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Conservation Of Ninjutsu / Literature

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  • Handled fairly well in Tolkien's Legendarium, undoubtedly due to J. R. R. Tolkien's familiarity with real war.
    • While the orcs tend to be massively inferior fighters to Men, Dwarves, and Elves, their fighting ability does not diminish with increased numbers; Isildur's elite guard was able to be overcome by superior numbers of orcs at the Gladden Fields, though the orcs lost at least five of their own for every man they killed. In The Lord of the Rings, Boromir is able to single-handedly fight off 100 orcs while attempting to defend Merry and Pippin, until Uglúk orders his orcs to just shower Boromir with arrows (though at least twenty orcs have fallen to Boromir's sword by then).
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    • Played as straight as possible in Melkor/Morgoth himself. He was originally too powerful for even all the Valar together to defeat him, but by spreading his power through his slaves and the Earth itself, he was diminished so severely that Tulkas alone could best him.
  • Played straight in Armada. During The Battle of Crystal Palace, the enemy drones are taken out easily in the beginning but get tougher and tougher as their numbers dwindle. The last surviving drone actually manages to evade every one and damage the base.
  • Justified in one of The Dresden Files novels. Harry notes the White Council, when they find powerful rituals, deliberately get the ritual published far and wide. The reason, as given by Harry, is "A ritual is like a supernatural vending machine. If many people are drawing from it, the ritual gives each person a tiny bit. But if only a few people draw from it, it's very powerful."
    • It's also noted that in the case of many groups there are huge power disparities, particularly at the top of the power structure. The Authority Equals Asskicking nature works out such that top individuals in any organization are probably as strong as a large portion of more junior members combined, although many top-tiers have an Obstructive Code of Conduct of some sort. When one or two members are sent handle a situation, it's because they are the most powerful, most capable members of the group, and it's assumed they can deal with it, while deploying a whole army will include many less powerful members
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  • Good Omens sees Crowley take on a jeep full of soldiers at the Lower Tadfield airbase. By the next paragraph... It's Crowley's jeep.
  • Used a lot in the Discworld books, thanks to the Theory of Narrative Causality. Lampshade Hanging in The Last Hero, when Carrot Ironfoundersson confronts the Silver Horde by himself. The Silver Horde, all experienced, Genre Savvy barbarian heroes, start to worry a bit when they realize that, this time, they're facing a righteous hero while he's outnumbered:
    "The Code was quite clear. One brave man against seven ... won. They knew it was true. In the past, they'd all relied on it. The higher the odds, the greater the victory. That was the Code."
    • Also played with a lot in Interesting Times (with the Silver Horde on the opposite side of the equation), where Rincewind thinks "If it was seven against seventy everyone would know who would lose. Just because it's seven against seven hundred thousand, everyone's not so sure." Cohen, meanwhile, comes up with a logical reason why being outnumbered actually favours them (it boils down to "Always choose a bigger enemy, 'cause it makes him easier to hit"). (Although in the end, they're saved by an army of Magitek Mecha-Mooks.)
    • Cohen also offers a rather original justification. It is pointed out to him that even if he and his horde manage to kill a couple thousand soldiers, they will be tired and the enemy will have fresh troops. Cohen explains that the soldiers will be tired as well because by that point they will be running uphill.
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    • And then there's Thief of Time's Rule One: "Do not act incautiously when confronting little bald wrinkly smiling men". Lu-Tze is even momentarily surprised at one point that a group of bandits would try to mug him. Paraphrasing: "You're a group of armed thugs attacking a lone, wizened old man who's smiling, and don't run for your lives?!"
    • Their guides, who DO know Rule One, were already hauling ass.
    • Lu-Tze plays this all over the map. Early on, his opponents know Rule One and voluntarily stand down. Later, when faced with enemies who don't know Rule One, he cheats. Eventually, when he's in a situation when he can't cheat, he proves that he personally really can provide a practical demonstration of why Rule One is a good rule to live by.
    • Guards! Guards! is dedicated to the men who make this trope possible. And completely averts it when Vimes is arrested. The guards look at him suspiciously, ask if he's going to pull a one-man can of whoopass out on them, and when he admits, "Wouldn't know where to start," they take him into custody without a fight while complimenting him for being sporting about it. Quite in contrast to his later persona, but there you go. Later on, though, he was: a) not an alcoholic any more; b) Commander of the Watch, instead of Captain of the Night Watch; c) a Duke; and d) totally sure of himself because of a, b, and c. When he was arrested he was still a hardarse, but much less self-assured.
    • The Nac Mac Feegle love being outnumbered. It means they don't have to watch where they swing.
  • In the Sword of Truth series, Richard gains the ability to face off against innumerable foes by being forced into a battle to the death with thirty highly trained warriors. The whole purpose of the fight was to force him to use the Sword of Truth in a manner that communicated its past wielders' experience to him. It's a skill that saves his life many times on in the series.
  • Matt Stover's Shatterpoint, a Star Wars Legends novel, has this used quite literally. Five or six Force-users share from the same pool of energy, since they are bonded to their leader Kar Vastor. As they are killed off in the climactic battle, their shares of the power flow back into the communal pool, and the last one standing, Vastor himself, ends up enormously superpowered. It doesn't help.
    • Deconstructed in the first novel of the X-Wing Series, where Rogue Squadron is attacked by three squadrons of TIE fighters. They don't take a single casualty while only two TIEs get away, and Wedge thinks later about how combat statistics have shown that the more fighters are in a battle, the lower each pilot's kill count is. The Imperials also had to watch their fire, as while the Rogues had shields, TIEs don't, and therefore they had to be careful picking their targets, something the Rogues weren't limited by.
  • In the Chronicles of Prydain novels by Lloyd Alexander, the Huntsmen of Annuvin (Annuvin is the area they come from) explicitly have this as their special power, each individual member of a group growing stronger as their numbers are decreased. The power is so feared that the usual answer is to run, and curse oneself if forced to kill one, as this made your chances of survival less. To the point where one character says that he's more afraid of them than he is of Arawn's other set of Elite Mooks, the unkillable Cauldron-born.
  • Inverted in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant where ur-viles and related creatures have magic to combine their individual power into one, making their danger level scale with the number of them in a group.
  • Double Subversion in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time Prequel novel New Spring, Lan is surrounded by seven men, noting glumly to himself that only in stories do men fight seven armed skilled opponents and win. Then he wins.
  • Deconstructed the occasion it most obviously happens in Warhammer 40,000: Gaunt's Ghosts, where the tacticians going over the reports have the battle in question written out of the archives, because they simply couldn't comprehend how so few could beat so many. Other times, the Ghosts work in coordination with other Imperial Guard units and rarely take out superior numbers on their own. Played straight with the Blood Pact, though, as they die en masse with little effect when they attack in large groups, but small kill-teams such as the one sent to Balhaut in Blood Pact appear much more effective.
    • Although the effectiveness of the Blood Pact team sent to Balhaut can be attributed to that platoon essentially being Urlock Gaur's equivalent to the Gereon Team, at least in the sense they were the cream of the Pact as the Ghost's are in the Guard.
  • Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain, Hero of the Imperium, has an inverse example in Caves of Ice: The stormtrooper squad has literally grown up together in one of the Imperium's orphanages. They've been trained to fight together up to the point where the intuitive rapport of the squad borders on telepathy. The downside is that they don't play too well with others and rotating in new soldiers for casualties makes no sense as they'd remain outsiders to the team. Thus, with more and more members dying, the squad becomes irrevocably weaker. The team accompanying Cain is almost at the point where they'll fall below the efficiency of a normal squad. It's kind of a moot point - the Necrons kill them all.
  • Any time Kalam Mekhar goes up against other assassins in the Malazan Book of the Fallen, they seem to fall victim to this trope. Despite the Claw being played up as elite assassins and mages, Kalam manages to tear through several dozens of the best of them in both Deadhouse Gates and again in The Bonehunters. However, he ends both occasions badly wounded. This is justified by him being a former Clawmaster and a match for the Patron God of Assassins, pre-ascension, in skill.
  • Indirectly used in The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny during the war with the Courts of Chaos. There are, at max, only 15 Princes and Princesses of Amber, versus countless hordes of nobles from the Courts that are not only the same age or older than the Amberites, but theoretically almost as powerful. Not only do the Courts get thrashed defending their home turf, but they really only managed to kill one Amberite during the entire war - and the evidence actually points to the fact that he actually died of causes other than his wounds. All other Amberite deaths were actually caused by infighting. Oh, and this also doesn't include the fact that the two most powerful members of Amber, Oberon and Dworkin, didn't participate in the battle at all.
    • This defeat causes an underground semi-religion venerating individual Amberites to spring up at the Courts after the war.
    • Likely due, at least in part, to a literal conservation of power effect: on some level the forces of Amber and the Courts are acting as proxies for, and drawing their magical powers from, the Pattern and the Logrus, which are generally balanced in strength.
  • In the Deep Space Nine novelizations, when the Dominion and Cardassians are attacking the station, Dukat notes that Sisko works much better when he has fewer ships. It certainly seems to be true, as the station and two ships account for dozens of attackers during the battle.
  • This trope was invoked in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Hermione, Luna and Ginny were trying to kill Bellatrix Lestrange together and only drawing. Then in comes Molly Weasley who singlehandedly take her Lestrange down. Of course Molly and Bellatrix are both adults while the other three are (admittedly very capable) teenagers, and Molly was exceedingly pissed off, as Bellatrix had not only just shot a killing curse towards her only daughter, but was now also taunting her about the death of her son (Fred).
  • Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian regularly slaughters scores of opponents. That is, when he's not up against giant snakes, ape-man, and Eldritch Abominations, who can actually give him problems. In "The Phoenix on the Sword" we are told that his foes actually hampered each other.
  • Older Than Feudalism: At the end of The Odyssey, Telemachus and his father face down (and kill, very gorily) over a hundred (unarmed) people.
  • Gore Crows in the Old Kingdom trilogy has this fact lampshaded and justified. Gore Crows come in swarms of hundreds, and generally kill by sheer numbers. The kicker is that they're a Keystone Army, and every single crow is the keystone. This is because the whole swarm is powered by one Dead spirit, and destroying one Gore Crow will banish the entire spirit, and all connected crows drop like stones.
  • From The Bible: Leviticus 26:7-8 says: And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. Making this Older Than Dirt.
  • Defied by the Táin Bó Cúailnge, as avoiding this situation is the very reason Queen Medb agrees to Cu Chulainn's terms of Combat by Champion. Not only would she drastically reduce the number of men killed by Cu Chulainn every day, but she could also potentially wear him down through accumulated fatigue and Scratch Damage.
  • In James Clavell's Shogun, an entire team of ninja are unsuccessful in their objective to capture Mariko, their attack instead resulting in her death, but a single ninja is later successful in his hired task of burning Blackthorne's new ship. This example is downplayed in that the ninja are never portrayed as incompetent or less than deadly.
  • Journey to Chaos:
    • The battle mage technique, "Mana Barrage" was made with this trope in mind. It creates several mana bolts from the energy used to create one so that a single mage could defeat large numbers. Given sufficient power one mage could bring down an army.
    • There's an aversion in the climax of A Mage's Power. Kasile and Siron are surrounded by a large group of faceless and nameless soldiers, and it is made clear that the only reason they're still alive is because these soldiers don't want to kill them. The former is their nation's popular princess and the latter is their boss' son. Not only do their orders include "don't kill them", they're personally reluctant to do so anyway.
  • The titular villain of Mitosis can clone himself at-will, with no "prime" copy (so any of his bodies can produce new bodies), but his bodies grow individually weaker and more fragile the more of him there are. Conversely, as his bodies are killed off, the remaining ones get stronger.
  • Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle has a notable example where the same force is alternately on both sides of the trope. The Ragnarok attack the alliance army and utterly curb-stomp them, having the advantages of surprise, emerging in the middle of the army's formation, and each one being a One-Man Army. Then Yoruka takes them on singlehandedly and manages to distract them for several minutes, saving half of the alliance army. Bear in mind, not only is each Ragnarok an enormous monster that could kill her with a single direct hit, all of them have powerful abilities such as regeneration, adapting to resist any attack used against it, freezing breath, reflecting all attacks, sanity-destroying aura, space manipulation and fiery projectiles that can't be extinguished. Then the Seven Dragon Paladins (who, as the name suggests, are seven people) enter the battle and successfully defeat the Ragnarok, in some cases singlehandedly.
  • This has the status of an in universe law in A Practical Guide To Evil, named for one particularly annoying Dread Emperor. Of course, this is a universe that runs on Narrative Causality
    Irritant’s Law: Inevitable doom is a finite resource, and becomes mere doom when split between multiple heroic bands. Nemeses should never simultaneously engage a single villain.
  • The Reluctant King: Averted. At one point Jorian is busy fighting an enemy soldier on the walls and panics when he spots a second soldier running his way to join the battle.

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