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Sometimes a power just seems limited. While talking to fish, super speed, and superhuman parkour skills are most definitely special abilities that could prove formidable in certain, very specific situations, much of the time they appear to be near-useless novelties.
Or so it would seem to those who lack imagination. See, characters with Swiss Army Super Powers are able to apply their narrowly-defined abilities in amazing array of situations. Solely because their insight is so great, the Swiss Army Super Powered are always expanding the potential utility of their powers.
What sets the Swiss Army Power apart from similar power tropes is that the defined base ability never changes. The user simply becomes aware of aspects to their power they didn't think of before. The base rules do not change.
This blend of flexibility and limitation is convenient for the writers, because it allows them to get their heroes in and out of a host of sticky situations while avoiding complaints from fans that they've pulled a new power out of a character's ass. It still has a semblance of consistency. However, this also depends on how creative a writer can be about it.
Named after Swiss Army Knives, which are pocket sized sets of 8 - 10 undersized tools that can do everything.
Expect Forgot About His Powers to occur on multiple occasions.
Compare Green Rocks (which do this stuff at the whim of the writers, rather than serving a specific character), New Powers as the Plot Demands (for cases where new powers are the result of Ass Pull), Re-Power (for situations when a character has their powerset either expanded upon in a "nonlinear" way, or reimagined entirely from the ground up), Adaptive Ability, Swiss Army Weapon and Adaptive Armor. When a weak-sounding power has this, then it's Heart Is an Awesome Power. Semantic Superpower and Imagination-Based Superpower are also related.
Anime and Manga
- Eve's shapeshifting powers in Black Cat are a particularly interesting example. Our heroine starts the series as an emotionless Tyke Bomb with nothing in the way of imagination, so her powers are limited to turning her hands into blades, but her character development throughout the series eventually leads to her coming up with dozens of other uses as she matures mentally. By the end of the series she's turning her body into steel, becoming a mermaid, turning her hair into monomolecular blades, sprouting wings, and shapeshifting air into handheld weapons among other things.
- The Expy of the above, Golden Darkness in To Love Ru has nearly identical powers. Her favorite methods seem to be turning her hands into blades, or turning her hair into fists, usually for the purpose of delivering a Megaton Punch to an Ecchi person. She also turned her hair into Razor Floss at least once, as well as using her power to increase her bust size.
- In Gash Bell Gash's Zagurezemu spell acts as this at times. Despite its stated purpose of making things explode on contact with Zakeru or Zakeruga, it has been used to supercharge Baou Zakeruga, act as a homing beacon, and split Baou Zakeruga in four. The last time even Kiyomaro wasn't sure what it would do.
- In Death Note, Light does so well in figuring out imaginative new ways to use the Note -- whilst adhering to its rules -- that even an experienced user like Ryuk is surprised by what it can do. But then, it is mentioned in the series that not even a given Joe Random Shinigami knows what all the Death Note is capable of.
- It's hard to say which is more surprising, in retrospect, about Luffy from One Piece: that there are so many plausible uses for being made out of rubber, or that someone as stupid as Luffy can think of them.
- The Amazon Lily arc brought prominence to the previously-hinted-at ability called "Haki" (basically weaponized force of spirit) by showing us just how many different powers can be created by using it. Over the course of one battle, we saw Haki users: enhance attacks to the point that hair can shatter stone, bypass Luffy's rubber defenses with impact blows, read attacks ahead of time, harden one's body to block any attack, create a wave of Pure Awesomeness capable of knocking out dozens at a time. And the fact that these are all powers that other, unrelated enemies had over the course of several unrelated arcs makes one wonder how many other applications there are for Haki.
- Naruto is able to get this use out of shadow clones, which he can use for everything from a multi-hit combo, to learning new techniques in hours, to extending the length of his Super Mode.
- Once Naruto finally get the hang of his Fox Mode his Rasengan variations became limited only by his imagination.
- Same goes with Sasuke's Chidori and Amaterasu/Susanoo combo
- The Sharingan and Chakra can also be considered this.
- Accelerator's power in To Aru Majutsu no Index is 'controlling vectors.' Now, let's look at what he's done so far and what he says he can do. Flight because he has to LET gravity affect him. Immunity to physical assault. Presumable immunity to energy based weapons as he automatically deflects all UV radiation. Super speed. Telekinesis. Pyrokinesis. Wind control. Plasma creation. Control over electrical currents. Immunity to sound based weaponry. Immunity to all weaponry and damage except lack of air, pretty much. Manipulating bioelectricity. Superstrength. And much, much more. Vector control means he gets to do pretty much whatever he wants to as long as it involves 'something goes somewhere,' which is basically everything since movement is the basis of, well, everything.
- Of course, even if one were able to control all movement in the universe, it would be too complicated for a person to do the kind of things he does.
- Fiamma of the Right's power is to "replicate any feat performed by the right hand". As long as it's been performed by the right hand, Fiamma can do it himself. Much like Accelerator's powers, this doesn't really limit what Fiamma can do as much as it sounds like it would at first: What hasn't been performed by someone's right hand? What makes this power so terrifying is it applies to divine beings like the Archangels as well, which is the application Fiamma typically invokes.
- The Barrier Warrior abilities of the titular Kekkaishi are incredibly adaptive for someone who's intelligent enough with them. While the standard uses are defense or attack via collapsing the barrier in on an enemy, they can also be used for everything from a spear-like attack to making platforms to allow the user to stand on thin air.
- Kurama from Yu Yu Hakusho has the ability to control plants. He just happens to have the seeds for different demonic plants on him that allow him to do pretty much anything, from flying to trapping enemies in Lotus Eater Machines.
- Lifeguard of the X-Men had the superpower of spontaneously developing whatever additional superpower was required at any given moment, although only if somebody's life was in danger. Somebody other than herself, and the power to save a particular life and the power to kick the enemy's butt aren't always the same.
- Darwin, of the X-Men, has the power to develop any power he would need to survive. Submerge him in water, he grows gills; blast him with lava, he's immune to heat and pressure. This power is entirely involuntary, as a child he attempted suicide by leaping of a building only to discover he had become elastic and simply bounced when hit the ground. Though it should be noted that Darwin's power only did what would let him survive a fight, not necessarily win. Such as when he ended up in the path of the Hulk, and he spontaneously gained the power to teleport to the next state over.
- The "Shazam" Captain Marvel, in the Post-Crisis stories, has learned that the lightning bolt he uses to change can have other uses. For instance, it can break spells imposed on the Marvels in their human form, and can power up equipment if it's hardy enough to absorb so much energy suddenly. It's a powerful attack if they say their magic word close to an enemy and dodge the resulting bolt, causing it to hit their opponent instead (as seen in Kingdom Come and homaged in both Justice League Unlimited where Marvel lost because he failed to dodge it and Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe as a
fatalityheroic brutality and a grab move). It can even be used as a Magical Defibrillator, providing there are two Marvels, one to call down the lightning, and one to absorb it safely; otherwise this works the same as the attack. That, or have a physiology that can stand up to the power of the lightning (which is how Black Adam saved Atom Smasher, whose body regrows itself when he changes height and so could deal with the power).
- Spider-Man's webbing and spider-sense are sometimes treated this way; for example, using the webs to make anything from shields to swim fins to hang gliders, or using the spider-sense to sense which wire to cut on a bomb.
- Once in the old animated series he made a motorboat entirely out of web. No, not a sailboat. A motorboat. The series was notoriously bad for this. He once made a parachute, which is relatively plausible, but another time he made a sword.
- Not to mention that the webbing, at various times in the comic, has served as an electrical conductor and an electrical insulator. It's been shown that Spidey has different chemical compositions for his webbing, and if he knows he's going to be facing someone like Electro, he uses the insulating kind.
- The Invisible Woman of The Fantastic Four learned the cause of her invisibility: force fields, the shape and placing of which she could manipulate, in a variety of useful ways such as in an offensive attack (think invisible, bullet-shaped forcefields-- mind bullets, that's Telekinesis, Kyle!), carrying herself in the air as a mode of transportation, or putting air bubbles in the bloodstream of someone's brain...
- Trauma from The Avengers : Initiative comics can become anybody's worst fear. If their fear happens to be The Mighty Thor or the Incredible Hulk well... that person should run. Also, he became a therapist. Turning into your patients' greatest terrors and making them face it is an intriguing method.
- Ultimate Marvel's Iron Man has Nanomachines in his blood-- in the present-day comics, they're limited to letting him control his armor, but they apparently used to be a lot more general-purpose, including forming swarms of shape-shifting insectoids that can pick locks, disable nuclear bombs, hack into any computer, and transform into an iPod.
- And in the classic universe, while he has different armor for different situations, what pushed him beyond swiss army knife into this trope a few years ago was the "extremis" which made him a cyberpath able to hack into anything remotely with his mind and summon as many suits of his armor as he needed.
- His armor also counts as this trope... in the Civil War timeline, it's revealed that his armor records the fighting styles of anyone nearby, and, assumedly only if the database is large enough, counter their every attack. He demonstrates this while fighting Captain America.
- In the earlier Wonder Woman comics the titular heroine's emblematic lasso served as more than a vaguely fetishistic lie-detector. Over the course of a DC Showcase anthology she used it as an impromptu propeller, an emergency roller coaster track extension, an electrical conduit, another propeller, a drill, and some sort of sonic dinosaur repellent. She also used it occasionally to actually snag things. Specifically, a nuclear missile, all of Paradise Island, and a lightning bolt.
- All this time, and nobody's brought up Mag-freakin-neto yet? Although it's become far more stabilized as of late, usually, over the years his powers have been used for a whole host of things that are dubiously related to actual magnetism. Creating a force-field to block fire/optic blasts/ROCKS comes first and foremost to mind, but he's also shown the ability to: control non-magnetic metals (though may be a case of Did Not Do the Research as to what is and isn't magnetic); levitate someone by controlling the trace molecules of iron in their blood (only slightly more realistic was the time he ripped the iron OUT of someone's blood); block telepathy by controlling the electrical impulses in his brain, or read someone ELSE'S mind by "sensing" their own; hack into computers; at least once, when "supercharged", was able to project a hologram, since "light is just another aspect of the electro-magnetic spectrum." WHEW.
- He can move things without a trace of anything ferrous by "negating the gravimetric lines of force," as he put it the first time we saw him fly. Ever since Polaris sent Krakoa blasting off agaaaaaain (ding!) that way, the powers of Magneto and Polaris have gone from "move stuff that's metal" (useful, but underutilizing a power with more possibilities) to, as one message board comment put it, "do anything as long as he mentions magnetism while doing it." On an island where his powers were a bit stronger than usual, he once created a portal to go save his daughter. How does magnetism let you Stargate a couple continents away?
- The Flash is a famous application of this trope. His one power of "running very quickly" worked for a while, but eventually the writers found out there's only so much you can do with one power. To this day the Flash still gets new powers to keep his stories from becoming dull. Likely the most infamous is the "vibrate through matter" power, which can make any physicist cry.
- John in With Strings Attached has complete control over water, to the point where he can actually change the physical properties of water, which lets him do pretty much whatever he (or the Kansael) can come up with.
- Bink, from the Xanth series, has the magic talent of protection from anything magical. Since the land where he lives is almost entirely infused by magic, this basically means his talent can do anything, including bringing a person with the power to locally reverse time over just before he inhales poison gas, getting a Sufficiently Advanced Alien to voluntarily re-seal itself, and dipping him and his friends and family in a youth spring when they get old, all without revealing the talent's existence. The only thing that keeps Bink from becoming an omnipotent god-being is that the talent is completely outside his conscious control. That and both the fact that a sufficiently powerful Magician or demon could force his talent to reveal itself by acting overtly (as Trent did in A Spell For Chameleon) and the fact that his power is useless against non-magical attacks. (A normal punch in the face or a thrown rock). However, if the being causing the attack is itself magical, the talent will still kick in: a human could theoretically kill Bink by dropping a large rock on him, but a demon couldn't even if the rock itself is entirely non-magical. And that his talent can occasionally be very weird about defining harm. Being put into a trance in the middle of a war? Not magical harm! His power is even implied to be able to affect the its own source and the SOURCE OF ALL MAGIC!
- The Chronicles of Amber 's Merle gets hold of a magic ring that taps into so many mystical sources, it can do just about anything, thus letting him thumb his nose at the agendas of both the Pattern and the Logrus, as well as his interfering relatives.
- The Poets from The Long Price Quartet have access to this power. Any abstract concept they can describe with absolutely no ambiguity becomes theirs to control in the form of the Andat, bound avatars of the concept. So, the poet who controls Stone-Made-Soft can at will alter the hardness of any and all stone everywhere. The poet who controls Clarity-Of-Vision has complete control over all beings' clarity of vision. However there are limits. The andat are constantly seeking to escape by playing on their captors' mental weaknesses. If an andat escapes it must be described in a completely new way to be bound again.
- Sorcery in The Belgariad can be used to do almost literally anything, with a few exceptions (you can't completely destroy something without the effect rebounding on you, for example, and demons and similar creatures are largely immune). You do however, have to have at least some respect for the natural forces involved, however- as Garion found out the hard way when he whipped up a storm out of a clear sky, and nearly wrecked the world's weather patterns.
- Also seen with Garion's first deliberate attempt at sorcery, when he lifted a boulder, and then found himself buried up to his armpits. He didn't know he had to anchor himself when moving heavy objects.
- Beside the complete prohibition on annihilation, there is a also slightly less ultimate prohibition against resurrection (which is revealed to be imposed by the gods rather than the universe itself), though that is broken twice. Also, large-scale physical effects (such as inducing wind in standing air) are tiring and can incapacitate or kill a sorcerer.
- In the Young Wizardsseries, if it exists, you can call it here. And a LOT of things exist in this galaxy.
Live Action TV
- The Intersect 2.0 in Chuck. It has all the original powers of the 1.0 in addition to granting combat skills, spoken languages, surgical skills, weapon skills, dance skills, extreme sports knowledge... and that's just in the first four episodes! Strange how just knowing how to do something automatically makes you a pro at doing it, completely ignoring physique and muscle memory, which are necessary for many of these feats.
- This gets even better with the showdown between Chuck and Shaw, when the latter gets the Ring version of the Intersect. The latter even uses it to get martial arts skills, even though he's an experienced spy and already has considerable skills in hand-to-hand combat.
- The Sonic Screwdriver in Doctor Who ostensibly tightens or loosens screws by use of sound waves. Especially in the new series, however, it seems like every episode has a new, more creative and perhaps-dubious function. Most can still be explained through the properties of sound waves. With a bit of breath-holding. However, it does have at least one notable limitation of not being able to open a deadlock seal. Also, much to Donna's aggravation, it doesn't do wood. At least in the original series, and still throughout the new, it was used for one very useful purpose...
The Doctor That's what I love about the sonic screwdriver. Doesn't hurt, doesn't main, doesn't kill. But I'll tell you what it does do. It is very good at opening doors. * Doors EXPLODE open*
She looked into the heart of the TARDIS, and even I don't know how strong that is. And the ship's telepathic - like I told you, Rose. Gets inside your head. Translates alien languages. Maybe the raw energy can translate all sorts of thoughts...
- Later on, the Heart is deliberately accessed and serves as a Superpower Lottery.
- Mutants and Masterminds, as a superhero system with a great deal of freedom in customization, has several powers that have immediately apparent game breaking possibilities, such as Transform, which at its highest level is simply described as "Transform anything into anything else."; Nemesis, which allows you to simply choose an opponent and temporarily gain powers that will help you defeat them; and Adaptation, which can immediately grant you powers in reaction to a hostile environment, including effects attacking you. One of the most ridiculous is simply Boost, which, by applying its effect to itself recursively, could, in theory, temporarily grant you any power at maximum rank. Of course, that's if your GM lets you get away with that one. Pretty much any game with customizable superpowers needs a GM willing to veto Game Breakers.
- In the Dragonlance SAGA system that came out in the late nineties, all magic was divided into Schools of Sorcery or Sphere of Mysticism. The spellcasting system was freeform, so a creative player could use what schools of sphere they knew to create nearly any effect they could think of. So a person with the Spiritualism sphere(which deals with controlling incorporeal undead) could have spirits lift them up so they could fly.
- Magic: The Gathering players often complain about this in re: white's role in the color pie. Other colors kill creatures or return them to their owner's hand; white removes them from the game. White can destroy enchantments, something red and black cannot, and blue has to "bounce and counter". Even vampirism is sometimes a white ability, as the lifelink (when this creature deals damage, you gain that much life) ability shows.
- Nobles in Nobilis have control over one aspect of reality. Total control.
- Most supernatural characters in the New World of Darkness have set lists of powers they can learn. For Mages, these are more like examples and guidelines. "Rote" spells are easier to cast (larger dice pool for casting, lower Paradox risk), but if you can convince the GM that you ought to be able to do something with Arcana X at level Y, you can.
- The Power of the Keyblade in the Kingdom Hearts series seems to allow character to pull all sorts of things out of their ass. The first signs of things getting more outrageous were Bonus Boss
Terra"Lingering Sentiment" demonstrating the Keyblade's ability to transform into a whip, a buckler, a humongous bow, a humongous cannon, what seems to be a humongous drill bit, an airspeeder, and a floating pickaxe ...A hoverboard, a bow, wings, gauntlets, pleats, floating shields, chains, shrapnel, claws, fantastic firearms,a heart extractor. One could really go all day.
- Scattered throughout Conkers Bad Fur Day (and its remake) are large platforms emblazoned with a giant capital "B." Pressing the aforementioned button while standing atop them does something appropriate to his situation - ranging from consuming copious amounts of alcohol, morphing into an anvil, merely jogging his memory, or pulling out a projectile (itself ranging from knives and guns to slingshots and toilet paper).
- Konoko from Bungie's Oni has a "hyper-evolved" form of cancer that actually replaces tissue up to and including entire organs as they are stressed or damaged, with the attributes needed to survive the stress or damage. That is, if the damage in question doesn't immediately kill her: she regenerates fast enough to survive in acid and be immune to invasive surgery but being stuck in a grinding machine is still fatal. Justified in that said symbiote was designed specifically to make the host capable of survival in a catastrophically polluted Earth. On the other hand, the symbiote is not entirely sane and may try to hijack the body, with the Daodan Imago form Muro transformes into implied to be the result.
- Cole from In Famous has electricity powers, but they're of the Static Shock type below: he can use electricity to create shackles that hold people to the ground, hand grenades, a physical shield, hover jets, rocket launchers, and, particularly egre... oddly, eventually time travel.
- Static Shock's electricity in the animated series did things lightning bolts simply should not do. Like carry people and sensitive equipment with bolts of lightning without damaging them, as well as creating forcefields. He regularly pulled out some new, increasingly infeasible trick about every other episode. What do you expect though, his idol was Green Lantern. It is likely Static is able to do this, simply because he is Static! Given that electricity and magnetism are closely related phenomena, a lot of Static's dubious displays could be handwaved as him using electricity to emulate Magneto-style powers.
- This was an intentional change from the pilot, where his abilities were more realistically shown to be limited to exerting magnetic fields on metal objects to make them fly forwards or backwards or to give people an electric shock by touching them. Indeed, he's shown as being the underdog in his battle against Hotstreak because unlike Hotstreak he can't "shoot" his electricity as energy-blast lightning bolts -- he had to make creative use of his environment while Hotstreak just kept flinging fire at him. The writers apparently reneged on this because while more interesting than generic "lightning blast" powers it did make him kind of unimpressive for the audience of a kids' superhero show.
- Gwen of Ben 10 Alien Force is yet another prime example of the magic-users-can-do-anything variety. Manifests right from the get-go of the Time Skip series where her magical abilities have received a drastic increase. Twice in the first episode she states, "Hey, let me try something," and proceeds to defy logic. On the other hand, her powers half the time are "1001 uses for pink glass." Though there is an explanation to the change, as during the 5 years, she (likely) slowly developed not magic, but actually alien powers, from Max's wife, Verdona, who was an alien. Gwen was either lucky or unlucky to inherit them.
- Ben, in Alien X form, though he never ever uses it for other reasons. Namely, it paralyzes him afterward while he and the other two personalities debate what to do.
- While not technically powers, Zim and GIR of Invader Zim have access to (and in the latter's case actually consists of) a vast array of insanely-advanced technology that functioned fairly exclusively as a catalyst or a Hand Wave to the plot of a particular episode. Of note however is how the series never had to resort to Plot Induced Stupidity, as both characters were firmly established as Too Dumb to Live and a Cloudcuckoolander respectively.
- Which one is which?
- All characters capable of bending on Avatar: The Last Airbender have displayed a wide range of uses for their powers not just in combat, but for industrial and domestic uses, such as transportation, metallurgy, sailing and cooking. Water, being an element based on change, is the most versatile.
- Toph can bend metal, Katara can bend her sweat, Azula once improvised a rocket-like propulsion device, all of which depended on how imaginative their powers were. As the series progresses you see additional uses for the different bending arts that, while new, still makes sense with the laws the universe has set up.
- Special mention has to go to King Bumi, who has, not an inventive way of reapplying his power, but a creative way of using it period - he's so good at Bending he can do it using nothing but his face.
- In My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, Twilight Sparkle has her magic. Not unusual for unicorns... however, she seems to specialize in all kinds of magic. An early episode has Spike comment that they've discovered twenty-five types of spells she can cast, ranging from teleportation and telekinesis to giving somebody a mustache, and she's still learning new ones as the series progresses. This is in contrast to other unicorns, who have only a little magic to match their special talents. Twilight's special talent is magic.