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Challenging the Chief

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"When the leader of the pack is weak, the wolves quickly turn."
Lex Luthor, Lois & Clark, "The Phoenix"

To be the man, you've got to beat the man.

A society has a ritual challenge system that determines who's strong enough to be the leader.

There can be variations on how ritualized the challenge is. Sometimes a spontaneous fight could occur and then everybody makes sure everybody else hangs back to let the two duke it out. On other occasions, the right to challenge may need to be specifically invoked, maybe with a particular phrase. In such a case you can very well expect the crowd to make a collective intake of breath and you get double points in the TV Tropes Drinking Game if the challenged chief was walking away but then stops and slowly turns around. There also may or may not be a strict rule that the loser has to die. If there is, you may get The Hero in an ethical quandary if they believe Thou Shalt Not Kill.

You'll also get wider variations on the effect on the plot. For instance, in a case which has shades of You Kill It, You Bought It, it may be an outsider, often Mighty Whitey, becomes chief of a community by winning a duel against the previous chief, or just by killing them without knowing about the tradition. This will tend to pop up at the beginning to generate a plot or find a way to get a character into a society that should, by logic, wish to kill him on sight.

You also get the concept being used as a way for being able to stop an enemy horde when outnumbered. They use this rule in the enemy culture to just challenge the ruler and then make everything hinge on that one fight. If The Hero wins, he gets to order the enemy horde to go home. Occasionally, The Hero has to be told about this rule by some helpful tribe member or he'll make the challenge and then there'll have to be a bit of conversation about whether he gets to do so.

When the duel is to solve some other disagreement than leadership, it's Combat by Champion.

A community with such a cultural tradition is usually portrayed as as Proud Warrior Race Guys where Asskicking Leads to Leadership. They will also frequently approve of certain methods of attaining a Klingon Promotion. This trope might justify Decapitated Army.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Bleach, Kenpachi Zaraki gained his position as Captain of Squad 11 by walking in and killing the last captain; Shinigami rule states that this works if done in front of 200 witnesses. This is apparently the normal method of transferring leadership in the Eleventh Division, the winner not only gaining a Captain's rank but also the hereditary title of "Kenpachi". While technically this rule can apply to the captain of any division, only the Eleventh actually uses it.
  • The Marines in One Piece are not so...barbaric to use such a method. Unfortunately, the conflict over the Fleet Admiral position degenerated into a variation of this between Aokiji and Akainu, with no small part due to their opposing ideologies and the fact that they hated each other. The feud was so bad, that the higher-ups just went ahead and had the two fight a Duel to the Death on the barren island of Punk Hazard to get the position filled already. Apparently things were too bitterly divided for anybody to bring up a more reasonable compromise like "Hey, this Kizaru guy is an Admiral too, does anybody object to him?" The winner would be Akainu, but he spared Aokiji's life in a rare moment of sympathy, and the latter proceeded to ditch the Marines, having no desire to serve under his rival or a form of justice he was opposed too... though he still covertly serves the World Government as a spy among the Blackbeard Pirates, with his very public falling out providing a perfect cover story.
  • That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime: This is how advancement in the military of the Eastern Empire works, as they're firm believers of Asskicking Leads to Leadership. Indeed, to become the commander of one of the military divisions, you are expected to be capable of defeating anyone and everyone under your command, so this system helps in proving your credentials. Rank-based duels where lower-ranked members challenge their superiors for their positions are common, but also have strict regulations in order to avoid spiraling into uncontrolled Klingon Promotion, backstabbing, and bloodbaths. A third party must arbitrate, witnesses must be present for certification, duels are forbidden during military maneuvers, and if you challenge someone and lose or kill your opponent, you have to wait a year before challenging again in order to discourage the act of losing valuable human resources (while your higher-ranked defender can kill the challenger with no penalty under the idea of a fatal You Are Not Ready). This is how Yuuki Kagurazaka is able to catapult himself from fresh addition to the Composite Division to its commander in less than a year of joining the Empire.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix:
    • Asterix and the Big Fight: in order to destroy Asterix's village, the Romans call a Roman-loving Gaul chief to fight Vitalstatistix, using the fact that the druid Getafix is currently neutralized. Vitalstatistix manages to win without the magic potion by running around the ring and eventually punching the exhausted adversary - but he refuses to take control of his village, who then go back from Gallo-Roman to regular Gaul.
    • In Asterix and Caesar's Gift, Caesar grants the deed to the village to an ignoble retired legionary as a prank, who in turn trades it for a jar of wine. The new deed-owners go to the village, and eventually end up challenging Vitalstatistix to an election. Geriatrix also gets in on the action, but nobody pays attention to him.
  • In the Black Panther comic books, there's an annual event where every citizen of Wakanda has the right to challenge T'Challa for both the Black Panther identity and leadership of the country. There's also an ancient tribal clause that grants the right to challenge Black Panther to one-on-one combat, and if the challenger wins, they become the new Black Panther.
  • In Fables, Mowgli finds a wolf pack who might know where to find the missing Bigby. The wolves won't talk, so he challenges the alpha male for leadership. It works.
  • The Wolfriders in ElfQuest are another example. Though their leadership is usually inherited, tribe members can also challenge the chief and take over. The Go-Backs, at least later on in the series, appear to have the same thing.
  • The Transformers (Marvel):
    • Played with when Shockwave retains leadership of the Decepticons by kicking Megatron's ass; however, Shockwave clearly didn't want to fight, because he's all about logic (which to him is "whatever will achieve the best outcome") and the Decepticons were at the time under danger from the outnumbered and wounded Autobots.
    • In later issues two bands of Autobots lead by Grimlock and Fortress Maximus meet up and Grimlock immediately challenges Fortress Maximus to a physical contest to determine who will lead the combined group. Autobots consider this to be an archaic, even ceremonial law but it remains valid and Fort Max goes through with it.

    Fan Works 
  • The Rigel Black Chronicles: Leo became the Rogue, king of the Lower Alleys, by besting all comers in single combat, and has to regularly defend his title from friendly or unfriendly hopefuls. The stated aim of this rule is to ensure that the king is prepared to defend his people.
    Leo: It's a monstrously unsatisfying system, for the king at least. If he wins, he gets my position, but if I win, I get nothing for my troubles.
  • With This Ring: Upon discovering the militaristic and cannibalistic Citizenry, the Renegade is willing to just exterminate them all, but Wonder Woman would prefer to attempt diplomacy. Which in this case means challenging their leader, Astarte, to single combat, in order to claim Astarte's position and attempt to steer the Citizenry into more constructive avenues. Wonder Woman wins, despite Astarte having comparable divine strength, because Astarte isn't used to fighting people at their level, which Wonder Woman is. Astarte makes it pretty clear, though, that there are limits on how far the Citizens will actually follow their leader; if she simply ordered them all to stop eating people, they would kill her and move on.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Heavy Metal 2000, the Big Bad Tyler kills the king of a tribe of lizard people and takes his place as their leader. The King actually initially kills Tyler after he challenges him, but having Resurrective Immortality has its perks.

    Films — Live Action 
  • The Kingdom of Wakanda in Black Panther (2018) has a system in which during the coronation ceremony, nobles with royal blood from each of the five constituent tribes are given the opportunity to challenge the crown prince in a fight to the death/submission. The winner becomes the new king of Wakanda. By the time of the film, the challenge ritual seems to have become a minor point of formality kept for tradition's sake. When M'Baku actually challenges T'Challa for the throne, everyone is genuinely shocked. Erik, as T'Challa's long-lost cousin, is able to challenge T'Challa later, but although he appears to win after throwing T'Challa off a waterfall, T'Challa's survival and return to the fold a few days later triggers a brief civil war, T'Challa observing that the challenge was technically never completed as he didn't yield and he clearly isn't dead.
  • In Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Butch had apparently stated prior to the events of the film that anyone who wanted to could challenge him for leadership. Butch set this rule because he thought nobody would ever take him up on it, but early in the film the biggest, meanest member of his gang does just that. Through a combination of Guile and being willing to fight dirty, Butch manages to win despite the fact that he shouldn't have had a chance in the fight. Enjoy it for yourself
  • The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) has the "You keep what you kill" principle embedded in Necromonger religion, which leads to this trope occurring for Riddick after he kills the Lord Marshall.
  • In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes this is how Caesar retakes his position as leader of the apes from Koba, after surviving Koba's false flag assassination attempt. The apes want to be ruled by "the strongest" so Caesar has to prove he is stronger than Koba..
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army had the "challenge the leader to stop the army" version down to a pat. After fighting the Golden Army for a few minutes, the heroes realize that there are far too many Mecha-Mooks for them to deal with, with the few they did destroy magically reassembling themselves anyway. Hellboy challenges the elven Prince Nuada to a duel for control of the Golden Army and since Hellboy's father is a member of Hell's nobility, he has that right. Nuada is actually winning the duel until his sister Nuala kills herself, their bound lifeforce also resulting in Nuada's death.
  • Kung Fu Hustle. Sorta. When The Beast breaks Brother Sum's neck, he apparently becomes the leader of the Axe Gang but it's more the fact that the gang is not averse to following the lead of someone who can kill them all with his slippers. However the old boss apparently defeated an entire gang just by killing the leader so maybe it is part of an established trend.
  • In the In Name Only Film of the Book of The Postman, in the Holnist Clan/Army, "Law 7: any clansman may challenge for leadership of the clan." The "laws of eight" are given to us in the first third of the movie. They very much become a Chekhov's Gun.

  • In Animorphs, a key tenet of the Andalite military is that any soldier can challenge any action their superior wishes to take, even down to the cadets (though a cadet needs a superior officer to support their challenge), which then results in a trial to determine the outcome. Frivolous challenges are kept in check, however, since losing means disgrace AND having your tail blade chopped off.
    • This is also slowly cultivated as a bit of a conflict between Action Girl Rachel and the team's leader, Jake. It's not too bad at first, but as Rachel slowly sinks into Blood Knight and later Sociopathic Soldier territory, it becomes more and more of a defining point between them.
  • Conan the Barbarian took over a pirate ship this way in "The Pool of the Black One", as by the law of the Red Brotherhood, anyone who kills the captain of a ship becomes the new captain.
  • R.A. Salvatore's The Crystal Shard sees Wulfgar challenging the leader of his native tribe so that he can lead the barbarians against the Big Bad. In order to make the challenge in the first place, you must prove your right "by blood or by deed". He shows off the horns of an ancient white dragon he killed (with Drizzt's help) and gets a "by deed" chance.
  • How the Minotaur Emperor in Dragonlance gets and keeps his job- Minotaurs settle almost all disputes through ritual combat, so the logical extension of this is that any warrior who has earned high enough distinction can challenge the Emperor for the throne. As a side-effect, this ensures that, as the Minotaurs feel it should, Asskicking Leads to Leadership.
  • In the Dred Chronicles, this is the normal way you get to be a gang boss on the Prison Ship Perdition. Dred, the protagonist, did it to her predecessor to take power, and people try to do it to her.
  • Dune:
    • In Dune, the trope is followed, but the usage subverted. Paul Atreides refuses to face Stilgar, the chief of the Fremen sietch Paul belonged to, in ritual combat because they both knew Paul would win and Paul wanted Stilgar to remain chief of the sietch as Paul went to war for the whole planet Arrakis.
    • It's played straight in the latter books; Chapterhouse: Dune particularly for the Honored Matres. First Logno ascends by killing Dama, but her reign is short lived when Murbella easily takes her out using a combination of Bene Gesserit training and Honored Matre speed.
  • In Generation Kill, Evan Wright discusses the emphasis that Marines place on physical fitness and combat skill. One of the Marines, Sergeant Rudy Reyes, is the undisputed martial artist master in his platoon, and as a result, is constantly being ambushed by his fellow marines, hoping to gauge their own skills against his (it is implied that their skills are measured in terms of how long it takes them to lose the fight they started). Then again, all of the Marines in the Force Recon platoon Evan Wright is shadowing are constantly ambushing each other in mock-combat to keep each other sharp.
  • In The Heroes of Olympus, this is how the Amazons get their queens. This comes back to bite them when their Queen, who would side with the Romans (who happen to be led by her sister), is challenged by a Gaea-backed usurper who keeps on coming back to life whenever she is killed, who could win through simple attrition and learning from her mistakes each time. Fortunately, the condition causing the usurper to come back to life (namely, the god of death being taken captive) is corrected and she is eventually killed for good.
  • In the John Carter of Mars series, Green Martians determine all their ranks by You Kill It, You Bought It, but for jeds (lords) or jeddaks (kings), the entire council of the lord in question must agree to the challenge for it to be valid. In the first book Tars Tarkas challenges his tribe's Jeddak and beheads him in a single sentence; the drama in the scene came from John Carter insulting Tal Hajus far enough that the council agreed to allow the challenge.
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's Line of Delirium, it's stated that, if a Silicoid of a certain rank has a dissenting opinion with the Foot (their version of The Emperor), the dispute is resolved by "entrusting it to the Balance", which boils down to this trope. It's mentioned that the current Foot descended to his position in this manner. However, when Kay wishes to entrust his fate to the Balance, the Foot chooses a champion to represent him instead.
  • In Steve Perry's Matador series, this is how succession in the Musashi Flex (a sort of ongoing loosely-organized martial arts tournament) works. Anyone in the top ten of the rankings can challenge the top-ranked person, and if they win, they automatically become number one, regardless of their previous ranking.
  • In Nation this is how the cannibalistic Raiders work. The villain of the piece ends up in charge of them via the "outsider becomes chief" route and since it's a Alternate History 1860s setting, he feels like it's a natural result of being Mighty Whitey. However this then bites him in the butt when the hero uses the rule for the "fight the leader, stop the horde" method.
  • In Orconomics, after Chief Zuthraka of the Guz'Varda Tribe admonishes his son Char for mistakenly causing their guests to believe them to be prisoners, Char finally gets angry and challenges his father for leadership, claiming that true Orcs should be a Proud Warrior Race instead of the Proud Merchant Race Zuthraka is trying to turn them into. Zuthraka handily defeats his son. Then, instead of executing him on the spot, as per those same old ways that Char loves so much, he spares him, but cuts off his beard (sign of maturity) as punishment.
  • In Raiders of Gor, Tarl Cabot kills the captain of a pirate ship for abusing a slave girl and discovers that doing so makes him the captain.
  • In the second Raised By Wolves book by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Bryn is challenged for her Alpha position by the refugee wolf she took in, who can't stand to serve under anyone. This, apparently, is a common procedure in werewolf society: Anyone in the pack can challenge the Alpha for their position and the Alpha must accept the challenge. The battle between the two should be a Curb-Stomp Battle, since the challenger is a werewolf and Bryn is a human being, but since he's now a member of her pack, her position as Alpha allows her to essentially command him to die. Raises the question of how anyone ever wins these challenges.
  • Redwall:
    • King Bucko Bigbones has a standing offer for anyone to take his office in Lord Brocktree... if they beat him in three challenges. Dotti does so in order to blackmail him into assistance, but she probably didn't need to - he has a longstanding grudge against Ungatt Trunn, so he likely would have helped anyway.
    • The trope was also mentioned in Taggerung, where Gruven's father, Gruven, challenges their tribe chief, Sawney Rath. It is then swiftly subverted; Sawney kills him before the fight could even get underway.
  • In The Riftwar Cycle there is a mention of a moredhel chieftain who conquered another tribe (and assimilated it into his own) by killing their leader in a fair fight.
  • The easiest way to get a Shardblade in The Stormlight Archive is to Duel to the Death for it. And since Shardblades are so valuable, most Shardbearers are the people in charge.
  • In Till We Have Faces, Queen Orual fights as the champion of a foreign prince in a duel against his brother to decide which of the two should be king of their country. The whole dueling bit was wholly Orual's idea as a way to prove her worth to the other kingdom, to establish herself as the queen, and to distract herself from her all-consuming guilt.
  • The War Games of Zelos by Richard Avery (Edmund Cooper), part of The Expendables series. The people of the planet Zelos have a regular competition to determine who is the greatest warrior. The winner may challenge the King to a duel to take his position. All of the fights are to the death.
  • Implied that most warrens in Watership Down work this way.
  • In Wings of Fire, the usual method of royal succession is for a daughter, granddaughter, sister or niece of the queen to challenge her to a duel to the death and win.
  • In Wolf of the Plains, Temujin becomes khan of both the Olkhun'ut and Kiryat clans by killing their respective khans.
  • Of Fire and Stars: In order to become monarch of Zumorda, a person must defeat three successive champions and then the current monarch herself.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 100: There is a variation in season 3. Queen Nia of the Ice Nation challenges Lexa's position as the Grounder Commander and selects her son to fight Lexa in a Trial by Combat. However, neither Nia nor Roan can become the new Commander if Lexa is defeated: the title will instead descend onto one of the Nightbloods. Nia hopes that Ontari, an Ice Nation Nightblood, will become the new Commander.
  • In Babylon 5, the Narn appear to use this, with G'Kar periodically having to fend off threats to his authority over the Narns on the station. The Minbari have their own version, with a twist: the challenge is to stand in an increasingly lethal energy beam; the winner is the one who doesn't chicken out and leave the energy beam first. The position of the one who remained (and died) would be considered the superior one. However, when Delenn and Shakiri end up "battling" this way, Shakiri leaves the beam first. Shakiri's subordinate, Neroon, then wonders why Delenn doesn't leave the beam afterward, as they'd apparently discussed in the previous episode off-camera, only then learning that she meant to sacrifice herself for real. Not wanting to see this happen, Neroon enters the beam himself, removing Delenn from danger and remaining there himself. Then, just before expiring, Neroon announces his conversion from the Warrior Caste to the Religious Caste, thus giving them the victory.
  • In the Doctor Who story Ghost Light, the villainous Josiah plans to murder Queen Victoria under the delusion that the British monarchy works like this.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • In an early episode, Carter has to challenge the chief of an alien society in order to win her freedom. It's supposed to be a fight to the death, but she beats him without killing him.
    • On a couple of different occasions ("The Warrior", "Birthright") we see the Jaffa right of "joma secu" by which a Jaffa challenges the current leader to a fight to the death for leadership of the tribe. In "Birthright" the challenger loses but is spared. In "The Warrior" the challenger wins, because it's Teal'c.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, episode "Tacking Into The Wind", where the Klingon Chancellor Gowron is screwing things up during the Dominion War, mismanaging the Klingon battle efforts to humiliate and disgrace the popular General Martok (who he fears will challenge him for leadership). In truth, Martok is too honorable and loyal to the Empire to even consider trying to take control for himself. After some harsh truths from Dax about Klingon politics, Worf realizes that SOMEONE has to challenge Gowron on honorable grounds (such as calling him on intentionally mismanaging the war out of fear for losing his position). Worf does challenge him, wins, becomes the next Chancellor, but almost immediately passes the torch to the most honorable and capable Klingon he knows (as well as his friend and mentor), General Martok.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ars Magica:
    • One prerequisite for the title of Archmage is to defeat a sitting Archmage at a challenge of their own design — sometimes a Wizard Duel, sometimes a bizarre Cooking Duel. The sitting Archmage isn't deposed, but after seven losses, they can't be challenged again and are widely seen as disgraced, so it's very bad form to challenge one who's suffered five or six losses.
    • House Tremere magi believe in Asskicking Leads to Leadership and have protocols to win leadership positions from the incumbent through a formal Wizard Duel. Downplayed as there are protocols: promotion by force is prohibited during emergencies, and magi also need to earn the right to issue the challenge — only a select few may actually challenge the Primus of the House.
  • BattleTech: The Clans, being a Proud Warrior Race, use Trial by Combat as a common way for the ruling warrior caste to settle disputes and grudges. Seeking advancement or the removal of an incompetent-looking immediate superior by challenging them for their position is explicitly allowed as long as protocol is observed (and can often pass even if it's not, depending on circumstances), with the only caveat being that your superior's superior has to permit it. In case of challenging a sitting Khan (the supreme commander of a Clan's military) over half of the Clan Council (which is made up of 1,000 of the Clan's most senior warriors and officers) has to support your right to the challenge (strictly speaking the vote is on whether or not to sack the current Khan in favour of the challenger, but Khans are expected to invoke a Trial of Refusal against their challenger should they lose the vote).
  • The Sabbat of Vampire: The Masquerade has this in place for certain positions in their power structure. In at least one book, the Storyteller was encouraged to add whatever arcane stipulations or requirements he saw fit, in order to emphasize how unorganized the Sabbat was (the sample: "You can't challenge the Archbishop now - it's not the third night after the new moon!").
  • Warhammer Fantasy: Beastmen packs, ogre tribes and some greenskins all use this trope, with different levels of ceremony. Ogres can only become tyrant of a tribe through making a ceremonial challenge against the sitting tyrant, then fighting it out in the tribe's Maw Pit and then publicly devouring their opponent's guts in front of the tribe. Beastmen challenges tend to be more impromptu, but still require a public scrap within sight of the rest of the tribe and usually involve fighting with one's horns only (horns are seen as gifts from the Chaos Gods to beastmen). Greenskin challenges depend on the nature of the greenskin, with orcs usually having public fights (usually with followers involved) to see who's deserving of being boss, while goblins prefer a quiet knife in the dark instead.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Fenrisian Wolves. According to the background, the only way for a Space Wolf Marine to get a pack to follow him is to become the pack leader- by killing the previous one (as part of that ritual of manliness, usually. Doing it with a gun doesn't work.).
    • Orks decide their leaders based on single combat ranging from low cunning to high explosives, but usually pit fighting. They do this because orks consider skill in combat more important than any real leadership capability, intelligence or strategic merit. Orks being orks, though, there isn't a formal system (formality being a foreign concept to orks) in place for managing challenges, though as a rule the Large and in Charge nature of Ork biology means that few Orks can even consider challenging a nob significantly larger than they are. Notably, they aren't required to be one-on-one, although ganging up isn't allowed (they'd have to share power, another thing orks don't understand). When a high-ranking ork boss dies, a free-for-all is the usual result. This can be used to great effect against them: the Siege of Perlia, for instance, collapsed when Cain inadvertently challenged the Warboss to a duel and won, causing a fight to break out among the subordinate clan bosses — who were promptly roasted by a flamer, courtesy of Imperial reinforcements. Each clan boss's own court of nobs broke into infighting in a similar manner, and the whole Waaagh! was broken up in jig time by the Imperial Guard counterattack.
    • Some of the more honorable followers of Khorne subscribe to this belief, since much like the Orks they and their god revere combat and bloodshed (especially bloodshed) above all else. However, since they are almost literal Blood Knights who fight amongst themselves almost more than they do with the other factions, the vast majority operate on the principles of Klingon Promotions and general backstabbing.
  • Garou society in Werewolf: The Apocalypse works like this. Their code of laws states that "any leader may be challenged in a state of peace" but that "no leader may be challenged in a time of war." Naturally, many leaders try to declare a perpetual state of war after defeating their predecessor.
  • Werewolf: The Forsaken has in its backstory that the children of Father Wolf eventually challenged and slew him for his role as protector of the world. This had serious repercussions. Notably, while the other two Pure Tribes hold this against the Forsaken to this day, the Predator Kings don't. After all, Father Wolf wasn't living up to his role as alpha, so his children had every right to challenge him and claim the role for themselves. If they killed him, then it was his time to die.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Age: Inquisition, one possible way to get rid of a group of cultists is to craft a necklace they consider sacred and beat their leader in single combat, resulting in the cultists pledging their service to you. It helps that their leader was an asshole, so they're happy to follow someone more heroic.
  • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, several factions require you to defeat the current leader in order to take their place, including the Fighters' Guild, the Mages' Guild, and Houses Redoran and Telvanni, although it is not the supposed usual approach for any of them but Telvanni (for whom, along with the Fighters', it is more of a Klingon Promotion) — there is a peaceful way to become head of the Mages' Guild, but it is both harder to find out and, depending on interpretation, either leaves you co-head of the Guild along with an idiot, rather than sole head, or at least lets the idiot keep a prestigious title. Interestingly, the Morag Tong inverts the usual approach to this trope. "Challenging the chief" is, per their rules, the standard way to become the leader. However, the current leader is perfectly fine stepping aside when it's time for you to take the reigns.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, according to Benny, this was how he became the chief of the Boot Riders raider gang (before they became the Chairmen). He challenged the then-chief to a knife fight and took advantage of the fact that he was naturally faster than him.
