Most protagonists are depicted as imperfect; though heroic, they aren't flawless paragons of perfection, and will have some minor shortcomings to help the audience identify with them better. SuperBob can selflessly save the world on a daily basis, but mild-mannered Bob Trope will regularly leave the refrigerator door open.
Even so, some characters make a Heroic Vow: a commitment or standard that they will not cross for whatever reason. Perhaps it's a promise to a dear one, a sense of pride, a personal Moral Event Horizon, or just because the hero is a Nice Guy. If a villain takes vows, it's usually because Even Evil Has Standards.
Key to the Heroic Vow is that it is a commitment the character keeps because he willingly wants to. There are no talismans or fail-safes preventing the breaking of the vow, nor are they needed — the character's willpower and resolve are the only requirements.
Note that the Heroic Vow doesn't necessarily have to be spoken (or written); a hero's behavior enforced with sheer personal willpower counts. If the vow is spoken/written, it may become a Badass Creed.
Some Heroic Vows are so commonplace, they have their own tropes:
- Celibate Hero (will not have romantic or sexual relationships)
- Doesn't Like Guns (will not use firearms)
- Never Hurt an Innocent
- Thou Shalt Not Kill (will not commit murder — sometimes won't kill anything)
- Wouldn't Hurt a Child
- Wouldn't Hit a Girl
- Not using a Dangerous Forbidden Technique is frequently requested by a Mentor or Morality Chain, or self imposed after seeing the potential consequences.
Often an application of Heroic Spirit, and popular with a Knight In Sour Armor. When done well, can lead to Moments of Awesome. When handled poorly, can result in Honor Before Reason, Stupid Good, or Serious Business. If a hero becomes obsessed with enforcing his Heroic Vow, he may end up becoming The Fettered. If unlucky, they'll be forced to make their vow a Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow when circumstances force them to break it.
A convenient Narrative Device to drive a story in a direction it wouldn't normally go. Sometimes used to deliver An Aesop on morality. If the character is forced into breaking the Heroic Vow, expect a Heroic BSoD. If his determination to keep his vow starts to slip, it can be a prelude to Jumping Off the Slippery Slope.
Compare and contrast with Empty Promise, I Gave My Word, Pinky Swear, and Exact Words. When someone has broken this vow so thoroughly they become ostracised they're The Oath-Breaker. If the oath is strong enough to prevent even mind control from forcing them to break it, it's an Intrinsic Vow.
- Many heroes refrain from killing, but Rurouni Kenshin is very, very serious about the topic — to the point of preventing other people from killing if at all possible. It's justified by the fact that it's pretty much all that prevents him from regressing back to his "Hitokiri Battousai" persona: A emotionless killer who is utterly remorseless about any and all lives that he takes. He took the vow after realizing just how far he had fallen in his service to the Meiji revolution/government as an anti-Shogunate/pro-Meiji assassin during the Bakumatsu period.
- Also in the Thou Shalt Not Kill camp, Vash from Trigun.
- In Super Robot Wars Original Generation, Kyosuke promises Lamia that he'll kill her if she loses her mind.
If you ever lose your mind, don't worry. I'll destroy you myself.
- Naruto's vow to bring Sasuke back to Konoha. Arguably in the series every character has one, but Naruto's is the most important plotwise.
- The Five Kage Summit arc Deconstructed this, by showing the burden and increasing impossibility that this vow had entailed:
- After Sakura delivered her infamous fake love confession to Naruto to relieve him of the promise, not only does Naruto call her out for lying and then reject her outright by telling her that he hates people who lie to themselves, he also tells her that The Promise was no longer the reason why he wants to bring Sasuke back; he has his own reasons now.
- Naruto then added an addendum: he'll bring Sasuke back or settle for mutual death to eliminate the threat Sasuke has become.
- Naruto made one over Hinata's blood, to defeat Neji in the Chunin Exams finals and avenge her brutal defeat at the preliminaries. He succeeded.
- The Five Kage Summit arc Deconstructed this, by showing the burden and increasing impossibility that this vow had entailed:
- Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist made a vow to his brother to restore his body without resorting to the Philosopher's Stone, which drives him for most of the story. He also refuses to kill people but unfortunately sometimes his two vows clash.
