Victory Through Intimidation

"Come on, look at me! No plan, no backup, no weapons worth a damn, oh, and something else I don't have: anything to lose! So, if you're sitting up there in your silly little space ships with all your silly little guns, and you've got any plans on taking the Pandorica tonight, just remember who's standing in your way! Remember every black day I ever stopped you, and then, and then, do the smart thing! (Beat) Let somebody else try first."
The Doctor, Doctor Who

This is where a combatant would be overwhelmed in five minutes if the battle started — but it doesn't start because nobody on the stronger side wants to go first and be the one who gets killed in the process of bringing the target down.

Note that, from a martial ethics perspective, it is an extremely shameful thing for this to happen, as it means that every single one of the (non-)attackers has shown cowardice in front of his comrades. Samurai in particular were specifically conditioned to enter battle with an "I am already dead" mindset, and a strong tendency for sacrifice in the name of the group: if they were to hesitate in such a situation, they wouldn't be able to live with themselves afterwards, so it's lose-lose.

If done right, some fans find these to be Awesome Moments.

A Sub-Trope of Terror Hero. A Sister Trope to Peace Through Superior Firepower, To Win Without Fighting and Who Will Bell the Cat?. Bystander Syndrome covers non-combat examples where no individual in a group wants to be the one to step up. Compare and contrast Intimidation Demonstration.


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     Anime and Manga 
  • At the end of Fullmetal Alchemist, Wrath has been fighting for quite some time, already been wounded, repeatedly stated that he is getting past his prime, outnumbered, and unlike the other Homunculi, cannot regenerate. He asks the protagonists present if they would be willing to take a stab at eternity. Not a one of them even considers it. Because, you see, Badass is somewhat of an understatement when it comes to this guy.

    Comic Books 
  • DC character John Constantine is frequently capable of this sort of thing, having a justified rep for taking on arch-demons and angels (despite being essentially just a mortal ritual magician and con artist). Hence, for example, in the original mini-series of The Books of Magic, he bluffs out a room full of magical supervillains (who were perfectly willing to take on a high-end magical super-heroine in pursuit of their current goal).
  • The Punisher: Frank, having finally dispatched Mama Gucci's hitman the Russian, shows up on her doorstep still bruised and bleeding holding the Russian's decapitated head aloft demanding "Is that the best you could do?". Her assembled mooks drop their guns as one and run away, leaving Frank to kill Gucci.

    Fan Works 
  • In the AU Avatar fic Children of the War: Book 3, Fire, Sokka uses this during the climax.
    "My arm's broken, and so's my leg. I've also got a concussion and there's even a chance that I've got a collapsed lung. I've got no defenses, no weapons worth a damn. No plans, no allies, no hope of success. And doesn't that just scare you to death? I'm still going to win. Because right now, I'm feeling a little blood drunk. So, firebender: here I am. Want to test your mettle against a Tribesman?"

  • The Fifth Element
    "Anyone else want to negotiate?" - Korben Dallas, after some Aggressive Negotiations.
  • A movie called Kuffs has this exchange:
    Kuffs and Bukovsky, armed with pump shotguns, are facing about a dozen hoods in the film's climactic confrontation
    Unidentified Hood: It's a twelve-gauge pump, boys. He's only got three shots. They can't get us all!
    He reaches for his gun, Ted blows him away
    George Kuffs: gestures to dead hood Well, now we know he can add...
    gestures to Ted
    George Kuffs: And he can subtract. So who wants to be next here?

  • Prize of Gor has a subversion. Gor has Fantasy Gun Control so there are no native guns; a person from our world has brought some though. Once the natives understand the power of the gun, and after a battle where most of the bullets are used up, one gets his hands on the one gun with one bullet left in it. He says that with it he's the most powerful man on Gor and everyone should obey him; another points out that as soon as he shoots the weapon he'll have nothing, so he basically can't force anyone to do anything even though he has it.
  • In The Dresden Files, Dresden delays the attacks of the immortal Red Court vampires by pointing out that, while there were easily enough of them to overwhelm him, whoever went first would certainly die: "Your children have eternity before them. Which one of you wants to give up eternity?"

    Live Action TV 
  • An episode of The Saint had Simon Templar holding off a few mobsters:
    Mobsters: He/You can't shoot all of us!
    Templar: Which of you wants to be a hero?
  • The Doctor Who episode "The Pandorica Opens" features the speech at the top of the page. Ironically it's actually a subversion. After the Doctor gives the speech all the ships flying around in the sky head for the hills, but it turns out to be a bluff to lull the Doctor into believing they were running away when actually they were just waiting for the Pandorica to open so they could lock him inside of it.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Quest VIII, you have the option at the start of combat to try to intimidate your opponents. If you are much higher level than them, they'll run away immediately.
  • Dawn of War: A unit whose morale drops to 0 gets massive stat reductions (but a boost in speed), ensuring they'll be dead if they don't run away. There are units with no morale bars who can't get scared, thanks to their faith, bloodthirstiness/insanity, or having no souls.
    • The Necron Lord can take an item that forces every enemy unit around him to run directly away, morale shot to hell.
    • In Soulstorm, Berserkers of Khorne can use a lesser version of the same ability by tracing the skull-rune of Khorne on the ground.
    • Dark Eldar Terrorfex and Horrorfex instantly reduce an enemy's morale to zero, and have an ability that does so for every unit on the map.

    Web Comics 
  • Maytag uses this method to defeat a whole gang in Chapter 2 of Flipside.
  • Girl Genius has a chapter called "Gil deals with it". Therein, Gil deals with an entire army of war clanks using a single Death Ray that takes out one machine with each shot. It takes him two shots to convince the enemy that he "did not get lucky".
    • Afterwards, Gil is looking for the army's commander. One guy says the commander is dead; his second- and third-in command are also toast. He's the fourth, the highest-ranking survivor. Then he tries to kill Gil. A Jagermonster stabs him, then asks, "Who else vants to be promoted?"

    Real Life 
  • After the Battle of Changban in 208, Zhang Fei covered Liu Bei's escape by standing on the opposite side of a river from Cao Cao's forces and challenging them to single combat. No one dared.
  • Vlad Tepes supposedly managed to repel a Turkish invasion thanks to the thousands of impaled corpses put on display.
  • Almost every land battle ever fought is a partial example of this. "Demoralization" (scaring the heck out of them, to put it roughly) does more damage to an army than physical casualties and much of land war is a contest in intimidation. Sea battles are different because it is less easy to run away at sea. At the same time sea battles can also be victories of intimidation.
    • Smart pirates, usually more interested in loot and profit than in a bloody battle, would naturally try for this.

Anyone else want to give examples?