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How does a protagonist beat an antagonist that knows the future?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by CloudIX, Mar 1, 2021.

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  1. CloudIX

    CloudIX Dreamer

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    If the antagonist knows everything that the protagonist will think and do before the protagonist even knows himself, how can he be defeated?
     
  2. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    I'm not a fan of prophecy like that. Actual tactics and strategy is more impressive.
     
  3. CloudIX

    CloudIX Dreamer

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    I'm asking what the strategy would be to defeat an antagonist like this. If it were a prophecy, the answer would just be, "You don't."
     
  4. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    There's always a way. I'm reading a webtoon where the villain dreams what will happen naturally over the course of the next day, then when she wakes up she immediately makes plans to alter the day to her whims. She's defeated after a spy starts sending out copies of her daily plans, giving her enemies most of the day to best her.

    In another example, the character can rewind time by about five minutes at the push of a button, so he knows what you're about to do and can respond. But he still doesn't know what he can't see, and while he's distracted by the MC, another attacker gets him from behind.

    Going by those examples, you'd tinker with the rules for just how the future forecast works, and you'd look for ways to sabotage them. It might not even take much if you consider how much confidence you'd have if you think you've seen the future.
     
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  5. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    It depends on what you mean by “beat”.

    Given that I lack a lot of context here, I’d assume the most sure fire way to beat this villain would be to allow them to defeat themselves. Perhaps, there could be some way to place this villain in an unavoidable no-win scenario.
    And I’d assume that someone who knows the future, in complete detail, probably wouldn’t be very psychologically stable so I’d wager they’d have some psychological weaknesses that could be exploited.

    This also reminds me a little of the Legacy of Kain video games where the two main antagonists were a (mostly) omniscient sorcerer who experiences time nonlinearly and an omnipresent deity who may as well be omniscient. The main characters of those games were able to beat the villains by exploiting the mechanics of their universe and how time and fate works in the setting.
    So, echoing Devor: there’s always a way.
     
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  6. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

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    Make the protagonist do something that he normally wouldn't do.

    For instance, say that the antagonist gets the protagonist in a position where he has to choose between saving the love of his life or defeat the antagonist. The antagonist knows that the protagonist would never sacrifice the love of his life. But then he does (for instance because she/he begs the protagonist to do so). Or the protagonist never kills or he would never give up his own life or some other boundary he would never cross.

    Of course it very much depends on how the antagonist knows the future. If he really knows exactly what will happen, then there is no free will and no way to avoid whatever the outcome is. That means the antagonist already knows if he will be beaten or not. In that case, the protagonist will simply win or not based on how good his plan is and how much the antagonist can do against that plan.

    If there is free will and possibilities, then just have the protagonist go for the unlikely options.

    One thing to watch out for in such a story is the "dumb supervillain" issue. If your antagonist knows everything that will happen and he knows exactly who has a chance of beating him and how, then he can easily solve that, assuming he's stronger than the protagonist at the start of the story and has no problem with killing. Don't have your antagonist send wave after wave of minions who only help the protagonist practise and get stronger or more support. You need a reason why such an all-powerful antagonist doesn't end the story on page one. After all, if he knows everything, then he will just walk up to the protagonist first sentence, shoot him and live happily ever after being the supervillain he is.
     
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  7. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    Use their ego against them. Anyone with that ability is going to get pretty confident, then cocky, next will come arrogant and followed by complacent and sloppy. Or give them two mutually exclusive versions of the future that are equally likely and equally dangerous to them.
    Or limit the resources available to them. I might know what X is going to do and think but if I have no power to affect the outcome what good will it do me.
     
  8. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

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    I don't like playing around with prophecy. It doesn't make sense to me, because we create our own futures. But here is my advice for if you do.
    I would think that your antagonist would most likely either see different paths of the future, or just the most likely path. If the former, then they could plan for anything and be unbeatable. If the latter, they are easier to beat because they don't know every possible outcome, but still more difficult than a typical villain.
     
  9. Electric Bone Flute

    Electric Bone Flute Minstrel

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    What else can they do aside from seeing the future? A frail old man that has made enemies all his life whose location became public yesterday who can see everything that happens tomorrow will spend the day foreseeing himself being beaten to death for a day, then being beaten.
     
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  10. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Sage

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    I have a mind-reading antagonist too. Here's how I go about it:
    My heroine is of the trickster variety, kind of like a female version of Gollum. She is delusional, but somewhat in control of her delusions. The story starts with her looting a rotten corpse, utterly convinced it's a scarecrow. She is also suffering from the attack of a Mindleech, some of which is still inside her head.
    Now, she arrange a duel with the mind-reading antagonist, who is blind. She is, she finally realize, the last of her kind, and wants to go down in history giving her ill-reputed kin a blast of glory, by going up against the the mind-reader only armed with a knife. Preparing herself, she bathes and dresses herself in in the new clothing she had tailored. No matter the costs, she tells herself, she will stick to the role of the honorable.
    The duel starts off badly, with her embarassing herself with a rhyming monologue. Nobody does that anymore. Then, the antagonist flatly states that it was a clever trick of hers, convincing herself that the sword she is holding was a knife.
    He called her bluff. She meekly begs for mercy. This is denied. This scares her so immensely that she pisses herself. Because, now she has only one horrible option. She takes her hand up to the back of her head, forcing her finger through the soft spot where the skull is missing, the place where the Mindleech resides. It wakes up, taking over her mind.
    Now, mind-reading something like that is kinda like looking at the sun though a telescope. I'm not sure exactly how to write the actual fight, but it's going to be rather trippy. It ends with her coming down bleeding and an eye short, the dead mindreader sodomized with his own weapon and the audience greatly shocked. So she won, but didn't exactly help her kins legacy.
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2021
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  11. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Auror

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    I went about it in a rather simple way. A protagonist simply broke prophecy and far sight altogether. Which may not be entirely attainable in your world, but I based it a little off of the Golden Path set down in by Leto II in the Dune Series. Just without the several thousand year tyranny by a god ruling sandworm dude.
     
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  12. LAG

    LAG Minstrel

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    Outsourcing.
     
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  13. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Sage

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    There's two ways to go about it:
    The antagonist sees everything 100% perfectly, but there are limits to it. In Thats So Raven she only sees a few seconds without any context, so it's easy to assume the wrong thing is happening. Diavolo can see several seconds into the future and then "erase time" to prevent certain things from happening, so he can't stop something years down the road, just the immediate future. Paul Atreides sees the multiple branching paths of the future and his actions "choose" one of the paths to come true. However, he is still aware of the various ways things can go wrong (he can die, humanity goes extinct) and those cause significant distress. There's also certain people/places in the Dune universe that's immune to being seen in this way, so there's still stuff he can't see at all.

    Or...your antagnoist sees his own doom and there's nothing he can do about it. If he sees a giant meteor is going to hit the planet and kill EVERYTHING, what can he do to stop it? Probably nothing, so what does he do with that information? How does that affect his mental state?

    You said your antag sees/knows everything that the protog can do....is it ONLY the protag? If so, then someone else could do the beating of the bad guy, the protog would just be a distraction....this would require the protag to be kept in the dark, of course, which could make some interesting challenges to the structure of your story. If you only showed things from the protag's POV then them being set up to fail/die so someone else can win can be taken really poorly, since it's a bait and switch. But if you have multiple POV characters and you see everyone else building up the hero to be the special exception for the bad guy's powers and will save the day, then that can be really interesting, though you'll have to be careful with how information is dispensed so the reader feels the way you want them to about the hero's "free will."

    But if your antag can see/know everything about everyone and aneverything....then can you really make an interesting story out of it? You might be able to pull something out of your butt to beat the power, like they did in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, but it probably won't go over very well. Dumb, OP powers being beaten by newer, even dumber and OPer powers isn't very satisfying and your hero wins because the plot says they have to. It works in JJBA because the ridiculousness is the point of it, but they're the exception, not the rule. Maybe there is a literal deus ex machina that beats the baddie, but again, is that going to be interesting to the reader? Will that be satisfying?

    You can do anything as a writer, including your proposed villain powers if you want. However, if you're going to do something weird/different you need to do a dang good job executing it for it to work. Fantasy stories are about heroes triumphing over evil, especially against impossible odds. Gaining new powers to beat the baddie is expected. Creating a story where our heroes literally have no hope of winning, where someone/thing literally outside of the story (such as capital g God) can work if you have a purpose for it. Are you making a commentary on the ridiculousness of these mythologies and stories? Are you subverting expectations of both the readers and your genre-savvy characters? Or do you just want a super-duper OP villain because you think it's cool? You need to ask yourself these questions before you get too deep in your draft because the answers will be the muscles and bones of your story.
     
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  14. CloudIX

    CloudIX Dreamer

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    I think the easier but less exciting ways are to either wait until he dies naturally, destroy the planet and everybody on it at the same time so that he cannot escape, or to somehow convince him to kill himself.

    If we're thinking about the future as realistically as possible, then it is a set thing just like the past and present. No matter what you do in the present to change the future, whatever you just changed the future to is still the future that only happens once and was always going to be. Obviously, if you can see the future and try to change it, this would cause a paradox since the future you saw wasn't actually the future if you changed it. If you'd actually seen the future then you would've seen whatever you'd changed it to. So if our antagonist can actually see the future, then he has no choice but to do exactly what he knows he will do, otherwise he would be trapped in a never ending paradox. So, you could get them to do something that will get them killed to avoid paradox.

    Another way, even though our antagonist can see into the future doesn't mean he can see into the past. So we could have our protagonist travel into the past, and kill his parents before he's born. But that's not exactly exciting. So instead, let's say our antagonist is 30 in the present. Protagonist travels to the past to when antagonist is 20, and try to get him convicted of a crime. Protag plants drugs in his house at 8am and calls the police on him at 9am. Assuming Antag still knows what I'm thinking and doing, he removes the drugs before the police get there. So I travel further into the past by one week. I call the police and tell them that one week later, someone will call them about drugs in Antag's house, and that they need to arrive by 8am. A week later, I have someone else plant drugs in Antag's house so that he doesn't know where they are. Antag can't find the drugs and the police get there and arrest him. Protag makes sure he can't bail out, breaks into the jail, and kills Antag while he's trapped. Then Protag returns to the present. It's a little convoluted but still fun, and you can change up a lot of the setting and character's to be set in a similar plot in fantasy.

    My favorite way though is to think about it like chess. Find a way to defeat him that he cannot counter even though he sees it coming. He's still human after all. Protag just needs to put enough constraints on him and barrage him with something unavoidable. In chess, the best players can anticipate your every move far enough into the future as to be effectively infinite, but they can still lose. You just exploit the rules of the game in such a way as to successively limit their options until they're captured or killed. (We'll forget about draws for this.) Protag must organize the environment with insurmountable boundaries to confine Antag to a limited space. Antag cannot counter this because he has to physically be somewhere, and you simply limit the space he's in. They know the boundaries exist, but to counter these boundaries after they exist, they'd have to sneak past you, hide within the boundaries, or move past the boundaries as they are being constructed. So to counter his counter, the space should be wide and open. You might even have other people constructing an insurmountable boundary around your insurmountable boundary. This could also be something like a large valley or canyon that he's herded into. Protag then must organize as many people as possible that support him and oppose Antag. After that, limit Antag's options and impose rules that he cannot avoid. Protag can have a constant search party looking for Antag, have people constantly be on the lookout. Overwhelm his ability to do anything about being seen and caught. Limit food, water, and shelter in the confined space so that he cannot stay in one place. At this point, you could starve him until he's too weak to move, and/or once he's found, have everybody surround him to reduce his moves even further. If you have to, you could set the place he's in on fire, or level the place with gunfire/magic, and force him out. Eventually, his space will be so limited that he cannot move. If he reveals himself, kill him while your goons hold him down. If he doesn't come out, sift through the wreckage until you find him and make sure he's dead. If he somehow evaded you, go back to setting up boundaries and start over.
     
  15. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    Let me preface this whole post by saying that I'm only poking holes in your suggestion to point-out how ridiculous this "perfectly clairvoyant villain" premise is and not to discredit or mock your suggestions...
    1. If the villain needs to be "beat", we can assume what they are doing means that they need to be stopped so waiting until they die is out of the question.
    2. The villain would foresee the planet being destroyed and will either stop you or escape.
    3. The villain would foresee the attempt at convincing them to kill himself and would prepare accordingly. Possible by killing himself but possibly not.

    From the villain's perspective, this paradox would just be a faulty prediction on his part. If he foresees himself doing something he wouldn't want to do - such as a scenario that leads to his death - he would likely opt not to do that and accept his prediction as wrong.

    To use the chess metaphor: if the villain knows with full certainty that he would lose the game should he play, he would choose not to play.
    Going to your proposed scenario: the villain would know of the protagonists plan to corner him in before the protagonists can enact it. He would know of the trap before it is set or even conceived of and would then take actions to avoid or sabotage it.
     
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  16. CloudIX

    CloudIX Dreamer

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    I welcome any and all criticism.

    1. This was more of a direct answer to the question, not a wise story decision.
    2. You forgot one word. He will TRY to either stop me or escape. I say he cannot escape unless you introduce space travel or some other way to get off the planet, and I was going off only the information in my premise.
    3. Same answer as number one. Though he could do more than foresee my attempts. He could foresee my success or failure. If he foresaw my success then there's nothing he could do to prepare. If he foresaw my failure, then he doesn't have to prepare. If he kills himself anyway, then I wouldn't even have to convince him to do it.

    From my premise, he sees the future, so he does not make predictions let alone faulty predictions. He cannot foresee himself doing something he wouldn't want to do and opt not to do it because if he foresaw it, it will happen. Otherwise, it wasn't the future he foresaw and the future will surprise him, which cannot happen because he knows the future, hence the paradox, and not being able to opt out.

    This is pretty much the same answer as the last one if we're still working with the paradox. However, if not, even if the villain knows with full certainty that he would lose, which he of course would since he knows the future, and tries not to play doesn't mean that I couldn't box him in if I know where he is. He still has a physical body and would need to be somewhere. He could forever be running away (which is kind of a form of defeat, but we'll say we're looking to end him) but then that would make the world/continent/wherever he could run to the boundary, and I could again just destroy the planet/continent/area he's in. If he wanted to stop me, he'd have to stop running and try to prevent me from doing so which gives me more options. Either way, I could have everybody I organize to help me trap him or kill him. Having other people help me would especially give me the advantage since he does not know what they're thinking or doing even if he does know the future and even if he knows I organized them. The trick is to limit his options to either running away from me or confronting me. With enough people, I can make it impossible to run and I'll eventually trap him, and impossible to win against me in a confrontation with so many people on my side.

    Of course, since he knows the future, none of it really matters. If he knows he will die, then he knows it is all futile. If he knows he will survive, then he's only going through the motions until I'm beaten. It's just fun to think about. This scenario is set up purposely for both people to always have a possible edge on the other person because you could always think of something that either side could do to counter the other.

    There's also another way if I can travel to the past and not worry about a paradox. Since he only knows the future and not the past. Just go back in time and kill his parents, or even kill him yesterday lol
     
  17. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    So the villain can’t base his own actions off of what he foresees and is every bit the victim of predetermination as the protagonist?

    That would have been worthwhile information to include in the first post. It also makes his clairvoyance a totally worthless power. I mean, he knows what moves the enemy will make but will do nothing to stop it because he knows it.

    I mean, does that protagonist even need to create a strategy when the outcome is already determined. He may as well ask the villain how things will turn out in chapter one and then just sit back and let the “story” play out.
    I think all this business with time travel and paradoxes are just making this scenario needlessly complicated.
    I see it less that the two characters are equally capable and more that they are equally powerless.
     
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  18. CloudIX

    CloudIX Dreamer

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    If you take into account my paradox, sure.

    If I'd mentioned it in the first post and added it to the premise then people wouldn't be able to come up with their own stuff. The whole point of me coming up with the paradox in just one of my examples was to make his clairvoyance worthless. It's not like you have to follow suit lol.

    It's a plot, not a story. You were supposed to give your own perception around the premise or give examples/whatever you wanted to do, not expect me to give you a story. Only one of my examples took into account the paradox, and in another, I laid out both scenarios; one with the paradox, the other without. It was supposed to be fun. It's fine if you don't like what I came up with around the premise. I made it logical and complicated because that's what I thought was most interesting. Make your own plot around the premise, or don't. That's the point.
     
  19. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    You probably should have mentioned the point of this thread in the first post.
    I jumped to the conclusion that this was one of those “I want to do this thing in a story but I’m not sure how to make it work” kind of threads.
     
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  20. CloudIX

    CloudIX Dreamer

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    Actually, this does have to do with a book that I'm writing, but also this is the writing discussion forum. So there were two points to this thread. Everything I wanted from this thread is in the first post. I never alluded to anything specific to make you conclude that this was a "I want to do this thing in a story but I'm not sure how to make it work," but it's also okay that you did. I just wanted other people's perspectives so I'm not sure why I would need to give any specific reason for it. I'm not sure why you have an issue with it either. You could post whatever you want, and it seems like you're mad that I didn't tell you what to post about. It's not that big a deal. I appreciated your input either way.

    Edit: Btw, I haven't thought about the Legacy of Kain games in over a decade. They were awesome.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2021
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