The Generic Villain by Comparison

Well, this is it. You might have gotten a cutscene or two, maybe even a prologue, your deeds may have been mentioned in passing or come upon too late to be prevented, you may even have been fighting by proxy for a while before this, but now, it’s time to meet those protagonists face to face. You’re at the top of your game, strong or cunning or whatever blend of traits make you a foe to be feared, respected, engaged in career conflict with, or all of the above. You’ve got everything perfect…

…except for your timing.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again; we don’t operate in a vacuum. No matter what, there are other powers at work that will have an effect on interactions with the protagonists. Fortunately, most of you get that. What people have more trouble with is the nature of those effects. It’s not just who’s giving or taking the resources, offering alliances, what have you.

It’s also impressions, and in this case, your worst enemy is likely to be your fellow Hands of Darkness, whether they actually oppose you or not. Comparisons will be made, and if you’re not careful who you’re in narrative proximity to, there’s a strong chance you’re going to end up on the wrong end of them.

The most likely comparisons will, of course, be to fellow Hands of Darkness who share an area of specialty with you, since they’re likely to seem the most similar on the surface. If you’re an tool user where everyone lives by the gadget and the improvised weapon, or a manipulator in a sea of Byzantine intrigue, what they’re mainly going to remember about you is what sets you apart from the last person(s) they met who occupy your dramatic niche. And yes, this can be a good thing if their last experience in your field was with someone who was clearly their inferior, or not as good at playing to their style. But if they’ve recently had an encounter with someone whom you know to be your Bigger Fish, or just someone whose style of conflict they work better with, suffering by comparison is almost inevitable.

Consider also timing. If it’s been a while since the characters’ last major confrontation, the effects of comparison are likely much less than if they’ve just walked out of a conversation with one of your fellows. Memory fades over time, after all, and contrast is much more effective in close proximity. If they’ve just gotten through a run-in with one of your fellows, and she’s good at coming across friendly while you’re not too prone to suffer fools gladly, who do you think comes out the better in that situation?

And then there’s how your narrative roles interact. I don’t just mean having the same one, though that’s just asking for comparison. It might be that you’ve supplanted one of your rivals; depending on the rival, this might be a mark for or against you. Perhaps one of you is the true villain of the piece, and the other is a running plot complication. Or it might just be that you and the other one steal each other’s exposure time. Whether they actively realize it or not, they’re going to find themselves making comparisons.

Note that these effects aren’t just on your side of the Wall, either. This is one time when the quirky tendencies of those on the other side are likely to be as much hindrance as help; something that makes you well-liked, perhaps even admirable, in your world might bring hatred from those outside. And those outside the Wall are as vital to your longevity as those inside it.

So consider comparison when planning your appearances; try to make sure it works for you!

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