Random Obfuscating Unpredictability
Possible alternative titles: JokerGambit, PlayingTheWildcard, CrapshootingTheChessmaster
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(permanent link) added: 2014-06-10 12:22:41 sponsor: Psiberzerker (last reply: 2014-06-11 16:44:46)

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Note: I know about the Trope-Namer Syndrome, but I chose this laconic title to compare/contrast with The Bat-Gambit (Laconic alternative title for Batman Gambit) as a foil for it. If there's a better term for it, I'd love to see it. /note (Not for the potential article.)

Page Quote: "What are you up to, Joker?" ~The Batman.

How do you beat the Awesomeness by Analysis Protganist, or Team who is always a step ahead of everyone? Obviously, if they've already predicted The Plan, or can extrapolate every step in minutes they can just cut you off at the pass in the First Act.

A common ploy is The Chess Match: The Chessmaster finds a Worthy Opponent, and you can have Ploys countered by counter-ploys, and counter-counterploys until a Crowning Moment of Awesome ends it conveniently right before the credits roll. However, it can be exhausting to come up with a convoluted plot even He won't anticipate every week. (There's also the Fridge Logic of where do all these Chess Master|s, and Magnificent Bastard|s of the Week come from? Do they have a College of Supervillains somewhere? They can only break out of jail so many times...)

Another way to give such a hero, or villain a challenge is to throw in a Wild Card that can't be predicted, or better still a Magnificent Bastard that weaponizes the Random Element, works Chaos itself into his plans, and contingencies! It's this trope when The Wild Card is All According to Plan, specifically to throw a monkey wrench in The Plan. Basically, The Chessmaster can't play Craps, except by Fixing The Game.

Any Plan that has enough Red Herrings, and levels of complexity to be indistinguishable from Random cannot be Anticipated. No matter how Crazy-Prepared the Hero, or Villan, there's no contingency for a Giraffe on the runway. It can reach Fridge Brilliance if you find yourself asking which parts were The Plan, which were Random, and which were Improvised?

Alternately, The Reveal is that all these seemingly random events are actually a convoluted plot contrived to seem random to The Profiler, The Detective, The Chessmaster, or some other Order dependent foe. (Especially when either of those Defines each side of the conflict. Chaos vs Order.)

Note, the Predictability may be from something other than Analysis, such a Psychic that can anticipate your moves as soon as you think them. The obvious foil is to not think about them, and beat them with superior force, and durability, or More Dakka. He can see where you're aiming through your eyes, and dodge your Sniper shots? So, next time come back with an Ally Sweeper!

(Otherwise you'd need a Prophecy Loophole for foes like Precogs who can "Remember" your every move from a dream last night before, even before you got up that morning. Usually some sort of Psychic Block, or Uncertainty Principle than would be an In Universe example. They can predict, but without enough accuracy to block every strike. Or, the Mary Sue clause, so that only the Hero/s abuse this.)

A Sub-Trope of The Wild Card, who usually pulls this. Also Confusion Fu, though used more Strategically as part of the plan than Tactically as a fighting style. Contrast with Batman Gambit, as a classic foil for it. Often combined with Obfuscating Insanity when Madness is the source of the Chaos, but not Obfuscating Stupidity for the requisite Fridge Brilliance to work it into The Plan.

Not a good example when environmental random actions interfere with The Plan, even if the enemy capitalizes on it. (I call Trope Abuse/writer laziness.) That would be an example of Sheer Dumb Luck. (For instance, the Psycho of the Week who's OCD is so bad that he can time the traffic lights for his getaway, but still has to start the car 3 times and worked it into his timetable. If the Writers pull a Car Won't Start, so he has to start over, again, and again, and gets thrown off his Timetable, but this reads more as Sheer Dumb Luck from the Hero/s POV.

Writers (Or the Dev Team) may use a conveniently timed Villainous Breakdown from predictable to a Berserker for a comeback when the Hero gets their rotation down. Often to Villain Exit Stage Left, a Comeback Mechanic, or Surprise Difficulty. Similarly, counter Geographical Profiling by flipping a coin, Heads for Left, Tails for Right every time you come to a crossroads.

They often give it away by Foreshadowing, Chekov's Gun, or Informed Disability like OCD making them particularly susceptible. Or by the show recycling this plot repeatedly because of The Profiler Team that Always-Gets-Their-Man and show up in the nick of time. (See Examples, below.)

Tropes Are Not Bad, especially when used as a patch for a long running character who should catch the villain in the first act, without running with the Idiot Ball. [YMMV]

Not to be confused for Gambit Roulette, where the plan is the RNG being on your side (It only works until your Luck runs out.) Nor Indy Ploy, where the "Plan" is "I Don't Know, I'll think of something." though it may devolve to this once the Chessmaster's Plan breaks down. Some overlap with Confusion Fu, depending how intentional the random element is, where it fits into The Plan, or how it's used to counter it.


Examples:

Comic Books
  • Batman is the Trope Codifier (If not Trope Namer). Lampshaded in the page quote, because he never had to ask with The Penguin, or the Riddler... Generally, by that point in the episode/issue, he'd already deduced it, but he actually says this, on multiple occasions, because his Nemesis is the only one he can't predict. He's literally named after a Wild Card.

Countless examples, of course. Not only from the eponymous Villain, but Bats himself has pulled it to break an OCD Villain's plan by changing the game.
  • Batman: The Animated Series: A good example is throwing a bucket of dollar coins at Two-Face, to counter his Yes/No Randomizer by upping the ante to all-in. If he brings the bucket of coins, knowing 2F will inevitably flip for it, it's also Crazy-Prepared and a Batman Gambit. Cue Villainous BSOD while he scrambles through the pile of coins looking for his Totem Token.
    • Two-Face was obviously The Randomizer, for about 1 issue before the Yes/No nature of his coin was exploited the first time. Easily countered with a Xanatos Gambit so Heads I win, Tails you lose.
  • Depending on the Writer for The Joker, who alternately is just so nukkin' futz his plans just don't make any sense, Chaos Personified, or a Magnificent Bastard who plays the Wild Card (The Joker is Wild) so often he carries around a deck of them. Similarly, Bat Man doesn't pull a Batman Gambit every issue, or episode, but often enough to codify his respective Trope. This one could be considered the Joker Gambit, because it's the default foil for the Batman Gambit. [YMMV]
  • Wolverine or The Hulk going Feral/Berserk to counter a Psychic able to anticipate their moves. [Citations Needed] Such as Psyloche. The first time Logan pulled this, it was Confusion Fu, realizing it was the only way to win. The second time, he went in knowing it worked last time, so it was All According to Plan. [Name, and Issues needed.]

Literature
  • In Frank Herbert's Dune series Prescients could not see each other through Prescience because they have Free Will, instead of Destiny. Likewise, a lot of Prophecies can be averted by throwing in a random element, or paradox, instead of an overly literal interpretation of the Wording of the Prophecy. Often In-Universe, Chaos counters Prophecy.
  • In ASongOfFireAndIce Petr "Littlefinger" Baelish says he often makes Political Moves more-or-less at random, to be less predictable.

Live-Action Television
  • Used extensively in Criminal Minds, and other Profiler shows/movies when the Writers counter The Profiler with a random element. "Our Profile is Useless" because the Un-sub is too random to predict. His Victimology, Cooldown Period, and/or Geographic Profile are (Literally in the later case) all over the map, so they know what he's going to do to someone, but not who, where, or when until another body shows up with the Signature. This is often overused to pad out an episode so the Awesomeness by Analysis Team doesn't catch the Un-Sub in the first act. Also an example of Obfuscating Stupidity when the Team runs with the Idiot Ball. (Also Truth in Television, because you can't craft a Profile without all the data.) However, it was inevitable in a long-running series along with similar stock plots like The Chessmaster, The Arc Villain, and so forth. There's only so many actual Profiles to keep recycling, rather than making them up. (Like CSI with Forensic Techniques that don't exist, turning that franchise into Science Fiction in the first few seasons.)
  • Inverted by the Un-sub making a mistake because of excitement is an Aversion/inversion of this trope unless precipitated by The Profiler to throw them off their game. (The Villainous Breakdown being the Randomizing Element.)
    • First used by Gideon in season 1 to cause a Villainous BSOD in the Footpath Killer. Overlapped with Confusion Fu, because while Gideon didn't plan the encounter, and did improvise it on the spot, he obviously had time to think about it, and the writers set it up with The Stinger the episode before plus massive flashback/foreshadowing.
    • Used against "The Fox" by "accidentally" misplacing a photo from one of the crime scenes, until he reflexively confessed through a I Never Said It Was Poison. It wasn't even random, but The Fox didn't know, or didn't care.
  • Zig-Zagged with an Organized/Disorganized villain killer, such as a Power-Reassurance stalker who switches from extremely well planned surveillance to uncontrolled Overkill. More than once, this has split the team into making 2 different Profiles.

  • NCIS: Anthony Dinozzo's interrogation style may be considered a combination of Obfuscating Ignorance, and a sort of Joker Gambit when the suspect is put off by him playing Tetris instead of asking any questions. Usually one who's Dangerously Genre Savvy and therefore resistant to Interrogation Techinques, or even obstensably interrogating him! Lampshaded in "Truth or Concequences" describing himself as "The Wild Card" tied up, tortured, and shot up with Truth Serum right before Boom, Headshot by Cold Sniper Gibbs. (Chekhov's Rifle) The entire episode was basically in a Lampshade Showcase as he described the team, and Trope Overdosed because of it. In this case, it was All According to Plan, the Fridge Brilliance of it becoming a Crowning Moment Of Awesome. He went in with the plan of monkeywrenching the entire scene, to set up for the rescue! (Of the Torturer of the team at the time for layer apon layer of irony.)
  • Played with in Law & Order: Criminal Intent with Eames and Gorham playing Good Cop-Bunny-Ears Lawyer. Using tricks like moving pages to make the OCD Psycho-of-the-Week keep putting them back, and eventually slip from his story being a memorable example.
Video Games
  • May be combined with Turns Red (By the devs) if the sudden unpredictability of a Sequential Boss raises the Artificial Difficulty. (Or may be inverted when unpredictable Goddamned Bats turns into a timed fight.) In more modern games, the Difficulty was raised from Nintendo Hard to Artificial Brilliance by adding the RNG to the old style Attack-Block-Heal or similar timeable command rotation. (Or Mook Position, Attack Pattern as in Galaga...) Especially in franchises old enough to predate the transition. Notably in Nethack, and other Roguelike games.
  • Button Mashing may range from this to Confusion Fu, depending on the game, player/s, and Meta. If the game can be played through without a special Dialing Wand, then it's Devs On Board. It's actually a viable tactic against a Timing fighter in fighting games, or conversely, it just happens out of desperation when one side starts losing (As long as it's a Player.) Run&Gun pretty much depends on it as far as movement, combined with Improbable Aiming Skills in FP Ss. Their defense against each other is moving too erratic to be hit, AKA Evasive Action. I've also seen it in SHF Gv SHFG parallel to them calling each other Scrubs. (Often, "Stop Having Fun" Guys are unaware of, or in denial about who they are.)

Real Life: The aforementioned Evasive Action was Practiced in WWII to make yourself a more difficult target (After being codified in WWI) Arguably, it's Older Than Tropes in that certain prey animals bounce around like a Fumble to avoid being caught by a predator that would dust them in a drag race (Like a Cheetah, or Accipiter Raptor.) The Rabbit Stick counters this with itself, because it bounces erratically down the trail the rabbit is bouncing erratically, raising the odds that they will eventually try to occupy the same space at the same time, and wind up in a bruised tumble.

Football: The Onside Kick is essentially an intentional fumble, calculated to either be picked up by your team, or at least the receivers at poor Field Position. (Criss-crossed with Xanatos Gambit.)
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