The Generic Villain Chooses a Decoy

In last week’s riff on figuring out if you’re some greater villain’s decoy, I mentioned that the fastest way to avoid being used as a decoy is to set up a decoy yourself. After all, too many sandwiched decoys destroys a plot, and Dramatic Necessity does not like that—and besides, having someone else you can set up to give you a sense of how strong the heroes are before they start interfering with you directly is generally favorable.

But how do you choose yourself a good decoy?

The first trait I always look for is a good-sized ego. If your decoy will gleefully take the credit for everything you do for them, that saves you a lot of time on laying false trails and making sure he doesn’t have a good alibi. All you have to do is make sure that anything you do is at best “only helping”, and that it’s easy for him to claim to have done it all himself. Just remember that these sorts of people don’t respond well to commands, only suggestions.

Most people would say that your decoy should be someone whose threat level is less than your own—and yeah, I can see the wisdom of that. If they’re more powerful than you, after all, and they cotton on to your being the power behind the scenes, you’re likely to get squished, or to need to team up with the heroes to deal with the lout. (…granted, that’s not such a bad thing if you want the heroes to still think you’re at least one of the neutral guys.) On the other hand, if they’re far more powerful than you are, who’s ever going to get to you? Moreover, if you’re doing things and letting the decoy take the credit, rather than just offering him advice, he’ll need to actually look capable of doing the things he’s taking credit for, whether he really is or not. Otherwise, people start digging deeper.

If you’re planning on having a decoy who’s aware that he’s a decoy, you’re going to want to use someone loyal to you; most people aren’t that willing to serve as the flogging horse for someone they have no personal attachment to. Yes, you might be able to get around that by dangling a great enough reward, but then you have to worry about him dropping your cover when the heroes arrive to both save his own skin and pick up whatever you’ve been holding back when you’re defeated. And if you haven’t offered a large bribe to your decoy, and he wasn’t loyal to you to begin with, watch him carefully.

On the other hand, if you want to use a decoy who isn’t aware he’s a decoy, you don’t want him too intelligent—but you don’t want him too stupid, either. We all know the smart ones are dangerous; they’re the likeliest to figure out that they’re being set up as patsies, and tend to figure out quickly how to wring every drop of advantage out of us. The stupid ones, though? Not only do they lack a certain level of verisimilitude (see the point on power level, above), but they often don’t know what sorts of things to conceal, so they end up outing you on accident in ways that smarter decoys would realize are counterproductive for them as well.

So consider your options carefully when choosing a decoy.

(P.S. Happy Halloween from the Management!)

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