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So Much for Stealth

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"There's no saying 'I'm sorry' in the field. So if it feels like a gamble's about to come up short, you put on a smile — and try to get your hands on a weapon without anyone noticing."
Michael, Burn Notice

In a situation where a character not unlike the Technicolor Ninja is trying to sneak around unnoticed, their attempt at stealth will suddenly be threatened by them stepping on a dry twig, sneezing, knocking something over, setting off an alarm, blowing their cover, or otherwise alerting others to their presence. In the most extreme cases, such as in an action comedy, it might be Played for Laughs by having a minor bump lead to a chain reaction and a huge, noisy clatter. If no one notices, they might be okay — in the worst case, they might be captured, or have to face the enemy in a full-blown battle. Either way, heads will turn suddenly.

Note that this trope often applies in situations where it would make no sense in real life for guards to be so super-sensitive, given the likelihood of the most startling noises being a Cat Scare. When considering what the hero is doing there in the first place, this falls Right Under Their Noses.

As a result, savvy sneaker-uppers will toss a stonenote  so that it lands with a "plunk" in the direction opposite their position to make the guards go investigate — see Throwing the Distraction. The guards, even seasoned veterans, will always go for this old chestnut. If nobody notices when they really should have, see It's Probably Nothing and The Guards Must Be Crazy.

This trope can be done by the player in any Stealth-Based Game when you blow your cover. Say, for instance, you trip an alarm, forget to hide a body, or just walk into a room full of guards. From there you either go guns blazing or reload a save. It's a good thing Optional Stealth is becoming more commonplace nowadays.

If the attempt at stealth is laughably inept, see With Catlike Tread. If their attempt is good but they're still caught, they're dealing with The Anticipator. For moments where the infiltration itself goes unnoticed but the escaping part is when you're discovered, see Starts Stealthily, Ends Loudly.


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    Comic Books 
  • In All Roads, the graphic novel prequel to Fallout: New Vegas, Vegas mobster Benny and his tribal mercenaries from the Great Khans find the aftermath of a Fiend warband's attack on a tribal village. The group debates how best to proceed, determining that fighting or negotiating is unlikely to work, and they decide to sneak through the area after nightfall... only to notice that Chance is missing. Cue their drug-addled muscle charging the warband in a rage while in the midst of a traumatic flashback, forcing the rest of the group to come to his aid.
  • Both subverted and played straight in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. In the first issue, as Batman is sneaking up on some armed thugs in an old building, they hear the floorboards creaking and note that Batman never used to make sounds, but they still don't figure out where he is and he gets the drop on them. In the third issue, as he's tracking the Joker down in a house of mirrors in an amusement park, he leans on a mirror behind the Joker just enough to make the glass creak. The Joker hears the creak and shoots Batman as he breaks through, although not fatally.
  • In Dinocorps, Jarek orders his troops to be stealthy as they look for a triggering device that'll activate a weapon capable of exterminating humanity. Then police officers show up in a squad car and spot them. Jarek wastes no time blowing up their car with a rocket.
  • Exiles: The team is face to face with a hyper-irradiated Bannerless Hulk. Blink cautions them not to make any sudden moves, and the Hulk seems to stay relatively calm. Then Morph, in the form of a chicken, steps on a twig.
  • In Judge Colt #3, an assassin sneaking up on Judge Colt to kill him gives himself away when he steps on a dry branch and it snaps.
  • In Power Man and Iron Fist #66, Luke Cage tries to get the drop on Constrictor by imitating Iron Fist and slinking through the darkness of the room they're in. Unfortunately, due to his size and superpower and not having Iron Fist's martial arts training, the floor creaks under him, letting Constrictor know where he is.
  • In Red Robin, Tim breaks into a museum to "borrow" some evidence and learns he's tripped the silent alarm. Before he has a chance to salvage the situation and sneak away, he realizes that Ra's al Ghul has sent some assassins to "help" him and gives up on stealth entirely to save the lives of the super-powered security forces hunting him for his unwanted new help.
  • In the Tintin book The Secret of the Unicorn, Tintin is trying to escape the Bird brothers in their antique-filled basement. When he knocks over a big vase, he manages to stop it from falling, but the lid falls on a drum.
  • The Ultimates (2002): Hawkeye arrives at a building filled with aliens, and tries to get past the man in the lobby by claiming he had an appointment. He doesn't. Time for plan B: kill everyone in sight.

    Comic Strips 
  • Parodied in a The Far Side strip, in which some Indians are waiting in ambush, only for one of them to step on a bike horn that someone left lying around.
    "And you call yourself an Indian."

    Tabletop Games 
  • In many roleplaying groups, the standard answer to "Do we try and sneak in or start shooting?" is "Try and sneak, then start shooting once we trip an alarm."
  • The latest Orcs and Goblins army book for Warhammer includes a tale of a particularly cunnin' boss that got his warband to paint themselves and their equipment black so they could launch surprise night raids. It worked out great until his Orcs decided to start hollering "You's can't see us!" at the enemy.
  • Warhammer 40,000's Ork Kommandos operate on similar logic, going around invisibly setting explosives and backstabbing sentries so they can enjoy the looks of terror on their victims... at least until the first one can't take it anymore and charges yelling WAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHHH! Back when Madboys were still in the fluff, there was mention of how they were a liability in the best of cases, like deciding the best time to have a shouting match is in the middle of a night raid.

  • In The Marriage of Figaro: While hidden in the Countess's dressing room, Cherubino knocks something over noisily, alerting the Count to his presence.


    Web Original 
  • Evil Overlord List #139: If I'm sitting in my camp, hear a twig snap, start to investigate, then encounter a small woodland creature, I will send out some scouts anyway just to be on the safe side. (If they disappear into the foliage, I will not send out another patrol; I will break out the napalm.)
  • This video clip about an astronaut who avoids confrontation with a monster... NOT!.
  • In RWBY, when Yang enters Raven's camp and distracts everybody, Weiss takes the opportunity to quietly work on her escape while no one is watching. After her cover gets blown by Yang punching a guy through a tent that's hiding her cell, Weiss decides subtlety is out and summons her Knight clone to shatter the cell into matchsticks.

    Western Animation 
  • Blue Eye Samurai. Mizu infiltrates Fowler's fortress island and kills a guard who sees her. While being garrotted to death the guard drops his spear which clatters on the flagstones alerting a second guard. Mizu kills him only for his blood to leak under the door alerting a third guard, who pulls the bell rope to sound the alarm before Mizu can pick the lock on the door and kill him as well.

    Real Life 
  • Not really Truth in Television. Most people acting as guards or something similar won't react to the odd sound unless it's something that indicates human presence, such as vocal sound or the constant rhythm of footsteps. The sound of a snapping twig won't give you away unless you're trying to avoid someone who's very alert, or already knows that you're there.
    • More than that, people tend not to really care much for alarms as a whole, due to how frequently false alarms happen vs how often real alarms are tripped. For instance, when was the last time you reacted to a car alarm under the assumption that it was actually being broken into instead of annoyance that it was going off because of nothing?

Okay, guys, I think we managed that all right, now let's just sneak our way out of here and...


... Dangit!


Video Example(s):


The Boy Jones gets caught.

For most of the episode "The Green-Eyed Monster", the Boy Jones has been hiding in the palace, mooching off the food. However, at the end of the episode, he is discovered by Chef Francatelli, Mr. Penge, and Mr. Brody, resulting in Jones making a futile attempt to flee the palace.

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