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With This Herring

"You must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest... wiiiiith... a herring!" (Scare Chord)
The Knights Who Say Ni, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

So, you're a hero of destiny, summoned before the mighty king of this pastiche Tolkienesque fantasy kingdom and charged with saving the world from the terrible evil that has befallen it before it's The End of the World as We Know It. We know you can pull it off. Because Destiny Says So.

Oh, did we mention that you've got five bucks and a butter knife to your name?

Strange though it may seem, the king has sent you on the most important quest the world has ever known, and he expects you to pay your own way. Oh, he might invite you to scrounge around the castle for any treasure chests you can get to (forget the ones with locks or behind locked doors), all probably containing enough loot to buy a pointy stick; but it wouldn't even occur to him that, what with the world hanging in the balance, it might be a good idea to give you every resource at his disposal.

Nor are you bringing much to the situation; Warriors of Destiny don't have trust funds. Or savings accounts. Or bus fare, for that matter. You'd think that just to qualify as a Warrior of Anything, you'd at least have a sword, maybe a suit of well-worn armor from all that warrioring you did to build up your reputation, but no. In fact, you're a Level 1 warrior, so you don't even have any experience to speak of — though the king is hardly going to suggest sending you off to boot camp with his personal guard for a week.

No, you're just going to have to do it the hard way, beating up local slime and mad wolves for the gold pieces they drop. (What the wolves are doing with gold pieces to begin with is anyone's guess).

Fairly standard setup for the classic fantasy Role-Playing Game and all sorts of Adventure Games.

Somewhat less noticeable these days, not because your kit is any better, but because the setup of being deliberately sent on a mission by a king is currently out of fashion, in favor of either being a penniless drifter who just happens upon the adventure, or being a kid who insists on taking on the challenge.

Survival Horror has a form of this trope, but there it tends to work a little better, as it's less about deliberately being shafted and more about not getting a chance to prepare (in the original Resident Evil, for example, the main characters have standard-issue gear for a police special unit — it just doesn't help much when faced with the walking dead). This still doesn't explain why shop keepers demand full price for products when there are zombies wandering around outside; mind you, nine times out of ten you won't be doing any shopping in a Survival Horror.

Frequently overlaps with No Hero Discount. Contrast with Bag of Spilling, in which equipment/power-ups don't carry over to sequels; and Giving the Sword to a Noob, where a powerful weapon ends up in the hands of an incompetent such as The Chosen Zero. An alternative to this trope is It May Help You on Your Quest, where useless looking equipment turn out to be unexpectedly vital later on.

Often the first step in a Sorting Algorithm of Weapon Effectiveness. A Taste of Power subverts this trope... At first.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Tower of God - Baam takes the test given by Headon with just a cleaver. Thankfully, Yuri enters onto his face and she and Evan give him an A-grade pocket and the Black March, so this trope gets subverted. It's better that way, since the cleaver broke very quickly.
  • Lampshaded in the second episode (the RPG parody) of Abenobashi Mahou Shoutengai when king-Papan charges Sasshi and Arumi with defeating the dark lord, Aki-nee gives them a bag of gold, then the court turns around and goes back into the castle again.
  • Lampshaded even more brutally in full-on RPG parody series Mahoujin Guru Guru when the king loudly disavows himself of all responsibility for the child heroes after giving them a small amount of gold.

    Comic Books 
  • Stanley and His Monster: Played with in the Phil Foglio mini-series. Ambrose Bierce tells Stanley to pack 'whatever he thinks he will need' for an expedition to Hell, while casting a spell that ensures that whatever he choooses will be exactly what he needs. Stanley packs a Halloween mask, a bottle of soda, a package of hot dogs, an umbrella, a bottle of barbeque sauce and a little red wagon. This turns out to be exactly what he needs to defeat the forces of Hell.
  • One issue of Hsu and Chan has Arnie as a parody of Master Chief from Halo save the world from the covenant with a plastic serated knife.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail: The Trope Namer: King Arthur and Sir Bedevere are forced to go and find a shrubbery by the deadly Knights Who Say Ni — "Those who hear them seldom live to tell the tale!". After recovering a shrubbery from Roger the Shrubber, the Knights Who Until Very Recently Said Ni ask them to find another shrubbery, and challenge them to cut down the mightiest tree in the forest, wiiiiiiith... A Herring! Arthur decides that this is silly and, upon learning that the word "it" hurts the Knights' ears, bypasses them entirely.
  • A few of the weapons randomly distributed at the beginning of Battle Royale (for which the point is to be the last one alive on the island) include a pot lid, binoculars, a paper fan, a megaphone and boxing gloves. Two end up useful, one ends up getting the owner killed, and the other two are used for one-off dark jokes.
  • Two of the characters facing down bloodthirsty aliens with future tech in Predators are armed with a scalpel and a prison shiv. This is actually justified, however, as everyone grabbed by the Predators comes equipped with the weaponry they are most familiar with. Whether or not that weaponry is practical for combating Predators.
  • The World's End is about 5 friends taking on an alien invasion and trying to save humanity, while completely drunk and with no idea what's going on.
  • At the start of Enemy at the Gates, the protagonist is one of the unlucky ones handed a shovel instead of a rifle before facing an enemy onslaught. The man in front of him doesn't need his for very long though.

    Fanfiction 
  • In Parting Words, Twilight Sparkle finally calls Princess Celestia out on this.
    Twilight Sparkle:I've been thinking about that a while. That having a few soldiers along for a dangerous mission might be a good idea. At least since, you know, that one time you sent me and five other teenage mares up a mountain to evict a giant firebreathing dragon. Or when you sent us out alone to face Discord. Or that time—-
    Celestia:You were in no danger from that dragon—
    Twilight Sparkle: NO DANGER? That dragon nearly had hickory smoked pony for a bedtime snack!!

    Fairy Tales 

    Literature 
  • Done in the novel Heroes Adrift by Moira J. Moore. The hero and heroine are professional weather-tamers (organization known as the Triple S) and live on a continent where the weather frequently tries to kill you. All Triple S employees live off the largesse of the government and have free housing provided for them, and they never have to pay for food, clothing, etc—they just walk up with their professional identification and get what they want. The queen sends the two of them to another continent to do a secret job for her. On this continent, weather-tamers aren't needed and the Queen's dictates are pretty much ignored... leaving the hero and heroine stranded with no money and no job skills in order to make money.
  • Subverted in Philip K. Dick's Paycheck. The hero has just had his memory of the last two years of working on a top secret project erased, and when he picks up his paycheck he discovers that, for some reason during those two years he decided to ask to be paid not in money but several weird and almost worthless items like a small piece of wire and a bus token. However, it soon turns out that the project was a window into the future, and he picked each of these items for some specific purpose to help him survive the dangerous situations he will shortly find himself in.
  • Neal Stephenson's Anathem:
    Cord: Do you need transportation? Tools? Stuff?
    Erasmas: Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs. We have a protractor.
  • Rick Riordan's The Heroes of Olympus: The only formal aid the Roman Senate gives Percy, Frank, and Hazel on their quest to save Camp Jupiter in Son Of Neptune is the piece-of-crap dinghy that sinks outside of Seattle.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The two-man British improv show S&M did a skit once where the Yoda-like mentor (Mike McShane) was preparing the local Skywalker-surrogate (Tony Slattery) for battle against the Big Bad. As Tony prepares to leave: "Do I get a lightsaber?" "No, just one of these naff sticks," handing him the flimsy prop cane he's holding.
  • In Brimstone, Ezekiel Stone is charged with tracking down 113 damned souls who've escaped to Earth, some of whom have been in Hell since the beginning of time, and who thus have amassed fantastic powers. To accomplish this mission, he has a handgun and $36.27 (the money on him when he died and went to Hell). Mind you, he begins each day with it, giving him functionally unlimited funds. $36.27 at a time. No saving up.
  • Reaper: The Devil provides Sam with an object capable of retrieving the escaped souls, such as a dust buster or a tennis ball. Funnily enough these are sometimes quite effective. The bad ones are when he gets given seemingly useful ones like a spear — to fight a Mongol warrior with. Or a boxing glove when facing a champion prizefighter.
    • He also sometimes gets strange powers to catch a particular soul. Of course, these usually end up completely useless and only serve as obstacles. Try catching a soul when anything you try to eat (even toothpaste) turns into an insect.
  • MST3K - in "The Day the Earth Froze", the evil witch challenges the hero to plow a field of snakes - when he challenges her on this point she replies "Hey, I'm the curse boss here!"

