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Dude, Where's My Reward?

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"Life handed us a paycheck
We said, 'We worked harder than this!'"
Modest Mouse, "Bury Me With It"

Life can be unfair. For example, you've just saved the day, but everyone else heaps praise on to someone who was hardly involved in it. Or, you've just saved the day, but you go on to lose a gymnastics competition you entered on the same day. You're probably thinking... "Dude, where's my reward?

Often part of An Aesop about what's really important. When you know in advance that you will get no credit and probably get blame: What You Are in the Dark.

Seeing too many of these may be a warning sign that you're watching a Sadist Show.

Compare Dude, Where's My Respect?

Contrast Keep the Reward, Standard Hero Reward, Awesome Moment of Crowning. Award Snub is the real life counterpart. This is averted with Hospitality for Heroes.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Megumi has his life turned upside down for years as his reward for rescuing an old man in danger in Cheeky Angel.
  • The protagonists of City Hunter have neutralized dozens of evil guys and avenged many wrongs, and are one of the few things preventing Shinjuku from becoming a Crapsack Ward by taking down the worst criminals of the place (plus a few outsiders with no sense of decency), yet they're dirt poor. By their own fault: Ryo and Kaori's constantly damage their own home, and the repairs eat away a lot of money...
  • Cowboy Bebop: Spike and Jet are bounty hunters who can never seem to cash in on the millions of Woolongs they would honestly deserve, for reasons that are as ingenious as they are sadistic on the part of the show's producers. As the main characters can never sit back and relax and always need to look for new opportunities to screw up, this trope is in fact the very thing that drives the show all the way to the ending; by the final episode, after having dealt with everything from psycho prototypes to environmentalist groups bent on eradicating the human race, there's no paycheck to be had and the Bebop crew still find their refrigerator is (mostly) empty.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, though they probably don't expect any reward for what they do, after Cell is defeated by the Z warriors everyone thinks Mr. Satan (Hercule) did it, a city is named after him, etc.
    • Subverted after Buu's defeat: Mr. Satan gets the credit again, but that's because Goku (who did the deal) doesn't want it, and when he's given a monetary reward Mr. Satan promptly turns it to Goku.
  • Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch: Lucia just saved the beachside beauty contest from the Dark Lovers, but Caren (at this point, a Dark Horse Victory winner, although she becomes a Sixth Ranger a few episodes later) goes home with the prize... then again, Lucia shouldn't complain; in the manga, she won by accidentally flashing the audience.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: This trope and Dude, Where's My Respect? are the main reasons why the magical girls in the setting don't survive their teenage years.
    • Inverted and played straight. The inversion is that Kyubey would grant any wish of a chosen girl in exchange for a contract to become a Magical Girl, no questions asked, as a form of "reward." However, the kicker is that now, they have to risk their lives fighting witches for as long as they live, this being the work for that one "reward." Played straight as no matter how much they work in slaying witches (either for their own reasons like Kyouko or as a from of duty like Mami), their efforts would not be recognized nor even be known. As Homura puts it, "...dedication has no reward."
  • Scott Pilgrim Takes Off: A villainous example. Unlike in the comic, Matthew Patel actually wins the fight against Scott. He thinks that gives him the exclusive right to be Ramona's new boyfriend, only to discover, to his shock, that winning entitles him to absolutely nothing. The other members of the League of Evil Exes are equally surprised to hear from Patel that they don't get anything for winning a fight against Ramona's boyfriend, which leads to most of them realizing the whole idea of the League was pretty stupid to begin with.
  • Tokyo Mew Mew: Played straight and Subverted:
    • Played straight: half the Filler in the show. Ichigo beats up a monster, but a rival school beats her school at a gymnastics competition, Retasu saves a boy she has a crush on, but he proposes to another girl, and so on...
    • Subverted: Ryo pays them for their job (and gives them much more than five teenagers working as waitresses would normally get), and lets them sample at will the cakes of the Mew Mew Cafè (something really important for Ichigo).

    Comic Books 
  • Marshal Law: The Marshal gets awfully pissed when he finds that he didn't get his kill-fee for offing a lot of supers. His boss, Comissioner McGland gives him a number of reasons. Business is going down because there's not as many supers to handle and then money from the kill-fee went towards paying for damages to city property, maintenance of Marshal Law's secret base, and upkeep of supplies. Law doesn't buy any of this, so McGland gives him a mission as an alien hunter which will pay 6 times his regular fee.
  • In Issue #3 of Spider-Boy, Bailey asks for twenty bucks when a woman he saved from a dangerous fall asks what she can do to repay him. She refuses to even entertain the idea because of the expectation that superheroes work for free.
  • Spider-Man: Action is his reward... but that doesn't mean he wouldn't mind a little public adulation... or for the Daily Bugle to stop calling him a menace... or for the police to stop shooting at him... or a little rent money...or that at least the people of New York would stop turning on him at the drop of a hat!

