Ah, to be royalty... the power, the glory, the Grapes of Luxury. So when a character (often one of the heroes) becomes a king or queen (or something of similar importance and pampering), it has to be a good thing, right?
Well, for the moment... but it turns out the position of royalty in the culture that crowned them has serious drawbacks built into the position. Perhaps it means you become a Human Sacrifice. Maybe it means being killed early to join your royal spouse in the afterlife. Maybe it means a drastically reduced lifespan and/or perpetual paranoia as everyone who wants the throne sets their sights on you. Maybe you end up having to lead your people through war, famine, or some other situation where failure is going to lead to your head being propped up on a pike. Maybe you're just held to rigid standards of Contractual Purity and scrutiny. Whatever the problem, it's clear the hero has to get out while he still has time. But that in itself is easier said than done.
A number of things may kickstart this plot:
- An ill-advised wish.
- Attendance of A Fête Worse Than Death.
- Another individual (possibly wanting to get rid of the victim) kicking him or her upstairs.
- Being in a place where people believe they need a human sacrifice for prosperity.
The victim does not have to be ignorant of the perils of his position, but most often purposeful deception or simple silence keeps him or her unaware of them until it becomes important to the plot.
A related trope is The Perils of Being the Best, in which being the best at anything is bound to cause trouble. On One Condition is also related, providing that the condition is lethal rather than just inconvenient. See also It Sucks to Be the Chosen One. This trope should not be confused with Sword of Damocles, which is about the second message of the titular story ("The value of the sword is not that it falls, but that it hangs").
- In one episode of the Orange Island Arc from Pokémon, Meowth meets a Wacky Wayside Tribe and they start to worship him as a king. They are expecting Meowth to bless the island with wealth and prosperity by doing Pay Day, but since Meowth is unable to perform that, Jesse and James are the ones to save his friend.
- "Bizarro Wars", the Framing Device for the first volume of Bizarro Comics, sees Mr. Mxyzptlk made the new ruler of the Fifth Dimension... only to find that it's now his job to deal with the games-obsessed Multiversal Conqueror "A".
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10, Dracula gets his hands on the book of the laws of magic, and writes a law saying that he will be acknowledged as the lord of all vampires. This results in other vampires trying to kill him so they can take the title for themselves.
- Theodore in The Chipmunk Adventure is named the Prince of Plenty by a Fiji bush tribe during the Chipmunks' balloon trip around the world. Simon finds out shortly thereafter that the Prince of Plenty is sacrificed at the full moon.
- In Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Penny plans to marry King Tut knowing he dies young, intending to get all his riches. However, she didn't know that wives of the pharaoh are condemned to death when he dies.
- Jack Sparrow in the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, where he's being honored by a primitive tribe as a god who they intend to "free"... by roasting and eating his corporeal "prison".
- In A Brother's Price, there are several Queens and Princesses. While a large number of them died a couple of years ago, this is thought to be an accident. It was not. It turns out there is someone aiming to become Queens in the Queens' places, and Jerin, after marrying the Princesses, finds out that while the position comes with a lot of perks, it is by no means safe.
- In the Deryni works, kingship in the Eleven Kingdoms is often a dangerous job, so a partial list of the dangers includes:
- In Gwynedd, King Donal Haldane is rescued from assassins on a couple of occasions. His son Brion is attacked shortly after his ascension in Childe Morgan, and years later he is murdered by a Festilic pretender to his throne. Donal's grandson Kelson is also targeted a week or two later when the same Pretender, Charissa Duchess of Tolan, sends a poisonous creature to attack him in a garden and personally challenges him at his coronation ceremony.
- In Torenth, Wencit of Torenth comes to the Torenthi throne by disposing of his nephew. Years afterward, Liam-Lajos' older brother Alroy dies in a "riding accident" a month after reaching his majority. This resets the clock on the power of the Torenthi regents, the boys' uncles, since Liam-Lajos is under age at the time. It is later revealed that two of those uncles actually murdered Alroy to extend their power. Later, there is some inkling that the assassins sent to kill Nigel Haldane while King Kelson Haldane was away fighting rebels were also tasked with killing Liam-Lajos while they were at it.
- Discworld: Before Ridcully became Archchancellor of Unseen University, wizardry worked on a Klingon Promotion system: Wizards only moved up in rank by defeating one of greater rank, while also fending off attacks from rivals at their own level and from wizards of lower rank (with the Archchancellor being chosen by the most powerful wizards). Ridcully, being younger, more savvy and simply impossible to kill, changed the system so wizards now write passive-aggressive memoes to each other; just as fun, and less dangerous, than waiting around the corner with a loaded fireball.
- The Dresden Files:
- After Harry accepts Queen Mab's long-standing offer of Winter Knight (a.k.a. Mab's Professional Killer), he encounters a number of difficulties. He already knew he was in for a hard time dealing with Mab's Deadly Decadent Court (if there's one thing the faeries enjoy, it's court intrigue), but in Cold Days Mab tries to kill him over seventy times while he's going through physical therapy (okay, it's Mab's idea of Training from Hell, but still), and he later discovers that the Winter Knight's powers don't increase the damage his body can take so much as make him not realize he's taking it.
- At the end of Cold Days Molly Carpenter ends up becoming the Winter Lady, and she tells Harry in Skin Game that she's quite literally having to fend off assassination attempts in her dreams.
- In The Hunger Games, tributes get several days of rich foods, luxurious accommodations, and fancy clothing before getting sent off to die in the arena for the Capitol's amusement.
- Hurog: In Dragon Blood it is revealed that the rightful king has been wrongly declared insane and is imprisoned in an insane asylum his ambitious younger brother had built for exactly that purpose. A bastard half-brother managed to survive by resigning from any and all important positions and acting like he's obsessed with his looks, thus preventing everyone, including the new king, from taking him seriously. When the rightful heir to the throne is freed, the hero gets into the uncomfortable position of being suspected to want the throne for himself - which he really does not. He knows how dangerous it is.
- In Perloo The Bold, Berwig and Senyous set their sights on Perloo once the dying Jolaine proclaims him Granter.
- In L. Sprague de Camp's The Reluctant King trilogy, the kingdom of Xylar chooses its next king by throwing the head of the previous king into a crowd — the catcher gets the throne. The catch is that in five years, the process is repeated... which is why Jorian, who had no idea about all this, is very much the titular Reluctant King, and spends the trilogy running away from Xylarians who want to drag him back so they can perform the ceremony.
- In Philip K. Dick's novel Solar Lottery, the highest position in the solar system, the Quizmaster, is chosen by a completely random lottery. And the previous Quizmaster can legally retake the position by hiring an endless stream of assassins to kill the new Quizmaster.
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- The position of the (elected) Prince of Pentos comes with all the perks of royalty and none of the tedious ruling stuff. However, if a disaster of any kind happens in Pentos, the prince is ritually sacrificed and another is chosen. One such candidate refused to accept the position altogether, fled the city and became a famous mercenary captain known as the Tattered Prince. His lifelong dream is to conquer Pentos with his private army and become a real monarch there.
- In Westeros from the same books, however, being royalty is being honest-to-the-Seven-Gods royalty, with no unpleasant surprising traditions. However, Westeros is a vast country full of scheming feudal houses and engulfed in a civil war, and kings generally don't have a high life expectancy there, as Joffrey "Baratheon" found out to his dismay.
- Lord Commanders of the Night's Watch have an unfortunate tendency to receive an "oops, sorry sir" from their own men.
- Lord Commanders of King's Landing's City Watch should also step carefully. One wrong move in those political waters, and it's either getting promoted away from you original job to something you can't deal with... or something a whole lot less healthy.
- Note to anybody inheriting the on-the-surface cushy title of "Lord of Harrenhal" in actuality or just by inference: good luck with that. You will need it. No other keep in all of Westeros has a higher turnover rate with as many ghost stories attached, especially given the comparatively young age of the actual title.
- In The Adventures of Superman episode "Tomb of Zaharan", two Egyptians think Lois Lane is the reincarnation of a long-dead queen and plan to make her queen. Unfortunately, this involves exposing her to deadly gas.
- In season 1, Prince Edmund is made Archbishop of Canterbury, which invites an assassination attempt from a couple of knights who've misunderstood an overheard remark by the king.
- In season 2, Lord Blackadder is made Lord High Executioner, a notoriously unpopular position, the last several occupants of which have been murdered. He executes the wrong person, Hilarity Ensues, and Blackadder barely escapes with his own head.
- Doctor Who, "The Awakening". A small village's celebrations of an historic anniversary incorporate a ritual prompted by the evil being sleeping beneath the village church. The Doctor's companion, Tegan, is offered the Guest of Honour's place on top of a pile of kindling, tied to a stake.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In "The Nagus", Grand Nagus Zek announces his retirement and unexpectedly names Quark as the new leader of Ferengi civilization. Quark soon finds that he is the target of an assassination plot, which doesn't surprise Zek. It's implied that being targeted for assassination comes with the job.
- The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "The Man in the Bottle" has a man wish to be the leader of a modern country who cannot be voted out of position... only to find that he's Adolf Hitler, and it's the end of World War II!
- An ancient legend tells about Dionysius II, Tyrant of Syracuse, who had a particularly obsequious courtier called Damocles. Once Dionysius decided to show Damocles what it's like to be ruler for a day. Damocles was dressed in the finest clothes, sat onto a golden throne, servants and slaves were at his beck and call, he spent the day in feasts and pleasure. At the end of the day, Damocles suddenly looked up and to his horror, saw a huge sword dangling on a single horse's hair right above his head, that could fall down and kill him at any moment. That's when Damocles truly understood what it's like to be king note .
- In Fallout: New Vegas, Vault 11 held elections for the position of Overseer, but the player discovers that at the end of their term the Overseer had to enter a chamber below their office and be executed as a sacrifice. This was because when the vault first closed, the Overseer was the one who informed the citizens that there had to be a sacrifice once a year or else the computer would kill everyone. The angry citizens forced the Overseer to be the first sacrifice just for the sake of shooting the messenger, and then just stuck with the model of having whoever is elected as the new Overseer be the sacrifice every year.
- Long Live the Queen has this as the core premise: the protagonist is a young princess who unexpectedly becomes the first in line for the throne (not technically the queen yet, because she's still not of age to rule) and becomes the target of every wannabe assassin, usurper and puppetmaster in the kingdom (and several beyond). The goal of the game is to survive until her coronation.
- In the Adventure Time episode "The Silent King", Finn becomes the new king of the Goblins. Although he is initially impressed by the luxuries available, he soon becomes frustrated by the 623 Royal Rules which forbid him from doing anything himself, like brushing his teeth, chewing his food, or fighting criminals.
- One Beetlejuice episode involved a tribe of "headhunters" that made Beetlejuice's head the head of their tribe... who was to be thrown to a sea worm.
- In the DuckTales (1987) episode "The Golden Fleecing", Launchpad becomes "the big deipno" to a band of harpies, a position which involves lots of positive attention, followed by being fed to a dragon.
- In the Futurama episode "My Three Suns", Fry becomes the Emperor of the desert planet Trisol after he unwittingly drinks the previous Emperor. The position comes with many perks, but he learns that at his coronation he must recite the royal oath from memory, without mistakes, or be executed. In addition, Leela points out the danger of being Emperor - the average reign of a Trisolian Emperor is only a week long because anyone who kills the Emperor inherits the throne.
- In the TaleSpin episode "The Balooest of the Bluebloods", work-a-day pilot Baloo learns that he's the last survivor of the Bruinwald bloodline, and thus, heir to a barony. Suddenly, Baloo is living large, and loving it. However, Baloo is shown portraits of his predecessors, each of whom died under peculiar circumstances. It's revealed that the Bruinwalds were all murdered by the one who would have stewardship of the barony in the absence of any Bruinwald.