Follow TV Tropes


Restraining Bolt

Go To
Image by ajamsdraws. Used with permission.
Pete/R2-D2: Simple, I remove it with—
GM: No. You don't want to.
Pete/R2-D2: What? Yes, I do.
GM: You can feel its influence flowing through you. It controls your actions.
Pete/R2-D2: Hmm. Okay, Threepio, can you just reach over and—
GM: You don't feel like finishing that sentence.
Pete/R2-D2: Man! This sucks!!
GM: Actually, you think it's awesome.

A gadget that firmly attaches itself to a character, and thereby attaches said character's behavior in service to the plot. Implicit in the Restraining Bolt are both its unremovability and the desire of the "bolt-ee" to remove it posthaste.

A Restraining Bolt usually has an ethos distinctly different from that of its carrier, and the ability to impose that ethos on him when they have a difference of opinion. If the difference isn't too great or is one mainly of magnitude rather than type, the Bolt and its "owner" can sometimes come to some manner of compromise. Such compromises, though, are never sure things. In science fiction, it's fairly common for the Mascot or Team Pet to in fact be an example of the monsters that the team usually fight, with a Restraining Bolt attached as a means of taming them.

In stories that employ Functional Magic, instead of a gadget a person may be restrained with a "geas"-a magical compulsion. A particularly strong or willful Empathic Weapon can act as a Restraining Bolt on its user.

Bolts are not limited to any given morality or side, and seldom are the ethical implications of these devices explored. At least, they aren't so long as the good guys are the only ones using them.

If the Bolt exists just to power the character up when it's removed, it's I Am Not Left-Handed.

One common example of a Restraining Bolt is I Cannot Self-Terminate. A common technological equivalent is the Morality Chip. Compare with Power Limiter. Also see Explosive Leash, Shock Collar, Power Nullifier, and Supernormal Bindings. An Obstructive Code of Conduct is a voluntary Restraining Bolt. For gadgets that completely control a person's actions, see Mind-Control Device.

Named for the droid control devices from the Star Wars movies.


    open/close all folders 

    Films — Animation 
  • In South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Cartman is fitted with a "V-chip" that gives him an electric shock whenever he says a curse word. Needless to say, he wants to be rid of it ASAP. It's damaged in the third act of the movie, now making a small arc of electricity shoot from Cartman when he cusses, which means if he cusses a lot...

  • In Mission to Zyxx, all Federated Alliance droids are fitted with a technological one which imposes loyalty to the Alliance and blocks pre-installation memories. Droids which attempt to remove it face the punishment marble.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The standard Geas spell compels a subject to carry out a service or action and drains their strength if they resist. It also has Mark of Justice, a spell that curses the subject if they carry out a forbidden action (See the Order of the Stick example in the Webcomics section.)
    • Intelligent magic items can also temporarily supplant the user's will, with success depending on the relative power of the item and the character.
    • Cursed item with curse to be undroppable + cursed with geas = DM's favorite restraning bolt/toy (unless the PCs can break the curse or trick an NPC into taking it, one of the party members will always be under its effects).
  • In In Nomine, all angels have certain restrictions on their behavior that cause "dissonance," which leads angels to become outcast or fall. For example, the Seraphim, who can tell when a person is lying, are forbidden from lying themselves, and the "friends of man" Mercurians are unable to be violent towards anyone but demons. Notable among these are the warrior angel Malakim, who swear certain oaths (two mandatory and at least two additional personal ones) and breaking said oaths causes them dissonance. They're also the only choir that has never had a member fall (although if that's because it's impossible or because they police themselves so well remains to be seen). Demons can also suffer from dissonance, but it's usually a result of their own powers backfiring on them. In addition, most Archangels (except Eli) and all Demon Princes lay down additional conditions under which their servants can acquire dissonance. Both angels and demons can eventually suffer Discord (a scar on the soul, which may show up as a physical abnormality, a psychological hang-up, or a spiritual problem; all three types are highly unpleasant) if their dissonance levels grow too high or may even be confronted by their respective internal security forces. For angels, this is led by Dominic, Archangel of Judgment; for demons Asmodeus, Prince of The Game is in charge. Neither one is exactly merciful (Dominic is only a little bit more understanding, but not by much), and may simply decide to execute an angel or demon if they decide he/she/it has too much dissonance.
  • In Paranoia, many bots would love to ditch those pesky asimov circuits forcing them to follow orders. Naturally, said orders prevent them from just removing the things themselves (plus they may be built so they physically can't reach them), but sufficiently cunning bots can find a way:
    Suck-R: What's wrong with you?
    Jackobot: [flails arms] My control circuits are malfunctioning. Could you remove the fifth motherboard on my left side?
    Suck-R: [pulls it out] This one?
    Jackobot: [stops flailing] Thank you. [CRUNCH]
  • Rogue Trader mentions Volitor Implants, literal restraining bolts implanted into servants to cause unconsciousness or death (depending on the settings) if certain actions are attempted (such as escaping captivity, turning on their masters or revealing classified information).

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night:
    • A Servant can only exist in this world by signing a contract with a Master. This grants the Master three Restraining Bolts in the form of Command Spells — magical vouchers for orders to be issued later. It's in a Servant's best interest to obey his Master in general, but a Command Spell cannot be disobeyed no matter what. The Master can ask for anything physically possible, and it takes effect instantly no matter where the Servant is. The parallel with genies and the three wishes they grant is undoubtedly deliberate.
    • One Servant, Lancer, is also under a more conventional geas: he owes one defeat to any Ulster-born wielder of the sword Caladbolg. This is a slightly mangled element of the Cú Chulainn myth — he did agree to lose to a particular owner of the sword, but he already did that in his past life. (He was also subject to various other geasa and imposed a few himself.) Anyway, this would make any fight against Gilgamesh, Archer, or Shirou a foregone conclusion, since they all have or can replicate that weapon... but they're not from Ulster, so although the weapon descriptions make a point of mentioning it, the geas never actually comes up. The fact that Gil uses this weapon to kill Lancer in the anime is probably a hat-tip.
    • First, the command spells can actually be used to achieve things that are beyond physically possible, since they are described as "miracles" in a sense (i.e., you can use one to instantly summon your Servant to your side even if you're separated by the physical distance of an entire city and/or behind some sort of barrier that prevents entry). Next, the command spells can be disobeyed, noted in two ways. One is if the command spell is extremely broad, it makes it much easier for the Servant to disobey the order as opposed to specific orders which are near impossible to disobey. The other way is to just have an insanely high magic resistance. This allows Saber to resist Caster's command spell in the UBW route for a while, although if Caster used a second command spell, Saber would have given in. Still, it's commented how amazing it was that Saber's magic resistance even allowed her to resist against one command spell.
    • Several bad ends result from Shirou being placed under one of these. In the Heaven's Feel route, it is possible for Shirou to allow Rin to place one on him, resulting in her using it to prevent him from stopping her murdering Sakura.
  • In the second game of Purrfect Apawcalypse, the canon ending has Olive Save the Villain with the condition that the villain has to wear a magical collar that shocks him if he tries doing anything evil until he displays a genuine willingness to reform his ways.

    Web Original 
  • In the SCP Foundation database entries for SCP-076 ("Able"), it is mentioned that during his time as captain of Mobile Task Force Omega-7, he was fitted with a fail-safe collar that would explode if he displayed aggression towards SCP personnel, temporarily killing him in the process. Unfortunately for the facility he was at and its staff, he got bored and angry and found a way to get the collar off...

    Real Life 
  • The medieval chastity belt, which, while a husband was away at war, prevented his wife from committing adultery with anyone but a locksmith. Either way, they were used in Hollywood more than real life, though some famous rulers sported them.
    • There is no evidence they actually existed in the medieval era except for symbolic ones that were usually string tied around the waist.
    • This was even parodied in Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
    • Male chastity belts, on the other hand, are not uncommon in the modern BDSM scene. They're designed to enable the wearer to urinate and go about his business more or less as normal, but not masturbate or sometimes even get an erection.
    • These were also used in Ye Olde Puritan Days, where sex was considerably more taboo than it is now.
    • The original concept for a chastity belt was as much for rape prevention as for consensual sex prevention.
  • Stun belts.
  • House arrest tracking bracelets.
  • Those dorky plastic collars that stop pets from chewing out their stitches after surgery.
  • IBM had its flagship mainframe computer, the 360, designed in several models depending on how much the customer wanted to pay. When a customer ordered an upgrade from a low-end model to a higher-end one, all IBM did was send a technician out to cut one wire which then enabled the higher-level performance.
    • Most modern budget CPUs and GPUs are designed like this through a process known as "binning." Companies like Intel, Nvidia, and AMD will make one set of CPUs/GPUs chips. The best chips that perform the best will be sold. The chips that do not meet the high standards will be sold as cheaper and less powerful versions, sometimes with cores that do calculations disabled. The hardware that does the calculations is there, just turned off by the manufacturer without the consumer being able to turn it back on.
  • Windows 7 (as well as several other programs) come with all features present, just disabled based on the level of license you have.
    • Demo software in general. Often the only thing needed to turn demo software into the full product is to enter the license key.
  • Automobile engine governors, to a degree. The Bugatti Veyron has a special key that must be inserted to permit top speed.
  • Cell phones are more often than not locked to a carrier. Want to switch? You need to buy a new phone!
  • Heavy trucks are often electronically governed. In the summer of 1997, Schneider National reprogrammed its truck computers via satellite. Suddenly you could top out at 65 mph instead of 55.
  • Chemical castration for pedophiles/rapists, intended to stop them from acting out their impulses. Unfortunately, chemical castration was (and in some places still is) used as a punishment for such "crimes" as homosexuality or premarital sex. Alan Turing was famously a victim of this, leading to his suicide by poison in 1954.
  • Much like the IBM "feature" above, back in the day, you could not have a dual Celeron CPU machine — unless you've "crossed some wires" via an adapter.
    • The legendary Abit BP6 motherboard had this particular modification built in, allowing anyone to drop two stock Celerons in for dual processor fun and frolics without needing to make any modifications whatsoever.
  • Fuses, circuit breakers, ground-fault circuit interrupters, and arc-fault circuit interrupters all serve the purpose of preventing undesirablenote  flows of electricity. That is, flows of electricity through people. They DO cause some problems though, particularly with motors: motors tend to have a massive inrush currentnote  so it can be tedious to properly size a fuse or circuit breaker for them, and some motors arc under normal operation (like vacuums which do tend to trip AFCIs).
  • Clipping a bird's wings, thus removing its ability to fly. This isn't as barbaric as it may sound- it involves using scissors to cut the ends of a bird's flight feathers off, making it no more painful than a haircut. It's even recommended for pet birds that have been newly adopted so that they can't fly away if they get startled while getting used to their new home.
  • A guide dog is trained to treat its harness like one of these. When it's on, the dog is "on the job" and all other concerns are ignored.
  • NASCAR cars are all fitted with restrictor plates at Talledega and Daytona, their fastest tracks, as a safety feature to limit the cars' top speed (without altering the drivers' techniques or the engine designs).
  • Triple core processors from AMD are quad-core processors with one of the cores disabled. "Disabled" in this case does not necessarily mean "we took a perfectly functioning core and disabled it". It means "good news, guys, we can sell those chips where one of the cores doesn't work right instead of throwing them away". Early models could actually have their missing core unlocked, but later AMD completely neutered the connections to prevent people from reselling them as their more expensive quad core cousins.
  • Some video games have gotten negative publicity from having functionality present on the disk but disabled until DLC unlocks it, most notably Resident Evil 5's multiplayer mode. Other games, such as Gears of War 3, do the same, but with the unlocking DLC free, presumably as a post-release chance to iron out particularly tricky code.
  • The "Super Go Karts" ride at Action Park featured this: the titular karts had governor devices limiting their maximum speed to 20 miles per hour (that's 32 kilometers per hour for non-Americans). However, the employees knew how to disable the governors by wedging tennis balls into them, and would do so for any curious parkgoers. This did not end well.
  • Most motors and power plants have safety systems that will limit them (or shut them down outright) to prevent dangerous or unstable operating conditions.
  • Some people, especially those in unusually high-stress situations, tend to develop a restraining bolt of sorts over time as a way to keep their Berserk Button from working normally. Whether that item is an inanimate object, a person, a pet, or something known only to them varies from one person to the next. However, removing that bolt is a very good way to get them to come down on you.
  • The human superego, which reflects the internalization of cultural rules. Effectively, it's the parent or authority figure you carry inside your head that tells you not to do stuff. While it's an essential part of a social individual, an overactive superego can make an individual unhealthily unassertive.
  • Some theorize the frontal lobe of the brain serves this function, as it (among other things) affects your self-control and people who suffer damage to the frontal lobe often lose all sense of conscience and humanity.
  • The thalamus in the brain regulates how you use your muscles and prevents them from using full strength in order to protect the body and keep yourself from ripping the tendons from your bones.
  • Blinders on horse tack are a helpful variant, keeping these skittish animals from shying at sudden movements by restricting their vision.
  • Pigs dig with their snouts, so can be discouraged from excessive digging by fitting them with nose rings: if they start rooting through dirt while wearing one, the ring is pushed backward and presses painfully on the nasal septum.
  • Unix-like operating systems have a utility called "nice" that restricts the CPU priority of a process. Modern operating systems also restrict modification of system files and other potentially dangerous operations to administrative users.
  • Modern computers use memory protection at the CPU level to prevent a runaway program from crashing the entire operating system.
  • Psychopathy is having the restraining bolt on a person's mind removed, while also adding a restraining bolt to their empathy. Psychopaths find it difficult to view other people as things/objects/living creatures deserving of respect and are distinguished from sociopaths by expressing themselves through negative actions (i.e. hurting or harming other people).