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Disproportionate Reward

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It's human nature to focus on the negative, to overreact to slights and swear Disproportionate Retribution on the perpetrator far in excess of the crime.

Then there are times when characters are kind to each other, going out of their way to be nice and help someone else for no other reason than Good Feels Good thanks to the benevolent part of human nature.

They'll wish they hadn't.

The receiver will proceed to make it his life's work to repay this minor favor done with no intent for reward with a lifetime of devoted friendship and service. It might be because the receiver has never been helped or shown kindness before, has a rather strange set of personal ethics, or was on the verge of breaking down (often to the point of committing suicide) during the time the act of kindness occurred; whatever the case, he considers this small service to be the most selflessly wonderful thing done for him, ever.

Cue them having a life debt for the hero, becoming a True Companion — helpful, annoying or overwhelming) that the heroes can't shoo off because the receiver's technically good, too.

If the receiver's ethics are so skewed that his idea of good are truly at odds with the good of the hero, then you have the Psycho Supporter. Expect "Stop Helping Me!" to be uttered sometime.

See also Does Not Know How to Say "Thanks" for a Trope that can lead to this.

A contrasting Sister Trope to Disproportionate Retribution, where the character seeks revenge on another to this extent. Also contrast Dude, Where's My Reward? (where the reward is smaller (instead of bigger) than what you have deserved), Androcles' Lion and Character Witness (who give a pretty much proportionate reward).


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  • In a commercial for Pull-ups Training Pants, a little boy is rewarded with a parade honoring him outside his house, and all because he learned to use the toilet.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Minato in Hyakko follows Torako around, trying to help her, after Torako does her a favor.
  • Ryoga's Mark of the Gods in Ranma ½. A skill-enhancing scribble that makes the bearer nigh-invincible in exchange for a few bowls of instant noodles is a bit much.
  • Ramen Fighter Miki presents Miki, who is willing to be a substitute pitcher for a junior baseball league after a player helps her to find an address. Kankuro does the same and is willing to help Megumi to get revenge on Miki in exchange for her care after another of Miki’s beatings. However, Miki only winds up using the reward money to goof off at her job.
  • Misa Amane of Death Note is a rather dark deconstruction of this; after resident Villain Protagonist Light Yagami kills off the guy who killed Misa's parents, she declares her undying love and devotion to him and his vigilante justice; unfortunately for her, Light is a ruthless Magnificent Bastard who takes advantage of her as a meaningless pawn in his bloody games. But no matter how obvious it becomes that he does what he does only for his own reasons, Misa loves him.
    Misa: [Love]... What a beautiful way to kill.
  • In Dragon Ball when Goku was looking for Bulma's house for the first time he gave a woman who told him to ask a cop for directions a wad of cash (500,000 zenny). Justified that Goku does not know the value of money and he came to believe that you paid people in the city for advice.
  • In One Piece, bounties seem astronomically high, if you compare bounties placed on Real Life pirates of the Elizabethan and Victorian Era to those in the anime. For instance, Buggy, the first Arc Villain with a Devil Fruit power, has a bounty of 15 million Berries at the start of the series, and is not considered dangerous; for real pirates, a bounty of £6 would be considered high even for someone wanted for murder (of course, £6 was considered a lot of money two centuries ago, but it was not nearly enough to buy back then what 15 million Berries can buy in the One Piece world.) Bounties can go all the way to 5 billion Berries, such as for the King of the Pirates, Gol D. Roger (who willingly turned himself, since he was dying of a disease anyway, and used his execution to spark the Great Pirate Era). The trope is justified since pirates with excessively high bounties have a variety of superpowers that can make them more dangerous.

    Comic Books 
  • The Sandman (1989): Delirium of the Endless has a habit of giving rewards to mortals who are nice to her or who do things for her. Since she is the physical personification of insanity and her "gifts" usually entail some sort of mental illness, it's usually best to politely decline.
  • The Incredible Hercules: In New York City, restaurant and hotel owners and staff know that Hercules is a loud, demanding, and at times overly flamboyant customer, but they don't care; he's also a huge tipper.
  • The police force in Marville has no problem giving KalAOL (later just named "Al") $200,000,000 for collaring a lowly bank robber, given in separate $100 mil installments. Both times, Al's dog AOLstro was the real hero, with the robber defeating himself by first slipping on AOLstro's drool puddle, and the second time by passing out after the dog farts in his face.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In the Elfen Lied fic Family Sticks Together, Yuka thanks Alex for walking Nyu to Maple House by letting him stay for dinner and even using their shower. Alex himself tells her that she may be going overboard.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Toy Story 2, Mr. Potato Head immediately regrets saving some alien toys from falling out of a moving car - mainly because they tend to do nothing but follow him around and say "You have saved our lives! We are eternally grateful!"
    Mrs. Potato Head: "You saved their lives? Oh, they're so adorable! Let's adopt them!"
    Alien Toys: "Daddy!"
    Mr. Potato Head: "Ohhhhhhhh..."
  • In The Princess and the Frog during "Down in New Orleans" Big Daddy LaBouff throws a paperboy a big wad of cash for one newspaper. This is an Establishing Character Moment for Big Daddy to highlight his generosity.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Phantom Menace, Jar Jar declares himself the "humble servant" of Qui-Gon for pushing him out of the way of a Trade Federation vehicle. Qui-Gon is less than thrilled.
  • Mystery Team. The protagonists deal with murderous drug dealers, strippers, disgusting toilets and drinking dog urine... for a dime.

  • Harry Potter:
    • Dobby spends the rest of his life being grateful to Harry for freeing him from his former masters. This leads to him bringing Harry a crucial item needed to solve the Second Task in the fourth book, as well as helping to spy on Malfoy in the sixth and dying to save them all in the seventh book. Justified in that Harry really did give him a shot at a much better life (working at Hogwarts is much nicer than working for the Malfoy family), but Dobby still goes overboard (he seriously considers throwing himself out of a tower if he doesn't fulfill Harry's request, he goes without sleep to spy on Malfoy, etc).
    • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Harry does an interview telling the world of Voldemort's return, which the entire school is promptly banned from reading or discussing by Umbridge. Harry's teachers, wanting to praise Harry for his bravery in speaking out but unable to admit to having read the article, find other excuses to reward him, with Professor Sprout giving twenty points to Gryffindor for Harry handing her a watering can.
    • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Kreacher the house elf, of all people, gives this to the heroes. Hermione explains that house elves are people too (well, they have feelings too, okay?), so when Harry is kind to him and makes him felt valued, Kreacher bursts into tears, bodily teleports Mundungus Fletcher in for questioning, and cleans the Black house from top to bottom, providing them with delicious food. What specifically prompts his gratitude is being given a possession of "Master Regulus's". He probably never received gifts even from people who were nice to him. The Black house almost feels like home soon.
  • In The Diamont Chariot, Erast Fandorin considers saving the life and freedom of Yakuza Masahiro Shibata a very natural thing, yet he also manages to save his personal honor, prompting "Masa" to become his lifelong Battle Butler in return.
  • Played for Laughs (at first) in The Dresden Files. Toot-toot (a faerie) is eternally grateful to Harry Dresden, because Harry feeds him pizza. He puts together a little faerie militia to work for Harry and protect his stuff, who are paid in pizza. At one point, Toot-toot attacks an Eldritch Abomination for Harry. Faeries take their concept of reward and debt very seriously. This all results in Toot-toot becoming a badass (for a tiny faerie), and Harry begins to take Toot-toot more seriously.
    • Shifted over, then zig-zagged with regards to the bounty on Donald Morgan in Proven Guilty. The reward given is five million dollars, which, given the mark's status, reputation and proven lethality, is a pittance. However, Harry muses that the real reward is not the money, but the favors the mark's enemies (who are many and powerful) would be willing to do whomever brings the mark in, and the money is less of a reward or even a taster, and more of an indication of just how far-reaching those favors might be.
    • Then there's Goodman Grey in Skin Game who aids Harry in robbing Hades, swindling Nicodemus and fighting off a blood-crazed wendigo for the princely sum of one dollar.
  • The villain of a Sidney Sheldon novel is shown to have a few Pet the Dog moments when it's revealed that while he ruthlessly destroys anyone who crosses him, he also generously rewards anyone who helps him. A poor fisherman who once gave him food and shelter finds himself the owner of a shipping fleet, while a prostitute who similarly aided him is given a grand hotel.
  • Played for Laughs in The Rising of the Shield Hero. Therese Alexanderite commissions some jewelry from Naofumi upon learning of his crafting talents. When he presents her the completed bracelet, she is moved to Tears of Joy over the masterfully crafted item and offers him her entire purse filled with gold coins. When Naofumi protests, she concludes that her payment is still not enough, so she badgers her partner L'Arc to give all his money to Naofumi too.
  • In The Adventures of Stefón Rudel, Stefón is given two time machines for a rather small successful military operation. Later all students get a day off because of something he did.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Argentinian soap Los Roldán (remade as Los Reyes in Colombia and Los Sánchez in Mexico), a humble man finds a random old lady near the edge of a bridge crying for having been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and convinces her to not commit suicide; later the lady, who just happened to be one of the richest businesswoman in the country, hires him as the president of her company with a exorbitant salary, makes his family move to her lavish mansion, and essentially changes her will to benefit them all. In the beginning this seems like this trope, but it's later subverted when it's revealed that the woman was the protagonist's biological mother, forced to abandon him when he was a baby; their bridge encounter was truly fortuitous and she didn't recognize him until later. Because she didn't have any other family, the only thing she could do was give him his rightful inheritance.
  • The Burns and Allen Show had an episode where Gracie agrees to host a wedding for the daughter of a woman who "did (her) a wonderful favor!" After all hilarity has ensued, George asks what this amazing favor was. She helped give Gracie's car a push.
  • In a season one episode of Friends, Phoebe finds that her bank account has been accidentally credited with a large amount of money. She reports this to the bank, who confuses her message and interprets it as her missing this amount, doubling it! Feeling like she doesn't deserve it, she gives it to a homeless woman, who insists that she return the favour by buying her a can of soda. The soda contains a human thumb, which Phoebe reports to the company, and freaks out when she receives $10,000 in damages that she doesn't want and feels like she's entirely unentitled to.
    • She resolves her feelings by putting the money to good use.
  • Done in an episode of M*A*S*H where Hawkeye saves a marine who was shot in the neck. Granted, he did save the marine's life, the marine spends the rest of the episode fulfilling a life debt, constantly doing favors for Hawkeye such as scaring away people in the mess tent so Hawkeye could have a place to sit, and twirling Frank Burns around in the air to prevent him filing a report on some of the hijinxs going on at the 4077.
  • In one episode of Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Kubiak gives his last quarter to a guy on the street so he can make a phone call. At the end of the episode, the guy swept in and paid off Kubiak's $10,000 debt. Turns out he was a musician who was using the call to set up a multi-million dollar tour.
  • In season 5 of Supernatural, Death is bound to and partially controlled by Lucifer and is eventually ordered to unleash a cyclone in Chicago that will kill 3 million people. In the end he decides not to because he likes the pizza.

