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After asking this question, another question came to me ... why should my evil Necromancer Overlord depend on his minions? Why do evil characters rely upon their subordinates?

For example, in the manga Naruto, (warning major spoiler)

Black Zetsu is actually a agent of Kaguya, and has been trying to summon her for centuries. Same goes for other movies/books where the enemy is actually the agent of the Supreme Evil One, and is trying to wake them up.

My question is - why delegate that job to the minions? Lets assume that I know for sure my minion will not betray me, but he is not immortal ... if he gets killed then my plan to rise to dominance will fail. Why do immortal evil beings rely on their minions and not put some sort of magical alarm-clock?

(Give a answer stating why leaving the job to the minion is better, as opposed to some other reason. Also my evil overlord is sleeping in a well hidden place and has left the job of waking him up to his minions)

Note: That this question is only about the magical world where the Overlord has already gone to sleep and has left things to his minions, and the other people are wondering why

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    $\begingroup$ Most of my questions have been voted closed, so for those of you who want to close this .... could you please state why? I am willing to edit it ^_^ $\endgroup$ – King of Snakes Jun 30 '16 at 9:33
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    $\begingroup$ You're not an Evil Overlord until you have some evil to lord it over, you're just evil. Without minions you're just another generic bad guy. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 30 '16 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Separatrix And with them, you're a generic bad guy with a horde of cute little gibberish-talking yellow critters. $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Jun 30 '16 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Isn't that the point ? I've given the general guidelines, but I've left the rest for others to imagine for themselves. $\endgroup$ – King of Snakes Jul 1 '16 at 4:25
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    $\begingroup$ In some cases, providing general guidelines can make for a good question that produces good, objective answers. But the site simply isn't intended to help write stories or define the motivations of characters, just the society, culture, geography, etc. that they occur in. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Jul 1 '16 at 4:30

13 Answers 13

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1. Intel

You need a network of spies and informants to keep you updated. You can't learn / know everything you should just by yourself.

2. Visibility

Being the evil mastermind behind some scheme, you don't want to be found out. Using a screen (or several) of minions who only have need-to-know instructions, will keep you out of sight. You want a build-in system that ensures no one will betray you. This is similar to how a drug lord would run his network.

If someone has to take a fall, it better be a expendable minion, not yourself.

3. Meat (bones?) shield

You need someone to slow the heroes down when they come for you, so you can escape (or win). No better way than putting a ton of expendable minions between them and yourself.

This will also wear down heroes, making them tired, meaning you have a better chance of winning if they do reach you.

4. Self respect

What self respecting evil Overlord would do the dirty work if he can delegate it to lower beings? No need to assassinate someone if you can get someone else to do it.

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    $\begingroup$ Very good :) Especially the first and last points 👍 Though, Im going to wait for other answers $\endgroup$ – King of Snakes Jun 30 '16 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for self respect. Overlords gotta be overlording. Otherwise it's just Evil Todd. $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Jun 30 '16 at 9:59
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    $\begingroup$ @AmiralPatate : "My army is bigger than yours!" lol $\endgroup$ – King of Snakes Jun 30 '16 at 10:37
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    $\begingroup$ A lot of evil overlords want to be in charge, to have status, and dominate. Plus they usually have too many things going on to attend to them all themselves. $\endgroup$ – John Dallman Jun 30 '16 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ "You need someone to slow the heroes down when they come for you, so you can escape" - or perhaps don't give them the XP they need to kick your ass, and instead kick theirs as soon as they trespass your property. A ceiling-mounted machine gun turret will do against any melee PC if all doors in the lobby are locked. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Jul 1 '16 at 7:29
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The advantage of minions over the alarm clock is mainly adaptability. If you sleep for hundreds of years, changes might happen that you cannot predict - anything from a change in the magic field that disrupts your carefully woven spell, to pesky heroes getting in the way. An autonomous agent working with your interests in mind can adapt to and work around unexpected problems.

Of course, the downside to minions is that they might act incompetently, or even choose to betray you. That's why you have several minions working in concert, so they keep each other in line.

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    $\begingroup$ Also the powergrid may change so your alarm clock wouldn't be compatible anymore and you'd be stuck in eternal slumber. $\endgroup$ – Spikee Jun 30 '16 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ Unless you are Evil Hari Seldon. $\endgroup$ – Guran Jul 1 '16 at 7:24
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Two reasons: Time and Space.

Most evil overlords can only think or a limited number of things at a time. Similarly even with magic the number of places you can be at the same time is limited. Basically having minions to delegate to will easily increase your footprint in both time and space by orders of magnitude.

