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Taking the most powerful character and writing them out of the story or arc, to preserve the drama and make things tougher for the main cast.

So you've got a villain running amok, and a designated plucky underdog hero who's been set up to save the day. Looks like time for some heroic derring-do, but wait—there's a supporting character who's way, way, way more powerful than the hero, to the point where if he decided to take on the villain, the whole climactic struggle would be over in two seconds.

Well, obviously we can't have that, and if the character in question is any kind of good guy it would strain belief to have them just sit out the fight for no reason. Sure, you could kill them off or write them out of the story completely, but they don't have to leave forever, just long enough for the hero to have to face the menace du jour on his or her own. The solution: take the bruiser and put them on a bus for a while. Maybe some other responsibility came up, maybe there's another villain rampaging around somewhere else, maybe they had the bad luck to break a leg and got stuck in the hospital. However it's done, the Deus Ex Machina is temporarily out of commission, and the weaker heroes have to win the fight on their own.

If the villain is smart enough, they will find a way to invoke this by luring the character out of the way before setting the plan in motion, but the character can come off as rather feeble-minded if they were easily called away by some paper-thin ruse, leaving in jeopardy whatever the villain was after. Alternatively, this may come into play when the main hero is much more powerful than the supporting cast; in order to give them A Day in the Limelight, the all-powerful hero needs to be depowered, incapacitated, or distracted.

An alternative approach is to have an insanely overpowered character actually join the plucky underdog's team for the big epic battle. He could easily save the day with a snap of his fingers...and then that character is immediately knocked out or otherwise disabled so that the story can actually be interesting. (This can also have the side effect of making the villain that much more threatening.)

On rare occasions, it may be a villain far higher up the Sorting Algorithm of Evil who drops by for a Final Boss Preview to foreshadow the difficulty of future encounters before giving the weaker villain back his Worf Effect. Such a villain may be Too Powerful to Live. Don't expect to see him again outside his lair. If it's a Stealth Hi Bye then you have a simple case of Villain Teleportation by a Mobile Menace. Contrast Villain Exit Stage Left, But Now I Must Go.

Any given Deus Exit Machina may or may not end with the character returning in the nick of time to save the day.

An especially common way to deal with Reality Warpers or Loads and Loads of Characters (especially if they Can't Catch Up).

Subtropes include Holding Back the Phlebotinum and Achilles in His Tent. See also Filler, Padding, Put on a Bus, Trapped by Mountain Lions, and Wacky Wayside Tribe. For more on this topic, see How to Stop the Deus Ex Machina.

Examples of Deus Exit Machina include:

Anime and Manga

  • Fugo was written out of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Part 5 because his ability was essentially "kill the enemy in half a minute". Needless to say, battles would be a lot less interesting if they were all won by unleashing a killer virus on the enemy that kills them quicker than tying your shoes.
  • In the second Naruto movie, Gaara develops a sudden case of never-there-on-time and thus is constantly busy being late while everyone else fights their last, easily squishable battles.
    • Naruto arrived late to the second fight against Hidan and Kakuzu because he was finishing his new technique.
    • When Pain attacks Konoha, Danzo tries to prevent Naruto from joining the battle so that he can keep the Nine-Tailed Fox out of the Akatsuki's hands. Although he kills the frog that was supposed to let Naruto know he was needed, its death alerts Mount Myoboku, and Naruto joins the fight, but unfortunately, not before Konoha is leveled.
    • In the Land of Waves Arc, Naruto oversleeps, then arrives late to the battle against Zabuza and Haku because he has to save Inari and Tsunami from Gato's thugs. He defeated the goons in about 5 seconds.
    • Jiraiya was busy flirting with a woman while Itachi and Kisame appeared to capture Naruto. He returns just in time to scare away those two.
  • Claire Stanfield of Baccano isn't quite written out of the light novels, so much as Word of God has stated he'll never get his own story arc or book since he'd just solo the entire cast in under thirty pages.
  • In Slayers, the ridiculously powerful Xellos always seems to disappear at the most inconvenient times...or, even worse, is deliberately unhelpful. This is initially justified by his apparently flighty and unreliable personality, and later even more justified by the revelation that he is actually a very loyal and reliable the other side. Likewise he can only be as helpful as he wishes as long as he doesn't arouse suspicion.
    • That and Xellos just really enjoys dicking people around.
  • Goku, despite being the hero, often plays this role in Dragon Ball, particularly the early seasons of Dragonball Z. Since he'll almost inevitably win the battle once he joins in, circumstances always conspire to keep Goku on the sidelines just long enough for all the other heroes to get beaten up first. When Vegeta and Nappa arrive on Earth, he's still in the afterlife and is only revived once all the others have been thoroughly defeated. When everyone goes to Namek, his spaceship's the last to arrive, and soon after landing, he's critically injured and spends several more episodes floating in a regenerative tank. When Doctor Gero begins his rampage, Goku's too busy fighting off a heart illness to help. And so on...
    • In fact, Dragon Ball Z distinguishes itself for having multiple tiers of the trope - a really long fight will probably start with Yamcha or Krillin, then bring in The Worf Barrage of Tien/Piccolo/Trunks/Vegeta, and finally let Goku or Gohan show up to finish things...and at least one fight (versus Cell) takes this even further, for a grand total of eight fighters in sequence facing off against him in a row, without any other villains participating. Naturally there were very good, impressively coincidental reasons they couldn't all have attacked at once.
    • Vegeta gets the "honor" of doing this on the second Broly movie. There's zero reason as to why he didn't rush in the instant he detected Broly's ki (And he should have detected it), and at this point in the timeline, Vegeta had Super Saiyan 2, which could have trounced the pile of muscles easily (Or at least be actually helpful, as long he didn't Forgot About His Powers like Gohan who didn't go beyond regular Super Saiyan). Maybe he crapped his pants when he detected Broly like in the first movie?.
    • This trope is the entire reason why Vegetto de-fused once he entered Buu's guts. He outclassed him so much that the fight wouldn't have had ANY tension whatsoever if Vegetto finished it. Also, GT would've never happened.
    • This is also the same reason why Gohan, Goten, and Trunks were killed by Buu when he destroyed the Earth while they were still unconscious. Gohan and Gotenks outclassed the de-powered Buu so much that there would be no tension in their battle. This is lampshaded, as Goku suggests bringing them in to destroy Buu after they are revived, but Vegeta refuses because he wants the people of Earth to protect themselves.
  • In the Skypiea arc of One Piece, Luffy spent most of his time inside of a giant snake. He broke out just when every other bad guy was defeated except for Eneru, the villain of the arc. It wasn't that he was overwhelmingly powerful at the time compared to his crewmates, just that due to his rubber body he was completely immune to everything most of what Eneru could do and was capable of taking him out pretty easily compared to other big bads. Super-Effective indeed.
    • This happens a lot to Luffy. While his True Companions are busy fighting the underlings of the Big Bad, he's usually trapped in a block of concrete or wandering secret passages looking for the Big Bad. A quick rundown: Stuck in a cage, running off in the wrong direction, defending a restaurant (actually a major event), trapped in said block of concrete and underwater, well-fed and sleeping, trapped under a mountain, Not Quite Dead and buried, eaten by a snake, it wasn't his turn yet, trapped between buildings (twice), on a different train, charging in alone, wandering secret passages, and lost in a forest.
    • Red Haired Shanks, during Whitebeard's war on the World Government was busy battling another of the Four Emperors.
    • Earlier in the series, when Luffy's brother Ace was first introduced, he proved be an extremely powerful combatant, easily destroying a fleet of ships with a single attack, and fighting a previous logia antagonist to a standstill. Said logia curbstomped Luffy during their first meeting. He was probably one of the strongest characters in the entire SAGA. While it's clear that he's much stronger than Luffy, especially with his logia abilities, he doesn't bother getting involved in the whole Arabasta affair. He is a pirate, after all. And he was looking for Blackbeard.
      • Besides which, it becomes a plot point later that with the Logia devil fruit, Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors is in full effect. Despite being made out of fire, he might not have been able to do much against the guy made out of sand. At least he took out several of Crocodile's ships, which were full of Mooks, while he was there.
    • This happens to the entire crew so that Luffy can go and try to save his older brother from his execution.
  • Bleach has done this with Ichigo, who usually is undergoing training or otherwise distracted while Uryu, Orhime, and Chad fight minor characters.
    • An anime filler arc has the main villain freeing the spirits of the Zanpakuto to fight against the Shinigami. When Yamamoto's Ryuujin Jakka refused to rebel, the Big Bad seals Yamamoto in some sort of barrier, leaving him MIA thus far.
      • Turns out, Yamamoto sealed himself in there in order to keep Muramasa from accessing his memories. Making this a subversion of sorts.
    • Small fry. Every single major event in the series relies upon single combat, usually involving Ichigo, however much/little sense this makes. The lengths the story goes to in order to justify things such as the three strongest Captains (including Yamamoto, naturally) all being out of play when the Big Bad first appears, or a group of only five people (out of the twenty or so at the right power level) going into Hueco Mundo are generally amusing, but eventually, the show stops even giving explanations (why, exactly, did Urahara's group wait so long to join the False Karrakura Town battle?) and calls it a day.
  • In Pokémon Special, main character Red is frozen in a block of ice so that Yellow can take over in the second story arc.
  • In Pokémon, meanwhile, Ash routinely gets rid of his old high level Pokemon to make room for the new models.
    • Possibly justified, given that Gym Leaders aren't particularly powerful in the games and Ash's veterans should be seasoned fighters by now. Having Charizard or Sceptile fight low-level first Gym Leaders and get the stuffing kicked out of them for the sake of drama would have led to The Worf Effect, like it has for Pikachu.
  • Done occasionally in Mahou Sensei Negima. During the Mahora arc, Negi had to go off and find the Big Bad, leaving everyone else to take care of her army of robots. Later on, during the Gateport incident, Fate incapacitates Negi by impaling him with a chunk of rock, forcing his True Companions to fend for themselves until Negi recovers. Another possible example would be Konoka, who's an unstoppable force of healing with an inextinguishable pool of Mana, but rarely arrives to the battle till she's not needed, leaving her to handle clean-up instead.
    • Another example of this combined with Too Powerful to Live: Jack Rakan, who was essentially invincible, is ultimately defeated due to Fate's newly revealed Reality Warper abilities. Granted, there's a good plot reason for Fate to have that power, but it seems to have been revealed solely to have an excuse to take out Rakan.
    • A third example is Evangeline. A vampire and one of the strongest mages in the manga, she easily wipes the floor with Fate when the two encounter one another. However, due to the fact that she's stuck within Mahora Academy grounds, she can't help Negi and his friends when they need her. When she finally gets a chance to join the final battle, it's over very, very quickly.
  • In Digimon Frontier, a new enemy called IceDevimon appears and "freezes" The Hero's and The Lancer's Transformation Trinkets, saying he'll save them for later. "Later" never comes, because while he's got a few flashy tricks for a Champion-stage Digimon the rest of the gang is able to defeat him within that episode instead of after a miniarc. It was the last time any of the supporting characters got to do anything for the rest of the series, and it occurred halfway through, after which the Spotlight-Stealing Squad of Kouji and Takuya literally took away the other's powers to fuel their super modes.
  • In Yu Yu Hakusho, Yusuke sleeps through much of the preliminaries of the Dark Tournament, and only wakes up just before his fight with Chu. In the second round, Hiei and Genkai are tricked into agreeing to take a medical examination, then trapped in a force field for the duration of the round. Yusuke is unable to fight in the semifinals because he is in the extremely painful process of acquiring Genkai's power, and falls asleep after that.
  • Hellsing does this to Alucard, having him trapped on a boat whilst London is attacked.
  • Transformers Super God Masterforce put Ginrai in hospital for an episode to show that other Autobots were in fact capable of handling the Decepticons.
  • Similar to Justice League, StrikerS Sound Stage X of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha revealed that all the insanely powerful series veterans were too busy with their own missions to help with the current incident, giving the Strikers and reformed Numbers Cyborgs a chance to really strut their stuff and save the day.
    • Previously in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Striker S, Nanoha, Fate and Hayate, the three most powerful protagonists, attend a press conference where they are not allowed to carry their Intelligent Devices. Unfortunately, Scaglietti's Numbers and other allies attack during the conference, and by the time Nanoha, Fate and Hayate receive their devices, they're too late to make much of a difference.
    • Lately, some fans began suspecting that Signum suffering grievous injuries and a Near-Death Experience in the beginning of Force had a very simple and unsavoury Doylist explanation: in the past two seasons (and especially in the supplementary manga), she has been effectively established as equal in power and fighting capacity to the eponymous heroine. So, to avoid the Ensemble Darkhorse from stealing the spotlight, the writer had no choice but to put her out of commission before she received a So Last Season upgrade that would have allowed her to actually fight new villains on equal ground.
  • Fox Spirit Chizuru is Brought Down to Normal prior to a major battle in Kanokon, giving Ordinary High School Student Kouta the chance to defeat The Dragon by himself. It's a bit of an unusual example, because normally they work together anyway to defeat their enemies, but Chizuru usually prompts their fusion and she's in control during it, and Kouta still needed her around so he could possess her (usually it's the other way around) during the fight, but he still does the work himself.
  • The author of Rurouni Kenshin specifically stated that Sejuro Hiko, Kenshin's master was so powerful that he was an unfair advantage for the heroes. His sidelining is mostly due to the character's own disinterest in the heroes' struggles, so he only comes in to help rarely, rather than being plot-deviced out. He's just not that heroic.
  • Miroku of Inuyasha has a powerful attack called the Wind Tunnel, which can suck anything into a void. This is anything, so in his debut appearance when he is opposing the eponymous character, he issues a warning to villagers to put some distance from him, leading to his Defeat Means Friendship. In addition, if he sucks in anything poisonous, he gets poisoned, and Naraku has plenty of poisonous wasps to give as support. Also, overuse and even having the ability at all for too long will eventually lead to his death.
    • You can almost sense that the author regrets giving Miroku such a powerful ability in the first place. After a certain point in the series, EVERY battle includes a token scene where Miroku tries to use Wind Tunnel only to have Naraku's poison bees show up out of nowhere, preventing him from using it. This has the ironic side-effect of making him the most powerful character on paper, but the most useless in practice.
  • In Muhyo and Roji, Page sets up Training From Hell for Roji and other magic law practitioners by locking them in a house and sending real haunts after them. Unfortunately, one particularly dangerous haunt, Bellocent of Mist Mountain, sneaks into the test and cuts the power, preventing Page and the other powerful magical law practitioners outside from opening the gates when they realize that the test has become far more dangerous than it should be, and they only get in after Roji has already won.
  • Rave Master's Elie could have easily used her magic to wipe Demon Card off the map, blow Lucia into the next century (maybe even literally given how she blew herself half a century forward) and cream Doryu and Ogre, which would have kept Hardner from ever attempting his fusion gambit. Naturally, she had to go and get amnesia so she wouldn't know how to do all this.
  • Makarov of Fairy Tail has his magic drained at the beginning of the Fairy Tail vs. Phantom conflict when distracted by hearing that they kidnapped Lucy, putting them at a severe disadvantage. Of course, once he gets back it he just takes down what's left of the enemy all at once.
    • Happens again when Luxus and his bodyguards try to take over the guild, and Makarov, Natsu, and Gajeel are prevented from doing anything because a a barrier is keeping them sealed in one area of the plaza.
    • This happens to Erza in both the Laxus story arc (turned into stone, until her magic eye makes the spell run out early) and the Oracion Seis arc (poisoned by Cobra and left disabled until the other members could rescue Wendy who could cure the poison).
    • This actually happens in nearly every major arc, with Erza being the primary target (which makes sense, because given Luxus' lazy/disinterested nature and Mistgun and Gildart's near constant absences she is essentially the strongest member of the guild who's available to help). Lets see here...
      • Phantom Lord Arc: Makarov as stated above, and Erza is KO'd after tanking a shot from the PL massive cannon so nobody else got hurt. Luxus refuses to help, And Gildarts is still off on his 100-year Mission while Mistgun is busy getting Makarov his magic back
      • Tower of Heaven Arc: Erza is stuck inside a card (meant to protect her, ironically) until the battle with the Big Bad's Dragon Swordmistress and the Big Bad himself.
      • Fighting Festival, see above. Plus, during the Final Battle, Mistgun leads off and appears to have the upper hand, but gets his mask blown away revealing his identity as the Edolas Gerard, which means their faces are identical and he leaves to avoid causing a rupture with Erza and Natsu, THEN Erza leaves the building to lead the counterattack against the Hall of Thunder before it wrecked the town, leaving Natsu and Gazille to handle the arc's Big Bad.
      • Oracion Seis Arc: See above. Also, A resurrected Gerard is taken out of the action early against Midnight and later can only support Natsu by giving him the Flame of Rebuke, as the Midnight fight left him too drained to fight.
      • Edolas Arc: Practically the entire set of heavy hitters in the Guild is taken out of the way by being frozen as a lacryma crystal. However, this is a noticeable aversion for the series, because Erza is NOT among them this time, although much of her time is spent locked in combat with her Edolas counterpart.
      • Grimoire Heart Arc: Makarov is taken out early by Hades, and Gildarts, Fried and Bickslow all left the island before the attack begins. They do return later, however.
  • Happens all the time in all the story arcs of Saint Seiya with Ikki. The Phoenix has the "Strength of an army" but is always elsewhere. Mildly applied to Shiryu as well, but...well, he's not as strong.
  • Happens in the second episode of Yu-Gi-Oh. It seems the author realized that having Yugi beat Kaiba at the end of the first card game arc (pilot episode in the anime) by using Exodia, the only invincible, instant win monster in the entire game, was a problem now that the entire series became about this card game. After all, every conflict would become a preordained conclusion; if Yugi's about to lose he will draw Exodia and get the instant win. So immediately after that (the second damn episode in the anime) they get thrown off a boat by a minor character and never brought up again.
    • They actually do in the alternate form of Exodia Necross and the Rare Hunter who builds an illegal deck around drawing Exodia, and said minor character (Insector Haga/Weevil) is Yugi's first duelist kindgom opponent.
  • In Heartcatch Pretty Cure, there's Yuri Tsukikage, alias Cure Moonlight, who's taken out in the very first episode and left powerless for 3/4ths of the series. Once she regains her powers, you can clearly see why she was taken out.

Comic Books

  • Partway through Watchmen, Ozymandias gives a bunch of people cancer and tricks nigh-omnipotent Dr. Manhattan into thinking he caused it, prompting him to take a vacation on Mars. Doc comes back for the finale, but doesn't arrive until after the villain's plan has been carried out.
  • In the 1960s, when Adventure Comics featured the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Legion had several one-off encounters with some guest character (often a stranger applying for Legion membership) who harbored a secret, and who often turned out to be (in disguise) someone whom the Legion already knew. In each of these stories, Saturn Girl was conveniently called away on some separate emergency and wasn't able to participate in the main adventure. Saturn Girl is a telepath: if she had been available to read the stranger's mind, the story would've ended on the first page.
  • This is practically the raison d'etre for Marvel Comics superhero The Sentry. He's a throwback to heroes (well, okay, mostly just Superman) from the Silver Age, with all that entails; he has "the power of a million exploding suns" and is recognized as pretty much hands-down the strongest super in the world. And he could handle pretty much any threat that emerged with one hand tied behind his back...if it weren't for the agoraphobia and super-evil split personality that incapacitates him whenever he'd be most useful.
  • During the early issues of The Defenders (Marvel Comics, we're going off the original series here), the writers had trouble coming up with halfway decent reasons why Doctor Strange couldn't just wave his hand and eliminate the problem in one page.
    • Strange also took himself out of the story for forty days during Civil War, claiming it wasn't a matter for the office of Sorcerer Supreme. He later regretted his inaction.
  • Amusingly, Civil War itself counts as this for virtually every Marvel superhero, when we learned that whilst the many heroes of Earth were bickering over legislation, the rest of the Galaxy was falling into an apocalyptic war. They're pretty annoyed the real reason their old allies couldn't come and help.
  • Just about all Transformers comic book universes have done this with Optimus Prime at least once. Often the autobots will splinter into groups without their leader. If Megatron is also missing because Prime preformed a Heroic Sacrifice and sent them both to another dimension, the Decepticons will be just as lost.
  • Professor Xavier also tends to suffer this fate as, at his full potential, he should be able to just sense and mindwipe any sentient problem that's heading the X-Men's way. Hence, most major threats in the X-Men comic books will begin with Xavier either disappearing, losing his powers, falling into a coma, turning evil, or otherwise being rendered useless for the rest of the story. In the movie trilogy, Xavier spends at least half of each film out of commission, so the other characters will have to fight the battle. You might as well call having this power the Charles Xavier Superpower.
    • In X-Men, the answer to The Sentry is one Nate Grey. The alternate version of Cable, without the techno-organic infection it takes the constant occupation of the bulk of Cable's powers to repel, is a very powerful telekinetic and telepath. He underwent Power Creep, Power Seep, and returned after an absence even stronger, so for a while was as strong as Jean in full Phoenix mode, all the time, without any of the drawbacks. Lately, he burned out his powers opening a dimensional portal, and is down to just telekinesis (how strong remains to be seen.)
    • Happened to the original Cable, too. He got rid of the technovirus, levitated an entire island while battling the Silver Surfer at once, burned himself out doing so, and was left with limited powers. Now the technovirus is Not Quite Dead and even those powers are reduced by the need to once again play Sealed Evil in a Duel.
  • Franklin Richards, the son of Reed and Sue. His powers make him one of the most powerful beings in existence... or would, if there wasn't always something holding him back. The various powersets he's had, and will have according to various future stories, are just what little of his omnipotence slips through the Power Limiters. Finally, they had him burn out his powers restoring Galactus (who actually keeps something at bay that's worse than him) and become a normal human. The various beyond-godhood cosmic figures who took no notice of Dark Phoenix or Scarlet Witch but are terrified of this ten-year-old can rest assured that an even higher power won't ever let him keep his full power longer than one storyline's climax per decade.
  • This is the reason why minor criminals in Silver Age Superman comics would often have Kryptonite.
  • In DC's Final Crisis, the Secret Society sends Clayface to blow up the Daily Planet, badly injuring Lois. This, and a Time Travel subplot to stop Superboy-Prime kept Superman from interfering with most of the crisis until it's too late to save Batman's life. The Anti-Life Equation keeps much of the other major heroes occupied (not to mention Brainwashed and Crazy) and leaves the saving of the world up to a few, mostly less-powerful heroes, including The Flash. Well, Flashes...
  • From DC Comics: So there were American superheroes in the 1940s, right? But having superheroes involved in World War II would be a Game Breaker that would disrupt the idea of the DC universe's similarity to the real world. So the Justice Society and their fellow patriotic heroes took a major Deus Exit Machina during World War II. The canon explanation is Hitler using the Spear of Destiny to mind-control any superhero who got too close to Europe, and Hideki Tojo using the Holy Grail to do the same thing with Japan; an Elseworlds tale instead had the heroes at the mercy of a Power Nullifier named Parsifal.
    • This wasn't canon at the time; the Spear of Destiny/Holy Grail was only brought up several decades later. At the time, they just had a lame explanation about Clark Kent failing the eye exam to join the army because he got excited and used his X-ray vision to read the eye chart in the next room. They just kinda hoped nobody would notice that Superman never took the time to head over to Germany, grab Hitler, and end the war in 1942. Another twist was that the Spear turns off any superpowers when they cross enemy lines.
    • There was a Superman story published during World War II in which Superman told thousands of cheering GIs: "You fellows don't need my help!" This was of course to explain why Superman didn't end the war in five seconds. And of course, during the Golden Age, Superman's powers were much weaker than they were later on: it's possible that he wasn't even able to fly across the Atlantic.
  • Yet another Superman example: There was a much-hyped JLA story arc by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Superman gets sidelined in the very first issue, and stays that way pretty much throughout the arc. Since it was Claremont, Superman was (of course) sidelined through Mind Control.
  • In Super Dinosaur Tricerachops is laid up and The Exile is preoccupied during Maximus' Project X.
  • In the Belgium comic book series Suske & Wiske (Spike & Suzy) , this frequently happens to Jerom because his superhuman strength would otherwise make the situations the characters encounter less of a challenge.
  • Done multiple times in Marvel Comics. The Fantastic Four are usually in space or another dimension while The Avengers are on a mission. They really should coordinate this. Spider-Man has noted that 99 times out of 100, when he goes to ask another hero for help, they will never be there. Doctor Strange's servant, Wong, replied that this was true, but so far, Spidey was good enough to not really need that help.
  • In the Johan and Peewit adventure "La Guerre des sept fontaines" the entire motivation of the heroes is to liberate a ghost who has been forced by his forefathers to haunt his old castle every single night until some specific requirements has been met. At one point, the characters actually needs his help, but it turns out that the forefathers has unfortunately decided to give him a few nights of respite from his haunting right then.


  • In The Matrix Reloaded, a backdoor traps Neo hundreds of miles away while Trinity and Morpheus fight the Nigh Invulnerable Twins, then Agents for the duration of the long highway scene. In Revolutions, Neo ends up trapped in a train station for most of the beginning.
  • In Dogma, God is unavailable, since he went golfing and was incapacitated while doing so. While this is going on, two angels banned from Heaven find a loophole that allows them to return to Heaven. Doing so would be against God's word and would destroy the universe. So, Deus Exit Machina (or Have You Seen My God?) drives the movie.
  • This happens several times in the second and third The Karate Kid movies. Mr. Miyagi is able to easily defeat any adversary, so of course for Daniel to have fights of his own, Mr. Miyagi must be away or kept out of the fight for some reason. Most notably is probably the final confrontation in the second movie when the main antagonist drops the bridge into the water, leaving him isolated with Daniel and Kumiko while Mr. Miyagi is only able to watch the Fight To The Death that ensues.
  • Luke Skywalker pulls this in The Empire Strikes Back while receiving a Training From Hell. He does it again, next movie, when he confronts Vader. He tends to continue this pattern throughout the Expanded Universe stories.
    • This also happens to R2-D2 before he can open the backdoor to the Death Star Bunker, leaving Han and Leia to deal with the problem.
  • In true Transformers spirit, Optimus Prime is killed in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Things look pretty grim for the autobots, until Prime is brought back to life.
    • In Dark of the Moon Prime is inexplicably elsewhere when all the other Autobots are trying to guard Sentinel from the Cons. So when Sentinel suddenly turns on them, nobody around is capable of stopping him as he rampages through the base. By the time Optimus finally gets there the base is destroyed and Sentinel is long gone taking his space bridge tech with him.
  • Done very nicely in Deliverance, where the macho outdoorsman Lewis suffers a gruesome leg fracture, forcing the more relatable character Ed into the hero role for the climax.
  • In all three X-Men films, Professor Xavier is conveniently done away with before he can just use his telepathy to shut down the mind of the Big Bad (which he is more willing to do, unlike his comic book counterpart). Each film tosses him out earlier than the previous one; the 3rd film kills him off outright until he gets better after the end credits and in X Men Origins Wolverine, he simply isn't present to have any impact on the man plot until the end when he guides the mutant escapees to safety with no explanation for why he's just showing up at that point. X Men First Class approaches it differently; Sebastian Shaw has a telepathy-blocking helmet that protects him from Xavier from the start; at the climax, Erik steals the helmet, Xavier freezes Shaw's mind, Erik kills Shaw and declares himself the Big Bad. With Charles helpless to stop him, the two part ways to kick start the X-Men film franchise.


  • In the Harry Potter novels, Albus Dumbledore almost always seems to have a pressing duty that makes him leave Hogwarts just when Harry is about to get stuck fighting some highly dangerous bad guy:
    • Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone: Dumbledore is off at the Ministry of Magic when Quirrell decides to steal the Stone. In this case, the summon he receives from the Ministry is fake, made so he'll be away when Quirrell carries out his plans.
      • However, it is implied at the end of that book and more or less stated in Deathly Hallows that Dumbledore knew what was going on, and let Harry fight.
    • Chamber of Secrets: By the time Harry and Ron discover the entrance to the Chamber, Dumbledore has been suspended by the school governors.
    • Prisoner of Azkaban: Played with, since it's Dumbledore himself who tells Harry and Hermione what to do, because they were the only ones who could.
    • Goblet of Fire: The bad guys pluck Harry off Hogwarts' grounds and deposit him miles away.
    • Order of the Phoenix: Dumbledore is replaced by Dolores Umbridge thanks to a Government Conspiracy. Averted in the end, though, since Dumbledore does show up, pwns the Death Eaters, and fights Voldemort one-on-one for the final battle.
    • Half-Blood Prince: Exception, Dumbledore takes part in the climax and is killed.
      • Which also works as this trope for the series as a whole, since it was Voldemort's plan to get rid of Dumbledore first, and then try and take over the world.
    • It is eventually explained in book seven that Harry needed to defeat Voldemort himself in the end, so Dumbledore had to let Harry build up enough skill over the years to do it. Unless he absolutely had to intervene, or if something happened he hadn't planned for, he let Harry do it, giving him just enough skills and information before hand to let him succeed.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf combines this with standard Deus Ex Machina heroics when he leaves Helm's Deep to fend for itself against the Uruk-Hai siege so he can gather troops for a Big Damn Heroes moment. Not really unexpected, given that he also left Thorin's party to check Dol Guldur in the middle of The Hobbit. Part of this is the implicit idea Gandalf is conflicted on how much to affect events, which would make him too much like Saruman.
    • This happened in the first book too, when a Balrog dragged him into a chasm in Moria.
    • On a larger scale, Higher Powers have forbidden him and the other wizards from engaging Sauron directly, out of the fear that doing so will destroy still more of the world.
    • In fact, even the powers the wizards could use are extremely limited due to their physical "human" forms. It's unlikely Gandalf could have turned the tide at Helm's Deep alone, making his flight to gather reinforcements critical.
    • Unfinished Talesof Numenor and Middleearth contains The Quest for Erebor, which is essentially Gandalf explaining all the things he was doing while he was absent for parts of The Hobbit, and how important they were.
  • The Call Of Cthulhu sees the briefly awakened eponymous Eldritch Abomination go back to "sleep" instead of destroying the world, in one of the rare villainous versions. There's a good reason for this, made clear in the story itself.
  • Conan of REH's Conan the Barbarian series has this happen to him in A Witch Shall Be Born. He gets captured by Salome's henchmen, and crucified outside the city gates; an Arabianesque fellow who happens to wander by takes Conan down. Conan joins his little bandit gang and spends a good deal of the story pillaging and doing things outside of the city-state of Khauran where most of the story transpires; leaving the young guard to be the hero of his own story.
    • Also in Beyond the Black River, where Conan heads off to make sure one group of civilians are safe, leaving Balthus to do the real heroism as he arranges for people to be evacuated and covers their escape {{with a Heroic Sacrifice}}, saving many.
  • In the 7th Haruhi Suzumiya novel, Mikuru gets kidnapped by some hostile organizations. What follows is a carchase with Mori and Arakawa from the organization. Of course, Kyon could have just called Yuki for help, since she's just about omnipotent. This is justified by a) there was not much time and Kyon was in serious panic and b) He doesn't like to rely on Yuki, because he already owes her enough. The best thing is when Kyon actually thinks what would have happened if Yuki was involved. To quote the man himself:

 "There's no way four mere kidnappers could beat the formidable Nagato, but I'd certainly look forward to such a scene."

  • Michael Carpenter in The Dresden Files gets this a lot. In every appearance he makes Michael gets sidelined for some reason or another. He gets his sword stolen by Harry's faerie godmother in his first appearance, gets arrested for several days in Missouri in his second, and gets stuck in Oregon in his third appearance. It doesn't help that the last two occurrences were off-screen. He did get some badass fight scenes in Death Masks and Small Favor to make up for it though. It is also strongly implied that Michael is dramatically more powerful when God himself is giving him the task he's setting his blade to, turning him from a fairly strong hero with a big sword to a righteous force of pure, evil-smiting destruction.
    • Displayed in Small Favor when he singlehandedly clears a train station of hundreds of Hob's. Only after Harry has cleared the myrk though, and Harry is also kind of occupied.
    • Happens to Harry when Mab takes his blasting rod and relevant memories and when he is dead.
  • In Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper, Ms. Palk tricks Merry to drive somewhere far away because Simon, Jane and Barney went there, while really the kids are being chased by Hastings and his goons.
  • Aslan in Prince Caspian, who is prevented from stopping the Telmarines from almost wiping out the Narnians, and thousands of years later, doesn't arrive to save them until the last minute, because of...some reason.
  • Luke does this in The Black Fleet Crisis, first going off to try the life of a hermit, then going with a woman who claims to know his mother on a long and ultimately completely pointless journey, while his friends struggle with a serious war against genocidal opponents. The author took pains to really escalate Luke's abilities in this trilogy, too.
  • In the Honor Harrington novel Crown of Slaves Anton Zilwicki takes a mission that puts him out-system for most of the book.

Live Action TV

  • The Asgard, Tollans and Tok'ra in Stargate SG-1 could never be contacted in time when their advanced technology could solve the problem of the week in all of two minutes. Even when they could, they would usually hide behind their Alien Non-Interference Clause policies.
    • Funny that the phone is always working when they want help....jerks. And the Tok'ra have the gall to call the Tau'ri for acting without their direction or criticize what they did do. Where the hell were you then?
      • O'Neill often lampshades this, and resents the Tok'ra for never being there when they need help, but repeatedly getting SG-1 to go on stupendously dangerous missions for them.
    • The Asgard are a particularly jarring example of this. By the end of Season 10 they had upgraded our F-304s enough to pwn Ori Vessels. A full Asgard fleet should easily have walked all over the Ori, unfortunately...
    • The Asgard are actually really reliable, it's the Tok'ra, Tollans, and Nox who really piss me off. The Tok'ra are snobbish. The Tollans are prideful. The Nox think that everybody who doesn't think the way they do, and live behind a cloaking shield are "Young". Seriously!
  • Used as a plot device on Buffy the Vampire Slayer; whenever Giles could easily defeat a lesser big bad, he was promptly knocked unconscious to give Buffy a chance to save the day. This was lampshaded repeatedly, and Giles often refers to his "tendency to get knocked on the head". Anthony Stewart Head's fan club actually sent him a number of helmets to commemorate the Tap on the Head Giles perpetually received; he reportedly used one as a lampshade in his trailer.
    • Which, arguably, should be considered the ultimate form of Lampshade Hanging.
    • Giles does get to off Ben/Glory, though.
    • Willow, post magical power-up, was also removed this way at least once. Anya points this out at one point, noting that the "trap everyone in the house" spell they're under should be no big deal for a witch of Willow's power, but she's still going cold turkey.
    • In one episode, Xander is forced to stop a group of zombies from blowing up the school, something that would be a minor annoyance to the more powerful characters—but they are kept busy dealing with the much greater threat of the Hellmouth opening.
    • Buffy runs away from her friends and mother after having to kill her lover. They manage to hold down the fort, though not nearly as well without Buffy. Some spend an entire summer wishing she was back or actively trying to find her.
    • In Season Eight, during the first arc, evil witch Amy traps Buffy in a nightmare while she attacks the Scooby Gang's new castle HQ with an army of zombies. They are saved by Willow. However, this was Amy's plan; she is able to capture Willow for her boyfriend, who wanted revenge on Dark Willow almost killing him, and also to lure Buffy into the grasp of the General Ripper hunting her. However, Amy's plan backfires when Buffy is able to use what in the dream Amy trapped her in to defeat Amy.
    • Several times in season 3, Faith disappeared for an episode so that the presence of a second Slayer didn't make the Threat of the Week to easy to beat. Most notable is "Helpless", where Buffy is robbed of her powers by the Council; there's a brief line at the start saying that Faith is "on one of her unannounced walkabouts", and no more mention is made of her.
      • That one may have an in-universe explanation; Giles was the one giving Buffy the stuff that took her powers away, and for the Cruciamentum to work, Buffy had to do it alone without another slayer to help her. Fridge Logic would suggest that it was him who sent Faith away in the first place, probably on a wild-goose chase, and just didn't tell Buffy. It still counts as this trope, but the Council needed Faith out of the way just as much as the writers did.
  • Rare Sixth Rangers in Power Rangers who don't suffer depowering courtesy of Good Is Dumb get saddled with this instead, with the exception of the even-rarer Ineffectual Loner Ranger. This is usually the case with team additions who start out evil; once they turn good, excuses are made for them not to be on the field of battle rather than run the risk of suffering Badass Decay. These excuses can go as far as half-season absences while they're off researching enemy motives, to as little as being so constantly late they couldn't hold a proper job if they ever tried to get one.
    • Udonna from Power Rangers Mystic Force: whenever the rangers have a problem that she should be able to solve in a matter of seconds, she is nowhere to be seen, let alone mentioned.
      • And of course, the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers had Tommy and his "swiss cheese brain" that would cause him to forget important things (like his morpher on at least one occasion) and be unavailable to fight the Monster of the Week. This had a Real Life explanation as well, since Tommy's Japanese counterpart pulled a Heroic Sacrifice and wasn't around nearly as much, a problem rectified by Toei producing brand-new suit footage for the second season.
    • This is usually carried over from Super Sentai, whose fans refer to the trope as "Sixth Ranger Syndrome." Prominent examples are Genta/ShinkenGold in Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, who would either be running his sushi stand during important battles or sent off on completely separate missions from the rest of the team; and Yuusaku/MegaSilver in Denji Sentai Megaranger, deliberately written so that at the start of the show the character could not transform for more than a few minutes at a time.
    • An inversion of this occurs in Mahou Sentai Magiranger, where MagiShine sends the rest of the team off on a training exercise while he deals with the Monster of the Week by himself.
  • Here we go: Heroes...
    • The Haitian (whose power is to nullify everyone else's superpowers) is conveniently absent whenever things get really crazy. Heck, the first season finale could have been completely avoided if The Haitian had simply walked up to Sylar and shot him in the head (then again, that probably wouldn't have been according to The Plan).
      • He finally makes himself useful in the second-to-last episode of Season 3, where he's the key to defeating the Physical God Big Bad.
      • Volume 4 revolves around a secret government unit out to capture and imprison every last special. That's a job the Haitian could do overnight if their commander weren't so hell-bent on making it all about us vs. them and probably explains his complete absence during that entire arc.
    • Peter could be the most overpowered character on the show, but he's held in check by a fatal combination of Coconut Superpowers, Forgot About His Powers, this trope and his pet Idiot Ball.
    • Likewise Sylar on the villain side. He spent much of the first season locked up and/or catatonic and much of the second season suffering a bad case of being Brought Down to Normal.
    • The most Egregious of these was probably in the third volume when Hiro was given the mind of a 10 year old to prevent him interfering, before the volume's Big Bad completely stripped him of his power. Word of God says that they're trying to write out time-traveling powers from the storyline so they won't have to keep doing this to characters.
    • Matt Parkman is also a popular victim of this trope after his Psychic Powers start expanding in Volume Three. In fact, in each Grand Finale from Volume Three on, the writers made sure that Parkman was either on the complete other side of the country from the Battle Royale or en route and only arriving shortly after the dust had started to settle.
  • This trope was one of the reasons that the new series of Doctor Who rendered the Doctor the Last of His Kind, so that when things really hit the fan no-one would wonder why the Time Lords didn't decide to use their great smiting powers as they had done on a few occasions in the original series.
    • The Doctor spent the majority of the new series's first Christmas special in a post-regenerative coma, unable to help his friends and the entire mankind as the world faced a sudden alien invasion. He snapped out of it eventually, of course, and promptly handed the aliens' asses to them.
    • Additionally in the episode "Blink", he is trapped in the past and only has brief appearances.
    • And in the two part "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood", he spends all of the first episode and nearly all of the second as a powerless human, without even memories of his days as a Time Lord (sorta). It is later revealed that he did this on purpose, to give the family of aliens chasing him an opportunity to simply walk away safely. When he is forced to turn Time Lord again, he easily dishes out horrible punishments to all of the family.
      • So easily, in fact, that it happens off-screen. After he is restored and effortlessly blows up their spaceship, the epilogue is narrated by the bad guy, explaining the horrible fates visited upon his family.
    • And in "Turn Left", he's not around on account of being dead, because it takes place in an alternate Crapsack World where, because Donna never met him, he died during his What the Hell, Hero? moment with the Racnoss.
    • Inverted in "Midnight". The sidekick is removed from the picture, and as a result the Doctor fails to save the day.
    • Occasionally happened in the original series when an actor went on vacation.
    • Let's not forget all the times K-9 was temporarily out of commission during the Tom Baker years.
  • Sort of done in Knight Rider in various ways. When you have a nearly-indestructible sentient supercar, sometimes you have to come up with ways of incapacitating it in order to allow for some drama. This usually involved Michael getting himself somewhere KITT couldn't make it (not that that didn't stop him from turbo boosting into a high-story apartment once...), KITT being incapacitated or stolen/hacked by some kind of Applied Phlebotinum, or outright damaged/destroyed by something. This was never permanent, despite the anxiety it caused, and the Big Bads usually seemed to give them plenty of time to repair/recapture KITT unhindered.
    • The reverse was done a time or two as well, with Michael being unavailable. This was mostly played for laughs by showing KITT trying to cope with a new driver and failing.
  • There is at least one episode of Xena: Warrior Princess in which this happens: Gabrielle gets a scroll which causes anything written upon it to come true, what do you think the first thing written upon it is? "Xena had gone fishing". Hilarity Ensues, including the depowering of two Olympian gods (Ares and Aphrodite). When the characters realise that they need Xena later, and wrote that she had returned, she does so pulling a giant cartload piled high with fish, after spending several days fishing with no idea why.
  • Scott Sherwood is missing from the Halloween episode of Remember WENN with no explanation. One fansite speculated that it was because a character as sneaky as him would have seen through the central deception immediately.
  • A couple times in Supernatural, Castiel is written out whenever he could make the plot too easy.
    • The first time, he time travels back to when their parents were still alive, and the effort alone nearly kills him.
    • The second time, he branded an anti-angel sigil on his chest to send a bunch of angelic Mooks to God-knows-where. This had the nasty side effect of sending him to God-knows-where, as well as stripping him of his remaining powers.


  • Older Than Feudalism: Done in the Argonautica by Apollonius of Rhodes (3rd century BCE), when the Argonauts accidentally leave Heracles behind in the land of Kios, while he looks for his lost ward/lover, Hylas. Lampshaded in that same work, when Apollonius mentions that had Heracles stayed with the group, all of their challenges would have become trivial.

Video Games

  • Age of Mythology does this during the expansion. The first game's campaign ends with Arkantos being granted the powers of Zeus in order to beat up an avatar of his brother Poseidon. The ending also implies that Arkantos ascended to godhood. In the expansion, Kronos breaks free despite the event of the first game, when the entrances to Tartarus were either sealed (Ioklos, Atlantis) or in the hands of the good guys. The reason why Arkantos, evidently capable of beating up a renegade god all on his own doesn't whup his ass? Athena promoted him to the god of Titan Slaying and the gods aren't allowed to interfere directly with mortal affairs.
    • Read that again. Arkantos is the god of Titan Slaying, and he isn't allowed to do his job. Face, meet palm.
    • He doesn't even slay a Titan. He slays a statue.
  • Psychonauts has the world-famous psionic superspies Sasha and Milla, who get sent away on "official Psychonauts business" just as things start getting really bad at Camp Whispering Rock. It's later revealed that they were lured to a trap by the Big Bad and had their brains removed. Don't worry, they got better.
  • Zero for the most parts of Mega Man X. Becomes less and less the case as the series goes on, until full playable status in the fourth game.
    • Especially noticeable in Mega Man X Command Mission, where you literally lose him for nearly 1/3 of the game right after the very beginning, considering he's easily the most overpowered character in your party at that point in the game.
    • Ditto X in Mega Man Zero, and of course his absence has allowed all hell to break loose. It makes sense that his body isn't up trying to blow away enemies; what goes unexplained is why in the hell he never talks sense into the Guardians. And in the Drama Tracks, he even does this - but not until the third game is well underway. Much trouble could have been avoided. Thanks for nothing!
  • In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, there is a major war between the Laguz alliance (several countries populated by people who have animal forms) and Begnion (the most powerful empire on the game), embroiling most of the continent and exposing the Laguz to great risk, yet both the king of beasts and his second-in-line are not there. The army is going to be marching through a lot of rough terrain and they simply can't afford to have their king that far away from his country. If what happened in the Hawk Nation had happened in the Beast Nation, there's no way he could have gotten back there in time.
  • In Jedi Outcast, Luke Skywalker fights the Big Bad to a draw, then is trapped after taking a sucker punch, delaying his procession to the final battleground for the Climactic Battle Resurrection, leaving it up to hero Kyle Katarn to fight the bad guy one-on-one.
    • Likewise, in Jedi Academy, Kyle Katarn misses out on the final battle because he has to stay behind and save More Than Mind Control victim Rosh, leaving it up to newbie hero Jaden Korr to face Tavion/Marka Ragnos.
  • In the Baldurs Gate series, the main character will sooner or later run into both Drizzt and Elminster, who will, for some reason or other, never be around to stop the villain's latest scheme (Elminster tending to have more globe-shattering better things to do and Drizzt doesn't think of himself as the type to intervene in every single frickin' crisis). You can in fact get Drizzt and his allies to help you in Shadows of Amn in Storming the Castle of Bodhi's guild, and in Throne of Bhaal it's justified with multiple reasons. First, only Bhaalspawn can open the way to the Throne of Bhaal, and since the gods are forbidden from directly intervening in the Bhaalspawn conflict by Ao Himself, Elminster as a 'Chosen of Mystra' would likely be barred from participating. The one time you do encounter Elminster face-to-face, he muses you and your party are probably powerful enough to battle him to a draw at the least, and might even be dangerous enough to kill him. And Drizzt is about on the level of your average cannon-fodder by that point.
  • In the Touhou series, Reality Warper Yukari Yakumo is just plain lazy. On the few occasions in which she has actually woken up, she hasn't shown anything close to the power she showed as a Bonus Boss. In Imperishable Night and in the fighting games, she's just an ordinary playable character; in Subterranean Animism, she stays home and lets Reimu do all the actual work (because surface youkai aren't allowed underground).
    • The main thing here is that dealing with incidents is the humans' job (especially Reimu's). That said, she does beat the hell out of Tenshi and stop her plans more or less single-handedly. And of the few really dangerous incidents the only one she didn't help resolve is the one she caused.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 killed off its eponymous character at the end so that his friends could collect the Chaos Emeralds to wish him back to life.
  • In Chrono Trigger, the lead character is blasted into ash by Lavos in the confrontation at the Ocean Palace, very effectively knocking him out of commission. The rest of the party can then undertake a lengthy sidequest to get him back, but it's not mandatory.
  • Mass Effect 2 has Joker's mini-mission The Normandy is out of commission for a few hours, and all of its systems are offline, including the huge cannons Shepard just installed and the FTL systems. In short, the Normandy is absolutely helpless. So what does Shepard do? Leave the Normandy for his next mission. And take the entire squad with them, leaving the crew to fight for themselves for a while. Well, the commander and every one of the best combatants in the galaxy that could quell a boarding action is gone. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

 EDI: "I have detected a signal embedded in the static. We are transmitting the Normandy's location."

Joker: "Transmitting? To who?"

(The Collectors drop out of FTL directly above the Normandy. The Collectors board and begin to capture or kill the Normandy's crew.)

Joker: Oh shit.

    • It falls to Joker, the least able-bodied person on the Normandy, to reactivate the systems and unshackle EDI.
  • Saber in Fate Stay Night is essentially immune to all magic. The plot of most of the second route, UBW, is about dealing with Caster. Well, we can't have our main fight be completely immune to the bad guy's power, can we? So the contract between Shirou and Saber is cut, Caster captures her and tries to make her kill Shirou. However, she conveniently resists long enough for Caster to die to someone else entirely and then suddenly a new contract is made with Tohsaka!
  • Raiden, dear lord, in Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots. You see, By that point, Raiden has gone from complete wimp to even stronger than the legendary Gray Fox...and he spends most of the game disabled. It begins with his first fight against Vamp, making him absent for one quarter of the game. Then, he's back... in time to make logic defying decisions that will leave him even more crippled (Raiden: "I'll cover your back" ...WHAT? I'm riding the ultimate machine of destruction. If anything, you need me to cover your back...) and slightly more ridiculous (Don't worry Snake, I'll save you from this giant submarine by making the reversal of what any sane man would do! I will hold back the giant thingie! GO ME!). As a result, Raiden is, by the climax, little more than a tragic version of Monty Python's Black Knight.
  • Conversely, this is done to a point in Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty. Solid Snake, still in his prime, is "killed" when the tanker is ripped apart by Revolver Ocelot. This accident is considered an environmental disaster and Snake is vilified. This is the whole reason for the introduction of Raiden in the first place.
  • Probably the most annoying quest (out of many) in Star Control 3 involves saving the Chmrr after the Daktaklakpak successfully commit genocide against them. The probable reason for including it? To sideline the Chmrr's super-powerful fleet until the war is pretty much already over.
  • In Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic I and II, there are several instances where the player loses the use of a strong party member or has to play as someone other than the player character.
  • Half-Life 2 and its subsequent Episodes has Dog. During his brief periods of time with Gordon, Dog has crushed squads of Combine soldiers, fought a Strider (barehanded and solo) and won, and even manages to severely injure one of the horrifically powerful Combine Advisors. Naturally, events repeatedly conspire to prevent Dog from being with Gordon to prevent this unstoppable engine of destruction from obliterating anything and everything in the player's path.
  • X-Men Next Dimension: The Juggernaut lunges at Bastion, who responds by simply using a power ray to teleport him offscreen; in one ending, we see that he was sent to Mars, where his power basically keeps him alive without needing food, water or breathable air, so he could potentially stay there forever, alone.
  • The post game, Broken Steel Add On for Fallout 3 should be a cakewalk. After all you've got Liberty Prime, the giant robot the Brotherhood spent the entire main game trying to salvage, that turned the tide in the final battle of the main game, on your side. Then he gets crippled by an airstrike in the very first quest and will take YEARS to repair. So yeah, don't count on him for the rest of the add on.

Web Comics

  • DM of the Rings brilliantly parodies Gandalf's tendency to do this in The Lord of the Rings (see Literature). After the entire night of fighting at Helm's Deep Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are all talking about how they will now finally get some respect from these people. Three guesses who suddenly shows up at the last minute after all the hardest work is over, and is being praised by everybody else.

 Gimli: It was a lot of work, and I'm sure we'll get jack squat for the reward, but at least we'll finally get some respect from these people. All we have to do is finish off the rest of these orcs.

(Gandalf shows up suddenly)

Everybody: Gandalf has come to deliver us! He's saved us! HAIL GANDALF!!!

Aragorn: That guy is really starting to get on my nerves.

  • Howard Taylor of Schlock Mercenary has mentioned this as a problem for writing when Petey has ascended to a higher state of being but stuck around with virtually omnipotent powers. However, he's introduced a horrifying limitation that cripples Petey: while he could instantly teraport anything or anyone in the galaxy anywhere he wants at will, he needs every watt of energy to save trillions of sentient life-forms in the Andromeda galaxy, and each time he meddles with the main characters represents a sacrifice of lives he could have saved.
    • Lampshaded in the arc that introduced the limitation:

   Petey: "Insufficient resources"? What happened to God Mode?

  • Andy Weir, writer of Casey and Andy, has referred to the same problem; since Satan is a regular member of the cast, and on the nominally good side, he needs the find some way to indispose her before any arcs can progress.

Web Original

  • The Whateley Universe has this problem with some of its more powerful protagonists. Some stories have had to find 'reasons' why Tennyo (or the headmistress) couldn't step in. In "Boston Brawl II" they solved the problem by having Tennyo go after the one supervillain she couldn't beat.
    • Even better, in "Ayla and the Great Shoulder Angel Conspiracy", the authors came up with a way of stopping Tennyo, maybe for good, by confronting her with the past of her alien part and giving her a Heroic BSOD.

Western Animation

  • Justice League and Justice League Unlimited loved this trope so they could focus on specific characters. Fights would have been boring with the Martian Manhunter (the King of Combo-Platter Powers) and Superman kicking the ass of everything that came to Earth, not that they didn't get their share.
    • On one of the few (only?) times Amazo, who was strong enough to be considered a god, tried to save the Earth after he joined the team, it turns out that the Chaos-Magic-fueled Solomon Grundy could feed off Amazo's power, so his very presence is threatening to damage the fabric of the plot universe.
    • And, of course, there was "The Greatest Story Never Told", an episode focusing on perpetual Butt Monkey Booster Gold, who had to deal with an alternative power source gone berzerk while the entire rest of the League battled a godlike foe. Naturally, none of them believed it had ever happened. Of course, he did get a hot scientist chick to compensate and didn't have to help clean up either his mess or the mess the League caused, so it worked out pretty well.
    • Subverted in "In Darkest Night, Part I", which very conspicuously pointed out that Supes was busy with an earthquake in India...only to have him show up halfway through the episode anyway. He mentions that he finished early because the earthquake was "only" a 4 on the Richter Scale.
      • It should be noted that a 4 is at the point when you can hear the China rattling in the cabinets, but there's very rarely any serious damage. Not something that requires Superman, seeing as over a dozen earthquakes around that magnitude happen a day.
    • And in the episode "Patriot Act," the entire rest of the League is busy, so the five non-powered heroes who were available are sent to walk in a parade in Metropolis, later to be joined by two (also non-powered) reservists to deal with the newly superhuman General Eiling. They get absolutely thrashed, but did it in a pretty awesome way, especially with Shining Knight's Shut UP, Hannibal Crowning Moment of Awesome in which he talks down the overly patriotic Eiling with his own American ideals—despite the fact that SK himself is a medieval European.
    • In the episode "Chaos at the Earth's Core", the miniature red sun of Skartaris weakens Supergirl's powers almost to nothing.
  • In the film Justice League: The New Frontier, Superman is struck down by the big alien monster and everyone thinks he's dead—so that the rest of the Justice Leaguers and the U.S. government have to put aside their differences to beat the thing without him. Aquaman shows up to bring Big Blue back home once the threat is gone.
  • In the series finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Obi Wan Iroh refuses to fight Fire Lord Ozai because—even assuming he won—it would not bring true peace, being ultimately nothing more than "a brother killing a brother for power." This leaves it up to our plucky hero Aang to face the Fire Lord himself.
    • In "The Desert" episode, Katara has to lead the group because Aang's too upset over Appa, Sokka is high, and Toph can't see (she's blind and senses vibrations) because of the loose sand they're walking on.
    • Appa himself: he lives and breaths this trope for the entire series. For the record, Appa is a ten-ton (that's twenty thousand-pound) flying creature with horns. Yet he's only in three battles throughout the whole series and only attacks people in one of them. Case and point: in "Jet" he is literally five yards behind the group as they're walking through a forest, but as soon as they stumble into a Fire Nation camp and get attacked, he's no where to be seen. The writers don't even give him an excuse, he's just gone.
  • In Aladdin: the Series, Genie is kept from resolving the plot of every episode in two minutes through a combination of this trope, the rules of his Weird Trade Union, and Forgot About His Powers. In maybe one episode, they actually meet a rare villain that is more powerful than him; he specifically notes that the creature is about as powerful as a palace full of genies.
  • In the Season 3 finale of ReBoot, the home world of the main characters is being destroyed by Megabyte, who is attempting to escape the dying system. In an effort to save his friends and family, as well as countless others, Enzo squares off against Megabyte with nothing but his girlfriend's trident (he threw aside his gun). Sounds great and suspenseful...until you realize that Bob, the Guardian-Keytool Combo Hero is chilling with Hexadecimal in her lair (okay, not so much chilling, as her prisoner). He manages to get back just in time to miss Megabyte's defeat. It's even punctuated by the standard "What'd I miss?"
  • In WITCH, once Queen Elyon realizes her true powers and comes to the side of good, she should be able to make fights a lot easier, right? After all, she can warp reality and is probably more powerful than the five Guardians put together. However, during the first part of the second season, she's stuck taking care of the daily affairs of Meridian, and during the second half of the season, she's stuck inside the Seal of Nerissa.
  • The Penguins of Madagascar had Skipper Eaten By A Snakehead once to shift focus onto the rest of the Badass Crew dealing with his absence.
  • When the 90's X-Men cartoon adapted The Phoenix Saga, the writers had to get rid of Rogue for the first episode (Xavier mentioned that she was away on a mission), since her Power Copying and Flying Brick powers would have solved the atmospheric-reentry problem far too easily. This is lampshaded when she returns, where the first thing she says is that she should have been there since she could have handled it. In the comics, she didn't exist as a character yet, and so she wasn't around to absorb the rescued astronaut's piloting skills and calmly bring down the shuttle as the solar radiation harmlessly bounced off her invulnerable body, with the astronauts and other X-Men safely in the shielded area. No fuss, no muss, no unstable cosmic entity.
    • Wolverine was subject to this in two occasions in the series ("Reunion (Part 2)", and "The Dark Phoenix Saga (Part 1): Dazzled"). In both cases, the X-Men were defeated in battle and imprisoned and had their powers nullified in some way (the nature of the savage lands in the former and through special handcuffs in the latter). For Wolverine, this would make the inevitable breakout easy due to his adamantium claws since even in todays comics his claws are unaffected by power nullifiers and could cut through anything including the prison bars for the former and the handcuffs in the latter. Hence why at the beginning of each fight Wolverine would be taken out quite early (thrown off a waterfall in "Reunion (Part 2)" and smashed 5 floors into a sewer by Harry Leland in "The Dark Phoenix Saga (Part 1): Dazzled".) Arguably, this helped his character as it gave him a Big Damn Heroes moment.
  • In the Adventure Time episode "It Came From the Nightosphere," Jake is entirely absent. That is, until the end, when it is revealed that he was shrunken down and residing inside a pocket of Finn's shirt the whole time for some reason.
  • In Ben 10 Alien Force Alien X is basically god. They write him out by making him unable to use his powers without a quorum from Ben and two very opposed personalities.
  • On Beast Wars, Optimus Prime's transformation into Optimal Optimus made him larger and more powerful but for the most part, it just made him a bigger target for any Predacon knockout dart that would take him out before he could curb-stomp the Predacons. Rarely did he make an appearance after his initial debut that didn't have him getting blasted or brainwashed, forcing the Maximals to deal with the threat on their own.
    • Tigerhawk, who is introduced with Earth-shattering (literally) power in the 3rd season, then a few episodes later, Megatron, in control of the Nemesis ship, promptly annihilates him before the series finale.