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Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality

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Gabby: This is a warning shot, Jones. Stand down.
Rochelle: Or what, Gabby? The potentially lethal nature of your powers confines it to warning use only.

The more combat-oriented a power is, the less useful it will be both in combat and out of it. And the more destructive a power is, the less useful it will be for anything.

So, What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway? It's only useful in a Plot Tailored to the Party, and even the lowliest Mook poses a serious threat. It's much better to have elemental control over fire... except you can't use it outside of combat. Even in combat, you'll miss a lot or face moral backlash.

Okay, how about swords? Being a super cool swordsman is better than being a wimpy White Mage. Except, if you hit anyone, you're likely to cause massive bleeding, and so unarmed opponents can pull Never Bring A Knife To A Fistfight.

The same goes for guns: if you aren't a graduate from the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy, then you need Improbable Aiming Skills or to use Trick Arrows — er, trick bullets. Otherwise, the best you can hope for is mutual A-Team Firing.

The same goes for skills like explosives, martial arts, and other martial Chekhovs Skills.

But the guy who can talk to squirrels can get the keys to your prison cell. The girl who controls plants can grow the Magic Antidote to the villain's poison. The wimpy kid with Telepathy can tell you "It's a trap!" as it's sprung... well, okay, this trope does depend on the authors giving these little-thought-of powers their due use. At the Logical Extreme, that group of tree-hugging hippies you just antagonized will turn out to be a bunch of Technical or Martial Pacifists with a Superweapon Surprise hidden up their sleeves.

You've just run into the Inverse Law Of Utility And Lethality. In series that are focused on combat and fighting, there will be cool (but nerfed) violence. The items which produce the coolest violence will be the least useful — for anything. Mundane Utility will be rare. Like Bad Powers, Bad People, the uses for super destructive powers are severely limited. The main reason for this is, of course, censorship - particularly for works aimed at young children and teens. (Expect this to be averted in more adult works.)

In Tabletop Games, a character built for lethality is usually very gratifying. However, such characters tend to be flummoxed when they encounter anything they can't hack and slash through. Characters built for utility - stealth, diplomacy, or even climbing the Insurmountable Waist-High Fence - can accomplish amazing things even if they aren't combat monsters. (Example: A Fighter can kill The Dragon in single combat, but a Diplomat can raise an army to bring the entire Empire to its knees).

In Video Games, this can help the in-game balance: since the coolest-looking attacks are also, on the whole, the most powerful, making them Awesome, but Impractical can stop them from becoming Game Breakers.

Often, this phenomenon will go completely unnoticed inside a show or game, becoming at most the subject of a Plot Tailored to the Party to "prove" how versatile the heroes truly are. No one In-Universe realizes the full power of the character with the Swiss-Army Superpower. When a character realizes their power has lethal applications, it's a case of Lethal Harmless Powers. Compare the Inverse Law of Complexity to Power, where "simple" powers have more oomph than more abstract ones, Boring, but Practical and the aesthetic aspects of Cool, but Inefficient.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach:
    • Sui-Féng's shikai ability "Nigekki Kisatsu" (lit. "certain death in two stings) is the manga's foremost example. On paper, it's said to assure the victim's death in two stingsnote  regardless who they are and regardless of how powerful they may be. Predictably, it never worked on anyone other than a lowly Fraccion. Aizen was able to effortlessly No-Sell the attack and everyone else she faced always had some way to prevent her from even using it.
    • Orihime has a nearly useless offensive power, but is probably the ultimate support figure; rather than just healing wounds, she "rejects" them (i.e., turns back time in a small area and makes it so that the wounds never happened). She can also create a near-impenetrable wall.
    • On the other side of the trope, she has a projectile that can cut anything in half, but constantly misfires due to an unwillingness to harm. However, she's also confidently stated that she can "reject" any and EVERY event on a target until they simply cease to exist. She's also raised the dead, and could probably even reverse the hollowfication process if she tried.
    • Another facet of her power is explored when she and Ichigo search for Rukia throughout the Soul Society after the battles have ended. She has her Rikka search for her, too, showing that she not only has the rejection powers, she also controls six faeries that can run certain errands for her.
  • Darker than Black: This mostly doesn't come into play since the Contractors who get sent on missions and end up in the protagonists' way are, logically enough, usually combat-oriented, but nevertheless we get situations like, say, Hei, as opposed to Havok: his powers can be blocked, but he can also use them to pick locks and fix his landlady's TV, while her ability to create vacuums isn't useful for much but wanton destruction, but it's really, really good at it. The individual Contractor's remuneration also affects whether they can get away with using their powers for lesser concerns.
  • Digimon:
    • Myotismon's Nightmare Claw is successfully used exactly once in the entire show, where first uses it, it's efficient and concise and does its job of completely paralyzing its target. In every single other use of it... he just goes 'Nightmare....' and pauses for three seconds which is enough time for the heroes to interrupt him, and expanded materials reveal it wouldn't work on Angewomon anyway (though that's justified by Angewomon being predestined and perfectly suited to kill him.
    • In Digimon 02, we have Kimeramon, whose breath weapon instantly vaporizes everything in its path... naturally all the heroes and their digimon only suffer near misses with the thing.
  • Yajirobe of Dragon Ball Z is pretty useful to have around, at least early in the series. He's the one who cut off Vegeta's tail while everyone with super-powerful laser disk attacks got their rears handed to them.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Much of the intrigue comes from how villains use their Stands' strange and convoluted powers to deadly effect (A Stand that reduces your memory capacity to three given facts? A Stand that reduces the target's age?). The heroes often have to struggle to defeat their foes using their much more direct powers (Cut anything, control flames, extreme speed and strength...) A clearly established rule is also that direct power is inversely proportional to range, which means that heavy hitters are heavily restricted. The exceptions are "remote Stands", that have large range, power and lack the usual "damage also affects the user" drawback, but cannot be controlled at long range and instead rely on simple behavior programs, giving them even less utility than normal stands, which can at least be an extra pair of hands when needed.
    • Joseph Joestar's abilities in Parts 2 and 3 are more utility-oriented. In Part 2, he relies mostly on trickery and psyching out his enemies rather than overpowering his opponents, often utilizing Hamon to turn ordinary objects into weapons (i.e. hair, pasta, clackers, tequila bottle corks, etc). In Part 3, his stand, Hermit Purple, is weak in combat but has a lot of utility in finding out information- he can make maps in dirt, project pictures on televisions, and take 'spirit photographs' of faraway places (which is how the heroes learned about Dio in the first place), as well as acting as Combat Tentacles and allowing him to Building Swing, a definite contrast to the combat-focused stands of his teammates.
    • The only consistent exception to this rule seems to be the main villain of the corresponding arc. For example, the power of Dio Brando's The World ( stopping time) sounds absolutely terrifying - and it is.
    • Conversely, Hol Horse and Guido Mista. Both characters have roughly the same power (a gun with bullets that they can redirect in mid-flight to hit a target), and it should make them incredibly formidable since very few people in the setting are Immune to Bullets. Except it would be boring to simply have Mista unerringly shoot every opponent in the head, and Hol Horse is a villain so he can't just shoot and kill the heroes, so both characters tend to be surprisingly bad at actually hitting anything despite their power being that they can hit anything, either because their enemies always seem to conveniently have the perfect Stand to ruin their day or because they just flat-out miss. Hell, more than a few times, they've ended up hitting themselves. While fighting White Album alone, Mista shot himself twenty times—and survived.
    • This trope is a major issue for Okuyasu, whose power is to use a close-range swipe to remove part or all of his target from existence. He can also use it to draw people closer to him by "removing" the distance between them—so, logically, he should be able to kill just about anyone in at most two swipes. Naturally, this means Okuyasu loses basically every fight he gets involved in. It certainly doesn't help matters that Okuyasu isn't all that bright and isn't good at thinking of creative uses for his stand.
    • Many of the Rock Humans from JoJolion have automatic stands useful only for attacking, like Doobie Wah! being a tornado that tracks its targets' breath and Wonder of U causing misfortune to those who attempt to pursue the Head Doctor. Wu Tomoki is an exception, as he uses his stand ability in his work as a doctor.
  • Defied by the pro hero Thirteen in My Hero Academia. Their power is black holes on their fingertips, which sounds like a high-lethality low-utility power, but Thirteen is an Actual Pacifist who's found a niche in using it to clean up debris after disasters, and hopes to teach the kids that any power can be used for good.
  • Naruto: Tenten is an example of this. In a world of ninja, magic fireballs, demons, and God Mode eye techniques, Tenten uses normal weapons at her disposal. Because of this, she is practically useless, which is jarring as any one of her weapons could end a battle really quickly, as it's been shown countless times that no matter how strong an enemy is, they usually have to dodge a kunai flying at their face. Part of her problem is one of her defining features is a 100% accuracy rate in projectile weapons... Considering the enemy is still VERY free to either block or dodge, and her enemies are, well, ninja, it goes as well as you can expect.
    • She gets much more love in filler episodes, as her many normal weapons are summoned from special seals, and this is expanded upon to turn her into a master of Hammerspace. She has, on one occasion, hidden an entire ship in one of these seals and colony dropped the thing on some baddies. She is basically the Boring, but Practical support fighter, in that when the others have run out of flashy tricks, she'll still have weapons galore to hit you with.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi:
    • Setsuna's concern over her weakening skills as a warrior turns to concern over her lack of any other skills, and she imagines herself having to work a part-time job at a convenience store to support her girlfriend. Distracted by thoughts of failure, she then slices a giant metal ball that had been flying at Konoka clean in half without even noticing.
    • Later on, Chachamaru comments that she was concerned that she wouldn't have a chance to use her artifact because of this law. Said artifact is a Kill Sat which despite being shaped like a cat is more than powerful enough to take out an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Sailor Moon:
    • Sailor Uranus gets a nifty mythology trinket courtesy of a magic sword. As you might expect from a television show, the amount it's used by an owner who has fewer issues with lethal force is surprisingly low versus a rather effective but generic magic attack.
    • Sailor Mercury's Sabão Spray attack. It has zero offensive power (for the entire first season Sailor Mercury is the only Senshi without an offensive move), but a wide array of strategic uses: it can provide cover for the Senshi, distract the enemy, function as a defence against high temperatures, and gets eventually upgraded to freezing the enemy solid. Unsurprisingly, it's one of the only starter attacks to defy So Last Season and be used well into the final seasons of the anime.
  • Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase: Kouhei's total lack of magic power also means he's impervious to all forms of magic, which is by the way quite common in this series.
  • This trope is why in Tiger & Bunny the flame-powered hero Fire Emblem is consistently low-ranked in-universe. Besides simply being a nice guy, Fire Emblem is one of many Corporate Sponsored Superheroes who catches criminals for public entertainment. As such, his impressive flame production/control is relatively useless, given the lack of purposes that it can be applied to that don't involve killing or severely injuring others. Notably, the criminal-killing vigilante, Lunatic, has the same power (but stronger) and naturally finds it very useful for his purposes.
  • Trigun: Meryl's derringers are neither taken seriously as a threat nor used to deliver meaningful damage over the entire course of both series. This is because Milly's stun gun can be used with impunity, but since Meryl's little guns can't invoke Rule of Cool or the beaten-up-by-bullets effect and she's not a killer, they aren't allowed to actually do much of anything. Still good that she doesn't go around unarmed, and she does take some useful actions; the derringers themselves are just useless. Even though a real derringer can kill you very dead.
  • YuYu Hakusho: Kuwabara eventually gets a sword that can cut through dimensions. Logically, this means he can cut through any foe regardless of how powerful they are, and playing this trope straight, as the only member of the lead 4 characters without super speed or reflexes, he near never lands a clean shot.

    Comic Books 
  • X-Men:
    • A rather egregious mix of this and When All You Have Is a Hammer… when they made Psylocke, one of their team telepaths, over into an Asian Action Girl. She gained kung-fu, Le Parkour, and the ability to focus her telepathy into a "psi-blade", which would instantly short-circuit the nervous system of anyone she stabbed with it, resulting in incapacitation or, in rare cases, death. Unfortunately, the blade became the entirety of her heroic repertoire shortly thereafter. Combined with the Inverse Law, it made the poor girl look like the weak link in the X-Chain, and it took new powers to give her any sort of versatility or credibility afterwards.
    • This trope made considerable angst-fodder for Havok since unlike his teammates his power couldn't be used for anything but lethal purpose. Any shot of his plasma either incinerates or, equally useless, is completely deflected.
  • The DCU's Legion Of Substitute Heroes, the rejects and washouts of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Their powers were deemed useless or dangerous. The ones who best fit this trope were Infectious Lass (she gave people contagious diseases - but couldn't control when she used it, who got it, or what disease they got), Porcupine Pete (could shoot porcupine-like quills, but only in every direction, hitting friend and foe alike), Color Kid (could change the color of objects) and Stone Boy (turned into an immobile statue). Despite their potentially offensively devastating powers, Infectious Lass and Porcupine Pete, due to their lack of control were reduced to objects of humor, while Color Kid and Stone Boy, despite their powers being useless on the surface, had moments of awesomeness - like changing all Green Kryptonite to Blue, rendering it harmless to Superboy and Supergirl, or immobilizing Pulsar Stargrave by falling on him from a great height.
  • From Fantastic Four:
    • Johnny Storm, a.k.a. Human Torch, is able to turn into a flame with high-intensity heat. However, he's only shown to burn objects, never people (though he's been known to bluff Mooks with that threat). Fortunately, Johnny is very creative with his flame powers; he can always find a way to use them indirectly against foes who aren't scared off altogether.
    • In-Universe, this trope comes into play. He's been driven to 10-Minute Retirement twice by hearing that some poor, misguided fan has burned himself to death. (This was a genuine fear at Marvel; there's an urban legend that the Torch was left out of The Fantastic Four (1978) cartoon for this reason. Actually, the character couldn't be used because the rights were tied up.)
    • The Super-Skrull, who has copies of all of the Fantastic Four's powers, has no problem using his flames to kill since he's a soldier in an alien army. He's also used Reed Richards' stretching abilities (considered by far the weakest of the four in terms of combat power) to turn himself into Razor Floss. So even though he has weaker versions of their powers (the F4 have gotten major power-ups since the procedure that copied their powers onto him), the Super-Skrull is still far deadlier and a legit threat by himself to the entire team. Being an alien soldier who's usually a villain, Kl'rt is allowed to use the powers in ways that the heroes never would.
  • The Flash has the villain Heat Wave who burns people alive these days.
  • Inverted in the original Wanted comic: the protagonist is The Killer; his only superpower is being unnaturally good at dealing death. While this would be unworkable in an ongoing comic, it's mighty good in a miniseries.
  • Lifeline as presented in the G.I. Joe comic books. He's derided and insulted by his comrades because he will not shoot people. However, he wins his allies over by proving he can toss mooks around with the best of them. Toss, not kill. Plus, the guy who can stitch up your holes while under fire deserves some respect. (Except for his bright red uniform. At least Devil's Due tossed that.)
  • Black Canary's superpower is a powerful ultrasonic scream — so powerful, in fact, that's it hard for to use without the risk of killing an opponent or a bystander. As a result, she hardly ever uses it. Fortunately, she's also one of the greatest martial artists in the DC Universe, so she doesn't really need it. It's kept in reserve as a trump card against foes whose Super-Strength is too much for her martial arts to overcome.
  • Lampshaded in Watchmen by the first Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, when he points out the advantages of spirit gum adhesive versus a simple string or piece of elastic when wearing a Domino Mask.
  • In the New 52 reboot, both Superman and Supergirl developed an ability called "Super Flare" which allows them to expel out the most of solar energy stored in their cells at once, causing a humongous fireball which obliterates everything around them and leaves them almost completely exhausted. So Kal and Kara decided it was too dangerous -since it doesn't discriminate between allies/innocent bystanders and enemies- and unreliable, and not worth the effort, which is because they barely used it in their respective books.
  • Kyle Baker reportedly saw this as an issue when writing Hawkman: Hawkman's main offensive power is being skilled with medieval weapons, so you have to write antagonists that can be defeated by a physically fit man with a big spiky mace, but at the same time, it's difficult to draw a superhero (especially one who operates in the modern era) smashing a big spiky mace into someone's head without making him look like a violent brute. Consequently, he chose to have Hawkman fight mostly nonhuman enemies; after all, taking on a T-rex with a mace seems downright sporting by comparison.

    Fan Works 
  • Discussed in A Better Class of Criminal where libriomancy (the power of pulling items from books that mostly work how the book says) offers both Mundane Utility and potential for untold destruction. But any of the latter would be far more trouble than it's worth, between all the hassle from the authorities and likely destroying whatever he was fighting for.
  • The Games We Play:
    • Bianca's Semblance allows her to turn parts of herself into portals to Another Dimension, releasing Wave-Motion Gun blasts as a result. Because a portal only as small as a finger is enough to wreck buildings, she almost never can use her full power; in fact, her already high level actually understates her true strength.
    • Indigo is a Space Master whose power manifests as manipulating shadows. Unfortunately, the blades she can conjure with it don't have anything between 'harmlessly intangible' and 'so sharp monomolecular blades look dull'. As a result, in practice spars, all she can do is deliberately pull her strikes to create papercuts.
    • Jaune himself starts to suffer from this problem later on in the story. A lot of his stronger powers are ridiculously potent, which also means he can't use them where there is potential for collateral damage.
  • In Juxtapose, Izuku learns that he could end most of his fights in a heartbeat by deleting his opponent's vital organs. But the sheer lethality of this power clashes with his desire to become a Hero. Because of this, he prefers to use his Telescoping Staff much of the time instead.
  • In My Huntsman Academia, Izuku upgrades his weapon, Emerald Gust, to be able to fire armor-piercing slugs instead of buckshot. These slugs are powerful enough to completely vaporize the skull of an Alpha Beowolf with one hit at point-blank range. Unfortunately, they're so lethal that he ends up taking buckshot into most situations anyways since the slugs would punch right through most Human or Faunus Mooks.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic this is a common explanation for why Princess Celestia gets struck with The Worf Effect so often despite ostensibly being one of the most powerful characters in the setting: her primary job is to control the Sun, and naturally applying that to combat would cause more damage than whoever she's trying to fight.
  • In Pokémon Master, Ash and Pikachu's most powerful attack is "Dark Lightning Apocalypse", essentially an elemental nuke that destroys everything within a 1 mile radius... which is because Ash just used it once while brainwashed.
  • With Strings Attached:
    • Paul exemplifies this trope. He's Nigh-Invulnerable, super strong, able to zap things, and able to explode and disintegrate everything around him. He's also an Actual Pacifist and completely disinterested in harming anything. Of the four, he easily finds the least use for his magic. By the sequel The Keys Stand Alone, he comes to actively hate much of his power and is desperately jealous of the others. He does get some mileage out of his invulnerability and develop some useful secondary and tertiary powers, like the ability to see magic and energy, but he has little flexibility with most of his magic.
    • The others, meanwhile, could potentially be pretty lethal themselves, but their magic is far more applicable to everyday use.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Princess and the Frog: Ray the firefly takes on a pack of shadow monsters and also is critical in enabling the defeat of the buffoonish hunters. Louis the alligator is useless against both opponents, being late to one fight and running from the other.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Averted in Chronicle, where the protagonists use telekinesis in virtually every way imaginable, including infliction of lethality and destruction.
  • In Fist of Legend, Jet Li's Chen Zhen is fairly evenly matched against the Big Bad, but when Chen gets the upper hand, the Big Bad pulls out a katana... Chen then uses his belt as a weapon and ends the fight in seconds.
  • In the Harry Potter movies, nearly all spells are designed to knock your opponent back a few feet. Even the ones that weren't. This is most obvious in the second movie when Harry and Draco Malfoy duel, where both say 4 or 5 different incantations all with the same exact effect of knocking the other on his ass...
  • In How I Unleashed World War II Franek got conscripted right before the war and he's an amazingly incompetent fighter. On the other hand, he survives the entire war, visiting most of its fronts, despite being a small-time crook with zero combat training or experience. His street smarts are probably his biggest asset.
  • Mystery Men has a lot of minor powers used this way to great effect as their league of Q-list heroes foil the bad guys. The people with more traditional powers, not so much. Similarly, Dr. Heller's weapons are all non-lethal, relying more on humorous effects to incapacitate opponents. While initially rejected by the heroes (until they realize they're just as good as anything deadly), they get a lot of mileage.
  • In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, Leonardo's swords are only useful for Flynning until he can get a good kick in to finish his opponent. Occasionally he's allowed to hit someone lightly with one. In the second movie he wasn't even allowed to draw them completely (the most he gets is them half out of their scabbards in a big panoramic shot, but he puts them back and fights unarmed for no apparent reason).

  • Sherlock Holmes is a fictional example of this. He specialized in all the sciences and fields relevant to solving crimes (lethality), but purposely ignored all knowledges and skills that didn't directly help being a detective (utility) as "irrelevant". This is why Dr. Watson was indispensable to him, he had a good deal more "common knowledge" that Holmes needed.
    • Holmes also relied heavily on Watson whenever force would be needed. Several times telling him to pack his revolver or giving a gun to Watson.
      • More as a practical backup or "just in case". The books showed repeatedly that Holmes was not only a skilled fighter but also had terrific physical conditioning. In The Case of the Speckled Band, he very casually un-bent a fireplace poker that a character had previously bent as a display of strength (and then told Watson to bring his revolver, just in case it escalated past a "fireplace poker bending contest").
    • There were also cases where Watson's medical expertise became significant, since although Holmes knows everything there's to know about pathology, and so on, he doesn't always know common habits or working methods of professional doctors, which may be clues.
    • In fact, the few stories narrated by Holmes himself, with Watson absent, are those that Watson would have solved first as a doctor.
      • May be a Shout-Out to Doyle's inspiration for the character of Holmes, who was the physician responsible for the author's own medical training.
  • Played with in Animorphs: The "walking Cuisinart" species the Hork-Bajir are revealed to have evolved all of the blades on their body, which would seem to be pointless outside of being a race of foot soldiers, so that they can harvest their natural diet... tree bark.
    • It's not as stupid as it sounds. Why? Because the trees from their homeworld range up to something like half a mile wide. That'd be some crazy thick bark.
      • Not stupid at all. Look at Therizinosaurus ("Scythe Lizard") with its nasty set of foot-long sickle-shaped claws used for... eating leaves. They even look a bit like Hork-Bajir.
    • Also, the Hork-Bajir were engineered as such by some particularly Neglectful Precursors. Why? They already planted the trees and it was easier than doing the gardening themselves. Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids at its finest.
  • Covenant in The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant has problems with this law. Enough brute power to destroy the universe is not all that useful if the problem of saving the world stubbornly refuses to look like a nail.
  • For elves in the The Halfblood Chronicles, males usually have far more magical power than females, but as it turns out, weak females have a lot more control, allowing them to do a wide variety of useful things by using very little magic to alter their surroundings, like plants (food/shelter), animals (taming/control), minds (rewriting memories), themselves (minor shapeshifting), and enemies (stopping hearts). Not as flashy as giant illusions, fireballs, earthquakes, and so forth, but it gets the job done. At one point it's raining. Very inconvenient. The men all agree that it's too dangerous and draining to try to alter the weather patterns, and so they must get wet. The women alter the fabric of their hats into makeshift umbrellas and snicker at each other.
  • Bink from Xanth was thought to have no magic "talent" (and was banished because of it). Turned out he's The Magician of Magical Invulnerability (Magician being the top caliber of talents). No magic may harm him, even his own (by revealing itself directly, and making him vulnerable to non-magic attack). This gives it a near sapience. This power does not protect him from looking like a fool, since that isn't fatal.
  • In The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, the first thing your callow apprentice-magic user learns to do is light a candle through sheer concentration (and they are considered weak if this is the only thing they can do). The author sardonically notes that it's a good thing no one in the real world has this "minor" power. No character is ever shown honing the ability so that they can ignite buildings and other people at will.
  • In the Myth Adventures series by Robert Asprin, Skeeve only gets the hang of lighting the candle just before his master (casually) mentions how handy it would be during burglaries. Garkin also mentions that Skeeve could light a fire to cause a distraction; Skeeve responds he doesn't want to risk hurting anyone -just as he realizes the previous comments were a set-up. Skeeve consistently thinks about applications and hones his powers, mostly on the advice of his mentor Aahz. In the second book, he uses this power to attack his enemies with flaming arrows and to torch a military signal tower from a long distance. (In the comic book adaptation of the first book he actually sets Isstvan on fire.)
  • From Tamora Pierce:
    • Tortall Universe:
      • Numair Salmalin is one of (if not THE) most powerful mages in the world, and he has to blow out his own candles because his power is tuned so heavily to big spells that if he tries to magic it out, it explodes. He can still perform incredible feats of great utility, such as calling boulders from ten miles away to form a new wall, rearranging terrain to make more room for a refugee camp, or turning a guy into a tree, it's just mundane things that most mages take for granted that give him trouble.
      • Thom, a powerful mage, tries to put out his fireplace in Song of the Lioness. He summons a wave of seawater, soaking his rooms.
    • Circle of Magic: Tris can control weather- all of it. Only problem is that the only two commercial purposes for such power is a) improved weather for crops and b) warfare. Both would require her to destroy weather patterns world-wide, and the latter would require her to kill people, which she detests. Meanwhile, her foster siblings' "less impressive" abilities come with a great deal of Mundane Utility. Is it any wonder she wants to go and learn traditional magic?
  • In the Dragaera novels, Vlad Taltos often plays the utility guy, where his associates have usually until recently been immensely more lethal than he is. It's practically routine for him to get knocked out in the first exchange of blows/spells, yet still be the one who can think outside the box and solve the dilemma that's got Morrolan and Aliera stumped. Plus, versatility simply comes with the territory when you're a multiclassed witch/assassin/mob boss/sorcerer/smart-ass.
    • Likewise, Loiosh's venomous bite is probably the least useful of the jhereg's inherent abilities, taking a backseat to the winged reptile's flight, stealth, telepathic abilities, perceptiveness, and comic relief snarkiness.
  • In Harry Potter, just compare the results of spells such as Expelliarmus and Stupefy versus Avada Kedavra. Guess which tends to work better.
    • While the first two sure get used a lot more, the series has a pretty high body count, and most of the casualties died by Avada Kedavra. Avada Kedavra may be lethal, but unless you're 100% sure you want the target dead, it's useless.
    • Lampshaded by other characters who point out Harry's seeming preference for casting "Expelliarmus" all the time. By the end of the final book, its plot importance in the series is quite large comparable to "Avada Kedavra".
      • One doesn't have to use Expelliarmus to win the wand, they just need to beat the person in a duel. Disarming counts as besting an opponent in a duel, but so would killing them, or even just knocking them out.
    • Hermione plays this trope straight. Of the Power Trio, she appears to be the weakest fighter. Defense Against the Dark Arts (the whole point of the series) was the one O.W.L. she didn't get 100% on (Harry actually beat her there). On the other hand, Hermione outshines both Harry and Ron at, well, everything else.
  • In Brandon Sanderson's Alcatraz Series, a major plot point of the story is learning to put seemingly useless Talents to use (for example, the Talent of being late all the time can be used to arrive late for your own death). Also, swords and dragon-pulled carriages are MUCH more advanced than guns and cars!
  • The Dresden Files: Harry Dresden and his apprentice, Molly Carpenter, have this going on with their respective focuses. Harry's very good at combat magic (he admits on multiple occasions that really power, but lacks finesse), which includes massive gouts of flame, wind, and force, and he's highly skilled with magical tinkering, he'll never be any good at subtle illusion magics. Molly, on the other hand, is incredibly skilled with mind magic and veils, meaning that she's got a lot of non-combat potential... but somewhat lacking at working up the will to protect herself in battle. At one point she creates a massive-scale illusion of fog over water (which tends to negate magic) and hold it, while moving, and, in the process, seriously impresses Harry and Thomas with the sheer difficulty involved.
    • The Archive/Ivy averts this trope. She's the living embodiment of all written human knowledge and, by the expert and subtle application of magic, holds off an entire team of Denarians with finesse beyond the comprehension of Harry.
  • Both averted and played straight in Worm. While this trope applies most of the time, the worst villains may have a Kill Order placed on their heads. Against REALLY dangerous villains anything goes, including a certain amount of civilian deaths as collateral damage. This means the Inverse Law applies to villains as well. If a villain can manage to rob banks without killing anyone, they'll only have to worry about the local heroes, who won't be using lethal force, and they get multiple strikes before being shipped off to the inescapable superjail. The villains who do kill have to face heroes who aren't holding back either, including big guns coming in from out of town.
    • Lampshaded at one point by Spitfire. If your power is fireblasts you run into two kinds of opponents, people who are immune to fire, so there's no point using your power on them, and people who aren't. And if you have any compunctions about inflicting terrible death or painful disfiguring burns, you really can't use your power on them. Of course, this is the same interlude where we see what an unfettered pyrokinetic can really do, so it seems morality and a reluctance to hurt people are definite limiters.
  • In The Wheel of Time, balefire is the ultimate offensive technique. As a beam of light, it's nigh-impossible to dodge, and cannot be blocked until an 11th-Hour Superpower moment in the last book; anything touched by the beam is not only instantly destroyed, but ceases to exist retroactively from the moment of contact. The resulting causality snarl is not just headache-inducing to the reader, it can actually cause reality to unravel if overused. Balefire is so tremendously dangerous that few characters dare attempt to use it, and those that do nearly always miss, except in the finale of a climactic battle.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Heroes:
    • Maya has a particularly bad case of Bad Powers, Good People: the ability to make everyone around her faint, then die. That said, she subverts this trope and uses the power quite frequently to great effect thanks to her brother helping "cure" those afflicted before they die. Once she could do it solo though, she almost took down the unbelievably resilient Magnificent Bastard Sylar.
    • On the other hand, Sylar's power is the ability to intuitively understand how things work. That doesn't sound so amazing until Sylar figures out he can use it to learn other people's superpowers, making him one of the most powerful people in the world. He also demonstrates far more control over his powers than even their original owners (and Peter). Sylar's heavy use of telekinesis both averts and supports this, depending on the plot. It's a tremendously versatile power, good for everything from opening locks to stopping bullets to sawing off heads, but he has an amazing talent for not killing main characters, considering that he's a homicidal psychopath who can kill you by wishing it.
    • The show also developed the inverse law of utility and special effects cost. This is why you only see Nathan soar across the sky once, while Micah repeatedly took control of machines — much easier to shoot. Greg Grunberg (playing Matt Parkman) said his character had "the power of leaning" since that was the only thing he had to do to read minds. Not coincidentally, it saw plenty of use.
  • Danny Farrell in The 4400 develops an ability that kills fifty perfect of the people he's within talking distance to and gives a unique magical ability to each of the remaining fifty. When he doesn't get to do that, the promicin (a fictional neurotransmitter in the show) builds up inside his body and causes him discomfort and eventually death. He begs his brother to kill him to put an end to his misery, which his brother eventually reluctantly accepts doing.