Most stories do not illustrate this very well since there is often one group of terrori.. heroes that the big bad really should be focussing on, that he could easily destroy, and who the story follows. But realistically there would be dozens of things to manage and keep track of that would be in widely separated locations.

Additionally the time of the mastermind is extremely valuable, he should be doing things only he can do, such as making his big master plan or casting that major ritual spell and delegate everything else to underlings. Even if the underlings will fail to do things that would have been trivial to the overlord, the things the overlord was actually doing instead should be vastly more valuable, than getting those lesser things done.

Getting tangled in trivia also makes the overlord easier to track and more vulnerable to countermeasures. The overlord should be either in his secure stronghold or moving freely and unpredictably. Spending few weeks or even mere days managing matters that could have been arranged by his enemies and that his minions should be able to handle is foolish.

Incidentally, most management manuals will probably give people in management similar advise about the value of delegating as much as possible. It is even an well established tenet of political philosophy to do things at the lowest and hence least expensive level possible. Lowest level will typically be also the most local, which usually increase efficiency.

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The minions are unionized.

The Sleeping Evil has had everything he needs automated for a long time. But the real evil of the world, a.k.a. policticians, are a bunch of neoluddites or whatever, and they have an agenda with the minion labour unions. The Sleeping Evil has no choice, for if he does not hire a minimum amount of help, the Council of Evil will make sure he never wakes up again.

Alternatively, the Overlord just feels ronery in general, and would enjoy some company once he woke up.

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    $\begingroup$ Tremendous answer here $\endgroup$ – Dent7777 Jun 30 '16 at 13:11
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I think the dark lord would be dumb to not have a back-up alarm clock, just in case the minion dies.

But it's really hard to keep up on world events when you're sleeping, and there might be a certain set of circumstances that the dark lord is waiting for.

I mean, when it is prophesied that sometime in the next 100 years "a child will be born with hair of gold and a birthmark like an elephant which will be able to open the door of eternal night" that's great and all, but who wants to wait around for that to happen. But since you don't know exactly when it will happen you can't just set an alarm. So you have your minions and spies watching for the prophesied event so they can wake you, otherwise there's no telling how long it will be before the next opportunity will arise.

Another reason to have minions is as a backup insurance policy. Say the hero gets the drop on the dark lord and manages to imprison him in a crystal for eternity. Without a few faithful minions with hammers standing by the dark lord would be out of luck.
And since you have to have a few minions anyway, isn't it nicer to have someone with a cup of coffee and a breakfast tray gently waking you, instead of the BEEP BEEP BEEP of an alarm clock?

On a side note as requested in chat, I can think of a few examples of alarm clocks; where the stars have to come into alignment or some other predictable event happens to awaken the dark lord. It could even be a semi natural process, like a egg/cocoon that just opens when process is done.
Lastly, it might just be a magic spell that doesn't need any outside inputs. The magical equivalent of

sleep(100 years);  
awakenMe();

Edit:
Another reason! You know how groggy you are in the morning, where you can hardly get your eyes to stay open, and I can't push snooze because my hand is all pins and needles from laying on it? Well, it's a lot worse when you've been asleep for decades. That would be a horrible time to have the hero drop in unannounced, yelling and swinging his sword around. A few minions around to perform the rite of awakening will also be able to keep the hero busy and give you a few extra seconds to limber up and get the dark energy flowing.

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The "Dark Lord School of Management" is based on employing people who are too dumb to realise that the Dark Lord is clearly evil and should be opposed. The great advantage of such employees is that any plans they make to overthrow you will be terrible, and easily spotted and defeated.

The downside of this school is that your minions are idiots and you have to do all the thinking yourself. However, if you're already convinced that everyone around you is a fool, this method is the obvious way to do anything, and it does let you get useful work out of idiots.

Sadly, that last advantage seems to recommend the method to people in the real world, who end up acting like Dark Lords.

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In the example you gave, Naruto, there wasn't much choice. She didn't have many options, it was a desperation exercise.

Other factors:

Reliability - If you are sealed away e.t.c. but have a magical alarm clock, what happens if someone who is watching over your seal finds it and dispels it? Whoops. Building up a cult or number of followers who are following you from enlightened self-interest (power/money) is at the very least a useful backup.

Why rely on any one point of failure when you can have many watching over each other?

Also just because your magic is powerful, that doesn't mean it can do everything. There are going to be areas which are shielded from various forms of magic (scrying/teleportation), where it is far easier to use a sentient agent as a spy instead.

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    $\begingroup$ Good answer ! Also, people are not supposed to know that she didn't have a option $\endgroup$ – King of Snakes Jun 30 '16 at 13:43
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In most fiction, the Overlord isn't all powerful or is in a weakened state. Even immortality has it's caveats: is it simply one cannot die from injury but still ages, cannot die from age but can die from injury, or cannot be killed but they have an otherwise normal body such that they can still be dismembered and scattered but still live?

