Fair-Play Villain

Señor Senior, Junior: Did we not leave Kim Possible on a conveyor belt to her doom?
Señor Senior, Senior: Yes. A proper villain always leaves his foe when he's about to expire.
Señor Senior, Junior: Why?
Señor Senior, Senior: Well, it would be bad form just to loll about, waiting for it.

A Fair Play Villain is a villain who, when the hero is at their mercy, gives the hero a way to survive. If he traps the hero in his Dungeon of Fear, he'll deliberately leave a possibility of escape. If he throws the hero into the Arena of Doom, he'll promise to let the hero go if he emerges victorious. And, unlike most villains, he probably will. In both cases, he has the hero in his power... but crushing him wouldn't be sporting.

This kind of villainy bears an outward resemblance to Bond Villain Stupidity, but has nothing to do with obliviousness on the part of the villain. The Fair Play Villain simply values 'fairness' (in a villainous sense) more than he does victory. He's not lying or deceiving the hero, he's genuinely giving Team Good a chance to win. He doesn't necessarily want to be beaten, and his idea of 'a sporting chance' may involve extreme hazards to the hero, but ultimately he is giving the hero an opportunity to defeat him.

Obviously, Fair Play Villainy is not based on pragmatism. The villain may be Affably Evil or a Knight Templar who regards giving the hero a chance as 'ethical'. Perhaps the villain just wants to see how skilled the hero really is, or give him the option of getting himself out alive or rescuing somebody else. The villain may be Nigh Invulnerable and believes Victory Is Boring, so that the hero's victory becomes a Self-Imposed Challenge. Or the villain may be a Noble Demon who really does want to earn his victory.

Of course, one man's "fair" may be another man's Cruel Mercy — particularly if the villain has a rather skewed definition of ethics.

Examples in fiction are usually male, but this is not a 'male only' trope. 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. Contrast the No-Nonsense Nemesis, who goes for the kill in the most efficient method possible, honor be damned.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: While many lesser villains are cheaters (and end up being a victim to Penalty Games), the various Big Bads tend to avoid breaking the rules, since they have to defeat Yugi fairly in a Shadow Game against him. This doesn't stop them from exploiting various gaps in the rules, or from using Millennium shadow magic to gain an advantage of course; such as Dark Bakura rigging the 2d10 percentile dice with a portion of his mind to roll criticals every time in his Tabletop RPG or Telepathy-wielding Pegasus invoking a high-level Shadow Game which the normal Yugi's mental constitution can't handle, to counter Yugi's "Mind Shuffle" tactic utilizing his Split Personality Dark Yugi. Dark Marik is particularly sadistic when it comes to devising headgames to distract Yugi from the game at hand. The closest he comes to cheating is his Shadow Games though ; the monster attacks feel real and causes alot of mental turmoil and stress on the opponent duelist. This is ultimately why Jonouchi lost against him. Despite tanking the full might of the Egyptian God The Sun Dragon Ra, he was absolutely hit to the brim with fatigue and collapsed from exhaustion before he could call out the attack that would've won him the duel, thus Dark Marik winning by default since his opponent could no longer duel.
    • Despite being a literal Killer Game Master who claims victims through games, Dark Bakura's actually very fair about it. He never cheats in any of his Duel Monsters games, and in the two tabletop game arcs he participates in, he explains the rules and gives the heroes a fair chance. In the Shadow RPG, he explains the rules to Dark Yugi and, in the manga, gives Dark Yugi a unique power to use during the game since he as Game Master has one of his own. The only time he cheats is during the Monster World RPG when he starts using the Millennium Ring's magic to rig his dice rolls, which is not considered cheating in a Shadow Game.
  • 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. Double-subverted during his second and final duel with Kirito, however, as he intentionally turns off his admin privileges to give Kirito a fighting chance of winning and freeing everyone.
  • In The Seven Deadly Sins tournament arc hosted by two ancient demons, those who made it through their maze of death were divided into teams of two at random. When not enough passed to make an equal 16 team bracket, they just made golems of themselves to fill the open spots, instead of just killing them until the numbers fit an 8-team bracket setup.

  • 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 (which may well depend on realizing that Arcade can't actually be trusted and thinking outside the box rather than falling for the "obvious" challenge), 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.
  • The titular aliens from Predator are a Proud Warrior Race Guy species who will occasionally and intentionally handicap themselves by removing their advanced plasma weaponry and camouflage when fighting technologically-outmatched races, particularly if they deem them worthy. That said, they're still incredibly strong and have dangerous wrist-blades, but it's a much more even fight than laser-death from afar.

  • 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.
  • I Did NOT Give That Spider Superhuman Intelligence!: Goodnight encourages this as much as possible, refusing to fight villains when they are not actively committing crimes, and even defending them from other heroes. She doesn't get very far until Spider steps in and starts enforcing it. Violently.
  • Alphonse Wheeler was a bank robber from the world of Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I.. Arising as a ghost after his death in prison, he grew frustrated with his immaterial state, and committed another robbery to try to re-capture the thrill of being a Gentleman Thief. When even that proved disappointing, Wheeler allowed himself to be incarcerated again ... then broke out of jail without using his ghostly powers, just to prove he could do so without "cheating".

    Video Games 
  • Luxord of the Kingdom Hearts series teleports Sora's allies away to fight him as a Duel Boss, making the battle a Timed Mission where they have to attack each other to deplete a time gauge.
    • In the same series, Hades mostly tries to defeat Hercules by sticking to the tournament format of the Coliseum and pitting him against powerful opponents. The second game shows he's grown tired of this though, and during his Villainous Breakdown decides he's had enough playing by the rules and promptly cheats.
  • Tomb Raider (2013): During the Co-Dragons' Extreme Mêlée Revenge on Lara for her murder of their brother, Mathias steps in and stops them from killing her outright.
  • Akuma of Street Fighter fame is a Blood Knight who seeks someone with the raw skills to defeat him. He will openly mock any character that obtains power by artificial methods (Seth and Bison) or that utilizes weaponry (Vega and Crimson Viper). By contrast, he rejects any opponent too weak to pose a challenge.
  • In Final Fantasy IV, Rubicante is a Noble Demon who heals your party before the battle, even announcing that he wants a fair fight. He does it again when the Four Fiends all come at you at once, and gives your party a final farewell before he dies.
  • In Pokémon, everything is settled by a battle between trainers. Adult villains far older and stronger will concede the day to a small child once you knock out their Pokemon.
  • In Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, Jaden Korr is captured in one mission and given the chance to fight his/her way out, because the captor wants the chance to hunt a Jedi. However once Jaden starts looking like they'll genuinely escape the captor throws the rules out of the window and goes all out.
  • The King of Fighters: Kusanagi, dark magical doppelganger of series protagonist Kyo, will chastise anyone who fights with weapons against him (such as Whip, Chang, Mai etc); in a game where most combatants are barehanded.
    Kusanagi: "Temee! Sude de shoubu shiagare!" ("You [bastard]! Fight me with your bare hands!")
  • The Legend of Zelda: During the various boss fights with Ganondorf, whenever he knocks Link down after an attack, he always waits for Link to get back up before continuing the fight.
    • Then there's Demise, the final boss of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. He's so fascinated and impressed that Link is not only unafraid of him, but willing to fight him directly, that he agrees to a final duel with Link before he moves on to the Triforce. He even waits for Link to get prepared and come to him.
  • Tales of Destiny: Barbatos Goetia has a variant where he enforces fair play. If you try using consumable items during a battle against him, he'll shout "NO ITEMS EVER!" and then performs a powerful, unavoidable attack (depending on what you used).

    Visual Novels 
  • Monokuma from Dangan Ronpa, and by extension the mastermind behind him. He sets rules for his Deadly Game the he too is also bound by, purely through choice in the first game at least. While he does break his rules once, he is willing to submit to demands when called on it.
  • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Zero has kidnapped all of the participants to play a Deadly Game; but then plays the game completely fair, giving them rules to trust in, even helping them through sticking points, and arranging that all of them get a clear opportunity to escape and live. It goes so far that a significant mystery in the game, and cause of confusion to the characters, is - why anyone would do that.

    Western Animation