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Mook Depletion

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"If you keep disposing of your men, Sir, you won't have any left."

Sometimes, a villain's biggest problem is that his forces are diminished to the point where they can't stand up to the hero. Sometimes this is simply because The Hero is such a badass that their tactics and training don't help the mooks one iota. Other times, the minions are idiots who can't hit the broad side of a barn but end up being good targets themselves.

Most often, however, it's a side effect of the villain's own mishandling of their subordinates, such as Shoot the Messenger, You Have Outlived Your Usefulness, Zerg Rush, Forgot to Feed the Monster, Fed to the Beast, You Have Failed Me, We Have Reserves, or just plain It Amused Me and For the Evulz. The villain may think We Have Reserves each time he kills someone, only to find out in the end he used his reserves up. Usually the villain has a terrible case of Genre Blindness to allow this to happen. Extremely idiotic villains may even do this to their Elite Mooks or maybe even their generals, thus diminishing their best forces against the heroes, especially if one of them was actually his strongest warrior and the only one the heroes were never able to defeat. In some cases, the villain does this to his entire army in one shot.

Making this even worse is the fact that usually when the one minion who knows where this habit is going to lead tries to point it out to their boss, they are likely the next one to be offed.

The depletion can also result from a case of Screw This, I'm Out of Here! which stems from the Mooks having enough of the Bad Boss routine or because they're not getting enough pay, if they're getting any at all. Alternatively, the Big Bad may simply be cut off from reinforcements and lack the means to get them to help.

This trope also applies when a villain is too stupid to leave behind a platoon of guards when he sends his men into battle, thus leaving his base vulnerable to direct attacks.

Usually, if it comes to this, the villain will decide to take a Last Villain Stand and face the heroes himself. Of course, in the event the villain is a One-Man Army, losing all his minions won't really be a problem for him. Then again, Surprisingly Realistic Outcome can and will play out as the heroes, through sheer determination and teamwork, easily overwhelm the villain.

Pretty much Laser-Guided Karma for Bad Bosses. Villains who are pragmatic tend to avoid this. Can be prevented if the villain has a Mook Maker, unless it is destroyed by the heroes, or Night of the Living Mooks if the villain's minions are undead. See also Critical Staffing Shortage for organizations that were originally bigger. Shoot the Builder can be a similar situation wherein the villain kills the henchman in charge of building his superweapon after the device is complete, only to find out that they should've kept their services after the weapon is destroyed. Compare Always Need What You Gave Up. Contrast Can't Kill You, Still Need You. See Conservation of Ninjutsu and Quality over Quantity if the minions become more of a threat as their numbers decrease, especially if Kill One, Others Get Stronger is involved. May lead to Evil Will Fail.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Happens to Light Yagami at the end of Death Note, after he betrays and screws over most of his other pawns. Once Teru Mikami loses faith in him and Ryuk decides he's bored, Light is left with no one to help him when his identity as Kira finally gets exposed.
    Light: What happened to Misa?! What about Takada?! S-somebody...
  • Dragon Ball has this as a recurring occurrence for Frieza's Planet Trade Organization:
  • In Lord Marksman and Vanadis, Duke Ganelon has Roland framed for treason and executed after the latter loses the war against the Silver Meteor Army, much to Duke Thenardier's fury as he was one of Brune's strongest generals. Ganelon replies that he didn't give a damn.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: The opening salvoes of the One Year War saw half of the entire human population wiped out, meaning both the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon faced a severe manpower shortage. This is the justification for why neither side bats an eye at enlisting young teenagers into their militaries; there just aren't enough adults to fill the ranks any more. In the first episode, the Zeon war hero Char Aznable is sent to raid a Federation base where a secret weapons program is underway that could turn the tide of the war; he is given exactly three soldiers to do this, not including himself.
  • SSSS.DYNɅZENON has one of the villains bring this up as a potential concern near the end of the show when another tries to console him about another failed attempt to take over the world by saying there's always next time. Sure enough, within another few episodes their supply of kaiju is completely exhausted, and the penultimate episode is about the villains trying and failing to deal with the fact that there is no next time.

    Comic Books 
  • Parodied in Les Innommables: Colonel Lychee, the dog-man and a random sailor go ashore to bury some valuable bones. The Colonel shoots the sailor, and tells the angry-looking dog-man that this way they won't have to worry about the sailor blabbing. The dog-man then tells him that they could just as easily have killed him onboard their ship, now they'll have to row themselves back.
  • In the last arc of Preacher, Herr Starr won't stop at anything to kill Jesse Custer once and for all. He decided to call the remaining forces of The Grail to aid him. This consisted of two dozen or so of men. The rest were either dead or simply didn't answer the call.
  • Near the end of The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank two of Ma Gnucci's enforcers have found out where The Punisher is hiding out while he recovers from recent injuries. They suggest sending a team to kill him, only for Ma Gnucci to inform them that Frank's killed over 80 of her soldiers and she barely has enough left to guard her house. Instead, she contacts a notorious mercenary named "The Russian" to deal with him. When Frank shows up at Ma Gnucci's house holding The Russian's decapitated head, her remaining goons all drop their guns and walk away, leaving Ma to face Frank's wrath alone.

    Fan Works 
  • All Assorted Animorphs AUs: Towards the end of "What if Jake was stuck in morph?", Arbron gives Jake the idea to allow Yeerks and Taxxons to become nothlits en masse so they can leave the war, freeing human and Hork-Bajir hosts in the process. The Yeerk forces on Earth dwindle so much that they struggle to recruit more human hosts, until it ends with a peaceful surrender and almost no casualties besides Visser Three.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Supergirl crossover The Vampire of Steel, Vladislav kills so many lackeys he has almost run out of them when Supergirl and Buffy move in on him.
  • The Weaver Option:
    • One of the issues plaguing the Dynasts during the razing of Commorragh is that they keep executing any commanders whose forces are defeated. This prevents the development of a coherent response to the Imperial forces as each new commander tries a different strategy before meeting their demise. It eventually reaches the point that a new leader can't be assigned before the unit is overrun.
    • Messengers bringing bad news to the Dynasts get murdered as a result, but one Dynast eventually lets them live simply because he's running low on capable messengers.
  • Justified in Hellsister Trilogy arc "The Apokolips Agenda". Darkseid puts together a massive, veritable army of super-villains and sends all of them against the heroes, with the result that there's nobody standing between him and the main characters after they have fought their way through his forces. Nonetheless, his army's purpose wasn't to beat the heroes but delay them while he fullfilled his plans...which he did.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Batman Returns by the time Batman makes a direct assault on the Penguin's lair, his Red Triangle Circus Gang has been depleted to just the Poodle Lady, the Thin Clown and several acrobats who then promptly run for it.
  • In The Ten Commandments (1956), Pharaoh Ramses sends his entire army after Moses and the departing Israelites only to be told that they were all killed when the Red Sea parted, and then un-parted. The final shot of the Pharaoh is on his throne, silently contemplating how he can rule his country with no army to back him up. In this case it happens because the opponent's might (God's) is such that it wipes out the Pharaoh's entire army in one swift strike.
  • Seven Samurai is this trope for the entirety of Acts III-V. The eponymous samurai learn approximately 40 bandits will attack the town they are defending come harvest time. They spend time Training the Peaceful Villagers, staging raids on sleeping bandits, creating fortifications and traps, picking off the problematic bandits with muskets (the bandits have muskets, making them very dangerous to the samurai), and so on in order to deplete the bandits. Kambei, the oldest and wisest of the samurai, even says "We must reduce them," in the English subtitles.
  • Solo: During the climax, Dreydan's enforcers ambush the Cloud-Raiders, based on the info of Han's plan Beckett told him. Turns out that Han expected Beckett to double-cross him and it was actually a Batman Gambit by Han for the Raiders to ambush the enforcers. After Dreydan's minions are slaughtered, Han jokes that he hopes that Dreydan didn't dispatch his entire team of enforcers, otherwise he'll be shorthanded.
  • Discussed in Live Free or Die Hard, McClane taunts Thomas Gabriel that by this point he must be running out of men to use.
  • Moonraker features an interesting scene where Drax loses his Dragon, and then calls someone trying to get a new one; he gets Jaws. While who Drax was calling is unclear, considering Jaws is a Professional Killer, it seems that someone in the Bond world supplies villains with henchmen.
  • This is what causes Adolf Hitler's memetic Villainous Breakdown in Downfall: Hitler orders Felix Steiner to launch a counterattack against the invading Soviets, but Steiner couldn't muster enough men. This triggers Hitler's meltdown, leading him to realize the war was lost.
  • Wonder Woman (2017) features an example that happened in real life; as World War I begins going south for Germany, the German High Command decide to pursue an armistice because they're starting to lose troops and resources faster than they can replenish them. Unlike in real life, General Ludendorff is so insane and bloodthirsty that he legitimately doesn't care and murders all his fellow generals to prevent the armistice.
  • The Book of Eli: Carnegie manages to get his hands on the Bible, but in the process loses so many men that he loses control of the town. Also the Bible is in Braille, the only person in town who can read Braille refuses to do so and Carnegie has a infected leg wound that will most likely kill him soon.
  • At the start of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, the Foot Clan has been reduced to a small group of Foot Soldiers lead by Tatsu since the other members were arrested following Shredder's defeat. When Shredder returns, he's largely unconcerned about rebuilding the clan to its former glory, although a recruitment is organized on the side (with Raphael and Keno using this to their advantage to try and infiltrate it).

  • Star Wars Legends:
    • At the beginning of The Thrawn Trilogy Captain Pellaeon (Thrawn's flag captain and second-in-command) notes that despite Darth Vader's legendery and often lethal low failure tolerance, many of the Empire's best and brightest officers and crew served on his flagship Executor. When an A-wing crashing into the bridge caused the Executor to go out of control and collide with the Death Star, the destruction of Vader's flagship caused the deaths of many of the Imperial Navy's best mid-level officers and crewers.
    • The New Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels states that there was a point during Grand Admiral Thrawn's tenure as Imperial high commander where he realized the Empire's TIE Interceptor losses had gotten to the point where they couldn't be considered expendable anymore, and he began having them equipped with aftermarket Deflector Shields—reducing their dogfighting performance but protecting the planes and pilots better.
    • The Hand of Thrawn duology starts with now Supreme Commander Gilad Pellaeon deciding to sue for peace with the New Republic after a test of a new weapon system for fighting while cloaked fails miserably. He comments that at this point, the Empire is down to one shipyard that can't even keep up with the demand for fighters, never mind capital ships, and they're having to buy the former from outside contractors.
    • About two-thirds of the way through the New Jedi Order series, in Destiny's Way, there's a high-level strategy meeting for the Yuuzhan Vong high command. Supreme Overlord Shimmra chews out his warmasters for their prior We Have Reserves attitude: their latest victories came at the cost of enormous losses, and with the Galactic Alliance just having destroyed a major Yuuzhan Vong fleet to kill a mid-level general (they made the attempt mistakenly thinking it was Shimmra himself), they now have no strategic reserve left, meaning not only can they no longer advance, they don't have enough troops left to hold their conquests. As part of dealing with the problem, he commands every adult member of the warrior caste to immediately get laid, though that of course is too slow to help: at the end of the book the Alliance inflicts a second decisive defeat on the Yuuzhan Vong at Ebaq 9, killing Warmaster Tsavong Lah, and even though the series continues for another five books, after that the military situation is pretty much all downhill.
    • In the Revenge of the Sith novelization by Matt Stover, General Grievous invokes You Have Failed Me every time one of his bridge officers slips up. Towards the end of the space battle, he kills one more, then realizes he's just finished off the last of his bridge crew, those he hadn't killed personally having been killed by reflected blaster bolts.
  • In The Elusive Bride by Stephanie Laurens, Major Gareth Hamilton is pursued across the Middle East and Mediterranean by the fanatical "Uncle", a commander of the Black Cobra cult, who has hundreds if not thousands of mooks at his disposal. But due to Hamilton's skill at enlisting allies, by the time the chase reaches the Channel coast of France, Uncle has suffered the loss of his entire army; his sole surviving lieutenant assassinates him for incompetence.
  • In Gianni Rodari's The Adventures of Cipollino the Lemon Prince uses his Lemon Soldiers as fireworks (firing them from a cannon, two at a time) out of boredom during a siege. When he's finally advised to stop, he's down to seventeen soldiers and forty generals.
  • In the Discworld books, the reason Lancre Castle suffers from a Critical Staffing Shortage is that during the tenure of the Felmets in Wyrd Sisters, nearly all the staff either resigned in disgust or got fired. Lady Felmet would have executed some to Make an Example of Them but the Duke advised her against it, saying that going down that road would lead to the last member of the staff being ordered to cut his own throat as an example to himself.
  • Invoked in Mistborn. The heroic thieving crew tries to take down the Lord Ruler through a complex plan to take down all his supporters: starting a House War between nobles would distract or kill most of them, which would drive down recruitment for the Corrupt Church, while the army is dealt with by a massive peasant uprising. After every step is pulled off, Vin realizes that while the Lord Ruler needs a power base to run the empire, he's still personally powerful enough to kill everyone in the city, one by one.
    • Played straight in the sequel series Wax and Wayne. The Set is a conspiracy that the lawman Wax swears to take down, but they send him chasing after false lead after false lead. While it keeps the leadership out of harm's way, not only do they start to run out of minions, potential recruits are too afraid of Wax's reputation to join up. By The Bands of Mourning, the Set is on its last legs even before Wax arrests one leader.
  • Watership Down. Bigwig's infiltration of the Efrafan Owsla is effective because due to the inadvertent actions of the protagonists they've lost several officers. Rank-and-file Owsla are easily replenished in the overcrowded warren, but rabbits with initiative and leadership ability—qualities not exactly encouraged in a dictatorship like Efrafa—are in short supply. So General Woundwort takes the chance of promoting this tough and resourceful rabbit who's seemingly made his way there on his own after the destruction of his last warren.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A Horrible Histories song about Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard, suggested that he liked to do this so he wouldn't have to share his treasure with so many people, and that it led to his downfall when he was boarded and didn't have anyone left to help defend his ship.
  • This is a mainstay of Power Rangers. After going through who knows how many Monsters Of The Week, the Big Bad will eventually learn that all his monsters are gone, though strangely, he'll still have plenty of footsoldiers. At this point, either the Big Bad will finally be ready to enact his master plan or decide to stop being idle and the Final Battle begins. Usually the Big Bad is a One-Man Army, so it won't really matter if he has no more forces... at first. Such examples include:
    • The three part Season Finale of Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, where Trakeena note  equips her Stingwingers with bombs as part of her final attack on Terra Venture. The kamikaze tactics succeed in destroying two of the Rangers' Megazords, but as a result, Trakeena loses her entire army, leaving her vulnerable to the Rangers' counterattack. (Villamax attempted to talk her out of it, to no avail.)
    • In Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue, following the destruction of Diabolico and Olympius, Queen Bansheera demands that Jinxer produces a monster for her, but he informs her that all the monster cards have been used up. Before she could give him the You Have Failed Me treatment, he quickly explains that he managed to slip a Batling card on the Rangers' Megazord, allowing for an All Your Base Are Belong to Us on the underwater base.
    • At the beginning of the endgame of Power Rangers Time Force, where Ransik learns that all of the mutants onboard the Cryo-Prison have been captured by the Rangers, which is justified as there was a finite amount of prisoners on the prison. Ransik is initially at a loss as how to defeat the Rangers, but he soon finds the traitorous Frax, along with his greatest creation, the Doomtron.
    • Inverted in Power Rangers Ninja Storm, where Lothor's master plan actually required the Rangers to destroy his monsters, in order to fill up the Abyss of Evil completely so that he could open it and revive all of his monsters and then some.
      • Also lampshaded by Lothor near the end of the show. "I'm beginning to have too many Generals and too few soldiers!"
    • Inverted in Power Rangers Super Megaforce, where the enemy runs out of generals, and the final battle is a huge brawl against their remaining Mooks.
    • In Power Rangers: Beast Morphers, unlike the Robotrons, which could be made from any inanimate object, it appears that Scrozzle only made a finite number of Gigadronesnote  as they were all used up before the last Robotron was created. Regardless, by then, the stage was set for Evox to begin his master plan to seize the Morphin' Grid, so it was of little bother to him.
  • As the source material for Power Rangers, Super Sentai also goes down this route more often than not:
    • Occurs at the midway point of the 1989 Sentai, Kousoku Sentai Turboranger, and being an inversion to boot. Lagorn forced all his generals into using do-or-die plans, and was left with only Zulten as a result. Not having any other options, he ends up having to recruit two Wandering Boma (half-Boma, half human beings despised by both sides) to serve him. Ultimately, Lagorn's demise thanks to the Super Turbo Builder means the Wandering Boma continue the war against the Turborangers by default, though Lagorn ends up coming back as Neo-Lagorn a short time later.
    • In GoGo Sentai Boukenger, Ryuuwon's method of making his monsters was to have his footsoldiers fight each other in a ritualistic battle royale to the death, then rewarding the winner (aka the Sole Survivor) with a transformation. Unfortunately, this cropped up near the end of the series where he had his entire army fight to the death to create his most powerful monster, which was naturally defeated by the Boukenger. Since he was at the limit of his power by that point, he was unable to make anymore and as such was forced to perform a desperate Last Villain Stand plan.
    • In Juken Sentai Gekiranger, during the Final Battle with Maku, he sent along the Confrontation Beast Hall's entire army of soldiers to destroy the city, all of which were defeated by the Gekiranger, leaving only one, which was eventually defeated shortly after. Since the Confrontation Beast Hall's monsters were Promoted Mooks, they were unable to produce more of them either. Fortunately, they were able to continue to fight when Long arrived with his own brand of monsters.
  • Timeless: In the first season finale, Flynn discovers that except for his right hand woman, all his Mooks are either dead or have abandoned him.
  • In season 4 of Peaky Blinders, the eponymous gang goes to war with a small group of American Mafia gangsters whose kinsman they killed in the previous season. Since this is a private vendetta, the rest of the Mafia back home doesn't care about this war and any soldier the villains lose cannot be replaced. The main villain knows this and tries to replenish his dwindling number by brokering a lucrative booze deal with the local British gangsters (since the story takes place during the Prohibition), thus getting his bosses to send him more men to defend this new business interest. Unfortunately for him, the Blinders have foreseen this, which is why they broker their own deal with the American Mafia first so that the reinforcement sent to the main villain will turn on him instead, gloating to his face that he has run out of loyal men long ago.
  • In season 11 of Supernatural, Crowley at one point notices that his lair seems unusually empty. A henchman informs him that their ranks have thinned ever since he started housing The Darkness, an Eldritch Abomination that eats souls.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Done in many, many an RPG where the players are assaulting a fixed defensive position which won't be reinforced, whether it's an orc camp with a set number of guards or a building owned by a shadowy Mega-Corp staffed by their Cyberpunk mercenary guards. Generally speaking, the players should have some kind of plan for refitting themselves and rearming before making their next push, while the GM should have worked out how the bad guys can do the same - or if they even can.
    • Pathfinder does this in almost every module. Failing to deplete those mooks may often mean the boss will have a lot of back-up at the end, possibly enough to make the scenario nearly Unwinnable by Design for players too eager to do a Dungeon Bypass.
  • Averted in the tabletop version of The Temple of Elemental Evil which contained rules for reinforcements arriving if the players took too long to clear the Temple out.
  • Warhammer 40,000
    • By "tabling" an opponent, that is if a player manages to wipe the enemy army from the table before the end of the game, the game immediately ends in an automatic victory for the surviving army regardless of the score. It's often advisable not to put units in ongoing reserve if your force is starting to dwindle.
    • In verse, this is rarely a problem outside of wars of extermination, as forces tend to come in huge numbers and a war tends to be either won or lost before one side can be totally wiped out, and when possible, the victors will work to exploit what's left over. Defeat an Ork WAAAGH! or a Tyranid Hive Fleet, and mopping up the survivors can take years. A Chaos invasion will work to convert or enslave Imperial citizens, Necrons will experiment on anything else, and so on.
    • The “Shattered Legions”, the Iron Hands, Raven Guard, and Salamanders Space Marine legions, suffered catastrophic casualties in the so-called Drop Site Massacre, when the four additional legions deployed to reinforce them against Horus’s four traitor legions revealed they were traitors too. The survivors continued to fight a guerrilla war against Horus’s forces, but their successes were limited to simply slowing him down, and even ten thousand years later they still haven’t fully replenished their strength.
    • Recent fiction states that this is a looming problem for the Necrons. Despite their vast numbers, they can't make more of themselves, and while their self-repair systems are extremely good they aren't perfect. The Necrons are therefore a Dying Race in slow motion, every battle whittling them down just a little more even when they win, and that's not getting into battles fought in places where their ability to teleport destroyed soldiers back to base for repairs is nullified.

    Video Games 
  • This happens in Dead Space 3. By the third act Isaac has killed so many Unitologist cultists (with lots of deliciously ironic help from series staple baddies the Necromorphs) that when cult leader Jacob Danik wants to throw more of them at Isaac to slow his pursuit, he's audibly desperate after being informed that he's almost run out. There's enough of them left to cause Isaac and Carver trouble in the following DLC (and judging by the number of severed limbs found, that must have been several dozen at least).
  • In Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, the Space Pirate Commander battles you with a horde of Pirate Commandos. It is possible to kill all the Commandos until it's only him left, but doing so takes a while and is pretty tough, especially since he's the second to last non-Final Boss in the game.
  • Borderlands 2:
    • Towards the end of the main quest, the game forces you to fend off waves and waves of Hyperion loaders while Claptrap tries to open a gate (key word being tries). Eventually, the AI guarding the gate is forced to announce that its reinforcements have been depleted, at which point Claptrap finally opens the door. Played With in that more Hyperion loaders show up as you, Brick and Mordecai get closer to the Vault; so in this case mooks were available but Hyperion deemed further defense of the gate to be a waste of resources.
    • From the Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt DLC, Professor Nakayama grows increasingly more panicked as the Vault Hunters get closer to his ship and he realises that he's been Bullying a Dragon this whole time. He subsequently throws as many of the tribesmen in your direction in the desperate hope that it will work. When his final secret weapon is destroyed, he realises that he's entirely alone and has nothing left to defend himself with. When forced to fight you, he's ready to do it, but loses his balance, falls down a ramp and dies before you have the chance to fight him.
  • At the end of Dragon Age: Inquisition, the title organization has worn out the ranks of the Elder One's followers so thin that he has no choice but to attend the Final Battle with just himself and his dragon.
  • Elden Ring: The various Lordsworn factions have all managed to wear each other down to nubs in the Shattering civil war long before you got there; the ones you fight are explicitly the tattered remnants of what were once great armies.
    • Godrick managed to lose a good chunk of his soldiers due to being a General Failure, especially when he tried to besiege Leyendell. It's also notable that he's been forced to bolster his numbers- where other fiefs have their Lordsworn soldiers and knights wandering around, Godrick has them as a mere plurality of an army composed in large part of mercenaries, exiles, prisoners, and the occasional press-ganged civilian. And his troops have still been forced to abandon the Weeping Peninsula to demihumans and misbegotten.
    • The Cuckoo Knights of Liurnia took great losses not only in the general Shattering, but in the Raya Lucaria vs Caria civil war, with many of them perishing to the defenses of Caria Manor and having their spirits trapped as guardians. While their Carian Knight opponents and the Carians' militia supporters (e.g. Noble Sorcerers, Pages, Lazuli Sorcerers) appear to have been pretty much wiped out by engagements like the Kingsrealm Ruins, the Carians' puppet soldiers continue the fight to the present around Liurnia, ensuring the Cuckoos get no relief to rebuild.
    • The Carian royals counted the Carian Knights as their greatest warriors, of which there were fewer than twenty. By the present, only three can still be confronted. One of them is fought in an Evergaol, another has abandoned the Carians to serve the Haligtree (though she left automated defenses behind), and the last is a de facto prisoner guarding his queen in the interior of the rebels' fortress, just below their isolated attic. The militia indicated to have once fought alongside them only exist as a few stragglers at the Kingsrealm Ruins and the interior of Carian Manor (the former having probably only survived the battle by hiding - they all use invisibility spells), otherwise being encountered as spirits.
    • The Redmane Knights of Caelid took serious losses during the campaign against Malenia; the Wailing Dunes alone contains several dozen times more Redmane Knight remnants in it (assuming each knightly weapon represents a fallen one) than living knights exist on the entire map, and that was only one of the Cleanrot-Redmane battlefields. This campaign culminated in the Battle of Aeonia unleashing the Scarlet Rot against their home and doing a serious number on the survivors. They're currently fighting their own war to keep the Rot confined to Caelid, and are being slowly ground down from it. A lot of weapons and spells that were either implicitlynote  or explicitlynote  used by the Redmanes in-universe never are in-game, probably because every knight who did use them is long dead.
    • Malenia's own army, famous for its undefeated campaign across the continent including Caelid, still took heavy losses in its battles there (e.g. there's about one piece of Cleanrot armor in the Wailing Dunes for every 5-10 Redmane Knight weapons and skeletons, and 1 Cleanrot spirit for every 3 Redmane spirit in the War-Dead Catacombs), for an army that was never numerous to begin with. Like their opponents, the Battle of Aeonia killed most of the survivors. A single Cleanrot Knight from Malenia's elite core is the only reason she herself made it back home, having carried her comatose body across the Lands Between entirely alone, and she's stated to have been the only knight to have left Caelid after the rot was unleashed. The survivors of the expedition consist of a relatively small group of severely weakened and sickly knights still guarding their last battle site with their allied commander, O'Neil, whose own solders are literal ghosts. Minor garrisons of Cleanrot Knights that seemingly didn't participate in their most famous campaign can still be found defending their homeland alongside allied forces in the Haligtree and Comsecrated Snowfield Catacombs; a single one can also be found laying in Stillwater Cave in Liurnia, as if s/he got lost and collapsed during the initial march.
    • The Royal Army of Leyndell fought most of the other armies at one point or the other during two campaigns for Leyndell itself, but they fought defensively with extensive siegeworks and the vast walls of Leyndell itself to protect them. They then engaged in a brutal meatgrinder siege against Rykard's fief of Mt. Gelmir. Consider the Battle of Aeonia mentioned above — now consider that the most appalling battle of the Shattering is said to be the siege of Mt. Gelmir. Some of the soldiers from that siege are still alive on the Mountain, and most of them have gone totally insane to the point of devouring their fallen comrades' corpses and becoming afflicted by the influence of the Flame of Frenzy.
    • Speaking of Rykard's Lordsworn... there aren't any. At all. If the Siege of Mt. Gelmir didn't kill them, they abandoned his cause when he decided to fuse with the God-Devouring Serpent or were killed by Rykard himself after his transformation. Mt. Gelmir is currently defended by Abductor Virgin robots and the Man-Serpents.
  • In Legacy of the Void, the Big Bad Amon has brainwashed humans with Zerg-Protoss hybrids, a substantial number of Zerg, the Brainwashed and Crazy Protoss, a fanatical sect of the Protoss, and void-energy clones of regular units at his command. Over the course of the campaign, you kill all the humans, decimate the Zerg, ally with the The Starscream of the fanatics, and close the portals that allow the void-energy clones. In the final mission, all that's left are the remaining hybrids and Zerg and the brainwashed Protoss. The Zerg and Hybrids are slaughtered and the Protoss are freed, so in the Epilogue the clones are all he has left.
  • In World of Warcraft the Alterac Valley battleground, infamous for lasting hours or even days, was revamped to include this. Each faction starts with a limited number of "reinforcements", i.e. respawns, which are slowly replenished if they control either of the mines. However a sizable number of reinforcements is lost when one of four towers or their field commander dies. The "turtle" strategy relies on creating an imbalance in reinforcements so that the enemy loses when they run out first.
