Follow TV Tropes


False Crucible

Go To

The Protagonist is put through a grueling test of character, but it was all a set up. There was never any real danger.

For example, a mentor arranges for a girl to try seducing the married hero. If he says "no", the obvious right choice, he's told he passed. If he says "yes", he's failed and the girl doesn't sleep with him. ("Danger," clearly, is in the eye of the beholder.)

Speculative Fiction would use magical illusions or virtual reality to trick the character. The mentor might even shapeshift.

Compare Friendly Scheming, when the whole plot is a set-up by the protagonist's friends and loved ones; it may be either some sort of personality test or just a way of amusement.


Here are examples that don't fit any subtype above. Please feel free to put any of these groups in YKTTW.

    open/close all folders 

Person/people being tested originally knew they were being tested, but for some reason don't remember it during the test.

    Anime & Manga 
  • EDENS ZERO has the heroes training in a virtual space where people can take on any appearance and produce any equipment they want. While the crew is practicing breaking out of cocoon-like bondage, the Big Bad seemingly hijacks the simulation and takes over the instructor's body, causing the training moderators in the real world to panic. As he forces Shiki to watch as Rebecca gets crushed to death, Shiki breaks free and clashes with which point the fake Big Bad and Rebecca disappear, revealing the attack to be an impromptu addition to the simulation. In this case, the crew was simply caught off guard by the sheer suddenness of the "attack" and urgency in training to beat the Big Bad to begin with; as for the moderators, they figured out what was going on right away, and were just annoyed that the instructor never warned them in advance.

  • Alan E. Nourse's short story "Nightmare Brother". A man undergoes a series of nightmarish encounters with deadly opponents, including incredible pain. At the end it's revealed that the whole situation was a virtual reality hallucination to train him to deal with aliens who drive anyone who meets them insane. The test lasts the entire story and the protagonist doesn't know the test is going on while it's occurring — his memories were mostly suppressed while the testing was going on.
  • In an Isaac Asimov's story "Ideas Die Hard", three men think they are being sent to the moon. They are informed that every probe that circles to the dark side of the moon vanishes. They get increasingly paranoid and neurotic, then snap when they see that the dark side of the moon is a wood-and-canvas stage prop. Having their image of the universe shattered, they undergo nervous breakdowns. It turns out that the entire trip was a simulation and they didn't have the budget to make anything appropriate for the dark side simulation. The crew is still sent to the squirrel farm, and the guys running the project are very nervous.
  • The short story The New Prime by Jack Vance has five seemingly unrelated plots with different characters on different worlds, each facing a situation that in one way or another tests their character. The sixth ties it together— The ruler of the galaxy has been challenged as unworthy, and created the tests to show that he has the necessary skills for the job in greater sum than his opponents. With his memories wiped, he passed each test, but fails anyway, because the judges realize none of his tests dealt with traits like compassion. Instead, they give the title to a fellow who failed all but one test through unsuccessful attempts to resolve conflicts without violence.
  • In Greg Egan's Permutation City the initial protagonist repeatedly attempts to download his intelligence into a computer, but the downloaded intelligence always kills itself, so he (the original, human one) brainwashes himself to believe he's one of the downloaded copies, to get a better appreciation of what it's like for them. At least, this is what his devoted girlfriend explains to him when he wakes up after 'deleting' himself. After he repeats the test a few times, she ceases to exist...

    Live-Action TV 

    Western Animation 
  • Young Justice (2010): This is the twist of the episode "Failsafe". After the deaths of all the adult superheroes, it's up to the Team to stop an alien invasion. Unfortunately, they all die in the process without really accomplishing anything. When M'gann, the last of them, finally dies, she wakes up back in Mount Justice with everyone alive and well (physically speaking, at least). Turns out, it was a dreamworld simulation devised by the Martian Manhunter that everyone knew about going in, hence their lack of reaction to Justice League members dying, but what they weren't told was that it was a no-win scenario to see how they could handle it. However, experiencing Artemis becoming the first "causality" of the team makes M'gann's subconscious disrupt the simulation and cause the team to forget it wasn't real.

Secret Training — Unlike testing, the idea is not to find out what the subject is capable of, but to teach them a lesson.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Liar Game, this is the ultimate truth behind the Liar Game itself. The event was set up after a book to try and determine what its final outcome would have been in the final volume that went unpublished as the author Died During Production.

    Film — Animated 
  • In The Pagemaster, Richard learns that everything he went through was a test to get him to face his fears.

  • David R. Palmer's novel Threshold features a man forced to travel across the surface of an alien planet to rescue his girlfriend, learning various psionic abilities in the process. At the end, he learns that the whole situation was a set up to make him learn the abilities. However, the trope ends up getting subverted, because the lesson fails, and he's unable to utilize the abilities. While the aliens learn their abilities through hopelessness and comatose depression, humans need homicidal rage.
  • Agatha Christie wrote a series of stories around Mr. Parker Pyne, an expert on human nature who advertised that he could make anybody happy for a fee. Many of his clients, after forking over the fee, found themselves involved in unusual and sometimes dangerous events that, unbeknownst to them, were staged by Parker Pyne in order to supply the experience or mental outlook that would help them to find happiness.

    Web Original 
  • In a Whateley Universe story, Team Kimba is sent into a sim run where almost all of them end up getting killed. The point was to teach them the lesson "You can't always win, and you need to stop thinking that you're indestructible" but they ended up taking away the lesson "As long as you have the right intel, you can always win." Sure enough, they try the sim again... and ace it, repeatedly. They end up learning A Lesson in Defeat later on, anyway.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: Played for Laughs in the episode "Homer the Great", during Homer's initiation to the Stonecutters. Homer's trials include repeated paddlings and a blindfolded leap of faith that's 2 feet high (until his comedic obesity cracks the floor beneath him and he falls through of course).