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Death of a Thousand Cuts

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It's not the single bee that kills, it's the swarm.

"The Legionnaire that scoffs at a lasgun has not charged across an open field against a hundred of them."
Maor the Scarred, Siege-Champion of the Scargivers, Warhammer 40,000: Black Crusade

If you can hit something with your weapon, you can damage it, however slightly. And if you can damage it, you can defeat it just by hitting it enough times. The exact nature of the attack and how well-armored the target happens to be might affect this, but the fact remains that in many works, huge imposing enemies can be brought down by way of multiple attacks that, taken on their own, barely qualify as pinpricks.

Often used by the Fragile Speedster or the Stone Wall. The former attacks quickly enough to deal an impressive amount of damage even if each individual attack is minor (sometimes enough to qualify as a Glass Cannon as well) and can use evasion to keep from being slaughtered, and the latter is durable enough to withstand the enemy's attacks while chipping away with its own meager offense.

There are three ways to defend against such a tactic. Healing faster than the opponent can damage and reducing each hit to zero obviate the attacks altogether. As for the third, the best defense is a good offense. If the would-be victim is effective enough at fighting back, and their attacker is too poor at defending, the former will probably live to tell the tale.

Do note that the Trope Namer, lingchinote , is not an example of this trope. It was a form of Cold-Blooded Torture/Public Execution, now outlawed, in which various parts of the condemned's body were methodically sliced off over a long period of time.

A Sub-Trope of Quantity vs. Quality. Compare The Last Straw, where the target is weakened by (possibly strong) attacks until a weak attack finishes them, and Scratch Damage Enemy for usually being the best way to deal with one. See also Cherry Tapping, for defeating someone with a deliberately weak attack in general (whether it was used a thousand times, or only once), and Untouchable Until Tagged, when a single hit, even a weak one, allows more hits to land until the target is overwhelmed. Can be delivered quickly through a Spam Attack or by the members of a Zerg Rush. Expect this to be part of any Weak, but Skilled arsenal. Depending on how heavily protected the target is, More Dakka may be involved. If it succeeds, the victim may suffer a Rasputinian Death. In general, this is the only way to defeat a Damage-Sponge Boss, especially if it's a Marathon Boss.

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Attack on Titan: This tactic becomes necessary when fighting Human Titans, which have intelligence and additional weak-spot protection to help them out. The tactic Squad Levi uses on the Female Titan is gouge out its eyes and force it to remain defensive. They then try to hack off its arms then neck in a series of successive strikes.
  • In issue 9 of Black Cat, Nizer fights a werewolf with fast-acting regenerative powers. To kill it and keep it dead, he resorted to hitting it so many times it was torn to bits.
  • Bleach:
    • Byakuya Kuchiki's attacks use this quite literally, as his sword Senbonzakura ("One thousand cherry blossoms") has the ability to separate into a thousand small fragments that hover in the air and reflect the light, giving the impression of cherry blossoms floating through the air... until he uses these fragments to cut his opponents to shreds. Exaggerated Trope with Byakuya's Bankai, Senbonzakura Kageyoshi, which is more like Death of a Billion Cuts.
    • Rangiku Matsumoto's sword can turn into a cloud of razor-sharp ash, though it's not very effective.
    • This is what Hollowfied Kaname Tosen planned on using on Captain Komamura, until he decided, "Screw that," and revealed that he had a stronger form.
  • This is how the Abyss Feeders operate in the post-timeskip Claymore manga. They attack as a group and retreat once enough have been slain, returning once their numbers have replenished. With each iteration, they adapt to their target's combat style and become increasingly difficult to defeat, until the target no longer has enough time to recover between fights and is overwhelmed. As demonstrated by Isley, who gets an Alas, Poor Villain moment as they eat him alive.
  • The Elusive Samurai: Despite being a genius at running away, hiding, and surviving, Tokiyuki has absolutely pathetic arm strength. He eventually adopts a fighting style that uses his evasion skills to make countless shallow cuts on his opponent. These shallow cuts eventually add up, and eventually his enemy just keels over with blood loss.
  • Pretty much the only way to kill a homunculus in Fullmetal Alchemist. Because they have an exceptionally powerful healing factor, the only way to actually kill them is to keep hurting them until they use up all their energy healing themselves. This can take a long time.
  • Gundam:
    • In Mobile Suit Gundam, this is part of the reason Zeon wasn't able to fully conquer Earth even before the Gundam is completed. While the Earth Federation's Saberfish fighters, Fly Mantha fighter-bombers and Type-61 tanks are hopelessly obsolete against Zeon's Mobile Suits, the Federals used their superior numbers to target Zeon supply lines. A Zaku without ammunition and fuel is basically a gigantic statue, after all.
      • Ancillary material such as Gihren's Greed or Mobile Suit Gundam MS IGLOO both have sequences that show that while conventional Type-61 tanks and anti-tank bazookas are woefully inadequate against the Zakus (e.g. a Zaku can actually shrug off a direct hit from a Type-61's tank shells unless hit precisely in the cockpit), enough of them firing all at once will bring them down.
      • Unluckily for Zeon, this tactic is ineffective against the Gundam for much of the war. Zaku pilots manage to score hits against the Gundam, but because the Gundam's Luna Titanium armour is completely impervious to the 120mm ammo the Zaku machinegun uses the Gundam can quite literally stand and take shots from Zakus over and over without taking damage. Higher caliber weapons like Zaku bazookas or the giant bazookas equipped by Doms, on the other hand...
    • In Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, this is basically AEUG (and terrestrial ally Karaba)'s way of opposing the Titans for a big part of the series when they're still outmatched in terms of resources and manpower. By striking at key locations, they planned to whittle down the Titans' active combat strength bit-by-bit while looking for an opportunity to land a knockout blow. After they successfully reveal the depths of the Titans' crimes and cause the Earth Federation to disavow the Titans and throw its weight behind AEUG instead, the conflict then shifts to a more conventional war climaxing with a gigantic three-way battle between the AEUG fleet, the Titans, and the Axis Zeon.
    • After War Gundam X gives us the Correl, a Monster of the Week Mobile Suit that was made ludicrously fast by stripping it of all non-essential parts (including most of its armor). Its only weapon is a beam knife, which means this trope is its preferred method of attack (in fact, the pilot uses that very phrase to describe it). However, its complete lack of armor meant that Garrod Ran was able to destroy it using the Gundam's vulcan cannons, generally the weakest of a Gundam's armaments.
  • Magi: Labyrinth of Magic: In his colosseum debut, Alibaba faces Garda, an enormous monster-ape whose muscles prove too thick for him to inflict anything beyond Scratch Damage. He manages to win by angering Garda to the point that his attacks become predictable and easy to dodge, then inflicting multiple shallow wounds until the accumulated damage becomes too much for the ape to handle.
  • Naruto's Rasenshuriken attack does this also quite literally, cutting and killing Kakuzu with so many cuts that Kakashi's Sharingan couldn't count them all (it counts really fast). If Kakuzu wasn't highly durable, nothing would have been left of him (like it's later shown with another foe). You could define Rasenshuriken as "death of a thousand cuts all at once". To clarify just how many tiny cuts we're talking here, the attack sliced up every cell in the target's body individually.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi references this trope when Negi's inferiority complex causes him to imagine various gaps between himself and, in this case, a small cat. Because a single cat has a mere 0.5 in power to his 500, he reasons that at least 1001 cats working together would easily overpower him.
  • In one early volume of Ranma ½, Ryōga trains a technique with the side effect of making him almost invulnerable to normal attacks, something Ranma wasn't expecting and thus only trained his speed. Ranma's tactic? He hits Ryōga a hundred times in the same spot so fast it looks like just one punch, getting past the augmented endurance by essentially tenderizing him.
  • Sgt. Frog: Tamama's "Deathblow 9000".
  • Slayers: This is Xellos' favorite combat tactic. Dodge his enemy's big attacks with his inherent agility and Teleport Spam while delivering a withering barrage of tiny spikes, over and over and over.
    "If you can't hit me with big attacks, there's no point in fighting. However, small attacks can hurt when they're repeated several times!"

    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • The "Tim" deck is an old standby, dating back to the very earliest days of the game. A blue player stocks up on Prodigal Sorcerers (and similar cards such as the Zuran Spellcaster to get around the 4-card maximum in tournament play), which all deal one damage when tapped (the name is a reference to Tim the Enchanter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail). The resulting "wall of pokes" can be devastating to the opposing player.
    • The actual card Death of A Thousand Stings, which drains away just the tiniest bit of life but can potentially be reused infinitely.
    • Death of a Thousand Cuts is one way to get past the Circle of Protection cards. There are others, but that one's the most obvious.
    • Some aggro decks, especially "Zerg Rush" decks, rely on this strategy to win. One 1/1 Faerie with Flying isn't that scary when you have 20 life. Seventeen, however, are terrifying.
    • The Zendikar Rising block has added a green card called Scute Swarm, which is a 1/1 creature (unremarkable damage, easy to kill). But whenever you play a land, it will spawn a 1/1 insect. If you have 6 or more lands in play when you play a land, it will instead spawn a 1/1 Scute Swarm, which can then itself spawn more Scute Swarms. Unchecked, the exponential growth will overwhelm any opponent in as few as four turnsnote . Considering that you only need to pay the cost of the inital Scute Swarm before it can start multiplying, and that you can have up to 4 Scute Swarms in your deck, decks without permanent removal or board wipes will very quickly learn to fear the appearance of a small little 1/1 creature.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • There is a card called "Solar Flare Dragon" that inflicts 500 damage to your opponent every turn. With even 1 out, you can often, if protected, chip away at their Life Points. Plus, if there are two, they protect each other. And the damage stacks. Unless your opponent pulls some Monster Removal within eight turns, they lose. There are other cards works similarly, for example, the normal Spell card "Magical Blast". It inflicts 200 damage to your opponent for each face-up Spellcaster-Type monster you control, and the scary part is, unlike most normal Spell cards, it is reusable - it can add itself back to your hand each turn. There's also the continuous Trap card "Skull Invitation" - each time one or more card(s) is sent to the Graveyard, the owner of those card(s) takes 300 damage. The real issue here is that the damage is inflicted for each card sent. In a deck focusing on milling opponent's deck away, it is easy to make this into a serious thing.
    • The Yata-Lock works like this. Your opponent has no cards in his hand or on the field, attack with Yata-Garasu, deal 200 damage and your opponent can't draw, meaning they can't do anything, repeat. This continues for about 10 turns or until your opponent surrenders. It's very effective, to the point that the card was banned solely for this. Similar to this is the soon-to-be-banned card "Phoenixian Cluster Amaryllis". On its own, it wasn't so bad (just 800 damage when it is destroyed, then revives itself by banishing another Plant-Type monster in the Graveyard), but once you have a ton of Plants in your Graveyard, and when combined with "Topologic Bomber Dragon", whose mandatory effect destroys everything its Link Marker points to, a loop is created where "Amaryllis" would keep reviving and destroying itself (and thus keeps inflicting 800 damage), turning it into a One-Turn Kill or even a FIRST-Turn Kill machine, depending on your deck and cards in your hand.
    • The "Trickstar" archetype basically runs on this. Most of their members inflict mere 200 damage to opponent, but this damage happens when a certain act made by the opponent occurs and said act is usually an important one, for example, drawing a card or activating an effect, meaning if you face against this deck, no matter what you do, you're still taking damage. The worse part is, the archetype also have cards that forces you to do the act, and the Field Spell inflicts 200 more damage each time you receive damage.
    • The spell card "Thousand Knives" has this in-universe flavour. Under the right conditions, you can target one monster your opponent controls and destroy it.
    • "Dark Room of Nightmare" is a continuous spell card that causes the opponent to take 300 damage every time they take damage through a card effect other than "Dark Room of Nightmare". 300 damage doesn't sound all that scary, but in a deck centered around doing effect damage as frequently as possible, like the above mentioned Trickstars, it greatly increases their damage output.