  • Persona 5: The fifth boss, Kunikazu Okumura/Mammon, believes in having his minions do all the work for him. He spends his entire battle sitting on his throne while sending waves of disposable mooks at your party, never attacking you himself, secure in the belief that he has an infinite number of underlings to spare. Reality slaps him in the face when you defeat his King Mook; he tries to summon more, only for none to show up. It's unclear whether he ran out of minions, or if the surviving ones are refusing to help him. Either way, you defeat him rather quickly after that.
  • Lampshaded and subverted in Kid Icarus: Uprising. One of the missions has Pit going to fight Pandora and destroying the Mirror of Truth, which has the power to create a copy of whatever stands in front of it and Medusa has been using to replenish the troops that have been killed. He succeeds (albeit not before he gets his own dark doppelganger created), but the next chapter has both him and Palutena noting that Medusa's army seemingly hasn't decreased in number at all and is still growing despite casualties. Indeed, even after Medusa herself dies and the real Big Bad Hades shows up, the Underworld army doesn't seem at all weakened even after repeated battles with Pit Viridi's Forces of Nature, the Aurum invasion or the 3-year-long Great Offscreen War between themselves, the Forces of Nature, or Palutena's Army under the thrall of the Chaos Kin. Eventually Chapter 22 reveals why: Hades has been creating the soldiers of his army using the souls of the humans killed in all the fighting throughout the game, having orchestrated all the conflict specifically for this purpose. Notably, even the morally-grey characters of the game consider this Hades' Moral Event Horizon.
  • Pops up as a game mechanic in the Old West chapter of Live A Live where you and your temporary partner have until high noon the next day before a gang of 15 bandits show up to find and lay down traps to reduce their numbers. It's even possible to take out 14 of them and only have to fight their boss.
  • In Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Camp OMEGA is short-handed in personnel and sometimes can't afford to send reinforcements or replacement guards to areas where a couple sentries have gone missing. If you get close enough to guards to overhear them, you can often even hear the guards complaining about the lack of manpower or fearfully wishing they don't get attacked since they know no help is coming.
  • TerraTech: The Almighty Leader has a bad habit of challenging the player to fight armoured cubes and sending his minions after them when they inevitably win. By the third Almighty Cube mission, he has no more parts left to spawn in minions.
  • The penultimate chapter of Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade, Victory or Death, sees Nergal send waves after waves of his morphs at the heroes; not counting the never-ending reinforcements after a certain turn, the total number is over 130! Immediately after clearing the chapter, Athos states that Nergal has likely used almost all of his manpower trying to stop them outside his base. He's right — Nergal has fewer than 20, though highly competent, morphs remaining by the final chapter, who the heroes are able to focus their attention on without getting bogged down.
  • Transformers: Devastation: The final level is one long slog against the remaining Decepticons Megatron brought with him. Alongside Mooks like the Seekers and Ground Troopers, this also includes higher-ranked Decepticons like Thundercracker, Skywarp and Motormaster. When Optimus and his team reach Megatron, he sics the Constructicons on them while he leaves with the Ferrotaxis. After all is said and done, Megatron faces the Autobots alone as the Final Boss.
  • Octopath Traveler: Some bosses come with minions who fight alongside them. Once you take down those minions, the boss might waste a turn trying to summon them again. This attempt will not work.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: The Sith Empire quickly runs into this when open war breaks out with the Republic. The Republic is bigger and has a stronger economy to start with and has spent the last twelve years nursing a massive grudge over the humiliating defeat it suffered in the last war. The Sith, on the other hand, have spent the last twelve years engaged in standard Sith Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, which they cannot properly stop even after the war restarts, which combines with typical-for-darksiders We Have Reserves attitudes and tactical cluelessness to quickly give the Republic the upper hand. For instance, the Battle of Corellia costs the Sith Empire a full tenth of its entire military. The entirety of Rise of the Hutt Cartel takes place with Only Sane Man Darth Marr leading his forces in a series of calculated retreats and holding actions in the background while the Player Character works to conquer Makeb from the Hutts so they can gain new technology to hopefully turn the tide.
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider: After Konstantin kills one of his mooks for letting Lara escape, his sister points out they don't have the manpower to be casually wasting them, with this frequently brought up. And during the final assault, they indeed have too few men to hold off the Remnant soldiers and are slaughtered.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: When the Reds and Blues finally corner Temple, he declares that if they kill him, his friends will avenge him. Tucker retorts, "What friends?", since all of Temple's allies are either dead or arrested at that point.


    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • Invoked in one episode of Aladdin: The Series where after Abis Mal told his men who failed him they would be executed, Haroud warned that he wouldn't have any men left if he kept that up.
  • One episode of Sheep in the Big City had a Running Gag where General Specific kept dropping his men through Trap Doors. Eventually, when he and Private Public were chasing the titular character in a helicopter, they lost control of it because the General had dropped the pilot through the trapdoor.
  • Futurama:
    • In the third movie, "Bender's Game", despite one of her sons wanting to leave behind a contingent, Momon insisted on all her forces being sent into battle, which left her lair defenseless for Fry to invade. It also didn't help that all her minions ended up getting killed. True, she won in the end, but the trope was still in effect.
    • Zapp Brannigan was already known for throwing away the lives of his men (having them fly into an enemy ship's cannon to clog it and sending them to their deaths to overload a killing machine), but in "Into The Wild Green Yonder" his ship is cut in half while flying through a giant golf course windmill because he refused to pick up speed, resulting in the death of all of his men. He looked at the bright side that they wouldn't have to mourn each other.
  • In one Rocky and Bullwinkle "Fractured Fairy Tales" segment featuring King Midas, the king called for his board of directors to help him become popular with his subjects, and executing those who failed him. At the end of the cartoon, he has no directors left.
  • The Transformers multiverse:
    • A bit of a meta example in The Transformers. In many earlier episodes (including the 3 part mini-series that began the show "More Than Meets The Eyes"), the Decepticon ranks would often be filled out with recolours of Starscream's character model, due to there being fewer Decepticon characters compared to Autobot characters (roughly speaking there were 10 named Decepticons to almost 20 Autobots note ). As time went on, this occurred less and less as more characters were introduced, so it's easy to assume the "lesser" Starscream-type Decepticons (later known as the Seekers) were simply battlefield casualties.
    • Very much averted in Beast Machines, where Megatron easily replenishes his mindless drone forces due to having complete control of Cybertron. Even during the final battle, the Maximals are brought down one-by-one by sheer weight of numbers. Played straight during a brief period when Megatron was disabled and thought dead, leaving his surviving generals Thrust and Jetstorm completely unable to replenish any of their fallen Vehicon drones (since Megatron sensibly made sure they couldn't activate any factories themselves... just in case).
    • In Transformers: Prime, Megatron's usual attitude is We Have Reserves with most of his Decepticon soldiers, and occasionally even his lieutenants. True to this trope, he even ends up killing plenty of them himself in mad attempts to finish off the Autobots, though for most of the series he seems to have more than enough to replace them. He is forced to rethink this attitude after a mutated C.Y.L.A.S. inadvertently starts a small-scale zombie infection, which kills off nearly half of their troops and subsequently forces Soundwave to banish the Insecticons after they are brainwashed by Airachnid, depriving them of their Elite Mooks. When the Autobots finally make it to the Nemesis in the penultimate episode, Megatron concedes that they probably don't have enough troops to win.
    • In Transformers: Cyberverse, despite being a cowardly and opportunistic backstabber Starscream maintains the loyalty of many of his Seekers, to the point they defect from the Decepticons when he goes rogue. After he gains the power of the AllSpark, however, he "rewards" them by draining their sparks. This of course means that when he is knocked out during his attempt to wipe out both Autobots and Decepticons, there's no one to carry him to safety while he's unconscious and he's captured by the Autobots.
  • Lampshaded in the Five-Episode Pilot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) by Krang to Shredder when the Turtles incapacitate Bebop and Rocksteady, his strongest henchmen, as a reason to install the molecular amplification chip into his body.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) sees the Foot Clan's rank and file troops start out dangerous and competent but gradually decrease in threat level...because of this trope. Turns out soldiers with years of training and experience don't grow on trees and all of Shredder's best men are either arrested, quit after being beaten up by mutant turtles one too many times, or are too badly injured to fight anymore. As a result, all he had left to send at the Turtles were anyone the Foot Clan could find and recruit. This also Justifies his switching over to Mecha-Mooks, as after reverse engineering some Kraang tech, they're much easier to replace than humans that take years to properly train.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, as part of her Villainous Breakdown, Azula becomes increasingly paranoid and starts exiling all of her minions one by one, including her Dai Li agents. This doesn't affect the Final Battle with her much (its a one-on-one duel), but it does cause her to lose any loyalty from her subjects, making it all the easier for Zuko to take the throne.

    Real Life 
  • Essentially the reason for Rome's victory against Pyrrhus in the Pyrrhic War (280-275 BCE), in which Pyrrhus won the two major battles but at such extensive cost in casualties that he could not continue to fight and was forced to abandon the war. (Rome, thanks to its growing dominion over its Italian neighbors, was able to replenish its forces, but Pyrrhus, on foreign ground with weak allies, could not.)