Created By: RobinZimm on May 4, 2012 Last Edited By: RobinZimm on January 19, 2013
Troped

Stray Shots Strike Nothing

Any weapon fired that doesn't hit its target doesn't hit anything.

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In fiction, a bullet is a very simple thing. A bullet is a device that has some percentage chance of causing damage to a specific target. This chance can be reduced by interposing solid objects -- like cars, or walls, or random bad guys -- between the shooter and the target, but otherwise a bullet either hits the target or misses entirely.

And "misses entirely" means no longer exists. Unlike actual supersonic pieces of metal, a fictional bullet doesn't hit whatever lies along its trajectory in the mile or more that it should retain lethal power -- it just vanishes, as if every target had something behind it to catch stray rounds (what recreational shooters refer to as a "backstop"). Even if hundreds of bullets are fired during a fight scene, there will be no casualties we don't see on screen.

And, of course, this applies to far more than just bullets -- Macross Missile Massacres and Frickin' Laser Beams are equally vulnerable. And, of course, it applies to more contexts than simple gunfights -- first, that which is Fired In The Air A Lot must come down, and second, except when by pure coincidence they intersect some larger celestial body, missed shots fired during a Space Battle could keep travelling with the same energy for millennia. This trope tends to go hand-in-hand with Arbitrary Maximum Range for that very reason.

Another consequence of the Rule of Perception. See also Bullets Do Not Work That Way and Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy. Because this trope is so common, only lampshades and aversions shall be listed.


Aversions

Comic Books
  • In the first Queen and Country story, Tara Chace is ambushed by two goons with guns while unarmed. She rushes one, makes it within hand-to-hand range before he can hit her, and takes him down. After which she discovers that one of his shots hit the other one.

Film
  • In The Mexican, the man from whom Jerry picks up the eponymous gun is killed by a falling bullet from people Firing in the Air a Lot elsewhere in the town.
  • In Snatch., when Avi is trying to shoot the dog with the diamond in him, he ends up accidentally killing Bullet-Tooth Tony.

Literature
  • In Doc Sidhe, at the summoning circle in Central Park, Harris Greene intentionally shoots at the ground rather than at the oncoming goons because any misses would be raining down on the museum.

Live-Action TV
  • There was an episode of CSI where a man fired a handgun into the air and accidentally killed a woman who lived miles away.

Tabletop Games
  • As with all tropes concerning violence in Tabletop Games, Greg Costikyan's Violence RPG has its vicious way with this little trope in the section of Combat marked "Innocent Bystanders," and points out the consequences of a gun battle (if it can really be called such) between a violent scumbag with an Uzi (your typical Violence PC) and a little old lady with a revolver in her apartment.
    • The old lady got two shots off before getting cut down, and neither one of them hit Uzi guy, but they did go through the wall (made of cheap modern wallboard which can't stop bullets worth crap), and now some poor immigrant in another apartment packed full of them is now without much of her lower arm.
    • Meanwhile, Uzi guy got off twenty shots of which maybe three hit the old lady. The prewar brick wall behind her absorbed the impact of most of the bullets, but the rest went through a window, shattering it and resulting in casualty number two, a bike messenger who was riding below the window when it shattered and is now bleeding on the sidewalk and screaming bloody murder. Meanwhile, whatever bullets didn't go halfway through the bricks of a building across the street went through another window along the way, grazing the head of the kitty sleeping on the windowsill and possibly hitting the personal trainer who lives there, who is now prone on the floor and calling 911 on his cellphone. Needless to say, there's a reason that the law frowns upon firing weapons in city limits.

Video Games

Web Comics
Community Feedback Replies: 39
  • May 4, 2012
    randomsurfer
    This can be particularly egregious in Space Dogfights using laser bullets. If you miss your target the laser should theoretically keep going on forever until it hits something, but usually they just disappear.
  • May 4, 2012
    RobinZimm
    Ooh, good point! I'll add a comment about Space Dogfights to the description.

    And thinking about space reminded me of this page from Schlock Mercenary, which doesn't fit, but reveals Arbitrary Maximum Range as a Sister Trope! Double thanks!
  • May 4, 2012
    RobinZimm
    Actually, audience poll: is this page from A Miracle Of Science an example?

    Caprice: Space battles near planets are so messy. We'll be cleaning up for weeks. Benjamin: You make it sound almost pedestrian. Caprice: I suppose when you're a planetary intellect, keeping nearby orbital space tidy is the equivalent of housekeeping--
  • May 4, 2012
    elwoz
    ^^^ It's actually more plausible for a laser to have a maximum effective range in space than a slugthrower weapon. Light spreads as it travels; eventually it would be too spread out to do any damage. The slug, however, just keeps going.
  • May 5, 2012
    TwoGunAngel
    • As with all tropes concerning violence in Tabletop Games, Greg Costikyan's Violence RPG has its vicious way with this little trope in the section of Combat marked "Innocent Bystanders," and points out the consequences of a gun battle (if it can really be called such) between a violent scumbag with an Uzi (your typical Violence PC) and a little old lady with a revolver in her apartment.
      • The old lady got two shots off before getting cut down, and neither one of them hit Uzi guy, but they did go through the wall (made of cheap modern wallboard which can't stop bullets worth crap), and now some poor immigrant in another apartment packed full of them is now without much of her lower arm.
      • Meanwhile, Uzi guy got off twenty shots of which maybe three hit the old lady. The prewar brick wall behind her absorbed the impact of most of the bullets, but the rest went through a window, shattering it and resulting in casualty number two, a bike messenger who was riding below the window when it shattered and is now bleeding on the sidewalk and screaming bloody murder. Meanwhile, whatever bullets didn't go halfway through the bricks of a building across the street went through another window along the way, grazing the head of the kitty sleeping on the windowsill and possibly hitting the personal trainer who lives there, who is now prone on the floor and calling 911 on his cellphone. Needless to say, there's a reason that the law frowns upon firing weapons in city limits.
  • May 5, 2012
    KTera
    • There was an episode of CSI where a man fired a handgun into the air and accidentally killed a woman who lived miles away.

    Come to think of it, this trope is a fairly good example of why Firing In The Air A Lot is a bad idea.

  • May 5, 2012
    RobinZimm
    Added. (Although, if there are a lot of falling-bullet examples, we may want to subtrope them later.)
  • May 5, 2012
    SAMAS
    It can be argued that this is related to Behind The Black: Once the bullet/missile/blaster bolt goes offscreen, it ceases to exist.
  • May 5, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
  • May 5, 2012
    RobinZimm
    ^^ It definitely falls under the supertrope, Rule Of Perception. Added.

    ^ Added.
  • May 5, 2012
    Nocturna
    I think this is a legitimate trope, but one comment: I suggest axing the first paragraph. It's not really necessary to understanding the trope and delays the presentation of what the trope actually is.

    Also, once launched, this probably belongs on the Acceptable Breaks From Reality index.
  • May 5, 2012
    RobinZimm
    Agreed about Acceptable Breaks -- I'll think about the other edit. (It's not as simple as axing the first para, because the third alludes to it. Edit: What would you suggest?)
  • May 5, 2012
    DracMonster
    I think Missed Shots Miss Everything would be a clearer title.
  • May 5, 2012
    RobinZimm
    ^ Agreed -- changing title from Invisible Bullet Backstop to Missed Shots Miss Everything.
  • May 5, 2012
    reub2000
    I don't think aversions should be included either. Just parodies, lampshades, and subversions.
  • May 5, 2012
    Nocturna
    ^^^^ I think the third paragraph can stand on its own, even without the first paragraph. If you don't like it, you could always change the first sentence of the third paragraph to "And when they miss, they don't hit whatever happens to be the next object in a straight line from where they were aimed." or something like that. It's pretty common sense that a bullet in real life would hit whatever is in line with where it was shot.
  • May 5, 2012
    RobinZimm
    ^^ Unless there are an awful lot more aversions than I ever realized, I don't think including them will be a problem. And I'm not sure how many parodies, lampshades, or subversions you can find.

    ^ Okay, I see it now. Edited.
  • May 5, 2012
    elwoz
    Hit Scan is also related (being another simplified-game-mechanic version of firearms).
  • May 5, 2012
    RobinZimm
    ^ Not sure it's a close enough relation to deserve a mention - they'd both be on Guns Do Not Work That Way, of course.
  • May 6, 2012
    Nocturna
    Tweaked the first sentence of the second paragraph to remove the first person. Otherwise, this looks good.
  • May 6, 2012
    Damr1990
  • May 6, 2012
    Koveras
    • Averted in Assassins Creed (at least, the original one): if you are surrounded by enemies, an enemy archer shooting from a distance is far more likely to hit (and actually kill) one of them than you, making it a good tactic to always keep an enemy between you and him.
  • May 6, 2012
    RobinZimm
    @Damr1990: Will add, thanks!

    @Koveras: Is that strictly "enemies between you and the archer", or do arrows overshoot and hit targets? This trope deals with the latter.
  • May 7, 2012
    Koveras
    Well, I noticed that if I dodged a sword swing sideways and the attacker moved to where I was just standing, sometimes the arrows would hit him instead. The archers are usually accurate enough not to shoot left, right, or above you if you are standing still.
  • May 7, 2012
    RobinZimm
    Okay - write it up as an example. We can always drop it if we decide it doesn't fit.
  • May 7, 2012
    KevinKlawitter
    EDIT -read the description wrong. No example
  • May 7, 2012
    reub2000
    Okay, bullets hitting an unintended target is a trope. If that was this is about then Unintentional Target would work better as a trope name.
  • May 7, 2012
    RobinZimm
    But bullets hitting objects besides their target isn't a trope, it's just reality.
  • May 7, 2012
    reub2000
    In Real Life it is "just reality". In fiction it's something with narrative meaning. It allows our character to shoot a person but without actually murdering them. The shooter might even wound someone they care about. If a bullet is fired and fails to hit anything plot relevant, then it's disappearance is simply The Law Of Conservation Of Detail.
  • May 8, 2012
    Koveras
    • Averted in Assassins Creed (at least, the original one): if you are surrounded by enemies, an enemy archer shooting from a distance is likely to hit (and actually kill) one of them instead of you, if you dodge to the side and the enemy jumps after you into the line of fire.
  • May 8, 2012
    RobinZimm
    Oh, hold on a second -- this is the actual meaning of the term "collateral damage":

    The USAF Intelligence Targeting Guide defines the term "[the] unintentional damage or incidental damage affecting facilities, equipment, or personnel, occurring as a result of military actions directed against targeted enemy forces or facilities. Such damage can occur to friendly, neutral, and even enemy forces".

    Right now, that Wiki Word is a redirect to Collateral Angst, but...
  • May 8, 2012
    TBeholder
    Stray Shots Do Nothing?
  • May 8, 2012
    RobinZimm
    Stray Shots Strike Nothing, perhaps.
  • January 18, 2013
    elwoz
    Bump. I think this is 99% done, although more examples and related tropes (Hit Scan comes to mind) would be nice.
  • January 18, 2013
    Koveras
    • In the standard Dungeons And Dragons ruleset, if you make a successful to-hit roll with a ranged weapon, you hit your intended target. If you fail the roll, you don't hit anything--even if you a shooting into a charging crowd of enemies.
  • January 18, 2013
    ZombieAladdin
    In Dragon Ball Z, when Goku fights Frieza, one of Goku's ki blasts that misses Frieza is shown to collide with a nearby planet, blasting it to pieces. Elsewhere in the series, we see the environment usually taking huge damage whenever any battle takes place: If an anime episode's budget is large enough, blasts and beams that miss are shown to detonate mountains and forests in the background.
  • January 18, 2013
    StarSword
    See I Just Shot Marvin In The Face for the subversion.

    Real Life:
    • Middle Easterners seem to treat this trope as if it were Truth In Television when they fire their guns into the air to celebrate things. Occasionally, as in Chasing Ghosts, National Guardsman Paul Rieckhoff's memoir on the Iraq War, the bullets hit people when they come back down. The victim in question was an Iraqi who worked on the base and was struck in the torso on the way to work by a "God bullet". Fortunately he survived.
  • January 18, 2013
    Larkmarn
    I think that the description should be changed a bit to emphasize the fact that for the most part it's less "the bullet magically disappears" and more "realistically the bullet has nothing more to do with the plot so we stop caring about it." Yes, Rule Of Perception gets a mention, but that's it. And most aversions are, in fact, freak accidents since the odds of hitting something plot relevant are tiny.

    I like the title, though.

    • A very famous aversion in Buffy The Vampire Slayer: While inside a house, Tara is struck by a stray bullet when villain Warren tries to confront Buffy with a gun on the lawn. The cast assumed that the bullets fired didn't hit anything and didn't even learn of Tara's fate for hours.
  • January 19, 2013
    Chabal2
    • Averted in one Punisher comic: a wannabe vigilante breaks into a board of Corrupt Corporate Executives and shoots the place up with a machine gun. When Frank confronts him, he tells him a stray bullet hit and killed a cleaning lady in a nearby hallway, then kills him.
    • As a general rule, this is the norm in Real Time Strategy games except for Splash Damage attacks like artillery.
    • Pokemon: the Hyper Beam move needs to recharge only if it hits the target, leaving the environmrent unscathed.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=xwx87ybpe0e2605tym4usb0r&trope=StrayShotsStrikeNothing