Created By: bobfrank on January 21, 2013 Last Edited By: StarSword on April 19, 2013
Troped

Sparse List Of Rules

A long list that the audience only learns part of

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Rolling Updates

School Rule No.145 : "No boy is to enter the room of any girl."
School Rule No.146 : "No girl is to enter the room of any boy."
School Rule No.147 : (provisional) : "It has been pointed out that our injunction to 'read boys for girls, and vice versa', can, if taken together with the two previous rules by someone with little to do but argue, mean that no pupil is to be in any room at all. This was not the intention. No pupil is to be anywhere except where they should be. A girl is defined as a young person of the female persuasion."
School Rule No.149 : Arguing over the wording of school rules is forbidden."
-- rules of the Assassin's Guild School, Discworld: Night Watch

Characters in fiction frequently have a set of basic principles to live by. But sometimes, authors want to give the impression of a complex system of principles with a lot of thought put into it, without actually spending the time and mental effort to design the system.

One common way to do this is to declare that there are a large number of such rules, and then quote a few of them, in order to give the audience the general idea of what the rules are about. This trope is frequently employed in a TV series or a long book or series of books, so that the author(s) can add new items to the list as time goes by. Rule #1 from the list is inevitably mentioned at some point, usually early on, though it's not always the first rule to be revealed.

The name comes from "sparse list", a technique used by computer programmers to efficiently manage large numbered lists with many elements missing.

May incorporate Obvious Rule Patches and be counteracted through Loophole Abuse. Characters may use these to Bother by the Book. See also the Great Big Book of Everything, or its subtrope, the Big Book of War, either of which may be where the characters are quoting rules from.

Examples:

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[[folder:Film]]
  • Subverted in Zombieland where only a handful or rules ("Cardio, Cardio, Cardio") are brought up, but a whole lot more were presented via internet in short promotional clips leading up the the film's release.
  • In Phantom of the Paradise, the contract that Winslow Leach signs with Swan is presented as a thick paper manuscript. Winslow only asks about one or two of the entries, including the all encompassing "All articles that are excluded shall be deemed included."
  • Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith: Order 66, the order for Grand Army of the Republic to turn on its Jedi generals, comes from a list of at least 150 contingency orders. Only four others are known, all of which come from the Republic Commando Series by Karen Traviss.
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[[folder:Literature]]
  • In the fifth Captain Underpants book, the school reveals it has the Big Book O' Rules, with nearly 8000 rules. We only hear two: "Rule 411: Don't kick school property into space", and "Rule 7,734: Don't transform into big, flying robots during afternoon recess."
  • The Assassin's Guild School in the Discworld series has quite a list of rules, as one might expect, but the only ones we hear about are the rules regarding boys and girls being restricted to their own dormitories, seen in the page quote, and Rule 16 and its subrules forbidding keeping a crocodile in one's bedroom.
  • There are 700 ways to commit a foul in Quidditch in the Harry Potter franchise, but the readers only learn a small selection of them and then mostly through the side book Quidditch Through the Ages. This is mainly because these are far and away the most common fouls: most of the rest are Obvious Rule Patches such as, "It is illegal to attack your opponent with an axe."
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[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
  • The Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There are canonically 285 rules, though less than 100 of them are actually mentioned in the show. The first Rule was actually devised by the first Grand Nagus, and named "The 162nd Rule of Acquisition" as a marketing ploy to create demand for the first 161. Rule #1: "Once you have their money, never give it back."
  • Gibbs' Rules from NCIS, a list of rules said agent has come up with for how to run a successful investigation. This fansite catalogs the whole list so far. Rule #1? "Never screw over your partner."
  • Red Dwarf has the Space Core Directives that Kryten would often quote. Rimmer ended up quoting directives back but always being wrong. In one episode we see the book of directives and it's rather small despite the high numbers mentioned complete with multiple subcategories for each one, and rules for every situation including preforming oral sex in a zero-g environment.
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[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
  • Some Warhammer 40,000 storylines and fluff use the Codex Astartes like this, for example in an early mission of Dawn of War's single-player campaign where Captain Gabriel Angelos notes what the Codex's recommended course of action in response to the Orks' tactics is.
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[[folder:Video Games]]
  • In the Halo series, the Cole Protocol is the most important Naval code to humanity's fleet, since it lists the actions they are not allowed to do to prevent the Covenant from discovering Earth. However several rules are often ignored because they're just technicalities. We only hear one of those, Subsection 7: "No captured Covenant vessel can be brought back to human space without a thorough search for tracking devices." (Useless because the Covenant self-destruct all their vessels in danger of capture.)
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[[folder:Webcomics]]
  • Schlock Mercenary brings us [["Big Book of War The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries,"]] of which only 35 are known so far. Maxim #1 is, "Pillage, then burn."
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[[folder:Web Original]] [[/folder]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
  • The Fairly Oddparents: Fairy Godparents are restricted to a large list of rules listed in a gigantic book titles 'Da Rules'. Cosmo and Wanda would pull out the rule book any time Timmy plans on making a wish that would break the rules. It's never said how many rules there are, but new ones are mentioned frequently.
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[[folder:Real Life]]
  • Most people only ever learn the sections of legal codes that directly affect them. This includes lawyers, who typically specialize in a particular area of the law.
  • Like most families the Obamas laid out some rules for her daughters. The public at large only knows some of them, making a quasi-example of this trope.
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Community Feedback Replies: 19
  • January 21, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    I think that Gibbs' rules from 'NCIS' would go here. The Number One Rule: 'Never Screw Over Your Partner'.

    Site which showcases the whole list so far: http://www.gibbsrules.com
  • January 22, 2013
    Chernoskill
    Subverted in Zombie Land where only a handful or rules ("Cardio, Cardio, Cardio") are brought up, but a whole lot more were presented via internet in short promotional clips leading up the the film's release.
  • January 22, 2013
    foxley
    There are 700 ways to commit a foul in quidditch in the Harry Potter novels. The readers only ever learn a very small selection of them.
  • January 22, 2013
    randomsurfer
  • January 22, 2013
    andycyca
    Not exactly a list of rules, but there exists a vast and detailed agreement/contract between Sheldon and Leonard from The Big Bang Theory including what should one roommate do if he were to acquire supernatural powers
  • January 22, 2013
    phantaz
    In The Phantom of the Paradise, the contract that Winslow Leach signs with Swan is presented as a thick paper manuscript. Winslow only asks about one or two of the entries, including the all encompassing "All articles that are excluded shall be deemed included."

  • January 22, 2013
    Tuckerscreator
    Might want to add to the Harry Potter example that it's because only 11 of them ever regularly apply. The other 690 are Obvious Rule Patches like "it's illegal to attack your opponent with an axe."

    • In the Halo series, the Cole Protocol is the most important Naval code to humanity's fleet, since it lists the actions they are not allowed to do to prevent the Covenant from discovering Earth. However several rules are often ignored because they're just technicalities. We only hear one of those, Subsection 7: "No captured Covenant vessel can be brought back to human space without a thorough search for tracking devices." (Useless because the Covenant self-destruct all their vessels in danger of capture.)
    • In the fifth Captain Underpants book, the school reveals it has the Big Book O' Rules, with nearly 8000 rules. We only hear two: "Rule 411: Don't kick school property into space", and "Rule 7,734: Don't transform into big, flying robots during afternoon recess."
  • January 24, 2013
    bobfrank
    bump

    Great examples so far...
  • January 24, 2013
    StarSword
    • Star Wars: The Grand Army of the Republic has a set of at least 150 contingency orders. Five are listed in the Republic Commando Series, but the one everyone's heard of is Order 66, used by Chancellor Palpatine to initiate the purge of the Jedi Order as part of the transition to the Galactic Empire. The order's full text is as follows:
      "In the event of Jedi officers acting against the interests of the Republic, and after receiving specific orders verified as coming directly from the Supreme Commander (Chancellor), GAR commanders will remove those officers by lethal force, and command of the GAR will revert to the Supreme Commander (Chancellor) until a new command structure is established."
  • February 1, 2013
    andycyca
    Cuasi-example: The Obama family has a laid some rules for her daughters: http://globalgrind.com/news/obama-family-rules-sasha-malia-strict-parents-details
  • February 1, 2013
    McKathlin
    See also the Great Big Book Of Everything, or its subtrope, the Big Book Of War, which may be where the characters are quoting rules from.
  • February 1, 2013
    Lophotrochozoa
  • February 6, 2013
    StarSword
  • February 8, 2013
    Jallen
    • Red Dwarf has the Space Core Directives that Kryten would often quote. Rimmer ended up quoting directives back but always being wrong. In one episode we see the book of directives and it's rather small despite the high numbers mentioned complete with multiple subcategories for each one, and rules for every situation including preforming oral sex in a zero-g environment.
  • April 19, 2013
    StarSword
    I'm gonna go ahead and take this over.

    EDIT: And updated.
  • April 19, 2013
    StarSword
    Five hats now. I'll give this a couple hours and plan on launching at 1 PM EST.
  • April 19, 2013
    Duncan
    I'm blanking on which book it is (I thought it was one of the Myth Adventures, but maybe not), but I remember reading one that had these as an Encyclopedia Exposita before each chapter.
  • April 19, 2013
    WackyMeetsPractical
    • The Fairly Oddparents: Fairy Godparents are restricted to a large list of rules listed in a gigantic book titles 'Da Rules'. Cosmo and Wanda would pull out the rule book any time Timmy plans on making a wish that would break the rules. It's never said how many rules there are, but new ones are mentioned frequently.
  • April 19, 2013
    StarSword
    ^^Gonna launch after I add Wacky's example. If you think of it, add it to the trope page.
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