The character is facing a gang of enemies that would quickly overwhelm him after the fight starts but it doesn't start because each member of the gang wants somebody else to to go first and take the brunt of the counterattack. Perhaps they realize the risk without being prompted; perhaps the character threatens to throw everything he's got at whoever makes the first move in order to dissuade them. This situation can arise if everybody involved believes that the gang as a whole is the stronger side, but each individual gang member is vulnerable to being singled out and targeted.
Note that, from a martial ethics perspective, it is an extremely shameful thing for this to happen, as it means that every single one of the (non-)attackers has shown cowardice in front of his comrades. Samurai in particular were specifically conditioned to enter battle with an "I am already dead" mindset, and a strong tendency for sacrifice in the name of the group: if they were to hesitate in such a situation, they wouldn't be able to live with themselves afterwards, so it's lose-lose.
So it goes without saying that trying to use this tactic against a Determinator or similarly driven (or fanatical) enemy (or one that is able to point out the logic of their capacity to successfully execute a Zerg Rush and successfully makes the rest of the gang follow suit... or a group Too Dumb to Fool that is eager to knock your head off) with no means to back up said threats is a bad idea.
A Sub-Trope of Terror Hero. A Sister Trope to Peace Through Superior Firepower, To Win Without Fighting and Who Will Bell the Cat?. Bystander Syndrome covers non-combat examples where no individual in a group wants to be the one to step up. Compare and contrast Intimidation Demonstration.
- At the end of Fullmetal Alchemist, Wrath has been fighting for quite some time, already been wounded, repeatedly stated that he is getting past his prime, outnumbered, and unlike the other Homunculi, cannot regenerate. He asks the protagonists present if they would be willing to take a stab at eternity. Not a one of them even considers it. Because, you see, badass is somewhat of an understatement when it comes to this guy.
- King from One-Punch Man is known as the strongest man in the world. His reputation is so great that he rarely needs to fight. Random monsters he meets on the street have heart attacks due to fear. Merely unfolding his arms causes a horde of monsters to flee. Good thing too, because in reality King has all the fighting skill of a normal human. The reason he got his reputation was because somehow people kept crediting Saitama's kills to him, no matter how absurd the logic leap, due to him constantly being in the area. His reputation is literally the only thing he can bring to the table to win a fight. During the Monster Association Invasion Arc, his reputation (combined with his supernatural luck) allow him to scare a shapeshifting monster to death, rescue and walk out of the Monster Base with the hostage unchallenged, and single-handedly hold off 4 Dragon-level monsters until Awakened Garou arrives and deals with them.
- This is the concept of Conqueror's Haki from One Piece. The user sends out an intense burst of Haki and those with weak wills are instantly knocked out. This power is even potent enough to scare of sea monsters if the user is strong enough. It helps that this power is rare and the ones that use it are very powerful and intimating characters on their own right (such as Whitebeard, Dolfamingo, and Big Mom). Protagonist Luffy has it and during the Time Skip figured out how to do it at will.
- This happens a lot in the Toriko series; It's not uncommon for enemies and monsters to run away from a character's Pure Awesomeness. In the first volume, Toriko manages to scare an entire tribe of Troll Kongs (Think four-armed yetis) with such a display. At first, due to a low-ranking member of the pack puking on him, the other Kongs think Toriko is a small-fry and attack relentlessly. Once it rains and the scent washes away, Toriko is able to make his threat level very well-known and they all back down.
- DC character John Constantine is frequently capable of this sort of thing, having a justified rep for taking on arch-demons and angels (despite being essentially just a mortal ritual magician and con artist). Hence, for example, in the original mini-series of The Books of Magic, he bluffs out a room full of magical supervillains (who were perfectly willing to take on a high-end magical super-heroine in pursuit of their current goal).
- The Punisher: Frank, having finally dispatched Ma Gnucci's hitman the Russian, shows up on her doorstep still bruised and bleeding holding the Russian's decapitated head aloft demanding "Is that the best you could do?". Her assembled mooks drop their guns as one and run away, leaving Frank to kill Gnucci.
- Subverted in an issue of Fantastic Four where Mr. Fantastic explains that after he figured out how to communicate with some hostile aliens, he simply sent the message "I am Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four and-" and they turned tail and ran before he could finish. It turns out they were actually just temporarily regrouping and returned soon with reinforcements. Reed and the FF proceeded to easily defeat them anyway.
- In one issue of Beta Ray Bill's miniseries, SHIELD was negotiating with some aliens who were threatening the Earth. At the sight of the title character, however, they gave up and left.
- A recurring character in The Tick, Hand Grenade Man, never actually fights his enemies - instead he holds up a hand grenade and just says, "I'll do it..." It always seems to work.
- In the AU Avatar fic Children of the War: Book 3, Fire, Sokka uses this during the climax.
"My arm's broken, and so's my leg. I've also got a concussion and there's even a chance that I've got a collapsed lung. I've got no defenses, no weapons worth a damn. No plans, no allies, no hope of success. And doesn't that just scare you to death? I'm still going to win. Because right now, I'm feeling a little blood drunk. So, firebender: here I am. Want to test your mettle against a Tribesman?"
- Sword Art Online Abridged: Kirito and up fighting a bunch of mooks... or rather, holding still and waiting for them to realize their attacks are doing less damage than his regeneration rate. What follows is an exercise in power fantasy:
Mook: I don't understand, we threw everything we had at him! How is he still standing?!
Kirito: 'How'?! Well, it's quite simple really. You see (to Rosalia), 'Girlie,' you may think ya got me all figured out, but there's one thing, you didn't account for: my numbers (unveils Level 78 stats) are bigger than yours! Funny thing, really. Get to a high enough level and you're basically untouchable, my wounds heal faster than you can make them! We could do this all day, and you would not be any closer to beating me, not that it wouldn't be fun. But, I've got good news. You see, there's no need to wonder where your god is! 'Cause he's right here! And he's fresh out of mercy!"
Mook: (starts crying)
- The Fifth Element
"Anyone else want to negotiate?" - Korben Dallas, after some Aggressive Negotiations.
- A movie called Kuffs has this exchange:
Kuffs and Bukovsky, armed with pump shotguns, are facing about a dozen hoods in the film's climactic confrontation
Unidentified Hood: It's a twelve-gauge pump, boys. He's only got three shots. They can't get us all!
He reaches for his gun, Ted blows him away
George Kuffs: gestures to dead hood Well, now we know he can add...
gestures to Ted
George Kuffs: And he can subtract. So who wants to be next here?
- Above the Law:
Mobster (Notices that Nico has only a .45 (7 shots) and there are about 12 mobsters): You can't take out all of us!Nico Toscani (shoots him, points gun at other mobsters): I'll get an "A" for effort. (Other mobsters keep still).
- On most versions of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three one of the hostages says that they should all rush Mr. Grey (the hostage-takers' leader) and take him down, only for Mr. Grey to point out that he's armed with a top-of-the-line sub-machinegun and that, stuck inside of a subway car as they are, if they all were to rush him they would all be bunched together and vulnerable to his return fire. "...you would all be dead before you got close to me". None of them ever try.
- Prize of Gor has a subversion. Gor has Fantasy Gun Control so there are no native guns; a person from our world has brought some though. Once the natives understand the power of the gun, and after a battle where most of the bullets are used up, one gets his hands on the one gun with one bullet left in it. He says that with it he's the most powerful man on Gor and everyone should obey him; another points out that as soon as he shoots the weapon he'll have nothing, so he basically can't force anyone to do anything even though he has it.
- In The Dresden Files, Dresden delays the attacks of the immortal Red Court vampires by pointing out that, while there were easily enough of them to overwhelm him, whoever went first would certainly die: "Your children have eternity before them. Which one of you wants to give up eternity?"
- This trope is discussed and explicitly defied on World War Z during the retelling of the Battle Of Yonkers. In a nutshell: an exposure of the total might of the United States military would make even the most fanatical of human soldiers hesitate (at least), but the zombies are Too Dumb to Fool (brain-dead, really); and when they see a massive military blockade; all they see is a smorgasbord of human flesh just standing there and ready to be eaten, and march towards it totally uncaring about the gunfire and explosions and casualties going off all around them. If anything, the zombies ended up intimidating the soldiers instead.
- Many of the stronger characters from Tolkien's Legendarium can do this as a mere side effect of their presence, from Gandalf and Sauron in The Lord of the Rings to Feanor and Fingolfin in The Silmarillion. The latter was even able to cause entire armies to flee just by approaching them.
- The 100 episode "Murphy's Law" has Bellamy play this card when Murphy leads a gang to lynch Charlotte. Bellamy, though he's the toughest fighter in their camp, admits that he can't take on five people at once, but vows that if they try to fight him, at least a couple of them won't be walking away from it. No one steps forward to initiate the fight, so Murphy resorts to hostage taking instead.
- Doctor Who:
- "Forest of the Dead": Despite having no way to defeat the Vashta Nerada, the Doctor manages to scare them into submission based on his reputation alone. "I'm the Doctor, and you're in the biggest library in the universe. Look me up."
- "The Pandorica Opens" features the speech at the top of the page. Ironically, it's actually a subversion. After the Doctor gives the speech all the ships flying around in the sky head for the hills, but it turns out to be a bluff to lull the Doctor into believing they're running away when actually they're just waiting for the Pandorica to open so they can lock him inside of it. This episode also demonstrates the downside to using fear to conquer one's foes: do it too much, and your enemies get pushed past the Godzilla Threshold and begin getting desperate... and desperation often leads to truly disastrous consequences.
- River Song gets her turn in "The Big Bang".
"You are an associate of the Doctor's. Records indicate you will show mercy."
"I'm River Song. Check your records again."
"Say it again?"
"One more time."
Rory: What happened to the Dalek?
River: It died.
- Deconstructed in an episode of Happy Days. When Fonzie pulls this off against a group of thugs who were menacing Richie, he wants Fonzie to teach him his secret. When he confronts the thugs again, he does the same intimidation routine, but gets beaten up anyway. Fonzie mentions that in order for it to work, he has to actually have a reputation for winning fights.
- An episode of The Saint had Simon Templar holding off a few mobsters:
Mobsters: He/You can't shoot all of us!
Templar: Which of you wants to be a hero?
- During the third season of Vikings, Ragnar partially accomplished this against the Mercian army. After having defeated another, smaller Mercian force, he has his men cut off the heads of many of the fallen and mount them on their ships when they sail across the river to face the other Mercian army. About half the army deserts on the spot, although the leaders do latter pull at least some of the army back together and try to make a stand against the combined forces of the Norsemen and Wessex.
- In Dragon Quest VIII, you have the option at the start of combat to try to intimidate your opponents. If you are much higher level than them, they'll run away immediately. This is bad for grinding (you get no money or experience), but great for item farming (the drop rate is increased).
- Dawn of War: A unit whose morale drops to 0 gets massive stat reductions (but a boost in speed), ensuring they'll be dead if they don't run away. There are units with no morale bars who can't get scared, thanks to their faith, bloodthirstiness/insanity, or having no souls.
- The Necron Lord can take an item that forces every enemy unit around him to run directly away, morale shot to hell.
- In Soulstorm, Berserkers of Khorne can use a lesser version of the same ability by tracing the skull-rune of Khorne on the ground.
- Dark Eldar Terrorfex and Horrorfex instantly reduce an enemy's morale to zero, and have an ability that does so for every unit on the map.
- The "Roar" move makes an opposing wild Pokemon flee in fear if its level is lower then the Trainer's.
- One of the abilities a can have is Intimidate, which lowers the opponent's attack power. Humorously, a few Pokemon have this ability despite being not scary at all, such as Growlithe, a puppy and famously Shinx.◊ This is bizarre because said Pokemon are not typically characterized as Killer Rabbits.
- Maytag uses this method to defeat a whole gang in Chapter 2 of Flipside.
- Girl Genius has a chapter called "Gil deals with it". Therein, Gil deals with an entire army of war clanks using a single Death Ray that takes out one machine with each shot. It takes him two shots to convince the enemy that he "did not get lucky".
- Afterwards, Gil is looking for the army's commander. One guy says the commander is dead; his second- and third-in command are also toast. He's the fourth, the highest-ranking survivor. Then he tries to kill Gil. A Jagermonster stabs him, then asks, "Who else vants to be promoted?"
- The Romance of the Three Kingdoms reports after the Battle of Changban in 208, Zhang Fei covered Liu Bei's escape by standing on the opposite side of a river from Cao Cao's forces and challenging them to single combat. No one dared. However, as the Romance is a mix of history and historical fiction, this is not otherwise verified.
- Vlad Tepes supposedly managed to repel a Turkish invasion thanks to the thousands of impaled corpses put on display.
- Almost every land battle ever fought is a partial example of this. "Demoralization" (scaring the heck out of them, to put it roughly) does more damage to an army than physical casualties and much of land war is a contest in intimidation. Sea battles are different because it is less easy to run away at sea. At the same time sea battles can also be victories of intimidation.
- Smart pirates, usually more interested in loot and profit than in a bloody battle, would naturally try for this. In fact, this is reportedly Blackbeard's ENTIRE M.O., cultivating stories and creating an absolutely demonic persona which involved tying cannon fuse into his hair and beard and lighting it so that smoke would come off him while he threatened and extorted people to give the impression that he was the Devil himself despite there being no records of him murdering or even harming any of the hostages he ever took. Considering his reputation as the pirate through to the present-day, it worked.
- All pirates followed this M.O. The purpose of the pirate's showing their true colors - here colors means flag - was to declare that they would do something awful to you if you resisted, but if you surrendered they would just take your valuables and leave you alive. This is good policy; if pirates did slaughter indiscriminately, no one would surrender, and piracy would be a lot more dangerous and a lot less profitable. Even today, Somali pirates prefer to not have to fight and would rather have a reputation of ruthlessness precede them. The corollary is also true; if you did resist, pirates would have to make you suffer, since they can't afford a reputation for being soft.
- In nature, same-species fights often go down this way, as both parties try to avoid risking an injury. Therefore there's a lot of posing, roaring, mock fighting and other forms of threat display, which may be enough for a victory without an actual fight.
Anyone else want to give examples?