Follow TV Tropes


Scheherezade Gambit

Go To

Judge Dredd: Wait.
Judge Lex: "Wait?" Are you kidding me? Did you just say, "Wait?" Judge Dredd - the Judge Dredd - finally gets on the wrong end of a gun, and all he says is, "Wait?" You know what? I expected more from you. I mean, wait for what? Wait for me to change my mind? Wait for another two or three seconds of life because you are so fucking weak you can't stand to see it end?
Judge Dredd: No.
[Anderson shoots Lex from behind]
Judge Dredd: Wait for her to shoot you.

Someone has you at their mercy. They could snuff you out without breaking a sweat, and there's nothing you can do to save yourself. Or is there?

If you can convince your captor that you're more entertaining alive than dead, then you might be able to persuade them to stay your execution just a little longer. The classic example is, you can't die until you finish the story/song/art project you've just embarked upon. If the villain kills you now, they'll never hear the conclusion. And you're just now starting to get to the good part...

Anyone who attempts to stave off death by being too interesting to kill is pulling the Scheherezade Gambit.

This trope is named for the legendary Persian queen and origin of One Thousand and One Nights, who beguiled her captor into hearing a thousand Cliffhangers in order to buy time. By the end of it, when she had finally run out of stories, the king who held her life in his hands had fallen in love with her and couldn't bear the thought of destroying her.

This trope can run several ways. In the most tragic versions, "Scheherezade" wins only a few more minutes of life — or her request is ignored entirely and she is killed on the spot. Other times, as in the original, her captor decides she is worth sparing and releases her (a bit a la Lima Syndrome). A third option is that Scheherezade stalls for time long enough to escape, turn the tables on her enemy, or be rescued by The Cavalry.

Compare Holding the Floor, Talking Your Way Out, Plea of Personal Necessity, Perilous Play. Contrast Get It Over With. Can be related to or involve the tropes Forgot to Gag Him, Can't Kill You, Still Need You, Sparing the Aces, and You Will Be Spared.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Black Lagoon: After Rock asks Balalaika not to destroy the Washamine group, Balalaika holds him at gunpoint and threatens to kill him saying that this trope is the only way he's going to get out of this alive. He manages to pull it off and walks away relatively unharmed.
  • In Code Geass, Lelouch Lamperouge is cornered by Tyke Bomb Rolo but Lelouch manages to talk Rolo into letting him live by offering to give up C.C. and for Rolo to really becoming his brother setting up a Kansas City Shuffle. He agrees in hopes of killing both C.C. and Lelouch later giving Lelouch a chance to live another day. Which Lelouch takes full advantage of.
  • Death Note: Subverted by Ryuk and Light Yagami. Sure Light could get out alive if he forfeited ownership of the Death Note, but he would never do that unless he knew he could get it back. Ryuk only dropped the Death Note on earth cause he was bored and wanted some entertainment, as such the first time they meet Ryuk tells Light that he will be the one to write Light's name in his Death Note one day. And after six years, he does.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Cell is easily beaten by Vegeta, but Vegeta is convinced to spare him until he can achieve his Perfect Form and become more of a challenge. He does so and and becomes so strong Vegeta is no longer able to hurt him.
    • Perfect Cell, being partially made from Vegeta's DNA, agrees to spare the heroes and Earth until the conclusion of his "Cell Games" tournament, letting the heroes train and prepare to fight him.
  • Hunter × Hunter: Komugi, the East Gorteau gungi champion, unwittingly pulls this on the Chimera Ant King, an ultra-powerful humanoid monstrosity who has slaughtered nearly everybody else in the castle. While he entertains himself before his massacre of the East Gorteau population, he learns various board games by playing with the national champions and kills them once he's mastered the game and beaten them. Despite his superior intellect however, he cannot seem to beat Komugi, who is blind (and thus cannot see his monstrous appearance), plays every game of gungi with her life on the line, and only seems to get sharper every time they play. The King becomes attached to her and starts enjoying her company, which throws a wrench in the Chimera Ants' plan of world domination...
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency, Joseph pulls this on the super-vampires Wamuu and Esidisi, appealing to their Proud Warrior Race Guy nature by convincing them that it would be more fun to let him live for a month so he can perfect his Hamon and become a Worthy Opponent. They oblige... by making the future encounter mandatory by the way of a Poison and Cure Gambit. Joseph later laments that had he known that it would work (he was trying to buy time for Caesar and Speedwagon to get away) he would have asked for a full year instead.
  • A variant in The Summer You Were There. Kaori realizes that her schoolmate Shizuku is planning on killing herself once she disposes of her novel's manuscript, so after taking and reading it, she convinces Shizuku to write another story about their romance. She later states that she was fully counting on Shizuku not quitting a project midway through.
  • Chie Hori from Tokyo Ghoul uses this as her primary method of dealing with people. A freelancer Camera Fiend and Information Broker, she's a human that has managed to survive dealing with Ghouls for nearly a decade through sheer Nerves of Steel and keeping people guessing. She managed to keep Tsukiyama guessing about her intentions long enough for them to become friends, and years later she avoids being arrested through pointing out that doing so will cause her to only reveal the necessary information... as opposed to offering her services to help their case.

    Comic Books 
  • Used by Cyclops in Astonishing X-Men. Knowing that the Breakworld has his ship bugged, he deliberately makes some vague reference to a mysterious superweapon, and then throws himself into suicidal danger, banking that the Breakworlders will value intelligence on the superweapon more than his death. He's right.
    • He ALSO lied about not having his powers back...
  • Snow White uses the tactic in the Fables graphic novel 1001 Nights of Snowfall. The title is a clear allusion to One Thousand and One Nights. The ending reveals this is actually a prequel to One Thousand and One Nights when Snow meets Scheherezade herself and tells her how to avoid being executed.
  • In Halo: Uprising, Colonel Ackerson convinces the Covenant not to blast Cleveland from orbit by making up an artifact called the "Key of Osanalan" which he told them was hidden somewhere in the city.
  • In The One Hundred Nights of Hero, this is the main plot - a woman named Cherry has to stall Manfred, who her husband Jerome has bet that he can't seduce her, for a hundred days. Her maid/lover Hero decides to solve the problem by telling Manfred a hundred nights' worth of stories.
  • In Red Hood: The Lost Days Talia starts off seeking out mentors for Jason all over the world as a stalling tactic since she loves Bruce and doesn't actually want Jason to kill him. By the end of the comic she's also seeking revenge on Bruce and she convinces Jason to punish him for the both of them without killing him.
  • The Sandman: Endless Nights: To avenge the men who killed her husband and who are now certainly here to rape and kill her, Kara keeps them distracted all night with her beauty, skills, and flattery, until the men of her village return and slaughter them.
  • In a Star Wars Expanded Universe comic called Vader's Quest, the Emperor offers to reward a bounty hunter whose efforts had been impressive. He offers her the chance to join him and get a new, non-derelict body with a better name. She thanks him, but she has all the reward she needs, she likes her name, and she prefers to win with the hand she was dealt, not a stacked deck.
    Palpatine: I see. You do realize where you are and whose word your life depends on, do you? Why should I let your insolence go unpunished?
    Mala Mala: Because it amuses you to do so?
    Palpatine: Quite. Well played, little one!
    • In Boba Fett: Bounty on Bar-Kooda, the travelling magician Wim Magwit was once captured, along with several other entertainers, by the carnivorous space pirate Bar-Kooda. After Bar-Kooda got bored with each entertainer, he would kill them them and have them served as his next meal. Magwit refused to explain the secret behind his "magic" teleportation hoop to Bar-Kooda, realizing that once the act would bore the pirate after losing its mystery. Bar-Kooda kept him alive in the hopes to learn its trick, buying Magwit enough time to escape. Boba Fett uses a combination of Magwit's hoop and Bar-Kooda's unsatisfied curiosity to lure him into a trap.
  • Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen: Jimmy pulled this on an escaped murderer in "The Story of Superman's Souvenirs." The murderer cornered Jimmy and ordered him to provide some gizmo to help him escape the law. Jimmy had to tell him why some of them wouldn't work until he found a solution.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Fairy Tail fic Arabian Nights, Lucy is the latest Virgin Sacrifice brought to Demon King END, and to avoid to her impending death she tells him stories that grab his interest and save her life. Though it soon turns out that END, or rather Natsu, is actually a pleasant guy compared to the other demons, and gets angry when he finds out that Lucy was Tartarus's prisoner. The virgin sacrifices were also the results of the demons maintaining an evil classic, with Natsu just letting them go without knowing why they were brought to him in the first place. And with him being bored as the demon king and falling for Lucy and her stories, he decides to leave with her so they can have their own adventures.
  • After Dagur kidnaps him in Dragons, Butterflies, And Who Knows What Else?, Bruno manages to buy himself time by making various requests (untying him, feeding him, etc.), knowing that they don't actually know how his gift works and thus making up various arbitrary parameters for it.

    Film — Animated 
  • The original Big-Lipped Alligator Moment in All Dogs Go to Heaven is an example. Charlie finds himself at the mercy of a hungry alligator, but when the alligator hears Charlie's singing voice, he's impressed and decides they should "make music together" in a Disney Acid Sequence. This is supposed to set up the alligator saving Charlie's ass at the end of the movie, but it still feels quite out of place.
  • BIONICLE: Web of Shadows puts a spin on it by having The Starscream Roodaka do one on behalf of the heroes, arguing that a spectacular execution would enhance Sidorak's reputation better than Just Shooting Them. Admittedly, she only wanted them killed differently for the purposes of her own schemes, but the effect is the same as it gave the Rahaga time to stage a rescue.
  • Actually inverted in the animated film Magic Gift of the Snowman. At the start of the film, protagonist Landon learns that his younger sister Emery-Elizabeth is very ill and confined to her bed; although the doctor believes she'll recover if she can make it to Christmas, she seems to have lost the will to live and might not last that long. Determined to help his sister pull through, Landon begins telling her a story about a magical snowman named Snowden and his adventures with the two of them, ending it on a cliffhanger each night so that Emery-Elizabeth will have to hang on until the following day to hear what happens next. Not only does she make it to Christmas, come Christmas morning she's out of her wheelchair as well.
  • Shaggy pulls this in Scooby-Doo in Arabian Nights in order to avoid having to marry the Caliph (It Makes Sense in Context. Just). His actual plan is to bore the Caliph into falling asleep so he can sneak away, but it doesn't work out that way.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The miniseries Arabian Nights makes use of this, unsurprisingly.
  • The Emperor and the Assassin: Emperor Ying Zheng plans a Batman Gambit: trick Yan's rulers into sending an assassin to kill Ying to give him the excuse he needs to invade Yan. The assassin Jing Ke, realising his target is watching him like a hawk, pretends to collapse in fear and confesses he's been sent by the Yan to kill the Emperor. Ying Zheng is so overjoyed at being given the exact Pretext for War he wanted, that he lets his guard down.
  • Played for Drama all throughout The Fall. Roy, the storyteller, tells 5-year-old Alexandria that he needs his pills to continue telling his bandit story, and she needs to go steal them for him like a good little bandit. The pills he wants her to steal are morphine. He plans to kill himself. Alexandria later uses the story to convince him to live.
  • James Bond saves himself from laser-based castration by convincing Goldfinger (in the movie of the same name) that he's more valuable alive as a prisoner.
  • Later, in Licence to Kill after Bond has dismantled Franz Sanchez's drug empire, Sanchez has Bond at his mercy. Bond asks, "Wouldn't you like to know why?" This makes Sanchez hesitate, giving Bond the opportunity he needs to kill him.
  • Hero (2002): Wu Ming ("Nameless"), a minor official who claims to have vanquished three assassins out to kill the King (Broken Sword, Long Sky and Flying Snow) before he has a chance to declare himself Emperor, is given a extremely rare audience with the King to tell him the story. The story is only an excuse to be given an audience with the King so Wu Ming could assassinate him.
  • The Hobbit
  • This trope is practically Captain Jack Sparrow's modus operandi in Pirates of the Caribbean. In the first movie, he successfully uses it twice on Captain Barbossa and crew, and he goes on to use it (still successfully) against Davy Jones, Beckett, and on his own crew in the sequels.
    • Made even more amusing by the fact that Captain Barbossa knows that Jack is using this on him. He closes his eyes and you can see him trying to will himself not to ask what Jack is babbling about this time. He fails, of course, by the very merit of this gambit.
  • In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne manages not to be thrown off the prison roof by a furious Captain Byron T. Hadley by convincing Hadley that he can help him dodge the taxman.
  • Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is a kid reading three stories from a modern-day cannibal's favorite book from childhood, to stall for time before she cooks him.
  • In the film The Usual Suspects, the police have captured one member of a criminal gang. They interrogate him, and the Suspect tells the story of the gang's exploits, leading up to the Suspect's capture.
  • In We're the Millers, Rose does this when Pablo Chacon first catches up to the Millers after tracking down where their RV was being fixed at. She ends up stripping for him, though they also use this opportunity to escape.

  • A man was facing the firing squad and said "Can I have one last request? I've always liked singing, so I'd like to sing one last song." The captain decides it's a reasonable request and nods. The condemned man clears his throat and sings "One thousand and one bottles of beer on the wall, one thousand and one bottles of beer...."

  • The Trope Namer is One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales. The framing device is the story of a sultan who, after being betrayed by a woman, develops a habit of marrying a new wife each day, spending the night with her, and executing her the next morning. When he marries the daughter of his vizier, Shahrazad, on their wedding night she asks to see her sister one last time, and while visiting the sister asks her to tell a story. Being both a gifted storyteller and rather clever, Shahrazad leaves the story unfinished and promises to relate the ending the following night. The sultan delays the execution so his wife can finish the story, but that night and every night thereafter, Shahrazad finishes the previous story, begins a new one, but ends the evening on a cliffhanger so the sultan will spare her life another day. By the time she runs out of stories (and has borne him three children) the sultan has fallen in love with her, and the two become Happily Married. Obviously a story created by a storyteller.
  • The Kelx religion in Neal Stephenson's novel Anathem is built on a cosmology of a Magistrate and a Condemned Man; each day, the Condemned Man tells a story, to prove the value of every soul (as every soul can create entire worlds). The Kelx believe that they, and their world, are the Condemned Man's stories. If the Magistrate ever finds the content of the stories to be overly sinful, the Condemned Man and thus our universe will be executed.
  • In Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle, Eliza does this to her traveling companion to make sure he doesn't abandon her: she tells him the story of her life, pausing at a suspenseful point right as they approach a town and not resuming until they've passed it. The victim takes a while to catch on, mostly because he was never intending to abandon her anyway. Since Eliza is an escaped harem slave, she presumably learned about this trick directly.
  • The Golden Hamster Saga: In Freddy's Final Quest, the guinea pigs Enrico and Caruso are captured by starving Crusaders who want to eat them. Luckily for them, one of the monks Speaks Fluent Animal and forces them to spend hours putting on skits for himself and one of the soldiers, planning to eat them as soon as they run out of ideas.
  • In The Hobbit there's an inversion, as Bilbo realize that the way to keep Gollum from attacking him is to go along with his riddle-game and keep him distracted long enough to formulate an escape plan. In an interesting twist on the trope, the Scheherazade Gambit only succeeds thanks to luck; when stumped by a riddle, Bilbo can only stammer for more "time," which was the answer. In fact, after Bilbo wins, Gollum decides to go back on his word and get the Ring so he can ambush Bilbo while invisible.
  • I, Claudius takes the popular position that Claudius used Obfuscating Stupidity to appear as a bumbling, stuttering clown to keep himself alive during the reign of The Caligula. It worked. After Caligula and his family was assassinated, The Praetorians found Claudius hiding behind a curtain and crowned him Emperor. To everybody's surprise, Claudius was actually a good ruler. He even had the ringleaders of the conspiracy executed. (They did it once, so they could do it again; furthermore, they wanted to kill Claudius as well.)
  • Keturah Reeve of Keturah and Lord Death meets Death, come to claim her life, after she becomes lost in a forest. She persuades him to grant her a reprieve by putting her storytelling skills to use in the fashion of this trope, winning herself a number of extra days by drawing out the story (although it becomes clear that Death is already inclined to be generous; on one of the nights he comes for her, Keturah doesn't have a story prepared but is allowed another day anyhow).
  • Stephen King's novel Misery is about a Loony Fan kidnapping her favorite author and forcing him to write a book just for her. After a while, the writer begins to compare himself to Shahrazad, knowing that he will be kept alive at least as long as it takes him to finish the book.
  • The Princess Bride, this happens when Westley is captured by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Westley keeps coming up with ways to make himself useful, like advising on seasoning food. Roberts says he'll probably kill him tomorrow. This goes on for two years, to the point Roberts saying "I'll probably kill you tomorrow" is akin to "Good night".
  • The very first Redwall book has Matthias pull this on the King of the Sparra (the sparrows in Redwall's roof) so that he won't have him killed.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, Lúthien uses this tactic on Morgoth by dancing before him, then putting him to sleep with her magic cloak.
  • Meta: The entire Star Wars Expanded Universe would cease to exist without gobs and gobs of Continuity Porn. Every single character with a name has to be explained; even characters which don't have names, such as the wampa whose arm Luke cut off (not the same wampa that captured him, mind you, but its mate), have backstories. Done exactly like Scheherezade.
  • In "Jack's Bean Problem" from Jon Scieszka's book The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, the Giant kidnaps Jack the Narrator and gives an ultimatum: "Tell me a better story or I'll grind your bones to bake my bread. And when you're done I'll grind your bones to bake my bread anyway!" Jack then tells the Giant a recursive story, repeats it until the Giant falls asleep, and sneaks away.
  • Sunshine: Inverted when the protagonist is trapped with a starving vampire who's trying to Resist the Beast. The vampire urges her to tell him about herself as a distraction, which briefly derails her fear with pure annoyance, but does help to keep her alive.
    Who am I, Scheherezade? I felt a sudden hysterical rush of outrage. It was bad enough that I was going to be eaten ... but I had to talk first?
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Time Enough for Love, Lazarus and Ira embark on what they call a "reverse Scheherazade". Lazarus agrees to not suicide if Ira shows up faithfully every day to listen to him (Lazarus will accept an occasional suitable substitute if Ira's official duties prohibit him showing up in person). In a subversion, Lazarus has no way to measure the passage of time, so Ira has him kept unconscious for days at a time, until it's convenient for Ira to show up.
  • In Gail Carson Levine's The Two Princesses of Bamarre, the dragon Vollys deliberately invokes this - she keeps her human prisoners alive as long as they amuse her, with even a point system to measure how far they are from death. The catch is that she always gets bored eventually.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Defied in Battlestar Galactica (2003). During The Mutiny, Admiral Adama is subject to a Kangaroo Court over his command decisions. Romo Lampkin is roped in as his defense attorney. Aware that they're both going to be executed regardless, and knowing that loyalists are fighting the mutineers, Romo urges Adama to play along with the charade to stall for time. Adama refuses, such is his contempt for the mutineers for betraying him.
  • In Better Call Saul, after a contrived plan, Lalo finally manages to get Gus at gunpoint. Gus starts monologuing until he reaches his hidden gun.
  • A version is described in Burn Notice. Michael (in narration) says that someone who's trained in withstanding interrogation won't clam up. Instead, he'll talk incessantly, never revealing anything important, but always sounding like there will be a point at the end of the story. This supposedly interferes with any techniques the interrogators might use (since they don't want to interrupt a guy who might be about to confess) and frustrates the captors far more than the prisoner.
  • Criminal Minds, "Damaged": Spencer Reid puts his well-honed capacity for statistical and psychological babble to life-saving use.
    • One of this character's more quietly badass moments.
    Hardwick: (as the guards rush in to rescue him) Is that true? Did I really never have a chance?
    Reid: (on his way out the door) I don't know. Maybe.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In too many episodes to list, the Doctor, with an enemy poised to kill them, starts thinking out loud about how to escape. The villain is so mesmerized by the process that the Doctor is allowed to keep going until they come up with an idea.
    • Another tactic is to make the villain want to interrogate the Doctor first. This occurred at least as long ago as "Genesis of the Daleks", where Davros had the Fourth Doctor at his mercy, in the middle of his base, disarmed, isolated from his companions, and on a torture rack. He COULD have killed him then, but wanted to get the information about the Dalek defeats the Doctor knew about. Earlier in the same adventure, the first activated Dalek tried to kill the Doctor when it detected he was an alien, and one of the Kaled scientists intervened because they hadn't finished questioning him yet.
      • Parodied by Bob the Angry Flower when Bob persuades the Daleks to interrogate him inside an exclusive members-only club that he had been trying to get into for some time.
    • Rose pulls this on the Daleks in "Doomsday", claiming knowledge of the Time War. Mickey and a scientist who's also in the room quickly follow her lead. Too bad the Daleks did need one of them (Either/Or) and the scientist quickly turned out to be a Mauve Shirt
    • "The Sontaran Stratagem": The Doctor dissuades General Staal from immediately killing him during their first encounter by revealing he knows what the Sontarans are, without revealing his identity, giving him enough time to escape.
    • Rory does it to House in "The Doctor's Wife", claiming that the entity will want them for its entertainment since it needs to be entertained. This results in some serious Mind Screw for him and Amy.
  • The Drew Carey Show displays this in "Two Drews and the Queen of Poland..." A crazy stalker named Earl has Drew at gunpoint, but his friend Oswald (of all people) stops him. He claims that he can "mathematically prove" that Earl can't kill Drew. The math geek Earl is so fascinated by Oswald's rhetoric that the gang are able to subdue him.
  • Invoked in the aptly-named Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Scheherazade", with an old man dying of cancer making a deathbed confession piece-by-piece. In this case, it ends up being a potential problem: his death is inevitable, so rather than prolonging his life, the drawn-out nature of the confession only increases the possibility that he'll die before he gets to the important part. Olivia eventually convinces him to get to the point.
  • In an episode of Magnum, P.I., Higgins tells of once when he was in the British Army, a soldier did this so the rest of his unit (including Higgins) could slip away.
  • One episode of NCIS revolves around one when DiNozzo and McGee go after Ziva after she leaves NCIS for her job back with Mossad. When being interrogated, DiNozzo goes through every detail regarding Gibbs' team and the process by which the team had found his captors, including the part where he and McGee go rogue in order to find Ziva. The ploy is not to make himself seem more interesting alive rather than dead. DiNozzo is stalling so that Gibbs can get into place in order to take out their captor.
  • Attempted and failed in Robin of Sherwood
    Pretender: You won't kill me! You don't know who I am.
    Robin Hood: I don't care who you are.
  • In a Season Three episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Sabrina's zany cousin Zsa Zsa tricks Sabrina into buying a large amount of ambition-boosting products for Harvey by repeatedly insisting that they're not what she wants. Once Sabrina's made her purchases, Zsa Zsa lampshades the trope by remarking that she loves reverse psychology.
  • Star Trek:
    • In "The Squire of Gothos", Kirk convinces Trelane to spare him because it would be more fun to Hunt The Most Dangerous Game. In this case, however, Kirk's actual intent is to buy time to radio The Enterprise to tell them to flee while Trelane is distracted.
    • In "The Enterprise Incident", after Spock is exposed as a Fake Defector, he requests he be allowed the traditional Romulan right of statement before his conviction and eventual execution, which the Romulan Commander grants. In truth, Spock is stalling so that Scotty can adapt the stolen Romulan cloaking device to the Enterprise deflectors and then beam Spock onboard. It actually works better than they had planned. When the Commander realizes that Spock is escaping, she tries to grab him, only to be transported with him, and taken prisoner herself.
  • In an episode of The Twilight Zone (1985), a teacher is told that one of her students must be allowed to take books home, though why he must is not specified. When the student falls during recess and must be taken to the hospital overnight, she finds out that the boy's grandfather is home and waiting for the concluding half of the last night's story. She offers to fill in for the student. Many years later she sees the now-grown man hurrying home and follows him, wondering if the grandfather is still alive. Just as she is about to open the door to the room where they are, she stops telling the narrative to her mother, who must now wait until the next day to hear the conclusion. It's revealed that this method grants the listener immortality—they can't die until the story is completed.

    Tabletop Games 

  • We Will Rock You, based on the music of Queen, has an opening scrawl where Brian May was about to be executed, but was allowed to play one last solo first. Two days later, they executed him.

    Video Games 
  • Kayn from League of Legends uses a scythe contained a bound darkin named Rhaast as his weapon. Rhaast wants to take over Kayn and return to destroying the world, while Kayn wants to expel Rhaast and take his power for himself (as well as proving himself the chosen one). In some of their dialogue, it appears Rhaast is pulling this gambit on Kayn to stop him simply dropping the scythe and walking away.
    Kayn: I let you go, and you will die.
    Rhaast: And you will lose.
  • Persona 5's Framing Device is Joker explaining to Sae- a hostile prosecutor with no knowledge of magic- how he learned about "stealing hearts" and why his team don't deserve to be punished. By the end he's not only convinced her to believe him, but changed her heart as well, no magic required.
  • A Pirates of the Caribbean game has Jack Sparrow's allies betray him the second the tutorial level is beaten. The majority of the game is his story of what really happened, which he's telling the executioners as he is about to be hanged. (It is, of course, Blatant Lies.)
  • In Pokémon Black 2 and White 2, the final movie in the Ghost Eraser Series has the protagonist go up against Majin, where it won't use offensive moves as long as the player answers the correct questions and keep it entertained.
  • Spider and Web puts the player in the position of doing this.

  • Donovan Deegan does it with cheesy jokes.
    • Cheesy RACIST jokes...against his own race. Guy knows his audience.
  • How I Killed Your Master - "It is simple, Chan Sen. You can kill me and avenge your master, or you can listen to me and surpass him."
  • In Last Res0rt, this is the relationship between Veled and Jigsaw in a nutshell. Veled even nicknames her "Punchline".
    • Later on, Jigsaw finds out (via Melody and Binary) that because she's already on the reality show, she's too high profile for them to let her die (since either her death will arouse suspicion, or won't be able to be covered up).
  • In the first chapter of morphE Billy begs Amical for his life when put up against Tyler in the pit, assuring that he is a celebrity and he would be better alive then dead. Amical happens to be a fan and so shoots Tyler in the shoulder to make the fight more "fair".
  • Oglaf shows how this might have backfired for the original Scheherezade.
  • In The Order of the Stick Nale, having just been caught spying on Tarquin, avoids being killed by Malack by saying he has information on the gates.

    Web Animation 
  • Camp Camp: Inverted. When Daniel has Max at his mercy, Max asks to hear the full history of Daniel's Church of Happyology. Daniel initially won't comply, until Max unfavorably compares him to David, and then Daniel pulls out his fiddle and begins singing the tale of Xeemug. Max takes the opportunity to brain him with a guitar and escapes.

    Western Animation 
  • The American Dad! multi-parter "Stan of Arabia" sees Roger get bought as a bride for an oil baron. In order to get out of having sex with the baron, he tells the man the plots of Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place. Subverted when Roger runs out of episodes; the oil baron strips down and apparently has such unimpressive equipment that Roger decides having sex is no problem.
  • Batman: The Animated Series, "The Man Who Killed Batman": After humble mook Sid the Squid explains to The Don Rupert Thorne he is a Badass on Paper, Thorne replies him that Sid is just using Obfuscating Stupidity and invokes this trope as the excuse Sid needed to muscle in on Thorn's drug racket.
    • In another episode, Red Claw kidnaps Alfred, who knows a secret password that will allow her to seize control of an army of missiles that could wipe out the whole United Kingdom. She injects Alfred with a powerful truth serum to make him reveal the password. The moment the butler is injected, he begins shouting random lines from British poetry non-stop. It's eventually revealed that "The Lion and the Unicorn were fighting for the crown" is the code; by reciting other poems, he's making it impossible for Red Claw to figure out which verse is the important one, forcing her to keep listening and thus delay her plan (a ploy that works).
  • In an episode of The Beatles ("The Word"), The Beatles accidentally see a sheik's harem unveiled and get sentenced to death. They delay their execution by playing a song, obviously.
  • In The Cuphead Show!'s episode "Sweater Luck Next Time", when Cuphead discovers that the Devil has caught him not wearing his protective sweater while his brother Mugman is out to get it, the former tries stalling for time waiting for Mugman to return by lying his way out of a desperate situation, and then backs away as the Devil is advancing on him until he is cornered against the wall, afraid that his gambit may not work. When the Devil then reaches into Cuphead by the tips of his fingernails and slowly starts yanking his soul out of his body, it takes long enough for Mugman to finally arrive with the sweater in the nick of time, not to put it on Cuphead however, but to distract the Devil from claiming his soul by shouting so that Mugman can put the sweater on the Devil and restore Cuphead's life by placing his soul back in his body.
    • Before that, however, when Mugman discovers that the Devil is planning to get Cuphead's soul on the Obliterator ride, unaware that Cuphead had taken off the sweater, Mugman urges his brother to get back home for the sweater; and when that fails, Mugsy goes back for the sweater himself, leaving Cuphead to keep a social distance from the Devil and make the most of the time to tell jokes to the Devil and make him laugh, up until they both reach the top of the tower. Then the Devil gives him a pat on the shoulder, and that's where things are headed in the aforementioned paragraph...
  • Done in one Family Guy episode where Stewie was the king of England, and his entertainers simulated television. When you get canceled, you get canceled.
  • In Gargoyles, Xanatos has admitted this is why he doesn't just send a Psycho for Hire with a sledgehammer at daybreak. Whether or not they foil his plans doesn't matter he always benefits anyways even if its just a fun fight in his Powered Armor.
  • An episode of Justice League Action has the Toyman rig up a facsimile of a Fighting Game and devices that let him control whoever they are affixed to as puppets, the idea being to force Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg to fight for his amusement. Cyborg (who happens to be a fan of the game it's based on) reminds him that it's a two-player game, offering some "friendly competition". Toyman seems Genre Savvy at first ("Oh sure! I let you play, and you take advantage of the situation to free your friends. How stupid do you think I am?" ) but Cyborg plays on the villain's competitive nature (seeing that Toyman's goal is to not just defeat them, but humiliate them and have fun in the process), and he agrees to it. Naturally, Toyman's first hunch was the one he should have listened to. After two "rounds" of the "game", one of his own robotic action figures (who Cyborg had hacked) sabotages the system and disables it.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In the episode "Cape Feare", Bart pulls one on Sideshow Bob. When Bob has him cornered on the adrift houseboat and asks if he has any Last Requests, Bart plays on his ego, telling him he has such a lovely singing voice ("Guilty as charged!" exclaims Bob) and asks him to sing the entire score of H.M.S. Pinafore, Bob complies (mostly to prove he can do it, probably) oblivious to the fact that the boat is drifting towards Springfield as he does, and as he finishes, he's noticed by Chief Wiggum and a squad of armed police, who tell him to raise 'em.
    • One short-story had Lisa in the role of Sheherazade, with Nelson as the sultan she was entertaining with her stories. The sultan keeps demanding one story after another, until she snaps and tells him to at least take some time to let the previous story have some impact on him. Nelson prepares to have her beheaded for standing up to him, but while Lisa was entertaining him with stories, the other concubines had overpowered his guards and left him defenseless.
  • In the Tom and Jerry version of The Nutcracker Suite, the Sugar Plum Fairy gets locked in a cage and manages to steal the keys. The head cat catches her with them, but he thinks she wants to play with him, so she goes along with this misunderstanding; this leads to her being in possession of the right key later.

    Real Life 
  • Older Than Feudalism: Caractacus was a British Celtic chieftain, who led an uprising against the Romans. He was defeated and captured, and Romans had that habit of making triumphant entries, of which decapitation of defeated and captured enemy leaders was a major part. Caractacus persuaded the emperor that leaving him alive would be a better paragon of his magnificence than killing him. He lived wealthily ever after in Rome.
  • The Jewish rebel Josephus pulled more or less the same stunt as Caractacus during the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 CE, convincing the Roman commander Vespasian that he (Josephus) was a prophet, and predicting that Vespasian could become Emperor. Sure enough, 69 CE was the "Year of the Four Emperors," and come the end of the year, who was in charge? Why, Vespasian, of course. Josephus received Roman citizenship and Imperial patronage, got himself a state pension, and spent the rest of his life in Rome writing books. He ended up being one of the more important historians of the Jews, providing valuable information about Judea and Judaism in the first century which, for those of you living under a rock, is when the Jews were evicted from their traditional homeland and when a certain Yeshua ben Yosef got himself nailed to a stick for some things he said...
  • French artist Marie Tussaud was arrested and sentenced to death during the French Revolution, but was eventually released and employed to make wax death masks for famous guillotine victims. After the revolution, she set up a wax museum in London. This museum (called "Madame Tussauds") is still a major tourist attraction in London, displaying wax sculptures of modern and historical figures alike. It has branches in several major cities around the world.
  • Huddie William "Lead Belly" Ledbetter successfully convinced the state governor to release him from prison with a song. Twice.



Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Arabian Nights Gambit


Bob sings H.M.S. Pinafore

When it seems that Bob has Bart cornered, he asks the boy if he has any last request. Being on a drifting houseboat, Bart takes advantage of this, and tricks Bob into singing the entire score of H.M.S. Pinafore. Sideshow Bob complies to this request, distracting him long enough for the boat to reach Springfield, where the cops are waiting.

How well does it match the trope?

4.79 (14 votes)

Example of:

Main / ScheherezadeGambit

Media sources: