The Art of Darkness

The Evil Overlord List

March 24th, 2016 by Cobwebs

Gather ’round, kids, as your Old Auntie Cobwebs shares another pointless reminiscence about the early days of the world wide web.

Long before there was TVTropes there was Peter’s Evil Overlord List, a list of ways that a successful evil overlord could overcome the plot cliches that might threaten his rule. Here’s the first 10:

  1. My Legions of Terror will have helmets with clear plexiglass visors, not face-concealing ones.
  2. My ventilation ducts will be too small to crawl through.
  3. My noble half-brother whose throne I usurped will be killed, not kept anonymously imprisoned in a forgotten cell of my dungeon.
  4. Shooting is not too good for my enemies.
  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.
  6. I will not gloat over my enemies’ predicament before killing them.
  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.”
  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.
  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.
  10. I will not interrogate my enemies in the inner sanctum — a small hotel well outside my borders will work just as well.

Peter Anspach began compiling the list in 1994, and after his top 100 suggestions were augmented by user submissions he eventually collected those in Dungeon A and Dungeon B.

Although some of the advice may seem a trifle outdated today (“Any data file of crucial importance will be padded to 1.45MB in size,” is only funny if you remember that floppy disks had a maximum capacity of 1.44MB), the list remains a classic of Evil Overlord Competency.

I was reminded of the list when Charlie Stross mentioned it in his taxonomy of Space Opera cliches, and was pleased to learn that several similar guides have sprung up since Anspach created his humble list. TVTropes has a whole section of Additional Evil Overlord Vows, and their Evil Empress Guide (“Sex is certainly a weapon at my disposal, but then so is a blaster. If it is not clear which weapon I should be using, I will opt for the blaster.”) and The Very Complete, Very Extended, Printer Friendly, Evil Overlord List (plus other evil stuff) which includes helpful tips for henchmen (“When you have someone at gunpoint and that person says ‘you haven’t got the guts to kill me,’ disprove his/her hypothesis.”), evil cultists (“Never invoke anything bigger than your head.”), and vows every Starfleet captain should take (“I will design my ship’s tactical systems so that I do not have to personally direct every single shot fired.”).

These lists are actually useful for aspiring writers, since they help you avoid the very cliches they lampoon. It’s also fun to use them to play Bad Movie Bingo: See how many of them you can check off in one sitting.

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