Lando Calrissian: You said they'd be left at the city under my supervision!
Vader: I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further.
Alice and Bob make a deal. However, Alice has much more power than Bob, because Bob is really desperate for whatever Alice is offering, and will do whatever it takes to get it. Alice ends up abusing this power badly, reneging on the initial agreement and making a seemingly endless series of demands on Bob without ever keeping her end of the bargain. Each time Bob fulfills her requirements, she simply adds another one. If he protests, she threatens to withdraw her offer entirely.
For example, Bob wants a promotion. Alice, his boss, says that he'll be promoted if he succeeds in closing a particularly important deal. Bob lands the deal... but Alice tells him that, though it was impressive, the deal didn't bring in as much money as she forecasted, so Bob needs to bring in a couple of big clients. Bob does... and then Alice tells him that he hasn't attended an important course, and he needs to complete the course before he's eligible for promotion. And on and on it goes, with Alice continually changing the requirements needed for the promotion so that Bob will never be able to obtain it.
Alice is Moving the Goalposts.
The trope name comes from a British idiom in which a hypothetical football/soccer player is told he has to score a goal from a certain spot on the pitch, only to have the goalposts moved further away after scoring the goal and told that the first goal didn't count. Essentially, it's changing the previously-set standards for something after those standards have already been met.
This set up can end in a number of ways in fiction. Sometimes, just to add insult to injury, Alice will manipulate Bob until she gets bored or has everything she needs, then tells Bob "sorry, but it'll never happen" (e.g. someone else has already been given the promotion that Bob's been chasing all this time). Sometimes this will result in a Freak Out and some well-deserved retribution. Alternatively, Alice will develop a conscience (or a third party will hammer one in) and she'll finally live up to her promise. A third option is that Bob will realize what Alice is up to and call the whole thing a wash, choosing to walk away (usually with a few choice words for Alice in the process — ironically, that may lead to Alice finally letting Bob have the now-worthless bargaining chip). In Fairy Tales, the king setting Impossible Tasks may eventually decide it's not worth it, but, usually, one of the tasks backfires on him. Badly.
There's also a Blackmail version of this trope, where the powerful party keeps his word — more or less — but makes it clear that he could change his mind at any time. Murder mysteries that involve the death of a blackmailer usually cite this as a motive: the blackmailer made an initial demand that was met, but soon realized that they had their victim trapped, and kept making additional demands until the victim decided the only way to get free was to kill their tormentor. Military/political agreements where one force is stronger than the other often have this connotation to them: a one-off favor might be used to bully the weaker country or politician into supporting the stronger, whether they like it or not. Indeed, it can be a problem with any Leonine Contract.
The effect on the viewer depends on whose side they're on. If they like the weaker partner of the deal, it can be hugely frustrating to see them strung along like this (expect to be yelling What an Idiot! fairly loudly). If their sympathies lie with the more powerful half, though, it can be used as slapstick humor. If the roles are usually reversed (Bob is Alice's boss, for example), it can be used to give a bossy or overbearing character their comeuppance.
On the odd occasion, Alice might have genuinely good intentions. Maybe Bob wants Alice to introduce him to Alice's pretty coworker, who Alice knows is a Manipulative Bitch and a Gold Digger, so she tries to deter Bob from the girl without saying outright that she's bad news because she knows Bob wouldn't believe her.
There also exists a situation that looks like this, but isn't: the proposed item fulfills the stated requirements, but not the unstated ones. For example, offering a reward for the head of a Gunslinger, but forgetting to add "unattached to his body". Or asking for a polite courtier, and getting one who delights in stealth insults and backhanded compliments.
"Moving the goal posts" can also be used to describe a debate fallacy. In this scenario, essentially Alice will make a point and/or demand evidence to counter Bob's argument. Bob provides evidence or a counter argument to Alice's original argument. Alice then dismisses the evidence and/or demands further evidence on grounds which were not mentioned in the original point and which may only be tangentially linked to Alice's original point. For example, Alice claims that there's no product that easily kills fleas on cats. Bob directs her to a product which does so, only for Alice to then dismiss Bob's point by claiming that the product in question doesn't kill fleas on cats and on dogs. (Although it should be added that non-fallacious "goalpost moving" exists, when the original standard is realized to be incomplete in some way; to expand on the above example, Alice would be a lot more justified in her objection if she dismissed Bob's claim because the product in question killed both the fleas and the cat).
Compare Taking Advantage of Generosity. Can overlap with Social Darwinism. Contrast Sharpshooter Fallacy, when the goalposts are moved to favour an argument instead of debunking it. Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics may be used as a tool to move the goalposts.
Compare and contrast There Will Be Cake. I Lied is the even more shameless version. Certain character types, like the Bad Boss who always has one last task for their employees to do before they get a "favor" that they had earned anyway, are particularly prone to this trope. See also Win Your Freedom, Obvious Rule Patch, No True Scotsman. In video games, this may take the form of a Disc-One Final Boss or Disc-One Final Dungeon: what is presented like the final challenge of the game isn't.
- One Outback Steakhouse commercial played with this — the proprietor was offering a free steak to whoever could hit a bullseye on a dartboard. Cue a dozen darts all in that spot. "Wait, did I say bullseye? I meant a triple 20." The last line of the commercial: "Wait, did I say blindfolded?"
- A Toyota advert has a mother promising to buy her son an ice cream the next time they stop for gas. Fair enough, but the car turns out to have ludicrously good gas mileage, and the kid never gets his ice cream.
- A literal example where Segata Sanshiro, while as a soccer goalie, gets a "nice save" by, well, moving the goalpost. He gets a red card for this.
- One Piece: Arlong forced Nami to amass a very large sum of money to buy back her village's freedom. When she finally does (a process that takes her several years), he gets a corrupt Marine buddy of his to confiscate it before she can officially pay him back, and tells her to start from scratch. Fortunately for Nami, Luffy and his crew decide to beat the everloving tar out of Arlong and his men.
- In Ranma ½, a village hosts a race: whoever arrives first wins an all-expenses-paid trip to a spring resort of their choosing (including the Cursed Springs that gave the main character his curse and also has the cure). However, the village doesn't actually have the money to pay for the trip, so they place increasingly dangerous obstacles on the course to dissuade everyone from finishing, finally resorting, when everything else fails, to two villagers literally lifting the goal and carry it away from the approaching racers.
- The villains in Kaiji like doing this. Congratulations, you just won a ticket worth several million yen! Now you just need to go cash it in at the adjacent building (which means walking a long, narrow steel beam, suspended hundreds of meters above ground and rigged with traps).
- More than one Asshole Victim in Detective Conan was killed by the person they were subjecting to this. The most infamous case is the mystery writer Daisuke Torakura.
- Lampshaded by combining this with Screw the Rules, I Make Them! in Elemental Gelade, in regards to a fighting match with Rasati Tigres. Up to this point, she's been winning every one-on-one fight she's been in; then her creditor, who also owns the arena she fights in to make money, straight-up changes the rules and has her fight two guys at once, to ensure she'll never be rid of him. She beats them handily (with a little help from Coud and the gang), and then apparently beats the creditor to death backstage.
- In The World is Still Beautiful, Nike's grandmother offers Livius a deal: find a key she tossed into a swamp to release Nike from her prison and she will let them be together. However, the swamp can be truly dangerous if the weather is really bad with lots of rain. Livius takes all but five seconds to look at the woman who trained Nike to control the weather and use a profane word against her. So, it's not the goal that is moved, but the terrain to the goalposts.
- Professor Chronos/Crowler did this a lot in the first season of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX in his attempts to humiliate, discredit, and expel Judai/Jaden whom he took an instant dislike to. Each time, it came back to bite him:
- As early as the first episode, Chronos compromised the rules by handling Judai's entrance exam himself with his personal deck (rather than the test decks the other instructors used). Judai won, humiliating him publicly, and it only led to Chronos becoming obsessed in his goal.
- The second major time was during an exam where he first cut in line and bought every one of the new shipment of cards. (Or so he thought.) He then gave those cards to Manjyome/Chazz, told him to build a stronger deck, and then manipulated the exam placement so Manjyome would duel Judai. It didn't work (Judai had gained an upgraded version of Winged Kuriboh after stopping to help Tome-san) and this time, not only was he humiliated, so was Manjyome. It is hinted Samejima got wise to Chronos in this episode, and offered Judai a promotion. (Which he turned down.) Naturally, he would blame this entirely on Manjyome later.
- Chronos would later foil Judai's attempt to file a request to Kaiser (stating in the dub that such requests had to be done in triplicate with a number 2 pencil; even Judai was suspicious of that excuse). Ironically, Judai managed to duel Kaiser by asking personally, and while the duel likely had the result Chronos would desire (Kaiser won), Judai won Kaiser's respect, potentially robbing Chronos of the support of the most influential student. (Of course, if this was a violation of the rules, Chronos was likely bending them again by keeping quiet about it, as he felt Judai losing wasn't to Judai's benefit.)
- Early in Dragon Ball, Master Roshi declares that Goku and Krillin have completed their physical training and are ready to train real martial arts, once they're able to push a boulder forward with nothing but their raw strength. When Goku is unexpectedly capable of just such feat, he declares that he was mistaken and points at a much larger boulder for them to strive for. He doesn't even have any real martial arts to teach them, only preparing them physically. It's all they ever need and more.
- In Peanuts, Lucy repeatedly fools Charlie Brown by snatching away the football he is about to kick. This captures the feeling of this trope in a single instant, distilled down to its essence.
- In one Dilbert strip, Wally complains to the Pointy-Haired Boss about constantly deferring project objectives every time he's about to meet one, saying, "What does this prove about my performance?" The boss tells Wally: "It proves I'm better at setting objectives than you are at achieving them."
- One Garfield has Garfield approach a "Keep off the grass" sign. So he climbs up onto the sign...only for another sign to pop up, saying "Keep off the 'Keep off the grass' sign". Garfield's "Oh, come on!" is golden.
- In the tale of The Fisherman's Wife, the fisherman finds a fish that can grant any wish in his pond, and starts making wishes that will make his wife happy. However, the wife is never pleased for long, even after being slathered in wealth and being made queen of the world, all while promising the next wish will finally make her happy. Finally, the fish gets fed up with all of the wife's greed, and reverts everything back to how it was at first, thereby teaching a lesson about hubris. The fish also teaches the man a lesson in fulfilling his wife's every whim without seeing the futility of it and not taking a stand.
- In The Fish and the Ring, Vasilii the Unlucky, The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs, The King Who Would Be Stronger Than Fate, and many other fairy tales, a man who discovers his child is doomed to marry a poor child tries to kill them with many tasks, before and after the wedding; in the end, he fails.
- In The Grateful Beasts, at the instigation of his brothers, Ferko has to, in turn, cut all the corn in a single night, gather it all into barns the next night, and summon all the wolves in the land. It stops with the wolves because, well, they're wolves.
- In Ferdinand the Faithful, whenever Ferdinand does whatever the king asks, the king decides it's time to ladle another task on him as the price of not executing him. Until finally, the princess decides she'd rather marry Ferdinand than the king and tricks the king into letting her kill him.
- In Dapplegrim, the king sets more tasks before he allows the hero to marry the princess.
- In Fair Goldilocks, the princess tries to put off a wooer with Impossible Tasks.
- As did Princess Kaguya from the Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.
- In Hansi and the Nix, a young cowherd named Hansi falls in love with (variously) a water spirit or a freshwater mermaid he calls "Nixie." But then fall comes, and she doesn't want to come up to the surface of the lake anymore because it's getting too cold. So Hansi agrees to live with her. But then he starts to get homesick for the classic aspects of Yodel Land. He misses his dairy cow, and when Nixie brings her to him, he wants to sample the cheese he made from the cow's milk a few months back. When Nixie brings him some of the cheese, Hansi gets wistful for wildflowers. Nixie responds by bringing his entire village down into the lake.
- In one Naruto/Ranma ½ story, Neji seems to be doing this, claiming that he'll admit the Gentle Fist is flawed if Ranma can beat him. Then if Ranma can beat a given trainer, then another trainer, all the way up to the Clan Head. Tenten, however, notes that after the first trainer lost, Neji just kept doing it so he could watch Ranma beat up Main Branch members.
- In A Man of Iron, after Bronn defeats Ser Vardis to win Tyrion's Trial by Combat, Lysa suddenly declares Tyrion must immediately endure a second trial by combat for a separate charge, and Bronn cannot champion him anymore. Clynt takes up the challenge and simply shoots Lysa's second champion with an arrow, finally winning Tyrion's freedom.
- In Project Delta, once Jortan returns to his masters after the battle of Mindoir, he expects to be punished for failure. However, with them having other plans, all it takes is a tiny bit of indoctrination to make him "remember" the objective wasn't killing Jane, but merely removing the weaklings from their own organization.
- Ash's father in Clash of the Ketchums claims that Pokemon Training is both a waste of time and one can't learn any valuable skills from it. When Ash shows that he knows how to balance a budget (due to paying his own bills on the road), use a computer (the pokedex), and speaks three languages, his father states it's a huge money sink that gives no returns. Ash retorts that he actually makes a significant payday (over a hundred million yen per league), causing his father to claim he's nothing but a glorified golfer. His father doesn't take it well when Ash calls him out on the fact he's only making such claims because he's a failure of a trainer who never made it to League level.
- In The Chaotic Three, when Poe is forced to make a bet with Jabba the Hutt for Aayla Secura's freedom and the return of BB-8, after Poe wins the initial bet, Jabba offers to return BB-8 while playing another game for Aaylas freedom, but Poe refuses to take this further and has to be rescued by Finn.
- In Anything Goes Game Changer, when Uzume starts getting enough money to pay for Chiho's medical bills, Higa starts jacking up the prices until eventually what used to cover a full month's treatment now only pays for three days.
- Harry in A Discordant Note initially refuses to bed Queen Rhaella, citing that he morally opposes inbreeding. When Adrastia points out that he's not even from the same dimension as her, Harry insists Rhaella is inbred enough for both of them. Similarly, he dismisses the idea of using magic to get around that problem because he "morally opposes saving people from the consequences of their own stupidity". Adrastia quickly puzzles out that Harry's real reason is that he finds the woman too boring to bother with.
- The One to Make It Stay: Alya dismissed Marinette's attempts to warn her about Lila's true nature by telling her that "A good journalist always checks her sources." By which she apparently meant refusing to investigate at all and expecting her friend to handle it. When Rose and Juleka present her and the other girls with proof that Lila lied about knowing Prince Ali, Alya promptly dismisses this as not enough proof; at best, it just shows she wasn't truthful about this one thing, and unless they can prove that everything was false, well, she's just going to brush this off.
- In Don't Be An Impel Down-er, the Self-Insert was born to a prisoner of Level Six in Impel Down and was sentenced to fifty years for the crime of "being born". Each time he proves capable of surviving (or even thriving) on a given level of Impel Down, he's transferred to the next level down. Some time after he's sentenced to level five, the most hellish and second lowest levelnote , Prisoner 10013's sentence is changed to a life sentence, just to ensure he'll never get out.
- Infinity Train: Blossoming Trail:
- After Chloe boards the Train, Goh angrily accuses Ash of not helping out enough with the search efforts. Ash reveals that he's been calling his friends and colleagues around the world to help spread the word, only for Goh to insist that's not good enough — and anyway, she can't have gotten that far. (His thoughts, meanwhile, hint that he's jealous that Ash has such a wide social network he can call upon for help.)
- The curry incident in the first chapter is a more Downplayed example. Mr. Pepper has all of his students fixing curry, and isn't impressed with the fact that Chloe simply followed the recipe, declaring that she needed to 'make it her own'. Though Chloe protests that following the rules precisely has its own merits, he dismisses her argument entirely.
- The Wicked Stepmother from the Disney version of Cinderella promises Cinderella to let her go to the ball... if she can find a dress, and if she finishes her chores on time. Naturally, she and the stepsisters pile on the chores so that she can never be done on time, let alone find a dress. When she does comes out with a dress (courtesy of her animal friends), the stepmother lets the sisters rip it to shreds.
- Zootopia: Chief Bogo attempts this on Judy. When Bogo allows Judy to take on a missing person case, Bogo adds the condition that Judy solve it in 48 hours; if she can't, she has to resign. Later, Bogo responds to an emergency call from Judy and Nick about a savage jaguar that is not present when Bogo arrives. Bogo then orders Judy to turn in her badge immediately, even though her 48 hours aren't up yet and resigning after one mistake wasn't part of their deal. Thankfully, Nick calls Bogo out on his behavior, saying that Judy has done more in half a day to solve the missing person case than Bogo has in months. Bogo concedes the point, and the case is allowed to move forward.
- Star Wars:
- In The Empire Strikes Back, Vader makes a "deal" with Lando that, if Lando turns Han over to The Empire, then the Empire will leave Cloud City alone. Vader then turns Han over to Boba Fett and tells Lando that Leia and Chewie will have to remain prisoners on Cloud City. When Lando complains, Vader asks if he thinks he's being treated unfairly...because it would be unfortunate if he had to leave a garrison there. It's also suggested that Vader is going to leave a garrison anyway. Then Vader decides that he's taking Leia and Chewie with him. When Lando calls him on it, Vader threatens him: "I am altering the deal. Pray I do not alter it any further!" Lando finally catches on and decides that if Vader won't keep his end of the deal, he won't either.
- A more benign version happened in A New Hope. Luke Skywalker has been promised that he can enroll in the Imperial Academy "next year" by his Uncle Owen for the past few years or so. Luke is understandably frustrated, since many friends have long gone on to the Academy and he feels that his uncle is stringing him along. note
- Subverted in Office Space: Joanna's annoying boss attempts this, guilting her about wearing the "bare minimum" number of pieces of flair. She never takes the bait, and eventually after a particularly long and insistent chat about this, walks out.
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail: The Knights Who Say "Ni!" tried to do this to King Arthur and his knights. After getting a shrubbery (which was the initial requirement to pass), the Knights then demand another shrubbery, and for King Arthur to cut down a tree with a herring. Lucky for Arthur, he accidentally hits their Weaksauce Weakness.
- In Down Periscope, the main characters take part in a military exercise using an old World War II era diesel submarine, the USS Stingray, against the modern US Navy, but keep getting tighter restrictions placed on them by a vindictive admiral when they succeed in spite of the odds. In the end, the admiral is called on his behavior by the senior admiral who had arranged for the exercise in the first place. Subverted in that they had higher orders and so completely ignored the new rules.
- In The Pentagon Wars, featuring a fictionalized version of events about the development of the Bradley fighting vehicle, the tests are blatantly set up to favor the Bradley and cover up its woefully deficient armor (shooting it with poor-quality ammunition that will bounce off as duds instead of exploding, draining the fuel tanks so they can't catch fire even if punctured, etc).
- An especially notable example comes when a rival officer claims that you cannot know what will happen until you actually put live soldiers inside the vehicle for testing. Which would obviously kill them.
- This is implied to have already happened in the lead-up to Gunny Highway taking over the command of Recon Platoon in the movie Heartbreak Ridge. Specifically, rather than traditional "war games", Recon has been reduced to instigating a very blatant and unsuccessful ambush of the more "elite unit" and be faux-slaughtered horribly. Highway, who has already had several tours of duty (it was his off-duty antics that got him in trouble), knew that the enemy would never be so considerate as to only set up an ambush at a previously agreed-upon time and place, so he moved the goalposts back and Recon proceeded to annihilate the unprepared "elites".
- Cool Runnings: The Olympic Committee members do this to try to keep Jamaica from qualifying. First, they keep shortening the time requirements. When Jamaica makes the cut anyway, they try to claim that it doesn't count. Irv calls them on it big time, and they relent. It's implied that it wasn't the Jamaicans who were the problem, but Irv himself, whose bobsledding career ended after he was caught cheating. For the record this never happened in Real Life. The Jamaican Bobsledding team was freely welcomed by the committee and the bobsled teams of other countries.
British Official: We must also be concerned about the potential for embarrassment.
Irv: Oh, pardon me. I didn't realize that four black guys in a bobsled could make you blush.
- The Hunger Games: The Gamemasters announce that two people can live if they're from the same district, then revoke it at the end when two actually manage to fill that condition. Katniss showed them up by threatening suicide with Peeta, forcing them to make good on the original promise so they'd have someone to crown a victor instead of a martyr. Of course, the head Gamemaster Seneca Crane ends up being punished for it by President Snow.
- Selma features this in its first scene, where Anna Lee Cooper, a black woman living in Alabama, tries to register to vote. The registrar asks her to recite the Constitution's Preamble, and she does so. He then asks her to name the number of county judges in Alabama. "Sixty-seven". He then demands that she name them, at which she gives up. This is more or less Truth in Television - voting registrars had power over what sort of test to give a person, and would give hard or outright impossible ones to black voters. A lot of the tests also featured ambiguous wording, meaning the registrar could fail it for equally ambiguous reasons - for instance, one question asked to draw a line around a letter, which meant a registrar could fail it on the basis of "you drew a circle, not a line."
- In Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey the boys are killed and have to win a contest against Death to be resurrected. The tests end up being mostly tabletop games and Twister with the boys winning every time; however, Death keeps upping the win requirement (2 out of 3, 3 out of 5...) Death eventually relents.
- Dark Waters: DuPont first drags their feet in court, then agrees to pay a large settlement to their victims if an independent science panel can prove its effects. They then throw all the mud and obstacles they can to delay that study, and when it finally is released, flat out renege and ignore the agreement they made, forcing Robert to take them to court yet again. Very much Truth in Television.
- A Brother's Price has a non-villainous example. Ren wants to get her mother to withdraw her Parental Marriage Veto, and accuses her of doing this after she convinced all her adult sisters to marry Jerin, and her mother still denies consent on the grounds that the absent Halley- who may or may not be still alive- hasn't been asked.
- Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small series features the first girl to openly train as a page. The training master, Lord Wyldon, doesn't approve of female knights and puts her on probation. If she can't keep up with the boys, she will be dismissed. The girl, Kel, excels at her training... but rather than lift the probation, Wyldon keeps setting her more and more difficult tasks, sometimes moving the goalposts (or at least the archery target/jousting target) in an attempt to dissuade her, while not demanding the same standard of his male trainees. He ends up conceding defeat in the end, though, only because Kel is that good. (At one point, he shouts at her for screwing up at jousting, something she normally excelled at — why was she suddenly waving her lance all over the damn place? "I'm terribly sorry, sir, I forgot to ask for a weighted one at the armory. This one's too light.")
- In Squire, he admits that even though she passed every test and worked uncomplainingly through everything he threw at her, even though she kept going when he thinks most of the boys she was training besides would have quit, he almost didn't let her pass her first, probationary period. His honor made him let her pass, but it was a close thing, and by that point the thought of how close it was shames him.
- This is the method used by the N.I.C.E. in C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength to recruit Mark Studdock and others. Mark desperately wants to be in "the inner circle" and the various evil members of the N.I.C.E. use the promise of a sure position or moving up in the N.I.C.E. to manipulate Mark into more and more compromising acts.
- This is one of the main plot points of Catch-22. There are a certain number of missions each pilot has to fly before they can go home, but Colonel Cathcart keeps raising the number of missions before anybody gets to go home.
- A major part of the colony world of Harmony And Reason in the Rats, Bats and Vats novels. All 'Vats', or cloned citizens, are charged for the cost of being cloned, raised, and trained by the government. This charge is put to absurdly high compound interest, plus additional charges for mandatory 'luxuries' like training camps owned by Shareholders. If a Vat lives very frugally and has a very successful career, he might theoretically buy himself out of debt and purchase a single share in the colony before dying of old age (a Vat who owes money to the Colony cannot purchase shares). Why? Because only Shareholders can vote, and they don't want the Vats getting enfranchised.
- In Honor Harrington: Echoes of Honor, an admiral who didn't care for a new technical development managed to get himself put in charge of the evaluation board, and started putting more and more restrictions on how the weapons could be used in an effort to get a test battle in which the new LACs would be decisively defeated, and use this to justify scrapping the project. The captain in charge of the final stage of the project retaliated by sending memos to the admiral's superiors mentioning her concerns about the test parameters, which would presumably lead to the higher-ups looking at the results of all the tests, rather than just the one where the LACs failed, and realizing that they lost because the admiral stacked the deck. This counter was never actually needed, as an attack on the base where the tests were conducted forced the LACs into actual combat early, in a battle where they decisively defeated the invading fleet.
- The Battle School in Ender's Game uses this principle. Ender is virtually unbeatable in his war exercises, so the administration of the school start stacking the odds against him. Ender's opponents are given such benefits as head-starts to strategically place their troops, partial immunity to Ender's weapons, and eventually are allowed to attack him with vastly superior numbers. Ender starts using technically-legal but unconventional strategies to win, which the administration always makes illegal after every victory. Ender eventually gets so pissed off at the blatant cheating that he starts outright breaking the rules of combat himself, which it turns out was exactly what the administration wanted. Most army commanders start resenting Ender for his unending string of victories. Bonzo in particular keeps claiming that the teachers are rigging the game in Ender's favor. Only an idiot would believe thatnote , given all the advantages the other armies get.
- Don Quixote:
"All this that I have now repeated I said to him, and much more which I cannot recollect; but it had no effect in inducing him to forego his purpose; he who has no intention of paying does not trouble himself about difficulties when he is striking the bargain."
- Played for Laughs:
- Sancho is offered dinner with a lot of delicious dishes. Every dish they present him, a doctor signals that he cannot have it because its not in a governors diet. This is done until an angry Sancho asks what he can eat: only some cookies and fruit.
- Sancho asks an innkeeper what food he has to offer. The innkeeper answers that every meat, fish or bird he could ask. Everything Sancho asks, the innkeeper doesnt have. When Sancho asks what the innkeeper really has, he answers only a couple of cow-heels.
- Played for Drama:
- An inversion: When Dorothea recounts how she agreed to sleep with Don Fernando, son of the Duke, under a promise of marriage, she was constantly Moving The Goalposts. In retrospect, Dorothea realizes that Don Fernando answering yes to all her demands was the proof that he will fulfill none of them.
- Played for Laughs:
- The Star Trek Expanded Universe:
- The trilogy The Q Continuum gives us 0, an entity as powerful as Q but infinitely more evil. When 0 suggests that they test younger races, Q is eager. However, while Q is willing to accept failure, 0 is not. When the Calamarain refuse to allow 0 to take control of them, he turns them into a block of ice. When Q asks why he did that, 0 simply says that the Calamarain cheated and must be punished. The next "test" is to put the powerful Tkon Empire (which is trying to replace their dying sun with a new one) into a state of civil war. When the leader of the Empire manages to convince both sides to stop fighting and complete the project, the enraged 0 causes the dying star to become a supernova and destroy the entire race. Once again, the shocked Q confronts 0 about this. 0 says that any younger race that overcomes a challenge set to it by a powerful entity like 0 must have either cheated, or the challenge wasn't sufficient. Q privately disagreed, and while he did test "younger" races in the future (especially the Enterprise-D), he always left in at least one achievable victory condition, and was a relatively Graceful Loser when they "won" (at the very least, no Diabolus ex Machina).
- The novel Kobayashi Maru goes into enough detail of the progression of the eponymous test (especially in Chekov's and Scott's experience with it) to reveal that it's one long series of goalpost-movement on the part of the administering AI. No matter what the cadet taking it does, the AI will add something more that they have to beat. Defeat one Klingon cruiser? Two more show up. Beat them? Four more. Somehow beat them? Well, hi there, Klingon Dreadnought, fancy meeting you here... Mainly it does this because the KM scenario is supposed to show cadets that you can't always fight your way out and sometimes retreat is the best option, even if it means abandoning people to die.
- Sellar and Yeatman's 1066 and All That (The Abridged History of Britain) has this humorous perspective on The Irish Question:
"Gladstone spent his declining years trying to guess the answer to the Irish Question; unfortunately, whenever he was getting warm, the Irish secretly changed the Question..."
- In Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen, the Empire of New Britain has a long-standing practice of "obligations" applying to women purchased from the Holy Dominion (or to women fleeing the Dominion requesting passage). Ideally, the women work off the cost of the transportation by doing anything requested (surprisingly, non-sexual but involving manual labor) until the obligation is worked off, and the woman is free to marry an Imperial citizen (she herself cannot become a citizen, but her children can). Unfortunately, over the centuries, this has caused all women (both free and those under obligations) to be treated as second-class citizens and gave enormous power to the Honourable New Britain Company that holds these obligations. The titular destroyermen quickly pointed out the obvious Loophole Abuse — a holder of an obligation may simply move his obligated women from one island to another, constantly increasing their obligations by the cost of the journey (see similar examples in the Real Life section below). Once it's revealed how widespread this practice is, the whole obligation system is abolished. It also helped that the Company executives were selling out the Empire to the Dominion.
- The members of the The Babysitters Club put Mallory through numerous pointless trials so that she can join. Fed up with their unfair treatment, she quits, making them realize that they've been acting like jerks.
- Similarly, in a Sweet Valley Twins book, Jessica bullies a girl who wants to be a member of the Unicorns by giving her impossible tasks to complete, to the point where even the ringleaders of the group tell her she's taking things too far. Sure enough, the girl finally grows a spine and tells her off.
- The Hunger Games:
- Zig-zagged in the original book, with the mid-game rule change that two tributes can share victory, provided that they are from the same district, which is then revoked at the last possible moment. This backfires, though, as Katniss and Peeta will have no part in this chain-jerking and threaten to kill themselves, leaving the Games with no victor. This forces the gamemakers to go back on going back.
- Done again in Catching Fire, where for the Quarter Quell Games they draw their tributes from the pool of victors for previous games. It's normally the case that only people below 18 are eligible, and that if you do win and are under 18, your name is removed from the draw in future. This is viewed as very unfair by many, even within the Capitol. The film adaptation gives one of the tributes the opportunity to explain her perspective on the situation.
Johanna: The deal was that if I win the Hunger Games, I get to live the rest of my life in peace, but now you want to kill me again. Well, you know what? F*** THAT! AND F*** ANYONE THAT HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH IT!
- Subverted in the Worldwar series. Mordechai Anielewicz's son Heinrich asks his parents if he can get a pet beffel (an alien creature resembling a mix of a lizard and a dog). Mordechai's wife Bertha assigns a seemingly impossible task, telling Heinrich that if he can catch a beffel, he can keep it. When he does so, she tries to go back on her promise, but Moedechai countermands her and says that they need to keep their word in order to set a good example for their son.
- In Cooking With Wild Game, the businessman protagonist does this to himself. His goal is to make the racist townsfolk accept that Forest Edge's cuisine is good (It Makes Sense in Context) and he won't be satisfied by anything else (even though he makes boatloads of money off of egalitarian foreigners who do like his creations). When he opens a food stall in the town, he dramatically declares that the "battle" to humble them starts now. Then a day passes with no townsfolk buying anything, and he goes home and rationalizes that actually everybody knows that new stalls barely get any customers anyway, so the real battle starts...now. His Love Interest, watching him get all fired up again, questions whether he will be satisfied by anything.
- Inverted in one episode of Touched by an Angel, when a woman, joined by Monica, has difficulty completing an obstacle course designed for men, specifically that rope n' wall thing. She trains hard to overcome the difference, then the chauvinist Drill Sarge tells her that she doesn't have to complete the same course as the men, being allowed to skip said wall. Monica finishes, and the woman falls behind. Just before she crosses the line, she stops and asks the Sarge whether command actually sent that order, instead of it just being the Sarge's requirement. Then she goes back, climbs the wall, and makes it across the line just in time.
- This seemed to be what was going on in Kung Fu. Whenever Caine would complete a task, it seemed his master would come up with something else he had to do (snatch the pebble from my hand, walk on rice paper without tearing it, etc.).
- In Battlestar Galactica (1978):
Imperious Leader: Welcome, Baltar. I have grave news. A handful of Colonials prevail, but we will soon find them.
Baltar: What of our bargain? My colony was to be spared!
Imperious Leader: I now alter the bargain.
Baltar: How can you change one side of a bargain?
Imperious Leader: When there is no other side.
- The "blackmail" variant was used on The Office (US), when Phyllis made increasing demands of Angela to keep her silence about the latter's affair.
- Star Trek:
- In various series and films, the Prime Directive is the ultimate in moveable goalposts. When, where and how it is applied is completely variable, and even Starfleet and the Federation government, which are the ones imposing it, are highly-prone to treating it as anything from an inviolable law with a specific set of conditions to an abstract moral ideal that is more of a guideline than a rule. In general, its applicability is entirely driven by Rule of Drama on an episode-by-episode basis.
- This was especially prevalent in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager, where both Picard and Janeway were not above countermanding their own orders if they had a change of heart on a particular matter, often to the bewilderment of their crews, who then had to respond to changes in what had previously been seen as fixed plans.
- In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, "In the Pale Moonlight", when the character Tolar protests that he has fulfilled his obligations to Sisko and Garak: "We had an agreement." Sisko responds with the words, "I'm making a new agreement." - Thus implying that their previous arrangements are invalid.
- Played for Laughs in an earlier episode of Deep Space Nine, where Rom temporarily defects from Quark's to work for a competitor who promises him a one-fourth share of the profits. When said competitor ends up needing all the money for an investment, he tells Rom that the one-fourth was "after expenses", and the investment counted as an expense. Rom quits indignantly, declaring that if he's going to be cheated regardless, he might as well be working for his sibling and not a stranger.
- In Stargate SG-1, the computer does this to Teal'c during a virtual reality battle scenario, and the characters even refer to it by name. Every time he completes the scenario, it adds an additional element to keep him from winning. It does eventually hit a wall, but it took a while. On top of that, Teal'c was moving the goalposts himself. The scenario was designed to program itself around an individual's own beliefs and experiences; at this point in the story, Teal'c was convinced of the righteousness of fighting the Guoa'uld, but still firmly believed that it was a fight that was impossible to win, hence every "victory" quickly becoming a surprising defeat.
- Was revealed to be the motive in an episode of Monk. After being blackmailed with evidence that he'd killed his wife, the victim decided to kill the blackmailer when their demands grew too high. Knowing that it was one of several people, but not who, he started killing them one by one, resulting in a string of seemingly random murders.
- Burn Notice had a very small-scale one: Sam is trying to get a list of companies from the head of a local Better Business Bureau type group. The contact keeps saying he will have it soon - at every (expensive) lunch meeting they have. Probably by the next meeting. Eventually Sam claims to be DEA, and frightens the contact into turning over the list.
"The thing about doubling anyone is that the more they do for you, the deeper they get. The deeper they get, the more you can make them do. Great if you're running them, but hard on the source. The suicide rate is... above average."
- In a more serious example, Michael points out how common this trope is for blackmailers, and isn't above using it against various henchmen when working against bad guys.
- On Malcolm in the Middle, Francis comes up with a pair of Monster Truck rally tickets, and keeps making deals with his brothers for them only to renege. When he eventually ditches all of them to take a girl, they respond by framing him for kidnapping.
- The English comedy series End Of Part One did this — although the goalposts weren't moved very far.
Norman Straightman: Sir, I really do need a loan.
Bank Manager: ...Get on your knees.
Norman: ... (does so) Please?
Bank Manager: (smiling) No.
- Frasier: Mel and Niles' sham marriage. At first, he agrees to spare her reputation by attending a couple of weeks of public engagements before she files for divorce. The first amendment is that he's also not allowed to be seen in public with Daphne. Then, the "couple of weeks" gets dragged out to unreasonable extremes. Then, he's informed that in order to make the breakup look authentic without reflecting badly on Mel, he has to start acting like a dick in public so it will look like she had to dump him.
- On Spartacus: Blood and Sand, the Romans do this constantly, in addition to their Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. Indeed, virtually any agreement anyone makes usually gets altered by whichever side currently holds the advantage. Glaber, Batiatus and Crassus are the most notable offenders, but all the Romans also do it too.
- One episode of M*A*S*H has Hawkeye throwing a fit when he learns that the number of points (awarded through commendations or time in theater) necessary before a soldier is eligible to be discharged or rotated home has just been arbitrarily raised, meaning that it will be at least another year before he can finally leave Korea.
- The US TV game show Truth or Consequences used this. The show was based on asking each contestant a 'skill testing question' which had to be answered correctly both to win a prize and to avoid facing the 'consequence' of appearing in some mildly embarrassing stunt for the audience. The questions tended to be trivial, but obscure. In the rare event that a contestant answered correctly, the MC Bob Barker would reach into his pocket and reveal that it was really a two part question. In at least one case a third part had to be revealed. It would have been a nice touch for the producers to have turned the tables on Bob by planting a contestant that could answer very many questions, perplexing him until the contestant pointed out the cameras and gave him a birthday present.
- President Bartlet in The West Wing is doing this to himself, according to his psychiatrist regarding his long dead, abusive father's love.
Dr. Keyworth: It can't be easy being you. I don't mean the job. I meant being inside your head. [...] They keep moving the goalposts on you, don't they? Get As, good college, Latin honors. Get into the London School of Economics. Get a good teaching job, Ivy League School, tenure. Now you got to publish, now you got to go to Stockholm —
Bartlet: It is not good for a person to keep setting goals?
Dr. Keyworth: It probably is, but it's tricky for somebody who is still trying to get his father to stop hitting him.
Bartlet [Hiding the cut from that last remark] Well, I'm told that most men lead lives of quiet desperation.
Dr. Keyworth: Yeah, but that is most men. That's not you. Thats the other people. The people who does feel stress. You are destined for something else.
Bartlet: I have abilities.
Dr. Keyworth: And now you have an opportunity to use them.
Bartlet: I think I have.
Dr. Keyworth: That room I passed down the hall, on the left, it's got a name, right?
Bartlet: I think you're talking about the Lincoln Bedroom.
Dr. Keyworth: Right. This is a hell of a curve you get graded on now. Lincoln freed the slaves and won the Civil War. 'Thank you. Next. And what will you be singing for us today, Mr. Bartlet?' 'Well, we've had six straight quarters of economic growth.'
Bartlet: That's not easy.
Dr. Keyworth: Okay.
Bartlet: It's not easy.
Dr. Keyworth: ...I believe you.
Bartlet: I think I've made tough choices.
Dr. Keyworth: I think Lincoln did what he thought was right even though it meant losing half the country. I think you don't do what you think is right if it means losing Michigan's electoral votes.
Bartlet: You don't know anything. I'm not trying to get my father to like me.
Dr. Keyworth: Good. Cause it's never, never going to happen.
- Also portrayed in the Season Five budget negotiations. President Bartlet and newly-elected Speaker of the House Jeff Haffley are battling over the budget, with Bartlet believing that they have come to an agreement on a 1% capital gains tax cut. However, at their next meeting, Haffley unexpectedly says that his caucus will only accept a 3% cut, or no budget. Bartlet doesn't agree to this, and the government subsequently goes into shutdown. When the two finally come together to renew the negotiations, Bartlet outright calls Haffley on this, saying he knows full well that if he'd folded and met Haffley halfway then Haffley would have found another spurious reason to change the goalposts until Bartlet would end up trading away the entire farm for nothing.
- In the 2015 reboot series of BattleBots the #1 seed Tombstone, a devastatingly powerful bar spinner tipped to win the entire contest, was defeated via judges' decision in the Grand Final by #3 seed Bite Force, a control robot equipped with clamping/lifting arms and a thick frontal armour wedge they added to deal with spinners. For the 2016 series the producers changed the rules so robots that used "defensive additions" like the one Bite Force had used would actually lose points for aggression and would not score any damage points for damage opponents did to themselves with the recoil of their own weapons against these, basically rendering control bots competitively inviable, in a painfully transparent attempt to prevent a control-bot from winning over a pure damage bot like Tombstone again. They got their way when, with almost nothing left in the tournament tough enough to stand up to Tombstone's weaponnote , Tombstone won the 2016 series fairly easily.
- In The Crown, the royal handlers don't approve of Margaret's intention to marry Peter (who's both a commoner and divorced), but they don't want a direct confrontation either. They point out that, if she waits until she's 25, she can get married without the queen's consent, avoiding any troublesome legal issues. When she reaches the proper age and still wants to marry, they inform her that turning 25 only allows her to apply for the right to get married, but she still needs parliamentary approval.
- Doctor Who needed one in Series 7 of its modern era. This is exactly what Steven Moffat did with the Doctor's twelve-regeneration limit in 2013 when he had to deal with the fact that the Doctor had used up the entire set. The limit was introduced in "The Deadly Assassin" as a major plot point, but it effectively backed future writers into a corner because it meant the Doctor was subject to this regeneration cap, and thanks to a slew of actors who didn't hold tenures as the Doctor for very long on TV due to either personal reasons that urged them to pass the torch or having their runs Cut Short, and a couple of major plot twists that accelerated the time table two whole regenerations, it fast-forwarded the Doctor to the end of his limit. He stated verbatim in an interview that it was easier to "move the goalposts"- rather than have the Doctor outright die (an idea which was played with all throughout the tenure of Matt Smith, whose Doctor did not have enough regeneration energy left in the tank to make it to his next incarnation). Fittingly, the Doctor got blessed with a new regeneration cycle as a reward from the Time Lords and went past the limit with another set of (at least) twelve regenerations to burn through.
- An episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air with shades of Very Special Episode had Will and Carlton pledging for a fraternity. The leader takes an instant dislike to Carlton (as he's from a well off family which the leader considers as a sell out) and begins singling him out by making the tasks specifically difficult for him. Will tries to tell Carlton that he shouldn't let them treat him like this but Carlton pushes through them all because he's so desperate for membership. In the end, Carlton completes all the tasks but the leader still refuses his membership, leading to Will giving up his membership in disgust, Carlton calling the man out on his bigotry and a more reasonable senior member telling the current one that he plans to get the university committee to have him removed.
- In the Game of Thrones Season 6 episode "No One", a group of Sparrows come to take Cersei for a meeting with the High Septon. She refuses, and The Mountain, set to be Cersei's champion in her upcoming trial by combat, kills a Sparrow. The next day, her son, King Tommen, announces that "after much prayer and reflection", he has decided to abolish trial by combat as a barbaric custom imposed by a previous dynasty that does not reflect the will of the gods and return to having cases heard by a panel of seven septons, forcing Cersei to resort to more drastic measures to avert the trial in the season finale.
- Rome. Octavian is made consul by the Roman Senate who believe his youth will make him an easily-controlled puppet. They quickly discover otherwise.
Octavian: As my first act, I propose a motion to declare Brutus and Cassius murderers and enemies of the state.
[The gathered Senators begin muttering angrily at this. A deeply rattled Cicero rises and goes over to Octavian]
Cicero: My dear boy, this is not what we agreed!
Octavian: It is not. Nevertheless, here we are.
Cicero: Brutus and Cassius still have many friends. You will split the chamber, the unity of the Republic!
Octavian: Step away from my chair.
[Cicero's expression is one of unmitigated horror as he reluctantly returns to his seat. Octavian stands up and points to the Senate floor].
Octavian: My father died on this floor. Right there. Stabbed 27 times. Butchered by men he called his friends. Who will tell me that is not murder? [Roman soldiers begin filing into the Senate chamber; the gathered Senators begin raving in outrage] Who will tell my Legions, who love Caesar as I do, that that is not murder?! [The soldiers draw their swords and the chamber falls deathly silent] Who will speak against the motion?
- Fuels the story of For All Mankind: In an Alternate Universe where the Soviet Union manages to land a man on the moon before the United States, NASA tries to save face by changing the end-goal of the Space Race, such as declaring they'll land the first woman on the moon or that they'll build a full-blown Moon Base. This causes problems at NASA which has to keep developing then scrapping lengthy and expensive programs as the political winds change. As a result, the Space Race gets dragged out way further than it was in Real Life, with corresponding knock-on effects.
- MADtv: In "Apollo 13: Jason Takes Nasa", the NASA flight director partakes in this.
Gene Kranz: No American has ever been hacked to pieces in space by a hockey mask-wearing homicidal maniac and it sure as hell isn't gonna happen on my watch!Technician: But Gene, it just happened to two of them.Gene Kranz: Okay, no THREE Americans have ever been hacked to pieces in space by a hockey mask-wearing homicidal maniac on my watch!
- The Mandalorian sees it's eponymous lead on the receiving end of this trope in true Star Wars fashion thanks to, of all characters, Bo-Katan, who requisitions his help in taking an Imperial transport's cargo. He's only going along with the plan because she has information on the whereabouts of a Jedi, and he needs to find one so he can return the Child to his species, in spite of the fact that his creed of "The Way" is staunchly different from her more lax interpretation of tradition. When they take the cargo, she then tells him that they need to take the hold ship. He tries to back out, but she reminds him of their bargain by mocking his very words. He does live up to his end of the deal, however, and she lives up to hers by telling of the one he seeks: Ahsoka Tano.
- Yes, Minister: The British civil service are experts at using this to dodge their way out of being made to do anything. For just one example, when asked to allow women to be in prominent positions (it was the 80s), the heads of every department meet and discuss the new government policy, with each department head coming up with a blatantly sexist reason as to why they can't comply.
- In the folk song "Soldier, Soldier, Will You Marry Me?", the soldier keeps coming up with things he lacks that would be necessary for a proper wedding (clean shoes, a good coat, and so on), which the young lady supplies for him. In the end, having obtained a complete new outfit at the young lady's expense, he admits to one more obstacle that she can't overcome — he has a wife already.
- The Song "Sixteen Tons", describing the life of a miner. Sixteen tons, and what do you get / another day older and deeper in debt / St. Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go / I owe my soul to the company store.
- In Taylor Swift's "Dear John," she accuses her ex-boyfriend of this, telling her he expected a certain sort of behavior from her, but then turning around and deciding he wanted something else when she complied, all as a means to "test" her love for him.
I lived in your chess game,
but you changed the rules every day.
- The Bible:
- This is how Jacob ended up with two wives. Laban had two daughters, and Jacob fell in love with the younger one, Rachel. The father agreed to let Jacob marry her if he worked on Laban's land for seven years. Jacob obliged. At the end of his agreement, Laban snuck the elder daughter, Leah, into bed with Jacob in the dark of night, and in the morning claimed that he couldn't possibly let the younger daughter marry before the elder. He gave Rachel to Jacob shortly after in exchange for another seven years' labor (bet the daughters were really grateful to dear old dad for this set-up), so Jacob continued working. He ended up walking off with almost half of Laban's possessions at the end of twenty years.note
- Subverted—or even inverted—in the tale of Doubting Thomas, who claimed he would need to touch the wounds of Christ before he believed in the resurrection. One common interpretation of the story says he believed as soon as he merely saw them.
- In some tellings, the reason Hercules had Twelve Labors is because the king invalidated two labors (cleaning the Augean Stables and slaying the hydra) for technicalities. In the case of the hydra, he had Iolaus help him by burning the neck-stumps, so Hercules hadn't performed the labor alone. In the case of the stables, it was disqualified either because he was paid for the job, or because he did it by redirecting a river and therefore "the river did the work".
- There was a music contest between Apollo and someone else (the myths vary). Apollo with his lyre and the challenger with his flute duke it out musically and the judges (except Midas) all agree that Apollo is the better musician. Incensed that someone might disagree with that, he promptly challenged his opponent to play the instrument upside down or while singing (the myths vary), which lets him win handily (and in one version, flay the loser alive).
- Midst, Phineas learns that saving a hostage is, somehow, not Valorous enough to eliminate his debt. In fact, he actually arrives at his breaking even ceremony before anyone bothers to tell him. It's heavily implied that this is how the Trust usually operates. Breaking even by merit is something that takes a lifetime, when it's possible at all.
- The occasional match with special rules tied to a heel wrestler that change on the fly whenever they appear to lose. This way, it's virtually impossible for the face to win, given how far the heel takes the gimmick.
- The best known example is probably William Regal's win over Chris Jericho at WWF Backlash 2001 under "Duchess of Queensbury Rules", which suddenly had a round system, no submissions, and a no disqualification rule announced as soon as Regal "lost" by pinfall, submission, and disqualification respectively. Regal eventually won after hitting Y2J with a chair and pinning him.
- At WCW New Blood Rising in 2000, Lance Storm defended his Canadian (née United States) Heavyweight Championship belt against Mike Awesome under "Canadian Rules", with guest Canadian referee Jacques Rougeau conveniently relaying new rules to the announcer whenever Awesome seemed to win. These included a 5 count for pinfalls, no submissions, a boxing-style 10 count to get up after a pinfall, and a "last man standing" 10 count if both wrestlers are out. Rougeau himself knocked out Awesome in the latter instance to ensure that only Storm answered the count, much to the approval of the crowd in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
- More recently, Baron Corbin (during his acting general manager period on WWE Raw) would use his executive privilige to restart matches he "lost" to add stipulations so that he could eventually win, in theory.
- A mutual version happened in Warhammer 40,000 with a Tau world under attack from Hive Fleet Gorgon, noted for being small (relatively speaking, Tyranids can unleash billions of organisms in a single wave) but highly adaptive. The Tau guns kept it at bay for a while, before the Tyranids came up with refractive chitin that cancelled out the guns. Then the Tau holed up behind thick undergrowth which entangled the Tyranids, allowing the Kroot to engage them in melee. The next wave was smaller and more agile, the one after made specifically to kill Kroot, but in both cases made more vulnerable to mass plasma fire. When the Tyranids became nearly immune to plasma weapons, the Tau went back to solid munitions used by Kroot. And so on and so forth. In the end, the fleet was pushed back from the planet as the need to adapt made it deploy less synapse creatures (making it vulnerable to suicidal decapitation strikes), and destroyed by combined Tau and Imperial fleets, whose wildly different weapons it couldn't adapt to fast enough.
- Some Inquisitors in the lore have been known to do this. A particularly memorable example was one who accused a man for heresy, but discovered the man was innocent of the crime. The Inquisitor executed the man anyway, declaring that "wasting an Inquisitor's time" was heretical.
- Dungeons & Dragons 3.5e: In the supplement "Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells", the devils will often do this to damned souls who successfully argue their cases. A damned soul can make a case if they use one or both of the following defenses: forced to sign a Deal with the Devil, or they did not receive the promised benefits from a Pact Certain. It is possible to win on merit, but if they do, they're not out of the woods yet; the devils trying to keep the defendant's soul will bring up unrelated charges of evil or law and, if their score on either value is 9 or higher, the damned soul will be condemned anyway. Cue lots of diabolical laughter.
- Mercenary players are warned of this as a possible screw-job tactic by unscrupulous employers in BattleTech. In an effort to save money, some employers may claim that mercenaries 'failed to do their utmost' even if the mercenary unit successfully completed their mission (for instance, claiming that mercenaries failed a defensive mission by not killing or destroying every enemy on the field even when they drove off the opponent and kept their objective safe). Frustration over this led to the formation of the Mercenary Review and Bonding Commission, which oversaw contracts and offered neutral arbitration in the event of disputes. Unfortunately for mercenaries, the Word of Blake Jihad resulted in the MRCB's destruction. The Successor States are also known to put mercenary units out of business with the "Company Store" gambit (as detailed in the Real Life section) by nickel and diming them for parts and transport and charging premiums, forcing them to become more and more dependent on their employer for supplies until they're so in debt to them they can't afford to leave. In lore, the end of the Refusal War between Clans Wolf and Jade Falcon involved this: as Clan Wolf had committed their entire military force to the war, the Falcons claimed that their loss constituted a Trial of Absorption and laid claim to the entirety of Clan Wolf's resources. Luckily for the Wolves, a witness to the end of the war turned out to be Not Quite Dead.
- On a meta level, bad GMs will often do things like this if the players do something unexpected and throw a monkey wrench in their plot. An example would be if a player attacks a character they aren't "supposed" to attack/kill yet and roll a hit and the GM reacts by secretly increasing the target's armor class so the attack actually misses.
- In BioShock, Atlas is ticked off at how every time you come close to your goal Ryan does something to slow you down. Claiming that every time you make a touchdown, Ryan just pushes the goalposts further down the field. Of course once Ryan is taken care of, you now have to deal with Atlas or, as he's really known, Fontaine who tries to kill you. You start to go after him after you've broken free from the brainwashing he put on you. He has a backup plan in the form of a Trigger Phrase which messes with your biology and you have to scour for items to get that cured. When you manage, Fontaine blows up a passage to keep you from getting to him and now you have to find a way around that before finally confronting him.
- In the Animal Crossing series of video games, your character moves into a new town full of animals. The local shopkeeper, Tom Nook, sets you up with a place to live... and then gives you a bill that you cannot possibly afford. Even after your stint as his personal assistant, it will still take you some time to pay off the debt. Once you do, he offers to renovate your house, and ends up doing so whether you agree or not. And sticks you with that bill as well. It takes many iterations of this pattern before he is content to let you not be in his debt. Averted started with New Leaf, where you get to decide when and how your house is upgraded, if at all.
- Dragalia Lost seems to run on this every 5th story chapter just when it looks like Euden may finally be getting closer to rescuing his sister Zethia, each one a Wham Episode.
- Chapter 5. Euden and his party catch up to his father, Emperor Aurelius, who had been possessed by The Other into restarting the Dyrenell Empire. It turns out it's too late cause now the Other...has switched bodies to his sister and is now Empress Zethia.
- Chapter 10. The party learns the origins of the Second War of Sealing between King Alberius and Morsayati, the true name of the Other, and that he had sealed the demon's power within himself and the dragon Cthonius. All Euden can do is to Mercy Kill his ancestor, but it works for the Other as now he regains his full power, and Euden's own siblings join him whether for power, scientific curiosity, loyalty or just to spite him.
- Chapter 15. Even after his hidden older brother Beren had saved Euden from being possessed by Morsayati by absorbing his soul, Volk, the Agito of Wind, kidnaps Zethia to where a dark figure who looks exactly like Euden, awaits the party. The party make their way to the border to North Alberia and are greeted by the man calling himself Nedrick who drops a bombshell: He is the true Euden who had died of wyrmscale as a baby while the one that players have played with is an impostor. To prove it, he brings out a royal book that will only glow with the touch of those with royal blood. Zethia touches it and it glows. When Euden does so... it doesn't. Even after the party fights through a crazed Valyx and his dragon Thor, Zethia teleports the party back to the Halidom and he's lost her again.
- In The Misadventures of Tron Bonne you start out with a million-dollar debt that you have to pay off. When you raise that money, the loan shark takes it and insists that you now owe interest that comes to another two million. When you finally pay that off, he says that you owe interest on your interest. When the main character refuses to comply, he kidnaps her and forces you to invade and destroy everything. The ending shows Teisel claiming that it was all part of his plan to get the entire stash of the Big Bad. On one hand, tricking someone you know will try this trope is believable. On the other hand... the Bonnes coming up with that?
- In Sword of Vermilion a greedy king makes you go through three progressively larger and harder dungeons in order to get a ring you need. In the end, the hero gets fed up and forces the king at swordpoint to hand the ring over. And it turns out the ring is a fake.
- Resident Evil 6: Simmons forces Helena to help him with his plan to assassinate the President by holding her little sister hostage, and soon after decides to simply use said little sister as a C-Virus test subject regardless.
- In Steal Princess you need to pay debt to the kingdom (the main character's a thief), when the first (relatively cheap) payment is done, the king moves the goalpost up because he says that he's compensating for the expensive things that were stolen. This repeats several times.
- Doom 3 was like this: Whenever you reach whichever location you were previously ordered to go, your squadmates have already gone ahead and your commander would radio you to go someplace else, making it feel as if you were accomplishing nothing in the game. Or rather, nothing beyond killing a lot of zombies and stuff, which is the real point anyway.
- Both New Super Mario Bros. titles work this way. In the old days, you were simply in the wrong castle, but this time around every single fortress/castle is the one containing the princess, but you'll watch her get swept away to the next one seventeen times in a row, Mario.
- Unless you use a cannon, in which case the bad guys graciously move the princess ahead for you.
- Hotel Mario of all things did the same thing years beforehand. Dare me to find her, indeed...
- World Star-4 in Super Mario 3D World features a literal moving goalpost. What appears to be a simple 8 second Breather Level turns into a frantic chase as the winged goalpost moves ever further away from you.
- Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam has several cases of goalpost moving; the bros. try to reach Bowser's Castle to rescue both the regular and paper princesses, only to get constantly deterred throughout the game. Make it to the castle bridge? Bowser's minions smash it. Escape from a prison to find another route? The princesses have been moved to a villa on the nearby mountain. Reach them there? They promptly get taken right back to Bowser's Castle again. Even when you finally rescue the princesses, Bowser and his paper counterpart are still at large, and moves his castle to a new location, forcing the bros. on another scramble to reach it to put a stop to their plans for good.
- Samurai Warriors Katana. Tachibana Ginchiyo in Savior Story's last stage. First, she tells you to get to the top of an inclined plane without taking any damage. You will fail this part repeatedly because the game doesn't adequately explain how to strafe, the specific control scheme is ONLY used in that area, and you can't attack. When you reach the top, she sends 30-ish enemies at you and expects you to defeat them without any attacks landing successfully on you (you can block attacks and deflect arrows as usual). Fail here, and you have to do the first part again. Only thing saving it from being That One Level is that once you deal with the enemies, Tachibane concedes that you're actually strong and doesn't make you fight her.
- You're working to bring ale to The Snake in one mission in Stronghold. The quota is low first, but it's likely that as soon your industry begins to run, he makes an excuse to demand more. He mercifully stops after a while, allowing you to complete the mission. If you know this is coming (one of the level hints points out that the Snake isn't trustworthy, but that's it), you can stockpile a large amount of hops before you start brewing ale. If you subsequently make enough brewers, you can complete his task before he moves the goalposts, but it's tough.
- In King's Quest IV, the Big Bad captures Rosella and sets her to a task to earn her freedom. Upon completing that task, she is given a second one, followed by a third.
- In Ultima VII Part II, you need to free a captain so that you can sail to the next town. The guards want you to pay his fine: 100 Monetari. If you try to pay the fine, they up the fine to some amount slightly larger than the amount of Monetari you have on hand, and will continue to do this if you come back with more. The only way to free the man is to track down a cache of gold bars. This can make the game Unwinnable or cause a Game-Breaker depending on what you do with the gold bars. If you convert the bullion into Monetari, the guards will just up the fine again. If you offer to pay in bullion, the guards will take all of your bullion and free the captain. If you drop all but one of the bars, you can free the captain, reclaim the rest of the bullion, and have more than enough money for the rest of the game. This was mercilessly lampshaded in Nakar's Let's Play of the game.
Steve: Give you a single gold bar worth 100 gold coins for Captain Hawk.
Guard: Alright, though canst have him. Here is the key.
Steve: You absolutely sure you don't want the 7880 Monetari we were going to offer instead?
Guard: Nah, this is good.
Shamino: You're aware that 7880 is a much bigger number than 100, right?
Guard: Hah, you and your fancy 'currency' based on 'international finance.' I'll take a brick of an arbitrarily precious metal over this newfangled 'money' any day!
- Blast Corps. Save the world from the missile carrier! Now save this random shuttle! Now go the moon! Now get all the gold medals! Now go to more planets! Now do it faster! Now go for Platinum! You Can Stop Now.
- In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a Loan Shark dupes you into being the prey in a Hunting the Most Dangerous Game attraction that he runs, promising that if you fight your way out he will release a debtor. When you do, he kills the debtor, declaring "This is my game, and I'm changing the rules!" Last mistake he ever makes.
- Crisis City as Classic Sonic in Sonic Generations has a literal example of the trope. When you reach the goal sign, the flaming tornado in the background uproots it and carries it away. You'll have to play through the level a bit more to reach the goal sign that was moved.
- In Always Sometimes Monsters, you can try negotiating with your Cranky Landlord by offering to pay him whatever money you've scrounged together so that you can stay in your apartment that night, even if you can't afford the full $500. He'll consider this, and potentially agree... but if you pissed him off by refusing to hand over your key, he'll add that you also have to pay a $5000 security deposit upfront to cover the cost of replacing the locks.
- Abathur from StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm. His job is to try to make the Zerg Swarm perfect. However, "perfect" is different from moment to moment. He is well aware that he'll never achieve perfection, and takes it in stride, settling for chasing it.
- Papers, Please: The rules of Grestin border checkpoint change in the matter of days, as the gameplay becomes a lot more difficult toward the player. Aside from making your life harder, this significantly affects some entrants who do not adapt to sudden changes, rendering their passports invalid.
- In the third case of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Phoenix uses witness testimony to prove that his client couldn't have dropped a particular piece of evidence. Inquisitor Barnham is taken aback, but then he declares that witchcraft alters people's memories and tells the witnesses to "rethink" their testimony and try again. In other words, any time the testimony contradicts the Inquisition's case, it doesn't count. (Phoenix responds by parrot testimony, which isn't subject to said witchcraft.)
- Absolute Virtue in Final Fantasy XI was supposed to be impossible to kill, but players had found a way to do it. The developers then made a patch to stomp out the strategy used so it would no longer work. Players would find another way to beat the boss while the developers patch the game to make Absolute Virtue immune to the previous strategy while also banning players for supposedly cheating. This went on for years.
- A very minor version occurs in the opening of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: the Old Man offers to give you his paraglider after you get a treasure out of a nearby shrine for him. After you do so, he decides that actually you need to go to the other three shrines on the plateau as well. The way the player chooses to respond to his statement changes whether he plays this trope or Exact Words: an indignant "That wasn't the deal!" has the Old Man simply state that he's changed his mind, whilst a more humble "So I need more now?" has him point out that he simply said 'treasure', which may be singular or plural given his context. Of course, the Old Man wanted Link to go through the four shrines all along in order to prepare for the journey ahead, and he apologizes for the deception when he reveals his true intentions.
- Played with during Therion's route in Octopath Traveler. Therion is a thief who needs to get into a heavily guarded mansion, so he goes to a former friend of the mansion's owner. He's told that he'll be given a means of getting into the mansion if he procures a rare material, but as soon as he returns with it he's told to go fetch something else. This happens three times before the man reveals that all of the materials Therion got for him were components he needed to make a key that will get Therion into the mansion's vault.
- A training flashback in Hitman (2016) revealed that when Agent 47 was first recruited into the International Contract Agency, his performance (on both simulations and aptitude tests) showed him to be the most promising recruit since Erich Soders, a legendary Cold War operative. Soders, jealous of the young upstart and not wanting to see his records broken, replaced the normal Final Exam scenario with a custom simulation based on one of his toughest missions from The '70s, cranking the difficulty Up to Eleven to ensure 47's failure. Fortunately, Diana figured out what Soders was up to and helped 47 as much as she could.
- My "Dear" Boss: Reach the boss's home at 100000 m? Now reach the hospital at 500000 m in the next launch. Did that? Get him to the cemetary at 1000000 m. The game pushes new goals like this two times and replaces the previous ones on the progressbar.
- Inazuma Eleven: So Aidoru/Sam Idol's Goal Slide technique consists in pushing a specifically-made papier-maché goal out of the ball's trajectory, therefore preventing the goal by literally moving the goalposts.
- When you beat Clair in Pokémon Gold and Silver, she will ask you to follow her into the Dragon's Den and answer a few questions by some men there. Once you finish that, they will then warn her to give you the badge you earned, lest they report such actions to the league.
- In an FMV promoting Crash of the Titans, Nina goes to a salon that has a sign in the window saying that it's giving manicures for $10. The owner clearly does not want to work on her cyborg hands, so they throw her out and change the sign to say that it's $20 for cyborgs. When she gets the money from Dr. Cortex, the short ends with them throwing her out again and making another addendum to the sign saying that it's now $20 per hand.
- Homestar Runner: In the Strong Bad Email "theme park", Pom Pom plays a ring-toss game at Strong Bad's hypothetical theme park. He manages to win, but then Bubs (who's manning the booth) tells him "You gotta get those rings inside the bottle!"
- In Not a Villain, Danni has been struggling with this. Due to her paralysis, her City considers her a "costly liability", and they've been changing their rules to impose more and more difficult requirements on her to justify the resources she consumes. They want her to fail so that they can take her off life-support and import a replacement citizen capable of working on the Farms.
- In The Order of the Stick Belkar strongly suggests that they immediately kill the vampirized Durkon, which is a pretty good idea considering the whole "evil bloodsucking abomination" thing. Roy rejects the proposal because they can't transport the body easily. When that's taken care of, Belkar again raises the suggestion and gets shot down again because there's no cleric to revive him. Everyone else seems just a little too happy to have Durkon back, even if it's not the man they knew to accept that the situation has changed and something needs to be done about it. When the vampire reveals his true colors, Roy admits that Belkar was right all along.
- YU+ME: dream : Sadiko offers to let the protagonist leave with the love interest if she can find the only sword in the castle in five minutes. Turns out that according to Sadiko's watch, five minutes is about four minutes, thirty seconds. And the stakes were also raised from "steal my girlfriend and leave forever" to "kill me and take over the planet".
- Our Little Adventure: It's mentioned that the Hell equivalent for Lawful Evil people is an endless cycle of being punished for every inadequacy, then having the goalposts moved if you ever stop being inadequate.
- Done in the What If? entry "Train Loop" in order to allow for an interesting answer (as in, other than "no"). "Could a high-speed train run through a vertical loop, like a rollercoaster, with the passengers staying comfortable?" becomes (changes bolded) "Could a modified and reinforced high-speed train with a jet engine on top run through a vertical loop, like a rollercoaster, with the passengers surviving?"
- Gaia Online's "Save Our Shops" gold-sink event revolved around giving the NPC shopkeepers enough gold to pay off back tax debts. Rumors circulated that characters who failed the event would be removed from the site. So when the mods started changing the amounts Liam and Ruby owed, fans furiously tried to meet the new goals, which changed again and again to mounting outrage, until the event ended... and Liam and Ruby opened new shops, like the admin had been planning the whole time.
- The 2009 Christmas event had the depowered demigods attempting to build an airship so they could run Christmas while Santa was missing-in-action. Again, users quickly donated all the gold and items they needed... so Cresento ran them down with his own airship and then sued them for damages, necessitating further donations.
- In 2005, an email forward made the rounds, stating that the original sender of the email had hit some financial hard times, and would have to cook and eat his pet rabbit if he didn't receive enough donations. A variation on the same also appeared, with an alleged young couple threatening to have an abortion unless they received enough donations. In both cases, either the amount asked for, or the time in which to donate the money was increased.
- In the Quinton Reviews episode "That Time the World Ended", Quinton talks about what doomsday prophets do when they predictions turn out to be wrong. One method is to claim you got the year wrong and make a new prediction. Just keep moving the year (goalposts) forward for as long as the world refuses to end.
- In an Egregious example, the infamous Youtube personality The Quartering has repeatedly complained about how he hates "politics" in games/movies/cartoons etc, without ever explaining why exactly this is a bad thing. Then, when the trailer for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War came out, he was all for it, along with most other gaming channels complaining about politics even though the game is explicitly political (as are technically all of the Call of Duty games, but we'll ignore that for now.) When people pointed this out, he made a video saying it was only "modern politics" that aren't ok. Not only is this a rather silly and arbitrary "rule" to begin with (as well as him saying on numerous times he just doesn't like "politics", without adding any qualifier that he only means modern politics.) He procedes to contradict this in the very same video by comparing stuff in the trailer to current political and social events, or, in other words, modern politics. Most likely he just means "political themes are ok when they are politics I agree with, but not if I disagree."
- In the Futurama episode "A Clockwork Origin," Dr. Banjo insists that Prof. Farnsworth provide a "missing link" between humans and prehistoric apes. With each link the professor provides, Dr. Banjo demands a link between that link and the prehistoric ape. This continues for a long time until the professor can no longer provide a link. Farnsworth then declares that he's going to go find "Missing Missing Link"... and does! However, when The Prof. triumphantly dumps it in front of the scientific committee, Banjo uses it to support his own theory, leading to this rather meme-tastic quote from Farnsworth:
Farnsworth: I don't want to live on this planet anymore.
- Ed, Edd n Eddy:
- In "Your Ed Here," Kevin finds out Eddy's Embarrassing Middle Name, and uses it as blackmail material to make Eddy do all sorts of publicly humiliating stunts before telling everyone Eddy's middle name anyway.
- In "Stiff Upper Ed," Eddy (with the other 2 Eds) make several failed attempts of joining Sarah and Jimmy's rich club. When the other kids are admitted into the rich club, the Eds make one last attempt, only for Jimmy to ask for their invitations. To add further insult, Kevin is allowed in the club despite him not being dressed rich. Sarah makes no attempt to hide the fact she thinks the trio are freeloaders and should get lost.
- SpongeBob SquarePants:
- "Neptune's Spatula" had SpongeBob trying to be declared the greatest chef ever. Neptune at one point added more and more conditions a person must meet to be the greatest chef (such as "must be left-handed"), often contradicting previous conditions ("Must wear blue underwear, no, RED!"). SpongeBob kept meeting ALL of them.
- In the episode "I'm Your Biggest Fanatic" SpongeBob is trying to get into the Jellyspotters, but their leader Kevin keeps stringing him along with increasingly difficult tasks, at which SpongeBob succeeds with ease. When they finally come up with something sufficiently impossible, it winds up in Kevin being Hoist by His Own Petard as the fake "queen jellyfish" he creates attracts a real king jellyfish, and SpongeBob saves the day, revealing Kevin as a complete loser. When Kevin still tries to deny SpongeBob entry, the other Jellyspotters get fed up and take Kevin's crown (which was actually part of his head) and give it to SpongeBob.
- Robot Chicken had a sketch playing with the famous moment from The Empire Strikes Back. In the sketch, Vader keeps adding ridiculous elements to the deal ("Furthermore I wish you to wear this dress and bonnet!" "Here is a unicycle, you are to ride it wherever you go" "Also you are to wear these clown shoes and refer to yourself as 'Mary'") whenever Lando says "This deal's getting worse all the time!". It only stops when Lando figures out what's happening and says, "This deal... is very fair and I'm happy to be a part of it."
- In the Transformers: Prime episode "Crisscross", Airachnid kidnaps Jack's mother and says she'll let her go if Jack finds her within a time limit. Jack does so, but at the last second Airachnid changes the challenge from "find her" to "rescue her"; since Jack didn't save her from where he found her, Airachnid takes that as her excuse to kill them both.
- In an episode of Arthur, Buster wants to be friends with a couple of skateboarding older kids. The skateboarders promise to let him hang out with them if he performs a humiliating dare. He does, but then they tell him he must perform another dare if he wants to be "initiated." After a series of ever-more humiliating dares, Arthur manages to convince Buster that they're just stringing him along for entertainment value.
- In Rocky and Bullwinkle, a literal example occurs. In a football game, the opposing team actually moves the goal posts.
- Another literal example occurs in the It's The Wolf! episode "Any Sport In A Storm." Lambsy is running with a football heading for the goalposts when Mildew Wolf, hiding in a bush, secretly moves the goalposts as far away from Bristle Hound as possible. Of course, it doesn't work.
- An entire episode of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends revolves around this. In the episode, Wilt was about to watch his favourite basketball game until Bloo tricks him into leaving the room and getting him chips. Every time Wilt tries to go back upstairs to watch the game, he is bombarded by other imaginary friends asking for favors and eating the chips, due to Wilt's inability to say no. It gets even worse when Wilt ends up traveling all over the world doing favors for strangers (such as walking an old lady across the street, substituing an astronaut he accidentally injured, working as a pizza delivery guy, etc.) When he finally comes back, he realizes that he missed the entire game and finally lets out a Big "NO!" only to once again be sent by Bloo to get him chips.
- South Park:
- In a spoof of Great Expectations, Pip insists that his love interest does have a heart, handing her a baby bunny and saying that no one with a heart could break a baby bunny's neck. Cue obvious Neck Snap, and Pip keeps insisting that "No one with a heart could break the neck of 2/3/4/5 (etc.) baby bunnies!". He brings out 26 baby bunnies before she simply gets bored, and claims that as proof that she has a heart.
- The parental version of this trope is seen two episodes later in "The Wacky Molestation Adventure", with Kyle's parents saying he can attend a Raging Pussies concert only if Kyle cleans out the garage, shovels the driveway, and brings democracy to Cuba. He does all three, accomplishing the final task by writing a letter so moving that it touches the heart of Fidel Castro. However, Kyle's parents still refuse to let him go to the concert on the grounds that they don't want him to go. This ultimately kicks off the main Teenage Wasteland plot.
- In "More Crap", Randy takes the world's biggest crap. There's actually a committee in Europe dedicated to measuring as well as an award for doing so, and the previous winner, Bono, becomes jealous. He interrupts the award ceremony and announces that he'd taken an even bigger crap that morning, and measured it himself with no proof, and is given back the award. When he finds out Randy has set out to take back the record he insists he goes to Europe and takes it right in front of the committee because it's the only way to make sure he won't cheat.
- This One and That One is an animated series featuring two anthropomorphic cats as the main characters. In "A Tale of No Tail," they meet another cat-person, but refuse to believe that he's actually a cat because he doesn't have a tail. So they make him do cat-like things to prove that he's a cat, but each time he does them, they insist that he could still be something else because they've seen other animals doing that. "What do I have to do to prove I'm a cat?!" What finally convinces them is when he coughs up a hairball.
- Played for Laughs in Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. In the first episode featuring Birdgirl, Harvey tells her that she cannot be his assistant in the following dialogue.
Harvey: And don't come back until you're all grown uuu-
*Birdgirl climbs out the window, showing a lot of leg and a panty shot.*
Harvey: -until you've been to Law School!
- In "Fright of Passage" on Dragons: Riders of Berk, Tuffnut and Ruffnut do this to Snotlout, repeatedly adding to a list of ridiculous demands that he has to meet in order to get into their shelter. Each time he brings back what they want, they just add something else, until finally the Frightmare threat is driven away and then Snotlout is able to get in, only to find that everyone is gone and the party he was hoping to attend is over.
- In the Looney Tunes short "Fool Coverage", Daffy Duck is an insurance salesman, and he sells Porky Pig an accident policy which pays him $1,000,000 for a black eye. The catch is that Porky must get a black eye in a ridiculously specific accident, occurring as a result of a stampede of wild elephants in his own living room on the Fourth of July — of any year — between the hours of 3:55 and 4 P.M. during a hail storm. Sure enough, as soon as Porky agrees to the policy, he gets into an accident that meets these requirements and gets a black eye from it. As Porky tells Daffy to pay up, Daffy quickly adds that the policy actually specifies a stampede of wild elephants and one baby zebra, making the Aside Comment, "I just added that one." Then a baby zebra runs in.
- In Samurai Jack, Scaramouche is reduced to a bouncing head and is told by a ship guard "No shirt, no shoes, no body, NO SERVICE". So he comes back pretending to have a dog's body, only for the sign to suddenly say "No shirt, no shoes, no body, no dogs, NO SERVICE".
- In The Super Mario Bros Super Show! episode "The Great Gladiator Gig", Mario and Luigi get trapped in the arena of a coliseum that Emperor Koopa has taken over. Koopa forces the Bros. to fight Tryclydius, and even states that if they can defeat him, they'll be allowed to leave. When Mario and Luigi do manage to defeat Tryclydius, Princess Toadstool makes a point of telling Koopa that he needs to let them go. Instead, Koopa orders his guard to release two lions into the arena. When Toadstool calls Koopa out, his response is "One of the nice things about being evil is, you get to lie a lot!"
- A fairly literal example happens at the beginning of the Muppet Babies episode "Kermit Goes to Washington". The babies are racing toy boats across the bathtub. When Gonzo wins, Piggy announces that she's changing the rules, and states that it now takes two laps to win, instead of just one. Piggy then creates a distraction and finishes the race. Naturally, the other babies complain that Piggy shouldn't be able to change the rules mid-game, and Nanny ultimately tells Piggy that she had been unfair.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars: In "Bombad Jedi" Senator Farr discovers to his horror that Gunray's promises of food shipments are primarily contingent on having Padmé in his custody, and even afterwards, the request will be placed under consideration.
- In Miraculous Ladybug, every time Marinette tries to call out Lila's Blatant Lies, she manages to re-rail them with even more blatant lies (she says she "got tinnitus" from saving Jagged Stone's pet cat, Marinette says that the man is allergic to pet fur, hence why he has a pet alligator, Lila just says that this meeting was before Stone found out that he was allergic) or Exact Words (she says that she will meet "her esteemed close friend" Prince Ali soon, Marinette points out that Ali is in New York at the moment, Lila just says that she got the invitation to meet Ali, they will meet when he travels to France soon).
- Corporations in the 19th century would set up "Company Towns" with "Company Stores" where the employees could get ridiculously easy credit. This had hideous interest, plus the rent and inflated prices all put the employees in a state of perpetual debt. Since the debt was to their employer, in effect they were just handing in their wage packets and couldn't save anything. This inevitably led to riots, conspiracies, mass murders, and the formation of labor unions. Adding insult to injury, many companies paid their employees' wages not with real money, but with "credit scrips" which couldn't be used anywhere except in the company stores.
- Referenced in the song "Sixteen Tons," about the trials and tribulations of a coal miner: "You load sixteen tons, and what do you get? / Another day older and deeper in debt / St. Peter, don't you call me, 'cause I can't go / I owe my soul to the Company Store."
- Tacit support from the Secret Police was the chief reasons why socialist parties like the Russian Communist Party easily got support of factory workers in the larger cities of the Russian Empire. They had a habit of funding the enemies they liked most, including the Bolshevik faction of the Communist party, on the grounds that only a tiny minority of people (said urban workers were less than 3% of the total population) wanted to implement their policies. Though very few people truly agreed with their values, the Bolsheviks also well-organised and militant.
- Until 2009, credit card companies in America were free to raise the interest rate on existing balances at any time, for any reason. You could get a credit card with a 4.9% interest rate, buy a $1,000 item with it, make two months' worth of minimum payments to reduce your balance to $980 — and then credit card company could raise the interest rate to 19.9% on the entire remaining $980 balance. Not even variable interest rate mortgages have that kind of abusive power (their interest rates have to be tied to government-controlled indices).
- In the US Army, this can happen for enlisted promotions. The promotion lists are based on cut-off scores - if you have more points than the cut-off score, you're eligible for promotion. This is a constantly-moving line; when the Army doesn't need any more of a particular rank in a particular field, they set the score to be higher than the number of points obtainable in that rank/field. For example, if you've gotten every point possible, say 800 points, the Army may set the cut-off to 801 points, knowing good and well that this means no one will be promoted.
- In one case in the early 1990s, a senior enlisted promotion board met and needed to eliminate some of the otherwise-qualified candidates for promotions. After going through the records of every candidate, the board determined that all of them were more or less equal. The promotion board then decided to eliminate any candidate who had a mustache in his official photo. Surely, no one in the Army was aware that a promotion may hinge on the presence or absence of facial hair.
- This happens in the trucking industry, including garbage collection. The company decides that in order to justify paying you a certain amount of money, you have to collect a certain amount of garbage per week. If you start approaching that limit, they then determine that you're capable of collecting more, and raise the amount of trash they expect you to collect. Which means you go from collecting, say, 98% of your total amount to closer to 90% (while still collecting the same weight) - and, since you're now only collecting 90% of what they say you can collect, they're immediately cutting your pay since obviously you must be slacking off.
- An actual incident in the government siege of Mount Carmel (recording appearing in the documentary Waco: The Rules of Engagement): David Koresh, on the phone to an FBI spokesman, complains of a helicopter firing at them. The spokesman first asserts "there were no guns on that helicopter", then "there were no guns mounted on that helicopter", finally that there may have been a gun or two mounted, but nobody fired it.
- Jack Thompson wrote a "Modest Video Game Proposal", wherein he promised to donate $10,000 to a charity of the choosing of Paul Eibeler (then-chairman of Take-Two Interactive, publisher of Grand Theft Auto and target of Thompson's ire) for the creation of a video game involving the player going on a killing spree against people in the gaming industry. Such a game was made, in the form of I'm O.K. Thompson reneged on his end of the deal, though, saying the game had to be published and sold commercially. Thankfully, Penny Arcade jumped to the rescue, donating the 10K in Jack's name to the Entertainment Software Association Foundation Charity "for Jack Thompson, because Jack Thompson won't". And then Jack Thompson tried to sue them for it.
- Conspiracy Theorists are absurdly fond of this. When pressed, they will claim that they don't have to prove their theories correct, they only have to poke holes in the official story (see the point above).
- For example, they will insist that the NIST simulation of the 9/11 World Trade center collapse is incorrect because it doesn't show exactly what happened. Never mind that the rest of their reasoning holds up, or that precisely simulating the billions of pieces of furniture and fittings and individual components of the building would be impossible on any computer known to man, even if they somehow knew their exact locations.
- When conspiracy theorists claimed that the towers were brought down by controlled use of thermite note , experts showed that the pattern of destruction was incompatible with the way in which thermite burns, at which point conspiracy theorists immediately claimed that it was done with an unknown "super thermite"note that didn't act like regular thermite, even though there was no evidence that this super thermite actually existed. Some now claim that it was some combination of some variant of thermite and explosives, despite the fact that this has all the flaws of both theories (lacking both the loud bangs of explosives and the bright flashes of thermite).
- Famous anecdote from philosophy: When Plato gave Socrates' definition of man as "featherless bipeds" and was much praised for this, Diogenes plucked a chicken and brought it into Plato's Academy, saying, "Behold! I've brought you a man." After this incident, "with broad flat nails" was added to Plato's definition.
- Attempting to fudge the results of a wargame, exercise, or test of a new piece of equipment when it doesn't come out the way someone wants has a long and inglorious tradition in many militaries.
- The Millennium Challenge 2002 wargame was when Lt. Gen Paul van Riper publicly accused the organizers of scripting the event to ensure a US victory and that the entire point of the challenge had shifted to reinforce existing notions that the US military was infallible after his unconventional tactics, playing the technologically inferior enemy force, sank the US fleet in two days (which were arbitrarily refloated to restart the exercise and had the rules changed so they were untouchable) and prevented communication interception by using couriers instead of radio or telephone (which had the rules changed so he wasn't allowed to do it), accusing the organizers of forcing him into using tactics which made the opposition mincemeat for American weapons and tactics (in particular being ordered to turn on anti-aircraft radars solely so they could be targeted and destroyed, and at one point even demanding the arbitrary revelation of where his forces were). On the other hand, van Riper himself was abusing holes in the simulation's rules to do clearly impossible things, like creating magical teleporting bike couriers that delivered their messages as fast as radio but could not be intercepted by normal means because they were not radio communications, mounting 5-ton anti-ship missile launchers onto small speedboats that couldn't carry them, and deploying a frankly obscene number of them. All this on top of the fact that the Millennium Challenge was about practicing a naval invasion, so for logistical purposes (as well as to not overly block naval trade) the fleet was several times closer to shore than normal and not using its radar systems. The articles reporting on the wargame (including a chapter of Blink) show just how much the event was $250 million wasted.
- British military manoeuvres in the late 1920's were designed, by advocates such as Liddell-Hart and Fuller, to test the proposition that the massive losses of WW 1 could be greatly diminished in future wars by using an integrated all-arms force, including a preponderance of tanks supprted by aircraft, to smash through the enemy line using concentrated strength focused on its weakest point. The military theoreticians assembled and trained an experimental, 100% mechanised, Experimental Mobile Force to prove this point. Generals who saw WW1 as an abberation and who wanted to return to pre-1914 tactics as if the war had never happened, were appalled when the EMF did everything asked of it and more. Subsequent manouevres had the parameters changed to demonstrate, for instance, that horsed cavalry was the true war-winning weapon, and the EMF was disbanded with its revolutionary self-propelled artillery scrapped altogether. General Fuller and Colonel Liddell-Hart resigned from the army in disgust and despair, and the only people who absorbed the lesson and took notes were the invited military observers from Germany.
- When the V-22 Osprey aircraft failed to be able to autorotatenote as the wings would get in the way, this requirement was dropped. The above requirement is worse for the V-22 than a conventional helicopter because if one completely unarmored engine loses power and the cross link fails, the aircraft will immediately roll over and crash. Other important features were dropped or decided to no longer be important as weight requirements grew and the designers realized that rotors and propellers are different for a reason and designing a hybrid doesn't work as effectively. These important features include armor and NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) protection, for an aircraft that is expected to be an assault transport. Relating to the above it is also incapable of carrying weapons as those exceed the already tight weight requirements.
- The OICW project was subject to this sort of thing too. When it became clear that the XM29 prototype failed to meet any of the requirements (weight, cost, or effectiveness versus the existing M16 with M203), the prototype was shelved and the project continued into "Increments" that would have developed both parts of the weapon separately and then combined them to create the full OICW. They were only willing to move the goalposts so far in this case, however - when the XM8, the result of "Increment One", not only again failed to meet weight requirements but also had a host of other issuesnote , the project was shelved indefinitely. Meanwhile "Increment Two", the XM25, continued standalone testing for its airbursting properties.note
- The F-35 Lightning II has been infamous for this sort of thing, being pushed further forward into full-scale production (including onto several US allies) solely to make up for the exorbitant costs of its existing development and production. Most notable is the July 2015 demonstration, where the USMC declared the F-35B to meet initial operational capability, despite the actual results of the demonstration very clearly showing that it was nowhere near ready, including shortcomings in night operations and with its communications, flight software, and weapons-carriage abilities.
- The Stryker infantry vehicle was supposed to be air transportable in a C-130 and be able to fight within minutes of rolling out of the plane. This was achieved, but only after the fuel, ammunition, and the infantry themselves were put in a second plane. The weight tolerances also meant the plane's flight range was so short as to be worthless. The Army Secretary's admission of defeat was "well we wanted the engineers to think along these lines even if they didn't achieve the goal."
- When the Wright Brothers snubbed the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, founded in France in 1905 to verify aviation records, by refusing to travel to France and demonstrate their flying machine for them, they added rules that an aircraft should be able to take off under its own power in order to qualify for a record. Thus they were able to discount the Wright Brothers' aircraft, which had been flying for more than a year at that point, because it reportedly used a system employing a falling weight to launch it along rails until it reached takeoff speed, and allowed them to claim that Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian-born Frenchman, was "really" the first man to fly. No one outside of France and Brazil cared, and they themselves have since stamped the Wright Brothers as the first to fly a heavier-than-air craft successfully.
- This all came to a head during a 1908 competition in France, when an FAI judge disqualified a new time to altitude record set by the Wright Brothers because they had used a catapult. The Wrights responded by repeating their feat without it, and getting an even faster time in the process. The Wrights then revealed that the catapult was just a safety measure, and they hadn't used it during their first flights anyway. The FAI's response? To rule that the Wright Brother's craft wasn't an "airplane" because it didn't have wheels.
- There is no official YouTube app for Windows Phone. Google says they don't have the resources to devote to making one. Microsoft has said they will build it themselves as long as Google would let them. At first they just didn't let them, then later just repeatedly changed their standards for approval (standards they ignore for their own Android and iOS apps) resulting it in getting pulled every time it's submitted to the store and have to be rewritten from scratch. It's almost as if they were doing everything in their power to prevent a small competitor from challenging their monopoly.
- Steve Wozniak attempted this after people challenged his assertion that the Apple was the first personal computer. Wozniak changed the definition of a personal computer to an extremely specific one (built-in keyboard input, video output, capable of being programmed, capable of playing games), which was made to match the capabilities of the Apple. This didn't actually work, since Processor Technology's SOL-20 matched all of his criteria and hit the market first.
- The video games industry in Spain made it big on 8-bit platforms in the 1980s - an era dubbed the "Golden Age of Spanish Software" - only to slump into decline after it struggled to migrate to 16-bit machines in the early 1990s. This was largely attributed to the policies of Erbe Software, the monopoly distributor in Spain at the time, which dictated that games had to be sold at a cheap fixed price to deter piracy.
- Before the Civil Rights Act was passed in the 1960s, voter literacy tests in parts of the Deep South were deliberately designed to be impossible to pass, in order to disenfranchise a large number of voters. And to ensure that only black voters were disenfranchised, these tests were coupled with the trope-naming Grandfather Clause - if your grandfather was eligible to vote, so are you, regardless of whether you can pass the literacy test.
- ReactOS, an attempt to implement an open-source OS capable of running Windows programs, has been hit by this from the get-go. It started out as FreeWin95 back in 1996 with the goal to implement Windows 95 support. Then it went silent and was revamped into its current form in 1998, with the goal changed to implement Windows NT 4 support. Then it just kept moving forward from there. The team has currently agreed to keep their target locked at implementing Windows XP support to prevent this trope from affecting them further... Only to be forced to move it again to Windows 7 support due to pressure from their supporters and sponsors.
- Affirmative Action standards in Ivy league Universities, in order to encourage African American and Hispanic students to apply, some universities set higher standards for Asians, who tend to score the highest on SAT tests. In October of 2018, William Fitsimmons Dean of admissions at Harvard University, testified that Harvard University has its own standards for SAT scores that account for race and sex. According to Ann Lee, a college preparatory business, African Americans are given a bonus of 230 points on the SAT, Hispanics 185. Asians, meanwhile, are penalized by 50 points. As a school can only have so many students at any one time, Harvard makes it harder for Asian students to get in via the penalty, in order to make room for historically marginalized demographics and achieve the perception of Equality of Outcome.
- The comments section of Scott Alexanders Anti-Reactionary FAQ was host to a truly bizarre and blatant example of this behavior. A poster named James A. Donald argued that the Flawless Token trope was evidence of a vast conspiracy to promote the idea that blacks are superior to whites, and women are superior to men. When another commenter pointed out that Ayn Rand, Tom Kratman, and John Ringo still sell well, Donald said that Rands works were left alone only to provide Plausible Deniability to the conspiracy, that Kratman was being forced to include female and gay soldiers in his books, and that Ringo was not right-wing by the standard of his time (all of which are false). Donald continued to argue against any provided counterexamples, providing greater and greater specifics and scrutiny for what "counted" as a good example of a non-male, non-white character. The commenters eventually realized that Donald was beyond reason.
- This is a known tactic of many parents to get their children motivated without actually having to cough up a reward when the goal is achieved. Tends to stop working after a few times, as the kids start assuming that The Cake Is a Lie. Because of this, moving the goal posts is one of the more insidious forms of invisible or unrecognized child abuse: studies have shown that children with parents (especially overly-perfectionist ones) and peers who keep doing this often suffer from serious trust issues and paranoia for the rest of their lives.