Rules Lawyer
R.I.P. Gary Gygax (1938-2008)

"They're not loopholes! They're special rules for the people who go to the effort of finding them!"
Brian Van Hoose, Knights of the Dinner Table

Every gaming group seems to have that one guy who not only memorized the rulebook cover-to-cover but also isn't afraid to speak out whenever anyone — including the Game Master — tries to bend or ignore one, especially if calling them out works to his own advantage.

Rules Lawyers come in different flavors ranging from obnoxious to helpful, and including just plain dumb, although the term usually carries a negative connotation. Besides being of any moral alignment at all, what all versions have in common is a nigh-encyclopedic knowledge of every single aspect of the rules of the system. The difference between the three is largely down to attitude and how they use that knowledge. In brief, Obnoxious Rules Lawyers manipulate the rules to give themselves advantages, Dumb Rules Lawyers will always insist on following the rules even when it's clear it won't work, while Helpful Rules Lawyers play by the rules even if that puts them at a disadvantage, and will even try to use their knowledge to help out someone else.

The Obnoxious Rules Lawyer, which is also called a "Rule Shark", is particularly annoying because they believe that because they can find a rule about something, the people in charge must allow them to do it, even if it doesn't make sense, or would screw with what's going on. They're convinced that, with the power of the rules, they can outmaneuver everyone and get what they want. They will attempt to employ every loophole, every odd circumstance, and every footnote they can. Expect the Rule Shark to have pored over the rules — all the rules. Most annoyingly, they seem to remember only the parts that support whatever they're doing at that moment, intentionally ignoring whatever doesn't support their own case, and usually bringing it up when they're threatened in some way. Such people will insist on Exact Words wherever necessary.

Usually, the first rule the Rules Lawyer conveniently "forgets" while making their arguments is Rule Zero: that the GM/owner of the site/boss is always right. Squashing them with this early is the best bet; attempting to argue about rules with them only encourages their behavior. If invoked, they might dare to argue that Rule Zero is an unwritten rule, despite it being a foundation principle. It won't work with some rule systems, which do have a form of Rule Zero codified.

They are among the few people who Read the Fine Print. See My Rule-Fu Is Stronger Than Yours for the argument that is going to happen at some point, especially if there are two of them at the table. If a rule ever seems to be written rather verbosely, or explain things that seem like common sense, it's the writers trying to stop these guys.

The Lawful Stupid Rules Lawyer is incompetent instead of malicious. They'll constantly grind play to a halt to make sure that everyone is following the rules even if the end result would be the same anyway. They won't allow any technique that isn't specified in said rules to be used, causing the game to become rigid. If the GM decides to make some well designed and balanced homebrews then this lawyer will start throwing a fit.

However, this trope does come in a positive variant referred to as the Lawful Good Rules Lawyer: they always stick to the rules, no matter how bad it might be for them personally. And they'll point out exactly the proper rules that state that, no, they didn't escape the deathtrap, they died.

Conversely, in a tabletop setting, the rules are the Player Characters' primary means of interacting with the world, and if a GM is constantly changing the rules mid-game, the players cannot play. Gaming groups must, by necessity, be a mutually policing force. Sometimes a Rules Lawyer is necessary when the GM is repeatedly sending waves and waves of homebrewed mooks who are immune to everything except the powers of that one super duper archmage the GM has been writing a novel about for the last seven years and if you try to fight them without the archmage GMPC, you die. No save.

In this instance, the Rules Lawyer is one check against GM misbehavior, as in a healthy gaming group, the GM is answerable to the players as much as the players are answerable to the GM, because it is everybody's game.

A Lawful Good Rules Lawyer can also be a valuable thing to have in your gaming group if one or more of the players in your gaming group cheats or doesn't RTFM. Even when the rest of the group is on the level, the fact that a Rules Lawyer will, by definition, know all of the rules can make them useful for a gaming group as the ultimate natural language database.

The Fair Folk and Trickster Archetypes are constantly given this trait.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Lelouch vi Britannia from Code Geass often applies this to his Geass powers (mostly in season 1). Best example (in season 1) would be when he used his Geass on himself to alter his own memories, so the mind-reader he was fighting wouldn't grasp Lelouch's real plan until it was too late. In season 2 he just outright cheats. or at least this is how he sees it. He starts commanding people to follow all of his orders. Basically wishing for unlimited wishes.
  • Sora from No Game No Life, often using the Ten Pledges to his advantage.
  • Light Yagami from Death Note is constantly exploiting the rules of the Death Notes in obscure and bizarre ways to accomplish his goals. Arguably, the entire series is about Rules Lawyering.
    • Example: a victim can't be made to write things about Death Notes before they die because they don't know about them and so wouldn't reasonably write about them. But what they can be made to do is write a poem where the first letter of each line "just happens" to form a message about Death Notes or just about anything else.
    • One rule that seems to be about stopping Rules Lawyering (and doesn't come up in the story): If you misspell someone's name they don't die, and if you do so by accident four times in a Death Note, they can no longer be killed by that Death Note. But if you misspell their name deliberately four times, then you die. Yeah, the book knows the difference.

    Card Games 
  • Parodied (naturally) in the card game Munchkin with the card Invoke Obscure Rules. This card has been translated as Regelneuker in the Dutch version, which is actually the Dutch word for a Rules Lawyer and literally translates as "rule fucker."
    • It is completely legal to play Go Up A Level cards on your opponents while they are facing monsters that have a "Will not pursue under level X" restriction. (This wasn't the original intention of the card when it was made, but the creators of the game officially confirmed it as a valid tactic, as it was in the spirit of the game.)
    • Or, after several cards have been played to jump to a level that can actually kill the enemy in question, dumping a "Friendly" on it. No treasure, no fight, no level up.
    • If you fail to defeat/run away from the Orcs, you lose levels equal to the number you roll on a die, unless it's a one or a two, in which case you die. However, if you are "unlucky" enough to have a Chicken-on-your-Head (subtract one from all die rolls) you can actually roll a zero, which is neither a one or a two so you don't die, and you lose zero levels.
    • In Munchkin Cthulhu, the Cultist class gets a bonus for each other Cultist in play. It's possible to multiclass using Super Munchkin and become a Cultist Cultist, which gives you a +4 bonus for being yourself. Twice.
    • One card even specifies 'reveal your hand' as 'your cards, not the thing at the end of your arm'.
    • The rules actually include one very important rule for rules-lawyers. "If in doubt, the owner of the game wins." Meaning that it is always a better idea to be the owner of that particular copy of the game.
  • Similarly to Munchkin, much of the point of Magic: The Gathering is to find unusual ways to twist the rules to win. While any Game Breaker will eventually be banned, Magic notably has no "rule zero" or "rule seven" enforcing the spirit of the rules or prohibiting things that don't make sense according to the game's story. If you can figure out a legitimate loophole in the letter of the rules, there's nothing to prevent you from exploiting it until the rules are officially changed.
    • Magic tournament judges can impose penalties on players who push their rules-lawyering too far if they deem to be disruptive to the tournament or as stalling to run out the clock. Over the years the tournament rules have changed a lot to give judges a lot of leeway when handling stuff like this.
      • A famous example of a judge cracking down on rules lawyers occurred at French Nationals when a few players discovered that the DCI (ruling body of sanctioned tournament Magic) made a mistake when posting updated card wordings on their webpage. One card was posted with an old, obsolete wording which allowed for a obscenely powerful combo. Since the wording on the webpage was considered to supersede any other wording, the players tried to use it in the tournament. The Head Judge disallowed the combo and when some of the players played it anyway, he expelled them from the tournament. The DCI backed him on it and upheld the penalties.
    • Famous (apocryphal) example: Player casts a spell with the effect "Target player loses the game," then points at a completely different table and says "That guy." The judge deemed this legal, as (at the time) there was no specific rule saying that a spell cannot target something in a completely different game.
    • One that was patched within a couple days of discovery: a player used an existing ruling on the Time Vault card to argue that mana generation cards could be used between turns as well as during them. A particular card had the limitation that it could not be used more than once during a single turn. Hello, infinite mana (with a card combo to prevent infinite damage from mana burn.)
    • Chaos Orb is a rather bizarre card that lends itself to rather bizarre interpretations of the rules—its effect is that you flip it up in the air, and it destroys any cards it lands on. One quick glance at the errata gives you an idea of the headaches it has caused but the example has to be the player who ripped the card into pieces and then scattered it over his opponent's cards.
    • In late 2011, a tournament rules document was revised to no longer penalize players for missing their own beneficial triggered abilities. The accompanying caveat was that even if you remembered the ability, you could choose to ignore it, and your opponent couldn't point it out and force you to resolve it either. This revision was quickly yanked when people realized that you could play the card Transcendence and refuse to ever gain life (a "beneficial ability"), making you effectively unkillable by damage.
    • It's worth noting that MTG Rules Lawyers are a legitimate demographic for WotC (they're referred to as "Melvin").
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! has a few ways of exploiting its very odd rules. For example, there's a card that requires you to discard a monster from your hand to summon it. Said card can discard itself to summon itself.
    • There's also the Synchro Monster 'Colossal Fighter' which, when destroyed, can special summon a warrior-type monster from either player's Graveyard. Since 'Colossal Fighter' activates this effect while itself is in the graveyard, it can actually summon itself back onto the field.
    • One card (before it had its wording changed) called Magical Blast is a moderately useful card on its own. It deals damage to your opponent by an amount dictated by how many Spellcasters you have on the field, for a max of 1000 damage in a game where the players start with 8000 life. However you could skip your next draw phase to get the card back into your hand. But if someone wanted to take it by the wording rather than the intent, then it becomes obvious you can do this any time, like right after casting it once, allowing you to do infinite damage (on turn one no less if you draw it and a Spellcaster monster) if your opponent doesn't have a way to counter and remove the spell from the game. The errata'd version of the card states that you can only return it to your hand at your draw step (instead of drawing) which is how it was supposed to work.
  • Ever played the Star Wars Customizable Card Game? You need to be a Rules Lawyer basically. Make sure to have a calculator ready if someone plays Brainiac.
  • Unsurprisingly, given its source material, several conditional modifiers in Hoyle's Rules of Dragon Poker were deliberately written to be vague so as to encourage rule lawyering.
    • Example:
    31. If the players are in constant and consistent motion for the duration of a hand, the values of the face cards are reversed.
Does this only apply to games on vehicles, or does the turning of the Earth count? God's lips are sealed.

    Comic Books 
  • The ultimate Rules Lawyer is Brian Van Hoose of Knights of the Dinner Table, who is constantly digging up obscure rules to frustrate B.A.'s best-laid plans.
  • John Constantine from Hellblazer relies heavily on manipulation of rules to survive playing with entities whose raw might would normally allow them to squash him like a bug, but the magical rules that bind them prevent it. Some of his most serious threats are from people like regular humans who can attack him directly and not bound or can break said rules.
  • Darkseid. He'll always keep his promises, treaties, and deals, but he'll abuse every loophole, error, or precise wording to get his way anyways. One memorable story had him be forced into a deal with Superman that stated that Darkseid could never come back to Earth. Barely a day later Darkseid showed up at Superman's front door and beat the ever-living shit out of him; as he explained, the Exact Words of the document stated that Darkseid could never come to Earth and attack Supergirl. He could still come to Earth to attack anybody else.

    Fan Works 
  • Discord in The Great Slave King uses his knowledge of the rules to allow the Slave King to take over as Lord of the Earth without any interference from the rest of the pantheon.
  • In the Discworld Tarot chapter The Ace of Swords, there is a different twist on this trope. Miss Alice Band is able to tame a rogue unicorn where others have failed, despite being sexually experienced. The reason Alice gets away with it is because her sexual experience is only with other women. She still technically qualifies as a maiden, unsullied by contact with men, and therefore fully meets the strict specification for unicorn-wrangling - because she has never had contact with men. It is possible that while the unicorn was trying to make its mind up as to whether she qualified, she got a silver-ornamented bridle over its head and settled the question definitively.
  • In The Wrong Reflection Eleya sidesteps any potential trouble with Starfleet Command (she's sort of on their shit-list at the moment) on her request to get a MACO unit assigned to her ship by cutting them out of the loop and going straight to the regional commander, which is allowed according to a strict reading of the regs.
  • In Harry Potter fanfic The Widower Maker (following only what Harry says the day he is to get married for the eighth time), after a Marriage Law is passed on a rush to force half-bloods and Muggleborns to submit to purebloods, Harry becomes rapidly adept at following exactly the (very poorly worded) letter of that law: in each of his seven consecutive marriages, he gets his wives and families to die in all kinds of "unfortunate accidents" while using the law to protect himself from being forced to actually prevent them from dying. Plus the use of a Time Turner to cause all the "unfortunate accidents" that befell them, since when he uses them he is officially not married.
  • Lady Delphine uses this exact phrase to describe the Fairy Godfather in The Bug Princess. She advises her listeners to never ever play Monopoly against him, as he refuses to even consider allowing the use of house rules.
  • In This Bites!, this is played right into the ground during the Davy Back Fight, especially Cross's insistence that Soundbite and Lassoo are full-fledged crew members so that Foxy can't get all three of them in the same round.

    Films — Animated 
  • Zootopia: Judy Hopps knows the laws of Zootopia backwards and forwards and uses that very often to work her way around obstacles, such as blackmailing the owner of an ice cream parlor with a health code violation, Nick with felony tax evasion, and working her way into a locked vehicle compound citing probable cause because Nick went in there without permission to grab her pen and she simply followed him inside.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the opening scene of The Wild Hunt, Argyle and Bjorn's duel devolves into a argument over LARP rules.
  • Tin Cup: Roy, the hero, makes a bet with his smarmy jackass of an antagonist: the guy who hits a golf ball the furthest wins. Roy nails his shot, hitting it about 225 yards down the driving range. The antagonist smiles, turns around and hits the ball out of the course, down a long asphalt road. It's still bouncing when the scene ends.
  • Heimdall in Thor is Asgard's resident badass Rules Lawyer.
  • The Ticket Keeper in The Devil's Carnival serves this role, maintaining all 666 rules in the titular carnival.
  • Senator Lott Dod of the Trade Federation in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. When Queen Amidala addresses the Senate about the invasion of Naboo, Dod tries to use every loophole and legal trickery available in order to prolong the invasion, including proposing a committee validate that the invasion is actually happening.

  • In the Robert A. Heinlein novel Space Cadet, one of the heroes early in the story attempts to exploit military regulations to make it too inconvenient for his superiors to give him orders he does not like. He is soon warned about what happens to "space lawyers."
  • Rhysling's final voyage in "The Green Hills of Earth" — spaceship regulations are getting more stringent about allowing him to catch informal rides, so he invokes the "Distressed Spaceman" clause entitling stranded spacers to a ride home, pointing out to the skeptical captain that there's no time limit on invoking the rule.
  • An entire alien race in Tom Holt's Falling Sideways. They managed to rip a gargantuan loophole in Thou Shalt Not Kill.
  • There is a good Vogon in And Another Thing.... He doesn't want to cause Earth Shattering Kabooms, but objecting on moral grounds on a Vogon ship is a good way to get Thrown Out the Airlock. He eventually decided that Rules Lawyering is a good way to obstruct the malicious Obstructive Bureaucrats without suspicion.
  • In the short story And Then There Were None, a ship from Earth lands on a remote planet that has been out of contract for centuries and starts trying to reopen contact with the inhabitants. They have a very hard time understanding the native Gands, but since they're not hostile by the regulations definition, the men can't legally be denied leave. Problem is, so many like the planet they go AWOL. Too many Space Lawyers on his crew know the regs by heart, so despite much attempted wrangling to make the natives fit the definition of hostile, they fail, but find that leave can be postponed continually — though it only makes the crew more mutinous.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • The Supernatural Community is rife with this kind of thing. Being a proficient Rules Lawyer is considered a necessary skill when it comes to keeping your head on your shoulders.
    • The Unseelie Accords, the rules that govern interactions between the supernatural "nations" were written by Queen Mab, who set them up so that there is no "spirit of the Law", just the literal wording. A note by one of the characters in the margins even calls Mab a Rules Lawyer. In Summer Knight, after agreeing not to try to use the threat of retribution to coerce Harry into accepting her job, Mab tweaks his injured hand; when Harry complains that she agreed not to do any of that, she points out that that wasn't coercion, that was just for spite, which was completely acceptable according to the terms of their agreement.
  • A great deal of the plot of Njál's Saga revolves around playing with the legal code of the Icelandic Commonwealth, not always successfully. Njál is best at this, but many of the other lawyers in the saga are pretty good at manipulating the law as well. At a moment of climax in the saga, the wily Eyjolf gets the entire prosecution of the burners thrown out of court on a technicality, which angers Thorhall so much that he strides into the courtroom with a spear and ganks the first guy he sees. The biggest battle in the saga breaks out immediately after, which is all the more dramatic given that violence was taboo at the Althing.
  • In the novel Barrayar, the only person who has the authority to countermand an order given to a Count's Armsman is the Emperor. So when Cordelia needs to leave Tanery Base to rescue her son from Vordarian, the fact that Bothari, the Armsman seconded to her, is under orders to stay there is a problem. Then Bothari explains that when the Count's heir seconded him to her, he said to obey her orders as if they were his own. And since that heir, Aral Vorkosigan, was the Imperial Regent (even if he wasn't thinking of himself in that position when giving the order), that meant Cordelia has the legal authority of the Emperor as far as Bothari is concerned.
  • In Something Rotten, a professional croquet team includes a squad of lawyers, since Rules Lawyering is a significant (and expected) part of the game in that universe.
  • In Star Carrier: Center of Gravity, as the America battlegroup is preparing to leave for Alphekka to undertake Operation Crown Arrow, a message drone arrives from the colony at 70 Ophiuchi saying the Sh'daar have arrived. Based on past performance Koenig knows that the Confederation Central Command will scrub Crown Arrow in favor of sending him to defend the colony, so he has the battlegroup leave early before the orders can be transmitted.
  • In the New Testament, the Pharisees are portrayed this way about following the Law of Moses, causing Jesus to lambaste them for following the letter of the Law but ignoring the spirit of it.
  • Albert Haddock in AP Herbert's Misleading Cases in the Common Law is a rules lawyer for the actual law, able to twist any statute or precedent into supporting a completely ludicrous case, and leading unfortunate judges to have to rule on things like whether a motor car traversing a flooded road could be considered a boat.

  • In Model United Nations, rules lawyering is called "parliamentary maneuvering" and is considered to be a valuable skill in some circles. Additionally, since Model UN is supposed to be a simulation of real parliamentary-style debate, in which the rules are everything, Rule Zero gets twisted around. Many chairs will ignore "parliamentary maneuvering" and force the debate forwards via force of personality. Indeed, it is widely considered to be irritating and spiteful to make incessant points of order, parlimentary procedure etc, because it slows the debate to a crawl and generally makes everyone bored. It is also frequently exploited by WAAC (win at all costs) MUNers/Gavelhunters in order to give themselves the maximum amount of speech-time. Of course, this can often lead to My Rule-Fu Is Stronger Than Yours—if the Chair tries to fight back against a delegate making these maneuvers, that delegate may appeal to the rulebook—and since the Chair typically has an Undersecretary-General and Secretary-General above him/her as arbiters of the rules, they may not get their way.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Community, Asian Annie tries to win by default, rejecting an offer of peace from her opponent. The moderator reminds her that the real UN appreciates impractical gestures, handing the victory to the study group.
  • In the Bubble Boy episode of Seinfeld, George and the Bubble Boy are playing Trivial Pursuit, when George draws a card with a misprint. The question is "Who invaded Spain in the 8th century?" The misprinted card reads "The Moops". George, eager to see his opponent miss for a change, insists that the Bubble Boy's answer of "Moors" is incorrect, leading to hilarity ensuing.
  • In The Phil Silvers Show, Sgt. Bilko is a master of the obscure rule. He's apparently memorized all the army regulations, dating back to the Spanish-American war. He has no interest in keeping the rules, but finds it useful to be able to use them against his opponents.
  • Captain Sharon Raydor of Major Crimes has this as one of the main weapons in her arsenal. Nobody has managed to outmaneuver her yet.
  • Several of the protagonists in Babylon 5, but most famously, Commander Sinclair, from the first season (The most notable example being ordered to use 'any means necessary' to force striking workers to return to work, which he then does by giving them the concessions they were asking for). Captain Sheridan and Captain Lochley both had their moments as well, and all of the ambassadors were known to twist reality and language as far as the rules and circumstances would let them for their own nations' political gain.
  • Martin Bryce in Ever Decreasing Circles embodies the good version of this, obsessively following the letter of the law even if it works against him. For example, in "The Footpath", he discovers that his house is built over a public footpath, and takes it upon himself to put a sign indicating the footpath in his front garden and a stile over the fence in his back garden, ignoring his wife's concerns about a steady stream of ramblers walking across their property. It isn't until a member of the local Council tells him that only they can erect footpath signs, and they have no plans to do so since the footpath through the Bryces' garden became defunct when the house was built in the 1970s, that he removes the sign.
  • Friends: Played for laughs in Season 6. When Chandler and Monica decide to move in together, Rachel has to move out and Ross, who's secretly back in love with her, agrees to take her in. When she brings him the news that she's no longer moving because Chandler and Monica had a big fight over what do with her room and have called the whole thing off, Ross steps in to try and get them to make up and move in together so he can get Rachel. After trying to win them over verbally, Ross ends up resorting to some obscure New York contracting rules to enforce their agreement before storming off to find Rachel and tell her the move's back on.
    Ross: "Okay! All right! Now, Chandler. You want to live with Monica, right?"
    Chandler: "Yeah, I do."
    Ross: "And, Mon. You want to live with Chandler, donít you?"
    Monica: "Yes."
    Ross: "Good! A verbal contract is binding in the state of New York!" (Storms out.)
  • In Never Wipe Tears Without Gloves Paul told the tale of him getting a blow-job by an Orthodox Jew. When he pointed out the paradox of this the man said — in complete seriousness — that he had indeed "Never laid with a man as one lies with a woman" — he had been on his knees the whole time.
  • How I Met Your Mother: Barney tries to do this with The Bro Code to make himself feel better about sleeping with Robin, Ted's ex-girlfriend. Unfortunately for him, Marshall, who is an actual lawyer, cannot even find a suitable loophole because the rules are that well-written.
  • Will on Sons Of Guns occasionally has to work around some legal issues for clients. Such as, you can't own a spring-loaded knife that shoots out. But you can own a knife-shooting gun that uses gunpowder as a propellant.
  • Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory takes this trope to its fullest extent, not only in games but in the "rules" he expects in his everyday life. He even required Leonard to sign an extensive Roommate Agreement (and later Amy to sign a Relationship Agreement) which he sees as the final word on any conflict. He is also clearly an Obnoxious Rules Lawyer - when the rules go against him, he has told both outright that they are missing the point: that the agreements exist for his benefit.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: In the episode "Chardee Macdennis", Frank becomes a Rules Lawyer for the episode's eponymous game after being trapped in a dog kennel with the rule book. He later uses it to catch Dennis and Dee cheating, giving Mac and Charlie their best-ever chance of winning the game. In a cruel twist of fate, Dennis and Dee win anyway.

  • Musicians in countries that have major issues with censorship (whether at the business/corporate level with the record label or venues or whatever or at a government level where Moral Guardians are in power) often have to be this to get songs with some certain themes past their censors, whomever those censors may be. Some of the more common methods are changing the lyrics, going with implication instead of explicitness, or using Double Entendre or words with multiple meanings and then claiming the more innocent meaning of the Double Entendre or the word while the artists and actual listeners know the intended meaning.

    Tabletop Games 
  • An early edition of Champions had a section titled "Are you a powergamer?" featuring characters who bent the rules into a Gordian knot. Some examples included:
    • The Landlord. When purchasing a Base, for every +5 points your Base doubles in size. After spending a couple hundred points in this manner, you'll have a Base whose grounds cover the known universe. Furthermore, when purchasing Henchmen to man your Base, every +5 points doubles the number of henchmen you have; so at 170 points you can have 8 billion loyal followers (the entire population of Earth and then some).
    • Nova Man. If anybody disturbs him in his private hospital ward, he explodes, doing 700d6 damage (to which he has personal immunity). He could afford such a big blast because he took enough physical limitations, vulnerabilities, and susceptibilities to be threatened by every molecule in the known universe.
    • Azathoth. He has X-ray vision, scads of Telescopic vision, and a powerful Mental Attack. Since mental powers suffer no range penalty and only require line-of-sight, he can attack anyone anywhere in the universe without moving.
  • Obviously, Dungeons & Dragons. People are fond of finding incredibly powerful abilities and combos that would allow them to create practically unbeatable characters. Two which stand out as blatant loophole exploitations are Pun-Pun, a kobold that literally ascends to capital G, Godhood at 1st level; and the Locate City Bomb, a questionable combination of metamagic feats from a few different splatbooks that turns a simple navigation spell into the 3.5 equivalent of a Kill Sat.
    • The Fastest Metal Man. Rules Lawyering = moving faster than the speed of light.
    • The most egregious example (although it is usually played for laughs) is the fact that while it has rules restricting what you can do while you are dying, there are no such rules for dead characters. By a completely literal interpretation of the rules, you could argue that there is no reason a dead player can't get right back up and continue adventuring without having to worry about hp anymore.
    • A rather famous (though not particularly serious and now outdated) bit of rules-lawyering is the "Villager Railgun", which abuses the mechanics behind "free actions". Basically, a free action is any action which takes so little time/effort, it can be done virtually instantaneously - examples include gestures, dropping items, and, of course, talking. Free actions are, well, free - a character can use any number of them, even if it's not their turn. Older editions allowed characters to pass suitably light objects to someone standing right next to them as a free action. Players with a working knowledge of physics quickly stumbled upon a loophole - line up a few thousand villagers in a straight line, all standing right next to each other, with one end of the line next to a pile of light objects and the other close to the designated target. Have the villager on one end of the line pick up a light object and, on the "firing" turn, have them pass it to the next person in line as a free action. Then have that person pass it to the next person as a free action. Repeat until it reaches the other end of the line, at which point the receiver throws it at his target. Physics indicates that the object just travelled several thousand metres in less than six seconds (the length of a round in D&D), giving it enough kinetic energy to destroy pretty much anything it's thrown at (Although by the actual rules, it will only deal 1 or 2 damage - the trick relies on real world physics being applied selectively in a very specific and nonsensical manner).
    • Another amusing example is the "Chicken Infested" flaw. Only available to Commoners, it gives you a 50% chance to pull out a chicken from a container. Pulling things out of a spell pouch is a free action. Can you say instant infinite chickens?
  • Do you want your Monopoly game to last under six hours? You must become a Rules Lawyer (and not use any House Rules).
  • In Nomic each turn consists of players proposing and then voting upon changes to the game's rules, so naturally it involves a lot of Rules Lawyering.
  • Paranoia encourages this! Theoretically, the rules recommend that the players aren't even supposed to read the rules. If they show any sign that they do, the GM is encouraged to kill their character's current clone (all Paranoia PCs have a series of clones so that they can be allowed to die many times without doing character creation each time). Some of the more successful strategies for manipulating other PCs involve using one's (secret) knowledge of the rules to either manipulate an "ally" into breaking a rule or make them look like they've read the rules. The rulebook encourages this, as "reading the rules and lying about it" is perfectly in the spirit of the game.
  • There's a saying among players of Star Fleet Battles: "Legal Officer, report to the bridge!" The fact that the rulebook is the size of the Manhattan phone directory doesn't help. Players have been spotted with buttons reading "Scotty, I need a rule in five minutes or we're all dead!" (From Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, suitably tweaked).
  • In one of the books for The Dresden Files RPG, there is a section on the Unseelie Accords, the rules that govern interactions between the supernatural "nations". The Accords were written by Queen Mab, who set them up so that there is no "spirit of the Law", just the literal wording. A note by one of the characters in the margins even calls Mab a Rules Lawyer.
  • Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000:
    • Some background states that the Chaos Gods do this when they fight each other. They are each basically omnipotent in their own universe, so they cobble together a set of House Rules for each battle and then proceed to bend them as far as possible in their own favor.
    • Due to a combination of poor proofreading and lack of common sense on the player's part, it's fully possible to successfully argue a hilariously long list of crazy rules. Namely, you can argue that Walkers without actual sculpted eyes cannot shoot or "see" things because they have no actual eyes, a model with Rage does not follow its rules because "visible" and "line of sight" are clearly two different terms, and it's perfectly legal to deploy my army on the bookshelf and not on the table. One of the Warhammer 40,000 army books has a weapon where the player has to draw a line from the gun to the target, and everything along the line is hit... The newer editions explicitly state that it's a straight line, and that it's only 1 mm thick. Naturally, any tournament-level discussion board will devolve into insane rantings the minute new rules come out.
    • The Sisters of Battle are an in-universe example; the Ecclesiarchy is forbidden by law from maintaining men under arms. They decided to maintain women under arms instead. In some versions of the story everyone involved agreed to the loophole before deciding on the wording.
    • "Creative" and/or "Extremely Literal" rules interpretations have given rise to some pretty odd (and occasionally game-breaking tactics. These tactics include the Devilfish Bunker, wherein Tau players could use their vehicles as mobile bunkers to shield their weak-in-close-combat units from assault, and the setup to the Monolith Phalanx Drop, where a player was once able to put a character right next to a building in the corner of the map and render both the character and the building immune to shooting (under older versions of the rules, you could only shoot a character if you had line of sight, and you could only shoot a building if it had an enemy unit inside it; thus a character behind, but not in, a building rendered both of them untargettable).
    • The Pyrovore - which already is considered one of the worst units in the game - has an odd quirk thanks to some sloppy rules writing. When shot, the Pyrovore can blow up, potentially taking out anything else that's nearby. Except the rule in question is poorly written and, if you're creative in your interpretation (the exact text is "All units take a number of hits equal to the number of models within d6" of the model"), you can claim that an exploding Pyrovore hits every unit on the battlefield. Rules Lawyers looking for a laugh will occasionally pack the Pyrovore in close to a number of other friendly units, blow it up on purpose and use the technicality to try and wipe out half of the opponent's army (it helps if your own army is in reserve if you try this).
    • Another poorly thought-out rule was Blood Angels dreadnaughts, which can be given jetpacks to fly around the battlefield. However, once again thanks to poor rules wording, the way the codex handled this was to change the unit's type from "Walker" to "Jump Infantry", the latter being a designation that's supposed to apply to roughly human-sized creatures with wings or jump packs (not a Mini-Mecha like the Dreadnaught). Unscrupulous players argue that this allows them to carry Dreadnaughts as passengers in a ship that's roughly the same size as they are (since the ship is allowed to carry Jump Infantry, but not Walkers).
    • This story is a particularly (in)famous one that describes a Tau player scoring a victory-by-default by spreading his battle-line extremely thin (one man deep, but spanning the entire width of the table) and deploying it on the opponent's table edge after said opponent opted to keep his entire army in reserve. By the rules as written, this meant that the opponent did not have a valid entry point for his army - units in reserve that cannot legally enter the table count as destroyed, scoring the Tau player an automatic victory on Turn 1.
  • Chess has had a few... interesting interpretations of the rules over the centuries:
    • The pawn promotion rule is now specified very carefully to avoid certain abuses — such as remaining a pawn or promoting to an enemy piece. Yes, there are positions where those options are good, although it's vanishingly unlikely that they'd ever occur. See here for an example of when promoting to an enemy piece is more beneficial (to checkmate, blocking the king's escape with something he can't capture), and here for an example of when remaining a pawn is more beneficial (to run yourself out of moves and force a stalemate quicker than your opponent can force a checkmate).
    • There's one story where a student promoted his pawn to a king because his teacher, George Koltanowski, had forgotten to mention this was illegal. George says he responded by checkmating both kings at once.
    • To patch a serious Loophole Abuse, the rules were rewritten to specifically state that the move producing the checkmate must be a legal move. Before this change, some players argued that a checkmate could be performed with an illegal move and still achieve victory because of the rule that any violations cannot be reported after the game is over and, in theory, the game is over the moment you checkmate.
    • A chess puzzle revealed that castling could be done in three directions: queen-side, king-side, and filewise —that is, if a pawn was promoted to rook on the same file as the king, castling could then occur vertically if the new rook had not yet moved. The rules were clarified to say the rooks had to be on the same rank as the King.

    Video Games 
  • Donkey Kong Country
    • A meta-example is this Tool Assisted Speedrun of Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest. Unlike its predecessor, this run's main trick is using a debug sequence to acquire all the bonus coins early. This allows the speedrunner to get the last DK coin and see the True Ending first, then get the normal ending. This does save a bit of backtracking, but ultimately would take longer to reach the end of the credits. Since TASVideos rules (as interpreted for this game in particular) state the clock stops at the start of the end credits, and this run starts the end credits earlier, it's technically faster.
    • In the first Donkey Kong Country, the player "puts the controller down" (which counts as finishing) when K Rool still has one hit point. The Kongs stand there for a few seconds before K Rool runs into them, hitting one Kong and triggering the other to tag-in... right on top of Rool's head.
    • Some games, especially Game Boy games, allow the player to poke at and overflow certain memory addresses that causes the game to instantly flip to the credits, and in some cases the resulting credits are glitched out, but it still counts. Pressing left and right or up and down at the same time is ok, even though you couldn't practically do it on a standard, unmodified controller. However, if the non-"Lawyer" run is sufficiently different and interesting, it will be showcased as a separate entry.
  • Metal Gear Solid:
    • Several super soldiers were "created" due to the Government and military splicing their DNA with that of Big Boss's DNA. When Snake mentions that such an act is supposed to be banned under international law, Naomi Hunter explains that it is, but they don't apply as they were merely declarations, and not actual treaties.
    • Also with the Metal Gear launching nukes. Since it uses a rail gun and not fuel, it technically wasn't launching a rocket, so treaties wouldn't cover it.
  • Monokuma in the Danganronpa series has a strict set of rules for his Killing Game that he enforces to the letter, ranging from "No littering" to "No killing more than 3 people at once". This actually gets used against him in the second game's second trial, where Kuzuryu gets himself mortally wounded trying to save the killer from execution. Usami points out that, since the rules state that if the correct person is voted guilty in a trial, they alone will die, letting Kuzuryu die would be a violation. Due to being a Rules Lawyer, Monokuma the sadistic mastermind is forced to save someone's life.

    Web Comics 

    Web Originals 
  • Mr. Welch seems to be a loonie Rules Lawyer. Many of the things he has tried are legal within the rules, which are indicated when he says he can't do something "even if the rules allow it." For example, making a pistol belt fed.
  • In SCP Foundation SCP 738 is a supernatural entity that can grant wishes in exchange for suffering, naturally granted to the letter. Eventually they send the installation's legal counsel to bargain with it, and they engage in an extended bout of My Rule-Fu Is Stronger Than Yours, ending only when the legal counsel, having human limitations the entity doesn't possess, collapses from exhaustion. The last thing he remembers is that they were discussing the technical definition of the word "shall", and the document had reached 900 pages. He received a letter from SCP 738 inviting him to come back any time, as he hasn't had that much fun in ages.
  • The Other Wiki officially discourages this, though the practice is still widespread.
  • Whateley Universe has Elaine Nalley, codenamed "Loophole." She earned her codename days into her first term by constantly abusing loopholes in the school rulebook. Her lawyering is so extensive that her Mutant ID has no actual details beyond "Homo Sapiens, Further notations pending court trial." She doesn't fully manifest her powers until her sophomore combat final because she'd managed to talk her way out of everything that could cause her to manifest up to that point. Even then, it only manifests because her coach tries to murder her by flinging a car at her.
  • Kelly from We're Alive gets caught sleeping on guard duty and points out that, while there is a rule that everyone has to "pull guard duty," there is no rule against falling asleep in the guard room. She is an actual lawyer after all, so it shouldn't be a surprise.
  • Judge Dead from the Noob franchise is the Game Master for a MMORPG and seems to lean on the By-the-Book Cop side. This trope can be easily assumed to be part of his job description.

    Western Animation 
  • King of the Hill - Hank teaches Bobby to play baseball:
    Hank: You can't get on base if you don't swing.
    Bobby: You can get a base on balls.
    Hank: Do you want to play baseball or lawyerball?
  • Dana from Wayside fits this trope to a t.
  • In a particular Futurama episode, both the Professor and his son, Cubert, are in danger of being convicted in court. The prosecution drops the charges against Cubert because he is a child. Bender then points out that because Cubert is the Professor's clone, they are technically the same person. Therefore, the Professor must not be found guilty, since he cannot be tried twice for the same crime.
  • In The Fairly Oddparents, when faced with a devious genie, realizing he wasn't a match for the 5,000 year old trickster, Timmy wished for a lawyer to help him get what he really wanted. It worked.
  • In one episode of American Dad!, after a sketchy Jenga move, Roger tells Hayley that he called Hasbro in advance and they told him that what he was doing was against the spirit of the game, but technically legal.

    Real Life 
  • Debaters will, on occasion, delve into arguing about the process and rules of debate itself rather than the topic (either because they have no evidence that is on-topic to the specific case their opponent is running, or because they simply dislike the topic itself). The judges of a debate are supposed to score this tactic down, but being sufficiently audacious, amusing, or clever at it can earn their mercy.
    • In the specific subdiscipline of policy debate, this is so highly developed, several of these arguments are taught as standard. The most common is Topicality: The Affirmative (the guys proposing a solution to the official problem, called the resolution) are actually off-topic. This usually rests on abuse of the dictionary, but if the Negative (the guys trying to shoot the Affirmative down) can prove it and convince the judge that it's worthwhile to consider, they win: if the Affirmative is off-topic, then they haven't "Affirmed" the resolution, and thus failed. Weird enough for ya? Other rules-lawyer arguments (called "Theory" in the jargon) are weirder. Somebody once nearly won by arguing they should lose and then backing it up with cogent arguments on theory; they only lost because they actually were trying to throw the round, and brought in a different argument to ensure defeat.
    • Thankfully not allowed in debates with the "World Schools" (three speakers per side, with one making two speeches) and "British Parliamentary" (four speakers per side, one speech each) formats, where the rules and conventions are very clearly defined and rules-lawyering or breaking will get you marked down by the judge.
  • In college and high school Mock Trial under the AMTA rules, Rules Lawyer is one personality many attorneys play on defense when attempting to beat a team that is made up of big personalities. This often leads to lengthy objection battles, particularly when introducing evidence and putting it on the record. If they're poor at tactics (or checking the clock), the Rules Lawyer can ruin everyone's day by making the trial run over the allotted time, which results in a loss for both teams regardless of how they are doing in the trial.
  • Carried out twice by Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
    • In late 2008, with a minority government, due in large part to questionable tactics he'd tried during budget planning, he was facing a motion of no-confidence that would bring down his government. So he prorogued Parliament, preventing the vote. Proroguing is only supposed to be used at the end of a parliamentary session, when the government has completed the agenda it set in the throne speech; using it to shutter Parliament is distinctly not on. When the new Parliament reconvened sometime later, the opposition unity had fallen apart.
    • In late 2009, facing calls for an inquiry on Canadian involvement in torture in Afghanistan, questions about the economy and a bunch of other issues, he did it again (having gotten away with it the first time), claiming it was because of the Olympics distracting everyone (although the government seemed to manage okay the last time the country hosted the Games). His eventual reward for all this rules-lawyering? A majority government.
  • Union General Benjamin Butler was a general ... and a lawyer ... and a politician, so he was awfully good at this. A full year before the Emancipation Proclamation, he made it policy to never return runaway slaves who made it into Union lines. It was a sort of "emancipation lite" for the area. When Butler was scolded for playing with the political powder keg of slavery, he logically, and with tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek pointed out that slaves were no more then animals, and like any animal being used by the enemy, were legitimate contrabands of war. The ex-slaves stayed in Union lines, often took paid jobs, and got a basic education. This logic was eventually adopted by the whole Union Army, and was made general policy in the Emancipation Proclamation. Yes, this is what Lincoln's famous freeing of the slaves is based on: rules-lawyering. (Everyone forgets this, but before he was a politician, Lincoln was a top-flight and very successful lawyer.) It also made this massive change easier to swallow in the slave states that stayed in the Union.
    • It's often said that since the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to slaves in states that had seceded (so as not to offend loyal slave states) it freed exactly no one at its time of issuance. This is not precisely true; the Union Army already held substantial swaths of Southern territory—including the Confederacy's largest city, New Orleans—and in areas where the Union commanders hadn't already done what Butler had started doing, the slaves were freed. On the other hand, it is true that most slaves freed by the Proclamation were freed after it came into effect.
  • The Westboro Baptist Church mixes this trope with a fair amount of cherry picking to justify its founder's hatred for Jews, homosexuals and pretty-much every sentient being that is not part of the church. It doesn't help that the founder was actually a (disbarred) lawyer, and a peculiar number of his followers are members of the Bar as well.
  • As the title character from The Merchant of Venice pointed out, The Devil can cite Scripture to his own purpose (he even has a debate over it with Jesus in the New Testament). Quoting individual lines or phrases devoid of context is generally a good indication of this behaviour, since if the full story or lesson was really saying that it would be more effective to use than just the quote.
  • Islam attempts to prevent rules-lawyering by prescribing a hierarchy of which rules to follow in any given situation, starting from any directly-related clause quoted in the Qur'an (if any are applicable), then the hadith (the Prophet's Traditions), then opinions of jurists, up until lastly, one's personal take on the situation. Some Muslims even believe in some sort of God's Rule Zero: "God is Perfectly Just and All-Knowing. Thus, He will know what circumstances you are in when encountering this type of situation; Inshallah, He will understand." Conversely, Rule Zero Corollary is thusly said as: "God will always know any attempts to Rules Lawyer for one's personal benefit. Don't try it."
  • President Bill Clinton did not have sexual relations with that woman. She just gave him a blowjob. Which was not sexual relations, by the legal definition of that place and time. So Clinton told a legal truth that pretty much every layperson (cough) would consider a lie. To show how meticulous his Rules Lawyering went: before issuing that statement, he requested a legal definition for every single word he might use, even the legal definition of "the".
  • As pointed out by the Dutch Formula 1 commentator Olav Mol: if the car ahead of you is faster, then you can spend a lot of time, effort, and money developing new innovations that make your car faster as well, or you can spend just as much time but far less money finding a rule that forbids some aspect of your opponent's car.
  • Henry "Smokey" Yunick was the king of this trope in NASCAR. He did everything from lowering the roof of the car (to improve the aerodynamics) to using an 11-foot coil of 2-inch tubing in lieu of a standard fuel line (to add 5 gallons of gas to the car's capacity). His reasoning was that everyone else was cheating at least 10 times as hard as his crew was, so it was self-defense.
  • American tax protesters often attempt this trope with <ahem> non-standard readings of many laws, such as claiming that their salary is not "income" since it is only paper money and not gold or silver, or that the tax bill is for JOHN DOE, who is a totally different person from John Doe. The most famous being that paying income taxes is optional because the U.S. code uses the word "voluntary" to refer to the system. In this case, though, "voluntary" does not mean "optional"; it means "You are going to volunteer (i.e. provide) your information to us. The IRS is not going to compute your taxes for you and send you a bill. You have to do your own paperwork."
    • Similarly, the 'birther' movement surrounding Barack Obama's eligibility for the presidency. Most of the movement centred the argument around his birth certificate and the claim that he wasn't born in the United States. When Obama produced his birth certificate, they largely either backed down or claimed the certificate was a fake. But an even more extreme section of the movement insisted that the birth certificate was irrelevant because according to the constitution a president must be a natural-born citizen, whereas Obama is only a native-born citizen (yes, legally these are different things). This is apparently because Obama's father was from Kenya, then a British colony, and British law at the time said that all colonial subjects and their children were British citizens. Apart from this not in any way affecting Obama's US citizenship (as many people have joint nationality), Britain retroactively repealed the British citizenship of colonial subjects after those colonies became independent (unless they were eligible for British citizenship on other grounds, which neither Obama nor his father were).
  • Capon was originally conceived by the Romans to get around a law forbidding the fattening of hens (the law was intended to conserve grain rations). The Romans simply castrated roosters and fattened them instead... with delicious results.
  • If an animated show goes past a certain number of episodes (around sixty) then the regular voice actors are entitled to a share of the profits under guild regulations. This is why many cartoons are cancelled after two seasons, so the networks can avoid paying out the extra money. However, technically, Ben 10 (52 episodes), Ben 10: Alien Force (46 episodes), Ben 10: Ultimate Alien (52 episodes) and Ben 10: Omniverse all count as different shows; Cartoon Network keep reworking and retitling the series before it qualifies. This may also be why Justice League was retooled into Justice League Unlimited, why Batman: The Animated Series became Batman and Robin and then then New Batman Adventures, why Scooby-Doo keeps getting rebooted, and so on.
  • The deed of gift governing the rules of the America's Cup yacht race is governed by the New York State Supreme Court (which is actually a trial court in New York). Disputes are argued by actual lawyers and have gone before actual New York state judges. The most recent time the courts got involved occurred in 2010.
  • Barney Curley was apparently so good at abusing the rules of horse race betting, he made over ten million dollars off it. The article's writer specifically calls him a Magnificent Bastard.
  • In civil suits in the United States, jury verdicts in cases where the dispute is over something exceeding a given dollar value are not typically subject to judicial review. However, there is a type of judgment called "judgment notwithstanding the verdict", which requires that a motion for judgment as a matter of law had been filed and denied during the trial. The logic behind judgment notwithstanding the verdict is that it is not a reexamination of the verdict, but rather of the previously-rejected motion. Judges like this for varying reasons, not least of which is ass-covering: they will often deny a motion for judgment as a matter of law during the trial even if he/she has already made up his/her mind that the law is clear and that one side should win. If the jury's verdict is in favor of the party that the judge thinks should win, the opposing party's motion after the verdict will be denied. If the verdict goes the other way, though, the judge will simply grant the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. This means that the judge gets the result he/she thinks is right no matter what, but also gets the advantage that if the jury finds for the side the judge was going to rule for, it has the added legitimacy and finality of a jury verdict.
  • Bronwyn Bishop when she was the Liberal member for Mackeller was notorious for this role, spending Question Time reading through every book on standing orders and decorum to challenge not just the opposition but the Parliament officials themselves. Then she ignores the rules that are not in favor of her party when she became Speaker.
  • Expect any sporting referee/umpire/judge to behave this way. Ideally the Helpful, Lawful Good variant.
  • This trope is how the National Football League signed its first Black player of the modern era. In 1946, NFL teams were barred from signing UCLA star player Kenny Washington, due to segregation (George Halas and the Chicago Bears first among them). Then the Cleveland Rams - who were about to become the Los Angeles Rams and wanted to sign the local star Washington - used the very law that established Segregation (Plessy v. Ferguson) to force the league to allow them to sign Washington. When they were about to move into to the LA Colosseum (a publicly-funded stadium), Rams officials asked the when the accompanying blacks-only stadium would be built. Since that wasn't about to happen, and the law said there had to be an equivalent organization to justify the exclusion (such as Major League Baseball and the Negro Leagues), the NFL couldn't use the law to enforce their own segregation policy (unless they wanted to start a full Negro Football League).
  • The Tetris Company, current IP holders of the Tetris puzzle game franchise, only issue licenses to Tetris games that abide by these standards. This is especially problematic because there is also no Grandfather Clause: any Tetris game made before these went into effect are also bound by them. If a game cannot meet this criteria and it was released under the Tetris name can never be legally rereleased. This includes the Game Boy version, the one where the iconic "Type A" music comes from that everyone and their grandmother is familiar with.
  • Technology and science are essentially this, learning the rules by which nature operates and using them to do things that are useful to us.