You know what’s common? Fighting the powers of Chaos – which appear to just about always be synonymous with Evil.
The problem is that evil and chaos are not the same thing, and that law and evil are not opposite. I mean, technically, a lot of people get that. In DnD, the alignment chart is a grid of Good, Neutral, Evil, and Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic – that means that there’s Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil, and Chaotic Evil. You can run into the evil priest or evil politician or devil who has a specific, orderly way of being totally evil. Robin Hood is the classic Chaotic Good hero – heroes can be chaotic too!
Technically, it seems we understand that chaotic and evil are not synonymous, yet we still see chaos presented as evil all the time. If there’s a pantheon of gods and there’s not a god of evil but there is a god of chaos, guess who the deific antagonist is? Guess which god is worshiped by evil cultists, guess who wants to destroy the world? Not the goddess of Fertility! (which is a shame because that has the potential to be totally awesome.)
Why is it that we assume chaos is always evil? I think it’s because on a personal level, chaos isn’t well appreciated. Chaos often equates change and people hate change. People like to know what’s going to happen, what to expect, people don’t like for their lives to be turbulent, and that’s because people like to be comfortable. Turbulence is not comfortable. Change forces you to get up out of your slouchy little chair of How Things Are and move forward, maybe to something better, maybe to something worse, maybe just something different, shunted along into a new reality. If forced to change, people want to settle down into their new reality and get comfy again as soon as possible. Chaos doesn’t allow this. Chaos is a constant battering forward, uncertainty, flux. No one likes flux.
And it’s easy to villainize things that people don’t like. That’s why sadness isn’t an acceptable emotion and if anyone is sad we try to cheer them up as fast as we possibly can and freak out a little when we can’t cheer them up, why we don’t handle people with depression well. It’s not okay to be sad – except for the fact that sadness isn’t inherently bad, it’s just unpleasant, and no one likes to feel sad. Sadness isn’t bad but as soon as someone feels sad, the sadness has to be defeated immediately; it is, in our view, wrong to feel sad.
So we have Chaos and Chaos is always the villain.
And thus we construct another top flap to the Villain Box, where we can take all our little villain kittens and tuck them in the box and then fold up the box nice and tightly and throw the box at our heroes. And our heroes have to fight a bunch of kittens in a box and your story becomes lame and pathetic because we didn’t bother not to limit our villains and make them actual people.
The important thing to remember is that chaos means turbulence, nothing more. A trickster is chaotic, because he’s on the prowl for causing the unexpected and shaking things up, so when you think of chaos, don’t think of an evil god bearing down on the world. Think of a silly little trickster. Think of a Shakespearean jester, of a God of Giggles. Your villain can be the Joker who is definitely chaotic evil, sure. But don’t start off with the assumption that chaos is evil because when you start off with assumptions like that about what evil is, you set up standards for your villain that are limiting.
Not all tricksters are evil.