    Comic Books 
  • Baker Street: At the end of the "Honour Among Punks" arc, Davenport and Boxe fall into the ratting pits at the Baskervilles, and bitten hundreds of times by rabid rats.
  • In Jon Sable, Freelance #4, Jon leaves one of the mercenaries who killed his family nailed to tree with a knife through his hands above a colony of army ants. As the ants start swarming up the man, Sable leaves him and tells him, if he tries hard enough, he can die, before the ants get to him.
  • Spider-Man: Spider-Man often uses these tactics when up against stronger, slower opponents. His first fight against the Rhino in The Amazing Spider-Man (Lee & Ditko) was probably the earliest example.
  • In a Spirou & Fantasio story, the Marsupilami gets a grudge against a 10-meters high dinosaur and smacks it on the head with a big stick, to absolutely no effect. The Marsupilami then proceeds to repeatedly hit the dinosaur's head for two days, after which the giant is finally KO'ed.
  • In Strangers in Paradise, the mob boss Veronica captures a journalist investigating the links between her organization, government and big business, ties him up, and kills him by cutting off "one finger at a time, one limb at a time", then leaving him to bleed. For this atrocity (and for trying to kill her sister Katchoo), Tambi pays Veronica back in kind.
  • Über: Due to being Nigh-Invulnerable, Battleship-class Ubers have to take an insane amount of damage to even get a scratch.
    • Siegmund lost his arm early in the series after fighting nearly one hundred Tank-class Soviet Ubers, even though he killed the vast majority of them before retreating.
    • Leah Cohen, a Mighty Glacier, took several halo blasts before getting effectively kneecapped.
    • This is how Siegfried died, being slashed to death by several Zephyr-class Ubers and blood loss doing him in rather than half his head being blown up.

    Fan Works 
  • Used by Cornelia's men in Code Geass: Cornelia of the Defection against Britannian Knightmares. A single soldier with an RPG is slightly more threatening to a Knightmare than one with a knife. A couple of hundred soldiers firing a rain of them from the surrounding buildings will wipe out a squad in seconds.
  • In Destiny is a Hazy Thing a large group of Konoha shinobi were in the process of wearing down Itachi and Kisame using hit and run tactics when Sasuke comes charging in to attack Itachi head-on. Several shinobi die covering him and Sasuke gets a reputation as mentally unstable and insubordinate.
  • In the BattleTech fic Fragmentation, this was a doctrine Executive Outcomes was pushing for Periphery states. One 'Mech can be expensive. One Pike battletank, carrying three long ranged but very weak autocannons is cheap. A 'Mech's price worth of Pikes, on the other hand, could very quickly devour you at ranges your expensive 'Mech couldn't retaliate at. A half company of Pikes for every 'Mech you bring on the field...
  • In Fractured Fates, this is what Azami Kurobe's execution amounts to. She is strapped to a chair in an empty auditorium and, after some Bait-and-Switch, is ultimately shot at by hundreds upon hundreds of shards of broken glass fired from a woodchipper until she bleeds out.
  • The Saga Of Tanya The Firebender, While attending the Royal Fire Academy during the same time as the Siege of Ba Sing Se; Tanyas' proposal on how she would conquer the city followed this Trope. Ty Lee is disturbed by this tactic.
    Tanya: As General Iroh's siege of Ba Sing Se was the talk of the nation at the time their teacher had posed a hypothetical scenario to the class about how they would go about breaching the legendary walls. Most of the class had offered uninspired answers: siege towers, underground tunnels, or even firing soldiers over the wall via catapults. But when it was Tanya's turn the little blonde girl had launched into a twenty minute pitch on not just how to breach the walls, but also claim and hold the entire outer section of the city. She advocated sending raiding parties out across the surrounding lands to burn every village in the province to the ground: notably not killing anyone, but giving the survivors the barest amount of supplies necessary for them to make the journey to Ba Sing Se. By flooding the city with refugees, she reasoned, Ba Sing Se's government would be incapable of properly handling the logistics needed to provide them all with food and shelter, leading to a growing sense of discontentment as the city clogged up with people and more refugees turned to crime in order to survive. If an uprising didn't naturally occur within the six weeks, spies could be snuck in amongst the refugees with orders to burn the food stores. Once the uprising began many soldiers posted on the outer walls would have to be pulled back to help deal with it, leaving the wall undermanned for a mass incursion via siege ladders.
  • In the Tamers Forever Series Patamon manages to destroy a wild Clyclonemon by using a barrage of hundreds and hundreds of Wing Slaps
  • In Wish Carefully, Harry's defeat of the Death Eaters plays out like this on a long-term and society-wide scale. The Death Eaters and Voldemort wanted to rule Wizarding England without having to deal with any muggles, squibs, muggleborns or blood traitors ever again, so Harry and his allies surrender control of the country to them while the Light Supporters create their own seperate society. The Death Eaters then realize over time that getting exactly what they wanted has utterly screwed them over. First off, their economy is completely ruined because most of the middle and working classes (aka, the people who ran businesses, produced complex goods, and provided skilled services that kept society's wheels running smoothly) were primarily made up of muggleborns and Light Supporters who left in the Light's exile. Trying to bring muggle money into Wizarding England won't work either, as the contract Harry and his allies created has a stipulation that forbids any contact between the Death Eaters and the muggles and the punishment for breaking the rule is the witch or wizard losing their magic. Meanwhile, years of pureblood inbreeding has caused future generations to become magically and intellectually weaker and the population is slowly dying off, and no one wants to immigrate to England (even mail order brides won't be given to them), further exacerbating these aforementioned problems. Not to mention they are trapped under Voldemort's rule, who himself has only become even more unhinged and crueler, with no way to leave. Lucius Malfoy even calls Harry's plan "Slytherin-like" and believes Dumbledore would've been horrified by this.
  • Zero Context: Taking Out the Trash: Callista's Quantum Cutters takes this to its logical extreme, systematically slicing through each individual atom of a target in less time than it takes to blink, which is noted to be a blatant violation of the laws of time and space. Callista's status as a Fragile Speedster and Glass Cannon makes attaining the state of mind needed to use this technique iffy, however.

    Films — Animation 
  • Invoked verbatim in Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay. Zoom grabs a small dagger and cuts Bronze Tiger numerous times with it before ending with a Slashed Throat, leaving him to bleed out.
  • Invoked by Hopper in A Bug's Life. As he explains, the reason they keep the ants in check despite having already enough food isn't simply because they need them to collect the food, but also becuase, if they end up realizing they're numerically superior and let them rebel, their way of life would be over. He also illustrates this by hitting some of his henchmen with grain and eventually burying them with it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Fled, a Torture Technician gets very literal with the trope by using a scalpel to make small incisions on his victims while referencing the trope by name. Taken to the next level by Magic Box
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring — That's what it takes from the Fellowship to kill the Cave Troll. Though, in the film, the arrow through the roof of the mouth and directly into the brain was probably the more likely cause of death.
  • Dieter, one of the hunters in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, gets attacked by a swarm of Compsognathus dinosaurs and succumbs to this . A little girl earlier in the film narrowly avoids the same fate, albeit not unscathed.
  • The first Kaiju in Pacific Rim were killed using massive amounts of conventional weapons , taking several days each to die. Nuclear weapons were faster, but more dangerous, and ultimately the desire to avert this trope and kill the Kaiju quickly and efficiently was what led to the Jaeger program.
  • The Chinese "Slow slicing" method as listed in the Real life folder below, is depicted in the end of the wuxia film Portrait In Crystal, with Shui-jing, the Damsel in Distress, being subjected to being stripped naked and having a net made of wire mesh coating her entire body, which gets progressively tightened by her tormentors. Accordingly, the mesh can slice her into 480 cubes while alive.
  • In the climactic duel of Rob Roy, the villainous Archibald is both more skilled and much faster than Rob, but also considerably smaller and weaker. As such, his strategy during their Sword Fight is to keep his distance and repeatedly inflict light wounds on Rob, until the combination of all those wounds and blood loss weaken Rob enough that Archie can safely finish him off. It almost works perfectly, as numerous shallow cuts on his arms and torso, an injury suffered earlier in the film, and his own exertions all work together to gradually exhaust Rob, leaving him wounded, on his knees, and gasping for air. Archie makes a grave mistake at the end however, as he delays the Coup de Grâce a few seconds too long due to Evil Gloating and checking for approval from the antagonistic Marquess. In that time Rob grabs ahold of Archie's blade, immobilizing both the sword and Archie just long enough to score a single, massive, and very fatal blow on Archie.
  • In The Sand Pebbles, Po-han was about to suffer the literal version of this trope at the hands of the Kuomintang when Holman mercifully put an end to it.
  • In Them!, the giant mutant ants can shrug off individual gunshots, but finally succumb when the characters turn Thompson submachine guns on them.
  • In Tremors, the Graboids appear to be bulletproof, until one of them break into the Gummers' rec room. Two solid minutes of continuous gunfire later with several different types of guns each, they prove that very few things are bulletproof, given enough bullets.
  • Both Janet and Wilbur are mauled to death by house cats in The Uncanny.


  • In Joe Abercrombie's Before They Are Hanged, Logen, while explaining what he's done in the past as the feared Bloody-Nine, says he once tried to tear down a wall during a siege with his bare hands. It didn't work, but he didn't stop until one of the defenders dropped a rock on him.
  • In Dale Brown's books, while Tin Men usually cannot be damaged directly by anything smaller than anti-tank weapons, they can be drained of power, after which they become vulnerable to small arms. This has to do with the unique material they're made of that hardens when something hits it, or something.
  • Chrysalis (RinoZ): Overwhelming an enemy with many weak attacks is standard procedure for the ants, but Anthony actually pulls it off single-handedly when fighting a monster with Nigh-Invulnerability and hardly any brain. He pins it to the ground with gravity bolts, then starts chomping at the armour — and it takes so long that he gets worn out and has to rest on its back for five minutes before getting up and finishing the job.
  • Crysis: Legion: I can’t outrun the monster but I can outmaneuver it, dip and weave and jump from ground to rooftop and back again. It would have slaughtered me a dozen times if I hadn’t gotten out of the way a split second before it let loose. And all the time I’m bobbing and dodging and running between its legs, I’m scratching the paint on the hood ornament. After a while, the hood ornament falls off. I start scratching other parts.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Harry Dresden used this technique on the Ax-Crazy Summer Lady Aurora in Summer Knight, by unleashing Toot-Toot and a swarm of his fellow fairies armed with box knives.
    • Threatened by Toot-Toot towards Sanya in Changes...
      Toot-Toot: Go ahead, draw your sword! We will see who dies from a thousand tiny cuts!
    • In Cold Days Harry's enemies nick his tactics and send a horde of fairies to attack him with nails. They nearly succeed, too.
  • In Michael Moorcock's The Elric Saga, the hero is confronted with an unkillable Big Bad. The sentient dark sword Stormbringer recognises his need and summons the help of a million multiversal manifestations of itself. All the alternate selves of Stormbringer lay into the Big Bad and subject it to this death. Elsewhere, Elric finally catches up with his nemesis Yyrkoon, who grovels and begs for a quick clean death. Elric grins and then lets Stormbringer take his soul - over a protracted period, a tiny little bit at a time...
  • While King Osbert's army in Grent's Fall has higher quality troops and better leadership, no victory is without casualties.
  • In the Honor Harrington universe, Superdreadnoughts are the biggest existing Ship Type (only non-Hyper capable and very slow moving mobile Fortresses are bigger) and are designed to exchange direct energy fire with other Superdreadnoughts. This means they are incredibly tough though armored, and unless you get really lucky and hit a reactor it takes a lot of hits to kill them... like those provided by the heavy missile salvos that characterize most engagements between the Manticore Alliance and the (People's) Republic of Haven during the series.
  • In Hurricane Gold, Strabo gets eaten alive by army ants.
  • Journey to Chaos: When Gruffle attracts the ire of dozens of protestors at the Mana Mutation Summit he knows they can't defeat him; his power as a necromancer is too great. But there are dozens and dozens of them and all of them are firing mana bolts. "Behold the power of the people!"
  • Since Judge Dee takes place in Imperial China and the protagonist is a magistrate lingchi appears from time to time. In the original book he sentenced a woman who murdered her husband and drugged her daughter to keep her telling anyone.
  • In The Last American Vampire, Henry Sturges explains that vampires actually CAN be killed by normal bullets, it just takes a whole lot of them and quickly enough to overcome their Healing Factor. During the centuries when firearms were limited to single-shot, this wasn't a concern to vampires. Then not too long ago, the machine gun was invented...
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's Line of Delirium, Kay muses that, while pretending to be a civilian, he is forbidden from purchasing "red level" weapons, limited only to the less-than-lethal "yellow level", which he claims are, at most, capable of stopping some hoodlums on the street. He ends up getting a Convoy laser pistol, which is only supposed to deliver painful nonlethal burns to scare away an attacker. However, being a professional bodyguard, he knows that the pistol has a full-auto mode and a fairly decent charge in a single power pack, which means that, by holding down the trigger, he could easily cut through a human body in about 2 seconds.
  • In Lucky Wander Boy this is the signature attack of the protagonist's favorite character in the Eviscerator game in his company's breakroom (there because they're making a second sequel to the film of the game). It also figures in the film and short story he is obsessing a bit too much about.
  • The reason for Zip's strike in The Poster Children. She had attacked her sister's boyfriend for hitting her.
    The ER nurse said it was somewhere between two and three hundred times.
  • Snow Crash: Uncle Enzo combines this with Combat Pragmatist when fighting Raven, after getting hamstrung by the enemy, who uses glass knives. Enzo sets off a sonic pulse, which fragments all of his opponent's knives, which he has secreted on his person.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: In Fire & Blood, the law in Westeros used to be that a man could hit his wife for cheating with a rod no thicker than a thumb. When one man beat his wife to death using a rod that thick (her brothers said he had hit her a hundred times), Queen Rhaenys changed the law so a man could only hit his wife six times, for each of the seven gods except the Stranger. Under that law, the first six blows had been lawful, but the remaining ninety-four had not. The woman's brothers took her husband out back and gave him ninety-four blows with appropriately sized rods.
  • In Lee Lightner's Space Wolf novel Wolf's Honour, Ragnar thought he had won a practice bout until his opponent walked him through the blows — he would have bled to death from half a dozen wounds not fatal individually.
  • As pointed out further down in the videogame examples, the Star Wars universe makes a big deal of the danger posed to larger capital ships by missile warheads, usually mounted on much lighter fighter craft. Nowhere is this clearer than in one of the X-Wing Series novels, where a fearsome Super Star Destroyer threatens a planetary colony — and unexpectedly finds itself targeted by several hundred fixed torpedo placements, with the unimpressed enemy commander nonchalantly reversing the threat. The Destroyer's captain realises that for all of the mighty ship's shielding it can't hope to survive several hundred torpedo hits, and promptly craps her pants. The enemy turns out to be bluffing — they don't actually have the torpedoes to carry through with the threat nor the emplacements themselves, just lots of targeting sensors - but the Captain doesn't know that, and it ends up costing her a smaller Star Destroyer right then and the SSD itself later on.
  • The Treecats of Sphinx use this tactic to handle much larger predators like hexapumas in the Stephanie Harrington series.
  • The Stormlight Archive: Used once by the Master Swordsman Adolin Kholin to show off in a formal duel, which, in Alethi noble culture, is done with BFSes and Powered Armor and generally lasts until the armor is damaged to a specific extent. Rather than focus on any one armor segment, Adolin harries his opponent with light blows until the entire suit runs out of juice and freezes him in place.
  • Used realistically in The Sword of Truth to fight the Empire in that the large force they were going up against was a seemingly endless army. Kahlan leads an army of 1000 against this force using guerrilla warfare and citing this trope. This is really more of a Million Mook March and 300, though. Otherwise, every army vs. lesser army would qualify for this trope.
  • An In-Universe example in The Traitor's Hand, when an Imperial captain out-thinks the commander of a Chaos warship. He lures the Chaos ship into chasing his vessel into the middle of a fleet of civilian ships, then blows away the Chaos ship's primary weapons. The Chaos captain then discovers 1) he's got too much momentum built up to change course easily, 2) all of those civilian ships are armed, and 3) there's a thousand of them. The historian Vail is quoting compares the result to a grox being stung to death by firewasps.
  • The Vorkosigan Saga had a literal example take place in the execution of Mad Emperor Yuri. Aral Vorkosign got to take the first cut.
  • The X-Files novel Whirlwind features a small tornado summoned with Native American magic, that strips its victims from their skin due to the pieces of small debris within it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • In the episode "The Long Dark," the crew is trying to shoot down a wraithlike vampiric creature, with little success:
      Garibaldi: These PPG's don't do much more than sting it. Prowls around hurt for a while and comes back stronger.
      Sheridan: Well, one bee sting may be an annoyance, but a hundred of them can kill you.
    • In another instance, Londo tells G'Kar that he will be tortured for as long as possible before he is executed.
    • In the episode Interludes and Examinations, a Vorlon fleet pounces on a Shadow force that was tearing up a fleet of Brakiri ships. In addition to various big-ship-on-big-ship engagements, we see a swarm of Vorlon fighters making a coordinated attack on a Shadow Battlecrab, stinging it from every direction until it withers and dies.
  • Daredevil (2015): Both times that Wilson Fisk gets brought down, it's because of this
    • In season 1, it's actions that happen early in the season that do in Fisk. Fisk ends up killing his Russian partners because Anatoly interrupted his date with Vanessa. In the midst of eliminating the Russians, Fisk also orders the shooting of Detective Christian Blake for leaking information to Matt, and when the hit fails to kill him, sends Blake's partner Hoffman to poison him in the hospital. Hoffman is subsequently scooped up and given protection by Fisk's money man Leland Owlsley, who himself is skimming from Fisk and aided Madame Gao in poisoning Vanessa. Upon finding out the truth, Fisk kills Owlsley...which leads to Hoffman being delivered straight to the FBI, repped by Nelson & Murdock. While Fisk attempts a jailbreak with the help of a tipoff from SAC Tammy Hattley, Matt foils his escape, and Brett Mahoney takes Fisk back into custody. Now while all that is going on, Fisk's Yakuza partners repped by Nobu (actually the Hand) go, after Fisk manipulates Nobu and Matt into fighting one another because Nobu is getting too demanding for him. Lastly, the Chinese gang of Madame Gao (also the Hand) leave town after poisoning Vanessa. Closer to home, Fisk's right hand James Wesley is shot and killed by Karen Page when he tries to shake her down. All of this chips away at Fisk's empire. But the final cut is actually a pair of cuts.
    • In season 3, Fisk's attempts to rebuild his empire begin crumbling when he hires Dex to attack the Bulletin in a fake Daredevil costume to discredit Matt and get rid of Jasper Evans. The incident prompts Karen to visit him and provoke him into calling a hit on her by revealing that she killed Wesley. This leads to Dex trying to kill Karen at Matt's church, succeeding only in killing Father Lantom, an event which leads to Ray Nadeem (the FBI Agent who Fisk manipulated into letting him out of prison, and who has been blackmailed into working with Dex) growing a spine and deciding to testify before a grand jury. Fisk thwarts Nadeem's effort by intimidating the grand jury, while Vanessa decides to call a hit on Nadeem (carried out by Dex). This proves to be Fisk's undoing: before his death, Nadeem records a confession of all the crimes he's seen Fisk commit which ends up being admissible through a legal loophole, which Karen puts on the web with a favor from Ellison. Meanwhile, Matt goes after Fisk's fixer Felix Manning and not only learns Vanessa ordered Nadeem's death, but also that Fisk had a woman close to Dex killed. Matt subsequently uses this information to prompt Dex to turn on Fisk and try to kill him and Vanessa while dressed in his Daredevil costume. When the fight is over, Matt's alter ego is exonerated thanks to the NYPD now catching Dex in the Daredevil suit, while Matt uses his knowledge about Vanessa's crime to blackmail Fisk into leaving Foggy and Karen alone.
  • Doctor Who: In "Heaven Sent", the Doctor ends up trapped in something like a time loop in which the only escape is through a 20-foot wall made of a substance stronger than diamonds. The Doctor eventually manages to destroy the wall by punching it with his bare hand, a few times each cycle, for 4.5 billion years.
  • The Expanse: When Alex manages to sneak up on a stealth ship, whose firepower is mostly concetrated in its enormous rail gun that can destroy most ships in a single shot, he uses the Rocinante's multiple auto-canon turrets to literally shred it to pieces with thousands of anti-missile rounds from ultra short range.
  • Game of Thrones: Drogon is shown as vulnerable to this when the Sons of the Harpy chuck spears at him. He's still more than capable of flying and taking on dozens of them, but he's clearly hurt and would not be able to do it forever. Of course, that was at the end of Season 5, he's since grown bigger and his hide is much tougher.
  • Claire attempts to do this to Peter in an alternate timeline episode of Heroes. She only gets up to two before she is stopped.
  • In Jessica Jones (2015), Kilgrave uses his Compelling Voice to order Wendy to kill Jeri with a literal Death of a Thousand Cuts. She only makes it to 28 cuts before her head is bashed in.
  • Kamen Rider Double: Kamen Rider Accel's Trial form. Its power of Super-Speed comes at the cost of some strength, so Terui gets in dozens of rapid-fire hits before the enemy can react.
  • MacGyver (1985): In "Trumbo's World", two characters are eaten to death by ants.
  • This is kind of what happened to Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks. The autopsy stated that she died from blood loss after multiple cuts, none deep enough to kill her.

  • In Die Ärzte "Die Hard", the subject is killed by repeatedly be thrown at with cotton-wool balls.
  • In Taylor Swift "Death By a Thousand Cuts", Taylor likens all the little parts of a break-up to a slow "death by a thousand cuts", and later specifically describes getting paper cuts metaphorically from "paper-thin plans".

  • In Destroy the Godmodder, this is the main way the players confront the Godmodder in all games. Since attacks against him deal little damage, many small ones are required to defeat him.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Embodied in BattleTech by such things as short-range missiles, LB-X autocannons firing cluster shot, or most infantry attacks, all of which randomly scatter small damage packets across the target's hit location chart. Even if this doesn't hit a preexisting gap in the target's armor or score a lucky critical hit straight through it, said armor is almost universally ablative and will eventually be worn down, exposing the vulnerable internal structure and components underneath. And regardless of how heavy a 'mech is or how beefy its armor is, every mech (outside of non-Tourney-grade rule sets) can only take a light amount of damage to the head, and each successful plink attack has a 1 in 36 chance of hitting the head. Even if head armor is not pierced, the scant armor is still reduced, and the pilot themselves is injured and can only take 5 such "injuries", each making it harder to resist or come out of a blackout, before being completely incapacitated by the sixth. At the opposite end of the hit location roll table is the "thru-armor crit", which has the potential to inflict internal damage even if armor isn't completely ablated, and also has a 1-in-36 chance for every scratch damage hit. If it's the conventional "always center torso" rule, the engine and gyro can become damaged. If using the elective "floating crit" rule that means "reroll the hit location and now also do a crit chance roll", then it can potentially hit an ammo bin.
    • One mech that's built entirely like this is the Piranha, a 20 ton Fragile Speedster that's armed with a pair of medium lasers and a staggering 12 machine guns. A single machine gun hit only deals 2 points of damage to an enemy battlemech, but it can run around behind a larger, slower target and open up on them with enough hits to have a good chance of chewing through their thinner rear armor.
    • The Piranha is outdone by the Bane, a Clan design that carries ten Ultra AC-2 autocannons. Each of the cannons can fire twice but only deal 2 damage per hit, which means rolling twenty die and dealing, at most, 40 damage with it. Autocannon range is inverse to its damage, so the primary variant of the Bane can inflict a Thousand Cuts from the other side of a game map. The Bane also has a missile variant. It fires 150 missiles a turn, each dealing 1 damage per hit. Luckily, you will not be required to roll-to-hit for every single missile, though in between the to-hit rolls, cluster hit rolls and the cluster hit location rolls a single round of shooting with the Bane 3 will probably require close to twenty dice throws on average.
  • In Cyberpunk 2020, if your character takes physical damage they will take at least one point of damage after subtracting damage reduction. So, you can be in (serious) trouble after receiving one point of damage after another point of damage and so.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Druids have a high-level spell called Creeping Doom, which allows the caster to summon one thousand tiny insects that each deal a single point of damage before dying. Unfortunately, by the time you are able to cast it, most monsters you'd want to actually use it on have damage reduction, rendering it a Useless Useful Spell. The spell was reworked in the 3.5 edition to simply summon a large number of insect swarms (which, due to their pathetic damage, didn't improve matters). However, it is helpful that swarms are totally immune to most conventional attacks, and are extremely distracting to anyone inside them. The original version of the spell lives on as the epic spell "Crown of Vermin", which ignores EPIC damage reduction — though it does not bypass damage reduction based on weapon material or alignment.

      The effect of "creeping doom" was a plot point in The Intercontinental Union of Disgusting Characters: it's used to take down the villain Peter Perfect, but when Dirk the Destructive tells Peter's corpse that the spell shouldn't have affected him (He's not "...subject to normal attacks..." which also applies to nearly every character in the story), his skeletal remains jump up and his body reforms, ready to free his comrades and menace the heroes again.
    • When you hit with an attack, you always deal at least one point of damage barring damage reduction, so an epic-level fighter could theoretically be killed by a sufficient amount of pebbles or even a house cat. Made even worse when you consider that, due to the dexterity bonuses house cats receive, they are an extremely dangerous opponent to Commoners and even first-level characters, killing them at least 50% of the time in a theoretical battle. However, only a very bad (or very humorous) DM wouldn't compensate for this. It gets worse when you factor in a cat's bonus to Hide and Move Silently checks. The cat will almost always get a surprise round, and that makes the cat vs commoner matchup come out clearly in the cat's favor. The Cat Versus Commoner meme gets referenced in this Order of the Stick strip. However, instead of a Death of a Thousand Cuts, the cat scores a One-Hit Kill. Do not mess with Mr. Scruffy. Although to be fair, as a Ranger's Animal Companion Mr. Scruffy is probably far more dangerous than a house cat, and could single-handedly slay several guards.
    • The book Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition for Dummies uses this trope by name while describing a fighter power that can still deal a little damage on a miss ("If you're fighting an enemy that you just can't seem to hit, you may have to settle for the Death of a Thousand Cuts.")
    • In Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 Edition, there is actually a class that has this ability. It's called Dervish, and the ability is even called "A Thousand Cuts". It doubles the number of attacks a person gets for one round. And when combined with the Warblade maneuver "Time Stand Still", which makes it so you get two rounds worth of attacks in one...well... Though this doesn't work until well into epic levels.
  • Exalted has a feature called hardness, where if something does not defeat hardness it doesn't affect the character (hardness is normally abysmally low, but it prevents things like rocks). On the other hand, if an attack overcomes hardness, it does at least your Essence rating in damage, even if the enemy's soak would otherwise negate it. Nerfed in the 2.5 errata down to just one die of ping damage, two or three if wielding an Overwhelming weapon, as part of the lethality revision. Given how quickly wound penalties set in and start causing a downward spiral, nibbling foes to death one to three damage dice at a time is still fairly viable post-2.5th edition errata. It's not much fond of regeneration and martial artists caring deeply about their enemiesHuh?, though.
  • GURPS: Powers introduces Damage Reduction which divides damage a few fold but can't drop it below one. As a result, a mob of totally normal people can beat a superhero to death. Players rectified this by also giving such characters a couple of points of Damage Resistance which allows a character to ignore a specific amount of damage.
    • The game also uses this to reduce the utility of cover. A person with a lot of ammunition can shoot their way through a stone wall.
    • GURPS 4th edition has rules for building custom abilities with Point Build System and then apply enhancements/limitations to it which adjust the point costs by positive/negative percentages. This could lead to some ridiculous combinations if a very cheap ability was married to a large stack of enhancements or an expensive ability to a stack of limitations. One possible combo is to take an Innate attack ability, reduce its base damage from d6 to 1(0,25x base cost), then enhance it with Rapid Fire(300 shots per round) +300% and Cosmic(irresistable attack & always hits[from Powers book]) +600%. The result is basically a BB Machine gun from Hell which causes 300 automatic hits for 1 damage each which always penetrate armor while costing only a handful of points, available even to a starting character. For comparison an unenhanced innate attack made with same amount of points would only cause 2d6+2 damage(9 average) and still requires a to hit roll to boot.
  • In New World of Darkness, all objects have a durability rating. Only damage in excess of that rating will count against the object. For example, if six damage is done to an object with durability five, only one damage is done to the structure. But damage rolls are open-ended, and so even the weeniest attack has a nonzero chance of beating any given durability. If you keep hacking at a brick wall with spoons you'll eventually grind it to dust. Eventually.
  • In Psionics: The Next Stage in Human Evolution a successful attack always deals at least one damage, so heavily armored opponents can suffer this.
  • Warhammer 40,000: This is the standard tactic of the Imperial Guard to bring down something big when tanks aren't around: point many, many lasguns at the target, and it will eventually go down. Largely due to the fact that 1/6 of 120 still means roughly 20 hits, whereas usually you only need one to kill.
    • "That's a whole lotta diddly."
    • Tyranid players often employ this trope by the use of Gaunts with the special rule 'Without Number', though in this case, the cuts are quite often actual cuts.
      • This will only work with monsters with a certain Toughness rating, however. Due to the rules, any monster with a toughness higher than 7 (which thankfully is rare) is utterly invincible to Guard fire. Anything with a toughness of 8 is immune to Tyranid fire (and most other weapons for that matter).
      • Vehicles are totally immune to lasguns; the lowest armor rating possible for a vehicle is 10, and that's just enough to be invulnerable to lasgun fire (or a Guard's close combat weapon). That's why you buy the krak grenade upgrade for your Guard squads. Guardies with kraks can usually do something against most vehicles in close combat.
    • Similar to the Guard, you have Ork Shootas, Big Shootas and especially Flash Gitz. Pitiful armor penetration, mediocre strength, but even the Imperial Guard have a hard time throwing out as many attack dice in a single round, especially if the weapons are twin-linked. There's a reason that the Orks are the Trope Namer for More Dakka.
    • The Orks possess a cannon fodder unit, the Gretchin (also called a "Grot"). The weakest unit in the entire game by far, they die extremely quickly and deal very little damage. However, they're also the cheapest unit in the game, and despite their overwhelming inferiority, they can often be used as efficient meatshields, or even in huge numbers to overwhelm infantry.
    • The Eldar standard infantry carry the weakest firearms in the game, especially the Guardians, but not even the Orks can match their rate of fire. Their anti-infantry weapons fire molecule-thin shuriken discs at an extremely high velocity and rate of fire, and it often takes many, many, many dice rolls to complete their ranged attack. As you'd expect, they kill (or overkill) things very thoroughly.
    • If your army lacks spammable AP 2 weaponry, this is the only way to kill anything with a 2+ armor save; they will make that save 5/6 times but usually all it requires is 1 failure to kill the mode (or three if it's a character). So simply drown them in wounds from massed, cheap anti-infantry weapons.
    • When discussing the rules of Warhammer - any version - it's a good idea to mention the edition because much of the above is wrong as of Warhammer 40,000 Eighth Edition. Now, no matter what, a shot has a tiny chance of damaging anything on the table. Anything can suffer death by a thousand cuts. Additionally, piercing armor is no longer a binary yes-no, but now a matter of degree; mid-tier weapons might penalize armor saves even if they can't ignore armor completely. Thus, if a Land Raider is shot at by a typical guardsman 1,152 times, it should blow up. note 
  • In The Witcher: Game of Imagination, when enemy or monster is heavily armoured, there are two outcomes of attacks - either the armour is too strong to even scratch it, or some minor bruise was caused. Even if it's technically possible to cause enough such bruises to eventually kill or at least seriously weaken the opponent, it's much wiser to to just back up than try to power through.

  • Schrodinger the Cat in Captain SNES: The Game Masta is taking out Kain's 9999 hit points one by one.
  • In DM of the Rings Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas kill the Oliphaunt by repeatedly stabbing him. In the toe.
  • In Kid Radd, The Seer, having fused several video game characters together and possessed the fusion, has 9999 HP, but only takes one point of damage at a time.
  • In Oglaf a swordmaster instructs his apprentice on how to defeat a larger, stronger opponent by seeking victory over one limb at a time.
  • Wapsi Square: Suzie inflicts a literal, very explicit one on a child rapist. (No link, as it's possibly the single most NSFW image ever seen in this comic.)

    Web Original 
  • In "The Ballad of the Noob", a new player in World of Warcraft prematurely leaves the starting point after completing his first mission. The newcomer then runs into a Level 60 player and challenges the other player to a fight in spite of the obvious difference in strength. The other player is amused by the thought of letting the noob hit him a few times, figuring he's safe since the noob can only do a few points of damage with each strike while he has over 4,000 hit points, and when letting the noob get in a few shots gets old, he can kill the noob with one strike. Except that the higher ranking player gets called away from his computer, and the noob refuses to give up, so the noob gradually wears down his HP. As a result when the high ranking player finally returns to the game, it's just in time to watch the noob deliver the last blow that kills him.
  • Referenced in the Dragonball Z Abridged parody of the Lord Slug movie. When Gohan attempts to attack Slug's army of mooks, one of Slug's mooks warns Gohan that they'll shoot him with their blasters. Gohan confidently declares "One of those does nothing!", prompting the mook to retort "How about a hundred?" followed by a whole mess of mooks doing a Dramatic Gun Cock. Gohan suddenly seems much more worried. He's right to be concerned, as the mooks blast Gohan out of the sky seconds later.
  • In Epithet Erased, Sylvie has an attack called Counting Sheep, which summons many sheep, each doing 1-2 damage. One alone isn't deadly, but the massive herd that he summons in episode 2 is very dangerous.
  • The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon has the Extremely Inefficient Weapon be... a spoon. Which Jack is beaten with. For years.
  • In the Leetworld, one character mentions having a dream where someone murders him with "An eggbeater and some perseverance".
  • In Marvel Rising Ultimate Comics, Squirrel Girl takes down Ulth-Lah-Throth with a squirrel army attack, likening it to a distributed denial-of-service attack.
    Squirrel Girl: The average server can handle a few attackers, but when there are thousands attacking all at once, they go down!

    Western Animation 
  • In the final season of Castlevania (2017), Isaac defeats Carmilla this way. The former knows the latter is a formidable fighter , being an ancient vampire, so they first send a massive army of monsters he made himself to tire out the enemy, allowing them to fight said enemy on equal footing forcing her to kill herself to deny him the pleasure to score the killing blow.
  • In The Itchy & Scratchy Show, Scratchy lifts weights to toughen up his body against Itchy's assaults. Itchy, seeing his massive chest, pokes it with a pin, to no effect. He then zips around at super speed, poking Scratchy countless times all over his chest, causing Scratchy to bleed profusely and allowing Itchy to commit further mayhem on the weakened cat.
  • This is how the fleet of California-class ships defeat the USS Aledo in the season 3 finale of Star Trek: Lower Decks. One-on-one, the California-class is no match for the much more advanced Aledo. 31 of them altogether? The Aledo melts under phaser fire.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Death By A Thousand Cuts


The Cali-Class

After the Aledo survived the warp core blast and is in the process of destroying the Cerritos, Mariner and Petra arrive to help and reveal they brought every Cali-class in service with them to save them. Together, they destroy the ship that was planning on taking their jobs.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / GondorCallsForAid

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