Thursday, September 22, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 21 - 30

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 21 - 30


21.I will hire a talented fashion designer to create original uniforms for my Legions of Terror, as opposed to some cheap knock-offs that make them look like Nazi stormtroopers, Roman footsoldiers, or savage Mongol hordes. All were eventually defeated and I want my troops to have a more positive mind-set.

Long excerpt from something a buddy sent me

When modern media wants a group of baddies to look badass, it’ll often borrow design elements from Nazi uniforms. It’s not hard to understand why; the Nazis famously had their uniforms designed by professional fashion designers, including runway mogul Hugo Boss, and it worked wonderfully in terms of giving Nazi troops a stylish and intimidating public image.

What’s less well known, however, is how ridiculously terrible those uniforms were for any purpose other than looking smart.

Let me give you an example: suspenders. Back in the 1930s, the modern tactical harness hadn’t yet been developed. Instead, soldiers would wear a sturdy pair of leather suspenders in order to help distribute the weight of their ammo belts (which could be substantial - bullets aren’t light!). Hitler didn’t care for that - he thought it would make his troops look like farmers. Instead, he commissioned his uniform designers to come up with a complicated system of internal suspenders that could be worn under the uniform jacket, with metal hooks projecting from special holes near the jacket’s waistline. The idea was that the ammo belt would rest on the hooks, thus allowing it to be supported without disrupting the jacket’s clean lines.

The problem? The system’s designers, being accustomed to crafting for the runway, had completely overlooked that soldiers sometimes need to move quickly. At any pace quicker than a brisk walk, the ammo belt would bounce off of the hooks and slide down the wearer’s torso, often tripping him in the process. Worse, news of the issue didn’t filter back to the high command until the uniforms had already been widely distributed, so it was impossible to fix in an economical fashion. The Nazi troops eventually resorted to wearing external suspenders over the internal suspenders in order to keep their ammo belts in place, thus entirely defeating the purpose.

Then there are the cold-weather jackets, made infamous by the Nazis’ disastrous Winter Campaign against Russia in 1941-1942. At the time, the standard cold-weather jacket in use by most armies consisted of heavy quilted fabric stuffed with torn-up cotton. Hitler didn’t like that at all; in his opinion, it made it look like his troops were wearing blankets. So he had each soldier issued an individually tailored winter jacket made of suit-grade fabric and lined with fur (sourced from civilian clothing seized from death camp inmates, because of course it was).

You can probably guess where this is going. Predictably to anyone who’s not a Nazi fashion designer, the fine fabric of the jackets wasn’t tightly woven enough to stop the wind. The fur, meanwhile, harboured lice and fleas, stank abominably when wet, and was impossible to launder in the field. They’d managed to issue their troops dry clean only winter apparel, in a campaign that would send them far from their supply lines. That the weather ended up killing more Nazis than the Russian army should thus come as no surprise.

And these aren’t outliers. Virtually every element of the Nazi uniform made up for its smart styling by being ridiculously impractical. The officers often had it worst of all; their uniforms were expertly tailored to make their builds look trim and powerful, at the cost of being stuffy, uncomfortable, and difficult to move around it. Indeed, some officers’ uniforms were so smartly tailored that they couldn’t sit down without taking their pants off. Yeah, let that image roll around in your head for a moment or two.

The upshot is that whenever I see baddies in a movie or a TV show with clearly Nazi-inspired uniforms, my first thought is less “whoa, badass!” and more “these men are about to be murdered by their own trousers”.
 
Evaluation: Fashion designers seldom place utility first.

22.No matter how tempted I am with the prospect of unlimited power, I will not consume any energy field bigger than my head.

Evaluation: I suppose that’s reasonable.

23.I will keep a special cache of low-tech weapons and train my troops in their use. That way -- even if the heroes manage to neutralize my power generator and/or render the standard-issue energy weapons useless -- my troops will not be overrun by a handful of savages armed with spears and rocks.

Evaluation: We now enter the Star Wars portion of our list. As I wrote elsewhere on this blog, the Ewoks are pretty great in theory. They should have been sold as furry little Predators, but they’re undermined by their cute little teddy bear appearance and the uneven tone of their movie.  To the point, this is a pretty solid idea. It works best as a stopgap measure, in that someone trained in primitive weaponry as a fallback is going to be less proficient in their use than someone who relies on them exclusively, but ensuring a minimum level of proficiency may delay them long enough to bring high tech weapons back into play.


24.I will maintain a realistic assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. Even though this takes some of the fun out of the job, at least I will never utter the line "No, this cannot be! I AM INVINCIBLE!!!" (After that, death is usually instantaneous.)

Evaluation: I think this is putting the cart before the horse. It’s not the declaration of invincibility that dooms the Overlord, it’s the circumstances.

25.No matter how well it would perform, I will never construct any sort of machinery which is completely indestructible except for one small and virtually inaccessible vulnerable spot.

Evaluation. I’m not sure what he thinks the alternative is here. From TV Tropes: It's almost a trope on its own that the Empire could build an amazing technological marvel like the first Death Star, but couldn't protect its only weak spot. Except they did protect it: it was ray-shielded, forcing the Rebels to use proton torpedoes to breach the shield. It was also at the end of a narrow trench surrounded by gun turrets; the Rebels only made it through because the turrets were designed for large warships rather than one-man fighters, since the Empire believed that it would be suicide to attack the Death Star with a squadron of lightly armored fighter craft. Moreover, the idea that such a tiny shot could destroy the entire Death Star actually isn't that unrealistic; most Real Life naval vessels actually do have weak spots that can cause catastrophic damage when hit, which is why the sea captains of yore would always aim for enemy ships' powder magazines during battles. If anything, it's actually more unrealistic that the Rebels would have been able to find the weak spot by stealing the plans to the Death Star, since Real Life navies usually keep important ship blueprints split into several parts as a safeguard against enemy espionage, making it nearly impossible to find a single complete copy of such plans.

26.No matter how attractive certain members of the rebellion are, there is probably someone just as attractive who is not desperate to kill me. Therefore, I will think twice before ordering a prisoner sent to my bedchamber.

Evaluation: Prudent

27.I will never build only one of anything important. All important systems will have redundant control panels and power supplies. For the same reason I will always carry at least two fully loaded weapons at all times.

Evaluation: Looks like someone learned his lesson from William Muney. This is a reasonable precaution taken by modern villains, and it leads to simultaneous strikes by coordinated teams of heroes, which is always cool.

28.My pet monster will be kept in a secure cage from which it cannot escape and into which I could not accidentally stumble.

Evaluation: Prudent

29.I will dress in bright and cheery colors, and so throw my enemies into confusion.

Evaluation: Prudent. Also, Use of Weapons shout out! "I am called Cheradenine Zakalwe. You are called dead."

30.All bumbling conjurers, clumsy squires, no-talent bards, and cowardly thieves in the land will be preemptively put to death. My foes will surely give up and abandon their quest if they have no source of comic relief.

Evaluation: This is the kind of thing that turns a populace against an Evil Overlord, dude.
Blogger Tricks

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Invasion of the spambots

I've made some changes on the back end, and hopefully that will help address the incursion of the spambots.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 11 - 20


Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 11 - 20

Second in a series

11.I will be secure in my superiority. Therefore, I will feel no need to prove it by leaving clues in the form of riddles or leaving my weaker enemies alive to show they pose no threat.
A chance to use one of my favorite Roadmarks passages!

"I wonder whether your reliance on an agent is a mark of fear?"
"Fear? No more than Chadwick's hiring me is an indication of fear on his part. He is a very busy man. He sought to employ efficiency, as do I. Do you think I fear to fight you, or any man?"
Red smiled.
"No," John said, noting the smile. "You shan't goad me into giving you an unearned chance at life. Your opinion of me means nothing when I know better."
Red puffed on his cigar.

I’ll mention that this reminds me one of my favorite Riddler stories. Leaving riddles was part of his pathology. He decided that he was just going to commit a no frills bank robbery and not leave Batman clues in the form of rhyming couplets. At the end of the story, Batman shows up and says something like “I solved your riddles and I’m here to arrest you.” It looks like they’re ready to fight until the Riddler says “I didn’t mean to leave clues. I did it subconsciously. I’m sick and I need help. Please take me to Arkham.”

Evaluation: Prudent.

12.One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation. Evaluation : On the surface, this seems rather glib, but when I first learning the craft of technical writing, an exercise that a professor suggested really helped me hone my craft. She suggested that students explain the topics they’ll be writing about to their friends and family. It helps you refine your thoughts, spot areas of concern and frame it in language that lay people can understand. A five-year-old is unlikely to spot the flaws in a plan (because five-year-olds are stupid), but explaining it to a kid could help illuminate flaws that would otherwise have gone unexamined.

13.All slain enemies will be cremated, or at least have several rounds of ammunition emptied into them, not left for dead at the bottom of the cliff. The announcement of their deaths, as well as any accompanying celebration, will be deferred until after the aforementioned disposal.

This one is largely discredited in the modern era. The Fugitive did this, and they did it right. Villains tend to look for the body unless circumstances conspire to prevent it.

14.The hero is not entitled to a last kiss, a last cigarette, or any other form of last request. This is a restatement of items that were mentioned earlier in the list. Don’t dither on the way to execution.

15.I will never employ any device with a digital countdown. If I find that such a device is absolutely unavoidable, I will set it to activate when the counter reaches 117 and the hero is just putting his plan into operation.

This isn’t as much a best practice as it is winking acknowledgement of the rules of the genre. The hero isn’t trying to stop the countdown at “007”; the hero is trying to stop the countdown as soon as possible. All that you’ve done is given him 117 seconds less than he thinks he has to work. It’s not nothing, misinformation is always a valuable tool, but it probably won’t be as effective as this entry implies.

16.I will never utter the sentence "But before I kill you, there's just one thing I want to know." Evaluation: I suppose it all comes down to how much the information is worth to you and where else you can get it.

17.When I employ people as advisors, I will occasionally listen to their advice.
Evaluation: Prudent, however the corollary to this is that having X advisors who are well-informed enough to advise you means that there are X more people that know your secrets.

18.I will not have a son. Although his laughably under-planned attempt to usurp power would easily fail, it would provide a fatal distraction at a crucial point in time and

19.I will not have a daughter. She would be as beautiful as she was evil, but one look at the hero's rugged countenance and she'd betray her own father.

It depends on the nature of your regime. If you’re not immortal, you’re going to eventually want to groom a successor, and a biological child is a natural choice. However, as these tropes point out, it does have its pitfalls.

20.Despite its proven stress-relieving effect, I will not indulge in maniacal laughter. When so occupied, it's too easy to miss unexpected developments that a more attentive individual could adjust to accordingly.
Evaluation: Prudent.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Evaluating the Evil Overlord list, 1 - 10

You’ve probably seen the Evil Overlord list, as it’s been floating around online since the dawn of the Internet era.  If you’re not familiar, it’s a list of 100 practices an evil overlord will put into place in order to avoid the usual pitfalls of the career.

Over the next ten posts, I will evaluate the items on the list for practicality and effectiveness.


The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord

1.My Legions of Terror will have helmets with clear plexiglass visors, not face-concealing ones.  Presumed Function: To prevent the hero from knocking out your Stormtroopers and using the uniforms as a disguise.  Evaluation: Easily implemented, minimal downsides.

2.My ventilation ducts will be too small to crawl through. Presumed Function: To prevent the heroes from accessing or escaping areas within a secure facility. Evaluation: This is largely a discredited trope at this time. Modern media tends to acknowledge that air vents are tiny and you’re not traveling through them unless you’re Eugene Tooms from that one episode of the X-Files.

3.My noble half-brother whose throne I usurped will be killed, not kept anonymously imprisoned in a forgotten cell of my dungeon.  Presumed Function: To prevent the return of the brother. Evaluation: There are a lot of unknowns about this one that make evaluation difficult. This makes me think of Nine Princes in Amber. Eric blinded Corwin and threw him in the dungeons.  But he had good reason for doing so.  He understood that that there was no way to justify Corwin’s execution should Oberon return, so he held off.

4.Shooting is not too good for my enemies. Presumed Function:  That elaborate but easily escapable deathtraps need not be de rigueur.  Evaluation: Prudent.

5.The artifact which is the source of my power will not be kept on the Mountain of Despair beyond the River of Fire guarded by the Dragons of Eternity. It will be in my safe-deposit box. The same applies to the object which is my one weakness. Presumed Function: Cost savings? I don’t know. This one just seems bad. Evaluation: Security through obscurity is derided by security experts, and for good reason. Any magical divination employed to learn the vulnerabilities of the Dragons of Eternity could probably be employed to learn the details of the bank where the McGuffin is being held. I’d say they’d have an easy a time locating the item and a much easier time acquiring it.

6.I will not gloat over my enemies' predicament before killing them 

and

7.When I've captured my adversary and he says, "Look, before you kill me, will you at least tell me what this is all about?" I'll say, "No." and shoot him. No, on second thought I'll shoot him then say "No." Presumed Function: These each seem like a more elaborate rephrasing of number 4, that if you have the hero at your mercy, don’t dither before disposing of him. Evaluation: Again, prudent.

8.After I kidnap the beautiful princess, we will be married immediately in a quiet civil ceremony, not a lavish spectacle in three weeks' time during which the final phase of my plan will be carried out. Presumed Function:  To avoid giving the hero the chance to interrupt the ceremonies.  Evaluation: Probably ineffectual. Perception is what matters here. The ceremony itself confers the legitimacy. It’s not like the oppressed peasants are reading the wedding announcements in the Mordor Evening Post. If the hero rescues the princess after the civil ceremony and you’re in small claims court trying to prove to you really did marry her (“Look! I have this document! It’s notarized and everything!”) , then, well, I think you’ve lost control of the narrative.

9.I will not include a self-destruct mechanism unless absolutely necessary. If it is necessary, it will not be a large red button labelled "Danger: Do Not Push". The big red button marked "Do Not Push" will instead trigger a spray of bullets on anyone stupid enough to disregard it. Similarly, the ON/OFF switch will not clearly be labelled as such. Presumed Function:  Self-explanatory. Evaluation: Prudent.

10.I will not interrogate my enemies in the inner sanctum -- a small hotel well outside my borders will work just as well. Presumed Function: The heroes won’t already be in your inner sanctum after their inevitable escape. Evaluation: Mixed benefits. It has its obvious benefits, but a commensurate number of disadvantages as well. Leaving your area of control for a small hotel seems questionable at best.


Next Up, 11-20.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Few Words from Roger Zelazny, Part Eight: A Personal Tour of Amber

Eighth in the series

A Few Words from Roger Zelazny, Part Eight: A Personal Tour of Amber

This one deals with the Merlin books, which have never been my favorites, but I do appreciate the insights. I think that the Merlin books were pretty weak compared to what had come before, but Zelazny here shows some of the reasoning that went into constructing them and it's an interesting read for that alone.