"Superior training and superior weaponry have, when taken together, a geometric effect on overall military strength. Well-trained, well-equipped troops can stand up to many more times their lesser brethren than linear arithmetic would seem to indicate."On one end of the scale of Conservation of Ninjutsu is the Zerg Rush. On the other end is the Elite Army. Instead of sending endless waves of disposable mooks at the enemy, this army relies on a relatively small amount of very deadly soldiers to win the battle. They're up against a Redshirt Army that outnumbers them five to one, but the Redshirt Army doesn't stand a chance. Maybe they have superior training. Maybe they have better equipment. Maybe they're all Super Soldiers. Maybe its a combination of the three. The point is, a soldier in this army is worth five of the enemy's and such a statement will usually be made. This usually means each individual will be much more valuable so No One Gets Left Behind. Basically, while the Zerg Rush is Quantity Over Quality, the Elite Army is Quality Over Quantity. When it's just one soldier doing all this alone, it's a One-Man Army. Under Faction Calculus, playable forces of this stripe are known as Powerhouse. When they are the bad guys, they are Elite Mooks. This is usually a Badass Army, but it specifically refers to when the army is smaller than most other armies but still capable of fighting on equal terms. Deconstructions usually involve addressing the cost of raising and maintaining the troops or the lack of numbers.
—Colonel Corazon Santiago, Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri
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- The Golden Age Arc focuses on the Band of the Hawk, the mercenary company that Griffith formed to pursue his dream of winning his own kingdom. Only 5,000 strong, they routinely destroyed much larger forces with few casualties, culminating when they defeated a force of 30,000 supposedly "elite" enemy knights fortified in a castle known for being impregnable. It took capturing their commander unarmed outside of battle, ambushing them without any weapons or armor, wearing them down through attrition over the course of a year, and finally literally dragging them to Hell and Zerg Rushing them with an army of immortal demons to finally bring them down.
- Despite their growing ranks, the New Band of the Hawk made up of both humans and monsters is a small but disproportionately powerful force on the battlefield. In one instance Griffith saves Mule and a party of refugees by routing 5,000 of the Kushan empire's elite troops with no more than a thousand of his own, and in reality mostly thanks to a vanguard of just a hundred warriors who are ridiculously powerful. He repeats this feat on a larger scale when he repels Emperor Ganishka's grand army outside walls of Vritannis, using several hundred horsemen to defeat a horde that's hundreds of thousands strong!
- When applied to high school delinquents, one example is "Kitano's Hekikuu Army" in Angel Densetsu. They have only four main fighters but won a fight against a far more numerous enemy force in the last chapter.
- In Ikki Tousen this pretty much describes Seitou's combat force. Other forces such as Kyoushou appears to have plenty of Red Shirts sprinkled with a few Elite Mooks but Seitou generally has to rely on Kan'u or Chou'un to repulse any concerted assault.
- Bleach: The Zero Division is the Spirit King's Praetorian Guard. They only appear when the 3,000-strong Gotei 13 has faced an enemy its strength is outmatched against. The Zero Division consists of five individuals who together possess more power and strength than the entire Gotei 13 combined.
- In Attack on Titan, despite that only the top 10 trainees in each class can join the Military Police, it's the weakest of the three corps because of their almost total lack of experience. The Survey Corps, which is also the least respected by the way, is the most powerful one, since they fight titans all the time. Soldiers who survive their first battle are regarded as real soldiers by Erwin Smith, which means the Military Police is full of "pseudo-soldiers".
- 300 Spartans against the entire Persian Empire. The Persians eventually kill the Spartans, but it takes a hell of a lot of soldiers.
- The Persian Immortals are supposed to be this, but don't live up to it.
- A Crown of Stars: The Avalon forces deployed on Shinji and Asuka's Earth. They are barely over one hundred men and they are heavily outnumbered to fight the armies of the dictators ruling the post-apocalypse wastelands... but every man and woman is an heavily-trained elite soldier with physical enhancements or even psychic powers, and they are armed with technology way, way superior to their adversaries', up to and including powered armors and Humongous Mecha. The Big Bad not even can use his own war mechs because Shinji and Asuka are the only can pilot them.
