So you're in charge. Especially in a dangerous environment. Are you going to take care of your people or sacrifice them to your convenience? Or something in between?
There's been a lot of fiction written about this. Here are some points along the scale and their associated tropes.
This is the leader who makes sure to take the most dangerous or onerous duties on himself. Usually The Hero and often The Cape or a Knight in Shining Armor. More likely to lead a handful of True Companions than an army, as he hates the thought of getting thousands of people killed. If he does lead an army, he's likely to be a Four-Star Badass, A Father to His Men and is certain to put The Men First.
This is the leader who takes a roughly equal share of the danger, consistently Risking the King. If Asskicking Equals Authority, this is likely to inspire Undying Loyalty. If the leader isn't as powerful as his troops, this may be seen as Honor Before Reason or even Death Seeking.
Sometimes, a villainous leader takes point not because they care about their subordinates, but simply because they're the toughest warrior on their side and it would be tactically foolish (or seen as weak) to stay out of the fighting. They are unlikely to waste their troops' lives carelessly, but they won't hesitate to spend them either, and may be a nasty Bad Boss to those who have failed them. On the other hand, no one can accuse them of lacking courage.
Usually a Reasonable Authority Figure who gets out of the way of his men so that they can do their job. He stays back at Mission Control, where he may or may not do much during the mission. Still, if things go badly wrong, he's likely to Go Down With His Ship. Likely to be an Officer and a Gentleman. Most likely to suffer from The Chains of Commanding, though that can effect others as well. If he's significantly stronger than his underlings, this can turn into Orcus on His Throne.
Named after the movie version, not the comic book version. This is the leader who has reserves and isn't reluctant to spend them. His men mean less to him than victory. Often a Glory Hound, General Failure or flat-out villain. In darker works, this can also be a good character who had to do it because the alternative was even worse. Such a character may later be found Drowning His Sorrows.
Just the Tropes
(This index is sorted from most responsible to least responsible; please add new tropes accordingly.)
- The Men First
- A Father to His Men
- Risking the King
- Frontline General
- Villainous Valor
- Going Down with the Ship
- Reasonable Authority Figure
- The Chains of Commanding
- Mission Control
- Orcus on His Throne
- I Did What I Had to Do
- We Have Reserves
- Glory Hound
- Bad Boss
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness
Works that Feature this Scale or Movement along it
- In The Lord of the Rings, usually a good leader will take the Theoden position, as exemplified by...well, Theoden. Going down to Magneto or worse is a sign that you've slid down other scales as well, as with Denethor. On the other hand, when you reach the top of the power scale, this is reversed due to the series' Aesop about power. Gandalf is supposed to take a Hammond position because of his position. He's not allowed to fight Sauron by meeting power with power, and so he only fights on a couple of occasions - and then he doesn't fight as Superman. Sauron, by contrast, gladly led from the front when he had the power to do so, but as of the time of the series, he's forced to be Orcus on His Throne because he can't leave his tower without the Ring.
- Redcloak's character development in The Order of the Stick is mostly sliding up and down this. He starts as The Hammond, degrades into The Magneto under Xykon's influence and his own bigotry, then has his My God, What Have I Done? moment and jumps up to The Théoden — all without losing his villain status.
- X-Men: Apocalypse: Previous films had established that Professor X is typically The Hammond on this scale, but during the Final Battle, he moves up three steps and briefly becomes The Superman. When Apocalypse gives Charles a Sadistic Choice—surrender, or Mystique and Quicksilver will die—Beast and Cyclops volunteer to rescue their teammates, but Xavier stops them because he would rather sacrifice himself than see anyone he cares about get hurt. This turns out to be an unacceptable option because Charles is the Earth's Barrier Maiden (and he obviously doesn't want to put billions of lives at risk), but he then challenges Apocalypse to a mind duel, which creates a much-needed distraction. Xavier gets pummeled on the astral plane, and he only asks Jean Grey—whom he loves like a daughter and is naturally protective of her—to intervene when he knows he's dying.
- In Warrior Cats, the best leaders tend to be Theodens (who take an equal share in the danger and fight alongside their warriors) with the occasional Superman moment, which is to say that they sometimes take on the most dangerous tasks in order to spare their cats some unreasonable danger. Villains are always Xykons (sacrificing their cats left and right without a care) and Magnetos, who aren't quite as bad as Xykons, but still don't care that much about their followers.