[[quoteright:175:[[Webcomic/TheOrderOfTheStick http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/app-shojo_9697.png]]]]
[[caption-width-right:175:[-He'd have you believe his cat is the real power behind the throne, and that is exactly how he's been able to keep it.-] ]]

->''"Paranoia? I rule a city where I have to [[ObfuscatingStupidity fake senility]] just to avoid being assassinated. I took Improved Paranoia like 5 levels ago."''
-->-- '''Lord Shojo''' (pictured to the right), ''Webcomic/TheOrderOfTheStick''

Appearances can be deceiving. Just ask those who unwittingly serve the ApparentlyPowerlessPuppetmaster.

When the game of politics is played with [[DeadlyDecadentCourt daggers and poison]] [[FateWorseThanDeath (and worse)]], sometimes the most advantageous place to be is off the board entirely. Playing the part of the [[ObfuscatingStupidity witless,]] [[ObfuscatingInsanity raving]] [[{{Cloudcuckoolander}} lunatic]] is a useful (and life-extending) tactic when surrounded by murderous schemers: rather than waste their energies eliminating the idiot, they spend their time instead betraying and sabotaging their more obvious rivals, leaving the ApparentlyPowerlessPuppetmaster free to turn the players into pieces in his own game. When he makes a move, everyone assumes it's one of the other players manipulating him. Once the deception is complete, he can act with impunity.

There are two main variations on this trope:

# The character is in a position of authority, but [[ObfuscatingStupidity plays dumb]] so that his [[BlatantLies "loyal underlings"]] believe he can be easily swayed in their favor.
# The character is in a position of no obvious authority at all, [[AlmightyJanitor but which allows him to exercise influence over others regardless.]]

A subtrope of ManipulativeBastard. Compare NotSoHarmlessVillain.
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!!Examples:

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* Nineteen-year-old Emperor Shi Ryuuki in ''SaiunkokuMonogatari'' is initially called "stupid emperor" by members of his court disgusted by his complete lack of interest in ruling his empire, and his habit of spending his days hiding from court officials and spending his nights sleeping with other men. When properly motivated, however, Ryuuki reveals that he has a much defter hand for political intrigue than anyone suspected, and that there's a very good reason that he is the only one of six brothers to survive the imperial court long enough to take the throne; he cultivated the "stupid emperor" image as a survival mechanism, and refuses to rule in the hopes that his exiled older brother Prince Seien will return to take his place.
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[[folder:FanFic]]
* Discussed in ''AxisPowersHetalia'' fanfic ''FanFic/SoldToTheHighestBidder'':
-->'''Gilbert the Unsinkable''': Never underestimate the power of underestimation! If there's one thing I learnt on the streets, it's that [[BewareTheSillyOnes no one ever suspects the simpleton]].
-->'''Captain Kirkland''': Wish I'd figured that out before all this. [[{{Foreshadowing}} People quite like hanging a mastermind]].
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[[folder:Film]]
* Emperor Palpatine from ''Franchise/StarWars'' counts because he engineers the Clone Wars in order to assume power. No matter which side wins he also wins as he gets emergency powers from the Republic Senate, which he holds on to indefinitely and is also in charge of the Separatists as Darth Sidious. In his original conception, before he was introduced as the BigBad for the original trilogy in its second movie, he actually ''was'' a powerless puppet as Emperor.
* In ''Film/MyFellowAmericans'', two former Presidents were battling a conspiracy which led all the way up to the current President. After they exposed the conspiracy and forced the President to resign, they found out the real ringleader had been the apparently incompetent Vice-President, who had used this as an opportunity to get the top job.
* ''Film/TheGreenHornet'': In the movie, anyone who hears Britt Reid speak for five minutes realizes he is a buffoonish ManChild. He is the heir to the Sentinel paper, but obviously Britt is a RichIdiotWithNoDayJob who cannot do anything for himself. Then you realize he doesn’t need to do anything for himself: he continuously and successfully manipulates people much more intelligent than him ([[HypercompetentSidekick Kato]], [[TheStrategist Casey]] and [[DaEditor Mike Axford]]) into doing exactly what Britt wants them to do.
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[[folder:Literature]]
* Egwene, [[spoiler:upon being made Amyrlin Seat]], from ''TheWheelOfTime'' engages in this trope to avoid being removed immediately when the Sitters realize she isn't as weak as they think. It's one of the first hints that she's a MagnificentBitch.
** Rand also utilizes this trope when he points out to Perrin that a [[spoiler:split White Tower]] is in his interests since they are too busy plotting against each other whilst trying to win him over to risk the backlash at interfering with him. He goes so far as to say that he couldn't get away with half of what he does since with a United White Tower he'd be forced to bow and scrape to the Aes Sedai and ask their permission for ''everything''!
* [[spoiler:Governor Grice]] in the Literature/CiaphasCain novel ''For the Emperor''. Everyone thinks that he's merely a puppet being controlled by the Tau, or just plain incompetent, [[spoiler:but he's really a member of the Genestealer cult that thrives in Gravalax's underground, which is trying to play the Tau and the Imperium against each other to soften them up for the coming wave of Tyranid invasions]].
* Emperor Sarabian of Creator/DavidEddings' ''[[TheElenium Tamuli]]'': the entire court in Matherion was convinced he was either an utter dolt, a harmless fop, or a simple fool easily distracted by his silly hobbies. He reveals the truth to Ehlana, Sparhawk, and the others, and eventually proceeds to overthrow his own government, take proper control of the empire, single-handedly remove all the corrupt courtiers involved in a failed coup, and become a wise and effective ruler. And he has such a delightful time doing it.
* ''Literature/IClaudius'':
-->'''Pollio''': Do you want to live a long and busy life, with honor at the end of it?
-->'''Claudius''': Yes.
-->'''Pollio''': Then exaggerate your limp, stammer deliberately, sham sickness frequently, let your wits wander, jerk your head and twitch with your hands on all public or semi-public occasions. If you could see as much as I see, you would know that this was your only hope of eventual glory.
* A not-uncommon strategy in ''Literature/ASongOfIceAndFire'':
** Lord Varys, the Master of Whisperers, is a lord only by courtesy (the title being applied to anyone who sits on the Small Council), not because he actually holds any lands or commands any men. As a commoner, a foreigner, and a eunuch, he's seldom viewed as a serious threat by the heads of the major Houses, and he has a way of [[VetinariJoBSecurity making himself indispensible]] to whatever party is currently in power, while secretly playing them all for his own ends.
** Lord Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish uses much the same strategy. He's of the lowest possible nobility, being lord of a rundown keep, a flock of sheep, a handful of peasants and some rocks, but his financial wizardry makes him extremely useful to have around, and potential rivals tend to underestimate him and fall victim to his ChronicBackstabbingDisorder.
** Many Hands of the King are this: on paper they are little more than a particularly trusted assistant, in practice many of them rule in all but name.
** This is nearly the official policy of the Iron Bank of Braavos. Officially, they are mere usurers: wealthy, but without financial or political power. And that's just what they are, unless you cross them. Then you'll find your funding hamstrung and your opponents supported beyond their wildest dreams if you're lucky, and your throat slit by a Faceless Man if you're not. Smart rulers know that "they own us all, whether we know it or not" as Tywin Lannister says in [[Series/GameOfThrones the show]], but smart rulers are the exception, not the rule.
* In the ''[[TheMirrorOfHerDreams Mordant's Need]]'' novels by Stephen R. Donaldson, this is a trick used by [[spoiler:both King Joyse ''and'' Adept Havelock. In Joyse's case, he's spent years pretending to be completely senile to test his allies and lure all of his enemies out so they can be destroyed in a single decisive blow. In Havelock's case, while he really IS insane due to a magical accident, he has a number of moments of greater lucidity during which he can make his own moves and support Joyse's plans. Both work together quite effectively, with almost no one catching on until it's too late.]]
* ''Literature/{{Discworld}}''
** It's suggested that Lord Vetinari was this early on; later his power had become secure enough that he didn't need to. His entry in the first ''Discworld Companion'' says:
-->"Technically, Vetinari seems to have given in to every demand of every Guild for years, so the Guilds are driving themselves mad wondering why he is therefore still in charge."
** In ''Discworld/SmallGods'', two Omnian officials are described as among the more powerful members of the heirarchy, because they're far enough down it that it's still possible to get things done. In particular, one of them is Secretary to the Congress of Iams (equivalent to the College of Cardinals), and if that doesn't sound like a position of power, you've never taken the minutes for a meeting of deaf old men.
* ''Literature/TheDresdenFiles'' reveals in ''Turn Coat'' that the BigBad of the novel was in fact [[spoiler:the Council's secretary, who had laced the inks with a specialized mind control potion. Using certain key words, he had control over younger members and could somewhat influence the Senior Council]].
** Its quite clever how he does it. Instead of changing decisions outright, which would've gotten him killed, he influences decisions very slightly to avoid detection. For example, no one would blink when a traditionalist makes a traditional decision, even if that's not what he wanted to do before he got mind controlled. And keep in mind that wizards live for centuries...
* The figure of Prentin, the mysterious ManBehindTheMan in The City of Silent Revolvers covers the identity of one of these, in what is probably the most unexpected cases of TheButlerDidIt.
* In the ''Literature/NewJediOrder'', Onimi is [[EvilOverlord Supreme Overlord Shimrra]]'s court jester and personal slave, remarkable only for being an obnoxious CloudCuckooLander prone to lecherous behavior and speaking in RhymesOnADime, and who even ''lives'' only at Shimrra's sufferance. Most of the [[ScaryDogmaticAliens Yuuzhan Vong]] court try to ignore him as much as possible. [[spoiler: Which works great for Onimi, since it means ''nobody'' suspected that he was actually telepathically controlling Shimrra, and through him, ruling the entire Yuuzhan Vong empire]].
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[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* ''EarthFinalConflict'' has most everyone believing Ron Sandoval is in the back pocket of Taelon leader Zo'or, shackled by an [[RestrainingBolt alien implant]]. [[spoiler:The truth that Sandoval's "motivational imparative" hasn't been working since at least the top half of Season 2, he's playing ''every'' angle in the conflict (Taelons, Jaridians, human supporters, LaResistance) against one another, and he's letting Zo'or ''think'' (s)he's in charge so that Zo'or takes the fall when it all blows up.]]
* ''Series/HogansHeroes''; Hogan is a prisoner of war in a German POW camp, and doesn't appear to be resisting the Germans in any way. In reality, he's in charge of a massive sabotage and subterfuge operation that's been giving the Germans hell, and he is adept at manipulating the camp staff to get what he wants.
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[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* Regent Tepet Fokuf from ''{{Exalted}}'' spends his time masturbating to religious texts and rubber-stamping any proposal someone puts in front of him. Strongly implied to be pulling a Claudius (see above), as actually exerting any kind of power would get him assassinated and probably trigger a civil war.
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[[folder:Video Games]]
* The Viscount in ''VideoGame/DragonAgeII'' is universally regarded as a weakling when, in fact, he is one of the few {{Reasonable Authority Figure}}s in Kirkwall who has kept violence in the city at bay for many years through subtle manipulation and maintaining the balance of power. However, due to [[KnightTemplar Meredith]]'s influence he can't directly act out, in which case he gets Hawke to try and stem the trouble.
* Emperor Uriel Septim VII from ''Franchise/TheElderScrolls'' series may count. While he is still TheEmperor, his Cyrodiil legions are nowhere near the fighting force they once were and only his elaborate schemes keep his empire from disintegrating into many local kingdoms until his death in part four.
* The BigBad of the second ''{{VisualNovel/Ace Attorney Investigations|MilesEdgeworth}}'' may as well be the poster child for this trope. Literally ''everything'' in the game turns out to be all part of their plan. Who do they introduce themselves as? [[spoiler: A perpetually nervous apprentice animal tamer and clown at the local circus. They did such a good job of ObfuscatingStupidity even ''Edgeworth'' was fooled!]]
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[[folder:Webcomics]]
* ''Webcomic/TheOrderOfTheStick'': Lord Shojo is possibly one of the most triumphant examples to date. He rules a kingdom with an ''extremely'' corrupt nobility and, more importantly, ''he knows it''. It's implied that it took a few assassination attempts for him to realize he couldn't just throw his weight around and expect to live very long. Instead he pretends to be old and senile and continually [[ConsultingMisterPuppet refers to his cat for advice]], pretending he gets useful advice from him and is following it. [[spoiler:He eventually reveals to Roy that the nature of the situation is such that if he acts old and senile, he can do pretty much whatever he wants. It helps that the nobles are actively screwing each other over so much that they assume he's just being manipulated by everyone.]]
-->'''Shojo:''' Ever since that day, I have found it easier to let them believe that I am senile and easily swayed. When I ruled in their favor, they assumed that they controlled me. When I ruled against them, they assumed that one of their rival nobles controlled me. I can make the decisions I feel are necessary without worrying about being killed over them.
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[[folder:Western Animation]]
* In ''GIJoeResolute'', Cobra Commander admitted to his troops that he played this role in 80s because he hoped it would motivate them "to think". When he realized that it wasn't motivating them to be cleverer henchmen, but instead motivated them to try to take over, he dropped the act and made it very clear to them and the world what a dangerous and competent commander he actually is.
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[[folder:Real Life]]
* The first historical example of this trope takes place during the founding of TheRomanRepublic. Lucius Junius Brutus, the founder of the Republic, had feigned dim-wittedness for years to avoid distrust from the King of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (often referred to as Tarquin). Brutus[[labelnote:note]]not ''[[EtTuBrute that]]'' Brutus, though that one is a direct descendent of this one.[[/labelnote]], which translates to dullard, expelled Tarquin and his family from Rome, and founded the Republic.
* Claudius, Emperor of Rome, managed to stay alive through a series of purges and assassinations during the reigns of Tiberius and Caligula by seeming too dumb and useless to be a threat. When Caligula was finally assassinated, he became Emperor (by virtue of being the only man in the family still breathing) whereupon he turned out to be not so dumb after all. This was helped by the fact that he was sidelined by his entire family to the extent that he had more or less given up on running for public office on account of his limp.
* Boris III of Bulgaria is arguably this as he rose to power he was the target of no less than two assassination attempts and a few years later was reduced to a puppet ruler by a military coup. He subsequently planned a counter-coup that placed him in sole control of Bulgaria. He then gave aid to Germany and with Nazi help got back territory previously lost in exchange for use of a single railway.
* OdaNobunaga acted like an irresponsible fool from the moment he inherited his father's domain until his closest adviser committed seppuku in protest. He earned the epithet "Fool of Owari," but he had to in order to survive having several dozen powerful warlords surrounding his tiny fiefdom. The rest of Japan fell for it — those who knew were either on his side or dead — until the Battle of Okehazama, albeit that may have happened because of one of those warlords falling for it.
* Abraham Lincoln, used this tactic to some extent to get control over his cabinet, whose members each at least initially tended to think they should be running the show. Later on, he dropped this tactic when it was no longer necessary.
* JosefStalin was originally thought by most everyone to be extremely harmless in his early years in the Bolshevik Party. He eventually got himself put in charge of the Party's newspaper and given nearly unlimited control over the organizational side of the party. He used this influence to get himself promoted to General Secretary where he used this power to appoint his supporters to positions of power in the Party. Lenin eventually caught on and warned people that Stalin was getting too powerful and the entire party laughed it off as a joke. The joke ended around 1930 when people realized that he had become a defacto dictator and that anyone who looked like opposition, or looked like thinking about looking like it, was either dead or breaking rocks in the Gulag. The rest is very bloody history.
* On a smaller scale, this is how Creator/BillCosby describes fathers' use of ObfuscatingStupidity to make sure everything works out right in the end. All he wants is to sleep in, but his wife wants him to go down and cook breakfast for the kids. He instead gives in to their request for chocolate cake "[[InsaneTrollLogic since it has eggs, and wheat, and milk! That's breakfast]]!" Oh, and he needs a breakfasty drink, so they get grapefruit juice. And they sit around the table eating chocolate cake and listening to music and having a ball, at which point his wife comes down and "has a conniption fit" that sounds more like DemonicPossession. After she bellows in rage demanding to know why they're eating chocolate cake, his [[SarcasmMode honest]] children turn on him, saying he forced them to eat it. So his wife comes to the conclusion that he's utterly useless and can't be trusted with even the simplest task, makes a real breakfast herself, and sends him back to his room. "[[JustAsPlanned Which is where I wanted to be in the first place.]]" They are dumb, but they are not so dumb, indeed.
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