    Tabletop Games 
  • A Shadowrun Decker is incredibly useful whenever faced with a problematic computer system, but generally finds it hard to kill things without other tools. On the other hand, adepts and more militarily-focused characters are quite good at killing things, but will usually find said abilities less than useful when the prebuilt campaign assumes some non-combat personnel.
  • Unknown Armies features "skill penumbras", meaning that every skill - most of which are custom-made by the players - has a substantial number of uses. e.g. a player's Cap In Your Ass skill is used not only for gunfights but also for weapon maintenance and accessing the black market, depending on how much the GM is willing to let them get away with. On the flip side, this also means that players can use skills like Crazy Driver to attack. Additionally, high skills usually imply a measure of fame in a particular area, meaning that, for instance, a player with a skill of 55% in Jeet Kune Do would probably be well-known in the martial-arts circuit.
    • And despite this status, he would still have a 45% chance of failing at any Jeet Kune Do, and a 4% chance of screwing up bad enough to cause serious injury or death. Gotta love the Percentile System.
      • The actual skill percentage represents how good you are at that skill while under extreme duress. As in, other people are trying to kill you and the environment isn't much more friendly. So that's a 55% chance to succeed in a very bad situation. When it comes to practice or formalized competitions, your effective skill is going to be much, much higher and can be performed very easily, meaning a 55% skill is extremely impressive.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! has several cards that fit the bill. To name a few:
    • Treeborn Frog. It's a 100 ATK (and DEF) monster that sucks amazingly in its native theme (Frogs), but when you control no Spells or Traps (hence why he sucks with Frogs, they love their Wetlands) you get to bring him back from the dead. Especially useful when you run a Monarch Deck, where Monarchs need an easy piece of tribute fodder to allow them to fire off their effects.
    • Emissary from Pandemonium, who embodies this trope by being a Level 7 Tuner Monster. Tuners, to say it simply, combine with one or more other monsters to form a Synchro Monster whose level EQUALS that of the combined monsters EXACTLY. Meaning that to summon a Level 8 Synchro Monster... yeah. However, by summoning him with ONE Tribute instead of two and halving his ATK and DEF, you drop him down to Level 5, which is a lot more usable.
    • Winged Kuriboh. He's an adorable little fuzzball with low ATK and DEF, who will protect your Life Points during the turn that he bites the dust. However, he also happens to have TWO Super Modes, LV9 and LV10, which live up to the term 'Super Mode.'
    • Sasuke Samurai. He's from a Konami game, and he's arguably the worst thing a guy on the defensive can run into short of Neo-Spacian Grand Mole — mainly because his 300 ATK is offset by being able to instantly kill face-down defense position monsters — face-down being the default position for a defense position monster, this presents a problem.
    • Neo-Spacian Grand Mole, a 900 ATK monster (in a game where anything short of 1000 is arguably weak, hence most of the previous entries) with an uncanny effect. Whenever he battles something, both he and his opponent are returned to their owner's hand. This means that anything in your path is effectively null and void if you can keep getting your Grand Mole out to do battle with it. Bonus points (and usually an easy win) if you have a solid attacker on your field and are using Grand Mole to remove the only defending monster your opponent controls from said solid attacker's path (needless to say, this tactic has been run into the ground, and is the reason why you can only have ONE of Grand Mole in a given deck).
    • Neko Mane King fits this trope to a T. With a combined ATK and DEF of zero, you'd think it's completely useless... yet, if your opponent sends it to the Graveyard by any kind of card effect (destroying it on the field, discarding it from your hand, milling it off the top of your deck), their turn ends right then and there. Lucky Cat + Brick Wall = This.
    • On the "Lethality" side of this scale, we have the infamous Blue-Eyes White Dragon, which serves no other purpose than to be pure, unbridled beatstick... especially if you upgrade to the Blue-Eyes Ultimate Dragon, which is a fusion of three of these things whose firepower is only matched by 2 monsters in the whole game... one of whom, Master Dragon Knight, is a further fusion of this monster and Black Luster Soldier (who, on his own, is Blue-Eyes White Dragon with a sword and shield). So yeah, Blue-Eyes goes from boom to bigger boom to even bigger boom.
      • Brought to an unprecedented awesome when you find the series of supporter cards specifically MADE to back up the Blue Eyes. The theme deck that centers around the Blue Eyes is a prime example. Paladin of the White Dragon can be freely tributed at the time of its summoning to bring forth a FREE Blue Eyes White Dragon into battle, Kaibaman with the same effect with no strings attached, White Stone of Destruction to add a Blue-Eyes to your hand and with the setup, it can easily be a free trip to unloading all three on your side of the field as much as possible. And Burst Stream of Destruction lets your Blue-Eyes destroy all active enemy monsters, at the expense of merely giving up its attack for one turn. (And nothing says you can't have another monster do a direct attack to the opponent's life points afterward, just as long as it's not a Blue-Eyes.) Kaiba was also quick to make his signature combo the Ultimate dragon split which means that on direct attack, it can deal 13500 direct damage to any player, a one-turn kill.
  • Depending on "culture rating," the Ravenloft campaign setting allows some sixteenth and seventeenth-century firearms to evoke a Gothic Horror atmosphere, but makes sure Guns Are Worthless and unreliable so that the Dungeons & Dragons High Fantasy battle system isn't reduced to Anachronism Stew by Game-Breaker Firearms.
  • Call of Cthulhu has a wide variety of skills, from Library Use and Credit Rating to Machine Gun and Pilot (plane). Guess which ones prove more useful.
    • By and large, that is in keeping with how most Lovecraftian protagonists get by, although a dismaying number of them do end up dead or insane, so following in their footsteps may not be the best default.
  • Newbie players of Paranoia probably think "Machine Empathy" is an awesome mutation to get. Veteran players ask for a spare character sheet so they can get started on their next character ahead of time, as being found out as a Machine Empath leaves you massively crippled, having only one body, instead of six extras other players have.
  • In the Warhammer 40k roleplaying game Rogue Trader this can happen to the mighty Astropath psykers and the mighty Navigator mutants, these characters suffer during space battles where they tend to just wait.
  • Exalted plays with this trope, as social interaction is actually played out as a form of combat - and characters who are skilled at "social warfare" can do things up to and including destroying and/or converting armies by talking to them. Simple brainwashing is one of the most basic abilities of a social Exalt...
  • Feng Shui mostly ignores this, as the characters should at all times either be in a fight or getting set up for the next fight scene, and they should never be unable to advance the plot due to a lack of non-combat skills. It does turn up in the rules for Sorcery under the Blast shtick, detailing the varying forms "hurt somebody with magic" can take, along with the other things that Blast can do. Lightning can recharge car batteries, Steam open envelopes or fog glass, and so on. Then there's Transmutation of one substance to another, with the note that any attempt to produce stone, water, or so on to use won't work: "It's only good for hurting people and wrecking stuff." Which is almost an inversion.
  • Risus allows players to use any skill ("cliche") for combat, even if it makes no sense. Cliches are also as broad as in Unknown Armies, so a simple pick of Northlands Barbarian would include combat, arctic survival, tribal heraldry, camp cooking, etc., etc., etc.
    • The earlier Ghostbusters worked much the same way, though it added attributes to the system.
  • The many crippling issues of big, powerful creatures in ''Magic: The Gathering used to make them this, especially in the earlier phases of that game's existence, where such creatures usually took an ungodly amount of resources to get to the table, could still easily get killed, countered, exiled, etc. by any number of spells with a much lower cost, and to make matters worse, often had devastating drawback abilities, just in case they were still a little bit too playable! Power Creep has since set in, and nowadays many of these creatures have ways to get around their high casting costs early, protections against some of the means to easily body them, and no drawbacks. Even still, of the cards famed for bending the game over its knee and making it cry uncle, the cards whispered of in legends, almost none have damage as a main focus. An inordinate amount of them also happen to be in Blue, a color focused almost entirely on utility and control.Note  Even today, some of the most powerful competitive decks tend to be not flashy decks with big creatures and explosive spells, but control decks that have layers upon layers of countermeasures to shut down anything you might hope to throw against them. Tremendously effective, and mind-numbingly boring to play against.

  • Any attack that actually damages the titular character in Destroy the Godmodder is guaranteed to be useless otherwise. Unless it's so awesome that the GM cannot find a way to block it.

    Video Games 
  • Guards in the Metal Gear series tend to raise the alarm upon seeing dead bodies or hearing gunshots. Guards that were knocked unconscious by being punched out, thrown, or what have you, will also call an alert. Guards that were simply put to sleep with the tranquilizer gun (Metal Gear Solid 2 onward) will only raise an eyebrow if another soldier finds them on their patrol, whereupon they will simply wake their sleeping buddy up and be on their way. This makes the tranquilizer gun with built-in silencer the most useful weapon in the game.
    • Interestingly, a shot to the limb with a regular gun will, rather obviously, immediately raise suspicion even if they can't see who shot them, but a tranquilizer dart to the limb generally won't make them act any differently, short of catching sight of you when they look in the direction the dart came from, until it takes effect and they fall asleep a few seconds later. Same for headshots, where a regular pistol is messy and makes it immediately obvious to anyone nearby that they just saw someone die, but a tranquilizer to the face will simply have them wonder why their buddy suffered a random bout of narcolepsy, kick him awake, and shrug it off.
    • Alternatively, if your aim is good enough, you can shoot out a guard's radio, even with the tranquilizer pistol, which works really well at isolating them... at least until the game decides that it hasn't heard from a particular goon on schedule, or the guard tries to check in and realizes his radio stopped working, at which point he heads for the nearest guard with a working radio to check in and send you into caution mode.
  • This is acknowledged in the Thief games, in which gas arrows, which release silent knockout gas, are among the best weapons available in the game. While Thief guards do not distinguish between dead and unconscious bodies and raise the alarm either way, gas arrows require no sneaking-up-close, work even on alerted opponents, and cause a silent faint while ordinary arrows cause screaming and bloodstains. Some missions also forbid lethal force.
  • The MMORPG City of Heroes allows you to "arrest" villains by beating them into a pulp, slashing them with swords, freezing them, blasting them with radiation, shooting them with bullets and arrows, or plain setting them on fire. Amusingly, civilians are utterly immune to splash damage from these battles in the streets which makes one wonder just why they need to be protected in the first place.
  • Touhou Project has Yuyuko Saigyouji, with the ability to kill anything simply by inviting it to its death (actually "control of death", but it mainly manifests this way). Perhaps the ultimate example of this trope, as it is absolutely lethal and almost completely useless, especially when compared to other characters, and she doesn't even use it that much (in fact when she first discovered she possessed the ability, she killed herself due to her fear of it). The one time in the games she even considers using it just supports this trope further, as it was against a character who couldn't die.
  • Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II gives the player the option to turn to the Dark Side and gain damage-dealing force powers, or to stay on the Light Side and gain defensive and healing powers. The Dark Side powers don't actually deal that much damage, and the player already has a lightsaber and 9 guns. Therefore the Light Side powers are actually far more useful, giving you much greater utility at deflecting or healing up from damage without having to worry about how limited the level's health and armor pickups might be. Later games in the series balanced it out somewhat, boosting the damage of dark side powers (while removing the inability to use powers outside your alignment, at least in singleplayer) and giving a few Dark Side utility moves, though it's still overall better to focus on the offensive Dark Side powers over the utility Dark Side powers since they tend to have various drawbacks that their Light Side equivalents don't (Rage makes you completely invulnerable, but saps your health anyway; Drain heals you up, but is slower and more unwieldy than Heal since you need another enemy to drain from)
  • Certain attacks in the Pokémon games will be this. Mostly, the one-hit KO moves, which will ignore defense and always take whatever it hits down in one hit, but only have an accuracy of 30%, when an accuracy of 70% is considered low.
    • Averted with the Surf and Fly HMs, which are strong moves for their respective types while also being very useful out of battle. With the additional advantage that HMs can be taught over and over again, which wasn't possible with TMs until Gen V, they are very common moves to see in teams.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link: The "Thunder" spell severely damages all enemies on screen instantly, but sucks up almost all of your magic. Even when you're completely leveled up and have all the magic containers, it still uses half of them. The mid-boss just before the final boss in the Great Palace requires you to use the Thunder spell to make it vulnerable to your other methods of attack. Given how long the last level is, and how hard the enemies are, it's entirely possible that you'll reach the fight without the magic necessary to effectively do anything. Then again, smart players will find a red potion (full magic) hidden just around the corner before the boss.
    • The Mortal Blow Hidden Skill in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. If used properly, it is a One-Hit Kill against any unlucky mook. However, Link can't even hold his shield while preparing for it. The Ending Blow, which finished downed enemies, on the other hand, is one of the most useful Hidden Skills, and the first one Link learns.
  • Most RPGs have this built in: the more powerful (and flashy) attacks cost more mana.
  • In fighting games, your character's Limit Break super attack can only be used after certain requirements are met (usually filling some sort of meter), and then can't be used again until said meter is refilled again.
    • Grab and grapple specials and super moves tend to be stronger than other specials and, on average, look more impressive. However, they usually have harder inputs and can only be done when your opponent is standing next to you, which can be very hard to predict and leave you wide open.
  • Street Fighter has interesting examples beyond the usuals for fighting games: Akuma's Shun Goku Satsu seems very practical - fast-moving, fullscreen attack, can't be blocked and extremely powerful to boot - but it requires an extended and iconic input sequence that at tournament levels can be recognised and dodged easily before it is completed.
    • On the other side of this trope, Ultras like Dhalsim's Yoga Catastrophe and Rose's Soul Satellite create slow-moving balls of damaging energy - very good for comboing, but... it's just a slow-moving ball of energy, in a series whose best-known attack is the Hadoken.
  • Modern RPGs tend to have failsafes built into the mechanics to ensure that if you specialise in lobbing balls of explodium into rooms and try it on something valuable, all you'll get out of the treasure chests is damaged garbage. However, the original Neverwinter Nights averted this, allowing powerful area of effect spells to be used to destroy almost all objects unless specifically (and usually plot related) flagged as indestructible. Room full of boxes you can't be bothered to search through individually to see if they have anything valuable? Fireball and collect the loot. Locked doors and a low lockpicking skill? Fireball. Intricate traps involving destroyable chess pieces on a giant board? Fireball. When all you have is a load of Fireball spells, everything starts to look like a pack of goblin warriors.
  • Golden Sun usually has the Wind Adepts being the utility aspect of the party, their base skills can involve mind reading, clearing grass and shrubs to clear a passageway, and finding hidden passageways and items atop buffing and debuffing, they do have some offensive skills but they aren't as powerful compared to the other Adepts Elements.
  • Kingdom Hearts II introduces the Drive Form mechanic, which allows Sora to temporarily absorb one or both party members to dramatically increase his combat abilities. While the drive forms by themselves aren't this trope, the hidden Anti-Form mechanic, which the developers included to punish players for abusing them, makes them this trope. Anti-Form is a drive form that Sora goes into randomly which has a whole smorgasbord of drawbacks that usually culminate in certain death on higher difficulties. The likelihood of entering Anti-Form increases every few times a Drive Form is entered, and the odds are doubled or possibly even quintupled against bosses. Ultimately subverted with Final Form, which is not only the most powerful drive form and cannot trigger anti-form when used, it decreases the likelihood of entering anti-form with each use.
  • Explosive weapons tend to fall under this for one of the following reasons:
    • For balance reasons, they're either rare to find or ammo is in short supply
    • If the game has destructible environments, you might want to be careful about what shoot at in case you blow up something important.
    • If friendly fire is enabled and everyone is in the thick of things, you could blow up your teammates.
    • Obviously in stealth games, blowing things up will give away your position if not alert the enemies that there's an intruder.

  • In Grrl Power, Maxima is the strongest known super, and Dabbler is one of only two people who have ever fought her to a standstill. And yet, in the comic's first battle, Dabbler spends a lot of time hung up on a single, rather weak opponent. While this was partly because she was screwing around too much, it's also because her arsenal was "still geared for lethal takedowns", which made her somewhat useless in a battle that they were aiming to resolve non-lethally.
  • Lampshaded in Jump Leads, where Diabolical Mastermind Donald Grey equips his mooks with non-lethal weapons.
    General Donald Grey: You know, there is one nice side effect of my guards using tranquiliser darts: they seem to be less likely to miss their targets. Probably something to do with the value of human life.
  • Inverted in the Magical Mina sub-series of Tsunami Channel. Mina's sword magic and wind magic were designed for combat, and she enjoys using them that way, but she'll also cheerfully use her sword magic to instantly slice an apple into many neat pieces, and her wind magic to dry her hair.
  • Subverted in Homestuck. John's god-tier abilities prove to be extremely useful in combat, and he can even use the power of wind to make a massive wind drill to dig into the center of the Battlefield. He also can mask his scent when Grimbark Jade comes after him with the intent to kill.
    • Dave's god tier abilities give him the ability to travel through time, which allows him to fight as several versions of himself against enemies. He also uses it to completely break the rules of the LOHAC stock market and give himself all of the money.
    • Jade also subverts the trope with her space powers. She can teleport herself and enemies, change the size of objects, and manipulate objects using telekinesis. It grants her plenty of use outside of battle, especially in the events of Cascade, where she carried all four planets and the Battlefield in her hands.
  • Actually taken advantage of in this Magellan comic. During a superpower combat exercise, a firebreathing cadet gives the protagonist a warning shot. The protagonist's ally points out that since her blasts are liable to kill the Badass Normal protagonist, she can't actually use her powers for anything other than warning shots.
  • Firedrake from PS238 is a powerful pyrokinetic, which is less useful than you'd think for a superhero who generally wants to avoid collateral damage and manslaughter charges. Firedrake knows this, and his role in his superhero team is mostly to fly around and look like a big flashy target (complete with a big mouth so he annoys his opponents into focusing on him) while his less-lethal team-mates subdue the bad guys.
  • In The Order of the Stick Vaarsuvius is an evoker (specializing in a school of magic that deals direct elemental damage) which means that in a battle they can slaughter masses of mooks. As their barred schools, however, they took necromancy and conjuration which contain some of the most useful spells outside combat - especially teleportation which would have solved plenty of the Order's problems. (In their defense, they took their barred schools in D&D 3.0 when teleportation was in the transmutation school. It's not their fault that the spell got moved to conjuration when the world upgraded to 3.5 in the first strip.)

    Web Original 
  • Painfully obvious in the idealism of The Descendants. Vorpal, a fan of Lewis Carroll whose power is precisely what you'd expect from someone who says "snicker-snack" when using them, only gets to use the power twice 'on-screen' so far (and not particularly successfully). Nightshade and Morganna have roughly similar issues. Zero is a lot less effective against humans than demons or inugami, since freezing people in a block of frozen oxygen apparently isn't fair. Chaos's non-lethal air concentration control gets much, much more mileage, as does Occult's wide variety of shields. Kareem's astral sight seems like it'd be useless in a fight, as the man can not even see or exist on the physical plane like everyone else until very recently, but is the default way to take down the most invulnerable bad guys.
  • Whateley Universe:
    • Tennyo has some extremely powerful abilities, making her a Person of Mass Destruction. But she can't use those high-level abilities without risking killing innocent bystanders, turning the area into an irradiated disaster area, or ripping a hole in space-time. Oops.
    • Gotterdammerung is one of the more teased/bullied students because he doesn't fight back. What's his power? Disintegration — only with little to no fine control over just what he disintegrates, so against people, it's either kill or do nothing. (He gets a bit better after managing to save some lives without having to kill anyone to do so during the Halloween attack of all times.)
  • Averted in Prolecto. A lot of characters have deadly powers...which is why all the villains tend to be capable of healing from them. The most egregious is the Succubi's blades...which another Succubi can easily regenerate from.

    Web Videos 
  • The Freeze Ray of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog doesn't fare too well, but the simple fact that Horrible is willing to fire it on his nemesis makes it a lot better at its intended task than, say, the Death Ray. Admittedly the latter does kill someone...

    Western Animation 
  • The Elemental Powers in Avatar: The Last Airbender have lots of Mundane Utility. Earthbending can be used for commerce, construction, augmented mobility over earth at high levels, and cheap public transportation. Airbending has a good deal of combat evading uses and a few others, allows for godly mobility, and being amazingly non-lethal allows Aang to waltz around opponents. Waterbending can subdue opponents nonlethally, do anything Earthbending can using ice, heal, and at high levels attain strong mobility when in water. Outside of combat, Firebending, at least according to Jeong Jeong, is really only useful for keeping warm, cooking food, processing steel, and destruction.
    • However, in The Legend of Korra, firebending does turn out to have one incredibly useful peaceful function: electricity generation. Republic City employs hundreds of fire-benders to lightning bend, powering the city. We also discover that it can be used to "read" a person's chi, and discover sources of illness.
    • This trope is also present with Sokka. In the first two series, he hit a fair few people with his club and boomerang (which is bladed or not depending on what it hits). However, he never managed to hit anyone with his knife or the sword, unless he was cutting through a ballista.
  • Wheeler from Captain Planet suffered from this trope pretty often. You'd think the ability to incinerate anything would come in useful when fighting beings of pure, motiveless, and unadulterated evil, but for some reason that just didn't take off on a kid's show. The most powerful member was probably Ma-ti, with no offensive abilities at all but support powers including talking with animals and full mind control.
  • Watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles some time. Donny and Michelangelo seem to be the only ones allowed to actually hit anyone with their weapons unless they're fighting robots. Hence, in the 1987 cartoon series, the Foot soldiers are clearly robots.
    • The 2007 movie averts this: although there's no blood or anything, it's fairly clear that Leonardo, Raphael, and April are hitting Foot Ninjas with their swords.
    • Holds true in the 2003 series as well, although it's made apparent that Leo and Raph are deliberately holding back to avoid killing anyone. For example, in Turtles Forever, when the 1987 and 2003 turtles fight a group of Foot Clan robots, 2003 Raphael wrestles a robot until he's told it isn't human, at which point he stabs it through the head with his dagger, yelling "I love fighting robots!".
    • The original comic books featured a lot more brutality. The Turtles were constantly covered in scars, and they actually killed Foot with their weapons and decapitated Saki.
  • In the mid-'90s X-Men: The Animated Series cartoon, Wolverine was never allowed to slash anything that would bleed, while Jubilee could shoot fireworks at anyone. Gambit never threw his cards directly at people, instead throwing them nearby so the force of explosion would knock them down.
    • In one episode of Wolverine and the X-Men (2009), an enraged Wolverine, battling his Arch-Enemy Sabretooth to protect a little girl, pops his claws ... and uses them to slice off a tree branch he could use as a club.
  • The first time Batman meets Scarecrow in Batman: The Animated Series, Batman turns his back on Scarecrow to deal with his goons and Scarecrow pulls out a gun and shoots Batman in the neck. It seems entirely a matter of luck that it was loaded with a dart full of nightmare toxin instead of something crazy like bullets. Which actually makes sense, considering the Scarecow's MO.
  • Another Batman example, in the Batman Beyond episode "April Moon", Terry is up against three villains who fight with deadly prosthetic limbs: one whips metal tentacles from his wrists, one can encase himself in powered armour and one has chainsaws on his elbows and knees. Guess which of the three goes down without landing a single hit on the bat. Granted, the placement of the chainsaws makes their use in combat awkward at best — Kneejerk's primary function seemed to be slicing open safes and vault doors.
  • Samurai Jack only uses his sword against robots and occasionally an enemy holding a sword. This is likely because Jack is a Martial Pacifist and doesn't want to kill anyone except Aku. However, many of these "robots" look and act exactly like organic beings, to the point of patronizing bars/restaurants. Even the wild animals proved to be robots, suggesting that the "robot" conceit is just a way to squeak the show past the gore police. A lot of them sprayed oil from their wounds in an obvious blood parallel.
    • Shockingly averted in Season 5, where thanks to the TV-14 rating Jack kills for the first time in his life, slicing the throat of one of the Daughters of Aku. The end builds this as a Despair Event Horizon...and the next episode involves him downright javelining another two, stabbing a third, and punching another one so hard it twists her neck. He throws the last two down a cliff, but Jack himself falls after them, showing it to be a survivable fall. But even if they survived, they’re both Ret-Gone once Jack kills Aku in the past.
  • In Teen Titans, Beast Boy never gets to bite anyone while in T-Rex form. He does do a lot of trampling and charging around as a rhino or other animal, but his no-holds-barred form is oddly ineffective.
  • Chat Noir from Miraculous Ladybug holds the Miraculous of Destruction, which lets him destroy anything with a touch. Against most enemies, this power would make for an easy victory, but he and his partner are fighting the akumas: innocent civilians mind-controlled by the villainous Hawkmoth. Cat still gets a lot of mileage out of his power, but it's a fraction of what he could do against most enemies. In turn, Ladybug's powers are a magical Reset Button and the Lucky Charm which produces the most bizarre and mundane objects (and never lethal) for her to use in battle. The Reset Button is what keeps the show in a G-rating (the villains wreak a lot of havoc) while the Lucky Charm is almost always the key to defeat them — through convoluted plans or hinting at when and who ally needs to join the battle.
    • The other Miraculi also suffer from this to an extent. For instance, the Fox's power Mirage creates vivid illusions of about anything, and the Snake's power Second Chance grants a saving point that can be reminded as much as needed. Ladybug has used the former to throw off people from her trail (an illusion of her secret identity to appear along her heroic alter ego) and Chat Noir has used the latter to outwit the akumatized Miraculous users.
    • Subverted with the Dragon Miraculous which lent three elemental powers (wind, lightning, and water) and is arguably second to the Black Cat Miraculous in raw power but far more versatile.
  • Celestia and Luna in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic controls the sun and moon respectively, but are generally not very useful in combat. The reasoning can easily be chalked up to giant celestial objects being extremely impractical in combat, not to mention the immense damage it would cause if they were to actually bring said objects down on the world.

    Real Life 
  • Nuclear weapons. Not one has been fired in war since 1945, and they mostly sit around gathering dust and quietly persuading other parties not to try to use theirs. Units whose primary function is to employ nuclear weapons generally sit out of any conflict that actually brews up, and need to be protected at great effort. Conventional weapons, by contrast, are much less powerful... and are actually useful in a fight that falls short of World War III.
    • A bolt-from-the-blue attack was generally discounted. Their primary purpose was to deter a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. The perceived importance of tactical nuclear weapons is usually underestimated.
  • Personal weapons designed specifically for killing tend to be more limited in their utility. A sword or stiletto is great for stabbing, but can't be put to other types work the same way an axe, machete or broad-bladed knife can. Meanwhile, a good rifle or shotgun with a big enough chambering has the extra range and power to make it far more useful for hunting game compared to a compact handgun.note 
  • The submachine gun or machine pistol combines the high fire rate of the machine gun with the portability of a pistol to produce an infantry weapon that's brutally effective in trench warfare, Urban Warfare, and similar scenarios. But the submachine gun also combines the weaknesses of its two ancestors: it has the machine gun's high ammo consumption and the pistol's short effective range. As a consequence, the submachine gun is of limited use in open-ground fighting, and none at all at long range. When the assault rifle was developed after World War 2, combining the automatic-fire capability of the submachine gun with the longer reach and higher accuracy of the infantry rifle, submachine guns became niche weapons, now used only by some Special Forces units.