The Generic Villain on Disguises

Going incognito is an old standby of Hands of Darkness, dating back to the days of long ago when we showed up as old beggars to trick proud little heroes or too-pretty princesses into doing things they weren’t supposed to. It’s good for situations where we want to try deception without worrying about our status as antagonists working against us, a way to just separate ourselves from the stress and threats of our usual positions, and, as I noted the last time I came near this topic, a way to even temporarily join the circle of our worst enemies and wreak more havoc from there. So let’s talk disguises!

The first thing to consider when going in disguise is appearance. You need not to look like yourself. Messing with hair color and style and eye color is a good start (yes, I know Superman and some magical girls don’t have to go that far, but you’re not them), but don’t stop there. I know there’s a movement just to use cloaks, hoods, scarves and veils, and that might somewhat work if you’re in a hurry or working from limited resources, but…. it’s a bad idea if you can avoid it. If you can’t change your profile, you’ve still got that tripping you up, particularly if the disguise doesn’t do much about your silhouette either; people always go out of their way to find out what’s under concealing clothing; and if you’ve got a distinctive pair of glasses or similarly recognizable feature poking out from under your wraps or you’re still carrying your one of a kind mystical weapon, just forget it. You need to change things. Colors. Shapes. Stance. Style. Gear. How else are you going to keep them from realizing you’re you?

Don’t get so hung up on appearances that you forget the other parts of a cover identity! Make sure that any false identity you take has a backstory, just in case you run into one of those protagonist-types whose goal in life seems to be to lend a sympathetic ear to every mook, bit part and extra who ever comes within arm’s reach. Make sure you know said backstory cold, so you can be consistent; keep track of what you’ve said so you know what it’s safe to change and what would lead to you contradicting yourself if you were to tweak it a bit. And for the love of the Dark Powers, try to fit your appearance to what you’re claiming to be, and avoid blatant contradictions between appearance and backstory. I know Generic Fantasy Hero-Types can get away with being penniless urchins who nonetheless have one mystical and expensive-looking trinket/amazing survival skills for someone who’s never been outside a city/endurance that doesn’t fit with having been on the edge of starvation, but people have a hard enough time believing in their inconsistencies, so why chance it by giving them more? One last thing—don’t wait until the last second to choose a name!

Watch your tongue! Be sure that your slang and jargon are accurate and up-to-date (at least, as much as your cover identity supports them). Avoid the temptation to constantly draw attention to what you’re pretending to be—and note that if I catch you trying something along the lines of “Greetings, fellow mortal! How is a normal life treating you today?” I reserve the right to shove your costume down your throat. Last, don’t say anything that contradicts the image you’re trying to project.

Have a secret. Yes, I know, you’re in disguise, isn’t that secret enough? No: you also want a “secret” that you don’t as much mind people learning, even if the person you’re pretending to be would. Call it a One Secret Principle: if people think you’re hiding something, and they find something that you’re hiding, it might not occur to them that you’re hiding something more important as well. Consider it a way to get the opponents to slice themselves with Occam’s Razor.

Last, a few other tips. While it’s good to go against the image you’ve projected to the world when you’re going incognito, avoid taking on an identity that can and does things you cannot or will not do. Even if you can steel yourself to do them, you’re likely to hesitate, or to mess up, and people notice those sorts of things. Be careful around languages—try not to put yourself in an identity where you’ll need to pretend to understand something you don’t know at all.

Stay clever! Any questions?


  1. Shinali says:

    What do you do about a distinctive silhouette when concealing clothing is ill-advised under the circumstances?

    Samar adds: I’ve found that consistency and plausibility are key. People will have no trouble reconciling that you can survive the wilderness and still have a decent amount of money if you clearly came to town to sell rare herbs. It won’t jive if you only ever sell linen, or if you are clearly the sort of merchant with a whole caravan. And in places with a local authority figure, figure out how the populace shows respect and obedience and do so in the same measure (so, no kowtowing to a senator and no patting royalty on the back like an old friend… unless your local culture works that way). Yes, this might mean kneeling reverently before some local squash spirit that you were planning on shipping off to the furthest corner of your world when you take it over, but a little following the rules can get you far.

    (Above all, if the person you are talking to knows you, have a cover story to explain the similarity ahead of time! Especially if they are contractually obligated to kill you on sight. You know who you are!)

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