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Bigger Stick
"Peace means having a bigger stick than the other guy!"
Howard Stark, Iron Man (the guy selling the sticks)

In series in which two or more characters (or factions) frequently come to blows, you can often find characters who spend their time training in order to defeat their enemies. Sometimes, you get characters who just use a Bigger Stick. They don't care if they aren't as strong as their opponents: it's their equipment which does all the fighting — if you have better equipment you can handily defeat anybody, after all. Just Add More Dakka.

This trope is commonly found in Mecha shows, and is related to Super Prototype, but subversions aren't unheard of (see Magic Feather). If two factions try to beat each other's Big Stick with an even Bigger Stick, you get a Lensman Arms Race. A commander who believes that We Have Reserves may try to get a Bigger Stick by sending in even more ludicrous numbers of disposable mooks. Overwhelming numbers may actually be the Bigger Stick — tie enough small sticks together and you can make a pretty good club, after all.

If The Rival captures the Heroes' Stick and tries to use it against them it will fail. Sticks are typically user-locked or otherwise protected to prevent this from happening. Weak, but Skilled is the exact opposite. The Unskilled, but Strong often seek this. Wielders of smaller sticks may note that they're Gonna Need More X. Although this trope is not inherently Freudian, a large majority of its examples are. The Bigger Stick is probably going to end up being a BFS or BFG. Mostly unrelated to Carry a Big Stick.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Gundam series.
    • At the start of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Amuro is initially nowhere near the level of Zeon's aces, but survives several encounters because he's piloting the Gundam. Ramba Ral even lampshades it when he's defeated by Amuro, who promptly calls him a sore loser.
    • In Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, this is Glemmy's thing. He isn't exactly an Ace Pilot, nor are most of his subordinates especially skilled (though he's the only leader in the series able to field a full battalion of Newtype soldiers), but he has money, he has technology, and he uses it to ensure that his personal suit and the suits of his elite subordinates are significantly more powerful than anyone else's gear.
    • Similarly, Setsuna F. Seiei of Gundam 00 fame survived his battles with Graham, Sergei and Ali because he has Gundam Exia: had he been piloting a lesser Mobile Suit he would've had his ass handed to him all three times. Hell, all of Celestial Being, Thrones included, was like that until the GN-X units were deployed. And in the one occasion when it seemed to get subverted, it turned out the Gundam in question had a One-Winged Angel form.

      This later proves to not exactly be true late into the second series when Setsuna pulls the reverse. He pilots a trashed Exia that is held together by spare parts, spit and sheer dumb luck. The unit is missing an arm, has a makeshift replacement camera eye, joint protection parts missing and a literally a broken weapon. That combined with the fact that his Gundam is literally five years out of date means that he was actually very skilled to have made it that far fighting that Ahead and GN-X III because if he had been any less skilled, he would have been shot down like before.
      • Throughout much of the second season, the Bigger Stick came into play with the A-LAWS updating their newer units on a regular basis, with only minor adjustments to the Celestial Being Gundam (00 Raiser), yet Celestial Being would triumph every single time. Unfortunately for her, Nena Trinity wound up becoming the victim of a Bigger Stick when Louise Halevy did her in with the Regnant after ambushing her outdated Throne.
    • The events of Gundam SEED are touched off by the Earth Alliance's attempt at building a Bigger Stick with which to fight the more physically-abled Coordinators of ZAFT, and ZAFT's theft of all but one of those Bigger Sticks. Then the protagonist and The Rival get even bigger sticks halfway through the series, which only the Big Bad in the Biggest Stick yet succeeds in being an actual threat to... The only exception is Ace Pilot Mu La Flaga, who manages to hold his own against Coordinators in cutting-edge Humongous Mecha while he is piloting a much less powerful mobile armor and, in some cases, only a fighter jet. Nevertheless, in Gundam SEED Destiny, even Mu gets a Bigger Stick. And then there's cases where you want your Bigger Stick to literally be much bigger. Cue Destroy Gundam.
      • It's especially noticable in Destiny when Kira's Freedom is the only nuclear powered unit still in service, and he is just untouchable by everyone up until Shinn manages to destroy it by exploiting his unwillingness to kill in a situation where Kira can't go all out without footage of the fight being used as bad press against his homeland. Then Shinn gets a nuclear powered MS and also becomes unstoppable. Where as before he was an ace by skill, with the Destiny he can basically crush the EA without even trying. In fact Shinn's skills notably degrade after awhile with Destiny, because against all but Kira and Athrun (who get new nuclear MS's equally powerful) all he has to do is fail his sword or fire his cannon and his enemies die.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!
    • Yu-Gi-Oh! anime: This appears to be Seto Kaiba's strategy for much of the series. Even after getting the his Egyptian God Card, it doesn't seem to work. He actually does display tactics, and a great deal of strategy - though it primarily centers around bringing out his Bigger Sticks quickly, protecting his Bigger Sticks, reviving his Bigger Sticks, using his Bigger Sticks to power up Still Bigger Sticks, and gaping when the opponent brings out a Bigger Stick Than The Bigger Stick He Has.
    • Many, many one-shot antagonists use this tactic, as well as the game's creator, Pegasus, and his totally invincible one-of-a-kind Toon Deck. The Hero inevitably brings them down with their weakest Monster.
    • Manjoume once faced an opponent on Yu-Gi-Oh! GX whose deck seemed to revolve around Equip Spell Cards and monsters with Special Effects that favored or worked with Equip Cards. Manjoume defeated him with zero-attack-point Ojama Trio.
  • Full Metal Panic!
    • Averted. Despite their mecha being superior in every way to those possessed by the major world powers, Mithril is shown to be a force that depends heavily on small-scale and well-planned surgical interventions and hit-and-run attacks, because ultimately they cannot hope to fight protracted battles and come out the victors. Also, those piloting the near-Super Robot lambda driver-equipped arm slaves are given that privilege because they're already highly skilled pilots.
    • The trope is subverted in the Second Raid season when Belfangen Clouseaux neatly bowls over Sousuke, lambda driver or no, in a training match using an inferior mecha. While Clouseaux is a skilled mecha pilot, the primary explanation given for how handily he beat Sousuke was that Sousuke, on the verge of a Heroic BSOD, was stuck piloting a mech he hated.
    • Also, the first episode of Second Raid is an object lesson in the fact that, no matter how superior your weapons are, you can still run out of ammunition.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha:
    • In the second season, after being soundly defeated by the new villain group with shiny Nitro Boost equipped weapons and with their own weapons suffering heavy damage, Nanoha and Fate's weapons are repaired and upgraded with the same nitro boost systems. They fight the villains a second time with the upgraded weapons, but this time to a standstill and forces them to retreat.
    • And in Season 3, they get even bigger sticks, culminating with a Dungeon Bypass through an entire warship with a single shot.
    • And in Force (the sequel), They continue to get more bigger stick, after they found out the antagnoists' weapons are immune to magic.
  • Naruto:
    • This was used in a filler arc, when the villains are seemingly normal people, who are able to outfight their otherwise superior opponents (the Sand Siblings) with their magical weapons, culminating with their resurrected clan leader beating the utter crap out of Naruto and Gaara who can't even use their Jutsu due to his Chakra-absorbing armor. It didn't help when Gaara threw a massive spear made of sand at him.
    • Similarly, in the first Naruto movie, the four main villains have "Chakra Armour", which makes their Jutsu stronger and making them immune to the effects of Genjutsu and Ninjutsu. These are beaten however. Sasuke kicks his opponent into her partner and their armour detonates, killing them, Kakashi piledrives his opponent into oblivion, and the main villain is taken out by Naruto, who blasts him with his Rainbow Rasengan, destroying his armour (which Sasuke had previously cracked with an overcharged Chidori; guess where Naruto aimed the Rasengan) and sending him flying about fifty feet into a mirror.
    • The titular Naruto has shadow clones, more shadow clones, rasengan, more-different rasengan, (seriously, he beats the bad guy of most movies by pulling out a special environmentally-enabled rasengan out of his ass) and various degrees of bigger rasengan.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann takes the Bigger Stick trope very literally, substituting upgrades and power-ups with increasingly humongous Humongous Mecha, eventually culminating in the titular mech which uses galaxies stepping stones and shurikens''.
  • Code Geass: Britannia initially has this advantage over any resistance groups in spades, via their Knightmares, particularly the Lancelot. That is, until the Black Knights acquire their own Super Prototype, the Guren, and later, the inventor of said machine into their ranks, Rakshata Chawla. From then on, the show becomes one giant Lensman Arms Race.
  • Rando of YuYu Hakusho has about a hundred different powerful spiritual techniques, but he's not very strong without them, doesn't use them very well, and doesn't even completely understand how they work. He's ultimately defeated when one of his own spells backfires as a result of him not understanding its weakness.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Homura doesn't care of the jarring power difference between her and The Walpurgis Night, she will just bring more devastating (conventional!) arsenal against it/them, each time. It doesn't work.
  • Windaria Shadowland's militar has tanks and machine guns while Lunaria's has hover craft and crossbows. When the war starts, the former marches more or less unopposed to the latter's capital.
  • In Infinite Ryvius, the Ryvius manages to survive repeated attacks from experienced military personal despite being run by a bunch of teenagers because it and its Vital Guarder have incredibly powerful gravity manipulation abilities—which will occasionally start operating on its own at oddly convenient times. This, however, works against them as well as it lets the Government Conspiracy think the ship is actually being operated by a bunch of highly-trained terrorists rather than kids who are the survivors of a terrorists hijacking. Then they get attacked by enemies who also have the same technology.

