“In a room sit three great men: a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me – who lives and who dies?”
A Kingmaker Scenario occurs when two sides in a conflict are evenly matched
and the third one
is unable to overpower the other two. The third power then becomes the "King Maker": while it cannot win itself, it can ally itself with one of the other two, breaking the stalemate and bringing victory to its chosen side ("crowning them king
"). The term "kingmaker scenario" comes from the game theory and was most likely inspired by Richard Neville
a.k.a. Warwick the Kingmaker
, who, while not suitable for the British throne himself (owing to a lack of Royal Blood
), installed and deposed two sovereigns in short succession during the Wars of the Roses
In multiplayer games, a King Maker is a player who, while unable to win himself, is able (or forced) to determine which of the other players will win. This will usually end up being the one who the "kingmaker" likes more at the time. This scenario is disliked by players except in games where personal politics play a role in the game's outcome by design (such as Diplomacy
), and a game where such a scenario occurs frequently is referred to as having the "Kingmaker Problem".
A more detailed examination of possible Kingmaker Scenarios can be found in this article
, at least until the link dies. A subtrope of Mêlée à Trois
. Compare X Must Not Win
No Real Life Examples, Please!
. They tend to degenerate into a political Conversation in the Main Page
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Anime and Manga
- In the fourth round of Liar Game, Akiyama's group become this by having control of their own 5 man alliance and the Extras alliance.
- During the Freeza Saga of Dragon Ball Z, Vegeta tries to convince Krillin, Gohan, and Dende that they are in this position; they can't defeat Freeza on their own, but they can help Vegeta wish for immortality so that he can defeat Freeza. It never seems to occur to them to wish for immortality for one of their own instead.
- With Goku being off-planet and Vegeta the absolute strongest of the remaining fighters, having Vegeta immortal would actually be the better option because none of the others stand a chance against the villain. Although Gohan or Krillin could become immortal, at that point they would still be unable to keep Freeza from killing the rest.
- This can come up in multi-player Magic: The Gathering games. If one plays frequent games with more than two players, Kingmaker decks can become handy things to have...
- Since the game is resource-based and is timed on a turn-by-turn basis, it's actually not that uncommon for the kingmaker to turn the tables on his ally and claim victory for himself. (E.g: if the victor of the stalemate spends all his resources to beat the stalemate, leaving himself vulnerable to the kingmaker)
- This is at the heart of Apples To Apples, which switches which player is the "kingmaker" every round. The main strategy of the game is appealing to the judge's ideas of a given quality.
- Played properly, though, the judge doesn't know who played which cards until he picks the winner.
- In three-person Kaiser, a player with the 5 and the 3 but an otherwise weak hand is in this position. In the standard four-person version, they're simply a support to their ally.
- The Vampire The Eternal Struggle CCG is designed around this. In multiplayer games, the rules dictate that a player can attack the player on his left on his turn, and only that player. In return, he need only defend himself from attacks by the player on his right. (Hunter > Player > Hunted, proceeding clockwise.) This leads to (and indeed, the game encourages) discussions, arguments, and dealmaking among the players, as a player can offer not to attack his target, leaving the target free to devote resources to attacking his own target, or the player can offer concessions to keep another player off his back while he launches a full-fledged assault. In addition, when a player is eliminated, the hunting order skips over him to the next player, making long-term planning a must.
- Also relevant is that the rules specify a way for a player to withdraw from the game without necessarily losing, though not to reenter. In fact, the first player out of the game could end up as the winner (though that's unlikely). The possibility of players having in-game motivations other than to be the "last one left" makes the game even more political.
- It is commonly accepted that in Munchkin, you need at least one other player helping you if you want to make the jump from level 9 to 10.
- The Good The Bad And The Ugly. Both Angel Eyes and Tuco know the name of the grave site - Blondie is initially disadvantaged as he only knows the name on the grave itself, but will eventually become the Kingmaker and the other two know this. After Angel Eyes finds out Tuco's half of the secret, the film spends a little time watching the two fighting over who gets Blondie. (He sides with Tuco in the end, but out of choice. No-one gets to tell the Man With No Name what to do.)
- Inverted in the ending of Gore Vidal's The Best Man, in which two presidential candidates, played by Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson, are tied in their race for the nomination. Fonda's idealist, unwilling to falsely smear Robertson's sleazoid as a homosexual in order to win, yet also unwilling to let Robertson win the nomination on the strength of allegations regarding Fonda's medical history, throws his support to the dark horse candidate who has been mired in third place throughout the balloting, who goes on to win.
- At the end of The Chronicles of Riddick, in the final fight between Riddick and the Lord Marshall, he gets caught in mid-teleport and realizes that he's screwed. There are two places he can re-materialize from his teleport: at one of them, Riddick will kill him; at the other, Vaako will. He chooses to die by Riddick's hand, thus fulfilling prophecy that he will be killed by a Furyan. Since You Kill It, You Bought It is the Necromonger way, Klingon Promotion ensues, resulting in Riddick becoming the new Lord Marshall.
- Criston Cole, the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard was literally called "The Kingmaker" in A Song of Ice and Fire. He championed Viserys I's younger son Aegon II over his chosen heir, elder daughter Rhaenyra. This led to the Dance of the Dragons, a bloody civil war that tore the realm in half (including the Kingsguard itself) and led to the death of most of the Targaryen dragons. Aegon II won, but was ultimately succeeded by Rhaenyra's son, Aegon III.
- A variation happened in A Storm Of Swords when the Night's Watch was electing their lord commander. Their custom is when a lord commander dies, a voting is done every day until someone gets at least two third of the votes. The most popular nominees were Cotter Pyke and Denys Mallister, with Janos Slynt, a Smug Snake sent by the Lannisters, at the third place, continuously increasing in popularity. If either Mallister or Pyke would have resigned in favor of the other, Slynt would have immediately lost, and Sam Tarly goes to both trying to convince them to do so. Unfortunately both Pyke and Mallister have diametrically opposed ideas of what a lord commander should be, and viewed each other as unsuited to the position. At this point Sam decided to Take a Third Option and he convinces both Pyke and Mallister to resign in favor of Jon, who wasn't even a candidate at that point, in order to keep Slynt from winning. They both urge their supporters to vote for Jon, and Jon promptly becomes the new lord commander.
- The series itself is rife with this (see page quote). A running theme in the ongoing civil war is for the noble houses to swing the balance of power by switching sides. As of the end of the fifth book, there is still one Great House that hasn't committed to any faction — House Arryn of the Vale, which Littlefinger has taken de facto control of.
- Most people believe Jaime Lannister assassinated Mad King Aerys as part of his father's power play. Jaime had nothing to do with it. He had far better reasons to kill Aerys.
- Raul re Flo, who is more or less an expy of the original Warwick the Kingmaker, is also this in Arcia Chronicles. However, his nickname is "King of Kings".
Live Action TV
- Deliberately used in Survivor - the eliminated contestants vote between the final two for the winner.
- Subverted in that, since Cook Islands, seasons have regularly ended with a final 3, this was to avoid a Kingmaker situation. The winner of the last immunity challenge would either be a dominant force that would take out their opponent, or they would be the Kingmaker, and hand the million dollars to another player. Of course, now you just have strong players trying to (and succeeding in) bringing two unpopular contestants to the jury vote.
- Kingmakers have appeared in almost every season since the fourth season in Marquesas.
- In the first season, the final three consisted of Rudy, who everyone liked, and two fairly-hated contestants. Richard Hatch threw the last immunity challenge, forcing the other hated contestant to be kingmaker, which in this case is a bad thing; she had to vote Rudy off (she would have lost the final vote against him), which made her even more hated, giving Hatch a close win. If Hatch had been kingmaker, he almost certainly would have lost the final vote no matter who he let through.
- Hatch, however, only won due to a Spanner in the Works, in his favor...namely, one swing vote guy voted for him, for a...rather racist reason.
- The Apprentice usually does a take on this in the final episode of the season - eliminated contestants will come back and work for the finalists on a big final project. In some cases, they do their jobs in an exemplary manner. In others... not so much.
- Hells Kitchen does this as well, with pretty much the same results except for the addition of a Bad Ass sous chef threatening to hunt people down if they ruin the finalist's chances.
- During the second season of Jericho, this plays out between the Allied States Of America and the remaining pieces of the United States Of America. Whichever side can convince the now-independent Republic of Texas to ally with them will be able to defeat the other.
- This is perhaps the best way to describe the latter act of Kamen Rider Gaim. Two of the characters express a disinterest in taking the Golden Fruit for themselves and would rather have people they trust grab it. In the end, they don't become kingmakers but rather the heroine of the show, with a little assistance from the local Bunny-Ears Lawyer. Though even then, she doesn't decide between two parties but rather (unintentionally) thin the number of potential people to three people and have the lawyer go from there.
- One of the scenes in the sample campaign from Nobilis is explicitly this. There's a miracle duel between two rival powers in the home base of the PCs. The GM's advice points out that, since the players are a handful of demigods of the same power level as the competitors, the winner is going to be the one who gets help from the PCs.
- For the longest time, the Capellan Confederation in BattleTech was viewed as sitting in this scenario. They were unlikely to make it to the top of the heap in a setting full of political intrigues and Humongous Mecha when they were often plagued by both severely crazy rulers and the smallest army of the five Successor States. However, what they had was the ability to 'king' almost any of the other four houses by virtue of choosing who they fought. While such a fight could doubtless reduce the Capellan Confederation to little more than a memory, it would also weaken the enemy they fought enough for that nation's other foes to gain the upper hand. Flanked as they were by the Federated Suns and the Free Worlds League, throwing themselves fully at the Suns would result in the eventual victory of the Draconis Combine and the League, while spending themselves against the League would result in inevitable victory for the Lyran Commonwealth and by extension their Federated Suns allies. This Unstable Equilibrium almost fell apart during the Fourth Succession War.
- Quite frequently appears in Settlers Of Catan, where two players will be roughly equidistant from winning when a third rolls a seven. Seven allows you to steal a card from a player and put the bandit on any part of the grid to block production, which can be used to cripple a vital resource.
- White Wolf's Prince of the City, based on their Vampire: The Requiem RPG was probably designed for this. The winner is the player who has the most Prestige and is not in Torpor at the end of the final round. This means that one player can have an insurmountable lead over the others in terms of Prestige, only to have every other player beat him into Torpor and hand victory over to number two. "Everybody loves him! He must DIE!"
- Common in Risk. Also commonly averted in that most times the Kingmaker can later win through careful planning.
- Avalon Hill's King Maker is based on this trope. Set during the War of the Roses, each player controls a group of nobles, and tries to capture the royalty in each of the two conflicting houses. Once one of the houses is wiped out, the winner is the one with the most senior member of the surviving house. Neville the Kingmaker, mentioned above, is one of the stronger nobles in the game (though Percy is the most powerful).
- Avalon Hill's Third Reich has a mild version of this trope. The game takes place in Europe during World War Two and is balanced so that either side can win while the rules guide both sides into making decisions similar to what happened historically. The Italians are the weakest of the six playable factions but bear enormous influence the final outcome based on what they do in 1939 and 1940. A skilled Italian player can conquer Yugoslavia and Greece without German help and tie up half the British military while also remaining neutral.
- While not official, it is very common in a Monopoly game for a player to just hand over all his savings and property to another and leave the game.
- In a more official capacity, sometimes a player who's ahead will be shut out of trades because the other players don't like said player; instead, they choose to deal with a second player who has a chance of winning. At least one Monopoly championship was decided in exactly this manner.
- Generally speaking, any game for more than two players which can interact (influence each other) will feature this, often not even voluntarily. Even minor actions outside the direct conflict may and will help or hinder other players, thus influencing the eventual winner.
- Nearly all turn-based strategy games reach a point where the contest is only between the most powerful players or AI, but the other factions are strong enough to tip the balance. A few, such as the Civilization games, even have a mode of victory where the strongest have to gather the support of weaker nations over their competitive rivals. It should be noted, however, that in a strict Kingmaker Scenario, it must be literally impossible for the kingmaker to win, not just highly unlikely.
- The Drinking game in Yohoho Puzzle Pirates can result in a Kingmaker Scenario when played with three or more players. It is possible (and not terribly uncommon) for two players to be one move away from a win simultaneously, while a third player is active with possible moves that would allow them to "steal" 20 points from either of the two leaders, allowing the other leader to win on his/her next move.
- Can happen in Galactic Civilizations II quite a bit, as the AI plays smart enough to make several-way-stalemates a common occurrence. Also, an empire facing military defeat will frequently surrender to one of the attacker's rivals to deprive the invader of their resources.
- Shin Megami Tensei:
- Part of the plot of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne: the Demi-Fiend himself cannot create a Reason (due to his demonic body), but he can choose to support those created by others. Whichever Reason he supports will succeed without fail (or as close as you can get in an Atlus game). The problem with this system: There are six endings and only three Reasons.The Demi-Fiend is not strictly required to support any of them.
- Occurs early on in Digital Devil Saga: the Maribel and Solids Tribes are at a standstill, so the Embryon's tactician suggests forming an alliance with the former to destroy the latter. He later acknowledges he would have done the same thing with the Wolves and the Brutes had the Wolves lasted long enough.
- Devil Survivor 2 has the Protagonist being the Kingmaker for the entire cosmic scenario: it is, ultimately, his allegiance to a certain faction's plan (Tokyo's two potential plans, Nagoya's, Osaka's, or the Anguished One's plan) which breaks the stalemate and pushes said faction to win the right of recreating the world.
- Shin Megami Tensei IV plays it more or less like Nocturne, with the caveat that in the Chaos path, as Chaos philosophy invokes rule of the strongest, which you have proven yourself as by ensuring the destruction of Merkabah, you end as Mikado's new king.
- Kingmaker scenarios are fairly common in more open-ended roleplaying games, as they allow some player agency without having to account for every possible action the player might carry out.
- Dragon Age: This is the Modus Operandi of the Grey Wardens. In exchange for unwavering duty towards fighting the darkspawn for all eternity, the Grey Wardens have popularity over all kingdoms, iron-clad treaties from almost every nation that demand drafting from ALL citizens - from the lowest criminal to the highest king, all crimes and duties are dismissed in the face of wardenship, and knowledge and power that gives them control over the secret rulers of the world. This effectively makes them a world power that obtains near-absolute authority during the Blights, including the decision of which king gets the throne (they can just draft the one they don't want on the throne - which sort of happened in one of the novels). As one of the grey wardens, the player character in the first game has the ability to choose which king takes the throne. Twice. To be fair, they just went through a cesspit of cutthroats ruled over by a shortsighted psychopath to resolve the local calamity. Twice.
- In the Orzammar portion of Dragon Age: Origins, you come into such a scenario, between the named-heir Pyral Harrowmont, and King's son Bhelen Aeducan. Makes for an interesting scenario when your origin is Bhelen's older sibling or his new wife's sibling. Of course, no matter what your origin is, you can't become the ruler of Orzammar yourself.
- Also applies to deciding Ferelden's ruler if your character isn't a human noble. Otherwise, there's also an option to marry one of the contenders for the throne.
- In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the mission to avert Empress Celene's assassination turns into a scenario where you decide who will rule Orlais by the end of the party. Note that choosing anyone other than Celene means allowing the assassination to take place, with you stepping up to "avenge" her.
- The major arc of Fallout: New Vegas involves deciding which power bloc gets dominion over the Mojave.
