Always Chaotic Evil
"Reapers may look all evil and crazy, but there's a good reason for that. They ARE evil and crazy!"
- – Lady Palutena, Kid Icarus: Uprising
"Wait! Couldn't there be a good goblin? We don't know if they're evil yet!" "I wish I was innocent like you. But I'm not. I'm full of rage, and beans, SPIRIT, PRIDE, AND HEART, AND SOUL, AND RAGE, AND BEANS! SPICY BEANS! The only good goblin is a dead goblin! NOW LET'S MAKE THESE GOBLINS GOOOOD!"
- – Goblin Slayer Abridged
Always Chaotic Evil is a slang term that /tg/ has picked up from our frenemies over on TVTropes. The term originates from Dungeons & Dragons and specifically its early use of the mechanics of alignment. In the Monster Manual, creatures would always have their "alignment propensity", the specific alignment that the "average" member of their species would have, listed as part of their statblock.
It's mostly used as an easy placeholder term for the "typically villainous races" - orcs, goblinoids, gnolls, ogres, etc. A handy way to refer to the usual "chuck 'em at the PCs and let them hack 'em down" cannon fodder races.
Okay but why tho?
The term has gotten a little unwelcome on /tg/ in modern years, as the basic idea that thinking humanoid races are somehow inherently evil and deserve only extermination is seen as being... well, a little too /pol/-friendly. That, and what's the point of roleplaying if you can't go against type (meaningfully, mind you)? These last years, focus has somewhat shifted to throwing people actively doing evil things (slavers, Nazis, etc...) as chaff to be exterminated to players, instead of kobolds and other similar monsters.
Another work-around for punching bad villains is automata, simple robots and skeletons and suchlike. Things which can navigate their enviroment, move and fight which have no real will of their own and just blindly execute their directions. On the one hand, taking them down is like smashing up a printer. On the other hand, they're not really evil any more than a landslide is given that they have zero agency.
Additionally, Eberron has actually broken the trope entirely: alignment in that setting is canonically fluid by the rules given, so that evil-aligned clerics may worship/serve good-aligned deities, and vice versa with a few exceptions; certain class-based restrictions, such as paladins having to be Lawful Good before 4th edtion, remain.
It is telling that the grandfather of modern fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien himself, presented orcs as the servants of evil 'overlords', but was uncomfortable with the notion of 'born evil' or 'always evil' due to the theological implications of being born with an inherently evil soul. As a devout Catholic, the idea that Eru Iluvatar (his stand-in for the Christian God) would deliberately create people who were inherently evil was contrary to his depiction as a purely good being, but Morgoth (read: Satan) could not create life himself, and Tolkien believed that making Orcs soulless would have caused them to become mere animals.
The solution that Tolkien used was that Orcs were effectively immortal (like the Elves they were based off of), and had been under the influence of Morgoth and later Sauron (the Evil Overlord of the setting) for thousands of years by the start of the story, who enforced a nightmarish culture of dominance, power jockeying, enslavement, and submission to them as gods -- and even then, as soon as Sauron's will vanished, so did their desire to fight, meaning that they were probably under some form of mind control at the time as well. Even then, he was never wholly satisfied, and settled for it only because the alternatives were worse.
Morality in humans, according to a mundane/scientific view, is an extension of the fact that we are social animals that work better together. Parents raise their children, protecting them when they are small and vulnerable and teaching them how to do things so they don't have to figure out everything on their own and build on the knowledge of their fore-bearers. A tribe of humans pools its food so that those which are unlucky can get the calories they need to live and forage another day, when they will be lucky and bring in a surplus - to say nothing of the sick and injured, whom even the earliest tribes and societies valued and cared for. In an agrarian setting, several farmers till the land and raise livestock which they give to the local blacksmith, who forges iron tools so they can better till the land and produce more food per square meter; together they provide food, weapons and arms to a warrior who defends them from attack.
Those are are just two basic arrangements of which a medieval society needs to operate, let alone a modern one - all of which is predicated on people getting along, which we generally do more often than not. If everyone around you is liable to stab you in the back for momentary gain (or for a larf, if they are all dyed-in-the-wool self-centered sadistic sociopaths), the listed arrangements can't work. The lack of cooperation would prevent any such society they might dream of making from getting off the ground. The only rational thing for said creatures to do is to avoid others of their kind like the plague, unless of course they can mug them... and in the case of humans, subsequently die from a wide variety of circumstances (famine, crippling injuries leaving then unable to find food, etc.), which they would probably have avoided if they had just worked with others.
(If this sounds a lot like the problems many people have with default portrayals of Drow to you, then congratulations! You paid attention for more than five seconds.)
Standards & Examples
The usual standards for "entirely evil species" nowadays requires one or more of the following:
- Be reborn into that species or type of creature after a sufficient amount of evildoing. This is how it works for D&D for the most part: evil people die, and their souls are essentially tortured and/or warped by horrific powers to become the fiends of the Lower Planes (devils, demons, gehreleths, yugoloths, assorted others). The process used to create such beings is designed to utterly strip away every vestige of humanity remaining in a soul, basically "purify" the latent evil inside of it, and create something that is incapable of empathy as we would understand it.
- Note that this absolutely does not mean that such beings might not turn stag on their alignment, so much as make it extremely unlikely they would do so on their own; this was actually one of the interesting points in Planescape, and there is astonishingly a good-aligned mind-rape spell in Book of Exalted Deeds that can reverse the process, forcing an evil being to confront its nature and reemerge as a good being.
- Have biological requirements incompatible with peaceful coexistence. The best and first example of these are the undead, who absolutely require feeding on living, sapient beings to survive. Among these, the best two examples are ghouls (who must consume living flesh) and vampires (who must drink blood and/or lifeforce, depending on the setting). This is one of the biggest motives running through the World of Darkness Vampire games: you are continually doing fucked-up stuff to just survive, and spend your time pitting your fleeting Humanity against the raving bloodlust of the Beast inside you (and this is all before you start sailing towards a moral event horizon, due to vampiric politics demanding even worse shit from you). Shadowrun also has a big moral quandry with their ghouls, who actually form a nation out in Africa and are always agitating for equal rights despite their diet.
- Constructed from certain dark/negative emotions or concepts. This is usually given as the reason why Frankenstein's Creature is violent and malicious (usually in portrayals outside of the original): it is depicted in some media as having been made from the parts of convicted criminals, including the brain of an executed murderer, which reacts badly when other people see how fucked-up it looks and acts. Or take the Daemons of Warhammer, who are psychic entities made of emotions carried way too far; for example, "Bloodletters" are essentially endless anger given form.
- The creature is of such alien mentality and physiology that it is incompatible with human life as we know it. Good examples are things like the Orks and Tyranids of Warhammer 40,000, who are genetically driven to destroy and/or consume all other species. This is distinct from the undead example given above; in particular, what is a biological imperative borne of an unnatural or cursed existence for the undead is simply a default way of life for the Orks, Tyranids and other similarly alien beings. However, the Orks are an unusual case in that they do HAVE a concept of morality as humans would recognize it, but it's predicated on universal acceptance of the axiom that might does, in fact, make right.
- A god is trying to force some kind of behavior - while some might argue that evil requires a choice in some form, there's nothing stopping a deity from making the "good" choice so unappealing that nobody picks it. This is the case for the Drow, which are almost entirely under Lolth's thumb - they could join with Elistraee, but between Lolth quickly coming down on any apostates and a culture that prizes individual survival above all, very few people would attempt such a suicidal act.
All that being said, goblins and orcs and the like are still sword and spell fodder, but nowadays the conflict is more likely to be economic ("they want goods, humans have goods, they try to take goods by force"), cultural ("they want us off what they consider their land") or religious ("the Blood God demands Blood, and they think your little hamlet looks like it can supply a large quantity thereof"), and non-combatant orcs are likely to be treated as well as any other enemy non-combatants.
Criticisms often applied to games moving away from Always Chaotic Evil or players/gamemakers shifting towards more "acceptable targets" include the idea that, without such races, there is no conflict or quest to be had. Not is only this That Guy-levels of lazy thinking, it plays into very common stereotypes about tabletop gaming, and all but confirms the over-reliance on always-evil races to generate conflict instead of actually weaving an interesting/organic conflict into the narrative of a game, like a good or even half-decent DM should. That said, there is some merit in trying to avoid slipping off the other end of the spectrum by creating racially-independent substitutes (e.g. aforementioned slavers and Nazis) that still end up being one-dimensionally or impractically evil. This is the other half of the issue: even with actually-irredeemable evil factions, including those that aren't as humanoid, they should still ideally be decently-written and presented in order to hold players' interest beyond using them as pincushions (or at least making said skewering feel properly cathartic and rewarding), and while not ALL instances of Always Chaotic Evil monsters should be jettisoned, this can easily be achieved without relying too much on them to begin with.
Note that most games define good and evil through a human-survival morality, which denotes a fundamental respect for life (well, at least human life; we're pretty shitty toward other forms of life, to say nothing of how we treat our own kind). Morality as we know it doesn't really apply to non-human creatures who are as far above us as we consider ourselves above bacteria, or at least conduct themselves as such. (Think beholders, illithids, etc.) They may see us as the same kind of vermin or parasites we ourselves routinely destroy to preserve our own survival, if they even acknowledge us as sentient at all. Even if their minds are similar enough to us to have some concept of morality, their moral codes might make absolutely no sense, as is the case with the True Fae in Changeling: The Lost. (The tropers call that and the Tyranid example "Blue and Orange Morality", by the way.)
By that token, even Stupid levels of Always Chaotic Evil can be entertaining and well-done if handled right, as seen with the Orks of WH40K - an entire race with a literal biological imperative towards fighting, war and destruction implanted by their creators, and yet they don't draw flak for nearly the same reasons. Why? Because they're a unique and oft-hilarious take on orcs IN SPAAAAAAACE written by British people that draw heavily from 80's British culture, and they pull off the "rowdy lot of brutish thugs with a ramshackle civilization" thing without resorting to ethnic stereotypes. (It helps that said Old Ones ate shit before they could start on the
Orks' Krorks' psychic control mechanisms.)
The constraints induced by applying a race's alignment on such a hardline basis, particular Chaotic Evil, is also what aided in the long-standing popularity of one archetypical Chaotic Good Male Drow, Drizzt Do'Urden (for better or worse), and that can of walking worms is opened on his own article.
- Detect Evil, for a closely related problem.
- Demon, which may or may not qualify depending on gameline and/or setting
- Orc, for the original "Always Chaotic Evil" race.
- The Orc Baby Dilemma, a sub-problem specific to exploiting other rigid-alignment roles and races.
- Baatezu, for a fairly standard case of "Recruited and Recreated from Already Evil People"