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"[I]t is a very old principle of law that a leonine contract is not a free contract. And it is hypocrisy to pretend that a bargain between a starving man and a man with all the food is anything but a leonine contract.[…]If I fell off the balcony and hung on a spike, so far from the steps that somebody with a ladder could offer to rescue me if I gave him a hundred million francs, I should be quite morally justified in using his ladder and then telling him to go to hell for his hundred million. Hell, indeed, is not out of the picture; for it is a sin of injustice to force an advantage against the desperate."
M. Louis, "The Unmentionable Man" by G. K. Chesterton

Alice and Bob are making a bargain, but Alice has something Bob must have—it's a Matter of Life and Death—which means she has a free hand. Odds are good that Bob will regret it, even though Alice hasn't threatened to do anything to him. Read the Fine Print if you like—it's not like you have any power to make your objections stick. The lack of any active threat makes it a favorite of the Manipulative Bastard.

Occasionally the bargain is reasonable, even if Bob doesn't want to admit it. This will strongly characterize Alice as just and reasonable. On the other hand, this trope often results in the partner with the advantage constantly Moving the Goalposts. The Revenge-minded may taunt a criminal with this before revealing that since the harm was irrevocable, so too is their desire for revenge; villains are prone to teasing with this.

Even Incorruptible Pure Pureness characters may hold The Promise void if it was part of this. Everyone is prone to insist on Exact Words or attempting to persuade the other character to engage in Releasing from the Promise. In general, any mortal court will side with the victim of one of these— but if there's a Magically-Binding Contract, you're in real trouble. Sometimes a Deal with the Devil will take this form. Sometimes the partner with the advantage will demand a Baby as Payment.

Super-Trope of Boxed Crook. Close cousins with Read the Fine Print. Distinct from An Offer You Can't Refuse, because the creditor isn't creating the duress, merely taking advantage of it.

The name comes from Aesop's Fables, "The Lion and His Fellow-Hunters".

This term is occasionally used in contract law to refer to this kind of deal. At common law, such a contract is almost always considered unenforceable under the doctrines of unconscionability (i.e. the exchange was grossly unfair in favor of the more powerful party) and duress (which is more or less "the contract was leonine"). Even under most civil law codes, there's a good chance that you can be freed from a contract if the other party was obviously exploiting an emergency situation. Even in the Ancient Roman Law of Obligations, a "Societas Leonina" (a corporation in which one participator reaps all the profit, and another carries all the losses) was an invalid one.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Black Jack: This type of extortion is Jack's modus operandi. He charges outrageous fees for his medical services because he's the only one capable of performing them, including from patients who would otherwise die.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2016): Midna promises to free and de-wolf Link on the condition he follows her commands...or as Link muses, becomes her Human Pet.
  • Megalo Box: Sakuma convinced Mac to become the human test subject for his BES implant by offering his son private access to a necessary organ replacement surgery. Worse yet, Sakuma didn't even offer it directly to Mac, instead convincing Mac's wife Maya to use her power of attorney to sign Mac up while he was unconscious, essentially using her fear of losing both her husband and her son against her at a vulnerable moment. Mac is, to say the least, not very pleased when he discovers the truth.
  • Kyubey of Puella Magi Madoka Magica wants as many girls as possible to Make a Wish, which he will grant in exchange for them becoming Magical Girls, and is fine using his many bodies to recruit those who would need assistance:
    • Mami's contract was offered as she was dying from critical injuries sustained in a car wreck that occurred just moments before.
    • Kyubey tries to do this to Madoka and Sayaka Miki after Mami gets decapitated by a witch that was about to eat them, but Homura puts a stop to it. He tries to force Madoka into contracting to prevent Sayaka's impending death multiple times, once by having Kyoko Sakura threaten Sayaka, but Homura, again (and again), puts a stop to it.
  • Sakura Gari: Souma offers to pay off Masataka's brother's massive debt if Masataka continues to work for him. He made the offer when he catches Masataka trying to run away in the middle of the night after he had raped him. Masataka cannot refuse because otherwise his brother will be killed by the Yakuza.
  • ×××HOLiC: The granting of wishes runs on the Equivalent Exchange in this world, and so when a desperate Watanuki makes a wish whose price is far beyond his ability to pay, he ends up having to Work Off the Debt.


    Comic Books 
  • Edge of Spider-Verse (2022): Norma the Fairy-Gobmother offers one to Princess Petra, giving her the power to stop the inevitable badness that's about to go down at her mother's ball (her mother having ignored Petra's warnings), but at the cost of having to chose between keeping the power or finding true love if she doesn't succeed before midnight. Petra reluctantly agrees.
  • In Nth Man: The Ultimate Ninja , Alfie cures the dying Sgt. Levin in return for a future service. Unfortunately for him, when he tries to collect by having her assassinate John Doe, she tells him to take it back, and he is apparently no longer in a strong position.
  • Superman:
    • Action Comics #176, "Muscles For Money" is all about Superman suddenly deciding to do this to people, forcing people about to die to sign contracts handing over their entire life savings to him before he'll save them. He was actually just trying to lure out a master thief who only goes after millionaires, and gave all the money back once he was done.
    • In the scrapped story The K-Metal from Krypton, John Manners discovers his uncle's business partners, Gizzard and Buzzard, forged his uncle's will to con him out of his inheritance, but he has not enough money to sue. The duo offer $4,000 if John drops all charges, and he is about to sign when Clark and Lois arrive and reveal he owns a gold mine worth millions. Immediately John drops the pen and declares he will sue every single cent out of them.
    John Manners: I tell you— I've uncovered evidence that definitely proves you two scoundrels bilked me out of my inheritance!
    Gizzard: You have, eh? Lot of good it will do you!
    Buzzard: Remember— Court trials are costly. And money happens to be something you possess very little of!
    Gizzard: Tell you what we'll do. We'll give you $4,000 if you'll drop all charges against us.
    Buzzard: Just sign here!
    John Manners: You've got me under a barrel. There's nothing else I can do.
  • Ultimate X Men: The Russian Mafia has a contract with Colossus: he works for them, and they won't kill his little brothers and sisters. Wolverine forced the boss to "renegotiate" this contract.

    Fairy Tales 
  • In "The Goose Girl", the princess promises the maidservant that she will not tell the truth in order to save her life.
  • In "The Nix in the Mill-Pond", the titular water sprite offers a poor man money in exchange for the youngest thing on his property. He assumes that a stray cat must have given birth, or some bird's egg has hatched, only to go home to find that his wife has had a baby.
  • "Rumpelstiltskin" and its variants: the girl will be killed if she doesn't get his help, which gives her no way to haggle when he demands her child. In comparison, the heroine of "The Three Spinners" and "The Three Aunts" is in much the same situation, but the spinners only ask for Honorary Aunt status and an invitation to the wedding.
  • Subverted in the Swahili folktale "A Woman for a Hundred Cattle". The poor wife agrees to have an affair with her Stalker with a Crush if he brings her meat because her father is coming to visit and she feels ashamed of having nothing to offer him. She ends up serving the meal to her father, her husband, and the stalker (who stopped by as a guest) and points out how each of the men are fools. Her father is one for marrying his only daughter into a life of poverty for a relatively small dowry (the one hundred cattle) while her husband is one for marrying a woman who cost him all he had and condemned them both to said life of poverty. The stalker she names as one because "you wanted to get with a single quarter of beef what has been bought for a hundred cattle", which frightens the stalker into running away and never trying to collect on their agreement.

    Fan Works 
  • An Impractical Guide to Godhood: A group of Roman legionaries who narrowly survived the first quest into the Sea of Monsters receive an offer to regroup with the Suicide Squad under terms their leader views as risky and insulting, and which would put them completely under the infamous Percy's control. They accept the deal anyway because it also comes with transportation off the island and the messengers have just captured the cursed guardian of the island, meaning that the stranded legionnaires will likely be cursed to replace her if they stay on the island much longer.
  • Becoming the Mask (Trollhunters): After Draal finds out Jim is a Changeling, Jim cuts Draal with a poisoned knife and offers him the antidote in exchange for his silence.
  • In The Bridge, Bagan forces several Kaiju to make a Deal with the Devil with him under duress by proving he was strong enough to kill them all and would if they refused to accept.
  • In Crimson and Emerald, when Keigo (the future Hawks) was discovered as a child to have massive potential as a hero, the Heroics Commission gave an offer to his mother, Kiyome. The Commission would pay for all of their living expenses and Keigo's schooling in exchange for them training Keigo to be a pro-hero and Keigo having to follow their orders once he becomes one. Kiyome had no other choice due to them living in poverty as Kiyome has difficulty finding work as a single mother of a young child. Kiyome's parents disowned her and her in-laws despise her so she has no help from her family. Hawks was railroaded into becoming a pro-hero with his mother frequently clashing with the Heroics Commission in his defense. While initially Keigo is trained gently, Kiyome would intervene if the Commission would push Keigo too hard. She wasn't always successful. Hawks recounts a handler beating him in front of his mother to show that she's ultimately powerless and the Commission makes the decisions.
  • In Dear Diary, Ghetsis and Alder both go to obtain the Light Stone, which Blair needs to summon Reshiram. If Alder gets the Light Stone first, Blair would lose, and if Ghetsis gets it he would just become Ghetsis's glorified servant, but Blair can't possibly get there in time to stop this. Kyurem's Chosen offers Blair the chance to teleport to the Desert Resort in exchange for the circlet she needs for the teleporting power, an Amplifier Artifact that Blair can't use himself, which Blair is forced to agree on even though they are enemies and this gives his rival chosen a chance to be a real threat to him.
  • Apollo accepts Kristoph's offer of employment and housing in Dirty Sympathy despite knowing something was extremely fishy because he was going to be kicked out of his student dorm and end up homeless.
  • Entropy: The Fate of the Hero System: Hatsume's deal with Momo. Momo needs better support gear in order to perform better as a hero. However, Hatsume is only willing to offer said support gear as long as Momo is willing to give her whatever she wants in terms of supplies and gadgets. Furthermore, since Hatsume is seen as a sort of god to the other support students, Momo doesn't even have the choice of going to another student, not that any of them would treat her better than Hatsume. It takes Melissa Shield arriving at UA to break Momo out of the deal.
  • In Fleet of the Homeward Bound, the United States of Stargate Earth makes a deal with Chimaera for planetary shielding after the battle with Anubis. Yes, they're aware it means likely putting cultural information in the hands of Grand Admiral Thrawn, but the Earth had already had a close call during the battle, when Babylon 5 mostly defended Europe from bombardment by a squadron of Ha'Taks.
  • My False Love Academia: Komori's older sister Hina is a minor villain, something that would normally make it difficult for her to become a Pro Hero. Out of desperation, she turned to the Green Valley Clan for help. Fortunately for her, David was the one who made the arrangements, and only asks her to look after Izuku and Melissa in return.
  • Rise of the Minisukas: General Taihou expects Tokita to readily take up his offer and sell the JHCI and the Jet Along to the JSSDF because he has no options left, what with being blackmailed by the rest of the mech industry (a situation personally engineered by Taihou so Tokita could not refuse). Hence, he is shocked when Tokita informs him that Japan Heavy Chemical Industries has already been bought out, and he has been offered a job by the new owners.
  • Nathalie is Gabriel's devoted and obedient employee in Spellbound (Lilafly) because she can't afford to lose her job, or else she'll lose the protection of a bargain, made by Adrien's mother, that protects anyone living or working in the Agreste mansion. Without that protection, the fae would abduct and kill her to ensure her silence — which already happened to all her family.
  • Summer and Winter: Ace eventually admits to Jack that he's afraid that the only reason the Man in the Moon helped him out while he was dying is because they knew he'd have no choice but to do whatever they wanted. Jack reassures him that this isn't the case.

    Film — Animation 
  • In Beauty and the Beast, Belle agrees to live at the castle with the Beast because it's the only way he'll agree to free her father. While she does intend to honor the promise, she makes it clear she hates the Beast for putting her in the position (the musical even gives her a song where she laments the situation and calls the Beast a monster and a fool for thinking what he did was at all right). She also is perfectly willing to break her word and leave when she thinks the Beast might actually harm her.
  • In Coco, Imelda does this, whether intentionally or not, to her great-great-grandson Miguel. As a human in the Mexican land of the dead, Miguel needs the blessing of a family member to return home, or else he'll end up becoming a permanent resident. Since the family member in question has the right to impose conditions for the blessing, Imelda insists that Miguel promise to give up on becoming a musician in exchange for her blessing. Because of that, Miguel ends up deciding to find Imelda's husband, his musician ancestor, and get his blessing instead so that he won't have to accept the condition. After seeing the error of her ways, Imelda decides not to impose any conditions on Miguel, instead asking him to never forget his family.
  • In the Soviet animated film The Flying Ship (loosely based on The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship), the Tsar gets trapped on the eponymous machine floating mid-air, and the greedy Merchant offers him a rope in exchange for the crown.
  • An unintentional version happens in Frozen. Anna gets Kristoff to agree to take her up the mountain to find Elsa by promising him compensation and supplies. Along the way, his sled (the basis of his livelihood) is destroyed. While Kristoff pretty obviously wants to call the whole thing off, he can't because he knows that if Anna dies while searching for Elsa, he'll never get the replacement sled she promises him.
  • This is a huge part of The Little Mermaid. Ursula offers to give Ariel legs so she can pursue Eric, but the catch is that she must give up her voice — the one thing Eric remembers about her — and Ariel has just three days to get him to kiss her or else she'll be turned into a polyp. Ariel, being a teenager who has just gotten into a really bad fight with her father, doesn't realize she's being blatantly exploited by the contract as part of Ursula's plan to take over the seas. Many a lawyer has taken apart Ursula's contract in real life, pointing out that it unfairly favors the sea witch (even if Ariel does win Eric's love, her voice will still be permanently compromised), and even when Ariel is getting close to getting that kiss, Ursula interferes specifically to make Ariel fail, which should have voided the contract's power.
  • In Tangled, Rapunzel gets Flynn to agree to guide her to Corona with the promise of giving back the tiara he stole, while she has him tied up and is threatening him with violence. Unsurprisingly, he tries to weasel out any way he can except foregoing the tiara.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader lands troops on Cloud City and forces Lando to betray Han and Leia in exchange for the freedom of his city. However, Vader repeatedly altered the deal, and told Lando to "pray I do not alter it any further." Lando ultimately realizes Vader has no intention of keeping his word and helps Leia and company escape.
  • Mentioned and subverted in the film versions of The Hobbit. Thorin and his company of Dwarves arrive at Lake Town, having lost all of their weapons and provisions, and agree to share the Dragon's treasure with the town's citizens in exchange for supplies. They wind up failing to kill the Dragon, instead just pissing it off and letting it loose on the very people who helped them. When the people of Lake Town wind up killing the Smaug themselves and show up demanding their share of the treasure, Thorin blows them off, arguing that their agreement was ultimately this. The people of Lake Town didn't offer to help them out of the goodness of their hearts, only because they wanted treasure, and Thorin had no choice but to agree because he was starving. While Thorin's not entirely wrong, the story also makes it clear that this is a transparently flimsy excuse and he just wants to keep the treasure out of pure greed.
  • The Princess Bride has a Revenge variant. Inigo Montoya has confronted the man who killed his father and has him at swordpoint. Knowing the man's cowardice, he makes a series of increasing demands as a condition of sparing Rugen's life. Of course, what he really wants is impossible, and he never had any intention of actually making a bargain.
    Inigo: Offer me money.
    Count Rugen: Yes!
    Inigo: Power, too! Promise me that.
    Count Rugen: All that I have and more. Please...
    Inigo: Offer me anything I ask for!
    Count Rugen: Anything you want...
    Inigo: (Stabs him) I want my father back, you son of a bitch!
  • The majority of the plot of Stroker Ace revolves around Clyde Torkle's sponsorship contract with Ace and his racing team, which goes past enforcing the typical issues of Product Placement and enters the realm of sadistic, petty bullying, with the most important clause being that if Ace just goes and quits, he will be banned from racing for three years. The result is that Ace spends the entire film enduring Torkle's Jerkass orders while trying to force Torkle to fire him, which would void the banning clause.

  • The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi: The Peri intend to simply kill Amina for having seen their magical island. She only survives by talking them into a deal that serves their interests: her life in exchange for her help in removing five magical artifacts from the human world.
  • The Asterisk War: When Priscilla Urzaiz was discovered via a childhood accident to be a rare Regenerative, talent scouts from the Mad Scientist Allekant Academy turned up and offered her impoverished parents a contract for Priscilla to attend Allekant... under terms that reduced her to a lab rat with no rights. She ran away with her elder sister Irene instead, who was contacted shortly thereafter by Le Wolfe student body president Dirk Eberwein. Eberwein agreed to buy out the contract in exchange for Irene working as his catspaw for the foreseeable future.
  • The Belgariad: Vordai the Witch of the Fens offers Belgarath the Sorcerer a deal — stay lost in the fens forever, or win fast passage through if he grants her beloved fenlings the power of speech. He's hurrying to prevent The End of the World as We Know It, so he accepts. Subverted when he admits he could have forced his way out with sorcery, but took the deal out of sympathy.
  • In The Bible, a starving Esau sells his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for some stew. This, however, is viewed by many as an example of how little he valued it since they were at their home camp when the deal was made, and he could have easily gotten food elsewhere.
  • In A Brother's Price, protagonist Jerin Whistler's sisters make themselves vulnerable to this kind of situation. The local merchants are seeking to sell their store because they can't keep up with it due to their age. Normally it would go to their daughters, but as they could never afford to buy a husband and none of them ever fell pregnant, they have no one to look after them in their old age, choosing to sell the store for money to pay for aid instead. This being an exceedingly rare opportunity in a world where families will often have heirs in the double digits, the Whistlers opt to buy the store by banking on the price they plan to get for Jerin's hand in marriage. They manage to get a high brother's price for Jerin and marry him to the women he loves, but there are multiple points in the story where Jerin is at risk of becoming Defiled Forever in the eyes of society, which would lead to his price plummeting, leaving the Whistlers with a debt they can never hope to pay in time. An example with an even worse situation is when Jerin offers to be a willing Sex Slave to the kidnappers so that they don't kill his companion. He totally lied, though.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's The Cat Who Walks Through Walls competing rescue parties on the Moon attempt to force a stranded party into one, forcing the survivors to either accept the low bid or die on the lunar surface.
  • In The Count of Monte Cristo, Luigi Vampa and his men take Danglars prisoner and deprive him of any food except for what he buys from them at astronomical prices. This was, of course, masterminded by the Count as a means of separating Danglars from his ill-gotten wealth.
  • "The Ghoul (1934)": The ghoul wants to eat Amina's corpse and has the strength to get his way. Noureddin wants Amina's corpse to be left intact and can't stop the ghoul by force. Therefore, Noureddin promises with weighty oaths whatever the ghouls wants if he leaves Amina's grave untouched, at which point the ghoul has even more of a hold on any potential deal.
  • In the Hush, Hush series, while a Nephilim is the one who actually says the oath of fealty putting him or herself in the service (essentially slavery) of a fallen angel, it's shown that the fallen angels always get their way by torturing them (they can use their powers to force Nephil over sixteen and at one point it's mentioned that several stab and beat up one who is under sixteen to make him agree).
  • Inheritance Cycle: The nobles who swore fealty to Galbatorix simply did so because he would kill them otherwise.
  • Johannes Cabal the Necromancer: If you've signed your soul away in a contract with Hell, it doesn't matter if you don't understand the terms, if you don't realize you're signing a contract, or if the Villain Protagonist is prepared to blow your daughter's brain out if you don't sign within fifteen seconds. In any case, as Satan reminds Johannes, Hell has all the lawyers.
  • Journey to Chaos: Nulso Xialin implies that he had little choice in becoming an ordercrafter, "Order cares not if the contract is Leonine" but Eric retorts that everyone has a choice and he threw his away. For context, Nulso is trying to steal something that could prevent the worst condition of his contract, and Eric was hired to protect it.
  • The Aesop fable "The Lion and His Fellow-Hunters", where the lion gets the lion's share (that term, which means all or nearly all of anything, also gets its name from that tale) because none of the smaller animals who hunted with him are able to argue the point.
  • In Andre Norton's Ordeal in Otherwhere, the Free Trader tells the colonists that he had fine young men under indefinite-term labor contracts because he had been able to recruit the desperate in a refugee camp. He then gets Charis to sign one because she's a prisoner in the hands of religious fanatics.
  • In Pact, any oath sworn by a practitioner acts as a Magically-Binding Contract, and dealing with various supernatural creatures is the standard method of gaining power. Powerful practitioners, though, tend to favor deals that are more one-sided, capturing Others and bargaining with them in exchange for freedom or solace, and powerful Others also tend to adopt this method.
  • In John C. Wright's The Phoenix Exultant, Ironjoy is in this position toward the Afloats; they can't even afford to report his crimes against them because they need him. He assumes that Phaethon needs him, too, which is unwise on his part.
  • Reign of the Seven Spellblades: Subverted in volume 3 (episode 12 of the anime). Katie offers to let Mad Scientist upperclasswoman Miligan examine her brain like she wanted to in volume 1, in exchange for her help rescuing Pete. Oliver is furious and tries to withdraw the offer on her behalf, but Miligan has had a sincere change of heart and never intended to accept the offer anyway. She makes the much more reasonable counterproposal of Katie becoming her research partner and de facto apprentice rather than her guinea pig, which the Sword Roses accept (Katie enthusiastically, Oliver and Chela grudgingly).
  • In the Chivalric Romance Roswall And Lillian, Roswall promises to never reveal his true birth to save his life.
  • Averted in the political thriller Rules of Engagement. An English harbour town has been sealed off for military reasons as World War III appears imminent, but a lawyer arranges for the families of wealthy businessmen to leave on a ship. He notes that if he just made a flat demand for money, he'd never do business with these people again if war didn't break out, so he agrees to manage their business interests while they are away, earning a high percentage in exchange for taking the risk of being nuked.
  • In Robert E. Howard's "The Scarlet Citadel," one of Tsotha's slaves taunts Conan the Barbarian with the keys when he's prisoner, to ask what he would pay, as if to offer this. As Conan ups the price, the slave just keeps saying no and gets more unstable. Finally he reveals that Conan killed his brother during his pirate days, when he was known as Amra, and that he will settle for nothing less than Conan's life. Luckily for Conan, Tsotha's giant snake Satha is attracted by the yells and makes quick work of the slave before dragging him off to eat, which lets Conan get the slave's fallen keys and sword to free himself.
  • Seven Years Awesome Luck: Jacqueline is desperate enough to save her unborn child that she accepts the potion to do so before finding out the cost. In fairness, lacking experience of magic, she couldn't have expected that the witch would ask for her firstborn son to become the witch's familiar in exchange. By that time, though, it's too late to back out; the potion has been drunk, and the witch makes it clear that denying her payment would end badly.
  • Brought up in Shatterpoint by the Confederate leader, Colonel Geptun. He argues that the treaty he's signing (surrendering his Confederate garrison to the Republic) is worthless because it was signed under duress. Mace Windu, being himself, retorts that of course it is, that's what makes it surrender in the first place. Fortunately, Geptun was merely being disagreeable for its own sake and goes through with the surrender amicably. (Although he's not the only one with an opinion on the matter...)
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • In the first book, Robb Stark must cross the Green Fork to pursue his war with the Lannisters and attempt to rescue his father and sisters from their clutches. The only available crossing is the Twins, held by Walder Frey. Frey is ostensibly bannerman to the Tullys, who are allied to the Starks, but Frey prevaricates. Robb's choices are to turn around, go back North, and abandon his father and sisters to Lannister mercy; besiege the Twins and be easy pickings for a Lannister attack of opportunity; or meet Frey's terms. Frey demands that both Robb and his sister Arya marry his children. Even the latter would be a better marriage than Frey could normally arrange; the former is an unprecedented boost to his House's fortunes and status and would be out of the question if he didn't have Robb over a barrel.
    • Jaime Lannister vows not to take up arms again against the Starks or Tullys while held captive, drunk, and with a sword against his throat. Despite this, the Kingslayer takes it seriously.
  • In G. K. Chesterton's "The Unmentionable Man", in The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond, this is alluded to with a story of someone who is stuck on a spike, and someone else extorting money for use of a ladder to get the person down; this is a clue to the man's identity.
  • Temeraire: Inverted in the finale. After Emperor Napoleon is captured in battle, the draft peace agreement between Britain and France appears remarkably generous towards the French, not at all like terms dictated by the victor of a war. This clues Laurence in that Napoleon's government had already negotiated to betray him for an end to the war.
  • Warbreaker: In the prologue, Vasher breaks into the God-King's dungeons to get the captured rebel Vahr a deal: Either Vahr gives up his stockpile of Breath to Vasher in exchange for a quick death; or Vasher leaves, the God-King's torturers continue their work on Vahr, and eventually he'll crack and give up the Breath to the very people he collected it to fight in the first place.
  • In one chapter of World War Z, Arthur Sinclair, the head of the US Government's office of Strategic Resources, tells about how they had to completely revise the methods of farming within the Californian safe zone after the Zombie Apocalypse. In the case of the cattle ranchers, who protested having to surrender much of their livestock at minimal compensation in order to feed the streams of refugees escaping the zombies, Sinclair told the ranchers that he couldn't compel the ranchers to help feed their fellow people... but Sinclair could point those starving people in the direction of these ranches and refuse to provide protection for the ranchers if they don't help him feed the people. The ranchers capitulated pretty quickly after that point was made.

    Live Action TV 
  • One episode of Adam-12 involves a black-market adoption racket—sans paperwork—that obtained at least one child through a "bargain" straight out of Rumpelstiltskin: We'll help you pay the bills and you give us the child. Adam-12 being fiction based on the real world, Surprisingly Realistic Outcome; a friendly lawyer is helping the mother out, and Malloy offers to connect her with other resources.
  • In The A-Team, this is how Stockwell gets the team to work for him in season 5, with special mention to the fact that he not just took advantage of their desperate situation but created it in the first place. He has them put on trial for the famous "crime they didn't commit" but then controls the trial from behind the scenes to get the charges against them upgraded from the relatively minor robbery and desertion which would have earned them 20 years in prison, to first-degree murder and treason which would earn them a guaranteed death sentence. He then allows them to escape on the condition that they perform a specified number of missions for him, after which they will all receive full presidential pardons.
  • Played with by The Roommate Agreement in The Big Bang Theory. It appears to be this, but with one important exception: Leonard could walk away at any time, and there is absolutely nothing Sheldon could do about it legally. (Emotionally, on the other hand...)
    • Leonard tends to run afoul of obscure clauses that must have seemed ludicrously unlikely to ever occur ("If you ever get superpowers, I get to be your sidekick"), and when they turn out to be not as unlikely as previously believed, Sheldon sometimes offers to amend them if Leonard agrees to concessions involving much more common situations.
  • Criminal Minds has the Reaper aka Foyet enter into one of these with a cop on his case, which comes to an end with the cop dies. It's discussed, as Holt thinks this was the wrong thing to do, and most people are in the middle.
  • The Dollhouse specialized in this in order to acquire its Dolls. Subverted and lampshaded in an episode where it's pointed out that it's legally impossible to sell yourself into slavery.
  • Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue: In order to make sure his son Ryan wouldn't die from a car accident, Capt. Mitchell agreed to let Diabolico raise the son until Ryan is 21.
  • Silicon Valley: Piped Piper must accept the investment of Russ Hanneman, who knows that they will go under unless they accept his terms. As such, he gives himself disproportionate power over the company.
  • Super Human Samurai Syber Squad: When Sam's little sister needed an operation, their family couldn't afford it because a Mega-Virus Monster had stolen money from theirs (and everybody else's) bank accounts. Sam's only hope was Malcolm Frink, who'd only help if Sam threw a pie at the face of the girl both of them like. Fortunately she understood and forgave Sam in the end.
  • In the Supernatural episode "All Hell Breaks Loose, Part Two" (S02, Ep22), the crossroad demon knows that Dean is willing to do anything to have Sam back, and she can set the terms. Instead of the typical 10-year contract, she only gives Dean one year before the hellhounds collect.
  • Occasionally referenced by the presenters on Top Gear (UK): when a presenter's vehicle inevitably breaks down in an awkward place (like while floating in a harbor), another might jokingly offer to tow them to safety for a million quid, if they don't just abandon them.
  • In The Orville, the Moclan bigotry towards females and their incresingly unethical actions are only tolerated by the rest of the Union because they desperately need the weapons the Moclans provide in order to be able to resist the Kaylon. What proves to be the last straw is the Moclan government kidnapping and torturing Topa, a child. Moclus is expelled by a unanimous vote.
    Gordon Malloy: Look, I know I'm not supposed to talk here, and I'm probably gonna get court-martialed, but somebody's gotta call out these assholes! Every time they cross a line, we let it go because we're scared to fight the Kaylon without them. And every time we compromise, they still act like they're the ones gettin' the shaft! You treat people like garbage, and then when you get called on it, you bitch and you moan that we're not respecting your "beliefs"!
  • Young Sheldon: In "Cowboy Aerobics and 473 Grease-Free Bolts", Lundy's contract with Connie and Georgie gives him 80% of the profits for Cowboy Aerobics. Connie only found out because, unlike Georgie, she bothered to read the contract.

  • In The Tarot Cafe, when Pamela's mother proves too smart to make a Deal with the Devil in exchange for promises of wealth, the demon gets her to agree by saying it's the only way to save her daughter from a violent death. Technically he does not lie, but Pamela still ends up miserable. It's then subverted when it's revealed that because Pamela's mother made her deal out of love, her contract with the demon was rendered null and void and she ended up in heaven.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Exploited gleefully by the Fae and their agents in Changeling: The Lost: not only are fey Pledges completely valid when made under duress, the signing party doesn't need to understand the terms or even be aware that they're making a pact. It dings the Karma Meter for a Changeling to do that, but it works all the same.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Sufficiently egregious examples of this trope are actually grounds for revoking a contract in the Lawful Evil Nine Hells. If a devil used physical or magical coercion to get a mortal to make a Pact Certain, then the deal can be voided after death, and putatively-damned souls have a right to a fair trial and legal counsel to determine whether this is the case. Other forms of duress are considered praiseworthy; this is Hell, after all.
    • When a mortal binds an Outsider like an angel or demon to a contract of service, the mortal can do anything: imprisonment, torture, even crippling the Outsider's ability to understand or negotiate the contract. Of course, the mortal had better have an airtight grasp of contract law and be ready to spend the rest of their life looking over their shoulder, since most things worth binding are immortal, well-connected, and extremely vindictive.
  • One of the sample adventures for the kids-oriented roleplaying game "A Faery's Tale" challenges the player characters to explain to NPCs why this is a ridiculous idea, in order to save the princess - who has previously offered "a boon" to a nasty goblin in return for giving her a missing ball back - from having to marry him after he argued that a nonspecific boon should mean he's entitled to ask her to (everyone understands that this is outrageous even within the context of the setting, but it's up to the heroes to resolve the situation peacefully).
  • In Princess: The Hopeful, a Princess with the Charm "Forced Vows Are No Vows" can renegotiate or void a Magically-Binding Contract. As the Charm's name implies, the main purpose of this Charm is to deal with oaths that are leonine or otherwise grossly unfair, but it's by no means limited to such cases.

    Video Games 
  • In Agarest Senki Leonhardt dies fighting to protect a young girl from his own former allies at the start of the game. Dyshana offers a Deal with the Devil to Leonhardt: Either he allows himself to become a Spirit Vessel as well as all his descendants and is resurrected or allows himself to die. Given the situation, Leonhardt ends up accepting. Leonhardt's descendants tend not to agree with this rather skewed arrangement.
  • Baldur's Gate III:
    • Warlock party member/Player Character Wyll was forced to make a Deal with the Devil in his backstory in order to save the titular city he resided in from an Apocalypse Cult trying to summon the God of Evil Tiamat. In exchange for eldritch power, his patron Mizora spent the next seven years tormenting him through the fine print for her amusement.
    • Vampire Lovable Rogue party member/Player Character Astarion was a magistrate in Baldur's Gate until he was cornered by a group of thugs unhappy with a ruling he had made, who then proceeded to beat him half to death. He was then approached by the vampire lord Cazador who offered him a choice; bleed to death in the street or live on as his vampiric servant. Astarion chose the latter, and spent the next two centuries as his slave.
    • Demonic Manipulative Bastard Raphael is especially fond of these, as he's a Hope Crusher that preys on people who have no choice but to accept his terms. He turns Mol into one of his warlocks after she's kidnapped in Act 2 and facing almost certain death, and if the player screws things up in the endgame and makes it impossible to progress he'll swoop in to give them a way out.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLC Dragonborn, Hermaeus Mora engineers one by letting his wayward minion Miraak, the First Dragonborn, run rampant over Solstheim. His aim? Acquire the shamanistic secrets (which are functionally worthless save that Mora does not know them) of the Skaal, who live on Solstheim. His offer? The only means to stop Miraak; a Thu'um that bends the will of even dragons to the shouter's will, given to the Last Dragonborn.
  • In Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade, Matthew can recruit Guy due to once having provided food to a starving Guy on the condition that he'd owe him a favor. Matthew calls the favor to recruit the mercenary to his side, which Guy notes the injustice of — he only gave his word because he'd die without the help, but defects nonetheless.
  • Naufragar: Crimson: The king of Oragibe promises to help the city of Anetha out of their poverty if Bishops Deliaf and Elbram help him create supersoldiers to win the war against Acir-ema. They have no choice but to accept the deal or allow their city to fall to ruin.
  • According to Resident Evil 3: Nemesis and Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, this is what happened to Leon after the events of Resident Evil 2; the government threatened to imprison him and to experiment on Sherry, the only known carrier in the world for the G-Virus and the Devil Vaccine unless he agreed to become their elite anti-Bioterror operative. Then, as revealed in Resident Evil 6, they went ahead and experimented on Sherry anyway.
  • Theia - The Crimson Eclipse: The majority of the Altillians see Halcon as a benevolent guardian spirit, but only the Apostles are privy to the true nature of their relationship with Halcon. They are actually meant to perform the ritual on other planets to allow Halcon to assimilate the planet's energy, allowing it to make more Orihalcon, which the Altillians need to survive. Despite how one-sided this deal is, the Apostles have no choice but to comply if they want their people to live.
  • Happens in the form of a Deal with the Devil in the Hearts of Stone expansion of The Witcher 3. Geralt kills a frog monster that turns out to be an Ofieri prince under a curse and is arrested by his guards and put on a boat to be taken to Ofir and executed. Gaunter O'Dimm then appears, and offers to save him in exchange for a seemingly innocuous favor, knowing he has no choice but to accept.

    Visual Novels 
  • There's not an official contract, but the effect is the same: in Scandal in the Spotlight, the protagonist can't really refuse to ghostwrite lyrics for Revance when her own budding career as a scriptwriter is in peril because she offended a lecherous producer. If she helps the guys, they're willing to use their considerable influence on her behalf; if she doesn't, she's all but guaranteed never to work in the entertainment industry again.
  • In the second Ace Attorney game, Phoenix only agrees to be Matt Engarde's defense attorney because Maya had been kidnapped and her life was threatened if he didn't. When he learns that Matt really did commit the crime, he is forced to continue to defend him anyway, until Maya can be rescued.

  • Mocked in Troops of Doom, when the leader of the Imperials is charged 50 grand each for a grenade by the leader of the mercenary union because she is in the middle of a firefight and cannot get out alive without them. Also, said leader wasn't particularly happy with her disrespect for the union building's neutrality rules.
  • In Impure Blood, Roan is contemptuous of Dara until she reveals she has the key to his cell.
  • Girl Genius with its European Overlord. At least, Klaus was reasonable in his demands.
    Klaus: One rule, Beetle. I made one rule when I left you this city. "Report any unusual discoveries. Devices of The Other are to be turned over immediately." You agreed.
    Dr. Beetle: A pledge made under duress is worthless, Wulfenbach! You threatened my city, my university—I'd have agreed to anything! You were in control then!
    Klaus: And now? (while his clanks point at Dr. Beetle with machineguns about the size of himself)
  • Freefall:
    • One reason Florence is so nervous about dealing with Ecosystems Unlimited is that she's an Uplifted Animal created by them, and there aren't enough of her species around yet for a stable gene pool. She fears that if she ticks them off, EU might simply discontinue the Bowman's Wolf experiment.
    • When Florence is asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, she's initially reluctant to, as she's not legally a person, and the person who would be punished for her breaking it is her owner, who she doesn't want to be dragged into this — or worse, Sam, who would see it as an incentive. The person giving her the contract points out that her other option is a memory wipe, making it one of these and therefore impossible to legally enforce, and the real reason she's signing it is so that she can be ordered to abide by its terms.
  • In Meagan Kearney's Beauty and the Beast, Beauty's father considers all promises worth keeping, even ones made to monsters. One of his daughters argues that a promise made under duress isn't binding, but he insists on fulfilling his side of things.
  • Flipside: Marvollo sends its criminals to the local fighting arena, where criminals pay off their sentences by beating each other senseless for the amusement of the rich. The arena's administrator has a nasty habit of ensuring that none of the battle-hardy psychopaths will ever get out, by bribing their opponents to kill them before their sentence is finished, forcing them into fighting debt to get a resurrection spell. Unfortunately for him, the last battle couple he tried to pull this on were knights who were incarcerated for forcing healers to save the sick for free, AND he demanded sexual favors to boot; the warden executed him for going too far.
  • Scoob and Shag: Illapa demands that Scooby agree to serve him at some future point in exchange for boosting his Ballyhoo enough to let him defeat the Antihoo Fusion Monster (who will almost certain kill Scoob and his friends otherwise).
  • String Theory (2009): After a lab accident leaves Professor Langstrom severely burnt and limbless, a government agency offers him cutting-edge treatments and prosthetics, but...
    Lucy: And the only thing we want from you, the teensiest tiniest little thing — is your complete cooperation with our studies.
    Mel: Or you could just go home and hire someone to turn you every couple of hours. Your choice.
  • Unsounded: Gefendur temples pay handsomely for sets of twins, who are raised in luxury until the younger one is sacrificed and cannibalized and the older one enters the priesthood. The twins are theoretically free to leave at any time, but if they do, their home community has to return all the money and the twins themselves are seen as cursed by the gods.

    Western Animation 
  • In Adventure Time, Finn sees Marceline abusing a poor old man who she claims is her minion, and he reluctantly agrees to take his place. Marceline then orders him to fulfill a series of evil orders that all turn out to be less evil than they appear. Eventually Finn realizes this is all an elaborate prank, so Marceline fires him.
  • Bill Cipher of Gravity Falls pulls this on Dipper in the episode "Sock Opera". He tries to make a deal with Dipper for information on the password to unlock a laptop. Dipper doesn't immediately agree, because he's too smart for that. However, Bill later returns to try and make a deal again, and the second time around Dipper's facing a laptop that will delete all its data in five minutes unless he enters the correct password. Bill offers Dipper a "hint" in exchange for a "puppet". Glancing at some nearby sock puppets, Dipper agrees... and Bill uses Exact Words to both take Dipper as his "puppet" and to outright destroy the laptop. Technically the insides of the laptop did contain a hint (just not the hint Bill implied he was offering).
  • How Kuvira is taking over the Earth Kingdom in Season 4 of The Legend of Korra; her army is the only cohesive force active in the nation after the Earth Queen's death, so she offers provinces military protection in exchange for resources and their loyalty. She disingenuously calls them "Generous Offers".
  • Miraculous Ladybug: In the episode "Migration", Marinette convinces Kitty Section to sign with the executive that manages Jagged Stone, Bob Roth. Roth, who had already demonstrated to be a Corrupt Corporate Executive in earlier episodes, shows them a clause immediately after Kitty Section signs that allows him to keep just Luka and fire and blacklist the rest of the band from ever playing rock again. And he does it all with savage glee. Unsurprisingly, this gets Luka Akumatized.
  • The Owl House episode "Hooty's Moving Hassle" has Tibbles price gouging Eda for a potion that she needs to keep her curse at bay in what is almost certainly meant to be a critique on the pharmaceutical industry charging extortionate amounts of money for life-saving medicine in real life.
    Eda: A thousand snails?! What kind of game are you playing?
    Tibbles: Capitalism. Where everyone wins—except you.
  • In Tripping the Rift, the Devil forces Chode into selling his soul in exchange for rescuing his ship from four simultaneous black holes that have suspiciously appeared out of nowhere. His crew travels in time to hire the legendary lawyer Webster who defeated him in the past, but end up with the kid actor who played television's Webster instead. Being used to dealing with agents and lawyers, the kid rapidly found a major loophole in the contract, claiming the deal was signed under duress. The Devil denies duress, blurting out that there were no real black holes, thus dooming his case as he never filled his side of the agreement. Chode walked away Scott-free.

    Real Life 
  • William the Conqueror justified the Norman Conquest because Harold had sworn fealty to him—while Harold was William's prisoner, and Harold swore such as a condition of release. He also tricked him into swearing it on a saint's relics without knowing (they were inside of a closed box he swore over), which made the oath particularly binding on Harold according to Christian belief at the time.
  • In The Roman Republic, Marcus Licinius Crassus had a private fire brigade. During fires in the city (a frequent occurrence), he would buy burning houses and ones adjacent to them at knockdown prices, then a team of slaves he had on standby would put out the fire and rebuild the property (if the owner refused to sell, it would be left to burn). Crassus would often then lease the property back to the person he had just bought it from.
  • Robert Ringer tells the story of a man he worked for who was bargaining with a man who desperately needed the agreement as he was in bankruptcy and would lose everything. Knowing his desperation, the man forced him to accept really onerous terms on threat of walking away from the deal. The man comes up with the fees he has to pay, signs the agreement and after he leaves, Ringer mentions to his employer that he hoped the guy could keep terms of the agreement. His boss smiled and said, "He won't. If he'd bothered to read the contract he'd realize he was in technical default before he even signed it. I won't have to do a thing except keep the advance payment he made."
  • Payday lenders are often seen as this, with more than a little justification. It's for this reason that many jurisdictions have been able to go after payday lenders to stop them and get restitution for injured borrowers.note 
  • The basis for the entire concept of wage slavery, except worse, because it still leaves the victim in a bad position.
  • Souperism was a practice during the Irish Potato Famine in which Protestant "relief" organizations would set up soup kitchens where, in return for getting free food, the starving families must enroll their children to receive Protestant religious education (or sometimes just convert wholesale). The practice was widely condemned in Catholic Ireland and was seen as another indignity in the long list of crimes the English committed upon them. Even today, the phrase "taking the soup" is used to describe people who give up their convictions under stress.
  • No matter who is doing it, religious persecution is basically an attempt to invoke the leonine contract of "give up your faith if you don't want various terrible things happening to you and your loved ones".
  • This is a common complaint against the pharmaceutical industry: People with life-threatening illnesses or other health conditions need certain drugs and/or equipment in order to live, and because of that, the suppliers drive the prices way up. This is particularly true if there is only one supplier, such as EpiPen. This complaint is less common in Europe and South America than it is in the United States, however, as their governments tend to have this stance too and create regulations to keep those prices down, though it does still happen from time to time — see, for example, the 2016 scandal about Martin Shkreli, "the most hated man in America". After all, medical expenses are the main reason for personal bankruptcies in the US.
    • To wit, an up-and-coming investment speculator turned pharmaceutical executive, Mr. Shkreli came to own a company producing Daraprim, a drug to combat a parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis, which it sold for a rather modest price of $13.50 a pill — not exactly pocket change, but not an arm and a leg either. Shkreli, however, immediately jacked the price by as much as a factor of fifty, to $750 a pill. He later stated that he did this to force pharmaceutical companies to produce cheaper alternatives and to rip off overcharging insurance companies while providing low-cost options for people without insurance to take off most of the cost, but by then the damage had already been done to his reputation.
    • Similarly, the ludicrous expenses involved in hospitalization fall under a similar trope. Hospitals don't provide medical bills in advance, and when you don't know whether you're experiencing heartburn or a heart attack, you're willing to sign off on whatever testing or treatment they suggest. Insurance means that the majority of the cost gets defrayed, but that means those without insurance are between a rock and a hard place, and even people with insurance are likely to max out their deductible just getting the initial ambulance ride. Again, this is mostly a U.S. example, as most Western countries simply pay for the healthcare service through taxes.
  • The Lakota had to sign away their rights to the Black Hills after a law was voted banning any food supplies being sent to them.
  • Duress is a legal defense to an otherwise binding contract, and one of the few ways you can legally have a contract broken. In a nutshell, duress means that you were forced to sign a contract when you didn't want to sign it, which would render the whole contract and any agreement on it null and void. However, the duress has to generally be from some illegal act to count. If you sign a contract only because someone puts a gun to your head and will kill you if you don't sign it, that's duress and the contract is invalid because threatening to kill someone is illegal. But if you sign a contract because you're being threatened with a lawsuit if you don't, duress isn't an option, because filing a lawsuit is legal.


Video Example(s):


Crimson's First Offer

The first contract Crimson's lawyer gives Asmodeus not only gives Crimson full-control of his monetary assets, but it gives him the right to make a trophy out of Fizzarolli, something the whole arrangement was meant to prevent in the first place.

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Example of:

Main / LeonineContract

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