    Tabletop Games 
  • Most Tabletop RPG setups avoid this: Dungeons & Dragons (depending on the campaign and generousness of your DM, of course) gives you at least enough starting gear to do your job — things like a decent set of armour and a good weapon for the fighter, or a mostly-stocked spellbook for a wizard, or the clothes on your back for a monk. That said, it usually takes leveling to about level 4-ish to grind enough gold to buy magic items (or be able to take on enemy encounters that would drop magic items), but that's less this trope and more the inflation brought about by every adventurer and their brother swimming in treasure.
  • d20 Modern, a game that uses D&D's basic system but in a modern-day setting, avoids this trope like the plague. It's perfectly reasonable and doable to set up a first level party decked out in the best non-magical equipment you can find. However, d20 modern is less reliant on your equipment than some tabletop games.
  • Spycraft breaks from the "gather loot and save" setup in favor of "get stuff from quartermaster depending on mission": a low-level mission will give you a mundane 9mm pistol, and as things get worse you can ask for Uzis, AK-47s, Browning Automatic Rifles, and if the world is really going to hell, an M2HB heavy machinegun.
  • Paranoia, of course, doesn't merely use this trope, it practically embodies it. Almost every piece of equipment given is not only useless for its intended purpose, but is guaranteed to be the cause of death of at least one player character. Thankfully, there's a reason for this.
    • Paranoia does something even worse: It's actually not that odd to get equipment assigned to you. Lots of equipment. Tons of it. Things you don't need, even. But one small detail: You're responsible for all the equipment given to you (including things like, say, grenades), and are expected to return it in the same condition you were given it. This being Paranoia, it hardly needs saying that a failure to do so is treason. Or bringing it back in perfect condition is treason, as you failed to use your resources appropriately. Or both: you get accused of treason for failing to bring one thing back in mint condition and for failing to use your resources appropriately. Even if, logically, you had no way of knowing that you could set things on fire by pouring the latest version of Bouncy Bubble Beverage on them—or that this was what Friend Computer (or your superiors, who probably do want you dead) wanted, instead of you using your zap-gun or, y'know, a grenade. Never underestimate the ways you can get killed and/or accused of treason in Paranoia.
    • And that's not even getting into the equipment you might get from R&D. Not only does it have to be returned in mint condition, you need to use it at least once during the mission and file a report on it afterwards. You don't have security clearance for the instructions. You might not have security clearance to know what it does. And it has a tendency to malfunction even more often than your regular equipment.
  • Exalted makes this potentially Crazy Awesome, however, in that there is a Charm (character power) that would potentially allow a character to block a thrown mountain, with a butter knife. And a combat-focused character can take this power at starting level. Needless to say, the butter knife would not survive. Also completely averted through purchasable backgrounds. High levels of Command and Arsenal allow you to start the game with an army of 10,000 men outfitted with the finest mundane equipment available. Pool points with the rest of the party and you can outfit a squadron of 20 foot tall Magitek robots.
  • GURPS is, as usual, flexible: you generally get a reasonable set of starting cash, you can use an equipment list to buy any items your DM agrees are available, and you can even have a regular income (assuming your character actually has a job and attends to it regularly...) But you can get better starting funds as an Advantage by spending character points, or get extra character points by taking poverty as a Disadvantage.
  • In Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Fantasy all of your units come with only baseline equipment. Named characters avert this, usually with special powerful equipment exclusive to them or a combination of equipment that stock characters cannot take. It's still this trope though, because you can literally field a unit of elite vanguard units armed with stuff most bread and butter troops wouldn't be caught dead with (and in most cases, it works because the points are better allocated elsewhere).
    • The Warhammer 40,000 role playing games vary this. Death Watch starts you and your battle brothers with gear that is decent - for a value of "decent" that 99% of the Imperium's armed forces would lie, steal and murder for. Rogue Trader also averts this - the question is not whether you can afford a Lasgun, but whether you can afford ten thousand of them for your household troops (and the answer is usually "Sure, take it out of the petty cash!"). Dark Heresy was a bit worse about this, since the franchise was only slowly breaking away from traditional adventurer group rpgs and finding its own stride - thus, the agents of the most powerful organization of the Imperium are often equipped with the herring. Only War finally usually averts this, but also occasionally indulges the trope: The players can first build their regiment which gives them a good set of standard equipment useful for their troop type. Then comes the logistics roll that determines whether the Departmento Munitorum assigns you 20 kg of explosives for the sabotage mission... or 20 crates of Ogryn dress uniforms.

    Web Comics 
  • 8-Bit Theater
    • Being based on the first Final Fantasy game, the webcomic justifies and parodies this by the king simply being a total jerkass and maniac who gives the party nothing to save his daughter and the only thing they get for saving her is a bridge built... that he was making anyway and named after himself. Also, directly referenced in this comic, where it's apparently irrelevant as the weapons in the town all sucks for some reason.
    • Speaking of, after Sarda depowered them and later imploded from Phlebotinum Overload, the gang has to face up to taking Chaos out. They have to do this in twenty-four hours to avert Chaos' plot to destroy the world (which likely involves a Time Crash); needless to say, they're having a bit of trouble getting their act together after faffing about and ruining civilization up to this point.
  • Averted in Tales of the Questor. Although the organization forcing Quentyn, the titular Questor, to go on his virtually impossible mission give him literally nothing at all, his fellow villagers (who he is going on his mission FOR) equip him to their level best ability — food, clothing, equipment, weapons, even an airship. Furthermore, a team of engineering students, sent by a school intrigued by Quentyn's expedition, come to make improvements to the airship and his other equipment.
  • Goblin Hollow averts it for an in-comic RPG session, because the GM thinks it makes more sense that way.
    "The Darned Good Reason rule. As in 'nobody becomes an adventurer without a darned good reason to think they'll survive it'."
    That and I got tired of Fred needing to write up a new character twice a session.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, the Years of Yarncraft MMORPG uses this trope full-stop: Torg's warrior character starts out with just a stick for a weapon, and no armor except for some ratty clothing (he doesn't even get underwear); Gennaro's wizard character starts out with just a small piece of string.
  • Defied by Digger. Murai plans to travel with only a begging bowl, trusting her god to provide for her.
    Digger: Yeah. Okay. See, what I think you're failing to grasp is that your god did provide, and what he did provide was me. So you're going to corner whatever passes for a quartermaster in this joint, and you're going to get a blanket, a first aid kit, and a couple of pounds of trail mix, got it? And a knife. And tinder and flint. And I suppose it's too much to ask that anybody's heard of crampons around here...
  • In Toonami: Endgame, TOM kills the pirate that destroyed the Absolution and kidnapped SARA, with a fork.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Fairly Oddparents "Wishology" trilogy, Timmy is told he has to fight The Darkness and sent on his way... with nothing, not even his fairies, to help him. He also loses everything at the beginning of the next two parts, forcing him to start over.

    Real Life 
  • In Iraq, American troops have had to resort to "hillbilly armor". For the uninformed, that's putting sheet metal and other scraps on your Humvee as armour kits. These kinds of kludges are not uncommon in most militaries; the greatest problem affecting almost any armed force in history has been logistics and supplies. For example, Generation Kill points out that when the United States Marine Corps was invading Iraq in '03, they were issued MOPPs in forest green camouflage.
    • Justified in that Iraq is not all desert, it is Mesopotamia after all, and the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is green and verdant.
      • Except that the part of Iraq these guys were invading? Deep desert.
    • The British Army had similar problems, as most of their desert pattern equipment had been allocated to Afghanistan. A lot of troops ended up with jungle-pattern fatigues, which were slightly better than nothing as they were at least intended for a hot climate. Afghanistan happening while we were in the middle of trying to sort out the chronic reliability issues plaguing our standard-issue rifle didn't help either.
    • The Canadian Army had even more issues even before Iraq, but that's because before 9/11 the Canadian Army didn't have desert fatigues.
      • WWI was another example for Canada, since they were forced to use equipment, such as rifles that got easily jammed with mud, disassembled when fired, wore boots with such poor stitching that they fell apart with the slightest wear, and a shovel designed with a hole in it. In fact, the reputation as storm troopers evolved from a lack of functional equipment for a firefight.
    • The US Military really had no excuses, given that the Middle East is and has been the likeliest place for them to be deployed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Of course, the military is infamously wasteful, and even more so since they outsourced a lot to contractors.
    • This is the reason Easy Logistics is an Acceptable Break from Reality: cut off an army's supply routes, and they're pretty much fucked.
  • Soviet Union Shtrafbats were reportedly frequently sent into battle unarmed or with sticks made to mimic rifles. Of course, the point such military units were mostly to get them killed for redemption in the eyes of the Soviet Union.
  • This was actually common up until the advent of standing armies. Many medieval or Roman era soldiers were expected to provide their own equipment, especially horses. In most cases it hardly fits the trope as knights were expected to pay all military expenses of themselves and their retainers, but it was the part of feudal contract. Not to mention that Roman equites and medieval knight were usually quite resourceful and more than often THEY were the authority responsible for adequate equipment, responsibility which was later transferred to centralized government.
    • The term "Black Knight" actually comes from the practice of unbound knights (i.e. no fief to support themselves) covering their armor with pitch to prevent rust and generally cut down on maintenance.
  • If Margaret Mitchell did her research right, so had the men fighting for the CSA in The American Civil War.
    • The Confederacy was plagued by logistics problems throughout the war. When it started they had no capability to manufacture artillery (and when they developed it the results were sub-standard and inaccurate), their rail system was badly placed to move troops through the interior of the country, and for some reason they had a chronic shoe shortage for basically the entire war.
      • Some Confederate re-enactors like to think this was planned, claiming that since the high (c.50%) import tariffs on manufactured goods - like machine parts - kept the South dependent on the North for building up its industry and supplying it with factory-produced consumer and other goods. This is true, insofar as it really was a side-effect of the US' longstanding protectionist economic policies.
  • Similar to the Iraq example, Sherman crews in WWII strapped just about anything they could find to their tanks to try and counter superior Axis armor and antitank weaponry. Sandbags were particularly common.
    • Infantry have a tendency to hop aboard passing Armored Fighting Vehicles that're going their way. Tank crews have upon occasion referred to such infantry as "applique armor".
  • In World War II, the United States built great numbers of the FP-45 Liberator, a pistol whose main building material was stamped cheapness. The idea was to parachute them in large quantities into cities where significant resistance presence could be amassed, so long as the resistance members could be given something to fight with besides sticks and stones. The FP-45 was a shoddy weapon: imprecise, low-powered and fiddly and time-consuming to reload, its sole purpose was to allow otherwise-unarmed groups of civilians-turned-guerrillas to acquire weapons - by ambushing squads of Axis troops, using 'Liberators' to shoot them from a couple of paces' range or less, and then stealing their (proper, actually useful in pitched combat) weapons. They even had little "Bazooka Joe"-style comic instructions directing the user to sneak in close, put the single round in Fritz' head, then discard the glorified zip gun and help themselves to his weapon.
    • The .45 ACP round it used made it effective enough in terms of stopping power. As weapons historian Ian Hogg pointed out, it had to be - if that one shot (which had to be made at arm's length or so because of the gun's inaccuracy) missed, you were twelve different kinds of screwed.
    • Its successor the Deer gun, a similarly crappy weapon chambered in 9mm, was to be used the same way in Vietnam.
  • Check out some of the ineffective weapons the Libyan rebels are stuck with.
  • Escapees from behind the Berlin Wall built a fantastic array of escape vehicles with virtually no money or resources. Of special note are a homemade tank, and a hot air balloon.


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alternative title(s): With A Herring
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