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Informed Ability

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"Rule number 56 of reality television: If a challenge fits your profession, you're probably not gonna win it."

A subtrope of Informed Attribute: A character's skill and abilities are frequently mentioned by the cast, but are nonexistent in practice.

Though the motivations for allowing this are similar to the motivations for allowing Informed Attributes in general, there is much less of an excuse for it. Believably getting it across that, say, someone is compassionate is difficult stuff; it's the mark of a good author to pull that kind of thing off. Skills and abilities are a much simpler deal: Is someone a master locksmith? Have them pick a lock now and then. Are they combat experts? Have them take the fight to their opponents whenever they can and gain the upper hand. Are they supposed to be a smooth talker? Have them talk their way out of a sticky situation once in a while.

What often deters writers from going through with the above plan is the fact that Most Writers Are Writers. They're writing a character who's supposed to be a musician, but they don't know the particulars of meters or chords. They have a character who is a military expert, but they don't know how long an infantry division can fight until it needs to be resupplied. They have a character who's a genius, but they haven't a clue as to how or what a genius needs to do to solve a complex problem. If the writer attempts to show the ability in action, they take a very real risk of the portrayal falling completely flat.

On occasion, the ability cannot adequately be portrayed by the medium used for the work. For example, a comic book cannot show how good a character's singing voice is, and a radio show would, at best, be forced to merely describe a character's great paintings. Occasionally, the ability cannot be portrayed because of the work's audience, such as a dangerous weapon in a family-friendly show causing Scenery Gorn if activated, and thus, it can't be activated onscreen.

One choice the writer has is to go ahead and show the supposed "ability". But if they don't do the research, this leads to such laughable characters as the scientist who spouts Hollywood Science, the tactician who comes up with the sort of tactics a five-year-old would think of and the "genius" who is only a genius because they're the only one coming up with any plan at all, and everyone else is downright stupid. Lack of convincing detail means the reader does not believe, whether it is fixing an engine or presenting the actual philosophy of a character purported to be wise, and can make the readers long for the informed ability.

It's much easier for the writer to just stay away from showing that character's expertise at all. After all, how can the portrayal possibly live up to the hype? And since the audience has to know about this expertise some way or the other, this inevitably leads to telling the reader about it instead of showing it to them.

There are, fortunately, ways around this.

  1. The hard way is doing the necessary research, and lots of it. In the above examples, knowing the particulars of a field of science, military tactics and strategies, or the inner workings of genius minds of yesteryear is a good place to start. Then, working the writing around this research would allow the audience to see that this character's ability is at least somewhat applicable to the real world. It may not be applicable to every situation — it might even require a Hand Wave or two. But it's at least enough to not break the Willing Suspension of Disbelief around the ability in question.
  2. The easier way is to have the character act out their expertise without going into technical details. The military leader arrives at the war room, going from briefing to briefing, gives out commands over the radio, and the tide of battle turns. The master composer comes up with the hook for a popular singer's upcoming single, and a week later we hear that it's topping the charts. The genius has a montage of going through books and papers, works many a sleepless night, and ends with a small success in the laboratory that turns into a "Eureka!" Moment. The character can display their skills without showing their work directly. It's only an Informed Ability if there is no meaningful evidence they have this skill; it's even worse if there's evidence that the character doesn't have this ability at all.

The audience is more likely to accept an informed ability if the ability itself is not the focus of the story so much as a plot device or source of drama. If, for example, a story of an obsessed genius artist is mainly focused on the family conflict this creates (with a father, say, who wants his son to have a conventional career or a wife who feels neglected) the audience may not care if the genius's paintings look like third rate impressionism or surrealism (as they usually do).

This trope can be Played for Laughs — a character might find increasingly bizarre and unlikely reasons to not use their alleged abilities in situations where they would prove useful, or that one time where they actually put it to use may be a Noodle Incident that goes on being mentioned at random, or they may display their skill, but in a manner conspicuously offscreen while the other characters exclaim "Look at them go!". If they finally, at one point, go ahead and prove that they are every bit as capable as their reputation suggests, that's Let's Get Dangerous!.

See also Faux Action Girl, a variant where "competent fighter" becomes an Informed Ability, and The Worf Effect, which often turns it into one. Among the Acceptable Breaks from Reality in Video Games, where often you'll be playing someone supposedly very competent, but how well they actually perform is up to you, and often they'll go through tutorials teaching them the basics of their supposed area of expertise for the player's sake. Compare Character Shilling and compare/contrast with Creator's Pet. Also see The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, where the characters never even attempt to perform the tasks for which they are supposedly famous. Commonly uses Props to imply the intended effect. The Informed Flaw is the opposite, where someone is supposed to be terrible at something (ie. Hollywood Homely), but isn't. In a video game, this frequently overlaps with Gameplay and Story Segregation (when the story says that someone has amazing abilities, but they show up in neither gameplay nor cutscenes.) Suddenly Always Knew That is when a character demonstrates a skill the audience has never been told he possesses before.

Example subpages:

Note: If the particulars of a character's skills are intentionally hidden from the audience for dramatic effect, but the skill itself does come into play, that's another trope.

Other examples:

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    Comic Strips 
  • For Better or for Worse:
    • Mike is supposed to be a brilliant best-selling novelist who sold his first book on his first try with no editing needed. Yet the excerpts from that first novel, as featured in the character's letters, are filled with implausible and maudlin situations, flat and unlikeable characters and insightful lines like "The living buried the dead."
    • Liz's parents and friends are constantly telling her how successful, smart, funny, and great Anthony is. However, he only got his job through connections (he works as a gas station attendant and later accountant for Gordon Mayes, who is friends with Michael), never says anything witty, and isn't even shown at the astronomy club, his only social outlet. Anthony is also hyped up as honest and loyal to Elizabeth — a relationship which he kept up while he was with his first wife, Thèrése.
  • Similarly, Les Moore in Funky Winkerbean is supposed to be a brilliant writer. But what little we see of his work is atrocious dialog like:
    Lisa: Actually, to be more precise, I'm trying to get you to take advantage of me... once the chemo starts, this playground will be closed for repairs.
    Les: Hmmm... who can resist a siren song like that?
    • There's also an arc where he refuses to read Lisa's diary, which makes you wonder how he compiled enough material to complete a book about her.
    • Pete Reynolds is canonically the highest-paid writer in the comic book industry, but he's only seen cribbing ideas from other peoples' offhand remarks. And the output of Atomik Komix seems to consist entirely of Mockbusters.
  • Dennis The Menace, though a genuine terror in his early days, got hit hard with Menace Decay over the years and is now hardly ever shown misbehaving, despite still sometimes being regarded as a problem child by his parents and neighbors; in particular, Mr. Wilson's dislike of the curious, friendly little boy who comes to visit him comes off as downright mean-spirited. It got even worse in the Dennis sitcom and cartoon, where Dennis wasn't actually allowed to do anything bad, and was instead written as an innocent, well-meaning lad who always got into trouble by accident (a better title might have been "Dennis the Unlucky"). Bart Simpson was created specifically because Matt Groening remembered how disappointed he was with the premise, and wanted to create a kid that was a genuine troublemaker.
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • In the strip, this is used for comedic effect. Calvin's imaginary alter ego Spaceman Spiff is constantly described as a tremendous pilot, superb marksman, and all-around brilliant space explorer, but pretty much every story about him begins as his ship is crashing and/or he's captured by aliens. His "Death-Ray Blaster" also tends to be utterly useless, because in real life it's actually a squirt gun. Spaceman Spiff's piloting is also lampshaded in one strip: "The intrepid Spaceman Spiff is stranded on a distant planet! ... our hero ruefully acknowledges that this happens fairly frequently."
    • Same with Stupendous Man; after yet another blunder, Hobbes asks Calvin if Stupendous Man ever won any battles. Calvin replies they are all "moral victories."
  • In Dick Tracy, the Iceman is described as being in the top elite of hitmen, having pulled off a dozen killings without even getting a criminal record. No one is ever a match for Tracy, of course, but even before he encounters Tracy, the first killing that the Iceman is shown committing is a real amateur affair. He not only leaves his disguise behind where the police easily find it, he allows himself to be seen committing the crime.
  • Dilbert:
    • Dilbert is supposed to be a brilliant engineer, thus explaining his constant frustration with his idiot-run workplace. While early strips did show him as a fairly talented (albeit eccentric) inventor, this has been gradually phased out as the comic focused entirely on office humor, giving readers little evidence of his over-qualifications. (The trope was, however, averted in the animated series, which routinely showed his mad-scientist level accomplishments.)
    • Alice is an even stronger example. While Dilbert can lay claim to getting one or two strips per year where he's working on a specific project, Alice has 14 patents and is the highest paid engineer at the workplace — but all she ever does on-panel is use her Fist of Death on hapless co-workers. (Though perhaps she is killing them for their patents and claiming them as her own. This is Dilbert, after all.)

  • Essentially applies to Snotlout in The Blacksmith's Apprentice; while he looks like a good choice for the new heir on paper as he's physically capable where Hiccup was 'a talking fishbone', in practice he's an idiot with an over-inflated ego who has no clue how to do anything beyond beating up people he doesn't like who essentially aims to set himself as a warlord rather than a benevolent chief.
  • B.C from Eiga Sentai Scanranger is supposed to be the funny man who holds the team together. However, all of his jokes are awful and a lot of the stuff he pulls (such as attempting a Stupid Sacrifice where everyone else did a tactical withdrawal and quitting the team when called out for this) make you think they’d be better off if they got rid of him.
  • In The End of Ends, we're only told of what Copy Cat could do, and outside of his namesake ability to change into anyone he touches, we never see them get used.
  • In Frozen Turtles, the Night Blade are said to be a lethal order of assassins, but the Turtles put them down fairly promptly when Hans hires them to kill Elsa and abduct Anna, although this could be attributed to the Turtles being very good rather than the Night Blade being bad at their work.
  • In This World and the Next: As one reviewer put it, quite a lot of the author’s characterisations and his intentions for the characters do NOT match at all. For instance, McGonagall turning on Dumbledore and Snape is portrayed as her triumphantly standing up against horrible people, but in actuality, it makes her come off as a Wormtail-sequel figure who would betray her allies at the drop of a hat.
  • Laura, as in legolas by, has apparently "got a power and she can distoy us all the bad guys". She never actually uses this power, even when she's imprisoned, tortured and raped by the orcs, or during the big important final battle, and what the power is supposed to be or do is never actually described.
  • My Brave Pony: Starfleet Magic:
    • Lightning Dawn is trained by the Grand Ruler to be stronger and faster than most other characters (as compensation for his lack of magical ability). Thing is, he gets tuckered out lifting crates and vegetable baskets, and altercations with others show him to be about average physically.
    • Unicornicopians are repeatedly touted as being a "warrior race" who spend most of their time exercising and training for battles and hostile situations. When villains show up, they inevitably break into panic just from seeing them. In comparison, most MLP ponies (including non-protagonist civilians) are usually able to stand their ground just fine when a villain appears, unless threatened directly.
  • The Night Unfurls:
    • Kin mentions that Olga is a necromancer, yet the readers never see her raising the dead.
    • Celestine is said to be a person of great magical strength, and Olga is the only one known In-Universe capable of matching her in combat. Several characters mention that Celestine is capable of impressive offensive magic (Olga suggesting Celestine to bombard the currently infested Rad with holy spells, Soren fearing that Celestine could simply blast him into oblivion without lifting a finger, etc.). However, not a single scene depicting Celestine in battle is ever shown in the story. Furthermore, the remastered version has Celestine's P.O.V. noting that she and Olga fought each other numerous times directly in the past, to the point where the two stopped taking the fields personally due to the destructiveness of their magics. Yet, the readers never see any sort of flashback about such events.
  • The Star Trek: Voyager fic “Institutionalized” sees Janeway being sent to an institution after Voyager returns to Earth by a counselor who falsely diagnoses her with a range of psychiatric issues. The staff claim that the institute is one of the best in the Federation, but patients are shown having received no help to deal with various problems; one of the other patients is never given the chance to truly face her husband’s death, and another who was a victim of Wolf 359 has been allowed to believe for years that the Borg are still a threat. This is justified as the counselor using her connections to stay ahead of the system, preventing anyone in authority from questioning her actions without risking being sent to the facility themselves, essentially venting her own issues with Starfleet on the officers sent to her.
  • A good description of Stella in Protecting Hanna; while she's a qualified nanny on paper, in practice she has such rigid ideas about caring for children that she ignores their need to actually be children, in favour of 'preparing' them for adulthood even when she's dealing with five-year-olds who just want to have fun and gorge themselves on chocolate cakes and sweets rather than being given food that is nutritionally satisfactory while tasting absolutely horrible.
  • One of the few recurring criticisms of Rites of Ascension is that Twilight Sparkle, despite having supposedly expanded her magical knowledge even beyond that from canon and in fact pushed the boundaries of magical theory, is only briefly shown as such in-story by her channeling magic through her hooves at the beginning (only possible because she has unknowingly become an alicorn) and developing a new method for producing solidified magic (which is suppressed by Celestia in order not to cause upheaval, thanks to unpleasant past experience). Otherwise she seems to mostly react to others' feats and knowledge, frequently being blindsided by the techniques of both antagonists and supporting characters. Even one of her most awesome feats (entrapping a volatile portal and preventing worldwide damage) is dependent on a shield spell which Shining Armor had shared with her. The author has stated an intent to correct this in later arcs.
  • Showa & Vampire: The main character's mother is supposed to be one of the greatest authors who ever lived (she writes erotica). She's incredibly famous for her output and most of the "good" characters are fans of her work, but none of her prose is ever actually shown.
  • Most of the characters' stated abilities in Skyhold Academy Yearbook fall under this trope simply because there's no way to show them in the medium. The reader has to assume that they really are as good as the story implies at art, dance, singing, and being a mime. The only aversions are Varric and original characters Rory and Jim, who are all writers and whose stories appear in the series.

    Film — Animation 
  • Brave: We're told that Fergus, the clan lords, and their heirs are great warriors who won great battles against Vikings. What we see of their combat abilities mostly consists of mosh pit antics and getting flung around by bears. Maybe they're rusty.
  • In the Miramax cut of The Thief and the Cobbler, when Princess YumYum attempts to convince her father, King Nod, that she is the best candidate for venturing into the desert, she argues that she is, apparently, "smarter than any man in this city and faster than your clumsy henchman." But there has been no evidence of these claims up to this point; all she has done in the film is sing, as displayed in the "I Want" Song "More Than This" (along with her impressive ability to sway back and forth and spin a lot) and the Distant Duet "Am I Feeling Love?" This inconsistency is most likely due to the particularly lazy rehashing of the script.
  • The *ahem* "film" Ratatoing spends the first five minutes telling us how great the main character's food is, over and over. Whenever we see it, it looks like brown sludge. His actual technique seems to be to "steal the freshest ingredients" (but only once a week, and he just leaves them on the table without preserving them in any way) and stir them together in a pot. Then again, they are rats.

  • Tenacious D's "Tribute" parodies this trope, claiming that Tenacious D themselves successfully played "the greatest song in the world" when the devil demanded it, but they can't prove it because they forgot what it sounds like.
  • The Lonely Island song "Sax Man", with guest artist Jack Black boasting of Sax Man as a legendary virtuoso who's been rocking out since he was three weeks old. When Jack prompts Sax Man to play, however, all we hear are blowing noises and a bit of discordant tooting.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In The Bible, King Solomon was said to have been divinely granted the gift of immense wisdom in a dream. The text gives just one specific demonstration of this wisdom. He also allegedly wrote three deeply philosophical books of the Bible. However, the aforementioned books allegedly contain loanwords from other languages, which according to many historians weren't known to the Israelites until centuries later. The Queen of Sheba also found his wisdom appealing enough to make a very lucrative business deal with him, but the text doesn't recount what exactly he told her. Moreover, in his old age he turned his back on God and imported some idols to worship (despite having personally conversed with God more than once), this being one of the gravest sins in the eyes of the ancient Hebrews and a sure way to lose divine favor. Oddly, in Ecclesiastes Solomon actually laments the futility of wisdom (and of everything else).
  • Greek Mythology often has gods that the writer of the particular piece don't like fall into the informed abilities category, most frequently Ares, who despite obligatory religious praise of his bravery and cunning often gets to play the fool and coward in stories written or conveyed through Athens, which had its own war god patron to shill.
    • Theseus, hero-king of Athens, often got remarked on for being a Genius Bruiser: bruiser, sure (killing the minotaur with your bare hands takes some gumption), genius, eh. He went through a couple of Puzzle Boss-ish encounters during the Six Labors, but most of the time, the challenge in said encounters amounted to "figure out the person you are talking to is a murderer, then kill them." And the largest intellectual challenge in his most famous myth (how to get out of the minotaur's labyrinth) was solved by (depending on version) Daedalus or Ariadne. That'd be one thing, except Theseus's smart moments are far outnumbered by his unfathomably stupid moments, including being easily tricked into using a favor from the gods to murder his own son, venturing into the underworld to help kidnap Persephone and then being surprised it didn't work out for him, ditching the love of his life on an island (reasons vary, but in some versions he just landed there and forgot about her), and being such a miseryguts about the above that he forgot to swap the sails on his ship, signalling to his father Aegeus that he was dead and resulting in Aegeus being Driven to Suicide.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Often happens when the commentators have to shill a Creator's Pet, and moreso when they're simply trying get a new act "over". Jobbers and journeymen are made to seem like extremely talented athletes all the time — a good example of a Justified Trope in this instance. It's pretty much the announcers' job to do this.
  • Similarly, wrestlers are often verbally boosted even if they're higher up the rankings. Triple H is a wrestler who was rather good, but not exactly a technical mastermind (he kicked and punched a lot, and stuck to only some basic submissions or wear-down holds). And the extent of his planning was usually "lure opponent down to ringside, then hit with a sledgehammer". The announcers played him up as not only the best technical wrestler alive, but the "Cerebral Assassin", noted for his brilliant planning. Of course, considering he's gotten 14 world titles off of it, maybe you credit his superior intellect to finding a Boring, but Practical strategy and sticking with it, as opposed to riskier Awesome, but Impractical moves.
    • Similarly, although maybe a little more methodical is Randy Orton, who although would be a little unnerving to actually have to deal with, his "psychological torture" of his opponents usually extends as far as extending submissions, moving slowly, hitting them, and giving a few evil-looking stares. Has an evil air, but not exactly a super villain.
  • Hulk Hogan had commentators often talking about how exceptional he was despite most of his technical performances being average at best. Ironically, Hogan actually was a decent technical wrestler and often showed this off in his early days, but as he became more prominent, he toned this down a fair bit. This left audiences and critics a bit confused as to why Hogan was getting so much shilling for his prowess when he seemed to rely solely on brute strength and mic skills.
  • Many times, although not always, whenever Wrestling Doesn't Pay come into play, this happens. Most recently, it's fairly obvious that Fandango and his partner Summer Rae simply cannot dance.
  • Was sadly the issue with Chavo Guerrero. Known within the wrestling community for being extremely talented. Unfortunately, many WWE fans never saw Chavo's true potential as a wrestler. Because he was often made the Butt-Monkey of many matches, resulting in them ending because of some outside interference or Chavo, himself, being a Heel, never pressing to win many of his matches, resulting in him holding back most of the time in the ring.
  • Michael Cole seemed to throw out the phrase "Architect of The Shield" in every match regarding Seth Rollins, implying he was the one giving orders and blueprinting the assaults. From what we saw, Dean Ambrose was the one planning backstage, and Roman Reigns gave orders during the assaults, making this mostly hype from Cole. This title normally refers to the bit of trivia that the Shield was apparently Rollins' idea, having contacted Ambrose and Reigns about it. This would be fine if not for the fact that this was never alluded to at all until Cole started saying it about a year after the Shield formed.
  • Being a WWE performer with a combative skill set that isn't specifically wrestling can lead to this. For instance, being a Golden Gloves winning boxer in the cases of Baron Corbin and Heath Slater. The commentators frequently mention this real accomplishment, but neither wrestler does a whole lot of boxing in the ring.
  • The War Games match was supposed to be The Four Horsemen's "specialty match". It was their house and leading into the Pay Per Views where it would feature, the commentator would all talk about how dangerous it was to face the Horsemen in this match. Career Record: 1-15.
    • Similarly to this, Jeff Hardy often had the ladder match hyped up as his specialty, since he had several memorable ones both with his brother Matt and on his own. However, he lost the majority of them, including both times he was in Money in the Bank
  • During the late 2000's Kane was always referred to as someone who "can beat anyone in any given night" but he was losing matches to newcomers and was struggling against people he would at one point destroy.
  • Dean Ambrose during his feud with AJ Styles and later James Ellsworth was said to be dangerous and could seriously hurt anyone who wronged him, in matches his moveset was rather soft and he never truly got revenge against either of the two.

  • Our Miss Brooks: Miss Brooks is said to be a wonderful English teacher. But given that an episode that was actually showed Miss Brooks teaching high school would be rather dull, one has to take it on trust. The few times she is shown tutoring English, it's played for laughs i.e. "English Test" sees her give a crash course to Dumb Jock Stretch Snodgrass.
  • In The Men from the Ministry Mr. Lamb is often described by the narrator as "an eager young executive". In the show proper he is just as lazy as every other civil servant of the Ministry.
  • Played for Laughs in the Nordic Noir parody Angstrom; Mina is supposed to be a Lisbeth Salander style hacker, but she just runs basic internet searches on her phone, and is utterly amazed to be told that anyone can edit Wikipedia.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Happens often in tabletop RPGs, where a character might have a lot of points in charisma, intelligence, or wisdom, but will still be played like a boorish nincompoop because of player incompetence. For these reason, many game systems allow the GM to ask for a skill or attribute check rather than roleplay out a situation to allow the character to succeed even when the player has no idea what to do. The GM can also provide hints to players when they start doing things that their characters would know is a bad idea.
    • It need not be due to player incompetence. The GM or player may simply not know about a thing a character does know about. A player character with a special knowledge or skill (computer hacking, piloting, medicine, engineering, complex vehicle repairs, criminal connections, whatever) doesn't need a player to know that. A game often will have the player roll checks to represent highly technical work, only for the GM to announce the result with neither the player nor GM having the slightest clue how to do the thing.
    • And this goes double for skills the players can't possibly know. How does a fantasy wizard "research" a spell, or a starfighter pilot plan an FTL trip, anyway? Dunno, guy, just roll the check.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Descriptions of the Fighter class in 3.5 consistently acknowledge them as a leader class. The archetypes described often include things like kings or generals, fighters seem to be leading whenever an adventuring party is shown, and many NPCs designed to represent military leaders are fighters. This is in spite of the fact that the fighter is, though competent enough in the field of murdering things, one of the worst classes for leading in the entire game. Most fighters have mental ability scores that range from "the bare minimum to qualify for that one feat" to "Dump Stat", so in personality, they're stupid, thoughtless, and repellent. They have a very limited list of class skills and few points to use them on, so without special training, they can't do things like negotiate, remember historical battles, identify threats, notice they're being deceived, or even hear someone sneaking up on them. Finally, they have no class abilities that can be used to assist their allies, since all their class abilities are bonus feats relating to helping the fighter in combat—and any feats they take that do help their allies could be taken by someone else. A single-class fighter trying to be a leader through any metric besides Asskicking Leads to Leadership would be a complete General Failure. This is partly The Artifact from earlier editions, where fighters would gain access to troops of henchmen and eventually be promoted to lords with their own castles as they levelled up. When these rules were dropped for being cumbersome, suddenly all the fighter had was their combat skills.
    • Zargon the Returner, one of the Elder Evils from the sourcebook of the same name, was apparently so powerful that he easily defeated and even killed gods, and he was only defeated by his successor, Asmodeus, sealing him away. If you take a peek at his stat block, you'll be disappointed. A massive threat to a low or medium level party, but to a high level party, he'd pretty much be a mook. Admittedly, it's heavily implied that as an Elder Evil, Zargon's powers are uniquely effective against gods, but Asmodeus (who isn't a god) had the most recent statblock of one of his aspects be a full eleven levels higher than Zargon. Even with Zargon's Complete Immortality, any fight between the two would basically be Asmodeus pounding Zargon into paste until he got bored.
    • From the same book, it's claimed that the Hulks of Zoretha have enough strength to threaten an entire campaign setting. Like Zargon, they're undoubtedly quite powerful (five CR 16 creatures), but a very long way from being able to threaten the world themselves. The other Elder Evils had either some kind of way to make an army or the creature you fought being an aspect, but the Hulks lack either. Their main weapon is the Hate Plague effect they create upon being fully awakened, which is mainly geared towards getting everyone else to kill themselves off so they can populate the resulting empty world. Even low-power campaign settings like Eberron contain characters and monsters that could probably fight the Hulks solo — hell, one of the cultists trying to awaken them is 18th-level.
  • It is interesting to read the original AD&D Dragonlance adventures and compare them with how the characters act in the novels. Raistlin, the epitome of the sickly Squishy Wizard, is given a Constitution of 10 - perfectly average. He is also described as one of the greatest geniuses that ever lived, and engages in battles of wits with gods and near god-like beings... with his Intelligence of 17, which is quite high, but not nearly super-genius (at least, compared to the Intelligence scores frequently seen in the game; it's a point shy of the maximum for a first-level character). According to the ruleset at the time, he couldn't even cast the highest level of spells.
  • The 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting is absolutely insane in this regard. Since it was made very early in that editions's life cycle, the designers plainly had no idea how to make characters competently. Many were inexpertly converted from their AD&D stats, and it really shows. The most famous examples would probably be Drizzt (CR 18 and supposedly the greatest swordsman of his generation, would probably get killed by a frost giant of half his level) and Elminister (CR 39 and supposedly nearly a god, he's got a whole load of Empty Levels that put him on par with a wizard ten behind). They're far from the worst offenders, though; check out Harper leader Storm Silverhand's unmanageable mess of a build and Scyllua Darkhope, High Captain of Zhentil Keep, frequently out-damaged by her own mount.
  • Some Ravenloft modules by their very nature cause Rudolph Van Richten to fall under this trope, considering a good number of the Quests involves the man getting tricked by any number of evil entities far more often than the 'Land's Premier Expert on Undead and Other Evil Horrors' really should be. It takes a skilled GM to not turn Van Richten into an unintentional Miles Gloriosus. Later justified in that he is under a Vistani curse which keeps him alive as everyone he loves dies for most of his life. He disappears shortly after the curse is broken.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Most of the lore you'll run into makes the Space Marines out to be the biggest badasses in the history of ever; but in-game, in terms of stats and abilities, they're pretty much the baseline army. This is due to both Gameplay and Story Segregation and Power Creep; Space Marines, while nowhere near as overpowered as the fluff make them out to be, are indeed better than the average rank-and-file troops of every other army. This is evident if you compare Warhammer 40k with its parent game Warhammer Fantasy; the baseline toughness is 3 while the best rank and file armor is usually 5+. This is in contrast to the Chaos Warriors, who are literally Space Marines in all but name (and gun) and considered one of the elite troops. However, due to the vast majority of the players playing Space Marines, as well as the subsequent numerous spinoff armies, they became the baseline.
    • There is a tongue-in-cheek army list Games Workshop created that did have the Marines as powerful as they are in fluff. In a full-size game they could field 6-10 guys depending on equipment, and they are called "Movie Marines" because in-universe this is how they are depicted in propaganda videos.
  • BattleTech tended to have this as a major issue when it came to characters who were supposed to be spectacular leaders. Kathrine Steiner-Davion was an obvious example: described as phenomenally charismatic and a shrewd manipulator, most of the time we actually see things from her perspective she's petulantly whining about her brother and her father and how she deserves everything better than they do, and her "manipulations" are laughably hamfisted and should have been remarkably obvious to anyone who was remotely alert. Likewise, her brother Victor Steiner-Davion was described as "the greatest military leader in the Inner Sphere [in the last 300 years]." He's never actually shown coordinating large troop movements or directing battles, he mostly just goes out and fights a bit in his custom Daishi Omnimech and gives fairly basic orders to whomever's in his close vicinity.

  • In Sunday in the Park with George, Act II George is supposed to be an innovative artist (or "inventor-sculptor" as he thinks of himself), but all the audience sees of his artwork is a stage prop that breaks down when he tries to activate it. Justified, because Act II George has become too wrapped up in the promotional side of the art business; an influential critic warns him that his work has become stale and repetitive, and he himself fears that he has lost touch with his creativity.
  • In the musical In the Heights, the main character Nina is supposed to be the smartest, brightest, and overall "best" in her community. As far as the audience can tell, the only thing she ever accomplished was getting into Stanford, where she lost her scholarship due to poor academic performance. This is actually the point of Nina's character arc; she feels ashamed about the dissonance between the neighborhood's (and her own) image of her, and the reality that she cracked under the pressure and dropped out.
  • In Love Never Dies, the Phantom manages to figure out that Gustav is his son within minutes of listening to his piano performance, declaring that Gustav has inherited his skill with music. The thing is, in many performances (including the one filmed), this is shown by having Gustav play Chopsticks, which is a simple piece usually taught to absolute beginners. Even considering that Gustav is ten, this is hardly the mark of a born virtuoso.

    Web Animation 
  • Played for Laughs with Dr. Tran. The audience is constantly told about how he's a badass secret agent who has a PhD in kicking your ass and once killed his mother with a broken lawn chair. In reality, he's just a very confused Vietnamese boy who's constantly harassed by the narrator.
  • A minor Running Gag on Homestar Runner is that Coach Z likes to brag about having "fairly good teeth", even though he has No Mouth.

  • Drowtales has the Hermoinne, who are supposed to be a legitimate threat to fae. In reality, as of this writing, they've only ever managed to kill one faceless mook on-panel (one war-dragon was also killed off-panel), and that was during a battle wherein they outnumbered the drow 100 to 1. Said battle ended with the Hermoinne general dead and their army routed.
  • The elder Dr. Narbon's mad science skills in Narbonic. Another character brings this up eventually.
    Dave: She used your death ray, the conspiracy's teleporter... doesn't she invent anything of her own?
    Dr. Narbon's clone: She made me.
    Dave: ... Okay, she's a one-trick pony.
  • Least I Could Do features Rayne, supposedly a master at picking up chicks. Yet virtually every strip featuring him hitting on a girl shows his asinine pick-up lines, childish behavior, and utter shoot-downs from the girls. 95% of the time, his hook-ups are only shown AFTER they've already happened. Sure, Rayne's supposed to be good-looking, but it's more than a little obvious the writer doesn't really know how a master pick-up artist works.
    • There's also his job, in which it's repeatedly stated he isn't fired for constantly leaving early or acting offensive because he's a business genius. However, most times he's at work, we get generic lines about meetings or when shown in detail, his decisions are actually quite naive and would be disastrous in the real world, such as giving away free eBooks in the hopes people will use them to subscribe to a digital newspaper.
  • Misho, a Solar Exalt from Keychain of Creation supposedly has high awareness. The only way you'd know this is by the other characters reminding him he's supposed to have high awareness when he misses important (and sometimes obvious) details.
  • In Sonichu, Chris has given descriptions to each of the female characters' personalities, ranging from "smart and quick-wit" to "generic high-school girl personality." Of course, we never actually see any of this, since every female character is either interchangeable or useless.
  • In Homestuck, the Kids share a skill with their Guardian, but not as well: John is always bested in prank wars by Dad, Rose falls short of Mom's insane passive-aggression, and Dave is just not as cool, fast, or ironic as Bro. They still try to build up these abilities as part of their core personalities.
    • Subverted when the Kids meet; Rose acknowledges that she "cannot hope to defeat [John] in a prank-off. He is simply the best there is." Rose also acknowledges how amazingly cool Dave is when he shows off his audio gear and some of his mixes.
  • Gemel from Tony TH is supposed to be very powerful, but always gets Curb-Stomped whenever he appears. This is actually justified though, for two reasons: A) while Gemel has a lot of power, he really can't take a hit, and B) he always fights alone against groups of good guys. The end result is that the heroes spend the entire battle blindsiding him whenever he tries to make an attack, making it less of a battle and more of a game of tennis with Gemel as the ball. During the few times he fights one-on-one or as part of a group, he actually lives up to his reputation.
  • In El Goonish Shive: Tom, a boy from Moperville North high school, is touted by an ex-girlfriend as a highly skilled Manipulative Bastard who has set his sights on Susan. While his initial interaction with Susan bears this out, when she unknowingly throws him a curve ball (telling him she has no interest in dating, period) he fumbles badly and his attempts to regain his footing only tip Susan off to what he's doing.
    Tom: I am a FANTASTIC liar!
    Susan: Not when a mark doesn't stick to the script, you're not.
  • Ace from Commander Kitty is touted as the greatest spacer in the galaxy, but despite being a main character, he does very little to live up to his reputation. This includes repeatedly failing to notice the weird things going on around him, sulking when someone turns out to be more competent them him, taking credit for Mittens accidentally solving the problem, and even getting his ship hit by a torpedo shortly after he takes the wheel.
  • Karin-dou 4koma: The fact that Mifi has Virgin Power as shaman of her now-lost tribe gets repeated mentions as the reason why Elza Sleeps With Everyone But Her, but there are no explanations or even indications that she's actually ever used it.
  • The nerdy Ruby of Sticky Dilly Buns has a BBA, giving her apparently much better academic qualifications than the rest of the cast. Admittedly, book-smarts aren't everything when it comes to intelligence, but still, to begin with she shows no clear signs of being more intellectual or focused than anyone else. However, over time, once she has adapted to her unfamiliar situation, she does begin to display flashes of sense and mental agility.
  • Lily in Leftover Soup is supposedly a successful small business owner, but the only evidence presented is that she sucks at face-to-face customer service.
  • My Mamma is In — Burned is Out!: The soyjak who proposes "My Mamma" can supposedly lift 1000kg, and while he is certainly muscular, his ability to do so isn't shown anywhere in the comic.

    Web Original 
  • Tales of MU:
    • Amaranth seems to border on having Informed Flaws. Word of God is that if the author had wanted to write a Self-Insert Fic, it would have been Amaranth without the flaws. The problem is that while Amaranth's perspective on some matters is clearly skewed, her actual effect on the storyline is always extremely positive. Even her informed flaws are that she's not quite perfect. She's not quite as genius-level smart as she thinks she is, she's not quite perfectly adjusted, and she's not quite as sensitive and empathetic as someone perfect would be. Saying Amaranth has flaws is like saying that an M&M is less chocolatey than a Hershey's Kiss.
    • Also, Amaranth's intelligence is something of an Informed Attribute in the first place. She collects books, but "can read" isn't all that uncommon an intellectual ability in the setting, despite the feudal aspects literacy is in excess of 80%. She's almost never the source of any knowledge outside of her goddess's demesne (basically, sex and nothing else), and even regarding sex she's sometimes blatantly ill-informed. And her advice almost always causes problems or makes them worse (at one point, she advises a rape victim to submit to the rapist, for instance) so the Blue-and-Orange Morality of her race seems to ruin any chance of her supposed insight being particularly useful, either.
  • In lonelygirl15, the main characters have a strange tendency to panic whenever they see Lucy show up. As a sunglasses-wearing Order operative, there is reason to consider her dangerous by default, but she is treated as if she were the single deadliest person that could be thrown at them. She gets nastily proactive toward the end of the series, but before that point, her greatest known feat was physically restraining a smallish teenage girl. The behind-the-scenes InsideLG15 videos do include non-canon clips of Lucy shooting Danielbeast in the crotch and shooting P. Monkey in the head.
  • In Trials & Trebuchets, Professor Elrich Raethran is supposedly an amazing songwriter and lyricist, even having won an award for his work, but when we actually see him write a song, it's absolutely terrible, and only manages to sound good after Mira helps him with it.
  • Survival of the Fittest:
    • Adonis Zorba is played up as a awesome fighter, excelling in multiple fighting disciplines, however in his brief fight with plain-old boxer Bobby Jacks (admittedly a hulking Scary Black Man) Adonis came very close to getting his ass kicked. Notable also is that previously (in a pregame tournament) Bobby was defeated with relative ease by an opponent with far less 'fighting ability' than Adonis is touted to have.
    • Dan Brent, of V3, is a decent example of this, as his every attempt to score kills fell horribly flat.
  • Stupid Mario Brothers: Both Mario and the Darkness describe Link as the strongest of the heroes, but he loses every major fight he gets into, is captured offscreen in season 1, and dies twice. For real, the second time.

Alternative Title(s): Informed Abilities