Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 61 - 70

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.

Evaluation: Prudent.

62. I will design fortress hallways with no alcoves or protruding structural supports which intruders could use for cover in a firefight.

Evaluation: I think we can dispense with this precaution. If you’re doing your job right, firefights should be a relatively rare occurrence and you shouldn’t sacrifice the structural integrity of your supervillain lair against the outside chance that one might break out.

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.

I think there is a Toy Story 3 joke in here somewhere, but this seems like a reasonable precaution.

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.

Evaluation: Careful there, sport. You’re going to psychoanalyze yourself out of wanting to be an Evil Overlord.

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.

Evaluation: This could work. We get a little tension when our heroes approach the “Main Control Room” that they have identified from the map , and only realize in the nick of time that it’s  not what it seems. Alternately, we could use this to show how smart a hero is. She’s looking at the schematics on the terminal and after a time she says. “Look at all the infrastructure around the Sewage Overflow Containment. It must be the control room.”

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.

Evaluation: Having worked in a place with a fingerprint scanner as part of its time clock system, I can attest that that the fingerprint recognition aspect of it generally functions poorly. I suppose it’s fine if you can get the system to work, and if the heroes don’t get to wondering why the goons always take off their natty leather gloves to punch in a keycode, but think this is too much of an edge case to come up with any regularity.

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.

Evaluation:  It sounds great now, but after the third lockdown in an afternoon because a pigeon farted on the roof, I think you’re going to walk this back plenty quick.

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.

Evaluation: This sounds like a terrible idea. This is the kind of thing the list should be encouraging you to avoid.

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.

Evaluation: Coming to a theater near you, Vanessa Ross, Guerilla Doula of Mordor, Summer 2017! This actually doesn’t seem evil, but it does seem hard to enforce.

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.

Evaluation: This gets into the best practices concern from the last segment of the list.  I play a lot of video games and it’s always good for a chuckle when you shoot someone and make his head explode, and his buddy, standing two feet away panics for ten seconds before settling down and assuring himself that he must have imagined it. This is concession to playability, otherwise games with stealth components would be prohibitively difficult and frustrating.

I think the list is exaggerating this trope to make a point. I think a better summary of the situation would be that Guard #1 walks out of the line of sights of guard Guard#2, and is taken out by the hero. Guard #2 looks around for the #1, but at this point hasn’t registered anything is wrong. To the extent that he’s thinking about it at all, he is interpreting the situation as “I don’t know the precise location of Guard #1 at this moment” not “Holy shit! Guard #1 has been attacked!” And then Guard #2 us attacked by the hero either before he realizes what’s wrong or immediately afterward, as he’s on his way to trigger an alarm.

It’s similar to item number 67. If you lower the threshold to treat every possible problem as a full scale alert, then you’re crippling your own security system.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 51 - 60

51. If one of my dungeon guards begins expressing concern over the conditions in the beautiful princess' cell, I will immediately transfer him to a less people-oriented position.
Evaluation:  Prudent.

52. I will hire a team of board-certified architects and surveyors to examine my castle and inform me of any secret passages and abandoned tunnels that I might not know about.

Evaluation:  Unless you want to go full-on Pharaoh here and have your architects executed immediately afterward (which you probably do), you’ve added a dozen people who know the ins and outs and your secret lair.

53. If the beautiful princess that I capture says "I'll never marry you! Never, do you hear me, NEVER!!!", I will say "Oh well" and kill her.

Evaluation:  It depends on why you want to marry the princess.  If it’s a love match, the list has already covered the perils associated with this path at some length. If it’s political power, have your show ceremony, and then lock her up like Eleanor of Aquitaine.

54. I will not strike a bargain with a demonic being then attempt to double-cross it simply because I feel like being contrary.

Evaluation:  Infernal pacts are generally to be avoided.  You want to sign a magically binding contract with something smarter than a human that has possibly millions of years of experience in the ins and outs of exactly these kind of covenants? Be my guest, but don’t come crying to me when you lose that fiddle contest.


55. The deformed mutants and odd-ball psychotics will have their place in my Legions of Terror. However before I send them out on important covert missions that require tact and subtlety, I will first see if there is anyone else equally qualified who would attract less attention.

Evaluation:  Prudent

56. My Legions of Terror will be trained in basic marksmanship. Any who cannot learn to hit a man-sized target at 10 meters will be used for target practice.

Evaluation:  This is a bit of discredited trope, and if the list were written today, I don’t think it would be included.  As any Star Wars fan will tell you, the Stormtroopers on the Death Star were trying to miss so the Empire could follow them to their base once they escaped. (They might also add Obi-Wan’s line regarding the devastated sandcrawler: “Only imperial Stormtroopers could be so precise.”)

57. Before employing any captured artifacts or machinery, I will carefully read the owner's manual.

Evaluation:  This reminds me of criticism I once made of Joss Whedon’s work. It’s a bit of a cheat to have your villains engage in every hoary cliché since the dawn of cinema while simultaneously making your heroes incredibly genre savvy.  It works the other way. On its face, this is good advice, but as the list preaches the gospel of misinformation, I’d expect the your enemies to engage in the same practices, and leave you incomplete or misleading instructions.
58. If it becomes necessary to escape, I will never stop to pose dramatically and toss off a one-liner.

Evaluation:  Prudent

59. I will never build a sentient computer smarter than I am.

Evaluation:  Intelligence is notoriously difficult to quantify, and computers don’t process information in the same way humans do. AI, just like the infernal contracts mentioned above, can backfire in so many ways that you’re better off avoiding them entirely unless they’re absolutely essential to your plan.

60. My five-year-old child advisor will also be asked to decipher any code I am thinking of using. If he breaks the code in under 30 seconds, it will not be used. Note: this also applies to passwords.

Evaluation:  The hands down best description of hacking I’ve ever heard came in a Doctor Who audio play. One of the characters had to get into the restricted area of a space freighter, but a login was required to get in. The Doctor's companion met up with him in 1989, but went undercover at a university in 2001. When trying to access the door, she remarked to the Doctor that sometimes she would accidentally enter her password on the login line, where it would be added to the drop down menu. She checked there and saw that someone on the freighter had done exactly that, and with this information, they were able to access the restricted area.

The point of this is that security is hard, and the people that use the system are the weak point. Mandate hard passwords for your staff and they just wind up scrawling them on post-it notes stuck to their monitor.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 41 - 50

41. Once my power is secure, I will destroy all those pesky time-travel devices.

Evaluation:  Ugh. Time travel. There is a reason that, until relatively recently,  Doctor Who wasn’t really a show about time travel. Rather the TARDIS was a mechanism for getting to the adventure, whereupon it was out of the picture. The thing is, when you introduce time travel to the story, it comes with all sorts of baggage.  I’m of the opinion that unless it’s absolutely integral to the story, you’re better off not including time travel.

That said, this probably falls into the “easier said than done” category.  It’s a good idea, but difficult to pull off.

42. When I capture the hero, I will make sure I also get his dog, monkey, ferret, or whatever sickeningly cute little animal capable of untying ropes and filching keys happens to follow him around.

Evaluation:  This falls into the same category as “Be sure to find the body” from earlier in the list.  It’s great if you can capture the little bugger, but it’s a lot easier to capture a human than it is something small and fast. It seems most villains attempt this; they’re just unable to pull it off.

43. I will maintain a healthy amount of skepticism when I capture the beautiful rebel and she claims she is attracted to my power and good looks and will gladly betray her companions if I just let her in on my plans.

Evaluation: Prudent.

44. I will only employ bounty hunters who work for money. Those who work for the pleasure of the hunt tend to do dumb things like even the odds to give the other guy a sporting chance.

Evaluation:  I remember an issue of the Justice League where Batman doubled what Lex Luthor was paying the Mirror Master in order to get him to switch side (specifically, he made a donation of that amount to the orphanage where Mirror Master grew up. Despite that, this is probably a prudent course of action.

45. I will make sure I have a clear understanding of who is responsible for what in my organization. For example, if my general screws up I will not draw my weapon, point it at him, say "And here is the price for failure," then suddenly turn and kill some random underling.

Evaluation:  I’m thinking of Grand Admiral Thrawn in Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars books. An underling failed him, but the guy had a solid plan that he executed well. Circumstances just conspired against him. Thrawn didn’t punish the guy. Rather he commended him and told him to refine the technique. The underling does and pulls it off successfully later in the series.

46. If an advisor says to me "My liege, he is but one man. What can one man possibly do?", I will reply "This." and kill the advisor.

Evaluation: Dude! I thought you weren’t arbitrarily murdering underlings!  It was literally the bullet point right before this one. What purpose does this serve? Honestly!

47. If I learn that a callow youth has begun a quest to destroy me, I will slay him while he is still a callow youth instead of waiting for him to mature.

Evaluation: This requires a pretty serious surveillance state to pull off. You’re going to keep tabs on every callow youth in your empire?

48. I will treat any beast which I control through magic or technology with respect and kindness. Thus if the control is ever broken, it will not immediately come after me for revenge.

Evaluation: Depends on how intelligent the creature is, and how well it comprehends what you’re doing to it.  A gilded cage is still a cage. Slavery is abhorrent for a reason, and no amount of kindness is going to offset that.

49. If I learn the whereabouts of the one artifact which can destroy me, I will not send all my troops out to seize it. Instead I will send them out to seize something else and quietly put a Want-Ad in the local paper.

Evaluation: I take it that he doesn't mean this absolutely literally, but rather he'll employ some misdirection when looking for the Mcguffin. Placing a want ad only works in Single White Necromancer.

50. My main computers will have their own special operating system that will be completely incompatible with standard IBM and Macintosh powerbooks.

Evaluation: Take that, Independence Day! Ya burnt!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 31 - 40

31.All naive, busty tavern wenches in my realm will be replaced with surly, world-weary waitresses who will provide no unexpected reinforcement and/or romantic subplot for the hero or his sidekick.

Evaluation: The Duchess approves!

Dredd didn’t need any forced romantic subplots, and neither does high fantasy. Plus the Molly Grues of the world are much more interesting that the Tika Waylans anyway.

32.I will not fly into a rage and kill a messenger who brings me bad news just to illustrate how evil I really am. Good messengers are hard to come by.

Evaluation: Prudent.

33.I won't require high-ranking female members of my organization to wear a stainless-steel bustier. Morale is better with a more casual dress-code. Similarly, outfits made entirely from black leather will be reserved for formal occasions.

Evaluation: Probably falls under the umbrella of “uniforms should be practical”, but very prudent.

34.I will not turn into a snake. It never helps.

Evaluation: Curiously specific.

35.I will not grow a goatee. In the old days they made you look diabolic. Now they just make you look like a disaffected member of Generation X.

Evaluation: Of course not. You’ll leave that to your parallel universe counterpart.

36.I will not imprison members of the same party in the same cell block, let alone the same cell. If they are important prisoners, I will keep the only key to the cell door on my person instead of handing out copies to every bottom-rung guard in the prison.

Evaluation: More difficult in execution than in theory, due to the costs of making prisons truly secure,  but a prudent idea.

37.If my trusted lieutenant tells me my Legions of Terror are losing a battle, I will believe him. After all, he's my trusted lieutenant.

Evaluation: Prudent.

38.If an enemy I have just killed has a younger sibling or offspring anywhere, I will find them and have them killed immediately, instead of waiting for them to grow up harboring feelings of vengeance towards me in my old age.

Evaluation: Wow, this is kind of dumb.  It just shifts the vendetta to the friends of the guy you killed.

39.If I absolutely must ride into battle, I will certainly not ride at the forefront of my Legions of Terror, nor will I seek out my opposite number among his army.

Evaluation: This, coupled with 38, probably plants the seeds for a different type of trouble.  Who among us can forget the time Fingolfin challenged Morgoth before the gates of Angband? Although I really love this entire passage, I’ll limit the quote to the relevant portion.

'Now news came to Hithlum that Dorthonion was lost and the sons of
Finarfin overthrown, and that the sons of Fëanor were driven from
their lands. Then Fingolfin beheld (as it seemed to him) the utter
ruin of the Noldor, and the defeat beyond redress of all their houses;
and filled with wrath and despair he mounted upon Rochallor his great
horse and rode forth alone, and none might restrain him. He passed
over Dor-nu-Fauglith like a wind amid the dust, and all that beheld
his onset fled in amaze, thinking that Oromë himself was come: for a
great madness of rage was upon him, so that his eyes shone like the
eyes of the Valar.

Thus he came alone to Angband's gates, and he sounded his horn, and
smote once more upon the brazen doors, and challenged Morgoth to come
forth to single combat. And Morgoth came. That was the last time in
those wars that he passed the doors of his stronghold, and it is said
that he took not the challenge willingly; for though his might was
greatest of all things in this world, alone of the Valar he knew fear.
But he could not now deny the challenge before the face of his
captains; for the rocks rang with the shrill music of Fingolfin's
horn, and his voice came keen and clear down into the depths of
Angband; and Fingolfin named Morgoth craven, and lord of slaves.
Therefore Morgoth came, climbing slowly from his subterranean throne,
and the rumour of his feet was like thunder underground. And he issued
forth clad in black armour; and he stood before the King like a tower,
iron-crowned, and his vast shield, sable on blazoned, cast a shadow
over him like a stormcloud.

So you’re an Evil Overlord who kills large groups of people for what must seem very arbitrary reasons to the populace at large.  The populace will have reason to revolt, and they’ll be further encouraged by your apparent reluctance to get involved. They won’t fear you. Plus there is the danger from ambitious underlings who may see this as a sign of weakness.

I suggest doing what the Harkonnens do. Public gladiatorial matches stacked heavily in their favor.

40.I will be neither chivalrous nor sporting. If I have an unstoppable superweapon, I will use it as early and as often as possible instead of keeping it in reserve.

Evaluation: Somewhere between ineffective and foolhardy.  The Death Star, to use a notable example, was used as early and as often as possible. They had a field test to make sure it worked, and then they were trying to use it to blow up Yavin 4 when the rebels destroyed it. You’re better off using conventional forces for most of your military actions.

What’s going to happen is that Princess Leia is going to bait Grand Moff Tarkin with a tweet about his tiny hands. He’ll warp the Death Star to her last known location and she’ll have the entire rebel fleet waiting for him.

Either that, or the weapon will be on the other side of the galaxy or recharging when you really need it.