    Comics 
  • In a Garfield strip, John and Garfield try to one-up each other with sticks. It starts with Garfield giving John orders while holding a small stick. John pulls out a club to make it clear who the boss is, then Garfield leaves and comes back with a TREE, but is unable to hold it up.

    Fan Fic 

    Film 
  • Iron Man series
    • Iron Man: Tony Stark literally makes reference to Bigger Sticks, although it is Obadiah Stane who gets the larger and supposedly more advanced suit. Too bad he didn't do his homework:
      Iron Man: How'd you solve the icing problem?"
      Iron Monger: Icing problem?
      *Iron Monger suit shuts down*
      Iron Man: Might wanna look into it! BONK!
      • Plus as Christine Everhart points out, it's an interesting philosophy for the man who's selling the sticks.
    • Iron Man 2: War Machine is supposed to be this to Iron Man, but it turns out that Tony has more tricks in the Mark VI than in the Mark IV. They're actually pretty well matched, but as Tony points out, War Machine has a big gun, he's not the big gun. Tony's got a lot of cool tricks up his sleeve; the War Machine suit, created by Tony and then upgraded by Justin Hammer, is more of a mixed bag.
  • Another Robert Downey Jr. film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, has Dr. Watson pinned down by a sniper that was in the same war as him. It takes Watson a few seconds to realize what he's hiding behind...an artillery cannon. The resulting cannon fire takes out the lighthouse the sniper was using, and almost takes out the sniper and Moriarty.
  • Crocodile Dundee: "That's not a knife. This is a knife." Though arguably it was less to do with the mugger's intended victim having a bigger stick -or knife in this case- than the fact he had one at all, and quite clearly knew how to use it.
  • RoboCop series
    • In RoboCop (1987), Detroit is being torn apart by rampant crime, and the police are starting to feel like they're more like an army on the losing side of a war with casualties mounting. Cue the titular RoboCop, who is nigh-immune to small-arms fire and single-handedly trashes the largest drug factory in the city. In response, the criminals get anti-tank weapons.
    • In RoboCop 2, when the new drug kingpin takes out RoboCop by outsmarting him, OCP uses it to push the need for the much larger and deadlier RoboCop 2; there is actually a certain amount of conspiracy on their parts to take advantage of this trope, although they don't directly plan all of it. When RoboCop 2 goes rogue, RoboCop is smart enough to bring one of those anti-tank rifles to the fight, although this is a subversion since it turns out the rifle isn't actually enough of a bigger stick than his sidearm to hurt RoboCop.

    Literature 
  • A series of Piers Anthony's had a pathetic hero who only won because he had magic gloves (and later magic shoes) that did all the work for him.
  • Honor Harrington series, by David Weber: Subverted in that Manticore indeed holds the biggest stick in the Galaxy, but first, not everybody thinks so, second, they constantly spend positively enormous amounts of money and effort just to keep the edge, and third, they train to use that stick, and do it hard. And still, it's just barely enough, because while their sticks are bigger, their enemy has a lot more of them.

    Honor, personally, typically goes into any given battle wielding the smaller stick, because otherwise how could she show how badass a commander she is? As of Storm from the Shadows Manticore may turn out not to have the biggest stick anymore.
  • Dr. Seuss's The Butter Battle Book featured two separated races, the Yooks and the Zooks, building bigger and bigger weapons to go against each other, each time with the Zooks ahead in the arms race. In the end both sides develop a weapon capable of obliterating the other side, resulting in both wielders of the weapons staring down each other in a life-or-death stalemate — all because they were arguing over which side of a slice of bread should be buttered.
  • The High-Technology Aerospace Weapons Center "Dreamland" from Dale Brown's books exists to create and test bleeding-edge technology, so it is unsurprising that they come up with a lot of potent high-tech stuff. The Americans are not the only ones with new toys, though.
  • Adventure Hunters: The driving force of the story; Ryvas lacks both the funds and the manpower to defend his territory against Jerrod so he needs a game changer. The war golems are his only hope.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Happened in Stargate Atlantis during the Ancients' war against the Wraith. The Ancients' bigger stick was their superior technology, which was eventually trumped by the Wraith's bigger stick: superior numbers. It got to the point where the Ancients started throwing all their resources into developing even bigger technological sticks (like murderous nanites, a power source that destroyed five-sixths of a solar system when it overloaded, and a device whose unfortunate side-effect was that it caused stargates to blow up), most of which would come back to bite their descendants in the ass ten thousand years later.

    Pinball 
  • Used in Stern Pinball's Iron Man, which requires the player to advance the Iron Man armor up six technological levels, from Mark I through Mark VI.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Most players in Survival of the Fittest tend to be concerned more with getting better weapons than everyone else had rather than actually surviving. This gets a lot of them killed.
  • The ultimate weapon of Warhammer 40,000's Imperial Guard? Gigantic tanks. If that doesn't work, they get even bigger tanks. If those don't cut it, they roll out the really big tanks; we're talking tanks so big they can serve as APCs for other tanks. And we haven't even got started on their Humongous Mecha. If that still fails, they just call Exterminatus and wipe out all life on the planet.

    Video Games 
  • Appropriately enough, the Imperial Guard in Dawn of War works like this. You have two options: go for Strength in Numbers (which is risky and actually works best with lots of upgrades, leaving it to the late-game), or try to quickly roll out a Baneblade.
  • In Star Fox 64, the Star Wolf team shows up near the end with improved fighters that are technically superior to the Arwings.
    • Incidentally, in Command, Star Wolf team do indeed have better ships, outclassing every other playable ships in the game.
  • In Baldur's Gate 2, when Minsc notices his current weapon cannot harm his enemy, he exclaims "No effect!? I need a bigger sword..." He makes a similar remark after the first encounter with one of the game's Bonus Bosses, the red dragon.
  • In the Ace Combat series and other flight-action titles, getting a better plane which is better-armed, faster and more agile is an invocation of this trope. As to be expected, every now and then a Weak, but Skilled enemy ace, like Alberto "Espada One" Lopez from ACZ, will proceed to show that having the better plane is not all that matters.
  • Air Force Delta Strike plays this straight with its progressively better planes.
    • Jamie subverts it by pulling off repeated Airstrike Impossible missions in prop fighters through 2/3 of the game.
  • Team Fortress 2 has been locked in what can only be described as an escalating Arms Race between its 9 classes. However, the Engineer, despite having received less updates than any other class, has been given a smaller stick: the combat mini-sentry that deploys faster and has a higher rate of fire than a level 1 sentry at the cost of possessing less firepower and lacking upgrade potential.
    • Special note for the Engineer:
    How do I stop some mean mother-hubbard from tearing me a structurally superfluous new behind? Answer: use a gun. If that don't work: use more gun.
  • In the Naval Ops series, the player's Bigger Stick comes in two flavours: Bigger guns for your ship, or a bigger ship.
  • Welcome to Star Ruler, where when your opponent outclasses your ship with a bigger ship, you build one to planetary scale. When your opponent decides, "Well gee, that's a big ship, let's build a STAR-sized ship," there's always the option of building a ship on the galactic scale.
  • In Jagged Alliance 2, this can happen to either side a lot. For example, either you'll be stuck with used AK-47s bought on the cheap and whatever your mercenaries had on time when you hired them and the enemies will have M4s and G3A3s with dot sights, or vice versa - and that's not getting into if you or the enemies have armor vests.
    • It goes farther in the unofficial 1.13 patch - if you cheated or saved up, your mercenaries can be equipped with top-of-the-line armor (or even bomb suits!) and weapons such as the G11, P90, XM 8, or FN SCAR-H, and you'll be fighting troops with 80s weaponry, such as old M16s and flak jackets.
  • In Fallout 3, the Brotherhood of Steel fights the Enclave, who have greater numbers, better technology and better resources, and besides that the Brotherhood is busy fighting super mutants and other hostiles in the area. Then they activate Liberty Prime, who for a period of two weeks utterly crushes any resistance and helps the Brotherhood track down the remnants of the Enclave one group at a time. They the Brotherhood tries to use Prime to assault an Enclave main base and find out the Enclave has been holding back the biggest stick of all—an orbital missile satellite, which blasts Liberty Prime to pieces.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has Mr. House' Securitron Army and their software upgrade. Depending on your choices, you can choose to help him along with activating both of these which would ensure his dominance of the Mojave or destroy the army under the orders of Caesar. Even better, help House upgrade his army, kill him and then take the Bigger Stick for yourself (or at least under the control of a Yes-Man A.I.).
  • Buying and upgrading new ships is a major part of survival in Infinite Space. In the storyline, it explains some Curb Stomp Battles.
  • New Mobile Suits and weapons are at least as important as character levels in MS Saga: A New Dawn.
  • Generally the M.O. of XCOM, where Earth's defenders are woefully underequipped to fight the alien menace, who have much bigger sticks. Grinding through casualties to scratch out victories allows XCOM to acquire those big sticks, research them, and turn them on their masters. In some games, XCOM actually improves on the designs, which ends up as a problem for the aliens, who are unable to do the same.

    Western Animation 
  • Looney Tunes
    • Parodied in one episode of where one character pulls out a gun on another character, then that character pulls out a bigger gun. The two keep pulling out guns bigger than the other until the guns reaches outer space!
    • A similar exchange in another episode subverts this at the last second, with Bugs' final Bigger Gun being...a peashooter. (that is, a hollow straw full of peas)
    • And another happens at the end of The Rabbit of Seville. They start with axes, work up to guns, then cannon. Bugs's final weapon? Flowers. And candy. And a ring. Elmer's response? Putting on a white wedding dress.
    • In Ballot Box Bunny, Yosemite Sam uses it by name against Bugs Bunny. When Bugs says he speaks softly and carries a big stick, Sam retorts that he talks loud, carries a bigger stick, and uses it, too.
    • In another one cat and mouse were eating growth pills to get bigger than the other one. They grew out larger than Earth each.
  • In a Darkwing Duck episode, Darkwing is turned into Evil Twin Negaduck, then goes out to kill him. When they meet, they start on this with melee weapons, with dialogue escalating as well. Cut to Gosalyn and Launchpad trying to find them. Back to Darkwing and Negaduck ... and one has just flown in on a fighter plane, the other counters with an aircraft carrier, and the first flies out and returns with a missile. Presumably nuclear.
  • Iron Man: In the second-season finale, after his plan to destroy all advanced technology has fallen, Mandarin reveals his backup plan to be this - armor bigger, stronger, faster and generally better than Tony's and increasing the power of his rings.
    Mandarin: This is another backdraft of your technology, Stark. Somebody can always build a bigger stick.
  • Discussed in a Halloween Episode of The Simpsons. Lisa wishes for world peace from a Monkey's paw causing everybody to throw away their guns, but then Aliens invade. Ned Flanders then obtains the Monkey paw and wishes the aliens away. Moe chases them off with a board with a nail in it.
    Kodos: It seems the earthlings won.
    Kang Did they? That board with a nail in it may have defeated us. But the humans won't stop there. They'll make bigger boards and bigger nails, and soon, they will make a board with a nail so big, it will destroy them all!

    Web Original 
  • In The Salvation War, the demons lost because they were suprised by the fact our 'sticks' weren't literally sticks. They came expecting swords and sheilds and met long-range artillary bombardment. Guess who won.

    Real Life 
  • The US Navy is currently developing a railgun system for use on their ships, expected to be in service by 2020. According to the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, they were being developed because, as he says, "I never ever want to see a Sailor or Marine in a fair fight. I always want them to have the advantage." [1]
  • Being the armed guy fighting an unarmed opponent. Even a two-bit thug wildly flailing a knife or pole has a large Unskilled, but Strong advantage over the unarmed guy, never mind the ones who have enough experience to know how to use their weapons well. In contrast, it takes a lot of skill to take down an armed opponent while unarmed.
  • A nuclear weapon is probably the biggest stick of all. Assuming that the nations being hit (or those near or allied with them) do not have second-strike capabilities. The world is so well-connected now that no nuclear weapon can be fired without devastating consequences.


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