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Indy Ploy

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Dr. Jones never needs a "Plan B," because he never has a "Plan A."

"Improvise is one of the few battle plans that survives contact with the enemy."
Sam Starfall, Freefall

The favorite plan (or rather, lack thereof) of almost every Action Hero and Idiot Hero in existence: make it up as you go.

The Indy Ploy is when someone improvises a plan in the middle of the action or comes up with one immediately before the action starts. Either way, the initial plan has failed, and now the character is forced to come up with a new plan on the fly with no time to prepare or think about the consequences. Maybe The Team has lost The Smart Guy. Maybe The Leader has the attention span of a distracted goldfish on caffeine. Maybe The Plan our heroes were relying on was trashed beyond all hope of being salvaged. Maybe The Strategist was off planning something else. 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 the hero's course of action is unknown even to the hero himself, and therefore unknown to the audience, the hero is more likely to succeed than if he had spent time planning on-screen.

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

A Sub-Trope of Improvisational Ingenuity.

Contrast Strategy, Schmategy (where the character just acts at random without even improvising a plan on the fly), Xanatos Gambit (a plan where all reasonable outcomes are beneficial) and Batman Gambit (where the gambitter uses his knowledge of what all involved will do in order to use them as pieces on the board). Between them and this trope lies Xanatos Speed Chess, where the 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 know what they are going to do next. The Indy Ploy can (and often has to) try to fill in the blanks of the Missing Steps Plan.

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 may employ Confusion Fu. Writing by the Seat of Your Pants is when the author does this.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the manga of 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. A lot of the time, it turns out that his plan was no more elaborate than 'jump in and hope for the best.'
  • Bleach:
    • As a leader, this is both Ichigo's strength and his 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. For instance, he has mediocre skills with Kidou; so how does he make sure his attack will not miss? By wrapping himself and his target with Zabimaru before blasting them point-blank in the face.
    • In his fight with Shukuro Tsukishima, Byakuya of all people is forced to do this due to his opponent's power to "insert" himself into someone's past, which he uses to become the person who trained Byakuya how to fight, meaning that he knows all of Byakuya's abilities and tactics and can counter them easily because he's now the one who originally taught them to him. Byakuya realizes that the only way to win is to improvise something unexpected. Later, he admits that he enjoyed doing so.
  • Cowboy Bebop: Spike "I try not to think" Spiegel is a contrast to Jet, especially lampshaded over a game of Shōgi in Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door. 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.'"
  • Phantom Solitaire in Dead Mount Death Play generally goes into situations with only a vague idea of what he's after and then just improvises on the fly to try and obtain it. He primarily relies on the shock factor of his magic tricks and boldness to make people far more powerful than him slip up and reveal a clue.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Gundam:
    • Judau Ashta from Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ and Uso Ewin 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. Before them, Kou Uraki of Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory turns out to be incredible at this, with his moment being the rather insane plan that he enacts to take out the Gundam GP-02A.
    • The entire Tekkadan crews from Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans are experts of solving problems via improvisation, from wiring a meteor to reposition the ship, to landing mobile workers onto enemy ship via ramming on it.
  • Inuyasha: 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.
  • In Irresponsible Captain Tylor, the titular character lives his life by this philosophy... or he's a super-genius who plans everything far in advance. It's hard to tell. In one episode, this is discussed when Tylor has a debate with Yamamoto about what happens if all plans against the enemy fails. Tylor's point is that sometimes, all plans can fail, and you must think fast at that point to win. Yamamoto dismisses Tylor as being an idiot, only to look in shock later in the episode, as Tylor's attempt to escape the Raalgon fleet pursuing them (after all other plans fail) results in the whole Raalgon fleet getting wiped out by their own actions, leaving the crew wondering if Tylor was just lucky or if he used an Indy Ploy against the Raalgon Fleet.
  • Joseph Joestar, the second titular hero of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, is very good at coming up with plans on the fly, both as a young Hamon user and as an Older and kinda-sorta Wiser mentor to his grandson Jotaro. For example, his plan to defeat Santana relies on the fact that the sun was shining directly above a well, and during his first encounter with Wamuu, he uses a minecart (and attempts to use a stick of dynamite) to distract the Pillar Man and keep his friends safe, all while analyzing his personality to figure out a way to talk him into letting him go. By the time of the finale, Kars is actually convinced that Joseph was able to formulate a plan that involves his hand getting cut off then launched into the stratosphere by a volcanic eruption. Fittingly, his characterization in Stardust Crusaders draws heavily from the Trope Namer, right down to the hat.
  • This is Shirogane's greatest strength in the Battle of Wits in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War. Unlike Kaguya, who can use her vast riches to plan ahead of time for every eventuality, he often has to rely on his quick wit and makes things up as he goes along. That said, his Grand Romantic Gesture during the Culture Festival shows that he can be a pretty good planner if given sufficient time.
  • Lupin III uses Unspoken Plan Guarantee so often that we, the audience, can't tell if Lupin's success is due to planning or luck.
    • In "The First Move Wins Computer Operation!" of the original 1971 Lupin III: Part 1 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.
    • This plot is revisited in the Lupin III: Part II series, in which an armchair detective (criminologist) programs a computer to do the same thing. This time, Lupin's Indy Ploy is to rely on Zenigata's whim.
  • In Mazinger Z, Kouji is able to think strategically and plot strategies beforehand. However, given his rash, hotheaded nature, he is VERY prone to impulsively rush/leap/dive headfirst into a dangerous situation and figure 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 Mission: Yozakura Family, While Kengo does research for his missions in advance, more often than not, he improvises as he goes. For instance, when pitted against Kyoichiro:
    Nanao: What's our plan?
    Kengo: Just whatever?
  • 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 ones), 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. It actually works in his favor; considering that literally everyone he's fought has pulled new and unheard-of secret techniques out of their ass when he fights them, trying to plan ahead would be a pointless exercise. What little strategy he had (at least until recent chapters) has been "spam them with Shadow Clones until they break out the big guns, and then figure it out from there." The kid plans for Indy Ploys.
      • During Team 7's fight with Zabuza, who trapped Kakashi in a water prison, Naruto is able to improvise a way to break him out on the spot and wordlessly shares it with Sasuke, who coordinates with him to perfectly pull it off. Namely, to transform himself into a Fuuma Shuriken and hide in the shadow of a second, real shuriken to catch Zabuza offguard after he catches the real one and dodges the fake one, leaving Naruto in the perfect spot to attack Zabuza in a way that forces him to release Kakashi in order to dodge. Kakashi admits that it was a brilliant plan, and compliments Naruto and Sasuke for their teamwork.
      • When a giant snake swallows Naruto during the Chunin Exam, after desperately struggling to get out before the snake's stomach acid digests him, he eventually manages to escape by creating enough Shadow Clones that the snake explodes. He uses the same tactic much later when he is accidentally swallowed by the Four Tails: he creates so many Shadow Clones that it is forced to vomit Naruto out of his mouth.
  • Luffy of One Piece does this once or twice. At one point, the main characters make a minutely detailed plan to invade a government-owned island. Luffy, being the Idiot Hero that he is, charges in at the soonest possible moment, leaving his allies to beat a hasty path in after him. Not that it really matters — they use the same plan to get the rest of the Straw Hats in and it works. Luffy just gets in early and defeats the first CP9 member.
    • His fight with Enel may also qualify. With his "Mantra", Eneru is able to predict and counter all of Luffy's moves, so he just starts 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).
    • While in Skypiea, Zoro faces off against a Shandian who dual wields guns. He responds by spontaneously learning how to use flying slashes.
    • Trafalgar Law eventually catches on to Luffy's Leeroy Jenkins tendencies and incorporates them into the plan to attack Onigashima by letting him and Eustass Kid charge into the place first, leaving the Beast Pirates too distracted to notice the rest of the alliance sneaking into the island.
  • Pokémon Adventures 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 cleverer victories (Roxanne, Brawly, Matt at Mt. Chimney) qualify as this or something between this and Xanatos Speed Chess.
  • 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.
  • 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. It's not like any plan they make will have more than 1% chance of success, either. As they can pull off even something with 0% chance of success, it doesn't really matter...
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • Most other duelists in Yu-Gi-Oh! have decks revolving around some overpowered combination that wins them every duel. Yugi, on the other hand, has a reactive deck with a variety of spells for every situation. What makes the series fun is seeing all the unique clever ways he uses these spells to counter his opponent's combinations. Usually even drawing the right card right before the duel is over.
    • Judai from Yu-Gi-Oh! GX builds his reputation so much on this that Kaiser Ryou becomes disappointed when the former tries dueling more strategically against him in the latter's graduation duel. He brings himself back from the brink by going to his old (non-)strategy and ends the duel in the draw.
  • Yusuke Urameshi in YuYu 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 Sensui 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!"
  • Zombie Land Saga:
    • After the girls' make-up is washed off by accident, revealing their zombiefied forms, the girls make a mad dash towards a nearby mud puddle to completely cover themselves up.
    • Lily seems to excel at these, able to work quickly when things look like they're about to go wrong.
      • She helps save "Green Face"'s first performance by getting the audience to clap along to Sakura and Saki's (also improv) rap battle, adding her own cheers and hollers as well.
      • In Revenge, she creates a new costume, song rearrangement, and singing-and-dancing routine mere minutes before performing for a live audience.
      • She uses the same song from her talent show performance to cheer up a group of young children after being relocated amidst a devastating storm.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix: 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!").
  • The Avengers: 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.
  • Batman:
    • Despite his reputation for intense planning, Batman actually owes most of his victories to noticing every detail of his situation and then making a plan to take advantage of it on the spot.
    • When Batgirl's (Cassandra Cain) body language reading skills were foiled by The Joker's randomness, Cassandra triumphed after Oracle explained that the Joker's body language was "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.
  • Captain America: In comparison to Steve Rogers' Crazy-Prepared-ness, Bucky Barnes, after assuming the mantle of Captain America showed off his tactical sensibilities through his extensive reliance on plans made on the fly.
  • Deadpool: Crazy comic book Anti-Hero Deadpool has twice bested Taskmaster, a character capable of beating some of the very best superheroes (the low-to-mid-level ones, anyway — little chance of him taking down Thor or Ms. Marvel, for example, except by planning) 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.
  • Diabolik: Usually Diabolik relies on careful planning and being so Crazy-Prepared and Properly Paranoid to make Batman seem unprepared. Yet, once in a while even he gets caught with his pants down, and has to improvise. But if you're in his way you're better pray he did plan for whatever you have, because his Indy Ploys tend to involve more murder than usual-and this is a guy whose escape plan once involved luring the police in an area that automatically filled with Deadly Gas.
  • Doctor Strange: Stephen 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. Then again, the nature of the foes he goes up against means situations develope too fast for plans to be laid, and he has decades of intense sorcery training to pull strategies from.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Despite being the group's Fighter, this is basically Adric's primary skill for the series. The rest of the group is fully aware that he effectively makes his plans up as he goes, but they're actually all okay with that.
    Khal: "Adric's plans are rarely good ones, but they're quick."
    Varis: "You'd be surprised how much more useful a skill that is in the adventuring trade."
  • Fantastic Four: Reed Richards 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 an interdimensional continuity de-snarler out of a handful of kitchen utensils.
  • Green Lantern: Sinestro cites this as the key reason he can never beat Hal Jordan (as much as he hates to admit it):
    Sinestro: You're too blasted unpredictable. Set a plotter or a schemer in my path, I'll crush their bones to dust. You've escaped that fate not because of something as silly as willpower. Nor because of your prosaic notions of justice and morality. You've survived because your actions never make sense. Yet despite yourself — and this is the truly infuriating part — your instincts always see you through.
  • Hawk and Dove: Hawk reportedly has unpredictability as a superpower. Despite some rather basic tactics (find the toughest guy in a group and attack him head-on), all mystical and mundane attempts to predict his actions automatically fail.
  • Jonah Hex: Jonah Hex is a master of coming up with plans on the fly. Given he frequently doesn't know where his enemies are, or their numbers, or sometimes even who they are, this is kind of a necessity. His philosophy is perhaps best summed up by a pair of quotes from Hex #12:
    (Hex has just encountered a Giant Robot that is Immune to Bullets)
    Hex: *thinks* Looks like a good time to switch to Plan B! (runs away) Shore do wish I had me a Plan B!
    (several panels later)
    Hex: *thinks* Wait! I think I just found me a Plan B!
  • Nikolai Dante: Nikolai Dante is shown to pull this off all the time. Flintlock reckons that his tactics involve hurling himself in front of increasing numbers of enemy guns.
  • SnarfQuest: Larry Elmore plotted out the next step and place 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.
  • Spider-Man: Spider-Man does this every now and again, often against enemies that outclass him in terms of power. One notable instance in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #55 involved him defeating 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.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe: Parodied in the Republic series, where scoundrel Vilmarh Grahrk paraphrases Indy: "I don't know! Am making this up as I go!".
  • The Transformers (Marvel): An Informed Ability of Jazz, intended as a contrast to Prowl as the Autobot's Straw Vulcan. Where Prowl is obsessed with planning and order, Jazz is creative and improvisational. In fairness, when they do get to show off these tendencies, they work about as often as not.
  • The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: Rodimus doesn't generally have the patience to come up with much of a strategy for the things he does.
    Rodimus: Ultra Magnus tells me that running through the Lost Light shouting "WHO'S UP FOR A FIGHT?" doesn't technically constitute a briefing.

    Fan Works 
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses: Fifth Path: Much like the author, Byleth confessed to Sothis that she has absolutely zero plan on how to fix the future and is making it up as she goes.
  • 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.
  • In the The Camp Half-Blood Series/Fate/Grand Order crossover Imaginary Seas, Pan-Human Chiron asks Percy to make a distraction so he can ambush Lostbelt Chiron from behind. He leaves the rest of the details up to Percy, who more or less shrugs and rolls with it.
    Percy: Do a thing so something happens and make it work out; sounded like a plan to me.
  • The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World has a bunch of these as well. For example, John uses a literally last-second ploy to get himself and Ringo out of the clutches of a roomful of telepaths and empaths busily trying to bend them to their will.
  • Not Quite As Planned: Ichigo has this to say after him and the gang escape from Gin and two Espada:
    "That's it! We are never planning things again! Not when the things we make up on the fly works 10 times better."
  • In the Jackie Chan Adventures fic Queen of All Oni, when Jade has to capture Tohru for Ikazuki, he stays under the shop's wards during the attack, preventing her or her forces from getting close enough to grab him, she has one of her ninjas attack Uncle, KNOWING Tohru will charge to his sensei's rescue and captures him. And keep in mind, she comes up with that plan ON THE SPOT!
  • Shinji And Warhammer 40 K: 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.
  • Scar's Samsara has Scar smooth-talk an army of hyenas which are about to eat him into attacking Pride Rock, thinking that he'll have thought of a plan to make use of the distraction by the time they arrive.
  • Takato from the Tamers Forever Series is exceptionally good at this, to the point where it crosses the line into Xanatos Speed Chess territory.
  • In Voyages of the Wild Sea Horse Buggy, imprisoned in Loguetown after his fight with Luffy, assures his crew he has an escape plan. His "plan" is to wait for an opportunity to present itself and exploit it, as that's what Buggy does best. When a gang of Luffy fans attack the Marine escort, Buggy uses the chaos to break him and his crew free while claiming it was his plan all along.
  • In The Witch of the Everfree, while she eventually grows out of it, Sunset Shimmer starts out thinking this way, although she isn't nearly as effective at it as she thinks she is and eventually starts making actual plans.
    I didn’t need to plan. I was Sunset Shimmer, the strongest unicorn in Equestria. Planning was for ponies who didn’t have the strength to just do what they wanted. I could do anything.
  • Zigzagged in Yu-Gi-Oh! The Thousand Year Door, where Kyle does indeed have a plan to get him and Drake out of the Morton's Fork situation they're in note  but...
    Drake: This better be a good plan, Kyle.
    Kyle: Actually, it's a stupid plan. As in, the type you try when you're desperate, and people tell you 'it would never work', but it's the only thing you can think of because you're in a pretty bad situation?
    Drake: Like the kind we're in now?
    Kyle: Exactly
  • i won't let you: A good majority of the Despair Capture Movement's plans are these, although to their credit, they do try to plan things out. Everything normally just ends up going Off the Rails.

    Films — Animated 
  • Disney's Aladdin:
    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.
  • The Incredibles:
    • Though not an Idiot Hero, Helen is able to do this very well. It helps that besides being the mother that needs to balance, control, and maintain her family, she can adjust herself in various ways to accommodate her own plans.
    • Bob is a straighter example of this. His own experiences as a hero aside, working with and being married to Helen probably contributed a lot to his ability to think fast and adapt to situations quickly.
  • From The Hunchback of Notre Dame, during Quasimodo's helping Esmeralda escape the cathedral via rooftop;
    Esmeralda: Have you ever done this before?
    Quasimodo: No.
  • 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.
  • Megamind: Ironically one of the only plans of Megamind's that works is basically one of these:
    Roxanne: What's the plan?
    Megamind: Well, it mostly involves not dying.
    Roxanne: I like that plan!
  • 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.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • This is Bartleby's specialty in Accepted. When his plan to set up a fake university ends up Gone Horribly Right, he gets up on stage and, rather than tell the truth, starts winging it, gives a Rousing Speech, and welcomes everyone to orientation. He walks into a frat party by first pretending to be a brother and taking a freshman's blazer so he can pretend to be a pledge. During the Big Damn Trial at the end, he looks expectantly at the "dean" he hired to begin the defense, only for the "dean" to look back at him and say "lead with your star witness". The only time it doesn't work is when everyone's parents show up for "Parents' Weekend" the morning after a huge party, at the same time as his archrival douchebag and the dean from the real college, and at the same time as the police.
  • 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.
  • Con Air provides some villainous examples, as Cyrus has planned ahead, but still has to improvise, as he couldn't have predicted every variable. Lampshaded in this exchange:
    Cyrus the Virus: *holding the pilot at gunpoint* Say there was a disturbance but you've got it under control. Say it, or I will kill you.
    Pilot: Without me you got nobody to fly the plane.
    Cyrus: I never think that far ahead.
  • In The Con is On, Harry and Peter seem to be making up most of The Con they are pulling on Jackie on the fly (such as Harry spontaneously pretending to be the dog whisperer). This is largely because any time they do plan something, it immediately falls apart (such as Harry Slipping a Mickey to Jackie, only for her go hyper instead of passing out).
  • The Dark Knight: 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.
  • Die Hard: John McClane is prone to this. Bungee-jumping with a fire hose, killing someone with an icicle, jumping on a subway train from a sidewalk hole, throwing cars into helicopters ("I was out of bullets")...
    John: I know what I'm doing.
    Zeus: Not even God knows what you're doing!
  • District 9. Wikus gets them into MNU headquarters, but hasn't bothered to work out how to get out again, mainly because he thinks it's a Suicide Mission. Christopher has to think up a plan on the spot to save both their butts.
    Christopher: I thought you had a way out?
    Wikus: I didn't say anything about getting out! I said I would get us in!
  • Down Periscope. Almost everything Lt. Cmdr. Dodge does amounts to winging it. Given the conditions of the exercise, an old diesel sub versus much of the US Navy's east coast fleet, it's also the only way to succeed.
    Dodge: Men, we'll need to use a tactic that is somewhat bizarre and extremely risky. If any of you feel it's not worth it, please say so now.
    Spots: Actually, sir, I think we prefer to go with bizarre and risky. It's worked for us so far.
    Stepanek: I think we should continue to kick ass, sir.
  • In The Fugitive. A character even notes this: that Richard Kimble is too smart for even the US Marshals to catch him, even though he's never been a criminal on the run before. Fittingly, he's played by Harrison Ford.
  • In Ghostbusters (1984), this ploy fails spectacularly the first time the not-yet-heroes attempt it.
    Venkman: "'Get her!' That was your whole plan, 'get her.'" [laughs bemusedly] It was scientific.
    Stantz: I just got over-excited!
  • 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? We plan, we get there, all hell breaks loose!"
  • 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.
  • Indiana Jones, as played by Harrison Ford, is the Trope Namer. On his myriad of adventures, Dr. Jones has rarely, if ever, planned things out in advance, but always manages to either escape death or come out on top. He's called the "Patron Saint of Player Characters" for a reason. Examples include:
    • Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the Nazis are loading the Ark onto a truck convoy. Indy tells Sallah and Marion to get back to Cairo and book passage back to England somehow.
      Indy: Meet me at Omar's. Be ready for me. I'm going after that truck.
      Sallah: How?
      Indy: I don't know, I'm making this up as I go.
      (Gilligan Cut to Jones stealing a horse. Cue Car Chase)
    • Probably his ballsiest (if not outright insane) ploy was in the climax of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Indy is in the middle of a rope bridge, surrounded on both sides by Thugees. Mola Ram forces Willie and Short Round to go out onto the bridge with him. Indy quickly wraps his leg around a rope railing and yells something in Chinese to Shorty, who quickly wraps his arm likewise and tells Willie:
      Short Round: Hang on lady, we going for a ride!
      (Willie sees Indy raising his sword and realizes what he's going to do)
      Willie: OH MY GOD. Oh my god! Oh my god! (wraps rope around arm) Oh my god! Is he nuts?!
      Short Round: He no nuts. He crazy!
      Indy: Mola Ram! Prepare to meet Kali! IN HELL!
      (Indy cuts the rope bridge with his sword and the bridge splits in half, sending the Thugees into the river below.)
    • At one point in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull it doesn't work, where Indy tries to jump onto a truck and misses.
      Indy: Damn, I thought that was closer.
      • Mac, who knows Indy, immediately assumes playing chicken with vehicles is a really bad idea, because Indy's going to pull something unexpected — in this case, it turns out, pulling himself up and out of the car at the last moment and letting the crash happen.
    • Lampshaded later in the film:
      Mutt Williams: What's he gonna do now?
      Marion Ravenwood: I don't think he plans that far ahead.
    • And then he pokes his head between them with a RPG-7!!!
      Indy: Scooch over, will you, son?
      Mutt: (eyes wide) Don't call me, "son!"
      Indy: (completely ignoring Mutt) I'd cover my ears if I were you!
      (Cue Stuff Blowing Up. Giant saw blade comes flying at them.)
      Indy: Duck! Duck!
    • Hereditary. Witness Indy's dad in Last Crusade. "I suddenly remembered my Charlemagne."
    • 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 (The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Phantom Train of Doom).
      Old Soldier: Youngsters and their plans...
      Young Indy: What's wrong with plans?
      Captain Selous: Nothing. As long as you're willing to adapt when they don't work out.
      Young Indy: Make it up as you go? That'll work...
    • 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.
    • In Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, Indy manages to escape from Voller's goons and the CIA simultaneously when they have to lead him through the moon landing parade. He momentarily distracts them by joining an anti-Vietnam War chant from some protestors before wriggling out of the guy holding him's grip and thwacking him with a protestor's sign. He first tries to get a mounted policeman's attention, but when Klaber shoots him Indy instead steals the cop's horse and dashes through the parade. Klaber and Hawke aren't far behind on a commandeered motorcycle and parade car respectively when Indy rides the horse into the subway. He thinks that he's safe by darting out onto the track until a subway train starts rocketing up behind him, and he just barely escapes and makes it onto the next platform. Even after all of that, Mason has almost caught up with him before he slips into the now just-arrived subway train he was running from a moment earlier.
    Indy[to a passenger on the train]: Subway's faster.
  • Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
    Max: So what's the plan?
    Pig Killer: (laughing) Plan? There ain't no plan!
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • 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.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014):
      • The heroes end up doing this quite a bit; an early prison break is made with an outline of a plan, but circumstances force them to quickly improvise its implementation on short notice. And by "circumstances," we mean "Groot getting the bit that activates every alarm in the prison first instead of last.
      Rocket: Or we could just get it first and improvise!
      • Star Lord has "12 percent of a plan" to stop the Big Bad. Rocket (sincerely!) laughs at this idea and Gamora agrees, saying that it's "barely a concept".
      • At the end, Peter Quill successfully delays the Big Bad's imminent destruction of a planet by suddenly challenging him to a dance-off.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • In the Mission Impossible films, whenever something goes awry with a plan, the improvisation is usually high in Shocking Moments. Mission: Impossible – Fallout downright has "I'll figure it out"/"I'm working on it" as Ethan Hunt's catchphrase.
  • 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."
  • In Ocean's Twelve, half the crew is jailed and the remaining half tries an Indy Ploy to achieve the mission, including having Tess (played by Julia Roberts) try to pretend she's Julia Roberts. The plot fails, but anyway everything was a Gambit Roulette from the beginning.
  • Presumed Innocent had an "Indy plot" (Harrison Ford even starred!) where the whole plot goes random and every character has to make shit up off the top of his/her head at the moment. 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 under 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 attorney, 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.
  • 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.
  • Inverted or averted in Push where the only way to conceal a plan from an enemy with mind-reading powers is for the hero of the group to make a plan, write it down in the form of about a dozen instruction envelopes, and have his mind wiped. They are effectively flying as blind as if they were making it up as they go, but they end up following the plan and succeeding. Even as the characters read their instructional envelopes, the audience is kept in the dark.
  • Schindler's List: Oskar Schindler's munitions factory is a model of non-production during the war, all while Schindler keeps coming up with excuses to give to the Germans. Throughout the entire film (including the introductory sequence which highlights what a huckster Oskar really is), he's relying solely on his natural charisma, bribes, and pure guesswork. Roger Ebert's own review of the film said it best:
    "Schindler outsmarted it, in his own little corner of the war, but he seems to have had no plan... We know that Stern understands this. But there is no moment when Schindler and Stern bluntly state what is happening, perhaps because to say certain things aloud could result in death."
  • Parodied in the original Shanghai Noon, where Owen Wilson's character — at this point a train robber — comes up with an elaborate and well-timed plan to stop the train and get the money seamlessly. His men — who aren't the brightest of the bunch — stare blankly and Owen reluctantly agrees to "wing it."
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022), Sonic shows he's prone to last minute improvisations that he only pulls through for having Super-Speed (like dismantling an armored car without brakes so it falls apart instead of running over pedestrians). Once the Power Trio with Tails and Knuckles gets together to go against the Giant Eggman Robot, Sonic makes sure to point out he's going in without a plan:
    Sonic: Step 1: Light taunting. Step 2: I have no idea.
  • Star Trek (2009):
    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.
    • Earlier than that, after Kirk becomes the captain of the Enterprise:
      Uhura: I sure hope you know what you're doing, Captain.
      Kirk: So do I...
  • Star Wars:
    • Qui-Gon Jinn: "We don't have time for a plan."
    • Both the rescue and 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.
      • In the NPR Radio Drama of A New Hope, Luke is actually commended by a Rebel leader when he admits that rescuing Leia from the Death Star was improvised, because "the ability to think on one's feet isn't common."
    • Apparently Anakin Skywalker programmed his translator droid to do this. When the rebels are captured on Endor and are about to be eaten by the Ewoks. The only one not tied up is C-3PO (since he can't be eaten). Cue Han telling him to "Do something!". C-3PO improvises a God Guise in order to save his frinds.
    • Imperial fleet on your tail and the hyperdrive isn't working? Fly directly into a nearby asteroid field. Later, when the fleet is back on your tail and the hyperdrive still isn't working? Turn around, make like you're going to ram the Star Destroyer's bridge tower... and instead, latch onto the back of it and power down (so you can detach and drift away later while no one's looking).
    • Han gets back into it in The Force Awakens, coming up with ad-libbed plans, usually reliant on doing things with a hyperdrive nobody has yet been stupid enough to try. Some of them even work.
      Rey: Is that possible?
      Han: I never ask that question until after I've done it.
    • Amusingly enough, he is less than impressed when Finn reveals that his plan to infiltrate Starkiller base, disable its shields and rescue Rey is just one of these.
      Han: People are counting on us. The galaxy is counting on us!
      Finn: Solo, we'll figure it out. [brightly] We'll use the Force!
      Han: That's not how the Force works!
  • In Stripes John has gotten them into the Soviet camp in Czechoslovakia. When asked what now, he says "Working on it."
  • 10 Things I Hate About You: To get Patrick Verona [Heath Ledger] out of detention after his big romantic gesture by way of apology for an earlier thing, Kat Stratford [Julia Stiles] improvises a distraction for the soccer coach running the class. The plan? Draw his eye by talking about a Bait-and-Switch ploy... and when all else fails, flash him.
    Kat: Ok... now that you've seen... the plan, I gotta go... and... show the plan... to someone else. (leaves with Luminescent Blush)
  • ¡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.
  • 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.
    • Sam probably gets this from his father, Kevin, who did it all the time in TRON. 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!
  • 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."
  • In X-Men: The Last Stand, to take down Juggernaut, Shadowcat goads him into charging at her and Leech. Leech's power nullifies the Juggernaut's, and when he slams into the wall he gets knocked out.

  • In 1635: The Cannon Law, Ruy Sanchez makes his disdain for plans quite clear while on a mission to evacuate someone from a besieged fortress:
    "Plans? Faugh. The playthings of lesser intellects. I, Ruy Sanchez de Casador y Ortiz, need no plan. Insult me no futher with such talk, Señor Simpson."
  • Done many, many times in Animorphs. A notable example is #37 The Weakness, where Rachel, the group's Ax-Crazy member, 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.
  • Clockpunk of "Clockpunk and the Vitalizer" is basically forced to do it once she's been captured. To her credit, though, she manages to injure The Vitalizer and escape his clutches because of her quick thinking.
  • 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.
  • 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 confidence with which he enters such things leads everyone else to conclude he had it all planned out.
    • Lord Vetinari of Ankh-Morpork combines Indy Ploys and The Plan 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 The Plan, so one could call him Vetinari's laser-guided Indy Ploy.
  • In the Doctor Who novel "Engines of War", the Doctor says to Cinder he's not good with long term plans and prefers "Winging it".
  • Discussed in Put a Lid On It by Donald Westlake. The narrator — a career criminal — notes that criminals in movies tend to have all kinds of elaborate plans involving timetables, scale models, and so on. On the other hand, nobody he knows does that; they all tend to just show up with a vague idea of what they need to do and improvise from there. This is partly because "the situation... is never exactly, precisely what you thought the situation was going to be." But he also notes that:
    [P]eople who make plans in their lives and people who make robberies are two pretty distinct character types. People who make plans are likely to make plans that eliminate the necessity of having to make a robbery in the first place.
  • In The Dreamside Road, Orson often plans, but expects to use an Indy Ploy as Plan B. His wide arsenal of weapons, and his decade of survival have made him a speedy and successful improviser.
  • The Dresden Files: Harry Dresden will often start out with a general plan, but seeing as how the entire universe appears to hate him violently, this usually goes to hell fast. 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 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!
    • 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 bad guys 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.
    • In fact, Harry's tendency to wing it instead of creating a cunning plan saves him at least twice, by making potential adversaries who are accusing him of being an Evil Mastermind think about his standard M.O. Rashid the Gatekeeper's response is to practically double over with laughter; Fix the Summer Knight's response is more "Oh, Crap!"...
      • Or when he's the target of a Summer Fae that doesn't "really" want to get in his way but has to because of direct orders. And he uses his previously given boon to ask said Fae to get him a donut just to get him out of his way long enough. Not really a "plan", but he sure as hell didn't think that one through.
    • In fact, it's a mark of his Character Development that he slowly shifts from the Indy Ploy to Xanatos Speed Chess and starts preparing things ahead of time. The examples mostly take place over the first few books, while notable examples of his planning ahead include Death Masks, Small Favor, Turn Coat, and Skin Game. As he lampshades, wizards in general are much physically weaker than many of their enemies, and so the supernatural baddies will generally try to ambush him to get him out of the way. But once he has time to plan...
  • While the title character in Eden Green prefers to have a detailed plan ready for everything, the alien needle monsters invading her city often force her to come up with ideas on the fly just to stay alive.
  • Ender's Game: The Dragon Army, anyone?
    • Flying unshielded ships at a planet after losing every engagement?
    • This is in contrast to Ender's brother Peter, who is very fond of the Xanatos Gambit and Batman Gambit, and has the ability to pull them off.
    • The commanders of Battle School note that this is most probably what their near-AI level "Fantasy Game" computer is doing when Ender wins an unwinnable minigame. The game is creating brand-new areas and scenarios based off of what it has learned of Ender's mind. While it was programmed to tailor scenarios to individual players, it doing something of this scale was wholly unprecedented, leading to cries of "How in the hell did the computer do that!?"
  • The Exile's Violin: Jacquie knows she should have a plan before taking action but she's no good at planning so she wings it instead. This gets her in trouble during a infiltration and on another occasion she regrets her habit of having goals instead of plans.
  • In Gaunt's Ghosts 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.
  • Gentleman Bastard series: 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 man who runs it. And he only tried the ridiculous scheme after the first two, simpler ones failed miserably due to the security procedures of the bank manager... which he then turns around and uses on his successful attempt.
    • In fact, he had to have his inclination to conjure audacious, ridiculous schemes from nowhere trained out of him by his master; before that his default plan was "Uhhhh...", which, as his master points out, is not consistently workable in the long run.
  • Most of Harry Potter's plans fit into this trope, mostly due to a lack of time and/or information to plan ahead. Indeed, one could argue that this is arguably his defining trait. Despite Hermione being more clever and Ron knowing more about the Wizarding World, neither are as good at thinking on their toes the way Harry is. Contrast this with Voldemort, who meticulously plans everything and is a big fan of playing the long game to get what he wants. The twist though is that Voldemort has Complexity Addiction and is so egotistical it causes him to dismiss small or simple things as unimportant, giving Harry and company weaknesses to exploit. A notable example is his raid on the Ministry in Book 5, which basically boils down to "Grab Sirius and run," then changes to "run away from Death Eaters."
    • 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.
      • 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.
      • 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 Harry himself Lampshades it by saying there's no need for a plan: "We make a plan, we go in, all hell breaks loose!"
  • The Heroes of Olympus:
    “So you do have a plan?” Octavian asked skeptically.
    Percy looked at his teammates. “We go to Alaska as fast as possible...”
    “And we improvise,” Hazel said.
    “A lot,” Frank added.
  • In The Hobbit, the Dwarves seem to mostly operate this way, dealing with every obstacle as it happens. The whole plan for recovering their treasure is "get to the mountain, use the secret door to have a look at Smaug, then figure out a way to get rid of him." When they get to the mountain and Bilbo has a look at Smaug through the secret door they have no idea what to do next.
    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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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 dependent 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 really no reason to complain.
  • 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 descendants 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 Jenkinsverse: It's mentioned that this is humanity's greatest advantage. Growing up on a Death World has given them massive strength, speed, and endurance compared to most species, but those can all be accounted for with technology. The real thing that makes them a nightmare to fight is their ability to adapt to changing situations very quickly. In several stories, a human is trapped, and they manage to escape by doing something unexpected (like going through the wall), and the aliens have no idea how to handle it.
  • Fisk's rescue of Michael in the first book of the Knight and Rogue Series goes like this: Pull off a scam to get brought in, convince the evil baroness to let him 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 them alive and whole.
  • In the The Lord of the Rings the Fellowship has a goal: drop the Ring into the Cracks of Doom in Mordor, but Aragorn says several times that he doesn't think that Gandalf had any plan for how to actually get into Mordor, or even any clear plan of what to do after reaching Lorien.
  • The Memory Wars sees its hero, Nathan Shepherd, spend a lot of his time doing this.
  • In The Prince of Thorns this is how basically all of Jorg's plans go. In the second book this is enforced; mind readers are spying on him, so whenever he has a good idea or sets something up he puts the knowledge of it into a magical box that removes it from his memory. The echo of the idea remains so that when it's time to put it into effect he knows to retrieve it from the box.
  • Schooled in Magic: Emily combines this with being Crazy-Prepared. She has a lot of broadly-powerful tricks at her disposal and is constantly developing more, but in the end she tends to use them in balls-out insane ways when it all hits the fan. For example, her response to The Coup involves opening her Bag of Holding and releasing a cockatrice into the royal palace.
  • There is a story by Robert Sheckley about the human fleet is at an extreme disadvantage against the alien fleet, with both sides having perfect tactical computers. The humans shut their computers off and attack without a pattern, by putting someone who's gone completely loopy at the controls to push all the pretty buttons. The aliens mostly just sit there while being shot at because their computers can't see a pattern and can't offer any tactical advice.
  • Kim, the main protagonist if the Slingshot series is arguably this, though part of it is the reader not being privy to all of her thoughts. It is strongly implied that a lot of her actions are in-the-moment, and any planning that happens is done in her subconscious. By contrast, her friend Toshi tends to plan things in high detail — or at least he likes to have the maximum amount of data about a situation before going into action.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Brian Daley's very early Legends trilogy The Han Solo Adventures portrays Han as a master of this. At one point, when asked what he actually plans to do (after they've infilitrated the Corporate Sector Authority base in Han Solo at Stars' End) he replies "Me? I'll think of something. Inspiration's my specialty!" The line "Inspiration's my specialty" is repeated in the next book in the trilogy, Han Solo's Revenge.
    • 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 is afraid of them. And their allies, too, for that matter.
      • In their first live battle, Wraiths Five and Six, plus two A-Wings, manage to trick an Imp Star Deuce into following them, by pretending to be the Millennium Falcon. How they do so involves precision flying, wavery shields, an obsolete battle encryption that the enemy doesn't know that they know that the enemy can crack, and a bad imitation of Leia saying that Han is up to his elbows in the remains of the hyperdrive and can't talk right now. Just to top it off, they later end 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.
    • Consider what happened within the first seven pages of Star Wars: 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.
  • In Vampire Academy, this is Rose Hathaway's usual tactic for getting out of situations. She is fast-thinking but acts without a long-term plan. Like, for example, forming an immediate escape plan in Portland, once her and Lissa's cover is blown, one involving borrowing a car and running off to Los Angeles to get lost in the crowd. It works most of the time, but she also has remarkable luck.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga:
    • 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.
    • But maybe he gets it from his mother. After all, Cordelia starts out captured by the enemy in Shards of Honor and ends up married into the highest levels of aristocracy and Vicereine of an entire planet 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.
  • 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.
    • Jurgen, his assistant, is no different sometimes. He usually just carries every item of possible use he can and always just so happens that they need some of those items. While that requires some planning, his action of ramming a gun-emplacement with a truck certainly was not planned. Cain tries to find a reason to criticize him and fails.
  • The Wheel of Time. Mat due to the way his luck-tweaking ability works. He does poorly at games with planning, but good with ones of chance. For this reason, most of his better plans by default fall under this category.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The evil masterminds of 24 constantly have their Evil Plans 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).
  • Angel:
    • At the very end of "Not Fade Away", 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.
    • In "The Thin Dead Line", there was this reaction to learning that Gunn's plan to expose (zombie) cops who were attacking people was to go videotape 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.
      • Specifically, Angel at one point had a plan to sneak into Wolfram & Hart with Gunn's help.
        Gunn: We know. It's cool. He's got a plan.
        Wesley: A plan?
        Angel: Yeah. I get to the offices before they can stop me.
        Gunn: See? Beat What? That's the plan? Walking real quick was the "plan"?
    • Then there's Spike:
      Spike: I had a plan! A good plan! ...but then I got bored!
      • Subverted in that when Spike first shows up on Angel, he really does have a plan, and only pretends to get bored halfway through.
  • Breaking Bad: In the episode "Sunset", Walt and Jesse are trapped in the RV, with Hank waiting outside for a warrant that will allow him to enter the vehicle. With no way to leave and time dwindling, Walt is able to divert Hank's attention by calling his lawyer Saul to fake a call from the hospital to Hank saying that his wife is in the hospital after getting in a car crash. Hank immediately races to the hospital hearing this, giving the pair the time they need to destroy the RV and make their escape. Of course, Jesse later ends up paying the price when Hank discovers the call was a ruse, drives to Jesse's house, and beats him to a bloody pulp in a blind rage.
  • 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 Westen), 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.
  • 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.
  • Community has Jeff attempting this, only for the rest of the group to get mad when they realize he's making up the plan to grift a grifter as he goes along and in fact has no idea what his actions are even supposed to achieve. He defends himself by pointing out that he's been with them constantly since he agreed to help; when did think he had the chance to work out a plan then conceal it from the rest of them?
  • This is the beating heart of Cutthroat Kitchen. The general idea is that it's a competitive cooking show where Alton Brown periodically auctions off "sabotages" that severely complicate someone's planned recipe, forcing the chef(s) on the receiving end to come up with a workaround to produce something vaguely similar to the required dish — with a thirty minute time limit on cooking to ratchet up the tension (which is already pretty high, especially when one of the chefs has never actually made the required dish before). Then, once the dust has settled, they need to justify the result to the judge without at any stage admitting to having been sabotaged. If it wasn't for hastily improvised substitutions to cover for a key ingredient being stolen or the replacement of the usual heating tools with a burning bathroom sponge or something, nothing would ever get done.
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor has a tendency to play things by ear — lampshaded several times in the series, in moments where they've been just as surprised as everyone else that a plan of theirs has actually worked, or worked for the wrong reason. Being able to intuitively perceive all the possibilities of time and space probably gives them a particular advantage at this game.
    • 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 Fourth Doctor hangs a lampshade on his improvisational skills in one episode:
      The Doctor: I'm warning you: I'm very dangerous when I don't know what I'm doing...
    • 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 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."
      • And in The Deadstone Memorial, his companion Fitz knows how this works:
        "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.
    • 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?
    • Ten in "The Age of Steel":
      Mickey Smith: You're just making this up as you go!
      The Doctor: Yuuuuupp! But I do it brilliantly!
    • The Eleventh Doctor isn't any better:
      The Doctor: River, you 'n me, we're gonna find the primary flight deck, stabilize 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.
      • "Amy's Choice":
        Amy: Please tell me you have a plan.
        The Doctor: No, I have a thing. It's like a plan, but with more greatness.
      • "The Pandorica Opens":
        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!
      • Later in that episode, the Eleventh Doctor threatens all of his enemies by saying that he has no weapons, nothing to lose and no plan whatsoever... so they should really do the smart thing and let someone else go up against him first.
      • The Eleventh Doctor lampshades this trope again in "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe".
        Lily: What do we do?
        The Doctor: No idea. Just do what I do: hold tight and pretend it's a plan.
      • In the commentary for the Series 5 opener, "The Eleventh Hour", Steven Moffat describes the Doctor as the sort of person who would jump off a building and work out what to do about it on the way down. Moffat would much later write "Heaven Sent" — part of the Series 9 finale — which featured the Twelfth Doctor doing almost exactly that. That episode reveals that the Doctor enters a mental place inside his head where Time Stands Still, giving him time to think his way out of any problem.
    • In "The Return of Doctor Mysterio", the Twelfth Doctor's "plan" at one point consists of literally randomly mashing buttons on a spaceship control panel.
    • In "The Woman Who Fell to Earth", the Thirteenth Doctor's plan to save a hapless crane operator who's been randomly targeted by a ritual hunt is to come up with a plan once she gets to the top of the crane she's climbing. In a later episode she admits:
      "I've got plans crashing through my brain all the time. You want a plan? Come to me. Identifying which plan's going to work, that's the tricky bit."
    • Also inverted with the Daleks and the Movellans. They were both so good at The Plan 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 Movellans 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 Daleks' plan is, the Movellans 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 plans 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.
    • In a hysterical long gag, Scorpius would often be seen talking of how brilliant a tactician and strategic genius Crichton was to his underlings. Thus, when forced to work with the cew, Scorpius' reaction to finding out how Crichton operates was priceless. You can see him in several scenes clearly thinking "how the frell do we keep losing to this guy?!"
  • Mal Reynolds from Firefly also has to do this a lot, as his simple plans go wrong with such regularity that 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.
  • In The Flash (2014), this is Captain Cold's approach to a heist.
    "There are only four rules you need to remember. Make the plan, execute the plan, expect the plan to go off the rails… throw away the plan."
  • 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 Soup, 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...
  • Game of Thrones: Tyrion, in particular, is a master of these. Half his gambits simply seem to come completely off the top of his head, and he gets away through a combination of quick wits, a razor tongue, extensive knowledge of everyone's weaknesses, and sheer balls. The other half are meticulously planned out deceptions.
    • His escape from the Eyrie is one.
    • Of note is when he blackmails Lancel into becoming his mole. There's no indication that he even planned it. Lancel shows up at his door, and in the middle of the subsequent conversation, Tyrion just seems to decide; "I need a mole. You fit." (blackmail ensues).
    • He pulls of a masterful one when he convinces Cersei that she indeed has his mistress captive even though she has captured Ros instead of Shae in "The Prince of Winterfell". When she brings Ros out so Tyrion can see that she is really alive, Tyrion plays along and pretends she really is the one he loves, keeping Cersei ignorant about Shae. You can actually see the wheels turning in his head as he figures out how to play this.
  • The Hexer: When Geralt and Dandelion are escaping from the Nilfgaardians planning their execution at dawn, they mostly just act, and then react to whatever happens next. Including setting on fire the building they are locked in, without first securing an actual escape route. For their defense, they are both drunk during their escape.
  • Dr. House. As brilliant a doctor as he is, makes it up 98% of the time.
  • Danny's specialisation in Hustle, as opposed to Mickey's careful planning.
  • This seems to be the modus operandi of Harmon Rabb from JAG, no matter whether it is in a fistfight, in the cockpit, or in a courtroom.
  • 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 Plan of the episode.
  • This was MacGyver's usual Modus Operandi. 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.
  • 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 Legend", Season 1, the team is set to assassinate Martin Bohrmann, who's been living in South America. Briggs infiltrates Bohrmann's bedroom — and discovers it isn't that simple. They have to change the plan on a dime.
    • 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.
      • This was a redo of an episode from the original series in which the assassin was played by Robert Conrad.
  • Callen's plan in the Season 3 premiere of NCIS: Los Angeles consists of "Save Hetty." That's it.
  • Person of Interest: Reese occasionally falls back to this when the situation is too dire or Finch is somehow unable to help him for whatever reason. He's very good at it.
  • Danny Quinn in Primeval likes to do this a lot, especially when he's disobeying orders. His best one was getting into a helicopter and making a huge Giganotosaurus chase him through the time portal.
    • Then he returns without the helicopter.
      "Do you want me to go back and get it?"
  • Psych: 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.
  • Sarah seems to pick up this trait from her old mentor, given this exchange from the first episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures:
    Maria: Do you mean you haven't got a plan? Nothing?
    Sarah: No. The people I fight have plans and weapons but I don't. It's what makes me different.
  • 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 in 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.
  • Star Trek:
    • 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 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. Even McCoy got in on it during "Amok Time" — within ten minutes of the revelation that Kirk and Spock were supposed to fight each other to the death, he's come up with a plan to thwart it.
    • This tendency is elaborated in hilarious detail by Voltaire's filk "U.S.S. Make Shit Up".
    • Deconstructed in "Homeward". Failing to convince Picard to help, Nikolai intends to transport the group of Boraalans to a new planet. He covertly beams them aboard, but without even being sure he can get the crew to help. Additionally, the malfunctions to the systems threaten unraveling the entire ruse, with Vorin wandering off and ultimately dying. Worf condemns Nikolai for never fully thinking things through and expecting others to clean up the messes.
    • Star Trek: Voyager. In "Basics", Voyager has been seized by the Kazon and Tom Paris (who was away in a shuttle at the time) is trying to convince some aliens to help take it back. They're reluctant, so Tom gives a Badass Boast that he knows Voyager inside-and-out, and has a cunning plan to boot. The aliens promise to rendezvous with Tom in an hour. After they've broken the connection, Tom says, "Well that gives me an hour to think of a plan!"
      • And he does. And it works.note 
    • Star Trek: Discovery: In the episode "If Memory Serves" after a fight in the mess hall between Ash Tyler and Dr. Culber Saru points out to Captain Pike that Starfleet manuals have no guidance on how to handle interactions between artifical hybrids and resurrected doctors. Saru confirms that they have to make it up as they go sometimes. Pike accepts that but tells Saru further violence between the crew would not be tolerated.
  • Fairly common in Supernatural, as half the time the monster they're dealing with turns out to be a different creature than they expected, or operating in a different way than they expected. You can also bet that if they find and torch the bones of a ghost twenty minutes into the show, then that's not how to stop that particular ghost.
  • This happens all the time on Teen Wolf. Scott and Stiles especially tend to end up just winging it.
    Stiles: Okay, one question: what are you gonna do if the Alpha doesn't show up?
    Scott: I don't know.
    Stiles: And what are you gonna do if he does show up?
    Scott: I don't know.
    Stiles: ... Good plan.
  • Timeless: The team goes back in time to keep criminals from altering history. After it becomes clear history has already been altered, they decide to wing it. At the end after the disaster happens anyway, just in a different manner, Lucy says maybe they can't just make it up as they go along. This is basically every episode in a nutshell. And it's awesome.
  • Wonder Woman: In "Light-Fingered Lady", Diana must steal some plans to earn the trust of and infiltrate a gang. She uses her powers as Wonder Woman to complete this theft, but is caught doing so by one of the criminals, who was following her to verify her crime. Thinking fast, Wonder Woman tells him she is on the trail of her criminal alter-ego, and when he won't tell her where she is, she locks him in a closet. Then she goes back to her street clothes and frees him, and the fact that she completed her mission even while Wonder Woman was supposedly after her convinces most of the group she's legitimate.

  • Our Miss Brooks: In the episode April Fool's Day, Miss Brooks attends an "Everybody Must Do Something Party". She stalls for time to avoid Miss Enright embarrassing her with an April Fool's Day joke. Miss Brooks plays the ukulele, sings, recites poetry, finally resorting to reading the phonebook aloud.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Similar to the concept of "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy", many a Game Master/Dungeon Master/Storyteller/Keeper of Arcane Lore have found that plans and worldbuilding details very often don't survive contact with the players either. Well-prepared plotlines and locations go unused because players decided to go elsewhere, planned Big Bads become allies (or get seduced), etc. A lot of running a game goes into concurrent Indy Ploys, also known as "making things up on the spot" and Sure, Let's Go with That.
  • Blades in the Dark plays this straight for the players, but not their characters. When you start a Score, everyone at the table only knows the general nature of your plan and a crucial detail for starting it (i.e. infiltration plan and the point of entry), while an Engagement roll determines how difficult the first obstacle will be when you start playing. Very little prep is done outside of this. However, your characters have access to both an inventory that is only defined when you need it to be and Flashbacks that let the player say "My character was prepared for that" whenever you meet a complication that you as a player weren't prepared for.
  • Dungeons & Dragons features this in the Final Battle of the "Divine Contention" questline. The player party has to defend the small town of Leilon from multiple threats at once: on one side, there's Ularan Mortus and his ghoulish army who serve the god of death Myrkul, along with the Chaotic Evil black dragon Chardansearavitriol. On the other side, there's Fheralai Stormsworn and the cult of the storm god Talos, along with the Lawful Evil green dragon Claugiyliamatar. The party has to deal with both of these forces attacking the city at the same time. Depending on what the players do, the situation adapts in multiple different ways, as seen on this handy flowchart. The DM is even advised in the quest's notes to give the players a boost if they show cleverness with their Indy Ploys by tilting the odds in their favor.
  • 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.
  • A common feature of every tabletop wargame, be it Warhammer, Iron Kingdoms or anything else. Sometimes you just lose a lynchpin of your strategy on turn one or two — your mech takes an unlucky hit and is crippled, your wizard decides to explore a new career as a frog or a smoking crater containing Smoldering Shoes, your reserves are delayed, your tanks are stuck in an unfortunate terrain feature — and you have to wing it from there.
  • Common strategy in Warhammer 40,000, most notably from the Orks and the Space Wolves. The Space Wolves, at least, are quite bright under their mostly feigned barbarian attitudes, meaning that they can have plans, they're just also really good at ad-libbing when it all goes to hell. The Orks, on the other hand:
    "Here's da plan: win. If we lose, it's 'cause ya didn't follow da plan."
    • A Boss with any chance of significant success has to be Kunnin' enough to put decent strategies together, but beyond those broad strokes, he and all his nobz and boyz will be implementing Indy Ployz that consist mainly of krumpin' everything in sight.

  • 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 Augean 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.
  • 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 (which would have been made of carved stone) at the mob. She knocked a few people out before the whole affair was through.

  • Since Magnus of The Adventure Zone: Balance is prone to rushing in, he's prone to making up combat plans on the fly.
    Travis: I'll tell you the one thing I've always got: an idea!

  • TV Tropes Roll To Dodge: From a few tropers doing simple actions for kicks, it has become people trying to save the world (or conquer it, or just mess with Sweden..) and various wacky hijinks.


    Video Games 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • The titular Phoenix Wright is essentially the video game world's avatar of this trope. Both he and his successor Apollo Justice, along with Miles Edgeworth in his two spinoff games, rely almost exclusively upon plans built upon the Indy Ploy; they'll walk in with nothing but evidence and a commitment to uncovering the truth, and are forced to constantly think on the fly to deal with whatever the witnesses, prosecutors, and suspects throw at them. The decision to request that the new information you've just pressed out of a witness be added to their testimony most often involves both him and the player thinking something to the effect of, "Great — now if only I knew where I was going with this."
    • Although this is completely averted in the last case of the first game, when Phoenix tricks the Big Bad by not only making them incriminate themselves, but also provide a legal reason as to why the evidence Phoenix collected in an unauthorized investigation can be presented in court all without said big bad knowing it. Phoenix very clearly states on multiple occasions during the final part of the case that he had planned it all out. In fact this plan will actually fool not only the Big Bad, but players themselves, resulting in a large percentage of people getting a game over on their first run-through, due to being tricked by Phoenix (Part of the plan was to refuse to do something that 99% of players would naturally assume they had to do, thus resulting in them picking the wrong opinion). It turns out he CAN plan things out after all.
    • 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.
    • Apollo Justice also happens to be the game where this trope is actually deconstructed, since the Big Bad's plot to get Phoenix disbarred actually depended on the fact that Phoenix would be flying by the seat of his pants. The rest of the game, while playing it straight, showed exactly how in the dark Apollo is, since he's being played by both Phoenix and the Big Bad.
    • 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!)
  • 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.
  • Bioshock Infinite. This is Booker DeWitt's standard procedure throughout the entire game. He's constantly jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, having to improvise in order to find Elizabeth, catch up to her again when she runs off and rescue her when she's captured. Justified because he has false memories of his past and a severe lack of useful information from his employers who do know what's going on — the Luteces. Lampshaded right after he kills Comstock: when Elizabeth asks him how they're going to destroy the Tower and the Siphon he says "I don't know, but I'll think of something on the way."
  • As with Guybrush, so too with George Stobbart of Broken Sword. Who else can discover an ancient artifact and escape an assassin with half a roll of hand-towels, a sturdy branch, a hand buzzer and a working knowledge of Latin?
    • Lampshaded in the second game; when Nicole asks him what the hell he's doing, George tells he likes to try random stuff in a crisis and see what sticks.
  • A villainous example in Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars. At first, it appears as if the Scrin are conducting a very well-organized, meticulously planned attack when they show up. But then when you play the third campaign of the game, it turns out that they didn't have a plan due to the fact that Kane tricked them into arriving almost a century too early, and their force was not equipped for an all-out war. Everything they do is simply a desperate attempt at a Delaying Action, turning a lot of their non-combat equipment into Improvised Weapons, and generally really hoping their enemies don't catch on to the fact that they're actually a lot less powerful than they seem.
    • The last third of the Nod campaign is also this, as Kane's entire plot was derailed by his subordinates sabotaging his own operation, due to thinking that LEGION was actually a threat to the Brotherhood instead of integral to Kane's plan. As a result he spends the last third of the campaign slapping together a plan to achieve his original goal from the remains of his own broken army, all the while fighting traitorous Nod forces, GDI, and the Scrin.
    • A larger example, as revealed in Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight, is Kane's ultimate goal of the series. It turned out that all he was trying to do was find some way to get off of Earth, and that every Tiberium War he started was more or less an Indy Ploy. Fans did not take this well at all.
  • This trope is what causes the climax of Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time. Cortex suddenly realizes that he can use the Quantum Masks' power to go back in time and warn Cortex that his attempt to use the Cortex Vortex on Crash will fail; that way, Crash will never acquire his heroic personality, effectively making him Ret-Gone. When Cortex doesn't believe him, he opts to just hold him captive and prevent him from going through with the Vortex experiment.
  • Adell from Disgaea 2 (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 backyard 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.
  • In The Elder Scrolls, this is a common trait for heroes of the Khajiit race, to the point that they even have a god for this concept, Baan Dar. He is commonly attributed with "the genius which lends itself to the creation of last-minute plans to foil the machinations of the Khajiit's foes."
  • 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".
  • Tidus from Final Fantasy X lives by this, and gets the entire party to go along with it near the end.
  • Snow Villiers in Final Fantasy XIII wholly embraces the make-it-up-as-you-go, When All You Have Is a Hammer… style of heroism. It works sometimes; sometimes not so much.
    Snow: Heroes don't need plans!
    • The rest of the group seem to start embracing this mentality (that, or Idiot Hero), most notably when they take an action that will destroy the world with no idea how to stop that from happening beyond the vague notion that "if we have the power to destroy [it], we must have the power to save it". A concept that doesn't really hold true in a lot of situations.
  • 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.
  • 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 whose lives were ruined, lost, or both.
  • In God of War (PS4), after Baldur kidnaps Atreus and prepares to open a bridge to Asgard, a desperate Kratos decides to take his chances and uses his own Bifrost to open the bridge early, which flings everyone present into the depths of Helheim. Kratos manages to wrest Atreus from Baldur while they are flying, but the duo then have to find a way to escape Helheim before its illusions drive them mad.
  • Hi-Fi RUSH: Most of the plans from Peppermint, Macaron etc. end up failing through either enemy action or Chai's Idiot Hero antics and force him to wing it from there. The attempt to get Korsika's password is particularly notable; in that one, even they can't figure out a plan beyond "Chai convinces her to help us somehow", and even that pretty much only works out because Kale is a Jerkass.
  • Just Cause 4: Lampshaded by Rico, early on.
    "A plan is just a list of things that can go wrong."
  • League of Legends:
    • In a meta sense, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy - especially in solo queue, and double especially at low levels, where "the plan" is generally "do your job effectively until either the teamfights start, or someone yells to go for dragon/Herald/Baron and you respond". This goes double if you were slightly too late to call your preferred position and end up forced into a role or lane you don't have a lot of experience with because people called all the other ones.
    • Part of Rakan and Xayah's dynamic is that Xayah is The Strategist, Rakan forgets the plans she comes up with. He also seems to be under the impression that "go on instinct" is strategic genius.
      Xayah: That's the opposite of a plan.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel has Rean who comes up with plans on the fly. One of his greatest feats is in Cold Steel IV where despite the fact that he's the hostage and he's the one Class VII needs to rescue, he's the one who comes up with a plan for everyone to escape the Black Workshop which is to have Gaius, Emma, and Celine create a portal for both the Bobcat II and the Merkabah Eight to show up with Vita, Aurelia, Agate, and Randy in tow.
  • Lonely Wolf Treat: Moxie's hotel business in the third game is founded entirely on a series of spur-of-the-moment ideas. When Moxie runs into money troubles, she spots a couple of travelers being denied access to the nearby rabbit village and lures them over to her home, which she claims to be a hotel. When the guests are reluctant to trust Moxie, she promises to put on a murder mystery play to entertain the guests. Once the guests get settled in, Moxie panics when she realizes she has to actually organize a murdery mystery now, but she and her friends nevertheless make it work despite only having two hours to set everything up.
  • In Lost Horizon, the main protagonist likes to operate this way, responding to the suggestion that he hasn't thought things through by saying "It's a lot more fun if you just worry about these things later." Given that the game takes a fair amount of inspiration from Indiana Jones, this may be a deliberate nod.
  • 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. Notably, Shepard is trained to do this, as a graduate of an elite special operations program that is designed to prepare the trainees to be able to adapt to any situation.
    Defense Councilor: We need a plan to stop them.
    Commander Shepard: We fight, or we die. That's the plan.
    • Unfortunately for everyone, Aria may be a hell of a badass, but she's a terrible strategist, meaning that the entirety of the Omega DLC for the third game is an Indy Ploy on the part of her and Shepard, after everything falls to pieces.
      Nyreen: How did you know you could do that?
      Aria: I didn't.
  • Used several times in all three of the Max Payne games. Max often finds himself wandering into a fortified complex full of gun-toting goons armed only with his trusty beretta and a handful of painkillers and no plan beyond 'kill the bad guys'. Somewhat subverted in that Max doesn't really care if he gets gunned down in a blaze of glory or not, since he's a notorious Death Seeker.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater 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.
  • Minecraft: Story Mode: While they always have a general idea of what they're trying to do, the unpredictable behavior of both Ivor and the Wither Storm keeps forcing Jesse and the rest of the team to improvise during emergencies. Lukas isn't too pleased about this.
    Lukas: We need a plan... and not the usual "we'll-come-up-with-a-plan-when-we-have-to-OH-WAIT-NOW-WE-HAVE-TO" kind.
  • 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.
  • Prince of Persia: The 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.
  • During the first level of Ratchet & 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, the Planetary Defence Center is 200 cubits below us. How do you propose we get down?
    Ratchet: I don't know. I'm kinda winging it right now.
  • Resident Evil 6: In his third chapter, Jake decides he's Tired of Running and decides to take down the attack helicopter that's hounding him and Chris's team, but then admits to Sherry that he's making it up as he goes and has no idea how he's going to pull it off. Fortunately, Sherry just happens to have some explosive rounds with her to even the odds.
  • 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.
  • This is basically how Maxwell from Scribblenauts does things. Come across a problem? Well, use the magic notebook to summon whatever Noodle Implements you want and solve it with them.
  • 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.
  • From Starcraft, we have Commander Jim Raynor. Despite the fact that he's well respected by Terran and Protoss 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 about 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.
  • Done by Gabe Logan in Syphon Filter 2 in the first level, nearly word for word.
  • 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?!
    Medic: HA HA! I HAVE NO IDEA!
    (cue Ubercharge and the BLU team getting their asses handed to them)
  • 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.
  • 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 characters in The Walking Dead (Telltale) video game series by Telltale generally come up with things on the fly. Most of the time, they'll have a plan, but it always gets thwarted, either by walkers overwhelming them or somebody deciding to act at just the wrong moment. Season 1 has the group plan to get a boat and head out to sea, but beyond that, they wing it. Season 2 deconstructs it when Kenny suggests that they'll improvise their plan on how to escape from Carver's camp, only to be admonished by Mike, who says, "You can't plan to improvise."

  • Xeus from The Beast Legion makes such a move when he takes on a plant mongrel in this page.
  • In Commander Kitty, the newly-confident Mittens is happy to get the "I'm sure it'll work out" part of his plan out of the way early on.
  • Darths & Droids
    • Jim (playing as both Qui-Gon Jinn and Han Solo) ostensibly has plans worked out in advance, but they make no sense in the first place and he goes Leeroy Jenkins on his own plans, so really it's all improvising.
    • Corey/Luke in has no idea what use a harpoon and tow cable will be in a battle against giant walking machines. (Note that Han Solo approves.)
  • 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!
  • Parson from Erfworld is a grand master of the Indy Ploy. He was summoned to be the perfect warlord and save an army outnumbered a zillion to one and losing badly. What he had accomplished up to that point had been impressive but he had not proven infallible. When his officers start to question him, he directly explains the concept of the Indy Ploy to his troops. As this speech happened two "volumes" ago in-comic, it isn't much of a spoiler that he finds a way.
  • In Freefall, this is Sam Starfall's stock in trade. After all, "Improvise is one of the few battle plans that survives contact with the enemy."
  • Gil claims to be doing this in Girl Genius. Apparently rendered plausible by past behavior.
  • In Homestuck, this is 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
  • 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.
  • This becomes Allison's signature style in Kill Six Billion Demons, thanks in large part to being Trapped in Another World, the unwilling owner of a Cosmic Keystone, and possibly the heiress to the Throne of the Multiverse. Best demonstrated when she offhandedly decides to make a pact with a devil to infiltrate a God-Emperor Reality Warper's flying palace to find her boyfriend and deals with the fallout as it comes.
    "I'm drunk as hell and I have no idea what I'm doing."
  • Lackadaisy:
    Rocky: Always be prepared to improvise, Freckle. That's rule number one for jazz players and vigilantes alike.
  • Misfile: Rumisiel. Even when his schemes work there is still an element of What Were You Thinking?.
  • 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.
  • Narbonic's Helen Narbon is an avowed fan of this approach: "It's times like these I almost question my usual strategy of doing whatever dumb thing pops into my head."
  • The Order of the Stick's reliance on this is lampshaded in this strip:
    Hilgya: That's it? That's your plan?
    Roy: I hear what you're saying, but you have to understand it's been a shockingly effective strategy for us in the past.
    Thog: then how talky man use intelligence in fight with thog?
    Roy: I don't know yet, OK?! I'll figure something out, that's sort of the whole point. (And he does.)
  • 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, not to mention it makes a proper mess of his allies' own plans.
    Plan E vanishes in a puff of unpredictability, and colonel Pranger finds himself in the unenviable position of having to orchestrate twenty-five minutes or more of "winging it"
    • This is not unusual, and in fact it's unusual for a plan to not devolve into one sooner or later (often within minutes). Mercenary work and careful planning don't mesh well past the first shots fired, and the Toughs' tendency to barge into others' plans without even knowing it makes sure everyone gets to try and improvise their way out of the newest clusterfuck.
  • Quant from Tower of God found himself in a very sticky situation: Hoh was holding Rachel hostage and tried to kill her before, Paracule and Mauchi were trying to profit from this and pierce him with their lances and Bam 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 Hoh, 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?
  • Wigu:
    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.

    Web Original 
  • In Door Monster's The Guards Themselves, Noam and the crew show up to free their comrades from jail, but have no plan for actually getting them out. Lampshaded by Emma.
    Emma: Oh, you're unprepared? Oh my god, who could have seen that coming?
  • 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.
  • The Brotherhood of the Poofy Pants in Obleeq, from NatOne Productions rely heavily on making it up as they go along. As their Spiritual Advisor Grabpot Thundergust would say, "Murradin will provide."
  • Outside Xbox:
    • Often, the main Oxbox team will take on a level of Hitman (2016) or Hitman 2 in a video style known as "Three Ways to Play". Within these videos, while Andy tries to be a Consummate Professional and has on multiple occasions ended with a Silent Assassin rating, both Jane and Mike tend to rely on improvisation: Jane gets close to the target and then just does whatever she thinks will work, and Mike tends to kill NPC's at random and actively looks for the most spectacular way to kill his targets, meaning that they have had to do a lot of frantically revising strategies, ducking through the first available door, hiding in a box for ages or fleeing in a hail of gunfire.
    • This is the Oxventurers Guild's primary MO in their Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Luke's character Dob at one point straight up stops pre-planning half a sentence into an idea.
      Dob: What if we get Christopher to bring one of us in by the scruff of the neck and say “I caught this prisoner trying to escape!”, and from there maybe a plan will formulate on the fly!
  • Dr. Kondraki of the SCP Foundation loves this. Some of the steps of his plan to terminate SCP-083 were "Wing It," "Make Something Up," "Cross That Bridge When I Come To It," and "Put My Head Between My Knees And Kiss My Ass Goodbye". The linked tale even name drops the trope name in an interview with Dr. Rights:
    "Look, the man's a master of the Indy Ploy. And sometimes, actually…all the time, there's collateral damage. But that doesn't change the fact that he, in some bizarre way, knows what he's doing. And hey…if it's saved my ass a few dozen times over, that doesn't hurt."
    • The brief online SCP-themed roleplay channel, the rules of which were crafted by both Kondraki and the even more infamous Fishmonger. The game system they devised was actually designed to be imbalanced on purpose, and players were encouraged to make characters with absolutely ludicrous stats. Indy ploys were a normal function of gameplay; arguably there was no point where the resultant campaign was actually on the rails.
  • 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.
  • Unlike many practitioners of the Indy Ploy, Skitter, protagonist of Worm, prefers to go into battle with a solid plan. When that's not possible, or when unexpected circumstances derail the plan, she has a gift for inventing effective tactics on the fly using anything and everything she can get her hands (or insects) on.

    Western Animation 
  • 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."
  • Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender never seems to think things through and frequently suffers for it. Iroh calls him out on it because his success rate is much worse than that of Indiana Jones.
    • "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 plan 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 Omnitrix. Depending on the Writer, of course.
    • Also of note is that although Ben had access to numerous transformations with vast strategic value, such as a resilliant pyrokinetic with pseudo-flight capabilities and a laser-equipped, technopathic, nanobot construct with blob-esque attributes, Ben's most-used form in the series by far is the four-armed Mighty Glacier whose selling point is Super-Strength (despite half of his other forms having superhuman strength to begin with).
    • The Omnitrix often disagreed with Ben's choices in the first series, necessitating Ben having to think up a plan other than 'hit it till it stops moving' on the fly. Especially if the Omnitrix decided to turn him into Grey Matter.
  • A particularly 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!
  • 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.
    Ron: Better mess with everything.
  • Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness. Po's tendency to do this is spoofed in "Chain Reaction".
    Tigress: (as they're falling to their deaths) BAD IDEA! BAD IDEA!
  • 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.
  • Mr. Benn: Every story would have a conundrum for Mr. Benn to solve. It's only thanks to his timely genius that they get solved at all, often with little time to think. One wonders if he and MacGyver are sharing notes.
  • Daring Do does this in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Rainbow Dash does it lots more.
  • 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*
  • 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.
  • Rick of Rick and Morty frequently improvises plans on the spot, with most of them succeeding thanks to his genius.
    • Nowhere is this more apparent that the Season 3 premiere. Rick had turned himself in to the Federation in order to take it down from the prison he was in, and uses the machine being used to interrogate him to transfer his mind into the body of a Federation agent. His original plan was just to get Level 9 access, but other Ricks come in to kill him. So, for his new plan, he transfers his mind to one of the other Ricks, goes back to the Citadel of Ricks, then transfers it to a higher-ranked Rick, goes to a room, and teleports the entire citadel back to the prison he was originally in, thus telefragging both facilities at once and breaking into the level he wanted to get into in the first place.
      Rick: And that is how you get Level 9 access without a password.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: Although Plankton is usually shown to have elaborate schemes, he does hang a Lampshade on this concept on at least one occasion.
    Krabs: Plankton! You knew I would never distrust a dollar!
    Plankton: That's right, Krabs. Now hand over the Krabby Patty Secret Formula!
    Krabs: Or what?
    Plankton: ...I don't know. I never thought I'd get this far.
  • The Young Justice team learn this as their first lesson from Batman: when the plan goes south, good heroes make do.

    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.
    • Disgruntled Ferret of MS Paint Masterpieces (whose comic is posted on the Bob and George website) had a story all planned out but lost some sprite sheets he prepared. He was forced to improvise and change the whole ending to his version of events for the second Megaman game. It worked out surprisingly well.
  • 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. J. R. R. 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. In fact, this is very common among mangaka who publish works on a weekly basis, due to the small window of time they have to come up with anything. One of the more extreme examples out there is Akira Toriyama, who came up with his plots while he was drawing each chapter.
  • Writer Sid Fleischman once quipped, "I'm anxious to get to my desk each morning to find out what's going to happen."
  • 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 downfield 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 Roman Catholic Church has had to make use of some Indy ploys since the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in February, 2013.
    • First, Benedict had been the first Pope to resign in nearly 600 years. The Vatican had to determine Benedict's status after he left office, along with his title, manner of dress, whether he would have duties of any sort, and where he would reside. A larger concern was the possibility of disagreement between Benedict and whoever his successor was and the church splitting into rival camps.
      • Benedict for his part tried to assaguage these concerns by saying he'd just go off into retirement and publically made a vow of obedience to the new Pope. He also announced that he would become Pope Emeritus, wear a modified form of vestments, and not hold any sort of office or have official duties. In later years he asked to be called Father Benedict in conversations.
    • As Benedict's health worsened towards the end of 2022 church officials found themselves wondering how they would proceed when Benedict died as there was no modern precedent for a funeral of a retired Pope. While there are elaborate rituals surrounding the death and funeral of a Pope, those are largely for Popes who die while in office so when Benedict died on December 31 the church found itself having to make it up as they went when it came to Benedict's funeral.
      • While there were some elements of Papal funerals included in Benedict's services, some elements were left out as Benedict was not the reigning Pope when he died. Only Germany and Italy were invited to send official delegations.note 
      • Benedict's funeral marked the first time in modern times that a reigning Pope presided over the funeral of his predecessor as Francis led the ceremonies for Benedict.
  • 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."
  • Mike Tyson basically said the same thing, but more succinct: "Everyone has a plan 'til they get hit in the face."
  • After he retired undefeated, Floyd Mayweather Jr said in many interviews that he never had a plan going into a fight. He didn't study fight footage of an opponent because styles make fights, and he never based his fight plan on what another boxer was able to do against the same opponent. He would study the fighter in the middle of the fight, make the adjustments and win. A martial arts expert made a video about Mayweather's career and concluded that he would almost always lose the early rounds of a fight before figuring out how to win.
  • A celebrated military mind of the 19th century, German Generalfeldmarschall 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! He 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. In large part this is because of NASA's tendency to be Crazy-Prepared: if something happens that isn't covered by "flip to page 173 of the LM Operator's Handbook and follow procedure 6", it's really out there.
    • The mission in between, Apollo 12, was struck by lightning (twice!) during launch and was saved from having to abort only because flight controller John Aaron (the original "steely-eyed missile man") had seen similarly garbled flight telemetry during an earlier simulation and remembered what had worked to fix it. He made the call "try SCE to aux", instructing the astronauts to flip a switch so obscure that only Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean (who'd been in the same sim a year prior) knew where it was on the console.
  • World War II: On June 6th, 1944, Operation Overlord became this trope writ LARGE even before the first troops hit the beaches. To the tune of hundreds of thousands of US and Allied troops.
    • The US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were especially good at this trope. The whole role of paratroopers is to be cut off behind enemy lines with limited supplies and often no contact with command at all. You complete your mission and hope to god the main friendly force reaches you before you run out of ideas/bullets/people.
  • Any teacher in a given children's school may have to plan like this. There's always something going on, derailing the education.
  • Your own life. It's always a running cycle of ploys.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Best Plan Is No Plan, No Plan, Making Up Your Plan


I Was All Like "Roar"

When Otabin has Luz and Amity partially sewn into his book, Luz is able to get them both away from him, but she admits she didn't think her plan would work and doesn't know what to do next.

How well does it match the trope?

4.69 (32 votes)

Example of:

Main / IndyPloy

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