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Xanatos Gambit

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The Plan is to stab you five times with Morton's Fork. The faster the pathway, the better the outcome.

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

A Xanatos Gambit is a plan for which all foreseeable outcomes benefit the creator — including ones that superficially appear to be failure. The creator predicts potential attempts to thwart the plan, and arranges the situation such that the creator will benefit in one way or another even if their adversary "succeeds" in "stopping" them. When faced with a Xanatos Gambit the options are either to accept that the creator will get the upper hand and choose the outcome that is least beneficial to them, or to defeat them by finding a course that they didn't predict.

Don't forget. Morons are especially good at the latter...

At its most basic, the Xanatos Gambit assumes two possible outcomes for the one manipulated — success or failure. The plan is designed in such a way that either outcome will ultimately further the plotter's goals. A more complex view is offered by the study of probability in which such a gambit is known as a Dutch Book and involves securing bets such that regardless of the outcome the bookie will always pay out less than was bet.

Since the Xanatos Gambit can involve an obvious goal's apparent failure, this is a convenient device in an ongoing series to let the villain occasionally win (preventing Villain Decay) while still giving the heroes a climactic pseudo-victory. It can also be a demonstration of Evil Virtues and possibly a forerunner to a Heel–Face Turn (as in the Trope Namer); a Xanatos Gambit often involves foregoing a large win in favor of a smaller easier win, showing that the villain is capable of being patient and humble.

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

If the character's plan is continually revised to bring about a winning solution no matter what happens, he is playing Xanatos Speed Chess. When a plan is so ludicrously complicated that it relied more on luck than actual planning and foresight, it's a Gambit Roulette. If the plan relies on misdirection rather than Morton's Fork, then it's a Kansas City Shuffle. If several people are trying to out-scheme the other in this way, you might be headed for a Gambit Pileup where several of them are likely to be Out-Gambitted. This may involve counters to plans the mastermind may or may not be expecting.

This is one of The Oldest Tricks in the Book, listed in The Thirty-Six Stratagems as the 35th strategy, Chain Stratagems.

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

This trope is not to be confused with Thanatos Gambit (where a plan includes the planner's death as a final piece) although they can overlap, or Hoist by His Own Petard (when someone's own thingamajig is the source of their downfall).

Sadistic Choice is the Polar Opposite, in which every given choice will hinder the person deciding the choice.

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

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


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

    Card Games 
  • In Bridge, with the number of different varieties of coups, endplays, and the like, it's quite possible to make sure that no matter what is played, you make your contract despite it appearing to be hopeless, or make your opponents lose their contract despite it appearing completely solid. The most common variety is the endplay (by intentionally losing a trick to opponents, you force an opponent to give you at least two more tricks due to lack of leads), but the squeeze play (where an opponent is forced to discard too many cards, allowing their good cards to be easily captured) and the coup (generally a play to force a foe into promoting one of your other cards) also frequently work like this. The defense can also pull these off, although generally not as easily.
  • Frequently the primary style behind the Scorpion Clan in Legend of the Five Rings, both in game mechanics and in storyline, consist of losing to win. Attacking them politically means they indulge in slander and blackmail; attacking them militarily means they lay horrific traps and pull you into impossible wars all the while. This has proven to be a catch-22 for the writers, as it's a Wall Banger if the clan doesn't salvage anything from a defeat, but also if they're never truly defeated. They're also notorious for claiming that everything is All According to Plan, even unambiguous defeats.
  • Depending on cards and archetype, this is often the goal in a game of Yu-Gi-Oh!. Decks in modern Yu-Gi-Oh! tend to focus on a singular strategy that can account for a number of potential attacks or moves by your opponent, and certain archetypes use your opponents moves. A Skull Servant deck wants its monsters to be destroyed and placed in the graveyard. Your opponent needs to destroy your monsters to win, but in doing so powers your other monsters (in particular the King of Skull Servant). If they leave them alone to stall your moves, they could risk you summoning something extremely dangerous that may not be reliant on your active strategy, but exists for this scenario. It's a lose-lose situation, and the only way out is to simultaneously destroy a monster and get it banished rather than just regular destroyed. This is not impossible to do, but had your deck not been set up to counter this exact potential moment, you are in a serious risk of failing to recover or gain traction against your opponent.

    Comic Books 
  • The terrorist organization The Many Arms of Death have such a plan in place for Batwoman in Batwoman (Rebirth). Ideally, they want to string her along through various "trials" to make her suffer as much as possible, but would not be opposed to her being killed outright. They would have even found success if she hadn't taken their initial bait, as then one of their attacks would not have been foiled.
  • In Down Town, the mob boss Marcone orders Harry not to investigate a recent murder. Whether Harry obeys or not is unimportant, as Marcone later explains: the former possibility saves him time and manpower, but either way the killer is found and punished. And if Harry doesn't get involved, Marcone's people get to investigate the crime without the stubborn, dangerous mage getting in their way.
  • Green Lantern:
    • Lord Malvolio, the son of a Terran woman and an extraterrestrial Green Lantern Corps member, who had his father's ring, tricked Green Lantern Hal Jordan into taking his ring. After Jordan had thought that he defeated him, Malvolio simply got back up again. While Jordan may have had Malvolio's ring through Emerald Twilight, Malvolio only returned in prose.
    • In Sinestro Corps War, Sinestro gloats that although his Corps is losing the battle he's already won, because by forcing the Green Lanterns to use lethal force against his troops he's ensured that a more fearsome Corps will keep order in the universe: either fear of the Sinestro Corps will be keeping people in line, or fear of empowered-to-kill Green Lanterns will.
  • The Joker's entire existence is this at the expense of the Caped Crusader. If Batman doesn't come after him, Joker can do whatever he pleases with impunity: Joker wins. If Batman beats him and throws him into Arkham or does something else to incapacitate him, Joker just escapes, and he had gotten to have a playdate with Batsy again (and kill a bunch of people in the meantime): Joker wins. If Batman kills him, Joker has corrupted him: Joker wins.
  • In one Justice League of America story, the Key traps the League in hallucinatory fake realities, with their inevitable escape being an important component of his Evil Plan. Having them trapped happened to be beneficial for him, but he was also counting on their escape. Unfortunately for him, he didn't count on Connor Hawke's appearance.
  • The Supreme Intelligence of Marvel's Kree Empire is a master of this. His defeats frequently lead to sequels where he gloats that the defeat was only part of some bigger, more elaborate scheme.
  • Knights of the Dinner Table: Brian uses one when his character is granted a wish. Knowing the way these things usually go, he comes prepared. When it inevitably backfires, a clause he snuck into his wish comes into play, and his character is resurrected and awarded several thousand gold pieces as a consolation prize.
  • Anathos in Les Légendaires pulled one about his reincarnation: he wanted to reincarnate through a living, but, for this, his future host had to bear his mark. So, when he had to mark his Apocalypse Maiden, he was careful to also mark a precious item she had in her possession as a failsafe. When the time comes, the protagonists attempted to hide her and kill her if necessary, only for Anathos to instead possess one of her friends, whom she had given her item too and as such who was technically bearing the mark as well.
  • Queen Chrysalis' Evil Plan as revealed in issue #3 of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW) makes use of this trope. Stealing Twilight's magic would of course be her best scenario, but putting the bearers of the Elements against each other, or allowing her minions to have taken over Ponyville would have their benefits too. Further, in issues #4, she forces Twilight to either choose to go free and let the Changelings at her friends and the CMC trapped in their pods, or to have Twilight join her as her servant while letting her friends free. The catch on the latter is that Chrysalis still holds back the friends after Twilight takes this option, anticipating that once she's drained Twilight's love for them, Twilight herself would be the one to destroy them. Chrysalis' plan only fails when the magic from the comet gives a bigger boost to Twilight than it does to Chrysalis, allowing Twilight to defeat her.
  • In the New Gods, Darkseid and Highfather exchanged their sons as part of a cease-fire treaty between Apokolips and New Genesis. Darkseid immediately handed Highfather's son over to Granny Goodness and ordered her to put him through twice the torture that the other orphans on Apokolips endure under her "care". Darkseid knew that the increased torment would push the newly christened Scott Free (the future Mr. Miracle) to escape Apokolips at any cost. This would violate the terms of the treaty and give Darkseid an excuse to retaliate. In the meantime, Darkseid is secure in the knowledge that his hated enemy's son is going through hell. (Unfortunately for Darkseid, he didn't count on the fact that both Mr. Miracle and Orion, his son who he had given to Highfather, would later become two of his worst enemies, and cause him more grief than he could have ever imagined.)
    • Darkseid hitting Batman with the Omega Sanction at the climax of Final Crisis would also count. An amnesiac Batman was sent back in time, fighting to survive as he was shunted between historical periods closing in on the present. It turned out that Batman was absorbing Omega energy with each jump, and surviving to reach the present would cause the energy to release and destroy reality.
  • The Sandman (1989): In the volume The Doll's House, Dream's sibling, Desire, as part of their eons-long feud with Dream, launches a plot to hurt him by tearing apart his realm: during Dream's imprisonment, Desire discovered that the comatose Unity Kinkaid was a "vortex" (a mortal whose existence causes the Dreaming to break down, destroying the world unless he or she is killed,) but was currently harmless because she was unconscious. Desire secretly raped and impregnated the sleeping Unity, which, unbeknownst to Dream, caused the power of the Vortex to be passed on to Desire and Unity's granddaughter, Rose Walker. If Dream did not kill Rose, the vortex would tear apart the Dreaming, but if he had killed her then shedding the blood of a family member (even if he didn't know she was family,) would have unleashed the Furies to ravage the Dreaming anyway. Ultimately, the various players manage to Take a Third Option, but only by using a method which Dream himself didn't know was possible, and without which Desire's plan would have worked flawlessly.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics), the Tournament Arc plot by Breezie the Hedgehog was this: by using a Chaos Emerald she discovered as the prize in a tournament fight, she knew that she'd lose it to someone good or evil. Either way, she got out big draws by bringing in Sonic and his friends and foes, making her much richer and more popular than before.
    • Also is Eggman's first usage of the Genesis Wave. If he managed to defeat Sonic in the rewritten world, he'd take over the world. If he failed and Sonic managed to reverse the Genesis Wave, he still managed to remove the immunity to Roboticization that the Bem had bestowed upon the people of Mobius (and this proved important, as it allowed Eggman's World Roboticizer to pose a significant enough threat that Sally had to perform a Heroic Sacrifice and become roboticized herself to stop it).
  • Malebolgia made sure to pull out one in his deal with Spawn to avert a Faustian Rebellion: if Spawn uses the powers Malebolgia granted him when resurrecting him for evil, Hell naturally becomes stronger; if he uses them for good, the souls of his Asshole Victims are sent to Hell, creating new recruits; and he uses them for nothing, he will gradually go mad from the frustration and, when it's time for him to go back to Hell, he will be more fitting as one of Malebolgia's generals. Whatever happens, Hell gains something.
  • A retcon of two different Evil Plans of Thanos that were foiled by Kazar and Thor (respectively) established them as Xanatos Gambits. Thanos was in fact using the two situations to secretly study Kazar's Heroic Resolve and Mangog's power source of a countless souls, information he would later use to devise the most effective stratagem for his upcoming showdown with the death god known as The Walker.
  • The first story arc of Titans (Rebirth) had Abra Kadabra plan against Wally West by threatening to kill Linda Park and having his minions target the other Titans. Either Wally didn't save any of them, and suffered for it, or he saves them all at once by running so fast that he re-imprisons himself back into the Speed Force, so either way Abra benefits. The latter ends up the option, but Wally redirects his focus from Linda to the other Titans so they can pull him out, allowing Abra himself to be trapped in the Speed Force.

    Films — Animation 
  • Frozen (2013): Some Xanatos Speed Chess is necessary at first due to changing circumstances, but as of Anna's departure from the palace, a regular gambit is in motion: Hans leads Arendelle through the crisis while both queen and princess are absent, becoming a public hero. Option 1: Neither survive (despite Hans eventually mounting his own heroic efforts to find them), so there is no official heir and he will be supported in taking the throne. Option 2: Anna survives but Elsa dies, so he can marry Anna unimpeded and let the naïve princess be a Puppet Queen to his Evil Consort. Option 3: Elsa survives but Anna dies, so Elsa's one supporter is gone and she can be blamed for everything and executed, turning it into Option 1. Option 4: Both return, but public support will now favor Hans over Elsa and she'll have to let him marry Anna; an accident for the feared queen can be arranged later to turn it into Option 2. Hans nearly gets Option 3, but with Olaf's help, Anna stayed unfrozen long enough to derail things.
  • Part A of Syndrome's scheme in The Incredibles. He sends superhero after superhero against his Omni-Droid, and records everything. If the hero dies, well and good. If not, then he takes everything he learned, builds a better version of the Omni-Droid to take that into account, and the hero dies next time. When Mr Incredible accesses Syndrome's files, he sees how this has happened over and over; each version of the droid will kill a number of heroes, fail and die, then its successor kills the hero responsible and takes out the next few. By the time Syndrome sends Mr Incredible after the droid, it's gone through eight versions (and then it learns from Mr Incredible himself and becomes strong enough to beat him as the ninth, with the ultimate tenth version as the sum of all its experiences). And due to the scenario presented, no one thinks there's a need to question the droid's source.
  • In The Irregular at Magic High School: The Girl Who Calls The Stars, Navy scientists make a meteorite strike Earth as part of their attempts to recreate an illegal experiment. If the meteor hits, they know they got the experiment right. If it is magically disintegrated, they know that the Japanese army secretly has someone very powerful at their command.
  • Patlabor: The Movie:
    • By killing himself, the Big Bad has left the police with only three choices to prevent Computer Virus-infected Labors from destroying Tokyo: Do nothing and let Tokyo's infrastructure get wrecked, destroy all Labors, or destroy the Ark thereby dooming the Babylon Project. Since the Big Bad is The Fundamentalist who feels that Ludd Was Right, all three options suit him.
    • Captain Gotoh counters with a smaller-scale gambit of his own: he orders the team to demolish the Ark with its Self-Destruct Mechanism, and ships the HOS master disk to Shige's contacts at MIT to be analyzed. Assuming the team succeeds, one of two things will happen: either MIT is able to show that the HOS was responsible for the Labor rampages and prove that demolishing the Ark was necessary to save Tokyo, or they just blame it on the typhoon that was part of the Big Bad's plan because all the evidence they were responsible for the Ark's destruction will be on the bottom of Tokyo Bay anyway. Either way, Tokyo is saved.
  • The Princess and the Frog: If Facilier wins, his "friends" get the souls of everyone in New Orleans. If he loses...well, they seem so gleeful when he loses that some fans suspect that dragging him off to "the Other Side" may have been their goal the whole time.
  • In Shrek, when the titular ogre approaches Lord Farquaad after he dumped off a load fairy tale creatures in his swamp, Farquaad offers to return ownership of his swamp to him in exchange for bringing him Princess Fiona. If Shrek fails, then Farquaad will be rid of the ogre, and if Shrek succeeds, then Farquaad gets Fiona without having to risk his life going through the dragon's keep.note 

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

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

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • The overarching plot of the Bible (at least according to mainstream Christian interpretations). Adam sinned by deciding humans could decide for themselves what was good or evil, "tainting" all future humans (which, since he and Eve were the First, is ALL humanity) with sin and death, and Jesus gives himself to counter-act this, the life of a perfect man (Adam) for the life of a perfect man (Jesus). Afterwards, everything is basically a Xanatos Gambit by God against Satan. Satan and the wicked have dominion over the earth and can (have, and will) persecute God's true followers and will attempt to destroy them. This could go several ways. 1) If the "wicked" have good hearts, no matter what, they will be called and welcomed to God's followers. Satan loses, Jehovah wins. 2) The wicked try to ignore God's people and continue ruling themselves. They are unable to successfully rule themselves, as God had predicted, and they will be removed from power. Satan loses, Jehovah wins. 3) The wicked and hard-hearted attempt to destroy God's followers. Prophesies are fulfilled, a battle at Armageddon begins, they are destroyed, the good-hearted are heralded into an eternity of happiness in a paradise earth, Satan and his demons are imprisoned and eventually destroyed, resolving the issue of sovereignty once and for all and ending in the destruction of all evil for all time. Satan loses, Jehovah wins. This comes across in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
    • In the Book of Genesis, Joseph plays one when he demands that the brothers give up Benjamin to be his slave and themselves return to Canaan safely. That way, he ensure that either he gets to keep Benjamin with him (if his brothers treat Benjamin like a dispensable family member, as they treated Joseph years ago), or his brothers show a sufficient Character Arc by refusing to leave Benjamin in Egypt, in which case he reconciles with all of them and brings his entire clan over to Egypt. Luckily for the Israelites, the latter plan eventuates.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Bret Hart pulled this off in his WWF Championship match against The Undertaker with Special Guest Referee Shawn Michaels at WWF Sumerslam: Hart and Soul. Near the end of the match, Hart spit on Michaels, provoking him to grab a chair to hit him, only for Hart to duck, resulting in Michaels hitting Taker instead. Had his plan succeeded (which it did), Hart would be able to easily win the title with Michaels forced to count the fall under the threat that he would not be able to wrestle on American soil if he screwed over Hart. Had it backfired, while he may have lost the match, Hart could possibly gain a rematch on the grounds of being screwed over by Michaels, who would be barred from wrestling in the United States, effectively eliminating his Arch-Enemy once and for all. As an added bonus, this marked the start of the feud between Taker and Michaels, which eventually led to the first-ever Hell in a Cell match.
  • LayCool pulled one in their big match against Melina to unify the titles at Night of Champions. They had Michelle McCool face Melina. Michelle was called a co-champion but Layla was the legal champion with Michelle allowed to wear and defend the belt as well. So if Michelle won (which she did), LayCool would be legally allowed to wear the unified title, while if Michelle lost, Layla could turn around and say Melina had won doodly-squat since she hadn't technically pinned or even faced the actual Women's Champion.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Mage actually presents an antagonist with a listed ability of "Xanatos Gambit!"
  • The Battle of Tukayyid in Battletech was this for its instigator, Khan Ulric of Clan Wolf. Having been forced into fighting a war he didn't want, Ulric was able to humiliate his allies by outperforming them until they eagerly accepted a ComStar challenge to settle the entire war with Combat by Champion: The stakes were either the surrender of Terra (if the Clans won) or the Clans being bound to a 15-year truce (if ComStar won). If the Clans won, a major goal of the Invasion would be achieved, and probably deciding the Invasion in favour of the clans, with almost no blood being spilt. If ComStar won, the Invasion would be stalled (and with the Inner Sphere's vastly superior size, almost certainly decided in their favour once the truce was up). Either outcome would support Ulric's agenda of hastening an end to the war.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • At the end of 3rd edition, Mephistopheles provides incredible amounts of power to mortals (through control over Hellfire) for almost nothing, but Devils in the D&D universe draw their power almost exclusively from the torment of damned souls, so if/when heroes defeat these evil cults, Mephistopheles reaps their souls and receives a massive boost in power.
    • They're considered a defining feature for Mephistopheles. After a failed rebellion against Asmodeus, the master of all the Nine Hells, Mephistopheles sat in his throne in the frozen Eighth Hell of Cania and went completely still and silent for years — so long that a powerful devil named Baron Molikroth slowly swayed many of Mephistopheles's court away over old Mephisto's neglect. The traitorous courtiers came to the court to depose Mephistopheles... only for Molikroth to reveal he had always been Mephistopheles and the immobile double on the throne was a fake. So his loyal subordinates were proven loyal and the disloyal element was tricked into exposing themselves for a purge.
    • The Fourth Edition splatbook Martial Power introduces resourceful warlords, an alternative to inspirational or tactical warlords, who are fond of small-scale versions of these. Most resourceful powers offer benefits for successful attacks and different albeit modest advantages upon missing or not using an offense maneuver that round.
  • The Scorpion Clan in Legend of the Five Rings actively cultivates a reputation for these, so as to convince people that everything the Scorpion do is a Xanatos Gambit. Even their genuine failures are often played up as having occurred "according to plan."
  • This can occur in Paranoia. However, both Spanner in the Works and Gambit Pileup can also occur, resulting in failed gambits all around. The Computer manages a brilliant one by sending Troubleshooters on missions. If the mission succeeds, the plans of The Computer's enemies are set back. If it fails, it was clearly due to sabotage by Commie Mutant Traitors, as the loyal team members will happily point out to Friend Computer; these traitors can then be executed. If a team doesn't come back at all, then they were clearly incompetent and The Computer is better off with a new team. The Computer always wins.
  • This is why you never deal with a dragon in Shadowrun. Even if you think you've won, the dragon's won, too, especially if they just lost. In the "Here There Be Dragons" chapter of the third edition Threats supplement, a runner brags that he screwed over Lofwyr, the most powerful of the Great Dragons, despite losing his entire team in the process. He's found dead at his keyboard a week later. Another runner investigated and discovered that the entire run he bragged about was a setup: the rest of the hand-picked team had done jobs against Saeder-Krupp subsidiaries (and thus Lofwyr had incentive to kill them), the target facility was owned by S-K through shell companies and was insured against theft, the paydata was garbage (so Shiawase wasted time and money analyzing it), and probably got to field-test a device for controlling fenrir against them.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Everything that has ever happened in the universe and beyond is the result of Tzeentch's plans. Including those plans of his that have been foiled. In fact, if you try to help him, he benefits, if you try to hinder him, he benefits, and if you do neither, he benefits.
    • The C'tan Deceiver and the Laughing God aren't exactly slouches in this department either. The occasional Chaos lord, Eldar or Dark Eldar will pull one off in the books.
    • Tzeentch is the gambit personified, since he would cease to exist if his gambits stopped. As long as one of his gambits exists, he has already succeeded. This leads into his ultimate Achilles Heel: he doesn't have one giant plan, but multiple, mutually-exclusive ones, so every victory for him is also a loss, and vice-versanote .
    • Note that this only applies to Tzeentch himself: his followers and daemons are quite often the victims of some of these turnabouts (and can get quite miffed at being backstabbed by the god of hope, sorcery, mutation and betrayal), resulting in the Just As Planned / Not As Planned memes.
    • Abbadon the Despoiler. His Black Crusades typically accomplish limited goals, and while the gathered forces eventually split off to pursue their own goals, he is able to return to the Eye of Terror with his own forces intact. The result of these Crusades, seen in later editions, is to have effectively split the Imperium in half.

  • In Hamlet, we have King Claudius and Laertes' plan to kill Hamlet. The plan was to get Hamlet and Laertes into a fencing match with Laertes using a poison-tipped foil. At the same time, Claudius would have a goblet of poisoned wine to offer Hamlet to drink. Either Laertes would stab Hamlet or Hamlet would drink the goblet; either way, Hamlet dies and they both have a thorn removed from their sides. While Laertes is able to stab Hamlet, neither he nor Claudius are able to celebrate as Hamlet stabs Laertes with the poisoned foil and forces Claudius to drink the goblet after being stabbed himself. For added Didn't Think This Through, Queen Gertrude also dies from the poisoned wine due to unwittingly drinking it in Hamlet's stead.
  • Shakespeare's Iago wouldn't be the infamous Magnificent Bastard of Othello if he couldn't pull this off, which he does when he convinces Roderigo to kill Cassio. If Roderigo succeeds, Iago gets his revenge on Cassio (for being promoted instead of him). If Roderigo fails and Cassio kills him, Iago doesn't have to worry about paying his Unwitting Pawn back all the money and jewels he's lost on the enterprise so far. So, as Iago muses in soliloquy, whatever the outcome, he wins.
  • In Thrill Me, Richard acts like he's pulling one of these through the whole show by committing the "perfect crime"—he's not, but Nathan is. Nathan wants to stay with Richard forever, so goes along with Richard's plan for the murder, then leaves obvious evidence. If the evidence is found, he can "accidentally" turn them in, if not, he can go to the police intentionally. If they get life in prison, then Nathan would bribe the guards to get put in the same cell. If they were hanged, well...
    Richard: [agitated] What if we got the death penalty?
    Nathan: As long as we were together.

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

    Web Original 
  • 330 Hours: Revolution: Jack pulls a big one during the story, as he reveals in his speech to Dr. Gold. He planned everything out from the beginning allowing himself to be captured so he could declare war on Dr. Gold. Met up with every single soldier disguised and manipulated and tricked into telling him what he planned. He then faked their deaths by placing the battle in a location where there were no security cameras and developed a hallucinatory drug that he gave to the soldiers a week in advance while giving his team antidotes, so the soldiers would think they were killing the rebels. And to top it off stole all of the government’s special grenades.
  • In The Daily Victim, Fargo seems very fond of the Gambit.
  • Celes in Danganronpa Abridged Thing. Secretly she's sick of having to put up with everyone in the school and sort of secretly is actually a demon from hell. So she arranges for Yamada to murder Ishimaru and then murders Yamada with the following logic. If the group does figure out it was her, Monokuma will kill her and she'll be sent right back to hell, which is what she wants. If they don't figure it out, Monokuma will kill them and allow her to leave.
  • Played with in The Defrosters. In episode 9, Pixel Girl implies that she is working on a plan to stop Pixel Boy from playing World of Warcraft. She and James even mention TV Tropes.
  • Narcissa Richmond manages to pull off one of these in Grandmaster of Theft. Deus manipulates her to challenge the Grandmaster to steal Undine's Tear from her. Just in case his plan didn't work and she lost, she brought a replica. By having the real one on her, she then claims to have fought off the Grandmaster and get the exact same fame she wanted in first place through challenging.
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device: The Emperor's weaponization of the Canon Sue trope qualifies: He despises the Ultramarines, finding them intolerable, sanctimonious and oh-so-perfect (though part of that's the fact their constant chanting has been annoying, drilling into his eardrums for millenia), but he's very, very aware of their skill. And thus, he assigns them extremely ridiculous suicide missions that will actually help his plans and the Imperium immensely if they were to happen. If they lose, they get their asses humbled for once in their lives and the Emperor gets to enjoy the schadenfreude. If they win, his plans to unfuck the Imperium are much, much closer to fruition.
    • In Special 4: Kitten & Tzeentch play a Children's Card Game, Tzeentch, Chaos god of trickery and schoolyard bully, still wins at Paradox-Billiards-Vostroyan-Roulette-Fourth Dimensional-Hypercube-Chess-Strip Poker a.k.a. Yu-Gi-Oh! due his actions. While he lost Magnus's soul he still locked him and Little Kitten in their now-current forms being his Daemon Primarch for the former and turning the Custodian into a dull silver (even his text). What's worse is they're going to a certain destination and Tzeentch's tricks will make it a lot harder for them and while it doesn't slow them much on their first stop Mangus is still worried about his father making chicken jokes at his expense.
  • In Kickassia, Kevin Baugh uses Obfuscating Stupidity to convince the usurpers of his government to let him stay around. He then walks around spreading seeds of dissent throughout the government, and then smiles whenever a major event happens, since no matter what the end result of his actions are, he'll be facing a significantly weakened opponent. He also got them to let him continue running the day to day operations of the country "for them", so at the end of the day nobody who actually lived there even noticed the invasion while usurpers spent all their time on infighting and random nonsense.
  • Neopets: In the Faerie's Ruin plot Xandra's second plan. The heroes try to get a special artifact to reverse the spell that transformed the faeries into stone. It doesn't matter if they succeed or not, either way Fairy land is screwed. The artifact is useless by itself and is just a power amplifier. Even if the heroes get the artifact on time Xandra will simply use the artifact to transform the heroes into stone too.
  • PZ Myers of Pharyngula was winning a charity fundraising race against a number of other blogs when his rivals tried to drum up support by agreeing to carry out a series of forfeits if they won. PZ's immediate response was to tell his readers to donate via the other blogs: if he won he would get the bragging rights of single-handedly beating a large team, if he lost we would get to watch the others carry out the penalties, and either way the last-minute game changer encouraged additional donations.
  • In Ayla and the Networks, in the Whateley Universe the principle is lampshaded. In the middle of a Gambit Pile-up, the main star gets a smirk. "Xanatos Gambit?" "Xanatos Gambit."
    • Given a bit of insight in "Ayla and the Birthday Brawl" chapter 11, Ayla tells a minor character the truth on a detail. He then gives a little inner monologue on how this helps. Either it disarms the person, or he gains crucial details. Whatever happens, he gets out ahead.
    • Supervillain Dr. Diabolik uses this in all his Evil Plans. His MO is to use his 'mind web' to take over a mid-sized city. If the heroes fail to defeat him, he walks off with all the goods of the entire town. If the heroes break through the power of the mind web, he still gets everything his forces have stolen by then, plus he achieves his real goal: he 'awakens' thousands of ordinary people and makes them more 'aware', furthering his goal of increasing human intelligence. He will actually cheer on the heroes when they succeed, all while playing an automated 'villainous monologue' program over the PA system to make it look like he's being, well, villainous.
  • In Worm the Entities use their precognitive abilities to map out every potential scenario during their reproductive cycle on Earth. They then modify their tactics, as well as adjusting which shards are available and which are withheld, to ensure that every option available to their opponents is a losing one.


Video Example(s):


Dane helps Gat and Kinzie

Dane Vogel is willing to help Gat and Kinzie get The Boss back. If they succeed, he doesn't have Satan over his shoulder anymore. If they don't succeed, he gets to profit off of the reconstruction.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / XanatosGambit

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