Conservation of Ninjutsu

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
You can have three guesses who's going to win. The first two don't count.

In any martial arts fight, there is only a finite amount of ninjutsu available to each side in a given encounter. As a result, one Ninja is a deadly threat, but an army of them are cannon fodder.

This trope is very common due to the numerous storytelling considerations fueling it. Drama thrives off of conflict, and having the few put up a fight against the many is basically a free conflict coupon that's automatically viable during any few vs. many confrontation. Why have the superhero team curb stomp the villain if you can make him powerful enough to force them into Teeth-Clenched Teamwork? Why have the dozens of Mooks club The Hero unconscious three seconds into an encounter if you can let him take down seven or eight of them before he collapses, to show how much of a Badass he is? That would be letting some perfectly good dramatic tension go to waste.

As the number disparity grows larger, another factor comes into play—there's strength in numbers, but also anonymity, which in fiction is a crippling weakness. Characterization is a precious, rare resource that is difficult to set up, which means most characters are not going to get any. Since characters often travel in homogeneous packs in terms of characterization depth, the larger a group is, the less characterization its members probably have.

In other words, if Team Meager is up against Team Gargantuan, we probably know something about Team Meager and at least care how well they're going to do in this fight—maybe we even outright sympathize with them and root for them to win. Team Gargantuan, on the other hand, is likely a faceless blob of Mooks or Red Shirts that we don't care about on any personal level. Letting Team Gargantuan steamroll over Team Meager in this scenario would be anticlimactic; not letting Team Gargantuan do that means playing this trope straight almost by definition.

Hence, you end up with the few gaining an almost-automatic boost to their capabilities when pitted against the many. Extra points if, when presented with their multiple adversaries, one character notes that "We barely were able to handle one, how on earth are we going to handle this many?" right before successfully doing just that.

This can, of course, apply to Elite Mooks other than ninjas. Vampires are particularly susceptible to Conservation Of Ninjutsu, as are werewolves, alien monsters, Special Forces commandos and Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids.

There are a few conceivable ways in which this trope can be Justified. The most obvious one is adhering to Magic A Is Magic A—if you consistently portray someone as powerful enough to take on a large number of people by their own and put an explicit limit on what they can and can't do, the Willing Suspension of Disbelief will not suffer nearly as much. How to establish the superiority of small numbers in concrete terms is another issue. One way to do it is to emphasize how small groups fare better in sneaking around and putting up an ambush. Another is to introduce some superior technology or art, available to the small group but not the larger group, that evens the odds (think the armies of Saladin vs. an M1 Abrams Tank).

Despite all of those possible justifications, this trope is clearly a result of the Theory of Narrative Causality more than anything else—fights are won one way or the other because the plot says they should and not because of any relevant In-Universe factors. In Real Life, there is strength in numbers more often than not; large groups of fighters have probably been trained to fight as a group and take advantage of their superior numbers if they ever manage to corner a single foe, and in some creations of mother nature this is a natural-born instinct (as a pack of wolves would be happy to demonstrate on any unfortunate prey). Quality over Quantity has lost a great many more fights in reality than it has in fiction.

See also Too Many Cooks Spoil the Soup, Strong as They Need to Be, Distribution of Ninjutsu and The Worf Effect. Compare Conservation of Competence and Kill One, and the Others Get Stronger. This trope is a reason the Zerg Rush may fail. Beware, however, in case Reality Ensues, and this trope doesn't apply. If the system doesn't use this, The Minion Master will capitalize on it, as will the Wolfpack Boss. Contrast Elite Army ("in the that one Ninja is a deadly threat", while an army of them are almost invincible.) and One-Man Army (for characters who are strong enough to take on large numbers of enemies). An aversion may result in a Bolivian Army Ending.

Also known as The Law of Inverse Ninja Strength: Threat Per Mook = O(1/N) where N = number of Ninjas (or other "Elite Adversaries"), that is, the threat per mook tends to decrease fast enough so total ninjutsu cannot grow, assuming arithmetic additivity of threat.

NOTE: This obviously does not apply when the hero had some superior advantage against a big group (like, say, a gun or magic powers) and then lost it and had to go hand-to-hand for the last few guys. Let's not get carried away.

No real life examples, please; this is a trope about how characters are depicted in media.

Examples of Conservation of Ninjutsu include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Naruto takes this trope to new heights. Not only do minions and other extras actively exhibit the trope, but Naruto himself possesses the ability to make a good 1000+ clones of himself. To that point, if he creates 1-5, they're usually the key to his victory, but almost any time he goes over 10 or so (which turns out to be his most common strategy), they turn into cannon fodder, as their main weakness is that they usually go poof with just one hit.
    • The "Uzumaki Barrage" attack used against Gaara seems to avoid this trope since it relies more on the simple physical weight of the clones rather than their martial arts skill. It still fails more often than not, though. (Also because the theme song was playing at the time so it was to be expected that he was about to kick a lot of ass.)
    • There are two instances where the Law of Conservation of Ninjutsu fails to apply to Naruto. His "Shuriken from A Thousand Directions" technique utilizes mass numbers of clones to bombard a single target with shuriken. Also, in the beginning of the anime, his assault of Mizuki is conducted with hundreds of clones, which end up beating up the supposedly more skilled opponent into a pile of mush.
    • Post-Time Skip, after his Character Development frees him from being an Idiot Hero (to a certain extent), this blind multi-clone rush becomes a viable strategy, as Naruto realizes that he learns everything his clones learn. So, he charges an enemy with five or so clones, learns their strategies, and formulates his own plan.
    • This is played spectacularly when (in the fight between Kakashi, Naruto and Sakura) Kakashi takes down the aforementioned 1000+ Naruto clones using only tai-jutsu.
    • Ironically, the Shadow Clone jutsu itself seems to be a skill possessed by only a few, extremely badass ninja (everyone else uses non-physical clones or element based clones). Thus, the most effective way to personally apply the Law of Ninjitsu Conservation is itself conserved.
    • Shadow Clones are all over the board on this one. Officially, the user has to divide his power evenly between each clone, so all the clones are collectively as powerful as the user. Naruto bypasses this by having effectively infinite chakra, so he can make clones that are every bit as capable as he is. But most of the time they get taken out casually by a single opponent.
    • The show makes note of this trope: The standard squad is made up of four ninja. Kakashi says that any more and the team starts getting slow, clunky, and disorganized. A bigger team is worse at completing missions than a smaller one. Plus, any ninja that stands alone is pretty much Badass enough to beat an entire squad.
    • Akatsuki has apparently gotten wise to this; in a nice show of Genre Savvy, they only work in two man teams. To give you an idea of how effective this is, each team is usually on equal standing with an ENTIRE VILLAGE.
    • During the fight of Sakura and Chiyo vs. Sasori, Sasori summons about a hundred puppets at once, most of them where taken apart easily by Sakura and Chiyo's Ten Puppet of Collection Chikamatsu.
    • That fight only temporarily adhered to this rules later on in the scene the ten puppets are seen overwhelmed by superior numbers
  • Ninja Scroll: Jubei eliminates ninja after ninja flunky with prototypical displays of gushing High-Pressure Blood. Only the Eight Devils of Kimon can give him a challenge; all others die with pathetic ease.
  • Played with in Ninin ga Shinobuden, where Shinobu's fellow ninjas are faceless mooks who can't do anything right. Miyabi can defeat the whole clan easily, and she's about twelve.
  • Anyone in Dragon Ball who possessed the ability to duplicate themselves usually followed a similar rule, because the person using the technique actually does divide his power up evenly amongst his clones. So a fighter with a power level of 2400 becomes two fighters with power levels of 1200 or three fighters with power levels of 800 and so on. The creator of the Division technique actually gets criticized by his rival for creating a move with such a debilitating flaw.
    • In one of the battles on Namek, three Namekians totally thrash Frieza's troops. Then Dodoria moves in and completely wipes the floor with the three Namekians.
  • Hellsing does use this. The Hellsing Organisation's operatives mop the floor with masses of enemy ghouls but find more trouble in dealing with lone strong vampires. However, there is also a lot of subversion. Seras assisted Alucard against the lone Tubalcain Alhambra and helped her side win instead of making the odds worse, as the Inverse Ninja Law would have. Similarly, when Alexander makes his one-man charge towards Alucard and a newly-summoned army of familiars in a later part of the story, he finds that the numbers actually are to Alucard's advantage and it takes reinforcements to save him.

Made more explicit in OVA 8, where a count of how many members of each warring faction remain by the time Alucard, Anderson and the Captain meet is done before the climax. Guess which side gets wiped out first and who comes out victorious:

Army of the Roman Catholic Church's 9th Crusade: 2875 men.
Members of the Last Nazi Battalion "Millennium": 527 vampires.
English Protestant Knights "Hellsing": 2 vampires and 1 human..

  • Played straight before being subverted in Zone of the Enders: Idolo. The Orbital Frame is highly effective against small groups of LEVs, but is eventually taken down by concentrated fire from an overwhelming number of the same. Even being a massively superior and advanced frame has its limits when on your own.
  • Played with a lot in Digimon. Digimon Adventure, 02, and Tamers subvert it (divide and conquer is a common and effective strategy on heroes and villains alike, anyone can be overwhelmed by enough numbers, etc). Digimon X Evolution both plays it straight (the original is vastly superior to the copy) and subverts this, by the Digimon defending their lives being worn down gradually to their destruction. Surprising, for a shonen (or is it kids? ) anime.
    • Digimon The Movie plays this very straight for both the heroes and Diaboromon, whoever has greater numbers tends to be on the losing side. Wargreymon and Metalgarurumon can barely get a hit in on Diaboromon in between all the asskicking that he's giving them, but when he multiplies into several thousand copies and they become Omnimon, the army is mowed down within seconds. When he gets to the last Diaboramon, the fight is now one-on-one and is more evenly matched (if only because he's too fast to hit).
  • Subverted in End of Evangelion. Asuka fights nine mass-produced Eva units, each with weapons that can cleave straight through her nigh-impenetrable AT Field. Asuka's Eva, meanwhile, has only a Progressive Knife and three minutes of battery power. In that timespan, Asuka disables or destroys every last one. Only to find out that they were Only Mostly Dead, and promptly get her ass kicked horrifically. Whoops.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima:
    • Two resident Obvious Ninjas, one plays this straight the other subverts it slightly. Inugami Kotaro can't create Shadow Clones of equal power to himself (and his cap was seven in the Tournament sub-arc). However Kaede with her Sixteen Shadow Clones CAN... but not at full count. When she has four shadow clones they are all equal to her alone. Proving with Training at least in Negima you can bypass this trope.
    • Later in the series the main lead's father Nagi and his team the Ala Rubra were fighting in The Very Definitely Final Dungeon against the absolute Big Bad. A single sneak attack from him was enough to wipe out the entire party. Then, after being healed, Nagi managed to single-handedly take out the Black Cloak wearing Ultimate Evil. Hammering the point home, each individual member of the Ala Rubra were more than capable on their own against their stylized PsychoRanger opponents they'd faced previous.
    • A textbook example occurs in chapter 254. Negi takes down a small army of Governor Godel's elite "private bodyguards" in a matter of seconds, but when he fights Godel one-on-one, the Governor takes his legs out before he can react, then nails him with a barrier piercing attack whilst he was unable to dodge. Negi was on the floor before he knew what hit him.
    • An even more textbook example occurs in 314 and beyond. While Fate Averruncus is a massive threat capable of taking out Negi and characters beyond his level like Rakan, the three Averruncuses mentioned to be every bit his equal get laughably curb-stomped and one-shotted in back-to-back chapters the moment they try to go against the people at Negi's power level, complete with notes from Fate about how soft their attacks were.
  • In Berserk, Apostles were a major threat early in the series, with Guts needing to fight with everything he had to kill one, and Guts probably would have died fighting the Count if the Count's daughter hadn't conveniently burst into the room for Guts to use as a hostage. Now that all the Apostles in the world are serving Griffith, they've been demoted to Elite Mooks. Justified, since Guts has the Berserker's Armor, which makes him much stronger and brings out his Super-Powered Evil Side.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX sometimes shows a character (usually Manjoume/Chazz) defeat several duelists at once offscreen. In Manjoume's case, apparently it's his coattails of doom that makes him elite enough to do this.
  • The Type-3 Gadget Drones in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, which slapped Elio around for most of the fight when there was only one of them during the first mission, but gets taken out by the Forwards in seconds when they come in groups in later missions. Justified Trope since said Forwards were going through Nanoha's Training from Hell every single day.
    • And in the original series, Prescia Testarosssa took out a platoon of magical enforcers in a single attack, while Nanoha and crew ripped through her automatons with ease.
  • One Piece: The Straw Hats are attacked by a horde of Captain-ranked Marines. Each one displays unique powers, fighting skills, or weapons. Each one a few chapters ago would have been a boss, or at least a major enemy. Now, they were dangerous only because of their sheer numbers.
    • Morgan was also a captain, and Luffy defeated him without taking a single hit. T-Bone was an Elite Mook, and while he presented a threat to the Rocketman, Zoro defeated him in one hit, so the strength of Captain-ranked Marines is not that significant at this point in the story.
    • One Piece does this to the point of ridiculousness. During the Assault on Enies Lobby, Luffy single-handedly defeats an army of 2000 Marines without receiving even a scratch. Immediately afterwards, he fights one-on-one against Blueno, who gives him significantly more trouble. However, given that Blueno was an elite agent and the Marines were just foot soldiers, it's somewhat justified.
    • The Enies Lobby assault in general was a massive invocation of this trope. The Frankie Family and Straw Hats numbered about 60 and in total there were about 10.000 soldiers on the island. That's right—taking down one of the World Government's strongholds housing the CP 9 and a garrison of 10.000 strong took only 60 people.
    • The start of the Whitebeard War seemed to be pretty even too, even though Whitebeard's men totaled only those on his four ships plus about 40 other crews from the New World. The Navy, on the other hand, had 100,000 soldiers. To be fair, most of those were still further down in the plaza, but it's still a pretty massive example.
    • An army of fishmen numbering 100,000 fights against the straw-hats and Jimbe. The opening move in their battle consists of Luffy knocking 50,000 of the enemies unconscious simultaneously.
      • By STARING at them. Although it is kind of justified as this is an ability that you have to be born with and only a really small portion of the people in the world have it and is one of the most powerful abilities in the world. Also they were all Redshirts by this point in the story.
  • Afro Samurai is made of this trope. Afro will triumph over any number of foes attacking in numbers, but have trouble one-on-one.
  • Yakitate!! Japan! inverts this by having Kageto Kinoshita's only endearing trait be his ability to clone himself. He is full of so much suck that his power alone is zero anyway, so making clones can't hurt.
  • One of the manga of Ah! My Goddess, shows Urd demonstrating her copying ability, in an omake, and explaining, as she gets into the hundreds or so of copies, they start to become, well... jelly...
  • Ronin Warriors is almost absurdly blatant about this:
    • In the first episode, they face a single one of Talpa's samurai Mooks. It takes the entire episode and the Hero summoning his armor and using his Finishing Move to take him out. Any subsequent attacks by them can generally be handled without transforming, and in the second arc, two of the heroes can take on hundreds of them.
    • The first episode itself could be a subversion. That mook was using Anubis's weapon.
    • Or the weapon was just an imitation of Anubis, but the series got even more blatant when The Jewel Of Life held by Yuli was taking them out by the dozens. By that point, the Mooks were less a threat and more a hindrance like a field of tall, groaning grass.
  • Watch an episode of Sailor Moon and you'll have the basic formula: Sailor Senshi weaken monster, Sailor Moon finishes it off. Now watch one of the movies, where there can be dozens to hundreds of monsters at once, and EVERYONE will be able to pick them off with an attack or two.
    • Somehow averted considering said Sailor Senshi don't have much trouble defeating the lone monster even though they outnumber it.
  • All throughout Claymore, Awakened Beings are shown to be extremely formidable, requiring several Claymores banding together to outnumber them in order to defeat them, and even then only barely and requiring multiple episodes dedicated to the fight. In the final arc of the anime when the Awakened Beings attack en masse, they don't take near as much effort to kill as previously. Though this is only as a result of the anime's Gecko Ending. In the manga, despite gathering half of the Organization's warriors, they only manage to kill eight Awakened Beings before being wiped out. The Awakened Ones' field commander actually notes that this was an exemplary result for the Warriors.
  • In Noir, any time the two assassin protagonists are badly outnumbered, every bullet of theirs seems to kill two enemies, while every enemy bullet misses its mark. When they face Chloe however, they meet their match.
  • Any nameless mook in Utawarerumono is canon fodder and will die in the dozens per sword slash from a general or important character. The large scale battles are really battles between named characters. The mooks on either side are just window dressing and will not get any kills in.
  • Katekyo Hitman Reborn:
    • Hibari taking on an entire army of Millefiore soldiers and coming out fine only to get beaten when he goes one on one against Genkishi.
    • Most recently with Hibari again during his match with Adelheid. In their one-on-one before they were about even, but now it seems that 500 Ice Clones of Adelheid, who have her same strength by her measure, can't even scratch Hibari.
    • And Hibari goes for a hat-trick, taking out three of the Varia in a single hit. It seems like his entire strategy in this arc revolves around this, as his entire team consists of nobody but himself.
  • Gundam Seed Destiny plays this to high levels, with highly possible (but unconfirmed) Justification. A single Destroy Gundam helps the Earth Alliance to stomp over much of Europe, takes multiple episodes to go down and the repercussions of its destruction linger for several episodes afterward. When the EA field three, they go down in the same episode without too much trouble. When they field five at the same time, it's almost a non-event. The Justification is: 1. Stellar, a Tyke Bomb piloting it, while these mass-produced unit are issued to Mooks, also 2. the one she rides is shown having MORE feature than the mass-deployed (although STILL unconfirmed), in short, Super Prototype.
  • In the first series of Full Metal Panic!, most major arcs end with a showdown between the protagonist Sousuke who fights the Big Bad Gauron, who fights using an Arm Slave equipped with a Lambda Driver, which makes it nigh invincible for all intents and purposes. In each encounter, Sousuke is pushed to the brink of his physical limits just trying to take down one of these things. At the end of Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid, he has an encounter with five enemies who are using the same invincibility device he struggled against in season one, and dispatches all five of them with relative ease.
    • Somewhat justified in that in the fights with Gauron, Sousuke either had trouble with or failed to use his own Lamda Driver. In the fight at the end of TSR, his Driver is functioning perfectly, allowing him to fight on an even level as his enemies and beat them with his skill and their reliance on their Lamda Drivers saving them.
  • Saito from Zero no Tsukaima took on about a couple thousand soldiers alone at the end of the second season and took down most of them before falling and being revived by a wood elf?
    • Significantly subverted in that the light novel tells us that he managed to take down only about 250 of them before falling, which isn't a large amount - numerically - given that he was fighting against 70,000 of them. Admittedly, he did manage to stop them from pursuing Tristain's fleeing army, though, so it still certainly serves as an example of the trope.
  • Played straight a few times in Bleach but the best example is probably the captain/vizards vs Aizen. They attack en masse and he curb stomps them easily. There's also an early example with the match between Uryu and Ichigo. Just an episode or so prior, Ichigo definitely had the advantage against hollows but it was still a struggle to win. When the contest is running, he and Uryu are taking them down easily when fighting multiple opponents at the same time. They only really function to slow Ichigo down in these numbers.
    • Yoruichi does this when fighting Soi Fon's ninja squad.
      • Neither of these is an example of this trope as the result of those fights is justified by in-universe combat mechanics. In each case, the winner of the fight won by having ridiculous amounts of power to begin with instead of his/her opponents suffering from narrative power cap required by this trope.
  • Averted in Holyland. Yuu can win one-on-one duels, but usually does poorly in a target-rich environment.
  • Rosario + Vampire gives a nice example when Gin and Haiji take down an entire branch of by themselves.
    • Generally, the main characters only ever struggle against very powerful single opponents. Being outnumbered has never caused them problems (especially for Inner Moka). She and Tsukune alone manage to wreak havoc on the athletics festival.
  • Highly present in Rurouni Kenshin - somewhat justified in that Kenshin's Hiten Mitsurugi style is specifically mentioned as an exceptionally rare and deadly style (no more than two people are masters of it at any given time, and Kenshin chooses to let it die with him) that specializes in combat against multiple opponents.
  • Inukami! Sendan's group, even as a whole, is less powerful than Youko is by herself. Subverting the trope, they're even worse off when fighting individually.
  • Featured in this page of Sin Manga.

Nameless Mook: C'mon, he's just...
Crack!!
Kaden: One guy?

  • The Mazinkaiser OVA bounces around with this. The Mazinger Team goes off to fight Dr. Hell's Mechanical Monsters and lose badly, only for the monsters to get trounced when the titular Super Robot finally appears. It's played much more straighter at the end when Great Mazinger takes on all of Hell's monsters and wins.
  • Getter Robo Armageddon. On one end, an entire army of Getter Robo G, the second of the Getter Robo line. On the other, a singular classic Getter Robo, piloted by Ryouma Nagare. Ryouma owns them easily.
    • Conversely, in Shin Getter Robo vs. Neo Getter Robo, Shou and Gai are overwhelmed in the Neo Getter Robo when dozens of prototype Getters piloted by members of the Dinosaur Empire attack them. In this case, though, it's not a matter of Conservation of Ninjutsu, but the fact that, despite being prototypes, the dozens of Getters were using Getter Energy, thus are much stronger than the plasma energy-using Neo Getter.
  • Two legendary Gundam scenes are made up of this trope. In the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Amuro's awakening Newtype powers are revealed when he pushes the RX-78 Gundam to take out 12 Rick Doms, then Zeon's newest and strongest Mook unit, in three minutes. 20-some years later, Kira uses the Strike Freedom Gundam to defeat 12 GOUFs in 2 minutes in Gundam Seed Destiny.
  • Akane of Ranma ½ vs half the guys in the school. Multiple times in multiple episodes, and presumably tens of times offscreen. Sounds like a fair fight... Justified in that she practices martial arts extensively, whereas most of her opponents train fighting as a hobby if at all. However, some few of her opponents are judoists and a very noticeable sumo wrestler...


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • The Hulk personifies this trope; he can spend an entire comic battling one superhero or villain, but when faced with the entire army of them then he takes them out like flies.
    • This has consistency, because the Hulk's powers increase proportionately according to his anger, which will match the numbers against him.
      • Conversely if Hulk is on a team, he never seems to pull out quite the same levels of power/rage.
    • Spider-Man also has this habit to a lesser extent. He has fought the Fantastic Four and X-Men more than once and holds his own rather well despite the fact that individual members can and have done well against the wall-crawler in one-on-one fights.
  • The Hand, a group of elite ninja in Marvel Comics, is almost nothing but cannon fodder. The willingness to die seems to be more important in membership consideration than skill, considering how many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of these guys characters like Wolverine and Elektra have waded through. These were, at least in part, the inspiration for the Foot Clan, below.
  • Justified by the Wolverine comic "...[the Mooks] have to be careful they don't chop one of their own by mistake. While I can hit anyone I please."
  • One Flash storyline had a Speed Force enhanced bunch of Ninja going up against various Flashes and other speedsters. They realized almost too late that the more ninja they took out of the action, the faster the others were getting...
  • The Marvel Family's powers work like this; The more that are active, the more their powers are divided amongst them.
    • It goes back and forth for them. Sometimes they're splitting the same power source, sometimes they each have their own.
  • Played with in a recent Runaways comic where Kingpin faces the heroes with an army of ninjas (more Ninjas then usual, according to one kid). During the fight, Molly (a superstrong girl who was very upset about punching Punisher, who had no powers to protect him, and had sworn off fighting anyone without powers) asks if ninjas had powers so she could fight them. She is given the answer, that, because they were ninjas, they counted as double, the implication being that heroes in the Marvel universe cut loose when fighting ninjas.
  • There's a Ghost Rider storyline that justifies this. Basically Lucifer splits himself into 666 different bodies; when one body dies, the remaining ones gain more power, until only one remains with all of the Devil's hellish force.
  • In The Negation #11, Obregon Kaine reminisces on a lesson from his training days as he watches hundreds of superpowered Australians thoroughly fail to defeat General Murquade: "It doesn't matter if you're fighting ten enemies or a hundred...just worry about the one you're killing now!"
  • Some supervillains have discovered, to their misfortune, that this cuts both ways. Juggernaut vs an entire team of X-Men? A city-wrecking battle in which the individual X-Men are injured, trains are derailed and buildings fall down. Juggernaut and Black Tom vs Cyclops? Cyclops runs rings around them while his internal monologue digresses about military history. Total property damage: One exploding pickup truck.
  • The Wrecking Crew embody this trope since their leader the Wrecker splits the power of his magical crowbar among the Crew. The Wrecker by himself is usually a serious threat. He has given a (weakened) Thor the fight of his life and later held his own against the New Avengers. The Wrecking Crew, Depending on the Writer, are either serious threats or joke villains. They can go anywhere from being able to beat down Hercules to struggling with the Punisher to getting curb stomped by the Runaways. The Wrecker is actually aware of this trope, but willingly splits his power anyway since the Crew, occasional treachery from the team's Evil Genius aside, is like family to the Wrecker.
  • Justified when Superman, Batman, and The Amazons faced an army of Doomsday clones. Doomsday's clones don't inherit his invulnerability, nor his regeneration, reducing them to one hit point wonders. The army is taken out with heat vision and exploding batarangs.
  • Subverted in an early issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mirage. Leonardo does battle with practically the entire Foot Clan and gets his ass kicked. Although, he did managed to put up quite a fight. This is actually an example of the Law breaking down as noted above, as Leonardo was increasingly worn down by one wave of Foot ninjas after another, while each successive group of ninjas was fresh.
  • The O.M.A.C. Project does this with the OMAC units; a single OMAC is a formidable enemy for Superman, two OMACS were formidable enemies against Batman and Sasha Bordeaux, three were completely obliterated by Rocket Red detonating himself, and nearly a million OMACS were taken out by an Electro Magnetic Pulse.
  • Daredevil:
    • #57: 100 armed Yakuza soldiers hopped up on MGH against an unarmed, civilian clothed Matt Murdock. Even the FBI agents who have the situation under surveillance know they'd just be in his way.
    • Ninja Army vs. Bullseye.
  • In full effect on James Robinsons' World of New Krypton arc in Superman. One Kryptonian? One of the most powerful characters in the DCU. 80,000 Kryptonians? So much canon fodder
  • Repeatedly invoked by multiple superheroes when they face a large gang of Mooks. Spider-Man, Batman, Captain America (comics) and The Punisher have all been surrounded by assorted groups of street thugs, ninjas, terrorists, convicts, etc., and almost always come out on top. Another variation on this trope was used in an early Spider-Man comic where three police officers burst in to help Spider-Man against a large gang of thugs. The cops are almost as effective against the overwhelming number of hoods as Spider-Man himself.
  • The X-books X-over "Second Coming" was made of this trope and Badass Decay. One Nimrod class sentinel nearly wipes out the combined X-men and Hellfire Club. An army of them is nearly cannon fodder. Not to mention a combined force of Bastion, Stephen Lang, Bolivar Trask, William Stryker, Graydon Creed and Cameron Hodge getting taken out.
  • G.I. Joe often uses this trope, especially when dealing with the feuds between various Ninja-clans associated with either the team or the Cobra. Good example from America's Elite #26, where Snake-Eyes and Scarlett battle several dozens of mook-ninja's with great success. When nasty bad guy Firefly tries to escape, Scarlett tells Snake-Eyes to "Go, I'll take care of these losers", even though there are still at least a dozen left. Of course, the battle between Snake-Eyes and Firefly is epic in every regard. During the original Marvel run, issue #91, when Larry Hama was still writing the script, there was a slightly more plausible version, where Snake-Eyes, Scarlett, Jinx and Timber face-off about twenty Red Ninja's. First sixteen go down easily, whereas the last four manage to cause grievous wounds to both Scarlett and Jinx and even cut up Snakes a bit, before going down.
  • In Rising Stars, this is literally true, in that whenever a special dies, his power is divided among all the surviving specials, making them stronger. As the body count racks up over the course of the series, it goes from where, at the start, a few non-powered mooks could easily gun down dozens of low-powered specials to the point where, near the end, any one special can take out entire armies.


Fan Works[edit | hide]


Film[edit | hide]

Fitzhume: (to an army of ninjas) This is my sister. You can all have her!

    • The Rhombus' rating of Fitzhume and Millbarge after the encounter: "Pussies". He then takes them all out singlehandedly.
  • Played with and lampshaded in Spy Kids, when two good guys are easily overpowered by two robots... then later in the film, four good guys come up with a plan under the assumption they can hold their own against 500 of those same robots.

Gregorio: I'll take the hundred on the right... Ingrid, you take the hundred on the left. Carmen, hundred center-left, Junie, center-right. It'll work. It'll work.
Junie: There's five hundred, Dad. We need one more person.

  • Star Trek movie:
    • Any time a group of ships appear, be it Klingon or Federation, count on them getting wrecked. A single ship, especially if it's named Enterprise, is going to kick ass. This is hilariously evident in the series even moreso (see TV examples). Of course, in the film, the one and only time that happened was when everyone was showing up without a clue that there was an enemy, and the same ship could have wrecked the single ship too at that time, even with warning.
    • Inverted in a deleted scene from the same movie; right after we see the Narada destroy the Kelvin, a large number of Klingon ships decloak and are able to capture it (Granted, the ship had been somewhat damaged already.) Later, it's flipped again, Uhura picks up the Klingon transmission that a Romulan vessel wiped out over 40 Klingon ships during their escape.
  • Batman Begins skirts the edge of this trope. Bruce Wayne only fights one member of the League of Shadows during his escape (all the others were too busy dodging explosions); still, one might wonder how Bruce was the only ninja to escape the exploding dojo. (The answer: he wasn't). When he takes up the Batman mantle officially, he is able hold his own against four ninjas at once. This is Lampshaded to a certain degree with Batman's training as its designed to teaching him how to face vastly superior numbers and Ducard even declares Bruce his greatest student.
  • In The Matrix trilogy, in the famous Burly Brawl scene from Matrix Reloaded, Neo is able to manhandle (though not without some difficulty) dozens, if not hundreds, of Smith copies, yet in Matrix Revolutions, which takes place chronologically perhaps a day or so later, he is completely beaten by just a single Smith. And this little segment of dialogue, taken in the context of this trope, shows Smith to be quite Genre Savvy when the need calls for it.

Neo: It ends tonight.
Smith: I know it does; I've seen it. I know how it ends. That's why the rest of me are gonna sit back and enjoy the show, because we already know that I'm the one that beats you.

  • In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Scott has little trouble mopping the floor with Lucas Lee's(The second evil ex's)stunt team, while only being able to defeat Lee by goading him into doing an insanely dangerous stunt on his skateboard.
  • The list just wouldn't be complete without robots. In I Robot, Will Smith's character Spooner is able to survive and utterly destroy two massive truckloads worth of corrupted robots during the highway sequence, but the scene gets really serious when he realizes that there is one (albeit handicapped) robot leftover. Partially justified in that he defeats the two truckloads worth of robots with Car Fu and his gun and the single robot he faces unarmed.
  • In The Princess Bride, Fezzik admits to falling prey to this trope when he starts having trouble fighting the Man in Black.

Fezzik: I just figured out why you would give me so much trouble.
Man in Black: Why is that, do you think?
Fezzik: Well, I haven't fought just one person for so long... I've been specializing in groups, fighting gangs for local charities... that kind of thing.
Man in Black: Why should that make such a difference?
Fezzik: You see, you use different moves when you're fighting half a dozen people than when you only have to worry about one.

  • Probably the only time in Star Wars that the Imperial Stormtroopers were at all capable was when fighting a large number of rebel troops - both in the opening scene of A New Hope, and in the invasion of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. After that, when they were just fighting Luke, Han, Chewie, and Leia, they became the infamously poor marksmen they are remembered as. Ewoks count as heroes in this example.
    • Related, the Trade Federation Droids only kill Jedi when there's a whole army of them, as Attack of the Clones shows. (the Gungan army is a whole different matter)
    • Take the scene in Revenge of the Sith where Mace Windu and 3 other Jedi are attempting to arrest Palpatine. Palpatine instantly kills the first Jedi, then kills the second right after. The third Jedi survives for maybe 5 more seconds before also getting killed. Now that there is one more Jedi left, Mace manages to overpower Palpatine after a epic battle. Mace Windu is, after all, Badass.
      • Except Palpatine, being the ultimate Chessmaster, let Mace have the upper hand as part of his plan to seduce Anakin to the dark side.
    • The lone Jango Fett proves an even match for Obi-wan Kenobi in Attack of the Clones, but unlimited copies of him can't defeat Obi-wan in Revenge of the Sith, despite their being armed with blaster-rifles (which Jango didn't have).
      • Actually an aversion in this case. Despite being genetically identical to Jango the clones still had much less experience and training. Since the Clone Troopers had to be quickly mass produced in time for the Clone Wars they had only gotten at most 10 years of simulated combat training. This is compared to Jango who spent most of his life fighting for the Mandalorians, often specifically against Jedi.
    • There's also TIE Fighters, though this is more easily justified. The Expanded Universe explicitly references one of the common justifications on this page—that a large number of starfighters have to be more careful when fighting a smaller number of starfighters—and then justifies it further by Rebel X-wings having shields and TIEs not (which itself tends to lead to higher survivability for the Rebel pilots, who thereby learn from their mistakes).
    • Another Expanded Universe example: After the Brotherhood of Darkness imploded magnificently after Ruusan, Bane was left to rebuild the Sith. Instead of building a large army of Dark Side wielders, and dealing with the Chronic Backstabbing Disorder that came with it, he chose to take just one apprentice. Once the apprentice learned all they needed, they were to slay their master, take a new apprentice, and the cycle begins anew. Arguably, since the Sith lasted 1000 years under this idea, and it was the Sith dynasty that spawned Palpatine, it was the most successful. It's implied in the books that he got the idea from Revan's holocron. Not surprisingly, one of BioWare's writers was behind the Bane books.

"Only two shall there be, a master and an apprentice: one to embody power and the other to crave it."

    • The above could also be applied to the end of Return of the Jedi, wherein Luke is the last living user of the Light Side of The Force, thus the only person channeling its power in concentrate, enabling him to defeat two Sith whose purposes are divided (it helps that Darth Vader is having a Heroic BSOD of the Conflicting Loyalty variety).
  • In Kill Bill Volume 1, the Bride is able to slice through the numerous Crazy 88 members like butter with her superior katana, only having trouble when she faced the General and Gogo Yubari one-on-one. Of course, they weren't technically Crazy 88's but rather co-dragons but there's nothing to distinguish them from O-Ren's other Mooks aside from the factr that they had names and fought the Bride one-on-one.
  • In Starship Troopers the bugs are incredibly strong when there's just one or two of them in the screen. When the troopers are defending the fortress, they can just spray down hordes of the same bugs with the same rifles that didn't work before.
  • In The One, it is quite literally a law of the multiverse that "power" is spread between the different incarnations of a person across universes, and criminal abuse of this has naturally ensued. The Big Bad and sort-of Evil Twin to the hero partakes in killing off their "other selves", such that by the final fight both are superhumanly capable.
  • Very averted in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Raphael fights a horde of mooks alone... and is savagely beaten, thrown through a skylight (which itself averts Soft Glass), and spends the next quarter of the movie recovering. However, the aversion is fairly justified by the fact that TMNT has, is, and most likely will always be a show about The Power of Friendship and teamwork. His brothers weren't there, and he was emotionally unstable. Hence, the turtle with a cracked shell.

Then played straight at the end: twice. The Turtles kick butt against the horde of Foot soldiers, but then get their butts kicked by Shredder... who is then defeated when he angrily charges at Splinter (who at the time, seemed to be unarmed). But then, that was Splinter.

  • In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy fairly easily takes out half a dozen Nazis on the truck transporting the Ark. But he nearly gets killed when there's just one Nazi left.
    • When Indy faces multiple mooks in Temple of Doom, he knocks each of them out in quick succession, but when a single mook tries to garrote him earlier in the film, it leads to a not-so-quick struggle.
  • Both played straight and averted in Ip Man, where both the title hero and General Miura can throw down with multiple opponents with ease but Master Liu, who had been winning at the one-on-one Japanese-staged matches, tries to take on three at once and gets his ass handed to him. However, it should be noted that only heroes (and possibly sidekicks, girlfriends, scrappys, etc.) benefit from this trope. Liu was essentially a Red Shirt.
  • The formula is played straight and averted in Equilibrium. In the final fight scenes, Preston is surrounded by six elite mooks and takes them down in about five seconds flat. There follows a duel with The Dragon ... well, kind of, since, averting the trope, The Dragon, who fought Preston to a draw in a sparring match earlier in the movie, is taken down with three invisibly fast swipes, the last one of which ends with The Dragon's face getting sliced off. And then comes the Big Bad, who has more ninjutsu than any of his men combined, and who matches him gun for gun in the movie's final duel.
  • The trope is played straight in any of The Karate Kid movies whenever Mr Miyagi gets involved in a fight. Three, four guys, one big Caucasian guy ... doesn't matter. Old guy always wins.
  • Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings films faces dozens of orcs at a time throughout his adventures. The only time he seems to be having any difficulty is fighting one-on-one with the Uruk-hai leader and the troll.
    • A single troll was giving the entire group of heroes a hard fight in The Fellowship Of The Ring in a rare heroes vs. villain example.
    • Subverted, in the major battles at the end of the last two movies, the heroes were eventually getting overrun by orcs, despite seemingly being able to kill dozens at a time. It is only with the arrival of allies that the tide of the battles turn.
  • When Optimus Prime fights Megatron in Mission City during Transformers, he gets his ass beat. When he fights the upgraded Megatron, Starscream and Grindor at the same time in a forest during Revenge of the Fallen, he holds up pretty well and even manages to kill Grindor, and take off Starscream's arm in the process. It's implied that Optimus held back in the first since there were bystanders, whereas he could cut loose in the sequel, proven in the forest battle where Optimus revealed he has two swords. In a real world justification, ILM wasn't too sure about the CG effects in the first film, so they kept the robots in the background. They went into the sequel knowing the CG was viable. Also, Optimus lost the second fight, fatally, when Megatron snuck up on him while he was finishing off Grindor.
  • Ash only fights one deadite at a time in the first two Evil Dead films. He ends up getting thrown into a lot of shelves when facing a single one. But once he has to fight a whole army of deadites in Army of Darkness, he conveniently gets a sword and starts slashing them up left and right.
    • He also took a serious level in badass near the end of Evil Dead 2. As can be seen in the theatrical ending to Army of Darkness, single deadites aren't much a problem for him anymore either.
  • In Commando, when Ahnold comes across Arius after mowing down countless soldiers simply by pointing his gun in their general direction and firing, his aim suddenly deteriorates into that of the countless soldiers he just killed. Luckily for him, Arius's aim is just as bad, and after a few moments of the two firing at each other and missing while twenty feet from each other, Arnie kills Arius.
  • In Dawn of the Dead, Roger and Peter frequently punch out and knock back zombies with ease when facing them all at once. And then a lone zombie "disguised" as a mannequin catches Roger off guard and has to be dispatched without any ease at all.
  • In Face Off it seems that all FBI agents, cops, security staff, and special agents are inept at facing off against Castor Troy. Troy kills them by the dozens single handedly in the beginning until Sean Archer has a chance to face him one on one (for some reason the dozens of other agents stay out of the action). Troy reduces these agents to mere red shirts all throughout the film, when in reality they would be much better trained.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, toward the end when the pirates find themselves outnumbered and outgunned and standing off against the East India Company's hundreds strong fleet it turns out that the EIC only bothered to send one ship into combat -- Davy Jones's ship. The rest stood back and didn't bother joining in the battle. Of course, it kinda makes sense to send an extremely powerful and partially magical ship to do battle with a single pirate ship, especially if you can take the other ships alive when they surrender. saves lives, saves money, and it's just good business.
  • Any Bruce Lee movie, where he's outnumbered 80:1; and when they use weapons, he whips out his nunchucks to do things the lazy way.
  • Ninja Assassin plays with this trope a bit. Raizo needs about 2 minutes work to down the lone ninja sent to kill Mika, but when faced with dozens later, he mows through them as though they were blades of grass.
  • 13 Assassins both justifiably invokes and averts this trope. The thirteen are almost all skilled samurai, who have either participated in real duels and battles or have been trained by those who have, whereas 99% of the small army they must face have no real experience. The outcome - they kill everyone, but nearly all of the group dies.
  • In the Mega Man film, the Blue Bomber gets into a confrontation with all six robot masters at once before the individual fights begin. Fighting the whole gang is no problem, but alone we get real fights. Especially noteworthy is Elec Man who nearly kills Mega Man, until he gets saved by Blues/Proto Man.
  • The Alien series invokes this trope. The first movie has a single xenomorph terrorizing a ship of miners and the third has one xenomorph menacing a prison colony. The second and fourth movie has entire swarms of them that seem easier to kill (Justified somewhat by the fact that there weren't any guns or otherwise effective weaponry in the first and third films).
  • Predator, the sister franchise to Aliens, plays with this trope. The first movie has a single Predator take down an entire platoon of Badass soldiers. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger himself barely escapes with his life. The second likewise has a Predator take down drug lords, cops, and federal agents before getting killed by Danny Glover's character. He then finds himself surrounded by Predators but seems confident about his chances against them. They don't attack so we don't see if this trope would have been averted or invoked. The third movie has three Predators hunting a group of various killers, soldiers, and criminals. Almost everyone in that movie gets killed, whether they are human or Predator. Only one Predator is shown to be killed in one-on-one combat (a sword fight) and that results in the human dying as well.
  • As expected, the Alien vs. Predator movies are all over the place. In the first one, a single xenomorph kills two Predators in the span of a few minutes. The final Predator survives almost the entire movie, killing many xenomorphs along the way. The second movie only features one Predator who kills several xenomorphs.
  • This trope is brutally averted in basically every Zombie Apocalypse movie ever made. A single zombie is usually slow, mostly mindless, and can be killed instantly with a swift blow to the head. They don't turn into a real threat unless there are hundreds of them roaming the streets.
  • At various points in the Man With No Name Trilogy, Clint Eastwood effortlessly guns down three or more men with his trusty pistol. The only times where there is any doubt of him being successful is when he's only facing one or two opponents.
  • Averted in The Avengers. The team can easily beat 2 or 3 aliens but as more and more of them pass through a portal leading to our dimension, the Avengers gradually get overrun by sheer numbers until they find a way to close it.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • Handled fairly well in JRR Tolkien's work, undoubtedly due to Tolkien's familiarity with real war.
    • While the orcs were massively inferior to humans, their fighting-ability did not diminish with increased numbers; and thus while Isildur's army was able to be overcome via superior numbers of orcs, Boromir was able to drive off any number of orcs, until Ugluk ordered about a hundred Uruk-hai to stick to shooting him with arrows, and so he died trying to save the hobbits. Still, he was able to kill more than 20 of them before that.
    • Played as straight as possible in Melkor/Morgoth himself. He was originally too powerful for even all the Valar together to defeat him, but by spreading his power through his slaves and the Earth itself, he was diminished so severely that Tulkas alone could best him.
  • Justified in one of the Dresden Files novels. Genre Savvy Harry notes the White Council, when they find powerful rituals, deliberately get the ritual published far and wide. The reason, as given by Harry, is "A ritual is like a supernatural vending machine. If many people are drawing from it, the ritual gives each person a tiny bit. But if only a few people draw from it, it's very powerful."
  • Good Omens sees Crowley take on a jeep full of soldiers at the Lower Tadfield airbase. By the next paragraph... It's Crowley's jeep.
  • Used a lot in the Discworld books, thanks to the Theory of Narrative Causality. Lampshade Hanging in The Last Hero, when Carrot Ironfoundersson confronts the Silver Horde by himself. The Silver Horde, all experienced, Genre Savvy barbarian heroes, start to worry a bit when they realize that, this time, they're facing a righteous hero while he's outnumbered:

"The Code was quite clear. One brave man against seven ... won. They knew it was true. In the past, they'd all relied on it. The higher the odds, the greater the victory. That was the Code."

    • Also played with a lot in Interesting Times (with the Silver Horde on the opposite side of the equation), where Rincewind thinks "If it was seven against seventy everyone would know who would lose. Just because it's seven against seven hundred thousand, everyone's not so sure." Cohen, meanwhile, comes up with a logical reason why being outnumbered actually favours them (it boils down to "Always choose a bigger enemy, 'cause it makes him easier to hit"). (Although in the end, they're saved by an army of Magitek Mecha-Mooks.)
    • Cohen also offers a rather original justification. It is pointed out to him that even if he and his horde manage to kill a couple thousand soldiers, they will be tired and the enemy will have fresh troops. Cohen explains that the soldiers will be tired as well because by that point they will be running uphill.
    • And then there's Thief of Time's Rule One: "Do not act incautiously when confronting little bald wrinkly smiling men". Lu-Tze is even momentarily surprised at one point that a group of bandits would try to mug him. Paraphrasing: "You're a group of armed thugs attacking a lone, wizened old man who's smiling, and don't run for your lives?!"
    • Their guides, who DO know Rule One, were already hauling ass.
    • Guards Guards is dedicated to the men who make this trope possible. And completely averts it when Vimes is arrested. The guards look at him suspiciously, ask if he's going to pull a one-man can of whoopass out on them, and when he admits, "Wouldn't know where to start," they take him into custody without a fight. Quite in contrast to his later persona, but there you go. Later on, though, he was: a) not an alcoholic any more; b) Commander of the Watch, instead of Captain of the Night Watch; c) a Duke; and d) totally sure of himself because of a, b, and c. When he was arrested he was still a hardarse, but much less self-assured.
  • In the Sword of Truth series, Richard gains the ability to face off against innumerable foes by being forced into a battle to the death with thirty highly trained warriors. The whole purpose of the fight was to force him to use the Sword of Truth in a manner that communicated its past wielders' experience to him. It's a skill that saves his life many times on in the series.
  • Matthew Stover's Shatterpoint, a Star Wars EU novel, has this used quite literally. Five or six Force-users shared from the same pool of energy (somehow). As they were killed off in the climactic battle, their shares of the power flowed back into the communal pool, and the last one standing ended up enormously superpowered. It didn't help.
  • In the Chronicles of Prydain novels by Lloyd Alexander, the Huntsmen of Annuvin (Annuvin is the area the huntsmen come from, their leader is the Big Bad, Arawn) explicitly have this as their special power, each individual member of a group growing stronger as their numbers are decreased. The power is so feared that the usual answer is to run, and curse oneself if forced to kill one; as this made your chances of survival less. To the point where one character says that he's more afraid of them as he is the unkillable Cauldron-born.
  • Inverted in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant where ur-viles and related creatures have magic to combine their individual power into one, making their danger level scale with the number of them in a group.
  • Double Subversion in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time Prequel novel New Spring, Lan is surrounded by seven men, noting glumly to himself that only in stories do men fight seven armed skilled opponents and win. Then he wins.
  • Deconstructed the occasion it most obviously happens in Warhammer 40,000: Gaunt's Ghosts, where the tacticians going over the reports have the battle in question written out of the archives, because they simply couldn't comprehend how so few could beat so many. Other times, the Ghosts work in coordination with other Imperial Guard units and rarely take out superior numbers on their own. Played straight with the Blood Pact, though, as they die en masse with little effect when they attack in large groups, but small kill-teams such as the one sent to Balhaut in Blood Pact appear much more effective.
    • Although the effectiveness of the Blood Pact team sent to Balhaut can be attributed to that platoon essentially being Urlock Gaur's equivalent to the Gereon Team, at least in the sense they were the cream of the Pact as the Ghost's are in the Guard.
  • Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain, Hero of the Imperium, has an inverse example in Caves of Ice: The stormtrooper squad has literally grown up together in one of the Imperium's orphanages. They've been trained to fight together up to the point where the intuitive rapport of the squad borders on telepathy. The downside is that they don't play too well with others and rotating in new soldiers for casualties makes no sense as they'd remain outsiders to the team. Thus, with more and more members dying, the squad becomes irrevocably weaker. The team accompanying Cain is almost at the point where they'll fall below the efficiency of a normal squad. It's kind of a moot point - the Necrons kill them all.
  • Used in Malazan Book of the Fallen. Any time Kalam goes up against other assassins, they seem to fall victim to this trope. Slightly justified by Kalam being a match for the man who would become the patron god of assassins.
  • Indirectly used in the Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny during the war with the Courts of Chaos. There are, at max, only 15 Princes and Princesses of Amber, versus countless hordes of nobles from the Courts that are not only the same age or older than the Amberites, but theoretically almost as powerful. Not only do the Courts get thrashed defending their home turf, but they really only managed to kill one Amberite during the entire war - and the evidence actually points to the fact that he actually died of causes other than his wounds. All other Amberite deaths were actually caused by infighting. Oh, and this also doesn't include the fact that the two most powerful members of Amber, Oberon and Dworkin, didn't participate in the battle at all.
    • This defeat causes an underground semi-religion venerating individual Amberites to spring up at the Courts after the war.
    • Likely due, at least in part, to a literal conservation of power effect: on some level the forces of Amber and the Courts are acting as proxies for, and drawing their magical powers from, the Pattern and the Logrus, which are generally balanced in strength.
  • In the Deep Space Nine novelizations, when the Dominion and Cardassians are attacking the station, Dukat notes that Sisko works much better when he has fewer ships. It certainly seems to be true, as the station and two ships account for dozens of attackers during the battle.
  • Though justified in many ways, this trope was kind of invoked in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, when Hermione, Luna and Ginny were trying to kill Bellatrix Lestrange together and only drawing. Then in comes Molly Weasley, refusing help, and curses Lestrange down. Justified in that Luna, Ginny and Hermione have fought an all-night battle on top of (in order): spending months imprisoned, being through hell in Death-Eater-Hogwarts, and not sleeping for about 24 hours straight after robbing Gringotts, fighting a horde of goblins and wizards, destroying a Horcrux and escaping on a dragon. Likewise, Lestrange has been fighting one person after another and been in Azkaban, wandless, for years.
  • Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian regularly slaughters scores of opponents. That is, when he's not up against giant snakes, ape-man, and Eldritch Abominations, who can actually give him problems. In "The Phoenix on the Sword" we are told that his foes actually hampered each other.
  • Older Than Feudalism: At the end of The Odyssey, Telemachus and his father face down (and kill, very gorily) over a hundred (unarmed) people.
  • Deconstructed in the first novel of the X Wing Series, where Rogue Squadron is attacked by three squadrons of TIE fighters. They don't take a single casualty while only two TIEs get away, and Wedge thinks later about how combat statistics have shown that the more fighters are in a battle, the lower each pilot's kill count is. The Imperials also had to watch their fire, as while the Rogues had shields, TIEs don't, and therefore they had to be careful picking their targets, something the Rogues weren't limited by.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Star Trek is all over this trope. In fact this could be the very basis of their famous Redshirts. You see groups of Redshirts get vaporized, but Scotty survives into the 24th century! Even in the future, multiple Starfleet personnel get wasted during the course of TNG, but Worf makes it, despite The Worf Effect. Likewise, while whole armadas of ships get pummeled, single starships win the day. This even applies to the bad guys. A single Borg cube can cause so much havoc, yet every time we seen a bunch of Borg cubes, they're usually destroyed immediately after.
    • In Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Best of Both Worlds, Part II," the Borg blows away an entire Federation taskforce, without even a fight. However the Enterprise-D is able to go it alone against the Borg cube, and escape with only minor damage.
    • Somewhat lampshaded in the TNG episode "Contagion" where Riker says "fate protects fools, little children, and ships named Enterprise."
    • Speaking of a single Borg-cube wiping out all of the attacking Starships, Conservation of Ninjitsu earns its Magnum Opus when the lone ship Voyager enters the Borg home-turf of the Delta Quadrant, turning the tables completely as it takes on the entire collective-- apparently destroying it when Admiral Janeway kills the Borg Queen.
      • In that case, though, the Voyager was equipped with weapons and armor from the future.
    • Against Species 8472, the Borg send legions of Borg cubes, all of which are taken down in seconds. Curb Stomp Battle indeed.
    • Also seen in Deep Space Nine during the Dominion war arc. The Dominion have powerful Jem-Hadar fighters/destroyers that attack in large fleets to overwhelm big slow clumsy ships. The Defiant is the first Federation ship built along these tactical lines, and its first combat against the Dominion sees it nearly destroyed by only two or three Jem-Hadar fighters. Later in the series, the Defiant and other Federation and Klingon ships are seen swatting fleets of them like flies.
  • Buffyverse vampires were particularly subject to this trope. Individual vampires could be fairly respectable opponents, though they still had a bad track record of getting one-stab killed after Season 1. Whenever vampires gathered in groups, they were cannon fodder. One just hopes they don't have problems with splinters.
    • The final season mixed this trope with a good dose of, ahem, Villain Decay. The first Turok-Han 'uber-vamp' was a nearly unstoppable force very narrowly beaten by the Slayer after several victories. In the finale, however, the Scoobies went up against an army of them, and Xander, Anya, and the slayers-still-in-training were taking hundreds of them down easily. In the DVD commentary, Joss Whedon points out that this was a conscious decision, claiming that "they couldn't all be as hard to beat as the first one," since that would make the last fight unwinnable. No in-universe explanation is given, simply the remark that storytelling is more important than an internally-consistent canon. Nothing else left to do but recite the Mantra and shrug it off.
    • Applies to Slayers too: Buffy on her own can take any number of vampires, but whenever she's fighting with Faith or Kendra, at least one of the Slayers gets into a position where they need the other's help.
  • In Doctor Who, the amount of danger presented by the Daleks seems to always be inversely proportional to the number of Daleks present. When the Doctor and company are only facing one, as in "Dalek", it's a potential end-of-the-world scenario. When he faces millions as in "The Parting of the Ways" and "Doomsday", all it takes is a quick Deus Ex Machina to save the day. When he's back to three in "Evolution of the Daleks," it takes a betrayal of their enslaved army to take them down, and one still gets away. You can be sure that last one is once again going to be a serious threat when it reappears.
    • Referenced in "Doomsday", before Daleks and Cybermen declared hostilities:

Cyberman: We have five million Cybermen. How many are you?
Dalek: Four!
Cyberman: You would destroy the Cybermen with four Daleks?
Dalek: We would destroy the Cybermen with one Dalek!

    • To be fair, the Daleks do seem capable of making good on this threat - they are so much more advanced that during the ensuing fire fight they are seen to take out dozens of Cybermen, but not one of the four Daleks takes damage.
    • The Doctor himself makes heavy use of this trope. As Rose says in "Doomsday", "Five million Cybermen? Easy. One Doctor? Now you're scared."
    • The Series 4 Finale "Journey's End" and the Series 5 Finale "The Big Bang" seem to indicate that Millions of Daleks < One Doctor < 5 or Less Daleks < one very pissed-off River Song
    • In "Forest of the Dead", as the carnivorous shadow creatures approach, take pause, and then flee after this one line.

The Doctor: We're in the universe's biggest library. I'm The Doctor. Look me up.

  • In Super Sentai and Power Rangers there are many instances of a monster beating up an entire team of Rangers, only to be defeated by a single Ranger in a sufficiently climactic battle.
    • The enemy grunts are an exception, though. They are pushovers in small or moderate numbers, but huge hordes of them occasionally manage to overpower the Rangers (happens especially in season finales).
    • Also, early seasons would sometimes feature battles with multiple resurrected monsters, who would usually go down with just one or two hits. Eventually subverted in the third season premiere where a villain and four resurrected monsters, all giant sized, tear the Megazord to pieces.
    • Funny you should mention the Megazord, since they're victims of this as well. A single combined one from every machine available can destroy practically anything, but two or three fighting together usually get knocked around like ragdolls.
  • In Kamen Rider Dragon Knight, the Mooks suffer from an extreme case of this. A group of them are nothing but cannon fodder for an unmorphed Len to kick around. One, on the other hand, once required two Riders to use some of their strongest attacks.
    • This is actually due to the source footage. In Kamen Rider Ryuki, we have a Monster of the Week called Gelnewt which was of standard monster strength and was fought over the course of a two-part episode. For Dragon Knight, the producers decided to turn the Gelnewt into the series' Mook, meaning this trope suddenly applies. Ironically, this filtered back to Japanese Kamen Rider, where Gelnewts are the Mooks in the Den-O and Decade Crossover movie entirely because there was a surplus of the suits left over from the filming of Dragon Knight.
    • Kamen Riders, to some exent. When Kit fought alone against Axe, Spear and Strike all at the same time, he manages to defeat the three of them and even finish Spear. But when he fights Axe solo, he loses both times and has to be bailed out by Wing Knight.
  • Babylon 5 presents a rare good-guy example of this: when there's only one White Star, it's unstoppable. Once there's a fleet, they start getting taken down by mid-level enemies, often with no Vorlon or Shadow support.
    • This is especially bad since the White Stars are meant to be able to learn from each hit it takes, so that the armour gets stronger after every battle. Even as late as the fourth series, the White Stars continued to get weaker: in Series 3, it takes 3 White Stars to destroy a Shadow warship( after a telepath has jammed it), but by the battle of Proxima 3, 4 White Stars are needed to deal with a single Earth destroyer, an incredibly simpler ship with far less firepower (albeit with the ability to manoeuvre ), which Sheridan stated was weaker than The White Star.
    • Word of God says that the White Star fleet was deliberately pulling its punches to avoid slaughtering the Earth Forces. Sheridan wanted the EA ships to stand down or defect. (It was a civil war.)
    • This also seems to apply to the Shadows and Vorlons - Shadow battlecrabs were notoriously difficult to kill and Vorlons were pretty much invincible. Until the Battle of Coriana, when they started blowing up left and right. (Though in fairness, the coalition force arrayed against them was pretty huge too.) The casualties were massively slanted against the allied fleet.
    • Also at Coriana VI, the Vorlons and Shadows were up against other First Ones, who presumably had weapons at least equal to them, and superior to what the Younger Races had on their ships.
    • Marcus Cole explained to a group of thugs why they should tell him what he wanted to know: "Because if you don't, then in five minutes I'll be the only person at this table still standing. Five minutes after that, I'll be the only person in this room still standing. So, who's in?" After he makes good on this threat, he laments that, "Now I have to wait for someone to wake up."
  • Kamen Rider Den-O: The hordes of ninja in the movie Ore Tanjou suffer so badly from this that even the ridiculously inept protagonist Ryoutarou can hold his own against one.
  • Hilariously lampshaded in an Adam Sandler-era SNL skit, where the group of ninjas do a review of what went wrong after another failed attack. "How did we say we were going to attack the guy?" "All at once..." "And how did we attack?" "One at a time..." Sandler's hooded ninja speaks up about the use of throwing stars, noting that they are not a good idea in a large group, then pulling back his hood to reveal one stuck in his forehead. The gang ends up deciding to get their confidence back by beating up the next person they meet in the lobby - who of course turns out to be Bruce Lee.
  • A justification for the trope is given in the Russian period miniseries Satisfaction. A fencing instructor makes his student fight three of his servants at once. After the student loses the first round the instructor asks him why he lost. The student says that he was outnumbered. The instructor tells him that he is wrong, because their greater number is actually their weakness: none of them wants to get injured, each would prefer one of the other guys to be in harm's way, and hence none of them is willing to show some initiative and do something really daring. With that knowledge the student naturally proceeds to kick their asses.
  • Scrubs had this in the fantasy scene where over a dozen asian interns attackers (wearing surgical masks much like ninja masks) are handled with ease by Turk and Todd. Admittedly it's a fantasy scene so no justification is neccesary but it still fits the rule.
  • You see this near the end of Battlestar Galactica. Where initially a few Cylon Centurions were nigh-unstoppable juggernauts that needed to have their heads blown up before they stopped, in a suitably dramatic Storm the Castle situation the dangerously outnumbered Battlestar crew can bring them down in droves with a few sporadically-fired 9mm rounds. Admittedly, they had the help of other Cylons by this point, which could mean better bullets. Plus the fact that the Colonials in the start of the series were armed for the last Cylon war, and the new units were massive upgrades, while at the end of the series they'd been fighting Cylons for years on end, and had plenty of time to improve.
  • Regularly seen in the Stargate Verse. Stargate SG-1 has the justification that Tau'ri ships like the F-302 Mongoose and Daedalus-class battlecruiser are simply better-engineered than their opponents', which tend to be Awesome but Impractical. Same goes for ground engagements: Numerically smaller Tau'ri forces mow through dozens, even hundreds of mooks at a time due in part to better equipment and tactics.
    • This goes both ways, of course. The battle at the Ori supergate had four Ori ships Curb Stomp Battle an entire fleet of Jaffa, Asgard, and Tau'ri ships.


Professional Wrestling[edit | hide]

  • The WWE has taken advantage of this trope on several occasions. The most ludicrous, perhaps, was John Cena and Randy Orton vs. the entire Raw roster, in 2008. Cena and Orton generally win their matches, or put on a good showing, but they generally take 15–25 minutes against one, maybe two opponents. This match took seven minutes. Their opponents? Snitsky, Santino Marella, Trevor Murdoch, Lance Cade, Umaga, Super Crazy, JBL (who has been involved in several of those 15-25 minute matches with Cena and Orton, as has Umaga), Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Cody Rhodes, Paul Burchill, Val Venis, Bob Holly, Carlito, DH Smith, Brian Kendrick, Robbie and Rory McAllister, Charlie Haas, and possibly a couple others. Then, after that was over, Triple H stole the lack of numbers advantage from the two of them, beating them both down.
    • Not to mention at least two of their PPV's (Survivor Series, Royal Rumble) are built around this trope.
    • Particularly egregious is the Survivor Series, where the best chance of one team to win is when they only have one wrestler left, particularly if they are the Face team.
    • In the Royal Rumble, each successive elimination takes longer and is much more difficult than the previous one, and the final two wrestlers might be fighting for as long or longer than the previous 30+ combined.
      • It can be considered someone subverted by the Royal Rumble matches, as it's a free-for-all with no teams, and many wrestlers are usually eliminated by a group of others forming a very temporary truce to force them over the ropes and out of the ring.
  • Also supported in tag teams by the Ricky Morton Rule, where after one partner gets beaten, the fresh partner jumps in and takes on both of the other two wrestlers.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Brickwars invokes this trope for its Ninja Scum card, resulting in a unit that gets lower rolls the more there are (and you must have at least three). The flavor text says it all.
  • Don't Rest Your Head has a Ninja madness power that lets you summon endless numbers of ninja mooks from every impossible hiding place. Their only ability is a reckless Zerg Rush. OR you call an elite Ninja, Color-Coded for Your Convenience. Don't mess with him. He's badass.
  • Dungeons & Dragons uses "minion" class enemies to invoke this trope in 4th Edition. They each have one hit point and are designed to fall in droves. Then there are elite and solo enemies, equal to two and five normal monsters respectively. If you see a group of 20 orcs, they are probably mostly minions, and one fireball will leave you with a target or two left; if you see two orcs, they are probably elite brutes, each of which has 194 hit points, a much nastier fight.
    • The 3rd edition of D&D shows a different form of this trope, in that the Encounter Level (difficulty) of a fight is calculated not by counting the enemies, but by adding 2 to the Encounter Level for each doubling of the number of enemies. Thusly, one gnoll is EL 1, but sixteen gnolls are only EL 9. By the time you get up to 32, it's not even worth raising the EL, as characters above 9th level have enough mass-effect spells to easily handle that many weak enemies.
    • In the original editions, fighters had the ability to attack a number of enemies in one round based on their general level, provided that the enemies were 1 HD or less each.
    • One edition had constructs called Shardsoul Slayers, basically fragmented elementals which traveled in groups. Killing one united its shard of elemental soul with another one close by, making it stronger.
  • The Ninja Burger Employee's Handbook specifically recommends against this trope.
  • A particularly nasty version of this occurs in RuneQuest; due to the Critical Fumble rules, armies take the most damage from their own side. Thus, a larger army is actually less of a threat.
  • 7th Sea has three types of enemies, mooks, henchmen, and villains, with increasing toughness.
  • Warhammer 40,000's fluff shows space marines as near invincible in small numbers, but die in droves when it comes to large scale engagements.
    • Admitedly, in the 41st millenium EVERYTHING dies in droves in large battles. Also, a Space Marine force barely a hundred strong (a company) is fully capable of taking out a whole planet or even a small star system all on its own.
    • On the tabletop, each side has a finite number of 'points'. Mooks range from four to twenty points, commanders are at least a hundred.
  • The roleplaying game Pirates Vs. Ninjas has the universal law called the Kurosawa Corollary, by which members of a much larger group of combatants take penalties to become less powerful than a smaller group of adversaries.
  • Exalted models this by presenting any sufficiently large number of disposable enemies as 'Extras', with drastically low health and stats, that exist mostly as a minor obstacle to the players, window dressing for the antagonists, or stunt fodder.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Played with in the Double Dragon series, most notably in the NES Double Dragon 3 and the SNES Super Double Dragon. Noteworthy in that one normal Mook can fuck you up real bad if you're not careful. A bunch of mooks, on the other hand... well, they can still fuck you up real bad, but the gameplay provides several ways in which you can use their numbers against them, especially in Super Double Dragon - such as grabbing one mook and throwing him at another, tricking them into throwing their weapons at each other, crowding two or more mooks into a corner, thus limiting their attacks and enabling you to beat 'em all up at ONCE (a trick that works really nice when one of the baddies is a Level Boss), etc.
  • Bad Dudes Versus Dragon Ninja. Armies of brightly dressed Highly-Visible Ninja rush at the one (or two) good guys in broad daylight then each one falls down (and vanishes) after being struck a single blow (in fact in the case of the chi punch several ninja can be killed by the same blow).
  • A noted problem with Metal Gear Solid 2: fighting thirty Metal Gears is significantly less dramatic than the usual finale of fighting one, because of the greatly reduced significance of each foe; in fact, Metal Gear RAY's require only a handful of missiles to destroy, while their REX predecessor (Which they were designed specifically to be able to defeat) required some 20-30 of those missiles and a lone ninja (himself taking full advantage of this very trope) to perform a Heroic Sacrifice. This may be Justified Trope, as it was well established that the Metal Gears involved in that fight were designed to be cheap, mass-produced, and be piloted by an AI.
  • No ninjas or robots either and applying to main characters, but still: In Devil May Cry 3, Dante or Vergil alone can use their full powers in the first phase of the fight against Arkham. When the second phase rolls in, bringing Vergil or Dante (respectively according to character used) with it, the player loses his Style-based moves and Devil Trigger transformation, while the interloper also cannot fight at full power.
  • In the Terminator Salvation video game the player kills tons of terminator robots with grenades, M16, shotguns, pistols and even by punching them. This is in contrast to the movies where RPGs/exploding gas tankers/ firetrucks did almost nothing to the lone pursuing robot.
    • Then again, these are model T-600s, not the 800s and higher seen in the movies. Further, each T-600 you face takes a lot of punishment to bring down, even if every round hits their weakpoint, and if you don't have cover, you will be shredded by their miniguns. The first few encounters you just don't have enough firepower to bring them down, and you're forced to run the hell away.
  • In Spider-Man: The Game of The Movie, one level relies heavily on stealth, and if you are spotted or trip an alarm it brings out a couple Super Soldiers, giant robots that are extremely formidable opponents. Even one is a handful, and if you run into more than one, your only hope is to run and hide. A couple levels later you have to fight your way through dozens of Super Soldiers, which are notably easier to get past.
  • In Mega Man, the mass-produced Joes are basically Arm Cannon fodder. Only the unique Robot Masters are a challenge. Gemini Man from 3 himself follows this trope. He starts the battle by doubling himself, and only attacks with a weak blaster (in response to your fire) and by Collision Damage. Only when you destroy the clone does he break out the Gemini Laser.
  • Played very straight in Super Smash Bros.. and sequels. Any level with "Team " or the Fighting Alloys lets you fling them off the screen with one solid hit. Even heavy characters like Bowser blast off when part of a team. Meanwhile, some stages can give you hell with just 1-3 opponents and even with the very occasional ally. But brutally, BRUTALLY subverted in the well-named Cruel Melee/Cruel Brawl.
  • A mission in the single player Star Wars Battlefront 2 has your clone trooper attack force and one Sith going up against a horde of Jedi. This is some kind of cosmic and cruel irony.
  • Another Star Wars example, in Republic Commando, when Delta Squad (essentially the ninjas of the Clone Wars) splits up to take down the Core Ship on Geonosis, Delta-38 (the player's character) lampshades this trope, almost making it into a Crowning Moment of Awesome:

Delta 38: Alone against all these droids? Heh, they don't stand a chance.

  • Slightly older Star Wars example is Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast, in which the player's initial skirmishes with the Reborn darksiders are virtually mini-boss battles, but as the game progresses and Kyle Katarn is pit against 3 or 4 at a time, the fights become easier.
  • Lampshaded with dark hilarity at the end of Max Payne. As he continues to gun down the Big Bad's Killer Suits in her penthouse suite, the PA system crackles to life:

Big Bad: What do you mean 'he's unstoppable'? You are superior to him in every way that counts. You are better trained, better equipped, and you outnumber him at least twenty-to-one. Do. Your. Job.

  • Half-Life 2 has a similar scene, where the Big Bad expresses his shock to his Faceless Goons that they, "the best humanity has to offer", are unable to stop or apprehend Gordon Freeman, a theoretical physicist.
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, large armies of mooks present little more challenge than a single mook, except that they take more hits. But dodging/countering works the same. Just beware guys with knives and guns, while pummeling one to twenty men with baseball bats or their own fists for protection. On the other hand, when only one guy shows up in a room, you can bet it's either a Boss Battle or a Boss in Mook Clothing.
  • Ninja Gaiden: Ryu, a lone ninja, can take on a seemingly endless horde of ninjas, demons, and fiends of all sizes and colors - and the endless hordes of ninja that come after him can barely touch him. Granted, higher difficulties on the Xbox game require that the player EARN every iota of their ninjutsu.
  • City of Heroes actually has this as a player's power. The more enemies that are nearby (Capped at 10 to balance things a little), the stronger a character possessing such a power will be in battle against all of the enemies. Also carries over to a few of the optional powers accessible to anyone, which can improve offense, defense or other stats across a whole team.
    • One such power, Rise to the Challenge in the Willpower set, not only boosts your health regeneration rate higher as more foes surround you, but it also gives those foes a medium to-hit debuff.
  • The second PSP installment of the Ratchet and Clank series, Secret Agent Clank, has a skill point challenge that references this trope. Titled "Inverse Ninja Law", it requires you to defeat 99 ninja mooks during a boss fight where they spawn endlessly, far, far more than you need to defeat to beat the level.
  • In Kingdom Hearts II small groups of Heartless or Nobodies can usually pose a significant threat to Sora and his party, but during the aptly-named Battle of the 1000 Heartless, Sora is able to steamroll right over a group of 1000 Armored Knights and Surveillance Robots without any support from Donald and Goofy. Helped along by the reaction commands for said enemies, both of which are wide-area attacks capable of hitting large numbers of targets at once.
  • An early mission in Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII boiled down to "Storm the enemy base alone. Have fun." Of course, it should be noted that your character is explicitly a Super Soldier.
  • One of the stages in Disgaea has you fighting a giant enemy who divides himself into ten separate enemies. Love Freak Flonne lampshades this by saying its love is divided by ten. However, as noted by the Prinny commentary on the DS version after you lose, love is not a battle stat.
  • World of Warcraft includes one zone, Lake Wintergrasp, dedicated to world (i.e. not instanced) PvP. In an effort to make it more fun on servers where one faction or the other is underpopulated, it features a mechanic called Tenacity that buffs whichever side has fewer people - the greater the disparity, the stronger the buff.
    • Notably, the Tenacity buff, was hilariously weak as it did nothing against CC effects, so if 3 or 4 people with 20 stacks of tenacity (full power, 500% EVERYTHING) encountered the other faction's main group... they got obliterated very easily, averting this trope.
    • And in other cases of World PvP, the side that brought 80 people destroys the organized group of 5 or 6, because players are all fairly equal, so WoW actually averts this trope pretty hard... until you go into Pv E, where it's in full effect.
  • Justified in The Witcher, where one of the three fighting styles Geralt is trained in has been specifically tailored to allow him to engage a horde of enemies at once. Given equal skill developed in all styles it's still easier to wipe out a horde of creatures that would be hard-fought singly. Having trouble fighting that cemetaur with Strong Style? Dive into a crowd of them and let loose with Group style!
  • In Tales of Vesperia, Raven hangs a lampshade on this trope in one of his battle quotes: "The bigger the bunch, the weaker the monster!"
  • The fight against the first boss in Duke Nukem 3D was well... a boss fight. And then those same exact bosses show up as Elite Mooks to be killed like Elite Mooks.
  • In Diablo 2, this works against the players. The more players are playing in the same game at the same time, the more powerful the monsters become—thereby making each player proportionately weaker than if he was playing on his own.
    • With a good team setup, synergy means the players still come out ahead in that race.
  • In Shogun: Total War, default unit sizes are subject to this rule, the extreme being the sword master that's just one guy that can take on dozens of lesser men. On the other hand during actual battle this trope is averted. The most blatant example is that 96 ninjas (yes actual ninjas, this is feudal Japan so maybe?) can and will wipe the floor with 1 ninja.
  • Homeworld 2 has an interesting variation where it's the heroes that have the disadvantage in numbers. When the Hiigarans show up to claim an ancient Precursor artifact, they come across a guardian boss known as a Keeper. The Keeper is a strange looking medium-sized warship which sets off to engage the entire Hiigaran fleet solo. You know you're in serious trouble when you're commanding a massive armada to fight a single enemy unit.
  • Applies to Pokémon as well. Trainers with a five or six-member party are usually Bug Catchers or Fishermen, and will use lots of lower-leveled Pokémon, or weaker Pokémon in general (like Caterpie and Magikarp). A trainer with only one Pokémon will be substantially higher-leveled.
  • In Adventure Quest, there is an enemy which is composed of 100 (previously 1000) ninjas. There is also a ninja enemy named Shadow Mistress Elizabeth. Guess which is the tougher to beat.
  • In Rome Total War, bringing large numbers of poorly-trained, poorly-equipped and unmotivated soldiers to a battle, with the intention of crushing the enemy through sheer weight of numbers, was not always wise. If these men were attacked and routed by the enemy, their fleeing would have a highly deleterious effect on the morale of your remaining troops, rendering them much more susceptible to breaking under pressure.
    • In all the Total War series a large army can be hard to properly control. Most notable in Medival 2 when a single unit of properly micromanaged heavy cav can devistate thousands of pesants. It is just too hard for a human opponent to reorganise their line to take the charge properly.
  • Cranked up to ridiculous levels in Dynasty Warriors and it's kin. Anything that comes on screen is going down effortlessly if they're not a) Lu Bu, b) the enemy commander, or c) a named officer in Hyper Mode.
    • Hard and Hardest/Extreme difficulties, however, try to counter this trope with even more ridiculous Artificial Difficulty - Koei's "solution" was to give even random soldiers higher stats than a maxed-out player character is able to achieve.
  • In Civilization 5, the Japanese are given the ability "Bushido," which lets their military units continue fighting at full strength even after taking damage. While not making them stronger, per se, it does mean that a single, wounded samurai is just as deadly as an entire group of them. Although there is a civic that makes wounded units do more damage.
  • The Grand Finale of Dragon Age has the capital city of Ferelden attacked by Darkspawn. When you get inside the city, you'll find that you're vastly outnumbered, but are only fighting against grunt versions of the normal darkspawn, meaning that they go down in one or two hits to balance things out.
    • Although there are Elite Mooks, mixed in with them. If you're trying to kill the Darkspawn General based in the alienage, you will have to fight through a Zerg Rush of Elite Mooks, at least on higher difficulties.
  • Vindictus probably has the most realistic use of this trope. Enemies use a variety of tactics, including mass mob attack, and single flanking and circling attacks. When enemies do attack in mobs, they predictably cause a lot of collateral damage, getting in each other's way as one would normally expect. This is even true for multiple boss missions. In fact, on the Gnoll Chieftain mission, the standard tactic is to keep running from the boss for the first few minutes of the fight, to allow his wild attacks to take out all his mooks before fighting him.
  • Can happen to the enemies in the Final Fantasy series. Certain regular enemies will resort to much more dangerous attacks if they are alone, which means that you should take them out first if they're in a group.
  • In the Fire Emblem games, your army is traditionally outnumbered 2:1 most of the time, though sometimes as bad as 5:1, or more. However, most of these enemies, if the weapon triangles are utilized, are hilarious pushovers. But if you get into a room in a castle mission with only one guy sitting on a throne, perhaps with a Swordmaster, General, or Bishop at his side, get ready for a hell of a fight.
  • Due to the limitations of the hardware, as the number of Space Invaders left in the game decreases their speed of attack increases.
  • Parodied in League of Legends, where the three ninjas (Kennen, Shen, Akali) all have a hidden passive which reduces their maximum hp by 1 point for every other ninja, resulting in a possible reduction of -2 hp. The effect is unnoticeable upon gameplay, and acts as a homage to the trope.
  • In Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, Darth Vader sends an army of Starkiller clones against Starkiller himself, who destroys them all. Justified in that they were imperfect versions, had less battle experience, and were mindless berserkers.

Excerpt from the novelization: It quickly became apparent that the first to rush in were the wildest and weakest both. In their eagerness to do battle, they didn't stop to plan their strategies. What they possessed in speed, they lacked in forethought. He was armed and they were not, so for being headstrong beyond all reason these brutish beings paid the ultimate price.

  • In Company of Heroes the MG-42 gets bonuses to accuracy and suppression when facing larger number of troops.
  • In Spiral Knights, the more members there are in your squad, the harder enemies and bosses become. It's a well-implemented method of balancing the co-op with the soloing, but it can also mean that sometimes soloing is easier than playing in a group. Sometimes.
  • Kingdom of Loathing's Ragamuffin Imp familiar is a variation; it grows progressively weaker the more players are using it as their active familiar at any given time.
  • Averted in Demon Souls and Dark Souls HARD, making encounters of two or more mooks aggravating.
  • Guild Wars invokes this with a PvP effect called "Inverse Ninja Law." A player does less damage for each nearby ally, and more for each nearby enemy.
  • Simulating this effect in an MMORPG was a major design goal in Star Wars: The Old Republic. In order to get the most out of being one of the universe's signature badasses the game tends to pit you against mobs of three to five enemies who die quickly, making you feel as strong as a jedi/sith should. When it's down to two or one enemies though, it usually means you're fighting an elite or boss mob, making the fight much harder.


Web Animation[edit | hide]

  • Lampshaded in Metal Gear Awesome: Snake is detected and surrounded by innumerable enemy guards, and Colonel performs his classic "Snake? Snake? Snaaake!" line...only to reveal that Snake not only killed all of them but "didn't even break a sweat".
    • Snake then killed a dog by sweating.
  • An overwhelming majority of Stick Figure Animations that involve fighting. To give you an example, check out Xiao Xiao No. 3. The main stickman kicks everyone's behind fairly easily with only one or two attacks. Only if there are 3 or less mooks on screen does he actually get hit. Also notable is the entirety of Terkoiz' amazing work like Unbalanced or The Shock Trilogy.
    • Worthy of note in Terkoiz's Shock series, is that this trope is played straight in the first two and subverted in the final part where Dark Green's ability to clone himself is actually what allows him to win.
  • An episode of Dick Figures plays this perfectly straight in an epic battle for chow mien.


Webcomics[edit | hide]

You wanna fight? There's only one ninja left, and that means I'm death incarnate!

  • The page image comes from a scene from Sam and Fuzzy, where Mr. Blank takes on the mook legions of Mr. Black. Blank and Black are both blankfaces, elite ninja assassins, while the mooks are... well, they're mooks. As Mister Blank puts it about two minutes later: "Looks like I might have to change my name to Mr. Red!"
  • Justified in Fans when Team Alpha faces the golems of the Order of the Dragon. The larger the summoned army, the more the Order members have to spread their power among the individual units, resulting in a frightening number of mooks that all drop with one hit.
  • Use early in Sluggy Freelance to introduce the character Aylee. Also used when Bun-Bun's army is about to attack Santa.
  • Used in Girl Genius when Gil goes out alone, likely in full knowledge of this trope, to face off against an army of invading clanks. Naturally, he destroys some and forces surrender from the rest. The most hilarious portion of this sequence is that the invading army's general realizes what's going on and attempts to have Gil shot before he can do anything.
  • It's one of 14 Things That Never Happen in Real Life.
  • Lampshaded in Captain Snes [dead link] in a guest comic showing various characters respective ideas of heaven and hell. In Edge's heaven, he is surrounded by 9 obviously lovestruck Rydias. Edge acknowledges the readers knowledge that this would probobly be too much for one person, before stating "I have 3 words for you. Inverse. Ninja. Law."
  • Dorkly proposes adjustment to better approximate the Superhero Film Villains: competence of each villain is inversely proportional to their number, until certain threshold at which it drops to negligible.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Episode 2 of G.I. Joe: Resolute features Snake Eyes vs. 20 or so Cobra troopers. You can probably guess how this ends. Later on, Snake Eyes fights Storm Shadow by himself. The fight is much tougher.
  • While Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would make use of this trope when it needed to, it was also averted a fair number of times as well in the most recent series—while the turtles could defeat almost any individual ninja, their most definitive defeats came at times when they were overpowered by sheer numbers. Conversely, the Shredder, proved considerably easier to defeat when he was alone, and did not have his mooks to cover his flanks.
  • Justice League made active use of the trope in its early seasons. The first instance was against the robotic Manhunters and goes as follows: Three Manhunters vs. Justice League. Ends in a tie, but the Manhunters were winning. One of them was not damaged a bit after being hit directly with Hawkgirl's mace. Second encounter: One Thousand Manhunters vs. Justice League. The Justice League tear them apart. Hawkgirl's mace tore through them, as did a green lantern ring. Third Encounter: One Manhunter vs. Green Lantern. The Manhunter overpowered the lantern ring and won.
    • This was solved to a point when the series switched over to Unlimited and the League was given its own personal army. The new team then proceeded to take on fearsome tasks that required multiple individuals, such as when they faced the Dark Heart, a nanotechnology being that could multiply itself exponentially.
    • This trope is all but referred to by name at one point during the Thanagarian invasion. When she, Superman and Green Lantern are outnumbered by a margin of several hundred, Wonder Woman notes that the final battle features "Pretty bad odds." Superman's reply? "Yeah, they don't stand a chance."
  • Teen Titans is possibly the crowned king of this trope, providing an on point illustration of it about every other episode using a wide variety of monsters and Mecha-Mooks. Standard example: the villain of the week summons a monster or robot or something. With much struggle and an elongated fight sequence, the Titans are either just barely able to defeat the adversary or make their retreat. Later on in the episode, the villain tries the same trick again, but decides to spice it up a bit by either making the goon 20 times larger or replicating it to form a small army. Despite the blatantly increased odds, the Titans are still able to defeat the both the goons and the Villain of the Week with half the sweat.
    • Averted by Billy Numerous and Trigon's fire demons. Billy's a formidable opponent (for a Villain of the Week anyway) because of his ability to make hundreds of copies that also have surprisingly good coordination. When Slade leads an army of fire demons to retrieve Raven from Titans Tower, her teammates, despite holding nothing back (Cyborg going so far as to hook himself up to the Tower defense systems to fire dual Sonic BFGs), are overwhelmed by their foes' sheer numbers and Slade's own formidable powers.
    • Quite possibly the best show of this trope comes from the movie Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo. In the intro, the Titans are seen fighting a single colorful villain, who beats them all back with ease and escapes once captured. Mid way through the film they are all attack by one of these while they are separated. At the first part of the final battle, the Big Bad summons a room full of these minions, which the Titans blaze through with little difficulty. Then in the next part of the final battle he summons an army of them, who might as well not even be there at this point as each Titan destroys 3-4 of theme per camera pan.
  • In an episode of Lilo & Stitch: The Series, the Monster of the Week was able to duplicate anything. However, the qualities of anything it duplicated were divided accordingly (i.e. it could duplicate a 100-watt lightbulb to produce 2 50-watt bulbs). Near the end of the episode, Lilo tricks Gantu into making 100 of each of his combat experiments, making them so weak they're easily defeated.
  • Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog has an episode, "Robo Ninjas", in which Dr Robotnik kidnaps a ninja master and brain drains him to teach Scratch And Grounder to be Ninja. After several failures the Nincombots actually beat Sonic and Tails easily. Later Robotnik builds more ninja mooks to defeat the duo and their new ally, but the more Robots he makes the less competent they are.
  • In Xiaolin Showdown, one of the Shen Gong Wu, the Ring of Nine Dragons, can make duplicates of the user, but the duplicates get less competent the more are made.
    • Also subverted to great amusement in that Jack Spicer, universal Butt Monkey and self proclaimed 'boy genius,' is actually able to use the ring to great effect, not because he is strong enough that even when divided into nine pieces he is still a formidable opponent, but rather because he's so bad already that the clones couldn't possibly get any worse.
    • Played straight in the "Time After Time" with Wuya, Chase young, hannibal and Master Monk guan vs Raimundo.
    • Mala Mala Jong is also able to use it effectively. Considering that he is a demonic living suit of armor where all the part are legendary powerful magical artifacts, it make sense that it can only be worse for the heroes with four of them. They are only able to beat them because they get them into a Xiaolin Showdown where their superior strength provides minimal advantage, and with it won a Wu that forces their obedience.
  • On Jackie Chan Adventures, whether Jackie had to fight five of the Shadowkhan or five hundred, they would always take exactly the same amount of effort to dispatch.
  • In the CGI cartoon Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles, after establishing a base on the jungle world of Tesca Nemerosa, the Roughnecks encounter a 'prototype' Spider Bug that proceeds to kidnap the entire squad one by one with consummate ease, until eventually only two remain uncaptured. When they finally confront it in a suitably epic battle, it takes a barrage of automatic rifle fire and a plummet onto stalagmites to defeat it. Next episode, they're fighting Spider Bugs by the dozens, in combination with the more conventional Bugs, and having little trouble holding their own.
  • Parodied somewhat in the Fairly Oddparents movie "Wishology", in which baby fairy Poof dresses as a ninja and takes out a gang of Eliminators.
  • An episode of Ben 10: Ultimate Alien had the hero splitting himself into three. The result was superficially successful, but in combat they couldn't coordinate. The hero reversed the duplication, causing the villian to question the wisdom of effectivly reducing his numbers. The single hero, though, easily defeated him.
    • Even before the combat scene, the duplicates caused problems from their incomplete personalities, though this might have been just poor choices in which personality type to accommodate each task.
  • In Samurai Jack episode 38 there is a textbook picture of the Emperor surrounded by hundreds of Aku mooks.
  • In a recent episode of The Boondocks Bushido Brown is fighting a group of 3 super skilled old people (It's a long story). At first he's kicking all three of their asses; however when he knocks one of them out he starts getting hit and performs poorly.
  • Averted then played straight on Code Monkeys when Mr. Larrity is jumped by ninjas after Benny, who succeed (at the expense of a few getting killed, but hey) then played straight when the ninjas, revealed as salarymen try to jump him a second time only for him to dodge/kill his way out of the crowd.
  • Pretty much personified in Hot Wheels Battle Force 5. The show had two Big Bads in the first season, Captain Kalus and Zemerik. Zemerik and his Zurk prefered a Zerg Rush with a massive amount of Sark and his Dragon Zug. On the other hand, Kalus normally went into battle with three other Vandals. The Sark besides Zemerik himself and Zug normally got torn to pieces with ease while the Vandals took a good deal more effort to defeat individually. Then in season two, the new Big Bad Krytus takes control of the Zurk from Zemerik, but has his own group of Red Sentients who are generally far more difficult to defeat than the Zurk are. This comes back to bite Krytus when he faces Kalus' Vandals on their homeworld. Even though there are a lot more Vandals involved, the number wise superor Zurk are ultimately shredded by the Vandals in battle. This is probably justified as the Zurk are mass produced robots with only Zemerik and Zug having any sentient intelligence.
  • In an early episode of Max Steel, the titular character sneaks in to an enemy base and fights off a couple of mooks, including this scene:

Max: Quality beats quantity. (Five mooks appear in front of him.) I hope.

    • Naturally, he pummels the mooks and wins the fight...until his arch-nemesis Psycho sneaks up and uses a stun-stick on him.
  • Transformers Prime: One Insecticon vs. Arcee: Trashed Arcee, Insecticon undamaged. One Insecticon vs. Megatron: Victory by inches to Megatron. Several thousand Insecticons at once, and both of them are one-shotting Insecticons out of the sky. In both one-on-one fights, however, the Insecticon had a home-ground advantage, as well as the advantage of close quarters where guns would be ineffective. Arcee was attempting to distract it so Jack could get to the objective, and Airachnid specifically gummed up Megatron's cannon so he couldn't use it in the fight.
      • When Arcee fights another Insecticon in "Tunnel Vision" in a subway tunnel, she manages to hold it off by using her greater agility. Yet suddenly even her full barrage can barely scratch its paint. Perhaps it was some sort of close-quarters up-armored variant because of the tunnels.
    • The same applies to Vehicons. One Vehicon can be a match for Bulkhead, but a squad of them is cannon fodder. In the pilot, two Vehicons hold their own against Bumblebee and Arcee, only fleeing when Bulkhead arrived. They take no serious damage. Later in the same 5 parter, Team Prime attacks a whole group of them, Arcee is seen effortlessly tearing through them, ripping them apart (literally) effortlessly.