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Frail Facade

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A person acts in a way that makes them seem frail, but is actually super powerful when they turn on the heat

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
acrobox on Dec 5th 2017 at 11:43:37 PM
Last Edited By:
acrobox on May 26th 2018 at 9:50:16 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

Rolling Updates

or Feigning Fraility.

You see that old person over there hobbling around on their cane, can barely form coherent sentences anymore, but everyone still just likes to keep around for whatever reason. What if that reason was that they could tear anyone a new one if they wanted to?

This person, be they seemingly old, sick, dainty or just fragile looking for whatever reason plays into their stereotype at first. They intentionally act weak, but then drop their facade and reveal that they've been badass all along. Could be for many different reasons. Maybe they're trying to fake out their enemies intentionally. Or maybe they just prefer not to be on all the time.

Typically an aspect of the Old Master, Retired Badass, or The Patriarch (or Matriarch) of a family or crime syndicate. But this doesn't have to go for old people only.

Compare Obfuscating Stupidity when a person acts dumb to hide that they're actually super competent. Contrast Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass when they actually are that dumb, but have moments of clarity.


Anime and Manga

  • Fairy Tail: Ultear maintains the illusion of one while she gives Natsu a good thrashing.

Film - Live Action

  • Star Wars: Happens all the time. The two most notable Old Masters Yoda and Palpatine both act this way.
    • In the Prequel Era Palpatine acts like a distinguished docile old senator, while he's actually the most powerful Dark Side Force user of his time. Yoda still hobbles around the Jedi temple with a cane, but as shown in his battle with Dooku and against many droids and rogue clone troopers, he's a One-Man Army that can literally bounce off the walls in battle at a moment's notice.
    • Yoda is actually frail and dying in the Original Trilogy, but while Palpatine tries to goad Luke into striking him down because he's 'defenseless' moments later he's shocking the life out of our hero with Force Lightning.

Western Animation

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Splinter moves slowly, and typically walks with a cane. However he's also the turtle's ninja master. At the beginning of every series Splinter's also the only person who can go one on one against the Big Bad Shredder, while the four turtles usually have to gang up on him as a group before they become more skilled.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: This is Earth King Bumi's natural state. He acts like a senile old fool, and stands hunched over in large flowing clothing that hides his figure. When Aang was given a choice of who to duel against by pointing at his opponent (his two apparent options both looked like executioners) he points at Bumi to try to game the system. Turns out Bumi's not insane, but actually a super intelligent Warrior Monk who practices neutral jing to wait for the right moment to strike. And underneath all his baggy clothes he's secretly ripped. He's the most powerful Earthbender of his generation for sure, and almost of his whole lifetime before being fought to a draw by Toph who was 100 years his junior.

Feedback: 13 replies

Dec 5th 2017 at 11:44:08 PM

starting this as part of the Badass clean up generally, and Badass Grandpa clean up specifically.

Dec 6th 2017 at 2:41:11 AM

The Star Wars examples are jumbled together. Yoda and the Emperor should each have their own subsection.

  • Examples section
    • Added a line separating the Description and Examples section.
    • Blue Linked some TV Tropes page names.
    • Corrected spelling (defenseles).
    • Put the titles of long works in italics instead of quotes as per How To Write An Example - Emphasis For Work Names.

Dec 7th 2017 at 10:56:36 AM

What is this trope's relationship to Lets Get Dangerous?

Also, I believe this trope should be restricted to old people in order to keep it from decaying. Otherwise, it might turn into "anyone who looks frail but is actually badass" and then we could expect "frail" to be replaced with "dainty", "weak", "shy" and get confusion with all sorts of tropes, like Beware The Nice Ones. I've seen writing on this site that considers "being female" or "being a child" is comparable to being fragile. Given the setting, it's possible to get "being human" is the same as being frail.

Dec 7th 2017 at 10:59:50 AM

Compare Wounded Gazelle Gambit, when a character pretends to be frail to take advantage of the people trying to help them.

Dec 7th 2017 at 11:03:54 AM

  • Futurama: In "Raging Bender", Bender constantly picks on a thin, meek-looking robot sitting in front of him at a movie theater. After having enough of Bender's pranks, the robot converts to a towering, bulkier build, revealing that he's actually a robot wrestler called The Masked Unit.

Dec 7th 2017 at 11:39:11 AM

I'm pretty sure this is already covered by any, if not all, of the following: Almighty Janitor, Weak But Skilled, Lets Get Dangerous, and Strong As They Need To Be.

May 24th 2018 at 6:12:46 PM

  • In Mrs Mc Gintys Dead, Mrs. Wetherby pretends to be an invalid, but is actually far more fit than she lets on. As the narration notes:
    Mrs Wetherby walked back home from the post office with a gait surprisingly spry in one habitually reported to be an invalid. Only when she had entered the front door did she once more shuffle feebly into the drawing-room and collapse on the sofa.

May 25th 2018 at 3:01:02 PM


  • in the Discworld, lord Vetinari appears to hobble on a cane and move slowly and with care, as if a wounded leg sustained in an assassination attempt some years previously has never healed. But in an emergency he has been seen to abandon the cane and move in a manner that belies his years. He is a licenced Assassin, after all. (Rumour has it that the cane he seemingly depends on for mobility hides a very sharp sword)

May 25th 2018 at 8:03:54 PM

I'd agree that this seems too close to Obfuscating Disability, but in any case:


  • The hired assassin from The Day Of The Jackal poses as a French Army pensioner, living in the tenements near the square where President DeGaulle will affix medals to French officers. In addition to the usual dyed grey hair and cosmetic pallid skin, the Jackal also binds one of his legs at the knee, posing as an amputee with an aluminum crutch. His guise fools the security man posted on that street, allowing the Jackal to attain a top-floor apartment with an ideal sniper's view of the square.