Fair Play Villain

A Fair Play Villain is a villain who, when the hero is at their mercy, gives the hero a way to survive. If the villain traps the hero in their prison, they'll allow them an escape chance. If they get the hero into their deadly arena, they promise to let them go if the hero can beat the monster. This type of villain suffers from Bond Villain Stupidity — he could just kill the hero now, but where's the sport in that?

The defining characteristic of the Fair Play Villain is that this act is sincere. He's not lying or deceiving the hero, he's genuinely giving them a chance to win, and will probably (though not always) hold up his end of the bargain if they prevail. He might hope the hero fails, or bend the rules a bit, but ultimately he still gives the hero the opportunity to beat him.

The villain's interest may be in proving to the hero how helpless they are by kicking them while they're down, giving them a second chance so they can fail again. Perhaps the villain is interested in what the hero's capabilities are, or wants to see him prove himself. The villain may be Nigh Invulnerable and believes Victory Is Boring, and finds more challenge in giving the hero a fair shot. The villain may be a Noble Demon who wishes to best the hero in a fair contest.

Compare Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him?, the logical question that this trope answers. May overlap with Let's Fight Like Gentlemen, Just Toying with Them, Hunting the Most Dangerous Game, and Mercy Lead. See also the Spirited Competitor and Worthy Opponent. Can be related to the Sadistic Choice.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: While many lesser villains are cheaters, the various Big Bads tend to avoid breaking the rules, since they have to defeat Yugi fairly in order to win the Millennium Puzzle from him. This doesn't stop them from exploiting various gaps in the rules, or from using Shadow magic to gain an advantage of course; Dark Marik is particularly sadistic when it comes to devising headgames to distract Yugi from the game at hand.
  • Grimmjow toward Ichigo in Bleach. After killing Loly and Menoly and saving Orihime, he drags her to where Ulquiorra's left Ichigo for dead and demands she heal him so they can have a proper battle. He even turns on Ulquiorra when the latter appears and demands to know why he's having Ichigo revived. In truth, Grimmjow was doing it more for the sake of his own pride, rather than fair play. He wanted Ichigo at his best, before crushing him, to pay him back for scarring him.
    • Then there's Ginjo, who deliberately placed a flaw in his own plan to give Ichigo a chance to thwart it. In his case, he did so in the opinion that allowing a small risk of failure was more fun.
  • In Sword Art Online, the main villain Kayaba Akihiko traps ten thousand players in a virtual reality video game, and promises to let them out when the defeat the 100th floor boss. The game is fairly balanced, and so on, which starts to show this, but the real point comes when Kirito defeats the final boss (Kayaba, it turns out) on the 75th floor. Kayaba keeps his word and lets everyone out.
    • Subverted by Heathcliff, his alter ego who has an exceptionally powerful unique skill that even people in-universe consider broken. He also is immortal after taking a certain amount of damage and explicitly cheats during his first duel with Kirito. The game may have been fair, but his place in it sure as hell wasn't

  • The modus operandi for Batman villain Two-Face, who believes that chance (specifically, a coin toss) is the only fair thing in the world, and will flip a coin to make any major decisions. How "fair" this is can become skewed, such as flipping a coin to decide whether or not he should honor an agreement when the other party already held up their end of the bargain or doing multiple coin flips for every petty little thing.
  • Sometimes anti-heroine/sometimes villainess Lady Shiva is a Blood Knight martial artist who is constantly seeking a Worthy Opponent to defeat and kill her in hand-to-hand combat. During one battle against Richard Dragon, Richard had technically defeated her and was ready to deliver a killing blow when one of Shiva's minions interrupted the fight to save her life. An angry Shiva killed the minion for interfering and restarted the fight with Richard. However, this time, she won.
    • On a different occasion, Lady Shiva battled against Batgirl (later revealed to be her own daughter, Cassandra Cain) and "killed" her by stopping her heart for a length of time and then reviving her. Batgirl, as a former Child Assassin that became The Atoner, was a Death Seeker just like Shiva, which is something Shiva didn't find particularly sporting, so she killed and resurrected her enemy just to give Batgirl a taste of death that would ease her guilty conscience. It worked, and Batgirl went on to win their duel.
  • Marvel has Arcade, whose M.O. was trapping heroes in carnival-themed death traps and getting his kicks on seeing them try to escape. He claims that his Murderworlds are designed so that the heroes all have a chance to escape. A small chance, but a chance nonetheless.

     Fan Fiction 

    Film — Live Action 
  • Saw
    • The vital part of Jigsaw's games is that all his victims have a chance to prove their desire to live and free themselves from his traps. This usually involves self-mutilation and/or psychological torture.
    • Subverted in Saw III: Amanda's traps are designed without any actual chance of escape, which Jigsaw acknowledges as proof that Amanda is too unstable to carry on his legacy.

  • Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett introduces the old Count Magpyr, the traditionalist vampire who litters his castle with weapons that can be used to take him down - instructions and diagrams included! After all, taking a stake through the heart is one thing; looking like Swiss cheese because the average peasant can't find your heart is quite another. For him, this is also Pragmatic Villainy: if he can be overthrown by anybody with a lot of guts and a little luck, the villagers will generally be satisfied with 'killing' him (something a vampire can eventually recover from) rather than being so horrified that they'll take extreme measures to make sure he's Deader Than Dead.
  • The Duke of Ch'in in Bridge of Birds has elaborate mazes and death traps that always give the heroes just enough of a chance to escape. Master Li eventually figures out that this is because the Duke is like a child who protects himself with things straight out of fairy tales and believes it just wouldn't be as much fun if his victims had no chance of winning.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation