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Combat by Champion

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It may be efficient now, but you know you've got a problem when the champion's champions start picking champions.

"You know, Dick, if I had my way, I'd meet Rommel face to face; him in his tank and me in mine. We'd meet out there somewhere... salute each other, maybe drink a toast, then we'd button up and do battle. The winner would decide the outcome of the entire war."
General George S. Patton, Patton

There's a dispute, and you could have your armies go at each other and kill a lot of people and cause a lot of damage — but really, wouldn't it just be simpler all around if two soldiers fought? (Or two small, numerically identical groups?)

Obviously, if the other side is evil, you consent only if Even Evil Has Standards, because you must trust their word, and it's not unknown for a battle to break out anyway, but sometimes it works. Let's Fight Like Gentlemen is often expected. And, of course, This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself.

May be an Involuntary Battle to the Death between Worthy Opponents.

If the champion says Give Me a Sword, he is sure to get one.

Also known as single combat, but covers only those fights where the two people fighting are deliberately selected from many. If it's only single combat because potential allies can't take part, see Locked Out of the Fight instead. Contrast Leave Him to Me!.

Compare Duels Decide Everything, Trial by Combat, Worthy Opponent. Could be part of the rules of Challenging the Chief. May result in a Decapitated Army if the fight is to the death.

For a realistic example of political tension manifesting in competitive sports, see International Showdown by Proxy.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • This was done to avoid bloodshed in Basilisk: Two rival Ninja clans fighting with several selected representatives on behalf of the Ieyasu brothers to see who earns the title of the shogun (based on an 20th-century Japanese novel).
  • Happens in both versions of Battle Athletes. In the OVA, the global sports craze is a side effect of a Forever War ending by both sides agreeing to settle things with an athletic competition. In the TV anime, it turns out that the Cosmo Beauty competition is a multi-generational effort to train and select champions to compete against sports-obsessed aliens.
  • Gundam:
  • The reason behind the existence of the Kampfers.
  • Occurs on a small scale in the "Twins' Guards" episode of GUN×SWORD: a town split into two factions hires Van and Ray to fight each other. The fight is supposed to settle a dispute over an inheritance without further loss of lives of the warring townspeople.
  • War between the two main nations of Last Exile usually takes this format. A bunch of Red Shirts with muskets line up and shoot at one another from a single ship; whoever has the most survivors is declared the winner of the battle. Only if the results are inconclusive does a full naval battle begin.
  • The Otome system in My-Otome works this way in both the anime and manga continuities. An Otome is far more powerful than conventional military forces, and if she dies, so will the leader to whom she is contracted.
    • In the manga, the dispute between Cardair and the Aswad is settled by having Akira fight Arika, but this is interrupted when Natsuki intervenes and forces the duel to stop.
  • In Medabots episode "Ban All Medabots", a bunch of medabots attacked the school the main characters attend and the students got their medabots to defend it. During the fight, Rokusho showed up, told them an all-on-all battle would get too many people hurt and suggested each side should pick one to represent them. They agreed.
  • In Popcorn Avatar, the war between the Asura and the Deva proceeds with both sides using "avatars," normal humans they choose to bestow their powers, to fight their battles.
  • In Banana Fish, Ash faces his traitorous lieutenant Arthur in one-on-one combat, in order to prevent a long and bloody gang war.
  • In The Heroic Legend of Arslan, Shindrian King issued a Duel to the Death between his two sons who were fighting for the throne. However, a proxy was allowed and Rajendra chose Daryun and Gadevi chose Bahadur.
  • In Trigun, when bandits attack a landship with the intent of driving it into a canyon with all souls onboard, in order to crack open the safe at the heart of the ship, Vash is the only one who can put up a significant resistance. The bandit leader wants to fight him, and he wants to stop the ship in time, so they agree to a duel, with the victor deciding the fate of the vessel.
  • In Dragonball Super, this is what the Universe 6 vs Universe 7 tournament boiled down to. Beerus and Champa had a disagreement and tried to fight it out, but two Gods of Destruction cannot fight each other without risking annihilating entire universes in the process. So they agree to hold a tournament instead, each selecting several of the strongest fighters from their respective universes to fight in their stead.
  • Voltes V: In episode 30, after rescuing Katherine, Heinel tells Kenichi they should have a duel to determine the fate of the Earth. It ends with a draw, and both end up falling into the ocean, though Katherine retrieves Heinel's body and escapes from the scene.
  • In Yasuke, there are two major instances of this, both involving the titular main character Yasuke. The first was in a flashback, against an Iga Clan general, and the second was against the Dark General, who was actually Mitsuhide, one of Nobunaga's old court that hated Yasuke for being black. Notable in that both instances led to a larger fight breaking out as one side or the other wasn't interested in abiding by the Combat by Champion rule.
  • Record of Ragnarok: The gods decide to wipe out humanity, but Valkyrie Brunnhide persuades them to hold the Ragnarok tournament first. Thirteen gods and thirteen humans compete in one on one matches to the death. If the gods win seven times, they will wipe out humanity. If the humans win seven times, humanity will live.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: This is basically what happens between Batman and the Mutants' leader, twice. Batman loses the first go-around, but wins the second time, causing the Mutants to disband. (Though that's not the end of the trouble some of them cause.)
  • The Travelers:
    • This is actually how all of the kingdoms prefer to do battle, because of the terrible consequences of war. Unfortunately a false champion results in war anyway.
    • Then oddly subverted at the end, when the real champion challenges EVERYONE in the opposing armies to single combat to decide the war. No-one calls him on this, and his friends are amazed that he managed to bluff so many people.
  • X-Wing Rogue Squadron: In "Battleground: Tatooine", the Rogues and some Imperials both want a smuggler, and the smuggler's relative has been well-bribed by both sides and can't decide who to hand the smuggler over to. The Rogues are smallish pilots, the Imperials are enormous seasoned troopers, so there's no truly fair form of combat. So two from each side are armed with a spear, allowed to inflict non-lethal injuries, and told to compete to reach a specific goal. This still favors the Imperial troopers, and they win, but ultimately it doesn't matter.
  • Angel tries to do this to the Demon Lords of Los Angeles in Angel After The Fall — just him against all their champions (including a Tyrannosaurus rex). His friends step in when it seems clear he's getting his ass kicked, and from there it basically turns into a free for all.
  • Happens in one storyline of The Legend of Zelda comics, when Link has to defend the Queen of his homeland of Calatia against a would-be usurper.
  • One issue of Northlanders centers entirely around a bout like this. There are two local lords whose families have been feuding for generations in a Cycle of Revenge, and it has caused so many losses on both sides that after the most recent atrocity by one clan against the other, they decide to have two champions fight instead of what little forces that they have left. Both of the champions wind up dying in the duel.
  • In Scion, the Heron and Raven kingdoms have fought for generations. 200 years prior to the start of the series, the kingdoms' fleets fought at sea and were caught in a storm that washed the combatants onto an island. The fleet commanders fought mano-a-mano while their comrades watched. Neither individual would yield, though. Eventually they agreed to call a truce, not only to their fight, but to the war itself. The island eventually hosted an annual ritualistic combat tournament between the kingdoms to replace actual combat and to keep the peace. It's in this tournament that Ethan and Bron meet for the first time, in head-to-head competition.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) has this in the backstory. After the Great War had ground into a bloody stalemate, Robotnik convinced King Acorn to challenge the Overlander leader to a duel, figuring that King Acorn would easily win, and that the Overlanders would pull a fast one, leaving him to rule. He was actually right, but Acorn's own bodyguards were smart enough to not trust the villains and held the other Overlanders at gunpoint until after their people had surrendered.
  • Superman:
    • A Silver/Bronze Superman comic featured one of these as part of Krypton's history. In its early days, the planet didn't rotate in the right fashion to support life, so the two largest Kryptonian tribes each selected a champion to decide who would have access to the last bits of food and water. During the fight, their weapons got tangled in a way that helped them discover a means of altering the planet's rotation, thus turning the planet into a paradise.
    • In "Revolution in San Monte", the Man of Steel ends a war in South America by abducting the chief general of both sides and ordering them to settle the issue between themselves. At which point it gets revealed that neither side has anything against the other and the war was started by munitions companies to up their sales. The generals shake hands and the war ends.
    • In Superman & Batman: Generations, two Epsilon Eridaniites are looking for a suitable champion among the two they have seen on Earth — Superman and Batman — to help defeat the Borta, and enlist the aid of the World's Finest nuisances, Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite, to test both of them out. However, to ensure that it would be a fair fight, Mxyzptlk must test out Batman while Bat-Mite tests out Superman. Eventually, the heroes convince the Eridaniites to choose Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite to be their champions instead.
    • In "Superman vs. Muhammad Ali", an alien race offers to pit their greatest champion against Earth's, winner take all. To decide Earth's champion, Superman and Muhammad Ali had to face each other in a planet orbiting a red sun to take away Superman's powers and make it fair. After Ali won, he faced the alien's champion in the ring. Ali won, but the aliens dishonorably tried to invade Earth anyway, only for Superman to reveal he anticipated their treachery and sabotaged their fleet.
    • In Adventure Comics #412, Supergirl is chosen by the ruler of planet Liquel II to be her champion:
      Glynix: We must hurry, Supergirl! If we're not inside the circle of combat by the time the contest is to begin, the aggressor's champion will win by default!
      Supergirl: Contest?
      Glynix: Yes, a contest to determine whether my mate and I continue to rule the planet, or the aggressor named Zogg gains the throne! The League of Galaxies long ago decreed that anyone who wishes to replace another ruler cannot do so by waging war... He must select a single warrior... and my mate and I must do the same...
  • Near the end of Archangels: The Saga, the Big Bad challenges God's decree that the human soul he's been trying to damn has been taken out of his reach forever. God responds to this challenge by summoning Michael the Archangel to battle the Big Bad in a one-on-one fight. Michael and the Demon's base powers are evenly matched, but when they each draw on the power of their master (God for Michael; Lucifer for the Demon), Michael ends up winning because his master is the stronger of the two.
  • In a Disney Ducks Comic Universe's Carl Barks story, the Duckburg branch of the Junior Woodchucks and the Goosetown branch participated against each other in several events. After the last event, each branch had an equal number of victories and it was decided their instructors would decide the competition's winning branch by having a boxing match against each other. Unfortunately, the Duckburg branch's instructor wasn't available and Donald Duck had to be their stand-in.
  • In an ABC Warriors flashback story, the UN passes a resolution that all international wars be settled by a duel to the death between the leaders of the nations in question.
  • in Swordquest: Waterworld, one is used to settle a fight between the air-breathers and the Aqualanians.
  • This is how a civil war between two halves of a Gaulish village is settled in Asterix and the Great Divide. Melodrama convinces her father Majestix to stop dragging the villagers into his fight with Cleverdix and just duke it out one-on-one with him. After the match ends in yet another stalemate, Cleverdix and Majestix start to see the error of their ways, and Asterix convinces the villagers to make Cleverdix's son Histrionix the new chief.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Athena earns the throne of Olympus when her champion (a currently blinded Diana) beats Zeus' champion (a gaint Hekatonkheires) in battle.
  • Hound: To fend off the invasion of Ulla, Cú Cullan makes a bargain with Queen Maeve in which he fights her men one by one at dawn. After several losses, Maeve breaks the bargain once by ordering more of her men to attack him together.

