"It started like any other night..."When the main character of a story becomes involved in its ridiculous events due to a simple, everyday decision. In fiction, not every main character has an astounding backstory that will make you want to bawl your eyes out for someone who doesn't actually exist. Sometimes, the best main character is a character the audience can relate to. But at the same time, the audience likes the idea of being mixed up in such fantastic adventures. Sometimes they like the idea that anytime, anywhere, anyone can find themselves in an epic journey to Save The World. Now, that isn't to say that this character won't turn out to actually be central to this story's events, or won't go through tragic and/or spectacular events as the story goes on, or even that this inadvertent adventure won't wind up revealing important things about their past and destiny. In fact, doing so is a common method of avoiding having the story being told through the eyes of The Ishmael. The character can be anyone, anywhere. The key is that this character's random, everyday, completely not worthwhile decision is what pulls them into the events of the story. Compare The Everyman, Audience Surrogate, Right Man in the Wrong Place, Spanner in the Works, and Unlikely Hero. Expect this character to take a level in badass. Sub trope of For Want of a Nail.
— Tagline of Collateral
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Anime and Manga
- Lampshaded in the opening narration of Shakugan no Shana. Yuiji wonders how different his life would have been had he not decided to go to the CD store on the fateful afternoon where he met Shana and found out that he's a Torch with incredible magical power.
- In Guilty Crown, had Shu gone straight home instead of to his usual hangout, he wouldn't have encountered Inori and set off the chain of events that would result in gaining the incredibly powerful Void Genome.
- In Code Geass, had Lelouch not decided to play the Heroic Bystander, he wouldn't have met C.C. and gained the powers he needed to initiate the rebellion.
- Lina Inverse from Slayers is hardly an everygirl, being one of the most powerful magic-users of her world. However, her usual modus vivendi is just being a wandering mercenary and treasure hunter; all that unwanted Saving the World stuff happens to her due to seemingly insignificant choices, such as not agreeing to sell a particular statuette for cheap
- Rozen Maiden started with Jun answering that yes, he will wind. Rozen Maiden Tale was initially about what would happen if Jun answered otherwise, before the series became a Stealth Sequel.
- Gaist Crusher: Recka being in the right place at the right time.
- Similar to the Forrest Gump example, Gene and Jim of Outlaw Star begin their adventure by accepting an ordinary offer to be bodyguards for a client.
- It varies based on universe and continuity, but Spider-Man generally gets bitten by a certain spider and gains his superpowers through a genuine twist of fate—by simply being in the right place at the right time.
- Jay Garrick, the original Flash gets his superpowers when he falls asleep in a lab, accidentally drops a bottle to the floor, and inhales the vapors thus released. Barry Allen, the next Flash, originally got his powers from a similar lab accident, though this was later retconned so that the origin of his powers is his time-traveling future self.
- Watchmen: If Jon Osterman hadn't forgotten his girlfriend's watch in the lab, he wouldn't have gone back to get it, gotten locked inside the experiment chamber, been ripped apart, and been reborn as Dr. Manhattan.
- Jon actually gets really caught up in this, asking if the man who stepped on the watch after its strap broke is actually responsible, or his father for throwing away his watchmaking tools and making him become a physicist, or Einstein for driving his father to despair by creating the atomic bomb, etc. His first conclusion is that none of it means a damned thing, and it takes a shared Epiphany Therapy with his ex to realize that we all share responsibility for creating the world.
- Astro City: Sarah Brandeis was a lab technician when she was kidnapped by the sinister Hellsignor during his attack on Earth. To foil his plans, the Point Man stole the Gem of Thebis from him, then tossed it around Sarah's neck. She instantly became the new Cleopatra and banished Hellsignor to another dimension.
- Soul Eater: Troubled Souls: Two of the protagonists, Rowena and Tsuji, are brought into the adventure by pure chance after deciding to go on a group mission to Holland with Maka, Soul, and everybody else. In another twist of fate they are among the random students selected to go on a VIP mission to Cobra Island. Lastly, Caius arguably brings the canon protagonists into his ongoing conflict with Cancer the minute he joins the group. The chain of events that follow must be read to be believed.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! The Thousand Year Door, the Shadow Queen's rise to power and evil unlike the world ever knew - at the time - would have been prevented had a town simply not refused the pleas of three starving and homeless children begging for food. note
- Cloverfield: The film would have been very different had Rob not insisted on going to save his girlfriend. While NYC was in the middle of an attack by a giant Eldritch Abomination.
- And, if Hud hadn't insisted on recording "for posterity," no one would have seen any footage at all.
- In Chronicle, three teenagers accidentally get superpowers just because they decide to check out a weird-looking grave. The source of their superpowers is never even explained.
- And then there's the time Luke Skywalker's uncle bought a couple of droids in Star Wars: A New Hope.
- Last Passenger starts with Lewis Shaler boarding a late-night train home with his young son. After some talking with the few remaining passengers, they notice that the train isn't stopping at any stations...
- Cab driver Max in Collateral gets pulled into the plot simply by picking up the wrong passenger: a sociopathic hitman named Vincent who forces Max to drive him to his targets.
- Night of the Living Dead (1968) begins with a literal twist—that of Johnny twisting the radio dial to "OFF" just as the news bulletin comes on announcing the unfolding emergency. If Johnny had listened to the emergency broadcast, he might have piled himself and Barbara back into the car and driven to a shelter. That probably wouldn't have changed anything that happens to the other characters in the film (or the terrible situation facing humanity at large), but since Barbara (and the audience) never would have been introduced to them, the story on the screen undoubtedly would have been different, and perhaps she and Johnny would even have survived.
- The Seven Realms Series: Han Alistar never have found himself pulled into a struggle for control over the Fells and the truth behind the Demon King's legend if he hadn't decided to steal Micah Bayar's amulet, an artifact that once belonged to the infamous Demon King.
- Pretty much the entire plot of Codex Alera happened because Tavi decided to get some flowers for a girl.
- Ciaphas Cain: Nearly every important plot event stems from Cain looking for a quiet, routine assignment away from the front line. All it does is allow him to run into the secret cult/the backdoor enrtrance into their base/ the unseen flanking attack which only leads him into greater danger as a result.
- In the original book version of Forrest Gump most of Forrest's adventures start with some variation of the following: "So I was just sitting there minding my own business and a guy comes up to me and says 'Do you want to [join the army/be in a play/play college football/get shot into space/star in a movie/etc.]?' Well, I had nothing else to do that day so I said OK."
- How did the plot of Animorphs get kicked off? A group of kids decided to take a short-cut through an abandoned construction site instead of taking the long way home. If they hadn't, they never would have discovered the aliens.
- In Megamorphs #4: Back To Before, the Drode gives Jake the chance to change the past so that they didn't take the shortcut, and thus never became Animorphs. The results? All the would-have-been Animorphs die, except for Jake and Ax, but the Drode stops the alternate timeline in frustration, since they have just killed Visser Three and Ax is about to use the Visser's Blade ship to destroy the Pool ship and thereby the invasion. The death-blow to Visser Three, though, is only delivered by Cassie after she self-reincarnates due to being a temporal anomaly that has been slowly breaking the alternate timeline, so if they had done this in the real timeline, they might not have won.
- The Hunger Games: Katniss literally volunteers to be thrown into the life-or-death fight to the finish battle that is the Hunger Games. The twist is that she did so to keep her little sister out of the ring. Comes full circle when the events that her participation in the Games set in motion eventually lead to her sister's death.
Live Action TV
- In the Doctor Who episode "Turn Left", it's revealed that the only reason Donna Noble ever got embroiled in the Doctor's life at all was because one day, she turned left, not right. Good thing she did, too; that same episode reveals that turning right led to the Doctor's death, the nuclear destruction of London, and the end of reality itself. Yikes.
- On Psych, after Jules finds out that Shawn's not really psychic and dumps him, Shawn suffers a Heroic B.S.O.D. that causes him to fantasize about what might have happened if he'd made one different decision (offering Jules Da Chief's pashmina instead of his own jacket, as the contents of the jacket pocket were responsible for Jules realizing that he was a fraud). The fantasy version of events and the reality veer off in wildly different directions.
- Digimon World DS: If your character had chosen to ignore the rumors about the "fighting monsters that are friends with humans" he or she (you can choose your character's gender) never would have been placed on the chain of events that would culminate in saving the Digital World from destruction.
- Most Final Fantasy games are built on this trope.
- Final Fantasy II: Four orphans running from the Empire get curbstomped. Three are rescued by the resistance and join it.
- Final Fantasy III: Four orphans fall into a cave after an earthquake and are charged with saving the world by a sentient jewel.
- Final Fantasy IV: Cecil's punishment for questioning his orders—which had been to sack a city—leads to him being stranded in the city he'd raided not long ago, and then he's roped into stopping the plan he'd been unwittingly aiding.
- Final Fantasy V: Bartz and Boko, a wanderer and his mount, rescue a girl and an old man from goblins. Before they know it, the three humans are trying to steal a pirate ship, and just a day later, they're travelling with the pirate to find out just what's going on with the Wind Crystal.
- Final Fantasy VI: An Imperial patrol investigates rumors of a frozen Esper. The survivor joins the resistance. Then the entire world gets trashed.
- Final Fantasy VII: Random acts of eco-terrorism lead to a desperate struggle against a madman trying to destroy the planet.
- Final Fantasy VIII: Who knew liberating one tiny little town would leave a few unremarkable new members of an elite paramilitary organization burdened with so much yak-shaving?
- Final Fantasy IX: It's never a good sign when the princess wants to be kidnapped. It's an even worse sign when her mother and some threateningly-androgynous sorcerer are seen plotting to take over the entire world.
- Final Fantasy XI: It starts as a few trivial assignments suitable for newbie adventurers. It unfolds into an epic of ancient wrath, fanatical precursors, suicidal deities, political intrigue, law vs. chaos, time travel, alternate realities, extradimensional horrors, age-old curses, demonic invaders, and more would-be gods than you can shake an Onion Sword at.
- Final Fantasy XII: Vaan just happens to decide to break into the palace on the same night La Résistance tries to take it back and the dashing Sky Pirate Balthier and his partner Fran also attempt to steal something from its hidden treasure troves.
- Four out of six protagonists of Final Fantasy XIII are forced on an adventure by pure chance of being in New Bodhum when the Pulse Fal'cie Anima awakened near the city. What followed was a chain reaction of events that either killed or crystallized their loved ones, driving the four into an ill-fated attempt to rescue/avenge them.
- Final Fantasy XV: The crown prince and his bodyguards decided to go on one last road trip before the big wedding. Turns out, they missed the raid on their kingdom and subsequent assassination of the king, effectively saving them from the purge and setting them on a quest to stop the empire before they do something that everyone is going to regret. They fail.
- White Knight Chronicles: Leonard and co sneak into the palace on a whim. The guards just left the front doors open when they were delivering wine to Princess Cisna's ball. (No, seriously. That's how it happens.) Then he decides to rescue the princess from an assassin as the palace is under attack. Then he decides to take control of the incredibly powerful Wite Knight in order to defend his home town.
- The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker 's Link, unlike his predecessors, was not chosen by the gods to become the next wielder of the master sword and Ganondorf's demise. He was just a normal kid who just so happened to be the older brother of Aryll, an adorable little girl who Ganondorf kidnapped by accident, prompting Link to begin his quest to save her and deliver a royal beatdown on whoever dared to touch her.