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Beyond14

''Are we the baddies?"/ investigators and ''evil'' organizations

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Beyond14

Anyway, I don't remember what the original question was, but I don't have a problem with "evil characters" per-se - only when an evil character is just an exercise in playing a long, uninterrupted string of aimless, bizarre, and awful things just because the word "evil" is written on the character sheet - in my experience, that's not a common problem, but every now and then I have joined a group with That One Guy in it, and it seems like his experiments in evil characters never really seem to end well.  (To be fair, for some reason, in my experience, turning a role-playing game into a rape-torture-and-murder simulator seems to mainly be a thing with "Dungeon Morality", where apparently all the motive and characterization a player needs for such thing is "well, I'm Chaotic Evil, so my character has to torture, rape, murder, pillage, and back-stab and rob all his friends, I have no choice - I'm just following the Rules'/Game's/Character's orders!")

 

The original question, paraphrased:

 

Would you be interested in  keeping or playing a game in which the investigators were part of a nefarious organization?

 

Example= Cold Harvest module, Bolshevik secret police in 1930s Soviet Union.

 

Just for a one-off scenario?

 

Entire campaign?

 

My answers are:

 

Yes, I'm interested in Cold Harvest.

 

But I think I'd prefer this kind of thing as a one-shot, not a campaign. CoC is grim enough already!

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Beyond14

As opposed to it's-just-a-game morality, like the neatly laid-out alignment chart of D&D.

 

Ah, noted.

 

I approached alignment a bit differently in my latest AD&D game. I tied the alignments to specific gods, and then talked about the gods and not abstract alignments. It worked well. 

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Gaffer

Disclaimer up front: I didn't read all of every post.

 

In terms of Adolf Hitler, I think a lot of mileage could be gotten out of setting up a story in which cultists will sacrifice him to open a door for Azathoth and oblivion. I'd set it in 1933, just as the Nazis are really gaining control.

 

In context, the investigators (whether Nazis or not) only know that the man has won election to his current post and is starting to fulfill his promise to return Deutsch land to its rightful place in the world. He's an anti-Semite, yes, but a lot of people always have been. He's virulently anti-Communist, but look what Stalin is up to, and Comintern. Some of his followers are thugs, but he's promised to bring them to heel and, you know, omelets...eggs...

 

So, why wouldn't they try to save him and avert the Apocalypse? If any or all of the characters are Party members, few even in the NSDAP knew where things were headed.

 

If they succeed, you can wrap up with a description of all the Nazi atrocities that ensue. The question then is Was it better to save Hitler?

 

You could also discuss what happened to each of their characters in the ensuing years.

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Gaffer

As for Cold Harvest, I havent read more than a summary, but, again, the historical context is key.

 

The NKVD agents don't know the truth about Stalin and the Politburo. They live in a highly controlled-information society. What they know is that, when they were kids, the heroes of the Peoples' Revolution swept away the oppression and injustice of the Tsar and the nobles and capitalists. Now they live in a society where everyone is equal and the government, instead of brutally keeping the common man hungry and poor, is dedicated to the proposition "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs."

 

BUT there are enemies trying to thwart the Workers' Paradise. Foreign powers want the nation to be weak. Traitors want to restore the Tsar and the bad old days. Capitalists and kulaks want to cheat the deserving workers. Lenin is dead, but Stalin labors mightily to fulfill his plan for freedom and justice.

 

The investigators are the equivalent of heroic G-men, rooting out spies and terrorists to protect the nation. If the rot at this collective is allowed to spread, their fellow citizens will starve. The forces of evil will win.

 

Again, afterward you can outline what they will be propping up, but in the context of the time, how can they do otherwise than to do their job?

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Beyond14

Disclaimer up front: I didn't read all of every post.

 

In terms of Adolf Hitler, I think a lot of mileage could be gotten out of setting up a story in which cultists will sacrifice him to open a door for Azathoth and oblivion. I'd set it in 1933, just as the Nazis are really gaining control.

 

In context, the investigators (whether Nazis or not) only know that the man has won election to his current post and is starting to fulfill his promise to return Deutsch land to its rightful place in the world. He's an anti-Semite, yes, but a lot of people always have been. He's virulently anti-Communist, but look what Stalin is up to, and Comintern. Some of his followers are thugs, but he's promised to bring them to heel and, you know, omelets...eggs...

 

So, why wouldn't they try to save him and avert the Apocalypse? If any or all of the characters are Party members, few even in the NSDAP knew where things were headed.

 

If they succeed, you can wrap up with a description of all the Nazi atrocities that ensue. The question then is Was it better to save Hitler?

 

You could also discuss what happened to each of their characters in the ensuing years.

 

Indeed!

 

It'd be hilarious if the cultists succeeded. Azathoth shows up, but its seething  chaos just destroys the cultists and whatever area they were in, then vanishes.

 

With Hitler dead, Himmler maneuvers his way to the top. Cue an even nuttier and more destructive Third Reich, and one that uses the Mythos, Delta Green style...

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yronimoswhateley

The original question, paraphrased:

 

Would you be interested in  keeping or playing a game in which the investigators were part of a nefarious organization?

Example= Cold Harvest module, Bolshevik secret police in 1930s Soviet Union.

 

Just for a one-off scenario?

Entire campaign?

 

 

My answers are:

 

Yes, I'm interested in Cold Harvest.

But I think I'd prefer this kind of thing as a one-shot, not a campaign. CoC is grim enough already!

 

I thought Cold Harvest was an intriguing scenario, and I want to run that one some time.  I didn't necessarily see the investigators in that scenario as "evil" - again, just ordinary people caught up in something bigger and colder, trying to make their way through grey areas as well as they could....  There are a lot of interesting things going on in that scenario and with the characters:  the PCs don't necessarily think of themselves as villains, they've got orders from an organization that is effectively an unreliable narrator, the PCs have got reasons both for obeying and disobeying the orders, the threat/opposition the investigators are there to address has a complex motive and are anything but mustache-twirling villains, there are no real easy solutions to the problems and there are consequences for both good and bad intentions....

 

I've also seen a couple scenarios told from the point of view of cultists, but I've never played them - these haven't really interested me very much, as they use the "investigator party as cultists" idea in one of the most obvious ways possible by having the party's only obvious shared goal being to complete a ritual and summon a Cthulhu before the keeper's NPCs can stop them, while their personal goals pit them against each other free-for-all style.  I suppose there could be some fun in seeing a bunch of bickering cultists back-stab each other while trying to be the first to summon a world-eating monster, but I guess I like my "evil party" scenarios to be rather more "uncertain" or "morally/ethically complicated" than generically "evil".

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Beyond14

As for Cold Harvest, I havent read more than a summary, but, again, the historical context is key.

 

The NKVD agents don't know the truth about Stalin and the Politburo. They live in a highly controlled-information society. What they know is that, when they were kids, the heroes of theGlorious Revolution swept away the oppression and injustice of the Tsar and the nobles and capitalists. Now they live in a society where everyone is equal and the government, instead of brutally keeping the common man hungry and poor, is dedicated to the proposition "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs."

 

BUT there are enemies trying to thwart the Workers' Paradise. Foreign powers want the nation to be weak. Traitors want to restore the Tsar and the bad old days. Capitalists and kulaks want to cheat the deserving workers. Lenin is dead, but Stalin labors mightily to fulfill his plan for freedom and justice.

 

The investigators are the equivalent of heroic G-men, rooting out spies and terrorists to protect the USSR. If the rot at this collective is allowed to spread, their fellow citizens will starve. The forces of evil will win.

 

Again, afterward you can outline what they will be propping up, but in the context of the time, how can they do otherwise than to do their job?

 

It's pretty much impossible for me to accept the idea that the investigators won't know about the atrocities. Numbers? Sure, they won't know that. But they know the score, unless they are very naïve indeed. The nature of the regime was never a secret. Remember, this isn't just stuff being done to foreigners or occurring out of public view off in a combat zone, but things the state does to terrorize its own citizens into compliance.  Evidence was everywhere. PCs will belong to a group tasked with carrying out these actions.

 

They might be fully complicit in the crimes of the regime, of course. True Believers, as you suggest, or just corrupt bastards doing what they need to do to benefit themselves. 

 

Or world-weary cops muddling through in a very nasty system.

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Gaffer

I didn't necessarily see the investigators in that scenario as "evil" - again, just ordinary people caught up in something bigger and colder, trying to make their way through grey areas as well as they could.... 

 

Isn't that most CoC scenarios? It's the way I like them.

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Beyond14

There seems to be some conflation and confusion of 'evil party' and 'investigators belong to a bad guy organziation.'

 

Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting a group of amoral and antisocial investigators commiting violent crimes for the lulz.

 

Rather, I'm looking at a scenario in which investigators are members of the secret police force of a totalitarian regime, or of some other bad guy outfit. They might individually be relatively humane and decent, total jerks, raging fanatics, cynical opportunists, whatever. But the larger group of which they are members is what the players themselves and the Keeper would (presumably you have no Reds or Nazis in your group) consider to be the bad guys.

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Gaffer

It's pretty much impossible for me to accept the idea that the investigators won't know about the atrocities. The nature of the regime was never a secret. Remember, this isn't just stuff being done to foreigners or occurring out of public view off in a combat zone, but things the state does to terrorize its own citizens into compliance. Evidence was everywhere. PCs will belong to a group tasked with carrying out these actions.

 

They might be fully complicit in the crimes of the regime, of course. True Believers, as you suggest, or just corrupt bastards doing what they need to do to benefit themselves.

Or world-weary cops muddling through in a very nasty system.

 

I think you underestimate how clueless people living under a totalitarian regime can be when they are fed lies and disinformation every day and when a certain amount of willful blindness is necessary for comfort and even survival. Even in modern, open democracies government actions can be hidden or disguised from the populace.

 

These agents are sent to investigate "criminal acts" and arrest the "traitors" who committed them. When those persons are convicted in a "fair trial" and punished, that's just what the government has to do to protect us all. They may choose not to look more deeply into the truth, but that's not unusual in any society, especially among law enforcement and the military.

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Beyond14

I think you underestimate how clueless people living under a totalitarian regime can be when they are fed lies and disinformation every day and when a certain amount of willful blindness is necessary for comfort and even survival. Even in modern, open democracies government actions can be hidden or disguised from the populace.

 

These agents are sent to investigate "criminal acts" and arrest the "traitors" who committed them. When those persons are convicted in a "fair trial" and punished, that's just what the government has to do to protect us all. They may choose not to look more deeply into the truth, but that's not unusual in any society, especially among law enforcement and the military.

 

We can discuss Soviet history in some other, non-gaming forum.

 

Suffice it to say, I think your idea works well, only not in the context of 1930s Soviet society.

 

Run what works for you. If I were a player in your game, and you told me ''this is what your guy was taught/has read in the papers/hears from friends and family, whatever he may suspect'' I'd roll with it. Your table, your call.

 

Have you read Fatherland?

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Travern

In terms of Adolf Hitler, I think a lot of mileage could be gotten out of setting up a story in which cultists will sacrifice him to open a door for Azathoth and oblivion. I'd set it in 1933, just as the Nazis are really gaining control.

 

In context, the investigators (whether Nazis or not) only know that the man has won election to his current post and is starting to fulfill his promise to return Deutsch land to its rightful place in the world. He's an anti-Semite, yes, but a lot of people always have been. He's virulently anti-Communist, but look what Stalin is up to, and Comintern. Some of his followers are thugs, but he's promised to bring them to heel and, you know, omelets...eggs...

 

1933 would be a little late for that - the 1920s might be a better time to place this, say, shortly after Hitler's release from prison, when he was rebuilding his base but only just receiving national recognition.

 

By 1933, in keeping with the historical record, almost decade had elapsed since the publication of his bestselling Mein Kampf, which made plain his eliminationist brand of anti-Semitism, genocidal ideas about exterminating Germany's enemies, and establishing his New Order.  At that point, members of the NSDAP were completely aware of his political stance and happily on board with it, and his supporters outside the party had few if any pretexts for not knowing exactly who he was.  For a scenario set just before the Reichstag Fire and the Nazi consolidation of power, players would have to adopt investigators who were either apolitical to the point of obliviousness or morally compromised from the beginning.

 

As for Cold Harvest, it has similar problems if it's set in the late 1930s.  By then, Stalin's show trials were well under way and the Great Purge was beginning, plus forced collectivization had resulted in famine killing millions.  And of course the NKVD had been suppressing counter-revolutionaries for years now.  Again, players in such a period setting would have to be either zealots or thoroughly morally compromised, even if they're comparatively isolated in the agricultural areas.

 

Honestly, reading memoirs of those who lived through those period is more distressing than the studying the Necronomicon ever could be, to say nothing of classics like The Banality of Evil.

 

I think you underestimate how clueless people living under a totalitarian regime can be when they are fed lies and disinformation every day and when a certain amount of willful blindness is necessary for comfort and even survival.

Likewise, one oughtn't underestimate the capacity of ordinary people to refuse to acknowledge what they know is the truth - to say nothing about those who "worked towards the Fuhrer".  Bad consciences under Hitler and Stalin were endemic, and historians of totalitarianism have learned that the experiences of those living under such regimes was far from absolute.

 

All this is to say that gamifying such historical settings is fraught to say the least.  The more accurate the details, the more likely they'll become obstacles for an escapist RPG like CoC.  (I'm trying to think of an RPG set in 30s Russia, but the closest I know of is the WWII-era Night Witches.)  The Great Depression in the US is a cakewalk compared to Germany and the USSR.

 

edit: Correcting the timeline of Mein Kampf, published in 1925, not 1923 as I'd misremembered.

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yronimoswhateley

Isnt that most CoC scenarios? It's the way I like them.

 

Exactly so - it's one of the things that interests me about the general Call of Cthulhu setting.

 

There seems to be some conflation and confusion of 'evil party' and 'investigators belong to a bad guy organziation.'

 

Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting a group of amoral and antisocial investigators commiting violent crimes for the lulz....

 

I hope I don't come across as accusing you otherwise - this can be a delicate subject sometimes to tread on, with a lot of triggers for people, so I think a discussion like this will, whether we intend it to or not, eventually touch on several very different things:

  • make-believe violence for the lulz
  • playing the role of investigators in an evil organization as a way to explore complicated questions of ethics and morality
  • playing the role of investigators in an evil organization out of callousness and lack of sensitivity to that organization's real-world victims
  • actual sympathy and support for real-world evil organizations

 

I'm pretty sure you are talking about role-playing complicated investigators with difficult choices to make within bad-guy organizations, and I don't mind doing that at all - but, I do want to distinguish that from the other things as much as possible, because of the delicacy of topic, and how easy it can be to misunderstand "I wonder what I would do if I were in that position" as "it would be so cool if I could be in that position" or "I think being in that position is funny and amusing".....

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Beyond14

Exactly so - it's one of the things that interests me about the setting.

 

I hope I don't come across as accusing you otherwise - this can be a delicate subject sometimes to tread on, with a lot of triggers for people, so I think a discussion like this will, whether we intend it to or not, eventually touch on several very different things:

  • make-believe violence for the lulz
  • playing the role of investigators in an evil organization as a way to explore complicated questions of ethics and morality
  • playing the role of investigators in an evil organization out of callousness and lack of sensitivity to that organization's real-world victims
  • actual sympathy and support for real-world evil organizations

 

I'm pretty sure you are talking about role-playing complicated investigators with difficult choices to make within bad-guy organizations, and I don't mind doing that at all - but, I do want to distinguish that from the other things as much as possible, because of the delicacy of topic, and how easy it can be to misunderstand "I wonder what I would do if I were in that position" as "it would be so cool if I could be in that position" or "I think being in that position is funny and amusing".....

 

You are certainly not coming off as accusatory. No worries, bro.

 

We can rule out sympathy, right off. I don't game with people with whom I would never want to socialize  outside of gaming. No Maoists, Neo-Nazis, Satanists, etc. 

 

I don't lecture other gamers about  badwrongfun if they want to play Chaotic Evil types engaged in mindless make-believe violence and casual atrocities. But it is not my thing, and the games I run don't support this playstyle.

 

Sensitivity? Do you mean a player might be offended by the idea of a scenario like Cold Harvest because playing Soviet secret police Investigators in a CoC scenario might strike that player as disrespectful of the millions of innocents murdered by the Soviet state? I can see that. Indeed, it's very much a consideration in my original post. If people feel really uncomfortable with their PCs, they probably won't have fun playing them. And isn't the game played to have fun? 

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yronimoswhateley

Yes, that's exactly the sort of thing I mean about the sensitivity.  And it's not just a matter of people having fun reading the game - it's also a matter of people reading the message board and so on:  I don't mind the conversation, but I'm sure there's more than one reader who feels the subject matter is a little too dark for their tastes, bordering on bad taste, and I do sympathize with them - I don't want to spoil their fun, especially by sounding disrespectful to a very serious subject.

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Beyond14

Yes, that's exactly the sort of thing I mean about the sensitivity.  And it's not just a matter of people having fun reading the game - it's also a matter of people reading the message board and so on:  I don't mind the conversation, but I'm sure there's more than one reader who feels the subject matter is a little too dark for their tastes, bordering on bad taste, and I do sympathize with them - I don't want to spoil their fun, especially by sounding disrespectful to a very serious subject.

 

A publically posted PbP game should adhere to whatever rules and standards are in place on the forum where it is posted. If some things are off-limits, then those things are off-limits. Knowing what fits and what doesn't matters. One can always ask a moderator for clarification. 

 

People who don't like a given game should just not play in it. That's true online and at the tabletop.

 

 But do I worry, when running a game,  about the personal opinions of strangers who aren't even playing in my games? Nope.

 

Some rando is always going to be offended by something. A vocal minority of people on social media are prone to complaining at length about movies, books, games, whatever. Sometimes they have points that seem valid to me, but usually they are just looking for attention. I ignore the outrage brigade. 

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yronimoswhateley

I don't want to carry things too far off-topic on you, but I just spent most of the week offending the Men's Rights Movement and Anti-Textualists without even trying... I don't care too much about those internet strangers, but the Yog-Sothoth dotcom community genuinely seem like nice folks, and I don't want to upset them, especially after coming off sounding like a KKK supporter in another thread on this site because my communication style stinks :)

 

Anyway, I'm clarifying what I mean for the (dubious) benefit of anyone trying to understand what I'm saying, not for the purpose of telling you You're Doing It Wrong.

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Beyond14

I don't want to carry things too far off-topic on you, but I just spent most of the week offending the Men's Rights Movement and Anti-Textualists without even trying... I don't care too much about those internet strangers, but the Yog-Sothoth dotcom community genuinely seem like nice folks, and I don't want to upset them, especially after coming off sounding like a KKK supporter in another thread on this site because my communication style stinks :)

 

Anyway, I'm clarifying what I mean for the (dubious) benefit of anyone trying to understand what I'm saying, not for the purpose of telling you You're Doing It Wrong.

 

No problem, dude!

 

And I got what you were saying about the KKK in the other thread. A organization that aggressively supports "100% Americanism"  and that thinks Catholics and Jews are cultists is very likely to reach for the shotguns and torches when it becomes aware of stuff like human-Deep One hybrids or Mythos cults made up of foreigners and degenerates. 

 

 Ever seen Nightbreed?

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Gaffer

Having read contemporary accounts from people living in and closely observing Germany of the 30s, it's clear that few Germans had waded through Hitler's turgid manifesto and most who had --if their first sympathies were with restoring German glory and fighting Communism-- were willing to accept it as hyperbole for effect and/or to believe that the German constitution and societal norms, not to mention the industrialists, politicians, clergy, and military, would restrain Hitler's worst impulses. All of these elements were sure that they could co-opt the Nazis and use them for their own purposes. Most ordinary people  just heard "Make the Fatherland Great Again" and got aboard the hoped-for gravy train.

 

Investigators need be no different.

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Beyond14

RE the Klan

 

I also like the Klan-Kthuga idea.

 

Not for the whole organization, but for a local faction someplace in 1920s America.  

 

''Call down the fire from on high, brethren!"

 

Cthuga cultist Klansmen would be baddies in my game, of course. Feel free to use the Thompson gun. But you will get the electric chair for it if caught, so don't get caught, or come up with a subtler means of unmasking and defeating these nutters.

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red_bus

A more fine-grained approach to describing moral situations might help here. Instead of blanket "good" or "bad" groups / acts, thinking of terms like: kind, courageous, generous, fair, warm, and alternatively; heartless, cowardly, greedy etc.. Players (characters) can perform virtuous acts even while being part of groups (or in settings) that are generally reviled. And I reckon they might have fun doing so. :)

 

More broadly I guess you could even frame the conflict as more fundamental, the threat of the Mythos is not so much that it is bad but that it annihilates all meaning and morality - so for any characters the threat is suddenly much graver than their humdrum lives and actions (no matter where or who they are). But of course that really does depend upon your game, Call of Cthulhu is a broad tent now!

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rylehNC

Delta Green, as a milieu as much as a setting, works hard on the tension between the organization's ends-justify-the-means ethics and the toll it inevitably takes on the characters, even as cosmic horrors threaten to destroy the world.  The players are confronted with awful choices and sometimes no-win situations—and worse, the bond mechanics of destroying the things they value in their lives are often their only recourse to staying in the game, so to speak.  But it's not an exercise in evil role-playing.

 

Don't forget it took decades for the DG rules to address the personal stakes to the investigators. Before the new edition these factors were included at the choice of the scenario writer, if at all. Plenty of folks are content to emphasize the nihilistic attitude.

 

I would only make the investigators be bad guys (in the sense of this thread) if a story or setting was so compelling that there was no other way to frame it. To use the Klan as an example, I can't envision a story I would want to run that would need PCs to be members.

 

You can always find examples of fictional heroes who do the best they can in a bad situation - for example, Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther is a Nazi party member in 1930s Germany ("the only Kripo detective who doesn't use brass knuckles on the job").

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red_bus

...also for those who have not seen it, I guess this is the (v funny) scene to which the thread refers ... :)

 

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Beyond14

Yup!

 

While the topic is indeed serious (as serious as gaming can be, anyway) I thought a bit of dark humor would not be out of place, so I put a reference to that bit in the thread title.

 

I also enjoy some of Mitchell and Webb's other skits. Bad Vicar.

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ElijahWhateley

If you're really interested into delving into a diverse group of people working for an over-the-top evil organization to fight inhuman terrors, you might take a look at some of the Fantasy Flight WH40K games, particularly Dark Heresy and Only War. In both games, the investigators are low-level pawns of a massive, corrupt, and crumbling Imperium that borrows heavily from many historical villain tropes, and is essentially a fascist theocracy considers individual human lives and rights to be the least valuable thing in the galaxy. Reasonably intelligent PCs will quickly realize that the Imperium is falling down around them and doing as much to hurt the human race as it does to help - and yet, it still seems like a better bet than the howling demons or undead genocidal robots coming over the horizon.

 

I find it particularly interesting because the WH40K universe is set up so that its reality is the kind of reality that fascists use to justify their causes. There are multiple enemy factions that seek to kill or enslave the entirety of humanity and can only be defeated by total extermination. Doubt in the power and beneficence of the state makes people vulnerable to mind control, possession, and physically mutating into literal monsters, while absolute faith in the state is a useful mental defense. Simple attempts to protest living conditions and improve quality of life regularly get coopted by supernatural or alien forces and turned into twisted cults. Human lives are genuinely easier to replace than all but the most basic technology, making it necessary for the Imperium to make them a secondary concern if it wants to keep the machinery of interstellar trade and warfare functioning. And yet, despite all that, the setting doesn't shy away from the weaknesses of fascism, with corrupt or psychopathic leaders regularly abusing their power in ways that hurt their own side, and the average Imperial citizen living as a slave in nightmarish conditions that make Metropolis look pleasant.

 

And then, in the midst of this, your PCs are regular people who have been granted some small scrap of government authority. Maybe they are true believers, but if they aren't, they aren't going to admit it to most people - more likely, they're just trying to survive.

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