From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

The Successful Hero’s List

Many people are familiar with the Evil Overlord’s list of do’s and don’ts. Bart Leib figured the heroes need one too. (Although I still think we need one tailored for the female heroes. -Cat)

  1. If the villain has me at his mercy, confesses that he’s my father, and offers to let me join him, I will not refuse. I will accept graciously and enjoy a tearful reunion. There will be ample time in the future to betray him, and any emotional issues I may have can be worked through with a psychiatrist at a later date.
  2. The Grand Vizier is always evil. I will run him through at the first opportunity. I can always explain to the king why I did so afterward.
  3. I will always assume that the villain requires some special method of killing. If I have even the slightest opportunity, I will stab him through the heart with a silver dagger, stuff garlic in his mouth and cut off his head, drown him, cremate him and anything else I can think of. If at all possible, this will all be done on the most sacred ground I can find, and I will have members of various religions and cults simultaneously performing their versions of exorcisms. If I’m going to kill him, I want to get it right the first time, so he doesn’t return at the worst possible moment.
  4. If the villain has a beautiful consort, I will never, at any time, think of her in a sexual way. She does not want me. If she claims to, I’ll ask her to prove it by killing the villain herself. If she does, I might reconsider.
  5. If I hear of any old, drunken men who tend to ramble, I will immediately seek them out and ask for them to tell me their stories which they insist are true and which no one else believes. I will take copious notes.
  6. If I have any brothers who annoyingly insist on coming with me on a quest, I’ll let them. Either they’ll get captured and wait it out in a nice safe cell until I can save them, or they’ll get themselves killed. But better that than alienating them and having them turn on me.
  7. Contrary to popular opinion, there are no causes worth dying for. If I’m clever, I can live and still be a help to all of them.
  8. I will never utter the phrase “I would rather die than [fill in the blank]!” I would, in fact, pretty much anything else rather than die. Being tortured is just about the only exception to this rule, and if I would survive the torture I may even prefer that as well.
  9. If there is no way for the villain to have learned my secret except for my trusted friend to have told him, then I will immediately accept that I’ve been betrayed and kill my trusted friend.
  10. I will not make fun of the villain’s clothing. If he’s wearing it he probably likes it, and I don’t need to give him more reasons to kill me. In fact, a compliment wouldn’t be amiss if I can make it sincere without laughing.
  11. If the villain has a lieutenant, demon and/or animal that is only performing under duress, I will make every effort to free said being from whatever constraints force it to do the villain’s bidding. Once freed, it will immediately turn on the villain.
  12. I will ensure that I have at least a basic understanding of all existing technology. I don’t want to waste precious seconds wondering whether to cut the blue wire or the red one—I’d rather be able to determine which wire will shut off the device no matter what color it is.
  13. If my enemy has a knife to the throat of my sibling/mentor/loved one and demands that I throw down my weapons, I won’t do it. Then he’ll have a knife to both our throats. Besides, if he kills them he’ll leave himself open for me to kill. Even the dumbest villain will probably realize this.
  14. If I befriend an eccentric old man who tinkers with machinery, I will immediately request that he show me every one of his inventions and how to use them. One of them will undoubtedly be crucial to my success. I’ll also ask him to explain how to stop each of them, just in case he gets captured by my enemy.
  15. If I’m the best in the kingdom at some particular skill, such as archery or sword fighting, I won’t advertise it. In fact, I’ll probably fake a basic incompetence until the moment arrives when I can actually kill the villain.
  16. I will not specialize my skill at weaponry, but rather will gain at least a basic competency in every available weapon. Being the best archer in the land will not help me in close combat.
  17. I will not follow any generally-accepted rules of proper fisticuffs etiquette. I will hit blow the belt, pull hair, poke my opponent in the eye, knee him in the groin… anything goes. The object of any fight is not to be seen as sophisticated and honorable—the object is to win.
  18. If I’m attempting to enter a castle or fortress and the main doors have been shut against me, I will not contrive some method to get them opened—I will find another way in. Conversely, I will endeavor never to enter a castle or fortress unless I already know at least three escape routes other than the main doors.
  19. Sidekicks can be very annoying: it’s inevitable that they’ll get captured by the villain, and every one of them sings off-key. However, they’re an unfortunate necessity—at some point they’ll be crucial for victory. Plus, they can be used to draw fire.
  20. Most villains have inflated opinions of their own attractiveness. This can be exploited, especially by an attractive female hero. While it may seem distasteful to use your body in this way, remember that a long life is more important than pride, and showers and soap are plentiful.
  21. If I lose my hat while running away from something, I will not go back for it. I will buy myself a new hat later.
  22. Any secret passageway has booby traps. I will not walk blindly into a secret passageway, since I would inevitably stumble into a trap and have to spend a great deal of time getting myself out. I will take the cautious approach; this will also take time, but at least I won’t be dangling precariously over a pit of spikes.
  23. If any part of my plan involves disguising myself as an old woman, I will come up with a new plan. Even legally blind guards stand a reasonable chance of noticing my five o’clock shadow.
  24. I will not swing dramatically from chandeliers, vines or ropes. First of all, my armor is heavy. Secondly, I cannot redirect where I’m headed in mid-swing.
  25. I will be celibate during any mission or quest. There is at least an 80% likelihood that any stranger who propositions me out of the blue is working for the villain.
  26. It is true that there is an apparently universal lack of fashion sense in villains. Despite this, I will never assume that any pendant, scepter, staff or other accessory is purely ornamental. In fact, I will make an effort to destroy any visible accessories before attempting to slay the villain.
  27. Throwing a punch, swinging a sword, pulling a trigger—these are all things that can be done while still speaking. I am fully capable of multi-tasking, and villains expect heroes to complete their dramatic declarations before attacking; they will be quite surprised when I cut off their head mid-statement.
  28. If a villain has captured me and wishes to give a long, drawn-out explanation of how their plan works or how they got away with it, I will not make sarcastic comments like “Oh, just shoot me now and get it over with!” I will instead listen with every evidence of interest. Even if they don’t give me the key to defeating them, I get to keep living while they’re talking.
  29. Every villain has a secret escape tunnel. Knowing its location before s/he tries to use it is pivotal.
  30. If there is no one I particularly care about in the villain’s lair, and no object that must be retrieved, I will endeavor to blow it up without once setting foot inside.
  31. There are two sides to wondering whether the villain is really dead: if I have the body in hand and it has been properly identified by competent, trustworthy forensic analysts through fingerprinting, dental records and a DNA test, then the villain is dead…probably. Otherwise, s/he is still alive, and already plotting revenge.
  32. I will always maintain a close friendship with at least one technological genius who knows about hacking and computer viruses, just in case I come up against a villain who uses a computerized network.
  33. If the villain has a pet, I will kill it at first opportunity. This is a shame since I’m fond of animals, but a villain’s pet is also evil, and may have an important key or pendant around its neck. Plus, the villain will be depressed and preoccupied for some time after.
  34. I will record every conversation that I have, and review them in my down time. This will help prevent miscommunication. If I receive a request or order that seems counterproductive, I will not blindly follow it—I will first ask for clarification in case I misheard.
  35. I will not accept any direct challenge from the villain, nor will I get angry or rise to his taunts and his calling me a coward. I may offer an alternative challenge, since anything the villain came up with is undoubtedly rigged in his/her favor.
  36. If I am in a race or direct competition with a rival or enemy, I will personally guard my horse/ chariot/ hovercar/ spaceship/ Segway every second of every day until the race begins, to prevent sabotage. I will also perform a thorough diagnostic right before the race.
  37. While enchanted weapons and magical artifacts are interesting and impressive, I will not count on them for victory. Magic is unpredictable, and I don’t want my Dragon-Slaying Sword to go on the fritz at the worst possible moment.
  38. I will never sign my name to anything. In fact, I’d rather have word reach the villain that I’m illiterate.
  39. Being a famous hero is good, but being an anonymous hero is better. It’s very hard for villains to find you and exact revenge on you and your loved ones if everyone in your town only knows you as Barry, the shiftless layabout.
  40. I will fake my own death and resurrection. Giving villains the impression that I can’t be killed can only be a benefit to me.
  41. If attempting to creep silently through a room, I will first scan the floor, walls and ceiling for any potentially noisy objects and plot a path around them. Then I will move.
  42. I will wear protective goggles into any fight to prevent sand or dust from being used to blind me.
  43. I will educate myself on any regional marriage customs before accepting any seemingly-innocuous gifts or offerings of food from local maidens.
  44. If I am offered the king’s daughter’s hand in marriage in exchange for performing a task, I will politely decline and request monetary compensation instead. In the future, if the princess seems attractive and opportunity permits, I will engage an appropriate period of courtship to determine whether we’re compatible. I will also look into the political situation in the kingdom, to find out if there are any other suitors or potential heirs to the throne whom I might anger by becoming the prince, and who might be inclined to try and remove me as competition.
  45. If I am injured, I will not hide it or claim that it is “nothing”. I will immediately seek competent medical attention.
  46. Just because a trail of blood, or footprints, or anything, leads in one direction, it does not automatically follow that the villain is also in that direction. He can still be right behind me, raising a club.
  47. I will educate myself in forensic science. I don’t want to take someone’s word that they weren’t the one who pulled the trigger when a simple GSR test would be much more conclusive.
  48. Jumping into the river, lake or ocean and swimming away can sometimes be a legitimate method of escape. However, I will always consider the height from which I must jump and the depth of the water. Also, in colder weather I will remember to take hypothermia into account.
  49. In some circumstances, I may be able to get one shot with my pistol after it’s been submerged in water. However, after that it will be waterlogged and won’t work. And firing a gun while underwater is just stupid.
  50. I don’t care what the movies say—the safety being on does not mean that the firearm is incapable of discharging.
  51. I will not accept that the villain is weaponless until s/he’s been stripped naked and subjected to a thorough cavity search. Even then, I’d be wary.
  52. I will never join any organization of law enforcement. I would inevitably discover that their rules of conduct crippled my ability to actually combat evil, and would be fired or court-martialed after ignoring said rules.
  53. I will endeavor to cultivate an antagonistic relationship with a gruff, surly law official whom I know to be firmly on the side of good despite his abrasive disposition. Eventually he will witness me at work, realize that we’re really on the same side, and we will develop a grudging respect for one another which will be mutually beneficial.
  54. I will not have a day job unless I absolutely cannot help it. A place of business is an ideal location at which to be attacked, and co-workers and financial responsibility are hassles I don’t need.
  55. I will take careful note of the behavioral patterns of my trusted comrades. That way, it will be easier to recognize when one of them is kidnapped and replaced by the villain or his minion who’s been enchanted to look like my comrade.
  56. If the planet is attacked by a giant, unstoppable creature or a warlike alien race, and I have the opportunity to drop a nuclear weapon on them, I will not do so. Irreparable damage to the planet aside, nuclear weapons simply don’t work.
  57. I will prepare all of my own food and drink. This is a no-brainer. If someone offers me food or drink that I did not watch them prepare, I will not only suggest that they have some first—I will insist on it. At knifepoint.
  58. I will never, under any circumstances, get into the basket of a catapult, trebuchet, slingshot, or any other device capable of sending me soaring hundreds of feet through the air, and then launch myself or have someone else launch me. Contrary to popular opinion, there is virtually no chance that the landing will be one which I can walk away from.
  59. While taking down the villain with my bare hands is a solid sign of my competence and offers tangible, tactile proof of success, I will be just as satisfied if I accomplish the same goal with a high-powered sniper rifle from 1000 yards away and then disappear before the guards even realize what’s happened.
  60. If an eccentric old family member or friend dies, and either leaves me something in his/her will or hands me something just before dying that seems to be useless junk, I will treat it like a priceless treasure until I figure out why it was left to me.
  61. I will acquire a pocket-sized computer and program it with translations of every current, ancient and dead language possible. Barring that, I will simply assume that anything written in a language I can’t read says “DANGER: AUTOMATIC CASTRATION DEVICE 10 FEET AHEAD”.
  62. After invading the villain’s fortress and escaping with the scroll/ microfiche/ damsel that I went to steal, I will not return directly to my camp or hideout. There is someone following me. I will instead go directly to a prearranged fake hideout that has a secret escape tunnel, doors that automatically slam closed and lock themselves, and is wired to explode. The only button for detonating the explosives will be on the far side of the escape tunnel, and can only be made active with a key I have hidden on my person.
  63. I will make certain that everyone I trust knows about my secret escape route. However, no one but me will know about the redundant escape route, which is the only one I will actually use.
  64. Villains always leave a paper trail of their misdeeds. I will keep a top-notch muck-raking law firm on retainer. Remember, Al Capone was eventually jailed for tax evasion.
  65. I will not be above hiring a few goons to do some dirty work, or for a bit of extra muscle. However, I will treat my goons with dignity and respect; upon seeing this, it’s just possible that the villain’s goons will question whether they’ve chosen the right employer.
  66. I will never attempt to swim the moat. Even discounting monsters, crocodiles and acid, it’s much more difficult to avoid the bad guys’ aim in water than it is on land.
  67. I will try to avoid going onto the roof of any building. Once up there, it becomes inevitable that bad guys will try to throw me over the edge or a helicopter will appear and start shooting at me.
  68. Looking like a hero is a sure way to get attacked like a hero. I won’t let my hair stay soft and wavy, nor my teeth sparkling white and straight. I will do my best to hide or downplay my jaw if it is square or chiseled, will wear old, worn clothes, and will exhibit poor posture. If asked, I will intentionally sing off-key.
  69. If I am ever traveling and come to a fork in the road where either A) there is no signpost or B) the signpost has been mysteriously knocked over, I will not choose one path and follow it. I will backtrack, find a gas station and ask directions.
  70. If my dog, horse or other animal companion resists proceeding forward on our path, or shows a clear preference for a different route, I will remember that animal instinct is often keener than human instinct, and the animal in question probably knows something I don’t.
  71. If my compatriot suggests an alteration to our plans, I will not stubbornly insist that my plan is better. I will ask them to explain, in detail, why they believe their idea stands a better chance of succeeding. I will be open-minded about the explanation, and if they convince me, I will change the plan.
  72. I will never swear to avenge someone’s death, no matter how important they may have been to me. Vengeance is a dangerous path, and counseling will be a far more effective way of dealing with my grief than murder.
  73. Naïve, dainty girls are far more likely to need rescuing again and again, and therefore are completely unappealing to me. I prefer women who are intelligent, sharp-witted, worldly, physically fit and capable of matching or even beating me in a fight. Pride takes a distant second to a woman who is capable of saving my skin on occasion. In fact, if a girl is captured by the villain and puts up no resistance, she doesn’t cut it and probably never will. On the other hand, if she’s captured but manages to kick the villain in the unmentionables in the process, it could indicate that she simply needs some training in weaponry and hand-to-hand combat.
  74. If the villain and I declare a truce under any circumstances for any reason, I will remember that s/he is the villain, assume that the truce will be violated, and prepare for that eventuality. In addition, I will remember that the ends justify the means, and will violate the truce myself if enough can be gained from it, knowing that the villain will never expect it of me.
  75. In the event that any attractive woman performs a sensual dance around me while wearing skimpy clothing, I will keep my eyes on her hands and her eyes instead of the rest of her anatomy. She is either trying to pick my pocket, slide a knife between my ribs or distract me from the guy behind me.
  76. There are problems which cannot be solved by striking them with my sword, training up an army or wooing the girl. Therefore I will read and have intellectual conversations whenever I get the chance, to broaden my knowledge, in case I have to solve a riddle or crack a code.
  77. Just because flying monkeys or sharks with laser beams attached to their heads sound stupid and impractical, it doesn’t mean that the villain won’t have them.
  78. That guy who claims to have the same ideological views as me, but whose methods are violent and occasionally deadly? He’ll turn out to be the villain.
  79. If a villain arises with a fighting technique that is deadly and supposedly unbeatable, I won’t worry. It won’t be long until I am presented with the chance to learn the one technique capable of defeating him. After I’ve defeated him, I will teach my technique to at least a dozen more people. It might be needed again some day, and I don’t want to be the only one capable.
  80. “Fighting fair” is synonymous with “having a death wish”. The villain won’t be doing it—neither should I.
  81. If at any point while invading the villain’s fortress it becomes obvious that s/he knows I’m coming, I will not continue on to the center of the fortress, nor will I immediately attempt to escape. I will instead take a seemingly random route towards nothing in particular. I will only proceed or retreat when I am convinced that the villain is thoroughly confused by my actions.
  82. If I find myself needing to pass through a maze, I will first attempt to find alternatives to actually entering said maze: walking on the tops of the walls, breaking through the walls, flying over the entire thing, etc. If no other options are available, I will bring a compass, and remember the hand-on-the-wall trick. I will also remember that sometimes villains change the maze while you’re in it, just to piss you off.
  83. If I discover that I have a birthmark or scar in the shape of a crown, lightning bolt, or similarly prophetic symbol, I will go to any lengths to hide or remove it, up to and including makeup, magic, tattoos and hot irons. Fuck destiny.
  84. If the life of one of the villain’s minions is threatened by something other than myself, I will seriously consider saving him/her. Many minions, despite being evil, will nevertheless feel obligated to repay me a favor equal to a life debt.
  85. If anyone should unintentionally die through the indirect result of my actions, I will not let guilt gnaw at me or influence my future decisions. Accidents happen.
  86. Although flaming torches are often handy in dark passages and ancient tombs, and can be used as makeshift weapons, they are also vulnerable to being inconveniently extinguished, and can set fire to things that weren’t meant to be set on fire. Even if torches are readily available, I’ll stick to my trusty Maglite, and make certain to bring extra batteries.
  87. If I’m tracking an escaped prisoner known to be a brilliant but twisted individual, I will not arrogantly assume that I can outthink him. I will, however, start wearing Kevlar 24/7, and if possible I won’t go anywhere without at least a dozen armed guards.
  88. All security guards for any building in which I work will be required to have a GPS tracking chip implanted under their skin, and their every movement will be monitored. They will also each be equipped with a wireless headset, and will be required to check in to central command every five minutes with a private security code that will be changed every day and that they must memorize before they begin each shift.
  89. Every appointment, delivery or service for the building in which I work will be broadcast to every guard, along with the approximate time of said appointment; guards will be under strict instruction that if they run into a cleaning lady or window-washer for whom no appointment was scheduled, the guards are to immediately open fire.
  90. If time travel is a viable option for me, I will use it to defeat the villain immediately, rather than waiting until all hope seems lost. Also, I will not travel back to a crucial moment during our battle—I will travel back to when the villain was a bratty little eight-year-old and kill him then.
  91. If I am ever involved in a high-speed car chase, I will never pull my vehicle alongside the other vehicle, unless A) my vehicle outweighs the other by at least a factor of two, and B) I have absolute certainty that the other vehicle is not equipped with devices designed to puncture my tires, shoot flames at me or riddle me with bullets.
  92. If I am ever strapped to a nuclear bomb and left to die, I won’t panic. No one who is strapped to a nuclear bomb and left to die ever dies that way.
  93. Skin should only have a sheen from natural sweat. I won’t attempt to enhance the look; Crisco is a bitch to get out of leather.
  94. I will avoid the presence of babies at all costs. If introduced to one, I will be destined, someday, somewhere, to fight with one arm while protecting said baby with the other.
  95. Precocious little kids are slightly safer, as they never die. They do, however, occasionally turn out to be possessed of powerful, supernatural evil, so I will proceed with caution.
  96. You know that general rule that’s taught to kids, the one that says ‘Never go off alone anywhere with a stranger’? If you didn’t learn this lesson as a child, you won’t last long as a hero.
  97. If someone wants to present me with an award for my heroism, I will refuse. This is not so I’ll appear humble. The trophy is bound to be some evil talisman, and if there’s a ceremony, someone’s gonna die.
  98. I will never, ever, ever be the Tank.
  99. That young whippersnapper who’s supposed to be learning the trade from me? He’s gunning for my job, and that’s not a figure of speech.
  100. If I get on in years and have left the hero business, I will never, under any circumstances, allow myself to be convinced to come out of retirement. It’s an automatic death sentence.
Bart Leib is Co-owner and Editor of Crossed Genres SF/F magazine. He is also the founder of Genre Challenge, a genre writing challenge/charitable endeavor. He lives in Somerville, MA with his wife Kay and their son Bastian. When he’s not writing, editing or playing with his son, Bart is… sleeping. That’s all he has time for.

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