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:
- Villains kill themselves over and over.
- Heroes have journeyed for nothing.
- The artifact is hidden or destroyed.
- Or eventually the artifact is ignored.
Why do villains keep doing this?