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Gideon Ploy

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"When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, 'For the LORD and for Gideon.'"

Having a vast force at your disposal is often crucial to defeating the enemy. Not only do you have more manpower to get things done, skills to work with, plenty of backup if things get ugly, an army is above all intimidating.

But what if you don't have a whole bunch of Mooks on your employee roster? If it's just you and some friends or even a solo act?

That's where the Gideon Ploy comes in. Through clever acting, disguises, misdirection, and decoys, you convince your opponents you have far more help than you really do. Maybe you just need sound effects to convince them The Cavalry is on its way. Maybe you have some scarecrows you can dress up in armor. Maybe you can use some holograms.

...Too bad you can't figure out how to recruit.

May overlap with the Backup Bluff.


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     Anime & Manga 
  • In Moriarty the Patriot, during The Scandal in the British Empire arc, Sherlock rushes to save Irene Adler from The Lord of Crime, but doesn't actually want to involve the police. Instead, he rustles up the Baker Street Irregulars, John Watson, and some shoddy costumes to act as if the police are coming. Subverted in that Albert didn't buy the ploy for a minute.
  • In One Piece, the first scene where Luffy, Zoro and Nami first meet Usopp, has Usopp try to scare them away with pirate flags in bushes being moved around by his three kid friends while claiming to have a pirate army at his command; Nami sees right through it. Usopp often lies to his enemies about having an exaggerated number of men at his command and no one ever buys it.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Hannibal 1959 (the 1959 Italian Sword and Sandal epic): To strike fear into the Romans (and to conceal the losses his troops took when crossing the Alps), Hannibal in council with his officers orders to build many fires "all over these hill" and to light them all at night, to give the impression that his army is much larger than it actually is. Later, when Hannibal is showing his hostage Sylvia, niece of Fabius Maximus, around in the camp at night, he exploits this by pointing at the fires and telling her which troops are supposedly camping there; the next morning he sends Sylvia back to Rome, in the hope that the Romans will take her false impressions at face value.
  • An inversion in The Patriot (2000), where Benjamin Martin and his men dress up scarecrows as Redcoat officers and hold them at gunpoint within full view of General Cornwallis' camp, specifically to convince Cornwallis that they held a large number of English officers captive so they could exchange the "officers" for Colonial prisoners Cornwallis had. It works, much to Cornwallis' later consternation.
  • The Professionals. When infiltrating the hacienda of Jesus Raza, the eponymous professionals set off explosions to make the banditos think they are being attacked by the Mexican army, who would start such an attack with an artillery bombardment. This sends everyone to the walls instead of looking inward.

  • This is how Túrin joins the Men of Brethil in The Children of Húrin. He comes across a group of them being attacked by orcs in the forest so he hides in the bushes making enough noise to sound like a small army and leaps into action acting like a captain leading his troops. The orcs run away and are killed by Túrin and the Men of Brethil who then get confused as to why Túrin's men are taking so long to join the battle.
  • The Dogs of War. When planning the coup d'état to topple President Kimba, Shannon notes that his tiny force of mercenaries would only convince Kimba's men to fight if he attacked 'by the book'. Instead he plans a direct attack on the palace and barracks using mortars, bazookas and gas-operated foghorns. Faced with a sudden and overwhelming onslaught of sound and violence in the middle of the night, Kimba's Praetorian Guard Run or Die.
  • Egil's Saga: When King Olaf of Scotland and his allies invade northern England with a large army, King Athelstan of England formally challenges him to battle at a place called Vinheiðr. However, Athelstan has few troops with him, and therefore only a small English contingent (including Thorolf and Egil) sets up camp at Vinheiðr while Athelstan is gathering troops for the battle in southern England. When the advance party makes camp at Vinheiðr, they leave every third tent empty, and put only a few men in the others; besides, they set up the camp on high ground so that the Scots cannot overlook the camp and realize how small it really is and how few people are really there. When King Olaf's messengers arrive to negotiate, all the English throng at the front of the camp (so that the messengers cannot see into the camp) and complain that there is not enough space for them in the camp. The Scots do not realize they have the advantage of numbers, and by simultaneously playing the Scots with peace talks that go nowhere, the English manage to delay the battle until Athelstan arrives with the main army.
  • Redwall: In Salamandastron, Feragho has his forces approach the titular mountain at night with a torch in each hand, trying to make their force appear twice as large as it actually is. The veteran defenders of Salamandastron are neither fooled nor impressed.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, the Night's Watch do this by placing straw dummies on top of the Wall to attempt to convince Mance Rayder that the force defending Castle Black is larger than it actually is, but Mance is well aware that there's only a handful of people at best defending the castle. Still, the dummies make for great arrow-fodder, allowing them to stay stocked on ammo.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blake's 7. In "Powerplay", Vila realises he's Being Watched after crashlanding on a planet, so starts to order a non-existent squad of troops into position, commanding them to attack on the count of ten. When nothing happens, he starts his count again.
  • The main characters of Burn Notice sometimes employ this tactic, especially when they need to fool someone into thinking that Team Westen is actually a large and far-reaching secret agency.
  • Doctor Who. In "The Time Warrior", the Doctor and Sarah Jane set up dummies on the ramparts of Sir Edward's castle, though their attackers aren't fooled for long.
  • The Expanse. When the crew of the Rocinante first meet Fred Johnson on Tycho Station, they claim their spaceship has a squad of Martian Space Marines inside. Johnson isn't impressed, saying if that were true the marines would be present as a show of force.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • Our Trope Namer comes from the Book of Judges in The Bible, where Gideon leads an army of only 300 Israelite warriors against the Midianites, who are described as having wall-to-wall camels. Gideon's night-time ambush and making his army seem far bigger than it was, aided by some holy PSYOP support from God, resulted in the Midianites slaughtering each other.

    Video Games 
  • Hearts of Iron IV: The La Resistance Downloadable Content added the ability to create mock divisions of troops as part of its espionage mechanics, reflecting Real Life.
  • Red Alert 3: Sudden Transports can disguise themselves as any unit, so it's possible to make a huge attack force that only has a single attack-capable unit. Of course, the transports can also contain infantry, although unloading them breaks the illusion.
  • Starcraft: The High Templar's Hallucination skill creates an illusion of the target, which can be used to fool the enemy into attacking to protect the real unit.
    • In Starcraft 2 the same thing can be done by the Sentry unit, except the Sentry doesn't need to copy an existing unit.

    Web Comics 
  • Girl Genius: The Jagers pull off a reverse Gideon Ploy when they return to Mechanicsburg, trying to get the enemy to let their guard down by making their forces look much smaller than they really are. While some of the Jagers take part in a very slow showy march to town the majority of them sneak secretly in ahead of their brothers in arms through the tunnels.
  • A variation occurs in Joe vs. Elan School during Joe's efforts to take down the titular abusive school. The Elan School's online presence touts an attendance figure of 150 residents in three houses, but a recently-freed inmate named Katie tells Joe that the recession actually brought it down to approximately 35 students in one house.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • During the Jewish Revolts, Josephus bluffed his way into getting a city to surrender by deploying a massive fleet of boats on the Sea of Galilee. However, each boat only had a few men onboard.
  • The battalions of inflatable decoys in World War II served this purpose.
  • During The American Civil War, this was one of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest's favorite tricks. On one occasion he had his men turn logs into "cannons"; on another his soldiers marched within view of the enemy, then when they got out of sight they looped back around and marched past again.
    • Referenced in The Guns of the South, where Forrest, during a parley, tries to convince a time-traveling enemy soldier to surrender. The enemy laughs, figuring that Forrest will employ this trope; Forrest responds "I used tricks when I was weak; I ain't weak now."
    • General George Washington used this tactic in The American Revolution as well.
    • George Rogers Clark used a similar ploy at the battle of Vincennes, using extra flags to make his army look far larger than it actually was.
  • During the War of 1812 British general Isaac Brock and the Shawnee war leader Tecumseh used various classic tricks along these lines (arranging for the Americans to "intercept" a message asking that no more Indians join his cause, as he allegedly already had so many warriors he was having trouble keeping them all supplied; a couple of variations on the old "march your men in a circle" trick; having his men light far more camp fires than they actually needed) to persuade the American commander William Hull to surrender the strategic fortress of Detroit essentially without a fight, even though the Americans actually outnumbered and outgunned the British and their Indian allies.note 
  • Used twice during the Sengoku Period, first by Oda Nobunaga at the Battle of Okehazama, with Nobunaga setting up a decoy army and then sneaking around to attack the enemy from a back route, and then again by Tokugawa Ieyasu when under siege by Takeda Shingen, having only five men (and a few ninjas) at his disposal. He had one man light all the braziers on the castle walls, throw open the gates, and start beating a massive drum, causing the Takeda to hesitate, after which Ieyasu sent out Hattori Hanzō. Needless to say, he survived.
  • During the Cold War, both sides wanted to present an image of strength to each other and perhaps more importantly to their allies...even if they were in fact lacking in one type of technology or another. One incident from the mid 1950s is illustrative. The Myasishchev M-4 Molot (NATO reporting name Bison) was a Soviet strategic bomber that was first shown publicly during a flyby at a Red Square parade in 1954, and it was supposedly capable of hitting targets in the continental US from bases in the USSR without refueling. One year later at another Moscow parade, western observers counted 28 M-4s flying by in 2 waves, and concluded that the Soviets must think the aircraft was effective, had put it into mass production, and would have over 800 of the things by 1960. In reality, only 34 Bison bombers were ever built, it never had the range to reach the US, and only 18 had actually even participated in the flyby. 10 bombers flew past and out of sight, then turned around and rendezvoused with 8 more and flew by again. Ironically this backfired spectacularly for the Soviets: the number of bombers the Soviets supposedly had, contrasted with the comparatively meager western fleet, led to something of a panic among western militaries and publics who believed that there was a "bomber gap". The west, and particularly the US, thus began actually building huge numbers of new and highly advanced bombers to the point they massively outnumbered the Soviets...who of course then had to continue to escalate with more and newer defensive and offensive weapons.