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It's a typical trope in stories, but why don't the powerful good guys fight the powerful bad guys? Usually a group of nobodies need to grow in power to the point that they're able to face the powerful bad guys themselves.

I'm making a setting and I need some good reasons for why this is the case. I need reasons for both why the gods don't just do whatever they need done themselves for the sake of the cosmology, and also why the godlike mortals don't do whatever needs being done as well.

I have vague ideas for both. For the gods, them coming into direct conflict threatens the cosmology entirely. For the godlike mortals, they're in a cold war for similar, smaller scale reasons.

I'm trying to flesh these things out though. In addition, for the sake of a story happening, some people are doing the type of things that would escalate the cold war.

So yeah the question is many for the non-divinities, but once people start breaking the rules and causing plot worthy happenings to occur, why wouldn't the best of them step into stop it?

Edit: After reading some answers, while they cleared up some issues I had, I felt I should add some additional information for leftovers:

The main culprit for this question within my setting is a magocracy. The setting itself is high fantasy in general, the type of place where the heroes are literal one man armies. This magocracy is essentially the world superpower. They also highly exhibit this trope. I haven't come up with who/what the main antagonist/threat is at the moment but I do plan for it to be a world-shifting issue. Essentially though, when the world-shifting issue does come up why don't they attempt to solve it?

The only easy answer I can think of is chosen one(s) type stuff but I'd like to avoid that.

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  • $\begingroup$ Gods are in general very individualistic beings, and with the light description you've given you don't seem to stray away from that. Asking for individual characters's decisions and reasons behind decisions is off-topic here as it's intimely dependent on who they are and what they are experiencing, rather than the world's constraints. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2023 at 5:57
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    $\begingroup$ Besides, we don't actually know much about your world at all to answer; we know there are bad guys, and that there are good guys, but who are they : as individuals for a story question, as a community for a more worldbuilding query? How are the two sides related to each other? What do you mean by "bad" and "good" (those terms are highly subjective)? Even if your query isn't accepted here, you'll need to think and describe about that when asking elsewhere. People will need to know that in order to give reliably high quality answers. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2023 at 6:04
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    $\begingroup$ @abishaij1, I removed the internal-consistency tag because you're not using it correctly. If you read the tag's wiki, you'll learn that the tag's purpose is to identify a post that doesn't ask a question per-se. You're expected to provide a list of in-world rules to test and a situation or circumstance to judge the use of the rules by. Our job is then to analyze how consistently you've used your rules. You're not doing that here. Also, note that when you ask "what would be reasons for X?" on this Stack, the answers you should expect (*Continued*) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    May 4, 2023 at 7:19
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    $\begingroup$ ... to get are world rules-based answers. Not plot-based or story-based answers. Per the help center, we do not answer story questions and we discourage brainstorming questions. Stack Exchange's model is to help you overcome a specific, focused, and objective problem. We're lenient with new users, but please keep this in mind when you ask future questions. Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    May 4, 2023 at 7:20
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    $\begingroup$ Voting to reopen, never should have been closed. "Too Story Based" means that the OP wants us to make a plot choice for him. In this case, he's already made the plot choice and is trying to work backwards to find rules in his setting to justify why everyone in his setting would make the same choice. While motivation of an individual person or organization is can be anything, it takes a strong element in the rules of your setting to make everyone ignore thier personal motivations and all make the same choice. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 5, 2023 at 18:33

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Why don't the gods fight each-other? For pretty much the same reasons why nations don't fight: not for any agreement or lack thereof, but because they are too evenly matched.

If there was a power imbalance, the weaker party would have been subjugated already. This means that the two sides are evenly matched. If they were to fight, the outcome would be in doubt... and people - and gods - like certainty. They're each trying to become more powerful, and if one side gains enough power over the other, the peace will collapse. But until then, it's a cold war, with each side subtly taking digs at the other, not so obviously or damagingly as to provoke open war.

If one side or the other was to gain a major unexpected advantage, we can expect war to break out soon thereafter. But until then, it's a standoff.

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    $\begingroup$ We also, incidentally, see exactly this all the time in online games. Powerful guilds frequently don't fight each other, or at least, don't go "all in", beyond border skirmishes. They can all remain as basically undisputed top dogs by not fighting each other, preferring, instead, to fight far easier targets that they can definitely beat. If they go against each other, the math for who will win is too complicated to predict, and they would rather just not risk it. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    May 4, 2023 at 14:09
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Each individual or group will have a different answer to that question based on their personality and goals. Yes, they can go out and shake the world with their power, but there will be Consequences to those actions.

The Divine

As you have alluded to, when gods fight, worlds tremble. While that is very much true, another viewpoint is that deities don't think in the same frames as us mere mortals. These inscrutable beings from our perspective make their plans with centuries or longer in time frames and considering multiple worlds, or even universes.

Even a deity of war, who may very much like the idea of a world plunged into a super-powered war and conflict may not want that because it may hamper the potential of future wars in the long distant future. Alternatively, those one man army types may not make a war sporting or bloody enough so it is in the deity's interest to make sure that they don't start making conflict.

The Demigods

In this case, I use the term as a general power level. How they come across their power may actually have an influence as to why they don't get involved.

A high priest or even a demigod may be bound by the tenets of their deity, and their rules. Being so high in power, and likely favour, means that they are likely more privy to their deity's immediate plans and desires then anyone else. These people are not dispatched to solve the world's problems per say -- they are sent out by their deity to remind the world of their power or to fix a problem that the deity cannot fix themselves. To flex or to fix, but always to the deity's will.

Archmages, both living and undead, may be more involved in their own experiments and pursuits then actually meddling in world affairs. Some have tried that, and it ended up that people started relying on them to solve their problems -- which took away too much research time. No, better to just sequester yourself and maybe claim dominion over a village so that they can tend to your immediate needs like food and clothing. Research is more important here -- and if it gets too crazy, retreat into your own demiplane.

The greatest warriors might be in the best position to stop these things had they not been rewarded with land and titles for saving the kingdom/world from some dragon, demon, or non-euclidean horror. That drops them not only into politics, but into defence of their realm. So long as the problem is not in their lands, it is difficult for them to deal with it directly.

Lastly, there are those that just do not want to get involved for their own reasons. So long as their little bubble of reality remains intact and unharmed, nothing else matters. Be it due to their powers, their past traumas, or a promise made, they are staying out of it for as long as possible.

The Mortals

Now we come to the mortals -- The powerful and the average. These are the people that will be the scouts and proxies for the powerful. They will be given the job to give things a nudge in the correct direction where they can to help matters. They will cut their teeth on the minions and the lesser challenges that are quite beneath the more powerful to deal with.

Besides, back in their day they had to do that stuff -- it's how they got strong in the first place.

The mortals are in fact the first line of attack by these living forces of nature in the world specifically because they are less likely to break something important, like a capital city or a mountain. They are also unlikely to know any actual plans outside of whatever issue they are hired/told to solve.

Table Flip!

Of course, there are people that want to meddle and have the power to do so. Perhaps they do get involved and Things Happen. Perhaps they actually fight in locales that aren't the material world in a sort of "Let's step outside" manner of action. After all a demiplane, or layer of an outer plane may be less susceptible to catastrophe than the material world.

Conversely, they have fought in the world, it has suffered, and that is why there is a tenuous peace between those that have the power to break reality. Most don't recall that time, but for those that do it serves as a dire warning.

The Magocracy

The upper echelons of the Magocracy could be mired in politics. A world shattering event might be supported by some and opposed by others. The Magocracy is in a fragile balance only maintained by the foreknowledge of mutually assured destruction should that balance be shattered. Taking a side on an issue means not just trying to deal with the issue, but also with those that take umbrage with you taking a stance.

Your leader has the unenviable position of being able to kick the most ass. As such, they are also needed to keep those under them in line. Imagine if they go out to stop the apocalypse, what kind of mayhem they'd return to? There might be a magocracy standing when they return.

Likewise, those looking to advance would not only be trying to advance but would also have power and resources tied up in their own defences. They may not have the ready resources to go save the world, even if they want to. Too much power is tied up in not getting ... deposed ... while too much money is tied up in acquiring said defences and their own studies.

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The Gods ARE at War

The Gods are at war... and they have been since the beginning of time. We mere mortals just take it all for granted. When a young man comes of age, the gods of love and war wage battle in the heavens over the man's fate to see if he will fall in love and settle down, or enlist in the army and go off seeking his fortune and adventure. When a surgeon operates on a patient, the gods of wisdom and death go head to head to see if medicine will prevail or fail the man. Every little crossroads in every single mortal's fate is tied to a vast but mostly unseen spiritual war that has been raging in the heavens since before man first drew breath.

Yes, the Gods, Angels, and Demons are immensely powerful in thier physical forms, but taking on physical form to enter the world directly means abandoning thier spiritual duties. If a God were to come to Earth to fight a physical war, then the spiritual war that they care so much more about could be all be lost before they get back. After all, what good does it do for a god to come down and smite the Magocracy if it means leaving his whole kingdom vulnerable to invasion. Seeing an entire spiritual kingdom like Love or Law be destroyed would after all be even worse for the world than letting a couple of naughty Mages run amok for a few decades.

How this Effects the Greater Heroes

That said, the gods are not actually apathetic about the Magocracy like you may assume. Quite the opposite, all of the gods are so invested in the conflict already that they are all doing what they can to keep each other's paragons out of the way. There are no less than 20 heroes around the world strong enough end thing in a day, but each one is beset by twists of fate created by rival gods keeping them out of the conflict.

One hero is busy mucking a out stable as penance for killing his own wife, one is hiding somewhere dressed as a woman because some prophet told him he'd die if he went to fight, one got smashed by his own boat in a freak scaffolding failure, one is off on some island getting high on lotus flowers... sure these all seem like random and unrelated life events, but when the gods care about a world event (like REALLY care), you don't notice because heroes show up to fix things, you notice because fate gets so twisted that none of them show up.

This is where New Heroes come in

Each god knows each other god's favored heroes, but a smart god knows to keep a few aces up thier sleave. Nobodies who they've created at birth for great things and hidden away in humble beginnings so that when the time comes, the other gods wont see this person coming until its too late. By the time the other gods realize that this humble farm boy is actually a powerful demigod, he's already too close to his goals, his fate too set in stone for them to change. This makes his fate much easier for his patron god to protect when all the other gods try to scramble to get him out of the way last minute.

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    $\begingroup$ I love the references to Greco-Roman mythology in the section on "How this Effects the Greater Heroes". $\endgroup$ Feb 17 at 22:33
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Good guys are bound to a moral code that prohibits them from being the aggressor.

What separates "good guys" from "bad guys" is that the "good guys" impose a moral code on themselves that prevents them from doing "bad guy" things. And starting a war of aggression is one of the most "bad guy" things there is.

So it's in the very nature of "good guys" to want to maintain peace and avoid violence. They will only resort to violence if all other avenues to resolve the conflict are exhausted and the potential collateral damage from going to war is clearly much lower from the damage that would happen if they don't intervene. Until then they will try to solve the problem through talking out the conflicts and preparing for a possible defensive war.

So even if the threat of the "bad guys" becomes more and more obvious, the "good guys" might refuse to act unless the "bad guys" attack first. It would require protagonists with a more pragmatic morality to perceive the bad guys as a threat and being willing to use violence to do something about it before it is too late.

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Options:

1: Fear of unintended consequences - think Neville Chamberlain before WW2, 'I have secured peace in our time' - the horror of WW1 was still a living memory for many people in 1939 and no one wanted a repeat - and so you had the policy of Appeasement.

2: As a Parent, there's many things I can do for my kids that I deliberately don't do, because it's important for them to learn how to do it themselves and to grow and become stronger and competent. One day (hopefully in the very distant future) I won't be there for them - and when that time comes I hope I've both directly and indirectly helped mould them into a resilient and up-standing member of society. This, but on a Cosmic Scale.

3: In the case of Gods - direct intervention violates some ancient peace accords. No God can directly interfere with the Mortal realm, doing so gives all the other gods carte blanche to intervene and stop said god.

4: Mutually Assured Destruction - AKA the Cold War - similar to points 1 and 3 - if hostility is started, it could lead to total annihilation.

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The Bad Guys Are Smart

Any Bad Guy with brains knows: If they're going to attract Superman's attention, they need to be packing kryptonite. Otherwise Superman is going to defeat them trivially.

But the Bad Guys can only plan so far. At some point, there are superheroes who are too weak and fall below their radar. There is no prepared counter for the "weaklings" so the low level heroes have a real opportunity to disrupt the Bad Guy's plans.

Bad Guys Only Attack with Advantage

Even if the starting situation is a Cold War with everyone evenly matched, this strategy still works. One side develops their counters in secret, and only attacks when they think they have an overwhelming advantage.

This is why spy-craft was so important in the real life Cold War: Both sides needed to know what "counters" the other had developed so that they could build a "counter-counter" to make themselves safe again.

You need one major intelligence failure where the Bad Guys are able to keep their new abilities secret long enough to take advantage of them.

Then your unknown heroes are able to rise to the challenge and save the day!

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    $\begingroup$ "One side develops their counters in secret". Except when they shouldn't. Or do, but plan on revealing it at next week's Party Congress. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    May 4, 2023 at 16:47
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  • Powerful good guys will have ongoing responsibilities because they are powerful.
    A monarch, a noble, a knight is not just a warrior, he or she is a government official and an economic actor. While some of these duties may be delegated to a seneschal, or to a spouse, they would fail in their primary responsibility to their own people if they go off on a quixotic quest.
  • Over the lifetime of a character, first they gain physical power as they become adult and train fighting, then they grow "old and fat" and gain more experience, wealth, and political power. The young knight is a better warrior than an older noble, but the older noble has more political power.
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The Gods are GODS. Lets say one doesn’t like the lizard creatures that God2 has made because they eat his trees and just lobs rocks at them until they go away. God2 then sets fire to trees nearby his lizards to keep the trees away instead. This causes more retaliations and before you know it one decides to hit the reset button and lob a giant asteroid at the planet.

Fine, dinosaurs were getting old, lets agree not to go overboard again or we don’t have anything to God over ok?

Your super powered good guys are basically (non-American) police officers for the superpowered. They are busy! We got a fake report of a super attack over at Tokayo city while Mister Dastardly managed to hack the Ouropan banking system! The League of Good Guys with Powers can’t be everywhere and notice everything at once! Also they aren’t the maid who cleans up, we are still in a legal dispute on the Omarikan side over damages caused and getting a salary, Superdoodads don’t come cheap you know!

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Power corrupts. There are no powerful 'good guys' - any 'good guy' who takes the path of power is no longer 'good'. You might make a nuke to end an evil war, but then you are a mass murderer once you use it. Once you have complete magical power, the only option is go live by yourself on Mars. So you need a supply of powerless innocents to become powerful for the conflict to be sustained.

(and since it was brought up, yes, Hiroshima would be a war crime today)

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    $\begingroup$ "but then you are a mass murderer once you use it." Or, as in the case of the US using them in WW2... for the price of a few lives, you save many more - on both sides - by cutting off a protracted war. If you can save the lives of 1m people by killing 1000? are you a mass murderer or a savior? $\endgroup$
    – WernerCD
    May 4, 2023 at 23:29
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A few reasons come to mind, many of which are based on things I've seen at work.

  1. Resource management. Assign workers suitable to the task. Of course the Senior Team could do it, but it doesn't need the Senior Team, the Junior Team can (or will be able to) handle it. This can be cheaper than paying the Senior Team, and leaves the Senior Team available for things only they can do.

  2. Development/Growth. Senior Team already knows how, but we can afford to spend the time and effort to have the Junior Team use it as a learning opportunity, leading them to become an Intermediate Team. It might actually take more time and effort to coach them than it would do it myself.

  3. Unwanted consequences. An even sporting event can be exciting to watch, but as others have mentioned, an 'even fight' is not a good time for anyone.

  4. Suitability for work. Maybe the 'junior' here has exactly the right knowledge and skills. I have the knowledge and experience to figure it out, but they already know what to do, so leave them to it. Or even temperament: we have a junior analyst who finds things I'd overlook because she is so meticulous (and has time... see 'resource management' above).

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Another concern is the precision they can manage their powers.

Say you have a city densely packed with non-divinities, say your super power has an area of effect of 100 miles, now if you use it you kill 10,000's of thousands of innocent people and/or people on your side.

They may need years of practice in a remote desert in order to control/fine tune their power into precision and controllable weapons. Even then some may never have full control of their powers.

Let's say their is a villain in a city and your only weapon is a nuclear bomb, its not reasonable for you to use it to take out a single villain because of every one else you kill.

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Because the gods, and demi-gods are bound by treaties, and the mutually assured destruction that would come from a war.

All the Gods and powerful people have spent hundreds of years playing politics. What this really means is that if one god directly challenges another, every god and strong person will get pulled into a world war via alliances and treaties.

Add some mutually assured destruction from a world war between gods, and you've go a recipe for every player to kick back and do nothing.

We see this in the real world pretty often. The West can't get directly involved in the war in Ukraine. North Korea threatens nukes every few years. Any change to the status quo must come from within, because everyone else has there hands full not getting into a fight.

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Personally I don't like too much the "oh they are gods so we can't understand them escape". The "cold war" argument that certain use of powerful weapons would lead to mutual destruction could work but usually doesn't. Authors often don't think through all the implications of such a stalemate. Sure smaller proxy wars can be fought over small matters using lesser force because neither side wants to destroy the earth. But you have to keep in mind that when any side is truly threatened they will become desperate and use their weapons anyway as a last resort.

I prefer the following. The war is ongoing because the sides are roughly evenly matched. The stronger forces are fighting stronger forces. The underdog heroes don't immediately win the war. They just win some minor battles, picking them carefully so that they are something that they can handle. As they do they grow stronger with each win until at some point they can take on the stronger forces tipping the scales of the war in favor of their side.

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It draws undue attention.

If a god directly intervenes to protect this human or that human or even the other group of humans, other gods will investigate to figure out what's so special about this lot. It will be painful.

With that, it turns out that every hero has to, basically, deal with problems about his level. A first-rate hero with god-level problems, keeping him too busy to deal with the first-rate problems, which then fall to second-rate heroes, keeping them too busy to deal with second-rate problems. . . .

Certain oracles have hinted that this continual punching over your weight level helps discourage investigation by other gods on their own initiative. They realize that if heroes can handle god-level problems there's a real chance they could handle gods.

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Cosmic balance

Due to some imanent property of the universe, the amount of good in it will always be equal to the amount of bad in it. Yin Yang and stuff.

So if you gratuitously kill some bad guy, some good people immediately die as well in order to keep balance.

Just the same, slay an evil god, and one or more good gods will die. It is not possible, even for them, to prevent this, to know in advance which one will die, nor even to cause a specific one tp be chosen for this.

For much the same reason, most evil actors will try to do their evil without killing, since each good guy dying also means one or more villains get killed ad well. In fact, a truly evil creature might kill other baddies to cull the good in this manner.

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