The Generic Villain on Villainy in Today’s Worlds

Times have changed.

Back in the day, villainy was an easy business to make a big splash in. They didn’t mind the insanity defense, mustache-twirling was considered a useful job skill, and most heroes had a prohibition against killing; you could settle in, fight the same couple of people over and over, slowly advance your plans, and everyone was happy.

Nowadays, though, things are different. The battle between Good and Evil spends as much time being miniature battles between Dubious and Misguided, more heroes know how to get into epic struggles with their surroundings rather than finding one of us to foil, and many of the heroes who remain are jaded, world-weary, and not interested in just anyone who can pull maniacal laughter or fill Intimidating Black Armor. They’re looking for conflicts these days, not necessarily villains.

In short, the world has become a protagonist’s market. We’ve glutted the system for long enough that they just can’t take those of us on the extremes seriously anymore and can afford to cheerfully slaughter their way through us until they find one suited to be their counter, and that means we need new skills, new goals, new MOs. Evil must evolve if it wants to keep its place at the center of narrative attention.

So what do we have to do?

One, think outside the box. If we can’t come up with entirely new objectives, we need to put new spins on the old ones. Destroying the world is both passe and dangerous to one’s life expectancy; selling out to Elder Evils is practically expected.

Two, focus less on powerful and more on interesting. Before, we could get away with putting them in shock at the sheer depths to which we could fall. Nowadays that just gets a yawn at best and accusations of cartoonishness or two-dimensionality at worst. Making them admire us in spite of their understanding that we are complete monsters is in. So, too, is the “There but for…” effect; if they can see how we could have been normal people, even productive members of society by their standards, but for that one little difference that makes us what we are….

Three, cultivate social skills. And I don’t just mean a strong laugh and hypnotic eyes; nor do I mean managing to fascinate the leader and not the rest of the group. Leaders have fewer and fewer Destiny-mandates these days, so their followers have more power; a decision can be overruled. But if you can find a way to make yourself either valuable or interesting to all of them, each in different ways, it’ll be harder for them to agree on doing away with you, and if they catch you contradicting what makes you interesting to one, that isn’t going to have near as much effect on another’s reason to keep you around.

Last but not least, make yourself stand out. Villains these days are a dime a dozen, but a nice strong unique Hand of Darkness is worth keeping around.

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