The Generic Villain on Knowing When You’re a Decoy

Many Hands of Darkness are used to being the only game in town, villainy-wise. We sit at the tops of our grim, forbidding castles, toying with our forbidden spells and listening to the screeches of the weak as our minions exploit them for our benefit, occasionally delivering a well-practiced maniacal laugh or engaging in such a spate of hamming it up that we start to look more like (extended) family dinners than like antagonists. We are the story, and we know it—at least, until we realize that there’s someone taking full advantage of the fact that we’re there drawing all the heroic fire as they attempt to launch an even bigger plan. And that someone was just sitting there the whole time being protected (!) by the protagonists, or at least being friends with them, and now not only are they taking advantage of our hard work, they’re getting all the cred and the extra spiced dynamic from a betrayal plot!

The easiest way to avoid this, of course, is to be the one who’s using a decoy. Most worlds don’t have room for more than two levels of this, after all. But if you’re not That Type, and if you’re a Forbidding Castler you probably aren’t That Type to begin with, you’ll need to be able to tell if you’re being used. What do you look for?

Beware of anomalous protagonist knowledge. I know, I know, we’re all used to the idea that the protagonists will find out things they really shouldn’t know at convenient times to use them against us. Nothing new there. And that when they don’t, they do have a tendency to miss things that you’d expect to be obvious. Or do both at once (annoying). But sometimes, you get ones that know off the bat that your freaking out at mirrors is a feigned weakness, that the ominous thingie glowing with dark energy is a decoy… or conversely, ones who somehow manage to arrive at your door not knowing you’re practically immortal despite the fact that you were pretty sure just about everyone in a fifty-league radius had figured it out after last time. Someone is controlling their information flow. Someone who isn’t you. Be suspicious

If you’re interacting in any way with another entity who could in some way be working for the Dark, be suspicious. Anything short of a god that’s giving you advice, let along marching orders, is probably suspect, and I don’t really trust those god-things either. Don’t even think that just because someone’s making fair-looking deals with you, that that’s all they’re getting out of it; I’ve known people who would make messes of deals in which the price they had to pay for what they really wanted just happened to be something they wanted to happen anyway (and even then they did their level best to bargain it down, just for appearance’s sake). For that matter, don’t trust neutrals, either, and if someone who’s technically good but not one of The Protagonists is doing anything for you, watch them.

For that matter, don’t trust third parties. If someone pops in out of nowhere, you don’t know them, the protagonists don’t seem to know them either, watch yourself.

If you’ve got decent spies, use them. What you’re looking for here isn’t large streams of resources, accumulation of power or what have you—that’s obvious, and that’s not generally their style. Look for the stuff that comes in bit by bit but ever so steadily. If it could be a danger to you, if it just seems improbable, and definitely if it makes you jealous? You guessed it: be suspicious.

Yes, there’s no guarantee that knowing your situation will mean you can do something about it, but at least this way you’ll have a chance. So keep your eyes open for the signs.

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  1. The Generic Villain Chooses a Decoy | Exchange of Realities

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