The Generic Villain Preempts and Overthinks

Over the last two weeks, I’ve talked about anticipating the ulterior motives behind an opponent’s surrender and how to react to them. But just because you know what their strengths are doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also be thinking about their imposed weaknesses as you bring them in. After all, you’re not just chucking them in a room and locking the door, right? You’re counteracting their powers, you’re relieving them of their gear, restraining them at the very least, making sure they’re watched at all times—whatever you’re doing, the overall goal is to keep them from turning the tables on you.

But everything has a workaround, and you need to know what the workarounds they might employ are. At this point, you’ve got a choice. On the one hand, you can preempt their workarounds with the same decisive abruptness and possible lack of concealment with which you preempted their possible advantages in the first place. On the other hand, you can take advantage of them instead.

Preempting the workarounds is, of course, the logical choice. It’s straightforward, it’s likely to make them well aware you’ve planned ahead (or improvised very, very quickly), and it gets the job done, at least until they come up with one of those signature insane plans protagonists are so fond of or reveal that they expected this preemptive response and have contingencied around it already. (At least, assuming they do, but I would tend to assume that.)

On the other hand, when you’ve left a couple of options wide open, particularly if you make it look like they didn’t occur to you, they’re likely to take those options. That makes the foe predictable, and a predictable foe is a useful foe. But that assumes that they haven’t figured out what you’re doing—and that’s one thing you can’t assume.

Beware, as always, of the smart ones. If you’re just preempting them, they’re also likely to have thought ahead, figured out what you’re likeliest to preempt, and come up with a contingency or possibly even a way to preempt your preemption. On the other hand, if you’re leaving an option open to them, they might take another option entirely so as to avoid springing your trap, find a way to take advantage of your taking advantage of their predictability, or do something halfway between and keep looking like they’re following the planned pattern until they see you make a move.

Some people can improvise counters to this at the last minute, but for most of us, the answer to this is contingencies to any situation we can think of. It’s useful to have plans for as many situations as possible, so you can focus harder when they come up with the one you didn’t think of. On the other hand, you need to watch out for nested contingencies after a certain point. If you’re finding yourself in an “I know you know I know” situation, stop at a depth of about four. Past that, either you’re going to end up with indecision paralysis trying to figure out which contingency they’re actually going to trigger, or you’re creating plans for everything but those plans are mutually exclusive and starting to sabotage each other. And this is generally the point where the savvy opponent goes for the most obvious (and probably open due to contingency sabotage) answer, figuring you know perfectly well that she knows that you’d know she’d try that, and that knowing she knows you know, you figured she wasn’t going to try it.

In short, think ahead, but know when to stop thinking.

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