Would nigh total calmness be an effective intimidation tactic at the beginning of a fight?

It depends.

Yes, that is the answer to everything. However, it’s important to remember that when you’re writing intimidation that you have to tailor that intimidation to your opponent. The unflappable fighter is a very common martial arts trope, specifically martial art masters. The total calm is present in many wuxia films.

It can be unnerving for an opponent who is highly aggressive and threatening at the beginning of the fight because their expected reaction doesn’t occur. It won’t intimidate someone who recognizes the calm for what it is. The calm can become intimidating again later in the fight if the opponent, who thought they could break it, can’t.

Remember, a stay at home mother dressed to the nines with a spotless house and a roast in the oven on a regular Tuesday can be intimidating. The super organized student who turns everything in on time, has all the answers, seemingly never studies, and the teacher just loves can be intimidating. The slovenly stoner with big philosophical ideas about the universe that he came up with at 4am can be intimidating.

It really depends on what you’re insecurities are.

Thus, it takes two to tango.

When you’re writing, it’s important that you be both characters. Even if one is just a side mook who is going to disappear in five pages. It’s not really a question of “is total calmness intimidating?”, it’s more a problem of “does that intimidate this particular character?”. It could work on Mook A but not on Mook B. It could work on all the mooks but not on their boss, the main villain or the B villain. (This is the common wuxia pattern for this kind of intimidation. Total calmness intimidates mooks who are on a lower martial arts level and easily impressed/disrupted, fails on villain because villain is on the same or similar enlightenment level to hero.) Flow disruption is important, breaking up the pattern, changing things up. While it isn’t the end all and be all, playing with audience expectations is one of the more advanced parts of keeping your story entertaining. You don’t have to change your approach if what your hero does isn’t going to work, a successful act isn’t what’s most important in fiction.

All you’re doing is coming up with a scenario, Character A approaches Character B in X way. Character B responds to Character A. We result in Y or Z reaction. This is a part where the dice rolls in Pencil and Paper RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons become interesting because they introduce, mechanically, the possibility of failure. Failure is scary, but it’s also exciting. It can be nerve wracking or surprising depending on the kind of character involved.

Intimidation is social manipulation, the higher grades require a better ability to read and understand an opponent in a very short time frame. You make a snap judgement and hope you’re right. Or, you do the same thing every time because it worked once or it usually does right up to the point where it doesn’t.

All approaches are valid, including the ones I forgot to mention.

The question is: will this mook or villain be intimidated by the unflappable, the calm, and the fearless? Will it earn some small measure of respect? Or will they just laugh?

I don’t know the answer, either.

The fun is figuring it out for yourself.

What happens?

That’s the story.


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