Sorcerous Overlord

We're actually talking about the eye, not the bearded sorcerer.

"Mages who sit on thrones always mean trouble, Olive-girl. They take themselves too seriously."
Olive, Wyvern's Spur (Finder's Stone Trilogy)

Take an Evil Sorcerer, mix with Evil Overlord, place against one incredibly physical and muscular protagonist and leave to stew in a realm of Creepy Crows, palantirs and monstrous minions.

The Sorcerous Overlord is probably one of the most common variations of Evil Sorcerer due to the strong themes that come out of having a single hero or small Ragtag Bunch of Misfits against a ruler whose power comes from a vague, nebulous and potentially ever-pervasive source.

They can always have a number of devices to keep inserting their presence into the plot: Magic Mirrors, evil animal minions, setting up magical warriors. Every element of the overlord's realm can be a more direct extension of themselves (with inherent Always Chaotic Evil) and they can come up with various ways of sending a threat against them.

They also make good foils for the strong hero who fights through mainly physical stabbing-meaty-things-with-pointy-things methods. On the other hand, this can make it hard to explain why there are any limits on the sorcery when fighting the hero.

See also The Magocracy. If the magical overlord is also a Lich then their realm doubles as The Necrocracy, a domain ruled by the undead. Contrast Benevolent Mage Ruler where a magic-user rules benevolently, and Court Mage, where a magic-user is a ruler's advisor rather than the ruler themselves. Compare Emperor Scientist, who has science instead of magic. (However, Sorcerous Overlord and Emperor Scientist are known to overlap quite often.)


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Di Barrow in The Five Star Stories is a former Evil Chancellor who managed to become the sorcerous overlord of a country. And then it turns out he's just a host body for the ancient wizard Bosjathfort, who plans to become overlord of the galaxy.
  • High Priest Zagato appears to be this in the first part of Magic Knight Rayearth. When the heroines arrive in the world of Cephiro, he has apparently imprisoned Princess Emeraude, the rightful ruler, and instigated an iron-fisted reign of terror enforced by both his minions and his own tremendous magical ability. It turns out to be a bit more complicated than that. The short version is that Zagato is in love with Emeraude, who reciprocates, but is distressed because the continued existence of Cephiro requires its ruler's constant singleminded prayers for its peace and stability. When her thoughts start drifting more and more towards Zagato rather than her duty, she imprisons herself and summons the heroines to come and kill her (both because she is unable to commit suicide and because her selfish thoughts will eventually create a Super-Powered Evil Side that will annihilate the world before it has a chance to select a replacement ruler). Zagato, finding the whole setup extremely unfair (to say the least) amasses power, followers, and a reputation as a Sorcerous Overlord on purpose in an attempt to keep the heroines from fulfilling their mission in an attempt to flip the world that denies his love a giant middle finger.

     Comic Books 

    Fan Work 
  • Kingdom Hearts New Epic The First has the malevolent and dangerous Wolfang Richler. Despite initially appearing to be a harmless, wacky trickster, it is made evident even in his introduction that this is not someone you want interested in you. He has incredibly fearsome magic that is, by all appearance, solely One-Hit Kill moves. Including a very literal Death Glare. Its even mentioned that he once had a lot more power in the worlds than he currently does, and he's looking to get all that back.

    Films — Animated 
  • Merlock in DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp. It's not stated explicitly what possessions he ruled over, but he's an Evil Sorceror who used Genie to spread terror and fear wherever he wanted. His dark floating fortress at the end wouldn't look out of place as Sauron's residential palace.
  • Maleficient in Sleeping Beauty, who's either an Evil Sorceress or one of The Fair Folk. She seems to rule over a dark land adjacent to the human kingdoms from her ominous castle, populated only by her monstrous and incredibly dumb minions.
  • The Horned King in The Black Cauldron, although his magical powers are fairly limited and require complex rituals to realize. This tyrant is a horned, robed member of the undead, probably a lich. He plots to take over the world from his fortress by acquiring an army of skeletal warriors known as the Cauldron Born.

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • Lord of the Rings:
    • Sauron is probably the Trope Codifier, having vast supernatural abilities beyond being a nigh-unstoppable warrior in his Tin Tyrant shape, as he's essentially an angelic being who was corrupted by his cruelty and lust for power.
    • The Witch-King of Angmar often acted as this, ruling his own independent realms with little direct oversight from Sauron.
    • Saruman the White, who along with Gandalf is actually a lesser angelic being somewhat similar to Sauron, tried to establish his own dominion by allying with Sauron, but it didn't work out for him...
  • In Masques, the ae'Magi is one of those. He has entire towns of people do his bidding, because he has charmed them to love and admire him so much that even saying something negative about him will get you beheaded by the next random passer-by.
  • Clark Ashton Smith liked this one:
    • Maal Dweb, by virtue of his magic, is the absolute ruler of a solar system with six planets. He spends most of his time alone in his fortress with a harem of petrified women, collecting tributes and getting rather bored.
    • Malygris is the preeminent Necromancer on a remnant of Atlantis. Although he isn't a formal leader, he's so feared that he's offered a tithe of the island's trade as a matter of course, as the "overlord of all kings and sorcerers." Being dead has barely slowed him down.
    • Ossaru was this for the realm of Zothique, ruling half the continent with the blessing of a God of Evil even before an Eldritch Abomination arrived to tutor him in the arcane. He's introduced as a legend in "The Tomb-Spawn" and has merged with said abomination to form the titular beast..
  • Galbatorix from the Inheritance Cycle.
  • The Shadow Lord from Emily Rodda's Deltora Quest series. He arrived as a mere Evil Sorcerer, now he rules the shadowlands formerly known as Piria with designs on adding it neighboring land of Deltora to his domain, which has the ports he can use to spead his evil to other lands.
  • The Warlock Lord, Brona, from The Sword of Shannara.
  • Emperor Ariakas from Dragonlance was a Magic Knight flavor of this: challenge him, and he can best you in a duel, char you to a crisp, or some combination thereof.
  • Emperor Otha of Zemoch from The Elenium, also head of the local Religion of Evil. He's also completely sedentary and dumb as a post, but he makes up for it with his magical power and being the head of the single most powerful nation in the world. He's still answerable to his god...
  • Vond the warlock from Lawrence Watt-Evans' novel The Unwilling Warlord is a non-evil version. Vond gains access to tremendous magical power and easily conquers several small kingdoms, creating an empire. But Vond is not a bad ruler: for example, he helps peasants to grow crops with his magic. He mostly plays with his warlockry, spends time with his harem (assembled without any coercion), and delegates the "boring stuff" to the ruling council. And then it gets kinda doubly subverted, when the Calling - every warlock's bane - catches up with him...
  • The Black Company series by Glen Cook is chock full of these guys and gals, with the most prominent being the Lady (in the present day) and the Dominator (in the backstory). There're also some former Sorcerous Overlords - specifically, most of the Taken seem to be this - who were enslaved by the more powerful ones. Always a Bigger Fish, indeed.
  • Emperor Ma'elKoth from The Acts of Caine books fits this to a tee.
  • Elric of Melnibone. He's somewhat less evil than is usual for the trope.
  • The Shadowlord from Tanya Huff's Smoke and Shadows.
  • Ozorne, the title character of Emperor Mage. He has a good counterpart in Jonathan, the king of Tortall.
  • The White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia pulled this off twice. In The Magician's Nephew, she is found in suspended animation on the dying world of Charn, where she murdered the planet's population with a Fantastic Nuke rather than allow her rival sister to defeat her. She escapes to Narnia, where she is able to rule for a century of Endless Winter and wanton petrifications before getting eaten by Crystal Dragon Jesus in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
  • Harry Potter: Voldemort's long-term goal was to become one of these, being an immortal dark wizard who would rule over a fascist magocracy. However, for most of the series he's more of an underground terrorist against the current rulers. Even after usurping control of the Ministry of Magic in the last book, he elected to control it behind the scenes through a puppet minister, as basically crowning himself would have been too blatant a move for the wizarding world to ignore.

     Mythology and Religion 
  • Queen Himiko in Japanese Mythology had a dash of this. She was a shaman-queen of Yamataikoku, the land that would become Japan. Legend says she ruled her people with magical mind-control, or something to that effect.
  • King Manassah of Judah is said to have practiced sorcery, and The Bible quite simply states "he did evil in the eyes of the Lord."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Manshoon used to be the leader and creator of the Zhentarim in the Forgotten Realms until he was Demoted to Dragon by his lieutenant Fzoul (who isn't technically a wizard, but an incredibly powerful priest.
    • Also the Red Wizards of Thay, an order of mages who rule a country that suspicously sounds like Mordor sometimes.
    • Every single city-state in Athas is ruled by a Sorcerous Overlord. And they are horribly evil, every single one of themnote : they got to be where they are now because they sucked all magic out of the world in the past to fuel their bloody campaigns, turning it into a blasted wasteland. Indeed, each has ascended into a dragon-like monstrous entity by virtue of committing genocide and consuming the souls of entire species. This is why Athas has no trolls, orcs, gnomes, pixies…
    • Vecna from the Greyhawk setting was one.
  • In Warhammer 40,000 the dark elves are ruled over by Malekith the Witch-King, a Tin Tyrant who requires a magical suit of armor to give him strength after an encounter with holy fire.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Magnus the Red, Primarch of the Thousand Sons Legion, who crafts complex plans from the Planet of Sorcerers. Ironically, Magnus was the ''good'' counterpart of this trope, being a peerless scholar and warrior-magus who lead his Legion respectably, albeit indulging them and himself in some studies in the dark arts. He would have gone on this way, until betrayal and desperation lead him to making a pact with the Chaos God Tzeentch in order to save the Thousand Sons from total destruction.
    • Any Tzeentch-aligned Chaos Lord also counts, though any Chaos warbands, worlds, or other entities lead by a Sorceror counts as well.
    • Tzeentch, deity of sorcery and ambition, runs on this trope as well as weirder stuff.
  • The Lich-King of 13th Age was like this back when he was simply the Wizard King. Following his death and resurrection, he wants to start doing it again, but as one of possibly the least popular figures in the world with the other power players, it's not going to be an easy row to hoe.

     Video Games 
  • Overlord:
    • The Villain Protagonist, eventually. You start off as an armour plated warrior but to advance and gain more power and to fit more stereotypically into the Evil Overlord mode you can gain magic powers.
    • The Old Overlord, possessing the Gandalf stereotype wizard who killed him, is a more straight example.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • Arthas Menethil, the Lich King. Combination of one of the most powerful necromancers and death knights? The world is screwed (if he can get up from his throne, that is...).
    • Queen Azshara, once queen of the night elves, described as the most powerful mortal mage to ever live. Her people loved her, but the only person she considered worthy of her was the leader of the Burning Legion whom she attempted to bring to Azeroth. Now she rules over the naga, plotting her revenge.
  • Magus from Chrono Trigger, until his Heel-Face Turn.
  • The Emperor from Final Fantasy II is a textbook example.
    • Final Fantasy in general loves this. Out-and-out examples include Golbez, Exdeath, and Ultimecia, with other characters depending on your definition of an empire.
  • Shao Kahn from Mortal Kombat, to the point of being the Evil Counterpart to Raiden, who is a god. Shinnok also has shades of this, though he is a fallen Elder God who just seems to have a bit of a sorcerous theme going on.
  • The Magic Emperor in Lunar: The Silver Star and its sequels.
  • Evil Lord Drokmar from Magic Sword.
  • The Legend of Zelda features Ganon, whose magic abilities, which mostly derive from the Triforce of Power, are more or less divine. There's also Vaati; while his overall power, as pertains to both magic and dominion, pales in comparison to Ganon's, he makes up for it by making greater actual usage of magic in combat.
  • Dragon Quest IX has King Godwyn, ruler of the Gittish Empire. He experimented with draining the magic power of Celestrians as power, and he is an extremely competent mage. Even his normal attack seems to have at least some sort of magical element to it.
  • Manannan from King's Quest III rules over Llewdor, but more like a bully than a king who rules outright, keeping the population in fear and maintaining a watchful (and paranoid!) eye over them from his telescope.
  • In South Park: The Stick of Truth, Cartman plays the role of the Grand Wizard of the King of Kupa Keep and leader of the human faction. He's not an actual wizard however, just playing the role of one.
  • Disney's Magical Quest: Emperor Pete, the Big Bad, is a Dark Lord with vast magical powers ruling from an imposing fortress.

    Webcomics 
  • Xykon in The Order of the Stick can be considered this as he's an Evil Sorcerer, leads the nomadic goblins/hobgoblins and started the strip holed up in an impressive cavern system containing one of the lynchpins of the universe. He recently became a more classical overlord when he conquered Azure City, though he's reluctant to just sit there and rule it in typical overlord fashion.

    Web Original 
  • Razikale of To Rule is patron both the magics and the sciences.

     Western Animation