Ask GV: Identifying Credible Threats

Michael, on behalf of General Tor, asks:

Never thought it’d come to this, but I’m in a bit of a desperate situation so I thought I’d come to you for advice. Right now I’ve got a group of human intruders running loose in my base. I set my best assassin on them, and he never came back. I asked the court weaponmaster to take care of them, only you know how it is, conventions of honour and all that, he insisted on fighting them one by one in a fair fight, and that meant when they beat him he had to join them. I even ambushed them with a security robot, and they reduced it to scrap metal. Now there’s nothing left I can do except order my entire army to man the bulkhead these so-called heroes are trying to get past, and if somehow they get past that, I’ll have no choice but to send my ultimate warrior into the field. Something I don’t like to do, because if she fails then it’s game over.

So, where did it all go wrong? At what point should I have realised that it was time to stop notching the challenge up gradually and throw everything and the kitchen sink at them at once? It’s not like I can afford to do that for just any old human who manages to sneak into the base; but how do you distinguish the real heroes from the wannabes?

Part of your problem is in your last sentence: “It’s not like I can afford to do that for just any old human who manages to sneak into the base.” This is your base you’re talking here, one of your last lines of defense. Why is your security lax enough that getting into the base alone isn’t evidence that you’re dealing with a credible threat?

But leaving that little slip aside, let’s turn this into a slightly different question. You want to know how to find heroes, and I’ve got a few notes on them specifically, both on knowing who the protagonists are and understanding how they think. What you’re asking is how to determine whether an opponent is a credible threat—and that’s an even more vital skill than being able to spot protagonists specifically, as it’ll also help alert you to rivals, problems within your organization, the occasional overly dark antihero…. you get the idea.

Most of the time, we locate credible threats, when, as your adversaries have done, they do something that makes it clear that they aren’t just any old human. When we’re lucky, it’s against someone else, and we can hear about it ahead of time. (Which brings us to an important note: if you are not the only Hand of Darkness operating in your region, keep a close eye on what happens with whatever others are present. If they choose to strike against you, you’ll know how; if they get taken out by a bunch of unlikely heroes, you’ll know who, or at least have enough idea that you can start investigating who.) But often, it’s against us, and then we’re in trouble.

There’s a certain something we have around us—for lack of a better term, let’s call it a personal threat bubble. Usually, once someone else makes it into the bubble, they need to be dealt with now, like your intruders. So our job is to make sure that we can tell whether anything that gets into the bubble is a credible threat—and the best way to tell that is to make sure that it’s next to impossible for anyone who isn’t a credible threat to get into the bubble. Which means you put challenges on the road, challenges in finding you—and, as I pointed out earlier, make your base itself into a challenge. Train up your minions, experiment away the weaknesses in your weaponry… in essence, you want to be at the point where, as soon as something’s tripping your alarms, you know that you can and should go after it with everything you have. Sure, you might hit the wrong thing a time or two, but you don’t have to worry about wasting your resources on a nothing.

And don’t discount the value of looking at your own weaknesses. Repeat after me: “I am not invincible.” All of us have chinks in our armor—maybe a kind of magic we’re vulnerable to, or an approach to power we can’t comprehend, or even an emotion we can’t stand proximity to. And we can either assume they aren’t the problem they are (bad idea!) or we can recognize that they’re a potential problem and mitigate them, look at anyone who has them and gets too close as a possible threat, or do both just to be safe.

Recognizing credible threats is a vital skill for any Hand of Darkness. Keep that in mind.

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