I’ve noticed that my PCs and party NPCs more often than not tend to be be anti-heroes, rather than heroes. Some of my favorite characters in games have been patriotic necromancers, vigilantes, addicts, grey Jedi, and a plethora of characters who barely have a handle on their sanity. For the most part, these characters do not result in intra-party conflicts–despite their evil leanings. The characters are always loyal to the party, and have an “ends justify the means” mentality. The characters are always shades of grey (more like a Christmas light in a dark gymnasium).
I don’t think it’s because I’m incapable of playing a truly heroic character, because I have. However when I do, the games tend to be less enjoyable. Sure, this might be because I feel constrained by the limitations of being a “good guy.” However that seems too simple to explain the entire story.
When making a character, I want the character to be interesting. Interesting might include the shininess of being a little tasteless, but it also includes conflict. I’m talking about internal conflict and external conflict. It’s hard to play a conflicted character when you’re toeing the line of goodliness. To me, a righteous character shouldn’t be conflicted by wanting to do something and not being able to because it’s bad–dark thoughts are just as evil as dark deeds. The only conflict I come up with for truly good characters is being a lawful stupid paladin, which means your conflict is being a cop for other player characters.
Outside of gaming, some of my favorite characters are anti-heroes, my favorite comics include Punisher, Ghost Rider, Deadpool, Iron Man, Wolverine, etc. I’m not a fan of true heroes like Superman or Captain America, not that I dislike them but I just don’t enjoy the stories as much because there is far less conflict.
I think the best way for me to play a good character, is to be faced with an enemy who is the dark mirror. It has been said that heroes are defined by their villains. Without a truly vile villain to measure up to, I don’t think I have the ability to play a completely heroic character. Maybe I just have an unfair standard for my heroes…