Will Graham: I thought you might enjoy the challenge. Find out if you're smarter than the person I'm looking for.Someone, perhaps The Hero, has to deal with an Ax-Crazy character who is more than a match for them...if it weren't for the fact that said Ax-Crazy character is of course insane in a way that can be exploited. (by a Guile Hero in particular). Is the villain suffering from a Split Personality? Well, turn the multiple personalties against each other, the villain will be completely ineffective as they squabble and fight for control. Is the villain's problem a Complexity Addiction? Appeal to his ego; simply killing the hero with the pull of a trigger or a swing of an axe probably isn't grandiose enough for him. Is the villain a gambling addict? Challenge him to a game of chance, he won't be able to resist. What about the remorseless, sadistic Psychopathic Manchild who kills For the Evulz? Even he will grovel sobbingly at the feet of the guy who holds his favorite teddy bear hostage. A Blood Knight hopelessly addicted to fighting? He won't kill you and will probably hold himself back or even deliberately give you an advantage at some point because killing you or winning by an overwhelming margin is no fun. Particularly bad case of Hair-Trigger Temper? You can easily get them to do something incredibly stupid in a blind rage without even really trying. On those rare occasions when an Ax-Crazy villain becomes Bored with Insanity and turns sane again, the new-found sanity may throw our heroes for a loop when they make their plans... Compare Not Worth Killing and The Blofeld Ploy. Contrast Power Born of Madness, where insanity has its advantages too.
Hannibal Lecter: Then, by implication, you think you're smarter than I am, since it was you who caught me.
Will Graham: No, I know I'm not smarter than you.
Hannibal Lecter: Then how did you catch me?
Will Graham: You had... disadvantages.
Hannibal Lecter: What disadvantages?
Will Graham: You're insane.
Hannibal Lecter: Then, by implication, you think you're smarter than I am, since it was you who caught me.
Will Graham: No, I know I'm not smarter than you.
Hannibal Lecter: Then how did you catch me?
Will Graham: You had... disadvantages.
Hannibal Lecter: What disadvantages?
Will Graham: You're insane.
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Anime & Manga
- Cowboy Bebop: Spike is cornered by Nigh Invulnerable Mad Pierrot, but is saved by Mad Pierrot's paralyzing fear of cats. In the episode's climax he is saved by Pierrot's childishly low threshold for pain.
- A so-called "invincible technique" in Ranma ˝, the Cat Fist, induces an Unstoppable Rage in its user that boosts speed and reflexes, as well as giving "ki claws" that can cut through anything... but since he acts and thinks like a kitten, he can be distracted by toys and games. Even Kunō figures out this weakness within seconds of witnessing the Cat Fist in action. Not only that, it takes considerable time for Ranma's fear to reach the necessary level, which means he (or she, as the case may be) is simply running around, completely open, unable to fight back until it kicks in... a perfect target for anyone who is aware of what's happening and has the skill to capitalize on it. In fact, the only time that the Cat Fist has been an actual advantage is the climax of the Phoenix Pill saga, where Ranma uses it to catch Cologne off-guard: most likely, as an Old Master who may well have been one of the people who proclaimed the Nekoken to be Harmful to Minors, she doubted anyone would be stupid enough to teach it in this day and age, nevermind the trainee actually being willing to use that training.
It's notable that teaching this technique involves covering the student in fish and throwing them in a hole with a buttload of hungry cats. The book in which Genma found the technique even points out that the technique is effectively useless (because of all the reasons above) and was only included as a historical curiosity. If only Genma'd turned the page and read that part... In the manga the page with the insanity warning and how useless the Cat Fist is was stuck to another page, keeping Genma from noticing it.
- Dragon Ball Super: In contrast to the completely insane Frieza, Frost, for all his cruelty and grievances, appears to use his head and control his emotions rather than let them get the best of him in the heat of the moment and, for the most part, ends up much better off for it. Whereas Frieza literally gets himself killed months after his revival, Frost is able to survive for over a year as a fugitive upon losing everything he had. Even as a villain, Frost is mainly driven by profit and is a No-Nonsense Nemesis rather than enjoying wanton death and destruction and drawing out fights.
- Johan on Monster is a frighteningly effective criminal even while insane. If he had been sane enough to not attempt to commit a perfect suicide by eliminating all evidence of his existence before goading someone into killing him, he probably would have been unstoppable. On the other hand he's still alive and apparently free.
- Used a few times in Black Lagoon. Though, it varies. Sawyer the Cleaner is defeated in her first appearance when she drops her Audiovox, causing her to drop into a near-catatonic depression. The Twins are absolutely brutal in combat, but due to their madness and bloodlust have absolutely no grasp of the bigger picture and are led into a trap that Bailailaka even comments a sane person would never have fallen for. On the other hand, when Revy snaps and goes into Whitman Fever mode, she becomes ruthlessly effective. However, she's easily distracted by a room full of unarmed, surrendering people, and won't stop until she killed everyone in her path, no matter what. Ruthless, yes, but a waste of ammunition and time while at the same time attracting unneeded attention, which is the reason Dutch calls her out on it.
- In Bleach, after Aizen fuses with the Hogyoku, he proclaims that he is a god and throws away all the tactics that had previously served him so well in favor of relying on raw power to crush his enemies. This trope comes into play when he finally comes across someone more powerful than he is — Ichigo after his latest bout of Training from Hell — at which point Aizen promptly gets curb-stomped.
- Most of Batman's foes have done this at least once. You could argue it's The Riddler's whole gimmick.
- Given a little more depth and drama in some comic interpretations that demonstrate Riddler's shtick as an unstoppable compulsion, and all the problems this gives him. Played right, it's a tragically self-destructive compulsion: "You don't understand...I really didn't want to leave you any clues. I really planned never to go back to Arkham Asylum. But I left you a clue anyway. So I...I have to go back there. Because I might need help. I...I might actually be crazy."
- In fact, in one early story ('60s) the Riddler realises that he simply cannot commit crimes without leaving riddles. He tries to fix himself, but that doesn't work either...
