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Superweapon Surprise

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"The statues are our sentinels: blind but ever watchful...those who deface or destroy them will know our wrath, unfettered and raw."
Chozo Lore Scan, Metroid Prime

A group of people who seem weak or defenseless prove, emphatically, not to be.

Picture a peaceful rural planet full of Space Amish living in an Arcadia-like setting in a Pastoral Science Fiction story. The farmers are a community of happy workers who use simple, dated technologies to till the soil. They are seen as an easy target for a group of Space Pirates and mercenaries. After all, there's booty to loot but no chance of retaliation.

The invaders are cocky and relaxed as they start the attack. This is going to be like shooting fish in a barrel!

Suddenly the Amish defenders roll an old-fashioned heavy anti-aircraft cannon from the last war out of their barn. The heavy gun is still ferocious despite its antiquated design. Simultaneously another team of Space Amish uncover their previously-hidden high-tech air defence system and blow half of the startled invaders' ships out of the sky. It's the Superweapon Surprise! (not always a superweapon, but always a nasty surprise). As well, When the few invaders reach the ground, the Amish defenders have formed La Résistance, and they ambush the enemies from the shadows using their bladed agricultural tools as weapons. The invaders' last Distress Call turns out to be an Apocalyptic Log...

Comes in at least six flavors:

  • Break Out the Museum Piece: It doesn't matter that there hasn't been any fighting for a long time. Their weapons are safely stored away and always ready if needed.
  • Improvised Weapon: They have no weapons, but their tools are advanced enough that they can double as an effective massive killing device. Weaponized Exhaust deals specifically with engines being used as emergency weapons. A downplayed alternative involves having a gigantic industrial base or Nanomachines that can quickly switch to producing weapons.
  • Summon Bigger Fish: The entire reason they have survived so far is their ability to call upon dependable friends who aren't nearly as meek.
  • Lost Technology: Their civilization is built upon the legacy of the Precursors, and they understand it sufficiently well to be able to use it for self-defence.
  • Higher-Tech Species / Sufficiently Advanced Alien: They either have technology not immediately apparent to observers or else are said Precursors in disguise; while they like to present an amicable, low key image, in reality they possess unimaginable power and can demonstrate it whenever push comes to shove.
  • Sealed Badass in a Can: They are indeed peaceful and mostly harmless — but their society also has exceptional individuals or clandestine organizations able to defend their entire species on their own.

Compare Awakening the Sleeping Giant, where the civilization is known to be extremely dangerous, but something compromises their neutrality anyway.


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Museum Pieces

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • The Transformers (Marvel): Appears in the Headmasters limited series. When the war-weary Autobots arrive on Nebulos, they are mistaken for invaders by the native Nebulans. The Nebulan leader, Galen, was reluctantly pressured to unseal their world's Peace Vault and lead an attack against the Autobot's camp.

  • In The Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock, the peace-loving Eldren (portrayed very differently by the humans) fit this trope. Even as they survive in their last city, all other cities taken over by humans, they refuse to consider using their arsenal of highly advanced weapons, using only weapons comparable to the primitive middle age weapons the humans have. Even if it means their extinction as a race. When Ekrose convinces them to use their weapons, well, Curb-Stomp Battle is a severe understatement.
  • In The History of the Galaxy series, the Earth Alliance initiates the First Galactic War by invading Dabog, what looks like an agrarian colony world, with powerful warships and Planetary Combat Vehicles, powerful futuristic tanks with plasma cannons. As it turns out, Dabog hasn't always been the pleasant world it is now. The colonists had to fight tooth and nail to tame it and built a number of servomachines for that purpose. Centuries later, only one remains in operating condition, the Golden Eagle (Aquila in the English translation). Its pilot Igor Rokotov takes it out of the bunker collapsed by the nuclear destruction of the nearby city and engages the PCVs nearby. The Eagle's cruiser-grade lasers and AI-assisted controls turn out to be far superior to the mechanized troops the Alliance has deployed, and the staggering losses force the admiral in command of the invasion to pull back to high orbit. Unfortunately, this wouldn't save the planet, as the protracted siege results in the sustained nuclear bombardment of the planet, which wipes out all life on the surface and leaves Dabog as the testament to colonial defiance and the Alliance's ruthlessness. Meanwhile, the Alliance quickly realizes the paradigm shift in ground warfare that servomachines represent and start producing their own, with the Free Colonies making copies of the Golden Eagle.
  • In Simon R. Green's standalone novel Shadows Fall, the Elves have hidden vaults crammed full of multiple superweapons. When the Elves finally go to war, worlds tremble.
  • In the The Books of Ember book The People of Sparks the people of Ember have left their underground city to populate the outside world, finding that the rest of the world has regressed into a pre-industrial state after a massive disaster. Having no idea how to survive on the surface, they are helped by the people of Sparks, a small village. However, though the situation is initially friendly, tensions between the groups eventually devolve into a war. To aid their side, the people of Sparks decide to use the "Terrible Weapon," a cannon built before the Disaster. Deconstructed in that the cannon explodes rather than being effective, seeing as it has not received proper maintenance in centuries.
  • The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks: the Dwellers, a bumbling, if ancient, race of gas-giant aliens reveal that their tech is vastly superior to the junk with which they are normally credited: in an ill-advised attack on the Dwellers, the Mercatoria find out about the Isaut, a Planetary Protector (Deniable), which rises from the cloud-deck, destroys the entire fleet in moments and sinks again. Or, rather, fails to find out about it, as it lives up to its 'Deniable' classification by leaving absolutely no survivors or witnesses to what just happened. Also consider that if you really piss off Dwellers, you can expect to find a planet sized collection of rocks, gravel and dust impacting your home world at a great proportion of the speed of light.
  • In one of the books in the Worldwar series, as the Race prepares its invasion of Britain, Churchill warns that any invaders will have to face his most horrible weapons. No, he's not talking about nukes. However, he still has some stockpiles of mustard gas left over from World War I...
  • In Arthur C. Clarke's 3001: The Final Odyssey, the alien monoliths that are attempting to wipe out humanity are defeated by an ancient computer virus that was sealed away in a vault of weapons that were deemed too dangerous.

    Tabletop Games 
  • ComStar of BattleTech, a telecommunications "nation" that runs the Subspace Ansible network, had an entire army — the ComGuard — hidden away and backed up with Star League era Lost Technology kept in massive vaults underneath their headquarters on Planet Terra. The existence of the Guard was an Open Secret of sorts, but nobody suspected just how much tech they had stolen, preserved or salvaged during the 300 years of war that wracked the Inner Sphere and destroyed its means of production. Their best kept secret was the ComStar WarShip fleet, several dozen Mile Long Shipslong lost to the rest of the Inner sphere — hidden in an uninhabited system. When the Clans arrive, ComStar initially cooperates with them, and then fights back when they realize the Clans want Earth. They hold off several Clan armies at the Battle of Tukayyid, an arranged proxy battle for the possession of Terra, and won; the terms of their victory was a fifteen-year ceasefire between the Inner Sphere and the Clans.

    Video Games 
  • In the Fall from Heaven setting and backstory, the Elohim are a largely peaceful civilization, based around special ancient ruins, victims of wars, and such. Their worldspell matches this theme, by preventing enemy units from entering elohim territory for a certain amount of time. This can be used offensively, however, as units that would normally be needed for defense can be used to attack instead. In effect, the defending armies become the "peace vault" units.
  • In Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising, humanity in the future have put down their arms and achieved global peace, ushering in a new golden age. Then warmongers and corrupt corporations decide to take over the world. Unprepared and unarmed, the rest of humanity dig back into the museum and break out the retired nanotech warship Antaeus, which can manufacture a high tech army out of raw materials.
  • Star Control:
    • Inverted in the first game when the Chenjesu contacted Earth for help in an impending interstellar war because of our industrial capacity as well as our ability to be another bunch of warm bodies; they were pleasantly surprised to find out we also had a gigantic stockpile of unused nuclear weapons in our "peace vaults", hence the name of the subtrope.
    • Star Control II has yet another one: when the Syreen surrendered to the Ur-Quan, they were forced to give up all their military hardware. The Ur-Quan put it all in a vault rather than destroy it, because they hate to waste anything. Once you escort a Syreen detachment to where the vault is, they become your own Sealed Good in a Can.
  • One mission in Star Trek Online has the Federation Player Character trying to win favor of a planet that had long since abandoned technology but had a bunch of weapons stored away just in case so the Klingons couldn't get to them. The Breen Featured Episode series has you do the same when trying to find what the ancient Preservers had hidden away. Turns out, it was just a few of their people and all of their knowledge.
  • Super Robot Wars Alpha Gaiden uses Turn-A's premise when the heroes are launched into the distant future and are able to get upgrades as the heroes' allies had hidden away their machines inside the Mountain Cycles.
  • StarCraft II: With the Protoss more hard-pressed after Brood War's Downer Ending, for the sequel they're dusting off their old war machines from before their races was "unified" by the Khala—and finally starting to invent new ones.
  • Sword of the Stars: After World War III, humanity more or less disarmed itself. So when a small Hiver fleet attacked Earth, they were able to bombard the surface unchallenged for 32 hours... until the curators charged with disposing of the world's nuclear arsenal managed to find the launch codes for all those ICBMs they hadn't yet dismantled...
  • In Cave Story, Mimigas once ate flowers that made them into Killer Rabbits as a last resort to thwart an invasion. It's so secret they no longer know it.

    Western Animation 
  • In the animated movie Battle for Terra, humans have been forced into exile on a single ark ship by the destruction of all inhabitable planets in the Sol system (at the time: Earth, Mars, and Venus). When they discover a new planet that might support life, which they christen Terra, there are a few problems. First, the atmosphere is unbreathable by humans. This can be solved with a terraforming device that can replace the atmosphere of the entire world. The other problem? It's inhabited by a race of peaceful flying creatures who live in harmony with nature and use only muscle-powered vehicles. Since the situation on the ark ship is desperate, the military commander wants to attack the peaceful aliens. The catch? They used to be just like us until they almost obliterated themselves, and they buried all their high-tech weaponry. It all comes out when the humans attack. Surprise! Okay, it's not perfect, and in response, the humans send down a lot more troops, nearly kicking their collective asses if not for the sacrifice of a human hero, but it was harder than they thought it would be.

    Real Life 
  • Switzerland. Eternally neutral note . Good bankers and watchmakers. Want to stomp on them? Feel like walking into a small, mountainous region where every able-bodied male is conscripted into the military when they turn eighteen, serves until the age of thirty (sure, it's only three weeks a year, not unlike the National Guard, but still), and is required to keep an assault rifle and 50 rounds in his house at all times? Many choose to retain their service weapons as hunting rifles as well... About the only thing dumber than an invasion of Switzerland would be starting a land war in Asia.
    • A famous Badass Boast:
      Swiss General: If you invade us, we can mobilize half a million men to defend our country within two days.
      Wehrmacht General: And what if the Fuehrer invades your country with one million men?
      Swiss General: We will all shoot twice, then go home.
    • Not to mention that most of the country is loaded with hidden artillery, explosives (especially in avalanche prone areas) and even the country's bridges are rigged to explode to make invading that little bit harder.
  • Despite the fact that their constitution explicitly prohibits militarization, Japan's "Self-Defense Forces" are in the top ten largest militaries in the world.

Improvised Weapons

    Fan Works 
  • In The Last Firebender the Air Nomads are this: after the Fire Nation attacked and wiped out half their people, over the course of the next hundred years, they crushed the Fire Nation. Granted, the Earth Kingdom helped drive the Fire Nation out of their initial colonies, and Aang prevented any major counterattacks by the Fire Nation, but still, the tiniest nation in the world took on the largest and most technologically advanced without the Avatar or anyone else backing them offensively. And by the time the main story started, they had basically won.

  • In Jason X, moviedom's longest-running serial slasher got his ass handed to him by an gynoid who, prior to a combat-upgrade to her software, was just some nerd's Sexbot girlfriend. Yeah, of course he came back again, but that's gotta be humiliating!
  • Independence Day has the Earth defeating a seemingly unstoppable alien invasion via a computer virus.

  • And Then There Were None by Eric Frank Russell: This short story features a philosophical version of this when the crew of an Earth Federation ship land on a pastoral (in that it lacked any population centers bigger than small towns) planet of pacifist socialist anarchists. Their secret weapon is a simple two-word philosophy "I Won't". By the time the commanders of the ship realize how infectious the locals way of thinking and living is, half the enlisted men on the ship have gone AWOL and disappeared into the local population while half of those left are locked up drunk in the brig chanting the philosophy over and over in defiance. The Federation ship is forced to depart immediately, lest they lose any more essential crew-man and end up stranded because they can't even run the ship. They end up classifying the world as not worth conquering with a dangerously insane culture that warrants a social quarantine to prevent it spreading and infecting other places.
  • Christopher Anvil's Interstellar Patrol setting has a couple:
    • A story featured a peaceful, agrarian planet... where the local farmers had such bioengineering skill that the plants could eat the invading spaceships, let alone their organic crews.
    • Another peaceful planet topped that. It was hard to successfully invade given the inhabitants have the ability to mentally control tectonics and the weather.
  • In Vladimir Vasilyev's Antarctic Online, the entire continent of Antarctica swaps places with a bunch of island chains near the equator. The book deals with the consequences of the frozen continent suddenly becoming much a more favorable piece of real estate (even if it will take a few millennia to melt) for the world powers. A bunch of drunk Antarctic researchers send out a radio message declaring independence, calling for the creation of the Free Antarctic nation. Despite half of the world supporting them (as they agree, it's not the half that matters), Antarctica finds itself blockaded by the US Navy and, eventually, outright invaded in a "peacekeeping action". Earlier, the Antarcticans start claiming that they have found an alien device in the melting ice that appears to be some sort of FTL drive that works by swapping two locations. They threaten to use it in the event of an invasion. Turns out it's just a bluff, which no one seems to be buying. Then, in the middle of the invasion, an American destroyer disappears and reappears in orbit. The President couldn't sign the order to pull out troops fast enough. It turns out that an Antarctican found a glowing orb with strange symbols on it buried in ice. Then he tripped and dropped it on the floor. The result was Antarctic moving to its new home. After using it to secure the sovereignty of the Free Antarctic nation, he buries it where no one will ever find it.
  • Bazil Broketail: This is a major plot point in book four. The entire reason an expeditionary force is dispatched to Eigo is that according to Lessis, the Padmasan forces under General Kreegsbrok are overseeing the work on new, secret weapon that can destroy the armies of Argonath and endanger entire world. It turns out to be gunpowder, which is first deployed by Kreegsbrok during the battle at Tog Utbek. In the opening moments of the engagement, Argonathi legions and their allies are clearly at an advantage, but when Kraheenian forces bring in a battery of cannons (similar to the ones from the real world, but much, much bigger), the tide of battle changes drastically. Add too the psychological effect gunpowder weaponry has on people unfamiliar with such technology.
  • Discworld: In Night Watch, the leader of a rebellion in Ankh-Morpork reflects that due to the anti-weaponry laws, his makeshift army doesn't have much in the way of real weapons—a few heirlooms passed down by veteran ancestors—but then, when his army consists of stevedores, longshoremen, butchers, and blacksmiths you pretty much have all the heavy or sharp objects you need. And if he ordered them to turn around, they'd make hash of themselves.
  • In The Dragon Masters novella by Jack Vance, the Sacerdotes disdain conflict with the rest of the universe and profess to have no weapons. However, when the alien Grephs attack, a local chieftain tricks the Grephs into attacking the Sacerdotes, who convert the drive of the ship they are building into a weapon.
  • In James H. Schmitz's The Demon Breed (part of the Federation of the Hub series), a research biologist and a elderly researcher defeat an advance force of the Parahuan, intent on probing the defences of the Federation. Mutant otters are her real ace in the hole, along with an extensive knowlege of the hazardous local ecosystem.
  • The Formic Wars comic and novels reveal that, during the First Invasion by the Formics, the alien ships are all shielded, with even nukes being useless. The only thing that proves to work are gravity-based weapons (developed for asteroid mining) that pass right through the shields. It's implied that the gravity laser (or glaser) is the first stage of what would eventually become known as the M.D. Device (or the Little Doctor) in Ender's Game.
  • Known Space:
    • The warlike Kzinti stumble upon a completely demilitarised humanity. They invade, only to find out that reaction drives and solar sail launching lasers are actually pretty good at blowing things up. Surprise! This is referred to as the Kzinti lesson: "The more efficient a reaction drive, the more effective a weapon it makes."
    • On at least one occasion a Bussard Ramjet ship itself was used as a RKV (Relativistic Kill Vehicle).
    • The Wunderlanders managed to turn a mining tool into a weapon that carved a giant divot into a planet. A "divot" large enough to be visible from space, and deep enough to hold half the atmosphere and change the planet's ecology. It's called the "Wunderland Treatymaker". And when humanity annexed the planet, they renamed it "Canyon" for obvious reasons.
    • Personal communication lasers are just tight beams for sending encoded messages. Shooting from the ground to a ship in orbit requires a bit of power to prevent blooming and errors, so the dial goes from "very low" to "reach orbit". Shooting it at someone 20 yards away when you're using the "reach orbit" setting yields... spectacular results.
    • An even more spectacular variant can be seen in Fleet of Worlds, where an interstellar communications laser, aimed very precisely, is used to achieve the impossible: destroy a General Products hull. The Puppeteers are convinced that their pet humans have somehow obtained antimatter, since General Products hulls are invulnerable to anything less.
    • The Puppeteers in Ringworld deny they carry any weapons at all, though it's something of a half-truth. For instance, their flashlight-laser just illuminates dark places. Don't tighten the focus too much, though: someone could get hurt. Louis Wu lampshades this fact in-universe. As Nessus is pointing out the devices he has brought on the expedition, and says "this is not a weapon", Louis notes the different ways they can still be used as weapons. Wu nicknames the ship "The Lying Bastard". Even a Puppeteer's natural weaponry is an example of this. Puppeteers are constantly running from trouble, not just because they're cowards, but because their physiology allows them to deliver backwards kicks that can kill people. Still mostly because they're cowards, though. Only insane Puppeteers actually bother with the lethal kick when they could be sprinting over the horizon. Which is sad, because the times we've seen a Puppeteer kick someone has always been awesome.
  • Sergey Lukyanenko:
    • The Stars Are Cold Toys and Star Shadow, the Geometers are an advanced, altruistic civilization that has no weapons whatsoever, having supposedly outgrown warfare long ago. However, their many advanced tools can and frequently are used as weapons. They are a subversion inasmuch as they use the "tools" aggressively without much provocation upon first encounter, the theme of that civilisation being Utopia Justifies the Means.
    • In one of Lukyanenko's short stories, there's two of those going on, as well as rapid technology escalation. A grey arrives into a rural farmland and offers people gifts, but they already have their village utopia. Then he tries to invade Earth, but is thwarted with the use of this trope. Then he reveals himself to be Grey Goo, but his attempts to devour everything are thwarted again and he (and everything they devoured) is reverse engineered into what he was before turning into a grey goo by use of Earthians' femto-technologies.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress features the Moon colonists rebelling against the controlling Terran government. Earth laughs; the moon doesn't have the military capability to keep out Terran police.
    • The Moon demonstrates that the Catapult (essentially a giant railgun) it uses to send grain shipments to Earth can also be used to drop big rocks on military targets and major cities. During the talks the Moonies did warn they were able to do just that (there was still a massacre, but that was owed by media spinning it as a ridiculous bluff, with thousands putting themselves in the targeted areas in defiance and getting disintegrated for that). The real surprise came when the Terran spaceships managed to disable it... And the Moonies unveiled the one they had built in secret. Earth surrendered soon after.
    • Also, converted mining lasers make reasonably good point-defence guns when properly cradled and controlled by a sapient super-computer.
  • The star known as Elysium in Neal Asher's "The Line of Polity" is surrounded by asteroids that are mined and their ores smelted using a series of mirrors orbiting the star that can focus its light onto a single point. Guess what happens when the hero gets the big bad to chase him into this place.
  • Stephen Baxter's Manifold: Space has the Earth's population forced to Mercury, which alien privateer spaceships are encircling prior to coming down for the death-blow. One minute, the fleet is about to land — the next minute, Mercury appears to have exploded and the entire fleet is shredded into junk. The weapon? Plants designed to germinate on airless worlds, cranked up and fed on surface rock, left to expand virally over the surface of the planet and timed to fire simultaneously once the enemy fleet was close.
  • Space Cadet (Heinlein): The Venusians are supposedly primitive, so a Jerkass Poor Little Rich Kid thinks he can push them around to get mining rights. It turns out that the 'primitive' Venusians are very good at chemistry, and use a powerful acid to burn into his ship and kill his crew. Later, the Space Patrol is astonished when the Venusians synthesize fuel for their rocket. "They can do ANYTHING!" Except play a harmonica.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • The Mon Calamari (Admiral Ackbar's race) had cruise ships used for their lucrative tourism industry. However, the Empire's increasingly oppressive policies pushed them into retrofitting these ships into massive capital ships for the rebel alliance.
    • In Wedge's Gamble by Michael Stackpole, the Rogues discover that the Empire has been using this idea for propaganda: they have been claiming the Death Star at Endor was, in fact, a mining station that the Rebellion had commandeered and were going to turn on populated worlds. It proves to be an intriguing bit of foreshadowing, when later in the book Wedge and a couple of his teammates take over a skyscraper-sized construction droid and start ripping stuff up. And that's the distraction.
    • In Jedi Search scientist Qwi Xux, one of the designers of the Death Star, believes it was supposed to crack open dead planetoids for mining purposes, the World Devastators were automated mining vehicles, and the Sun Crusher was... well, at that point she faces the fact that she was in denial. (Though later, in I, Jedi, Wedge comments that "I think she thought the Sun Crusher would be used to eliminate beta stars from binary systems to provide system stability or to clear uninhabited systems from navigational routes.")
    • After the crap hits the fan, Admiral Daala comes in with her Star Destroyers to try and stop our heroes as they're running away in the Sun Crusher. The physically indestructible Sun Crusher. The ships open fire, but Han rams the stolen ship straight through a Star Destroyer's bridge, crippling the ship and sending it out of control into a black hole. Surprise!
    • The Oswaft from Lando Calrissian and the Starcave of ThonBoka are a species of giant manta rays who just want to be left alone are attacked by the Imperials. Lando Calrissian helps them develop ways to drive them off, including "screaming" (which creates a massive electromagnetic pulse-style effect) and producing duplicates.
  • In the Star Trek novel Infiltrator, the Next Generation crew comes upon a planet that had been colonized by other genetically-altered humans from Khan Noonien Singh's time who'd escaped Earth. Apparently they were quite peaceful, mostly content where they were, and unarmed...mainly because they were confident in their abilities to turn anything into a weapon if they had to.
  • Animorphs:
    • Subverted with an alien race of Precursors called the Pemalites. The Pemalites had great technological power, and used it only for peaceful and playful purposes. They were invaded and destroyed by another race called the Howlers. It's explained that they could have forged their plowshares into swords, could have repelled their invasion, but they chose not to do it because they couldn't bring themselves to become violent killers. So they were destroyed, and their memory is a cautionary tale against the dangers of pacifism. In a later addition, it turns out that they were created by the Ellimist, and learned to have such an overwhelming love for life that they could never kill.
    • Played straight with the Pemalites' androids, the Chee. Although simarly loaded with pacifist protocols, they are are super strong. The Animorphs use a crystal to turn off said protocols, leading Erek to take and kill more Hork Bajir than the entire GROUP can manage. He is so horrified at his actions he requests for the protocols to be put back, but for a few moments, he's the surprise superweapon. Made by a race of space hippies.
    • Another example of the Pemalites' power is shown when the Animorphs and the Yeerks fight for control of the Pemalite ship that brought them to Earth. The Animorphs are on the losing end when Erik activates the ship's anti-hostility countermeasures. The ship promptly freezes everyone in place, regretfully informs them that they have to leave because of the ruckus, and politely, peacefully, harmlessly kicks everyone out.
  • The attempted Haruchai invasion of the Land in the Back Story of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is this trope. The Proud Warrior Race in question thought that the peaceful hippies of the Land would be easy pickings. It turned out said hippies wielded powerful nature magic that the Haruchai had no counter for. The invasion didn't amount to much, and in short order the Haruchai found themselves in debt to the people of the Land for their mercy.
  • By Blood Alone (the second of William C. Deitz's French Foreign Legion In Space novels) has a strange alien life form turn out to be a superweapon. Two 'rafts' of alien plankton are brought aboard a specially converted transport ship and brought to the planned key spacebattle. They conduct a 'psychomotor attack' at a key point in the battle, which paralyzes a large section of the enemy fleet, turning the entire course of the battle.
  • In The Ungoverned, the invading army turns out to have underestimated their would-be conquest several different ways, but the thing that really turns the tide is when one of the defenders hits on the idea of converting the national weather-control system — which uses guided missiles to deliver payloads into storms and disperse them — into an offensive network.
  • In The Zombie Knight, the ancient Armans repelled the invading Lyzakks dozens of times by riddling their eternally-flooding lands with dams, which they then broke at the opportune moment.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Two early on in Star Trek: Discovery:
    • The Klingons reveal to the Federation that they now have cloaking technology. Previously, only Romulans and Suliban had the tech, and they weren't sharing. The advantage is first demonstrated, when the Admiral's flagship arrives, and the Admiral attempts to negotiate with the Klingons. The Klingon leader pretends to agree to a ceasefire, then a cloaked ship with a giant prow rams the Admiral's ship, cleaving it in half. Later on, the cloaking tech is disseminated throughout the Klingon fleet, making their ships all the more dangerous. That's why it's all the more important when the Discovery pulls the same trick on them with its experimental spore drive.
    • Moments after the first attack that ship's crew manages to overload its warp core, taking the Klingon ram-ship with them.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The eponymous Gears from Heavy Gear began as general purpose heavy equipment for mining and construction in difficult terrain. Then somebody observed how badly tanks did in that same terrain and how much there was on the planet...

    Video Games 
  • StarCraft:
    • All (but one) of the Protoss units are originally derived from non-lethal craft and tools. Even the feared Reaver (with its horrifying Scarabs) was originally built for mining. (Well, that's what they say...) The exception in Brood War: the Dark Templars' units were designed as weapons from the start, because they weren't a unified species and thusly had to fight.
    • In Wings of Liberty, there's a mission where you can cut down a good chunk of the enemy forces using a gigantic mining laser. Hey, if it can cut through rock, steel ain't such a big step up.
  • Many people forget that the Blue Bomber himself, Mega Man (Classic), was originally a household servant robot. When Wily decided to get all jerkass and take over the world, Rock was repurposed into a fighting robot. This, in itself, is not the superweapon surprise. That comes when Rock's Variable Tool System, designed to allow him to use any tool without needing new instructions or programming, is also redesigned into Mega Man's Variable Weapon System, allowing him to use any weapon without serious modification to his systems. So the household cleaning robot instead becomes a superweapon of destruction, capable of getting an infinite number of new weapons at any time. Surprise!
  • Belcrant was this in Tales of Destiny. It was originally a terraforming tool used to make Dycroft and planned to create an entire continent- Until someone figured out it made for a great laser to eliminate those pesky rebellious Er'ther slaves.
  • In The Moon Project note  the Lunar Corporation's strongest weapons — a sonic cannon — is derived from a modified mining tool.
  • Though the people using it weren't exactly de-militarized (you're piloting a Humongous Mecha, after all), the instruction manual to Ranger X describes the game's BFG as being "originally designed to aid in tunnel digging." This is the only weapon in the game that, upon firing, pierces any and all obstacles and shifts the game camera to the right as it goes. Who would have thought a tool designed to dig an entire tunnel in one to three shots would be more effective than any other weapon your mech can possibly find?
  • Command & Conquer:
    • First inverted (weapons turned into tools) and then played straight in Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars: the GDI have sonic weapons and after the 2nd war they discover that sonics can destroy submerged tiberium so the technology is made into emitters to protect the cities. Years later when the Scrin are kicking GDI's ass someone figures out that their biology is heavily dependant on tiberium and promptly turn the emitters back into weapons which devastate the invading army.
    • The European Continental Alliance (ECA) in the Command & Conquer: Generals mod Rise of the Reds is Downplayed Trope variant. While they do field enough high tech weapons that were designed as such, some of their most fearsome weapons (a Kill Sat, which is the ECA superweapon, and suits of Power Armor) were civilian tech repurposed for combat use. (The Kill Sat? Clean energy sources redirected as weapons. These suits of Power Armor? Space exploration suits.)
  • The TEC in Sins of a Solar Empire; don't seem completely defenseless and are certainly not very peaceful, but they are nowhere near as unified as the Vasari, and are of a far lower level of technology in many respects. This, combined with the Vasari's failure to scout ahead far enough before invading TEC space, causes the Vasari to severely underestimate them, thinking that they are just another small, low-tech race to eradicate. The Vasari then attack a human system, and have to fight tooth and nail against cargo ships and merchant vessels retrofitted as warships, but finally take it. Then they look a little harder at the sector they've just invaded, and realize that one system they fought so hard to take was one of hundreds of thousands of human-controlled systems. Whoops. The background intro states that almost the entirety of the TEC fleet is comprised of non-combat vessels that were retrofitted into warships. They did have a few purpose-designed warships, but these are the exception rather than the rule.
  • Eden and Plymouth from Outpost 2 have no weapons at the outset. When they start coming into conflict, they weaponize some of their existing technology. For instance, Eden's laser cannon is a modified industrial laser torch while Plymouth's microwave gun is derived from their wireless power transmission technology. Later on, when the sides are already in conflict, they have no actual superweapons... Until Plymouth converts their single use launch vehicles into EMP missiles.
  • One Galactic Civilizations playthrough shows how fleets of "Constructor" ships can flip from being used to build a bunch TV transmitters to creating a roaming horde of Death Stars on a dime.
  • In Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, the Gaians—and, in the expansion, the Cult of Planet—seem like rather wimpy factions, what with being more concerned with environmentalism than proper defense training, a lucrative economy, or developing weapons technology. That is, until you find that their devotion to the environment also gives them an innate ability to take control of the extremely dangerous mindraping, live-brain-devouring native fauna of Planet. Did we mention that said fauna is equally threatening to unarmored infantrymen carrying ancient guns and your best tanks armed with literal black hole generators and armored with space-time itself? You don't want to know what they can do once they figure out how to breed their own...
  • Galactic Civilizations:
    • The computer determines actual military power based on the number and power of warships in your empire, and forgets about the technological advantages, industrial base, and massive treasuries. No, I don't have any warships. Next week, I can have a fleet of battleships, dreadnoughts, and destroyers ready to wipe you from space.
    • In the backstory, when the Terrans make their appearance on the galactic stage, the Drengin, wanting to test them, secretly convinced a race called the Xendar to attack. The Terrans responded by rapidly militarizing and beating the Xendar all the way back to their homeworld, at which point the Drengin exterminated the Xendar so their involvement would not become known (all other races assumed that the Terrans wiped out the Xendar). The Terrans immediately went back to their usual diplomatic selves, confusing and scaring the hell out of the Drengin, who couldn't wrap their heads around the idea of demilitarizing once it was no longer strictly necessary.
  • The Liir from Sword of the Stars are normally pacifistic and were targeted for enslavement by the "Suul'Ka" for it. The enslavement revealed two things: Firstly, that the Liir will turn directly from The Fettered into The Unfettered when pushed too far and stay that way, and two, that their innate skill with technology renders them really good at making bio-weapons of 'extinction'-level virulence and turning their (now exterminated) captors' techology into a workable technological basis for making starfleets.

  • Girl Genius:
    • Although the Baron Wulfenbach has no lack of conventional weaponry and troops, it's actually the unconventional stuff you should be really afraid of: his highway construction, fire-fighting, and communication units. Construction machinery which can liquefy solid rock, firefighters equipped with freeze-cannons that can crack open fortresses, and long-range light signal airships, which when focused at closer range can incinerate anything on the ground. His troops can take over cities. His non-combat units can make cities cease to exist.
    • Stronger Sparks are walking potential armies with the stuff they can create. This is explicitly mentioned for the Heterodynes (being very strong Sparks). Every strategist will give you the same advice (and they have done so for centuries): Whatever you do, do not give the Heterodynes time. Strategically speaking, they are machines that turn "Time" into "Death. Lots of it."
  • Schlock Mercenary heavily suggests this with Maxim 24: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a really big gun."

    Western Animation 
  • In Transformers: Animated the Decepticons have weapons while the Autobots fight with tools. When the first war started, the Autobots kept pace through exclusive control over Cybertron's Portal Network, though they used Bigger Fish tactics (see below) to win.

    Real Life 
  • The United States lived by the "gigantic industrial base" conversion part of this trope from the late 19th century through to World War 2. Though the US always had tiny standing military forces relatively to just about everybody else, they remained small even as the country developed into a local, then regional, and eventually global power. This is because after around about the 1850s, the country's geography and economy began to serve as its greatest defensive assets. That is to say the US was a relatively large country quite far removed from any potential threats, one that began to develop a prosperous and largely insular economy with decent infrastructure to boot. After the mid-19th century an embargo or blockade began to be of limited effectiveness because the country (the north, at any rate) was its own greatest customer, and an invasion would be tricky for reasons which are also rather obvious. The US was not unique in its ability to make use of female labour or in terms of the convertability of its factories, but it was the sheer size of the country's burgeoning population and well-developed industrial base that allowed them to pull this economic trick off so dramatically in the course of World War II.
  • WWII Britain after the evacuation of Dunkirk had a lot of fuel backed up, and found after a bit of experimentation that it could be very useful, especially when barrels of the stuff could be set alight. Proposals included hidden flamethrower boobytraps and even setting the ocean on fire if the Germans tried to cross the English Channel. Tests also proved that pressure-greasing equipment, when fueled with liquid a bit more runny than grease, made short-ranged but rather effective flamethrowers.
  • During the Battle of Lepanto, the Ottomans saw that the League fleet was preceeded by six large Venetian barges, and proceeded to try and board it. Turned out the barges were the first-ever galleasses: large merchant barges that the Venetians had armed with 36 guns on the sides (a galley, the standard warship on both sides, embarked four, two fore and two aft, all smaller than the ones on the galleasses). When the Ottomans managed to get away, they had lost 70 out of their 206 galleys and their formation was in disarray, and the galleasses were intact.
  • Ninja (as in real Ninja) weapons were all derived from farm implements and often disguised and used as such so that they can carried and used in the open. Keep in mind that, at least from the beginning, Ninja were strictly defensive clans allied against oppressive samurai.
  • The shillelagh, in Ireland (and, no, not the little, short cudgels passed off to tourists as shillelaghs, nowadays). The knob on the end of that "walking stick" can pack quite a wallop, especially if it's filled with lead (referred to as a "loaded" stick). Though it could be argued that this doesn't apply that well to the trope in general, as few with any sense of history would describe the Irish as "peaceful".
  • While Japan constitutionally prohibits nuclear weapons, they have all the materials, expertise and industry to make one, possibly developing a fusion bomb inside a few months. For comparison, the US took 12 years to develop a deployable fusion weapon, and China "only" took about six. Japan periodically ships weapons grade plutonium to the United States for destruction, largely to keep China and Korea less grumbly about the Japanese stockpiling 50 TONS of the stuff (a byproduct from decades of nuclear power plant use).
  • Hitler was so unimpressed with the Soviet performance against Finland in the Winter War, he was convinced it was safe to invade and that he would curbstomp the Union just as he had done with Europe. Boy, was he in for a surprise; the Soviets weaponized the punishing weather and stretched supply lines to defeat the invaders.
  • Japan never planned to attack Australia by land during World War II. On the one hand, they do have large uranium deposits and the know-how to make them into something explosive. And on the other, it's Australia. The country itself arguably qualifies as a weapon.
  • The siege of Syracuse 215 B.C. . What was supposed to be a quick assault turned into a three year siege, credited to weaponizing the wonderful devices of Archimedes. As the biographer Plutarch put it "When, therefore, the Romans came up under the walls, thinking themselves unnoticed, once more they encountered a great storm of missiles; huge stones came tumbling down upon them almost perpendicularly, and the wall shot out arrows at them from every point; they therefore retired.... . At last, the Romans became so fearful that, whenever they saw a bit of rope or a stick of timber projecting a little over the wall, “There it is,” they cried, “Archimedes is training some engine upon us,” and turned their backs and fled." Other accounts also include hidden hooks and pulleys that could tear ships apart if they got too close to the walls and arrays of mirrors used as Death Rays by focusing sunlight to burn ships.
  • Though stereotyped as an ineffective military, Italy manages to reveal secret weapons at dramatic points.

Bigger Fish

    Fan Works 

    Comic Books 
  • In Tomahawk #92, Tomahawk and Wildcat return to Wildcat's home village, which is a settlement of pacifists. However, they have constructed a giant man-powered stone robot that looks like a giant Indian warrior in case the war comes to their valley.

  • The Bible:
    • Chapters 38-39 of the Book of Ezekiel is an example.
    • Any time an army besieges Israel, they will inevitably encounter that one farmer still on good terms with the Almighty. This brings about many an epic surprise when the army of several hundred trained soldiers get slaughtered by a single farmhand with the Power of God. Or the ten-foot Philistine super soldier gets owned by a scrawny teenage shepherd boy with five rocks and a leather sling.
  • The Culture: In Look to Windward, free floating "airspheres" out amongst the stars host megafauna: extremely long-lived zeppelin-like creatures called behemothaurs. While intelligent, they appear to be easy targets. However, a mysterious transcendent race looks over the apparently hapless gasbags: any who mess with them tend to go extinct across this entire plane of reality (and possibly other planes as well).
  • Gordon R. Dickson has the short story "3-part Puzzle": When the galactic overlords decide humans are too dangerous and are about to organise to wipe them out they get the first message ever from a telepathic, invulnerable race — NO.
  • In The Inverted World, the inhabitants of the City regard the native "tooks" as hopelessly primitive, and savagely exploit them. Then it turns out the villages they've encountered so far were just the most badly impoverished in the area — word of the City's rape and pillage has spread to other villages, ones that have rifles and grenades...
  • Star Wars Legends: The planet of Exocron in Vision Of The Future is defended by a pretty pitiful defense fleet, which doesn't stand much of a chance against the powerful slaver fleet which tracked the protagonists there. However, it turns out the slavers were deliberately led to Exocron; the Aing-Tii monks, Force-users who usually don't go out of their territory but hate slavers, pop into orbit and, with their weird alien tech, waste the attacking fleet in a matter of minutes, then promptly leave again.
  • Examples from the Temeraire books:
    • Although never attacked, China is considered to have this. They have no standing army, and their dragons are more interested in poetry and math than warfare, but their breeding skills are remarkable so their dragons are all superior to their non-Chinese counterparts, and they have a lot more, so if they were attacked, they can easily conscript a massive army.
    • This exact fate befell Francisco Pizzaro when he tried to conquer the Inca. Mistaking the Incan dragons for ferals that they lacked the technology to cull, everything proceeded much the same way they did in real life until the Spaniards executed Emperor Atahualpa. Having killed their hostage, the conquistadors were subsequently annihilated by Atahualpa’s vengeful companion dragon with such brutality their fate entered British history textbooks as a cautionary tale.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Stargate-verse: Any planet under the Protected Planets Treaty. The Goa'uld don't attack those (usually technologically primitive) planets, because if they do, the Asgard will show up and kick their asses. O'Neill asks the obvious question: if the Asgard are capable of so easily outfighting the Goa'uld, why haven't they overthrown the System Lords? Answer: the Asgard are way too busy fighting the Replicators in their own galaxy, and cannot spare more than a handful of ships for defending the Protected Planets. The Goa'uld don't know this, which is good, because if they really attacked in earnest, the Asgard don't have the forces to stop them.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • This clip. Note that while a Federation Galaxy class starship is the most powerful Federation vessel up to that point and is by no means a pushover, it could hardly overcome a single Romulan warbird without suffering catastrophic damage, to say nothing of facing two.
    • "Justice": The peaceful Edo people live in a utopian society that safeugards its peace using the death penalty for every transgression. When Wesley breaks a law, the Enterprise's attempt to simply grab him and escape is halted when the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens whom the Edo worship as God intervene to ensure that they cannot simply do so and escape by threatening them with destruction if they try.
  • Whoniverse:
    • 21st century Earth is a backwater world way behind the technology level of the spacefaring civilizations that surround it. It's also the favorite world of the Doctor, a mad genius by the standards of his own species of nearly omnipotent time travelling aliens: threaten humanity's homeworld or hurt its inhabitants too much and you might remind him that he is way above Cthulhu in the food chain.
    • The 11th Doctor era is an explicit example of this. "A Good Man Goes to War" is a standout episode that kicks off with Rory delivering a message to commanding Cyberman that the Doctor has a question ("Where is Amy?") and a message ([A large scale explosion of an armada of Cyber-ships] Would you like me to repeat the question?). The episode's title derives from the adage "Demons run when a good man goes to war" and that the Doctor may be kind and friendly, but his anger is a terrible force that requires an army to assemble to avert the wrath of the madman with a box, said army appropriately naming the upcoming battle "The Battle of Demon's Run".

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000: Fairly common. That Eldar Exodite/Maiden world with its peaceful bunch of space elves, or that Imperial Medieval/Feudal world may look ripe for conquest and corruption, but beware the Super Soldiers, massive battlefleets, and elf ninja clowns that the planet's distant rulers are liable to send when they receive word that one of their vassals is under attack. On the other hand with the galaxy being so big, it may take days, weeks, or months for reinforcements to arrive.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy XI: The scholarly, childlike and physically unimposing Tarutaru, while by no means defenseless in terms of gameplay stats, were storywise hard pressed by the Yagudo Theomilitary during the Crystal War, due to their stature, peaceful living conditions and dedication to science making them unaccustomed to battle (which did however serve to make their magic pack quite a punch) — until they gained bigger sisters in form of their Mithra allies, who arrive first as mercenaries but soon migrate to Windurst in large numbers and henceforth serve as bodyguards and self-expressed babysitters to their cuddly-wuddly allies.
  • Mass Effect:
    • We have the volus who are short and clumsy in their required enviro-suits. They would seem to be easy prey for the galaxy's pirates and slavers. However, mess with them and they'll call upon their turian allies, who have the largest and most powerful military in the galaxy, for aid. Plus, with one of the best economies in the galaxy and a limit on the number of dreadnoughts they can field, they will overbuild with the one dreadnought they have to a ridiculous degree. The volus dreadnought Kwunu is stated to have enough firepower to char a planet three times over.
    • Similarly, while the hanar are essentially giant floating jellyfishes and generally unsuited for physical combat (out of water, anyway), they have the drell, a race who willingly serve as bodyguards and assassins for them due to the fact that the hanar saved the drell from their dying homeworld.
  • The villagers of Minecraft can't fight. Their golem protectors can. And those can take on endermen in one-on-one combat, let alone zombies.
  • The X-Universe games have the Boron, a peaceful aquatic race that asks for nothing more than to be left alone. The Split, the resident warmongers, aren't too keen on letting the Boron live peacefully, so they unleash their military machine and start a war that reduces the Boron presence in the universe to their home planet alone. The Argon (humans), the race that owns the largest part of the universe, take pity on the poor defenseless Borons and all of a sudden open a giant can of whoop-ass on the Split. The Split go "uh-oh".
  • The Awoken and their Harbingers, from Destiny.
    STARLIGHT WAS MY MOTHER. The Queen's ship whispers in eerie erratic radio bursts. Servitors begin to report a strange taste in the void. AND MY FATHER WAS THE DARK.
    Here, at last, too late, the Kell begins to feel fear. CALL ON THEM, THEN, the Kell sends, one last mocking signal before death and ruin, AND SEE WHAT HELP THEY OFFER.
    So the Queen calls, as only she can. Every Servitor in every Ketch hears it. Every Captain and Baron roars at their underlings as sensors go blind, as firing solutions falter, as reactors stutter and power systems hum with induction. Stealth fails. Space warps. The House of Wolves shouts in spikes of war-code, maneuvers wild, fires blind.
    Behind the Queen's ship, the Harbingers awaken.
  • Stellaris: In the Apocalypse trailer, the Gamma aliens (implied to be Fanatic Purifiers) planet-cracked a United Nations of Earth's colony. Considering the UNE is a xenophilic, diplomatic polity, they are unlikely to have a Colossus of their own to strike back. The Gamma aliens probably didn't know about the UNE's militaristic, xenophobic brothers, The Commonwealth of Man, who do have a Colossus, and returned the favor in vengeance of what they did to the UNE.

    Western Animation 
  • The Gargoyles at Scotland's Castle Wyvern were dismissed by the Viking invaders as intimidating statuary and legends ... then they came to life at sunset and drove off the attackers. Unfortunately it didn't last, because gargoyles sleep petrified in stone by day, and the Vikings were able to shatter most of the clan two days later, ransack the castle and enslave all the humans inside. Which led to the survivors going after the Vikings to wreak bloody revenge, which led to the series premise.
  • Transformers: Animated: Though they fought evenly with the Decepticons through superior logistics (i.e. Space Bridges), Autobot victory was truly assured by their creation of the Omega Sentinels.

    Real Life 
  • North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO):
    • Iceland has no standing army. However, it's a member state of NATO, meaning that should it ever be attacked by another power, the United States and most of Western Europe can be expected to come to its defense. NATO militaries even take turns on active duty protecting them.
    • Luxembourg is in a similar position.
  • Austria seems like a weak country in the middle of Europe with no army to speak of. They aren't even a part of the NATO. However they have a defensive pact with the USA, Russia, the UK and France.
  • Costa Rica has no standing army to speak of whatsoever. Instead, they have a defense pact with the United States and the United Kingdom, who have pledged to send immediate military aid upon the threat of invasion. ("Hey guys, I don't have an army, can I borrow yours?") Justified in that Costa Rica has neither the population nor the income to support an army large enough to counter a serious threat, and the last time Costa Rica had an army ended rather poorly as the result of the military's involvement in politics. Consequently, Costa Rica has managed to avoid the fate of many other countries in the region.
  • Japan also counts the US as a military ally and hosts American military bases on its soil. While current treaty obligations prohibit the Americans from stationing any nuclear weapons in Japan (for reasons that should be obvious), the alliance itself could prove quite useful should Japan ever find itself attacked by one of its neighbors (such as, say, North Korea).
  • Twice on the Korean peninsula:
    • The US, and later with help from the UN, was this to South Korea during the outbreak of the Korean War. While the North Korean military was armed with the latest in Soviet weaponry, the South Koreans had little support from the US at first, and as a result, the North Koreans managed to deliver a Curb-Stomp Battle to the South until they overstretched their supply lines and were pushed back by the UN/South Korean forces. Today, while South Korea's military is no longer the pushover it was during the 1950's, the US still has a defense treaty with them should North Korea take any aggressive actions against the South.
    • And on a similar note, China acts as this for North Korea, having assisted them militarily in pushing the UN forces out of North Korea to prevent a total collapse of the North Korean regime.
  • North American geography:
    • Canada. While not any more or less militant than most first-world countries, their biggest means of defense even before their own armed forces is that they're right next to the almost absurdly well-armed United States of America. Any serious threat to Canada, pretty much by definition, would be at least as dangerous to the US, which would respond in kind.
    • Mexico is protected precisely the same way. The fact that Canada and Mexico are the second and third largest energy suppliers to the US (after the US itself) doesn't hurt.
    • Really, this applies to almost any country in the Americas, which are now the USA's economic and strategic backyard. Though a long standing (all the way to Monroe) U.S. policy, the USA has only really had the power to back it up in the last hundred years or so — Chile had a bigger and better fleet than the USA until the late 19th century. In any case, as it stands every country in the Americas except Cuba is almost guaranteed to pull one of these off in the form of US intervention — unless the USA itself invades or otherwise interferes with you, of course. The threat of the latter came with the presence of the former, actually.
  • During the Wars of Italian Independence, the Kingdom of Sardinia and its successor state the Kingdom of Italy were after the Papal States, both because they contained Italy's traditional capital of Rome and due the erratic behaviour of the reigning Pope, Pius IX, but in spite of clear military superiority, most decisively demonstrated when the Sardinian Army overran most of it in days in 1860, they didn't move against Rome itself, and even protected it from Garibaldi's attempts to do just that. That was because Napoleon III, ruler of the Second French Empire, had in his interest to preserve the Pope's independence and threatened military action to protect Rome (and his garrison in the Eternal City did fight the one time Garibaldi managed to slip past Italian surveillance), and given France was both military superior and the closest thing Italy had to a real ally the Italian government didn't move but just tried to settle the relationship. This ended up as a Deconstruction, as Pius IX took the French protection as license to continuously provoke the "subalpine usurper", much to Napoleon's own chagrin, until in 1870 France lost the French-Prussian War badly and couldn't protect Rome anymore, at which point Italy immediately invaded and conquered Rome, proclaimed it the new capital, and relegated Pius IX in what would later become Vatican City.
  • In the 1980s Lebanon's Hizbollah mounted a successful (eventually) resistance against Israeli invasion with financial and troop support from Iran.
  • Inverted during World War II when the Japanese grabbed an atlas, took a look at the size of Australia and believed that a successful land invasion would be utterly impossible; Australia looked like a big fish. However if every able bodied Aussie alive at the time was armed and ready, they still wouldn't have enough troops to defend themselves as their population was only a bit over 7 million. Even now, they only have a bit under 22 million (the majority of the population is within a couple hundred miles of an ocean coast — the inland is primarily desert and almost entirely unpopulated).

Lost Technology

    Anime and Manga 
  • Castle in the Sky features a Wave-Motion Gun on the eponymous floating island. While the civilization that built it are long gong and shrouded in myth and legend, the weapon still works, and its destructive power is said to be responsible for what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah.
  • A Lost Technology version pops up in Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet after the Godzilla Threshold is crossed. That tower-mounted sprinkler system? It's actually the shockwave absorber for an orbital mass driver that can blow you out of the water from well beyond visual range.

  • Bazil Broketail: Subverted. Lukash basically spoils the surprise by deploying ogres during battle at Sprian's Ridge already, although they were originally intended to be used for tearing down the walls of Marneri and other capital cities of Argonath. His decision fails to turn the tide of battle anyway. To add to the insult, the Argonathi were actually aware of the ogres' existence at that point, thanks to imperial intel — so ogres joining the fray was never going to be a surprise for them anyway.
  • Fred Saberhagen's Berserker short story "Sign of the Wolf". A human planet once had an advanced civilisation but all that is left is an automatic planetary defence system. When a berserker ship approaches and threatens to attack, a shepherd stumbles across an outpost of the defence system and inadvertently activates it, destroying the berserker.
  • The Sun Crusher from Jedi Academy seems exceptionally adept at delivering Superweapon Surprises. After the aforementioned escape, the New Republic finds itself in possession of the worst weapon of mass destruction the universe has ever seen. This is decidedly against its principles, so the craft is ordered destroyed — which is somewhat difficult to achieve, considering it can withstand the pressure at the core of a star without a scratch. One character — well-meaning, but falling prey to the dark side — disagrees, retrieves the craft and out of the blue vaporizes the entire Carida system, one of the Empire's remaining strongholds. Surprise!
  • The Shin from The Stormlight Archive fit the Lost Technology version of this trope. They are a Perfect Pacifist People where anyone who so much as touches a weapon is Made a Slave, but they also have possession of eight of the ten Honorblades, special Shardblades that give their wielders access to the lost magic of Surgebinding. When Szeth (one of the trained wielders) is declared Truthless and sent out into the world, he proceeds to become the most feared killer on Roshar, single-handedly fighting through armies and royal guards to assassinate dozens of kings and nobles.
  • Release That Witch: Prince Roland's brain is filled with 21st-century weapon blueprints that have been lost to the medieval-regressed world, which means he gets to pull this on everybody. A legion of trained knights falls prey to the lost art of shooting a leadwall of blunderbusses. A crafty rebellion wielding pistols bunkers gets taught the next lesson in superior firepower with armor-piercing bullets. An entire fortress of supersoldiers laughs at the giant monster resorting to throwing little rocks — until they turn out to be mortar shells. A horde of demons shoots down his aerial base... and then witnessed the full might of nuclear fire just as they began celebrating.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • In one episode the team finds a civilization that has given up all weapons except a mythical "sentinel" that is supposed to "send away" their enemies. The Goa'uld who have pretty much taken control of their planet understandably believe the "sentinel" doesn't exist. Turns out it's just broken (a previous SG-team killed the guy who kept it working). Once SG-1 gets it working again, every Goa'uld on the planet is indeed "sent away" to locations unknown. Well, they're probably just dead, but it seems that Never Say "Die" is an important part of the planet's society.
    • Subverted in another episode, "Thor's Chariot". The people of Cimmeria think the Hall of Thor's Might is one of these. It's actually a way to contact the Asgard, a Bigger Fish.
  • At the end of season 7: the Ancient weapons platform in Antarctica which was discovered and activated just in time to defeat Anubis' fleet.

    Video Games 
  • During BattleTech, Kamea Arano contracts the player character's mercenary unit to escort her safely to a Star League Defense Force cache. A hostile force from the Taurian Concordat is coming for her during this time, and when the cache is accessed, by the time the Taurians arrive, Arano and her MechWarriors have commandeered a whole lance's worth of powerful LosTech BattleMechs, with Arano herself taking to the cockpit of an AS7-D-HT Atlas II for the rest of the game's campaign, which is awarded to the player's unit upon completion of said campaign, and a HGN-732b Highlander awarded upon completion of the mission that gave her the Atlas II in the first place.
  • Star Control:
    • Star Control II has a variation: the Shofixti are hyperviolent honourable warriors and quite ready to oppose the invading Ur-Quan to the last furry little bastard. Nonetheless, they are only recently uplifted from savagery and incapable of fending off the gigantic Ur-Quan invasion fleets. So when the Ur-Quan fleet gets to the Shofixti homeworld, they respond by dropping a secret Precursor planetkiller bomb in the sun, causing a mininova and sterilizing the entire system. Surprise!
    • Invoked with the Ur-Quan. During the original war with the Alliance of Free Stars, the Ur-Quan were having trouble putting down the Alliance. Turns out that they had a massive Precursor battle ship, the Sa-Matra, that they were unwilling to use against the Alliance beforehand. Cue Curb-Stomp Battle. Inverted in that this is the aggressors' superweapon, not the defenders'.
    • Also from Star Control II, you get a superweapon of your own, the Neo-Dnyarri. Given a single one was able to affect entire planet let alone a fleet of warships, and that it was directly responsible for the Ur-Quan's Dark and Troubled Past, both Ur-Quan Kzer-Za and Kohr-Ah lost their shit when they found out just what you have.
    • SCII is entirely built around this trope. In the opening narration, while the Alliance was busy getting conquered by the Ur-Quan, a secret research colony uncovered a factory with just enough resources to build a Precursor spaceship. You, the Captain of this ship, spend a while traveling the galaxy acquiring numerous other Precursor artifacts, and through a chain of events involving these artifacts, end up with another bomb like the one that destroyed the Shofixti sun. So you strap your ginormous bomb into your ginormous spaceship, turning it into a ginormous missile aimed right at the Sa-Matra to put an end to the war for good.
  • Metroid has the Chozo: peaceful bird-like people who lived in harmony with nature. Also were once the single most technologically-advanced race ever. Vanished without a trace by the time the series continuity starts, but their remnant technology demonstrates this trope well. In particular, their statues, while decorative and ceremonial, also function as guardians of important places to the Chozo: Ridley, in Prime, blew up one of their temples trying to kill Samus, and got six giant lasers to the chest for doing so (after Samus beat him into the ground). Samus is the only Chozo soldier present in the known universe, and that's enough to give nightmares to the most ruthless race of the galaxy, (essentially Xenomorphs with a technological level approaching the Culture's)
  • Myth: In The Last Battle, Alric reveals his secret weapon, one of the five Eblis Stones. It gives him enough power to temporarily paralyze Balor (The Leveler), the strongest being in the world, long enough for your forces to take his head.
  • A variation occurs in Unreal II: The Awakening. Most of the game involves a hunt for what you think is a superweapon. The actual super weapon turns out to be a race of seemingly-harmless aliens that perform various menial tasks. The "superweapon" you were collecting was merely an activation key that takes them out of this "dormant" form, into their true form — giant unstoppable killing machines that can shoot black holes from their hands. No, really. Unfortunately, it really is only an activation key — it provides no control, so the new supersoldiers rampage through the ship this was tested on and you have to reroute it into the nearest star and escape alive.
  • King Volcheck from Golden Sun: Dark Dawn knows that the Luna Tower is sleeping beneath his city, built by an ancient people. He thinks he is pulling this trope against his enemies, but the reality is much, much worse.
  • Halo 3 has a heroic version of this trope where the Ark is revealed to contain a foundry at its core that could build Halo rings to replace those that have been destroyed, and a partially constructed replacement for Installation 04 is uncovered. Suddenly the Gravemind's idea of sending all of his Flood forces to the Ark in an effort to keep them outside of the range of the other Halo rings doesn't seem like such a smart idea and the Flood is finally killed off by the firing of the installation, albeit at the cost of the ring and damaging the Ark. This was pulled off without the Gravemind knowing anything until the last minute because no one else knew much about this either, in an unusual case of Unspoken Plan Guarantee, and because the Forerunners removed all knowledge of important information on other installations that could prove useful to the Flood from the minds of the Monitors of each installation. Even Cortana wasn't sure of the exact details of what solution the Ark contained when she sent her message to the UNSC forces to warn of the threat of the Flood.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, provided that the player helps him out Mr. House has one in the form of a hidden army of Securitrons as well as an OS upgrade that allows them to use their most potent weapons (missile and grenade launchers as well as auto-repair systems), with his plan being to unleash them at the right time to drive both the NCR and Caesar's Legion out of Vegas. Alternatively the Courier themselves can backstab House and use said army for themselves to establish themselves as the new ruler of Vegas.

  • Girl Genius has a rather weird case in the city of Mechanicsburg, which was the home of the Heterodyne dynasty — Sparks crazy even by the Sparks' standards. This obviously means the city is, in fact, a death trap looking like a city. However, since the dynasty is presumed to have died out and only a Heterodyne can properly use it, nobody expects the stuff to be used. Then, Klaus Wulfenbach (ruler of most of Europe due to his politics of "don't make me come over there") is incapacitated — in Mechanicsburg. This quickly starts a free-for-all war with Mechanicsburg as the battleground. Guess what happens.

    Western Animation 
  • In the premiere of Thunder Cats 2011, the Lizards have been the underdogs in their conflict with the Thundercats for generations. When the Lizards launch another attack on Thundera, King Claudus is confident that he can beat them back just as he's done countless times in the past. Unfortunately for Thundera, a powerful Outside-Context Problem has conscripted the Lizards as his own personal army and armed them with Lost Technology such as missile-launching Humongous Mecha. The entire kingdom goes down in one night.
  • Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers: A massive war knocked the planet back to more or less the Feudal Ages, and gave the inhabitants a fear of higher technology, but the Benevolent A.I. and the weapons infrastructure was more or less intact in sleep mode. The planet's inhabitants saw the Heart of Tarkon as a form of ancestral magic that kept their planet safe. Given that the planet's Shaman gave his life in order to power it back up, and the existence of psionics and sorcery augmented by technology in-universe "magic" probably wasn't as far off the mark as expected. Waking it up turned into the key plot point of the final episode.

Higher-Tech Species/Sufficiently Advanced Aliens

    Comic Books 
  • Subverted in the origin story of Marvel's Silver Surfer: Zenn-La, Norrin Radd's homeworld, was a peaceful, highly advanced planet relying on a single awesome superweapon for protection, too... then Galactus came calling and it didn't even slow him down.
  • Asterix is about a small, backwards barbarian village containing nothing of value and only a handful of uncoordinated warriors, ripe pickings for the Romans. Unfortunately for them, the villagers all happen all to possess superhuman strength thanks to Super Serum, and the Romans don't stand a chance. This is only a 'surprise' for the first couple of albums; after this, the village's reputation is well-known by the Romans and they become increasingly afraid of it. Even so, many an album has a fresh set of legionnaires or another cocky adversary arrive from another part of the Empire, who might have heard about the Gauls' superweapon, but fail to appreciate just how terrible it is — until they witness one of the series' trademark Curb Stomp Battles.
  • Paperinik New Adventures has a few examples:
    • Earth surprises the Evronians with the nuclear arsenals. The Evronians could simply weather the barrage, but the losses would be unacceptable.
    • A later plot point in "Virus", and stated to be the main reason the Evronians are not invading: a virus capable of turning the Evronians back into spores. Except it doesn't exist: Wisecube invented it to dupe Paperinik into helping him recovering the evidence of the Evronian threat to try and reveal it to the public, believing it would help resisting the eventual invasion.
    • Another surprise comes out in "Might and Power": a ray gun that turns groups of Evronians back into spores. It's devastating enough that Earth's militaries, previously not so effective against the Evronians, mop the floor with them.
    • The Evronians have more than a few in turn, mostly new technologies made to try and counter Xadhoom. They came close to success more than once.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Mass Effect/Command & Conquer crossover Renegade, the Turian Hierarchy invaded the human colony world of Shanxi just like the did in the canon timeline. However, Shanxi is held by the Global Defense Initiative, and the turians catch a face full of ion cannons, rapid-fabrication technology, and house-sized tanks of "fuck you".=
  • The Conversion Bureau:
  • In Worldwar: War of Equals, Race high command did not expect the spear swinging primitives to have moved up so quickly to using tanks, aircraft, and nuclear weaponry. When the invaders land on Earth and have nearly overrun Ukraine, they get another fun surprise in the form of Eastern European nerve gas.
  • In the Peggy Sue Code Geass fic, Rise of a New Moon, Luna and the JLF know that they're severely outmatched by Britannia in practically all military matters, so they resolved to gain at least a technological edge against them. It's surprising enough to see the normally clandestine resistance group touting some new knightmare frames that surpasses Britannia's frontline frames in quality, but it's another matter entirely when they show off their own airship. Especially since this one is so large that it dwarfs Cornelia's entire fleet on its lonesome.

  • Iron Sky features a few on both sides.
    • First, we have the Moon Nazis (It Makes Sense in Context) with their anti-gravity technology, Flying Saucers, and Zeppelins In Space. While a few saucers are taken out by jet fighters, more jet fighters are shot down by Nazi turrets.
    • Then the President reveals that the vehicle for the planned American manned Mars mission is actually a warship armed with powerful guns and dozens of nukes. It proceeds to blow up a good number of Nazi warships before it gets overwhelmed and requests help.
    • Cue dozens of armed spaceships from all other nations (except Finland), which proceed to obliterate the Nazi space fleet. Oh, and one of those ships is the supposedly-destroyed Mir station.
    • Then comes the Nazi flagship Götterdämmerung, a gigantic war machine that is so overpowered and complex that the most powerful Nazi computer (the size of a room) can't control its systems. But an iPad app can. When unleashed, it simply flies through the Earth fleet, smashing a number of the ships on its windshield. The guns on the Götterdämmerung are powerful enough to take a 10% chunk of the Moon with each shot.

  • Timothy Zahn's Conquerors saga has the humans' CIRCE, a weapon so terrible — capable of annihilating entire enemy fleets by boiling crews inside their own spaceships — that it made an antagonistic alien race surrender after a single use of it, leaving humanity the dominant power in space. Afterward, CIRCE was dismantled until it was needed again, and there's every expectation that it will be brought against the titular Conquerors after the humans have reassembled it. The subversion is that CIRCE never existed. The fried alien fleet was the result of a freak solar flare, which the humans took credit for in a Brandishment Bluff to end the war. This means that, as the Conqueror threat looms closer and closer, and everyone expects the humans to defeat the invaders with the fearsome weapon, the human government finds itself in a bit of a pickle.
  • In The Alien Way by Gordon R. Dickson, an aggressive alien race discovers Earth by analysis of floating space debris and launches a covert surveillance mission as a prelude to invasion. Sadly for the aliens, humans not only know about them, they deliberately left those debris and used the alien mission as a tool to psychologically profile the would-be conquerors and find out all about their civilization and military capabilities. Then humans sent images of starships ready to strike the alien homeworld and an offer of peace.
  • In Alan Dean Foster's With Friends Like These..., a peaceful galactic federation faces attackers it cannot handle and in desperation turns to its outcasts, the historically militaristic humans, currently in quarantine on their homeworld, for help. The landing party is both amazed and disappointed to discover an almost pastoral planet of peaceful citizens that doesn't match their expectations at all — until one of the local kids disintegrates one of the attackers that followed them with a stick and Psychic Powers and their hosts, upon accepting their offer, reveal that not only did they have the requisite war machines cleverly hidden underground all along and are eager to use them again, but they've somehow managed to turn their planet into a starship. Which leads one of the vistors to seriously question what will happen once the war is won...
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's Shadows of Dreams, a powerful alien battleship arrives at a small human colony at relativistic speeds, thinking that the Vague War is still on. The Psilons invade and quickly subdue the colonists, waving off their feeble attempts at resistance. The protagonist finds one of the four bunkers used for planetary defense (the other three were destroyed by the Psilons during the initial bombing run) and manages to kill several Psilons in Powered Armor. Just as the rest of the colonists are about to be executed (the Psilons don't keep prisoners and only enslave those who have shown they can kill them), they offhandedly kill a member of the primitive indigenous race. Suddenly, a large number of the natives shows up and slices the battleship in half with a combined directed microwave attack. It was previously mentioned that anyone who slights a native can be fried to a crisp using their biological ability to emit directed microwaves. It's just that nobody thought that they could do that to a massive warship.
  • In Stranger in a Strange Land, also by Robert A. Heinlein, the Martians seem to be bizarre, incomprehensible and inscrutable, but no real threat to humans due to their general lack of technology and very low key demeanor. Then it is discovered that they are very carefully weighing the pros and cons of destroying the Earth with their minds. Oh, and the last planet they had this debate about is now an asteroid belt.
  • Star Wars Legends
    • Shadows of the Empire has a good one. The Suprosa is an apparently harmless freighter that the Rebels suspect is carrying the plans for the second Death Star. When they attack, the Suprosa deploys its weapons, including a diamond-boron missile launcher that takes out half of the attackers. Remember the "many Bothans who died to bring us this information"? That was the Suprosa.
    • Also seen in Rebel Dream, when Czulkang Lah discovered that Republic capital ships are very good at orbital bombardment.
  • The Dragonlance short story "Wayward Children" is about a group of draconians who have occupied a small, peaceful elven village. There are no children in this village, which the draconians think is a little unusual. Following a magical attempt to turn the draconians back into what they were made from — which fails — the draconians discover that the "elves" are actually silver dragons. Cue death-screams.
  • Alan Dean Foster's The Damned series. The real superweapon is Humanity itself, bred on a world with chaotic geology and weather, thus stronger and tougher and more adaptable than most, and capable of dealing with the insanity of war and enjoying it. Oh, and non-human telepaths that try to enter our minds go into catatonia.
  • Iain Banks lived by this trope: The Culture itself is also a nasty surprise. They are not Space Amish, they are Space Hippies. They spend their time having as much sex as they can, playing MMORPGs while sleeping, organizing parties, and just enjoying their very, very long lives. They are apparently so alien to discipline than even their equivalent of elite soldiers can wander off the battlefield if they feel like it. But the civilization is run by godlike AI, virtually any of their 30+ trillion citizens can be made into a Person of Mass Destruction, and their war fleets have little trouble blowing up planets or suns if they feel like it.
    • Aesop: When you have trouble with your neighbors and are able to quasi-instantly drop items into existence across star systems, consider sending them anti-matter.
    • It even happens on an individual level: the Sleeper Service appears to be a mildly eccentric GSV which has spent 40 years wandering the galaxy as a storage vessel for Human Popsicles. In fact it's an agent of Special Circumstances and has spent those 40 years not only constructing an armada of remote-controlled battleships and a full wartime weapons suite, but also making arrangements to offload its 'official' cargo and convert its entire internal volume to engines, transforming itself into the most heavily armed and fastest vessel in the entire Culture in a matter of days.
    • Don't Fuck With The Culture. It's a well known maxim. Nasty things tend to happen to people who do.
      • Or civilisations who do... or solar systems who do... And then you get Special Circumstances involved...
      • Sterilizing solar systems is nothing special in Cultureverse. The major galactic civilations there have weapons that can seriously damage stars. The better indication of the Culture's badassitude is the fact, that at least one of these civilizations, which has even better tech, most certainly isn't composed of space hippies, and does not like the Culture, still prefers to avoid a direct confrontation.
    • There are also a few sinister examples of ships that decide to not adopt the Culture's happy-go-lucky superficial appearance, and use that ridiculous amount of incredibly advanced technology for their own... not so happy-go-lucky activities. This is a good indication of what the Culture could do if it decides to get nasty. So it's probably a really good idea not to do anything that might influence them to change said happy-go-lucky nature. Grey Area (a.k.a Meatfucker), anyone?
  • Worldwar: Earth as a whole is this to The Race. When they first scouted Earth, it was during The Middle Ages. Given the rate of development of themselves and the two previous races they had conquered, they expected the "Tosevites" to just be getting around to the crossbow by the time they brought their invasion fleet. The fleet arrived during the latter part of World War II.
    • Thanks to Humanity's unexpected rate of advancement, bewildering (to the Race) ability to adapt to and counter any Lizard advantage (short of the "explosive metal bombs" on their starships) and doubly-bewildering capacity for self-sacrifice (whether to destroy enemies or protect allies), they manage to force The Race into a stalemate.note 
    • Ships are also a big surprise to the Race, although not of the superweapon type (except when one is used to deliver a nuke to the lizard-held Miami). They've never seen any body of water bigger than a lake and never bothered to develop sea travel or naval warfare.
  • Invoked In-Universe in Enchantress from the Stars. An advanced spacefaring civilization invades a world that is still in Middle Ages and intends to rout and enslave all locals. This is discovered by The Federation, and even more advanced civilization which, however, has an Alien Non-Interference Clause prohibiting them of overtly taking a position. So they plan to get the Empire to withdraw by convincing them that local people have supernatural powers like telekinesis.
  • In The Salvation War, the forces of Satan invade the Earth after Yahweh, pissed that people aren't as into worshiping him as they once were, decides that Satan can have the whole lot of them expecting a curbstomp. Too bad the demons are at bronze age levels of technology and haven't been keeping up to date on recent human history. As it happens, there IS a curbstomp... right about when bronze meets the M1 Abrams. Surprise! Also a surprise to Incomparable Legion Of Light when a cruise missile detonates over their main body of troops and a 1.2 megaton nuclear explosion kills 150,000 to 250,000 Angels and Human Levies at once with the estimate in the next chapter being 349,000 humans and 45,000 angels with another surge of deaths expected in six to eight weeks time from radiation sickness.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Whoniverse:
    • UNIT has managed to turn hopelessness itself into the threshold of using their pet Doomsday Machine: Convince them that there's no alternative worth taking, and they'll use the Osterhagen Key to activate the weapons that will obliterate their own planet. (Only threatened once, and using it would not have been the wrong choice, had the Doctor not already been intervening. And the threat was so bad it took three of him to defeat it.)
    • Gallifrey. While the Time Lords have amazing technology, the sort that points and laughs at Clarke's Third Law, they normally wouldn't use them for warfare, and some aliens have interpreted their Alien Non-Interference Clause as weakness — though this 'non-interference' has taken a number of forms over the years, and they aren't above assassinating people (or even entire species) that could threaten them. But when the Daleks invade, beginning the Last Great Time War, the High Council is willing to use anything in their Vault, including a sentient superweapon that can destroy entire galaxies. The results are such that the war is generating Eldritch Abomination after Eldritch Abomination from the sheer chaos and horror, and what's worse, it's tearing reality apart.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • The Nox are really a highly advanced civilisation with flying cities, which is just masquerading as Space Amish. While we never see them use any sort of weapons (they're still pacifists, and not of the technical variety), it's nearly impossible to find them if they don't want to be found. It's even harder to cause them real harm, since they can raise the dead, with the limits (if there are any) not being defined.
    • The Ancients qualify. Appearing to be all about Crystal Spires and Togas, except said crystal spires are in fact spaceships masquerading as cities with some some of the meanest weaponry around. The weapons in question are shown to be significantly superior to any and all modern-day Goa'uld technologies, despite the fact that over ten thousand years have passed since they were built.
  • There was an episode of Stargate Atlantis where they go to a peaceful farming community that has a Cold War level technological civilization hidden underground to avoid drawing undue attention from the Wraith. Said community plays a role in several later episodes (sometimes as antagonists, sometimes as allies of the heroes), but its surface façade (while probably still existing) doesn't come up again because the heroes and the audience already know their secret. It is implied in one of the episodes after the first that the entire surface façade is destroyed/culled when the Wraith find that there isn't enough food to go around.
  • The Organians from Star Trek: The Original Series: sometimes the Space Amish turn out to be Sufficiently Advanced Aliens and don't need superweapons.
  • In "Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy" of Star Trek: Voyager, The Doctor tries to convince an assault ship from another species that Voyager is this trope; he convinces them that the "photonic cannon" is starting up and cannot be detected by their sensors.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • It's not unheard of that a Feudal World is really a Knight World, enjoy your Humongous Mecha.
    • Feral orks are orks who don't have access to the advanced technology of their less backwards brethren, such as forcefields, teleporters, or spaceships. Leaving them alone is a very serious mistake, as you may soon find squiggoths and steam-powered gargants on your doorstep.

