The Generic Villain Rules from a Nutshell

Back in the day, madness was pretty common among our kinds of people. It was such a perfect way of ensuring we were Evil without any further explanation, so we could cut with the backstory and get on with the puppy-kicking. Nowadays it’s seen more as cliché, and we all know how the Laws of Dramatics are about cliché. Being Just Mad? Bad idea.

But what about only feigning madness? I’ve looked over the Laws, and they’re a bit fuzzier. And there are a lot of advantages to putting on the trappings of the raving loon without actually having the mindset. Just because you know the hawk isn’t really a handsaw doesn’t mean you can’t try to shorten a board with it anyway.

It can help you come out as less predictable. After all, for some flavors of madness you’re going to be acting seemingly at random, and—well, the unpredictability of being able to do Truly Random should speak for itself. On the other hand, if you’re going for mental illness rather than undefined madness, then there’ll be an expectation that you will follow patterns, so the first couple of times you deviate from those patterns you’re likely to take them by surprise.

Sympathy card! Nowadays, everyone seems to be taking on laws that really don’t fit their time periods (and even if they don’t, those beyond the Wall might view events that way anyway), and one of the most common of those is the idea that one who isn’t in her right mind is less culpable for her actions. If you can get them thinking you weren’t in your right mind, pity might well stay their hands.

While feigned madness isn’t going to get you taken seriously in most contexts, there are a few where it serves as a strength rather than a weakness. With the right setup, a threat that on anyone else would seem like a joke becomes dead serious when coming from you; even if they’re pretty sure you can’t do it, they’ll probably be afraid of finding out what happens when you try.

But there are catches, some more obvious than others. It was already pointed out that appearing mad really isn’t that good for getting yourself taken seriously; likewise, it should be self-explanatory that if you’re going to depend on an act, you’d better be a good and consistent actor.

You should also beware of being a bit too clever. If you’re the egotistical type, it’s awfully tempting to slip a little bit of keen awareness veiled in subtle scholarly allusion into one of your mad ramblings, secure in the knowledge that Those Idiot Heroes will never get it. And if you’re the kind of person who does that, you’re likely to experience the astronomical increase of the probability that one of Those Idiot Heroes really is smart enough to catch you at it—and the strong chance that said not-so-idiot hero will NOT let on that she’s figured it out, thereby denying you your chance to recover before it’s too late.

And of course, there’s the chance you do such a convincing job that the forces that detect cliché are themselves fooled by your seeming madness. In cases like this, the Wall is your enemy.

Don’t discount feigned madness as a tactic. It throws your opponents off, makes you look into new and different (and potentially useful) mindsets—and hey, a nutshell can make an excellent base of world-domination operations as long as nobody else can find it.

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