A Quill Pen

Sorry I'm not home right now,
I'm working on the spiderwebs,
So leave a message and I'll call you back...

-- as misheard while listening to No Doubt

The function of myth, of psychological allegory, is to feed a hunger, not for facts, but for meaning. We want to understand the torrent of change in which we are swimming (or drowning).
-- Lois McMaster Bujold

I'd intended to follow the norm and write something about myself in my first A&E zine. Real life pressures being what they were, I'd not yet gotten my act together to do so. An incident this morning caused me to change my mind, and just start writing. I like to learn from experience, and I often write in order to sort out and clear my thoughts... and considering what happened was a bit alarming to me, I decided to try to make something positive of it.

I attend DeAnza, the local (mostly excellent) community college. When I went to class this morning, however, campus was seriously and totally closed. The campus itself was swarming with police motorcycles, cars, and trucks, the associated cops, fire trucks and fire fighters, ambulances and their associated personnel also -- even bomb squad folks. There may have been SWAT team there also for all I know. Across the street the press was swarming... and, of course, no one was talking. I'm nosy -- I went home and checked the web for info. I figured the local news had to know something.

Boy, did they. Here's the URL I found, for those that are curious. It may well still be up by the time this reaches print. In a nutshell, a local 19-year-old male (former?) student of DeAnza had been picked up by the police due to an anonymous tip.

When this young man was picked up he had an arsenal of 30 pipe bombs, 20 molotov cocktails, and a great deal of "other weaponry." He'd apparently intended to use these in DeAnza at 12:30pm today (as I write this); Tuesday January 30th, 2001.

Hey, waitaminnit... 12:30pm today?! That means... I'd have just been walking out of class -- right next to the main quad...

That particular revelation was a little too close for comfort... so I went to lunch with a roomie, and we talked. We wondered why the young man appeared so illogical; how glad we were the cops had been right on it; about a speech I'd heard about dictators.

How do I intend to find something positive out of this? I thought I'd run through some of the conversational points we covered -- as a means to better play villains in games.

Is this too disrespectful or flippant of what could have been a disaster? Possibly... I don't know. All I know is this is how I'm dealing with what was, in effect, a very minor brush with potential disaster. If this bothers you, feel free to jump to the next person's zine. I won't mind.


So... what sorts of villains are there? In our lunchtime discussion my roomie and I talked about what the young student might have been thinking -- or not thinking of. While we could talk calmly about properly planning something like the intended attack on the campus, we couldn't quite wrap our heads around why someone might want to do that -- something that was so obviously doomed to end up with him dead or captured.

We decided there were two main types of villains -- those that planned ahead, and those that unconsciously wished to be caught. I've mentally tagged them as the "logical" and the "illogical" bad guys.

These names were picked on the spur of the moment, in a discussion that was mainly intended to help me assign some meaning to what would have been, in effect, a misguided and pointlessly brutal attack by a possible madman, so they may not be the most appropriate-sounding ones. If you don't like them... cope. ;-)

So, to continue. Logical bad guys understand actions have consequences -- but they plan ahead so as to mitigate unpleasant (to them) results. Illogical villains have a desired goal in mind, but don't seem to grasp that things will occur past when that goal is accomplished... or that those things might not be the ones the bad guy desires.

"Illogical" Bad Guys

The young man who was picked up by the police is an example of an illogical bad guy. Consider -- molotov cocktails are thrown, and weaponry must be fired by someone on the scene. How did he intend to carry 20 molotov cocktails and several pieces of weaponry around campus?

Did he intend to return repeatedly to his car for reloads? Had he forgotten most of the folks on campus carry cellular phones -- and would most likely call 911 instantly once the pipe bombs started going off? Police may not be able to respond instantaneously... but did he not realize if he was there on campus the most likely end to any scenario of retribution of his -- was his own death or capture?!

So... how to use this in a game. Well, a "short-term" sort of villain could be built from this kind of behavior. It would be someone young and "troubled," with a grudge and (unfortunately) most likely male. Most often he'll be working alone, or with maybe one friend. He would have access to some form of powerful force -- lots of weaponry, super powers, psionics, something like that.

The plan should be for something incredibly messy and devastating, and cause a lot of property damage, death, bloodshed, and suffering. The villain shouldn't be entirely logical -- the most important part of the attack isn't how well it will work, but rather the horrific impact it will have on both the people who've "wronged" him, and a huge number of innocent bystanders.