  • The Sburb Glitch FAQ uses this to explain why the narrator sounds like such a "veteran". This somehow became a huge AU.
  • In the RWBY fic Just like a Fairytale, Ruby breaks into the Schnee manor, destroying multiple guard robots, so she can take Weiss on a date. (Weiss has very disapproving parents.) And after all this, Weiss won't let Ruby watch her change clothes.
    "B-but I destroyed like a gazillion androids!" She protested.
    "We don't have that many androids." Weiss retorted.
  • In Mythos Effect, the Volus created the galactic economy and all but manage the Turians' own. When they go to petition the Council for a seat, they are told that "one must perform a great service" to be granted the honor. Instead, they are left as the Turians' pet accountants, and in the war against the NEF, they're forced to enter even though they have absolutely no stake in it, using their own cash and troops, to the Volus Ambassador's fury.
  • This Bites!: After the Marineford War, during the victory party on Amazon Lily, all the Supernovas (except Jewelry Bonney, who's a female) are upset that the only males allowed on the island are Luffy and his brothers, even though the Supernovas saved Hancock's life when she defected during the War. Hancock retorts that being allowed to moor on Amazon Lily's shore is a reward, as males aren't usually allowed to even get that far.

    Fairy Tales 
  • The Pied Piper of Hamelin: The town promises to pay the piper if he successfully gets rid of all the rats. After sending the rats into a river, the town reneged his reward. The piper decides to take his revenge by taking away the town's children.
  • The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was: A youngster spent three nights in a haunted castle. While there, he gets a corpse out of its coffin to warm it by the fire. Then it reanimates and announces he will kill him. The youngster feels this is "very ungrateful" and locks the corpse back up in his coffin.
  • This one's Older Than Feudalism. One of Aesop's Fables involves a wolf asking a crane or stork to dislodge a bone from the wolf's throat with its beak. When the bird asks for the promised reward, the wolf retorts that if you stick your head in a wolf's mouth, living to tell the tale is more than enough of a Bragging Rights Reward.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Incredibles. In the opening scene Mr. Incredible saves a) a suicide jumper, b) a young fan, and c) a trainful of people. The jumper sues him because he didn't want to be saved, the train passengers sue him for their injuries, and the fan grows up to become the villain Syndrome who is trying to destroy all superheroes.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Dragonslayer, the hero and his girl return to her village to find the local priest extolling how God has struck down Vermithrax's evil, while the elderly king sticks a sword in the dragon's carcass for a medieval photo op. Neither the villagers nor the royal court acknowledge for a moment that the hero's wizard mentor is the one who really brought down the dragon.
  • The Gods Must Be Crazy. Andrew Steyn rescues a bunch of schoolchildren by fighting off a platoon of guerrilla soldiers and gets a runaway Land Rover under control only to have the appropriately named Jack Hind take the credit in front of the woman he loves. Whether she learned the truth or not is unclear, but she ends up falling for Steyn anyway.
  • I Shot Jesse James: After a lot of internal debate, Robert Ford shoots his best friend Jesse James to claim the reward money and get out of the bandit lifestyle. However, he finds out that he only gets $500 instead of the promised $3,000, since the governor of Missouri wanted Jesse alive. Bob tries to roll with it, but soon finds that everybody thinks he's a Dirty Coward for shooting Jesse in the back. And it just goes downhill from there...
  • Betty Grissom in The Right Stuff gets a nasty dose of this. She spends much of the movie dreaming about the big payoff she'll eventually get from the military for all those years of her sacrifices and her husband Gus's heroics. When the grand payoff for Gus's space flight (that almost got him drowned) turns out to be a cheap motel room with some beer in the fridge, she has a conniption.
  • Star Trek: Generations: Kirk has a moment of this in the Nexus, when Picard tries to appeal to his sense of duty, pointing out just where duty's got him; an empty house. He soon changes his mind, however.

  • Artemis Fowl The Opal Deception. Despite having just prevented the destruction of Haven and stopped an interspecies war, Holly is banned from attending the funeral of her mentor, since she's technically under arrest and awaiting a court martial.
  • In Douglas Adams's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Dirk winds up getting caught in a plot involving time travel, saving the entirety of creation at the very end of said plot. When he returns to his detective agency, he realizes that the meddling he did with time-travel has, among other consequences, caused him to lose a most profitable customer. He sends her one final bill that reads "Saving the world — No charge".
  • Discworld:
    • In The Last Hero, Rincewind gets his wishes fulfilled for saving the city of the gods, and by extension The Disc, by the gods (literally; Carrot and The Librarian are rewarded too). He asks for a balloon. Played straight in earlier books, when his reward for saving the world several times is just staying alive. Also, see Throw the Dog a Bone under Literature.
    • His Grace, The Duke of Ankh, (Blackboard Monitor), Commander Sir Samuel Vimes on the other hand hates that he keeps getting rewarded with titles etc. for his exploits.
    • Moist's reward for his achievements in his books is not being executed by the Patrician. In Raising Steam, he gets an adventure so he thinks it's Worth It.
    • It's easier to list people who get a reward for his/her/they/whatever achievements than who doesn't. Lord Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpok is listed in Impoverished Patrician because many people don't pay their taxes, Susan Sto Helit and Witches like Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg never get any rewards for their feats, etc. Their reward for saving the day is staying alive, but in Discworld what is a better reward than life.
    • Parodied in Guards! Guards! when some heroes do this before doing any heroism; they debate whether it's worth it or not to save Ankh-Morpork from the dragon because Vetinari doesn't (and can't) offer them the Standard Hero Reward. A reward in money isn't good enough for them. (Sadly, the Watch don't get the money either because the confrontation with the dragon destroys it. Or because Ankh-Morpork never had it in the first place, see above.)
  • Ayn Rand's Fountainhead climaxes with a courtroom speech claiming that this is the oldest trope of all. Paraphrasing — "Thousands of years ago the first man showed his brothers how to make fire. He was probably burnt on the pyre he had taught them to light, for he had dabbled in dangerous forces. Then the first man showed his brothers how to make a wheel. He was probably torn on the rack he had taught them to build. Etc."
  • Harry at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:
    The injustice of it all welled up inside of him so that he wanted to yell with fury. If it hadn't been for him, nobody would even have known Voldemort was back! and his reward was to be stuck in Little Whinging for four solid weeks, completely cut off from the magical world, reduced to squatting among dying begonias so that he could hear about water-skiing budgerigars!
    • And then later on...
    • Harry's 'reward' for stopping Voldemort the first time was to be locked in a small cupboard for ten whole years, while the Death-Eaters (Voldemort's followers) were 'punished' by becoming members of A-List society with high-level government influence. Sad isn't it?
    • Harry's mom, who'd actually stopped Voldemort by sacrificing her life, got some passing mentions here and there, while the whole wizarding world praised her son whose only merit was being there to be the object for her sacrifice-induced protection spell.
    • Ironically, Harry also shows Heroic Self-Deprecation later on in the same novel.
  • In William Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1, Falstaff takes the credit for killing Hotspur, but Prince Hal lets him.
  • Journey to Chaos: The Rescue Arc in A Mage's Power is a zigzag on this trope. Culmus and Eric begin the arc knowing that because it is not an official Dragon's Lair mission, they're not going to be paid, and because they're skipping out on their real job, they're more likely to be punished. While raiding the bad guy's lair, Eric steals some of their stuff (weapons, supplies, etc.) that he can sell afterward. Kasile gives him a hug when they reunite which Eric thinks makes this mission worth it by itself. In the next arc, she says she can't reward him properly, and so she makes him her "co-conspirator" in her next pet project.
  • Twice in the Knight and Rogue Series. First, after risking arrest to prove his brother-in-law is innocent, Fisk is thanked by said brother-in-law before being told to get the hell out of town, before he and Michael are booted out of town anyway. The second time they nearly get killed apprehending a group of wreckers, and though they do get a reward, Michael gives it away to his former crush as a wedding gift/piece offering to the groom without consulting Fisk first. He tries to justify this as the man having helped with the arrests by calling in the police, but Fisk thinks that, as the ones who found the criminals and foiled their plot, they should have gotten the money.
  • In the Liaden Universe, what do you get for saving the planet? KICKED OFF the planet. A subversion, though, in that the protagonists were kinda thrilled to no longer have the responsibility. Played straight for some of the people who helped them, though.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire. Tyrion Lannister thinks he'll finally get the respect of his family for saving King's Landing from the attacking forces of King Stannis. Unfortunately, the three people handing out the rewards — his nephew King Joffrey, his sister Queen Regent Cersei, and his father Lord Tywin — all despise Tyrion, so he never gets credit for any of it.

    Live Action TV 
  • Played with in a 3rd Rock from the Sun episode where Harry and Tommy return someone's lost wallet. When they realize that they didn't get a reward, they spend the whole episode bugging the guy and dropping obvious hints. Finally, he gives in... and they immediately tell him to Keep the Reward.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer's third season episode "The Zeppo" is a classic — the entire episode revolves around this trope with sidekick-like-character Xander being ignored by the more powerful characters as they focus on preventing an apocalypse. However, he ends up saving the day by preventing the high school (location of the Hellmouth) from being blown up. Nobody ever found out about that. Buffy, Willow, and Giles were all in the high school library (the precise location of the Hellmouth) at the time.
  • The Doctor Who story "The End of Time" has the Doctor point this out. In the show's 47-year history up to this point, the Doctor has saved Earth, other planets, and the universe as a whole countless times, making sacrifice after sacrifice. Every friend he ever makes will die, while he is nearly immortal. He has destroyed his race to save the rest of the universe, making him the last of his kind. He's completely alone in the universe. His reward? None.
    • What makes it all the more heart-wrenching this time is that the Tenth Doctor finally loses his temper when he realizes that in spite of all the good he could continue to do, he has to sacrifice his life (read: trigger another regeneration) to save his friend, Wilf.
      Wilf: I'm an old man. Just leave me.
      Tenth Doctor: Well, of course! Look at you, not even remotely important, but me? I could do so much more! SO MUCH MORE!! But this is what I reward...WELL IT'S NOT FAIR!!!
    • The Twelfth Doctor has a horrible Sanity Slippage over the course of the 3-part Series 9 finale when he is not only betrayed and captured by none other than his own race or at least the elite, having by now saved Gallifrey and protected it from their enemies for over 900 years but also sees his dear companion Clara killed when she gets caught up in the plot. He decides to willingly undergo hideous torture in the name of a Tragic Dream that, per the rules of this series, will destroy the universe if he realizes it. He honestly thinks he can pull it off without hurting anything, and to be fair to him he is the guy who has saved it multiple times when all hope was lost. How can he not get what he wants after all the good he's done that has of late been repaid so evilly, after all he's endured? Isn't he owed this, as he puts it? In the end, he is made to understand that this line of thinking is not right, and not only gives up Clara Oswald for good, but also many of his memories of her in the name of restoring his best self and repenting for his selfishness.
    • Omega was the Time Lord scientist who created the breakthrough that gave them their time travel abilities, but which left him stranded and alone in an anti-matter universe. Somehow, the knowledge he's revered as a hero by his people just doesn't console him.
      Omega: A hero? I should have been a god!
    • Done heartbreakingly in "Utopia", where the kindly Absent-Minded Professor Yana says that, despite having managed to cobble together the systems keeping the last of humanity alive from rubbish, all he'd happy with is "just a little admiration". And then he turns out to be The Master, having wiped his own mind.
  • Father Ted. Ted uncovers a betting scandal revolving around the 'King of the Sheep' contest. As he walks out of the tent where the contest is being held, Dougal remarks 'One thing though, Ted. If Chris has been disqualified, does that mean we don't get the money you bet on him?'
  • Lampshaded to great effect in Heroes. Claire Bennett, with her regenerative powers, saves a man from a burning train. However, fellow cheerleader Jackie Wilcox claims credit for it and is treated like a town hero. Of course, this is subverted mightily in later episodes.....
  • Merlin (2008): Merlin has this hard, and there isn't really anything he can do about it since magic is a crime punishable by death. He has secretly saved Camelot itself from total destruction multiple times over the course of the show. He saves Arthur's life Once an Episode, often several times an episode, and aside from the exceptions that can be counted on one hand, either someone else gets the credit or Arthur never realizes his life was in danger in the first place. He's even saved Uther a couple of times, even though the guy's the reason why he has to keep his magic a secret.
  • An early scene in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Scorpion" has Captain Janeway talking to a hologram of Leonardo da Vinci, listening to his story about how he painted a portrait of a cardinal's nephew, making him look "far more heroic than nature ever intended," and was only paid with "the cardinal's eternal gratitude."
    Leonardo: In other words, signorina, less than nothing.
  • Legends of Tomorrow has this as the motivation for Gary Green's brief Face–Heel Turn in Season 5. While he can often be incompetent and clueless, he's been a loyal ally since day one and everybody treats him like a joke at best. The Legends own up to their mistreatment of him, and once he starts getting treated better, he becomes a much more competent and useful member of the team.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • There's an old Doonesbury strip where the Skylab astronauts return from their mission to be congratulated by... the Lieutenant Governor of Iowa. In the words of one: "I'll bet we don't get a parade, either...."

  • In Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur Dent saves the ship from being destroyed. Zaphod tells him good work. Arthur says "It was nothing." Zaphod says, "Oh, forget it, then."

    Video Games 
  • Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright is the best Defense Attorney you can get. Phoenix Wright, however, will only defend the innocent. Further, Phoenix Wright takes great pity in those innocent ones and is easily talked into things by them and his friends. Thus, Phoenix Wright rarely ever gets paid for his services. Nor does Phoenix Wright get any sort of respect from the people around him.
  • Aggelos makes sure to yank the reward from your character at the last moment. He returns triumphant to the castle, and it's clear from the Princess's obvious crush on him what she's about to suggest to her dad, only for your character to sprout angel wings and be yanked out of the world by the gods. In fact, the Big Bad himself rebelled against the gods after learning he would be denied any Earthly reward, deciding to make his own by conquering the world.
  • Command & Conquer:
    • In Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, General Vladimir gets the vacation and hero recognition after the player (a.k.a. Comrade General) won the previous mission.
    • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 ends with the Soviet player character getting slightly more recognition.
    • Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight: The GDI campaign ends with Kane telling you, and proving, that Col. James had lied to you about what happened to your wife, and then sort of explains what his deal is, at which point she comes in, shoots him (not that it actually kills him, he is Kane after all) and then puts a round into you as you make your way to a Scrin portal to activate it and make way for Kane's ascension (if for no other reason than to get rid of him). Kane stops her from finishing you off, thanks you, and ascends by stepping through the portal (apparently taking the bulk of Nod with him) at which point you die. You personally ended the Tiberium Wars forever, struck the finishing blow against Tiberium as a problem and finally allowed Kane to move on, yet you die alone and are presumably remembered as a failed usurper and terrorist. The difference in the Nod ending is that James is shot while Parker's wife lives to see him die, and Kane takes pity on him, saying that humans are "so fragile." In the GDI ending he says "thank you" to Parker in a genuinely grateful tone.
  • Conker's Bad Fur Day: At the beginning of the Bat's Tower chapter, the eponymous red squirrel is hired by a group of posh catfishes to retrieve their fortune from a vault protected by a giant bullfish (bulldog/shark hybrid) on the promise of a great reward. After the entire ordeal that entailed, the catfishes give Conker their "grand fortune" of 10 bucks. Naturally, Conker's really pissed off while the catfishes insist it is a fortune. Luckily, the actual reward (300 bucks) is made available shortly thereafter.
  • In the season finale of The Darkside Detective, McQueen saves the city from a Zombie Apocalypse, but his achievement is brushed over because the authorities can't or won't accept the supernatural nature of the threat, and instead the Jerk Jock detective McKing is given a medal for saving the city even though he's blatantly unable to explain just what he did. Still, at least Dooley thinks McQueen is a hero.
  • Diablo:
    • In the ending of Diablo (1997), after the hero has fought through hundreds of monsters and finally defeated the Big Bad, what does he get? He shoves Diablo's Soulstone into his own forehead, which causes him to become Diablo in the second game.
    • While the main game of Diablo III ends on an uplifting note with the player killing Diablo after he becomes the God of Evil by merging with the other evils, which also makes him Deader than Dead, in the Expansion Pack Reaper of Souls, things go to hell even more, and Diablo's return is hinted.
  • Doom: After defeating the Bruiser Brothers at the end of the first episode, you run onto the exit portal and are teleported to a zone where you can't see anything but hear nasty monsters all around you and immediately start taking damage until you are about to die. Then the end screen comes up expressing your expected outrage for you: "where's your fat reward and ticket home?" etc. Even the ending of the third and final episode of the full game is not entirely satisfactory, due to the scene which greets you after you "get home".
  • In Dragon's Dogma, your reward for killing the dragon is to be branded as a traitor by Duke Edmun, he frames you up for bargaining the dragon while he was the one who took that option, and he ordered everyone to kill you on sight. Time to pay back, they called you a traitor? Then why not become the traitor right in front of them and kill everyone in Gran Soren.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • The series has long had this issue when it comes to monetary quest rewards. Typically, the amount of gold you are paid for completing a task is far too low to make it worthwhile on its own. There are countless examples of being sent off to a ruin or cave to slay a particular foe (and his dozen or so Mooks) only to be rewarded with a paltry sum of gold that doesn't even cover the potions and arrows you used in the process, as well as the weapon/armor repairs you need after. Luckily, whoever it was you were killing usually has enough loot on their bodies and in their lair to sell and still come out ahead.
    • Morrowind:
      • Master Neloth of House Telvanni gives a quest to retrieve the Robe of Drake's Pride from the servant of another House Telvanni councilor. Killing the servant is the only way to get the robe, and you'll need to taunt her into attacking you first to prevent being expelled from House Telvanni. She turns out to be a moderately powerful spell caster, and the robe gives her several advantages when fighting magic users, which your character likely is if you've advanced in House Telvanni. After you take the robe back to Neloth, he'll reward you with...ten septims. The robe itself is worth 205, and has several enchantments a magic using character would enjoy.
      • Skink-in-Tree's-Shade, Master Wizard of the Wolverine Hall (Sadrith Mora) Mages Guild Hall, offers very few direct rewards for completing his quests. Luckily, for those that involve working with others (such as the scholar he asks you to escort and the Ashlander Wise Woman), they offer their own rewards. He also offers an Aversion in a sense — Completing all of this quests opens up the "peaceful" option to become the new Arch-Mage of the Mages Guild in Vvardenfell.
      • The Tribunal expansion side quest, "The Match Maker," has you assisting a woman who is too busy with work to find a husband. There are three men you could set her up with, with a 50/50 chance of success each. (Giving them advice can increase it to 67%.) Even if the date is successful, one of the men offers you nothing as a reward.
      • Tribunal also has this in the "Crimson Plague" side questline. What starts with killing some diseased rats and delivering a potion ends with you needing to defeat Gedna Relvel, a monstrously powerful lich. She's capable of flinging a very powerful area of effect spell, is immune or resistant to every from of Destruction magic, and quickly regenerates lost Health, Magicka, and Fatigue. Worse, she's supposed to have Health equal to 100x the player's current level, but due to a programming error, she has 800x that amount, making her virtually unkillable at higher levels. What do you get for killing this notorious Damage-Sponge Boss? Her enchanted Robe of the Lich (which deals 600 damage to you as soon as you put it on) and a once-per-day spell that restores a small amount of Health, Fatigue, and cures Common Disease (which, if you've gotten far enough in the main game's main quest, you're immune to anyway.)
    • In Skyrim's Dragonborn DLC, Master Neloth returns and is a major part of the DLC's main quest. While he is decidedly better about giving you tangible rewards, one of his offers is to make you a member of Great House Telvanni when he returns to Vvardenfell. He then makes a note that he has no intention of returning to Vvardenfell anytime soon and, if you're not one of the longer lived races, implies that this may very well be beyond your lifespan (thus making the gesture entirely meaningless).
  • Fallout:
    • Throughout the series, especially after Bethesda took over, the amount of caps you are paid for completing missions is far too low to make it worthwhile on its own. There are countless examples of being sent off to a location to slay a particular foe (and his dozen or so Mooks) only to be rewarded with a paltry sum of caps that doesn't even cover the stimpaks and ammunition you used in the process, as well as the weapon/gear repairs you need after. Luckily, whoever/whatever it was you were killing usually has enough loot on their bodies and in their lair to sell and still come out ahead.
    • A specific example of this trope occurs in Fallout. The Vault Dweller literally saves the life of every single resident of Vault 13, and what's his reward? He gets banished into the nuclear wasteland. (At least the sequel gives you the satisfaction of knowing the guy who kicked you out got lynched. And if you have the Bloody Mess perk, the Vault Dweller cleaves him in half with a single pistol shot on his way out.)
  • Final Fantasy XIV: As an adventurer, the Warrior of Light does prefer to get paid for their efforts rather than working pro bono. After all, if you're breaking your back fighting off hordes of monsters, escorting goblin merchants, and delivering packages, you'd want to get paid for it too. As noted by their journal entry at the end of the Blacksmith questline, the Warrior is happy to finally get paid after all the work they did for Laurisse de Jerviantnote  (even while rooting for her to win her tournament).
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • Link is almost universally shafted. Poor kid deserves a knighthood or something for all the stuff he goes through in the games, but what does he get? In The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, he finds out that the Windfish's dreamworld was erased and he's still shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean. Ocarina of Time "rewards" him by sending him back in time to childhood and stripping him of his fairy. Most of the other games end ambiguously at best. Midna may have said it best when she suggested that Link is meant to "toil in obscurity forever." Now remember that most of these Links are different people throughout history, and you realize that the name "Link" is a jinx for every poor sap that has it.
    • The non-canon animated series from the 80s was even worse than any of the games. Not only does Link do all of those things and get no reward for his trouble, everyone in the show still treats him like a useless moron and Zelda can't even be bothered to acknowledge him as a hero while repeatedly insulting him and his well-proven capability. There's even an episode where Ganon steals Link's soul and his ghost is only able to seek help from Zelda to stop him from dying a slow death as his spirit fades out of existence. Zelda never lets up on reminding him what a great burden it is for her to lend any amount of aid to the guy that regularly saves her, her family, her kingdom, and her entire damn universe, on a weekly basis.
    • The non-canon The Legend of Zelda CD-i Games were bad enough in their own rights, but the one game that actually starred Link had Zelda similarly dismiss his abilities and insult him. Even at the end of the game, when he tells her that he saved the world (again), she snottily huffs "Yea right." Granted she wasn't witness to Link's actions in that game, but considering how she's seen all the other times he's saved the world, it's still cold for her to treat him like an incompetent boob.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask: Link is trying the find Navi and gets sidetracked for days in an endless 3 day loop. Goes through the entire quest to finally save the inhabitants of the village from the big scary red-eyed moon of doom only to be told by his new (and even more annoying) Exposition Fairy that he should get lost, because the people of Termina have a carnival to attend that was scheduled for the day after. Adding insult to injury, he never finds Navi, either.
    • Robot Chicken did a sketch to this effect, where Link saves Zelda and she gives him twenty rupies instead of the shag he wanted. Apparently everyone feels bad for the guy(s) except the people who created them.
    • What happens at the end of the Zelda games is almost never explored in great detail, so we often don't actually know what exactly happens after the credits roll. The old The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past comic actually had a Bittersweet Ending where Link was made Captain of the Palace Guard for his heroics — which unfortunately meant that he was forever kept from Zelda (who he was in love with) because of the difference in their ranks. The game itself doesn't hint at this, however.
    • At least in Twilight Princess we see Link getting recognized for his exploits. Strangers recognize him in the town market after the Escort Mission, and congratulate him for his bravery. The Gorons can't stop offering to aid your quest after you complete Death Mountain. La Résistance is in awe of your courage.
    • Skyward Sword seems to subvert this because it does imply that there is romantic relation between Link and Zelda.
    • Link in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is likely to avert this very frequently, however this doesn't stop people from trying, but this Link is a lot more forceful and insistent on being rewarded for the effort he puts in towards certain acts since he otherwise has no method of support and has to constantly fight for resources. One side quest plays with the trope where Link manages to get a Hylian man and Gerudo woman together and the man pays Link a paltry 20 rupees for his troubles. The woman scolds her new love for being so cheap and orders him to pay Link more money, which he does so by giving another 100 rupees.
  • In the Mega Man Battle Network games no matter how often Lan and Mega Man save the entire cyber-network/world, they never seem to get an actual reward or significant recognition.
  • Lampshaded in Myst, at the end of the first game, where, after freeing Atrus, who then dispenses justice on his sons trapped in their respective books, mentions that he doesn't have much to offer for freeing him, as most of his library is burned, and his wife is being held hostage on the dying world of Riven. For some players, this can be confusing, as the game doesn't simply end with a credits sequence then and there; rather, it stays open-ended and you can indeed return to the ages you just explored.
  • Paper Mario:
    • In the original Paper Mario, you can help the elder of Koopa Village, Koopa Koot, with various errands, ranging from borrowing an "exercise" book from his neighbor to bringing him a cup of tea. Most of the time, his rewards will be 1 coin. Subverted in some cases, where he gives you a card that allows you to play in the casino, or some star pieces. It then becomes kind of heartwarming at the end, though, when his last errand for you is to go save the world.
    • In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, one of the optional sidequests requires Mario to help out Bub the Bob-omb by making an expensive gift and giving it to his mom. When the mission completes, Bub gives him his life savings: three coins.
  • In the original Pokémon Red and Blue games (plus Yellow), when you go into the front of the building you receive the Eevee from, one man promises to give you a "rare item" if you collect all 150 Pokémon and show him your Pokédex. So, after grueling hours of walking in circles in tall grass, a small fortune spent in Poké Balls, and multiple trades for version-exclusive Mons, what does he give you? An Ether! An item which, if you've been thorough in searching and diligent using the Item-Finder, you probably have at least a dozen of.
  • The Wise Old Man in RuneScape is a legendary hero remembered for all his acts of heroism. However, in his old age, he's grown bitter because he feels like he wasn't properly "rewarded" for everything he did. He eventually decides to use his powerful magic to rob a bank in order to get the reward he feels like he deserved.
  • The Chaotix Detective Agency more than likely go through this. Their first known mission was orchestrated by Dr. Eggman, leading to the three members to attack him when he promises to pay them "after [he] takes over the world!". And when he tries to escape after the Big Bad is defeated, Vector roars out "THAT SLIMEBALL!" and the trio chase after him again! And it's more than likely every other appearance is the same thing — they save the world, but they don't get a paycheck!
  • One early sidequest in Summoner features a wealthy merchant who offers you a "substantial reward" for retrieving something he claims is his from some bandits. The reward? 10 gold.
  • At the end of Super Robot Wars: Original Generation, the Hagane and Hiryu Custom has just saved the Earth from not only civil war but an alien invasion as well. Original Generation 2 began with the ATX team underneath Kenneth Garret, a slave driver who gives them no time off for relaxation. When they escape from him they end up under the control of Lee Linjun, a no nonsense captain who will gladly sacrifice everyone for victory, and who is jealous that he didn't save the world. Both of these characters (as well as several others) consider the L5 campaign to be a complete fluke.
  • At the end of Tak: The Great Juju Challenge, Tak and Lok return to the dining area, expecting a huge celebration of their winning the Challenge. Instead, they find only Jibolba sweeping. Jibolba explains that everyone went home early to beat the traffic.

  • 8-Bit Theater plays this in spades with respect to the Light Warriors, but it's justified in that any acts of heroism they may have committed (or coincidentally been present for) are completely incidental to the horrific acts of villainy they perform on a daily basis.
  • Happens to Winter and Otra more than once in Girly: They do all the work (well, them and elephants), Captain Fist gets all the glory. They don't seem to mind, however.
  • Double subverted in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!. After saving the world from the Iridium Bomb, Bob gets a Congressional Medal Of Honor. He accepts it, sets it on his mantle, and largely forgets about it. Having it doesn't change his life one way or the other.
  • Played for Drama in Joe vs. Elan School. As Joe points out, it's possible to be stuck in Elan School for years doing exactly what they tell you, and not receiving any promotion or graduation date. Later on, when Joe becomes a re-entry student, Elan gives him a part-time job doing manual labor around the campus, and tells him that they're putting his pay into a bank account for when he graduates. Except he doesn't get access to this account at all (if it even existed), meaning he essentially did unpaid labor for the school.

    Web Original 
  • In the webgame Antaris Realspace, after more or less reversing the tide of the entire war and taking out an enemy flagship with just a few ships, the ending says this: "Command has rewarded you by giving you a pay raise of 10 dinars. Those cheap Muthers!!!"
  • 'Winning' Survival of the Fittest. You get to live, that's it, and even that isn't even guaranteed: the winner of V0 got punted back into V1 and died, and the winner of V3 didn't even live past his first year.

    Western Animation 
  • Happens a few times in Ben 10. Notably in the incident with The Big Tick, where after saving the planet from a giant ravenous blob... Ben Tennyson has to clean its slime off the van while his companions relax and point out spots he missed.
  • Clone High: Joan sheds a tear at everyone lording on Abe being the MVP of a basketball game, even though Joan scored her school's only points (er, point) of the game.
  • Tommy Gilligan saves the whole Kids Next Door organization, but Numbuh 362 insists that a computer failsafe prevents them from re-inducting him in, and hey, rules are rules (luckily he decides he doesn't want to stay anyway).
  • An infuriating example occurs in Doug. Basically, Doug finds an envelope full of money. Naturally, being the good-hearted kid he is, he turns it into the police, and when the money is unclaimed after a month, it legally becomes his. As he is counting it, however, a Coincidental Broadcast from the old woman who lost the money in the first place appears on the TV, where she tearfully hopes for its return. He is motivated, out of nothing but the kindness of his heart, to return the money. His reward? A pack of gum. Being Good Sucks, indeed. At least his older sister Judy recognizes his good will and stops being a jerk to him ...for a while. She goes back to normal afterwards.
  • In Family Guy's Blue Harvest, Peter/Han is rewarded for rescuing Lois/Leia with a gift basket.
  • In the second season finale of Harley Quinn after peace is restored to Gotham the mayor hands out keys to the city to the Justice League, several randoms, and himself, but snubs Jim Gordon who did most of the work to restore law and order alongside Batgirl. In the third season Jim tries to get his revenge by running against him for mayor, only to lose the election to the Joker.
  • I Am Weasel, "This Bridge Not Weasel Bridge": Baboon freaks out reading a newspaper proclaiming Weasel to be responsible for the bridge, because Baboon was the one who finished all of the construction. In Weasel's defense, he does try to tell everyone that he didn't finish the bridge, but nobody listened to him.
  • Rivals Kim Possible and Bonnie Rockwaller set their differences aside to save Camp Gottagrin (formerly known as Wannaweep) from a scheming villain, but feel angered at a rival school winning an award at the cheer camp being held there. The only thing they've learned from the whole ordeal? "Cheer camp stinks."
  • In a Snooper and Blabber cartoon, it's Played for Laughs with Snooper. He had been framed for robberies committed by a mad scientist's robot duplicates of him, so when the police arrive and tell him he's up for a reward after cracking the case:
    Snooper: Reward? I just wanted to clear me good name. I ain't interested in no reward! And when do I collect it?
  • The Simpsons:
    • One episode has Homer Simpson pressure Bart to donate blood to save Mr. Burns' life, expecting to be "showered in riches." Instead, he simply gets a thank you card. After raising quite a stink over it, Burns at first decides to have goons beat Homer to a bloody pulp but changes his mind and instead gives them a massive Olmec statue of Xtapolapocetl. This ultimately leads to quite a Meta discussion about what exactly is the moral of the episode ending on:
      Homer: Save a guy's life, and what do you get? Nothing! Worse than nothing! Just a big, scary rock!
      Bart: Hey, man, don't badmouth the head.
      Marge: Homer, it's the thought that counts! The moral of this story is 'A good deed is its own reward'!
      Bart: Hey, we got a reward, the head is cool!
      Marge: Well, then... I guess the moral is 'No good deed goes unrewarded'.
      Homer: Wait a minute! If I hadn't written that nasty letter, we wouldn't have gotten anything.
      Marge: Well... Hmmm. Then I guess the moral is 'The squeaky wheel gets the grease'.
      Lisa: Perhaps there is no moral to this story.
      Homer: Exactly! It's just a bunch of stuff that happened.
      Marge: But it certainly was a memorable few days.
      Homer: Amen to that.
      [The family all laughs.]
    • In a later episode, Homer gets passed over for an "Employee of the Week" award to an "inanimate carbon rod". Later in the episode, he stuffs another inanimate carbon rod in a space shuttle door to prevent a Columbia-like disaster, but instead of being heralded a hero, the carbon rod he stuck in the door gets a parade.
    • Lisa writes an essay that gets a corrupt Senator arrested and impeached, but that same essay is beaten by a Vietnamese immigrant's in a national contest (see Crack Defeat).
    • When Mayor Quimby is about to be killed in an electric chair, Lisa Simpson comes up with the idea of firing a message tied to a mini-rocket, but Ralph gets the credit because he was the one who thought of asking Lisa. Although initially annoyed, Lisa congratulates Ralph along with everybody else after Bart says: "Come on, Lise, let him have this one — it's Ralph!"
    • In "Crook and Ladder", Homer, Moe, Skinner, and Apu save Mr. Burns's mansion from a fire. They expect a reward from the rich man, but instead he says he hates them and leaves. Moe remarks, "I can't believe he acted completely in character!"
    • When the Simpsons save Itchy & Scratchy Land from rampaging robots, they are given two free passes to the park. Not each. Between them.
  • Also happened to Kyle Broflovski of South Park. In a reference to The Bible, Kyle pays for everyone's loan, so they may spend money again. After few hours of paying with a plastic credit card and gathering a huge bill from every person in town, Kyle passes out and is transported to his home. When he wakes up, he sees on TV a report on "one person, who has sacrificed so much". When it turns out that the person in question is really Barack Obama, Kyle snaps in anger "Oh, come on!".
  • This mainly happens to Jo in the Alternate ending to the finale of Total Drama Revenge of the Island, as she gets annoyed after Lightning refuses to share the million dollars with her and the rest of the contestants of the season, she also complains that she got ripped off after dragging both of those maroons (ie. Cameron and Lightning) to the finale.
  • Causes an entire Face–Heel Turn in Tangled: The Series, where major character Cassandra goes through two whole seasons of the show (and, indeed, her entire life) being passed over for things that she works hard to get, while Rapunzel, as the protagonist, has gotten everything she ever wanted while Cassandra was always told to wait. Eventually, she has enough and makes use of an Artifact of Doom to get the power to take what she wants, having become fed up with constantly being passed over for what she thinks she deserves.