In Andre Norton's Victory on Janus, THAT WHICH ABIDES executes a Xanatos Gambit to weaken its age-old enemies, the Iftin, by deploying android duplicates of specific Iftin and human individuals in staged "attacks" outside human settlements. If a staged attack succeeds in persuading a human settlement to open its gates to let in a "human fugitive" pursued by "Iftin", the settlement can be wiped out, thus depriving the real Iftin of potential recruits and allies; if the tactic fails, the Iftin are made to look like monsters, and the humans are likely to wipe them out.
In the fourth book A Feast for Crows, Cersei Lannister sends Loras Tyrell to go take Dragonstone from the rebels. Since the Tyrells are Cersei's political rivals, she wins whether Loras succeeds or fails. (Or so she thinks.) If Loras dies in the process, that's even better. Ultimately, it doesn't quite work. Loras Tyrell does successfully take Dragonstone (and according to reports is horribly injured in the process), but since he led the assault its ultimately seen as a Tyrell victory strengthening them more than her.
In the same series, Littlefinger helped manufacture the political crisis that led to the War of Five Kings in such a way that the majority of the possible outcomes would have benefited him and none would have been likely to cost him anything personally.
The UnseenEvil Overlord Arawn of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles pulls at least one of these (and probably more than that) near the end of the series when he sends King Pryderi, his war leader, to dispatch Dallben, the greatest enchanter in Prydain. Arawn likely knew that Pryderi harbored traitorous intent towards him, and therefore manipulated the situation to his favor; If Pryderi succeeded, Arawn was rid of Dallben, and if he failed, he was rid of a future rival. Arawn won either way.
In Life, the Universe and Everything, Hactar either counts on, or at least anticipates, the failure of his original plan to manipulate the people of Krikkit into detonating the supernova bomb and destroying the universe. While describing his brilliant evil plan to Trillian and Arthur, he completes a gradual replacement of Arthur's belongings that's been happening throughout the book by planting a second, disguised bomb on him, then manipulates the situation further so that, after they've destroyed him, the heroes proceed to go back in time several days, putting Arthur in a position where he'll trigger the bomb by accident, not only destroying the universe but erasing their original victory. Hactar even gloats for a split second when Trillian asks him how he feels about having failed with Krikkit by whispering "have I failed?", which goes unnoticed until later. The universe ends up being saved only by the craziest of blind luck: Hactar hadn't foreseen Arthur learning how to fly, which turns out to be the one monkey wrench that breaks an otherwise unstoppable chain of events.
The radio series adaption adds a small change: Rather than Arthur's ability to fly, it's his inability to play cricket well that costs Hactar his victory.
In The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold, the main antagonist, Commander Cavilo, defines this trope with "Don't choose a path that leads to victory, choose so that all paths lead to victory". She ruins it by trying to double-cross everybody, including all four sides of what was previously a promising Mexican Standoff, then ends up being Out-Gambitted by Gregor Vorbarra. The Emperor of Barrayar was well-taught in chess.
In Siege of Darkness, Lolth orders an attack on Mithral Hall because Menzoberranzan having to control such a remote territory will result in a lot of chaos in the city - and this is what she wants. When the attack fails, she seems to be even happier, because with all the losses and failures, there will be even more chaos.
Several gambits are pulled off in the literature surrounding Warhammer 40,000. In the Eisenhorn trilogy, the lead character is given a covert message from what appears to be one of his closest allies. He then goes off to meet said ally only to be confronted by a minor villainess who appears to have him utterly cornered by a group of well armed mooks. Eisenhorn then manages to get the information he required from the villainess, only to reveal that he knew it was a trap all along and is physically controlling a dead body remotely. He then wipes out the entire group in a massive psychic explosion. The villainess had lost the moment she stepped into that meeting, giving up the information just made the victory sweeter. By now, Eisenhorn has sauntered into the Magnificent Bastard Camp.
Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Sabbat Martyr. Saint Sabbat reincarnates on the otherwise unremarkable planet Herodor. If Chaos forces are diverted to attack the planet and kill her, it takes pressure off the overstretched main forces of the Imperial Crusade. If they do not, the Imperials still get a large, possibly table-turning morale boost from her presence. Either way, the good guys benefit. In fact there are two layers to this, since the big obvious 'reincarnation' is a decoy that she can body-hop to if the real one is destroyed. Whether her enemies figure it out or not, she's coming for them at full power.
In the Michael Crichton book Prey, the hero puts a virus in the fire sprinkler system, which will kill the villains when activated. The villains respond by deactivating the safety systems, so the sprinklers won't go off. Turns out that's exactly what the hero was counting on — turning off the safety systems never ends well.
The reverse is true in William Marshall's Sci Fi. A trap is due to be set off by the sprinkler system therefore the villain starts a fire.
The terrorist plan in Frederick Forsyth's The Afghan. A seemingly straightforward attempt to use a fuel tanker to kill the G8 delegation is stopped — but the idea was to form a fuel-air mixture and detonate that when the ship bearing the G8 delegation passes by. Either way, the terrorists nearly manage to get their hit off.
In Motherland the ghost has been running one of these since before his death. Bringing the characters together and using them to seek out the things he needs to escape the town.
In the ninth book, White Night, Lara Raith, acting leader of the White Court of Vampires, pulls one of these. Essentially, she comes up with a plan to wipe out the White Council of Wizards and usher in a new age in which vampires would rule supreme. She then leaks this plan to the heads of Houses Malvora and Skavis, who proceed to put it into action, only to be foiled by series' titular wizard. However, Lara later admits to Harry that she intended all along for him to defeat Malvora and Skavis, as doing so removed her greatest potential rivals and cemented her hold over the White Court.
That could be seen as payback for how Harry played Lara in Blood Rites. He (along with Murphy and Thomas) had been captured by Lara's father, tried to fight their way out, and were finally overcome by him. Harry then got Papa Raith to monologue about how he cared nothing for his children and to reveal that he'd been cursed to be unable to feed and so was losing strength...because Harry knew that Lara was in the cave, listening. Harry saw two outcomes: One Lara's father defeats her but the fight allows him to escape, or two, Lara defeats her father, which also allows for their escape. It also puts Harry's client in the book out of danger in one fell swoop. Lara congratulates him on his manipulations, which means something from someone who's part of a species of chessmasters.
Nicodemus of is also good at this. In Small Favor, he kidnaps Marcone, ostensibly to gain control of his criminal empire. Harry plays by the rules, treats it as a conflict between two recognized members of the supernatural community and brings in the Archive to act as arbitrator, but that's what Nicodemus wanted all along so he could both capture her incredibly vast power and discredit Harry to his allies because he got Ivy into that mess. Harry offers Nicodemus custody of Fidelacchius in exchange for both of them, but when they are to make the exchange, Nicodemus shows Harry that he has been having them tortured to set off Harry's Berserk Button so he would use Fidelacchius in anger, negating its holy powers enough for Nick to destroy it. Harry sees through it only because he's made that mistake once before. After the successful rescue, Nicodemus consoles himself that his minions who did most of the work were incompetents and/or suspected traitors anyway, so he doesn't mind that some of them were killed in the fight or that Ivy now bears a grudge against them personally. ... Pity he made two mistakes. 1. His 'no-save' mind control on Harry is no longer valid, and 2. Harry knows how to kill him. Nicodemus is still alive, but it was a close thing.
Harry even mentions that, if Nicodemus is really on the ball, he'll be able to kill both of the remaining Knights of the Cross and take their Swords (thus removing a major source of good from the world and preventing any successors from showing up to challenge him) as well as Harry himself, AND regain possession of the denarii that the good guys have captured. Harry knows that Nicodemus is going to use the exchange as a trap, and Nicodemus knows that Harry will be prepared for one, but the potential benefits are so huge that he just HAS to give it a shot. Especially since Nicodemus thinks that Harry is being influenced by a Fallen himself...
And in the following book, Turn Coat, Harry pulls one himself. He invites the White Court vampires and the White Council of wizards to an island, each for different reasons. He knows that a third, mysterious group will also attack, but he's set things up beforehand so that the Council and the White Court can put aside their antagonism just long enough to gang up on the third. Even working together they might have been beaten by the third if not for Harry's newfound spirit friend. The third faction's mole on the White Council escapes, but Harry later reveals that he had hired a private investigator to take pictures of everyone on the way to the meeting, identifying The Mole for the first time. Then Harry realizes his target had an alternative way off of the island, rendering his plan a Gambit Roulette where he simply got lucky the person took the path he had under surveillance. Injun Joe assures Harry that, by enacting his plan, he made his own luck.
In Skin Game, the whole heist is a Xanatos Gambit on Mab's part. No matter what happens, she wins. Either her debt to Nicodemus is paid off, Nick betrays her and ruins his reputation in the supernatural world and she possibly loses her more or less rebellious Winter Knight but gets White Court vengeful knight Thomas instead, or Nick is actually killed. Either way, morale of the story: don't piss off Mab.
Firstly, he uses the communication crystal, that he normally uses to co-ordinate operations with the various servants he planted in the palace, to taunt, distract and goad new king Lief into destroying it.
The crystal is rigged to spit out the plot of the Four Sisters, essentially the reasons why the people seem to be starving. Knowing that the king would set off to destroy them, the Shadow Lord also planted a map to the first Sister, underneath the crystal, and maps to the next Sisters, near the previous Sister.
On the off-chance that all the Sisters would be destroyed (nearly impossible since they're apparently only vulnerable to fire from the [now-extinct] dragons), a giant near-indestructible blob of evil goo, placed in the dead center of Deltora, was set to awaken and start to expand and devour everything.
Therefore, if the Sisters were destroyed, the blob would eat everything in sight and the land would belong to the Shadow Lord, on account of the fact that nothing else could live there. If the Sisters were not destroyed, then everyone would starve to death and the Shadow Lord could just march in and take over. Either way, he wins.
Of course, he still doesn't win. All seven dragons working together are able to destroy the goo. The Shadow Lord was probably banking on Lief being unable to get the notoriously territorial dragons to cooperate. As mentioned above, they were supposed to be extinct.
It's no wonder the Arc Words of the series are "The Shadow Lord has many plans".
Sauron pulls one of these against Ar-Pharazôn of Númenor in The Silmarillion. By goading Pharazôn into assembling the largest army in history and setting out to make war on the Valar, he sets up his defeat nicely by pitting him against opponents far beyond his league. In the unlikely event that Pharazôn actually wins, Sauron's still ahead, as the Valar are his enemies as well. Overall, things go very smoothly (sure, Sauron loses his physical body when Ilúvatar destroys not just the fleet, but the entire island of Númenor, but it was just an avatar, so Sauron's spirit survives and most of the Númenóreans die). Pity for him that not all the Númenóreans were dead...
Voldemort's plan. If Malfoy succeeds in killing Dumbledore, then Dumbledore is dead. However, if he dies in the attempt, as Voldemort expected him to, then Lucius Malfoy is punished for his failure in the Department of Mysteries, Snape (or one of the other Death Eaters there to witness it) kills Dumbledore, and Dumbledore is dead anyway, meaning a massive blow to La Résistance. However, Voldemort didn't know that Dumbledore arranged his own death with Snape as part of a counter plan to kill Voldemort.
A lesser version: During Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore shows Harry a memory of his with Voldemort trying to get a job at Hogwarts in the past. They ultimately draw the conclusion that Voldemort had used his time in the castle to try and get hold of an item owned by a Hogwarts Founder for use as a Soul Jar. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry realizes they had it backwards, and Voldemort had used his time in the castle to hide one of his Soul Jars. Harry reasons that Voldemort had still honestly wanted the job. Getting hired would've left Voldemort in a position of influence and potentially let him get the item he sought later. However, not getting hired was by no means a setback since it still allowed him to do what he planned on in the first place.
H. Beam Piper uses this in "Ministry of Disturbance". The emperor notes a couple of times that when you have a few problems, you're in trouble, but when you have a lot of problems, they end up solving each other.
The Thrawn Trilogy: Grand Admiral Thrawn generally relies on the Batman Gambit, and is a master of it, but uses this one once by launching a staggered attack against many New Republic worlds—if they fail to send backup to the places he attacks, he captures planets without a fight; if they do send backup, they leave his true target undefended. A similar strategy is stated in Isard's Revenge, though this time it's a New Republic fleet forcing tough decisions on a splinter of the Empire.
In Mercy Kill, the director of Galactic Alliance Intelligence sends "Face" Loran of the Wraiths after General Thaal, a suspected member of the recently-revealed Leicersen Conspiracy, which he is a part of. He hopes that Face will fail to find any evidence, which is good. If Face finds anything, though, he can cut Thaal out of the loop using their prearranged contingency plan, where Thaal takes on a detailed false identity—assuming he isn't killed in the process. In either of the latter cases, the director "proves" his loyalty with the extreme methods he used to out Thaal. The only way he can lose is if Face suspects the director, takes steps to avoid the director ratting him out to Thaal, and avoids their last-ditch plan to shoot him and leave.
In The Art of War, Sun Tzu advises that if your enemy is attacking one of your areas, you should respond by attacking his weakest ally. Your enemy will thus be forced to lift his siege and come to his ally's aid. Oh sure, he could ignore the plea for assistance and keep up the attack, but then all his allies will desert him.
In The Merchant Princes by Charles Stross, the hidden enemies in the first book set assassins against both Miriam and Olga (and a hired rapist at the latter) with the intention of destroying The Clan by restarting a civil war. If Miriam is killed and her death can be blamed on one half of the Clan for inheritance-related reasons, that starts up the civil war. If Olga (Miriam's boyfriend's fiancee) is killed or raped (and forced tomarry her rapist), and it looks like Miriam arranged it to get her out of the way so she could marry Roland, the war starts up again for a different reason. For bonus Xanatos points, the rapist was given evidence that implicated Miriam to Olga, and Olga's an Action Girl who didn't take that well; she would have killed Miriam if Miriam hadn't been convincingly and completely befuddled about the whole situation.
Lord Vetinari pulls one in Guards! Guards!, when being overthrown and imprisoned does not, as Sam Vimes begins to realise, prevent him from still being in control thanks to his well-laid plans.
"He [Vimes] wondered what it was like in the Patrician's mind. All cold and shiny, he thought, all blued steel and icicles and little wheels clicking along like a huge clock. The kind of mind that would carefully consider its own downfall and turn it to advantage."
Granny Weatherwax pulls one in Wintersmith when one of the old witches die and there's an opening for her old cottage. She backs the trainee witch Tiffany Aching, who is for all purposes her own student, for the cottage and ends up turning it into a choice between Tiffany or another trainee called Annagramma (who is a student of a rival witch with an alternate view on witchcraft). If Tiffany gets the position, she will do a good job and will showcase to all the witches how well Granny's methods work. If Annagramma gets the position she will fail and will make Tiffany help her, showing the other witches that Annagramma's methods don't work and how well Granny's methods work by helping her back on her feet. Tiffany sees through the first half of Granny's plan, to get Annagramma the cottage so that everybody can see her, and her mentor's, methods fail, and so Tiffany organizes a campaign to assist Annagramma, so that she at least doesn't fail. Then at the end Tiffany realizes the full plan; get Annagramma the cottage, because the responsibility will do her good, let the trainee witches assist Annagramma, because she could do with humility and sense, and then let it be known that Annagramma's teacher is no good, Granny's the best, and Annagramma's on her way to being a competent witch. The only one who suffers anything is Annagramma's mentor, everybody else gains.
Then there's her plan in the short story The Sea and Little Fishes. Granny keeps on winning the Witch Trial festival year after year because she's the best. The new head for the Trials' planning committee (who later becomes Annagramma's teacher) thinks this is unfair and asks Granny to step down and just help the festival without competing. Granny... Does exactly that and is nice about it, which drives all the other witches insane thinking about what horrible vengeance she's planning behind her Obfuscating Niceness. If the witches hadn't all gone paranoid about it it would have led to a fine Witch Trial, shown that Granny could be humble, and shown that the committee head was slightly petty. But, as everyone 'sees through it', it ends up completely wrecking everyone else's day, especially the committee head's, and underlining that Granny is able to out-fox the entire rest of the witching community (including Nanny Ogg) without even trying.
In Percy Jackson and the Olympians Book 2: The Sea of Monsters, Luke reveals near the end that he planned to let the good guys have the golden fleece in the end, anyway. At the end of the book, the tree is healed, the camp is saved, and Thalia lives again, giving Kronos a second chance to convert a child of Zeus, Hades, or Poseidon to his cause. "It's just business, Jack."
Caesar pulls an impressive gambit in Area 7. He has the president trapped in a secret base and put a satellite uplink connected to his heart so that half of America will be blown up if he dies. If the president escapes, then the bombs are on a timer that can only be reset from inside the base so he still wins. If the president's bodyguard somehow kills his entire personal army, then he has another uplink connected to his own heart and can set the bombs off anyway.
Caesar: "Cross my heart and hope to die"
The short story "The Lions in the Desert" by David Langford revolves around a gambit started by the long dead Jasper Trent who once caught a glimpse of a shapeshifter and wanted to expose their existence to the rest of the world. Jasper set up a foundation that would set elaborate traps disguised as mythical treasures. The narrator/protagonist, who is indeed one of the shapeshifters, is about to escape from the trap using his powers to avoid being examined when he realizes that his escape would also expose the existence of his kind — the traps are designed in such a way that only a shapeshifter like the one Jasper saw would be able to escape without leaving any trace of evidence. He solves this problem by murdering his best friend and leaving his crushed body in the trap.
In Matched by Ally Condie, Cassia's seeing Ky on the Matching screen is revealed to be an experiment to prove that Matching indeed makes people fall in love, since without it she would never have known Ky. If she had picked her actual match, Xander, then they would have known that she was willing to obey what was expected of her. Either way, the Society would get what they wanted.
This is Ardneh's modus operandi throughout The Empire of the East trilogy by Fred Saberhagen. First he manipulates Ekuman into seizing the Elephant so that Rolf can drown him with a fire extinguisher in accordance with prophecy, but if Ekuman hadn't seized the Elephant, well, the free folk would have had an invincible super-weapon. Then he manipulates the demon Zapranoth to bringing his life force to Som's fortress so he can guard it and keep it safe, but that's exactly how Ardneh plans to destroy it. But if Zapranoth had just left it where it was, unguarded, Ardneh could have destroyed it there. Then he gains a massive amount of power, the culmination of a plot that had been in motion since the very beginning of the story, to trick Wood and John Ominor, the rulers of The Empire into releasing the demon-king Orcus, the only entity powerful enough to stop Ardneh now. This is exactly how Ardneh destroys the entire Empire in a single stroke. If they had not released Orcus, Ardneh would have crushed them with his overwhelming power. Ardneh always wins.
In Beowulf's Children by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes, Aaron Tragon's theft of the transport ship Robo was a Xanatos Gambit. Aaron Tragon's primary goal is to force everyone to leave the island and colonize the mainland. If the theft was successful, good. If one of the adults died in the conflict, then it's hardball and Aaron gets a war — also good. If one of Aaron's friends is killed, then he gets sympathy from the other colonists and he has the leverage he needs to start colonizing the mainland — very good. The third outcome is what happens. Justin is horrified when he realizes this, because it meant Aaron took into account the possibility of a friend being killed and that he already planned how to take advantage of it. Even his "friends" are just pawns in Aaron's mind.
In The Wise Man's Fear, the Maer of Alveron pulls this on Kvothe by sending him on a journey to take out some bandits. Kvothe realises that if he suceeds, the Maer's lands are safe, but if Kvothe fails, he would need to return to the Maer in shame, weakening his position in the court and reducing the obligation that the Maer had on helping Kvothe. Either way, the Maer wins.
In Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, an anarchist bomb-maker boasts that he will sell explosives to anyone who wants them, and he wears a vest of explosives everywhere he goes as protection. If the police ignore him, he can keep supplying bombs to terrorists. If they try to arrest him, he'll blow up himself and at least one cop and gain huge publicity. If they shoot him from a distance, the police will have compromised their principles by killing him without trial, and he'll have proven that the law doesn't work.
Artemis Fowl in the first book. An instance where Xanatos Speed Chess leads to a Xanatos Gambit. After abducting Holly he notices she has a tracker on her wrist so he does some quick soldering and gluing to place a small camera inside. His plan is to use the camera to lead any pursuers in the opposite direction and communicate with them without showing himself. If it works then great, but if it doesn't, it's still off Holly and all he loses is 'an advantage he never expected to have in the first place'.
Terok Nor and Dukat's plans to annex Bajor. Manipulating the Bajorans into accepting closer ties with the Cardassians (achieved through whipping them into a paranoia about the Tzenkethi) is a sort of Xanatos Gambit, in that his "winning" does not truly depend on its success - and this because Bajor is weakened either way. He fakes Tzenkethi attacks and manipulates communications to construct false accounts of Bajoran/Cardassian/Tzenkethi encounters in space. Finally, he hijacks a Tzenkethi marauder, using it to bomb Bajor before the Cardassian fleet "heroically" responds. The Bajorans end up rushing gratefully into the arms of their Cardassian "saviours". Even if the plan "failed" (and the Cardassians' duplicity revealed), Bajor would still have been crippled and vulnerable; the Cardassians were in a position to take over no matter what. The success of Dukat's Tzenkethi scheme only makes his ultimate plans unfold with less resistance, and with less Cardassian bloodshed. Indeed, even as the plan unfolds masterfully, Dukat reflects that Bajor was an easy target for outside forces.
The Immortals has a kind of layered one in Emperor Mage. Early in the book, a stormwing gives Emperor Ozorne a steel feather and says that if he's ever in peril he could cut himself with it and "rise from your enemies as if winged with steel, and escape beyond the Black God's reach for all time." In context this suggests this will turn him into a stormwing. Later Ozorne has been cornered and injured by The Heroine, who has set zombie dinosaurs rampaging through the palace, but has him more scared by hyenas, since it was prophesied that they would end his reign. He's offered the chance to surrender and abdicate, when he refuses he's told the hyenas will kill him. So he takes a third option and uses the feather - turning him into a stormwing and thus falling under ''their jursidiction'', and reducing him to the kind of creature he kept in cages. Unfortunately he does still escape to cause trouble, but he is then out of the picture as the Emperor Mage.
Joren of Stone Mountain comes up with one to get Keladry out of knighthood training in Protector of the Small. He has Lalasa kidnapped on the day of the page examinations, which forces Keladry to either get the palace guard to deal with it (declaring to the world that she can't protect her own servant) or rescuing her and missing the exams, which would require her to repeat all four years and (he assumes) making her quit rather than do so. He doesn't realize what a Determinator Kel is, though—she probably would go all four years again, and in any case the exam board waives the punishment because of the obvious extortion.
Not uncommon in Dune. To take one example, in Dune Messiah the Tleilaxu create a ghola of Paul Atreides' deceased friend Duncan Idaho, named Hayt. A ghola is essentially a clone made from reanimated dead flesh, but lacking any memories of the original—something which prevents the Tleilaxu from using gholas to create functional immortality. As part of a plot with the Bene Gesserit and the Spacing Guild, Hayt is told to kill Paul. Either he will do it and fulfil the plot, or forcing him to go against the loyalties of his former life will cause a shock that will restore the former memories, solving the immortality problem for the Tleilaxu. The second option is what occurs, allowing the ghola resurrection trick to be used constantly over the rest of the Dune series.
Jeeves rarely organizes a Zany Scheme without taking measures to ensure that there's something in it for him, even if the scheme falls through.
In Michael Flynn's In the Lion's Mouth, a discussion about retrieving Donovan hits on if the agent doesn't bring him back, does bring him, or does not return herself — each one will solve a problem.
In the historical novel Wings of Dawn: Half of the gambits executed by both conspiracies are to figure out just whose side Thomas is on - i.e. "If he's against us, he'll do this and we can get rid of him, but if he's a free agent he'll do this and we can either convince him to join us or use him to lead us to the cache of books."
Galbatorix uses this to great effect. He makes a secret deal with the Urgals (who are responsible for the death of his dragon), and sends them to attack the Varden. Either outcome suits his interests. Either the Urgals wipe out the Varden, and thus, the Urgals are weakened, or the Varden wipes out the Urgals, and thus, the Varden are weakened. In both cases, this allows him to step in and finish the job after the massive fight between the two. The only thing he didn't count on was the possibility of his lieutenant Durza, who was in command of the Urgals, being killed. When it happened, the Urgals turned tail and fled, leaving the Varden weakened, but still in fighting shape, and the Urgals desperate enough to make an alliance with the Varden, which later turned out badly for Galbatorix.
The tactic of extending your mind equally and touching other peoples' minds. Normal people cannot sense the touch of a magician in most cases, and thus you will have free access to their thoughts, allowing you to sense malicious intent freely. However, a magician can sense your touch, and will likely shield his mind from your touch. Either you will sense the malicious intent among the normal people, and/or the magician(s) will shield their minds from you, allowing you to follow those minds and eliminate them physically. The only danger lies with one of the targeted magicians being stronger than you mentally and forcing his way into your mind at your touch.
In one of Brian Jacques' Redwall books a fierce but unintelligent bird guards a river and doesn't let any boats pass by unless the captain beats him in a game. The principle is similar to flipping a coin; one half of a tossed pebble is wet, the other dry, and whoever correctly predicts which side lands face-up wins. One protagonist wins by using this trope: "Dry side, I win. Wet side, you lose". The bird is stupid enough to fall for it and the heroes sail on by.
In the sixth Honor Harrington novel, Klaus Hauptmann and Reginald Houseman pull one when they recommend Honor to command the merchant cruisers being sent to Silesia. Either Honor kills the pirates, thus protecting their economic interests, or the pirates kill Honor, thus eliminating one of their political enemies. Honor, of course, succeeds.
In Wheel of Time, the Dark One attempts this with Rand at the very end of the series when they are fighting by confronting their visions for the future of the world. The Dark One propose various nightmarish futures, from a classic Hell on Earth to a world normal in apparence but where empathy does not exist. Rand tries to counter with a "perfect world" where the DO is destroyed and evil does not exist, but he only manages a Crap Saccharine World since removing evil as a possibility is equivalent to removing everyone's free will. The Dark One even utters an exultant "AND THEN, I WIN" to stress that all scenarios lead to its indirect or direct victory. The world is finally saved by the Power of Love.
In the Doctor Who novel "Engines of War", a large part of the mining of the Tantulus eye, the provoking the Time Lords into action, was all to provoke the Doctor, hoping that the resulting path would lead him (with or without the Tear of Ishtar) into Dalek, erm, plungers? So that instead of employing their Gallifrey destroying weapon, (which would still net them their victory) they would have the Doctor in the Eternity Circle, where they could remove his emotions and encase him into their newly built Predator Dalek.
This seems to be the strategy of Mike Stearns in Literature/1632 ; if the Grantvillers win militarily, they will continue to spread values of democracy and equality. If they lose, their foes can only defeat them by using uptime technology and educating the populace enough to use and understand it, which - together with the heavy agitation of the Committees of Correspondence basically ensures that those values and ideas will survive, leading to democracy and equality becoming inevitable either way.
In the final book of the Codex Alera series, Amara manages one. When an enemy agent appears to defect, Amara demands as proof of her defection the details of the next attack against the Aleran forces. She then advises the nobility not to change the battle plan at all in response to the information. That way, if the intelligence is bad, they haven't compromised their ability to defend themselves, and they know that the enemy agent is insincere. If the intelligence is accurate, then they're in the same position they would have been if the agent had not defected, but they also know that it is reasonably likely that the agent's defection is genuine. Finally, Amara assumes that Invidia has a Xanatos Gambit of her own planned and that she intends to set the High Lords against the Vord Queen and kill off the weakened victor, so Amara follows along invisibly to kill Invidia before she has the chance to do so. The Vord Queen, also realizing what Invidia is up to (since Invidia is basically treachery incarnate), sends out a decoy to fight in her place.
In the Dreamblood Duology, the Prince of Gujaareh creates some pretty wild plans to ensure that he will become an immortal and take over the world. Ehiru refuses to give in and become a Reaper? Oh well. He can just torture Nijiri and get the same effect. Sunandi makes it to Kisua to warn them war is coming? Oh well. He had warriors ready years ago. He's also just going to kill all of them with his inevitable Reaper. The only reason he fails is because he underestimates how much Ehiru's hatred and determination will keep his head clear enough to kill him.