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Outscare the Enemy

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"You want to be afraid of somebody, be afraid of ME!"

When you think someone on your side may give in to the other side out of fear, trying to outscare the enemy might be a way to counteract this.

This is essentially a competition between two sides for the title of The Dreaded.

It's a common leadership technique of Drill Sergeant Nasty, The Commissar and Sergeant Rock, or other kinds of anti-heroes who sees this as a means justified by a goal. See also I Control My Minions Through..., where fear is one of the means. The Mob Boss Is Scarier is a specific subtrope related to the world of crime dramas.

Compare Horrifying the Horror, which is this trope but done by another character.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Used in One Piece during the Arlong Park arc: Moomoo, the Sea Cow is summoned to fight the Strawhats, but since he/she was already beaten by Luffy and Sanji earlier, it tries to escape. However, it turns out that It's even more scared of Arlong, as a simple menacing talk from him is enough to push Moomoo to attack the pirates.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin: Shishio's mooks are trying to escape as they can't beat the police troops guarding Kyoto. Then, Kamatari Honshu appears and proceeds to mow them down with his giant weapon, claiming that anyone who wants to flee can do it... if he can escape his giant scythe first.

    Card Games 
  • In Magic: The Gathering, one version of the "Raging Goblin" card (the Exodus one) has this in the flavour text: "Volrath has bred them to fear only him. Are they charging to battle or merely fleeing his wrath?"

    Comic Books 
  • One The Punisher story has a bunch of Mooks fleeing their increasingly unhinged boss, on the grounds that while he might be able to get them out of this situation, the Punisher will kill them.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Madagascar, the foosa try to attack the lemurs but become scared and run away at the sight of Alex the lion. King Julian and his advisor Maurice briefly discuss whether or not it is wise to keep a large sharp-toothed predator (that the other predators seem terrified of) around for the sake of scaring the enemy.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A major theme in 300.
    King Leonidas: You have many slaves, Xerxes, but few warriors. It won't be long before they fear my spears more than your whips.
  • The way a crook in Judge Dredd deals with an underling considering surrendering to Dredd provides the page quotation.
  • In the movie Patton, Patton says something to the effect that he'll make his men unafraid of the Germans, but he hopes to God they never stop being afraid of him.

  • Lone Wolf: It is explained in The Magnamund Companion that Giaks are much more afraid of their officers than of the enemy. Which proved a weakness early on, as the Sommlending archers were quick to figure out that if you targeted and killed the Giak commanders, their troops would readily disband in panic. This forced the Darklords to look for stronger, arrow-resistant platoon leaders, which they found in the huge Gourgaz lizardfolks.

  • Various Discworld novels deal with this theme.
    • Jingo:
      • There's a line where Vimes pretty much says this to a less-than-loyal sailor regarding a dangerous beach.
      • Colon is motivated to go through with the spy mission by the fact that his fear of Vetinari is stronger than his fear of the dangers of the mission.
    • In The Fifth Elephant, Vimes is sent to Ɯberwald, much to his chagrin. When Carrot goes AWOL, Colon takes over and quickly drives the Watch into the ground. When the rest of the Watch goes on strike, it turns out crime rates in the city drop, because while every thief knows that Vimes is out of town, they sure as hell know that his reaction on finding such a mess on returning won't be pretty. Although in the event, Vimes had other things on his mind when he did get back.
    • In Lords and Ladies Nanny Ogg rallies the villagers against the invading elves by pointing out that when they march off to face them, she'll be following on behind a little... just in case.
      Nanny Ogg: Well, it's like this. If you go out there you may have to face elves. But if you stops here, you definitely have to face me. Now, elves is worse than me, I'll admit. But I'm persistent.
    • In Interesting Times, Cohen the Barbarian tries this, but without success — the villain in this case has quite a nasty reputation:
      [The Lord Chamberlain] risked looking up and found the point of Cohen's sword just in front of his eyes.
      "Yeah, but right now who're you more frightened of? Me or this Lord Hong?"
      "Uh... Lord Hong!"
      Cohen raised an eyebrow. "Really? I'm impressed."
  • Marauders of Gor. The alien Kurii have commandeered the Beautiful Slave Girls of the Torvalslanders along with other livestock. The slave girls are terrified of the Kurii, but are given orders by their masters, which they obey.
    We would soon see if such feared sleen and Kurii more, or Gorean males, their masters. If they did not obey, they would be slain. As slaves, they were commanded; as slaves, did they fail to comply, they would be put to death. They had no choice. They would obey.
  • Many, many books and folktales aimed at three to six-year-old children use variations on this trope as the basis for their plot. The Gruffalo is currently the most popular example of this genre. In it, a little mouse scares off its predators by inventing an imaginary animal called a gruffalo and describing how horrifying said creature is, then runs into an actual gruffalo, and tricks it into thinking that mice are the most terrifying creatures in the forest, due to the fact that all the woodland predators scatter when they see the mouse and gruffalo pass by.
  • In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, a group of Death Eaters run amok at the Quidditch World Cup as the Ministry tries in vain to control them. The riot only ends once an unknown person conjures the symbol of Voldemort, from which the Death Eaters immediately retreat. They're more afraid of the punishment they'll get for denouncing Voldemort when he lost his power than they are of the Ministry.
  • In Thomas Love Peacock's The Misfortunes Of Elphin, the monks are intimidated by the ruthless King Melvas, but: "The anger of King Arthur," said Taliesin, "is certain, and its consequences infallible. The anger of King Melvas is doubtful, and its consequences to you cannot be formidable."
  • The Specialist by Gayle Rivers. Rivers, a mercenary working with Iraqi special forces in the First Gulf War, accidentally gets Trapped Behind Enemy Lines because he didn't get the signal to withdraw. His squad are in a panic because if they are taken prisoner the Iranians will torture and kill them, inflicting mutilations that will make the body unacceptable to Allah. They start debating whether to go out in a blaze of glory whereupon Rivers, realising he has to take control of his men, produces a knife and says that anyone who wants to die will receive said mutilations from him. Later when they're hiding in a sump pit with Iranian soldiers right above them, he has to silently put a gun to the head of a man who looks like he's cracking up under the pressure.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Gaunt's Ghosts:
      • In the novel His Last Command, Gaunt tells some soldiers that he could tell them he was more frightening than the enemy.
      • When the Blood Pact warriors launch a frontal attack on the Hinzerhaus fortress in Only in Death, their appearance is so terrifying that one of the Ghosts mutters that perhaps the Imperial Guard should learn from them how to raise fear among the enemy ranks.
    • In the Ciaphas Cain novels, this is Cain's own personal motivation: In any situation where his life is in peril, he will use any tactic that has only a slight chance of working in order to escape a situation that will be certain death. Case in point: in his first encounter with Necrons, he jumped into a teleportation device that would send him to an unknown location, since the odds of him surviving whatever he ended up at were at 1%, but the odds of him surviving another ten seconds in a room full of Necrons was 0%.
  • In World War Z, a Palestinian family decides to accept Israel's offer of sanctuary in the days before the mass zombie outbreaks. The family's teenaged son, full of religious fervor and thinking that this was just an Israeli trick of some kind, declares his intention to go join the anti-Israeli militants instead. His father, who at all other times was a patient, quiet, and unassuming man, smacked him upside the head and shouted at him until the son was cowering and sobbing in fear. The son knows why his father did this in retrospect: his father knew it was the only way to get his son to go with them, and the only way to save his life.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Subverted in "The Black Seal" episode of Blackadder, the Hawk impugns Edmund's fitness to lead the Six Most Evil Men in England. Edmund tries to dismiss this by telling them how utterly evil his rival is.... and of course it backfires.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Part of the Commissar's job is to embody this. Possible death at the hands of of reality-defying abominations or a Horde of Alien Locusts may be terrifying, but certain death for cowardice is a big motivator.
    • Valhallan Ice Warriors: "I don't know what effect they have on the enemy, but by the Emperor, they terrify me." Said by their commanding general no less.
    • Orks have the option of beating the crap out of their underlings to counter a failed morale test.
    • Warhammer 40,000 RPG Black Crusade has a rule for this. If your minions are up against a fear-causing foe, you can try to terrify them into attacking anyway because you happen to be the scarier threat.
    • The next game in the Warhammer-RPGs RPG Only War does this as well, although due to lack of a minion-system, it is more broadly designed for anyone you can affect with the command-skill. The Commissar mentioned above in fact specializes in this with a special talent for him, which not only gives him a bonus for terrifying his underlings by — in that regard only — counting as causing fear similar to blood raining from the sky or "basic" demons, but also allows him to affect the player characters themselves. Similarly, he can also shoot the players NPC-comrades to make the player heal and ignore critical damage, like loss of limbs or broken bones (even not including the usual limitation of this not affecting effects resulting in death and lost/destroyed bodyparts).

    Video Games 
  • The Art of War Magic, an in-universe book which appears in some The Elder Scrolls games, contains an account of a battle between the Chimer and the Nords; a Chimer sorcerer hears how the Nords have shamans who summon storms to confuse and dismay their opponents, so he summons an ice demon and orders it to hide behind the Chimer army. When the storm forces the Chimer army into retreat, the demon appears and terrifies the Chimer army into charging back towards the Nords, taking them by surprise and eventually winning a victory.
  • Fallout: New Vegas:
    • This can work against Caesar's Legion on one occasion. There's a quest where you can be hired by the NCR to help interrogate a Legion officer they've captured. If your character has a high enough intelligence, then the best solution is to convince him you're a Legion assassin sent to punish him for allowing himself to be captured. He's obviously more afraid of the Legion than the New California Republic, and in his panic and indignation he lists everything he'd done for the Legion lately, which is exactly what the NCR wanted to know.
    • Taking the Terrifying Presence perk allows you to do this in many NPC encounters. For example:
      Legion Assassin: You just don't know when to quit, do you?
      The Courier: Not while there are still spines left unshattered.
      Legion Assassin: Oh God help us!!
  • Iji: A certain text log from an unnamed Komato Annihilator in Sector X seems to take this approach to leadership, stating that "he ain't sparing anyone who tries to run away from that mission" and ending his message to his troops with "If you're more afraid of [the title character] than ME, you're a TRAITOR."
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword: Ghirahim pulls this when he throws his entire army at Link in an attempt to stop him interrupting the ritual to resurrect Demise.
    Hear me, my hordes! The spell will soon be complete! The demon king returns! Until then, you WILL keep that whelp from interfering with my ritual. I don't care if the whole lot of you get lodged on the end of his blade. You will buy me the time I need! Do not fear him... Fear my wrath if you fail me!
  • In Medieval II: Total War, you can try to counteract a dreaded general with a chivalrous one... or you could just use a ten-dread general yourself and make the enemy break first!
  • The opening of Neverwinter Nights 2 has you rallying West Harbor's militia to fend off an attack by bladelings and duergar. When you encounter one cowardly member of the militia, you have the option of telling him that if he doesn't head for the front line, you'll kill him before the enemy does... or beating him until he joins the fray.


    Web Original 
  • In Twig, Catcher and the Lambsbridge Gang do this to the Ghosts, a group of superhuman clones, by messily murdering two of them and letting their high-frequency screams speak for them.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television, but it can be inverted when one is afraid of one's underlings. There's a probably apocryphal quote attributed to the Duke of Wellington to the effect that the French would have to be terrified of his troops, since he certainly was.
  • Truth in Television in many classrooms. Teachers and childhood workers don't go out of the way to be intimidating or fear-inducing to children, but it isn't uncommon for children to perceive them in these ways due to their size and air of authority. But the converse of this is also true, because fear is a much more common reaction than you'd think in classrooms/ school aged care environments when teachers and carers are confronted with a child with tendencies towards violence. A ten-year-old child can do a lot more physical harm than you'd think, and care workers aren't always trained to deal with this or aren't given the right amount of support, and so are placed in situations where they are constantly afraid that they or the children in their care will get attacked or seriously injured.
  • Josef Stalin is quoted as saying "in the Soviet Army it takes more courage to retreat than to advance." When one takes into account the fact that the Red Army had units whose sole purpose was to shoot would-be deserters, this is probably not that far from the truth.
  • All military organizations and indeed all dangerous occupations that require group coordination(sailors, cops, firemen, etc) depend to a large degree on the fear of social rejection. Indeed Honor has been defined as a collective moral code enforced by social rewards and punishments.
  • This is also the reason that the Roman army would decimate its troops.
  • In the eighteenth century, generals were so impressed by Frederick the Great that they imitated him, even to the point of instituting rigid regulations far beyond what even Frederick's army had. What they did not understand was that a disproportionate number of Frederick's men had been shanghaied (to coerce or trick into doing something) and he had no choice but to be a Control Freak even when he himself knew it was tactically suboptimal.