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Loophole Abuse

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And they say math is hard. note 
Image by Wade Clarke. Used with permission.
Q: Explain Newton's First Law of Motion in your own words.
Calvin: [writing] Yakka foob mog. Grug pubbawup zink wattoom gazork. Chumble spuzz. [aside] I love loopholes.

Someone — typically a Rules Lawyer — does something outrageous by finding a loophole in the rules, which were too narrowly written to consider such possibilities. This allows the agent to get their way while claiming they were technically following the rules.

Sometimes the loophole doesn't really exist, but the competitor is convinced it does based on his own misinterpretation of the rules. If the loophole's existence is explained, one justification sometimes is that when the rule was designed, the Loophole Abuse seemed absurd enough that no one would ever be stupid enough to try it. This is a form of Refuge in Audacity. The Comically Wordy Contract will often contain these, especially if a Deal with the Devil is involved.

In games, this may often be the result of some kind of oversight by the creators. A programming oversight can cause someone to do something they did not intend, such as killing a mob intended to be invincible.

In Real Life, this is more difficult for two simple reasons: First, loopholes are quickly closed once discovered, sometimes by an Obvious Rule Patch. Second, many systems have Rule Zero: some designated referee, judge or authority figure has the absolute final word and can simply throw the argument out wholesale, usually by claiming that the "spirit" of the rule never intended to allow what the "letter" of it seems to say. On the other hand, some "loopholes" were actually exceptions put in the rule for a reason and as such are (or have become) part of the rule.

Also note that before you add an example here (especially under Real Life), loopholes are different than exemptions and provisions. These two are intentional exceptions to the simplified version of a law. For example if a government taxes pools and a pool manufacturer starts manufacturing large hot tubs to get around it, that's a loophole. If that same government decides they don't want to tax hot tubs, they will add a provision that says hot tubs are not pools. The former pool manufacturer is now using a provision to manufacture hot tubs and is following both the letter and spirit of the rules but this may not be readily obvious to an outside observer.

Several examples refer to the old name of this trope, Ain't No Rule (named for a specific situational loophole). Compare Exact Words, No Man of Woman Born, Puzzle Thriller, "Not Illegal" Justification.

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  • This Segata Sanshiro commercial. Apparently there's no rule against grabbing a guy off the sideline and hurling him at the ball to score a goal for your team. Subverted when the referee gives Segata a red card.
  • In the Spock vs Spock Audi commercial, Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy have a race to the golf course and the loser buys lunch. ZQ in his Audi wins the race but as Nimoy points out "Technically we're not inside yet" and subdues him with a Vulcan neck pinch.
  • Underoos brand underwear first got around the de facto taboo about showing a bunch of kids gallivanting in their underwear on TV by calling their product "costumes" instead of underwear.
  • Hasbro commissioned Marvel Comics to create a G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero Comic Book and advertised it on TV for a special reason. Namely, animation featuring a toy on a TV commercial is strictly regulated, but the regulations were much laxer for an advertisement on a literary work. Thus the advertisements could feature their toys in full animation because it is officially the comic book itself that is being advertised.
  • In Sweden, it was once illegal for domestically-run commercial broadcasters to air commercial breaks during programs; they could only do it between programs. So what did TV4 (an OTA network which, unlike its cable-based competitors who broadcast from outside the country, was subject to said rules) do? They split a program with an interstitial, thus allowing them to air ads "between" programs.
  • The famous Apple MacIntosh 1984 Commercial is often stated to have only aired once, during the 1984 Super Bowl on Jan. 22 1984. However in order to qualify for the prominent Clio Awards it had to air at least once in 1983 so they purchased time to run it on a small station in Twin Falls, Idaho shortly before midnight on Dec. 31 1983. It was likely only seen by a few hundred people at most. This was way before social media could spoil it so the result was the ad made its impact and is often regarded as the Greatest TV Commercial ever.

  • A couple from Mission to Zyxx:
    • As a diplomatic mission, the crew do not have clearance to carry weapons of any kind. Dar's ion blaster is thus filed as spare droid parts, since it was originally part of a destroyed droid.
    • Nermut attempts to negotiate a nonaggression contract with the tornada (one of his race's traditional predators). When it claws the bottom line in a struggle, he successfully argues that the claw mark constitutes a signature (like an illiterate person's mark) and enforces the binding contract.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ars Magica: The Order of Hermes is a loose coalition of overlapping factions with variable goals, so the success of this tactic largely depends on whose toes are being stepped on.
    • Defied by the rule that at most two pounds of magically-created silver may be traded to mundanes per magus per year to avoid crashing the economy. If a magus tries to flout this by creating gold and gems instead, they're not only punished but mocked for their unoriginality.
    • Magi swear not to "interfere with the affairs of mundanes and thereby bring ruin on my [fellow magi]". In practice, the rule is to protect the Order, not mundanes, so harm that doesn't bring negative attention to the Order is often excused. One magus exonerated himself by establishing that he never left mundane witnesses alive.
    • The Transylvanian Tribunal is limited to five Covenants, as a result of a ruling after Tremere's attempt to seize power over the Order. So except for Coeris, they don't use Covenants much at all; they use oppidia, which are outposts in the Tribunal that have a different administrative role.
    • A Tribunal ruling banned magi from selling enchanted items to mundanes. The Item Crafters of House Verditius immediately employed non-magical middlemen to do the selling on their behalf — but voluntarily limited their sales so as not to provoke the Tribunal to close the loophole.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Munchkins can be even worse than Rules Lawyers: some players go for full-blown Loophole Abuse. The DM can, of course, veto any action you do or change the rules at any time with Rule Zero, but it is not necessary to mention this for every example (D&D players have a penchant for seeking out loopholes for fun, without ever expecting to get away with abusing them).
    • Perhaps the classic example was the 3.0 Edition "Bag O' Rats Fighter". This involved a Fighter using the Whirlwind Attack and Great Cleave feats while dumping a sack full of live rats at his feet to get an Attack of Opportunity for each of the rats he killed — gaining a dozen or more extra attacks against his opponent in a single combat round! While technically legal according to the rules as written, no sane and reasonable DM should allow it. In 3.5 Edition, it got an Obvious Rule Patch stating that when using Whirlwind Attack, the character wasn't allowed to make bonus attacks from other sources, like the Haste spell or Great Cleave feat.
    • It was long believed that players could theoretically turn Locate City into a nuclear bomb. This turns out to not actually work, for fiddly technical reasons, but by the time that was discovered, the theory had been developed well enough to be quickly applied to a different spell that lacked those problems.
    • Some people figured out they could recover from infinite damage by drowning themselves. Taken literally, the drowning rules set your hit points to zero, even if they're negative. And then "It's Wet Outside" lets someone make a heal check to stop drowning.
    • Passing an item hand to hand is a free action (doesn't take up time), so if you line up a few thousand people you can get an object to travel miles in six seconds. Then the last person throws it. This is commonly called the "Peasant Railgun". note 
      • You can also have one player stand on another player's shoulders and pick him up as a free action. Then the other player picks him up. Since this is all a free action, there is no time for them to fall, and thus they can fly by repeatedly picking each other up in midair.
    • All characters in a grapple are in the same square. There's also a rule that up to three people can grapple with one target. With some creative planning on the part of the grapplers, you can get it so that the entire population of a planet is in one square, which is 5 feet in game terms. There's also a rule as to what happens when players break a grapple (each member of the grapple is shoved to the nearest empty square immediately). This can result in characters going faster than the speed of light in order to land on a properly empty square.
    • Dropping an item is a free action, as well. And if you happen to be fireproof and are standing next to an enemy while carrying, say, five hundred units of alchemist's fire...Though the logistics of actually carrying all of it is a bit screwy in and of itself (seriously, you normally only have two hands with which to drop them).
    • Perhaps the most true-to-form example of this trope (at least by the old name, Ain't No Rule) is that while the state of "Dying" is explicitly defined in the rules as far as what actions are acceptable, the state of "Dead" has no restrictions. There Ain't No Rule preventing a freshly-killed player from standing up and continuing the fight. Amazingly, this turns out to accidentally be patched by a literal reading of a completely different rule — since a dead player has -10 HP, and -10 is less than 0, dead players are technically "incapacitated by nonlethal damage" at all times.note 
    • There's no official restriction preventing you from using the spell True Creation to make planet-destroying quantities of antimatter.
    • An intentional case was mentioned in the 3.5 Draconomicon, when discussing vampiric dragons. The text explicitly noted that they still had the usual vampiric weakness of being unable to enter a dwelling without an invitation. It then went on to say that said restriction absolutely did not prevent a vampiric dragon from smashing the building in question to pieces and picking its victims out of the rubble.
    • The various settings tend to have in-universe cases somewhere in all the history and organizations. For instance, House Jorasco healers are not supposed to treat without payment in money... but there is nothing hindering them from lending the necessary money and then setting a task as repayment in kind for the loan.
    • In universe, the infamous Wish spell. This spell can be cast by high-level wizards, or can be granted by a few select creatures (like djinn), but they should always be met with caution. It is explicitly stated in the rules that wishing for anything too powerful can result in a perverted or partial wish fulfillment. Too careless wishing can result in getting the exact opposite of what was intended, depending on the maliciousness of the creature and/or the DM. For example, when wishing for a mighty artifact, the caster might grant you the teleporting you into the tomb where the artifact is located, in the middle of its undead guardians.
      • That being said, the spell description in the Player's Handbook does include a list of effects that the DM is supposed to let go through as intended by the character's player. Furthermore, this trope is also the reason why Wish's clerical counterpart, Miracle, is considered to be somewhat safer, as Miracle is mechanically treated as a request to the cleric's deity to intercede on their behalf - and if the cleric asks for too much, the deity simply refuses the request.
    • In the universe (or multiverse) there's also the case of the Deal with the Devil (more or less literally). These vary, but may involve a Magically-Binding Contract that the fiend itself also has to follow, but which will definitely be written with loopholes to turn against the mortal party — at least as much so as the fiend can make it, and they'll typically have centuries of experience. Both the Lawful Evil devils and the Chaotic Evil demons do this. (However, in an interesting interpretation, some guy who thinks about this stuff a lot claimed that Lawful Evil creatures will follow the spirit of the contract, not just the letter, since twisting the wording would be Chaotic. This is still presumably meant to allow a higher-level Loophole Abuse. However, this is not the way it's usually seen.)
    • In an earlier version, there was an item which made the wearer immune to death. Not death-effects. Death!
    • Asmodeus' daughter Glasya is a master at exploiting loopholes. She's regarded as a Rules Lawyer by the standards of an entire species of them, so she has a lot of experience with contracts. Her rise to Archdevil status came after a scheme where she managed to engage in quasi-legal counterfeiting by minting coins from lesser metals that had been temporarily transmuted into a specific gold alloy, then use these coins to buy souls that were then sold for profit again. Now, after her rise to Archdevil status, mortals most commonly bargain with her to get out of a contract with another devil, with her always finding a loophole that makes the contract void in exchange for said mortal pledging their soul to her instead.
    • In Mystara there are no Gods, but immortals, who are similar but work differently. One taboo of Immortals is impersonating existing gods - which could be tempting, as an easy blueprint for a way to get more followers that clearly worked, but could risk said God showing up in their world, forcing all Immortals to fight them off, as Gods are stronger than Immortals, but Immortals have strength in numbers. However, Demon Lords and Archdevils who aren't Gods often also have successful cults, so several Immortals styled themselves or outright copied the likes of Orcus, Demogorgon or Yeenoghu, since these are too weak to retaliate the way full-fledged Gods would.
    • Practically every rule in 5th Edition is open to discussion. Some examples include (and some may also apply to other versions):
      • The list of weapons you're proficient with states which weapons you know how to use, but not HOW to use them. Rogues in 5th Edition cannot use a club, but there's no rule saying they cannot hold their shortsword by the blade and use it to whack the enemies as if it was a club.
      • This is basically what medieval knights did when fighting other knights in platemail. The blade couldn't pierce the armor, so they used their swords as clubs instead to much greater effect.
      • Nowhere in the rules does it say that you have to actually fire an arrow to deal damage with a bow. Of course, it's assumed that a player who wields a bow would fire arrows from said bow, but the rules don't specifically state that this is a requirement.
      • They don't state that you have to use a bow as a ranged weapon either. A Longbow is still a Longbow, even if you use it to hit your enemies in melee, so according to the rules, it still deals full damage, not just 1 (Improvised Weapons are anything that doesn't outright resemble a common weapon-type. A Longbow will always resemble a Longbow which is a common weapon-type, thus preventing a Longbow from being an Improvised Weapon, and thus keeping its damage to 1d8 or 1d10 instead of just 1).
      • The rules aren't specific about how to actually use alchemical items, meaning you could easily get away with administering a vial of Holy Water to an undead or Acid to the guy you just beat up in a bar-fight. This way, you can save the vials for later use (like making your own alchemical items) or sell them and get a little money back.
      • The alignment table is a bit ambiguous at times. Particularly, it doesn't say that a Lawful Good Paladin (the typical paragon of all that is good and just) cannot start a crowdfunding campaign to help a village...using the villagers' own money! The rules just say that Lawful Good characters have to act according to local laws, be good towards others and bring evildoers to justice.
      • Furthermore, there's no rule saying that a Chaotic Evil character cannot have sympathy with the people he wrongs...or donate to charity.
      • Due to the fact that alignment-restrictions on classes don't exist in 5th Edition, Paladins are allowed to be Chaotic Evil but still serve justice and protect the weak (Oath of Devotion).
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Codex Astartes states that Space Marine chapters can exceed the normal limit of 1,000 brethren if they're engaged in a crusade. So the Black Templars chapter simply declared themselves to be perpetually crusading, allowing them to have as many troops as they can raise. Only the High Marshal, who is the Black Templar's equivalent to a Chapter Master, knows exactly how many Black Templars exist, though in-universe, they are suspected to be somewhere around Legion strength (6,000 Marines).
  • Warhammer Fantasy:
    • Warfare is a noble pursuit in chivalry-obsessed Bretonnia, so it would shame any lord to hire mercenaries or let peasants fight independently. However, shepherds need to travel and keep their flocks safe, so there are quite a few companies of well-trained, well-armed freelance shepherds with only one sheep to their name.
    The pay is 50 pennies per day, but those nobles are remarkably careless about dropping purses of gold in front of the head shepherd.
    • Because of their obsession with chivalry, gunpowder weapons are banned on Bretonnian soil. But the law doesn't say anything about Bretonnian water, meaning their ships can still use cannons.
    • Mastering the winds of magic normally requires decades, if not hundreds of years of study and mental preparation, which make sense since the winds of magic are slightly purer forms of the raw Chaos Demons are made out of. Which is all fine and well for the long lived elves, but for the shorter lived humans this meant that they were unable to learn how to use magic. To get around this limitation the elves taught the humans a method that allows them to master the winds a decade or so, at the expense of driving them totally insane... in two or three hundred years. Which was a problem for the long lived elves, but for the shorter lived humans, not so much.

    Web Video 
  • Jet Lag: The Game: All players, especially Sam, sometimes use unconventional readings of a task to complete it in an untraditional way. This includes an instance in season two where Sam and Joseph interpret "Ascend 152 meters to a high point" to include running up and down a small incline twenty-eight times.
  • The Original Ace managed to bypass demonetization by copyright claiming his own video... What an absolute madlad.
  • Party Crashers: In "We Added a Wheel of Punishments to Mario Party", one of Sophist's punishments was that his hands could not touch the controller. However, nothing was said about his hands being covered by something else, so he decides to wear oven mittens and hold the controller that way.
  • Tool-Assisted Speedrun website TASVideos often uploads runs that beat the game in a ridiculously low amount of time. The catch is that "beat the game" is defined as "trigger the The End screen", even if that's done by exploiting an obscure glitch rather than, you know, beating the game. A few egregious examples jump into the ending sequence from the middle of the game for no apparent reason.
  • Weird school rules in Hong Kong: The students often take advantage of the wording in their ridiculous school rules to bend them to their advantage, especially in the face of the more obstinate teachers. How well this goes tends to depend on the skit.
    • In Episode 1, in the skit discussing a rule against wearing leather shoes to school, the student explains that his shoes were "made in [the Strong Country, i.e. China]" and therefore didn't contain real leather. We don't know if the teacher accepted this as an excuse, though.
    • In Episode 2, in the skit discussing a rule that only permits glasses with black frames, a student lends his 3D glasses to a schoolmate, Yan-yan (whose glasses frames violated the rules), because his 3D glasses had purely black frames and didn't violate the rules.
      Male student: What's going on?
      Yan-yan: Ah Sir said we can't wear glasses that don't have black frames.
      Male student: So, ah Sir, we can only wear glasses with pure black frames?
      Teacher: (smugly) Of course—if they have pure black frames like mine, you can wear them.
      Male student: Yan-yan, you can wear this pair of mine. (takes out a pair of 3D glasses with pure black frames and hands them to Yan-yan)
      (Yan-yan takes the 3D glasses and superimposes them over her own glasses with black and brown frames, smiling)
      Teacher: Huh?! Even 3D glasses for watching movies?!
      Male student: Ah Sir, how can you take back your words? These are glasses with black frames!
  • In this video the protagonists must at some point fulfill a challenge: breathe the air of three different countries in 24 hours. They notice that embassies are legally considered territory of another country, so they save themselves a long travel abroad.

Alternative Title(s): Aint No Rule, No Purple Dragons


Nerf Fortnite Battle

Having to play through a bad shoulder that will put him at a disadvantage in the battle, Cody comes up with an alternative plan: since no rule forces him to actually attempt to shoot the targets, he disregards them and instead dashes right through the course.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

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Main / LoopholeAbuse

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