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Useful Notes: The Thirty-Six Stratagems
The thirty-six stratagems, used both in real warfare and by "corporate warriors", attributed to Sun Tsu (of The Art of War fame), though he probably never came up with such a list (especially since the names of several strategies reference events from long after his death). That said, quite a lot of these are either included in The Art of War or immediately deducible from it.

Alternatively, and slightly more credibly, attributed to Zhuge Liang. Apparently he was such a great strategist that a book of strategies naturally had to have his name on it (he was also such a great strategist he got retconned to being a full-on sorcerer).

Strategy 36 most likely came first as the advice of a strategist: "Of the thirty-six (i.e. various) schemes, a tactical retreat would be the wisest course of action". Later generations would then fill in the other thirty five using famous battles from Real Life or Historical Fiction.

More than a few of these may be considered dirty fighting.

The stratagems are traditionally divided into six groups, for the situations in which they are best used. This page uses the translated names for the groupings taken from Lure the Tiger Out of the Mountains: The Thirty-Six Stratagems of Ancient China, a compilation of the following in full-length book form written by Gao Yuan (and sadly now out of print). The names of the stratagems themselves have varied translations.

These strategems are some of The Oldest Tricks In The Book.

The List:

Strategems When Commanding Superiority
  1. 瞒天过海 Deceive the heavens and cross the ocean: Mask your real goals with a fake goal until your aims are achieved; the enemy will be so annoyed with the constant false alarms that they will ignore you once you make your real move. (This rule is also used as a Chinese aphorism for "to pull the wool over someone's eyes".)
  2. 围魏救赵 Besiege Wei to rescue Zhao: Avoid a head-on battle with a strong enemy, and instead strike at his weakness (for example, a weaker ally) elsewhere. The name came from Qi forcing Wei's army to retreat from laying siege to Zhao's capital by laying siege to Wei's capital in 354-353BC.
  3. 借刀杀人 Kill With a Borrowed Knife: Cause damage to the enemy by getting a third party to do the deed or causing an Enemy Civil War.
  4. 以逸待劳 Substitute Leisure for Labor: Have your troops well-prepared for battle, in the same time that the enemy is rushing to fight against you, ideally resulting in their exhausted troops running into your fresh soldiers on the terms of your choosing.
  5. 趁火打劫 Loot a Burning House: The best time to attack an opponent is when they have their own problems to deal with. Though he who loots a burning house should be careful lest he become trapped inside.
  6. 声东击西 Clamor in the East, Attack in the West: Get the enemy to focus his forces elsewhere, and then attack a position that would be weakly defended.

Stratagems for Confrontation
  1. 无中生有 Create Something from Nothing: Make somebody believe there was something when there is in fact nothing, or vice versa (i.e. lie like a rug).
  2. 暗度陈仓 Openly Repair the Walkway, but Sneak through the passage of Chencang: Deceive the enemy with an obvious approach that will take a very long time, while surprising him by taking a shortcut and sneaking up on him. Another interpretation is the Kansas City Shuffle — Distract the enemy with an "obvious" attempt at deception in order to conceal yet another ploy from their attention.
  3. 隔岸观火 Observe the Fire from the Opposite Shore, or Sit on the Mountain and Watch the Tigers Fight: Delay entering the field of battle until all the other players have become exhausted fighting amongst themselves, then go in at full strength and pick up the pieces.
  4. 笑里藏刀 Hide a Knife behind a Smile: Charm and ingratiate yourself to your enemy. When you have gained his trust, move against him in secret. (This rule is also used as a Chinese aphorism for someone with Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.)
  5. 李代桃僵 Sacrifice the Plum Tree to Preserve the Peach Tree: Sacrifice short-term objectives in order to gain the long-term goal. (Peaches are associated with immortality; see eg. Journey to the West.)
  6. 顺手牵羊 Take the Opportunity to Pilfer a Goat: While carrying out your plans, be flexible enough to take advantage of any opportunity that presents itself, however small, and avail yourself of any profit, however slight. (This is also used as an aphorism for Stealing from the Till or the Five-Finger Discount.)

Stratagems for Attack
  1. 打草惊蛇 Beat the Grass to Startle the Snake: Do something without aim, but make it so spectacular to provoke a response of the enemy, thereby giving away his plans or position, or just taunt him. Do something unusual, strange, and unexpected as this will arouse the enemy's suspicion and disrupt his thinking. However, an imprudent act will give your position or intentions away to the enemy.
  2. 借尸还魂 Borrow a Corpse to Resurrect the Soul: Revive something from the past by giving it a new purpose, or reinterpret it to your advantage.
  3. 调虎离山 Lure the Tiger Down From the Mountain: Lure an opponent away from his field of advantage, thus separating him from his source of strength.
  4. 欲擒故纵 To Catch Something, First Set it Free: Cornered prey will often mount a final Desperation Attack; to prevent this, you let the enemy believe he still has a chance for freedom.
  5. 抛砖引玉 Toss out a Brick to attract Jade: Bait someone by making him believe he gains something or just make him react to it and obtain something valuable from him in return.
  6. 擒贼擒王 To Capture the Bandits, capture their Leader: If the enemy's army is strong but is allied to the commander only by money or threats, then take aim at the leader; the rest of the army will disperse or come over to your side. If, however, they are allied to the leader through loyalty, then beware, the army can continue to fight on after his death out of vengeance.

Stratagems for Confused Situations
  1. 釜底抽薪 Steal the Firewood from under the Pot: Take out the leading argument or asset of your target, denying your enemy the resources needed to oppose you.
  2. 浑水摸鱼 Stir up the Waters to catch a Fish: Create confusion and use this confusion to further your own goals.
  3. 金蝉脱壳 Slough off the Cicada's Golden Shell: Create an illusion to fit your goals and distract others. (A secondary meaning for this rule would be Faking the Dead.)
  4. 关门捉贼 Shut the Door to catch the Thief: If you have the chance to completely capture the enemy then you should do so, thereby bringing the battle or war to a quick and lasting conclusion.
  5. 远交近攻 Befriend a Distant State while attacking a Neighbour: When you are the strongest in one field, your greatest threat is from the second strongest in your field, not the strongest from another field, and thus the distant neighbor will make a good ally, however temporary.
  6. 假道伐虢 Obtain Safe Passage to conquer the state of Guo: Borrow the resources of an ally to attack a common enemy. Once the enemy is defeated, use those resources to turn on the ally that lent you them in the first place. This comes from Jin's conquest of the states of Guo and Yu by bribing Yu's ruler to obtain a safe passage for Jin forces to conquer Guo in 658BC. Without Guo's protection, Yu was in turn conquered by Jin in 655BC.

Stratagems for Gaining Ground
  1. 偷梁换柱 Replace the Beams with Rotten Timbers: Disrupt the enemy's formations, interfere with their methods of operations, change the rules which they are used to following, go contrary to their standard training.
  2. 指桑骂槐 Point at the Mulberry tree, but curse the Locust: To discipline, control, or warn others whose status or position excludes them from direct confrontation; use analogy and innuendo. Without directly naming names, those accused cannot retaliate without revealing their complicity.
  3. 假痴不癫 Feign Madness but Keep your Balance: Hide behind the mask of a fool, a drunk, or a madman to create confusion about your intentions and motivations.
  4. 上屋抽梯 Lure them onto the Roof, then take away the Ladder: With baits and deceptions, lure your enemy into treacherous terrain, then cut off his lines of communication and avenue of escape; to save himself, he must fight both your own forces and the elements of nature.
  5. 树上开花 Deck the Tree with False Blossoms: Through the use of artifice and disguise, make something of no value appear valuable; of no threat appear dangerous; of no use appear useful.
  6. 反客为主 Exchange the roles of Host and Guest: Usurp leadership in a situation where you are normally subordinate. Infiltrate your target. Initially, pretend to be a guest to be accepted, but develop from inside and become the owner later.

Stratagems for Desperate Straits
  1. 美人计 The Beauty Trap: Send your enemy beautiful women to cause discord within his camp. This strategy can work on three levels: First, the ruler becomes so enamored with the beauty that he neglects his duties and allows his vigilance to wane; second, other males at court will begin to display aggressive behavior that inflames minor differences hindering co-operation and destroying morale; third, other females at court, motivated by jealousy and envy, begin to plot intrigues, further exacerbating the situation.
  2. 空城计 The Empty Fort Strategy: When the enemy is superior in numbers and your situation is such that you expect to be overrun at any moment, then drop all pretense of military preparedness and act calmly so that the enemy will think you have hidden reserves and want to trap them into the fort.
  3. 反间计 Let the Enemy's own spy sow discord in the Enemy camp: Undermine your enemy's intelligence-gathering abilities by using his own spies against him or planting your own agents among his.
  4. 苦肉计 Injure yourself to gain the Enemy's trust: Pretending to be injured has two possible applications. In the first, the enemy is lulled into relaxing his guard since he no longer considers you to be an immediate threat. The second is a way of ingratiating yourself to your enemy by pretending the injury was caused by a mutual enemy.
  5. 连环计 Chain Stratagems: In important matters, one should use several stratagems applied simultaneously after another as in a chain of stratagems. Keep different plans operating in an overall scheme; however, in this manner if any one strategy fails, then the chain breaks and the whole scheme fails.
  6. 走为上计 If all else fails, Retreat: The best battle is one fought with your side never having to mobilize, but if it becomes obvious that your current course of action will lead to defeat, then retreat and regroup.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Light Yagami of Death Note fame has used AT LEAST #3 and #24. He manipulated events so that Rem would kill Watari and L in order to protect Misa. Because of this, Rem died, too. The end result was that Light removed three obstacles from his way by using one of those obstacles' resources against itself. L and Near seemed fond of #26, too.
  • #32 is used by the Earth Alliance in Gundam SEED when they deceive ZAFT into attacking JOSH-A, a major military fort that has been mostly abandoned. They then activate a Self-Destruct Mechanism and destroy most of ZAFT's military power.
  • #14 becomes a key point in Chars Counterattack, as Char Aznable uses the name, imagery and ideology of the Principality of Zeon, combined with his own immense fame, to gather radicalized and disaffected spacenoids into a Neo-Zeon organization.
  • Detective Conan uses #32 in chapter 685.
  • Shinichi Akiyama from Liar Game loves #21. He often tricks his opponent to being convinced they have already won. So they'll become careless to what he's really planning.

    Bleach 
  • Sousuke Aizen touched upon twenty seven.
    • 1 was ostensibly what Aizen was doing to Soul Society by kidnapping Orihime, claiming that her powers were "interesting" to him to bait them into attacking. Yamamoto didn't fall for it...but Aizen's REAL objective was to goad Ichigo and his True Companions into staging a rescue — and leaving his REAL objective, Karakura Town, undefended — and force Soul Society to divide its forces to help them. Made clearer when Ichigo is revealed to be the only one who can challenge Aizen directly because hasn't seen Aizen's shikai.
    • 2 is also kidnapping Orihime, the least defended of the True Companions, to get at Ichigo.
    • 3 is what he did to the rest of the Gotei during the Soul Society arc (focus the captains on the intruders to distract them and sow dissension).
    • 4 he uses a couple times. Aizen told the Espada to stay in their rooms when Ichigo and company invaded. It may not have been fully successful but it did slow the rescuers down as they had trouble finding Orihime.
      • Besides the top three Espada (and their Fraccion), Aizen also brought Wonderweiss and his pet Fura with him to Karakura Town, sending them out only once the Shinigami were exhausted from the fight with the Espada.
      • By the time Ichigo ends his battle with Ulqiorra and can go to Karakura to help against Aizen directly, he is definitely running low on batteries.
    • 5 is when he takes advantage of the captains — who have only just realized his treachery — all fighting one another to just walk up and yank the Hogyoku out of Rukia.
    • 6 was his strategy during the Soul Society arc, using the intruders to distract Soul Society from his machinations.
    • 7 is the entire basis of his Zanpaktou. Plain old lies and deceptions are also well within his repertoire.
    • 8 is his strategy of attacking Karakura Town before the Hogyoku fully awakens.
    • 9 is his entire strategy with the Arrancar. The only people he showed any concern for were himself, Gin and Tousen and not even those two since he murders both.
    • 10 is Aizen's lifeblood. Everyone loved him and was shocked to hear that he defected. Gin seems to subvert this, as he's always smiling, but he just creeps people out. Of course, this is later double-subverted when it turns out that Gin's knife was for Aizen the whole time.
    • 11 Aizen attempts with Momo. Interesting when you consider the name of her Zanpaktou (based on plum trees) and her given name (based on the peach)...
    • 12, When Ichigo and the other ryoka invade Soul Society, he uses the chaos to speed up his plans. When all Seireitei goes into high alert, he fakes his own death to make everyone even more on edge. Much later, when the Cleaner appears in the Precipice World, he uses it to test his new powers. When he happens across Ichigo's Muggle friends, he takes the opportunity to try and kill them to further piss off and motivate Ichigo. When Gin tries to kill him unexpectedly, he just uses it to power up his One-Winged Angel form.
    • 13 was his verbal attack on the Vizards after the Espada is eliminated, though Shinji warned everyone to stay calm, Hiyori fell for it by losing her temper and charging, and for her troubles got slashed into two by Gin from behind.
    • 14, Oh yeah! Did he EVER! Stealing an obscure MacGuffin from an exiled Shinigami, which was used to save people's lives by integrating them into complete Shinigami/Hollow hybrids when they were infected, lost for 100 years, and hidden in the most unlikely of places, to use to create an army of Arrancar and in his words, "take himself to a higher level".
    • 15 was tried when Aizen attempted to use Wonderweiss to separate Yamamoto from his zanpakutou, seen as the major source of Yamamoto's strength. Failed because Aizen underestimated just how offensively strong Yamamoto was without his zanpakutou. He was able to defeat Yamamoto but not to kill him as he'd intended.
    • 19 was done against Barragan when first recruiting an Arrancar army in Hueco Mundo. Aizen distracted Barragan with talk while bringing him under his shikai's sway, rendering Barragan oblivious to Gin and Tousen taking out his army. When Barragan (as Aizen expected) rejected Aizen and demanded his death, Aizen revealed that Barragan was now a ruler with no subjects, leaving him with no choice but to join Aizen's cause. Barragan never forgave Aizen for this.
    • 20 was the entire basis of the Soul Society arc.
    • 21! It even says in the description that it can mean Faking the Dead.
    • 22, Aizen shut and locked all the passages between Las Noches and the World of the Living, thereby trapping Ichigo, his friends, and four captains away from the main battle.
    • 23 is the basis of his alliance with the Arrancar.
    • 24 because he was mostly just PRETENDING to ally with them.
    • 25 was part of why Aizen could create so much chaos during the Soul Society arc. He secretly wiped out Central 46 and issued completely nonsensical orders in their name, such as giving rank-and-file Rukia a captain's execution for a non-capital offense. He even lampshaded this by taking aside one of the most rebellious vice-captains (Renji) and telling him this had to be a conspiracy and needed to be investigated, thus prompting a rebellion at the highest ranks. Chaos ensued.
    • 28 was attempted and failed. He thought that by fighting in Karakura Town where mortals might be injured he would force the shinigami to hold back. Yamamoto anticipated this, and replaced Karakura Town with a fake.
    • 29 is why he captured Orihime. If the gamble had not worked, she would've been far from useless in the war - she's a valuable resource for extreme healing and resurrection, but Ichigo also brought his entire set of true companions along to save her, which includes at least two people who are captain-class, one of whom is the last of his kind and hence a valuable scientific specimen, and one of whom is a noble, which in turn justified four captains joining the rescue effort, and made the gamble exponentially effective.
      • In the end, the Espada themselves were an example of Aizen's use of this rule. They were deemed such a huge threat that all ten captains were lured out from Soul Society and split between Karakura Town and Hueco Mundo...but Aizen viewed the Espada as fodder. He found their performance lacking and his only use for them had always been to lure out the captains, allowing Aizen himself to defeat them all and kill Yamamoto—although he didn't accomplish the last goal.
    • 34
      • In the Soul Society arc, Aizen faked his own death and framed his confederate, Gin, so that he could continue to work in the shadows.
      • In the Deicide arc, when Gin revealed his true colors, he managed to injure Aizen more than Aizen had planned, but the betrayal had been expected on Aizen's part. It contributed to his power upgrade and allowed him to get the drop on Gin, who had expected the wound to be fatal.
    • 35, never settle for one plan when a multitude will do. When Aizen finally gives up his reliance on his plans and strategies, believing himself to be beyond the need for them, that's when things finally began to unravel for him, leading to...
    • 36, when he was outed as a villain he buggered off to Hueco Mundo because he couldn't at the time risk staying in Soul Society, given his inferiority to Yamamoto. However, he later forgets this lesson in Karakura Town, a decision that ensures he ends up losing. He may have been able to escape Ichigo when he got too powerful, except that his earlier actions had ensured that half of the Gotei was there, including a scientist who used what he found to develop the technology to open Gargantas.
  • Shukuro Tsukishima seems to be a fan of these, as well.
    • 7, The entire basis of his power is to do this with peoples memories, creating bonds with himself that override the bonds that really exist.
    • 11, When Tsukishima realized how close Ichigo and Ginjou were getting, he changed his entire strategy from a long, slow, mysterious approach to a quick shock and awe style strike. Although this completely altered the pattern of his short-term aims, it proved to be incredibly effective for the long-term plan.
    • 29, Another side-effect of his power. Because anything he cuts can be brought under his power, it can be hard to know when something is a simple cut and when it's an activation of his power. He attempted to mess with Byakuya's head in precisely this fashion. By slicing a leaf and drawing attention to it as if it was a meaningful act, he threw off Byakuya's attention from his striking of the ground which was the genuinely important cut for activating his power on the very ground they were fighting on.
    • 33, An incredibly effective example. The agent he planted in the group turned out to be the actual mastermind of the plan, making Tsukishima the "planted agent" (in terms of being a fake exile when really he was never an exile at all).
  • Yhwach, leader of the Vandenreich, is developing a habit for these as well.
    • 4, used twice.
      • In the first attack, instead of allowing the Shinigami captains and lieutenants to hack their way up through the minion ranks, Yhwach sends in the heavy hitters first to pin down and incapacitate as many seated officers as possible. Once they're done, THEN he deploys his ordinary soldiers to mop up the unseated Shinigami.
      • In the second attack, Yhwach once again dispenses with the Sorting Algorithm. He designates Haschwalth (as his strongest and most loyal subordinate) to immediately engage with the priority target, newly-promoted Captain-Commander Shunsui Kyoraku.
    • 5, Yhwach used the moment at the end of the original Quincy war when the vast majority of the Shinigami were still in the World of the Living cleaning up to slip his surviving warriors into (poorly guarded) Seireitei and hide in the shadows undetected.
    • 6, using a duplicate to attract Yamamoto's attention, while he goes after his real goal, conversing with Aizen.
    • 8 was used twice.
      • First, announcing to the Shinigami that the invasion would be in 5 days' time, then commencing less than 24 hours later.
      • Second, getting around the limited time Yhwach can spend outside of the shadow realm by swapping Seireitei INTO the shadows.
    • 9, allowing Yamamoto to release his bankai against a decoy, then swooping in to steal it once he's already worn down from the fight.
    • 12, twice.
      • In the first assault, Yhwach wasn't expecting Ichigo to be able to get to Soul Society in time to help. Once Ichigo was already there and incapacitated, however, Yhwach wanted to take him prisoner and re-educate him into one of his soldiers.
      • Also, while Yhwach's initial plan involved Uryuu dying in The Purge like the rest of the Gemischt Quincies, when he turned out to have a special power that allowed him to survive Yhwach immediately set out to get that power on his side.
    • 13, through the sheer ferocity of his forces' attack. He betrays nothing about his underlying goals, instead simply taking advantage of Soul Society's panic and confusion.
    • 15, Yhwach denies the Shinigami turf advantage in the second assault by replacing the Seireitei with the Vandenreich and merging the Seireitei into his shadow realm. Kyouraku admits that while he assumed the next attack would come very soon and prepared accordingly, he wasn't expecting they'd also have to fight on an unfamiliar battlefield.
    • 16, with the same-day invasion. He let Soul Society think they had time to mobilize and then struck before they had the chance.
    • 17, was done magnificently. By leading his forces personally, he causes Yamamoto to instantly head straight for him, distracting him from helping out his own forces or directing counterattacks.
    • 18, defeating Yamamoto seriously demoralizes the rest of Soul Society.
    • 19, three times.
      • Using their medallions to steal as many Bankai as possible in the first attack, further limiting the number of Shinigami who can deal any real damage to the Stern Ritters.
      • In the first attack, one of the primary targets is the Shinigami research labs, which pose a threat to the Vandenreich because they have the comm-link to Ichigo and might be able to reverse-engineer secret techniques. This overlaps with #28 as well.
      • In the second attack, Yhwach knows that it's only a matter of time before the Shinigami work out a method to recover the stolen bankais. However, until that moment comes he orders the Stern Ritter to use those bankais instead of their own techniques.
    • 20, twice.
      • Massacring Hollows for weeks before declaring war has put the spiritual realms out of balance. When the war declaration comes, the shinigami are in the middle of scrambling to create a counterbalance and arguing about the massacre this will require their side to carry out.
      • Driscoll murders Chojirou as part of the war declaration, so Yamamoto is distracted by mourning his lieutenant and arranging the funeral as he also tries to get the Shinigami mobilized for war.
    • 22, attempted twice.
      • In the first assault, the Vandenreich did their level best to eliminate as many Shinigami as possible, but incapacitated at most 2/3 of the overall ranks and only a couple captains or lieutenants. However, their failure was mostly due to the narrow time limit on the battle, imposed by how long they could remain outside their shadow realm.
      • In the second assault, Haschwalth tells Kyoraku to his face that Yhwach has ordered a complete extermination. And this go-round the battle is taking place IN the shadow realm, so the previous time limit does not apply.
      • Taking a looser interpretation of the trope, Yhwach has certainly demonstrated an intention to make the war as short and decisive as possible.
    • 23, attempted when Yhwach sought Aizen out in solitary confinement to offer him an alliance against Yamamoto. Aizen declined, but Yhwach didn't pass up the opportunity while he had it.
    • 24 seems to have been Ywhach's default strategy for centuries. Since birth Yhwach has been able to grant special powers to others with a touch of his hand. However, those powers shorten the life expectency of the bearer, and return to Yhwach after the bearer's death. Every Quincy's death, whether on or off the battlefield, ultimately strengthens him and extends his lifespan. Hence why Yhwach does not hesitate to expend his troops in battle...or to murder practically all his living descendents.
    • 25, Yhwach does not believe in Honor Before Reason shonen battle tropes like Talking Is a Free Action, and most of the Stern Ritter have learned to adhere to this as well. Those that don't go down fast and messy.
    • 26, appointing Uryuu as his successor prevents him from conspiring against Yhwach by putting him in the spotlight. Even a hint of disloyalty will bring the other Stern Ritter down on him instantly.
    • 27, does this to his own side, by sudden, capricious, and ruthless decisions like murdering underlings for minor offences or replacing his most loyal lieutenant with a brand new recruit. It's harder to the Stern Ritter to plot against him if they have no idea what he's going to do next.
    • 28, Yhwach didn't send Opie into Hueco Mundo to massacre arrancar with the intended purpose of luring Ichigo out of Karakura. But since it happened to do so, Yhwach gave orders for Opie to keep Ichigo trapped in hostile territory for as long as possible.

    Comic Books 
  • These rules formed the basis of a Shi comic series.

    Fan Works 
  • In Emperor, Harry is quite fond of using them, even making references to them.
    • Early in the story, he uses #31 to cause dissension among Dumbledore's people, get Draco Malfoy killed and recruit Neville Longbottom to his cause.
    • In Chapter 13 (fittingly called "The 36 Stratagems"), Harry uses #2, attracting the Chiefs' attention to the frontlines and knocking out their air force with a magical bomb while another army attacks London.
    • Chapter 40 mentions #1, #6 and #15, bringing the German's feared anti-mage unit to a certain point in the front by sending their elite unit to that point, then Harry going there to fight that unit and catching the attention of most of their army, only to then exploit the holes in the German defenses and finally break the stalemate.

    Film 

    Literature 
  • And Then There Were None written by Agatha Christie shows examples of various ones
    • #1 is used by the judge when he claims to be invited like everyone else when in reality he's the mass murderer that ends up killing everyone.
    • #3 is seen when the judge pretty much watches Vera, the tenth Indian, face off Lombard, the 9th one. Vera ends up shooting Lombard through the heart, believing Lombard to be the killer. This strategy is shown again when Vera kills herself in the end while the judge hid in the shadows watching her.
    • #7 The tension between Lombard and Vera stemmed from nothing. The judge was the one behind the scene.
    • #10 is used by the judge against Dr. Armstrong, who he worked with the fake his [the judge's] death. While Dr. A trusted the judge, the judge turned against Dr. A and pushed him off a cliff.
    • #15 can be seen every time the judge separated the next victim from the rest of the crowd.
    • #20 The confusion created from the trapped on isolated island with 7 other people made the victims suspect one another, lowering their ability to think straight.
    • #21 and 34 can be taken quite literally. The judge "died" to avoid further suspicion.
    • #30 although the judge is actually the host, he pretends to be a guest like the others in order to continue with his plans.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms is the Trope Namer for the (Chinese version) of several strategies:
    • #14 was used somewhat literally. The enemy had found out about Zhuge Liang's death and started to attack, but he had a life sized wooden statue made of himself to fool the enemy into thinking he was still alive, which causes them to hesitate enough to allow Shu to retreat and live to fight another day. In Dynasty Warriors, this is sometimes turned into a #21 (pretending to be dead in order to set up an ambush) and sometimes not.
    • #16 is named for Zhuge Liang's campaign against Meng Huo, in which Meng Huo was released after every capture until Meng Huo had a change of heart and totally capitulated.
    • #24 was also after Chi Bi, Zhuge Liang used resources from Wu and the momentum following that battle to help Liu Bei take Jing and Yi prefecture, the former being quite a sore point in Wu. Sun Ce (one of the founding fathers of Wu) himself did this, using troops borrowed from Yuan Shu to carve out his own land, in exchange for the Imperial Seal which his father obtained in a use of rule #5.
    • #28 happened to Zhuge Liang literally - he was talked into visiting one of Liu Bei's relatives on the pretext of reading some valuable ancient scrolls; the relative had his underlings move away the ladder and refused to let Zhuge Liang down until he got the badly needed advice on how to deal with an Wicked Stepmother.
    • #31 is named for the Beauty Trap laid by Wang Yun and his adopted daughter Diao Chan, who seduced both Dong Zhuo and Lu Bu and played them against each other until Lu Bu murdered Dong Zhuo.
    • #32 is named for Zhuge Liang's successful gambit to scare away Wei troops during a general retreat. Specifically, in the novel the Wei troops see no Shu troops, just Zhuge Liang playing an instrument by himself to greet them. This freaks out the enemy commander Sima Yi (who was well aware of Zhuge's reputation) enough to go into full retreat, rather than take the city that had less than a tenth of his own troops defending it.
      • of course, this worked only because Sima Yi had fought many times with Zhuge Liang and had become rather paranoid of the latter's intricate plots. Sima Zhao, Sima Yi's son, immediately saw through the ruse, but was overruled by his father.
    • #34 is named for the bluff Zhou Yu pulls on Cao Cao by pretending to rebuke, and then punish by a public flogging, one of the veteran generals of his own unit.
    • #35 is named for the chain of schemes that lead up to the death of Dong Zhuo; a different chain of schemes is used against CaoCao at the Battle of the Red Bluffs.
  • In Atlas Shrugged, Francisco d'Anconia uses #7 with the San Sebastian copper mines. When the People's State of Mexico expropriates the mines from his company, they discover that there was no actual copper on the site, and all of the facilities were poorly made. This not only leaves Mexico twisting in the wind with nothing to gain, but also leaves the other companies that tried to jump aboard d'Anconia's bandwagon without thinking in dire straits. Exactly as planned.
    • Actually, there WAS copper there, quite a lot of it, in fact. However, the mine was operated by a man deliberately selected for his total incompetence at operating a mine, and so he had done everything wrong. The mine not only did not produce copper, it COULD NOT produce any, and wouldn't be able to for years. This was done because Francisco knew that the Mexican government was going to seize the mine, and wanted to ensure that it couldn't provide support to them once it did.
  • Done many times in A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Tywin Lannister employs #3 and #5 these to bring about the demise of Robb Stark (with the "Borrowed Knives" being Robb's treacherous bannermen, Roose Bolton and Walder Frey).
    • Robb Stark himself manage to pull #15 on the Lannisters by luring Jaime Lannister into attacking prematurely and on Robb's terms, allowing him to take Jaime captive. He latter tries this again, but it doesn't work because Edmure Tully got impatient and decided to engage the enemy before Robb could spring his trap.
      • Robb didn't lure Jaime into attacking, he caught him offguard away from his main army. It's more #6, with the attack on Tywin to keep him distracted.
    • Lord Varys cozies up to Tyrion Lannister in an attempt to recruit Tyrion's help against his rival, Littlefinger (#23). Unfortunately, for Varys, Littlefinger is better at this sort of thing than he is, (see below).
    • Tyrion Lannister cripples Stannis's navy by luring it into sailing into the mouth of Blackwater Rush, only to cut off their escape with a giant chain and light the trapped ships on fire (#28).
    • And, of course, there's Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish, who is the absolute master of this, employing at various times:
      • #3. Uses Olanna Tyrell to assassinate Joffery Lannister.
      • #7. Manages to convince Catelyn Stark to abduct and torture Tyrion Lannister by telling him that Tyrion was behind an attempt on the life of her son, Bran. Not only was he making this up whole cloth, Tyrion was actually one of the few people to display genuine kindness towards Bran. Latter, he convinces Eddard Stark that the Goldcloaks will side with him if he moves against the Lannisters. Eddard does, only to be captured and executed by the Goldcloaks.
      • #9. His entire M.O. is based on provoking his enemies into fighting amongst themselves.
      • #10. He even tells people that they shouldn't trust him. But of course, he's such a likable, charismatic guy that everyone he meets promptly ignores this advice. (Not so much likable as non-threatening)
      • #12. The number of times he's altered his plans to take advantage of some new opportunity are too numerous to count.
      • #20. He thrives off of chaos, and the confusion that it brings. The entire War of Five Kings is an example of this.
      • #23. Forms an alliance with House Tyrell as a part of his plot to bring down his fellow chessmasters Tywin and Tyrion Lannister.
      • #24. Probably what he has in mind for the Tyrells now that he's gotten the Lannisters out of his way.
      • #27. You know that spineless coward who you manipulated into betraying his ally? Turns out he was planning on doing that all along. And now you're his ally.
      • #30. Convinces everyone he meets that he's either their loyal subordinate (Eddard), or at least at the very least that his loyalty can be bought (Tywin). They're dead wrong.
  • Hilari Bell's Farsala Trilogy has examples of:
    • #3. Jiaan asks the swamp bandits and a Kadeshi warlord to help out.
    • #4. Jiaan does this to Patrius in the third book.
    • #9. Various groups plan to wait it out and pick up the pieces, but are drawn into the fight anyway.
    • #10. Kavi and Soraya, with varying degrees of success.
    • #14. The rebellion is rumored to be led by Sorahb, and the main characters use it to their advantage. The rumor becomes real enough that, in the third book, Garren challenges Sorahb to a duel. Fasal accepts the challenge.
    • #15. The Hrum don't fare so well in the swamps or desert.
    • #20. Used to great hilarity when Kavi gives the Hrum camp dysentery via poisoned beer, and uses the resulting pandemonium to steal barrels of Hrum supplies and drive them through the gates of Mazad.
    • #24. Jiaan gets topographical help from the Suud, but does not turn against them afterwards.
    • #28. The Suud and Jiann lure the Hrum into the desert and use false trails to keep them there. If you're not Suud, it's pretty hard to find your way out of the desert.
    • #33. Kavi.
  • #27. King David, while on the run from Saul, pretended to be a madman so the Philistines wouldn't consider him a threat. (1 Samuel 21:13)
  • Harry Potter: Voldemort obviously studied these:
    • He used the Ministry of Magic to pull a huge #3, with a bit of #9 and #20 thrown in for good measure.
    • #17 is most of his gambit in OotP.
    • #18 is his goal all through HBP (by taking out Dumbledore)
    • Dumbledore, on the other hand, favored #27, but also used #33 with Snape.
  • An especially hilarious example of #13 shows up early in Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan, where Rodrigo has Jehane start shouting a wide variety of rather crude and embarrassing things in order to distract Count Nino, prevent him from thinking clearly, and get him to run straight into an ambush.
    • Both the northern Jaddite kingdoms and the Muwardis make full use of #9, waiting until the kingdoms of Al-Rassan have fallen apart before invading.
    • The Muwardis also attempt #3 when they attempt to assassinate the Queen of Valledo to turn the Esperanian kings against each other, but it backfires spectacularly after she survives.
  • It's the policy of the Royal Manticoran Navy from David Weber's Honorverse that whenever possible they go into battle with full stomachs, an example of #4. Since the battles usually occur in space, they usually have time for this.

    Live Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor tricked the Daleks into believing a biscuit was a self-destruct button for the TARDIS (temporarily).
    • The Doctor is especially fond of #27; most of his enemies think he is a mad fool right up until their plans crumble underneath them. Most of his allies too, come to think of it. For his part, the Doctor maintains that he is a mad fool. He just happens to also be incredibly brilliant and dangerous.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Used extensively by both sides in the Dominion War.
    • The Founders used the Klingons for a #3, leading to a #5.
    • #6 was the reason Deep Space Nine was taken over, since the Federation was off destroying an undefended shipyard (this was also a bit of #11.)
    • The Romulans were trying to use #9 until Garak dragged them into the war via #7/ #21.
    • The Dominion did their best early on to pull a #10, which Sisko saw right through.
    • #12 - Sisko stealing the Jem'Hadar attack ship in "The Ship".
    • #19 - Destroying the Dominion's supply of Ketracel White.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Paranoia includes a few of these in the "Tips for Traitors" section:
    • #5 - "...plug him when he is relatively unable to return your fire— when he has his hands full of some other kind of trouble, like attacking hostiles or a malfunctioning weapon or a berserk bot. At the least, his weapon should be still in its holster and his attention elsewhere. Ideally, he should never even know it is you attacking him."
    • #10 - "...licking the metaphorical boots of The Computer is the primary survival skill."
    • #17 - "Always present orders that entail certain death for subordinates in such a way as to suggest that you are graciously offering them an opportunity to distinguish themselves..."
    • #22 - "'I speak without fear of contradiction...' is the opening sentence of the ideal debriefing. You get dinged for being the only one to make it back alive, but this is a minor inconvenience compared to the alternative."

    Video Games 
  • Touhou: Marisa's diary mentions #36 in reference to Reimu's Fantasy Heaven attack.
    • In Touhou Labyrinth, Nitori uses #36, bringing up the strategems while she does so, on floor 7.
  • In the Final Fantasy Tactics games, the "Defeat the Boss" mission objectives could be seen as #18.
  • One of the ways you can play Master of Orion is to Beseige Wei to rescue Zhao. That is to concentrate as much as you can on destroying the computer's planets. The computer is programed to look after its own empire naturally enough but hasn't the flexibility to ignore attacks and finish your planets off so its fleets will turn back. Moreover the AI cannot handle more then about two attacks every few turns whereas a player can usually get off at least one per turn and if he has enough ships, as many as half-a-dozen.
  • #14: In Galactic Civilizations II, a random event from an Unknown Phenomenon involves "adapting" an ancient story to increase your faction's overall happiness/morale.
  • The Europa Universalis III AI is programmed to take full advantage of #5. When a major power, such as France, gets into a war with another major power or coalition, its enemies (those who the Great Power has trampled on its way to Great Power status, plus those who have ambitions of their own that involve trampling on that state) will declare war. Of course, these enemies will themselves look weak to their enemies, who will themselves employ this stratagem. A Gambit Pileup is certain to ensue. (This is Truth in Television; see the Thirty Years' War and World War One.)
    • A variation on #4 and #28: If you break an enemy army and have your own forces in the province the enemy is retreating to, they will rout almost immediately, resulting in #22.
    • #30 is used in alliance mechanics. If you answer a call to arms when you have superior power to the alliance leader, you can become the alliance leader.
  • #9 is nearly universal in 4X games, especially those with a Tech Tree. War leads to expenditure of resources, while peace allows you to build up more; often, the winning power in the endgame is that guy over in the corner who let everyone else fight it out while they climbed to preeminence.
    • #3, #5, #23, and #24 are also quite frequent, especially as a means of facilitating #9. Savvy players will often exploit diplomacy / alliance systems to ensure the other factions are all concentrating on each other, only intervening directly when there's a clear advantage to be gained from taking something from a weakened enemy.
    • #25, is almost just as universal, as most of these games have some means of researching up a Tech Tree or different Technology Levels which allows players to "change the rules" by unveiling either new weapons or more efficient ways to produce those weapons.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Teyrn Loghain uses #3 by leaving King Cailan to die at the hands of the darkspawn, which he believes is for the good of Ferelden. The ensuing civil war gives the Archdemon the perfect opportunity to take advantage of #5.
  • In the Mass Effect series, the Reapers are masters of the art of war and use several stratagems repeatedly:
    • Indoctrination in general is basically stratagem #3 in weapon form.
      • In the previous cycle, they used it against the Zha'Til to attack the Protheans, and then when that wasn't enough, they indoctrinate some of the Protheans to pursue the goal of controlling the Reapers which divides the enemy's forces and creates enough snitches to destroy the enemies from within.
      • In our cycle (but before humanity joined the council), they indoctrinate the Rachni to attack the Citadel Council races.
      • Later, they convince the Geth heretics to attack the Citadel Council races again. Though it's not clear whether the heretics were indoctrinated or joined willingly the virus in Legion's loyalty mission was definitely made with Reaper assistance, and would have converted all the Geth to follow the Reapers if Shepard didn't stop it.
      • Then they command the Collectors to attack Humanity.
      • Then, they attempt to indoctrinate The Hero and drag him/her over to their way of thinking.
      • Then they repeat what they did with the Protheans by indoctrinating The Illusive Man and his Dragon Kai Leng so that they pursue the goal of controlling the Reapers, dividing the anti-Reaper forces, and driving them into an Enemy Civil War.
    • #10: The Reapers promise their enemies salvation and a much better future by claiming to ascend them to perfection, a new level of existence while their enemies don't realize this would result in total destruction.
    • #13: The Hero gets taunted repeatedly by the Big Bad on several occassions. S/he is being told that s/he cannot win and will be spared if s/he'd give up fighting.
    • #15: In the finale of the second game, The Hero and their squad must go without army support to an unknown dangerous place to fight the enemy.
    • #22: In the third game, the Big Bad attacks his biggest threat - humanity - as early as possible and with all its might to enforce a quick and total conclusion.
    • #33: The Big Bad indoctrinates the top agent of the Citadel races and uses him for their own goals.
    • #34: A soldier who sells out the The Hero to the Big Bad shoots himself to appear unsuspicuous to The Hero and cover up his betrayal.
  • As with any strategy game, Crusader Kings and its sequel allow the player to be successful by employing many of the stratagems correctly, but a few seem to be particularly encouraged by the game mechanics (especially in the second game):
    • #3: Spymasters can be sent into enemy territory to damage relations between a lord and his vassal, which may end up causing the latter to revolt.
    • #5 and #9: There are two tiers of claims on another lord's titles: Strong claims and weak claims. Weak claims can only be pressed under certain circumstances, most notably if another party is already in a claim war with the title holder.
    • #14: Controlling the right holdings may allow the player to re-create lapsed higher-tier titles that give automatic claims to the rest of the holdings within that title's de jure territory.
    • #18: Capturing the leader of the opposing alliance during battle immediately maxes out your war score, allowing you to instantly force them to submit and grant you whatever it was you were fighting for.
    • #19: Certain types of conflicts (such as succession disputes and adventurer invasions) will automatically end if you kill the relevant leader or claim holder, meaning a discreet assassination can save years of warfare — especially if you'd otherwise lose the war by facing them on the battlefield.
    • #30: Sometimes, it's more prudent to swear fealty to a powerful lord than to confront them directly, as doing so allows you to join factions to subvert (and possibly replace) them while enjoying the benefit of the protection they provide from outside threats as part of their realm.
    • #36: If the tide of a war changes (eg. your enemy gains a new, powerful ally, or you are invaded by someone else), it may be more prudent to swallow your pride and use your initial gains to make a white peace now instead of suffering a defeat later.

    Web Original 
  • Seeing as Grandmaster of Theft is a Battle of Wits between various players, these tend to show up all the time.
    • #1 is done by Deus, who challenges Cassidy to see who could steal a McGuffin first only to reveal he was never after it & needed Cassidy to compete against him for sake of weakening third party. Also done by Cassidy via a Xanatos Gambit, creating a fake counter attack plan to flush out one of Deus' allies for the inevitable counter.
    • #2 used by Cassidy, who avoids fighting Narcissa & Sharpe Security directly and instead exploits Narcissa's Attention Whore attitude to set her up for caper and Break the Haughty moment.
    • #3 pulled off by Deus in general to avoid ever getting hands dirty., getting Cassidy to harm Narcissa for him.
    • #4 attempted by Deus. After baiting her into his field of advantage, he ensured they had to waste time rushing to the scene & progressively exhaust selves more. Cass saw though this though and used time to reserve her energy & plan.
    • #5 was used by Deus to kidnap Narcissa, striking right after she was overwhelmed from Cassidy's caper that she'd be too weakened to resist.
    • #6 done with regards to Cass' caper & Deus' actions. Took advantage of the focus on her caper to perform his own with far less guarded area.
    • #7 was told by Deus to Narcissa to do, planting a fake copy of Undine's Tear during first showdown
    • #9 See #5 as to how.
    • #10 done by Cassidy, acting as an ally against own Phantom Thief persona to move in close while manipulating her progressively into position she needed her.
    • #11 Cassidy abandoning Narcissa while kidnapped, realizing if she kept fighting to save one person would bring about her defeat and screw up her overarching plan was this.
    • #14, Cassidy uses of the fake Undine's Tear allowed this twice: First to create illusion she stole real target without moving, second to bribe enemies into giving up without giving away the real gem.
    • #15, Cass' reason for party was this, to move Undine's Tear into less secure location.
    • #17, Cass manipulates Narcissa into betting a large sum of money on outcome of theft by assuring her she'll win & trick into seeing it as way to make more money off of others.
    • #18, How Cassidy completes her Impossible Theft. By creating tons of confusion by making it rain Narcissa's money, nobody notices her accomplice snatch it away the real Undine's Tear.
    • #19, One of Deus favorites, especially given fact lies a lot.
    • #27, MAYBE done by Deus, in regards to silly personality. Not yet known for sure.
    • #28 pulled by Deus kidnapping Narcissa, announcing as such to Cassidy, and offering her chance to rescue her by arriving to the boat he prepared in advance.
    • #30, Cassidy's method of gaining control over operation against the Grandmaster
    • #32, part of how Cass defeats a group when they are outnumbered, using her reputation as trickster and offer to buy them out as a carrot & stick method.
    • #36, Cassidy's decision when she realizes she's been completely outmatched by Deus during boat battle & any further fighting would lead to her downfall.

    Web Comics 
  • Lord Shojo from The Order of the Stick is a master of #27, but also uses #21 ( creating a fake trial to distract the paladins), #23 (befriending the Order in order to act behind the back of the paladins), and #30 (acting at Eugene's behest until it no longer served him to do so).
    • In a sense, it can be said that the Order of the Stick themselves are masters of #36, often running away from threats they are clearly not equipped for. This was played straight in the siege of Azure City, but was often played for laughs in earlier strips.
    Haley: "Plan B. RUN!"
    Belkar: "Really? That always struck me as being our Plan A."
    • Tarquin probably has the whole list of 36 painted on the walls of his room.
  • An attempt at inverting #35 comes from 8-Bit Theater.
    Red Mage: "Most plans are critically flawed by their own logic. A failure at any step will ruin everything after it. That's just basic cause and effect. It's easy for a good plan to fall apart. Therefore, a plan that has no attachment to logic cannot be stopped. The success or failure of any given step will have no impact on the macro level."

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Iroh pulls off #27 when imprisoned by the Fire Nation, scrabbling around on all fours and eating like a dog when the guards are around, working out like a boss when they're not. The results are impressive, and he eventually escapes the prison when neither he nor the gaurds have access to their firebending powers, kicking their asses so thoroughly they call him a One-Man Army.

    Real Life 
  • Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, founder of Saudi Arabia once employed strategem #2. He dodged behind an Al-Rashid army and began attacking the herds of all the tribes loyal to the Rashids. Being Bedouin they quite sensibly didn't give a hoot about who was to be Sultan and cared quite a bit about their families and their camels. So the Al-Rashid army simply scattered and the close of the campaigning season left the Sauds the victors and Ibn Saud well on his way to becoming a Bedouin Magnificent Bastard.
  • Stratagem #6 was employed during World War II, as Operation Mincemeat: Germany was fed false informationnote  that the Allied invasion of mainland Europe from across the Mediterranean would target Greece and the Southern Balkan, where the actual plan involved Sicily. German High Command diverted several army divisions from Italy to the Balkan, and even several weeks after the invasion of Sicily, Adolf Hitler was convinced it was a decoy.
    • The strategem was repeated during Operation Overlord - the Allies were able to convince Hitler that the Normandy landings were a diversion and that there would be an even bigger landing at the Pas de Calais, thus delaying the deployment of armored reserves and allowing the Allies to secure a beachhead in France. (Charles de Gaulle, being Charles de Gaulle, spilled the beans, but fortunately the Germans weren't listening).
    • The British in general were fond of Stratagem #33, what with the legendary Double-Cross System.

Sleeping DummyThe Oldest Tricks In The BookTricking the Shapeshifter
Talk to the FistTrying to Catch Me Fighting DirtyThrowing the Distraction
Thanatos GambitThe PlanTrojan Prisoner
Straw CivilianMilitary and Warfare TropesThis Is Not a Drill
The Art of WarOlder Than FeudalismAbdicate the Throne
The Rest of the Nuclear ClubUseful NotesWhen You Need Something Dead

alternative title(s): The Thirty Six Stratagems
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