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Fictional Geneva Conventions
"An Altering? But isn't that..."
— Prologue scene, Sunset Over Imdahl

Even in the chaos of war there are rules. You can't go around killing innocents, you can't kill medics, you probably can't rape or pillage, and you can't use certain weapons. Hollow point bullets, some types of gas, possibly barbed wire, and in general much of the methods that had been developed in war have been restricted or outlawed for decades, even before World War One brought it to promise.. For more information on the weapons that can't be used, see The Laws and Customs of War and the other Wiki.

Now, what happens when you have a fantastic speculative setting? Where magic spells or high tech weapons could wreak more damage than imaginable? In any war, there must be certain rules, or people would be doing unthinkable things in a battlefield with nothing to stop them.

These may be enforced by a group such as a Fictional United Nations.

General Rules

These are common rules that can apply to most Speculative fiction genres:

Laws within a Science Fiction Setting

Most SF settings tend to be based off modern warfare. As such, conventions tend to include rules regarding the proper treatment of Prisoners of War and Civilians. Overall, the story will focus on what technologies cannot be used.

Laws within a Fantasy Setting

There are obviously rules of magic, making certain spells impossible (such as resurrection in an All Deaths Final setting). In addition to those, there are certain customs that regulate the use of magic in war.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist one military scientist tells one of the protagonists an alternate reason why messing with human alchemy is forbidden (besides it being creepy, generally tampering with life, and the fact the Homunculi are using it as energy for their own ritual). It's also forbidden by the military, because a person could create their own invincible army to use against the state.
  • The anime Dog Days has rules so that their wars are more like a sporting event than actual war. They take place on special settings, and defeated creatures turn into animal balls rather than any serious injury. The thought of actually getting injured in war horrifies the people in that land.
  • Briefly mentioned in Haiyoru! Nyarani. During a cooking segment, Nyarko mentions the difficulties of acquiring an "ingredient" due the "Space Washington Treaty".
  • The Antarctic Treaty in Mobile Suit Gundam, which prohibits the use of chemical, biological, atomic weapons, Colony Drops as well as stipulating that POWs be treated humanely and the rights of neutral zones be respected. Considering the wanton destruction caused prior to the Treaty, it may be there was no formal treaties between the Federation and Zeon limiting warfare before the war.
    • In Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, the Antarctic Treaty is brought up mostly in the context of the Titans' decision to abandon it; neutral territory is not respected, and chemical weapons are often intentionally used against civilians.
  • Scrapped Princess: Ginnungagap is the strongest known military grade offensive spell in their world and is so powerful that it not only requires numerous high level clerics to simultaneously cast the spell, it must be sanctioned and unanimously agreed upon, by the High Council, for use.

    Literature 
  • The Mercenaries Code in the Childe Cycle. It works much like the Geneva convention, but also provides guarantees and responsibilities of Merc officers to their men. For example, if a Officer fails to do his duty or wantonly endangers his men, that officer could be court martialed and executed.
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels have the Compact that says any who would seek to kill must risk death in return, forbidding any type of ranged weapons. Its main purpose is preventing the use of the Darkovan psychic powers as weapons, but it also has the effect of outlawing things like bows and guns.
  • The Great Houses in Dune have several, such as:
    • The Great Convention, a set of laws enforced by the emperor's Sardaukar. It's main law is banning the use of atomics on humans on pain of planetary annihilation.
      • In the first novel, Paul Atreides uses one against the Shield Wall, a terrain feature, that just happens to have humans present. He argues that since he's not targeting humans specifically, the Guild ships watching the battle will take any excuse they can get to not destroy the valuable planet of Arrakis.
    • Traditions such as Kanly, which deal with legitimate grievances against the opposing house, and the War Of Assassins, a form of limited combat conducted to avoid harming bystanders.
  • Terran Bonding Authority in Hammer's Slammers exists to enforce contracts between Mercenary companies and governments, as well as to prevent atrocities. The backstory mentions that the Authority was formed when a planetary government massacred a mercenary unit. Seeing a major opportunity, the escrow firm that handled the unit's contract began working with the major banks. Using the Laws of War as a justification, the new cartel blockaded the planet into "stone age savagery" for their violations. With their new power, the cartel grew in wealth and influence, and founded the Authority to deal with the paperwork and oversight.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • The Unseelie Accords regulate the relations between various magical factions of the world, including duels and armed conflicts. Many of which are different than many of those above, for example, faeries cannot lie (although they can bend the truth by allowing you to come to your own conclusions), threshold and the laws of hospitality are very sacred, and especially, no fighting may be done on neutral territory.
    • The series also has the Seven Laws of Magic which forbid things like killing, necromancy, mind-control, time-travel, transformation of others, etc. Interestingly, most refer only to humans, meaning one could perform necromancy on a dinosaur.
  • In His Dark Materials it's mentioned that even in battle, fighters do not attack or touch each others' daemons. Which makes it all the more shocking (and physically disgusting for her) when the scientists manhandle Lyra's.
  • Not a formal international law, but after the destruction of Suroch, New Crobuzon (from the Bas-Lag Cycle novels) shut down all of its attempts to weaponize the reality-warping force known as Torque. It's just too freakin' scary a thing to mess with, even for a city-state as ruthless as New Crobuzon.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • The organized governments of The Verse generally abide by two sets of war rules. The Eridani Edict requires attacking fleets to take out all orbital ships and structures and offer an opportunity to surrender before bombarding a planet. This was imposed on the galaxy by the Solarian League with the threat of total annihilation of the offending government. The other set is the Deneb Accords, applied to declared wars between star nations and which amount to the Space Geneva Conventions.
    • There are also a host of lesser treaties and accords, such as the Beowulf Treaty which says that you can't enforce a quarantine on somebody without allowing doctors to come over and check your story.
  • In the previous Age in The Wheel of Time, both sides stopped using Balefire - a weave that erased people from existence retroactively - after reality literally started unraveling from its overuse. Thousands of years later, the weave is still banned, and Aes Sedai generally have their panties in a bunch about Rand's liberal use of it.
  • Orson Scott Card's Enderís Game:
    • During the wars between the Buggers and humanity, the Buggers had never attacked a human planetary population, and the humans reciprocated by never attacking a Bugger-occupied planet. During the last battle between the Bugger and human fleets over the Bugger home planet, Ender breaks the (unspoken) rule by using the Little Doctor device to destroy the planet (and kill all of the Bugger Queens), thus ending the war.
    • This is only in the first novel. In other novels, this is retconned into China getting hit by the Buggers hard during the First Invasion. Originally, it was claimed that nukes were used. However, in the prequel novels, it's established that they were using poison gas to attempt to terraform large parts of China, treating humans as nothing more than dangerous animals.
  • The Harry Potter universe has the three Unforgivable Curses (a mind-control spell, a spell that does nothing but inflict excruciating pain of the target, and a spell that instantly kills the target without leaving any scars). Using any one of these spells against a human being, even once, merits a life sentence in Azkaban.
  • Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch books have the Grand Treaty, which is meant to enforce the balance between Light and Dark, as the last time Great Light and Dark Others went at each other they nearly destroyed the world. Only the most basic spells are allowed to be used on a daily basis. Attempts to use higher-order spells, such as healing a human with cancer would result in the other side receiving permission for an equivalent spell (e.g. cursing someone with cancer) to keep the balance. Many young Light Others are disillusioned with this neutrality. The Light Others have organizations in major cities around the world called Night Watches (i.e. they watch those who mainly act at night), while the Dark Others have created the Day Watches (to keep an eye on the Light Others). There is also a third power called the Inquisition, usually involved in only the biggest issues involving the violation of the Treaty. The Inquisition is composed of Light and Dark Others who get sick of the constant Xanatos Gambits done by both sides and say Screw This, I'm Outta Here!. Maintaining the balance is even more important in modern times, as this also keeps up The Masquerade. Not even the Others can survive if the Muggles find out the truth and decide to destroy them.
  • Star Carrier: Terran Confederation law bans the use of both antimatter and nanotechnology as weapons. Confederate forces violate both bans in Deep Space when attacking the United States of North America at the start of World War VI.

    Film 
  • The immortals of the Highlander franchise have rules against fighting each other on holy ground, and using ranged weapons to incapacitate an opponent before closing in for the kill is considered "cheating".
  • In Star Trek: Insurrection, the Second Khitomer Accords bans the use of Subspace Weapons - devices capable of creating very unpredictable Negative Space Wedgies.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Babylon 5 'verse, mass drivers (weapons that bombard planets with large objects such as asteroids) are forbidden by treaty. In the instance where they are used in the show however, none of the other powers have the will to enforce this treaty. That said, it is seen as enough of an atrocity that the (ancient and powerful) Vorlon Empire, who typically take no interest whatsoever in the concerns of the younger races, files an official protest against the act, possibly their first participation in interstellar politics in the entire show. This also acts as minor foreshadowing of their much more active foreign policy in the fourth season.
  • On Doctor Who the Shadow Proclamation covers several scenarios (besides the ones we haven't seen yet). Convention 15 deals with the cessation of hostile activities while parley is taken. Article 57 prohibits the destruction of a Level 5 planet if no laws were broken.
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation had several, such as:
    • The Treaty of Algeron, which defined the limits of the Romulan Neutral Zone (namely violating the Zone without adequate reason could start a war). It also prohibits the use of cloaking devices for the Federation. It proves a plot point in the episode "The Pegasus".

      By DS9, the Romulans made an exception to the treaty, and loaned a cloaking device for Starfleet use, in exchange for intel on the Dominion.
    • The Federation-Cardassian Treaty establishes a Demilitarized Zone, in which no military forces could be deployed, nor bases established. It also redrew the map, which resulted in colonies landing in each other territories. The Cardassians begin to undermine the treaty, and begin to oppress former Federation citizens. The Federation, on the other hand, fear another war and end up doing little to nothing to resolve any issues. The result is the zone becoming the sight of constant fighting between the two groups of colonists, with a number of Starfleet defectors forming the heart of the new Maquis rebellion. The Maquis have the Cardassians on the ropes (largely thanks to the Klingons) until the Dominion, who don't care about PR, come in and wipe them out.
    • The Seldonis IV Convention, which is deals with the treatment of prisoners of war. Because Starfleet disavows any knowledge of Picard's actions in one episode, the Cardassians decide that the Captain is not protected under this Convention. The resulting experience is a less than pleasant.
  • The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Time and Again" mentions the Polaric Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits research into polaric ion energy by the Alpha and Beta Quadrant powers due to its destructive potential.
  • In Stargate SG-1 there is a treaty between the Goa'uld and Asgard protecting many planets from interference and invasion. However it turns out that the Protected Planets Treaty is a giant bluff by the Asgard: They've demonstrated in the past that their ships can easily defeat Goa'uld ships one-on-one, but they're stretched so thin fighting the Replicators in their home galaxy that they can't actually enforce the treaty on a large scale.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Traveller has the Imperial Rules of War, which are an unwritten guideline as to how Imperial vassals will settle difficulties between them. Basically they boil down to, "Have fun, boys, but don't make too much of a mess because The Emperor has means to punish you." "Too much of a mess" means no WMDs on the ground, war crimes, or excessive death and destruction.
  • The Inner Sphere successor states in BattleTech signed the Ares Conventions to limit civilian casualties, after several planets were literally bombed back to the stone age in the first (out of four) Succession War. Rules include no nukes in atmosphere, no orbital bombardment of non-military targets, and no chemical or biological weapons. The Clans follow a more restrictive code of conduct called zellbrigen based on highly ritualized warfare, which bit them in the back when they invaded the Inner Sphere.

    Webcomics 
  • In Drowtales, there used to be several unwritten rules of warfare, the "Queen's Law", designed to limit collateral damage in fights between clans. The most important rule was that innocent bystanders are not to be harmed. Other rules include no poisoning water supplies and no fighting in the city, and any slaves or supplies procured during the fighting would simply be absorbed into the winning clan. When the Nidraa'chal attacked, they broke virtually every rule, shattering the existing status quo of following the rules and causing future battles to ignore those rules.
  • In the Webcomic Flipside, one of the kingdoms is a constitutional anarchy, running on the premise of personal responsibility. That is, the only rule is against force. Bernadette breaks the law by holding a healer at swordpoint, meaning it does have some military context.

    Web Original 

    Video Games 
  • Oracle Of Tao has a One World Order running the world as an organized anarchy, conducting trade and keeping peace. Building troops is illegal, as is invasion of countries, or even ruling more than one town (you cannot, for instance, have an empire). The purpose is to prevent expansion of lands or governments. In terms of rules of combat, it is unclear if there are any, but war itself is frowned upon since it is typically for the purpose of gaining land or control.
  • Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri: The UN colonial charter prohibits the use of WMDs, though it is possible for factions in game to use chemical and biological weapons and planet busters. Using the former will impose trade sanctions on the offending faction while the latter will cause every other faction, including allies, to declare Vendetta.
    • Note that the Charter can be repealed, but the bit about everyone declaring war on you if you nuke someone doesn't change.
    • The Charter also forbids nerve stapling as a means of controlling civil disturbances; the punishment is 10 years of (enforced!) trade sanctions and possibly suspension from the Planetary Council, which can be devastating if you're running a wealth- or diplomacy-based strategy. Strangely, the Charter says nothing about Punishment Spheres, which are a more intensive application of the same technology.
  • In Sunset Over Imdahl, Altering is forbidden. It later turns out Altering is Reality Warper magic, specifically causing a Stable Time Loop.
  • In Freespace 2 there is the Beta-Aquilae Convention, a general treaty that both establishes the Galactic Terran-Vasudan Alliance, as well as establishing rules of warfare, including specific clauses that protect civilians during times of war. Because the provisions of the Convention form the alliance between the humans and the Vasudans, the anti-Vasudan Neo-Terran Front rejects the whole thing, including the provisions to protect civilians. Several missions in the game involve you protecting civilian ships from attack by the NTF, and midway through the game, while flying undercover as a member of the NTF, suspicious NTF pilots will demand you shoot down a transport carrying civilians to prove your cover story. In another mission,, one of your fellow pilots wonders why he should play by the rules when the enemy won't.
    Alpha 2: I thought the NTF didn't acknowledge BETAC!
    Command: They don't, but we do.

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