1 Days Left to Support a Troper-Created Project : Personal Space (discuss)

Those Were Only Their Scouts

Heroes and villains are at war. The villain unleashes his greatest Weapon of Mass Destruction, perhaps in an Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever. In the case of fantasy setting, it may be a huge monster. The first reaction of the heroes is to attack all at once; they get easily defeated and the weapon is still undamaged. It's Time for Plan B. Send an Attack Pattern Alpha, ignore the losses and go on, take advantage of good luck, use That One Attack that may only be used once... and finally, after a difficult and painful battle, the heroes destroy the terrible weapon. They are battle-weary, they are injured and with Clothing Damage, but victorious.

...hey, wait, what's that thing coming in the horizon? Another of those weapons? No, it's worse: it's a dozen of such weapons. Oh Crap!. It was so difficult to destroy a single one, can the heroes repeat the same thing again... and against a dozen of those things, at the same time? No, they can't. It's clearly the moment to retreat and escape, or to completely change the way to fight the war.

This trope helps to prevent the Badass Decay caused by The Worf Effect. Even if it was difficult, the heroes did defeat the big weapon. And when the dozen of weapons show up, it's very clear that the hero has no chances and must flee, so clear that the watcher will not think ill about him for doing that (as he would if the hero escaped when the first lone weapon showed up).

This is the inverse of the Conservation of Ninjutsu. It also averts No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup, as the villains do the exact thing any military force would do: produce the weapon in industrial numbers, not head to the battle with a single one.

Often used on the first installment of a work to allow a victory against a foe, and then hammer the heroes (and the audience) with a warning that the Evil Overlord will not be overthrown today. This puts the last fight in perspective, as what was a relatively easy fight takes on nightmarish proportions if you consider that those troops were not even intended to be fighters in the first place, yet they gave the heroes some difficulty.

Interestingly, in Real Life, it's common for scouts to be particularly Bad Ass compared to the main force - after all, if the scouts don't return to report back, the main force will be exactly where they started but without the troops that acted as their scouts. So if killing the scouts was so easy, it wouldn't be illogical to assume their main force is a bunch of Cannon Fodder.

Used in basically every Sorting Algorithm of Evil work (Sailor Moon, Ronin Warriors, etc). If said at the end of a work, a very common Sequel Hook.

See also Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond.


Anime and Manga
  • Macross
    • The human military think they will defeat the Zentraedi because they don't realize just how massive the Alien armada is. And even then, they only reason they were surviving against the scouts was because the scouts were probing humanity's defenses to learn more about them, rather than just stomping them out of existence. The Macross Beam that humanity is so proud of on the eponymous ship? Every single Zentraedi warship has one. They just weren't using them.
    • One of the final lines of Macross: Do You Remember Love? is a grim statement by Exsedol that, even though they've barely managed to defeat Boddole Zer and Lap Lamiz, there are thousands of other Zentraedi/Meltrandi fleets in the galaxy that are just as powerful still waiting, so the real hardships are only just beginning.
    • Similarly, in Macross II, they make the same mistake with the Marduk.
    • In Macross 7, the 7th Colonization Fleet has a fair amount of trouble with the enemy Varauta fleet's attacks, but they eventually decide to get serious and start blasting the Varauta with Macross Beams. Then it's revealed that the Varauta soldiers are just mind-controlled pawns of the Protodeviln, just one of whom could annihilate the entire Colonization Fleet without much effort... or at least, they could if Basara would stop getting in their faces and singing at them.
  • At the start of Dragon Ball Z, when Raditz arrives to Earth, it takes the combined efforts of Piccolo and Goku, some help from Gohan, and even a Heroic Sacrifice from Goku to kill him. During his last moments, Raditz tells of his two stronger companions, who will come to Earth in a year.
  • Digimon Frontier: The team finally faces off with the dark angel Big Bad Cherubimon. He throws off their best attacks easily, and after giving each member of the team the opportunity to throw The Worf Barrage at him so he can laugh it off, he smashes everyone with a single attack. Kouichi, The Atoner, gets his Digimon forms back, redesigned and stronger, and manages to defeat Cherubimon... only for the voice of Cherubimon to taunt him. That was just a much-weaker projection the real Cherubimon whipped up in order to try and talk Kouichi back to The Dark Side. The real thing will be waiting for them when they reach his lair.
  • The first enemy robot in FLCL was only part the hand of a robot. They meet the full version in the next episode.
  • In the second volume of Barom One, our heroes finally manage to defeat Doruge only to learn that he's an advance scout of the Doruge race and he's already called in reinforcements.
  • The first Menos Grande seen in Bleach is the first really challenging fight that Ichigo faces. He couldn't even beat it on his own at the time and he and Ishida worked together to destroy it. Much later, Ichigo is disturbed when he learns that Gillian class Menos like the one he fought are mere foot soldiers in Hueco Mundo.
    • After Hitsugaya's group wins against the first group of Arrancars, although Grimmjow is winning against Ichigo until he's forced to withdraw, Hitsugaya points out that the ones they killed are most likely not the elites.
    • Played with when Ichigo tries to take down Ulquiorra and is saved by Grimmjow: Ichigo thinks that he must be the top Espada, and if he can kill him then there's nothing to worry about. Ulquiorra while holding Ichigo's blade in one hand reveals that he is only number 4. Although it later turns out that he hid his full strength from Aizen, meaning he's probably the strongest after all.
  • In YuYu Hakusho, Yusuke is horrified when Koenma tells him that Younger Toguro, who at the time was the toughest opponent he had ever fought, was "only" an upper B-class demon, with B-class being the third highest ranking.
  • In Fairy Tail, Gajeel and Levy are attacked by Yomazu and Kawazu and have a very difficult time fighting them. Gajeel has a major Oh Crap! moment when Yomazu reveals they are merely the advance scouts of Grimoire Heart and orders Levy to run and warn the others of Grimoire Heart's arrival.
  • One Piece has an indirect example, as it doesn't involve any fighting or the main characters being involved. After Luffy's defeat of Crocodile, his bounty more than tripled to being 100,000,000 beli; however, that increase was soon followed by a scene in which Shanks, one of the Four Emperors, the most powerful pirates in the One Piece world, sends a message to another one of said Emperors, Whitebeard. The messenger is revealed to have a bounty just below Luffy's, but it's noted that he was only recently accepted into Shanks's crew, and no one in Whitebeard's crew knows or really cares who he is. The scene serves to show that, despite his boost in infamy, Luffy still has a long way to go before he really matters to the truly powerful pirates in the setting.
  • Beyblade: The Blade Breakers are taking on the All-Starz in America. Tyson and Ray easily take down two gimmicky bladers. Then Max's mom reveals that those two bladers were some of their weakest, and the purpose of the battle was to gather data.
  • In Haruhi-chan, after Asakura is defeated, she suggests this of herself, saying that there are three other members of the Radical Four like her, but all of them are stronger than she is.
  • In the first episode of Ronin Warriors, the heroes work together and managed to beat the enemy only to learn it was a foot soldier in the evil overlord's army.

Comic Books
  • In one issue of Superman, Superman has been training for weeks and had to team up with the son of one his enemies to fight Imperiex. After a hard battle, Superman wins the battle and thinks Imperiex is through and goes home. Sometime later we find out that "Imperiex" was just a probe and that Imperiex Prime was a gigantic version of the thing Superman fought.
  • The Celestials once decreed that a planet's population was to be destroyed. Thor disagreed, and exhausted himself beating on the Celestial who towered over the world with a downturned thumb and stoic expression. Through it all, the Celestial made no attempt to fight back, and Thor's attacks were laughably ineffective. Already frustrated at his failure to kill his opponent, he then realized that this one was merely the judge and jury of the Celestials-not the executioner. Cue the arrival of the executioner-ten times bigger, stronger, and angry.
  • Ultron Unlimited After destroying a whole country, Ultron fights against all of the Avengers (except those he had captured). After a long fight, they manage to destroy Ultron-7. Then, suddenly, Ultron-8 shows up. Iron Man is not sure if the can repeat all the fight again... which dissapointed Ultron-23. 23? How many of them are there? That's a very good question, says Ultron-647.

  • The Bridge: A group of Cloud Gremlins take control of a storm cloud and attempt to invade the weather factory of Cloudsdale. Since the storm cloud is protected by dark magic, it takes a bit of teamwork from Rainbow Dash and Rodan to destroy it. Before they can celebrate, a cloud about 5 times bigger than the first carrying the main Cloud Gremlin force arrives, and the first group even mentions they were just the scouts.
  • Event Horizon: Storm of Magic: Applies to the Company's colonies in relation to the lands they're located in. At one point, Fred boasts to the Small Council that their little colony has a higher GDP and industrial output than the rest of the Seven Kingdoms combined.

  • The attack of the Army of Anubis in The Mummy Returns. The Medji think they've defeated the army, only to the realize that the REAL army is swarming over the dunes like a monstrous black shadow.
  • Invoked in the first Hellboy movie:
    Rasputin: Salt, gathered from the tears of a thousand angels, restraining the essence of Sammael, the Hellhound. The Seed of Destruction. This I can promise, Sammael, for every one of you that falls, two shall arise.
  • In The Avengers (2012), New York is invaded by several aliens, and a flying creature that seems immune to missiles, laser beams, repulsor beams, it's all useless. Nobody can stop that thing... except a lone guy who is always angry. The creature is destroyed, but Loki simply summons more like them from the portal.
  • In Thor: The Dark World, Asgard is attacked by the Dark Elves. Heimdall manages to get into the invading Elf fighter, and disable it. When a dozen fighters appear, he leaves.
  • A downplayed example in Independence Day: Resurgence. In the first film, humanity barely survives the alien onslaught and manages to destroy the alien fleet at great cost. Come the sequel 20 years later, a new, much larger, alien armada is on the way to put down the upstart humans, possibly implying that the first one was just a small flotilla by the alien standards.

  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's The Stars Are Cold Toys, the mightiest battle fleet of the entire known space is attacked by an unknown aggressor, who deals them heavy damage before being taken down. It turns out, however, that said "aggressor" was a mere scout of the super-advanced Geometer civilization. To be fair, though, the Geometers don't have warships per se, but they have a good number of such scout ships.
  • At the end of the first part of The Armageddon Inheritance, the second book in David Weber's "Empire from the Ashes" series, there is an Apocalyptic space-battle on the fringes of Earth's solar system between human beings and a race of alien Omnicidal Maniacs. Hundreds of thousands of humans die, and Terran civilization is nearly wiped out, but eventually the good guys win. And its only then, in the last pages of the book, that it is discovered that the invasion fleet humanity nearly lost to was only a scouting force, and the real invasion fleet (with a thousand times the number of battleships than the fleet that just attacked Earth) is still coming.
  • In Aesop's Fables, a lion is hit by an arrow, and runs away from the man who shot him. A fox, seeing this, makes fun of him, and the Lion retorts, "Yes, I'm retreating. If he's sending a messenger like this, just think how tough the man himself must be!"
  • Robert Sheckley's story A Wind is Rising has it with weather. A human station with two people is based on a planet where the wind never drops below 70 mph. They barely weather a storm of nearly 200 mph, which leaves them with a severely battered station and a broken vehicle at their hands. Then a local alien (who gives them weather forecasts) says "Sorry for my last forecast not being accurate enough to warn you about this moderate gale. Why is it my last forecast? Well, the summer is over, and now me and my people must leave to hide from the powerful winter storms."
  • In Diamond Sword, Wooden Sword, an army of mages has a hard time defending the world of Mel'in from an army of small Eldritch Abominations called the Goat-legs. In the sequels, the main army of the critters arrives, and the magical orders are neither unified nor in control now and thus cannot oppose them.
  • In the backstory to the William Barton military science-fiction novel When Heaven Fell, a Master Race scoutship with only a few hundred Kkhruhhuft troops accidentally stumbled upon 22nd century Earth and decided to try conquering the planet by itself. After millions died, it was only driven away after being rammed by a relativistic starship. The governments of Earth spent the next fifty years gearing up for interstellar war, and all that bought them was eight billion humans dying under the guns and hydraulics of a full invasion fleet before the survivors surrendered and were absorbed into the Master Race's empire.
  • In the prequel novels to Ender's Game, the Formics invade with an enormous and powerful starship, which also turns out to be The Mothership to several landers and hundreds of fighters. The invasion is barely stopped with millions dead. Then a girl analyzes astronomical data collected by satellites and realizes it was only a scout ship sent in advance of the real mothership, which is in the process of being cannibalized to build an armada for the real invasion. Of course, since it's a prequel, the outcome is already known.
  • A variation in Mikhail Akhmanov's Arrivals from the Dark. The first novel, aptly titled Invasion has a massive Bino Faata starship arriving to the Solar System in order to establish an outpost on Earth, using humans as slave labor and, possibly, re-engineering them into a new hybrid Human Subspecies. At the time, humanity is still pre-FTL. When the massive ship finally reveals itself to the human nations, it's surrounded by a fleet of a dozen human warships, whose crews are confident of victory, since they are utilizing a standard "asteroid destruction" tactic (they've never fought an actual space battle before). When the aliens get tired of talking, they launch a fraction of their on-board combat modules that quickly wipe out the fleet facing them, while the starship's Deflector Shields easily shrug off a nuclear barrage with a combined strength of 140 gigaton. The ship is eventually stopped with the help of a different alien, leaving it to be studied by human scientists. Fast-forward 37 years to the second novel Retaliation, when a newly-created task force of FTL-capable ships is sent to the location of 3 Faata colonies in the Orion Arm (they're from the Pegasus Arm). When a scout frigate is sent to gather intel, they find a shipyard with three such Faata starships in the process of being completed. The only advantage humans have at this point is surprise, since the aliens still don't know their invasion failed. But three such ships would easily overwhelm even the new human ships that use reverse-engineered tech with sheer numbers and the willingness to use them. Eventually subverted in that humanity quickly gets its ass in gear and starts cranking out new and better ships in the Asteroid Belt, just in time for four long wars with the Faata. After a century of fighting, humanity emerges as a galactic superpower, while the Faata fade into obscurity.

Live-Action TV
  • Star Trek
    • This is the Starfleet fear during later seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation: what if instead of one cube, the Borg send millions?
    • Used in one episode of Star Trek: Voyager: the ship managed to defeat a Borg scout without much damage, so Janeway suggests they start an offensive against the Borg. Seven of Nine reminds her that the outcome would be different had they encountered a cube.
    • They try to take on a cube anyway with a method that should keep them invisible to the Borg, and a meticulously worked-out plan that will let them steal the Applied Phlebotinum they need and get away in just a few minutes. ...and the Borg Queen reveals to Seven of Nine not only does she know exactly where they are, she could Curb Stomp them any time she wished and would only keep holding back if Seven of Nine rejoined her.

Tabletop Games
  • In Warhammer 40,000, the absolutely massive Tyranid fleets that have ravaged several sections of the Imperium are said to only be the scouting fleets of the main force. The same applies to the Necrons, whose true war machines are still in storage on their hibernating Tomb Worlds.
  • Played quite straight in a scenario outline in the 4th edition Champions supplement Mystic Masters. The Big Bad is a dimensional conqueror with the ability to split his awareness between thousands of different bodies of varying power levels, and one of his opening gambits is to test the PCs' defenses with a single one of his weakest ones — any damage he manages to inflict is a welcome bonus, but mostly the intent is to find out what this new set of prospective enemies may be capable of. (The scenario explicitly hangs a lampshade on the possibility of the players potentially going "huh, was that all?" after this encounter.)

Video Games
  • The intro to Left 4 Dead features this exchange:
    Louis: We made it! I can't believe we made it!
    Bill: Son, we just crossed the street. Let's not throw a party until we're out of the city.
  • Mass Effect
  • Happens in Sonic Chronicles. The first Marauder that Sonic encounters is only a scout. Sonic expects an easy fight, only for the scout to turn out to be a difficult boss (well, difficult for a first level boss).
  • The first few battles against the Shivans in FreeSpace are completely one-sided, with the Shivan ships being Nigh Invulnerable, extremely maneuverable, and heavy-hitting in damage. A few upgrades later, the player can fight these monstrosities evenly, and even manages, with a huge amount of effort, to capture what they think is a Shivan command ship. Then it turns out that those were outdated Shivan scouts, and the "command ship" was among the weakest deployed Shivan warships... the actual muscle of the Shivan armada soon arrives and pretty much steamrolls the Terran and Vasudan fleets, no matter what countermeasures they come up with.
    • Also invoked by the tagline of the second game: "The Shivans are back, and they're wondering what happened to their scouting party."
  • In Infinite Space, the Lugovalian fleet that invades the Small Magellanic Cloud is only the vanguard fleet. And it's still enough to easily conquer the entire galaxy.
  • The heroes manage to defeat the Balmarian fleet by the end of Shin Super Robot Wars. At the end of the Space Route, Char Aznable sends a message to Londo Bell, whom he expects to be in a festive mood, yet unjustified by what Char is convinced has been a horrific mistake for mankind. He reckons they got lucky with this victory, and points out that Balmar is sure to send a second, or third fleet to Earth, without any shortage of firepower. Just how far will Londo Bell's efforts last, he muses, ostentatiously checking himself and claiming sarcastically that sour grapes weren't the intent of the message. Since Char is worried about mankind too, in his fashion, he has chosen to accompany the aliens returning to their own worlds. Therefore, he is entrusting Londo Bell with all the alien technology he has been able to amass, telling them to put it to good use for humanity. According to Master Asia, he had to use the power of the Devil Gundam just on this fleet, and with the coming of the other fleets, he has to return to his home planet, Dug, to get aide from the Dug Interstellar Republic.
    • Super Robot Wars Alpha, which revised and retold the story of the Aerogaters attacking Earth's fleet ends with with a similar feeling. The Balmarians are in control of most of the alien forces fought, and those that aren't still pose a threat to Earth. In a twist though, when the Balmarians resume their attempts to conquer Earth they lack much of their additional manpower and they've been losing fleets offscreen, to say nothing of the meteor storms devastating their home planet. In a way, the "scouts" wound up posing the greatest threat to the Earth Sphere.
  • Demonbane has this early in the story. After using Demonbane's immense power to destroy one of Black Lodge's destroyer robots, the heroes are feeling pretty good about their chances against the organization. Then the organization's leader, Master Therion, shows up and takes on Demonbane without his own Humongous Mecha, and completely trashes it without even trying. This serves as a chilling reminder to everyone of exactly what they're up against and how tough a battle this will be.
  • The intro to the Alien Crossfire Expansion Pack to Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri shows two Progenitor ships warping into orbit and proceeding to blast each other to bits, with only their Escape Pods making it to the planet. The survivors turn out to be equal to the long-established human colonies. The aliens have an additional victory type, requiring them to build a Subspace Ansible, after which a massive armada warps into orbit and starts to descend. Understandably, the game ends at that point.
  • The Old Gods in World of Warcraft who took the combined efforts of the Titans to defeat whom could each easily destroy the world if not for being weakened in some way are revealed to be the minions of the Void Gods who seek to corrupt the entire universe.

Web Comics

Web Original

Western Animation
  • Transformers Prime in Crossfire Airachnid now wanted by Megatron, controls an Insecticon to get her revenge. The Insecticon really got Meg's on the ropes, but after he defeated it, she realizes that it was only a scout, as she found an entire nest of Insecticons.
  • In the episode "Savage Time", the Justice League appears in World War II. The immortal villain Vandal Savage had sent to himself information from the future, that allowed to build an armored vehicle, tall as a building, indestructible and filled with weapons. Normal tanks have no chance against it. Even the Justice League has a hard time destroying it. When several more show up, the League retreats with the rest of the army.
  • Played with in an episode of Futurama, where the Omicronians are invading (to bring back their favorite 20th-century TV show). A massive fleet is gathered and is told to attack the alien mothership. Many are killed, but, eventually, the heroes manage to blow it up. Everyone celebrates, until an ever bigger ship appears and starts blasting everything else to dust. Not only was that first target not the mothership, it was the Hubble Space Telescope (inexplicably well-armed).