The Generic Villain on Varying Approach By Target

It’s something I know I shouldn’t have to say to the master manipulators, I’ve probably said it before, but I don’t think I can stress this enough: when dealing with anyone, be they protagonists, fellow Hands of Darkness, minions, innocent bystanders, you get the idea, one size does not fit all. You would be amazed by how many of us fail simply because we took the most convenient approach to us rather than sizing up the target and varying our approach based on our observations.

The optimal situation, of course, is one in which we’ve had time to study the target. A little observation, some divination magic, a background check or spy reports—any or a combination of all of these can give you an edge on your opponent if you’re just willing to look carefully at them. Knowing about prior conflicts, particularly if you’re dealing with a career protagonist, can give you an idea how the target’s likely to react to a given approach. This one’s pliable when threatened personally, but mess with an innocent under her protection and she’ll turn your name into mud; that one responds well to social manipulation but as likely as not is trying to manipulate you in return; the other one can be bribed, but if your first offer’s too low it’s going to be a lot harder. Weaknesses, strengths, berserk buttons—if you can learn them, file them away, and figure out which ones work particularly well to play to and which ones you need to avoid.

If you’re prone to recursion, learn from personal experience. I don’t understand what’s so hard about that, but a lot of people go up against the protagonist using strategies that failed the last time, and the time before that, and the time before that…. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result; if you want to succeed where before you failed, look at how your plan went wrong and try to work around it. It’s not runic thermodynamics, people! (On the other hand, remember what works and keep that part, particularly if having a certain style is why the hero lets you recur so often.)

In some cases, you’re going to have to operate on the fly or only off of one meeting, and you won’t be able to put together the kind of comprehensive profile that a researcher would. If you’re lucky, you might get a little time to see what the word on the street is about your mark, maybe even meet them once in a somewhat less confrontational context; if not, it’s just you and them and your gift for improvisation. In this case, powers of observation are your friend. How is your mark dressed? What context are you running into her in? Is there someone with her? If you’ve got rudimentary information, try to take it into account when you’re planning your approach—so some people you might threaten for a curio they’ve recently acquired, but when what you’re dealing with is an antique store owner, consider trying to buy it off them first. Less suspicious, less hostile, likelier to work.

In short, even if it’s only for a few seconds at the beginning of your encounter, try to figure out what sort of approach is warranted. Nine times out of ten, that’s going to do you more good than approaching all targets (or even all targets of the same wide demographic) the same way. “Evil wins because good is dumb” only works if we’re not just as stupid!

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