Guile Hero

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"My favorite three questions are, 'What do I want?', 'What do I have?', and 'How can I best use the latter to get the former?'"

Completing a triangle with the Action Hero and the Science Hero, the Guile Hero is a hero who operates by playing politics and manipulating the bad guys. The Guile Hero trades swords and guns (or science and technology) for charm, wit, political and/or financial acumen, and an in-depth knowledge of human nature. The Chain of Deals, along with the Social Engineering and Gambit Index tropes are all at the Guile Hero's fingertips. Often, a Guile Hero will manipulate the other good guys and a whole bunch of innocent bystanders as part of their scheme to bring down the Big Bad, though they'll take care to ensure the other characters aren't truly harmed in the process (and if they fail, they'll be very sorry). The Guile Hero is likely to be a politician or a businessman, and engage in Battles of Wits.

The Guile Hero may be considered a scaled-down heroic analogue to the Magnificent Bastard; unlike the Magnificent Bastard, the Guile Hero is unambiguously a good guy with the same goals as any Action Hero or Science Hero and usually lacks the Magnificent Bastard's flair and knack for long-term planning. While some other heroes may be unhappy with being manipulated by the Guile Hero, it is made clear to the reader that this character both has a heroic goal and is not (usually) Jumping Off the Slippery Slope into becoming a Well-Intentioned Extremist.

The Guile Hero combines elements of The Chessmaster, the Trickster Archetype, the Manipulative Bastard, and The Strategist without having to be all of these. A Guile Hero isn't necessarily The Chessmaster: the Guile Hero is simply a hero who uses wit, charm, and skill to mislead and set up the bad guys, while The Chessmaster is often devoted to grander schemes, and is always at the top of the food chain. A Manipulative Bastard tends to be more personal and controlling in his manipulations. A Guile Hero need not be a master manipulator; "guile" can mean "shrewdness" instead of "deceit". The Chain of Deals is just as valid a tool for these characters as the Batman Gambit, and a Guile Hero may very well be a grown up High School Hustler.

In the Five-Man Band, the Guile Hero is most likely to be The Face of the troupe and/or The Smart Guy though a particularly bright Hero or Lancer can also fit in. If The Chick uses her emotional influence to the extreme and combines it with quick wits and words, she can also grow into one. The Guile Hero is also frequently a Sixth Ranger, and if Sixth Ranger is also a Guile Hero they tend to be Sixth Ranger Traitor.

Compare the Young Conqueror, which is a young example of this trope taken Up to Eleven with a side of Take Over the World ambition as well. May overlap with Good Is Not Dumb. Compare Silk Hiding Steel when a Proper Lady feels like plotting.

Not under any circumstances to be confused with a certain Sonic Boom-tossing soldier.

Examples of Guile Hero include:

Anime and Manga

  • The Dollars from Durarara!! as a collective whole are a decentralized version of this. This partially stems from their decentralized nature (they have no concrete organization, mostly relying on cellphones and the Internet for communications, not to mention their lack of concrete vertical or horizontial chains of command), and it's partially because, while they do have muscle on the team, the vast majority of Dollars members are rank and file civilians of all ages, so many have to help using whatever means they have at hand, even if it's not in a direct fighting capacity, which Episode 22 of the anime shows in great detail.
  • Kisuke Urahara in Bleach combines this with Action Hero. He can kick ass when he needs to, but he prefers to use the protagonists to act as his surrogates in his conflict with Sosuke Aizen. Scary thing is, he's also a Science Hero. He's a Power Trio all in one.
  • Rock in Black Lagoon.
  • The main character (Ayumu Narumi) from Spiral fits this pretty well.
  • Lawrence, the main character of the anime Spice and Wolf is the economic type. When Holo is kidnapped and used as a pawn, he uses economic wizardry and manipulation to arrange for her release. Which pisses her off to no end since she'd hoped to see him rescue her personally, all Prince Charming style. Every once in a while, he manages to get himself into deep enough trouble that Holo has to bail him out, but he's still quite the savvy trader...
  • Blue (Green in the English version) from Pokémon Special.
  • Chief Aramaki from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is shrewd and cunning, manipulating the inter-departmental bureaucracy of the Japanese government to ensure that his people can do their jobs.
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes give us Yang Wen-Li, a textbook example: he has all the skills of the Magnificent Bastard yet remains one of the nicest persons you could ever meet.
  • Mamoru Takamura of Hajime no Ippo. Arrogant, loudmouthed and mean, he never stops humiliating his fellow boxers or rubbing the defeat in their face. And yet, everyone in the gym looks up to him, especially Aoki, Kimura and Ippo, because not only he's a great boxer with many CMOAs under his belt, but he is the one who got all of them into boxing and he puts himself through Hell to achieve his victories. He rarely winds up hatching any of his ridiculous schemes, preferring brawn to brains except when it really counts - but come on, look at that charming smile.
  • Sociopathic Hero version: Hiruma Youichi, Deimon Devilbats quarterback in Eyeshield 21. How did he get his players? Blackmail, manipulation, or the ultimate fallback, guns. Lots of guns. What does he do with his players? Gives them all nicknames that start with "Fucking," and puts them through Training from Hell including running up Tokyo Tower and pushing a truck from Texas to Las Vegas. What does he do to his opponents? All out psychological warfare, showing his hand, taunting unmercifully and cackling madly (even through a freshly broken arm if he has to.) He keeps innumerable calculations going on in his head and strategizes on the fly, willing (and eager) to go for the insanest of insane trick plays. He's a complete terror, but he has the absolute loyalty of his players (even the ones he recruited at gunpoint) who are willing to push themselves to insane heights right along with him (although they would be happier if he left his guns at home).
  • L from Death Note, heroic counterpart to Light, who is pretty much the poster boy for Magnificent Bastards. Slight subversion in that he sometimes comes across as somewhat amoral- the author admits that he is "a little bit evil"- and is interested in Light a little more for the challenge and a little less for moral reasons or the fact that Light very quickly becomes a Complete Monster.
    • Also Near, though to a lesser extent as he spends most of his time as a good guy Chessmaster. Near makes a lot of inspiring speeches (when his assistants moan about how well Kira, Mello and the mafia seem to be doing), some that are clearly insincere.
  • Colonel Roy Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist. This is a noble guy who makes his "lecherous behavior" a disguise. And there's how he deals with the Maria Ross Incident.
  • Kyouya Ohtori from Ouran High School Host Club. Considering that Tamaki Suoh is an Idiot Hero, and he's a Hypercompetent Sidekick, he has to be one of these.
  • It's a constant debate, both in-universe and amongst the fans, whether Justy Ueki Tylor is The Fool, a Genius Ditz, or a Guile Hero who uses Obfuscating Stupidity in order to carry out his plans. Some fans believe that it's actually a mixture of both; that Tylor has somehow become enlightened to the extent of becoming a bodhisattva through his original simple, happy-go-lucky ways and that most, if not all, of his antics in the series are part of a plan to help the others on the Soyokaze achieve enlightenment too.
  • Pretty much every main character in a Meitantei series is this, in different degrees. Among them we have Hajime Kindaichi (The Kindaichi Case Files); Shinichi Kudo/Conan Edogawa (Detective Conan/Case Closed); Kyuu Renjou, his Five-Man Band and his mentor Morihiko Dan (Tantei Gakuen Q); Ryouko Yakushiji (The Case Files of Yakushiji Ryoko), etc.
    • In the case of Detective Conan, Conan is later joined by Heiji Hattori and Shiho Miyano/Sherry/Ai Haibara.
  • Shoryuu from The Twelve Kingdoms has some elements of this and Action Hero. While he's a very badass fighter, it's his manipulation talent and his Obfuscating Stupidity abits that helps him the most.
  • Kyon from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya eventually becomes this.
  • Kurama from Yu Yu Hakusho.
  • Kurapica from Hunter X Hunter.
  • Arsene Lupin III from Lupin III.
  • Lina Inverse from The Slayers, who mixes this and Black Magician Girl.
  • Vampire Princess Miyu, specially in the OAV.
  • Shows up frequently in magical girl series that use the Beauty, Brains, and Brawn trio. Consider: Belldandy, Sailor Moon, Fuu, Mikuru, Mikan Sakura, etc. They all tend to get their way by winning people over to their cause.
  • Vision of Escaflowne: Prince Dryden Fassa can't fight as well as Allen or Van, doesn't have medical knowledge like Millerna, and lacks of Hitomi's Psychic Powers. But he's not only rich, he's got a generous heart and a very sharp mind. In his two first episodes, in fact, he verbally owns Allen with his Brutal Honesty and quickly ropes the extremely reclusive celestial beings that built Escaflowne into fixing it, thus saving Van's life after a particularly hard fight that almost killed him.
  • Saiunkoku Monogatari has its female lead, Kou Shuurei.
  • Minamoto from Zettai Karen Children.
  • Virgo Shaka from Saint Seiya, who also is an Action Hero (as a Gold Saint), a Combat Pragmatist and a powerful psychic. The combination of all of these traits makes him an terrifying opponent. Also Aries Mu, Libra Dohko and Phoenix Ikki who actually defeats Shaka by manipulating and out-gambitting him. .
  • Although he's more of a Magical Boy Warrior, Negi Springfield has some inklings of this too, specially with how he out-gambitted Kurt Godel.
    • Negi might be an example of all three types of Heroes. He uses what materials and abilities he has to become the Guile Hero. When he doesn't have anything that can work, he usually creates some new magical theory that will work to his advantage, and thus becomes the Science Hero. All the while, kicking ass, therefore becoming the Action Hero.
  • Aeolia Scheinberg. Who has pretty much staged the whole plot of the series and still does this after his death. Also Sumeragi Lee Noriega, who is The Strategist of Celestial Being... the groupo that Aeolia himself founded.
  • Lacus Clyne of Gundam Seed and Gundam Seed Destiny combines this with The Messiah in order to set herself up as a political and ideological counterpoint to first Patrick Zala, and Murata Azrael, and later Gilbert Durandal. Playing on her own fame, and that of her martyred father Siegel Clyne, she talks people into switching sides, steals a battleship, launches a propaganda campaign that completely undermines both sides of the moronic war that's being fought, and ultimately gathers an army that's able to take them down and end the fighting. She also funnels her money into a private Mobile Suit factory, so that when the next war breaks out, her side has up to date technology.
  • Also Audrey Burne from Gundam Unicorn, a young woman who easily relies on her wit and persuasion as a means to fulfill her goals. Banagher calls her out on it in the second episode twice, first when she attempts to get him to escape with her from the Nahael Argama, and then when she is persuading Daguza to shoot her when her true identity as Princess Mineva Lao Zabi is revealed.
  • Relena Peacecraft from Gundam Wing, as the precursor to the two aforementioned Gundam heroines, also exhibits this. Being an Actual Pacifist means she may not do a lot overtly, especially when her allies are all One-Man Armies, but she makes exceptional use of her charisma, empathy, and speaking skills to oppose the globe-spanning military-industrial complex which has been manipulating the planet into war for generations. Her real Crowning Moment of Awesome comes when said complex convinces her to become their figurehead leader, and she parlays that into complete control of the organization merely by convincing its members to work for peace rather than war. All this from a 15-year-old girl whose only credentials are being a diplomat's adopted daughter and the princess of a destroyed country (which she only learns about five episodes into the series, and spends seven months mostly off-camera rebuilding and acclimating herself to the role).
  • Byronic Hero Lelouch Lamperouge from Code Geass. He prefers to play politics to sideline his opponents most of the time. For instance, at one point after losing his most important fighter and being attacked by the two most powerful armies in that universe - the Chinese and the Brittanian - he manages to manipulate the Eunuch Generals into announcing their evil plans to their entire country, inciting riots and getting them to lose their Brittanian support. This plan went very smoothly because he managed to steal it from a third bad guy without that third opponent ever telling something about it, who had no choice but to support Lelouch after this fight. Using politics he managed to sideline one bad empire, destroy a second one and get the support of the third one.
  • Homeron in the Blue Dragon anime.
  • Clow Reed and his reincarnation Eriol Hiiragizawa in Cardcaptor Sakura.
  • Toru from Iris Zero.
  • When Carol Reed from Oke no Monshou is exploring some Egyptian ruins, she's the victim of a curse and ends up thrown into Ancient Egypt. Luckily for Carol, she is a Cute Bookworm who's more or less familiar with old Egyptian culture, thus she uses said knowledge as well as her quick wits to protect herself and survive while helping out those who need her.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All of the protagonists. Battles in this series are more about tactics and mind-games than power levels and the heroes are very good at this.
  • Leonhardt "Leon" Aschenbach from Honoo no Alpen Rose, who manages to use his own concert to escape from Vienna alongside his childhood friend Lundi.
  • Meta Knight in Kirby Right Back At Ya leans further towards this than in the games - especially since he's definitely on Kirby's side in the anime. Nevertheless, he's so charismatic that he's very popular with the Cappies, and they even made a mini-figure of him. At the end of the series, he reveals that he had been building his Battleship Halberd in King Dedede's basement ever since he came to Dreamland to everybody can battle Nightmare from inside it during their final assault on his fortress.
  • Nami, Chopper, and Usopp in One Piece. While all members of the crew (even Luffy) can lean into this at times, the "Weak Trio" are on a far lower tier regarding Action Hero skills. That does not make them less dangerous, of course, as most would agree the others would be lost without them.

Comic Books

  • Batman. Also very much an Action Hero. And a Science Hero.
    • Following Batman's footstep, Tim Drake Red Robin seems to be adopting this facet of crime fighting.
  • Tony Stark, Iron Man. Completes the triangle, as he's also an Action Hero and a Science Hero.
  • T'Challa, the Black Panther, as written by Priest. Much like Batman, he's also an Action Hero.
  • The Chief from Doom Patrol.
  • Charles Xavier of the X-Men. Aside from being a telepath, he keeps secrets even from his own team, has faked his own death as a ruse, and has employed secret operatives for when dogs need to be shot.
  • John Constantine from Hellblazer.
  • Squirrel Girl is clearly this and an Action Girl. Originally, her victories over Marvel's titans were assumed to have been done the old-fashioned way, and quite a few of them were. However, in her own title, she has often achieved victory by outsmarting, distracting, or even befriending the enemy.
  • Affectionate Parody of John Constantine, John Konstantin from the Spanish comic book Fanhunter.
  • Mason from The Invisibles.
  • Dwight from the Sin City story "A Dame To Kill For". While healing from severe gunshot wounds and on the run from the cops, he had to convince the girls of Old Town to help him out. In a later story called "Family Values", he politely manipulates a crime family into ruin.
    • Wallace also manage to gain the cooperation of Sin City cops in Hell and Back while getting his friends to supply him with enough guns to take out the Big Bad.
  • While most characters in the Asterix books tend to default to violence (hey, when all you have is a magic potion that gives you super strength...), Asterix himself switches to Guile Hero mode when punching stuff isn't the best answer - such as when there's no magic potion available (Asterix the Gaul springs to mind), or using subtlety gets the villain of the book a far more appropriate fate than mere pulverisation, such as in "Asterix La Zizanie", also known as "Asterix and the Roman Agent" or "Asterix and the Green-Eyed Monster".
  • In The Eighties, DC Comics gave us two of what remain their best Guile Hero (and Guile Heroine): Vril Dox and Amanda Waller.
  • Depending on the Writer, Dr. Midnite III qualifies. Like his predecessors, he's a licensed medical doctor and a vigilante, but he keeps his Hippocratic Oath.
  • Doctor Strange, crossing over with Action Hero. He routinely deals with unimaginably powerful entities who could snap him like a twig in a straight fight, meaning he must look for and exploit their weaknesses, use his wits, and creatively play the situation as it develops.
  • Erstwhile has the title character of "The Farmer's Clever Daughter", who earns her happy ending by predicting what the king will do and solving a riddle he sets before her.
  • Zita from Zita the Spacegirl while she has few Action Hero moments, usually goes this route for most of the graphic novel.
  • Superman is no slouch with guile. While his life embodies Brains Evil, Brawn Good, he will often have to resort to having to outsmart his opponent when his brawn doesn't do him any good. This is most apparent against Mr. Mxyzptlk, as Supes has to trick him into saying his last name backwards because he is a nigh-omnipotent Reality Warper.
  • Ihto Kata from Spirou, a purely non-violent but extremely skilled and intelligent stage magician who knows how to drive people insane with his impossible feats of thievery and escape artistry or subtly manipulate them into giving him what he wants.

Fairy Tales

Fan Works

  • Unohana might or might not be a heroine in the AU Downfall, considering her desires to reconcile Seireitei and Hueco Mundo she seems heroic. But as she seems to think that only the wholesale destruction of the Gotei will accomplish this, it would seem that she qualifies more along the lines of Well-Intentioned Extremist. Of course, there seem to be other events and forces involved, moveing behind the scenes...
  • Bella in Luminosity is turned into one of these. While most of her characterization revolves around this, one quote summarizes it well:

My brain flew into action.
I want to live. I have the power of speech. How can I get what I want?
And then I spoke the words.

  • Raonar Aeducan in Dragon Age: The Crown of Thorns qualifies as this and a Wise Prince, being the second son of the Dwarven King. He is a manipulator and schemer that constantly uses his wit to turn even the most dangerous plots against him, his family or his friends in his favor. This becomes apparent early on, when the events of the Dwarven Noble Origin are fundamentally changed, although things still somehow manage to get more and more difficult for everyone involved as the story progresses.
  • Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres. His ability to think more logically than most is both his biggest strength and weakness; there are times when one needs to act on intuition, and he has a near compulsive need to try and understand what he's dealing with before reacting.
  • The four do their damnedest to be Guile Heroes in With Strings Attached, since they're Actual Pacifists with a huge amount of power who don't want to use it on anyone—at least, not lethally. In the Fourth Movement, their string of ploys to rescue one another and win back the Vasyn are things of legend.
  • Trixie in the Pony POV Series becomes one of these after her Heel Face Turn. She uses her cunning and ability to lie flawlessly to aid the group in their goals. A great example is faking a hostage situation to distract Princess Gaia's Dragon so the others can take her down.
    • Orangejack, Applejack's one of Alternate Universe selves, proves to be this, using her brain to help her and Applejack defeat Nightmare Mirror with a Fake Defector gambit.

Orangejack: You and big brother dearest are Elements of Honesty, I'm still a liar.

Films -- Live Action


It's funny how people have always respected the kind of commander who comes up with strategies like "I want fifty thousand of you chappies to rush at the enemy," whereas the more thoughtful commanders who say things like "Why don't we build a damn great wooden horse and then nip in at the back gate while they're all around the thing waiting for us to come out" are considered only one step above common oiks and not the kind of person you'd lend money to. This is because most of the first type of commander are brave men, whereas cowards make far better strategists.

One of those is how he took out a Trade Federation taskforce that attacked him, which had two battleships, six armored transports, seven escort cruisers, and three thousand vulture droid starfighters. He had three small cruisers and nine heavy starfighters. He wiped it out, capturing the flagship. Without taking any casualties. Having never seen or heard of the Trade Federation before they turned up.
    • Hand of Thrawn - The mains find that he set up the Empire of the Hand, which looks like the Empire, is arranged like the Empire, and has Imperials in it, but is a good government. Well, more or less. They're still pretty ruthless.
    • In Survivors Quest, thirteen years after he died, Mara finds reason to believe that he's back. She decides not to inquire too closely about that. If he is back, he's not their enemy anymore.
    • Choices of One and the novella Crisis of Faith have no viewpoint characters opposing him. Consequently he comes off as a flat-out Guile Hero in both of them; there is a quiet and minimized undercurrent of threat to him in Choices of One and he explicitly states, when asked, that he has no love for the Rebel Alliance. But in Crisis he seems almost fond of his forces, and clearly wants to avoid civilian casualties.
  • In The Phoenix Guards, Pel gets his True Companions and himself out of prison by tricking a guard into propositioning his (Pel's) lover, who then almost kills the guard in a duel. Then she asks the poor guy who put him up to it, he tells her, and she pulls some strings to get Pel and the others out.
    • Vlad Taltos also invokes this trope a lot; he has to be smart and sneaky to last as long as he has, first in an extremely dangerous profession and later on the run from the entire Jhereg.
  • Alaric from the Warhammer 40,000 Grey Knights novels was already a Genius Bruiser, but he becomes one of this with his plan to take down the Chaos lords of Drakaasi, even if he does not think such a plan to be right.
  • Tavi from the Codex Alera. This, coupled with a hefty dose of Badass Normal, is really the only way to survive as the one Muggle in a world where everyone has Elemental Powers. Ehren, too. Lampshaded by Max, who calls the two of them "sneaky little gits."
  • Although The Dresden Files Harry Dresden is best known as a magical brawler with a tendency to burn down buildings, it's only because very few realize that he achieves his most impressive victories with wits alone (and he is not exactly eager to enlighten them). For instance, in Blood Rites, he manages to manipulate Lara Raith into doing what he wanted, and political intrigue is her lifestyle.
    • Then again, this is the result of Character Development over the series. In the first few books he really was just a Occult Detective, and much more inclined to fight than outmaneuver his opponents. It wasn't until his failure to plan (and deal with his feelings better) led to His Greatest Failure in Grave Peril that he started thinking and asking questions first.
  • El-ahrairah, star of the Watership Down Mythopoeia. He's like a cross between Bugs Bunny and Beowulf. Or even Odysseus: they are even linked in the book, where the human is accused of stealing tricks from the rabbit.
  • Poison, the heroine of the Chris Wooding book of the same name, would count as this, as she uses strategy, trickery and intellect to fight rather than brute force. This is also true for many other characters in the story, including villains.
  • Sherlock Holmes. His rival Alan Alda... er Irene Adler is a Guile Heroine, and one of the few persons to ever Out Gambit him.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Tyrion Lannister, if you consider him a hero.
    • Arya Stark has had to rely on her wits to survive just as often—if not more—than swords. While she doesn't make the best immediate decisions, in book 2 she cleverly cornered a man who owed her a debt into helping her liberate Harrandal from the Lannisters. While she's not as cunning as Tyrion, keep in mind that she's only twelve by now.[when?]
    • Also, Arya's older sister Sansa is falling between either this or a Magnificent Bitch (likely due to being taken in and "trained" by Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish). Really, you can't be an important player in this story and survive if you aren't smarter than the average fantasy hero. Eddard Stark was killed because of his straightforward sense of honour - and he was a protagonist in Book One.
  • Dirk Pitt from the NUMA Series.
  • The scale of his manipulation is not as grand as some others listed here, but Aloysius Pendergast from the Preston/Child novels never hesitates to blackmail anyone into doing his bidding. For the greater good, of course.
  • Silk, a.k.a. Prince Kheldar a.k.a. The Guide a.k.a. The Rat a.k.a. Radek of Boktor a.k.a. Ambar of Kotu from the Belgariad and Malloreon. There isn't a chapter he's in where he doesn't make some witty comment, scam the crap out of someone, pull off some incredible stunt or show a depth of character, knowledge or experience that's downright amazing.
  • Kvothe of The Name of the Wind, thanks to being Too Clever by Half.
  • Locke Lamora of The Lies of Locke Lamora.
  • Jack Parlabane in Quite Ugly One Morning, Country of the Blind, Boiling a Frog, Be My Enemy, and Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks.
  • Chilean novelist Alberto Blest Gana was pretty fond of this type of hero, and his two most famous leads are these: Martin from Martin Rivas and Carlos Diaz aka el "Nato" from "El Loco Estero". Both young men are kind-hearted, honest, and suffering of Unrequited Love (for Leonor and Deidamia, respectively), but their deviousness and manipulation skills will help them go forth with their goals.
  • Aahz, the powerless demon in Robert Asprin's Myth Adventures novels, is one of the all-time great guile heroes. His catchphrase is "Ah, therein lies the story..."
    • Skeeve, his former apprentice and current partner, has learned a lot from Aahz, and at times is even better than him at this.
  • Scheherazade from Arabian Nights. To save her own life and stop the Sultan from killing more concubines, she worms her way into his heart with her beauty, her smarts, and her breath-taking stories.
    • Most heroes of the Arabian Nights are a combination of Guile Hero and Action Hero. (Some even include Science Hero, considering how technologically advanced medieval Arabia actually was.)
  • In the Tamora Pierce Tortall Universe, Alianne of Pirates Swoop. She's a spy, chosen by a trickster god, and she can't even let her allies know her true identity. She lives entirely off her wits.
  • Thom Merrilin from The Wheel of Time. He's handy with knives when he has to be, but what he really brings to the table is an intuitive knack for politics that lets him play the protagonists' opponents off against each other without anyone suspecting that he's responsible, and a gift for sifting through rumour and gossip to see larger patterns.
    • Egwene al'Vere also becomes a Guile Hero, as the Amyrlin Seat. The Aes Sedai thought she'd become a puppet... hoo boy, did they turn out to be mistaken when Egwene owned them all, just like that.
    • All of the Aes Sedai in general view themselves as this. Most of them are just deluding themselves.
  • Gen and Attolia from Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief books definitely. However, any descriptions as to why would require excessive use of spoiler tags.
  • Dirk Provin from Jennifer Fallon's Second Sons trilogy. He's a brilliant political genius with nerves of steel and any more would give away the plot of the last two books.
  • The main character of The Kingdoms of Evil, Freetrick Feend.
  • Harald in Harald.
  • Most The Brothers Grimm characters are this. Most notably in "The Brave Little Tailor".
  • Jim from Mogworld leans this way sometimes.
  • Time Scouts are Badass, but they prefer to be invisible. Skeeter takes clever Up to Eleven.
  • Jig the Golin, eponymous hero of the series by Jim C. Hines combines this with Cowardly Lion.
  • Shukhov from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and pretty much every one else who survives for a while in the gulags.
  • Horatio Hornblower and the titular characters of the Aubrey-Maturin series have absolutely no problems lying as much as they can without breaking the law and provoking internation incidents. Aubrey himself will lie like a rug in his personal life, and Maturin is a full time spy.
    • The RCN Series series is based on the latter, and since the heroes are often out at the tip of the spear, so to speak, they will lie like crazy in order to complete their mission. It helps that they face a lot of idiots.
    • Honor Harrington, the counterpart to the former, is very straightforward. She can be deceptive militarily, but isn't a very good liar otherwise.
  • Peeta Mellark from The Hunger Games. He's the Non-Action Guy to Katniss' Action Girl, but knows how to manipulate the Capitol audience and knows the right lies to use (like when he claims that Katniss is pregnant).
  • Psmith, of P.G. Wodehouse's Psmith books.
  • Ruth from Someone Else's War. In the Five-Man Band, she's The Smart Guy rather than The Hero, but her smarts are usually what make up for Matteo's lack of foresight.
  • Morgiana from Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, although she manages to combine this Trope with Action Girl in the climax, killing the leader of the Forty Thieves as he watches her perform a sword-dance.

Live-Action TV

  • Patrick Jane from The Mentalist turned into this after using his "powers" as a psychic got his family murdered. New CBI boss Molly Hightower demonstrates impressive signs in her introductory episode, identifying a threat that will actually make Jane think before he acts too outrageously, then setting up a situation giving Jane the opportunity to pull off one of his stunts when normal police methods aren't working, and finally engaging in a bit of I Know You Know I Know with Jane to make him aware she let him get away with it. Jane is impressed with the new boss.
  • Mr. Chapel, Vengeance Unlimited. His gambits use the services of previous clients.
  • From Leverage, Leverage Consulting and Associates as a group, and Nate Ford and Sophie Devaraux as characters.
  • Ed Deline, from Las Vegas.
  • Michael Westen in Burn Notice is this and an Action Hero, and sometimes a Science Hero too.
  • The Doctor from Doctor Who. Bavarian Fire Drills are his specialty. Plus he is a Science Hero.
    • The Seventh Doctor. Remembrance of the Daleks is one of the best examples of this, when he tricks Davros into destroying Skaro and convinces a Dalek to commit suicide.
    • "I'm the Doctor and you're in the Universe's biggest library! Look me up!", after which the Flesh-Eating Shadow backs off.
    • It rubs off on his companions who can make some pretty good leaps in logic and creativity.
    • Dalek Caan manipulates the Doctor and his companions into defeating Davros and the New Dalek Empire.
  • Firefly: Simon in "Ariel", River in "Objects In Space".
  • Nathan Stark from Eureka; as the show progresses, Carter of all people turns into one.
  • Clayton Webb, the recurring CIA contact in JAG.
  • The "under the radar" winner archetype from Survivor, who lets their Smug Snake accomplices do the major strategizing and take the heat for it, while banking on a superior social game to win the jury over in the end. Subverted with Natalie White from "Samoa", who was not pure dead weight strategy-wise (the Erik Cardona blindside) and adopted a less aggressive approach for pragmatic reasons, having wisely deducted that a female power-player would be nothing more than a walking target in that particular environment, instead just letting her Smug Snake partner dig his own grave.
  • Dr. Cal Lightman from Lie to Me.
  • Jim Rockford from The Rockford Files
  • Malcolm from Malcolm in the Middle. Showcased when Mr. Hurkabee encourages the class to cheat on an Academic Decathlon and Malcolm obliges... by giving every single team the answers to all the questions, to the point when they are blurting out the answer before the questioner even begins to ask, in an elegantly simple plan that must be seen to be appreciated.
    • Or before that, when Hurkabee devised a ranking system to make the students compete with each other. When Malcolm failed to convince the others to rebel, he stopped bothering. Instead, he started over-achieving to such a degree that the others pushed themselves harder and harder to catch up, eventually culminating in a class-wide nervous breakdown that publicly humiliated the teacher.
  • The title character of Veronica Mars.
  • Dr. James Wilson of House is the only person in the series who has successfully manipulated the title character multiple times. Not only that, but he's less of an Anti-Hero than almost the entire rest of the cast. The title character is additionally a Guile Anti-Hero Manipulative Bastard.
  • Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had to be more cunning than most Starfleet captains, often aided by Token Evil Teammate Garak.
  • Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation had the market on Guile Heroism cornered. Watch "The Ensigns of Command" --- after exploiting a loophole in the Treaty of Armens, a document which is half-a-million words long, he puts the Sheliak ON HOLD.
  • Neal Caffrey, con artist-turned-FBI consultant from White Collar.
  • Adelle DeWitt in Dollhouse is an expert in playing the politics (and just plain manipulating everyone) in order to protect her House.
  • Jason Gideon and his successor David Rossi in Criminal Minds.
    • Hell, just about every member of the team displays it at some point or another.
  • Richard Woolsey of Stargate Atlantis becomes this when he takes command of the city. There's an episode where he saves the day with lawyering, manipulation, and a little bribery.
  • The title character of Nikita starts off her new series exemplifying this when you find out that Alex, the new recruit into Division, is a plant that Nikita trained to be recruited into Division. And all her actions at the start of the episode, an obvious attempt to capture Division's resident hacker and get access to their network was actually a Batman Gambit to convince Division that she was working with a foreign power because she couldn't get access to the network, and its intelligence, on her own.
  • Londo Mollari and John Sheridan from Babylon 5 are both clear examples of this, albeit in Mollari's case an ambiguously good one.
  • In Farscape, Rygel, Noranti and John Crichton are all good examples of this trope.
  • Michael Scofield of Prison Break who appears to favour the Batman Gambit and the Xanatos Speed Chess.
  • Brett and Bart Maverick move through the West as gamblers and conmen.
  • Hannibal Hayes comes up with the plans for his partner in Alias Smith and Jones.
  • Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith usually tries to squeeze his enemies before he and his A-Team destroy them.
  • Shawn Spencer is big on fooling people with his fake psychic powers in Psych.
  • Lost: Desmond Hume in Flash-Sideways.
  • Methos from Highlander. An immortal at least 5,000 years old not because he's the greatest fighter, but because he is a clever, slippery and Manipulative Bastard who will do almost anything to survive.
  • Boardwalk Empire: Nucky Thompson, though lighter on the hero part than usual, is an excellent example of this trope, he pretty much never does anything exciting personally, and he instead uses his political power and somewhat shallow, yet efficient understanding of human nature to get what he wants.
    • Many characters (particularly Rothstein, Jimmy, Margaret, Meyer Lansky and Chalky) would actually fit this trope quite well, but all of them (with the exception of Margaret and arguably Jimmy) are less scrupulous than Nucky, and none of them are as clever, and both Jimmy and Chalky have actiony moments. The Commodore is more of an out and out Magnificent Bastard.
  • Robert Goren from Law and Order: Criminal Intent. He knows exactly how to push people's buttons, and has manipulated many a criminal into a confession through his understanding of their psychology.
  • The Impossible Missions Force is made of this trope.
  • Hogan's Heroes kept an espionage/sabotage operation going in a Luftstalag for three years.
  • Jarod from The Pretender.
  • Mycroft Holmes of Sherlock. While little brother Sherlock is more of a Sociopathic Hero / Anti-Hero, Mycroft apparently is the British Government and takes Big Brother Is Watching to a very literal level.
  • Lt. Columbo, whose Obfuscating Stupidity and fuddy appearance conceal a brilliant detective who Always Gets His Man.
  • Director of Operations Neil Burnside in The Sandbaggers.
  • Henry from Once Upon a Time is all of ten years old, but employs all kinds of tricks (stolen credit cards, the Living Lie Detector ability he appears to have inherited from Emma, taking advantage of his adopted mother's absences) in order to try and fight off the curse he's realized is affecting the town.
  • Artemus Gordon from The Wild Wild West, especially in the first (black-and-white) season. His forte was disguises, patter, and misdirection. In one episode late in the first season, he complained that he "cheated" when taking out two opponents because he had to use force.

Myths & Religion

  • Odysseus must surely be the patron saint of the Guile Hero. In an age when most Greek heroes were part-divine, unstoppable, ass-kicking badasses, along comes Badass Normal Odysseus, whose greatest weapon is his mind, officially making this trope Older Than Feudalism.
    • Let's be clear about something: Odysseus may be more mortal than say Achilles or Hercules but he's still carrying the blood of Hermes, one of the greatest tricksters in myth; and Autolycus, the Prince of Thieves, by way of his mother Anticlea so he's starting with a leg up on most others in ways of trickery.
    • He's also a big enough bastard that he's condemned to the lowest level of Hell in The Divine Comedy.
  • Queen Esther from The Bible managed to save thousands of innocent Jews from being slain by a Smug Snake's orders almost singlehandedly, using her incredible beauty, her charm, her quick wits, her Plucky Girl nature and her uncle Mordecai's wise counseling to work her way into King Xerxes's favor.
  • Same goes to Ruth the Moabite (an expatriate who was determined to not fall in misery after losing her husband, ending up as the grandmother of King David and one of Jesus's ancestors), Judith the widow (who used her good looks to trick Holophernes and kill him) and Judge Deborah (a Lady of War and one of the Judges of Israel).
    • Also, Jael, a Guile Heroine from Deborah's story who lures an enemy general into her tent, lulls him to sleep, and stabs him in the head with a tent peg. (One of the few times breaking Sacred Hospitality is presented as the heroic thing to do.)
  • Jacob straddles the line between this and Magnificent Bastard. While he is generally considered a good guy and the father of the Hebrew people, he was also a crafty con man who managed to trick his brother Esau out of his birthright and father's blessing, and after that went sour, he and his uncle Laban took turns conning each other, with Jacob coming out ahead in the end.
    • His mother Rebekah was one of his biggest supporters and the one who encouraged him to go forward, so she arguably qualifies as well.
  • Several Jewish prophets were like this, especially Elisha and Daniel. Daniel, interestingly, is also a Science Hero, considering the manner in which he manages to persuade the king to cut down on feasting...
  • Krishna in the Mahabharata. Helped by the fact that a.) He is God; and b.) He is a moderately cunning man in a cast of characters that live and breath Honor Before Reason.
  • Loki before his Face Heel Turn
  • Common in Celtic Mythology - the Celts considered defeating your enemies through trickery just as noble and praiseworthy as fighting them directly, with truly great warriors being capable of both.

Tabletop Games

  • In tabletop RPGs, while storytelling-oriented Game Masters tend to leave these things to players, there often are classes or character builds which are oriented towards smarts and talk. The bard could be a Dungeons & Dragons example, due to high Charisma score.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, Inquisitors blur the line between this and Magnificent Bastard. The best, most loyal Inquisitors are this—though they are willing to sacrifice millions, that's their plan b. The difference between what makes a good inquisitor and what makes a bad inquisitor is the bad ones make sacrificing millions their plan A. Mind you, 40k does follow Authority Equals Asskicking, and Inquisitors are the authority in the Imperium so they aren't pushovers in a fight. In practice they tend towards Action Hero too, or at the very least have someone to do that for them.
  • The idea of the Face build in Shadowrun.
    • Also the Face class in Spycraft.
  • Legend of the Five Rings: The Scorpion Clan is infamously a clan of assassins, blackmailers, and spies, who view honor as contemptible and enlightenment as a lie. Their leaders have a private book of advice passed down to their heirs, a passage of which explains the depth of the clan's deceptions: "How easy it is to corrupt a man, and how difficult to make him just." The Scorpion Clan prey upon the vices of the other clans as part of a massive Batman Gambit to make the other clans remember their own duties.
  • Exalted: while anyone with a high Manipulation would qualify, Changing Moon Lunars (especially Tamuz), the less malevolent Fiend caste Infernals, and Starmetal caste Alchemicals are engaged in a three-way proxy war to see who gets the crown...with the Sidereals sitting back to see who wins and working on strategies to manipulate any one of them.
  • The Player Characters in The Call of Cthulhu RPG. While there are rules for combat in this game, they're rarely used, and PCs do not get physically tougher as they gain levels; if a player starts with 12 hit points, that will always be his maximum. The game puts far more emphasis on role playing and investigating, and a PCs' Sanity Meter (which does indeed increase with experience) is more important than hit points. In fact, should the PCs actually encounter the demonic servants of the Great Old Ones, the best option is simply to run away - fast.


  • Sophocles treats Odysseus, the quintessential Guile Hero, quite differently between his plays Ajax and Philoctetes. In the first Odysseus prefers compromise rather than pride, and argues for the burial rites of his worst enemy. In the second he encourages the mostly honest Neoptolemus to lie to the long-suffering Philoctetes to persuade him to come to Troy, despite the severe injustice Odysseus had done against him in the first place.

Video Games

  • Ironically, this is subverted in the case of the hero actually named Guile - he's a straight-up Action Hero.
  • In Planescape: Torment, monsters and goons will often force physical confrontations, but it is very, very rare to have an actual story objective that can only be achieved with violence. Usually, smooth talking, quick thinking, or outright deceit can carry the day every bit as easily as barreling in and breaking things.
  • This is also true in the Fallout games, where you gain extra XP and other rewards for succeeding at speech challenges. There are also perks that open extra dialog options with various characters.
  • Styled after the previous games, Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura also fits: with a high enough intelligence and charisma, the player character can effectively avoid almost every fight in the game, and look good while doing it.
    • A purely diplomatic character, missing out on the experience from combat, will finish the game at a lower level, but have a much more powerful overall party. The maximum number of NPC followers can wield every endgame weapon, all at higher levels due to earning the combat experience themselves. Even if your character doesn't talk their way out of the Final Battle, they can still breeze through it.
  • Every protagonist in Five Nights at Freddy's is one. There's no fighting option (that would contradict the point of the genre) so you have to outsmart the bad guys to survive.
  • Nippon Ichi loves this trope. Seraph Lamington from Disgaea basically manipulated the entire plot of the first game. Virtuous from Soul Nomad designed a plan to solve the real problem with the world. Mr. Champloo was part of a Batman Gambit orchestrated by his boss to counter the scheme of the Big Bad of the third Disgaea.
  • Lillet Blan in Grim Grimoire out foxes the devil in a display of cunning that even impresses her demon teacher.
  • The Warden of Dragon Age is a hybrid of this and Action Hero if played as a good-aligned character. If played as a Villain Protagonist, the Warden becomes a Magnificent Bastard, instead.
  • Commander Shepard of Mass Effect. Shepard will be a Guile Hero if played strongly Paragon and a Magnificent Bastard if played strongly Renegade.
  • In any Dynasty Warriors Shu mode, especially in 5 and 6, Zhuge Liang will willingly become this in order to keep any Shu citizen's ire off Liu Bei or any other officer with a reputation as a good man. At some points it skirts towards Magnificent Bastard for the same reasons, namely, ensuring Shu's success while making himself out to be a cold-hearted bastard so Liu Bei seems all the more virtuous for it.
  • King of Fighters: Ash Crimson turns out to be this, thus him being the literal embodiment of the Joker card.
  • The game Alpha Protocol encourages you to play the main character Michael Thorton along the lines of this trope. He's even stated in the beginning to be noted as a Manipulative Bastard. The game encourages you to get an understanding of what makes certain characters tic and use it to your advantage and by the end, you'll be able to play Smug Snake Henry Leland like a fiddle.
  • Naoto Shirogane from Persona 4, especially seen when she intentionally gets herself kidnapped in hopes of figuring out who the kidnapper was while at the same time completely expecting the "Investigation Team" to come rescue her. That being said, Kanji does chew her out for putting herself in danger.
    • Also the Main Character, who saves almost everyone around him with words and simple emotional guidance.
      • Both of the protagonists from 3 and 4. Who knew you could weaponize friendships?
  • Shin Megami Tensei games require the player to develop some skills with this with the demon talk mechanic, too. In every game, you really have zero hope of advancing if you do not learn to interact with demons, learning to flatter, bribe and deceive them into serving you, helping you, or just leaving you alone.
  • Elphin the Bard from Fire Emblem 6, who is the brains of the West Isles resistence while Lalam is the heart and Echidna is the brawns and leader. He is also Prince Mildain of Etruria, thought to have died in an accident, but no one is supposed to know that. At least not until the war is over and he can return home safely.
    • Roy, the hero of the game, is this and an Action Hero. He finds out about Elphin's identity almost on his own, after all.
    • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones gives us two of these. Prince Ephraim of Renais does this by being The Strategist and making guerrilla tactics a complement of his spear-using skills, whereas his rival (and possible brother-in-law) Prince Innes of Frelia is The Archer and the lead of the Frelian spy network.
      • OTOH, Ephraim's twin sister Princess Eirika aims to become a guile heroine, but she is more of The Messiah - using her kindness and charisma rather than deceit and tactics, alongside her swordmanship.
  • The Geneforge series of games allows the player with high Leadership to pass through diplomatically, an avoid picking a side amongst the factions, at least up until the endgame. A powerful shaper/lifecrafter can summon Mons and arrange them tactically enough to avoid all personal contact with battle.
  • Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors: Both Junpei and June have their moments of this.
  • Elaine Marley-Threepwood in Tales of Monkey Island. She laid down an intricate master plan, used her charm back in Chapter 2 to make sure Guybrush would play his part in said plan, and repeatedly engaged in swordplay and (in one case) naval warfare to help move things along.
  • Professor Layton. Helps that the games he's in revolve entirely around solving puzzles.
  • Battler Ushiromiya graduates to this in Episode 6 of Umineko no Naku Koro ni. And both he and Beatrice take it Up to Eleven in Episode 8.
  • Kratos Aurion in Tales of Symphonia. His plan to let a human wield the Eternal Sword relies on him repeatedly betraying the party and playing both sides so that he can finally die. It's never really clear what side he's on until the end, and although it is his sword skills that are commented on the most, his plotting does a lot more to drive the story forward.
  • Rachel Alucard in BlazBlue leans even further towards this in Continuum Shift than in Calamity Trigger. Her goal? To find the Master Unit Amaterasu and kill Terumi. Of course, the Imperator destroys Amaterasu before she can find it, but naturally, Rachel doesn't lose her cool even when she learns her efforts to find it were for naught.
  • In Little Nightmares, Six cannot fight, and must avoid and/or outsmart enemies to survive and escape. Downplayed a little with the second game, as Six still cannot fight at all, and while there are ways for Mono to do so, it is still very much a Stealth-Based Mission type of game.
  • Limbo is a lot like Little Nightmares, as it's more of a Puzzle Game where the unnamed child has to either flee or outsmart enemies most of the time. Not that he can't dispose of enemies, and often does so in... graphic methods. That poor spider...

Web Comics

  • Petey from Schlock Mercenary isn't above manipulating others into doing work for him, although he has been willing to use direct force occasionally.
  • The title hero of Dominic Deegan likes to think he's one of these, the occasional Xanatos Backfire and What the Hell, Hero? moment notwithstanding.
  • Terezi of Homestuck is said to have killed or captured entire parties of FLARPers using mind games and politics. She is so good at it that she made manipulating a literal god into disfiguring and dooming Vriska look like complete child's play.
  • Elator ( "Elly") of Dubious Company has managed to overthrow at least one mutiny and one riot due to his understanding of politics... and that people like to get drunk.

Web Original

  • The obligatory Whateley Universe example would be Ayla "Phase" Goodkind. (S)he is genuinely concerned for people and sincerely wants to help them, and at need is ready to fight toe-to-toe with demons, monsters and supervillains, but Phase is at heart a Chessmaster whose preferred realm is espionage, trickery, manipulation, bribery and financial pressure. As a friend puts it: "No one else quite has that when I rule the world I will not permit such behavior attitude".
  • Cassidy Cain in Grandmaster of Theft is a first person protagonist version of this crossed with Action Hero. She's held reputation as genius & uses far more strategy, tactics, connections, money, and so on to accomplish goals all while remaining an anti-hero Classy Cat Burglar.

Western Animation

Real Life

  • King Juan Carlos I of Spain. When Francisco Franco agreed to change Spain from a different kind of dictatorship to an absolute monarchy, he started trying to groom the "Prince of Spain", Juan Carlos of the Borbón House, into a good successor who'd maintain the authoritarian state. The prince went along with this, publicly supporting Franco, enduring harsh criticism from reformists and moderates all over... Until Franco fell gravely ill in 1975 and handed him absolute authority as King. Only a couple of days after Franco's death, Juan Carlos began to institute reforms at an incredible pace, turning Spain from western Europe's strictest dictatorship into a functional parliamentary democracy in less than three years. Heck, he even refused to take power after the military executed a coup so he could be returned to full authority, pretty much single-handedly saving a struggling democracy, and renounced almost all of the ancestral powers he once wielded.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, was the Guile Hero to Mahatma Gandhi's Badass Pacifist. Gandhi himself, too: he fought against the British rule in India through totally nonviolent means. Whenever he and his protestors would march, he called up the local media so that when the rest of the world looked at the news and saw the British beating on unarmed protestors who refused to fight back, they got painted as the bad guys. You know you qualify as a Guile Hero when you can show up to every battle unarmed and still win the war.
    • Well, Gandhi had the help from World War II, which weakened the Britons' strength. If it wasn't for the war, India might not been independent until the late 90s. That only means that he knew the best moment to strike. After all the best time to launch any type of attack against an enemy is when they have problems of their own. One of the 36 Stratagems is : Loot a burning house.
    • Nehru's daughter and political successor, Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi (no relation to the Mahatma), is often portrayed one. (especially to Sikhs) on Indira Gandhi's heroism or bitchery.
  • Juan Pujol Garcia. After being turned down as an intelligence agent by the British, he decided to do the job without any government backing, getting himself hired as a Nazi spy and creating an entire army of fictional employees to feed false information back to his boss. Eventually he went to the British again, who quickly hired him after seeing what he was capable of on his own, and became even more effective.
  • Mentioned in the Films section, but worth elaboration: Oskar Schindler, generally considered to be an opportunist turned Atoner. As written in The Other Wiki:

He was a very persuasive individual, and after the raid, increasingly used all of his skills to protect his Schindlerjuden ("Schindler's Jews"), as they came to be called. Schindler went out of his way to take care of the Jews who worked at DEF, often calling on his legendary charm and ingratiating manner to help his workers get out of difficult situations. Once, says author Eric Silver in The Book of the Just, "Two Gestapo men came to his office and demanded that he hand over a family of five who had bought forged Polish identity papers. 'Three hours after they walked in,' Schindler said, 'two drunk Gestapo men reeled out of my office without their prisoners and without the incriminating documents they had demanded.'"