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An evil overlord for whatever reason hears about a powerful artifact that would make him unstoppable. Because of this he scours the land to find it. Due to lacking manpower he turns his attention to villages, cities and nations. Leaving fear and destruction in his wake the overlord strengthens his forces and his influence. Surviving victims (mostly orphans) swear revenge and journey to stop him, making unlikely alliances on the way. Finally the time of the final confrontation is at hand. The heroes have almost stopped the overlord. Allas they are too late the evil overlord brandishes the ultimate power and... POOF! No more villain.

On retrospect this trope is the ideal way of executing a karmic death. Overwhelming power is a very good tempter and goal for characters including villains. However you have to agree that it invalidates the accomplishments and necessity of heroes. Why do we need a chosen one when the big bad is going to die regardless? Suddenly the stakes drop and the artifact of power becomes just a glorified bug zapper. This is exactly why we have senile old men in taverns giving warnings about overwhelming power.

Why would villains even go after such dangerous items knowing it could kill them?! Have they not head the legends?

Actually... they probably have which is why they underwent such drastic measures in the first place. But any wise villain would eventually learn that going after something so powerful would be a wasted effort. Just look at Bob who died last week from the artifact despite being the most prominent dark lord. Even the heroes who journeyed so long to obtain that power and witness its overwhelming power realise that it is best untouched. Something like "Its's too powerful. Lets seal it away for good measure." will be uttered. Only to 1000 years later spur a legend which starts the whole process again. (Destroying the artifact is also an option.)

This is problematic for multiple reasons:

  1. Villains kill themselves over and over.
  2. Heroes have journeyed for nothing.
  3. The artifact is hidden or destroyed.
  4. Or eventually the artifact is ignored.

Why do villains keep doing this?

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  • $\begingroup$ Relevant: darwinawards.com. Super villains are not exempt from it. $\endgroup$ Oct 31 '21 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ Questions about motivation aren't a good fit for this site. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 31 '21 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings Acknowledged. But it’s also a logic problem that ruins (at least for me) many stories. $\endgroup$ Oct 31 '21 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ I'm sorry that it detracts from your enjoyment of stories this isn't the place for your question because 1. We're not here to talk existing works of fiction. 2. We're not here to talk about the motivations of individuals. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 31 '21 at 21:55
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    $\begingroup$ If you link to similar queries about character motivation, I can try to explain, most likely we missed the question or it was an old question that wouldn't be acceptable under current policy and we'll close it to prevent confusion to new members. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 1 '21 at 8:58
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Several reasons.

The artifact requires preparation to use.

The artifact needs some sort of manufactured item to safely use, like the infinity gauntlet. You can use it without doing any prep, but there's a high risk of death.

The villain knew this, but with the arrival of the hero imminent felt the risk of the artifact was less than the risk of a duel.

The artifact has lesser powers you can use without a full bonding which lead to death.

You can use the artifact for some lesser things. Perhaps the ambient magic can power devices, or grant you some boost.

These, however, will slowly kill the villain. As such, if they're in a desperate situation they'll tend to tap more and more of the power till they die.

The artifact can only be used by one strong of will.

Evil villains tend to be surrounded by yes men who will praise them to high heavens. As such, surely they will be the one to master it, unlike all the others.

But they're not actually strong willed enough.

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  • $\begingroup$ Please don't answer off topic questions. It makes it harder for someone to edit the question to be a better fit because we have a rule that questions shouldn't be edited in a way that invalidates pre-existing answers. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 1 '21 at 3:14
  • $\begingroup$ Previous posts about the species of villain's motivations in repeating some strange course of action have been allowed. worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/180081/… which makes it tricky to tell what is off topic and what is not. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Nov 1 '21 at 9:13
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Because they have nothing. They feel like, with nothing to lose, the downside (they lose everything) isn't all that much of a downside, since they don't have anything worth losing to begin with.

If they turn out to be one of the lucky few, great. If not, they lost something they mostly already lost beforehand, so they don't really even care.

Extremely dangerous artifacts known for killing basically anyone that touches them would appeal to the poor, the downtrodden, the orphaned, the marginalized, those desperate for vengeance at any price. People for whom their own death offers an end to suffering. Even better if the artifact gives them a chance to go postal and make others pay for wronging them.

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  • $\begingroup$ Please don't answer off topic questions. It makes it harder for someone to edit the question to be a better fit because we have a rule that questions shouldn't be edited in a way that invalidates pre-existing answers. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 1 '21 at 3:15
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Pride

You don't get to be an evil overlord by thinking little of yourself. All those other villains failed? Pfft. Petty little souls, thinking they could ape YOUR abilities.

Besides, you may have used several artifacts in the course of building up your power base. This is one more. Perhaps a little more rushed than the ones before because of that "chosen one" but then you have had practice now.

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  • $\begingroup$ Please don't answer off topic questions. It makes it harder for someone to edit the question to be a better fit because we have a rule that questions shouldn't be edited in a way that invalidates pre-existing answers. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 1 '21 at 3:15
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Because villainy is an inherent trait. Say your villainy expresses itself in the fact that you get off on torturing and killing people. If you want to keep on doing this, you have basically two options. Either you try to fly under the radar (like most serial killers) limiting yourself to a few opportunities where you're not likely to be caught, or you try to become so powerful that no one dares to stop you.

We can certainly find a good many real-world examples among people who seize (or inherit) dictatorial power.

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  • $\begingroup$ Please don't answer off topic questions. It makes it harder for someone to edit the question to be a better fit because we have a rule that questions shouldn't be edited in a way that invalidates pre-existing answers. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 1 '21 at 3:15
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings: Please provide me with a crystal ball, so I'll know in advance when you (expletives omitted_) people are going to arbitrarily decide for me that a question is off topic. FWIW, it seems on topic to me, more so than a good many others. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Nov 1 '21 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ You have been empowered to be involved with community moderation efforts on this site. If you feel that there are questions that are off topic and should be closed, please do your part to either improve them, or close them. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Nov 1 '21 at 17:43

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