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Duels Decide Everything

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Brauno: I hope we don't run into any gang-bangers on the way home.
Onomatopeia: Don't worry Brauno, they usually challenge you to duel first, and they'll leave you alone if you win.

A Sub-Trope of Adventure-Friendly World. In a World… where Card Games, Mon-battling, sports, or What Have You is Serious Business, conflict resolution often boils down to a Card Game, Mon-battle, Foo-off, or whatever-bout.

Every problem will inevitably lead to a climactic battle of Mahjong, or Uno, or the like. Is The Hero facing the threat of war? A terrible plague? An economic recession? Inevitably, there's a tangible villain responsible for it, and the solution is for the hero to confront them and beat them in whatever the story is about. If you're watching Tales of the Knights of St. Bob you're probably looking at a swordfight waiting to happen, but it's equally possible that you're watching something like Super Table Football Superstar and after an interminable mutual glare, one party will dramatically challenge the other to a game of table football.

Everyone has absolute respect for the authority of the fu-du-jour to decide who gets to walk away the winner. If the "Foo" in Foo Fu is arm wrestling, after Bob has won and is walking away, Alice will not even contemplate the possibility of shooting him in the back. If it's psychic manipulation and Alice has just won a tiring Battle in the Center of the Mind, it will not occur to Bob to jump at her, pin her to the floor and start punching her in the face. And, yes, even if Bob has just lost a game of table football he will just helplessly stand there, shaking his fist in frustration—because, well, what can he do? He's been beaten in a game of table football. Game over for him, really. The best he can hope for is a rematch. Fighting Alice in any way that doesn't involve table football doesn't cross his mind.

This extends beyond just getting the defeated party out of the picture. If the Big Bad has been bested, their whole evil operation will fold up on itself and disappear within the day. The Evil Army will not rally. There is no plan B. The superweapon The Hero managed to destroy while Storming the Castle will have No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup. It's as if some cosmic force had decreed that this conflict be settled with Combat by Champion. Whether the stakes are trivial or world-shatteringly huge, Duels Decide Everything.

