Follow TV Tropes


Savage Setpiece

Go To

"So the secret to getting past the Red Orb Guardian is to not attack him? But he's huge! He's nasty! He's the most lethal video game creature ever! He towers above you with fists like anvils! Skulls litter the ground at his feet! And you're not even supposed to try to take this guy on in a fight? Talk about counterintuitive."
Jason Fox, FoxTrot

This creature normally doesn't look or act like an enemy, and unlike everything else, it's not interested in your blood. It's simply there to provide flavor. However, if you attack it or otherwise provoke it, it will turn on you and dish out the hurt, possibly even ending you in one strike.

Most commonly this is programmed as a form of Video Game Cruelty Punishment. Video games are rather infamous for having player characters who can still be considered "the good guys" no matter how much petty rampaging they engage in, so even to this day a harmless creature that suddenly turns vicious can catch gamers off-guard, forcing them to question whether engaging in your inner Jerkass is really worth having to start the level over from scratch.

See also Beware the Nice Ones, Rage Breaking Point, Heroic Neutral and Awakening the Sleeping Giant for story/characterization version of this trope. Compare Helpful Mook and Shoplift and Die. Often overlaps with Killer Rabbit. Not to be confused with Malevolent Architecture.


  • The Legend of Zelda
    • Multiple installments have the Cuccos, vicious birds who many old-school gamers can recognize by name as being this trope. In every game they appear in and are attackable; they'll gang up on Link and viciously destroy him should he poke them with his sword one too many times. In some games the barrage will stop if you survive long enough, but in others the only escape is to leave the area or die.
    • In The Legend of Zelda, if you attack NPCs with your sword, the fires next to them start flinging fireballs at you.
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker replaces Cuccos with pigs. If you return to the first island you'll find that the pig you caught at the beginning of the game is now HUGE. It can be provoked just like the other pigs. It does more damage per hit than nearly every enemy and boss in the game (three hearts, only matched by the Mighty Darknut's and Ganondorf's strongest attacks).
    • In The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons, you repeatedly defeat the Moblin King until he's living in a one-room house in a village making bombs for sale, utterly disheartened at how low he's fallen, to the point where he makes no attempt to harm you. If you put a bomb in his stockpile, however, it's the final straw, and he and his mooks run outside, lock the place up, and watch the house explode with you still in it.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
      • The Hinox are giant trolls who are always sleeping when you come across them. They'll only attack you if you wake them up, and it's pretty easy to avoid doing so if you're careful. In fact, if you're really careful, you can climb on top of them and steal their loot without stirring them.
      • Being both highly skilled and territorial, Lynels have a much wider aggro range and a much higher chance of spotting a stealthy Link. They take a few seconds longer to aggro than most enemies once they see you, but don't let the standard "?" awareness indicator fool you. Their body language and the way they threateningly reach for their weapons demonstrate that they can see you perfectly well. They're warning you to leave their territory NOW or face a Curb-Stomp Battle. And while they tend to spawn in the middle of obvious routes between plot-important locations, Lynels also have very specific fixed spawnpoints and a player willing to sidetrack a bit will never need to engage with one.
  • Super Mario Bros.: The recurring Wiggler enemy. They are large caterpillars who inflict Collision Damage, but are otherwise content with simply strolling around at a slow pace and are easily avoided. That is, unless you Goomba Stomp them, in which case they will quite literally Turn Red with anger and begin chasing you around!
  • Kirby: Similar to the Wigglers from Mario, there's the Scarfies. They're cute and seemingly-harmless little orange creatures with a pair of pointy ears. Unless you attack them, in which case they will get mad and transform into Mutant Scarfies, who have one hell of a Nightmare Face and will chase you around, exploding on contact.
  • Metroid:
    • Super Metroid has a turtle-like creature and its adorable babies in a certain room in Maridia. While they're normally utterly harmless, if you attack the little ones, the mother will immediately spin around in her shell after you. Climb on her shell while she's spinning and she'll launch upwards, allowing you to reach an Energy Tank and a Missile Expansion.
    • Metroid Dread: The Hecathon lifeforms on Ghavoran and its aquatic Omnithon version on Burenia are huge, floating creatures with a lot of health but do not actively attack Samus. However, if they're damaged in any way they will project a damaging light from underneath that deals constant, high damage.
  • The Game Boy Advance RPG Dokapon had the Shopkeepers. While they would never pick a fight with you, you could pick a fight with them... Ouch.
  • In the jungle stage of Contra Hard Corps, there's an apatosaurus whose back you land on after defeating one of the stage's minibosses. You have to walk up his neck and over his head to move on, but if you shoot his face, he'll unleash a stream of white-hot plasma DEATH out of his nose. In the Japanese version where you could take up to 3 hits before dying (unlike the US version), this is the only attack in the game that kills you instantly.
  • A not-really-an-enemy variation: Earthworm Jim's Peter The Puppy. You have to escort him across a level full of dangerous enemies and pits. You can't hurt him, but if an enemy does, cute little Peter will morph into a giant alternate-personality monster and maul the heck out of you. Then he'll drag you to the nearest checkpoint before turning back to normal. A rare case where its not the player character that can be cruel but rather pay the price for someone else's cruelty.
  • In the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series, you can occasionally find shops in dungeons. Attempt to shoplift, and you'll face an army of extremely high-level Kecleon with max stats. Even if you're prepared, they'll probably wipe the floor with you. The worst part is that this is the only way to recruit a Kecleon for your Rescue Team.
    • The shopkeeper can also go ballistic on you or the enemies if accidentally struck by an attack. His behavior is rather unpredictable in that regard, so fighting around him is generally a bad idea.
    • The shopkeepers in the Chocobo's Dungeon series look like the Grim Reaper and are ungodly powerful. Naturally, you need to kill one to achieve 100% Completion.
  • In Left 4 Dead, the Witch does nothing besides moan, sob, and cue creepy music. If you attack her in any way (be it by bullet, melee, explosion or fire), get too close to her, shine your flashlight at her for long, and in some cases, look at her too long, she'll get startled, which means she'll run at you faster than a survivor can run when not under the effects of an epinephrine boost (although not when she's on fire, then she's slower), claw the offender for either an instant incap or, on higher difficulties, a One-Hit Kill, and if said offender is incapped, she'll rake furiously at them and kill them very quickly. In some versions she'll rampage against the the other party members, too, out of sheer spite, and in all cases, she'll switch targets if another survivor lights her up. Sneaking past is the preferrable option, although the Director is often smart enough to spawn her at a chokepoint with no way around, and vanilla bots don't have enough AI to run past her one at a time, and that often forces the player to kill her by any means possible. While she's a Demonic Spider when all four Survivors are together, in any game mode where the player is alone, making stealth far more manageable, she's rarely more than an annoyance and a slowdown in pace, even less so than the Spitter. Left 4 Dead 2 introduced daytime levels, and in them, Witches have a change in behavior: they get up and wander blindly around at a slow pace, and aside from getting shot, are much more patient towards anything that annoys them.
  • Most cashiers in the Grand Theft Auto games can be robbed at gunpoint, but those in the gun shops and high-class nightclubs carry shotguns and will bust a cap if you try anything funny. Oddly, this can work to your advantage as if you're trying to kill some annoying gang members and can't quite get the police to aggro them. Gunshots will attract the police, who'll kill the cashiers, which will cause cashiers to become more aggressive in their behavior, and probably shoot or beat to death the wandering gangers. Good for when your objective is to kill one of their number and they're mulling about near both the target and the gun store/nightclub. Just aim your gun at the cashier and duck behind someone else.
  • Monster Hunter:
    • Monster Hunter Frontier has the Espinas, large, powerful Flying Wyverns whose thick, spiked hides deflect most attacks. Unlike the vast majority of hyperterritorial Monsters, Espinas is unusually docile and ignores Hunters even as they attack it unless they manage to sufficiently piss it off, which results in many inexperienced players being introduced to a world of hurt. Especially with the Rare subspecies.
    • Monster Hunter: World: Due to the updated engine in the game, most monsters are perfectly content to just pass you by without even giving you a second look (as compared to in the Old World games, where all monsters would immediately go for your jugular as soon as they saw you.) However, if you so much as poke them with your weapon, said monsters will immediately be ready for a fight.
  • In Temple of Elemental Evil, there are several locations which automatically spawn groups of giant rats (such as the Moathouse entry hall). Unlike most rats you'll meet, these are not hostile. You can attack them, but if your party is low level (which is usually the case) you could end up with a couple of diseased characters. The rats mostly serve the purpose of indicating that a location is not healthy for sleeping.
  • In Age of Empires, elephants (except for King Elephants) only attack if you hurt them first. While they're dangerous to hunt as a result, you can safely ignore them. This is a big contrast to lions and crocodiles. Wild boars in Age of Empires II are similar: attempting to hunt one for food will likely end up with a few dead villagers on the side as a result.
  • The Big Daddies fill this role in BioShock. They'll lumber past ignoring you all day long, at worst shoving you aside dealing zero damage if you stand in their way, but if you take a shot at them (or their Little Sister), they won't stop until one of you is dead. But if you do kill them, you can both capture the Little Sister and loot their bodies for money and ammo.
  • Minecraft:
    • Spiders are hostile at night, but in daylight will still fight back when attacked. Unlike Wolves or Zombified Piglins, they don't defend each other in the wild.
    • Wolves behave with a pack instinct, ganging up when attacked. If a wolf is tamed, it will defend its owner as well.
