Created By: WiseMan23753 on May 24, 2013 Last Edited By: DAN004 on June 12, 2015

Empty Fort Gambit

Lure the enemy into your base to trap or kill them

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Trope
DAN 004 wuz ere takin over ur druft

Alternate name: Empty Fort Gambit


So The Siege is going on your home. You're outgunned and on the losing side. But you don't want to surrender as you wouldn't want your base to fall into the enemy. So what do you do?

Easy. Let them have it...only to have them get them a surprise awaiting for them. Whether it's explosives, a monster hidden underneath, or some other weapon to give as a last will or going away gift. This trope often involves the activation of a Self-Destruct Mechanism with a time delay. Collapsing Lair or Trash the Set optional.

Subtrope of Batman Gambit, Lured into a Trap and Defensive Feint Trap. Contrast All Your Base Are Belong to Us.

Examples

Anime and Manga
  • Mobile Suit Gundam SEED gives a very good example. The Earth Alliance commanders let their forces in Alaska defend hopelessly against ZAFT forces during their Operation Spitbreak. Once ZAFT reaches the center, they and the defenders get microwaved by the Cyclops. Fortunately, our heroes make it out okay.

Film
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Kirk pretends to surrender the Enterprise to the Klingons and he and the others beam down to the planet's surface. When the Klingons beam over to the Enterprise, they hear the ship's computer saying "Nine, eight, seven, six, five..." - the last few seconds of the self-destruct sequence countdown.
  • Invoked in The Enemy Below. After the destroyer escort rams the sub, the sub's crew activates its self-destruct charges and evacuates. If the DE's crew had tried to enter the sub (e.g. to grab its code books) they would have been killed.
  • You Only Live Twice. James Bond and the Ninja army have captured the SPECTRE base. Before he escapes, Blofeld sets the base's Self-Destruct Mechanism so they won't be able to keep it and may even be killed.
  • Inverted with The Man with the Golden Gun in which The Villain Scaramanga succeeds in luring James Bond into his surreal deathtrap, designed to cause his targets to waste bullets. Although Bond loses his Walther .32 PPK there, he's still able to use Scaramanga's deathtrap against him.
  • The climax of 13 Assassins is based around one of these, akin to the old Japanese's fort strategy. The titular assassins carefully rig a hastily-emptied town with enough booby traps, weapons, and explosives to take out an army of two hundred men. Cue forty-odd minutes of nonstop carnage.
  • Mad Max: The Road Warrior: The climactic chase sequence begins with the refinery's refugees running away and leaving the refinery wide open, which attracts a number of Lord Humongous' goons (who have been performing The Siege to get its fuel), only to find out the hard way that the refinery had been rigged to explode and thin out the goons' numbers, which it does.
  • Speed: The cops find out who the mad bomber is and his home address. They storm the place only to find that he's not there - but a bomb they just triggered is.
  • Home Alone, with a formula through each of the sequels that involves incompetent burglars, one kid, a massive amount of traps set up, and Amusing Injuries galore.
  • In Captain America: The First Avenger, after Red Skull realized that he is outgunned while Cap's forces walks through his base, he sets the thing up to collapse.
  • Starship Troopers: The Roughnecks arrive at a base that had sent out a distress call only to find it full of dead soldiers, soon after the base is surrounded by bugs. It is found out this was a deliberate action and the distress call was the bait.

Literature
  • In Death or Glory, the Imperials and refugees pull out of a supply base after rigging the place to blow. When orks attack before everyone can get clear, Cain orders the troops to break up the ork formations but let them take cover in the base. Then he triggers the explosives.
  • Exaggerated in the Belgariad. The Algars' Citadel is the only permanent structure of a nomadic people, and no one lives there. Its sole purpose is to give their neighbors and deadly enemies, the Angaraks, something to attack when they cross the border. Angaraks can't resist such a huge target, even though it has no strategic value. The Algars have been improving the thing constantly for thousands of years, and if an enemy force does manage to break inside, it finds itself in an impassable labyrinth bristling with traps.
  • The Zombie Survival Guide tells the story of Fort Louis Philippe, a French Foreign Legion output in northern Africa. The fort finds itself surrounded by some five hundred zombies in a grueling three-year seige. Eventually, the final thirty men come up with a bold plan to escape. They collect the food and water they'll need to cross the desert onto the fort's ramparts and destroy the stairs and ladders behind them. A suicidally brave man is lowered to the gates and opens the way for the zombies. He leads them throughout the fortress, gathering as many inside as possible before being lifted out, while another two men close the gates and seal the vast majority of the zombies inside the fort. As the gates pull open into the fortress the zombies can't push them open, the men fight the stragglers outside and march to the nearest town, leaving the zombie horde trapped in their base. Much later during World War 2, the crew of a lost bomber bail out upon seeing an unknown settlement in the desert. They find themselves in Fort Louis Philippe and are horrified by the mountains of bones the zombies left behind after rotting away.
  • Jingo: Carrot pulls this off on an advancing Klatchian detachment by convincing the D'regs to leave it completely undefended. The Klatchians have just enough time to start bragging about how they scared the enemy off before the D'regs show up from behind the dunes. And yet this isn't what convinces their captain to surrender, it's the fact that as Carrot explains, he's asked the D'regs not to charge so they can meet with Vimes. As the captain puts it, "this man can make water run uphill and he has a commanding officer".

Live-Action TV
  • Jack Bauer from 24 invokes this trope in Season 1. Fear of this is his reason for wanting CTU to let him rescue his family without support.
  • Double Subverted in "Minimal Loss" of Criminal Minds. The cult leader has everything set up for it. Just someone else pushes the button.
  • In Stargate SG-1 Stargate Command is built with the expectation that enemy forces would frequently try to invade and therefore incorporates a self-destruct mechanism into the base from the beginning. In the case of an Alternate Universe SGC seen in "There But for the Grace of God", the Goa'uld fight all the way down to the command center only to have the place blow up.

Tabletop Games
  • Warhammer 40K: the Tau's Kauyon strategy boils down to this, using their Kroot mercenaries to run around and lure their enemies into killzones where their extremely superior firepower completely destroys them.

Video Games
  • Doujin game series EXceed has the Church forces lure the vampires and Gun Bullet Children into the alter of Anhel to destroy them.
  • Done in the third installment Halo at the the end of mission "Crow's Nest", where the Marines activate a bomb in the Operations center during evacuation.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, during the First Battle of Hoover Dam, The NCR employed this tactic against the Legion. Overwhelmed during the first stage of the attack, the NCR opted to flee into the nearby settlement of Boulder City. The Legion's Legate ordered his troops to pursue the fleeing NCR into Boulder... only to realise too late that the NCR had booby trapped most of Boulder with explosives, which almost completely demolished the settlement, crippled the Legion's offensive, and gave the NCR the perfect window for a counter-attack.
  • Dawn of War: this is more or less how Gorgutz 'Ead'unter's stronghold ends in Dark Crusade: when the enemy overwhelms his base, he detonates a ridiculously huge stockpile of explosives while he escapes.

Western Animation
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: The firebender's powers are completely deactivated during a solar eclipse, so The Alliance uses this to strike at their fortress, allowing Aang to get inside and fight the Firelord while he's powerless. Except that while they get into the throne room without much difficulty, the Firelord is in fact hiding in a bunker until the eclipse ends. The Gaang barely escapes, while the repowered firebenders easily trap and capture the remaining attackers.

Real Life
  • In ancient Japan, the philosophy of fortification wasn't to be impenetrable, but to lure the enemy into carefully prepared kill zones, often designed as mazes or cul-de-sacs.
  • The Waco Siege. We break inside only have nearly everyone inside die...
  • Moscow during the Napoleonic War of 1812. The Russians retreated and let the French have it, but soon fires were started from all sides and the French were stuck in a burning city. What's more important, afterwards they were saddled with a half-burned humanitarian catastrophe of a city, absolutely useless as a defensible point.
Community Feedback Replies: 66
  • May 24, 2013
    Arivne
    This trope often involves the activation of a Self Destruct Mechanism with a time delay.

    Film
    • Star Trek III The Search For Spock. Kirk pretends to surrender the Enterprise to the Klingons and he and the others beam down to the planet's surface. When the Klingons beam over to the Enterprise, they hear the ship's computer saying "Nine, eight, seven, six, five..." - the last few seconds of the self-destruct sequence countdown.
    • The Enemy Below. After the destroyer escort rams the sub, the sub's crew activates its self-destruct charges and evacuates. If the DE's crew had tried to enter the sub (e.g. to grab its code books) they would have been killed.
    • You Only Live Twice. James Bond and the Ninja army have captured the SPECTRE base. Before he escapes, Blofeld sets the base's Self Destruct Mechanism so they won't be able to keep it and may even be killed.
    • Alien. Realizing that they can't defeat the alien, the remaining crew prepares to escape the Nostromo. Ripley sets the ship's Self Destruct Mechanism so that the alien will be killed after they leave.
  • May 24, 2013
    Stratadrake
    I'm going to call Bad Trope Namer because while I'm not clear on how the Waco Texas incident went down, I don't think it went down like what you're defining. [1]

    For a page quote, I also suggest nothing less than this iconic line:

    "Welcome to my web," said the spider to the fly.
  • May 24, 2013
    TrustBen
    Could definitely use a better, less polarizing name.
  • May 24, 2013
    Lumpenprole
    Real Life: in ancient Japan, the philosophy of fortification wasn't to be impenetrable, but to lure the enemy into carefully prepared kill zones, often designed as mazes or cul-de-sacs.

  • May 24, 2013
    MattStriker
    Yeah, nothing good is going to come out of that name.
  • May 26, 2013
    WiseMan23753
    Name's changed now.
  • October 14, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Film
  • October 15, 2013
    Arivne
    Changed media headers to our standard style, deleted extra lines between examples and corrected some spelling errors.
  • October 15, 2013
    DAN004
  • October 15, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
    i'm so sure i remember seeing this mentioned in The Thirty Six Stratagems.

    isn't this Defensive Feint Trap?
  • October 15, 2013
    DAN004
  • October 15, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    Linked the Twenty Four example to its work page.
  • October 15, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
    ^^ so like a Pitcher Plant then? the first part of the description doesn't say anything about the subtrope-ness though.

    anyway, Pitcher Plant Style Trap? Like Moths To A Flame?
  • October 15, 2013
    randomsurfer
    Referenced The Simpsons "Cape Feare" where Chief Wiggum is helping Homer set up a home defense system consisting of string traps.
    Wiggum: Now Sideshow Bob can't get in without me knowing. And once a man is in your home, anything you do to him is nice and legal.
    Homer: [nefariously] Is that so? [calls out window] Oh, Flanders! Won't you join me in my kitchen? Heh, heh, heh...
    Wiggum: Er, it doesn't work if you invite him.
  • October 16, 2013
    DAN004
    ^^ More like "Like a bug in a spider's net".
  • October 16, 2013
    WiseMan23753
    Changed the name, added some examples, and removed a few that didn't belong.
  • October 16, 2013
    troacctid
    Booby Trapped Base works as a title if the trope includes any booby-trapped base. If you want it to be specific to the type of "Reverse Trojan Horse" gambit you're describing, it's too broad.

    It would help if you fixed the Example As A Thesis as well.
  • October 16, 2013
    KTera
    • This is standard operating procedure in Dwarf Fortress. Players do everything from lining their entrance hallway with sawblade traps, to more elaborate deathtraps, to flooding the world with magma at the first sign of an invading army.
  • October 17, 2013
    DAN004
  • October 17, 2013
    StarSword
    TV:
    • In Stargate SG 1 Stargate Command is built with the expectation that enemy forces would frequently try to invade and therefore incorporates a self-destruct mechanism into the base from the beginning. In the case of an Alternate Universe SGC seen in "There But for the Grace of God", the Goa'uld fight all the way down to the command center only to have the place blow up.
  • October 17, 2013
    Chabal2
    Dawn Of War: this is more or less how Gorgutz 'Ead'unter's stronghold ends in Dark Crusade: when the enemy overwhelms his base, he detonates a ridiculously huge stockpile of explosives while he escapes.
  • October 18, 2013
    DAN004
    Ends up in Collapsing Lair.
  • October 18, 2013
    robbulldog
    Film:
    • Home Alone, with a formula through each of the sequels that involves incompetent burglars, one kid, a massive amount of traps set up, and Amusing Injuries galore.
  • January 28, 2014
    WiseMan23753
    Changed the name. The strategy is much like one of the Thirty-Eight Stratagems.
  • January 28, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ Which one?
  • January 28, 2014
    Chabal2
    Warhammer 40 K: the Tau's Kauyon strategy boils down to this, using their Kroot mercenaries to run around and lure their enemies into killzones where their extremely superior firepower completely destroys them.
  • January 28, 2014
    Dalillama
    • The Algars from The Belgariad are horse nomads with no permanent settlements. They've built one enormous fortress city called Stronghold that only exists for this use.
  • January 28, 2014
    Rotpar
    You'll probably be better off without Real Life examples.

    Literature
    • The Zombie Survival Guide tells the story of Fort Louis Philippe, a French Foreign Legion output in northern Africa. The fort finds itself surrounded by some five hundred zombies in a grueling three-year seige. Eventually, the final thirty men come up with a bold plan to escape. They collect the food and water they'll need to cross the desert onto the fort's ramparts and destroy the stairs and ladders behind them. A suicidally brave man is lowered to the gates and opens the way for the zombies. He leads them throughout the fortress, gathering as many inside as possible before being lifted out, while another two men close the gates and seal the vast majority of the zombies inside the fort. As the gates pull open into the fortress the zombies can't push them open, the men fight the stragglers outside and march to the nearest town, leaving the zombie horde trapped in their base. Much later during World War 2, the crew of a lost bomber bail out upon seeing an unknown settlement in the desert. They find themselves in Fort Louis Philippe and are horrified by the mountains of bones the zombies left behind after rotting away.
  • January 29, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    This is #28 of The Thirty Six Stratagems, Lure them onto the Roof, then take away the Ladder. Also known as the Defensive Feint Trap. #32, The Empty Fort Strategy, is when you pretend to your enemies that you have a Defensive Feint Trap because you don't. It's a mind game of I Know You Know I Know, you know?
  • January 29, 2014
    DAN004
    Mention Defensive Feint Trap plz.
  • January 30, 2014
    Arivne
    Empty Fort Trap, to make it clear it's about a trap?
  • January 30, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ Agree.
  • January 30, 2014
    aurora369
    Moscow during the Napoleonic War of 1812. The Russians retreated and let the French have it, but soon fires were started from all sides and the French were stuck in a burning city. What's more important, afterwards they were saddled with a half-burned humanitarian catastrophe of a city, absolutely useless as a defensible point.
  • January 30, 2014
    Green5
    Actually the description of this trope is wrong. The idea of trapping the army in the fort was something that was quite obvious to experienced generals, and (according to Ramance of Three Kingdoms, which is fictional) Zhuge Liang used this as reverse psychology for the enemy to retreat. This was because the city the enemy was going to invade did not have enough army personnel, and would be easily crushed. Zhuge Liang ordered for the citizens to flee while the soldiers dress up as old folks and do things like sweep roads or just sit around. Then he took a Gu Qin and sat on top of the battlements, playing soothing music like nothing was wrong at all. When the enemy general saw this, he (falsely) thought that there was going to be an ambush in the city, and also taking into account Zhuge Liang's past record of strategic success, ordered a retreat. This reverse psychology is known as the Empty Fort Stratagem.

    Older Than Feudalism: One of The Thirty Six Stratagems, which involves the enemy to think that a city is highly defended when it is actually weak, and overestimate the opponent.

    Edit: Is anyone even listening to me?
  • January 30, 2014
    Generality
    • Exaggerated in the Belgariad. The Algars' Citadel is the only permanent structure of a nomadic people, and no one lives there. Its sole purpose is to give their neighbors and deadly enemies, the Angaraks, something to attack when they cross the border. Angaraks can't resist such a huge target, even though it has no strategic value. The Algars have been improving the thing constantly for thousands of years, and if an enemy force does manage to break inside, it finds itself in an impassable labyrinth bristling with traps.
  • January 30, 2014
    Astaroth
    • In Fallout New Vegas, during the First Battle of Hoover Dam, The NCR employed this tactic against the Legion. Overwhelmed during the first stage of the attack, the NCR opted to flee into the nearby settlement of Boulder City. The Legion's Legate ordered his troops to pursue the fleeing NCR into Boulder... only to realise too late that the NCR had booby trapped most of Boulder with explosives, which almost completely demolished the settlement, crippled the Legion's offensive, and gave the NCR the perfect window for a counter-attack.
  • December 31, 2014
    DAN004
    Bump, see if somebody take this before I do
  • December 31, 2014
    SolipSchism
    Green5: "Actually" the description is not wrong, it's just not the strategem you're describing. If the trope launches as written, then what you're describing would be an inversion/subversion/invocation of this trope, depending on how it's played in the work (because remember, this site is dedicated to fiction, not Real Life).

    The trope as written is "lure enemy into seemingly empty base, then strike". What you're describing is "make it seem like you are doing this trope in order to scare enemy away via reverse psychology".

    I would almost call it Empty Fort Gambit just because I'm addicted to Bad Snowclones, but that's just me. It does need to mention Defensive Feint Trap as DAN says, as this is a definite Sub Trope of that.

    @DAN: I say take it, no one has touched it in almost a year.

    Both Live Action TV examples are unhelpful ZCEs, and the "Waco Siege" example tells me absolutely nothing at all except that something happened that was called "the Waco Siege", something got broken into, and nearly everyone died. That's almost as vague as can be.
  • December 31, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    The trope described is not the one the strategem is named for.

    So either the name is wrong, or the description is wrong.
  • December 31, 2014
    Antigone3
    Literature: in Death or Glory, the Imperials and refugees pull out of a supply base after rigging the place to blow. When orks attack before everyone can get clear, Cain orders the troops to break up the ork formations but let them take cover in the base. Then he triggers the explosives.
  • December 31, 2014
    DAN004
    What Green5 said about "making the enemy think this trope happens" may worth a mention, but again, the core of the trope is: luring the enemies to your own base as a trap.
  • December 31, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    Luring the enemies to your own base as a trap is the Defensive Feint Trap.
  • December 31, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ ain't this numerous enough to become a subtrope?
  • December 31, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    Which "this"?
    • "Lure them onto the Roof, then take away the Ladder."
    • "The Empty Fort Strategy"
    • Booby Trapped Base
  • January 1, 2015
    DAN004
    ^ the first and the third (although they'll probably fall into different pages)
  • January 1, 2015
    crazysamaritan
    The first is the strategem for Defensive Feint Trap, with suggestions of Geo Effects. The third is possibly a legitimate trope.
  • January 1, 2015
    randomsurfer
    • Speed: The cops find out who the mad bomber is and his home address. They storm the place only to find that he's not there - but a bomb they just triggered is.
  • January 2, 2015
    SolipSchism
    crazysamaritan, stop throwing bold formatting around at everyone. You're not making your point any harder, you're just coming across as aggressive.

    Why, exactly, do we care what one particular work calls one particular strategy? We're not troping that strategy. We're troping a trope. The name is indicative. It makes sense. Just because it overlaps with something doesn't make it invalid.

    On top of that, the trope is far more common in fiction than the actual strategy described on the Thirty-Six Strategems.

    This is fiction. How strategy works in real life is not the issue here. What happens in fiction is. People don't often use that actual strategem in fiction. They tend to use the one described above.

    In case it needs to be said again: TV Tropes is about works of fiction. Not real life. We don't care about real-world military tactics and strategy except as it relates to fiction. We're not troping Real Life.

    EDIT: But maybe Empty Fort Gambit would be a better title just so people won't say "OMG This isn't the Empty Fort Strategem/Strategy that I am familiar with, how dare they use that name."
  • January 2, 2015
    dalek955
    • In The Road Warrior, when the white-robes make a break from their base, they leave behind explosive charges on their refining machinery timed to catch the first wave of the Humungus's looters in the blast.
  • January 2, 2015
    crazysamaritan
    Why do you think Empty Fort conveys the definition?

    The famous-beyond-this-wiki term refers to a gambit of making your stronghold appear as empty as possible to convince your enemy there is a trap.
  • January 2, 2015
    DAN004
    Again, I'll be going with Boobytrapped Base than EFS, although I'll note that in the description too
  • January 5, 2015
    SolipSchism
    ^^ "Fort" is a grammatical cipher that could refer to any kind of base or location where you're trying to lure the enemy. "Empty" refers to the simplest way to make the place seem undefended.

    "Empty Fort" fits here in the same way "Big Boos Haunt" fits for works that aren't part of the Super Mario franchise.

    It's an idea that shouldn't be inextricably tied to a single concept from a single work. That's like the inverse of Trope Namer Syndrome. Assuming that everyone will misuse the trope because its name is similar to or shared by a particular work.
  • January 5, 2015
    crazysamaritan
    So Empty Fort is good because the fort is not completely empty... No.

    As for frequency, let me Google those exact words....
  • January 5, 2015
    SolipSchism
    Look, apparently DAN is going to take over this YKTTW and change the name anyway. That, plus the fact that you're being super dismissive, is all the reason I need to drop the subject right now. It's a pointless argument that isn't serving any purpose other than to give you an excuse to be rude.
  • January 5, 2015
    marcoasalazarm
    Mad Max: The Road Warrior: The climactic chase sequence begins with the refinery's refugees running away and leaving the refinery wide open, which attracts a number of Lord Humongous' goons (who have been performing The Siege to get its fuel), only to find out the hard way that the refinery had been rigged to explode and thin out the goons' numbers, which it does.
  • January 5, 2015
    KyleJacobs
    The climax of Thirteen Assassins is based around one of these, very much in the Japanese style described below. The titular assassins carefully rig a hastily-emptied town with enough booby traps, weapons, and explosives to take out an army of two hundred men. Cue forty-odd minutes of nonstop carnage.
  • January 5, 2015
    SolipSchism
    ^^ The "which it does" at the end is a bit fluffy as written; from the rest of the example, we can assume it does.
  • January 25, 2015
    DAN004
    Dunno which section I can put this in...
    • Subverted with one of the The Thirty Six Stratagems: The "Empty Fort Stratagem" is about you making the enemy believing that you've done this to your base when you actually don't.
  • January 25, 2015
    DAN004
    Kinda thinking the Empty Fort Gambit would be appropriate since the luring element is important here.
  • January 25, 2015
    Chabal2
    Avatar The Last Airbender: The firebender's powers are completely deactivated during a solar eclipse, so The Alliance uses this to strike at their fortress, allowing Aang to get inside and fight the Firelord while he's powerless. Except that while they get into the throne room without much difficulty, the Firelord is in fact hiding in a bunker until the eclipse ends. The Gaang barely escapes, while the repowered firebenders easily trap and capture the remaining attackers.

  • February 10, 2015
    DAN004
    Bump
  • March 1, 2015
    Chabal2
    • Also from 40K: the Drop Site Massacre, where the loyalists fell into unexpected resistance, compounded by Cavalry Betrayal.
    • Jingo: Carrot pulls this off on an advancing Klatchian detachment by convincing the D'regs to leave it completely undefended. The Klatchians have just enough time to start bragging about how they scared the enemy off before the D'regs show up from behind the dunes. And yet this isn't what convinces their captain to surrender, it's the fact that as Carrot explains, he's asked the D'regs not to charge so they can meet with Vimes. As the captain puts it, "this man can make water run uphill and he has a commanding officer".

  • March 6, 2015
    eroock
  • April 21, 2015
    Lord-Jaric
    Starship Troopers: The Roughnecks arrive at a base that had sent out a distress call only to find it full of dead soldiers, soon after the base is surrounded by bugs. It is found out this was a deliberate action and the distress call was the bait.
  • April 21, 2015
    dalek955
    Got two entries for The Road Warrior. Right next to each other, even.
  • June 12, 2015
    Prfnoff
    I think the description should be expanded a little: sometimes the "surprise" is that the fort was built in what turns out to be a strategically indefensible location, such that an army stationed nearby could easily besiege one quartered inside.
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