(This is a wholly standalone piece from my upcoming book, “I Despise Your Prophecy“. If you want, you can always follow me about on Amazon or Twitter to stay up to date with when things are coming out.)
It doesn’t seem like one would have to say this, but it seems to be both helpful and necessary to point out that the advice one gets from stories isn’t always applicable to real life.
For example, those who’ve read a lot of tales will tend to laugh about the foolishness of the antagonists. Much is made of the fact that “heroes” often foil “villains” because the latter will, say, capture their enemies, and, rather than killing them immediately. And in story after story, the heroes then escape and destroy whatever villainous plans might be in progress, along with, sometimes, the villain.
Of course they do.
I mean, what are our sources here?
We are, in general, reading the stories of the heroes who survived.
Most people do not escape from dungeons. Dungeons Most monsters who imprison people do so with success. But we don’t hear those tales. And why would we? Who’d want to read them?
“Suddenly, when all hope seemed lost, the Hero never got out, and died of old age whilst the Dark Lord conquered the world. To fill up the remaining space in this book, we have painstakingly inserted a series of random letters and numbers, as there is no more story. Beginning now: PZ561J53 XD83K2J4 04BLE91P 12ZBPQDH4223….”
In general, it’s pretty easy to see the flaws in the plans of those who lose.
That’s not to say that Villains in general aren’t hubristic, and that predictability is the death-watch beetle of a monstrous soul.
But no: People do not often get out of dungeons. Dungeons are a millennia-old technology, not necessarily big on prisoner comfort or safety, deep underground, beneath several layers of walls, and permeated by highly insufficient light. This is not an easy place to escape if you aren’t imprisoned there.
You might think that I’m here to debunk some of these stories; to say that a Dark Lord who leaves Self-Destruct Buttons lying around ought to expect they’ll get used against her is axiomatic: yes, it’s quite dumb. But there might be reason why you’d rather have everything you did go up in flames, instead of having it captured and dissected by a group of human dunderheads who can barely grasp the concept of moral relativism.
Have you read somewhere that the Dark Lord will have a beautiful daughter who will want to foil her father’s plans and, possibly, hook up?
Go for it, lothariette.
This is not her first rodeo. And it might’ve been fun to see the look on Dear Old Dad’s facemask when the trick was played originally—ten or twenty years ago, perhaps.
You can’t seduce her to your side. You can, if she thinks it’ll be fun, spent an intense and exhausting evening, but you can’t make her betray her father, her kingdom and, incidentally, the throne which is going to be hers someday—just by being virtue of having a pretty face. That’s a fantasy, whispered into your ear by Cupid, who is one very desperate God right now. You might get her naked, but she’ll soon get you arrested and have your throat slit so that she can save the blood for a friend or two.
Sometimes, shooting IS too good for your enemies. If your enemies don’t exist within some fictional narrative which needs them to survive in order to tell a story and/or create sequels, then it’s potentially worthwhile to make an example of them. It’s a cost-benefit analysis; “Killing them now” reduces their chances of getaway tremendously (but not, annoyingly enough, completely). On the other hand, “Letting the populace hear their tortured screams over an agonizing two-week period” provides a very reasonable deterrent to rebellion.
Interrogating your antagonists in person is dangerous; what if someone does break free, or have some cleverly-concealed dart-shooting device? But it’s also effective; it’s not that you can’t trust your interrogators, but it’s not unreasonable to want to gain the whole experience, be there in the room asking the questions, watching their eyes, seeing how they react to you.
Any courtesy shown to the heroes could be used to your disadvantage. But that’s a corollary to the idea that any courtesy shown to anyone could be used against you. It’s possible to enact this by being discourteous to everyone; but needless rudeness isn’t an unbridled delight. Disrespecting those around you is (again) not generally a foundation for loyalty. And, to reiterate, ‘being strong enough to treat anyone however you want’ is helpful; but someday, you might actually get wounded, or summon something you can’t control, or get a very sick. What do you want—servants who’ll help you get well because it’s their job and you’re a decent boss, or servants who’ll decide that this would be the time to start that palace coup they’ve been waiting for?
Just because you’ve read about a particular weakness or foolish action bringing down a despot does not mean that you need to jump in the opposite direction.
That being said:
A wise Dark Lord has the good sense to express extreme and vocal displeasure if someone has armed themselves with the knowledge of a weakness you might not, perhaps, actually possess.
If your enemies are going the educate themselves right into their likely defeat, who are you to deny them the potentiality of a nice, closed-casket funeral?
My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.