Set Swords to Stun

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

You're fighting your opponent in armed combat, and you lay a finishing move across his neck with your Absurdly Sharp Blade. The announcer declares your victory: "Knockout!"—Wait, what?

A character in a fighting game is not "dead"; he's just... unconscious... even though you've been hitting him with a sword for 30 seconds... and broken both his arms... and impaled him on your blade before kicking him off at least twice. For that matter, why are you still alive, after being whacked in the head with his axe a few times? It seems all that stuff saying you should Never Bring a Knife to A Fist Fight was complete baloney. (Well, except for the not dying part.)

Compare Strong Flesh, Weak Steel, As Lethal as It Needs to Be and Made of Iron. Contrast Nerf Arm.

Examples of Set Swords to Stun include:

Anime and Manga

  • Rurouni Kenshin Kenshin has a reverse blade sword made specifically so he can stun or knock out opponents with it to keep his vow that he'll never kill again. How he doesn't cause severe crushing wounds is better left unasked.
    • He nearly does at one point, but the hilt proved to be weaker than the man he was fighting at that point and gave way, dampening much of the impact.
  • Played with a bit in an episode of The Slayers. Zelgadis tries to knock someone out by hitting him with the blunt side of his sword, then remembers too late that his sword is double-edged.

Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons & Dragons had several iterations of this across its several editions.
    • The 1st edition Monster Manual had a rule specifically for dragons that allowed players to try subduing them rather than killing them.
    • 2nd edition featured an optional rule that allowed standard weapons to do nonlethal damage (normally the province of unarmed combat and a few particular weapons) in exchange for an attack penalty, since you're purposely using your weapon wrong in order to not seriously harm your enemy.
    • 3rd edition made the optional rule a normal one, included a magic property that let any enchanted weapon do it without penalty (and deal extra damage) and topped that by including feats that allowed casters to do non-lethal damage with their spells, allowing them to knock out enemies with fire, showers of blades, or contortions of gravity. Justified because, y'know... magic.
      • Most "d20 system" based games retained the non-lethal rules, but D20 Modern changed to a system where non-lethal damage either KOed an enemy instantly or did nothing (most likely nothing), and was so unworkable most supplements forgot it existed and referenced non-lethal damage as though it still worked the way it did in 3rd Edition.
      • The sole spinoffs to do away with it were the Star Wars based ones, since that universe has plenty of dedicated less-lethal stun weapons and stun settings on most (but not all) blasters. Rather than a reduced to-hit chance and easier healing, stun damage does reduced damage but inflict greater penalties for (temporary) injuries inflicted.
    • 4th edition finally simplified it all by allowing a player to declare whether a monster is killed or unconscious when reducing its hit points to zero. Just let the players make up a reason for why it works. 5th edition maintains this change.
  • Alchemical Exalted can install a Charm that allows them to keep all members of their unit alive in a war, despite damage done to a unit. An upgrade - the Riot-Dispersion Attack submodule - allows them to extend this benefit to the enemy unit they're attacking.
  • Mayfair Games' DC Heroes RPG featured two styles of gaming, one "gritty and realistic", and the other more in keeping with Silver Age mentality where nobody dies. This is spoofed in one of the modules where the characters are left at ground zero of a nuclear explosion, but it's all okay because of the game mode!
  • Hero Clix characters are KOd at the end of their dials. It doesn't matter what you're using on them, from powers named "Blades/Claws/Fangs" or "Big Uzi" or even "Death Comes Swiftly", whatever it is that hits you, it just knocks you out.
  • Cheapass Games features Spree, a game where looters with guns raid a mall for the best presents this Christmas. Being shot only makes you "fall down." You get up shortly thereafter. There are no health meters or character wounds.
  • Mutants & Masterminds, like the DC Heroes RPG example above, makes every form of attack (be it fists, sword, energy beams, guns, fire, electricity, ice, dropping them from a ledge, or crashing a car into them) function this way by default. In-fact, the only way to kill a "heroic" (not necessarily good aligned) character is to intentionally finish them off while they're unconscious, or to reduce their con score to zero. "Non-heroic" characters are slightly less protected, and can be killed by simply declaring the attacks to be lethal.

Video Games

  • Games in the Soul Calibur series. Soul Calibur 3 is an especially bad offender, considering that Sigfried uses an incredibly large sword, and is frequently seen to drive the pointy end directly into an opponent's skull, yet sometimes after a match, he remarks, "I avoided your vitals. You'll live."
    • Not only that, but any throw would be fatal. Any throw. And yet, it takes roughly six or seven to "K.O." your opponent (and sometimes more than that). To clarify, Siegried/Nightmare (either or both, depending on the game) throws his opponent by ramming his 6 foot long, 2 foot wide Blade of Fearsome Size straight through the opponent's body, lifting them into the air, and slamming them to the floor. Ouch. Of course, this is only the most over the top ones. The more subtle ones involve simply snapping the opponents neck.
      • The cake goes to Ivy Valentine in II - her throw from behind involves wrapping her bladed whip around her opponent's neck, kicking them to their knees, and stomping on their back, causing their spine to very audiably snap. Then they get back up and fight.
      • Taki has one by the same virtue. One of her throws has her grab her opponent by the neck and shove her sword straight through their neck clear to the other side.
    • In other words, Sigfried is saying there's nothing vital in our heads.
  • Battle Arena Toshinden
  • Star Wars games are often examples, as lightsabers do only a small amount of damage with each strike, despite being used to cut through metal several times.
    • Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II nicely avoided this problem though, making the lightsaber nearly a Disc One Nuke. Hit anything with the saber (Well, anything smaller than a truck), and it goes down.
    • Later Dark Forces games - Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy - went back to the usual patheticness, but a simple and popular *.cfg option restored the instant deadliness of a lightsaber. Even grazing an unshielded character, whether you were attacking or not, would sever limbs, heads, or torsos on contact. Best of all, this applied to the player too, so while Mooks became much easier, battles against multiple Dark Jedi became much more challenging.
    • Jedi Academy multiplayer servers use house rules when dealing with lightsaber damage. Occasionally, one will find a server where damage behaves just like one would expect a condensed plasma stream to behave. For extra simulation, there is a dismemberment-on-death flag that can be toggled in the *.cfg file.
    • The lightsabers in Star Wars Galaxies did bashing damage in their first incarnation. It has then been changed to energy damage.
    • Knights of the Old Republic treads the line a bit. Lightsabers are still the deadliest melee weapons by far, and can be used to break open doors and containers effortlessly, but many weapons and armors of this era are made with "cortosis weaves" (something that's supposed to be much rarer than KoToR implies) that enables them to resist a saber being sliced right through them. They are still far less deadly than they really should be though.
      • Similarly for Star Wars Battlefront, where lightsabers are the strongest weapon in the game, yet it took at least 2 hits to kill the average mook.
    • Super Star Wars: Tusken Raiders can sometimes survive a full-contact swing with the lightsaber. Also, Stormtroopers can survive one laser blast from your gun, while in the movies, they usually died when that happened.
  • Unlike the above, The Force Unleashed has the lightsaber as the ONLY available weapon. Some players have referred to it as the "lightbat" because of its inability to cut through anything. Indeed, hitting a stormtrooper only creates a small glow on the point of impact and causes them to fall over. Some enemies don't even die on the first hit.
    • This complaint has been addressed in the sequel (at least as far as enemies go). Stormtrooper heads and limbs will be lost this time for sure. As for slicing up the rest of the level...probably not.
  • Sword of the Samurai 2 is both an example and a subversion, in that, on Extreme mode, any hit from any weapon could kill you.
  • Aversion: Bushido Blade has no life bars, and matches can be decided with a single well-aimed strike.
    • Hell, if you wound your opponent properly, he'll beg you to kill him to end his misery.
    • Rune goes half way here (especially in multiplayer matches), as while its Health Points work just like most other games, a lucky swing at an opponent's head that gets through means decapitation and is always an instant kill.
  • Mortal Kombat 3: Technically, you can hit an enemy 5 or 6 times in a round with Stryker's hand grenades. His pistol attack (only in Ultimate MK3) is curiously a ranged one and consists of firing 3 bullets from point-blank range. It does a bit more damage than a grenade, but still, the other character should be dead on the spot.
    • Cyrax and Sektor use bombs and rockets respectively. They inflict about the same damage as Stryker's hand grenades.
    • Mortal Kombat 4: All characters have weapons that do significantly less damage than one would think. This trope applies to Sonya for example, who is a regular human, yet a full-on swing with a sword can't kill her on the spot. You can also throw stones and skulls at your opponent, and these items also could hurt a bit more.
    • In Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, though, some characters had an "Impale" feature for their weapons, which allowed you to, well... impale the enemy with your weapon, causing them to leak blood and reduce their health gradually at the expense of losing the ability to use your weapons for the rest of the round.
    • Mortal Kombat 9: Once and for all, it is proven that swords are indeed sharp, because all character models show damage. By the end of a close fight, both fighters will have missing skin and exposed innards to go along with the bones that were shown being physically broken. It doesn't affect your fighting ability, though. (And then you stand up for round 2, and your health is refilled but the damage is still visible.)
      • The worst part is the X-Ray moves. Over the course of the match, Sub-Zero can freeze and shatter his opponent's liver several times. Some Kombatants break their opponents skulls, legs, spines, whatever, and the opponent just gets up and keeps fighting.
  • In the Samurai Shodown series, only the last strike of the round can be fatal.
  • Particularly bad in The King of Fighters games, as many characters have attacks that could level a building, yet leave no lasting damage anyway. One really nasty example is Orochi (a god), who can apparently steal and destroy his opponent's soul, yet if said opponent is not KO'd by this attack then they can still get up and fight, despite the fact that they should be a hollow shell. Whip has a gun and, in some games, it doesn't even deal damage. She has another one as an HSDM and at least deals a good amount of damage. Other characters even have missiles, lasers, a gigantic drill, an iron ball... Hell even the flames should be enough to deal third-degree burns but don't.
  • Justified in Way of the Samurai 3: you can use the blunt end of your sword to knock out opponents as opposed to killing them.
  • Another frequent offender is Zero from the Mega Man X series. It's especially noticeable in his own games, where most enemies have a special animation for being cut in half by his Z-Saber. Okay—so why didn't that happen until the final hit? Because the kill shot is always the final hit.
  • Melty Blood is a particularly strange case. The victory screens, the character portraits, the backgrounds, etc. can all show as much blood as they want to, but absolutely no blood comes out from anyone. Makes sense, they're all being punched and kicked... except by the characters that have claws and one in particular who uses a fruit knife to devastating effect. The rerelease of Melty Blood: Act Cadenza even removes what little blood was present (one character throwing a knife into someone and ripping it out, and a young vampire ripping into someone barehanded).
    • Also add to the fact that, much like Soul Calibur, certain attacks should be fatal. Shiki not killing anyone by simply knife-fighting is justified and plausible...but his Arc Drives use his Mystic Eyes of Death Perception, one of which slices the opponent into seventeen pieces. Though granted, he never seems to use the truly, unquestionably fatal attack.
  • Justified by Marvel Comics' Black Knight. He sometimes uses a photonic sword which cuts through inanimate objects like a solid blade would, but acts like a high-powered taser when used on humans.
  • In the Tekken series, characters frequently suffer broken arms, legs, necks, etc., dislocated shoulders, hyper-extended joints, crushed gonads, and occasional impalement, only to get back up off the floor and jump back into battle, unless the round is over.
    • Particularly bad in the case of Lee, many of whose moves are flat-out murder. One, for instance, is a snap-kick to the opponent's nose; in the game, it merely stuns the opponent for a moment and does less damage than a standard kick. In real life, that move, called fouetté à figure ("whip-kick to the face") is banned from sport savate, for its tendency to snap people's necks.
  • In Darkstalkers 3, certain attacks by each character can kill, by slicing the opponent in half... but only if they're the last blow in the last round. If it's not, the killing effect is seen regardless but the damage done to the characters' bodies is instantly fixed in a cartoony manner, like for example the upper body of the character being cleaved clean off, only for it to perform a quick somersault and land back on the waist with no lasting damage. Likewise, these attacks don't always line up with what should be fatal - Bulleta/B.B. Hood's throat-slit grab is, understandably, fatal, but her various guns, missiles, and mines aren't.
  • The Last Blade games follow the same mold as Samurai Shodown, in that attacks can only be lethal on the last hit of the round, and some of the characters are surprised when slashing their foe to itty-bitties manages to kill them dead. Hibiki is downright horrified when she kills someone... unless she does it too many times.
  • Dynasty Warriors has a K.O. count instead of kill count. In Musou Mode, a general will live or die depending on if his character is needed, meaning that most generals will only die on the last level.
    • The Japanese version of Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage also had the same KO counter, despite the fact that dozens of Mooks are turned into red paste or getting cut up into ribbons every time you use a Signature Move on them or hit them with a heavy attack, and even when you don't, they leave a large pool of blood under them as they collapse. Changed in the US/PAL version where the counter now reads "Kills", although the trophy/achievement icons are unchanged and still read "KO".
  • Pokémon: Level 80 CHARIZARD used Blast Burn! Enemy CATERPIE fainted...
  • The High Frequency Blade in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is lethal, inasmuch as Raiden can kill any human enemy with it (the reason that it takes several strokes to kill is that the enemies from that point in the game wear extremely heavy armor.) However, he can reverse his grip so that he smacks foes around with the dull edge instead of slicing them to kibble, knocking them out in order to allow the player to complete a "No Enemies Killed" play-through. You still kill them if you stab, though.
    • Raiden uses the same technique again in Metal Gear Online.
  • Super Robot Wars can't seem to decide on how lethal the attacks are. Defeating a given character, so they explode entirely, may result in that character dying, that character ejecting, that character running away. There are missions in which you 'capture' an enemy unit by bringing it down below 10%... and in the same mission you capture another unit by blowing it up completely. Additionally, there are some characters with weapons designed to cleave battleships in single strikes, but you still won't necessarily kill targets with it. Lampshaded in one chapter of OG 2, where, Kyousuke uses his "Trump Card" against Wodan's Thrudgelmir (and hit him straight in the cockpit, no less!) leaving the other protagonists to wonder how Wodan could have survived that. To be fair, Wodan is a cyborg zombie samurai.
    • Played straight in Super Robot Wars L, where "killing" a boss unit won't show the animation of it getting destroyed. They simply escape afterward most of the time, exploding only if it's actually destroyed during the storyline.
  • Counter-Strike: Can you survive a shoutgun blast from point-blank range? In Real Life, even with kevlar, the answer is no. In the game, you might.
  • Unreal Tournament: An automag bullet in the brain? No problem, it hurts a bit, but it only takes away 25 H Ps. Shock Rifle blast to the face? More dangerous, you lose 50HPs. The ultimate weapon, the Redeemer should be a nuke, but it also tends to underperform. There are however weapons that can insta-kill.
  • Avoided partially in Bio Freaks. Your characters could take explosive rounds, rockets, and chainsaws to the face surprisingly well, but most characters had moves that could strip your enemy of one or both arms, or the head, the first two greatly limiting their fighting abilities, and the latter instantly killing them. Similarly getting tossed into some of the hazards, such as industrial grinders would either kill you outright or strip you of your arms.
  • Similarly, Time Killers allowed you to perform instant amputations and decapitation moves that could end a fight in one blow. However, only decapitation was fatal. This got even more extreme in the Spiritual Successor Bloodstorm, where you could cut your opponent in half, but again, only decapitation was fatal. The game would actually credit you if you somehow managed to win a fight without any limbs at all.
  • In City of Heroes you can "defeat" opponents with a katana, broadsword, battle axe, gigantic mace, or Netherworld-energy punches...but they are just arrested. And that's just counting the melee weapons, not the assault rifle, lightning bolts, or Atomic Blast.
    • Technically, "Defeated" is intended to be a vague, blanket term that allows the player to decide what happens to everyone. Considering the genre...
    • Also note that they have the uber medical system. The basic assumption is that someone is slapping them with some sort of teleport system recall chip that sends them directly to the Zig's hospital wing.
  • While some of the franchises in Magical Battle Arena have the benefit of possible in-universe justifications, such as how the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha characters may be using Magical Damage or how the lethality of Cardcaptor Sakura's Sakura Cards may be based on Sakura's intent, others do not. Somehow, getting sliced by a Ragna Blade or being drilled repeatedly wouldn't end with death.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Turtles in Time on the SNES has Leonardo as a character you can choose, but his Katanas - which should slice the advancing foot soldiers in half at each swing - are not performing as well as their Real Life counterparts.
  • An example of Non-Killing Bullets: In Terminator 2 for the Sega Genesis, enemies are described at the end of a level has having been "immobilized" due to "non-fatal wounds." Despite being shot. In the chest. With a shotgun. At point blank range.
    • Of course, this comes from a joke in the movie: John Connor tells the Terminator not to kill anybody, and so the Terminator shoots a man in the knee. ("He'll live.") Doesn't explain how a chest shot could be non-fatal, though.
  • In Neverwinter Nights 2 characters don't die, they merely go unconscious. This makes one wonder why the King of Shadows, despite being an ancient evil capable of destroying entire civilizations, seems utterly incapable of killing your gang of misfits.
  • In Dissidia Final Fantasy everyone's beating the crap out of each other with giant swords and explode-y magic, the same ones that can reduce monsters into a pile of ashes in the original games, yet nobody seems worse for wear because of it.[1]
    • Of course, in the original games, the characters were extremely resilient to begin with, beginning with shrugging off bullets and ending with being relatively unfazed by the destruction of half the solar system.
    • Of particular note is the specific mechanics of the game. There are two attacks, brave attacks and HP attacks. Brave attacks drain your foes brave, and HP attacks expend all of your brave to do that much damage to your opponent. Brave attacks do absolutely nothing, but make your next HP attack do more damage (And make your opponent do less). Which means characters can get hit infinitely by bravery attacks (Which involve guns, fire, lightning, and all manner of sharpened melee weapons) and never die.
  • Though Crisis Core doesn't specify whether enemies die or not, Zack goes out of his way to use the dull end of his sword (except in the battle animation) to prevent "wear and rust" because his sword is an heirloom. Therefore he's probably just knocking them all out.
  • BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, ironically, subverts the hell out of this - each and every fight that the players play can not only result in a character's death, but can be argued to be canonically possible as well. The reason? The entire game is stuck in an insanely long Groundhog Day Loop. Any killed characters simply return once the loop resets. This being said, the particular brilliance of this isn't present in the sequel, Continuum Shift.
    • This varies. In story mode quite a few characters survive the battles against other characters (indeed, some of the alternative plot lines can only be accessed by losing certain battles). In fact, some characters are canonically "defeated" by having the player character hold their own in the battle (even though they still have to be beaten the same way). For example Rachel never suffers any harm from being defeated and either leaves or kicks the character out of her garden when she's met in story mode, Arakune always flees or is spared at the end of a battle (or Litchi appears and talks down whoever defeated him) while the best any character can hope for while fighting Nu-13 is to survive long enough to note that their attacks haven't been doing anything before being killed Or suffer a Fate Worse Than Death in Ragna's case. The most amusing example is probably Bang (who every other character treats as an annoyance), who fails to beat anyone (sometimes justified, for example; by Ragna basically muttering about how he let Bang defeat him so he wouldn't have to kill him).
  • A version occurs in the Dungeon Keeper series. Enemy creatures are 'knocked out' by such things as steel claws, spiked balls hung from the horns, hurled dwarves and imps, huge swords and generally lethal weaponry. This is so they can be dragged to your prisons, and used or abused appropriately. However, if left untouched by your or enemy imps (which drag them back to their own base to recuperate) the creatures will actually die. So it's easy to assume that they are wounded too badly to keep fighting, but might survive given medical attention. In the first game, you can toggle whether enemies are stunned rather than killed on or off.
  • Played straight and averted in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, with story/quest important characters merely being "knocked unconcious" rather than killed, no matter if they got mauled by a bear, gored by a minotaur, or gutted by bandits. You can try to kill them, but that'll just piss them off. Non-vital characters are all fair game though.
  • In Fallout 3, during your escape from Vault 101 in the beginning,you cannot kill Amata. No matter what. Shooting her in the head five times at point blank range renders her "unconscious."
  • All melee weapons in the first Gothic were set to stun, requiring the player to administer a Coup De Grace to every human enemy before it would be considered dead.
  • Parodied in RPG World, where Deadpan Snarker Cherry reacted like a normal person would when she saw Hero (yes, the main character's name is just Hero) get shot in the face with an assault rifle. She's in disbelief until the next enemy takes his turn and she gets shot in the face too, to the tune of a few minor points of damage.
  • An unusual in-universe example occurs in Fire Emblem 6[2] with the eponymous Sword of Seals. Although it doesn't affect Roy's battle capabilities when he ultimately gets to use it, its strength evidently depends on the resolve of its wielder. Its original owner, Hartmut, had used it to slay a great number of dragons during The Scouring, but, upon discovering that their leader had assumed the form of a frail young girl, didn't have the heart to kill her, so, when he struck her with the blade, it ensured that the attack would only knock her out.
  • Semi-justified in Eternal Darkness in that, for the most part, you're using medieval (or earlier) weapons against anything from The Undead to Eldritch Abominations. It also allows you to perform a Coup De Grace to a downed monster to regain some sanity points. The one time you're in a modern day story and get a fully-automatic assault rifle with underslung grenade launcher, it's much easier to take the nasties down.
  • In Chrono Trigger, during the prison escape sequence, it's possible to sneak up behind many of the guards and slash them in the back of the neck with your katana. This knocks them out.

Web Original

  • Monty Oum appears to have loved this trope:
    • In Dead Fantasy, the girls are beating the crap out of each other with swords, Rachel has her War Hammer, Yuna is using guns, and the Final Fantasy girls in general are using potent magic. What do they have to show for this? Not even a bruise.
      • Averted with extreme prejudice from episode IV onwards.
    • In RWBY, despite being all about flying swords, none of Penny's attacks actually draw blood, and her Wave Motion Gun only damages property, not people.

Western Animation

  • In Teen Titans, Robin once gave Ravager a pair of literal "stun swords" so she could use her otherwise very lethal fighting techniques to the fullest without actually killing anybody.

Real Life

  • Truth in Television: In the eighteenth century officers would use their swords to keep order in the ranks. Naturally they would seldom wish to kill their own Red Shirts and so would use the flats.

  1. Final battles are fatal, however. It isn't explain how your final battles with them should be any different than the dozen or so times you've beaten them before. During their death scenes, none of them seem particularly injured at all, they just fade away like Nobodies.
  2. the last one to not be released outside Japan