troperville

tools

toys

Wiki Headlines
It's time for the second TV Tropes Halloween Avatar Contest, theme: cute monsters! Details and voting here.

main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Superweapon Surprise
"The statues are our sentinels: blind but ever watchful...those who deface or destroy them will know our wrath, unfettered and raw."
Chozo Lore Scan, Metroid Prime

A people who seem weak or defenseless prove, emphatically, not to be.

Picture a peaceful paradise full of Space Amish; happy little sunshines who are not up to speed on technology. They are an inviting target for the Proud Warrior Race Guys. After all, there is the prospect of destruction and booty, but no chance of retaliation. The invasion is go!

The Space Amish whip out their previously-hidden defence system and blow the startled invaders out of the sky. It's the Superweapon Surprise! Not always a superweapon, but always a nasty surprise.

Comes in at least six flavors:

Compare Awakening the Sleeping Giant, where the civilization is known to be extremely dangerous, but something compromises their neutrality anyway.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

Bigger Brothers

    Literature 
  • The planet of Exocron in the Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Vision Of The Future is defended by a pretty pitiful defense fleet, which doesn't stand much of a chance against the powerful slaver fleet which tracked the protagonists there. However, it turns out the slavers were deliberately led to Exocron; the Aing-Tii monks, Force-users who usually don't go out of their territory but hate slavers, pop into orbit and, with their weird alien tech, waste the attacking fleet in a matter of minutes, then promptly leave again.
  • In Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks, free floating "airspheres" out amongst the stars host megafauna: extremely long-lived zeppelin-like creatures called behemothaurs. While intelligent, they appear to be easy targets. However, a mysterious transcendent race looks over the apparently hapless gasbags: any who mess with them tend to go extinct. At a species level.
  • Fred Saberhagen's Berserker short story "Sign of the Wolf". A human planet once had an advanced civilisation but all that is left is an automatic planetary defence system. When a berserker ship approaches and threatens to attack, a shepherd stumbles across an outpost of the defence system and inadvertently activates it, destroying the berserker.
  • Older Than Feudalism: Chapters 38-39 of the Biblical Book of Ezekiel (and, by extension, related passages in other books) is an example of this (the Bigger Brother is none other than God Himself).
    • This tends to be a common occurrence throughout the The Bible. Any time an army besieges Israel, they will inevitably encounter that one farmer still on good terms with the Almighty. This brings about many an epic Superweapon Surprise when the army of several hundred trained soldiers get slaughtered by a single farmhand with the Power of God. Or the ten-foot Philistine super soldier gets owned by a scrawny teenage shepherd boy with five rocks and a leather sling.
  • In Alastair Reynolds' novel Pushing Ice, the alien "McKinley" mentions this as one reason why they want to establish trade with the humans instead of just blasting them and taking what they want.
  • In James Hogan's Voyage From Yesteryear, a synthetically cloned Lost Colony of anarchist space-hippies are marked for cultural "re-assimilation" by an expedition from Earth. When every non-violent attempt at bringing them under the heel of typical culture fails absurdly in the face of the colonists' laid back outlook on life, the military might of the expedition is brought to bear... Only for an incredibly powerful weapon hidden in a crater on the planet's moon to blast it into oblivion. Interestingly the military delay their move until the colonists' orbiting spacecraft is on the other side of the planet, in the belief that it's a hidden-in-plain-sight Tool Conversion weapon. By this time, almost the entire expedition has already defected to join the colonists, leaving behind only the most dedicated follower of the General Ripper. In the story this was probably based on, Eric Frank Russell's "And Then There Were None", the ship simply left while it still had enough crew left to function. The colonists demonstrate that they are much more savvy and strategic than the military gave them credit for. They co-opt all the ground force as they can. When final mutiny aboard the miltiary warship begins, the colonist wait for the most dangerous hard-liners to make their escape in a shuttle craft. They knew that the worse rats would have a plan to flee the ship when it sinks; the General Ripper, his most essential loyalists and those that could pay for the privilege to abandon their fellow expeditionists. Then they blow the shuttle craft out of the sky. This is what is known as a decapitation strike.
  • In a Gordon R. Dickson short story, an aggressive alien race discovers Earth by analysis of floating space debris and launches a covert surveillance mission as a prelude to invasion. Sadly for the aliens, they discover that the humans not only know about them, they used the alien mission as a tool to psychologically profile the would-be conquerors and find out all about their civilization and military capabilities.
    • Also by the above, the short story "3-part Puzzle": when the galactic overlords decide humans are too dangerous, are about to organise to wipe the out, and get the first message ever from a telepathic, Invulnerable race - NO.
  • In Alan Dean Foster's With Friends Like These..., a peaceful galactic federation faces attackers it cannot handle and in desperation turns to its outcasts, the historically militaristic humans, currently in quarantine on their homeworld, for help. The landing party is both amazed and disappointed to discover an almost pastoral planet of peaceful citizens that doesn't match their expectations at all — until one of the local kids disintegrates one of the attackers that followed them with a stick and Psychic Powers and their hosts, upon accepting their offer, reveal that not only did they have the requisite war machines cleverly hidden underground all along and are eager to use them again, but they've somehow managed to turn their planet into a starship. Which leads one of the vistors to seriously question what will happen once the war is won...
  • Several stories in Christopher Anvil's Interstellar Patrol setting used this trope:
    • In one, a human colony of pacifists not in the main human government is targeted for conquest by a nasty species. Turns out the colony is composed of people who don't want to fight because they are so badass that if they don't keep themselves under tight control they'd waste their own planet.
    • Another featured a peaceful, agrarian, planet. Where the local farmers had such bioengineering skill that the plants could eat the invading spaceships, let alone their organic crews.
    • And yet another peaceful planet topped that. Hard to successfully invade a world where the inhabitants have the ability to mentally control tectonics and the weather.
  • In Excession, The Culture puts whole war fleets in deep storage inside of asteroids& other inconspicuous places after their last big war. Some of these depots might be moving into regions of space that could play host to events of interest... in a couple of centuries.
  • Timothy Zahn's Conquerors saga has the human Circe superweapon. It is kept hidden and unused until the last possible moment due to its extremely devastating effects (it burns starships from the inside out, cooking the crew alive). However, when the alien races are massing en force and defeat seems inevitable, the weapon is fired, and the resulting horror and surprise annihilation of the entire enemy fleet scare the other races into submission. The humans become rulers of known space, and force everyone to live peacefully in alliance, or else. This is later subverted when it comes out that Circe does not in fact exist. The enemy armies were just incredibly unlucky: in a ridiculously unlikely coincidence, a solar flare erupted from a nearby star, found the enemy fleet in its path, and bathed it in extreme amounts of radiation. The human government decided to work this in its favour and spun up the Circe superweapon story. As a new threat looms closer and closer, and everyone expects the humans to defend the alliance and defeat the invaders with the fearsome weapon, the human government finds itself in a bit of a pickle.
  • In The Inverted World, the inhabitants of the City regard the native "tooks" as hopelessly primitive, and savagely exploit them. Then it turns out the villages they've encountered so far were just the most badly impoverished in the area — word of the City's rape and pillage has spread to other villages, ones that have rifles and grenades...
  • Although never attacked, China in the Temeraire books is considered to be this. They have no standing army, and their dragons are more interested in poetry and math than warfare, but their breeding skills are remarkable so their dragons are all superior to their non-Chinese counterparts, and they have a lot more, so if they were attacked, they can easily conscript a massive army.
  • David Weber's Out of the Dark has one that neither side was expecting. The alien Shongairi have invaded Earth and thoroughly trounced the conventional militaries of Earth. They hit a bit of a brick wall when trying to occupy Earth, however, as their weapons are designed to fight lower-tech enemies due to galactic laws against conquering technologically-advanced worlds. However, the war's outcome is still inevitable because the Shongairi sit in orbit and drop rocks on any major human military force. Things look grim for mankind, up until Mircea Basarab, leader of one of the human resistance groups, finally takes off the kid gloves and reveals he is freaking Dracula and proceeds to take his cadre of vampires and whup the Shongairi's collective asses. Who the hell saw that coming?
  • One sci-fi short story featured a philosophical version of this when the crew of an Earth Federation ship land on a pastoral (in that it lacked any population centers bigger than small towns) planet of pacifist socialist anarchists. Their secret weapon is a simple two-word philosophy "I Won't". By the time the commanders of the ship realize how infectious the locals way of thinking and living is, half the enlisted men on the ship have gone AWOL and disappeared into the local population while half of those left are locked up drunk in the brig chanting the philosophy over and over in defiance. The Federation ship is forced to depart immediately, lest they lose any more essential crew-man and end up stranded because they can't even run the ship. They end up classifying the world as not worth conquering with a dangerously insane culture that warrants a social quarantine to prevent it spreading and infecting other places.

    Fan Fiction 

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek:
    • This Star Trek: The Next Generation clip. Note that while a Federation Galaxy class starship is the most powerful Federation vessel up to that point and is by no means a pushover, it'd be hard pressed to defeat a single Romulan warbird, let alone two.
      • Before you judge, do keep in mind a Romulan Warbird is twice the length and easily 5 times the mass of a Galaxy class Starship, which itself isn't even a dedicated warship... yet still needs two to one odds.
      • There are also the peaceful Eloi from the first season episode "Justice". When Westley breaks a law, Sufficiently Advanced Aliens whom the Eloi worship as God, intervene to ensure the Enterprise does not escape.
  • Any planet in the Stargate Verse under the Protected Planets Treaty. Come what may, an Asgard starship can probably put a pretty big dent in it. Until the fifth season of Stargate SG-1, at least.
  • 21st century Earth is, in the Whoniverse a backwater world way behind the technology level of the spacefaring civilizations that suround it. It's also the favorite world of the Doctor: a mad genius by the standard of his own species of nearly omnipotent Time Traveling aliens: threaten humanity's homeworld or hurt its inhabitants too much and you might remind him that he is way above Cthulhu in the food chain.
    • There's also the Torchwood One weapon used to destroy the Sycorax ship.
    • And UNIT has managed to turn hopelessness itself into the threshold of using their pet Doomsday Machine: Convince them that there's no alternative worth taking, and they'll use the Osterhagen Key to activate the weapons that will obliterate their own planet. (Only threatened once, and using it would not have been the wrong choice, had the Doctor not already been intervening. And the threat was so bad it took three of him to defeat it.)

    Tabletop Games 
  • Fairly common in Warhammer 40,000. That Eldar Exodite/Maiden world with its peaceful bunch of space elves, or that Imperial Medieval/Feudal world may look ripe for conquest and corruption, but beware the Super Soldiers, massive battlefleets, and elf ninja clowns that the planet's distant rulers are liable to send when they receive word that one of their vassals is under attack.
    • Or worst, that Feudal World is really a Knight World, enjoy your Humongous Mecha.
    • On the other hand with the galaxy being so big, it may take days,weeks,or months for reinforcements to arrive.
  • Time to bust out the flame of Anor...

    Video Games 
  • The X-Universe games have the Boron, a peaceful aquatic race that asks for nothing more than to be left alone. The Split, the resident warmongers, aren't too keen on letting the Boron live peacefully, so they unleash their military machine and start a war that reduces the Boron presence in the universe to their home planet alone. The Argon (humans), the race that owns the largest part of the universe, take pity on the poor defenseless Borons and all of a sudden open a giant can of whoop-ass on the Split. The Split go "uh-oh".
    • During the games' timeline the Borons have been forced to take up arms, and have become pretty badass themselves. In the latest games the races often unleash military campaigns upon each other, and it's not at all uncommon to see a Split task force head to peaceful Boron sectors and promptly get smashed to pieces by the resident defence force.
  • In the Mass Effect universe, we have the volus who are short and clumsy in their required enviro-suits. They would seem to be easy prey for the galaxy's pirates and slavers. However, mess with them and they'll call upon their turian allies, who have the largest and most powerful military in the galaxy, for aid. Plus, with one of the best economies in the galaxy and a limit on the number of dreadnoughts they can field, they will overbuild with the one dreadnought they have to a ridiculous degree. The volus dreadnought Kwunu is stated to have enough firepower to char a planet three times over.
    • Similarly, while the hanar are essentially giant floating jellyfishes and generally unsuited for physical combat (out of water, anyway), they have the drell, a race who willingly serve as bodyguards and assassins for them due to the fact that the hanar saved the drell from their dying homeworld.
  • The villagers of Minecraft can't fight. Their golem protectors can. And they can take on endermen in one-on-one combat, let alone zombies.
  • The scholarly, childlike and physically unimposing Tarutaru of Final Fantasy XI, while by no means defenseless in terms of gameplay stats, were storywise hard pressed by the Yagudo Theomilitary during the Crystal War, due to their stature, peaceful living conditions and dedication to science making them unaccustomed to battle (which did however serve to make their magic pack quite a punch) - until they gained bigger sisters in form of their Mithra allies, who arrive first as mercenaries but soon migrate to Windurst in large numbers and henceforth serve as bodyguards and self-expressed babysitters to their cuddly-wuddly allies.

    Western Animation 
  • The Gargoyles at Scotland's Castle Wyvern were dismissed by the Viking invaders as intimidating stauary and legends ... then came to life at sunset and drove off the attackers. Unfortunately it didn't last, because gargoyles sleep petrified in stone by day, and the Vikings were able to shatter most of the clan two days later, ransack the castle and enslave all the humans inside. Which led to the survivors going after the Vikings to wreck bloody revenge, which led to the series premise.
  • In the premiere of ThunderCats (2011), the Lizards have been the underdogs in their conflict with the Thundercats for generations. When the Lizards launch another attack on Thundera, King Claudus is confident that he can beat them back just as he's done countless times in the past. Unfortunately for Thundera, a powerful Outside-Context Villain has conscripted the Lizards as his own personal army and armed them with Lost Technology such as missile-launching Humongous Mecha. The entire kingdom goes down in one night.

    Real Life 
  • Costa Rica has no standing army to speak of whatsoever. Instead, they have a defense pact with the United States and the United Kingdom, who have pledged to send immediate military aid upon the threat of invasion. ("Hey guys, I don't have an army, can I borrow yours?")
    • Go ahead. Attack Costa Rica. WE DARE YOU.
  • The US, and later with help from the UN, was this to South Korea during the outbreak of the Korean War. While the North Korean military was armed with the latest in Soviet weaponry, the South Koreans had little support from the US at first, and as a result, the North Koreans managed to deliver a Curb-Stomp Battle to the South until they overstretched their supply lines and were pushed back by the UN/South Korean forces. Today, while South Korea's military is no longer the pushover it was during the 1950's, the US still has a defense treaty with them should North Korea take any aggressive actions against the South.
    • And on a similar note, China acts as this for North Korea, having assisted them militarily in pushing the UN forces out of North Korea to prevent a total collapse of the North Korean regime.
  • Like Costa Rica, Iceland has no standing army. However, it's a member state of NATO, meaning that should it ever be attacked by another power, the United States and most of Western Europe can be expected to come to its defense.
  • Canada. While not any more or less militant than most first-world countries, their biggest means of defense even before their own armed forces is that they're right next to the almost absurdly well-armed United States of America. Any serious threat to Canada, pretty much by definition, would be at least as dangerous to the US, which would respond in kind.
    • Mexico is protected precisely the same way. The fact that Canada and Mexico are the second and third largest energy suppliers to the US (after the US itself) doesn't hurt.
  • Really, this applies to almost any country in the Americas, which are now the USA's economic and strategic backyard. Though a long standing (all the way to Monroe) U.S. policy, the USA has only really had the power to back it up in the last hundred years or so - Chile had a bigger and better fleet than the USA until the late 19th century. In any case, as it stands every country in the Americas except Cuba is almost guaranteed to pull one of these off in the form of US intervention - unless the USA itself invades or otherwise interferes with you, of course. The threat of the latter came with the presence of the former, actually.
  • Iceland and Luxembourg have essentially no military forces but are members of NATO.

Peace Vaults

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Double Zeta Gundam, the heroes visited a Space Amish colony named Moon Moon (yes, that's its name), and naturally the evil Zeon empire followed the heroes there. Turns out the colony has an old-but-reasonably-powerful mobile suit left over from the colony's construction, that once reactivated, gave the heroes just enough of an edge (mostly through distracting the enemy) to fend Zeon's forces off.
  • ∀ Gundam has a variation with the Mountain Cycles scattered around Earth. They contain thousands of Mobile Suits in pristine condition that the Earthborn humans use to defend themselves from the invading Moonrace. The variation is that the Earthborn humans didn't know the Mountain Cycles existed either, only happening upon them by accident in the Moonrace's first attack.

    Comic Books 
  • Subverted in the origin story of Marvel's Silver Surfer: Zenn-La, Norrin Radd's homeworld, was a peaceful, highly advanced planet relying on a single awesome superweapon for protection, too...then Galactus came calling and it didn't even slow him down.
  • Appears in the Transformers: Headmasters limited series from Marvel Comics. When the war-weary Autobots arrive on Nebulos, they are mistaken for invaders by the native Nebulans. The Nebulan leader, Galen, was reluctantly pressured to unseal their world's Peace Vault and lead an attack against the Autobot's camp.

    Film 
  • In the animated movie Battle for Terra, humans have been forced into exile on a single ark ship by the destruction of all inhabitable planets in the Sol system (at the time: Earth Mars and Venus). When they discover a new planet that might support life, which they baptize Terra, there are a few problems. First, the atmosphere is unbreathable by humans. This can be solved with a terraforming device that can replace the atmosphere of the entire world. The other problem? It's inhabited by a race of peaceful flying creatures who live in harmony with nature and use only muscle-powered vehicles. Since the situation on the ark ship is desperate, the military commander wants to attack the peaceful aliens. The catch? They used to be just like us until they almost obliterated themselves, and they buried all their high-tech weaponry. It all comes out when the humans attack. Surprise! Okay, it's not perfect, and in response, the humans send down a lot more troops, nearly kicking their collective asses if not for the sacrifice of a human hero, but it was harder than they thought it would be.

    Literature 
  • In Simon R. Green's standalone novel Shadows Fall, the Elves have hidden vaults crammed full of multiple superweapons. When the Elves finally go to war, worlds tremble.
  • In The Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock, the peace-loving Eldren (portrayed very differently by the humans) fit this trope. Even as they survive in their last city, all other cities taken over by humans, they refuse to consider using their arsenal of highly advanced weapons, using only weapons comparable to the primitive middle age weapons the humans have. Even if it means their extinction as a race. When Ekrose convinces them to use their weapons, well, Curb-Stomp Battle is a severe understatement.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Stargate SG-1, the Nox. Except they're really a highly advanced civilisation with flying cities, which is just masquerading as Space Amish. While we never see them use any sort of weapons (they're still pacifists, and not of the technical variety), it's nearly impossible to find them if they don't want to be found. It's even harder to cause them real harm, since they can raise the dead, with the limits (if there are any) not being defined.
    • The Ancients somewhat qualify. Appearing to be all about Crystal Spires and Togas, except said crystal spires are in fact spaceships masquerading as cities with some some of the meanest weaponry around. The weapons in question are shown to be significantly superior to any and all modern-day Goa'uld technologies, despite the fact that over ten thousand years have passed since they were built.
    • The Tollan were an advanced Human civilisation who had developed their science far beyond Earth's and were well on their way to becoming the next Ancients. They are shown as peaceful and non-militaristic, but they did possess powerful ion cannons that could destroy a Ha'Tak in a single shot. Unfortunately for them, their technological prowess did not transfer into their military strategy which had all but atrophied. They naively trusted the Goa'uld, refusing to listen to our heroes as they considered Earth's civilisation as primitive. The deceitful Goa'uld inevitably developed countermeasures (as their new leader, Anubis, was formerly ascended and had the knowledge to replicate much of the Ancients' technology) and wiped them out/enslaved them.
    • In one episode, the team finds a civilization that has given up all weapons except a mythical "sentinel" that is supposed to "send away" their enemies. The Goa'uld who have pretty much taken control of their planet understandably believe the "sentinel" doesn't exist. Turns out it's just broken (a previous SG-team killed the guy who kept it working). Once SG-1 gets it working again, every Goa'uld on the planet is indeed "sent away" to locations unknown. Well, they're probably just dead, but it seems that Never Say "Die" is an important part of the planet's society.
    • Subverted in "Thor's Chariot". The people of Cimmeria think the Hall of Thor's Might is one of these. It's actually a way to contact the aforementioned Asgard.
  • There was an episode of Stargate Atlantis where they go to a peaceful farming community that has a Cold War level technological civilization hidden underground to avoid drawing undue attention from the Wraith. Said community plays a role in several later episodes (sometimes as antagonists, sometimes as allies of the heroes), but its surface facade (while probably still existing) doesn't come up again because the heroes and the audience already know their secret.
    • It is implied in one of the episodes after the first that the entire surface facade is destroyed/culled when the Wraith find that there isn't enough food to go around.
  • Earth does this in Doctor Who. Namely, they pull out a Death Star-like huge laser and shoot the Sycorax. Much to the Doctor's dismay, it was a shot in the back as they were fleeingnote .
    • The same goes for Gallifrey. While the Time Lords have amazing technologies, they normally wouldn't use them for warfare, and some aliens have interpreted their Alien Non-Interference Clause as weakness. But when the Daleks invade, the council is willing to use anything in their Vault, including a sentient superweapon that can destroy the entire galaxy.

    Video Games 
  • Can be utilized by players in the 4X RTS Star Ruler. Enemy players cannot determine how many ships a planet has docked (or if there are even shipyards on it). You could invade a ripe, seemingly undefended neutral player system with a couple ships, only for hundreds of their battleships to come swarming out of planets, with a Declaration of War in your diplomacy window.
  • In Star Control, the Chenjesu contacted Earth for help in an impending interstellar war because of our industrial capacity as well as our ability to be another bunch of warm bodies; they were pleasantly surprised to find out we also had a gigantic stockpile of unused nuclear weapons in our "peace vaults", hence the name of the subtrope.
    • Star Control II also has a variation: the Shofixti are hyperviolent honourable warriors and quite ready to oppose the invading Ur-Quan to the last furry little bastard. Nonetheless, they are only recently uplifted from savagery and incapable of fending off the gigantic Ur-Quan invasion fleets. So when the Ur-Quan fleet gets to the Shofixti homeworld, they respond by dropping a secret Precursor planetkiller bomb in the sun, causing a mininova and sterilizing the entire system. Surprise!
    • Star Control II has yet another one: when the Syreen surrendered to the Ur-Quan, they were forced to give up all their military hardware. The Ur-Quan put it all in a vault rather than destroy it, because they hate to waste anything. Once you escort a Syreen detachment to where the vault is, they become your own Sealed Good in a Can.
  • In the Fall from Heaven setting and backstory, the Elohim are a largely peaceful civilization, based around special ancient ruins, victims of wars, and such. Their worldspell matches this theme, by preventing enemy units from entering elohim territory for a certain amount of time. This can be used offensively, however, as units that would normally be needed for defense can be used to attack instead. In effect, the defending armies become the "peace vault" units.
  • The Bentusi in Homeworld are a race of peaceful traders. In fact, they're pretty much the only thing in the galaxy that isn't trying to vaporize you. But attack one of their ships? Well......you can see for yourself how well that turns out.
  • One mission in Star Trek Online has the Federation Player Character trying to win favor of a planet that had long since abandoned technology but had a bunch of weapons stored away just in case so the Klingons couldn't get to them. The Breen Featured Episode series has you do the same when trying to find what the ancient Preservers had hidden away. Turns out, it was just a few of their people and all of their knowledge.
  • Super Robot Wars Alpha Gaiden uses Turn-A's premise when the heroes are launched into the distant future and are able to get upgrades as the heroes' allies had hidden away their machines inside the Mountain Cycles.
  • From Utawarerumono: None of their neighbors in feudal-era Japan know how the small, apparently peaceful nation of Kunnekamun and their bunny people survive, given that they don't have much in the way of an army. When they attack, though, it's quickly revealed: Humongous Mecha!

Tool Conversion

    Fanfic 
  • In The Last Firebender the Air Nomads are this: after the Fire Nation attacked and wiped out half their people, over the course of the next hundred years, they crushed the Fire Nation. Granted, the Earth Kingdom helped drive the Fire Nation out of their initial colonies, and Aang prevented any major counterattacks by the Fire Nation, but still, the tiniest nation in the world took on the largest and most technologically advanced without the Avatar or anyone else backing them offensively. And by the time the main story started, they had basically won.

    Film 
  • In Jason X, moviedom's longest-running serial slasher got his ass handed to him by an gynoid who, prior to a combat-upgrade to her software, was just some nerd's Sexbot girlfriend. Yeah, of course he came back again, but that's gotta be humiliating!

    Literature 
  • In the Star Wars Universe, the Mon Calamari (Admiral Ackbar's race) had cruise ships used for their lucrative tourism industry. However, the Empire's increasingly oppressive policies pushed them into retrofiting these ships into massive capital ships for the rebel alliance.
    • In Wedge's Gamble, a Star Wars Expanded Universe novel by Michael Stackpole, the Rogues discover that the Empire has been using this idea for propaganda: they have been claiming the Death Star at Endor was, in fact, a mining station that the Rebellion had commandeered and were going to turn on populated worlds. It proves to be an intriguing bit of foreshadowing, when later in the book Wedge and a couple of his teammates take over a skyscraper-sized construction droid and start ripping stuff up. And that's the distraction.
    • In Jedi Search scientist Qwi Xux, one of the designers of the Death Star, believes it was supposed to crack open dead planetoids for mining purposes, the World Devastators were automated mining vehicles, and the Sun Crusher was ... well, at that point she faces the fact that she was in denial.
      • After the crap hits the fan admiral Daala comes in with her Star Destroyers to try and stop our heroes as they're running away in the Sun Crusher. The physically indestructible Sun Crusher. The ships open fire, but Han rams the stolen ship straight through a Star Destroyer's bridge, crippling the ship and sending it out of control into a black hole. Surprise!
    • Also in the Star Wars universe, the Oswaft, a species of giant manta rays who just want to be left alone are attacked by the Imperials. Lando Calrissian helps them develop ways to drive them off, including "screaming" (which creates a massive electromagnetic pulse-style effect) and producing duplicates.
  • Larry Niven's Known Space:
    • The warlike Kzinti stumble upon a completely demilitarised humanity. They invade, only to find out that reaction drives and solar sail launching lasers are actually pretty good at blowing things up. Surprise! This is referred to as the Kzinti lesson: "The more efficient a reaction drive, the more effective a weapon it makes." Related is Jon's Law which states "any interesting space drive is a weapon of mass destruction".
    • On at least one occasion a Bussard Ramjet ship itself was used as a RKV (Relativistic Kill Vehicle).
    • The Wunderlanders managed to turn a mining tool into a weapon that carved a giant divot into a planet. A "divot" large enough to be visible from space, and deep enough to hold half the atmosphere and change the planet's ecology. It's called the "Wunderland Treatymaker". And when humanity annexed the planet, they renamed it "Canyon" for obvious reasons.
    • Personal communication lasers are just tight beams for sending encoded messages. Shooting from the ground to a ship in orbit requires a bit of power to prevent blooming and errors, so the dial goes from "very low" to "reach orbit". Shooting it at someone 20 yards away when you're using the "reach orbit" setting yields... spectacular results.
    • An even more spectacular variant can be seen in Fleet of Worlds, where an interstellar communications laser, aimed very precisely, is used to achieve the impossible: destroy a General Products hull. The Puppeteers are convinced that their pet humans have somehow obtained antimatter, since General Products hulls are invulnerable to anything less.
    • The Puppeteers in Ringworld deny they carry any weapons at all, though it's something of a half-truth. For instance, their flashlight-laser just illuminates dark places. Don't tighten the focus too much, though: someone could get hurt. Louis Wu lampshades this fact in-universe. As Nessus is pointing out the devices he has brought on the expedition, and says "this is not a weapon", Louis notes the different ways they can still be used as weapons. Wu nicknames the ship "The Lying Bastard". Even a Puppeteer's natural weaponry is an example of this. Puppeteers are constantly running from trouble, not just because they're cowards, but because their physiology allows them to deliver backwards kicks that can kill people. Still mostly because they're cowards, though. Only insane Puppeteers actually bother with the lethal kick when they could be sprinting over the horizon. Which is sad, because the times we've seen a Puppeteer kick someone has always been awesome.
    • Human beings themselves, along with other mutated hominids, can be considered a Superweapon Surprise, seeings as they can, if they ingest enough Tree of Life, transform into Protectors, the (presumed to be lost) third developmental phase which features heightened intelligence, superhuman strength, increased pain tolerance, biological immortality, and an uncontrollable compulsion to protect members of their respective species. The entire human population of one planet was converted into Protectors in order to save Earth from the impending invasion of the Pak.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress features the Moon colonists rebelling against the controlling Terran government. Earth laughs; the moon doesn't have the military capability to keep out Terran police. The Moon demonstrates that the Catapult (essentially a giant railgun) it uses to send grain shipments to Earth can also be used to drop big rocks on military targets and major cities. Also, converted mining lasers make reasonably good point-defence guns when properly cradled and controlled by a sapient super-computer.
    • The Catapult is somewhat of a subversion, as during the talks the Moonies did warn they were able to do just that (there was still a massacre, but that was owed by media spinning it as a ridiculous bluff, with thousands putting themselves in the targeted areas in defiance and getting disintegrated for that). The real surprise came when the Terran spaceships managed to disable it... And the Moonies unveiled the one they had built in secret. Earth surrendered soon after.
  • In Stranger in a Strange Land, also by Robert A. Heinlein, the Martians seem to be bizarre, incomprehensible and inscrutable, but no real threat to humans due to their general lack of technology and very low key demeanor. Then it is discovered that they are very carefully weighing the pros and cons of destroying the Earth with their minds. Oh, and the last planet they had this debate about is now an asteroid belt.
  • Seen again in Heinlein's Young Adult novel Space Cadet. The Venusians are supposedly primitive, so a Jerk Ass Poor Little Rich Kid thinks he can push them around to get mining rights. It turns out that the 'primitive' Venusians are very good at chemistry, and use a powerful acid to burn into his ship and kill his crew. Later the Space Patrol is astonished when the Venusians synthesize fuel for their rocket. "They can do ANYTHING!"
    • Except play a harmonica.
  • In The Dragon Masters novella by Jack Vance, the Sacerdotes disdain conflict with the rest of the universe and profess to have no weapons. However, when the alien Grephs attack, a local chieftain tricks the Grephs into attacking the Sacerdotes, who convert the drive of the ship they are building into a weapon.
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's sci-fi novels The Stars Are Cold Toys and Star Shadow, the Geometers are an advanced, altruistic civilization that has no weapons whatsoever, having supposedly outgrown warfare long ago. However, their many advanced tools can and frequently are used as weapons. They are a subversion inasmuch as they use the "tools" aggressively without much provocation upon first encounter, the theme of that civilisation being Utopia Justifies the Means.
    • In one of Lukyanenko's short stories, there's two of those going on, as well as rapid technology escalation. A grey arrives into a rural farmland and offers people gifts, but they already have their village utopia. Then he tries to invade Earth, but is thwarted with the use of this trope. Then he reveals himself to be Grey Goo, but his attempts to devour everything are thwarted again and he (and everything they devoured) is reverse engineered into what he was before turning into a grey goo by use of Earthians' femto-technologies.
    • In Shadows of Dreams, a powerful alien battleship arrives to a small human colony at relativistic speeds, thinking that the Vague War is still on. The Psilons invade and quickly subdue the colonists, waving off their feeble attempts at resistance. The protagonist finds one of the four bunkers used for planetary defense (the other three were destroyed by the Psilons during the initial bombing run) and manages to kill several Psilons in Powered Armor. Just as the rest of the colonists are about to be executed (the Psilons don't keep prisoners and only enslave those who have shown they can kill them), they offhandedly kill a member of the primitive indiginous race. Suddenly, a large number of the natives shows up and slices the battleship in half with a combined directed microwave attack. It was previously mentioned that anyone who slights a native can be fried to a crisp using their biological ability to emit directed microwaves. It's just that nobody thought that they could do that to a massive warship.
  • The star known as Elysium in Neal Asher's "The Line of Polity" is surrounded by asteroids that are mined and their ores smelted using a series of mirrors orbiting the star that can focus its light onto a single point. Guess what happens when the hero gets the big bad to chase him into this place.
  • In the Star Trek novel Infiltrator, the Next Generation crew comes upon a planet that had been colonized by other genetically-altered humans from Khan Noonien Singh's time who'd escaped Earth. Apparently they were quite peaceful, mostly content where they were, and unarmed...mainly because they were confident in their abilities to turn anything into a weapon if they had to.
  • In the novel Night Watch, the leader of a rebellion in Ankh-Morpork reflects that due to the anti-weaponry laws, his makeshift army doesn't have much in the way of real weapons—a few heirlooms passed down by veteran ancestors—but then, when his army consists of stevedores, longshoremen, butchers, and blacksmiths you pretty much have all the heavy or sharp objects you need. And if he ordered them to, they'd make hash of themselves.
  • In James H Schmitz's The Demon Breed (part of the ''Federation of the Hub series), a research biologist and a elderly researcher defeat an advance force of the Parahuan, intent on probing the defences of the Federation. Mutant otters are her real ace in the hole.
  • Isaac Asimov's very own Foundation had an example of this. A customs inspection by the fading but still powerful Empire intercepts a trading vessel from said Foundation. During inspection, one of the officers accidentally turns an atomic drill at full strength on himself, illustrating this way that the Foundation should not be messed with since even their tools are weapons surpassing in power that of the Empire itself.
    • The book before that has a trader demonstrating a power tool... which you only need to reduce in weight a bit, and it will look quite in place on Obi-Wan's belt. The guy states that "the tool is dangerous, but so is a buzzsaw."
    • And yet the Foundation's weapons isn't actually presented as all that much more impressive than the Empire's. Presumably, this has to do with the respective resource and technological advantages the Empire and the Foundation has: the Empire, even in its fading state, can still in a pinch throw together massive armadas of really, really big warships. The Foundation doesn't have massive warships — what they have is much, much more developed miniaturization (which then leads to the aforementioned tools and some other perks — the Foundation can put reactors into things Imperial technicians regards as impossibly small even for really weak reactor). In other words, the Foundation gets more bang for the buck, but since the Empire has ridiculously more buck, it still has more bang.
      • Although the condition of the Empire eventually deteriorates so badly that they no longer have the technologically skilled personnel needed to maintain or repair all the technology they still have. This is highlighted by one of their ambassadors mentioning that they may start restricting the use of atomic power after a poorly maintained power plant led to a disaster (while the Foundation official he is speaking to asks himself why they don't just train more technicians).
  • Stephen Baxter's Space has the Earth's population forced to Mercury, which alien privateer spaceships are encircling prior to coming down for the death-blow. One minute, the fleet is about to land - the next minute, Mercury appears to have exploded and the entire fleet is shredded into junk. The weapon? Plants designed to germinate on airless worlds, cranked Up to Eleven and fed on surface rock, left to expand virally over the surface of the planet and timed to fire simultaneously once the enemy fleet was close.
  • In Vladimir Vasilyev's Antarctic Online, the entire continent of Antarctic swaps places with a bunch of island chains near the equator. The book deals with the consequences of the frozen continent suddenly becoming much a more favorable piece of real estate (even if it will take a few millennia to melt) for the world powers. A bunch of drunk antarctic researchers send out a radio message declaring independence, calling for the creation of the Free Antarctic nation. Despite half of the world supporting them (as they agree, it's not the half that matters), Antarctic finds itself blockaded by the US Navy and, eventually, outright invaded in a "peacekeeping action". Earlier, the Antarcticans start claiming that they have found an alien device in the melting ice that appears to be some sort of FTL drive that works by swapping two locations. They threaten to use it in the event of an invasion. Turns out it's just a bluff, which no one seems to be buying. Then, in the middle of the invasion, an American destroyer disappears and reappears in orbit. The President couldn't sign the order to pull out troops fast enough. It turns out that an Antarctican found a glowing orb with strange symbols on it buried in ice. Then he tripped and dropped it on the floor. The result was Antarctic moving to its new home. After using it to secure the sovereignty of the Free Antarctic nation, he buries it where no one will ever find it.
  • The Ender’s Game prequel comic and novels reveal that, during the First Invasion by the Formics, the alien ships are all shielded, with even nukes being useless. The only thing that proves to work are gravity-based weapons (developed for asteroid mining) that pass right through the shields. It's implied that the gravity laser (or glaser) is the first stage of what would eventually become known as the M.D. Device (or the Little Doctor).

    Video Games 
  • All (but one) of the Protoss units in StarCraft is originally derived from non-lethal craft and tools. Even the feared Reaver (with its horrifying Scarabs), originally built for mining. (Well, that's what they say...) In Brood War, the Dark Templars' units were designed as weapons from the start, because they weren't a unified species and thusly had to fight. (With the Protoss more hard-pressed after Brood War's Downer Ending, for the forthcoming sequel they're dusting off their old war machines from before their races was "unified" by the Khala—and finally starting to invent new ones.)
    • In Wings of Liberty, there's a mission where you can cut down a good chunk of the enemy forces using a gigantic mining laser. Hey, if it can cut through rock, steel ain't such a big step up.
  • Many people forget that the Blue Bomber himself, Mega Man, was originally a household servant robot. When Wily decided to get all jerkass and take over the world, Rock was repurposed into a fighting robot. This, in itself, is not the superweapon surprise. That comes when Rock's Variable Tool System, designed to allow him to use any tool without needing new instructions or programming, is also redesigned into Mega Man's Variable Weapon System, allowing him to use any weapon without serious modification to his systems. So the household cleaning robot instead becomes a superweapon of destruction, capable of getting an infinite number of new weapons at any time. Surprise!
  • Partial example: In The Moon Project note  the Lunar Corporation's strongest weapons - a sonic cannon - is derived from a modified mining tool.
  • Though the people using it weren't exactly de-militarized (you're piloting a Humongous Mecha, after all), the instruction manual to Ranger X describes the game's BFG as being "originally designed to aid in tunnel digging." This is the only weapon in the game that, upon firing, pierces any and all obstacles and shifts the game camera to the right as it goes. Who would have thought a tool designed to dig an entire tunnel in one to three shots would be more effective than any other weapon your mech can possibly find?
  • Both inverted (weapons turned into tools) and played straight in Command and Conquer 3: the GDI have sonic weapons and after the 2nd war they discover that sonics can destroy submerged tiberium so the technology is made into emitters to protect the cities. Years later when the Scrin are kicking GDI's ass someone figures out that their biology is heavily dependant on tiberium and promptly turn the emitters back into weapons which devastate the invading army.
  • Somewhere between Tool Conversion and Open The Door And See All The People with the TEC in Sins of a Solar Empire; while the TEC don't seem completely defenseless and are certainly not very peaceful, they are nowhere near as unified as the Vasari, and are of a far lower level of technology in many respects. This, combined with the Vasari's failure to scout ahead far enough before invading TEC space, causes the Vasari to severely underestimate them, thinking that they are just another small, low-tech race to eradicate. The Vasari then attack a human system, and have to fight tooth and nail against cargo ships and merchant vessels retrofitted as warships, but finally take it. Then they look a little harder at the sector they've just invaded, and realize that one system they fought so hard to take was one of hundreds of thousands of human-controlled systems. Whoops.
    • To put it more succinctly, the background into states that almost the entirety of the TEC fleet is comprised of non-combat vessels that were retrofitted into warships. They did have a few purpose-designed warships, but these are the exception rather than the rule.
  • Eden and Plymouth from Outpost 2 have no weapons at the outset. When they start coming into conflict, they weaponize some of their existing technology. For instance, Eden's laser cannon is a modified industrial laser torch while Plymouth's microwave gun is derived from their wireless power transmission technology. Later on, when the sides are already in conflict, they have no actual superweapons... Until Plymouth converts their single use launch vehicles into EMP missiles.
  • This Galactic Civilizations playthrough shows how fleets of "Constructor" ships can flip from being used to build a bunch TV transmitters to creating a roaming horde of Death Stars on a dime.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The eponymous Gears from Heavy Gear began as general purpose heavy equipment for mining and construction in difficult terrain. Then somebody observed how badly tanks did in that same terrain and how much there was on the planet...

    Real Life 
  • The United States lived by the "gigantic industrial base" conversion part of this trope from the late 19th century through to World War 2. Though the US always had tiny standing military forces relatively to just about everybody else, they remained small even as the country developed into a local, then regional, and eventually global power. This is because after around about the 1850s, the country's geography and economy began to serve as its greatest defensive assets. That is to say the US was a relatively large country quite far removed from any potential threats, one that began to develop a prosperous and largely insular economy with decent infrastructure to boot. After the mid-19th century an embargo or blockade began to be of limited effectiveness because the (north of the, at any rate) country was its own greatest customer, and an invasion would be tricky for reasons which are also rather obvious. The US was not unique in its ability to make use of female labour or in terms of the convertability of its factories, but it was the sheer size of the country's burgeoning population and well-developed industrial base that allowed them to pull this economic trick off so dramatically in the course of World War II.
  • Also from the Second World War, the original Home Guard. The British had taken a considerable hammering in France and had little in the way of proper equipment to spare for the newly-formed Local Defence Volunteers... But it so happened that the majority of said Volunteers were farm workers, exempt from conscription as they were performing essential war work. Farm workers tend to own shotguns and small-calibre rifles for pest control and sometimes hunting small game, and use them often enough to be quite good with them.
    • Also, Britain after the evacuation of Dunkirk had a lot of fuel backed up, and found after a bit of experimentation that it could be very useful, especially when barrels of the stuff could be set alight.

Sufficiently Advance Aliens

    Live-Action TV 

  • In Stargate SG-1 there are the Nox who are very peaceful and even protect their would-be conquerors from the human expedition force (which is trying to protect them). As the humans go to leave, the Nox show, despite living a pastoral existence, have access to highly advanced technology far beyond humans and the Goa'uld.
  • The Organians from Star Trek: The Original Series: sometimes the Space Amish turn out to be Sufficiently Advanced Aliens and don't need superweapons.

Other

    Anime and Manga 
  • Not quite a peace vault per se, but the principle is the same in many of the Tenchi Muyo! continuities. If there are space pirates and would-be conquerers, why not set their sights on Earth? Simple: Ryu-oh, Tsunami and Ryo-ohki are all resident on the planet; any of these ships alone could fend off any enemy fleet save for Jurai's. Speaking of which, members of the Jurai Royal family treat the planet as their home away from home including their crown princess. Attacking Earth will likely bring Jurai's fleet down on you like the wrath of the kami. Plus there is this one guy called Tenchi Masaki who has a thing about conquering his homeworld... So I guess it's a three-in-one superweapon surprise in the Tenchi universe? Especially big in OVA continuity, where Earth is specifically a two-bit colony world that nobody cares about. Except for the above things. Oh, and Washu, the genius scientist who could destroy a planet by accident. Mihoshi has incredible luck, to the point where she can accidentally solve any case. Oh, and there are Tsunami's sisters...Who are goddesses.
    • Oh, and they're all on the same side. So basically if you're serious about messing with Earth, you're facing all of the above.
  • Oh, look at these puny Lilim (AKA humans). They are so much smaller than us Angels born from Adam. They can't even generate a useful AT-field. So what if a small number of them know that we're coming, they have nothing to defend against us except for explosives that can't penetrate out AT-field. Oh, what's this giant purple humanoid thingy? An Angel wannabe? Oh, look, it can't even walk properly! I'll just punch through the eye; that was easy.....Huh? It's still mov- OH CRAAAAAAAAAAA-

    Comic Books 
  • Star Wars: Legacy: The newly resurrected Darth Krayt had a secret army of Sith Troopers which caught the Alliance off guard.
  • Astérix is about a small, backwards barbarian village containing nothing of value and only a handful of uncoordinated warriors, ripe pickings for the Romans. Unfortunately for them, the villagers all happen all to possess superhuman strength thanks to Super Serum, and the Romans don't stand a chance. This is only a 'surprise' for the first couple of albums; after this, the village's reputation is well-known by the Romans and they become increasingly afraid of it.

    Film 
  • The cute and fuzzy Ewoks of Star Wars once mopped up some of the best and the brightest of the Empire. Whether this was a matter of sheer numbers or supernatural organizing skills and the ability to quickly upgrade their tactics is a topic left only to the most eccentric of Republic scholars.
    • Partial subversion. While the Ewoks can kill troops with relative ease, it takes a lot of effort and some brave decoys to destroy the few walkers they do get; it's Chewbacca who really turns the tide.
      • The original script called for Endor to be populated by wookies, but they switched them for much less awesome ewoks to stay under budget. Well, that's one version anyway; another is that Lucas wanted the Empire to be ultimately beaten by a low-tech race but realized that Chewbacca was the most technically skilled member of the main crew so he changed it.
  • Iron Sky features a few on both sides. First, we have the Moon Nazis (It Makes Sense in Context) with their anti-gravity technology, Flying Saucers, and Zeppelins IN SPACE!. While a few saucers are taken out by jet fighters, more jet fighters are shot down by Nazi turrets. Then the President reveals that the vehicle for the planned American manned Mars mission is actually a warship armed with powerful guns and dozens of nukes. It proceeds to blow up a good number of Nazi warships before it gets overwhelmed and requests help. Cue dozens of armed spaceships from all other nations (except Finland), which proceed to obliterate the Nazi space fleet. Oh, and one of those ships is the supposedly-destroyed Mir station. Then comes the Nazi flagship Götterdämmerung, a gigantic war machine that is so overpowered and complex that the most powerful Nazi computer (the size of a room) can't control its systems. But an iPad app can. When unleashed, it simply flies through the Earth fleet, smashing a number of the ships on its windshield. The guns on the Götterdämmerung are powerful enough to take a 10% chunk of the Moon with each shot.

    Fan Fic 
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Doctor Who crossover The Impossible War, the Daleks invade modern-day Earth. As expected, human technology is woefully inadequate. Human magic on the other hand...
  • In the Mass Effect/Command & Conquer crossover Renegade, the Turian Hierarchy invaded the human colony world of Shanxi just like the did in the canon timeline. However, Shanxi is held by the Global Defense Initiative, and the turians catch a face full of ion cannons, rapid-fabrication technology, and house-sized tanks of "fuck you".
  • In Warhammer 40,000 we have Knight Inductors, who are also known as Reasonable Marines. They don't particularly care about those defenseless Eldar Exodite Worlds in their sector, but they really don't like Chaos Marines. So when some Slaanesh CSM try to harvest some soulstones in Apriori sector, they got utterly curb stomped by Stealth Terminators and Supersoldier Blanks armed with rapid fire plasma cannons.
  • Nuclear weapons and firearms in many Conversion Bureau Hate Fics and DeconstructionFics. Half the time, when "Xenolestia" declares that humanity must become ponies or be exterminated, humans whip out the nukes, destroy their Advancing Wall of Doom, and utterly devastate the Equestrian military.
  • In Worldwar: War of Equals, Race high command did not expect the spear swinging primitives to have moved up so quickly to using tanks, aircraft, and nuclear weaponry. When the invaders land on Earth and have nearly overrun Ukraine, they get another fun surprise in the form of Eastern European nerve gas.
  • In "Origin Story," which is set during the Marvel Civil War arc, the Avengers are tasked by SHIELD to arrest a girl who escaped from their custody. SHIELD had previously tested the girl's power level, and put her somewhere on the scale between Power Man and Spider-Man. Well, surprise, surprise, turns out she was a Kryptonian who figured out that maybe hiding just how powerful she really was might be a smart idea. Cue Tony Stark getting the ass-whipping of his life.

    Literature 
  • Frank Herbert's Dune provides a clean-cut example of the Hidden Badass variety. On the remote outskirts of god-forsaken planet, in the huge desert, a small bunch of ragtag people scavenge for a living. Do not get trigger-happy yet: those people are, in fact, bred by their demanding enviroment to be the best fighters in Universe. And their numbers are seriously underestimated... Long story short, a hundred years and several books after being bothered, they sweep their Jihad holy crusade across the Galaxy. Woops!
  • Subverted in Animorphs, with an alien race of Precursors called the Pemalites. The Pemalites had great technological power, and used it only for peaceful and playful purposes. They were invaded and destroyed by another race called the Howlers. It's explained that they could have forged their plowshares into swords, could have repelled their invasion, but they chose not to do it because they couldn't bring themselves to become violent killers. So they were destroyed, and their memory is a cautionary tale against the dangers of pacifism.
    • In a later addition, it turns out that they were created by the Ellimist, and programmed to have such an overwhelming love for life that they could never kill. They ended up dying while the Ellimist was otherwise occupied. The poor guys never had a chance.
    • No, the Ellimist only guided them along that path, as it couldn't directly intervene due to its Xanatos Speed Chess match with the Crayak — same reason it didn't protect them. And its worth noting that the essence of the Pemalites was later incorporated into Earth wolves to create dogs.
      • Played straight with the Pemalites' androids. Although simarly loaded with pacifist protocols, they are are super strong. The Animorphs use a crystal to turn off said protocols, leading Erik to take and kill more Hork Bajir than the entire GROUP can manage. He is so horrified at his actions he requests for the protocols to be put back, but for a few moments, he's the surprise superweapon. Made by a race of space hippies.
    • Another example of the Pemalites' power is shown when the Animorphs and the Yeerks fight for control of the Pemalite ship that brought them to Earth. The Animorphs are on the losing end when Erik activates the ship's anti-hostility countermeasures. The ship promptly freezes everyone in place, regretfully informs them that they have to leave because of the ruckus, and politely, peacefully, harmlessly kicks everyone out.
  • The Harshini in Jennifer Fallion's Wolfblade are a race of extreme pacifists possessed of great magical power, but incapable of defending themselves with it, so the people of the nation of Medalon can kill them off for no reason whenever they find them. Except for this one guy, Brakandaran the Halfbreed...
  • Shadows of the Empire has a good one. The Suprosa is an apparently harmless freighter that the Rebels suspect is carrying the plans for the second Death Star. When they attack, the Suprosa deploys its weapons, including a diamond-boron missile launcher that takes out half of the attackers. Remember the "many Bothans who died to bring us this information"? That was the Suprosa.
    • Also seen in Rebel Dream, when Czulkang Lah discovered that Republic capital ships are very good at orbital bombardment.
  • The Dragonlance short story "Wayward Children" is about a group of draconians who have occupied a small, peaceful elven village. There are no children in this village, which the draconians think is a little unusual. Following a magical attempt to turn the draconians back into what they were made from - which fails - the draconians discover that the "elves" are actually silver dragons. Cue death-screams.
  • Alan Dean Foster's The Damned series. The real superweapon is Humanity itself, bred on a world with chaotic geology and weather, thus stronger and tougher and more adaptable than most, and capable of dealing with the insanity of war and enjoying it. Oh, and non-human telepaths that try to enter our minds go into catatonia.
  • The attempted Haruchai invasion of the Land in the Back Story of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is this trope. The Proud Warrior Race in question thought that the peaceful hippies of the Land would be easy pickings. It turned out said hippies wielded powerful nature magic that the Haruchai had no counter for. The invasion didn't amount to much, and in short order the Haruchai found themselves in debt to the people of the Land for their mercy.
  • Iain M. Banks lived by this trope (see examples from the other subcategories): The Culture itself is also a nasty surprise. They are not Space Amish, they are Space Hippies. They spend their time having as much sex as they can, playing MMORPGs while sleeping, organizing parties, and just enjoying their very, very long lives. They are apparently so alien to discipline than even their equivalent of elite soldiers can wander off the battlefield if they feel like it. But the civilization is run by godlike AI, virtually any of their 30+ trillion citizens can be made into a Person of Mass Destruction, and their war fleets have little trouble blowing up planets or suns if they feel like it.
    • Aesop: When you have trouble with your neighbors and are able to quasi-instantly drop items into existence across star systems, consider sending them anti-matter.
    • It even happens on an individual level: the Sleeper Service appears to be a mildly eccentric GSV which has spent 40 years wandering the galaxy as a storage vessel for Human Popsicles. In fact it's an agent of Special Circumstances and has spent those 40 years not only constructing an armada of remote-controlled battleships and a full wartime weapons suite, but also making arrangements to offload its 'official' cargo and convert its entire internal volume to engines, transforming itself into the most heavily armed and fastest vessel in the entire Culture in a matter of days.
    • Don't Fuck With The Culture. It's a well known maxim. Nasty things tend to happen to people who do.
      • Or civilisations who do... or solar systems who do... And then you get Special Circumstances involved...
      • Sterilizing solar systems is nothing special in Cultureverse. The major galactic civilations there have weapons that can seriously damage stars. The better indication of the Culture's badassitude is the fact, that at least one of these civilizations, which has even better tech, most certainly isn't composed of space hippies, and does not like the Culture, still prefers to avoid a direct confrontation.
    • There are also a few sinister examples of ships that decide to not adopt the Culture's happy-go-lucky superficial appearance, and use that ridiculous amount of incredibly advanced technology for their own... not so happy-go-lucky activities. This is a good indication of what the Culture could do if it decides to get nasty. So it's probably a really good idea not to do anything that might influence them to change said happy-go-lucky nature. Grey Area (a.k.a Meatfucker), anyone?
  • The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks: the Dwellers, a bumbling, if ancient, race of gas-giant aliens reveal that their tech is vastly superior to the junk with which they are normally credited: in an ill-advised attack on the Dwellers, the Mercatoria find out about the Isaut, a Planetary Protector (Deniable), which rises from the cloud-deck, destroys the entire fleet in moments and sinks again. Also consider that if you really piss off Dwellers, you can expect to find a planet sized collection of rocks, gravel and dust impacting your home world at a great proportion of the speed of light.
  • In one of the books in the Worldwar series, as the Race prepares its invasion of Britain, Churchill warns that any invaders will have to face his most horrible weapons. No, he's not talking about nukes. However, he still has some stockpiles of mustard gas left over from World War I...
    • Ships are also a big surprise to the Race, although not of the superweapon type (except when one is used to deliver a nuke to the lizard-held Miami). They've never seen any body of water bigger than a lake and never bothered to develop sea travel or naval warfare.
  • Invoked In-Universe in Enchantress from the Stars. An advanced spacefaring civilization invades a world that is still in Middle Ages and intends to rout and enslave all locals. This is discovered by The Federation, and even more advanced civilisation which, however, has an Alien Non-Interference Clause prohibiting them of overtly takoing position. So they plan to get the Empire to withdraw by convincing them that local people have supernatural powers like telekinesis.
  • By Blood Alone (the second of William C. Deitz's French Foreign Legion IN SPACE! novels) has a strange alien life form turn out to be a superweapon. Two 'rafts' of alien plankton are brought aboard a specially converted transport ship and brought to the planned key spacebattle. They conduct a 'psychomotor attack' at a key point in the battle, which paralyzes a large section of the enemy fleet, turning the entire course of the battle.
  • In The Zombie Knight, the ancient Armans repelled the invading Lyzakks dozens of times by riddling their eternally-flooding lands with dams, which they then broke at the opportune moment.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Klingons came in with an armada to take the puny station. Captain Sisko informs them that the station has been upgraded, and is quite willing to show what happens when The Federation puts their minds to arming themselves. The station puts the fleet through a grueling meat grinder of a battle, with torpedoes and phaser beams flying every which way out of the station.
  • In "Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy" of Star Trek: Voyager, The Doctor tries to convince an assault ship from another species that Voyager is this trope; he convinces them that the "photonic cannon" is starting up and cannot be detected by their sensors.

    Video Games 
  • Cleverly subverted in Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, where the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens fall prey to Kane's diabolical Evil Plan. It turns out that the aim of the liquid tiberium explosion (engineered by Kane) was to trigger a premature alien invasion of Earth, permit the still-powerful GDI to slaughter the aliens, then recover their technology. This is reflected in the Scrin campaign, where initial confidence quickly gives way to damage control, followed by a hasty evacuation of the invading forces. They only helped Kane's Evil Plan along.
  • Done straight in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. Myrrh appears to be a shy, young little girl who seems harmless. But when equipped with her Dragonstone, she transforms into a huge-ass Dragon who can kill almost anyone with one shot.
  • Metroid has the Chozo: peaceful bird-like people who lived in harmony with nature. Also were once the single most technologically-advanced race ever. Vanished without a trace by the time the series continuity starts, but their remnant technology demonstrates this trope well. In particular, their statues, while decorative and ceremonial, also function as guardians of important places to the Chozo: Ridley, in Prime, blew up one of their temples trying to kill Samus, and got six giant lasers to the chest for doing so (after Samus beat him into the ground). Samus is the only Chozo soldier present in the known universe, and that's enough to give nightmares to the most ruthless race of the galaxy, (essentially Xenomorphs with a technological level approaching the Culture's)
  • A variation occurs in Unreal II: The Awakening. Most of the game involves a hunt for what you think is a superweapon. The actual super weapon turns out to be a race of seemingly-harmless aliens that perform various menial tasks. The "superweapon" you were collecting was merely an activation key that takes them out of this "dormant" form, into their true form — giant unstoppable killing machines that can shoot black holes from their hands. No, really. Unfortunately, it really is only an activation key — it provides no control, so the new supersoldiers rampage through the ship this was tested on and you have to reroute it into the nearest star and escape alive.
  • In Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, the Gaians—and, in the expansion, the Cult of Planet—seem like rather wimpy factions, what with being more concerned with environmentalism than proper defense training, a lucrative economy, or developing weapons technology. That is, until you find that their devotion to the environment also gives them an innate ability to take control of the extremely dangerous mindraping, live-brain-devouring native fauna of Planet. Did we mention that said fauna is equally threatening to unarmored infantrymen carrying ancient guns and your best tanks armed with literal black hole generators and armored with space-time itself? You don't want to know what they can do once they figure out how to breed their own...
  • In Galactic Civilizations, the computer determines actual military power based on the number and power of warships in your empire, and forgets about the technological advantages, industrial base, and massive treasuries. No, I don't have any warships. Next week, I can have a fleet of battleships, dreadnoughts, and destroyers ready to wipe you from space.
    • In the backstory, when the Terrans make their appearance on the galactic stage, the Drengin, wanting to test them, secretly convinced a race called the Xendar to attack. The Terrans responded by rapidly militarizing and beating the Xendar all the way back to their homeworld, at which point the Drengin exterminated the Xendar so their involvement would not become known (all other races assumed that the Terrans wiped out the Xendar). The Terrans immediately went back to their usual diplomatic selves, confusing and scaring the hell out of the Drengin, who couldn't wrap their heads around the idea of demilitarizing once it was no longer strictly necessary.
  • The Liir from Sword of the Stars are normally pacifistic and were targeted for enslavement by the "Suul'Ka" for it. The enslavement led to two things: Firstly, that the Liir will turn directly from The Fettered into The Unfettered when pushed too far and stay that way, and two, that their innate skill with technology renders them really good at making bio-weapons of 'extinction'-level virulence and turning their (now exterminated) captors' techology into a workable technological basis for making starfleets.
    • Since then, we have gotten a bit more of a view of the Sot S universe. The Suul'ka in question are the insane Liir elders who in an attempt to avoid their inevitable death by crushing enslave the entire Liir race and run them through rapid industrialization in order to have them build a massive spacesuit they can live in. After the last time this happened the Liir rose, led by the Black and decided that they weren't going to let that happen any more. Oh and that they were going to go ahead and get rid of those insane elders already in space. Cue most of the Suul'ka dying. A few got away though and as of Sword of the Stars 2, they're back.
      • The bioweapon used to destroy them also turned out to be a tad bit bigger than the viruses they more commonly use. As in, it was effectively a "good" Suul'ka.
    • The humans also had something of a Peace Vault example: After World War III, humanity more or less disarmed itself. So when a small Hiver fleet attacked Earth, they were able to bombard the surface unchallenged for 32 hours... until the curators charged with disposing of the world's nuclear arsenal managed to find the launch codes for all those ICBMs they hadn't yet dismantled...
  • In Cave Story, Mimigas once ate flowers that made them into Killer Rabbits as a last resort to thwart an invasion. It's so secret they no longer know it.
  • When the Orcs of Warcraft initially sent scouts to Azeroth, they saw peaceful meadows tended by farmers, and quickly came to the conclusion that they would roll over the population. Instead, the Azeroth soldiers and knights crushed their initial attack. The orcs regrouped and invaded more successfully later, but them being on the business end of an asswhuppin' came as a shock.
    • The main reason they won was because King Llane was assassinated by Garona, whom he trusted. Until then, Stormwind held out fairly successfully. It was the strongest of the Seven Kingdoms, after all.
    • The Orcs also made a point of killing off the knights. The mounted armored warriors riding "great beasts of muscle and sinew" played a huge role in driving them off the first time. In the sequel, Gul'dan would use their remains to create his own superweapons, the Death Knights.
  • The game Immortal Defense has people ascended to pathspace to serve as the One Man Armies meant to destroy the oncoming invasion of the Bavakh. You are one such of these people. You fail.
  • Mass Effect 3 reveals that despite their hat being Proud Merchant Race, the volus have a respectable navy, though it has only a single dreadnought (for comparison, humanity has six). But its one dreadnought that packs enough firepower to roast an entire planet three times over. There's a reason they don't need two.
  • In Mini Robot Wars, the titular MiniRobots are Mechanical Lifeforms who are initially overwhelmed and captured by the invading Machines. They actually have many battle-capable units who are able to destroy and repel the invading Machines, but the MiniRobots are peace-lovers and were not prepared for war.
  • King Volcheck from Golden Sun: Dark Dawn knows that the Luna Tower is sleeping beneath his city, built by an ancient people. He thinks he is pulling this trope against his enemies, but the reality is much, much worse.

    Web Comics 
  • Girl Genius has a rather weird case in the city of Mechanicsburg, which was the home of the Heterodyne dynasty - Sparks crazy even by the Sparks' standards. This obviously means the city is, in fact, a death trap looking like a city. However, since the dynasty is presumed to have died out and only a Heterodyne can properly use it, nobody expects the stuff to be used. Then, Klaus Wulfenbach (ruler of most of Europe due to his politics of "don't make me come over there") is incapacitated - in Mechanicsburg. This quickly starts a free-for-all war with Mechanincsburg as the battleground. Guess what happens.
    • Then, the armies actually overcome the resistance; weakened, but still too powerful to beat...and then the Jägers arrive.
    • Played with in the case of the Baron. Although Wulfenbach has no lack of conventional weaponry and troops, it's actually the unconventional stuff you should be really afraid of: his highway construction, fire-fighting, and communication units. Construction machinery which can liquefy solid rock, firefighters equipped with freeze-cannons that can crack open fortresses, and long-range light signal airships, which when focused at closer range can incinerate anything on the ground. His troops can take over cities. His non-combat units can make cities cease to exist.
    • To some degree, stronger Sparks are walking potential armies with the stuff they can create. This is explicitly mentioned for the Heterodynes (being very strong Sparks). Every strategist will give you the same advice (and they have done so for centuries): Whatever you do, do not give the Heterodynes time. Strategically speaking, they are machines that turn "Time" into "Death. Lots of it."
  • Schlock Mercenary heavily suggests this with Maxim 24: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a really big gun."

    Web Original 
  • In The Salvation War, the forces of Satan invade the Earth after Yahweh, pissed that people aren't as into worshiping him as they once were, decides that Satan can have the whole lot of them expecting a curbstomp. Too bad the demons are at bronze age levels of technology and haven't been keeping up to date on recent human history. As it happens, there IS a curbstomp... right about when bronze meets the M1 Abrams. Surprise! Also a surprise to Incomparable Legion Of Light when a cruise missile detonates over their main body of troops and a 1.2 megaton nuclear explosion kills 150,000 to 250,000 Angels and Human Levies at once with the estimate in the next chapter being 349,000 humans and 45,000 angels with another surge of deaths expected in six to eight weeks time from radiation sickness.

    Western Animation 
  • Transformers Animated uses a combination. On the one hand, the Decepticons have weapons while the Autobots have tools (tool conversion). However, there were several things that also factored into the Autobot victory: their mastery of the Space Bridge technology gave them a massive advantage, and their creation of the Omega Sentinels (Bigger Brothers).

    Real Life 
  • The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The possibility of atomic weaponry had been theorized by every major power in the war, but the Germans believed it wouldn't make a noticeable difference in the war (and they kept drafting their best physicists and sending them to die in battle, as well as dismissing some of the underlying scientific theory as 'Jewish Physics'), the Japanese didn't quite have the gear and the resources they'd have needed and the Soviets couldn't spare the necessary resources while also trying to defend from Germany. It came as a surprise to everyone when the US turned out to have achieved the unachievable.
    • The Kamikaze, the Kaiten torpedo, and the Baka bomb. At a stage when the US had already essentially won the war as long as they kept fighting, these suicide weapons were a most unpleasant surprise.
  • Ninja (as in real Ninja) weapons were all derived from farm implements and often disguised and used as such so that they can carried and used in the open. Keep in mind that, at least from the beginning, Ninja were strictly defensive clans allied against oppressive samurai.
    • The shillelagh, in Ireland (and, no, not the little, short cudgels passed off to tourists as shillelaghs, nowadays). The knob on the end of that "walking stick" can pack quite a wallop, especially if it's filled with lead (referred to as a "loaded" stick). Though it could be argued that this doesn't apply that well to the trope in general, as few with any sense of history would describe the Irish as "peaceful".
  • Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands because the islands were completely undefended (the only British "military" asset stationed there at the time was an Antarctic research ship, and even that was about to be pulled out) and they believed the British simply had no real desire to try to retake them, especially in the face of proposed defense cuts. Then they invaded; then the British got pissed, and sent anything they could to the South Atlantic, including postponing the retirement of their Vulcan bombers (and pulling some out of the boneyards), originally scheduled for retirement early that year and doing an emergency cancellation of the sale of the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (one of only two the Royal Navy had at the time) to the Indians when the ink was still drying (and completely scrapping the sale of the other one, HMS Invincible, to the Aussies), so you can argue it fits the above trope as well.
  • New Zealand has a very small military, retiring the last of their tactical combat aircraft in 2002 and their largest warships are under-gunned frigates; yet they possess some of the most respected, well-trained and highly capable special forces teams in the world (some have argued they're better than what the US can put out), and have been on nearly continuous overseas deployment during The Nineties and since the turn of the millenium.
    • Australian soldiers are renowned for being very professional and excellent at teamwork (though not always at taking orders). Small population countries do the best with what they have.
  • Switzerland. Eternally neutral note . Good bankers and watchmakers. Want to stomp on them? Feel like walking into a small, mountainous region where every able-bodied male is conscripted into the military when they turn eighteen, serves until the age of thirty (sure, it's only three weeks a year, not unlike the National Guard, but still), and is required to keep an assault rifle and 50 rounds in his house at all times? Many choose to retain their service weapons as hunting rifles as well... About the only thing dumber than an invasion of Switzerland would be starting a land war in Asia.
    • A famous Badass Boast:
      Swiss General: If you invade us, we can mobilize half a million men to defend our country.
      Wehrmacht General: And what if the Fueher invades your country with one million men.
      Swiss General: We will all shoot twice, then go home.
    • Actually the more likely reason Germany did not invade Switzerland during WWII, according to historians, is that many high-ranking Nazi officials had their gold stashed away on Swiss banks. Michael Moore did a spoof on this.
  • Despite the fact that their constitution explicitly prohibits militarization, Japan's "Self-Defense Forces" are in the top ten largest militaries in the world.
    • They could probably pull it off in a literal sense too. While Japan constitutionally prohibits nuclear weapons, they have all the materials, expertise and industry to make one, possibly developing a fusion bomb inside a few months. For comparison, the US took 12 years to develop a deployable fusion weapon, and China "only" took about six.
    • Japan also counts the US as a military ally and hosts American military bases on its soil. While current treaty obligations prohibit the Americans from stationing any nuclear weapons in Japan (for reasons that should be obvious), the alliance itself could prove quite useful should Japan ever find itself attacked by one of its neighbors (such as, say, North Korea).
  • Israel essentially pulled this in the Six-Day War.
  • Half a century later, Lebanon's Hizbollah pulled something similar. Not so much Superweaponing as massive Underdogging.
  • The 2008 South Ossetia war: the Georgian government thought that the Russians wouldn't care what happens when they invade that little, unstable secessionist region between their borders and killing hundreds of Russian citizens. They were wrong.
  • Finland during Winter War. The Soviet Union was certain they could conquer the entire country within a span of few weeks. Instead, the plucky little place resisted for a hundred days and made their enemy pay a heavy price for every mile they acquired. Technically the Soviets did win, and they could have kept going and eventually crush the Finns, but it more than qualifies regardless. Besides, Finland had a One-Man Army Simo Häyhä, who practically qualifies as a superweapon in his own right.
    • Amusingly (well, in a grim way, but still) it worked for the Soviets as well. Hitler was so unimpressed with their performance against the Finland, he was convinced it was safe to invade and that he would curbstomp the Union just as he had done with Europe. Boy, was he in for a surprise.
  • Inverted during World War II when the Japanese grabbed an atlas, took a look at the size of Australia and believed that a successful land invasion would be utterly impossible. Even if every able bodied Aussie alive at the time was armed and ready, they still wouldn't have enough troops to defend themselves as their population was only a bit over 7 million. Even now, they only have a bit under 22 million (the majority of the population is within a couple hundred miles of an ocean coast - the inland is primarily desert and almost entirely unpopulated). On the flipside, they do have large uranium deposits and the know-how to make them into something explosive.
  • The siege of Syracuse 215 B.C. . What was supposed to be a quick assault turned into a three year siege. Credited to the wonderful devices of Archimedes. As the biographer Plutarch put it "When, therefore, the Romans came up under the walls, thinking themselves unnoticed, once more they encountered a great storm of missiles; huge stones came tumbling down upon them almost perpendicularly, and the wall shot out arrows at them from every point; they therefore retired.... . At last, the Romans became so fearful that, whenever they saw a bit of rope or a stick of timber projecting a little over the wall, “There it is,” they cried, “Archimedes is training some engine upon us,” and turned their backs and fled."
    • Other accounts also include hidden hooks and pulleys that could tear ships apart if they got too close to the walls and arrays of mirrors used as Death Rays by focusing sunlight to burn ships.
      • The last of which was busted by MythBusters. However, they were able to use the mirrors to completely disorient everyone on the boat (for testing purposes, "everyone" meant Jamie), leaving any hypothetical soldiers on the boat completely defenseless against arrow attacks.
      • The problem with this busting is that other people have also tested it, and it works. At least, it works on unmanned rowboats on cloudless days.
  • Whenever the military get motivated, Italy tends to pull this:
    • In World War I they initially Subverted it by not entering the war on the side of their allies, Germany and Austria-Hungary (had they done it, the French army would have been too overstretched to stop either the Germans or the Italians). Then they entered the war on the side of the Entente, but by then everybody was expecting it;
    • In 1917 the Austro-Hungarians had finally broken through Italian lines at Caporetto and were marching on the valley where most of the Italian weapons were and still are made... Only to stumble on a massif fortified with thousands of guns. In the same days, the routed Italian soldiers running from the main Austro-Hungarian force suddenly realized that their homes were under attack, stopped running, and started fighting like demons (an Italian brigade was actually nicknamed 'Demons' by the Austro-Hungarians due their ferocity), with the Austro-Hungarian invasion being stopped dead on its tracks;
    • During the war, the Italians pulled a Tool Conversion by creating the MAS boats, basically large civilian motorboats with a machine gun and two torpedoes strapped on them. The Austro-Hungarians laughed... Then a couple MAS sank an Austro-Hungarian pre-dreadnought battleship in harbour. Then three of them (the two of the previous attack plus a third) penetrated the most guarded harbour in the world and fired torpedoes at the moored ships (they didn't sink because the high command had ordered to place torpedo nets after the first attack, just in case). Then the same two MAS of the first attack stumbled on the Austro-Hungarian flagship and sank her. In World War II the MAS didn't enjoy the same success because every possible target was looking for them and was liable to call for air support at the first sign;
    • What did the Italians use to replace the MAS in World War II? The Human torpedo: a large torpedo with two divers steering it until they reached their targets, at which point they removed the limpet mine that replaced the warhead, placed it on the ship, and swam away before it blew up and sank the target. One such raid disabled two battleships in harbour and damaged a tanker (plus a destroyer as collateral). After that, the Allies copied the concept... And the Royal Navy started dropping depth charge every time they suspected a raid (they thwarted at least one such raid this way);
    • At Kasserine Pass, the Americans believed they had stopped Rommel's counterattack, as his German troops were exhausted and he only had some Italians, who were known as cowards. Said Italians, Bersaglieri assault troops that Rommel considered superior to his own infantry, mopped the floor with them.


Stranger Behind the MaskPlot TwistTake a Third Option
Stunned SilenceSurprise TropesSurprise Jump
Supervillain LairSpeculative Fiction TropesSuper Wheelchair
Super-Persistent MissileCombat TropesSurprisingly Super Tough Thing
Supernatural SensitivityAdded Alliterative AppealSurprise Slide Staircase

random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
164620
0