    Fan Works 
  • Occurs in A Dragon of the North, when Jon Snow challenges the seasoned Vale tribal leader Wulf to single combat, to prevent Brynden's army and the mountain tribe from clashing. Jon is twelve at the time, albeit already a Magic Knight.
  • Subverted in Power Girl fanfic A Force of Four. Kara and the Amazons are being trounced by the Kryptonians, so Diana requests a duel between her and Badra. Mars allows it but Wonder Woman has to abide by his rules and with no guarantees of being spared even if she wins.
    Wonder Woman: One there is who has not joined the battle. The one who proclaims herself your greatest ally. She, whose lust for my death is matched only by your own. She, who has not suffered the battering I have today and earlier, at her own hands. I challenge her to single combat. Upon the outcome of which our lives—and those of my mother, daughter, and Kara, and the people of Earth—will depend. Only stay the men from fighting me or my allies. That is what I propose.
    Badra: You are insane, Amazon. Mars has no need to make bargains with you. You have no power here...
    Mars: Silence. Since the days of the great war on your sphere, Amazon, you have frustrated me. With the power of Conquest, Greed, and Deception I opposed you and Aphrodite's other whores. Yet did you frustrate me. And, though my work on Earth has prospered in various places... though your ‘peace' has been shattered across your world, time and again... the nation in which you dwell has remained unconquered, and untyrannic. This has caused me pain. Great pain. I will allow you this much. I will allow my agent to battle you, should she wish to do so. I will keep both my allies and yours separate from both of you. But I make no bargains about the reward. All that will be done is to give you a chance to revenge yourself on your tormentress... to allow her a chance to kill you... and to afford myself a better spectacle. Well? What say you?
  • Defied in Kyon: Big Damn Hero. After a week of trashing Yakuza, culminating on Kyon, Tsuruya and Yuki fighting 20+ men in favor of the named characters, Kyon and Tsuruya managed to convince Yakuza boss Masao not to end everything in Combat by Champion. After all, nobody was dead and the only thing Tsuruya wants is a photo Masao's men have from her while changing clothes deleted before it reaches the Internet.
  • In Discworld fic Small Medium. Large Headache, a magical incursion involving the Dungeon Dimensions forces Captain Carrot to fight a powerful magician as The Walker and Champion of His People.
  • This Emergency! series has one that's partly this. Johnny and Chet are bitten and become cat shifters. Brackett is a member of an old, well-respected shifter family, and when his sister and Chet pledge themselves to be married, he isn't happy with her marrying a 'brought-in'. So he demands the Right of Combat and battles a champion chosen by her. If he wins, the marriage is off, but if her champion wins, he must accept it. She picks Johnny, hoping Kel will forfeit rather than battle a friend, but as it's not to the death, only to first pin, Kel goes ahead with it. Johnny wins in the end and the marriage goes ahead.
  • In The Legend of Total Drama Island, Eva exploits a momentary lull in the dodgeball match to step forward and challenge any comer to single combat. Subverted when Leshawna accepts the challenge and her trash talk leads to an offer of friendship, so the duel does not take place. note 
  • Cecelia and Hanse duel in their Battlemechs in Riding the Dragon over the division of spoils from the Halstead Station cache. They've already decided to divide it evenly but need to sell this to their respective followers so the duel is done entirely for the drama.
  • A Brighter Dark: Xander and Ryoma engage in this when their armies meet. Though it turns out to be a distraction on the part of Xander, who knew that his army would lose against Ryoma's in a straight up battle, and wanted to use the duel as a cover up to get his people in a position where they could win. Ryoma's retainers catch on and interrupt it, however, so neither of them actually die.
  • In the finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Supergirl crossover The Vampire of Steel it's Buffy, Supergirl and the Scooby Gang against an army of vampires and demons led by a Kryptonian vamp. In order to even the odds, Kara demands a duel. Zol-Am is forced to accept.
    Zol-Am: With your death, the new era begins. Soldiers, destroy the guerillas. We’ll see which of us gets finished first.
    Supergirl: Hold! Zol-Am... Personal Combat Challenge.
    Random Demon: Say what?
    Buffy: What’re you talking about?
    Zol-Am: No combat till we have this sorted out. It is our law.
    Random Vampire: Sir, beggin’ your pardon, but is this really a decision you wanna go through with? I mean, that’s just not the way things are done down here.
    Supergirl: Let me explain, for those of you who weren’t born where we were. The Personal Combat Challenge is a form of military conduct that was implemented on Krypton. It allows a soldier to make a challenge to another soldier, regarding personal battle. If the challenge is accepted, nobody else can interfere in the fight. I’m challenging Zol-Am right here, right now. The rest of you, back off. Nobody on my side or your side will fight till we’re done. If your commander is too scared to face me one-on-one, I’ll understand.
  • Fate/Long Night: Since battles between gods would be catastrophic, to decide which god gets to rule over all creation, the Maiden, the Smith, the Warrior, the Father, the Mother, the Crone, and the Stranger resurrect mortals who embody their ideals and have them fight each other to the death in a battle royale, offering a wish to the winner as incentive.
  • The Mountain and the Wolf starts when Wulfrik the Wanderer replaces Oberyn Martell as Tyrion's champion and goes on to attack several other people in single combat regardless of their combat ability.
  • The championship bout in Eight Count has rookie boxer Harley Quinn acting as the champion for her lover, Dr. Pamela Isley, both of whom have displeased the boxing league they're a part of; a win from Harley would be a big metaphorical finger to the league. Kate Kane, the literal champion, is also one for the league as a whole in this case.
  • In Dungeon Keeper Ami, the battle on the surface of Keeper Mercury's northern dungeon was decided by one of these. Between the dwarfish forces' champion, The Avatar, controlling a very convincing thrall from a distance; and the keeper forces' champion, Commander Cathy herself, donning a magically powered armor.
  • Chasing Dragons: The conflict between Volantis and Mantarys is settled by one of these, as Viserys faces one of the monsters created by the latter city's warlocks in a one-on-one fight, and ultimately kills it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Lazer Team, an alien race known as the Antarians warn Earth that the only way for the planet to survive is for a single Champion to be trained and given a Suit of Power to battle the Worg Champion. It turns out it's just an interstellar tournament set up by the Antarians, pitting other races against one another, giving each a Suit of Power and having their champions battle it out. The loser's planet is destroyed.
  • Troy:
    • The film opens with a lull in a battle between Mycenae and Thessaly, with Agamemnon proposing to the Thessalonian general that they stake their conflict on this trope, with Agamemnon's forces retreating if the Thessalonian champion Boagrius wins and the Thessalonians bending the knee if the Mycenaean champion Achilles wins. Achilles wins the ensuing fight without even breaking stride.
    • Subverted by Paris and Menelaus. Paris flees the fight and Hector interferes and kills Menelaus. The battle was pointless anyway, as pretty much everyone except Paris point out the invading army would attack whatever the outcome. Menelaus at least claims he's doing it to regain his honor, which was sullied when Paris took his wife.
  • Patton said he would have liked to duel with Rommel to decide the outcome of World War II (but with tanks, not pistols or swords).
  • Robot Jox also has Humongous Mecha fight instead of war.
  • The gang war between the Jets and Sharks in West Side Story (1961) was to be decided by having a rumble between the two gangs. Tony manages to have the rumble settled via a "fair fight" between the best fighter from each gang, Ice from the Jets and Bernardo from the Sharks. It doesn't turn out so well for Bernardo.
  • The Right Stuff evokes this trope, but it's unique in that it describes (in painful detail) how many test pilots died in combat against an inanimate object, the sound barrier.
  • Alice in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010), against the Jabberwocky, the former on the White Queen's side and the latter on the Red Queen's. And then the Mad Hatter intervenes and general melee ensues, armored cards on the red side, chess pieces and Alice's friends on the white side.
  • Prince Caspian had Peter offering single combat against Miraz. He wounds Miraz, but lets Caspian decide Miraz's fate. Caspian spares Miraz, but one of his advisers kills Miraz with a Narnian arrow to make it look like Narnia cheated. In both the film and the book, the duel is actually a feint. Peter and Caspian know they can't defeat Miraz's army, and the duel is merely to distract Miraz (by challenging his honor) until Aslan arrives. In the book Peter doesn't give the choice to Caspian, but the advisers still kill Miraz and frame Peter for using "dirty tactics."
  • At the end of The Postman, General Bethlehem and The Postman decide the war by fighting each other. "Wouldn't it be great if wars could be fought just by the assholes who started them?" In the book that would have been a hopeless fight as the Holnist leader was an Augment, instead the Postman's reluctant ally George Powhatan (a second-generation Augment) fights him.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean:
    • In a way, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Hundreds of pirate ships! Hundreds of EITC ships! Yet the battle is only disputed by one vessel of each side (the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman) — the maelstrom is partially guilty for this, but...
    • In Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Jack actually suggests this between Barbossa and Blackbeard, but everyone ignores him and attacks each other anyway.
  • In Falcon Rising, corrupt cop Santo tells a group of gun traffickers that he's arrested that if their best fighter beats his best fighter (his partner - Bororo) they will return the guns they confiscated, leave and never come back. Seeing as Bororo is played by Lateef Crowder, the fight ends like you'd expect.
  • Robin and Marian: Robin offers to settle things this way with the King's forces, facing the Sheriff in a duel. He agrees the army will leave if Robin wins. After he does though, the soldiers still attack.
  • In Black Panther (2018), any one of the four major tribes of Wakanda, as well as the Jabari outcast tribe, are allowed to choose a champion to challenge the present Black Panther, the King of Wakanda (with their heightened physical abilities stripped from them) for the throne. It's indicated that this practice was mostly just a ceremonial formality by this point, and onlookers are quite surprised when the Jabari emerged to actually issue a challenge.
  • The 1980s Hong Kong film Duel to the Death revolves around a ritualized version of this. In the film's universe, every ten years the best swordsman in China faces the best in Japan in a competition for the pride of their nations, presumably as an alternative to actual warfare. This time, however, the Japanese government has a plan to use the competition as a stepping stone to starting an actual war later, although the plan is foiled in part by Hashimoto, the stubbornly honorable Japanese representative.
  • The Deluge: Michał's men have defeated Andrzej's men, but Andrzej is locked up inside a cabin and he says that he has hostages and gunpowder. Rather than letting Andrzej set off his gunpowder and getting a bunch more people killed, Michał offers to let Andrzej come out and fight him in a duel. Michał wins, after which he manages to recruit Andrzej into the service of duke Radziwiłł.
  • John Wick: Chapter 4: When John Wick challenges Marquis de Gramont to a duel, Gramont makes Caine fight as his champion. After Caine injures Wick so badly he can barely stand, Gramont swaps places with him so he can finish Wick off himself. This allows Wick to kill him.

  • In Homer's Iliad, Menelaus and Paris fight a duel, but Aphrodite spirits Paris away when he starts to get the worst of it. Later, Hector and Ajax, son of Telamon, duel all day to a draw, and exchange gifts afterward. Ultimately none of the duels fought during The Trojan War resolve anything.
  • In C. S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces, Orual herself fights the neighboring prince over his brother, who had taken refuge in her kingdom. Since she kills him, making his brother king, it does settle it.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia:
    • Peter and King Miraz in C. S. Lewis' Prince Caspian. Some treacherous underlings on Miraz's side turn it into a battle.
    • Later, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep the mouse wants to challenge a dragon opposing to crew to single combat. Despite it comprising the entire enemy "side" in the anticipated battle. This kind of request from Reepicheep is apparently common enough for Caspian to predict it before Reepicheep has a chance to ask.
  • In Hilari Bell's Farsala Trilogy, the commander of the Farsalan army offers a duel at the end of the book. Unfortunately for him, the Hrum commander cheats and just shoots him down in cold blood. He DOES agree to a duel at the end of the trilogy... but only because he knows Sorhab doesn't exist. And when somebody DOES take him up on this offer, he still plans to cheat.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novel Deus Sanguinius, single combat is proposed as a test of whether Arkio really is Sanguinius reborn. Mephiston is about to accept when Rafen declares it his place, and Mephiston steps aside for him. The Inquisitor Stele manages to turn it into a general battle, but Rafen still goes after Arkio and defeats him.
  • The Stormlight Archive: Honor implies that Alethi can hope to win against Odium only if he decides to choose a champion.
  • BattleTech Expanded Universe:
    • The novel Wolves on the Border has the Kuritans fight a series of honour duels against Wolf's Dragoons in this manner rather than a full-scale battle. At least to start with anyway.
    • In the short story "Three Points of Pride", a planet without an official garrison attempts to defend their world from Clan Ghost Bear in an American Football game. They lose 84 to 3 against the Clan's 2.5-meter tall Elementals.
  • In Anne McAffrey's Dragonflight, Lessa (rightful heir to Ruatha) maneuvers F'lar (a bronze dragonrider) into becoming this against the illicit Lord Fax. However, she ends up being the victim of her own scheme, in an unusual way.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Most battles seem to be determined by duels fought between the commanders on opposite sides, as the winner's troops gain a morale boost and many of the defeated commander's troops would desert. Gan Ning is notable for shooting a challenger before the duel could commence.
  • In the Katherine Kurtz books:
    • Deryni Rising, Kelson responds to Charissa's challenge of his right to rule Gwyenedd by offering this form of combat. His Champion, Duke Alaric Morgan, defeats hers the traitorous Lord Ian Howell, but she and her wounded champion contrive to injure Morgan afterwards and she issues a second direct challenge to Kelson.
    • The ending of High Deryni involves Wencit of Torenth demanding a four-on-four duel arcane in the sight of the combined armies of Gwynedd and Torenth. Things do not go as planned.
    • Years later in The King's Justice, Sicard MacArdry asks for single combat with Kelson to end the war with the Mearans, and Kelson refuses.
  • Redwall:
    • The climactic battles in the books Lord Brocktree and Salamandastron. Both times it's done when the mountain is under siege by the vermin, and the Badger Lord offers to do the single-combat way to cut the war short and save his followers. Badger Lords are made for this trope, since they're honorable to a fault, but also really really hard to defeat.
    • Also in Mattimeo, when Matthias fights the Wearet. Noteworthy for turning into a battle anyway when Matthias lost.
  • The reason that The Hero in The Belgariad sets off with only two other main characters to fight the Big Bad.
  • The cannibals in Nation decide whether to attack by single combat between chieftains, believing that the winner is the one favored by the God of Death. Of course, since they eat and enslave those they attack, the native tribes themselves presumably don't just give up if their champion loses.
  • In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, when King Arthur accepts a duel, Sir Gawain steps up as King Arthur's champion and accepts the duel in his stead.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire features a few, in addition to trials by combat.
    • In the main series, this is treated as an outdated method, and is proposed several times, but repeatedly rejected, sometimes because one side feels they have a better chance of winning in actual battle, sometimes because one side doesn't believe that the agreement would be honored. The only time we see such a combat happen is during the siege of Mereen, and it was never suggested that it would resolve the conflict, it was just a display to show which side had the better warrior.
    • Although not shown, Ironborn warrior Ser Harras Harlaw takes Grimston castle by challenging any warrior inside to defeat him in single combat. After he defeats seven (a holy number) those besieged surrendered because the Gods had spoken (i.e. their morale was shattered and this was a face-saving way to quit).
    • In "The Sworn Sword," the water dispute between Ser Eustace and the Red Widow is resolved by a combat by champion. Dunk fights for Eustace and Ser Lucas fights for Lady Rohanne.
  • The Aeneid ends with a such a battle between Aeneas and Turnus, though not quite so useful as this happened long after months of deadly combat.
  • Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files novel Death Masks opens with Ortega challenging Dresden to such a combat, intended to be determined by matching wills. Ortega cheats during the subsequent battle in a very extreme manner, and manages to escape. Fortunately, he doesn't escape Ebenezar McCoy and his Soviet satellites.
    • In a later book, Harry and Ramirez challenge two White Court vampires in a much less restricted battle. And again, the vampire cheats when it starts to go against him.
    • And in Changes The Erl-King decides this is a good way to determine which of his guests is going to be ripped apart. The two powerful vampires end up nominating their blood beast creature and a random Mook who got killed within the first ten seconds against Harry and Susan. Given that when it lost they got ripped to shreds by goblins maybe one of them should have stepped up.
    • And again in Changes, the Red King declares Harry and Arianna Ortega's dispute will be resolved through a duel. Harry wipes the floor with Arianna but, once again, the vampire cheats.
  • In Cry of the Icemark, a general on the villains' side challenges the heroes' queen to single combat to decide the war between their lands. The deal is that if he wins, she surrenders Icemark, and if she wins, he leaves. Though Thirrin realizes and notes that this would only keep them away until a new general comes along, they do battle anyway.
  • In The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe characterizes the "Space Race" between the USA and USSR as a form of single combat. Because the possibility of all-out war was distasteful and frightening to both sides, they channeled their rivalry into a race to the Moon.
  • The whole Southern Judicial system in the One Rose Trilogy is based on this trope
  • In New Jedi Order, Corran Horn challenges Shedao Shai to single combat over the fate of Ithor. Corran wins, but the Vong still decide to devastate Ithor.
  • Mentioned but averted in two books of the X-Wing Series. In The Krytos Trap, Wedge accepts a challenge to a ritualistic knife duel with Tal'dira, which Wedge, as a short pilot, knew he would likely have trouble with. It turns out to be merely a test of Wedge's resolve (and that of the merchant who was attempting to deal with Wedge), and the challenge is nullified soon after. In Starfighter of Adumar, Wedge reflects that he'd be fine with flying against and killing a champion, be he Imperial or Adumari, to decide the planet's allegiance, but instead he's expected to fly against bad Adumari pilots and kill them for "honor", which is weighed against how the Imperials do.
    • "Bad Cartannese pilots" is right. No formation discipline, almost no simulated-weapons drills or flight simulators, and a "combat equals honor" mentality that leads to top pilots dying in droves. Not all of the Adumari are poor pilots (although not up to galactic standards by any means), but the Cartannese were truly duel-happy maniacs.
  • In Andy Hoare's White Scars novel Hunt for Voldorius, Jhogai demands the right, as company champion, to face off against the Chaos champion Nullus. He loses.
  • In Matthew Arnold's reworking of the old Persian epic of Sobrah and Rustem, a father and son find themselves in two different armies and end up in a Combat by Champion. Interestingly this was one of C. S. Lewis s favorite poems, as much for the descriptive power as for the plot itself.
  • In book 26 of Animorphs, the Animorphs are pitted against seven Howlers to decide the fate of an entire alien planet.
  • Despite being set in an age where the clash of massed armies have replaced single combat, Belisarius Series has two notable cases of single combats.
    • The Backstory has one between Rana Sanga and Raghunath Rao that made them both famous.
    • Then Rana Sanga (again) and Valentinian has one in part 4, Fortune's Stroke as well, lasting for an entire chapter, though most of it explores the symbology and psychology of the fight. The duel is also supposed to be a diversion so that Belisarius's army can retreat while the Rajputs are occupied with the fight. The Rajputs know this but their society is based on Honor Before Reason so they to watch the fight and do not interfere. It is clear that the duel will be the stuff of legends and all of them want to be there to witness it.
  • E. R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros has the wrestling match between Lord Goldry Bluszco of Demonland and King Gorice XI of Witchland, with Witchland's claim for suzerainty over Demonland at stake.
  • The Elven high king Fingolfin challenges the Dark Lord Morgoth to single combat in The Silmarillion. Unfortunately, Fingolfin loses, but it's so epic Morgoth is afraid to face him in the first place. And Fingolfin manages to wound Morgoth seven times before dying, and with his dying breath gives Morgoth a permanent limp. For the rest of the war until the coming of Valar, Morgoth would not come out of his fortress for fear of ending up in that situation again.
  • Warrior Cats:
    • In Crookedstar's Promise, one of the battles for Sunningrocks is decided by a duel between Mudfur and Adderfang.
    • In Hawkwing's Journey, Hawkwing fights Dodge to decide whether SkyClan will help Dodge drive out Stick's group.
  • In Sean McMullen's Greatwinter Trilogy, 40th century North American society has a long and storied tradition of conducting all warfare by chivalrous Old School Dogfights with aircraft built of cloth and wood and flown by a pilot-aristocracy. Fighting a war on the ground with commoner infantry is considered dishonorable and unchivalrous, and a massive waste of scant resources, until infiltrators from another continent reintroduce the concept of total war.
  • Averted in The Painter Knight. A child ruler escapes her Evil Uncle, and reaches the safety of a loyal cousin, who raises an army to bring the traitor to justice. Before the climactic battle the uncle challenges the cousin. Her sovereign forbids it on the grounds that her uncle is "not to get outta this by dying nobly."
  • A main plot point in The Prize in the Game by Jo Walton. When Oriel is about to be invaded without war by an overwhelming force, the invaders are manipulated into only doing combat by champion. Oriel's champions Darag and Atha fought several single combats daily to hold of the invaders for over a month.
  • In David Gemmell's Drenai series, champions dueling are a traditional part of sieges. However, they tend to occur toward the end of the siege when city or defensive position is close to falling. If the defenders' champion loses, they can surrender without losing honor. If the attackers' champion loses, the defenders are traditionally provided with supplies and the attackers continue the siege. No one expects the attacker to abandom a successful siege just because of the outcome of a single duel.
  • Gesta Danorum: Fighting against the Swedish usurper Sorli, Ragnar and his three sons Bjorn, Fridleif and Radbard take on a Swedish champion and his seven sons in a public single combat.
  • In Pact, as part of his attempts to avoid being enslaved by the Incarnation of Conquest that rules Toronto, Blake Thorburn challenges him to a contest where they each select five champions, surrender all their power for the duration, and let the champions fight, with whoever surrenders or is killed by the opposing champions being the victor. Being an Incarnation of a concept, Conquest cannot die unless the idea of conquest does, and surrender is in fact impossible for him, so he naturally accepts-only for Blake's champion Rose to trap him within a binding circle, leaving him powerless and the contest prolonged indefinitely, Blake having been more than willing to give up his ability to use magic in order to keep Conquest imprisoned.
  • In order to seal the alliance between Embryon and Maribel in Quantum Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner, they have to have a battle between a representative from each side and the outcome will decide how the alliance pans out. Heat ends up representing Embryon while Bat stands for Maribel.
  • In the story "Arena" by Fredric Brown (made into the Star Trek episode mentioned below) a super-advanced race picks a random individual from humanity and a race they are fighting to the death. The super-intelligence says that in an all-out war one will win, but both will be destroyed, so it will be decided by single combat. The human and the alien (a super-evil beach ball) fight to the death and humanity wins, dooming the entire alien race. Unlike the Star Trek episode there is no mercy and no lesson to be learned. It's just kill or be killed.
  • In The Traitor Son Cycle, the outcome of the Alban civil war is decided by the Red Knight and Jean de Vrailly fighting to the death, with the promise that the loser's armies will leave the country. Amazingly enough, they keep to the promise.
  • In The Witchlands, when Safi's group needs to take a ship over from a crew of pirates, instead of an all-out fight (that might damage the ship), Safi and the pirate captain fight it out one-on-one.
  • The protagonist of Envoy from the Heavens learns that Osieran rhapsods are more than just Wandering Minstrels. When the need arises (usually, a nobleman, who has done something really bad and refuses any warnings to stop), they take up arms and reveal themselves to be extremely capable warriors. When they reach the nobleman's estate, it typically results in a duel between the highest-ranking rhapsod in the party and the evildoer (no nobleman would refuse a duel, as it's a matter of honor). Should the rhapsod die, then the next in line would fight the nobleman in a day or so. If the entire party is thus wiped out, then the next party will be five times as large... and will not be taking prisoners. This also means that the soldiers and servants of the nobleman in question do their best to stay out of the rhapsods' way, unwilling to be slaughtered.
  • In Everybody Loves Large Chests, there exist Heroes who represent the will of their respective God. If two Heroes come into conflict with one another, a dialog box will pop up for everybody nearby, announcing a Clash of Fate which fully heals both Heroes and forbids anyone nearby from interfering until their duel is concluded - with another dialog box popping up to announce said conclusion for all to see. One such Clash between the Hero of Chaos and the Hero of the Hammer ends the war they were fighting for when the former completely humiliates the latter in a flawless victory.
  • Horace ends up fighting two bruisers in a row during the eighth book of Ranger's Apprentice in such a combat. The first uses a mace and chain, which is understandably quite difficult for a knight with a sword and shield to beat (Horace wins by letting the mace get stuck in his shield and lets it get ripped away. When his opponent is distracted for a second, Horace strikes the fatal blow). The second has a cohort of his slip a drug into the water to impair Horace's vision, and then when Will accuses said cohort of doing this, that matter is solved by an archery trial by combat. The bad guy cheats, but Will anticipates that and wins.
  • The Aeneid ends with such a duel between Turnus and Aeneas, though it isn't quite as useful as the sides have already endured long months of war.
  • In Wolf of the Plains, right after the Tartars are defeated, Temujin and Eeluk fight for who will be khan of the Wolves. Temujin wins.
  • The Queen of Ieflaria: Theodar challenges Esofi to a duel as part of a plot to give Adale long enough to escape her responsibilities. Adale (who isn't sure she wants to escape Esofi any more) offers to be Esofi's champion. Esofi fights him herself with her magic and wins handily.
  • A Piece in the Game of Gods: As Maelyne tells it:
    “Long ago, my kind discovered the folly of warring amongst ourselves. With our power, even a minor skirmish can cause untold devastation. During our only great war, most of our world was destroyed. Before it could be obliterated entirely, we came to truce and agreed upon an alternative method of fighting. Now, we resolve our conflicts in your world, through proxies. We each choose a human to champion our cause, and embue them with gifts and power. Our champions compete against each other, and we rise or fall upon their success.”
  • War Girls: When Onyii attacks the Nigerians alone, Daren challenges her to a fight to the death. Onyii wins.
  • She Who Became The Sun: Zhu invokes this while her forces are delaying General Ouyang's army, goading him into a duel rather than suffer more losses among the troops. It works because Ouyang holds a grudge against her, and, for the same reason, he lets her and her army live as a Cruel Mercy after defeating her, unaware that he's giving her exactly what she wants.
  • Inkmistress: Before facing down the king himself to win the throne, Ina must first defeat two champions who fight on his behalf.
  • In Don Camillo this is how the feud between the Filotti and Della Bruciata families ends: when Gina Filotti and Mariolino Della Bruciata, unable to marry because of their families, almost commit suicide, Don Camillo decides he has enough of the feud and orders the patriarchs, also fathers of Gina and Mariolino, to solve their feud in a fistfight then and there so that nobody will object to their children being married by the bishop (who's due to visit soon), or he'll break their heads. Since everyone in town knows that Don Camillo can and will enact his threat, the family heads take the safer route and fight.
  • Dune:
    • When the hot-headed Jamis challenges Jessica to a duel, her son Paul Atreides steps in as her champion and kills him.
    • When Paul challenges Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV for his throne and the right to marry his daughter Irulan, Shaddam picks Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen as his champion, but Paul kills him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • It's About Time: In "The Champ", the neighbouring tribe of "painted ones" is threatening a war that would certainly destroy the tribe Mac and Hec are staying with. Mac and Hec convince Boss and the leader of the painted ones to forego to the war in favour of a fight between a champion of each tribe. Gronk is chosen to be champion of the tribe...
  • Angel. In one episode, Angel kills a demon who turns out to be a pregnant girl's champion who was going to fight in her name against a demonic tribunal. Naturally, Angel takes his place and fights for her.
  • In Babylon 5, the pre-Valen Minbari had a tradition of Combat by Champion by ritual suicide.
  • Blake's 7: In "Death-Watch", two planetary systems fight wars this way, with the loser surrendering a couple of planets and a large part of their spacefleet. Two champions fight with handguns with their duel televised for entertainment, but one side cheats by using an android with a faster Quick Draw. Turns out it's a conspiracy to start a real war by exposing the deception. Once the two sides fight each other to exhaustion, the Federation will step in to 'restore order'.
  • In The Challenge (1970 TV movie) the US and an unnamed Asian country agree to avoid war by having one soldier each fight to the death on a deserted island. Darren McGavin plays the US soldier who would break all the rules while in combat and go out on night patrols on his own, bringing back trophies. Naturally there's a lot of cheating on both sides.
  • In an episode of Deadwood, Heart and Swearengen's duel for control of the camp turns into a Combat by Champion, as each man sends his dragon to fight the other's in the street. The fight doesn't settle anything, but it does rattle and weaken the loser.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Christmas Invasion", a newly regenerated Doctor saves the world by beating the leader of the Sycorax to ritual combat, standing as Earth's champion. During the course of this fight, the Doctor loses and regrows his right hand. When the leader tries to go back on it, though? The Doctor kills him easily. With a satsuma. At Christmas. Having just woken from a coma and getting his hand cut off.
    The Doctor: No second chances. I'm that sort of a man.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • After being captured, Jaime Lannister suggests this to Robb Stark as a way of resolving the brewing civil war. Robb declines, knowing that he'd lose against a member of the Kingsguard.
      Robb: If we do it your way, Kingslayer, you'd win. We're not doing it your way.
    • When Dany besieges Meereen, the Meereen Masters send a champion to insult her and challenge her to single combat. She sends Daario as her champion (Strong Belwas is Adapted Out). While everyone knows that the fight will not decide the battle, the side that loses will be demoralized. Daario wins in a Curbstomp Battle that lasts a few seconds. The actual impact of the fight is that it convinces the slaves of Meereen that with Dany's help they can rebel and gain their freedom.
    • When meeting before the Battle of Winterfell, Jon Snow offers to fight Ramsay Bolton one-on-one in order to reduce the amount of bloodshed. Ramsay, who has the numbers advantage, does not take the offer. He hypocritically asks for it when he's finally defeated, though he uses a bow instead of a sword. Jon, being more honorable, briefly entertains him by catching the arrows on his shield until he's close enough to give him some Extreme Mêlée Revenge.
  • After war breaks out in Kamen Rider Build and each of the belligerents develops their own Kamen Rider to serve as a One-Man Army for them in the conflict, they end up deciding to resolve things by pitting their Riders against each other in one-on-one "representative matches" to resolve things rather than have their whole armies duke it out. Although this leads to a Surprisingly Realistic Outcome when Seito loses the representative match to Touto but, as their army is still much larger and better equipped than Touto's, they opt to invade Touto anyway.
  • Merlin: In one season 4 episode, Arthur avoids all-out war by battling the other kingdom's champion and winning.
  • In the early Stargate SG-1 episode "Emancipation", SG-1's allied tribal chief Moughal challenges their enemy Turghan to single combat over the fate of Turghan's daughter Nya, who is to be stoned to death for trying to elope with Moughal's son Abu rather than enter an Arranged Marriage. Turghan refuses to duel the crippled Moughal, so Samantha Carter, whom Abu had tried to trade to Turghan as a concubine in exchange for Nya's hand, challenges him instead and defeats him.
  • The classic episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, "Arena", pitting Captain Kirk against the Gorn.
  • Supergirl (2015): When Queen Rhea's fleet attempts to invade Earth, Supergirl challenges her to a sacred duel called Dakkam Ur to decide the fate of the planet. If Supergirl wins, Rhea's fleet must leave Earth alone, but if Rhea wins, Supergirl won't stand in their way. Rhea cheats by using kryptonite and orders her fleet to attack in the middle of the duel. When Mon-El calls her out on violating the sacred rules, she sneers and says she doesn't care. Supergirl then defeats her and she still refuses to call off her fleet. However, Supergirl had also cheated by preparing a bomb that saturates the atmosphere with lead particles (lead is like kryptonite to Daxamites) in the event that she lost. Since Rhea won't back down, Supergirl orders the bomb detonated, killing Rhea and forcing her soldiers to leave Earth.
  • In the Wishbone version of The Aeneid, Wishbone-as-Aeneas challenges Turnus to a one-on-one contest of skill to decide the fate of Latium. This being a PBS kids' show, the contest takes the form of a couple of footraces (which Aeneas, being played by a dog, wins easily), and a staring contest.
  • Wonder Woman (1975): In "Wonder Woman's Return", after being in a stalemate with Dr. Solano, he proposes a sword fight to Wonder Woman. "Winner gets all." It's a trap.
  • In one episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, Xena manages to save a bunch of soldiers from being annihilated by the barbaric Horde when she stops seeing them as monsters and learns that they respect Combat by Champion. She fights and defeats their strongest warrior, and the Horde departs.

