Risking The King

"There is an unknown threat on that unstable derelict ship, capable of wiping out an entire Starfleet crew. I could send a fully armed squad of trained security personnel, but instead I will send a team comprised of my chief science officer, my only physician, and myself, the captain of the ship."
Liberally paraphrased from Captain Kirk, Star Trek: The Original Series

Sometimes a story-teller has the main characters do everything; sometimes the writer simply wants to hurry up and bring about a climactic fight. Regardless of the reason, story-tellers will often have crucial characters run pell-mell into dangerous situations when more qualified (or, at least, more appropriate) people are perfectly available, much like sending your king out to capture your opponent's pieces in chess.

Not to be confused with Challenging the Chief in which, to preserve their honor, the boss agrees to fight one on one in spite of an existing tactical advantage.

The trope codifier, as implied above, is the original Star Trek series, where every crucial command officer would regularly be assigned to the away team for some dangerous new environment. It was largely subverted in Star Trek: The Next Generation where the captain would stay on the bridge and dedicated away teams would be put together for specific trips.

Subtrope of Acceptable Breaks from Reality. This is sometimes a Sister Trope to Authority Equals Asskicking. If an actual king is risking his neck, it's Royals Who Actually Do Something. The opposite of Orcus on His Throne and Armchair Military.


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     Anime and Manga 
  • A common theme in Code Geass - nearly every leader in that show will risk themselves to do something when subordinates are available. It's implied to be expected of them, armies refusing to risk their skin for someone who won't take the same risks. Lelouch and Cornelia in particular believe in the trope very strongly.
    Lelouch: How can a king expect his men to follow if he does not lead?
  • In Saiunkoku Monogatari, Ryuuki, the Emperor of Saiunkoku, puts himself in harm's way on several occasions - mostly to protect Shuurei. The most notable example comes when he leaves the capital city entirely to make sure that Shuurei and Eigetsu aren't attacked by assassins on their way to take office in Sa Province, which he has to do in secret and incognito for the obvious reason that, as the Emperor, he's not supposed to be doing anything of the kind.
  • A justified example is Rias in the arena combat Ratings Games in High School DXD. As the King, she's expected to say in the base, defending it and keeping herself out of trouble. However, while Issei being worth all eight of her Pawns gives her the power of an extra superior piece in the field even before he promotes, it leaves her with serious manpower issues, and she often has to leave the base just to compensate for her side being outnumbered almost two to one.

     Comic Book 
  • Marvel Comics superspy Nick Fury was nominally the director of a covert agency called S.H.I.E.L.D., but from the Silver Age to the Dark Age of Comic Books, he behaved more like the main field agent. Despite S.H.I.E.L.D. having dozens or hundreds of agents Depending on the Writer, Fury was typically depicted working solo on commando missions, infiltrations, and so forth. This has become an Averted Trope in recent years, especially with his Ultimate Universe incarnation.
    • Iron Man did much the same during the brief period when he became Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
  • Avengers villain Kang the Conqueror has untold legions from across all time at his disposal, but he's enough of a Blood Knight that he often turns up alone to take on entire teams of superheroes. His older, more cautious counterpart Immortus, on the other hand, has learned to hide behind minions.
  • Princess Sally Acorn (and sometimes the other Acorn monarchs) in Sonic the Hedgehog, with varying attempts at story justification.

  • Independence Day. The U.S. President, an ex-fighter pilot, decides to participate in the final aerial attack against an alien ship even though his top military adviser doesn't want him to. Justified because if the mission fails, the human race will be wiped out and he'll have no one left to lead, and he's one of the very few people available with actual aerial combat experience.
  • Star Wars: While not a king per se Darth Vader does lead from the front more than one would expect from a political actor in the Empire.

  • Written from RealLife experience the military tome Anabasis by the Greek general Xenophon. The exodus from enemy territory begins after the original general for the invading army is the only casualty in the first battle fought, despite his army seeming to think they won the encounter. (only to realise later the whole reason for invading Persia was lost when the general died and they now have to walk back home for several years.)
  • Commander Root in Artemis Fowl doesn't do this... at first. Given the exceptional situation, he judges that there is none better to deal with it in the field than the LEP's commanding officer. Normally sending an officer into the field takes several months and lots of red tape, but the book notes "Root had a lot of influence on the commanding officer".
  • Lampshaded in Belisarius Series. The Persian emperor makes Belisarius' bodyguards promise to keep him alive even if it requires arresting him. This is necessary because The Emperor feels he needs a Roman he can personally trust during a diplomatically sensitive joint military operation and Belisarius has an eccentric habit of getting to close to the fighting.
  • In the book trilogy "His Dark Materials", the ruler of the multiverse, Metatron, identifies Mrs. Coulter as a woman whose entire life is based on betrayal, yet he willingly goes alone with her to ambush Lord Asriel instead of sending a legion of mooks. Lord Asriel, meanwhile, plans this elaborate setup to catch and kill Metatron but decides to spring the trap on one of the most powerful beings alive with only himself instead of with a platoon of heavies. To top it off, they both decide to go unarmed (although there is probably a different trope for this).
  • In the Temeraire series, Laurence is unwilling to put his men at a risk he's not willing to share. An admirable sentiment in a ship's captain, but not for a dragon's captain. If he is hurt or killed Temeraire is likely to go berserk, and if he is captured so is Temeraire. Granby spends a lot of time reminding him of this.

     Live Action TV 
  • Used towards the end of Dollhouse, when the viewer learns that Rossum's chief executive officer has been Hidden in Plain Sight as Boyd the entire time, despite this nearly getting him killed repeatedly and despite having thousands of people around the world capable of acting on his orders.
  • Stargate SG-1 had a bad case of this, regularly sending the main cast to do jobs even when, logically, the larger organization should have had people who were better at that particular job than they were (e.g. sending O'Neill to do a diplomat's job). Even General Hammond himself once went away to help rescue the team.note 
  • On the original Star Trek series the "Captain in distress" plots were criticized, so Gene Roddenberry decided to make a "new Star Fleet protocol" that barred the Captain from going on away-missions.
    • In The Next Generation, Picard didn't go on as many away missions, but not for lack of trying; at times it felt that Riker's main job was to watch him 24\7 just to prevent him. Pretty much everyone else in the main cast routinely partook in dangerous missions and not always for convincing reasons.
  • Merlin: Prince Arthur is often sent on all sorts of dangerous but relatively unimportant missions. Season five, however, subverts this since King Arthur is forced to spend most of his time inside the castle while the knights go on missions without him.
    • This trope is rather inconsistently used in the series. Yes, Prince Arthur does lead the military and yes, Uther does send his son off into the face of almost certain death on a regular basis, but there are also times when Arthur wants to risk himself (usually to save someone the king deems unimportant) when Uther suddenly reverts to trying to protect his son where a couple episodes earlier he was perfectly happy to send him off into battle.

     Video Games 
  • In Dawn of War, the Tau AI always sends their Ethereal out to fight. The Ethereal provides damage, health and morale boosts to every units while alive, but induces total morale loss in all units if killed. Guess which unit is targeted with all priority?
    • Similarly, the Eldar Avatar of Khaine allows you to surpass the population cap and build faster. Being a relic unit, it's actually a good idea to send him to fight, but an equally valid tactic is to leave him in the base to keep the bonuses.
    • The Imperial Guard's Command Squad unit is the only melee unit available to them at first, consisting of the Imperial general and his staff.
  • This is the point of the Fire Emblem series, which many liken to an extremely in-depth chess game with RPG elements. The main character has to come to every map and if they die it's game over. It's typically best to risk the king early on so that they can level up and be strong enough to defend themselves later. Especially since the last levels usually demand that they spend some time on the front lines.
  • Mass Effect plays this trope pretty straight in the first and third game. In the first game, the ship is full of marines, but the only ones to really run into danger are the new captain (and Player Character), one officer, one sergeant, and a bunch of civilians whom the captain just picks up with his or her Magnetic Hero powers. In the second game, it's a Justified Trope since the people you pick up are an elite team of mercenaries, but apparently there are no common troops on the ship. In the third game, it's also a Justified Trope since the cast is mostly full of hardened veterans from the first two games, but even then, the marines aboard might as well be ballast for all they do.
  • World of Warcraft began with faction leaders never leaving their capitals, but with each expansion it has taken increasingly less reason for them to come out and lead their forces personally. For comparison, in the original game the massive assault on the Gates of Ahn'qiraj, consisting of a joint coalition of Horde and Alliance, was led by the previous non-entity Saurfang. In Mists of Pandaria, the leaders of two Alliance races work together to clear out a small troll village.
  • Played with in Dragon Age: Origins. On the one hand, its played straight with King Cailan who takes the battlefield hoping to win glory. On the other hand, many around him are reluctant to do so and their fears are proven when he falls. The consequences of this trope are one of the central plot points. Also justified by Fereldan culture which has something of a tradition of Authority Equals Asskicking that its only begun to grow away from and which will come into play during the game.
    • In the Dwarven Noble origin, King Aeducan and all three of his children participate in a Deep Roads expedition knowing they risk encounters with Darkspawn. It ends badly though not really due to this trope. Like with Fereldan, its again justified by a culture that somewhat indulges Authority Equals Asskicking, though in this case its ritualized combat and you're not obliged to do the asskicking yourself if you can call on a champion to fight for you.
    • Zig-zagged with the Grey Wardens. On the one hand, they're hired specifically on their credentials as badasses. On the other hand, in this game, there are only two of them and you need at least one to defeat the Archdemon. So they really should be risking themselves less. You can choose to avert this trope at the end of the game by leaving soon to be crowned King Alistair behind. He doesn't like it in part because he didn't want to be king in the first place.

     Real Life 
  • This actually can be done in chess when one or more rooks, one or more bishops, and both knights are out of the way. (Why both knights? Because in order to get close enough to the queen to take her out - and even then, she has to put you in check first - you have to be something like two over and one up, and she has to be otherwise threatened by your pieces.)
    • Needless to say, if you actually pull this off, it's immensely satisfying since your opponent is probably completely demoralized at this point, so you can wipe the board clean through cheap moves.
    • Employing the king as an active chess piece is considered a proper strategy in the endgame. At that point, the lack of pieces on the board eliminates the danger of a forced checkmate. Kings have also been put to use during some rare middle games, but the king has always been safe from attack in those positions.
  • At the battle of Granicus, Alexander the Great came within an inch of losing his life while he led the charge. A foe had dazed him and damaged his helmet, and was about to make the second, fatal blow when he was speared by one of Alexander's bodyguards. The Persians may have even intentionally targeted him; they had stopped Cyrus II by killing him in battle the same way.
  • Invoked by George Washington during the Whiskey Rebellion. Faced with the first rebellion in US history, he personally rode out to lead the militia in Pennsylvania as the President and crushed it into decline.
  • Happened to Robert the Bruce during the Battle of Bannockburn, when Henry de Bohun sighted the Bruce and spurred his horse into a charge. The Bruce managed to sidestep de Bohun's lance and then cleaved de Bohun's head with a battleaxe.