    • The Endermen are a weird case because they define "provocation" as "looking directly at them". However, so long as you keep your crosshairs away from their noodly torsos, they'll just wander peacefully around carrying their blocks.
    • Dolphins are adorable, play with items you drop on the water, and if you feed them fish, they'll lead you to treasure. Attack one, though, and the entire pod will swarm you, swooping in for not-insignificant damage.
    • Iron Golems that spawn naturally as village guards are content to ignore the player and patrol their village, hunting down threats like zombies, skeletons and Illager patrols or raids. Sometimes they'll "converse" with baby Villagers by offering them poppy flowers. If you hit one, or a nearby villager, it'll turn its might and wrath at you with its powerful attack. Golems you make yourself will not attack you in retaliation.
    • The Zombified Piglin will walk right up to you and stare at you without attacking; they're content to wander around the Nether grunting and snorting without incident. Attack them, though, and not only do they attack full-on with their golden swords, but any other Zombified Piglins within hearing range will come in swinging, and on normal difficulty, they can take off a quarter of your maximum health with one hit.
  • The Shopkeepers in Spelunky are like this. Even worse, killing one directly would cause all the other shopkeepers for the rest of the game to be hostile as well.
  • In Final Fantasy XII, you may see a large and high level T-Rex-esque creature wandering around a very early area of the game. The green HP bar indicates it's not hostile as long as you leave it alone. If you're foolish enough to run up and smack it, don't expect to live for much longer...
    • The Elementals and Entites too. They appear in a variety of locations, all the same level regardless of region (so in some places they're overpowered and in others remarkably weak). Unfortunately, casting magic anywhere near them will also set them off.
    • Similarly, the Long Guis and Shaolong Guis in Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy XIII-2 ignore you completely unless you deliberately pick a fight with them. They don't show up nearly as early as the FFXII example, but are still strong enough to One-Hit Kill you when you first encounter them. By the postgame of XIII, however, you'll be farming them if you want to achieve 100% Completion.
  • For a short time, World of Warcraft had Gamon in the Horde capital. He was originally level 13 and frequently killed by Horde players for no reason. However, just before the Cataclysm expansion, Gamon was raised to level 85, past the previous expansion's level limit, allowing him to deal enough damage to one-hit players attacking him. Gamon's status as a Savage Setpiece disappeared as Cataclysm released, allowing players to reach level 85.
  • Guild Wars 2 has a substantial amount of neutral fauna, ranging from roving herds of moa to lumbering oakhearts. They typically will not actively engage anyone, but if hit by anything (players or enemy mobs), they will defend themselves.
  • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga has Oho Jees. Attacking these oddballs with elemental moves triggers a battle. Incidentally, defeating them doesn't kill them; they simply return to normal, harmless, friendly blobs.
  • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Netch are a species of Flying Jellyfish native to Morrowind and are farmed for their leathery skin by the Dunmer. Whether wild or farmed, they won't attack you unless provoked. However, both the large, poisonous male and the smaller, more physically damaging female can easily dispatch a low-level player.
  • A less 'non-enemy' variation of this can happen in Neverwinter Nights. For example, in one dungeon in the first chapter of the original campaign its boss will animate the occasional corpse just to taunt you as you enter a room. That corpse (unlike any other undead in the same location) will be harmless and just collapse on its own after saying its piece if left alone, but if attacked will start to hit back and turn out to be effectively indestructible...
  • In the Baldur's Gate series you can find bears around in earlier stages of the game. Unlike other creatures you find on the map, they mind their own business and don't attack you, unless you come too close. Unfortunately for a budding hero fresh out of Candlekeep a single black bear can quickly overwhelm low level fighters and end your journey abruptly.
  • The King P Statue in Mother 3 is normally nothing more than a background element found in the upper-right corner of New Pork City. However, you can choose to provoke it, in which case it will come to life and, unless you know a secret to defeating it, hand you your ass on a silver platter.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles X: The world is filled to the brim with monsters, a number of whom won't attack you unless you provoke them. The enormous Millesaurs are the earliest example. They're some of the largest and most powerful enemies in the game, but will ignore you as long as you leave them alone. The most extreme example is the game's strongest Superboss: Telethia, the Endbringer. It's completely non-hostile, but if you attack it, it's the single most powerful enemy in the game.
  • Pikmin has Bulborbs that sleep unless you a) get too close to them or b) attack them. You can find out which is which by looking at their eyes. The ones with half-open eyes have the lighter slumber.
  • Stuart Smith's Adventure Construction Set had "Aggressive Neutral" as a possible AI setting for creatures. This type of creature will move around on its own, but won't attack unless the player (or some other Aggressive creature) hits it first. It then swaps to either "Aggressive Friend" (if an Enemy hit it) or "Aggressive Enemy" (if you did). Given the incredibly bad aim characters tend to have with missile weapons, accidentally triggering them is not difficult.
  • Metro 2033 has the Librarians. If they're alerted to your presence, they'll approach to 1-2 meters; you can stare them down, and they'll leave to a hole in the floor or ceiling to leap through after putting on a short dominance show. They'll only attack if you attack first, turn your back on them, or invade their personal space, and then you're in for a very nasty fight against an opponent that's about as tough as a Demon and absolutely relentless. The more aggressive Black Librarians tend to start off hostile, need to be evaded a few times to enter "stare-able" mode, and since there's rarely an opening for them to leave the rooms they're in through, they turn hostile immediately anyway; it's best to either outrun or sneak past them.
  • The Creeper monster in Doom mod Lasting Light isn't hostile as long as you don't shine the lantern on him; if you do, you'll have a split second to douse the light before it kills you. Otherwise, the best way to deal with it is to kill the lantern and walk towards it, and it'll vanish for some time. What complicates matters is that the lantern is the only light source in the whole mod (it's literally pitch black without it), if you stay in the dark too long, another monster, the Screecher, can kill you out of nowhere, and without light you also cannot see the Stalker.
  • Assassin's Creed: Odyssey features chickens who operate under this rule, likely as a reference to Zelda. Since the game has level scaling for all opponents, end-game players can find themselves accosted by Level 99 chickens if they accidentally hit one. Also worth noting is that, unlike every other animal in the game, chickens will come at you if you attack any wildlife.
  • Mega Man Legends:
    • The Poh is a humanoid Reaverbot that wanders back-and-forth while making strange sounds. It doesn't attack you unless you provoke it by touching or attacking it. And if you do, all the Pohs nearby will transform into a monstrous form and start chasing after you.
    • The Mansomantal is a Reaverbot resembling a manta. It's a harmless critter serving as a moving platform, and you can ride on it to reach the treasure chests on the pillars. Normally, it doesn't attack you and you only get hurt when you are in its path, but if you keep attacking it, it would eventually start to attack you with electric orbs before falling down.
    • Downplayed with the Norieibi, a fish-like Reaverbot with two different sizes. The small Norieibis are content to swim around calmly, but if you attack any of them, all the Norieibis would start to attack you. The large Norieibis, however, are hostile by default and they fire missiles at you.
  • Mooses and boars are among the most dangerous foes you'll face in NieR: Automata if you provoke them. They level up with the player, have a lot of HP, hit like a truck, and (obviously) can't be hacked with 9S. You can turn this right back around on your machine enemies, though, if you lure a moose or boar in with animal bait and ride it.
  • In Ultima: Runes of Virtue, there is a giant seahorse in the lake near Lord British's castle. If the player character attacks it, it will turn red, move very fast and shoot lightning bolts at you. Spoony learned it too well, and he describes how this is the first creature you meet in the game, and that "of course you're going to attack it". He concludes by saying that seahorses are badass, man!
  • The Dark Souls series has a few examples:
    • In Dark Souls, the Ceaseless Discharge and Crossbreed Priscilla are first encountered as non-hostile, but will turn into bosses the moment you strike them. In the Ceaseless Discharge's case, you can also trigger the boss fight by simply looting the Gold-Hemmed Black Set he was watching over.
    • In Dark Souls II, Vendrick and the Ancient Dragon are introduced as non-hostile NPCs, but hitting them a few times triggers a Superboss fight in both cases, and grueling ones at that. Scholar of the First Sin also revamps the Dragon Shrine so that all Dragon Knights are initially non-hostile to you until you either hit them first, or show cowardice by trying to run past any of the Drakekeepers (and one single aggressive Dragon Knight at the end) that challenge you on your way to the Ancient Dragon.
  • O.D. from Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is aloof but friendly and would rather just talk to you or lend you books than fight with you. You can even attack him from below to get your hands on a Joke Item and he won't retaliate. However, when he says "return this book before you leave or else", well, do it.
  • In Bad Piggies, the Angry Birds appear in some levels next to slingshots, but start out asleep. If your vehicle makes too much noise near them, they'll wake up, notice your pig, and sling themselves at it to destroy your vehicle, more than likely forcing a restart.
  • "Eric & the Dread Gazebo" is a tale of this unintentionally happening during a tabletop RPG session in the early 70s. The GM Ed Whitchurch mentions "a gazebo on a small hill" as a bit of set-dressing. Eric Sorenson, the paladin, is clearly unfamiliar with the term and mistakes it for some fantasy creature (possibly the demonic glabrezu). He calls out to the gazebo, and upon receiving no response, fires an arrow at it, to no effect. All the while, Ed grows increasingly annoyed at the misunderstanding. Unnerved by his inability to harm the gazebo, Eric attempts to flee—at which point the exasperated Ed declares: "It's too late. You've awakened the gazebo. It catches you and eats you."