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"The hell of it was that a nineteenth-century bullet or even a Stone Age spear could still kill a twenty-third-century marine. It shouldn't. It should not be allowed. And that was it -- it was your sense of superiority that killed you."


A technologically advanced empire has come to conquer a poor, defenseless, primitive planet where the most advanced piece of technology is a horse. Unfortunately for the empire, Our Heroes happen to be living on the planet and helping the natives at this time, and they are anything but Medieval Morons.

As it turns out, centuries of starship-to-starship combat with particle beams and shields have rendered The Empire ignorant of the simpler ways of getting killed. Wooden crossbow bolts don't show up on radar, and go straight through magnetic barriers. Humongous Mecha fall into hidden pits and get stuck. Swinging tree trunks smash straight through Powered Armor and send the enemy soldiers flying through the air into a conveniently placed abyss. A little pluck, some old-fashioned ingenuity, and a really big rock will beat a laser every time.

Don't think too hard on this one, suffice it to say these rocks tend to de-emphasize the "elite"ness of the supposed crack troops in a Redshirt Army. Historically, every industrialized nation on Earth with imperialist goals regularly steamrolled over the militia army of soon to be conquered natives (without help, that is. Though in places where the natives had help such as Ethiopia--who famously beat the Italians twice during the Scramble for Africa--there tends to be more emphasis on giving their development a crash course rather than use Bamboo Technology). It would take a while before a conquered nation could get a decent La Résistance or revolution to kick out these powers... usually using their own technology against them and with guerilla tactics. Bamboo usually wasn't involved. (The fact that the colonial forces were often commanded by arrogant aristocrats who completely underestimated the capabilities of the primitive natives and knew more about "matters vegetable, animal, and mineral" than actually leading an army tended to help things along, too.)

In certain Speculative Fiction circles, especially those revolving around The Singularity, this is called the Plucky Baseline.

It is worth noting that, in Real Life, rock is one of the better materials to have between yourself and a laser, given its typically high melting point and lack of flammability. Especially if you manage to drop it from high enough orbit.

In short, The Empire's Achilles Heel is anything Traveling At the Speed of Plot.

Compare Cool but Inefficient, Good Old Fisticuffs, Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better, Guns Are Worthless, Break Out the Museum Piece, Muggles Do It Better and Older Is Better. One of the things to watch for in How to Invade An Alien Planet. Contrast Low Culture, High Tech, where a low tech culture uses superior high tech devices.

Examples of Rock Beats Laser include:


Anime

  • In Transformers Robots in Disguise, the Predacons attempt to steal an antique steam train which is being guarded by Team Bullet Train. Gas Skunk fires an EMP pulse which disables Rail Spike and Rapid Run, but has no effect on the steam train due it its lack of electronic components. Also, Sky Bite, Dark Scream, and Slapper are all disabled by smoke from its chimney.
  • As a result of the predominant Steampunk Schizo-Tech universe of Samurai 7, the only available weapon against a giant floating battlecruiser is... a massive sharpened pike the size of a building, hurled across miles by a giant ballista. And it WORKS.
  • Gate averts this trope so hard it just ain't funny!

Comic Books

  • In X-Statix/Avengers, the Orphan fought Iron Man armed only with an anvil, of all things, as depicted above. You'll never guess who won (ultimately; both of them eventually lost their armor and were forced to fight naked for the win). Although, arguably, the Rule of Cool is in effect there; When you can descend on an enemy like a vampire while carrying an anvil, you deserve to win no matter what.
  • Daredevil, having failed to defeat Ultron by crashing a truck into him, knocked the robot's head off with a stick.
  • Slightly justified in JLA: Year One with The Flash. Snapper Carr complains that the League having a library in their base is pointless, since they also have a computer and can use it to do research much faster. But no internet connection in the world can move faster than Flash, who has a book open to the appropriate page before Snapper even finishes typing. And could probably even run to any library in the world and back in the time it takes Google to load.
  • It's a fairly common tactic for the Hulk to use a blunt object against technologically advanced foes. This is presuming, of course, that he can't simply tear them metal limb from metal limb with his bare hands (which he usually can). Granted, the Hulk pretty much applies this tactic to any foe, regardless of the level of technology at their disposal.
    • This is quite in line with real world physics; you can destroy anything in the universe, ANYTHING at all... if you hit it hard enough. And who could possibly hit harder than an enraged Hulk?
  • An interesting example involving laser swords is found in the Star Wars mini-series Jango Fett: Open Seasons, wherein the eponymous Mandalorian Badass kills nearly a dozen Jedi Knights in close combat with his fists, armoured boots, garrote wire, his helmet (he kills his last opponent by throwing snow in his eyes and head-butting him in the face) and yes, a rock, before finally collapsing and being taken prisoner, an incident which many years later inspires Count Dooku (who was present at the time) to select Jango as the template for the Jedi-killing Clone Army.
  • In an Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers comic, a gang of crooks turns up wearing laser-reflective armour that renders the Rangers' weapons ineffective. A Jerkass Bounty Hunter puts them down with regular bullets from a primitive firearm. Amusingly, the Rangers then arrest him for the use of illegal weaponry.
  • In Wonder Woman: Amazons Attack, the Amazons repeatedly take down tanks and jet fighters using bows and arrows. Linkara did not approve.
  • In a Thunderbirds story in TV Century 21, a Jovian alien arrives on Earth in an African village, growing gigantic and turning people to stone. It's seemingly unstoppable, not even the most powerful atomic weapons can subdue it, but a single native kills it merely with a poison dart to the eye.
  • From a Blue Beetle comic, in a showdown with a highly advanced alien race:

 Negotiator: Reyes! You could not possibly have co-ordinated with this "Bat-Man"! We monitored every electronic frequency, every bandwidth you could use to reach him!

Blue Beetle: I know. Scarab told me. That's why I sent a letter.

  • In a miniseries Image comic called Area 52, which is a giant warehouse full of supernatural stuff, the true enemy is revealed as a robotic head from outer space that can take over anything electronic, making it virtually unstoppable. It came to Earth in the 1940's, before computers were invented, so it didn't have anything to take over, and was promptly defeated and sealed in a crate.
  • In IDW's reboot of G.I. Joe, one of the remote-controlled units that Destro had snuck into the Joes' Pit meets this fate after it and its brethren wreck havoc on the Joes plus surviving all sorts of ammo.

 James McMullen XXIV/Destro: "A three-million-dollar unit..."

Rory: "...done in by a bloody rock."

(one of the Joes): "Itsy-bitsy spider signing off!" * rock smash*

  • In Metroid's manga - Power Beam, which is a newest technology, is much weaker than century-old weapon which Grey Voice fired. Seen when Power Beam couldn't pierce Mother Brain's Zebetites shield, but the ancient weapon could.
  • The Polish comic book Kajtek i Koko w kosmosie has out heroes captured and taken before the alien Big Bad in his planetary base. The Big Bad's robots assure him that the heroes have no weapons of any sort with them. But then Koko simply punches out a robot with his fists, and the other robots meekly admit that they haven't taken such a primitive weapon into account.


Fanfic

  • The Open Door sees Bill Adama and the nBSG crew dance around the antimatter-equipped Praxis despite only having chemically-propelled kinetic energy weapons. Admittedly, they had fire support from the far superior Stiletto, but... Also averted in that the odd ideology the Praxis had towards technology means that the Colonials are more advanced in some ways. "Apparently these nutcases used antimatter weapons, a technology the Colonials didn't possess because they had cheaper, more stable fuels that wouldn't destroy the ship on a lucky hit. Who strapped a bomb to their frakking asses like that?"
  • A literal example in Enemy of My Enemy, where Zerat kills the enemy sniper Yik by sneaking up behind him and crushing him with a huge rock.
  • An even more literal example is in Fallout Equestria Pink Eyes, where the lead character Puppysmiles' only weapon is a rock. So far, her rock has claimed the life of anyone caught on the wrong end, even killer robots and manticores.


Film

  • The Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. Although to be fair they did have the element of surprise, massive numbers, and the film did pretty much show the Imperials getting their act together after a few moments and utterly slaughtering them until Chewbacca managed to take over an AT-ST.
    • Apparently not that uncommon in the Star Wars Universe, as it also happened with the Noghri, years earlier. Although they were a race of ninja-warrior-hunters living on a planet just a few steps up from a Death World, and consequently so badass Darth Vader decided to make them into his own personal death commandos, so it's not quite so unbelievable.
      • In the same trilogy that introduced the Noghri, they "adopt" Han (due to their reverence for Lord Vader, and him being "Lady Vader's" consort). He muses that he's been adopted once before, by the Ewoks...but while they managed to bring down a legion of Imperial troops by being camouflaged, fighting on their home terrain, and sheer massive weight of numbers, that he knew exactly what the Noghri were capable of and the adoption process didn't feel quite as silly this time around.
    • And, of course, lampshaded in the EU:

 "AT-STs will no longer be deployed on planets with an abundance of trees or other known obstacles such as rock-wielding primitives."

      • Death Star gives us an example which even describes a knife as a "whittled rock", and has an expert Imperial pistolier taken down when his blaster malfunctions, permitting a knife-toting enemy to shank him.
  • Independence Day. No, seriously, the aliens come down to Earth, they glass a portion of the planet, they blow up some of the most advanced fighter planes in the world (and their elite pilots) and even nukes can't stop them ... but a combination of Morse Code and a computer virus can?!
    • It was even worse in the original cut of the movie. Russell is denied permission to fly one of the remaining F-18's, so he shows up to the final battle and destroys the enemy ship with his crop-dusting biplane with a sidewinder missile taped to its side.
  • Dutch used this trope in the climax of the first Predator movie, making traps out of sticks and stones and covering himself in mud to mask his heat signature.
    • In the expanded Predator material, the Predators are shown to particularly enjoy hunting humans because of our ability to make rocks beat lasers. Being intelligent, wily, and resourceful makes us the second-ultimate prey.
      • The expanded universe goes on to reveal that Predators themselves gain more honour from hunting things using only low-tech weapons: Any hunter can laser someone with a rock from a kilometre away, but using a rock to beat someone with a laser takes true skill. In the 2010 Alien vs. Predator game, you gain bonus points for completing a level using only your wristblades.
      • Predators shows us a Predator trophy room which contains, among other things (like the skull of an alien from the Alien franchise) a flintlock pistol...implying that not only did a human attempt to challenge a Predator with this weapon, this individual put up enough of a fight to be considered a worthy opponent!
  • In Star Trek: First Contact, Picard pumps some Borg drones full of Holodeck-simulated lead from Tommy guns (with the safeties off), because Borg shields are calibrated to stop phasers, not old-fashioned bullets. The debate on whether holodeck-generated bullets are more phaser than bullet is something that fans debate to this day (plus, the number of Borg drones defeated by the holographic Tommy Gun is roughly equivalent to the number of drones defeated by phasers before they adapt... two). Later on in the film, Worf kills another Borg with a sword. He's a dangerous man allegedly. Indeed, people tend to fare better against the Borg in close combat in general, until assimilation occurs. But that only really comes into play when dealing with inhumanly strong people like Worf or Data. Early on, a Red Shirt tries to rifle butt a Borg drone after his phaser is adapted to. The Borg shrugs off the hit and promptly hands the man his ass. Some of the expanded universe material does take the "kinetic strikes are effective against the Borg" approach.
    • Janeway, not an exceptionally strong woman, managed to kill a Borg drone with a bat'leth at least once... after the drone has knocked down the bat'leth's owner - a large Klingon male. Though this was in a simulated world.
  • Though not quite as far apart technologically, in The Last Samurai the Samurai army universally favors "honorable" weapons like katanas, spears, katanas, and bows instead of the firearms of the regular Imperial Army of Japan. They win their initial battles against poorly-trained soldiers armed with rifles, and only lose their climactic final battle after killing over two-thirds of the second, better-trained and armed army, who outnumbered them six to one.
  • In Flight of the Intruder, the eponymous plane is flown through a hail of anti-aircraft fire twice in an attack on Hanoi, but on the first mission of the film earlier, a weapons officer is killed by a farmer with an old rifle on the return flight. Actually Justified Trope, as the Vietnamese were trained to fire their guns in the air when they heard jet fighters, on the chance that one of them would get lucky.
    • A single bullet hitting a vital part through sheer luck is known in the military as the "golden bb". It happens.
  • The Dudley Do-Right movie: "That's unfair, they've got rocks! And all we have is machine-guns!"
    • To be fair, said rocks are giant boulders coming down on them when besides some riot gear and said guns, they have no other defenses.
  • Used more realistically in Avatar. On the one hand, when the Na'vi fire up at human vehicles, their arrows do little more than scratch the windows. On the other hand, arrows fired at a right-angle from power-diving ikrans can punch through aircraft canopies(which is Truth in Television). But on the other other hand, the Na'vi still get their blue butts kicked by machineguns and missiles, at least until the planet itself sends its wildlife in as reserve. Turns out rocks can't beat mecha, but a stampede of armored alien rhinos that shrug off gunfire like its a gentle shower can.
    • To be fair, they did accomplish the main objective, even before the planet intervened. The bomb-carrying dropship is destroyed, meaning the tree is saved.
  • The War of the Worlds - The alien race dominates earth, but succumbs en masse to common bacterias as soon as they exit their machines.
  • In Hostel, a pair of gun-toting professional killers are taken out by a gang of prepubescent boys armed with nothing but rocks and crowbars.
  • About half of First Blood was made of this trope, when Rambo hadn't yet gotten ahold of a gun and had to use Nam-style mantraps against his pursuers.
  • Quite literally in Yor, the Hunter from the Future, the main character, a caveman is cofronting a robot with a lazer arm, and Yor bashes its head off with a rock.
  • And in another way too literal approach, Short Circuit's Number Five successfully blocks another S.A.I.N.T. robot's tank-busting pulse laser with a big rock.
  • Subverted in Cowboys and Aliens, in that the only reason the cowboys win against the bigger and Sufficiently Advanced Aliens is by using stolen technology and help from another Sufficiently Advanced Alien fighting against the first.


Literature

  • Genre SF's Trope Codifier: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson (1960). Many later instances contain Shout Outs to this one. A Medieval English army, fully prepped on the eve of leaving to join King Edward's crusade, crushes a small alien invasion force, by dint of cunning, superior numbers, and having no EMP-susceptible equipment or depletable bullets/explosives/laser charges - but plenty of reusable arrows, swords, sheer brute strength and a sense of righteous Christian indignation. Then, using the captured spaceship and the grudging assistance of a surviving alien interpreter (taught Latin by the army's cleric), they launch a counter-invasion of the evil intergalactic empire, whom they view as the more prolific, Heaven-soiling brethren of the heretics overrunning Israel. Because the invaders to our world have been dominant for so long over such a wide area, nobody up in the stars has any damn idea what politics are any more. The human leader manages to convince every single alien he meets, through bravado, underhandedness, trickery, and good old-fashioned lying, to assail their opponents. When "future" Earth finally reaches the stars, they are met by the emissary of the trans-galactic feudal Christian empire, run by Human descendants of the would-have-been Crusaders. And it is beyond awesome.
    • Especially when the Space duke asks the Earth captain if the Holy Land is free of the Pagans. "Um, yes" says the Captain who is a loyal servant of the Israeli Empire.
    • The English have an additional advantage over the aliens: the aliens' weapons have become so advanced that they no longer have any knowledge whatsoever of hand-to-hand combat. Once the English are able to get in close quarters, the aliens don't stand a chance. It takes the English army exactly one battle to figure this out.
  • The Uplift series has this as a running theme. As newcomers to a galaxy filled with Sufficiently Advanced Aliens with eons-old technology, humanity and its clients must rely on their wits and the technology that they've learned to understand in a few short centuries. In The Uplift War, humans and chimps with jungle camouflage and crossbows manage to slaughter the technologically reliant Gubru -- after realizing that their initial severe losses were due to the Gubru having rigged the humans' technology so they could track it. Later in the war, they also manage to capture some Gubru weapons.
  • Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series alternates between playing this straight and subverting it. The premise is an alien invasion at the height of WW2, and the trope is played straight when humanity's primitive weapons prove to be immune to technologically advanced countermeasures. EMPs don't work on vacuum tubes and analog computers, and anti-missile systems designed to defeat lightweight thin-skinned rockets can't turn back massive artillery shells. Not to mention that radar is nearly useless when trying to detect a low-flying plane built from canvas and wood.
    • Also, the aliens' cultural ignorance of the strategic thinking and tactics (as they have not fought a war against an opponent with industrial technology in thousands of years, and their previous two conquests were tanks vs. spearmen slaughters) puts them at a disadvantage in skill and planning against even the most unimaginatively led human units.
      • Some technology was simply unfathomable to the aliens, even though they're from outer space and have fusion at their finger tips. They never had someone twisted enough to employ gas during warfare, and hence are completely unprepared when the British decide to employ it when the Lizards invade.
  • In John Ringo's Posleen War Series, guided weapons (or just about anything with active electronics) are easily detected, after which the alien hostiles return fire with generally fatal results, but unguided artillery shells are incapable of being engaged by the Posleen's weaponry, as are MLRS rockets if fired so the boost phase is out of the line of sight of the enemy aliens.
    • There is another, more amusing example in book from the same series Yellow Eyes where a group of Posleen are walking through the Mojinga Jungle in Panama and are being hunted by a lone native, who repeatedly uses stone age traps and a bow with steel-tipped arrows to kill them. This works mostly because the arrows don't have enough metal to be detected by the Posleen's sensors and are traveling too slow to be considered a threat. Its so bad the Posleen sensors can't even see the arrows embedded in the dead Posleen bodies.
  • Discussed in the 1959 novel Starship Troopers, in the chapter that discusses powered suits. The suits are designed to be as invisible to their users as possible, for admirably common-sense reasons: "If you load a mudfoot down with a lot of gadgets that he has to watch, somebody a lot more simply equipped - say with a stone ax - will sneak up on him and bash his head in while he's trying to read a vernier."
    • The Mobile Infantry also train with more primitive weapons, from unarmed hand-to-hand combat on up to 20th-century weaponry, partly to prepare them for using the powered battlesuits and also to prepare them for situations in which the battlesuits would be impractical.
  • Brutally shown in the novel Sten, by Allan Cole and Chris Bunch - again while discussing powered suits. Seems that the designers had overengineered the suits to such a extent that each one could withstand nuclear blasts, any conceivable biological or chemical agent, and could fight off any conceivable opponent - except primitive ones. When first deployed, the men in suits ran rampant - until the primitives noticed that they weren't very maneuverable. So, the natives started making pit traps with nets - once the suit was ensnared in the net, the natives would come out and poke long spears into the suit's waste vents - skewering the troopers inside. Not to mention poisoning them with their own wastes... To their credit, Chris Bunch in Real Life is a ex-Army Ranger, where Allan Cole has diplomatic experience.
    • There's an incident with a less-extreme tech difference later in the series. Sten took charge of an old but heavily-armed strongpoint. When enemy tacships tried strafing and bombing his position, he activated the air-defence system, not expecting much from the archaic guns. But they ripped the tacships out of the sky -- because the guns were targeting, and the proximity fuses detonating, with radar frequencies so out-of-date that no one remembered to jam them anymore.
  • One of the short stories in the collection The Human Edge has the main character bash out the brains of an Alien who six months previously took away his language and ability to think rationally. He got the chance to do this when he snuck into the alien ship, and the alien was so surprised that he was still alive, and didn't consider him enough of a threat, that it turned its back to him.
  • The War of the Worlds, be it the book, radio broadcast, or film: Alien beats Human Army, Water, or at least the bacteria in water beats Alien.
  • A Dangerously Genre Savvy Culture in Iain Banks' series of novel has spent more than 10,000 years using her Special Circumstance elite agency to learn to beat lasers with rocks, rocks with lasers and Scary Dogmatic Aliens with apparently unarmed and captured spies, making them Crazy Prepared masters of Bamboo Technology while still being able to throw blackholes when needed.
  • The Fremen of Dune, desert-dwelling nomads with handmade gear, beat The Empire's most Badass, ruthless, and well-armed soldiers, the Saudarkar, with knives, Sandworms, and, er, one teensy little atomic bomb (but this was used only to remove a geographic obstacle to worm-travel, not on the enemy). The David Lynch movie kind of ruins this by actually giving the Fremen more advanced weapons than the Saudarkar, in the form of voice-amplifying sonic guns.
    • The writers of the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries go a long way towards putting things right, exercising far less creative license than Lynch and, subsequently, remaining much closer to Frank Herbert's original novel.
    • Baron Harkonnen uses ancient projectile artillery when he reconquers Arrakis, because even though the explosives can't penetrate shields, when the Atreides troops hide in caves, the artillery collapses the roof and seals them in.
  • This was used in all of Larry Niven's Known Space stories set during the period of the Man-Kzin war. The Kzinti, who possessed the technology to generate and control gravity (among other tech advantages) were consistently beat by the Humans, who used inferior technology but did it better. (Okay, okay... laser vs. more powerful laser isn't exactly rock vs. laser, but the principle is still the same...)
    • The first encounter was between a Kzin warship and a theoretically-unarmed colony ship launched from an Earth so pacifist that a child that struck another child was considered mentally ill. The warship lost. Having a reactionless drive, they forgot that reaction drives (like the colony ship's fusion drive) can themselves act as excellent weapons, as one individual on the colony ship demonstrates by using his ship's drive to slice the warship in half.
      • Hence The Kzinti Lesson: "A reaction drive's efficiency as a weapon is in direct proportion to its efficiency as a drive."
  • At one point in Alan Dean Foster's novel A Call to Arms, a company-sized unit of alien tanks is immobilized, then defeated by a band of Seminole Indians wielding mud, bows and arrows, and paint-ball guns. Of course, by that time in the story, it's been revealed that human beings are the most bad-ass fighters in the known galaxy.
  • In Anathem, although they have femtotechnology they find that defeating the interuniversal menace it is much more awesome when done with space blankets, protractors, and mixed martial arts.
  • In G. K. Chesterton's The Return of Don Quixote, medieval recreationists go out to arrest some people, with halberds rather than guns, and are scorned as foolish. They succeed.

 The man says he won't go on wearing a sword because it is no longer any good against a gun. Then he throws away all the guns as relics of barbarism; and then he is surprised when a barbarian sticks him through with a sword. You say that pikes and halberds are not weapons against modern conditions. I say pikes are excellent weapons against no pikes.

  • In Robert Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky, many colonists on their way to new worlds take horses with them instead of motor vehicles, since horses have any number of advantages in a rural setting: they run on a renewable fuel which can be found all over the place, vs. fuel that needs to be refined and transported; they have a moderate ability to repair themselves; and if one gets too severely damaged, well, it's pretty easy to make more horses. Plus, if you start running out of food, they're edible.
    • And if they do require maintenance, then you don't need an extra specialist just a doctor with an extra medicine cabinet and a textbook.
    • Heinlein also makes the point that tactics and initiative can be as important as technology. To paraphrase: two men face off. One has a musket, the other an assault rifle. If the man with the musket fires first (and accurately), or is a smarter fighter and uses cover well, then the assault rifle's technological advantage is rendered moot.
  • David Weber's The Excalibur Alternative has an odd take on this trope. Essentially aliens hijack an English war party during the Hundred Years War. At first the captors' Deflector Shields and energy weapons serve to create an illusion of invincibility. Eventually due to the ignorance at the arrogance of their captors and help from within, the English trick their captors into leaving their forcefields and getting filled full of arrows, since the aliens' protective gear withstands "modern" energy weapons but arrows are considered too primitive to be worth guarding against. Then later subverted when said party joins with the defectors and reverse-engineers the alien tech to an even higher level, enabling them to become Curb Stomping Big Damn Heroes.
  • In The Bartimaeus Trilogy, the mercenary is invulnerable to ridiculous amounts of magic, but gets knocked out when Faquarl treats him to a good ol' knuckle sandwich.
    • This is probably a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Farqual, considering that earlier in the series Bartimaeus tried a similar tactic, only using a statue as a club. The mercenary just shrugged it off and kept coming, at least until Bartimaeus stole his primary means of transport and outran him.
  • The Battle of Yonkers in World War Z could be considers an extreme example of this trope, in that living soldiers armed with every state-of-the-art weapon their publicity-minded superiors can load them down with get their asses kicked by zombies armed with ... teeth. Indeed, the advanced-against-humans nature of their weapons makes the soldiers' attacks far less effective than simple bolt-action rifles would've been, and their sophisticated communication links only serve to spread panic. Eventually, someone realises the problem and "invents" the Lobotomiser--more or less a modified shovel. Its simplicity and effectiveness restored troop confidence in a big way.
  • In a Rock Beats Wand variant, a crooked casino dealer fools a roomful of gamblers in the Myth Adventures novel Little Myth Marker, by disdaining magical methods of cheating in favor of a marked deck. Naturally, the suspicious gamblers are too busy checking for covert magic-use to notice.
  • In Arthur C. Clarke's short story "Superiority", one side of the war decides to go on an R&D binge to win a telling advantage over the enemy. Meanwhile, the enemy keeps plugging away with what they already have. In the end, the technologically superior sides face supply problems since the constant adjustment of logistics to cope with new weapons systems slows it down to a trickle. The other side, however, ends up with a massive number of more obsolete, but easily built and supplied equipment to Zerg Rush their opponents with.

 We were defeated by one thing only -- by the inferior science of our enemies. I repeat -- by the inferior science of our enemies.

  • There's a short story called Hawk Among the Sparrows about an advanced jet fighter accidentally sent back in time to the First World War. The American pilot thinks he can win the air war single-handed. However, his radar cannot pick up the mostly canvas-and-wood biplanes of the era, his guided missiles are useless as they are designed to lock onto jet exhausts not piston engines, his engines are fueled by what is used mainly as lamp oil and field-heater fuel, so he cannot get a sufficient regular supply, and even then needs to filter it, and his plane flies faster than bullets, so a gun cannot be fitted. Eventually he works out that the supersonic wash from his plane is enough to rip apart the German planes he is up against.
  • As the protagonist of a Christopher Stasheff SF novel points out, anyone who denigrates the abilities of primitives armed with "sticks and stones" has never experienced a volley of stone-tipped arrows fired from ambush.
  • In the first story arc of the Deathstalker series, slow-charging energy weapons and highly-effective energy shields have rendered the advanced weapons ineffective in ground battles. After an opening volley of disruptor fire, most soldiers charge into melee with swords. This tactic allows for a brutal example of this trope later. The protagonist's party locates a cache of "ancient" kinetic projectile weapons, including very effective machine guns. When they face an army using the standard disruptor-melee combination, they slaughter their enemy with machine gun fire when they drop their shields. The advances in technology had forced them to use primitive weaponry, which were useless against the antiquated/more advanced weapons.
  • JRR Tolkien once gave a lecture to children about dragons where he claimed (in his view) that modern weapons such as machine guns would be ineffective against them, whereas the old heroic techniques such as the arrow in the voonerables would still work.
  • Mentioned in the first book of the Prince Roger series. The titular Prince, at risk of capture, points out that his royal cybernetic enhancements are among the best in the galaxy, and will resist any attempt by the bad guys to hack into them for brainwashing. Pahner replies that there's still good ol' fashioned psychotropic drugs.
    • There's quite a bit more of this in Prince Roger. The Marine guard have super-advanced mini-railgun weapons, plasma guns, and reactive-armor suits...but the weapons keep running out of ammo and aren't even as effective against the semi-armored local wildlife as Roger's "smoke pole", the plasma guns can't handle the dampness and keep exploding violently, and the suits, while effective against the local arquebus rounds, do absolutely nothing against slow-moving but sharp arrows, javelins and swords. Eventually, the marines start introducing the locals to Roman-style phalanx combat and breech-loading cartridge rifles, which works much better. (In fairness, the modern weapons really do a number on the Kranolta, but that battle pretty much wipes out the supply.)
  • First Flight, a Dinotopia illustrated novel packaged with a board game, has a painful amount of Science Is Bad. At the climax Our Heroes, the human who has turned away from technology and his various animal buddies destroy a ridiculously huge flying scorpion mecha by biting tubes, flinging berries, cutting wires, and finally removing the very exposed power source. Evidently the thing was very poorly designed.
  • Battlefield Earth is filled with moments like these...especially near the beginning when the main character is able to momentarily incapacitate an alien tank by smashing one of its viewports with a club, allowing Earth's toxic atmosphere into the crew compartment. Of course why a tank would have such fragile windows to begin with is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • Older Than Feudalism: In The Iliad, the bronze weapons and armor are described in the same sort of loving detail found for high-tech arms in modern techno-thrillers or SF. Despite this, on several occasions heroes who can't be defeated with bronze weapons are killed or wounded by someone grabbing a large rock and hitting them. E.g., Diomedes was wounded this way, Diorus was killed, and Ajax almost kills Hector with a rock - twice.
  • This goes back and forth and back again in Haldeman's "The Forever War". Since troops travel at relativistic speeds between battles, they never knew if they're going to be fighting an enemy hundreds of years more advanced than they are, or hundreds of years less. In more than a few cases, the older weapons/defenses are surprisingly effective because the newer weapons/defenses are so many generations newer that they're no longer designed with the old stuff in mind. In other cases, they intentionally use basic tools like spears thrown through energy shields that can't stop matter.

Live Action TV

  • A classic example is Stargate SG-1, where bullets are more useful than Asgardian weapons against Replicators: they absorb the energy of energy blasts, but bullets blow them apart. Also, it was shown that Big Bad Apophis' personal shield could easily deflect fast moving bullets, but was powerless to stop a relatively slow moving arrow (not unlike personal shields from Dune). The implication throughout the series is that Applied Phlebotinum is often Awesome but Impractical.
    • It was lampshaded in one episode, when the team mentioned that the Goa'uld staff weapons are not meant to be effective so much as flashy and impressive, the better to intimidate conquered populations. The "sidearm" zat'nik'tel pistols are the weapon of choice for savvy Jaffa.

 Colonel O'Neill: "This [a staff weapon] is a weapon of terror: it's made to intimidate the enemy. This [an FNP90] is a weapon of war: it's made to kill the enemy."

    • Later subverted when human-form replicators were created, who are immune to bullets, forcing the Asgard and Humans to create a brand new hi-tech weapon to fight them.
    • Let's not forget that part where US soldiers are defending a gate and actually shoot down Goa'uld Death Glider fighters with Stinger portable AA missiles. Boom!
    • On every alien planet or Alternate Earth where the Goa'uld came in ships, there was a Curb Stomp Battle. Goa'uld technology is much better than Earth technology at ship-to-ship or ship-to-ground combat until the end of the series. However, five thousand years of A God Am I left them unprepared for guerilla warfare.
    • Played with all the more when Apothis turns up with a shield, which is immune to both bullets and staff blasts, but which doesn't protect him against arrows.
      • When SG-1 gets captured by a Bounty Hunter named Aris Boch, O'Neill tries to throw a knife at him through the shield. The knife hits the shield and drops to the ground. Boch reveals that he has improved on the Goa'uld design so that slow objects no longer pass through the shield.
      • To be fair, if a thrown knife worked, SG-1 could've walked out of the shield. As Boch put it, that kind of shield doesn't work very well as a trap.
  • From Doctor Who:

 Donna: Sonic it; use the thingy! [meaning the sonic screwdriver]

Doctor: I can't; it's wood!

Donna: What, it doesn't do wood?

    • Subverted in "Death to the Daleks". A human spaceship, a Dalek spaceship and the TARDIS are immobilised on a planet. The Daleks try to exterminate the Doctor only to find their weapons don't work, one Dalek is taken out by the locals with rocks and spears, and some of the rest are captured and led off to be sacrificed. The remaining Daleks promptly replace their energy weapons with slug-throwing guns (meaning bullets, not gastropods), which still work just fine, and wreak brutal revenge.
    • In the old series episode "The Pirate Planet" (that's the Fourth Doctor), when faced with a locked door, the Doctor tries the Sonic Screwdriver, which fails. So he pulls out a bobby-pin, which succeeds. Quoth the Doctor: "The more sophisticated a technology, the more vulnerable it is to primitive attack."
    • Shows up in the revival with the Sontarans. For their advanced technology they're caught by surprise and slaughtered by U.N.I.T (the resident Red Shirts). The Sontarans had technology that expanded copper casings of bullets causing guns unable to fire...so U.N.I.T switched to non copper casings. Hilarity ensues.
    • In Planet of the Daleks, Thals drop rocks on a Dalek rising through a long shaft on antigravity. The rocks, after all, have gravity on their side.
  • In an episode of Andromeda, when Captain Hunt tries to arm a peaceful settlement so they can defend themselves from space pirates, be brings along a load of force lances. But, what do you know, a religious extremist who'd rather see the people enslaved than lose their innocence explodes the box of force lances. So, Hunt has the natives sharpen sticks and throw them from the walls at the well-armed pirates, and they end up driving them back. The being said, Hunt is a relic of a bygone age when the Systems Commonwealth crews were some of the most badass men and women alive.
    • Also, Captain Hunt was a member of the Argosy Special Operations Service, one of the most badass of the badasses. He was also batshit insane (as the events on Acheron proved...)
  • From the Die Hard episode of Farscape "I Shrink Therefore I Am":

 Big, Armored Alien: Pulse-chamber overload. * snort* Not very creative.

  • CRUNCH*

Crichton: Bear trap. Ugly, but creative.

    • Similarly, in "Lava's A Many Splendored Thing," the bad guys' personal shields protect them from pulse pistol blasts... but not from a conk on the head with a rock.
  • Referenced, if not quite employed, in the Angel episode "A Hole in the World." At the beginning of the show, Angel and Spike argue--for half an hour!--about who would win in a fight: an astronaut or a caveman (i.e., technological savvy or primitive savagery). Later, when Fred lays dying from the essence of an ancient demon, she whispers, "The caveman wins. The caveman always wins."
  • On Mystery Science Theater 3000, Tom Servo accidentally shot down a tiny satellite with an arrow. The mother satellite was not happy about that.
  • The episode "The Tribe" of Criminal Minds features an Apache cop that Doesn't Like Guns and is instead armed with a knife. In his own words, he'll kill or disarm any gunman that is less than 6 meters away from him while he is still (re)loading or aiming; if he's more than 6 meters away, he runs.
  • In the Hogan's Heroes episode Drums Along the Dusseldorf, Carter and Newkirk take out a truck of experimental fuel with a flaming arrow.
  • The Firefly 'verse in general prefers projectile weapons to lasers. Specifically, in "Heart of Gold", the Big Bad brandishes a laser, which does do quite a bit of damage...until it runs out of power, very quickly, thus illustrating why projectile weapons are preferred. On the other hand, guns can run out of ammo too.
    • Presumably, the Alliance troops who use lasers carry spare power packs, just like modern-day soldiers carry spare clips.
  • In one episode of Myth Busters, the team was trying to find ways to fool advanced security systems. While most of them didn't work, they did find out that it is possible to fool a state of the art infrared motion detector by holding a large white sheet in front of yourself.
  • In an episode of The Muppet Show where Mark Hamill was guest staring as Luke Skywalker was about to vaporize Derth Nader, only to find that Nader had disabled his blaster with a technobabble plot device. Thankfully, since "Derth Nader" was really just Gonzo the Great in a silly mask, Chewbacca proved more than capable of giving him a beatdown. Unfortunantly, even Chewbacca was useless against the awesome might of Angus McGonoggle, the Argyle Gargoyle gargling gershwin.
  • Battlestar Galactica Reimagined downplays and justifies this. The Galactica avoids infection from Cylon viruses by using dumb computers, manually controlled starfighters and weaponry, and hardwired communications.
  • Ministry of Time in the third episode has Nazi soldiers overtaking the Ministry that monitors Spain's history. The bureaucrats give up without a fight, however reinforcements come from their agents in the 17th century in the form of the Spanish Army. The Spaniards with their muskets and swords easily route out the Nazis and reclaim the Ministry.

Music

  • The Aesop of Leslie Fish's Car Wars inspired song "The Discards":

 No radar for your jamming, no lasers to deflect, just armor made for ramming and bullets worth respect...

    • Also the point of Leslie Fish's song Serious Steel, in which members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, using steel armor and recreated medieval weapons, fight various bandits and dictators after the World War III.

 Our armor proved half-bullet proof, our weapons worked as well.

The townsfolk afterwards thanked us all for freeing them from Hell.


Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer 40000, where the tech is so ridiculously Schizo that hitting people with swords/giant fists/big blunt axes/giant chainsaws/giant chainsaw axes/teeth and claws is frequently more effective than shooting them with the vast variety of futuristic superguns. A particularly memorable example pops up in one of the Gaunt's Ghosts novels, where a Chaos Space Marine is killed with a crossbow. Though to be fair, it did involve dozens of crossbows, with hundreds of bolts, directly to the CSM's exposed face, and coated with one of the most virulent poisons in the galaxy.
    • In the first edition of WH40K (the Rogue Trader book) crossbows had better range than bolters, although less accuracy, and crossbows could be loaded with explosive bolts which were just as powerful as bolt ammo.
    • This was likely to be Lampshade Hanging on the part of Abnett, poking fun at the tendency of Space Marine players to model squad leaders sans helmet.
    • Also, C.S. Goto's Dawn of War series of books has a group of primitive humans take down an Eldar grav-tank by shoving rocks into its air intakes.
      • This is C.S. Multilaser we're talking about, though...
    • Let's look at Eldar. They have guns that fire with the heat of a star. They can fill the air with thousands of monomolecular blades from a single pistol. Their armour is canonically stronger than virtually any other known substance while still flexible. They are able to see into the future. What set them on a downward spiral in the WH40K universe was the fall of their empire, which caused them to lose over 95% of their population. Now they're trying to stay alive, mostly by manipulating every other race in a way that would benefit themselves in accordance to some vaguely glimpsed prophecy.
      • Pretty much every race is potentially invincible if it were not for the masterful plot: Orks can grow from their dead but need to organise to get a decent WAAAGH!! going; Necrons have literally DEATH ITSELF, can self repair, travel infinitely quickly thanks to inertialess ships which can get into Mars with their low class ships, but they get scared if they take losses and teleport away (because they aren't all that replaceable); Eldar, while powerful, are in decline and desperately few in number, etc.
    • The average Tau player is usually at least mildly bitter about this. Their basic firearm is a plasma-launching coilgun assault rifle, wielded by a soldier equipped with mechanically assisted aiming systems and a lifetime of training. And a caveman with a stick (a literal caveman with a stick) will often beat him in a fight. (This is because the Tau pretty much all suck at hand-to-hand combat. They are Genre Savvy enough to have auxiliary allies competent in that area of expertise in the Kroot, though).
      • No one can actually shoot an enemy in close combat range. At point blank range, the snazziest gun in the world becomes a club, leading to this trope. While obviously not how things go in real combat, this is necessary for the table top game, or close combat armies would essentially become unplayable without a massive change in points cost for every unit in the game. Interestingly, Warhammer Fantasy does allow a unit to shoot into an enemy which is charging them.
  • The later model for kobolds in AD&D was posited in a Dragon Magazine in the 80's, Tucker's Kobolds, as a way to turn single-HD runts into holy terrors for 20th level parties armed to the teeth with Infinity Plus One artifacts and insane eldritch arsenals. They became more formidable when they weren't dominated by evil wizards or warlords of more powerful races, as they would avoid battle-by-attrition in favor of ingenious traps and ambush-and-retreat positions.
  • In the Mystara D&D setting's Hollow World, many members of lower-technology cultures get Immortal-granted bonuses in combat, as the Powers That Be don't want any one culture to overwhelm the others and are skewing the game-rules to ensure that Rock Holds Its Own Against Laser.
  • Due to a variety of factors, usually happens at least once in a blue moon during a corp run in Shadowrun. As in sci-fi examples stated further above, megacorps do not bother with failsafes and countermeasures against primitive measures, as they just won't be utilized enough to make the cost worth it. Corps that fear such things may be used to infiltrate them tend to hire mage/tracker(usually a bandersnatch or hellhound) teams to roam their halls and spot anything out of the ordinary.
    • From the sample NPC quotes for a Native American chief:

  "I have a fine horse, so why would I need a car? A horse is a renewable resource. Have you had any success breeding your car lately?"

  • In yet another Star Wars-related example, the Saga edition RPG has it in the rules that while energy shields will stop any energy weapon, up to and including the ubiquitous lightsaber, a simple slugthrower or sling can penetrate it. And using that ruleset (namely the Scum and Villainy sourcebook) it was possible to develop weapons that could be used to take down shielded enemies in an area larger than a major city, so long as it was clear line of sight to them.
  • There is a chinese board game that has these aspects with 8 units, the elephant all the way down to the mouse. Simply put, it is a game of 1-8, where the higher number eats any number directly below it. However, the mouse which is the number 1 is the only piece that can eat the number 8 which means that it is the weakest that defeats the strongest.
    • The game Stratego has the same mechanic, where the Scout can defeat the Marshal if it attacks first.
  • Some of the more powerful units in Heroscape are Medieval units or colonial-times soldiers who are able to destroy the Soulborgs


Video Games

  • In many video games (Quake II and Unreal games come to mind), the player's initial weapon is a futuristic blaster--a pea-shooter compared with less sophisticated weapons such as a shotgun (single- or double-barrelled), which can deal out much more damage. Even bullet-using rifles/SMGs and miniguns/chainguns are more effective. (There's usually a powered-up version of the pea-shooting blaster available, though, such as Quake II's Hyperblaster and BFG, or the various upgrades to the dispersion pistol in Unreal.) The futuristic but ineffective blaster does have two advantages, since it's intended as an Emergency Weapon--it doesn't break and never runs out of ammunition.
  • Chrono Trigger takes this to a literal extreme, where Lucca's prehistoric rock-slinger is more powerful than a laser pistol from the future.
    • When Ayla reaches maximum level, her fist can hit for more damage than any other weapon in the game, including swords, guns, bows, etc.
  • The Battle Walkers of Battlefield 2142 are supposed to be the pinnacle of Infantry Fighting Vehicles. Should an infantryman wander between its legs, however, he can whittle down the hulking machine with little more than a pistol pointed at its Achilles Heel (though you'd still need a hundred rounds or so to do so). The Walker pilot can further uphold the trope, though, by simply crouching down, beating the infantryman's pistol with a very heavy chunk of metal.
    • Similarly, the "Active Defense" shielding employed by most of the vehicle lines do not fully repel gunfire. Air vehicles (especially the heavily armed Gunship) are especially prone to AA fire.
    • Ditto on both of these for the Battlezone RTS/FPS genre crossover remake and its sequel, except for the crouching part. However, being filled to the brim with hover tech, ANYTHING can fly given the proper incline to start up its ascent. Unfortunately they can't aim very far downwards, making this more of a sped-up transportation method (skipping slopes and pits in the terrain) than battle tactic.
  • Worms: A Space Oddity takes this to great levels of awesome for the final mini-game, which is also the final level of the single-player campaign. Realising that their high-tech weaponry ain't doing smeg against the invaders, the worms decide to arm the "trusty shotgun"... Which can take down UFOs. In a single shot. Much ass-kicking ensues.
    • The Worms series in general is chocked full of great low-tech ways for a savvy player to humiliate their opponent. This trope has lost count of the number of times he's sent the enemy to a watery grave with a good smack of the trusty baseball bat, or even better--the humble prod (does no damage, but can knock someone off the ledge)!

 Oi nutter!

  • The Civilization series is notorious for this. Put a tank (attack 8) against a spearman (defense 3) that happened to be left lying around from the early game, make the spearman a fortified (+ 50%) veteran (+ 50%) defending a mountain (+ 200%) and presto. Or a missile cruiser against a galleon, or a helicopter against a maceman... games after the first one added multiple combat rounds to help modern units out, which made instances of this trope rare enough to stand out better.
    • Worse yet, in the original Civilization, a battleship could attack a city guarded with just an ancient phalanx, only to have the phalanx win. Radar doesn't detect wooden rowboats indeed.
    • Archer stack on defense.
    • The developers have actively been trying to fix this problem in the later games, with mixed results.
  • Rise of Nations is almost as bad. Thanks the Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors mechanic, if the tech levels are different enough, you can see not just spearmen killing tanks, but archers killing missile-armed anti-tank infantry, cavalry cutting down machine guns (the reverse of which happened in real life), sloops sinking submarines, and lookout towers shooting down fighter planes.
  • Done literally in sub-par platform game Xargon, where the laser is the protagonist's initial weapon, and the thrown rock is considered an upgrade (and, ironically, a worse weapon; it deals the same amount of damage, but flies in an upwards arc that makes it impractical to hit enemies in front of you).
  • Sonic the Hedgehog does this. The titular character defeats an entire army of robots, guns, traps, and the Big Bad himself... by running fast and jumping into them.
  • In the Xbox remake of Ninja Gaiden, Ryu defeats the slightly-beyond-modern technology-boasting forces of Vigoor, users of electrified batons, unlimited ammo firearms and cyborgs with energy weapons, using swords, nunchaku, and a variety of other old-timey weapons.
  • Starcraft: a Protoss Dragoon is a massive Spider Tank with an antimatter cannon. A Zergling is a lizard with teeth and claws. Dragoons can quite easily be ripped to small pieces by a standard-issue Zerg Rush. The sequel is taking this to an even higher level by giving the Dragoons' successor, the Immortal, shields that can stop a nuke...but which offer no protection against light attacks, like those of said Zerglings and Marines.
    • Firstly, the Stalker is the Dragoon's role-successor, secondly, The Immortals' shields offer protection against everything, but they're not much stronger than the Dragoons' against attacks that don't trigger hardened shields. (despite their being twice as expensive).
    • Also, in the campaign for the second game, you can use classic units from the first game, which in-universe are considered outdated and obsolete. However, there are times where players would gladly take a Science Vessel or Goliath over their more "advanced" counterparts.
  • Mother 3 is big on this, what with the whole plot being nature vs. technology. It's especially apparent in the later battles where Lucas is still using a stick and able to take down mechanical monstrosities as well as guys equipped with armor and lasers. In fact the only thing that Lucas and the gang can't beat by punching and kicking and sticks is something that NOTHING can defeat.
  • Shows up occasionally in World of Warcraft, particularly against gnomes and goblins. A giant mecha equipped with missile launchers and laser guns can be taken out with crossbows, maces, and animal claws.
  • Shows up of all places Modern Warfare. Where with the right built the best weapons is a knife and shield combo. Also until being patched the model 1887 had the best range in game, almost that of real life.
  • In City of Heroes, your character may have powered armour, a Healing Factor, or control over gravity itself, but nothing will save you from the Knives of Artemis, whose main weapons are crossbows and caltrops. Then again, your Badass Normal hero can take out killer robots, alien warriors, super soldiers, evil wizards, rogue superheroes, cybernetic street gangs...
  • Galaxy Man, a UFO-like robot who creates black holes in Mega Man 9, is taken down easily by wet concrete. It does work both ways though, given Concrete Man's weakness is laser-powered.
  • You get Blasters near the end of Might and Magic VII (and some other games of the series). Besides incredible accuracy, they are inferior in raw damage to high-end bows and swords - but they do Energy damage instead of Physical, and the enemies in the area they're supplied for use in have more Physical resistance than they do Energy resistance.
    • Kreegans (known as "devils" among natives) are Sufficiently Advanced Aliens that use Organic Technology' and are quite good at terramorphing. When they tried to conquer Enroth with brute force, they had hard time dealing with 500 armed men and were completely stopped by dragons and titans that happened to live in neighborhood; after that, they resorted to infiltrating local society and building their own cult. Those that landed on Antagarich did a lot better due to being more numberous and willing to ally with some natives; nonetheless, they went from posing a major threat to desperately struggling for power to losing any importance and becoming simple mercenaries in less than a decade.
  • Command and Conquer Generals had stone-throwing mobs of rioters vs tanks with lasers... and the rioters often won, making this a literal example of the trope.
  • A huge balance issue in the F2P MMO Black Prophecy. Bullet weapons completely overpower energy weapons because they ignore shields. Energy weapons have to deal with a fighter's shields first- and then they do less damage to the actual hull of the shield in average than projectiles. The only "drawback" projectile weapons have is that bullets supposedly slow down when approaching an enemy with shields (with no damage penalties). This doesn't actually happen ingame, and even if it did, chances of hitting the target would still be high, considering you are using either a fast-firing chaingun or a hitscan sniper rifle.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots, in a world where anybody with nanomachines can be manipulated and incapacitated, Johnny gets his moments to shine when he reveals that he never had nanomachines implanted into his body, rendering him immune to the high tech methods to disable nanomachine-enhanced soldiers. Granted, this was entirely due to his fear of shots but that's beside the point.
    • There's also the other soldiers who take on Outer Haven-a highly technological aquatic fortress-with just a WW2-Era Destroyer and almost no naval warfare training. To put this into perspective-halfway through the fight a Metal Gear RAY jumps onto the Destroyer's deck and a point-blank blast from the ship's main cannon barely scratches the paint. Yet the marines still survive long enough for Snake to disable GW and win the fight.
  • In the reboot of Syndicate, the LAW-92 is a relatively low-tech unguided missile popular with terrorists because Agents cannot disable them via Breaching.
  • Justified in the first Star Ocean game. Despite having access to laser pistols, Ronyx and Ilia were chosen to go after the Jie Revorse with Millie, Roddick, and their four friends from the past wielding their bare hands, swords, knives, staves (or spears) bows, and symbology because Revorse was genetically modified to the point where he was immune to energy-based weaponry. Presumably, they don't have much Ballistics in the present time.
    • Actually, it could be a safety measure - maybe the energy weaponry is a bit safe so that it only works on organic targets (or robots), or at least can't break spaceship walls like Ballistics could. Even if this is futuristic, early adapters could probably have banned ballistic weaponry.


Web Comics

  • Spoofed in Antihero for Hire. Canada managed to conquer the northern half of the United States using Dinosaurs. Yes, Dinosaurs. The American hi-tech missile shields, prepared to stop WMDs, were never programmed with anti-Dinosaur measures. It was called "The Unexpected War".
    • Likewise, Axe Cop brings a "Dinosuar Horn" with him when he goes to Invisible King Bad Guy Planet Number Two, saying that he doesn't know what he'll find up there, but that it probably can't beat Dinosuars. And indeed, Dinosuars seem to be the only thing Invisible King Bad Guy's scientists can't make.
  • The Order of the Stick takes this trope and applies it to magic on page #653.
  • In Freefall, Ecosystems Unlimited attempts to control the information leaving the company by dosing recycled parts with EMP before releasing them to destroy any clandestine listening/recording devices that someone may try to sneak out that way, which has absolutely no effect on hand-written notes.
  • In a Story Arc of Sluggy Freelance, it looks like some Hereti-Corp agents are royally screwed when they're faced with an army of robots that are Immune to Bullets. Then it turns out that, while the robots' builders thought to make them bulletproof, they didn't do anything about flammability. Cue the flamethrower.


Western Animation

  • Parodied on a Halloween episode of The Simpsons, where the primary weapon for the human uprising against their alien overlords is Moe wielding a board with a nail in it. This makes sense considering the aliens invaded when the entire earth was unarmed after wishing for world peace, and had things like slingshots. After being driven off, the aliens muse that one day the humans will "create bigger boards and bigger nails" until one day "they will create a board with a nail so big it will destroy them all!"
    • Parodied again when Buck McCoy with his lasso stops Snake and his gang who have guns. One member explains that the bullets are just going through which leads them to realize that they are facing the ultimate weapon.
  • In one episode of The Powerpuff Girls, the combined energy blasts of Mojo Jojo, Princess, and HIM only manage to hold off the girls... until Fuzzy Lumpkins drops a rock, and defeats them.
    • In another episode, when a race of advanced vegetable aliens try to invade the planet, the Powerpuff Girls and the kids of Townsville fend them off by literally eating them.
  • Oona, the little protohuman girl from Transformers: Beast Wars, successfully took down Waspinator with a stick thanks to Cheetor's advice: "When you're battling 'bots, hack at the hinges." Really, Waspinator may have been the series' Butt Monkey, but he's still an alien war machine.
    • Also, in the series finale, the primitive humans held off Inferno, a flamethrower wielding war machine, and Quickstrike, a poison wielding war machine, with, well, sticks. The two did eventually get their act together, though, mostly because they weren't expecting the assault.
      • They were inspired by Dinobot, who took down Megatron with a stone hammer. Although, again, Dinobot is an alien war machine.
    • In Rampage's introductory episode, he proved to be unstoppable by conventional weapons. They could only halt his progress by having Silver Bolt bury him in a rock slide.
  • Parodied in a Scary Door episode (that happens to be a parody of War of the Worlds) in the third Futurama movie.

 Narrator: In the end, it wasn't guns or bombs that defeated the aliens, but that humblest of God's creatures: the Tyrannosaurus Rex

    • Also the page quote that is from a classic monster horror movie that was aired on a planet inhabited only by robots. It had the robots as heroes (obviously) and a human as monster that dies by falling into a stick.
  • See any show having a special episode about guns, where the guns are also used, then the gun user must be defeated with non-lethal methods to show who's 'good' and who's 'bad.' Captain Planet got a character out of this trope! (Lootan Plunder, prior to any summoning of CP, to the point his frustration rants sometimes make him sound like a Scooby Doo villain.)
  • Occurs often in one episode of Megas XLR, where a fountain drink is teleported into the control room of a doomsday weapon, frying the controls, and destroying the weapon.
  • In the Spiral Zone episode "Back to the Stone Age", the evil Black Widows disable the heroic Zone Riders' equipment during a battle in the Australian outback. The Zone Riders respond by enlisting a friendly tribe of aborigines to train them in using ancient weapons, which they use to defeat the Black Widows.
  • In the Dexter's Laboratory Dial M For Monkey segment "Huntor", Monkey defeats Huntor by smashing his weapons with rocks and trapping him like a tiger using a hole.
  • Parodied in SpongeBob SquarePants B.C. (Before Comedy), in which a caveman's curiosity about a robot activates its defense mechanisms. The caveman later responds by throwing large rocks at it; for the rest of the fight, they seem evenly matched.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode 15 season 1. Territorial natives of Orto Plutonia attack republic troops that have superior armament.


Real Life

  • A note on military technology: New equipment is often designed to outperform or counter what is currently common, with effectiveness against even older technology being taken for granted as the current standard is always supposed to have superseded everything before it. Even if this assumption is not present, compromises have to be made during the design process and it is simply more logical to balance performance against the threats of today (which an army is almost certain to face on the battlefield) than those of a decade ago (which are likely to have been phased out altogether). In any case, armed forces tend to hold on to old equipment for a long time due to the sizable investment, so if someone is beating your lasers with rocks, you should still have some rocks of your own to send right back.
  • A real-life example took place in the Millennium Challenge, a 2002 wargame carried out by the U.S. military (as mentioned in Blink by Malcolm Gladwell). A test for a new information-gathering system, it was unofficially a resounding failure. The opposing military, whose modern communications had been jammed or would be intercepted, communicated with the front by motorcycle courier and used light signals to launch planes. Most notably, they swarmed a U.S. naval force in the Persian Gulf with small, missile-armed PT boats and "sank" a fully-crewed aircraft carrier. The U.S. military reset the game, pointing out that the OPFOR commander's tactics were impossible under the circumstances, and were completely impractical given the operational environment. The game was discredited as a result.
    • The OPFOR used a Zerg Rush of many smaller PT boats, that did not exist in the force structures prepared for the game and which had the ability to magically teleport around the game board, mysteriously appearing within firing range of the U.S. ships. In addition, the ships actually sunk by the U.S. Navy would keep on reappearing in other places. The same happened to shore-based missile batteries that would mysteriously regenerate after being bombed into oblivion.
      • These abuses resulted in the game being massively disputed and actually led to a reprimand of the guy running the OPFOR on accusations he effectively cheated and ignored parameters of the game in order to "win" it IIRC. There were also a lot of questions if what he was doing was even possible in the real world with accusations that he was basically using game mechanics to execute plans that would never have worked in the real world thus ruining the training value. In effect, his conduct wasted the money spent on setting the simulation up and destroyed a valuable training exercise.
    • During wargames conducted in 2004 the USS Ronald Reagan was "sunk" by the HMS Gotland (Swedish Navy submarine, not Royal Navy) A diesel-electric submarine (a design pioneered in 1929 in the US) using a Stirling Engine (originally conceived in 1816) rather than the standard piston engine. The Gotland, BTW was commissioned in 1996, 2 years before the Reagan was even laid down.
      • This is nothing new: Canadian and Australian submarines built in the 1960s (which weren't that much more advanced than a World War Two sub in terms of basic technology) routinely "sank" US Fleet carriers in wargames. The standard tactic was to try and get ahead of the carrier battlegroup, and then go absolutely silent and unmoving and let the fleet run over them. Inevitably the subs were "sunk" when they executed an attack on the carrier, but more often than not they'd have gotten their torpedoes off first, trading a few dozen men and a dinky little diesel-electric boat for a multi-billion dollar fleet carrier.
  • This post contains a rather extreme example.
  • Spear throwers (atlatl), long forgotten in Europe, proved an effective armor piercing weapon against Cortés' army. Not effective enough, but it was probably quite surprising.
    • Well, they only had to deal with a few hundred Spaniards. The rest of the enemy forces were their own pissed off neighbors, who allied with Cortés, who knew the Aztec tactics very well.
  • The De Havilland Mosquito, of WW 2, was a light bomber made of plywood covered in canvas, and assembled by light industry craftsmen. However, the design was almost as fast as German fighters, had a long range, carried a large payload, was cheap, cemented the fighter-bomber as a category, and, well, could be assembled by light industry craftsmen. The Mossies' light weight and exceptional speed even allowed it to be one of the main Allied defenses against V1 Rocket Bombs and ME262 jets until the last month or two of the war.
  • Australian colonial history is bloodier than some might think, and the Aborigines often had the advantage. Colonists had muzzle-loading muskets; the natives carried four or five spears, and could throw them all in about the time it took the musket to be reloaded, often with the aid of a spear-thrower. Their hunter-gatherer lifestyle also gave them an edge in stealth and tracking; it was fairly common for troopers to spend weeks chasing native sheep-thieves and never even see them.
  • One of the nastier tricks employed by the guerillas in The Vietnam War did involve bamboo. Pungi sticks were bamboo shoots, cut while the wood was still young and highly absorbent. They'd cut a very sharp point on one end, smear the spikes with human feces, then place several of them point-up in a covered pit and find various ways to lure American soldiers over the pits. If getting impaled didn't kill them, the resulting infection was sure to do some damage.
    • Improvised man-traps in general can be extremely effective in dense vegetation of all kinds, despite most designs being indistinguishable from what Stone Age hunters would've employed.
    • The Vietnamese guerillas also would string tripwires and coat them in urine so that enemies would cut their ankles on them, which would then get infected. In fact, the Vietnamese employed tactics similar to those used by Le Loi's men in the Vietnamese rebellion against China in the 1400s. The reason this worked is because the Vietnamese were familiar with their territory, while the Americans had no way of navigating the dense jungle.
    • To add insult to injury, landmines planted by American forces were reputedly neutralised by Viet Cong forces, simply by urinating on them.
  • During early encounters with the U.S., Filipino fighters repelled gunfire (from the then-new .38 Long Colt revolvers, at least; rifle fire was another story entirely) with ropes, wrapped around their bodies as armor. Even after taking direct hits, the natives were still in fine condition to rip apart their colonizers. This forced the U.S. to develop the heavier .45 ACP bullet (and the Colt 1911 pistol to fire it) in response (and as a stop-gap, bring the recently retired .45 Long Colt revolvers back into service).
    • Due to the poor condition (or outright lack) of firearms available, many of these fighters were armed with kris swords, or in some cases the machetes they used in farming.
  • During the Indian Wars in the swamps of Florida prior to the invention of the Colt revolver, the US Army kept losing. Bows have a much higher rate of fire than muskets, and with the short lines of sight involved, the longer range of muskets didn't matter. There is a reason why the Seminoles were the only nation to never surrender to the US Government...
  • The woefully underequipped Finnish army destroyed hundreds of Soviet tanks during the Winter War, using such equipment as Molotov cocktails and wooden logs. Hell, the Finns named the Molotov Cocktail after the Soviet foreign minister who claimed that the Red Air Force was dropping breadbaskets, not cluster bombs (thus, the Finns made a cocktail to go with the bread). Its amazing how vulnerable a massive 45-ton heavy tank that the Germans found tough to kill (the KV-1) was to a few crazy Finns with skis and a few bottles of flammable liquid.
  • It took such a long time for European armaments to reach the effectiveness of Native American armaments (at least on American turf) that there are copious stories of Spaniards adopting native armor (metal armor was hot and heavy) and everybody being outgunned by arrows, spears, and slings (back then, the only advantage guns had was ease of use and piercing ability). There are also plenty of instances of Spaniards using swords massacring armies of thousands with a hundred or so soldiers. Even when outnumbered, and after the shock of 'newness' wore off, cutting edge technology such as highly developed crossbows, pikes, and efficient fighting formations.
  • In 1879 the British Imperial Army suffered its greatest defeat at the hands of a native army at the battle of Isandhlwana. The Zulus were known for their tactical cunning, their rigorous training, and their suicidal bravery. They were also known for being equipped primarily with iron-headed spears and rawhide shields. The British were armed with the latest breech-loading rifles and even had some machine-guns on hand and, feeling that their technological advantage rendered the result of the upcoming battle a foregone conclusion, set-up a rather shoddy line to meet the Zulus at Isandhlwana. The Zulus ruthlessly exploited the Brits' complacency, easily out-flanking and annihilating the much better-armed force.
    • Secrets Of The Dead also went into further details as to why the British got their asses kicked. Not only were the Zulus also hopped up on the local plant equivalents of Berserker Packs, the British were doubly screwed by the fact that the Martini Henry rifles they were using had a habit of jamming when overheated from extended fire and someone forgot to bring the keys for the ammunition crates so they had to spend most of the fight trying to smash the locks open to get to the bullets.
    • The Zulus also had an astonishing piece of pure luck on their side that helped them exploit a weakness in the British weapons: The British were using gunpowder-based ammunition, which produces large quantities of dense, white smoke, and there just happened to be a total solar eclipse that went over during the battle. The combination of smoke and eclipse made it impossible for the British to see the Zulus for a few critical minutes in the midst of the battle, allowing them to get close enough to be extremely effective.
      • Actually the whole "forgetting the keys/screwdrivers for the munition boxes"-thing is a made-up myth. The British authorities (including high command) knew it made them look damn silly being beaten by (in their eyes) a bunch of savages with sticks so they made things p to explain that it wasn't really their fault that the highly trained, well equiped British army got it's ass kicked. In fact, the ammo crates have a slide-on top held by only one screw that was designed to be broken off when kicked, just so that you wouldn't need a screwdriver!
    • The British were often on the losing end of Rock Beats Laser. At Isandlwana they where deployed in loose formation with a few meters between the soldiers, suitable for fighting against other armies with breech-loading rifles and cannons, but not against charging impis. When the British used tight formations that were outdated for European warfare, they fared better
  • Until the repeating rifle, generally what happened in archer/crossbow vs musket match-ups, though exceptions abound on all fronts based on commander tactics/sense.
    • In terms of range, rate of fire, and accuracy, bows were superior to early guns without question. The only advantage the guns had was the noise and smoke was unnerving, particularly to horses, and it was much easier to train a musketman than it was to train a good archer, which might take decades. The cost in training outweighed the cost in the equipment itself, so an army could field more musketmen and replace them quicker over long campaigns of attrition.
    • From the beginning, firearms also presented a major logistics advantage over bows: a musketman could carry enough powder and shot with him for 50-100 firings. An archer would be very hard pressed to carry 50-100 arrows with him, making necessary wagonloads carrying nothing but arrows in the supply train. Thus, the supply train is shortened significantly, making firearm-equipped armies more mobile.
      • However, they still had their place; Indian rulers usually retained their archers even after they adopted Western-style firearms, and the Duke of Wellington, who had himself served in India and seen the effectiveness of such weapons, attempted to form a Longbow Corps during the Peninsular War, to act as an elite rapid-response force. Unfortunately for the Duke and his men, the musket had so thoroughly supplanted the bow in the West that England simply couldn't produce enough trained archers to be of any use.
      • It's also a silly example, as matchlocks used tighter bullets and so had better range (but rates of fire only slightly better than a 18th century rifle), and it's not possible to string a bow or a crossbow under the rain, either.
      • A musket with waterlogged gunpowder is useless, a bow with a waterlogged sting is at least slightly useful.
      • By Wellington's time, they were using flintlocks. Somewhat faster than matchlocks, and far more reliable. The minimum may have been three shots a minute, but well disciplined and trained units often managed four or even five shots a minute. Firing rates were slower simply because volley fire was much more effective than individual fire. You're also failing to take into account cannons, which were the true killers of the battlefield.
  • During the early days of radar-guided and heat-seeking missiles many US military planners were so confident of their superiority that the F-4 Phantom fighter was initially designed without guns, as they believed that missiles would make aerial cannon fights a thing of the past. This was quickly disproven in the Vietnam War when the Vietnamese pilots quickly learned to fight close to the ground, where ground clutter and thermal reflection greatly confused early missile guidance systems to the point of practical uselessness. Worse, the old "obsolete" MiG-15s and MiG-17s had superior maneuverability to the Phantom at lower speeds and altitude, which allowed them to keep their guns trained on any unfortunate Phantom they got close enough to. Even if the Phantom managed to outmaneuver such MiGs, their lack of guns meant that they couldn't enagage at closer distances. Often the Phantoms had to resort to their superior speed and climb rate to escape. [1]
  • Played with in Real Life with concrete bombs. Need a target in an urban area destroyed while minimizing the collateral damage using shrapnel-and-blast-force-inducing high explosives? Just drop a slab of good old-fashioned concrete right on top of your pesky target. Who needs fancy high-explosive mixtures when you have the simple blunt force of a solid chunk of concrete dropped from the sky? Catch is, this straight-forward blunt force weapon is only effective when laser-guided.
    • Laser guided rock beats everything?
      • Well, they're pretty good at beating vehicles and artillery pieces hidden in urban areas at least.
    • The "Rods From God" concept takes this a step further, replacing the chunk of concrete with, essentially, crowbars with fins on placed in orbit. They don't weigh as much, but they make up for it with extra speed (kinetic energy is mass times the square of the velocity).
  • During the NATO operations in the former Yugoslavia, the only combat loss of the F-117 stealth aircraft was due to, among other things, old radar sets that operated on a wavelength that the aircraft weren't so stealthy against, combined with prodigious application of anti-aircraft cannons and SAM spam.
  • It is nearly legendary that a SEAL team was put up against an 'amphib' ship (looks like a small carrier-- think "helicopter and harrier carrier" and you've got it; they are used to deploy marines; an example would be the LHD) and quickly took out all the defenses...except for engineering, which was armed with foot long bits of pipe ('pipe wrenches,' used to shut water tight doors) and safety netting, which they deployed at every level of the vertical shafts... basically, there wasn't any way to invade or drop a bomb without either exposing oneself to pipes or getting caught in safety net.
  • Early in the Vietnam War, a flight of piston-engine A-1 Skyraiders was attacked by Mig-17 jets. Thanks to their slower speed and straight wing design, they were able to outmaneuver the faster Migs. Lacking air-to-air missiles, two of the Skyraiders used their 20mm cannons to shoot down one of the Migs in a head-on pass. It was one of the few times since WWII piston-engine aircraft were able to shoot down jet aircraft.
    • On a similar note, in WWII, Me 262 jet fighters initially had difficulties fighting the more primitive piston engined fighters. Their maneuverability dropped off sharply at low speeds, and they often had trouble dogfighting piston fighters at high speeds because they were going too fast to get an accurate bead on the enemy fighters. Allied strategies to counter Me 262s essentially boiled down to loitering around German airfields and shooting down the jet fighters as they attempted to take off, where they were the most vulnerable.
  • The US Navy's air division spends incredible amounts of time on "FOD" control-- that is, making sure there's not so much as a pebble or an earring where it could, possibly, by any chance be thrown into the engine of a jet. It is amazing how a tiny object can utterly destroy a sufficiently advanced bit of equipment.
    • Contrast this with what the USSR did in designing the Mi G-29: They gave it alternate air intakes on TOP of the wings, so that it could close the forward intakes on launch and landing on poorly maintained, rough, or damaged runways do it didn't risk ingesting debris. (They never could quite match US technology, but they had some DAMN clever engineers.)
      • The A-10 Thunderbolt II used a similar system, where the engines were placed above the wings and near the rear of the craft so it could stationed at forward airbases.
  • The Bismarck was attacked by a small squadron of the obsolete Fairey Swordfish biplane, outdated and primitive even before the war started. The planes crippled the battleship by taking out her rudder and screws with a torpedo hit. The Bismarck couldn't track and hit the slow-moving, low-flying biplanes since she had been designed with medium-velocity C33 105mm anti-aircraft guns but these had been changed while under construction for the more modern high-velocity C37 105mm. Nobody told the fire control designers about the change and the fire control system was still optimized for the C33. As a result, the fire control system unerring pointed the guns at the wrong place. By some incredible chance five Swordfishs were damaged but none shot down..
  • One countermeasure to advanced armor-piercing shaped-charge warheads: "slat armor," also known as a "fence."
    • This is actually just the newest version of a technique that goes back to WWII (and the introduction of shaped-charge AT RPGs): The Sherman, for instance, could have tool boxes all over the hull. Since the plasma jet of a shaped charge is only effective for a matter of several inches, getting it to detonate 2 feet away from the main hull will protect the vehicle extremely well.
  • During the 1990s at the National Training Center, the resident OPFOR had no trouble employing simple effective countermeasures against advanced American equipment, including digital C4I systems and Apache Longbows. In one occasion, a group of Longbows launched their entire load of simulated Hellfires on burn barrels that looked like a group of armored vehicles on their sensors, before being shot down by MANPADS teams waiting by their battle positions.
  • Rather recently, the US army has discovered that insurgents could use cheap, commercially available equipment to intercept and view camera footage being transmitted by American UAVs.
    • And as it turned out, the information is completely useless to them. They already know they are being watched.
    • Possibly intended as encryption of the signal would not be all that difficult. A form of psychological warfare. See Paranoia Fuel.
  • Recently, China has been arming its police officers with crossbows instead of traditional guns. The reason for this is because China has to defend against Islamist rebels crossing the border from Pakistan, and crossbows allegedly have less chance of setting off any bombs a suicide bomber is carrying than a gun.
  • Since the Vietnam war, a popular and easy way to mark mines and explosives was to put some shaving cream on them. In the Afghanistan and second Iraq Wars, soldiers use silly string to check for tripwires, since the foam can reveal their positions yet is light enough not to set them off.
  • In WWII, most armies were already implementing metal detectors to find mines. The Germans got around this by making mines made completely out of wood.

Notes

  1. A more detailed analysis can be found here.
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