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File:Howlingman 4122.png

Please, help me!

The Hero has come upon an Innocent Bystander trapped in a Tailor-Made Prison by a wicked monster. The prisoner may plead with the hero to be set free, telling him all about the horrors the tyrant has inflicted upon him, or the prisoner may just hang in sorrowful Unwilling Suspension in his terrible bonds. Once the hero sets the prisoner free, it quickly becomes apparent that he was tricked.

The False Innocence Trick (aka Fake Good in A Can) is when a villain or monster locked away for a good reason feigns innocence or being a good guy in order to fool the hero into letting him go. Typically the villain will prey on the hero's good will and strong moral fiber while doing this by making himself and his story as sympathetic as possible. He often is also counting on the fact that the hero Did Not Do the Research or has come from a time/place far enough away to not know who the prisoner really is.

Contrast the more common Decoy Damsel, and Disguised Hostage Gambit for when a villain makes a genuine prisoner look like a bad guy.

Examples of False Innocence Trick include:


  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. The Enterprise passes through the barrier around the heart of the galaxy and finds the legendary planet Sha Ka Ree, believed to be the home of God. The protagonists find God apparently imprisoned there, and he tries to trick them into helping him escape. Kirk figures out there's something funny going on and manages to get "God" to reveal his true natu're before he gets away.
  • In Phantasm Oblivion, in a dream, the Tall Man is caught by a noose and he begs the protagonist, Michael to cut him down.

 The Tall Man: Cut me down!

Michael: No!

The Tall Man: I won't hurt you.

Michael: You're killing the world!

The Tall Man: I'll go away... and I won't ever come back [gives mischievous grin]

Michael: You will?

The Tall Man: Yes.



  • The Angel Islington in Neverwhere seems to be a trusted ally to the heroes and informs them that he is tasked with protecting London Below due to his previous failure to adequately defend his previous city, Atlantis. They should have asked more detail about that before helping to free him. He destroyed Atlantis because he wasn't satisfied with their worship, and he's basically a Fallen Angel in the tradition of Satan with A God Am I pretensions, aiming to storm Heaven and declare himself God.
  • Seems to be the case in the Narnia book The Silver Chair, where the prince is chained up for an hour every night while he goes insane, and during that time he pleads "This is the only time I'm sane! Let me out!" Of course, the time he's chained up really is the only time he's got his full wits about him.

Live Action TV

  • The Twilight Zone TOS episode "The Howling Man". A man stumbles upon a castle and finds a prisoner held captive by the monks who live there. The prisoner claims he's being held unjustly by an insane religious order, which seems to be confirmed when the head of the order insists that the prisoner is actually the Devil in disguise. The man decides to free the prisoner, and only then finds out that he really is the Devil in disguise. The man spends many years searching for him to atone for his mistake, and finally traps him again. Naturally, the man's maid thinks he's crazy for insisting that his prisoner is the Devil...
  • Charmed:
    • There was an episode where the sisters try to save a man trapped in a painting, but it turns out he was evil all along.
    • Another episode sees the sisters trying to save demon children from their ice cream truck prison.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • When Captain Picard was abducted by aliens in "Allegiance," one of his fellow abductees is really a member of the alien race that captured them.
    • Troi, O'Brien and Data were bodyjacked by noncorporeal beings in "Power Play." They claimed to be survivors of a Starfleet vessel that had crashed on an uncharted world about two hundred years before. They were actually convicted criminals.
  • In the The Outer Limits episode "Quality of Mercy", Major Stokes and a female cadet are held prisoner on an alien world. She is taken for more experiments and wants just to die. At the climax, we find the woman is really an alien spy — and the man just told the aliens humanity's battle plans
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Unquiet Dead", the Gelth claim to be refugees from the Great Time War who have lost their bodies and only want to use dead humans as Meat Suits. It turns out that there are many more of them than they claimed, and they want to take over all humanity, not just the dead ones.
    • The fact that they killed a guy at the start of the episode should've been a clue. How? By possessing a guy's dead mother and having her choke her son.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: This is how we meet our first Vorta, Eris, as a "prisoner" of the Jem'Hadar.

Tabletop RPG

  • Dungeons and Dragons
    • In "The Mansion of Mad Professor Ludlow" in Dragon magazine #42, the player characters are Boy Scouts investigating a haunted house. In one room is what appears to be an innocent maiden chained to the wall. She is actually a succubus and very hungry.
    • In the original Greyhawk campaign, the demon lord Fraz-Urb'Iuu was trapped in a stone prison below Castle Greyhawk. He finally tricked two adventurers into performing several heroic deeds to free him, and rewarded them by taking them to his home plane on the Abyss as his slaves.

