The Generic Villain vs. the Evil Overlord List, Part 1: Items 1-5

I suppose I can blame this one on Tom Coenen, for bringing up The Evil Overlord List a while back. The Management and I have both been familiar with The List for a while; I as long as this thing’s been running, she for about four years before then, I think somebody turned her loose on it during college. And that’s the thing—it’s a good set of guidelines, but it’s been out there for a while, and the Good Guys know about it. Heck, some of them even reference it directly. Therefore, we’ve decided it’s about time to take a piece-by-piece look at The List, and see what still applies, and what we’re going to need to reconsider in light of time passed, protagonistic awareness and research in other fields. Sound like fun? I know I’m enjoying it.

So. Let’s take a look.

  1. Legions of Terror have clear-visored helmets, not face-concealing ones. I’m good with that. There are a lot of reasons why it’s better to have a clear helmet—yes, the face-concealing ones give a certain ominous, inhuman air, but on the other hand, it’s easier to kill someone whose face you can’t see (ever read Grossman? He’s all over that), and you can’t be entirely sure who’s under the helmet. If you’ve got other reasons for the faces to be usually invisible, consider making it possible to turn the faceplate clear—and then require any minion in contact with the others to do so, with orders to shoot on sight if the faceplate stays opaque. And make sure the things get serviced regularly, or that the helmet is straightforward to take off—otherwise the prior policy could cause you to lose a minion to helmet mechanical failure.
  2. Ventilation ducts will be too small to crawl through. This one has advantages and disadvantages—a crawlable duct is a lot easier to service, but on the other hand, a crawlable duct is a lot easier for a hero to sneak through. On the other hand, smaller ducts won’t necessarily defend you from the sneaking of the hero’s puntable animal buddy—whether you stay small or go large, you might want to consider gratings in place on the vent that cannot (this can be ensured by mechanical or magical means) be removed without triggering some sort of very specific alarm. Speaking of ventilation ducts, they should probably be sealable—you don’t want to know what people might stick in your air supply.
  3. Kill the usurped half-brother, don’t just leave them anonymously in the dungeon. This one I can get behind completely—yes, there’s a risk that you’ll have the heroes more upset if you actually killed the guy, but honestly, if you’re leaving him to be forgotten in a dungeon, people are going to assume you killed him anyway. The only time you should keep such a person alive is if there is some reason why they’re required—if you need a component drawn from a living body to impersonate them, say, or if they have some sort of vital information (make sure it actually is vital and not just convenient, mind!) that you can’t get anywhere else, in which case you’d better not be just forgetting about them, but getting that intel.
  4. Shooting is not too good for my enemies. Aside from “If shooting isn’t available at your tech level, insert other generally-fatal means of disposal here”, I got nothing to argue with. In general, when you’ve decided your foe needs to die, always prioritize efficiency over some overblown idea of watching them suffer horribly through their last moments. That way, Narrative Causality has a smaller window in which to bail them out, and as an added bonus, you don’t have to worry about losing your admirers beyond the Wall through either a lack of practicality or stepping over the lines they don’t want you to cross. Rep matters, remember?
  5. Source of power (and one weakness) in safe-deposit box rather than in big dramatic area with big dramatic guardians. I’ve already talked about dealing with items that really need not to fall into the heroes’ hands, though I didn’t cover the idea of a safe-deposit box: my conclusion on that would be that if you’re going to use a safe-deposit box, make sure it’s under an assumed name, that the peole guarding it can be trusted implicitly and that there’s absolutely no way for someone to find out your item of Whatever is in there. (And be careful—if you’re in a ‘verse where The List is a Thing, you might want to avoid a safe-deposit box simply because people would know that the safe-deposit box is an option.

Having rules to fall back on is a good start—but knowing why to follow them, and how you need to change your adherence to them as times change, makes you much, much scarier.


  1. Tom Coenen says:

    Thanks for this post, it’s nice to know my comments are appreciated.

    I’d add silent alarms to the small ventilation ducts.

    The usurped half-brother should be killed if possible.
    I’d add a trap with something or someone looking like him for the good guys to stumble upon. And again add a silent alarm.

  2. Ravyn says:

    I like the silent alarms–or alternately, exceedingly noisy alarms. Sure, the heroes’ puntable companion would know it had been discovered (and the heroes probably would as well–unless they’ve got a telepathic link or some other way of monitoring it, imagine what that would do to their morale! Bonus!), but with the kinds of echo effects you’d get in there and the tendency of creatures of that size to have particularly good hearing or some sort of vibration sense, you could probably stun and disorient it at the very least, maybe even deafen it entirely (and, if they do have a telepathic link, possibly get whoever’s linked with the critter in the process).

  3. UZ says:

    Ah, gone are the days when villains all had sidekick creatures too. It’s a shame, really, nothing was more satisfying than a classic sidekick animal fight. Villains only have big pets now, and usually they can’t control them very well. Can’t go to the mall with your bull-gorgon-thing without lawsuits and more lawsuits.

    Air ducts were better in the old video games – that was back when every villain’s repertoire included toxic waste, so all air ducts had corrosive fluid constantly dripping from the ceiling.

    The overly-detailed-demise can be OK, but you have to make sure you have some kind of backup, maybe a kitten that will be kicked by some sort of mechanical boot if the heroes get free.

    In fact, most villains miss out on double-edged stuff like this. Whether it’s the You or the Kitten choice, or it’s a magician’s choice like a contest of skill where “the loser has to marry the winner”, there should always be two edges and the villain should always have a plan on each one. It’s a critical part of showing everyone that life isn’t fair.

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