  • Brutes in Halo vie for power this way. One of the tie-in novels, Halo: Contact Harvest, reveals that this is how Tartarus (The Dragon of Halo 2) got his position. Specifically, the chief was his uncle, and he was never prouder of Tartarus than when he killed him.
  • The Gorons in The Legend of Zelda series have a culture revolving nearly entirely around physical strength. The strongest and toughest Goron is the tribal chieftain, no exceptions. This comes into play in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, wherein the Gorons will not allow you to enter their mines until you beat one of their elders in a sumo contest (which is actually impossible to win unless you cheat with the iron boots).
  • In the Mass Effect verse, this is typically how regime changes happen on Tuchanka. Should he survive Mass Effect and claim chieftain-ship over effectively all of Tuchanka, Wrex fully expects this to happen to him some time eventually. And hopes it's Grunt who does it.
    • In the first game, Wrex asks several squadmates about the possible outcome of a duel between them and Shepard. Kaidan protests that he can't fight his superior, making Wrex remark that this is precisely why Shepard would win. Tali instead asks a counter-question whether krogan always size up their superiors for a fight; his answer is a Blunt "Yes" with a tone as if he was stating the most obvious thing in the world.
    • Mass Effect: Andromeda:
      • The villain of the Elaaden arc challenges Nakmor Morda, head of the krogan settlers, to determine who should lead, apparently forgetting this is how Morda got in charge herself. She wins handily, and as an extra insult decides her opponent is Not Worth Killing.
    • The Charlatan, shadowy leader of the Collective, challenges Sloan Kelley for leadership of Kadara, in an isolated cave, far from any witnesses. He's prepared to cheat to win, and has a sniper waiting to kill her. Whether he succeeds is up to Ryder.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of The Betrayer has frost giant jarls decided this way. The ex-jarl you meet notes that he was beat by a weak but clever giant who challenged him after he was fatigued from the last fight. One option for the quest to get rid of them is to become the Jarl (and get a +1 charisma bonus for free) of the (self) exiled giants by beating ALL of them in a king of the hill fight.
  • Subverted in the Pokémon core games. When you challenge the champion, and win, you are declared the new champion. Some Key NPC's treat you as such, and you are granted access to Champion-only areas; but when you return to the Pokemon League, the old Champion is still there, often using the same lines as earlier. You aren't expected to stay there and defend the title, probably due to the idea being boring for the player. Played straight in Pokémon Sun and Moon, in which after becoming Champion you can have Title Defense battles against various characters looking to supplant you. Also played straight in Pokémon Sword and Shield, where Leon actually retires and converts Rose Tower into a battle facility.
  • In Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction Ratchet inadvertently becomes the new Space Pirate Captain after defeating Captain Slag. However, at the end of the game, it is hinted Rachet then gave the title to Captain Qwark.
  • The trope made an earlier appearance in Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, where Ratchet battled an amnesiac Captain Qwark, who had somehow become a tribal chief on a jungle planet.
    Clank: Just keep the mask on. He thinks you are his new leader.
  • In Starcraft II Legacy Of The Void Alarak challenges Ma'lash, the leader of the Tal'darim to a psionic duel known as "Rak'shir", in which one must force the other into a pit. During the duel, while their allies can't directly attack the opponent, they can be bolstered psionically by nearby units, meaning that your goal is to escort Alarak and take out any enemy units helping out Ma'lash.
  • Joked about in Touhou Koumakyou ~ the Embodiment of Scarlet Devil when Cute Witch Marisa asks Ninja Maid Sakuya whether the position of Chief Maid works like this. It doesn't.
  • In the expansion for Warcraft III Rexxar has to take control of the ogre tribe this way, after going through the trials to become a member - which, par for the course, would have killed any ogre attempting them.
  • World of Warcraft also has this, particularly for the Orcs and the Horde in general. This is called a Mak'Gora, an old orcish ritual, that has been seen by the players three times, all of them involving the Hot-Blooded Garrosh Hellscream. Two of the fights were challenges made on the fly and the duel did not follow the formal rules, but has been seen in detail once, done the old way: both participants are allowed one weapon of choice. The weapon is to be blessed by a shaman in full view of the audience and both participants, to prevent cheating. No armour is allowed. The fight is to the death.
    • Before the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, Garrosh disagrees with Thrall's decision on how to deal with the undead threat, and challenges Thrall for leadership of the Horde. It looks like Garrosh will win, until the fight is interrupted by an undead attack, which changes Thrall's mind.
    • Garrosh ultimately becomes warchief, and is himself challenged by Cairne Bloodhoof. It is however a ploy - Cairne intended to lose in order to cement Garrosh's wildly unpopular leadership and save the Horde from civil war. Garrosh's weapon was poisoned, unbeknownst to both fighters, and he ends up killing Cairne.
    • Garrosh, disgraced and deposed as warchief and now a warlord of the Iron Horde, is challenged by Thrall. Garrosh starts to gain an advantage until Thrall stops fighting like a warrior and calls on his shamanistic powers, at which point Garrosh is knocked helplessly into the air, seized by a giant hand of lava, and fried by lighting.
    • A fourth Mak'Gora is seen at the end of the Battle for Azeroth war campaign. Tired of all the death the recent Horde-Alliance war has caused, Varok Saurfang challenges Sylvannas Windrunner for the position of Warchief, hoping to avoid a bloody battle with a single death. When Varok gains the upper hand, Sylvannas kills him with magic, which also forfeits the Mak'Gora, and she flees afterwards.

  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja villain Frans Rayner at one point intends to "kill the President, thereby becoming the President." He doesn't seem to care that it doesn't actually work that way, stating that he'll convince people that it does.
  • Played with in Curvy, after the girls are rescued/trapped by a pirate ship, and one of them tries to challenge the leader under "the universal pirate code". "There is no universal pirate code. Try getting caught by a different romanticized version of a criminal organization next."
  • In Drowtales, Sarv'swati Vel'Sharen expands her clan's armies by doing this. She challenges a Black Sun chief. He's shown to be sexist by the standards of the universe, especially given that most of the drow societies are matriarchies, but he admits defeat once he is beaten and puts his troops under her command.
  • In Homestuck, the title of HER IMPERIOUS CONDESCENSION is inherited this way. It's genetic; those with royal blood have to challenge the current IMPERIOUS CONDESCENSION upon reaching maturity. And those of royal blood are compelled to fight one another too.
  • In Kevin & Kell, Frank Mangle challenges R.L. as CEO of Herdthinners Inc. Then Kell breaks the fight up before someone gets killed, and this is interpreted as her defeating both of them, so she gets made CEO.
  • Played for laughs in this The Non-Adventures of Wonderella strip.
  • Played with several times in The Order of the Stick.
    • When they encounter a band of thieves in the forest, Haley challenges their leader - an eighteen-year-old sorceress - for control of the gang. She fails miserably. In fact, she fails epically. Then the bandit leader's father (and predecessor) challenges her; since the sorceress is out of spell uses for the day she is easily vanquished. And then Durkon arrives and accidentally knocks out the bandit leader...
    • Subverted in this strip. Annoyed with the lengthy and embarrassing Initiation Ceremony for a hobgoblin tribe, Redcloak learns that a shortcut is to defeat the current chief. So he insta-kills the guy running the ceremony with a Slay Living spell. When he thinks to double check whether that actually was the chief, the guy standing behind him with a big feathery headdress and jewelled sceptre quickly responds in the affirmative rather than fight Redcloak, who would probably kill him just as easily.
  • In Sam & Fuzzy, this is how the Ninja Mafia works - at least, this is how it works if you kill the entire Ruling Council (so none of the official successors are left alive). Sam, as the only survivor of the murder of the previous Ruling Council (although it was actually his ex-girlfriend who did this, killing herself in the process), is therefore considered the rightful Ninja Emperor - and becomes the focus of all the plotting that comes with it.
  • In S.S.D.D. the Collective of Anarchist States is a meritocracy, a lower ranking "adviser" has the right to challenge a higher advisor's decision and if their colleagues agree they get promoted. In the "Tower of Babel" arc the First Adviser and most of her cabinet take advantage of this when it looks like they're headed for a full war with the CORE by allowing the dumbest one on the cabinet to win a challenge and running across the border while he's still confused.
  • A completely accidental case in Swords: the final battle of the Swor'nament is Joyeuse vs the Sword Tapir. Thing is, between the beginning of the tournament and the final battle, behind the scenes events caused both Joy's father and brother to die, making her Queen of Hiltshire at the final battle...and because the Sword Tapir defeats her in one-on-one conflict, that makes him the new King of Hiltshire.. After her initial shock, Joy takes her loss in stride and decides to leave Hiltshire to find Harpe and warn her that her father became the Demon King.
    Joyeuse: What.
  • Dragon Ball Multiverse: In at least one universe, the Saiyan monarchy works like this, and, when no one believed him when he claimed Frieza would destroy them, Bardock takes advantage of this trope by challenging King Vegeta to combat and defeating him, making him king long enough to order the Saiyans to ambush Frieza and kill him.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Adventure Time episode "The Silent King", Finn becomes the new king of the goblins after driving off the old one.
  • Archer becomes a pirate king after this trope happens. Another pirate tries to oust him by using an Elite Mook as a stand in, citing the pirate code as allowing this. Archer accepts the challenge, and shoots him.
    Pirate: Whoa, whoa! You can't use weapons!
    Archer: The code says it's a one-on-one fight, it doesn't say anything about unarmed combat.
    Pirate: (glancing at the code) Well, it's implied!
  • Dinobot invokes this twice in Beast Wars. The first time, after being booted from the Predacons, heads for the Maximals and challenges Optimus Primal. Their match gets interrupted by the other Predacons and Primal keeps his position. He attempts this again when Primal is killed at the end of the first seasons, but Rhinox puts the kibosh on that fast.
  • Parodied in an episode of Futurama, with Fry challenging the leader of a post-apocalyptic society of children to what is essentially a skateboard race. Fry wins, but the leader planned to just killed him anyway, and no one objected. His victory over a small child is denigrated further by the revelation that the society is in fact a LA creche.
  • In an episode of Justice League, Superman is transported to the distant future. After being attacked by a pack of mutant wolves, he challenges their alpha, and is next seen using the wolves like sled dogs and wearing the alpha's hide like a cape.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: As seen in the video example, Maul challenges Pre Vizla to combat with the leadership of an entire planet at stake. As "only the strongest shall rule Mandalore." Maul ends up winning, though Vizla did put up a decent fight.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic The dragons have a ritual of having a challenge match every few years to determine the new Dragon Lord. Spike actually wins but passes the position to Ember, the previous leader’s daughter.

