do to stop her.
  • Seijuro Hiko from Rurouni Kenshin taught the main character every sword skill he knows, except that, unlike Kenshin, Hiko's got the raw muscular power to use Hiten Mitsurigi style to its fullest, and doesn't bother with Kenshin's Thou Shalt Not Kill philosophy. The author stated outright that Hiko was far too powerful for anyone else in the series to handle. That's why he was made too apathetic and anti-social to ever go after the Big Bads himself.
    • He does fight in earnest once, defending Kyoto while Kenshin went after the Big Bad. He singlehandedly defeated a fifty foot tall giant. With a single blow. After blocking his first attack (capable of cutting straight through a building) and doing a Blade Run after the second.
  • Yuuko Ichihara from XxxHoLic is the All-Powerful Bystander for a collection of universes or "dimensions", she's knows all or nearly so and is capable of granting any wish... for a price, she has stated that something terrible would happen if she doesn't take some payment of the same value and thus her usefulness gets massively handicapped.
  • Miya of Sekirei is the most powerful of the Sekirei and could end the whole Sekirei Plan if she chooses to participate. Her neutrality is the only thing keeping Karasuba in check.
  • Seto Kaiba from Yu-Gi-Oh! is one of the top-ranked duelists and organizer of the major mid-series Battle City, but mostly idles by when other duelists are in danger due to his skepticism and apathy towards anyone not named Mokuba.
  • Yamamoto, and Aizen from Bleach. Both are easily the strongest shinigami, able to incapacitate anybody with their Battle Aura alone, never mind them completely owning the Superpower Lottery. Yet, both are rarely seen on the front lines, usually until after everybody else has been defeated. Aizen at least is just biding his time for the Hokyogku to enable him to evolve, and doesn't care how many of his subordinates get cut down in the process.
    • Yhwach of the Vandenreich subverts this, despite being Yamamoto's Arch-Enemy. He leads his forces personally, and immediately curb-stomps opposition himself.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Whis, from the Dragon Ball Z Movie Battle of Gods, is implied to be the strongest being in the entire universe, so powerful that even the God of Destruction Beerus (who effortlessly defeated the Z-Fighters) was KO'd by him with a single karate chop. Still, in the movie, all he really does is ferry Beerus from place to place, and once they get to Earth, eat a bunch of food and party, completely ignoring the fights going on. He later states that angels (like himself) are not allowed to intervene in anything except when something directly relates to the God of Destruction they serve and if they tried to directly intervene, they'll be erased. As shown what happened to Merus when he decides to defy the law to fight against Moro.
    • Beerus joins him in Resurrection F, where he watches Goku and Freeza's fight and eats a sundae, stating straight-out that he's not going to take sides.
    • Subverted by Dragon Ball Super where both Beerus and Whis are becoming slightly less passive. While they leave all the fighting to the heroes, they helped investigate on Black's true identity, even briefly giving theories regarding how he is created and when they have proof of Zamasu's treachery, Whis rewinds time and Beerus immediately destroys Zamasu with no hesitation whatsoever. This is probably because the villain of that arc was a god himself: they may not intervene in mortal affairs, but godly affairs is another matter.
    • Played straight in Dragon Ball FighterZ where Beerus and Whis refuse to engage in helping Bulma against Android 21's schemes. Bribing them with food doesn't even work this time.
  • Hoshin Engi:
    • Shinkohyo is so strong that the other characters don't have much choice but to tolerate his presence while he wanders around as he pleases. Yet his only involvement in the conflict is to occasionally give a little push in one direction to make things more interesting to watch. otherwise remain a spectator. When Kokutenko asks him why he doesn't just defeat Dakki himself, which he could do anytime he wants, he just answers that this wouldn't be interesting, implying that he would just be very bored if things were resolved too quickly and he were left with nothing to watch.
    • Taijou Rokkun is the strongest after Shinkohyo but gets involved even less. He has no interest in what's going on, and just wants to sleep. All the time. He can see in the very distant future in his sleep, and because of this consider that whatever dynasty fall or win right now isn't that important on a larger scale since in the very end they're all going to disappear anyway. Subverted when we learn that he was secretly monitoring the true Big Bad Joka while sleeping and joins the heroes when the time has come to defeat the Signpost of History once and for all.
  • As befitting her role as a former goddess Quetzalcoatl, also known as Lucoa, is implied to be the single strongest named character in Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid. But due to her neutral nature, she doesn't get involved in the overarching Order Versus Chaos conflict among dragons. It's also mentioned that - had she been present - she wouldn't have helped Tohru fight against Ilulu for this very reason. When the human wizard Azad brainwashes both factions of dragons into destroying each other and the friends of Kobayashi who had arrived to stop him, Lucoa only intervened at the tiniest amounts, stopping an attack from a dragon on par with Tohru, and later just standing before Azad while he tries to flee, allowing Tohru to catch up. It's later mentioned that this is a requirement for being a member of the spectator faction, as they need to be strong enough to strike out on their own but can never interfere even if they have a personal stake in the fight (as doing so would mean that they've metaphorically never left in the first place).
  • The Sage of the Six Paths from Naruto was this until the situation proved dire enough for him to intervene. He had overseen the paths his descendants took, but has remained passive, despite attempts by his son Indra's descendants to achieve the Rinnegan, at the persuasion of Black Zetsu. It was only when a particular descendant of Indra, Madara, not only achieved the Rinnegan, but defeated Naruto and Sasuke and absorbed the Juubi within himself and was well on his way to achieving his plans when he decided it was necessary to grant Naruto and Sasuke the means to defeat Madara.

    Comic Books 
  • The DCU:
    • The Phantom Stranger frequently comes off like this, especially when he appears in someone else's story (which includes most of his appearances since the 1970s).
    • Metron, from the New Gods comic books, is one of the most knowledgable beings in existence, can travel to any point in space and time in any dimension and is the Anthropomorphic Personification of knowledge, but rarely does more than observe events, with his maximum interation being, tops, warning people. Subverted in Final Crisis where he is The Chessmaster, carefully setting the stage and planting the seeds for Darkseid's defeat.
    • Appearing in every #1 issue of New 52 is Pandora, a mysterious figure who is in a tense relationship with the Phantom Stranger after she uses Barry Allen's help to merge the three DC-owned labels into one timeline. She states after a fight with the Phantom Stranger that her powers are greater than both his and The Spectre's. Given that the Stranger and the Spectre have almost limitless power, that's saying quite a bit.
    • Destiny from The Sandman (1989). Actually, most of the Endless qualify as this, but this is especially true of Destiny.
    • The Guardians of Oa from Green Lantern. On the few occasions where they have acted directly, they've been shown to have enormous power, but they try not to become involved in events themselves and stick to administrating the Green Lantern Corps.
    • Superman is a borderline example. Most of the time, he could end his adventure in a matter of seconds. He just limits himself a lot out of personal morality, or to avoid losing contact with humanity. He also has to deal with Kryptonite, lots and lots of Kryptonite. In "Time Ryders", the second Linear Men story from the Time and Time Again collected edition, Superman is more of a bystander in a conflict between more powerful people — Waverider from Armageddon 2001 and the Linear Men — who are in control of time.
    • Played for Drama with Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen, who is a Physical God in a world where no other superpowered individuals exist. However, his one known limitation is that he experiences all events in his life simultaneously, and as such, is incapable of doing anything he didn't already know he was going to do.
    • Tempus Fuginaut, an Alternate Company Equivalent of Uatu for the DC Universe, plays this role in Tales from the Dark Multiverse. His inaction results in an ass-beating from the Last Knight, a version of Duke Thomas.
  • Marvel Universe:
    • Uatu the Watcher, who's bound to exactly the degree of interference that makes the plot more interesting. He is part of a race of beings called the Watchers. They are highly evolved and highly powerful, but their roles are to... just watch. Even with the rare instances of Uatu doing anything at all, he's considered one of the more meddling members of his race. In no small part because of his habit of showing up in person to witness major events, even though he could watch just as effectively from anywhere else. Thus, his mere presence serves as a passive warning that something really bad is about to happen, without technically breaking any rules of non-interference.
      • And to give you an idea of how powerful Watchers are, there have been a few Watchers that have gone insane and attacked, such as Aron the Rogue Watcher. When that happens, even the Fantastic Four have to call in for help.
      • Played up in Earth X, where the Watchers watch but are unable to interfere as a punishment from the Celestials.
      • The Watchers once tried to uplift a primitive race. Their efforts merely hastened their charges' extinction. The Watchers' Alien Non-Interference Clause was the result of that tragedy.
      • This is subverted in that Uatu, despite his constant claims otherwise, breaks his non-interference rule all the damn time. In fact, this happened so much that the other Watchers eventually put him on trial for numerous violations of their ethics code. Ultimately, however, they didn't do much other than making him promise to stop.
      • This became a point of interest during The Infinity Gauntlet; when Uatu shows up to Thanos's "palace", Thanos realizes that his presence means that enemies will be on his doorstep in a matter of minutes.
    • Marvel has a lot of these. The Living Tribunal is a character more powerful than almost anyone, yet he only interferes when there's a real threat to the cosmic order of things... The Living Tribunal did not even consider Thanos' attempt to murder half of all the living beings in the entire universe and replace Eternity as the living embodiment of all existence to be a true threat to the cosmic order, simply saying it was 'natural selection' and disappearing when asked for help by the less powerful cosmic beings.
    • Quite a few of the greater Marvel entities (the Vishanti, the Octessence, and Eternity) do not interfere directly in the workings of the world, choosing to empower magic users like Doctor Strange to be their champions and agents instead. The person can walk away, at the cost of losing the entity's mystical patronage (and thus a lot of power).
    • Odin, Zeus, and a number of other pantheon heads from Earth mythology. Occasionally they may dabble if the mood strikes them, but otherwise they tend to ignore any threat that doesn't directly impact them (and many that do).
    • Professor Charles Xavier, leader of the X-Men, who could solve 90% (if not more) of the X-Men's problems, if he weren't too moral to mess with people's minds and get the job done.
      • In Paradise X, he briefly inhabits a pocket universe where he does just that. It requires mental control over most of the planet and he is very happy to be rescued.
    • In the first Secret Wars, the only thing the Beyonder is missing is a giant DM's screen floating in the sky. In Secret Wars II, he subverts this trope, by taking an active role in the affairs of mortals to the extent of actually destroying Death itself. It doesn't so much work out.
  • In Tales of the Beanworld, Mr. Teach'm refuses to help Mr. Spook catch the notworm. The problem is that because of the "Catch'm Keep'm" rule, if Mr. Teach'm caught it, it would belong to him rather than Mr. Spook. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • The Brotherhood of the Guardians and their fire ant allies from Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) are all incredibly powerful and have access to super advanced technology. However, they care little about the affairs of the world outside their home city of Echidnaopolis and the floating island it's situated on. When Dr. Robotnik began conquering and enslaving the planet, all they did was keep their island hidden from him even though they could have easily taken him out at any time. This comes back to bite them when the traitorous Dr. Finitevus betrays their city's location to Robotnik, resulting in it being razed to the ground and most of the Brotherhood banished to another dimension.

    Fan Works 
  • The Body Reflects the Heart, the Shadow Reflects the Soul: Igor and the residents of the Velvet Room are, traditionally, out of sight of the main action and leave the protagonists to work for their answers, only offering assistance as they seek it. Here, Igor is candid about the nature of the threat and how to fix it, as there is neither a single perpetrator nor a single solution to be located with enough effort. The story also states that he and his attendants are trying to mitigate the damage on their side.
  • Cornerverse's Miraculous Ladybug fanfics such as Hero Chat and Lady Luck (Miraculous Ladybug) often include Ariel Rinn, the Dragon Witch of Paris. She is the Magical Guardian of the city and will provide aid and guidance to those that need it. However, Ariel's role in protecting all Magic users also extends to Hawkmoth. This means she can't act against him, not even telling his real identity to the heroes, unless he goes too far that the World of Magic would permit her to.
  • Demon In Fodlan: Even when depowered, Goetia's powers and knowledge could have benefit Fodlan and has been aware of several plots happening in the background which he could have resolve them if he wishes. The problem is that he has no interest in Fodlan's socio-politics and will only act if it affects him or warrants his interest. The other reason is that he feels interfering too much in this other world would negatively impact the human development in Fodlan, not wanting them to rely solely on him to resolve any crisis.
  • Devil Trigger has Rodin in this role. He could swoop in and resolve everything, but aside from one time he brawled with Scion across several Earths, he's only intervened twice, when Taylor and her allies were horribly outmatched. He prefers to run his bar and mentor them, not directly meddle in their battles.

  • Raiden in Mortal Kombat: The Movie, who seems to pack more power in his pinky than the other characters in their whole bodies, but was unable to offer anything beyond advice to the heroes due to upstairs meddling — by the decree of the Elder Gods, the Big Bad and his minions can only invade Earth if his forces win the Mortal Kombat tournament. If Raiden interferes with the tournament directly, then Earth forfeits, meaning Outworld gets to invade. This runs counter to the canon of the video game series, in which Raiden fought right alongside the rest of Earth's forces. Granted, in the games he also wasn't that much more powerful than the rest of the fighters.
  • Played with in Immortals. The Olympians are shocked at the atrocities committed by Hyperion and could stop him and his entire army easily. Zeus prevents them arguing that they should have faith in the mortals to solve their own problems and the gods are supposed to only intervene as mortals. This is averted when the gods are forced to intervene twice to save Zeus' chosen hero Theseus resulting in Zeus slaying Ares for breaking the law. Ultimately, Theseus fails allowing Hyperion to free the Titans forcing the gods to intervene directly.
  • In the world of John Wick, a world brimming with deadly assassins and killers, the most powerful man among them is Winston. The elderly owner and head of The Continental. Content to lounge about his posh hotel and enjoy his leisure. No one dares try and mess with him. He sums it up best with this quote.
    Winston: Nothing... you demand nothing, Mr. D'Antonio. This kingdom is mine and mine alone.

  • The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi: The Peri are spirits with incredibly powerful magic, but they live in seclusion and forbid themselves from interfering with the human world. Amina wins a concession from them by agreeing to retrieve the Moon of Saba, a major magical artifact, before a human sorcerer can use it.
  • The Ellimist in Animorphs as well as his Evil Counterpart, Crayak are both Type 3s. Whenever one of them wants to interfere with something, the other gets to as well.
    • When the Ellimist first shows up, he recounts the last time both directly acted on the universe. He chokes up a little on recounting the sheer number of species wiped out before they could ever achieve sentience. Even Crayak was stunned at how much damage they did, and ever since, both have pulled back.
  • Ronnie Schiatto from Baccano! is an omniscient and omnipotent "demon", but found it entirely too boring. Therefore, he decided, upon Elmer's suggestion, to take human form and follow Maiza around an indefinite period of time, joining the Camorra somewhere along the way. As for the omniscience...
    "... Don't worry. I've decided I don't know the future. It takes all the fun out of life."
  • The "voice in Garion's head" of the Belgariad - called the "purpose of the universe", he and his equal opponent would destroy the universe if they clashed, and so they set up the planet as a place where their match would occur through proxies. He contents himself with sitting in Garion's head and making snide remarks about everything when he's not giving cryptic instructions.
    • And the Recycled Premise of The Elenium has the Bhelliom and its opposing number in the same situation, minus the snarks (they had baby goddess Aphrael to fulfill that role).
  • The Creator in the The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. He can't enter the Land himself to deal with Lord Foul because doing so would break the Arch of Time and release Lord Foul back into the universe. He has to send Thomas Covenant and Linden to the Land to act on his behalf.
  • From the Cirque du Freak series, Desmond Tiny, Evanna and Mr Tall. All powerful enough to decide the outcome of the war single-handedly, but they're not allowed to directly interfere, or else all hell breaks loose.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Played with The Archive. She is the repository of all human knowledge from before the Ancient Greeks. Anything written, printed, and now typed, is instantly known to her. She's basically omniscient and at least as powerful as the old gods still hanging around. She's also magically bound to neutrality and unable to take sides except in self-defense. Even when Harry, who she considers a friend, needs help, she cannot help him directly. She is also the man behind the man behind the man in the Oblivion War. She sends teams out to find and destroy pockets of believers and people who know of ancient and evil gods, destroying any recorded mention of them for even just knowing the thing's name is enough to give it a foothold in reality. No one knows she is the one sending orders and once the name has not been used for a few centuries, she deletes it from her repository, banishing the ancient evil to Oblivion.
    • There are a number of other very powerful divine beings in the cosmology of the setting, but they do not directly intervene or act because of others. A good example of this is God and Satan; they do not act in the mortal world unless mortal will chooses for them to exert some influence, and when they do the other is able to act accordingly. For example, if Satan lends some extra Hellfire to his Denarian servants on the mortal world, then the Archangel Uriel in turn is allowed to give someone else access to Soulfire, the Fires of Creation.
      • In Ghost Story, where an angel of death stands guard over someone, and Harry, being Harry, tells her to back off, and when that failed, to help the dying. When Harry says that making a choice like that was simple, The angel's eyes are described as 'all but openly hostile.' In her words, it wasn't just this one mortal's choice that led to his near-death, but the culmination of a life's worth of choices and the choice of his attacker and all the choices in the attacker's life, and all the people they touched who choices influenced them. To unmake all those choices is something she isn't willing to do.
      • In Skin Game Archangel Uriel cannot interfere with a mortal's choice. When a retired and crippled Knight of the Cross is willing to walk back into battle, Uriel cannot smite the mortal threat the Knight would face. Uriel can, and does, help the Knight by aiding the man in the choice he has already made and loans the knight his Grace of God, healing the man. The man is healed at least until the Grace is returned. Oh, and if the man should act wrongly, then Uriel would Fall like Lucifer.
    • Mother Winter and Mother Summer are hands down the strongest of all the Fae. They are comparable to Uriel and other archangels in terms of power. They also have strict rules keeping them from directly interfering with the plans of other Queens (and the same rules keep the lesser Queens from bothering them). Mother Summer is the progenitor of life and Mother Winter is the destroyer. Harry twice meets them and twice they don't directly help stop the bad guy. The first time all Mother Winter does is hand Harry a powerful magical item that can destroy any enchantment, but notes it isn't a gift (a gift Harry would have to pay back on in equal value). The second, Mother Summer takes Harry to see a battlefield to help him understand the full scope of the universe. While both times help Harry win in the long run, they don't help directly at all. In the later incident, they even argue between each other whether it is right to show him the battlefield until he injects and politely asks to be shown.
  • Fate/Apocrypha: Servant Ruler is not supposed to join the Holy Grail War. They are meant to impartially observe the war and only interfere if something drastic happens like if civilians are threatened or if civilians are on the verge of finding out about magic or the war. Jeanne is eventually forced to directly intervene when everybody finds out there is another Ruler who is violating the rules by joining the war.
  • Ryougi Shiki's Third Personality from The Garden of Sinners definitely qualifies. She's effectively omnipotent, but just doesn't care about anything. She's almost completely disconnected from reality, and nothing really matters to her, so she hardly ever uses the nigh infinite power she possesses. She exercises some of her true power in Fate/Grand Order to preserve Shiki's existence as a Pseudo-Servant after Solomon destroys the world, but when she appears as a playable character she's Willfully Weak and amusing herself by playing at being a Saber-class Servant.
  • KonoSuba has Wiz, a kindhearted shopkeeper lich who was forcefully made a general of the Demon King. She was an extremely powerful heroic arch-mage in life, and this power was only amplified as a lich. However, in return for... not doing Demon-King-general-things, she is allowed to take a neutral stance in the conflict, as long as no bystanders are hurt. As we see, the moment this pact is broken by a monster she will act, and woe be to that monster.
  • The Arisians (and particularly Mentor) in the Lensman novels are Type 4 (Nurturing). They don't intervene unless it is beyond Civilization's capability to do it on their own, as it is their goal to encourage Civilization to grow and ultimately create a life form superior to them, able to take up their burden so they may retire to another plane of existence.
  • The Lord of the Rings
    • The Valar could easily smite Mordor but instead send five minor powers, and tell them not to take direct action either. This is because when they did intervene directly against Morgoth in the First Age, it broke the world. They're not making that mistake again.
    • Depending on how you interpret him, Tom Bombadil. The Ring has absolutely no effect on him. It's so far below his level that Gandalf rejects the idea of asking him to protect it because he can't understand why it's so important, and would probably throw it away or something. The possibility of the entire forces of Mordor actually being a threat to him is only a secondary concern. They make the sheer scale of Bombadil's power clear with the statement that the ring would be safe with him (assuming he didn't lose it or throw it away), until the entire world except for his little area has been conquered, and Sauron throws the resources of the entire planet against him all at once. Then, and only then, would he lose.
  • From The Cosmere:
    • Preservation and Ruin are a pair of good and evil All-Powerful Bystanders from Mistborn: The Original Trilogy. They are balanced out, being exactly equal in power, though both have found ways to nullify the other at different times. Preservation sacrificed his power and most of his consciousness to bind Ruin thousands of years before the series began. Ruin then uses what little power he has left to alter a series of prophecies, thereby tricking mortal heroes into freeing him, leaving him the unchallenged god of the whole world. Preservation in turn had plans to elevate a successor...
    • From Wax and Wayne, we have the successor to the former gods, Sazed, also known as Harmony. It's actually addressed in story. As he represents Harmony, the balance between Preservation and Ruin, he find it difficult to personally interfere in the affairs of humans lest he tip the balance, though he can and does use agents such as Wax and Marsh.
    • Hoid is a character who appears in every series, almost every book, and possesses a great number of the magics of the different worlds. He mostly remains uninvolved in the affairs of the characters, only giving cryptic hints and information to them if he ever meets them at all.
  • The Caeliar in Star Trek: Destiny. Not all-powerful, but incredibly advanced technologically, and capable of resolving the Borg threat relatively simply. However, their culture is stagnant, xenophobic and isolationist in the extreme, apathetic about the wider galaxy. It takes Erika Hernandez to pull them off the sidelines, after first rediscovering her own humanity. In a sense, Star Trek: Destiny can be said to be about the redemption of the All-Powerful Bystander.
  • The Djinn in Faeries of Dreamdark withdrew from the world after a mysterious "betrayal", and neglected to come back to it to help save it from extinction, until given significant prodding.
  • The Demons from Piers Anthony's Xanth series - especially the Demon Xanth. Type 7 (Apathetic). They're mainly interested in showing up each other and knocking each other up and down their little social ladder. Xanth only takes an interest in his land's inhabitants when they become a way for him to gain status, but after one particularly bold series of events (Yon Ill Wind) left him top demon, he gave his world more attention.
  • The Olympians in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books can often solve the problems for the heroes with ease before said problems get out of hand. They don't through a combination of it not being an immediate problem for them, a highly flexible rule of Zeus that is supposed to limit their involvement in the mortal world, and claims that the Fates do not like too much interference whenever the first two fail.
  • In The Wheel of Time, the Creator is a divinity who created the universe... and that's about all you can say about him, because that guy apparently didn't ever do or say anything after that.
  • In Wind and Sparks by Alexey Pehov the gods (or their equivalent) strongly oppose interfering with mortals' free will. The Dancer, who created the world, does nothing, unless he is bored or the world is in real trouble. Throughout the cycle he just worked as a very conveniently underpriced safecracker for hire and gave several people an incomplete magic textbook. And scared one villain shitless. The nominal head god Melot isn't much better. All he does is Walk the Earth preaching his code of conduct and providing a safe place in his cart for travelers who run into him. Oh, and they both are full of Snark.
  • In The Sirens of Titan, the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent holds that God must be this, because there is no reason why an all-powerful god would ever care about humanity since there's nothing man could do for him that he couldn't do for himself infinitely better. It holds that any man who believes himself to be favored by God is a blasphemous fool.
  • Journey to Chaos: Tasio is the mightiest of Tariatla's deities but doesn't help any of its mortal heroes in any of their quests. This is because he is a trickster deity and finds their struggles to be amusing. He also believes that Helping Would Be Kill Stealing. In his own words, "I'm not a Deus ex Machina". If you summon him in a desperate moment, he'll chat up your enemy and snark at you. Eric once replied to this with "Shut up, you useless bystander." However, if the situation is sufficiently out of a given hero's league, he will lend a hand. Such an occasion occurred in Mana Mutation Menace when Order, his Arch-Enemy and one of The Powers That Be, possessed a mage and invaded a village of his favored race during an event important to his overall goal. At that point he suited up and joined the battle.
  • The Star Rider in Dread Empire is generally considered the oldest and most powerful being in the world, easily beating out even the setting's various legendary archmagi. However, he only rarely intervenes in the world around him, for good or ill, for reasons that make no sense to anyone else. He's actually the Big Bad and all his meddling is specifically designed to sow chaos and conflict, apparently to supply entertainment for beings yet more powerful than he. And he doesn't need to intervene personally that often because he's got an Ancient Conspiracy working for him who handle the little details.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Powers That Be in Angel. The Senior Partners of Wolfram and Hart would count as the evil variety.
  • Babylon 5:
    • The Vorlons in general, during the middle seasons, appeared to be this at first. Subverted when the characters eventually decide they would prefer living in a galaxy without the Vorlons or their counterparts the Shadows. Reason being they learned both of them had not really been bystanders, and once their little cold war went hot, the Younger Races got caught in the crossfire.
    • And Lorien. He is old to the point he makes the Vorlons and other races look young. He describes himself as the first First One, the first being in the universe to gain sentience. His true form is that of a powerful energy ball and while he doesn't directly defeat the Shadows and Vorlons, he gently helps the heroes defeat them and makes sure all present on this battlefield know why they are fighting this war.
  • The Guardians in Doctor Who
    • In "The Fires of Pompeii", Donna notes that the Doctor could get the entire population of the city into the TARDIS and take them to safety. Because it's a fixed point in history though, he refuses to do anything to prevent it. That said, later it is shown that messing with fixed points in history has the potential to break time, so he has a pretty good reason not to.
    • In "The Night of the Doctor", it's revealed that during the Time War, the Eighth Doctor absolutely refused to get involved... until a brush with death and his latest prospective companion choosing rather to die than be rescued by a Time Lord, pushed him passed the Despair Event Horizon. With the universe facing certain destruction and the Doctor facing being Killed Off for Real if he didn't regenerate, he chose to come back to fight as the War Doctor.
  • Farscape: A being from another dimension, Einstein has the power to control time, warp space, and open wormholes at will... but he has no interest in doing anything with that power - or in sharing it with others. He only takes an interest when something might prove a potential threat to the stability of existence as a whole, and even then he prefers to let others act in his stead. Attempts to force him to cooperate do not work well.
  • God in Joan of Arcadia.
  • Knightmare has Treguard, Master of Dunshelm Castle. He could offer general advice to the Dungeoneer and his three advisors, but could not (usually) directly intervene - other than pulling the current player out of the dungeon at the end of the series.
  • Jor-El in Smallville.
    • Justified in that he is dead. He only can really affect Clark, or people that happen to possess a Kryptonian artifact (or manage to enter the Fortress of Solitude).
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • Some of the Ascended beings, particularly Oma Desala and Daniel Jackson (during season 6). Any Ascended being who tries to help ends up getting some sort of ironic punishment. The Ori from seasons nine and ten exemplify the Evil Dungeon Master.
    • The Ori are more like an Evil Dungeon Master who decides to heap rewards on his jerkass players and send them after the players working with the DM who wanted to keep the game balanced (by not helping the players at all). Results in more than a few Curb-Stomp Battles (with the show's protagonists getting stomped) even after it's revealed the Ancients should have a direct stake in fighting the Ori. After all, the ultimate goal of the Ori is to kill them.
    • In the episode "Orpheus", Daniel has a memory when he was ascended of watching Master Bra'tac and Teal'c's son Rya'c being taken prisoner and did nothing. Jack reminds him that the Ancients (the other ascended beings) would not have let him do anything to prevent it.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Original Series: The Organians, introduced in "Errand of Mercy".
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
      • Q, who could probably solve most of the ship's problems effortlessly, but spends more time causing trouble than actually helping the cast... though it is at some points hinted that he's a Trickster Mentor towards humanity, who just doesn't really care about how much the crew has to suffer because of his 'lessons'.
      • In "Q Who", Q offers his services to the crew as a guide and protector, and is summarily told to shove off. So he does what omnipotent beings do when offended, and sends the Enterprise halfway across the galaxy to make First Contact with an unknown race... the Borg. A dozen of Picard's men die, and he is forced to beg for Q's help to escape. It's implied that the Borg were already headed towards Earth, so it's possible Q just wanted to tip the humans off, while still having his fun, naturally.
      • The Enterprise crew find themselves in this position several times, able to easily fix dangers and ills facing primitive cultures but being unable to do so because of the Prime Directive. Episodes that play this up might end with them fixing the problem naturally or playing up the drama of sitting back and letting people die; either way, the morality of the issue is sure to come up.
        Picard: [as Pulaski insists they save a planet about to be destroyed] Do we make the same exception if it's an epidemic and not a geological calamity?
        Pulaski: Of course.
        Picard: What about a war? If generations of conflict is killing millions, do we interfere? [pause] Well, now we're all a little less secure in our moral certitude. What if it's not just killings? What if an oppressive government is enslaving millions?
    • The Prophets in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (especially fond of "We'll bail you out just this once, but there will be a terrible price you have to pay").
    • The crew from Star Trek: Voyager often finds themselves on the opposite side of the problem from the other Star Trek series. It's not uncommon (especially in the early season) for them to find themselves in situations where a race could get them back to Earth (or at least shave months off the trip), only to find that species has their own version of The Prime Directive that keeps them from sharing the technology. Or are just assholes. A prime example would be the returning Q; after spending an entire episode helping Q connect with his son and form a positive relationship, Janeway asks if Q could repay them by sending them to Earth. Q responds "What kind of example would I be setting for my son if I did all the work for you?"
  • Various characters in Supernatural exhibit this:
    • The Trickster God, who's willing to bend time and space to show Sam how he might have to accept that Dean would eventually die and go to hell, but he's not willing to use those same reality bending powers to let Sam save Dean. In episode eight in the fifth season, the Trickster was revealed as the Archangel Gabriel. This trope still applies—maybe even more so. Instead of being a minor god, he is something more badass—or at least more relevant. He finally subverts the trope when he helps the Winchesters to stop Lucifer.
    • God Himself is shown to fit this, up to a point. It's revealed that he doesn't care about the fate of the world, but he still helps the Winchesters in minor ways. In season 11 he finally starts to take a more active role after his destructive "sister" returns to the world.
    • And then there's Death. As a Cosmic Entity responsible for maintaining the natural order into eternity he honestly doesn't care for the fate of a minor planet in the grand scheme of things, but he does give the Winchesters the means to imprison Lucifer so he can continue his duty rather than be tied to a petty archangel.

  • Belial from Priest is this. A human who descended to hell to continue fighting against the fallen angel that destroyed his life. Ivan Isaacs traded Belial half his soul so he could fight the same fallen angel for the same reason Belial is fighting them, but without the other half Belial's powers are limited.

    Multiple Media 
    • Related to the franchise's allegory to biology, the Great Spirit Mata Nui himself was analogous to a careless deity who wasn't overly concerned with his people the same way a person might not care about the wellbeing of their white or red blood cells — he was focused on his mission to explore space and study other civilizations, only paying heed to the civilization inside his own mechanical body when things got real bad but still refusing to intervene directly. Makuta Teridax exploited this weakness to find out how Mata Nui worked, struck him down with a virus and took over his body, ejecting Mata Nui's spirit into space. At that point, Mata Nui became an active participant of the storyline.
    • The Energized Protodermis Entity was a conscious and rather boastful silvery liquid with a power tied to the universal force of fate: who or whatever touched it would be either transformed into something else or immediately killed depending on their destiny. The substance was so powerful and volatile, trying to control it lead to the planet Spherus Magna splitting into three planets, which kicked off all the events on the franchise. The kicker was that even the Entity itself had no control over its power, and was frequently used by various factions as a power-source, an ingredient for experimentation or as ammunition. Despite these key roles, the Entity itself only appeared a couple times as a Filler Villain, revealing every drop of it has been aware of everything for over 100,000 years, it just didn't care to make itself known, not even to the scientists studying it. The one exception was its relationship with Teridax. Seeing as both of them shared an evil god complex, they frequently collaborated on twisted animal experiments in the past.
    • The two Bahrag hive queens, Cahdok and Gahdok, malicious but not technically evil leaders of the destructive Bohrok swarms are just bystanders when the swarm is inactive. Though they have great powers and are hard to beat, they have stayed in their lair for a hundred thousand years and never cared for anything not directly tied to their sole objective, to periodically cleanse the artificial island Mata Nui of all life, forests, rivers and mountains, as decreed by the deity Mata Nui. Even when Mata Nui was dying or his spirit was displaced into another body, the Bahrag didn't move a finger despite ostensibly serving his will.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • A way to solve the Epicurean Problem of Evil is to present God as an omnipotent bystander. The question is that, If God is good and perfect and omnipotent enough to eradicate evil, then why does evil exist in the first place anyway? One of the most famous answers is the Free Will Defence: God is good and perfect, but he's just a bystander because he refuses to interfere with human free will. In this case, it's perfectly possible for him to use his omnipotence to eradicate evil and brainwash all into worshipping him, but it would be immoral. (This "morality as limiting factor" concept also goes hand in hand with other ways to solve other paradoxes and avoid the implication that God Is Evil, such as the concept of Hell not as eternal torment but as being simple separation from God caused by free will).
  • The philosophy of Deism can be summarized as this trope. God created the world, but leaves the natural world to work on itself, refuses to perform any logic-defying intervention, and does not have a preference on which moral code is better. This was a popular philosophy during the humanistic, scientific culture of Enlightenment and supported by important thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson, who thought that if God does not prefer anyone, then all men are created equal, while science and logic are more reliable ways to know said all-powerful bystander. The popularity was also because they were tired of the Catholics and Fundamentalists denouncing science and hijacking politics simply because they were arguing "My God is better than your God".
  • In Classical Mythology, Hades is one of the most powerful of the gods, but also one of the least active in human affairs. Being the god of the dead means that he doesn't really need to make an active effort to increase his power; he can just wait as everyone eventually, inevitably falls into his domain. Generally, the only time he takes an active interest in living humans is when someone tries to find a way to bring the dead back to life.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Urban Arcana features Platonics, Anthropomorphic representations of a particular concept. In they low magic setting of Urban Arcana, they're the equivalent of 17th Level Immortal Shapeshifting Sorcerers. In addition to being able to cast multiple fifth level spells at will, they also have access to spells above CL 5 (Normally only available via ritual incantations). It's possible for a Platonic to cast Wish once a day if they wanted. However, Platonics are bound by "The Pact of the Boundless", which serves to keep their powers in check. Considering that there are Platonics of Genocide and War, the pact is a very good thing.
  • Both averted and subverted in Warhammer 40,000. The Emperor is an immensely powerful psychic with a willpower equal to that of the Chaos Gods, but he's been Only Mostly Dead for 10,000 years and thus can't help the Imperium. Said Chaos Gods are allergic to reality (and depending on interpretation may not even be sentient), but do send out daemons and mutations to aid/eat their followers. The Eldar gods are for the most part dead, except for fragments of their wargod that go active on occasion. The omnicidal, immortal, indestructible robot gods of the Necrons, the C'tan, suffered the same fate as the aforementioned war god after their followers felt betrayed and were subsequently shot to pieces; and finally Gork and Mork (or Mork and Gork) should theoretically be two of the most powerful gods in the warp (gods in the Warhammer universe typically grow in power due to the amount and emotional energy coming from their followers, orks are the most numerous species in the galaxy and most if not all of them are fanatical worshipers of their twin gods) but due to them being ork gods; they're usually to busy fighting each over to really care about what happens in the galaxy.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • While gods as well as Demon Lords and Archdevils and more than one Council of Angels certainly do affect things occasionally, mostly they seem to sit around and especially not take a lot of direct action on the Material Plane for the reason of cancelling each other out. If you were too active in the mortal world, apparently, your opposite counterpart would start to take notice — so mostly they just take more subtle action, if that. The biggest offender might be Ao, the Top God of the Forgotten Realms setting, who really can't be persuaded to do anything at all unless his gods really mess up their jobs, which has apparently happened exactly once. In other words, he's so powerful he can boss regular gods around and so apathetic only the antics of gods can make him intervene, and that extremely rarely (there are a few things that imply he might be forbidden or actively opposed to interfering rather than just apathetic, but that still places him squarely in this trope).
    • On a meta level, this is frequently called the "Elminister Problem" among fans, and is a problem with many pre-written settings; If the land of Faerûn is threatened by evil dragons, why does an upstart party of adventurers have to do anything when there are hundreds of high-level wizards who could solve the problem easily?
  • Exalted boasts millions of gods and elementals but their mandate only lets them rule in Heaven, preventing even the most powerful of them from intervening in the affairs of Creation except under strictly defined circumstances.
    • More specifically the Celestial Incarnae are the seven most powerful gods and have truly "godlike" powers (the Unconquered Sun is technically invincible in normal conditions, the Maidens are functionally omniscient, etc.)... but powerful as they are, they are enthralled by the addictive Game of Divinity and have not been seen doing anything else for centuries.

    Video Games 
  • Observers in BlazBlue are this (it's in their friggin' title), being essentially able to quantum-observe reality itself. The trope is also justified in that Observers need to stand back and strictly adhere to noninterference in order to be able to effectively observe the world. The most prominent Observer in the franchise, Rachel Alucard, ultimately takes a more active role in the plot at the cost of losing most of her power, but she's still a formidable foe to face.
  • The G-Man from Half-Life. He clearly has tremendous power at his disposal, but doesn't actually do anything beyond deliver cryptic messages and turn Gordon Freeman loose wherever it will advance his plans... whatever those plans actually are.
    • Half-Life: Alyx went further making it clear that the G-man outclasses all players involved in the affair between Earth and the Combine aside from his employers. So much so that he considers getting the Combine off Earth entirely to be only a "nudge" to the timeline. A particularly large nudge but still only a nudge. That and the only reason he doesn't do so regardless is that someone further up is employing him and would disagree with that action. His powers extend across time, space, and reality at large.
      "I wish I could do more than keep an eye on you, but I have agreed to abide by certain... restrictions..."
  • The Greybeards from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, whose mastery of the Thu'um magic make them some of the most powerful humans alive, but live as hermits and refuse to interfere in the civil war plaguing the province. They will share their knowledge with anybody who comes to them, especially a Dragonborn. But few people have the endurance and patience necessary. They're not joking about the "all-powerful" bit either. Console commands reveal they're all at Level 150, close to twice the player's level-cap.
  • The Wise One from Golden Sun. Justified after The Wise One's nature was spelled out in Golden Sun: Dark Dawn. The Wise One is a living Philosopher's Stone, instructed by its creators to prevent the return of Alchemy to Weyard. Felix discovered in the events of The Lost Age that Weyard would collapse unless Alchemy was restored, compromising The Wise One's sole objective. Long story short, The Wise One didn't know what to do, so it used a Secret Test of Character to make sure the heroes were sure of their decision. In the meantime, it also did protect Vale from being destroyed by volcanic eruption twice.
  • Hyrule Warriors reveals that this was the role of Cia, as the Watcher of the Triforce. She was supposed to merely observe the timelines and their events while keeping the Triforce safe, but her growing feelings for Link left her open to corruption by Ganondorf, which ended up with Cia separating 'the light from her heart', which took on the form of Lana and she chose to abandon her position and started to wage war on Hyrule to get her hands onto the hero she desired and the Triforce. In the Legends and Definitive Edition story mode, she and Lana return to their duties, now as separate people to both watch over the Triforce.
  • Mortal Kombat: It is stated Raiden had to take a mortal form to compete or else the Elder Gods would stop him. He is implied to be potentially far more powerful than shown in the games and is often portrayed that way in other media. In Mortal Kombat 9, they explain that Raiden's status as a deity means he can only enter the Mortal Kombat tournament if directly challenged, hence why for much of the game the heroes are counting on Liu Kang as The Champion. The day's eventually saved when Raiden (forcefully) keeps Liu Kang from stopping Shao Kahn's attack on Earthrealm. Once Kahn sets foot on Earth, he's violating the rules of Mortal Kombat, giving Raiden the right to attack him with his full Godly might.
    • Speaking of 9, the Elder Gods are a particularly frustrating example of this. As mentioned above, Shao Kahn invades and ravages Earthrealm after having LOST Mortal Kombat 2 times already (once through Shang Tsung on Earth, and once straight-up in Outworld). However, the Elder Gods don't get involved, citing Mortal Kombat is only meant to preserve balance among the realms. They only get off their asses when Kahn starts merging Outworld with Earthrealm, which is expressly forbidden without having won Mortal Kombat. Even in his pleas to them, Raiden cites this as a pretty silly distinction. Mortal Kombat 11 partially justifies this with The Reveal that one of the Elder Gods, Cetrion, is working as The Mole for her mother Kronika, and once the Elder Gods try to actually help Raiden, Cetrion kills them all.
  • Zork III introduces a character called the Dungeon Master who set up all the trials and puzzles you faced through all three games, because he was training you to become his replacement.
  • Touhou Project: Yukari Yakumo is more or less the founder of Gensoukyou, and between her versatile powers, her network of spies, agents and familiars and her skill at manipulation, there are very few problems she can't solve. However, she is an incredibly shifty individual whose true motives are incomprehensible even to other youkai (on one occasion she ignored a couple of plots which could destroy the barrier around Gensoukyou and/or kill everyone in it, but ruthlessly stamped down on a foreign species of dandelion that had gotten in on the aggressors' clothes). When she does help the protagonists, they tend to view it as an Enemy Mine situation more than anything else, assuming that she's just using them as pawns in some larger scheme.
  • The more powerful witches in Umineko: When They Cry, who exist above the gameboard and in the meta part of the story can do anything. Bernkastel is quite capable of looking through all the Fragments to cheat and see where Kinzo hid the gold. The witches are also clever enough to just solve the story by completely fair means or suspend the game. However, they're more interested in betting on the outcome and using it as a way to entertain themselves as long as possible. They find it fun to see people struggle.
  • Dyntos in Kid Icarus: Uprising can "forge" anything, including counterfeit boss monsters, and he created the Three Sacred Treasures to boot. He's considered omnipotent by the standards of other gods, but for some reason finds taking sides to be distasteful and is content with just making things. It takes Hades, quite possibly the next strongest god in existence, to start toying with the very balance of heavens, earth and Underworld to get him working on Pit's side.
  • In Mass Effect 3, the Leviathan DLC reveals that the Leviathan, the race that came before and inadvertently lead to the creation of the Reapers, have been hiding for millions of years whilst civilizations upon civilizations have been harvested. Shepard can discover their location, which accidentally alerts the Reapers as well, forcing them to take an active role and join forces with the "lesser races".
  • In DragonFable, casting magic spells consumes mana and drains energy. Meet Warlic, a mage who generates more mana instead of consuming it when he casts spells. It sounds awesome, but if he gets careless and his mana output gets too high, it could tear reality in two. The last time that happened, he ended up destroying an entire planet. He doesn't step in until it gets really bad, and he tries to avoid magic as much as possible. It's also a case of Helping Would Be Kill Stealing:
    The Hero: If you had all this power why didn't we avoid this situation in the first place?! You could have defeated Nythera easily! And... and Xan! You could extinguish him! And Drakath, and Sepulchure, and...
    Warlic: ...and I could rule over this land? With an iron fist and woe be it to any who dare oppose me?
  • The Outsider from Dishonored just gives certain people incredible powers and lets them do as they wish. His true motives are never revealed. His stated motive is that it's amusing to see what the empowered individuals choose to do. He doesn't care whether those things are bad or good by any human standard; all he cares is whether they're interesting. In fact, he'll be pleased if you don't do as he expects.
  • Shin Megami Tensei:
    • Stephen from the mainline continuity appears to be just a harmless man in a wheelchair who invented the Demon Summoning and Demon Translation programs that most protagonists in the series use. He often shows up to help the protagonists by upgrading their programs or telling them where to go next. Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse reveals that he is actually the same character in all of the games that he appears in, which sometimes are decades apart or even take place in different universes. It turns out that he used to be an ordinary astrophysicist but his research eventually led him to understand a small fraction of the Axiom, thus becoming a Physical God and developing reality warping abilities. Despite being able to solve pretty much all of the problems in every universe, he prefers not to interfere unless something goes horribly wrong on a cosmic level, because he wants to observe if humanity (specifically the various protagonists in the series) has the potential to evolve and surpass gods just like he did.
    • Schrödinger in the Digital Devil Saga duology appears as early as the opening cinematic of the first game in the form of a strange black cat. The second game reveals that he is actually a higher being who has been watching the main characters since the beginning but never actually did anything. Whether Schrödinger is a version of Seraph from another universe, another being who attained enlightenment, or an avatar of Brahman himself is never clarified due to the vagueness of the game's Gainax Ending.
    • A subversion exists in the form of Philemon of the Persona series, the manifestation of the potential for good in the Collective Unconsciousness. He doesn't do much in Persona or Persona 2 aside from awakening the characters' Persona power and give them advice in what to do next. It's played straight in Persona 3, and Persona 4, and Persona 5 though; the most he ever does is watch over the protagonists from his butterfly guise, not even introducing himself to them. Not that it mattered, seeing as they and their friends awakened to their Personas naturally without his help.
  • In Shadow Hearts we have Roger Bacon, who is a centuries old warlock with more power in his little finger than most of the heroes put together but just comes off as some kooky old man. Truth is though, that he can do pretty much anything but doesn't because A. He is afraid of what God might do if he showed off (you would be too!) And B. Humanity has let him down so often that he does not consider saving the world worth his time, at best he is content to cheer along the side-lines.
  • Sword and Fairy 7: Demon Lord Chonglou (a good guy, despite his position) is by far the strongest person involved in the plot, as demonstrated by his Heads I Win, Tails You Lose boss battle, but he's busy with protection of the Yanbo spring, and lacks information. When he finally gets the full picture, he still can't directly intervene because he can't go to the Deity realm without causing a war, and the heroes have to take on the Big Bad by themselves.
  • Dungeons & Dragons Online recently allowed its Eberron denizens to crossover into the Forgotten Realms, meeting Elminster, the all-powerful sage. While the wizard introduces you to the plot and appears often as narrator, he is the ultimate piker, never directly participating in any fighting. At the conclusion of one fight, he'll appear to you and your party to reclaim the MacGuffin you likely died to free up...and won't even deign to resurrect any of you as he and a fellow Harper leaves with the item. This is in line with how he acts in the source material, though there it tends to be coupled to explanations (the 'balanced out by others' one is the standard, since he is hardly the only powerful mage around) and exceptions.
  • Phantasy Star Online 2 has Xion, who is literally an omniscient giant computer-slash-water planet. She serves as a guide to the player throughout the story, but is unable to act through her own means. Notably, the last time she tried to get involved with mortal entities, it inadvertently resulted in the creation of a universe-ending Eldritch Abomination.
    • Xion's "brother", Xiao, is a subversion, as he fulfills the "computer-slash-water-planet" aspect but isn't omniscient, and thus is limited mainly to calculating possible outcomes instead of possessing outright future knowledge. He also serves as one of the heroes' greatest allies once he officially joins the team.
  • The Elite Four in various Pokémon games are usually the best Trainers in the region along with the Champion, yet they rarely, if ever, help out when it comes the various villainous teams running amok. It's been suggested that the Elite Four are bound by a clause that doesn't allow them to meddle in the affairs of other Trainers unless it involves one of the Elite Four directly, such as Lorelei in Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen defending her home against a gang of Team Rocket grunts. Some games do have the elites and/or the champions step in when things go bad, such as Lance assisting the player fighting Team Rocket in Pokémon Gold and Silver.

  • Sarda the Sage in 8-Bit Theater. Lampshaded in several strips. And in the end, justified - he actually wants the Light Warriors to suffer as much as possible. And there's a limit to what he can do directly because he himself is stuck in a Stable Time Loop.
  • The Penguin God from Jack Of All Blades, who when asked why he doesn't solve the cast's world threatening problem, states that it's because he's going to spend the day thinking about naked people.
  • Problem Sleuth - Godhead Pickle Inspector ignores all commands except:
    > Fondly regard creation.
  • The Palm Tree Ghost from Our Little Adventure. All she provides is guidance to the heroine and is often quite snarky about it as well. Similarly, the angels only act against the Empire when summoned or contracted to do so, because the Gods have agreed that any direct interference permits a proportional response from the other side. When the Archangel Azagrael ignores this rule to deliver extra information to a cleric, a powerful demon is released to the world.
  • Uncle Time from Sluggy Freelance. He could probably send everybody in Timeless Space home if he wanted to, but he doesn't bother unless someone solves his riddle, or at least falls into his home beneath the Oceans Unmoving.
    • Khronus, Father Time, is an even bigger example. He was once a mortal born with incredible knowledge and perception of time. Pleased, God, bestowed him with Godhood to act as the universe's caretaker. In the ancient past, he would often involve himself in the affairs of mortals and was the benefactor of the civilization of Mohkadun. But after his wife and son were murdered by one, he becomes completely indifferent to anything other than ensuring time remains stable. In fact, his indifference has grown so great that he is willing to let a tangle in the malfunctioning Fate Web kill K'Z'K, the Anthropomorphic Personification of destruction. Even though this will bring the entire universe to its final end.
  • Jones in Gunnerkrigg Court is functionally invulnerable, strong enough to crush rocks with her bare hands, and has ages of practice in diplomacy, but she prefers people-watching and telling others to Figure It Out Yourself.
    • Coyote is also an example: powerful enough to yank the moon out of the sky, implied to be nearly omnipotent, yet he rarely does much of anything even though there are definitely things he wants that he could easily acquire by force (like getting Reynardine to return to the forest). True to his title as a trickster god, he seems to prefer sneakily manipulating people over using threats of apocalyptic violence. For the time being, at least.
  • Mab from Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures falls into type two here.
  • Immortals in El Goonish Shive are a combination of type 1 and type 3; they are only allowed to guide and empower mortals. Any further action and they risk incurring the wrath of other immortals. Interestingly, a good portion of the plot is being driven by a crazy immortal who's not afraid to bend the rules with blatant Loophole Abuse, such as bestowing magical powers upon mortals without their consent or knowledge.
    • There's also something of a loophole in that an Immortal is only breaking the rules if he/she BELIEVES he/she is breaking the rules. Thought it's heavily implied that an Immortal would have to be seriously insane to consider that tactic. Pandora happens to be that insane.
  • In True Villains, Dexter is an incredibly powerful mage and Prophet of the God of Stability, but carefully limits his involvement in worldly affairs. He once spells out that it's a core tenet of his faith to let things develop naturally:
    "...You start to learn that things that seem bad to one person might be good for another, and saying which one is worth being right is a very difficult task. If I lent my power to everyone who needed a hand, the world would be a very different place."
  • In Kill Six Billion Demons, several older characters exist who have (or had) the power to instantly solve the ongoing storyline to their satisfaction, but either cannot nor will not.
    • As the scribe of God and holding the knowledge of God's names and secrets, Metatron 1 is explictly powerful enough to kill all of the surviving Demiurges and scour Throne free of their taint, but having the Old Law literally written into their being prevents them from breaking it in such a manner. As the Greater-Scope Villain of the comic, it is likely Metatron's manipulations of Zoss and Jagganoth is some manner of plan to get around this.
    • Zoss the Conquering King is the most powerful being in the comic outside the long-dead Gods, but intentionally chose to pass his power on to a successor instead because he realized trying to fix everything on his own wasn't viable in the long term. It is, however, implied that he's currently Save Scumming the universe itself until he finds the 'right' successor who can use that power responsibly.
    • While currently dead, Word of God says that Meti was not only the best swordsman but also the most powerful fighter period, with the possible exception of Zoss. The only thing stopping her from killing all the demiurges and taking over Throne was that she thought fighting was idiotic and it was better to be a farmer. Her idiot students, meanwhile, did not get the hint and became two of the deadliest conquerors of the Universal War, although Maya eventually got it and retired.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-343 is possibly the most powerful SCP in the entire Foundation canon, being a Reality Warper who has no known limitations and may or may not be God. However, even though he could break out of containment on a whim, he's content to just stay where he is and not bother anybody. He doesn't seem to have any particular end goals, or be interested in using his powers to alter the world he supposedly created.

    Western Animation 
  • The Observants on Danny Phantom have found a loophole. They have a strict code "to watch and never act," but they can ask Clockwork to solve any problems they find.
    • Clockwork himself counts too. His actions however stem more from boredom and an urge to tweak off the Observants by not killing Danny after all. He also sees "all the paths [fate] may-or may not- take" so he may be trying for a particular outcome that excludes constant meddling and apparently thought nothing of Danny's Bad Future until the Observants demanded that Clockwork take action.
  • The Dungeon Master from the Dungeons & Dragons (1983) TV series used this trope so much he was originally the Trope Namer.
    • Of the Batman Gambit variety, if the never-made finale's script is to be believed. He was apparently trying to manipulate the children into redeeming Venger, who turned out to be his son.
    • There has been at least one episode where he averted this trope, and actively aided the party. This is mostly because they were facing a being more powerful than he and Venger combined, however - he was absolutely needed. And to his credit, he nearly died doing so from exhaustion.
    • In one particular episode Eric is given the powers of the Dungeon Master, and uses it to almost effortlessly carry out the quest of the day. At the last minute, he returns it for the aesop about too much power.
  • In the episode "Twenty Years to Midnight" of The Venture Bros., the team is followed around and observed by the Grand Galactic Inquisitor, a conspicuous twelve-foot tall alien whose catchphrase is "IGNORE ME!" The trope is subverted by the twist ending, when the Inquisitor threatens to become anything but a bystander.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: A few hundred years before the story, Avatar Kyoshi — a fully trained Avatar, no less — did absolutely nothing while Chin the Conqueror took over near-all the Earth Kingdom (save Ba Sing Se). Even when he showed up on her doorstep with an army, Kyoshi's only response was to tell him to get lost, before simply cutting off her homeland from the mainland. Chin dies as a result, but not because of a direct attempt on Kyoshi's part (he stood on a newly created clifftop as it crumbled, rather than get to safety).
  • Both Splinter and The Shredder serve as this for the good and bad sides respectably in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012). The reason because these two both qualify as the World's Strongest Man that as no other person in the series could fight evenly with them. When Splinter enters a fight against Shredder's men? Splinter always curbstomps them. Shredder entering in a fight against the Turtles? The Turtles are lucky enough to even escape alive. It's pretty clear that all of the main problems in the series could've been solved if Splinter was more active and this actually works in Shredder's favor as he successfully won after teaming with The Kranng. It's only natural that both Splinter and Shredder get killed off once the series ended.
  • Reboot: When Hexadecimal isn't the villain of the week, she's this. She could easily stomp Megabyte or the heroes into the ground through sheer force alone, but as the self-entitled Queen of Chaos that method of victory is simply too boring for her. She actually did just this once, by turning all of Mainframe and Megabyte's forces to stone: Bob convinced her to undo all of it by pointing out how peaceful, calm, predictable, and unchaotic Mainframe will be without anyone running around in it. She's also far from properly sane most of the time and is usually content to just keep to herself in her chaotic Lost Angles unless provoked, which is good for Mainframe as one time she nearly destroyed the entire city by simply becoming an artist. When Bob defragments her broken mask she becomes his staunch ally, and requires depowering to not totally warp the plot of Daemon Rising around her presence.
  • Played with in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic with Princess Celestia, who tends to be as uninvolved as possible with Monsters Of The Week not only out of fear of slipping into villainy and tyrany herself and a potential Superpowered Evil Side, but also because she's grooming Twilight Sparkle to be her successor and Twilight needs to learn how to handle these events. However, while she fancies herself as quite powerful, and she's certainly no slouch, she's not nearly as powerful as she likes to think: the times she does take a stand and fight she is soundly defeated, and every single Bad Future where she had to defend Equestria resulted in her and Equestria's swift defeat.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball: In Season 6, it's revealed that Banana Barbara isn't just psychic as previously shown, but is actually a Reality Warper who can manipulate the fabric of space and time with her paintings. However, because of her insanity, she's not usually lucid enough to use her powers for any concrete goal.
  • What If…? (2021) finally introduces Uatu The Watcher into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like his comic counterpart, he has sworn an oath to never Interfer with the events of the universes. While he at first plays the trope straight when he refuses to help even after Surpreme Strange begging him to rescue his universe from destruction, it's eventually subverted in the season 1 finale when Infinity Ultron threatens to destroy the entwire multiverse. However, he still doesn't use his own powers directly but uses his skills and knowledge to ensemble a team, the "Guardians Of The Multiverse", to counter Infinity Ulrron's attack.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Omni Impotence


The Elder Gods

The Elder Gods refuse to get involved despite the obvious danger it proposes which Raiden calls them out on.

How well does it match the trope?

4.91 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / AlienNonInterferenceClause

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