  • The story of Saint Martin, who gave a freezing beggar half his cloak one night. It turns out the beggar was Jesus in disguise, who granted him Sainthood for his compassion.
  • In Greek Mythology, the gods and goddesses were quite fond of pretending to be mortal peasants and seeing who would be kind enough to give them food or shelter. Basically, if you passed this test and showed basic human kindness, you'd get all kinds of riches and favors. This is notable considering how everyone in Greek Mythology tends to be Jerkasses at best and sociopaths at their worst. So in a world where it's common to throw their children into the wild or even cut them up and serve them to the gods (e.g Tantalus), mortals with basic human decency are pretty much saints.
    • One example is the legend of Baucis and Philemon. Zeus and Hermes disguise themselves as ordinary peasants and wander through a town looking for a place to sleep. At every door they are turned away, until the reach the home of Baucis and her husband Philemon. They were a very humble elderly couple, but nonetheless took in the disguised gods and offered them a place to sleep and food to eat. Satisfied, Zeus and Hermes drop their disguised to the shock of both. Baucis panics at the very meager hospitality they had been able to offer the gods and asks Philemon to kill and cook the lone goose guarding their house. Zeus tells him it isn't necessary, and that they should instead leave town with them as they climb a nearby mountain and not look back. This because the rest of the town's ungrateful and selfish nature earned them destruction, while their home had been spared and turned into an ornate temple. Afterwards the couple's wish to be made priest of the temple was granted, and upon their death they were transformed into an intertwining pair of trees, one oak and one linden.
  • The tale of Yallery Brown is this. A kindhearted boy was resting in a field when he heard a sound like a child in distress. But what he discovered instead was a tiny ragged old man with skin the color of mustard trapped beneath a stone. The boy helped the tiny man, whose name was Yallery Brown, lifting the stone off him, and the grateful little man promised to grant the boy one wish. The boy asked for help with his daily chores. Yallery Brown said he'll grant the wish, but with one condition: the boy must never thank him. The boy discovered the next day that his chores were doing themselves — the broom was sweeping the floor, the grindstone was grinding corn, and so on. This was pretty cool at first, but after a while people began to whisper that the boy was a warlock, and he grew concerned about his life. He called up Yallery Brown to tell him, "thank you for your help, but it's not necessary anymore." This enraged Yallery Brown, who cursed the boy for breaking the taboo, and Yallery Brown was as good as his word, causing the boy no end of trouble until the end of his life. In some versions of the story, this is because the boy eventually grew distraught enough to kill himself.
    "Work as you will,
    you'll never do well,
    Work as you might,
    you'll never gain aught,
    For harm and mischance and Yallery-Brown,
    You've let out yourself from under the stone!"