Therefore, while his careful collection of the necessary implements for the plan may be quite cunning and clever, he will not have planned for anything past that point -- including his getaway, or even his own survival.

Herein lies the fatal flaw of his plan -- his hubris, if you will. The most important part of this plan is the villain has not thought past its execution -- that he may indeed unconsciously wish to be caught. It is also possible, although I'm no expert and don't know, that in fact the villain unconsciously wishes to die in this fashion -- by taking many innocent bystanders along with him.

Should the villain succeed in carrying out his plan, it is exceedingly unlikely he will survive it. Local law enforcement tends to take an extremely dim view of mass murder and destruction. Also, since the villain has not planned past his "glorious" revenge/attack, it will be sheerest luck if he should escape.

Indeed, even if absolute success on every front seems imminent for the villain, he may at some point suddenly "come to his senses" -- and kill himself.

OTOH, there are a number of ways the villain can be stopped ahead of time... he may have spent so much time preparing that parents or friends start to get worried. The local gun-dealer may find it suspicious the villain is buying so much ammunition. The gym he works out in may realize that only someone with super powers could lift that much. The assisting friend may suddenly realize this isn't just a gag or a joke.

The important thing to remember as a GM is the villain will not be repeating this sort of attack. True, he has not consciously realized there will be consequences to his actions... but unconsciously he wishes to be caught.

It would appear there is a strong mythic bent to this sort of behavior. Speculating freely, it would seem the villain seeks his version of "justice." Since he has been grievously wronged, others must also suffer as he has -- and physical violence is the easiest way to impart great and visible pain to others.

This would explain both why the villain consciously attempts such an attack, and also why he unconsciously wishes to be stopped -- on some level he knows what he contemplates is not truly justice. There is also a twisted modern version of the "cult of the warrior" which I have read about, which says the more slain individuals that accompany someone to the afterworld, the greater a 'warrior' the killer must be.

The appeal of mythic elements would also explain why, when the moment of "victory" is at hand, sometimes the villain simply kills himself. I speculate that at that moment, on some level, the villain has fully comprehended exactly what he has done -- he has perpetrated the most unjust of actions on innocent bystanders. Overwhelmed by the true horror of such a realization, he administers the same form of twisted "logic" which caused his initial attack; to bring justice to the unjust -- he destroys himself.

"Logical" Bad Guys

In discussing a logical bad guy, I will refer extensively to a speech by President Jimmy Carter which I attended several years ago. I must say, listening to the man speak has given me an entirely new perspective on him. It's true he's generally blamed for the Iran hostage crisis, and that Reagan is credited with resolving it, but it appears the facts do not back up that interpretation of events.

Furthermore, it would seem President Carter is the most effective and helpful president we've ever had, in that he kept on working to accomplish what he thought were worthy and beneficial goals, both in the US and across the world. I admire that kind of dedication to one's beliefs.

One of those goals included persuading many dictators across the world to hold democratic elections. President Carter has done this repeatedly. Think about that statement for a moment -- this one individual has persuaded dictators who hold absolute power, who have no need to hold democratic elections in order to continue to hold that power... to do so. With a record like that, when President Carter says dictators tend to think this or that way... I tend to listen. ;-)

So to continue, using information gleaned from that speech...

A dictator is an example of a logical bad guy. While he also is probably administering his own twisted view of justice, he does not work alone, nor does he neglect to provide for his own escape from the consequences of his actions. He thinks in the long term, in the sense that his attack/revenges will be repeated until he gets the results he wants.

What drives a dictator? Apparently he truly believes in himself. His hubris is he is doing the right thing. Okay, he may have ordered the horrible death of millions -- but it was necessary to do so, to save his country and his people from some incipient peril.

This is the mental peculiarity of dictators -- they honestly believe if they could fully and completely explain why they did the things they did to their people -- the people would both understand and condone the dictator's actions and decisions.

This is how President Carter persuades dictators to hold democratic elections. What better time to explain oneself fully and completely to one's people? After all, under the dictator's logic the people will not only agree with him once they really understand what he's done for them -- but they'll also show the entire world the eminent justice and rightness of his actions by electing him.

This is also the important thing to remember as a GM -- the logical villain is doing what he believes is right. The things he must do to accomplish his righteous and worthy goals may be horrible -- but they are necessary. Only he is strong enough to lead his people; only he has the wisdom and foresight to both see and do what must be done in order for his people to survive and thrive.

That's it for now, for me. Thanks for letting me talk this incident out, and make something positive of it.

-- Laughing Collie