Almost Lethal Weapons
Weapons will reliably kill the bad guys in one hit, and merely injure a hero, who can hobble off and fully recover by next week. Not Truth in Television, for obvious reasons. Even a bullet wound to a non-vital area can cause massive infections, shattered organs and bones, and terrible hospital food. Even "nonlethal" weapons such as tasers, pepper spray, tear gas, and beanbag guns can kill under the right circumstances, e.g. a taser being used on someone with preexisting health problems or heart disease (or simply being at too high of a voltage and crossing the line from near-electrocution to electrocution), a beanbag striking someone at close range, through the eye, or at the wrong spot on the chest, or pepper spray or tear gas being used on someone with breathing problems.note Probably a special case of the larger trope of Plot-Sensitive Items, wherein weapons only do as much damage as the plot calls for. See Also: Improbable Aiming Skills (kill in one shot, even at beyond limit range, or conversely never accidentally strike a mortal blow when not shooting to kill); A-Team Firing / Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy (can't hit the broad side of a mountain at point-blank range); Made of Iron (Human Beings Without Special Powers surviving things they really, really shouldn't) and As Lethal as It Needs to Be (weapon switches between lethal and non lethal according to the plot).
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- In the first Appleseed movie the cyborg assassins sent after Deunan ues their monomolecular whips on anything except living beings. They go to hand to hand combat with Briareos, a practical human tank, and get punched into pieces for their troubles, instead of doing the reasonable thing and slicing him up from the distance.
- Happened thrice in City Hunter. The first time Ryo shot through his own hand to slow down his bullet and avoid collateral damage without suffering permanent damage (it's mentioned that Ryo avoided hitting the bones exactly to prevent the crippling damage that would have happened to anyone without Improbable Aiming Skills). The second time Umibozu had been shot in the back with three .38 bullets, but he only needed to flex his muscles to expel them with little damage (Ryo immediately pointed out that nobody else could have done it). In the final instance Ryo managed to knock out a thug with a bullet from his .357 Magnum (again, it was a special circumstance: Ryo's Improbable Aiming Skills had allowed him to make the bullet pass near the head of the thug, knocking him out with the shock of it). Every other time it's averted: people actually hit by bullets will have the wounds cripple them for months if not for life
- Codified by John Woo's A Better Tomorrow 2. In the final scene, approximately 80 mooks are killed with every weapon imaginable. The heroes also suffer injuries, but appear to suffer no ill effects. At the end, they calmly sit in their blood-soaked clothes and wait for the cops to arrive. Interestingly, the only John Woo movies where the heroes suffer the same injuries as the villains are A Better Tomorrow (1) and, perhaps, The Killer.
- The Spider-Man Trilogy doesn't know how lethal the damn pumpkin bombs are. In the first movie, they vaporized anything they came in contact with. In the third movie, pretty much they just ended up knocking people down. Peter and Harry are both hit with pumpkin bombs point blank to the face during the movies, and the latter is at most scarred by it, while the former acts more like he's been punched in the face than anything.
- In Star Wars, when Han shoots Greedo with a blaster, there is a small explosion, turning Greedo into a blackened, smoking corpse. In Return of the Jedi, Luke was shot in his false hand, but it only burned off the skin. Range could be a factor; Han Shot First at point-blank range, while Luke was shot further away. Also the model of blaster; the Expanded Universe and a few RPGs make Han's DL-44 into the Galaxy's equivalent of an Hand Cannon.
Live Action TV
- Stargate SG-1, where Jaffa keel over from one hit but the team take multiple hits from the same weapons over the course of the series. It should be noted that three of SG-1 have been killed by staff weapons (and were brought back by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens).
- One episode hung a lampshade on it by having someone read the long list of injuries O'Neill suffered over the course of his career with the express purpose of pointing out how unusual that was of him.
- Strangely, Jaffas are supposed to be tougher than humans...
- However, this could be justified by the fact that the Jaffa rarely do any healing (as in, clean a wound, bandage it, bedrest etc.). Bullets are repeatedly shown to be much more deadly than the staff weapons. When someone in the SGC is hit, they are given first aid and are transported to the infirmary as soon as possible. Apparently even though Jaffa are tougher, they can be killed by a few bullets just as easily as an ordinary human - most of their "toughness" is more about strength (useless in ranged fight) and resistance to illness (would help recovery but is pretty much useless if you bleed out in just a few minutes).
- Supernatural: While the Winchester boys's various weapons work pretty reliably on the bad guys, Sam and Dean themselves have managed to survive car crashes, bullet wounds, head trauma and strangulation (among many, many other mishaps) with, at worst, a broken bone.
- There are times where this is averted, some characters died or were at the brink of death because of common weapons, including Bobby, Rufus, Pamela and, while they were resurrected afterwars, Sam and Dean more than once.
- Star Trek
- Tended to happen, especially Voyager and Enterprise. A single phaser shot would kill an enemy mook no problem, but anyone with their name in the credits rarely suffered more than shoulder and leg hits that were completely cured. If you didn't have your name in the credits, you usually aren't so lucky, particularly if you happen to be wearing a gold or red shirt at the time. Nog learn this the hard way, when he lost a leg.
- Quite a few episodes have main characters taking a phaser (or whatever energy weapons) hit at center of mass in the chest, point blank range only to be barely inconvenienced (at most they'll be knocked out for a bit or have to limp).
- One of the best examples was in a Voyager episode. A nameless Gold-shirt was hit in the shoulder by a small pistol and instantly died, proving the weapons weren't on stun. Chakotay took a blast from a large rifle directly to his center mass... and woke up with a headache. It did do some nerve damage however that unless treated could eventually kill him, but the fact it didn't kill him outright is rather ridiculous.
- Note that in the original series and the first half-dozen movies, a hit from a phaser set to kill completely disintegrates the target. (See in particular the death of Captain Terrell in Khan and the bit in Undiscovered Country where Valeris disintegrates a cooking pot, leaving the food inside it standing there pot-less.) This is completely untenable if there's any chance of a major character getting hit, so phasers in the rest of the franchise can fail to kill or leave corpses.
- One episode of Deep Space Nine dealt with this trope directly. Cardassian weapons only have stun and kill settings, but federation phasers have dozens.
- In Battlestar Galactica, Sharon shoots Adama twice in the chest at close range with her side arm, and he survives. Needed a long stay in the sick bay, though. Later, she shoots the Cylon leader Natalie in the chest at short range with her side arm, and she dies within a minute.
- Feng Shui has this effect for all named characters, heroes and villains alike, reflecting how tough major characters in Heroic Bloodshed movies tend to be in regards to bullets.
- Invoked in the D&D 3rd edition player's handbook as an explanation for why characters gain additional hit points as they grow in level, as well as for why they recover them faster. A 1d8 longsword will usually fatally injure a peasant, but the same attack results in an entirely superficial injury if used against a high-level fighter.
- D&D 4th Edition has "minions", enemies with a single HP. In nearly all other regards, they are normal foes.
- Well almost. They deal flat damage - and little damage at that (meaning they don't benefit from critical hits) and have less powers than most monsters. Also few minions rarely have ranged attacks and almost never area attacks. They can still be a threat because they are present in huge numbers, allowing them to deal Death of a Thousand Cuts on PCs, as well as serve as a distraction when fighting alongside bigger threats.
- Mutants & Masterminds has had this mechanic from the beginning though its better defined in 2nd edition. Pretty much everyone aside from the important characters (good or bad) are knocked out after one good hit. In both this and the above case, they're deliberately mirroring the presence of this trope in their respective genres.
- In GURPS, most weapons in pistol or rifle sizes are unlikely to kill outright.
- Savage Worlds plays this to a T. If an unnamed character takes damage, they're either stunned or dead. Named characters can be stunned, wounded or incapacitated, only dying if they bleed out, or are finished off while incapacitated.
- Pick a First-Person Shooter. Any First-Person Shooter. Arguably this is for gameplay reasons, though. However, higher difficulties in these games avoid the use of this trope, allowing the player character to be killed by single (or very few) shots. Also, more 'realistic' tactical shooters such as Rainbow Six and their ilk feature very fragile (by FPS standards) player characters, with injuries commonly sidelining characters for succeeding missions.
- Also add to the mix almost any game that regularly uses swords, axes, lances, arrows, or some other sharp weapon, (or really heavy clubs for that matter)which of course would be a One-Hit KO if used on a real person. Chances are, even a character in Stripperiffic armor would get less than half of their HP bar taken if they are a high enough level, and certain "low-level" weapons become quickly moot.
- Played straight and subverted by the Max Payne series. In terms of gameplay, Max actually has fewer hitpoints than some of his later enemies, though he can regenerate with painkillers. Viewed in terms of realism, Max is peppered full of holes from desert eagles, assault rifles, and grenade shrapnel for several hours of gameplay and needs nothing more than aspirin to stay healthy.
- Starting with the third "main story" game in the Wing Commander video game series, the player's fighter gets extra damage absorption ability, compared to the same fighter flown by AI pilots, either friend or foe. In an extreme abuse of this property, if you and the enemy are flying the same ship, as in the final flight mission of Wing Commander IV, you can contrive a situation where the enemy runs into you at full speed, killing the enemy while leaving your ship significantly damaged but surviving for auto-repair to kick in.
- Justified in the Halo games. The best-equipped soldiers, both human and Covenant, have plasma shields. These prevent instant death most of the time, but a handful of weapons are still one-hit kills if properly aimed. In other cases — especially with the plasma pistol — your shields may be downed in a single shot, at which point you can be killed with realistic ease, like any mook.
- Or if you play on Heroic or Legendary, in which case it's completely averted.
- Indecisively used on sniper rifles, which will One-Hit Kill you on a head shot but just take out your shield if aimed anywhere else. Either sniper rifles magically do more damage when aimed at a head, or your Force Field shield is weakest in the place it should be strongest.
- Fridge Brilliance: Chief's armor is powered by a fusion reactor on his back, meaning the chest area is the most heavily armored portion of his armor to prevent an accidental melt down during combat.
- Averted in First Encounter Assault Recon - unless your armor and health are maxed out, if the enemy shoots you with a weapon that instagibs them, you will die instantly in turn.
- In Ace Attorney, murder victims rarely require more than a single blow, stab, or shot to die. But if you're a major character like Manfred von Karma, Franziska von Karma, or Shi-Long Lang, a bullet is a mere inconvenience. The game does usually justify the lethal wounds, in that they tend to hit vital areas, and after the first game, death is rarely instantaneous. Bullets hit hearts (which is another trope), necks are broken, victims live long enough to alter the crime scene...