    Professional Wrestling 
  • There were so few female wrestlers in the Alberta Canada area during the early 2000s that Sarah Stock was awarded the Can-Am Wrestling Federation Women's Title just for accepting a booking and actually showing up. This turned out to be a double edged sword though as one of her few opponents, Charlotte Webb, ended up challenging for it in multiple promotions since Stock couldn't really put off a women's title defense to wrestle a man.

  • Bleak Expectations has Mr. Skinflint Parsimonious, ironically the most generous of people, who will give you everything imaginable, or at hand, simply as a reward for knowing him.
    Mr. Parsimonious: But before I go, you simply must have these jelly babies. And this ham. And this jeweled box will probably come in handy. And you simply must have these piglets. And now I must leave. But not before giving you this encyclopedia and this haunch of venison. Bye!


    Video Games 
  • Many quest-line based RPGs, especially MMORPGs. Help find lost friends? Here, have a few potions that can save more than a few lives. Retrieved a lost item from a cave? Take this piece of gear that is far more valuable than that item as an reward. Generally this is a distinct Gameplay and Story Segregation. Sometimes a Justified Trope, such as when it's claimed the item is inherited from an adventuring relative, and is too specialized for combat to be any use to the simple farmer handing it out. Or the award might be stolen goods a thief offers, which they can't sell openly at a better price.
  • Bodhan Feddic swears himself to Hawke's service in Dragon Age II after Hawke rescued Bodhan's son Sandal from a situation that he really didn't need rescuing from. Silly!Hawke lampshades this more than once.
  • In Fallout 2, you're asked to call in a fairly small debt on a guy in the Den, but can instead pay his debt for him, since he claims he's working on a master plan that will definitely pay off but will take some money. If you return later in the game, he's become fabulously wealthy after striking it big at the casino and showers you with riches and powerful items because you helped him when he really needed it.
  • Fallout: New Vegas: Potentially, being inducted into the Brotherhood of Steel. You're required to install a doohickey on a Black Mountain transmitter. However, you could have already completed the Black Mountain quest, which means you can casually stroll there without firing a shot at the Super Mutants, plant the bug in plain sight, and stroll back down to receive a shiny set of Power Armor, Power Armor training, and a new safehouse. Even compared to the previous mission, one of the longest and most dangerous Fetch Quests of the game, this mission is a breeze.
  • Depending on how you help someone, this can happen in Skyrim. For instance, if you sell some firewood to the innkeeper at Whiterun, you can sleep there for free and take almost anything she owns. This is one of the more extreme cases, but there are worse.
    • Capture an enemy of the state? 500 gold. Get a persistent suitor off the widowed fruit-peddler's back? 400 gold. And did we mention that ANY non-important character you help will try to propose to you if you wear an Amulet of Mara, tired widowers included?
    • And then there is the other end of the scale, the quest 'Forbidden Legend', which involves four dungeons, several boss fights and a lot of travelling to get you a relatively weak amulet. It's more about kicking the asses of three horrible tyrants.
    • Due to the way rewards scale with level, you could end up with absurd situations like being rewarded with an enchanted daedric battleaxe for fetching some iron ores, or collecting some gems for somebody and being rewarded with gems and jewellery worth several times the stones you turned in.
  • The Ultima 7 Part 1 The Black Gate expansion Forge of Virtue will provide you with an absurdly powerful Infinity +1 Sword and completely maxed-out stats (and the strength stat is doubled on top of that). To get them, you have to pass three tests and then banish an evil artifact. Only the Test of Courage is noticeably challenging with any actual enemies, and the Test of Truth can be done in under a minute if you know what you're doing.
  • Arcanum has an example that cuts both ways. To Hieronymus Maxim, a prototype healing robot, a high-tech gun and training you to be a master mechanic is nowhere near enough to properly thank you for saving his life's work. To the player, it's a huge reward for picking up, and not getting rid of, a camera in the crash site.
  • One of the most excessive examples comes from Gear Head. It's played so straight and is so exaggerated that it's very nearly a parody of the trope. One of your first tasks in the starting town of Hogye is a Rat Stomp. Singular, that is. One rat, with at most 10 hit points. You can literally with this fight by stepping on it. Kill this rat and the overjoyed garage owner gives you a spare Humongous Mecha that he had lying around. It's not one of the basic civilian models like the mining robot you can get from the bottom of the nearby Abandoned Mine. He basically gives you a perfectly intact and functional war machine, strikingly similar to a Griffin from BattleTech.
  • In Final Fantasy X-2, Yuna and her friends can choose to help O'aka the merchant pay off his debts by buying items from him. When they do it, O'aka thanks them by offering all the objects he sells at a reduced fraction - setting up a Game-Breaker because the price is less than the money earned from re-selling them.
  • Assassin's Creed: Odyssey has something like this as a Running Gag in its Legacy of the First Blade DLC pack. The Eagle Bearer keeps getting rewarded by an overly proud guy who's outraged to be in debt to anyone, even though none of the help the Eagle Bearer lent was intentional - it all happened as a byproduct of other, far more important actions. The rewards aren't all that valuable, but they're so numerous that the guy ends up bankrupting himself about halfway through his questline. Neither him nor the Eagle Bearer are happy with the whole situation, but fortunately there are ways to finish the affair amicably, and it's all Played for Laughs anyway.

    Visual Novels 

  • In the world of Fox Tails, kitsunes pay back everything disproportionately, and saying Stop Helping Me! is pretty much a deadly insult.
  • Invoked in Girl Genius: Zeetha points out that the Jagers have already helped Agatha enough for the one time she saved them. So they obviously have another motivation.

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of Johnny Test, Gil dramatically volunteers to help rescue Johnny from a gang of supervillains... because Johnny once helped him see that his shoelace was untied.
  • On The Looney Tunes Show, Granny told a story about how she saved the Eiffel Tower from being stolen by Nazis. As a reward, the French gave her the Eiffel Tower. The one in Paris is a fake.
    • One of the musical segments (entitled "Be Polite") involves Mac and Tosh repaying everyday acts of courtesy with eleborate gifts.
  • Combining this trope with Heroism Won't Pay the Bills, In the The Powerpuff Girls (1998) episode, "A Very Special Blossom", the Girls want The Mayor to pay them $2,000 for saving the city from Mojo Jojo, who lost his temper when he couldn't find a model ship to build. The $2,000, of course, being used to pay for the Pro Excellence 2000 golf clubs they want to buy the Professor for Father's Day. Subverted in that The Mayor doesn't have that kind of money.
  • In an Imagine Spot in the Arthur special, "Arthur's Perfect Christmas", Arthur is called the Perfect Child, and is rewarded with the Marc Brown Certificate of Existence, and a spot in the Heroes of the 20th Century Parade, all because he gave his Mother a glass bird for Christmas to replace the one that he broke the previous year.
  • In the T.U.F.F. Puppy episode "Lie Like a Dog", Dudley lies about going to the dentist in order to avoid boring workdays at T.U.F.F. HQ, and stops Snaptrap from licking other people's wallets and The Chameleon (disguised as a shark) from drowning while in disguise. The Mayor of Petropolis, assuming the mystery hero is a T.U.F.F. agent, rewards T.U.F.F. with many expensive items, including a snow-cone machine, a chocolate fountain, a pool, and an all-terrain jet ski, all of which Dudley wants to use, but The Chief forbids him from doing so. Lampshaded by The Chief when Dudley tells the truth at the end of the episode.
  • The Fairly OddParents!: In his first major appearance, the April Fool agrees to help Timmy pull pranks on his friends simply because Timmy gave him a stick of gum.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has done this twice so far, Once as a major plot point in "Spike at your Service" (Spike helping Applejack for saving him, despite not being helpful), and once as a gag in "Rarity takes Manehattan" (Rarity tipping a bellhop with a large gem several times throughout the episode).
    Bellhop: ...Uh, Miss, I didn't do anything!

  • A lot of folktales work like this, with someone (usually the main character) doing some tiny good deed for someone or something who turns out to be a god or other such powerful being. The receiver of the good deed usually returns the kindness by giving their benefactor wealth, power, or happiness beyond their imagination.
    • Also common in Glurge. One example is the man who attends a funeral, only to see a completely empty funeral in the next parlor. He signs the logbook for the deceased. Later, he is contacted by her attorney, who informs him that her entire estate was to be divided amongst those who signed the log at her funeral.
    • Invoked by Melvin Dummar, the man who claimed to have given Howard Hughes a ride. Later, a will that was supposed to have been written by Hughes turned up at the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City. The story fell apart when Dummar's fingerprints were discovered on the envelope.
    • In the case of folklore, a bit of it can be attributed to Values Dissonance — most of the services rewarded are either giving beggars (or beggars in disguise) food or shelter. In the days when the folktales took place, charity like that was more than just being nice; it was potentially saving someone from starving or dying in the elements. See also Sacred Hospitality.


Video Example(s):


Thereses' Starfire Accessory

After commissioning Naofumi to create an Accessory for her, Therese gives the Shield Hero all of her money.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / DisproportionateReward

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