    Video Games 
  • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones: Myrrh appears to be a shy, young little girl who seems harmless, but when equipped with her Dragonstone, she transforms into a huge-ass Dragon who can kill almost anyone with one shot.
  • Homeworld:
    • The Bentusi are a race of peaceful traders. In fact, they're pretty much the only thing in the galaxy that isn't trying to vaporize you. But their ships have extreme amounts of armour, and though they have no weapons visible from the outside they're capable of fielding three hugely powerful ion-type beams. Attack one of them and you die — rapidly.
    • Invoked by the Melnorme in ''Star Control. If you threaten Trade Master Greenish, he'll note that, being a species of peaceful traders, the Melnorme would be unprepared against hostiles...if not for their ship's weapons systems. Which, by the way, are locked onto your flagship's command bridge.
  • Utawarerumono: None of their neighbors in feudal-era Japan know how the small, apparently peaceful nation of Kunnekamun and their bunny people survive, given that they don't have much in the way of an army. When they attack, though, it's quickly revealed: Humongous Mecha!

  • Subverted by the Fleenians in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, a bunch of Perfect Pacifist People who colonized a planetoid full of a rare mineral that can power really big guns. So they hid the stuff as best they could, and when the secret got out... they refused to use it even to defend themselves or to keep the stuff from getting stolen. At least they're consistent.

    Real Life 
  • World War II:
    • The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The possibility of atomic weaponry had been theorized by every major power in the war, but the Germans believed it wouldn't make a noticeable difference in the war (and they kept drafting their best physicists and sending them to die in battle, as well as dismissing some of the underlying scientific theory as 'Jewish Physics'), the Japanese didn't quite have the gear and the resources they'd have needed and the Soviets couldn't spare the necessary resources while also trying to defend from Germany. It came as a surprise to everyone when the US turned out to have achieved the unachievable.
    • The Kamikaze, the Kaiten torpedo, and the Baka bomb. At a stage when the US had already essentially won the war as long as they kept fighting, these suicide weapons were a most unpleasant surprise.
  • Israel essentially pulled this in the Six-Day War with their air force. They leveraged superior equipment and training in a preemptive strike to disrupt enemy air power, then held air superiority for all ensuing combat operations.
  • During the 717-718 Arab Siege of Constantinople, the Arabs were certain to be able to attack the city from the sea, thus bypassing the invincible ground walls and having to deal only with a weak sea wall, thanks to the numerical superiority of their navy, and failing that they would have still been able to leverage their numerical superiority to blockade the city and starve it out. What they couldn't have accounted for was that the Byzantines had just developed Greek Fire and armed their ships with flamethrowers: when the Arab fleet tried to establish the blockade in preparation for the assault a Byzantine squadron attacked their rearguard and burned down twenty ships carrying 2,000 men while suffering no losses, and when the following years the Arabs sent reinforcements of over 700 ships all they obtained was the crippling of the entire Arab navy when the Byzantines burned down the majority of them.

Sealed Badass

    Anime and Manga 
  • Tenchi Muyo!: If there are space pirates and would-be conquerors, why not set their sights on Earth? Especially big in OVA continuity, where Earth is specifically a two-bit colony world that nobody cares about.
    • Ryu-oh, Tsunami and Ryo-ohki are all resident on the planet; any of these ships alone could fend off any enemy fleet save for Jurai's.
    • Members of the Jurai Royal family treat the planet as their home away from home including their crown princess. Attacking Earth will likely bring Jurai's fleet down on you like the wrath of God.
    • There is this one guy called Tenchi Masaki who has a thing about conquering his homeworld.
    • Washu, the genius scientist who could destroy a planet by accident.
    • And then there are Tsunami's sisters...who are goddesses.
    • Oh, and they're on the same side. So basically if you're serious about messing with Earth, you're facing all of the above. A major villain in the spinoff series Tenchi Muyo! GXP discovered this firsthand when he tried to mess with the family of the series hero, one of Tenchi's Earthling acquaintances. The series doesn't even bother to show anything beyond the villain angrily refusing to explain his failure in an episode's prologue.

    Comic Books 
  • Legacy: The newly resurrected Darth Krayt had a secret army of Sith Troopers which caught the Alliance off guard.
  • Paperinik New Adventures has a few examples:
    • Earth's first surprise to the Evronians is the title character, Donald Duck's superhero/antihero alter ego, who gives the alien invaders a nasty surprise by savagely beating a large squad on a raid. The Evronians having experience with this kind of things, they react by sending hand-picked elimination squads to take him out and check for other surprises before launching the invasion proper.
    • Earth's later surprise is the military of Stahlburg, small but very technologically advanced-and completely ineffective against an outdated Evronian battlecruiser.
    • Xerba has Xadhoom-that is, their chief of state that turns herself into a Physical Goddess by way of a scientific experiment aimed to solve their incoming energetic crisis. Too bad the experiment was completed after the Evronians had already overran the planet... Especially for the Evronians, as she now wants them all dead and not only has the firepower for that, they can't stop her.

    Fan Works 
  • To the Stars, a Puella Magi Madoka Magica fanfic taking place four hundred years in the future, has the outer human colonies invaded by a vicious race of Starfish Aliens. The Cephalopods have greatly superior technology, and the first few clashes are massive Curb Stomp Battles — but then the magical girls show up, many of whom have centuries of demon-fighting experience and all of whom have ingrained combat instincts, a Healing Factor and a dazzling array of powers. The playing field is considerably leveled after that.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Doctor Who crossover The Impossible War, the Daleks invade modern-day Earth. As expected, human technology is woefully inadequate. Human magic on the other hand...
  • In Warhammer 40,000 we have Knight Inductors, who are also known as Reasonable Marines. They don't particularly care about those defenseless Eldar Exodite Worlds in their sector, but they really don't like Chaos Marines. So when some Slaanesh CSM try to harvest some soulstones in Apriori sector, they got utterly curb stomped by Stealth Terminators and Supersoldier Blanks armed with rapid fire plasma cannons.
  • In Origin Story, which is set during Marvel's Civil War arc, the Avengers are tasked by SHIELD to arrest a girl who escaped from their custody. SHIELD had previously tested the girl's power level, and put her somewhere on the scale between Power Man and Spider-Man. Well, surprise, surprise, turns out she was a Kryptonian who figured out that maybe hiding just how powerful she really was might be a smart idea. Cue Tony Stark getting the ass-whipping of his life.
  • In the Naruto fanfiction Catch Your Breath Kei, the protagonist, is a jinchuuriki, and that fact rarely bodes well for her opponents.
    • When a Yamanaka hit Kei with the mind body switch jutsu (a jutsu Kei was noted to not like) he came face to face with the Three Tailed Beast. Also when Honoka Uchiha hit her with two devastating jutsu, and Kei started manifesting a bijuu chakra cloak to mitigate the damage. It was quite a nasty surprise for everyone not in the know.
    • In an Omake chapter where Zabuza and (especially) Haku find out they've bitten off far more than they can chew when that lanky Konoha special jonin (Kei) whips out Tailed Beast chakra. Canon Kakashi can be counted too, since he had no idea the cross-dimensional time-traveller (also Kei) is a jinchuuriki as well.
    • Raido has confirmed, in-story, to have had a run in with the Four Tails host (presumably on the battlefields of the Third Shinobi War).

  • Purgatory: A group of bandits came across a town named Refuge, which is apparently populated by nothing but Actual Pacifist — even the Sheriff would not raise his weapon in the face of imminent threat. This made the town easy prey for the bandits, but it was slowly revealed that the citizens were outlaws who were granted a chance to redeem themselves: live for 10 years in peace, or go to hell. When push finally comes to shove, the bandits found out they were facing legendary figures such as Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok, and Doc Holliday.
  • Godzilla: Final Wars: The titular kaiju is released to single-handedly fight off an alien invasion.

  • In Excession, The Culture puts whole war fleets in deep storage inside of asteroids & other inconspicuous places after their last big war. Some of these depots might be moving into regions of space that could play host to events of interest... in a couple of centuries.
  • In one story from Christopher Anvil's Interstellar Patrol setting, a human colony of pacifists not in the main human government is targeted for conquest by a nasty species. Turns out the colony is composed of people who don't want to fight because they are so badass that if they don't keep themselves under tight control they'd waste their own planet.
  • David Weber's Out of the Dark has one that neither side was expecting. The alien Shongairi have invaded Earth and thoroughly trounced the conventional militaries of Earth. They hit a bit of a brick wall when trying to occupy Earth, however, as their weapons are designed to fight lower-tech enemies due to galactic laws against conquering technologically-advanced worlds. However, the war's outcome is still inevitable because the Shongairi sit in orbit and drop rocks on any major human military force. Things look grim for mankind, up until Mircea Basarab, leader of one of the human resistance groups, finally takes off the kid gloves and reveals he is freaking Dracula and proceeds to take his cadre of vampires and whup the Shongairi's collective asses. Who the hell saw that coming?
  • In James P. Hogan's Voyage From Yesteryear, a synthetically cloned Lost Colony of anarchist space-hippies are marked for cultural "re-assimilation" by an expedition from Earth. When every non-violent attempt at bringing them under the heel of typical culture fails absurdly in the face of the colonists' laid back outlook on life, the military might of the expedition is brought to bear... Only for an incredibly powerful weapon hidden in a crater on the planet's moon to blast it into oblivion. Interestingly the military delay their move until the colonists' orbiting spacecraft is on the other side of the planet, in the belief that it's a hidden-in-plain-sight Tool Conversion weapon. By this time, almost the entire expedition has already defected to join the colonists, leaving behind only the most dedicated followers of the General Ripper. In the story this was probably based on, Eric Frank Russell's "And Then There Were None", the ship simply left while it still had enough crew left to function. The colonists demonstrate that they are much more savvy and strategic than the military gave them credit for. They co-opt all the ground force as they can. When final mutiny aboard the miltiary warship begins, the colonist wait for the most dangerous hard-liners to make their escape in a shuttle craft. They knew that the worst rats would have a plan to flee the ship when it sinks; the General Ripper, his most essential loyalists and those that could pay for the privilege to abandon their fellow expeditionists. Then they blow the shuttle craft out of the sky. This is what is known as a decapitation strike.
  • In Larry Niven's Known Space, human beings themselves along with other mutated hominids can be considered a Superweapon Surprise, seeing as if they ingest enough Tree of Life, they can transform into Protectors, the (presumed to be lost) third developmental phase which features heightened intelligence, superhuman strength, increased pain tolerance, biological immortality, and an uncontrollable compulsion to protect members of their respective species. In Protector, the entire human population of one planet was converted into Protectors in order to save Earth from the impending invasion of the Pak.
  • Frank Herbert's Dune provides a clean-cut example of the Hidden Badass variety. On the remote outskirts of god-forsaken planet, in the huge desert, a small bunch of ragtag people scavenge for a living. Do not get trigger-happy yet: those people are, in fact, bred by their demanding enviroment to be the best fighters in Universe. And their numbers are seriously underestimated... Long story short, a hundred years and several books after being bothered, they sweep their Jihad holy crusade across the Galaxy. Whoops!
  • The Harshini in Jennifer Fallion's Wolfblade are a race of extreme pacifists possessed of great magical power, but incapable of defending themselves with it, so the people of the nation of Medalon can kill them off for no reason whenever they find them. Except for this one guy, Brakandaran the Halfbreed...

    Live-Action TV 
  • From the Whoniverse "The Christmas Invasion": Earth (or, rather, the Torchwood Institute) pulls out a Death Star-like huge laser and shoot the Sycorax. Much to the Doctor's dismay, it was a shot in the back as they were fleeingnote .
  • Stargate SG-1: Inverted with the Tollan, an advanced Human civilisation who had developed their science far beyond Earth's and were well on their way to becoming the next Ancients. They are shown as peaceful and non-militaristic, but they did possess powerful ion cannons that could destroy a Ha'Tak in a single shot. Unfortunately for them, their technological prowess did not transfer into their military strategy which had all but atrophied. They naively trusted the Goa'uld, refusing to listen to our heroes as they considered Earth's civilisation as primitive. The deceitful Goa'uld inevitably developed countermeasures (as their new leader, Anubis, was formerly ascended and had the knowledge to replicate much of the Ancients' technology) and wiped them out/enslaved them.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Klingons came in with an armada to take the puny station. Captain Sisko informs them that the station has been upgraded, and is quite willing to show what happens when The Federation puts their minds to arming themselves. The station puts the fleet through a grueling meat grinder of a battle, with torpedoes and phaser beams flying every which way out of the station.

    Video Games 
  • Over the X-Universe games' timeline the Borons have been forced to take up arms, becoming a pretty badass race instead of their former peaceful nature. In the latest games the races often unleash military campaigns upon each other, and it's not at all uncommon to see a Split task force head to peaceful Boron sectors and promptly get smashed to pieces by the resident defence force.
  • Can be utilized by players in the 4X RTS Star Ruler. Enemy players cannot determine how many ships a planet has docked (or if there are even shipyards on it). You could invade a ripe, seemingly undefended neutral player system with a couple ships, only for hundreds of their battleships to come swarming out of planets, with a Declaration of War in your diplomacy window.
  • When the orcs of Warcraft: Orcs and Humans initially sent scouts to Azeroth, they saw peaceful meadows tended by farmers, and quickly came to the conclusion that they would roll over the population. Instead, the Azeroth soldiers and knights crushed their initial attack. The orcs regrouped and eventually won, but them being on the business end of an asswhuppin' came as a shock. In the sequel Warcraft II, the orcs also made a point of killing off the knights, and Gul'dan would use their remains to create his own superweapons, the Death Knights.
  • The game Immortal Defense has people ascended to pathspace to serve as the One Man Armies meant to destroy the oncoming invasion of the Bavakh. You are one such of these people. You fail.
  • In Mini Robot Wars, the titular MiniRobots are Mechanical Lifeforms who are initially overwhelmed and captured by the invading Machines. They actually have many battle-capable units who are able to destroy and repel the invading Machines, but the MiniRobots are peace-lovers and were not prepared for war.

    Western Animation 
  • In Fire & Ice, the evil sorcerer Nekron and his mom Queen Juliana are cornering the rest of humanity by conjuring massive glaciers to cover the world. King Jarol of Fire Keep eventually tires of them and activates their secret weapon, the Lava Flow. This is a series of volcanoes activated by the people of Fire Keep and run through man-made channels. The magma from this weapon destroys all the glaciers as well as the Nekron's kingdom of Ice Peak.

    Real Life 
  • The First Opium War. In response to the imprisonment of British merchants and the destruction of their merchandise by the Qing, the British dispatched the HMS Nemesis. This was a brand, spanking-new, iron-hulled steamer that far outclassed anything the Qing had, and this is not counting the fact that some other British ships possessed more guns than entire Chinese fleets. The conflict, which heavily revolved around the use of naval power, was ridiculously lopsided in favour of the British and served to highlight just how far Europe had advanced (and how much the Qing had declined).


  • In Alastair Reynolds' novel Pushing Ice, the alien "McKinley" mentions this as one reason why they want to establish trade with the humans instead of just blasting them and taking what they want.
  • Lampshaded in A Fire Upon the Deep.
    "Pham, be careful. These Middle Beyond cultures, the old ones, they keep nasty things in reserve. Otherwise they wouldn't still be around."
  • In the Honor Harrington series, the Solarian League finds themselves on the receiving end of this. Not because the Manticorians are exactly peaceful (they've spent the last twenty years fighting a desperate war for survival), but because the Solarian League has spent the past thousand years or so being the bigger fish. A long tradition of being the sleeping giant everyone tiptoes around has convinced them of their inherent superiority, meaning they're completely blindsided when they encounter the results of the Manticore/Haven Lensman Arms Race. Three curb stomp battles later, with a cumulative thousand-to-one loss ratio, they finally realize there's some truth to those "wildly exaggerated" reports of Manticorian weapons performance.

    Live-Action TV 

  • Unsounded: When Queen Sonorie decieded to build a weapons factory underneath Litrya Shrine she turned a place that would normally be excluded from Aldish attack due to their treaty into a viable military target. Since the facility is hidden the Aldish thought it would be a soft target, but the weapons artificers had installed a self destruct and hidden a giant gun in the Yerta statue on the front of the shrine. The Aldish operation was a stunning failure in the face of these defenses and a few unexpected protectors.

    Video Games 
  • Every game in the Ace Combat series has a number of superweapons that the opposing enemy forces deploy against the protagonist forces. Their appearance always catches the protagonist forces off guard before they come up with a plan to deal with them.
    • The Final Boss of Air Combat is the Sky Fortress. There’s no information on who built the Sky Fortress, nor is their any information on where it came from. Its not until later games where we get some hints that the Sky Fortress may have been built by Belkan radicals.
    • Ace Combat 2/Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy
      • Near the beginning of the coup, the rebels highjack the Dragonet submarines, which were armed with tactical nuclear missiles. The allies locate and destroy the first one, but the second appears near the end of the war to try to destroy St. Ark.
      • After the second Dragonet submarine was destroyed, the rebels then took over Fortress Intolerance, which housed an ICBM, that they intended to launch at Yuktobonia to try to escalate the war.
      • During the war, the rebels were supported by an Artificial Intelligence known as the Z.O.E. However, the rebels didn’t know anything about it. It just showed up to assist them without warning, and attacked Scarface. It’s eventually revealed that the Z.O.E. was created by Belka.
    • In the Japanese version of Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere, it’s revealed that General Resources Ltd. had constructed an aircraft with unbelievable firepower called the X-49 Night Raven. Unbeknownst to all involved, it was stolen by the Ouroboros organization, who intended to use it to destroy the corporations.
    • In Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies, the Stonehenge Railgun Battery was developed to destroy meteor fragments from the Ulysses Asteroid. When the war began, Erusea had captured the Battery, they used it to secure air superiority over most of the continent of Usea.
    • Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War
      • Near the beginning of the war, the Oseans were caught off guard when the Yuktobonian underwater attack carrier, Scinfaxi, had sunk two of their carriers. In response, the Oseans deploy the Arkbird to destroy the Scinfaxi with the help of the Wardog Squadron.
      • As the Oseans invade and occupy the Yuktobonian mainland, the Scinfaxi’s sister ship, the Hrimfaxi, is deployed to sufficiently damage the Osean occupation forces.
      • Two-Thirds of the way through the war, the Arkbird is highjacked by Belkan radicals called the Grey Men, who intended to use it to drop a tactical nuclear bomb in either Yuktobonian or Osean territory.
      • As the Grey Men’s plans are foiled, they try to play one last trump card, the SOLG. First they try to load it with the V2 nuclear MIRV missile, and when that fails, they have it fall towards Oured, the capital of Osea.
    • Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War
      • When South Belka is invaded by the Allied Forces, the belkans try to stave them off with the Excalibur, a chemical laser weapon developed as a missile defense system.
      • During the war, the Belkans developed two other superweapons that were not used during the war, the XB-O, and the V2. They were both highjacked by the organization, “A World With No Boundaries”, and it would not be until six months after the war ended that they would see use.
    • Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation
      • During the invasion of Gracemeria, the Emmerians were on the verge of pushing back the Estovakians, only for the Estovakians to deploy the Aigaion, which used devastating burst missiles to destroy the Emmerian forces present, forcing them to retreat to far side of the continent.
      • At the end of the war, after the Emmerians liberate Gracemeria, the Estovakians then deploy the Chandelier, a giant railgun that was originally going to be used to defend against the Ulysses asteroid, but wasn’t completed on time, and was then repurposed into a weapon of war.
    • Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown
      • In an effort to end the war quickly, the IUN launched a two pronged strategy to try to retake the Lighthouse, and Farbanti at the same time. The plan failed, because the Arsenal Bird had ambushed the IUN before they could reach the Lighthouse.
      • Halfway through the war, the Oseans had snuck a number of soldiers and engineers deep into Erusean Occupied territory, with the goal of using Stonehenge to shoot down one of the Arsenal Birds. By the time the Eruseans had figured out what they were planning, they arrived too late to prevent the Oseans from carrying out their plan, and with the first Arsenal Bird down, the war turned in Osea’s favor.
      • At the end of the war, just when the Radical Eruseans had surrendered, and the last Arsenal Bird was shot down, two UCA Vs named Hugin and Munin showed up, and shot down a large number of allied forces around the Lighthouse. The next morning, the survivors rallied behind Trigger, to stop them from using the Lighthouse to start a Robot War against humanity.
  • Played as bait-and-switch in Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars, where the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens fall prey to Kane's diabolical Evil Plan. Kane engineers a liquid tiberium explosion to advertise Earth as a disabled planet and trigger a premature alien invasion, permitting the still-powerful GDI to slaughter the aliens, then recover their technology. This is reflected in the Scrin campaign, where initial confidence quickly gives way to damage control, followed by a hasty evacuation of the invading forces. They only helped Kane's Evil Plan along.


Video Example(s):


Demise of Anubis' fleet

Jack O'Neill activates the Ancient Weapons platform hidden in Antarctica just in time to save the Earth.

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Example of:

Main / SuperweaponSurprise

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