In theory, when the King dies, his heir steps straight into the vacancy, replacing him without any fuss, but only in theory. In practice, the deaths of kings are occasions of high drama. Rival claimants — with or without Royal Blood — dispute the succession, and even after the victor is crowned, they'll discover that their predecessor has left them with a host of problems, leaving their throne unstable for years to come.
The first problem is deciding who is the rightful heir. There might seem to be a single clear candidate, but any Evil Prince worthy of the name can produce documents 'proving' the Crown Prince is ineligible, and must be passed over in favor of themselves (if he doesn't decide to simply resort to outright murder). Missing heirs will come out of the woodwork, possibly impostors seizing the moment, possibly the real thing. Other powerful figures with no legitimate claims of their own but plenty of ambition (especially the Evil Chancellor) may set themselves up as Kingmakers so that they can become the Man Behind the Man for the winning side. And then there is sometimes The Usurper, who often prefers to dispense with questions of legitimacy and take the throne by force because no one else can or will stand up to him and/or he just slaughtered everyone with a legitimate claim to the throne. Expect lots of backstabbery in this Deadly Decadent Court.
This is naturally even worse when, in fact, there is no way to determine the rightful heir. For instance, Roman emperors never had their laws codify who is the emperor's heir, though some techniques were used to try to secure succession, and when Peter the Great decreed that the tsar would name his heir, he never actually designated one, leaving the field wide open. An Elective Monarchy is almost bound to have one.
If the rightful heir is foreign royalty, particularly the monarch of a rival country, almost the entire court will unite to prevent them inheriting the crown out of simple self-interest. The foreign heir will object to this, vigorously, and he will have an army backing him up. When there are several candidates with a convincing legal argument, the dispute is normally settled on the battlefield, often with the death of one or more of the claimants.
Female heirs (and sometimes, even males claiming inheritance through the female line) may face more difficulty in becoming the next monarch. In countries with a long tradition of ruling Queens, they might stand as good a chance as anyone. Elsewhere, however, the alternative male candidates will argue that women shouldn't count, often with the help of an army. Such a situation occurred with Henry I of England's designated heir Matilda (Henry produced over 20 bastards, but only two legitimate kids who grew to adulthood, and she was the only one left by then).
Similar problems arise if there are other restrictions on who may hold the crown, such as race, religion, or magical talent. If the rightful heir is underage, they might be passed over completely, but more often, they'll get a regent. The great magnates will compete vigorously for this post, with its near-royal status and opportunity to corrupt the young ruler. However, even when the laws state that a Queen cannot rule, it is not unknown for a country to use Loophole Abuse to get out of a Succession Crisis said loophole frequently being the laws not stating what gender a King must be. More than one nation has thus ended up with a woman King.
Sometimes there's a time limit involved: the prince must be crowned king within a specific timeframe or at a specific time, otherwise someone else gets the kingship. Other times, though, there are no traceable heirs. The late king was childless, and all his close relatives are dead, unacceptable, or unwilling to accept the crown. This gives all the neighboring countries an excuse to nominate a friendly noble, or discover some distant relationship.
Or there can be succession mandates with serious penalties. For example, the Grimaldi family owns the country of Monaco, because, basically, they got a contract from France saying so back in the 13th Century. However, their contract ends if the current Prince (or Princess) dies without a direct descendant. There were worries for a time that Monaco might revert back to French control if both of Prince Rainer's children, who are not exactly known for participating in safe practices, were to be killed and he didn't get married and have another kid fast enough. So far, it looks like there have been some changes in the activities of the members of House Grimaldi and the chance that France will be able to take Monaco back is no longer likely.
Even if the new king is the old one's son, they'll soon discover their training didn't properly prepare them for the reality. More often, in fiction, the throne will go to someone completely unprepared, either a young prince who didn't expect to gain the throne for many years, or a distant relative or younger prince who never expected to gain the throne at all, and the kingdom will be on the brink of disaster when they take over.
The crisis may be external if the old king died in battle, the new king is going to have to rally a defeated army and turn the war around. Or, it may be internal examples include an empty treasury, impending (or ongoing) famine, or a brewing rebellion. Either way, the new king will be sorely tested before their crown is safe.
If there is no real heir, the trope Offered the Crown can produce this as nobles intrigue to get their favorite candidate offered it.
The Rightful King Returns is also a common way for this plot to be resolved.
Note that this trope is not exclusive to monarchies by any stretch: For a particularly common political plot in the modern day, see the United States' Twenty-Fifth Amendment.
This is Truth in Television! However, the preponderance of constitutional monarchies (for those nations which still retain a monarch) make future occurrences of this trope highly unlikely. National legislatures ultimately dictate who is or is not eligible for the throne and most constitutional monarchies have clear chains of succession spelled out in law. In the UK, for example, it would take a severe disaster to eliminate heirs to get to the point where there would be a succession crisis. Even if a country declares itself a republic, this doesn't avert the situation entirely the US has its share of difficulties. See below for Real Life examples.
- Le Chevalier d'Eon has a Russian story arc about the Palace Revolutions that brought Peter III and Catherine II to power.
- Code Geass is partially driven by the maneuvering of various claimants to the Britannian throne seeking to solidify their claim. The fact that the Emperor is still alive doesn't bother them too much. The series concludes with Lelouch brainwashing Pendragon's aristocracy and royalty, defeating Schneizel in an epic Brainwashed Army versus Infinite Nukes blockbuster finale, and becoming the world's first ruler of the entire planet... only to get assassinated by Suzaku two months later. It turns out, he planned his own death so that Nunnally would get the title of Empress the 100th, with Schneizel doing all the ruling as a brainwashed advisor.
- The Emblem of Blood incident was a feud among the various claimants to the Britannian throne during the period when Charles became Emperor. The death of their mother inspired him and his brother, V.V., to pursue their dream of slaying god.
- Averted in the Alternate Continuity manga Code Geass: Nightmare of Nunnally, where Cornelia and the Japanese expect one of these after Charles starts enacting his master plan and throws the Empire into chaos. Cornelia wants to have Euphemia succeed him and is expecting a bitter struggle, only to have their brother Schneizel shock everyone by throwing in his support for Euphie as well, leaving her with the backing of the one man who could have easily been her fiercest competitor. She stays as the 99th Emperor of Britannia at the end of the manga.
- Katekyō Hitman Reborn! has one of these when Xanxus shows up and demands to be the 10th boss of the Vongola Family. It's not a perfect example though, because the 9th is still alive.
- Well, for a while, anyways.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, the many clans of Xing are united under the Emperor, who sires an heir with a concubine of each clan. The current Emperor is ailing and, to prevent a civil war when he dies, has promised the throne to whichever of his children can bring him the key to eternal life. Ling and May are both driven by their desire to reach the throne, Ling to ensure peace and May to protect her clan, and independently come to Amestris in order to find a Philosopher's Stone. Ling ultimately becomes the Emperor, declaring his intent to abolish this system of clan warfare and specifically promising May that he will ally with and protect her clan from any aggressors. May is shown doing quite well in the epilogue.
- Ooku: the Inner Chambers is about harem politics, so this trope is a constant.
- Reverend Kasuga's primary motivation in the second and third volumes is avoiding the massive succession crisis that she feared would occur if it became known that Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu died without a male heir. Anyone that has read volume one (set about 80 years later) is well aware that the secret came out at some point.
- Two shoguns later Tsunayoshi's only heir died, and even after she hit menopause, she held off naming her niece Ienobu successor as long as possible (despite Ienobu being obviously the most qualified candidate) because her father had been rivals with Ienobu's grandfather.
- Ienobu died with only one sickly, underage heir, reviving the succession crisis, which culminated in a scandal that brought down the senior chamberlain and the privy counselor. This rendered them unable to oppose the succession by coup of Yoshimune of Kii.
- Yoshimune's two older daughters are in competition for the throne (as the eldest has significant physical and emotional disabilities) but she resolves the crisis by abdicating in favor of the eldest and then ruling from behind the scenes to prevent her younger daughter, Munetake from seizing power.
- And then the crisis is revived yet again when Ieharu's only daughter dies, with Munetake promoting the claims of her daughter Sadanobu, only for Ieharu to remove her from the succession altogether after Munetake dies by having her adopted as the heir to another family, all at the instigation of Sadanobu's rival for the throne, Harusada. Then she abdicates her claim to the throne altogether to ensure that it goes to her son, making Ienari the first male shogun in decades. Harusada did this to ensure that she'd hold the power behind the throne, without the pressure to bear a daughter.
- However, that leads to the next succession crisis: Ienari has so many children that one of these is inevitable. Harusada took it upon herself to poison the grandchildren she doesn't like (and it's implied she did that because she was bored) and after her death the various concubines started poisoning each other's children. However, Ienari took a page from Yoshimune and abdicated in favor of one his sons. He also pre-empted another crisis by declaring Ieyoshi's daughter Iesada next in line after him, as she was the only one of his children to show any competence.
- Another begins to happen during Iesada's reign, as the nobles are divided between Lady Tomiko, who's closer in blood to Iesada but young and female, and Yoshinobu, whom many favor because he's male and quite intelligent, but Iesada considers him to be heartless and unfit to be shogun, believing he would cause the ruin of the Tokugawa regime. Complicating things further is that Iesada conceives a child, something she thought impossible to do because of all the times she was poisoned.
- Kinnikuman's final arc featured this. At the beginning of the series, everyone knew that Kinnikuman is the prince of the Kinniku tribe's royal family, but was far too stupid to be considered king. But after taking a level in badass and proving to be a worthy successor, it turns out that there was a fire in the hospital where Kin was born, and he could have been mixed up with five other babies. In true fashion, a wrestling tournament is held to see which Kinnikuman is the rightful heir.
- While not done with royalty, the Sumimura and Yukimura families of Kekkaishi have a vicious rivalry with one another over who is the legitimate heir to the Hazuma style of kekkai that their master, Tokimori Hazuma, developed. As both families possess the Houin mark on their bodies, the result has never been truly settled.
- Basilisk concerns a succession crisis being resolved in advance by having a proxy war between two ninja clans decide who the Shogun's heir would be. The war destroys both clans, which were on the verge of resolving their feud when the Shogun had them start killing each other for reasons that most of them didn't even know.
- A smaller-scale version occurs in Fruits Basket with the large, wealthy (and old) Sohma family. After Akito's father, Akira, dies, there's a huge dispute over whether his wife Ren or his child Akito should take over as Head of the Family. Akito ends up winning, since it's in Akira's will, but considering that we only hear about that stipulation from the head maid (who has always despised Ren) after the conflict has had some time to escalate, it's possible she made it up. The factions among the servants are still butting heads a decade or so later.
- In Beelzebub, if the current Lord Beezlebub has too many children (read: more than one), demons are obviously going to create factions over in-fighting, and civil war will eventually start, threatening both the family itself and the entire kingdom. Case and point: Baby Beel and his older brother En. Though, it's assumed that whoever inherits the Beelzebub is the true successor to the throne. Since En did not inherit the title despite being the eldest, it's obvious who their father's successor is. This causes En a considerable amount of (somewhat childish) angst, and claim that he is an "unwanted child," perhaps in realization of that and the fact that he tends to act like a Spoiled Brat.
- In Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic, after the second Kou Emperor died of illness most likely a lie by his wife Gyokuen, everyone believed that the successor would be his first son Kouen. The fact that Gyokuen succeeded as the Third Emperor shocked everyone and supporters of Kouen immediately began to revolt.
- Saiunkoku Monogatari has the princes fighting each other after their father deliberately set them against themselves to see who would become emperor, nearly destroying the country in the process. Not to mention exiling his former favourite son Prince Seien, the most competent out of his sons. In the end after four of the six princes killed each other, the youngest prince Ryuuki becomes emperor, something he hated and never wanted.
- In The Heroic Legend of Arslan, there is Arslan who is making his move to free Pars from Lusitania and Silvermask/Prince Hermes, Andragonas' nephew who also wants to undermine Lusitania from within. Parsian officers in exile recognize that because there are two contenders for the throne, liberating Pars will not bring peace to the country.
- One of these takes place in Anatolia Story, a manga set in the Hittite Empire. Yuri Suzuki is the concubine of Prince Kail Mursili, one of the sons of King Suppilinuma I, and she arrived there via Time Travel when the King was very old and his consort, Kail's Wicked Stepmother Queen Nakia, was already scheming to get her son Juda as the heir and kill Kail (despite Juda not wanting to inherit). When the King actually died, around the same time The Plague hit Anatolia, things quickly went From Bad to Worse, with Yuri and Kail desperately trying to fend off Nakia's intrigues and help the kingdom...
- Berserk's Golden Age arc has one approaching in the Kingdom of Midland. The sitting king only has a daughter, Charlotte, so his brother is expected to inherit. But then said brother tries to murder Griffith due to the threat posed by the common-born mercenary, who was granted a peerage for his victories for the Crown and is courting Princess Charlotte. Griffith has Guts assassinate the prince, and he accidentally kills the man's son in the process as well, making Charlotte the only heir. Then everything Goes Horribly Wrong.
- In Marvel Comics' Power Pack, this was the default for the alien Snark empire every time an Emperor died, with all-out war of the whole society. It was so bad, the guy proposing government by gladiatorial combat was a heroic reformer.
- In the second series of Runaways, Los Angeles is suffering from a power vacuum after the sudden death of the Pride, and thus the Runaways are forced to face off against a horde of third-rate supervillains seeking to make names for themselves.
- One story arc in the Popeye comics featured King Blozo of Spinachia being pressured into marrying because his subjects were fearing this trope. He didn't like the idea of having a wife, but was reconsidering because the people of Spinachia were threatening to depose him and elect a President.
- The Parselmouth of Gryffindor sees such a situation within the confines of the Ministry of Magic after Fudge disappears. Senior Undersecretary Slughorn and Hermione run through every possible candidate for an acting minister, and can only come up with Percy Weasley.
- Actually addressed in How I Became Yours. Mai brings up a pretty good point that not only would this scenario be inevitable if the existence of Zuko's bastard child with Katara became public knowledge, but also that there would be some very serious social fallout in the still struggling-to-recover Fire Nation as well.
- Emael Mosekhesailho mentions that many Klingon noble houses are facing succession crises due to the deaths of patriarchs and heirs in the Dominion War. The Romulan Star Empire views the chaos as an opportunity to gain an edge over their traditional rival, until Shinzon's coup throws their government, too, into chaos.
- One of those seems to loom in Reluctant Hero's near future: Zuko cannot become Fire Lord because he was revealed as the new Avatar, his younger sister Azula is... Azula, and Iroh is quite old and childless since his son's death. Since Iroh is the late Fire Lord's firstborn, his subordinate Jee begs him to remarry and produce another heir to legitimate his claim.
- Black Sky has the Zabini family, a dynasty ruling over the Principality of Sabina since Ancient Roma's era. As the ruling Prince refused to remarry following his beloved wife's demise, his grandson by his only daughter was acknowledged as heir, but his eligibility was shaky because it was female inheritance. Then it's discovered the Prince sired a bastard son who's actually missing, right after marrying and impregnating his brand-new wife. Only, the baby can't be the Zabini heir since the wife's inheritance takes precedence, which forces the Zabini to search for the guy.
- The tengu face one in A New World. For a very long time, they've worked in a well-arranged meritocracy/bureaucracy. However, there's no clear successor and the bureaucracy needs time to determine a new one. This means the Great Tengu is reticent to directly fight the Lunarians, since his death could unleash a horrible tengu civil war, which there's no time for in the middle of the oncoming attack. So he stays put, duels his assassin, and dies bequeathing his position to whoever kills his murderer, satisfying every tenet of the Tengu. Momiji succeeds, and is crowned as the new Great Tengu.
- In Rodrik The Red Wolf, one of these has reared its ugly head regarding the succession of Barrowton. Lady Barbrey has named her nephew Domeric as heir, but he is Roose Bolton's son and this would give the Boltons too much power. The next closest relation is Rodrik, but as a bastard son and a Stark bastard son, this looks like Ned is consolidating power and using Nepotism.
Barbrey: [exasperated] Then what? Who am I to pass Barrowton to? I raised [Rodrik], and I raised Domeric. I ensured both of you were well educated, trained and able to take on the task. If not you two, then who?
- Bequeathed from Pale Estates:
- After the death of Robert Arryn and his mother Lysa Tully Arryn during The Plague, the Vale descends into one as Jon Arryn no longer has any immediate family to serve as his heir. Several noble families are searching their family trees for the closest Arryn relative so they can stake a claim on the Eyrie and thus the Vale altogether. The situation eventually becomes so dire that Jon leaves his office as Hand of the King to Tywin so he can settle the matter personally, with the North's help to quell the unrest.
- The Crown enters one after Joffrey's madness becomes widespread knowledge after an incident at a major banquet. One of the reasons Robert's rule was tolerated was because it got the Mad King Aerys off the throne. Westeros will not tolerate another Mad King, to the point of going to war over it. This is an issue because Tommen, Myrcella, and Stannis all died during the Plague and with Renly disqualified from the line of succession due to having a male soulmate, that leaves only Shireen as the only other possible heir. For what it's worth, Robert has been trying for more trueborn children, but Cersei has been thwarting his efforts through a careful schedule of moon tea so she can have Jaime's kids intead.
- The Will of the Empire: As in canon, Palpatine had not named an official heir "but it was generally understood that in such an event, it was Lord Vader who would take the throne." In this case, on the eve of the Battle of Endor, Vader himself decides to take steps to ensure the Empire ends up in the right hands, first by declaring himself the Emperor's official successor and that, in the event of his own demise, his chosen heir - his son, Luke Skywalker - will take the throne next. He also sets things up to avoid a succession crisis, by eliminating any others (like Ysanne Isard, and certain dissenting Moffs) who might try to seize control from Luke; these orders go into effect when he contacts Admiral Piett (who'd remained in charge of the fleet but was transferred to another Star Destroyer in order to increase his odds of survival) during his dying moments. By the time Luke himself finds out, most if not all other potential claimants have been dealt with.
- In Robb Returns, due to Cersei's infidelity exposed and her children being proven as not being Robert's, Westeros is in one. The immediate options are to name Stannis as heir presumptive (which has the problem of him only having one heir himself at the moment, who is female), Robert remarrying (which has political implications no matter who he picks, and it would take at least a year to get a new heir, and years more to see if said heir is suitable), or legitimize one of Robert's bastards (who are presently untrained for leadership, and only one of whom has a noble-born mother). In the immediate term, Robert has declared Stannis as heir presumptive, while reserving the right to name a new heir should one of his bastards prove fit for the job or he ends up remarrying and siring an actual heir.
- The backstory to Bitter Lake is that the king was assassinated, then three of the kingdom's four provinces refused to crown his young son, leading to a four-way civil war that lasted for twelve years. It starts as the provinces are sending their leaders to negotiate a peace treaty, but there's a fifth faction that doesn't want the talks to go as planned.
- The Death of Stalin: Officially, the succession is straightforward: an established rule dictates that on the leader's death he will be succeeded by his deputy. However, Malenkov is a weak-willed ditherer (Stalin made him his Number Two specifically because he wouldn't pose a threat to his own power and become The Starscream), so there's still a conflict among the more strong-minded and devious officials to determine who will be unofficially but actually in charge.
- One segment of The Great Race involved a The Prisoner of Zenda style plot to replace Crown Prince Hapnick with a double before he's crowned King of Carpania.
- King Ralph has elements of this; after a freak accident cooks the entire British royal family, you've got one Evil Chancellor type trying to usurp the throne, one legitimate heir of less than ideal character who didn't know about it in the first place, and one heir actively trying not to be king.
- An example without a war happens at the beginning of Kull the Conqueror. The paranoid king of Valusia slaughters most of the royal family out of fear that someone will try to kill him. Kull, a barbarian from Atlantis, ends up mortally wounding the king. Kull picks up the crown, not knowing what to do with it. Immediately, General Taligaro and the king's cousin each demand that Kull hand him the crown. As a final "fuck you", the king manages to proclaim Kull his successor, pointing out that Kull will now have to live in constant fear of assassination. The high priest confirms that the king has that right, resulting in Taligaro and the king's cousin plotting to get rid of Kull by resurrecting an ancient sorceress. Naturally, it doesn't go according to plan.
- This trope is what starts the main plot of Maleficent: King Henry, the cruel ruler of the humans, is fatally wounded in battle by Maleficent. Because he has no male heir, he proposes to the noblemen assembled before his deathbed that whoever can kill Maleficent will ascend the throne and have his daughter's hand in marriage. At the same time, Stefan, Maleficent's childhood friend, overhears Henry's decree (as an adult, Stefan now works as a servant in the king's castle) and, realizing that this is the perfect opportunity to fulfill his dream of being king, goes to Maleficent, claiming to have come just to warn her. Once he has her drugged and asleep, however, Stefan cannot bring himself to kill her, and simply cuts off her wings and lies to the king, thus gaining the throne in return. Unfortunately, Maleficent is still alive (if no longer able to fly), and out for revenge...
- The Prince and the Pagoda Boy involves one for the majority of the film. Once the king dies, he names his eldest son his heir. However, one of his sons disagrees and creates a civil war over the throne. He has his brother assassinated to take his place, and after declaring himself king, kills another brother with his bare hands even after this brother surrendered.
- During Parliament's meeting in The Princess Diaries 2, Viscount Mabrey reveals that his nephew, Lord Devereaux, is another heir to the Genovian throne. Despite Queen Clarisse's objection, the only way Mia can assume her duties as Queen is if she marries within the next 30 days. Devereaux didn't actually want the throne (he was told that was what his father wanted it was really a lie created by his power-hungry uncle), and Mia eventually does gain the crown by initiating a new law during her cancelled wedding to allow a queen to be crowned without being married. The fact that Devereaux and Mia were falling in love with each other probably helped.
- The Japanese period piece Shogun's Samurai is set entirely around one of these. The Shogun seems increasingly likely to make his younger son Shogun when some court insiders who prefer the elder son poison him, resulting in a situation where several powerful lords (and a scheming, Manipulative Bitch mother) favor the more handsome and charismatic younger son, while the rules and a few court insiders like the Yagyu clan favor the elder son. Interestingly, the director was more known for making Yakuza films, but claimed that there was little difference in the end, summarizing it as "The old boss dies, and the question is about who will become the new boss."
- Star Wars: The Galactic Empire fell into this days after their loss at Endor. Palpatine never named a legit successornote , Imperial warlords sprung from the ruins of the Empire in an attempt to take back the Galaxy from the newly formed New Republic. That failed and forced the Empire to sign a treaty officially ending its rule, though warlords of the ex-Empire escaped into the Unknown Parts of the Galaxy, rebuilding the new Empire, The First Order.
- Many legends of the Trope Namer The Man In The Iron Mask have him with a twin brother imprisoned to prevent this. The problem was complicated by a popular belief that of twins, the firstborn was the younger, and the second the older the birth order showed the order they were conceived in. Either one, therefore, could be described as the rightful heir.
- Doctor Who: "The Androids of Tara" is basically a version of The Prisoner of Zenda. Prince Reynart must be crowned at a specific time. Trying to stop him is an evil count, who plans to kill him or prevent his attendance so the next in line, Princess Strella, takes over or more specifically an android double. However, the prince has an android double of himself and Strella looks exactly like Romana. Spare a thought for Mary Tamm, who had to play both roles and doubles of each.
- Much of the first season of Downton Abbey revolves around a variation of this: instead of a country trying to figure out who will be the next monarch, it's a group of nobles the Crawley family, the head of which holds the title Earl of Grantham trying to determine who will be the inheritor of their estate and its title, after the heir presumptive dies aboard the Titanic. The current (6th) Earl, Robert, would very much like to leave as much as possible to his eldest daughter, Lady Mary, but the terms of his marriage contract with his wife Cora put the kibosh on that. You see, the 5th Earl foolishly stipulated that Cora's fortune would be entailed to the estate that is, assigned to whomever inherited the title "Earl of Grantham." With a few rare exceptions and this isn't one British peerages go to "the heirs male of the body" of the grantee; they cannot be inherited in the female line. Lord and Lady Grantham went on to have three daughters and no sons. The solution was for Mary to marry the next male in line, her second cousin and good friend of the family Patrick Crawley (the Earl and Patrick's father were friends growing up), and thus keep hold of her mother's money, but then the Titanic happened, and Patrick was on it. The next closest male relative is the Earl's third cousin once removed (and thus fourth cousin to Mary and her sisters), and he's a Self-Made Man who's not sure he wants to marry Mary and give up his career as a corporate-law solicitor to "run the estate" (i.e. be an idle aristocrat). Eventually he does, quite happily, we might add...but he's so very businesslike about that it drives the Earl mad. He also gives Mary a son, ensuring that the money would stay in the family...and dies literally hours after his son is born.
- Dynasty is the Wuxia story of the Yongzheng Emperor's ascension, reign, and assassination.
- A variation occurs in Farscape's "Look at the Princess" trilogy. Moya's crew lands on a Sebacean planet where succession goes through the eldest child regardless of gender, but only if they are married (to someone who can give them viable offspring) by a certain age. Since Princess Katralla's DNA was poisoned by her younger brother, she despairs of ever finding a Sebacean male who is compatible and thinks she will have to forfeit the throne. This is particularly problematic since Prince Clavor will lead the society into destruction at the hands of the Scarrans if he is allowed to rule. Fortunately for her, John shows up. As he is human and not Sebacean, he is genetically capable of producing an heir with her and is practically forced to wed her. The Queen even has her daughter artificially inseminated with his DNA to make sure there will be a continuing line.
- Game of Thrones:
- The show featured this by the end of season 1, with Robert's death causing the "War of Five Kings" between Robert's elder brother Stannis, his younger brother Renly, and his son Joffrey, all competing for the Iron Throne. During the chaos, two smaller kingdoms also declared themselves independent, not recognizing any king on the Iron Throne and instead their own local high lord. In this case, Stannis is the rightful king as Joffrey (along with all of Robert's children with Cersei) is a bastard and not actually Robert's son. This seems to be resolved with the victory of the Lannisters in the War of the Five Kings, and they seem to reestablish control of the throne over the kingdoms.
- As of the end of Season 6, all the contenders from the War of the Five Kings are deceased, which leaves Cersei Lannister as the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms after her youngest son's suicide and Cersei's murder of many rivals after she blows up the Sept of Balor. Daenerys Targaryen, the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, finally comes home to Westeros to reclaim her birthright. However, Daenerys was rendered barren by Mirri's spell and cannot have children. Tyrion attempts to discuss it by offering alternatives about who should succeed her, but Daenerys is unwilling to hear it and will only address this after her conquest is complete. Making things even more difficult is her forming a relationship with the new King of the North, Jon Snow, who is revealed to the audience as the trueborn son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, Aegon Targaryen (making him Ned Stark's nephew, not his illegitimate son, as well as Daenerys' nephew), and therefore, by the laws of succession, is the rightful king of Westeros.
- This is the crux of the final season. Jon and Daenerys eventually learn about the former's parentage though he never wants the Iron Throne; however, the latter fears others will use it to press claims over hers and she's not wrong. When Jon's sister, Sansa Stark, learns the truth, she breaks her promise to Jon not to reveal this secret and tells Tyrion (who tells Varys) in hopes of putting Jon on the throne over Dany. This results in Varys scheming for the same purpose. Tyrion argues that the Daenerys and Jon should get married since incestuous marriage has been a traditional Targaryen practice but Varys speaks against this, saying that marrying one's aunt is not common practice in the North, where Jon grew up.
- I, Claudius: True to Real Life, the order of succession among the gens Julii is in almost constant flux, pending patricide, fratricide, regicide, suicide, exile, bribes, threats, insanity, back-room politicking, bed-room politicking, poison, and favoritism among the Praetorians.
- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia features a non-monarch version. Frank announces he's retiring and the rest of the gang have to figure out who gets his shares of the bar and becomes the majority owner. Remembering that they all signed a pact where "the next of kin" gets anyone's shares, Dennis and Dee claim the shares as Frank's children. However, Charlie points out Frank is their adoptive father while he may actually be Frank's biological son from an affair Frank had with his mother. Charlie sets out to get a blood test to prove he's Frank's son while Dee and Dennis plot against each other so they will be the sole owner. Eventually, everything is rendered moot when Frank decides not to retire.
- Merlin is actively trying to prevent this throughout the course of the show by keeping Arthur alive, the undisputed heir. Were he to die at least before he married Gwen, quite honestly, it's hard to imagine what could happen. Then it gets complicated when it's revealed Morgana is his older half-sister, which apparently gives her a legitimate claim to the throne despite her being a female bastard.
- Happens at the end of season 3 of The Musketeers. King Louis is Secretly Dying and his 6-year-old son is in line for the throne. Governor Feron and Grimaud are plotting, with the help of the King's brother Gaston, to challenge this. To further complicate things, the regent would normally be Queen Anne; however, since she is Spanish and France is at war with Spain, that is disputed as well.
- Sabaton's "Long Live the King" references the real-life succession crisis in Sweden following the death of Charles XII at the Siege of Fredriksten. Charles, being somewhat of an Honor Before Reason type, had failed to marry or produce an heir, so the throne went to his sister. This brought on the final collapse of the Swedish Empire (already well underway after Charles was forced to surrender to Russia in The Great Northern War).
- The classic Avalon Hill game Kingmaker is about the Wars of the Roses, see Real Life, below.
- In 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons, the death of the chief modron Primus would always set off a Succession Crisis between the four secundi the only time that modrons would fail to act as a unified force. Slightly subverted in that the decision process involved a cutthroat competition instead of out-and-out war.
- And once a Secundus became the new Primus, a Tertian had to be promoted up to fill that empty Secundus spot, and then a Quarton had to be promoted up to fill the Tertian position, and so on all the way down.
- In the Eberron campaign setting, this is what set off the Last War. King Jarot kicked the bucket, and, thanks to the military buildup during his reign for an invasion that never came and his habit of encouraging his children to squabble incessantly, he paved the war for a century-long war that split the unified kingdom of Galifar into twelve current nations of Khorvaire and only ended when one of the original five provinces was wiped off the map and the great-grandchildren of the royals who started it decided things had gone on long enough. Way to go there, Jarot. Unusually, the problem wasn't that there wasn't a dedicated heir, since on his deathbed Jarot declared the queen of Cyre the new ruler of Galifar; it's that of the five possible heirs, one decided that he had the divine right to be king, one believed he had the military right to be king, and one believed it was time to abandon the old tradition of kicking out the old royal family of each nation and handing them over to the new ruler of Galifar's kids.
- The classic 1st edition module "Destiny of Kings" is all about this. The PCs must find and rescue an 18-year-old prince before his uncle claims the throne.
- This is set up as a potential plot hook in the Al-Qadim setting. Grand Caliph Khalil al-Assad al-Zahir, Master of the Enlightened Throne, Most High Sovereign of the Land of Fate, the Worthy of the Gods, Scourge of the Unbeliever, Confidant of the Genies, has no sons (despite the best efforts of his harem). It's left up to the GM just what the reason is; suggestions include all his sons being raised in secret, and a cursed item in the harem causing sterility.
- The core Back Story of BattleTech is a Succession Crisis that lasted over 400 years, with 5 powers each claiming the throne, known as the Succession Wars. All of these powers have had internal Succession Crises of their own along the way.
- House Davion had a succession crisis that caused a civil war so bad that they rewrote the rules of succession to be exceedingly specific, so that there could be no ambiguity as to who would succeed who. It... didn't work. Well, technically, the rules would have worked, but when the populace (and various nobles) simply accepted a new ruler in clear violation of those laws, they were shown to be nothing more than ink on a page. A civil war erupted a few years later.
- In the Legend of the Five Rings setting, they seem to happen regularly to supply plot prizes for the year's tournaments.
- Part of the Scarlet Empress' policy of keeping anybody from accumulating the power to overthrow her was to make the line of succession as obscure and convoluted as possible. Her Dynasty consists of twelve extended families, and she herself continuously delayed officially announcing a successor, ultimately stating that she would do so on the 1000th anniversary of her reign. This lack of clear succession is one of the reasons why, in the wake of her mysterious and unexpected disappearance, the Realm is on the verge of collapse.
- Both of the Third Imperium's civil wars in Traveller were succession crises:
- In the first one, a disgruntled admiral assassinated the Empress and declared himself Emperor, only to be killed a couple years later by some of the other claimants. The First Civil War saw eighteen "emperors of the flag" in eighteen years before Arbellatra simply named herself regent and looked for a more legitimate heir for seven years before finally accepting the throne and founding a dynasty.
- In the Megatraveller timeline, Archduke Dulinor assassinated Emperor Strephon and his wife and daughter to proclaim himself Emperor, but the Imperial Moot wouldn't accept his claim and there was a Second Civil War. That one ended in a sentient computer virus tearing the Imperium apart.
- This happens from time to time in the Empire in Warhammer Fantasy. When an Emperor dies, the Elector Counts often argue on who would be the next Emperor. Once there was the time of the Three Emperors, where three Counts declared themselves as the true Emperor of the Empire.
- The classic Ironclaw adventure module "The Lost Heir of the Rinaldi" takes place among a brewing succession crisis. The High King Fidelio di Rinaldi has been murdered along with his eldest son, probably by his new wife, the necromancer Lady Amalsand Jakoba; however, his second son Fabrizio is missing and could still be alive. The players are usually hired by a banker to whom the king owed a lot of money and who is being pressured by the Great Houses to foreclose on the Rinaldi estate so they can buy it from him, but he can't until they know what happened to the prince. His stepmother drove him completely insane with a curse, he can't even speak coherently. And there's at least two other factions looking for him, and an impostor, and Amalsand wants him dead so her own son can claim the throne.
- Successors is a game that begins right after the death of Alexander the Great, and chronicles the violent implosion of the Macedonian empire as Alexander's generals fight each other over the empire. Players struggle to either prove themselves the legitimate heir to Alexander's empire, to install one of Alexander's sons on the throne as a Puppet King, or to let Alexander's empire fall, murder his heirs, and carve out the strongest successor state from the ashes.
- A lot of strategy games are based around a succession crisis. This is not only because it's a highly realistic story, but due to the fact that they are based around wars, that this is actually not that far off from reality. Similar to a group of rebels fighting against a corrupted government.
- Happens a lot (as you might expect) in the 4X strategy games Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis, set in respectively the Middle Ages and the Renaissance/Colonial era.
- Special note goes to the Crusader Kings 2 expansion pack The Old Gods, in which pagan factions (especially the Norse) are required to have elective gavelkind successionnote until they reform their religion (if ever). This inevitably results in various succession crises, as your heirs start fighting each other over who has a better claim on a title. Vicious intrafactional fighting follows, since this is the Vikings we're talking about.
- One of the live action trailers for Crusader Kings 2 shows how one can engineer succession crises in neighboring kingdoms and take advantage of them to invade.
- Muslim rulers, introduced in the Sword of Islam expansion, are required to take "open" succession, which means that the son who already possesses the greatest title(s) inherits when you die. And Muslims take Decadence penalties for having male relatives with no lands and are expected to take multiple wives based on their rank, so it's practically guaranteed that your demense will be split up between your many heirs even before you kick the bucket.
- In Tales of Graces, Aston Lhant sends his son Hubert off to another country to be raised by the military-based Oswell family. Aston does so in order to avoid a messy succession crisis between Hubert and his older brother, Asbel. It's ultimately deconstructed when Hubert returns to Lhant years down the road. Not only did Aston's attempts to avoid a succession crisis only delay the inevitable, they actually made it far worse than if he'd done nothing. Hubert now has taken multiple levels in badass and in jerkass, promptly curb-stomping Asbel and exiling him from Lhant, then telling off their mother when she tries to intervene.
- Tales of Vesperia has a succession crisis going on in the background, involving one of the main characters, Estelle. It is resolved rather abruptly when Alexei's insurrection and the Adephagos crisis catapult Ioder into the role of acting Emperor. His performance nets him the support of both the Council and the Knights, making him as-good-as-permanent Emperor. Estelle seems rather relieved at this turn of events, as it allows her to continue her travels and pursue her dreams of being a writer.
- A succession crisis is what sets several major events of the video game Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume into motion. Depending on the path that the player picks, it also plays out differently, and you play a part in deciding who comes out on top: or so it looks. Kristoff and Langrey are guaranteed to either die or get imprisoned, and the only thing that changes is whether the realm is so badly fractured that Joshua is unable to keep it from collapsing after he takes the throne.
- A Succession Crisis in fact appears in Tactics Ogre, but this actually does not come into play as a key event until later, as the ethnic cleansing and liberation of Walstania are more important in the early parts of the game. It is resolved by the end of the game, either by talking Kachua, the rightful heir as the former king's biological daughter, out of committing suicide in front of Denim, or by allowing her to do that and making her adoptive brother, the next closest thing, the heir, giving him the custom class of "Lord".
- Interestingly enough, the events of Final Fantasy Tactics are set forth by a Succession Crisis, and unlike another game made by some of the same people, Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together, this takes central stage early on, but later the plot about corruption in the Church becomes more important, and the War of the Lions is relegated to the background. In fact, the succession crisis was ultimately instigated and extended by the church, in an attempt to reclaim their moral authority and position of power that was usurped by the strong monarchy.
- There are two concurrent succession crises in Dragon Age: Origins:
- The Fereldan succession crisis, caused by King Cailan Theirin's death without a legitimate heir fighting the darkspawn at Ostagar, frames much of the main plot, but the protagonist only gets involved after the civil war is mostly over. Problem is, the only candidates for the throne are the late king's wife (who isn't of Royal Blood herself), the bastard son of said king's father (by an elven mother, no less, which would make him a target of Fantastic Racism if anyone ever found out), and the Player Character (but only if they are of the Human Noble origin and choose to run for it). All the while, a paranoid manipulative regent with a facade of righteousness makes the mess even murkier. Just to add to that pressure, a nigh-on unstoppable horde of monsters has nearly destroyed the standing army and is getting very close to wiping out the country outright. The remaining army is on the brink of civil war and all foreign aid has been blocked at the borders until far too late to make a difference. Without getting a king/queen to sort this mess out soon, the country is utterly boned. Possible resolutions are: Heroic Bastard Alistair becomes king, Dowager Queen Anora becomes queen regnant, Alistair and Anora marry and rule together (the outcome of Alistair's Companion-Specific Sidequest determining which of them is really in charge), or the Human Noble Warden rules, possibly marrying either Alistair or Anora as well. Additionally, another permutation for a non-Human Noble female PC who romances Alistair (again depending on his sidequest) is for her to become his mistress. Whew!
- The Orzammar Dwarves are in the middle of a succession crisis of their own. One candidate, the son of the late king, is suspected of framing one sibling for the murder of their brother. The other candidate, the head of another noble house, claims the king said on his deathbed that he did not want his remaining son to be king, but no one else can verify this.
- A succession crisis is averted in Dragon Age II when Viscount Dumar is killed during the qunari uprising. With no leader available and no heir, the Templars step in and assume total control over the city, which actually makes things worse because the Knight-Commander Meredith is refusing to let a new Viscount be decided, citing the "blood mage problem" as justification for her military rule and that she will allow a new Viscount to be elected once the crisis is averted. If Hawke sides with the Templars at the end, s/he becomes the new Viscount upon Meredith's death.
- Sebastian also mentions that preventing one of these was a factor in him being Locked Away in a Monastery. His frustration with being The Unfavorite due to being the spare to the spare as the third son led to him acting out by being a womanizing hedonist. His parents feared that if Sebastian's various affairs were to produce any illegitimate children, it would have caused a bunch of trouble down the line for their legitimate grandchildren.
- It's All There in the Manual that the two strongest clans in Nevarra are gearing up for one of these (the current King and his likely successor are both childless old men).
- In The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, the king isn't even dead. That doesn't stop anyone from waging wars over the king's illegitimate sons to have a better position once he's dead. The king doesn't like that a bit. Then he dies and things go really to hell.
- World of Warcraft
- A succession crisis in the dwarven backstory, called the War of the Three Hammers, ended up splitting the dwarves of Ironforge into the Bronzebeard, Wildhammer, and Dark Iron clans. Technically, the clans already existed, but the succession crisis and the brutal war drove the Wildhammers and the Dark Irons out of Ironforge, resulting in them forming completely separate kingdoms.
- Even though King Magni Bronzebeard of Ironforge and of Khaz Modan is still alive at the game's beginning, fears of a future crisis result from the discovery that his daughter Moira is pregnant by Emperor Dagran Thaurissan of the Dark Iron Dwarves, following his kidnapping her and allegedly putting her under his spell, though Moira claims that there never was a spell, nor even a kidnapping. Even if the bastard heir is accepted by the king, the rest of the Ironforge dwarves might rebel in sheer horror and disgust at the thought of a half-Dark Iron being their king.
- This crisis comes to pass in the Warcraft novel, The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm, which details the events leading up to the Cataclysm expansion. During the story, King Magni turned to crystal in a ritual to protect his people from the Cataclysm, paving the way for Moira to seize power. The crisis was eventually defused after the Council of Three Hammers consisting of Moira, Muradin Bronzebeard, and Falstad Wildhammer was formed as a power-sharing measure.
- In one of the comics leading up to Legion, Magni wakes up from his crystal slumber. There are immediately fears that Magni will once again assume the throne, undoing the unity the Council of Three Hammers has achieved, potentially re-igniting the old conflicts and putting everything right back where it started. Fortunately for that, Magni has other issues to contend with, as he becomes the Speaker for Azeroth itself.
- The Shaman Campaign in Legion forces the shamans of the Earthen Ring to resolve two separate succession crises in Skywall and the Firelands, the elemental realms of wind and fire. Both have been leaderless since their prior rulers, Al Akir and Ragnaros, were destroyed in Cataclysm, and two factions in each realm are warring for final control. The shamans, wishing to unite all four elemental lords to fight the Burning Legion, take the side of the less hostile candidates for leadership against the ones that would ignore or kill them out of hand.
- Features twice in Blaze Union. In the B route, it's revealed that this was one of the reasons that Luciana and Aegina were ordered assassinated; Alanjame didn't want to deal with a Succession Crisis-inspired civil war while he was trying to take over the country, and in the C route, the fact that Soltier doesn't have an heir and Bronquia would almost certainly destroy itself over picking a new Emperor is why Gram Blaze has no choice but to make sure he stays alive.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- Backstory examples:
- The 1st Era Empire of the Nords collapsed in large part due to a succession crisis. High King Borgas, the last direct heir of Ysgramor, fell in battle. A "moot" was held among the Jarls of Skyrim to name a new High King, but they could not settle on a candidate. The War of Succession broke out, costing the Nords all of their territory outside of Skyrim, with Skyrim itself fractured into warring independent territories. It would take over 50 years for the crisis to end, with Olaf One-Eye being named High King via the Pact of Chieftains.
- The War of the Red Diamond in the 3rd Era started as the result of such a crisis. After the death of Emperor Antiochus Septim, his 15-year-old daughter Kintrya II took over as Empress. However, her aunt, the infamous "Wolf Queen" Potema, accused Kintrya of being a bastard and therefore illegitimate. Potema declared her son (nephew to Antiochus), Uriel III, as the rightful heir. Potema and Uriel were joined by the disgruntled leaders of several of the Empire's provinces in starting the war, as well as an alliance with the Maormer (Sea Elves hostile to Tamriel), who invaded southern Tamriel, creating a two-front war for the strained Empire. Kintrya would be captured by Potema's forces and would die in captivity. However, her supporters, now led by her uncle Cephorus, would strike back and kill Uriel III, ending his claim to the throne. Cephorus would take over as Emperor, defeat most of Potema's forces, and then kill Potema herself after a protracted 10-year insurgency. It was the largest conflict the 3rd Empire of Tamriel had faced since it was founded (and would remain as such until the Oblivion Crisis).
- A subplot in Daggerfall involves this between Princess Elysana and Prince Helseth of Wayrest; they both have a claim to the throne, and it's left to a council to decide who would inherit on King Eadwyre's death. A side quest involves either blackmailing (Helseth) or killing (Elysana) a council member to curry favor for either heir. Between Daggerfall and Morrowind, Elysana is coronated Queen of Wayrest and exiles Helseth and his mother, Barenziah, to Morrowind.
