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Beat It by Compulsion

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That's one way to deal with vampires.
"Curses! The old "leave a pile of beans on the porch so the vampire has to count until the break of dawn" trick!"

A lot of supernatural beings are described as having certain compulsive ways of behaving, which can be used against them. There are several varieties:


This is when there is either something magical that forces them to act compulsively, or some magical consequences for not doing so. Examples include a Magically-Binding Contract or geas that is in some way related to the nature of that creature.


This type, similar to the Real Life condition known as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, is when there are unpleasant emotional consequences to breaking the compulsion, such as extreme anxiety. Heroic Willpower may make it possible for them to overcome this.

Happy Compulsion:

This is when they act compulsively because they want to act that way. Maybe it's really fun to laugh maniacally or answer riddles or whatever, to the point where it's hard to restrain yourself from doing so.

Stupid Compulsion:

This is when the character is apparently unaware of the consequences of following the compulsion. In these cases, it can be hard to distinguish from ordinary stupidity, but a highly patterned way of outsmarting a certain kind of creature suggests some sort of compulsiveness. If this is present in AI, then it goes under Artificial Stupidity.

Compare Idiosyncrazy and Politeness Judo. Subtrope of Batman Gambit. Often a subtrope of Sanity Has Advantages. Not to be confused with acting on a compulsion to beat it.

Defeat by Modesty possibly is a Sub-Trope.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Contractors of Darker than Black have to fulfill a "remuneration", which is a compulsion to do something after using their powers— and the compulsion is so powerful that they must do it (though it's never really explained what would happen to a Contractor who's unable to fulfill his or her remuneration). This can vary from folding the corners of every page in a book to drinking beer to breaking one's own fingers. The only exception is for someone whose mind is no longer in their original body; for example, Mao, who has the ability to possess animals and whose human body was killed, doesn't have a remuneration. This is why Hei doesn't have to pay any price for his ability: it comes from his dead sister's Soul Fragment.
  • Teru Mikami of Death Note always uses exactly one page of the Death Note each day - no more, no less. This means that Near can replace the page that he uses on the day of the confrontation at the Yellow Box Warehouse weeks in advance. All of the other pages work, so the criminals that Mikami writes down keep dying and he doesn't get suspicious, but when he tries to kill Near and the rest of the SPK, he only confirms his guilt and Light's.
    • He also follows a strict schedule without fail, so any weird action that he would do on a particular day would be a sure sign of something suspicious. Case in point: he went to the bank two days in a row, allowing the SPK member tailing him to find the real Death Note that was used to kill people.
  • In One Piece, an entire species of birds (known as South Birds) compulsively face south and thus are used as compasses. At one point, the crew captures one and makes fun of it. The bird threatens to throw them off course and turns its head North… until it gets tired and turns back to south. It's also worth noting that there are North Birds as well, and will produce East or West birds through mating with South Birds.
  • In Soul Eater, Death the Kid has a crippling obsession with symmetry, resulting in him stopping mid-battle to chew out one of his Weapons for being off center, going home in the middle of a mission to check whether the picture in his room was centered properly (it was), refusing to attack a symmetrical opponent and going berserk and obliterating an asymmetrical one.
    • He manages to ignore such obsessions (specifically not freaking out about the line in his hair) when he needs to deal with Mosquito. But that arguably is a case of one compulsion being overridden by another - his need to create order between life and death.

    Asian Animation 
  • Mechamato: MechaBot trashes Pian's kitchen to distract Janitoor, the raging cleaner robot, who prioritises taking care of the mess over the chase, but not without contempt as he angrily shakes his fist at the others escaping him.

    Comic Books 
  • With a Rogues Gallery rife with mental instability, many are the times Batman has won the day simply by playing on his foe's idiosyncrasies. Two-Face is probably one of the most consistent examples, with his need to consult his trademark coin: in theory, the results of the toss are equally as likely to turn up in the hero's favor. (In practice…)
    • In Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth: The doctors, attempting to "cure" Two-Face, try to show him that life has more than two outcomes by replacing his coin with dice and eventually a deck of cards. This reduced Dent to a complete wreck, unable to even go to the bathroom. In the end of the comic, Batman returns the coin and Two-Face immediately flips it to decide whether to kill Batman. He looks at the coin and lets him go… despite the coin coming up scratched, meaning he chose to let him go. Or not, since Word of God claims he did it as an April Fools' Plot.
    • A story has Two-Face completely unable to control himself after a rival villain stole his coin. Dent's dialogue and internal monologue makes much of his frustration with his lack of control.
    • In an old storyline Batman secretly replaced Two-Face's coin with a gimmicked duplicate that always came up heads. While this prevented Two-Face from making some nasty decisions, his fury when he discovered the trick kind of canceled out the benefit.
    • Which is kind of ironic since Two-Face's coin is a two-headed trick coin: he simply scratched one of the sides.
    • The Riddler had a nervous breakdown when he realized that his OCD made it so that he couldn't stop leaving clues for the police and Batman to find.
    "You don't understand… I really didn't want to leave you any clues. I really planned never to go back to Arkham Asylum. But I left you a clue anyway. So I… I have to go back there. Because I might need help. I… I might actually be crazy."
    • The Cluemaster used to suffer from the same compulsion as the Riddler, but got therapy to cure himself of it.
  • A character called Fatman the Human Flying Saucer had the power to morph himself into any size and shape, but his Weaksauce Weakness was that he would irresistibly turn back if he ever saw something tasty to eat.
  • Lil i Put plays with this trope. All vampires are shown to be obsessed with counting seeds tossed on the ground, however, it's an activity that they enjoy to the point it works on them like catnip and is even their favorite party game.
  • Inverted in Preacher: Jesse gets rid of Hoover (an ordinary human working for Starr) with the Voice of God, forcing the poor guy to go and count a few million grains of sand. Several story arcs later, we find him still on the beach (having since learned to dig the sand into a dam so fish would get caught in it at high tide) and finishing the count. Understandably destabilized by the experience, he goes to find Jesse to kill him... only for Jesse to not remember him at all. After some exposition, Jesse removes his mental issues by telling him to forget about it (again with the Voice of God). This in turn causes Tulip to remark on a guy with the initials J.C. is going around healing the (mentally) ill, where has she heard that before…
  • Canonically Thanos has been defeated because he has an uncontrollable compulsion to ultimately let himself lose. Seriously. He's not called the "Mad Titan" for nothing.

    Fan Works 
  • Not the intended use (Zantetsuken Reverse): When Soma is accidentally turned into a vampire, Arikado decides to run various tests to figure out what type of vampire he turned into. The first test is to throw a bag of rice on the ground. When an annoyed Soma asks him why he did that, Arikado replies that there's a type of vampire that compusively counts small objects. Soma is in awe that Sesame Street was right, but stops himself before explaining to the son of Dracula who Count Von Count is.

    Film — Animation 
  • In The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, the head thug of the Thug Tug tries to get the "Bubble Blowing Baby" to reveal themselves by playing the Goofy Goober Theme song, which apparently no baby can resist. Spongebob and Patrick come very close to caving, which would have gotten them "beaten senseless by every able-bodied patron in the bar", but another thug sings first, getting beaten up instead and allowing Spongebob and Patrick to escape.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Mustafa insists that he will die before he tells Austin and Felicity anything, but asking him the same question three times makes him so unbearably irritated that he'll always give the truthful answer the third time he's asked. It works with the first two questions, but the next time Austin doesn't ask Mustafa the same question three times in a row, allowing Mustafa to quibble until Mini-me silences him with a poison dart.
  • A mundane version occurs in Dirty Harry. Having been foiled in his attempt to snipe a Catholic priest from a rooftop, Inspector Callahan stakes out the same rooftop, knowing the Scorpio killer will be compelled to come back and finish what he started.
    "These sick guys have behavior patterns. We know they'll rob the very same store 3, 4 times in a row. Must appeal to their superego or something. Scorpio strikes again. They like that feeling."
  • Memorably subverted in the otherwise forgettable Dracula 3000. They've got the counter-intuitively named Orlock chained up, covered with knotted string and surrounded by spilled rice. When he gets released he reveals that he'd already undone the knots and counted all of the rice, so there's nothing to stop him from murderizing them all.
  • In Dracula II: Ascension they also try the rice trick, and it works in that the vampire is compelled to count every last rice seed they throw at him… which, thanks to his super-human reflexes, takes him less than a second, doing so as the rice falls through the air. These same reflexes allow him to untangle hundreds of knotted ropes — a fishing net — fast enough that he seems only to run his fingers through it, dropping a neatly coiled series of ropes at his feet.
  • In the Basque fantasy film Errementari, demons are obliged to count every spilled mustard seed. The blacksmith uses this to torment a demon he's been holding prison, even moving the seeds around to make them harder to count, and at the climax, he uses this trick to distract a more powerful demon and rescue the child heroine.
  • The evil leprechaun in the first Leprechaun had a compulsion to shine shoes. The characters are able to escape him a few times by throwing shoes in his path.

  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit the titular hero is goaded into revealing his hiding spot when the Big Bad begins tapping out 'shave and a haircut', a gag that no toon can resist. This apparently isn't hyperbole, as Roger fails to physically restrain himself and leaps through the wall and answers with 'Two Bits!'.

  • In the first Artemis Fowl book, Artemis uses the fairies' inability to enter a human dwelling without permission, compulsion to obey a human while in their dwelling, and inability to come back later to try get revenge to extract a lot of gold from them. They get around this by Loophole Abuse and sending in a troll, which doesn't really have to follow fairy law.
  • Played with a fair bit in Terry Pratchett's Discworld, where methods to defeat vampires included mixing up their sock drawer (they would then have to pair and sort the socks), and forcing other obsessive-compulsive type behaviour. Another example would be the werewolves in The Fifth Elephant. Saying the word 'bath' actually gets them to wince, and throwing something has them automatically run over and grab it in a doggy-esque manner.note 
  • The Finemdi Corporation in Matthew Laurence's Freya series abuses this trait to keep literal gods in line. They know the divine have to follow their natures, even if it's not in their best interests, making them incredibly predictable. This gets turned up to eleven when they start using brainwashed worshippers to believe those gods are loyal to the company. Since gods change to match the image of their followers, they'll eventually shackle themselves to Finemdi without even realizing it.
  • In The Laundry Files novel The Nightmare Stacks, the alfar use salt traps to contain and control vampires. However Laundry PHANG agent Alex, being a mathematical genius, has already worked out an algorithm that helps him count the grains much faster than they expect.
  • Sheep's Clothing uses the vampiric compulsion to count things to try to keep the three antagonists contained. Unfortunately, the head vampire has an army of crows, and he sets them to eat up all the seeds thus scattered.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Monk: While the eponymous Mr. Monk has several compulsive tendencies, the perps-of-the-week rarely, if ever, use them against the detective. However, Monk himself once used this to his advantage—a method actor, tasked with "becoming" Monk for a movie, sets out to murder the man he thinks is responsible for killing Mrs. Monk. The real man distracts him with an off-center car decal, just long enough to talk him down and prevent a murder.
  • On Sesame Street, the Count gleefully follows this trope to a T, counting everything he sees, including himself. This is both a reference to real folklore (see below) and a clever pun on 'count'.
  • In the Supernatural episode "Clap Your Hands If You Believe" the Winchesters distract a leprechaun (played by Robert Picardo) by spilling salt on the ground and forcing him to count them, giving them time to figure out how to banish him.
    Sam: Why didn't I do this before?
  • In The X-Files episode "Bad Blood", Mulder diverts an attacking vampire by flinging a bag of sunflower seeds. The vampire is compelled to stop and pick them up. Mention is also made of the alleged vampiric compulsion to untie knots, such as tied shoelaces.
    • In actual vampire folklore, the creatures ARE compelled to untie knots, or to count things. Putting knots in the grave or strewing newspapers about a victim's house are ways to distract one. So yes, The Count is quite accurate in that respect.

    Mythology and Legend 
  • Japanese kappa traditionally have a depression on the top of the head, which must contain water for them to have any power. Fortunately, they are compulsively polite and so if you bow to them, they will bow back - spilling the water and rendering them helpless. Likewise, for the same reasons of politeness it is said western vampires are specifically unable to enter someone's house unless invited.
  • Western vampires are unable to cross running water, as running water is considered "clean" and vampires (and other underworldly beings such as the undead) are considered "unclean" and therefore unable to cross.
  • The Jiang Shi (Chinese Vampire) can be defeated by strewing anything small, such as grains of rice, in its path. It will be compelled to stop and count them.
  • In Britain and Germany, you could often trick a changeling into revealing their true age by doing something really strange, usually boiling water in eggshells. Then they'd say something like 'I'm as old as the Eastern Woods, but I've never seen anyone boil water in eggshells before!' Some stories claimed that they'd give up the trick and be defeated just from saying something like that, others used it merely as confirmation before they tortured the changeling to get the true child back.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dungeons & Dragons supplement "Tome Of Magic" introduced the Binder Prestige Class. Binders make pacts with unique spirits called Vestiges to bind them to their body and use their abilities. Each Vestige has its own "Influence" based on their personality and history which forces the Binder to act a certain way or take certain actions, such as killing or not killing certain types. For example, the Vestige Otiax gets agitated whenever it sees a closed door, and if it finds a key it has to find the lock the key opens. Some of the influences can be ignored, but you'll take a penalty to your stats until you release the Vestige.
  • The furry RPG Ironclaw has things known as flaws, physical or personality-based quirks that hamper one's abilities elsewhere. While external (physical) flaws don't fit into this category, internal (personality-based) flaws do, and are expected to be followed. Considering that said flaws are usually Lawful Stupid, Chaotic Stupid stuff, depending on how strongly you have that flaw, it can be very easy for opponents to exploit them to their advantage and overwhelm you.
  • The New World of Darkness:
    • Changeling: The Lost: Changelings who grow powerful enough suffer from "frailities", similar to the old stories about The Fair Folk. One may be unable to drink anything but alcohol, while another may have to dance when she hears a clock chime.
    • Every Spirit has a "Ban", which might be a Kryptonite Factor, an outright Weaksauce Weakness, or a compulsion of some sort. For example, one Abyssal spirit cannot refuse anything that's offered to it as a gift... say, a live grenade.
  • In the Old World of Darkness splatbook for were-cats, each tribe of cats had three or four unbreakable compulsions. As most of these compulsions were significant tactical disadvantages to the were-cats, they strongly discouraged their members from revealing these secrets to ANYONE. For example, one tribe of cats had to follow a line of salt. The effectiveness of this tactic when the cat in question was on large natural salt-deposits was not explored.
  • Khornates and orks in Warhammer 40,000 are murder machines in close combat, but easy to defeat if you outnumber and outgun them: just shoot as they charge into your guns.

    Video Games 
  • Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent has Agent Nelson Tethers run into this situation in the first game. Realizing Scoggins' residents were more or less addicted to puzzles, Nelson throws a crossword puzzle at Sheriff Bahg when held a gunpoint. True to form, the compulsion has Bahg immediately going to do the Crossword Puzzle, allowing Nelson to escape.
  • Star Control II has The Words: "Hold! What you are doing to us is wrong! Why do you do this thing?" Use this dialogue option on the Ur-Quan, and they will explain their history and the motives for their actions. However, they'll still attack you afterwards. The reason it works is that phrase is a Meaningful Echo from a race they tried to exterminate in their Backstory, which initiated the Enemy Civil War between the two factions of the Ur-Quan, the Green Kzer-Kza, and the Grey Kohr-Ah.
  • As mentioned above, Artificial Stupidity can be considered along these lines.


    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation: Part of containment procedures for SCP-578-ARC-3 is covering the containment area with sand and painting a labyrinth on the floor, since the undead wight in question compulsively counts salt grains and traces labyrinth lines, slowing it down when it inevitably manifests. There was apparently some resistance to this kind of "folkloric strategy" at first among the scientifically-minded SCP researchers.

    Western Animation 
  • Disney's Aladdin: The Series had Mechanicles, a Greek inventor character who compulsively revealed weaknesses to his inventions… tied to a compulsion to dictate notes to himself not to do that again.
    • He also had an obsession with cleanliness. Splash a bit of mud on his tunic and he'll be incapable of anything but whining until he scrubs it all out.
  • Bruce teaches Terry this in an episode of Batman Beyond.
  • In an episode of Danny Phantom, Desiree the Wishing Ghost is compelled to grant any wish she hears. Sam takes advantage of this to undo her mischief so that Danny can defeat her. In her first appearance, Danny ends up wishing her back into her bottle, lampshading that if he were smarter, he would have just done that in the beginning.
  • In Disenchantment, the citizens of Dankmire are compelled to bow when someone bows to them. Elfo and Luci use this to their advantage to escape a crowd of pursuers after Bean offends them with a drunken tirade.

    Real Life 
  • It's theorized that many tales of supernatural beings having compulsive tendencies began by way of explaining these behaviors in people. Centuries before various conditions were recognized and named, individuals who would today be understood to have autism or OCD would instead be said to be touched by the faeries, or to have been entirely replaced by one as a child. The key here being, rather than fiction creating beings and ascribing compulsions to them over time, it's possible that some began with the compulsions and the wider fantasy narratives about them developed afterward. This would include, of course, stories where those compulsions are weaponized or used as a diversion by someone hoping to escape harm.
  • In ancient Egypt cats were considered sacred animals, and to harm one meant bringing down a severe punishment on the offender, up to and including death. When the Romans invaded, rumor has it that one of their tactics was to have their front line carry cats out in front of them, gambling that this compulsion would prevent the opposing Egyptian army from striking through the cats to get at the Roman troops. As we all know from history, it apparently worked. This compulsion against harming the sacred animals shows up, of all places, in the first Mummy movie, where Brendan Frasier's character scares off Imhotep with a cat. though anyone who's familiar with a typical cat's reaction to finding itself in an environment like a battlefield (in other words, noisy and fully of strange sights and smells) is unlikely to believe that a Roman soldier could successfully carry a cat into such an environment.
  • Autistic and obsessive-compulsive people of all kinds may exhibit this behavior, helpful or not.
    • Ironically, holding cats (other animals work, but they like cats most, for obvious reasons) tends to make these tendencies less severe.
  • Pythagoras was killed by an angry mob because he refused to escape from them by running across a field of beans.note 
  • Program a computer to start counting, and it will do so until it is turned off, something externally tells it to stop, or the computer crashes.


Video Example(s):


No Toon Can Resist

In order to flush Roger out of hiding, Judge Doom starts banging out 'Shave and a Haircut'. Sure enough, Roger can't control himself, leading him to leap out yelling "Two Bits!" where Judge Doom grabs him.

How well does it match the trope?

4.86 (28 votes)

Example of:

Main / ShaveAndAHaircut

Media sources: