Almost to the end. Part Five is the final section!
For convenience, I'm including our panel listing in each post.
Our Expert Panel
We have assembled for this special conference several fine villains who have wreaked havoc throughout the known multiverse. Let's meet them:
- Virigar. King of the Great Werewolves and progenitor of the species, Virigar is the most-feared monster on all of Zarathan. A soul-eating, nearly indestructible being, Virigar's age is unknown, his full powers a mystery. He has killed gods and demons and men, shrugged off or consumed spells and energy weapons, and survived multiple planned attempts to destroy him. His only known weaknesses are silver weapons, and -- of course -- other soul-destroying beings or weapons. Seen in Digital Knight (and more in the expanded version Paradigms Lost to be released in late 2014) and implied in his existence in Phoenix Rising. In his true form he is a nine-foot-tall fur-covered monstrosity with diamond teeth and claws eight to twelve inches long, vaguely wolflike but much more alien; while he can take on any shape, his preferred guise is a handsome young man (late 20s, early 30s) very much like a young Robert Redford.
- Master Wieran. Cold, analytical, fanatical, Master Wieran is what modern people would call a mad scientist. Combining knowledge of alchemy and multiple branches of magical study, Wieran's quest is to discover and analyze the source of life, nay, the very source of reality itself -- and he will sacrifice anything, and anyone, to achieve that goal. Tall, thin, white-haired though not ancient, with deep-set eyes in a narrow, ascetic face and usually wearing something that does look rather like a labcoat, Wieran looks exactly like what he is.
- Maria-Susanna. Perhaps the most tragic result of the epically tragic Hyperion Project, Maria-Susanna (alluded to in Grand Central Arena and finally encountered in Spheres of Influence) is the idealized self-insert (yes, the Mary-Sue) of the Project's driving force. The collapse of the project combined with the death of the man she was designed for drove her completely over the edge. She still believes she is the good guy -- the very noblest of good guys -- and her delusions will, and have, allowed her to rationalize away literally dozens of murders. A genetically engineered superwoman, Maria-Susanna is the very ideal of the beautiful blonde, and is also physically capable of taking on just about anyone. In addition, she's educated in a huge number of disciplines and can do just about anything she puts her mind to.
- The Dark Wanderer. One of the legendary heroes of Zarathan is "The Wanderer", a hero supposedly from Earth itself who appeared several thousand years ago. Wizard, warrior, sage, trickster, he's said to be many things. The Dark Wanderer is his moral mirror image, caused by something terrible that happened to the original. With a special immunity to destiny and a unique approach to mystical powers, the Dark Wanderer is one of the most terrifying of all possible enemies to those on the world of Zarathan... and almost no one knows he exists... yet.
- Thornfalcon. The major adversayr revealed at the end of Phoenix Rising, Thornfalcon is a swordsman, a would-be bard, a lover and a hero... and actually a psychopathic serial killer with very high functionality, empowered by something that can at the least imitate a god, and a manipulator par excellence. Tall, slender, with a long, flexible actor's face that can go from sympathetic to comedic to psychotic in a flash, the brown-haired Justiciar wears a bird-themed "Raiment" that is both defense and mystical weapon, and wields considerable power of his own, especially as his position as the favored agent of his "patron" has made him something more than merely human.
- Endgame. One of the major villains in my currently-being-shopped-around superhero novel Stuff of Legend, Endgame is an Omnicidal Maniac with the power to make it believable that he WILL destroy the world if not stopped. What event or events in his life filled him with such hatred for all things is not known. He wears a dark armored costume with a cape, and is massively muscled. He is brilliant and extremely tenacious, but constrained in his behavior by the essential rules, so to speak, that govern super-beings' interactions.
- Amanita Verdant. Entering the discussion as of Point #8, Amanita is one of the main villains in my to-be-Kickstartered Oz-based novel Polychrome, Amanita was once a Giantess whose first name is unknown, only being addressed as "Mrs Yoop" in her canonical appearance. Having been transformed in such a manner that prohibited her from ever again regaining her true form, she has taken on the shape of a supernaturally beautiful young human woman with green hair and eyes. Amanita is an absolute master of transformation magics, and understands others quite well. She is also quite utterly insane, although able to disguise it well under most conditions. Part of her issues probably stem from her treatment (implied) by her husband, for whom she shows no concern at all when she knows he was captured, dragged off, and imprisoned in an isolated cage in the mountains.
The Annotated Evil Overlord, Part 4
61. If my advisors ask "Why are you risking everything on such a mad scheme?", I will not proceed until I have a response that satisfies them.
Virigar: I don't really HAVE advisors who would say such a thing; they know me too well.
Dark Wanderer: Er, Big V, that makes you sound pretty, um --
Virigar: Oh, many apologies. I should clarify that. They know too well that I plan things out so far, in so much detail, that if my scheme LOOKS mad, there is inevitably a reason behind it. So they would never ask that question of me. At most they would ask me to clarify -- if I would -- some detail that is relevant to them.
Master Wieran: Mad? MAD? The fools! To not recognize that my intellect is so vastly superior to theirs that even *explaining* my plan would leave them no better enlightened! Why (cue variant rant#4)
Maria-Susanna: I see we have someone who could benefit from the above advice.
Dark Wanderer: Yes, even if it's TRUE that your underlings really can't understand your plans, you need a Complete Idiot's Guide to My Diabolical Plan handy so that they can at least efficiently carry out their part of it.
Thornfalcon: And as the above advice hints, perhaps being forced to create a clear and simplified description will reveal, well, some heretofore unforeseen slight weaknesses in your grand scheme.
Endgame: Hmph. Yes, I suppose. Although I would note that creating your Idiot's Guide will inevitably lead to one of those guides falling into the Heroes' hands at an inconvenient time.
Amanita: I would transform someone who said such a rude thing to me into something that couldn't talk!
Dark Wanderer: Aaand we see here someone who didn't even listen to the discussion.
62. I will design fortress hallways with no alcoves or protruding structural supports which intruders could use for cover in a firefight.
Virigar: I'm not entirely sure I agree.
Master Wieran: Yes. The problem is that in the event of an invasion, the same alcoves and structural supports could also provide cover for MY troops.
M-S: My preference would be for automated defenses which constantly spray the almost featureless hallway with either stun rounds or lethal ones, whichever seems appropriate.
Dark Wanderer: Ooo, the old "Automated Defenses" approach. Ten to one the heroes will THEN have with them some UberHacker who -- in defiance of all known laws of computer operation, security, and logic -- will take control of the defenses using a cell phone call to your switchboard. No, never count on automated defenses -- be they computers, golems, whatever. Someone will come and use the Riddle of Horus on them or something.
Thornfalcon: Very true. Or they'll have some companion – say, a very small Toad who fits places you don't expect – who can bypass your automated defenses.
Endgame: I agree about both the hallways and the defenses. You need both – automated defenses, layered with thinking living defenses. Fortunately, I myself can generate both.
Amanita: I don't know what an "uberhacker" is, but my "automated" defenses are both mystically loyal and quite self-aware. Very hard to get past.
63. Bulk trash will be disposed of in incinerators, not compactors. And they will be kept hot, with none of that nonsense about flames going through accessible tunnels at predictable intervals.
Virigar: Not a problem for those who don't keep large bases.
Master Wieran: There are perfectly good reasons NOT to burn all trash. Sometimes you, or another, can re-use parts of it. But certainly all waste-disposal areas should be designed to prevent their use as a hiding place or getaway route.
M-S: I'd put sensors in them to let me know of any living thing larger than, oh, a mouse.
Dark Wanderer: And that's when you discover that your enemies have a shapeshifter who can assume the form of a mouse.
Endgame: I'll also note that in the classic example of this, the ONLY thing that permitted the heroes to walk out of it rather than be poured out as a runny red soup was that they had unsuspected and competent outside help. Well, one of the two was competent.
Dark Wanderer: Yes, and as I mentioned before, the original plan was to allow them to escape. Still, that garbage disposal route would seem an unlikely part of the original plan, so they may have been in actual danger at that point.
64. I will see a competent psychiatrist and get cured of all extremely unusual phobias and bizarre compulsive habits which could prove to be a disadvantage.
Master Wieran: I HAVE no such problems, and I would never permit a lesser mind to attempt its feeble "therapy" on me.
Maria-Susanna: Well, I wouldn't put it so NASTILY, but really, I was DESIGNED to be perfect, I'm certainly not crazy or have any unusual phobias.
Dark Wanderer: (with a glance at Maria-Susanna) Megalomania is pretty much standard for Evil Overlords.
Thornfalcon: I admit to being unsure as to what this means, and Queen Amanita looks confused as well.
Endgame: I think this is a reasonable-seeming idea which in practice none of us would be stupid enough to follow.
Dark Wanderer: No doubt. The real danger is that if you actually WORK with the headshrinker, he'll know far too much; and if you DON'T, not only might he STILL learn too much, you'll be wasting time too.
65. If I must have computer systems with publically available terminals, the maps they display of my complex will have a room clearly marked as the Main Control Room. That room will be the Execution Chamber. The actual main control room will be marked as Sewage Overflow Containment.
Virigar: Oh, dear, dear, dear.
Master Wieran: I see this as a parallel to the self-destruct argument. Yes?
Maria-Susanna: Very much so, yes.
Dark Wanderer: Yep. If you have publicly accessible terminals, your thugs will be using them too -- otherwise the fact that no one in your own ranks touches them will warn the heroes that there's something funny going on. And do you REALLY want an information system that lies to you, when some of your hirelings may not be as clever as you might like?
Thornfalcon: I'm still fuzzy on these computer things, but it would seem that in this case it might help weed out the unfit. Still, yes, another "let's make it too complicated" bit of advice.
Endgame: Yes. Underlings will forget warnings, and Heroes will be lucky. Overthinking the situation will waste time and accomplish nothing.
66. My security keypad will actually be a fingerprint scanner. Anyone who watches someone press a sequence of buttons or dusts the pad for fingerprints then subsequently tries to enter by repeating that sequence will trigger the alarm system.
Virigar: Now THIS I like.
Master Wieran: Or a soul-scanner, or something of the sort. Yes indeed.
Maria-Susanna: As long as it's just YOUR security keypad, or you always have the luxury of entering anyone new into the system before they'll ever need to use it. The advantage of codes is that you don't need to perform a special authorization procedure every time you get a new high-clearance employee.
Dark Wanderer: True, but I think the advice is good. You could always have a code that you never use except for temporaries, and change it after each temp's time is over.
Thornfalcon: Ah, security locks. Yes, there are similar tricks one can use on them in a magical context. Good principle to think of.
67. No matter how many shorts we have in the system, my guards will be instructed to treat every surveillance camera malfunction as a full-scale emergency.
Virigar: (shakes head)
Master Wieran: I do not believe this would work. You can only tell dolts to ignore things so many times.
Maria-Susanna: Yes, this goes against some of the most fundamental principles of human behavior.
Dark Wanderer: The "cry wolf" syndrome -- no reference to our friend V, here. If you actually have any significant number of false positives, you CAN'T get people to keep treating them as full-scale emergencies.
Thornfalcon: While the terminology is obscure, yes, I take your meaning. And all that running around would just create OTHER security openings after a while.
Endgame: Yes. This is idiocy incarnate. If your security system produces any number of false alerts, it will be ignored; it becomes useless. Better to not have one at all.
Amanita: Well, I admit I haven't thought of such things, but that does make sense.
68. I will spare someone who saved my life sometime in the past. This is only reasonable as it encourages others to do so. However, the offer is good one time only. If they want me to spare them again, they'd better save my life again.
Virigar: Well, certainly. Good form all around.
Master Wieran: I will certainly not do so, unless sparing his life is practical in other ways.
Maria-Susanna: Oh, of course I will! Maybe he'll come around to understand my way of thinking!
Dark Wanderer: Er, yeah, good luck with that. But sure, I'll do it.
Thornfalcon: Hmm. In general, I'd agree, but I can see many possible exceptions I might make. Sometimes you betray when the time is right.
Endgame: I care not for saving lives except my own. And in the end, perhaps not even that.
Amanita: Oh, I'd have to almost save and then let him go! (laughs)
69. All midwives will be banned from the realm. All babies will be delivered at state-approved hospitals. Orphans will be placed in foster-homes, not abandoned in the woods to be raised by creatures of the wild.
Maria-Susanna: What? Don't they realize that on average midwives improve infant survival rates?
Virigar: This is referring to those charming tales in which a midwife delivers a child and can switch it around, hide it, and so on so that you don't know a child of your enemy survived, or when an orphan is abandoned in the woods to die and comes back having learned special skills from the wolves or what have you.
Master Wieran: I have no care for the breeding behavior of my subjects. If I find a child has learned amazing skills from the wolves, I'll hire him to show ME how this was possible!
Dark Wanderer: This is another of those plans that will backfire on you, just like the "kill all the kids born on X day" or "outfox the prophecy" in general.
Thornfalcon: Oh, too true. Too simplistic and too complex at the same time!
Endgame: I –
Amanita: -- will kill everyone, yes, we know, dear. I'm not quite clear on some of those terms, but I'm afraid our colleagues are right about the general consequences.
70. When my guards split up to search for intruders, they will always travel in groups of at least two. They will be trained so that if one of them disappears mysteriously while on patrol, the other will immediately initiate an alert and call for backup, instead of quizzically peering around a corner.
Virigar: Well, again, this assumes a base, lots of guards. I have a castle and a few trusted servants. And very good senses, when I feel I should use them.
Master Wieran: These are basic tactics. Are they saying many evil overlords DON'T have such basic tactics as standard?
Maria-Susanna: Well, it's a reference to an awful lot of FAILED evil overlords. And of course part of the problem is the quality of the help you hire.
Dark Wanderer: Yes. If your grunts were good enough to be trained as special forces types, would they be working as your grunts? Maybe, but maybe not.
Thornfalcon: Indeed; quantity is almost always opposed to quality. There are some people that just won't LEARN those kind of simple tactics. Especially if they're with you long enough to have gotten used to routine patrols in which nothing happens.
Maria-Susanna: Studies have shown that even well-trained people can end up unattentive and less competent if routine becomes too grinding; it's called the "green-light" syndrome in some references.
71. If I decide to test a lieutenant's loyalty and see if he/she should be made a trusted lieutenant, I will have a crack squad of marksmen standing by in case the answer is no.
Virigar: Ah, yes, the pitfall of assuming the result at the wrong time.
Master Wieran: I prefer to IMPLANT the loyalty.
Maria-Susanna: Evil little man. I'm sure that anyone who wants to work with me would be loyal. But there's nothing wrong with insurance.
Dark Wanderer: Indeed, indeed. While I prefer to work solo, if I had to work with someone I certainly wouldn't let them get in a position to screw me over without having a little backup plan.
Endgame: None of you see the obvious flaw? I am disappointed. By your own dramatic principles, the existence of the marksmen standing by will influence the lieutenant's reaction (and do not, in any way, assume he won't notice. He will, if it amuses the gods of drama).
Amanita: I am, myself, better than any squad of "marksmen".
72. If all the heroes are standing together around a strange device and begin to taunt me, I will pull out a conventional weapon instead of using my unstoppable superweapon on them.
Virigar: Another of those too-specific rules. As a more general rule, if the heroes have suddenly stopped their running and are taunting me, I will not respond to their taunts without carefully examining the area for a booby-trap.
Master Wieran: Naturally. A sudden shift in behavior nearly always indicates that an additional factor has been introduced that was not previously accounted for.
Maria-Susanna: Of course, this sort of thinking could become a sort of circular process.
Dark Wanderer: Ohhhh, yeah, I see what you mean. "Ah, this guy's a SMART evil overlord, so we can get him to run through the trap just by NOT taunting him". And then –
Thornfalcon: -- we overlords start being cautious when they're running and realize that their taunts are sheer bravado -- indicators of the time to attack. And THEN we're back to square one.
Endgame: (shrugging) Perhaps it matters for all of you. For me? I know that whichever I decide on, it will be the other one, if the dramatic moment favors the heroes. Fighting destiny is very difficult and requires constant vigilance… and a willingness to accept that you will suffer multiple defeats first.
Amanita: If they start taunting me, I'll turn them into –
Dark Wanderer: And this is why you're the one who'll end up as a toad.
Poplock Duckweed: And just what's wrong with that?
Dark Wanderer: Who let him in here? Out! Out! You're not an evil overlord! You're not even a villain!
Poplock Duckweed: Well fine, Mr. Grumpymage. I'll go rob your castle while you're not in it.
Dark Wanderer: HEY!
73. I will not agree to let the heroes go free if they win a rigged contest, even though my advisors assure me it is impossible for them to win.
Virigar: A rigged contest? Is there any other kind?
Master Wieran: For one such as you, perhaps not. I, on the other hand, would never use such a useless trick. A contest is an experiment, a test, and "rigging" it violates the purity of the science behind it! Those petty tyrants who think to terrify with their arbitrary whims cannot understand the terror and beauty, the majesty and horror possible with a grasp of the True Nature of REALITY, the...(continue rant #51)
Maria-Susanna: If I agree to any contest, it will be a fair one.
Dark Wanderer: Well... as fair as any contest can be where one of the contestants is the product of a super-science project to produce the ultimate heroine or hero...
Master Wieran (breaking off rant): Product of a SUPER-SCIENCE project? My VERY dear young lady, would you consider—
Maria-Susanna (in a perky, cheerful tone): Complete that sentence and I will force-feed you your own balls. (*smile* ^_^)
Thornfalcon: And NOW we see the other side of Miss Kind and Generous. I agree with the current statement, however – I might allow them to hope I would allow them to go free, but they would never have an actual chance.
Endgame: Well, yes, I would agree to let them go free. Saying that wouldn't bind me to do it.
Amanita: Indeed, you get more fun that way! The expressions of betrayed trust are so funny!
Virigar: In actuality, if I were to agree to such a condition, I would honor it. It is extremely useful for your adversaries to consider you trustworthy and honorable; this can be exploited so many ways. I may betray them in the very end, but only if the gain was undoubtedly worth the destruction of a carefully-cultivated appearance.
74. When I create a multimedia presentation of my plan designed so that my five-year-old advisor can easily understand the details, I will not label the disk "Project Overlord" and leave it lying on top of my desk.
Virigar: Somehow I don't think "I", in the sense of "Evil Overlord", will be the problem here.
Dark Wanderer: No, it'll be the Perhaps Not Too Bright Lieutenant who will have made a COPY of the disk to study, and left it on HIS desk.
Maria-Susanna: Or better yet, made a copy and carries it around on him, to be taken by the heroes when we surprise him and knock him unconscious.
Thornfalcon: And she's still convinced she's on the other side.
75. I will instruct my Legions of Terror to attack the hero en masse, instead of standing around waiting while members break off and attack one or two at a time.
Virigar: No Legions, remember?
Master Wieran: Well, yes, but the principle is clear. Many groups of warriors tend to hesitate and wait to see what happens to the first person to clash with an adversary. I, of course, have ENGINEERED my warriors and they, unlike the feeble and pathetic products of random evolution, have neither unreasoning emotions nor mechanical inflexibility, but instead are the very SYNTHESIS of perfection, taking precisely the correct actions under all circumstances! The world will (cue "World Will Tremble" rant)
Maria-Susanna: But isn't this something of a situational thing?
Dark Wanderer: Yeah. While there's plenty of examples of the Ring O' Adversaries coming in one at a time, even if they try to mob the target, there's a limit. More than four or so at once, how are you going to REACH him?
Thornfalcon: And of course there's the heroes that just take the Mob Attack as an opportunity to use that Devastating Area Effect Attack that they can't use too often, but that your thugs have now made a terribly efficient way of eliminating the opposition.
Endgame: That is the general way of things where I come from. The "mooks", as they call such thugs, are at best disposable speed-bumps, and as such actually may be more effective in their delaying tactics by doing the one-at-a-time approach rather than trying to hogpile the Hero at once and allowing him to do an "AWAY FROM ME!" explosion of power that takes them all out.
Amanita: Well, the other tactic is to keep making more "mooks", as you call them. Even the most powerful hero will eventually collapse from exhaustion.
76. If the hero runs up to my roof, I will not run up after him and struggle with him in an attempt to push him over the edge. I will also not engage him at the edge of a cliff. (In the middle of a rope-bridge over a river of molten lava is not even worth considering.)
Virigar: This is probably good advice... for those of us afraid of a little fall.
Master Wieran: *I* will not run after him at all. I will send my TROOPS after him.
Maria-Susanna: I believe the idea here is that you don't HAVE anyone else available -- the Hero has killed or incapacitated them all, or locked the doors (the invincible doors you constructed yourself, of course) to keep anyone else from interfering.
Dark Wanderer: And it's ANOTHER of the "depends on conditions" ones. If he's running to the roof to escape and you can't afford the escape, well, what choices do you have? (as for the fall – Ring of Regeneration. There's a reason I wear it all the time.)
Thornfalcon: Oh, yes, that is very useful. Of course, the inherent ability to FLY rather neutralizes these issues too. If falling isn't a threat, of course one can have a bit of a conflict atop the high building.
Endgame: (chuckling) And that's when your Hero somehow ruins the device or spell you are using to fly, and sends you plummeting to the ground while making use of your own power to just barely reach safety. The Ring you mention is a bit better; it plays to the dramatics well, as you can appear to die quite spectacularly and return later.
Amanita: Why would he be running to the roof? I don't keep anything in particular there. All the valuable and dangerous materials are somewhere inside.
Dark Wanderer: Then you, milady, are obviously better prepared than mamny of the victims of these rules.
77. If I have a fit of temporary insanity and decide to give the hero the chance to reject a job as my trusted lieutentant, I will retain enough sanity to wait until my current trusted lieutenant is out of earshot before making the offer.
Virigar: I think we can just all agree on this one, can't we? Yes? Good, then onward.
78. I will not tell my Legions of Terror "And he must be taken alive!" The command will be "And try to take him alive if it is reasonably practical."
Virigar: I assure you, there are times when this is not an option.
Master Wieran: Indeed. And I assure you that if *I* say he MUST be taken alive, I MEAN that he must be taken alive.
Maria-Susanna: Why would you need the hero alive? Not, mind you, that I object, being a heroine and all.
Dark Wanderer: Oh, often it's something like "must be sacrificed at midnight" or "prophecy says that he must live to see his world destroyed", or "I want to swallow his soul myself, which is difficult when he's already dead".
Thornfalcon: Of course, if the Overlord is male and we're talking a Heroine, there may be other … more entertaining reasons.
Virigar: Yes, but we discussed how that particular approach doesn't work earlier.
Amanita: True, but it's still a reason. And could be a reason for a female Overlord and a male Hero, I wish to point out.
Dark Wanderer: Yes, quite so. We shouldn't allow the sexist attitudes to prevent us from making a good showing here.
79. If my doomsday device happens to come with a reverse switch, as soon as it has been employed it will be melted down and made into limited-edition commemorative coins.
Virigar: Eh? What DO they teach them in these schools?
Master Wieran: Indeed. What is that supposed to MEAN?
Maria-Susanna: I can parse that. Unfortunately, I can parse it too many ways.
Dark Wanderer: Yeah. As soon as "it" has been employed. Is "it" the doomsday device or the reverse switch? And if it's the doomsday device, why would I melt it down if it has a reverse switch -- I might want to threaten the world with it again someday! And if it's the reverse switch, er, why do I want to remove it from my doomsday device? Getting a bit depressed, planning on the old "screw all you guys" approach? (glances at Endgame) Well, okay, a few people might be going down that path, but for most of us…
Thornfalcon: Yes, I think we'd best just ignore this one and maybe it will go away.
80. If my weakest troops fail to eliminate a hero, I will send out my best troops instead of wasting time with progressively stronger ones as he gets closer and closer to my fortress.
Dark Wanderer: Oooh! Oooh! I know this one! We used to call this the Trooper Training Program, from Yoroiden Samurai Troopers! The kids start out weak and with no knowledge of how to use their powers, but the careful escalation on the part of Arago and his troopers helps to Pump Them Up!
Virigar: It's good advice in the general case, but there are so many potential exceptions.
Thornfalcon: For example, your best troops are being used to hold off other threats, and while you PROBABLY could afford to remove them to deal with the heroes, well, you don't KNOW that they're The Heroes yet.
Master Wieran: Communication is key. If, like some despots I know, your entire organization is built around the idea that... oh, what was the term one of you travellers used... Ah yes, sh*t flows downhill, then you have a situation in which each echelon does NOT want to admit problems or failure.
Maria-Susanna: Oh, yes. DuQuesne's creator painted that one so well in the Lensman books.
Amanita: If you manufacture your troops, loyalty and cooperation are not a problem.
Thornfalcon: Ahh, milady, that is unfortunately not always possible for the rest of us. So, basically the issue here is make sure that there's communication up and down the line, and that "shooting the messenger" is not done.