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Frequently characters, especially heroic Main Characters, find themselves going up against an opponent which outnumbers them or otherwise has a tactical advantage. Whether the character is a Badass or completely incapable, they know that in this instance, they don't have enough of a chance in a straight-up fight, so they try to gain an advantage by out-thinking their opponent.
One way of doing this try to make the enemy think that the enemy is outnumbered or surrounded, by pretending that there are people on your side which in fact do not exist. The most basic way to do this is to lie to the enemy. For example, the hero might say "I have snipers covering the back door" when they are in fact all alone.
The hero might also call out false commands to non-existent groups. For example, a two man team might loudly call out command likes "First platoon, cover my flank!" Even more sophisticated methods might involve creating simulation or illusion of backup. If the hero is under seige, he might use these methods to convince the besiegers that they have reinforcements on the way, when in fact there are none.
- Usopp from One Piece does this all the time, but since it's usually Blatant Lies, half the time they see right through him.
- In The Open Door, Lars, a demon of New Chaos, is accidentally transported to a plane full of devils. However, the devils are terrified of Chaos Demons, and Lars uses this trope as well as the fear they have to keep them from killing him, and signing a binding contract with them, saying that Chaos will not invade their home. Once he's not in danger of getting attacked, he reveals that, despite what he insinuated, he's lost, cut off from his people, and has no idea how he got to this plane to begin with. But because the devils are Lawful Evil, and they signed a contract with him preventing them from attacking him, it leads to epic-level facepalms and groaning from the devils at how easily they were tricked.
- Maverick: When Maverick confronts the fake Indian bandits, he tells them they're surrounded. To back this up he tells Marshall Cooper and Annabelle (who are out of sight) to whistle and clap, thus making it look like he has more supporters than he does.
- In Ladyhawke, Philippe the Mouse (Matthew Broderick) is hearing noises in the woods. He tries to fool his potential attackers by talking to two imaginary friends, saying things like, "You'd better draw your sword, Pierre!" and, "Ah, Louis, you brought your crossbow!" He also uses different voices to make it sound like they are there.
- Sending flag signals to non-existent ships is a tactic used several times by Horatio Hornblower and Captain Aubrey to convince opposing ships to either give up or maneuver to try to avoid the non-existent ships in such a way as to put them at a disadvantage.
- Subverted in the Discworld novel Soul Music. Death joins the Klatchian Foreign Legion. When the D'regs charge and kill most of the defenders, Death sets their corpses up to fire back. When the D'regs charge (knowing the trick), the corpses shoot the D'regs when Death gives the order to fire.
- In the Lone Islands section of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Prince Caspian does this, ordering his crew to send signals "to all the other ships we haven't got but which it might be well that Gumpas thinks we have."
- In Beau Geste, the initial assault on a fort is beaten off, but after each new attack, there are fewer defenders. Markoff props up the corpses at their posts to make it look as if there are still plenty of soldiers left.
- Keith Laumer's The Glory Game
- Most of the Terran space fleet has left Earth to check out a collection of Hukk ships in another area of space. Commodore Dalton figures out that the ships are a lure and the Hukk are planning a sneak attack to capture the Lunar fortifications. When the Hukk fleet appears near Earth, he bluffs its commander into surrendering by telling them that the rest of the Terran fleet is only minutes away.
- Later on, when a single Hull ship lands on a frontier planet Dalton sets up energy rifles on hills surrounding the ship, After disabling the ship, he tricks the crew into surrendering by making them think they're surrounded by troops. Another character calls Dalton's ploy "the Fort Zinderneuf
- Artemis Fowl does this to Minerva in The Time Paradox by hacking into the security cameras and simulating armed forces, including a tank.
- Several groups in various Redwall books use this trick, usually successfully. Of course, it helps that the bluffer is usually worth that many.
- In Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, when Frank Bryce catches Voldemort and Wormtail in the old Riddle House, he tries to scare them away by threatening that his wife is downstairs phoning the police. Unfortunately for him, Voldemort can easily read his mind and knows he doesn't have a wife.
- Get Smart: Maxwell Smart keeps trying this tactic, and failing.
Max: At the moment, seven Coast Guard cutters are converging on us. Would you believe it? Seven.
- Battlestar Galactica: In the original series episode "Saga Of A Star World", Starbuck and Apollo bluff a Cylon Base Star into a severe tactical misstep by discussing over the radio whether or not they should bring all of their Viper squadrons with them to attack the ship (when in fact, they only have a single squadron at their disposal, and that squadron is already occupied providing cover to the evacuation of the Colonials from the surface of Carillon).
- In the Doctor Who episode "The Eleventh Hour", the first time the Doctor meets Amy Pond as an adult, she sneaks up on him, hits him with a cricket bat, handcuffs him to a radiator, then pretends to be radioing for backup while dressed as a policewoman.
- There's an episode of Time Trax where Darien gets captured by the villain of the week, and Selma makes it sound like the house is surrounded by the police.
- In an episode of Psych, "Truer Lies," Shawn and a pathological liar do this, magnanimously accepting the terms of two bad guys' surrender because the police were just around the corner. It turns out they were telling the truth.
- From the second season premiere of Chuck: "My name is Charles Carmichael. I'm a CIA agent, and this is my trap. I don't think you gentlemen recognize the gravity of the predicament you're in. Your call to the Buy More? Yeah, we traced that. Your compound is currently surrounded by 23 infantry troopers, 16 snipers, seven heavy gunners, four demolitions experts and enough ammunition to orbit Arnold Schwarzenegger. You're outmatched and you're outgunned. Those pea-shooters you're holding might as well be sharp sticks and strong language....Of course you don't see anyone. What do you think we are, the FBI? The only thing you're going to see is a muzzle flash and an e-ticket straight to hell." To further sell this bluff, Chuck calls up Morgan and asks him about their Call of Duty map, where all of the figures in the quote come from, and gets Morgan to repeat all of those figures to the baddie of the week.
Recorded and Stand up Comedy
- Swedish stand up comedian Jan Bylund talks about how, even though he's an adult now, he's afraid of going down into the basement at his parents' house, because he's still convinced that there is a witch living under the stairs. He goes on to say that when he was younger and his mom asked him to go down there to get something, he used to talk in several different voices so that the witch would think he wasn't alone, and also pretend that they had a big, scary dog with them.
Religion and Mythology
- The Bible: Used by Gideon when going into battle against the Midianites. With only 300 men (God made Gideon send the rest home), they snuck up to the camp, then each of them broke a clay jar to reveal a torch, shouted, and blew horns to make the sleeping Midianites think they were only the torch-bearers of a much larger army. The Midianites got so freaked out they started killing each other as they tried to escape.
- Basic Dungeons & Dragons module B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. The DM is advised to have monsters have a few of of them out of sight shout and make noise as if there were many more coming, to hopefully scare the adventurers away.
- Looney Tunes: In Bugs and Thugs, Bugs Bunny is confronting several armed gangsters, and fakes a police siren and the sound of cops calling out to each other. Even better, when real police raid the place a few minutes later, they sound exactly the same.