- In Might and Magic VII, you play as a quartet of new royals. Halfway through the game, you have to choose between allying with the side of light or the side of darkness. The side you ally with wins, because one of your main quests is to tip the political balance in your favor by killing the other team's counterpart to the one who gives you the quest in the first place, all for the sake of getting one more Control Cube. IF it were possible to not choose a side at all, you would then have to kill the leaders of both sides, and you'd never be able to repair the Heavenly Forge anyway or the portal to the Gateweb (as you wouldn't know the location of the Lincoln)...
- The Human-Elf War can look like this, although your influence can both tip the balance to one side and change the nature of the peace (after a few relatively minor skirmishes and actions, or after a bloody war). It isn't: if one has actively taken a side by doing the War-time quests, the option is opened to do something that will allow you to win and establish a Kingdom of Harmondale, either as a compromise after the early skirmishes, or after bloody warfare exhausting both powers.
- In Might and Magic III, one of the quests is to give eleven (out of thirty-one) Orbs of Ultimate Power to the King of Good, Neutrality or Evil, which gives them theoretical governance over Terra and destroys the other two kings.
- The Darkling class in Dokapon Kingdom is made for kingmaking; they can't advance in the quest for gold, and only the player in last place can fall to darkness, but the class is designed for dragging other players down. Also, through an exploit, the Darkling can be used to give overpowered equipment to another player with no penalty: Darkling gear vanishes when you stop being a Darkling, but only if it's in the Darkling player's hands. (In theory, a Darkling player could trade his equipment off to another player and then ask for it back when he comes out of it, but expecting the other player to follow through is a wee bit unlikely.)
- In Mario Kart 64's Battle Mode, anyone who runs out of Balloons when there are still 2 or more players left becomes a Mini Bomb Kart. They've officially lost that match but can drive right up to any remaining players and explode in their faces, then respawn in a few seconds to do it again.
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim the Player Character is this, depending on which side you choose in the Civil War campaign. Whichever faction you side with wins, placing their respective Jarl on the throne.
- In Crusader Kings II, rival claimants to a contested throne don't always have their own landed titles, so they'll often depend on the backing of a powerful noble within the realm to lead Factions to enforce their claims. These nobles frequently end up being Kingmakers both figuratively and literally, at least when their faction wins.
- Something of an inversion happens in Star Control II: There is a war raging between the two most powerful races, and a victory by either side would be very bad for the rest of the galaxy. At several points in the game, the player can get another faction to attack the leading side in an attempt to even out the fight. It doesn't change the outcome, but it does prolong it, which gives the player more time to find the third option.
- In Worms it's possible to reach this point in a multiplayer match. If three players each possess only a single worm, an attack which eliminates one enemy will all but ensure the other enemy claims victory.
- The Runaway Guys did a game of Fortune Street. Chuggaaconroy wound up having no hope of winning, so he devoted his efforts into making sure the close game between NintendoCapriSun and ProtonJon went in NCS's favor... or rather, making sure it didn't go in Jon's favor.
- A nearly-identical situation happened in Steam Train's playthrough of the game; in this case, Ross played kingmaker and helped Arin beat Suzy.
- The Runaway Guys encountered another kingmaker scenario with the Mario Party 4 board "Koopa's Seaside Soiree". NCS was at boo, and could steal from Jon, netting Chuggaa the win, or could steal from Chuggaa, netting Jon the win. He stole coins from the AI, denying Chuggaa the coin star - so, indirectly, he stole from Chuggaa.
- In Exo Squad, the Pirate Clans become the kingmaker in the Neosapien War, since despite their military strength being too small to beat both Exofleet and Neosapiens, their allegiance proves crucial for either side to win the war. From the moment Simbacca allies himself with Winfield in the first arc of season two, it becomes clear that Exofleet is going to win (as long as the alliance persists).
- In Gargoyles, Findlaech seemed to be a Kingmaker, or at least Duncan saw him as such (and ordered him murdered so that he couldn't raise his son Macbeth to the throne).
- In Transformers Prime, Starscream manages to find himself in such a scenario. He has the keys to reactivate Cybertron, but he has no army to enforce his will or any ability to play this to his political advantage. So he's forced to pick a side. He picks the Decepticons.