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My Rule Fu Is Stronger than Yours

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"Don't worry about us, ma'am," Fix assured her, and winked. "Titania has already laid down the law. We've obeyed it. Not our fault if what she decreed was not what she wanted."
"Translation," [Harry Dresden] said. "We got around her fair and square. She won't like it, but she'll accept it."

It's safe to say that society as we know it couldn't exist without rules. Without rules, power would be the only source of order in the world, either in terms of destructive capability or material resources.

And like any tool that can be used for the common good, rules have the potential to be abused.

Rules have power, and their ability to level the playing field can also be used to unbalance it in favor of whomever makes the rules in the first place. So what can you do? You can always break the law, but the more clever will figure out how to beat them at their own game.

There are two ways this can happen:

  1. The rules can hang you, but the rules can also save you. Obstructive Bureaucrats and the like may think of the rules as a hammer to crush unworthy peons with, but the people who wrote the rules may have had other ideas: an apparently mean-spirited and arbitrary rule might have a reasonable exception buried in its text that the tyrants in charge prefer to conveniently ignore. Alternately, the roles may be reversed, and a villain who apparently has been caught dead to rights by the authorities finds a convenient loophole to wriggle through.
  2. The people who enforce the rules don't necessarily follow them. They may imagine themselves to be a higher class or more noble or pious or whatever, but in the end it's all because of the badge they wear or the title they hold: they're just as fallible as anyone else, and if these people insist that there's not a single rule they've ever broken, they can be sent screaming into a Villainous BSoD if someone finds that one obscure rule they did break, or points out a rule that they would never want to follow. (The more sociopathic might instead be compelled to dispose of whoever pointed out this fact, all to maintain their perfect record. Never mind that there are rules against murder in every culture on the face of the globe.) Again, this can have a dark side, as a paragon figure can be transformed into a Broken Pedestal if someone brings to light some transgression in their past.

An easy way to subvert Can't Get Away with Nuthin'. See also Screw the Rules, I Have Money!. Compare Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right! and Chaotic Good, where Lawful and Good are on opposite sides, and Loophole Abuse. Any Rules Lawyer often uses the first variant, and is afraid of somebody using the second on him.

Compare Subterfuge Judo, where two parties will try to get the upper hand through imposition, or attempted avoidance of imposition.

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Examples of 1:

    Comic Books 
  • In The Goon, Goon and Frankie are facing a gypsy priestess who is reviving dead slaves to use as labor. They literally throw the book at her by pulling out the Worker's Union Handbook, which states that only Union labor is allowed to work within the city, and demand that she free the slaves because she's going against the Union chapter. The gypsy priestess laughs it off and tries to use spells against them... only for the spells to fizzle out. Turns out, one of the rules in the fine print of the Handbook is that no form of magic or other sorts of supernatural persuasion may be used during Union negotiation, thoroughly rendering her powerless.
  • In one of the Donald Duck comics, the Beagle Boys use many strange laws and legal loopholes to get away with really stupid crimes (like stealing one certain kind of sandwich), just to piss off police and the judge. However, it backfires because the judge later finds other loopholes that make them guilty anyway (stealing that one kind of sandwich is not a crime... as long as you don't eat it before dusk).
  • A large part of Knights of the Dinner Table is an ongoing Rule Fu duel between Game Master B. A. Felton and Rules Lawyer Brian Van Hoose. Brian usually gets the better of B.A., but when the campaign is on the line, B.A. pulls out a win.
  • Being just about the living incarnation of Lawful Neutral, this crops up occasionally in Judge Dredd, typically in someone trying to "catch" Dredd overstepping his bounds, setting things up in a way that they annoy him into leaving them alone, or doing things that are legal by way of technicality. It rarely works out well for them, as Dredd IS the law, and is as adept with pulling up even more obscure rules and regulations to do the right (or, at least, legal) thing as he is with just shooting people in the face.
  • The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: During a meeting with an extremely unfriendly organic captain, who refuses to let the crew go down to investigate an abandoned settlement, Ultra Magnus manages to use the rules (which he knows every word of) to make the captain let them go down.

    Comic Strips 
  • Knights of the Dinner Table: The gaming community of Muncie is made of this trope, but especially Brian Vanhoose who never met a rule he couldn't exploit. For example, a frustrated B.A. invoked obscure "overbearing" rules in his game (a target is automatically overbeared by an angry mob, consisting of at least ten people) over Brian's objections and delivered a Humiliation Conga to his group. Brian responded by having each party member hire 10 beggars to act as a mob and started mercilessly overbearing monsters.

    Fan Works 
  • In Echoes of the Past, a principal threatens to expel a 9-year old Laurel for punching a bully, citing she signed a contract "not to harm" another student. She replies that contracts signed by minors aren't legally binding; and if they were he'd have to expel the bullies too, since while their bullying might not have physical, it was still harmful. The principal backs down.
  • In Broken Bow, before going to travel through time, Athena makes the lead characters swear not to get involved or do anything. As it turns out, they kind of accidentally murdered Julius Caesar, amongst other things. It Makes Sense in Context. When she gets angry, Hippolytas points out that the actions occurred before they made the vow, in linear time, and as such it's not binding. She concedes.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Incredibles, Bob Parr (a.k.a. Mr. Incredible) works for an insurance company whose boss orders them to screw over the customers however possible; Bob gets around this by using Could Say It, But... to give the policy holders the information they need.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Pirates of the Caribbean:
    • In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Barbossa opposes Jack's motion to the Brethren Court (to fight the EITC's armada) by quoting the code, calling his motion "an act of war", something which can only be declared by the Pirate King, an elected official. But since each Lord of the current Court only votes for himself, it's unlikely there will ever be a Pirate King again. Barbossa even calls on Teague, Keeper of the Code, to make sure this rule is enforced. Jack then calls for a vote, and when everyone else votes for themselves, Jack votes for the one Lord who supports his motion: Elisabeth. Jack gets his way and, since he followed the rules, no-one can even complain. Kapow! Additionally, there's nothing in the rule that says the King has to be a man. Then again, Elizabeth is not the only female Pirate Lord present.
    • Parley or parlay is invoked many times in the series, freezing the pirates in their tracks. Subverted when the smarter pirates decide to consider it less of a rule and more of a guideline.
  • Old School puts a twist on the classic Dean Bitterman-Fraternity conflict by making the fraternity a bunch of middle-aged office drones. When the dean tries to outmaneuver them with legal regulations, he finds himself stymied by the frat's uncanny ability to file all the necessary paperwork to authorize their behavior.
  • Diggstown is about two hustlers making a huge bet on an epic, day-long boxing competition. They set out the rules of the competition beforehand, then spend the rest of the film exploiting every loophole they possibly can to get an edge.
  • Speed Racer has one preceding the climax. Royalton has been burying the Racer family under legal issues and using underhanded methods to ensure Speed never even qualifies and Taejo has backed out of his deal to turn over evidence of Royalton's crimes in exchange for Speed's help in the Casa Cristo race. Basically, at this point, Royalton's won and the only bump was having to pay a higher price for the Togokahn merger. Then Haruko walks into the Racer household with an invitation to the Grand Prix that they are, according to WRL rules, absolutely entitled to. Royalton tries to protest it, but Inspector Detector is right there threatening, with full authority, to shut the entire Grand Prix down to conduct a full, and extremely costly, investigation. Royalton has no option but to withdraw his complaint because, for all his money and influence, he absolutely cannot handle the public backlash that shutting down what is apparently the biggest sporting event in the world short of the Olympics would create.

  • Happens frequently in The Icelandic Sagas. Lacking a widespread writing system, law was taught orally; good knowledge of law earned a person great respect, although only a handful ever learned all the intricacies of the system. Courtroom scenes are common in the sagas, with knowledgeable people often playing key roles in the outcomes, to the detriment and benefit of both antagonists and protagonists.
  • A minor plot point in A Brother's Price is when the princesses have to decide who gets to inherit a piece of land, that is very strategically important, and use their rule-fu to make a legal decision that gives that piece of land to the crown. (They're benevolent rulers who adhere to their own rules). The three families who brought the case to court also try to invoke the trope to their personal advantage, and succeed to some degree, as the princesses only want the piece of land mentioned above, they don't care about the money, and manors, and other stuff.
  • In Isaac Asimov's story Blind Alley, a bureaucrat sets up a chain of events that allows a Dying Race of aliens to steal a fleet of spaceships and escape human space; the bureaucrat makes sure that there is an extensive (and legitimate) paper trail proving that he had nothing to do with it.
  • From the Deryni works by Katherine Kurtz:
    • Kelson's Unconventional Courtroom Tactics in the treason and heresy trial of Alaric Morgan in Deryni Rising are this to a fare-thee-well. He stalls for time by having the charges read in full, then asks for each member of the Regency Coucil to vote individually, then he casts Morgan's vote for him (causing a tie), since he's still a member of Council until he's convicted. Jehana objects, then casts a vote against him since Kelson is presiding in person. Once Kelson hears the clock chime the hour and knows he's turned fourteen, he asserts "I rule today!" and appoints Morgan's aide Sean Earl Derry to the vacant seat (one of the members was killed in an ambush days earlier); this forces a tie vote and Kelson breaks the tie, freeing Morgan and insisting that any resubmission of the charges will require further proof. Jehana is not happy to be defeated by a suddenly-grown son: "Kelson had stood before the Council and defied her—not with childish threats and impotent taunts, but with decisive, adult that Kelson was King in fact as well as in name—a development she hadn't even considered before—how could she possibly lure him away from Morgan's evil influence?"
    • When Istelyn delivers Loris' notice of Kelson's excommunication and Interdict for Gwynedd to the king at Dol Shaia, Kelson reads it and loses his temper. While Morgan is simply unimpressed, having gotten used to being excommunicate himself (and being a worldly by nature), Duncan calls the documents "worthless" and points out that Loris' reduced conclave of eleven bishops is insufficient to pass anything (canon law requires more than half of the twenty-two bishops to pass any such acts). Kelson scans the documents again, saying, " A twelfth. By God, you're right! How could I have forgotten?"
  • Subverted in Monstrous Regiment: Sgt. Jackrum pretends to pull this by citing a non-existent rule, since officers never actually read the rulebook and just accept whatever he says. Then Lieutenant Blouse calls him out on it by bringing out the actual rulebook, and complimenting Jackrum on his dilligence. Both know the rule is absolute guff, but now Jackrum can't do anything without being caught out.
  • In David Brin's Uplift universe, the rules laid down by billions of years of galactic bureaucracy are extremely important. Even the most ruthless races are terrified of violating the "Standards for Acceptable Warfare."
  • Used in Dexta when Gloria (professional bureaucrat that she is) pulls out every rule in the book to trip up the corrupt Imperial Governor. This gets her promoted to Acting Imperial Governor with deliberately impossible orders ("enforce a cease-fire between two alien factions without using Imperial troops to defend aliens"), so she takes advantage of a militia that the Emperor didn't know about to solve the problem.
  • Happens frequently in The Dresden Files. The fae cannot tell a lie, must keep any promise made three times, and must follow legitimate orders. As a result, rule fu is a way of life and an honored skill. When Harry pulls his donut with white frosting and sprinkles trick, the entire Summer Court laughs about it for months and his status goes up considerably. On the other hand, when he gains the authority to command Cat Sith, he quickly realizes that his rule fu is not up to the task, and he'd better stick to orders Cat doesn't mind following.
  • By the same author, the Codex Alera books also feature a huge number of schemes and legal manipulation. Captain's Fury has two such examples:
    • Smug Snake Senator Arnos has ordered captain Tavi to execute civilians, arguing that they had committed treason by surrendering to Alera's enemies rather than fighting to the death against a vastly more powerful force that had no quarrel with them, and by the letter of the law he had the right to do so. He does this fully expecting that Tavi would refuse, and thus give the senator an excuse to accuse him of disobeying orders (and, by extension, treason against the Realm) and have him removed from office. Unfortunately, even after getting what he wanted, the senator refuses to repeal the execution order, as he wants to Make an Example of Them to discourage any further "traitors". Tavi solves the problem by peacefully relinquishing his office but leaving Crassus (the son and heir of a High Lord,) in charge in his stead, knowing that Crassus would also refuse to carry out the execution order. If Arnos then accused Crassus of treason, Crassus' father would have just cause to call Arnos to the juris macto and "scatter the leftover pieces all over Alera", but if Arnos didn't deal with both "traitors" the same way, he would undermine the charges against Tavi, leaving him little choice but to let the civilians live.
    • Later on in the same book, Tavi's close friend Ehren writes up documentation which not only legitimizes Tavi's claim as heir apparent, but also gives him the authority to be released under his own watch if he was acting in such a way to benefit the country, to stop Arnos from stating Tavi's actions were illegal and the charges Tavi levies against him should be dismissed. Arnos' lawyer affirms the documents are properly signed and correct.
  • The Whateley Universe has Jadis' lawyer pull an epic one, made even more epic by going on for a good fifteen minutes, most of which is brushed over, but described as an epic battle, allowing the user to imagine it. Jadis got off.
  • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry is put in front of a Kangaroo Court determined to make him look bad. The charge they use is that he used magic in front of a Muggle, which goes against upholding The Masquerade. Dumbledore points out that a) said Muggle is already familiar with magic and b) that there's a self-defense clause in that law, and that Harry was clearly acting in self-defense. Fudge refers to Harry blowing up his aunt, but Dumbledore points out that that happened two years ago, and that since Fudge didn't press charges then, he can hardly do so now. He then tries to argue that Harry has been up to all kinds of nonsense at school...but as Dumbledore points out, what happens at school is not legally the Ministry's business. Fudge has no choice but to concede.
  • In The Elenium, one of the major villains is a corrupt church official trying to bribe his way into the Archprelacy (their equivalent of the Papal Throne of the Roman Catholic Church). On multiple occasions, both heroes and villains use Church law to their advantage, but the real noteworthy use is when Patriarch (read: cardinal) Emban pitches in on the heroes' side and embarrasses the head of the corrupt faction, who's chairing the Church's assembly, over several points of Church law involving who's allowed to vote, who's allowed attend, and the like. Further legal shenanigans occur when the heroes arrange to declare a Crisis of the Faith.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • The episode "By Any Means Necessary" centers on a dockers' strike on the eponymous station. The government's negotiator refuses to give the dockworkers anything in their demands for more personnel and better safety equipment and then invokes the Rush Act, which authorizes Commander Sinclair to use "any means necessary" to end the strike. He does this obviously hoping for Sinclair to use military force and to crush the dockworker union. Sinclair decides to resolve things by moving funds from the station's military budget to meet the dockers' demands instead, which he couldn't do until the negotiator invoked the Rush Act.
    • Sinclair tries this again in "Eyes" when he takes advantage of the rules regarding military intelligence inquiries. At first, it seems to work, but the investigator eventually turns the rules in his favor, forcing Sinclair to change tactics.
    • "Moments of Transition" has a really awesome instance. Delenn demands that the whole Minbari Civil War (which the warrior caste had theoretically won) be hazarded in a Self-Immolation contest because "It is the tradition of our people" — which is what the warrior caste was arguing to return to as a pretext for starting the war.
    • Sheridan pulls one off in "Point of No Return" to temporarily delay the inevitable conflict between the station and EarthGov when Nightwatch pushes their weight around; General Hague reminds that he must follow the chain of command when it comes to the orders Nightwatch is demanding he follow, orders which everyone knows have come down from President Clark. Sheridan has Nightwatch personnel arrested because they've been running around boasting about how they don't answer to the military chain of command. Since Sheridan hasn't received any orders through his chain of command that he has to listen to them, they've tried to seize the station illegally.
  • In Breaking Bad, Old Joe, the elderly owner of the salvage yard where Jesse has stashed the RV (and which Walt and Jesse are trapped inside at that moment) is particularly impressive in preventing Hank from searching the RV, which Hank knows could be driven away or destroyed the second it's out of his sight.
    Joe: As far as the RV goes, seems to me it's locked, which means you're trying to break and enter, so I say again, you got a warrant?
    Hank Schrader: Well, I don't need one if I've got probable cause, counselor.
    Joe: Probable cause usually relates to vehicles, is my understanding, you know, traffic stops and whatnot.
    Hank: See those round, rubber things? Wheels. This is a vehicle.
    Joe: This is a domicile, a residence, and thus protected by the Fourth Amendment from unlawful search and seizure.
    Hank: Look, buddy, why don't you just go out and—
    Joe: Did you see this drive in here? How do you know it runs? Did you actually witness any wrongdoing? It seems to me you're just out here fishing. Don't see that holding up in a court of law.
  • In Daredevil (2015), Grotto, a Nelson & Murdock client, is being targeted by the Punisher. When Nelson and Murdock (after much convincing) get him to agree to come forward to the police, the District Attorney Samantha Reyes intentionally uses him as bait to lure the Punisher out of hiding, leading to his death. After Frank Castle is caught, Matt, Foggy and Karen visit him at the hospital with the intent of possibly representing him. Reyes attempts to send them packing by stating that it's illegal for lawyers to defend a murderer who killed one of their clients, only for Matt to counter that if she's going to file the conflict of interest, Reyes will have to admit that she's responsible for jeopardizing Grotto's witness protection.
  • Doctor Who
    • In "Paradise Towers", the Doctor escapes the rules-obsessed Caretakers by citing various "rules" that he has just made-up. None of the Caretakers are willing to admit that they are so unfamiliar with the rulebook that they don't recognize these "rules".
    • Likewise in "Fugitive of the Judoon". The Judoon are Trigger-Happy Space Police, but they're also Rules Lawyers, so the Doctor pretends to be an Imperial Regulator and wins a brief reprieve (four minutes, thirty seconds) by claiming that she's acting under local Earth laws, which the Judoon are unfamiliar with.
  • Just about every villain on Leverage can't be caught by the authorities because they haven't technically broken the law — that's where Nate and his team come in.
    • In the third season, Damien Moreau brags to Nate about how he can't be held accountable for his crimes because he got the government of San Lorenzo to rewrite the laws to allow them. Nate then describes how he has already framed Moreau for someone else's crimes; leaving him in jail with a life sentence.
  • The fifth season of NewsRadio features a three-episode arc where Affably Evil Johnny Johnson successfully takes over Jimmy James' corporate empire. As a consolation prize, Johnny lets Jimmy take one WNYX employee with him as he tries to rebuild his empire. At the end of the day, Jimmy chooses... Johnny, who had named himself Dave's replacement as WNYX news director earlier in the day. Johnny immediately recognizes the brilliance of Jimmy's move and concedes defeat.
    Dave: But you're evil!
    Johnny: That's no excuse for poor sportsmanship.
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Ensigns of Command" revolves around a human colony on a world claimed by the Sheliak Corporate. The Sheliak threaten to destroy the colony if it's not evacuated in four days (which is logistically impossible). Picard tries to negotiate with the Sheliak only to be rebuffed as they cite various terms of the ridiculously complicated Treaty of Armens. Finally, Picard discovers a clause he can use against the Sheliak. He invokes the right to select a neutral third party to arbitrate, and chooses a race which is the middle of a six-month hibernation cycle. This time, it's the Sheliak's turn to balk (and finally, acquiesce).
    Riker: You enjoyed that.
    Picard: You're damn right.
  • In one episode of The West Wing, the President inadvertently accepts a gift that becomes politically troublesome. When he tries to return it, the local Obstructive Bureaucrat won't allow him, because it now belongs to the American people. Charlie tries several tacks to get it back, but the bureaucrat always finds a rule to block him. Finally, Charlie digs up a lawyer who's committed the entire US code to memory, and finds a clause specifying that the President can't accept a gift that would embarrass the United States.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Jesus versus the Pharisees in The Bible, calling them out for violating other rules when they over-analyze laws (not helping people in need on the Sabbath going against why it exists in the first place). He also does it with Satan in the desert (If you walk off a cliff God will send angels to save you vs. You shouldn't tempt/test God.)
    Pharisees: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them or not? note 
    Jesus: Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to inspect. [takes the coin] Whose likeness is this? And whose inscription?
    Pharisees: Caesar's!
    Jesus: Give to Caesar what is due Caesar, and to God what due God.
  • In one Jewish tale, a bunch of rabbis are contradicted by God about the correct way to perform a certain ritual; He appears and His voice comes booming out of the sky telling them they're wrong. The rabbis confer with each other for a moment, and then turn back to God and tell Him that the decision falls under rabbinical jurisdiction and that according to the rules, it's their ruling that counts, not His. God concedes the point and backs down. (And no, this is not intended to be a joke about how Jews Love to Argue.)
    • To give a bit more detail (and accuracy), the debate was between two rabbis: Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Eliezer. Rabbi Eliezer lost the initial vote and asked God to prove him correct. First he asked that the river flow backward, that a tree be suddenly uprooted, then that the walls of the synagogue collapse in, and, finally, that God himself speak. God's voice is heard saying, "This and all laws are in accordance with Rabbi Eliezer." Rabbi Yehoshua immediately responds with, "The Torah is not in Heaven!" with the law on Earth being that majority rules, and God, naturally, is One. (Note that God had made this law. A previous debate between rival schools had been decided when God stated that the majority is determined by NUMBER, not smarts.) God's response? To laugh, while proudly proclaiming, "my children have defeated me, my children have defeated me!" This story is actually very telling of the time, which occurred immediately after the Holy Temple's destruction. Prior to this, Halachik debate could be settled by asking the Urim v'Tumim (i.e. asking God). From that point until today, halachik matters have been determined by rabbinical council.
  • Norse Mythology: Loki once bet his head to the dwarf Eitri that Eitri couldn't make treasures greater than the ones a different dwarf had made for Loki. Even after sabotaging Eitri and his brother Brokk's work, Loki was unable to prevent him from making the treasures (including Thor's hammer Mjölnir), which the Aesir agreed were better than the previous ones. When Eitri came to collect his due, Loki escaped beheadingnote  by pointing out that nothing in the deal mentioned anything about his neck, and Eitri couldn't take his head without cutting his neck. Eitri Took a Third Option and sewed Loki's mouth shut.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Some promotions use a rule where titles cannot change hands, or other wagers or stipulations cannot be done, if there is a win by disqualification. For example, in WWE, some title matches can have the losing champion retain their title because they lost by DQ, intentionally or not. A Face may luck into this scenario, while a Heel may actively exploit it.
  • The New Day defended their Tag Team Champion status this way both as heels and as faces. The three-man team defended the generally two-person title under the "Freebird Rule", where any two members of the team could be challenged for the championship on any night. As heels, when the fight seemed to be a losing effort, the third member would interfere, force a loss by disqualification, and the team would keep the title. At least once, this was used as a storyline title defense as faces as well. At Summerslam 2016, member Big E. Langston had been (kayfabe) injured with a low blow by The Club, Gallows and Anderson, and had to be substituted with Jon Stewart (yes, that Jon Stewart). As the pair were about to do the same to Mr. Stewart, Big E came to the rescue, losing the match, but saving both Stewart's testicles and New Day's now one year long championship reign.
  • WWE's Night of Champions is a pay-per-view event where every championship is put on the line. In one match, heel CM Punk realized after several attempts that he couldn't quite guarantee victory against face Jeff Hardy, so after his latest failure, he simply left the ring, grabbed the championship belt, and began to leave the arena, forcing the ref to initiate a count-out leading to his loss by disqualification and thus retention of the title. As the announcers made the audience aware of this rule fu, Jeff recovered and forced Punk back into the ring for a win.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Rokugan of the Legend of the Five Rings, etiquette is one of the most important things to follow, sometimes resulting in a character getting his or her head cut off before the end of the night, without appeal, for saying something wrong or using inappropriate body language. The easiest way to get out of such a conundrum is to set it up so that reporting you would make more trouble for the person trying to make the report (for example: Ninjas officially do not exist. Trick someone into accusing you of being a ninja or not accusing you at all, and they have no choice but to shut up or be executed while you get punished for a minor crime or even get off scot free). Members of certain clans get special exemptions for limited etiquette breaches, but if they Rules Lawyer too much, an NPC or fellow player is liable to say that they clearly know the rules and should be punished for their breaches accordingly.
  • There's a rather humorous story about a game of Diplomacy where during a Winter phase (when each player can raise units) Russia ordered a fleet be raised in Moscow (a landlocked province where fleets can't enter at all) and then tried to justify it as legal (normally such an order would be declared invalid and thus ignored) by referring to the rulebook. Turkey vehemently protested (in the context of the game, it was clear the move was hostile to him). Eventually, Italy and Turkey were able to use that same rulebook against Russia to have the order declared invalid.
  • This story. A Warhammer 40,000 Loophole Abuser wins matches in a tournament by deploying his entire army in reserve (which is illegal, partly due to cases like this). His opponent's response, after hearing about this strategy? Deploy a line of Infiltrating scouts along the enemy's table edge, leaving no legal space for his army to enter. Tournament judges ruled that the second player won the game by default.
  • Happens frequently in Dungeons & Dragons, occasionally between players but more commonly between the player(s) and the DM. As an example, early versions of the rules for truth-divining spells (I.E. spells that tell if a player is lying or not) did not account for half-truths, creative wording, or lies that the teller believed were true. Thus they could be circumvented by inventive players, like mages hypnotizing their willing partymates to forget incriminating details of their activities, or smooth talkers finding ways to omit details from their responses or answer in a way that's "technically" truthful ("Me? No, I didn't kill the prince, that lion that mysteriously got released into his bedroom did.")
  • Magic: The Gathering: A (most likely apocryphal) infamous case of Loophole Abuse was with the card Chaos Orb; you flip it into the air, and any cards on the tabletop that it lands on are removed from the game. One player tore their card up in a tournament, meaning that they wiped out the opponent's entire side by sprinkling the pieces all over them. In response to this after the event, Wizards of the Coast set a specific errata that tearing up the card made it "marked". Playing with a marked card means that you automatically lose the match. You would then, in a tournament setting, have to replace it with another Chaos Orb before the next round started or you would be disqualified from that round too for illegally changing your deck configuration. Chaos Orb has since never been a problem.

  • In The Merchant of Venice, this is what is used against Shylock, the Jew moneylender who demands his pound of flesh from Antonio. Shylock pleads his case in court, and the court finds that indeed, the contract he made with Antonio is binding. This gives Shylock every legal right to extract a pound of flesh from him. However, Antonio is saved because it is ruled that Shylock cannot collect his pound of flesh without making a number of violations against Antonio's body. He asked for a pound of flesh, which means he can't take any more or less than an exact pound without violating his contract. The contract also did not include taking Antonio's blood which Shylock is therefore not entitled to, but cannot avoid spilling by taking the flesh.note  These two points along with the fact that his contract never included not being held accountable for potentially killing Antonio means that the court can use this Loophole Abuse to bring down the full force of the law upon Shylock. To rub salt into the wound, he is forced to convert to Christianity by the man he tried to take vengeance on, and he cannot even take his own life to get out of it (note that by the standards of Shakespeare's time his forced conversion would be a just punishment and be considered salvation of the "villain"; Values Dissonance makes it come off as extremely cruel and religiously intolerant).

    Web Comics 
  • Done once by Tristan from Angel Moxie, when accused for wearing socks in breach of school's statutes on dress. She retorted that they were stockings and quoted a point that saying that if the student didn't want to wear the prescribed socks, she has to wear stockings; to the shock of the teacher, the statute didn't say anything about what those stockings should look like.
  • In Skin Horse, when trying to save a client from a BlackOps base. Twice.
    General: You're evil.
    Tip: I know, but I try to use it for good.
  • In Freefall, Florence must obey direct orders from legitimate human authorities. It doesn't take her long to learn tricks. For example, "The mayor gave me a direct order to stay here, she never said I couldn't build a fusion test reactor on the premises." Later, she advises the mayor on rule-fu, pointing out that a temporary dictator could give uncancellable orders.
  • In The Order of the Stick "Utterly Dwarfed" arc, Hel and her vampiric High Priest seek to usher The End of the World as We Know It by manipulating a vote held by the Dwarven Clan Heads, using copious amounts of Loophole Abuse to their advantage. The plan is ultimately foiled by Durkon who renders the entire vote invalid by exploiting a minor regulation — namely, he breaks the table the meeting is held at, and the laws strictly state that the Clan Heads must meet around a single table, which must be made from a single piece of wood.
    Sigdi Thundershield: Were ye really so dumb ta think fer one second tha ye could beat Durkon — Durkon, o' all tha folks in this great big beaut'ful world — in a fight tha revolved around followin' tha rules?!?
  • Grrl Power has Hench Wench, a paralegal with the power to copy the powers of every supervillain she legally works for. After she goes mad with power and endangers her boss Brüt, he tries to fire her mid-battle... only to find out he can't, even with the rest of the LLC on a conference call, because she cannot be fired without the "manager's" consent and she made herself the manager in the contract they signed. She's finally fired by Arianna, the good guys' lawyer, getting the contract suspended on ethical grounds (pending review by the New York Secretary of State), and scolding Brüt and the rest of the LLC for not having an outside lawyer look it over before signing it for that matter.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog episode "Momma Robotnik Returns," Momma Robotnik exploits the fact that Sonic's a minor to adopt him and free her up to wreak havoc on Mobius. Sonic is saved when Robotnik, who was disowned beforehand, exploits another law that states no one who disowns a child may adopt another to annul his mother's takeover.

    Real Life 
  • This is actually the Trope Codifier for European Civil Law. There are no case laws in civil code, but all laws follow judicial norm hierarchy; they codify some judicial norm and judicial goods into text. The norms follow strict hierarchy, e.g. human life is considered a stronger norm than safety of property. The lawyers' task is to interpret the existing written law and find the judicial norms behind the written chapters, and interpret which norms are higher on the norm hierarchy. This effectively prevents ambulance chasing and frivolous lawsuits, but can lead into really twisted law interpretations.
  • Urban legend: A modern student at Oxford or Cambridge points to a four-hundred year-old rule stating that the university must provide "cakes and ale" to him as he takes his exam. The university complies (with the modern equivalent, a burger and a Pepsi), and then promptly fines him for not wearing his sword to the examinationnote .
  • The fact that a legal rule hasn't been invoked for centuries doesn't mean it has been repealed. Case in point: Ashford v. Thornton. In 1817, after Abraham Thornton was found not guilty of the rape and murder of Mary Ashford, Mary's brother William took the case back to court, where Thornton demanded a Trial by Combat. Since the laws for trial by combat had technically never been repealed, the jury granted the request. William Ashford, seeing the writing on the wall, decided not to go through with it, and Thornton walked free again. In this particular case, William was taking advantage of an archaic rule himself. Thornton had already been tried and had been acquitted by a jury, normally a bar to further prosecution. William was taking advantage of a by-then nearly obsolete rule which allowed a private individual to bring a criminal case. Trial by combat wasn't generally available to criminal defendants, but it was still listed as a defense in this sort of private prosecution. Thornton's attorneys advised him to invoke the trial by combat rule to point out how irregular the second prosecution was in the first place (and of course to win, since Thornton totally outmatched William). Parliament got rid of both the trial by combat and the private appeal following this whole debacle, so that nobody could try a similar stunt.
  • Another urban legend tells of a man who insured his cigars, and then claimed the insurance under the grounds that they were destroyed in a series of small fires (he smoked them). The insurance company paid... but then had him arrested for arson, since he deliberately set them on fire.
  • This is how law in general works. There will generally be a good reason for a rule which nonetheless ends up being exploited for an unpredicted purpose by a Rules Lawyer in court or applied incorrectly/not as expected/exactly as written and no further.
  • This is why they had to get Al Capone on tax evasion; everything worse that he'd done, he'd managed to squeazle his way out of. The taxes were the only thing the authorities could actually make stick.
    • This also why tax forms in the US have a box to report "other income"note . If you've profited through any crime and don't report it, the government only has to prove that you have unaccounted-for income, so they can book you on tax evasion (and possibly filling out a falsified form) if nothing else. The presence of this box prevents any criminal from claiming that their illegal profits were unreported because they didn't fit any of the categories present — because it does not ask what form this income took, it was upheld as not violating the Fifth Amendment, which prevents self-incrimination.
    • However, income tax in general is more of a case of "bringing a sawed-off shotgun to a Rule Fu fight": Fill it in and you've confessed to a crime (unless you write in "Fifth Amendment" or otherwise invoke it on that form in regards to the source — it's not the IRS's job to prosecute you for violations of criminal code not involving taxesnote ), don't and you're guilty of tax evasion (for failing to report the amount of income).
    • On the other hand, you can deduct the costs of anything related to your illegal income because you can treat it like a business expense, for instance the legal fees associated with your inevitable legal court battle with the government.
  • One involving literally a Sawed-Off Shotgun: gun laws of some countries prohibit hidden firearms (for obvious reasons) and use of buckshot on large game (for humane reasons), but have a very narrow definition on what a "hunting long gun" means. That is, a long gun has a barrel over 30cm (12in) in length and a total length of at least 60cm (24in). That means a modern pump-action or semiautomatic shotgun could be cut to the legal minimum total length and be hidden but fully legal, while buckshot could be bought under the guise of range shooting, both providing a perfect cover for poaching. The solution was typically Obstructive Bureaucratic: specify that a civilian long gun has the legal length and a stock, and totally prohibit the sale of any buckshot round above size 4 (5-6mm per pellet).
  • The "Public Interest defence" built into the UK's Official Secrets Act, which at least theoretically guarantees immunity from prosecution for anyone leaking classified information to the press if and only if it proves that government officials have been breaking the law, abusing their authority or both.
  • A student harangued by the tax board finally decides that if they're going to be taxed as a resident of California, then they need to receive the services their taxes pay for... like a refund on the $10,000 out-of-state college tuition they've had to pay as a non-resident.
    Student: But you, the tax franchise board, are saying that I am a resident of California. Refund me my out-of-state tuition. You can take the eight bucks out of that.
    Tax Board: [beat] I think we might be able to overlook this.
  • As with all tropes legal, Ancient Rome gives an example. In the days of The Roman Republic, the consuls were ex officio augurs (diviners who read the future from the activities of birds) and had the religious authority to set the dates of holidays (supposedly in accordance with the will of the gods). Thus when in 59 BCE the conservative consul Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus took issue with his populist co-consul's reform agenda, he tried to use his authority as an augur and quasi-priest to gum up the works (e.g. by declaring the day the co-consul had scheduled for a vote on this or that aspect of his plan a holiday, which would push the vote back several weeks under Roman law).note 

    The problem with this plan was that the populist co-consul in question was none other than Gaius Julius Caesar, who in addition to being consul that year separately held the lifetime office of Pontifex Maximus, i.e. the de facto High Priest of Rome. For all his political, social, and sexual shenanigans, Caesar had sterling religious credentials, as his family had reared him from childhood with the expectation that he might enter the priesthood, and by all accounts he was genuinely and deeply devoted to the gods. Thus whenever Bibulus proclaimed a holiday or claimed a bad omen from the birds, Caesar overruled him on the grounds that it was his job to know these things, he understood the gods better, and Bibulus didn't know what he was talking about. This was generally accepted because of Caesar's aforementioned sterling religious credentials. After a few rounds of this going nowhere, Bibulus decided it wasn't worth the trouble and basically retreated to his house for the rest of his term.

Examples of 2:

    Comic Books 
  • One Dark Horse comic involved a Steampunk robot that killed people according to Bible quotations. To stop it, the protagonist countered every quote with one that was the complete opposite: "The lord is invincible"/"Chariots of iron";


    Tabletop Games 
  • In one version of the Magic: The Gathering example above, the other player got their opponent disqualified by reporting him for having too few cards in his deck.

    Video Games 
  • In Shadowrun Returns: Hong Kong the scribblings of a madwoman mentions that the Yama Kings are all liars and deceivers, but liars and deceivers who have to follow certain rules when making bargains. These rules, however, only apply if both parties are aware of said rules' existence, which means that the only person who could ever trust a Yama King would be another Yama King.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the DS port of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Phoenix engages in a spirited bout of Rule-Fu with the final case's villain, Police Chief Damon Gant. First, Gant insists he has immunity from testifying by dint of his position as Police Chief, which Phoenix eventually baits him into waiving. Gant then tries to force Phoenix to implicate his own client by making him present a piece of cloth from the murder victim with her handprint on it; Phoenix instead insists he has no evidence to present. When Phoenix later presents the cloth as evidence of Gant's guilt, the police chief tries to have it declared inadmissible because Wright did not present it earlier when asked (which he was required to do by the laws of evidence); Phoenix counters that, when Gant asked, the piece of cloth had no significance to the case (as Gant had not yet admitted to cutting it from the victim's clothing) and, thus, he could not have presented it as part of the case. Cue an extremely satisfying Villainous Breakdown from Gant.
  • This is how Apollo defeats the Big Bad of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice. Ga'ran Sigatar Khura'in, being the queen of the Kingdom of Khura'in, can create new laws whenever things don't go her way. The only way to bring her to justice is to prove she has no spiritual power, which is mandatory for queens in this kingdom, meaning she has no legitimate claim to the throne and all laws she has created are null and void.

    Western Animation 
  • Done once in Pig City: the Sadist Teacher becomes the new Director, only to lose his job when students prove he doesn't know Latin, which is required to perform this function.
  • An episode of Doug has Doug's entire class put into detention by Vice-Principal Bone. This prompts a Quailman fantasy sequence where Doug's superheroic alter ego faces down the Rulesmeister, master of arbitrary rules, and eventually defeats him by pointing out he's wearing mismatched socks, one of the many things he has a rule against. This carries over back into reality, when Mr. Bone snatches a comic book... and Doug points out that one of the rules is "No Snatching Other Peoples' Comics!"
  • In the Futurama episode "How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back", Hermes defeats Obstructive Bureaucrat Morgan Proctor by uncovering an old "notification of romantic entanglement" form she had filed. The file wasn't used as proof of sexual impropriety, however: it was the fact that she had stamped it four times instead of the requisite five that got her demoted. However Hermes also got demoted for organizing the Central Bureaucracy too fast, since "a good bureaucrat never finishes early" and he still had 5 seconds left on his time limit. Morgan's offence was considered bigger than Hermes's. She, who was a Grade 19 bureaucrat before this defeat, was forced to turn her bureaucrat badge in while Hermes was just demoted from Grade 36 to Grade 38. He was even promoted to Grade 37 for turning Morgan in.
  • In Storm Hawks, the heroes get into a competition with the Rex Guardians, another Sky Knight squadron. In each game, the Storm Hawks do better than the Rex Guardians, but lose because the Hawks aren't following "The Code", an ancient set of rules the Guardians follow rigorously. In Piper's contest, she wins by pointing out her opponent's uniform isn't exactly as it should be, and the judges are forced to concede.
    Harrier: But...that was—!
    Piper: A taste of your own medicine?

    Real Life 
  • Discussions on the merits of religion in general, and Christianity in particular, often involve a fair amount of biblical Rule Fu. Expect Bible quotes containing bizarre and/or Values Dissonance-heavy rules to be tossed around liberally. More rarely, devout Christians arguing with other devout Christians may also play Rule Fu with the Bible.
    • Actually the tradition of Rule Fu among Christians is long and storied which has led to the dozens of different denominations in existence today. This is at least partially a side-effect that the earliest Christians were converted Jews, and Jews Love to Argue about precisely this sort of thing.
    • Jesus didn't much care for the Rule Fu which is what He didn't like about the Pharisees. And according to some denominations His very existence was about creating a loophole and also guiding His followers more towards the spirit of the rules.
    • Expect any statement that "X must be accepted and done because it's stated in the Bible" to be followed up by quotes of many, many other examples from the same source that pretty much no-one follows, and to modern eyes would lie somewhere between "comedically ridiculous" and "will land you on death row for doing". Comically illustrated in this flowchart.
    • This is sometimes the end result when someone attempts to justify their religious beliefs in this way. For example, someone might take a line saying "Don't be adulterous" and claim that anything less than total chastity is wrong, disregarding any other lines talking about true and honest love or that it also says to love all wildlife.
  • For those who follow Australian Politics this is Bronwyn Bishop's stock in trade, being a type one before becoming Speaker and the biggest fan of type two now.


Video Example(s):


The Right to Secede

When Johnny tries to argue that state secession is a guaranteed Constitutional right, Billy takes him to task and shows him why that really isn't the case.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / MyRuleFuIsStrongerThanYours

Media sources: