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Drama-Preserving Handicap
It's a standard setup to have heroes race to stop the nigh unstoppable villain before he becomes all-powerful, unseals his true potential, or gets released. However; more often than not, the heroes fail. So, how's the average Farm Boy hero supposed to take on Excruciant, the Omnipotent! without getting turned to a fine red mist within five seconds of opening the door?

Give the baddie a Drama Preserving Handicap.

To make things more interesting, a handicap is given to that person or organization to give the other a fighting chance. Sometimes this becomes the Kryptonite Factor. Sometimes a person will feign having a handicap and reveal I Am Not Left-Handed. Other times it's a simple moral code holding them back.

This actually works both ways. Heroes who've won the Superpower Lottery, are unstoppable, Deus ex Machina types, or just plain badass may be injured (either by being worn down by Mooks on the way or just from falling down the stairs at home), hit with Green Rocks, or accosted with their Weaksauce Weakness to make the more modestly powered villain (or his Mooks, if he's a non-combatant) an actual threat. Clever antagonists will use tactics and plans that can bring about these handicaps (or advantages to themselves) either by injuring their enemy to the point of barely being able to stand or using Geo Effects. Sometimes the hero himself chooses to be Willfully Weak for any of several reasons...but when he gives his "World of Cardboard" Speech, the villain better be running.

This is often a more ideal solution than using Deus Exit Machina or randomly depowering the character, as it can keep him in the cast with his normal power intact. Related tactics include Amnesia Danger, Forgotten Phlebotinum, and How Do I Shot Web?. This is the opposite of Eyepatch of Power and Disability Superpower, where the handicap is the power. Almost every Enemy Civil War story is about this, as are a lot of Right Hand Versus Left Hand stories where the heroic factions would normally be able to beat the villains if they worked together.

Game-Breaking Injury and Worf Had The Flu are subtypes. See also Depower and How to Stop the Deus ex Machina. Contrast Kryptonite-Proof Suit.

Spoilers below.

Examples

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     Anime and Manga  
  • One of the most famous examples, and one used against the Good Guys, occurs in Dragon Ball. In the Cell Saga, Cell has proven to be completely outmatched by Super Saiyan 2 Gohan, only lightly stronger than Full Power Super Saiyan Goku, and still threatenable by Super Vegeta and Ultra Trunks. Thusly, the final final battle can't be held with everyone at full strength.
  • In the final mission of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, since Fate was now unrestrained by a Power Limiter, Fate was forced to fight Jail and two of his Numbers Cyborgs under heavy Anti-Magic Field conditions to give them a better chance. That, and she was still holding back her full strength since she was planning to catch up to Nanoha afterwards.
    • This trope in general runs wild throughout 'StrikerS'. The stronger heroic characters spend nearly the entire season operating under power limiters, and with that in place most of the fighting is done by the newbie Forwards. Nanoha, Fate and Signum don't get into any serious fighting until the climax.
    • In supplemental materials after the end of the main events of the second season, Nanoha and Fate suspect the Wolkenritter held back to avoid killing them, not wanting Hayate to be responsible for murder. The Wolkenritter also are forced to restrict their use of cartridges (which increase their magic power and enable them to use their more powerful moves) and magical energy in general (because they have to fill the book on a short timetable and keep energy in case the Bureau attacks them), which leads them to sometimes hold back or flee from the protagonists to conserve energy.
    • The Nanoha Force manga implied that Signum may now suffer from this because, despite having risen up from her hospital bed, her body hasn't fully recovered yet from the heavy injuries sustained during her fight with Cypha. It's also implied the possibility of her spinal injuries leaving permanent sequels but that's yet to be confirmed.
  • Jun Misugi from Captain Tsubasa is both a brilliant player and the local Ill Boy.
  • Bleach: Orihime has the power to reject physical events in a manner characters in-universe have speculated to be akin to time-space manipulation or completely rejecting the reality of the event having ever happened. The only thing controlling this power is her personality. If she doesn't believe she can do something, she can't. If she doesn't think of trying something because she's been raised or led to believe it's impossible, she doesn't even think to try it. Her kill-attack is also kept under control by her personality which is unsuited to battle in the way other characters are until she takes a third option and incorporates the kill attack into her much more powerful defensive shield, making it a pretty powerful Attack Reflector and marking her evolution from The Medic to Combat Medic. In short, her state of mind is her major limit.
  • In the Ryuuguujou arc of Gintama, Gintoki and Katsura were turned into old men before they can see any action, by Tamebako G, a device that can turn anyone into old people. The only reliable fighters at the time was Kagura and Kyuubei, and later the rest of the main characters were turned into old people as well. Had the device never exist, the arc could have easily ended in one episode. The great moment and Gintoki's Rousing Speech will never happened as well if that's the case.
  • In Ranma ˝, Akane Tendo injures her hand before fighting the Dojo Destroyer. What should have been an easy battle for her (given the foe's fighting style) ends up putting her on the defensive, all to allow Ranma (who had run out on her earlier) to come back to help her and defeat the enemy in a single panel.
    • Another deliberate instance (and lampshaded) is found in the Martial Arts Rhythmic Gymnastics tournament. Normally, Ranma is far, far above Kodachi's league —but the rules of the sport state that contact without use of a tool is forbidden, and thus Ranma is restricted to the use of tools instead of his own style.
    • This is true for most of the Martial Arts and Crafts Ranma gets involved in. None of the bizarre martial arts practitioners have Ranmas level of skill (With the possible exception of the Martial Arts Tea masters, whom he never faces in a direct battle), as Ranma is capable of mastering the art fast enough to win the rematch, or sometimes the first match.
    • Ranma's girl form sometimes counts, as Ranma is physically weaker as a girl. However it's usually also noted that he's faster that way too, and considering Ranma's specialty is speed, this doesn't come up unless he really needs that last extra bit of strength.
      • His biggest problem in the girl form is usually shorter reach, since as a girl his (her?) arms and legs are shorter.
  • If Rumiko Takahashi wants a villain in Inuyasha to be dramatic, she'll make sure that the story takes place on the night of the new moon, when Inuyasha - normally a Made of Iron Half-Human Hybrid - is instead trapped in human form, and thus finds himself vulnerable to punches, poisoning, impalement, and everything else he can ordinarily shrug off.
    • In some cases, he forgets he's not as tough as he normally is, leading to one particularly embarrassing incident where he attempted to punch a giant stone sage who was falling on him. Unsurprisingly, he was crushed, passed out and wound up getting captured instead.
    • There was a particularly bad example that took place during the Band of Seven arc; he ran too far into the sacred barrier surrounding Mount Hakurei, which paralyzed him and then purified his demonic blood, turning him into a human. Then he ran into his sadistic Stalker with a Crush, who reveled in the newfound ability to injure him, as during their previous encounters Inuyasha had been able to fight him off relatively easily.
    • In the final arc, Sesshoumaru has obtained a sword that can pretty much One-Hit Kill anything, and anything touching it, and anything touching that, and so forth. Naraku is aware of this, and thus is forced to kidnap Rin and keep her with him to prevent Sesshoumaru from ending the series in a single attack.
  • Saint Seiya's Gold Saint of the House of Virgo, Shaka, is already unbelievably powerful. But he's constantly handicapping himself by keeping his eyes closed, to avoid going all-out on his enemies. The Bronze Saints are explicitely warned not to let Virgo Shaka open his eyes, for they will be doomed otherwise. Naturally, Phoenix Ikki proves so resilient Shaka is forced to open his eyes and stop meditating, at which point he focuses all of his attention on swatting down the bothersome pest... and Ikki then manages to turn Shaka's own attacks agqainst him in a Taking Youwith Me.
  • Pain vs. Naruto could have been considerably one sided in Pain's favor had he been allowed to kill Naruto instead of merely capture him alive.
    • Similarly, Deidara holds back against Gaara, and except for one explosive he drops on the village to divert Gaara's attention, doesn't use many powerful bombs. When he goes up against Sasuke, whom he doesn't need to take alive, he uses powerful explosives while trying to kill him. This could apply to the Akatsuki in general, who are forced to capture the jinchuuriki live, but these two examples stand out.
  • Zoro of One Piece is incredibly tough, but almost every one of his significant fights has him either injured from a previous battle, not in possession of all of his weapons or even handcuffed to a friend.
  • Arcueid from Tsukihime suffered the Up to Eleven version of this—in the very first scene she appears in, she gets sliced into 17 pieces. She did recover, but she's weakened enough that she needs her "killer"'s help to fight.
  • At one point in Gokusen, Action Girl and Badass Teacher Komiko catches a nasty cold. Then she makes it worse by singlehandedly beating up a CLASS of delinquents (her own, incidentally). So when a repeat antagonist (whom she has swept the floor with twice already) suddenly pops up, she essentially collapses from the fever halfway through the battle.
  • Roy Mustang is one of the most powerful protagonists of Fullmetal Alchemist, easily able to defeat Envy in single combat. However, due to his fire-related powers, he's useless when wet, and coincidentally the first fight against Scar is during a rainy day. Later, an injury from his fight with Lust starts acting up just in time to prevent him from helping against Gluttony. Even worse, at some point he goes blind, and thus he cannot use his fire powers. Riza, his Friendly Sniper bodyguard (and who had barely survived to having her throat slit in the same incident that left Roy blind) solves this via using her uncanny accuracy and sharp eyes to direct Roy's attacks for him, telling him where to aim.
    • Bradley is over 60 and he's still that hard to beat. Scar only won because he was half dead already. He WOULD have killed him if not for the sun, and he almost killed Scar by stabbing him using his broken sword held with his TEETH.
    • Envy's shape-shifting could have become a Story Breaker Power in the more cloak-and-dagger portions of the plot, of which there are many. Good thing Envy doesn't pay much attention to detail...or have much control over its temper or its desire to punt puppies.
    • Between his massive strength (he's physically stronger than any other Homunculus) and blistering speed, Sloth is an extremely dangerous Lightning Bruiser. It's quite likely that he could crush any of the main characters he encounters with very little trouble... if it weren't for the fact that his speed makes it hard for him to aim, and the fact that his laziness ensures that he won't put up much of a fight unless he has no choice.
    • Hohenheim is limited by ethics. At the outset, he was exactly as powerful as Father, if what the latter said about how he had split the souls evenly between them was accurate, but actually using that power would have required using the tormented souls of his destroyed civilization as an energy source. After taking centuries to get to know every single one of his souls, he's even more powerful because they're all working in concert, but by then Father has increased his own power.
  • Goku from Saiyuki could beat nearly every enemy they have to fight if he took off his power limiter; however, this also results in him attacking anything that moves. Hakkai too is very powerful without his limiters but can't remove them often thanks to the minus wave, and at least partly not wanting to.
  • Mad hatter from Pandora Hearts would negate the rest of pandora completely as it can destroy anything from the abyss, however Break coughs up blood and keels over nearly everytime he uses it so he can't do it too often.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, Joey would have actually beaten Marik if not for the fact it was a Shadow Duel that made him pass out from the pain.
  • Rurouni Kenshin: Because Sanosuke would Curb Stomp almost any opponent not at Kenshin or Saitou's level with his new technique, it manages to put immense strain on his hand so he has trouble facing foes weaker than he's been fighting.
  • Everyone in Soul Eater has this. Black Star has his horrible showboating which prevents him from being a good assassin. Death the Kid has his symmetry fetish. Stein has his insanity. Free, who is an immortal werewolf with the eye of the most powerful witch alive manages to stop himself in his first appearance, plus purposefully getting himself locked up in prison for 200 years. Shinigami is tied to one spot.... The list is endless...
  • Kazuya, arguably the main protagonist of Freezing has the unique ability to use talents like a Limiter without... well, limitations, including dispelling other Limiter's Freezing abilities and applying his own, which... well, freezes anyone in place. Unlike every other Limiter, he does not need to be linked to a Pandora in order to use his abilities. Moreover, his power is considered significantly stronger than any other Limiter shown thus far, overpowering top-ranked and multiple limiters at any time. This should allow him to settle any problem in an instant, but he constantly seems to forget his powers even exist, to the point it drastically affects the storyline. And that's when he's around or left conscious during a fight.
  • In Pokémon Special, Yellow, among her arsenal of powers, can boost her Pokemon's strength by roughly fifty levels. There are two reasons why she's unable to curb stomp anyone in her way: 1) using her powers makes her drowsy rather quickly and 2) she has to be properly motivated. As she is a Martial Pacifist who prefers healing to fighting, this comes rather hard to her.
  • Another Pokémon example, this time from the anime. Ash could easily beat the Cerulean Gym if he used Pikachu, but he's facing Misty and Pikachu doesn't want to battle her, so he's forced to use his non-Electric Pokemon.
    • There are several times when Ash has a Pokémon with the elemental advantage the the enemy he's facing but will instead choose another Pokémon because...I dunno, Creator's Pet? Merchandise-Driven? Idiot Ball? Take your pick. The onscreen reason generally tends to be something along the lines of "I battle by instinct". This proved somewhat hilarious when he fought a flying type gym leader in Johto and used his grass type Chikorita for that reason who promptly lost. His next gym was a bug type which is also strong against grass. He chose Chikorita again for the same reason...who promptly lost again! The flying gym is especially bad since the gym leader detests losing solely to type advantage and trains his pokemon hard to over come that weakness. Ash uses a grass type with this same mentality.. but without that hard training part and promptly loses. It's so bad that even the gym leader who tries to specifically defy type weaknesses says that Ash made a terrible decision since even if types weren't involved, Chikorita was just plain weaker than his own pokemon so with type advantages added on there was no chance at all.
  • In YuYu Hakusho, Yusuke is at a disadvantage against Kazemaru and Rando because he already used up his Reigun (which, at the time, he could use only once per day) on his previous opponent in the tournament.
  • In Muhyo And Roji, the group runs into trouble against Face-Ripper Sophie and Rio almost immediately afterward, because Muhyo, the executor of the group and the one able to sentence spirits, is low on tempering from the previous sentencings.
  • Fairy Tail: Natsu's Super Mode, Dragon Force enables him to be powerful enough to face Jellal, a Wizard Saint. Since that easily makes him one of the strongest characters in the series, the plot makes him unable to activate it without outside forces.
  • A very literal example in Ohtori Akio. Despite having minor reality-warping powers and psychological manipulation of the whole cast, everything he does must be theatrical. Even everything his former persona (the Prince) did was followed with a flair for the dramatic. Not only is he the reason that the anime series is the subtext porn Mind Screw that it is, but his dependency on the dramatic makes him incapable of pursuing a plan that might actually have a chance recovering the power of the Prince or saving his sister. Instead, he relies on other peoples' psychoses.
  • A Certain Magical Index
    • The titular Index wears a nun's habit called the Walking Church, which is as strong as an actual church, meaning she can't be harmed by anything short of heavy artillery. One of the very first things that happens is Touma accidentally destroys it to prove the powers of his Anti-Magic hand.
    • Accelerator. Originally introduced as a villain, when he began a long, slow Heel-Face Turn and became a protagonist, he suffered severe brain damage, crippling him. He now has a transmitter device that allows him to connect to a giant telepathic network in order to function like a normal human being, and he can only use his utterly broken powers for a few minutes at a time. And, they can be deactivated if the enemy has a simple radio jamming device. The brainpower of 9,970 (9,969 Sisters plus Last Order) people only gives him the computing power to perform at half his previous level. And he can still stop the earth's rotation for a few minutes.
  • Li Xingke of Code Geass is as smart as the Protagonist Lelouch, and as capable a warrior as the Antagonist Suzaku, which means he can both play Xanatos Speed Chess on the battlefield, and do the heavy lifting himself, which means no margin for error due to miscommunication or incompetency of allies. He's also almost entirely collected and has it together much more than either of them who both have their share of mental issues. By all rights he should utterly crush Lelouch in battle, and nearly does. His flaw? He has an unspecifed terminal illness that regularly disables him with great pain and blood from the mouth. And it usually kicks in during combat, leaving him vulnerable. As a result he's generally less effective than either of them. Without it he'd be the most dangerous and competent character on the show. And he's still the only one to come out of the final battle with his Knightmare intact and himself unwounded.
  • In Attack on Titan, as a result of fighting the Female Titan, Levi's ankle got twisted and they are subsequently taken out of action. As a result, the other characters cannot rely on the latter during the Wall Rose Titan crisis or when Eren is kidnapped by Bertolt and Reiner.

     Comic Books  
  • Batman. Think of how often he comes into contact with all sorts of alien technology, high-tech outfit technology, and super-scientists with all sorts of awesome nonlethal crimefighting gadgets...and consider that he still uses mostly what he can make himself. He's either incredibly arrogant or incredibly thick in order to perpetuate the Rule of Drama.
    • One reason given for this is that Batman doesn't want to rely on something that he doesn't know that won't go out of control. Alien technology can be manipulated by aliens, foreign tech could be a trap, and if anything happened to that tech he would be at a serious disadvantage. And given that he's a billionaire, he could make anything that he needs.
  • Superman can type a hundred pages a minute, and do any number of other tasks at super-speed. But he can't fight at super-speed. The in-universe explanation for this is that he holds back to keep from injuring anyone else. The real explanation for it is simply that someone with the strength of the Hulk and the speed of the Flash could never even be challenged, let alone defeated.
    • The real reason becomes especially evident when the villains with Superman's powers, who have no reason to hold back, also face the same problem.
  • Spawn has a suit of Necroplasm that lets him do anything. However, he's only got 9999 units of power, and when they're gone, he's dragged to hell. When the creators stopped keeping track of how much power he had left, it became an Informed Flaw and drama was no longer preserved.
    • He only had 9999 units of power himself, but he was taught how to draw energy from his symbiotic outfit, which had the ability to regenerate it. It took longer to draw from the suit, so he had to use his own built in energy for fast reactions, and fear of running out is why he cached the huge military weapons in his alley. After being dragged to hell and coming out again, the problem went away.
  • Although he was never more than a C-list character, Sleepwalker had a major advantage in that he could focus his warp beams directly on any human opponent, which would turn them into Noodle People and force them to experience Your Worst Nightmare over and over again. The reason Sleepy didn't do this was because all the members of his race swear a very strict oath to never use their warp vision on living beings. The sole exception is when people are being used as People Puppets, at which point hitting them with a Sleepwalker's warp beams actually frees them from the demonic possession.
  • Doctor Strange routinely deals with planet-eating megamonsters and walks without blinking through Acid Trip Dimensions, but he's still a human being who needs the free use of his hands and voice to cast spells. Attacking him physically is a routine method of effecting a Deus Exit Machina.
    • On the other hand, he has enemies that could and would easily squash him like a bug, except that they prefer to play cat-and-mouse with him and prolong the fun. This gives Strange enough time to spot their weaknesses and exploit this knowledge to defeat them.
  • Similar to the Dr. Strange example, Zatanna is a powerful magician whose spells work only if she speaks backwards, stating whatever she wants her spells to do. Because of this, her enemies naturally try to find ways to stop her from speaking. Even though Zatanna's been defeated many times by someone shutting her mouth, and though the backwards speaking isn't her actual superpower rather than just a tool she uses to focus her magic, for whatever reason she hasn't really learned other ways of casting her spells, so the handicap remains. Averted at one point when The Joker thought this about her so he gagged her and shot her in the throat, thinking that would neutralize the threat she posed. She managed to avoid death by scrawling "Heal Me" backwards in her own blood.

    Film 
  • Enter the Dragon had Bruce Lee as a literal unstoppable fighter. No one, not even the impressively skilled Big Bad, could reasonably match him in a fight. So he not only used claws built into his prosthetic hands, he trapped Lee in the famous Hall of Mirrors to balance out the odds.
  • The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe has the battle between Aslan's army and the Witch's go decidedly in her favor. Having both great combat skills and a petrifying wand, no one could get close without dying or being turned to stone. Seeing her headed straight for Peter, Edmund nearly dies to destroy said wand and give Peter a fighting chance. He was still losing, but at least it wasn't a curbstomp.
    • The exact same thing also happens in the book, but the fact that it's related to the other characters after the fact rather than being described in the narrative prevents it from functioning as a Drama-Preserving Handicap.
  • Superman Returns had Luthor threaten Superman and the lives of everyone in the North Atlantic with a Type 0-1 disaster by creating a giant Kryptonite island, stabbing supes with Kryptonite (and lodging a piece of it inside of him), letting his goons beat him up, and finally dumping him into the ocean. Yet still, Supes manages to lob the island into space and fly back to a Metropolis ICU. It's arguable whether this worked for the viewers.
  • In Disney's Peter Pan, Hook calls Pan a coward for flying away instead of facing him man to man. He gives his word to not fly and they fight. Although Hook gets the upper hand, Peter wins the day with his agility and quick wit.
  • In Return of the Jedi, the plan is to stop the completion of the second Death Star. When it all goes to hell, it's revealed that the Death Star's superlaser is already operational, at which point it starts picking off the Rebel Alliance's capital ships one shot at a time. Lando Calrissian then suggests engaging the Imperial Fleet directly in ship-to-ship combat, correctly guessing that the Death Star would hold its fire to avoid destroying friendly ships.
  • In Rocky Balboa the odds of the fight between the current champ, the youngster Mason Dixon and the pushing 50 Italian Stallion is evened when Dixon breaks his dominant hand in the second round. Dixon chooses to put his career at risk and has to go the distance with a star that's powered by a chanting crowd of baby boomers
  • It's pretty clear in Gladiator that Maximus would utterly destroy Commodus in anything resembling a fair fight. So, Commodus invokes this trope with a dagger to Maximus' lung before they go out to duel in the Colosseum. Commodus still never lands a blow on him, but it at least looks like Maximus is working hard.
  • In Thor, the hero gets stripped of his power for being a Jerk Jock. Even after regaining them, he is reluctant to use his full power.
  • In all Iron Man movies, Tony is weakened before the final battle. In the first, his improved arc reactor is removed and he's forced to use the inferior prototype, severely limiting the suit's power. In the second, he uses up his best weapon on the Hammeroids before he fights Vanko. In the third film Tony has been up for the last 72+ Hours, is working with all prototypes, and his opponents are capable of generating intense amounts of heat that burn through the armor quickly.
  • In Kung Fu Panda 2, Crane's wing is injured right before the one point in the movie where it would be most useful to have a flying team member.

    Literature 
  • In Animorphs, initially, it's in both sides' best interest to keep the war a secret. The Yeerks prefer a strategy of infiltration, then suddenly seizing control of the planet, in order to minimize both Yeerk casualties and the deaths of thousands of potential host bodies. The Animorphs, on the other hand, prefer the war also remain a secret, for tactical reasons: the Yeerks have much more advanced technology and would certainly win any open engagement where they were free to use all of their weapons (a bunch of animals can't do much good against Yeerk capital ships destroying cities from orbit). Also, the primary reason the Yeerks want Earth is because of the large population, and a war would reduce the value. On the other hand, there are so many damn humans compared to Yeerks (6 billion versus a couple hundred thousand) that open warfare might even hurt the Yeerks despite their serious technology because humanity could and probably would Zerg Rush any terrestrial fortifications, at least enough to turn the campaign into a Pyrrhic Victory that the Andalites could take advantage of.
    • Then there's the morphing technology itself. As it gives whoever has it the power to turn into any life-form the user can touch, it's power and applications are potentially limitless. However, what keeps it out of Story Breaker territory is that the inventors the Andalites lack the strategic thinking necessary to use it for anything other than infiltration, and the protagonists only have access to Earth animals most of time, which keeps the 6 from being able to easily win the war single-handedly. The Big Bad Visser Three/One does not have these limitations, and as a result the protagonists barely escape with their lives time and time again.
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe Thrawn/Zahn trilogy, there's a whole planet covered in animals that block out the Force, so that Luke can't go around using all his Jedi powers. Thrawn, ever the tactical genius, carries one of these animals around with him to avoid Force attacks.
    • Luke later does this to himself in the Zahn dulogy due to his concern over falling to the dark side. It does however give him the advantage of greater foresight.
  • In first book of the The Dark Tower series it is clear that King's titular Gunslinger is an unstoppable force of death and destruction after he guns down several dozen enraged assailants. By the end of the book it is clear that Roland has no equal. King fixes this by mutilating Roland's primary hand to make him more dependent on his friends.
  • Raistlin Majere from the Dragonlance series is one of the most powerful magic users in in-universe history to the point of having several of the gods so worried about his ambitions that they actively work to sabotage him in an effort to save their skins. The only thing that really prevents him from being able to pull off his plans sooner is his exceedingly frail constitution and a nagging cough; for much of the Chronicles, he's simply too physically weak to survive the strain of casting the spells necessary to his plans. He gets better, though.
  • In a lot of Science Fiction settings, manned space fighters and space freighters abound where unmanned vessels would be cheaper and more powerful. This is because of Burnside's Zeroth Law of space combat: science fiction fans relate more to human beings than to silicon chips.