- Also, and similar to the Super Robot Wars example, Riza Hawkeye has promised Roy Mustang that if he ever deviates from the righteous path, she will shoot him rather than let him go against his ideals. In an odd twist, this was his idea.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, Banagher gave his word to Audrey that he would protect her, and he's sticking to it, no matter what fights he gets plunged into and whether Audrey would like this or not.
- Shinn from Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny vows to protect Stella, even if it means handing her over to the Earth Alliance for medical treatment (and handing them a powerful combat asset), not attacking her while she wipes Berlin off the map, or attacking the Freedom in order to stop it from doing so.
- Balsa from Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit has vowed to save one life for everyone who died to protect her. When her childhood friend and healer called her out on how many lives she was taking in her efforts to accomplish that goal, she further swore never to kill.
- In Eureka Seven, Renton make a personal vow that he will protect his beloved Eureka. He nearly broke his vow when he ran away from Gekkostate in episode 21, but this vow eventually motivates him to go back.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Aster Phoenix had his fortune told that he would one day save his Childhood Friend Sartorius from evil, and Aster promised him he would. During the actual conflict years later, Sartorius is under Demonic Possession by the Light of Destruction and the real Sartorius appears in Aster's mind apologizing that he involved Aster in his attempt to save himself, but Aster admits he really does want to save his friend from the Light because Sartorius has helped him so much as a friend.
- Dr. Kenzo Tenma in Monster is bound and resolved to do two things: save every life he possibly can (as a wanted fugitive, he more than once has to hold people at gunpoint in order to get them the emergency care they need), and kill Johan. The inconsistency between these two vows is not missed, to put it mildly.
- Even though they were the antagonists at the time, the Wolkenritter swore during Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's that they wouldn't kill anyone during their quest to fill the Book of Darkness since it would taint Hayate's name with blood.
- Spider-Man has the infamous quote, "With great power comes great responsibility."
- After J. Jonah Jameson's wife is murdered by Alistair Smythe thanks to his Spider-Sense burning out, Spidey adds a new one "As long as I live, no-one else dies."
- The Astro City story "Old Times" features Supersonic, a Flying Brick who pledged to always use an original method against each of his opponents. When he's called out of retirement to stop a rampaging robot, he feels shamed because his impending senility has reduced him to simply hitting it until it stops.
- In Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, Ash suffers a Heroic BSoD when he learns that Iris, Dawn and Cilan might be dead in the new timeline. After snapping out of it, he vows to become stronger to protect the friends he still has.
- Arturia gives one to Cassandra in A Knight's Tale as Inquisitor during her stint as the latter's prisoner, swearing to put her life on the line against the crisis coming from the sky, but only if she has a weapon to aid her with it.
- In Pixar's Up, Carl and Ellie Fredriksen make a vow to visit Paradise Falls... even if it takes them an entire lifetime to do so.
- In Kung Fu Panda, Po endures everything thrown at him in his Training from Hell to become the Dragon Warrior. Noting that "a real warrior never quits," Po vows to persevere no matter what, and endures everything inflicted on him without complaint.
- In The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya devotes his entire life to finding the six-fingered man who killed his father.
Inigo: I promise I will not kill you until you reach the top.
- Similarly, Inigo insists on a fair fight with his opponents, to the point of helping the Man in Black up the cliff and waiting for him to be rested before beginning their duel.
Man in Black: That's very comforting, but I'm afraid you'll just have to wait.
Inigo Montoya: Isn't there any way you trust me?
Man in Black: Nothing comes to mind.
Inigo Montoya: I swear on the soul of my father, Domingo Montoya, you will reach the top alive.
Man in Black: ... throw me the rope.
- In G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Snake-Eyes takes a vow of silence after the death of the Hard Master.
- There's a Running Gag in Galaxy Quest where Sir Alexander Dane winces every time he hears or says his Catch-Phrase. It becomes a Heroic Vow after the death of his protege Quellek.
- The Contract in The Man Who Would Be King is one of these.
- Vlad's in Dracula Untold, when someone mentions they couldn't win the fight against the Ottoman Empire.
Vlad III Dracula: I'll find a way.
- Two major ones from Animorphs. Firstly, the kids will never morph a sentient species without the individual's express permission. The other vow is a little more vague: The kids "fight Yeerks, but won't become them". This essentially means the kids agree to not use the same underhanded tactics Yeerks use (cold-blooded murder, ganging up on a single enemy, etc.) They end up breaking both of these vows.
- The Chronicles of Narnia: In "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader", Reepicheep pledges to find Aslan's country. Caspian also vowed at his coronation to search for the seven missing lords.
- Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
Every day. Read to Young Sam. No excuses. He'd promised himself that. No excuses. No excuses at all. Once you had a good excuse, you opened the door to bad excuses.
- In Thud!, Sam Vimes will stop whatever he's doing and go home to read "Where's My Cow?" to his son at 6 o'-clock... even if he's halfway across town or buried underground at the time.
- The novels suggest that this is the only reason Granny Weatherwax doesn't become a stereotypical Wicked Witch.
- The Divine Comedy: The reason Thes have the lowest place in Heaven is that freedom is the greatest treasure a person can give to God, making vows of celibacy and service matters of incredible heroism and seriousness.
"For when a pact is drawn between a man
and God, then through free will, a man gives up
what I have called his treasure, his free will."
- The Dresden Files have the Knights of the Cross. They are three paladins in the modern world wielding a Sword that carries in its hilt a Nail that pierced Jesus Christ. Their Swords are called Fidelacchius aka the Sword of Faith, Esperacchius aka the Sword of Hope, and Amoracchius aka the Sword of Love. While they each get missions and intuitions from the Lord-On-High or His administration, non-Christians may be Knights. Their vow isn't to the doctrine of Christianity, but rather an accepting that people need help and they will help them, even at the risk of their own life to help people. They will not harm the innocent. They will follow the ideals that particular Sword invokes.note And most importantly, the first mission of any Knight is to save and redeem the lives of those who are possessed by Fallen Angels, not to strike them down. It isn't their place to judge. Failing these vows means risking the Power of the Sword itself as acting against the nature of the Sword could rob the power from the Sword. That said, it is possible another could take up the Sword and reawaken the dormant power.
- Sparhawk of David Eddings' The Elenium, who maintains an ironclad sense of personal honor and dignity despite his own world-weary cynicism and the criminals and evils he has to deal with.
- In the Elephant & Piggie book "Can I Play Too?", Piggie vows to find a way so Snake can play catch with them, even though he lacks any appendages to do so.
- Arguably, Aziraphale in Good Omens has one in regards to profanity. He breaks it.
"Oh dear," muttered Aziraphale, not swearing with the practiced ease of one who has spent six thousand years not swearing, and who wasn't going to start now.
- Surprisingly defied in The Lord of the Rings when the Fellowship is formed. Gimli wants the Fellowship to swear an oath to protect Frodo and get the Ring to Mount Doom, but Elrond refuses to allow it. "No oath, no bond is laid on you to go further than you will." Turns out to be a good thing in the end, since it allows most of the Fellowship to part from Frodo (due to circumstance and necessity) without becoming The Oath-Breaker.
- These are a major element in C.J. Cherryh's Morgaine Cycle. They form a big part of Vanye's characterization due to his Nhi obsession with honor, and when he does something stupid to keep his honor he's generally well aware of the stupidity of what he's doing. Oaths, their making, their consequences and the attendant difficulties, anguish and so on make for some major drama.
- In Pact, Blake Thorburn swears to Evan Matthieu, the ghost of a murdered child, that he will kill monsters like the one that killed Evan. Blake keeps this oath even after being made an Unperson by a demon and losing his humanity, though he later redefines his definition of "monster" to include monstrous people.
- In Pyrates, George van Gelder and his friends pledge to protect each other no matter what.
- In The Stormlight Archive, the Knights Radiant have oaths (called Ideals) that represent their bonds to their spren, and grant them their powers.
- The first is the same for every Order:
- The Second Ideal of the Windrunners:
- The Third Ideal of the Windrunners:
- The Second Ideal of the Skybreakers:
I will put the law before all else.
- The Second Ideal of the Edgedancers:
I will remember those who have been forgotten.
- The Third Ideal of the Edgedancers:
I will listen to those who have been ignored.
- Lightweavers make no oaths beyond the first, and only need to speak truths (especially about themselves) to advance.
- The Second Ideal of the Bondsmiths:
I will unite instead of divide. I will bring men together.
- Gawyn Trakand from The Wheel of Time swears an oath to protect his sister to the death, even when she makes his childhood a living hell with her antics, she runs off in the middle of training twice, leaving him behind. It gets worse, yet he never waivers.
- Half's Saga: Half's Heroes (King Half's hand-picked viking crew) set a lot of rules for themselves that are meant to highlight and attest their manliness and to increase their fame. One of these rules is "that none of them should have a sword longer than eighteen inches, so they would be forced to get in close"; another is to never bandage a wound till a whole day has passed. They also pledge themselves to never carry off women or children, and furthermore to never pitch tent on land or awnings on their ship, and to never reef a sail in a storm.
- Star Trek's Prime Directive: Every Starship captain swears a solemn oath that he will risk his ship and crew, rather than interfere with a planet's normal development.
- It may seem to be violated so often it is hardly a vow at all, but many of the cases are actually a case of Loophole Abuse, especially early on: the Prime Directive forbids interfering with a planet's normal or healthy development, depending on the quote in question. A captain may argue that failing to develop at all is not normal or healthy development, especially if it is not by the free choice of the members of the culture in question, and Starfleet itself originally mandated discreet interference in the most severe case of ceasing to develop, namely ceasing to exist. The Prime Directive is also superseded by a Starfleet vessel's requirement under interstellar law to respond to distress calls and render any possible aid, which was a plot point in one episode of TNG.
- The principle is generally expressed as a right of self-determination for any society. Even if this means that society making choices which harm or even destroy itself (like oppressive government or civil war). It is also taken much more seriously in the case of civilizations which have not yet developed interstellar travel, that's where the "normal development" part really comes into play; these civilizations have to find their own way to the stars while figuring out how best to run their society (or not). They are treated some-what like under-age minors, simply off-limits even if you might have the best of intentions. In-universe, opinions differ on whether "normal development" includes acts of nature (like the local sun going supernova or a naturally occurring disease which threatens to wipe out a sentient species who possess inadequate medical technology).
- More than one writer in the Expanded Universe has portrayed the Prime Directive as extremely problematic in-universe, a knee-jerk reaction to a couple of incidents where Giving Radio to the Romans went catastrophically wrong that was too vaguely-worded and poorly thought out, but which nobody can figure out how to revise for the better.
- In CSI: NY, Mac Taylor will categorically not allow evidence fabrication or tampering within his lab.
- Derek Reese from Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. He will stop at absolutely nothing in order to fight the coming cybernetic invasion, simply because no matter how hopeless it gets, it's not just the right thing to do... it's the only thing to do.
- Doctor Who:
- The Doctor holds such a vow. It is that vow which defines what it means to be the Doctor.
The Doctor: Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in.
- The so called "War Doctor", or Not-Doctor, iteration is thus his deepest shame. Because he feels like in that incarnation he did give up on finding a way to Take a Third Option, choosing mass genocide (of his own people) in order to save the universe. Except it turns out he didn't, but had to suppress his own memory of interacting with his future selves when they saved Gallifrey instead
- He also follows Thou Shalt Not Kill. That one he's a bit more flexible about when push comes to shove, but he's never happy to violate it, and only ever as an absolute last resort (usually involving making a Heroic Sacrifice himself at the same time)
Madame Kovarian: The anger of a good man is not a problem. Good men have too many rules.
The Eleventh Doctor: (calmly) Good men don't need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.
- The tenth Doctor also feels that he needs to give the villains a chance to peacefully surrender, even when it's painfully clear that they won't, and it may cost him his life. In one case, a Heel Face Turned genius has to perform a Heroic Sacrifice to keep him from doing the same.
- The Doctor holds such a vow. It is that vow which defines what it means to be the Doctor.
- In Wolf Hall this is more of an Anti-Heroic vow, given who speaks it, however. When George Cavendish tearfully relates the story of Cardinal Wolsey's sudden arrest for high treason and his fatal illness, which he implies was brought on by the shock and hurt, he prays God to take revenge on the Boleyns and the other men who brought Wolsey down. Thomas Cromwell's reply sets the stage for the rest of the series.
"No need to trouble God, George. I'll take it in hand."
- The Dungeons & Dragons Splat book, The Book of Exalted Deeds, has various vow Feats that carry advantages and disadvantages. The Vow of Poverty for instance disallows you from owning equipment, but gives you roughly 80% of your estimated wealth in bonuses).
- In the Fifth Edition of Dungeons and Dragons, all Paladins must swear an oath when they reach third level. The oath of a paladin not only determines what abilities they will get as they level up, but also sets a code of conduct which they must always uphold. For example, Paladins who swear the Oath of Devotion strive to uphold the ideals of honor and chivalry. Those who swear the Oath of the Ancients promise to protect all the beautiful, life-giving things in the world. Paladins who swear the Oath of Vengeance devote their life to hunting down and punishing evildoers, no matter the cost. If a Paladin willfully breaks their oath, they either lose their paladin abilities until they repent, are forced to switch character classes, or become an Oathbreaker.
- In Exalted, the Charm Righteous Lion Defense causes a magically enforced version of this: one of the character's Intimacies becomes utterly inviolate, and nothing, not even Mind Control, can persuade him to act against it.
- In Warhammer 40,000, the Black Templars chapter of space marines, an army of particularly pious warrior monks, may choose a vow that affects how they fight a battle. One, for example, gives all models a weak saving throw against ranged attacks that would normally ignore their Power Armor, but keeps them from taking cover, while another forces units to charge at the nearest enemy but grant them significant combat bonuses when doing so.
- The titular Oath of Oath Of The Gatewatch. Each of the members has their own personal version.
Gideon Jura: "I have seen civilization fall. When the Eldrazi destroyed Sea Gate, they threatened all I believe. The people of Zendikarmy whole armywere nothing more than stinging flies in their path. Never again. Not just the Eldrazi, and not just Zendikar. Never again, not on any world. This I swear: For Sea Gate, for Zendikar and all its people, for justice and peace, I will keep watch."Nissa Revane: "I have seen a world laid waste. As the Eldrazi sweep over Zendikar, the land is reduced to dust and ash. Left unchecked, they will consume it and everything on it. Never again. For Zendikar and the life it nurtures, for the life of every plane, I will keep watch."
—>Jace Beleren: "I have seen a greater danger than I could have imagined. The Eldrazi don't threaten just Zendikar. If we leave here, if we leave them alone, they could consume plane after plane until even Ravnica is laid waste. At this moment, Emrakul could be drifting through the Blind Eternities, looking for another plane to devour. Never again. For the sake of the Multiverse, I will keep watch."Chandra Nalaar: "Every world has its tyrants, following their own desires with no concern for the people they step on. They're no different from the Eldrazi. So I'll say it: never again. If it means that people can live in freedom, yeah, I'll keep watch."Liliana Vess: "I see that together we're more powerful than we are alone. If that means I can do what needs to be done without relying on the Chain Veil, then I'll keep watch. Happy now?"Ajani Goldmane: "I have seen tyrants whose ambitions knew no limits. Creatures who styled themselves gods, or praetors, or consuls, but thought only of their own desires, not of those they ruled. Whole populations deceived. Civilizations plunged into war. People who were simply trying to live...made to suffer. To...to die. Never again. Until all have found their place, I will keep watch."
- In Dissidia: Final Fantasy when Cosmos, worrying for his life tires to convince the Warrior not to continue. He instead encourages her to have faith in him and the other heroes in the form of a vow that he will never give up. Cosmos is so moved by his vow that she in turn makes one of her own, to not lose faith in him and the others.
Warrior of Light: I have made a vow to obtain the crystal and save the world. That vow gives me strength.Cosmos: I understand your determination. Then I shall also make a vow...to believe in all of you until the end.
- Shirou in Fate/stay night has an interesting personal vow. Apart from the one about saving everyone, that is. This one is about how he can accept losing to an enemy, but he refuses to let his own weakness or body get in the way. Basically, he refuses to give up until you kill him outright where he stands. And in one HF ending, he appears to surpass even that to save Sakura.
- In Guenevere, Lancelot vows to always do everything in his power to protect Guenevere, to dedicate his every victory to her glory, and to never ask anything from her in return.
- From Persona, Yukino Mayuzumi pledges to rescue Saeko-sama from the Snow Queen, no matter what.
- In the Windham Classics text-adventure adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man swears an oath to "Guard [the party] with my axe, and shield you with my tin" upon being recruited.
- Valvatorez from Disgaea 4 has made a vow to never drink human blood until he can show a certain woman true fear. He does not care that the woman in question is long dead, the vow has depleted him of all his former power and standing, and that everybody except for him agrees that the vow is utterly unnecessary - he made a promise and he's going to keep it. He eventually does show Artina (now an angel) true fear in one of the epilogues: the fear of losing him.
- Luke fon Fabre in Tales of the Abyss makes one of these after the destruction of Akzeriuth, complete with Important Haircut. He essentially vows to accept responsibility for what he has done, begin making decisions for himself, and atone for his crime. Considering he's spent the last portion of the game either completely denying his guilt or in combo Heroic BSoD / Heroic R.R.O.D., this is pretty damn awesome.
- Luke: With this...I say goodbye to who I've been.
- There are assorted variation of the speech Shepard can give in Mass Effect 2 before the final assault on the Collector Base, but most of them come out as one.
Shepard: We don't know how many the Collectors have stolen. Thousands, hundreds of thousands. It's not important. What matters is this: Not. One. More. That's what we can do here, today. It ends with us. They want to know what we're made of? I say we show them, on our terms. Let's bring our people home.
- Kin of Goblins tried to free herself from Goblinslayer by escaping, but it always failed. Finally she came to the conclusion that fleeing would solve nothing, and that it was necessary for her to stand and solve her problems. So, even as she lay bleeding and weak, she swore to never run away again.
- Chevalier the mouse, hero of the webcomic CHEVALIER makes one to determine his destiny. Read it here.
- The Global Guardians PBEM Universe has Thunderfist, a former Seattle cop who vowed to never violate proper police procedure when it came to evidence collection or the treatment of suspects.
- Serving as his first proper character establishing moment, Kytheus Rhavenfell, the main character of There is no GATE; we did not fight there, cuts his palm with a knife while swearing to protect Rhavenfell at all costs, as part of a traditional ceremony. As a result of a natural 100 out of a d100, it's....very impressive for someone six years old, to say the least.
I, Kytheus Rhavenfell, Swear upon Kythuna, all the gods, my blood, my fathers blood, and all our ancestors blood to safeguard Rhavenfell and its people against all that would wish it harm! I swear to hold the line! Even if my bones break! Even if I have to burn to ashes! Even if my soul shatters! I swear to you, I swear to all of you! Rhavenfell will endure!
- In Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, after Aggregor recaptures the last of his escaped prisoners, Ben makes one to save the aliens and stop Aggregor.
- This is why Freakazoid! couldn't go after the Lobe.
"Much as it pains me, I have to honor the Lobe's request, the same as everyone else's... 'Cause it's in the codebook, okay? 'Cause superheroes always keep their word no matter what, okay?"
- Occurs in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Best Night Ever". When the mane six's efforts to make their dreams come true fail, they each individually vow to redouble their efforts.
- Rarity: ...I've waited all my life...
Fluttershy:...for this moment...
Pinkie Pie:...and I'm not going to...
Applejack:...let it slip by!...
Rainbow Dash:...If it's the last thing I do...
Twilight Sparkle: ...I'm gonna make this...
All:...the best night ever!
- Also appears in "Applebuck Season", with Applejack vowing to bring in the harvest without anybody's help.
- Aang has this problem in Avatar: The Last Airbender, since he refuses to kill Firelord Ozai. He risks his soul to do so, but he ends up being able to keep it and save the world.
Aang: I will not take a life....