Captain Bill McDonald: Well, there's only one riot, isn't there?
A huge threat has raised its evil head. This threat is a danger to the entire state/province/nation/planet/galactic empire, and has already done a lot of damage. However, the government doesn't do the obvious thing to fight this oncoming hazard (rally the troops, send out the Marines, and use its full resources to destroy the threat once and for all). Instead they send in one man.
Now, the man might be a highly trained operative but he is still only one man.note No one questions the government's choice in sending out one special guy, either. This is not a desperation move, as in Halo, where one guy is all the government has left... no, in cases like this, the choice is usually "send the entire fleet" or "send Joe". If the group that requested help gets one guy, they may be upset they didn't get an army only to find out that their ranger is an army.
A common handwave/justification for this trope is that a full military assault would draw unwanted attention to the operation. As in, if we send an army to attack the secret base, the villain will use his superweapon, and game over. If we send Joe then villain won't react so intensely, and we can get past his guard. More realistically, the entire army may be needed to hold the villain's army at bay, or slow them down long enough to give Joe time to stop the villain.
If Joe makes a habit of succeeding at these missions he'll get a reputation for Doing the Impossible.
This trope is an extreme application of The Main Characters Do Everything. It is related to It's Up to You and The Only One. It can involve Conservation of Ninjutsu. Contrast Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder, which is where a scrappy Ragtag Bunch of Misfits is sent out on an Impossible Task rather than an obvious badass.
- Happened once in Negima! Magister Negi Magi. What reinforcement should the Mahora mages send against a force that easily defeated the Kyoto Magic Association and is about to release a Demon God? Their entire mage reserve, that would be too slow and too weak to make a difference, as well as leaving Mahora unguarded? No way. Send Evangeline instead.
- Alucard is the most obvious example, but certainly not the only one. That series runneth over with badasses.
- Points to Alucard for actually being a One-Man Army. At full release of his Restraining Bolt system, Alucard can spawn an entire army consisting of everyone he's ever eaten. Suffice to say, that's a lot of minions. And he could already fight hundreds of enemies, other freakishly powerful vampires, and reform from grotesque dismemberment and decapitation.
- Additionally, following a certain incident at the manor, the Hellsing Organization loses most of its rank and file soldiers and resort to hiring mercenaries. The mercenaries are also wiped out to the last man by the end of the manga. Basically, if a character in this series isn't a complete badass, he's a Red Shirt.
- In One Piece, a major part of Rob Lucci's backstory involves an instance where pirates invaded a kingdom, taking their several-hundred man army as hostages, and demanded control. The World Government sent only Rob Lucci, who was only thirteen years old at the time, to deal with the situation. Turns out that was kinda overkill.
- Kakuri in Bokko. When the small border city of Ryo is threatened by a large invading army, they send a request for help to the clan of Bokk. They send a single man to save the city.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: In the Ishval war Amestrian soldiers had the upper hand on the Ishval troops but the Ishval priests could take down 10 men. The state alchemists, due to their status of living nukes, could wipe out whole areas. The response to trouble with Ishval insurgents was to send in Kimblee.
- This is the enire modus operandi of the 3WA in Dirty Pair, where sending just one pair of operatives to deal with even planet-wide issues is standard practice.
- During the police-strike riots, the "One Ranger" was Dr. Manhattan. Yup, that'll definitely do it. But the other heroes meet with mixed success.
- Rorschach managed to quell the riots in his neighbourhood just by appearing.
- The Comedian suppressed his riot by using prodigious quantities of tear gas. They stopped the riots, just... not very well.
- Deconstructed in Echo. Ivy Raven, NSB field agent, contacts her superiors and begins to get guidance from her Washington organization on locating and stopping the Phi Project, the military/corporate experiment that might end life on Earth as we know it. However, Julie Martin wonders why they have not received any support or personnel to help deal with the potentially Apocalyptic scenario. This causes Ivy to begin to think about it and she starts to agree with Julie that this might have some unpleasant implications as to the trustworthiness of her superiors
- Judge Dredd:
- In one comic after the "Judge Cal" arc, the Judges are trying to figure out how to clean up a district that had become totally lawless. The council wants to send in a small army of Judges. Dredd decides that they need to send a different message and convinces them to just send one. Dredd went into the district with nothing but his gun and a dump truck. He left, totally unharmed, with a dump truck full of criminals.
- In fact, the very first Dredd strip portrayed Dredd going against a gang of criminals who had killed a Judge on his own for the same reasons.
- Green Lantern. Each of the Universe's designated sectors comprises multiple populated star systems, and in some cases whole galaxies. The guardians assign each sector one Lantern. Earth is a special case. Given the number of attempted invasions, supervillains and cosmic crises it incurs, this one planet in sector 2814 needs up to 4 dedicated lanterns.
- A non-combat example: in L.E.G.I.O.N. '89-'94, the organization is racing to evacuate a planet that's doomed to destruction. While they're using many, many spacecraft in the effort, Green Lantern Hal Jordan shows up and asks leader Dox if he can be of any help. Dox says "Can you evacuate a city by yourself?" A few panels later, Hal is flying off with a few thousand people in a ring-bubble.
- Done literally in Tex Willer, where the title character, a Texas Ranger, has been sent alone, or at most with up to three companions (his fellow Ranger Kit Carson, his son Kit Willer, and his Navajo friend Tiger Jack) to deal with large gangs (sometimes large enough to effectively control a whole town), potential Indian rebellions, and in one occasion a regiment worth of Confederate nostalgic soldiers. There's a series of very good reasons for this: each of them is a One-Man Army and together they can easily deal with twenty or thirty outlaws, at times the authorities don't realize things are that bad or are sending them to find what exactly is happening before deploying the US Army, and at times the situation just requires a subtle approach (when it comes to potential Indian rebellions Tex has enough prestige and the willingness to listen their grievances to often calm things down or at least reduce it to a few hot-blooded young warriors, and when Tex and Carson were called to deal with the Confederate regiment it was specifically said that it was hidden somewhere in Virginia and sending in the US Army a few short years after The American Civil War would have been an incredibly stupid idea).
- Invoked as the concept behind Action Man: rather than a full team of agents like General Colton's, Action Man is a single agent, trained to "physical and mental perfection", who can operate in situations where a larger team can't.
- Discussed and deconstructed in ROM (IDW); Space Knights are supposed to avert this by having partners or squads accompanying them, but Rom has insisted on working alone ever since he had to Mercy Kill his first partner. This had the effect of making Rom both hyper-competent and The Dreaded, but also means he has no backup at all if something goes wrong. His boss, Orphion, is getting increasingly angry with him for breaking protocol by refusing to get a new partner.
- Early in IDW's Transformers comics, the Autobot-Decepticon war has become a sort of cold war fought over thousands of worlds by small groups, due to the adoption of the Infiltration Protocol by the Decepticons. Essentially, small groups of Decepticons are sent to infiltrate a target world, escalate pre-existing tensions, devastate the world's defenses with surgical strikes if necessary, and then call in a Phase-Sixer like Sixshot to raze the world to the ground. When the series begins, Earth is targeted by a small six-bot team led by Starscream with only four Autobots to oppose them.
- In Memento Vivere, a Final Fantasy X fanfiction, this is pretty much a canon trope about all Summoners in Spira.
- In Worm - Justice For All, Taylor gains several powers that make her stronger when fighting alone against groups. One of them (based around a Sheriff star, no less) is even named after the trope.
- Occurs in Lockout when the president and his advisors send Snow to rescue the president's daughter in lieu of sending in the marines to try and save all of the hostages. One of the advisors even comments "or, we could send in one man. One man with one very specific order."
- James Bond. He's regularly sent into situations the British government might more easily clean up by sending in a crack squad of SAS commandos. Somehow, despite the man-power shortage, he always ends up on top. But Bond first has to investigate the situation, which is a task better suited to a spy. On several occasions he's backed up by an attack force for the Storming the Castle scene — never the SAS, but then again an army of modern ninjas looks more 'James Bondish'.
- In Escape from New York, the government sends in Snake as a last resort, but in Escape from L.A., the president consciously utilizes the trope.
- In the Star Wars films, Jedi Knights are usually sent out alone (or, occasionally, with their apprentice) to handle whatever problem happens to be occurring at the time. Of course, if the Jedi in question aren't the main characters, this is usually ineffective. In the Prequel Trilogy, they start out being used as diplomats serving as neutral arbitrators within the Republic, before being appointed as Generals leading armies of Clone Troopers and assorted muggles. By the Original Trilogy and Sequel Trilogy, there are precious few of them left anyways, and of the four we see, Obi-Wan, Yoda, Luke, and Rey, they are mostly just hiding out in self-exile and trying to avoid getting caught up in things anyways. Obi-Wan is convinced to come out of exile to help the Rebellion, Yoda stays in exile but trains Luke, Luke starts out eager before eventually going into hiding and reluctantly training Rey.
- The Resident Evil movie Degeneration shows the government's wised up since the events of RE4. When the T-Virus breaks out in an airport, who do they send in to rescue survivors trapped inside? A "Specialist" by the name of Leon Kennedy.
- In The Fifth Element, Action Girl Leeloo Minai Lekarariba-Laminai-Tchai Ekbat De Sebat is all that stands between the Earth and its Doom. Of course, as far as the government of Earth is concerned, Korben Dallas is all that stands between Earth and its Doom, so this movie uses this trope twice.
- Justified in Korben's case as he's both the most highly-decorated member of the military's most elite unit and its Sole Survivor, so they really don't have anyone else to send.
- John Rambo in most of the Rambo film series. In the fourth film, right near the beginning, there is an a choice between hiring an entire team of mercenary veterans festooned with guns or hiring Rambo with just a bow and arrows, and a knife. The employer chooses Rambo, and only hires the mercenary team when it looks like Rambo might not be coming.
- Judge Dredd film adaptations:
Judge Dredd: [standing tall amidst random fire] What are you doing down there, Judge Hershey?
- At the beginning of Judge Dredd, two young Judges get caught in a shootout and call for backup. They get Dredd. Just Dredd. It's enough.
Judge Hershey: [crouched] Waiting for back-up.
Judge Dredd: It's here.
- And then there's Dredd, in which Dredd is locked inside an entire 200-story apartment complex full of criminals. The trope is somewhat subverted, as he's accompanied by a single trainee (Cassandra Anderson) on assessment. And he does request reinforcements at one point. Then it ultimately turns out that what Dredd really needed wasn't more Judges, just more ammo for his Lawgiver, as he ended up running out of bullets before Ma-Ma ran out of Mooks. When four Judges arrive to help, it turns out they've been bribed by Ma-Ma to kill our heroes. Dredd kills two, Anderson kills two, and they gather enough ammunition for the final showdown.
- Stated in the David Mamet film Spartan by Bobby Scott, who is sent in to recover the President's kidnapped daughter. The title of the film is a reference to a historical example: King Leonidas I (of Thermopylae fame) sent a single Spartan soldier to a neighboring city-state that requested aid. The actual situation is more of a The Only One since the hero has gone rogue and is using his own resources for the mission. The people in charge are doing a cover-up and do not want her rescued. He tells her the story to give her hope and gain her trust.
- Referenced in Running Scared (1986). When the two Cowboy Cop protagonists start feeling apprehensive about being one month from retirement they ask for one car to help them bust a drug den. Events escalate and they end up taking apart the den before help arrives. As the dust settles, a dozen police cars arrive. The lead officer explains that as they had never requested any help before the department assumed it was a riot.
- A variant in Pulp Fiction, when Jules and Vince need a lot of help for a mess they've gotten into:
Jules: [angrily] I don't wanna hear about no motherfuckin' ifs. All I wanna hear from your ass is, You ain't got no problem, Jules. I'm on the motherfucker. Go back in there, chill them niggers out and wait for the cavalry which should be coming directly.
Marcellus: [calmly] You ain't got no problem, Jules. I'm on the motherfucker. Go back in there, chill them niggers out and wait for the Wolf who should be coming directly.
Jules: [suddenly happy] You're sending the Wolf? ...shit, negro, that's all you had to say (slams the phone down in satisfaction).
- In Taken, Liam Neeson's character Bryan Mills lampshades the fact that the film involves this sort of story when he tells the criminals who have kidnapped his daughter that he has "a very specific set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you." The villain, being a villain, refuses to accept that he's a walking dead man at this point.
- This appears to be standard operating procedure for the Israeli Army in You Don't Mess with the Zohan. Zohan eventually gets tired of that, especially since the guys he puts away usually end up being traded for captured Israeli agents. The brass even uses stereotypical Jewish guilt to trick Zohan into volunteering for solo missions (e.g. saying that the planned assault with standard forces is likely to incur lots of casualties). This is why he fakes his death and runs away to the US.
- In The Mountie, Corporal Grayling is sent out to clean up the settlement of Merci, and establish a permanent Mountie post, by himself.
- The advertising for Seven Ways from Sundown bills Texas Ranger Seven as a "One-man posse!", and outlaw Joe Flood as a "one-man riot!". This is a pretty accurate summation of the film.
- Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem sees a single Predator (with the Production Nickname of "Wolf", as his role was similar to the aforementioned one-man Cleanup Crew from Pulp Fiction) go after a crashed ship that releases a horde of Xenomorphs on Earth to destroy them before they can infect the Earth. This is somewhat justified in the uncut version as the distress signal didn't include details and it isn't until Wolf arrives and sees a recording that he know the true depth of the situation, with it even being possible that he was unaware until late in the film that the Predalien could generate more Xenomorphs.
- Remo Williams, the hero of the Destroyer series of action novels, is a tongue-in-cheek satire of the One-Man Army genre of adventure fiction, but he's also a perfect example of this trope. The authors even lampshades it in the several of the novels of the long-running series by having everyone note how ridiculous it is to only send one man out to stop the latest menace. Although this may also be the result of Remo being so top-secret that only the President gets to know that he exists, or at least originally being so. In the first book of the series it's explained that the secret organization CURE is allowed to lie, cheat, and steal, but not to kill. This is because the President is worried about creating an agency that could be a threat to the country. CURE finally persuades the President to agree to one man. When one CURE member laments that one man is not enough, the head of CURE replies that's all they are going to get, so he better be a badass. Luckily for CURE, he is.
- In Steven Erikson's Malazan Books of the Fallen series, the small island nation of the Seguleh rebuffs missionaries from the Pannion Domin, a massive theocracy practicing cannibalism and rape of dying enemies. After the Pannion Domin declares war on the tiny nation, the Seguleh respond by sending a punitive army... consisting of three brothers. The most dangerous of whom is only considered the third most dangerous Seguleh.
- The Ranger's Apprentice novel series actually uses this phrase to describe the kingdom's group of elite archers, spies, and tacticians. It's not exactly wrong, considering this happens several times during the series. In fact, there's a bit of backstory where the page quote is adapted to the (Araluen) Rangers, and the phrase is brought up several times. It's rarely wrong.
- In Leo Frankowski's Conrad Stargard series, the Trapped in the Past protagonist is assumed to come from the miraculous (and non-existent) realm of Prester John to help Poland fight the invading Mongols. When asked why they'd only send one man, Conrad quips that there's only one invasion.
- The Discworld books:
- Detritus, a troll employed in the city watch, shows up to escalating situations with a crossbow/ballista that fires a bundle of arrows that, due to the power, shatter and turn into shrapnel. It doesn't take out doors, it takes out walls. Needless to say, Vimes calls on Detritus quite often, usually as just a threat to drive his message home. Usually.
- The wizards at the Unseen University tap Rincewind several times in the same way, but mostly because they don't want to bother with it themselves.
- 71-Hour Ahmed has a camel, a sword and a huge country to police. He stays alive through his wits and a fearsome reputation. He is also expected, and manages, to solve the mystery behind his missing employer by himself.
- David Drake's Northworld trilogy. The Consensus sent a fleet to investigate the disappearance of the newly colonized planet Northworld. The fleet vanished too, so they sent another one, and then a third when the second was lost — and of course, number three disappeared as well. And then they got serious — and sent Nils Hansen, a police special operations officer. Subverted, because as of the end of the trilogy, he hasn't returned to the Consensus either. However, he has become a god.
- Referenced in Friday after a riot started by a previously unknown pseudo-religious sect attacking Scientologists and Hari Krishnas in an airport. Friday herself mentions it took almost as many Mounties as there were rioters to stop it, as opposed to the usual ratio of One riot: One Mountie.
- Space Cadet. Girard Burke is annoyed when the Space Patrol doesn't send a warship to put down the 'native uprising', only one rocketship which crashes injuring its commanding officer and leaving the space cadets to handle the situation. It turns out there is no native uprising, just a crisis caused by Girard needlessly antagonising the Venusians which is solved through diplomacy by the cadets, not gunfire.
- In Fury Born has the principle that one company of the Imperial Cadre is enough to handle most situations. The number of exceptions to this rule can be counted on both hands with fingers left over. Near the end of the book, one character has a brief Oh, Crap! moment on the villain's behalf when he learns that the Cadre is planning to send a full battalion of drop commandos in after them.
- Downplayed somewhat but still played straight in The Eagle of the Ninth, as the protagonist is travelling in disguise and under a cover identity.
- Going back a bit, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn uses the trope: a lone man shames a lynch mob into disbanding.
- In Vernor Vinge's novella The Ungoverned, reinforcements are sent to deal with an invasion by the Republic of New Mexico. Urr... make that "reinforcement", singular. One man. Wil Brierson. To be fair, the request for help had been vague about what kind of help was needed, and Wil calls for reinforcements as soon as he finds out what the problem is — but he still solves the problem by himself before the reinforcements arrive.
- In James H. Schmitz's The Demon Breed, 'one invasion / one Guardian' is the Parahuans' conclusion from their debacle on Nandy-Cline. One young, female Guardian at that. "Guardians" being the class of superhumans who the Parahuans believe to be the secret rulers of the Federation. But other aliens think — correctly — that the ratio is even worse: one invasion / two ordinary humans, who are merely somewhat better than the average.
Evidently the Guardians had considered it unnecessary to employ one of their more formidable members to dispose of the invasion forces; and evidently their judgement was sound.
- The rather poetic introduction to the novelization of Revenge of the Sith claims that as adults across the Republic watch in fear as the beloved Palpatine is captured by the enemy, their children comfort them, because the great Anakin and Obi-Wan will be there any minute to set things right. They're correct.
A pair of starfighters. Jedi starfighters. Only two.
Two is enough.
Two is enough because the adults are wrong, and their younglings are right.
Though this is the end of the age of heroes, it has saved its best for last.
- In John C. Wright's The Golden Oecumene trilogy, Marshal-General Atkins Vingt-et-un is the entire military. Sometimes this takes the form of Me's a Crowd, but he also accomplishes feats like easily disabling an opponent in Powered Armor using just the right amount of force while literally naked. (The nanites in his blood help, but it's still awesome.)
- The Lone Wolf gamebooks initially justify this trope by the titular hero being the last Kai Lord existence. However, non-magical soldiers still pose a significant threat to him, so you have to wonder why the king never assigns him any help beyond one or two guides to whatever territory Lone Wolf is infiltrating. (Perhaps because the Rule of Drama dictates that those guides, however skilled, inevitably die.)
- The Caverns of Kalte adventure justifies the trope fully: the snowlands are simply too distant from Sommerlund for a group of people to get there in time. To say nothing of how such a group would find or bring enough food there- Lone Wolf employs two sleds to carry all his supplies, and even those are frequently lost to predators and unstable terrain. Besides, Lone Wolf always (canonically) succeeds however outnumbered he is, so why overcomplicate the mission by bringing in backup?
- Doctor Who:
- The Doctor is called an army by River in the 'Time of Angels' Serial.
Father Octavian: You promised me an army.
River Song: I promised you the equivalent of an army.
- In fact, this could be considered the Doctor's Modus Operandi. As Lampshaded by Rory Williams in "Asylum of the Daleks".
The Doctor: You're going to fire me at a planet? That's your plan? I get fired at a planet and expected to fix it?
Rory: In fairness, that is slightly your M.O.
The Doctor: Don't be fair to the Daleks when they're firing me at a planet!
- The Doctor is called an army by River in the 'Time of Angels' Serial.
- 24 skirts this trope. Even though Jack Bauer is backed by the CTU and an entire brigade of government agents that ought to be out there backing him up, he somehow always ends up going it alone, sometimes at the direction of his superiors. Eventually, the powers that be begin to realize both how good he is, and the fact that he can be trusted — sometimes your own people are Starscreamy and The Mole is somewhere in CTU. After a certain point, this once-a-season saying joins the series' Catchphrase list: "Get me Jack Bauer."
- The Pilot Movie of Walker, Texas Ranger was called "One Riot, One Ranger." However, in practice, Walker's almost always backed up by Trivette, and for larger operations a full assortment of law enforcement units helps out. However, there are quite a few episodes where he does it alone because no one but Chuck Norris can do it.
- This trope is pretty much the entire justification for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Although the show could be considered a subversion, as it's often pointed out that the only reason Buffy has been the most successful and long-lived Slayer is that she's not alone. By working with a team, she is much more powerful than just a lone Slayer. The Watcher's Council (before Buffy) seemed to employ a "We Have Reserves" concept. It didn't matter if a slayer died in an impossible mission, the next one would succeed. Or the one after that.
- Babylon 5:
- This trope serves as the philosophy for the Rangers. It doesn't always work, and they have back-up, but it's mentioned in one spin-off. "One crisis, one ranger."
- Especially earlier in the series, the Rangers specialize in being discreet, as evidenced by the fact that they show up mixed in with the extras in several episodes of the show before they are actually introduced. At least one main character whose job it is to be Properly Paranoid turns his head to pay attention to one of them before he is told about their existence. Another character who insists on knowing everything that happens on her station, reveals that she knows everything about them already just as The Captain is about to brief her on their existence.
- Later in the series, they are able to send lone Rangers (or lone White Stars, the Rangers' ship of choice) to deal with problems, because everybody knows by then that they represent The Alliance. On occasion, it still doesn't help.
- Star Trek:
- As shown in the later seasons of Deep Space Nine, the rogue intelligence agency Section 31 operates in this manner. This is justified because the organization is implied to only be a small group of rogue agents who are reliant on using legitimate agencies of the Federation government to do any sort of heavy lifting. However, even the single agent that's encountered by the DS9 crew is able to turn the tide of a galactic war simply through the use of a Batman Gambit.
- Starfleet itself tended to operate this way. Most Federation starships were sent out alone to explore the galaxy and deal with whatever crisis they happened to come across, the various Enterprise ships being the prime examples. Eventually, after encountering such powerful enemies as the Borg and the Dominion, they had to discontinue this and instead began operating in fleet-sized groups.
- In the 1986 series Shaka Zulu, the British Colonial Office is faced with the prospect that the Zulu army sweeping across Southern Africa may continue on to the Cape Colony. Various solutions to defend the Colony are rejected — mercenaries are unreliable, raising troops in Britain will take too long, taking experienced troops from India risks losing that colony as well. Lord Bathurst comes up with the idea of sending just one man, Francis Farewell (though he does have several men with him), to arrange trade talks with the hope of deliberately obfuscating the situation and thus play for time.
- In Marty Robbin's "Big Iron", a town that has been run by an outlaw that has killed 20 men who came to arrest him is finally saved by a single Arizona Ranger.
- Steve Earle's "Justice in Ontario":
It was the local police who made the call.
They said "Send us Corporal Terry Hall."
- "Snoopy's Christmas" by The Royal Guardsmen:
The news had come out in the First World War
The bloody Red Baron was flying once more
The Allied command ignored all of its men
And called on Snoopy to do it again.
- Tales of the Texas Rangers plays this trope straight most of the time. Ranger Pearson normally works with the local authorities, but he's usually the only ranger assigned to the case.
