Follow TV Tropes


Infallible Babble

Go To

Whenever anybody comes up to you with a patently ludicrous claim (such as, "I'm not a cat, I'm really an ancient Red Dragon") there's an at least two-thirds chance they're telling the truth. Therefore, it pays to humor everyone you meet; odds are you'll be glad you did later on.
Law of Productive Gullibility (Ruby Rule), The Grand List of Console Role Playing Game Clichés #101

Information's answer to Chekhov's Gun.

When provided information in a work, you need not ever take it with a grain of salt. Given the limited amount of time and lines of text allotted to exposition, The Law of Conservation of Detail ensures that the information provided to the hero by casual bystanders is both entirely accurate and nearly always relevant to the plot. This holds true even if the information is a vaguely remembered myth, a prophecy spouted by a raving preacher, a hypothesis posited by a scientist (mad or not), or a rumor that some event or other is taking place somewhere.

The trope is particularly common in video games, which often rely on players talking to everyone as a way of teaching them what to do next. And thanks to Conservation Of Detail, when a video game gives you this information, not only will the expositor be correct, but it's also a pretty good bet that you'll be required to follow their advice at some point. As such, video games might spice things up by putting the information in the mouth of an unexpected source, taking advantage of a setting where All Myths Are True, or lampshading the sheer unlikelihood of a certain plot element.

But the trope can be seen in all media, since the audience has the right to expect that every bit of dialogue will serve the plot. It's sneaky at the least to throw in information that you don't expect to follow up on (though having it pay off in an unexpected way is fair game).

Contrast Treacherous Advisor and Treacherous Quest Giver, who often misguide you with false information.


    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • In The Umbrella Academy, Rumor's power works this way — anything she says, if preceded with "I heard a rumor that" or something to that degree, automatically becomes true.
  • In the Astro City story "Pastoral", not all of Roustabout's backstory — treated in-story as speculation — comes up, but enough does that Cammie realizes he may have told the truth all along.
  • Delirium from The Sandman (1989) is the personification of insanity. Even though she babbles a lot at length about nonsense it's been stated that she knows some things which Destiny, who carries a book that knows everything that's going to happen, does not. It's considered unwise to listen to her too closely but equally unwise to ignore her completely. Notably, she makes a coherent observation about the nature of herself and her siblings in unintentionally molding the destinies of everyone who crosses where they've been.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World, the four are bombarded with sayings, poems, rumors, and suchlike. They're told that these things are the only way the Pyar gods can communicate with their imported heroes, so George dubs them "Gods Chat". Some of what they find is relevant to them, but much isn't.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Played with in 2012, in which absolutely everything the zany Conspiracy Theorist spouts turns out to be absolutely true — except for the arks being spaceships rather than big boats.
  • Double Subverted in The Blair Witch Project: All the strange events notwithstanding, the local folks' babbling about the witch seems to be just that — until the very last scene, where it turns out to be at least partly true.
  • In The Dark Knight Rises Bane holds up Commissioner Gordon's speech that outlines the truth of Harvey Dent and reads it to a crowd of people who immediately react with shock, rage, and horror. Why anyone would instantly accept the man they'd hailed as a hero for near 10 years was actually a monster, why anyone would believe this unverifiable piece of paper that could have been written by anyone, and why anyone would take at complete face value all of this read to them by the villain who had taken over their city and turned it into a collapsed police state, is anyone's guess, but of course he's actually telling the truth and everyone believes it without question.

  • Harry Potter:
    • Played with in earlier books with Professor Trelawney, the Divination teacher who was notorious for making grand, outlandish predictions that either totally failed to come true (Harry and Ron had a better track record just from making stuff up) or were bleeding obvious (mostly involving Harry being in "grave danger"). But she got her job on the strength of a completely accurate prophecy about Harry which becomes a key plot element and which was surprisingly detailed — only she made it in a trance and has no recollection of it. It was also a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, as Voldemort, trying to kill the child who would eventually defeat him, marked Harry "as his equal" and gave him the power and desire to defeat him.
    • In Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore finally shares his theories with Harry about why Voldemort is as powerful as he is and how he can be defeated. He openly states that he's totally speculating — and yet nearly everything he says, especially about Voldemort's use of Horcruxes, is basically accurate. Some of this can be attributed to Dumbledore just hedging his bets, given that he had a lot of evidence that Voldemort was using Horcruxes but really wanted some final proof (hence his year-long Batman Gambit to convince Slughorn to admit to Harry that he explained the concept to a young Tom Riddle). And he was still lacking in some of the details; although he was right that Voldemort would likely place his Horcruxes in things that were personally significant to him, he wasn't certain on what those were, and Harry himself had to figure them out (although Dumbledore may have known that one of them is Harry himself but didn't tell him because he didn't want to alarm Harry and needed him to be willing to make a Heroic Sacrifice.
    • Subverted in the case of the Deathly Hallows. People seemed to believe all the legends about how they worked as being totally accurate, but it turned out that although they're certainly very powerful magical artifacts, they aren't all-powerful in the way people expected. The Elder Wand could indeed be defeated straight-up (Dumbledore did it himself) — its real power was inducing a never-ending cycle of You Kill It, You Bought It (and Harry beats the cycle and buries the wand at the very end). The Resurrection Stone does resurrect the dead, but not in a way anybody wanted, which was again the lesson it intended to impart (although Harry properly used it for inspiration from his dead family and friends, not to resurrect them). And the Invisibility Cloak is more powerful than any other of its kind, but even it can be beaten (e.g. Moody can see through it with his magic eye).
  • Subverted in The Wheel of Time series, where rumors continually pop up, and most of them turn out to be false. The series indeed seems to run on Poor Communication Kills. The main characters can be very gullible, which is mocked very well in ISAM's parody summaries.
  • Used in a sense in Star Wars: Allegiance, where the babble is coming from an Imperial Stormtrooper who's trying to distract Mara Jade with chitchat. She knows it's a distraction, but she lets him talk in the hopes that he ends up Saying Too Much. He indeed talks about Stormtroopers deserting, which turns out to be important to the plot.
  • Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian:
    • In Shadows In Zamboula, Conan is thoroughly warned about staying with Aram Baksh, where he hired a room.
    • In The Hour of the Dragon, the rumors that Conan is Not Quite Dead spread over the entire kingdom without getting mangled.
    • In The Phoenix on the Sword, Conan has heard the rumors on Epemitreus's ghost, down to his purpose being to aid Aquilonia, and he's got everything right; Epemitreus has only to explain that Conan's destiny is tied to the land.
  • This happens in most of H. P. Lovecraft's stories, and especially The Shadow Over Innsmouth, in which the insane ramblings of the town drunk all seem to be horrifically true.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Averted in A Game of Thrones, where the reader has already learned the facts of the king's death (probably), but Arya has to find out by listening to the rumors among the crowd at her father's execution. They vary wildly.
    • In A Dance with Dragons, Tyrion treats his father's last words ("wherever whores go") as Infallible Babble concerning the location of his lost love Tysha.
  • The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires: While Miss Mary, Patricia's mother in law, has severe Alzheimers, her babble proves infallible when she's telling Patricia that James Harris is "the man in the white suit" from her childhood.
  • Subverted in A Brother's Price: The newspapers make every rumor easily available to everyone, and very little of what they say that the characters notice is true.
  • In Xanth, Princess Ida's magical talent is the "idea"; anything she believes is true becomes true, provided that the idea came to her from someone who does not know about her abilities — so you can't just plant an idea in her head. (And yes, she could agree with her own ideas, when she wasn't yet aware of her talent. Too bad about figuring it out...)
  • Lampshaded in The Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul: Dirk tries to make some cash on the side by becoming a Phony Psychic. Every prediction he makes, no matter how off-the-wall or strange, is absolutely true. He primarily finds this irritating. At one point he even sarcastically fingers a random bystander who ticked him off as the Big Bad. He's right.
  • Twice about the same thing in Dark Places. Libby hears a true crime presentation about the Angel of Debt while she's looking for her family's stall, but more clearly, Patty hears a rumor about a guy who is able to kill people and Make It Look Like an Accident so their insurance will pay up. Both of these refer to the same thing and are correct.

     Live Action TV  
  • Firefly:
    • River is the series' resident Talkative Loon, but many of her seemingly random utterances have a ring of truth to them. It's justified by the fact that she has Psychic Powers, meaning she can read minds and see the future. Unfortunately for her, she can't control her abilities and often has trouble understanding what's going on.
    • Subverted with the Reavers: characters hear and disseminate all sorts of theories about them, all of which and we do mean all, as shown in The Movie turn out to be wrong. Mal suggests they've been separated from civilization too long, and Kaylee suggests that they reached the edge of space, saw nothing beyond, and instantly went mad from the isolation. It turns out that they were the product of Government Drug Enforcement that went horribly wrong.
  • The X-Files:
    • In far too many episodes, Mulder will randomly spout a random guess about the nature of the Monster of the Week. No matter how little information he has, whether that information is remotely reliable, or how many other explanation there could be for it, his random guesses are almost always right.
    • Specifically inverted in the episode "War of the Coprophages", which mostly consists of Scully debunking Mulder's various (increasingly insane) theories about why people in a particular town are dying in cockroach-related ways.
  • Inverted in Psych: Shawn regularly tells outlandish lies in an attempt to make himself sound more interesting. And he does this in addition to claiming to be a psychic. And yet they end up being true in spite of this, even though Shawn knows he's lying.
  • Doctor Who:
    • One executive producer and writer complained at length in a episode commentary about the fact that any time a sci-fi character starts giving exposition, the audience automatically believes him, despite the fact that he may very well be wrong or confused.
    • In The Doctor's Wife Idris (i.e. the TARDIS in human form) says a lot of things, very fast and with pretty much no context. You would be excused for thinking it's utter nonsense, but much of what she says (if it's not a random observation like whether fish have fingers) foreshadows something either later in the episode or coming up in the next few episodes. She just has very strange notions of time and causality.
  • In Power Rangers RPM, a guard remarks that a Venjix hardware detector has been giving him false positives all day when it goes off on Tenaya 7. In the two-part finale it turns out they weren't.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In "Once More With Feeling", Giles' first line in "I've Got A Theory" turns out to be spot-on, even if he doesn't believe it himself at first:
    Giles: I’ve got a theory... that it’s a demon! A dancing demon? No, something isn’t right there.
    • In "Earshot", Buffy tells the Scoobies that someone in the cafeteria is planning to kill everyone, and Xander quips that he told everyone that the lunch lady would do them all in with her mulligan stew. That's exactly how it would go down.
  • The fourth season premiere of The Flash (2014) has Barry doing this after he is brought back from being in the Speed Force for six months, writing unusual symbols all over the walls and saying random phrases that he's said in the past, or will say in the future, serving as Foreshadowing even after he gets better and doesn't remember anything he said. One example is him claiming that he hasn't killed anyone, and in the mid-season finale he is framed for murder, and he ends up saying those exact same lines later during his trial. Another notable thing he said was "Nora shouldn't be here", which turns out to be a reference to his daughter from the future travelling back in time to meet him, which leads him to say that line in the premiere of the fifth season.

  • Panic! at the Disco's "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" implies that the protagonist is going to leave his fiancee at the altar ("technically our marriage is saved") because he heard a waiter call her a whore.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay's Enemy Within campaign gives the GM several rumours that the players might encounter when talking to people, some of which have a grain of truth. On the other hand, most were just rubbish.
  • The infamous story of the Head of Vecna is an aversion: a Dungeons & Dragons DM was playing two groups of players against each other. The first group had the idea to come up with a rumor of a third example of one of Vecna's magical remains (the Eye and Hand being objects that grant you their power if you remove your own eye or hand and replace them with the Artifact of Doom). The rumor was given to the local townsfolk and was then overheard by Group Two, who then marched their way into the dungeon where a fake head was placed and attempted to graft it on to one of their numbers by decapitating themselves. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Subverted in Paranoia, where many adventures have a list of rumors provided for the Gamemaster to drop to players. Given that virtually everyone in Alpha Complex lies constantly to protect themselves, though, this means the occasional true rumor will be disregarded as well.

     Video Games 

  • Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines generally subverts the trope, as almost everyone you meet is trying to manipulate your actions and influence your opinions in various directions to follow their own agendas. This is especially true with the various vampire characters and their minions — even the relatively benign ones, who seem to be doing it to learn more about you (or for laughs). The main exception is the Malkavians, who play this trope absolutely straight. A Malkavian PC is a Talkative Loon, utterly hilarious, and drops major spoilers every third word, not that you'll realize it until your second playthrough.
  • Averted in Deus Ex. Characters will lie based on their own various agendas, not even just concerning grand, important topics but smaller, subtler issues.
  • Inverted in Final Fantasy VI, where the people of Zozo always lie, so you basically know what the truth is because you know what it isn't. This is especially true when you're trying to find the Chainsaw, which requires you to Talk to Everyone and narrow down what time a stopped clock needs to be set to by process of elimination to gain access to it. The culmination of this is one character saying, "Zozo? Never heard of it!" Even the boss will tell you that he dislikes fighting and he'll let you pass by him unscathed, immediately before attacking you. The only guy in the town who does tell the truth is of no significance until the second half of the game.
  • Hollow Knight: Most NPCs either don't know anything plot-important or are disinclined to discuss any of it with you... and then there's Zote, whose 57 Precepts are mostly a jumble of nonsense, but contain major storyline hints. Zote is correct to mistrust dreams (unlike gravity, mothers, and statues), since that's how the infection spreads, and his Precept "seek truth in the darkness" basically describes the path to the True Ending.
  • In Phantasy Star I and Phantasy Star II, half of the planet Dezo is comprised of pathological liars. In the second game, even one set of Translator Microbes will cause everyone to lie to you.
  • Subverted in Star Control II, where some rumors are true, but others are incomplete or false. The game is largely about figuring out and fixing what's going on, and part of the challenge is deciding which information is reliable. However, all of the information you pay for will be both true and relevant (if not always useful), as the Knowledge Brokers tend to be much better informed than everyone else.
  • From Persona:
    • Inverted in Persona 2, where you have the ability to spread rumors among other people and make them come true, even if some of those affected are kind of confused:
      "I don't know what the mob is, but here's some of their stuff for sale."
    • In Persona 3, the students at the campus entrance are discussing rumors about the plot or the city that often provide clues about new characters, clubs, stores, or potential Social Links.
  • Averted in Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, where the villager NPCs vary from right, to partly right, to completely wrong. The manual straight up warns you that they don't always tell the truth — but sometimes they do, so you have to figure out what's reliable and what's not, and in a few places talking to people is the only way to get any useful advice. Longtime scuttlebutt was that this was because of a bad translation, but the Japanese script was just as incomprehensible. In any event, the dialogue sets the tone for each town, and for the game as a whole (especially given that many of the villagers don't actually want to help you resurrect Dracula, even if you're doing it so you can slay him again).
  • Subverted in NetHack: The fortune cookies throughout the game will pull fortunes from two massive files of information: the "true rumors file" follows this trope to the letter, while the "false rumors file" is filled with irrelevant, useless, and even dangerous information ("A cockatrice corpse is guaranteed to be untainted!"). The game also includes an Oracle, who can be paid to tell facts from the true file only, and can even be paid a massive sum to tell you major true secrets, one of which is the answer to an obnoxious Mastermind puzzle in the mid-to-late game.
  • Subverted at the end of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, where the Final Boss tells you that the whole "legend of The Chosen One" was a rumor he started himself. Then you go on to defeat him anyway.
  • In Viva Piñata, Leafos, who starts out guiding you through the tutorial and giving you hints, turns out to have been spewing false gossip at least half the time. You don't have any way of figuring out what the truth is.
  • In Drakengard, people are trying to tell you the truth, but most people, including members of your party, barely know anything about the important stuff, and it's all speculation — this is why the same beings might be referred to by different characters by different names. Anything people tell you that happens to be a concrete fact is almost completely irrelevant.
  • Ogre Battle is usually totally right with its exposition, with a couple of exceptions:
    • When you encounter Sirius at the beginning of the Lake Jannenia level, he'll tell you that the local boss is great, he's thinking about joining your rebellion, and it's best to visit him at night. Turns out the local boss is Sirius, who's actually a werewolf. The other people in the town will hint obliquely at what's really going on, and one hidden town will tell you outright if you find it.
    • There's a recruitable character in the Valley of Kastro, but every town you visit describes him differently — and none of them fully correctly.
  • Lunar: Eternal Blue has the red dragon Ruby (whom the page quote references), who looks like a flying cat but really isn't (and will take offense at being called one).
  • Ultima III is notorious for mentioning objects in dialogue that never appear anywhere in the game.
  • Yggdra Union does this to drop hints very, very early in the game of your encounter with Nessiah in the final chapter, by having an NPC mention a "wandering magician" who made a small contribution to the chaos you're seeing.
  • The Elder Scrolls generally plays it straight — if you come upon some lunatic NPC babbling about something, there's a very good chance that he's involved with a quest. But there are some exceptions:
    • In The Elder Scrolls: Arena, some NPCs will occasionally hint that certain political figures are cannibals or doppelgangers. They aren't (at least as far as you can find out), except for Emperor Uriel Septim — whom you found out is an impostor right at the start of the game (and probably isn't a cannibal).
    • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, the main quest involves finding the correct interpretation of a certain prophecy. You find out pretty early on that the most common interpretation is inaccurate.
    • Every game in the series since Morrowind has had M'aiq the Liar, a recurring Easter Egg Legacy Character, who not only doesn't like to tell the truth, but is also a Fourth-Wall Observer who constantly breaks said wall to complain about both Bethesda and the Unpleasable Fanbase — particularly the things they wanted in the game but which weren't implemented or were removed. Most of what he says is blatantly false — but not all of it.
  • GoldenEye subverts this unintentially: you're told that Xenia Onatopp might be on board the Frigate, but there's no trace of her ever being there. It turned out to have been a last-minute change; the large helipad was originally planned to play host to a boss fight.
  • Fallout:
    • In Fallout 2, you don't know if people who offer you money to do a quest are trying to scam you or not. Some are (e.g. the Jet addict prostitute in Redding who convinces you that you can save her and her boyfriend), and some are not despite seeming to (e.g. the hobo you can lend to early in the game, who will amazingly pay you back with massive interest when you return later).
    • In Fallout: New Vegas, No-Bark Noonan sounds like he's lost his last marble (and all the other residents of Novac are inclined to agree), but much of what he says is true, particularly about anything going on in Novac, although his interpretation of events might be totally skewed (e.g. you can guess from his description who's behind the cattle mutilations, despite his contention that it was a chupacabra with an automatic weapon). The problem is that his appearance and manner of speaking basically discourage anyone from ever believing him.
    • At the start of New Vegas, the residents of Goodsprings warn not to head north on the Interstate-15 freeway because the quarry up that way is having problems with critters that "just get mad when you shoot 'em." Turns out that's exactly where the deathclaws like to hang out.
  • In Lighthouse: The Dark Being, Lyril, the Temple's sacred ward and storyteller, mainly serves to provide your objective for the rest of the game and some backstory to the world you're in, but her malfunctioning life support system jumbles her speech. On top of that, she won't let you leave until every possible line of dialogue has been exhausted, though there is a holographic recording you can watch that delivers a much more thorough retelling of the backstory.
  • In Black Mirror III, the player has the option to call a fortune teller. If you decide to do so, she gives you some cryptic advice which turns out to be helpful in the next chapter.
  • In BioShock, you spend half the game being led around by Atlas, who turns out to have been lying to you about everything since the beginning. This also means that when the clearly imbalanced Peach Wilkins accuses you of working for Frank Fontaine despite Frank Fontaine having been dead for a long time as far as you know, he turns out to have been right.
  • In the NES Who Framed Roger Rabbit, if you ask someone for help (i.e. to find out whether there are any goodies in the building), they might lie to you — but if they are, the answer will be phrased in a specific way you can pick up on.
  • Lampshaded in EarthBound (1994), where a woman in the First Town says she would love to tell you a story, but it's not relevant to your quest, and hearing strange stories like that from NPCs would make you more likely to ignore them when they're telling the truth.
  • In Faria, townspeople often drop accurate hints about things they should have no reason to be concerned about, like how many statues are in the nearest tower or what the boss's weakness is.
  • In Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, the Jolly Swagman's ECHO recording describes an ancient temple in a great, glowing, purple rift that echoes with the deafening silent prayers of its long dead worshipers. If you've played either of the earlier games, this sounds an awful lot like the Eridian ruins surrounding the Vaults.
  • Final Fantasy XIV plays with this quite a bit in the main story. Its not uncommon to be sent checking out rumors relating to the current main goal, and while you usually stumble upon something that needs to be dealt with, its often a dead end in terms of said goal.