Max: At the moment, seven Coast Guard cutters are converging on us. Would you believe it? Seven.
Villain: I find that hard to believe.
Max: Would you believe six?
Villain: I don't think so.
Max: How about two cops in a rowboat?
Frequently characters, especially heroic Main Characters
, find themselves going up against an opponent which outnumbers them or otherwise has a tactical advantage. Whether the character is a Badass
or completely incapable, they know that in this instance, they don't have enough of a chance in a straight-up fight, so they try to gain an advantage by out-thinking their opponent.
One way of doing this try to make the enemy think that the enemy is outnumbered or surrounded, by pretending that there are people on your side which in fact do not exist. The most basic way to do this is to lie to the enemy. For example, the hero might say "I have snipers covering the back door" when they are in fact all alone.
The hero might also call out false commands to non-existent groups. For example, a two man team might loudly call out command likes "First platoon, cover my flank!" Even more sophisticated methods might involve creating a simulation or illusion of backup. If the hero is under siege, he might use these methods to convince the besiegers that they have reinforcements on the way
, when in fact there are none.
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Anime and Manga
- Usopp from One Piece does this all the time, but since it's usually Blatant Lies, half the time they see right through him.
- In episode 20 Sword Art Online, Kirito does one of these towards the commander of the Salamander army, stating that he's a Spriggan-Undine ambassador, and that attacking him and the Cait-Sith and Slyph meeting would cause the four races to declare war on the Salamander. The commander doesn't buy it, but challenges Kirito to a duel anyway. After Kirito defeats him, one of his men tells the commander that he saw Kirito the other day with an Undine. Said man was the guy Kirito spared after he saved Leafa during their first encounter in episode 17. The Salamander army then leaves peacefully.
- Detective Conan
- In the episode "A Jewel Thief Caught Red Handed",Inspector Takagi is off duty and at a jewelry store to look at a broach he is considering buying. While he is there, a thief comes in and holds up the store. Inspector Takagi shows his badge and falsely claims that there are other detectives around. It doesn't work.
- In the Live-Action Adaptation Kudo Shinichi Returns! Showdown with the Black Organization, Kudo tells his opponents that twenty helicopters from the special police force are on their way with fifty armored police officers. In truth, his backup was only a single police helicopter with a single plain clothes police inspector and one injured (and not particularly competent) Private Detective.
- In The Open Door, Lars, a demon of Chaos, is accidentally transported to a plane full of devils. However, the devils are terrified of Chaos Demons, and Lars uses this trope as well as the fear they have to keep them from killing him, and signing a binding contract with them, saying that Chaos will not invade their home. Once he's not in danger of getting attacked, he reveals that, despite what he insinuated, he's lost, cut off from his people, and has no idea how he got to this plane to begin with. But because the devils are Lawful Evil, and they signed a contract with him preventing them from attacking him, it leads to epic-level facepalms and groaning from the devils at how easily they were tricked.
- Maverick: When Maverick confronts the fake Indian bandits, he tells them they're surrounded. He does have some backup hiding nearby in the persons of Marshall Cooper and Annabelle Bransford, and calls for them to whistle (and then clap, when both turn out to be unable to whistle) to prove that his claim of having the bandits surrounded isn't a bluff, but matters quickly degenerate into a shootout anyhow.
- In Ladyhawke, Philippe the Mouse (Matthew Broderick) is hearing noises in the woods. He tries to fool his potential attackers by talking to two imaginary friends, saying things like, "You'd better draw your sword, Pierre!" and, "Ah, Louis, you brought your crossbow!" He also uses different voices to make it sound like they are there.
- In homage to the Live Action TV example below, the film version of Get Smart gives us this exchange:
Maxwell Smart: I think it's only fair to warn you, this facility is surrounded by a highly trained team of 130 Black Op Snipers.
Siegfried: I don't believe you.
Maxwell Smart: Would you believe two dozen Delta Force Commandos?
- Sending flag signals to non-existent ships is a tactic used several times by Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. and Captain Aubrey to convince opposing ships to either give up or maneuver to try to avoid the non-existent ships in such a way as to put them at a disadvantage.
- Subverted in the Discworld novel Soul Music. Death joins the Klatchian Foreign Legion. When the D'regs charge and kill most of the defenders, Death sets their corpses up to fire back. When the D'regs charge (knowing the trick), the corpses shoot the D'regs when Death gives the order to fire.
- In the Lone Islands section of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Prince Caspian does this, ordering his crew to send signals "to all the other ships we haven't got but which it might be well that Gumpas thinks we have."
- In Beau Geste, the initial assault on a fort is beaten off, but after each new attack, there are fewer defenders. Markoff props up the corpses at their posts to make it look as if there are still plenty of soldiers left.
- Keith Laumer's The Glory Game
- Most of the Terran space fleet has left Earth to check out a collection of Hukk ships in another area of space. Commodore Dalton figures out that the ships are a lure and the Hukk are planning a sneak attack to capture the Lunar fortifications. When the Hukk fleet appears near Earth, he bluffs its commander into surrendering by telling them that the rest of the Terran fleet is only minutes away.
- Later on, when a single Hull ship lands on a frontier planet Dalton sets up energy rifles on hills surrounding the ship, After disabling the ship, he tricks the crew into surrendering by making them think they're surrounded by troops. Another character calls Dalton's ploy "the Fort Zinderneuf ploy".
- Artemis Fowl does this to Minerva in The Time Paradox by hacking into the security cameras and simulating armed forces, including a tank.
- Several groups in various Redwall books use this trick, usually successfully. Of course, it helps that the bluffer is usually worth that many.
- In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when Frank Bryce catches Voldemort and Wormtail in the old Riddle House, he tries to scare them away by threatening that his wife is downstairs phoning the police. Unfortunately for him, Voldemort can easily read his mind and knows he doesn't have a wife.
- Used several times in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. For example: Zhuge Liang leaves the gates of a city wide open right in the face of an invading force, implying there's plenty of pain lying in ambush. being outnumbered 60 to 1, any ambush wouldn't have made a difference. The invading force retreated, partly based on Zhuge Liang's reputation as a strategist.
- In the last book of the Chronicles of Prydain, King Rhun takes advantage of the smoke and confusion that pervades a battle. He races his horse from one side of the battlefield to the other, shouting orders to regiments of cavalry that don't exist.
Live Action TV
- Get Smart: Maxwell Smart keeps trying this tactic, and failing.
- Subverted in one episode where Max does this and to his surprise the Chief is waiting outside.
- Battlestar Galactica: In the original series episode Saga Of A Star World, Starbuck and Apollo bluff a Cylon Base Star into a severe tactical misstep by discussing over the radio whether or not they should bring all of their Viper squadrons with them to attack the ship (when in fact, they only have a single squadron at their disposal, and that squadron is already occupied providing cover to the evacuation of the Colonials from the surface of Carillon).
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Eleventh Hour", the first time the Doctor meets Amy Pond as an adult, she sneaks up on him, hits him with a cricket bat, handcuffs him to a radiator, then pretends to be radioing for backup while dressed as a policewoman.
- There's an episode of Time Trax where Darien gets captured by the villain of the week, and Selma makes it sound like the house is surrounded by the police.
- In an episode of Psych, "Truer Lies," Shawn and a pathological liar do this, magnanimously accepting the terms of two bad guys' surrender because the police were just around the corner. It turns out they were telling the truth.
- From the second season premiere of Chuck: "My name is Charles Carmichael. I'm a CIA agent, and this is my trap. I don't think you gentlemen recognize the gravity of the predicament you're in. Your call to the Buy More? Yeah, we traced that. Your compound is currently surrounded by 23 infantry troopers, 16 snipers, seven heavy gunners, four demolitions experts and enough ammunition to orbit Arnold Schwarzenegger. You're outmatched and you're outgunned. Those pea-shooters you're holding might as well be sharp sticks and strong language....Of course you don't see anyone. What do you think we are, the FBI? The only thing you're going to see is a muzzle flash and an e-ticket straight to hell." To further sell this bluff, Chuck calls up Morgan and asks him about their Call of Duty map, where all of the figures in the quote come from, and gets Morgan to repeat all of those figures to the baddie of the week.
- After G is captured by a militia in NCIS: Los Angeles, the rest of the team use enough radio signals and gunfire to pretend like the entire militia is surrounded by a sizable military force. The militia leaders aren't quite buying it, until a couple of F-22's buzz the clearing (thanks to Hettie calling in a favor from the Air Force).
- When Glenn from The Walking Dead is interrogated by Merle in season 3, he tells him that there are a lot more of them he thinks, and Glenn lists people that have died as well as those still alive in the group. This would have worked, had Glenn not mentioned Andrea...
- The Swamp Fox had Marion outsmart a squad of Redcoats this way, with Oscar using the pack horses on a wooden bridge to sound like backup. The effect was intensified by the Americans changing where they fired from after each shot
Religion and Mythology
- The Bible: Used by Gideon when going into battle against the Midianites. With only 300 men (God made Gideon send the rest home), they snuck up to the camp, then each of them broke a clay jar to reveal a torch, shouted, and blew horns to make the sleeping Midianites think they were only the torch-bearers of a much larger army. The Midianites got so freaked out they started killing each other as they tried to escape.
- Swedish standup comedian Jan Bylund talks about how, even though he's an adult now, he's afraid of going down into the basement at his parents' house, because he's still convinced that there is a witch living under the stairs. He goes on to say that when he was younger and his mom asked him to go down there to get something, he used to talk in several different voices so that the witch would think he wasn't alone, and also pretend that they had a big, scary dog with them.
- Basic Dungeons & Dragons module B2 The Keep On The Borderlands. The DM is advised to have monsters have a few of of them out of sight shout and make noise as if there were many more coming, to hopefully scare the adventurers away.
- In the popular "crazy telemarketer lady" recording, a woman rants at a telemarketer for eight minutes. She claims to have "just called" her lawyer, and that "the police are listening" to the call. She then claims to be part of an organization dedicated to constantly harassing the families of telemarketers.
- The Ghost Army used this trick for the Allies in World War II many times, with inflatable tanks, sound-effects records of warships and submarines played through loudspeakers, fake radio chatter referring to nonexistent troops, and having the same battalion march several times through town wearing the uniforms of different armies (pretending to be French, then American, then British soldiers) etc.
- The Battle Off Samar pitted Taffy 3, a small flotilla of American escort carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts, against Admiral Kurita's Central Force, which had the American force outmatched in numbers, firepower, and tonnage by a truly staggaring degree. In order to give the carriers a hope of escape , the destroyers and destroyer escorts charged headlong into battle. The Japanese assumed that the only logical reason for the Americans to choose this tactic was if they were buying time for Admiral Halsey to bring his main force into battle, not knowing that Halsey's force was a considerable ways off. The Japanese retreated, giving the Americans one of the most unexpected victories of the war.
- Confederate general John B. Magruder did this to McClellan at Yorktown in 1862. He had fewer than 15,000 men, McClellan had well over 100,000. He marched his men through and around the town for hours on end, causing McClellan to count them multiple times and to believe that the Confederates outnumbered him. Granted, it wasn't hard to fool McClellan, who consistently overestimated the forces against him even without such fakery.