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"The krogan evolved in a hostile and vicious environment. Until the invention of gunpowder weapons, 'eaten by predators' was still the number one cause of krogan fatalities. Afterwards, it was 'death by gunshot'."

If your means are limited, you have to show resourcefulness. This is especially true if the environment one works and lives within is unforgiving and dangerous. Simply surviving in places like a Wretched Hive or Death World can make people stronger and tougher, and those who live in such places can be expected to be more than a match for those who don't have to spend every day simply fighting to stay alive. If the world is dangerous enough and generations of people have survived in such a place, natural selection ensures that the toughest and most resourceful will live through, and over time those who live in this environment will change to adapt.

This trope deals with people, whether individuals, societies, or entire species, that are meaner, tougher, stronger, and/or smarter than others because their home is the kind of place that breeds out those not fit to survive. Often the proud warrior race/species come from such an environment. Applied to humanity it might imply that Humans Are Warriors. Anyone who survives to old age in such an environment is most likely an Old Soldier or Old Master. When this is created artificially it is The Spartan Way. Expect Everyone Is Armed to be a result — or occasionally the cause — of this trope.

People Who Have To Be Sharp:

Reasons Why You Have To Be Sharp:

Things To Do When You Are Sharp:


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  • Jet's is an American chain of Detroit-style pizza. It invokes this trope along with the general reputation of Detroit by making its slogan "Better because it has to be."

    Anime and Manga 
  • In One Piece, Sanji is an example of this, as more of his personal history is revealed. His siblings are Super Soldiers. Sanji was intended to be like them, his brothers in particular, but because his dead mother, Sora, secretly took a gene modification-reversing drug in an attempt to preserve her sons' humanity, only Sanji showed that he was not much more than a normal kid. However, his experiences on the Grand Line as a pirate had toughened him to the point that he could easily defeat Yonji.
  • Pokémon: The Series shows that Pyroar believe in this. "A Fiery Rite of Passage" depicts an alpha Pyroar forcibly ejecting a Litleo (the juvenile form) from the pride for the Litleo to show itself capable of living without the protection of the adults. Litleo is forced to dig deep to rise to the challenge. Pyroar isn't above giving a little bit of backup, though.
  • The Rising of the Shield Hero: Unlike the other Legendary Heroes, Naofumi is given little support from the Crown and gets ostracized after being framed up, so he is forced to develop a lot of non-combat skills to support himself, make an inventive use of all the combat abilities he does have to survive and learn how to fight in a team and coordinate with his party. This allows him to be as good as (or better than) the other heroes, as he is a lot better at thinking out of the box and working with others, while his actions gain him the love of the people even before his name is cleared.
  • Saint Seiya: Saint candidates go through an incredibly sadistic Training from Hell, forcing them to become extremely strong, formidably skilled, and smart and creative (yes, even the Idiot Hero protagonist is surprisingly sharp once he gets in combat) just to survive, let alone actually complete the training and become a Saint. Part of the Series Establishing Moment has Athena's Pope explain that the candidates to the Pegasus Cloth (a Bronze Cloth, the lowest tier) had to defeat "the Nine Giants of Ebdera", with only two out of one thousand passing that trial and earn the right... To fight each other for the Cloth, with the loser, if they survive and aren't crippled, being added to the Sanctuary's army of non-Saint soldiers. Then there's the training at Death Queen Island, Andromeda Island, and Mount Etna (the problem with the latter being not the place but the trainer. That, and the final task carries a serious risk of Demonic Possession, though the trainer's power set can counter that)... And while we don't see them, it's heavily implied that the training for Silver and Gold Saints is harder.
  • In Snow White with the Red Hair very little is known of Obi's past outside of the fact that it was dangerous and he survived long enough as an unscrupulous sword for hire from some point in childhood till he met Zen due to approaching his life and interactions as though everything and everyone was a potential threat.
  • So I'm a Spider, So What?:
    • The nameless protagonist was born as an incredibly weak spider in a labyrinth where nearly every other monster could kill her with ease. She had to learn how to fight, take advantage of the Skill System, and take on overwhelmingly powerful enemies on her own.
    • Ariel lived through the collapse of the ancient civilization and the creation of the Skill System. She survived during the worst of the transition while the rest of Sariel's children died and is now the most powerful mortal in the world.

    Comic Books 
  • Maus: Deconstructed. Vladek was a cutthroat businessman even before the Holocaust, and his ability to squeeze the last penny out of everything that came his way saved his life more than once. However Vladek never stopped being sharp, and even living in peace and plenty in 1980s America refuses to stop doing things like returning boxes of cereal to stores and looting fallen telephone poles for wire. His attitude alternately embarrasses and infuriates his family, and while Vladek blames it all on his Holocaust experiences, his family refuses to accept this, citing all the non-pathologically cheap Holocaust survivors they know as proof.
  • Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey reveals that this trope is at the origin of Doomsday. It grew up in one of the harshest environments possible: prehistoric Krypton. In fact, it didn't survive at first, but was cloned after each death, and each clone was tougher thanks to the previous ones' experiences.

    Comic Strips 
  • Sturmtruppen has the two guys from the 27th Armored Battalion (of Discipline). Before being assigned to the unit the strip focuses on, they had been first sentenced to a detention center where, among other horrors, they had to defuse unexploded ordnance with bottle openers and would get a year off their sentence for every shell they dealt with (one had been sentenced to 125 years, and the other for life), and after that they were sent to a disciplinary battalion and engaged in all sorts of extremely dangerous missions, to the point that when they finally entered the story during a heavy shelling on the frontline they treated it as being moved back to the rear to relax. Needless to say, they're the kind of guys who use passing shells to scratch their matches and lit their cigarettes, and the only man they respect is the Drunken Captain, who can swat machine gun fire out of thin air by getting so drunk he hallucinates they're wasps.
    • The various sergeants are also noticeably tougher than the rest of the troop, with one routinely leading commando raids. As they're invariably veterans from the previous war (and the two named ones, Herod Muller and Giuseppe, being implied to be not completely Arians serving in the Wehrmacht during World War II), they had to be good to survive for so long - and seem to subscribe to this philosophy when it comes to soldiers, given one declared about new recruits that he'll make true men out of them or kill them trying.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Boldores And Boomsticks: Lux and Nox explain to Team RWBY's new Pokémon that their Trainers are so strong because on their world there are no Pokémon to help them and so they must protect themselves.
  • Child of the Storm:
    • The Asgardians evolved power, abilities and high level Magitek because it was that or be killed by everything else on the Death World that is Asgard. It's a very pretty, very nice world, just infested with giant monsters.
    • Harry himself would be growing into his powers a lot more slowly if he didn't have all kinds of nasties wanting him dead or alive. Given that he starts out a Squishy Wizard and grows slowly into his Super-Toughness, he has to take lots of Boxing Lessons for Superman in order to survive.
  • In Cycles Upon Cycles, the Terran-Protoss-Zerg Alliance sports some of the hardest and deadliest fighters in the galaxy since not only have they been fighting wars against each other for roughly a decade, but they just finished fighting a war against a Physical God as well. That none of them use Mass Effect technology just makes them harder for anyone outside the Korpulu Sector to fight them.
  • Heirverse, surviving the Rukon and Jac's 'mentoring' is for better or worse what made Aizen as good as he is. Pact and Cycle delve this in depth.
  • Heroes Never Die: All Might praises Izuku's analytical abilities as being at least as good as a veteran hero, as he is able to quickly and accurately come up with a plan in any situation. Izuku privately notes that if he hadn't learned how to analyze situations quickly, he'd still be in elementary school. Literally.
  • Defied in A Savage Nature: Rognak thinks the veterans who want to keep Durotar a harsh desert are idiots. While they insist any life but a constant struggle to survive will make them weak, Rognak knows keeping Durotar as it was would simply result in more unncessary conflict with the Night Elves. Instead, he and Thrall use their powers to slowly transform Durotar into a vibrant greenland filled with grass and trees.
  • Vow of Nudity: All three protagonists had difficult upbringings (Haara as an imperial slave, Spectra as a homeless orphan-turned-prostitute), but the most straightforward example is Fiora, who grew up in a primitive village in the Ocher Barrens, a harsh savannah where resources were scarce and most of the wildlife wanted to kill you. Her origin story makes it clear her harsh formative years played a large part in her becoming a Neutral Evil Opportunistic Bastard.
  • Weaver Nine: The Society is comprised of criminals, malcontents, misfits, mutants, refugees, and capes from third-world countries. They are constantly besieged by every other power on the planet who wants to kill, enslave, brainwash, or study them. They are also considered (rightly) the most powerful villain organization on planet earth and have a fearsome reputation to match.

  • Assassin's Creed (2016): In response to Sophie saying she wants to "cure aggression", Callum says that aggression helped keep him alive. This is not hyperbole; he was fake executed for the self-defense murder of a pimp.
  • Justice League × RWBY: Super Heroes & Huntsmen: When Diana remarks how she feels kinship with Team RWBY for being born warriors like her, Blake remarks that it's a necessity on Remnant to learn how to fight from a young age if you're going to survive in a world populated by the Creatures of Grimm. She actually laments the fact and admits some small envy for the other members of the Justice League who got to have childhoods without such needs.
  • Twins (1988): Vincent feels despondent after Dr. Traven tells him he is "genetic trash" because they gave all the good genes to Julius. His long-lost brother manages to raise his spirits by pointing out that it's not a fair comparison: Julius had all the advantages in life, not just with his genes, but also being raised in an island commune by a group of scientists who always supported him and gave him everything he needed to succeed. Meanwhile, Vincent was dropped off at an orphanage and was never given anything and had to fight for everything he has. Julius admits that Vincent is not just his brother, but a role model to him.

  • In the CoDominium universe the second most feared troops in the galaxy (after the Super Soldiers of Sauron) are from Frystaat. A high gravity world with intense heat, blinding sunlight, and lethal wildlife.
  • In The Silmarillion the three tribes of the Edain which arrived in elven lands, had arrived there after spending generations marching through Morgoth's territory.
  • Conan the Barbarian: Prevalent in Conan's backstory. While Conan himself is almost certainly an exceptional example of his people, Howard credits most of his success to his barbarous upbringing. In order to even survive living in Cimmeria long enough to get the hell out and never come back, Conan just had to be flat-out better at everything than any civilized person. As related in The God in the Bowl:
    "[Demetrio] knew, if the others were too stupid to know, the steel-trap muscles and blinding quickness of men raised beyond civilization's frontiers where life was a continual battle for existence, and he had no desire to loose the barbaric frenzy of the Cimmerian if it could be avoided."
  • Consider Phlebas: The Idirans are a Proud Warrior Race who serve as proof that to thrive on a monster-infested and highly radioactive planet, you'd better become the scariest monster of all. The resulting species are three-meter-tall three-legged behemoths, biologically immortal, protected by a thick shell of keratinous armour on reaching maturity, and several times stronger and smarter than the average humanoid - for all intents and purposes, the perfect warriors.
  • Cooking With Wild Game:
    • When thousands of migrants were relocated to the kiba-infested jungle of Forest Edge, a full third of them died within the first few years. The remainder raised fearless, fiercely honorable descendants who hunt the gigantic beasts daily and whose smallest children are stronger than any adult inhabitant of the city.
    • The blacksmiths of Sym are a very specialized example. Sym has barely any supplies of iron, yet swords made there are far superior to those from regions where iron is abundant. This is because Sym blacksmiths have the motivation and time to make the most of what metal they do have, resulting in unique, handcrafted creations.
  • Harry Harrison's Deathworld: The Pyrrans have to do this just to survive their planet, where Everything Trying to Kill You is the only constant. The weather, tides, and tectonic activity are unpredictable, radiation is high, and the native lifeforms are even worse. The only thing on their minds (literally) is to kill all humans. The plants and animals are constantly mutating thanks to the radiation and the brutal fight for survival. The human settlers have to constantly look for new ways to protect themselves. Children are taught to fight and survive as soon as they can speak, and are expected to be fully independent by the time they are 6. Thanks to double gravity, even a Pyrran child can defeat a non-Pyrran in unarmed combat. All Pyrrans train from childhood to be crack shots.
  • In Discworld, this trope is used to justify Instant Messenger Pigeon — Ankh Morpork rooftops are full of gargoyles, so the local pigeons have to be smarter than average. Though as Sam Vimes wryly notes, "there were things growing on old damp bread that were more intelligent than most pigeons."
  • Domina: The city is a Wretched Hive filled with bio-augmented gangs, random monsters, and only the slightest amount of government oversight. Basically everyone in the city has at least a little bit of combat experience; even Ling, who is repeatedly demonstrated not to be a real fighter, had to hunt monsters as a child to help her orphanage make ends meet. When America invades, they find the fight much more difficult than expected.
  • Dune:
    • Everyone is scared into obedience by the Emperor's Sardaukar, recruited from the prison planet Salusa Secundus and trained into elite troops. The brutal conditions of their homeworld are directly credited for their fearsome fighting skills. Then they are thrown against the Fremen, natives of the even less forgiving Arrakis who had just enough industry to stay alive. The results are highly demoralizing for the Sardaukar. The Fremen, upon being informed whom they'd faced, comment along the line of "ah, we wondered why these ones were challenging..."
    • A detachment of Sardaukar in three troop transports was sent to attack a Fremen settlement while the warriors were away attacking somewhere else. A handful escaped in one transport (by using the attitude thrusters as weapons) with a prisoner from a defense force that consisted of "women, children, and old men". The kicker? The prisoner, a small child, allowed herself to be captured, because she knew she would be brought before the Emperor, which is precisely where the next phase of the war plan required her to be.
  • Downplayed example in Heralds of Valdemar. The mercenary captain Kerowyn is an excellent shot with a bow because she's had "survival and hunger" as her teachers; which is to say, she's been in situations where you must hit your target or you'll die. She's also acquired the habit of looking at everything as a potential weapon, which she passes on to her students.
  • Into The Broken Lands: Lord Ryan realizes that the Lord Protector Invoked this in sending him on an expedition into the titular Death World. With the Lord Protector's health failing and his intended heirs recently dead, a challenging leadership role was the fastest way to prepare Ryan to inherit the Protectorship.
  • Subverted in H. G. Wells' short story The Land Ironclads, one side is from a rural environment and the other live in cities. The rurals think that they are going to slaughter the soft city-folk because they've been hunting for as long as they could hold a gun. But it turns out that human strength means nothing against superior firepower.
  • Vin in Mistborn grew up on the streets, a vulnerable child with allomantic abilities, something a skaa urchin could be executed for, moving from thieving crew to thieving crew as they were caught or turned on her, with only trace elements in the water to fuel her powers. The trilogy goes into great detail about what kind of mental scars that kind of life would lead to.
  • Noob mentions Olydri being much more hostile in the time of the Precursors, which motivated them to build an advanced civilization.
  • The Reynard Cycle: A combination of brutal winters, recurrent famine, and the resultant decree that its citizens are only entitled to have half as many children as one has personally slain in combat has transformed the Calvarians into a Proud Warrior Race. Want to be the mother to a bouncing baby boy? Better become a Blood Knight . . .
  • In Shadow of the Conqueror, due to the imminent threat of the Shade, almost everyone trains with some kind of weapon from an early age, usually swords.
  • In Ship Core, protagonist Alex has to mature and become a competent ship captain fast because she's stuck in the middle of nowhere, no way to call for help, aboard a failing spaceship, and her life is in near constant jeopardy.
  • Technic History: Several times noted of a culture. Not least the ones who like the Ythrian Domain(a confederation of clans of Bird People and human allies)survived the chaos between the fall of the Polesotechnic League and the Rise of the Terran Empire.
  • The Traveler's Gate: Invoked in Valinhall. It is filled with traps, monsters, and hostile natives who will all try to kill you, in order to force you to always be aware and strong. And if they do actually kill you, then obviously you wouldn't have been able to cut it in the outside world.
  • Barrayarans in Vorkosigan Saga. After being confined on a Deathworld with no access to technology and subjected to generations of eugenic infanticide and civil wars, they are invaded by the Cetagandans who were centuries ahead of them in technology. Miles is a special example of this, as everyone considers him a "mutie" even if he is a prince, and he is driven to succeed. As Barrayar is patterned after Tsarist Russia it makes sense.
  • The War Against the Chtorr. Chtorran fauna and flora is naturally more aggressive and adaptive than its human equivalent; scientists speculate that Chtorr is a Death World where all life has to be either aggressive or lunch.
  • Aiel in The Wheel of Time are a desert-dwelling Proud Warrior Race known and feared everywhere for being extreme badasses: in the years prior to the start of the books, a coalition of all the western countries was needed to stop them, and actually failed (the Aiel returned to the desert only when they did what they had set out to). It is also implied that this was their destiny and that they had been sent to live in the desert, 3000 years before, precisely so that they would become a reliable and powerful army for the Dragon Reborn when the time came.
  • This is why Moon is so talented at hunting in Wings of Fire. She was alone for most of her childhood and had no meat except what she could catch herself. (Dragons can eat fruit, but few ever develop a taste for it.)
  • The Witcher:
    For decades they said about Kovir that its only riches are sand and seawater. This joke was still remembered when Kovir de-facto monopolized the world market of glass and salt.
  • Worm is set in the city of Brockton Bay — a city which experiences a number of severe incidents over a short period of time. Compared to the people who evacuated town and only returned after the worst of the disasters had resolved themselves, the people who stayed are a lot tougher and a lot more willing to engage in violence.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 100 has the Grounders accuse the Sky People of being soft, due to them not having the skills or the savage ruthlessness the Grounders use to survive on Earth. However, any character who's survived the first season has proven themselves capable of becoming skilled and ruthless very quickly.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Northmen are of this opinion about their homeland. By the same token, the wildlings beyond the Wall see even the Northmen as soft, pampered southerners.
      • Of particular note in the North is House Mormont of Bear Island. Bear Island is the ass end of nowhere to the Seven Kingdoms, located almost north of The North on a remote off-shore island, vulnerable to raids from both the Ironborn and the Wildlings. It's the northwestern corner of the known world, away from any sea lanes. On top of this, they lead a hardscrabble existence on their resource-poor island: it is heavily forested, largely untamed (albeit beautiful) wilderness filled with bears, to the point that their main food source is from fishing instead of farming or hunting. Hence they are this trope.
    • The Ironborn have a cultural superiority complex based on this: "Hard places breed hard men, and hard men rule the world."
  • Scrubs: Played for Laughs when pampered rich girl Elliot turns out to be a very dirty fighter.
    Carla: How did you learn to fight like that?
    Elliot: Well, when you grow up on an orchard, you don't have much choice...
    [Carla stares]
    Elliot: Apple thieves.
    Carla: Ah...
  • Star Trek: Picard: The Qowat Milat (a sect of Romulan warrior nuns), with their ethos of Absolute Candor, had to become highly proficient at deadly martial arts to stand a chance of survival, as the sisterhood is a Cultural Rebel in a civilization where "secret" in Secret Police is seen as entirely redundant.

    Poems and Proverbs 
  • Benefactors by Rudyard Kipling.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche said, "What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger." Whether or not that's an example depends on how literally you interpret "stronger."
  • Proverbs. "Necessity is the mother of invention". Or an old Russian variant, "the need will force you to eat pies" (instead of plain rye bread, that is).
  • Ernest Rutherford said, "We don't have the money, so we have to think." The beginnings of physics saw a lot of creativity funneled into making tools and experimental devices in a barn — sometimes literally. The early scientists used to improvise in experiments simply because there were no established methods in their area. Even Lord Rayleigh made his own equipment out of near-junk, despite being a lord in his land — and many, many others. On the way, they made a lot of great inventions. Robert Williams Wood was not only the Patron Saint of Education Through Pyrotechnics but, as one of the pioneers of physical optics, made state-of-the-art spectroscopes using materials like sewer pipes or a tombstone, and cleaned one of these by shoving a cat into the pipe and closing it so that the cat had to exit from the other end. Oh, and among other things he was a co-inventor of film animation and cartoon as we know these (you might call him the grandfather of Mickey Mouse), color photography and ultrasonic echolocation.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Changeling: The Lost, the Seemings that empower and alter human captives may be forced on them by Fae surgery...or they may evolve naturally to help a captive survive the savagery of Arcadia. Someone who spends their Durance creeping around to avoid predators may become a stealthy, semi-invisible Darkling. Someone held in a realm of unearthly hot flames and magma golems may become a Fireheart, luminous and swift.
    ...And because that's all they had, that's what gave them strength.
  • Every time you see a Death World in Dungeons & Dragons, you can bet someone there is really tough and probably really smart.
    • Dark Sun. All of it. Even cities.
    • Underdark inhabitants in Forgotten Realms. The world below the world is full of creatures incredibly tough just because the Death World requires this... which in turn frequently contributes to the Death World's nastiness. While the Drow prefer cheapskate solutions, they are still packed with magic to the eartips and are highly lethal whether they fight with blades or brains (their cities are about as dangerous as the wild caverns around). And the Swirfneblin are barely comparable with surface gnomes (except tinkers, who are just that crazy).
    • Regional Feats introduced in Forgotten Realms 3 ed. reflect this. Those who live in the jungles learn to survive in the wild, people raised in The Magocracy tend to know how to talk their way around problems and have an eye for magic stuff, and so on.
    • The Drow in Eberron are possibly the toughest humanoid inhabitants of the setting, since they live in the jungles of Xen'Drik and have to tangle with giants for resources regularly.
    • Spelljammer got Scro. Orcs and other goblinoids in the First Unhuman War were cornered and pushed back by elves until they ended up in a barren Death World. When they finally emerged... uh oh. They see common orcs as backward louts for a reason.
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • The Temur Frontier of Tarkir live in a snowy, brutal place that they had to grow tough enough or die trying. When the dragon Atarka takes over the clan, this trope is taken even further in that the only members of the former Temur left are the only ones that Atarka deemed worthy enough, or else they become her next meal.
    • In the Shards of Alara block, the plane of Alara was split apart into five "Shards", sub-planes where one color of mana dominated with its two compliment colors, with the other two cut off completely. The White, Blue, and Green shards got off pretty easy, as Bant is downright Arthurian, Esper is a world of unquestionable progress, and even the untamed jungle shard of Naya is so full of life and vitality that it's practically pastoral. The Red and Black shards, however...
      • The Red shard of Jund is defined by constant predation. There is no "prey" in Jund; Even the smallest and weakest creatures are still dangerously venomous, and dragons sit at the top of a food chain where every link is lethal.
      • By sharp contrast Grixis, the Black Shard, is very literally a Death World; The mountains are large piles of bones, there are more undead than as not, the few communities of living people must constantly hide in fear of being killed, reanimated, and/or enslaved by demons. Necromancers, who usually make up a scant minority in other settings, are flagrant and abundant, as the ones who typically keep them in check are nowhere to be found.
  • Kafers in 2300 AD. They actually evolved to literally become smarter when in a tough situation - their equivalent of adrenaline boosts their intelligence. The harshness of their environment, and their recognition of that harshness making them sharper, is reflected in their language; for example, their name for their homeworld, Ka'ra!'ah, literally translates as "Cruel Mother".
  • In Warhammer:
    • Norsca is a frigid boreal hellscape not only populated by trolls, giants and other monsters but also continually bathed in the foul energies of Chaos emanating from the north. Norscans are the fiercest and most violent warriors in the world, spurning the sickle and ploughshare in favour of the axe and sword, taking what they will from the weak men of the Empire and Bretonnia.
    • The Empire's toughest soldiers tend to come from Nordland, Ostermark, and Stirland. Norsca is only across the sea from Nordland and so the province is frequently attacked by the Norscans. Ostermark and Stirland meanwhile both share a border with dreaded Sylvania, so people who live on that border find themselves fighting undead very often.
    • The nation of Kislev also has a border with Norsca and the Chaos Wastes. Its inhabitants have to endure regular conflict with rampaging Chaos warriors. They tend to look down on the Empire for being weak.
  • This trope is the reason why, in Warhammer 40,000, one of the acceptable, if not expected, tariffs the Imperium of Mankind imposes on entire planetary governments is... Manpower. Living in a Death World tends to create the sort of humans perfect for cannon fodder in a galaxy where there is only war.
    • Fenris is an ice planetnote  whose ecosystem seems to have been designed by a Norse Mythology buff, inhabited by continually warring pseudo-Vikings. And if that weren't enough the Space Wolves only recruit youngnote  warriors who fall in glorious battle.
    • Catachan is a jungle where Everything Is Trying To Kill You.
    • Atilla is pretty much a planet-sized Mongol steppe, as is Chogoris, the home of the White Scars.
    • Cadia is a nice, earth-like planet. Oh, and it has the Eye of Terror for a neighbor just a spit away which spews out Ax-Crazy Chaos warriors. That Cadia's militarization and Imperial Guard troops are a model for planets all around the Imperium is no coincidence.
    • The majority of Imperial Guard regiments actually come from Hive Worlds, due to population density and overpopulation, since the planets typically have around the hundreds of billions of inhabitants per city. Most often underhive gangs are simply rounded up, given a flak jacket and lasrifle, then dropped onto the front lines with no additional combat training. In many cases, they don't need it.
    • In a way, this is true of Humanity as a race. When you are constantly battling omnivorous monsters that outnumber the stars, invincible omnicidal Terminators, Ax-Crazy Reality Warper fungus aliens, psychopathic space elves, mind-controlling Communist Japanese aliens, and The Legions of Hell, all at the same time, and surviving, you have to be pretty damn badass.
    • This is also true of the surviving xenos races. There's a term for any intelligent species that can't fend off both the endless, blood-crazed rampages of the Orks and the genocidal campaigns of the Imperium. That term is extinct.

    Video Games 
  • The Borderlands and Borderlands 2: Anyone who can survive on Pandora for any length of time without dying or going insane must be a degree of badass. Doubly so for the Vault Hunters, who instead of holing themselves up in the few livable cities, go exploring around the planet, which is chock full of vicious animals, insane bandits, and minions of the local MegaCorp. Made even clearer in Tales from the Borderlands, where Rhys and Vaughn, Office Drones from off-world, are constantly both shocked by the madness of Pandora and only barely able to survive it, in contrast to the natives.
  • This is the background of the Barbarian class in Diablo II. Though they specifically reject technology and magic because they think it will make them weaker in the long run.
  • In The Elder Scrolls, this is partly why the Proud Warrior Race Nords are so hardy. Skyrim is filled to the brim with dangerous predators such as wolves, bears, sabretooth cats, and frostbite spiders. Giants wander the wilderness occasionally attacking settlements looking for goodies. Werewolves lurk in the night-time forests. The dead are restless. Ancient Dwemer ruins dot the landscape, still full of their Mecha-Mooks and Death Traps. As if that wasn't enough already, the climate is freezing cold and unpredictable, especially in the northern holds of Winterhold and The Pale. Even to claim Skyrim during the Merethic Era, the Ancient proto-Nords/Atmorans who settled there had to contend with Falmer (Snow Elves) and Dragons; the former native to the land and the latter who maintained their base of power and cults there.
    • The Orcs are an example as well. Individual Orcs may vary greatly, but in general they as a race live hard, brutal lives, in hard, brutal conditions, and raise their children to be hard, brutal Orcs. In their case, it's demanded of them (and occasionally enforced) by their ancestral forebear and divine/daedric patron, Malacath.
  • In Fire Emblem Gaiden, the Empire of Rigel is situated in the cold and barren northern part of Valentia. Their god Duma, who, unlike Mila, believes that Misery Builds Character, intends for the harsh land to make a stronger people.
  • In Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes, Shez is a mercenary by trade and spent most of their life in the profession. In a conversation with Petra, Shez admits that it's a matter of survival for a merc to be strong. If you're not stronger than whoever you're fighting next, it'll be your last fight.
  • In League of Legends, most of the Noxian champions who grew up without connections (i.e. on the streets) are this, because Noxians believe that the strong will pull themselves up on their own and the weak deserve to die. Darius and Talon are shining(?) examples of what surviving to adulthood in that environment does to a person.
  • Mass Effect: This is krogan evolution in a nutshell; their planet was so dangerous that for centuries, the most common cause of death was 'eaten by predators'. This explains why they have secondary and even tertiary organs, and why they are Explosive Breeders.
    • Mass Effect: Andromeda has Nakmor Morda, leader of the krogan colony of New Tuchanka. Background chatter mentions she has a tendency to be very harsh with lawbreakers in her colony (such as throwing offenders in a pit with wild animals). As Nakmor Drack may point out, she's got an entire colony of several hundred krogan, locked up in tight quarters with scarce resources. She has to be strict, or they're in trouble.
  • The Sishrak in the Space Empires series are, by the standards of most of the other species, a Proud Warrior Race who have a reputation for being warmongers. Since they are known to be natives of another dimension who invaded the universe, it is speculated that in their own dimension they are at the bottom of the food chain and must constantly fight everything else in order to survive.
  • Odessa Stone, the future Junker Queen of Overwatch, was exiled with her parents into the Australian wasteland as a little girl. She spent the next thirteen years of her life fighting to survive until the day she returned to Junkertown and won the Reckoning to take the throne. She outright tells the previous king Mason Howl that he'd spent the last thirteen years getting soft in comparison to her.
  • StarCraft has the Zerg deliberately invoke this. They send hive clusters or entire broods to any Death World they can find to force evolution upon their forces. Notable examples include Kaldir which is only slightly warmer than deep space, Char which is a volcanic planet whose only liquid seems to be an acid marsh, and Zerus where the lack of a Hive Mind means everything is trying to kill everything else.
  • Also invoked by the Orcs in WarCraft. When the fleet landed in Kalimdor during the Third War, Thrall ignored fertile lands to the west and north and instead chose a patch of harsh desert and ordered a city to be settled there, naming the new land Durotar in honour of Thrall's father. The arid crags full of predators and murderous centaurs and pigmen provide the Orcs with many challenges, but the hardship also acts as a form of penance for the past sins of their race.

    Visual Novels 
  • My Harem Heaven is Yandere Hell: While growing up, Yuuya's only friends were Yanderes all competing for the same boy's affection (sometimes violently). Consequently, he learned the art of diplomacy very quickly and, by the game's beginning, can expertly defuse conflicts between just about anybody...and given that he's friends with or will become friends with most named characters, that skill turns out to be exactly what the situation calls for. note 

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: Ozpin observes that the normal process for qualifying for entrance into the prestigious Beacon Academy is to go through the usual combat education and examinations. Blake is one of the very few who did not qualify this way. Blake tells him how hard life is outside the protected kingdoms; if a person cannot fight, they will die. It's pure survival.

  • Girl Genius Jägers. They are super soldiers who like to kick ass, laugh loudly and drink, not necessarily in this order — no one expects a Jägerkin to notice everything and get non-obvious conclusions. But then there are those who wandered for many years on their own both in lands where the people remember them as ex-conquerors and in wastelands where they are not nearly the toughest creatures...
    Dimo: Haff all dose guys vit de baron gone soft over de years — or haff ve become... sharper because ve leave de group und haff to tink better?
  • Schlock Mercenary: Schlock, thanks to his origin story, is rather hard to kill. Especially with chemicals. "Resisting them and secreting chemical counter-attacks are survival skills. Among his kind, Sergeant Schlock is considered the ultimate survivor..."
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: After the End Norway and Finland both seem to have become this.
    • Sigrun, the Norwegian member of the team whose profession is Plague Zombie hunter, considers salvaging for books in a Forbidden Zone riddled with said Plague Zombies while officially guarding scholars doing research a vacation. She also considers that Emil and Lalli are competent merely from not dying on their first mission together and have acquired a hatred of backtracking due to having consistently gotten ambushed while doing it.
    • Lalli, one of the Finns of the crew, is known to have made one mistake prior to Chapter 8, and that mistake caused fellow soldiers from his military base to die. The argument that he's not the only person making mistakes didn't work on his older cousin, as their grandmother making a mistake that had dire consequences was the reason they moved from their old home to their military base when Lalli was only eight years old. In the present day, Lalli's mindset includes a very, very big stigma against making mistakes.

    Web Original 
  • In the universe of the Dream SMP, Foolish Gamers probably qualifies as this, being a Totem. In Totem culture, young Totems at age 5 undergo Evolution to fuse with elements or animals, and for a Shark-Totem like Foolish to form, they are allegedly thrown into the ocean to sink or swim. It's also stated that it is normal for a Totem child to not survive their Evolution, which indicates that Foolish is likely one of the luckier ones. Combining the cultural factor with Foolish's own centuries-long life experience, it's no wonder he's an "A-class warrior", even if Foolish has mostly retired from his days as a Warrior to become more peaceful.
  • Hamster's Paradise:
    • The plants of HP-02017 have to deal with the fact that all the planets' herbivores are rodents whose sharp incisors and constant gnawing would present a challenge for them. Citrus and stone fruit who depend on animals for germination had to develop small hardy seeds in their fruit so that at least some of them would make it through the digestive system intact. The grasses would gain different defensive measures to make themselves harder to eat: weedwood developed woody stems and waxy leaves to make themselves more difficult to chew, bleedweeds developed a foul-tasting blood-like sap to discourage and sicken grazers and saberleaves evolved serrated edges to slice up the mouths and throats of animals that attempted to eat it.
    • The Mesoterran Badlands are a harsh landscape where food is scare. As a result, the region's apex predators, the maniacal ripperoo, has evolved to be highly intelligent and aggressive with a penchant for cannibalism as a way of surviving which led to them becoming naturally sadistic and self-serving. It's not much better in the fertile areas due to the high number of other predators which provide competition and will force them to become even smarter and more bloodthirsty to keep up.
  • Twig: Sylvester holds to this as part of his...unusual views on humanity, and as a source of emotional comfort. A Child Soldier used as a Human Weapon by a ruthless Academy of Evil controlled by an Alternate Universe British Empire that manages to be worse than its historical counterpart, he finds great emotional strength when he encounters other children who have been used and abused, placed under immense stresses, and come out, if not intact, at the very least alive, and in a few cases even driven.

    Western Animation 
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers: It's all but stated that Wheeler's fighting skills and semi-belligerent demeanor resulted from his tough upbringing. While the other Planeteers had some form of healthy familynote , Wheeler's father drove him out onto the streets, where he had to learn to defend himself to survive. In "A Mine is a Terrible Thing to Waste", he explicitly tells Gi that he's used to relying only on himself from sheer necessity.
  • Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts: Wolf and Jamock respectively say life on the surface demands pragmaticism and selfishness to survive and that Kipo simply doesn't really seem to get it. With their help she survives anyway, and even finds resolutions that show they don't need to hold so tightly to those standards, which endears them to her.
  • Love, Death & Robots: In "Sonnie's Edge", everyone believes that the title character's relentlessness and incredible skill in the Beastly Bloodsports is The Power of Hate; her venting all her anger and hate from her traumatic past through the matches. It's really because her monster, Khanivore, is her real body. She suffered such horrible injuries in her backstory that her friends had to upload her mind into Khanivore, while her brain-dead human body is controlled with a control chip. Sonnie/Khanivore fights so skillfully and viciously because she's genuinely fighting for her life in every match. This is also why she so vehemently rejects the Big Bad's attempt to bribe her into throwing a match; no bribe is worth literally committing suicide.

    Real Life 
  • Eighteenth and nineteenth-century regimes much preferred mercenaries from extremely nasty wilderness areas. A large part of this was based on this theory.
  • Greek philosophers bragged that Greeks were this because of having to tend farms on their own. Persians were stereotyped as soft and wussy. (Funnily enough, Herodotus ascribed the same attitude to the early Persians, who, under Cyrus the Great's guidance, chose to remain in the rugged mountains of Persia rather than move to the richer lands of Mesopotamia they had conquered.) Likewise, the Spartans believed they were stronger than the other Greeks because they spent their entire lives fighting. That attitude eventually led to their conquest of the other city-states, which Rome used as a pretext for conquering Greece.
  • Venetians and Dutchmen spent generations not only living from the ocean and fighting off all competitors but actually living on the ocean (by way of building "fortifications" against flooding). The result was that Venice managed to take over the Mediterranean for a time. And Dutchmen for a short time managed to Take Over the World.
  • It is sometimes said that carnivores are unusually intelligent among mammals because they have to catch their food (which means coming up with a plan of attack and deploying it), and sometimes, fight over it among each other. While grass eaters just bow their heads and eat.
    • It's animals that have to use their brains (memory/lateral thinking/both) to get their sustenance (food/water/both), not just their senses (hunting requires sight, tracking scent).
    • By the above theory, the ideal place for intellect to grow is in the middle of the food chain, where creatures both have to hunt for their food and have to avoid other predators, especially those looking to eat them. Add to that that these creatures are often not that much stronger than their prey (think wolf vs. wild buffalo), and so have to resort to teamwork and tactics to get their meal. Now guess where early humans stood.
    • Most top-level predators, however, still have to worry about other top-level predators (namely, apex predators are not above preying on each other) and tackle dangerous prey (even lions need a plan if they intend to hunt an elephant), so this still applies. Almost all apex predators are highly intelligent.
    • Every living being to an extent, and even the currently extinct species could qualify. The only existed in the first place because their ancestors survived through the multiple previous mass extinction events, and fighting over each other. This could be considered the Earth's true signature trait.
  • Mongols. Remember those guys who beat the Chinese and chased the Kumans into the Adriatic Sea? Not even distracted much by dealing the same way with several Russian princedoms, Hungary and most of Muslim Middle East alike? This mostly was converted tribal militia without benefits of any non-conventional training methods. Their success stems indeed largely from learning the lessons of the steppes: endurance of great hardship making them tough as nails and good at cooperation, nomadic life made everyone a good rider, hunting and warring in open field gave obvious incentives to develop the best long-range weapons around, territorial clashes of tribes and later a civil war gave them plenty of experience. The one major change Ghenghis Khan did introduce was a total replacement of the former social hierarchy with the united militarized Mongolian nation — their men no longer paid much attention to clan affiliation, but only achievements and command structure. Subodai, his greatest general, an example of having been a 'commoner' who rose to the top. Between the hero cult on par with Greeks and a chance to beat traditional enemies, they tried to be great warriors pretty hard.
  • Finns, living in the Arctic in some of the most beautiful and most rigorous terrain in the world. It was no accident that the Russians and Swedes preferred other people to pick on. See Simo Häyhä.
  • The human hand. It is able to open and perform delicate and precise movements... or it can be balled up into a remarkably effective built-in blunt force weapon (commonly known as a "fist"). Chimpanzee hands cannot ball up into fists, and a tightly-balled fist surprisingly can weather forces that'd cause serious injury to it otherwise when used for blunt force. This is taken further with Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal humans: it is postulated that our ancestral cro-magnons had more deft wrists, enabling them to throw shafted projectile weapons (IE: spears), while neanderthal hands were still only able to ball up into fists.
  • The Ancient Romans became a major military power due to this. In the beginning, it was that they lived in the best commercial position of Latiumnote , and had to defend themselves from neighbouring peoples trying to rob or subdue them. When they had subdued all of their neighbours the Gauls showed up, sacked Rome and promised they would return, so Rome prepared to defeat them. After repelling their successive attack and expanding even more to get the manpower to defeat them once and for all they had to deal with the Samnites, who were a major power in Italy and wanted to force Rome in their League. After breaking their power and that of the Gauls they had to deal with the Greeks (not just those in Italy but their mercenary armies from mainland Greece) who were helped by the Samnites, then with the Carthaginians (and again the Samnites and the Gauls), then with the successors of Alexander the Great, then with the Germans, then with all of Italy (led again by the Samnites. This was the last time, as Sulla exterminated them as a people and the survivors never found new allies), and so on. Note that the list includes only the wars where Rome actually risked to lose, ends with the Republic (the Empire would collect even more enemies), and doesn't include civil wars. In the end the Romans were that good because they needed to be, and most of their wars during the Republic were defensive in nature (Rome's concept of "defensive war" included conquering or exterminating the enemy to prevent another attack, resulting in almost accidental expansion). It has been put thus: Romans are the only people who ever conquered the world in self-defense.
  • The Gurkhas, "Sardaukar" of the British Empire. To quote British Field Marshal William Slim: “If a man says he is not afraid to die, he is either a liar or a Gurkha.” Growing up in terrain that would give the Mongols pause is certainly good practice for some of the places they've gone to war.
  • In both world wars Britain sent units from Canada and Australia to the front lines, partially because it was believed that living in frozen tundra or a desert filled with poisonous animals made them tougher, and partially because colonials were considered more expendable. The Germans learned to fear them... because they were rumoured to torture and kill enemy wounded and any enemies who tried to surrender. We don't know the extent to which these rumours had a basis in fact because reports of them doing so could have been exaggerated by the units to favorably display their aggression and willingness to fight to the brass (executing the enemy was supposedly encouraged by officers to some degree in WW1) or exaggerated by their enemies to ensure that troops will fight to the death rather than surrender, and executing the enemy could have simply occurred by the pragmatic reason that it was beyond the unit's ability to accept and control their enemy's surrender - though it is pretty certain all of these things did occur by some sort of extent.
  • This is still true to some extent. Australia and Canada have some of about the best trained and equipped desert and arctic warfare specialists respectively in the world, simply because that's where so much of their territory is. It is commonly held that anyone who thinks about invading Northern Australia or Northern Canada is welcome to try; it is unlikely any non-native troops could ever hope to cope with those conditions.
  • It's sometimes jokingly suggested that the British forged themselves a mighty world-spanning Empire because our weather is just that bad. Alternatively, it was to get away from the food.
  • Even before the use of Gurkhas, Australian and Canadian troops, there were the Scottish Highlanders in the British Army. Some of these are responsible for taking extreme punishment without breaking (Assaye) or originating the term "The Thin Red Line" (Balaclava) by standing firm against a cavalry charge and destroying it through sheer discipline and firepower.
  • Evolution works in the manner because if something wasn't tough enough it didn't survive to pass on its genes. This is especially apparent in oceans where limited resources created serious competition resulting in an evolutionary arms race with everything having to compete with and survive everything else.
  • You. Your ancestors were the ones that survived to be your ancestors. And even before you were born, you had to beat a hundred million of your potential siblings to that egg... and that was with only half the chromosomes you have now. Given all the things that could have prevented that, that is saying something. Go and do something awesome with that legacy.
  • In the early days of the United States Navy, the entirety of their dedicated warship fleet were six heavy gun frigates. Because of the nascent nation's limited means, these six warships were designed to outgun anything of comparable size and outrun anything that outclasses it. The famous U.S.S. Constitution was one of these, and the "outrun" aspect is attested by their ability to run British blockades during the War of 1812, and the "Outgun" portion most exemplified by the famous U.S.S Constitution versus H.M.S. Guerriere naval battle. During the Barbary invasion ("The Shores of Tripoli" in the USMC Hymn) carried out because the US Government deemed coming to blows with the Barbary Pirates was less onerous than paying their tributes and ransoms, Ol' Ironsides was the main offshore bombardment asset in play. Today, the Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship still afloatnote , serving as a "Ship of State" for the US Navy.
  • The reason veteran soldiers are generally superior to fresh recruits: they've survived the war.
    "Beware of an old man in a profession where men usually die young."
  • Ironically, racism produced this in African-Americans several times.
    • During The American Civil War, at first even the North wouldn't let free blacks sign up, but eventually the military situation and mounting public pressure from abolitionists meant the Union would recruit blacks. People like Frederick Douglass (himself a former slave) encouraged all blacks who conceivably could to enlist and some of his sons did. The Confederacy, however, came in the habit of taking no black prisoners and generally abusing, torturing or re-enslaving any African-American they got their hands on. Naturally, African-Americans knew what they were fighting for and knew what would await them should they make even a tiny mistake leading to their wounding or capture. Add to that that some leaders sent them into the most horrific of hopeless missions and African-Americans had ample opportunity to showcase their heroism. Many a Northerner went into the war a committed racist and came out a great admirer of the martial prowess of his black brothers-in-arms.
    • During the American-Philippine War, a nasty colonial business resulting almost as an afterthought from the Spanish-American War, Americans were fighting a nasty war of attrition against Filipino guerillas that was all too prescient of what would happen six decades later in Vietnam. As black soldiers were seen as expendable, they were deployed more often and at the more uncomfortable fronts of the war. Supposedly one racist white soldier said to a black company just arrived, "What are you [n-word] doing here?" to which an African-American soldier replied "Assuming the white man's burden"note .
    • During the Second World War, the Army was again segregated, and decided to train a few black soldiers as combat pilots, the so-called "Tuskegee Airmen". Now there may have been some genuine philanthropy behind the initial recruitment, but the training officers were committed racists. They treated the would-be pilots like dirt, and even the tiniest mistakes were punished drastically, sometimes by being kicked out. This of course had the effect that only the very best trained made it through the course and naturally the statistics show that the Tuskegee Airmen were probably among the best the US Army Air Corps had to throw at the enemy during the war.
  • There's a reason the Badass Israeli stereotype exists. Nearly every young Israeli Jew is required to serve in the IDF when they turn 18, ensuring the safety of a country surrounded by enemies, with little in the way of natural resources. In the early days of the state, especially in the War of Independence, Israelis had just seen (many of them firsthand) what happened to the Jews of Europe, and what awaited them if they lost the war. They also had to use out-of-date weapons due to the British arms embargo, but somehow still won.


Video Example(s):


They Had a Childhood

When Diana remarks how she feels kinship with the natives of Remnant for being born warriors like her, Blake remarks that it's a necessity on Remnant to learn how to fight if you're going to survive. She actually laments the fact and admits some small envy for the other members of the Justice League who got to have childhoods without the looming threat of death always hanging overhead.

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Main / HadToBeSharp

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