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Kudos (Greek!) to Hercules for thinking outside the ampitheatre on this one [...] but it seems to me there was another way out. If he had just kept chopping, eventually the creature would have had a hundred thousand heads, making it look something like venomous reptilian broccoli. Then it would have tipped over and been no threat to anyone. People could come up and laugh at it, it would have been a great tourist attraction.
Lore Sjöberg, The Book of Ratings
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This is where when you defeat an enemy, one or two more show up in its place, and so on until you perform some kind of specific attack to kill it for good. Named for the Hydra from Greek mythology, which had nine heads that grew two more heads whenever one was chopped offnote ; the only way to destroy it was to cut off the heads and cauterize the stumps with fire before the head was able to grow back and multiply. Expect a lot of decapitation, even though this is probably the worst possible strategy to use.

Compare to Asteroids Monsters, in which a destroyed monster divides into several smaller versions of itself and you have to keep killing them until they are dead for good. Solving this might involve the Gemini Destruction Law. The "hydra" will usually go for Not Quite Dead on the first go around.

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Examples:

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    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering has a number of creature cards that implement this trope as mechanics. Usually, if the creature survives taking damage, it gets stronger afterwards. In the Theros block, the planeswalker Elspeth Tirel has to fight Polukranos, a hydra that is dubbed the "World Eater" with very little apparent hyperbole. She is armed with a Blade on a Stick. She kills it not by lopping off heads, but by splitting each head in two. The bisected crania can't regrow, nor, obviously, can they live.

    Comic Books 
  • DC Comics:
    • The Monster Society of Evil has a literal Hydra created by Mister Mind, which when it loses a head grows it back with the head of another animal. Captain Marvel causes its heads to fight over meat, killing it.
    • The Superman villain Riot has a similar power to Multiple Man. Defeating him requires indirect methods like cutting off his air supply or catching him in a net.
    • Wonder Woman faced one of these fairly early in the George Perez run of volume 2; her solution is the fairly Boring, but Practical tack of tying all its heads together with her unbreakable lasso, then piercing its heart with arrows.
  • Godzilla: Rage Across Time: In Ancient Greece, Godzilla battles the Hydra. He defeats it by blasting Mount Olympus and letting the Hydra get crushed by the falling rocks.
  • Groo the Wanderer: Groo once faced a hydra-like monster, guarding the entrance to the underworld. Being a Master Swordsman, but not much of a thinker, Groo beats it in exactly the manner described in the page quote, chopping off head after head until the beast had so many it couldn't stand up anymore and Groo could just walk past, still puzzling about what it was he was doing wrong.
  • Marvel Comics:
    • Doctor Strange: Originally, the snake god Set had only one head. Atum cut off its original head, but two more took its place. So Atum kept cutting until Set had the seven heads he has today.
    • This concept is the origin behind the name of the terrorist organization HYDRA, though in practice it's essentially a boast about their neverending Redshirt Army. Their motto is "Cut off one head, two more take its place". In Captain America: The First Avenger, this sets up one of Colonel Phillips' (played by Tommy Lee Jones) CMOA when, after shooting a HYDRA mook who just shouted the line, quips "Let's go find two more." It also sets up the many times that an Anti-Hero decided to see whether the creed was literal at an individual level: with all the superheroes and supervillains running around, it would after all be easy to make an army of mooks with a twisted healing factor. The surviving mooks are often quite dismayed to realize that it's not.
    • Ultimatum:
      • The only way to get rid of the never ending waves of duplicates of the Multiple Man is by killing the original one. Wolverine had to hunt the original Madrox all across the world.
      • Captain America mentioned in Valhalla that for each zombie they killed, two others take its place.
    • In X-Factor, Madrox the Multiple Man has a form of Self-Duplication that usually works like the Hydra Problem from his enemies' point of view because he involuntarily creates a copy of himself when struck. Punch him, and suddenly he has backup. The answer to beating him is a One-Hit Kill (Pretty Little Headshots don't create copies), restraining him so that he can't receive a sufficient blow (punching a wall would suffice, so you'd better tie him up tight), or employing a method that doesn't involve direct force (poison, for example).

    Fan Works 
  • Chaos Theory: At one point, Rider and Dark Saber fight a shadow monster manifested from the Grail. Being a mass of curses, when a head or appendage is cut off the curses spill out and create new "flesh," leaving it with even more appendages than before.
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    Films — Animation 
  • Fantasia: In the Sorcerer's Apprentice segment, Mickey enchants a broom to do his chores for him. When it begins to flood the castle, he tries chopping the broom into pieces. This backfires horribly, as each splinter becomes a new broom. Only the Sorcerer's magic can get rid of them and undo the flooding.
  • The Disney adaptation of Hercules has Herc face this problem when fighting the iconic multi-headed serpent. It starts with one head, but when Herc chops it off, three grow in its place. In desperation, he starts wildly chopping at the beast, leaving him with a bigger problem than what he started with. However, he soon triumphs by causing the chasm they're in to cave in, resulting in the Hydra being crushed under a rock slide.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • #-Headed Shark Attack: The mutant sharks demonstrate the same type of head-replacing Healing Factor as the mythical hydra's. Later films in the series even have the creatures bite off their own damaged heads so that intact replacements can grow in.
  • In Dragonball Evolution, Piccolo summons minions that could regenerate from any piece of them cut off. Goku slices them up with a sword to make a lot and then throws them into lava, forming stepping stones so he can cross.
  • Hellboy: In the first film, Sammael is a creature that, when destroyed, gives life to two of its previously laid eggs. The only way to stop Sammael is to wipe out all of its bodies and eggs at once.
  • Jason and the Argonauts: Averted, as Jason avoids cutting any heads at all and just stabs the Hydra's body.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • As noted above under Comic Books, HYDRA in Captain America: The First Avenger, though the organisation is pretty much solidly defeated by the end.
      • The catchphrase takes a much darker turn in Captain America: The Winter Soldier where it's revealed after their defeat in WWII, HYDRA went underground and have shaped the history of the world. They even infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. at its creation. When Captain America protests that HYDRA died with the Red Skull, Zola nonchalantly comments "Cut off one head..."
      • Averted in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where the Avengers take down one HYDRA base after another based on intel from Maria Hill until they arrive at the last remaining powerful HYDRA base. Strucker and List, the two last remaining higher-ups, are killed, the former by Ultron and the latter by Iron Man, thus putting down HYDRA for good.
    • In Avengers: Age of Ultron, no matter how many Ultron drones the Avengers destroy, the AI itself can still escape to anywhere. Eventually, Vision interfaces with Ultron and prevents him from escaping through the Internet.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The main characters fight a literal Hydra that presents them with this problem. They beat it by using Medusa's head to turn it to stone.
  • In Prometheus, Fifield attempts to cut off the alien snakes head when it breaks Millburn's arm but not only does it spray acid blood over Fifield's face for his efforts, the head instantly grows back.

    Literature 
  • The Adventures of Samurai Cat: Cerberus turns out to have this power. Samurai Cat just responds by just chopping off heads until Cerberus had so many that they're all too small to bite effectively and weigh so much that Cerberus can't walk around anymore.
  • Animorphs: In The Andalite Chronicles, Visser Three unleashes mortrons, creatures that can regenerate into separate beings when sliced apart. Elfangor resorts to knocking them out. Loren strangles one to death, and uses a softball bat to cave one's skull in.
  • The Death Gate Cycle: The Chaodyn are monsters that, if wounded, will create another Chaodyn whenever a drop of their blood hits the ground. The only way to stop this is to deliver a wound that kills them before any of their blood hits the ground.
  • Fantastic Creatures: In "The Botticelli Horror", the Night Cloaks reproduce by getting torn apart, otherwise they grow tremendously large. They can survive being torn into tiny slivers too weak to fly away.
  • Harry Potter: Not a literal example, but Snape describes The Dark Arts as this in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Percy, Annabeth and Tyson are attacked by a roaming hydra early in The Sea of Monsters, which as Percy discovers when he charges in to chop it to pieces grows two new heads every time one's chopped off. Here, Clarisse kills it by blowing it up using a gunboat. It's also stated that the Hydra is connected to, and was created in, a chain of donut shops called Monster Donuts that spawns a new location for every Hydra head chopped off and sent rolling away.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. shares a continuity with the Captain America film examples above. Coulson takes down HYDRA by basically cutting off as many heads as possible and, when he gathers enough intel, he calls in the Avengers (through sharing intel with Maria Hill) to deal the final blow, giving them Strucker's location so they can attack his base. Hydra is now scattered and Kebo says that "heads ain't growin' back". Then Ward decides to revive HYDRA in his own image and recruits Baron Von Strucker's son as his apprentice, while the modern-day head of the ancient Hive cult that eventually became HYDRA, Gideon Malick, joins forces with Ward; more heads have grown. All known heads are again cut by the end of the third season, including Hive, the original head and the reason HYDRA was founded in the first place. In Season 4, HYDRA does not appear at all (in the real world anyway) and might be gone for good. It's also revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D. has a division devoted to crushing any sign of HYDRA, effectively cutting off any head the moment one appears.
  • The Angel episode "Waiting in the Wings" had mooks who would respawn into two whenever they were killed. Angel had to fight past them and defeat the mage controlling them to make them disappear. Fortunately each time a new lackey is created, the mage's power weakens as he has to keep control of an increasing number of mooks.
  • Charmed (1998): Swarm demons are replaced by two more swarm demons when they're killed. The sisters have to destroy the lead Swarm Demon, the demon from which all others come from, in order to kill them all. And in another episode an evil witch unleashes her snake familiar onto the sisters and when the snake is chopped into two pieces, the pieces both grow into a new snake. The witch is killed and then so are the snakes.
  • Hercules: Hercules, Linus, and Amphitryon battle the Hydra. They figure out the solution to burn its neck stumps by chance when one of the stumps falls on a campfire. When they get to the last head, Hercules kills it by caving its skull in with a club without cutting it off.

    Music 

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Trope Namer:
    • The name comes from the Lernaean Hydra from Classical Mythology. Whenever a head was broken, two more grew in its place. To defeat it, the hero Heracles had his friend Iolaus burn the stumps before the head grew back until he smashes off all the beast's heads with his club. (Adding insult to injury, King Eurystheus wouldn't count this one towards the Ten Labors because Iolaus helped him.)
    • The Hydra also had one immortal head, which they had to bury under a rock. The whole thing might be an allegory for a swamp that just couldn't be drained, as every time a spring was blocked off, more would pop up.
    • There's also a classic math problem involving hydra herds in which every blow which fails to kill a hydra spawns a number of duplicates of the damaged hydra equal to the number of blows which the entire herd has received. (Added to that, Heracles is cursed to only be able to smash heads in the worst possible order.) Still beatable by an immortal demigod, but it's surprising how quickly the required number of blows grows.
  • Hindu Mythology:
    • Durga once found herself facing an enemy whose power was a regeneration-based Self-Duplication — from each drop of blood spilled, a clone would pop up into existence. After a moment of futile fighting, she transformed into her Kali aspect, which quickly solved the problem by catching her enemy and, depending on the version you read, either eating him whole or holding him still so she could drink all his blood as it spurted from his wounds.
    • The legend behind the Thuggee cult was about regenerating demons too, therefore demanding strangulation (a bloodless killing method).
  • The Bible [Jesus; Matthew 12:43-45] once said that if you defeat a demon/unclean spirit with your own power that isn't God's, it would return with seven more of its kind (or worse, just by it coming back and finding its house empty as in without, you know, the Holy Spirit coming in to occupy it after the person was freed).

    Pinballs 
  • Gladiators: The final boss is the Beast, a three-headed flying dragon that can only be defeated by beheading itnote  in a specific order.

    Roleplay 
  • In Dino Attack RPG, if one of the Mutant Vinscale Octomus's tentacles were severed, two more would grow back in its place.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The Judges Guild module Dark Tower has an area with a mirror hanging on the wall that's guarded by a skeleton. If an attack against the skeleton doesn't do exactly eight Hit Points of damage, it splits into two skeletons with the same property. The only way to defeat the skeletons (other than by doing damage) is to destroy the mirror.
    • D&D's Monster Manual also lists the Hydra among the monsters that the players can fight. However, only the Lernaean variety of the hydra exhibits the Hydra Problem; the (normal) hydra and the fire-breathing pyrohydra both get weaker as you lop their heads off, not stronger.
    • In 5e, there is only one kind of hydra in the Monster Manual, and it has this ability, sort of. If it loses 25 health in a single turn it loses a head and regrows two more for every head lost in its turn. It only gains a total of 20 points of health back so, without healing, the hydra will eventually die if it heads keep getting cut off.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Alpha Legion's motif is the hydra, for good reason. They have a decentralised command structure and encourage squads and legionnaires to take the initiative while keeping the overall strategy in mind. This leads to enemies launching assassination attempts on what they think is the legion's commander, only for three more identical guys to jump up crying "I am Alpharius!" This is only one of the many ways the Alpha Legion like fucking with their opponents' minds.

    Video Games 
  • In Caves of Qud, Twinning Lampreys always come in pairs and one will instantly copy itself if its partner dies. Both must be killed in the same turn for them to stay dead.
  • Dwarf Fortress: Averted by actual hydrae but played straight in some evil biomes, where individual severed body parts of a dead creature can rise up and attack. Now in these evil biomes all the wild animals are zombies, so the effect is that killing zombies creates more zombies and trying to destroy an individual undead creature by chopping it to pieces will result in being overwhelmed by a tide of undead limbs, bones and organs. Only way to kill such zombies for good is by pulping them.
  • In Gems of War there's a Hydra troop, and its famous feature is represented in its special attack; the base damage is boosted by however much damage to its health the troop has taken, reflecting the extra heads which the Hydra now has. (The Hydra doesn't actually gain any extra health to represent the increased difficulty in killing it, however.)
  • In Heart of Darkness, a particularly tough enemy introduced late in the game will turn into two blobs upon being killed; if they're not destroyed in time, they'll instantly grow into two more enemies. Since they frequently can appear in pairs, and you constantly have to dodge their attacks, they can quickly overwhelm you if you don't stop them from multiplying.
  • Hero Core: The Plasma Hydra boss initially has three heads. In Normal difficulty, it only regrows one head for each one destroyed and only has two heads per neck. In Hard, however, it grows two for each destroyed head, and when those two are destroyed, it sends out a third, extremely powerful head. Once the third wave of heads is dealt with, however, the Plasma Hydra self-destructs.
  • Hydra Slayer is a quirky little Roguelikegame wholly concerned with how to resolve the Hydra Problem on a case-by-case basis. Your success is determined by being able to tell which weapons/powers will remove heads, which will add heads, and how to combine these two factors to kill each individual hydra in the shortest possible time.
  • Lollipop Chainsaw: The boss Mariska respawns into two when Juliet slices her in half. The copies then tear themselves in half several times to create an army of Mariskas. Juliet shoots the copies down, and when she gets to the last one, she lops her head off. Mariska seems to run out of energy and perishes.
  • RuneScape: The beast god Loarnab had multiple heads, and cutting one off caused two more to take its place.
  • Trauma Center: New Blood has the Brachion Stigma, which is a core with several arms. Whenever you cut off the heads of the grappler arms, it pulls them back and emits more. Killing it involves continually cutting the arms loose, which ultimately overtaxes the core and causes it to disintegrate.
  • Wandering Hamster: Undead enemies respawn every time they're killed, unless you use the glimmer item which kills them for good.
  • Warcraft:
    • Warcraft III features hydras as a neutral monster, but use Asteroids Monster due to technical limitations: every three-headed hydra splits into two smaller three-headed hydras on death.
    • World of Warcraft: Megaera is a three-headed hydra in the Throne of Thunder; when one of her heads is killed, two more grow in its place. Megaera still takes damage with each head killed, so it's just a matter of killing seven heads and holding out against the assault from all the extra heads. Perhaps a Shout-Out to the original mythos, at the last stage of the fight, Megaera has nine heads; two that can be attacked and must be tanked, and sevennote  attacking the party from a distance.
  • You Don't Know Jack (the UK edition anyway) has a question asking "Suppose you cut off all of the Hydra's heads, all its replacement heads, then half of the new heads, how many heads would there be?" note 
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! BAM, after you defeat their leaders, the Ghouls taunt you that their numbers are endless.
    Game: You jump, startled and ready to fight. From the utter silence slithers in a cryptic whisper: It does not matter. We are the Ghouls. Even if you bury us, we will get out. We are the Ghouls. We will meet again.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002):
    • He-Man once faced a Man-Eating Plant that was similar to the Hydra. He finally kills it by uprooting it.
    • Another episode had Triclops unleash an army of skeletal warriors that respawn into two every time they get smashed. They are defeated when the heroes smash the device Triclops was controlling them with, making them all crumble to dust.
  • King Arthur & the Knights of Justice: The sea dragon that Arthur faces in "Quest for Courage" can not only regrow any severed appendage, but the severed limb will reform into a new, smaller dragon. It is implied the secondary serpents have the same power, but Arthur wisely stopped trying to chop them to bits at that point.
  • The Powerpuff Girls episode "Beat Your Greens" had Plant Aliens that regenerate. They are defeated when everyone eats them.

    Real Life 
  • There's a small aquatic predator literally known as Hydra, and true to their name they immediately grow into even more hydras when cut into pieces. Scientists actually divided it into its individual cells with hundreds of more hydras sprouting up from the ensuing goop. They're a threat in freshwater aquaria to fish fry and small shrimp in freshwater aquaria, and if you try and stop them by crushing them, well...
  • If a planarian's head is split without severing it from the body (not that they can't survive that) both halves can regenerate, ending up with a two-headed planarian.
  • Some weeds ensure their survival by sending out long horizontal roots that can sprout new stalks if the original stalk is destroyed. Pull up the first stalk, and you'll find a cluster of new weeds sprouting all around the hole a few days later.
  • Falling afoul of the Streisand Effect can land you in a PR nightmare because of this trope, especially on the internet. Did you force a takedown of a song posted to YouTube, even though the way it was posted constitutes fair use? Expect much hate mail and at least fifteen reposts. Scoured the internet just to delete all references to you that you feel are overly critical, or connect you to something stupid/embarrassing you did? Congratulations, what you've censored has just been reposted to five blogs, and a sixth one commented on your dickery. Forced the takedown of an entire site? Well, now there's two mirrors registered under foreign domain names and five with slight variations of a common name.
  • A similar event happened when manga publishers asserted their copyrights to get Scanlation sites taken down. Many more sprung up to take the places of the ones targeted. The same thing tends to happen to sites that illicitly stream anime where anime publishers are concerned as well.
  • Starfish can regrow limbs or even form new starfish out of the old limbs if the severed appendage contains enough of the central disk. Oyster farmers unaware of this ability would often pull starfish from the reefs and cut them to pieces, unaware that they were creating more oyster eating starfish.
  • Edward Snowden: "You're not going to bully me into silence like you've done to everybody else. And if nobody else is gonna do it, I will. And hopefully, when I'm gone, whatever you do to me, there will be somebody else who'll do the same thing. It'll be the sort of internet principle, of the hydra; you can stomp one person, but there's gonna be seven more of us."
  • Nintendo's attempt to ban cartridge dumpers and copiers in the '90s: They started by targeting the most prolific manufacturer of cartridge copiers, Bung Enterprises. They went as far as to get an injunction on Bung Enterprises merchandises in the US. They managed to kill Bung Enterprises shortly after, but then numerous manufacturers sprung up in Bung's place. Additionally, the amount of publicity generated resulted in the Streisand Effect (the US Customs also received a number of eggs on their face after they confiscated a package from Bung Enterprises meant for a US customer, and it turned out that the package only contained a Game Boy Advance link cable). They later did the same things with flashcarts, and then tried it with YouTube videos containing their characters.
    • A strange case happened in Mario Kart Wii's online play when Nintendo started getting serious about crackdowns on people who cheat to get an unfair advantage, typically by enabling infinite spawns of particular items. This caused there to be more and more people who cheated in this way. The more Nintendo tried to catch these people, the more of them there were until, at its worst, there were more Griefers than regular players. When Nintendo backed off and left them alone, they all vanished, leaving online play the same as it was before. To this day, no one really knows where all these people came from, if they're pre-existing players, or if they continued to play normally after it was over.
  • The hydra gets used as a stock metaphor for problems that keep coming back even if one fights against them. It's pretty common to find political cartoons depicting political groups as hydras or other things the author happens to oppose.
  • A problem with targetting the leader of a drug cartel is that this only causes the cartel to fracture into smaller groups, resulting in an increase in the drug supply as each competes with the others.

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