Xanatos Gambit

The Plan is to stab you five times with Morton's Fork.

"The key to strategy... is not to choose a path to victory, but to choose so that all paths lead to a victory."
Cavilo, The Vor Game

A Xanatos Gambit is a plan whose multiple foreseen outcomes all benefit its creator, even if some outcomes may be preferable to others. It's basically a win-win situation for whoever plots it.

At its most basic, the Xanatos Gambit assumes two possible outcomes for the one manipulated — success or failure. The plan is designed in such a way that either outcome will ultimately further the plotter's goals.

Since the Xanatos Gambit can involve an obvious goal's apparent failure, this is a convenient device in an ongoing series to let the villain occasionally win (preventing Villain Decay) while still giving the heroes a climactic pseudo-victory. The only way to escape a Xanatos Gambit once you're caught up in one is by somehow foiling all presented options and leaving the organizer thoroughly beaten.

This trope is named after David Xanatos, one of the main antagonists in the series Gargoyles, who was a master of the technique and used it consistently to serve his own ends.

If the character's plan is continually revised to bring about a winning solution no matter what happens, he is playing Xanatos Speed Chess. When a plan is so ludicrously complicated that it relied more on luck than actual planning and foresight, it's a Gambit Roulette. If the plan relies on misdirection rather than Morton's Fork, then it's a Kansas City Shuffle. If several people are trying to out-scheme the other in this way, you might be headed for a Gambit Pileup where several of them are likely to be Out-Gambitted.

Contrast with Indy Ploy, a "plan" executed with no planning whatsoever, and Batman Gambit, a plan which relies on people doing as predicted in given circumstances. The Magnificent Bastard is a villain type likely to use these, but a particularly skilled Chessmaster, Manipulative Bastard, or Guile Hero may also pull one off.

Remember: It's only a Xanatos Gambit if all the plausible outcomes benefit the mastermind in some way. At the very least, the planner has to benefit regardless of whether the obvious plan succeeds or fails. This is not a shorthand for "any clever, complex, evil plan." You may want Evil Plan for that. Instances of this term that use "Xanatos Gambit" without the key quality of "all (or at least two) plausible outcomes always benefit the mastermind" are WRONG. Please fix them wherever you see them at TV Tropes. If you can't decide what kind of plan it is, use The Plan which is the supertrope for plans in general.

Heroes and villains and everything in between can use this trope, but most cases will have spoilers. Read at your own risk.


Examples:

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    Board Games 
  • A game of Chess played by two halfway decent people is truly a joy to behold due to the sheer number of Xanatos Gambits. Indeed, the very principle of the Gambit comes from the Chess practice of offering up the sacrifice of a piece in order to gain a positional advantage. It is exceedingly common to sacrifice one's own piece in order to capture an opponent's piece, or simply to break the opponent's defences. Capturing the offered piece is called "Gambit accepted", and refusing is called "Gambit declined". Since many players have multiple such gambits going on at any one time, a game can quickly become a Gambit Pileup.
    • On a smaller scale, the concept of a fork. He can take one of several pieces; which one will you protect?
    • Another example of this comes in the form of Zugzwang: a situation in which any move the player makes will lead to a disadvantage (either material or positional), and the best possible action would be not to move at all - which is forbidden.
  • Connect 4 is generally won through a Xanatos gambit: by setting up two sequences right next to each other, either the other player blocks your first one and allows the second, or ignores both and so allows the first.
  • Tic Tac Toe, capture 3 of the 4 corners to assure that you will win regardless. While not always a board game (in fact, it's usually drawn with paper and pencil), a so-called "double-trap" in Tic-tac-toe is one of the most obvious Xanatos gambits.
  • Diplomacy is a game which thrives on these, as the players must secretly negotiate, manipulate, and lie to each other as a matter. For example, a clever player may attempt to offer another player support for a movement quid-pro-quo. If successful, great. If that player denies support, the first player might support him anyway - and mutter quite audibly about how he was just stabbed in the back. At the cost of one turn's disadvantage, the first player has trashed the second's reputation with the entire table.
  • The Chinese game of Go makes this Older Than Dirt, as the game is believed to be the oldest game still being played (at least 2,500 years old), as well as having many situations where both players are doing this simultaneously.
    • In a situation called 'Ko', you are not allowed to take a stone that has just captured one of yours if it would lead to exactly the same board layout at the end of your previous turn. You must instead play elsewhere, and are allowed to take back on your next turn if your opponent has not played to stop that. In this case you need to make a play somewhere else that makes a threat that will cost your opponent more than he gains by consolidating the original exchange. He responds to your threat, you retake, leaving him in Ko, and so he then must make a threat for you to respond to. Both sides continue this until one player calculates the threat is not worth as much as the Ko position. Even then this may help the other player, as a dead group of stones is saved (or a live group is killed), lessening the value to the other side of winning the Ko.
    • A pair of possible moves is called 'miai' if it doesn't matter which one is played, because the opponent will make the move the other choice would have prevented (often at the same place), and the outcome will be the same either way. This often turns into a bit of a Gambit Pileup, as there's usually no hurry to make a miai move, and it can be saved for a ko threat.
    • Common sequences of moves, known as 'joseki', have become established because they are believed to be best play. Some joseki have many branches, presenting each player with several choices. No matter what they choose (unless they screw up), the player who started the joseki gets some advantage, while their opponent gets a slightly lesser advantage. Those advantages can be various combinations of territory, influence, initiative and aji, and although which combination of advantages you get depends on your opponent's choices as well as your own, a good player will steer things so that the advantages they get work well with the rest of the board. Players are advised not to learn joseki by rote, as it tends to lead to following such memorised sequences blindly, getting them Out-Gambitted by, for example, getting influence in the wrong direction.
  • This is a common idea in the Game of Thrones Board Game in general
    • The Roose Bolton card does this. He boosts your armies so you might win, but if you lose, you can return him and all your other hero cards to your hand.
    • When one side has a very slight advantage and both players have a grip of a bunch of Hero cards, the leading side will often play a mid-range card in an attempt to bait out a high-power card out of the opponent. If the opponent does, then the leading side does not have to worry about the high power card for later and may not even suffer casualties depending on which House was involved (especially a problem with Stark during 1st Edition). If the opponent doesn't, you still haven't committed many resources and gotten victory in the battle.

    Card Games 
  • Frequently the primary style behind the Scorpion Clan in Legend of the Five Rings, both in game mechanics and in storyline, consist of losing to win. Attacking them politically means they indulge in slander and blackmail; attacking them militarily means they lay horrific traps and pull you into impossible wars all the while. This has proven to be a catch-22 for the writers, as it's a Wall Banger if the clan doesn't salvage anything from a defeat, and if they're never truly defeated.
  • In Bridge, with the number of different varieties of coups, endplays, and the like, it's quite possible to make sure you make your contract (or your opponents lose their contract) no matter what is played, despite said contract appearing to be hopeless (or completely solid). The most common variety would be the endplay (by intentionally losing a trick to opponents, you force an opponent to give you at least two more tricks due to lack of leads), but the squeeze play (where an opponent is forced to discard too many cards, allowing their good cards to be easily captured) and the coup (generally a play to force a foe into promoting one of your other cards) also frequently work like this. The defense can also pull these off, although generally not as easily.

    Comic Books 
  • The Supreme Intelligence of Marvel's Kree Empire is a master of this. His defeats frequently lead to sequels where he gloats that the defeat was only part of some bigger, more elaborate scheme.
  • Lord Malvolio, the son of a Terran woman and an extraterrestrial Green Lantern Corps member, who had his father's ring, tricked Green Lantern Hal Jordan into taking his ring. After Jordan had thought that he defeated him, Malvolio simply got back up again. While Jordan may have had Malvolio's ring through Emerald Twilight, Malvolio only returned in prose.
  • In Green Lantern's Sinestro Corps War, Sinestro gloats that although his Corps is losing the battle he's already won, because by forcing the Green Lanterns to use lethal force against his troops he's ensured that a more fearsome Corps will keep order in the universe: either fear of the Sinestro Corps will be keeping people in line, or fear of empowered-to-kill Green Lanterns will.
  • In the New Gods, Darkseid and Highfather exchanged their sons as part of a cease-fire treaty between Apokolips and New Genesis. Darkseid immediately handed Highfather's son over to Granny Goodness and ordered her to put him through twice the torture that the other orphans on Apokolips endure under her "care". Darkseid knew that the increased torment would push the newly christened Scott Free (the future Mr. Miracle) to escape Apokolips at any cost. This would violate the terms of the treaty and give Darkseid an excuse to retaliate. In the meantime, Darkseid is secure in the knowledge that his hated enemy's son is going through hell. (Unfortunately for Darkseid, he didn't count on the fact that both Mr. Miracle and Orion, his son who he had given to Highfather, would later become two of his worst enemies, and cause him more grief than he could have ever imagined.) Darkseid hitting Batman with the Omega Sanction at the climax of Final Crisis would also count. An amnesiac Batman was sent back in time, fighting to survive as he was shunted between historical periods closing in on the present. It turned out that Batman was absorbing Omega energy with each jump, and surviving to reach the present would cause the energy to release and destroy reality.
  • A retcon of two different Evil Plans of Thanos that were foiled by Kazar and Thor (respectively) established them as Xanatos Gambits. Thanos was in fact using the two situations to secretly study Kazar's Heroic Resolve and Mangog's power source of a countless souls, information he would later use to devise the most effective stratagem for his upcoming showdown with the death god known as The Walker.
  • In one Justice League of America story, the Key traps the League in hallucinatory fake realities, with their inevitable escape being an important component of his Evil Plan. Having them trapped happened to be beneficial for him, but he was also counting on their escape. Unfortunetely for him, he didn't count on Connor Hawke's appearance.
  • Malebolgia made sure to pull out one in his deal with Spawn to avert a Faustian Rebellion: if Spawn uses the powers Malebolgia granted him when resurrecting him for evil, Hell naturally becomes stronger; if he uses them for good, the souls of his Asshole Victims are sent to Hell, creating new recruits; and he uses them for nothing, he will gradually go mad from the frustration and, when it's time for him to go back to Hell, he will be more fitting as one of Malebolgia's generals. Whatever happens, Hell gains something.
  • Anathos in Les Légendaires pulled one about his reincarnation: he wanted to reincarnate through a living, but, for this, his future host had to bear his mark. So, when he had to mark his Apocalypse Maiden, he was careful to also mark a precious item she had in her possession as a failsafe. When the time comes, the protagonists attempted to hide her and kill her if necessary, only for Anathos to instead possess one of her friends, whom she had given her item too and as such who was technically bearing the mark as well.
  • In The Sandman volume The Doll's House, Dream's sister-brother, Desire, as part of its eons-long feud with Dream, launches a plot to hurt him by tearing apart his realm: during Dream's imprisonment, Desire discovered that the comatose Unity Kinkaid was a "vortex" (a mortal whose existence causes the Dreaming to break down, destroying the world unless he or she is killed,) but was currently harmless because she was unconscious. Desire secretly raped and impregnated the sleeping Unity, which, unbeknownst to Dream, caused the power of the Vortex to be passed on to Desire and Unity's granddaughter, Rose Walker. If Dream did not kill Rose, the vortex would tear apart the Dreaming, but if he had killed her then shedding the blood of a family member (even if he didn't know she was family,) would have unleashed the Furies to ravage the Dreaming anyway. Ultimately, the various players manage to Take a Third Option, but only by using a method which Dream himself didn't know was possible, and without which Desire's plan would have worked flawlessly.
  • Queen Chrysalis' Evil Plan as revealed in issue #3 of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW) makes use of this trope. Stealing Twilight's magic would of course be her best scenario, but putting the bearers of the Elements against each other, or allowing her minions to have taken over Ponyville would have their benefits too. Further, in issues #4, she forces Twilight to either choose to go free and let the Changelings at her friends and the CMC trapped in their pods, or to have Twilight join her as her servant while letting her friends free. The catch on the latter is that Chrysalis still holds back the friends after Twilight takes this option, anticipating that once she's drained Twilight's love for them, Twilight herself would be the one to destroy them. Chrysalis' plan only fails when the magic from the comet gives a bigger boost to Twilight than it does to Chrysalis, allowing Twilight to defeat her.
  • Knights of the Dinner Table Brian uses one when his character is granted a wish. Knowing the way these things usually go, he comes prepared. When it inevitably backfires, a clause he snuck into his wish comes into play, and his character is resurrected and awarded several thousand gold pieces as a consolation prize.
  • In Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog, the Tournament Arc plot by Breezie the Hedgehog was this: by using a Chaos Emerald she discovered as the prize in a tournament fight, she knew that she'd lose it to someone good or evil. Either way, she got out big draws by bringing in Sonic and his friends and foes, making her much richer and more popular than before.
  • In Down Town, the mob boss Marcone orders Harry not to investigate a recent murder. Whether Harry obeys or not is unimportant, as Marcone later explains: the former possibility saves him time and manpower, but either way the killer is found and punished. And if Harry doesn't get involved, Marcone's people get to investigate the crime without the stubborn, dangerous mage getting in their way.

    Economy 
  • The advertising industry thrives on this trope. It cannot lose. The whole point is to get the advertising for the product out in front of the consumer; whether they actually buy it or not is not the advertising company's problem.
    • People who are frustrated by the amount of advertising in society fight a losing battle. Ignore the ads? They'll play them louder and try another tactic to shove it in your face. Complain about the ads? Advertising tells its clients that people are complaining and there's No Such Thing as Bad Publicity so long as that product name is out there being talked about on the news. Even if the product fails, the advertising company has already long-since been paid.
    • In product surveys, choosing "I haven't heard of the product" or "I don't like X product" is the same as saying "You need to try harder to get to me."
    • The only way the advertising industry can "lose" is through government regulations that restrict advertising. For example, advertising on tobacco is forbidden or strongly restricted in many countries— and surprisingly, the various tobacco companies are rather happy with that, since that means they save a lot of money that they would otherwise have to give to the advertisement industry to make sure their ad campaign beats their competitors' ad campaign.
  • The same is true for stock brokers: Whether the stocks rise or fall does not matter to them, they get paid any time they buy or sell stocks for their clients. Their only concern is that their clients feel they are doing their job well and don't take their stocks to another broker to manage.
  • Using the Power Of Math, insurance companies can calculate with very high accuracy how much in insurance claims they will have to pay out in a given time frame. Insurance payments are calculated to be higher than that number so the company will always come out ahead. They don't need to know what accidents happen to which of their clients at what time. For any of the trillions of scenarios that can happen during one year, the payments they'll receive will cover for virtually all of them. note 

    Fan Fiction 
  • Evangelion 303: Gendo ordered that Asuka tested the NF-14 model, thinking that: if she recovered, they would have four pilots operational again; and if the aircraft crashed, it should return Instrumentality to schedule.
  • In the Firefly fic Forward, the corrupt Alliance cop Womack forces Mal and his crew into one of these by giving them an offer they can't refuse: either they take out an illegal organ-growing operation whose operator is disagreeing with Womack, or he'll have the crew arrested as the organ smugglers, as his superiors are breathing down his neck about capturing someone to blame for it all. In reality, he's also running a second con underneath it: if Mal and his crew take out the smuggling operation, it will work out fine, but if Serenity's crew fails, they'll scare the smugglers into packing up and moving shop off the planet, which gets them out of Womack's hair anyway. Either way, he wins. It almost works too, but the Operative's unexpected assault on the same organ-growing operation throws a large Spanner in the Works and sends the whole thing pear-shaped.
  • Ultimate Sleepwalker: The New Dreams has Sleepwalker trapped in Rick Sheridan's mind as part of a larger gambit by his Arch-Enemy Cobweb. If Sleepwalker had been killed at any point during the plan, then Cobweb could have proceeded with the rest of it without any more trouble. On the other hand, Cobweb had it rigged up so even if Sleepwalker survived, it only allowed the next part of the plan to begin anyway. Cobweb puts in so many failsafes that Sleepwalker only finally manages to derail his plan at the very last minute.
  • Ultimate Spider-Woman: Change With The Light Jack O'Lantern launches one of these to set up his true Evil Plan. The beauty of it is that it would work no matter which crime syndicates were crippled, since destroying Philippe Bazin or Crimewave would have suited him just as well. Even if the gang war had petered out, he wouldn't really have lost anything, since he'd already covered his tracks.
  • The modus operandi of the Wise Prince protagonist in Dragon Age The Crown Of Thorns, although he's definitely not the only one who uses them. Notable ones include setting up safeguards to whether or not his plan to fake Trian's death works in the early chapters and building on them when dealing with the succession mess.
  • Queen Of All Oni: In the second half of the story, Jade turns the hunt for the masks into one of these — she's more interested in the Teachings in order to increase her power, but is still sending her minions after the masks to keep the heroes distracted for as long as possible.
  • In the Total Drama story, Courtney and the Violin of Despair, the only two possible outcomes in the cliff diving challenge are for Courtney to (a) jump and die; or (b) not jump, and be publicly humiliated. Both outcomes serve the interests of the Violin spirit.
  • Humorously parodied in New Chance with Minato's advice on how Iruka can get stronger for the Jonin trials. The advice? Sexually harass Anko. Minato's reasoning being that trying to escape her wrath will increase his skills since he'll have to use and improve all of them and develop some more to do it. If she catches him, he learns how to deal with torture and increases his pain threshold.
  • Mare of Steel: General Zod brainwashes the Flim-Flam brothers and sends them to attack Ponyville with a Humongous Mecha in order to "test the waters" — if they succeeded, he would have had an unstoppable weapon at his disposal, and if they failed, he'd at least get a look at what he's up against.
  • In the Tamers Forever Series Daemon excutes a minor one when he uploads a virus into his tropes. which means that either A) the Tamers/Digidestained try to absorb the fallen troops data, and are infected by the virus or B). They don't absorb the data, allowing his own troops to absorb the data and thus grow stronger. Thus making a battle of attrition impossible for his enemies to win. He manages another one earlier, perhaps inadvertantly, sending Doumon to obtain the power of Chaos so he can break out of the Dark Ocean and take revenge on everything. Though it inevitably fails, Doumon's own data is enough when added to the rest he's been collecting to allow him to escape the Dark Ocean and go after Takato himself.
  • Shadows Awakening:
    • As the Phantom explains, the hunt for the Dark Treasures was a win-win situation for him, as no matter who managed to gather all three items, as long as they all ended up in the same place, he could use their combined power to revive himself.
    • The Queen's invasion of San Francisco during the Final Battle by opening multiple portals at several points of the city. If the heroes decide to keep closing the portals, Jackie is left alone against an enemy he certainly cannot defeat; if the heroes remain with Jackie, then nobody will close the portals and San Francisco will be flooded with Shadowkhan.
  • A New Chance Series: Giovanni engages in one: He encourages Jessie, James, and Meowth to pursue Ash, but they must provide him with information on where he is. If they can capture Pikachu and the Eon Duo, good. If they can't, he can still know where Ash is, in case he wishes to take him out, or just stay a step ahead of him. He couldn't, however, anticipate the trio quitting.
  • Sonic X: Dark Chaos: The entire Metarex War is this for Maledict, as he's secretly The Man Behind the Man for both Tsali and the Metarex. If Tsali lost, Maledict would just build up the Metarex as a proxy army to aid him in the future; if Tsali won, than he obviously was the better fighter and would also aid Maledict in the future in gratitude for giving Tsali his revenge. Only his servant Venus' betrayal and Sonic's intervention causes the gambit to fall apart.

    Films — Animated 
  • Part A of Syndrome's scheme in The Incredibles. Whether a super succeeds or fails against the Omnidroid, Syndrome still gets to collect the data from the battle, and due to the scenario presented, no one thinks there's a need to question the droid's source.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Wars:
    • Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine attempted this. There are two Skywalkers, one's already his apprentice but he's more machine than man now and the other is young and idealistic and a potential threat. So he tries to tempt Luke to the Dark Side with a duel with his father. If Luke wins, he gets an upgraded apprentice, if not, he's rid of a potential threat and Darth Vader's loyalty no longer has another possible recipient. It didn't work however, as Luke wouldn't turn to the dark side. He then tries to kill Luke but that doesn't work either because Vader is still capable of throwing the emperor off a balcony.
    • Obi Wan is polite enough to warn Vader that "if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine" before setting Vader up to do just that.
    • Sidious's plan in The Phantom Menace is a Xanatos Gambit — at the start of the film he wants the Trade Federation to hold Queen Amidala prisoner; when she escapes, he sends his apprentice, Darth Maul, to prevent her from reaching Coruscant. But Amidala does reach Coruscant, and within a couple hours she's helped Sidious become Chancellor Palpatine.
    • The entire prequel trilogy of Star Wars was this by Sidious: he controlled both sides in the Clone Wars (the Republic as Chancellor Palpatine, the Separatists as Darth Sidious) so whichever side won, the Jedi would be destroyed, he would become Emperor, and he would have a powerful Sith apprentice (Count Dooku or Darth Vader: this was decided - possibly along with the outcome of the entire war - by their duel at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith). This was planned as well with Palpatine convincing Dooku to defeat Kenobi while losing to Anakin thereby allowing the two to convert Anakin to the dark side.
    • Obi-Wan's mission to kill General Grievous is described as one of these (as well as a Uriah Gambit) in the novelization. Obi-Wan succeeds and kills Grievous? That's one less pawn that Palpatine would otherwise have to dispose of later. Grievous kills Obi-Wan? One less Jedi in Palpatine's way. The end result of the battle is rather irrelevant; the entire point was to make sure Obi-Wan wasn't on Coruscant, where he would otherwise likely be able to stop Anakin from turning to The Dark Side.
  • Final Destination: Death always wins, regardless of what those on Death's list do to spite it. Given that nobody lives forever, no survivor can elude Death indefinitely. There is only one proven way for a survivor to escape the list which is to kill someone else and take their lifespan- but this gives Death its desired victim anyway and fills the rift in its design.
  • This is used to humorous effect in The Princess Bride, where Westley and Vizzini play a game of wits: Vizzini has to guess which goblet Westley has poisoned and select one to drink, Westley being forced to drink from the other one. After Vizzini has (with much complicated exposition) made his choice and drunk, Westley reveals that both the goblets are poisoned and that he has a resistance to that particular poison. Notable in that this gambit's against a minor foe, and foreshadows that the true enemy, for all his resources, is wholly Westley's inferior. Even if Vizzini realized that both cups were poisoned and refused to drink or drank from the bottle, Westley is now close enough to overpower him with little threat to Buttercup.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie consists of a by-the-book Xanatos Gambit: the bunch are called together with the sole reason of acquiring their "components" for super soldiers, their employer was the Big Bad, and the plan comes together the moment they save the day. Something similar happened in the comic, but instead of stealing their powers, Moriarty was trying to steal the cavorite from First Men in the Moon from Dr. FuManchu.
  • In The Dark Knight, the Joker set up several situations where either outcome would please him.
    • When he attacked Dent's motorcade, he won regardless - either he killed Dent or Batman, Batman killed him and broke his 'one rule', or the Joker was caught by police - in which case he had a goon with a stomach full of dynamite, and two buildings full of timed explosives ready to go.
    • Later, he made people choose between killing a man or restraining themselves, letting him blow up a hospital. Finally, he gave two ships' occupants the choice to choose which ship would blow up. He didn't care how they chose - either would have delighted him. He was furious when neither chose to attack the other, but he was ready for that as well and prepared to blow them up himself.
    • His ferry plot failed the Xanatos test by virtue of getting some new scars, he still had one last gambit to play: corrupting Harvey Dent, which Batman thwarts with a Zero-Approval Gambit. While forcing Batman to taint his own reputation and even break his "one rule" against Dent in the process is arguably a win for the Joker in and of itself, the fact this lie eventually falls apart in The Dark Knight Rises grants him another victory in the long term.
  • In the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Jack Sparrow allowed himself to be shackled in the first movie so he could use them to take Elizabeth hostage, Either they let him escape or she becomes a distraction for his escape. Or taking one of the Aztec coins? Barbosa can no longer win because he himself cannot be killed, but once Will dispells the curse, he can finish Barbosa off with his pistol.
  • The villains' plan in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. First, Destro develops Nano-mite warheads for NATO, in order to secure their funding to build his criminal empire. He intends to use them in major population zones to scare the world into the arms of the "world's most powerful man". OK, that's a cute little Batman Gambit he has going. However the Nano-Mites themselves are the brainchild of The Doctor (not that one), who himself is using Destro (oh wait, there he is) as a Unwitting Pawn. All The Doctor wants is to invent bizarre new methods to kill and torture (For Science!!) and needs the funding from the plan to succeed. When the heroes foil the plan and ruin his chances, he uses the chaos of the escape and Destro's sudden loss of his power base to usurp control and devote the groups actions to his scientific endeavors while assuming the mantle of Commander. Ah, but there's more to it than that. The success or failure of the Nano-mite attack was irrelevant to the long-term plan. All that matters was that it was launched, providing an opportunity to get the President of the USA (the "world's most powerful man") into a position where he could be replaced by a doppelganger (who is probably still under the Commander's control, even if he thinks that he isn't). Now that this has been done, scaring up a terrorist threat large enough to justify seizing extraordinary powers should be child's play. Which leads on to the next stage of the plan - if Joe remain oblivious, Zartan will be in a position to cripple them, and if they find out and attempt to remove him, the attempt could easily be portrayed as a military coup, which would cause their allies to turn on them. Even if Joe succeeds in exposing Zartan, they will have suffered substantial damage and will be under a lingering cloud of suspicion; the world's governments having been driven into a crippling and eminently exploitable state of paranoia by the twin prospects of a renegade military and high officials being replaced by duplicates. Meanwhile the Commander and Destro will certainly have been freed, and the seeds of the Cobra organisation laid.
  • In 2009's Sherlock Holmes film, Lord Blackwood pulls a minor Xanatos Gambit in being caught by Holmes and executed by hanging so he could later demonstrate that the Powers That Be are behind him by "returning" from the grave. Holmes doesn't catch him, he's still free and powerful. Holmes does catch him, he can become even more powerful.
  • In The Exorcist, the demon(s) possessing Regan are actually after the soul of Father Damien...either the little girl or the priest; either way they win. Except that Damien sacrifices himself to outwit them in the end.
  • The plan to get rid of The Pit in PCU. Either they don't get the money in time, or they try a plan that would get them in trouble, even if it's in the form of having the student body file complaints. The latter is what happened.
  • In Iron Man 2, Ivan Vanko's attack on Tony Stark at the race track was deliberately chosen because either outcome would achieve his goals. If he won, he'd kill Tony and get his revenge. If he lost, he'd show the world that Tony's claims that the Arc Reactor tech was impossible to replicate would be shattered, which in turn would ruin Tony's position as the world's self-imposed protector. Vanko even yells "You lose!" to Tony as the police drag him away after he's been defeated. Furthermore, even just the act of challenging him furthers Vanko's plans. To paraphrase, Vanko tells Stark that he "bloodied" him, taking away his air of invincibility and paving the way for others to challenge him again.
  • In the 1972 film Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth remarks about Mary's choice of suitors and aptly describes this very trope.
    "If she chooses Dudley, then we are safe from foreign Catholic princes, though I admit it will be a hard price for me to pay. If she takes Darnley, we have given nothing and she has a weak, degenerate fool as her consort. Win or lose the wager, I cannot lose the game."
  • Narrowly averted but still lampshaded in Terror Of Mechagodzilla. When Dr. Mafune releases Titanosaurus to attack Tokyo against Mugal's wishes, Godzilla comes to battle his monster. Rather than get angry as he does in his appearances, Mugal insists that he and his forces do nothing. If Titanosaurus wins, Godzilla would be killed in battle and it'd be easier for his plan of World Domination to go through, and even if Godzilla won and killed Titanosaurus, Godzilla would've been too banged up to stand up to Mechagodzilla, who would kill him too. It would've worked, if Katsura wasn't shot and killed again, and Dr. Mafune didn't call Titanosaurus back before his fight with Godzilla could get brutal.
  • In Jurassic World, Vic Hoskins forms an elaborate plan which has him and Dr. Wu intentionally engineer the breakout of the I-Rex and have the ACU, his own team of In-Gen mercenaries or eventually Owen's trained Velociraptors to bring the beast down. If the ACU succeed, earns himself a promotion within the Masrani company. If In-Gen succeed, he gets all the praise for resolving the situation and gets plastered all over the news as a hero. If Owen's raptors win, or they all fail to defeat the I-Rex, he can market the winning dinosaur as a bioweapon to the military. And even better, nothing blows back onto him and he can simply walk away as Masrani are left to pick up the shattered remains of the park and their reputation. Eventually Subverted, as Hoskins didn't count on the I-Rex establishing itself as the raptors' alpha and siccing them on his hapless men, then eventually killing him.
  • In National Treasure, the Freemasons performed one by hiding part of the location of the Templar treasure from the British government on the back of the Declaration of Independence. If the U.S. became independent, the Declaration would become an artefact of national importance, any measures put in place by the Freemasons to protect it would seem reasonable, and the treasure would remain in Masonic hands. Conversely, if the British won, the Declaration would be declared seditious materials and destroyed, forever keeping the treasure out of British hands.

     Folk Tales 
  • In the old Armenian tale The Liar, a king offers a golden apple to anyone who can tell him a lie he won't believe. Many try and fail until a peasant enters his throne room and tells the king that he owes him money. Thus, the king is forced to either give the peasant the golden apple if he disbelieves the lie, or the money the peasant claims the king owes him.

    Music 
  • In rock opera Act II - The Father of Death by The Protomen, Dr. Wily sets out to ruin Dr. Light. He uses a machine they both built to murder Light's girlfriend, and as soon as the news of it goes public, Wily starts slandering Light to the presses. Light actually receives a not guilty verdict, but because of Wily's words the public believes Light did it and that the court system is broken. He is forced to flee town before they take justice into their own hands.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • WCW tried to make Sting's Face-Heel Turn into one of these with this video package.
  • Lay Cool pulled one in their big match against Melina to unify the titles at Night of Champions. They had Michelle McCool face Melina. Michelle was called a co-champion but Layla was the legal champion with Michelle allowed to wear and defend the belt as well. So if Michelle won (which she did), Lay Cool would be legally allowed to wear the unified title, while if Michelle lost, Layla could turn around and say Melina had won doodly-squat since she hadn't technically pinned or even faced the actual Women's Champion.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The overarching plot of the Bible (at least according to mainstream Christian interpretations). Adam sinned by deciding humans could decide for themselves what was good or evil, "tainting" all future humans (which, since he and Eve were the First, is ALL humanity) with sin and death, and Jesus gives himself to counter-act this, the life of a perfect man (Adam) for the life of a perfect man (Jesus). Afterwards, everything is basically a Xanatos Gambit by God against Satan. Satan and the wicked have dominion over the earth and can (have, and will) persecute God's true followers and will attempt to destroy them. This could go several ways. 1) If the "wicked" have good hearts, no matter what, they will be called and welcomed to God's followers. Satan loses, Jehovah wins. 2) The wicked try to ignore God's people and continue ruling themselves. They are unable to successfully rule themselves, as God had predicted, and they will be removed from power. Satan loses, Jehovah wins. 3) The wicked and hard-hearted attempt to destroy God's followers. Prophesies are fulfilled, Har-magedon begins, they are destroyed, the good-hearted are heralded into an eternity of happiness in a paradise earth, Satan and his demons are imprisoned and eventually destroyed, resolving the issue of sovereignty once and for all and ending in the destruction of all evil for all time. Satan loses, Jehovah wins. This comes across in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • At the end of 3rd edition, Mephistopholes provides incredible amounts of power to mortals (through control over Hellfire) for almost nothing, but Devils in the D&D universe draw their power almost exclusively from the torment of damned souls, so if/when heroes defeat these evil cults, Mephistopholes reaps their souls and receives a massive boost in power.
    • The Fourth Edition splatbook Martial Power introduces resourceful warlords, an alternative to inspirational or tactical warlords, who are fond of small-scale versions of these. Most resourceful powers offer benefits for successful attacks and different albeit modest advantages upon missing or not using an offense maneuver that round.
  • The Threats supplement of Shadowrun said that the Great Dragon Lofwyr always has multiple plans in motion, all of which will succeed regardless of what you do.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Everything that has ever happened in the universe and beyond is the result of Tzeentch's plans. Including those plans of his that have been foiled. In fact, if you try to help him, he benefits, if you try to hinder him, he benefits, and if you do neither, he benefits.
    • Though the C'Tan Deceiver and the Laughing God aren't exactly slouches in this department either. The occasional Chaos lord, Eldar or Dark Eldar will pull one off in the books.
    • Tzeentch is the gambit personified, since he would cease to exist if his gambits stopped. As long as one of his gambits exist, he has already succeeded. This leads into his ultimate Achilles Heel: he doesn't have one giant plan, but multiple, mutually-exclusive ones, so every victory for him is also a loss, and vice-versanote .
  • Someone writing for White Wolf must be a troper — the Seers of the Throne Sourcebook for Mage actually presents an antagonist with a listed ability of "Xanatos Gambit!"
  • Setting up and spotting small-scale Xanatos Gambits up is a useful skill in Chess. Many a novice, and more than a few experienced players, have gotten just a little too eager in grabbing that one extra pawn or attacking the obvious weakness in the enemy's position and realized only too late that it was All According to Plan.
  • The Scorpion Clan in Legend of the Five Rings actively cultivates a reputation for these, so as to convince people that everything the Scorpion do is a Xanatos Gambit. Even their genuine failures are often played up as having occurred "according to plan."
  • This can occur in Paranoia. However, both Spanner in the Works and Gambit Pile Up can also occur, resulting in failed gambits all around. The Computer manages a brilliant one by sending Troubleshooters on missions. If the mission succeeds, the plans of The Computer's enemies are set back. If it fails, it was clearly due to sabotage by Commie Mutant Traitors, as the loyal team members will happily point out to Friend Computer; these traitors can then be executed. If a team doesn't come back at all, then they were clearly incompetent and The Computer is better off with a new team. The Computer always wins.

    Theater 
  • Shakespeare's Iago wouldn't be the infamous Magnificent Bastard of Othello if he couldn't pull this off, which he does when convinces Roderigo to kill Cassio. If Roderigo succeeds, Iago gets his revenge on Cassio (for being promoted instead of him). If Roderigo fails and Cassio kills him, Iago doesn't have to worry about paying his Unwitting Pawn back all the money and jewels he's lost on the enterprise so far. So, as Iago muses in soliloquy, whatever the outcome, he wins.
  • In Thrill Me, Richard acts like he's pulling one of these through the whole show by committing the "perfect crime"—he's not, but Nathan is. Nathan wants to stay with Richard forever, so goes along with Richard's plan for the murder, then leaves obvious evidence. If the evidence is found, he can "accidentally" turn them in, if not, he can go to the police intentionally. If they get life in prison, then Nathan would bribe the guards to get put in the same cell. If they were hanged, well...
    Richard: [agitated] What if we got the death penalty?
    Nathan: As long as we were together.

    Toys 
  • In BIONICLE, Makuta put the Great Spirit Mata Nui to sleep and on the verge of death while he took over in the power vacuum - but if some heroes would arise to heal Mata Nui and wake him up again (something which Makuta was Genre Savvy enough to expect would happen), then he could usurp the revival process and commit Grand Theft Me, essentially becoming the Physical God of that world. Eight years of storyline passed before this was revealed.
    • A quote from Time Trap says it best.
    Makuta: "Little Toa, you have not yet begun to see even the barest outlines of my plans. I have schemes within schemes that would boggle your feeble mind. You may counter one, but there are a thousand more of which you know nothing. Even my... setbacks... are planned for, and so I shall win in the end."

    Visual Novels 
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni
    • Miyo Takano pulls an amazing one that not only works over all of the different arcs, and thus several different 'worlds', but also manages to have each one work slightly differently (thus moving almost into Batman Gambit territory) in each arc, always with the same results. Though, the character isn't aware that each arc is a different world and each one of them thinks it's just working in their particular world, but the effect is the same, either way.
    • The various gambits pulled off, along with other Xanatos index tropes (especially an I Know You Know I Know played for humour), in the various club activities. Mion and Shion's gambit in the zombie tag game is of special note, along with the combined Xanatos Gambit and I Know You Know I Know (with slight improv) that Rena and Satoko pull against each other in the water fight...
    • In all the worlds similar to Watanagashi-hen and Meakashi-hen, Miyo's gambit failed because Shion killed the right person at the wrong time, without the one pulling the strings knowing until it was too late.
  • Umineko no Naku Koro ni, once you realise Beatrice is using a Xanatos gambit to hide another gambit and why, the meaning of the story changes dramatically. The reason that Beatrice choose Battler as her opponent is so that he may remember who she was and what he did to her, if he does remember, she will forever exist in Battler's memories, if he does not, she will be certainly destroyed by him, granting her freedom in death. Both more desirable for her then being trapped in the purgatory of half-existence. Under that gambit is the one Beatrice makes by betting her life against Battler's. No matter whether Battler removes her from existence, or she breaks Battler's mind, she will be with him for the rest of her existence, her greatest desire. Combine these gambits and you find why she tries so hard to keep Battler fighting against her for as long as possible.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney:
    • In the fourth case, Manfred von Karma pulls one of these off when he allows Phoenix to get a Not Guilty verdict for his client in the trial at hand — causing that client to confess to a different crime, allowing von Karma to prosecute him for a more personal reason.
    • In the second case of the third game, Phoenix manages to prove that his client, Ron DeLite, didn't commit a theft by proving that he was at another place and showing proof that Detective Atmey did it. However, as it turns out, a murder took place at the exact place and time of DeLite's alibi, and as a result Atmey, the real murderer, is given an alibi from Phoenix proving he was the thief while DeLite becomes the prime suspect in the murder.
    • Phoenix himself does one in 4-1. He forges key evidence to replace that which the killer, Kristoph Gavin, erased. Kristoph reveals the forgery (which he does)? Good; he also self-implicates. He keeps quiet? Also good; the fake likely convicts him.
  • In Planescape: Torment, one quest has you defending an old man from a gang acting on rumors that he's hiding a large stash of valuables. Upon turning in the quest, the person who sent you mentions that he had planted the rumor himself as revenge on the gang. He figured that either they would fail and get themselves killed, or "succeed" but having left enough evidence to get caught and jailed.

    Web Comics 
  • In Eight Bit Theater, this is mentioned, though not by name, during a lengthy discussion between Black Mage and Red Mage on who would win in a fight between Batman and Dr. Doom. After Black Mage points this out, Red Mage begrudgingly gives doom the point. Happens in issue #342 and #343
  • In The Last Days of FOXHOUND, the spirit of Big Boss temporarily possessed the body of his clone "son", Liquid Snake when he felt Liquid incapable of fulfilling his plans to free the world from the grip of an Ancient Conspiracy. As long as Big Boss has Liquid's body, he can move his plans forward himself. If the experience serves as a wake up call that motivates Liquid to wise up, become more capable, and win his body back from Big Boss earlier than expected... well, that just means that Liquid is better equipped to carry on Big Boss' legacy than he was before, and Liquid goes on to do just that until the end of the comic.
    • Okay, technically it's the same plan as in the game, but the rehash of Psycho Mantis's scheme to activate Metal Gear contains almost every feasible Gambit based trope (including pileups and Spanners mixed with dramatic irony for the reader).
  • Homestuck has this in the form of the massive number of time loops that are in it. Doc Scratch has manipulated the events of the story so that there is only one way everything could go. If any event happens that doesn't contribute to the arrival and rampage of Lord English, then the timeline reaches a paradox at some point. Paradox Space fixes this by killing everybody in the session shortly after failure is achieved.
  • The Order of the Stick
    • Employed by Nale when he lures the Order to Cliffport by kidnapping Roy's sister Julia, then has his new Linear Guild attack. The Guild eventually gets defeated, but while they were distracted, Nale swapped places with his good twin, Elan — leading the Order to think they had won, when in fact the outcome was exactly what Nale had been seeking (his brother shipped off to jail and him safely undercover in the Order). Though wiping out the Order would have been a nice boast to his ego except it would mean that he could only defeat them when that wasn't his primary goal.
    • Redcloak outlines a much higher stakes Xanatos Gambit in the prequel story Start of Darkness: he intends to capture one of the five Gates that holds back the world's Sealed Evil in a Can so his god, the Dark One, can use it to blackmail the other gods into giving the goblins equal standing among the player races (human, elf, dwarf, etc.). If he should accidentally unleash this Eldritch Abomination and unravel all of Creation in the process, the gods can then remake the world — but this time around, the Dark One would have a say in how the goblins were treated.
    • General Tarquin outlines his plan to be a king or a legend here, with the bonus that explaining the gambit to the target helps him get the better outcome. The point is that in becoming an Evil Overlord, he gets to rule for his time before a hero defeats him, and if one does, he'll be remembered as a cool epic villain.
    • Also played for laughs here. Tarquin calculates the financial gains he ultimately gets from his opponents even though they manage to flee, and adds in the price of the spear that they just threw at him.
      Tarquin: Their every move makes my victory more complete.
    • Used against Tarquin when Halley gives him the choice of grabbing two arrows from the air, thus losing his grip, or taking one or two arrows to the head.
  • Charles, head of Charlescomm (one of the sides in Erfworld) is quite fond of the Xanatos Gambit as seen by the discussion of the principle in this strip. "I got paid to turn it into a no-lose situation."
  • Weirdly enough, the titular amorph of Schlock Mercenary pulls off a minor one of these while investigating a mysterious human-cannonball-related death at a circus in this strip. Schlock's plan here hired reinforcements or sent Jud Shafter to an early death. His friend considers both a plus.
  • Joel Calley from Concession has his plan deconstructed. Some aspects of the plan have failed but not all of them and he has back up plans.
  • Heather in Misfile and the race she set up between Logan and Ash. If Logan wins, then Ash gets humiliated by losing to an opponent who had never raced before. If Ash wins, she winds up looking like a bully who took down a newbie. It goes wrong when Logan, in his inexperience, tries to pass on a curve and crashes.
  • In a chapter of Pearl of Mer, one of the Big Bad's lackeys shows he hates the group he is working with. He agrees to help the mermaid in getting her inside to take them down. But he also mentions if she does get caught, he ultimately did his job and brought them a mermaid.
  • In Freefall, the rescue will either succeed or kill a character with an annoying habit of needing rescue--win/win is good.
  • Parodied in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, in "Revenge of the Hundred Dead Ninja": "If this works and we survive, that will be great, but if not, it will easily win in America's Funniest Home Videos."
  • Scrooge McDuck vs Darkwing Duck Conclusion has one for the former. If Scrooge wins, he'll have Darkwing pinned and crying for uncle. But if Darkwing wins, Scrooge will sue him for Fifty Squillion, Two Impossibillion simoleans in damages.

    Web Original 
  • Neopets: In the Faerie's Ruin plot Xandra's second plan. The heroes try to get a special artifact to reverse the spell that transformed the faeries into stone. It doesn't matter if they succeed or not, either way Fairy land is screwed. The artifact is useless by itself and is just a power amplifier. Even if the heroes get the artifact on time Xandra will simply use the artifact to transform the heroes into stone too.
  • in The Daily Victim There's a character who always has a backup plan. Fargo seems very fond of the Gambit.
  • In Ayla and the Networks, in the Whateley Universe the principle is lampshaded. In the middle of a Gambit Pile-up, the main star gets a smirk. "Xanatos Gambit?" "Xanatos Gambit."
    • Recently given a bit of insight in "Ayla and the Birthday Brawl" chapter 11, Ayla tells a minor character the truth on a detail. He then gives a little inner monologue on how this helps. Either it disarms the person, or he gains crucial details. Whatever happens, he gets out ahead.
    • Supervillain Dr. Diabolik uses this in all his Evil Plans. His MO is to use his 'mind web' to take over a mid-sized city. If the heroes fail to defeat him, he walks off with all the goods of the entire town. If the heroes break through the power of the mind web, he still gets everything his forces have stolen by then, plus he achieves his real goal: he 'awakens' thousands of ordinary people and makes them more 'aware', furthering his goal of increasing human intelligence. He will actually cheer on the heroes when they succeed, all while playing an automated 'villainous monologue' program over the PA system to make it look like he's being, well, villainous.
  • Parodied by Adam in episode 9 of Maddison Atkins.
  • Played with in The Defrosters. In episode 9, Pixel Girl implies that she is working on a plan to stop Pixel Boy from playing World of Warcraft. She and James even mention TV Tropes.
  • In Kickassia, Kevin Baugh uses Obfuscating Stupidity to convince the usurpers of his government to let him stay around. He then walks around spreading seeds of dissent throughout the government, and then smiles whenever a major event happens, since no matter what the end result of his actions are, he'll be facing a significantly weakened opponent.
  • PZ Myers of Pharyngula was winning a charity fundraising race against a number of other blogs when his rivals tried to drum up support by agreeing to carry out a series of forfeits if they won. PZ's immediate response was to tell his readers to donate via the other blogs: if he won he would get the bragging rights of single-handedly beating a large team, if he lost we would get to watch the others carry out the penalties, and either way the last-minute game changer encouraged additional donations.
  • The page image can be used to illustrate a common problem with this trope: how far must one stretch all outcomes for it to count as a Xanatos Gambit? Just as many of the other gambits on this page, it has a failure condition, but a low-probability one that only applies in certain outcomes: in this case, the hero could defeat the villain, his dragon, and his army in succession, leaving the son without the means to take over the world.
  • Narcissa Richmond manages to pull off one of these in Grandmaster of Theft. Deus manipulates her to challenge the Grandmaster to steal Undine's Tear from her. Just in case his plan didn't work and she lost, she brought a replica. By having the real one on her, she then claims to have fought off the Grandmaster and get the exact same fame she wanted in first place through challenging.
  • Celes in Dangan Ronpa Abridged Thing. Secretly she's sick of having to put up with everyone in the school and sort of secretly is actually a demon from hell. So she arranges for Yamada to murder Ishimaru and then murders Yamada with the following logic. If the group does figure out it was her, Monokuma will kill her and she'll be sent right back to hell, which is what she wants. If they don't figure it out, Monokuma will kill them and allow her to leave.

Alternative Title(s):

Plan A Plus Plan B, Make All Paths Lead To Victory