- Zhang Fei standing on a bridge and driving back the entire opposing army just by shouting at them - killing an enemy general through fright in the process.
- There's also Zhang Fei's cleverest moment. Zhang is sent to take a land route to help relieve Liu Bei, while Zhuge Liang and Zhao Yun go by water. Along the way, Zhang is forced to besiege a city on the route. After a couple failed ruses, Zhang manages to feed some enemy spies false information, causing an unwise attack by the defenders and the fall of the city. Capturing the governor (Yan Yan) alive, Zhang manages to talk him over. With Yan Yan's help, Zhang then manages to take 45 separate garrisons without a fight. This gets him to the main engagement quickly enough that he can swoop in with a Big Damn Heroes moment. The best part is that Zhuge Liang expected to get there first, so Zhuge's shock at being beaten is hilarious.
- In addition, there are at least two occasions where Zhang Fei uses his reputation as a drunkard as part of a plan to defeat the enemy. On both occasions, it works.
- Guan Yu calmly playing a game of go with one arm while the other is operated on without anaesthetic.
- Guan Yu plowing his way through six generals and their five "gates" (checkpoint forts) on his journey to meet back up with his sworn brother Liu Bei... only for Cao Cao, whose service he'd been leaving, to let him keep the famous stallion Red Hare (after Guan Yu had explicitly said that he would use it to reach Liu Bei!), offering him gold to cover expenses and then a robe when that was refused, and letting him off the hook every step of the way (except by not giving those commanders the heads up...). Oh and by his sheer awesome he gets a would-be ambusher to betray the plot and gets followers, including Zhou Cang and Guan Ping (portrayed alongside him in many a depiction) and later Zhao Yun, in the course of things! (The "awesome" is mildly averted posthumously, when a priest who in life had warned him of an ambush by one of those generals, then calls Guan Yu's ghost on them and all of his other victims.)
- Zhao Yun charging right into the middle of Cao Cao's ranks just to rescue Liu Bei's infant son, making off with one of Cao Cao's personal swords in the process and using it to cut his way out, killing several enemy officers in the process... and Liu Bei, angry at nearly trading a loyal follower for a mere kid, dashes the kid to the ground. (The son eventually grew up to be an idiot and lost his dad's kingdom along the way. Way to go, Liu Bei.)
- Actually, this troper heard that Zhao Yun caught the boy just before he hit the ground. If he let the baby fall then perhaps a better successor would have been found.
- Liu Bei on his deathbed allowed for just such a successor — Zhuge Liang himself.
- Huang Zhong, simply for being on the battlefield at all, and then topping it by kicking ass. (Later Zhao Yun for outdoing Huang Zhong at his own trope.)
- Huang Gai and Zhou Yu: The former for taking severe corporal punishment in order to fool Cao Cao into thinking he was defecting, then leading a squad of fiery ships into the much larger enemy fleet at Chi Bi for the win; the latter for coming up with it in the first place. (Historically speaking, Zhuge Liang had nothing to do with it.)
- Zhou Yu pulls off an epic Feed the Mole plot, that causes Cao Cao to mistakenly execute his admirals. Part of the scheme involved him getting drunk and doing a crazy sword dance at a banquet.
- Xiahou Dun pulling out his eye and eating it after it's hit with an arrow, then ending the poor sap who'd gotten him.
- Diao Chan, a sixteen year old girl, manipulating Dong Zhuo and Lu Bu into fighting each other, after numerous armies could not defeat their combined forces. (It should be noted that this is quite pivotal to the story's beginnings.)
- Zhuge Liang is basically a living embodiment of CMOA. Everything he does until his failed final campaigns against Wei (whose failure was not his fault at all) kicks ass. Including his death, where in Chapter 104 his wooden statue scared Sima Yi into holding off an attack long enough for the Shu army to retreat.
- Jiang Wei, just for holding his own against Zhao Yun in personal combat and actually confounding Zhuge Liang in the field; Zhuge Liang acknowledges his genius and ends up having to concoct a scheme involving Jiang Wei's mother, an escaped prisoner, and even a body double to finally corner Jiang Wei. When he surrenders, Zhuge Liang declares that he's finally found a protege who can inherit his knowledge and legacy.
- Dian Wei holding off an enemy ambush to let Cao Cao escape: Drunk (thanks to the enemy) and with his halberds and armor stolen while he was away, he grabs an infantryman's sword and kills people until it breaks, then grabs some enemy soldiers and continues. Nobody dares to pass his corpse, still "warding" the main gate, and Cao Cao lives to fight another day.
- There was also the time that before this he once fought his way into Puyang city (after an ambush by Lu Bu's forces) to rescue Cao Cao, fought his way out without finding his lord, and then fought his way back in to have another go... twice.
- Zhang Liao (of Wei) holds off the Wu army: 800 against 10000 (historical records claim 7000 versus 100000), and nearly takes Sun Quan's head in the process. Not to be outdone, in the next engagement, Gan Ning (of Wu) proceeds to round up 100 of his best men, raids the Wei encampment and comes out without a single casualty.
- Gan Ning was also a badass at the battle of Huancheng, where he climbed a castle wall (while fending off arrows with a chain). He used said chain to capture an enemy commander, pulling him off the wall.
- Lu Bu. And by extension, Zhang Fei, Guan Yu and Liu Bei, simply for fighting him to a draw at Hu Lao Gate.
- Later Lu Bu also manages to fight to a draw Dian Wei and Xu Chu.
- On the battlefield in duels, anyway. When it came to strategy/tactics, or off the battlefield... not nearly so much.
- Lu Bu: Mighty warrior, peerless archer, backstabbing SOB, bloody idiot.
- Cao Cao is typically portrayed in the novel as a mere Smug Snake, but his Crowning Moment of Awesome was at the Battle of Guan Du, where he beat Yuan Shao's forces through strategy despite being outnumbered 10 to 1.
- And then there's his lies! He tried to stab Dong Zhuo in the back with a really pretty-looking short sword, but was a bit too slow to pull it off. When Dong Zhuo turned around and saw Cao Cao leaning over him with a weapon, Cao Cao told him he wanted to give it to him as a present. Dong Zhuo gifted Cao Cao with a horse, which Cao Cao promptly used to escape. Even Lu Bu thought that Dong Zhuo was having a dumb moment there.
- A battle of smarts between Cao Cao and Lu Bu isn't going to be a clash of the titans. In the same battle where Dian Wei nearly burned to death trying to find Cao Cao, Lu Bu was hunting him in the streets. He actually captured Cao Cao but didn't recognize him (he saw him before, see above). He actually asked Cao Cao where Cao Cao was. Cao Cao pointed at some random guy on a horse, and Lu Bu sped off in pursuit.
- Mi Heng, although he's only in Chapter 23, is stupendous. Prime Minister Cao Cao solicits Kong Rong to provide a famous scholar to be his envoy, so Kong Rong provides a flowery testimonial to the Emperor hyping up 24-year-old Mi Heng. However, since he's not invited to take a seat, he starts tearing the hell out of Cao Cao's officers, by name and in detail. Cao Cao decides to make him a drummer boy to mortify him (and spare himself any fallout from killing Mi Heng), but at his first performance he first shows up in old robes, then he drops them for his birthday suit to show his "purity" while tearing Cao Cao himself for his jerkassdom... oh, and not giving Mi Heng a better job. Finally, when he's "drafted" back into that messenger role, he insults those same officers to their faces as he's led off on horseback. Ironically, he then goes on to roast the target of his 'diplomacy,' and is only spared to leave his host's hands clean (the host recognizing that Cao Cao's using him as a scapegoat should Mi Heng die). It finally takes a third 'host' to finally decide to off him, after he and Mi Heng became intoxicated and had an unfriendly "discussion"... Mi Heng literally spending the rest of his life insulting the guy. He's then honorably interred by that second host on Parrot Island.
- The line which got Mi Heng killed? His description of his third host: "You are like a god in a temple: You sit still and receive sacrifice, but the lack of intelligence is pitiful."
- Ma Chao, a spear-wielding badass who ended up working for Liu Bei, defeated a Cao Cao army through simple tactics (eg taunting) after Cao Cao did something foolish (killing Ma Chao's family members). When Cao Cao sent a real army to stop him, Ma Chao outfought several of Cao Cao's top champions. Cao Cao couldn't outfox him in the field, and almost got captured in combat, but did manage to convince five of Ma Chao's compatriots to try to kill him. Ma Chao was forced to fight them off by himself with a sword (not his best weapon), and he still killed one and wounded another, prompting the rest to run for their lives.
- Xu Chu vs. Ma Chao. The two fight for over a hundred bouts with no clear victor, to the point where they each have to switch horses several times. Then Xu Chu, just to be badass, strips off his armor and fights naked.
- Sun Ce is the only warlord to realize that the Imperial Seal is just a symbol and holds no real power, so he trades it Yuan Shu for 3000 troops, and proceeds to conquer the Southlands with them.
- Sun Ce's army was being taunted by an officer of inconsequential rank while they laid siege to a city. While taunting, the officer's hand is resting on a beam. Taishi Ci decides not to take this anymore, and shoots the guy through the hand with an arrow, pinning him to the beam. Even more awesome: he called the shot ("Watch me hit his hand") before making it.
- Sun Ce gets ambushed and a guy shoots him in the cheek with an arrow. Sun Ce pulls the arrow out, takes out his own bow, shoots the arrow back at the guy, and kills him.
- Hao Zhao holds off Zhuge Liang's forces with a mere three thousand men. One-Scene Wonder, indeed.
- Zhang He slashes his way out of Zhuge Liang's ambush, and then goes back in to rescue his buddy. Zhuge Liang watches from afar, and is impressed.
- Zhang He also got a less high-profile but no less awesome moment back at Changban: when Zhao Yun was cutting his way through the Cao army, it was Zhang He who stood his ground so well that Zhao Yun decided that discretion was the better part of valor, only to be pursued by Zhang He right into a pit trap... although Zhao Yun escaped thanks to a Deus ex Machinanote , Zhang He nevertheless was the only guy to not get plowed through during Zhao Yun's breakout but actually got the better of him, however briefly.
- The otherwise insignificant Liu Qi, one of Liu Biao's would-be heirs in the whole Jingzhou brouhahaha, wanted Zhuge Liang's advice to get through the impending succession crisis, but Zhuge Liang wanted none of it, especially since he was serving Liu Bei who refused to simply take the damn thing. As a result, Liu Bei secretly told Liu Qi that Zhuge Liang would help, and pretended to be ill so as to force Zhuge Liang to go. When Zhuge Liang saw Liu Qi, he was repeatedly beseeched to help and kept there, finally being lured into an attic where he was begged for again...
Zhuge Liang flushed and rose to go away. But he found the ladder by which they had mounted had been removed.
- For a character who only appears in one paragraph, Wu Fu manages a hell of a CMOA. He tries to stab Dong Zhuo with a knife, but Dong and Lu Bu stop him.
Dong Zhuo: Who is behind this treason?!
Wu Fu: You are not my sovereign. I am not your subject. What "treason" are you talking about? Your crimes tower to Heaven, and the whole world longs to see you dead. My only regret is that I cannot have you pulled apart by horses - like any traitor - to satisfy the realm.
- Dong Zhuo then has Wu Fu dragged out and tortured to death, and Wu Fu never stops cursing him.
- In a similar manner, Ding Guan, Chair of the Secretariat. When Dong Zhuo removes Emperor Bian and puts Prince Xian on the throne, he is the only one to speak out against it, and attacks Dong Zhuo with his ivory baton of office. He is subsequently taken and executed, and like Wu Fu Ding Guan keeps on cursing him right up to the moment of death.
- Along with these two we can add Ding Yuan and Lu Zhi, who, when Dong Zhuo first proposes the deposition of the Emperor, stand up and accuse him of treason and being a rebel. Lu Zhi's defiance is arguably the more awesome, since he sees Ding Yuan defy Dong Zhuo, Dong Zhuo draw his sword with the intent to kill Ding Yuan (he is stopped due to Lu Bu, serving Ding Yuan at the time, being present as a bodyguard), and then stands up and defy him.
- In the face of execution, Zhang Liao keeps his pride and actually taunts Cao Cao, unlike Lu Bu, who tries to beg for his life. Then of course, Zhang Liao is the one spared and Lu Bu gets the rope.
- Taishi Ci comes to mind. He rushes to the aid of a man he has never met, because said man was nice to his mother. Later, he battles Sun Ce (the same man who, well trying to flee with a prisoner, accidentally killed the prisoner with his armpit well ramming a spear through another officers face) by drawing him away from his officers for a proper duel. When Sun Ce latches on to his spear with his man crushing arms, Taishi Ci rips Sun Ce's helmet off and uses it as a shield to fend off Sun Ce's attacks. To top it all off, barely a few pages later, he spots an enemy leaning against a pole with one hand in the distance. He decides the best course of action is to fire an arrow through his hand, pinning him to the pole.
- This troper has always considered the minor Wu officer Kan Ze's only major role to be a CMOA. Why? At Chi Bi, Huang Gai has the task of making a false defection to Wei in order to set fire to their ships. He has his old friend Kan Ze deliver the letter to Cao Cao. He does so, but Cao Cao believes it to be a trick (which it is), and orders for Kan Ze to be beheaded. Kan Ze's response? He laughs. At Cao Cao. And when Cao Cao asks why, Kan Ze starts insulting him.
Kan Ze: I am so glad you are not frightened but can still boast of your knowledge of the books of war. Now you will not lead away your soldiers. If you fight, Zhou Yu will certainly capture you. But how sad to think I die at the hand of such an ignorant fellow!
- And when a confused Cao Cao asks why he is happy at the scheme being found out, Kan Ze then proceeds to explain how the letter and defection are 'real'. While still insulting him.
Kan Ze: Do you not know that when one is going to desert one's master and become a renegade, one cannot say exactly when the chance will occur? If one binds one's self to a fixed moment and the thing cannot be done just then, the secret will be discovered. One must watch for an opportunity and take it when it comes. Think: Is it possible to know exactly when? But you know nothing of common sense. All you know is how to put good people to death. So you really are an ignorant fellow!
- But the icing on the cake? Cao Cao ends up believing him, and lets him return to the Wu camp to help Huang Gai in his 'defection'. Which means that without Kan Ze, the Wu-Shu victory at Chi Bi might have never happened.
- Another CMOA comes from Chapter 33, and is performed by Wei strategist Guo Jia (who some believe had the potential to match the likes of Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi). Two of Yuan Shao's sons, Yuan Xi and Yuan Shang, have fled to Liaodong, ruled by Governer Gongsun Kang. Meanwhile Guo Jia has just passed away, but has left a letter for Cao Cao. Cao Cao reads it, but keeps the contents secret. Many of the Wei officers then repeatly asks Cao Cao why he doesn't attack the two Yuans and Gongsun Kang before they become a threat. Cao Cao merely tells them all to wait. A few days later, there arrives for Cao Cao a wooden box, sent by Gongsun Kang, containing the heads of Yuan Xi and Yuan Shang. The officers of Wei are surprised, but Cao Cao merely presents to them the contents of Guo Jia's dying letter:
Yuan Xi and Yuan Shang are going to Liaodong. Illustrious Sir, you are on no account to attack, for Gongsun Kang has long lived in fear lest the Yuans should absorb his country. When they arrive, Gongsun Kang will hesitate. If you attack, he will save the Yuans to help him; if you wait, they will work against each other. This is evident.
- Cao Cao even says in Chapter 50 that had Guo Jia still been alive, he would not have lost at Chi Bi:
As Cao Cao drank among his familiars, he became exceedingly sad. Wherefore they said, "O Prime Minister, when you were in the cave of the tiger and trying to escape, you showed no sign of sorrow. Now that you are safe in a city, where you have food and the horses have forage, where all you have to do is to prepare for revenge, suddenly you lose heart and grieve. Why thus?"
Replied Cao Cao, "I am thinking of my friend Guo Jia: Had he been alive, he would not have let me suffer this loss." He beat his breast and wept, saying, "Alas for Guo Jia! I grieve for Guo Jia! I sorrow for Guo Jia!"
- Zhang Song, a minor officer of Shu (as a province under Liu Zhang, as opposed to the State under Liu Bei) is sent on a diplomatic mission by Liu Zhang to form an alliance with Cao Cao. He fails this mission utterly, mainly because of what he says, such as pointing out the flaws in Cao Cao's statements:
Cao Cao: Your master Liu Zhang has sent no tribute for several years. Why?
Zhang Song: Because the roads are dangerous, and thieves and robbers infest them. Intercourse is restricted.
Cao Cao: What thieves and robbers are there when I have cleansed the empire?
Zhang Song: How can you say the land is tranquil when one sees Sun Quan in the south, Zhang Lu and Liu Bei in the west, and everyone of these with armies reckoned in legions? The weakest of them has one hundred thousand troops.
- However, the statement that finally enrages Cao Cao, and which proves that Zhang Song is an excellent speaker and a terrible diplomat, is when Zhang Song lists every one of Cao Cao's defeats. To his face.
Cao Cao (Having had Zhang Song watch some of his soldiers parading): Have you ever seen such fine bold fellows in Yizhou?
Zhang Song: We never see this military parade in Yizhou. We govern the people by righteousness.
Cao Cao changed color and looked hard at the bold speaker, who gazed back at him without the least sign of fear. Yang Xiu shot a quick glance at Zhang Song, but Cao Cao went on, saying-
Cao Cao: I regard the rat-class of the world as of no more importance than so many weeds, and for my army to reach a place is to overcome it, to give battle is to conquer, to besiege is to take. Those who are with me, live; but those who oppose me, die. Do you understand?
Zhang Song: O Prime Minister, I know well that when you march out your army, you always conquer. I knew it when you attacked Lu Bu at Puyang; and when you fought Zhang Xiu at Wancheng; and when you met Zhou Yu at the Red Cliffs; and when in Huarong Valley you encountered Guan Yu; and on that day when you cut off your beard and threw away your robe at Tong Pass; and when you hid in a boat to escape the arrows on the Yellow River. On all these occasions, no one could stand against you.
- Liao Hua, an Officer of Shu, gets one for his longevity, and the fact that he lived to see the rise and fall of the Three Kingdoms. While a specific age is never given, he is stated to have been part of the Yellow Scarves Rebellion back in approximately 184 AD, and is stated to have died in 264 AD. This means that, at the time of Shu's demise in 263 AD, a year before his death, and whose military he was still a part of at the time, he must have been in his late 80's at the very least, and almost certainly into his early, possibly late 90's. He stands alongside Huang Zhong and Zhao Yun/Zilong as an Old Master and a Badass Grandpa.
- In Chinese, an expression involving him runs thus: "(When) Shu has no major generals around, Liao Hua shall lead the vanguard". He's The Everyman's hero.
- Although he's best known for losing at Guan Du, Yuan Shao gets one when Dong Zhuo threatens and bullies the Ministers to depose the Emperor and install a new one. He's the only one to stand up and protest it seeing through his plan. When Dong Zhuo draws out his sword Yuan Shao without hesistating draws his own out as well claiming his sword is sharp as well. Perhaps if he hadn't been so indecisive as later chapters would show, he may've been the one to unify China instead.
- Cao Mao, 7th Emperor of the Cao-Wei Dynasty. The last Emperors of Han are shown to be powerless puppets ruled over by Dong Zhuo and then (if you are anti-Wei) Cao Cao. Later, the 4th to 8th (and final) Emperors of Cao-Wei are in the same position under Sima Shi and Sima Zhao. Cao Mao is pretty much in the same boat..... until he decides that he "will not sit thereon patiently awaiting the indignity of being pushed off", gathers the Officer of the Guard and through him 300 men, and marches out with the intention of facing Sima Zhao. Sadly he fails and gets a halberd straight through his breast, but give the guy credit for having the guts to stand up and take on his oppressor.