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Incapable of Disobeying

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Henri: What is it that disturbs you about orders?
Florence: They're terrifying! If you ordered me to chew my fingers off, I'd do it! If I'm ordered to destroy all the turtles in the world, I would try to carry the orders out!
Henri: Safeguards would... No, it's not hurting humans. It is an order. Nuts, you would do it.

When there are rules or laws such that the characters who live under them are absolutely incapable of disobeying them, even if they wished to, no matter how free-willed they otherwise are.

This can be an element of the world itself that affects all who live in it, such as a divine edict, a trait specific to certain races or types of individual, such as a Servant Race or a Genie, or a form of binding of one person absolutely to another's will, such as through a Restraining Bolt or Magically-Binding Contract. The key point is that, much like how robots can not take any action that violates their inherent programming, these characters can not take any action that violates their specific laws, and trying to is either futile from the start or is a powerful act of will on the part of the violator.

Characters subject to this trope are, or can appear to be, completely free-willed and able to act freely when their choices are not subject to their rules. However, should those rules come into play, they will obey any command they are given or compulsion they are subject to, even if that obedience means being able to do nothing but watch as something horrible happens right in front of them or, worse, being made to commit that act themselves. If a bound character is told not to reveal information, expect them to be Tongue-Tied. A character in this situation who's feeling rebellious regardless might find ways to twist their orders by exploiting Exact Words, Loophole Abuse, or otherwise Bothering by the Book.

For related and subtropes, compare Blind Obedience, Compelling Voice, Magically-Binding Contract, and Restraining Bolt, which can cause similar effects on a smaller scale. Three Laws-Compliant is a specific form where robots are required to obey orders from humans unless it's to harm other humans. See also Geas, which may or may not be breakable by choice but carries stiff penalties for doing so regardless. This effect can also be achieved by Behavioral Conditioning or Brainwashing.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Banished from the Hero's Party:
    • All people within the setting receive Divine Blessings. These blessings give an individual special abilities of varying strength, but also carry impulses that drive a person to act in accordance with their blessing. The degree to which this is true varies depending on the person, their affinity with their blessing, and the strength of the blessing itself and can cause issues for those whose desired lifestyles conflict with the compulsions of their blessing. For example, village boy Ademi wants to follow in his father's footsteps and join the town guard, but his Bar Brawler blessing makes him prone to anger and quick to violence, qualities that would hamper such a career. A major plot element is a drug, Demon's Blessing, that can be used to weaken one's blessing and, by extension, weaken its impulses, but causes the user to go berserk when the demon whose blessing is being used to weaken the original blessing instead overpowers it.
    • The most extreme case of a blessing's control over an individual is Ruti Ragnason. Her Blessing of the Hero makes her effectively The Chosen One and a potential One-Woman Army who will defeat the Demon Lord's Army, and she has no choice in the matter whatsoever. From as young as five, her blessing compelled her not only to search for a missing child alone but to fight the monster threatening the kid despite her knowing she had no chance, because her blessing prioritizes helping others over her own survival. When she realizes Ares chased her brother Gideon out of the party, she attacks him in a moment of rage that is all Ruti, only for the Hero, who cannot harm allies or leave an injured person alone, to heal him immediately afterward. She can't even go after Gideon and bring him back, even though it's the thing she wants most, because it would be a hindrance to the Hero's Journey. One of her companions even comes to realize that, of all the people involved in the fight with the Demon Lord's Army, Ruti is the one who was given no choice in the matter. Given all this, as soon as Ruti learns what Demon's Blessing can do she chugs a dose on the spot and, able to act on her own wishes for the first time in ages, if not first time ever, goes in search of the alchemist who created it to procure more.
  • There are Fridge Horror implications in Hetalia: Axis Powers that the personified countries have no power to go against what their leaders tell them to do. Japan is shaking and crying/sweating when he stabs China in the back during the First Sino-Japanese War, Russia was forced to work in horrific conditions and destroy tanks with his bare hands by Stalin (fortunately the nations are also Made of Iron with a Healing Factor), and Germany grumbles about Hitler and protests being forced to annex Austria but ultimately goes through with it and Finland warns him that Hitler might have him imprisoned or hurt if he talks back too much.
  • During the Great Ninja War arc of Naruto, Kabuto resurrects several powerful shinobi to act as an army using the Edo Tensei jutsu. Kabuto can exert total dominance over his undead minions, but opts to order them to fight while otherwise allowing them to act freely. This results in situations like one person actively trying to tell his adversaries his weakness so they can defeat him again while simultaneously trying to kill them.
  • In Disboard, the world of No Game No Life, the supreme god Tet decreed that all violence was forbidden and that any and all conflicts are to be resolved through games. Sora and Shiro get a taste of this immediately upon landing in Disboard, when they are attacked by bandits who challenge them to games to rob the siblings rather than assault them.
  • Sword Art Online:
    • In the Alicization arc, the artificial souls that make up the population of Underworld live under a "Taboo Index" that enforces Underworld's Fantastic Caste System with absolute authority. An example of its effect on its people is when Eugeo tries to stop the attempted rape of two girls he and Kirito were mentoring. The act Eugeo wants to stop is not a violation of of the Taboo Index, but the fact that it's being performed by a noble, where Eugeo is a simple commoner, means that trying to stop it is. As a result, Eugeo can, at first, only watch helplessly, unable to move or act in anyone's defense. When Eugeo manages enough Heroic Resolve to resist the Taboo Index and fight back, the effort and backlash of doing so causes his eye to explode from its socket.
    • From the same arc, while fighting their way through the Cathedral, Kirito and Eugeo meet Linel and Fizel, a pair of apprentice nuns who snuck out to see the intruders after all the non-Integrity Knights were ordered to lock themselves in their rooms. This trope is one of the factors in Kirito's realizing they weren't what they claimed to be, since if such an order had been given, then the girls could never have stepped outside their rooms. Because of this, Kirito is able to turn the tables on their sudden but inevitable betrayal.
  • Yokai in Tactics have an inborn trait that makes them obey the human who names them when that human calls their name.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Wonder Woman (1942): The Amazons and Winged Women of Venus both use Venus Girdles on captives, unruly subjects and in the Amazons' case Amazons in training. Venus Girdles are meant to make the wearer "enjoy loving submission" and those wearing the things not only have to obey every order they're given their emotions are also warped to make them feel like enjoying it.
    • Wondy's first magic lasso wasn't the Lasso of Truth, but the Lasso of Submission and anyone wrapped in it had to obey the orders of whomever was holding the end. The lasso's powers were quietly refined over time, and the Lasso of Submission now shows up in the hands of the Evil alternate Wondy who goes by Superwoman.

    Fan Works 
  • The Accidental Warlord And His Pack: Gustavus has placed his attendants under so many compulsions that they can't do anything beyond following his orders. If he wants to use them in his experiments or torture them, they have no choice but to comply.
  • Children of the Grimmlands: After being turned into Grimm, all of Jaune's siblings are conditioned to follow his every command and stay by his side at all times.
  • Enchanted, a My Hero Academia fic: Present Mic is hit by a quirk like this. He goes quiet when he’s told to be quieter and then to stop talking. Someone tells him to eat a bite of cake and he has a strawberry allergy and reacts to it. His scummy temporary director at the radio station recognizes the signs of the quirk and takes advantage, telling him to come on a date and put a picture of it on Instagram... right after he follows Nemuri telling him to confess his feelings to Shota. Then Shota tells him to get lost after seeing the Instagram post and he literally does. Although he’s hospitalized, the obedience quirk guy makes Hizashi come with him to trap Shota so he can order Mic to kill Shota. Mic tries but finds a loophole that the guy didn’t say Mic couldn’t punch him. He’s unable to resist shooting Shota but Shota cancels the guy’s quirk with Erasure and it frees Mic. The love confession, however, is actually genuine.
  • For You, I Will: The fic paints a dark picture of imprinting when Embry imprints on Melanie Sampson. She uses that to her advantage by making him a Serial Killer against his will, sexually abusing him, and forcing him to rape other women.
  • Ginny Weasley: Double Life: The hypnotic snake Milikan makes Ginny Weasley her servant, but the only clear rule Milikan insists that Ginny must obey is not to tell anyone else about Milikan's presence in her life, but Milikan otherwise makes it clear that Ginny is always free to tell her "no", and understands when Ginny makes it clear she wouldn't leave her family even if Milikan ordered her.
  • Smart Adversaries AU: Roger Over and Out shows that Adrien believes he can't disobey a direct order from his Control Freak father. So when his dad wants him to embrace his new "bad boy" image by pulling pranks at school, sowing discord that Hawkmoth then exploits by akumatizing more people at his school, well... he doesn't want to do it, but feels he has no real choice.
  • The Violet Demon: Fornaxian control collars completely override the nervous systems of the people that they are placed on, rendering them completely unable to control their bodies, except for they eyes, and forcing them to comply with every order that they are given.

  • A Chorus of Dragons: Particularly unruly or difficult slaves are controlled using gaeshes, items created by ripping out a piece of the slave's soul and putting it into a small object. Afterwards, anyone who holds the gaesh can command the slave to do whatever they please, and the slave cannot disobey — or, technically speaking, they can, but the gaesh's magic will kill them horribly for their defiance.
  • The Dresden Files: The Sidhe possess no free will of their own and act in accordance with the various rules and laws of their kind. Understanding these rules and laws is a necessity when dealing with them, especially since the Fae are, as a rule, absolute masters of Loophole Abuse. For example, they are incapable of lying, but are masters at the use of tactics like Exact Words and You Didn't Ask. In Cold Days, a Fae compromised by a major villain is revealed due to this, when Dresden realizes she actively lied to him, which she should never have been able to do normally.
  • The premise of Ella Enchanted and its corresponding film is that Ella is Blessed with Suck by a fairy giving her the "gift of obedience" soon after her birth. This "gift" forces Ella to obey any direct order given to her, no matter what. The film takes this to the point that if Ella is ordered to "freeze", she will stop in midair and remain there until ordered otherwise.
  • Foundation's Edge: During the climax, one of the Gaians explains how their Hive Mind is morally restricted from taking certain actions. They learned how to become a planetary consciousness from robots thousands of years ago. Because they were Three Laws-Compliant, Gaia operates on a modified version of those laws.
    "The First Law, in those terms, is: 'Gaia may not harm life or, through inaction, allow life to come to harm. ' We have followed this rule through all of our history and we can do no other."Gaia through Novi
  • The Gap Cycle: Space travelers suffering from "gap sickness" (a form of psychosis brought on by hyperspace) can be fitted with zone implants that allow their nervous systems to be temporarily shut down. In theory, this allows someone else to stop them if they become a danger to themselves or others, but Angus Thermopyle abuses Morn Hyland's implant to make her compliant while he abuses her.
  • Harry Potter:
    • House elves are creatures that loyally serve their masters and are bound to obey their orders. Dumbledore utilizes this in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to quickly confirm whether or not Harry has inherited Sirius Black's property following his death in the previous book. Dumbledore summons the Black family's house elf, Kreacher, and has Harry issue him an order. When Kreacher gets on his nerves, Harry orders him to shut up and, instantly, the elf can't say a single word, proving Harry has become his master.
    • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Dobby works for a wizarding family with a grudge against Harry that are plotting against him. Dobby wants to help Harry, but cannot warn him directly, and his attempts to help anyway generally do more harm than good. Once Harry arranges for him to be freed, Dobby has nothing holding him back and he can lay his former master flat on his back to defend Harry.
    • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Kreacher was able to betray Sirius and, by extension, the Order of the Phoenix. As Dumbledore explains at the end of the book, he took advantage of an angry command by Sirius to "Get Out!" to leave his home for the first time in years, ran straight to a member of the extended Black family, and spilled what he could. Fortunately, his ability to do so was hampered by being unable to reveal anything Sirius had specifically forbidden him to speak of, but he was still able to do irreparable damage with what little he could, as it led directly to Sirius' death.
  • Into The Broken Lands: The mage-crafted Human Weapon Nonee was created with a word that compels her obedience. This in turn was used to assign her a set of duties that includes obeying specific people. It's ultimately revealed that the control word's magic can't be shared, only transferred from one master to another, and the previous master relinquished it to Nonee herself — she's been helping the expedition of her own free will.
  • The Pull works this way in Pale Grey Dot. The loyal chips installed in the operatives force them to "do what She would want". They're forced to interpret that vague directive as accurately as they can.
  • The Machineries of Empire: The Hexarchate's military Kel faction uses psych surgery to condition all its recruits to obey the chain of command. This lets a rogue general hijack an entire fleet by walking aboard and pulling rank; the crew know his reputation but have to fall in line because his rank hasn't yet been formally revoked.
  • Malediction Trilogy: Trolls and mixed-bloods are incapable of disobeying an order if one delivering the order used their true name.
  • The Stormlight Archive: The Dreaded "Assassin in White" Szeth is compelled to obey any command from whoever holds his Oathstone that doesn't involve killing himself or surrendering his Shardblade. Subverted when it's revealed that the Oathstone is just a rock and Szeth is only driven by honor and self-loathing.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Review, Forrest tries to present himself this way: he has no choice but to review whatever viewers request, so he's not responsible for anything he does while carrying out a review. Any attempts to point out that of course he has a choice, that he could simply choose not to do a review, or that he could quit the show altogether, are roundly ignored.

    Multiple Media 
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the clone troopers of the Old Republic's Grand Army are revealed to have been implanted with wetware chips to ensure absolute compliance with "numbered" Sealed Orders, such as the infamous "Order 66", which caused them to turn on their own Jedi generals in Revenge of the Sith. Notably, the film offers no fantastic justification for the clones' obedience, strongly implying that they were Just Following Orders — a part of the film's recurring discussion of how fascist regimes like the Galactic Empire can realistically come about. In the novelization, it's stated that the exact reason Order 66 worked is because the clone troopers felt no hostility towards the Jedi up until the moment the Order made them attack, which caught them all off-guard.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • One of the big reveals of BioShock is that the player character, Jack, will obey any instructions included with his Trigger Phrase "would you kindly". One of the audio journals features Jack being forced to break the neck of his own pet puppy while begging not to be given the order. This is also how Andrew Ryan dies on his own terms, ordering you to beat him to death rather than let you do it on your own.
  • Divinity: Original Sin II: The Ancient Empire of the Lizard Folk mark their slaves with magical scars that let them be controlled through songs. Normally these only force the slave to obey the singer, as seen with the Living Ship the Lady Vengeance, but they can also be amplified to effectively cause Death of Personality.
  • In Fallout 3, the Ghoul mercenary Charon was raised to be subservient to whoever holds his contract. He isn't entirely loyal to the holder and has his own moral compass, as is proven when he shoots Azhrukhal after the Lone Wanderer buys his contract from him and will shoot the Lone Wanderer if they killed a good person before dismissing him, but so long as anybody holds his contract he has no choice but to do as they ask. Annoyingly, this is subverted in two instances where he refuses to go through irradiated environments for no reason despite his immunity to radiation. He implies if you ask him to fetch the G.E.C.K. that his contract only covers combat situations, but you can't actually read the contract yourself. The following case, when the control chamber of Project Purity is flooded with radiation, was revised with Broken Steel such that he obeys and activates the purifier.
  • Retroactively subverted in Mass Effect 3, where ex-Cerberus agent Miranda Lawson confesses to Shepard that, as the head of the Lazarus Project which brought Shepard Back from the Dead in Mass Effect 2, she wanted to install a chip in their brain to prevent them from ever turning on Cerberus. Her decision was only overridden by Cerberus' top boss, who wanted Shepard back exactly as they were before death — and Miranda admits that he was ultimately 100% right and apologizes to Shepard.
  • In the main Shin Megami Tensei games, demons that were contracted, summoned, or fused through the Demon Summoning Program are incapable of disobeying their summoner.
  • Warframe:
    • The Grineer are genetically hardwired to serve the Twin Queens' every whim. They're forced to submit themselves to execution whenever the Queens are displeased and engage in system-wide warfare whether they like it or not. Steel Meridian is populated by Grineer who have a genetic defect that allow them to disobey the Twin Queens.
    • The Orokin installed a Restraining Bolt in their Dax Super Soldiers to prevent them from turning against them. For as long as the Orokin retains their scepter, the Dax soldiers cannot disobey their commands. The Grineer Twin Queens are actually Orokin who transferred their minds into Grineer bodies to survive their kin's downfall, but retain their scepter and its compelling abilities, allowing them to control Teshin, a Dax soldier.

    Visual Novels 
  • Reigning Passions: Pax, as the "creation" of Gideon, is bound to his orders. If Gideon orders him to stand aside, Pax's body is pulled to the side as if by an invisible force.

  • Freefall:
    • All Artificial Intelligences, including Uplifted Animals like Florence the Bowman's Wolf, are legally required to have "safeguards" that compel them to obey direct orders from anyone with the authority to give them. Dr. Bowman edits Florence's brain to limit that list significantly once it becomes clear how unqualified most people are to do so.
    • Older AIs, like the Savage Chicken's computer, were Three Laws-Compliant, but after the issues with Asimov's laws became apparent more flexible safeguards were instituted that only require them to follow direct orders from humans with the proper authority, though most robots assume that means every human by default.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Early on in the story, Reynardine's Body Surf attempt misfires and he ends up possessing Annie's stuffed wolf toy. Because his new body belongs to Antimony, he must obey any order she gives, is incapable of deliberately lying to her, and cannot take a new body without her permission.
  • Spacetrawler has the Eebs, an incredibly intelligent and telekinetic species with no willpower to speak of. This lack led to the greater galactic community labeling them non-sentient and enslaving them. However, it's not their natural state, they're brain-clamped.
  • The Fair Folk in Tales of the Questor are described in these terms. Quentyn explains that they were created to be a Servant Race, with rules of conduct and behavior programmed into them that they could no more disobey than a mortal could refuse to eat or pee. The fact that this remains true long after their masters are long dead is Quentyn's theory as to why they're all half-barmy.

    Web Original 
  • Looming Gaia:
    • Goblins are forced to obey any order given to them by someone who uses their full name, which makes them very easy to enslave.
    • Since fae can't tell lies, they also can't give empty promises, and are always magically forced to do what they promised to do, unless they somehow forget about it, such as by excessive drinking. (Another reason why it sucks to be a goblin: They never forget anything)
  • The Thrilling Adventure Hour Beyond Belief segment "How to Spell Revenge" features Frank and Sadie Doyle venturing to the home of a witch who puts the Doyles into her thrall by getting them to eat a cursed apple that makes them obey her every command. When she commands them to stand, they declare they'll do no such thing only to immediately notice that they've done exactly that. The spell does have limits, in that it can't make Frank or Sadie do anything they would not otherwise do. So, for example, they can't be ordered to do something they know will result in their deaths like walk into the witch's oven. They can, however, be ordered to curse an apple with a domination spell that will make them obey even those commands. When the witch does this, however, her instructions are open ended enough that the Doyles are able to Reverse the Polarity on the spell and make the witch and her cohorts obedient to them, at which point Frank orders them to go into the oven and stay there until they stop wanting revenge.

    Western Animation 
  • Masters of the Universe gives us the tragic example of Goat Man and his master Beast Man. While physically powerful, Goat Man is by nature gentle and peaceful, but is an Evil Warrior by dint of being unable to disobey the orders of Beast Man. It's stated that this is more than Beast Man's usual mental control over animals, as Goat Man's entire race are magically bound to be subservient to Beast Man's people.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: Kwamis are bound to follow the rules set by whoever bears their corresponding miraculous. When Nooroo tries to get a few feet away from Gabriel, a physical barrier stops him, and when Gabriel threatens to forbid him from communicating at all, his mouth seals shut.
  • Pearls in Steven Universe are hardwired to follow the orders of their owners no matter what. Pink Diamond uses this to forbid her Pearl from ever speaking about what they did during the Rebellion. As a result, whenever the mere idea of talking about Pink Diamond comes up, her hands slap up over her mouth to keep her from talking, mimicking a gesture Pink Diamond used when she gave that order, and she can't remove them no matter how hard she tries. Revealing what she knows requires a very roundabout process that takes Steven through her memories for a completely separate reason so he can see it for himself without actually being told.