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Cosmic Chess Game
aka: Divine Chessboard

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"I knew it! I knew I was a piece in the middle of a cosmic chess game!"
King, Housepets!

An extension of Cosmic Plaything, where two or more gods (or similarly powered entities) are effectively using the entire world as a game board. Often one god is portrayed as actually caring about his pawns while his opponent is pure evil. May lead to a Rage Against the Heavens when the heroes find out they've been used. Often a god acts specifically through one mortal or a small group, sometimes an entire species. May be considered an inversion to Cosmic Horror Story, as the deities in question excessively obsess over the seemingly inconsequential mortals to the point of tormenting them with responsibilities and consequences beyond what they can rationally comprehend, though the tropes may overlap if the manipulators are incomprehensible entities or if the game has few high-order consequences.

This is a subtrope to Divine Conflict. Indeed, it might overlap with Combat by Champion to prevent the gods from duking it out themselves. Gotta maintain the Balance Between Good and Evil, you know? Contrast Chess with Death. Human Chess is this on a much lower scale. See also The Big Board in cases where the overseeing decision-makers are high ranking humans who can move pieces around.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Advent of Death's Daughter has a Fantasy Pantheon of 12 gods and goddesses each summoning one hero from Earth and having them compete, taking bets on who would perform best. The main character, Maeda Naoko was swept up accidentally into the summon and discarded by these vain gods because her looks didn't match their aesthetics, so their boss, Thanatos, chooses her as his champion.
  • The ending of the Dragon Ball: That Time I Got Reincarnated as Yamcha! reveals the entire thing was a board game between Gods of Destruction Beerus and Champa.
  • The gods of Goblin Slayer, specifically Truth and Illusion, are Tabletop Game players: the setting of the story is just one of the many campaigns they have played. It's implied all decisions made in Goblin Slayer, be they good or bad, heroic or villainous, are the result of mere dice rolls. Furthermore, it's hinted that the alternative for this trope is all-out war; attempting the latter a second time will really destroy them. The titular Goblin Slayer is unusual in that his determination and Crazy-Prepared nature means that the gods' dice rolls cannot directly affect him, meaning he is effectively Immune to Fate.
  • No Game No Life has Tet, the God of Games, rule over the world of Disboard which is inhabited by 16 races. Each race's powers and status are granted by a chess piece MacGuffin; Tet challenges the protagonists to unite — or conquer — all races in order to obtain the full set and face him for the ultimate game.
  • In Saint Seiya, the goddess Athena and her rivals Poseidon and Hades would serve this way for their armies. Athena was unique in that she frequently gave her champions a power boost if they were close to losing, a risky gambit since every time she did so she had to conserve power to stop a global threat.
  • In Suterareta Yuusha No Eiyuutan, the primary source of conflict is a proxy war between goddesses Clare and Messiah, with Clare being the clear aggressor.
  • The Witches' Game in Umineko: When They Cry. Unique in that it's fairly small in scope, limiting itself to a small island with 18 people in it. Until the Voyagers reveal the whole of what's going on: namely, an infinite number of the same small islands with the same 18 people on it thanks to the Schrödinger's Cat scenario.
  • In the Millennium World arc of the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga and the anime's final season, it's revealed that all the events happening in the Pharaoh's Memory World are taking place during a Cosmic Role-Playing Game between Dark Yugi and Dark Bakura. Moreso in the manga, where the rules are explained and the game is consistently seen being played after the reveal as any other traditional role-playing game would with the simulated events from the Memory World happening simultaneously, whereas in the anime the rules are vague and the table is a giant TV screen.

    Comic Books 
  • Black Moon Chronicles: The entire plot of the series was set in motion by Lucifer and his minion Pazuzu when they decided to play a game where Pazuzu couldn't just let his boss win every time to escape his wrath. Each of them would create a child on Earth and let them battle for the fate of the world.
  • In Alan Moore and Alan Davis's Captain Britain: A Crooked World arc, Merlyn and his daughter Roma are playing cosmic chess, on a chessboard, with pieces that look like the characters, and the fate of the universe (and, possibly, the multiverse) is at stake. At one point the arc's Hero Killer cyborg monstrosity, the Fury, hits Captain UK with an energy blast and Merlyn protects him by physically shielding the chess piece with his hands (which leaves his hands badly burned).
  • In Cyberspace 3000 the ancient alien Gamble illustrates his schemes as a cosmic chess match, with Thanos and Adam Warlock as the two kings.
  • Marvel Comics' Grandmaster does this regularly — it's his Hat. Sometimes he's the good guy and sometimes he's the bad guy.
  • The Mighty Thor: Thor once saw all of Asgard asleep, except for his father who was playing chess with a foe. He goes off to the foe's realm to cause trouble and disrupt the game. Sif stops him, and he learns that if he had succeeded, Odin would have forfeited the game — he has acted as the enemy's piece. Fortunately, the game ended in a draw. The idea comes up again in the Original Sin tie-in miniseries The Tenth Realm: Odin's imprisonment of the Serpent in Asgard is represented as a game the two of them are playing, with Odin always winning. When Loki comes to get Odin's assistance, Odin's forfeiture of the game frees the Serpent.
  • The events of the "Family Reunion" story arc in The Muppet Show Comic Book, are all part of a boardgame being played by two celestial beings who happen to resemble Statler and Waldorf.
  • The Sandman: In "Three Septembers and a January" Despair, Desire, and Delirium challenge Dream to a game; whichever one of them has hold of one Joshua Abraham Norton by the time he passes into Death's domain wins. Dream, who doesn't normally deign to play his younger siblings' games, wins, but Desire is so slighted that they start conspiring to trick Dream into spilling family blood and almost succeed a century later.
  • In the Superman/Batman story "With a Vengeance", The Joker (using Reality Warper abilities stolen from Bat-Mite) and Mr. Mxyzptlk play a board game with their pieces being an assortment of Superman and Batman-related characters.
  • Top 10 has one between the Great White and the Great Black going on in the background, with a Gray Scorekeeper who maintains a "board of lights." According to a dying cavalry piece (a giant horse-headed alien), life and the stars are white while the emptiness of space is black, and white is winning because it used to be all black.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Athena is shown playing chess with pieces that look like the characters she's manipulating and Ares smirks as he watches the game, foreshadowing that he'll be playing against her even if he's playing along for the most part at the time.

    Fan Works 
  • Near the conclusion of The 10 Doctors, the Tenth Doctor finds out that all that mess was caused by the Guardians of Time, who were playing chess with a board and pieces representing the characters. Obviously, he is not amused.
  • The Archmage's Last Bow: According to Harmonia, a Great Game has been played for millennia by two beings who don't realize they've been playing a game against someone else, with each of them competing to control the three Gems of Being. As a major world event called Harmoic Convergence growws ever closer, Harmonia notes to Bright Gleam that the two players' moves have come down to this moment in time for the endgame. Gleam notes in the middle of this reveal that Harmonia, too, is playing the game against these two mysterious players.
  • The premise of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Chess Game of the Gods is that Discord, when he was free for the short duration before encased in stone again, started a literal Chess Game of the Gods, with the players being Celestia, Luna, Discord, Athena, Terra (Goddess of Equs, the planet), Lady Luck, and others, and the chess pieces being humans, transformed into anything other than ponies, and sent to Equestria or its surroundings to do their part. This has led to several different writers making their own contributions, collaborating with others, and making their mark in the series' canon.
  • In Child of the Storm, Doctor Stephen Strange uses chess metaphors from time to time but is basically playing Cosmic Solitaire, making sure that events go the way he wants them to — and as a mixture of Seer and Time Master thanks to the Time Stone, he has a lot of scope to make that happen. He actually engineers an absolutely colossal Gambit Pileup note , and pretty much everything that happens is due to his manipulations, or due to attempts to evade them. His only known limit is that he admits he can't deceive four of the seven Endless at oncenote . Really, this is not much of a limit — there's a reason this version of him was a member of The Omniscient Council Of Vagueness before that page got cut.
    • It's implied that he also plays a straighter version of this trope with various other beings from throughout time and space and all sorts of dimensions (just after explaining this, of course, he cracks a joke about being a Doctor who fights in the Time War).
  • A Game Of Chess has this as the premise, with Faust summoning a Random Joe named Cory from Earth to play one of this with her. In her own words:
    Faust: I created a new world for my subjects to live on, but they need have challenges to face. I will guide my ponies with my light while you try to corrupt them with darkness.
  • The idea of an immortal game is thrown around several times in The Immortal Game, even in the very beginning, where Celestia refers to her weakened self and the corrupted Twilight Sparkle as nothing more than pieces on the board. Titan, on the other hand, views it very differently, instead seeing it as a game he has already won. Notably, the story was originally called Ponies Make War, until the author decided to rename in order to get the concept across better.
  • In Ripples, it appears that everything that's happened to Will — being sent back in time, being de-aged and transformed, and becoming Phobos' Only Friend and Morality Chain — is all part of a wager between two powerful, but currently unidentified, beings. (Word of God has confirmed that they'll appear and be explained in the sequel)
  • Near the end of Seven Days in Sunny June, it's shown that Queen Faust appears to have been playing one of these with the eyeless man for quite some time, and now Sunset Shimmer and her friends and family are major pieces in their game.
  • In Starcrossed, Q and his mysterious partner are playing a game with the Federation and Empire as pieces. Currently, there is a cliffhanger with another Q discovering a second board... and its pieces are the gods.
  • Webwork reveals right at the beginning that the Balance Between Good and Evil is one of these between the entities that represent Light and Darkness, with each manipulating everything that occurs in the mortal world, large and small, in order to advance their side.

    Films — Animation 
  • Hercules depicts Hercules fighting a series of monsters during a montage, while from Hades' point of view, Hercules and the monsters appear as pieces on a game board.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the 1981 Clash of the Titans, Perseus is guided and protected by his father Zeus, while Calibos is aided by his mother Thetis. Both use clay figures to plot destinies.
  • In the 2010 Clash of the Titans, Perseus is guided and protected by his father Zeus (which is interesting since Perseus is in this movie opposing him), while Calibos is aided by Hades, who had a real easy time of convincing him considering the (not entirely undeserved) doozy Zeus pulled on him.
  • Played with in The Gamers: Hands of Fate, in which the characters of a CCG seem to become aware they are playing pieces.
  • Hercules (1983): Zeus creates Hercules to give humanity a champion, Hera places various obstacles in Hercules' way, and matters escalate from there.
  • Jason and the Argonauts are watched, challenged, and aided by the Gods in Olympus, who plot their movements on a game board.
  • The end of Men in Black reveals that the whole universe is nothing but a huge cosmic marble game played by aliens. The marbles are entire galaxies.

  • In Animorphs, the heroes are guided by The Ellimist, while Crayak is behind the Yeerks and other adversaries. They're both godlike beings who've Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence. The reason they're doing this is that they're so morally opposed that they would be fighting one another, except that as they currently exist, if they tried to fight each other directly it would probably mean the end of all creation, which neither wants. The last time they did fight physically, they took out entire star systems until they both ran into a black hole, leading to the aforementioned Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence. So, they've agreed to a game of manipulation and guidance, with each bound by inviolable rules (not that both don't try to cheat).
  • In the Book of Swords fantasy series by Fred Saberhagen, the gods produced a number of incredibly powerful artifact swords with fantastic magical powers, with the intent of giving them to a number of humans as part of some kind of cosmic chess game between the gods. But the swords were so powerful that they allowed the people holding them to become players in their own right. By the end of the third book (of eleven), the gods had lost.
  • Common in The Cosmere, the setting of various Brandon Sanderson books.
    • In the backstory, a godlike being called Adonalsium was broken into 16 pieces called Shards. Each shard had an Inent which defined its purpose (EG. Honor, Endowment, Ruin), and 16 people claimed the shards. Because any two shards are equal in power and thus unable to overpower another, their conflicts consist largely of using people on the planets they're struggling over to gain an upper hand.
    • In Mistborn: The Original Trilogy, the entire trilogy is actually something of a chess game between Ruin and Preservation, although almost no one on the planet is aware of that. The two shards created the planet together, but part of the deal was that Ruin gets to destroy the planet eventually, which Preservation obviously wants to prevent. Ruin is trapped but slowly overpowering Preservation due to a slight power discrepancy caused by Preservation using more of its power when creating humans. Ruin corrupts people and prophecies in order engineer its escape, but Preservation is unsurprisingly quite skilled at foreseeing the consequences of its actions.
      • The Sequel Series Wax and Wayne seems to be following a similar path, as the god Harmony guides the Wax, Wayne and company where they're needed. Unlike how this trope typically plays out, Wax is, especially in the second and third books, entirely aware that Harmony is using him to fight his enemies. The rival god has only been referred to as "Trell", although the exact nature of this conflict isn't totally clear as of the third book.
    • The Stormlight Archive has a large element of this as well. Humanity worships Honor, also known as the Almighty, who guided them in conflicts called Desolations against another Shard named Odium and his army of Voidbringers. About 4000 years ago The Heralds declared that the war had been won, but as the first book progresses characters find out that Honor was killed by Odium and the Heralds lied about their victory, unable to continue the endless battles and tortures they endured.
      • The Oathbringer indicates that the Shard Cultivation is also present, and likely actively working against Odium.
  • David Eddings really likes this trope.
    • In The Belgariad, the heroes and villains are respectively guided by two opposing Purposes of the Universe. The heroes have an advantage in that they receive instructions directly, whereas the Big Bad Torak does not grant his minions this privilege. At one point, Garion even receives a vision of this kind of game to nudge him into acting, with the Light Prophecy noting that it seemed like a suitable metaphor for a competitive boy like Garion.
    • In The Elenium, it seems as though events are being manipulated by a couple of gods. In The Tamuli, it turns out that everything, including the gods who thought they were doing the manipulating, is actually being manipulated by two beings who spend their time creating worlds and then fighting over them. Both of these downplay the trope from the earlier Belgariad in that instead of using a world-spanning board in which the tiniest events have vast significance in the game, every player starts out with an extremely simple goal, limited interests, and a plan requiring a minimum of pieces which simply happens to take a long time to achieve. Between completely unexpected accidents, awareness of hitherto unknown players involved, and the slow accumulation of connections and attachments formed over centuries, the game ends up as complicated as if this trope had been intended from the start.
    • In The Redemption of Althalus, the two sides are being guided/manipulated by two of the three sibling gods.
  • Appears several times in the Discworld series:
    • Particularly in The Colour of Magic and Interesting Times — it's implied to be going on all the time, but those books happen to star Cosmic Plaything Rincewind. Most of the gods are involved, but the best players appear to be Fate and "The Lady" (implied to be Lady Luck, but of course saying her name is unlucky).
      Thunder rolled. It rolled a six.
    • More prominently appears in The Last Hero, in which among other things, the heroes realize the gods are the ones who give them the maps they use while adventuring.
    • Near the end of Small Gods, the newly repowered Om intervenes to stop one of these, having learned what it's like to be one of the pieces.
    • Pops up repeatedly as an aside or gag in books where gods aren't directly involved, generally to the effect of "the gods play games, but they're not smart enough for chess." It's usually more like Snakes and Ladders with greased rungs.
    • In Interesting Times the game is some sort of Risk-style strategy game (Fate plays the strongest faction while The Lady plays one so weak it isn't really a faction), while The Colour of Magic and The Last Hero have the Gods playing a heroic roleplaying game, aiding their own heroes with quests and maps while setting up random encounters for their opponents.
    • Incidentally, Terry Pratchett was an avid tabletop gamer himself in his youth, and apparently a few of the early novels contained plot elements derived from ideas he originally came up with for campaigns. (The Luggage, for example, was a Hand Wave for how an adventuring party got their loot out of the dungeon.) It's probably best not to think too hard about the metafictional implications of this, particularly since the trope has come full circle with the release of GURPS Discworld.
  • Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser have their lives often controlled by their sorcerous advisors, Ningauble of the Seven Eyes and Sheelba of the Eyeless Face. Interestingly, Ningauble and Sheelba have more of a friendly rivalry than enmity toward each other.
  • Good Omens plays with the trope, as it's suggested that the conflict between Angels and Demons is less this, and more "very complicated Solitaire".
  • Parodied in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "There was one planet off in the seventh dimension that got used as a ball in a game of intergalactic bar billiards. Got potted straight into a black hole. Killed ten billion people." (And just to add insult to injury, apparently it was only worth thirty points.)
  • Isaac Asimov wrote a short story in which mankind manages to completely eradicate cockroaches from the planet... at which point the universe ends because it was just a Simulation Game being played by two gods, where each player creates a species, and the winner is the one whose species survives longest.
  • The early novels in the Night Watch (Series) were all about this: as their Power Levels approach godhood, Others lose the ability to influence events directly without causing a reality warp. When that happens, they start relying on convoluted plans involving multiple Unwitting Pawns to continue the eternal struggle between Light and Darkness. The protagonists of the books usually find themselves either in the middle of this clash or in the shoes of said unwitting pawns. And then, there is the Inquisition that constantly plays the Night and Day Watches for utter fools.
  • While it's fairly common practice in the Perry Rhodan universe for entities that have Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence to recruit and use anywhere from chosen individuals to entire species as pawns and auxiliaries, the probably most famous example is the literal "cosmic chess game" between It (ES in the German original) and its Enemy Without Anti-It for final absolute control over their shared-but-contested-for-millennia territory that includes but isn't limited to both the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies (issues #600-649). Naturally, the series protagonist ends up being one of the main pawns.
  • In the Tales of the Branion Realm series, the gods are seen in vision playing "strategy" for influence. Sometimes, however, they come to earth and take over the bodies of their heroes, literally fighting it out on the battlefield. This is painful and deadly for the pawns.
  • The Star Trek: Voyager Relaunch trilogy Star Trek: String Theory has a casino where pandimensional beings, such as the Q, use the "deeds" to celestial objects as currency. Some of the members are "destroyers" who delight in blowing up whatever they just won, especially if the object had specific meaning to whoever lost it or if they clearly have a problem with random wanton destruction.
  • Often happens in Xanth with the Demons. In fact, it gets to the point where there's fairly even chance that any reveal will be a Demon wager on the actions of mortals.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Aphrodite Inheritance (late '70s BBC TV series), ancient Greek gods once again treat us as their playthings.
  • Babylon 5, the young races to the Shadows and the Vorlons.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In The Armageddon Factor (the finale of the Key To Time Story Arc) the Doctor, who was sent on a Plot Coupon mission to get the parts of the Key To Time by the White Guardian, is opposed by the Shadow, who was sent by the Black Guardian to get the pieces of the Key.
    • In Seasons 25 and 26 there are hints that the Seventh Doctor, who here began to be portrayed as a more godlike figure and Chessmaster, is playing a game against an unknown opponent. It is revealed in "The Curse of Fenric" that the Doctor's opponent is the Eldritch Abomination Fenric, whom he beat at a Chess game centuries ago, but who has been manipulating events since Season 24. Unfortunately for Fenric, the Doctor does not play fair.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • The Kamen Riders in Kamen Rider Gaim are all being pushed on by various outside forces, mainly DJ Sagara and the mysterious "Woman of the Beginning" (who looks like Mei), each of whom appears to have their own ambitions regarding Helheim Forest. It's eventually revealed that DJ Sagara is really the embodiment of Helheim itself and orchestrated the events of the series to find a new "Man of the Beginning" to replace the Overlord Inves as ruler of the Forest. The Woman of the Beginning is future Mei traveling back in time to warn her friends in an attempt to stop what's to come. Except in doing so she ended up letting Sagara know everything he needed to do to make his plans go smoothly. Oops...
    • Kamen Rider Build is eventually revealed to be one long chess match between Vernage, Queen of Mars, and Evolt. Vernage is secretly aiding the Kamen Riders in order to use them to destroy Evolt and avenge the destruction of her homeworld, while Evolt is also manipulating the Kamen Riders, as well as several other major players in the conflict, in order to regain his Planet Eater powers.
    • Kamen Rider Saber also leads to one of sorts. After Master Logos's manipulations lead to things going off the rails, Yuri decides to get directly involved and start aiding Touma Kamiyama. Tassel eventually decides to stop simply observing and get involved as well, although Master Logos seals him to keep him from causing too much trouble.
  • For a while, Power Rangers had this when Rita gained the Green Ranger to oppose Zordon and the rangers. Of course, he eventually switched sides.
  • This tends to come into play in Super Sentai whenever a Sentai team is being backed by supernatural
  • In Lost, everyone's a piece to be used by Jacob and the Man in Black, but the Oceanic 815 survivors are the main pieces.
  • In Tru Calling, Jack was working for The Grim Reaper (or simply Fate), while the titular Tru had been chosen by an unknown power to save lives by way of "Groundhog Day" Loop. Interestingly, a suicide caused the two spirits to swap champions for an episode.


    Mythology & Religion 
  • In The Bible, the Book of Job concerns the tribulation and suffering of the virtuous and God-fearing Job who undergoes serious ordeals. The reason for this is that, effectively, God and Satan are having a wager to prove or disprove a point. Satan argues that it is easy to praise and thank God when all is going well, and Job is a wealthy man blessed with good family, abundant crops, and healthy flocks. Job is then tested to destruction as Satan is allowed to take away his wife, children, prosperity, and finally his health, to push him to the point where he curses rather than praises God. Job and his family become the pieces on the playing table for God and Satan to pursue a divine-level disagreement.

  • In The Gamer's Alliance, the gods prefer manipulating mortals to do their bidding and fight wars for them when possible. Nergal the God of War goes as far as to refer to mortals as his pawns and actually likens the millennia-spanning conflict between the gods to a comic chess game which he intends to win.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The stated reasoning behind the games of the Illuminati in the card game of the same name.
  • Nobilis: The Player Characters are essentially minor (relatively) gods, but using their powers blatantly can have deleterious effects on mortal sanity, so they're encouraged to use subtle effects or bound mortal agents to weaken their enemies' estates.
    • And of course, there's no reason to assume the Imperators who empowered the player characters didn't have their own agendas beyond appointing stewards for their estates while they fight the Excrusians, so a noble could be playing one cosmic chess game while being a mere pawn in another one.
  • This is what Scion could be perceived as being about. At least one illustration uses the concept — the opening image of the Pantheon chapter in Hero 1e, with the signature characters as the pieces and their divine parents watching the board.
  • Werewolf: The Apocalypse, in that it is about the cosmic struggle of Order, Chaos, and Corruption.
  • Mage: The Awakening introduces the Ascension Wars.
  • Averted in Exalted. The Games of Divinity (played by the highest gods, the Incarnae, in the Jade Pleasure Dome in Yu-Shan) sounds like this, so the game goes out of its way to make it clear that it is not this trope; it has no effect on the lives of mortals and only affects whether it is night or day in Yu-Shan.

    Video Games 
  • In BlazBlue, all the heroes seem to be controlled by Rachel Alucard or Jubei (since they're all some combination of Jubei's students, Rachel's "servants" or Kokonoe's subordinates. Or are friends thereof) in some roundabout way while all the villains appear to be manipulated by Hazama and Relius Clover (mostly because they're being extorted, brainwashed, More Than Mind Controlled or Mind Raped). The few exceptions are Arakune (completely insane and almost driven entirely by instinct), Carl Clover (who has his own business with his father), and Bang Shishigami (who's in it to promote JUSTICE). Amane Nishiki dabbles in this because he mostly pursues beautiful things (and people), but is also tied in because he adheres to the code of strict, non-interfering Observance.Becomes increasingly complicated when the Big Bad Duumvirate between Yuuki Terumi and Hades: Izanami is introduced, with all villains playing off and occasionally directly fighting each other. Some characters' lives are also of cosmic importance because Master Unit: Amaterasu refuses to leave them alone — and she has grievances with her brother Susano'o as well...
  • In Crash Bandicoot, Crash and his friends are guided by the ancient witch-doctor mask Aku Aku, while Dr. Cortex and his gang are controlled by Aku Aku's Evil Twin Uka Uka.
  • In Dead Space, Isaac is guided by The Red Marker in the form of hallucinations of his dead girlfriend. Meanwhile, Mad Scientist Dr. Mercer seems to be getting (un)holy visions from the Hive Mind, not to mention the legion of Necromorphs it's sending to kill Isaac. Ultimately though, both forces are enacting the collective will of the Brethren Moons, the originators of both the Markers and the Necromorphs.
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy has Chaos and Cosmos doing this quite explicitly.
  • One of the biggest twists in Elden Ring is that there are multiple entities referred to as "Outer Gods" who are in a struggle for control of the world and that the Greater Will, who up until that point seemed like the equivalent of capital-G God, is just one of several. These Outer Gods don't interact with the world directly, and instead choose proxies and champions from mortals and demigods: Marika for the Greater Will, Malenia for the God of Scarlet Rot, Mohg for the Formless Mother, Ranni for the Dark Moon, the Fire Giant for the One-Eyed God of Fire, the Gloam-Eyed Queen for Destined Death, Dragonlord Placidusax for the unnamed God of Dragons, and potentially the player for the God of Frenzied Flame.
  • In Fahrenheit, Lucas is guided by a race of anti-human AI's, and the Serial Killer Mayan priest by a human cabal. And there's a faction of Almighty Janitors who know and see everything.
  • Herc's Adventures opens with a chess game between Zeus and Hades. The playable characters are the only pieces Zeus has left.
  • The ending cinematic of Hexen implies that by killing the final boss you have just made a move on one of these chessboards.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • The E3 trailer for Kingdom Hearts III has young versions of Master Xehanort and Master Erasqus playing chess in this manner. Close examination of the pieces shows they have symbols corresponding to various characters the two of them haven't even met yet.
    • The entire opening of Kingdom Hearts III is Xehanort, young and old, making moves on the chessboard — and corresponding scenes throughout the franchise. In-story, the Framing Device for the entire game is a Variant Chess match between Xehanort and Eraqus that just so happens to predict the future.
  • Kun Lan and Harman Smith, from Killer7 are another example, and they even have pieces to play with (Harman has the Smiths and Kun Lan has the targets the Smiths are looking for).
  • The entire setting of Nexus Clash is in the middle of one of these. The Powers That Be used to battle more directly, but the Good and Neutral deities didn't like the risk of the destruction of the mortal world and the Evil ones didn't like the risk that this posed to their own lives, so over countless eons the Nexal Struggle fought by mortals has become the agreed-upon method of solving divine disputes over who gets to shape the universe next. Sometimes the influence of the various Powers is obvious and sometimes it is very, very subtle. Given the generally bleak prospect of being caught between feuding gods for all eternity, the setting is never short on player characters who try to Rage Against the Heavens instead.
  • The gods of Shin Megami Tensei are always fighting to get humans to believe in them because human belief is what empowers gods.
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Persona:
    • In Persona 2, humanity is guided by two mysterious all-powerful entities known as Philemon and Nyarlathotep, and they have a bit of a competition to see whose path humanity will eventually choose. Interestingly, both of them are also aspects of humanity's collective subconscious.
    • The events of Persona 5 were set in motion by a bet between Igor, who believes in the good of humanity and backs the protagonist to prove it, and Yaldabaoth, who wants to trash this world and start over with a new one.
  • In the Soul Series, Soul Edge and Soul Calibur, two sentient swords, use their powers to manipulate others to fight for them.
  • In the Destiny 2 franchise, the entire universe is the result of the two fundamental forces, Light and Dark, getting tired of playing a much simpler game reminiscent of Conway's Game of Life, with the two instead creating the universe and the creatures that live in it, each force then offering the inhabitants their power in return for winning the game for them.

  • The first main underlying plot of Housepets! was a game of "Universes & Unrealities" between a Dragon and a Gryphon (with a Kitsune GMing). It eventually ended in a stalemate, with both combatants being declared losers when the pawns decided not to play anymore. Though there was a winner: one of the pawns, King.
  • Homestuck with the forces of Derse and Prospit battling on Skaia (a planet with chessboard soil).
  • In Kubera, Agni outright describes the plot as a card game between multiple players, with the Primeval Gods obviously a few of them. In particular, Visnu and Kali are assumed by most to be at opposition with each other, being known to be each other's Arch-Enemy.
  • Much of the overarching conflict in Lessa stems from Dark Lessa's desire to destroy the world, as it's what she exists for, and Ra's attempts to stop her.
  • The Meek: the two spirits in this case are brothers. And one is a giant white cave salamander and the other a vast, malformed tiger with glowing eyes.
  • The gods of TwoKinds seem to be doing this with the humans and keidrans.

    Web Original 
  • The Grand Game in The Fear Mythos is implied to be one of these. The Fears are causing terror, making and breaking alliances with one another, and ruining lives for the sake of a game they're playing against one another. Earth is the board and we are the pawns.
  • Some of the more cynical inhabitants of the Orion's Arm universe think the archailects are doing this to modosophont life for their own amusement.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Christmas episode of Class of the Titans, Cronus abducts Zeus and forces him to play a game of chess. Cronus uses monsters as his pieces; Zeus's pieces are the seven heroes.

Alternative Title(s): Divine Chessboard