In a Speculative Fiction setting there are often a lot of people going on about how incredible and powerful the Phlebotinum is, which is why people who have it are the ones who move the plot rather than all the ordinary Muggles who need to be rescued.
Except, sometimes, the superhuman devices or abilities in the story aren't really all that earthshaking, at least not compared to the more mundane methods available. Sure, being able to create fire with your mind might be neat, but if it's not on a large enough scale, you might be better off with a handheld lighter. And a Trick Arrow that electrocutes people could be useful, but we do already have stun guns. And that guy saying he'll Take Over the World now that he's got skin as strong as steel? Yeah, apparently he's never heard of armor piercing bullets. Of course, if they don't work, there's always the Nuclear Option.
Sometimes the usefulness of Muggle methods will be a big part of the story, like Van Helsing using modern scientific methods against vampires in Dracula (1931). Other times supernatural abilities and Muggle abilities will be kept largely separate thanks to the Masquerade, but when they do intersect the superiority/equality of Muggle methods will be clear. And then there are some stories where it's clear the writers didn't really think about what ordinary people could contribute, or They Just Didn't Care, but the fans certainly will.
There are two ways this trope can go, if it isn't used correctly. In some cases, it applies if and only if the Muggles are Crazy-Prepared. A girl who freezes you at will may be able to kill regular soldiers easily, but if they have insulated suits specifically to fight her, well, then it becomes a teenage girl with a useless power vs. a squad of heavily-armed, trained soldiers. And one-sided fights aren't very entertaining. Usually. On the flipside, it can become unsatisfying fast if Fridge Logic sets in and critically-thinking viewers recognise that the only reason the Muggles win is because the supers are holding Idiot Balls, suffering from Misapplied Phlebotinum and using Hollywood Tactics rather than embracing the true potential available. For example, smart audiences may wonder why supers do not use guns when muggles do. Trying to get this trope to work well may involve a delicate balancing act.
Related to, but distinct from, a Mundane Solution, which is where the Phlebotinum is given a specific weakness to some commonplace thing that it didn't necessarily have to have. See also Weaponized Weakness, when muggle methods are used to exploit an already dangerous Achilles' Heel or Weaksauce Weakness.
This trope is the main power and indeed the only hope of the Un-Sorcerer. Also a key characteristic of the Badass Normal, who utilize such methods in a way to keep up with (and sometimes defeat) the other superpowered beings of the universe. Can also lead to The Magic Versus Technology War, with the Tech Level being that of the present day.
Compare with Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better, which is when mundane weapons work better than fancy shiny phlebotinum-powered weapons, though not necessarily as sometimes the "mundane" weapons are pretty phleotinum-loaded too. Compare Postmodern Magik, which is when technology and magic intertwine. Also compare to Medieval Stasis, as this trope assumes the supernatural is locked in such while the muggles continue to advance. Contrast Guns Are Worthless, where those fancy muggle toys are, well, worthless in the face of a supernatural threat.
Unrelated toTropers Do It Without Notability.
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Anime and Manga
The WW2 / Vietnam war-era weapons that have crossed over to the world of Halkeginia in Zero no Tsukaima appear to far out-power all elements of offensive magic except that of the Void. Giant golem? LAWnote Light Anti-Armor Weapon beats it. Dragons? WWII era Zero beats them. Giant walking magically impervious armor? Flak cannon shoots straight through it.
The Zero packed twin 20mm cannon plus machine guns. It would be disappointing if the dragons didn't drop over.
In Mahou Sensei Negima!, while a combination of magic and technology usually works best, it seems that cell phones are almost universally more useful than the Telepathy that mages tend to use, so long as there's reception. In terms of pure offensive firepower, the magic world does not appear to have anything like nukes. In a flashback, Nagi talks about it a little.
Darker Than Black employs this trope a lot. Despite their (sometimes) awe-inspiring powers, the majority of Contractors are not Immune to Bullets; they are usually no match for a well-trained squad of armed police or soldiers. Contractors are therefore seldom used in open combat, and are employed more like special operatives where they're able to get the jump on people.
Shinryaku! Ika Musume's titular Musume is quite powerful, and would make for an excellent B-movie monster - until the JDSF arrives on the scene. At the end of the day, squids are squishy, and there's only one of her.
In, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, all the main characters have very efficient magical weaponry, and yet it's Homura who seems to be the most efficient magical girl out of the group, despite mostly killing witches with stolen military and Yakuza firearms rather than her powers. Though that's because her powers are over time - which can't kill witches alone, but do end up driving much of the plot.
Very few of the good guys in Yu-Gi-Oh! had any supernatural abilities. The Pharaoh did, and so did Aki from Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, and some could see and talk to Duel Spirits, but that was about it. (Kaiba might have had a few remnants of the magical skills that his past self as Priest Seto had, but couldn't use them at will.) Still, they tended to fight and defeat sorcerers, demons, and Eldritch Abominations on a regular basis.
To drive this point home, one of two people to defeat the Pharaoh in a duel was Yugi himself, in what was likely the greatest duel in the first series. And just a few episodes before that, Yugi had defeated Yami Bakura without the Pharaoh's help.
The exact premise of manga Gate - Thus the JSDF Fought There. Powerful Empire from a fantasy world sends conquer army through magical gate which leads to current day Japan. Said army is stopped with anti-mob waterguns, and fall back very shortly afterwards. Then Japan's Self-Defence Forces goes through gates, and inhabitants of that world is horrified by what humans can do to them with simple machine guns and mortars. And after that tanks, jets and APC's shows up. Luckily to them, Japan is seeking for a dipomatic solution, rather than simply curbstomping the entire realm.
One of the Marshal Law comics sends superheroes back to World War I. They turn out to be pretty useless to the war effort.
Fables spends a good chunk of the war between the Fables of Fabletown (living in the real world) and the Adversary (what they ran away from) showcasing the advantages mass modern technology has over magic.
And a highly-effective-seeming and entirely magical plan for taking out Earth is dismissed when it's explained that modern "mundane" technology would not only quickly pick up on the plan and foil its later stages, but invite a devastating counterattack that the Adversary's forces wouldn't have a prayer against. A magical plague would get isolated by the CDC and equivalent organizations, and the mundane nations would react to it, well, exactly the way they'd react to any attack by a weapon of mass destruction.
To be fair, the Adversary had kept any magics that could be useful against a technological attack under lock and key, was poorly prepared for an attack within its borders of any kind, and never bothered to come up with counters to technology despite knowing about the Fables. All of which are called out on when the Fables start attacking. Magic itself still has many advantages over modern technology and the more powerful magical beings are basically gods that can destroy worlds including a Djinn strong enough to lift aircraft carriers.
Quite often, one of the reasons for the Reed Richards Is Useless trope is that superhero super-science is somehow less practical than real world science.
Subverted in an issue of Justice League of America: the son of the recently deceased Green Arrow has to fight a bad guy and his mooks using an old set of arrows his father left behind. He laments on the fact that they're all ridiculous trick arrows, such as a handcuff arrow or a boxing glove arrow, and wishes his dad would have had at least one regular arrow among them. He ends up defeating the bad guy with a boxing glove arrow.
Often played with in the DC Universe and the Marvel Universe. Some characters manage to do very well against superpowered adversaries with nothing more than the training and technology you see in the real world, The Punisher being a perfect example. Oftentimes, though, the police, the army, would-be Heroic Bystanders, and others are completely ineffective against the villains.
In his first fight against the Masters of Silence, Iron Man was confronted with the fact that they were immune to his repulsor bolts. In their second battle, Iron Man wore the so-called War Machine armor, equipped with guns. A lot of guns. The Masters of Silence were promptly trashed before being confronted with the fact they had been tricked in attacking Stark in first place.
A long-standing question in X-Men is why Sentinels are a threat to mutantkind. Magneto has demonstrated a penchant for using his powers and scientific genius to construct incredible Supervillain Lairs inside active volcanoes or on asteroids, and even uses robots himself from time to time. But for some reason he never seems to consider countering human Sentinel technology by simply building his own comparable battle robots.
Subverted in the backstory of Irredeemable. An alien race to attempting to conquer the Earth, and all of the world's superheroes were powerless to stop it. A Badass Normal called the Hornet snuck onto the main ship and got the aliens to leave peacefully. This incident earned the Hornet widespread acclaim, but the truth was that he was just as powerless as everyone else. He only saved Earth by making a Deal with the Devil.
Something of a central theme to The Boys. The first American superheroes prove useless against the Wehrmacht in the Second World War, the G-Men are handily wiped out by Red River personnel armed with machine-guns and flamethrowers, and the US military wipes the floor with the superheroes occupying Washington D.C.
The DC Universe has an odd relationship with this trope. Typically, heroes that handle massive cosmic threats will often run into problems dealing with an evil Badass Normal, the Joker being the most famous example. The trope is often subverted with superpowered threats to the whole planet, which typically require someone with powers to stop them. So, muggles are better at dealing with muggles, and superpowered heroes are better at dealing with superpowered villains.
The "Final" arc of Hack Slash ends with this, when Cat Curio manages to whip up an antidote to Akakios's slasher-creating potion in a few days in her own lab. Turns out that alchemy isn't magic after all and scientific chemistry did make some strides in the last two thousand years.
In The Three Kings: Hunt the mages after centuries of losing to the wizards have begun mounting an affective resistance by using the Internet
In The Moment It Began, instead of being defeated by The Power of Love, Lord Voldemort, the most powerful Dark Wizard in the world, is defeated... by Snape's Muggle father Tobias and his trusty handgun.
The series plays with it a ton. While the magical world rarely if ever applies the scientific method to magic, just like in canon, that's because sometimes science doesn'twork on magic. But once in a while characters find out that it does work, which usually leads to an Awesome Moment.
Sort-of-done in My Immortal. Instead of telling Ebony to kill Vampire/Harry via magical means, Vloxemort gives her a gun to shoot him. Of course, given TaraGilesbie hasn't displayed any real understanding of how the actual series works...
An example appears in Oh God Not Again to explain why Theodore, a Slytherin, is in Muggle Studies. When asked why he was there, Theodore noted that his father learned the hard way that Muggles weren't as harmless as he thought after being shot on a trip to Las Vegas, and wanted his son to learn as much about Muggles as possible.
Faery Heroes background had Voldermort coming back to life once more and deciding to wage direct war against Muggles. By the time of the story, almost 3/4ths of the magical population of Britain is dead, most of the survivors are in hiding, having been utterly unprepared for the grenades, the bullets, and just the way muggles wage war.
Discussed in the Zero no Tsukaima/Prototype crossover Unfamiliar; while magic can do many thing technology can't, it's also inefficient for more mundane things. For example, an earth mage can do the work of ten farming machines; however, it takes years to train a earth mage, whereas you can build farming machines in days.
Subverted in some Axis Powers Hetalia fics involving human beings trying to take on the Nations themselves. As it turns out, all conventional weapons (whether it's a knife or a .50 caliber rifle) could do is simply stall them long enough for the Muggles to escape with their lives.
I've finally figured out how to bypass the defenses of Voldemort's hideout. It was actually easier than dealing with the Mob, since Death Eaters aren't quite as good as taking pain as they are dishing it out. They also have absolutely no experience or talent for psychological warfare or interrogation, rather they just choose to cast a few spells and expect things to work. They also don't expect people to be able to dodge. They called me a muggle, whatever that means, I called them target practice.
In Fallout: Equestria, while magic and magic powered devices are capable of amazing things, guns and explosives tend to be more reliable in combat. Even Alicorns can easily be dispatched by completely normal gunfire without their magic shields (and at several points cannot react to conventional attacks fast enough to get those shields up). Even these shields can be broken by enough force — say, dropping a train car on top of the Alicorn.
One of Arthur Arcturus' fears in The Audience is that humans will find their way to Equestria, as it his evaluation that Equestria's magic and (at best) napoleonic era battlefield tactics would be no match for even a third-world human army. His suggested solution to the Diarchs is to invent a magical anti-tech field.
Naruto's deal with the clans (and later the Hokage) in The Mouse of Konoha relies heavily on this. While every clan compound and restricted area is almost perfectly defended against shinobi intruders, they tend to have little to no defense against civilians. In exchange for finding the flaws in their security, the various clans teach Naruto different skills.
An odd sports related version comes up in Harry Potter and the Wand of Uru. When Wood is knocked out of the game with a fractured skull, Hermione steps in as Keeper wearing her field hockey pads (she played goalie). Every non-muggleborn is amazed when she takes a bludger to the arm without injury.
Syndrome's long term goal in The Incredibles is to invoke this trope, to give away his advanced technology that matches (and in many ways, surpasses) the powers of the supers so superheroes aren't special anymore.
In ParaNorman, the zombies walk into town, only to be more scared of the normal people than the people are of them. They are quickly mobbed and several of them are literally pulled apart. Although, the zombies really don't want to eat anyone, and this trope is very subverted when the witch comes along.
Films — Live-Action
In the French movie Arthur et la guerre des deux mondes (Arthur and the war of two worlds), the Big Bad entered the human world thinking he would rollover humanity with his army of really stupid mooks... he did rollover the population of a mostly unarmed and peaceful really small town. But when an actual human army show up, they pulverised the Evil Army in seconds. Hell, the tanks were completely overkill. Granted, the Hero does lampshade the fact that the Big Bad had utterly no clue about humans' capabilities, as he come from a millimeters-sized population of fairy-like creatures that lived in the gardens and forests.
Attack of the Clones has a Jedi leaping up to the platform to challenge Count Dooku... only to be nonchalantly gunned down by Jango Fett. All of the Jedi without Plot Armor are gunned down by droids during the same sequence.
In their first movie, they avert the invasion of the plane-hopping conqueror Gozer the Traveler using Fantastic Science in the form of four unlicensed nuclear accelerators.
In their second movie, the judicious use of the scientific method and cassette tapes of upbeat rock music turn the Big Bad's slimy energy source against him.
In the Underworld series, vampires and werewolves have been fighting for centuries with neither side being able to achieve victory. In Underworld Awakening, humans get involved and drive both species to near extinction almost immediately.
In the Blade series, this is the reason why the vampires keep up the masquerade. Lacking Blade's ability to move around at day and their weakness to other common things, the humans would be a serious problem if they didn't keep their activities limited.
In The Mist, strange monsters from some other world are brought in after some secret military experiments in a nearby base. At the end, it is revealed that the military actually has the situation under control, leading dozens of survivors to safety and almost casually burning down the nightmarish nests with flame throwers.
Most of the eponymous Army of Darkness was destroyed with common explosives attached to arrows, a guy with a chainsaw and a shotgun, and a heavily modified car.
The Fair Folk are ethereal folk capable of enchanting humans and messing with their minds. Yet somehow they always seem to hide from humans. Why? Well, humans have lots and lots of iron.
Zigzagged in Harry Potter, where in The Magic Versus Technology War, magic tends to nearly always win. For example, Muggle surgery was useless in Order of the Phoenix when dealing with magical injuries. However, in Goblet of Fire, Harry mentioned that Muggle surveillance equipment might be useful; Hermione tries to refute it, but only on the grounds that the amount of magic present around Hogwarts prevents anything electrical being used.
Regarding weapons, there are extremely long debates, some on this very wiki, about how far this goes. It's generally acceptednote at least by the fans; Rowling is surprisingly silent on the debate that a Muggle with a shotgun would usually beat a wizard, but since that's a rather vague scenario you get questions like "What happens if the wizard is smart enough to turn invisible or teleport behind his back?" or "Can a wizard cast a shield charm that deflects the entire burst, not just the first bullet?"
This happens in-canon, of all places, too. These themes are usually downplayed, but still there. For example, in Goblet of Fire, an owl is sent out. At least one day later, a letter is sent by Muggle post. The letter arrives that morning, and the owl arrives well after breakfast.
Also, when Mr. Weasley is in St. Mungo's for a magical snakebite whose wounds won't close, he and a young trainee healer decide to try closing them up using stitches. It doesn't work, the implied reason being that the snake's venom dissolved through them.
Additionally, who is to say that a wizard healer even knew enough about muggle medicine to properly perform the procedure? Metal staples were another option besides stitches, but if the healer had as much understanding of muggle medicine as Mr. Weasley did about technology, the failure seems inevitable. Wizards in this 'verse seem smug on the superiority of magic, and speak of muggle tech as silly, even when they have no or very little understanding of the extreme complexity and precision involved.
Indeed, the average Wizarding population seems to be so ignorant of Muggle technology that the newspaper "The Daily Prophet" feels that it is necessary in the third book to define for its readers what firearms are (a kind of metal wand that Muggles use to kill each other). Keep in mind that Muggles have been using firearms as common weapons for more than six hundred years.
There are several instances in all the books where common Muggle tech would have made life a lot easier or solved a plot point altogether. If they had some kind of magical-equivalent Google search for the library, half the suspense of Books 1 (Nicholas Flamel), 2 (The Chamber of Secrets), 3 (Sirius Black's bio), and 4 (gillyweed) would definitely be eliminated. The communication difficulties in 5, 6, and 7 would have been greatly lessened with message boards and wikis, and if they had some kind of standardized instant-communication system like phones, Sirius wouldn't have died; although, Harry did have the magic mirror, the wizard equivalent of a cell phone, he just forgot that he had it. Nor would Moody have, if the group had just hopped into a van. Ron can be forgiven for the ignorance, maybe even Harry given the way he grew up, but Hermione? She should have at least commented on the lack.
The magic mirror is even lampshaded near the end of the book when Harry finds it at the end of the year sitting at the bottom of his trunk. No one actually explained what it was, and Sirius never brought it up during any of their conversations as a means of contact.
Bear in mind that the story, at least in the books, apparently does not happen in modern day, but during the 90's when cell phones and the internet weren't as prevalent as they are now. However, the films apparently are moved forward ten years to the present day.
This trope is the reason of why supernatural community in Dora Wilk Series hides from muggles, although more than our weaponry, leaders of Thorn worry about humanity's forensic medicine and modern research technology - whole Masquerade can be blown up by blood test performed on some unlucky werewolf or magical. As one of the characters put it, "it's not Middle-Age when we could drink blood of whole village with no one wiser. It's twenty-first century and humans have forensic medicine, criminology and dozens of other methods that endanger us all". Not to mention that main character of the story prefers guns over magic (it's faster).
Taken Up To Eleven in Charles Stross's The Trade of Queens, the last book of his Merchant Princes series. A parallel world with magic has has people able to "walk between worlds". Unfortunately, all they do with this is smuggle drugs. The U.S. Government slowly figures out what's going on. Then Lawrence Livermore Labs figures out how to do "world-walking". The magic world tries stealing a tactical nuclear weapon and setting it off in Washington. This provokes Massive Retaliation. It does not end well for the magic world.
In Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, faeries seem to suffer from creative sterility, or at the very least, extreme laziness, due to their innate magic abilities. Long after human civilization has invented wooden floors and stones castles and drink from metal cups, Faeries sit on dirt floors in holes in the ground and drink from stone cups. And that was several centuries before the book takes place, by which point humans have invented printing presses, firearms, and steam engines.
"In men reason is strong and magic is weak. With fairies it is the other way round: magic comes very naturally to them, but by human standards they are barely sane."
In The Dresden Files, killing a wizard is considered a very dangerous proposition since, if they know they're going to die, they can expend their life energy to create a "death curse" that can do really horrible stuff to their killer. So Kincaid explains that, if he ever wanted to kill Harry, he'd do it from a mile away with a sniper rifle; the bullet would outrun its own sonic boom, making it impossible to hear coming, and once it plows through Harry's brains, he's not gonna have time left to cast any sort of spell. After being told this, Harry reflects on the fact that wizards are going to have to get used to modern day tech as the great equalizer. And at the end of the book "Changes," it looks as if someone has made good on the idea. It is revealed in Ghost Story that Kincaid carried this out at Harry's request so that he could try to get out of being the new Winter Knight. It works initially, but the intervention of Uriel, Mab, and Demonreach keep it from sticking.
One of the primary limiters on Wizards specifically, and the reason they don't just own the entire supernatural world outright, is that reality being to some extent a function of their will tends to mean that they frequently interfere out the functionality of technology that's not culturally 'comprehensible' to them. This is something of a moving target— a wizard in the early 1900s would likely be unable to use even a steam-engine vehicle and one in the 1600s couldn't use gunpowder, but simple firearms like revolvers and older cars function just fine around Harry (or they would if monsters didn't keep destroying his car)— but the fact that supernatural creatures like vampires can do things like use electronic bank accounts and stock-trading algorithms while the white council cannot has been the major reason it's never really become a curb-stomp favoring the wizards. Marcone eventually takes this in an interesting direction by becoming an intermediary between muggle resources and various supernatural entities.
The last time a Wizard found a way around the tech limits resulted in one guy and a couple of apprentices running the entire world almost by himself... since he was a necromancer, the end result was the first world war, which was to the magical world something so much worse than both world wars combined were to the mundane world that most of a decade of history is just missing outright. It is almost the entire reason that mind control (the workaround used to give Kemmler access to modern technology) is now considered black magic in setting.
This is also the reason for the Extra-Strength Masquerade: bringing in mortal forces is the equivalent of a nuke in the supernatural community (and not just because they havenukes). Bear in mind that this is a setting where the main character, more powerful than average but far from the most powerful magic user in the setting, can throw a werewolf through two buildings with magical brute force. Then consider that everyone from Fallen Angels to the Billy Goats Gruff use machine guns.
Speaking specifically of the Fae, ancient beings connected to nature itself. The upper class can cause storms, throw lighting, fire, and ice, as well as do any other magical spell as easily as muggles breath. But because bullets have iron in them, muggle bullets can rip through most every defense a fae has. Even Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness, and on par with the par with angels in terms of power, jumps back when a nail rolled towards her. Only Mother Winter, the destroyer and final end (as she calls herself) has the power to touch iron. And she turns it to rust.
In Turn Coat, Morgan talks about a battle he had with a skinwalker. He couldn't match the monster with magic, so he went for the next best thing. He lured the skinwalker onto a nuclear testing site right before they detonated the bomb, and hopped into the Nevernever right before detonation. Even Harry has to admit that it was pretty damn awesome.
It is something of a recurring theme in the series that muggle abilities are just as deadly as magic, in their own way. In fact, throughout the series Harry has come within a hairsbreadth of death when dealing with ordinary humans with purely mortal weaponry. For example, in Small Favor, he is ambushed and nearly killed by two of Torelli's goons, and admits that if things had played out just a little differently, the two hitmen would have killed him, Murphy, and Molly, with no magic required. And ultimately, the thing that finally kills Harry is not a wizard or supernatural monster okay, technically it was half of one or elder deity....it's a sniper shooting him as he steps out Thomas' boat. It's not that an individual human is very scary to the supernatural, but hundreds of humans, with guns and tanks and helicopters and bombs...
It's mentioned that magical creatures need to pay attention to keep their construct intact, and having their constructs get torn up is in part breaking their concentration. Enough and it forces them back into the Nevernever because they need to keep concentrating to stay in our world. Then... ectoplasm. Ew.
Harry uses this to his advantage, too. There's been more than one supernaturally inclined baddy that thought he was totally out of the fight once he'd exhausted his magic, or they'd disarmed him of his staff, only to receive a few slugs from a .44 while they're gloating.
This is one of the reasons that the Red Court did so well against the White Council in the war. Most magical creatures don't interfere with technology nearly as much as wizards, so they (and even more so, their goons) can threaten wizards much more successfully. Early on in the war, the White Council is desperate to secure the Ways in Faerie because the Red Court's ability to use modern transportation will let them easily outmaneuver the Wizards. Additionally, money and law are mentioned as facets of power, and that any self-respecting magical faction has a lot of money they can throw around.
Another factor is that killing another being magic is both difficult and leaves a magic "stench" on the murderer, since magic is essentially life force and you're using life to destroy it. Bullets, swords, and other muggle means don't come with such issues.
In White Night Harry mentions that many supernatural beings have little to fear from a human with a handgun. They can easily withstand or even ignore pistols. When you get the real military weaponry like automatic rifles, machineguns, shotguns, and high explosives into the mix, and they're wielded by people who know what they're up against and how to fight the supernatural, though, things change.
In the Dresdenverse, Muggles even do magic better. In Ghost Story completely non-magical coroner Waldo Butters has, by virtue of being curious, analytical, having a good memory for even half-heard facts and having a good teacher, become one of the world's most proficient magical theorists in less than six months, outstripping wizards who have been using magic for centuries.
Part of the Heralds of Valdemar series' approach to magic and mages is that they can be taken down by physical force just as easily as any other mortals. This is a deliberate inclusion by the author, who didn't want magic to become an in-universe game breaker. It's neatly summed up in By the Sword, when a company of Private Military Contractors is brought into Valdemar - a country where magic is all but unknown - specifically to help fight the mages of an enemy nation. When worried Valdemaran citizens stop them to ask what fighting mages is like, the inevitable response is, "They die."
A major plot point in Everworld, where not only do the Coo-Hatch almost hand the Hetwan a victory over Olympus with a fairly-primitive cannon, but Senna's ultimate plan turns out to be importing an army of gun nuts into Everworld to help her overthrow the gods, who, it turns out, aren't quite as immortal as they thought.
The aforementioned white supremacist gun nuts are feared by the protagonists as one of the most dangerous forces in Everworld (a setting filled with gods, magic, aliens, and mystical creatures), even after the death of Senna, their witch leader. And rightfully so, considering just one Sennite armed with an Uzi slew a dragon with ease. The Sennites go on to kill a mythical giant and slaughter the better part of a company of elite Celtic warriors known as the Fianna. For their final trick, they manage to slay Fenrir in seconds in addition to driving off Loki and his grand army of trolls.
Not all of the examples of this trope in Everworld are combat-related, per se. The protagonists' half-joke that their modern running shoes are one of their primary advantages whenever the shit hits the fan. April saves Sir Galahad's life with relatively basic modern first aid and medical skills (painkillers, stitches, and an improvised blood transfusion), even after Merlin himself had written his wounds off as too serious to treat and was preparing to kill the knight out of mercy. Jalil offers to radically increase the productivity of the Dwarf kingdom's mining operation through modern principles of technology and engineering. The introduction of the telegraph is a massive game-changer in Everworld. There are numerous occasions where even if the protagonists can't solve the current problem through sheer power, the simple virtue of their background in the "real world" sometimes gives them the necessary knowledge to tip things in their favor.
In one science fiction story, a group of (essentially) mutants left earth because their powers were feared. Years later, when the "normals" and the mutants met again, the normals had developed technology to such a point that every person had access to more capabilities than the mutants (like Syndrome wanted to do in The Incredibles).
In the world of The Darksword Trilogy, everything is done by magic. Technology and science are considered Dark Arts due to a prophecy about someone without magic destroying the world and mutterings about technology being a bit too effective when it comes to killing things. Halfway through, people in tanks show up and demonstrate that technology is indeed a superior weapon.
That has a lot to do with the magic world being founded entirely by exiles fleeing witch hunts on Earth. Most of the more competent and rational mages either died gating the "civilians" there and establishing the magic-trapping field surrounding the world which enabled them to survive without tools, or stayed behind to help guide the magicless societies towards an eventual reconciliation. The latter category included every engineer ("Death Mage") available. Initial emotional trauma led to institutionalized guilt over not releasing magic again into the greater universe once it was safe to do so (as promised), and thus to forgetting about and demonizing the nonmagical. And to being totally unprepared for encounters with it.
In Sergey Lukyanenko's Watch novels, the Others are mostly immune to human weapons by virtue of always having the ability to enter the Twilight, where no human can go. Also, all seriously wounded Others instinctively enter the Twilight to heal up. Also, The Masquerade prevents humans from knowing the truth. Several Others have been killed by Muggle means. Edgar's wife, a witch, is killed by a truck driver having a heart attack. One story involves the possibility of resurrecting an ancient dragon-mage, who, being from before The Masquerade, would go rampaging across Europe. The Others argue that, in a battle between a mad dragon and missile-armed gunships, the gunships would come out on top (Take That, Godzilla).
The only human weapon that almost no Other can escape is a nuke. A nuclear explosion will even reach into every layer of Twilight, leaving no places for Others to hide.
Also partly true with enchanted weapons that can penetrate into Twilight but are otherwise ordinary. A werewolf is gunned down by a submachinegun in the fourth novel.
Given that magic is actually made by humans and absorbed by Others, if humans expand into space, the Others will be hard-pressed to follow them until sizable colonies are created. Add to that constantly-evolving weapons (the fourth book even has remote-controlled guns that make it very difficult to spot danger due to a machine having no evil intentions), and the Others will eventually be helpless against humans.
When shit really hits the fan, one of the most important weapons of the Others is their mind control abilities to dictate the use of mortal weapons. Rather than magical attacks, the ability to launch Russia's or the USA's nukes is considered to be extremely key.
Muggles seem to come on top even when the playing field is simply leveled. At some point in the fourth book, the villains prop up a SWAT team with charms that render them immune to magical attacks and sit back as the troops effortlessly storm a Night Watch-owned building.
In The World of Eldaterra: The Dragon Consipracy, there are two problems. One, a fantasy race similar to orcs invading earth. Solved with Brits with bolt-action rifles. Second, dragons trying take over the world. Solved by one guy with a grenade.
Discussed in Xanth. In Centaur Aisle, Dor visits Centaur Isle which is near the fringe of magic, and therefore magic is used much less. As a result, they're much more technologically and socially advanced compared to the rest of Xanth which is stuck in Medieval Stasis. This leads Dor to wonder (briefly) if that means it's better not to have magic. His conclusion: Ridiculous!
He had followed the thought to its logical conclusion and found it absurd, therefore the thought was false.
Played straight in the first book, A Spell For Chameleon. Bink is exiled from Xanth and meets Trent, an "Evil" Magician who has spent the last 20 years in Mundania (our world). Although he wants to get back to the land of magic, he and his army have come prepared, with superior ships that can sail against the wind, and catapults that can take down Xanth's shield (generated by a stone within it) once they know its location. Trent also mentions that firearms would end the conflict with ease, but he doesn't want them introduced to Xanth, and has trained his men in swordplay instead.
In Robert A. Heinlein's Methuselah's Children the immortal Howard Families flee Earth because the rest of the population are getting ready to imprison and torture them to learn the secret of their immortality serum — which doesn't exist; they're just naturally long-lived. Years later they return, and find that the people of Earth devoted a massive project to discovering the immortality drug . . . and succeeded.
One of the Howard Families scientists feels like an idiot for abandoning the line of research that led to the longevity treatment Earth developed, but is told not to as it took thousands of scientists decades at a cost of billions to develop it. (Sometimes it's just that Muggles do it better because they simply have more resources to use on a problem, since there are so many of them.)
Malazan Book of the Fallen: There are many examples throughout the series of Nigh Invulnerable ancient beings of terrifying power coming up against a Malazan soldier with a Moranth grenado - much to the former's surprise and (often short-lived) chagrin.
Monster Hunter International: Five of the seven master vampires (super-powerful vampires that are more dangerous than even normal ones) aiding Lord Machado are contemptuously dismissive of the titular team they face in spite of warnings from the other two more recent conversions to master vampire, one of them a former MHI member who's very familiar with the ability of human devices thanks to regularly using them when part of the company, and the other a Nazi soldier from WW2. They walk into a blizzard of Hunter gunfire as the humans open up with belt-fed grenade launchers, rockets, and 81mm mortars. The five pay for their arrogance and ignorance with their (undead) lives.
Robert Sheckley has a story where a couple running an electrical appliance store have a few of those stolen. Turns out it was a genie from the past who got a job at the royal palace solely through having influential relatives, and, when the queen demanded spells to clean her clothes or cool her chambers, he found the spells to be too complex and could do nothing but steal some tech from our time. At first, they try to banish him (doesn't work because a genie is immune to all spells except from his own country, which they don't know). Then, they sabotage the devices and refuse to do maintenance on the ones already taken. So the genie attempts to start trading. At first, they are afraid it will cause a Temporal Paradox, but change their mind after the genie says "Don't worry, I'm from Atlantis. A couple of years and nothing will remain of it or your tech". Then they decide to trade as much as possible.
The Name of the Wind has an interesting example - many things are done better with magic, but at higher cost, great risk, hours of headaches perfecting the solution so it doesn't have side effects. In Kvothe's example, it's makes much more sense to use mortar than figure out the dozen-odd sigils needed to magically glue bricks together. Per brick.
In Belisarius Series a superbeing comes back from the near infinite future, only to find that medieval humans can do quite well once they figure out what is what.
A small example from Lord of the Rings. Saruman, a great wizard, does not bring down the wall of Helm's Deep with any spell or incantation, but two giant black powder bombs.
Particularly noted in Lords and Ladies, when the elves prove to be quite resistant to magic, but are perfectly vulnerable otherwise (especially to iron).
Live Action TV
Buffy the Vampire Slayer periodically showed that even the most Badass of supernatural beasties could be taken down with real world firepower. While it's shown that guns can't kill vampires, they do "hurt like hell," and most other monsters have no such immunity, and even Buffy was once almost killed by an ordinary guy with a handgun. Since the self-imposedMasquerade kept the police or military from getting involved in the plot much, and the Main Characters could only occasionally get their hands on post-medieval weaponry, this didn't stop most fights from being superpowered slug fests. This got a little wonky in Season 4 and beyond, though, when the government did get involved, equipping a lot of Muggle soldiers with hi-tech weapons and sending them off to fight demons, but how successful this actually was tended to vary by episode. One of Joss Whedon's ideas for the season was "magic vs. science, magic kicks ass", which was proved by the Curb-Stomp Battle in the penultimate episode, but up until the Big Bad made his move, it was largely back and forth.
In "Homecoming," when various people, vampires, and demons compete to see who can kill Buffy and Faith, it's the two humans with machine guns and grenade launchers who prove the most effective and deadly (that's not to say they won, but they lasted the longest at least). To be fair, she had to trick them into shooting each other, she couldn't take them out directly.
In "Innocence," the Judge is poised to destroy the world. The Judge is an ancient demon that it had previously taken an entire army to defeat because "no weapon forged can kill him". Buffy shoots him with a rocket launcher. No more Judge. (He didn't even know what the weapon was. His minions, however, certainly did, and ran the other way - fast.)
Mayor Wilkins, the Big Bad of Season 3, spent a hundred years making deals with demons in order to become the gigantic snake demon Olvikan and take over the town of Sunnydale, and possibly the world after that. Once he finally becomes a demon, he finds his vampire army being defeated by a bunch of Ordinary High School Students armed with arrows, stakes, and a couple flamethrowers, and he himself is taken down by some strategically placed dynamite.
The setting is full of monsters and vampires that were previously defeated or placed in their can by ordinary non-magical humans with medieval or older technology and numbers on their side.
In one season 1 episode, Darla found herself facing a pissed off Angel and a crossbow-wielding Buffy, and quickly neutralized Angel and nearly killed Buffy by whipping out twoSIG-Sauer P226s and shooting Angel first. The only reason our protagonist survived was that Angel managed to overcome the pain from getting shot twice (as a vampire, he wouldn't die from being shot, but it really hurt) and staked Darla.
Stargate SG-1 makes great use of this trope (as, to a lesser extent, do its spin-offs). The Goa'uld have starships, plasma cannons, and teleporters. The heroes have... normal, modern-day U.S. Air Force issue weapons. But the entire Goa'uld society essentially runs on Cool, but Inefficient — their high-tech staff weapons are scary and flashy, but inaccurate and have a slow fire rate; their Space Fighters are impressive, but a surface-to-air missile will bring them down as surely as a plasma blast would. This is often lampshaded in the show. In one episode O'Neill points out explicitly that Earth's comparatively low-tech weapons can be superior to the Goa'ulds' Applied Phlebotinum because the Goa'uld are obsessed with intimidating and impressing their enemies, while primitive Earth weapons are designed merely to kill. As the show goes on Earth gradually gets more and more Applied Phlebotinum of its own, but even then the protagonists remain armed with old-fashioned Tau'ri guns.
The introduction of the Replicators is probably the best example of this. The Asgard are getting their super high-tech asses kicked by robots that assimilate technology—the more advanced the better. So how do you fight them? Bring in primitive ballistic weapons.
In The Asgard's defense, they are smart enough to realize this.
Another factor is that the Asgard and Goa'uld always were preparing defenses against the Goa'uld staff weapons. The Asgards themselves noted the idea of using expanding gas to send a projectile flying never occurred to anyone else.
The First One: "Your weapons are of no use here."
O'Neil: *Blasts the monster with his SMG*
To be fair to the Goa'uld, they do have a serious trump card in the form of their Ha'taks, spaceships that are impervious to nuclear weapons and capable of bombing a planet back to the Stone Age from orbit. It's not until relatively late in the series that the Earth has a defense against a direct attack like that. Much of the series is about preventing such an attack in the first place, usually using guerilla tactics and subterfuge.
Even when Earth gets more Applied Phlebotinum, they tend to use it to improve and enhance what they already have instead of simply replacing their existing technology. They don't use the super-science energy source to replace nuclear weapons, they use it to make nuclear weapons with a really, really big bang. It's not until the Asguard hands them a plasma cannon strong enough to fight the ships of the Ori that they upgrade.
Teen Wolf has werewolf hunters, who can be extremely effective and deadly in their usage of modern weapons and technology. Stiles himself has even proven this from time to time, like when he pelted Peter Hale with concentrated acid. The fact that werewolves seemingly have a psychological block against using modern weapons themselves is never scrutinized too closely. Although Scott averts it somewhat when he uses some of the Argent's flash-bang arrowheads to blind Deucalion in the season three finale).
The Outer Limits episode Rule Of Law has a scene where the judge protagonist, armed with a handgun, confronts a lynch mob armed with laser guns. The crooks mock his inferior weapon, but are defeated with ease, owing largely to the judge's superior marksmanship and training.
In the Doctor Who (Seventh Doctor) episode "Battlefield" retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart kills the Destroyer Of Worlds by simply walking up and shooting it in the chest with silver bullets.
The reason The Brigadier had silver bullets was because when the Doctor had earlier warned him that the enemies he was facing were immune to bullets, the Brigadier pointed out that his troops were using armor piercing bullets, and then explained how the Unit armory was well stocked in a wide variety of bullets to deal with any of the aliens they'd faced. Then the Doctor asked about silver bullets, and right after he left The Brigadier showed enough Genre Savvy to immediately call up the armory to send over a case of silver bullets.
Look at it this way: The Brigadier was a British soldier who had personally faced down the most evil and terrifying things in the entire universe - the stuff of nightmares - and did not blink even once. That goes way beyond Badass Normal territory. The Destroyer Of Worlds never had a chance. There's a reason why he has his own trope.
Defied in the special episode Dreamland, when the Doctor tries to warn Colonel Stark about the most likely betrayal of his Viperox allies. Stark immediatly points out how absurd it seems that a "an army a giant cockroaches" could defeat tanks and planes, but the Doctor replies by revealing the Viperox once defeated an alien species whose technology was 1000 years ahead of Earth's. When Stark later pull a Heel-Face Turn, his forces indeed prove uneffective against the Viperox.
Becomes a Running Gag throughout "The Crimson Horror". The Doctor is prepared to do something clever, then one of the human companions solves the current problem.
The Doctor: Hang on, hang on, I've got a sonic screwdriver! Clara: Yeah? I've got a chair!
Ultraviolet works on this, because modern technology means the "Code 5"'s - vampires - have to take a lot more care these days. The hunters are armed with the likes of gas grenades loaded with the active anti-vampire ingredient of garlic, and guns with video cameras (which, like mirrors, vampires don't appear in) and carbon rounds (like tiny, very fast stakes).
Lost In Oz uses this as Caleb holds the Wicked Witch at gunpoint. While she claims it can't kill her, it apparently can, as a new host for the Witch's soul is chosen soon after.
In the Sherlock episode "The Sign of the Three", John and his fiancee Mary are trying to decide on table settings for their wedding reception while Sherlock sits in on the conversation. The former two leave the room for a few moments and return to discover that Sherlock has folded all of the cloth napkins into various origami figures. He at first attempts to explain how he did it with some mathematical Technobabble before admitting that he learned it on YouTube.
A frequent observation about the game system in Rifts, where advanced technological weapons can seem to have a huge advantage over magic and psionics in terms of rate of fire, range and number of shots. However, clever Game Masters might note that certain things, like the e-clips used to power most energy weapons, cannot always be easily recharged in the Schizo Tech environment of Rifts Earth, where many locations are very primitive and do not even have electricity! Likewise, getting repairs done on your Powered Armor might not be possible in the middle of the wilderness.
In the world of Warhammer 40,000, almost every army relies on technology so advanced it might as well be magic, or actual magic. The Imperial Guard, on the other hand, somehow (barely) hold back an implacable hive mind, undead killing machines, barbarous green savages, and magic-using traitors with just laser guns, tanks, and artillery. And infantry. Lots and lots of infantry.
Da Orks, strangely, are both Muggles Do It Better AND Wizards Do It Better. Despite using bullets, guns, tanks, and giant battle axes as their primary weapons - barely more advanced than what we have now - they can still kill just as good as any other race, and it is agreed that if the Orks were ever united, they would be able to walk over the rest of the galaxy. However, their technology runs on their collective psychic powers MAKING it work by thinking it will.
In Changeling: The Lost, part of the angst for the Wizened is that, yes, they have magic and it does spiffy things; the problem is that it's just not sustainable.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse points out this trope in Hammer and Klaive, the splatbook detailing fetishes (magic items). Fetishes used by the more rural tribes tend to be flashy, ostentatious and straight-forward. The urban tribes, on the other hand, tend to go "Okay, we can find a wooden stick, inscribe it with a few glyphs and anoint it with sacred oils, bargain with a spirit of lightning and thus get something to point at people to kill them — or we could go to the local gunshop to get the same thing for a couple bucks." As a result, the more modern werewolves engage in lateral thinking and use fetishes for purposes that can't be achieved technologically.
In the Gehenna scenarios that involve the Masquerade being blown wide open, it's not uncommon for single squads of human soldiers armed with automatic weapons to take out thousands-year-old elder vampires whose cultural stagnation has kept them from adapting to the times. To wit; they're not so stupid or Luddite that they don't know what a gun is, it's just that guns didn't exist in a time when they were still young and didn't spend as much time as possible ignoring the world, so they have no idea how to practically handle such a threat in person. Escalation happens when the smarter vampires start taking action; for example, a Ventrue using Dominate to force the launch of nuclear missiles.
Genius The Transgression, the New World of Darkness fan-game, subverts this trope. Sure the Inspired can make changes last forever (it's very hard though) and they've built some of the oldest still functioning machines in the world and anything muggle technology can do a Wonder can do better. Despite all this as a rule of thumb: as soon as mundane science reaches the point where it can do something only Wonders could do before, the Inspired start using the mundane solution (e. g. switching from a network of Apokalypsi-based 'communication nodes' to... just connecting to the Internet). Sure, the effects aren't as flashy, but mundane science doesn't fall apart or go berserk when not "fed" enough Mania, it can be maintained by regular people without causing Glamour Failure, it can be mass produced easily. In short, Geniuses do it better, Muggles do it reliably.
In Exalted's Autochthonia, this was made a basic point in the laws of physics of the world by Autochthon, its creator. While the Alchemical Exalted wield far more personal power than any muggle as the warrior champions of their people, Alchemicals lack Favored Abilities, which means muggles can become better at things much faster than them, and they are divinely forbidden from ever achieving a place in the gubernatorial hierarchy - not to mention only mortals can be blessed with the knowledge of how to make other Alchemicals by their patron god. This stands in stark contrast to most of the rest of the Exalted, which have an underlying theme of being better than puny little humans in every way and designed to be rulers and lords.
Though, Exalted lacks a clear division between magic and non-magic, anyway; unenlightened mortals are just so weak that they have no control over their Essence. On the other other hand, the Solar Exalted, among the most powerful of Exalts, explicitly have powers that resemble the 'mortal' way of doing things (shooting arrows that hit you anywhere in the world and leaping over mountains instead of teleporting or firing blasts of fire), and are designed to win out against more obviously magical effects.
The Dungeons & Dragons adventure "The City Beyond the Gate" by Robert M. Schroeck, in Dragon Magazine #100, where a PC party goes through a dimensional gate to modern day London, England. It's specifically stated that if the PC's decide to fight it out with the British police and/or military that they'll be slaughtered, either immediately or after their magic runs out.
Zig-Zagged in the d20 Modern Urban Arcana setting. Obscuring mist? We have smoke grenades. Water breathing? We have scuba gear. Fireballs? Rocket launchers deal more damage. But at the same time, some magical effects are impossible to replicate with current mundane tech (Electro Magnetic Pulse spell, spell that turns the traffic in your favor...).
One Call of Cthulhu adventure involved a villainous plot to psychically link a dreaming Eldritch Abomination to the collective unconscious of humanity, thus driving the world's entire population insane in its sleep. As a campaign-preserving failsafe, one of the proposed alternate endings was that, if the player characters couldn't stop the plot, it would indeed establish such a connection ... only to have the abomination itself go insane because, while its own otherworldly mind was powerful, the minds of humans were equally-strange to it, and there are just so darned many humans on Earth that its psyche would be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Humanity on the other hand, just has nightmares.
KOTOR makes Jedi not look as invincible as they are generally believed to be. Vibroblades are infused with cortosis, special ore that can resist lightsabers, which allows non-Jedi to fight a Jedi on equal terms, and blasters can still retain effectiveness even after acquiring force powers, especially in the sequel. Basically, although the Jedi still generally have an advantage, it's not a Foregone Conclusion.
Master Vrook: "Nothing is more embarrassing for a Jedi than to be cut down by a stray blaster shot."
HK-47 has a lengthy discussion with the Exile in the second game on how best to kill Jedi (if you earn enough Influence to unlock it). He particularly notes about how Jedi don't like to fight at range but, at the same time, can deflect regular blasters. Sensory Overload is the recommended tactic, because Jedi can't deflect it or isolate themselves from it in battle.
In The Old Republic a Sith totally laughs off the Bounty Hunter character, as a force user 'cannot be defeated by some hired gun'. One short battle later and she's gasping on the floor, heavily injured. Indeed Bounty Hunters use plenty of mundane weapons that both Jedi and Sith are noted as weak to, such as close range fire attacks, explosives and dart weapons.
All of the player characters which are not Force-sensitive really, in some quests you get to fight force users and win, and one of the dialogue options you get is "The Force is overrated". Since when does Stock Striking do more damage than a lightsaber strike?
An awesome example of this pops up in Final Fantasy VIII. The giant spider robot during the Dollet mission has been hounding your squad all the way down the mountain. You can't kill this thing, as it auto-repairs. All your superhuman strength, training, magic, Guardian Forces, and archaic weaponry cannot freaking stop this mechanical monster. It just keeps coming. Then, you get to the beach, where Quistis is waiting in the gun turret of your hovercraft, manning a .50 caliber machinegun, and she tears the robot apart with nothing but intense, drawn out automatic fire.
Late in the game, the party must board Lunatic Pandora, a floating obelisk with a shield around it. They get through the shield by flying their airship at it and shooting it a lot. They get through the wall by shooting more, until they've blown a hole through the side. The airship itself is one of three that were originally made for the sole purpose of dragging a sorceress into space so she couldn't harm the world any further; she was made docile enough for this to work by what amounts to cryogenic suspension.
This trope is generally subverted in other Final Fantasy games. For example, in Final Fantasy VII the Huge Materia Bomb is not sufficiently powerful enough to destroy the meteor. It's zig-zagged in FF7 with the Weapons in plot scenes, however, where the Sister Ray does in fact have enough power to kill both Sapphire and Diamond Weapon; the former with a shot to the exposed head, the latter when upgraded with the Mako reactors in Midgar was able to punch through Diamond Weapon and lose little to no actual power from the actual shot.
The only problem is firing the Sister Ray almost destroyed Midgar in a Mako Overload, and that's just ONCE, and it can only be pointed in one direction. The Big Bad is also practically immune to the Sister Ray...and due to genetic enhancements thanks to his parents, he would of actually gotten STRONGER if hit by it. Still, they do a number on the WEAPONS regardless.
On top of taking out two Weapons, the Sister Ray also tears down the barrier surrounding the North Crater with the same shot it killed the Diamond Weapon with.
Played straight in Final Fantasy X however. The heroes never would have beaten Sin without the non-magical airship and gun.
This trope generally holds true in Final Fantasy Tactics as well, thanks to the Faith mechanic. A character with low Faith can't use magic well and beneficial spells are less effective when cast on them, but by the same token they also take less damage from magical attacks. Thus, wizards tend to get cut down pretty easily by faithless characters if not backed up with conventional weaponry.
In fact, almost all of Ids games include some elements of this. Doom's demonic invasion was basically slaughtered by one man using human made fire power, shotgun, rocket launcher, chainsaw, and BFG. Wolfenstein remake had most of the interdemensional beings able to be killed by WW2 era machine guns.
In Fable II, we discover that the Heroes' Guild was wiped out by muggles shortly after guns were invented, because good Heroes were no longer necessary and evil Heroes were no longer worth the hassle (although its stated most of the good Heroes were unarmed/didn't fight back).
EarthBound has JeffAndonuts, who uses home-made bombs and rockets to make up for his lack of PSI, and the weapons he cobbles together from junk can cause more damage than the PSI his allies wield.
At first glance, it might seem like Rise of Legends plays magic and technology fairly equally, but then you realize that one of the factions uses Sufficiently Advanced Technology and, in the game's plot, curbstomps the current tech and magic users.
A major theme of Arcanum Of Steamworks And Magic Obscura is that sufficient amounts of one cancel out the other. Guns jam in a wizard tower, but spells fail to work in towns with steam engines and industries. Part of why this is a big issue is because technology is much easier to use and lends well towards the kind of ubiquity you'd never see out of mages.
The best mechanic example of this is healing. Healing potions and spells require you to Clap Your Hands If You Believe - the more character is bent toward magic, the better the results. On the other hand, conventional medicine and pharmacology works for everyone - even mages - on the same, constant and efficient rate.
In the Nasuverse many "True Magics" have been lost due to the continued growth of technology. True Magics are defined as an act of magecraft that cannot be duplicated by mundane means. Before the twentieth century flight could be considered a True Magic, but ceased to be such once airplanes were invented. Even outside of True Magic, the inherent danger and limitations of magecraft mean that the mundane approach is often safer and easier.
The Throne of Heroes is a section in the Akashic Records where the souls of heroes who accomplish great deeds rest, outside of the cycle of reincarnation. In the modern day it is impossible to reach the Throne because modern technology allows normal humans to accomplish great deeds with relative ease.
For a direct example, in Fate/Zero Kiritsugu largely bases his fighting around normal human weaponry. Mages are pretty much all completely scornful of technology and thus dismiss it completely. Kayneth is utterly shocked when Kiritsugu pierces through his magic barrier with a high caliber bullet and vows to use his full strength to block the next one. Which is actually when Kiritsugu uses magic to win, but still. Apart from this, magical familiars used for spying are pretty easy to detect and and be fooled by illusions, but you can neither find nor trick a mundane camera with magic.
A subtler example would be Kuzuki Souichirou in Fate/stay night. After becoming a Master, he simply continues with his daily routine while his Servant does the job; coupled with his lack of Magic Circuits, this allows him to pass undetected by enemy Masters and Servants alike. When it comes to fighting, he takes advantage of the surprise factor and tries to kill as swiftly as possible. Finally, he's not above retreating when things go bad.
In the original Spyro game, the last and hardest of the standard enemies you fought were not the magicians, not magical beasts, but Gnorc's wielding grenades and machineguns.
An amusing scene from Scribblenauts: Unlimited plays out like this. You are told to equip an adventuring party for battle with a dragon, including a knight, ranger, wizard, and cleric. No matter what you equip them with, they will attack the dragon in sequence, only to pull out bazookas and blast it the dragon to pieces.
In Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games, mage-type characters are often out-DPSed in lategame by "carries" with their normal attacks. But also subverted in that the high DPS is usually achieved with the aid of buffs from spells and magical items.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3, alongside its many superheroes and villains, has normals like Chris Redfield, Frank West, Hawkeye and Haggar. In this case muggles really do do it better, because Phoenix Wright - a human lawyer with no powers whatsoever - has the most powerful Hyper Combo in the game.
He also realizes that all the safeguards on the Goblet of Flameyness don't stop them from tampering "Muggle Style."
In another storyline Sam, a human who recently became a vampire and turned to killing other vampires, demonstrated that although vampires cannot enter houses uninvited, getting the invitation with a gun works too. The funny part? He's the dumbest recurring character, yet no other vampire had ever thought of that.
Just to give you an idea how much better the human weapons are than the demonic armies in the first battle 440,000 demons marched against a prepared group of a few (unnumbered) thousands of humans. 600 human lives were lost. Only 300 demons survived.
He began to change sides when humans showed mercy and didn't eradicate him and his family, something neither he nor his overlords who sent them all to die in disgrace expected. Had had heard humans speaking of some weapon they were afraid of themselves, but it was the video that explained what they were afraid of and why, and showed him that the humans could have slaughtered his forces at will and had just been playing with him.
Justified in the fight against the Slaughterhouse Nine in Worm. Their ringleader, Jack Slash, has a secondary thinker power designed to interact with other people's powers, telling him what they're doing and when. When he's fighting capes, he personally cannot lose. Until an unpowered police officer with a containment foam gun enters the fray and blindsides him.
The 'Dragon Slayers', the bogeyman of the mutant world in the Whateley Universe, turns out to be a team of seven highly-trained U.S. Marines with complicated tactics but standard weaponry.
And in one Team Tactics training sim during winter term, Team Kimba (with uber-mage Fey, Flying Brick Lancer, and Person of Mass Destruction Tennyo) gets slaughtered by conventional forces who use sniper rifles, regular soldiers with machine guns, and some surface-to-air missiles for Tennyo.
Bowie: Because you fight fire with fire. Wizards are supernatural. What help is a Muggle going to be? Swaim: Thereís a bunch of us and we have helicarriers and assault rifles. We killed Hitler, Hussein, and Houdini. You think we canít nuke Volter-man into next week? Willers: He has limitless dark power. Swaim: That he has to aim through a wand. We can shoot people with a thousand rockets from space! ...With iPhones.
In How Harry Potter Should Have Ended, Snape kills Voldemort with a gun. Then, after his utterly muggle-like victory, he uses a magical time-turner to go back to when Voldemort was a young orphan named Tom Riddle being introduced to the existence of magic by Dumbledore, so that he can kill him way back then and none of the deaths will ever have happened in the first place.
Linkara frequently criticizes this trope with bad Batman stories, because the cases where it appears allow this trope by depicting characters WITH powers as outright incompetent to make Batman look better. His also invokes this with his Top 15 Things That Are Wrong with Identity Crisis video, where in the fight with Deathstroke, he notes that he's standing still for most of it while taking on the whole Justice League. In his words: "This is the part where you take yourself out of the story and realize that a sniper rifle would more effective than flashy superpowers, and in story about superheroes, we really shouldn't be thinking that."
Done quite a bit in Gargoyles. Humans have always been a risk to the gargoyles because of how vulnerable they are to being smashed during the day when they're stone. In the first episode, after being awakened from their thousand year sleep, the Manhattan clan faced off and and lost against a group of well-armed human mercenaries. A human holding Hudson at gun point notes that he doesn't know what Hudson is, but he isn't bullet proof, which Hudson agrees with.
In a later episode taking place on the island containing the offspring of the Greek Gods note that the invisibility shield won't hide them from humans much longer because of the advancement of human technology.
Another episode, taking place on the island Avalon, a wizard who now had an extreme amount of magical power and the power to travel through time, the first thing he warned his younger self was that taking over the world would not be easy because human technology of the late 20th Century rivals the most powerful magic (the wizard in the question is from the Middle ages). In fact, the reason he wants to make Avalon his launching point is that it cannot be reached by non-magical means.
Curses are shown to be written with nigh-impossible "escape" conditions, even with magic; ("They shall sleep till the castle rises above the clouds" and "They shall be stone till the sky burns"). Turns out technology (and loads of cash) can do many things that were thought impossible to the curse writers. (Move the castle on top of a skyscraper and set the sky on fire by dispersing flammable gas).
In The Legend of Korra, Amon explicitly says that modern technology now allows any non-bender to go toe-to-toe with a bender, thanks to the spiffy taser gloves his men have invented. In practice, though, a bender still has the advantage at range (they haven't moved up to guns).
Subverted due to most electricity in the city being produced by fire benders working in electrical plants.
Another example is how the Bender police, Metal benders trained as elite cops, were wiped out in a Curb-Stomp Battle by non-benders piloting Giant Mechs.
However, the non-benders have been able to win most of their battles against the benders by either closing the gap or exploiting the weaknesses of elements.
Subverted hard when Vaatu shows up and fuses with Unalaq to become the Dark Avatar. An entire army throwing bending and weapons at him does nothing.
The Real Ghostbusters continues the general theme of the movie, the heroes constantly using technology to fight supernatural threats - successfully - time and again.
This is played with in the episode "The Collect Call of Cathulhu" (Yes, the name is misspelled, something that the DVD collection even commented on.) Normally, muggles cannot face Cthulhu itself without being driven insane. However, the Ghostbusters were somehow able to do so. Word of God suggested that this was because they faced horrifying monsters on a regular basis, and the beast really wasn't that much worse by comparison.
In a Robot Chicken sketch, the Planeteers become Well Intentioned Extremists, and decide that since the US government is the world's second biggest polluter, they'll perform a coup, take over, and use the might of the US military to force the world into being more environmentally friendly. When Captain Planet refuses to go along with this, they use their powers to brutally murder him. We then cut to a news report about the Planeteers ruthlessly storming the US Capitol building... until all of them were shot in the back by a single overweight security guard.
Another skit had Garagamel finding the Smurf village, not with his great magic, but with Google Maps.
In South Park's "Woodland Critter Christmas" special, the Woodland Critters have the powers of Hell at their hands, ready to bring back the Anti-Christ. How does Santa beat them? With a 12-gauge shotgun.
Here's a case of Nice Job Breaking It, Hero that almost got the heroes killed. In one episde of Aladdin: The Series, Aladdin and Jasmine went on a secret covert mission to infiltrate Mozenrath's castle, but did not ask for Genie's help, or even tell him about it. Genie found out what they were doing, and wondered why they would do something so dangerous on their own. (Mozenrath is definitely not someone you mess with without some serious backup.) So he followed them anyway, and as it turned out, Aladdin and Jasmine had the right idea. The dark wizard had upgraded his security with Genie in mind, with an anti-magic focus, so the two realized that their best chance of success would be to not use magic - or magical beings - at all. Genie's presence quickly gave them away, and they barely escaped. The one good thing to come out it was, he learned he to start trusting them more.
Zigzagged in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Individual Jedi are presented being more of a threat than a group of battle droids or clone troopers, but the whole problem of having so few Jedi, as shown in the prequel films, does mean that the clone troopers have enough of an advantage to win a full-scale war. However, even if a character is a Badass Normal, fighting a Jedi nearly always ends in them losing.