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Intrinsic Vow
Harry's hand halted.
He had a distant sense he was behaving uncharacteristically of himself, somehow. Like there was something he'd forgotten, something important, but he was having trouble remembering what it was, exactly.

A character has something he believes in more than anything. A person he has sworn to protect, an ideal he's sworn to uphold. He might have spoken that vow in a sacred ceremony, or simply made a decision in the silence of his heart, it doesn't matter. What matters it that no matter what, he will not break it.

If he's under More Than Mind Control, attempting to make him break it will cause him to break free of the control instead. If he's got Laser Guided or Easy Amnesia, he'll stop in his tracks without knowing why - or possibly even remember everything. If he's in there somewhere, this will enable him to fight.

Compelling Voice, Charm Person, Grand Theft Me, Brainwashed and Crazy, it doesn't matter - that one unbreakable vow will tear through anything. If the control exerted on him is particularly strong (or the show particularly cynical), he will only manage to retain enough control to commit suicide rather than break his vow - or his body might simply resist to the point where his mind or heart breaks from the stress.

And that, essentially, is the core of this trope - a character-trait so important to the character that he will break free of outside control or amnesia to keep it. Simply having a vow will not suffice, if it has not been 'tested' in this manner.

Unnervingly, the one way to get a character to break such a vow is to force them to choose between the lesser of two evils, with the greater being keeping the vow, making it a Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow. Subtrope to Heroic Willpower. See also Heroic Vow.

Examples

Anime & Manga
  • In Pandora Hearts, one episode sees Gil entrapped by a monster capable of controlling people with strings (like puppets, y'know). While it initially manages to make him smack around Oz, his best friend/master whom he's sworn to protect, Oz correctly reasons that Gil would never be able to kill him, and literally forces Gil's hand - which causes Gil to break free of the strings long enough to gun down the controller.
    • Gilbert's devotion to his master Oz is so great that other characters twist it to their advantage.
    • This gets subverted when Gilbert involuntarily shoots Oz immediately after a Glen-possessed Leo commands him to shoot.
  • Subverted in Code Geass - Euphemia hesitates and resists heroically when given the order to kill the Japanese, but the geass is too powerful for her willpower to break through it.
    • The same happens with Nunnally in Code Geass R2, when Lelouch geass her into giving her the control to launch a bunch of Freiya bombs. She resist at first, but ultimately succumbs to the geass.

Comic Books
  • Not so much a "vow", but Wolverine was once snapped out of believing he was timid young James Howlett when a can of beer fell on his head. One could almost hear the "Popeye" power-up theme tune as he stares at the can and his features harden.
  • Superman was once hypnotized by Poison Ivy. Batman's only advantage was that Superman will NOT take a life... and that he will drop EVERYTHING to save Lois Lane, who Batman had Catwoman throw off a nearby roof.
  • In Exiles, Mimic's body has been snatched by Proteus. He finds himself unable to kill Blink because of Mimic's love for her. Even after leaving Mimic's body, he suffered of the feedback of his feelings and tried several times to get close with her.

Fan Fiction
  • Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: Harry is completely under the Dementors' thrall, and not himself. He moves to kill some people, and then...
    He had a distant sense he was behaving uncharacteristically of himself, somehow. Like there was something he'd forgotten, something important, but he was having trouble remembering what it was, exactly.
  • In Winter War the Hollowfied shinigami show signs of this. Despite most of them being broken into Tortured Monsters, their instincts are still there. Examples include Kira refusing to hurt Hinamori, Hitsugaya turning against Ichimaru's control when he sees Hinamori's bleeding hand, and Renji calling off his attack when his Captain Byakuya orders him to stop.

Film
  • In TRON: Legacy, Rinzler stops attacking Sam as soon as he draws blood, because only users have blood, and because Rinzler is a reformatted Tron, he was originally programmed to defend them.
  • In Ĉon Flux, random passersby sometimes completely lose their composure and break down in tears. It's the Power of Love overriding several hundred years of cloning.
  • In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, this exchange takes place when, under the influence of the T-X's reprogramming, the T-800 is holding John Connor down, ready to kill him.
    John: What is your mission?
    T-800: To ensure the survival of John Connor and Katherine Brewster.
    John: You... are about to fail that mission.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Khan implants alien creatures in Chekhov and Captain Terrell's brains that allow him to Mind Control them. When Khan orders Captain Terrell to kill Captain Kirk with a phaser, Terrell manages to overcome the Mind Control and performs a Heroic Sacrifice, killing himself with the phaser to save Kirk's life.

Live-Action TV
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Closing Time," The sound of his baby crying is the only thing that breaks Craig free from Cyberman mind control. In fact, the feedback is powerful enough to destroy the ship.
    Craig: I blew them up! I blew them up with love!
    The Doctor: Well, actually, the instinctive mammalian drive to protect your offspring created a feedback effect so powerful that... all right, yes, you blew them up with love.

Literature
  • In one of the later Artemis Fowl books, Butler is put under the Mesmer by an enemy. When she orders him to kill his friend/comrade-in-arms Holly Short, he resists enormously, and she eventually settles for having him render her helpless, rather than risk this. Later, she orders him to kill Artemis, whom he has protected with his life literally since birth. Butler promptly goes into cardiac arrest rather than obey. (Fortunately, Artemis is, like, RIGHT THERE, and of course he's got a plan.)
  • In the later Dune books, it's revealed that Gholas - who are basically resurrected corpses who possess the skills, but not memories, of their original life - can regain their memories if put in a situation like this. The original case involved Duncan Idaho, an extremely loyal follower of the Atreides, being ordered to assassinate Paul, the then-head of the House Atraides.
    • Later, with more advanced technology, it becomes possible to clone Gholas from tissue-samples. Same rules apply, and it eventually becomes standard procedure to put the Gholas through simulated 'no-way' scenarios in order to force their latent memories to the surface.
  • The Dark Elf Trilogy reveals that Drizzt Do'Urden's father was, like himself, a rare 'Good' Drow Elf. After Drizzt turns his back on his people and escapes from Menzoberranzon, vengeful High Priestesses of Lolth brings his father back from the dead as a sort of semi-zombie - undead, but still possessing the skills of his former life. The reason being, of course, that Drizzt has proven too fearsome a fighter for all their assassins so far, so they figure that bringing back the man who taught him to fight might be their only shot. During the final confrontation between Drizzt and his zombified dad, pops managed to break free of the priestesses' control for just long enough to give a final farewell to his son, and then jump into a pool of acid so he wouldn't be able to hurt him.
  • Subverted in High Deryni, when Wencit of Torenth has physically and mentally tortured Derry, he tells Derry that he'll make him do anything he wants, then proceeds to demonstrate this by making Derry stab himself nearly to death. Wencit also assures Derry that he can make him betray his liege lord and friend Alaric Morgan. Wencit even leaves the dagger with Derry, asserting that his control is so complete he cannot kill himself unless he Wencit wills it. After Wencit leaves his cell Derry does try to kill himself to avoid betraying Morgan, but finds he cannot do so and weeps in despair.
  • Hollow Kingdom Trilogy: Kate tells her enchanted husband that she is pregnant, thereby stopping him from killing her, since the Heir is the most important thing to the Kingdom. Also, all the other enchanted goblins can't kill Kate because no goblin could ever think of harming the King's Wife.
  • In Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy stories, anyone who becomes a King's Messenger takes a vow (and is given a mind-control treatment to back it up) so that they not only cannot reveal a message they have been given in their official capacity, they don't even know what it is. Trying to force a King's Messenger to reveal a message in any way (via magic, drugs, torture, whatever) results in his immediate death.
  • Katsa in Graceling has an awesome moment of this. When the villain is using his hypnotizing voice on her, she is completely falling for it... until he threatens to reveal Po's secret, at which point she throws a knife through his throat. Best part? She didn't even remember what the secret was, just that it was Po's and the surrounding people could NOT know about it.
  • In Animorphs Mr. and Mrs. Chapman willingly became Yeerk hosts on the condition that their daughter be spared. When the Yeerks mention planning to infest their daughter anyway, the Chapmans immediately start fighting back against their control with greater strength than any character had ever displayed in the series. This confuses and frightens the Yeerks so much that they leave the girl alone just so it won't happen again.
  • In His Majestys Dragon, in the eight book Laurence gets total amnesia of the last eight years. While this does reset a good portion of his character development until he gets his memory back, including the strength of his bond with Temeraire, he still knows, in his heart of hearts, that dragons aren't the mindless beasts he'd been taught to believe.

Tabletop Games
  • In Nobilis, having a Virtue is basically this; someone with the "Vegetarian" virtue can't be tricked into eating meat, someone with "Egocentric" can't forget who they are, etc.
    • In third edition, any belief you choose as an Affliction is this; it is an immutable rule of who you are.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • This is built into the Charm Person and Dominate Person spells.
    • 1st Edition psionic abilities
      • The Hypnosis ability allowed giving reasonable orders only. The victim couldn't be ordered to kill their friends or associates.
      • Creatures under the effect of the Mass Domination ability would not do anything which was obviously against their basic nature.
    • Magic items
      • Anyone affected by a Rod of Beguiling would not obey commands that would go against their nature or Character Alignment.
      • If a creature was under the effect of a Rod of Rulership, giving them an order that was absolutely contrary to their nature would void the magical control.
    • The Unseelie Nymph in the 2nd Edition supplement Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume 4. Its Charm effect causes other creatures to fall in love with it. They will do anything it asks except directly violate a basic tenet of their ethics.
    • Module UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave. All of the inhabitants of Porpherio's Garden are completely immune to any Mind Control effect that would cause them to betray Orlando or Juliana, because they believe them to be the reincarnated forms of their beloved Porpherio and Caerwynn.
  • There are many variations of Mind Control and one or two versions of Grand Theft Me in Deadlands. Under the classic rule set, virtually every one of them allowed a character a second chance to fight back if they are compelled to do something sufficiently "against their nature," which is left to the Marshal's judgement of the character. Effectively, the rules assume that almost everyone has one or two of these.
  • Call of Cthulhu. When the Dominate spell is used, orders given by the caster must not violate the basic nature of the target, such as killing a friend.
  • Chaosium's ElfQuest RPG. The magical power Hypnosis cannot make the target do anything obviously contrary to his deeply held convictions.
  • Rolemaster
    • Shadow World supplement Gethaena. The Ishrun spell Suggestion can't make the target do something completely alien to them, such as blinding their son.
    • Spacemaster Privateers campaign setting. The Telepathy Psychic skill had several powers with this restriction.
      • Behavioral Trigger: If the psychic tries to get the victim to do something that is totally out of character (such as betraying everything they care about) the Task Difficulty is Sheer Folly (-50% to chance of success).
      • Suggestion: If the suggested action is completely alien to the target's personality, they will not follow it.
    • If a Faerie uses Enchantment (or a Pixie uses Love Charm) and asks the victim to do something against their basic beliefs, the victim can resist the effect.
    • If the spells Mental Command or Dominate Will are used to make someone do something against their ideals or their fundamental nature, the victim has a chance to negate the spell's effect on them.
    • If the Implant Suggestions spell is used to implant an idea that the target would never normally consider, the target will ignore it.
  • Cubicle 7's Victoriana game, supplement Faces in the Smoke Volume 1 - The Secret Masters. The Mesmerism skill taught by the Domus Alucinae secret society allows the user to implant an order in the subject, to be carried out immediately or later. The subject will never carry out an order that's completely out of character for them, such as murder.
  • Continuum: Roleplaying in the Yet. A person under the effect of the Hypnosis skill will not do anything that is directly against their nature.
  • Encounter Critical. If a Psi Witch uses Crowd Manipulation, those affected can resist any command that goes against their strongly held taboos or reservations.
  • Unknown Armies supplement Statosphere. The Invisible Clergy cannot make a mortal (such as a human) to do something against their will or prevent them from doing something they really want to do.
  • Mythus (Dangerous Journeys) main rules
    • The Hypnosis skill allowed the user to give commands to the subject, but the subject would not obey commands completely contrary to their nature.
    • A character affected by the Spiritual Combat attack Subvert would act the reverse of their normal personality (e.g. Evil instead of Good and vice versa), but they could not be made to directly hurt their friends.
  • It Came from the Late, Late Show main rules. If a Monster has the Hypnotize special effect it can control the actions of Cast Member (PC) as long as the actions are not against the Cast Member's nature.
  • Tales of the Space Princess. One possible alien ability is to control the mind of another being. If the controlling alien gives the target an order contrary to their personal beliefs (such as betraying their cause or harming a loved one) the target gets a second chance to resist the control.
  • DC Heroes. The Hypnotism power allows the user to implant suggestions in the target's mind. A suggestion will not be carried out if it is something completely against the target's Motivation or belief. However, a clever hypnotist can get around this restriction by implanting suggestions that circumvent the target's beliefs. For example, if the hypnotist wants Superman to attack Jimmy Olsen he can first implant a suggestion that Jimmy is actually Darkseid. If this suggestion works, Superman will follow a subsequent suggestion to attack Jimmy because he will believe that Jimmy is Darkseid.

Video Games
  • Tsubaki Yayoi and Jin Kisaragi of BlazBlue both have vowed each other's hand in marriage to the other when they come of age. It falls under this trope as challenging it is the crux of Jin's plan to break the Mind Eater curse Tsubaki is under in Chronophntasma. With Makoto's strength, Noel's Eye and his power of order all working in succession, he succeeds and Tsubaki escapes the curse completely.

Web Comics
  • In The Order of the Stick, Haley breaks a paladin out of a Dominate Person spell by tricking him into thinking he had just attempted to kill the lord he had sworn to serve and protect.
    • Belkar, under a Charm Person spell, still refuses to hand over any magic items he picks up. Nale, who cast the spell, changes the wording to include Belkar keeping the items (and singing the complete score to Meet Me in St. Louis) so that the spell will work.
  • In Rusty and Co., Mimic deduces what Madeline's been told because she cannot work against her fundamental nature. While she's chasing him, he tries to guess what the vampire could possibly have said to make Madeline attack him, and then he figures it out — the vampire told her that Mimic was being attacked by bees. She was trying to swat them away. With her spear.
    Mimic: I am not being attacked by bees!

Western Animation


Ignorant of the CallHero TropesInvincible Incompetent
Intimidation DemonstrationCombat TropesInvoluntary Battle to the Death

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