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Pragmatic Villainy

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Eliphas: You allow them to escape, Lord Araghast?
Araghast: Because it serves me, Eliphas! If we kill them now, we waste the value of the traitor in their ranks. Your vengeance can wait.
Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising

"Even Evil Has Standards" has subversions.

Pragmatic Villainy is when a villain refuses to do something horrible not because it's evil and/or abhorrent, but rather because it's not in their best interest to do it. Whatever this action might be, it's a waste of their limited resources, and may even be counter-productive to The Plan.

Sometimes, even a villain finds it furthers their aims to Pet the Dog from time to time, even if it's just for show. Maybe there's dog-kicking in their past; even if there isn't, the Pragmatic Villain is the type to have studied those who have. No matter the combination of dogs and boots, they're sure to have investigated them all quite thoroughly, and come to the conclusion that there just isn't anything to be gained by it. They may even note that one's proverbial toes get a little tender after too much of that kind of thing, since a dog kicked too often will bite back. Though a pragmatic villain is likely to be less destructive than their Card-Carrying Villain counterpart, they are made all the more dangerous by their focus on their ultimate goals and their reluctance to carry the Villain Ball.


Oftentimes, their course of action is determined solely by discerning which would best serve their purposes. Being evil, to them, just keeps their options open when it comes to illegal and immoral acts, and doesn't stop them from using 'legitimate' (or at least socially respectable) strategies and tactics if that's what it takes. Heroes are sometimes surprised when said villains do something "unexpectedly" evil later, when they were doing "good" things before. Should kicking the dog become a necessary step in their master plan, expect their kick to have the power and precision of a football player going for a game-winning field goal, usually while stating it's Nothing Personal. They will easily cross the finish line in a Moral Event Horizon, but only if and when it's useful to them, not a moment before.


Virtually any Villain with Good Publicity tends to be a master of this trope. Villains With Good Publicity almost always have years of experience in earning the trust of their supporters, and are well aware that angering dog-lovers (among others) will not advance their cause and may hinder it. Even for those who don't happen to be Affably Evil, if any dog-kicking is deemed necessary, they will keep these acts of cruelty out of the public eye, or when they can't do that, they'll do what they can to make it look like the victim deserved it; how evil they truly are under cover of darkness must remain shrouded in darkness. They also tend to be masters of the Xanatos Gambit. The Noble Demon will probably attempt to justify his nobility this way, with varying degrees of believability. Whenever there's a Generic Doomsday Villain or an Omnicidal Maniac around, there's a good chance the other villains will form an Enemy Mine with the heroes to stop them, as they want to rule the world, not destroy it. Or at least not steal their job of fighting the heroes. Even most Chaotic Evil Ax-Crazy villains who do things For the Evulz fall to this trope. There's no fun or challenge for them if everyone's dead — they'd be left forlorn with no idea what to do next. An Incidental Villain most often excels in this with his worldview generally being that of a Monopoly game where advancing towards their goals through the quickest and most efficient way is the only thing that matters to them and beating the rivals on their way is optional and hardly obligatory much of the time. This mindset is helpful in stories where the bad guys have a huge advantage over their antagonists, leading them to not so much beat them, as much as convince them that it will be more profitable not to commit the crimes that they intended to and instead choose a legit way as an alternative.

An obvious foil to villains with Complexity Addiction (who will do the evil deed anyway), though some do manage to pair the two. A subtrope is Can't Kill You, Still Need You if applied to villains. Contrast Stupid Evil, where the villain hurts their own interests by preferring indiscriminate evil. Compare and contrast Shoot the Dog, where a hero or anti-hero does a morally questionable act for pragmatic reasons. See also Cooperation Gambit, Cut Lex Luthor a Check, Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat, Sanity Has Advantages, and Bread and Circuses. Compare Evil Virtues, where a villain has good traits, and Straight Edge Evil, where a villain avoids personal vices. For the less evil and more moderate version of this trope, see Jerk with a Heart of Jerk.

Not to be confused with Do Wrong, Right, where an evil act is decried for being poorly executed, and in which the standards that the evil act fails to adhere to are not necessarily those held by a Pragmatic Villain: e.g. one villain could invoke Do Wrong, Right on another for lacking flair.

Note: It is extremely rare for a Complete Monster to invoke this trope, as they are usually unrestrained and do not care if their evil will backfire. In the few examples that do exist, a CM's simplicity is often downplayed by the heinousness of their plans.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Code Geass:
    • Cornelia tries to fight the drug trade not for any sort of moral or ethical purpose, but because being high on drugs hurts the productivity among the conquered Japanese people.
    • Guilford and Darlton have little time for the racist attitudes of many Britannians in the military. Not particularly because of principle, but because they think that a meritocratic military which allows in talented Japanese like Suzaku is much more effective than filling the ranks with incompetent Britannians.
    • Schneizel turns out to be this by the end of the series - up until then, he has debated an ethical/economical view to mercilessly conquering other nations. His major retinue comes from disgraced/insane rejects of Britannia's worst, but he has used them like a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. As a result, everyone trusts his word over Lelouch's in the Black Knights, using nothing but semi-coherent (and some incorrect/faked) evidence. And then he gets to fire a nuke on Britannia's capital to shut his other siblings up, and everyone just thinks that it was a necessary evil. By the end, he's preaching eternal peace and using nuclear Armageddon to do it.
  • Black Lagoon:
    • Dutch runs illegal booze, slaves, guns and drugs. He does piracy when the delivery business goes slow. He does not, however, condone his employees running off Ax-Crazy and taking out their issues by shooting at noncombatants when he's in a combat zone. Not because he gives a crap about their lives, but because he wants to know that his backup can be relied upon and stay professional.
    • Most of the cast of Black Lagoon act out of this trope almost all of the time: People who don't seldom last long (except Revy, who has a tendency to run off Ax-Crazy when she has a bad day but is also a main character). Balalaika averts it once when she declares personal war on Hansel and Gretel for killing one of her men, though she also had a pragmatic reason since the pair were destabilizing Roanapur by their presence, and by ruthlessly crushing them she sent the message to Hotel Moscow's enemies that there would be a bloody price extracted for anyone who dared attack her or her men.
    • When Elroy, the man Dutch arranged to finish Gretel's getaway, kills the girl instead, Dutch chews him out for ruining his reputation as a transporter. Elroy admits that he did it as One Last Job because his son is sick so he has to get out of the business.
      • Despite Balalaika desperately wanting Hansel and Gretel dead for killing her subordinate, she doesn't go after the Lagoon Trading Company for ferrying Gretel out of the city. Though not explicitly stated, it's implied she spared them because they've proven too useful to kill over a single act against her.
    • Dutch also says in the manga that he doesn’t want to risk himself in an operation that could make him a lot of money, (dooming himself to work for significantly less money that other operators) because he knows doing the job is a great way to get himself killed.
    • During the Baile de la Muerte arc, everyone in Roanapur (except Roberta) wants the American soldiers to get out of town safely, simply because if they died it'd draw a lot of unwanted attention from the United States government.
  • The Gandor Family in Baccano! stays steadfastly out of the drug trade, sticking with relatively less objectionable crimes like bootlegging and gambling. This is due to actual moral objections on the part of Keith Gandor, but the other two Gandor brothers, Luck especially, recognize that it's also because their relatively small organization is not equipped to compete with the larger organized crime families currently running drugs.
  • Aur from Maou no Hajimekata treats those who have become his subjects with decency, even if he has fooled some demons to become part of his army or the women he violated to submission, he gives them what they want by being at his side thus ensuring loyalty, erasing suspicion and lingering hatred from those who hated him before they joined his ranks.
  • Moo in the Monster Rancher anime captured Holly to use the Magic Stone to locate his original body, figuring he could destroy the heroes with it. They rescued her, but by that time he had gotten what he needed to know. Rather than let them find out where he was going or try and stop him in his humanoid form, he simply left them behind so they had no idea where he was.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • In Dragon Ball Z, Nappa and Vegeta (of the Saiyan race) are surprised that a Half-Saiyan/Half-Human Hybrid creates a much stronger warrior than either the Saiyans or humans alone. Nappa suggests that the two go to Earth, conquer it, and use their women to breed an army of extremely powerful warriors. Vegeta shoots him down immediately—not because he was against the plan itself, but because it would be ridiculously stupid to breed a race of beings that would one day be far more powerful than they are. Instead, he suggests they just blow the planet up after making their wish for immortality. Vegeta also scolds Nappa for pointlessly wiping a city off the map when they first arrive on Earth, pointing out that Nappa may have inadvertently destroyed one of the Dragon Balls in the process.
    • In Dragon Ball Z: The History of Trunks: While both of the Androids are mass murderous psychopaths, 18 shows some restraint, and scolds 17 for blowing up a clothing store since a.) She chose to spare the storekeeper and doesn't want to look like a liar and b.)There will be no one around to give her clothes. Furthermore, when 17 begins joyriding and begins to run over pedestrians, she told her brother to stop since there won't be anyone left for her to kill and wants the humans to live long enough to last. In general even though both siblings more or less rule the planet, 18 seems at least partly concerned with keeping their human "subjects" alive so that they can have their fun killing them presumably forever.
    • In Dragon Ball Super, Frost seems like a hero, but in reality he's this. He's selfish and concerned mostly with his own gratification, but unlike his counterpart Frieza, he's also smart enough to know that it's easier to get what you want when everybody likes you. So he secretly causes conflicts and disasters, than uses his powers to save everybody and happily accepts the extravagant rewards he gets in return. Naturally, Frieza is such an arrogant idiot that he can't see why this is smart and betrays Frost for being an "amateur".
  • Bleach:
    • Mayuri has shades of this. He sticks with the Soul Society because it gets him: an officer position, funding, minions, supplies, etc. Working freelance gets you an execution by the Soul Society.
    • Kenpachi Zaraki helps save Rukia, not because he believes that her execution is morally wrong... but because he wants to fight Ichigo again. That and it gives him a rare opportunity to fight against his fellow captains, some of the strongest possible foes.
    • This is the reason why Ginjo from told Tsukishima to stop Mind Raping Chad and Orihime. He has no moral objection to it, but destroying your hostages' minds means you can't use them as pawns. It's easier to just stick to Mind Control.
    • Bambietta Basterbine has a habit of sleeping with a random mook, then killing him. Her comrades chew her out for this, saying it's a waste of hot guys.
  • In Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force, Arnage and Veyron take on two other Eclipse infectees. The latter's willy-nilly attacks on innocents will be blamed on the Hückebein, who don't want the added attention.
  • Death Note has Villain Protagonist Light Yagami who was willing to kill tens of thousands of criminals and other undesirables to further his ambitions. But he doesn't approve when his less stable follower Teru Mikami, announces that Kira is going to kill lazy people as well... because Light considers the move premature. Once all the criminals are dead and Kira is regarded as God, Light fully intends to prune out other undesirable elements from "his" world.
  • In Naruto, it could be argued that every ninja village practices this. While glossed over, the series does admit to ninja taking jobs like kidnapping and assassination. By and large, everything a ninja village does is either to win a war or because they were hired to.
    • In Kakashi Gaiden, Kakashi argues against going to save Rin because he believes that as a medical ninja, she will be treated well as long as she tends to their wounded, and the mission takes precedence at the moment. Obito, however, argues that if the Rock ninjas who captured her are "brainless flunkies", they will simply interrogate her. Obito turns out to be right.
    • Turning to a more villainous example Tobi aka Obito Uchiha extremely good about avoiding pointless and/or unnecessarily risky fights. In addition he's fairly nice to his subordinates (as long as they don't betray him) and will help them out when they're in a jam. Not so much because he particularly cares about them, but because he values loyalty and there's simply no advantage in having your subordinates hate you. It's also notable that he seldom tries to force anyone to do anything and usually just talks people into doing what he wants. Though doesn't prevent him from being quite ruthless and fond of taking hostages, threatening children.
    • On surprise Orochimaru (fancier Villain Ball) seems made a few lessons in this after his rebirth. He helps stop Obito on the basis that if the world's destroyed, he won't be able to continue his experiments.
  • Everything Hisoka from Hunter × Hunter does is so that he can help cultivate fighters with potential into someone who can give him a good fight, or in Chrollo's case, to set up a situation where he can fight them without interference.
  • One Piece:
    • Arlong from is a Fishman Supremacist who despises humans, but is willing to put his prejudices aside for profit, and prefers bribing corrupt Marine Captains over attacking them. He also finds Nami valuable for her map making skills and praises her for it.
    • Donquixote Doflamingo is the beloved king to the citizens of Dressrosa. While he is renowned as an accomplished pirate worldwide, his people know him as their savior. He is seen shooting Trafalgar Law in public, but explains it away by implicating the victim as a terrorist against the country.
    • Early in the series, Don Krieg wanted to feed his starving crew at the Baratie so he won't lose the manpower at hand.
    • Used in a cruel manner in the Alabasta arc when Crocodile was confronted by Alabasta's elite soldiers, who had taken a lethal elixir to enhance their strength at the cost of dying in five minutes. Even though he could easily defeat them even with their power up, Crocodile didn't see any need to since they would die in a few minutes, instead, refusing to fight them and denying them an honorable death at the same time.
  • In Bakuman。, when Nanamine realizes that "What is Required" will certainly be canceled, he loses hope. Kosugi, the editor he had bullied into going along with his plan of getting ahead, then loses his temper and punches Nanamine. Nanamine considers getting Kosugi fired and even suing him for battery, but decides not to since it will only serve to make him a laughingstock of the Internet.
  • Kiritsugu Emiya of Fate/Zero may not see himself as a villain, but deliberately uses methods he knows to be both pragmatic and villainous. In his perspective, there is no such thing as a noble war, and that chivalry is the greater crime for perpetuating war by glamorizing it, rather than ending fights with merciless and abrupt execution and leaving survivors with no taste for war.
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the only thing stopping Homura from outright villainy is the fact that her main goal is to ensure Madoka's happiness...a goal which cannot be achieved through immoral methods. So Homura says, at least.
  • This is how the protagonists of Cyborg 009 come about in the first place. The Black Ghost specialize in selling weapons and thus have it in their best interests to ensure that the world is in a continuous state of warfare. They are fully aware, however, that letting things escalate to the levels they plan will eventually mean leaving the planet uninhabitable and thus unsuitable for war. In preparation for this, they plan to perfect a process to turn humans into cyborgs capable of living in space... solely so those cyborgs could serve as soldiers and keep the cycle of war going on.
  • In Red River (1995), one of the reasons it takes so long to get any accusations against Nakia and Urhi to stick are because both are very good at leaving themselves ways to ensure their plans don't get traced back to them. Nakia relies heavily on methods such as using magic water to brainwash unsuspecting people into helping her (the water vanishes when it's thrown up, so no evidence remains behind) or having Urhi do her bidding. At one point, Urhi successfully kidnaps Yuri, but returns her. This is not out of the goodness of his heart, but because Kail would kill Nakia. Similarly, he only admits to assassinating the king because it allowed for him to pin the crime solely on him (Nakia had actually planned it and he carried it out) and let Nakia get off free while he was executed for it.
  • Berserk: Griffith/Femto is the king of this trope as he will never do anything pointlessly evil and will appear as benevolent and fair to anyone who's not antagonizing him. Give him the possibility though to further his goals and he will cross the Moral Event Horizon like a chicken would a road.
  • A Certain Magical Index: Even when he considered himself a villain, Accelerator buys his groceries and meals instead of taking it by force. When questioned about this by Last Order, he explains that although he's powerful enough to just take anything he wants, it's too much hassle to have to deal with the authorities and others futilely trying to fight him off. Buying stuff without making a fuss means he gets it quickly and without any problems. Having everyone in the city hate him for fighting the police would be very annoying.
  • In Black Butler (as well as the anime) Ciel is determined to explain all of his actions away with this, especially if Sebastian thinks he is being kind or generous. No matter what it is, Ciel has a reasonably evil or at least unkind explanation—he lets Prince Soma stay at his London house? He needed someone to watch it and managed to stick Soma with the job. He seemed to have a nice time when visiting with his fiancée? Well, he was only acting that way because it was expected.
  • Cross Ange:
    • In a meeting of the Mana leaders, Julio declares that they must eradicate the Norma, declaring it was their mistake to let them live. One of the leaders immediately protests, reminding him that they're still useful as Cannon Fodder and are needed to harvest the Dragons.
    • Embryo also uses Julio's massacre to his advantage in order to gain new recruits for his Battle Harem. He also tries to convince Ange to side with goal of destroying the Mana world. Too bad for him, Tusk disrupts this by showing the kind of man he really is.
  • Lord Marksman and Vanadis:
    • While leading a raid on the Alsace territory, Zion orders his men not to attack anyone who has taken shelter in the temple, saying such an act would cause everyone in the kingdom to turn against them.
    • After Roland fails a mission, Duke Ganelon has him framed for treason and executed. When Duke Thenardier finds out, he angrily calls Ganelon an idiot, since Roland was a very powerful soldier, one of the few people able to fight a War Maiden on equal terms, and was much more useful alive.
  • Izetta: The Last Witch: When the Emperor of Germania hears word that their invasion failed miserably against an extremely disadvantaged Eylstadt, he first thought of executing the commanding officers for incompetence. After learning that they lost because of an Outside-Context Problem (in this case, the titular witch), he changes his mind since their info about the disaster seemed useful for them. He then decides to change the punishment by having them Reassigned to Antarctica.
  • In Izure Shinwa No Ragnarok, the warring gods put their previous war on hold when they realized they were razing the very lands that they were fighting over. Their current rules now limit them to an island for their battlefield.
  • Robotech has its fair share:
    • The Robotech Masters at first hold back, even limiting civilian casualties on Earth... Because all their remaining assets are on their motherships and they fear Earth will do whatever they did to wipe out the Zentraedi (almost six million ships) if pushed too much, not knowing it could not be repeated. Even when they figured that out, they still tried to have peace (at conditions Earth was materially unable to fulfill) because by that moment they had weakened enough the Invid were a danger.
    • After conquering Earth, the Invid Regess keeps her race from hitting the conquered humans unless they hit first... Because the last thing she needs is a rebellion that could leave them open to the Robotech Expeditionary Force's attempts at taking back Earth. This one comes to pass perfectly: late in the series one of her subordinates tries to exterminate the population of New York, and suddenly the forces on the ground supporting the final REF offensive are not limited to a handful of resistance fighters but are numerous enough to actually pose a threat.
  • How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord: Medios is a slave trader. She does not abuse her slaves and makes sure they are well educated and all their needs are met. Her reasoning is that this results in Happiness in Slavery, meaning everyone is satisfied and her slaves don't try to escape or resist their masters, resulting in higher profits for her.
  • In episode 15 of Tweeny Witches, Sigma does save Eva from the warlock army, but that is only to win Sheila's trust.
  • In Goddess Creation System, morally shady protagonist Xiaxi saves the life of the rival that kidnapped her not because she's such a kind person, but because she'd be killed for sure if the other girl died. She openly admits it, too, which Ming Zhu seems to appreciate.
  • Durarara!!:
    • Inverted. Despite easily seeming more restrained than Shizuo, Izaya is highly impulsive and even admits he often makes problems since he can't stop himself from messing with others. He caused Akane incident out of sheer pettiness for not being involved with Hollywood, leading to Yodogiri stabbing him and Vorona meeting Shizuo.
    • Played straight later on. Izaya dismantles Heaven's Slave and Amphisbaena after being assigned by the Awakusu to gain intel on them. As it turns out, the gangs had been created by Nakura under different aliases before leaving them, and both leaders posed as second-in-commands to pin everything on their nonexistent bosses. Instead of handing over this info, Izaya tells the Awakusu they probably destroyed each other and disappeared, keeping Nakura safe and ensuring that he would forever be under Izaya's thumb.
  • In Sword Art Online, Sigurd threatens to kill Kirito when the latter intercedes in a dispute between Sigurd and Leafa. Since Kirito is in an enemy capital city, he can't fight back, but Sigurd stops when one of his underlings points out that there are people watching, and it would look bad if he killed Kirito. Apparently believing that taking his anger out on Kirito wouldn't be worth the blow to his reputation, Sigurd lets Kirito go.
  • In My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, several students falsely accuse Catarina of bullying Maria (which she was guilty of in the original Fictional Video Game, but not in main story). However, Catarina's friends stand up for her and disprove the accusations. Some time later, Geordo and Catarina realize that the students would normally never even attempt make false accusations against Catarina, since as the daughter of a duke, she outranks her accusers. It turns out that the students had fallen under the sway of a dark magic user.
  • Quincy, the Corrupt Corporate Executive and owner of Genom in the original Bubblegum Crisis has absolutely no issue with ordering the deaths of individuals if it benefits his company and power. However, Quincy's not a villain for villainy's sake and is content with the power he does have. To that end, he's more than willing to deal with public protests and lawsuits if the other option is handing over control of the particle beam satellite to a terrorist who'd only use it to kill as many people as he wants. When Largo hijacks control of the satellite and uses it to destroy various Genom buildings across the Earth, killing hundreds of thousands in the process, Quincy's genuinely horrified by not only the loss of property but loss of life in general. Even his assistant Kate Madigan's horrified, and she just killed a man moments before because he outlived his usefulness.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable, Keicho Nijimura uses the Stand Arrow to empower random people with the ability to use Stands, which ends up killing several people who lacked the fortitude to use one. When Yoshihiro Kira uses the Arrow, he instead allows the Arrow to guide him to his targets. He doesn't do this because he cares about avoiding killing people, especially considering that he's doing this to help his Serial Killer son, but so that he can get allies to fight Josuke and his friends.

    Comic Books 
  • Crime Boss Wallenquist from Sin City refuses to seek revenge on Wallace, who almost singlehandedly dismantled his human slavery market, because there's no benefit to him.
    "Revenge is a loser's game. There's no percentage in it. All that matters is profit and power."
    • In "The Big Fat Kill", Dwight appears to know this about Wallenquist, and is counting on it. He makes a point of killing all of the men Wallenquist has sent so he'll conclude that fighting Old Town is more trouble than it's worth. The idea of escalation never seems to come up.
  • The Shocker, one of Spider-Man's enemies, is almost unique among the wall-crawler's enemies in that he's rarely concerned with taking revenge on our hero and prefers to only commit crimes that are actually profitable. Of course, superhero comics being what they are, Spider-Man is almost always the one to interfere with the Shocker's robberies. He also avoids doing anything above robberies as he believes doing anything beyond that will simply attract the attention of The Punisher.
    • Speaking of the Punisher: after Eddie Brock's reformation as Anti-Venom, Castle refuses to forgive him for his earlier crimes as Venom, and repeatedly tries to kill him. At one point, after witnessing Brock save several women's lives from a drug warlord, the Punisher has a clear headshot of Brock in his sights, but then gets up without taking the shot. After a friend questions whether he changed his mind and considered Brock morally redeemed, Castle reveals he was actually just out of bullets.
    • The Hobgoblin started out with this, vowing to avoid the Green Goblin's mistakes and only went to kill Spider-Man to make sure he wouldn't mess with his plans. However, these traits were lost, though the character's backstory is complicated, with there having been multiple Hobgoblins. The original Hobgoblin still has profit as his biggest motivator, and is actually willing to let other villains use his gimmick, provided they pay him a cut and aren't too embarrassing to him.
    • Another Spider-Man example; after escaping from Ravencroft, Carnage assaulted Martha Robinson and then wrote his catchphrase "Carnage Rules" using her blood and his next to her on an elevator wall, but did not kill her, because he felt that a live, injured, and frightened victim would cause more panic among the Daily Bugle staff than a corpse would. (And it certainly did.)
    • In The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Tombstone was disappointed that his daughter Janice wished to become a costumed supervillain rather than be a mob lawyer since he felt the latter was more profitable and in his eyes equivalent to legalized crime. Nonetheless, he didn't stop her, but told her that she had to support herself if she wished to pursue supervillainy.
  • Bullseye may be an Axe-Crazy Psycho for Hire, but during the Dark Reign, he was lucid enough to realize that he was working for someone who was out of his gourd when Norman Osborn planned to attack Asgard. (And he wasn't the only villain working for Osborn who thought so.)
  • He needed Wonder Woman to point it out in Vol 2, but no, Ares does not support nuclear and biological war - he needs war in order to live. A nuclear war would give Ares a short-term major power boost, but with no one left to fight wars he would eventually fade into nothing. Smaller scale wars that can constantly feed him are more practical for long term survival.
  • Darkseid is like this a lot:
    • He will never try to conquer the universe through Time Travel on the grounds that it is far too reckless. There are simply far too many things that could go wrong when you alter history.
    • Also the reason he teamed up with the heroes to take down the Anti-Monitor. It wasn't out of the goodness of his heart, but if anyone was going to destroy and conquer the universe, it's going to be him.
    • He objects to Desaad and Sleez's acts of evil because they are largely pointless. Desaad is a petty sadist. Sleez once mind-controlled Superman, but instead of doing anything useful with him like trying to conquer the world, he made Superman star in a porno.
    • Another example occurred in Cosmic Odyssey (not surprising, since Odyssey had basically the same plot as Crisis on Infinite Earths), in which it was Darkseid, of all people, who organized the heroes to fight the Anti-Life Entity. Of course, Darkseid did try to manipulate the situation to his own advantage, fully in keeping with this trope.
  • Christu Bulat from The Punisher MAX arc "The Slavers", in total contrast to his father. The relationship between the two is rather strained because Christu views human trafficking as a business and raping girls as just part of the business. He also berates his father for using his bare hands instead of a gun to kill a gang member, as well as for shooting the whole gang. As you could guess from his profession, though, he's still a heartless, raping bastard. His pragmatism is best demonstrated by his willingness to kill his own father. It doesn't work out, both because he underestimated his father and because he gets disemboweled.
  • In the Watchmen universe, after the "costumed hero" phase hit its peak, most costumed villains started either reforming entirely or switching to "less showy" pursuits like drug dealing and prostitution rackets.
  • The Joker explained that he doesn't place Joker Venom on post office stamps because it was too ludicrous a crime even for him, preferring instead to operate on a much smarter level in regards to such matters. This was also when he was framed for placing Joker Venom on postage stamps and nearly executed as a result.
    • He himself also invokes the trope, whenever the bad guys do a Villain Team-Up, they RARELY (If ever) invite the Joker in. While most of them were genuinely afraid of him, some of them didn't like The Joker because he's not exactly a team player and is considered unprofessional and untrustworthy even from his fellow villains. The exception is Lex Luthor, who does invite him if he's in charge of the villain team ups on the basis that it's safer to have an unpredictable Joker on your team than it is to have an unpredictable Joker who's offended you snubbed him.
    • One time, he begged off from doing a Villain Teamup with Carnage because Carnage just wanted to maim and kill, while Joker preferred panache in his murders.
      The Joker: I always thought of myself as the Orson Welles of crime and chaos, while you, apparently, aspire to be nothing more than... David Hasselhoff!
    • The fact that The Penguin is perfectly sane may have contributed to his mutation into a gray market white-collar criminal who Batman is grudgingly willing to tolerate as a source of information on the criminal underworld.
  • Catwoman is pretty much the one person in Batman's rogues gallery who has never wanted to play games or complex schemes as she's simply a thief. It was best summed up in a storyline set on Earth-2 where Batman recruits Catwoman to help him against the Scarecrow. They find themselves playing a complex game as Scarecrow wants to break Batman down before killing him with various clues left to find him.
    Catwoman: He must be crazy. All I ever wanted to do was get away from you long enough to enjoy the loot!
    Batman: I know. After psychopaths like Joker, Two-Face and Riddler, you have no idea how refreshing it was to fight someone who was just in it for the money.
    Catwoman: I'll take that as a compliment.
  • Requiem Vampire Knight
    • You're Dracula. The series is Requiem Vampire Knight. Six million lemures, the souls of those who were mistreated and murdered in life and can only be stopped by killing their tormentor in death, are swarming your ship. Do you fight them all one on one? Or do you step into your back room and break Hitler's neck, wiping out all six million in a stroke?
    • Also in this same comic, Black Sabbat stops Atilla the Hun from murdering Requiem for the heinous crime of being kind and honorable (which, by Hell standards, is considered quite objectionable) by pointing out they need every available vampire knight to fight their wars and they can't afford to waste their forces. Of course, Sabbat has ulterior plans for Requiem too, so had another reason for sparing him.
  • The Red Skull may indulge in petty wasteful sadistic villainy often, but he does not appreciate anyone on his payroll doing the same. Villainy committed on his dime has to have some kind of profit for him.
    • During his origin story, he was ordered by Hitler to execute a Nazi officer who had failed him. The Skull instead used his Improbable Aiming Skills to simply shoot off the buttons of the officer's jacket, explaining to Hitler that while a dead officer is useless, one who knows exactly what will happen if he fails again, is quite valuable.
    • One comic showed him foiling a plan by Madam Hydra, his subordinate at the time, that wanted to blind every American who was watching a television set at some point. He said he was called a lot of things, but never a Nihilist anarchist. (Hilariously, he once renounced Nazism to embrace... nihilist anarchism. It didn't take.)
    • His clone takes this to another level — while still an unrepentant racist, he's started recruiting from both sexes and all races, in order to gather enough people who hate mutants as much as he does.
  • The Flash's Rogues tend towards this, especially Captain Cold; it is one of their unspoken rules not to kill speedsters, since they know that the other superheroes will hunt them down, will not stop, and may even be "creative" about retribution... for example, what Wally "The Flash" West did to Inertia for de-powering Wally's cousin Bart Allen, also aka The Flash, which led to his death when the Rogues panicked and unwittingly killed him. They promptly turned on Inertia for that, meaning that Iris told Wally that Inertia was the "prime mover" in Bart's death, but still ended up on the run for a year; Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge was about them deciding to first hang up the spandex and disband, but then upon hearing of Inertia's escape, they decide to do their one last job and kill Inertia in revenge. Upon succeeding, they dump his corpse in Keystone City with a message to "Tell the Flash we're even - The Rogues."
    • Also, when Libra tries to get the Rogues to join, Captain Cold's refusal explicitly taunts him: "Have fun with the heat comin' your way for takin' out the Martian." That, and as Captain Cold pointed out in Rogues Revenge: #1, they were persona non grata among supervillains in the year after they'd killed a Flash, so Captain Cold isn't inclined to back them either.
  • In Empowered, most career villains (including mooks) avoid killing heroes unless absolutely necessary, particularly the weak, useless ones like Empowered — doing so will result in your victim's hero friend tracking you down to exact bloody vengeance instead of just arresting you.
  • This sometimes applies to low-level criminals and petty thugs in some of the later Marvel Comics as well. In one Incredible Hulk comic, for instance, two perverts in the showers at the local YMCA are planning to rape Bruce Banner until he warns them about his having super powers; they decide not to see whether he's bluffing. Moreover, in the future depicted in Spider-Girl's comics, several bands of assassins made it a policy only to subdue cops who got in their way and never to kill them, since the various law enforcement agencies involved tend to retaliate swiftly and brutally against cop-killers. A couple of petty burglars caught in the act by a superhero also surrender immediately rather than risk the near-certainty of being pounded into the pavement for fighting or fleeing.
  • Diabolik is a criminal who mainly steals from other criminals, but it's not because he hates them, it's because they tend to keep their money and jewels in their homes and banks have become too much even for him.
    "My dear Eva, illicit business pays well, and what really matters is that it's done in cash. I'm sure that home is full of money."
  • Many criminals appearing in Paperinik's stories, both in the normal stories and Paperinik New Adventures:
    • Petty criminals caught by Paperinik in the act will surrender, because whatever they do they'll get arrested and if they try and resist or escape they'll just get beat up;
    • In Paperinik New Adventures, the Evronians are Emotion Eaters who invade any planet on their way to drain their inhabitants of all emotions with a process that will transform them into Coolflames. They won't drain all inhabitants, however, as some could be useful at a later date and they still need a breeding population to feed themselves. They also spare significant energy sources as they're approaching an energetic crisis, and are desperately searching an infinite one specifically to avert it.
      • In the reboot, Gorthan reacts to finding out that Coolflamization can be reversed by not destroying Earth, as humans are particularly rich in emotions and raiding them continuously to drain them will be more profitable in the long run. In a possible future they do so for one thousand years.
    • Also from Paperinik New Adventures, the Organization, who provide multiple examples:
      • They are time pirates who aim at changing history in such a way they'll be in command of the world, but their attempts at doing it (or at least the one seen in the series) involve assembling a device to move history on their preferred course because they're smart enough to know it could easily backfire;
      • In one occasion they help Paperinik stopping the creation of a bubble that would otherwise erase time itself because it would destroy everything they want to steal;
      • When they decide to get rid of Paperinik, they send their agent to act after the defeat of the Evronians, as they knew his role into the event and that otherwise the Evronians would have become unstoppable and invaded Earth. They also only do it because Paperinik was becoming too much of a danger for them;
      • When they accidentally end up ruling the world as an unintended consequence of their apparent success in killing Paperinik, the future they rule over doesn't seem any different from what is seen in other occasions, presumably because otherwise there would be too many rebellions;
      • Their main agent the Raider once showed up to prevent Duckburg from getting destroying in a nuclear fusion experiment going awry. It's not out of the goodness of his heart, but because the nuclear experiment working would be the only possible power source for his Othership that isn't too surveilled. In fact, had he not needed to charge the Othership he would have left the events proceeding as normal because he isn't stupid enough to risk running afoul of The Butterfly Effect;
      • In his final appearance in the first series, the Raider betrays the Organization to the Time Police because, with time travel stopping working, it was time to retire, and the Time Police paid well.
    • In the reboot we have the time pirate Kronin (a composite character of the Raider and his predecessor in the job). He steals from all across time, but won't try and change time because he fears running afoul of The Butterfly Effect. He states so in his "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Zondag, who had stolen Kronin's time machine and prevented the birth of Evron's main enemies only to cause the Evronians to leave their militaristic ways, thus destroying the Evronian Empire he was planning to rule over.
  • The Transformers: Windblade: Starscream styles himself around this way of thinking when he takes over Cybertron. He's watched now, millions look up to him as the leader of civilization, and he cares only about himself. However, he's doing his best to get the public on his side, and the big reveal at the end of the series is that he wasn't behind the murders and malfunctions in the city because simply put: dead citizens and faulty maintenance reflect badly on him, so why would he go out of the way to sabotage the heroes if it meant him looking bad? This carries over into The Transformers: Combiner Wars where writer Mairghread Scott describes his character in one quote:
    Unlike other villains, Starscream is just as willing to do the right thing as the wrong thing. That's what makes him so dangerous.
  • Zigzagged with the Huntress. Just how evil she is is a matter for some debate. Certainly she's a multiple murderess who shows no remorse about her crimes, and she was made into a villainess in Arrow without any significant changes to her personality or methods. So whether she's a Villain Protagonist, Sociopathic Hero, or just a very dark Anti-Hero is a question of interpretation. But in any case, when she joined the Birds of Prey, she did agree to stop killing people, not because she thought it was wrong, but because the other Birds would not work with her otherwise. Of course, the reason she wanted to be a part of the Birds in the first place was because she valued the friendship of Black Canary so much. So is Huntress a pragmatic villainess who restrains her murderous impulses because she knows her teammates won't work with her otherwise, or is she a killer who has been at least partly redeemed by the Power of Friendship?
    • Notably, she had a similar agreement with Batman during her time in the JLA, but was prepared to break it for revenge on Prometheus, who was completely helpless at the time. Batman stopped her and promptly kicked her out of the League.
    • The No Man's Land arc around the same time also may have had an impact on her. After failing to live up to Batman's expectations operating as Batgirl, Huntress sided with an Ax-Crazy cop who shared her beliefs on killing criminals. It went very badly.
  • In the Angela (Marvel Comics) title Asgard's Assassin, Malekith the Accursed disguised as Angela's best friend Sera aided Angela in her quest to purge her newborn sister of Surtur's curse. When Angela confronted him having realized "Sera" was an imposter he explained that he did it to prevent Surtur from becoming ruler of the Ten Realms. As bad as relations between Asgardians and the Dark Elves are, the Dark Elves would fare even worse under Surtur.
  • In the Star Wars comic Boba Fett: Enemy of the Empire, Boba Fett has been tasked by Darth Vader to retrieve a mysterious package that is only revealed at the climax to be an Oracular Head. Vader himself arrives to take the package, and the two battle over it, Fett obviously greatly outmatched. Fett's only chance of survival is to hurl the package into a volcano, knowing Vader will be forced to levitate it to safety in time. At the end of the story it is revealed that as Vader was distracted, Fett aimed his gun at him for a kill shot before thinking the better of it and fleeing. As he puts it, by then there was no reason to fight further, and killing Vader would only make him the most wanted man in the Empire. He also recognizes this trait in Vader himself, noting that "the Dark Lord is not one to make fruitless enemies. In time Vader's anger will cool, and the Empire may once again require his services."
    • In Darth Vader #8, Emperor Sidious tells Darth Vader to stop killing so many underlings. Sidious says he emphasizes with Vader's frustration and boredom, however, Sidious notes that constantly giving into anger will make Vader a toy of the Dark Side and lead to the death of all their subjects.
      Darth Sidious: "I do not wish to rule over a galaxy of the dead."
    • In Star Wars: Legacy, Darth Wyyrlok points out that Darth Krayt’s genocide of the Mon Calamari will leave the Empire with no one to run the valuable Mon Calamari shipyards. Krayt, by contrast, views the loss of the shipyards as less important than cowing the rest of the galaxy into submission.
  • Crimson: Victor Van Fleet is a corrupt US senator and secretly a Vampire Monarch in league with the Big Bad to take over the world. However, he is extremely unhappy when dragons are unleashed from Hell and cause devastation upon the world, not because of any particular moral reservations over innocents being hurt, but because it threatens his public image. He is concerned he will be seen as a collaborator and a traitor, instead of a proper leader. When the Big Bad reveals that her master goal is to unmake reality, Van Fleet turns on her and helps the main protagonist because he realizes that he wouldn't get to rule over anything if she ever succeeded in her plans.
  • Laff-A-Lympics: In "The Day the Rottens Won", most of the Really Rottens have decided they'll no longer cheat and Dread Baron announces that they made that decision because they always get caught and disqualified whenever they cheat. It turns out to be a ruse so Dread Baron could "exclude" the Great Fondoo and Magic Rabbit from the team so nobody would wonder about their whereabouts while they sabotaged the other teams from the inside.
  • Vampirella: In the Harris run this is brought up by one of Von Kreist's bosses after he reports to him that he managed to land a crashing plane on top of a children's playground. He doesn't seem to object to Von Kreist's action because of any moral qualms, just the lack of professionalism.
  • Khaal: The Chronicles of a Galactic Emperor: When the warlord Khaal launches his decisive assault to conquer Empyreon, he personally executes his own warriors for mindlessly murdering their foes because he wants to take as many of them alive as slaves. He clearly doesn't have his enemies' well being in mind, he just wants to have proper use for them and will not abide unnecessary deaths.
  • Count Dracula from Marvel's The Tomb of Dracula had previously tried to gain supreme power or take over the world on separate occasions, but he was foiled each time by different heroes over the years. He decided to sit back and have vampires hide in the shadows away from human eyes because they couldn't possibly compete with other superhumans on Earth, as well as because they prospered better while hidden. This angered his son Xarus, who attempted a coup on him in Curse of the Mutants. That doesn't mean his conquest aspirations are dead and buried: after the superhero community was thrown into disorder by the events of Infinity which saw the Terrigen cloud awakening Inhumans around the world and poisoning mutants, Dracula tried to take advantage of the superhero community being in disarray to stage a invasion, though he ended up being stopped by Old Man Logan.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (IDW): Dr. Starline prefers to be very thorough with his experiments, conducting enough experimentation on his projects in order to have sufficient data samples to work out from. This directly contrasts him with Eggman, who just hastily implements his plans the instant his experiments show the results he wants. Best displayed when they test the Metal Virus. Starline objects to Eggman deploying the virus after he's conducted the bare minimum of tests on it, not out of any moral grounds, but because he had literally just created the virus and they should run more experiments to be sure there's no unforeseen effects.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Dick Tracy, the final Big Boy Caprice story by Max Allan Collins has him trying to kill Tracy with a million dollar open contract on the detective. Eventually, the organized crime ruling committee, The Apparatus, confront Caprice and tell him that the contract must be canceled. In this case, this is a matter of professionalism considering that not only is murdering police officers stupidly bad for business, but also Tracy has learned about the mob contract on him and has taken personal control of the department's Organized Crime Unit to retaliate. The Apparatus knows that they can't afford to let Tracy come at them full bore and so they must take action.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In The Brothers Grimm's tale "Maid Maleen", the prince's bride is reluctant to punish minor offenses with death because that sort of conduct often leads to a revolt.

    Films — Animation 
  • Batman: Assault on Arkham: The Penguin is on the point of killing Harley Quinn in revenge for her and the Joker destroying one of his shipments for a laugh. Deadshot talks him out of it by pointing out that killing a client's operative would give Penguin a reputation as a double-crosser and damage his business.
  • In Frozen, Prince Hans gave blankets and food to the poor, so the people could accept him easily once he took over the kingdom. He also dissuaded Elsa from killing the Weselton soldiers and by the same token, stops them from killing her, in order not to damage his good publicity.
  • Home on the Range: Alameda Slim's plan is this overall. He is out for revenge not by killing people, but instead by driving the people he worked for out of business. He uses his unnatural yodeling to steal a farm's main source of income, cattle, and sells the cattle on the black market. He then waits for the farms to go up for auction and uses the money from the cattle he sold to buy the foreclosed farmland.
  • In Jonny Quest vs. the Cyber Insects, 426 talks Zin out of blowing up Quest Shuttle 2, not because she cares about the Quests, but because she points out that that firing their ion cannon will reveal their cloaked base to Intelligence 1.
  • One of the lessons the main character in Megamind learns after apparently killing Metro Man. Part of the enjoyment of being a supervillain is having a worthy superhero to do battle with.
  • In Mulan, Shan-Yu and his Elite Mooks figure out that the Imperial Army is waiting for them in a mountain pass that stands between the Huns and the capital. One of the Elite Mooks suggests going around the army to avoid losing too many men. However, Shan-Yu overrules him because the quickest way to the capital is through that pass and has the Huns go straight through the pass at the Imperial Army. It works, since an insignificant number of Huns is killed while the entire Imperial Army is wiped out to a man.
  • In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, Sunset Shimmer mostly has standards, but also complains when her two followers trash the decorations for the Fall Formal too completely — since she wants there to be enough damage to allow her to frame Twilight Sparkle for it, but not so much that the Fall Formal can't be held on schedule, jeopardizing her plans.
  • The Storm King of My Little Pony: The Movie (2017) throws a party for his subordinates after successfully conquering a nation and generally treats them with respect. As the Storm King notes, this isn't really out of concern for their well-being as much as it is ensuring their loyalty. By his logic, minions who like him are always going to be more effective in battle, so it only makes sense to be nice. He subverts this at the end of the film by going back on his word to heal Tempest Shadow's broken unicorn horn, saying using people is "kind of what I do". This sparks a Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal from Tempest that gets the Storm King turned to stone. However, given the fact he'd just caught her saying how she'd "show everyone what she was capable of" once he restored her horn and his previous Number Two stabbed him in the back, there may still have been a pragmatic reason for it.
  • In the opening scene of Pocahontas, as the settlers are facing hardships on the sea on their way to the new world, Governor Ratcliff gives them a Rousing Speech on the purpose of their voyage and the prosperity that awaits them in the new world. In private, Ratcliff reveals to his assistant Wiggins that he did so in order to keep their morale up, as he'll need them to dig up the gold in the New World.
  • While Sir Hiss from Robin Hood seemed genuinely shocked that Prince John would execute Friar Tuck to lure Robin Hood out, he was probably afraid that doing so would risk them being excommunicated by the Catholic Church, a powerful political entity at that time.
  • Mother Gothel of Tangled takes care of Rapunzel so her Fountain of Youth would not run dry. She makes Rapunzel's favorite soup and brings her rare paints to keep her placated, and protects her "daughter" from dangers she herself hyped up to keep her secured in the tower. She says she loves her so Rapunzel would love her, care for her, and never leave her.
  • Played for Laughs by Yzma in The Emperor's New Groove:
    Yzma: I'll turn him into a flea! A harmless little flea! And then I'll put that flea in a box, and then I'll put that box inside another box, and then I'll mail it to myself, and when it arrives... I'll smash it with a hammer! It's brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, I tell you! Genius, I say! ... Or, to save on postage, I'll just poison him with this.

  • In the last verse of the early Stephen Malkmus solo song "The Hook", the narrator has become the captain of a Galleon, and makes it clear that if he happens to show you mercy, it's only because it suits him in the moment.
    There is no time to pray and there's no time to beg
    and then it's off with an arm or it's off with a leg
    and if I spare your life, it's because the tide is leaving

  • Velor Vedevix of Cerberus Daily News was a pirate and slaver before the Reaper invasion. Once the true magnitude of the threat was revealed, he began focusing his efforts on fighting the Reapers, gathering other pirates to fight, scavenging in the Terminus systems, even openly delivering needed supplies to Alliance warships that would have happily blown him out of space a month earlier. If the Reapers win, no more piracy.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Illithids in Dungeons & Dragons have to be pragmatic since their powerbase is a mere shadow of what it was in their glory days. Illithids would like nothing better than to gorge themselves on humanoid brains, but most of them are smart enough to realize that indulging their appetites too frequently would bring the wrath of every other humanoid race upon their tentacled heads. So the Illithids limit themselves to one or two brains a month while engaging in backroom deals, slave trading, and subtly aiming for power in the shadows.
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • Blue and/or black villains tend to abide by this. For example, in the Odyssey and Onslaught Cycles, the Cabal is a ruthlessly evil organization that is, nevertheless, primarily interested in profit, and the Cabal Patriarch recognizes that certain types of evil are...wasteful.
    • Dovin Baan while working for the corrupt Consulate under Tezzeret strongly disapproves of their methods. When they confiscate every device he reflects that a change in approach - a few empty promises, some official-seeming forms, and a touch of politeness - would be easier, safer, and less likely to spark rebellion than just snatching them.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Tau are (besides the Card-Carrying Villain that is Chaos) the only faction that do not have "All the aliens must die, sooner or later" as policy, and are willing to incorporate other species into the Empire - sometimes at gunpoint, but other times a species will willingly join the Tau.
    • The Dark Eldar was made into this to explain how a bunch of Neutral Evil backstabbers were still alive after 20,000 years. Commorragh Needs Slaves for their labour and for their souls, and if kabals keep up their treacherous antics during a raid then they risk the downfall of their whole society. Of course, once the slaves are safely back in Commorragh then your peers are fair game... and so are you.
    • Indeed, every faction in 40k are pragmatic villains; Dan Abnett pointed out that if Chaos really was a "nail a baby to your helmet" society as some claim they would simply collapse in on themselves and be destroyed within a week. As such, even the most villainous 40k factions must, by definition, have a functioning society. Since they can all threaten the Imperium to a greater or lesser degree, that means there must be people who can engage in pragmatic villainy. Any examples (from any race) that contradicts this can therefore be dismissed on the grounds of "every sufficiently large organisation has a bloody twit in a position of power."
      • Speaking of Chaos, the Alpha Legion have this as their hat. Most other traitor legions treat their cultists and mortal servants with disdain and just hand them a rifle or melee weapon (if that) and throw them at the enemy. The Alpha Legion recognise that their few astartes can't be everywhere at once and are difficult to replace, so if mortal servants can be trained to be guerilla fighters and agents then that helps protect their lives even more than simply using them as bullet-catchers.
    • Horus is a very straight example. He doesn't seem to care for most of Primarchs who sided with him, calling them 'broken monsters' but he knows he's never going to beat the Emperor alone. Likewise he offers extremely generous terms to the Mechanicus because he knows he can't fight Earth and Mars at the same time. Hell, despite his demonic corruption he doesn't even seem to particularly care that much about the gods of chaos. His death almost completely destroys his forces because he's apparently the only man in all of chaos to appreciate practical compromise rather than Revenge before reason....
    • Likewise, for all the anti-xenos rhetoric that's fed to the common masses, the Imperium of Man actually runs on cold, hard Realpolitik, even working together with the Tau in a form of faction-scale Enemy Mine to help defeat the Tyranids. Of course, both sides are also trying to subtly maneuver one another into doing the dirty work so that their own side ends up with the advantage in the aftermath...
  • Warhammer:
    • The Vampire Counts will cheerfully employ We Have Reserves when it comes to their zombie and skeleton minions. They'll raise the enemy dead and send them to kill their friends, and they'll even re-use mutilated zombies multiple times. Individual vampires will even treat themselves as expendable, because they can often just be brought back to life no matter what happens to them (cannonball takes their head off, get trampled under knights, take a magic sword through the chest, whatever) through magical means or just by absorbing enough life force and coming back through the dust they were reduced to. What vampires won't do is needlessly expend the lives of their mortal servants: why send a loyal dreg to his death and embolden the living against the Midnight Aristocracy, when you can simply raise a dead enemy and send him to kill his living friends and get the same results? Few living beings will willingly associate with the undead, and unlike the undead they can operate in plain sight (and daylight!), so vampire lords can't just waste them.
    • One of the reasons behind Clan Mors' rapid rise in power is that its members are able to reject the more maniacal and self-destructive aspects of the Skaven mindset, such as by discouraging betrayal when this hinders the greater clan, accepting enemy surrender rather than slaughtering everyone and recruiting defeated foes when these seem to be valuable assets.
  • In Rifts, the Vampire Kingdom of Mexico. Their Master Vampire is evil and ruthless, but he's Lawful Evil and understands the value of keeping a contented blood supply around, and thus the Kingdom is actually one of the safest and most peaceful realms on Rifts Earth. Blood is provided through a painless system of blood donations, staggered to avoid causing harm to the humans who donate, and vampires are forbidden from attacking humans to feed (though they still tend to be dicks toward them; they are, after all, nearly always evil). In part because of this system, Mexico is the most powerful and advanced of the Vampire Kingdoms.
    • Similarly, Lord Splynncryth, the Splugorth ruler of Atlantis, is very much an interplanetary conqueror and slaver, but realizes that Rifts Earth has too many mighty powers fighting over it and so satisfies himself with ruling Atlantis and running the Splynn Dimensional Market. He also keeps his deals, or at least doesn't break them out of sheer dickery. One of his "conquests" was achieved by offering the residents of a planet on the verge of ecological collapse an escape from their dying world if they would work for him. Now he has an army of fanatically loyal brutes and they're still deliriously happy with the deal.
  • Old World of Darkness:
    • In Vampire: The Masquerade, this is engaged in by both the Camarilla and the Sabbat with regards to humans— The Camarilla have made revealing the existence of vampires to humans a crime punishable by death (this is the titular "Masquerade"). And while the Sabbat say they want vampires to openly rule over humans, the higher-ups at least realize that vampires couldn't possibly come out well off from a war with humans- lose (which is more than likely, as vampires can't shrug off high explosives and there are several other supernatural factions that would side with humanity) and they'd be masssacred, win and not only are they badly chewed up from a worldwide war, they've eliminated their primary food source. So they encourage their soldiers to keep their actions at least cover-up-able, and have a few Ghoul dynasties who clean up after them.
    • Clan Tremere engages in a lot of highly questionable magical practices, all of which include blood and death, but they draw the line at consorting with demons. Not because they find demons objectionable, but because they understand that Evil Is Not a Toy, and any demon powerful enough to be worth the effort is also too powerful to be controlled.
    • Werewolf: The Apocalypse:
      • Even other minions of the Wyrm will destroy any Gray Mass infestation that shows up. Their corruption is so virulent and indiscriminate that they even jeopardize the other minions of the Wyrm and the Wyrm's greater plans.
      • Pentex does every underhanded thing you'd ever expect from the most stereotypical "eeeeeeeeeeeevil corporation" ever, but they do have some rules - and they are, first and foremost, a business. While sticking a few evil spirits into their products is standard procedure, one guy in charge of the electronics division decided to overload his products with as much Wyrm corruption as he could fit in. Thing is, putting lots of pure chaos and entropy in close contact with advanced technology is a recipe for a disastrous product- the Wyrm-stuffed electronics didn't work, or at least not well enough to actually sell. Rumor has it he ended up the main course at his replacement's welcome lunch.
  • New World of Darkness:
  • Shows up with some of the supercomputers in GURPS Reign of Steel (a 'Robot War, the robots won' setting). The basic and most common example is that several of the supercomputers that have kept to the Kill All Humans goal of the original A.I. have decided that it's really more resource-efficient to work them to death, since you at least get something more than a dead human out of it. More elaborate examples tailored to the A.I.'s specific interests:
    • Washington, who runs a Vichy Earth arrangement where it pretends to the humans in its zone that they are the masters and it is a loyal advisor A.I. — this allows it to harness human ingenuity and economic prowess, while limiting the risk of revolts and keeping itself safely in charge.
    • Moscow, who wants to amass human knowledge. Since humans are often the best at finding that kind of knowledge, it only makes sense to leave humans around to recruit as agents — and it's not a bad idea to let them get an education, too, since that makes them better agents.
    • Brisbane, who is absolutely obsessed with science, the weirder the better. Killing all humans would be a waste of resources — it'd make entire categories of experiments impossible.
    • Caracas, who wants humanity reduced to a hunter-gatherer state to keep them from harming the environment, but is rational about the priority of it and consequently doesn't waste resources enforcing it that could be better used some other way (and with a Zonemind to the north that wants to eradicate all organic life, that better way sometimes includes co-operating with or at least avoiding fighting against human guerrillas on raids into Zone Mexico).
  • In Shadowrun, both Shadowrunners and Mega Corps live by this.
    • Since Shadowrunners are essentially freelance criminals, the more successful crews subscribe to this ideology. Basically, be a Gentleman Thief: don't destroy stuff you aren't being paid to destroy, don't kill anybody you aren't being paid to kill, and don't get caught by the news.
    • Most megas you steal from tend to follow the same 'code': Shadowrunning is simply a cost of doing business. Runners who can avoid or escape internal security and the police response without leaving the corps with a big pile of death benefits and property damage or an irreplaceable loss of prestige may not be worth sending a kill team after. On the other hand, if the price of hiring assassins becomes just another decimal point to the losses you've already caused them, the insurance that you won't be troubling them again becomes very tempting indeed.
      • However, there are exceptions to this. Reveal Aztechnology blood rituals or steal a set of the Renraku Red Samurai's signature armor and they might just call down a Kill Sat on you. Meanwhile, Mitsuhama makes it a matter of company policy to take all shadowruns against them personally. Conversely, runners do not care so much about collateral damage when running against Mitsuhama.
  • In Pathfinder kytons, a Cenobite-like race of fiends who seek self-improvement through surgery, consider the augurs the least of their kind due to their lack of pragmatism. All kytons take pleasure in mutilation, but most are very goal-oriented and keep their sadism under control, while augurs tend to die because they're too busy rolling blood to notice enemies.


    Theme Parks 
  • In Doctor Doom's Fearfall at Universal's Islands of Adventure, the title character provides a lot of safety precautions for the Tower of Doom because he needs human fear to power his new weapon. He can't extract it from a corpse (though he's okay with extracting it, then allowing the person to die).

  • The Sphynx from Subnormality may like to eat humans but is shown to have spared humans a few times, claiming it's because they're small and not worth the effort. (She doesn't eat children for the same reason. "Barely a meal", as she says.) Also, on the other end of the spectrum, she also chooses to lurk outside a gym when hunting for victims, because customers tend to be clean and showered when they come out and too tired to run, insisting to the owner when he complains about it that he'd do the same thing if he were a predator.
  • Exterminatus Now: The Cesspool mercenaries won't sell weapons to the Cultists of Darkness. Because they refuse to pay up front and try to weasel out of the bills.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • In the prequel series Start of Darkness, Xykon says he will not do any scheme of kidnapping virgins because "it's like telling a guy who doesn't know how to hold a hammer to build a house for you". He also thinks that destroying the world is a stupid idea, because if he did that, what would he have left to rule? "I like the world...I'm certainly not about to destroy it unless I get really, really bored."
    • During a story arc in the main series, an imp suggests that Vaarsuvius use some virgin's blood as a spell component, which is rejected for three reasons:
      Vaarsuvius: This is reprehensible, depraved, and most importantly, highly impractical given our current location.
    • Tarquin, who claims to be Above Good and Evil, runs the Empire of Blood. His interaction with Heroes suggests he's so Genre Savvy it hurts, including knowing world domination is rather hard to pull off if everyone knows you're doing it. He even offers help and magical rewards to prevent Xykon from doing so either. However, when his vanity finally got the better of him, he starts sacrificing a large number of minions to try and kill the rest of the Order to make his son the hero of the story, at which point his two teammates take the Pragmatic Villainy ball, though they differ in opinion: Laurin Shattersmith considers it a waste of good resources, and that indulging Tarquin had permanently cost them an important ally less than an hour ago, while Miron Shewdanker sees no profit of any kind in doing so.
    • Belkar, amazingly enough, manages an instance of this, after one of his shoulder demons convinces him that saving Hinjo's life will work out better for him in the long run than letting him be killed by an assassin.
      "It's for the Greater Me."
    • Later on, he receives a vision from Lord Shojo, who tells him that rather than acting in his typical antisocial and psychopathic manner, it would be more beneficial for him to try and play by the rules of society but cheat whenever he can. Belkar sums this up as faking Character Development.
    • When the Three Fiends make a Deal with the Devil with Vaarsuvius, Vaarsuvius is suspicious that they are trying to trick them in some manner. The Fiends reply, no, they are being perfectly fair in their deal, and they actually are. One of them says, "We simply don't need to trick you when we can get what we want by playing it straight." And it's later revealed that the fiends are, in fact, lying to Vaarsuvius about how the deal works (by pretending the evil souls will influence them into evil as well, to make V think themselves above responsibility). The above quote sounds very much like "we're not lying" without actually meaning that.
    • Loki, the god of Karmic Tricksters, started The Bet between his daughter Hel and Thor in order to help her become stronger as a result, but when the goblinoid god, the Dark One, ascended, the opportunity arose to end the Vicious Cycle of the the Snarl destroying the physical world, Loki took it, abandoning his daughter to a possible Cessation of Existence. And if it fails? Loki is taking it out on Thor.
  • The Trolls of Homestuck are a mostly violent race with their Blue-and-Orange Morality that don't consider lying, manipulating, and murdering to be particularly bad things to do. However, they consider Vriska to be Stupid Evil: not because she's doing anything wrong by their standards, but because she's kicking dogs to fulfill her own vanity rather than being productive about it.
  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • Some parties understand this better than others. Ob'enn may be Scary Dogmatic Aliens — not that their military love their theocracy all that much — but they became the second superpower in the Milky Way not for being stupid:
      Ob'enn Leader: Intelligence operations funded with blood draw more attention than those funded with cash.
    • Earth intelligence agent Kowalski has proven himself to be a ruthless stone-cold killer, but at one point when he says some inconvenient would-be bystanders "have to go", it turns out he's speaking literally, and has them shipped off on a luxury space-cruise.
    • The All-Star, a sort of brain-uploaded singularity, tends to kidnap and copy the identities and egos of those it needs to "get rid of" when doing so is required to continue hiding its existence. These people remain trapped and under the All-Star's custody, but fully sentient and in control of their own thoughts. It certainly has the option of essentially rewriting those people to be more in line with the All-Star's objectives, but it has plenty of reason not to.
      Putzho: You could edit everything I know, everything I am, to fit a new narrative.
      All-Star: Your mind would occupy a thousand times more space if we installed enough hooks to do that. Lying is expensive.note 
    • At one point Kevyn warns his comrades again killing Shufgar, as that will lead to "A dark place."
      Kevyn: We are going to turn Shufgar, alive and healthy, over to the Judges of House Est'll. Then, per ancient tradition, he will be killed and eaten a little bit at a time.
      Brad: Your place sounds darker, sir.
      Kevyn: It has the advantage of being legal.
  • Mokepon has Estelle, of Team Rocket. Granted, she is trying to recruit him but compared to the Ax-Crazy Kick the Dog attitude of the other named Rockets Atticus has encountered... Plus, she's also quite capable at her job.
    Atticus: Not that I'm complaining, but... Why did you help me get out? I'd kind of got the impression that Team Rocket was... bad...
    Estelle: There wasn't any reason for you to die. ... That is, assuming you're not going to go talking to people about what happened here. But you seem smart enough to know that would be a very poor decision.
  • Tower of God has an criminal organization, FUG, that's seemingly split on what to do with Viole/Bam, who they forcibly hired by threatening to kill his friends. One side wants to kill him and turn him into a weapon while breaking promises to him (and having the gall to claim he broke the deal first). The other side treats him far more kindly mainly because they believe that with his potential, he's more useful as an ally than as a weapon. They even allow him to make non-FUG friends, simply because doing so gives them more potential hostages. Unsurprisingly, the side that betrays him causes Viole to leave FUG after surviving their attempt. The more benevolent side saves him despite his defection, but only because they have plans to make him join again.
  • Grrl Power: Deus is doing something, but he didn't become personally one of the largest economies in the world by being stupid.
    • He offers to, essentially, buy a small African nation, and when that doesn't work he has the king assassinated. But only because the king was corrupt and wasteful, who spent all his time building vacation homes for himself or killing the families of anyone who disagreed with him. Deus is happy to work with the king's son since he knows he was completely unaware of his father's activities.
      Deus: So how would you like to be one of the richest men in Africa?
      Prince: ...sure!
      Deus: [tosses him the crown] Here you go. Condolences on your coronation.
    • Speaking of the small African nation, he is not treating it as his own personal fiefdom. He builds roads and factories, provides jobs and security, and takes it from having an economy so small that it's not even ranked by the World Bank to #98 in just a few years. Sure, he's using it as a base for his illegal Imported Alien Phlebotinum and the like, but he knows that a prosperous and grateful nation is far better for that purpose than some third-world hellhole.
      Galatean Girl: My mom says you killed the evil tyrant and now we have food and houses and television, so I made this for you! [offers him a clay bowl]
      Deus: Angel, I would kill a thousand tyrants for you.
    • When Sciona breaks into a vault and disables the teleportation wards, Deus takes the opportunity to follow her. The artifacts are protected by fields that can only be passed through by living things, but will kill anything that does so. Sciona sacrifices a minion. Deus uses potted bamboo plants to knock the artifacts out of the fields.
      Deus: Your way is fine too, I guess. Since you obviously don't see the value in trust or loyalty.
    • When an alien refugee ship appears in Earth orbit, every country and government is worried they're the start of an invasion. Deus, with no hesitation, invites them to land and make repairs, giving him access to technology centuries beyond Earth. Every other country immediately starts kicking themselves for missing the opportunity.
  • In Freefall, Mr. Kornada tries to have the sapient robot workforce of planet Jean reprogrammed/lobotomized with a virus so he can take their financial assets for himself. Both Sam Starfall and Mr. Ishiguro criticize the plan for more or less the same reason: they'd rather keep the robots functional enough to make more money, which they can take again later.
    • Ishiguro also supports the campaign for robots to receive legal citizenship purely because he thinks the profit from having them as customers will exceed their value as products.

    Web Original 
  • One of the methods encouraged by the Evil Overlord List. In addition to lining out ways to avoid holding the Villain Ball, the list advises that any Big Bad should try and be pragmatic and practical rather than needlessly cruel for its own sake. It advises this not because being pragmatic is more moral, but because it tends to ensure long-term survival.
  • Dark General Cobalt of Sailor Nothing is this in contrast to his Card-Carrying Villain acquaintances. It's not that he has a moral objection to rape, torture, and murder, it's just that he finds it a colossal waste of time. He'd much rather focus on getting things done. Interestingly, his pragmatism actually results in his being the villain the heroes encounter the most—in the interests of actually getting his project off the ground, he decides to kill the girls who've been wiping out his underlings.
  • Quite a few characters in the Whateley Universe have shades of this. Take Mimeo — with his shapeshifting and power-copying abilities and definite intelligence, he could readily become a dangerous Hero Killer if he ever put his mind to it. (He is on the record as the sort of villain that can confidently take on entire teams and expect to win.) Instead he's quite content to fight a bunch of opponents for a while to acquire their powers, then use those while they last to pull off his real scheme, and then do a vanishing act to enjoy his ill-gotten gains; that approach has been working well for him for years by now and as far as he's concerned he has no reason to change it.
  • Worm:
    • Coil, who wants to take over a city, is this. His stated goals include an involved plan to reduce unemployment via a massive reconstruction effort, reduction in drug-dealing to less harmful drugs, and no more hate crimes in the streets by superpowered Neo-Nazis. As he states, this is because his pride simply couldn't bear it if something that he owned didn't function at the absolute best levels.
    • The protagonist herself is one of the best examples of the crossover between this trope and Anti-Villain; Her fundamental goal is safety for herself and whomever she considers "her people", to the extent that she originally planned to be a hero. In the end, she tends to come down on the side of murder and mayhem because it seems to be the most pragmatic means to those ends, and her 'virtue' is almost always a matter of stopping because she's already won, not doing something because it would be counterproductive in the long run, or doing something 'good' because she and her gang benefit overall. Even her power and its uses are focused primarily around logistics more than anything else.
    • More generally, the greater majority of villains in Worm are pragmatic in their villainy, as those who publicly commit sufficiently heinous crimes are marked by the Parahuman Response Team with a "kill order" and find themselves hunted by successively larger and more powerful groups of unpowered and superpowered individuals. In particular, breaking the Endbringer truce or targeting another cape's family are likely to cause your opponents to pull out all the stops in an effort to kill you.
    • That being said, this only seems to be in effect because of the "Unwritten Rules" that govern cape society. In the sequel, where society exists in an After the End state, and the rules have been thrown out the window, many villains have stooped to doing much more evil deeds, on the grounds that they aren't as likely to be punished anymore.
  • The Groups of Interest from the SCP Foundation wiki are generally Well Intentioned Extremists at their worst, but even the ones intent on spreading anomalies out of a desire to end the "tyranny of normalcy" (The Serpent's Hand) or just profit (MC&D) generally tend to realize that when something is far too dangerous for them to handle, they should just simply hand it over to the Foundation for safe keeping.
    • The SCP Foundation specifically lists an incident with the Global Occult Coalition improperly destroying the friendly sentient chair SCP-1609 and instead turning it into a murderous pile of shredded wood and nails as a prime example of why they, unlike the GOC, don't outright destroy anomalies. However, the GOC themselves are displeased with the actions of the agents responsible for the failed destruction of the SCP object in question… because they wanted it incinerated instead of being shredded.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • At one point in Season 10, poor Agent Carolina suffers through a hefty amount of Mind Rape after her installed A.I.s have a violent Freak Out. Counselor Aiden Price then advises that she should be sedated and cared for... because she would become a less efficient Agent if she were to lose her mind and the A.I.s might also get irreparably damaged while in her head.
    • Additionally, Season 12 shows that Locus is a diehard Consummate Professional - he doesn't Kick the Dog any more than he has to not out of morality, but because it's just inefficient to do so. It's even why he orders his forces to disengage from the fight at the end of Episode 18 even though they could've potentially pressed on and wiped out the Reds and Blues in swopp, as he recognizes that it's now not a sure thing and they have too much new information gathered at that moment to have the strategic upper hand anymore.
  • RWBY:
    • Cinder Fall berates her minions Emerald and Mercury for murdering a White Fang terrorist defector without orders. This isn't because she opposed the killing itself, as she'd already ordered Roman Torchwick, a local known criminal, to kill the defector in the first place. Rather, she's pissed because her plan requires herself, Emerald, and Mercury to remain unnoticed while they infiltrate Beacon Academy and the killing could draw unnecessary attention to them. When Ruby permanently maims Cinder during the Battle of Beacon, Cinder prioritises seeking revenge above all else. In Volume 5, she violates Salem's orders and sacrifices all pragmatism due to her obsession with Ruby.
    • Salem doesn't engage in blood-thirsty, murderous behavior, even though she possesses the power and ability to take whatever she wants by force, as she's savvy enough to realize that she would be making herself a common enemy of the known world and they might eventually luck out and find a way to have her Killed Off for Real. While Hazel honours this by chastising the White Fang leaders for their violence instead of minimising unnecessary killing, Cinder directly questions Salem's attitude. Salem explains that Cinder must never underestimate the usefulness of others. She cites the example of Professor Lionheart, one of Professor Ozpin's oldest allies, whom she turned against Ozpin because he controlled the access to the Relic of Knowledge hidden inside Haven's vault. However, once the plan to obtain the Relic fails, Salem has no further use for Leo and has him murdered without hesitation.
    • Dr. Watts knows to prioritize an end-goal above all else. When Salem demands that her subordinates retrieve the Spring Maiden so that they can obtain the Relic of Knowledge from Haven Academy's vault without humanity ever knowing it happened, Watts has no tolerance for any plan that endangers the secrecy and simplicity of the original plan. The Spring Maiden lives with a Bandit Clan that is commanded by Raven Branwen, a former ally of Ozpin's. By threatening the clan's existence, they force Raven to work with them to retrieve the Relic of Knowledge. However, Raven decides to Take a Third Option and tries to turn Salem's forces against Ozpin's forces by insisting that she'll only give them the Spring Maiden if they kill Qrow, her brother and Ozpin's most loyal ally. Although Watts acknowledges the value for Salem's side in killing off Qrow, he refuses to agree to Qrow's death because it'll turn a secret, simple infiltration into a full-blown and very public brawl. However, Cinder agrees because it gives her the chance to seek revenge against Ruby. Unable to change Cinder's mind, Watts refuses to have anything to do with the revised plan and returns home to Salem.
    • Jacques Schnee, head of the Schnee Dust Corporation, is a ruthless businessman and who regularly abuses his family. Volume 7 has him running for a seat on Atlas' council to end the closed borders and Dust embargo that Ironwood has set up, which are cutting into his profits. He mentions that if he wasn't counting on their votes, he'd lay off most of his employees to save money. When Dr. Watts offers to rig the computerized votes in Jacques' favor, Jacques eagerly goes through with the layoffs, figuring that he can just have his cake and eat it to.
  • While Reeve of Final Fantasy VII: Machinabridged is the Token Good Teammate of Shinra, he knows that trying to appeal to his colleagues' morality is a pointless endeavour, so he tries to appeal to their business sense when yelling at them for dropping a section of the city onto another section of the city, killing thousands in an effort to quash a rebel cell that consisted of six people. This fails as well.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Pragmatic Villain, Pragmatic Evil


Don't Make A Jerk Out Of Me

Paul "Paulie" Cicero makes it VERY clear to Henry Hill to stay away from the drug business now that he's out of jail.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / PragmaticVillainy

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Main / PragmaticVillainy