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Simon Says Plot

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Villain forces the Hero to do their bidding because of some leverage they hold.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
KJMackley on Jun 1st 2011 at 2:54:29 PM
Last Edited By:
Arivne on Jul 7th 2018 at 5:04:20 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

The villain needs something done, but they just don't have the resources to accomplish it. But they know that the hero would likely have better luck, after all The Good Guys Always Win. So instead of foolishly wasting their own resources only to possibly fail, they either kidnap the heroes' wife or a Bus Full of Innocents and use that as coercion. This is inherently different from a mere kidnapping ploy or Bruce Wayne Held Hostage, as such things are meant to just lure the hero into a trap.

A similar variation is the villain just trying to test out the skills of the hero. Using a similar incentive (innocents in danger) they want to watch the hero push their skills and intelligence to their limits.

The core of the story is the hero receiving messages and instructions to do seemingly random things, all the while often trying to determine the goal involved, the identity of the enemy and how to escape the ordeal without anyone dying. In the end there are usually two scenarios present, either ignore the villain and innocents die or help the villain and they get what they want. The only way out of the problem is to Take a Third Option.

Compare Criminal Mind Games.


Film - Live Action

  • The exact name of the "game" played in Die Hard with a Vengeance is "Simon Says," after the villain of the movie Simon. Having a fixation on John McClane and needing a distraction, this whole plan had a two-fold nature: getting revenge on McClane and throwing the entire New York police in disarray trying to figure out his ultimate goal. The leverage they used was a series of bombs planted around the city.

Live-Action TV

  • An episode of Angel had Wolfram and Hart use an evil psychic to send visions to Cordelia (who normally receives visions from The Powers That Be to instruct the team) that end up leaving physical injuries on her. As the team realizes they were putting together an Artifact of Doom Angel confronts W&H. Lila explains the ultimatum, release a demon from a prison in another dimension and they'll stop hurting Cordelia with those visions. Angel went along with the plan, and once he released the demon "Billy" to them he killed the psychic and told Lila that will be the last time he negotiates with them.
  • Sherlock used this as its main plot in the third episode. A mysterious individual is directing Sherlock to not only identify but also solve specific cases (some of which have not even been identified as criminal cases), using a hostage strapped with explosives to call him up and give him clues, directions and a time frame to complete it in. As it turns out, the entire ordeal was to keep him distracted from an earlier case that Holmes had initially dismissed, and even then the whole thing was a fun game for Moriarty.
  • Several episodes of Psych have Shawn matching wits with the "Ying Yang" serial killer, who approaches the entire thing with a sadistic glee and nothing else.
  • Michael Westen of Burn Notice has also found himself in similar problems, twice just with the recurring villain Brennan. Michael, being skilled at the Batman Gambit himself, will constantly try to twist the scenario to his advantage and both times he escapes the situation because of the work done by his team. In season two he found himself "employed" by the group that burned him and the Myth Arc of the first half had him doing various projects without knowing the ultimate goal, which he managed to piece together by never letting himself get too far behind. Unique in that scenario is that Michael had the option of backing out with no problem, but he stayed in solely because he wanted to disrupt their plans from the inside.

Feedback: 21 replies

Jul 12th 2011 at 7:44:51 PM

Video games

  • In Art Of Fighting, Mr. Big kidnaps Yuri Sakazaki, using her as leverage, to force her father Takuma to work for him. The SNES version takes this further, revealing that the kidnapping was actually ordered by Geese Howard, afterwhich Takuma was made to kill Jeff Bogard.

  • In Soul Calibur IV, Sophitia finds herself having to defend Soul Edge after her daughter becomes infected by it. And is told to destroy the titular sword as well, as a final test of her loyalty. She doesn't, thanks to Algol.

Jul 12th 2011 at 7:55:42 PM

So, in essence, this sounds like Mac Guffin Delivery Service, except the villain coerces the hero into accomplishing the task before they do it, instead of just waiting until after the hero has succeeded to steal it away? Am I right?

Jul 12th 2011 at 8:46:58 PM

^@frodobatmanvader -- Pretty much, yeah. The hero is told what the Big Bad wants, in advance, and is expected to comply Or Else... like the two examples directly above your comment.

Jul 13th 2011 at 9:40:32 AM

I think it's separate enough to be its own trope.

  • The White Collar episode "Front Man" has Neal being forced to con information out of someone, then pick a notorious criminal up at the airport. He's being forced to because the bad guy has a girl hostage.

Jul 13th 2011 at 10:12:12 AM

An Offer You Cant Refuse is largely about walking into a store, shooting a guy in the leg until he agrees to pay "protection" money. It's more thuggish in principle and closer related to Hostage For Mac Guffin, the hero has something and the villains want it.

This trope is more about mind games and manipulation, plus the goal in mind is about utilizing the hero's particular skills the villain wants to use (versus an item) and is multi-tier "Do this, do that" hence the "Simon Says" part of the name.

Jul 13th 2011 at 10:18:14 AM

  • Die Hard with A Vengeance complete with villain named Simon who dictated everything Mc Clane and Zeus did or else the bomb.

Jul 13th 2011 at 1:14:22 PM

Hmm... ran into I Will Punish Your Friend For Your Failure today. Is this separate enough to be its own trope?

Jul 13th 2011 at 7:08:29 PM

Both An Offer You Cant Refuse and I Will Punish Your Friend For Your Failure can be catalysts for the Simon Says Plot. Those tropes are about the specific types of coercion a villain uses to get what they want. This trope is about how the villain uses some form of coercion to turn the hero into an errand boy, which results in a continuous back-and-forth in outplanning each other. One thing that often happens is the hero has to learn what they are putting together for the villain (such as the individual parts of a superweapon).

Jul 13th 2011 at 7:27:16 PM

There was one of these on Lois And Clark near the end of season 2.

Feb 12th 2018 at 6:42:25 PM

I think there might be enough tropes to cover this.

Feb 13th 2018 at 1:53:21 AM

How about Simon Says Scheme for additional alliteration?

  • At the end of season 4 of The X Files, AD Skinner makes a deal with the Cigarette-Smoking Man: in exchange for CSM curing Scully's cancer, Skinner will do CSM's bidding for a while.

Feb 13th 2018 at 3:23:57 AM

Seven Days, "Deloris Demands" had an anonymous caller force Frank into this. Turned out it was a former Project Backstep worker mad at Frank for getting the job he wanted.

Feb 13th 2018 at 4:45:18 AM

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Feb 13th 2018 at 4:55:21 AM

Tabletop Games

  • Champions
    • An early edition of the game mentioned villains taking an entire stadium full of sports fans hostage to coerce superheroes into obeying them.
    • The game disadvantage "Dependent NPCs" refers to Non Player Characters who are associated with a super character and regularly appear in that character's adventures. Villains are expected to kidnap a superhero's dependents and threaten them to make the superhero do their bidding.
    • Organization Book PRIMUS and DEMON. The powerful evil group DEMON is famous for kidnapping the Dependent NPCs of superheroes and using them to force the heroes to do their dirty work for them, such as exploring a nether dimension for useful magic items.

Jul 6th 2018 at 9:37:03 PM

Got Volunteered would be related to this, too.

Compare and contrast Treacherous Quest Giver, who seem to be a good guy at first.

Jul 7th 2018 at 5:38:44 AM

I think this needs a clearer name, if this is specific to villains coercing heroes.

Jul 7th 2018 at 2:20:35 PM

  • The Midnighter begins his solo series when a villain injects him with a bomb and forces him to go back in time to kill Hitler (to avenge his parents, who died in the Holocaust). The Midnighter ends up arrested by Time Police and gets back at the villain by holding his six-year-old self hostage (it turns out the man's parents were aristocrats outraged that a populist like Hitler had come into power and insulted him, the real reason for being sent to the camps), then has the bomb surgically removed without anasthetic.
  • The Punisher:
    • In one story, an unethical journalist named Chuck Self holds Soap (Frank's contact on the force) hostage to get his story: a night of accompanying the vigilante on his murderous rounds. Frank goes around the city killing criminals as usual, Self very soon realizing he is in way over his head when the bullets start flying. He ends up eaten by a wood chipper (not Frank's fault, though he waited for Self to send the release order to his mooks to "wake up" and turn it off).
    • "Six Hours To Kill": A pair of Philadelphia-based criminal yuppie siblings hit on the brilliant idea of getting Frank to take out rival gangs by injecting him with a poison that will kill him in six hours and promising to give him the antidote. Unaware that he's long since used to the idea of dying, he kills the Smug Snake egghead who explains the situation and proceeds to hit every criminal operation he knows of in Philadelphia before moving on to the people behind the whole thing. He's welcoming death when the surviving yuppie injects him with the antidote out of desperation. Frank kills her, manages to expose their legal help (the mayor) and ruefully drives back to New York.
  • Grand Theft Auto San Andreas: After CJ's brother Sweet is arrested and sent to prison, CJ is forced to to carry out missions by Tenpenny and later Toreno to ensure Sweet stays alive (Toreno in particular threatens to send Sweet a cellmate named "Horsecock Harry"). Once Toreno has no more use for CJ, he... has Sweet released and sends CJ to pick him up, allowing them to start reclaiming the hood and finally take out Tenpenny.
  • Aladdin: The Genie is forced to work for Jafar as he has the Genie's lamp. He is more than happy to snark at his boss, however.
  • Sin City: After killing Cardinal Roark and Kevin, Marv is told (by the District Attorney) to confess to the murders committed by those two, or they'll murder his mother. Marv breaks the D.A.'s arm and signs the confession, going to the electric chair (twice).
  • Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Company gets a hold of Davy Jones' heart, forcing him to do their bidding (starting with ordering his pet Kraken to beach itself).

Jul 7th 2018 at 8:11:36 AM

Additional case:

  • Bioshock:
    • In the area “Fort Frolic”. Upon arrival (in an attempt to just pass through on your way to another area), you are locked out of Mission Control by Sander Cohen, the Mad Artist Domain Holder of Fort Frolic. His primary goal is to complete his “masterpiece”, the “Quadtych”. Helping him requires you to take track down, kill, and photograph his 4 ex-pupils, and then place the photographs in his horrific sculpture. After its completion, Cohen himself arrives and personally thanks you for helping him. You can then choose to kill him anyway, which will give you the key to his “Muse Box”.

Jul 7th 2018 at 5:04:20 PM

Reading An Offer You Cannot Refuse makes me think that this is covered.