Video Games

  • In Mortal Kombat Mythologies Sub Zero, Sub-Zero (the elder) is imprisoned in the Netherrealm. His fellow prisoner is normally Scorpion, but if the player decided not to kill Hanzo Hasashi, then the other prisoner is Shinnok, the Big Bad of this game and Mortal Kombat 4. He claims that he's an unjustly imprisoned soul like Sub-Zero and notes that he's playing Raiden's "game" for the time being. His manipulation of Sub-Zero indirectly helps himself escape from the Netherrealm several years down the road.
  • In one quest in Oblivion, you can buy a house, only to find that it's haunted. Investigation reveals the corpse of a lich (imprisoned for being evil) who claim's he's turned good after having time to reflect on his crimes. Unfortunately Stupidity Is the Only Option if you want to complete the quest.
  • Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door: Although it appears that the "evil" beings trapped in the black chests were originally good (the game appears to imply that they were the original four heroes of legend), the end result is the same nonetheless. They plead for Mario to let them out, so of course, he does. They curse him as thanks. Kind of subverted, because the curses help you, to the point that you literally cannot continue without "acquiring" them.
  • In World of Warcraft, there's a quest in the Arathi Highlands where you're contacted by an earth princess named Myzrael, who seeks your help to escape her confinement. To free her, you kill some of her guardians and release her from her crystal prison, where you find out that she's evil. Sort of subverted though, in that she was driven to madness by the Old Gods, and now resides in Deepholm, where she is once again sane and good.
  • In The Legend of Zelda a Link To T He Past, this is how you trigger the boss fight with the boss underneath Kakariko village. You are told he kidnapped one of the descendants of the sages, and in some way you can say he did it, but he also disguised himself as the girl and hid himself in his own prison.
  • Happens on two different occasions in Baldur's Gate II:
    • The first time is while escaping from Irenicus' dungeon. You run across an imprisoned man in a rather luxurious cell, with a large number of booby-trapped treasure chests to boot. If you let him out, he shortly afterward reveals he's a doppelganger and attacks, with rather predictable results.
    • The second time is about halfway through the game, when Yoshimo, who had (potentially) joined you near the start, reveals himself as a Sixth Ranger Traitor for Irenicus, due to a geas placed on him. The next time you meet him after that, there is no way around killing him off for real.
  • Both Sirrus and Achenar in Myst try this.
  • Albion: In the prison in the middle of the desert "near" Umajo-Kenta, one of the prisoners is a pretty, sympathetic-looking woman who tries this, complete with a promise for a reward to make it sound like a typical RPG quest. If you let her go, once you get back to the city, you'll hear that the dangerous psycho is on the loose and run into a child whose mother was killed by her. Eventually she'll be caught again, leaving you with nothing for your trouble but a guilty conscience. What's more, with the trip through the desert so long and difficult, there's a higher chance than average that the player won't still have a saved game conveniently from before releasing her when seeing the results.
  • In Shadowgate, the room with the Golden Horn is also occupied by a beautiful young woman who is chained to the wall. If you try to grab the Horn, the "prisoner" will transform into a vicious werewolf that tears you apart. The only clue that something is off with the prisoner is that the description notes that she looks beautiful in moonlight.
  • This is the main plot point in the 2004 Bards Tale game.
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum, you can see Clayface in a glass cell. But in fact, he changes his appearance each time the camera wanders away from him and tries to trick you into releasing him. Good thing the game doesn't offer you the opportunity to free him, or this troper would have done it.


  • In Girl Genius, Agatha mentions this trope when she first encounters Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer! who asks her to free him. She believes he's doing this and does not free him; however, he actually believes he's the hero being held by the villain.
    • Agatha does rescue him eventually, after learning some unflattering things about their mutual 'host'. He helps her escape at a later date in return. And then he tries killing her, so she throws him out of an airship. As it turns out, Othar is hardly a 'fake good'; his definition of 'good' just differs slightly from hers.

Western Animation

  • Teen Titans: Raven befriends a knight hero in a book by the name of Malchoir. He tells her stories of how an evil dragon trapped him there. He teaches her powerful magic and things seem awesome. Until, The spells are dark magic that cause more chaos than good, but before Raven realizes she sets Malchoir free only to find out "Malchoir" is the name of the evil dragon, not the knight.