Indy Ploy

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"Heroes don't need plans!"

The favorite Plan (or rather, lack thereof) of almost every action and Idiot Hero in existence.

Maybe the Five-Man Band has lost The Smart Guy, or maybe The Hero has the attention span of a distracted goldfish on caffeine. Maybe the elaborate plan our heroes were relying on was utterly trashed and they're forced to wing it. No matter the reason, they are now executing an Indy Ploy.

Not all characters involved are necessarily aware of the leader's lack of forethought. When he finally utters those dreaded words, "I'm making it up as I go", hilarity is sure to ensue. If things don't go smoothly, expect exclamations of "What Were You Thinking??!"

An Indy Ploy is also a surefire way to invoke an Unspoken Plan Guarantee. Since Indy's course of action is unknown even to Indy himself, and therefore unknown to the audience, Indy is actually more likely to succeed than if he had spent time planning on-screen.

Named after Indiana Jones, who has had to make more hasty exits than most of us have had hot dinners.

Contrast Xanatos Gambit(a plan where all reasonable outcomes are benefical) and Batman Gambit (where the prefered outcome is the most likely one) Between them and this trope lies Xanatos Speed Chess, where the grand plan, generally more complicated than "survive and don't get caught", is continually adapted to circumstances. This can lead to a Spanner in the Works where they cannot be predicted because they don't do anything that makes tactical sense.

See also How Did You Know? I Didn't. and I Have No Idea What I'm Doing. May involve Holding the Floor. Unrelated, despite the name, to the Indy Escape, which does involve a plan: RUN. Those who weaponize this employ Confusion Fu.

Examples of Indy Ploy include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Mazinger Z, Kouji is able to think strategically and plotting strategies beforehand. However, given his rash, hotheaded nature, he is VERY prone to impulsively rush/leap/dive headfirst into a dangerous situation and figuring out along the way how he will walk out of it alive. These two pages of the "Mazinger Z: Relic of Terror" one-shot are a good example.
  • In Naruto, Deidara prides himself with these, as it correlates with his belief that true art is a momentary concept.
    • Naruto himself has twice been described to mooks who had never seen him before as "the one who will attack you without thinking first". While he can often make up plans (even very good one), he initially is only capable of thinking them up immediately before he has to do them. Of course, this is somewhat implied to be why he's a capable fighter; he makes up for his lack of raw intelligence with body instinct.
  • Luffy of One Piece did this once or twice. At one point the main characters were making a minutely-detailed plan to invade a government-owned island. Luffy, being the Idiot Hero that he is, charged in at the soonest possible moment, leaving his allies to beat a hasty path in after him. Not that it really mattered. They used the same plan to get the rest of the Strawhats in and it worked. Luffy just got in early and defeated the first CP 9 member.
    • His fight with Eneru may also qualify. With his "Mantra" Eneru was able to predict and counter all of Luffy's moves, so he just started making up moves on the spot in an effort to get around it.
      • Two particularly interesting tactics of his; first, to allow himself to go into a daze and let instinct keep him from getting hit (didn't work because he couldn't attack without breaking the trance) and throwing his fists against the wall (they're made of rubber) to let them ricochet unpredictably.
    • When Luffy does have a plan, it usually amounts to "let's beat up the bad guy!" Anything else, he makes up as he goes (or has to be planned by a subordinate, usually Robin or Nami, or occasionally Usopp.)
  • In the manga Battle Royale, Shuuya has an admirable tendency to jump into a conflict to help the underdog. The problem is that he never thinks about what he'll do after he becomes part of it. He usually reveals his Indy Ploy after the conflict is already resolved and the other person asks what he was thinking.
    • And a lot of the time it turns out his plan was no more elaborate than 'jump in and hope for the best.'
  • Use of the Indy Ploy is the totality of the Saotome School of Martial Art in Ranma ½.
    • With one exception. When Ryouga learns the breaking point technique, Ranma employs the secret Saotome technique of... running away from the fight to think of a plan.
  • Quant from Tower of God found himself in a very sticky situation: Ho was holding Rachel hostage and tried to kill her before, Parakewl and Mauchi were trying to profit from this and pierce him with their lances and Baam was blackmailed into fighting him. What to do? Hit the little genius with a paralyzing technique and tell him to copy it and use it on Ho, so that he'd have the courage to jump in to save Rachel, while Quant takes care of the others, of course. He never expected it to work, but who cares?
  • Nearly every victory in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is like this. The one time the protagonists plan before a fight, they win, but Kamina dies in the ensuing victory.
    • And it's not like any plan they make will have more than 1% chance of success. As they can pull off even something with 0 chance of success, it doesn't really matter...
  • In Eyeshield 21 this will happen quite often with the Devil Bats, especially near the end of the series. It is particularly prevalent on the last kick returns and when the Japanese team uses the Dragonfly and Golden Dragonfly
  • Pokémon Special makes thorough use of the Indy Ploy - Gold in particular worships at its altar. His are so blatant that mental objections fill the panel when he acts like he planned it all along. It's hard to judge, given the nature of her intellect, whether some of Sapphire's more clever victories (Roxanne, Brawly, Ark @ Mt. Chimney) qualify as this or something between this and Xanatos Speed Chess.
  • This pretty much exemplifies Inuyasha's entire approach to fighting. He even learns Bakuryuuha totally without meaning to by reacting instinctively. His unconventional fighting style is commented on by other characters on more than one occasion.
  • As a leader, this is both Ichigo of Bleach‍'‍s strength and weakness. On one hand, he can be so aggressive, and attempt such suicidal things with such limited preparation, that it astonishes and repeatedly catches more cautious foes off-guard. On the other hand, when the villains DO know what to expect from him, his impetuosity and lack of foresight makes him a real Unwitting Pawn.
    • Renji has shown shades of this on occasion with varying degrees of success.
    • In his fight with Shukuro Tsukishima Byakuya of all people was forced to do this as his opponent's ability allowed him to "insert" himself in someone's past, and he used it to learn any move Byakuya ever trained, so Byakuya had to improvise something unexpected. Later he admitted he enjoyed it.
  • In one of the episodes of the original 1972 Lupin III TV series, the Tokyo police department gets a supercomputer that is programmed to predict Lupin's every move. It does so extremely successfully, until Lupin realizes the way to beat it is to throw out all his plans and act completely on whim.
  • Joseph Joestar, the second titular hero of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, is a seasoned practitioner of these, both as a young practitioner of Ripple-style martial arts and as an Older and kinda-sorta Wiser mentor to his grandson Jotaro. Fittingly, his characterization in Part 3 draws heavily from the Trope Namer, right down to the Cool Hat.
  • These are the essence of how Yami Yugi wins all his duels in Yu-Gi-Oh!. His present-day counterpart's plans have much more forethought, however. The protagonists of the sequel series, on the other hand, exhibit no planning whatsoever, making turnarounds on a single card more often than not.
    • No planning? That may be true for Judai, but Yusei? Really?
  • In Irresponsible Captain Tylor the protagonist lives his life by this philosophy. Or he's a super genius that plans everything far in advance. It's hard to tell.
  • Yusuke Urameshi in Yu Yu Hakusho uses random tactics in an effort to win, most notably during his fight with Hiei which, afterwards, Botan notes he "risked their lives on a maybe" as well as Yusuke's first fight against Sensei where he attempts to counter Sensui's ability to predict moves by doing things that are entirely random (such as going for a swim mid-battle).
    • "Come on Genkai, this is me we're talking about, I'm just making it up as I go!"
    • "Alright Yusuke, you're out of options, time to do something stupid!"
  • Goku from Dragon Ball, especially during his assault on the main Red Ribbon Army base. His plan could be best described as "keep hitting anyone who attacks until you run out of targets". Meanwhile the rest of the cast were busily trying to put together a rescue team and trying to plan out how they'd save him.
  • Judau Astar from Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ and Uso Ebbing from Mobile Suit Victory Gundam are masters of this. They make up new plans as they go along, using strategies more experienced or more crazy pilots never think of.
  • Ouran High School Host Club: Tamaki is surprisingly good at them. Like, trump Kyoya good.
  • Cowboy Bebop: Aboard the Bebop, Spike "I try not to think" Spiegel is a contrast to Jet, especially Lampshaded over a game of Shogi in the movie. When he does make plans, they're simple and disposable; he expects them to fail, leaving him no choice but to improvise.
    • To quote the manga: "Plan A is 'Take it as it comes,' Plan B is 'First come, first served,' and Plan C is 'Wing it.'"
  • Having a strong preference for the Indy Ploy seems to be a requirement to be a member of Fairy Tail. Even many of the more sane characters tend to throw themselves into fights with little forethought (Erza fits this description well), notable exceptions may be Lucy, Levy, and Fried.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's. After Luna finds Regulus and cures him of his curse, he tells them that in order to save Ancient Fairy Dragon, "All we have to do is invade Zeman's castle, defeat him in an epic battle, break the power of his minus spell, and the Spirit World should return to normal." Of course, he seems to have no idea at first how they're going to do any of that, but over the course of an episode and a half, they manage to.
  • After an Impersonation Gambit fails in Princess Principal because You Are Already Checked In, Team Principal is forced into an Indy Ploy.

Comic Books

  • Let's face it, this is generally the M.O of just about every comic book superhero, since supervillains have a tendency to attack without warning at any time. But while most of them do at least fight according to plans thought out in training or, on the rare occasion, when they're the ones tracking a bad guy instead of the other way around, the Avengers change their line-up so frequently that they can't even plan for their own team, let alone whatever they're up against. Winging it is what they do best.
  • In the old Snarfquest comic that ran in Dragon magazine, Larry Elmore plotted out the next step for the characters to be, then threw it out and literally made up the craziest possible way to get there from the last stopping place. Best example: "You Shot My Tower!!" Snarf did.
  • Batman, despite his reputation for intense planning, actually owes most of his victories for noticing every detail of his situation and then making a plan to take advantage of it on the spot.
  • Deadpool, being a crazy Anti-Hero, has twice bested Taskmaster, a character capable of beating some of the best superheroes [1] by being able to perfectly mimic and therefore predict their fighting styles. The reason he was defeated by Deadpool, it is revealed, is that Deadpool, being almost as crazy as The Joker, literally makes up everything he does as he goes along, making him completely unpredictable.
    • The instance where he took Taskmaster off guard by suddenly stopping in the middle of their fight and going into a breakdancing routine is a sterling example of Deadpool's M.O.
    • This was also used in the DC Universe, when Cassandra's body language reading skills were foiled by the Joker's randomness. Cassandra triumphs after Oracle explains that the Joker's body language is "gibberish".
      • Which makes sense in that the only consistency in the last five or six iterations of the DC universe is that Joker literally makes up his personality as he goes along.
    • The miniseries Dream War, a Crisis Crossover between the Wildstorm Comics and DC Comics universes: In a conflict with DC villains, Midnighter of the Authority usually had an advantage, due to his ability to play out every variation of a fight in his head before the first blow lands. Until he ran into the Joker and could do nothing but stand completely still because he couldn't figure out what the Joker would do.
  • Parodied in the Republic series of Star Wars Expanded Universe comics, where scoundrel Vilmarh Grahrk paraphrases Indy: "I don't know! Am making this up as I go!"
  • Like in the Shanghai Noon example below, in Asterix and the Cauldron, after Obelix doesn't understand a detailed plan, Asterix replaces it with "we fight, get the gold and go away" (to which Obelix replies "This one I understand!").
  • Spider-Man does this every now and again, often against enemies that outclass him in terms of power. One notable instance involved him defeating Nitro (yes, that Nitro) by luring him into a chemical warehouse full of tear gas and webbing a tank of it to Nitro's body. When Nitro exploded, he vaporized the tear gas, which then mixed with his gaseous form and left him too sick to stand up, much less explode again, when he reformed. It's even Lampshaded by Spider-Man when he realized he had all of five seconds to stop Nitro before the villain exploded again.
  • Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four can afford to use this as his modus operandi, since he's smart enough to pull a master plan that would take anyone else days to draw up out of his ass at random, or cobble together a interdimensional continuity de-snarler out of a handful of kitchen utensils.
  • Similarly, his sometime-colleague Doctor Strange frequently goes to cases without much preparation, expecting that he'll be quick-witted enough (or have the right amulet, or know the right spell) to deal with the situation as it develops.
  • In comparison to Steve Rogers' Crazy Prepared-ness, Bucky Barnes, after assuming the mantle of Captain America (comics) showed off his tactical sensibilities through his extensive reliance on plans made on the fly.
  • In the penultimate issue of Spider-Woman's first series, the heroine's plan to free herself and the other superhumans seems sound: She has Tigra shout insults at Poltergeist until his (notoriously unstable) Psychic Powers overcome his restraints and wreck the doors of the cellblock above him, which detain both Spider-Woman and Gypsy Moth. Then convince Moth to use her own powers (which should no longer be hindered by her cell's dampener) to free them from the shackles. Unfortunately, Gypsy Moth's powers to not work on metal, they only affect cloth and other soft material. So Spider-Woman quickly improvises, telling moth to switch costumes with her. When the pair are recaptured, the villain is fooled and puts them in the wrong cells, and the dampener designed for Gypsy Moth doesn't work on Spider-Woman, and vice versa. Moth is able to clog the security devices using her switched costume, and Spider-Woman breaks free with ease, releases the others, and trounces the villain.

Fan Works

  • Shinji and Warhammer40K: How God-Emperor Shinji Ikari handles combat with the Angels. On at least two occasions he successfully stabs them with their own ripped-out teeth.
  • The Firefly fanfic Forward continues the original series' fine tradition of Mal making it up as he goes. In the "Condor" story arc, it gets lampshaded by Zoe, who is relieved when Mal says their harrowing escape is being made up on the spot, and in the "Third Interlude" chapter, Jayne pulls an Indiana Jones-style vehicle boarding where he's improvising as he goes.
  • Plenty of these in With Strings Attached; indeed, the second half of the Fourth Movement is made of these.


Indy: Damn, I thought that was closer.

  • Lampshaded later in the film:

Mutt Williams / Henry Jones III: What's he gonna do now?
Mary Williams / Marion Ravenwood: I don't think he plans that far ahead.
Indiana Jones: Scooch over, will you, Son?

"I'd cover my ears if I were you!"

  • Hereditary. Witness Indy's dad in Last Crusade. "I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne."
  • Legacy. The line in question is a callback to Humphrey Bogart's line in Casablanca: "I don't plan that far ahead."
  • In-universe, Indy seems to have picked up the "making this up as I go" line almost word for word from a group of older gentlemen while on a special mission during WWI (Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Phantom Train of Doom).
  • He even does this as a teenager - in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when fellow scout Herman asks how he's going to get the Cross of Coronado away from Fedora and his men, he admits that he doesn't know, but he'll think of something...
  • Han Solo (also Harrison Ford) from Star Wars survives mainly by thinking very, very fast. And when that doesn't work, running away even faster.
    • Leia comes close. "Into the garbage chute, flyboy!"
      • Both the rescue/escape from the original Death Star and the attack on the second (the Battle of Endor) amount to extended improvisation, as our heroes' plans run into the unexpected again and again.
    • Turned into a Catch Phrase in the Han Solo Adventures novels by Brian Daley: "Inspiration's my specialty!"
    • Qui-Gon Jinn: "We don't have time for a plan."
  • Hell, just name any Harrison Ford movie, and there's bound to be a case of this. He seems quite adept at making an Indy Ploy work.
    • Maybe we should rename this trope "Harrison Ford ploy"
      • Appropriate, since he's known for his improvisations (though the director, presumably, does have a plan).
    • This was particularly noteworthy in The Fugitive, where he plays not just a respected doctor but a brilliant surgeon. So of course he's going to be good at thinking quick and improvising. A character even notes this: that he's too smart for even the FBI to catch him, even though he's never been a criminal on the run before.
    • There was a 90's movie, Presumed Innocent which had an "Indy plot" bordering on an Idiot Plot where the whole plot goes random and every character has to make shit up off the top of his/her head at the moment. It Gets Worse when all the best laid plans turn the plotters into Unwitting Pawns. The wife was the murderer, and she just wanted to get her husband's attention, who would cover it up. When he got on trial, she wanted to confess, but there was no evidence against him. He's struggling the whole movie to get the evidence, only for it to be right in front of his nose, in the desk of a cop friend of his. And the whammer? The judge was at the end of a Paranoia Fuel not-at-all-subtle attempt at blackmail by the defense attourney, judge who despite all odds stoically refused to succumb to it. The accused only escaped not because he was innocent, but because he seemed innocent because there was no evidence. Oh yeah, and there was no conspiracy to frame him, as stated above, on the contrary.
  • Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Max: So what's the plan?
Pig Killer: (laughing) Plan? There ain't no plan!

John: I know what I'm doing.
Zeus: Not even God knows what you're doing!

    • He does all this, and acknowledges most of it will probably get him killed.

Genie: Al, I can't help you, I work for Señor Psychopath now. What are you gonna do?
Aladdin: Hey, I'm a street rat, remember? I'll improvise.

  • In Ocean's Twelve, half the crew is jailed and the remaining half tries an Indy Ploy to achieve the mission, including having Julia Roberts try to pretend she's Julia Roberts. The plot fails, but anyway everything was a Xanatos Roulette from the beginning.
  • In Ghostbusters, this ploy fails spectacularly the first time the not-yet-heroes attempt it.

Venkman: "'Get her!' That was your whole plan, huh? 'Get her.' Very scientific."
Stantz: "I just... got excited!"

  • Down Periscope. Almost everything Lt. Cmdr. Dodge does amounts to winging it.

Dodge: Men, we'll need to use a tactic that is somewhat bizarre and extremely risky.
Spots: Actually, sir, I think we prefer to go with bizarre and risky. It's worked for us so far.

    • Which, given the conditions of the exercise, is the only way to succeed.
  • Punisher: War Zone

Paul: So what's the plan?
Frank: I'm going to go in and get them.
Paul: You call that a plan?!
Frank: It's all I ever need.

  • Marty McFly and Doc Brown have to make up things on the spot frequently in the Back to The Future series, especially when unexpected things come up to nearly screw Doc's elaborate plans.
  • Before heading into the final shootout in The Way of the Gun, Parker and Longbaugh agree that "a plan is just a list of things that don't happen."
  • Disney is quite fond of these, appearing again in Mulan.

Mushu: "So what's the plan?"
Mulan: "Um..."
Mushu: "You don't have a plan?!"
Mulan: "Hey, I'm making this up as I... go."

  • The Dark Knight's Joker claims to be doing this, but it's really really unlikely most of the time, considering the fact that he knew exactly how everyone in the city would react right up until the grand finale, with Batman himself being the only wild card, and a minor one at that. Considering how well everything worked out, it's more likely he's falling back on the character's long standing similarity to Batman, doing what he can to plan ahead and making up what he can't.
    • It's also possible that he's playing it up to inspire fear. After all, the only thing more frightening than a psycho with a plan is a psycho without a plan who manages to succeed anyway.
  • Witness this exchange from the 2009 Star Trek movie:

Chekov: If Nero's ship detects us he will destroy us. But, if we drop out of warp near one of Saturn's moons... say... Titan. The magnetic distortion from Saturn's rings will shield us. (Note: at this point, Mr. Scott's weird beaming technology will enable them to beam from the Enterprise all the way to Nero's ship at Earth)
Mr. Scott: Aye... that might work.

  • Pretty much all of Inception involves this, with Cobb's team forced to improvise as they go. Cobb himself even says that once they enter Fisher's mind, they'll have no idea what to expect, so they have to improvise as they go deeper into his subconscious. In fact, the entire "Mister Charles" gambit is one of these that the team cooks up when they realize they're going to be mobbed by armies of Fisher's personal security guards.
    • They tried Mister Charles before, it just didn't work.
  • Ironically the only plan of Megamind's that works is basically one these:

Roxanne: What's the plan?
Megamind: Well, it mostly involves not dying.
Roxanne: I like that plan!

  • Three Amigos!. The title characters do this because they aren't very bright.

Dusty: We have a plan.
Carmen: What is it?
Dusty: First, we break into El Guapo's fortress.
Carmen: And that you've done. Now what?
Dusty: Well, we really didn't expect the first part of the plan to work, so we have no further plan. Sometimes you can overplan these things.

  • In Stripes John has gotten them into the Soviet camp in Czechoslovakia. When asked what now, he says 'Working on it."
  • Similar to the Aladdin example above, Sam Flynn in Tron: Legacy gives us this exchange:

Kevin Flynn: Wait, what's your plan?
Sam Flynn: I'm a user. I'll improvise.

    • In Tron, his father was once just as bad. Trapped in a lightcycle arena? Well, let's make a run for that glitch on the wall and hope it doesn't kill you. Lacking transport? Hot-wire a freaking Recognizer (and crash it in the middle of downtown). Running around in a huge city with only a vague idea on where your new best friend is heading? Mug a Mook and change your Tron Lines to blend in. Then there's re-routing a massive amount of power using his own body as a conduit and having no plan whatsoever at the endgame other than "kiss your pal's girlfriend and jump into the monster."

Tron: If you are a User, then everything you've done has been according to a plan?
Kevin Flynn: You wish!

  • Inverted with Thor in that it isn't the hero, but the villain. Loki allowed a few Frost Giants in Asgard for "a bit of fun" while also "protecting Asgard" from Thor's rule; talks his brother into doing something stupid but the consequences were a lot bigger than he had hoped for; then he realizes he's adopted and decides that it's better for Thor to stay on Earth while he tries to earn their father's love by killing an entire race.
  • Kung Fu Panda 2, when Po rescues the Furious Five from Lord Shen:

Tigress: What's your plan?
Po: Step 1, free the Five.
Viper: What's Step 2?
Po: To be honest, I didn't think I'd get this far.

  • Miller's Crossing: "Do you always know what you're going to do before you do it?"
  • In Most Wanted, Keenan Ivory Wayans says, "I'm a Marine. We don't plan—we improvise!" Which is a shout-out to Heartbreak Ridge, and also total BS, as Marine operations are planned in detail beforehand. Of course, one tenet of Murphy's Law reads, "No plan survives the first contact intact."
  • Played with and Lampshaded in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: After Voldemort learns they're hunting horcruxes Hermione says they need a new plan. Harry's response? "Hermione, since when have any of our plans ever worked?"
  • In the |Mission Impossible films, whenever something goes awry with plan, the improvision is usually high in the HSQ.
  • In The Wizard of Oz, it is obvious that Dorothy's three friends really have no idea how they're going to rescue her from the Witch's castle, but then they are found by three guards, and manage to beat them up; they quickly decide to go with a Dressing as the Enemy plan.


  • The Wheel of Time series. Mat due to way his luck-tweaking ability works, he does poorly at games of planning than of chance. For this reason, most of his better plans by default fall under this category.
  • The "wizzard" Rincewind from Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels is not as concerned about where he's running to as what he's running from. He notes this on several occasions. "Run!" "Where to?!" "From! The key word is from!" Which invariably leads to more running. By The Last Hero, this is what he states as his religion (main tenet: whatever happens, you can run from it).
    • However, when running away is not an option, Rincewind does come up with some clever plans, like in Interesting Times having the local Dibbler clone spread a rumor that the rebel forces are NOT bolstered by 3,200,009 vampire ghosts, nor by the vast and invincible Red Army. The vampire ghosts part is false. The Red Army turns out to be true, though mostly by an accident on Rincewind's part. Rincewind spreads such a bizarre rumor upon realizing that while telling someone that an enormous army is coming does frighten them, it's even more effective to tell them what they won't be facing and have the rumors spiral out of proportion.
    • A more heroic, for lack of a better term, Indy Ploy is the MO of Moist von Lipwig in the Discworld novel Going Postal. Near the end, he makes a bet with the Magnificent Bastard Big Bad Reacher Gilt, and he has no idea how he'll win at first ... In his second appearance in Making Money, he outlines a grand if somewhat vague vision of the future of currency, and wonders if he should write it down so he can work out what he's talking about later. In both books the apparent confidence with which he enters such things lead everyone else to conclude he had it all planned out.
      • This, apparently, is how good serial television works.
      • It is worth noting that not only does Moist not win his bet with Reacher, he very deliberately doesn't win it. He's just using it as a ploy to get everyone heeded into the same room for his J'accuse! moment. The best part being that the J'accuse! is the message he arranged to replace the real message with.
    • Lord Vetinari of Ankh-Morpork seems to combine Indy Ploys and Xanatos Roulettes to devastating effect. It was once stated that, since you can't plan for every eventuality, Vetinari doesn't.
      • When in doubt he will order Vimes not to get involved with it. Say what you will about Vetinari, he knows how Vimes will follow this trope for him. Vimes is too vimesy to use a Xanatos Gambit. I guess you could call him Vetinari's laser-guided Vimes.
  • Commissar Ciaphas Cain, Hero of the Imperium in Warhammer 40,000, often finds himself running headlong into situations he certainly shouldn't be running into in a universe as casually lethal as Warhammer 40K. He usually fights and flees his way out of these situations by simply making things up as he goes along, improvising weapons and tactics from his surroundings and from simple ingenuity. In one case, he halts a mob of bloodthirsty, rioting Imperial Guardsmen by jumping on a table, pointing at someone, and ordering them to get a mop, as the mess they had left was simply deplorable. "Whatever they'd been expecting me to say or do, this certainly wasn't it."
    • And, by extension, Cain's literary predecessor, Harry Paget Flashman, who lies, flatters, and flees his way through adventure after adventure, escaping by dint of sheer luck and the skin of his teeth.
  • In Ghostmaker, trooper Caffran, being miffed at being recalled from an assault at an enemy stronghold, manages to get an entire squad of Tanith following him into that aforementioned stronghold, almost single-handedly destroying an entire city's worth of insane Chaos-worshipping berserker fanatics by setting off a large enough explosion inside the stronghold that the cultists believe the Imperial Guard have completely entered the city, and proceed to engage in a mass suicide in the name of Khorne, the Blood God. End result, the entire Chaos army ends up dead while the Guard troopers still haven't even gotten inside the city.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan lives off these; he started his military career when he attempted to smuggle guns to a besieged planet in an unarmed freighter and, after a series of increasingly insane improvisations, wound up in command of the enemy forces.
    • And that's only halfway through his first book. Miles has thus far managed to improvise his way to one of the most powerful positions in the Barrayaran empire and into marriage and fatherhood while acquiring a six-years-younger twin brother and an entire fleet of mercenaries, pretty much out of thin air.
      • To be fair, he does start off the cousin of the Emperor and (arguably) the next but one in line to the Imperial Throne (which he doesn't want). His position doesn't come from nowhere.
      • Subverted in A Civil Campaign where his attempt to ad lib a marriage proposal in the middle of a dinner party confirms to his love interest that he'd been shamelessly manipulating her all along and so totally backfires.
    • But maybe he gets it from his mother. After all, Cordelia starts out captured by the enemy in Cordelia's Honor and ends up married into the highest levels of aristocracy and Vicerene of two planets before it's all said and done. Of course this is after she effects a daring escape from Aral Vorkosigan who is kind of a Admiral Bad Ass and certainly an Officer and a Gentleman (In Space!).
    • In The Vor Game, Miles and Emperor Gregor pull off the rarely-attempted Synchronized Tandem Indy Ploy, and somehow manage to completely out-maneuver a Magnificent Bastard of a Chessmaster while unable to coordinate with each other on opposite sides of a star system.
  • Most of Harry Potter's plans fit into this trope, mostly due to a lack of time and/or information to plan ahead. Actually, things don't turn out much better when they do plan ahead.
    • This is also brought up in Deathly Hallows:

George: So what's the plan, Harry?
Harry: There isn't one.
Fred: Just going to make it up as we go along, are we? My favourite kind.

      • And when they do make a meticulous plan for how they're going to break into the Ministry of Magic, it goes wrong from the start, and they have to wing the whole thing.
      • Ditto the Gringotts break-in. They were not anticipating flying away on a dragon. They should've looked at the cover.
      • In book seven, there's a lengthy time where Ron and Hermione assume Harry's got a plan, and are pissed (Ron) and worried (Hermione) when they discover he hasn't got one.
        • Deathly Hallows Part 2 even has Harry himself lampshade it by saying there's no need for a plan: "We make a plan, we go in, all hell breaks loose!"
  • In the Honor Harrington series, Victor Cachat is really good at this. He is good at planning too, but no plan survives an encounter with the enemy, so he's often forced to make things up as they go. And does he make them...
    • Honor herself fits this description exactly. Up to The Chessmaster and The Determinator parts, though she usually has more resources to pad for contingencies better.
  • Roland Deschain of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series is a great advocate of Indy planning. He prefers them to totally thought out rigid plans because rough spontaneous ones leave room for improvisation, something he does very, very well indeed.
  • In The Thrawn Trilogy, Luke Skywalker has an impressively long run of "This isn't working, I'll try something else" when he's pulled out of hyperspace by an Imperial Interdictor. Condensed, here's about half of it: "Whoa, it's practically on top of me! I'm in tractor range, I can't go to lightspeed in this gravity well, and they're hailing me. There's a freighter with it, there are no living things on board. Where's the nearest edge of the gravity well - gun for it. The freighter is between me and them, I'll send a timed proton torp to blow up the freighter, debris should shield us, okay done - damn, they're moving to keep me in the gravity well, I'll go laterally - tractored! They'll pull us in, if I can change speed I can get it to let go, I'll swing to get as close to the edge of the gravity well, then reverse-trigger the inertial compensator at full power - there, dead stop, the tractor's not on me for just a moment, I'll fire proton torpedoes to be caught by the tractor and pulled in. Done, fly! They're finally firing on me, we're far enough away, jump to lightspeed! ...We're out of range, but we've fallen out of lightspeed and now we're stranded in lightyears of empty space. Hyperdrive is dead, subspace radio is broken, we can't leave, aren't likely to be found, and can't call for help. Okay R2, let's try..."
    • The X Wing Series has Wraith Squadron. A dozen people, give or take, constantly find themselves in situations that plans could not have predicted and rapidly put together schemes, often rather complex ones, to get the desired results. For about a thousand pages worth of novels. No wonder the Big Bad was afraid of them. And their allies, too, for that matter.
      • In their first live battle, Wraiths four and five, plus two A-Wings, manage to trick an Imp Star Deuce into following them, by pretending to be the Millenium Falcon. How they do so involved precision flying, wavery shields, and a bad imitation of Leia saying that Han was up to his elbows in the remains of the hyperdrive and couldn't talk right now. Just to top it off, they later ended up in the command of the inimitable then-General Han Solo himself. The loonies are running the asylum, and damn if it ain't fine.
      • Well it helps that Wraith squadron was formed by Wedge Antilles and Wes Janson, who, being from Rogue Squadron, are already pretty good at this.
    • Consider what happened within the first seven pages of Allegiance. Han and Luke in the Falcon lift off a planet, are attacked by pirates, do some tricky shooting and maneuvering, and a Star Destroyer glides into the system to take care of the rebel cell being smuggled out by the Falcon. Han powers down the Falcon's weapons and sends out a general emergency call, nominally to the planetary defenses below. The Star Destroyer tells him to state his intention and emergency, Han says that they're a medical mercy team sent out in response to a groundquake on the planet and were attacked by pirates. The Star Destroyer quickly and systematically destroys all of the pirates and tells Han that the planet is now under Imperial interdiction. Go home until the block has lifted. Han makes a show of reluctantly agreeing, and as they fly away he remarks to Luke that it's nice to obey Imperial orders now and again.
    • Timothy Zahn in general likes having his protagonists get pinned down and forced to improvise repeatedly to escape. The Cobra trilogy especially is packed with this.
  • Done many, many times in Animorphs. A notable example is #37 The Weakness, where Rachel, the group's Ax Crazy, takes over the Leader's role. Her 'plan' to get into the enemy's stronghold involves stealing a private jet and crashing it into a building.
    • For most of the run, Animorphs might as well just be called Indy Ploy: The Series. To be fair they do frequently try to plan everything out, but when things inevitably go downhill they just start making crap up as they go, with a result of all of them becoming really proficient. Another notable example is in #29, when everyone except Cassie gets knocked out with alien flu, forcing her to Indy ploy her way into the Yeerk pool to rescue a yeerk who knows too much before escaping to perform on the fly brain surgery.
  • The Hollows: Rachel Morgan tends to rely on these, while Ivy is the polar opposite.

Rachel: "Jenks, plan B!"
Later, outside.
Jenks: "So what's plan B?"
Rachel: "Grab the fish and get the hell out of there."

  • Gentleman Bastard Sequence: Locke Lamora tends to have his plans explode due to unforeseen complications, but he's very good at improvising. At one point he has lost access to his wardrobe and all of his disguises and needs to pass himself off as a wealthy merchant to his mark. Through a quick, complicated scam, he ends up walking into a bank and coming out half an hour later wearing the clothing of the wealthiest man in Camorr.
    • However, he only tried the complex plan after the first one failed miserably due to the security procedures of the bank manager... which he then turns around and uses for the second attempt.
  • Ender's Game: The Dragon Army, anyone?
    • Flying unshielded ships at a planet after losing every engagement?
  • David Weber writes in an introduction to Christopher Anvil's Interstellar Patrol stories:

An Anvil character triumphs by shooting the rapids, by caroming from one obstacle to another, adapting and overcoming as he goes. In many ways, his characters are science-fiction descendents of Odysseus, the scheming fast thinker who dazzles his opponents with his footwork. Of course, sometimes it's a little difficult to tell whether they're dazzling an opponent with their footwork, or skittering across a floor covered in ball bearings.

  • The Dresden Files: Harry Dresden will often start out with a general plan, which usually goes to hell fast, seeing how the entire universe appears to hate him violently. Thus we get a lot of plans that amount to "arrange for some backup, confront the villains, and wing it from there," and in one case even "get everyone in the same place and see what happens." It gets to the where it's a real surprise when, in Changes, his elaborate scheme to break into a building and steal information goes off without a hitch. Some examples of his make-it-up-as-I-go-plans:
    • Oh, crap, giant scorpion-golem is attacking me and I can't use fire on it! Okay, drop a freaking elevator on it using a tunnel of wind!
    • A supremely-powerful ghost is trying to kill me in my dreams, and I can't beat it by myself. How do I stop it? Let it kill me in my sleep, then team up with my own ghost to beat the crap out of it, then get revived via CPR.
    • Trapped in a vampire's mansion, stripped of my gear, girlfriend is being held hostage, facing dozens of vampires, the leader of whom can wield magic, and I'm wearing undies with yellow duckies on them. Shit, what do I do? Pour magic into the shades of the vampires' hundreds of victims, giving them enough strength to mob the vampires and rip them to pieces, that's what.
    • Surrounded by faerie assassins in a Walmart with mind-numbing fog cutting off all help save Karrin Murphy, and the badguys are immune to my magic. Gasoline, a Super-Soaker, and chainsaws are the solution.
    • Facing off against a terrorist empowered by a Fallen Angel on top of a train, by myself. Nothing I throw at this guy works, thanks to the magical noose around his neck that instantly heals all damage. Well, let's give that noose a grab....
    • Three powerful necromancers who outpower me and are backed up by armies of unstoppable undead minions. I'm hurt, tired, and in no shape to face them head on, but the ritual they're planning will kill thousands if I don't stop them. Well, good thing I'm in the Field Museum. Let's raise that T-Rex skeleton and get to whupping some undead ass.
      • Technically, he plans things out. The fact that his plans are generally as elaborate as "show up, make things explode, profit" actually works to his detriment quite a bit. To the point that, in Ghost Story, when he sees what actually thinking things through can do, and how his typical approach of "shoot first, shoot some more, explode things and hope it all works out" is both effective in the short term and devastating in the long term, he actually has to stop and realize that he's dangerously close to being a psychopath himself.
  • Horatio Hornblower is guilty of both this and Xanatos Speed Chess. Although, being a Napoleonic Wars-era Naval officer, and the timing of military operations being dependant upon friction—wind, rain, sea conditions, road conditions, partisan attacks, the idiot who got drunk last night, et cetera—he has no way of predicting for certain the movements of his enemies, even if he knew what they intended to do. And he's generally brilliant at it, so we're not complaining.
  • Fisk's rescue of Michael in the first book of the Knight and Rogue Series Goes like this: Pull of a scam to get brought in, convince the evil baroness to let me stay the night, search for Michael once everyone has gone to bed, then find some way to get the hell out of there with both of us alive and whole.
  • In The Hobbit, the Dwarves seem to mostly operate this way, dealing with every obstacle as they happen. This becomes a problem late in the book, when they turn out to have no plan for getting rid of Smaug, which Bilbo doesn't find out until after they've already pissed him off by stealing from him.

They debated long on what was to be done, but they could think of no way of getting rid of Smaug- which had always been a weak point in their plans, as Bilbo felt inclined to point out.

Live-Action TV

  • Psych: Pretty much the concept of the entire series
    • The Old and the Restless

Henry: My son, the super sleuth, can't even get himself access into an old folks' home.
Shawn: No, no, no, Dad. You have no idea what we're up against, okay? I tried everything. I tried the whole "I'm a travelling doula" bit, the "dingo ate my baby" routine, "hiding Gus in a sack" trick, which never fails...

Henry: Alright, look. What the hell are you guys doing here?
Gus: This is the part where you get blindsided with Plan B. It's kind of fun when it's not happening to me.

  • When he originally came up with the idea for Mission: Impossible, creator Bruce Geller imagined EVERY episode's plan to go wrong at some point, leaving the IMF team to work from scratch. In the actual series, only a few Indy Ploy moments come up, mostly in the "Personal story" episodes.
    • In the 1988 relaunch of the series, the pilot episode featured John DeLancie as an assassin who intentionally used Indy Ploys: he never chose how he'd kill his target until the very last moment, improvising his plans as he went along, specifically to not be predictable.
  • At the very end of the final episode of the TV run of Angel, the title character, faced with an approaching horde of monsters and asked by a teammate what he has "in terms of a plan?" sums up the team's strategy for the past five seasons:

Angel: We fight.
Spike: Bit more specific?
Angel: Well, personally, I kinda want to slay the dragon. Let's go to work.

    • Earlier there was this reaction to learning that Gunn's plan to expose (zombie) cops who were attacking people was to go video tape them attacking him.

Wesley: That cannot possibly be his plan.
Cordelia: Hey, Gunn graduated with a major in Dumb Planning from Angel University. He sat at the feet of the master, and learned well, how to plan dumbly.

    • Then there's Spike:

Spike: I had a plan! A good plan! ...but then I got bored!

  • Hannibal "I love it when a plan comes together" Smith on The A-Team.
  • Chuck Bartowski doesn't have training as a spy so he really does just make it up literally from minute to minute. And works.
    • In "Chuck vs the Ring Part II, this is played straight and verbalized when Morgan and Awesome arrive to rescue Chuck, Sarah, and Casey from Shaw.

Morgan: "No plan? Never stopped me before."

  • The Doctor in Doctor Who has a tendency to play things by ear -- lampshaded several times in the series, in moments where he's been just as surprised as everyone else that a plan of his has actually worked, or worked for the wrong reason.

Mickey Smith: You're just making this up as you go!
The Doctor: Yuuuuupp! But I do it brilliantly!

    • And not to mention this famous exchange...

The Doctor: This is what I'm gonna do: I'm gonna rescue her. I'm gonna save Rose Tyler from the middle of the Dalek fleet, and then I'm gonna save the Earth. And then, just to finish you off, I'm gonna wipe every last stinking Dalek out of the sky!
Daleks: But you have no weapons! No defenses! No plan!
The Doctor: Yeah, and doesn't that just scare you to death?

    • The exception here being the Seventh Doctor, who was always executing a plan of some kind, in true Chessmaster fashion. Of course, his life being what it was, those plans usually required some "on site adjustments".
    • The Third Doctor certainly says something along those lines in "The Five Doctors":

Sarah Jane: Look, do you think this is wise, Doctor? I mean, well, whatever's in that Tower, it's got enormous powers and... well, what can we do against it?
The Doctor: What I've always done, Sarah Jane: improvise.

The Doctor: I'm warning you: I'm very dangerous when I don't know what I'm doing...

    • The Eighth Doctor concurs in the EDA book Coldheart.

‘I never have a plan. Plans can go wrong. That’s why the villain never wins – villains always have a plan.’

‘I’m not sure where we’re even going,’ Harris panted.
‘The Deadstone memorial,’ Fitz answered confidently. ‘The Doctor’s going to sort all this out for good.’
‘How’s he going to do that, then?’
‘He doesn’t know yet,’ Fitz replied grimly.

    • The Eleventh Doctor isn't any better:

The Doctor: River, you 'n me, we're gonna find the primary flight deck,[...] stabilze the wreckage, stop the angels and cure Amy.
River: How?
The Doctor: I'll do a thing.
River: What thing?
The Doctor: I dunno; it's a thing in progress. Respect the thing.

      • From the exact same episode:

The Doctor: Anyway, that's not the plan.
River: There's a plan?
The Doctor: I don't know yet; I haven't finished talking.

      • From yet another Eleven episode:

Amy: Please tell me you have a plan.
The Doctor: No, I have a thing. It's like a plan, but with more greatness.

      • And from yet another Eleven episode:

The Doctor: Need a proper look. Got to draw its fire. Give it a target.
Amy: How?
The Doctor: You know how sometimes I get these brilliant plans?
Amy: Yeah?
The Doctor: Sorry... (Jumps from out of hiding) LOOK AT ME I'M A TARGET!

      • In another instance from that episode, "Big Bang Two" the Eleventh Doctor threatens all of his enemies by saying that he has no weapons, nothing to lose and no plan they should really do the smart thing and let someone else come up against him first.
      • The Eleventh Doctor lampshades this trope again in the 2011 Christmas Special.

Lily: What do we do?
The Doctor: No idea. Just do what I do: hold tight and pretend it's a plan.

    • Also inverted with the Daleks and the Movelans. They were both so good at the Xanatos Gambit that when they came up against each other they found themselves locked in a stalemate of Xanatos Speed Chess, neither able to ever gain an advantage over the other. The Daleks realize that they need Davros to find them a way past this block, and the Movelans realize that the Dalek task force sent to the desolate Skaro must be there for some ancient, hidden thing of great importance to the current situation and set out to stop them. Upon learning what the Dalek's plan is, the Movelans want the Doctor to give them the ability to carry out an Indy Ploy just like the Daleks want Davros to do for them. Fortunately, the Doctor and the humans the Daleks brought as slave labor manage to not only destroy both of them, but capture Davros for trial.
  • Farscape: John Crichton lives for the Indy Ploy, which is fortunate, because the Uncharted Territories throw monkey wrenches into it every damn time. Near the end of the series, D'Argo wonders why things never go smoothly, to which John replies, "Murphy's Law."

John: Go on, keep movin'. I got a plan.
Aeryn: Don't tell me you have a plan.
John: What's wrong with them?
Aeryn: They never work.
John: Damn these doors. They always work.
Aeryn: Not the way you detail them.
John: Hey, look, I get results. You're hung up on details!
Aeryn: Your plans never work!

    • And this exchange from season 2:

Aeryn: "Would you like to learn how to do this, or are you content to continually display your ineptitude?
John: "My ineptitude? You mean my improvisation, the kind that bails your sorry milita--

      • Or this one when trying to attract the villain's attention:

John: I know you can see me. Bad guys can always see me. That's because my plans suck.

  • Mal Reynolds from Firefly also has to do this a lot, as his simple plans go wrong with such regularity you could set your watch to his cries of:

Mal: It never goes smooth. Why don't it ever go smooth?

    • Similarly lampshaded in this exchange:

Zoe: Captain'll come up with a plan.
Kaylee: That's good, right?
Zoe: It's possible you're not remembering some of his previous plans.

    • Also:

Mal: I don't plan on any shooting taking place during this job.
Jayne: Yeah, well, what you plan and what takes place ain't ever exactly been similar.

    • As Shepherd Book points out, Mal has a way, which is better than a plan.
    • When something has gone terribly awry, and he is forced to come up with another plan:

Mal: This is all part of our new plan.
Kaylee: How exactly is--
Mal: Still workin' the details.

    • Mind you, when he finally comes up with a plan in Serenity, it's so utterly horrifying you start to understand why he doesn't do it more often.

Mal: I start fighting a war, I guarantee you'll see something new.

  • Leverage is fond of using these after the original plan goes awry. Prime examples include "The Beantown Bailout Job" and "The Ho Ho Ho Job".
    • Ford isn't known as a mastermind for nothing. In fact, a lot of times this "improvisation" is just another part of the episode's Xanatos Gambit.
  • Dr. House. As brilliant a doctor as he is, makes it up 98% of the time.
  • This was MacGyver's usual MO. It was also lampshaded several times: Murdoc: You know, MacGyver, that's why you're so hard to beat. Nobody knows what you're going to do next. Including you.
  • The characters in Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis live by these. Sometimes even they're shocked their plans work...
    • Especially O'Neill. Then again, that could just be the actor noting how small the distance really is from his previous role of MacGyver.
    • McKay is asked at least once per episode to find a way to fix the problems cause by someone's failed plan, oftentimes Sheppard's or his own.

McKay: "I'm Dr. Rodney McKay, alright? Difficult takes a few seconds; impossible, a few minutes."

    • In Stargate Universe, this is O'Neill's expectation of Young, who is stuck with his people on a barely-functioning ship galaxies away from home. Guess it must be a requirement of all SGC personnel, given what they have to deal with.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Attached", Picard and Crusher are psychically linked and on the run from the aliens du jour, and so she's able to call him on pretending to know where they're going; he claims that it's important for The Good Captain to sometimes project the image of understanding and confidence in dangerous situations.
    • One of the reasons Star Trek is so popular is because even the smart characters have no qualm with junking the manual and making it up as they go. Both Kirk and Picard were masters of making stuff up and making it look good. Closely followed by Spock and Riker.
    • This tendency is elaborated in hilarious detail by Voltaire's filk "U.S.S. Make Shit Up".
  • The evil masterminds of 24 constantly have their Xanatos Gambits foiled by Jack Bauer's Indy Ploys. The man hitched a ride on the bottom of a garbage truck ... no, you're not going to beat a man like that with anything less than nuclear weapons. (And actually, not even then).
  • Burn Notice knows how to play this one, too. Westen usually has multiple plans, yet they frequently resort to throwing them all away and improvising on the spot. For instance, :

Max: What's going on here? Do we have a plan?
Michael Westen: A plan, no, I... got some tactical goals, and a rough approach?
Max: A rough approach, well, that's terrific. Thank god we got that, because we don't have backup, video feeds or working coms.
Michael: Welcome to my world.

    • In one particular episode, Michael's plan to capture a bad guy relied on getting close to him and using that position to maneuver him into a position in which he could capture him with little difficulty. When that failed due to Michael being exposed as a fake, he decided that they didn't have enough time to come up with a new plan (which probably wouldn't work anyway since the bad guy had seen everyone in Team Weston), broke into the bad guy's hotel room, clubbed him over the head and dumped him into a truck for delivery to the authorities.
    • That said, when his plans work well, they're a sight to behold. When his plans are improvised, almost without exception, they're even better.
  • Frasier's many convoluted Farce-structured episodes often involved extremely fast-paced Disaster Dominoes, Simple Plans, or Fawlty Towers Plots that required the characters to frantically come up with new ideas as they were swept along with the action to keep their plans from descending into havoc. Naturally, because it was a comedy where no one gets killed, this only made the hijinks and misunderstandings infinitely worse, as Too Many Cooks spoil the broth, and they had to inform everyone else about all their new schemes and lies in addition to the list of volatile situations they were juggling. One would expect they wished twitter existed in the '90s, but on the other hand, they could often be downright ingenious at improv...

Oral Tradition, Folklore, Myths and Legends

  • Heracles/Hercules was a master of this, especially in the course of his Twelve Labors. When he found out that the Nemean Lion's hide was impervious to weapons, he strangled it. To fight the Hydra, which could grow its heads back, he (or one of his friends, at his request) seared the stumps with a torch. And to clean up the enormous and never-cleaned Aegean Stables, he uses his strength to alter the course of two nearby rivers.
    • There were originally only ten tasks, those last two were disqualified for exactly the ploys he came up with. Of course, since the tasks were meant to kill him the ploys still work.
  • Hercules' cousin Theseus was no better. In what was likely the crowning achievement of his career - slaying the Minotaur - he volunteers to be one of the 40 sacrifices demanded by Minos, but doesn't seem to have much of a plan as to just how he plans to slay the beast, or how he plans to escape the Labyrinth (that was designed by Daedelus to be completely escape-proof) - if he manages to do so. Fortunately for him, Ariadne falls in love with him, giving him a "clew" (ball of thread to help him retrace his path) and in some versions, a sword (but not all versions; in some, he fights the beast with his bare hands) enabling him to do the job and escape.
  • Sir Gawain from Arthurian mythology once held off a massive angry mob while using a chess board as a shield. Not to be outdone, the damsel he was protecting started chucking the pieces at the mob. She knocked a few people out before the whole affair was through.

Tabletop Games

  • Truth in Television for every GM who's ever avoided railroading.
    • Most players too. Your plan will go horribly wrong at the first step, or you don't even bother with a plan in the first place; either way, you'll end up winging things.
    • Also the standard plan for most Shadowrunners In-and-Out of Universe.
  • Adorjan's Excellency in Exalted specifically can't enhance anything that's planned out in advance, meaning that anyone using said Excellency has to use these on a regular basis.

Video Games

  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: The titular Phoenix Wright is essentially the videogaming world's avatar of this trope. Both he and his successor Apollo Justice rely almost exclusively upon plans built upon the Indy Ploy; especially on the first day of court when they usually have no clue who the real culprit is. Repeatedly, the decision to have new information added to a testimony involves the player character thinking something to the effect of 'if only I knew where I was going with this'.
    • However, in the fourth game where the aforementioned Mr. Justice is the main character, Phoenix seems to have taken up a new way of doing things.
    • It should be noted that this is what makes the games so compelling because the player feels exactly this way as well (and it's the player who calls the shots!).
  • Before there was Phoenix, Roger Wilco of Space Quest was this trope on two legs and a mop. Using a jockstrap and a Rubik's cube to distract a monster? Ducking into the orat cave to dodge a Sarien probe droid and watching them blow each other up? He's not the sharpest knife in the drawer by anyone's stretch, but when it comes to improvising a way to save the day (and his ass), he's a freaking grandmaster.
  • Done by Gabe Logan in Syphon Filter II in the first level, nearly word for word.
  • Mass Effect: Most of Commander Shepard's adventures, due to the fact that s/he has no access to trustworthy intelligence on what is happening and is constantly thrown into situations with no idea what is going on or what s/he is going to do about it. The final mission of Mass Effect 2 is inherently unplannable, as nobody has ever seen what is on the other side of the Omega-4 Relay and returned to tell the tale.
    • And then there is this line taken from the E3 trailer for Mass Effect 3:

Unknown voice: We need a plan to stop them.
Commander Shepard: We fight, or we die. That's the plan.

  • Adell from Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories (with a little help from his family) opens the game with the truly brilliant plan of summoning Overlord Zenon, god of all overlords, into his family's back yard so he, being the mighty level 1 character that he is, can beat him up. After the summoning screws up and summons Rozalin, Zenon's daughter instead, Adell is forced into improvising plan after plan for the next six or so chapters as he cluelessly tries to track down Zenon on his own.
  • The main character of Fate/stay night, Shirou Emiya, relies on this quite often, which tends to cause discomfort among his True Companions. During several "strategy meetings", his allies reprimand him for his usual response of "let's just go and do it".
    • Meh, it worked on Kirei. And Saber tried to do this once (her attempt to attack the magus at the Ryudo Temple in Fate), which lead to Shirou calling her on it.
  • The protagonist of Tsukihime, Tohno Shiki, despite constantly facing incredibly powerful vampires, never has a plan. Justified in that he really has no idea what he's going up against before he actually faces it. His main means of winning is a combination of inborn talent, inhuman instinct and calmly thinking out the situation DURING the situation. In the end, he's pretty much just making everything up as he goes along. Sometimes his partner at the time (Arcueid, Ciel or Sion usually) try to plan things out ahead of time, but those plans rarely go well. In fact, it's occasionally implied that his VERY EXISTENCE throws a metaphorical wrench in any plans anyone could come up with. This is partially attributed to the fact that no one really knows what Shiki is capable of, including himself. Thus, everyone is constantly surprised by anything he pulls off, and frequently does things in each subsequent game that would have been impossible in a prior one. In other words, in Shiki's case, it's practically impossible to plan ahead.
  • In RuneScape, the only way to kill a Vyrewatch is to use a weapon designed for extreme unpredictability - therefore gaining in the sheer power of incompetently planned attacks against a monster who can see coming every competent attack there is. The weapon? A flail made out of a composite of silver and mithril, with a silver sickle on the tip. Wow.
    • In a later quest where you get a much more reliable set of weapons to fit each combat type. One of the Vyrelords helping you even comments the previous weapon is a complete joke and could be snapped with no effort. So not only it's subverted, but possibly averted too.
  • During the first level of Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, the city is under attack, and every attempt Ratchet makes to get where he's going is inevitably blocked by destruction or a large and dangerous robot.

Clank: Ratchet, do you know where you are going?
Ratchet: I'll be honest, I'm kinda wingin' it at the moment.

  • From StarCraft, we have Commander Jim Raynor. Despite the fact that he's well respected by Terran and Protross alike for his sound tactical mind, he never really plans anything in advance: he just makes it up as he goes along.
    • Mengsk also used to do that during his rebel days, especially in the novels. At one point, his ship, the Hyperion, is confronted by Duke's Norad II with the usual "prepare to be boarded" speech. Mengsk sets up a siege tank in a hangar bay and opens the doors. He then heads full speed at the Norad, changing course at the last second in order to graze the Confederate's shields (yes, they're equipped with shields). As the Hyperion is passing the Norad, Mengsk orders the tank to fire. Duke is confused how a battlecruiser can fire a broadside, as all their weapons are forward-mounted (a stupid design, really). When he finds out it was a tank, he just stands for a few minutes with his mouth open, letting Mengsk get away. To note, Mengsk is a student of history, especially the Age Of Sail.
  • Nathan Drake, of the Uncharted series. Being made of the same cloth as Indiana Jones, no-one is surprised when Nate's idea of a plan is making things up as he goes along.

Elena: I sure hope you know what you're doing.
Nate: I don't have the faintest idea!

    • And even when he does plan ahead, he does it poorly:

Elena: What are you going to do then?
Nate: I haven't thought that far ahead!

  • The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time late in the game. It's appropriate considering the gamer usually doesn't know what they're doing either, latching onto any nearby poles or running across walls that might lead to the next area.

Farah: What are you doing?
Prince: I don't know, I'm working it out as I go.

Snow: Heroes don't need plans!

  • And as a villainous Final Fantasy example we have Kefka Palazzo of Final Fantasy VI. His long-term goal: Amass power and abuse it. Stuff he did simply because the opportunity presented itself: Almost everything else... This could be attributed to him being so Ax Crazy that his mind cannot formulate detailed plans. Whichever the case, it all worked out pretty friggin' well for him. To the great misfortune of the ones who's lives were ruined, lost, or both.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3 is full of double and triple agents (and a quadruple agent!), who are constantly deceiving each other and furthering their own Batman Gambits. Of noticeable exception is EVA who pulls off one of the greatest deceptions in the entire game. While being on an undercover mission for the Chinese in Russia, she meets an American in the forest who ask her if she is ADAM. Thinking quick she just says that ADAM couldn't make it. The American tells her his name is Snake, so she gambles and claims her name to be EVA. And he completely buys it, even though she didn't know the password.
  • Monkey Island: Guybrush Threepwood has to do this constantly. He spends much effort in the first game obtaining a way to kill a ghost. Then LeChuck knocks him clear across the island, landing him near a root grog vending machine. Guybrush just uses a can of grog instead. Previously, he comes up with a plan to stop LeChuck from marrying Elaine. He gets to the church only to find out that she has already escaped. Tales of Monkey Island is kicked off by Guybrush improvising, which goes horribly wrong.
  • In Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, after Ezio arrives in Rome and Machiavelli explains the situation to him, he starts walking towards a Borgia captain.

MACHIAVELLI: Do you have some kind of plan?
EZIO: I am improvising.

  • Selphie Tilmitt in Final Fantasy VIII pulls a mean Indy Ploy, as she proves when she leads the mission to the Galbadian missile base. She has nothing but a stolen military vehicle and some spare uniforms she happened to find in it, and no plan at all beyond "go in, break everything we can, and blow the sucker sky-high" - and she does.
  • The Team Fortress 2 video "Meet the Medic" provides a rather spectacular one: The RED Medic invents the Ubercharge system by sticking a strange device onto a baboon heart and implanting it into Heavy (whose original heart exploded when it had said device attached to it). The two then rush off into battle, and just as Medic is about to pop his very first charge...

Heavy: Doctor! Are you sure this will work?!
(cue Ubercharge and the BLU team getting their asses handed to them)

    • This phenomenon happens quite a bit in-game as well, since people are rather unpredictable, you finish just about every round discovering new ways to play.

Web Comics

Sheriff Pony: Topato has never lost a battle, and prefers to act without planning in order to create a "chaos factor" so that the battle's inevitable victory may also yield some unexpected, interesting side-results.

  • Casper of Darken is good with these. Highlighted even further in his solo chapter with the Yuan-Ti Jade, which reads like a swords-and-sorcery fantasy Indy comic - complete with doomsday device!
  • Lackadaisy Cats:

Rocky: Always be prepared to improvise, Freckle. That's rule number one for jazz players and vigilantes alike.

  • In Schlock Mercenary, when amnesiac mini-Schlock disposes of Pranger's materiel, Kevyn grabs the initiative and takes out an enemy tank. His plans run out at that point.
    • His plans may, but he puts the enemy back in a situation where the Bangers can deal with them, even with their reduced resources. On the whole of course, this defines most of the Toughs' plans since the pre-made plans rarely get past the second step.
  • This is Mega Man's and Quint's modus operandi in MS Paint Masterpieces. The fact that Mega Man broke down all of his carefully constructed and thought-out schemes with just making it up as he goes along is the straw that breaks Dr. Wily's back. Formerly provided the page quote:

Quint: "Ha, Loser. A true tactician doesn't know WHAT the hell he's doing until he's halfway done with it."

  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob, Bob's gift for doing this is not only why he's still alive, but why the world hasn't ended horribly and repeatedly.
  • Meta example with Homestuck - Andrew Hussie had a basic idea for the characters and plot when he began it, but most of what you see and read was made up along the way. Problem Sleuth takes this even further, having had only its setting and main character designed in advance, and the rest made up by Hussie and the readers.
    • In-universe example with Dave's approach to handling his Time Master powers:

TG: the thing with time travel is
TG: you cant overthink it
TG: just roll with it and see what happens

Ishmael: Do you want to know what the plan is?
Giuseppe: Did Christofero Colombo have a plan? Did Marco Polo have a plan? Italians don’t need plans!

Web Original

  • In the Whateley Universe, most of the fights that Team Kimba get into fall into this trope, since so far they haven't planned out any of the major confrontations that have dropped onto them. Chaka lives by this trope, when she's not actually thinking things through enough to be The Chessmaster.
  • LEEEEROY JENKINS!!! is an example of the 'What Were You Thinking?' variety. While the video was staged, along with Leeroy's blinding incompetence, the creators said it was based on a real (although presumably less over-the-top) event.

Western Animation

  • Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender, on the other hand, never seems to think things through and frequently suffers for it.
    • "The Boiling Rock" actually has something of a running conversation between Zuko and Sokka throughout the episode on when to think things out, and when to just go with this. They decide to plan what they can, and improvise when they need to.
  • In early Ben 10, the titular character expressed "Who needs a plans when you've got the watch!" thought process, often selecting the alien forms that possessed the most brute strength or coolest powers. In "Hunted", a fake bounty hunter calls Ben out on this primitive strategy, and since then, he has been more creative with the Ominitrix. Well, more or less.
  • Most of the time, The Fairly OddParents plays this trope straight, with Timmy having to think on the fly to fix whatever he's just screwed up.
  • Kim Possible: Ron's usual MO, especially when faced with the controls of a Doomsday Device:

Ron: Rufus, this is a precision instrument, incredibly complex. [[[Beat]]] Better mess with everything.

  • SpongeBob SquarePants: Although Plankton is usually shown to have elaborate scheme, he does hang a lampshade on this concept on at least one occasion.

Plankton: Give me the secret formula OR ELSE!
Krabs: Or else what?
Plankton: Uh, I don't know. I didn't think I'd get this far.

  • A common theme in early episodes of ReBoot was that Bob never thought more than 6 nanoseconds ahead, and Dot never did anything without careful forethought. Naturally this led to friction as the two competed to prove which approach was best, while events provided a subtle Aesop that a balance between the two was really the best approach.
  • A pariculary memorable conversation on Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, when Mira is hitching a ride inside Buzz's head:

Mira: What now?
Buzz: Don't worry. I have a plan.
Mira: Hey, I am inside your head, and I can see you don't have a plan!

  • Used in the M.A.S.K. racing episode Battle of the Giants for no particular reason.

Trakker: [The plan is] perfect in its simplicity, and the one plan [VENOM] will never guess. The No-Plan Plan!
Lefleur: No plan?
Trakker: VENOM can't figure out what we're doing if we don't know ourselves.

  • Finn lampshades this in an episode of Adventure Time when he manages to get through a door of the Ice King's fortress after mentioning having a plan: "Nah, that wasn't my plan. I just got lucky."
  • The Young Justice team learn this as their first lesson from Batman: when the plan goes south, good heroes make do.
  • Used and lampshaded in the Phineas and Ferb episode "Meapless in Seattle".

Candace: So, uh, do we have a plan, or are we just gonna go all willy-nilly and barge into the bad, scary place?
Phineas: You know, willy-nilly barging is a plan of sorts.
Candace: *looks terrified*

Real Life

  • The founding father of game theory, John Von Neumann, famously said that a random strategy is the only strategy that cannot be guaranteed to be beaten by some other strategy. So, if you are going up against someone who is smarter, with more resources, and whose likelihood of understanding your strategy (if you had one) and replying with a better one is 100%, your only option for a non-zero chance of success is an Indy Ploy.
    • This level has been reached with the best chess playing programs. They can still be beaten by human grand masters, but by far the most effective opening strategy for doing so is to make a random opening that makes no sense whatsoever. There's no way that the computer isn't going to know any coherent opening game and counter it. (Computers can use brute force to compute every possible course many moves into the future, so there's no way for a human, with much more limited ability to examine possible future states of the game, to compete with that approach. Random play allows a human to, sometimes, reach a place in the phase space of possible games where they have enough of an advantage to win.)
  • As the old adage goes, the most dangerous opponent is a complete newbie because you don't know what he's going to do.
  • Bob and George: the author freely admits that a large portion of the comic is done on a day-to-day basis, so the creation of the comic is more or less a Real Life Indy Ploy.
    • Not entirely uncommon among serial authors. Often, one will have the big events plotted out (character deaths, villain appearances), but will come up with the intervening comics as he or she makes them.
  • A few real books were written this way (the author just making it up as he goes along in one draft with no revisions), such as the novel Hawaii.
    • As well as the entire The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien had a vague idea of the ending, but he had no idea how to get there until he got there. Every big event, from beginning to end, was designed while it was being written. The only scene he even tried to write ahead of time was the climactic scene inside Mt. Doom, and the final one was still written only when the story got to it.
    • Rumiko Takahashi never really plans ahead. She just comes up with the story by a chapter by chapter basis.
  • This was actually how American football's signature feature, the forward pass, came into being. In the early 20th Century, many colleges were considering abandoning Walter Camp's football code in favor of rugby. In a game between the University of North Carolina and the University of Georgia, a punter threw the ball towards a teammate down field while trying to avoid getting creamed by an oncoming rush. The receiver made a 70-yard touchdown (including the pass) to win the game for the UNC Tarheels, 7-0. This was witnessed by one Johnny Heisman, who related the story to Camp. Seeing a way to open up the game and make it more exciting to fans, he agreed to legalize the forward pass. Along with the abolition of the Flying Wedge Formation and the adoption of heavy protective padding, changes designed to fix the other problem of players being killed and crippled, the forward pass is credited with saving the game of American football.
  • The Portuguese actually have a word for this: Desenrascanço.
  • The Duke of Wellington said of the French generals he defeated "They planned their campaigns just as you might make a splendid set of harnesses. It looks very well; and answers very well; until it gets broken; and then you are done for. Now I made my campaigns of ropes. If anything went wrong, I tied a knot and went on."
  • A celebrated military mind of the 19th century, German Generalfelmarschall Hulmuth von Moltke the Elder, said: "No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy's main strength." This is usually paraphrased as "no plan survives contact with the enemy." Even if you do have a plan, once things get started, it can only help so much.
  • T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) repeatedly states in his memoirs that, being an archaeologist rather than a military man, he knew very little about how to fight a revolution. Therefore, in the beginning of his time with the Arab revolt he was making up a plan as he went. It was not until several months into the campaign, when he was laid up with a case of dysentery, that he had a chance to analyze the goals and methods of the campaign he had been helping to lead!
    • ... and ended up almost single-handedly inventing modern guerilla warfare.
  • Just about any space mission looks a lot like this. When things go wrong (and things always go wrong to a greater or lesser degree), the success or failure of the mission, and often the lives of the astronauts, depend on the resourcefulness and cleverness of the astronauts and Mission Control. The Apollo 11 and 13 missions both had several examples of this.
  1. the low-to-mid-level ones, anyway - little chance of him taking down Thor or Ms. Marvel, for example, except by planning