The Generic Villain on When Not To Kill Your Lieutenant

So there you are, meeting with your advisers. There’s a plan that’s just been executed, one proposed by one of your lieutenants and signed off on by the five-year-old child after a few hours of explaining the words with more than three syllables. There’s no chance of it going wrong according to the data you’ve been given, and everyone’s getting ready to break out the Blood Orange Sunrises.

And then you get word that the plan’s a bust, and that you’ve been set back farther than the plan would’ve set you forward.

Now, Vader’s Guide to Employee Relations says that in circumstances like this, the proper thing to do is to make an example of the guilty party in order to put the fear of you into the rest of your henchmen. I, however, disagree.

For one thing, consider the effect on minion morale. If we’re going to all that effort to reassure the minions that they are not expendable, do we really want to sabotage that by demonstrating that we don’t even value the people above them enough to let them learn from their mistakes? And never mind just minions—how many heroes have recruited our higher-ups with the fact that they don’t kill failures and will cheerfully protect their converts? If you’re going to use self-preservation as a motivator, remember that other people will do so as well!

For another, it’s rather pointless. Heroes interfering where they weren’t expected? Not her fault. Heroes had ally that the lieutenant could not in any reasonable way expect? Not her fault. Lieutenant has subordinate who sabotaged her in order to gain credit himself? …why are you even considering killing the lieutenant, anyway? Weather took a turn for the disadvantageous? Unless she’s a practicing weather mage, not her fault (and even then she might deserve a pass). If you can’t come up with some way in which the lieutenant herself was actually responsible for the fiasco, as opposed to just being the poor sap unfortunate enough to be supervising it, it wasn’t her fault, and if bad luck were a capital offense, how many of us wouldn’t’ve lived to get our powers?

Furthermore, she knows how her plan failed. She might even know better than you how her plan failed. If she’s the type to learn from it, it’ll only make her more effective. Death would, of course, interfere with this.

Now, this isn’t to say you should never kill your lieutenants. Just that that’s not a circumstance under which you want to do so.


Let’s return to the example of not her fault earlier, with the lieutenant sabotaged by a member of her squad. Yes, you don’t kill the lieutenant. The saboteur, on the other hand, is fair game.

Likewise, sellouts. Definitely sellouts. Unless you have definitive proof that this is one of those “Deceive your enemy by fooling your friend” situations, and the friend is definitely you, sellouts cannot be trusted. (If they’re acting like they’re on your side, and quoting that proverb, that alone is grounds to kill them.)

Then there’s mutiny. That one’s an interesting case. If they’re turning on you because of mind control, and you can make sure that a. they really were mind controlled and b. you can prevent it in the future (and have a way to strike back at the culprit when next they try), I’d be willing to give a lieutenant a pass in that case. Particularly if my trap-riposte is vicious and satisfying enough. Similarly, I am willing to cut someone trying to take me out to ascend in rank slack under a very small set of conditions—but only because I have ways to enforce what I do do. They have to be clever, they have to be interesting, and I have to be able to maroon them in another world that could do with someone of their talents with no chance of their returning home to try again. Note: This is probably a fatal weakness that will destroy me eventually, but it’s good for the Hands as a whole, and besides, playing against the really talented ones can be quite enjoyable. The rest—just kill them. You’ll all be better off.

End result: Decreased loss of talent, more energy going to kill the protagonists and not your teammates, and higher employee morale. I’d consider that an improvement.

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