The Management has been so enthusiastic about this RPG Blog Carnival thing, and my week’s been slow enough, that I figured I may as well throw my oar in. Combat avoidance is a vexed topic among us Hands of Darkness due to our oppositional role, so this is going to take a couple weeks.
To start, let me make one thing clear, particularly for the single-minded and the bloodthirsty. Our contract and the mandates of Dramatic Necessity and Narrative Causality tell us that we need to oppose the heroes, antiheroes, and other generally protagonistic types at every turn. It does not, however, require us to physically fight them every time we have the slightest opportunity, and, in fact, we don’t necessarily want to.
I can hear you already. “Don’t fight heroes? Ri-diculous.” Yeah, yeah, it happens eventually, but when it does, you want it as much as possible to be in a time and place, and under circumstances, of your own choosing. This means there are plenty of potential fights you can and should want nothing to do with without any stain on your honor.
What circumstances might it make it a very good idea to wait and fight another day?
You can’t win. There are loads of potential reasons why this might happen, some long-term and some not. The hero has Found Your Weakness, the source of your power is temporarily on the fritz, you’ve come down with a nasty bug, the hero’s power is at its zenith, your usual enforcer is on vacation, your superweapon is still in the testing stages (never, ever, if you can at all help it, face down a protagonist with a superweapon that hasn’t been thoroughly debugged by multiple verifiably trustworthy associates)… you know. It’s just not a good time.
You have a prior engagement. Hey, just because the hero’s the dramatic center of the universe doesn’t mean he has to be the literal center. Much though we love our nemeses, sometimes there’s just something more important on the schedule. You need to oversee an invasion. To complete a summoning. To bathe in the blood of whatever magical or symbolic creature your health regimen calls for. To… well, to do something that isn’t “fight the protagonist”. Most of the time, there really isn’t enough reason why fighting the prot should take priority over almost any errand you have.
You know you can win, but you don’t want them to know what you’re capable of, and killing them isn’t an option yet. This one’s a bit dicier due to the iffy tactics that often lead to the erroneous version of this conclusion, but hey, if the plan really requires a live hero gumming up the works (or, more often, gumming up someone else’s works), I guess this is valid. (If the hero can only die when certain conditions are met, though, I’ll take that as your reason. It’s better than trying to count on something that just plain isn’t going to happen.)
Destiny says no. There are a lot of potential causes–metaphysical reasons, the gods not being done betting on them yet, whatever–but either way, this is “you can’t win” meets “killing them off won’t work yet” and might even be a full “They can’t lose” rather than just “they can’t die”, depriving you of even a minor victory. What’s the point in fighting them early and giving them a chance to figure out how they work? Unless they’re threatening something vital to your schemes, they can wait.
You just don’t want to. Shallow though this may sound, in the absence of a pressing reason to fight it’s a perfectly valid reason to beg off. Enthusiasm can make the difference between victory and defeat–if there isn’t some unavoidable need to be on that battlefield, feel free to go to a movie instead.
Next week, I’ll look at how to make sure we really can be somewhere else for these fights we want to avoid.