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Holding Back the Phlebotinum
"You talk big, Bo-Starr, but you're no match for my legion of invincible death-bots! ... Which I'm not going to be using!"

The chance of Applied Phlebotinum being applied more than once tends to be inversely proportional to its plot-resolving potential.

If you've got an all-powerful MacGuffin, it'll either be used just once (with a possible No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup handwave) or everyone and their mother has one and it's a big free-for-all.

There's a good narrative reason for this: if you've got something that could resolve just about any conflict by waving it around, then obviously people would use it all the time and your stories would be dreadfully short.

This is why extreme power comes in small packages. Expect explanations about the Balance Between Good and Evil, crossing the Godzilla Threshold, not abusing your powers, or how You Are Not Ready to justify why we can't use the thing that would solve all our problems, and why the All-Powerful Bystander can't be bothered to lift a finger. Whatever the in-story reason, the writers are protecting the plot by Holding Back The Phlebotinum.

If there aren't even such explanations, see Forgotten Phlebotinum. If they're actually holding back and not using the phlebotium until they need to, see I Am Not Left-Handed.

Compare It Only Works Once or Reed Richards Is Useless. See also Limit Break. If the all-powerful force is a character instead of an object, you've got Deus Exit Machina. If you try to use it again, you'll usually find that it was So Last Season. If not justified well this becomes an Idiot Plot. If the reason for holding back is a good chance of hurting yourself or leaving yourself vulnerable after use, you're looking at a Death or Glory Attack. Could possibly be a result of Too Awesome to Use. If the power is rejected or discarded, rather than merely unused, it may be No Man Should Have This Power. If two distinct forces that are used separately sound like they would be even powerful together, but a Hand Wave prevents the combination, it's an Obvious Rule Patch.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Blood+ , chiropterans can only be killed by Saya's blood but Hagi is a stronger fighter. Only once in the series does Hagi think to borrow Saya's sword after letting her coat it with her blood. This case has some justification, since there's time limit to how long Saya's blood remains effective once it's drawn. Red Shield previously tried to manufacture bullets incorporating Saya's blood but found them ineffective, and Saya herself often has to redraw her blood during the same battle. Given that Hagi and Saya end up being separated from each other in many battles, it's not an efficient strategy.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • In the very first episode the main character pulls off a miraculous come-from-behind victory by getting the five parts of Exodia in his hand for an instant win. In the third episode, a minor villain destroys the cards so suspense can be maintained in future duels.
    • Similarly, Yugi's god cards were stolen at the beginning of season 4.
    • Since his power is quite explicitly "the power of cheating", it's more "holding back the phlebotinum normal people use", because he wouldn't need it anyway.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • There are Magic Beans in that can cure any wound sans death. In the earlier stories there are literately hundreds of them around. In later books there are less than 10 at any given time, making the preservation of magic beans a major plot point. This is justified by Yajirobe eating them all. In Trunks's Bad Future the plant died off, meaning no more beans at all. In Dragon Ball Z Abridged, it's handwaved that these couldn't be consumed by Goku due to a hole in his esophagus.
    • Mr Popo counts too. When introduced at the end of the King Piccolo saga he far surpasses Goku (his lack of help in the fight against Piccolo Daimao is lampshaded by Goku) and later he is shown to be as fast as Goten and Trunks in their Super Saiyan states and unharmed by either of them. This is hand waved by his inability to leave the lookout as he is its custodian who helps the Guardian of Earth perform their duties. In Dragon Ball Z Abridged, he's a Jerk Ass who simply chooses not to. Makin' toast!
  • Most Mobile Suit Gundam series have a weapon or two that are used only once or sparingly.
    • The original Gundam had the Solar System and the Colony Laser. No reason's given for Solar System's only use on Solomon, but the Colony Laser only had one shot because Ghiren was too anxious to use it, and fired it before it was fully ready.
    • The Solar System sees another use in Gundam 0083, which also sees its destruction, thus explaining why it isn't around in later works.
    • Zeta Gundam had Gryps 2, and that was damaged in battle and couldn't be used again without repairs.
    • Gundam Wing had Libra's cannon, which was sabotaged into being recharged.
    • Gundam X had the various Satellite Cannons, which couldn't be used without a laundry list of right stuff.
    • ∀ Gundam:
      • Moonlight Butterfly, which everyone was frightened over. While probably the most powerful weapon in the entire franchise, it also can't be used without absolutely titanic levels of collateral damage: if activated, it wipes out everything in range except the suit that activated it.
      • A novelization of Turn A reveals that the eponymous Gundam never used more than 5% of its true power throughout the series. This makes some sense, as Loran often deliberately held back in order to limit the destruction caused by battle. Though this does raise the question of why the Turn-X (the Turn A's equal in all aspects) was apparently also not up to spec during the series.
  • Shakugan no Shana Alastor is here instead of Deus Exit Machina because his power is only ever used once, in a manner much more like a Wave Motion Gun i.e,. a weapon, not someone who really does anything. He isn't used again (besides the obvious) because there's a chance it could kill Shana.
  • Played with in Code Geass with the FLEIJA warheads. At first, Suzaku has one and is swearing to whatever god(s) he believes in that he will not shoot it, until he gets careless and goes up against an opponent he cannot beat. This being Suzaku, he's unwilling to accept this fact, and when it finally dawns on him he immediately accepts death. This triggers the Geass Lelouch gave him last season, Tokyo goes up in a pink sphere of death and supposedly kills Nunnaly. In the final battle, Schneizel fires one about once every five minutes. Once Lelouch has control of the Damocles, he fires one to prove a point.
  • A Certain Magical Index:
    • Index has all of the Church's forbidden magical knowledge stored in her functional memory but is not herself capable of actually casting magic... not that that stops her from taking down a golem using distracting phrases and safety pins. Of course, the end of the first arc makes it clear that she can use magic, and only everyone around her keeping her Locked Out of the Loop prevents her from essentially becoming a story-breaking Person of Mass Destruction.
    • Mikoto Misaka, one of the heroines of the series who's also the protagonist of her own spin-off A Certain Scientific Railgun, almost never uses her full powers in a fight. This is due to the fact that her full powers are pretty much inescapably lethal, and she isn't about to kill people. But on the rare occasions she does let loose on something that isn't human, it's awesome.
  • Late in Fullmetal Alchemist, Alphonse actually gets a Philosopher's Stone that Kimblee dropped, but only after the brothers had decided they wouldn't use it for themselves even if they got it.
  • In the Chapter Black saga of YuYu Hakusho, Yusuke is joined by several psychics. One of them, Kaito, not only has the power to take anyone's soul that violates his rules but also prevent anyone from using violence in his territory. While this might have been useful during the ensuing chaos, the only time he is seen using his abilities is when Genkai is trying to prove a point to the heroes.
  • Naruto:
    • Naruto faces this difficulty when it comes to the Kyuubi. If he drew on its power he could readily defeat many opponents who otherwise give him trouble, but when he does it quickly overwhelms his ability to reason. A large part of Shippuden revolves around his attempts to suppress the Kyuubi and find alternative powers. Later chapters see Naruto training hard to avert this trope. The strength of the opponents he must fight is such that he needs to master the full power of the Kyuubi and soon.
    • Madara does this after his ultimate attack is interrupted. He informs his opponents he could very well use it again and easily kill them all, but it'd be insulting to use the same attack twice in one fight.
  • Uchuu Senkan Yamato: The Wave Motion Gun mentioned above, a super-powerful cannon that frequently decimates the enemy but leaves the ship without power and vulnerable after use. Several episodes set up the ability to use the Wave Motion Gun at the end. The gun was not -always- all-powerful, as Desler's version was once reflected back at him. By the second season, every ship in the newly-rebuilt navy had one, and dozens of ships all fired their superweapon at the Comet at once. No One Could Survive That. Or maybe not...
  • Angol Mois of Keroro Gunso is The Lord of Terror, capable of destroying entire planets with her powers. Hence, despite the fact that she could be a big help(And considering the multitude of giant, planet destroying things they face, it would be a big help) she rarely uses her powers to fight. If she does, she'll either use the most miniscule amount she can, or get nerfed by a Genre Savvy villain.

    Comic Books 
  • Uatu the Watcher is an embodiment of this trope. He is theoretically capable of using his vast power to intervene in just about anything, but refuses to do so for the sake of his vow of non-interference. (Not that he hasn't bent and broken his vow numerous times.)
  • This is the reason why Superior Spider-Man dragged on for so long - Avengers vs. X-Men deprived the heroes a few good telepaths, the Fantastic Four were off on a time-traveling romp and Iron Man was off in space. That last one came back to bite Ock, though.
  • Fantastic Four: Franklin Richards, son of Reed and Sue, has absolute omnipotence as his top range. At first he was deliberately held back - a psychic Power Limiter kept him from rewriting the universe at age five and his Astral Projection powers he had when he was in Power Pack were all that seeped through. Using his total power later has burned out his powers completely, giving him the angst of being the only Muggle among the Richards family. In the Fantastic Five possible future, a similar overtaxing of his powers reduced him to the level of your average psychic character. Apparently something like this happening to him falls under You Can't Fight Fate: the Days of Future Past and Fantastic Force versions of adult Franklin are at a similar power level.
  • Cable has a techno-organic virus that his powers are constantly engaged in holding back, lest it overtake his body. The little left to him is enough to occasionally summon his oversize futuristic rifle back to him. Occasionally he boosts his powers with a staff called a Psimitar, but that just brings him up to normal Psychic Powers level (again, see Franklin.) His full power is about the same as Jean in Phoenix mode. Naturally, he only gets to use it on rare occasion before whatever's stopping the TO virus proves not to be foolproof, or using his power this way burns it out, reducing him to familiar levels. His Age of Apocalypse counterpart X-Man got to use this full power more often, but writers clearly didn't know what to do with someone at that power level, so he was often insane, presumed dead, etc. Recently they played the "overtaxed his powers and is semi-permenantly at a more manageable level" card.
  • In John Ostrander's writing of The Spectre, the eponymous character and his partner Nate Kane were taking a train. Nate asks why don't they just take a plane because it would be a lot quicker. The Spectre responds, "If speed is your concern we can always do the mirror trick again." to which Nate Kane responds "Forget about it!"
  • Take a look at Batman who has access to space alien technology. He could use it to easily subdue criminals in Gotham. But no, whenever Batman is in Gotham, he is restricted to real world-level technology (or not too far away from).
  • Birds of Prey: Justified in the case of Oracle, who made the decision to forgo using any of the fantastic technology or magic that her friends from the Justice League could supply her with to cure her paraplegia until it can be made available to the general public as a show of solidarity with other disabled people.
  • Look at The Flash; somebody who can run at supersonic or sometimes at faster than light speed, and whose perception of time when doing this gives him inhumanly fast thoughts should have ABSOLUTELY NO problem in dealing with villains who have ice guns or explosive boomerangs.
  • Teen Titans: As for the kid superhero Impulse, who could run at supersonic speeds, the reasons that normal-speed villains could give him a hard time was that Impulse was such an impulsive thinker and was often his own worst enemy.
  • Black Canary could defeat most of the relatively mundane foes the Birds of Prey face with a single Canary Cry. She doesn't because she usually follows the Thou Shalt Not Kill rule, and a Canary Cry could kill an ordinary human at close range. One of the few times she did use the Canary Cry in Birds of Prey was when she fought a supernatural life draining killer named Harvest and it barely even phased her. There was one issue where she had an internal monologue lampshading this; as a martial artist she's trained to fight with her fists and her heart, and using her metahuman powers would be like bringing a bazooka to a boxing match. On this occasion Oracle had been kidnapped, though, so she was using the Cry right left and center with a 'screw them' attitude. Also, she tended to use the cry quite freely to break down doors, break through walls, knock out tanks, and so forth; she was just reluctant to use it directly on people.
  • In the Sonic the Hedgehog series, there was the problem of Chaos Emeralds Are Everywhere, where Robotnik or Sonic had the means to grab a bunch of them to use in a superweapon/go Super Sonic. When Ian Flynn took over writing duties, he fixed that problem by bringing about the seven normal Chaos Emeralds.

    Fanfiction 
  • In Kyon Big Damn Hero, Haruhi's powers are filtered through Yuki to hold back the phlebotinum as well as make them controllable. Then she changes them even more so Closed Space isn't formed.
  • Consciously averted in With Strings Attached; the author's stated philosophy is pretty much that if the four can solve a problem or win a fight in three seconds, that's what happens, and the plot will deal with it.

    Film 
  • Iron Man:
    • In the second film, he actually raises this point himself when testifying to the Senate commission. He calls the suit (or rather himself) the new nuclear deterrent. As a result of his influence, the world's experiencing a long-lasting period of peace and will continue to do so as long as the suit remains under the control of a stable, trustworthy entity. The irony is that he's an alcoholic dying guy who later uses above-military grade weaponry to explode glass in a crowded room and considers himself "stable and trustworthy".
    • Another example of this trope in the second movie are the lasers Death Blossoms. Extremely powerful and capable of ending any confrontation but they can only be used once.
  • In Star Trek:
    • The Genesis Device would undoubtedly still have been enormously useful as a planetbusting (or, indeed, nebula-busting) WMD, even if design flaws in the prototype made it useless for its original purpose of planetary terraforming. Fortunately, the ST writers made sure to end that particular movie arc with the device revealed to be unstable due to the use of protomatter, which presumably accounted for its abandonment, even though it would've made a hell of a weapon despite the instability, and even though the inventor of the technology, Carol Marcus, was still around (despite being Brother Chucked from the franchise after one movie).
    • There's also the fact that, as Star Treks III and especially IV showed, the Klingon Empire was none too thrilled to see the Federation have a planet-killing weapon. Had the Federation been able to salvage the research, there could easily have been a war.
    • A non-phlebotinum example: in "Whom Gods Destroy", a shape-shifting impostor captures Kirk and copies his appearance to escape the asylum planet where he is imprisoned, only to be stopped due to Scotty refusing to beam up the Captain without saying the proper response to the code phrase "Queen to Queen's Level 3". The code phrase had never been mentioned before and would never be mentioned again, even in situations featuring impostors running around (such as "Turnabout Intruder" where the omission is quite glaring) Not to mention Garth's shapeshifting power itself, which he was "taught" by the natives of Antos IV. If the skill can be learned, why doesn't the Federation send its intelligence agents to Antos IV to acquire shapeshifting ability themselves?
  • Averted in Star Wars: While the original plan was to use the Death Star once and rule by fear, the Empire does use it every time they can.
  • In Quest Of The Delta Knights, a made-for-TV movie popularized by its appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000, the Delta Knights were an organization dedicated to finding Archimedes' lost inventions, and using them to "bring the world out of the dark ages." In the end, the heroes decide to destroy the inventions because "the world isn't ready for such power." Of course, most of those inventions were used heavily in the Renaissance Period, the time period in which the movie is set.
  • In Pacific Rim, Gipsy Danger spends the movie punching various kaiju and even using a ship to batter one. Only when it's absolutely critical do they remember that they have an Absurdly Sharp Blade that could end pretty much any kaiju with a single strike. Naturally, this is brought up in How It Should Have Ended, where the robot then stands guard at the portal beheading any kaiju that pokes its head out.
  • In Doc's letter to Marty in Back to the Future: Part III'', he mentions that the DeLorean's flying circuits had been destroyed by the lightning strike that sent him to 1885 in the previous film, meaning that the car can never fly again. Later, when Marty himself goes back to 1885, he accidentally tears the fuel line, and Doc and Marty spend much of the movie thinking of a way to get the DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour. Presumably, the flying circuits got destroyed so that they couldn't immediately go back to 1985 and that Doc could stay in 1885 long enough to fall in love with Clara.

    Literature 
  • Animorphs
    • The instant maple and ginger flavored oatmeal is only referenced in one book. In their defense, as Jake points out, battles that involve oatmeal will never really end up being historical.
    • Also, if Erek King could fight, the war would be over in about a week. Unfortunately, while he recognizes the necessity of the kids' cause, he himself finds violence to be too horrific to participate in (largely because his memories of the experience never fade) and is programmed to never commit any violent act.
  • In the third Grey Griffins book, Ernie gains superhuman speed as the result of some weird fairy blood magic or something. But he can't use it. How come? Because it'll hasten his transformation into a changeling. If that's not enough, Natalia is given a magnifying glass that lets her see magic. She tries it out in a world filled with magic, and it nearly blinds her. Too much magic, dont'cha know.
  • In Hero.com, the eponymous website first offers a free one-hour trial with a limit of one superpower. If you want to get more powers, more variety, and more time with them, you need to pay up. In the sister series Villain.net, the protagonist doesn't need to pay (with money, anyway), but he can only use four at a time and the powers have an unspecified time limit. Villain.net itself was ripped off of Hero.com by the bad guys, and they don't completely know how it works.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • Early in the series the heroes discovered an ancient superweapon on the planet below. To prevent it from being misused, one of their allies took charge of it, but promised to help out whenever he could. He was then conveniently absent whenever the weapon would have been useful. The forgetfulness was Lampshaded later when, needing power to boost a La Résistance broadcast, Franklin suggests to Ivanova they use the super weapon on Epsilon III to help. Ivanova then realizes that only an idiot would not realize the obvious, and beats a hasty path to the planet below.
    • On at least one occasion it was mentioned that they tried to contact the him but their transmissions were being jammed by the forces attacking the station.
    • They do use it as a holographic PA system and for spying, though.
    • Other attempts at justifying this were set up. Amongst other things, when a large group of Shadows attacked, they purposely moved very close to the station, so that the weapon couldn't fire. Oh, and in the payoff for the Chekov's gun, it's used to solve a Time Paradox.
    • In Severed Dreams, Sheridan specifically stated that he wanted to keep Draal secret (although he used Draal's holograms openly in the same episode.)
  • The Babylon 5 spin-off show, Crusade featured a brand new class of ship with an extremely powerful main weapon. So as not to make the ship all-conquering, firing this main weapon drained the ship of its power, leaving it vulnerable for up to a minute, thus ensuring it was only used as a last resort.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer,
    • During season five of Buffy comes into possession of a powerful magic hammer, which is completely ignored up until the final episode, where it is suddenly pulled off the shelf and used to quite handily beat the villain, a frigging god, into submission. After this impressive display, the weapon is never seen or mentioned ever again.
    • Xander also gains a level in badass by the mystical implantation of military fighting prowess. Seasons later, he explains it comes and goes and has mostly just gone.
  • Over on Angel, the reason why Willow (basically god-like in her powers by the end of BtVS) doesn't step in during the Illyria arc and help Fred, previously established as a good friend of hers, is that she's "on another astral plane". The (insanely stupid and out of character, but guest-star-availability-motivated) reason Giles doesn't bother trying to contact her is that Angel now works for Wolfram & Hart, and the Scoobies fear he's turned evil. Again. Some more.
  • Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis frequently did bring back old phlebotinum, but occasionally it's shown that various political organizations and red tape often make it difficult to pull them out quickly, as a lot of it is being examined or stored by other organizations at Area 51. Whenever they get something truly shattering and usable, it tends to get blown up eventually culminating in the destruction of Area 51 itself during the Atlantis finale
    • There was also an interesting case, in which the cast had to trick the Goa'uld into believing that they are doing this, when in fact It Only Works Once, as they'd be defenseless to an outright attack at the moment.
    • Probably the most egregious case is the Kull warrior armor that made it's wearer Nigh Invulnerable. Even after building a weapon they could use to kill the supersoldiers without damaging the armor, by stopping the effect of the ancient healing device used to give them life, no effort is made to collect armor sets for SG teams.
    • This trope is used sometimes to provide variation on recycled plots. For example, "Arthur's Mantle" rehashes the plot of the much earlier "Crystal Skull" when Cam and Sam are transferred to an alternate dimension. They immediately remember "Crystal Skull" and run off to find Daniel who should be able to see them since he has also been to an alternate dimension. It turns out that they are in a different alternate dimension, so Daniel can't see them and they have to find a different way to communicate.
  • Power Rangers
    • This was actually given a Hand Wave pretty early in the first season, where Zordon explains that one of the core rules of being a Ranger is to never be the one to escalate a battle. Only use more powerful weaponry as necessary to defeat the Monster of the Week.
    • Many additional rangers for were supposedly more powerful than their team mates, so as a counter, they were often given some kind of limitation to prevent them from swooping into the fight and running rings around the others. The most common excuse is that they are kept in reserve for when things go bad. Or they were busy doing something else.
  • One episode of GoGo Sentai Boukenger had Natsuki (Bouken Yellow) charge Ultimate Dai Bouken into battle while the other Boukengers are fighting mooks. She proceeds to help her friends by trying to attack the mooks with Dai Bouken, sending friend and foe flying, showing why this trope is sometimes a good idea.
  • In Kamen Rider Den-O, The Lancer Yuto Sakurai/Zeronos is debatably more powerful and skilled than Ryotaro/Den-O. However, he has to leave matters in Ryotaro's hands several times because he has a limited supply of the cards that allow him to become Zeronos, and more troublesome, using them causes people to forget his existence.
  • In the remake of Battlestar Galactica, season 3, much fuss is made over how Cylons aboard some ships were completely wiped out by a space object that carried a virus that can instantly infect every single humanoid Cylon in the universe thanks to their Downloading ability. The Cylons run away, leaving the human fleet to find it later. Turns out the virus is just a childhood disease like measles, but the Cylons don't have the antibodies to fight it. There's some worry that Sharon will die (she doesn't). Now the human fleet holds a weapon that can completely destroy their enemy completely if just used. And what do they do? Chuck it out the airlock! Admiral Adama isn't comfortable with using bioweapons. So that entire arc is basically pointless filler, and a trump card that could possible save humanity if the Cylons attack (as they often do) is lost forever.
  • In the Next Generation episode "Darmok," the command crew learns that the two words "Darmok" and "Jalad" both refer to a particular body of myths and legends. They learn this by querying the ship's computer. So who does nobody think to say "Computer: Cross-reference: Darmak, Jalad, Tanagra?"
  • Early in Next Generation it was established that the Federation had the technology to erase specific events from a sentient being's memory. This is almost never used to solve a problem, because each time it would be useful (e.g. "Suddenly Human," "Homeward"), the process was handwaved as simply not working on the brain structures of the aliens of the week.
  • Star Trek in general, in fact, tends to do this a lot with its more mundane gadgets as well as the shiny new McGuffin Of The Week.
    • In any typical episode from any series, if any of the crew are trapped somewhere, you can expect something to go wrong with the transporters. Send a shuttle craft? That ion storm that's blocking the transporter already downed the last one, which is why the away team is trapped, so it's best not to go throwing away another one. Try to air-drop some supplies? The ion storm will destroy them too.
    • Likewise, if the ship is trapped in some Negative Space Wedgie, expect not only the warp engines but the impulse engines and thrusters to go offline, the dilithium crystals to be drained of power/shut down to prevent their being drained of power, and whatever can get the ship free to be in tragically short supply at the moment.
    • In less dramatic moments, you can also expect the tricorders to have no readings on what this strange new phenomenon the crew are investigating is, and sensors to be either broken or giving unreliable readings.
    • By the way, if this is another holodeck-gone-wild episode, don't expect the holodeck's built-in safeties to work. Either the computer's not taking orders today, or the villain of your favorite holodeck adventure still knows how to trap you in a dungeon or force field when the safeties keep his ray gun from destroying you. There's also a good possibility one of your enemies is at the controls trying to get you killed, having successfully locked out all of your teammates who are trying to rescue you.
    • Also, when Starfleet created a weapon that could destroy the entire Borg collective, Captain Picard refused to use it. This caused him to get reamed out by an Admiral in a later episode.

    Role-Playing Games 
  • In Dino Attack RPG, the Einstein Device, being an Instant-Win Condition, had to be held back until the very last moment. This has been justified since the Einstein Device was largely experimental, leaving it unfinished and untested by the time of the Final Battle. Most of the later stages of the battle were devoted to finishing the device, which was also dangerously close malfunctioning at the time, and it could not be fired until Viper had a clear shot at Dr. Rex.

    Video Games 
  • Wing Commander Prophecy put it best, concerning a Wave Motion Gun that was mounted on a space carrier:
    "...a fire-and-forget weapon... we fired it once, and now we can forget about firing it again."
  • In Star Control, the Ur-Quan don't bring their ultra-massive super-duper Precursor battleship the Sa-Matra into play in the first war until it looks like the Alliance of Free Stars may actually stop them. Once it is brought into play, though, the war winds up pretty quickly to an Ur-Quan victory. It's never brought into play afterwards, mostly because it's being held as the prize fought over between the Ur-Quan Kzer-Za and the Kohr-Ah. They also don't use it during the end of the Doctrinal Conflict, when the Kohr-Ah are winning. This is presumably because it would be cheating, since that was the only reason the Kzer-Za beat the Kohr-Ah last time.
    Part of the lore suggests, apparently, that at least part of the reason that the Ur-Quan are so hesitant to use the Sa-Matra is because it's practically a religious artifact to them, representing the power to ensure that nobody can ever enslave them again (long story). Using it except in direst need presumably gives too much credit to the opponent and debases the Sa-Matra itself.

  • In God Hand, Gene wears a Deitic Brace on his arm in order to seal off the full power of the eponymous God Hand, requiring a bar to be filled first before he takes the Brace off and goes to town. But considering the game's difficulty, it makes some people wonder why he can't just leave the brace off. The answer is that by sealing off the power of the God Hand, Gene is able to build it up so when he does release the Brace, he's virtually invincible. This actually makes Gene a more effective fighter than Azel, who doesn't use a Brace.
  • Ragnell in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, in which Ike had apparently been carrying Ragnell since his father's death but doesn't pull it out until encountering the Black Knight. The same sword is held back again in Radiant Dawn, but you get it earlier and there's a reason Ike doesn't have it up to that point.
  • Metroid: Other M: Adam Malkovich, Samus' "Commanding Officer," must give her permission to use mission critical items, such as her Morph Ball, Super Missiles, and others. The real annoyance in this game is that Samus isn't actually under Adam's command. She does it to protect any survivors on the station, and for the sake of the Galactic Federation Marines she's commanding. And for some reason, she doesn't turn on several purely defensive upgrades until Adam tells her to, even at serious risk to herself. Samus then counters this trope midway through the game. Once she's lost contact with Adam, she then cheekily transmits on his designated frequency a request for authorization for several of her upgrades, saying that if she doesn't hear him counter it he must have approved.
    Word of God states that this is merely a case of Values Dissonance, that Samus was acting properly according to Japanese military and social traditions, and that the one-woman army space-pirate stomping ultra-Bad Ass that she was before this (it being an interquel set almost immediately after Super Metroid) was because she was under orders to be so, and after this because she was essentially a ronin following her own orders. Even in Japan, many people cried foul because of how suicidally stupid the decision was in the first place, since as-stated she wasn't actually IN the chain of command she was following. It would be like a civilian airline pilot refusing to activate several of the plane's systems in the middle of a storm because an army Colonel on board told him not to.
  • After retrieving the Apple of Eden from the Borgias in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Ezio rarely uses it again unless he really needs its power and knowledge. His ally Machiavelli encourages him to use it more often, but Ezio refuses since he doesn't want to become too dependent on it. Eventually it stops working for Ezio entirely since the Apple itself tells him it is time to relinquish it so that future generations of Assassins can use it.
  • In I Miss the Sunrise, when the crew finds a strange Lesser that seems to recognize Tezkhra, but who Tezkhra says he's never seen before, it should be easy to confirm who's telling the truth through a simple trip to the Typelog archives. However, Tezkhra apparently deletes files he deems "unnecessary", so, even if he did know the Lesser once, it could be impossible to tell.
  • In Touhou, the Spell Card Rules of Gensokyo restrict the ways in which magical powers can be used for combat, explicitly to give super-powerful youkai and squishy humans more even footing.
  • In Injustice: Gods Among Us this is how the main universe Superman is treated, mostly because the Insurgent Batman doesn't trust him and has to be given reason to. Once he does come over, this go MUCH smoother.

    Webcomics 
  • Pretty much anything Time Travel related in Sluggy Freelance.
  • Order of the Stick
    • Where Xykon holds back the Monster in the Darkness from revealing itself because of how incredibly powerful it is. While it has a very childish demeanor, the times it has given us a taste of what it can do we have seen it create a massive chasm in the ground just by stomping, and launching the most powerful paladin of the Sapphire Guard miles away during a contest of "Who can hit the lightest."
    • While the Monster is powerful, the reason Xykon keeps in Darkness is purely theatrics; The lich wants to dramatically unleash his beast following a speech on how helpless the heroes were. He tried this once during the first arc, but was cut off before it got anywhere.
    • As Vaarsuvius grows more and more powerful, (s)he gets held back more and more for the same reason. Even with his/her absolutely crippling personality flaws and with conjuration, one of the most useful schools of magic, chosen as a forbidden school, there is too much risk of him/her overshadowing the rest of the Order. As a result, (s)he is increasingly disabled, separated, or otherwise removed from the action as a the story progresses.
  • In the Jet Dream Remix Comic, J.E.T. D.R.E.A.M. has developed its own beneficial and voluntary feminization treatment, but it's apparently only available in limited amounts for the very best J.E.T. T.E.E.N. recruits. Also, a recruit is not eligible for the treatment until after his 18th birthday. This explains why J.E.T. T.E.E.N.'s Elle-Boys don't all just become girls, and why there are so many Elle-Boys in the Jet Dream Auxiliary Corps.

    Western Animation 
  • Kim Possible:
    • Despite achieving status as a regular gadget, Kim hardly ever uses her super-powerful, all-purpose battle suit, which received a weakness in the initial episode of the series' return. Would've made the missions even easier for her. After Cousin Larry got it however Kim might have felt to just let him have it.
    • Ron's Mystical Monkey Power, that by creating a Battle Aura can defeat ANY opponent, is hardly used and quickly forgotten until the special episodes where Ron can prove his manliness. The lack of Mystical Monkey Power Kung Fu is even lampshaded. Justified in that Ron is terrified of monkeys. And the power itself is...well...pretty powerful. He nearly killed Monkey Fist in their first fight, and understandably for a pacifist like Ron, that's pretty scary. His refusal/inability to use it may be a psychological block...one he overcomes in a big way in "Graduation" when he has to save the world and the girl he loves.
  • The android AMAZO as seen in the Justice League Unlimited episode "Return" and "Wake the Dead". Here is a being with the powers of a god (think Dr Manhattan) who defeats the entire Justice League and shifts the Green Lanterm homeworld of Oa to another dimension in one episode, has a Heel-Face Turn and is later called in to defeat a resurrected Solomon Grundy in another episode. However, this Grundy ended up being able to absorb AMAZO's power, rather than be instantly obliterated. AMAZO realizes his very presences is making him stronger, so he departs the earth and is never seen again in the series. The writers may have wisely concluded that his presence would for the most part, render the Justice League completely irrelevant.
  • This trope was used regularly in Aladdin: The Series to keep Genie from solving every problem with just a magical handwave.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Used in the Season 2 finale when the Changeling invasion moves into full swing, Princess Celestia immediately calls upon the Mane 6 to get the Elements of Harmony to stop them. However, thanks to overwhelming numbers, the heroes are stopped by the Changeling army before they even manage to reach the Elements, much less use them. The trend continues in the next episode, the Season 3 premiere. Although that was less of The Worf Effect/Curb-Stomp Battle and more of Secret Test of Character mixed with the fact that the Crystal Ponies already have their own version of the Elements of Harmony in the form of the Crystal Heart. In the Season 4 premiere the Mane 6 have to sacrifice the Elements to save the day, depriving them of their phlebotinum.
    • In Equestria Games, the unicorn magic disabling spell helps snap Spike out of his Heroic BSOD by making him the only one capable of saving the day.
  • Combining this with The Worf Effect, W.I.T.C.H. had a number of powerful characters come the second season for the heroes - Elyon, the Oracle, and Kadma. All three are captured by Nerissa.

    Real Life 
  • Nuclear weapons anyone? Partially justified, as the Nuclear Option may well lead to The End of the World as We Know It. How about a nice game of chess?
  • Or any WMD, for that matter. The poison gasses used in World War One were such a hideous weapon that the civilized world agreed to outlaw their use. Not that that has stopped those same nations from stockpiling the stuff, and there's always worry about less scrupulous nations or organizations getting a hold of them. Keeping these genies in their bottles gets harder every year as they get easier to make and new "genies" keep getting invented. However, one could argue that the stockpiles are necessary, as samples of the gasses are needed in order to formulate a treatment in the event of an attack.
  • Many lesser-known effective-but-gruesome weapons of war have been outlawed by the Geneva Convention. Not only is poison gas forbidden in warfare, but so are trenches, and bullets that deform upon impact. Land mines have been discussed as another item to ban, but the major world powers have consistently blocked any attempts to ban them.
  • The United States is blessed with the world's largest supply of helium, with some 78% of world production today; in the past, before significant sources were found in Algeria, Russia, and elsewhere, the proportion was even higher. In the early 20th century, the US intentionally banned foreign sales of helium for strategic reasons; this is why the German Zeppelin company was forced to use hydrogen rather than helium in its eponymous airships, which (in turn) led to or at least exacerbated the Hindenburg disaster. Fun fact: the U.S. maintained a strategic helium reserve well into the 21st century, long after the brief heyday of military airships.
  • Space travel. Humanity has the technology to send people to other planets in our solar system, and even to other nearby stars within a human lifetime. The problem? Nobody wants to bother because it will cost too much (Also, it would incinerate the launch site in nuclear hellfire).


Hand in the HoleContrived Stupidity TropesHolding Both Sides of the Conversation
Hidden WireApplied PhlebotinumHologram Projection Imperfection
Historical Character ConfusionStupidity TropesHolding Both Sides of the Conversation

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