Created By: Mexichu on July 6, 2013 Last Edited By: Mexichu on July 26, 2013
Troped

Plot Device All Along

A frequently used weapon/item/skill holds a surprising hidden side...

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Trope
Perhaps the mech has a mode inaccessible by the pilot until a specific password is entered. Perhaps the inter-dimensional portal that the characters use for rapid transit is actually a doorway to Hell. Perhaps a certain magic ring can do more than make one invisible.

Often the thing in question was being used by the character in a mundane or straightforward way when untapped potential lay hidden within. Typically that potential is revealed in a surprising way, often by a villain but not always.

At the time that the work is taking place the thing is being used with some regularity, it's just that the current owner/holder is unaware of the thing's other, loftier or more powerful abilities. To clarify, the thing in question serves a purpose outside of its "special" abilities or traits. The sword was being swung, the gun was being fired, and the artifact was being worn for a practical/useful purpose prior to The Reveal. The reader/viewer is usually unaware of the "true" purpose of the thing, but the character is ALWAYS unaware.

A Super Trope to Unholy Holy Sword.

A Sister Trope to Chekhov's Gun, Excalibur in the Rust (where the thing has been unused prior to The Reveal), Chekhov's Boomerang (where the thing is used infrequently, or once and forgotten about then used again, and there's no Reveal)

Compare Plot Coupon (when obtaining the thing is part of the work's narrative), Plot Coupon That Does Something (which is more specific to Video Games), Cerebus Retcon (which is what the thing becomes retroactively), Sword of Plot Advancement (where the thing is obtained late in the narrative of the work)

Contrast MacGuffin (which serves no useful purpose)

Examples

Anime and Manga
  • FLCL: Naota and the "beings" that sprout from the portal in his head serve to drive the plot of the series and other narrative roles, but it's only at the end that the true nature of the portal is revealed.
  • Initial D: The engine in Takumi's Sprinter Trueno blows up, so he receives a new one. The new engine revs much higher and produces more power than the old one, but Takumi is initially unaware of this and drives the car as he always has.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Alchemy is widely used throughout the series by protagonists and antagonists alike. It is explained to be a form of Earth energy manipulation. It is only later that the characters learn that Alchemy as they know it is actually powered by an enormous sentient Philosopher's Stone, and gain access to "true" Alchemy by finally tapping directly into the Earth's energy, supercharging their abilities.

Comic Books
  • ElfQuest. The main protagonist, Cutter, carries and uses his deceased father's sword, New Moon, continually all through the first book without even a hint that its pommel can be removed and has a key attached and it isn't until shortly before The Palace War in the fourth book that anyone discovers what the key unlocks.

Fan Works
  • Red vs. Blue: Tucker finds a sword that turns out is an ancient relic of an alien race and its intended use is a key to reveal an ancient alien ship. Tucker thinks that it's super-lame that his precious sword is really just a key.
    • Caboose: No, we came home because the alien died, and because the uh, glowing sword turned out to be a, uh glowing key. Church: Yeah, a glowing key that could still STAB people. Caboose: Right. Church: So it is a sword. It just happens to function like a key in very specific situations. Caboose: Or it's a key all the time, and when you stick it in people, it unlocks their death.

Literature

VideoGames
  • SoulCalibur: Xiangshua's sword, Krita-Yuga, is actually Soul Calibur.
  • Secret of Mana: The rusty sword would be an example where The Reveal happens early in the game, but the player goes through at least the first area and fights the first boss before finding out (unless you read the manual or the intro scroll before sitting down to play). And you still don't find out how to power it up until clearing the next area.
  • Persona 4: When the game begins, Social Links are introduced as a way of strengthening Personas and have other purposes, none of them related to the combat mechanic. It isn't until the True Final Boss that Social Links reveal their true power: they represent the combined strength of all your friendships and relationships acquired throughout the game, and are the catalyst for striking the final blow against Izanami.
  • Neverwinter Nights: In the Hordes of the Underdark expansion your character possesses the Relic of the Reaper, a mysterious object that is controlled by an entity called The Reaper that effectively saves you from death whenever your HP hits 0 by pulling you into the Reaper's pocket dimension. It is later discovered that the Reaper serves the Big Bad Mephistopheles, the creator of the Relic, and your possession of it binds the two of you. When the Drow that had bound him into her service orders him to kill you, the order to destroy an extension of himself invalidates the binding and frees him to turn on her. With his plan to escape a success, he reverses the bond, trapping you in his realm of the Hells (which the Reaper's dimension is actually an extension of) while he remains free in the mortal plane.

  • Mega Man ZX Advent: Model A starts off as a mysterious, amnesiac, but otherwise normal Biometal which the main characters Grey/Ashe use to transform into a "Mega Man". After a fight with Atlas (Mega Man Model F) and taking her DNA, Grey/Ashe suddenly gets struck with a message in their inner thoughts, which hints towards someone behind the whole mess and his plans. Fighting other Mega Men reveals more of this, with the final one (against Vent/Aile and Model ZX) reveals the Big Bad Albert's plan of merging all of the Model Ws together to form Ouroboros and use it to reset the world.
    • And most of all, after said fight, Model A learns his true purpose of itself, but it refuses to tell Grey/Ashe about it (though Aile/Vent then lectured them about how they make their own destiny, so as to ease their feelings). And in The Very Definitely Final Dungeon, Albert tells Grey/Ashe what Model A is holding in: that Grey is Albert's backup body, Ashe is his legitimate descendant (as opposed to other Mega Men's genetically altered lineage), and Model A contains his backup plan and a smaller copy of Albert's power with Model W to make its Biomatch Albert's successor... In other words, "Model Albert".

Webcomic
Community Feedback Replies: 62
  • July 6, 2013
    DragonQuestZ
    Better name, since it can be mistaken for Ring Of Power (as it's actually called that in the story).
  • July 6, 2013
    Mexichu
    Perhaps something like "Ascended Plot Device?"
  • July 7, 2013
    DragonQuestZ
  • July 7, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    To perhaps deconstruct this concept in a different way: a conceptual Amplifier Artifact with an effect that turns a Dismantled Mac Guffin (which may not actually be a Mac Guffin, nor dismantled per se) into a (potentially Super Empowering) Plot Coupon That Does Something? That seems like one potential way this concept could play out.

    Edit: having just seen Plot Device All Along, I'd second that suggestion.

    Though, our Ur-example specifically was an averted Plot Coupon to the Sealed Evil In A Can that created it, and also an Artifact Of Doom if I'm not mistaken.
  • July 7, 2013
    Arivne
    Literature
    • Chronicles Of Prydain. In the first book The Book of Three, when Taran tries to use the sword Dyrnwyn it blasts him because he isn't noble enough. In the last novel The High King Arawn steals it. At the end of the novel Taran (who has grown in nobility throughout the series) finally manages to draw Dyrnwyn and uses it to destroy Arawn's Cauldron-Born undead troops and even to kill Arawn himself.

    Tabletop Games
    • Dungeons And Dragons
      • Early editions had magical Rings of Elemental Command for each element (Earth, Air, Fire and Water). Each ring acted as a lesser ring (Earth = Feather Falling, Air = Invisibility, Fire = Fire Resistance, Water = Water Walking) until a special condition was met (e.g. killing an elemental of the ring's type). Once the condition was met the ring would gain its full powers.
      • Dragon magazine #120 had Rings of Parelemental and Quasi-Elemental Command, which worked the same way except each Ring was based on one of the Para-Elemental planes (Smoke, Ice, Ooze and Magma) or Quasi-Elemental planes (Ash, Dust, Lightning, Mineral, Radiance, Salt, Steam, and Vacuum) instead.
  • July 7, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    Literature
    • Memory Sorrow And Thorn. Bright-Nail is an example of this, being a reforged version of one of the three swords. Deornoth may serve as a living example of this, in that he is Super Empowering to Camaris and isn't totally useless throughout the rest of the tale leading up to that event.
  • July 7, 2013
    Arivne
    Is it absolutely necessary that the item be "frequently" used? Shouldn't any weapon/item/character with great hidden potential be a valid example even if it isn't used frequently?
  • July 7, 2013
    Saendra
    I second Plot Device All Along.

    • Soul Calibur: Xiangshua's sword, Krita-Yuga, is disguised Soul Calibur.

  • July 7, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    An item with great hidden potential seeing use at all ought to qualify it for this really. That's what makes it different from Excalibur In The Rust, along with the fact that its user knew nothing of the ability. Although I'd wager that using the item as a doorstop on a daily basis doesn't count.

    So here's a valid question: does a primitive berserker using a machine gun primarily as a bludgeoning instrument for a long time, and then suddenly discovering the trigger makes it shoot things count in a low fantasy setting? Assuming of course that he uses this new function to take out his nemesis in the end?
  • July 7, 2013
    Chabal2
    Harry Potter: Ron's pet rat Scabbers, a hand-me-down from his older brothers, does absolutely nothing but bite an attacking bully once. In the third book, we find out that Scabbers is in fact Peter Pettigrew, the man who betrayed the location of Harry's parents to Voldemort.
  • July 7, 2013
    DAN004
    Unholy Holy Sword is related. Oh, and maybe... Chekhovs Gun.
  • July 7, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    I'd definitely say it's a play on Chekhovs Gun. In particular, since it serves a more immediately-useful but lesser purpose a few times before being eventually fired for real (and then, perhaps, gets fired a few more times for good measure). That functionality also seems to have to be unlocked somehow, either through creativity, applied inspiration, a literal or figurative key, context, etc. So Unholy Holy Sword could be a subtrope, maybe (the secret purpose of the item doesn't necessarily have to be a malevolent one).

    Also, an eventual reveal of a Mac Guffin being Powered By A Forsaken Child might be a reversal of this (or could alternately result in playing it straight if The Reveal makes it clear that said child is Super Empowering to the Mac Guffin). As might a Super Serum that later turns out to be a Psycho Serum.
  • July 7, 2013
    aurora369
  • July 7, 2013
    DAN004
    @ tachyonTrail: You mean that this trope is a Chekhovs Gun that will eventually be fired "properly" (as opposed to "for real")?
  • July 7, 2013
    DragonQuestZ
    Looking at the OP again (which needs a rewrite), it looks more like "Chekhovs Gun was also a flamwthrower the whole time".
  • July 7, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    I don't mean to copy-paste, but formatting added for emphasis: "Often the thing in question was being used by the character in a mundane or straightforward way when untapped potential lay hidden within. Typically that potential is revealed in a surprising way, often by a villain but not always."

    This seems like a really simple, straightforward summary of the trope, with the addendum that the item in question wasn't being used as a doorstop or a paperweight the whole time, but was actually serving one of the main characters (or at least a major character?) in their everyday exploits and they just didn't know (or couldn't previously make use of) its true purpose.

    So yes, the "gun" will eventually be fired properly, I guess.
  • July 7, 2013
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ Actually, if this requires The Reveal, then Chekhovs Gun would defeat the point. This would be something that is fired several from the beginning, but turns out to be able to do even more.
  • July 7, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    You know, you're right. When played straight Chekhovs Gun has a purpose that is not necessarily obvious to the characters in the work, but the audience can easily come to suspect it will serve that purpose later on.

    In retrospect, however, Plot Device All Along would be a case of repeated, Improbable Use Of A Weapon, which you only learn was the case after The Reveal makes it apparent that it secretly becomes a Plot Coupon under the right circumstances (or that it was secretly a Dismantled Mac Guffin). And depending on the other tropes used in the work, it can be a Plot Coupon That Does Something.

    Seems convoluted but it can be parsed logically.
  • July 7, 2013
    Larkmarn
    So basically... a Chekhovs Gun that we don't think is a Chekhovs Gun because we think it's already been fired because it's a normal gun.

    Anyway.

    • In Red Vs Blue, Tucker finds a sword that turns out is an ancient relic of an alien race and its intended use is a key to reveal an ancient alien ship. Tucker thinks that it's super-lame that his precious sword is really just a key.
  • July 7, 2013
    Mexichu
    Firstly, thanks to everyone who has taken the time to reply. This is my first contribution so I was unsure how to approach it.

    To clarify, the thing in question serves a purpose outside of its "special" abilities or traits. As some have said, the sword was being swung, the gun was being fired, and the artifact was being worn for a practical/useful purpose prior to the Reveal. The reader/viewer is usually unaware about the "true" purpose of the thing, but the character ALWAYS is (unaware).

    If someone can help me edit/rewrite the OP or at least point me in the direction of some sort of tutorial, I'd be much obliged.

    EDIT: the character is always unaware. Edited for clarity.
  • July 7, 2013
    DragonQuestZ
    Bilbo didn't know what the ring actually did other than the invisibility.
  • July 7, 2013
    DAN004
    So... When could be put an example in this trope, and when to put it in Chekhovs Gun?
  • July 7, 2013
    Mexichu
    ^ Chekhovs Gun is usually an unimportant object or thing, whereas Plot Device All Along tends to have some significance or usefulness already, and may already be an important part of the story, but it simply isn't/hasn't been used to its true ability or for its true purpose.
  • July 7, 2013
    Larkmarn
    To use the example from the CG page:

    Chekhovs Gun is when there's a gun on the mantle, that gets used at the climax.

    This would be there's a gun on the mantle, that gets used throughout the story. Then at the climax, turns out its TRUE purpose was as a Mac Guffin and it's used to open the door to the dungeon or some such.
  • July 7, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    Just to restate this: the "device's" true purpose doesn't have to be a Mac Guffin, so much as it has to be a Plot Coupon.

    I'm really struggling to think of examples where the reveal doesn't happen really early on.

    VideoGames
    • Secret Of Mana's rusty sword would be an example where it happens early on, but you run through at least the first area and fight the first boss before you find that out (unless you read the manual or the intro scroll before sitting down to play). And you still don't find out how to power it up until clearing the next area.

  • July 7, 2013
    Arivne

  • July 7, 2013
    randomsurfer
    There's a quote I'll try to find (unless someone else can beat me to it) in Daniel Pinkwater's Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars which seems quite appropriate. As I recall, after Leonard & Alan find a dimensional portal (or some such) and play around with it, some aliens approach them and say it is much more powerful than the kids realize. The alien spokesman likens it to finding a mint condition classic car and all you do with it is listen to the radio.
  • July 7, 2013
    tachyonTrail
    @Arvine: I'd say Mac Guffin Girl is a Sister Trope, but played straight only if said person wasn't unconscious, useless, or out of the picture for the majority of the time that the audience is aware they exist.
  • July 7, 2013
    Mexichu
    I tried to avoid characters as Plot Device All Along since they can fall into other tropes just as easily, but Mac Guffin Girl certainly seems like it would be a Sister Trope when the object in question is a character itself. I draw a distinction though since a Mac Guffin by definition serves no other purpose than to drive the plot forward, and the Mac Guffin Girl may or may not be of use outside of their role as the Mac Guffin.
  • July 8, 2013
    DAN004
    Then... would this count?
    • In One Piece, in its first chapter (second episode in anime), Shanks scared a Sea King off with a glare. About 500 chapters later, it's revealed to be an ability (or rather, a subset of an ability) called "Haki", and Rayleigh gets to teach Luffy on using it (both of whom can do the same thing Shanks did above, but the latter having no idea about it). After the Time Skip, fights with Haki suddenly become plentiful.
  • July 8, 2013
    Mexichu
    ^ only if such an ability were being used frequently by the character, with little knowledge of HOW or WHY it works, then later learns the true nature of the technique and receives a massive upgrade to it, or it becomes an Eleventh Hour Superpower.
  • July 8, 2013
    DrakeClawfang
    Neverwinter Nights, in the Hordes of the Underdark expansion your character possesses the Relic of the Reaper, a mysterious object that is controlled by an entity called The Reaper that effectively saves you from death when your HP hits 0 by pulling you into the Reaper's pocket dimension. It is later discovered that the Reaper serves the Big Bad Mephistopheles, the creator of the Relic, and your possession of it binds the two of you. When the Drow that had bound him into her service orders him to kill you, the order to destroy an extension of himself invalidates the binding and frees him to turn on her. With his plan to escape a success, he reverses the bond, trapping you in his realm of the Hells (which the Reaper's dimension is actually an extension of) while he remains free in the mortal plane.
  • July 9, 2013
    Mexichu
    ^ Is that object used repeatedly, whenever you're close to death?
  • July 9, 2013
    DrakeClawfang
    Yup, any time you're about to die the Reaper pulls you back (I think for gameplay purposes there may be a limit though). You're also able to use it at will in order to warp between different places through portals you can create. I don't fully recall either way, but yes it is definitely used often.
  • July 9, 2013
    Larkmarn
    Mention should be made of Cerebus Retcon, which usually retroactively turns an item into this trope.
  • July 9, 2013
    Mexichu
    ^Duly noted.
  • July 9, 2013
    Melkior
    Comic Books:
    • In ElfQuest, the main protagonist, Cutter, carries and uses his deceased father's sword, New Moon, continually all through the first book without even a hint that its pommel can be removed and has a key attached and it isn't until shortly before The Palace War that anyone discovers what the key unlocks.
  • July 9, 2013
    Mexichu
    ^Great example, thank you!
  • July 10, 2013
    CosmeF
    An example for the Anime and Manga folder
    • Goku's Power Pole in Dragon Ball. Goku always knew about the Power Pole's size-changing abilities and used it as a weapon, but later on he learnt that it was the key to get to Kami's temple.

  • July 10, 2013
    Larkmarn
    You should explain HOW the related tropes are related.

    Also related is Plot Coupon That Does Something, which seems like a similar trope. It's pretty much a supertrope (since this YKTTW relies on the Plot Coupon... well, doing something, but it's more about how that's a surprise), except that PCTDS is exclusively a video game trope. You could probablly get examples from the page, though.
  • July 10, 2013
    paycheckgurl
    In Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Dumbledore leaves Harry, Ron, and Hermonie seemingly useless plot trinkets in his will. Two of which are the first golden snitch Harry ever caught in a quddictch match and the illuminator Dumbledore used in the first chapter of the first book. They of course end up being instrumental to their mission. Would those count if its a case of plot coupons coming back?

    If not Torg's sword in Sluggy Freelance. At first it's used as a normal sword. Eventually it's revealed to be an all powerful talking sword when it tastes the blood of an innocent.
  • July 10, 2013
    Larkmarn
    ^ I don't think your Harry Potter example would count. But the invisibility cloak being one of the Deathly Hallows all along would.
  • July 10, 2013
    KZN02
    BIONICLE: the Makoki Stones in the 2001 storyline were simply keys used to access the Mangaia when combined and in 2004 to acquire the Avohkii, Mask of Light. Later on, it is revealed that the combined pieces used to be a tablet containing information about the Brotherhood of Makuta.
  • July 11, 2013
    Arivne
    Namespaced some work titles.
  • July 11, 2013
    RedheadedRapunzel
    Disney's Atlantis - the necklaces that the Atlantians use at first seem like little portable batteries/flashlights, used to operate technology and provide light, but at the end, they turn out to be the key to the Atlantian security system.
  • July 12, 2013
    DAN004
    Okay, I found another thing already like this: Chekhovs Boomerang.
  • July 12, 2013
    Melkior
    ^ I think that the difference is that for an object to be a Chekhovs Boomerang, it has to go out of use and then return. Also, when it returns it has exactly the same properties and uses it had before.

    With this trope, the object is being used constantly but has some hidden properties which are only discovered and used later, and the properties are at least surprising if not extraordinary and definitely not something you'd know about until they are discovered.
  • July 12, 2013
    Larkmarn
    Yes, this is technically never out of mind, and was never really fired initially. They're definitely definitely related and the difference should be clarified on the trope page.
  • July 12, 2013
    Mexichu
    ^Added as Sister Trope since they share similar themes but are functionally different.
  • July 15, 2013
    Mexichu
    Is everyone fairly satisfied with the layout and description?
  • July 16, 2013
    Melkior
    I slightly expanded the ElfQuest description for clarity and added formatting to stop the space appearing because it's supposed to be formatted as just one word.

    Have a hat.
  • July 17, 2013
    Larkmarn
    Potential quote from Red Vs Blue:

    Caboose: No, we came home because the alien died, and because the uh, glowing sword turned out to be a, uh glowing key. Church: Yeah, a glowing key that could still STAB people. Caboose: Right. Church: So it is a sword. It just happens to function like a key in very specific situations. Caboose: Or it's a key all the time, and when you stick it in people, it unlocks their death.

    I figure that illustrates it pretty well. It's clear they've been using it as a sword, didn't know it was a Mac Guffin, and that it did get used as such eventually.
  • July 17, 2013
    thewriter
    How about True Purpose Reveal as a title?
  • July 17, 2013
    Mexichu
    Everyone including myself seems pretty satisfied with the title as is, previous/original title was Bilbos Ring but that didn't go over well.
  • July 17, 2013
    Melkior
    I like Plot Device All Along, although True Purpose Reveal has the advantage of being slightly shorter.
  • July 21, 2013
    DAN004
    • Model A from Mega Man ZX Advent starts as a mysterious, amnesiac, but otherwise normal Biometal which the main characters Grey/Ashe use to transform into a "Mega Man". After a fight with Atlas (Mega Man Model F) and taking her DNA, Grey/Ashe suddenly gets struck with a message in their inner thoughts, which hints towards someone behind the whole mess and his plans. Fighting other Mega Men reveals more of this, with the final one (against Vent/Aile and Model ZX) reveals the Big Bad Albert's plan of merging all of the Model Ws together to form Ouroboros and use it to reset the world.
      • And most of all, after said fight, Model A learns his true purpose of itself, but it refuses to tell Grey/Ashe about it (though Aile/Vent then lectured them about how they make their own destiny, so as to ease their feelings). And in The Very Definitely Final Dungeon, Albert tells Grey/Ashe what Model A is holding in: that Grey is Albert's backup body, Ashe is his legitimate descendant (as opposed to other Mega Men's genetically altered lineage), and Model A contains his backup plan and a smaller copy of Albert's power with Model W to make its Biomatch Albert's successor... In other words, "Model Albert".
  • July 22, 2013
    69BookWorM69
    ^^ Perhaps True Purpose Reveal should be a redirect? it strikes me as a searchaable phrase.

    Oh, and have a hat.
  • July 22, 2013
    XFllo
    Hmm... you are onto something and with four hats, it's close to launch and it obviously has lots of support, but I have to ask - couldn't this be just some Played With trope to Chekhovs Gun? Zig Zagged perhaps?
  • July 22, 2013
    DAN004
    ^ that would me too much of zig-zagging maneuvers, but I can somewhat see it.
  • July 22, 2013
    XFllo
    ^I think Zig Zagged trope allows multiple shifts. But it seems tropeworthy on its own. I think. Chekhovs Gun is very broad concept.
  • July 25, 2013
    Mexichu
    I think it avoids Zig Zagged because it is internally consistent in its usage in the narrative.

    Any other thoughts before launching?
  • July 26, 2013
    DAN004

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=c9004n99n9y70xpjuou0553x&trope=PlotDeviceAllAlong