In the comments section of my post about evil characters, Chris asked what I think of "scallywags" type games where adventures are capers.
Well, oddly enough, tonight my Pathfinder game was cancelled and the players who were still down to hang out played Pirates of the Spanish Main with me. The characters' two short adventures consisted of a series of illegal activities, and yet...
I would hardly say these characters were assholes that nobody likes. In fact, I found them quite loveable, and best of all, nobody did a Jack Sparrow impersonation.
So why are these characters, who are thieves and smugglers, different from evil characters that I hate?
These guys are part of a crew. They have each others' backs. Most of their crimes involved selling illegal goods to NPCs who knew they were buying illegal goods, and also searching a derelict pirate ship. They did rescue a marooned seaman, lay a tortured spirit to rest, and help a drunken beggar with some food. Oddly enough, they were often more altruistic than many D&D protagonists.
Of course, they also boozed, gambled, and stole...
I think the big difference here is that the characters worked together and everyone was contributing toward the fun of the group.
Okay, so maybe the French pirate was an asshole, but in a rather endearing fashion.