     Live Action TV  
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a first season episode featuring a living ventriloquist dummy named Sid. They both think the other is the bad guy, but a wooden dummy versus the slayer is not so much an Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny as it is a curbstomp. So the writers specifically had Sid drop a chandelier on Buffy so that she was restricted and he had somewhat of a fighting chance.
    • In Season 6, Willow's power grows immensely, way before she nearly destroys the world. But in Season 7, where she could use it to solve many if not most of the Scoobies' problems, she won't because she was afraid of the dark power.
      • Willow was pretty powerful in Season 7, but the reason she was so powerful at the end of Season 6 was because she absorbed a metric fuckton of magic and transformed into her Superpowered Evil Side. Without that, she wasn't much stronger then at the end of Season 5, when she could barely manage to hurt Glory.
    • A particularly satisfying example was the demon known as the Judge, whose DPH was disguised as an ancient threat: "no weapon forged can kill him." As Buffy points out, "That was then; this is now." And she blows him apart with a rocket launcher.
      • Technically that still held true. He was blown up but didn't die. Were his pieces to be put back together he could reassemble and carry on. Angel took a piece of the Judge to a place where the Sun is always shining so that no vampires could get it.
  • In Heroes,
    • Peter has every superpower he's ever been close to, making him practically invincible and all-powerful. Usually this was tempered with a heavy dose of Idiot Ball, but starting in season 2 the show starting giving him actual handicaps. Season 2 gave him total amnesia about himself and his powers. Peter eventually had his power nerfed down to only being able to copy one power at a time.
    • Sylar became powerless for the whole second season. The third season returned his telekinesis and ability to steal powers, but he was forced to re-steal any additional powers.
  • In the season six finale of NCIS, viewers find out DiNozzo survived a fight with Mossad assassin Michael Rivkin because Rivkin was drunk.
  • Sam, the Reaper, had had his hand broken right before he could beat the Devil in a game of coin-tossing and win his soul back. By an angel, no less!. Although the drama was preserved just fine, it turned out to no purpose, as it was the last episode before the show got cancelled.
  • Some of the sixth rangers of Power Rangers get this. For example the first Green Ranger was shown to be able to fight the Red Ranger to a standstill and take on the entire team at once. Then Rita used the Green Candle to sap his powers, forcing him to stay on the sidelines unless he was really needed. The Gold Ranger and Titanium Ranger had similar disabilities.
  • In the Supernatural episode "Mommy Dearest" the villain Eve is able to suppress Castiel's angelic powers, effectively turning him into a normal human. He gets them back after Eve is killed by Dean, and proceeds to wipe out all of her remaining Mooks in about three seconds.
    • This happens to Castiel quite a bit, presumably because he would have Story Breaker Power otherwise. Over the course of the fifth season he slowly loses his powers as a result of being cut off from Heaven. In season 7 the Leviathans are somehow able to kill angels despite otherwise being depicted as weaker than them (See Informed Ability).
  • In How I Met Your Mother, the reason why Ted cannot get into a serious committed relationship with other women is because a small part of him is pining after Robin. The episode No Pressure makes it clear to Ted that Robin loves him as a friend, which now opens the possibility of him finally getting together with the mother.
  • In the series finale of MST3K: Pearl accidentally sets the Satellite of Love on a course back to Earth, then breaks the controller she was using, so she can't stop it. Observer couldn't simply use his powers to fix things because Pearl had "playfully" poured Mountain Dew into his brain pan, affecting his powers and giving him a mild case of aphasia ("Table dog purple liquify.")
  • In Vikings, Ragnar is suffering from lingering injuries during his duel with the Earl, preventing it from being a Curb-Stomp Battle.
  • In the series finale of Spartacus, Crassus and Spartacus meet in a Duel to the Death. While Crassus has been pumped as a badass swordsman, Spartacus is a walking death machine, so he's powered down with a whole slew of battle injuries to make it competitive.
  • In Doctor Who, the Doctor is regularly separated from the TARDIS, in order to provide a valid reason why he can't simply escape danger or use it to solve whatever problem at hand. A good example of this is in "The Eleventh Hour", where the severely damaged TARDIS is knocked out of commission whilst it rebuilds itself and the sonic screwdriver breaks soon after, forcing the newly-regenerated Eleventh Doctor to rely on his wits alone to try and save the world in under twenty minutes.
  • The main source of drama in Person of Interest is caused by the fact that Finch purposely handicapped the Machine in what it can do. He rightfully feared that the government would abuse its power if given unrestricted access to its inner working. Thus it only gives out a single number that points to a person that will be central to an upcoming deadly tragedy. The government has the resources to quickly find the Relevant person and neutralize the threat. Finch and Reese are working to save the people on the Irrelevant list and while Finch's resources are considerable he cannot match those of a US government agency. Thus Reese often gets to the threatened person at the last moment and has to Indy Ploy his way out of danger. The dramas is further upped by the fact that sometime he gets there too late and an innocent person dies as a result. It also doesn't always tell whether the person will be victim or perpetrator.

     Multiple Media  
  • Makuta Teridax and his Brotherhood in BIONICLE let the main characters live (and on occasion helped them out) because they knew that fulfilling their mission was a key element of their plan. But to keep the fans from finding this out too soon, most Makuta were outfitted with such handicaps. The three Phantoka Makuta got blinded, and the Mistika team members suffered Mode Lock and lost several of their powers due to a mutagen. Icarax, the Makuta who wanted to have it his way, and so didn't bother following rules, got devolved into his pre-Energy Being state, causing him great pain as there was no space left for his muscles and internal organs in his special armor.

     Video Games  
  • In Golden Sun, the heroes are able to fight Saturos (previously a Hopeless Boss Fight) in the Mercury Lighthouse, because the lighthouse weakens his Fire-based magic, and strengthens the heroine's Water-based powers (which he is weak against). Notably, his ally Alex was impressed that they managed to beat him, noting that he expected Saturos to win.
  • In Super Smash Bros.. Brawl, the final boss has an attack that instantly turns all of the heroes into trophies a little while before the final battle. Right before the battle begins, Sonic appears and attacks the boss's wings, weakening this attack considerably (though it's still almost a OHKO).
  • In Metal Gear Solid, Gray Fox's last heroic deed is to take out Metal Gear REX's exterior vision modes, forcing the pilot to open the cockpit in order to see and giving Snake a legitimate weak point to fire at.
    • And the handicap returns to provide drama when Solid Snake uses REX in MGS4 to battle another Mecha, as it would have had far less problems if fighting undamaged.
  • World of Warcraft often does this to justify players being able to kill a certain Big Bad. Some raid bosses have been weakened by another force, sometimes NPC's join the fight on the players' side, and some quests give you an item that will turn an elite mob into a normal one.
    • Many of the hardmodes and achievements require you not to activate the handicap and still win the fight.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons Online, there is a very early quest, where you are level 1 or 2, where you destroy a crystal, which was allowing a mind-flayer to control a dragon. This is a clever way to allow a low level player to defeat enemies which otherwise would curb stomp the PC in one blow.
  • Def Jam: Fight For New York has the Big Bad Crow stabbing the player character with a blade hidden inside his cane. It's non-lethal, but halves your health for the fight.
  • In Mass Effect, this is most likely the reason why biotic-wielding classes seem to completely forget that they have the ability to manipulate mass effect fields at will, outside of combat situations.

     Visual Novels  
  • Saber of the Fate/stay night is the strongest member of her class, already considered the most outstanding of all classes, making her one of the strongest Servants period. She possess almost unmatched combat skills, excellent stats, is practically immune to all forms of magecraft and possess some of the most powerful Noble Phantasms in existence, including Excalibur - a Wave Motion Sword capable of flattening mountains. She would normally be capable of single-handedly defeating all opposition, with only Gilgamesh being a challenge, which would make the novel rather unexciting as she's partnered with the main character. So she ends up getting improperly summoned, which leaves her with reduced stats and inability to regenerate prana through normal means - which limits her to single use of Excalibur before she becomes almost cripplingly weakened. Further more she only reclaims her third Noble Phantasm - which power makes her immortal and invulnerable - just before the last battle when she has to face Gilgamesh, the strongest of Heroic Spirits. Predictably it turns out to be exactly what she needs to win.
She dosen't have all her Noble Phantasms Because she made a deal with world before she died to claim the grail which causes her to only have the Phantasm she had with her on her death bead and causes her to not be a true Heroic spirit even in fate zero or as Rin's serevent

    Web Comics  
  • The Order of the Stick
    • Ultra-powerful post-splice Vaarsuvius is the most powerful mage to have ever existed...as long as he/she holds on to the splices. Good thing one of them (a legendary necromancer no less, who would have been uniquely qualified to help against his undead foe) slips away BEFORE the elf goes to fight the Big Bad, Xykon, or else the series would have ended in a curb stomp. Plus, Vaarsuvius has a revelation about more effective use of his power immediately after losing the other two splices. And he was further hampered by the fact that every stat other than his effective caster level (which before losing the first splice, was somewhere in the 90s) and available spell slots was not enhanced by the splice.
    • Also happens repeatedly during Linear Guild confrontations, as lampshaded by Roy here. Roy seems to be outright defying the trope in that comic, but it ends up being played straight again a dozen strips later, when the Linear Guild attacks immediately after Vaarsuvius is incapacitated by a trap.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, you'd think Torg having a sword that can kill anything with one strike would make him unbeatable against the various aliens and demons he comes up against. It has a double-catch, however, since it (a) needs to feed on the blood of the innocent to gain that power, and (b) depending on the enemy, will need to hit a specific part of their body in order to kill them. (Fortunately, unpowered, it's still a pretty sharp normal sword that will work against non-superpowered opponents.)

     Web Original  
  • Whateley Universe example: Bladedancer. She's the Handmaid of the Tao. If the Tao gives her enough power, she's unbeatable. But the reader never knows whether she's going to get any help from the Tao, in which case she's just a mere baseline with a really cool sword.

     Western Animation  
  • In Danny Phantom, Danny uses the specter deflector on Vlad to weaken him to make it a fair fight. Later episodes show them pummeling each other on equal terms due to Danny's Character Development.
  • Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League weakened Superman severely so he couldn't curb stomp everything and the other members of the league could be useful. This also gave most supervillains a (vague) chance against him, since he felt pain from most attacks (more Heroic Willpower than Nigh-Invulnerability.)
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender : At the end of Season Two, Aang undergoes spiritual training that will allow him to enter the Avatar State at will. With that ability, Aang would've been able to take on Fire Lord Ozai then and there and end the war. So naturally, the first time he tries to invoke this power, he's nearly killed when Azula blasts him in the back with a lightning strike. When Aang recovers, he finds his injuries have blocked his chakra, sealing him off the Avatar State. He doesn't get it back until the Grand Finale (the end of Season Three).
    • In Sequel Series The Legend of Korra, Korra has a similar problem. She can't go into the Avatar State or communicate with her past lives due to her undeveloped spiritual side.
  • Alien X is Ben 10's most powerful alien, to Reality Warper levels. However, he has 3 personalities, and in order for him to perform any action, including simple movement and transforming back, at least two of his personalities must agree to do so - and since 2 of them have been arguing for eternity, getting them to focus on any present task is difficult at best, leaving Alien X's body in place, and making Ben decide using him is not worth the risk.
  • In the first and fourth seasons of Teen Titans, the Big Bads could have easily killed the Titans, but were more interested in convincing them to defect to the villains' side instead.

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