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Almost Lethal Weapons

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Weapons will reliably kill the bad guys in one hit, and merely injure a hero, who can hobble off and fully recover by next week.

Not Truth in Television, for obvious reasons. Even a bullet wound to a non-vital area can cause massive infections, shattered organs and bones, and terrible hospital food. Even "nonlethal" weapons such as tasers, pepper spray, tear gas, and beanbag guns can kill under the right circumstances, e.g. a taser being used on someone with preexisting health problems or heart disease (or simply being at too high of a voltage and crossing the line from near-electrocution to electrocution), a beanbag striking someone at close range, through the eye, or at the wrong spot on the chest, or pepper spray or tear gas being used on someone with breathing problems.note 

Probably a special case of the larger trope of Plot-Sensitive Items, wherein weapons only do as much damage as the plot calls for.

See Also: Improbable Aiming Skills (kill in one shot, even at beyond limit range, or conversely never accidentally strike a mortal blow when not shooting to kill); A-Team Firing / Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy (can't hit the broad side of a mountain at point-blank range); Made of Iron (Human Beings Without Special Powers surviving things they really, really shouldn't); As Lethal as It Needs to Be (weapon switches between lethal and non lethal according to the plot); and Hit Points (a game rule for when characters are tough enough to survive the same attack or not).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the first Appleseed movie the cyborg assassins sent after Deunan use their monomolecular whips on anything except living beings. They go to hand to hand combat with Briareos, a practical human tank, and get punched into pieces for their troubles, instead of doing the reasonable thing and slicing him up from the distance.
  • Happened thrice in City Hunter. The first time Ryo shot through his own hand to slow down his bullet and avoid collateral damage without suffering permanent damage (it's mentioned that Ryo avoided hitting the bones exactly to prevent the crippling damage that would have happened to anyone without Improbable Aiming Skills). The second time Umibozu had been shot in the back with three .38 bullets, but he only needed to flex his muscles to expel them with little damage (Ryo immediately pointed out that nobody else could have done it). In the final instance Ryo managed to knock out a thug with a bullet from his .357 Magnum (again, it was a special circumstance: Ryo's Improbable Aiming Skills had allowed him to make the bullet pass near the head of the thug, knocking him out with the shock of it). Every other time it's averted: people actually hit by bullets will have the wounds cripple them for months if not for life

    Film — Live Action 
  • A Better Tomorrow 2: In the final scene, approximately 80 mooks are killed with every weapon imaginable. The heroes also suffer injuries, but appear to suffer no ill effects. At the end, they calmly sit in their blood-soaked clothes and wait for the cops to arrive. Interestingly, the only John Woo movies where the heroes suffer the same injuries as the villains are A Better Tomorrow 1 and, perhaps, The Killer (1989).
  • Spider-Man Trilogy doesn't know how lethal the damn pumpkin bombs are. In the first movie, they vaporize a group of people in an instant, but in a later scene just knock Peter across the room. In the third movie, they mostly end up knocking people down — until Peter uses one to completely incinerate Venom. In the comics (and the movies' novelisation) Goblin has different bombs for different purposes but this is never even alluded to in the movies.
  • Star Wars: When Han shoots Greedo with a blaster, there is a small explosion, turning Greedo into a blackened, smoking corpse. In Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi, Luke is shot in his false hand, but it only burns off the skin. Range could be a factor; Han shot at point-blank range, while Luke is shot from a distance. Also the model of blaster; the Expanded Universe and a few RPGs make Han's DL-44 into the Galaxy's equivalent of an Hand Cannon.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Barrier: In the finale, one of the protagonists gets shot twice. The first shot injures them, but all they need to live until the epilogue is to cajole the wound for the rest of their screen time. The supporting character who pulled at Taking the Bullet for the second shot? They only had time for a few seconds of farewell for their loved ones before dying.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003): Sharon shoots Adama twice in the chest at close range with her side arm, and he survives. He needed a long stay in the sick bay, though. Later, she shoots the Cylon leader Natalie in the chest at short range with her side arm, and she dies within a minute.
  • Star Trek
    • Tends to happen, especially Voyager and Enterprise. A single phaser shot will kill an enemy mook no problem, but anyone with their name in the credits rarely suffers more than shoulder and leg hits that are soon after completely cured. If you don't have your name in the credits, you usually aren't so lucky, particularly if you happen to be wearing a gold or red shirt at the time. Nog learns this the hard way when he loses a leg.
    • Quite a few episodes have main characters taking a phaser (or whatever energy weapons) hit at center of mass in the chest, point blank range only to be barely inconvenienced (at most they'll be knocked out for a bit or have to limp).
    • Note that in the original series and the first half-dozen movies, a hit from a phaser set to kill completely disintegrates the target. (See in particular the death of Captain Terrell in Khan and the bit in Undiscovered Country where Valeris disintegrates a cooking pot, leaving the food inside it standing there pot-less.) This is completely untenable if there's any chance of a major character getting hit, so phasers in the rest of the franchise can fail to kill or leave corpses.
    • Star Trek: The Original Series: Someone shot with a phaser on kill, who should have disintegrated, instead dies normally purely because he has to give a Final Speech.
    • Star Trek: Voyager: In "Unity". A Gold-shirt was hit in the shoulder by a small pistol and instantly died, proving the weapons weren't on stun. Chakotay took a blast from a large rifle directly to his center mass... and woke up with a headache. It did do some nerve damage however that unless treated could eventually kill him, but the fact it didn't kill him outright is rather ridiculous.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: One episode deals with this trope directly. Cardassian weapons only have stun and kill settings, but federation phasers have dozens.
  • Supernatural: While the Winchester boys's various weapons work pretty reliably on the bad guys, Sam and Dean themselves have managed to survive car crashes, bullet wounds, head trauma and strangulation (among many, many other mishaps) with, at worst, a broken bone. There are times where this is averted, some characters died or were at the brink of death because of common weapons, including Bobby, Rufus, Pamela and, while they were resurrected afterwards, Sam and Dean more than once.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Invoked in the 3rd edition player's handbook as an explanation for why characters gain additional hit points as they grow in level, as well as for why they recover them faster. A 1d8 longsword will usually fatally injure a peasant, but the same attack results in an entirely superficial injury if used against a high-level fighter.
    • 4th Edition has "minions", enemies with a single HP designed specifically to die in droves to blows that players will barely notice.
  • Feng Shui has this effect for all named characters, heroes and villains alike, reflecting how tough major characters in Heroic Bloodshed movies tend to be in regards to bullets.
  • Mutants & Masterminds has had this mechanic from the beginning though its better defined in 2nd edition. Pretty much everyone aside from the important characters (good or bad) are knocked out after one good hit. In both this and the above case, they're deliberately mirroring the presence of this trope in their respective genres.
  • Savage Worlds plays this to a T. If an unnamed character takes damage, they're either stunned or dead. Named characters can be stunned, wounded or incapacitated, only dying if they bleed out, or are finished off while incapacitated.

    Video Games 
  • Pick a First-Person Shooter. Any First-Person Shooter. Arguably this is for gameplay reasons, though. However, higher difficulties in these games avoid the use of this trope, allowing the player character to be killed by single (or very few) shots. Also, more 'realistic' tactical shooters such as Rainbow Six and their ilk feature very fragile (by FPS standards) player characters, with injuries commonly sidelining characters for succeeding missions.
  • Also add to the mix almost any game that regularly uses swords, axes, lances, arrows, or some other sharp weapon, (or really heavy clubs for that matter)which of course would be a One-Hit KO if used on a real person. Chances are, even a character in Stripperiffic armor would get less than half of their HP bar taken if they are a high enough level, and certain "low-level" weapons become quickly moot.
  • In Ace Attorney, murder victims rarely require more than a single blow, stab, or shot to die. But if you're a major character like Manfred von Karma, Franziska von Karma, or Shi-Long Lang, a bullet is a mere inconvenience. The game does usually justify the lethal wounds, in that they tend to hit vital areas, and after the first game, death is rarely instantaneous. Bullets hit hearts (which is another trope), necks are broken, victims live long enough to alter the crime scene...
  • Averted in First Encounter Assault Recon - unless your armor and health are maxed out, if the enemy shoots you with a weapon that instagibs them, you will die instantly in turn.
  • Justified in the Halo games. The best-equipped soldiers, both human and Covenant, have energy shields. These prevent instant death most of the time, but a handful of weapons are still one-hit kills if properly aimed (for example, a sniper rifle head shot is a One-Hit Kill). In other cases — especially with a fully charged plasma pistol shot — your shields may be downed in a single hit, at which point you can be killed with realistic ease, like any mook. This trope is completely averted if you play on Heroic or Legendary, in which case you may die if the enemy so much as sneezes on you.
  • Played straight and subverted by the Max Payne series. In terms of gameplay, Max actually has fewer hitpoints than some of his later enemies, though he can regenerate with painkillers. Viewed in terms of realism, Max is peppered full of holes from desert eagles, assault rifles, and grenade shrapnel for several hours of gameplay and needs nothing more than aspirin to stay healthy.
  • Justified in the Street Fighter games with Vega, one of the few characters in the series who regularly fights with a weapon. His claw is curved at the tips to prevent him from lethally stabbing his opponents; it can only deal superficial slashing damage. Of course, it can still kill if it hits the right vein, but by that logic, every fighter in the series has skills and/or powers that could potentially kill even without a weapon.
  • Starting with the third "main story" game in the Wing Commander video game series, the player's fighter gets extra damage absorption ability, compared to the same fighter flown by AI pilots, either friend or foe. In an extreme abuse of this property, if you and the enemy are flying the same ship, as in the final flight mission of Wing Commander IV, you can contrive a situation where the enemy runs into you at full speed, killing the enemy while leaving your ship significantly damaged but surviving for auto-repair to kick in.
  • World of Warcraft has the Soft Foam Sword, a weapon that allows a character to wound to 10% HP 'insignificant' (20 levels or more below the character) NPCs for use in old content that would require a player to damage but not kill something to capture it or tame it, etc.

  • Lampshaded, like many other gaming tropes, in Darths & Droids, when Chewbacca shoots at Kylo Ren and a bunch of stormtroopers.
    GM: That's a significant Wound. Kylo can walk, but painfully. -3 to all Actions until you're healed.
    GM: The troopers' shots go astray and Chewie takes out four of them in one round.
    Kylo's player: I'm so glad I use the PC rules and not Enemy Mook rules.

    Western Animation 
  • Beanbag Guns in Archer hurt like hell and leave a nasty bruise. Archer deals with this twice, and complains how a children's toy has the potential of causing internal bleeding.
  • Throughout Transformers, you can expect generic 'bots and 'cons to suffer instant death with one blast of the attacks main characters are constantly surviving. In the 80s series and comics, if you no longer had a toy on the shelves, disposing you by suddenly making you similarly one-hit-kill-able was common, but not so much these days. (Turns out fans don't like it when you atomize most of the entire cast and have no one notice or care so you can focus on the new toy-characters.) However, generics still die in droves to weapons that are then used on major characters to less effect. Most blatant example in recent years are the Insecticons from Prime, - despite all being of the same identical model, named ones like Hardshell are Nigh-Invulnerable while massive swarms of others are easily dealt with - one hit equals one kill.