- Weaver Nine features the Society, a group of morally-ambiguous castoffs and outcasts united by Weaver. In at least one instance, they successfully drive off Leviathan without a single casualty to their defending force, even if they inflicted nearly as much damage to the city as Leviathan would have to do it. Contrast with the Protectorate, who loses one in four capes in theirs and still let him smash the target in the process.
- Son Of The Seven Kingdoms: It is mentioned several times that the Legions are superior to the levies raised by the feudal system. As they are professionally trained, they prove themselves capable of taking on greater armies and prevailing.
- Even moreso for the Blades. One Blade can consider a dozen opponents an insult, and in the old days the Blades served as Aegon the Conqueror's personal elite guard after their much smaller force beat back his army and killed one of his dragons.
- In The Open Door, NewChaos know very well that they don't have the numbers to match most foes in a fair fight. But they do have a Bigger Stick with their superior technology and Super Soldiers, and use it aggressively.
- In Ripples, it's established that the Changelings were once this to the royal family of Meridian, before they Turned Against Their Masters, at which point they became a persecuted and hunted minority. After Phobos' rise to power, he restores them to this role.
- Deconstructed in XCOM The Hades Contingency. XCOM is great at what they do, but every time the squad has had to retreat from a mission, it's because they were getting overwhelmed by superior numbers after failing to make a decisive breakthrough early on.
- Deconstructed in The Elite Squad. BOPE are a Badass Army who can kick the arses of any number of drug dealers, but their low numbers means they're limited to conducting surgical raids and can't hold ground, so any progress is limited. Nascimento's complaint is that the regular police have the numbers to help them hold the favelas, but they're almost all Dirty to a man.
- The Black Forces of Hungary in Count and Countess.
- Dreamland in Dale Brown books rely on extremely high tech equipment to make up for their few numbers.
- In the later books of the Ender's Shadow series, Bean commands a special unit of 200 Thai soldiers, who execute a number of critical missions, then commands the small army of the newly-created Free People of Earth under the Hegemon.
- The Malazan marines in Malazan Book of the Fallen fit this resoundingly well.
- The Reynard Cycle: Each regiment of the Calvarian army functions this way. A force of about seven thousand of them crush an army over thirty thousand strong in The Baron of Maleperduys.
- By Defender of the Crown, Reynard has whipped his Army of Thieves and Whores into one capable of beating the Calvarians at their own game.
- In 1632, three thousand soldiers of Tilly's mercenary army, armed with seventeenth century weapons, comes up against the four hundred member's of Grantville's "army" (armed with modern weaponry and modern vehicles) like a log hits a rotary saw. The end result is nearly 1,200 mercenary prisoners, nearly 1,800 dead mercenaries, and four hundred victorious Americans.
- The Mobile Infantry of the original Starship Troopers are very elite and use Powered Armor.
- The Unsullied of Astapor, as featured in A Song of Ice and Fire. They are called the finest foot in the world, because they have discipline and intense training. However, they're not all that good at non- or para-military matters.
- The Dresden Files: Wardens of the White Council of Wizards fall under this trope. Their main job is actually hunting down rogue wizards called warlocks, but they also serve as the Council's soldiers during wartime. There are only around 200 of them in all, but this is considered to be roughly equivalent in strength to the armies of the other supernatural nations, some of which number in the thousands.
- However, they do suffer losses. In particular, the Red Court utterly crushed them in one instance, killing 143 Wardens out of 200 in a single battle. It cost them twenty vampires for each dead wizard though. Afterwards, they started drafting anyone who could throw a fireball into their ranks, so they're not quite as elite as they used to be, but they're still pretty badass.
- The Dinosaur Lords has two:
- Karyl's White Legion of triceratopses (uses akin to war elephants) is feared throughout all Nuevaropa, and has been virtually undefeated until Rob's stunt with ankylosauruses.
- Jaume's Companions are an elite hardosaurus cavalry unit, and you need to be both skilled and part of The Beautiful Elite to get there.
- In The Traitor Son Cycle:
- The Morean Empire has the Vandariotes and the Scholae, who are both actually mercenary units, but are also good enough that Morea doesn't really need any forces beyond them.
- Alba has the Order of Saint Thomas, a Church Militant of Magic Knights, who are small in number, but noted as the kingdom's most effective warriors.
- The Witchlands has the Hell-Bards, an elite unit of Anti-Magic-equipped badasses tasked with hunting down and capturing unregistered witches with nothing but their wits and blades.
- In Victoria, Azania's armed forces are this, not because they are more badass than their enemies, but because they are vastly better equipped. A nation of technologically advanced Amazons in a post-apocalyptic wasteland inhabited mostly by barbarians and technology-haters, they field an early-21st-century-plus military with a heavy emphasis on air supremacy, guided artillery and drones, and so can threaten much larger, lower-tech enemy forces. Though they underperform notably when facing the main character's unit, due to the latter's Plot Armor.
- It takes just a few hundred Space Marines to conquer an entire planet in the Warhammer 40,000 galaxy.
- And amongst Space Marines which follow the Codex Astartes, the First Company (Veterans) and Honor Guard are considered elite compared to them.
- The Grey Knights are considered to be the elite of the space marines, with their previous codex lampshading how hard it is to actually play them without using the allies rule due to being constantly outnumbered.
- Talons of the Emperor pushes it even further. A Custodian is similar to a Space Marine Terminator, only bigger, tougher, and rarer. They're backed by small units of Sisters of Silence, who are a nimble, elite Amazon Brigade who naturally possess powerful Anti-Magic.
- The Eldar and Dark Eldar as well. Relatively few models, and not particularly tough either, but highly mobile and generally decent at both shooting and close combat. Eldar troops are very specialised towards fighting certain opponents note while the Dark Eldar eschew what little armour their good cousins take into battle in favour of even more speed and even more firepower.
- The Necrons are similar yet opposite to the Eldar. Expensive troops, but absolutely devastating shooting - they have better weapons than Space Marines and they're much better shots with them - and unlike the flimsy elves, these literal killing machines are as tough as nails with above average Toughness and a decent save, not to mention all of them have a 33% chance to get back up when "killed". Their slow movement, below average Initiative and limited number of Attacks make most of them poorly suited to close combat, however. To further compound their eliteness, they had a special rule in older editions that meant the Necron player was defeated if his army was reduced to 25% of it's original points value - Necrons are deadly, but you need to keep them alive.
- Subverted in the pre-Heresy days: the Iron Warriors' (deserved) reputation for being the best at siege warfare ended up with their being expected to do well even when outnumbered, in one case a 10-man squad was assigned to garrison an entire planet. This didn't make them proud; it pissed them off, because these deployments were inevitably long, tedious and thankless.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, the Devils are this to the Demons. They field much smaller number in the Blood War, but the soldiers are well-regimented and trained, and able to fight the practically infinite number of Demons to a stalemate.
- The Clans from BattleTech number less than the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere, but thanks to having a culture completely devoted to military prowess, they nearly ended up conquering the entire Inner Sphere.
- Mutant Chronicles is generally a subversion, with armies made up of cannon fodder with a sprinkling of elite units. However, some mention must be made of the Cartel Doomtroopers. Out of a population of 15,5 billion, there are never more than 200 active Doomtroopers. A fully trained and equipped Doomtrooper is expected to be a match for a thousand Dark Legionnaires, and they deliver.
- The Protoss units in StarCraft are expensive, but powerful.
- The US Army in Command & Conquer: Generals leans this way, with powerful and versatile units that cost quite a lot. Their basic transport, the Humvee, is the second slowest of its kind and costs about 30% more than the flexible Technical of the GLA, but its passengers can shoot out of it and it can receive an upgrade to take on even light tanks by itself, and that's not to mention the drones it can build (much like all other US ground vehicles). Even the basic infantryman costs 150% of the opponents's, but on the other hand, those don't get crowd-control attacks (Flashbangs) and can't be dropped off into buildings, occupied (which clears out the enemy from it) or otherwise, by choppers.
- The Spartans, though it's subverted in that they're part of a larger force.
- The Sangheili certainly live up to their nickname of "Elites", especially after they split from the Covenant. In Halo 3, an Elite fleet wipes the floor with a Covenant one three times its size.
- Fire Emblem uses this trope in conjunction with the Arbitrary Headcount Limit, giving you ten to fifteen units to take down the enemy army. One of the most notable examples is in Blazing Sword, where you must defeat an enemy army of roughly sixty troops (with reinforcements spawning in every few turns) with about fifteen units.
- The Allied Peacekeeper Division in Red Alert 3: Paradox is an international Elite Army, supplemented by the more conventional army in the Allied Reservists.
- It's possible to build one (or 10, if you have the economy to support them) yourself in Total War: Rome II. Recruit some cohorts of praetorian guards, give them the best equipment, a high ranking general, some other upgrades and train them to veterancy and... Voila! You've got yourself an elite legion capable of achieving kill-ratio's of 500:1.
- Kanbei's Yellow Comet, in Advance Wars. His troops are more expensive and more powerful, which means that even though you'll see less of them during a battle, you may have more trouble getting rid of them than with other, more numerous, troops.
- The AGI Task Force ("ATF") in the X-Universe is a small, but very independent arm of the Terran military, which specializes in hunting down artificial general intelligence and the people who create them. ATF ships are incredibly powerful, as they are fast, well shielded, and very potent, with their only downside being smaller cargo bays, inability to use non-Terran weapons, and the only way (prior to X3: Albion Prelude) to acquire their ships is to make an enemy out of the entire Terran military by boarding ATF ships.
- Crysis 3 reveals that the reason for the change in the Ceph between 1 and 2 is the shift from Stage One, which uses a small number of high-resource individually superior combatants you need anti-tank weapons to even scratch, to the small arms vulnerable but more economical and numerous Stage Two.
- Mass Effect: The asari military tends to be treated like this: small, but extremely effective. Asari commandos, their top agents, are considered some of the deadliest warriors in the galaxy, and going up against them without a massive numerical advantage is considered suicide (Shepard is just that much of a badass that they survive one-on-one fights with commandos). Their navy is also small in terms of numbers, but their dreadnoughts dwarf everyone else's and outclass most other ships in firepower, with the flagship, Destiny Ascension, being the most powerful single ship in the galaxy, worth as much as entire fleets when it comes to combat effectiveness. Unfortunately, having such a (comparatively) small military means they don't have much in the way of anti-armor weaponry, ground assault vehicles, or logistical support. When the Reaper Invasion hits, everyone else was too busy fending off the Reapers from their own homeworlds, leaving the asari to fend for themselves on Thessia. They get crushed. Badly.
Turian Saying: The asari are the finest warriors in the galaxy. Fortunately, there aren't very many of them.
- Dragon Age: "Orlesian Chevaliers" - Orlesian knights known as the best warriors in Therdas.
- Vector Thrust: boasts the Legion, an internationally-funded force of 200 pilots and associated political and military support that steps in to stabilise nuclear conflicts that go too far. They are widely regarded as the best aerial fighting force in the world.
- The Sheredyn of Endless Space, originally the Praetorian Guard of the Emperor, have since become an effectively independent entity after they assisted a coup and installed a new Emperor. Compared with the military/economic powerhouse of the Empire, the Sheredyn lean more towards military, with incredibly durable ships, some minor economic bonuses, and their special ability means that enemies cannot retreat. However, their sense of honor and asceticism means that happiness drops when they break a treaty and they receive reduced bonuses from luxury goods.
- The Wehrmacht in Company of Heroes. German infantry are usually much tougher than their American counterparts and much better equipped too (at least early on), and the less said about their heavy big cats, the better. However, the Americans are generally much more versatile, more numerous and later are able to narrow the gap with upgrades and special abilities. This is thematically appropriate: in World War II in real life, while the Germans continued desperately rushing development of ever-more advanced (and also often zany and of dubious military value and engineering quality) "wonder weapons" to try and counter the ever-increasing numerical disparity between them and their opponents, the Allies preferred more simply mass-producing their tried-and-true weapons and vehicles with incremental improvements to suit changing battlefield situations. No cookie for guessing who came out second-best in that scenario.
- In the Fallout series, the Enclave's ridiculously small population (1000 people at most, including children and elderly) was compensated by their technological advancement and superior training.
- Europa Universalis II and III has the Quantity/Quality slider, which influences where on the scale from this trope to Zerg Rush a country's army are (though obviously factors like technology and commanding officer quality matters as well) — once you move from the centre towards the quality end, you start to get less manpower, slower reinforcement and slower and costlier army construction, but (with variance between the two games) increased morale and organization, resulting in a smaller military that can't take losses well but also takes less losses (quantity, of course, is the exact opposite). The Land/Naval slider has a different cost — moving towards one side or the other gives a more powerful and larger army or navy, respectively, but at the cost of making the other costlier without becoming more powerful.
- The Battle of Thermopylae, although the graphic novel and film exaggerates this.
- During the Battle of Mogadishu, later depicted in the novel and film Black Hawk Down, a small group of 160 US Rangers and Delta Force operators supported by some Malaysian and Pakistani armored vehicles fended off somewhere from two to four thousand Somali militiamen.
- In the first decades of the 16th century, the Spanish conquistadors had overwhelming military advantages over the native American peoples. The Europeans belonged to a more militarily advanced civilization with better techniques, tools, firearms, artillery, steel, and domesticated animals. Horses and mules carried them, pigs fed them, and dogs fought for them. The indigenous peoples had the advantage of established settlements, determination to remain independent, and large numerical superiority. European diseases and divide and conquer tactics contributed to the defeat of the native populations.
- In an insect world example, compare the number of Japanese giant hornets to European honeybees and who wins.
- Being able to win through against larger numbers of enemy fighters is half the point of special forces. The other is specialising in operations too difficult for normal troops to handle.
- The United States Marine Corps often looked like this in comparison to their Latin American opponents during the Banana Wars. Kind of inevitable when the Marines were highly trained and armed with (at the time) modern weapons, and supported by ships and air power, whereas rebel forces in places like Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua used knives, spears, thirty year old firearms, and occasionally rocks. The more well equipped faired a little bit better. A little.
- Charles XI of Sweden realized that he had neither the economy nor the manpower to support a large army to defend the empire his father, aunt, and great-uncle had built. Instead he established Indelningsverket, where every province had to raise a regiment. Ten farmsteads were expected to find one soldier, arm and equip him and give him a small farm that could support him and his family. As a result, the soldiers were integrated into the local community and a great sense of comradeship grew between both the soldiers and their officers (who lived on bigger farms and in mansions in the same villages as their soldiers). The resulting boost to morale managed to make up for small numbers and the Swedish Army dominated the European battlefields from 1680 to 1709.
- Prussia became known for this for a long time during its existence. One of its descriptions was the rather apt "Whereas most states possess an army, Prussia is an army that possesses a state." Led by brilliant military leaders and filled with experienced soldiers, what Prussia lost in its relative lack of a navy it regained with the sheer badassery of its army. Prussia itself essentially created Germany as a nation after breaking away from Austria and launching into a rivalry with it.
- Invoked and deconstructed by the Katanas of the Rising Sun. Imperial Japan knew full well that they didn't have the numbers to take on the US in a fair fight, so they counted on superior technology and individual skill instead. But not only was their Bigger Stick not so much bigger as to be decisive, when they took major losses in disasters like Midway, they just couldn't replace as fast as the enemy.