    Real Life 
  • "Champion of the world" titles in professional boxing pretty much work this way. The current champ retains the title until they are beaten, at which time they relinquish it to whoever did the deed. In fact, historical lists of boxing champions often mention the number of times each champion averted this trope.
  • Elections are a more civilized version of this. My chief is more popular than your chief!
  • This phenomenon is common among packs of mammals with a single breeding male and several female breeders (gorillas and lions being the most common example—it only occurs in wolves if the pack is made up of unrelated animals, which mainly only happens in captivity), as the alpha male ages to point of weakness. A younger male challenges the elder for alpha status. The loser is either demoted or driven out of the pack. In terms of biology, this prevents the alpha's genes from dominating the pool of available females.
  • Following the collapse of their moai-building society and years of brutal chaos, the native populace of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) hit upon a means of averting constant warfare, the ritual of the Bird Man. The first man to retrieve the egg of a specific holy seabird from a tiny nearby islet would rule Rapa Nui for a year, then pass his authority on to the next Bird Man. As the islet was a long and treacherous swim away, waterless, and only intermittently used as a nest site by the birds in question, it was a dangerous task that not every challenger for the chiefdom survived.
  • Despite its popularity in fiction, this trope was uncommon if not entirely absent during the golden age of piracy (pirate captains were democratically elected) and among various historical bandit bands. They generally preferred to enforce some level of discipline, as allowing any member of the band (much less any random would-be victim) to challenge the leader to a fight would waste a lot of time (and leaders).


Video Example(s):


Maul vs Vizla

Maul preys on Vizsla's honor, challenging him to see who's the most worthy of leading Death Watch and Mandalore.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / ChallengingTheChief

Media sources: