Thursday, September 25, 2014

Villains Victorious going on hiatus

Blog's real-world author here.

A few months ago, I committed to doing one post per day, every day, no excuses. I'd write something and publish it, and my goal was to have an interesting thing to say every day. With a few days' worth of exceptions, I did that.

There's only so much you can say about supervillainy, and I've said most of what I wanted to say. I know of maybe half a dozen people who've actually regularly read it, and I want to thank you guys for doing so. I didn't expect it to grow, though that would have been nice, but I also didn't expect to continue it forever. So after 3094 views and 114 posts, this blog is going on hiatus. The content is CC-BY licensed - anyone who wants to use anything I've written here, for any purpose, can do so as long as they credit the blog.

I like having a daily writing assignment. I may do another one soon, but one that meshes well with what I'm doing right now in my spare time (a space opera RPG, Final Fantasy XIV). If you follow astralfrontier on Tumblr or Twitter, or +Bill Garrett on Google Plus, you'll see any such posts I decide to write. Until then, thanks for reading. It was fun!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Mr. Big critiques Pyrepower's plan

By request, I am going to seriously address the recent posts from Pyrepower about hero capture. Disregarding her highly questionable motives for engaging in such activities, let's review the important points that the caper highlights:

  1. Knowledge. Her target was analyzed for weaknesses (like breathing) and those weaknesses were exploited.
  2. Motivation. In "Full Metal Jacket", Gunnery Sergeant Hartman points out what "one motivated Marine and his rifle can do". The trap was laid and sprung with precision.
  3. Completeness. From baiting the trap in multiple ways, to springing it, to following up, every phase of the plan was accounted for.
That said: yes, the plan was amateurish overall. But you know what? She baited the hook for two amateur heroes. She's playing at the level she's at, and knows her limits.

That was the good news. Here's some further commentary.

Fire vs. speedsters. Hurricane Hal did a very nice guest spot awhile back, and talked about the slipstream that speedsters can manipulate. Being able to ignite your whole body on fire, especially in an enclosed space, is a great counter not just against being attacked, but against someone who breathes. If necessary, Pyrepower could quickly overwhelm any oxygen-dependent speedster. But she should absolutely know beforehand if her opponent needs to breathe.

That said, you can still pit your control over fire against their control over the slipstream. If you win, they're going to painfully burn their hands if they attack you. This is a risky thing to gamble on, and you shouldn't count on it as Plan A. In this case, she didn't, but she might have.

The necessity of a custom pit trap. Digging a new trap was probably a waste of time, if a suitable candidate location could have been found. Maybe one was searched for, maybe not. Maybe digging it was just an exercise in power control. But being able to control the location of your caper - and just as importantly preventing a search of "likely locations" by the authorities - is itself a smart move.

The expendability of lairs. Pyrepower's personal lair should now be considered compromised, and I hope she fully realizes that. Any hero she takes there should be assumed to be wearing a transmitter, recorder, or similar equipment. Even if they're unconscious, or there's radio jamming in place, the technology exists to narrow down the location enough that a determined search could find it within a day or so.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Managing your media presence

There's a saying, "all publicity is good publicity". This is true in business, when the goal is to drive brand awareness and hence sales. It's true for celebrities, because ultimately the celebrity's product is himself and the media in which he or she appears. But villains aren't really selling anything. Instead, they're protecting a valuable asset - their reputation - from attack. Managing your media presence, then, is a unique challenge for the villain.

Not all villains will need to worry about this. Starting villains should focus on getting established - several solid capers, a known name, integration into the larger super community. Veteran villains have already firmly fixed their own narrative in the minds of the public. It's the mid-level villain - the one who can make the front page reliably, but can't control what they print yet - that has the most to worry about.

Let's start with the fundamentals of media management. Media is a plural (the singular is "medium"), and refers to tools used to store and forward information. Most of the time when people say "media" or "the media", they mean journalism, aka news media. This includes newspapers, magazines, journals, TV, radio, and the Web. "Media management" is the ability for the villain to influence what other people say about him or her via any of these channels, and/or to have influence when speaking directly through them.

I talked more about building relationships with the media earlier, so for many centralized forms of media (TV, radio, print), you should refer to that guide for how to proceed. Much of the media today is built around the concept of "access" - a journalist's ability to get privileged information from a special source - and if you are big enough, you can try and bargain access in exchange for reporting things you want reported. It's a delicate balancing act and takes time and practice to get good at doing, so I suggest working your local channels first. Only move to the national media outlets once you feel confident in your technique.

That leaves managing the "new media", of which "social media" is a subset. This is basically the Web - YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and probably a bunch of others I either have forgotten about or never heard of. There's two ways to proceed here: get the ear of influential new media personalities, and manage your own social media presence.

Like traditional reporters, "access" still matters to bloggers and vloggers and whateveroggers tomorrow holds in store. Thanks to a perceived rivalry with old media, one thing many bloggers prize is better and faster access to a source than the "dinosaurs" in print and television can muster. They're the guys with the camera at the crime scene, metaphorically speaking. This is the theory behind websites like Brickwatch, which collect and collate information about super-battles in near-realtime.

If you are interested in building relations with such people, you'll want to pick a few personalities to interact with, then read their sites. Get a sense of what interests them - every blogger started with an itch they wanted to scratch, and many are idiosyncratic in what they'll cover. Find out what you want to say that works with their angle, then get in touch with them.

Alternately, you can go directly to Twitter, YouTube, and so forth. It's not as easy as getting your own account and just posting your crimes, though. There's several reasons why you should work with an intermediary or assistant.

  1. Terms of service. All modern electronic services have rules about what content they'll let people post. For example, YouTube's section 6E ("Your Content and Conduct") forbids content that's "contrary to applicable local, national, and international laws and regulations". In general, villains posting their own stuff get flagged and banned. However, the government has pushed back against this several times, by requesting that such services retain the content. Their argument is that useful intelligence about villains' activities can be gleaned from what they post. Of course they're notoriously vague about how, when, or if this really happens, but hey, it opens the door to doing so.
  2. Security. If you ask Comcast to run DSL to your lair and then post from there, expect the Feds to come knocking. By having someone else post your content, or by doing so from innocuous locations (Starbucks free wifi, for example), you avoid being traced back. Learning all the rules of securely posting content comes at the cost of your other villainous skills, though - it's usually better to leave this sort of thing to someone who knows what they're doing and is sympathetic to your cause (or who stays bought).
  3. Domain expertise. I don't know a thing about search engine optimization, aside from what it is. I have no idea what cross-posting tools are the best, or which support Google Plus vs. Tumblr. And I don't know these things because I'm too busy being a kick-ass villain. Leave the specialty tasks to specialists.
Many villains work with someone (or pose as someone) who claims to be "documenting <villain name>'s nefarious activities for the authorities". This excuse is paper-thin but it's enough to keep videos from being auto-flagged. In general it will not hold up in court (and yes this has been tested).

Finding a new-media biographer isn't easy. This is generally the sort of task you can put onto a villainous apprentice, if you have one - and provided she isn't grounded. Never let such people into your lair, or give them details about your plans ahead of time - after all, they might be planted. But should an opportunity arise, feel free to take advantage of it, if you can do so cautiously.

So what do you do with all this? In short, you protect your good name. If you see crimes attributed to you that aren't yours, sad to say but you need to tell people that. Accused of murdering innocent children, and it wasn't you? Set the record straight. Reporter said you "bumbled through the crime"? If you didn't, tell them why they saw what they saw - or demand that they get a more reliable source. Like I've said before, the most convincing explanations are those with plausible details, and you can get into (safe to reveal) specifics of your crimes in ways nobody else can. Use this inside information to prove your identity, then use that credibility you acquire to say what you need to say.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Things apprentices are no longer allowed to do

Mr. Big here. I'm back and things are settled.

This list is, of course, entirely hypothetical. Were any of my apprentices to do these things, dire results would be in store for them. Hypothetically.
  1. Apprentices are not to kidnap superheroes without their mentor's permission.
  2. No diet soda spills on my DVD cases.
  3. Apprentices shall not make personal use of the expensive knockout gas being used for another caper.
  4. No prisoners shall be made to wear costumes which make them sexually uncomfortable.
  5. Prisoners shall not be forced to take part in any re-enactment of a children's cartoon.
  6. Villains do not publish "Chained Heroes" calendars featuring heroes in any state of undress, and prisoners shall not be told they must pose for such things.
  7. Prisoners shall not be forced to watch romantic comedies or "chick flicks" for more than 4 hours, even with "close supervision".
  8. Apprentices shall not take selfies with prisoners in the background.
  9. Selfies with superhero prisoners in the background are not "photobombs".
  10. Apprentices shall not videotape "dance-offs" with prisoners.
  11. Prisoners shall not be coerced into participating in "dance-offs" using threats of a hostage's safety.
  12. Posted videos including anything on this list or other similar nonsense shall not go onto the villain's primary YouTube channel, and belong on their own channel or as a private video.
  13. Comments shall always be disabled for all YouTube videos posted by villains or their apprentices.
  14. Apprentices are not allowed to use tears to garner sympathy from their mentors.
  15. Apprentices do not have the last word on what is or is not fair. The world isn't fair.
The normal guide will resume shortly.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Guide update from Pyrepower: how to successfully use misdirection when capturing heroes

HEE HEE HEE you haters.

As an addendum to yesterday's guide for capturing hunky speedster boys, I want to talk about misdirection. Stage magicians use misdirection all the time. Mr. Big says politicians do too. So why can't I?

First, let's say that ENTIRELY HYPOTHETICALLY you plan to capture some superheroes, and you put your entire plan up on a forum that you know heroes have been reading. Heroes like Kid Cumulus, who wrote in and tipped off the boss.

Second, let's say that the hostage scenario is pretty obvious. I mean, come on, Mr. Big had me watch a series of Republic serials and basically said "don't be that stupid".

Third, let's say that you assume the hero will try to escape the trap when you aren't looking. So what do you do? You have to be there the whole time.

So I went through Mr. Big's movie collection. He has like a billion DVDs or something. And I happened to notice "Saw". Spoilers, people: the killer is in the room the whole time.

So let's say, again hypothetically, that I am the hostage at the bottom of the pit. Sure enough, he's immediately wary. That's when the charges I set at the top of the pit go off, and he's blown in. I could tell him there's a real hostage, and I have photos and his driver's license and everything to prove it. But I know from experience that he needs to breathe and I don't, so instead of that nonsense, I flooded the pit with gas. Down he goes, trussed up he gets (remember, I am pretending to be tied up, so there's all this chain laying around), and I measure out an injection of anesthetic like the boss taught me. No sense taking chances.

Next stop: the lair! Well, a lair anyway, not the boss's lair. What do you think I am, stupid?


Friday, September 19, 2014

Guide update from Pyrepower: how to capture superheroes!

Hee hee hee.

Pyrepower here! Mr. Big is still away. So I'm writing the guide still!

Today is our ENTIRELY HYPOTHETICAL methods for capturing two hunky superhero boys: The Philly Fleetfoot and Rail Runner. By sheer coincidence both are speedsters, so we will be using the same tactics against both.

First, we consider weaknesses. What are they observed to be weak against? Well, neither can get out of a really deep pit, so we have something. We need a pit! What do we have for powers? Well let's say fire manipulation. Rock would be really tough to get out of, and the melting point of most silicates is about 1200 degrees Celsius. Super awesome trivia note! The Space Shuttle's tiles can absorb about this much heat without burning your hand.

Next, test that you can produce that much heat by obtaining a sample of rock and burning it with your powers. If this test fails, think of a new plan.

Let's assume your test is successful. Bring along a stopwatch so you can tell how long it takes to slag the sample. Divide that time by the volume of the sample, then multiply by the volume of the pit you want to dig. Assume 20' by 20' by 30' deep.

Next, you need a spot where you can dig this pit uninterrupted. Check a map of your area and find some good ambush points. Like an abandoned subway tunnel. Your digging puts out an awful lot of heat and light.

You want a hostage. Obtain one, tie him up, then put them at the bottom of the pit. They must be tied up securely so they can't escape. Put a rope ladder at the top of the pit. When your hero shows up, they'll see the ladder and go "cool, a ladder" and try to unfurl it to the bottom. They'll see that the hostage is tied up, and figure out that they have to go down and help him out. So your rope ladder should be set up to give way the second they get down there. For example, radio-controlled explosive bolts in the rock.

At this point, you should have your very own superhero. Now you need to make an appearance. Tell them that if they untie the hostage, you'll lower a rope and pull him up as long as the hero stays in the hole. Escort the hostage out (blindfolded so he can't lead the cops back to you). That gives the hero some time to start feeling depressed and stuff, so when you show up he'll be more willing to go along with whatever, y'know, you happen to think up next.

I think it'll work!

Hee hee hee.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Guide update from Pyrepower: Sexy Superheroes

Hi everyone! Pyrepower here. Mr. Big had an emergency, so I'm taking over the guide!


My first topic: Why are superhero guys so smoking hot?

Have you seen some of these men? You could grate lettuce on their abs.

Okay, seriously. Mr. Big told me to educate myself, so I did. Here's why that is.

Symmetry is part of attractiveness. We like symmetrical faces, I don't know why so don't ask. Anyway, symmetry is a sign of health and supers are super-healthy because of our mutation. Our little mito-guys fight off disease ever since we were born. So just being disease-free and healthy raises attractiveness.

The body stores fat as an energy reserve. Super bodies usually have what the boss called "supplemental or alternative metabolisms". Well, with all that extra energy, we don't need fat, which is awesome. I can just eat all day and it goes right to my chest instead of my butt. We have this mind-bogglingly low BMI number as a result. So that gives us this incredible muscular definition.

Aging. Nope, don't need it! I'm going to look this good for decades. Let some of those stuck-up cheerleaders think about that while they're going under the knife. Youthful appearance is a big part of attractiveness.

When you have all these men running around looking like catalog models, of course all the women do too. Plus we're a really insular peer group because we have so much in common, and so little with mundanes. I don't know why I'd ever look at a mundane guy again.

The downside is that we don't have any really "distinguished older guys". Like George Clooney. He is so hot, but he's like over 40. Anyone that old-looking who's a super has probably been around since like 1920, and that's sort of creepy.

This is not to say that I'm going to go jump any superhero who comes along, or supervillain for that matter. I just like looking at y'all, it doesn't mean anything.

Anyway, I also want to say there's something about heroes in particular. Villains, even Mr. Big, are sort of greedy and distant and stuff. Some of them are pretty violent. Others are just creepy. Heroes just are like big teddy bears though. They're all "you won't get away with this!" and "It's not too late, you can repent" and stuff. It's adorable. I do sometimes wish I could capture a couple heroes and just keep them around for a few days, then release them.

Mr. Big will be back soon! Until then, keep on villainizing!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The question of magic

Wavelength loves to talk about "magic powers", "sorcery", and "other dimensions". They like asking the Big Question: "is magic real?" Since it's Wavelength, their default answer is "yes". Of course. But is magic real?

To date, nobody has advanced a comprehensive definition of magic as a distinct power. Part of the problem is that for a large part of human history, any competent scientist would have identified superpowers as "magic".

Webster's gives us: "a power that allows people to do impossible things by saying special words or performing special actions". Anything that actually happened can't be "impossible", so that's unhelpful.

Let's try Wikipedia: "magic or sorcery is an attempt to understand, experience, and influence the world using rituals, symbols, actions, gestures, and language". The original lacked the Oxford comma, so I added it in. 'Cause I'm evil.

Alright, so that's a start. What distinguishes "magic" from run-of-the-mill "superpowers"? It's that last part: "rituals, symbols, actions, gestures, and language". Magic isn't an invocation of your own power, it's a request to some greater power to do something on your behalf, using some specific protocol for the petition.

Based on that, we can rephrase the question of "is magic real". Instead, it's: "is there any greater power out there to which you can petition?" I will go as far as to say there could be. Here's how it would work.

Let's say hypothetically that some high-Stage super, like 7 or 8 or something equally ridiculous, actually existed. Say that he's got something like Beast-Boss, a thing that sits in the human brain and interfaces with the nerves there. So he can read your thoughts, maybe influence them. He'll certainly have a means of controlling some of the fundamental forces. If you give him a power like Cloud, who can affect liquids and gases at range by broadcast from his own body's cells, maybe he can exert this sort of power from the nano-symbiotes in your head. So you ask for something the right way, the super hears you, and you get what you asked for. That's pretty impressive, and I'd even call it a god-like level of power.

How else could it work? Well, there's the little question of how people originally got super-powers to begin with. We understand the mechanisms of inheritance and propagation, but we have no idea where any of this really came from. Like I talked about awhile back, there's any number of potential explanations. It's just as valid to say, I don't know, that Hitler and Nazi occultists released some potential magic energy into the world and that made superpowers possible or something. In that case, magic would be the true origin for super-abilities, and anyone who could directly control magic would have an edge over "regular" supers. But that just opens the door to questions like "how does magic work", and that's not something I feel like wasting my time on writing about.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Well that was unpredictable

I think this'll be the last word in this particular saga, but it's a good one. Here's Kid Cumulus, the Canadian hero, who has better information sources than I gave him credit for.
To the Beautiful Bomber, and to Dice:
I'll have both skyjackers in jail  before Christmas, wrapped up in a bow for the authorities.
To Mr. Big:
I've been reading your guide with interest. Thanks for the tips. A lot of what you've said is helpful for us heroes as well. Keep up the good work.
So there's that. I think we're all looking forward to Christmas with interest.

Well that was predictable

The original skyjacking caper and its critique attracted some attention. Long story short, it sounds like there's a villain face-off.

The original poster, who I identified as "Aerial Albertan", is of course none other than the Beautiful Bomber of Edmonton. Several of you checked the news from last year and did indeed spot the stories of similar skyjacking routines. She was captured by Kid Cumulus but managed to escape.

The follow-up comments were posted anonymously by request, but that villain has voluntarily outed himself as Dice, a veteran of the community since the 1980's. BB basically called Dice out and suggested a competition: both of them will pick a flight, and whoever brings down more actual dollars (Canadian) "wins". I'm not sure what she thinks is at stake here, but I'm doing my part as neutral party to publicize the competition as requested.

Dice made the rather pointed suggestion that waiting until a week before Christmas will yield an objectively more profitable caper, no matter which plane you pick. I think this threw a monkey wrench into BB's hope of some fast publicity, but she agreed. I personally believe she's going to use this time to refine her original caper idea, and I hope she does - not because it's necessarily bad, but because I believe in excellence and improvement.

So good luck to both Dice & Beautiful Bomber, and good luck to any civilians on the planes they pick.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Another villain's thoughts on skyjacking

Another villain wrote in to comment on the skyjacking caper from yesterday. Here's the remarks, with some editing.


The midair heist described earlier has several flaws. I will analyze the objectives of the heist, the problems the heist attempts to solve, the flaws in the heist, and solutions to those flaws which satisfy  the original objectives.

The objectives:
  1. Secure the contents of an airliner with minimal risk of interception by law enforcement.
  2. Minimize the ability of law enforcement to pursue you.
The problems it tries to solve:
  1. The villain doesn't have to make it through the security checkpoint at the airport.
  2. Minimize risk to the civilians and crew on the airliner.
  3. Mitigate risks to one's henchmen.
  4. Minimize property damage for the airline.
While admirable, points 2 and 3 aren't necessary if you don't take the approach detailed in the original caper. Point 4 is entirely unstated, but implicit in the caper - you safely land the airliner in an airport, allowing it to be recovered for reuse.

The flaws in the caper:
  1. Catching up with the airliner in flight is entirely unnecessary and risky.
  2. You spend a tremendous amount of time on the ground. Your henchmen are loading cargo onto trucks. You can increase speed and risk at a linear rate: add more henchmen. You are more vulnerable to leaks and logistical difficulties with more men. Either way, you are exposed at your weakest moment.
  3. The airliner itself is expendable for your purposes, but your caper ignores that fact.
The solutions to these flaws:

The biggest obstacle to any sort of caper is the disposition of the crew and passengers. This obstacle has two obvious solutions:
  1. Kill the passengers. This is generally not acceptable supervillain protocol.
  2. Hijack planes that aren't carrying passengers.
I hate to be the one to point this out, but many planes carry valuable cargo and no passengers. UPS, FedEx, and Emirates SkyCargo are the biggest shippers today. You should be able to obtain their schedules with a minimum of effort. Remember also that passengers are dead weight for your purposes. Passenger aircraft are unlikely to carry property significantly more profitable than cargo aircraft, unless you know of a particularly rich passenger on board. In that case, your caper is a theft or kidnapping from an airplane, and not the one described.

Sneaking onto an airplane isn't tremendously difficult while it's on the ground. If you lack any sort of stealth, but you can survive flight at high altitudes, stow yourself in a container and just ship yourself aboard the flight you want to hit. In these cases you avoid depressurizing the cabin in flight.

The heist faces another challenge: fend off law enforcement while unloading the plane. This is a problem because air traffic control is capable of tracking your plane on radar while it's in flight. Most supervillains are not pilot enough to avoid this, but you can crash the plane in a desert or underwater or any number of other places where law enforcement can't effectively reach you in time. Remember, you don't care about the state of the plane if you're after its cargo. You need only provide a way to get the cargo away from your crash site, which I concede will be more difficult in less accessible crash sites. That said, law enforcement will face the same difficulty of access that you do, and you have the advantage of foreknowledge.

Pick a crash site within range of the plane. A Boeing 757F's range is about 1900 miles, and other cargo planes have a similar range.

You must evacuate the crew before crashing the plane, either by giving them parachutes (they will have some on board anyway) or by using your own flying powers (remember that having these powers was a prerequisite for the original caper).

The economics of the caper:

An airliner is not a cheap thing. A Boeing 757F's unit cost ranges from $65 million to $80 million according to public records. That same plane is rated for 60,000 pounds of cargo. The value of that cargo is highly variable, but in general it must be fully loaded and carry cargo worth $1000 per pound on average to be worth the airplane. You are unlikely to get the full value of the plane because shipping companies amortize the value of the plane over time. That said, simply holding the jet itself hostage would be a very viable caper, assuming you can safely receive the ransom payment.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Skyjacking and the flying villain

"Aerial Albertan" talks about some of her recent capers:
You want a captive audience, many with money and valuables in their possession? You want a sky-heist. This is basically aircraft hijacking without being aboard at the time. It's logistically demanding. 
Requirements: first, if you cannot fly as fast as an airliner, do not do this. Top speed here is about 900 kph, at an altitude of 9000 meters. This is fast and cold and can be uncomfortable if you are not a fully adapted flier. Test yourself out first.
You will also want a ground team, and one or more large trucks - one person at minimum to drive each truck. You can also use a refurbished school bus if you remove the seats. These are often available cheaply, but you can steal one if you wish.
Planning: You begin by picking a flight. This can be anything, of course, but you should prefer flights to or from your area, and flights on days around major business events. For example, the day before a major industry holds its conference in your town. The airlines will publish their flights days in advance.
You will also need to pick an airport where you will set down. This is where your ground team will meet you. Have them find a good place to park the trucks off the roadway where they will not attract suspicion, until you are ready for them.
Do research on how to properly enter the plane. Try not to enter via the cabin doors. This will unseal the cabin and cause a lot of panic, which is good because you don't want people to immediately respond to your presence. However, the drop in cabin pressure cannot be allowed to remain, so you will need to re-seal the door after boarding. You should prefer using one of the cargo doors.
Execution: Get in position to track your chosen flight's takeoff, then come after it. After about 15 minutes, the plane should have achieved its proper altitude and cruising speed. Your objective will be to board the plane without disrupting its ability to stay aloft. Your goal is theft, not murder. Open the door you chose, like a cargo door, then make your way into the cabin.
Announce yourself and your intention. Inform the cabin crew that they should keep the passengers calm and quiet, and that nobody will be hurt if they comply. At this time, you should also mentally pick out a couple of hostage candidates. Don't take them hostage yet, but just remember where they are and how to get to them. You prefer women and children, but not babies, for the sympathy factor.
At this time, go forward to the cabin. The pilot and copilot will have long since become aware of your presence, and will probably have radioed in to let the authorities know. This is fine, detection is unavoidable. What you can't let them find out is your chosen ground base. To that end, you want to destroy the radio and the transponder - they are normally right next to each other. 
 Give the crew your new destination, then head back into the cabin. Start confiscating cell phones. Assume that everyone has a cell phone, and demand it from them. Make examples of those who claim not to have one, but don't be violent. Your goal is to prevent passengers from calling the authorities independently for as long as possible.
After a few times of this, I modified my strategy a bit. I would bring along garbage bags or sacks, and demand that passengers throw their wallets or purses into the bags. If the plane were to be intercepted, I personally could still fly away having made something for my trouble. 
Once on the ground, your goal is to unload the plane as rapidly as possible. Passengers should form a bucket brigade in the aisle, passing bags from overhead storage and under the seats to the rear of the plane. Have a truck ready to be loaded with these bags. Your other support crew will be loading from the cargo compartment of the plane.
Exit Strategy: This caper can go wrong at several points. In the most ideal case (your trucks leave the scene unmolested), have them take different routes. You can re-converge at a second agreed-upon meeting place to unload. 
If the law finds your landing site, simply fly away - your ground crew should try to drive off separately, and hope for the best. If you have powers that can hinder the police pursuit, stay around long enough to do this, then leave.
I've found that passengers start getting uncooperative at the time you land. They start thinking they have a chance, that rescue is a possibility, and that resistance is viable. I found that taking their cell phones early helps to demoralize them on this front. If they feel like there is no hope of contacting the law, they may not be so ready to resist. Nevertheless, make quick and efficient examples of any passengers who don't cooperate.
Individual plans will be more detailed than this (but she also calls out the research you need to do), so all in all I think this is a great caper. Thanks, AA, and happy flying!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Mole Master's lair

So let's talk about the Mole Master's new lair. This is the sort of lair that most supervillains won't create, but he's got earth manipulation powers and has options many villains don't.


Mole Master tapped into some geothermal vents and is using a binary cycle power plant to drive energy for the base. His control over magma flows made setting this up easy, and he reports that the theft of the power plant itself went off without a hitch. Congratulations!

The efficiency of this type of generator is about 12%, That sounds low, but nuclear plants for years operated at numbers like 5%. MM also informs me that he's rigged the system to vent lava into the base as a last-ditch mechanism in case of invasion.


Water is distributed through the base using a gravity pump. Water purification isn't an issue for him right now as the base is situated below the water table and he's just draining off that for now.

He installed a back-flow prevention system to account for flooding, and there's several sub-caverns and weakened floors that are strong enough to support foot traffic but will give way to reveal emergency reservoirs if a large enough mass of water comes down on them.

Circulation system

The air purification system is only for the holding cells that MM installed. They're run from the geothermal power plant. I'm not 100% sure of the terminology here, but I did some searches. Mole Master says they're "venturi scrubbers", or wet scrubbers, that supplement the ventilation fans that keep air blowing through the complex.

Mole Master is using the CO2-laden atmosphere in the rest of the area as a supplemental security system, since he doesn't personally need to breathe.


The biggest expense in the lab is the circulation system. Mole Master reports that the scrubber mechanism will suffer from wear and abrasion and must be replaced. The rest of the system is good for 2-5 years, with period maintenance and checkups. Fortunately Mole Master knows enough mechanics and engineering to do the basic stuff, and he's got a gang of guys who'll take cash under the table to work on the base for him.


Overall this is a mid- to high-level villain base, well situated and well defended (you'll note that I omitted any details about his security system besides the obvious - this is intentional). Kudos to Mole Master for a base worthy of a veteran villain!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mr. Big's last word on telepathy

Well, the inevitable happened. Someone wrote in accusing me of being a patsy, or shill, for the telepathic conspiracy. I'm "providing cover" to these master-minds, apparently, by denying the reality of psychic powers like telepathy.

So here's the thing about powers in general: they come from somewhere. They work a certain way. As a supervillain, one of your most awesome secret skills is being able to figure out a hero's power faster than he can figure out yours. You have all of the public footage of that guy in action, all the press releases, all the journalism, everything. Buying into this psychic nonsense just gets in the way of doing what you really need to do: apply logic, reason, and science to a serious problem.

This is how we get power suppression drugs. This is how we get supervillains in prison. The other side isn't wasting time with this crap any more, and neither should we.


Alright, enough of that.

The Mole Master sent me all sorts of pics of his new lair. This isn't like the lairs I advise, but MM isn't the sort of villain I write guides for. So I'm going to talk about some of the best features he's come up with, why they work, why they might not work for you, and what you can do about that.

P.S. somehow that son of a bitch got a new iPhone as well.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Defending the world from telepathy

Given the numerous attack vectors available for an aspiring telepath, how do you defend the world? I don't have access to the full NATO report, so I can't tell you what they thought. I can speculate, so here goes.

First, nobody gets secrets any more. Nobody gets to memorize passwords for anything really secure. They have physical keys, USB thumb drives, whatever. A computer spits out a digital key and you have a device that tells the computers about that key.

Second, knowledge gets compartmentalized. This is a skill that's routinely practiced at places like the CIA, so now you need those guys to train everyone in government to do the same. You need oversight ensuring that it's really happening. And you can't let the oversight know too much either, so you have more levels of oversight on them. It becomes maddenly bureaucratic.

Third, anyone with any real authority has a "shadow" that monitors their major decisions and gets veto authority. The shadow can be one person or (better) a group of people, chosen either at random or from a large enough pool to avoid guessing who it is. The shadows need to know enough about the guy they're shadowing to evaluate his actions.

Even this extreme solution has some problems. First, someone has to take charge in emergencies. It's a human tendency to look to a leader, and that leader will naturally already know (or soon learn) more information than is "safe". Second, people are really bad at keeping secrets like this. It may sound weird, but I really do think people are basically decent trusting sorts by inclination, and get that crap knocked out of them if they grow up in any sort of hard circumstance. Third, all the parts that are technology-dependent are vulnerable when they break down. If the computer techs assigned to repair the systems are compromised, or know too much, the game is over.

An interesting theory (but one I don't subscribe to) is that endless government bureaucracy is an improvised telepathy defense already, they're just not obviously deliberately doing it because they don't want to give the game away. So it has to seem inefficient and Byzantine so a telepath doesn't suspect anything. Take that as you will.

Taking over the world with telepathy

You dense motherfuckers.

Alright, for the doubters: yes, the world would be your bitch if actual psychic telepathy was a real thing. Here's a few avenues.

Financial gain

You can't just milk a Swiss bank of its assets without some work - the private banks are set up with multiple levels of security and oversight - but the good news is that both UBS AG and Credit Suisse have plenty of online services. I estimate it would take about five days to get access to the online banking system of a well-heeled individual with a Swiss account. The steps, roughly:
  1. Locate your mark.
  2. Identify who manages his finances.
  3. Fetch authentication information from his mind.
  4. Get a hold of any physical authentication token in his possession.
  5. Log in and do a funds transfer.
Step 4 is by far the hardest one, and probably the step you'd want to hire a specialist or team to do for you. Luckily there are plenty of mercenary villains out there who'd want in on this kind of action - and lucky you, you're a telepath, so you can sense which ones are trustworthy and reliable.

Poker and gambling

Good news! If you can read minds, you can win at poker. Get about fifty million dollars in cash together (if necessary by repeating these steps at lower levels) and go to Macau, and visit the Poker King Hall. Buy-in is between 1 and 10 million for the Big Game. You'll be playing against poker veterans and most of these people know each other, so you better have a fantastic poker face and know something about the game before doing this.

You will absolutely get your ass busted if you try this too much yourself. What you need is a series of ringers or confederates, who will actually handle the cards. You'll need to recruit them and offer a sizable percentage - 20% of their personal winnings should be adequate - in return for their cooperation and silence. You'll need to have some of them lose to the others to maintain the facade. It definitely helps to find guys who have talent but no luck, since the doors of the Hall are going to be permanently closed to them after this is over.

This isn't a bad way to make your first billion. At that point you can start looking at investing in small countries.

National conquest

A telepath would in theory be the second-best type of prince endorsed by Machiavelli - the sort who can't think clearly for themselves, but who can recognize excellence in their subordinates and will listen to wise counsel. With the money you make in any of these other schemes, you should be able to get into the leadership circles of some small country, then work your way up to leadership. This gives you several things:
  • International prestige, enough to paper over whatever wrongdoing you engage in next for a short time.
  • Personal access to other world leaders, which is probably necessary depending on how your theoretical telepathy actually works.
  • A huge channel for laundering money from other illegal pursuits.
  • Your own military and security force.
J. Edgar Hoover style

You know those stories about the FBI? How J. Edgar Hoover ran it for decades, and Congress was so afraid of him? He had the dirt on everyone in Washington, and he was using mundane intelligence gathering methods. If you are telepathic, all you need is access to the minds of the Legislature, the Judiciary, and the Executive. Every piece of dirt you can get is a piece of dirt you can use. Once you have that level of leverage, the Statue of Liberty will pull her dress up and bend over for you - you own America.

Nuclear weapons

America's nuclear arsenal is a collection of secrets. The location of the weapons, the access codes for arming them, the steps to building them. All these secrets are held in living minds, and you don't need to be a nuclear physicist to benefit from most of them. The Soviet nuke program was possible thanks to well-placed spies - again, a mundane method of intelligence gathering that any real telepath could easily overcome.

Taken in total

What does the overall picture look like then? A reasonably powerful and competent telepath, with enough nerve to do what I've described, could have their own country, have enough material to keep America and other great powers neutralized (through blackmail, nuclear or otherwise), and enough free cash (with more coming in) to fund just about any sort of project. With your own country, you can hire the nuclear physicists necessary to make sense of the American nuclear secrets. With your own nukes, you're a major player.

Want to know why I still don't believe telepathy is a real thing? Because so far, nobody has done any of this stuff. So either it doesn't exist, or there's some amazingly compelling reason not to use it for high-level villainy. Let me know in the comments what you think, as usual.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Telepathy and the supervillain

There's a lot of misunderstanding, confusion, and outright deception about the psychic power of "telepathy". Rather than confirming whether it is or is not whatever people think, I want to talk about the general topic.

Telepathy is a game-changer for superpowers in the way that superpowers are game changers for politics and law enforcement. Back when it was just clubs or maces or swords, you could go get a better one (if you could afford it), or wait for someone to invent a better one. Technological advantages like bronze, iron, and steel allowed their owners to dominate the world stage for a time, but those advantages were always something that their enemies could eventually acquire. Not so with powers (for the most part), and not so with telepathy (as a specific power). Generally, a superpower is something you're born with.

Superpowers are also not something that can be easily reverse-engineered and used. Once you have a piece of steel, you can spend some time figuring out the hows and whys of it. Our civilization has split the atom and we're barely getting our feet wet with understanding powers. That goes double for purported "powers of mind", which aren't tied to a specific part of the cell. We at least know where to look for super-mitochondria.

Superpowers, like steel, are obvious in their application. You generally know that a power is in use because you see it in operation. Either the super's body is glowing with energy (even if it's just the Cherenkov radiation associated with many gravity and electroweak users), or you can clearly see the effects of the power. You can get out of the way, take cover, block it somehow. Your intuition is useful in devising a counter to the power. Again, not so with telepathy.

Because of all these things, the conventional "wisdom" is that telepathy, as a distinct psychic force or something, does not exist, and that things that look like telepathy are really neuro-symbiotic nanomachines or something similar. This is known to be the mechanism that people like Beast-Boss use to control animals, or people like Link use to interface with machines and computers. This is a nice, safe position to take if you're talking to Congress, because it avoids the difficult question of "how do we defend our national infrastructure against telepathy?" and the equally difficult answer of "we don't".

In theory, someone with access to mind-reading, at any reasonable range with no requirement for physical contact, could destroy the planet within a month. They could wreck the so-called First World nations within three months, leaving the rest of the planet intact. They could effectively take control of the NATO member nations within two months. These projections are based on NATO planning from their "heretic office" (which saw its start after the world got a load of Apollo). The only effective defense against this sort of takeover was a friendly team of telepaths. The only other fully examined defense would turn NATO's member nations into bastions of paranoid madness, and was widely considered not to be viable.

This conclusion led people at Wavelength (where else?) to postulate that the world had already been taken over by hostile telepaths, whose sole purpose was to induct new telepaths into their ranks - or to destroy them if they weren't willing to play along. A competing theory says that a benevolent conspiracy of telepaths does exist, but only to protect the world from this sort of attack. Which theory you should endorse really depends on how much you've been drinking, and how a coin flip turns out.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Q&A Roundup: spandex for heroes, quips for villains

"Anonymous villain" writes in:

On the news reports, I see the heroes dressing in brightly colored spandex and standing on tall things, like telephone poles, rubble piles, or whatever. I get why tight-fitting clothes are good, but isn't this behavior making them a better target?

Yes, it is. But that's what he wants.

Remember that the hero is there for very different reasons than you, and has very different priorities. While you may or may not care about minimizing collateral damage (you should, it's just good business), the hero absolutely does. So how does he help to make that happen?
  1. He wears bright, primary colors. Many hero costumes will include red or orange, the colors scientifically demonstrated to best attract the eye.
  2. He stands with his back to the wall, to open sky, or whatever - high places are usually the best way to accomplish this.
  3. If he's a brick, he invites mundane bank robbers or villain henchmen to shoot at him, throw their guns in frustration, or whatever.
Basically, his goal is to be the target of attacks. If he knows where the shots are coming from, he can make sure they go somewhere harmless - open sky, a thick wall behind him, or whatever. He'd rather you shoot at him than the civilians on the scene. He'd rather you use up your bullets on him rather than save some for potential hostages later on. If he can tank your attack, he'd rather do it than have it go off on some unknown angle.

The bright colors and high angle serve another related purpose, of course - it's attention-getting to the civilians. Cops and Feds wear windbreakers or uniforms with their identification on it in big letters to distinguish themselves for similar reasons, but they still have to have cover and armor and protection and crap. A hero can be a walking talking siren. Once the hero has the crowd's attention, he can either direct them away from the fight or at least get them to listen to him. Standing out visually saves him the time of shouting who he is to everyone and getting them to believe him.

Several people wrote in with some variant of:

Can you share some good quips or dialogue we can use to get started?

In short, no. But I'll at least give the reasons why not.
  1. Most importantly, you are responsible for all of your own material as a supervillain. This vocation is for self-directed, independent people who just need some hard-earned experience to light the way for them. If you can't come up with things to say for yourself, stop being a villain. If you want to be in the limelight and have material written for you, become one of those super-entertainers.
  2. Even if only ten different villains used the same quip, anyone who's aware of it will know that they got it from some canned source. This sort of faux pas is murder on your rep as a villain. The public will not be impressed and you will be laughed out of the villain community.
  3. Some of the best quips and dialogue I can actually think of are from private encounters - and some of those fights I shouldn't even have been at, technically. Plus, most of them were devastating precisely because they were on target. The best wit is circumstantial; there's nothing I can give you that will be a good general-purpose line to use.
In short, write your own material because that's what people, including me, expect you to do.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Why hamminess works, and why experienced villains abandon it

I talked yesterday about "bad" dialogue, hamminess, and so forth. I said something that apparently surprised a few readers - ham works, some of the time. So let's get some definitions on the table, kids.

Hamminess is the act of imparting superfluous drama to your words and actions. There's a lot of reasons for ham, but that's what it is at the end of the day.

Drama is the creation of tension over what's being done and to whom. You watch movies, attend theater, and binge-watch shows on Netflix to find out what's coming next and to see it happen. Even if it's terrible things happening to characters you love, you're still drawn into it.

Tension is the mental desire to resolve an uncertainty. Will the bomb go off? Will your characters escape the blast? Will John marry Marsha? All that bullshit. Stories are interwoven blobs of tension that - hopefully - pay off at the end.

In short, ham is a shortcut to attention management. It's like adding spices or seasoning or extra butter to a bland meal - it's unhealthy, but people will chow down on that shit anyway. It's the pointless action sequence or love scene meant to keep asses in seats during the movie, because nobody will watch the thing otherwise.

So why does ham work? Because people like the tension, and they especially like the payout. People love it when their lives produce drama that wraps itself up neatly for their entertainment. Even if what they're being fed is pablum, they'll lap that shit up.

Ham is important because there's two very different narratives going on. Say for a second that you're robbing a bank - a cliché all its own, but what do you want? If you've read my guide and planned your robbery out in advance, your internal narrative goes something like this: "Walk into the bank - lay down demands - demonstrate powers to ensure compliance - seal the door if possible - get civilians and security to disarm and lay down - collect loot - assume manager pressed the panic button - assume cops are on the way - start internal timer for typical police response time to this location - finish looting - get away using powers or previous arrangement."

That's not super dramatic. That's just a checklist of items that you've worked out and are running through in your head. There might be some unknowns, like "superhero shows up unexpectedly", "cops arrive early", "teller is a superheroine in disguise", or whatever, but you just jump right to "run away" in the event of something you're not prepared to handle. You do, right?

Anyway, remember that there is this other narrative running through the heads of everyone else in that bank. "By Odin, a supervillain! He's masked! He's going to kill us all! My will isn't made out. My kids are at school, they're in danger too. Is he after me? What does he want?" Sure sounds scary, doesn't it. It might have variations like "I've got this pistol, maybe I can be a hero and get that pretty teller girl to like me by saving everyone" or "I don't get paid enough to be security on this gig, so I'm going to lay down like he says" or whatever. But in general, most people's heads are not filled with the same story that's going on in your head.

Here's another true fact. People feel better when the expected thing happens. If people are expecting you to be violent, be violent. If people are expecting a calm, methodical shakedown of the place, do that thing. Your reputation, the mood of your chosen city, and a bunch of other factors play into this. But until you know those things, you do know two things. First, that you're a supervillain. This comes with a ton of baggage all its own. And second, you're committing a crime.

This is where ham comes in. Supervillains are bright, loud, and theatrical. That's our overall reputation. So start with the ham. "KNEEL BEFORE <your name here>! If you value your lives, deliver your goods! And open that vault, or I'll rend it asunder with my <your power here>!" That sort of business. This is unconvincing against professionals who've dealt with villains for awhile, but it works wonders on civilians.

This also explains why ham falls out of favor as you get more experience. First, your capers become more sophisticated, and put you into a different crowd of people. Those people can see through the ham, so it doesn't serve its intended purpose. A thing that becomes useless in the capers you're doing should be discarded. And second, your own reputation and personal style will become more and more distinct, as should your public speaking skills, meaning that ham is no longer necessary to cover that deficiency. You will have a reputation that you can play on, and you'll have the experience to know how.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rules for Villains: Large Ham, hold the restraint

I was asked by the supervillain Mole Master about the role of cliché quips. While I talked earlier about presentation and showmanship in general, I can go into more detail here.

As a refresher, your primary goal as a supervillain in a social situation is to control your audience and keep them from being too much of an obstruction to your real plans. Very few people achieve their real objective by just standing around talking, unless you count Congress. So let's look at what monologues, dialogues, and verbal wit can do for you.

Control of information

Sun Tzu says, "all warfare is based on deception". Deception is the dissemination of falsehoods or half-truths. Or to put it another way, deception is the control of information. How does your opponent get information? By watching you, but also by listening to you.

What do you want to deceive your opponent about?

The nature of your plan. The easiest way to do this is not to tell him. The more cunning and subtle villain will explain the wrong plan. The cleverest villain will explain the plan and lie in such a way that the hero tries to stop the wrong thing from happening - or actively aids the villain. Not saying anything requires no special skill, so we'll focus on misdirection.

"Die Hard" is the canonical example of this approach. Hans Gruber needs access to a vault that's sealed with an electromagnetic lock, so he tricks the FBI into shutting off the power by telling them that he's got hostages and wants prisoners released. His brother performs a similar act of misdirection in "Die Hard With a Vengeance". The "Mission Impossible" and "Bourne" movies offer similar tricks, but from the hero's perspective.

The easiest way to get good at this is also the most time-consuming: actually plan out all the details of two capers. The first is the one you want your enemy to think you're doing. The second is the one you're actually doing. At every point, think of what you're doing, what could go wrong, and so forth. Then for the fake caper, write some dialogue between yourself and a hypothetical hero, or the police, or whoever you expect to be there. Set it aside, think about something else for a day or two, then come back and re-read all your dialogue. Does it still hold up? Does it give anything away? Can you improve it? Repeat until satisfied.

The purpose of this planning is to come up with specifics. People will be convinced of just about any kind of bullshit if you sound like you know what you're talking about, and the way you do that is to provide specifics. For example, it's common for newbie supervillains demanding money to ask for it in "non-sequential bills". This is obviously a correct thing to ask for, and it gives the appearance of competence and experience doing heists. It won't save you if you actually don't know all the other ways money can be tracked, but if your goal is to sound convincing, it's good.

Your next move. The feint is a traditional tactic. The verbal feint is just a variation on this theme. Your best ally here is expectation - what the hero, the cops, and the crowd think you're about to do. This depends as much on your reputation as your actual caper - a violent villain will be expected to make violent moves. Play up expectations with appropriate dialogue, then do the unexpected.

How well you're doing at carrying out your plan. Your ability to project overconfidence, underconfidence, or confidence in the wrong thing is crucial here. Your ability to emote - to act happy, sad, frustrated, fearful, or whatever - is more important than word choice, so this requires a lot of practice.

Tools for deception

Hamminess. If you saw "Star Trek" and remember Captain Kirk, you have seen ham in action. Same with the 1980 "Flash Gordon", with Brian Blessed as Vultan the hawkman. Ham is overblown, ham is spectacle, ham is panache.

Ham is the tool of choice for two types of villain. The first is the newbie. Someone who's starting out and can't emote deceptively can use ham to mask that weakness for awhile, because the loud bombast is distracting and that's good enough. The second is the experienced villain who's naturally hammy. If ham is in your blood and you've been at the game for awhile, you can get away with it. Most villains abandon ham after they get some capers under their belt, but a few come back to it.

Puns, quips, and word play. Intentionally bad verbal tricks are used to defuse tense situations, lower stress levels, and impart a theatrical air to an otherwise-scary caper. Being able to rattle off funny quips on the fly is definitely a skill that requires more time than I have to teach. As with a lot of things, the key is to practice and keep working.

Like a good caper, a good quip must be used sparingly and not repeated when possible. George Carlin threw away his material and wrote fresh acts every year. He said there's three levels of comedy: funny, funny with good ideas, and funny with good ideas and compelling language. For villains, "good ideas" really means "things I want to make people believe", but otherwise the rules of comedy are a good start when writing such things.

Threats. This is the opposite of verbal humor. Where the intent of corny dialogue is to lower stress levels, a good threat is meant to raise it, or to convey a feeling of menace even when you don't really intend to hurt anyone. This is the tool the veteran villain uses to keep cops at bay, or make the hero question his own actions.

The problem of threats is that they have to be followed through once in awhile or they lose their power. Threats of violence, especially, can lose potency once you become any sort of known quantity to law enforcement, unless you actually do hurt people. Threats against property are far more lasting, and far less problematic to carry out.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The education of a young super

"Give me the child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man" -- St. Francis Xavier
Some attempts have been made to create "all-supers" schools for general education, at every grade level. As the presence of superhuman potential can be revealed by a blood test at almost any age, it is possible to sweep a population for signs of it.

Currently, segregating superhuman and mundane students is illegal in public schools. Private schools are allowed to make a distinction, provided that they can demonstrate a "significant commitment to the educational needs" of their supers, and they may not turn away mundanes if they take any government funding at all - Title IV of the Civil Rights Act does not extend to private institutions.

Past attempts at creating such schools in the United States have run from the benign (the Heights Academy - see below) to borderline indoctrination and brainwashing (the Miller Mountain Schools). Other countries often have similar cases.

Power High

A specific sort of super-school involves training supers in the use of their powers. Such schools do not receive Federal funding, although groups like the Department of Defense will pay for "scholarships".

There are three such institutions in the United States:
  • Black River Mentoring, located in Los Angeles, advertises itself as "a full-spectrum curriculum for transhuman individuals in the modern world". Its instructors are a mixture of ex-soldiers and supers, and it has come under investigation by the Department of Justice in the past. Critics accuse it of being a training ground for super-mercenaries.
  • Lydecker Preparatory School, in upstate New York, was created by an endowment from anonymous benefactors. It's geared more for supers to get into business and politics, and persistent rumors of "mind-control rings" usually center around Lydecker graduates.
  • Power Pro, in Texas, is organized and run in cooperation by an alliance of paramilitary group. Though it is not publicized, their goal is the training and indoctrination of superhumans. The school has remained out of trouble by offering their students' services to groups like the DEA in hunting down drug smugglers coming across the American border.
School Rivalry

The Cascade mountain range plays host to two reclusive educational institutions.

The Heights Academy is a private primary and secondary school for children who demonstrate superhuman powers or gifts of any kind. Scholarships are provided at a very generous level. The teachers are well-trained, well-paid, and very capable. There is a small contingent of security personnel, for the protection of both students and staff. The curriculum includes both general education and the practical use of superpowers.

The Boddicker Reform School, very nearby, serves quite a different purpose. Boddicker is where juvenile super-convicts are sent, on the theory that most super-proofed prisons are not equipped for juvenile offenders and certainly not conducive to their education. The school is run more like a prison than a place of learning, but the staff are professional, empathic, and discreet.

The proximity of the two schools is no accident. The Cascades afford an ideal area in which to practice powers, especially those involving mobility or destructive forces, without attracting attention. But there are other reasons.

The founders analyzed the state of superhumans around the world and concluded that what was missing wasn't more law and order, but more understanding. The Heights Academy and Boddicker kids regularly train together, compete against each other in carefully refereed competitions, and even attend events (like sports) in mixed groups. The first generation of graduates seemed to vindicate the founders' theories, at least partially - while several of the Boddicker kids went on to become villains and several Heights graduates took up heroic vigilantism, their interactions were more rivalry than blood feud. Their shared upbringings and common experiences forged a bond between them that spared both the supers and any nearby citizens a lot of bloodshed.

Several groups - including government agencies like ACTION - have "guidance counselors" in place at Heights Academy, hoping to steer graduates toward their respective organizations. And while Boddicker makes every effort to provide legal and safe career options for its kids, the fact is that a few of its career paths are fronts for villain groups who need apprentices, flunkies, or cannon fodder.

The schools have come under heavy criticism, claiming that their structure is set up to encourage conflict, rather than really trying to rehabilitate juvenile offenders or prepare teenagers for anything but the superhuman world. That said, there have been a few cases where students were transferred from Boddicker to Heights Academy without major incident - a sign of actual rehabilitation, and thus success.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Update on a superhero trainer turned supervillain: the Azure Guardsman

Some of you got impatient with the recent history lesson and said "hey Mr. Big, we're not scientists, just give us something we can use". Alright, here's some recent intel from the supervillain world.

One of my counterparts in the heroing world, the Azure Guardsman, spent several years training newbie heroes. But he fell out of favor. It wasn't anything he did. The newer breed got tired of his "old school" ways. They became convinced, as young idiots are, that the old guard had it wrong. They thought the only good villain was a dead villain, that ACTION was useless, and that the authorities shouldn't have any say in what they did because, y'know, entitlement. So he hung up the cape and retired.

What almost nobody knew until recently was that he'd taken on a new identity - the supervillain Redline. Now, nobody suspected this because frankly Redline is useless. He's somewhere on Beaver Boy's level in terms of planning and execution. And based on this, I'm starting to rethink Beaver Boy too, just in case.

Redline was the guy who would challenge new heroes, and get stomped into the dust. Only he'd get back up and try it again. He was just too stupid to stay down. And he was harmless. Civilians didn't get hurt on his jobs, he didn't cause a bunch of property damage, all that stuff. And even funnier, he'd point it out if the hero got too reckless and started smashing stuff. "Hey hey, what are you doing?" he'd demand, incredulously. "I'm just robbin' the bank here!" It was ridiculous.

But... it was effective. Nobody ever realized that what he was really doing was training this new generation of heroes. He didn't tell them why they should pull their punches or show restraint or be thoughtful, he demonstrated. He'd shame the young punks by being the villain who cared more about civilians than the hero.

So now he's turning in the cape again. He sent several of us old-timers a private message. He apparently fell in love, and he's retiring from the super world for the foreseeable future. He asked that we don't cause him trouble or try to find him or his new girlfriend. I'll make the commitment right now, and I hope everyone else will, to honor that agreement. Why? Because a well-trained hero is gold to a supervillain. Predictable heroes with self-enforced codes of restraint are always better than heroes who will go apeshit on your ass, 10 times out of 10. Out of gratitude for leaving us with a bunch of nice guys, I wish the Azure Guardsman all the best.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hints of an underwater civilization

Following the last couple of days of archaeological interest, I want to talk about something that I've heard talked about regarding Sea-czar, the Deep One, and Pelagos. The latter, in particular, has made a career out of underwater archaeology, and these three are apparently involved in some sort of power struggle. At the heart of their conflict is what sounds like an entire sunken civilization - and rumors (on Wavelength, naturally) that it's still active.

Here's the intel I was able to intercept from Pelagos' communications with his current sponsor:
  • Underwater ruins have been found dotting the Pacific ocean.
  • Most of them date anywhere from 12,000 B.C. to 6,000 B.C., but it's not clear what method of dating is being used here.
  • The architectural style is unknown but shows proto-Japanese and proto-Mayan characteristics.
  • Signs of radioactive elements (such as uranium) have been found in clearly artificial containers, suggesting that the builders found a use for them in the same fashion as the Baghdad Battery.
  • Carvings in an unknown language were found and are being deciphered. There is no translation key available yet, so this process is expected to take several years.
Most of Wavelength's speculation about an active civilization concerns Pelagos' requests for a massive quantity of underwater explosives, deep sonar, and messages (so far unavailable to the villain community) sent to the Pentagon. Of course they concluded that this means that he's at war with some sort of underwater civilization, and not (for example) doing blasting that he's concerned will be picked up by Navy sonar installations and misinterpreted.

No current geological theory allows for a sunken continent in that time range, and no existing - and credible - theory of parabiology allows for a whole civilization of water-adapted superhumans during that time either.

What we know of Sea-czar and the Deep One is that they are interfering with Pelagos' operations. How, and why, are answers they haven't deigned to share with anyone who talks to me.

This information has a place in this guide for two reasons. First, to illustrate the interesting things that a villain can run into, even in an unexpected place like the Pacific Ocean. Second, to remind young villains to always look for opportunity. Both of Pelagos' underwater rivals have found some advantage they can gain by messing with him. Once I get more details on their caper, I'll share what I can for educational purposes, but for now, just remember - if your hero is doing something unusual, it's almost never because he is bored or something. Heroes can have capers too, so find out more about his, and try to take advantage of it.

Dragons, dinosaurs, and comments

Yesterday's post generated a lot of controversy. Let's break the comments down into categories.

OH SHIT SON SUPER DINOSAURS. This was the #1 category of comments. Let's just get that out of the way.

Your source is full of crap. This was the #2 category, close to #1. The story came with what I consider impeccable physical evidence and I'm personally satisfied that the party I spoke with is on the level. I'm not giving out any more information than that. If you don't think that I'm a reliable source, stop reading my guide.

This invalidates <scientific theory X>. Yeah, maybe. So? Scientific understanding gets overthrown all the time. Anthropology, archaeology, biology, biochemistry, history, parabiology and parahistory would all be shaken up by this information. But I'm a villain, not a scientist.

Speculation that the evidence I alluded to is some sort of dinosaur fossil. Maybe.

Speculation that the evidence I alluded to is a live super-dinosaur. Maybe. Let's consider the facts: in humans, progression through the Hashmal stages extends lifespan, provides a healing factor, and mitigates many biological dependencies like food and breathing. Beast-Boss's empowered animals are known to grow, and that's just Stage 2. So you can probably speculate on the traits possessed by a hypothetical Stage 3 or higher dino, and come out with Godzilla - able to live under the water for extended periods, not dependent on food, huge size, probably increased intelligence, and very long lifespan - perhaps even one of the dinos the poster was suggesting. Well, that's all possible, isn't it.

I want to see a fight featuring <random hero or villain> vs. Mega Dinosaur. Well hey, you might get your chance very soon, who knows.

It's not physically possible to clone dinosaurs, there's not enough viable DNA. Yes and no. The upper limit for any DNA viability is about 1.5 million years. The oldest viable DNA on record is between 450,000 and 800,000 years old, and Tyrannosaurus dates to 67 million years old. But people like the Scarab Guardian are able to grow animal body parts through a process called anaphasic synthesis even without access to the original DNA, so it's possible that another super might be able to create "dinosaurs" from fossils, even without viable DNA.

In fact, based on what I was told, I got the random idea that the Scarab Guardian might in fact be a descendant of these "first pharaohs", the super-powered rulers of ancient Egypt described in yesterday's post, based on his power set. How cool would that be?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dragons, dinosaurs, and giant monsters

I just had a very weird conversation. Someone I thought was an otherwise ordinary independent super presented me with some very interesting evidence, and said the following:
I've found your supervillain guide interesting. While I don't personally promote villainy, if one must be a villian, I prefer that they emulate your example.
Your series included speculation on ghosts, werewolves, and other creatures of myth. I want to add some observations of my own.
Animal mastery powers, such as those held by Beast Boss, Sea-czar, and the Scarab Guardian, are nothing new. In the time of Aharu, now called Horus, the animals served the god-kings of the old dynasty. They knew the rules of power inheritance even then and they married and bred accordingly, to conserve the power of their blood. Their servants were the beasts of the field, the birds of the sky, the meaner creatures of the street. Cats were not gods - they were the eyes and ears of the gods.
Familiarity breeds contempt. As the generations passed, mundanes learned our tricks. So we forced our powers to grow, using what we thought were rites of supplication to the greater gods. Today we know it as the Hashmal process. It was torture, plain and simple, but we did it to preserve our dynasty. We even tortured our children, locking them in their youth forever to create envy and amazement from the people.
It wasn't enough. We needed more. We took the lizard, the crocodile, the bird, and we stretched our power to the utmost. We made monsters. Do you think that Stage 2 is the most that an animal master can endow? We learned better.
Our creations struck fear into the hearts of the unbelievers. Our authority waxed again. None dared challenge us.
Well, there was one threat which we still faced - each other. The human heart hasn't changed that much. Jealousy, mistrust, fear. We felt these things. We set our monsters upon each other, and upon our rivals. The common folk thought of it as war in Heaven. Our priests knew better, but dared not question us.
We had long since melded human and animal bodies, created giants of our pets, and even recreated living corpses from dead flesh. We committed the final blasphemy. One of our sand-shifters found ancient bones. The creatures they represented would be monsters in our age, but utterly ordinary in theirs. You know them as dinosaurs. And we resurrected them - and made them more, and mightier, than anything that walked the earth before or since.
If you have been to Egypt, you have seen the Great Sphinx. Think of that as... a pet. A toy. We created dragons that darkened the skies.
I would like to end this tale by saying that the greater gods punished us for our blasphemy. The truth is far more prosaic. We destroyed each other, for the meanest of motives, for the pettiest of reasons. Greatness was in our grasp and we were simply.... too human to use it properly.
If you must be a villain, be a superior one. If you must live in your own way, don't be a slave to your baser nature. If the world's ways do not satisfy you, create a better world and challenge your fellow man by your example.
So... yeah. I know most of you are thinking "by Odin, Stage 2 dinosaurs". I can't fault you, because I thought that myself. But, I also want to say that I approve of the rest of the message. We villains have a unique chance to be better than our corrupt society. We don't have to do what they say, as long as we're true to our own code.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Spandex: the whole story

Awhile back, I was asked about wearing tights and I outlined what and when a villain should typically wear. Today I want to go into more detail about skin-tight outfits, also known as "super-tights", spandex, or whatever.

Cost. The worst part about the cost of super-costumes is the expense. If you have a motif, you're basically custom-ordering a new one with your pattern on it every time it gets damaged, which will be a lot. This is why many villains prefer color patterns to distinctive symbols.

Comfort. Spandex doesn't breathe at all. It won't let sweat and body fluids out. This might be rough for mundanes, but for supers - who often have alternate metabolic arrangements - this is a non-issue. What spandex does do is stretch and give, which is something you really need your attire to do.

Appearance. As I mentioned before, spandex will make your toned Stage 3+ body look great. This is important because appearance is a valid tool for distraction, charm, and manipulation. Fuego, the villain turned hero in the 80's, was reputed to have "the abs that launched a thousand ships", and he worked it for all he was worth.

Biology. Wait, what? Yes, really! Many supers have powers that radiate directly from their cells. The effect past the skin is very short - a few inches at most, more often than not. An example is the field radiated by teleporters, or many kinds of defensive barriers. You can learn to push this field further - and usually do, unconsciously - but it can be exhausting in the long term. The solution, unsurprisingly, is to wear thinner clothes and not carry things in your hands.

Protection. Basically nil, but by the time you're ready to wear spandex for the reasons given above, you usually shouldn't need much protection from conventional weapons. My personal rule of thumb: once being shot at point-blank range feels like being punched in the chest, you're bullet proof and can switch over to spandex. Before that, wear body armor. Seriously.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Stage 2 civilians

Not everybody at Stage 2 becomes a hero or villain, obviously. Not all tall people go into basketball, even though height is a prime characteristic of successful basketball players. So what are the rest of them doing?

Stage 2 provides physical and mental advantages over mundane humans. "Mental advantages" doesn't necessarily mean super-intelligence. What it does mean is that Stage 2 supers lack some of the mental gaps or disadvantages that mundanes have to deal with. They deal with surprise better, they have more neuroplasticity, better reaction times, and so forth.

Because of this, most Stage 2's excel in fields that depend on physical prowess or charisma, not intelligence. The people who make it into CEO positions at big companies might be brilliant thinkers, but they tend to have won their position through maneuvering and social benefits rather than some incredible invention or innovation.

So what do Stage 2's do when they aren't putting on body armor and throwing shuriken at criminals?

Businessperson. It's said that all corporations are sociopaths, and successful CEOs must be as well. Stage 2's tend to have the ultra-competence required to pull the job off without stabbing everyone around them in the back, so there's a fair number of corporate officers are Stage 2.

Diplomat. A surprising number of diplomatic appointments, especially to dangerous or unstable countries, are Stage 2. This allowed, for example, an American in Syria to rescue his staff after insurgents attacked their base a couple years ago in Syria.

Scientist. While super-intelligence isn't really a thing at Stage 2, many scientists are called on to do dangerous, grueling field work. Biologists, climatologists, chemists, and more find value in the benefits that Stage 2 provides to them. Many interesting breakthroughs have been made because a Stage 2 scientist was able to work in the right place at the right time. A few such intrepid souls have advanced to Stage 3 because of some overly dangerous encounter, of course.

Sports athlete. There are now separate competition brackets for Stage 2 athletes. Since they are officially banned from Olympic competition, and since their numbers aren't quite large enough, most of their exhibitions happen on Pay-Per-View television. These shows have gained more and more pageantry over the years, since essentially the performers are able to operate at Olympic levels more or less continuously and can take the time they'd spend training or recuperating to practice new stunts. This category also includes MMA fighters, boxers, and the like.

Television personality. The demanding schedule and requirement for telegenic speakers makes Stage 2's a logical choice when some producer needs to point a camera at someone and have them read the teleprompter while sounding natural.


Just because this part of the guide was boring to write, here's some badass music celebrating super-villains. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Q&A: Civilian casualties during super-brawls

"Cautious Californian" writes in with:

Why is it that there are so few civilian casualties during many hero-vs.-villain encounters that turn violent? I do my best to run away & rob another day, but some villains seem trigger-happy. Shouldn't that be incredibly dangerous?

This was true back in the 60's and early 70's. What happened after the first few attacks was that strategic planners got involved. They reached out to the people who'd devised London's defenses during the Blitz, to the Israelis, to the Army Corps of Engineers, and so forth. A lot of this expertise filtered into FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) when it was signed into existence in 1979.

Everyone's conclusion fell into a few different buckets.

First, that all rebuilding should include hardening of the buildings that were damaged. This meant emergency shelters, accessible stairwells, structural reinforcement, and the like. Every reconstructed building would include food, water, electricity, and first aid kits. Every shelter would have a signaling system to contact the fire department, police, and so forth.

Second, that supers could rebuild damaged infrastructure far faster than conventional contractors, given similar levels of competence. This led to the funding of super-teams like the Metahuman Task Force, at least in states that were willing to throw around their tax-driven revenues. Conveniently, most states where a lot of these fights happen are also ones with a lot of tax money to spend, so there you are. Nobody cares about throwing down in Kansas.

Third, that nothing could really stop a reasonably powerful super except another powerful super. This has led to the current schizophrenic legal views on supers in the United States.

If you're a supervillain, you may not actually appreciate the outcome of all these steps. You haven't actually worked in an office building or a skyscraper. Here's what it's like.

When word comes out that a villain is nearby, there's a klaxon broadcast through the building. The building security service comes on over a PA system, asking people to descend the stairs. The elevators get shut down, with the exception of those needed to evacuate disabled people. The office workers mill around in the elevator room, checking their mobile phones, gossiping, and being impatient.

If the building itself does come under attack, security tells them to continue down the stairs and into the shelter. Head counts are taken. Someone in security calls the police dispatcher, who ignores them in favor of the more important calls coming in talking about the battle. Once the danger passes, everyone is escorted outside and goes home for the day while the building is inspected for structural damage.

So yeah, the short version is that while a single villain attack can cause millions in property damage and lost productivity, there's a lot of stuff in place to keep the civilians physically safe.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Permanent villain depowerment?

Whenever I talk about power-suppression drugs, the same question always gets asked: "can the authorities take powers away from villains?"

So far, no. And when it happens, you'll know, because it'll be the biggest news since the discovery of superpowers to begin with. It'll mean calls for legislation to forcibly depower all villains, even those in jail. There'll be pogroms in other countries, riots, news articles, pundits. Everyone will want to control the "problem" (supers), with depowerment the punishment for noncompliance.

Until then, as far as I know, only the heroine Illumina is capable of permanently depowering someone, and even then there are some villains she can't (or maybe won't) depower. Rest assured that the authorities are furiously trying to learn her secret, though. So far, from what I know, she isn't cooperating.

Depowering drugs might be a thing in 20 years or 200. All we know now, thanks to Illumina, is that it's possible. But even then, it's not like Eve-active women will stop giving birth to new supers. Powers - and heroes, and villains - are here to stay.

The legalities of permanent power loss

Furman v. Georgia laid out a four-part test in 1972 for what constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment": whether the punishment degrades human dignity; whether it is inflicted in arbitrary fashion; whether it is rejected by society; and whether it is patently unnecessary.

One depowered villain (the first Blacklight) actually tried to sue the government for sanctioning Illumina's power drain on him. The case was thrown out for technical reasons, but the government's defense was very interesting, and troubling. First, they claimed that since supers were essentially extra-human, the loss of these extra powers did not impinge on basic human dignity. Second, they argued that the punishment wasn't arbitrary, because it followed the conventional pattern of escalation of force that police use every day. Third, they said it wasn't rejected by society because of its novelty (the judge was not amused by this line of reasoning). Fourth, they argued that Blacklight's actions had placed people in jeopardy, and that as a repeat offender it was not "patently unnecessary".

Blacklight's prosecution argued from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948, that depowerment violated the "security of person" the Declaration called for. Whether the government was correct that supers are human plus something else, they said, wasn't relevant. In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man still deserves his one eye.

Aside from this argument, they also tried to refute the government's position about societal rejection by drawing analogies to lobotomies and chemical castration, two techniques that have been used recently to deal with prisoners (criminal or otherwise). They went back further and compared loss of power to amputation.

Overall the government had a good case, though I am certain Blacklight's legal team would have better chances with a more sympathetic (or less biased) judge. That said, I expect that any permanent power loss mechanism will be employed by the government long before the legality of doing so is settled at the national level - it's too powerful a weapon not to use.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Villain punishment in other countries

I collected stories from a few international villains. After hearing most of them, I concluded two things. First, that I didn't want to talk about law enforcement in other countries, because I clearly don't have enough information to give sound advice. Second, American villains are lucky sons of bitches.

Let's run down a few of the alternatives.


In eastern Europe, a group of powerful heroes found a way around the Hashmal process. Rather than trying to hurt their villains to death and risk empowering them further, they pitched them into abandoned salt mines and sealed them away under thousands of tons of material. This didn't directly injure the villains - physically - but those guys are essentially trapped in living tombs miles under the earth. That's just mean, man.

Forced labor

Some villains (and for that matter, some heroes and unaligned civilian supers) are put to work as living engines or tools - those with heat or electrical powers are chained into devices which can harness their output, for example. There's a few heroes who have chosen to walk away from Omelas and criticize this practice, but for the most part, nobody cares - villains are villains, right?

Depowerment and execution

Power-suppression drugs aren't just used in America, or for making it safe to jail a super. In some places, they're used as a prelude to execution of villains. The worst part is that the bodies of the condemned are then handed over to scientists and researchers for experimentation.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Villain parole and rehabilitation

Though it's not a topic I hope most readers of this guide will need to know, I want to talk about villain parole & rehabilitation. There was an earlier topic on breaking into the movie industry, and several people asked me to expand on this topic.

In general, villains don't get offered parole unless there's somebody external pulling strings or advocating for their release. Usually this comes with a set of conditions (gainful employment, on-the-job monitoring, ACTION poking its nose into your business) that makes getting out an onerous burden. Extraordinary acts of good behavior - and I mean more than just "not breaking out with the rest of the guys", I mean things like actively putting down a prison break or riot - can sometimes lead the way to a reduced sentence for newbie villains. For us old-timers, nothing short of flashing serious money at the judge and/or the DA will get the wheels of justice sufficiently greasy.

The old trick of a villain lawyering up and walking that you'd see on shows like S.W.A.T. and Supercop in the 1970s don't work any more. From the late 70's to the 90's, the American justice system had a concept called the "rolling conviction", which was meant to fix the problem of supervillains breaking out of jail with ease. The villain Floodwater's legal team came up with a great workaround which effectively killed the usefulness of the rolling conviction, which neatly coincided with the rise of newer villain incarceration technology from companies like TRS and Johnson & Johnson. Plus, there's decades of precedent that have redefined fundamental terms like "assault" and "deadly force" when a superhuman is involved.

Law firms will work for anyone. However, because any or all of your legal holdings will probably long since have a lien on them (to pay for the damage you did), you usually won't have a legal source of funds to retain a good firm, and a bad firm won't be able to spring you. You'll need to have laundered your money into some legitimate holding arrangement not tied to you, or have a wealthy patron (like a movie studio). A rare few villains, like the Scarab Guardian, effectively had this done for them by the government.

Your conviction as a villain - along with everything that went with it, like blood draws, DNA evidence, power weaknesses, testimony, and so on - will always stay on the books. Once a villain, always a villain, as far as the justice system is concerned.