  • In the video for "Beat It" by Michael Jackson, both gangs have their leaders fight on their behalf before Michael intervenes to stop the duel entirely.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In a Greek legend, two brothers agree to rule the throne of Thebes on alternating years. After the first year, the first brother Eteocles predictably refuses to step down from the throne. His brother, Polyneices, gathers a large army to take the city by force. The two sides fail to defeat each other, so they make the brothers duel to decide the war. The duel decides nothing: they kill each other in the end.
  • David and Goliath from The Bible. Nine-foot-tall Goliath demands a champion to fight, and the pitched battle is put on hold until twelve-year-old shepherd boy David takes up the challenge. After David wins, the battle actually resumes, but the Philistines' morale has broken; they flee and the Israelites slaughter them.
  • Much of the The Cattle Raid of Cooley consists of a long string of one-on-one fights between Cu Chulainn and whichever Elite Mook Queen Medb sends against him. While this meant Cu Chulainn was killing one of Medb's champions every day, this was a net win for her because previously he was killing hundreds of Medb's soldiers every day.
  • At one point early in The Iliad, the Greeks and Trojans decide to have Menelaus and Paris duel to decide who Helen's rightful husband is and end the war. Menelaus wins, but then Aphrodite manipulates a Trojan archer into shooting at the Greeks during the surrender ceremony, causing the war to restart.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Eric Bischoff once thought of settling the Monday Night Wars of the '90s between WCW and then-WWF in this manner. Not with the WCW champion vs. the WWF champion, mind you, but with Bischoff vs. Vince McMahon. Vince, knowing that it was a publicity stunt and nothing else, agreed to the match on the condition that it would not be at the next WCW pay-per-view (as Bischoff wanted), but that it would be in an empty parking lot devoid of cameras. Bischoff ignored this, and when the pay-per-view rolled around, the "match" took place, with Bischoff being declared the winner via no-show.
  • A variation happened at Joe vs Punk II in 2004. Rather than smaller groups settling the conflict of larger groups, Nigel McGuinness and Chad Collyer represented "Pure Wrestling" while Dan Maff and BJ Whitmer represented "Hardcore Wrestling" in a Tag Team match, in an attempt to settle an ongoing debate between Ricky Steamboat and Mick Foley about which style was better for Ring of Honor.
  • In 2015, AAA's Lucha Libre World Cup saw four out of eight trio matches end indecisively due to the time limit expiring. This ended up being settled by four matches featuring one member from each team to stalemate. The final saw these two men (Myzteziz and Mr. Anderson) themselves going to a time limit draw, so they tried again with two more (El Patron Alberto and Matt Hardy) to yet another draw. Finally, there was a winner when Rey Mysterio Jr. pinned Johny Mundo.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Warhammer 40,000, it's an ancient tradition that whenever a Dark Angels company and a Space Wolves company meet, each selects a champion to fight in a (usually non-lethal) duel, in honour of the battle between their Primarchs, Lion El'Johnson and Leman Russ.
  • Warhammer:
    • Meanwhile, units with special characters can have them challenge opposing units's special characters. If they win, the chance of the opposing side breaking off and fleeing shoots way up. The Warriors of Chaos have to make a challenge if they can, because their reason for fighting is to impress their gods — doing so is much easier by hacking down lords and masters instead of Mooks. And even if they didn't have to, they probably would anyway unless really, really seriously outclassed, because they get special bonuses for shredding enemy leaders in single combat — besides the obvious benefit of scaring the crap out of the other side, who watch trembling as the psychopath in the horned helmet brutally eviscerates their leader.
    • Bretonnians from Warhammer Fantasy are a very special example of this trope. Since they are knights in shiny armor, they are expected to meet their enemy in duel. Latest armybook gives them Virtue that forces them to challenge and an magic item that forces enemies to accept challenges. Combine them and you have a knight who never lives to kill other heroes.
    • The Chaos character Wulfrik the Wanderer once made a Blasphemous Boast that resulted in him being made immortal and an omniglot by the Dark Powers, who now wanders the world in his flying ship to challenge any worthy warriors to single combat. The gift of languagues is so that he can insult them in their native tongue, enraging the enemy to the point where they can't refuse the challenge.
  • Dark Sun is quite low on resources, so "combat by champions" is one of traditional ways to settle dispute in the desert.
  • In the Magic: The Gathering set Shards of Alara, the world of Bant has an entire culture founded on this very trope, reflected in the game mechanics with the keyword ability "Exalted", which gives power boosts to any creature that attacks alone. However this cultural ideal quickly becomes a weakness during and after the Conflux, as the other shard's inhabitants do not follow this trope.
    • The card Dueling Grounds imposes this by allowing only one creature to attack and block each turn.
    • The Archenemy scheme Choose Your Champion also fits as well.
    • This is basically what the Dragons Maze on Ravnica was. All 10 Guilds had to choose a champion or 'Maze Runner' and whoever could either survive to the end or reach the end first (with the other Champions trying to kill eachother) would have their Guild essentially become the rulers of Ravnica. Luckily for everyone (and unluckily for a few guilds) the Guildless Planeswalker Jace Beleren won. Much to rival Planeswalker and Izzet Champion Ral Zereks disappointment.
  • Many roleplaying games resolve mass combats this way, using a small sample of both sides' forces to decide the outcome of the entire battle. A few games offer more realistic mass combat systems, but even then this trope often ends up invoked due to Rule of Fun.
  • The Clans in BattleTech have built an entire system and protocol revolving around Combat by Champion. Because of their emphasis on individual honor and glory, there's a strong tendency for opposing factions to "bid" down their forces to the minimum practical amount, selecting a few of their best warriors who meet in a proxy battlefield called the "Circle of Equals". Pretty much every big dispute in Clan life is ultimately solved by a few champions killing each other to decide who's right. These battles are known as Trials, with various types. Trials of Position have Clan warriors fighting for rank, Trials of Possession have Clans fighting for a place or resource, Trials of Refusal have one Clan disputing the actions of another, etc. During the early months of their invasion of the Inner Sphere, they even try this with Inner Sphere forces. The IS factions, not being Proud Warrior Race Guys like the Clans, of course lie about what the number and disposition of their forces. The Inner Sphere takes full advantage of the Clans' honor and naivety at every turn. There were two major exceptions, though: ComStar declared and won the Trial of Possession for Earth against the Clans fair and square; and when the IS finally arrived at the Clans' doorstep, Victor Steiner-Davion declared a Trial of Refusal against the Clans invading the Inner Sphere, and also won that fairly, which ended the Clan Invasion.
  • Spellfire: A player sends out one of his championsnote  to raze an enemy's realm, and the opponent tries to stop it by sending one of his champions to block him.
  • In Traveller, Aslan often do this as a cheap way of solving clan quarrels. of course they do.
  • In Rocket Age traditional Martian warfare is essentially combat by champions, with two small armies meeting in a formally arranged location and a prior agreement on what each side will relinquish if they lose. There are a number of protocols surrounding these arrangements and if any are breached, such either side harming their formal hostages, the arrangement is off and full scale war is the outcome.
  • The Yu-Gi-Oh! card, Last Turn forces the duel into one of these. If you have less than 1000 Life Points left, you choose one monster you have out on the field and the opponent chooses one from their deck, which then battles your monster. Whichever player's monster is left standing wins the duel automatically.

  • This is how the rumble between the Jets and the Sharks in West Side Story was supposed to go, after Tony does some convincing. It goes horribly wrong when a knife gets pulled out during the fight, resulting in the leaders of the Jets and the Sharks both ending up dead, and The Dragon to the Sharks leader deciding to kill Tony.
  • In The Golden Apple, the adaptational equivalent of The Trojan War culminates with Hector arranging a prizefight between Menelaus and Paris. Ulysses accidentally KO's Menelaus while coaching him, takes his spot in the ring and knocks Paris out.
  • The backstory to Hamlet involves a fight between the elder King Hamlet and the elder King Fortinbras to fight for the kingdom of Demark and Norway, respectively. Fortinbras loses.
  • Bertolt Brecht wrote a play, Die Horatier und die Curiatier based on the Roman story (or myth), although here the three champions on each side represent three armies, in the way a general would represent his troops as well in Peking Opera.

  • The tribes in BIONICLE's Bara Manga setting have agreed to settle disputes this way to save resources and because the last time they went to war, it damn near destroyed the planet. As a result, these Gladiator Games have become a Matter of Life and Death (though it's a crime to actually try and kill your opponent, especially if they've already conceded). Subverted when a new tribe joins the system and raises an army anyway.

    Video Games 
  • Suikoden
    • Routinely done in the series, through the Duel system.
    • Part of the back story of Suikoden II involves a duel between the champion of Highland, Han Cunningham, and the one of the City States of Jowston, Genkaku (who is Riou and Nanami's adopted grandfather), to end the long war between the two nations. Which turns out to be just one of many temporary ceasefires between them.
    • In Suikoden V, who the Crown Princess of Falena marries is determined by a tournament. Generally, the nobles don't fight themselves, sending champions or other representatives in their place. The current queen's husband, Ferid, shook things up by representing himself and winning; during the game's early Inevitable Tournament, Belcoot hopes to do the same. Despite the Big Bad's own champion being incredibly strong, Belcoot proves formidable enough that the villains drug him before the fight just to be sure. Late in the game, the hero has the option of either dueling said champion himself or letting one of the gladiators he's befriended (including Belcoot) do it for him. While technically this is still combat by champion, it's also a grudge match for all four of them, given that the Big Bad's champion is a particularly vile person with a penchant for Kick the Dog.
  • The first Heavy Gear video game has the player partake on a one-on-one fight against a single enemy Gear to settle a final standoff between two enemy landships, both immobilized and forced to either pound each other into submission with their guns or settle this "with honor."
  • In the Romance of the Three Kingdoms video games by Koei, an officer in battle may attack by challenging an enemy officer to a duel. The winning officer usually captures the loser, with the loser's unit routing with their commander gone. Usually it's damn near impossible to get the computer to duel unless it believes it will obviously win or else has no chance to win in continued combat. Usually, declining to duel damages morale.
    • Similar duels also take place in Dynasty Warriors, which is based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms, but annoyingly only at the computer's discretion. Players cannot initiate them. The computer is more willing to initiate them in this series, however. Declining still hurts player morale.
    • Other Koei games feature this, like Celtic Tales: The Balor of Evil Eye and Uncharted Waters: New Horizons.
  • In Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal, whilst merrily invading Sendai's Enclave, the player gets the option to face the captain of a Drow war-party in single combat. The catch: the Beholder enforcing the duel casts a Geas spell on both groups, so that whichever champion that fails causes their entire party to die instantly. The Beholder himself, who is on the side of the Drow, does not die, having had the good sense not to include himself in the spell. Then you chat with him for a while. He's really quite pleasant.
  • In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, the Begnion general Zelgius challenges Laguz Alliance general Skrimir to a duel. Skrimir's acceptance was stupid, because not only were Zelgius' abilities superior, but Skrimir was ordered not to move until he was given a signal. His loss destroys Soren's plan and forces the Laguz to do a full-scale retreat. And they were doing so well, too.
  • In Fire Emblem: Awakening, the warrior nation of Regna Ferox holds a tournament to determine who between the eastern and western Khans would rule the entire nation. To prevent blood feuds, each leader chooses champions to fight on behalf of them. For the tournament that takes place in the game, Chrom's Sheperds represent the eastern Khan Flavia, while "Marth" represents the western Khan and incumbent Basilio.
  • The intro to Heroes Chronicles shows the barbarian leader Tarnum being killed in a duel with King Rion Gryphonheart, while their armies watch. Tarnum gets better.
  • Before the Continuity Reboot, this was essentially the plot of League of Legends. The league was formed as a formalized, five a side version of this trope to avoid another world destroying magic war. Many nations in the games world were joining so they could avoid losing a war against Noxus, only for Noxus to beat them in the league and take over anyway.
  • The backstory of the fighting game Bio Freaks was that the combatants were champions of the Divided States of America
  • Indie Turn based strategy title Solium Infernum has this as an option when you declare war.
  • Dragon Age:
    • In Dragon Age: Origins, it's possible to settle the Landsmeet with a duel between Loghain and you or one of your party members. With a certain exception...
    Arl Eamon: Ah, Warden... No. I'm afraid we can't leave the fate of all Ferelden up to your dog. Anyone with a leftover ham bone could buy his allegiance. Choose someone else.
    • Earlier in the game, there's also a knight who demands a duel with the main character. If he dies his friends will accept the outcome and leave quietly. They will only attack if you break the rules and send your other party members to fight as well.
    • The example in Dragon Age II would fit this, if not for the fact that to get to the Qunari leader you have to carve your way through his forces first through the entire city. Once you get to him, you may still have to fight a few more of his grunts to fully earn his respect. You then can either fight the Arishok and his guards (with your entire squad) or just you and the Arishok. Fittingly, after this fight, you are henceforth known as the Champion of Kirkwall.
  • Supposedly, this was one use of Deathwatch in the backstory of MadWorld. Agent XIII wants to end Deathwatch because it's degenerated into a Blood Sport.
  • In Sid Meier's Pirates!, there are many swordfights, against captains of ships/armies. Regardless, once you beat the captain in a swordfight his entire crew/army surrenders. (Also inverted to a degree, at least in the most recent remake: If you're the last member of the crew standing, you'd better be capable of pulling off a flawless victory, or else you'll be forced to surrender the next time you get hit.)
  • Played straight then subverted in the intro to Total War: Shogun 2, where the general of an army besieging a castle sends a champion to fight the champion of the defenders. The duel is played out beautifully, as both imagine they're fighting in a garden surrounded by cherry blossoms (they're really fighting in snow). The champion of the attacking side wins and walks back triumphantly, only to end up with a dozen arrows in his back. The infuriated general orders his forces to attack.
    • Total War: Three Kingdoms includes a challenge mechanic in "Romance" mode, where a general or sub-commander can issue a challenge to one of their opponents. The two meet for a Dynasty Warriors style duel while the rest of the battle rages around them; losing does result in a minor morale drop, and the possible capture/death of the champion can definitely hamper the army's effectiveness in the field the next time they march out to do battle.
  • It's revealed in the backstory to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic that the Mandalorian Wars ended shortly after Revan killed Mandalore the Ultimate in single combat. While normally this would result in a very short interregnum period, while they chose a new Mandalore, Revan took Mandalore's mask and hid it on a remote planet. Without this symbol of power, the Mandalorians couldn't choose a new leader, and the war quickly came to an end. The novel Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan reveals where Revan hid the mask (it was in the tomb of the Sith Emperor's half-brother).
  • Centurion: Defender of Rome has fleet battles represented by the two flagships fighting. The trope is subverted, since winning the flagship battle can still cause the rest of your ships to be destroyed.
  • In the Gold Box game Pool of Radiance, the party is ordered to deal with a lizardman colony that is threatening Phlan. While it's entirely possible to eradicate the lizardmen altogether, you can also resolve the matter by settling an internal conflict between the elderly (and relatively peaceful) chieftain of the tribe and a younger insurgent who's the main reason why Phlan wants the lizardmen dealt with in the first place (and he's also taking orders from the game's Big Bad). The conflict is settled in this trope's manner. The chieftain is too old to fight, so he's allowed to select a champion to fight in his place (read: one of your party).
  • Parodied with some Surprisingly Realistic Outcome concerning the Turians history in Mass Effect: Leading up to the War on Taetrus, a turian general and a leader of the rebel group Facinus got into a sword fight to decide the fate of Taetrus. When the rebel leader lost, very obviously photo-shopped images started surfacing the next day showing the general cheating in the duel. Facinus used these images as an excuse to declare war anyway.
  • In BattleCry, this has replaced all traditional warfare, which is now banned. (So are guns, so the combat is relatively personal.)
  • In World of Warcraft ogres usually fight and kill one another when they disagree, even for obviously petty issues. Their mortality rate plummeted when a chieftain instituted a law that these arguments would be settled by duels between slaves instead of ogres. Gladitorial combat became a lynchpin of their society and key to their rise as an empire.
  • The Challenge mechanic in Warhammer: Mark of Chaos allows one Hero Units to issue a challenge to another. If it is accepted, they square off with their armies watching (and egging them on), and have an RPG-style duel. The loser's army Retreats.
  • In the first story chapter of For Honor, Holden Cross challenges Hervis Daubeny to Trial by Combat so no one else has to die. Daubeny refuses to fight Cross, who then offers Daubeny to fight his second. Daubeny names the Player Character his second resulting in Combat By Champion.
    • Late in the game during the Samurai campaign, the Orochi challenges Seijuro, the self-proclaimed Emperor, to final duel to decide whether Seijuro or the Orochi's daimyo, Ayu, will rule. In this case,it's because simply killing Seijuro in the siege will lead to an extended civil war which no one can afford right now, because the Samurai's lands have been invaded by the armies of the Knights and Vikings. It doesn't really matter much who wins, as long as someone rules and ends the civil war.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • Hircine, the Daedric Prince of the Hunt will sometimes do this. If Hircine is not participating directly in one of his hunts, he will usually appoint a lesser Daedra (such as the Herne Egahirn in Battlespire) or a great were-beast to do the hunting instead. According to the 16 Accords of Madness, Hircine and Sheogorath agreed to a battle in this fashion. Each would choose a champion, and the two champions would battle. Hircine infected an ancient Daedroth with lycanthropy to serve as his champion. Sheogorath chose...a song bird. Hircine's champion ends up blinding itself and tearing itself apart while struggling to hit the song bird.
    • In the backstory, King Joile of Daggerfall convinced Gaiden Shinji, the legendary Redguard hero and leader of the Order of Diagna, to join him in the Siege of Orsinium (the home city-state/fortress of the Orcs). Joile then convinced Shinji, the Blademaster and founder of the Imperial City Arena, to participate in a Combat By Champion Duel to the Death against the Orc leader, Baloth Bloodtusk. As Shinji and Baloth were fighting, Joile ordered his archers to open fire on both of them. As it turned out, Joile not only wanted to sack Orsinium, but planned to invade Hammerfell after and knew that Shinji would have been a major obstacle. (Joile would get his comeuppance, dying during what would be a failed invasion of Hammerfell.)
    • In Morrowind, to get his support in the Great House Hlaalu questline, you must defeat councilor Dram Bero's champion in the Vivec arena. Naturally, you have no choice but to represent yourself.
  • During the opening of Ghost of Tsushima, a Samurai is sent to face the Mongol army on Tsushima's shore. He speaks his name, a bit of his noble family history, and requests they send their finest warrior for the customary Duel to the Death. In response, the leader of the Mongol forces steps forward to splash wine on the samurai, set him on fire with a torch, and slice his head off as he burns to death. Both the samurai's attempt at invoking this trope and the response from the Mongols are very much Truth in Television; see the Real Life section below.
  • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga: This is a gameplay mechanic in the remake's game mode Minion Quest: The Search for Bowser. Captain Goomba has a unique option that allows him to challenge his opposing team's captain to single combat. As defeating the captain is an Instant-Win Condition via Decapitated Army, it can be useful as a last-ditch strategy.
  • In Path of Exile's Siege of the Atlas expansion the Exile becomes the champion of The Maven as two other eldritch entities encroach upon her territory. They can't fight each other for fear of tearing apart the cosmos in the process, so determine ownership by having their favored mortals battle each other.
  • In Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward, Alphinaud and Tataru are arrested in Ishgard by members of the Heaven's Ward under the suspicion of heresy. Alphinaud invokes the right to Trial by Combat against their accusers to prove their innocence. While Alphinaud fights for himself, Tataru is a Non-Action Guy and so names the Warrior of Light as her Champion to fight on her behalf.

  • Champions of Far'aus: A Downplayed example with the Champions tournament from the start of the story, as the purpose of the tournament seems to have been simply for the sake of seeing which deity has the strongest champion. Since some of the deities have a large number of followers besides their respective champions, this is likely done as a far less destructive alternative to pitting all of their forces against each other to see who is the best.
  • In Spacetrawler, Emily realizes that her side is outgunned in a space dogfight. She contacts the leader of the opposing side, Kuu-drahc, and goads him into agreeing to call off the space battle so the two of them can fight, hand-to-hand, on the planet below.
  • Redcloak and a master cleric have one of these in The Order of the Stick, as Redcloak's armies are overrunning Azure City. Redcloak explicitly takes the offer for no other reason than to prevent his troops from being needlessly slaughtered (as he is currently winning the battle), and subverts protocol by killing all the human bystanders afterwards anyway. Granted, knowing the Azurites, they probably would have done the same thing to his goblin troops as well.
  • This dynamic evolved in the world of Super Temps because of the Super Poer Lotttery. Most people have a useless power for combat and didn't want to die pointlessly in a battle that would always boil down to whichever side has a stronger champion who could steamroll everyone except the other champion.

    Web Original 
  • In Episode 20 of World's Greatest Adventures, Rufus Hooter Talltales finds himself an unwilling participant in one of these, due to his endless bragging making the alien invaders mistake him for the Earth's greatest champion.
  • In The Gamer's Alliance, Captain Ismail of the Black Guard and Dreadlord Leraje of the Northern Horde fight a duel to the death to determine the fate of the city of Vanna: if Ismail wins, the demons will retreat. However, the horde has no intentions of keeping the bargain so no matter which way the duel ends, they will invade Vanna. The heroes suspect as much so they use the duel as a means to distract and stall the demons long enough to free the demons' captives and hopefully catch the horde by surprise and perhaps assassinate a few of the demon commanders while they're at it.
  • Imperium Nova: One of many uses for hired retainers.
  • The "Worst vs. Worst" duel between the Wetalds and Callas from Doraleous & Associates is a combination of this and a Wimp Fight.

    Western Animation 
  • In the climax of Amphibia, King Andrias launches his invasion of Earth, but offers to call it off if Anne Boonchuy can defeat him in single combat. Since Anne has the advantage of a Super Mode, Andrias levels the playing field by showing up in a Humongous Mecha and aiming to stall her until she runs out of power. It almost works, but the discovery of a letter from his former companion Lief completely destroys his will to fight and he allows Anne to win, calling the invasion off.
  • In Ben 10: Alien Force, this isn't just a battle of honor, it's intergalactic law when it comes to invading armies that their two strongest warriors can fight to decide the winner, which Vilgax uses to conquer 10 worlds.
  • Samurai Jack had Jack in a battle with Aku to settle things once and for all, but Jack couldn't use his sword and Aku had to be human and not use his powers. Aku cheated right from the start. Too bad that Jack expected it...
  • In one episode of The Transformers, Megatron proposes an honor duel between himself and Optimus Prime, with both sides to be bound by the results. Megs proceeds to cheat; hands up all who are surprised by this shocking twist.

    Real Life 
  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church orders the excommunication of anyone willingly involved in a duel unless it falls under this trope.
  • In A History of Warfare John lKeegan records observations of primitive tribes who would settle quarrels by assembling at a ceremonial place where the young men would shoot at each other with bows and the elders would watch, ready to intervene if it got too bloody.
  • The trope was common for a Roman soldier, at least early in the Republic's history. The Horatii vs the Curiatii (3 on 3), and the original Torquatus and Corvus/Corvinus were famous examples. And there was the idea of the spolia opima or ("Rich Spoils"), an enemy commander's armour taken from him in single combat by a Roman commander. This was the highest military honour a Roman could achieve, and exceedingly rare. Romulus was one of only three or four to ever take them.
  • In 545 BC, The Spartans and their arch rivals the Argives both sent exactly 300 of their best men for a battle. The battle ended with two surviving Argives and only one remaining Spartan. The Argives considered themselves victors because they had more men left alive while the Spartans felt they had won because their man had stayed put while the two Argives had run off to tell about their victory. Since neither side was willing to concede defeat, a conventional battle was needed to settle matters, which the Spartans won.
  • In the A.D. 624 Battle of al-Badr, the Muslim and Meccan armies each sent out three champions before the battle. The battle was still fought, after two Muslim victories and one Mutual Kill, but the result demoralized the Meccan army.
  • When the Muslim armies were invading the Sassanid Empire during the early Islamic expansion, it was common for Sassanid and Muslim commanders to engage in a public duel before the battle, on the ground between the armies. The battles would often hinge on these combats, as the loss of the commander would demoralize the losing side and make it much easier to rout them.
  • Largely subverted by the Mongols. The Mongols were the most highly organized and disciplined warriors for their time. During the Mongol invasions of Europe and Japan (both highly devoted to individual combat), the other side would oftentimes send out champions, as per custom. The Mongols would usually greet them with a shower of armor-piercing arrows. As the Japanese poem Hachiman Gudōkun states: “According to our manner of fighting we must first call out by name someone from the enemy ranks, and then attack in single combat. But the Mongols took no notice at all of such conventions. They rushed forward all together in a mass, grappling with any individuals they could catch and killing them."
  • Up until the Mongols turned up, this was the standard way of battle in Japan: combatants would not only declare their names and their desire to duel, they'd recite large amounts of their family history as well.
  • There was one in 1351 during the Breton War of Succession, The Combat of the Thirty. Actually didn't have any effect on the outcome of the war, but, hey, Rule Of Panache!
  • The A.D. 1380 Battle of Kulikovo Pol'e ("the field of snipes") was opened by the Russian and Mongol armies each putting forth a champion before the battle, probably in hopes of inspiring the winner's side. The Mongols sent Temir-murza, while the Russians sent the Warrior Monk Alexander Peresvet. Both champions died in the fight, and the battle proper took place thereafter. The Russians won the day.
  • The Battle of the North Inch was a formally defined group combat between 30 representatives from each of two Scottish clans to settle a dispute between them. In some versions of the tale, they were fighting over who got the honor of a more significant field position in an upcoming battle against a mutual enemy.
  • When forces led by Vlad III Dracula and Vladislav II of Wallachia met at Târgșor, the two commanders agreed to settle the matter through personal combat. Dracula killed Vladislav in the duel and began his second reign as voivode of Wallachia.
  • During the siege of Cuzco, where Francisco Pizarro's brothers and their native allies were besieged by an Inca rebel army, one of the Inca captains challenged the defenders to a duel. The Pizarros' native lieutenant, Chilche, accepted and came out to fight, and eventually defeated his opponent and beheaded him with his battle axe. The result ultimately decided nothing, but it still demoralized completely the Inca because Chilche was a prince of the Cañaris, a tribe that had been previously subjected (brutally) to them, and his victory was seen as a symbol of their revenge.
  • The 1602 Battle of Teișani between Wallachia and the Crimean Khanate ended with a duel between the Khan's son-in-law and the Wallachian commander Stroe Buzescu. Stroe won but was heavily wounded and died a few days later.
  • Prior to an 1810 battle between the Mthethwa and Buthelezi tribes in Africa, a young Shaka Zulu, at the time a common soldier in the Mthethwa army, defeated a Buthelezi champion in a duel and went on to lead the Mthethwa army to victory. Shaka earned a promotion for this and took his first step on a journey that would see him rise to become one of the most powerful emperors in African history.
  • In the War of 1812, HMS Shannon challenged the USS Chesapeake to a Cool Versus Awesome Combat by Champion. The Shannon won in a contest that was short but within its time one of the bloodiest and toughest engagements of the age of Wooden Ships and Iron Men.
  • Sitting Bull had a battle scar from a duel with a champion from a rival tribe.
  • The former vice-president of Iraq, Taha Yassin Ramadan, once suggested that Saddam Hussein challenge George W. Bush to this.
  • Markus Persson, creator of Minecraft, combined this with Trial by Combat when he proposed to settle a copyright dispute between his own company Mojang and rival company Bethesda over whether the former is allowed to make a game by the name of Scrolls... by means of a Quake match between each company's three best players. Alas, Bethesda rejected it. Of course, this has now been rendered completely moot as Scrolls would be renamed Caller's Bane in 2018.
  • Suggested by the current head of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People's Republic to the President of Ukraine as a means for resolving the ongoing military conflict in Eastern Ukraine. He even said that the president can pick the place and weapons for the duel. Naturally, it isn't likely to happen.
  • A variation of this was found in the politics of English-speaking peoples. While such things could indeed be as bloody as they were in other parts of the world, much of the time ideological and ethnic conflict was held to the level of the political Trash Talk we are still familiar with today. With one caveat, that it could often lead to dueling. In fact, in some parts, dueling was a politician's proof of virility and his worthiness to represent his faction. In a sense, political dueling, like the numerous duels between abolitionists and pro-slavery activists, was a kind of Combat By Champion.


Video Example(s):


Barter By Combat

Tendi demands Barter by Combat, with both sides choosing a champion to fight on their behalf. If the Cerritos champion wins, D'Erika agrees to lend them a battleship for their mission, but if her champion wins they must handover the Cerritos to her.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / CombatByChampion

Media sources: