The Generic Villain on Impersonation

Last week’s riff on disguises covered ones that weren’t so much meant to be someone we weren’t as to not be who we were. Sometimes, though, we can’t get away with something quite so—heh, heh—generic. Instead, we have to appear to be someone who already exists, and that requires another set of complex factors beyond the challenges of a simple disguise. What, then, does an impersonator need to remember?

Know. Your. Target. If you’re going to imitate someone, you’ll need to be very familiar with how they work and what they do. Verbal tics, skills, necessary jargon, an understanding of their history—make sure you know what they know. Neither should you forget to keep track of what they don’t know, either: we have a long history of impersonators getting caught by answering questions with things the people they were impersonating had no business knowing.

Know where your target is. You can have a perfect disguise that’s already fooled everyone around you, and know everything about your target, but all your plans will still go to hash if the real target pops up right next to you. Preferably, you have control over your target’s whereabouts (I’ve always been rather partial to “unconscious in a hammerspace pocket”, myself, but in the dungeons or under close guard in their own wine cellar will do in a pinch), but even if you don’t, you should at least try to keep tabs on what part of the country they’re in so they don’t come swinging in hard on your heels when you least expect them, and if possible, find ways to ensure that they stay wherever they are.

For the love of the Dark Powers, stay in character! It should go without saying that when in public, you should act exactly as the person you’re impersonating would. But don’t neglect your face in private, either. For one thing, staying in character even when nobody’s around to see you keeps you in the habits you need in order to avoid your cover being blown. For another, particularly when you’re dealing with child protagonists and similarly nosy folk, you can never be sure if you’re under observation or not! One wrong word when prying eyes are on you, and there goes your secret.

Make it in the interest of the people you’re trying to fool to believe that you are what they think you are. The more they want to believe you, the more they’ll resist evidence to the contrary; in fact, this is one of the few things that will allow you to bend character slightly, when it feeds a potentially dangerous person’s denial. Sometimes it’s actions, like giving a little subtle encouragement to someone with an unrequited crush on the person you’re impersonating; other times it’s just being, like allaying another person’s worries about your target’s safety by being there as your target. Denial is a powerful force; why not put it to work?

Impersonation is difficult, but it’s not by any stretch of the imagination impossible. Good is dumb, you’re smart; remember the rules and you’ll do fine!

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