Uriah Gambit
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In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”
So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.

2SAM11:14-17 NIV

Basic Information

The Uriah Gambit is what happens when, for one reason or another, a character's superiors want them dead and accordingly assign them duties that make their death almost inevitable (civillian employers may be obliged to settle for imprisonment instead).

The trope namer comes, as per the flavour text, from The Bible, where David, King of Israel had impregnated the wife of one of his officers. Having tried - and failed - to get the officer to accept home leave so that he would assume he had fathered the child himself, David then arranged for the unfortunate man to be killed in action. The officer in question was Uriah the Hittite.

Motives for a Uriah gambit can vary immensely, from adultery to simple dislike of the target - and something similar might apply to a pirate captain, sailing on account, who leads his crew into a bloody battle to increase the size of the shares paid to the survivors. Witnesses to a superior's corruption or cowardice are also likely victims - as may be those who are only imagined to know too much. Equally, incompetent, stupid or disruptive men may be abandoned to enemy action, as may unwanted members of various conspiracies.


1. 2 Samuel chapter 11 (King James Version) — the source of the story of Uriah
2. 2 Samuel chapter 12 — End of the story in which David's crime is brought to light
3. 1 Samuel Chapter 18 — Earlier, David was the victim of an attempted Uriah gambit: King Saul demanded that David bring him the foreskins of 100 Philistines as a bride-price for his daughter, hoping that David would get killed in trying. It didn't work.
4. fiction: "The Crooked Man" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — Sherlock Holmes story referencing the Uriah story.
5. fiction: "The Sign of the Sword" by C.K. Chesterton — not exactly a Uriah gambit in that the perpetrator does not actually send his enemy to his death, but he does use his command in battle as part of a crime.

Game and Story Use

  • PCs could find themselves in this sort of position for a variety of reasons - an employer might even do it just to avoid paying them, but whistleblowers, the nosey, the excessively ethical and those suspected of disloyalty might find themselves sent on a one-way mission as well.
    • One of the missions in the "Advanced" supplement for Palladium's Recon RPG involved PCs who showed too much interest in the traffic of illegal drugs through Vietnam being sent on a "routine mission" to search for a downed helicopter crew who didn't exist in an area about to play host to a huge movement of NVA troops.
    • Recalling that Uriah was, after all, an officer, the PCs might find themselves on this sort of job by accident as their patron or employer is targeted.
    • In an organization prone to Klingon Promotion, suicide missions might be a way of disposing of the too-competent or too-ambitious.
    • The target might even simply be a scapegoat for the employer's own failures or vices: a dead Uriah can't object, and an alive but disgraced one won't be believed.
  • Of course, these things can backfire - if the potential Uriah and his men survive, the conspirator(s) may end up going to greater and greater lengths to try and cover up their failure.
    • Then either the Uriah catches them or their own superiors notice (in the original version, Uriah died and the King was only called to account by his superior at a later date).
    • A possible attempt to do this to a young G. Julius Caesar during the siege of Mytilene backfired so badly that he and the men with him were highly decorated - Caesar winning one of Rome's highest honours in the process.
    • Don't forget the possibility of the Streissand effect applying to a coverup, either. The Uriah's first clue that there even was something to cover up might be when they find evidence of sabotage.
  • PCs may find the remains of (or a dying) a Uriah and inherit evidence of the original offence and a knowledge of the attempted coverup.
  • PCs may find that their enemy is a Uriah, and, if allowed to live, will attack the BBEG under his own steam.
  • Less scrupulous PCs may be tempted to dispose of annoying underlings or other NPCs in this manner…
    • Even more scrupulous ones might arrange an incident so that a wrongdoer who can't be touched through normal channels sees justice anyway.
  • For those who like some moral ambiguity, consider a unit that was collectively involved in a war-crime. Higher command wishes to cover this up and, having made the unit in question police up the majority of the physical evidence to the degree where it will be very hard to prove anything, now intends to send them on a one way mission from which they will not return. Briefed that the enemy know who they are and what they have done, they may well be disinclined to surrender so PCs from the "enemy" side may have a tougher time of it … even PCs from the unit's own side may be avoided unless the offenders know they have been thrown to the wolves and consider facing a court martial a better bet.
    • For even more of a wrinkle, make the PCs a third party: say, in WW2, an American unit seeking SS Men who massacred American POWs but are now in the process of being fed to a Soviet Guards division on the Eastern Front.
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