Follow TV Tropes


Xanatos Gambit

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

"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 ultimately benefit 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.

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 a Xanatos Backfire (When someone's own thingamajig is the source of their downfall (if a work is the source of their downfall, then that's Creator Killer), another name for Hoist by His Own Petard).

Sadistic Choice is the Polar Opposite, in which every given choice will hinder the 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 still require to succeed. At the very least, the planner has to benefit regardless of 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. 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.


    open/close all folders 

    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.
    • On a smaller scale, the concept of a fork. He can take one of several pieces; which one will you protect?
    • Another example of this comes in the form of Zugzwang: a situation in which any move the player makes will lead to a disadvantage (either material or positional), and the best possible action would be not to move at all - which is forbidden.
  • Connect 4 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 
  • 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, and if they're never truly defeated. They're also notorious for claiming everything is Just as Planned, even unambiguous defeats.
  • In Bridge, with the number of different varieties of coups, endplays, and the like, it's quite possible to make sure you make your contract (or your opponents lose their contract) no matter what is played, despite said contract appearing to be hopeless (or completely solid). The most common variety would be 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In The Sandman volume The Doll's House, Dream's sister-brother, Desire, as part of its 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • While Duels Decide Everything in Arc-Ved Protagonists, Often, the outcome of the duel may not matter, at least not when Absurdly High-Stakes Game is adverted. Instead, what happen during the duel may be what a certain party needs to happen. Once that happens, win or loose, that duelist got what they wanted.
  • Evangelion 303: Gendo ordered that Asuka tested the NF-14 model, thinking that: if she recovered, they would have four pilots operational again; and if the aircraft crashed, it should return Instrumentality to schedule.
  • HERZ: The Children’s plan was failure-proof. If SEELE did not attack they won. If SEELE managed completing nine MP-Evas and attacked they won because they could hijack them and use them to eliminate SEELE and the Evangelion technology.
  • In the Firefly fic Forward, the corrupt Alliance cop Womack forces Mal and his crew into one of these by giving them an offer they can't refuse: either they take out an illegal organ-growing operation whose operator is disagreeing with Womack, or he'll have the crew arrested as the organ smugglers, as his superiors are breathing down his neck about capturing someone to blame for it all. In reality, he's also running a second con underneath it: if Mal and his crew take out the smuggling operation, it will work out fine, but if Serenity's crew fails, they'll scare the smugglers into packing up and moving shop off the planet, which gets them out of Womack's hair anyway. Either way, he wins. It almost works too, but the Operative's unexpected assault on the same organ-growing operation throws a large Spanner in the Works and sends the whole thing pear-shaped.
  • Ultimate Sleepwalker: The New Dreams has Sleepwalker trapped in Rick Sheridan's mind as part of a larger gambit by his Arch-Enemy Cobweb. If Sleepwalker had been killed at any point during the plan, then Cobweb could have proceeded with the rest of it without any more trouble. On the other hand, Cobweb had it rigged up so even if Sleepwalker survived, it only allowed the next part of the plan to begin anyway. Cobweb puts in so many failsafes that Sleepwalker only finally manages to derail his plan at the very last minute.
  • Ultimate Spider-Woman: Change With The Light Jack O'Lantern launches one of these to set up his true Evil Plan. The beauty of it is that it would work no matter which crime syndicates were crippled, since destroying Philippe Bazin or Crimewave would have suited him just as well. Even if the gang war had petered out, he wouldn't really have lost anything, since he'd already covered his tracks.
  • The modus operandi of the Wise Prince protagonist in Dragon Age: The Crown of Thorns, although he's definitely not the only one who uses them. Notable ones include setting up safeguards to whether or not his plan to fake Trian's death works in the early chapters and building on them when dealing with the succession mess.
  • Queen of All Oni: In the second half of the story, Jade turns the hunt for the masks into one of these — she's more interested in the Teachings in order to increase her power, but is still sending her minions after the masks to keep the heroes distracted for as long as possible.
  • In the Total Drama fanfic, Courtney and the Violin of Despair, the only two possible outcomes in the cliff diving challenge are for Courtney to (a) jump and die; or (b) not jump, and be publicly humiliated. Both outcomes serve the interests of the Violin spirit.
  • Humorously parodied in New Chance with Minato's advice on how Iruka can get stronger for the Jonin trials. The advice? Sexually harass Anko. Minato's reasoning being that trying to escape her wrath will increase his skills since he'll have to use and improve all of them and develop some more to do it. If she catches him, he learns how to deal with torture and increases his pain threshold.
  • Mare of Steel: General Zod brainwashes the Flim-Flam brothers and sends them to attack Ponyville with a Humongous Mecha in order to "test the waters" — if they succeeded, he would have had an unstoppable weapon at his disposal, and if they failed, he'd at least get a look at what he's up against.
  • In the Tamers Forever Series Daemon excutes a minor one when he uploads a virus into his tropes. which means that either A) the Tamers/Digidestained try to absorb the fallen troops data, and are infected by the virus or B). They don't absorb the data, allowing his own troops to absorb the data and thus grow stronger. Thus making a battle of attrition impossible for his enemies to win. He manages another one earlier, perhaps inadvertently, sending Doumon to obtain the power of Chaos so he can break out of the Dark Ocean and take revenge on everything. Though it inevitably fails, Doumon's own data is enough when added to the rest he's been collecting to allow him to escape the Dark Ocean and go after Takato himself.
  • Shadows Awakening:
    • As the Phantom explains, the hunt for the Dark Treasures was a win for him regardless of the outcome, as no matter who managed to gather all three items, as long as they all ended up in the same place, he could use their combined power to revive himself.
    • The Queen's invasion of San Francisco during the Final Battle by opening multiple portals at several points of the city. If the heroes decide to keep closing the portals, Jackie is left alone against an enemy he certainly cannot defeat; if the heroes remain with Jackie, then nobody will close the portals and San Francisco will be flooded with Shadowkhan.
  • A New Chance Series: Giovanni engages in one: He encourages Jessie, James, and Meowth to pursue Ash, but they must provide him with information on where he is. If they can capture Pikachu and the Eon Duo, good. If they can't, he can still know where Ash is, in case he wishes to take him out, or just stay a step ahead of him. He couldn't, however, anticipate the trio quitting.
  • Sonic X: Dark Chaos: The entire Metarex War is this for Maledict, as he's secretly The Man Behind the Man for both Tsali and the Metarex. If Tsali lost, Maledict would just build up the Metarex as a proxy army to aid him in the future; if Tsali won, than he obviously was the better fighter and would also aid Maledict in the future in gratitude for giving Tsali his revenge. Only his servant Venus' betrayal and Sonic's intervention causes the gambit to fall apart.
  • In Avenger Goddess, Ares believes that he has created one by arranging for Sekhmet to be awakened while Diana is in Wakanda to fight her; regardless of which wins the fight, it will end with a goddess dying in combat, thus massively empowering Ares. Bast outmaneuvers him on this, instead intervening so that Sekhmet is banished from Earth back to Heliopolis, ending the fight in a draw.
  • In The Bridge, the Big Bad, Bagan, pulls one that makes up the entirety of the "Enjin Arc". Sending away one of his soldiers, Monster X, to the Equestria Girls world after he started turning into Kaizer Ghidorah, he deploys one of his aspects called Enjin to kill X/Kaizer and take his powers. It turns out this was partly a ploy to get the attention of the Big Good, Harmony, and bring her realm close to his so he could attack her directly since she's the only being on a similar power tier to him. Enjin succeeds in killing Monster X and the sirens allied with him and Bagan succeeds in killing Harmony? Enjin will drain them of their power and bring it back to enhance Bagan, who's just removed the one character who had a good chance at stopping him. Enjin succeeds but Bagan fails? Still get the power-up, Bagan can just teleport himself back to his realm to avoid the possibility of Harmony killing him, and the damage to Harmony's realm inside the Tree of Harmony from two Physical God tier characters fighting in it will severe her connection to Equestria. Both fail? Damage is still done to the Tree of Harmony and without any links between Enjin and his master, a stronger Monster X will just think he killed an outside threat and will still loyally serve Bagan after his master plays Benevolent Boss and heals him after the fighting. Last part happens and no one is the wiser.
  • The New Adventures of Invader Zim:
    • In Episode 3, at Norlock's prodding, the Tallest set up Zim and Tak's competition for control of Earth as this — if Tak wins, Zim finally dies. If Zim wins, they appoint him ruler of a completely out of the way planet, keeping him out of their hair. And either way, they add another planet to the Empire. This falls apart in Episode 17 when they tell Zim the truth of his "mission" in an attempt to keep Project Domination from him, causing him to turn on them.
    • At the end of Episode 16, Norlock lectures Zim on this trope, how having multilayered plans are the best way to achieve victory while explaining that the episode's events were one — if the monster army he summoned successfully destroy the city, that's great, but even if they don't, they keep everyone distracted from the theft of the Meekrob crystals.
  • Young Justice: Darkness Falls: Lex Luthor gives Superboy a booklet with "all" the information on the plans the Light has. If any hero fails to stop their plans shown in the book, well then all the better for the Light. If they do manage to put some of them to rest, then it weakens the strengths of many of Luthor's partners, making him better poised to take over Light operations thanks to his own private resources. The more resources removed also gives Luthor more space to have a clean bill as he prepared for his next goal: becoming president. And more to the point, the whole reason he gave them the plans in the first place was to undermine Darkseid's plans for earth. Regardless of the outcome, Luthor would've gained from the result.
  • In a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan comic Age (In)appropriate Spike seems to be operating within this trope as every outcome of his actions seems to benefit him in the end.
  • In The Institute Saga, David Xanatos himself pulls a small one of these when he teams up with Superman to revive three deceased gargoyles.
  • Guardians, Wizards, and Kung-Fu Fighters: Tarakudo pulls a masterful one in Chapter 22. He forces Oni masks on Jackie and Viper and sends them to attack the other heroes as a distraction while he steals the Hana Fuda cards. If he obtains them, the heroes can't use them to find or remove any of the other masks. Even if he fails, it will keep the heroes, especially Jade and Will, from realizing that he's not really bothered by losing the masks (as his long-term plan involves them all ending up in the same place anyway). And if the Guardians and their allies suffer any casualties from the fight, it's merely a bonus. No matter what happens, he benefits.
  • Son of the Sannin:
    • Orochimaru has his subordinates kidnap Jiraiya and Tsunade's children, knowing that they carry powerful bloodline limits for him to harvest (as well as to take advantage of Naruto's Big Brother Instinct and lead him into a trap set by Akatsuki). Having anticipated that Jiraiya and Tsunade would stop at nothing to get them back (and they succeeded in the end), he had Kabuto extract enough DNA samples from them for his experiments. And it pays off, as two years later he has fully grown clones of them with their abilities as his personal servants.
    • To divert attention from Jiraiya's forces during the raid to Root's headquarters, Danzo sends some of his minions to kidnap specific targets: Hanabi, Rin, Hagane, Shiro and Shizuka. While the main goal was to buy him more time to escape to the Land of Sound, he hoped to get at least one of them to harvest their powers for himself.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: Olympian Journey: While Eris' goal is to gather the essences of all the other gods in order to dominate the planet, she's not in a rush to do so, as just the chaos of all the fighting over the essences is enough to make her more powerful. As she puts it to her Quirky Miniboss Squad, she wins in the long run no matter how the individual fights turn out.
  • Miraculous! Rewrite: The villain's plan in "Prime Queen" is effectively this, as they akumatize Nadja Chamack specifically to exploit her desire to expose Mayor Andre's corruption to all of Paris. While she fails to retrieve the Ladybug or Black Cat, she succeeds in that goal, priming Paris to face the fallout of that scandal. Monarcha gloats to their cohort about this, rubbing in Gabriel's face how he never thought to play the long game.
  • Unbreakable Red Silken Thread: Defines Heather to a T and is one of the main reasons people tend to end up in her debt one way or another. Between high school clique politics and a lifetime of dealing with her mother she is a master of this.
  • Avengers of the Multi-verse does this with Modula's plan in the first story, with him even saying that part of him was hoping the initial attack would fail. If the initial invasion succeeded, he'd have destroyed Titan and Earth would be at his mercy. If the attack was repelled somehow, which is what ended up happening? He secretly had larger Rift Gate generators sent through to other parts of Earth, and with the confirmation that they can now make Rift Gates that stay open as long as they desire, they could now send the entire Mutradi fleet through to Earth's orbit.

    Films — Animation 
  • Part A of Syndrome's scheme in The Incredibles. Whether a super succeeds or fails against the Omnidroid, Syndrome still gets to collect the data from the battle, 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.
  • Frozen: 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 to 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Aladdin (2019): Upon suspecting that Prince Ali is really Aladdin, Jafar has him captured for interrogation. Upon Ali's denials, Jafar threatens to have him thrown into the sea if not told the location of the lamp. If he dies, then Jafar will know he was telling the truth and will have also eliminated a powerful rival. If he survives, then Jafar will know exactly who he is.
  • In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Lex Luthor sets up the fight between Superman and Batman so that whoever wins the fight, he wins. He's been manipulating Bruce into a paranoid rage, so that the Dark Knight is prepared to kill the Man of Steel, seeing him as a dangerous alien and a threat to humanity. Then Lex kidnaps Martha Kent, offering Clark a Sadistic Choice - kill Batman or let Martha die. So the possible outcomes:
    1. Batman kills Superman - Lex has engineered Superman's death and proven that Superman is not "all powerful", plus Clark'll die knowing he failed to save his mother, just to twist the knife).
    2. Superman wins and is forced to kill Batman - Clark now has blood on his hands, and Lex has proven that Superman is not "all good". Lex can then play his trump card, Doomsday, an almost unstoppable Kryptonian monster even more powerful than Superman. So even if Clark wins, Doomsday will kill him, so Lex still ends up with Superman dead.
    3. Clark is able to convince Bruce to help him and they team up - this is what actually happens, and something Lex didn't really see coming, but he still has Doomsday, simply releasing the monster to kill both of them. And yes, it ends up with Superman dead. So while it's a Pyrrhic Victory - Lex goes to jail, losing his reputation and his fortune, and Superman is even more beloved by the public as a martyr than when he was alive - but it's a victory nonetheless. Of course the plan only works if Doomsday and Superman killed each other. If superman survived then Lex goes to Jail and is Doomsday won he would kill the entire human race.
  • In The Dark Knight, the Joker set up several situations where either outcome would please him.
    • When he attacked Dent's motorcade, he won regardless - either he killed Dent or Batman, Batman killed him and broke his 'one rule', or the Joker was caught by police - in which case he had a goon with a stomach full of dynamite, and two buildings full of timed explosives ready to go.
    • Later, he made people choose between killing a man or restraining themselves, letting him blow up a hospital. Finally, he gave two ships' occupants the choice to choose which ship would blow up. He didn't care how they chose - either would have delighted him. He was furious when neither chose to attack the other, but he was ready for that as well and prepared to blow them up himself.
    • After his ferry plot failed the Xanatos test by virtue of getting some new scars, he still had one last gambit to play: corrupting Harvey Dent, which Batman thwarts with a Zero-Approval Gambit. While forcing Batman to taint his own reputation and even break his "one rule" against Dent in the process is arguably a win for the Joker in and of itself, the fact this lie eventually falls apart in The Dark Knight Rises grants him another victory in the long term.
  • In Deewaar, Vijay concocts a plan wherein Daavar's man Darpan will tell Samant's gang where Vijay will be, giving them a chance to kill him. He reasons that regardless of whether they succeed in killing him, they will trust the Fake Defector Darpan.
  • Die Feuerzangenbowle has one of these as a simple but effective school prank: The alleged student Johann Pfeiffer (actually the successful author Dr. Johannes Pfeiffer incognito) hangs up a "Closed due to construction" sign on the school gates. Of course, the teachers want to remove it, but if they do, they'll show everyone that they've all been fooled. No day off, but they lose their dignity. Pfeiffer wins. What they actually do is leave the sign in place and simulate construction works to make it more credible. They keep their dignity at the price of a day off. Pfeiffer wins.
  • In The Exorcist, the demon(s) possessing Regan are actually after the soul of Father Damien...either the little girl or the priest; either way they win. Except that Damien sacrifices himself to outwit them in the end.
  • Final Destination: Death always wins, regardless of what those on Death's list do to spite it. Given that nobody lives forever, no survivor can elude Death indefinitely. There is only one proven way for a survivor to escape the list which is to kill someone else and take their lifespan- but this gives Death its desired victim anyway and fills the rift in its design.
  • The villains' plan in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. First, Destro develops Nano-mite warheads for NATO, in order to secure their funding to build his criminal empire. He intends to use them in major population zones to scare the world into the arms of the "world's most powerful man". OK, that's a cute little Batman Gambit he has going. However the Nano-Mites themselves are the brainchild of The Doctor (not that one), who himself is using Destro (oh wait, there he is) as a Unwitting Pawn. All The Doctor wants is to invent bizarre new methods to kill and torture (For Science!) and needs the funding from the plan to succeed. When the heroes foil the plan and ruin his chances, he uses the chaos of the escape and Destro's sudden loss of his power base to usurp control and devote the groups actions to his scientific endeavors while assuming the mantle of Commander. Ah, but there's more to it than that. The success or failure of the Nano-mite attack was irrelevant to the long-term plan. All that matters was that it was launched, providing an opportunity to get the President of the USA (the "world's most powerful man") into a position where he could be replaced by a doppelganger (who is probably still under the Commander's control, even if he thinks that he isn't). Now that this has been done, scaring up a terrorist threat large enough to justify seizing extraordinary powers should be child's play. Which leads on to the next stage of the plan - if Joe remain oblivious, Zartan will be in a position to cripple them, and if they find out and attempt to remove him, the attempt could easily be portrayed as a military coup, which would cause their allies to turn on them. Even if Joe succeeds in exposing Zartan, they will have suffered substantial damage and will be under a lingering cloud of suspicion; the world's governments having been driven into a crippling and eminently exploitable state of paranoia by the twin prospects of a renegade military and high officials being replaced by duplicates. Meanwhile the Commander and Destro will certainly have been freed, and the seeds of the Cobra organisation laid.
  • The Hunger Games: Katniss and Peeta, the last survivors, are told that the rule that allowed them to win together has been revoked, so one has to kill the other. Katniss decides to have both herself and Peeta eat the nightlock berries, denying the Games their champion and giving District 12 two martyrs instead. Doing so forces Seneca to decide between letting them both win or letting there be no champion, thus stoking further civil unrest. Seneca chooses the former, and is then forced to offer himself as the final casualty of the Games.
  • In Iron Man 2, Whiplash/Ivan Vanko pulls off one of these. During the events of the film, Iron Man/Tony Stark is continually under fire for taking on too much in his attempt to, as he says it, "privatize world peace." Vanko wants revenge against Stark and aims to kill him, but he knows that even should Stark defeat or even kill him, Stark's inability to stop the damage Vanko did at the Stark expo will tarnish Iron Man's reputation and put a dent in his legacy. Either way, he gets his revenge.
  • In Jurassic World, Vic Hoskins forms an elaborate plan which has him and Dr. Wu intentionally engineer the breakout of the I-Rex and have the ACU, his own team of In-Gen mercenaries or eventually Owen's trained Velociraptors to bring the beast down. If the ACU succeed, he earns himself a promotion within the Masrani company. If In-Gen succeed, he gets all the praise for resolving the situation and gets plastered all over the news as a hero. If Owen's raptors win, or they all fail to defeat the I-Rex, he can market the winning dinosaur as a bioweapon to the military. And even better, nothing blows back onto him and he can simply walk away as Masrani are left to pick up the shattered remains of the park and their reputation. Eventually subverted, as Hoskins didn't count on the I-Rex establishing itself as the raptors' alpha and siccing them on his hapless men, then eventually killing him.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen consists of a by-the-book example: the bunch are called together with the sole reason of acquiring their "components" for super soldiers, their employer was the Big Bad, and the plan comes together the moment they save the day. Something similar happened in the comic, but instead of stealing their powers, Moriarty was trying to steal the cavorite from First Men in the Moon from Dr. FuManchu.
  • Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels: Hatchet Harry wants revenge on Ed's dad for winning a large sum of money of him at cards, and wants the pub he bought with the money. To get it back, he invites Ed to play cards, and cheats until Ed is a quarter of a million in debt to him. What can happen is three things:
    1. Ed doesn't come up with the money, and Ed's dad refuses to help him out by handing over his pub, giving Harry a good reason to kill both Ed and his dad.
    2. Ed doesn't come up with the money, but Ed's dad is willing to trade the pub for his son's life, giving Harry the pub he wants, as well as revenge for the loss which bought the pub.
    3. Ed comes up with the money, and Harry walks away without revenge or pub, but with a quarter of a million pounds.
  • In the 1972 film Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth remarks about Mary's choice of suitors and aptly describes this very trope.
    "If she chooses Dudley, then we are safe from foreign Catholic princes, though I admit it will be a hard price for me to pay. If she takes Darnley, we have given nothing and she has a weak, degenerate fool as her consort. Win or lose the wager, I cannot lose the game."
  • In National Treasure, the Freemasons performed one by hiding part of the location of the Templar treasure from the British government on the back of the Declaration of Independence. If the U.S. became independent, the Declaration would become an artefact of national importance, any measures put in place by the Freemasons to protect it would seem reasonable, and the treasure would remain in Masonic hands. Conversely, if the British won, the Declaration would be declared seditious materials and destroyed, forever keeping the treasure out of British hands.
  • The plan to get rid of The Pit in PCU. Either they don't get the money in time, or they try a plan that would get them in trouble, even if it's in the form of having the student body file complaints. The latter is what happened.
  • In the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Jack Sparrow allowed himself to be shackled in the first movie so he could use them to take Elizabeth hostage. Either they let him escape or she becomes a distraction for his escape. Or taking one of the Aztec coins? Barbossa can no longer win because he himself cannot be killed, but once Will dispels the curse, he can finish Barbossa off with his pistol.
  • This is used to humorous effect in The Princess Bride, where Westley and Vizzini play a game of wits: Vizzini has to guess which goblet Westley has poisoned and select one to drink, Westley being forced to drink from the other one. After Vizzini has (with much complicated exposition) made his choice and drunk, Westley reveals that both the goblets are poisoned and that he has a resistance to that particular poison. Notable in that this gambit's against a minor foe, and foreshadows that the true enemy, for all his resources, is wholly Westley's inferior. Even if Vizzini realized that both cups were poisoned and refused to drink (or drank from the bottle), Westley is now close enough to overpower him with little threat to Buttercup.
  • In Sherlock Holmes (2009), Lord Blackwood pulls a minor one in being caught by Holmes and executed by hanging so he could later demonstrate that the Powers That Be are behind him by "returning" from the grave. Holmes doesn't catch him, he's still free and powerful. Holmes does catch him, he can become even more powerful.
  • Star Wars:
    • Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine attempts this. There are two Skywalkers: one's already his apprentice but he's more machine than man now, which limits his abilities in the Force; the other is young and idealistic and a potential threat. So he tries to tempt Luke to The Dark Side with a duel with his father. If Luke wins, he gets an upgraded apprentice; if not, he's rid of a potential threat and Darth Vader's loyalty no longer has another possible recipient. It doesn't work, however, as Luke refuses to turn to the dark side. Sidious then tries to kill Luke, but that doesn't work either because Vader is still capable of throwing the Emperor off a balcony.
    • Obi-Wan is polite enough to warn Vader that "if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine" before setting Vader up to do just that. On the other hand, if Vader did not strike him down, he would leave Obi-Wan free to kill him.
    • Sidious's plan in The Phantom Menace is a Xanatos Gambit—at the start of the film he wants the Trade Federation to hold Queen Amidala prisoner; when she escapes, he sends his apprentice, Darth Maul, to prevent her from reaching Coruscant. But Amidala does reach Coruscant, and within a couple hours she's helped Sidious become Chancellor Palpatine.
    • The entire prequel trilogy of Star Wars is one by Sidious: he controls both sides in the Clone Wars (the Republic as Chancellor Palpatine, the Separatists as Darth Sidious) so whichever side wins, the Jedi will be destroyed, he will become Emperor, and he will have a powerful Sith apprentice (Count Dooku or Darth Vader: this is decided—possibly along with the outcome of the entire war—by their duel at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith). This was planned as well, with Palpatine convincing Dooku to defeat Kenobi while losing to Anakin, thereby allowing the two to convert Anakin to the dark side. Dooku doesn't realize until too late that Sidious means to replace him if he loses, instead of just recruiting Anakin as an enforcer.
    • Obi-Wan's mission to kill General Grievous is described as one of these (as well as a Uriah Gambit) in the novelization. Obi-Wan succeeds and kills Grievous? That's one less pawn that Palpatine would otherwise have to dispose of later. Grievous kills Obi-Wan? One less Jedi in Palpatine's way. The end result of the battle is irrelevant; the entire point is to make sure Obi-Wan isn't on Coruscant, where he would otherwise likely be able to stop Anakin from turning to The Dark Side.
    • It's entirely plausible that Leia and Luke were set up for one by Obi-Wan and Yoda. You have Palpatine and Vader, the two remaining Sith. You also have the Rule of Two that means there's only two Sith at a given time. So, hide Leia with an ally and put Luke in plain sight on his dad's homeworld. If Vader and Palpatine avoid Tatooine, Obi-Wan is there to train the boy as a weapon against his father when he comes of age. If Vader went after Luke, Palpatine would attack Vader. If Palpatine went after Luke? Well, Vader has a Berserk Button about family members and would attack Palpatine. Either way, you would end up with one dead Sith one (likely) badly-wounded Sith, and (worst-case) a half-trained Luke, who could be turned back or killed by bringing out their ace in the hole over on Alderaan, who was given most of a conventional Jedi education already.
    • In an unusual variation, Qui-Gon sets one up for Watto at his own expense in order to convince him to let him borrow his slave Anakin Skywalker and sponsor him in the podrace. "If we win, you keep all our winnings, minus the cost of the parts we need [to fix the ship's hyperdrive]; if we lose, you keep my ship." Nearly averted in the novelization where Watto has trouble believing such a generous offer, but since he can't find a downside, he ends up agreeing to it.
    • Palpatine pulls this again in The Rise of Skywalker, his body is very heavily deteriorated, but he needed Rey alive because she could undergo a ritual where she could Strike Him Down With All Of Her Hatred and his spirit could enter a younger body. When she instead passes a lightsaber to the redeemed Kylo Ren and he comes onto the scene to help her, Palpatine reveals he can drain the energy of a diad in the Force, taking life energy from Rey and Kylo to heal himself instead. He didn't even really need Rey to kill him, as long as there was also the possibility of finding a way to get himself healed.
  • Narrowly averted but still lampshaded in Terror of Mechagodzilla. When Dr. Mafune releases Titanosaurus to attack Tokyo against Mugal's wishes, Godzilla comes to battle his monster. Rather than get angry as he does in his appearances, Mugal insists that he and his forces do nothing. If Titanosaurus wins, Godzilla would be killed in battle and it'd be easier for his plan of World Domination to go through, and even if Godzilla won and killed Titanosaurus, Godzilla would've been too banged up to stand up to Mechagodzilla, who would kill him too. It would've worked, if Katsura wasn't shot and killed again, and Dr. Mafune didn't call Titanosaurus back before his fight with Godzilla could get brutal.
  • TRON used as an Establishing Character Moment for Alan Bradley. Suspicious of Encom's Master Control Program, he's been working on an independent security monitor software (the title character) for months, dutifully submitting all the necessary paperwork and keeping on good terms with Walter Gibbs, the only one who outranks Dillinger.
    1. Alan is allowed to complete Tron and run the software. Master Control's scheme and Dillinger's shady dealings get exposed. Both of them are shut down - Alan wins.
    2. If Dillinger fired Alan without letting him complete Tron, it would draw the attention of Walter Gibbs, who would likely investigate (especially given Alan submitted all the necessary paperwork with the i's dotted and t's crossed), which would likely expose Dillinger and Master Control's scheming. Alan still wins.
    3. Tron is deleted and Alan is not fired. There is nothing stopping Alan from having another try, and it would also get Gibbs's attention. Again, Alan wins.
    4. The only scenario that wasn't planned for was the one in the movie; Master Control steps up the timetable to take over both sides of the Cold War and blackmails Dillinger into compliance, while Alan and Lora recruit Flynn, who proves to be a massive distraction for Master Control, gets Tron free, and the whole thing shuts down anyway.

  • 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 
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • 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 exist, 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.
  • Someone writing for White Wolf must be a troper: the Seers of the Throne Sourcebook for Mage actually presents an antagonist with a listed ability of "Xanatos Gambit!"
  • Setting up and spotting small-scale Xanatos Gambits up is a useful skill in Chess. Many a novice, and more than a few experienced players, have gotten just a little too eager in grabbing that one extra pawn or attacking the obvious weakness in the enemy's position and realized only too late that it was All According to Plan.
  • 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 Pile Up 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.
  • 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.

  • 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."

    Visual Novels 
  • The Mastermind of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is obsessed is with despair, and their plan is ultimately to inflict despair on as many people as possible. She doesn't exempt herself from the despair. When Naegi ultimately nixes her plans by rallying the students together to end the Mutual Killing Game, she's ecstatic over her own despair over her plan falling apart and gleefully executes herself so that she can feel the ultimate despair of death.
    • Possibly the most impressive in the series is in Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, where Kokichi creates a plan to bring an end to the killing game, which involves creating a murder situation that even Monokuma can't solve. Since he's put together that someone has to be watching the game, their goal is entertainment, so he decides to create a scenario where they can't determine whether Kaito or Kokichi is the killer or the victim. Doubly impressive is that it incorporates an attempted murder by Maki, which only made the whole thing harder to figure out. Ironically, while the whole thing was undone by Shuichi's detective work (the guy who'd been previously motivated by both participants in the plan), it ultimately did lead to them ending the killing game once and for all.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry
    • Miyo Takano pulls an amazing one that not only works over all of the different arcs, and thus several different 'worlds', but also manages to have each one work slightly differently (thus moving almost into Batman Gambit territory) in each arc, always with the same results. Though, the character isn't aware that each arc is a different world and each one of them thinks it's just working in their particular world, but the effect is the same, either way.
    • The various gambits pulled off, along with other Xanatos index tropes (especially an I Know You Know I Know played for humour), in the various club activities. Mion and Shion's gambit in the zombie tag game is of special note, along with the combined Xanatos Gambit and I Know You Know I Know (with slight improv) that Rena and Satoko pull against each other in the water fight...
    • In all the worlds similar to Watanagashi-hen and Meakashi-hen, Miyo's gambit failed because Shion killed the right person at the wrong time, without the one pulling the strings knowing until it was too late.
  • Umineko: When They Cry, once you realise Beatrice is using a Xanatos gambit to hide another gambit and why, the meaning of the story changes dramatically. The reason that Beatrice choose Battler as her opponent is so that he may remember who she was and what he did to her, if he does remember, she will forever exist in Battler's memories, if he does not, she will be certainly destroyed by him, granting her freedom in death. Both more desirable for her then being trapped in the purgatory of half-existence. Under that gambit is the one Beatrice makes by betting her life against Battler's. No matter whether Battler removes her from existence, or she breaks Battler's mind, she will be with him for the rest of her existence, her greatest desire. Combine these gambits and you find why she tries so hard to keep Battler fighting against her for as long as possible.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney:
    • In the fourth case, Manfred von Karma pulls one of these off when he allows Phoenix to get a Not Guilty verdict for his client in the trial at hand — causing that client to confess to a different crime, allowing von Karma to prosecute him for a more personal reason.
    • In the fifth case, Phoenix does his own after he proves that evidence he withheld earlier in the case was legal. If Gant says the cloth is fake, Phoenix can easily prove otherwise by using a photograph of the crime scene. If Gant says that cloth is real, which he does, then Phoenix can use the same photograph to prove it was cut off before the victim was killed, subsequently indicting him.
    • In the same case, Damon Gant tries to pull one on Phoenix just a few moments before Phoenix pulls his own. If he presents the cloth at that point in time, Ema will certainly be convicted. If he doesn't, then Gant can accuse him of fabricating evidence, strip Phoenix's badge, and clear his own name. Unfortunately for him, though, Phoenix overturns the attempt with a book on evidence law.
    • In the second case of the third game, Phoenix manages to prove that his client, Ron DeLite, didn't commit a theft by proving that he was at another place and showing proof that Detective Atmey did it. However, as it turns out, a murder took place at the exact place and time of DeLite's alibi, and as a result Atmey, the real murderer, is given an alibi from Phoenix proving he was the thief while DeLite becomes the prime suspect in the murder.
    • Phoenix does another in 4-1. He forges key evidence to replace that which the killer, Kristoph Gavin, erased. Kristoph reveals the forgery (which he does)? Good; he also self-implicates. He keeps quiet? Also good; the fake likely convicts him.
  • The Ace Attorney fangame Two Sides of the Same Turnabout uses this as its premise, with its Arc Words being "Heads I Win, Tails You Lose". Defence Attorney Helen Alard wakes up in a locked room with a dead body and blood on her hands, and has to defend herself in court. The big twist is that "Helen" is actually a Villain Protagonist who murdered the real Helen and stole her identiy several years ago. The case's prosecutor and victim, who were old friends of the real Helen, set the whole situation up to be sure the imposter Helen faces justice for her crimes: either she fails her defence (i.e. you get a Game Over) and is convicted for the murder she's been framed for, or she succeeds... but he's set things up so she can't prove herself innocent of this crime without implicating herself for Helen's murder (she has to bring up something about a piece of evidence she couldn't possibly have known unless she was Helen's killer), and by the time she (and likely the player) realises this it's already too late and she undergoes the series requisite Villainous Breakdown.
  • In Planescape: Torment, one quest has you defending an old man from a gang acting on rumors that he's hiding a large stash of valuables. Upon turning in the quest, the person who sent you mentions that he had planted the rumor himself as revenge on the gang. He figured that either they would fail and get themselves killed, or "succeed" but having left enough evidence to get caught and jailed.
  • Used in the Zero Escape series, mostly because each Zero often needs one to ensure their own survival and does so using the unique form of Time Travel employed through Psychic Powers in the series.
    • The first game is orchestrated by the present version of Akane Kurashiki in order to punish those who set up her first Nonary Game as well as to both train Junpei in how to use the Morphogenetic Field and to mentally link to her past self and help her escape from the Gigantic. She's seen every possible outcome to the scenario and actually uses it to help Junpei in the present - get information in one timeline like the combination of a safe, even if it kills him, then her past self will see it and silently relay it to him so that he can use it in another timeline.
    • The second game is orchestrated by both Akane and the 70 year-old Sigma Klim so that Old!Sigma could jump into his past self's mind and prevent the Radical-6 outbreak while also training his past self, as well as another ESPer, on how to jump into the past and also to prevent the Radical-6 outbreak. The Nonary Game Ambidex Version is designed so that Sigma can only complete it after Jumping numerous times.
    • The third game is orchestrated by Delta, AKA Brother - the founder of Free The Soul - who has complex reasons. He needs Diana and Sigma to give birth to his sister and himself then send them back in time in one timeline, to fail in another and then set up the events of the second game, as well as Akane and Junpei. He also needs everyone to work together to prevent the outbreak of Radical-6, which he orchestrated in the hopes that he could kill a specific target among 6 billion people. To get everyone out and prevent the release of Radical-6 means he's successfully created SHIFTers who can prevent an even worse event than Radical-6.

    Web Comics 
  • In 8-Bit Theater, issue #342 and #343, Black Mage and Red Mage debate who would win in a fight between Batman and Dr. Doom. Black Mage wins by pointing out that Doom would have one of these gambits set up. (The strips predate this wiki, so it wasn't a shoutout, despite the very on-the-nose choice of opponent.)
  • In The Last Days of FOXHOUND, the spirit of Big Boss temporarily possessed the body of his clone "son", Liquid Snake when he felt Liquid incapable of fulfilling his plans to free the world from the grip of an Ancient Conspiracy. As long as Big Boss has Liquid's body, he can move his plans forward himself. If the experience serves as a wake up call that motivates Liquid to wise up, become more capable, and win his body back from Big Boss earlier than expected... well, that just means that Liquid is better equipped to carry on Big Boss' legacy than he was before, and Liquid goes on to do just that until the end of the comic.
    • Okay, technically it's the same plan as in the game, but the rehash of Psycho Mantis's scheme to activate Metal Gear contains almost every feasible Gambit based trope (including pileups and Spanners mixed with dramatic irony for the reader).
  • Homestuck has this in the form of the massive number of time loops that are in it. Doc Scratch has manipulated the events of the story so that there is only one way everything could go. If any event happens that doesn't contribute to the arrival and rampage of Lord English, then the timeline reaches a paradox at some point. Paradox Space fixes this by killing everybody in the session shortly after failure is achieved.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Employed by Nale when he lures the Order to Cliffport by kidnapping Roy's sister Julia, then has his new Linear Guild attack. The Guild eventually gets defeated, but while they were distracted, Nale swapped places with his good twin, Elan — leading the Order to think they had won, when in fact the outcome was exactly what Nale had been seeking (his brother shipped off to jail and him safely undercover in the Order). Though wiping out the Order would have been a nice boast to his ego except it would mean that he could only defeat them when that wasn't his primary goal.
    • Redcloak outlines a much higher stakes Xanatos Gambit in the prequel story The Order of the Stick: Start of Darkness: he intends to capture one of the five Gates that holds back the world's Sealed Evil in a Can so his god, the Dark One, can use it to blackmail the other gods into giving the goblins equal standing among the player races (human, elf, dwarf, etc.). If he should accidentally unleash this Eldritch Abomination and unravel all of Creation in the process, the gods can then remake the world — but this time around, the Dark One would have a say in how the goblins were treated. Then again, even without the plan, the gods still need the Dark One - because he's a being that rose to godhood of his own volition and wasn't one of the four original pantheons, he has a unique color of creation, meaning that he's absolutely necessary to seal the rifts even without Redcloak's intervention.
    • General Tarquin outlines his plan to be a king or a legend here, with the bonus that explaining the gambit to the target helps him get the better outcome. The point is that in becoming an Evil Overlord, he gets to rule for his time before a hero defeats him, and if one does, he'll be remembered as a cool epic villain. However, he doesn't account for a death that isn't witnessed by anyone, like dying of exposure while lost in the desert, or for simply not dying at all and being unwillingly ejected from the plot without another word, ultimately making this a Subverted Trope.
    • Also played for laughs here. Tarquin calculates the financial gains he ultimately gets from his opponents even though they manage to flee, and adds in the price of the spear that they just threw at him.
      Tarquin: Their every move makes my victory more complete.
    • Inverted in Book 7, when Durkon points out that Redcloak's options all lead to the failure of his plan. If he sticks to the plan, either the Order defeats him and his plan fails, or his plan to capture ths Snarl succeeds and the gods destroy the world (which would destroy all goblins and likely the Dark One as well). His only other option is to give up the plan altogether.
  • Charles, head of Charlescomm (one of the sides in Erfworld) is quite fond of this as seen by the discussion of the principle in this strip. "I got paid to turn it into a no-lose situation."
  • Weirdly enough, the titular amorph of Schlock Mercenary pulls off a minor one of these while investigating a mysterious human-cannonball-related death at a circus in this strip. Schlock's plan: hired reinforcements, or sent Jud Shafter to an early death. His friend considers both a plus. It was sort-of the former, but more accurately it became Schlock's ace in the hole while Schlock himself became the distraction.
    • Also discussed about Xinchub, when wondering if an assassin could actually get to him: "That man could turn his own death into an advantage."
    Kevyn: I've done it myself. It hurts, but it's not actually that difficult.
    Tagon: ... Stop helping.
  • Joel Calley from Concession has his plan deconstructed. Some aspects of the plan have failed but not all of them and he has back up plans.
  • Heather in Misfile and the race she set up between Logan and Ash. If Logan wins, then Ash gets humiliated by losing to an opponent who had never raced before. If Ash wins, she winds up looking like a bully who took down a newbie. It goes wrong when Logan, in his inexperience, tries to pass on a curve and crashes.
  • In a chapter of Pearl of Mer, one of the Big Bad's lackeys shows he hates the group he is working with. He agrees to help the mermaid in getting her inside to take them down. But he also mentions if she does get caught, he ultimately did his job and brought them a mermaid.
  • In Freefall, the rescue will either succeed or kill a character with an annoying habit of needing rescue.
  • Parodied in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, in "Revenge of the Hundred Dead Ninja": "If this works and we survive, that will be great, but if not, it will easily win in America's Funniest Home Videos."
  • Scrooge McDuck vs Darkwing Duck Conclusion has one for the former. If Scrooge wins, he'll have Darkwing pinned and crying for uncle. But if Darkwing wins, Scrooge will sue him for Fifty Squillion, Two Impossibillion simoleans in damages.
  • In Darths & Droids, R2's decides to give Lando Luke's laser sword to fight their way out of the sarlacc pit, even though he's totally unqualified, because Luke refuses to use it. This inspires Luke to pick it up to defend Lando. When asked if this was the plan all along, R2 replies that it was sub-branch gamma-IV all along...
  • Gaia seems to have several Xanatos gambits running. Eldor appears to be running a centuries-long gambit intended to trigger The End of the World as We Know It. His primary tool may be running a gambit of her own if the way she scattered her friends to the places where they'd most likely function as Spanners in the works was her idea and not his. Finally, Gaia's chosen San de Vertis appears to be running her own gambit with King Savos to take over the world after "beating the evil out of Lillith". By the midpoint of the chapter Monster a Gambit Pileup seems inevitable.
  • In El Goonish Shive, Not-Tengu seemed to have one going in regards to Nanase's Guardian Form. To whit, his plan was: Bait Nanase into attacking him first. Not-Tengu believed Guardian Forms can only be used in self defense. If she isn't defending herself, she can't use it and he's free to form his flock without any worries. If she manages to use her Guardian Form anyway, still not a problem. Not-Tengu doesn't know her other spells, any of which could potentially beat him, but Guardian Forms locks all of those out for at least a day due to burnout. And while she is in Guardian Form, she can only fight in hand to hand combat, something he has no problem with. What ultimately derails his plan was not being able to actually catch the much faster Nanase and her girlfriend while both where in Guardian Form, followed by burning through the area's ambient magic causing himself to fall out the sky.
  • In Bob and George, Wily's original plan for Zero was a Xanatos Gambit: he designed the Maverick Virus to jump from Zero if he were ever defeated, infecting whatever hero defeated him. (Wily assumed this would be a Light-bot; it turned out to be Sigma, but the results speak for themselves.) This was a canon-compliant theory at the time. Since then, a lot of confusing Word of God has come down, and it's no longer clear what Wily put the Maverick Virus in or if he even created it.

    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • In The Daily Victim, Fargo seems very fond of the Gambit.
  • 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.
  • Parodied by Adam in episode 9 of Maddison Atkins.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / XanatosGambit

Media sources:

Main / XanatosGambit