I’ve touched on choices and the like regularly, so this is going to be in the same vein, but this time it is more for the GM and how to look at making things challenging for the players. Most GMs should have an idea of the Xantaos Gambit, but there are so many others that people may not look into using.
Let’s start with Xanatos Gambit, made famous by Xanatos in Gargoyles. Xanatos was a great manipulative bastard, with a skill in making challenges for the main characters to face where no matter what they do they complete some sort of objective for the main evil. Lex Luthor was another one of these a lot. It works really well when you put them in a position of power, such as a powerful magic user or a person with their own company or secret agency, the sort of people who can play multiple resources against each other. Your big bad has a Macguffin that will destroy the world, so you must stop him from destroying the world with it, but while you’re focusing on that he is preparing a ritual that will summon a giant monster from the abyss, and if you somehow stop that too, he has a spy working on turning the king of one of the countries to his team and so forth.
However, that is not the only one. There’s giving the players what they want but not in the way they want it. For example, Gargoyles again has an episode where Demona asks not to be turning to stone at day. Well, she got her wish but it didn’t turn out to be exactly how she wanted it. This is the ‘You ask to live forever, but you don’t ask for eternal youth’, or ‘You ask for eternal youth, so you are now an eternal child’. There are many such examples, and with a bit of critical thinking, you can figure out ways to take advantage. Look at how lawyers manipulate the wording of contracts.
Then we have the deal with the devil, where someone has a goal they want to achieve and so they need to hedge their bets. Usually, it’ll be a situation where they’re either close to death or they’ll be needing to sacrifice themselves in effort to save a lot more people. The noble knight may not be the sort of person that you think will take this deal, instead more the bad guy or perhaps the party mage or thief or something, but you can have anyone take this deal if the stakes are high enough. Usually it’ll have to be when you pick against something a character holds dear, and if they don’t take the deal, the thing they care about will be lost. One of the examples I can think of is Disney’s Hercules movie, where Hades sees he can’t beat Hercules and gives him a deal; give up this thing or accept my terms which may not be all that bad for you at this time. Your immortal soul is now mine when you die, but for now you and your whole family get to survive this horrendous event. Now, some GMs will have an event happen in the near future that will screw over the deal; IE, you are dying after a combat and sell your soul to a powerful entity to survive. However, the next day, you get besieged by something you have no way of stopping and is basically just there to kill you. A more modern twist is the invoking a pact with a demon or the devil for money, power, or any such other thing, and then you get hit by a bus before you can really enjoy any of that benefit.
The final example is probably sometimes the hardest to pull off, but work well with anyone with a moral code or other predictable interest. We know that superheroes are out to protect the citizens, keeping the cities and the world safe, but there are times that various villains have tried to pay the heroes for protecting people. Maybe they’re to turn a blind eye to some criminals or they’re to help certain criminals escape the police. Either way, the heroes turn it down because they will not compromise their code. So, they’re giving up all sorts of perks in the pursuit of justice and all things right. So, in other words, they’re doing the bad guy’s work, since they’ll be so busy with all the petty crime, they won’t be able to stop all the big stuff. Another example is done by Spoony, AKA, Noah Antwiler, did a whole video on this about his character in Ravenloft, and it is such a great video for seeing how to do things like this, and also how great the Ravenloft setting can be.