If what's at stake is the hand of a (presumed-to-be) Neutral Female, this becomes a kind of Cock Fight. Plot Tailored to the Party may be a broader version of the trope.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bakugan always has the titular mons fighting it out with some kind of board/card game. In this case, it's justified by the fact that the Bakugan race is greatly weakened (i.e. turned into marble-shaped game pieces) when outside of their homeworld, and the cards used in the Bakugan game simulate the conditions of their world and allow them to temporarily manifest in their full forms. Whenever Bakugan aren't forced into their marble forms by their surroundings, they usually avert this trope and fight head-on (something that happens more often in the later seasons).
  • Battle B-Daman has characters shooting the equivalent of marbles known as B-DaBalls in various sorts of games. The heroes frequently go up against villains and all battles occur through said balls.
  • Beyblade features characters doing battle with spinning top-like toys known as beyblades, with the goal to knock an opponent's beyblade over. While a vast portion of the series focuses on Tournament Arcs there's also plenty of defeating bad guys by knocking their fancy tops around.
  • A standard rule in the Battle Spirits franchise. Everything can be determined by playing the titular trading card game, even the fate of the world.
    • In particular, in Battle Spirits Saikyo Ginga Ultimate Zero, the law of Galactic Battle Spirits is incorporated into the plot. Players have to wager something of equal value and the loser must give what they offered to the winner.
  • In Food Wars!, the fu-du-jour is cooking. The manga is set at a cooking school with a ferociously cutthroat curriculum, and the students are actively encouraged to pit themselves against each other. The stakes can be ridiculously high, and school clubs, acres of farmland, and entire careers have been staked in cooking duels. However, the contests are far more formalized than is common. In order to be official, the participants have to agree on a place, a time, an odd number of judges, and the stakes (both parties have to bet something of equal value) and can make additional stipulations if both parties so wish. Then they have to file a formal registration with the school, which will enforce the end result. And, before you ask: Yes, in this universe cooking is serious enough business that a cooking school can enforce these things.
    • Then came issue 140, and the Great Deconstruction began. It turns out that deciding everything with duels doesn't work when the judges are on the take and the authority charged with enforcing the results only enforces the results that benefit the current leadership.
  • Gundam Build Fighters generally avoids this, but has one straight example: When a Loan Shark tries to repossess the hot springs resort where Sei and friends are staying, Mr. Ral recognizes the man as a highly talented Fighter who retired years ago. Because Ral invokes his pride as a Fighter, the shark agrees to stake ownership of the resort on a battle with Sei, Reiji, and Mao.
  • The Legend of Koizumi: Mahjong decides the fate of ENTIRE NATIONS!
  • Magic Knight Rayearth: The princesses of Chizeta, Tatra and Tarta, call off their invasion of Cephiro after Umi beats them both in a duel.
  • Mobile Fighter G Gundam: Every four years, countries all over the world get to use their shiny new Gundams and send out different fighters to beat the ever-living tar out of each other so one country can rule everyone else for four years. It's worked for sixty years, except for that one time where Neo-England won three times in a row, raising international tensions to the point where the next Fight was delayed. Mildly justified by being Combat by Champion, and better than actual wars. Less justified when a country might have a strong fighter but an incompetent (or Obviously Evil in the case of Neo-Hong Kong) government.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury: At the Asticassia School of Technology, it's written in the school rules that anything can be decided with a duel, whether it be for honor, material gain, or even the rights to marriage. What isn't written in the rules is that these duels don't need to be fair. Asticassia is where the children of high-ranking corporate executives go to school, and they're expected to use every resource at their disposal to win. The fact that some people pilot military-grade Ace Customs against stock school models is already stacking the deck, but dirty tricks like rigging an arena's fire sprinklers to go off to interfere with your opponent's weapons systems are considered fair game, or getting a top-of-the-line AI-equipped mech shipped in courtesy of your father to win the duel for you.
  • No Game No Life: In the world of Disboard, EVERYTHING is decided by games. It can be any game, and the person who gets challenged gets to choose which game. Justified by saying that the gods had a war, a horribly bloody conflict between their subjects to decide who is Top God that nearly left the world lifeless, leaving as the winner the only one who stayed out of it - the God of Games. He set up the Magically-Binding Contract game system to decide everything so as to prevent violent conflict. The resulting RPG Mechanics 'Verse is of course perfect for game prodigies Sora and Shiro who quickly ascend to the greatest players in the world.
  • Played with in Pokémon: The Series: While the Mons can legitimately harm and cause destruction, very often the heroes and villains will agree to just stand there and let their partners have the equivalent of a cockfight which will spell the loser's defeat.
    • In his first encounter with Team Rocket, Ash tries to engage them in a fistfight. They quickly invoke the trope and state that all their battles can only be with Pokémon.
    • Averted in Pokémon Adventures: Trainers often fight alongside or in tandem with their monsters, and the full consequences of superpowered pocket monsters is explored. Why use a missile when Hyper Beam works just as well? Or why kill a Trainer when you can just freeze him in a block of ice? Furthermore, while official League battles and friendly matches play out similarly to the games, all rules are out the window in life-and-death struggles: Trainers will field as many Pokémon as they feel necessary, up to the full six (sometimes even more!) at once, and they will attack the enemy Trainer just as readily if they're given a chance.
    • Pokémon RéBURST, on the other hand, averts this almost completely: Instead of the usual Pokémon cockfights to settle quarrels, human characters regularly duke it out in Shonen-style combat, with mons serving to boost their own power through a Fusion Dance rather than to fight on their behalf.
  • Ranma ˝ plays with this. On the one hand, as much as the main characters often try to invoke this trope, it's shown to never actually work — so, for example, Mousse's efforts to make Shampoo fall in love with him by beating Ranma's head in never makes her change her feelings. On the other hand, most of the filler stories do revolve around characters sorting their problems out by who wins or loses a fight.
    • Also justified as Ranma's "Anything Goes" school of martial arts thrives on mastering other schools and adding their skills to his own. He will go through the grueling effort of mastering even the most absurd schools if it means he can get even the slightest improvement out of it. That, and he considers it a matter of pride to beat his opponents at their own game.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! is the Trope Codifier where all villains are defeated through playing a trading card game known as Duel Monsters. While the card games are made very surreal through holographic technology, at the end of the day the majority of battles can be boiled down to two people laying down pieces of paper on a fancy wrist-mounted game interface. Some justification is given over the seriousness of it when The Game Come to Life, and losing said games can equal death. Especially when more supernatural elements from villains are thrown in with the cards.
    • Averted in "Dawn of the Duel" where ancient Egyptians didn't play with trading cards but summoned real monsters that were powered by their own life forces. The consequences are also very real as the monsters can attack civilians and destruction of a monster can result in the master's death.
    • Subverted at one point in the Duelist Kingdom arc. Yugi challenges Saruwatari/Kemo to a duel over the fate of Mokuba, Kemo agrees and has Ventriloquist (or Kaiba's dark side in the dub) serve as his proxy. Yugi eventually wins... and sees that Kemo took Mokuba back to his cell some time during the duel. Pegasus wasn't going to risk his leverage over Kaiba in a duel after all.
    • Played with in the Virtual World arc. The Big Five challenge the main characters to duels, with the stipulation that if they win they will take over the loser's body. After being defeated the try to do so by force (making the duels completely pointless), only to be stopped by Noah (twice). Turns out Noah is the one who thinks that duels decide everything, but it isn't entirely clear why. Noah himself also uses a combination of trickery and force to ultimately take over Mokuba's body, his duel with Kaiba was more about a vendetta than anything else. Presumably he wanted to humiliate Kaiba by defeating him in a children's card game, and then take over a body.
    • In the anniversary movie, the villain Paradox tries to go back in time to prevent the spread of Duel Monsters by killing Pegasus... and he willingly stakes his mission on the outcome of a duel with Yugi, Jaden/Judai and Yusei. So basically, he tried to stop Duel Monsters... using Duel Monsters? Huh. No wonder he's named "Paradox".
    • Ironically enough, the original manga series and Toei series are a bit different, though still following the trope. Dark Yugi has demonic powers which he can use to punish anyone he defeats in any game of luck or skill. Even when he stops using these powers after a load of Character Development, the villains frequently have those same powers.
    • In Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, one episode has Jaden/Judai agree to duel a guy with the stakes being that whoever wins becomes Alexis/Asuka's fiancée. She did not agree to those stakes and our idiot hero doesn't even know what "fiancée" means, but the duel ends up happening anyway because he can't turn down a challenge.
    • In Season 2, Jaden/Judai tries challenging the season's villain from taking over the world. But he's already specifically ensured that his evil plan doesn't require him to duel our hero at any point. When Jaden/Judai challenges him to a duel for the fate of the world, he declines, because he has everything he needs. He does eventually duel anyway, but only because unexpected circumstances force him into it.
    • In the very first episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, Yusei tries to distract the police while his friends get to safety. One of the officers, who just so happens to be a duelist, challenges Yusei to a Riding Duel, and if Yusei wins, he gets to go free, despite being accused of having stolen a computer chip for his D-Wheel. And ultimately, in the big, climactic battle between Yusei and Z-ONE, the fate of Neo Domino City comes down to a Card Game on Flying Motorcycles!
    • In Yu-Gi-Oh! ARC-V, the main and supporting characters act more realistically and avert this trope for the first time, though it still pops up on some occasions. The Security of the Synchro Dimension are based on 5D's Security, but there are some differences. Notably, the Duel Chasers can challenge the criminals in a Riding Duel and if they win, they will arrest them. If they lose, however... their D-Wheels will just stop, but other Security officiers will still try to arrest the criminals, no matter what. The only reason they duel the criminals in the first place is to give the Tops, who are the richest people of City, a good show to entertain them. And when it's clear that they can't capture someone by dueling, they instead detain said persons through sheer force and numbers alone, and don't even give the duelist a chance to duel and fight back.
    • Just because the card game has magical properties doesn't mean a duel is always needed. When the Lancers are escaping prison, they use duel monsters to do things like barricade doors, catch them from falling, and distract opponents instead of challenging anyone to a duel.
    • Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS goes back and forth on this. On one hand, the rules of the VRAINS system mean that anyone that wants to capture an Ignis has to duel the Ignis or the person who has it. On the other, there are cases where the characters agree to the duel as a matter of honor rather than necessity. Revolver, for example, stakes the success of his final plan in season 1 on beating Yusaku, even though he would win simply by refusing.

    Comic Books 
  • One Judge Dredd comic included a heavily satirical televised battle between the Soviet and American cities. Each battle is five-on-five, no holds barred, and the winner is awarded a piece of territory. This form of warfare works for a while, but does not prevent a nuclear war later on.
  • Transformers:
    • One issue has an ancient Autobot overlord attempt to get two warring city-states to settle their differences through gladiatorial games. As you might expect, it didn't work out as much as he hoped it would.
    • There was one issue where the winner of a video game gets the MacGuffin of the day and the loser gets exploded. Naturally, Megatron cheats. Naturally, Optimus wins anyway. Naturally, since Optimus won in the end by sacrificing NPCs where he would not have sacrificed actual civilians, he considers himself the loser and orders his own death. Wait, what?
    • The Transformers: Windblade: On the Lost Colony of Velocitron, everything from social standing to government positions to taxes is decided by racing. Their cultural obsession with speed derives from the fact that Velocitron's dayside is hot enough to melt metal, so their cities and their people had to be constantly mobile.
    Moonracer: I raced for a while, and made a name for myself by keeping pace with the city for an entire day. It's why I was made ambassador to Cybertron.
    Ironhide: No offense, but how does bein' fast make you a good ambassador?
    Moonracer: Between you, me, and the Titan, I agree with you. But that's not how things work here.
  • In Uncanny X-Men #201, the question of who was going to lead the X-Men was not decided by e. g. putting it up to the members' vote, but in a Danger Room duel between Cyclops and a depowered Storm.
    • In theory, this would at least have the benefit of proving which one of them was a better fighter and combat tactician, which is a pretty important qualification for the leader of a fighting unit. In practice, all it demonstrated was that Storm had the Writer on Board, since- while both were established badasses- only one could defeat an opponent just by looking at them. (Indeed, it was eventually retconned that Cyclops's wife psychically threw the fight.)
  • Happens twice in W.I.T.C.H., both times with good reasons:
    • At the end of the Twelve Portals Arc, Phobos challenges his sister and legitimate ruler Elyon to a duel for the throne because he knows that he'd otherwise be overpowered by her and the Guardians of Kandrakar, and Elyon accepts because she wants to deal with him personally.
    • In a later two-parter story the villain challenges the Guardians to various confrontations because she knows she'd be quickly dispatched if she tried to confront them directly.
    • Note that the Guardians normally try and avoid it: when Elyon accepted her brother's challenge they immediately tried to rush him anyway, dealt with Cedric after Phobos, who was expecting such a move, forced them to, and when they found out that Phobos had won the duel they proceeded to overturn the result; and in the later issue, their reply to the challenge was to try and blast her, only to find out that they had no choice but take her in the one-on-one duels.
  • "Trouble Bogie," a story with The Powerpuff Girls, has Fuzzy Lumpkins setting up home on a golf course and chasing off all the duffers. When the girls do battle with him to the point of exhaustion, Fuzzy challenges Blossom to a banjo duel. Set up like the two are playing the song "Dueling Banjos," Blossom wins when Fuzzy's banjo breaks a string.

    Fan Works 
  • Since the core of Friday Night Funkin' is the Player Character facing off against various opponents via Rhythm Game-based rap battle, naturally the vast array of Game Mods feature various uses of this trope.
    • Zig Zagged in regards to The Tricky Mod. On one hand, Tricky is an Ax-Crazy undead clown who's quite a dangerous Reality Warper thanks to his Improbability Drive. On the other, he's a Fair-Play Villain who's M.O is toying with his opponent by giving them a chance to fight. When rapping against Boyfriend though, his Sore Loser aspects start shining through after "Improbable Outset" when he attempts to whack Boyfriend with a sign in hand before being interrupted by Hank. By the end of "Hellclown", Demon Tricky appears successfully deterred until Hank enrages him all over again, which would've ended badly for Boyfriend had it not been for the Deus ex Machina implied to be IRIS that warps him away.
    • Vs Sonic.exe provides a Justified example for why Boyfriend can fight against various dangerous opponents via rap battle. By the start Sonic.exe appears to play along with Boyfriend's rap battle challenge, but he immediately tries to apprehend Boyfriend after not taking the loss well, only to be stopped by Girlfriend intervening both times. Girlfriend's demon heritage gives her the power to protect Boyfriend from all manners of threats; if exe wants to get to Boyfriend, it's through their own terms via rap battle.
    • Overhaul mod HoloFunk mostly averts / justifies the trope. Most of the opponents fought in a rap battle are of various hololive talents who have no interest in conflict with Aloe / Fubuki due to being close friends / asociates, with the battles often being about testing the skill of the Player Character or to pass the time. Only a few could be considered dangerous enough for this trope to be considered Played Straight, but it's Justified all the same.
      • Week 2: Gura and Amelia finds themselves meeting with Aloe in a seemingly abandoned mansion, with Ame deciding to challenge her in hopes of the storm ending by the time they're done. Meanwhile, Haachama is Haachama; she for one reason or another decides to engage Aloe in a rap battle to "prepare" her for a dish. Though by the end of her song, she decides to forgo whatever promises she made to eat them all as is were it not for Daddy Dearest intervening and reprimanding her.
      • Week 4: Kiryu Coco would want nothing more than to help out Aloe with Botan's situation with the Dearest clan, but her status as Chairman of the Kiryu Clan prevents her from using her powers behind the scenes for no cost or condition. So, she challenges Aloe to a rap battle as the condition, knowing full well that she'll pass with flying colors.
      • Week 5: Calli wants vengeance against Santa Claus, who she mistakes Ina for due to her wearing a Santa outfit for an August promotional sale, so Aloe tries to keep her from doing anything drastic by engaging her in a rap battle. Kiara, while also trying to convince Calli of her mistake, plays along to also have the excuse of being in close proximity of her.
      • Freeplay song "Killer Scream" against Uruha Rushia has Aloe/Fubuki convince her to sing with them, with her agreeing to it under the pretense it'd be more fun than thrashing them for trespassing, though she warns them: "Screw up, and your done." And she's not kidding.
  • While the story plays this trope straight a few chapters later, the four-series Yu-Gi-Oh! crossover fanfic Yu-Gi-Oh! 4D Love Surpassing Time subverts it briefly in Chapter 3: Zaman tricks Yuma into accepting a Duel, then speeds himself up, knocks Yuma down, and kidnaps Kotori without following through with the challenge.
  • In the Persona 4 fanfiction Into the Fog, the female protagonist, Narukami Rei, has a duel with her shadow within her mind to determine if she was worthy of possessing her power. If she had lost the duel, her potential would have been lost as well. Due to her victory, she was given the option of being able to sign the contract.
  • Pokémon Clover: Big Bad Vyglass gleefuly chucks this trope out of the window when confronted atop Mt. Clover. Rather than engage the player in a traditional Pokemon battle, he instead fights your mons directly in a mechsuit.
  • In Pokémon Strangled Red, the eponymous hacked game starts with a rival battle between brothers Steven and Mike. The reason for the battle is that the two are arguing about the respective merits of Charmander and Squirtle.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!'s tendency to do this is mocked mercilessly in Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series and is a common source of humor:
    Joey: What do you people want from me?
    Bandit Keith: Your Star Chips, dweeb. I have a score to settle with Pegasus, so Zombie-Boy here is going to beat you in a card game!
    Joey: ...Why didn't you just take my star chips while I was unconscious?
    Bandit Keith:: Shut the hell up!note 
    Yugi: Pharaoh, we're in deep trouble. What should we do?
    Yami: Have you tried playing a card game with someone?
    Yugi: Well, that doesn't really apply to this situation.
    Yami: Strange, that usually works.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The 1998 Made-for-TV Movie Future Sport, where the title game was invented as a substitution for gang violence and ends up being used to avoid a war.
  • In The Luck of the Irish, Kyle tries to trick an evil leprechaun named Seamus McTiernan by betting that he can beat the guy at sports. Seamus agrees (being unable to resist a bet) but chooses "traditional Irish sports" like hurling, step-dancing, wrestling, and javelin-throwing. Surprisingly, Kyle manages to tie the leprechaun, but Seamus insists that a tie is not "beating" him, so Kyle bets his freedom on a game of basketball. Of course, he realizes that he doesn't need the titular luck after all and beats the bad guy.
  • Robot Jox: In the future, we've solved the Cold War by using giant mecha duels to resolve international disputes rather than warfare. The duels are treated like sporting events by the civilian population. In the film, the latest battle between the USA and USSR is over ownership of Alaska.
  • General Patton in Patton wishes World War II could be decided like this.
    Patton: 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.
  • Whilst guns and such DO make the occasional appearance, most of the problems in The Fast and the Furious series are solved by car racing... somehow.
  • Ultimately subverted in Rock–Paper–Scissors: The Way of the Tosser, a Mockumentary about Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Baxter, The Rival, challenges Gary, The Hero, to a round of Rock–Paper–Scissors over who gets their mutual love interest, Holly. Baxter wins, but Holly loves Gary, and in the end, Baxter is unable to do anything about that, so his victory amounts to squat.
  • Mortal Kombat:
    • In Mortal Kombat: The Movie, there's no way that the Earth could defeat Outworld if Outworld invaded, but by decree of the Elder Gods, first Outworld has to win ten consecutive Mortal Kombat tournaments — and they've won nine so far.
    • In Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, after Earth's victory in the first film, Shao Kahn refuses to abide by this and just invades by force. When Rayden goes to ask the Elder Gods about this, they just shrug and say that they don't control the destiny of men. Then the other Elder Gods double subvert this trope by opening a tournament when Liu Kang faces off with Shao Kahn, thus stripping Shao Kahn of his immortality and forcing him to fight "fairly".
    The fate of the universe will be decided as it should be... in MORTAL KOMBAT!
  • In Future Sport, the protagonist (a pro-player of the eponymous sport) decides to solve a dispute between two global powers by staking the fate of some disputed territory on a game. Despite being a rather campy cyberpunk movie, it manages to deconstruct the trope, with characters agreeing it's an insane idea, but ultimately it works out because of the propaganda coup from winning (and the fact that the villains' sabotage attempts lead to their leader being captured).

  • Attempted at the beginning of The Iliad, when Greeks and Trojans agree to decide the outcome of the Trojan War (then already in its tenth year) by a duel between Menelaus and Paris. Menelaus is winning when Paris's sponsor, the goddess Aphrodite, decides to rescue him, and starting with that things rapidly deteriorate and the war recommences.
  • In Livy's History of Rome, when Rome and Alba Longa fight for supremacy, they agree to avoid a costly war (which would only invite an attack by their powerful Etruscan neighbors) by deciding the conflict in a fight between three Roman brothers, the Horatii, and three Alban brothers, the Curiatii. In the end, two Horatii and all three Curiatii were dead, so Rome won.
  • In the prologue of Knife of Dreams Galad Damodred has dug up a half-forgotten law that gives him the right to Trial by Combat and which, if he wins, should give him command of an army. Subverted when some of the officers of said army accuse him of blatant Loophole Abuse and try to arrest him. Double-subverted when the Commander is so amused by his cockiness that he lets him proceed as planned.
  • In the Codex Alera series, which is based on a Lost Roman Legion/Pokémon crossover (literally - the author asked forum participants for two of the most ridiculous prompts possible to base a story on, and that's what he got), Citizens have the legal right to a "juris macto" — a duel to the death to settle disputes out of court. It is often threatened but only explicitly happens twice in the series. Instead, the challenge is used to show intent; once the challenge is made, the other party is more likely to listen or back down.
  • Like the The Wheel of Time example, most Westerosi cultures in A Song of Ice and Fire have a tradition of Trial by Combat which can be invoked by any defendant of noble blood. No matter how obviously guilty the defendant is, if they (or their appointed champion) wins the trial, all parties are honor-bound to respect the decision. In a bit of a subversion, there is also a tradition of Combat by Champion, but it only applies if both parties agree to it, and the superior force never agrees because their victory is near-assured so they have nothing to gain. On the one occasion where it's offered by the superior force, the inferior force refuses on the grounds that they can't trust the superior force to honor the agreement.
  • In the Honor Harrington series, formal duels show up in Field of Dishonor. They're mentioned as generally frowned upon, but apparently reneging on a challenge is so dishonorable that a naval officer can't get away with it, even when they already know their opponent is a professional duelist hired to murder him. Honor's nemesis has said professional duelist murder her lover, so she challenges him to a duel to settle the score. Because Honor is a Hero with Bad Publicity, she takes flak from her peers both for challenging him to the duelnote  and for killing him, even though he obviously cheated and shot her before the ten count.
  • Invoked, subverted, and averted in various PG Wodehouse Golf stories, usually involving golf matches to decide who would marry some young lady, often without her knowledge.
  • Justified in Card Force Infection when it comes to infected players; part of the curse of the infection is that they must accept, and they and anyone they play against will be magically compelled to abide by any terms of victory declared before the match. Even if they don't have their deck on hand, the curse will summon it for them. Even if they're so far gone that they're stabbing people, they'll be forced to sit down and play. It's mentioned that this would work with any game, not just Card Force, but that has undesirable side effects that Card Force seems arbitrarily immune to. And it only works with infected players — some uninfected Nephilim just laugh off a challenge from Maxwell because they have no reason to care about his opinion.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Back when the Upright Citizens Brigade had their own Comedy Central show, a third season episode centered on a small town which solved their disputes with log-rolling contests, from "Peanut Butter vs. Jelly" up to "Good vs. Evil."
  • In the 1970 Made-for-TV Movie The Challenge, Darren McGavin plays a rogue soldier sent onto an island for a one-on-one guerilla war with an Asian soldier (Mako) to settle a dispute that could otherwise lead to nuclear war. Both sides cheat like crazy, and eventually McGavin's character decides to let it end in a technical tie, as both combatants decide they are not working for "The Man" anymore.
  • In another 1970 made-for-TV movie (The Love War) two alien races vie for control of the Earth by sending in a set number of soldiers to a deserted town to fight it out. The "bad" aliens cheat their way to victory, dooming the human race.
  • A Running Gag which happens Once per Episode in Harry Hill's TV Burp invokes this trope: "Now, I like [X], but I also like [Y]. But which is better? There's only one way to find out - FIGHT!", followed by an often surreal fight between the two parties.
  • On at least four occasions in The Genius, players have either won or lost the competition based on the results of a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
  • Blake's 7: The episode "Death-Watch" involves two planets who have a tradition of using a gunfight duel between two champions as a substitute for war and other conflicts. When Tarrant's brother gets killed in a rigged contest, Tarrant uses this tradition to challenge the winner in blood feud and avert a real war.
  • Kamen Rider Gaim's movie, "Golden Fruit Cup", has Kouta stumble into an alternate reality where he happens to witness the Forbidden Fruit war between the Beat riders be solved with a football match. It Makes Just As Much Sense In Context.
  • In Kamen Rider Saber, divisive personal disputes and doubts are solved by challenging whoever inspired them. This complicates things for Touma because he has neither the time nor energy to deal with being forced into a string of duels to prove the truthfulness and strength of his intentions, with the individual duels sometimes happening at the worst possible moments.
  • Cobra Kai has several important karate duels. At the end of Season 3 the senseis bet their respective dojos on a tournament, with the losers agreeing to close up shop. While training for the tournament, Johnny and Daniel hold a sparring match to decide whose methods are better. In Season 5, Terry Silver wants to enter Cobra Kai in an international tournament (with the intent that winning will allow him to spread his philosophy worldwide), prompting Daniel to apply also, so the judges hold a mini-tournament to see which dojo deserves to go. Nothing actually changes: the agreement from the first tournament is ignored, the match betweeen Johnny and Daniel ends on a double-KO, and both dojos earn a spot in the latter tournament.

  • The rival gangs in the video for "Beat It" by Michael Jackson are planning on settling their differences with a duel between their leaders in the streets, until Jackson enters as a mediator and has them settle their differences with a dance battle.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • In Pro Wrestling, any issue, no matter how heinous, threatening, or illegal, can be settled by getting into the ring and fighting it out. In some of the more extreme cases, this can get handwaved, as the commentators will explicitly say that a wrestler "declined to press charges" in order to get his hands on the other wrestler at the Pay-Per-View this Sunday, only $34.95, call your cable or satellite provider to order now!

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Ars Magica, Certamen decides a dispute between magi of the Order of Hermes, and a not-insignificant chunk of the Code of Hermes is devoted to explaining what this means and when certamen is decisive. Briefly, if something's in dispute, you can certamen for it and the winner wins the dispute. However, you can't use certamen to violate the Code or the legal rights of the other magus, using skill at certamen to bully weaker magi is seriously ill-mannered and can get you in trouble, and the other magus can always declare Wizard's War. Also, the Rhine Tribunal considers outranking your opponent (journeyman, master, archmage) to be equivalent to a certamen victory (and they emphatically do bully their inferiors with this), while the Theban Tribunal (where community spirit and equality are tenets of the Tribunal) try not to use certamen at all where they can help it.
  • Changeling: The Lost: The true fae are Reality Warpers so any duel actually does decide everything, Changelings on the other hand are stuck with less powerful versions.
  • The Dungeons & Dragons (joke) sourcebook The Book of Wondrous Inventions describes a game called "pinkill," a Glantrian sport something like bowling created to resolve disputes between wizards (the previous dispute resolution system, murder, being too prone to cause Collateral Damage when powerful wizards were involved). Wizards being wizards, the game components were usually so heavily and destructively enchanted that it often caused as much real estate damage as direct combat would have.
  • In BattleTech, Clan society's ruling Warrior Caste revolves around various trials to settle more or less everything. When a Clan wants something from another Clan they decree a Trial of Possession for it. In order for a warrior to get a promotion, they must pass a Trial of Position. If they feel like they were insulted by another warrior it's settled with a Trial of Grievances. Matters of Clan policy are usually handled by the decree of the Khan or a vote of the Bloodnamed members of the Warrior Caste; however, these can be challenged by a Trial of Refusal.

    Trials of Position are 1v3 (or 2v6), but the attackers can engage the defenders one at a time. Trials of Grievance are almost always 1v1. Trials of Possession are more like actual combat, but even in battles, Clanners tend to orchestrate combat as a sequence of duels (attacking someone who's fighting someone else on your own side is generally frowned upon). And the odds in a Trial of Refusal are determined by the margin of victory for the vote being refused (so if it was 80% of the vote against you, you have to go 1v4), though given that a victory through overwhelming force is generally considered to show that the victor isn't a particularly skilled warrior (because why would he need to resort to such odds otherwise), the winning side of the vote will typically choose to fight with less than the maximum allowed force unless they really hate their opponent and want to utterly crush them.
    • Trials of Grievance also apply to the other castes (merchant, scientist, etc.) but the rules are much more flexible. They can settle disputes with various kinds of competitions ranging from golf games to drinking contests.
  • Averted in Pokémon Tabletop Adventures. Fights with wild Pokémon are not League-legal, and neither are most fights on the road. Outside of official fights, not only are battles not usually one-on-one duels, but Trainers also get involved in the fighting.
  • In the Blood Bowl universe, the titular game is so popular it has replaced warfare. While the various species still loathe each other as much as in the regular Warhammer Fantasy universe, nobody can get any wars going because most people want to watch the racial animosity play out on the pitch. The Dark Gods even host their own tournament, the Chaos Cup (considered the second-most prestigious tournament) in lieu of invading the realms of mortals with an everchosen because their daemons and worshippers want to play blood bowl instead.
  • In the Fate world, Iron Street Combat, one of its setting statements is that Politics => Fisticuffs and Fisticuffs => Politics. That is, whatever the issue at hand is and whatever factions are, it'll ultimately be settled in the tournament finale, which is why the factions compete to recruit the best champions they can get.

