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Honor Among Thieves
As we all know, thieves are often found among the lowest criminals you're likely see in any given media. Their gifts, lying outside usual law-abiding social circles, mean little room for real friendship. Yet even among such lowly figures we occasionally see the admirable virtues of loyalty and honor. When most don't want to have their back, they've got someone looking out for them.

They could be family, lovers or childhood friends, but in the end outlaws take allies wherever they can find them. Even the more selfish thief may recognize strength in numbers increases his own chances for survival. Over time even the cynic comes to value allies beyond self-preservation and even realizes The Power of Friendship. In rare cases, like-minded individuals may even have formed a guild based on a rough sense of honor and prestige.

The ultimate test of this honor usually comes when the chips are down and the law is at the doorstep. Expect Villainous Valor, last stands and even last-minute heroics. All of which firmly seals that rare moment when mere thieves show loyalty above and beyond expectations.

Bonus points if this unexpected loyalty comes as a shock to those hunting down said criminal, especially if the thief in question has never cared for anyone but himself. In its purest form this trope sets out to show that deep down even criminals have some good in them. See also Even Evil Has Loved Ones. And usually a case of Moral Myopia.

A subtrope of Evil Virtues.

Then again, some thieves, having chosen a life of lawlessness and anarchy, elicit no more trust from each other than they do from the general populace.

Compare Gentleman Thief, Loveable Rogue, Classy Cat-Burglar and Scoundrel Code. Thieves' Guild is this trope made official.


Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Antihero example in From Eroica with Love. Art thief Dorian views his crew as more family than anything else. They even have team t-shirts. The collection of rogues who attend his convention are also pretty civil and protective of each other
  • Another antihero one in Lupin III and his henchmen, Jigen and Goemon. The three have evolved over time to become a close-knit group loyal to each other, almost until death in some cases. If one of them does betray the others, there's usually a damn good reason behind it. In contrast is the fourth member and Femme Fatale Fujiko, who usually suffers from Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. However, when things get serious, she can be found right alongside Lupin.

Comic Books
  • Subverted in Birds of Prey as Mafia Princess Helena Bertinelli is more than familiar with the concepts of criminal "honor" and hates the very concept, since all it does is provides excuses and justifications for their actions. This comes to a head when Black Canary and Lady Shiva are forced to fight a duel to the death over an affair of honor involving yet another criminal, the White Canary, and the end result is just that people will die for no good reason.

Fan Fiction

Film

  • In Plunkett And Macleane, highwayman Plunkett returns to rescue Macleane from hanging despite the latter having spent their hard-stolen cash on hookers and gambling. Not only an example of this trope but also display of outright Honor Before Reason.
    • In the films beginning Plunketts young partner refuses to give him up, despite being tortured by Chance.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean frequently plays with this, among other variations, with the Pirate Council.
  • The two thieves in the first Dungeons & Dragons movie.
  • Neil's team of robbers in Heat are mostly this. Despite some bad habits, they usually watch out for each other. Except for Waingro, who is too inhuman to count. Furthermore, it's Neil's adherence to this trope that makes him abandon his usual self-preserving pragmatism when the law is at his heels in order to avenge his friend.
  • This trope is a staple of Robin Hood adaptations.
  • Hwal Bin Dang in the Korean film Hong Gil Dong.
  • The crew of Serenity.
  • Ocean's Eleven. Especially obvious in Ocean's 13.
    You shook Sinatra's hand. You should know better.
  • The Wild Bunch are hardened criminals with few scruples but in the end decide that they are tired of being treated as if they have no honor and take bloody revenge for the murder of their friend though it gets them all killed

Literature
  • The Gentlemen Bastards are extremely loyal to other criminals who have the same principles as they do. On the other hand they have no problem being disloyal to and cheating criminals who have gone beyond what the Bastards consider is decent behaviour.
  • The Mandalorians in the Republic Commando novels and short stories. Except of course for the evil ones.
  • Kelsier's crew in Mistborn. Vin has been raised to believe that there is No Honor Among Thieves, and spends the first act wondering what Kelsier is trying to pull on her.
  • Barbarians like Cohen in the Discworld books have a number of rules of conduct among them, which they rely on to protect them as "heroes" - the sort known for grand deeds, not good ones, since they're perfectly willing to pillage and rob "soft" civilized folk. You obey the rules or else they stop protecting you.
  • In the Parker novels, Parker has a rigid code of honour, in that A) he will absolutely not double-cross another professional criminal with whom he is working, unless B) if anyone tries to double-cross him, Parker will unhesitatingly undertake to exact a thorough and brutal revenge.
  • Discussed Trope in Zhuangzi's On Thievery; he uses this trope as an argument thatEvilEvilHasStandards.

Live-Action TV
  • Earl and his gang from My Name Is Earl, mostly. (During the Flashback bits when they stole stuff that is).
    • One episode played with this a bit. They establish that thieves don't steal from thieves, but when Earl finds out his former friend stole from him now that he'd "turned good", he figured if he wasn't part of that group anymore, he can break their rule on "snitching." This action is treated by other lowlives as even more of a betrayal than simply ceasing criminal activity. In the end, they all cave from light police pressure and snitch on each other, indicating their thieves' code was never that strong to begin with.
  • An episode of Kung Fu in China featured a thief with the qualities of this trope. It works out pretty well for him.
  • The crew from Firefly, especially Mal.
    Mal: "Now, this is all the money Niska gave us in advance. You bring it back to him. Tell him the job didn't work out. We're not thieves. But we are thieves. Point is, we're not takin' what's his."
    • While it is implied that some thieves operate that way, such as Mal's old war buddy Monty, it is also heavily implied that many of them don't, in particular Mal's on-and-off employer Badger. Niska firmly stands behind his own warped version of this trope, making him a very dangerous enemy after Mal returned his money and thus failed to do the job he gave his word that he'd do.
  • The protagonists of Hustle have a strict honour system and are loyal to each other and other members of the trade.
  • Michael, Fi and Sam of Burn Notice.
  • The crew from Leverage. Oh so much. Their opponents, not so much. Especially Chaos, who has Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
  • Discussed and dismissed in an early episode of Due South. Fraser's father once told him that contrary to the old adage, there is no honor among thieves, and he proceeds to predict the bank robbers' next move by assuming that they would turn on each other rather than stick together when things stopped going according to plan.
  • In season 4 of Justified the Marshals are looking for Drew Thompson, a fugitive whose testimony can put mob boss Theo Tonin behind bars for life. Raylan finds our that Hunter Mosley, Corrupt Cop and convicted murderer knows Drew's current identity and location. Mosley once tried to sell Raylan out to a murderous Miami drug cartel so Raylan figures that Mosley will not hesitate to sell out Drew for prison perks or maybe a reduction in his sentence. However, Mosley not only refuses to tell Raylan where Drew is but also murders the only other person who knows that information. When Raylan tries to force Mosley into telling what he knows, Mosley tries to kill himself by stepping in front of a truck. It seems Mosley has a very specific set of loyalties and Drew is one of the few people he will never betray. In turn when Drew finds out what is going on, he breaks his own cover specifically so Mosley is off the hook with the Marshals and the mob.

Pinball
  • Played with in the case of Pinball Dreams. Many Amiga pirate groups promised to not crack or release the game out of respect for the developers, who were originally members in the Demoscene area. It was eventually cracked by a group called Fairlight, though with the message "A GAME WORTH PLAYING IS A GAME WORTH BUYING!" added on their boot screen.

Tabletop RPG
  • Dungeons & Dragons.
    • An article in Dragon Magazine #115 had a Thieves Guild Code of Ethics.
      • Never reveal guild-related information or its sources to the authorities, nor to any non-Guild member. Guild premises, procedures, or personnel may not be discussed with any non-Guild member.
      • Never inform on another Guild member.
      • Never tell the authorities where the Guild headquarters is.
      • Never disclose the identity of the Guildmaster.
      • Never rob a business or individual protected by the Guild.
      • Never bring a non-Guild member onto guild premises without the Guildmaster's approval.
      • Never include non-Guild members in Guild activities.
      • Never belong to or work for another Thieves or Assassins Guild.
      • Don't enlist the aid of another Guild or a member of another Guild without the Guildmaster's approval.
      • Don't get involved in non-Guild thievery within the Guild's territory.
      • Guild members must pay all regular Guild dues.
      • Guild members must pay the Guild and the Guildmaster their share of all loot before receiving their cut.
      • No large heists or robberies may be performed without the Guildmaster's approval.
      • Guild members must get the Guildmaster's approval before taking an apprentice.
      • Apprentices may not become involved in Guild business without their mentor's or Guildmaster's consent.
    • An article in Dragon Magazine #160 had a few Thieves Guild policies.
      • Don't kill victims just to rob them. Try to keep your crimes non-violent.
      • Never commit treasonous crimes (against the city itself).
      • Don't fight with your fellow thieves.
      • Pay your Guild dues (percentage of loot).
    • The 2nd Edition Complete Thieves Handbook had these Thieves Guild rules.
      • Always pay your dues, training costs and loot percentage.
      • Keep all guild information secret.
      • Tell your Guild leaders what you're planning and any other information they should know.
      • Don't steal in territory or from activities that are "off limits".
      • Only commit crimes in your designated territory.
      • Only train apprentices with the knowledge and permission of the Guild.
      • Be ready to perform any legwork the Guild needs you for.

Video Games
  • A lot of the Sly Cooper games are based around this, where the good thieves follow this trope and the bad ones are double-crossers. The third game is even called Honor Among Thieves.
  • In Ace Attorney the fact that DeMasque sends out calling cards before his heists and acts like a Gentleman Thief instead of a common crook is what keeps Dessie loving him when she finds out her husband's a thief. Since he 'plays fair' he doesn't count as a normal criminal.
    • One could argue that a minor version of this is why Calisto Yew named herself as the Yatagarasu rather than exposing Tyrell Badd as her partner in crime, when she could have neatly gotten him arrested and out of the way.
  • At the start of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Tommy Vercetti holds this belief deeply, and he expects it of the rest of the family. As Sonny makes it more explicitly obvious how much he's been set up and used, and how disposable Sonny considers him, Tommy reacts with as much anger over his betrayal as the betrayal of this principle.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: The Thieves' Guild in Skyrim is on hard times, but a few still hold out. Turns out that their hard times are ultimately caused by their duplicitous murderous guild leader who nihilistically disbelieves in this trope. Near the end of the questline, the guildmaster mocks this concept, stating that as thieves all that matters is money. You're given the option to agree or disagree with him.
    • Back in The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, all the main joinable factions had an associated book which outlined their basic ideals and made the case for why you should join them. The Thieves' Guild's book was Honor Among Thieves, and indeed part of Arnie the Scrib's argumentation is that the Thieves' Guild is this trope made official (the major other part is that they aren't the murderous, drug-dealing xenophobic slaver scum the Camonna Tong are).
  • World of Warcraft has an aura with that exact name, produced by rogues, which granted whole party/raid with some crit chance in exchange of producing Combo-points every time someone crits. Since the release of the last expansion ability got rid of "granting the crit chance" part, so it's sort of inversion though.
  • The Thieves' Guild in the Quest for Glory series has the motto, "Thou shalt not steal HERE."
  • All that "Sticky Fingers" Gaius signed up for was stealing a bunch of treasures, NOT to get an innocent woman murdered! (And specially not the kidnapped Exalt of Ylisse) He's very unhappy when he finds out, and when Chrom and his Badass Crew arrive, he can be easily talked into joining the group. Not to mention, if you make him support with Maribelle, it'll be revealed that he once was forced to frame her father to save her life... but once she was released, he sent a letter to the judges to save her old man from execution.
  • This is why Marva claims she helps you in the post game in Pokémon X and Y.

Web Comics
  • Tagon's Toughs of Schlock Mercenary are mercenaries rather than thieves (mind, the two aren't exclusive), but the same esprit du corps appears to be in play. Many of the crew are Heroic Comedic Sociopaths, but messing up a fellow crewmate is a good way to end up staring down the wrong end of a plasma gun. They're also considerate of things like preventing civilian casualties and (usually) not dishing out cruel and unusual punishment.

Web Original
  • In Worm, most supervillain teams follow a set of unspoken rules, avoiding targeting civilian identities of their enemies for reasons of Pragmatic Villainy. In addition, betraying one's team is a major taboo, as going up against superheroes requires a lot of trust in your teammates. The Villain Protagonist breaks both of these rules over the course of her career, for what she thought were good reasons.

Western Animation
  • Surprisingly the Penguin believes in a form of this in the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Second Chance". Oswald has standards when dealing with fellow crooks, even when he owes them payback, as he tells Batman when the hero suspects him of ordering Two-Face kidnapped.
    Penguin: "True, he cheated me out of jewel encrusted statue of a two headed roc... It was worth millions. But my dear Batman, I would never snatch a fellow rogue from his sickbed. It simply isn't done."
    Penguin: "Precisely. If I wanted to attack Harvey, I'd do it face to face... To face, as it were."
  • Red X (not Robin, the other one) from Teen Titans.
  • In Argai: The Prophecy, Prince Argai runs into and befriends a trio of noble thieves, who in a later episode assist our heroes.


Honorable ElephantDignity TropesHonor Before Reason
Heroes Frontier StepMorality TropesHonor Before Reason
Hollywood NativesAction Adventure TropesHope Spot

alternative title(s): Honour Among Thieves
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