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.


  1. I actually have to disagree with you a bit on 24. It's not the declaration, per se, but it is very often the believe in his own invincibility that leads the Evil Overlord into the circumstances that result in the declaration becoming necessary.

  2. This kind of shines a light on the problems with the list. Despite the presentation, it’s not a list of actionable bullet points to ensure your continued reign as an evil overlord, but rather, a winking acknowledgment of the conventions of the genre. It's not really suited to a critical examination, even the superficial analysis I'm giving it here. So let's look closer.

    The first part of number 24 is "I will maintain a realistic assessment of my strengths and weaknesses." So far. So good.

    The next sentence should support or clarify the first, but instead it veers off orthogonally with “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.)”

    I think this is problem with the list, as it was assembled from suggestions by users on an early message board, and consequently entries tend to overlap and vary with regard to quality and format. I agree with you that what the author *means* is “I will never* place myself in a situation* where I will utter the line ‘No, this cannot be! I AM INVINCIBLE!!!’”, but the way it is written makes it look like a post hoc argument where death is a *consequence* of the statement.

    This loops back to my original point. They’re not really outlining best practices; they’re just looking for zingers.