The Generic Villain continues a point-by-point facedown and update of that reference material of all baddies with imperial ambitions, The Evil Overlord List.
And on to Number 20. Seriously, Peter, what’s with the expandable ones three points in a row? Is it you being particularly open-ended, or me getting a bit too good at coming up with ways to turn a simple provocation into a monologue? (….do I want to know the answer? Probably not.) Anyway, Number 20 boils down to “No maniacal laughter. Ever. Even if it does have stress benefits. It isn’t worth the distraction.” I’m not too prone to the stuff myself (my minions, on the other hand…), but I found a lot to question in this particular rule.
First off, who says you have to laugh maniacally when something important is going on where the distraction might be dangerous? While it may be less satisfying, you can laugh maniacally just as well in the privacy of your own quarters, or at a small group meeting with a couple of trusted lieutenants, or somewhere else where the momentary distraction won’t be as dangerous.
For another thing, there’s learning to pay attention while laughing. Yes, you’re making enough noise that it might interfere with your ability to hear what’s going on around you, and it is easier to laugh with one’s eyes closed—but if you can find ways of working around those little details (magic, technology, discipline, I really don’t care as long as it works), you can take advantage of the fact that people do expect you to be distracted by the noise and your own ego as long as you’re laughing maniacally. Might not make them get sloppy, per se, but it might get them to do things they wouldn’t if they didn’t think you were distracted.
There’s also the idea of maniacal laughter as a social strategy. Let’s say the hero says something that might actually have a point, and you don’t have an immediate response. Engaging instead in a bout of maniacal laughter does (x) things. First, it buys you some time to come up with a proper comeback, since you can’t very well talk and laugh at the same time, now, can you? Second, unlike dialogue, it’s open to interpretation—and most likely, interpretation in your favor. If the heroes have just declared that they have a counter-strategy, and all you do is laugh, they’re probably going to jump to conclusions: that you knew this was coming all along, that they just happen to have run into one of your best contingencies… you get the idea. And while they’re sorting through possible interpretations and being demoralized, you can come up with a proper counter—or try to read their responses and come up with a line that fits them. If you’re not using words, it’s a lot harder to say the wrong thing. (Do, however, use this tactic sparingly. If your answer to everything is a bout of maniacal laughter, it loses its demoralizing effects. Familiarity breeds contempt.)
You don’t have to give the maniacal laugh up entirely. All you need is to know how—and how not—to use it. Essentially, if you can’t get a strategic advantage from it, don’t. But if you can, feel free.
GV’s further addendum: Hey, you beyond the Wall! If you’re getting tired of the List, do remember that I also answer questions and resolve diabolical dilemmas. If you’ve got a conundrum interfering with your conquest or cunning plan, ask me in the comments on any of my posts, and I’ll give you an answer.