Death Note is basically 37 episodes of Gambit tropes. For instance, during the last few chapters/episodes: Near replaces Mikami's Death Note with a fake copy. But wait, that Death Note was fake, and the real one was in a vault somewhere. However, Mello comes in and tricks Mikami into using his real note, letting Near replace the real one with another fake one.
Liar Game is interesting with Akiyama vs Yokoya in the third round (the smuggling game). In the fourth round, there is a thirdChessmaster and potentially a fourthalthough he acts as a proxy for one of the groups.
The storyline of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle has driven so far past this point that it is approaching it a second time. Here's a tip at how convoluted it is: There is only one person in the initial party who is not a spy. That person is not Princess Sakura. Planners include: Clow Reed, Fei Wong Reednote the Big Bad, who in and of himself creates so many overly complex gambits that even he gets confused, Yuko Ichihara, Tsubasa "Syaoran Jr." Li, Cardcaptor Sakura Kinomoto, Ashura-O, Syaoran "Syaoran Sr." Li (aka Cloney) and his wife Sakura Li, Tomoyo-Hime, Queen Nadeshiko and King Fujitaka (before being Ret Gone'd), and probably several others offscreen. None of these people collaborated to any significant degree when planning their gambits, except maybe Clow and Yuko, who collaborated on the early and penultimate stage details and loose end tying. The rest was all independent Gambit Roulettes crashing from all conceivable directions into one another. Diagrams are of absolutely no use here.
The fans aren't the only ones who mess up trying to figure things out. By chapter 230, it begins to look like the villain wasn't exactly on top of things — it appears that his ludicrously complex Gambit Roulette to save a loved one's life from death by Heroic Sacrifice is, in fact, what caused her to Heroic Sacrifice. And it is entirely likely that somebody planned this.
End of Evangelion features Keel's plan to perfect humanity by fusing all human souls into one entity being hijacked by Gendo, whose plan to resurrect his dead wife is hijacked by Rei, who wants to give the person she cares for the most, Shinji, control over whether or not to have The End of the World as We Know It, all of which may have been planned by Yui and Fuyutsuki ten years earlier. Throughout the series, we have the Angels who want to cause Third Impact, Kaworu who rebels against them, the last few Angels who want to learn more about humanity, Kaji who is working for several factions (and himself), and the UN who wants to learn the secrets of SEELE and NERV.
There's rarely a major event in Code Geass that doesn't involve several different groups or individuals trying to manipulate things. The plot of Code Geass has been described as a train wreck where they just keep sending more trains. It gets even more complicated due to the number of characters that switch sides over the course of the show and the underlying moral ambiguity of both sides, making it hard to distinguish between a Heel-Face Turn and a Face-Heel Turn at times; it doesn't help that a few characters who apparently died return alive and well, so you never know what to expect.
The conclusion of the show itself turns into a Gambit Pileup as the separate and intricate machinations of Lelouch, the Emperor, Schneizel, Suzaku, the Black Knights, and even C.C. and Lelouch's dead mother Marianne all barrel towards each other at breakneck speeds.
Fullmetal Alchemist gave 4 good guy Chessmasters 6 months to plan against the BBEG's culmination of a Gambit Roulette that began by founding an entire nation. The number of smart and powerful pieces and tools each side has boggles the mind. And throughout all of this the various parties are all trying to maintain good PR on themselves, leading one set of protagonists to claim they support The Dragon in an attempt to protect themselves.
The various Chessmasters in Mobile Suit Gundam 00 are locked in a covert struggle to determine who gets to mold the future of the world into their ideal design, with the constantly-unfolding posthumousGambit Roulette of their centuries-deceased predecessor (a plan several of the aforementioned schemers hijacked for their own ends, with mixed results) contributing to the already convoluted web of machinations for which the original planner may have already planned for. It doesn't make it any easier when several of the key characters on all sides of the conflict all believe themselves to be carrying out the original plan.
Detective Conan, volume 26. Long story short, one person has a plan which is ruined by the actions of someone else, who in turn has their own plan which gets ruined, a cycle that repeats itself at least half a dozen times.
Demonbane has a surprising lack of Chessmasters, considering that there are no less than five different Gambit Roulette going on throughout the series, some of which are so insane that one wonders how they even thought of their ultimate goals, and one of which involved planning from before the dawn of time. Of all of them, only one manages to succeed, and it only manages to succeed in an alternate universe.
The end of the Yellow Chapter of Pokémon Special started with Evil Plans, continued into some heroicGambit Roulettes, and in the end Giovanni's apparent Big Damn Heroes moment actually turned out to be part of Lance's plan and Yellow somehow managing to outwit him. It gets crazier later on. Suffice it to say everyone gets to play Xanatos Speed Chess at some point — even GOLD disguised as Guile Hideout!
Future Diary. When you've got 12 people, all armed with diaries that can predict the future, trying to kill each other to become a god and forming alliances with each other to achieve their goals, the story gets a little hard to follow.
Mahou Sensei Negima! seems to have at least three separate large-scale conspiracies going on, with potential for several more to be present (and that's not counting the ones that existed in the flashbacks, and may still be present). Naturally, Negi and his family end up at the center of all of them, causing them to crash into each other. At least three of these gambits were planned by Negi's own students since chapter one, namely Eva, Chao, and Zazie. One also wonders if the class makeup of 3-A can really be coincidental, seeing as to how no less than half the class is unusual in some regard. Even the school staff seems to be comprised entirely of talented mages.
Bleach. The finale to the Arrancar Arc basically pits Aizen in all his Gambit Rouletting glory against the rest of the cast and their respective gambits. The end result is a mess of about dozen Cast Herds' plans hitting each other at the same time.
The best example of this occurred at the climax of the Soul Society arc, where about a dozen battles occurred at once, with every participant having a different motive.
Naruto has slowly fallen into this: from Orochimaru, to Madara, to Danzo, to the villages it seems that backroom scheming is the onlyninja activity that the characters are good at. In short, Sasuke was being manipulated by Orochimaru who was being manipulated by Itachi (who himself manipulated Naruto) who was being used by Danzo who was being manipulated by Madara. At the same time, Pain, the head of Akatsuki, had different goals to Akatsuki itself, and was in turn taking orders from Madara without realising his intentions (while making it appear that Madara was one of his subordinates and too dumb to plan anything). Then Kabuto comes out of nowhere for his own scheme, revealing that Orochimaru knew about Madara's plan all along. Kabuto then manipulates Madara by threatening him with a mysterious summoned coffin which contained the real (dead) Madara, meaning the guy posing as Madara was an imposter. Then, it turns out Obito's "Moon's Eye Plan" was actually the real Madara's plan, and Obito was also supposed to bring Madara back to life. Madara then executes the Moon's Eye Plan, upon which Black Zetsu reveals he was manipulating Madara to revive his Goddess mother, Kaguya. So, to recap, Pain ostensibly led the Akatsuki, but was actually being manipulated by Obito, who was being manipulated by Madara, who was being manipulated by Black Zetsu. Oh, and any number of these characters might be taking advantage of plans made by the Sage of the Six Paths hundreds of years ago. Yikes.
Played earlier in the Land of Birds filler arc. By the time of the general's failed execution, plots were in play by the general, Konoha shinobi, rogue shinobi infiltrating the compound, Naruto posing as a ghost, the daimyo posing as a ghost, the daimyo's sister pretending to be the deceased daimyo, the daimyo's aid/potential love interest, and a bunch of chimpanzees!
The Flying Pussyfoot arc of Baccano!! can be accurately summed up as a "clusterfuck." Trying to elaborate is an effort in futility, but it would probably sound like the start of an old joke: "So a cult, a gang, two immortal bank robbers, a Senator's family, a psychopathic hitman, a bomb-smuggling immortal child, a spy for an information brokering business, and the Chicago mafia all walk onto a train one day..." Oh, and by the way, the company that owns the train is a Nebulous Evil Organisation (conveniently named "Nebula").
The trope in effect is best showcased when three different gangs hijack a train car at the exact same time.
Cultist with machine-gun: Everyone, down on the floor now!
Gangster with pistols: Hands in the air, all of you!
Bootlegger with knife: Everybody freeze!
Old man: W-which one should we do?
Katekyo Hitman Reborn! has one during the future arc: All along, the readers were led to believe the whole reason they were in the future was because of Byakuran's machinations and Irie Shouchi was the root of all their problems, only to result in a Pileup with three main players.
Eden of the East's premise is that there are 12 Selecao all competing against each other to 'save' Japan in the way they see fit. Anyone who runs out of money without completing their objective is eliminated, those who are deemed unable to save Japan are eliminated by the mysterious Supporter, and no one's quite sure who's running this whole thing. Only the first person to achieve their goal will be considered successful, the rest are eliminated. So as time goes on, the Selecao are all plotting. Numbers One, Two, Six, Ten, and maybe Twelve are plotting against Nine, Akira. Eleven is helping him. Juiz seems rather distasteful of Six and supportive of Akira. At least one person who plotted against Akira is dead. Eventually, ten gets his missile gambit beaten, then vanishes. One takes out another Selecao, Two and Eleven. And Ten is back. Plots, plots plots. Number five wasn't much of a schemer, though.
As of Durarara!!'s 8th volume, the following groups and organizations are or have been involved in Izaya's crazy little Mob War and its surrounding confusion: three different color gangs, all of which were secretly created by middle schoolers, only two of whom are now even in high school, a faction composed of an unknowing bunch of people who have been demonically possessed, the Yakuza, The Mafiya, a pharmaceutical company fond of kidnapping immigrants for experimentation, an American Megacorp secretly (and violently) researching the supernatural, a serial-killing Dhampyr, a Dullahan searching for her head (along with her her Back-Alley Doctor boyfriend), a man with inexplicable super-strength and no temper to speak of, and a Saitama biker gang. There are at least three other Chessmasters or wannabe-Chessmasters besides Izaya trying to steer things towards their own interests, and about half a dozen Wild Card characters that can make or break alliances at a moment's notice. So far, the only thing guaranteed is complete and absolute chaos. Which is exactly what Izayawanted.
In A Certain Magical Index, several of the villains don't even know about each other. For example, Amata Kihara and Vento of the Front attack Academy City on two fronts, and end up getting in each others' way when they meet. A great example is Volume 15 of the light novels, in which all five of Academy City's secret enforcement groups (GROUP, ITEM, SCHOOL, MEMBER, and BLOCK) stumble into each other's plans and it turns into a city-wide battle royale that involves no fewer than threeLevel 5 Espers and several sorcerers. Everyone's acting at cross-purposes, and keeping track of what's going on and what everyone's objectives are can get very confusing. At the end of the day, only GROUP remains intact and functional.
Shin Mazinger. It says something when, at the end of the series Big Bad Dr. Hell says that everything that happened up to this point was nothing but an endless festival of tricks and backstabbings. And that happens before some of the biggest gambits in the series are revealed.
Cho-Katsu Komei from Giant Robo OVA continuity has, according to his backstory, once created this on purpose for his giant, incredibly convoluted Gambit Roulette, and the effect was such a huge mess that even his boss, Big Fire, ordered him to stop it all at once, because he has no idea what's going on anymore. And OVA itself has few gambits playing on one another. And Komei claims it is all part of his plan all along.
Windaria The shadowland king wants Lunaria's water, Roland and Veronica want peace, Lunaria Queen wants more money from Shadowland king, Lagado seeks more power, and Alan wants to protect his homeland.
Digimon Adventure 02 has this. The Digidestined are again fighting several enemies who have their own agendas. Most of them are actually manipulated by/following Malomyotismon, but there're some who're enemies to him as well as to the Digidestined. The DeamonCorps and Blackwargreymon are fighting his followers just as hard as they fight the Digidestined, and Kimeramon starts to act on his own will when he seems to be possessed by Devimon's spirit, who apparently is trying to get a comeback, and then there's Dagomon of the Dark Ocean, who wants to claim the power of light so that he can use it for his own plans of conquest.
The Marineford War is pretty much one big one between the Marines and Blackbeard. Even usual Spanner in the Works Luffy can't stop either side from getting what they want.
Happens again in Dressrosa as Donquixote Doflamingo and Trafalgar Law match wits with Luffy caught in the middle. Law gets taken out of commission fairly quickly, but not before Admiral Fujitora arrives with plans of his own, with the Revolutionary Army strategists not far behind.
Tower of God Part 2 only gets more complicated. There are no fewer than eight separate gambits running toward a variety of objectives and it's not even certain what group's full plan or objectives are.
He plays with it in Quantum and Woody, where Quantum often suspects these, but is usually wrong.
A storyline in Nodwick, which started with the heroes' attempt to stop an Orc Invasion of two kingdoms, turned into one of these for comedic effect. Especially when it was revealed that every person in the palace was attempting to control the kingdom one way or another. Story starts here, revelation of gambits starts here, page most relevant to this trope is this one.
Nodwick: Piffany, we'll have even more conspirators to add to the chart. Piffany: Oh, I gave up when Jules arrived. I'm just going to draw some duckies and bunnies for a while.
And that exchange came after our heroes learned that everyone in the krutzing KINGDOM had some sort of plan in the works or in motion.
Yeagar: If you're serious about it, getcher butts up here and take a number!
In an issue of What's New? with Phil and Dixie dedicated to spy-based RPGs, two battling Cold War-era agents intersperse their gunfire with insults ("Imperialist dog!" "Commie scum!"). Each spy taunts the other, revealing that he's found the well-hidden proof that the other is The Mole. Both spies cry "What?! Then my cover's blown!" in unison, then go back to fighting each other, slinging the same insults, but with their political loyalties reversed.
A Calvin and Hobbes Sunday strip features a game of football between the namesake characters, for the duration of which they reveal gambit after gambit ad ridiculum, to great comedic effect; Calvin is a double-agent for the opposing team posing as a member of Hobbes's team, however Hobbes knew the whole time and secretly switched the location of their goals, etcetera etcetera. Naturally, it ended up turning into Calvinball.
In Fall of Cthulhu, each of the elder gods has a gambit running and mankind will be lucky to survive, since we barely qualify as pawns.
Once in a while, Diabolik has a story where the protagonist has a fight with Eva and decides to make an heist alone and Eva decides to one-up him by making that heist before him, resulting in their plans interfering with each other. If the victim is a criminal, there's a good chance that Ginko or another cop is investigating him, further complicating things (and in at least one occasion causing Eva, who had already stole the loot, to frame Diabolik as The Mole who informed the police. The actual mole was Eva's roommate).
The X-Men crossover Messiah Complex has everyone with the same goal, the first mutant born since M-Day who just happens to be a baby. So we have Cyclops' main group going after the Marauders (who are also looking for the baby that the X-Men think they have), getting X-Factor to both infiltrate the Purifiers and explore two future timelines for information, the New X-Men going off on their own to attack the Purifiers, Lady Deathstrike and her men helping the Purifiers as a favor, Predator X hunting after the baby's powerful mutant genes to eat it, Professor X trying to get the New X-Men on his side (and failing), Cable with the baby trying to avoid everyone else and go into the future to protect and raise the baby, Mystique using the Marauders to get the baby and save Rogue's life with the help ofGambit AND FINALLY, Bishop trying to kill the baby under everyone's noses to avoid his horrid future and using a techno-organic virus to turn the Sentinal pilots around the mansion into killing machines to buy time. Did you get all that?
