Anyone worth telling a (non-comedic) story about has a dark side, but the biggest problem with “evil” campaigns has nothing to do with logistics or morality, but with the very psychology that compels gamers to call them “evil”. You can tell lots of interesting stories about “antiheroes”, but however wrongheaded, selfish, or desperate an antihero may be, he ultimately sees himself as reasonable and justifiable, not “evil”. You can be sure that even Adolph Hitler, arguably the most evil individual in the history of the history, saw himself as a hero. What we call evil, he would have called, well… ANYTHING else. Something along the lines of “pragmatic” or “expedient”. Evil is something that the other guy does. So call them “dark” campaigns, or “gritty” or “edgy” or even “sadistic”… but calling them “evil” just turns the whole thing into a self-conscious farce.
I agree wholeheartedly with this point of view.
When Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson created Dungeons and Dragons, it was pretty clear that the view of the universe they want with was absolutely black and white in terms of alignment. They had three types: Law, Neutral and Chaos. Law, supposedly represents your good guys and Chaos your bad guys, while Neutrality are animals and anything else that doesn't fit. Which, if you try to map this back into anything you can relate to, would put *everyone* into neutral.
Perhaps this was why later editions then added alignment subtypes: good, evil and neutral. These then get appended on to the end of the original trio of types to form nine types; e.g. you can be Chaotic Good, meaning something like you will break laws to perform good deeds. Or something. Maybe this is Robin Hood. Who knows. Its only a game and who cares if it doesn't really match reality... only after accepting this for years and years, I now think its completely flawed. As the above poster points out, no one sees themselves as being *evil*.
I suspect that the original trio of alignments are based on the philosophies of natural law which is based on their idea that there is a sort of ultimate good and ultimate evil in the universe and all good and evil flows from that. Well, that's a loose description of it anyway. I don't think many of us subscribe to such a simplistic world view though, daily life is much too complex to be shoe horned into such a simple philosophy.
Why does Lawful equate to good anyway? Who's laws are being followed, exactly? If they are the suppressive laws of a brutal tyrant who delights in torture and human sacrifice, lawful is not a good thing. Chaotic would be. Perhaps that is why the original alignment trio were expanded - but it's still too simplistic. Perhaps it needs replacing with an allegiance system or broad morality or ethics rating. I'm still thinking this through.
As nobody ever thinks of themselves as being evil and following laws, or breaking them, doesn't make you one or the other (just clean or a criminal within the society being modelled in the game world), I wonder what could replace this system to give a basic idea of a character's motivation and / or morality?