I am the kind of person who likes to see the good in most anything. The idea of a Goblin who isn't a feral bully and thief but instead lives in a Church Bellfry and is studying to be a Cleric of Illmater on the side intrigues me. A border town that happens to have a Hobgoblin as a City Guard Captain is an unexpected and interesting sight. Even a Kobold who learns that trinkets that are given willingly for hard work done shine much brighter that ones stolen.
But then there is the Bugbear, the only Goblinoid race I have difficulty to adjust to this kind of idea. Here's what I mean.
If you open up the Bugbear race on the site or in your texts and read through how it's written in Volo's Guide to Monsters, these are almost nonredeemable creatures. Yet their alignment text seems to suggest that it might be a matter of their environment over anything native to them. But I don't know how far I can stretch it before they lose what makes them a Bugbear and it instead just becomes a skin. And this is true of most any traditionally "Evil" race, how much is it how they grew up and how much is it their natural state?
In other words, is being Evil a matter of Nature or Nurture? and how do you justify an Alignment shift without it just being a skin?
Any free-willed creature can choose its own moral and ethical path in life. Only, perhaps, something like a demon, devil, or celestial could be considered 'inherently' good or evil, and even that isn't 100% ironclad (if angels can fall, demons can rise). For ordinary Prime-plane humanoids, it's 100% nurture.
EVERY race is, effectively, just a skin. What you are isn't important, it's WHO you are and what you DO.
This isn't even counting the fact that the text in the printed WotC books might not be how it works in a different gameworld. Eberron, f'rex, puts its own distinct spin on the goblinoids, and in Ravnica, the goblins are more like mad scientists.
...and in Ravnica, the goblins are more like mad scientists.
That would be true of the Goblins that serve the Izzit. I would wager that the largest portion of the Goblin population on Ravnica are divided between the Cult of Rakdos, reveling in madness, mayhem, and bloodshed, or members of the Gruul clans, embodying the wild nature of... well... nature. Though there are some few that join the Boros Legions, becoming devoted to maintaining law and order more akin to a Hobgoblin.
As for Bugbears... I do see a basis for a Bugbear being other than Evil. But such an individual would likely have rejected the religious rites common to all Bugbear, since they worship a bloodthirsty warrior and a supremely cunning assassin. Also, by extension, both of those gods are beholden to the leader of the larger Goblinoid pantheon. Such an individual would, by necessity, be an outcast from all "organised" forms of goblinoid society (Goblins, Hobgoblins, other Bugbears, etc). If such information were to be made known to any of those races, they would almost certainly become aggressive toward such a PC. And if there were any lingering traces of their belief in the brothers, the character would most likely live in abject terror of the brothers discovering their rejection/blasphemy, which would have ramifications on their behavior.
I'm playing a Goblin Bard in my current campaign, and although I still try to play him as Chaotic Neutral instead of going full-on opposite to Lawful-Good or something, I still treat it as the fact that he's generally nicer and more caring than the average Goblin as part of the reasoning for why he's out going on adventures with a group of other humanoids instead of just hanging out in a goblin horde and ambushing traveling merchants. So I think it does make sense that any Bugbear that's not part of the usual Bugbear group would have some reason for that... although if you don't want to just say that they happen to have a different attitude, you could also justify it by saying some event happened to change them. Like... you could say that maybe their group managed to find a Deck of Many Things, and they pulled a card to change to their alignment... you could even use that as the setup to an adventure hook of some kind.
No, a fish out of water story like that has a lot of potential to be interesting, and Bugbears are probably one of the most underused race for that kind of thing. It could be interesting to have someone raised like that, maybe seeking out other Bugbears to try and connect with and learning about his own people secondhand.
To realign Mark's question in re: to Bugbears outside the context of a metagame-use term like "alignment": How does a player and/or GM justify having a character whose race (Bugbear) seems to discourage cooperation between (non-goblinoid) PCs and whose presence amongst them requires justification if it's going to fit into the established lore of the world in which they all live?
In addition to the raised by non-Bugbear background already mentioned, one could justify a Bugbear's non-aggression towards other PCs by writing or suggesting a backstory in which the Bugbear realizes that there is a greater threat to deal with. Perhaps a particular clan of Bugbears had to cooperate with some dwarves or halflings on some occasion to fight off some common foe and their leaders realized that there was some way to retain their gods while also managing to not kill their useful, short, less furry neighbors. Or perhaps a clan of bugbears has been so thoroughly hemmed in by their human neighbors in the past that their leaders realized that in order to survive as a community, they would have to find less overtly aggressive ways of dealing with them overall.