The 2011 Journey into Mystery series Loki goes up against HIMSELF. Things get very complicated and nobody wins.
Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog turned the Great War and its leadup into this. Ixis Naugus wanted the throne, Warlord Kodos wanted war and Julian Kintobor wanted the world. It took awhile and some double crossing from each other, but all three got what they wanted.
"The Immigration of the Body Snatchers" - a parody of Invasion of the Body Snatchers - in Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror Heebie-Jeebie Hullabaloo climaxes with Homer being hauled into an insane asylum for claiming that "pod people" are taking over the Earth. Everyone makes fun of him until the cops find some alien pods along the highway, which is when Dr. Marvin Monroe admits he knew about the pod-people invasion the whole time...because he is actually a spy from the planet Venus (removing his doctor's headgear to reveal a third "alien" eye) paving the way for a Venusian takeover of the Earth. Then one of the policemen rips off his disguise to reveal that "he" is actually two Little Green Martians who are way ahead of both the pod-people and the Venusians in preparing for a Martian conquest of Earth. Then another policeman strips off his disguise, and turns out to be a "robot ghost clone from the future" who is here to shoot everybody - twice. Things get increasingly absurd from that point on, with various conspiracy theorists showing up claiming that they're all in Hell or that they're part of an alien race's scientific experiment, et. al. Finally, Sideshow Bob appears and tells the crowd that they're all characters in a comic book, which causes everyone present to laugh at him...but of course, they eventually figure out that Bob's right when he points out the Fourth Wall. All the characters then panic and scream, realizing that when the reader closes the comic, they will all cease to exist.
The French comic Largo Winch has an album devoted to this. First we have a young woman named Saidee join a friend of Largo's and get invited to her art exhibition. Meanwhile an old flame of Largo's secretary shows up, while his daughter says she's Largo's Number Two's new Sexy Secretary. Then it turns out Saidee is part of an Islamist terror cell, sent to make friends with the artist so as to get close to Largo and kill him and his Number Two. Then it turns out the imam running the cell is Only in It for the Money (being both blackmailed by, and promised 40 million dollars from, the CIA), with no intention of sacrificing himself for the cause (but the rest are apparently true believers). Then it turns out Saidee is actually working for the same CIA agent, who're holding her brother hostage in Guantanamo. The father and daughter team mentioned above were actually industrial spies. And then it's revealed the CIA agent is actually working for another industrialist (the actual CIA is not involved), with the money the imam's supposed to collect actually intended for him. The album's name? Chassé-croisé, which is close enough to Gambit Pileup.
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality features at least seventy five plots during the armies arc's last battle before Christmas, though not all of them are actually depicted. Especially notable is the presence of a quintuple agent who thinks he's a quadruple agent in a game with only three sides. It was even lampshaded by name in the author's notes. (See quote page) Even outside of the armies, everyone has a plot, or several: Quirrel, Dumbledore, Harry, Draco, Lucius, Snape, Hat&Cloak, "Santa Claus"... A chapter has Snape commenting "If I have learned anything in my tenure as Head of Slytherin, I have learned what ridiculous messes arise when there is more than one plotter and more than one plan."
Divine Blood has no less than sixteen people pursuing their own, often mutually independent goals with no collaboration between them.
Dragon Age The Crown Of Thorns. The first chapters already paint Orzammar as the game of lies, but things keep evolving for real when the dwarven nobleprotagonist and the other wardens return to the dwarven city to get military aid. And this is not counting the pileup dealing with the main plotline, one in which not just the Wardens and Loghain are involved, but also a Fade Spirit, of all things, and, more recently, probably the Archdemon as well.
The Ponies Of Olympus story Atlas Strongest Tournament has this occurring between Luna and Aurelia in their moves and countermoves against each other behind the scenes of the tournament. It's taken to Mind Screw levels at some points.
In Chapter 17-19 of Perfection Is Overrated, Bachiko and Meiko try to force certain people to fall in love or, failing that, kill the Himes. Ishigami decides he can use them and decides to try to use Yukariko to coerce the Himes into fighting one another. Meanwhile, Nagi, trying to advance his own agenda, tries to manipulate Shiho, who is unconvinced that Yuuichi has truly fallen for her, into killing Mai.
Children of Time has Professor Moriarty and Beth Lestrade. Moriarty is The Chessmaster; Beth just plans simply and utilizes the Indy Ploy when she has to. Most notably, Moriarty makes a Cloning Gambit and allows his own death to occur, and when his clone pops up in the 22nd century, Beth's era, she has the body of Sherlock Holmesrestored to life to aid her and New Scotland Yard. Only to find that Moriarty is now a Villain with Good Publicity, and she and Sherlock will have to discredit him.
Death Note Equestria: Given one half of the source material, it shouldn't be a surprise this ends up happening. Twilight and L's moves against each other count from the start already, but then Mer goes off Twilight's script to reach her own ends. And on top of that, not only does Pinkie Pie appear to have set up a Thanatos Gambit before her death, but Celestia is strongly implied to be running her own scheme against Kira as well.
Death Note II The Hidden Note has this happen: A woman shows up at the doorway in a trenchcoat, a fedora and sunglasses. She is apparently the new Kira's conspirator. In her Death Note, she writes down the names of the people she sees and waits for forty seconds. But wait! Near pulls out what he says is the real Death Note and says the one the woman is holding is fake. Not only that, Near accuses KJ of being the new Kira. But wait! The woman reads out the names she wrote and describes how the four people she wrote the names of would die. Each one dies seemingly in that way. Suddenly, The woman takes off her fedora and sunglasses to reveal she's Near's daughter Angela! Everyone is suddenly surrounded by Shinigami. Arik flashes his Death Note in Near's face. Near realizes that the Death note he and Angela have are both fake. Near asks KJ where the real Death Note was. KJ says the first entry he wrote in his journal, which mentions an angel. It is then that Near realizes he held the real Death Note in his hands and put it back. It is at this point he exclaims how it was the Hidden Note.
Dirty Sympathy has Klavier and Apollo's plan to frame their abusers clashing with Phoenix's plan of proving Kristoph guilty and restoring his good name and Kristoph's plan of poisoning the Mishams to tie up loose ends.
Maledict wishes to defeat the Metarex so he can unleash Tsali on his enemies and rule the universe. He is also secretly controlling the Metarex as part of his enormously complicated Gambit Roulette. He also wants to get the Chaos Emeralds in order to keep them away from the Metarex and is trying to protect Sonic the Hedgehog because he's Maledict's son.
Tsali steals Planet Eggs so he has enough power to exterminate the Seedrians and destroy the Metarex. And anyone else who gets in his way.
Allysion want to kill Tsali and then launch an attack on the Milky Way to upset Maledict's plans.
Jesus sends his servant Tephiroth to see if Sonic would be a useful ally, and recruits Trinity to spy on the Demons and find out what they're up to.
Venus the Seedrian is trying to expose Maledict's plan in order to stop him from taking over the universe.
Dark Oak and the Metarex are stealing and mutating Planet Eggs in order to keep themselves and their organization alive.
The plot of Power Games arises from the colliding agendas of six different factions.
Redaction Of The Golden Witch has Karl's theory about what really happened in Umineko: When They Cry. In his version of events, all of the Ushiromiya's servants were working for different players in a worldwide conspiracy, all aimed at claiming the family's secret stash of wealth.
Child Of The Storm gleefully takes this trope and runs with it. First off, we have a post Heel-Face Turn Loki, who's got a world wide spy network and is continually scheming for the good of Asgard and the Nine Realms while watching his brother's back. Then we have Baron Von Strucker, who wants to restore HYDRA to the status it possessed during WWII, Lucius Malfoy, who wants to bring down the Avengers, gain revenge on Nick Fury and fuse HYDRA and the Death Eaters into a gestalt entity under his sole command, Gravemoss, who wants to kill everything and rule over a universe of the dead. Cue backstabbing. Dealing with all of these is Nick Fury, who's trying (and, to be fair, mostly succeeding) to crush HYDRA and is gunning for Lucius Malfoy in particular, because he has a score to settle, while simultaneously trying to limit Loki's influence (it's not that he thinks that Loki's evil, it's just that he's got a job to do. And he doesn't trust him). His protégé, Agent (later Director) Wisdom a.k.a. Regulus Black, is masterminding the defence of Britain and, seemingly, the creation of a British Avengers team in the form of Excalibur, occasionally black mailing Wanda Maximoff into helping out. Dumbledore is rapidly rearranging his plans to bring down the Death Eaters and prevent Voldemort's return in response to the ever changing Status Quo. Professor Xavier is holding off the Hellfire Club with one hand and keeping Harry away from his maternal cousin Jean for some unspecified yet crucial reason, in a case of I Did What I Had to Do, as it's shown that he's very much unhappy with it. Magneto is lurking on the edge of things and keeping an eye on events. Mister Sinister has been all but stated to be the mysterious force that kept Harry at Privet Drive, messing with Mrs Figg's head, heading off investigations and the like, having developed an interest in Harry because of his mother being related to Jean Grey. Odin is mostly operating on a hands off basis, leaving his sons to do what they do best, but has put a number of his servants into play, with Freki and Geri (his wolves) protecting Harry, Huginn and Muninn occasionally advising him and Sif and the Warriors Three taking part in a little monster hunting, while keeping an eye out for an opportunity to get even with Thanos for what he did to Loki (it wasn't mind control, but it wasn't pleasant) and to Krypton. The Phoenix Force, meanwhile, has decided that she likes Harry for reasons that are as yet unexplained, and is implied to be the source of Harry's protection. It is further implied that Lily Potter isn't quite dead and has some kind of connection to the Phoenix, while Chthon schemes to bring about his return to the universe through the Darkhold. And then there's Doctor Strange, who seems to be manipulating the hell out of everyone and is unequivocally 'up to something'. Confused yet?
Weiss Reacts has the constant pranking war going on between everyone that even the staff are players in. And then there's the Great Antic War arc....
The climax of Curse of the Golden Flower after a couple Reveal-bombs are dropped ends up being something like this, with several different plots (sometimes literally) crashing into each other, including some that seemingly come out of nowhere.
The first two Pirates of the Caribbean movies show signs of this. The third one simply explodes with it in the scene where The Black Pearl changes owners about five times in thirty seconds (where half the cast suddenly reveal they've been plotting against everyone else for the Pearl). But for all the scheming and plotting, everybody ends up on exactly the side you would expect, i.e. pirates (plus Will and Elizabeth, who had pretty much become pirates by that point) vs. Davy Jones and the Royal Navy.
The diamond heist in A Fish Called Wanda goes off without a hitch, but then the gang starts plotting against each other. Wanda and Otto come back to the safe to steal the diamonds for themselves, with Wanda planning to steal them from Otto once he opens the safe, only to find that Ken already moved them at George's direction. Ken hides the safe deposit box key in his fishtank, but Wanda spots him checking and steals it, hiding it in her locket. George is arrested for the robbery, leading Wanda to try to seduce George's defence counsel Archie, to gain information (and probably to make Otto jealous). Otto tortures Ken to get the location of the diamonds, but doesn't have the key, now that Wanda has decided to betray everybody, and incriminates George during his trial, instead of providing the alibi she previously promised. Finally, Archie and Wanda fly to South America with the diamonds.
The Lady from Shanghai begins with a discussion of how there are no tough guys, only people with an edge and people without one. Everybody thinks they're playing everyone else. The lead curses himself throughout the movie for being such an Unwitting Pawn.
The Big Lebowski. A trophy wife runs off for a weekend. Her nihilist friends pretend they've kidnapped her to squeeze money out of her rich husband to pay off a porn kingpin, but accidentally break into the apartment of someone with the same name. The husband gives the Dude an empty briefcase to give the "kidnappers" while he pockets the ransom money, expecting Dude to screw up to cover his tracks. Various other characters wander into the pileup, including a teenage car thief and Lebowski's angry ultra-feminist daughter, and Hilarity Ensues.
Snatch. Made particularly amusing by the fact that the only two characters who had absolutely no idea about the existence of the diamond that prompted so many characters to try and come up with so many plans are the ones who end up with it at the end.
The Court Jester was noted by many critics then and now as having an incredibly complicated plot for a '50s comedy, with a bunch of people who all have their own agendas getting in the way of or accidentally assisting each other. During the bulk of the film, there are three to four Batman Gambits going on at any given moment. The rebels want the key to the secret passage that will let them attack the castle, the princess wants to marry for love, several nobles want more power by having other nobles assassinated, and there's a witch with hypnotic powers who just wants to stay alive. Unfortunately, due to said hypnotic powers, the protagonist is unaware of all but one of these for most of the film.
Whats Up Doc. Smith is chasing Jones, the hotel detective and the rich lady and the mobsters are chasing the jewels, Barbra Streisand (Judy) is chasing Ryan O'Neal (Howard), Howard and Hugh are competing for Austin Pendleton's fellowship, and it all culminates in a Chase Scene throughout San Francisco. Seriously, watch it.
Primer. The goals and plans of 5-6 iterations of Aaron and Abe are nearly impossible to keep track of, including by the characters themselves.
Down with Love: Catcher assumes a false identity in order to trick Barbara into falling in love with him so that he can publicly discredit her. Just when he thinks he's succeeded, she pulls the rug out from under him by revealing that she knew who he really was the whole time, and she was also operating under a false identity to make him fall in love with her. Ironically, her plan worked splendidly, but caused her to fall out of love with him, so that he has to try a completely new strategy in order to win her back.
House of Flying Daggers is a tangled web of intrigue in which pretty much everyone is found to be secretly deceiving or plotting against pretty much everyone else.
The plot of Get Shorty rapidly escalates into a Gambit Pileup, and remains one until the final resolution; that's really the whole appeal of the movie, unless you'd enjoy an Affectionate Parody of Hollywood.
Wild Things, with reveal after reveal, every character shown to betray and kill their erstwhile allies for the benefit of some other ally, who in turn betrays and kills them, and so on. Every sequel strives to escalate to make each plot twenty times more convoluted and confusing than the previous film's. Chances are, if you are the protagonist, the antagonist, the victim, a background character... hell, if you're in the film, you are in on the scheme and may be weaving some incredibly complex plans of your own.
Sleuth is a play adapted into a movie with only a few characters. The main characters continually play with each other, psyching the others out mercilessly.
Duplicity pretty much devolves into this. Their primary gambit requires an increasing number of sub-gambits all of which are rendered moot by Howard Tully's Batman Gambit that trumps them all.
Threatens to happen a couple of times in the Infernal Affairs films, but it really gets out of control in Infernal Affairs II with all the maneuvering among Ngai Hao, Wong, Sam, and Sam's wife Mary.
Maverick has a doozy. Angel's order to keep Maverick away from the big poker tournament turns out to have been sent by The Commodore, but that entire plot is a Red Herring. The real conspiracy is between Cooper and The Commodore, then The Commodore tries to pull You Have Outlived Your Usefulness, but then Cooper and Maverick manage to Out Gambit The Commodore and get away with the money.
Takers has this trope in spades, as there's several gambits that all end up in a very messy collision at the end.
Equilibrium wherein the ruling evil empire causes their best agent to be corrupted so he can lead them to the leader of the noble rebels who allow themselves to be captured and executed because somehow they know that is the only way he will be able to see the leader of the evil empire in person.
The hapless main characters in Strange Days find themselves dragged into the chaotic aftermath of what happens when several would-be master plans have already started crashing into each other and spiraling way out of control.
The club shootout in Collateral devolves into one, in which six different factions are involved, all with wildly varying interests. The Feds think Max is Vincent, and try to arrest him while escorting Lin (Vincent's target) safely out of the building. LAPD Detective Ray Fanning knows something is up and that the Feds are acting prematurely, and tries to help Max. Max just wants to get through the whole thing alive, and also prevent Vincent from killing his mother if he fails. Vincent wants to kill Lin, while using Max as a decoy. Lin's security guards are just trying to protect their boss, are startled by the Feds rushing in with guns, and turn the thing into a shooting spree to start with. Felix's guards think Max is Vincent, and will kill him if things go wrong. Vincent comes out on top. The Feds are rendered useless by Lin’s bodyguards, Felix's guards are scared off by Vincent, he kills both Lin and his bodyguards, he kills Ray after Ray just escorted Max out of the building, and forces Max to continue driving him to his next target.
L.A. Confidential involves four different cop's plans with wildly different motivations, and some other characters that take different parts in these four plans. Even those going for the crime control have different plans and betray each other.
The Damned has each member of a German steel family scheming to take over the company and curry favor with the Nazis. Murder, blackmail, backstabbing and other shenanigans ensue with increasingly convoluted results.
The Thieves starts as an attempt to heist a diamond from a casino. However, almost everyone involved has an agenda of their own and an elaborate series of double and triple crosses ensues.
The western comedy The Great Bank Robbery features four different groups all simultaneously targeting the same criminal-operated bank in 1880's Texas.
The Radix: Everybody (including the Borgias, USA intelligence agencies, Knights of Malta and Corrupt Corporate Executives) is searching for the Radix, an ancient relic of Panacea power, for different reasons, messing up each other's (and sometimes their own) plans badly.
The Culture novel Excession involves this between the ITG, the Affront, the Culture, Contact, the Peace Makes Plenty, and of course the eponymous Excession.
Many of the stories in the Night Watch series go like this; Gesar and Zabulon both want something and use their own Batman Gambit to get it, generally while another villain is also trying to get what he wants, and while Anton is trying to figure out what the fuck is going on and is sometimes trying to use yet another gambit to achieve his goals, which may or may not just be helping Gesar achieve his, while researching or explaining all of the schemes that the Watches have used in the past, and the the Inquisition comes along and thing get even more confusing.
In Animorphs book 53: The Answer has Jake's plan involve three separate levels of Out Gambitting, despite only going up against two villains.
The entire oeuvre of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky is likely the most famous pioneer of the Gambit Pileup. The stupendously complex mindgames played by nearly every character in The Brothers Karamazov require several readings and maybe a college course to comprehend at the basic level. Crime and Punishment plays similar games starring Porifiry Petrovich, whose mindbending "Ah, but if you knew that I knew that one of us was to know" arguments drive Raskolnikov to confession and the reader "seven versts" (4½ miles) from St. Petersburg, to a mental institution referenced in the book.
The original Dune novels have this. Who is manipulating whom? Everyone and everyone, respectively.
The philosophical themes of War and Peace suggest that history is not so clean, not specific causes and effects, because everyone is in on the massive Gambit Pileup that is the clusterfuck of history.
Second Apocalypse has master manipulator Kellhus trying to outwit master manipulator Moenghus, while various lesser schemers and an Ancient Conspiracy make things even more complicated. More discreet schemers may turn up in later revelations.
James Clavell's Shogun. Nearly every character is scheming something. Toranga is scheming to defeat Ishido and vice versa, Blackthorne is scheming to defeat Jesuit influence in Japan (and survive), the Jesuits are scheming to convert all of Japan (and kill Blackthorne), and then countless more plots from the supporting cast.
Every Illuminatus in Duumvirate has his own agenda. There are six thousand Illuminati, some more devious than others. The title characters have no choice but to not care about what everyone may or may not be plotting, so long as it doesn't affect them directly.
The entire plot of A Civil Campaign is basically one of these, as the back cover quote suggests.
Miles has a cunning plan... Unfortunately his clone-brother Mark and his cousin Ivan also have cunning plans.
The entirety of The Warrior's Apprentice is built out of the Gambit Index. Miles, through sheer insane, lying chutzpah and a lot of luck, manages to take over the entire fleet, all 3,000 people of them, reverse the war, and get out alive with a slight profit. And keep in mind, he's seventeen.
The Vor Game deserves mention, too, for the several-gambit pileup consisting solely of a single person's successive plans.
If you thought Dune was complicated, you really need to read The Dosadi Experiment. You more or less have 800 million people, all of which are currently involved in some form of Gambit Roulette against everyone else.
The Ender and Shadow series by Orson Scott Card, especially the latter. Everyone is plotting for power or position or familial recognition or SOMETHING. Some plotters don't even seem to know what they're plotting for but they do know they're good at it!
If you thought the movie adaptation of L.A. Confidential was complicated, it has nothing on James Ellroy's novel. All kinds of different schemes involving pornography, heroin, murder, and the mob all collide together, and meanwhile three cops are unknowingly all investigating the entire thing. White Jazz is pretty much the same, but squeezed into half the space by the removal of every single word Ellroy considered the slightest bit extraneous at the request of his publisher.
Most of Isaac Asimov's works can be considered big Gambit Pileups. Literally the entirety of his amalgamated universe (from The Complete Robot through the Empire series to Foundation and Earth) tells the story of R. Daneel Olivaw's enormous plot that encompasses over 30,000 years of human history and requires more Gambit Roulette than you can shake a stick at.
The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It would be simpler to list those major characters and groups that don't have some sort of master plan working.
Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora and especially its sequels, Red Seas Under Red Skies and The Republic of Thieves. Perhaps justified given that the main characters are highly-skilled con men, their antagonists are meticulous planners, and that the series has been described as a 'fantasy Ocean's Eleven'.
This trope is in full effect with the Star Empire of Manticore, the Andermani Empire, minor allied partners, the Republic of Haven, the Solarian League, a dozen or so random neutralish planets and especially Mesa and each of them being subdivided into different factions. Mesa's plans really went off the rails when the Winton family was able to build up a large enough navy to fight off the People's Republic of Haven preventing their original plan of Haven forming a pocket empire. Along the way the military technology of the Haven Sector combined with their economic clout mean the Solarian League can't expand too far in that direction without butting heads. Various OFS Governors have different plans, some of them in line with Mesa, some of them desperately trying to cut off Mesa, and don't even get started on the Core Worlds of the SL like Beowulf.
On top of that the entirety of Crown of Slaves is one massive pileup: There's at least six major plots running into each other over the course of the book, and by the time the smoke clears one planet has changed owners, another switches sides, at least three major assassinations have taken place and absolutely nobody (aside from the reader) knows the full story.
Also done to the extreme in A Conspiracy of Paper. It's starting to get hard to figure out who isn't manipulating the main character...
Used deliberately in the Mickey Spillane novel The Twisted Thing. The killer knows that the murder of a wealthy scientist (done for simple revenge) will lead to everyone else plotting against each other to get their hands on his money, thus obscuring the original crime.
If there are actually fewer than 30 different Batman Gambits going by the various factions in the Wheel of Time series, it would be surprising. A partial list:
Each of the 13 Forsaken is a Chessmaster with Chronic Backstabbing Disorder (but varying personal styles and levels of power and competence). In theory they're all on the same side, but for most of the series it was undecided who would be in charge of the rest, and some of the losers still hope to take over.
Elayne, in addition to ties to both Rand and the Aes Sedai, is a queen who wants to keep her kingdom independent from both those forces and has to get through a civil war before she can claim her mother's throne.
Also notable in The Wheel of Time is Daes Dae'mar, which is typically translated to "The Great Game" or "The Game of Houses", and is most widely known to be played in the city of Cairhien, although the Aes Sedai are the true masters of the game. Quite literally, it's a Gambit Pileup, yet simultaneously an inversion, where everyone knows (albeit unofficially) that everyone else is plotting. This makes for hilarious behaviour as the main character of the series, Rand, refuses to play the game, and thus manages to play it better than any of them, as they form plots on the expectation that Rand is playing.
Larry Niven has written about entire alien species who do nothing but plot:
In The Mote In Gods Eye, the Motie species has evolved into a social order of hive-like clans, where just running a city involves multitudes of contracts, non-aggression pacts and alliances to provide basic services like trash removal and road repair. Unfortunately, Moties have a biological mandate to breed - if they don't reproduce regularly, they die. Eventually, when the population increases to a critical mass, each clan betrays the others to grab the remaining resources, and war breaks out across the entire planet. The war typically smashes Motie civilization entirely (sometimes resulting in the eradication of most life on the planet)... after which the survivors slowly rebuild and start doing the same things again. This cycle has been occurring for over a million years so far.
The Pak protectors are the smartest organic life in Known Space. But they are biologically compelled to protect their own bloodline at all cost. So again, any alliance between protectors will last only as long as it benefits all parties. Then they start throwing tailored viruses at each other to remove the competition. The Pak planet is also ravaged with war. Protectors make plans that can span over thousands of years, and no 'breeder' minds can hope to follow the layers of plots and counter-plots of a protector's scheme.
The 'Puppeteers' are a very well named race of self-interested cowards. Each Puppeteer is very intelligent, and commonly uses plots and blackmail as legitimate business tools. Internally, their culture has two political parties constantly vying for dominance. Externally, the Puppeteer attempt to influence all other races found in known space; the Man-Kzin Wars were created to cull out all the more aggressive Kzin to produce a more 'meeker', reasonable population. Puppeteers influenced the human Birth Lotteries to produce a race of 'luckier' humans, so the Puppeteers can 'borrow' human luck for their own purposes. And then there is the case where the core of the galaxy May or May Not be blowing up; it all might be a massive plot to make all the other known space species run away. Then the Puppeteers could double back and claim all the life-sustaining worlds for themselves; they have a population of a trillion to think of.
All three of these examples show off a trait that Niven considers essential for writing a super-human intelligence: they're all tremendously limited in their goals. This tends to make it harder for the aliens in question to Take a Third Option, so a plodding merely-human intellect can conceive the plan, since the author doesn't have to scheme in realtime.
The first third of Survivor's Quest has more than a few of these. Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker find that the Empire of the Hand sent a message to them, but the message was stolen and the thief, a mechanic, has disappeared. They track down the source, get it told to them, and fly out to a Chiss ship to be taken to Outbound Flight. There are factions among the Chiss. The "New Republic ambassador" is the mechanic who stole the message. Four stormtroopers and an officer from the Empire of the Hand are there, claiming they were sent as the Skywalkers' escort. A group of aliens show up, claiming to want to pay their respects to Outbound Flight. Then things start happening.
In the Corellian Trilogy, the Sacorrian Triad wants to take over the Corellian Sector, Thrackan Sal-Solo wants to do the same as well as make things unpleasant for Cousin Han, New Republic Intelligence has its own schemes, the Hunchuzuc Den and the Overden are trying to take advantage of the situation to out-play each other, and Leia Solo simply wants to keep the New Republic together, for kriff's sake. And keep Bovo Yagen's sun from going supernova.
There's one in The Krytos Trap; a convoy of ships carrying bacta is going to show up, and the New Republic's famed Rogue Squadron is going to meet it and escort it, since both the Empire and Warlord Zsinj are the New Republic's enemies. An Imperial who is just crossing the line from The Dragon to The Starscream hears of this, doesn't tell his boss, and sends a squadron of Imperial X-wings painted like the Rogues to hijack the bacta for himself, sending the report to his boss only when it's too late for her to say yes or no. His boss, though, heard of this from the same source and leaks it to Warlord Zsinj. The Rogues are slightly delayed.
A minor example in The Last Command. The New Republic goes through a bunch of fuss and bother attempting to convince the Imperials of an impending attack on their Ubiqtorate base at Tangrene, while they plan for their real attack at the shipyards of Bilbringi. Unfortunately, the opposing military leader, Thrawn, isn't fooled at all, and is waiting for them when they arrive. However, the independent (though anti-Imperial at this point) Smugglers' Alliance is fooled, and plans their own strike to obtain what the New Republic is after. Their strike is timed to take place during the Tangrene attack. Their target? Bilbringi. The net effect is that they end up inside the defenses of the shipyard before the attack, in a perfect position to be a Spanner in the Works later on. Which is the major factor in the New Republic's eventual victory. Even then Thrawn might have pulled off a win if the completely unrelated Noghri rebellion hadn't gone official with his assassination at the same time.
New Jedi Order is chock full of these—there are billions of plans in motion. Every planet is full of these gambits. Justified as this is the greatest, most devastating war in tens of thousands of years.
There are multiple gambits going on in Tales from Jabba's Palace, all with the same goal; the Bloated One's death. Some are out for revenge, some are just hired assassins, while others are trying to take control of Jabba's gang. A few, like Bib Fortuna, are aware of the other gambits but do nothing. It all leads to the same thing, so why bother? In the end, the ones that come out on top are the B'Omarr Monks. The palace used to be the order's temple until the criminals started squatting in it, so once Jabba's gone they swoop in and take over, turning some into Brain-Spiders.
In Scoundrels, Han Solo leads a group that is supposed to steal something back from a crime lord, Avrak Villachor. Unbeknownst to him, Villachor is a member of Black Sun, the galaxy's greatest crime syndicate, and one of his superiors is visiting him. An Imperial agent is around for the latter; he eventually allies himself with the protagonists, but has already set a plan of his own in motion by that time, and Villachor becomes slightly paranoid by everything that's going on. And a few of the Scoundrels happen to have ties to the Rebel Alliance, which may or may not affect the plot as well.
Codex Alera owes a lot of its plot to about 8 duelling chessmasters of varying levels of competence. The second book has one four-gambit pileup where the plans sort of blunder into each other without anyone precisely getting Out-Gambitted. Before the first book even starts, we have at least three Magnificent Bastards maneuvering around each other, two different provinces plotting rebellion, an aging First Lord with no heir who only remains in power by being one of the aforementioned Magnificent Bastards, a very complicated sociopolitical/economic situation surrounding the issues of women's rights and slavery, the constant threat of three separate hostile nations, and more Chessmasters than you can shake a stick at. Once the series gets going, one of the provinces moves beyond plotting, a Horde of Alien Locusts shows up, one of the hostile nations invades, and Tavi comes out of nowhere as an incredibly brilliant tactician loyal only to the First Lord, who later turns out to be his grandson, Gaius Octavian. And this doesn't even get into Invidia Aquitaine and her Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, Wild Card Fidelias, or Bernard and Amara's fondness for acting as a Spanner in the Works. It's amazing it's still possible to follow what's going on.
John Grisham's novel Runaway Jury is an excellent example. In a trial where the widow of a dead smoker is suing the tobacco company, the defence is doing everything it can to bribe/threaten/blackmail the jurors and the plaintiff attempts this on a smaller extent. Enter our protagonists Nicholas and Marlee, who have a cunning plan to infiltrate the jury and sell the verdict to the defence for ten million dollars. The defence pay up. However, it turns out Marlee's parents both died of lung cancer and they're doing it to get revenge. Nicholas persuades the jury to sent a plaintiff's verdict and they use the money to short-sell tobacco stocks.
Charles Palliser's The Quincunx is a post-modern Darker and Edgier Dickensian story of a young man trying to gain his inheritance (sort of a cross between Bleak House and Nicholas Nickleby), as plotted by David Mamet. The various possible inheritors are plotting one against another, and figuring out what's actually happening is nearly impossible, especially given the first-person Unreliable Narrators.
1634: The Bavarian Crisis is one of these. The author wanted to remind us that history isn't a few great men and a backdrop of grey masses, so every single person has an agenda, and all but a handful of them are hidden. They vary in scope from overthrow fuedalism to get married before the pregnancy shows, but if a shadowy figure is following you, you have no way of knowing which scope is relevant. Once they start interacting, the result is pure chaos.
K. J. Parker loves this one and is good at making it logical which seems challenging. In The Scavenger Trilogy half the fun is the giddy sense of all those grand plans colliding in the dark.
In Black Dogs, The Big Bad's Evil Plan to manipulate his son's personality into becoming crueler and more evil (by repressing all his good and gentle qualities) backfires on him when the newer, eviller son plots his own Evil Plan to usurp his father and to cause him to be killed by his own demon.
The second and third books in Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy probably qualify. The number of government agencies alone that are working against each other is pretty shockingly massive, and then there are all the private investigators and journalists involved in the plot, not to mention Lisbeth herself.
Brandon Sanderson is also really fond of these. His fans call it the Sanderson Avalanche. The Mistborn trilogy is probably the most notable example to date, if only because the plot had the longest to develop. The end of Warbreaker definitely qualifies, as does the end of Elantris, and it's no wonder he got picked to ghostwrite the last three books in The Wheel of Time series (see above entry).
The Way of the World. Mirabell wants to marry Millament, but needs the consent of Millament's aunt, Lady Wishfort, who hates Mirabell's guts and wants Millament to marry Sir Wilful. Milament herself isn't sold on the idea of marrying ANYONE until halfway through the play, because she wanted to get married without losing any independence, so she draws up a contract with Mirabell to ensure this. He has to agree because he needs her large inheritance that she wouldn't even get until she's married. Lady Wishfort wants to be swept off her feet by a dashing gentleman, which is exploited by Mirabell and later by Fainall (who has been in a pissing contest with Mirabell since his introduction) because both of them want her money. Lady Wishfort becomes Mirabel's Unwitting Pawn because she thought it would screw him over, and later willingly becomes it again once Fainall tries to use Mirabell's previois gambit to screw her over. All this without mentioning Mrs. Fainall and Mrs. Marwood, both married and both claiming to hate men, when in fact they're both in love with Mirabell. Congreve lampshades this with Witwould at the end.
"I understand nothing of the matter. I'm in a maze yet, like a dog in a dancing school."
The climax of Lonely Werewolf Girl is one huge (and well executed) pileup. See the work's page for details. The sequel, Curse of the Wolfgirl goes for a more straightforward Batman Gambit though.
Black Company. Through The Books of the South and The Books of Glittering Stone, you've got interweaving plots by Croaker, Lady, Murgen, the Nyeung Bao, the Radisha, the Pradishah Drah, Smoke, the Shadowmasters, Howler, Soulcatcher, the priests, Mogaba, Blade, Willow Swan, Sleepy, Kina, the Daughter of Night, Narayan Singh, One-Eye, Shivetya, and Goblin. Half the series is figuring out who's trying to do what to whom.
In the Doctor WhoNew Series Adventures, "The Dalek Generation" turns into this. The Daleks are trying to activate some alien planet-changing technology, the Doctor tries to enact a Timey-Wimey Ball against them, then it turns out he has been manipulated for most of the book by the Dalek Time Controller who has got him to the right places.
The plot of an average Secret City book includes: three Great Houses trying to out-gambit each other and achieve domination, the resident Big Bad adding more controlled chaos for some personal gain, Cortes & Co going for a big score, Trade Guild making money on all it, Santiaga thinking to get the max net gain for his House and exploit a new unexpected facet of humankind, some traitors in one or two fractions joining, as they think, a stronger side, some stupid human thugs considering that they are not being used and Red Hats just bumbling around from one trouble into another. At the end of the book, however, it (usually) collapses into the two sides though the outcomes still are different.
Most of the major characters in Megan Whalen Turner's beautifully convoluted Queens Thief series are involved in one of these.
In the historical novel Wings of Dawn: Not as often as you'd expect, but once our protagonist leaves Britain, they really get going...
In Courtship Rite, the Kaiel clan have basically been breeding for a better chessmaster. When Aesoe, the clan's Prime Predictor, orders the maran-Kaiel brothers to marry Oelita the Gentle Heretic, he knows they'll try to outgambit him, and he's betting he's still better than they are. What none of them know is that the Mnankrei clan have their own plans for Oelita and her followers. The Mnankrei may not be quite the chessmasters that the Kaiel are, but they have surprise on their side. Unfortunately, it seems that the innocent courtesans of the Leithe clan may not be so innocent after all, and for once, they may feel the need to interfere with the plans of the great clans. Who would expect that a tiny, beautiful dancer would also be a trained assassin? But—that assassin may have plans of her own...
At one point in Mairelon the Magician, five different parties break into Henry Bramingham's library to steal a magical platter on display there for four different reasons. The sheer absurdity of this nearly causes the second party to break out laughing at the arrival of the fifth and get caught. Who actually stole the platter? None of them. A sixth party had stolen the real platter and replaced it with a forgery at least a week before it had entered Bramingham's possession.
Rayojini and her actions become the focus of a few characters' plots in Burying the Shadow. She is unaware of the different factions pulling the strings in her life until the end, or the fact that some of them think killing her might be the best course of action. And of course, Rayo has her own schemes which end up unknowingly going against all of them.
By the third book of Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness, there are two warring human factions, each with a Magnificent Bastard at the head trying to win over the other faction, the native species of the planet the humans have colonized that wants to destroy both human factions in revenge for a horrible massacre, a ship of new settlers that will be landing within weeks with powerful weapons that both human factions want to win over, and several wild cards including the main characters Todd and Viola and a scouting ship that arrived early with several nuclear missiles.
At any given time in The Nexus Series, there are at least three different factions with three different plans heading right for a head-on collision.
Causal Angel, the epic conclusion of The Quantum Thief-trilogy features an enormous pileup of gambits of Joséphine Pellegrini, Jean le Flambeur, the Great Game-zoku, the Kaminari-zoku and the All-Defector hitting each other at light speed, with a few Spanners In The Works for a good measure. But what can you expect when collectives of posthumans plot to break the barriers of time and space?
In No Good Deed... Father Garnerius, Lord Cuncz, and the Prince-Bishop of Bremen all have their own agendas, with Cuncz playing both sides off the other, while Elsabeth and Hieronymus get caught up in the middle.
Live Action TV
Alias becomes a lot like this in its later seasons, when there's the conspiracy behind the conspiracy, and then there's another conspiracy running for x-ty years no-one else knew about, and so on. Also coupled with a few too many instances of the main characters' allegiances being questioned (in most instances even the same characters over and over again) in season 4.
The Evil of the Daleks is largely made up of a series of interlocking plans by the Doctor, Professor Waterfield, and the Dalek Emperor. Upon learning about that last one, a stunned Waterfield summarizes the basic idea in a sentence:
Waterfield: While you were doing one thing, they were really making you do another.
Parodied till it snapped by "The Curse of the Fatal Death". To the point where the first part is nothing but The Reveal "I bribed the architect!"
In The Trial of a Time Lord, The High Council wanted to cover their tracks, the Valeyard wanted to take over, the Master wanted the Valeyard out of the way, and the Doctor wanted justice to prevail.
Shows up in Journey's End, with several smaller Gambits acting as Spanners to Davros' usual Gambit and the Doctor's customary Xanatos Speed Chess.
The End Of Time seems to be nothing but this, and it works. There are at least half a dozen Gambits running around, not counting the two or three played out in the first ten minutes.
The overarching story arc of series 6 is an even bigger pileup between the Doctor, River, and the Silence, of which the Pileup of the previous series' finale is implied to be merely the 'first shot'. The history of an entire species gets used as a weapon, religions and empires get caught in the crossfire, there are Doppelgangers and temporal paradoxes everywhere, time itself shatters, and Hitler gets punched in the face.
The entire history of the Earth starts looking like this if you take the long view. The planet only exists because of the Racnoss trying to hide, evolution for the past 12 million years was planned by the Fendahl, the dinosaurs were wiped out by a crashing Cyberman ship, humans won out over other hominids due to Daemon cullings and experiments (which also destroyed at least one Atlantis), Egyptian culture was guided by the Osirians, Inca culture was guided by the Exxilons, Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth manipulated our technological development to help us reach time travel, and from "fire and the wheel" until 1969, the Silence were controlling our society to, among other things, develop space travel and wear business suits. Every week we learn of another comparatively minor event orchestrated by yet another alien species. Not to mention all the times the Doctor has manipulated history.
"The Curse of Fenric" has Arc Welding which reveals events from the past two seasons were orchestrated by Fenric, who caused the time storm to transport Ace to Iceworld in the future so she could start travelling with the Doctor and eventually help his plan to defeat the Doctor. Fenric is also trying to perform a Stable Time Loop which will create an alternate timeline. However the 7th Doctor claims he took Ace with him as he recognised Fenric's influence. Ace claims it's like a game where only he knows the rules. Though with 7 it is debatable how much he is The Chessmaster or whether he is good at Xanatos Speed Chess.
It is hard to find someone, hero, villain, or neither that is there just to screw with some of the cast for an episode or 2 and disappear when they are done, it's just one attempt at out gambitting after another. For the first 2 seasons the show followed more of a villain of the week format, but that villain is always either working with or against one of the next villains in line, which combined with the I know you know nature of the more manipulative of the villains and the heroes' attempts to kill them off or otherwise get rid of them, it can get very complicated. This has ultimately culminated thus far into Klaus, who has manipulated the entire world for over a thousand years to various ends.
In "Homecoming", almost every single character has their own plan and agenda.
The X-Files. An alien race that was the original inhabitant of Earth has returned to reclaim it by infesting humans with a sentient virus that turns them into slave drones and ultimately kills them. They strike a deal with a syndicate representing the Earth's superpowers to help breed a race of alien-human hybrids that are immune to the virus to help preserve the human race. Only the syndicate's actual plan is to use the alien DNA to ultimately create a vaccine that would nullify the virus to all humans. Only the aliens' virus doesn't just kill humans; it mutates into an alien being that gestates inside the deceased host like an incubator. And there's also another alien resistance force looking to destroy both sides. And that's just the first 5 1/2 seasons.
Babylon 5 is slightly less complex than most examples here, but it definitely tries. Every major character has at least one major scheme going on that the other races (hell, often the other members of their own race) don't know about. Every ambassador has their personal agenda, a possible house/clan agenda and then their government's agenda. Then two Sufficiently Advanced Alien species show up and use these against each other. The episode Signs and Portents starts to show the various plans and goals people are working towards with flashbacks 3 seasons later to this episode showing how the plans come to fruition. Said Sufficiently Advanced Aliens have likely spent literally millions of years enacting Gambit Roulette against one another, using what by now probably amounts to hundreds of less advanced species as proxies in a war of ideas that essentially boils down to a dick-waving contest.
G'Kar: Let me pass on to you the one thing I've learned about this place: No one here is exactly what he appears. Not Mollari, not Delenn, not Sinclair... and not me.
In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the double episode "Improbable Cause/The Die is Cast" starts just like a normal episode with Garak's shop blowing up. Odo almost immediately finds out the power line was rigged to overload, identifies the detonator, and interrogates a suspect. The suspect is indeed an assassin, but works with poison instead of bombs. They plant a beacon in his ship and let him go, but he doesn't get very far as his ship explodes. As it was a Romulan bomb, Odo calls the Romulan Tal Shiar, and they freely admit they assassinated him, but didn't know what he was doing on the station. Odo then meets with a Cardassian spy who owes him and finds out that five of Garak's coworkers from his time at the Cardassian Obsidian Order died at the day of the explosion from natural causes and accidents. Then it gets complicated.
The Sarah Connor Chronicles has Cameron, the reprogrammed Terminator who is more advanced than others and may have some hidden programming and/or be defective; Cromartie, whose mission is the most straightforward, to kill John Connor; Catherine Weaver, CEO of ZieraCorp and a liquid metal Terminator who recruits Agent Ellison to find another Terminator; as well as Sarah and John, who simply want to stop SkyNet from being made, and then you have the running temporal war between future John Connor's human resistance and SkyNet's time-hopping Terminators as they each try to foil, subvert, or eliminate each other. Each character seems to have their own plans for the future and we don't even know what most of them are. One gambit was in play for most of the second season without anyone knowing about it: Jessie and Riley's gambit to make John distrust Cameron. This gambit in turn splits into two when Riley realizes that Jessie was trying to get Cameron to kill Riley to force the division between John and Cameron.
Survivor has become a veritable junkyard for this trope, with new players and alliances contributing to the ever-growing heap of wreckage.
Survivor is all about the Gambit Pileup. When you have 16 or 24 people are competing against one another for a million dollars it's bound to happen, since everyone has their own plan. While in the original seasons there wasn't a lot of it (one player voted people alphabetically and others decided to just use that to their advantage), in later seasons the art of manipulation has changed to the point where you can't get anywhere without lying, backstabbing or plotting. For example:
Male A is in the dominant alliance, but doesn't like Male B so creates a secret alliance to vote him out.
Female A catches on and tries to warn Male B, but Male A convinces Male B that Female A is trying to tear them apart in order to win
Male A feels more secure with Male B after they both joined together to vote outFemale A, leaving his secret alliance in the dust.
Male C and Female B of the secret alliance decide to take out Male A in revenge, who enlist the help of Female C who is close to Male B.
Female C betrays Male B and votes out Male A, then turns traitor on Male C and Female B and joins with Male B again, but then Male B is voted out and Female C reveals she was only spying on Male A to learn more about Male D who was plotting to take them all out.
Prison Break tends to do this at times. Season 3 and 4 go on a rampage with this trope.
An episode in the third season of Arrested Development has each of the characters in the family teaching each other lessons in the form of elaborate scenes they set up using Latino painters who moonlight as actors, sound effects CDs, and two different amputees.
In another episode, Buster wants to get drugs for his girlfriend by asking George Michael to buy pot for him, Michael suspects that George Michael is buying drugs and decides to set up an elaborate plan to catch George Michael buying drugs and teach him a lesson that Drugs Are Bad by staging a drug bust using GOB's stripper cop ensemble (whom GOB owes money) and fake drug dealers. A real drug dealer shows up and thinks that George Michael and GOB really want to buy marijuana, and a shootout ensues when cops (not the stripper cops) arrive to ambush the real drug dealers. During the firefight, a man loses his arm, and Michael realizes that the entire thing was orchestrated by George Sr., who knew about the fake drug bust and hired the one-armed man he used to teach Michael, Buster, GOB and Lindsey lessons when they were children to teach Michael a lesson about teaching his children lessons.
Kamen Rider Kabuto. A group of sociopaths with powers, a large organization and the bad guys generally have their plans collide several times over the course of the series. Then there's Tendou, who's one step ahead of all that. And meanwhile, poor Kagami finds himself the target or casualty of nearly all of them. Even AFTER he Took a Level in Badass.
House episodes often degenerate into this, with the title character manipulating one character into doing something, said character manipulating back, only to turn out that this was House's plan all along, which was in turn the plan of another character. And that's when things are simple.
Essentially the driving force of every LOST season since Ben Linus showed up. Somehow, it hasn't completely collapsed, mainly because it's more of a 10-Gambit Pileup than a 30. Recently, Locke was being manipulated by Ben who was being manipulated by Jacob's nemesis who is being manipulated by Charles Widmore, who may be manipulated by Sawyer, all of which may be intstrumented by the spirit of the island itself. Sheesh!!
Found to a certain extent in The Shield, especially when you get to Season 5 where you have Vic Mackey, Lt Kavanagh, David Aceveda and Shane Vendrell all working their own agendas.
Eureka contains this trope quite often - the episode with the dreams that killed, and Martha the drone are examples. Martha, for one, was made near-invincible by her creator's wife, and then remote controlled by Larry, causing 'her' to lose control, turn invisible, and terrorize the town.
A two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, appropriately titled "Gambit", gets convoluted to the point where Picard admits to Riker, "I have difficulty remembering whose side I'm on". There are no less than five players in the end: the leader of a group of artifact thieves, Picard (in disguise) and Riker (running separate but allied plots), Data (in command of the Enterprise, pursuing them), and a Vulcan agent who was actually a member of the extremist sect she claimed to oppose.
The Gambit Pileup is the sum total of 'Allo 'Allo!. It's nine seasons of at least four groups trying to steal one painting and several other plot MacGuffins. Add in the British Airmen, the Colonel's gold, the second paintings. On top of that there's René's affairs, the occasional battle between the French and Communist resistances, and René's attempts to just stay neutral in the middle of all of this (and while trying to avoid the advances of Leutenant Gruber).
Played for laughs in an episode of Battlestar Galactica in the episode "Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Downn," one of the few times anything was played for laughs on that show. Roslin suspects Adama of being a Cylon, Adama has brought back Tigh's wife Ellen, whom he suspects is a Cylon. Both of them order Baltar to immediately test their suspect without the other knowing, causing tests to be stopped and restarted multiple times. To top it all off, it isn't long before Tigh suspects Adama of sleeping with Ellen. When it all finally comes to a head, Hilarity Ensues as one of the darkest and most depressing shows in recent memory degenerates into pure domestic farce.
The majority of Yes, Minister episodes consisted of something to this effect - mainly Hacker and Sir Humphrey trying to out-Gambit each other, but everyone had their own agenda. Even Bernard, on occasion.
The second season finale of Weeds involves blackmail, double-crossing, assassination, and theft, all over a few bags of weed.
This is pretty much the normal state of affairs in The Tudors. And while most of the characters are trying to increase their power within England, Henry VIII is trying to increase England's power (and thus his own) within Europe while other kings and emperors try to maximize their power.
The three part Farscape episode "Look at the Princess" turns into one of these - Crichton accidentally stumbles on a plot by the Princess's younger brother to take the throne from his sister, the brother is actually being manipulated by a Scarran, Scorpius' plan to capture Crichton goes up against this, and the brother's fiance turns out to be a Peacekeeper deep-cover agent planning to assassinate her fiance should he take the throne. Then Rigel decides to pose as the Queen's Evil Chancellor...
Leverage: "The Rashomon Job." It's five years before the team's founding, meaning each thief is an independent operator after the MacGuffin. Each has a really good plan to get their mitts on it using their particular specialty. Each one manages to screw up each others' attempts to get the MacGuffin in the most spectacular way possible. In the end: Nate, who was working for the insurance company, exposes the MacGuffin as a fraud. The art thefts were done by the curator, who had an antiquities smuggling "side business." In the present, Nate uses the incident as an Aesop about how the crew is a lot better working with one another than against.
The Canadian crime drama Intelligence (2006). In the first season, especially, about half a dozen characters would be running their own gambits against one another simultaneously.
24. So, it goes (more or less) like this: in the first season, there's a conspiracy formed by Serbian extremists to assassinate the most popular Senator in the California Presidential Primary, which involves two separate moles inside the Los Angeles Counter Terrorist Division (one of whom is unaware of the other's mole status), a government agent being used against his will, several different assassins (including a woman who turns out to be plotting her own side gambit with her lesbian lover to split the money she gets from her job) and a mastermind who was thought killed in a black-ops mission several years before the events of the series. The second season has a L.A.-based terrorist group, another group of terrorists led by a foreign extremist, a private military contractor, the President's ex-wife and a German terrorist/businessman team (who are revealed to be the employers who contacted the final mole from the first season) all enacting gambits within the same 24-hour period. The third season has a soldier involved with the black-ops mission from Season 1 returns to Los Angeles and tries to deploy a virus throughout the city, using the help of Columbian druglords (who are trying to run their own game in L.A.) and one of the aforementioned CTU moles from the previous season (who is working for an unknown employer and executing her own plan). The fifth season involves a shadowy cabal of government executives trying to assassinate key figures who've foiled their plans in previous years - but wait! They're controlling the President, who has his own agenda - BUT WAIT! It turns out in the sixth season that the leader of this cabal is Jack's brother, and his father is the one pulling the strings because he's working with the Chinese government - BUT WAIT!!! It turns out that all of these people were being controlled by another man who organized the events of the last three seasons. This is ignoring the fact that there are moles in every season - some of whom are secretly working to aid the main characters, some of whom are working for the terrorists and some who have their own motives. Did you get all that?
Spoofed in "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design". The episode culminates in Jeff, Annie, a drama professor, and the Dean shooting all of each other with prop guns; all of them were shot at least once and there were something like 4-5 different plans involved. The final gambit was supposed to teach all of them an Aesop about not using prop guns to shoot each other.
Annie: When you conspire with everyone you come across, you're not really conspiring with anyone. You're just doing random crap.
Season Three of Sons of Anarchy has everybody trying to screw everybody else over, SAMCRO, SAMBEL, Agent Stahl, two factions of the Real IRA, Charming PD, just EVERYBODY. SAMCRO wins.
Season Two had SAMCRO in the middle of multiple interconnected gambits run by two allied groups of white supremacists, a rival biker gang and SAMCRO's gun running IRA partners. On top of that the ATF and the Deputy Police Chief were running their own gambits and some pornographers also got into the mix. SAMCRO had to figure out a way to have the various groups fight each other so they could outgambit them before the club was destroyed and the protagonists all ended up in jail or dead.
Patrick Jane v. Red John at the end of Season 3. Never mind the fact that the guy who we all thought was Red John was just another member of his network.
The backstory to the Murdoch Mysteries episode "Buried Treasure" involves two Canadian government officials, during The American Civil War, secretly sending gold bullion to the Confederacy, with the aid of two Confederate officers. One of the Confederate officers was a Union spy plotting to expose the conspiracy, one of the government men was plotting to steal the gold for his own enrichment, and the other one, whose idea it was in the first place, was plotting to stash the gold elsewhere because he'd realised there was a Union spy.
Revenge: Most of Emily's plots involve manipulating people into manipulating each other.
In the fifth season of True Blood, each member of the Authority is trying to execute a certain plot. As more and more Chancellors (and with them, their plans) vanish, the final episodes see Bill and Salome pitted against one another, both trying to secure full leadership of the Authority and their position as the One True Leader chosen by Lilith, while still convincing the other they are supporting them. In the end, Bill pretends to serve Lilith's blood to Salome, but switches the actual blood with silver-tainted blood. As Bill expected Salome fails to notice the silver in her haste to consume the blood. It incapacitates the 2,000 year old vampire allowing Bill to get the upper hand on her and stake her - Salome is masterfully Out-Gambitted.
Earth: Final Conflict had this as a major theme for most of the series. Most Taelons had their own, often violently conflicting, agendas, as do many of the human characters, and most of them have the resources to pursue those agendas.
Person of Interest features two parts of this. The first is the power struggles between the various organized crime groups: HR, the Russians, the Five Families and Elias. On top of that there is the various groups that want the machine: Decima, Northern Lights backed up by the CIA, Root, and in season 3 Vigilance. On top of those is the non-corrupt NYPD, primarily Carter with help from Fusco, and the FBI who is both trying to go after the organized crime groups as well as find Reese and connect him to illegal CIA operations(which is actually his work for Team Machine). This is in addition to Team Machine.
In Judaism, (as well as Christianity and Islam which inherited the moral and theological traditions of Judaism), the God Yahweh always comes out ahead in any Gambit Pileup every single time. Thats because rather than making a single absolute plan, He's got a single endgoal in mind that He's working toward. Of course no one is going to beat an omnipotent and omniscient opponent.
The Marriage of Figaro is a stage comedy and a comic opera. The valet Figaro wants to marry the maid Susanna. Count Almaviva wants use his purported feudal right of a lord to bed a servant girl on her wedding night before her husband can sleep with her. Figaro schemes to prevent this. The play gets more and more confusing as more people join the conflict. Countess Almaviva desires her husband, who neglects her. Marcellina claims that Figaro promised to marry her. The page Cherubino is after every women and music master Basilio is gossiping around.
From Big Finish Doctor Who, "Dark Eyes" becomes this, with Anti-Villain Straxus working for the Time Lords against his future self Kotris and the Dalek Time Controller in a plan to Ret Gone the other's race with the 8th Doctor and Molly caught up in this plan and assisting each side without knowing it.
Most multiplayer strategy board games end up like this; particularly RISK is very prone to them, where Green pretends to be trying to take all of North America, but that's only to catch Blue off their guard so that they can be invaded from the south by Red, who they thought was their ally... But then Red decides to betray Green as well, as they'd rather have Africa for themselves. It can be even more fun if you have a player who is enough of a Magnificent Bastard to pull this off in plain view of the other players! [To one player]: "Go ahead, attack him, I'll back you up". [To player being attacked]: "Don't worry, I'm just lying to him so he'll attack you" [To the first player] " ... or AM I??".
Risk is nothing compared with Diplomacy, which is designed to eliminate chance and rule manipulation in favor of seven players trying to Out Gambit at varying depth and complexity on each other at the same time, making for a mind-blowing maximum potential of a Forty Two Gambit Pileup. Not surprising, since the game is meant to reflect the Real Life Gambit Pileup that led to World War I (see below).
The Game of Thrones Board Game is based on the Diplomacy formula. Stark, Baratheon, Lannister, Greyjoy, Tyrell and Martel duke it out and as there can only be one winner you will sooner or later betray someone. Usually it's on the same turn you get tricked and backstabbed by your own acquaintances. And in the end, House Stark wins.
Or the 70's board game of Dune. All the factions have different win-conditions, and if a full round goes by without anyone breaking or forming an alliance, the whole thing descends into the War of Assassins...
Fluxx, a card game where the rules are part of playing the game. There are four types of cards: rules that dictate how the game is played at that particular moment, goals that describe how a player might win, keepers that are usually collected to fulfill a goal, and actions that do things like allow played rules and goals to be revoked. Gameplay is thus a crapshoot involving either attempts to arrive at the current goal, or attempts to change the system. Depending on the goal, winning can be as simple a matter as having ten cards in your hand, to making toast by having the Bread card and the Toaster card. Winning is also a matter of making sure that cards that you play don't immediately benefit another player.
Some players positively revel in the Gambit Roulette aspects and play a dizzying array of contradictory and/or complicated rules to cover what they're actually trying to get done.
To say nothing of Chrononauts, another game from the same designer. Every player is a time traveler with a home timestream, a mission and the same job: to fix the time stream. So: did that guy just patch a paradox because that patch is part of his timeline, or did he do it to get an extra card, or does he know you need that year "normal"? Did you play an artifact because it's part of your mission, or are you keeping it from him, or do you plan on selling it later? Is he asking for Memos (read: cards that cancel plays; think counterspells in Magic: The Gathering) because he's being honest about the victory he's about to get, or because he's set to Memo your Memo, or because he wants you to waste a Memo on a useless play?
The Old World of Darkness took this almost to the point of parody. The Jyhad in Vampire: The Masquerade is run, depending on your sourcebook, by one of about thirty different sources ranging from Caine to Tzimisce to God, or it may just be a giant practical joke pulled by Malkav through his Hive Mind descendants, or... The New World of Darkness takes a giant step away from this - now there's only a giant chain of conspiracies if the Storyteller says there is.
Over the Edge. Get the main book. Look at the chart that shows you haow all the various conspiracies and factions inter-relate. Just look at it. Yeah.
The various Board Games and Collectible Card Game versions of Illuminati, by Steve Jackson Games, is the Gambit Pileup as beer and pretzels entertainment. It's inspired by the aforementioned trilogy, so that's not surprising.
Chaos God Tzeentch is unique in that it deliberately creates Gambit Pileups. Being a god of change and fundamental disorder, Tzeentch literally engineers its plots and plans to the point where they will outright conflict with one another. Not only is foiling one plan probably what it wanted you to do all along, but it probably also set in motion different aspects of seventeen other plans at the same time, any of which might in turn be derailing a dozen other plots by Tzeentch. But mostly it just does it purely for the sake planning, as if any of its plans were to actually succeed it would cease to exist.
And you have to take into account that in addition to Tzeentch, the Farseers, the Deceiver, and quite possibly the dead-but-dreaming God Emperor of Humankind are all manipulating each other into Gambit Pileups lasting millions of years.
The Soul Drinkers chapter were involved in one of these right before their rebellion. An Administratum bureaucrat wanted a space station secured quickly, the Soul Drinkers wanted to reclaim their Chapter's holiest relic, the Adeptus Mechanicus wanted that same relic for back-engineering, and Abraxes, Architect of Fate, Engineer of Time, Daemon Prince of Tzeentch, wanted someone to kill the Daemon Prince Ve'Meth for him — and pretty much everyone was carrying the Idiot Ball in the belief that everyone else was afraid of them. The fact that the Soul Drinkers were shortly declared Excommunicate Traitoris (which includes a shoot-on-sight mandate and the complete deletion of all records pertaining to them) demonstrates how arch-cosmologically it sucks to be in a position where all thirty of the plots are at your expense.
As a general rule of thumb, any creature that has a lifespan greater than that of an average human being in Eberron is The Chessmaster. You have at least five entire organisations made up entirely of these. They don't get along. At least three of them are practically immortal and pull Gambit Roulette that can take centuries to unfold. One of them exists on another plane of existence where time is greatly slowed relative to the Material Plane, a fact they frequently use to spend weeks planning their next move while only a few hours pass in the real world. And if that's not bad enough, you've got the mortalMagnificent Bastards to deal with, who may not have goals as lofty as complete cosmic domination but are still spinning their dangerous schemes none the less.
Planescape: More mysteries than you can shake a stick at, more conspiracies than you can imagine. We have demon lords of all shapes and sizes all plotting against each other and their celestial counterparts. We have the Factions and the Lady of Pain and well, basically everyone is plotting against everyone else, or claiming to manipulate everyone else. The module Faction War is a spectacular example of what happens when these collide...
Similarily the Ravenloft campaign setting. The Grand Conjuction series ended up in a three-way Gambit Pileup between Azalin, Strahd and Inajira, all of this possibly orchestrated by the mad seer Hyksosa...
This is the soul and essence of Forgotten Realms. Everyone and their mother is running all kinds of incredibly complicated plots: Elminster, the Harpers, the Seven Sisters, Zhentil Keep, the Red Wizards, the Shades, the dark elves, etc., etc., etc., up to and including the gods themselves. Ed Greenwood once wrote a little article on how catching Player Characters in crossblunder of several low-end secret societies can be used to liven up a game between bigger plot hooks.
Laeral: Did you not know? Other places grow corn, or barley, but here in hard-paved Waterdeep, we have healthy crops too. We grow conspiracies. (Silverfall)
And that's not even getting into what the more imaginative (and/or sadistic) DM's can pull. "Okay let me get this straight... Our band was hired to stop a massive gang war that was instigated by a group of cultists; but the cultists were just a front by a mafia organization that wanted to weed out competition and then absorb the remainders; the mafia itself is part of an Illuminati-like organization with a total of twelve families, that want to maintain order by controlling all crime; but two of the "families" are actually the intelligence ministers of two separate and opposing kingdoms that want to use the turmoil to take over the world; but one of the REAL crime families knows about this and wants to let them run their game, then kill them and take over the whole thing solo; then throughout all of this there's a necromancer that wants to use the death and chaos as part of a ritual to resurrect a not-quite-dead insane god. Well, it's a good thing we were able to bust it all u—- wait, why is the rogue running into that tomb? And where did the arcane key and sacrificial dagger we got off that crazy necromancer go? .... Oh, Crap."
Shadowrun. You've got the AAA megacorps scheming to consolidate and expand their power, the AA corps scheming to become AAAs, and the governments of the world trying desperately to hold on to whatever power they have left. And then there's the dragons... and the insect spirits... and a million other entities all trying to control everything. And you're a rag-tag group of freelance covert-ops mercenaries caught in the middle of it all, offering your services to the highest bidder. Sound like fun? You don't know the half of it, chummer.
Mafia / Werewolf is built on this trope. The simplest level of play is a "ignorant majority vs. hidden minority" paranoia game where the minority team switches between killing the opposing team and tricking them into offing themselves. What happens when the moderator starts introducing third-party and double-agent roles? It starts getting epic.
Cutthroat Caverns is completely based on this trope. The player with the most prestige still alive at the end wins, so players will try to allow the winning players to die, while still keeping the party strong. When players die, the difficulty of the dungeon stays the same, so players really mess with each other to kill the monsters, while letting the winners' resources run dry.
Even outside the normal uses, Magic: The Gathering has a game mode based completely around this. Normally Archenemy is played with one player as an Evil Overlord with a special deck that represents their machinations, and the opponents as a team of regular players. However in the Super Villain Rumble variant, everyone has such a deck.
Free-for-all multiplayer Magic is mostly made of this. Regular Magic is mostly about strengthening your board position and wearing down your opponent through whatever method your deck prefers. In multiplayer Magic, it's a lot more political. Can you really trust Player A to keep to his word and finish off Player B, or will he change his mind and gun for you instead? Is the guy playing the combo deck really worried about the burn deck trying to kill him, or is he actually trying to get his life total down low for some reason? Is that guy with seven cards in hand screwed for spells, or is he just waiting until everybody else finishes each other off so he can clean up the mess? In multilplayer, it's almost as important to give the appearance of weakness as it is to strengthen your position, because if you seem too strong, you're just painting a target on yourself.
The original Ravnica block's story involved ploys by at least half the Guilds, with special focus on the Dimir and Azorius, to control/conquer/destroy Ravnica. This led to a hilarious scene where Agrus Kos's ghost has infiltrated the Simic to find out how they're tied to Szadek's plans, only for Momir Vig to begin Monologuing about his own, completely independent bid for world domination.
Four-handed chess, or 4-way chess, is like this, especially if a singles game is being played.
A frequent occurrence in Exalted. Schemes by the Yozis, the Deathlords, The Fair Folk, a surprising number of mortals, gods, and Exalts, and the player characters, have a habit of slamming into each other with a noise like a shipment of kitchenware falling down a hill.
The BattleTech backstory and novels are built on this trope. Michael Stackpoole's first series, the Warrior Trilogy has at least seven plans going on, interacting and both supporting and interfering with each other, and this is just one single book series out of over 100. Xanatos Speed Chess is almost a political survival trait in this universe.
An adventure seed for GURPS Fantasy is expected to spiral into this. It starts with a bunch of inexplicable fires, and as the PCs investigate, they discover too many leads. The local Brotherhood of Fire Mages is having an internal fight, the Thieves' Guild is starting a protection racket, the local Fighter's Guild/fire department is trying to justify its existence (so another protection racket)...
The Systems Malfunction universe is rife with this, which is not surprising considering the dozens of competing factions which are constantly scheming against each other. There are even multiple secret shadowy conspiracies attempting to control galactic society, and each other.
The Avalon Hill boardgames Third Reich and Advanced Third Reich, when played by experienced wargamers, consist of I Know You Know I KnowXanatos Gambits right up to the moment when the first 2:1 attack, which both sides expect to succeed 97% of the time, inevitably fails. The resulting Gambit Pileup turns the remainder of the game into Xanatos Speed Chess.
Shakespeare'sThe Merry Wives of Windsor includes multiple plots for revenge, marriage, and profit all coming to a collision in the middle and at the end.
The Lion in Winter. King Henry wants John to be the next King. Queen Eleanor wants it to be Richard. Geoffrey wants it for himself, and plots with John to betray Henry to King Phillip of France while simultaneously plotting against them with Richard. Phillip, meanwhile, wants to hurt Henry for disrespecting his own father for so many years and so plots with and against the rest of them simultaneously. And so on and so forth.
The play Deathtrap has so many gambits throughout the entire play, but they collide in a particularly surprising Wham Shot at the end of Act I: After Sidney and Myra have spent the entire act engineering ever more complicated gambits trying to murder Clifford and then disposing of his body, Clifford's dead body springs to life, Myra dies of a heart attack as a result, and Clifford & Sidney reveal that they have been lovers and actually in cahoots to kill Myra the whole time.
The Neverwinter Nights 2 expansion Mysteries of Westgate is like this, and ends with a successive series of bad guys all claiming to be the master villain, and gloating how they were secretly manipulating the previous master villain, who was secretly manipulating the previous previous master villain, etc.
For that matter, how about Neverwinter Nights 2 itself? The King of Shadows, Garius, Zeeaire, Ammon Jerro, Sydney Natale, Lord Nasher, Captain Brelaina and Axle all execute their own plans that clash with those of the others surprisingly often. Almost the entirety of the first two acts is spent on figuring out who's behind what.
An attempt to explain Chrono Cross: Essentially, all the kingdoms fighting are either being manipulated by Lynx (who is the representation of Fate, the Insane Computer), or the Dragon Gods, who are Gaia's Vengeance. But wait! It turns out that the power they are attempting to control is manipulating both of them. But wait again! The original cast of Chrono Trigger (knowing that they would have to appear that they were manipulated to the point of dying), working with the spirit of Schala (who is manipulating her reincarnated self), and the Guru of Time were manipulating everyone in order to create a situation where the Cosmic Keystones of two different Alternate Universes break and then fuse, thus creating the weapon to kill the realTime Devourer, Lavos, Deader Than Dead. This Pastebin explains how the two plots interlock in detail and how all the aspects in Chrono Cross play out as a result. BRING A DRINK.
The first two Metal Gear games were simply cases of complex plans. But starting from Metal Gear Solid, it's easiest to say that Gambit Pileups are the entire concept of the series. Some things remain completely incomprehensible three games, ten years, and about 100 hours of gameplay later, and then there's also the Portable Ops/Peace Walker spin-offs which just add several more layers and Gabits to the whole mess. In several cases, later games manage to connect characters from earlier ones, that were completely unrelated when the games were written 10 years before, without even retconning anything. For example MGS4 reveals that Medic from MGS3 became a member of Patriots, which were introduced in MGS2, and on their behalf created the Cyborg Ninja from MGS1. The Cyborg Ninja was actually a character that was thought to have died in the even earlier Metal Gear 2, but that fact was already included when MGS was written.
The ending of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is a particularly bad offender with half a dozen characters making their secret plans known only to find out that they were just unknowing puppets in the plans of someone they thought they betrayed.
Many Fire Emblem games do this, but Seisen no Keifu's Chapter 5 turn this Up to Eleven. The following chapter's introduction even makes reference to the previous one's Gambit Pileup nature: The intense battle over control of the capitol sent most of the powerful lords to their grave. Only Lord Alvis' plan went without a hitch as he successfully gained full control of the kingdom.
Exit Fate's plot effectively starts out as a Gambit Roulette on the part of the Almengan Emperor and it just builds on from there. Plus, with seventy-five playable characters, a good portion of your group will be throwing their own hats into the ring.
The more obscure Behemoth Tears also had no less than tenchessmasters with varying skill levels and motives competing at once. The simplest plan was The Lancer's attempt to become the emperor of a democracy. He succeeded.
City of Heroes and its sister game, City of Villains. Trying to figure out the alignment and sponsors of the various villain groups can require a multipage org chart. Nemesis is behind a lot of it in the end, but the lower rankings have so much intergroup conflict that figuring this out can be tricky. The Rikti, Council, Arachnos, Carnies, Malta, hero groups, and a dozen other villains also have their own complicated plans, although more often than not they all originate or react to the same plans. Lampshaded when the devs added "tips" in the loading screens, including one which reads "It's all a Nemesis plot," and another which states "It's not all a Nemesis plot."
Legacy of Kain...Where do you start? When Kain comments that "Nosgoth's great manipulator" is himself just a plaything, he's barely scratching the surface. Manipulators and schemers come in all shapes and sizes executing a mass variety of gambits. The main schemers are Kain, Moebius, the Elder God, Mortanius, and the Hylden Lord, all scheming against each other across centuries of careful planning. In the middle of it all is Raziel, the living embodiment of Screw Destiny who is possibly the only creature in all existence who can change history. Thus there are so many people trying to steer him in their own direction, no matter what Raziel does, he's going to end up unwittingly help further someone's plan.
Half the named characters in Final Fantasy Tactics are trying to manipulate the other half, and each other. The king is on his deathbed and there are two heirs to the throne. Two major dukes are fighting for control of the throne. One is the queen's brother and attempting to be the regent for the infant royal prince. The other duke is trying to be kingmaker for the king's teenage half-sister and use her as a puppet. And within their armies are plenty of smaller noble Houses trying to take power for themselves. The Church wants the royal armies to equally waste each other so the Church can claim supremacy and "save" the populace from war. They have their own army, the Knights Templar, run by Folmarv. Demonic Invaders are passing Mineral MacGuffin to each army, corrupting their members and hoping to resurrect their dark god. Folmarv is supposedly working for the church, but is actually infiltrating it on behalf of the demonic invaders they unknowingly worship. And finally, Delita is a triple agent within both successor's armies and the church. He wants them all dead so he can become the new king through marriage to the princess. He may or may not know about the demons, but he's sure to let Ramza handle the rest.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy: Is it really surprising that when you force ten villains to work together, each with egos and powers larger than life, and all of them very high-ranked on the scales of threat and effectiveness in their own games, that they won't always work together? The Emperor is a textbook Chessmaster, the mastermind of the game's plot with his own secret goal to become a god. Ultimecia is his second-in-command and goes along with him while harboring her own scheme to become a god in her own way. Meanwhile Golbez goes along with them because he's the Reverse Mole and thus is banking on Cosmos' Batman Gambit to work and stop them. Cloud of Darkness, Exdeath and Kefka go along with the plan with the desire to destroy everything, and in the meantime Kefka is working on a plan to invoke a Face-Heel Turn in Terra. The Emperor and Ultimecia try to cut Sephiroth in on their plan, but he rejects them because he has his own secret plan to become a god as well. Kuja tries to interfere with Ultimecia's plan for Squall to snub her for insulting him under the advice of Kefka, who is probably just messing with them for kicks. Jecht is going along with the Emperor's plan because he's the Emperor's Unwitting Pawn who has been lied to. And Garland is watching it all unfold knowing that in the end his plan for Chaos will continue regardless of what they do because he's The Fatalist and doesn't believe any of their plans will amount to stopping the "Groundhog Day" Loop everyone is stuck in.
Final Fantasy XII: Ashe is plotting to take her kingdom back, Vossler seems to be helping her, but is in fact plotting with Vayne while hoping that Vayne's little brother Larsa will eventually help Ashe's ambitions, Balthier is helping her in order to settle the score with his father, Ba'Gamnan is plotting to kill Balthier, Vayne is plotting to become the next emperor, dissolve the senate, destroy the resistance led by Ashe and start a war against Rosaria, Gabranth is used by Genre Savvy Emperor Gramis against Vayne, then used by Vayne against Judge Magister Drace, who did not like all the plotting, The Archadian senate is plotting against Vayne, Cid is plotting with Vayne and Venat in order to fulfill his ambitions and screw the Occurias along the way, then we have Occuria's king Gerrun who's plotting against everyone and who tries to turn Ashe into his willing puppet, Ondore who is playing the role of a Double Agent from the beginning of the game, Al-Cid who is plotting against his own family plotting against Archades while being in fact manipulated by Vayne's Unnatural cunning and finally Larsa who by the end of the game has outsmarted everyone and everyTHING. Made by the creators of Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story: no kidding.
Vagrant Story, for that matter. The game starts out with three different factions (very roughly: the Church, the Government, and the Müllenkamp Sect), in addition to Duke Bardorba's personal interest in the main plot. All of them are manipulating both Ashley Riot and some aspect of the Forces Of Evil. At least half the characters end up going rogue, one character (Rosencrantz) is already a professional traitor, another is murdered by Ashley and ends up possessing his own dead body by pure chance, and a third one (Guildenstern) appears to be working for the Church and against the Sect, but is really after the godlike powers that Sydney's skin can give him. Things get more complicated still when the entire city turns out to be a Grimoire, and possibly conscious on some level, and an entire plotline about four Fiends from ancient times is added only by mention in their respective bestiary entries.
Yakuza 2 goes outright nuts about this at the end, with just about everyone manipulating each other. Ironically the Smug SnakeOrcus on His Throne mastermind who had happily sat out the whole game runs in, declares himself the winner and gets taken out in under a minute by a Spanner in the Works who lampshades his role by mentioning that he really hates whimpy masterminds who think they control everything. The winner on the other hand turns out to be a totally unexpected My Death Is Just the Beginning that made everything the villains tried to do pointless from the start.
Soul Nomad & the World Eaters... Oh boy... The main character and Gig are saving the world due to manipulations by Virtous, who is really setting them up to cross over into the world of Drazil and kill Drazil. While at the same time the main character is being manipulated by Levin, who in fact isRaksha, who is setting up ThurisandVirtious in order to kill them, as they could pose a threat to his independence, in addition to that, he is also aiming to become a god, to be free of any manipulation on himself in the future. He does this, working together with Dio, who secretly keeps a Zombiefied Median, in order to restore him as supreme king in his former glory, by destroying Drazil and his subordinates... Oh yes, and Drazil was the one who, as catalyst of the Gambit Pileup, manipulated Median into killing Vigilance in the first place and then manipulated the souls of Vigilance(in two different incarnations), Resilence and Medians son into destroying most of the World of Haephnes. And that's about, oh, most of it.
The situation that the Jedi Exile wakes up to at beginning of Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is the direct result of the collision of two or three plots and a number of other people's plans and agendas. The Exile spends most of the rest of the game sorting some of these out.
The plot of Super Robot Wars Z essentially comes down to this, as Gilbert Durandal, Lord Djibril, Paptimus Scirocco, The Frost Brothers, Gym Ghingham, Dewey Novak, Alex Rosewater, The Gaizok, Zeo Gattler, The Vegans, The Elda, The Zeravire, The Shadow Angels, The Chirams, The Hundred Demon Clan, The Chimera Corps and The Black Charisma are all engaged in a massive contest of who is Eviler Than Thou for control of the world and the dimensional power. The heroes of ZEUTH of course play the Spanner in the Works who wrecks all their plans by blowing them all to kingdom come. Everything was, in fact, a huge Gambit Roulette by Black Charisma/The Edel. His reason? Cause he though it'd be fun.
The Original Generation series tends to do this as well. OG1 amusingly has every last faction/individual acting as a Stealth Mentor during some part of their master plan, with the predictable side effect of training the heroes beyond the point where they can be further manipulated (which was the end goal of one or two of those gambits). OG2 has the standard "plot salad" variety, with one faction in particular making it their business to assist with any and every betrayal that anyone plans to make, specifically because they want to create a world that's endlessly at war with itself. By the end of the game, the villains care so little about who's planning to betray who that they organize a Villain Team-Up between the war-seeking faction and the faction that wants to neuter human advancement because we're too obsessed with war. And that's not even counting the whole political mess happening on the good guys' side.
The official Touhou manga Silent Sinner in Blue (and the companion Cage of Lunatic Runagate) has the Watatsuki sisters faced with the various plots of Yukari, Eirin, Remilia, and Yuyuko, foiling each of them with their own scheming, but in the end it turns out that through various convoluted methods each of the schemes succeeded, except for Remilia's, as she plays the Butt Monkey role for the manga, and the Watatsuki sisters themselves, who in spite of apparently winning instead become Eirin's Unwitting Pawns, are duped by Yukari's ploy, and lose a valuable relic to Yuyuko. Parodied by Touhou Nekokayouhere.
Tales of Symphonia. At the start of the game, it's a simple Black and White Morality story with the good guys (Church of Martel) versus the bad guys (Desians). The Church of Martel is corrupt on two levels: the Pope just wants to accumulate personal power, while the organisation as a whole is controlled by Cruxis, who also control the Desians. Yggdrassil is controlling Cruxis so he can pull off a Gambit Roulettethat will revive his dead sister. Yuan is a member of Cruxis but is also a double agent who started the Renegades to stop them. Kratos is also a member of Cruxis but alsoa Death Seeker double agent working on his own agenda to engineer a Suicide by Cop scenario. Zelos is acting as a triple agent for the Renegades, Cruxis and the party so that he can join whichever side looks like they're going to win. Then there's the individual power plays by the Desian Grand Cardinals, including one who is trying to overthrow the organisation itself. And finally, Lloyd just wants to protect Colette from everyone and everything that is trying to manipulate them, despite all of her best efforts to become a martyr.
Let's not forget the more humorous example Lloyd pulled on Colette at the beginning on the game with the hot/iced/possibly lukewarm coffee. By the animation, there may not even have been coffee in that cup - Colette has lost her sense of touch, and Lloyd is forcing her to admit it by handing her some coffee...
Rumored to be constantly at work in Urban Dead; it's anyone's guess how real or imaginary said plots are.
Vandal Hearts 2 features a civil war in the country of Natra that in the end proves to have been the result of multiple distinct factions with their own separate goals. Early on, it appears to have three factions. East Natra, led by the exiled son of the former king, and supported by the republic of Vernantze, a sort of Merchant Empire. West Natra, led by the Queen Mother, and supported by the Zora-Archeo empire, with their puppet king on the throne. And the heroic faction, seeking to unify the country by defeating both sides, founds Central Natra. However, as it goes on, it becomes apparent that the truth is far more complicated. East Natra was, in part, set up by Cardinal Ladorak, on orders from the Pope, to try and unify Natra with the Church state of Nirvadia. Meanwhile, the Queen Mother's true goal was to let the war get so bad that it would force Zora-Archeo to commit so many troops to the Natran Civil War that it would leave their home regions weak, allowing her homeland of Archeo to rise up in rebellion against Zora. Meanwhile, both East and Central are being manipulated by the Kudur Cult, trying to bring about a "cleansing of the world" which itself is a setup by their leader, who is seeking a way to reach God in heaven. To say the pile-up results in a bloodbath would be putting it mildly.
In most of the The Elder Scrolls games, each faction leader or otherwise plot-important NPC has a scheme or two in the works. Whether its a good or evil scheme depends on the person. Oblivion has a fun example in the Dark Brotherhood storyline.
Wild Arms 3 turns into this. Between Beatrice who is manipulating almost all the good guys and later some of the bad guys, The Prophets, Janus, Seigfried, Werner and the Schrodingers as the spanner in all the works. it gets rather messy.
Between Xemnas, DiZ, and, to a lesser extent, Riku, Axel, and Maleficent, the entire series after the first game definitely qualifies. This is seen most profoundly in the subtext and background goings-on of 358/2 Days, though it's not immediately obvious from Roxas's limited point of view. Basically, Sora's placement in suspended animation for a year at the end of Chain of Memories sparked a back-and-forth war between two (or more) parties for control over his fate. Most of this involves Xion in some way or another, as well as various characters being manipulated by multiple parties for their own ends, but by the end of it, even the villains are somewhat confused as to how everything went so awry. Sora's obliviousness to all of this when he finally wakes up is rather amusing, particularly since he is notorious for derailing almost every plan he comes across without even trying. And that's not even getting into Organization XIII's serious problem with Chronic Backstabbing Disorder... not that any of those gambits and pileups actually worked in the end, but still.
Birth by Sleep, the prequel, takes it even further with the conflicting agendas of many characters, including, but not limited to, Master Xehanort, Terra, Ventus, Aqua (ESPECIALLY Aqua), Braig, Vanitas, Eraqus, Mickey, and even Maleficent to a small degree. By the end of it all, it's a wonder how the first Kingdom Hearts went so relatively smoothly, plot-wise.
As of Coded and Reconnect.Kingdom Hearts it appears that DiZ and Namine had been planning in advance to free Terra, Aqua, Ventus, Roxas, Xion, Axel, and even themselves from their individual fates by hiding DiZ's research data within Sora's heart and having Namine not only create the message in Jimminy's Journal, but have her influence the events from Coded from behind the scenes. Then again, Namine is probably the only one of the good guys who had a clear understanding of what was going on.
While the original Valkyrie Profile only had two complex plots running against each other, the prequel, Valkyrie Profile 2 Silmeria had no less than five different plots crashing into each other, some involving time travel, not counting the schemes of the court wizards of Dipan (which were actually addressed in the first game). There may have been a couple others that haven't come up in any parts of the series thus far.
Mega Man ZX is a veritable casino! You wouldn't know it from the first game, but there are so many roulettes running around in the second you can't help but guess that people in power are trying to screw each other over.
Achron is a game being developed with free-form time travel so this is the obvious result of two or more enemies (2 vs. 2 is a popular mode) trying to turn the tide of not only the same battle, but all battles in a 7-minute time frame around the "present". Add to that the option to avoid these battles by retreating, not even building your army or destroying your enemy's factories or even resource gatherers (often leading to a massive Butterfly Effect), make Chronoclones (send a unit back in time to fight alongside the original) and to cause Grandfather Paradoxes, deliberately or not, to make whole armies phase in and out of existence and you've got a game which is perfect for the crazy planner in all of us.
Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars has this as its central plot. The higher-ups in the Triad are plotting against each other to become head of the Triad, the enemy gangs are plotting against the Triad, the actual head of the Triad is plotting against everybody, and the FBI is trying to arrest everybody. Ironically, Huang Lee, the Player Character, is the one to come out on top, avoiding arrest and death, and becoming the head of the Triad - all because he hadn't been plotting against anybody.
Betrayal In Antara. Let's see... We have various government officials at assorted levels conspiring with pirates. We have nobles trying to ruin other nobles in the name of politics and nobles screwing over their subjects out of greed. We have a group of xenocidal terrorists. We have a wizard messing with the lives of extra-planar entities For Science!. We have mercenary groups trying to make money and are willing to do so illegally. And to top it off, there's a man named Silverhawk, whose very existence isn't discovered until the very end of the game, who managed to connect several of these totally unrelated plots together in a scheme to murder the Emperor in the belief that he can become a key advisor to his heir. And that list doesn't include the numerous local issues that don't affect the overall plot.
The Fallout games as a whole was usually a case of either one Big Bad making life miserable for everyone, or two significant factions arguing over a MacGuffin with everyone else around just trying to watch out for themselves. This seems to be the case with New Vegas, and indeed could be, unless you start doing side quests and choosing certain speech options. It starts with the NCR and the Legion fighting over Hoover Dam before consolidating a hold on Vegas itself. Simple enough, unless/until: Mr. House activates his giant Securitron army to secure New Vegas for himself, and maybe upgrades them to machine guns and missile launchers!; Benny, a.k.a. that asshole that shot you in the intro, is playing up the things that House has taught him to try to yank said robot army out from under him; the bosses of the Omertas, resident gun smugglers, are actually in league with the Legion and plan on weakening the other Families for them under the wrong assumption that they'll have control of Vegas, except for Cachino, who knows the plan, wants to take out the bosses and lead the Omertas himself; and of course, you yourself as the Courier, who can either align with one of the major factions or go into business yourself, and either end up recruiting, ignoring, or wiping out any of the DOZEN smaller tribes, factions and hold-out groups.
Counting DLC, no less than ten factions ( The Think Tank, Father Elijah, Ulysses, The Courier, The Omerta bosses, Cachino, Benny, House, the NCR, and the Legion) all have elaborate gambits competing against each other for the Mojave.
The plot of XenoSaga is a Gambit Pileup of epic proportions, made even more confusing that usual by the fact that most if not all of the interlocking schemes are secretly being run by the same man.
In Cyber Nations, everyone is trying to screw everyone else over. The fact that everyone is retarded only adds to it.
Batman: Arkham City shows what happens when you stuff nearly everyone in Batman's Rogues Gallery into a single fenced-off slum. Evil Versus Evil is in full effect, with the major factions and multiple independent villains doing at least as much to screw each other over as Batman himself, and you get a pileup of truly epic proportions.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution has this happening in the last part of the game. Bill Taggart, David Sarif and Hugh Darrow each have different plans in motion, all which come in to collision in the end. Player gets to choose whose plan is completed or Kill 'em All and screw everyone.
Sigma Star Saga only has two faction leaders: the Tyrannical Overlord, who wants to conquer everything and everybody for the sake of more power, and Commander Tierney, who wants to do exactly the same thing. However, many of the lower-ranking characters have some plan to either gain power, or try to end the war, with various amounts of knowledge and degrees of competence involved. Ultimately, humanity as a whole "wins" by surviving, but only Recker really accomplishes what he intends to do, and it's at the expense of an entire species he has grown to respect (and, potentially, with the deaths of both women he loves.)
The second half of the third act of The Witcher 2 Assassins Of Kings is essentially a long reveal of who's been playing who while simultaneously being played by someone else.
Once you understand all the symbolism in Killer7, it becomes a truly staggering version of this. (Deep breath) Harman and Kun Lan are friendly but still in a war, and while Harman controls the Smith Syndicate and mostly controls Harman Smith, Kun Lan controls the Heaven's Smiles, has some degree of influence over the U.N. Party, and usually controls Iwazaru (the rest of the time, the Smith Syndicate control him). Curtis Blackburn and Pedro are plotting against each other, and Dan Smith (Curtis's apprentice) is part of the Smith Syndicate but is plotting against Harman. The Handsome Men appear to be controlled by Trevor Pearlharbor and sometimes LOVE, but LOVE gets them to kill Trevor, revealing that she always fully controlled them. The Liberal Party and the U.N. Party are at odds, and so the Liberal Party betrays the U.N. Party to the USA; however, the U.N. Party controls most of the USA through Coburn Elementary, wants to make Japan the ultimate nation, is raising an army of Japanese assassins in the USA, and controls Harman Smith whenever the other Harman doesn't. Toru Fukushima, the leader of the U.N. Party, is betrayed by two moles, Jean DePaul and Julia Kisugi; both of them were waiting for the other to make the first move, let the other one get killed by the Smiths, then take the Yakumo for themselves. Greg Nightmare seemingly has control over the elections, and works for the U.N. Party and Kun Lan, having some special Heaven's Smiles. Benjamin Keane wants to be President, and so he kills Greg Nightmare when he doesn't get to be President. Harman Smith controls Coburn and gets orders from the U.N. Party (as previously mentioned), and therefore controls Emir Parkreiner, and controls the Smith Syndicate when the other Harman isn't. However, Emir turns against Harman Smith and kills him, absorbing the Smith Syndicate but then being controlled by Harman. Andrei Ulmeyda finds the Yakumo and uses it, but not for the intended purpose. And finally, Iwazaru is a Double Agent for the Smiths and Kun Lan.
You can't even throw a rock in Last Scenario without hitting some mysterious person manipulating things from behind the scenes, who may or may not have someone plotting to stab them in the back. It eventually reaches the point that the one who emerges from it all as the ultimate Big Bad is Castor, Ortas' subordinate, who was manipulating the Rosehart Kingdom, who was manipulating Herbert and the war between the Empire and the Republic, making him The Starscream of The Man Behind the Man...behind the man.
In Shikkoku No Sharnoth we have Mary, the individual Research Group members, M, Society, Sherlock Holmes, Queen Victoria, Baron Munchhausen, Moriarty and Charlie all plotting. Interestingly enough, over half of them get what they want, including the Big Bad.
Fate/stay night features the gambits of Zouken Matou, Kirei Kotomine, the Einzbern family, Saber, Caster, Gilgamesh, Counter-Guardian EMIYA, and Avenger all being executed during the Fifth Grail War. Slight changes at the start of each route cause different gambits to take precedence in each route.
The Order of the Stick. Loads and Loads of Characters have accumulated (and very few have been killed off), most everyone has plans they haven't explained to their allies (or in a few cases, they're just unpredictable), and a couple brand-new political factions were then added to the deck. The roaches counted at least nine sides of the conflict, some of whom the reader hadn't even encountered, and that was a while ago: Roy, Vaarsuvious, Belkar, Haley, The High Priest of Hel, Xykon, the IFCC, Redcloak, and finally the two wild cards, Tarquin and The Monster in the Darkness.
Girl Genius pulls this off quite well, especially noticable in the tangled web that was Sturmhalten. Then Mechanicsburg appeared to be headed full-tilt in that direction, with Agatha's group, the Knights of Jove, the Baron, the Baron's army, Zola's operation, Mechanicsburg's local government-conspiracy, the Jaegers, and two Lucrezias, Tarvek, and Othar back on the scene. That doesn't include the Castle which evidently has its own plan or two, and yet more minor players with big plans and varying degrees of competency pop up with monotonous frequency. And then there popped up the Storm King Conspiracy.
Girly parodies this in The Big Mix-Up — The Shadowy Guy was manipulating the adorable men and the CutePD, Mitchroney was also manipulating them, but in a different way, and they were both pretending to be manipulated by the other in order to manipulate the other, which had the effect of manipulating the main cast.
Schlock Mercenary's overarching plot goes here; the main players are the Gatekeepers, Xinchub, the UNS government in general, dark-matter beasties from Andromeda, and the god-like AI Petey. Most of the episodic arcs look like this too. The focus characters are just regular joes trying to do a job, so they're usually used as pawns in one plot or another. Some of these factions are no longer playing though.
In the tradition of the show, Doctor Who fancomic The Ten Doctors was all over this trope, with seemingly every major villain who ever showed up on the series attempting their own grand scheme that repeatedly crashed into each other. Fortunately, there were 10 Doctors to confront them. They never had a hope in hell.
TwoKinds has the games of gods (Ephemural's comic-starting gambit to start), Evil Towers Of Ominousness (The Templars), the backroom scheming of a paranoid military culture (The Bastians), the war plans of the two Kedrian tribes, plus whatever the motivations are of a dozen secondary characters (three-quarters of whom are looking for Trace, either to help him or kill him). Even then, some of them are trying to help Trace and some are trying to help Templar!Trace who is his pre-amnesia counterpart who was driven insane by his use of magic. Hell, one character set up DOZENS of different plans and exploited every loop-hole he could which took years of planning to make one exiled character a general.
The Last Days Of FOXHOUND has a lot of these (understandable, considering its source), although given the ending most of them don't come to fruition. For extra fun, you could consider the author's plot having gotten into a pile-up with Kojima's as one of these. There was more than one occasion where the author introduced retroactive, massive Roulettes just to explain the gulf between how he wrote the story and the new elements Kojima introduced. And the result was so convoluted it actually fit perfectly with the MGS universe, hilariously so.
Penny and Aggie takes it to ridiculous levels, considering that the goals are mostly some variant of "become party queen." The consequences of intermediate steps have become more interesting than the plans themselves.
Terinu runs on this, what with Terinu being pursued by the Varn Gene mage, who is allied with Princess Titalia, who is plotting the overthrow of her queen mother. The pirate Mavra Chan is also allied with the Gene Mage, but only to grab as much power as she can while she pursues Terinu herself to make him her slave/assassin. Meanwhile Admiral Blake is trying to murder Terinu to keep him out of the Gene Mage's hands while jailing his own daughter in an attempt to suppress the history of humanity's genocide of the ferin.
Last Res0rt is about to run headlong into this with most (if not all) of its players, and it's all compounded by the sheer chutzpah that the results are all being broadcast as entertainment. If only real reality shows had this sort of thought put into them.
This is the best descriptor of the Hivebent arc in Act 5 of Homestuck, wherein all the Trolls attempt to backstab each other and Doc Scratch is first introduced. The trolls are eventually forced to team up and work together when shit hits the fan during their game session though. And if you thought Act 5 Act 1 got complicated, Act 5 Act 2 has so many insane plots going on (most of which are being made up as they go along) That by the end, it's hard to tell who's manipulating whom into doing what. Who: Doc Scratch. Whom: Everyone. What: Everything.
In Act 6, virtually everybody has some kind of plan for the Post-Scratch session, of which the Post-Scratch Kids are almost completely unaware.
Every major player in Drowtales has some plan in motion that they believe will grant them supremacy, save the world, kill their rivals, etc. As of chapter 46 (aptly titled "Convergence") several of the main ones have started colliding, with much bloodshed to be had — and it's only the tip of the iceberg.
The Tournament Arc of Beyond the Canopy. Glenn just wants to be done with the fight. Pedro crashes the fight to get revenge on Glenn. Greliz set up the entire tournament in the first place just to scam some money, and Vogel shows up to bust him. Hoot and Holler, looking to capture Glenn, arrive at the tournament mostly by accident. Snopes, tracking an artifact and the person who carries it (who happens to be Glenn), arrives not long afterwards.
The cast of Erfworld can very generally be lumped into Gobwin Knob, the Royal Coalition, the Magic Kingdom and Charlescom, but they all have plenty of different factions and scheming within their own ranks (except Charlescom, which is run by one guy no-one's ever seen). The main character's Summon Everyman Hero plot is apparently fulfilling four different prophecies.
In the Rooster Teeth Short Lunch Bunch, the office constantly has problems with people stealing other people's lunches. When Burnie tries to steal Matt's lunch, he starts choking, and Matt reveals he had put salt in his sandwich. But then, it turns out that he had stolen Gus' salt, which Gus replaced with rat poison in case someone tried to steal it. But then it turns out Gus had stolen Geoff's rat poison, who, foreseeing this, had replaced it with Nathan's protein powder, and dumped the real poison into the coffee pot. All three of them realize they are drinking poison and fall to the floor. Burnie stops choking, gets off the floor, steals the poisoned coffee and walks away.
In the Whateley Universe, Ayla 5: "Ayla and the Networks" is one of these. It shifts perspective to show each person setting up their gambits. To top it all off...Thuban and Ayla had won before the first move was drawn. Thuban had purposely leaked the very blackmail conversation that STARTED this mess, solely to make sure everything happened just as planned. Even more complicated, Phase set the whole thing up several novels earlier with a Chekhov's Gun that he patiently waited a couple months for someone running their own gambit to trigger it. And then several new groups step in, trying to pull off their own gambits in the middle of the story. Hilarity Ensues.
Faced with a dearth of actual gameplay, the players in NationStates have spent the last seven years turning the site into one of these.
In "Deicide" The Salvation War has brought this to Heaven. You have Yahweh, Michael-lan's plotting against Yahweh, Salapael's First Conspiracy, the mysterious Second Conspiracy and whoever subverted that Israeli sub into nuking Tel-Aviv, which may be the Second Conspiracy or who knows, a Third bloody conspiracy.
Many forum games such as Mafia and games centered around nation-building can become loaded with gambit pileups. It is often hilarious watching how one Franz Ferdinand-esque scenario knocks down mountains' worth of intrigue dominoes set up by the players. Hilarious if you're GMing, terrifying if you're a player.
In The Dead Skunk, the Caroline affair turns into this. Prince Regent George (later King George IV) hires men to spy on his wife so that he can collect the evidence he needs to divorce her, which snowballs into counter-schemes and counter-counter-schemes by his wife Caroline of Brunswick, Lords Liverpool and Castlereagh, several officials within the French government, and Henry Brougham.
freddiew turns a Mexican Standoff into a web of intrigue so dense it calls into question the characters' very identities.
In the first season finale of Beast Wars Tarantulas, Megatron, Blackarachnia and the Maximals all had their own individual plans for dealing with the destruction of the planet by the alien Vok and almost all of their plans hinged on the different known factors of everyone else's plans. Tarantulas was originally planning on escaping the planet in a stasis pod, Blackarachnia secretly planned to steal his stasis pod for herself and use it to escape, Megatron purposefully allowed the two of them to go about stealing said pod with the plan of forcing that pod (with the escapee still inside) to become a makeshift bomb used to destroy the alien Planet Buster. Optimus and the Maximals planned to use the pod for the same purpose, but with the idea that Optimus would escape the pod at the last second (Megatron's version, which ultimately won out, involved Optimus not escaping and dying in the explosion.) Interestingly, after Optimus died in the explosion (which Megatron had originally meant for one or both of the spiders), Tarantulas's reaction was that of smug laughter, the kind he only ever does when he's just pulled something deceitful off. This leaves the implication that Tarantulas was well aware of Megatron's schemes too, and that his plan was to ready the pod and assume that either Blackarachnia, Inferno (on Megatron's orders) or Optimus would intercede (all tried to) and would die in Megatron's scheme, rather than him. Considering his ultimate scheme is to destroy the Ark and both Autobots and Decepticons to negate the existence of all Cybertronians which, it turns out, Tarantulas is not one of, it wouldn't have made sense for him to be willing to leave the planet anyway. Claims that he wanted to were likely for Blackarachnia and Waspinator's benefit, so that it would get back to Megatron. Thus, ultimately, it's Tarantulas pulling all the strings. When all but two Predacons, and several non-Predacons, try their hand at The Starscream, this is to be expected.
Throwing in the comics, you add Magmatron, Ravage, again, a guy named Shokaract who unknowingly works for yet another plan... I mean... holy hell, it's a wonder anyone's plan worked...
In the South Park episode 'Cat Orgy', Shelly is baby-sitting Cartman and invites her boyfriend over. This leads to Cartman taking a picture of them making out with the intent to show it to his mother and bust them, and eventually this leads to a—likely on the fly—pileup between the two.
Cartmen lets Shelly into his locked room.
Shelly: "Haha! That was a turd trick! Your mom isn't really dead!"
Cartman: "Aha! I knew it was a turd trick, and I opened the door because Mr. Kitty is on his way right now to my mom's party with the picture!"
Shelly: " Aha! I knew you sent the cat, and that's why I went outside and got him." *Holds up the picture.*
Cartman: "Aha! I saw you get the picture back from Mr. Kitty and that's why I wrote a letter to the press, to be opened in case of my demise. Should anything happen to me that letter will go out, and you will never find it."
Shelly: *Picks up the letter* "You mean this one?"
Cartman: "... Okay, let's see now... Aha! Umm... god damn it!"
The second season of W.I.T.C.H. ends with everybody trying to put the screws on everybody else. Nerissa is trying to get the Heart of Earth by killing Lillian's cat familiar Napoleon at the same time that the girls have let Phobos out of prison to take her two hearts. Phobos decides to screw the girls over by using the power of Nerissa's hearts once he takes them, but the girls planned for this by convincing Raythor to do a Heel-Face Turn. Raythor tricks Phobos into invading Kandrakar, which would cause him to relinquish control of the hearts he took, but just before Phobos crosses the plane into Kandrakar, Cedric eats him and gains his powers AND Nerissa's. Also, Raphael Sylla and the government, who watched the final battle, planned to discover the girls' secret identities by registering Sylla as a teacher at the girls' school, but we probably won't get to see that. Note that, while most of this wasn't there in the original comic, the started Sylla-Gambit was eventually pulled of in it and even worked - until the oracle pulls a literal Deus ex Machina (it's even lampshaded) and hits the reset button.
The major plot developments of season 4 and the entirety of season 5 gets into this territory, involving three distinct active factions (government agent Bishop, demi-god quartet the Ninja Tribunal, and the quintet of schemers collectively known as the Shredder's heralds), and three passive factions (the Turtles, the Foot, and a quartet of kidnapped martial artists). It all ends up being a Gambit Roulette involving most of the events of the series up until then.
To a lesser extent, the Triceraton invasion can be seen as a duel between General Blanque and the Triceraton Prime Leader, orchestrated by the Fugitoid to allow Traximus to overthrow Zanrathon and end the Triceraton-Federation war. The Turtles themselves barely even qualified as pawns in the struggle (and came dangerously close to being a Spanner in the Works).
The X-Men: Evolution season two finale, "Day of Reckoning," has one of these involving three different factions: Magneto and his acolytes; Mystique; and Bolivar Trask, with the X-Men and Brotherhood being stringed across for good measure.
Pretty much the entirety of Wolverine and the X-Men. Pretty much everyone has a long-term plan of some sort, be it Magneto, Senator Kelly, the Weapon X program, Master Mold, Mr. Sinister, the Inner Circle, and Professor X himself. This all comes to a head in the Grand Finale, when nobody's schemes go as planned.
The Venture Bros. season 4 finale "Operation: P.R.O.M.", between Col.Hunter, Mr. Doe and Mr. Cardholder, Monstroso, Treister, Sky Pilot, and Molotov Cocktease.
The whole point of The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes seems to be how many plans and counter plans they can fit into the show. None of the Gambits are related, nor do the people involved know of the others existences or plans, but all of them wind up ultimately serving Loki's Master Plan to keep Thor away from Asgard while he took it over.
Pretty much the entire three seasons of Young Justice was a huge pileup between The Light, the Justice League, The Reach, Young Justice, and more than a few alien civilisations. By the penultimate episode it was revealed that from the beginning The Reach had funded The Light to help them take over Earth but both sides were playing increasingly complex gambits to betray one another, usually relying on the Young Justice team in a massive series of Batman Gambits. This all came to a head during the Reach/Light peace summit which was secretly engineered by Aqualad. All of this was moot however as it was revealed in the finale that Vandal Savage, Lex Luthor, and Darkseid had come out on top.
Parodied in The Penguins of Madagascar episode "Go Fish". The penguins steal fish from a delivery truck so they don't have to eat the nutritional substitute the zoo is giving to them, except Julien sabotages them and switches the crates. Skipper anticipates this, switching the crates before they got back to the zoo, except Julien switched the crates at the pier before they were even loaded. This is all followed by Skipper and Julien arguing that they each switched the crates in front of each other, until Skipper takes off a mask revealing him to be Julien. The other Julien (Skipper) then takes off his mask and the real Julien wonders "If you are me and I am you, then who must we both be?" Eventually, they crack open the crates, only to find out they're both full of the nutritional substitute and the flamingo that helped the penguins rob the truck took the fish already.
Total Drama can go this way pretty frequently. The season-three episode "Picnic at Hanging Dork" is one of the best examples: Courtney and Sierra are planning to vote off Gwen; Heather says she'll support them, but is actually considering voting off Courtney; Gwen is trying to get Cody to help her vote off Courtney (including by flirting); Cody is trying to get her to vote off Sierra; Alejandro is trying to seduce Courtney to throw off their team and make Heather jealous; Duncan is working with Alejandro but is planning to eventually betray him...