The Generic Villain’s Pet Peeve

Have you ever had a plan that was going to go perfectly, fantastically right? When your spies were in all the right places, your contingencies were covered, you were on a good enough streak that you might start thinking you were the star of the narrative, and nothing could possibly go wrong? I’m sure you’ve been there. Like the rush of power from taking the deal all over again.

Until the Real Hero shows up. And it can’t be in the normal way, something you could reasonably plan for. No, he comes blasting in with, as my charming associate the Overlord of Penguins puts it, “a box of hamsters, 3 gallons of mustard, and a dozen kites”. And whatever he’s doing, it’s not so stupid you have a contingency for it because the one in a million plans always fail—oh, no, he couldn’t be that considerate. But it is so stupid that nobody in their right mind would expect it to work. But for some reason—call it luck beyond countenance, call it narrative immunity, call it a really bad deus ex machina because we know there’s probably one in there somewhere—this idiotic trifle actually works, and there go the plans.

Isn’t that horrendous?

The problem with these things is that they’re not preventable. I mean, sure, we can try. We can burn nitwits at the stake, we can sentence improvisational inventors to the loss of their hands (and then kill them when despite the warning they somehow manage to replace said hands with a contraption made of corkscrews, harp strings and sealing wax), we can try to limit people’s access to absurd components—but it doesn’t work. Take away their tacks, they’ll use pins. Confiscate the hamsters, they’ll try their hand with rabbits. Live in a world that doesn’t even have mustard, they’ll invent it.

So we can’t head them off at the pass. And we can’t come up with contingencies for them. Trust me, it’s been tried. Who here has heard of Reginald the Chessmaster, and his descent into madness? None of you? I’m surprised—in my day, everyone would warn you about that. See, he was a brilliant strategist. A pro at finding all the loopholes and closing them. Until that one day. It wasn’t even a major plan that was foiled. No, it was just a simple ritual for getting into a ruin he’d found intriguing, and he would’ve gotten away with it if he hadn’t smacked around some stableboy the night before, and the pesky twit hadn’t come back with a beehive, his sweetie’s garter and a wet gunnysack full of rotten apples. And since then… he tried to plan for everything. You’d see him up in the middle of the night, ranting away about what to do if the foe has a curtain rod and a sack of potatoes. When he was finally done in—with a sword, mind you, very prosaic sort of light-beats-dark—most of the community found it a mercy.

So what’s left to do? Learn how to improvise. Be the kind of person who can size up the situation and isolate the protagonist from his improvised equipment. Know how to change your plans in midstride. Have your own improbable ideas, and don’t be afraid to use them. Be angry; just be careful not to be so angry you can’t think.

And remember: Good is dumb. Their idiocy will come back to haunt them eventually.

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