A frequent Drama-Preserving Handicap, this trope is in play whenever a character has to undergo the task of beating, outwitting, or capturing another character without causing them excessive harm, provided causing ANY harm is even an option.
Picture this scenario. Let's say that Carl has assigned Bob and Alice the task of capturing an experimental beast that has escaped from the facility. No problem, right? The two are a bonafide Action Duo capable of taking down massive troops of goons on their own. How hard can taking down and reclaiming one beast be? Well there's just one thing. Carl says that the monster cost the facility so much money that losing it would set the program back immensely. Thus two must retrieve it alive and unharmed. Oh Boy....
There are many ways this can be brought about. Perhaps a character must subdue a beast without hurting it as per requirement of a Hidden Purpose Test or the like. Perhaps a character finds out that a monstrosity is actually a loved one and they must find a way to restore them without killing them. Another case may be having a Badass Pacifist feel the need to set an example for others who feel that only force can get anything done.
Other conditions that can bring this about include:
- Old-School Chivalry which can invoke this trope by not allowing a male character to harm a female.
- Endangered Species which can invoke this trope by forbidding the characters from harming a creature on the brink of extinction.
- Wouldn't Hurt a Child where a character can't throw a punch at a juvenile.
- Elder Abuse being taboo which keeps a character from hurting or even wanting to hurt a really old person.
- The target is crucial for some purpose so damaging or killing them is a big no-no.
- The target itself is a Hair-Trigger Explosive—their body is so unstable that excessive force could cause a disaster like an explosion.
- The foe is too pathetic or weak for the character to fight seriously so they go easy on them out of pity.
- The law means you'll cause a diplomatic incident.
- The enemy has assimilated or formed some kind of link to an ally or loved one which means that destroying the enemy would mean taking out their loved one too.
As you can expect, this trope is the ire of any Blood Knight. After all, fighting is supposed to be a thrilling activity where one can cut loose and show how just how badass they are. Why does one have to restrain themselves against an enemy that's free to kill them if they wish? The Psycho for Hire also tends to get put on the spot a lot when it comes to this. Sure he may have the skill set, finesse, (and often Lack of Empathy), for easily dispatching of targets, but if he suddenly gets a request from a client to not kill, then it'll become one heck of a struggle for them to hold themselves back.
Of course just how hard this actually proves to be depends on the fighters' abilities and just what the target is. And a key thing to note overall is that the character doesn't have to be required by another to not inflict excessive harm. A self-applied No Harm Requirement is as much a case as one dealt by another character.
That said, things can definitely go wrong when trying to invoke this trope. If an attempt to adhere to this trope goes horribly wrong, you have Pacifism Backfire. And if the one restricting themselves gets killed, you have Suicidal Pacifism.
Archetypes that tend to have this forced upon them to their dismay include the Blood Knight, Psycho for Hire, Sociopathic Hero, Unscrupulous Hero, Token Evil Teammate, the Ax-Crazy, and Bad Powers, Good People.
Compare/Contrast Escort Mission where one is assigned the task of escorting a character safely and Thou Shall Not Kill which is a whole philosophy around not killing. (Although non lethal violence tends to be permissible.) Also compare <Hero> Must Survive, a video game trope where the player must keep the hero alive lest they want a Game Over, and the even more extreme No-Damage Run where the player can't take any damage at all.
A funny tactic sometimes used to get around this is Stop Hitting Yourself where the character keeps their hands clean by getting the target to pound themselves. Defeat by Modesty, Paralysis, Forced Sleep, and Mind Control are other common means of pulling this off.
Super Trope to Bring It Back Alive which concerns retrieving a beast or some other thing alive, I Want Them Alive which is an often villainous variation where the villain demands that the heroes or some other party be brought back alive, Can't Kill You, Still Need You where a character really wants to kill another but can't out of a need to keep them alive, and Sheathe Your Sword where this is actually the only way to win.
Contrast Violence Really Is the Answer
- Berserk: A particularly depraved aristocrat (who'd slept with Griffith once in exchange for funding the Band of the Hawk) finds himself on opposing sides. When they meet, he tells Griffith his men were ordered not to harm him, and thinks it'll be enough for Griffith to submit then and there. Astoundingly enough, Griffith didn't feel the same for him, and kills him on the spot.
- Fairy Tail: Defied by Gajeel during the Phantom Lord arc. Jose, the Big Bad of the arc, leaves Gajeel to watch over Lucy who they kidnapped as requested by her father. Given that her father wanted her back to seal a wedding proposal with a rival company's son and that she's well, his DAUGHTER he must certainly have made it clear to Jose that he wanted her back in one piece, despite being an Abusive Parent. But despite that and Jose's orders, Gajeel takes sick pleasure in giving Lucy a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown just to get her to scream for his amusement. Had Natsu not arrived in the nick of time, he may have killed her.
- Dragon Ball
- In the final tournament arc of Dragon Ball, Goku is seeded off against Chi-chi, who is angry at him for not recognizing her, though in his defense in the years since they last saw each other she had grown up quite a bit, and entered anonymously. She only agrees to reveal her identity if he beats her, but he refuses to hurt her. Thankfully, following his intense training from Kami, he doesn't have to; he blows her out of the ring with the force of a punch.
- Dragon Ball GT: During the Shadow Dragon arc, Pan ends up getting assimilated by Naturon Shenron. This puts Goku in a bind as he can't kill Naturon and retrieve the dragon ball without killing Pan in the process; the fact Naturon is then able to use Pan's power's against him only exacerbates the issue. Eventually Goku decides to pull a Batman Gambit and pretends to run out of power and look defeated. Naturon gloats greatly over beating Goku and decides, before finishing him off, to give him the chance to see Pan one more time. But this gives Goku the chance to yank Pan out and blow the monster away.
- Naruto: The Akatsuki were tasked with catching the Jinjurki to extract their Tailed Beasts. However, the ritual to extract the beast only works if the host is still alive. Kisame remarked how not killing them was the hardest part of the job.
- One Piece: In later arcs, for some reason, Sanji's "Wanted!" Poster says "Only Alive" instead of the usual "Dead or Alive" on other posters. It's because his long-lost father, Jajji, an influential person in the underground business, used his connections to make the Marines change the requirement of Sanji's capture so he would be reunited with Sanji.
- During Johto in the episode Once In A Blue Moon, a Quagsire steals the GS Ball. When Ash gets it back by battling it with Squirtle, the gang almost get arrested by Officer Jenny because Quagsire in the town is a protected species. So when the Quagsire steals the ball again, they have to follow it to waterfall where it conducts its waterfall ritual and wait for it to finish with the ball.
- In the Hoenn episode, You Can Never Taillow, Ash and Pikachu find themselves having to square off against the leader of a fierce Taillow flock. However, is a determined Blood Knight and keeps battling despite taking numerous powerful Electric attacks from Pikachu. Fearing that he may cause it too much damage, Ash ends up capturing.
- In Sinnoh, the gang had to deal with Hunter J who was an Evil Poacher that poached Pokemon, whether they were owned or rare, and sold them clients via a black market. To ensure maximum pay for her quarry, she would zap the Pokemon with a petrification ray and seal them in clear pods.
- In the Unova episode, A Home for Dwebble, the gang help a Dwebble get its home back from a bigger, bully Dwebble that attached its shell to its bigger one. Eventually, Dwebble gets to fight it mono-et-mono, but it has to restrain itself out of risk of damaging its own shell. Eventually it's able to use Shell Smash to destroy the rival Dwebble's shell and send it packing while leaving its own shell unharmed.
- At one point in Rave Master, the Etherion sealed within Elie reaches an unstable point and threatens to destroy the world. Seighart had been trying to destroy her because of this power, but Haru is able to use Rune Save to seal the power without killing her.
- In an old fable, a woman is having a hard time getting along with her husband ever since he came back from a war. He always seems to be in a bad mood and she thinks he is angry with her for some reason. She goes to see the village wise man who sets her the task of bringing him the whisker from a tiger. She must remove the whisker without killing or otherwise harming the tiger. Once she does this, the wise man takes the whisker and throws it in the fire. When the woman starts to chew him out, he calmly tells her to use the methods she used to tame the tiger on her husband.
- Lilo & Stitch:
- Doctor Jumba Jookiba is sent to Earth to covertly retrieve his escaped prototype, who is masquerading as Lilo's dog. Though he wields a plasma gun, Jookiba advises Stitch to come quietly: "Don't make me shoot you; you were expensive." The covert part goes out the window in short order.
- Earlier, the Grand Councilwoman considers gassing the planet Experiment 626 landed on, until Agent Pleakley reminds her that Earth has been designated a wildlife reserve for an endangered species—the mosquito. When 626 is adopted by Lilo, Pleakley stops Jumba from shooting at him because the girl is "a part of the mosquito food chain." Jumba realizes that 626 is using Lilo as a Human Shield, declaring that "this is low even for you!" Later, it's revealed that the whole "mosquitoes are endangered" bit was a ploy by Cobra Bubbles to save Earth from alien invasion.
- In The Incredibles, Mirage and Syndrome hire Mr. Incredible to recover a giant robot that has gone rogue on an island. Because of the large expenses that went into the robot, he is supposed to shut it down without destroying it. He ends up tricking the robot into taking itself down by getting inside it and getting it to stab itself out of commission. But unbeknownst to Mr. Incredible, the real purpose of the mission was for the robot to kill Mr. Incredible.
- Mayor Lionheart of Disney's Zootopia has a cadre of timber wolves serving as Elite Mooks that capture the various predators that have been going savage without harming them in order to transport them to a secure location where they can be contained while attempting to find a cure.
- In Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, while the White Witches are perfectly permitted to use magic against the evil Black Witches, they not allowed to hurt humans even when they're being burned to death. Made all the more problematic by the fact that most humans in that world despise all witches.
- Thirteen Days: During the Cuban Missile Crisis as the Naval Blockade around Cuba goes into effect, the destroyer USS Pierce is suddenly confronted by a Soviet submarine sent to escort the freighters past the blockade. The Pierce can't intercept the freighters without exposing itself to the sub. President Kennedy contacts the destroyer's skipper personally and asks if he can force the sun to the surface without damaging it, since they're trying to keep a war from starting. He responds they can get it to the surface, but whether it's damaged is up to the sub. Kennedy then orders him to force it up. But then the Soviets ships start stopping, and Kennedy cancels the order.
- The Empire Strikes Back has Darth Vader convene a cadre of bounty hunters to capture The Heroes. "There will be a substantial reward for the one who finds the Millennium Falcon. You are free to use any methods necessary, but I want them alive. No disintegrations."
- Black Hawk Down details an effort by Army Rangers and Airborne Ops to capture alive two Elite Mooks of a Somali warlord. The good news: they bag the two objectives intact. The bad news: Airborne unit Six-One goes down, and a simple extraction mission goes From Bad to Worse.
- The Exorcist has a desperate mother plead for help from two Catholic priests to remove an evil spirit that has turned her daughter into an Enfant Terrible. The trick, of course, is to extract the evil spirit while leaving the daughter mostly intact.
- Krum gets penalized for defying this in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The first task in the Triwizard Tournament is to retrieve a golden egg that's been placed among a nesting dragon's clutch. Krum manages to get his egg, but loses points because his curse hit the dragon in the eye and caused it to stomp on its real eggs.
- Following the discovery of how to create real food in the game world of Log Horizon, the protagonists begin collecting wildlife for use as ingredients. However, only someone with the chef subclass can get the most out of any one kill, which necessitates having to capture the beasts alive and bringing them to the chefs, which is considerably more difficult than killing them outright.
- The Sleeping Beauty: One of the challenges for Rosamund's suitors is to add a (cursed) item to a dragon's hoard without harming the dragon in any way. It weeds out a lot of suitors who can't come up with any methods that don't involve violence.
- The Kingdom and the Crown: In the second book, Simeon is tasked by the Romans to track down and capture a renegade who's been causing them problems. Since he's started following Jesus, he's having trouble reconciling his old life of fighting with his new life as a Christian, and opts for a campaign of psychological warfare and gaslighting to play on the bandit's superstition and make him paranoid before provoking him into chasing him into a small canyon where the Romans are waiting, delivering the legionaries their outlaw without causing anyone physical harm.
- British television's The Prisoner (1967), an unnamed British secret agent is kept in a kind of freestyle sanitarium called The Village, which is located on an unnamed island. There, the staff and residents play bizarre mind games with him to compel him to reveal why he suddenly resigned from the intelligence service. Though The Hero gets brainwashed routinely, he's rarely hurt and never injured.
- Blake's 7. Attempts to track down and kill Blake and his rebels are hampered by the Federation's desire to capture the Liberator (and later Orac) intact, the former being a starship with highly-advanced alien technology, and the latter being a Magical Computer that can access any computer system.
- Six of the twelve Labors of Hercules in Classical Mythology involved bringing back the The Ceryneian Hind, The Erymanthian Boar, The Cretan Bull, The Mares of Diomedes, The Cattle of Geryon, Cerberus all alive.
- Dungeons & Dragons module UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave. The PCs are sent by the governor of Sybarate Island on a mission to Porpherio's Garden to retrieve the governor's daughter and her lover. They are prohibited from harming anyone or anything within the garden on pain of losing the 10,000 gold piece reward. This will be a neat trick since both the daughter and her lover are under a charm effect and will resist being removed from the Garden.
- Judges Guild's setting City State of the Invincible Overlord, Revised Guide to the City-State. The PCs hear a rumor that a sabre-tooth tiger has escaped from the Overlord's zoo and is headed their way. It is treason to harm zoo animals, so the PCs have to somehow disable the tiger without hurting it or they'll all be executed. If they can capture it they can return it to the zoo, hopefully for a reward.
- Traveller product Supplement 6: 76 Patrons. One of the adventure seeds involves the PCs being hired to kidnap a businessman and keep him hidden for a period of time so their patron can profit from his absence. Once the patron's business is completed, the PCs are to release the businessman unharmed.
- In general, many video games will have bonus missions where the player must complete a level without harming a particular enemy if one wishes to reach 100% Completion.
- In Arcanum, you are tasked with driving away some lumberjacks that are planning to cut down trees in an Elven sacred grove, but are warned that the site is protected by a spirit of vengeance that will awaken and destroy you if shed the lumberjack's blood. However, if you can't convince them to leave peacefully, you can goad them into attacking and let the spirit kill them for you.
- In Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the only way to access the second half of the game is to defeat the green orb controlling Richter Belmont without doing too much harm to Richter Belmont himself.
- The Thieves' Guild in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion enforces a strict Thou Shalt Not Kill policy on its members; Killing anyone related to a mission for them will result in you being expelled from the guild and forced to pay a fine to one of their leaders if you want to be allowed to rejoin.
- In Dishonored, in order for the player to get the good ending and/or get the "Clean Hands" achievement/trophy, they must go through the entire game without killing anyone, including their assassination targets, to keep the chaos level low. For the good ending, they can kill a few human enemies but not too much to rise the chaos level and possibly get the bad ending. Killing rats, river krusts, and wolfhounds are the only exception to the rule.
- In Grand Theft Auto V online, the first and the last heist require half of the crew to keep the people in a bank foyer down without killing them, while the other half gets the money. Failing to do so, or killing one of them will fail the mission in the first heist and spawn N.O.O.S.E. teams in the last heist. You will however need to kill armed guards in the last mission.
- In FTL: Faster Than Light, you may be greeted by a station who will ask you to "convince" their friends to drop their career as Space Pirates by damaging their ship's hull enough to make them surrender. There are also plenty of missions where you're supposed to kill the ship's crew without destroying the ship itself.
- In The Lord of the Rings Online, Radagast wants you to collect moss from the nests of bog monsters to find out why they've turned vicious, and he wants you to do it without hurting them because it isn't really their fault.
- Downplayed In Hitman: Absolution. An early mission requires you as 47 to hunt down Lenny Dexter, the son of the CEO of Dexter Industries. After you take down his gang, 47 has to pacify the son to interrogate him. However, after Lenny spills the beans, the player has the choice of killing him directly or leaving him at the mercy of the desert and vultures.
- In the Feors section of Mass Effect, taking the Paragon path means you have to disable infected colonists with special grenades or melee attacks. If you go Renegade you can just kill them, which is much easier.
- Some quests in Monster Hunter require you to weaken and capture a monster instead of killing it. This can make things tricky, since you not only need to know how to fight it, but also how much hits it can take before dieing. And by the time you can catch them, the fight may be almost over anyway.
- There's a quest in Neverwinter Nights where the quest giver asks you to steal several pieces of art from various nobles in the city. She wants the current owners left scared but alive, so she'll dock your pay if you opt to kill any of them.
- In Path of Exile, the Master Assassin's missions will usually impose these sorts of restrictions on you - such as killing a boss enemy while keeping at least one of their guards alive, or wiping out the boss's guards without killing the boss themselves. Note the "killing" part - you can bring them down to the very brink of Critical Existence Failure without failing the mission.
- In the Pokémon games, the best way to ensure the capture of a Pokemon is by weakening them to improve their catch rate. However, for some reason, Pokemon can't be caught if they're outright K.O'd. Therefore it's most effective for players to use more reserved tactics like set damage moves and moves that induce Forced Sleep or Temporary Paralysis to catch the Pokemon without risk of fully defeating them. One Pokemon move, False Swipe, was even made specifically for this purpose. No matter how strong the user is or the foe's current condition, it'll never cause a Pokemon to faint which makes it useful for getting a wild Pokemon's health as low as possible without defeating it.
- Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves has a quest wherein the objective is to put a massive feral wolf to sleep - non-lethally - by shooting it with multiple darts. Unfortunately, you'll have to sneak up and shoot the wolf at close range, because the darts are so heavy. Without getting upwind of the wolf, because it can smell the sleeping potion in the darts. The player character for this mission? A sentient turtle in a wheelchair. (Possibly subverted by the fact that the goal is the mission is to psychically posses the wolf after it falls asleep and use it to massacre a dozen or so of the level's mooks.)
- Undertale gives players the option to do this on nearly every encounter in the game. It's considerably more difficult, since it turns even a random encounter into a puzzle boss and you don't gain more health since you don't get the necessary EXP from killing enemies. Following through to the end, however, unlocks the game's Golden Ending.
- In Watch_Dogs, several side missions - particularly the Gang Hideout ones - require a non-fatal takeout on the boss. The 1-vs-1 multiplayer matches also do not allow the invading player to kill their target: if the target is hurt, they invader is warned that they're not supposed to kill their opponent, and if they do kill them, they lose the match and their target wins.
- In World of Warcraft, Keeper Karithus needs bear fur, doe hair, and sabretoothed cat whiskers to use in a ritual. He asks you to retrieve these materials from the live animals without harming them, but you don't fail the quest if you happened to kill an animal in the process.
- In X Com 2 the spokesman will give you special guerrilla missions from time to time. Half of them require you to rescue a scientist or engineer. The other half require you to kidnap a VIP without killing him. To do so you can knock him out and carry him to the evacuation point, with the carrying soldier unable to do any thing besides running. If you think you are unable to take him alive you are allowed to shoot him, but this will greatly reduce your payout for the mission.
- In higher difficulties in SWAT4, or if you just plain want a perfect score, no one has to get hurt, and everyone who doesn't start the mission incapacitated/dead has to be arrested (just in case a suspect has the bright idea to disguise himself as an hostage, which never happens in game but could happen in real life). Not you, not your SWAT Team, not the civilians, not the suspects. This is easier than it sounds as unlike in real life where they are Less Lethal Weapons, beanbag shotguns, tasers, rifles that fire tear gas pellets, flashbangs, stingers, tear gas grenades and, in the Expansion Pack, your fists are entirely non lethal and you can shoot first with these. In fact, some civilians will require to get hit by one of those before they surrender.
- One mission of Dungeons & Dragons Online has you being framed for a Bank Robbery, and needing to turn off the alarm to escape. The optional objective is "Do not kill any city guard". Parodied Trope, as if you get spotted but turn off the alarm anyways without killing the guards, the guards react by claiming that they are paid to kill thieves in the bank when the alarm is active, and thus letting you go on these grounds.
- Hero: 108: In the episode Cheetah Castle II, the Cocky Aliens are able to take over the minds of Lin Chung's squad. Not wanted to hurt his friends, Lin Chung instead uses his hat to fake getting blasted by them. The appropriately named Cocky Aliens then exit his friends and body and jump on his "carcass" thinking they've won, only to get caught by Lin Chung, kicked 100 times by him and his cheetah comrades, and turned into fruit.
- In the My Life as a Teenage Robot episode Shell Game Jenny lets all the harmless reptiles in a reptile exhibition loose in an attempt to draw ought Silver Shell whose stolen her robotic heart. But in the chaos, a giant deadly python gets loose and begins putting the squeeze on Sheldon. Jenny tries to hold out for Silver but unbeknownst to her, Silver Shell is actually Sheldon in a robot disguise. Fortunately she comes to her senses and engages the reptile. But after she gets Sheldon free and tries to empty her arsenal on the serpent, Sheldon stops her because while he's dangerous, he's a protected species. So instead, Jenny gets the long reptile to chase her around, causing it to tie itself in a knot.
- Played with in the Secret Squirrel episode One-Ton. Secret is given orders to stop a criminal panda from destroying China Town. However, the Chief gives him orders to not harm the panda because panda's are Endangered Species which makes things rough as he's a Jerk with a Heart of Jerk. Eventually Secret stops him by getting him to beat himself up. Since he harmed a panda while being a panda, the fiend gets put into protective custody.
- Tom and Jerry:
- The cartoon "The Missing Mouse", has Tom hear on the radio that a white mouse has escaped from a laboratory after ingesting an experimental Hair-Trigger Explosive. Jerry also hears this news flash and exploits this by painting himself white and making Tom bust his back to protect from the mouse from self-created harm.
- "The Millionaire Cat" has Tom inherit a fortune, with the caveat that he will lose it all if he harms another living thing, "EVEN A MOUSE". Jerry, again, uses this to his advantage and live off Tom's fortune, producing the telegram with the "EVEN A MOUSE" warning in bold letters to remind Tom not to hurt him. Tom eventually decides money can't buy happiness.
- This trope is the reason sedatives were developed. Depending on the type of sedative, a well administered sedative can either relax a person or animal or render them unconscious, allowing them to be safely caught or treated without risk of harm.
- Wildlife rangers and animal control officers are often tasked with capturing and/or relocating animals without harming them. Even ones that can pose a direct danger to them. People of such professions will use tranquilizers, nets, grabbing hooks, etc. to incapacitate animals without harming them.
- This is how French bullfighting, or course camargaise, works - unarmed athletes have to pull rosettes off bulls' horns without harming the bull or getting gutted themselves.