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Took a Level in Badass

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Susan Richards, before and after 40 years of Character Development and the Women's Rights Movement.

"If you told me five years ago that Raiden was going to be cooler than Dante, I'd have told you to just shut up and let me punch you."

So, you're flipping channels looking for something to watch and you come across a battle scene in a familiar show. One character in particular is making a very good showing, doing at least as much as the main character to save the day. But, who is this mysterious person in the Badass Longcoat? Did you miss the episode where he was introduced? Why the nagging feeling of familiarity? Then it hits—you know this kid. It's just that last time you saw him, he was a nebbishy wisecracker with the constitution of a glass-jawed squirrel. What happened to transform him so completely? Simple: last time he leveled up, he took a level in badass.

Since this is about Character Development, that means it doesn't genuinely apply when comparing a character in different adaptations. See Adaptational Badass.

If the change is a result of a Face–Heel Turn, see Superpowered Evil Side and Redemption Demotion. If it's a result of a Heel–Face Turn, then it's a case of Redemption Promotion. If the change is due to time travel, see Future Badass. If it is the result of finding a powerful object, see Amulet of Concentrated Awesome. This can also happen because Prisons Are Gymnasiums. If the change is due to relentless training, it may be the result of Imposed Handicap Training, leading to a Charles Atlas Superpower.

There is also the Super Hero Origin, where the first story gives some explanation for why they became the badass hero.

The reference comes from roleplaying, where it's sometimes possible to "take a level" in a completely different class. For instance: a level ten Fighter could take a level in Wizard, therefore being both a level ten Fighter and a level one Wizard. The joke is presumably that if badass was a class and you could take a level in it, you would thereby become badass where you weren't before. Actual RPG classes are, of course, supposed to be balanced so that literally taking one level in something doesn't normally make you greatly more powerful. Blending this with modern gaming, however, one can achieve what is known as "badass grinding", where one takes multiple levels in badass.

If they were already badass to begin with and imbued the previously unpowered characters with superpowers, it's Empowered Badass Normal.

Compare Obfuscating Stupidity, Let's Get Dangerous!, Cowardly Lion, and Not-So-Harmless Villain, where actually competent characters who have been hiding their powers finally reveal their abilities. Xenafication is when this happens to a Girly Girl. Magikarp Power is when this is achieved through lots of Level Grinding. Look What I Can Do Now! is when a character demonstrates this after an extended absence. From Nobody to Nightmare is the Evil Counterpart of this trope.

Adrenaline Makeover is when the love interest does this, along with becoming much more attractive. Also see Misfit Mobilization Moment, when a group of losers collectively take a level in badass. Related to Dumbass No More, when the character gains a level in intelligence.

Badass Decay is for the subjective situation where characters seem less badass than they were due to Characterization Marches On. That is not to be confused with a situation where a character becomes weaker as a plot point, as then it's simply an Inversion of this trope.

Not to Be Confused with Took a Level in Jerkass, where a normally nice person becomes a bad seed. Also not to be confused with taking a British A-Level exam in Badassery (or Badarsery), or taking any kind of level test leading to an official promotion in (or formal acknowledgment of) Badassery.

Warning: Examples may contain unmarked spoilers.

Example subpages:


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    Audio Plays 
  • Once she got behind the controls of the helicopter Pegs from We're Alive gained quite a bit of confidence, even telling both Datu and Michael to shut up during chapter 24.

    Board Games 
  • Chess has three examples:
    • The humble pawn, which upon reaching the last rank on the chessboard gets promoted, almost always into a Queen, the most powerful piece in the game
    • The Queen herself. Initially the piece was known as the vizier and moved very similarly to a pawn (i.e. it was much weaker than a king, which can at least cover all eight squares around it). Then, during the 15th or 16th century, it was given it's current movement abilities and, well, there's a reason the pawns tend to get promoted to queens. This upgrade (orthogonal and diagonal travel without limit where unobstructed) became tellingly known as "madness chess" ("That much power wielded by a woman? Madness!") and the Italians called the piece rabioso.
    • The ancient bishop was even weaker, moving diagonally two squares exactly, which restricted it so that 56 of the 64 squares were permanently off-limits.

    Card Games 
  • This happens to numerous characters in Magic: The Gathering. Crovax and Ertai each take about twenty levels in badass when they sign up with the Phyrexians; Mirri gets this benefit in the alternate timelines for Planar Chaos when she inherits Crovax's vampirism and insanity. Kamahl takes a level in badass when he becomes the Fist of Krosa, and his sister takes a level in badass when she becomes Phage the Untouchable.The meta-storyline of first 10 years of Magic effectively started with one determined and slightly less then moral Thran healer taking several levels in badass to become Yawgmoth and then one determined, slightly less then moral and spiritually troubled by his brother's demise human artificer taking about equal amount of said levels to become Urza Planeswalker to combat him.
    • Flip cards – creatures that, if you do what their effect request, turns into much more powerful, Legendary Creatures.
    • And now Magic has the actual mechanic Level Up, which lets a creature upgrade over time to become truly badass.
    • Planeswalkers in general. Starting out as regular, everyday members of their species, then after going through a life-changing experience, becoming nigh-immortal god-like beings with the power to walk between worlds (and that being one of the more mundane powers a planeswalker possesses). Subverted after The Mending. The powers granted by the Planeswalker Spark are greatly reduced. The only new power a planeswalker gains is the ability to walk between worlds. However, the new storylines make a point of showing just how special that power really is.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!! has few cards that tells a story, if put together. Cute but weak Gigobyte becomes Gagagigo, who is quite badass, but it's not enough for him – with help of cybernetic he turns into much more dangerous forms. Then he realizes that he chose the wrong path and goes back to the right side.
    • Also includes the Impachi line, a forest guardian who becomes more and more powerful with technology until burning to ashes.
    • And any card with a Level mechanic, such as Armed Dragon or Mystic Swordsman.
    • Gaia the Fierce Knight has been taking Levels ever since the game began. First there was Gaia, a fairly mediocre Monster from the first set, who became respectably strong when fused with Curse of Dragon. As time went by, that seemed to fall out of favor... so he gritted his teeth, willed himself a pretty useful effect, and became Swift Gaia. Then when that started to wear thin, he became a Synchro Monster (and was the strongest one of his level bar Goyo). Then that Synchro got a fusion. Then he laid in wait for a while... until the Chaos Xyz mechanic showed up and he jumped on that wagon, too. There's probably never been a time in the game where some form of Gaia wasn't usable. Later on, the fusion of Gaia with Curse of Dragon got retrained and is now called Sky Galloping Gaia the Dragon Champion. Come the most recent TCG set, Rise of the Duelist, and Gaia has come full circle; the set makes his status as an archetype official, with a retrain of Curse of Dragon, more versions of himself, and a host of new Spells/Traps to further along his path to competitive contention and true badassery. Also, you know that Sky Galloping Gaia from earlier? That got a retrain as well.
  • The basic idea of evolution in Pokémon. Especially for Magikarp.
  • Many lines of card in Cardfight!! Vanguard such as Amon of the Dark Irregulars, Lox of the Great Nature, and Rivierre of the Bermuda Triangle.

  • Shi Woon, protagonist of The Breaker, takes several huge levels in badass over the course of the story. He starts out as a loser who gets beaten up by bullies daily. After he eats a strange pill and trains under one of the greatest martial artists in the world, he becomes strong enough to break a cement column with his bare hands and take on other more experienced martial artists. He also learns to stand up for himself and becomes The Determinator, which impresses even the antagonists he cannot defeat.

  • Elefseus in Sound Horizon's Moira. After his sister is killed, he turns into Amethystos, prince of taking down fate.
  • Paul McCartney's Live and Let Die says that "you used to have a heart like an open book and say live and let live, but if this world in which we're living makes you cry...say live and LET DIE!!!" Break the Cutie into Badass.
  • Katy Perry's Roar is about a girl who starts as a love interest to a boy, but after breaking up with her boyfriend goes on to become a strong independent woman. The video goes one step further as Katy plays a city girl whose plane crashes in the jungle, and when her Indiana-expy boyfriend is eaten, she levels up into a Jungle Princess.
  • Perry again, in the Part of Me music video, starts as a heartbroken woman who just broke up with her cheating boyfriend. She joins the US Marine Corps and transforms into a badass soldier.
  • "Chainsaw Earle" by Newfoundland folk/comedy band Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers tells of the eponymous Earle, a scrawny weakling who grew up in a town full of lumberjacks. Too weak to even lift up a chainsaw, he was despised and mistreated by everyone until he got fed up and left town. He returns 16 years later as an enormously muscled giant carrying a BFS-sized chainsaw and pulls a Big Damn Heroes, saving the town from burning down in a raging forest fire. He then burns it down himself by accident, because even though he got a lot bigger and stronger, he's still just as stupid as he was before.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Dick Tracy had Pat Patton, who was originally a Bumbling Sidekick for Tracy in the first few years. However, before the 1930s ended, Pat grew to be a hardheaded and reasonably efficient police detective who can find the important clues and save the day when called upon.

  • In Metroid Prime, the Triclops was a minor annoyance that just latched onto the Morph Ball and spit it out for minor damage. But in Metroid Prime Pinball, it's a major problem due to its tendency to release Samus at an unfortunate angle.

  • At the start of The Stolen Century, Lucretia of The Adventure Zone: Balance is a milquetoast who is content to stay on the sidelines and record the heroics of others, routinely doubts her own abilities, and says that she could never possibly be a leader. However, after the events of Cycle 65, in which the rest of the team dies early on and she is left to repair the ship and fend off an entire army for the rest of the year completely alone in order to ensure the mission's survival, she becomes a much more confident and decisive fighter who eventually founds the Bureau of Balance and escapes Wonderland.
  • In the first two seasons of Mission to Zyxx Pleck is untrained, unqualified, and a frequent Butt-Monkey of both crew members and guest stars. For the season three premiere he's learned enough to fight off a squad of CLINTs and kick off the effort to oppose the Emperor.

    Puppet Shows 

  • Asuka Quest: Everyone. It starts with The Power of Friendship helping the Dysfunction Junction of NERV get over a lot of mental issues (Shinji is now the Only Sane Man, for example), and continues into AT field Mad Science allowing Evangelions to crack planets if they wanted to (and perhaps cause a Reality-Breaking Paradox; this one has never been tested for obvious reasons), to the point where the Angels (renamed Giant Alien Starfish) needed to become more powerful in order to keep up. Miscellaneous level-ups include Rei learning how to use her personal AT field (which allows her and Asuka to literally punch out Tabris), Asuka eating Zeruel's S2 organ, and Aisuka (Asuka's sister/A.I. clone; it's complicated) getting a Robot Girl body equipped with Super-Strength along with inbuilt weaponry, and the return of Jet Alone, with Aisuka as the pilot. Even Lorenz Kihl gets a chance to be badass; during the final battle he merges with 'Demi-Adam' created from three MP Evas, with Anti-Magic armor.
  • Darwin's Soldiers: Dr. Rudyard Shelton.
    • Starts off as a control room admin in the first RP and he's living as an undercover spy within the Dragonstorm ranks in the third RP.
    • When he kills someone who attempted to out him as a spy with a coffee maker.
  • Simon Wood from Survival of the Fittest is nigh-unrecogniseable in SOTF spin off SOTF Zombies. He goes from Romantic Runner-Up to somebody who will not hesitate to punch his undead adversaries in the face. On one occasion, this actually killed one.

  • Happens all the time in sports, especially when a team goes "worst to first". Very common in Baseball.
    • Happened to TWO teams in 1991, when then-perennial losers the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves, met in the World Series. The Twins won it all last year, but the Braves would go on to be a force for the next 15 seasons, ultimately winning it all in 1995.
      • This is particularly important for Braves fans; it signalled the end of the "rotten years", a period from 1970 through 1990 where they lost a lot more often than not, only making the playoffs two years out of 21.
    • The Tampa Bay Devil Rays were...slow out of the gate, having losing seasons their first ten seasons, finishing DFL in the AL East nine times out of ten (they finished 4th out of 5 in 2004). Then in 2008, they dropped "Devil" from their name. They immediately won the AL East (keeping the Yankees out of the playoffs), then beat the Red Sox in the ALCS to make the World Series. They've had winning seasons ever since, making the playoffs in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
    • The 2018-2019 St. Louis Blues took this to its logical extreme by going "worst to first" within the same season. At the beginning of 2019, with the season nearly halfway over, they were the worst team in the NHL. Six months later, they defeated the Boston Bruins in Game 7 to win the first Stanley Cup championship in the franchise's history.
  • As a player example, Patty Mills of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team. During the 2012-2013 postseason, he was widely known as the chubby guy sitting on the bench, cheering his teammates on by enthusiastically waving a towel whenever they scored a basket. After his team lost the championship, he was determined to prove that he deserved time on the court, so he went on a strict diet, lost weight, and trained rigorously. Flash forward to the 2013-2014 season, and he's been absolutely killing it as the backup point guard, helping the Spurs to maintain their top-seed record by stepping in for the injured Tony Parker and going off for 30 points or more in his best games — a number that would be considered respectable for superstars like Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
  • It didn't matter whether they played in Buffalo (as the Braves), San Diego, or Los Angeles — the Clippers were a running joke for most of their first four decades in the NBA. They had a penny-pinching, uncouth owner in Donald Sterling, an established reputation for losing, and an inability to hang on to top players, who would either be traded away in bad deals, or leave via free agency once their contracts expired. But when 2009 first-overall pick Blake Griffin debuted in the 2010-11 season (he missed what would have been his rookie year due to injury), things began to turn around. And when the Clippers acquired Chris Paul via trade ahead of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Lob City was born. As of 2016, the Clippers have finally become consistent winners, and become the top NBA team in L.A. after decades of playing a poor second fiddle to the Lakers.

  • Veronica Sawyer from Heathers goes from a bully victim with a psychotic boyfriend to the new head of the school who shot said psychotic boyfriend before he blew himself up.
  • Arguably Macduff of Macbeth by the time of Act 5, Scene 8 when Macduff fulfills the prophecy of the weird sisters (he can harm Macbeth) by telling Macbeth of how he was born, even to the point where Macbeth cannot believe it to be true:
    Macduff: Despair thy charm,
    And let the angel whom thou still hast served
    Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother's womb
    Untimely ripp'd.
    Macbeth: Accursed be that tongue that tells me so,
    For it hath cow'd my better part of man!
  • Natalie by the end of Next to Normal. She goes from being an angsty teenager who hates her family and the life they have provided, to a happier young woman who acknowledges how much the Goodman household has been through, and wants life to "give me pain if that's what's real".

  • As with the cartoon series, so too with the toy line it's based on. When Transformers makes a new toy of an old character, the advances in manufacturing technology usually mean the toy itself is better. It is also often larger. Recent examples include Seaspray, once the Aquaman of the Autobots, who has a toy that is apparently both his G1 character and a character for the new line, going from an equivalent of Legends to Voyager (three size steps up; the original is three inches tall while the new one is over a foot.) This can even happen within a single line. In the Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen toy line, Bludgeon was originally a repaint of Wreckage, a decent mold from the first movie's line, but got his own unique mold which was a full size class larger, more in tune with his fan-favorite G1 self, and dripping with flavor.
  • Mata Nui from BIONICLE seems to go down a few levels of badass at first, after which he explains that he never actually was that badass, just very powerful. Then he throws a Humongous Mecha under a moon/fragment of the planet he's standing on, crushing the Big Bad.

    Web Animation 
  • Blue Incineroar in CPU Championship Series does this in between Seasons 2 and 3, where he goes from a fighter who only makes it to Round 2, too being Number 1 fighter for a bit and currently is in top 5.
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • Tucker, the lazy pimp wannabe suddenly becomes effective once he gets his energy sword. He takes another level when Wyoming locks the whole canyon into a time loop. Tucker is left immune to its amnesia-inducing effects (due to the sword), allowing him to act with advance knowledge of the situation. In Recreation, he shows off his mad skills by taking on the entire digging team, seemingly by himself.
      Church: Hey, you know what, I kinda like this new all-knowing badass Tucker. He's certainly a lot better than the old one.
    • Similarly, in the climax of Red vs. Blue: Reconstruction, Church embraces his AI heritage and stops The Meta by entering its collective mind. Previously, he was unable to even hit a target at point-blank range.
    • In Revelation, Grif and Sarge come to Simmons and Doc's rescue, but are confronted by Washington. After a couple of failed cues, Grif bursts through a wall with the warthog after Washington has disarmed Sarge. Grif hits Washington, and after a brief drive around Valhalla flings him off of the Warthog. As Washington cocks Sarge's shotgun in midair, Sarge timely shows up and snatches the shotgun right out of his hands, jumps in the Warthog with Grif, and shoots the fusion coils that Washington landed by. Take into account that Washington is just short of a One-Man Army, and it's all the more impressive. What's more, not only do they beat Washington, but they do it with style. However, Sarge did mess up his one-liner, so points off for that.
    • In the same season, as difficult as it may be to believe, already high-level badass Tex has apparently taken another level in badass. Meta also spent a lot of that season as an Iron Butt-Monkey, but redeems himself in the fight with Tex and won, no less.
    • By the time of Season 12, the crew are overall much more competent than before, though they still fail irregularly. Justified in that Roosterteeth now has access to Motion Capture and Kung Fu.
  • RWBY:
    • In the Volume 1 finale, Blake Belladonna struggles to hold her own against Roman Torchwick, even with help, and the fight had to be interrupted. In the Volume 2 finale, she has a second battle with him, with no assistance this time. Guess who wins? Hint: Not Roman.
    • Jaune Arc started the show as completely untrained and didn't even have his Aura unlocked (something all the other students had done years ago). He struggles with foes that the other students barely even bat an eye at, and has no idea what his Semblance even is. But as the show goes on, he steadily trains and improves: by Volumes 3 and 4, while he's not up to the level of his friends, he's able to hold his own and strike some good blows even against powerful enemies. He unlocks his semblance on volume 6. Volumes 7 and 8 imply he's finally catching up, but, by now, he's still in need of prove himself as capable enough to take down stronger enemies by his own. His general role is purely defensive and powering up his allies with his semblance. Then, he becomes the Rusted Knight...
  • Blazer from the World of Warcraft epic "Tales of the Past III" goes from a cocky rogue who couldn't defeat a horde of undead, to a Badass Fist-Of-An-Angry-God paladin who wields a ancient weapon after spending time training in the emerald dream with death knight Mograine (whose control under the Kel'Thurzad had been broken). Notable in the beginning of the fight with Arthas.
  • The titular heroes of X-Ray & Vav first start out as a pair of Super Zeroes who couldn't stop a pair of crooks without turning the city into a crater. Episode 4, the finally get their heads on straight and rescue the entire city from the clutches of the Corpirate.

    Web Videos 
  • Angry Video Game Nerd: When Bugs Bunny first appears in his review of Bugs Bunny’s Birthday Blowout, he’s the Butt-Monkey, getting repeatedly beaten up by the Nerd and culminating in his face getting pooped on. When he returns for the Nerd to review Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle and its sequels, he starts things off by immediately blocking the Nerd’s first punch and giving him a very similar beating. In an especially humiliating role reversal, he ends up pooping on the Nerd’s face this time.
  • BillyMC. He started out as The Woobie due to his failures in Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, and Retsupurae interpreted him as a kid with a Hilariously Abusive Childhood (most especially when poor phrasing during one video leaves them with the impression that he gets McDonald's food for Christmas presents), but eventually he beat it. Then he announced that he was going to play Ninja Gaiden, and people were worried about the potential effects on his psyche. However, as he was using a controller instead of a keyboard, he manages to beat the game in five videos, amazing pretty much everyone who watched.
  • Dream's Minecraft Manhunts:
  • The REAL Filthy Frank became this between "ADAM SANDLER CONSPIRACY THEORY" where he claimed he was only a peasant and could only travel through realms and "FILTHY FRANK VS. CHIN CHIN" where it's implied that he became a Peace^Lord and even intimidates the dark lord himself, Chin Chin.
  • Codex takes a level in badass at the end of The Guild season three. It probably doesn't last.
  • Hero House has Nightwing, who goes from being Batman's incompetent sidekick, to his rightful replacement, capable of taking down Deathstroke himself.
  • Logan in the beginning of Logan's Dawn is a Technical Pacifist who is intimidated by the outside world and runs away scared several times, but that quickly changes out of necessity.
  • Emma in lonelygirl15 appears to have done this in between "I Love You All" and "Operation Emma", largely as a result of having to fend for herself and witnessing Elizabeth's murder.
  • In Marble Hornets, Jessica starts out as something of a Damsel in Distress, serving as The Woobie who Jay is trying to rescue. She's probably the most sensible person in the cast, but she doesn't do a lot. But when she comes Back For The Operator Abduction in Entry #76, when Alex pulls a gun on her she attacks him while he's apologizing and wrestles it away from him. She's also the first (and so far, only) person to make it all the way through the tunnel.
  • Edward Borman takes... well, maybe half a level in The Mercury Men. While he doesn't quite reach the level of badass and is still cowardly, his marksmanship (once he remembers to keep his eyes open!), willingness to put himself into harms way and his ability to think on his feet do improve considerably over the course of the first nine episodes, especially after his talk with Dr. Tomorrow.
  • When Barnabas Thade in Movie Rehab was introduced in the Meet Dave review he started out as a dubious manager who was a huge coward. By the time of the Southland Tales review he became much more self condident, much stronger and eventually defeated the villain Trama.
    • Simon Lane's building skills were initially somewhat dire, but by Moonquest he builds a fairly cool airship which proves handy for the crew. Come Hole Diggers and he ends up designing a space station... which can mine from other dimensions.
  • Noob:
    • In the fourth novel and Season 5 Arthéon became this by getting promoted from mere Player Character to a player-controlled world boss whose stats are superior to all three UltimateGamer386 characters of the franchise taken together.
    • The duel between Omega Zell and Gaea shown in the webseries was preceded by showing that the trope applies to both parties: Gaea broke out of the "coward" part of her usually Dirty Coward self merely by asking for the duel and keeping up with Omega Zell who's starting to reap the benefits of being in Justice guild.
  • Vernias of the Party Crashers was previously known as the group's Butt-Monkey, constantly being plagued by bad luck and rarely getting wins. However, once he learned the timing on Chance Time, he has started winning many more Mario Party games, being able to manipulate Chance Time in his favor. One such example is in "Mario Party but last place MAKES THE RULES", where despite being in last place on the final turn, Vernias still ends up winning the whole game by stealing a Star via Chance Time and being awarded the one Bonus Star he needed to overtake Brent in 1st place, as he had more coins.
  • Dave (or Dawei) of Pure Pwnage was a quiet, withdrawn sort of guy at first. He absolutely refused to play any video games until a furious micro (a combat skill based on game-playing ability) battle threatened the lives of his friends. After a flashback showing a tragic gaming incident that killed/injured his sisters, he finally snaps and proves to be an incredible user of micro, effectively taking a level in badass and reverting to the arrogant, snarky personality he had in his past.
  • Stealth from The Quest served as one of Diesel's henchmen in Season One, and didn't really have all that much special about him. During his appearance in Season Two, he's learned to turn invisible, runs rings around Crimson and his friends, and requires two superheroes to take down.
  • The various members of the Yogscast have had numerous failings in their Minecraft series, but have improved immensely given time:
    • Kim Richards started as the Naïve Newcomer when it came to Minecraft, but eventually learned to improve. She was the first player on the company server to successfully land the rocket without dying (everyone else who had attempted this had died somehow). When left to run Panda Labs on her own, she manages to kill all of Hat Films by herself.

  • Most of the reviews for Channel Awesome get this, especially in the anniversary events, which become increasingly more dangerous and which they still manage to handle.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Take A Level In Badass, Badass Level Up, Taking A Level In Badass, Taken A Level In Badass, Takes A Level In Badass


Future Box Ghost

Box Ghost might be a pathetic specter in the present, but when Danny finds the future version of him ten years in Dark Danny's time line, he's shown to have become far from harmless.

How well does it match the trope?

4.85 (26 votes)

Example of:

Main / FutureBadass

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