- This trope is name-dropped in Deadlands, in the description of the Texas Ranger archetype. That said, it's ultimately subverted because the Texas Rangers frequently hire, ahem, troubleshooters. Like, say, the posse. Generally speaking, operating alone in Deadlands is a bad idea. Rangers may be brave, hombre, but they ain't stupid.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- Dan Abnett's novel Brothers of the Snake starts this way — the primitive people of a backwater planet under attack by the Dark Eldar invoke an ancient pact they made with the Iron Snakes Space Marines, who respond by sending a single Marine and a dog. This one Marine is enough to do the job. This is not that unusual to the setting either: in the Great Crusade, at one point a single squad of Iron Warriors Astartes was left as a garrison on a world with several million inhabitants. A saying goes in this setting that a mere squad of five Marines are enough to conquer an entire city.
- Also used in one of the Last Chancers novels, where the titular team is sent in to destroy a hive city to contain a Genestealer outbreak. The "mass assault vs. single infiltration" justification is used explicitly.
- In the backstory, above even the Space Marines you have the Adeptus Custodes, the Emperor of Mankind's personal bodyguard. While how powerful they are tends to vary, they're generally described as "being to a Space Marine what a Space Marine is to a regular human". This is shown when they're finally introduced as a playable faction in the game itself: a "regular" Custodes is about as tough as an Ork Warboss, and as a reminder the Orks are a race that lives by Asskicking Equals Authority.
- Dungeons & Dragons swears by One Dungeon, One Party. Frequently, major threats to local communities - goblin warrens, crypts overrun with the undead, demonic portals - are sorted out by those communities posting an Adventurers Wanted ad and then offering whatever Ragtag Bunch of Misfits show up in response a sack of cash if they solve the problem. Some settings try and justify it further; Eberron, for example, states that the player characters are genuinely exceptional individuals, so a group of four people being able to take on an entire village full of Dragon Below cultists and emerge slightly battered but otherwise intact is just one of the perks of being that damn good.
- Sniper Elite, its reboots and its sequels are pretty much this combined with Sniping Mission. Karl Fairburne, all by his lonesome, is tasked with helping to destroy the Nazi War Machine, its many wonderweapons, and even prevent the Soviets from getting them.
- Mass Effect:
- The series is all about this trope. There's even a pretty well-supported in-game explanation for it, too. The Citadel Council can't send their battlefleet to stop The Dragon because it would spark a galaxy-wide war, so they hand the problem over to their One-Man Army. They don't even provide a ship and crew, the Alliance has to step in and give Shepard their new Super Prototype stealth frigate.
- All Spectres are One Rangers — literally; you don't get selected unless you're that sort of omni-competent badass and leader of men. The Council was savvy enough to stay on the lookout for those sort of people, give them a special designation, and use them appropriately. As force responses go, sending a single Spectre is considered one step below an entire warfleet.
- On the other hand, up until the third game, other than Shepard him/herself every Spectre encountered was either actively working against the council, corrupt, or dead in short order. The council gives them no oversight whatsoever, and would actively prefer not knowing what they're up to.
- Also, this is deconstructed and subverted in the case of most Spectres. Shepard in the first game has an entire ship and crew at his/her command, including a team of six badasses who could each be a Spectre with a little training, along with several independent weapons developers contracting to provide them with arms and armor. By the end of the game Shepard will likely be a millionaire with an armory of the galaxy's most advanced weaponry and five One-Person Armies behind him. All five of them proceed to become some of the galaxy's most influential figures as well. Saren, meanwhile, has built himself into a major corporate power player via his investments into Binary Helix and has his own private hideouts on obscure worlds and a small army of mercenaries he regularly hires. And this was before he allied with the geth.
- Generally speaking, each race has their own equivalent to this trope. The salarians have the Special Tasks Group, which served as the inspiration for the Spectres. Even in the highly centralized and bureaucratized salarian society, the STG is highly independent. The asari have their Huntresses, who tend to operate in small teams, and the Justicars, who operate alone and have liberty to eliminate anyone who stands between them and their mission (including other asari authorities). For their part, the human Systems Alliance has the N7 program, which produces highly trained and skilled operatives capable of operating in a wide variety of hostile environmentsnote .
- FreeSpace and its sequel were somewhat notable for making the protagonist just a wheel in the cog of the army machine, particularly toward the end of the sequel, where you don't really win anymore... you just hope to survive. It speaks volumes about this trope that the games were actually criticized for detaching the player from the plot this way; people want to be the Guy. Not that one.
- Mobius One from Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies had well proven his One Man Air Force credentials, so in the Operation Katina of Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, when a resurgent Erusean military tries to attack, he alone (and AWACS SkyEye, but he never fires a shot and so doesn't count) is sent to fight them off.
- Likewise in the penultimate level of Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War, the plan is basically for Galm One and PJ to perform an Airstrike Impossible while everyone else goes high and draws the enemy's fire away from them.
- Lampshaded in Half-Life 2 when Breen notes Gordon Freeman's tendency to plow through enemy forces like a weedwhacker. At the moment of his apparent defeat, he reveals he's aware that somebody wanted Gordon to be there, and to do what he did. Whether this trope actually applies is still an open question. Yes, the G-Man sent Gordon in alone to take down the Combine (presumably), but his perspective and resources are, well... unusual, to say the least.
- Metal Gear:
- Subverted in Metal Gear. Solid Snake is sent in alone purposely to take down Outer Heaven because Big Boss is also the enemy commander, and wants Snake to fail. Played straight with Grey Fox.
- Played straight in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Snake is sent in solo because at this point, he's well known for simply being a badass on the level of Grey Fox.
- Subverted in Metal Gear Solid; at first, it may seem like the government's putting a lot of faith in Snake's abilities, but in the end, it's revealed that the entire point of sending him was to spread a biological weapon and kill everyone so that they can recover the Metal Gear they stole and its test data intact.
- Justified in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, in which a Navy SEAL team is sent into Big Shell and promptly slaughtered by one of the villains. Even worse, the SEAL team was sent in as a decoy, so that Raiden would be able to infiltrate undetected. High Command didn't just know that the SEALs were in danger, they purposely sent them to their deaths.
- Also justified in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, as the U.S. government can't risk sending in troops to stop Volgin and kill the Boss in order to avoid starting a war with the Soviet Union.
- Also done in the above-mentioned realistic manner in the final act of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots — multiple people are sent onto Outer Haven for the final battle, but overall, the job of everyone other than Snake is to make sure he and the Metal Gear Mk III get where they need to go and keep any trouble that pops up off their backs.
- Averted in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Venom Snake is frequently the only operative on the ground during a mission, but he's backed up by an entirely paramilitary organization that he built, including intel, support and artillery teams. He also has the option of bringing a "buddy" with him, whether it's his trusty horse, a wolf-dog, or an enemy sniper who converted to his cause and fell in love with him.
- Commandos in Command & Conquer, especially since later games restrict you to having a single one deployed at a time. Made quite explicit in the First-Person Shooter Command & Conquer: Renegade, in which almost every case of Havoc actually getting backup is just existing GDI forces who happen to be deployed in the area in question; even the first mission is Havoc being called in to rescue a larger recon group that gets ambushed while looking for a Nod base. The second mission, however, plays with this, in that when a friendly base is overrun by Nod troops, the actual plan is to wait several hours for reinforcements to arrive to help them; Havoc ends up doing his One-Man Army thing right away only because he explicitly ignores orders when the Nod forces anger him by rounding up the survivors and nearby civilians for torture and brainwashing.
- This fits Samus Aran of Metroid to a T.
- The first game is a subversion, in that the Galactic Federation already tried and failed a large scale attack, so in desperation they send a lone bounty hunter. After she utterly annihilates everything, standard procedure becomes "Send Samus first."
- The same plot point applies in Metroid II: Return of Samus and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes; Samus is sent in after a team of her Federation predecessors didn't return.
- Not an exaggeration. In Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, the Federation is savvy enough to hold off its entire space armada while Samus forges ahead on her own twice: the Space Pirate Homeworld first and then Phaaze immediately afterward. Even after the Federation's badass upgrade, they're not stupid.
Prime 3 actually takes this a step further: Samus is sent to investigate, by herself, two planets that have had a Leviathan impact, and the Space Pirate homeworld. While Samus spent a month in a coma, the Federation sent her fellow hunters on solo missions to each location, figuring that their hard-earned statuses as people of mass destruction would mean they could get the job done. When contact is lost with them, the Federation sends Samus to find out what happened to each of them.
- Metroid: Other M then averts this by having Samus respond to a distress signal that the Federation also responds to by sending The Squad. Of whom all but one die.
- Metroid: Samus Returns features a non-Samus example: Ridley is sent by himself to SR-388 to fight Samus and retrieve another Metroid specimen for the Space Pirates. Implicitly this means him taking out the Ceres station at the beginning of Super Metroid is another example, considering he's the only enemy Samus encounters before landing on Zebes.
- Urban Chaos: Riot Response. It's you, and, for the beginning mission, your superior. For the rest of the game, you get you, a riot shield, a gun, and if you're lucky, backup in the form of a beat cop, firefighter, or EMT. Sadly, the "backup" you're speaking of isn't backup. They're guys who you rescued and are escorting to a safe location, and until then, they support you.
- Geneforge 4 & 5, being set during an open war between the Shapers and the rebellion, repeatedly make the point that a skilled Shaper in the right place is effectively an army. In 4, one Shaper is perfectly capable of securing a mountain pass all by himself, and the five infiltrators sent into a rebel-occupied province soon have the rebellion in disarray. This is in large part because Shapers shape, crafting mons from vats of goo or, in a pinch, nothing but sheer willpower. A Shaper is a One-Man Army because one man can create a small army of fire-breathing lizards. Or acidic zombies. Or telepathic helium-filled squid things. This is central to the plot of the series and how the Shapers try to maintain their rule. But still true when the Shaper sent isn't a shaper by class. Agents operate alone but one agent may still be considered a sufficient response to a problem.
- The opening sequence of Mega Man X: Command Mission sees three Hunters being dispatched to quell a rebellion on a Floating Continent. While their mission is explicitly stated to be infiltration, with the full-scale assault as plan B, the distinction rapidly fades as the game progresses. Granted, they sent X and Zero in, both of whom are known for wiping out small armies on their own.
- In keeping with its status as an old school style FPS, Sam "Serious" Stone is the only agent they send through time to recover the Plot Coupons, shoot his way through entire armies (literally, it's what the "Serious Engine" was designed for) and use them to kill the Big Bad. It's All There in the Manual that the time-travel device only allows for one person to be sent through (except when you play co-op), but still. And then the prequel retcons this to be that Sam is the only person still around to use the device at all, traveling through it right before an asteroid hits and outright destroys the planet.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- The Player Character, in order to fulfill the Nerevarine Prophesy, needs to be named the "Hortator" of the three Dunmeri Great Houses with holdings on Vvardenfell. A Hortator is a traditional Dunmer war-leader, implied to typically lead entire armies into battle. However, circumstances are such here that the Nerevarine will need to go alone into Red Mountain to face Dagoth Ur. Primarily, because he/she has been rendered immune to all disease (another requirement to meet the prophecy) while anyone he/she could bring along would risk catching a Blight disease, or worse, the Corprus Disease.
- The Buoyant Armigers are the Tribunal Temple's elite special forces, generally hand-picked by Vivec himself. In the few instances we get to see or hear about them in action in the game, they almost exclusively work alone. One exception is a Fighter's Guild quest which has you aid a rookie Buoyant Armiger in clearing out a necromancer's den.
- In Oblivion, you get kind of a reputation for being able to walk into Oblivion Gates and single-handedly killing the Daedra residing there. By the time the Oblivion Crisis goes into full force, the counts and countesses send you to deal with Oblivion Gates near their cities, rather than their professionally trained armies. When a local order of knights enters an Oblivion Gate to fight off the Daedra instead of waiting for you, it is actually portrayed as detrimental.
- In Skyrim this is how you get used by the Civil War factions. Simply joining the Empire faction requires proving you can do this: One fort of bandits, one dragonborn. You answer to General Tullius, who serves as this role on an international scale. He is a "troubleshooter" for the Empire and seems to have arrived with a small force and recruited most of his men while in Skyrim.
- The backstory of Cave Story. An Artifact of Doom, granting its wearer insane magic powers, resides on an island bristling with dangerous wildlife. Several nations want this artifact, so they send entire squadrons of war robots to retrieve it and kill anything in the way. Meanwhile, some other, unknown party wants to prevent the artifact from falling into the wrong hands—opting for quality over quantity, they send a pair of robots to destroy the artifact. Said pair of 'bots succeeds (eventually), while the army robots all get destroyed. note
- The Crusader games have the Silencer sent in on missions it would normally take an entire team of rebels to pull off. He's not entirely alone, with fellow Rebels doing troubleshooting from the base or taking out security measures not reachable from the game map, but you get the impression if they hadn't sent him for the meat of the mission they'd have to send at least five or six guys. In the final mission of the first game, he's supposed to command a squad of rebels, but due to complications they don't show up. He of course pulls it off anyway.
- Vagrant Story presents us the sole player character, Ashley Riot, member of the Riskbreakers, Valendia's elite force trained to handle high-risk black-ops missions by their lonesome, thus his suspicions over fellow Riskbreaker Jan Rosencrantz's offer of his assistance. In fact, his credo is...
"Reinforcements? I am the reinforcements."
- Dawn of War II. The recruiting worlds of the Blood Ravens are under attack from a huge Ork horde. The defenders are Davian Thule, about 5 squads of Space Marines and 30 or so raw initiates. They need reinforcements. They get one guy. It's enough.
- The backstory for the games explains that Power Armored soldiers weren't just good at fighting the Chinese, but also in subduing riots, with one being enough to pacify a small American town.
- NCR Rangers:
- Likewise, the NCR often takes a One Riot One Ranger approach in its use of its NCR Rangers. Given that a single Veteran Ranger is among the toughest humans in the game, barring in-universe Memetic Badasses like Lanius or Joshua Graham, this is quite justified.
- Deconstructed in another example. While exploring Vault 3, you run into a Ranger sent to kill the fiends there. After killing a few dozen sneaking around, he gets careless and suffers a leg wound from a trap, and while he still gets out fine (albeit with a leg needing treatment), Colonel Hsu will state that sending him alone was a bad idea (and that Rangers succeed often enough to make people forget they're still only human).
- Rangers are generally divided into three groups: Civilian, Patrol, and Veteran. All three have proven that they are tougher than Deathclaws and stealthier than shadows with Stealth Boys. While still only human, the gap between patrol Rangers and veterans is like the gap between a rocket launcher and a tactical nuke (with the caveat of the Badass Longcoat Rangers being tougher to scare than one).
- The player develops this reputation throughout Fallout: New Vegas: They may not be Rangers, and they may not technically be associated with any particular group, but that doesn't mean that people won't recognize the Courier's badass status. Develop a high enough reputation with a particular group (especially the NCR), and rather than offering your services for hire, they'll beg you to help them out with their problems.
- Ulysses, being a counterpart to the Courier, does a great many things on his own in his service to Caesar's Legion as the best of his Frumentarii. Without giving away too much of the plot, let's just say that a big chunk of the plot elements, especially in the DLC, are the Courier reacting to the events that Ulysses set in motion.
- Other Frumentarii are theoretically this, but in practice, Caesar knows that sending them out individually is a great way to get them killed thanks to their inferior equipment. For covert rendezvous, however, they're perfect.
- The first mission in Deus Ex. NSF terrorists have raided and set up a command post on Liberty Island, the location of UNATCO Headquarters. There are UNATCO troops and security bots on the island, but they are ordered to pull back and let the protagonist, JC Denton, handle the situation as a test of his abilities.
- Adam Jensen of the prequel Deus Ex: Human Revolution is very much this, but isn't actually employed to be one in the first place; he's just the security chief of Sarif Industries. Through the first game, he gains a reputation for being a One Ranger.
- In each game of the Time Crisis series, one or two (for co-op play) agents with pistols are sent to fight wave after wave of terrorists and solve whatever time-sensitive crisis is threatening the world that week. Of special note is the first game, where Richard Miller is said to be the only agent with no partner due to no one else in the VSSE being able to perform at his level.
- The 1995 Space Fighter sim Star Rangers refers to this trope by name in the manual when discussing the proud history of the eponymous organization. As a Star Ranger, the representative of law and order on the final frontier, it is your job to single-handedly battle entire fleets of Space Pirates, including squadrons of fighters and giant capital ships, with your lone small starfighter, often jumping from one side of the (very large) playing area to another in moments to stop attacks from multiple directions. You can also choose to fly with a single AI-controlled wingmate, however — but given the state of game AI at the time, they weren't much help.
- Max Payne 3: Good cop Da Silva knows that the bad guys will pull a He Knows Too Much on him and his family if he digs too deep. Max, on the other hand, can take care of himself, and so the latter gets the job of dealing with them. Favela full of violent Gangbangers? Send Max. Derelict hotel defended by paramilitaries? Send Max. Do an All Your Base Are Belong to Us on the Dirty Cops? Send Max!
- Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine: Similar to the literary 40K example above, three Ultramarines are sent to Forge World Graia to stop the Ork invasion, or at least slow it down long enough for reinforcements to arrive. Then the Forces of Chaos show up with Chaos Space Marines in tow. While it's played straight in gameplay, it's averted in the story; there's an entire strike cruiser full of Ultramarines trying to land, and a second force of Blood Ravens shows up to help out as well. Captain Titus is simply the point man, operating ahead of his company.
- XCOM: Enemy Unknown: The "Lone Wolf" achievement, earned by clearing a UFO Crash Site using a single soldier, on either Classic or Impossible difficulty levels.
- Star Wars:
- In the Dark Forces Saga, Kyle Katarn, and later Jaden Korr, will almost always be sent in alone to deal with whatever is threatening the Rebel Alliance/New Republic. For Jaden the missions start off proportionate, apprentice-sized jobs for the apprentice, though he still ends up doing almost all of the work entirely on his own, either by happening to handle the part that involves all the combat when he and Kyle split up (the two missions to Tatooine) or because Kyle simply never shows up (the mission to Bakura), with the only mission of the first set where Kyle visibly does nearly as much as Jaden being the one on Corellia, where he provides air support. By the time they're upgraded to a full Jedi Knight, it's more "Here's a problem we'd normally send a small army for, have at it, Jaden."
- One mission in Jedi Academy invokes this, with Wedge Antilles deliberately devising a plan for a single ground soldier, with Wedge giving fighter/bomber support, to single-handedly take over an Imperial tibanna gas platform. Naturally, that single ground soldier needs to be a Jedi.
- Four thousand years previously, in Knights of the Old Republic, the player character of the first game is sent out in a stolen freighter with a handful of allies because you are the only one with both leadership skills and knowledge of where the Star Maps are because you're the Big Bad's former boss, only amnesiac, and sending the Republic fleet is not viable because a) the Big Bad's fleet is still flying around blowing things up, and b) several of the locations — especially Korriban and Manaan — are not viable targets due to things like Sith academies or being steadfastly neutral producers of medical supplies. Of course, in the Dark Side ending, this backfires badly on the Republic.
- B.J. Blazkowicz of the Wolfenstein series is generally this in all his missions in Wolfenstein 3-D and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. In the 2009 game, he ranges between this and It's Up to You in situations where the Kreisau Circle is fighting alongside him.
- In the Resident Evil-verse, one or two agents with occasional air support is considered an appropriate response to anything less than a country-sized biohazard. It isn't until 2009, chronologically, that we see the B.S.A.A. even has six-man teams. There is some justification that sending more, less-well-prepared soldiers against zombies just makes more zombies, and that the agents are usually there to investigate and possibly help survivors before the area is sanitized.
- Resident Evil 4 is a prime example of this. Biohazards are not expected at all. The threat was simply that the President's daughter has gone missing. You'd think this'd cause a massive investigation across the world but instead they just send the one guy, Leon, armed with only a handgun, a knife and a single photograph of the president's daughter into a backwater country seemingly just to ask if anyone has seen her around. He doesn't even speak their language. He gets the job he was sent in for done and takes down an entire biohazardous terrorist organization to the point there's nothing left of them except samples of their parasite.
- A literal example in Metro 2033; when Exhibition Station is under attack by the Dark Ones, the Order sends one Ranger— Hunter— to deal with it. Justified because the Order is a very small fighting force, numbering only about a hundred or so, and Moscow is the biggest city in Europe. Naturally, they can only muster small squads for big threats, or single operatives if an outlying station like Exhibition needs help.
- In EVE Online, the Capsuleers are this to any faction that employs their services for Security Missions. By the time a Capsuleer reaches Level 4 missions, said missions involve one lone Capsuleer up against entire fleets of dozens of NPC ships with at least half a dozen battleships on average, the biggest ships in EVE Online barring capital ships. With the appropriate ship and fittings, one Capsuleer can solo these fleets on their own.
- The Security Officer in Marathon is an odd example. He usually has some form of backup, but they might as well not be there, considering he usually eliminates the entire enemy force nigh-singlehandedly, as well as does basically all of the heavy lifting of the operation.
- In the opening to DOOM Eternal, King Novik's narration explicitly says that against the evil of demon and man, only the Doom Slayer will be sent. He's enough.
- The earliest iterations of the MechWarrior games—2 and 3 in particular—are fond of sending out the player out solo on missions which in the lore would be better suited to larger formations of Humongous Mecha. It is no exaggeration that the average mission will pit you against three to five times your own tonnage in enemy units, and that some missions will bump that as far as ten times your tonnage. They expect you to do this on the regular, and you will have to succeed if you want to finish the game.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Twilight and her friends are the collective Ranger by virtue of owning The Elements Of Harmony. When Nightmare Moon is about to return, Celestia sends Twilight to make friends and defeat her.
- In Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, the good guys are given the choice between a mass assault vs. sending in one ship with only a few people. The latter is ultimately chosen, on the reasoning that it would be more stealthy.
- This trope was the promotional Tagline for Bravestarr. Occasionally applied to one of its Space Western brothers, too. Some Galaxy Rangers episodes only had a single one of the main characters present (the Supertrooper duology, featuring The Lancer Shane Gooseman, are the most prominent examples), and were usually split into teams of two.
- In 414BC the city-state of Syracuse (on Sicily) was getting monstered by an Athenian invasion force of about 7,300 soldiers and 134 warships. Syracuse appealed for help to Sparta, which sent one man to lead the resistance: Gylippus. The Athenians sent another 5,000 troops and seventy ships. Gylippus won. Not a single member of the Athenian force escaped alive (to Gylippus' frustration, as he wanted to take war captives back to Sparta).
- Bernardo de Gálvez earned a motto with this trope after he had a outstanding participation in The American Revolution with little support from the rest of the Spanish Empire: yo solo ("me alone").
- T.E. Lawrence, a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia. The British government wanted to create a civil war in Turkey's Arabian provinces. He was originally intended to fulfill a diplomatic role and not actually involve himself in the conflict directly. When he started doing so with some success, the British sort of just went with it.
- The slogan for the Texas Rangers, as noted in the TV section entry for Walker, Texas Ranger up above.
- The Mounties (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) have a similar reputation. Their original name was the Northwest Mounted Police, and they were given responsibility of just about everything north and west of Ontario. When the Yukon gold rush occurred, the NWMP made sure it was the most orderly and civilized gold rush ever seen, especially when contrasted against the California gold rush a few decades before. The Mounties today service as the federal police investigation branch (similar to the FBI), and are considered polite, professional, elite, dedicated, and fearsome if crossed.
- Léo Major. After singlehandedly liberating Zwolle, he was sought after when the Korean War broke out, and he and twenty-two soldiers were sent in to recon Chinese positions, and held off two entire divisions when US forces in the sector were forced to withdraw.
- Charles Gordon, the popular ex-Governor of Sudan, was sent with a few Egyptian staff officers to organize the withdrawal of Anglo-Egyptian soldiers (and civilians) from Sudan during The River War. This backfired spectacularly when Gordon refused to evacuate Khartoum, was besieged by the Mahdi and the British government was humiliated into organizing a relief expedition — which failed to save Gordon.