"Gentlemen, the principal question is not to know which of our four lackeys is the most discreet, the most strong, the most clever, or the most brave; the principal thing is to know which loves money the best."Heroes have moral standards; villains exploit that. Villains have no concept of loyalty; heroes abuse that. Sometimes, villains have standards; both heroes and worse villains can use that. Flaw Exploitation is the action of either a Hero, Villain, or even Innocent Bystander to take advantage of the inherent flaws (or to be more charitable, character) of their opponent in order to win. This is similar to the Hero Ball and Villain Ball in that both deal with the inherent limits heroes and villains have or place on themselves, but differs in that the former deals with the two tripping themselves up, whereas Flaw Exploitation is someone else doing so. Neither the hero nor the villain need to make mistakes for Flaw Exploitation to occur, just act in character. A Smug Snake abusing a hero's Lawful Good morality to avoid getting punched in the face would count. Said hero being Lawful Stupid wouldn't. A villain's henchmen being talked into doing a Mook–Face Turn in the face of their bosses' policy on failure would count, but a villain doing a Revealing Cover-Up wouldn't. Most villains will do this by snatching some completely random Innocent Bystander off the street to use as a hostage, because the hero just can't Shoot the Hostage, no matter how many million lives are at stake. Bonus points if it's a woman, a child, or for the 4X multiplier, a little girl. But if it's the Old Master... Exploiting an opponent's character and flaws is a tactic as old as time and thus Truth in Television. There's a deeper level to this in literature. In some settings this means that evil is fundamentally flawed and incapable of long term gains, since a competent hero can use its very nature to defeat it. On the other hand, a clever villain can make a hero set for destruction because his ethical code and a Moral Dilemma are in violent opposition, creating a Tragic Hero. It's worth noting that neither the hero or villain would see the flaws exploited as, well, flaws, but as character traits. Character traits of such importance you cease to be a Knight in Shining Armor or a stylish Card-Carrying Villain if you change them. If they do recognize them as weaknesses that can be abused, they'd all the same see them as inherent to being good/evil and necessary. If they don't, say "Hello Anti-Hero and Anti-Villain!" When used against a hero, will often lead to a Sadistic Choice. The Manipulative Bastard finds this easy as breathing, while the Guile Hero will have to utilize this out of necessity. The Fettered is a type of character that can frequently find their self-imposed limits exploited - and by contrast, one of the reasons The Unfettered is so terrifying is that it's nearly impossible to do this to him. Feed the Mole runs on this. Batman Gambit is based on this. Xanatos Gambit is arranged to work regardless of the mark giving in to the flaw or not. Fantastic Fragility relates to magical weaknesses. See also Complexity Addiction and Fatal Flaw.
— Aramis, The Three Musketeers
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Anime and Manga
- In the Bount Arc of Bleach, Yoshi takes a hostage and pulls off an astounding 16X Multipliernote during her battle against Rukia — by grabbing a little girl who is holding an infant child in her arms... a truly max-powered Dog Kicking, that.
- Aizen also exploits Ichigo's Chronic Hero Syndrome by kidnapping Orihime, which leads to him, Ishida, Chad, Renji and Rukia going to Hueco Mundo to save her. While there they all get their asses kicked, and have to be saved by four shinigami captains. Aizen then uses this opportunity to lock them all in Hueco Mundo while he goes to Karakura Town, leaving the shinigami forces several men down.
- In Hellsing, the first villain that appears tries this with a policewoman. Alucard asks the girl if she's a virgin (in the manga) or if she'll go with him (in the anime). He then shoots her right through the chest to kill the vampire. When the mission is over, he turns her into a vampire. Alucard is not exactly a Knight in Shining Armor (except literally, in volume 8).
- All over the place in Death Note. Light exploits anybody who places trust in him (a pretty serious flaw) for all it's worth. L and company exploit Light's ego, Misa's carelessness, Mikami's strict routine, and so forth. And then Light, at a couple of points, exploits his minions' very exploitability by playing on a deeper level.
- In Katekyo Hitman Reborn!, during Tsuna's fight with Mukuro, the fight between them is prolonged much longer due to Mukuro's dirty fighting tactics that completely exploit Tsuna's kind-hearted nature. (Tactics that include taking over Tsuna's friends' bodies to fight him, making it difficult for Tsuna to defeat them without harming their bodies, and pretending to surrender only to attack Tsuna's back when Tsuna decides to spare him, etc.)
- Both fans and characters in Ranma ½ accuse Ranma himself of abusing enemy weaknesses with utter abandon, such as triggering their curses or taking advantage of their near-sightedness. Of course, "anything goes" in his "indiscriminate" school of martial arts. On the other hand, when an enemy exploits his flaws, he calls foul.
- In Transformers: Robots in Disguise, the Predacons take advantage of Side Burn's obsession with red sports cars to lure him into a trap.
- In the Golden Week arc of Hayate the Combat Butler, Gilbert Kent, Sakuya's illegitimate brother, tries to use this with a dash of Boobs of Steel and fails, picking Hinagiku (at least, she sees it as a flaw) as Hayate's partner for a beach volleyball match. He thinks that she's the weakest of the girls. Hayate wins against an army of volleyball robots, presumably without even touching the ball.
- Hayate himself also does this to Hinagiku during the Marathon Race earlier in the manga. He sent Nagi on ahead to finish the race while he kept Hina busy...by luring her out onto a rope bridge where her fear of heights effectively rooted her to the spot. This led to Hinagiku switching from "Hayate-kun" to the more distant and formal "Ayasaki-kun", a change which lasted until the end of her Birthday Arc (a period dubbed "the ice age" on the forums due to her giving him the cold shoulder for six months to a year real time).
- In the 2003 anime version of Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward and Alphonse Elric are taken advantage of multiple times by a cat burglar by the name of Psiren who pretends that she is only stealing to save a hospital scheduled for demolition, and then later a school, and finally a church. All three of which get demolished during their stay.
Mustang: If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate.
- During a fight between Edward and Colonel Mustang, the latter begins by trying to blast the former with flame alchemy. Edward tries to avoid it by hiding in the crowd of spectators. Mustang manages to locate him by pushing Ed's Berserk Button, which gets him to act accordingly and make himself visible.
- 'Dragon Ball Z''
Gohan: "What are you so afraid of, Cell? Isn't this what you wanted? I warned you. I told you what would happen if you pushed me too far. But you didn't listen. You forced me to awaken my hidden power, and now that you've seen it, you're afraid... because you know that I'm going to destroy you."
- Cell exploits Vegeta's pride by appealing to his desire to fight the most powerful opponent possible. This leads to Vegeta allowing Cell to absorb Android 18 in order to achieve his "perfect" form instead of just killing him when he had the chance; on top of it all, Vegeta knew that's what Cell was doing, but let him do so anyway. Perfect Cell proceeds to trounce him completely, even mocking Vegeta for being stupid enough to help him.
- Which makes it ironic that Goku did the exact same thing to Cell. He knows if Gohan loses his temper his power will surpass Cell. Gohan even warns Cell this will happen. Cell, assure of his power and wanting a great challenge, goes out of his way to provoke Gohan to lose his temper. After crushing Android 16's head he gets exactly what he wanted. And gets his ass beat.
- Super Buu uses Trunks and Goten's arrogance and pride to trick them into fusing into Gotenks instead of letting Gohan finish him off. Once they fuse, Buu promptly absorbs Gotenks and Piccolo, becoming stronger and smarter.
- Later, Vegetto beats up on Buu, but not kill him, pushing Buu to the point of despair and frustration. To maintain his position as the strongest in the universe, Buu absorbs Vegetto. Exactly what Vegetto wanted since his plan was to save Gohan, Gotenks, and Piccolo before finishing off Buu.
- In Holyland chapter 129, some envious seniors pressed Masaki's Berserk Button to lure him into a trap.
- In Berserk, the God Hand exploit Griffith's pride and ambition to tempt him into a Deal with the Devil. Of course, they would probably say that they didn't "exploit" him so much as appeal to his true nature.
- In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the Incubators often exploit humans' flaws to make them contract. Not coincidentally, their favourite prey is young girls- a demographic that is easily manipulated.
- The Incubators themselves all share one flaw: none of them can understand or predict emotion. This blind spot makes it possible for humans to outmanoeuvre them, and has been responsible for all of their defeats to date.
- In The Fantastic Four, Reed periodically is able to bait Doom into getting careless by playing to his overwhelming ego.
- In the Batman/The Punisher Crossover, The Joker is cornered by the Punisher, and tries to use Batman's usual "flaw" of not killing his foes. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't know how Frank operates, and his realization of "You're really going to do it" as Frank puts a gun to his head is among the most awesome Oh Crap! moments ever.
- Part of Doctor Strange's bag of tricks, particularly when dealing with massively overpowered enemies. Dimension Lord Dormammu, for example, wants to beat Strange in a way which gratifies his pride, so Strange can usually trick him into fighting 'fair' (when he could annihilate Strange with a single glance).
- In the DCU, this is the villain Prometheus's shtick. In his first appearance, he used it to take down every single member of the Justice League of America, with the exception of Superman, who was going through his "Superman Blue" phase. Since he was immune even to kryptonite, Prometheus threatened to kill several hundred innocent bystanders unless Superman committed suicide.
- Prometheus took this trope into overdrive when he was used as the main villain for the 2010 miniseries Cry for Justice. The sixth issue features him infiltrating the Watchtower and effortlessly taking down half the League all by himself. By this time he's refined his technology to the point where his helmet can effortlessly pinpoint the weaknesses for each Leaguer he faces and which he then capitalizes on - shooting Supergirl with an Amazon-forged bullet, silencing Zatanna before she can use her magic, and so on.
- The Transformers (IDW):
- In the climax of the mini-series The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers, human sidekick Verity is confronted by the Ax-Crazy Big Bad Overlord. She figures that Overlord's main motivation is to fight Megatron, so she exploits it by claiming that Megatron is dead. This pushes Overlord into a deep state of depression.
- In the Overlord arc of next mini-series The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Chromedome notes of Overlord's fear of defeat (when he's defeated by Megatron on several occasions, and his defeat at the hands of the Wreckers). So, he plants a subliminal phrase during each of Overlord's failures as an insurance policy. After Overlord inevitably escapes, the phrase "Till All are One" is used as a trigger against him to temporarily send him into shock - enough so for the Autobots to get him off their ship.
- Attempted by Phobos in the fourth saga of W.I.T.C.H.: knowing that Will fears remaining alone, he subjects her to illusions of a false future in which she would be left alone by everyone she cares if she didn't surrender the Heart of Kandrakar to him. She believes him... And then nearly electrocutes him to death, sparing him only because he had switched bodies with Endarno and she wished to revert the situation and, once done that, she planned to bring him back to his cell, A Fate Worse Than Death for him.
- Sonic the Comic: During the "Robotnik Reigns Supreme" arc, Sonic, after being Brought Down to Normal and pitted against an evil Knuckles by the now-godlike Robotnik, exploits the good doctor's ego, goading him into restoring Sonic's speed and Knuckles' memories of the original history by pointing out that Robotnik would have never tried to use Knuckles to fight the weakened Sonic unless he was still scared of losing. As a result, Sonic and Knuckles use the Grey Emerald to strip Robotnik of his powers and revert all of his changes.
- In the Bleach fic Winter War, it's established very early on that Aizen won the Fake Karakura Town battle, and Rangiku died of her wounds on the retreat. Gin refuses to believe that she's dead (it helps that the last he heard was that Kira had been able to stabilize her). La Résistance lures him out of his stronghold by having one of their members impersonate Rangiku and allow herself to be seen by some of Gin's men.
- In the MLP fic, You Obey, The interrogator notices that Shadowfax is quite susceptible to pride. Guess how he gets her to spill the beans.
Films — Animation
- Aladdin: Realizing Jafar's wishes are motivated by his lust for power, Aladdin points out that the most powerful thing he can be is a genie, omitting the major side effect of all that power: being bound to a lamp and forced to grant the wishes of its owner.
- Hercules: Hades tricks Hercules into giving up his strength by exploiting his one "weakness," his love for Meg.
- Rise of the Guardians: Pitch uses Jack's wish to regain his memories and fear of disappointing the Guardians to keep him from returning to the Warren in time to help the others. As a result, Easter is ruined and the children stop believing in Bunny.
Films — Live-Action
- Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars is the master. He creates a rebellion based on real anger people have with the central government, exploits Amidala's anger at the Republic to get the Chancellor out of the way, and exploits the Senate's fear of rebellion to give him dictatorial power. He exploits Anakin's ego and fear of losing loved ones to tempt him to the Dark Side, exploits the Jedi's aloofness to sow distrust. He exploits the Rebellion's fear of galactic WMDs by using the second Death Star as bait for an ambush, and nearly manages to exploit Luke's concern for his friends to tempt him as well. His one mistake was forgetting that he'd originally exploited Anakin's fear and anger at losing loved ones, so killing Anakin's son...
- Who, of course, exploited Vader's feelings to turn him against Palpatine. Not consciously (he went to try and rescue Vader, not kill Palpatine, according to the EU).
- It could be said that Luke certainly USED his father's feelings for him. But he used his father's positive (Light Side) emotions to help Vader/Anakin turn and free himself from the Emperor's control . Also, Luke's intent seemed to be for his father's own good and redemption, not JUST to topple the Empire for the Rebelion.
- Who, of course, exploited Vader's feelings to turn him against Palpatine. Not consciously (he went to try and rescue Vader, not kill Palpatine, according to the EU).
- In Superman II, General Zod realizes Superman's weakness is that he cares for the humans he's protecting. Zod and his minions start attacking and endangering the people of Metropolis. Superman finally realizes that fighting his enemies in the middle of the city is endangering innocent lives and takes off.
- Averted in Speed. Shoot the hostage.
- In The Dark Knight, one of the reasons why the Joker is so effective a villain is that he's very good at pointing out the flaws in the principles of others, and exploiting those flaws to his advantage. Some examples are: 1) He immediately recognizes that Batman is the real reason why organized crime is threatened in Gotham and points this out to the mob, which causes the mob to hire the Joker when they realize he's right, giving the Joker access to Gotham's underworld. 2) He exploits the fact that Batman really is an unlawful vigilante by promising to kill people until Batman unmasks, turning the city and the cops against Batman. 3) He convinces Harvey Dent to become Two-Face by telling Dent that the so-called justice system that he supports is filled with corrupt people who constantly tolerate corruption and profit from crime, which is true since Jim Gordon is forced to work with suspect cops in order to have enough men to do his job. 4) He constantly iterates that people are complacent and corruptible and backs up his beliefs by putting people in a position where they have to choose to obey the law and their principles, or lose something they dearly love (only Batman consistently demonstrated his incorruptibility).
- Kirk taunted Khan in Star Trek II in order to get him to enter the Mutara Nebula, which gave Kirk the advantage and ultimately victory. The result is that Khan was undone by his own massive ego.
- Lampshaded during Sid's Evil Gloating in Jake Speed
Sid (William Hurt): "Heroes... you're so predictable. Always doing the right thing.")
- A rare hero-on-hero case occurs in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Azeem, newly arrived in England, needs to turn toward Mecca to pray, but it's too cloudy for him to tell which direction it is. Rather pettily, Robin won't tell his friend which way is East until Azeem confesses the name of the woman he was imprisoned for loving.
- In the movie, Azeem says her name was "Yazmeena", which was considered more likely than the book, in which her name is "Barbara".
- The Avengers:
- This is Loki's favorite tactic, but it is used against him in the climax. Tony realizes that he and Loki are Not So Different, and this helped him figure out that Loki would sacrifice pragmatism for showmanship, which would end up biting Loki hard.
- Black Widow manipulates Loki's love for "The Reason You Suck" Speech to get important information from him. The Chitauri use his thirst for revenge and "worthiness" to have him fetch the Tesseract.
- This is what makes Sixth Ranger Traitor David from Animorphs so deadly. He has the same powers the kids have, far fewer morphs, and a year's less experience. Despite this, he's capable of homing in on each Animorph's respective weaknesses in order to defeat them - luring Jake into a one-one battle between his lion and Jake's tiger, splitting up Ax and Rachel by using Rachel's opinion of him as a crook to trick her, and so on. Ironically, David is himself defeated this way, with Cassie exploiting his ego and need for revenge against Rachel to lure him into a trap. And as the only Animorph he had trusted, David never saw it coming.
- A good example of this is Harry Potter. Half of Harry's triumphs come from the fact that Voldemort has no concept of loyalty to his men; thus, many of them will abandon him the moment there's something better to be loyal to. Dumbledore turned Draco Malfoy in book six, and his father and mother switched sides (his mother being the more important of them) pretty much at a drop of a hat, because a choice between an uncaring vindictive bastard who would likely kill them for their past failures or the life of her son wasn't a hard choice.
- Flipping it right around for another good example: half of Voldemort's triumphs come from the fact that Harry has an especially fierce sense of loyalty, and thus will go to any lengths to help his friends. It's even lampshaded in Book 5, when Hermione points out to Harry that he's got a "saving people thing", and raises the possibility that Voldemort could be deliberately taking advantage of that. He is.
- Voldemort's problem isn't that he doesn't appreciate true loyalty. He does. He rewards his two most loyal servants, Bellatrix and Severus Snape with his greatest trust. His problem is that he's terrible at creating loyalty. Bellatrix was loyal due to her obsession over Voldemort. Severus was loyal due to a seeming brotherhood with him, through similar shared childhood experiences. Up until Voldemort tries to kill Lily Potter. Then all loyalty goes out the window. At no time does he do anything that a reasonable person would find inspiring of real loyalty. He seems to want people to feel loyalty towards someone who's a raving sociopath and is incapable of returning that loyalty.
- Since some raving sociopaths actually think like that, this may not be a surprise. Plenty of historical rulers were the kind that no sane person would willingly follow... and then railed against the treachery and disloyalty of their followers.
- Voldemort's other flaw is his massive ego which causes two of the most overwhelming flaws in his big plans. His need to only make horcruxes out of impressive wizard artifacts means that all of them are extremely noticeable. He also feels the similar theatrical need to have a grand 1 on 1 showdown with Harry Potter using Avada Kerdava despite how many times he finds that strange and bad things happen when specifically himself fights Harry Potter. Things would have gone much farther in his favor if he were able to swallow that pride and make a nondescript rock into a horcrux and allowed his army of minions to attack Harry instead.
- Sauron in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is defeated because he was incapable of imagining that someone who could wield the One Ring wouldn't want to, and would instead send it away to be destroyed. Thanks to the palantír, Gandalf convinced him that Aragorn had the Ring and was headed towards him, to buy enough time for Frodo to destroy it. Ironically, Sauron was right when the moment came. Frodo didn't have enough willpower to destroy the Ring, and it was only destroyed when Gollum tried to take it back. So, the Ring was in fact destroyed because of its overwhelming possessive power.
- By the same author in The Silmarillion: The chief god, Manwe, is floating on his own goodness so high above ground level that he is incapable of imagining why others would prefer to be bad. That's why he releases the evil god Morgoth from captivity. Morgoth does not hesitate to exploit this tremendous naivety to the fullest.
- Subverted in Terry Pratchett's Feet of Clay. A trio of thieves discovers that the bar they're trying to rob is populated entirely by off-duty members of the Watch. They take hostage a pretty blonde woman, figuring that the others will let them go free as they [The Watch] won't want to risk injuring her. Fortunately, depending on your point of view, she's a werewolf—and a cop—and she can take care of herself.
- Kellhus in Second Apocalypse exploits the flaws of everyone around him. In most cases, this flaw is religion, but he also exploits love several times. His morals aren't exactly in line with the rest of the world.
- This is par for the course in A Song of Ice and Fire. Littlefinger is especially good at Flaw Exploitation, playing on the weaknesses and foibles of pretty much everybody: Eddard Stark (honor), Lysa Arryn (obsessive love), Robert Baratheon (impatience with the mundane issues of running a kingdom), Joffrey Baratheon (wanton cruelty), Tywin Lannister (pride)... and so many, many more. In fact the only person who might be better is Tyrion, who did most of the above as well as handling his sister Cersei (hunger for power,) his brother Jaime (fear of being betrayed by his lover,) Varys the Spider (multiple, delicately-balanced loyalties,) the Dornish royal family (collective thirst for revenge,) Pycelle (greed,) and even Littlefinger himself (reliance on people underestimating him.)
- In the Redwall series, badgers are known to be fiercely (perhaps feverishly) dedicated to Justice and Good in general. Salamandastron has the Big Bad acknowledge this outright:
Ferahgo: I've dealt with big badgers before. Oh, they're fierce fighters, sure enough, but they lack cunning and suffer from silly little things, like honor and conscience.
- Later in the story, the villains capture a pair of the Badger Lord's finest fighters and have fun messing with him over what they want for their hostages before making an impossible demand for the entire mountain fortress. They even give the badger a couple days to give his answer, knowing full well they plan to kill their hostages before the time elapses. Fortunately for the two hostages, the series is prone to softening the consequences of such difficult choices, and they end up surviving anyway. Partially this is because hares are invariably awesome in a pinch.
- In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novel Deus Encarmine, Inquisitor Stele exploits this when trying to corrupt the Chapter, as they believe they owe him. Fortunately for them, he believes they hold Honor Before Reason a little more strongly than they do; he thinks it forbidden to use the gear of the dead, when it is only forbidden except in the direst circumstances. When a Blood Angel gets off a message with a dead man's gear, he doesn't think to investigate who had access.
- Baron Choard wasn't exactly a hero, but his assistant Disra did spend a long time finding all of his buttons, and influenced his boss into planning to secede violently from the Empire. Disra, as it turned out, was orchestrating all this so he could report the treasonous activity and get promoted. Given that twenty or so years later he's a Moff of no small power, we can assume that he did.
- In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Blood Pact, Rime jeers at Gaunt: he's read his files, and knows he won't execute him without proof. Fortunately, he hasn't read Rawne's file.
- In the Dragonlance novels, Kitiara plays Laurana like a fiddle, when she uses Laurana's obsessive love for Tanis Half-Elven to lure her into a trap.
- In Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games, Katniss exploits the Capital's need for a victor.
- In Aaron Allston's Galatea in 2-D, they know Kevin will come to the convention even when they are gunning for him, and he knows it, because he can't miss the chance to bask in the admiration.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Phoenix on the Sword ", Ascalante gloats at how he will deal with the men who think he is their tool.
by the clay in each, I will crush them when the time comes.
- After technology fails in the Emberverse, history professor and Society for Creative Anachronism member Norman Arminger founds the Portland Protective Association, a society whose motif is based on the 11th-12th centuries. He's described as a "Period Nazi" obsessed with recreating that era accurately. This leaves him unprepared when his enemies start using weapons and methods that, while workable in a non-technological setting, hadn't been created in his chosen period. Arminger's in even more trouble later when Mike Havel uses the PPA's concept of honor (carefully fostered by Arminger himself) to force him into a fight that he might not and doesn't win.
- In John Hemry's The Lost Stars novel Tarnished Knight, Drakon poses as over-confident in his ability to protect himself. ISS agents will believe that he doesn't bring his guards out of Pride. Later, he knows Hardrad is bluffing because he is offering a deal, not just using what he's threatening to use; he taunts him with being more familiar with him than he is with Drakon.
- In Andre Norton's Forerunner Foray, Yasa exploits the Guild's orders to hide from them that she wants to leave the planet for purposes of her own.
- In John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos, every magical paradigm is vulnerable to another, while a third is vulnerable to it. Exploiting such loopholes is a major plot thread. At one point, Glum is magically keeping Amelia helpless, but because his magic can do whatever he wants — but he has to want it — she suggests that this will not do what he wants. He weakens for a moment, and empowered, Amelia tweaks something to rescue her afterward.
- Played with in the Charlie Parker Series: Amoral assassin Louis has one major redeeming feature: his love for Angel, who acts as his moral compass. Louis is aware of this "flaw", and fears that his enemies may use it against him. However, the one and only time Angel is threatened by an enemy, it is in an attempt to get at Parker, not Louis. Faulker had no idea that by kidnapping Angel, he was bringing Louis' wrath down upon himself.
- A notable example from The Wheel of Time: Cadsuane Sedai is overseeing the interrogation of one of the Forsaken, Semirhage: an extremely powerful, immortal, experienced channeler from the Age of Legends, and a sadistic torturer who was so feared in her own time that prisoners would kill themselves rather than face the smallest part of her wrath. Cadsuane notes that the Aes Sedai who have her under guard are getting nothing from Semirhage, who almost seems to be enjoying herself, and realizes it's because that Semirhage's reputation and power are still things that people in the present time know, fear, and above all respect. She winds up breaking that spell by taking Semirhage over her knee and spanking her like an unruly child, forcing her to eat off of the floor like an animal, and other petty little punishments in order to Break the Haughty in the eyes of her jailors. Interestingly, she comes up with this method after considering how she would go about breaking herself.
- In Jeramey Kraatz's The Cloak Society, Cloak shunned masks. this backfires on them when they try to be imposters and the heroes can find footage to reveal the truth.
- In Larry Correia's The Grimnoir Chronicles
- Dan gets two Mooks to shoot each other and later, large number of Japanese soldiers to commit suicide by telling them they are disgraced. He observes that he can't get people to do things against their nature, but these ones have weak points.
- Faye exploits that a Traveler can see an area just as he teleports to arrange for a shotgun blast to arrive moments later.
- Crow exploits Hammer's sense of justice by putting evidence that he knows Grimnoir is innocent in her reach, and information they need. Then he has her followed.
- An imposter has much less flexibility than the original, because he has to play the part. This helps lure him to a location.
- The Imperium has told the Iron Guard that Grimnoir is evil. In order to tell them what the real evil guys are doing, Jake indulges in over-the-top Villainous Gloating. Bragging of infiltrating the locations he wants them to cleanse.
Live Action TV
- In Doctor Who, this is one of the Doctor's main tactics. He is repeatedly underestimated about how dangerous (for those people, who don't know about him) or how ruthless (for some who do) he can be, and he plays on this to Manipulative Bastard levels. That's only if everyone else involved isn't already scared stiff of him...
- In the Firefly episode "Objects In Space," Jubal Early takes advantage of Simon's love for his sister River and his attraction to Kaylee by presenting him with a Sadistic Choice: either he helps Early hunt down River, or Early will kill Simon and then go back to the engine room where he has Kaylee tied up and then rape and kill her.
- In Merlin, it didn't take long for Morgana to pick up on Arthur's devotion to Guinevere and use it to her own advantage on at least two occasions: "The Castle of Fyrien" and "Queen of Hearts". The latest footage from season four suggests that Arthur's enemies aren't done exploiting this weakness.
- In Robin Hood, Marian attempts to use Guy's genuine feelings for her to get information about the Sheriff's evil schemes so that she can pass it on to Robin. It works less often than the shippers would have you believe, and it ultimately costs her her life.
- However, one notable instance is when both Marian and Robin acknowledge Guy's weakness for Marian by executing a perfect Decoy Damsel ploy in order for them to escape a tight situation. Guy falls for it hook, line and sinker.
- Kivas Fajo uses this against Data in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Most Toys", while Data has a disruptor weapon pointed at him, convinced that Data will not fire it because he's programmed with a "fundamental respect for all life, and an inhibition against harming living beings". Subverted in that Data does actually prepare to shoot, reasoning that killing Fajo would save more lives in the long run, and would have done so if he hadn't been beamed out of there in the nick of time. He then tells a near-lie to his commanding officer about it; he suggests that the disruptor may have discharged due to the transport. He never says that this is what happened, only that it is a possible explanation.
Fajo:If only you could feel rage over Varria's death... If only you could feel the need for revenge, then maybe you could fire. But you're...just an android. You can't feel anything, can you? It's just another interesting, intellectual puzzle for you—another of life's curiosities.
- Of course, this was only after Fajo had successfully used this against Data to get him to sit in his assigned chair by, ironically, threatening to kill the aforementioned Varria if he didn't comply, on the same hunch that Data's "fundamental respect for all life" wouldn't even let him allow someone to die, through his inaction. In case the above quote wasn't obvious, it was Fajo's killing of Varria at the end of the episode that prompted the subversion.
- In Warehouse 13 when Sykes puts Myka in the Chess lock chair to make HG give the right answer...if HG fails 3 times the one person she cares about will die.
- The Aquabats! Super Show! episode "Cobraman!" has a Running Gag in which the MC Bat Commander will eagerly take on any bet that is given to him - especially a bet made a long time ago about him not seeing the Cobraman. Later on in the episode, when the Battletram is stolen, the thief, Carl, bets the Commander that he can't beat the Cobraman in a fair fight. If the Commander loses, the team forfeits the Battletram. He beats the Cobraman, but the Cobraman makes a bet to the Commander that he wouldn't let him go, which the Commander loses. The Cobraman plans to return to break Carl out of prison.
- By its very nature, Survivor runs on this trope. For example, "Puppetmaster" Russell Hantz: great at the mechanics, horrible at the core. He had absolutely no idea just how bad he was at that last part. But Natalie White did, and guess what happened.
- Breaking Bad:
- In season 4 Walter exploits Gus and Hector's mutual hatred and desire for revenge, trusting that Gus will go to the retirement home to kill Hector himself, unaware that Walter has fixed a bomb to Hector's wheelchair.
- Likewise, in season 5, Jesse successfully manipulates Walter into showing him the location of his money, as he knows Walter is both too arrogant and too paranoid about it being stolen to think he might be being played.
- Omar Little of The Wire is a Karmic Thief who only targets drug dealers and other criminals for his robberies. In order to do this successfully and keep doing it, (and he's been doing it for a long time) he relies on pain staking surveillance of his targets that allows him to learn their tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses, which he then takes advantage of. For example, in his attempt to assassinate Avon Barksdale, (a drug kingpin who goes beyond Properly Paranoid) Omar knows that Avon will never use either a landline or cell phone from within his base of operations, as Avon doesn't want to risk using a phone that may be bugged. So Omar engineers a situation where Avon needs to use a phone and goes outside to use a payphone... leaving Avon out in the open without any bodyguards and Omar coming at him from behind to finish Avon off.
- After hearing Jay Lethal proclaim there were no challengers to his World Title left in Ring of Honor, Colt Cabana decided to end his self imposed five year exile from the promotion, where played to Lethal's pride for a non title match, which after winning he shouted "That's how you beat the World Champion!".
- In Othello, Iago is the master of this, playing Brabantio's racism and paternalism, Cassio's low alcohol tolerance, Othello's jealousy, and Roderigo's lust (and lack of grey matter) all to his own advantage.
- In The Pirates of Penzance, the titular pirates won't hurt orphans. Everyone seems to know this and use it to escape from them, even Modern Major General Stanley.
Frederic. Then, again, you make a point of never molesting an orphan!
Samuel. Of course: we are orphans ourselves, and know what it is.
Frederic. Yes, but it has got about, and what is the consequence? Every one we capture says he's an orphan. The last three ships we took proved to be manned entirely by orphans, and so we had to let them go. One would think that Great Britain's mercantile navy was recruited solely from her orphan asylums, which we know is not the case.
- That's just the best known one. The entire play is about this trope. For example: Fredric's loyalty (by the pirates), the pirate's patriotism (by the police), Fredric's naivete (by Ruth), Stanley's patriotism (by the pirates)
- In Jade Empire your beloved Master Li strikes the main character/you through a series of holes in your defense that he built into your techniques himself! Glorious Strategist, indeed.
- Bioware has another good one with Mephistopheles engineering circumstances to make you free him to wreak havoc on the surface world
- Injured pride is a great weapon indeed: if you're able to convince the Master from Fallout 1 that his plan for World Domination has or will fail, he will commit suicide.
- In the Fallout: New Vegas DLC Lonesome Road, Ulysses can tell you that if you're going up against Lanius that you can take advantage of his fear of defeat in order to make him back down. Most of the Speech options do involve convincing Lanius that he has no long-term hopes for a campaign after this battle or bluffing him into thinking that he's walking into the kind of trap that felled his predecessor Joshua Graham.
- This is practically a requirement in any Shin Megami Tensei game. Partly because the enemies will exploit your flaws for all they're worth and then some.
- In Radiant Historia one of the side quest has this. The bad guy grabs hostage the inn keepers' daughter.
- The final puzzle in Sam & Max: Freelance Police: Culture Shock turns villain Brady Culture's "It's All About Me" egotism on his head. Brady orders the Brainwashed Soda Poppers to attack Sam; interestingly enough, the Soda Poppers aren't brainwashed to follow Brady specifically, and so Sam can order them around as well. The end result appears to be a stalemate, but if Sam orders the Soda Poppers to "worship me!", Brady petulantly yells at them to "worship me!" instead of ordering them to attack Sam as usual. If Sam then orders the Soda Poppers to "attack me!", Brady's knee-jerk reaction is to scream "no, attack me!" - the last order he's in any condition to give them.
- Ganondorf does this so often that's it's practically one of his defining characteristics. Countless times he's kidnapped Zelda knowing that Link would come rescue her, and in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (and to an extent, Wind Waker) his plans were actually based around the idea that Link and Zelda would try to stop him. And then there's The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, where he exploits Zant's anger and ambition, using him as a tool to free himself from the Twilight Realm and conquer Hyrule.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the Thalmor goad Ulfric Stormcloak into seditious acts against the Empire through a combination of his malcontent towards a lopsided "peace" treaty the Empire and Thalmor have, and his own impatience and brashness. They know all his buttons and just which ones to push, thanks to him being a prisoner of war to them. He's not a Manchurian Agent, but still manipulable. The end result is that the Stormcloak Rebellion impedes the Empire's preparations to heat the cold war back up again.
- If that's not devious enough, they actually create a flaw in him by torturing him into giving up information and convincing him that that information led to the fall of the Imperial City- despite the fact that the city had already fallen by the time they finally broke him. His guilt over his perceived failure is still a major motivator for him.
- Subverted mightily in Antihero for Hire, where Shadehawk fully is greatly disappointed to learn a room full of unaffiliated villains did not in fact fight over their treasure at all, though it's immediately Double Subverted as they fight over killing him.
- During the Sluggy Freelance arc "Aylee" Leono is defeated because the same Fantastic Racism that drove him to wipe out humanity means he never suspects a member of his own species would betray him.
- Happens a number of times in The Order of the Stick...
- Durkon exploits Hayley's greed, to get her to come with the rest of the Order to a court case.
- Shortly thereafter, when the assassin threatens to blow up the inn, Roy deduces that if he cared that little about killing innocent bystanders, he'd have already done it. It worked, too, and then Belkar ran by. . . .
- Vaarsuvius resolves a Spot the Imposter situation by offending the Evil Twin's Pride and zapping the one that takes offense.
- More recently, V's own Pride has been exploited by fiends aware that V would rather rent out his soul for the power to do things without help than rely on others to accomplish the same thing without obligation.
- The team exploits Belkar's evil even though he's on their side; the Holy Word deafened all the evil people on the opposing team, and Belkar, so he's immune to suggestion.
- In The Dreamland Chronicles, the pirates exploit the Power Nullifier of fear, terrifying the children they abduct to keep them from flying off.
- Bob and George: How Mega Man defeats the robots, sometimes by accident. Sometimes on purpose.
- In Impure Blood, Dara wants Mac out of the rigging and down below. So she points out that's where the engine room is.
- In Our Little Adventure, escaping into city limits means a paladin can't just kill you.
- In Sinfest, Slick discovers the sales clerk hates Love. So he throws around the word.
- In Schlock Mercenary, the superior forces don't fire on them because they are not murderous mercenary scum like them. Tagon puts it as they have something to lose: the moral high ground.
- Florence gets Sam out of the ventilation duct he was stuck in by saying "Money." He hops out, looking around for it, even though moments early he had been stuck.
- Then Sam has been known to get food cheap by showing up minutes before the food court closes, knowing they have to throw away what they don't sell; get Florence out of her room by asking if she's more afraid of the mayor than everything that could happen to the robots; and distracts Mr. Kornada from recognizing him by suggesting such recognition should indicate bonus time.
- Max uses Raibert's sense of responsibility against him to help avert a robot armageddon courtesy of Gardener in the Dark, even though it's after midnight for Raibert and he's worn out from earlier activity.
- Encouraging Edge to make his views known. Given his It's All About Me attitude, that would encourage humans to destroy him.
- Backfires on Blunt. The humans find Edge's rude narcissism charming compared to the other more obsequious robots.
- In Rusty and Co.,
- In Doc Rat, take off the pack alpha, and the rest of the wolves will do nothing.
- In Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger, Quentyn exploits exclusive use of force fields in cells and the integrated computer system to take over the ship.
- In Dragon Mango, Mango exploits how budgets put Cherry to sleep.
- At the Superhero School Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe, there are Combat Finals at the end of the Fall 2006 term. In one chapter of Joe Gunnarson's Call the Thunder, Diamondback finds herself teamed with the Supervillain Hekate, who everyone in the entire school knows will backstab Diamondback first chance she gets (and who is much more powerful magically than Diamondback). Diamond lays a very cunning Batman Gambit that only works if Hekate shafts her as soon as she gets the chance. Hekate grabs the Villain Ball for everything she's worth, leading to a very satisfying demonstration of this trope.
- Double example: In "Boston Brawl 2", power-armored Ironhawk grabs a little girl and holds her at knifepoint to stop the heroes, to exploit the classic hero flaw. It fails horribly because of the second example: the little girl he grabs is Generator. She uses her power (she can animate things if she can touch them and they aren't too big) to take over the control switches for his power armor, and she beats on some of the other villains using Ironhawk like a remote controlled toy.
- In "Ayla and the Great Shoulder Angel Conspiracy", one of the antagonists in the big trap (it's a simulation they can't get out of) is a power mimic. Phase beats him by giving the mimic a copy of his powers and then using Flaw Exploitation to take advantage of the weaknesses of his own powers.
- In Worm, Taylor targets Scion's psychological weak points by reminding him of the death of his counterpart and taking advantage of his inability to deal with loss, driving him past the Despair Event Horizon so that he would allow himself to be killed.
- Taylor has to do this a lot since she always faces overwhelming odds. One good example is when she bluffs a mech made by Dragon that if it keeps attacking it risks injuring a teammate whose new power makes them immune to its sensors (something highly unlikely but technically possible). Taylor banks on Dragon never allowing her mechs to risk causing injury, and is proved right when the machine shuts down.
- Taylor's fellow Undersider Tattletale commonly makes use of her superpowered intuition ability in this way, perceiving weaknesses then using them to manipulate or provoke. We see this early on when she stalls a Flying Brick from attacking by threatening to reveal damaging family secret that she just deduced.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- Azula, in "The Beach", has her team concentrate on a single player of the opposing team that she deduced had a childhood knee injury to win a volleyball game.
- In the first season, Admiral Zhao leads a group of several ships to pursue Aang and the others. During their subsequent fight, Aang uses Zhao's lack of self-control to trick him into setting EVERY SINGLE BOAT on fire, defeating him without attacking even once and leaving Zhao incapable of pursuit, allowing Aang to escape.
- Zig-zaged by Zuko during his Agni Kai with Azula. He's able to notice Azula's failing sanity and focus and realizes that he can match her 1 on 1 as a result. However it backfires when he goes too far thinking he can goad her into using her lightning by directly and very obviously calling it out. Azula then turns it around by beginning her lightning attack but aiming for Katara instead to exploit Zuko's weakness knowing he'd take too long crossing the distance to properly set up his redirection technique.
- In The Spectacular Spider-Man, Doctor Octopus pegs Spider-Man as "weak" because he's obliged to save Innocent Bystanders. Ock then grabs a nearby damsel and uses her in a Hostage for MacGuffin ploy to get Spider-Man to fork over some desirable Applied Phlebotinum.
- South Park: Cartman's revenge plot against Scott Tenorman relies heavily on this. If Stan and Kyle didn't rat him out to Scott, or Scott himself had reacted differently, the whole plan could have fallen apart.
- The Transformers:
- One episode has Megatron executing a plan to teleport Cybertron (the Transformers' homeworld) into Earth orbit, the presence of which would disrupt Earth's gravity and ultimately destroy the planet. The Autobots try to stop him, but when Optimus finally does prevent Megatron from pressing the button to complete the teleport, Megatron gloats, and insists that Optimus will be the one to push the button — because if he doesn't, the teleport will fail, destroying Cybertron in the process. Optimus, true to form, reluctantly pushes the button, rather than let his homeworld perish. (Which is kind of opposite of other characterization he's had since, where he would sacrifice the rest of his species if it means the Decepticons would not be able to threaten any other sentients ever again.)
- In an earlier episode, Megatron goads Optimus into a one-on-one duel in which the loser's faction will exile themselves forever, knowing the Autobot leader's sense of honor would never allow him to refuse a chance to end their war peacefully. Naturally, he cheats during the competition, but at least he was just Genre Savvy enough to send troops into the Autobot base to disable their computer and prevent the deception from being noticed (and he would've gotten away with it, too, were it not for those meddling Dinobots...).
- Kim Possible:
- Dr. Drakken is known to have exploited Kim's teenager flaws, like making Kim disappear if she's too embarrassed or sending in a perfect boyfriend for Kim to fall in love with.
- Shego takes over the world by exploiting the major flaw that Kim Possible is nowhere near as effective without her sidekick Ron Stoppable, Shego splits them up by offering Ron's mother a new job in Norway.
- Danny Phantom:
- Manipulative Bastard Vlad constantly pulls this on Danny, usually by making him his personal Unwitting Pawn. Danny however, does the same thing against him, too! One example is in "Maternal Instincts" where Danny tricked Vlad by using his desire for the boy as his son. Calling him "new dad", Danny slaps a Power Nullifier on him, then proceeds to beat the crap outta him.
- Technus also used Danny's emotions to keep him busy or enraged in one episode while he worked on his ultimate plan.
- This is Spectra's MO, as she feeds off misery, and thus manipulates people's flaws to make them as miserable as possible.
- Discord from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic uses the mane cast's flaws to break them and turn them against their Elements. It fails on Fluttershy, however, because she knows she has flaws and is perfectly accepting of them so he brainwashes her the old fashion way. Ironically, the heroes do this right back at him to ultimately defeat him, as his ego and inability to truly understand friendship's strength is ultimately what allows them to get the final blow.
- Amazingly, Fluttershy shows some serious Magnificent Bastardness by pulling this on Discord again while Discord thinks he's pulling this on her. He uses her "friendship" as a free ticket to run completely rampant while she sits back and deals with it, thinking he has her wrapped around his little talon. She's aware of his plan, and exploiting it because it's the easiest way to get close to him.
- Buzz Lightyear of Star Command
Zurg: We need to get him to come out... *to a minion* Target the Planet of Widows and Orphans!Buzz: You fiend! *flies out*Zurg: I knew that would get him!
- Chase Young may be a Noble Demon in Xiaolin Showdown, but that doesn't stop him from being Manipulative Bastard as well. Wanting to take the young Omi as his apprentice, he uses Omi's biggest flaws to bring the boy over to his side...his naivity, his over-trusting nature, and then even after his friends save Omi from the dark side...Chase also previously had Omi swear his loyalty to him, knowing Omi would have no choice but to stay, because like Chase, the boy always honors his word.
- Bravestarr once reluctantly agreed to a bargain with Tex Hex, because he knew that Tex was such a compulsive backstabber that he would never honor his own end of the deal, which would then leave Bravestarr free to break it as well.
- As a counterpart to what happened in the comic book, the second season of the animated series of W.I.T.C.H. has Will using Phobos' own arrogance and sense of superiority to manipulate him like a fiddle, also convincing a few Noble Demons among his men to pull an Heel–Face Turn by exposing his lack of honour. Again, it fail, but for different reasons: Phobos did fall for it, but Cedric saw through it and choose the moment before it would have paid off to pull a Starscream...
- Wander over Yonder had Wander and Sylvia trying to escape from a planet with an Army of Watchdogs trying to hunt them down. The Watchdogs figure out that Wander is compelled to help people and start to victimize random beings to draw Wander out for capture. It works.
- In the Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation GROWUP", the agified Nigel gets the Delightful Children to hand him the age-changing cigar simply by asking for it. It works because he's an adult, and goody-goody little brats have to obey adults.
- This is how Bill Cipher in Gravity Falls manipulates others into taking his deals, even when they should know better. For example, despite Dipper being well aware Bill likely won't properly honor any deal he makes, he still takes it because he's desperate for the password to a laptop which may have information on the Author, and he only has five minutes before the laptop clears all its data as a failsafe.