- In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Riddler's Reform", The Riddler actually goes straight and makes tons of money by designing puzzles for a toy company and licensing his likeness to market them. However, he just can't stop thinking about matching wits with Batman...so he decides that the only way he'll ever be secure enough in his new life to actually enjoy it is to kill Batman.
- The Riddler example was sent up by Exterminatus Now, which featured a joke about the Riddler leaving a nonsensical riddle, and three weeks later Batman is still working on it when the TV news reports that the Riddler has stolen the Moon. Here it is.
- The Riddler is now reformed and working as a private detective. Since Batman is also a detective, Riddler is now matching wits with him legally.
- And was hired by Nightwing in the Trinity series to look into why items related to Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman were being stolen and who was behind it. The other heroes think he's insane when Nightwing mentions where he obtained the information, but the series showed that the Riddler had an advantage that even Batman didn't: assorted lowlifes and ex-lowlifes like the Penguin are willing to talk to him without having to be threatened.
- Aaaannnddd now he's back to his old game again, following a kind of reverse-nervous breakdown.
- Similarly, during the events of Knightfall, the Riddler is working alongside several random crooks to steal a large shipment of bonds that are passing through a post office. The crooks finally snap at Riddler after he forces them to delay the crime for weeks while he tries to get the police to pay attention to the riddles he's been mailing them (overshadowed by the breakout at Arkham and Gotham being all but completely put to flame). The Riddler flees, and the crooks go ahead with the crime...which goes pretty well. They follow the Riddler's actual plan (without the riddles) to the letter, and they're in and out in minutes. One even notes that if he weren't so hung up on his riddle-gimmick, he'd make a fortune, but another counters that it's probably that very same obsessive attention to unimportant details that lets him plan heists this well. Of course, it all comes to naught when they get taken down by the Huntress.
- Subverted in one episode of Batman: The Animated Series where the Joker develops a plan to kill Batman by lowering him into a tank of piranhas, but abandons the idea because piranhas' faces look like frowns rather than smiles. Harley decides to curry the Joker's favor, captures Batman for him and arranges it so Bats would be upside down, so the "frowns" look like smiles to him. The Joker is furious for being upstaged, but further outraged that she would create a "punchline" that has to be explained. So he lets Batman down and leaves but seconds later decides this is too good a chance to pass up and comes back to just shoot him.
- It's not Two-Face's fault that he has to let a coin flip make his decisions for him, so that, if you toss a ton of coins in as he flips, he can't make a choice anymore! Honest, it's not!! Naturally, Batman exploits this in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series where he replaces Two-Face's coin with a trick one that always lands on its edge. The ploy backfires on Batman when the coin keeps bouncing towards the edge of the derelict skyscraper.
- This is further explored in the comic based on the series; Two-Face ends up with a weighted coin and commits a series of good deeds. However, this backfires, as his good acts not only start to get a little darker, but become suicidally dangerous.
- In DC One Million, it's mentioned that a future Batman eventually cured a future Two-Face by convincing him that, coin toss for coin toss, he'd made more good decisions than bad ones.
- In his first appearance, Batman slipped him a coin weighed to land on its side and when he said, "Heads I'll let you go, tails I'll kill you" got him to agree to turn himself in and submit to all necessary plastic surgery and psychotherapy. It worked — but meant the end of Two-Face.
- The one-shot Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth has Arkham therapists trying to treat Two-Face by expanding his mind to the number of possibilities in each action, by replacing the coin with a deck of cards, eventually planning to work him up to the I Ching. This has a downside, as it means that Two-Face cannot decide whether or not to go to the bathroom.
- In Batman Forever, Two-Face has Batman on the ropes, about to shoot, when Batman reminds him to flip his coin. When he does, Batman throws out a dozen or so similar coins. Two-Face tries to catch them all, and falls to his death. In the Peter David novelization, Bats blindly throws a Batarang, hoping to knock the coin away and stymie Two-Face. It works, but Two-Face just leaps to catch the coin and falls two yards onto a girder, with the equivalent of "nice try". Then Robin calls him out on never using the coin on himself. He looks at the coin, and just lets go. Robin says he didn't actually mean to kill him, and Batman says that maybe Two-Face just made his first real choice in a long time.
- Another case of Batman taking advantage of Two-Face's mania occurs in Batman Adventures, during one of Arkham Asylum's bimonthly mass jailbreaks, with Batman pinning Two-Face's coin under some fresh rubble, good face up, while Harvey is distracted. Two-Face finds it, declares that he's a good guy until he's able to flip it again, and promptly starts helping Batman contain the jailbreak.
- The Batman villain Cluemaster began as a cheap Riddler imitation, who used non-verbal clues in the same kind of compulsion. The later writers decided to play with the trope a bit, and had the Arkham psychiatrists cure him of his mania. Now, he's a criminal mastermind who doesn't leave clues behind. "Gee, thanks, Arkham," says Robin.
- Though this is also what prompted his daughter Stephanie Brown to become The Spoiler—she would just spoil his schemes anyway.
- All of the above notwithstanding, The Joker largely benefits from being insane, since it has the advantage of making him completely unpredictable, which is handy when his nemesis' primary skill is being Crazy-Prepared. It's also the only thing that has kept him from getting the Death Penalty dozens of times over.
- One particularly interesting example is in issue 7 of his self-titled comic. After a day where Joker and Lex Luthor accidentally swap their main characteristics (madness and intelligence, respectively) Luthor is in his jail cell, remembering that when he was mad he had thought of "the ultimate theory", an explanation for the universe that he'd need to be crazy to come up with that would have made him world-renowned. Unfortunately, he was unable to remember it when his sanity was restored.
- A couple of comics have posited that he isn't insane. One story in Batman Black and White 2 has the psychologists at Arkham stumble across an anonymous report from one of Joker's therapists, which explains in detail how he is chillingly rational and aware of his actions, and perpetuating the ultimate scam by faking madness to avoid execution. The report ends with the writer recommending he be tried as sane and sentenced to death. The other Doctors actually find themselves agreeing with this assessment...until Harley Quinn walks by and recites the final words. She wrote it, is now mad herself, and there's no way her diagnosis would stand up in court. The doctors still think she was right, though...and that the Joker let them find the report, knowing they couldn't do anything with it.
- Although his obsession with Batman means he can't resolve to kill him (even when all powerful in Emperor Joker) or trying to find out who is behind his mask to the point Death of the Family shows that Bruce can come up to him and make clear he is Batman and Joker won't even notice.
- One of the major advantages Spider-Man has over his Rogues Gallery is that most of them are rather crazy and Spider-Man, editorially-mandated Deal with the Devil notwithstanding, isn't. None of them illustrate this better than his Arch-Enemy Norman Osborn a.k.a. the Green Goblin. Norman is a manipulative sociopath on a good day. The rest of the time he's an Ax-Crazy monster in a garish outfit riding a hoverglider throwing pumpkin bombs. No matter how well he manipulates, schemes, and kills his way into power, Osborn always ultimately loses because he's too crazy to keep it together once he reaches the top. Norman gets a lot more dangerous when he purges himself of the Goblin formula. While that renders him physically an ordinary human, it also renders him more or less sane but just as much of an Evil Genius as ever.
- In one early Spirou and Fantasio adventure, they have to stop a Mad Scientist from launching a device that will set fire to the Earth's atmosphere. They fail. They say their goodbyes...only to discover that the Mad Scientist was, well, mad and his doomsday device was mostly made out of old shoes.
- Zot!'s archenemy, Dekko the cyborg Mad Artist, tends to get beaten by his own self-destructing insanity at least as much as by the hero's actual efforts.
- In The Search, a sequel comic to Avatar: The Last Airbender, insanity fails for Azula again, when she tries to run away from the Gang when they get close enough to Hira'a. She stops running to argue with another imagined reflection of her mother long enough for Zuko and Katara to capture her again... and she also attracts the attention of an enormous, angry wolf spirit.
- A redeemed (mostly) Loki feels this way in Child of the Storm, inwardly observing that while "madness may provide great inspiration, but it plays havoc with your probability calculation, capacity for rational thought and ability to appreciate the arts. Though it does do wonders for your fashion sense. Black, after all, is always in style." He goes on, however, to note that it also provides perspective. After all, you set a thief to catch a thief...
- This is described as the unique benefit of Green Power Rings in With This Ring.
- Hinamori in Eroninja fails in her attempt to make Naruto and Kiyomi/Kyuubi kill each other because she's too insane to realize that even under an illusion making her think Naruto wanted her dead, Kiyomi would refuse to fight him. Furthermore, while Naruto sees and hears a taunting Sasuke instead of Kiyomi, he still notices something is wrong when "Sasuke" only flees and never attacks.
- Trapped by a vampire? Throw some rice/beads/knotted bits of string at it! They have to stop and count it. Ah ah ah!
- Beautifully done in The Rashomon episode of The X-Files.
- And subverted multiple times in Discworld's Carpe Jugulum, where this is one of many traditional vampire weaknesses the Magpyr clan had overcome. It's inverted right back when, under the stress of having their plan spontaneously collapse when Granny Weatherwax "borrows" their blood, the Magpyr's conditioning starts to fail. Since the Magpyr's conditioning involved knowing the root cause of every traditional weakness and countering that, the resulting collapse added a form of hypochondria of sorts. So, for example, they're no longer immune to religious symbols... and they've memorized so many that they see religious symbols everywhere.
- Charby the Vampirate subverts it in one early strip. He is compelled to count a handful of beans his intended victim throws at him, but does it by determining the average weight of a bean, weighing the pile, and extrapolating how many there are from that.
- Subverted in the sequel to Dracula 2001, when a vampire accurately counts thousands of grains of rice before they even hit the ground.
- In Supernatural, it's leprechauns that have this problem, not vampires. In "Clap your hands if you believe", Sam gets knocked around by the leprechaun before pulling his container of salt out of his pocket and emptying it onto the ground, to a This Is Gonna Suck from his opponent. He then banishes it at his leisure.
- Likewise, the kappa of Japanese folklore. Its Weaksauce Weakness is that its power is derived from a pool of water carried in a dent in the top of its head. Not only does it have to avoid spilling the water in an attack, but it is also supremely polite: if you bow to it, it will bow back to the same degree as you do. If a human is confronted by a kappa and doesn't have a cucumber handy (give a kappa a cucumber with your name carved into it and it'll leave you alone, and might even befriend you), all you need to do is bow deeply enough and offer a polite greeting, and the kappa will be obligated to return the salutation, despite the fact that it deliberately spills the water it requires.
- The page quote is a near-exact adaptation of a scene from Red Dragon, although Graham's original explanation is "Passion. And you're insane." Lecter abruptly changes the subject.
- This is what allows Tavi in Codex Alera to defeat an Ax-Crazy but vastly superior opponent. He uses her name and reputation to start psychoanalyzing her in the middle of their Duel to the Death, and watches her reactions to give a Hannibal Lecture that drives her into making a mistake due to screaming, psychotic rage.
- In Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, The Gentleman could have killed the magicians at any time, but as the book explains fairies have a greater capacity for magic, but much less of one for reason. Instead he spends years watching them and coming up with plans to destroy them while doing nothing, under the belief that these plans wouldn't work. And the actions he does eventually take backfire on him in the end.
- In Brisingr of the Inheritance Cycle, Brom hints to Eragon in a memory that Galbatorix's insanity is something that he should use to his advantage when it finally comes time to face him. "Whatever you do, you must remain nimble in your thinking. Do not become so attached to any one belief that you cannot see past it to another possibility. Galbatorix is mad and therefore unpredictable, but he also has gaps in his reasoning that an ordinary person would not. If you can find those, Eragon, then perhaps you and Saphira can defeat him." Galbatorix has no empathy, so Eragon gives him some — for all of the lives the mad king ruined — and it drives Galbatorix to commit suicide.
- In the backstory of the Vorkosigan Saga, Mad Emperor Yuri decided that his relatives were plotting to overthrow him, so he ordered the assassinations of anyone with enough Royal Blood to claim the throne. This meant he ordered the maternal side of Aral Vorkosigan's family assassinated, but since the Vorkoisigan side didn't have a strong claim to the empire, he left them alive. If he'd been sane, it might have occurred to him that Aral's father (Who happened to be the most talented general on the planet) would be upset about his wife and children being brutally murdered. This leads directly to Yuri's overthrow, making his fear a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
- Harry Potter:
- It's repeatedly alluded to that Voldemort's egomania is keeping him from being a much more effective villain by compelling him to keep the Villain Ball on his person constantly. He starts juggling it in the final book, and becomes much more dangerous. Probably the best example is the horcruxes themselves. Harry observes that had he made them innocuous items and hid them in plain sight, it would be impossible to find them. Fortunately, as Dumbledore explains, Voldemort's obsessive nature focuses on trophies and rituals, so he needs them to be special items, hidden in special places, which makes them easier to track. Although in truth it's not so much Voldemort's obsessive nature that makes him choose grandiose objects for his horcruxes; it's his pride. Said hubris is behind pretty much every mistake he makes — look at how he decides straight-off that Harry, rather than the pure-blooded Neville is the Chosen One, just because Harry is a half-blood like himself.
- For that matter, a large number of Voldemort's henchmen manage to mess things up for him by being various flavours of sociopathic, vain, narcissistic, delusional, uncontrollably violent or a combination of the above, simply because that's the sort of unbalanced person Voldemort attracts in the first place.
- Played with in the Hercule Poirot book, Lord Edgeware Dies, in which Poirot admits that what he really needs to catch criminals is a sane partner, so he can observe what conclusions the criminal expected a sane man would draw from his misdirection.
- In The Belgariad, the king of Cthol Murgos is mentioned as having been a great warrior once, but by the time he appears his insanity had grown to the point that when he meets his archenemy in battle, he's so focused on killing him that he doesn't bother defending himself. He dies still screaming for the man to come back and fight him.
- Invoked by the character Zane in the second Mistborn book. He is legitimately Ax-Crazy, but is quite self-aware about that fact, considering the fact that he hears a voice in his head that goads him to kill everyone he meets to be personal flaw that he must work to overcome if he's to reach his full potential. Of course, being Ax-Crazy, when this plan falls apart he doesn't take it well, but the (sane) Action Girl who he tries to take it out on succeeds in killing him, thereby proving the trope. Ironically enough, the voice in his head is not a symptom of his insanity. He actually has the setting's God of Evil in his head, which is the primary cause of his insanity.
- The only way Crown Prince Alaric was able to defeat Gaithim in The Quest of the Unaligned was because Gaithim's Ax-Crazy nature made him make two fatal errors. In the first fight, he had Alaric completely at his mercy, but instead of killing him quickly, he began to torture him, which bought time for The Cavalry to show up, in the form of Nahruahn and Laeshana. In the second, he shielded himself against any form of magic, but completely forgot that he was still vulnerable to mundane knives.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, this is pretty much Joffrey's and later, Cersei's main weakness. Joffrey only knows how to be as cruel as his imagination can allow him to be, and nothing else. It's his execution of Eddard Stark, done for no reason other than petty cruelty, that basically guarantees that the war between the Starks and the Lannisters has no possibility of a peaceful conclusion, and when Tyrion is appointed as acting Hand, most of his job consists of trying to minimize the damage done by Joffrey's insanity. Cersei's is slightly different, as most of their mistakes result from a mind-blowing level of paranoia, thinking that everyone who doesn't constantly kiss ass and do absolutely everything they ask is trying to sabotage them, so they make sure everyone around them is nothing more than a yes-man, and has everyone who's competent removed. This bites them right in the ass, and fast when they reinstitute the Faith Millitant, which promptly arrests them for treason and adultery.
- Insanity may not be exactly the right term. The Ontongard of Ukiah Oregon are Hive Mind aliens that think of themselves on a scale smaller than humans can see; they take multicellular forms but if those are torn apart they form into smaller animals. Ukiah, being descended of a mutant Ontongard who kept individuality, escapes "one" human-shaped mass of them by going over a cliff and catching a branch near the edge. The Ontongard mass follows, and some parts of it grab for the branch, some try to backpedal, so it falls. Individuality does have its perks, Ukiah thinks.
- The title character in Eden Green is a rationalist whose best friend is infected with an alien needle symbiote that slowly drives its host insane. Eden keeps her head for most of the book and uses planning and rationality to investigate the symbiote.
- The Star Wars Expanded Universe: This is the main advantage the Jedi (and the Republic in general) have over the Sith. With Great Power Comes Great Insanity is in full force here with anyone strong enough to be a good Sith. The reason there's currently only two Sith at a time is because whenever there were any more, their tendency to backstab any and everyone for personal power meant that the Jedi (who weren't as individually powerful but could trust each other to work effectively as a team) were basically picking them off one by one as the Sith were too busy dealing with each other to effectively counter them. The Republic beat the Sith Empire by playing defense and waiting for the inevitable self-destruct, and the Imperial Remnant only became a stable entity after the Sith at the top were dead.
- The Villain Protagonist of Darkstalker was extremely paranoid, so he made himself invincible to conventional weaponry- blades, flame breath, etc. Clearsight neutralizes him with a sleep spell, a method which worked because Darkstalker never expected that his enemies would be moral enough to subdue him non-violently (and- being incredibly powerful and ruthless- Darkstalker himself never dealt with enemies in any other way than killing them).
- The Doctor from Doctor Who has defeated many of his enemies via his intimate knowledge of how the latest Mad Scientist or Omnicidal Maniac will react, having encountered so many of them over the centuries that very little surprises him any more. Special mention should go to Davros and The Master, who are probably the main reason the Doctor can predict other villains so well.
- Kamen Rider Ryuki: Asakura Takeshi (Ouja) is raving mad and prone to crazy, suicidal behaviour. Once he starves his bound monsters until they threaten to eat him. Once, after failing to kill a long-running enemy, he charges a bunch of armed policemen without even using his powers. That last one does not end well.
- This is likely the biggest reason why the Rangers managed to defeat the Psycho Rangers in Power Rangers in Space, despite the fact that the Psycho Rangers were far stronger than they were. The Psycho Rangers were not only insane, they were obsessive, unwilling to co-operate with each other (something the real Rangers were rather good at) and too impatient to adhere to the careful strategies that Astronema laid out (while the true Rangers were very good at sticking to theirs). In fact, in retrospect, the villains may have been more trouble to Astronema than they were ever worth.
- Deadliest Warrior has two definite examples and one borderline case according to the experts.
- Saddam Hussein defeated Pol Pot, despite the fact that both were classified as insane. Saddam was still more sane than Pol Pot. They say that, like history shows, Saddam would use his violent insanity to his advantage (killing thousands of Kurds to prevent rebellions and surviving the Iraq/Iran War and Gulf War despite overwhelming forces) while Pol Pot's insanity was self-destructive (the damaging genocide and being easily defeated in the Cambodian–Vietnamese War).
- Hernan Cortes defeated Ivan. Cortes isn't classified as fully insane, just greedy and violent. In fact, he was able to make good choices to defeat a larger Aztec army and avoid arrest from the Spanish Empire (by bribing the army sent to kill him). While Ivan is insane from drinking mercury and alcohol constantly and being bipolar. In fact after his reign, the Russian Empire almost collapsed.
- The borderline case was the George Washington versus Napoleon Bonaparte fight, which Washington won. Neither was truly considered mad, but many X-Factors in Washington's favor involved the egotism and tend to overreach that Napoleon exhibited late in life. In the aftermath, it was even mentioned that a younger version of Napoleon — at a time when he wasn't such an egotist — may have done better.
- Clearly, this is why Kirk and Spock were able to defeat Garth in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Whom Gods Destroy". Garth was a madman, and the fact that he flew into rage on more than one occasion when he was frustrated (such as when he realized he needed to know a countersign in order to board The Enterprise) showed that his madness was hindering him greatly. Garth's attempt to intimidate Kirk by murdering his lover with the super-powerful bomb he created does nothing more than prove to Kirk — and the viewers, most likely — that he's a lunatic, and when he thinks he'll have more luck with Spock due to Spock being a "very logical man", Spock's logical thinking is, in fact, what leads to Garth's final defeat.
- In a heroic example, Monk's severe OCD makes him the world's greatest detective, but also makes him too unstable to be relied upon in desperate situations, as evidenced by the pilot in which his condition causes him to freak out and let the killer escape. This is why he's not been allowed back on the police force since the Heroic B.S.O.D. he had following his wife's death. Even in the depths of the seriousness of the series finale, the OCD comes shining through full force in an intentionally Level Breaker moment after Monk has been poisoned and told he will vomit first, then die. Cue awesome run-on gag of Monk focusing on the vomiting aspect and ignoring death.
Adrian Monk: Are you sure? Does the vomit really HAVE to be first?
- River Tam in Firefly is unbelievably intelligent, combat-capable, and psychic, but her usefulness in a number of situations is clouded by mental instability. She gets better in the movie.
- When it comes down to it, this is the entire point of Criminal Minds (and similar Real Life organizations): some serial killers are obviously mentally unstable ("disorganized"). Therefore, they have patterns that can be predicted, flaws that can be exploited, and make mistakes that can be turned against them. This is Truth in Television to a point: many serial killers escape capture and leave no clues. Some are only caught when they taunt the police, looking for validation of their brilliance.
- The primary reason House has a team is to balance out his various manias.
- In an episode Xena: Warrior Princess, a man tries to kill Xena just for the challenge. He tells her he has advantages over the two deadliest opponents she had faced at the time: he doesn't have a soft spot for her like Draco did, and he's not crazy like Calisto was.
- Stargate SG-1: The Goa'uld as a whole. Sure, they have an enormous technological advantage thanks to their genetic memory, but said memories as well as abuse of the sarcophagi mean they are all megalomaniacal cliché villains. Furthermore, most of them believe in their own propaganda about being gods, and act with the expected supreme arrogance. The System Lords spend most of their time and ressources fighting each other rather than dealing with their common enemies, which both Tok'ra and Tau'ri gladly take advantage of. They also waste their soldiers by slaying them for the slightest failure or insisting they always fight to the death, even against disastrous odds, rather than withdraw to win another day. The Goa'uld were the dominant species of the Milky Way till season 8, but they would have been infinitely more powerful if only they had co-operated from the start, rather than being forced to by Anubis or the Replicators. Notably, the few System Lords that don't fully buy the godlike nonsense (like Ba'al, or Yu before he went senile) are portrayed as much smarter and dangerous than their brethren.
- In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "Beginning of the End", HYDRA's plan to infiltrate the military is ruined because Garrett crashes the meeting that was supposed to convince the military to hire HYDRA's supersoldiers, rants about his delusions of godhood and attacks one of the representatives. Garrett's saner accomplices are not best pleased.
- In Unknown Armies all magicians are insane, to the point that several of the most powerful NPCs are completely mundane, and players without powers often have significant advantages over those with, and various examples of possible mundane parties are discussed in the Global level of the sourcebook. One of them is even a bunch of stage magicians who pretend to have real powers. In the New Inquisition sourcebook, they explicitly address this trope, pointing out that by virtue of not having any magical powers, the head of the conspiracy is sane, his vision unclouded, and capable of everything a multi-billionaire with few ethical scruples can do. Which is quite a lot.
- Betrayal at House on the Hill has the Sanity stat, which often determines whether or not your investigator will keep their wits about them...or simply stay alive. It's exceptionally useful if a high-Sanity character like Father Rhinehart manages to get a hold of the Ring, which allows them to attack with Sanity instead of Might. Sanity PUNCH!
- Exalted: Most antagonists come with some form of insanity-related dysfunction which will lead them to make drastic, exploitably bad decisions. Examples include other Creation-based Exalts, who are usually blinded by the towering hubris of the Great Curse; the Yozis, who come with a heavy paradigm blindfold that leads to them interpreting nearly everything in terms of their own fundamental concepts; apostate Alchemicals, who are compelled by their condition to become less and less stable as time goes on until the killing starts; and ghosts and Deathlords, who naturally default to melodramatic passion plays rather than the organic behaviour of humans. (Should you be coming up against a high-Essence sane Alchemical, who will likely have a high Clarity rating, you might actually have to invert this trope by making seemingly illogical moves to catch it unawares.)
- Genius: The Transgression — a fan supplement for the New World of Darkness — on the surface averts this trope, until fully playing it straight. The Inspired can create Wonders, powerful "scientific" artifacts powered by their own madness. But this gift comes with the unfortunate side effect of horribly limiting their options, in addition to the obvious disadvantages of being insane. Mad Science is the only career path an Inspired individual can pursue, because their madness prevents them from pursuing regular scientific research, and it prevents them from holding down any kind of regular job. It's no wonder most Mad Scientists live in perpetual poverty (though the prohibitive costs to build their Wonders doesn't help).
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- This trope is why the Order Versus Chaos Blood War between Devils and Demons has been in stalemate for Eons, despite the fact that the demons of the Abyss outnumber the armies of Hell by almost a hundred to one. The devils live and breathe discipline, planning, and strategy; while the hordes of the Abyss can be explained in three words: "Scream and charge". It's telling that the Abyss and its demons are functionally infinite, so its armies in the Blood War are only the rare few who overcame their chaotic nature to the point that they could scream and charge at the enemy.
- Also stated to be why the Drow aren't a bigger threat to the world above; cunning, powerful, and with demonic magic on their side, they'd be a force to be reckoned with... if their society wasn't built on Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. Drow spend more time plotting against each other than their enemies, with the happy endorsement of their goddess Lolth, who only intervenes so they don't starscream themselves into extinction.
- Similarly, Beholders are capable of destruction on a massive scale (they can disintegrate matter at will, control minds, kill with a glance, nullify any magic they look at, and more), but can barely even be said to have a society, due to their inherent madness. Every beholder is convinced it alone was created in the true image of their goddess — who abets the delusion by appearing in their form — and any beholders, even their offspring, who look even slightly different should be destroyed.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- The daemonic walkers with amazing statlines and low costs, but their insanity rules means that they are unreliable and have decent chances of attacking their own troops. Daemonic transports has a chance to EAT one of the soldiers they are supposed to carry. Kharn the Betrayer is more capable, but still have a 18% chance to strike an ally during CC.
- On a similar note, Orks by themselves tend to be irrational, and will happily fight anything or anyone, including each other, without direction, and feral Orks are seen as more as a nuisance (a nuisance that helps train up troops) than anything else by the Imperium. However, if a strong-minded Warboss manages to get his fellow Orks to focus on something they quickly turn from being comedy relief nuisances into an army that can easily rampage through entire systems.
- It's often easy to take advantage of Chaos' self-destructive nature. Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!!!) once foiled a Slaaneshi summoning by telling his men to hold fire until two Khornate Space Marines had taken out the cultists barricading the entrance (opposed gods hate each other on a fundamental level, and killing followers of the one is a god way to get favor with the other). By the time they arrived at the summoning, the cultists were all dead and so were the Marines, leaving the Imperials with the comparatively minor problem of an angry Slaaneshi daemon princess who considered herself a Woman Scorned by Cain (some heretics take lasbolts to the chest so personally).
- In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the Black Spiral Dancers' greatest liability is their insanity. All Black Spiral Dancer characters have at least one derangement, which often interfere with social interaction, perception, and decision-making.
- In BattleTech, insanity runs in the Capellan Confederation's rulers, House Liao. Maximilian Liao was originally a fairly shrewd and cunning ruler, but slipped into delusion after his defeat in the 4th Succession War. After his death, the reins of the shattered realm passed to his daughter Romano. A completely paranoid individual, she ordered numerous bloody purges of the realm that left it barely able to function when she was killed by her sister Candace in retaliation for assassinating Candace's husband. At that point, control was transferred to the much saner Sun-Tzu Liao, who immediately set about undoing Romano's destructive policies. In only a decade, he was able to turn the Confederation completely around and make it into a prosperous and militarily powerful nation again.
- In Changeling: The Lost, the Sanity/Karma Meter Clarity offers exceptionally acute senses and intuitive awareness of supernatural beings at high values, as well as a greater ability to "talk down" others who have fallen into insanity. By contrast, low-Clarity Changelings often get lost in fantasy and hallucination, and might become completely unhinged from reality.
- This is the difference between Miss Information's two forms in Sentinels of the Multiverse. Her first form is ruthless and more than a little obsessed with Failure-To-Save Murdering the Freedom Five, but is still functional enough to weave a web of surprises, lures, distractions and traps to do as much damage to them as possible. Her second is a Reality Warper...but has lost an awful lot of SAN, meaning that not only is she a team-up villain rather than a solo operator, but she's not even a notably strong team-up villain compared to, for example, Sergeant Steel.
- Portal: Subverted by the Rat Man. He was a programmer who survived GLaDOS's takeover of Aperture Science by being a paranoid schizophrenic who believed that the computer was evil and planning to kill them all. The reason this is a subversion instead of inversion is that the rest of his team knew that she wanted to kill them all at every boot up but still gave her access to the neurotoxin emitters when she started playing nice. Thus, the crazy guy was the Only Sane Man.
- Defied by the Chaos Marines in Dawn of War.
"Sanity is for the weak!"
- Inverted in Touhou.
"In Gensoukyou you can't let yourself be held back by common sense!"
- Brought up Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots in regard to the Beauty and the Beast Unit. They're all psychologically damaged pretty much beyond repair. Rose points out that this probably doesn't help their combat abilities and that only a monster would put such broken people on the front line, especially since they'll eventually break down completely and be useless. Snake agrees on all points, but he also notes that it works to his advantage if they're not fighting at their full combat effectiveness.
- A subtle variant pops up in The Evil Within with the reveal that you're fighting in a Mental World created by the Big Bad, Ruvik. Now, Ruvik's arsenal of monsters and traps should be capable of overwhelming you through attrition alone, but because Ruvik is both a sadist (and so Sebastian's efforts and fear/hope cycle amuse him) and a megalomaniac (so he figures he's unbeatable), Ruvik deliberately scatters useful items like healing items and ammo around, which prolongs the "game" and allows Sebastian to eventually defeat him.
- Haunting Ground has Daniella as one of the toughest opponents... if her mental issues wouldn't result in her getting distracted from hunting for Fiona at times. When it's 'cleaning time', Daniella is focused solely on that and actually can't chase Fiona, making her no threat those times.
- In Bioshock the denizens of Rapture have access to Plasmids, drugs that give you superpowers by rewriting your dna. The problem is that, like other drugs, you can easily get addicted to splicing and even worse, rewriting your genetic code does a number on your sanity. It's not a coincidence all the major players in Rapture have refrained from all but the most basic Plasmids, allowing them to rule by virtue of being the only people sane enough to plan and organize.
- In KGB a pimp gets his workers addicted to cocaine so they'll be more compliant. This makes them incredibly easy to bribe.
- Played With in regards to Ganondorf/Ganon from Legend of Zelda - as the Fallen Hero timeline goes on, Ganon slowly and slowly requires fewer holy weapons to defeat, correlating with losing more of himself to his lust for power. Whereas the Hero can always find a way to avoid Ganon's mighty Trident and the Master Sword can repel evil, in his earliest chronological appearance, he instead is able to fool the young Link and Zelda into handing him the Triforce on a silver platter. His relative sanity, compared to his megalomania in later forms, is what allowed him to attain the very power that drives him mad. However, despite being a cloud of concentrated hatred of by the time Breath of the Wild comes around, he's become more powerful than ever. Sanity may have advantages, but Ganon considers growing his might worth losing his mind.
- Fate/stay night has the the Berserker class Servants with their Mad Enhancement skill, that gives them a increase of basic parameters at the cost of mental capacities as well as personal skills:
- The Berserker of the original game is Herakles. Mad Enhancement increases his already enormous strength, but strips him of his considerable tactical acumen and his formidable hand-to-hand skills (he invented Pankration, and defeated Death with it) and mastery over weapons (his swordsmanship allows him to strike nine time times from nine different directions at the same time. With bow and arrows, he can shoot a single arrow and hit you one hundred times).
- Fate/EXTRA it's outright stated that if Berserker's powers hadn't been crippled by her class (and further by her own master's insanity), then what was merely a very challenging battle would have been outright impossible. Considering their Berserker is Arcueid, it may even be an understatement.
- Subverted in Fate/Zero, whose Berserker Lancelot has an ability called Eternal Arms Mastership that allows him to retain those skills. It's exactly as broken as it sounds.
- In My Harem Heaven Is Yandere Hell, the schizophrenic Sayuri collapses from cognitive dissonance at a really inopportune time, allowing her captive to escape. Since her schizophrenia is (largely) what made her do villainous things in the first place, this is fitting.
- In A Miracle of Science, a thorough understanding of Science-Related Memetic Disorder means that Vorstellen Police officers play their role correctly, ensuring a mad scientist will surrender once their illness takes its course.
- In the "Fire and Rain" arc of Sluggy Freelance, Oasis comes very close to killing Zoe, but suffers a complete Villainous Breakdown and collapses in tears moments before delivering the fatal blow.
- 8-Bit Theater: Black Mage reveals that he plans to help Chaos because by his (it's?) very nature, he is just as likely to turn the world into cake as he is to destroy it. Of course, Red Mage points out how utterly stupid it is to bet your survival on an ultra-monster's chaotic nature. Notably, though, the Light Warriors are much more efficient and cooperative when not caught up in their personal manias(Be it stupidity, greed, pride, or bloodlust.)...though they succeed just as often by outright ignoring logic altogether.
- The Order of the Stick has Tsukiko, who, as a fairly high-level Mystic Theurge (a Prestige Class for multiclassed divine and arcane casters), depends on high scores of Intelligence and Wisdom. Because of this, she's fairly powerful and knows her way around magic — but she's also a complete and utter lunatic who seems to think that she's the protagonist of a Girl Meets Lich romance with Xykon. Because of this, she tends to make incredibly bad decisions, like dismissing Redcloak as a mere obstacle to her romance with Xykon, and neglecting to consider that her great array of spells can be neutralized by a simple combination of the evil Cleric's Command Undead ability, a Dimensional Ward spell, and the Counterspell option.
- At least half the cast of Narbonic are mad, which has its advantages — a better "creative spark" and no Weirdness Censor, for instance — but can also blow in their faces, sometimes quite literally. The examples that spring to mind are when Narbon Senior imprisons Artie in a room with a perfectly serviceable telephone, and Madblood's downfall due to his refusal to acknowledge basic safety measures.
Mell: You didn't build in a safety? A back door to switch the thing off?
Madblood: Young lady, you fail to grasp the basic principles of mad science. [...] Common sense would be cheating.
- Looking for Group: Richard is one of the most powerful spellcaster introduced and being undead has ungodly strength. Even Anti-Magic doesn't work since he has a purse full of powerful creatures that will fight for him and can weaponized plant without magic. The only problem is that he is unable to focus and prefers spouting nonsense which make him as dangerous to the group than to their enemies.
- The SCP Foundation's acquisition of SCP-668 was made significantly easier by the obsessive behavior of the Ax-Crazy Serial Killer employing it in his killing spree. If he'd had the sense to move around more, and not waste so much time in making the deaths extra-horrific, the Foundation would've had to resort to nuking the whole area.
- Inverted with Doctor Steel. "I mean, you can get away with pretty much anything if you're bonkers."
- Explored in The Anglo/American – Nazi War . Some of the most formidable troops used by the increasingly desperate Nazis during D-Day 1958 are simply the leftover Heer troops used in the original invasion of continental Europe in the early 1940s pressed back into service. Despite mostly being in their forties and fifties and armed with hugely obsolete equipment, their methodical and rational approach to battle means these "old bastards" actually put up a decent fight against Allied units, even earning a begrudging respect from them in the process. This is compared to the more modern SS units, who tend to be young men and kids brainwashed by the Nazi education system and so tend to fight like maniacs but get brushed aside easily.
- Aladdin: The Series:
- An episode featured a (non-villainous, though the heroes did not realize that at the time) reality-altering ("more powerful than a palace full of genies") catlike creature who was the Anthropomorphic Personification of Chaos, who shrunk Jasmine and then changed her back just because nobody was expecting it.
- There was also Mechanicles, self-professed "Greatest of the Great Greek Geniuses". Tends to have a gigantic array of inventions and/or clockwork robots at his beck and call and probably would have conquered the world twice over if not for his Neat Freak tendencies and obsessive list compilation that would make Monk look slovenly; he is once defeated by the heroes getting oil on his tunic as a distraction.
- One episode of ReBoot, where Hexadecimal has gotten "The Medusa Bug", which is turning everything in Mainframe to virtual stone. Bob (being immune) goes and talks to her, mentioning casually how nice and orderly everything would be from now on. Naturally, Hexadecimal is the epitome of chaos, so she immediately undoes it.
- Played with on Darkwing Duck, during Megavolt's introduction in "Duck Blind".
Darkwing: Fortunately, we have a psychological advantage.
Launchpad: Because, uh, we're sane and he's not?
- In the Futurama episode "Insane in the Mainframe", Roberto's hostage situation ends when, convinced that Fry really is a battle-droid, he has a Freak-Out and jumps out the window.
- Invader Zim: Let's face it: How many times would Zim have conquered or annihilated the Earth if he weren't completely out of his Irken mind?
- A non-villain example happens to Ben 10: Alien Force's Doctor Who expy Paradox. He claims to have been driven mad after a eon of being woven through the fabric of time and space until, as he says himself, he grew bored with insanity. This let him comprehend the incomprehensible and somehow get time travel powers.
- In Generator Rex, Breach is an incredibly powerful teleporter capable of transporting anyone or anything anywhere with little apparent effort. If she put herself to it, she could be a bigger threat then her boss Van Kleiss. But her insanity and crippling OCD keeps her as a minor villain.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender the climax features an Agni Kai between Zuko and Azula where Zuko intended to take an advantage of his sister's crumbling sanity. It was working perfectly until she threw out the rules of the duel and shot lightning at Katara. Then it started working again when her normal hyper-awareness and genre-savviness was suppressed by her derangement and charged right into Katara's trap.
- Phantom Limb from The Venture Bros. spent the third season insane but becomes a true menace again once he regains his sanity and builds the Revenge Society into a true supervillain alliance.
- In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Terry struggles in the final fight until he realizes the Joker's irrational fixation on Batman is his ultimate weakness, and proceeds to taunt him mercilessly about it. This causes the Joker to make a critical error that ends the fight in Terry's favor.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has a LOT of this.
- The pilot two-parter's villain, Nightmare Moon, has Phenomenal Cosmic Power (TM), telekinesis on a grand scale, super illusion powers, the ability to possess other living things, and perfect shape-shifting... and she uses it to make scary faces on trees and turn into a thorn to piss off a manticore. Or when she completely underestimates Twilight and her friends.
- Discord, of course, is arguably doing everything because he thinks it's funny, being as he is the setting's God of Chaos. Of course, prior to his Befriending by Fluttershy, he also suffered from a massive superiority complex and a great deal of spite at the idea of friendship and harmony actually being as strong as he is, despite being taken for granite the first time he showed up.
- Even Trixie, when she comes back under the influence of the Alicorn Amulet, gets progressively crazier and crazier, culminating in things like not trusting WHEELS and other neurosis. This allows Twilight to easily defeat her by playing to her now-ridiculous ego, tricking her into taking the thing off and thus loosing the power boost.
- Queen Chrysalis is a cunning planner, has a lot of Story-Breaker Abilities, and commands a vast army. Unfortunately she's also a narcissistic sadist, and fouls up many of her Near-Villain Victories with her inability to shut up when it counts. Worse, she appears incapable of learning from this; despite several of her plans involving charming and lying to her enemies, she has consistently proven herself poor at both. Instead she prefers to blame all her defeats on her enemies, and in the comics she's gotten a bad case of Revenge Before Reason.
- Starlight Glimmer is extremely savvy to the tricks and plots of the main characters, and has established a very efficient system of control over the cult she has gathered. It soon becomes apparent that unlike most cult leaders she genuinely believes in her warped view of the world, and this means she's entirely unable to predict something that conflicts with it. This is subverted in her second appearance where she's completely lost it, where this actually makes her more dangerous due to paying no heed to the consequences of her actions. Twilight has to instead talk her back to sanity to stand a chance of averting the damage she is causing.
- Steven Universe: Normal humanoid Gems are far stronger than Gem Monsters who were normal gems caught by a weapon that corrupted their bodies and minds because (moments of It Can Think aside) Gem monsters are basically bundles of fight-or-flight instincts with no real sense of strategy or tactics.
- For a non-Gem monster example, Jasper. She is extremely dangerous, but several months of And I Must Scream trapped at the bottom of the ocean eroded her sanity considerably, and now she's totally obsessed with getting revenge on Steven for what (she perceives) he did to her, and it's rather easy to infuriate her to the point where her accuracy and tactical skills go down quite a lot. And then her obsession with fusion causes her to fuse with a Gem monster to defeat Smokey Quartz, which infects her with what corrupted the monster. After that, she can be one-shotted by Peridot.
- Malachite is a 'split personality' example. Despite her immense power, her two component minds (Jasper and Lapis Lazuli) don't mesh well and indeed actively oppose each other.
- The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat: In "Viva Lost Wages", a gambler named Billy steals Felix's magic bag and uses it as a lucky charm to win bets. When Felix breaks into Billy's mansion to recover the bag, he's easily caught by a security guard. Billy could just have Felix thrown away but can't resist when Felix challenges him to settle their score with a bet. Felix points to a pair of dice and says he can get any number Billy calls. Subverted because Billy, not satisfied with the odds, calls 13 in spite of Felix's protests that the highest number one can get is 12. Fortunately, Felix has an idea: he gets the dot from the exclamation point that appeared with the idea and used it to turn a 6 into a 7. Felix eventually wins and reclaims his bag.