  • Cyrano de Bergerac: Given that the play is a Swashbuckler, this trope would be expected, but then is averted and invoked.
    • Averted at Act I Scene I: there is a duel between gentlemen, but they lampshade it is only a pastime and definitely doesn't decide anything.
    • Averted at Act I Scene IV: Cyrano and De Valvert engage in a Sword Fight. This doesn't decide anything but sets Cyrano as the Spanner in the Works for De Guiche's plans.
    • Invoked at Act V Scene V: Cyrano invokes a Sword Fight with his old enemies (Falsehood, Treachery, Compromise, Prejudice, and Folly) and then with Death itself… but Cyrano admits that he has already lost.

  • In BIONICLE, the residents of Bara Magna decide who owns resources by having gladiator battles (which are more like tournaments, rather than a fight to the death.) Justified, since it prevents the villages from going to war with one another and the last time a full-scale war like that happened, most of the planet was rendered uninhabitable. The battle system was created specifically to avoid another situation like that.

    Video Games 
  • The Tradesmeet subquest in Baldur's Gate II that deals with the Shadow Druids can be resolved this way. When you reach Druid's Grove, you can challenge the leader of the Shadow Druids Faldorn. Only a Druid character can fight her; meaning you will have to send Cernd, Jaheira, or yourself (if you are also a Druid). Winning the battle ends the Shadow Druids' assaults on Tradesmeet. Justified in-universe by the fact that Druids, as part of their reverence for nature, style their hierarchy after pack animals; the leader, or "alpha", only leads so long as A: everyone is content with his/her leadership, and B: a stronger discontented Druid doesn't oust them from their position.
  • In the LOGBOX level of Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Gruntilda is about to implement a plan that will cause the whole console to have to be shut down. However, she tells our heroes that she will cancel the whole thing if they just beat her in a race.
    Kazooie: Huh? If we beat her in a race, she'll call off the plan and leave?
    Banjo: So she says. I was in a similar situation once before, a long time ago, with a genie and a giant pig...
  • Custom Robo: Duels with toy-sized robots are shown right at the beginning to be the perfect way to attempt a robbery. It gets more ridiculous from there. The game goes out of its way to try to justify this, though. It's mentioned a few times that the toy-sized robots use real weapons with live ammunition, operate in bullet time and can be controlled over decent distances (and in Arena one police officer NPC actually does get shot during a fight) — using them as serious weapons makes sense. Dueling with them being their primary use (even when there are safeties that vaporize any stray bullets), not so much. Justified in that it seems custom robo battles can't be escaped, someone can force you into it, and the victory is absolute if the safeties are deactivated: the winner is perfectly fine, but the loser gets knocked out cold, or worse (certain illegal robo parts have the capability to outright kill the loser). And the real reason the robos have been set up as everyone's favorite battling game? To combat a quasi-demonic entity called Rahu that possessed a robo, back before the machines were combat-capable. At the time, it took everything humanity had to force Rahu into hibernation. But a society used to battling with robos all the time is effectively the perfect counter should Rahu ever wake up again.
  • Friday Night Funkin' (as well as the vast majority of its modifications) Exaggerates this due to its Rhythm Game setup. A Boyfriend-Blocking Dad refusing to let you date his daughter? Soldiers and assassins coming after your head? A Laughably Evil Humanoid Abomination wants to eat you alive? An evil spirit trapped within a video game wants to steal your body and escape into the real world? The answer is always the same: beat them in a rap battle.
  • In Inazuma Eleven, football games solve everything. Early on in the first game you even chase off a bunch of thugs by beating them at a football battle.
  • Justified in League of Legends, where most political disputes are resolved through Combat by Champion with strict rules, a system put in place to prevent widespread devastation caused by large-scale magical warfare.
  • In Monkey Island, Insult "X" contests.
    • Subverted with the Monkey Kombat at the end of Escape from Monkey Island, where it's impossible to either win or lose the fight, as the hit points regenerate faster than they can be drained. The trick is to force a tie three times, causing the Big Bad to get frustrated.
    • This is how Ozzie Mandrill manages to get his hands on most of the property in the Caribbean. He simply challenges owners in an Insult game, and, being pirates, they can't back down. Since he's Australian, all his insults are using Aussie slang, and they're unable to come up with good comebacks, being forced to sell to him.
  • Monster Rancher 3 plays with this through Sansha, one of your many rivals. When disputing who has the rights to a waterfall training ground, she challenges you to a duel... a fishing duel. She's remarkably willing to agree to a regular ol' battle when your assistant Fleria protests that neither of you knows how to fish, instead of pressing her advantage.
  • In Mortal Kombat (1992), Outworld is only allowed to invade Earthrealm after winning ten consecutive Mortal Kombat tournaments, due to an arbitration system set up by the Elder Gods. This breaks down in Mortal Kombat 3 due to Loophole Abuse by Shao Kahn, and this aspect of the Mortal Kombat tournaments was abandoned or downplayed in future installments because the rules about who can invade where have become largely unenforceable.
  • Touhou Project:
    • The basic plot behind most of the games: something bad happens, and the protagonists set out to find the ones responsible and Bullet Hell them into submission. The Hakurei Shrine Spellcard Rule System ensures that even in disputes between people with wildly different power levels ranging from insignificant to reality breaking, both sides have at least a semblance of a chance and the conflict is non-lethal.
    • Occasionally, such as in some storylines for Touhou Kaeidzuka ~ Phantasmagoria of Flower View, the battles — and protagonist — don't really decide anything, and the battles only serve to place the player where and when the storyline resolves itself. Losing battles then just means you don't get to see it happen.
    • As virtually any possible plot in the setting could be resolved by getting the right people to come to the right party, proving to the (generally immortal, nigh-unkillable, and non-villainous) antagonists that you survive well enough to be worth remembering and befriending may make this trope fairly rational.
  • Pokémon:
    • Everything is decided by Pokémon duels. Need to go down a road? Pokémon battle. Need to stop Olympus Mons from rampaging? Pokémon battle. Need to thwart villainous plans? Pokémon battle again! The series has been playing around with this trope lately, though.
    • Ghetsis defies this trope for the first time in the main series and orders his Pokémon to freeze you solid before you fight him in the sequel. Although Pokémon Adventures and Pokémon Colosseum did it first.
  • Subverted in fangame Pokémon Uranium. At one point, an evil scientist sends out a bunch of thugs after you. This being a Pokémon game, they'll obviously challenge you and send out some pathetically weak Mons that your well-trained team will tear to pieces, right? Haha, no. They just set up an ambush for you, knock your lights out, confiscate all your Pokéballs, and lock you up in a cell.. Subsequently played straight after you bust out of your cell and retrieve your Pokémon.
  • An example occurs in Professor Layton and the Lost Future. Thugs are expected to use good-old violence to stop interlopers... but here, they toss a puzzle your way instead! The next game introduced Emmy to deal with thugs instead, as a reaction to this.
  • In Puyo Puyo, Puyo matches are the way to go. Someone standing in your way? Puyo match. Thwarting the Big Bad? Puyo match! Someone else trying to thwart the Big Bad? Yep, Puyo match. Winner gets to battle the bad guy after that. Ringo lampshades this left and right.

    Visual Novels 
  • In SC2VN, 1v1 Starcraft matches decide everything.

  • Misfile seems to run street races.
  • Lance from Gold Coin Comics whenever he fights Blake, his rival.
  • The city of Mimaneid in Drowtales runs off of honor duels, with it being standard to carry a staff in case you are challenged, to the point that even some refugees from the city still carry them out of habit. These duels are not to the death and no steel weapons are allowed.
  • Used in Hark! A Vagrant strip "Famous Alexanders":
    Judge: This [cat] is the winner.
    Pushkin: You DARE. Pistols at—
    Judge: You have, like, three other duels at dawn.
  • In Seiyuu CRUSH!, KoiZ and Haruka are set up by Nakatsu to settle their rivalry over Kaji, in a duel behind Flavor. The duel takes place in Scene 10 Duel at Midnight, with a rather comedic start, as neither of them knows just exactly how they are supposed to be dueling.

    Western Animation 
  • Steven Universe: When the Ruby Squad comes to Earth to find the leader of the Earth mission, Steven prevents them from going into the barn hiding Peridot (as he thinks they are looking for her) by making up a rule that says that they can only go into the barn if they win a game of baseball, and if they lose they have to leave Earth forever. The Rubies (including Crystal Gem Ruby, pretending to have been with them all along to sabotage them) play against the team of humans (really just the Crystal Gems poorly disguised as humans); this mainly works because the Rubies are all Super Gullible. The "human" team manages to win... and then Sapphire fuses with Ruby as she's running back to home base, thus exposing them all as Gems.
  • Bojack Horseman: Bojack's father spent most of his life writing a novel in the hopes of making a legacy for himself. When he finally published it, it was panned by critics, so he challenged anyone who didn't like his novel to a duel. For whatever reason, someone accepted, choosing the traditional "take ten steps, then turn and fire" approach. Before they could shoot, however, Bojack's father turned to ask him if he'd actually read the book, causing him to trip on a rock and break his head open.
  • The Popeye cartoon "Duel to the Finish" had Olive trying to make Popeye jealous by wooing Wimpy (ascribing to the way to man's heart is through his stomach). Popeye eventually challenges Wimpy to a duel, and Wimpy claims battle in an eating duel. It's certainly in Wimpy's favor but he concedes to Popeye when an exhausted Olive says she can't cook another thing.
    Popeye: Olive...the next time ya wants to makes me jealous, gives me some notice so I can diets fer it! (groans)
  • Tom and Jerry challenge each other to a series of duels in "Duel Personality," each duel ending in a stalemate.

    Real Life 
  • This has occasionally occurred in real life, where combat between two champions has been used to reach a decision in a dispute. A legal example are judicial duels, which were not always to the death. The original rationale behind duels was to contain possibly huge family feuds into more manageable one-on-one battles that would settle the issue(s). Well, at least before dueling took on a life of its own.
  • At least one large English town attempted to invoke this trope to get its teenage chav and goth population to stop having vicious fistfights in the mall and occasionally stabbing each other by getting them to settle their differences with paintball.
  • Japanese schoolchildren seem to solve any and every dispute with janken, a.k.a. Rock–Paper–Scissors.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): We Settle This With A Duel Of Fiddlesticks


"Beat you in a card game!"

Joey finds it rather unnecessary that Bandit Keith is having Zombie Boy challenge him to a card game just to obtain his star chips, when he could've more easily have stolen the star chips while Joey was unconscious.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (30 votes)

Example of:

Main / DuelsDecideEverything

Media sources: