Ask GV: Maintaining Morals When the Going Gets Tough

The Generic Villain answers questions from Hands of Darkness like you!

Belial Kiervan asks:

I have a bit of a situation and I would like your advice, Mr. Generic Villain. I am in a bit of a propaganda war with the vile “heroes” and until recently much of my populace has simply believed that I am in fact the good one and the self-styled heroes are really the evil ones to be feared and hated. However, as of late I have encountered some difficulties: the enemy simply won’t kill civilians no matter what I do, I can’t keep them convinced the ones that are murdered randomly are killed by the enemy, word of my own actions are leaking out (and blaming it on subordinates has its own problems), and the enemy’s territory has a really irritating higher standard of living! A trustworthy but not all that bright young lady in my castle suggested I just stop committing evil acts and try to raise the standard of living, but she just doesn’t understand that I really must not compromise my morals, because if I did that I’d be no different than the enemy. Any advice you can give me on improving my Public Relations both in and outside my recognized territory would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Belial Kiervan

Let me start by asking a few questions, to try to narrow down the problem. Your morals may not be quite the same as mine; we all have our codes, after all.

One: Why are your murders random? While random murder does do a good job of keeping a populace twitchy, it’s rather difficult to maintain loyalty. See, people like having explanations for things. It keeps them in their comfort zones. What that means is that, if other people are dying around them, they’re going to want to know two things: what’s it for, and more importantly that it’s not going to be them. From a PR standpoint, it’s actually safer to have people dying in a pattern at your hand, as long as that pattern involves both being something that could be spun as a threat to their fellow citizens, than to have people dying randomly. Patterns, people can avoid. Randomness means they’re not safe. If you want to keep doing it randomly, enforce a pattern on it in retrospect; come up with something safety-threatening they all had in common, and stick to it.

The same goes with your actions, actually. You don’t always need to change what you’re doing; you just have to change your apparent reasons. Disgusting though it may sound, find and trumpet the beneficial results of whatever you do. A good wordsmith can turn “blowing up a dam” into “solving a valley’s irrigation problems”, and “frying several hectares of farmland” into “ensuring that crops don’t lose value by eliminating surplus”. You don’t have to be good, just know how to sound good, and how to put a silver lining on your clouds.

About that whole good guys being too good issue: What have you tried to do? That’s going to make a major difference. Fighting them with civvies is risky work, since you’re likely to have a lot of turncoats if your forces fail (unless you’ve got fanatics, but people often draw a mental line between them and civilians); the human shield method isn’t too good for your press; and it looks like you’re past the point of propaganda-painting your foes as heartless marauders at whose hands it would be better to die than live, so getting your citizens to the point where oncoming hero-types would have to kill them in self-defense is out. But there are other ways. What you need to do is set up a situation where, as an unforeseen but in retrospect inevitable consequence of something they’ve done, civilians die. They chase off a monster from one place? It goes and snacks on people somewhere else, and it’s their fault for not preventing it. Make sure a couple of steps in your plan (preferably ones you can find alternate strategies for) can be averted…. but only if they don’t stop to help Group of Civilians In a Life-or-Death Situation #72. This may sound rather like that old standby, the Sadistic Choice—but with one important difference. Under no circumstance should you make it obvious that you set this up. Their failure has to be their own fault.

And about that quality of life in the other place, the main problem seems to be that they’re better than you. You’ve got two options here. One is to improve the quality of your subjects’ lives on the backs of other people; that both improves their lives and ups your villain cred. But if you can’t pull yourself up, there’s always pulling your enemy down. High quality of living usually means some sort of infrastructure; the food has to come from somewhere, the waste has to be dealt with somehow, etc. Foul up that infrastructure, and down they go.

Good luck, and I hope it helps!

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