Not being all powerful, the Overlord has to operate in secret. There's always a hero or some yin/yang force opposed to the Overlord that requires an agent or hidden cult to counter them.

Let's face it, an all powerful Overlord makes for a boring story: Chapter 1, the Overlord enslaved reality with a mere thought. The End. There's no conflict, and you can't have conflict if one side is completely superior in all regards. Even a complete underdog needs to be able to inflict a wound in defiance. In addition, in most games, the protagonist has to work his way through the ranks of trash mobs to get items/experience. It's a very short game if it starts you on the final boss.

Examples below:

Lord of the Rings: Sauron was weakened after losing the ring (shouldn't have been on the front line to begin with and lose it against Isildur, minions!). If he were to just storm out of Mordor, whoever he was pursuing with the ring would likely value over their own life over the charms of the ring and toss it in Mt. Doom to survive. He needed agents until he could find and corner them.

The Call of Cthulu: Immortal alien slumbering at the bottom of the sea in R'lyeh, demigods shouldn't need minions right? Time is relative to an immortal, after a couple billion years, that magic equinox that only lasts one night is a very very tiny window of time. There's also the issue of many of the elder gods not being used to Earth-rational physics and need to get a feel for walking in a universe with thermodynamics. Also to consider, being a giant elder god, humanity is kind of like ants in an anthill. Would you scoop through the entire anthill structure for those artifacts/annoying inspectors/would-be heroes or would you control ants to go about and do it for you?

Overlord (Light Novel): Ainz Ooal Gown may be all powerful in regard to his opponents, but he doesn't know that. For all he knows, the world he awakens from his slumber in could have a stronger hero on some other continent who hasn't hunted him down solely because the hero doesn't know he's there/awake. First thing Ainz does is gather minions for intelligence and labor.

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One option may be that The Necromancer simply has no other choice.

But in stories you usually don't want "the good guys facing the big boss at first", that will limit your progression so consider it not like a decision of The Necromancer itself but as a narrative device.

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Oftentimes, the Evil Overlord isn't "sleeping" by choice or in control of the circumstances of their isolation. As a result, they are forced to rely on methods to wake themselves up that have the potential to misfire, including relying on minions.

A couple of examples:

In the Artemis Fowl franchise, the primary recurring antagonist, Opal, is a fairy who is involved in multiple conspiracies. When her first conspiracy is uncovered, she is imprisoned.

From prison, she's able to organize a plot with her followers to break her out by swapping herself with a clone.

So Opal escapes prison, but because she wasn't in full control of the circumstances that put her in jail, she was forced to rely on her minions.


In The Legend of Zelda franchise, Ganondorf (or his power) is frequently sealed into a magical alternate dimension at the beginning of a game. In order to escape, he tricks Link into taking the Master Sword, which invariably breaks the seal. Undoubtedly, Ganondorf would have taken the sword himself if he could have, but again, he wasn't able to orchestrate the circumstances that kept his magic in check.


In Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, Mario and co. battle the X-Nauts, an evil organization that is trying to resurrect

a powerful demon that was sealed away a thousand years in the past after losing a war against humanity.

The monster the X-Nauts are waking up isn't even orchestrating their efforts - it lost a previous fight and has been locked up with no contact with the outside world whatsoever! It's fortunate that some extremists believe that waking it up will serve their purposes. Otherwise, it would probably never have a chance to return.

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One commonly given reason is to eat them.

That is, to be awakened/brought back, requires a sacrifice. The blood of an X, a receptacle body to inhabit, a wife, the life force of another in order to give enough energy to materialize, whatever. The evil bad guy is not able to awaken without this, so cannot kill the X on his own.

In some cases (wife, inhabitable body, nonfatal blood donation) the sacrifice might be a willing minion; otherwise, it's someone the minions catch and drag in.

Either way, there's an unavoidable dependence on minion loyalty.

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A magical clock can only wake the Overlord at a specific time.

Minions, however, can wake him up when the conditions are ideal for him to fulfill his plan, based on what they have been taught by the Overlord.

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  • $\begingroup$ No more grumpy Overlord. $\endgroup$ – SoftDev Jun 5 '18 at 11:08
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Destroying the world is a big task. Specially, when you have lot of Super Heros roaming around.

If you compare number of Super Heros to Super Villains you will find that Super Heros out number Super Villains. So the reasons of hiring the subordinates are :

  1. Hire subordinates which alternate powers
  2. Hire a Large number of subordinates to involve Super Hero(s) with them while destroying the world
  3. Boast your power on your Subordinates to feel good.

I hope that answers your question.

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