- Oblivion begins immediately with the simultaneous assassination of the Emperor and his heirs. The Elder Council, led by High Councilor Ocato, essentially form a Regency. This succession crisis is compounded by the fact that the forces of Oblivion are no longer magically impeded from invading Cyrodiil. It is downplayed, mostly from a deliberate choice on the part of the designers to avoid complicated politics in favor of a relatively simple black-and-white saving the world story, partly from the fact that you early on find out there is a rightful (bastard) heir who is accepted by the relevant authorities. Then he sacrifices his life to stop the Daedric invasion, setting the stage for the succession crisis in Skyrim's backstory.
- As a consequence of Oblivion, another succession crisis occurs. Ocato is named Potentate (a reserve title which can be granted by the Elder Council, effectively establishing a permanent regency), but is soon assassinated by Thalmor assassins, seeking to destabilize the Empire to make way for the rebirth of the Aldmeri Dominion. War breaks out again as several local powers jockey for the Ruby Throne, eventually ending with the Colovian warlord Titus Mede claiming it. The period is known as the Stormcrown Interregnum, since Potentate Ocato's rule is an extension of the Septim Empire (and Tiber Septim was anointed "Stormcrown" by the Greybeards).
- Skyrim also takes place during a succession crisis in Skyrim. Shortly before the events of the game, pro-independence Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak challenged High King Torygg to a duel for his throne. It is an archaic but legitimate practice among the Nords. Stormcloak wins by using the Thu'um to kill Torygg. Victorious, Stormcloak and his followers feel that he should be named the new High King of Skyrim. The Jarls of Skyrim, who vote for the new High King, are torn due to Stormcloak's use of the Thu'um being seen as cheating. Eastern Skyrim secedes under Stormcloak's leadership, while western Skyrim (and the Empire) support Torygg's widow, Elisif, for the throne, leading to Civil War. The Player Character can resolve the crisis by joining the war on either side, and there's also a Game Mod available that lets you take the throne for yourself.
- Backstory examples:
- Averted, mostly, with the King's Quest universe. King's Quest I: Quest For The Crown is centered around an attempt to avert a succession crisis. By completing the quest given to him, Sir Graham is proven worthy of being the childless King Edward's heir, preventing Daventry from falling into chaos when said king dies mere moments after the quest is complete. Recovering the three treasures was more of a way for him to know the kingdom was in good hands, and a final test for his best knight. The Fan Sequel took it a step further by creating a legendary first king who handed the throne to his trusted knight when he died in battle without heirs. The king's brother was very displeased at being passed over, and founded the Black Cloak Society. In the Air Gem's final test in the fan sequel, Graham can choose whether or not to make the protagonist of King's Quest: Mask of Eternity heir to the throne.
- Disgaea: Hour of Darkness starts with the Netherworld in the midst of one of these. The rightful heir, Prince Laharl, had been sleeping for several years after his father's death, leading most of the Netherworld to forget about him. The first couple chapters involve him dealing with the numerous contenders looking to be the next Overlord. Disgaea Dimension 2 shows that several years later, this still hasn't blown over, with the sudden appearance by an angel claiming to be Laharl's long-lost sister and rightful inheritor of the throne, and a large faction of demons refuses to accept Laharl's position and have their own heir to the Overlord title they wish to place on the throne.
- Heroes of Might and Magic II: The Succession Wars is entirely based around this trope. After the previous king's death, the choice falls between his two sons Roland (good) and Archibald (not so good). The four royal seers to make the decision fall to "tragic accidents": one dies in a boating accident (hit by magical lightning), one slips and falls from the castle wall, one is "randomly" attacked by a dragon, and one dies of food poisoning. Archibald accuses his brother of murder and has him exiled. The player is a general who may choose to support either brother and may even switch sides halfway through. The canonical ending has Roland win, though, becoming the next (and last) King of Enroth.
- Prior to the events of Suikoden V, there was the Falenan Succession Conflict. After the death of their mother, Princess Falzrahm fought her elder sister Crown Princess Shahrewar for the throne. Rather than a flat-out civil war, both sides took advantage of the royal cabal of assassins known as Nether Gate to kill off supporters on both sides. Eventually, Shahrewar withdrew her claim, only to be promptly assassinated by Falzrahm to ensure the conflict wouldn't continue. Ironically, Falzrahm only ruled for two years before passing away. Having grown up in this poisonous environment, their daughters decided to nip any potential problems in the bud: Arshtat took the throne, while her sister Sialeeds and cousin Haswar agreed to never marry or have children.
- Unfortunately, this didn't quite work out as planned. Although the next queen (Lymsleia, the protagonist's younger sister) was never in doubt, a crisis occurred with regards to who would marry her and become royal consort and head of the country's military. This is traditionally decided through a tournament of champions, but since House Godwin won it through drugging or discrediting all potential threats to their champion, a lot of people were upset with this choice. The Godwins then tried to solidify their rule by assassinating the current Queen and Commander right away, when Lymsleia is still too young to rule on her own. The prince (the protagonist) was able to survive this assassination attempt, and much of the country begins to look to him as preferential to Gizel Godwin as leader of the Queendom (including the father of another contender for Lymsleia's hand, with whom the Prince takes refuge). And thus the stage is set for the civil war that comprises the majority of the game.
- Some of the Total War games allow this to happen if your faction leader buys the farm in certain circumstances usually when the leader dies without any male heirs, but it can also happen when the heir presumptive is unpopular enough that one of his royal siblings rebels in an effort to take succession. The manual for Medieval: Total War (which allowed you to choose which side to support) actually suggested engineering one of these to dispose of a weak family line, and a savvy player who sees one coming can pick his best general, give him the biggest army, and then marry him to a princess. If you're going to have a succession crisis, it's best to make sure it's a quick one.
- The Stainless Steel mod for Medieval II: Total War takes this further, with rulers that can get traits like "Offends the Nobility" and distinguishes between bastard children, appointed regents in case of no blood heir, and actual blood heirs. Unpopular kings or unpopular heirs can cause civil wars in that mod.
- The manual of Homeworld: Cataclysm reveals the Taiidan Empire fell due to a rather unusual one: after the death in battle of Emperor Riesstiu IV the Second at the end of the first game, the empire could have solved the lack of an heir (caused by Riesstiu having all possible heirs executed out of paranoia) by simply cloning him (with Riesstiu's regnal name suggesting he too was a clone of Emperor Riesstiu), except the Taiidan Rebellion destroyed the data on his genetic code. Immediately after, generals and fake heirs started shooting each other for the right to rule, with the Rebellion taking over as they were distracted.
- One of the main plots of Ravenmark: The Scourge of Estellion is the aftermath of the death of the beloved Emperor Sergius Corvius, the ruler of the Empire of Estellion. The late Emperor has two children, not to mention other numerous members of House Corvius. Sergius's eldest daughter Adrise, the so-called Chimney Queen, has no interest in the throne, content with her role as the Queen (basically, a department head) of the Court of Industry. Adrise's brother Gratian, though, wants to take the throne for himself. While there doesn't appear to be a problem with there being only one claimant, Sergius's Praetorian Guard called the Reiht claim that Sergius had been grooming another as his true successor, someone worthy of the Obsidian Perch (the Imperial throne) much more than his power-hungry son. Cue the Reiht and the other heir being hunted by the Invocati, troops loyal to Gratian. It doesn't help that the Empire is also being invaded by a vast army from beyond the impassable Cardani Swamps, using the disorganized state of Estellion to their advantage. In fact, the invaders are working with one of the royal advisors.
- It's worth noting that the neighboring Commonwealth of Esotre has a king but can never succumb to this trope because it's an elected post and a largely ceremonial one at that. The King's Hand (also elected) handles most of the day-to-day activities.
- One of the scenarios in the Russian campaign in Empire Earth is the result of the dying Grigor Stoyanovich making a choice about his successor. He chooses his mech bodyguard Grigor II. In this case, the crisis happens before Grigor is even dead, as many of his supporters turn against him, appalled by his choice. After brutally putting down the coup, Grigor succumbs to his heart condition, leaving the (even more ruthless) mech in charge.
- Kingdom Come: Deliverance takes place in the middle of one in the Kingdom of Bohemia. After the death of Charles IV, his son Wenceslaus IV, the rightful heir, is kidnapped by Sigismund, one of Charles' other sons, who promptly takes the throne for himself.
- The plot of Dominions is a war over who gets to be the next Top God after the old Pantokrator left.
- The plot of the strategy video game series Lords of the realm (e.g. Lords of the Realm 2) is entirely based on this trope: after the king's death, you must defeat other claimants to while they try to do the same thing with you.
- Meta-example: In a prior version of Dwarf Fortress, if particularly Long-Lived monarchs of particularly inbred families died, it was possible for the succession to enter an endless loop, thus causing a game world to crash irreparably.
- The Choose Your Own Adventure series Affairs of the Court has the Player Character arriving in court just as the kingdom is going through this the King/Queen is growing testy with their spouse for their inability to produce a legitimate heir. Naturally, you can use this to slander them and cozy up to the monarch.
- The War of the Lions in the backstory of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel was a five-way succession crisis kicked off when the Emperor of Erebonia died and the crown prince was assassinated. The ultimate winner, Prince Dreichels, wasn't even in the line of succession, as he was the old Emperor's illegitimate son by a common-born mistress, but was crowned anyway on the grounds that he was the last man standing.
- The Laurentia arc of Nexus Clash had the mess left behind by Laurentian national founding father Lucien Moreau, who wasn't a ruler per se but still had such a expansive business empire that he might as well have been one. Lucien was plagued by the Perfect Solution Fallacy in life and put enormous pressure on all of his children to surpass him, up to and including exiling his illegitimate (and only) son so that a life of hardship would make a man out of him. Once Lucien died, one of his daughters had already married outside the family, another was burned out from the pressure of being Lucien's overworked lieutenant for so long, and the youngest had never received any training or education in running a business empire and was unprepared when the task of last-ditch backup heir was suddenly dumped on her. The exiled son by now a violent and bitter man after decades of hardship returned soon after and took advantage of the situation to seize Lucien's estate for himself.
- An unusual one in Fire Emblem Warriors, as the problem is that neither heir wants the throne: Lianna thinks she doesn't have the self-confidence to be an effective ruler, and Rowan thinks being a ruler will weaken him after seeing his father literally die from the stress of ruling. The crisis is put on the backburner once the plot kicks off, and after a bunch of character growth on both Rowan and Lianna's parts, the crisis is resolved: they're both crowned as co-rulers of Aytolis.
- Sunrider had one of these in the backstory. When the God-Emperor of the galaxy-spanning Holy Ryuvian Empire and his eldest son were assassinated, his two remaining sons either of whom could have been behind the assassinations went to war over the throne. Since the war took place two thousand years ago and the Ryuvian Empire has long since fallen from power, nobody knows which side won.
- In Umineko: When They Cry, it's the Ushiromiya family's crazy hierarchy that causes the murders, in theory.
- Under the Moon concerns a succession crisis in the demon world, a land ruled by whoever is most powerful. As the story begins, the current king is growing weak and has potential successors picked out. The king's daughter, our heroine, makes it her job to persuade one of them to take the throne.
- In Drowtales:
- This is one of the biggest problems that faces the Sharen clan. Though Diva'ratrika has largely retired from public life and only officially remained alive, since she was in fact murdered by three of her daughters, her daughters have squabbled to assert their own authority. Nishi'kanta has been broken by the taint and the loss of her family, and is thus considered out of the running, but she has disappeared and her plans are unknown, making her a potential Wild Card. As the only unbroken, loyal daughter, Sil'lice is the favorite of what little remains of both Diva herself and those who were still loyal to her like Sker, but she was framed for treason and has few followers left alive. Snadhya'rune, the would-be favorite, has pretended to have no interest in ruling, and she certainly has no interest in ruling the Sharen, just the empire. The biggest contenders for the Sharen throne are Sarv'swati and Zala'ess. Sarv'swati continues to control the empire through an impostor Puppet Queen, but Zala'ess has the largest family and amassed the great clans of Nuqra'shareh to back her claim. The fallout when those two inevitably met up again came to a head in chapter 47, leaving us with Sarv'swati dead by Quaintana's (and Zala'ess') hand(s) through secret sabotage from the latter, and those left alive join forces out of sheer desperation as Snadhya'rune's insanity finally reaches its peak in the form of mass mind control plus a plant virus that threatens the entire underworld.
- The Sarghress clan ends up facing the same problem. Quain'tana's eldest daughter, Mel'arnach, is rebellious to the point that she would gladly destroy the Sarghress clan. Quain'tana's eldest son, Kel'noz, is competent, but a male in a Matriarchy, which would make things difficult for him even in the relatively egalitarian Sarghress clan. Laele'aell was perfect, but was broken beyond repair by Demonic Possession and a botched experiment to exorcise her. Syphile ended up as a short sighted loser. Ariel and Koil'dorath aren't completely hopeless, but they aren't quite leaders by nature either and are more or less Reluctant Rulers. When Quain'tana dies, the clan is wrecked by internal divisions. Koil'dorath fails to keep the clan together and ends up dying. Ariel, Quain'tana's official successor, loses most of her backing and is eventually branded a "traitor" by what little leadership the Sarghress have left.
- In The Silver Eye, Gallitan has one after their king and queen both die within a week of each other, leaving behind only their newborn son.
- Look to the West, being set primarily in the 18th and early 19th centuries, naturally has a lot of them. It even references the Yongzheng Emperor's strategy mentioned in the introduction to this trope...not that it works if the Emperor writing the note is quietly bonkers and chose a son who had died years before as heir.
- In A More Personal Union, the death of Queen Ursula of Spain prior to the birth of an heir causes a major one of these. Before long, her husband (whose only claim was through their marriage), her brother, and a couple of distant cousins are all fighting for the throne.
- Invoked by the wizard in The Care Bears: Adventure in Wonderland, who kidnapped the Princess of Heart, just as she was about to be crowned queen, meaning he would take over.
- In The Legend of Korra, the Earth Queen is assassinated and practically the whole country descends into chaos. Over three years, a soldier named Kuvira reunites the country with increasingly harsh practices, and eventually declares herself ruler. Meanwhile, the actual heir, Prince Wu, is a generally nice but rather selfish and clueless person living in Republic City. Kuvira seems more popular with the people, but most of the other world leaders want Prince Wu on the throne, albeit with lots of advisers they've chosen to help him. At the end of the series, after Kuvira is defeated and imprisoned, Wu decides to dissolve the monarchy altogether and make it a republic, so he can pursue his new dream of being a famous singer.
- Summaries for the 2019 "Ruins of the Empire" comic trilogy show that the transition into a democracy isn't going too smoothly, seeing as how one of the candidates is "hoping to subvert the new system from the inside out".