Trick-and-Follow Ploy

Princess Leia: They let us go. It was the only reason for the ease of our escape.
Han Solo: Easy? You call that easy?
Princess Leia: They're tracking us.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Suppose you want to find out where someone or something is located, and you know who has this information, but he or she (or it could be a group of people) is unwilling to share it. How do you get this information?

No, not torture. Nor any mind-reading technology (or magic) either. You manipulate said person or people into going there, and then secretly track and/or follow them there.

Very much a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy if the character heads back to the base to deliver a warning that the base is about to be attacked. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero! indeed. Bonus points if you usher the hero with thanks for leading you there and deviously imply that he intentionally helped you, thus shattering his friends' faith and trust.

Of course, the villains can just as easily fall prey to this trope, at least in works involving Evil Versus Evil and/or good guys who are willing to deceive. (And especially if the Big Bad hired a bunch of fools who will undoubtedly make it all too easy to follow them back to the secret lair.)

Can be part of The Plan. See also MacGuffin Delivery Service and Revealing Cover-Up. Related to Spare a Messenger.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • El-Hazard: The Magnificent World: This is how Jinnai uncovers the location of the Forbidden Isle, which was known to only the three priestesses of Mt. Moldune. Solution: get them to show him where it was.
    • To elaborate: Jinnai spread word that he and his Buggrom forces had already discovered the island's location and were en route to unseal the Demon God: Ifurita; knowing full well they couldn't take the chance of him getting to her first. Which is why he had his communication network spy on Roshtaria and report back to him regularly. When they informed him that Makoto and entourege had departed for the island "as well", to stop him, he knew they'd taken the bait. All he had to do, was follow them there.
  • This is exactly how the Blue Guardians found the Resistance's hideout in Rave Master.
  • In the anime of Golgo 13, Duke Togo is sent to kill a Double Agent in a Canadian winter. He captures a female agent guarding the man, drugs her, and strips her naked so she can't run away. She's only feigning unconsciousness, and once Togo leaves she knocks out a staff member at the hotel where they're staying and takes her clothing, including a bright red overcoat. She then runs to the agent to warm him that Togo is on the way. As they flee on a snowmobile, she realises that her red jacket makes her stand out in the snow. Togo set the whole thing up so he could pick out his target at a distance.

    Comic Books 
  • An example from Sin City: While Hartigan is in solitary, he keeps getting letters from Nancy, but she never reveals who she is. One day Hartigan gets a chopped off finger in the mail; thinking it's Nancy's, he agrees to be framed for Roark Jr's crimes just to be let out on parole. First thing he does is go to Nancy — only to find out that Roark had been bluffing... and following him after he left prison.
  • In Captain America Vol. 6 #1, "American Dreamers, part one", Cap, Sharon, Nick Fury and Dum-Dum Dugan go to visit Jimmy Jupiter, a WW2 metahuman who's just woken from a coma he's been in since the war. Unfortunatly, HYDRA are after Jupiter too, and they follow the heroes straight to him, allowing them to kidnap the old man.
  • In the French comic Barbe Rouge, a villain claims to have buried the title character (a pirate captain) alive with his treasure. Barbe Rouge's son Eric, the only other one to know where the treasure is, goes straight to the secret cache, with the villain following him.
  • Spider-Man does this all the time, having invented small "bugs" called "Spider-Tracers" that he can launch from his webshooters onto a person or vehicle, and then track using his Spider-Sense.

    Fan Works 
  • Done several times in A Scotsman in Egypt, when the Scots break an enemy army, they'll allow the survivors to run to their army, following them closely to destroy them just before they can regroup. A variant is to chase them to the walls of a city, where the defenders refusing to open the gates to let the survivors in (and teir subsequent slaughter) does horrible things to enemy morale.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Rescuers Down Under, after repeatedly trying to get the location of Marahute's nest out of Cody, McLeach lets Cody go with the misinformation that someone else has shot Marahute, and then proceeds to casually wonder aloud to Joanna what'll become of Marahute's eggs. Cody then proceeds to race off to the nest, unintentionally leading McLeach to it.
  • The Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame has Quasimodo and Phoebus leading Frollo's forces to the Court of Miracles due to this. Frollo says he'll attack the gypsy's hideout at dawn, which causes Quasimodo and Phoebus to find the Court of Miracles thanks to a necklace Esmerelda gave Quasimodo earlier.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The movie Commando has this as well, the only way they found Matrix was that the General actually leads them to him because he thought they already knew where he was and he was going to protect him.
  • James Bond:
    • In You Only Live Twice, the villains give Bond the proof he needs that their secret base is nearby by attacking him.
    • Likewise, had the mooks in Dr. No not confirmed they were on Crab Key by firing at Bond from a search boat and later unleashing the "Dragon," they might have been able to go through with their plans.
    • Also happens in GoldenEye. Bond's search for Janus' lair gets nowhere, and just as he's preparing to leave the area, the villain fires a surface-to-air missile at his plane, revealing the base's location.
  • Parodied in Dracula: Dead and Loving It. The heroes have Reinfield released so that they may follow him to his master's lair. Fortunately, while he's smart enough to realize that his release is a trap, he isn't smart enough to throw them off his trail. He attempts a few moves... within the space of about ten square feet, before declaring that he lost them and heading straight for Dracula.
    Van Helsing: Gentlemen, we are in luck.
    Steward: How so?
    Van Helsing: He's an imbecile.
  • In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves the bad guys specifically let old, blind servant Duncan escape so he can lead them back to good guy's encampment.
    Will: (with more pity than malice) Blind old fool led 'em straight to us.
  • In Star Wars: A New Hope, Grand Moff Tarkin's plan to find the Rebel base is to let the heroes escape the Death Star with token resistance, and then follow the homing beacon planted on their ship. It works perfectly. What happens afterwards, not so much. Which is strange, because Leia says that their escape was too easy and says that the Imperials are probably tracking the ship, but takes no steps to find any tracking device. Though she was planning to blow up the Death Star at that point, so in a way she was inverting the trap.
  • A Bounty Hunter does this with Riddick's alien-dog, shooting it with a tracker round so it will run to familiar ground, e.g. Riddick's cave lair. Turns out Riddick has anticipated this and is using the dog as a distraction so he can infiltrate their base while most of the bounty hunters are away.

  • There's a variation in the Isaac Asimov short story Each an Explorer. A pair of astronauts visit a series of planets. Each planet has a different alien species farming the same alien plant. All of the alien farmers show very little personality and the astronauts slowly realize that the plants are in charge, mind-controlling the aliens to cultivate them. Panicked, they return to earth, not realizing they are bearing spores from the mind-controlling plants.
  • The Berlin Memorandum by Adam Hall and its film adaptation, The Quiller Memorandum. The neo-Nazis explain their master plan to Quiller, then release him in the hope that he'll rush back to his base to warn his superiors. When Quiller finds himself unable to break out of their surveillance, he sets off a bomb they left in his car (in case he tried to drive out, which would increase the risk of losing him), faking his death.
  • In The Hobbit, Bilbo tricks Gollum into thinking that he's escaped the dark underground tunnels. Gollum goes to "chase" Bilbo, and Bilbo simply follows Gollum out of the caves.
  • Harry Dresden once did this routine - starting with a bad cop / worse cop veering into torture, the appearance of a somewhat subtle attempt to magically follow the perp ... culminating in subcontracting a muggle PI. It was completely successful, much to everyone else's disbelief.
  • Sherlock Holmes uses a version of the ploy in his first story, "A Scandal in Bohemia". By getting himself brought into Irene Adler's rooms in disguise and setting an apparent fire, he discovers where she hid the blackmail photo. However, she realizes what happened and gets away with the photo before he can take it.
  • The protagonist of Black Man does this as a standard tactic.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of The Closer, a killer has been using marked money stolen from a murdered FBI informant. Brenda has enough evidence to arrest him, but she wants to know where the money is being kept. So she blackmails the killer, and when he goes to his stash to get the money to pay her off the FBI follows him and seizes the money.
  • Paul Ballard uses this trick in Dollhouse. After he discovers that Mellie is secretly a doll, he deliberately drives her away, then shadows her until she is picked up by her handler and brought back to the Dollhouse.
  • In the '90s live-action Zorro, a poisoned Zorro tricks his poisoner into thinking that he had been subjected to the same poison so that he could follow the poisoner to the nearest source of the antidote.
  • In The Outer Limits (1995) episode "Relativity Theory", humans kill small aliens who, it turns out, were merely alien children doing a camping trip. When their parents investigate, the humans try (and fail) to destroy their navigational computer before the aliens find Earth's location. Cue a powerful, now hostile, alien ship appearing above the Earth.
  • Person of Interest:
    • In "Brotherhood", Shaw captures a Giant Mook whom she allows to escape in the hope he'll lead her to Dominic, the unseen leader of the Brotherhood. Instead he leads her to a stash of heroin that she uses to bargain for the release of Reese. It's revealed at the end of the episode that the mook is Dominic. He couldn't shake off Shaw's tail, so he led her to a lesser prize instead.
    • In "6,741," Samaritan lets Shaw go in order for her to lead them to the heroes' hideout. It's all virtual, so when she realizes she's playing into Samaritan's hands and kills herself, they can just reset the simulation and try again.
  • In one episode of the campy '60's Batman series, Batman lets the villain's Perky Female Minion go after planting a "bug" in her purse. Amazingly, in this case, the villain is Genre Savvy enough to find it.

    Tabletop Games 
  • One of the favourite tactics of dark eldar in Warhammer 40,000 is to attack a patrol, leaving a single survivor, silently following him back to his base to launch an attack just as he thinks he is about to be saved and slaughtering the entire base. Since their scanners are superior to human ones, they could easily do without it. But being artists in causing pain, they do it all for the look on the poor guy's face.

  • In Tosca, Scarpia shows Tosca a painted fan and gets her to believe her lover Cavaradossi may have another woman. As she departs, Scarpia orders his men to track her so they can find Cavaradossi and arrest him.

  • BIONICLE: In the 2008 story, a Brainwashed and Crazy Matoran is captured and "overhears" the Toa planning to attack the Makuta's lair. He "escapes" and flies off to warn them. He is so focused on the praise he will get that he does not notice the Toa following him. When he tells one of them, the Makuta replied, "The Toa Nuva? You mean those Toa Nuva? The ones you lead here?"

    Video Games 
  • Fallout:
    • In Fallout 3 this happens to Herbert "Daring" Dashwood, leading the slavers to Rockopolis.
    • In the original game, this happens to Vault 13 if the Vault-dweller decides to buy water from merchants in the Hub: Their tracks lead the Super Mutant army to the Vault. By doing so, you get more time to find the Water Chip, but less time to deal with the Super Mutants (the former is a significantly shorter time limit than the latter), so it's a double-edged sword.
    • Fallout: New Vegas has one guy near Goodsprings who begs you to save his girlfriend from mutant Geckos. Turns out, the geckos are keeping him from looting a camp at the top of a hill.
  • Happens in Soul Nomad & the World Eaters, when The Ditz isn't careful about who's following him Except its actually part of a villan's Evil Plan who was merely using Obfuscating Stupidity, eliminating your village, wiping out rival cultists, and drawing the village leader out of hiding all in one stroke.
  • This is kinda what happens in the end of Dreamfall: The Longest Journey: Kian is on the mission to find and assassinate April, so it's only natural that he'd look for the rebel camp she is staying in. However, it turns out that on the way, he decided to join the rebels, so when he finally finds April, he is on her side. Unfortunately for them, Kian's superior suspected something like that and had Kian followed, so his troops also find the camp... It doesn't end well.
  • In Mass Effect 3, Shepard discovers the location of the Illusive Man's main Cerberus base because of the tracker Miranda managed to plant on Kai Leng after he attacked her.
  • In the backstory of Halo, the UNSC has a specific protocol designed to avert this so no alien ship can find Earth. For instance, a badly battered ship could not go to Earth for safe haven without making a number of random Slipspace jumps in other directions first to throw any pursuers off the track. In fact, the humans never do lead the Covenant to Earth. However, the Covenant stumble upon Earth anyways while searching for something else. Because the humans had been spending the last decade or two fortifying their homeworld, they caught the Covenant unprepared. However, once the Covenant realized what they had found, it went badly for the humans.
  • In Metal Arms: Glitch in the System when Glitch brings Dr. Exavolt to the safety of the rebel base he revels himself to be evil and signals the enemy forces to his location.
    Dr. Exavolt: Our plan has worked to utter perfection. Not only have I located the droid rebel command center, I am standing in the middle of it! You may initiate the invasion.
    Alloy: Ahhh dammit, we've been had!
  • After overcoming all the temples in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time it's revealed that Ganondorf allowed Link to move around freely so that he would eventually discover Zelda's location. When the princess reveals herself to the hero, he swiftly captures her.
    Ganondorf: "Princess foolish traitor! I commend you for avoiding my pursuit for seven long years. But you let your guard down...I knew you would appear if I let this kid wander around!"
    • It's not the first time that Ganondorf did this either — it's how he was able to enter the Sacred Realm in the first place and bring about the Crapsack World of the second part of the game.
  • Jedi Outcast has Desann needing the Valley of the Jedi for his plans. The only thing is, only one person alive in the entire galaxy knows where it is, Kyle Katarn, a former Jedi who cut himself off from the Force. Desann beats Kyle within an inch of his life and makes him think his Love Interest is dead so Kyle will go to the Valley to reconnect himself to the Force. It works, and Desann now has an army of Force-users at his disposal.
  • Played absolutely straight in The Secret of Monkey Island. To find the swordmaster, Guybrush simply needs to ask the shopkeeper to contact her, then follow him until he reaches her house.
  • In MySims Agents, Morcubus uses the heroes — and a tracking device hidden in Dr. Gray's journal — to find the Nightmare Crown. He admits that they were doing such a good job of finding clues to its location that he decided to let them do the work.
  • High-tech variation in Watch_Dogs. Aiden tracks a hitman by locating his niece and calling her phone for information about him. After the girl feigns ignorance about her uncle's whereabouts, she hangs up then immediately calls him to warn him about the strange caller looking for him. The Genre Savvy uncle realizes this is happening and tells her to hang up, but by that point it's too late; Aiden has already traced her call and knows his exact location.
  • In Desperados in order to locate the hidden lair of the gang lord Sanches, the heroes infiltrate his outpost and steal all the horses but one from it. One of the thugs goes back to the HQ for more, with the Desperados hot on his trail.
  • Command & Conquer:
    • In Command & Conquer: Red Alert, Soviet forces capture Albert Einstein and spread the rumor that they're about to execute him, so the Allies will rescue him and they'll follow with a hidden bug.
    • In Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, when Umagon escapes, Slavik keeps Oxanna from attempting to pursue her, explaining she's bugged and will lead them right to the mutant headout.

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Xykon and Redcloak arrange for paladin Miko Miyazaki to escape from a brief captivity in order to act as their mole in Azure City via scrying. Using this trick, they are able to determine the precise location of the Gate they are trying to capture.
    • Later, Tarquin pulls this on Elan — the carpet he gave him has a tracking rune.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of Justice League comes to mind, where Batman taunts Harley Quinn about how she's commanding the Royal Flush Gang in the field while Joker's just hanging out with Ace. Amusingly, right after clearing things up with Harley on how he really isn't cheating on her with Ace, he immediately blows up on her in anger for leading Batman straight to the hideout.
  • In Batman: The Animated Series, Batman sets up a Mook into thinking that he killed Batman through dumb luck. It turns out, by the end of the episode, that the whole thing is an Batman Gambit on Batman's part to find Rupert Thorne's current hideout. He figured, correctly, that "the crook who killed Batman" would eventually become infamous enough that Thorne would grant him an audience. A good example of how to properly do a gambit, as Batman had to go through a LOT of effort to keep this mook alive!
  • Subverted in an episode of She-Ra: Princess of Power where Hordak and She-Ra are literally trudging between realities, in that they are both lost as lost gets. Hordak snarks to that effect, saying it reminds him of his stint in the Horde Scouts — "We didn't know where we were, where we were going, of what we were supposed to do when we got there then, either!"
  • Done by the Foot in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) episode "The Way of Invisibility"; after capturing Raph, Hun allows him to escape, while sending some of the invisible Foottech Ninjas to follow him back to the Turtles' lair. Luckily, the rest of the heroes catch on to what's happening and meet up with Raph before he gets home.

    Real Life 
  • A common ploy used by the NKVD and then by other Eastern European secret services was to pull in a suspect, give them basic interrogation, then after a short period release them with an apology for having got the wrong person. The suspect would then be followed to see where they went and who else they spoke to, the reasoning being that any friend they spoke to would also be involved in anti-Soviet activity and the initial suspect was warning them. Quite a few arrests would then follow. A nasty variant was to "accidentally" leave the prisoner unattended and their means of leaving the detention centre open and unguarded. If the detainee took the bait, this was then taken as their having escaped from custody - not only proof of guilt but an arrestable offense in itself.

Alternative Title(s): Nice Job Guiding Us Villain, Nice Job Guiding Us Hero