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Obstructive Code of Conduct

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"It seems impossible. A Star Captain's most solemn oath, is that he will he give his life, even his entire crew... rather than violate the Prime Directive."
Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek: The Original Series

This trope involves any code of conduct that artificially constrains the choices available to the protagonist. Often (as with Star Trek's Prime Directive), it restricts or prevents his use of phlebotinum that would wrap up the plot in two seconds otherwise. Conveniently forgotten (or hand waved) when the plot requires it, but some shows do try to use this as a point of plot drama as the protagonists try to find a way to twist the rules to fit the situation.

See also Geas; Restraining Bolt; Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!. Can result in Reed Richards Is Useless and Restricted Rescue Operation. If the party with the Obstructive Code Of Conduct is substantially more powerful than the others involved, it can result in Awakening the Sleeping Giant. See Alien Non-Interference Clause and Mind over Manners for two common versions of this.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Being Able to Edit Skills in Another World, I Gained OP Waifus has "Contract" magic where an actual god enforces the term of any and every contract that is made. It cares not one whit about the circumstances under which a contract is "agreed to." On several occasions, characters have been shown "agreeing" to a contract upon threat of death, or upon having their memories artificially altered, and they still have to keep their end... or face increasing levels of insomnia until they either comply or die. The god doesn't care which comes first.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Part of Kami's role as Guardian of Earth means that he must not interfere with human history, leaving mortals to decide their own fates. The only exception is King Piccolo, who he can't directly fight since his life is linked with him, and Mr. Popo refuses to fight Piccolo since he doesn't want to cause Kami any harm.
    • Dragon Ball Super reveals that the Kais are forbidden to interfere in the affairs of mortals; their job is to create life, watch over the mortals, and give them guidance. Zamasu, an apprentice Supreme Kai of Universe 10, views this policy as nothing more than laziness.
  • The eponymous demihuman warriors of Claymore are sworn never to kill a human under any circumstances on pain of being hunted down by their colleagues (presumably to keep the general populace at least a little less frightened of them than the creatures they hunt). In practice, their behaviors range from refusing to raise a hand against any human to avoiding deathblows and making sure nobody bleeds out to slaughtering any witnesses to prevent accusations from being made.
  • In Genkai Level 1 Kara No Nariagari, as much as it's in Tetsuya's best interests to absorb every single corpse he comes across, his elf mentor strictly forbids him from absorbing the corpse of anything that hasn't been killed by him or his immediate party as she sees looting corpses that weren't their own personal kills as grave-robbing and "necromancy," which she hates. She turns a blind eye to the fact that Tetsuya's only alive to help them because he absorbed the skeletal remains of an ancient earth dragon that he accidentally stumbled upon.
  • Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch's forbidding of relationships between mermaids and humans. Legend even stated that if a mermaid revealed her identity to a human, she would die, although the manga, at least, seems to show that this is not in fact true by introducing Hamasaki, a human with a known mermaid ancestor.
  • In Sailor Moon, Sailor Pluto had three taboos: she was forbidden to leave the Space-Time Door, to bring others through it, and to stop time (it was said that using her power to stop time would result in her death). Nevertheless, she broke all three directives in both the first anime and the manga and got away with it, although she stopped time under different circumstances (in different Story arcs, even) and seemed to die immediately afterward, then came back with little explanation.
  • In Detective School Q, DDS students are not to parade their identity. Nonetheless, they whip out their notebooks whenever they hit a slight snag in operations and sometimes before then - and as of episode 34, it's only seriously backfired once.
  • In Haruhi Suzumiya, Yuki Nagato's directive is to "observe and not interfere." She's violated that directive quite a number of times by book 10 of the light novels and will probably continue to do so for the near future.
  • Monster Musume: A big part of the Interspecies Protection Act is that humans are forbidden to harm monsters and vice versa under penalty of law. Naturally, this allows monster criminals to commit crimes with the local police being completely helpless to stop them. Of course, the government also authorize MON, a group of monster police officers, specifically to deal with such situations.

    Comic Books 
  • The Watchers from Marvel Comics have a non-interference oath that exists pretty much so that Uatu can break it, thereby establishing that the stakes are really high this time. According to the first on-page explanation of the Watchers' rule, they established it after giving a primitive race the means to wipe itself out (atomic power) in an attempt to uplift it.
    • The Watchers are very strict about their Prime Directive most of the time. In one case the universe was being destroyed and the Watchers (an entire race of people with power rivaling Galactus) went to watch the show.
    • Deconstructed in Earth X, where the Watchers' oath turns out to exist so they can weasel out of preventing (and emotionally distance themselves from) the multiple genocides committed by their masters, the Celestials, as the latter carry out their plan to take over the universe. Uatu's violations are also explained- he only ever interceded when the fate of the world (literally, as he was out to protect the Celestial gestating inside Earth) was at stake.
    • Lampshaded by a Celestial that the Watcher has broken his oath over four hundred times. Though for an immortal being that's lived billions of years, theoretically, that means he doesn't violate it all that often.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW): In "The Good, the Bad and the Ponies", Twilight Sparkle refuses to use her magic on a group of cattle rustlers (that are literally cattle) on the grounds that it would be "an inethical abuse of her power" despite the cattle physically beating ponies (including her friends) and lighting buildings on fire. In the end, she gets around it by labelling a building as a "historical landmark" and tricking the cattle into attacking it to give her justification to use her magic.

    Fan Works 
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness: The angels all have a very strict Thou Shalt Not Kill Muggles policy; according to the Almighty, all humans, no matter how cruel and violent, are sacred and untouchable to the angels until they actually die with sin, upon which said protection no longer applies. This reaches ludicrous levels in Act IV when it's revealed that Hokuto, despite having become a monster and being an Omnicidal Maniac planning to resurrect Alucard to bring about The End of the World as We Know It, is still off-limits to the angels because he was born human and thus still considered as such by the Heavens; the angels are so set in their laws that they're going to just sit back and do nothing as Hokuto destroys the world they're supposed to be protecting.

    Films — Animated 
  • In the Toy Story universe, toys seem to have an Obstructive Code Of Conduct. Toys must not allow themselves to be seen by humans while animate. This is never said explicitly, but judging from the fact that toys will either hide or "play dead" whenever a human comes by, it's probably safe to assume this. Woody makes a vague mention of this in the first movie when he and the reassembled toys confront Sid.
    Woody: We're going to have to break a few rules.
    • Word of God is that involuntary instinct also plays a role (which explains why it's never made explicit).
  • Aladdin: There are four rules about wishing things from genies, though some are more flexible than others. First, genies can't make anyone fall in love via a wish, though they're allowed to play cupid mundanely. Second, genies can't kill anyone by any means, though they can place people in mortal peril. Third, genies can't raise anyone from the dead, though Genie's comment about the matter ("It's not a pretty picture. I don't like doing it!") suggests doing so is possible, but they'd come back in whatever state of decomposition they had reached. Finally, one cannot wish for extra wishes beyond the initial three.
  • Spoofed in Sev Trek: Pus in Boots when Commander Piker (Will Riker) is infected by an enormous zit that turns out to be an evolving sentient lifeform.
    Captain Pinchhard: Number One, I can't order you to host the pimple; I can only remind you of the PC Directive, and your responsibilities as a Sevfleet officer!
    Piker: Captain, I have my own directive — Always look out for Number One. The zit goes!
    Pinchhard: Belay that popping!
    Piker: I see — it's my choice only if I choose what you want!

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Wars:
    • The Sith have an age-old rule that there can be only two Sith at any given time — a master and an apprentice. They break this rule all the time, especially in the Expanded Universe, in which every villain from the movies seems to have two or three "secret apprentices." Sith are, by nature, afflicted with Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, their Gambit Pileups almost wiped out the entire order on at least one point, necessitating the rule to keep their combined treachery from accidentally wiping out the Sith entirely. The "secret apprentices" thing actually kinda abides by the spirit of this rule when you think about it; after all, it's a little difficult to backstab someone when you don't know they exist. However, Star Wars Rebels reveals the Sith recruit and train Dark Side users to serve them as Inquisitors. They make sure they don't train them to the Sith's power level, nor make them into Sith, which prevents them from betraying the Sith, and ensures the Sith don't violate the Rule of Two.
    • The Jedi have their own creed, though never specifically stated in the movies. The promotional material for Episode II told us that "A Jedi Shall Not Know Anger. Nor Hatred. Nor Love". And in the Expanded Universe, the Jedi Code taught is:
      There is no emotion; there is peace.
      There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.
      There is no passion; there is serenity.
      There is no death; there is the Force.
  • The eponymous character of Robocop follows a number of Prime Directives. While 'Serve the Public Trust', 'Protect the Innocent' and 'Uphold the Law' follow the code of conduct aspect of the trope, additional Sub-Directives (such as the infamous "Directive 4") have on occasion been programmed into Robocop as restraining bolts that keep him from doing his job effectively.
  • In Superman: The Movie, the reason given (though in a piecemeal and blink-or-you'll-miss-it way) for Superman's non-interference with the world on a large scale is that due to early interplanetary warfare an intergalactic law was set in place for people from one planet never to interfere with the course of history of another planet. Breaking it might cause more harm than good: it could start an intergalactic war. Superman breaks this in the end by turning back time so that he can save Lois' life.
  • Played with in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, with the Pirate's Code, primarily the invocation of parlay. In the first movie Barbossa alternately follows it like ironclad law, skirts around it, or ignores it entirely ("They're more guidelines than actual rules"). It becomes something of a running joke through the first and second movies, until Captain Teague is called out in the third movie, along with a massive tome concept outlining the entire Code. It turns out the whole "guidelines" only applies on the seas where there's no one to enforce it, which one pirate speaking for his Pirate Lord learns Teague does very efficiently. The hilarious part? Parley is the sole right of the Pirate King. Huh...
  • Highlander: Endgame had the villain violate the holy ground rule. This caused They Changed It, Now It Sucks! responses so bad the bit mentioning holy ground was cut from the DVD release, leading to a plot hole instead. Fans took it badly that many of the worst villains abided by that rule, and material like the TV show inferred near-apocalyptic consequences to violating it (it was said the last time someone did it, "Vesuvius happened to Pompeii". Yet when the villain of Endgame did it, nothing happened).
  • Despite being a particularly vile Jackass Genie, the titular djinn of Wishmaster actually has certain limitations to his magic. Namely, he can only expressly use his power in the granting of a wish, and can't actually deny a wish once given. That said, he is very much a Manipulative Bastard, and invokes Literal Genie as well to basically make life hell for everyone but especially the protagonist, since the caveat left out of modern genie stories is that the third wish granted releases the hideously evil race of djinn that have been locked out of our world since ancient times.

  • In Spinning Silver, the Staryk run on Exact Words and Blue-and-Orange Morality that can bite them. For example, they cannot give or receive gifts, seeing them as devastating insults or signs of weakness (even the concept of "thanks" is disdainful to them), which means that when a Staryk is mortally wounded, they cannot accept the unbidden help of those around them without bartering first, choosing instead to kill their would-be helper and die in the process themselves. Likewise, they have no trouble raiding villages for gold, but when a child has a fruit from one of their magic trees, their King acknowledges that he cannot simply take the fruit, despite his great need, because the fruit was the child's by right.
  • In the Harry Potter books, the wizarding world has been hidden from the Muggle (non-magic) world since 1689, and the International Statute of Secrecy is one of their most important laws. The reasons given are "everyone'd want magical solutions to their problems" and "they'd persecute us"note . There are strict rules about performing magic in front of muggles and, if you're underage, anywhere outside of school. In essence, they amount to it having to be a life-or-death situation.
  • Sector General: The Monitor Corps have an Alien Non-Interference Clause similar to that of Star Trek, meaning no contact before the discovery of FTL, but seemed to be much more reasonable with it, as they violated it four times during the series. Once was because of a pandemic (although, through no fault of the person in charge, the cure resulted in a genocide), once was because of an environmental disaster, once was because the civilization was killing off another intelligent being on the planet (as well as itself), and once because the species involved were physically incapable of spaceflight, due to an inherent psychological problem.
  • The Andalites of Animorphs have the Law of Seerow's Kindness forbidding them from sharing technology or other sensitive knowledge with aliens. It's named for Prince Seerow, who provided advanced technology to the then-primitive Yeerks. Prince Elfangor broke this law by giving morphing powers to the title characters.
    • The Ellimist claims that, as a rule, he never interferes with mortal races, but in actual practice he finds many excuses to interfere.
    • The Ellimist's rules are generally based on the game he plays with Crayak. Because both of them are so powerful that they could wreck the entire galaxy if they felt like it (their battles were at the stage where they were hurling planets and suns and even solar systems at each other, destroying what might have been an entire arm of the galaxy and this was before they got their God-power upgrades), they have a rule that each time one interferes directly, the other is allowed a single action to balance it out. As a result, they fight their wars through proxies for the vast majority of the time.
  • At the end of one of the Vampire Chronicles novels, the surviving oldest vampires make a pact to stop making any more vampires, even though their version of Conservation of Ninjutsu states that the more vampires are out there the less they need to feed. Lestat, the Magnificent Bastard that he is, goes ahead and forcibly turns David Talbot in the very next book.
  • In the Heralds of Valdemar series, the Companions are spirit advisors in corporeal form for the eponymous Heralds, taking the shape of cool horses. Most of the time, they're under strict divine orders not to interfere with the course of events, supplying advice and intervention only when asked. This is strongly justified, as the gods want the Heralds to solve problems on their own rather than rely on the Companions as a personal source of Deus Ex Machinas, and because the Companions themselves are fallible and risk falling into the Omniscient Morality License trap. Sometimes, however, the Companions are seen to subtly (or not so subtly) influence things behind the scenes, and they get called out on this rather severely by Elspeth in Mage Winds.
  • The Federation in Enchantress from the Stars has a very strict non-interference policy on developing civilizations. Field agents to Youngling planets often die rather than reveal their true nature.
  • In The Twilight Saga and other related books, the Volturi enforce laws that all other vampires must follow: any humans who learn of vampires must be turned into vampires or killed, do not turn babies or toddlers into vampires, do not make alliances with werewolves, do not hunt in Volterra, do not lie to or defy The Volturi. The punishment is death, but they often bend the rules and invite vampires with special talents to join them.
  • The Wheel of Time: The Aes Sedai are magically bound by three prohibitions: they can't lie, they can't make weapons, and they can't use magic as a weapon except against Shadowspawn or as a last resort in self-defense. They are so well known for circumventing the prohibition against lying that they're invariably met with suspicion. The last prohibition, however, causes the Aes Sedai no end of trouble as they encounter groups bent on their annihilation that are not, technically, allied with the Shadow. They generally circumvent the problem by deliberately placing themselves in mortal danger until they feel that they have no alternatives to letting loose.
  • The War Gods series has Wencit of Rûm, a wizard who's sworn to enforce the Strictures of Ottovar, which strictly forbid using magic against non-wizards except in direct and non-lethal self-defense, and contain a strict dueling code for wizard to wizard action. Both instances of him joining combat include him enlisting the aid of non-wizards to work around the rules. For a dark wizard, fulfilling the requirements for Wencit to attack them means instant death.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Valar and Maiar are both limited in the amount of intervention they can take in Middle Earth. Considering that the times the Valar have intervened, entire continents have been sunk, they may have a point.
  • The Ithkar Shared Universe anthologies from the '80s are set in a large fair that has sprung up around a religious site; the priests who administer the fair have strict rules that no magic not specifically authorized by the priesthood may be used within the fairgrounds. Consequently, stories often revolve around trying to deal with a conflict without using magic (or at least, without being caught using magic).
  • In Andre Norton's Ice Crown, Roane's A Friend in Need to Princess Ludorica is against the rules. They will only reluctantly and after much study consider the possibility of breaking the Mind-Control Device that holds the planet's population in thrall. Roane might have escaped punishment by falling under the conditioning, but when she revolts and goes to rescue Nelis Imfray, she can never return.
  • In Protector, the Protectors are a hyper-intelligent race biologically bound to protect their descendants. Most of the drama comes from the fact that they always know what the best thing for them to do is, in order to protect their people, and it usually isn't pretty for anyone caught in the crossfire.
  • Chronicles of Blood and Stone: The source of the wizards' very foolish decision sparing the last sorceresses-they all swore an oath "to take no life except in urgent defense of self or others, or without fair warning." Of course, one might think capital punishment could be justified under either or both clauses...
  • The Stormlight Archive: Most Alethi treat the ancient Codes of War as this, saying that they're so obstructive that they make war impossible. Clearly people just pretended to follow them, and then historians scrubbed their biographies clean of any dishonor. Dalinar is the only one who currently follows them, and he forces his army to do the same. The sad thing is that the Codes are less "obstructive Honor Before Reason" and more "bare minimum of military decorum." Stay in uniform while in a war zone, don't drink while on duty, don't duel unnecessarily in case important officers get injured, don't ask your men to do something you wouldn't do yourself, and don't abandon allies on the battlefield or seek to profit from their loss. The only reason the Alethi elite have any problem with this is that they've devolved into Blood Knights who treat war like a party.
  • Watchers of the Throne: the Edict of Restraint is an ancient document that prevents the Adeptus Custodes, the Imperium's most powerful Super-Soldier army, from ever leaving the Imperial Palace. Tieron spends the first book trying to get it repealed so that they can be sent out to defend the Imperium. This being said, Valerian makes it pretty clear in his own chapters that Custodians have been secretly leaving the Palace for as long as the Edict had existed.
  • The Obsidian Chronicles: Members of the Dragon Society swear to keep their secrets and never harm each other within Manfort or aid anyone else in doing so.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The aliens of 3rd Rock from the Sun also had a Prime Directive-like policy about interfering with the Earth. Explained thus:
    Dick: We can make little differences, we just can't make global differences.
    Harry: Can we blow up the Earth?
    Dick: You see, that's a global difference.
    Harry: It's so hard to keep track of all this.
  • In Babylon 5, the Psi Corps rules basically exist only so that telepaths can break them to show that it's really serious this time. Even so, most of the telepaths play by the rules. It's the Psi Cops, responsible for enforcing the rules on the other telepaths, who have the biggest problem about breaking rules.
  • At times, the Time Lords from Doctor Who have tried to maintain this, even putting the Doctor on trial for its violation at one point; a few other episodes have had him ask the people he's saved (if any survive) to not mention him. In other cases, the Time Lords have redirected his TARDIS to places they wanted to be fixed by him without admitting their involvement.
    • In Frontios, the Doctor does his very best to keep out of it — until he sees there are injured. Then, in the end, he asks them not to spread the news.
    • In the new series, the Doctor also has a rule against using time travel to change events that he's personally involved in. It's implied that this would be really, really bad for nonspecific reasons. This is usually used to keep him from using the TARDIS to get out of trouble.
      River: This is different. He's interfering in his own past. He can't do that.
      Amy: He's done it before.
      Rory: And, in fairness, the universe did explode.
    • Also, "don't alter a fixed point in time." This means that some events have to happen (usually bad events), and if the Doctor alters them, he risks the complete destruction of reality. That hasn't stopped both him and River Song from breaking this rule, but the consequences are never pleasant. This rule exists for a reason, and even the Daleks will not EXTERMINATE someone if it threatens a fixed point. Basically, it exists purely to shut up fans who ask "why can't they just go back five minutes and..." It was first mentioned in The Fires of Pompeii, but we're given a more "real" reason why the destruction of Pompeii must happen: activating the volcano was the only way to stop an otherwise world-ending enemy. The next time is The Waters of Mars. Basically, the whole "Time Lord Victorious" thing is coming, which means we need a good reason for saving people being a horrible act of hubris that makes the Doctor a near-villain or wanting to do it.
  • Highlander employed it constantly as well (do not fight on holy ground, do not fight in front of other people, etc).
    • While some of the rules were bent by Immortals, the Holy Ground one was never breached. Even if an Immortal didn't believe in the religion in question, he still never broke it. Why? Because according to the legend, the one time an immortal took a head on Holy Ground was in a temple in Pompeii. 79 A.D.
    • The Watchers had a rule of never interfering with immortals. Joe Dawson was prone to Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right! and threw that one out the window. And another Watcher fell in love with her immortal and was helping him win a lot until he tried beating Duncan.
  • In Jupiter's Legacy, many Union members find their Code's Thou Shalt Not Kill rule difficult to abide by, particularly if it's a choice of killing or letting someone else die — something that comes back to bite them in the ass so often that the code as such appears to be not just obstructive anymore, but immensely impractical. However, Utopian constantly argues that the current state of the world is all the more reason to abide by it.
  • Also, in Sliders, the Professor originally insisted on employing a similar Prime Directive to that of Star Trek — namely, not getting involved in the world's culture and politics. Obviously, they always violated this directive, even when it was unnecessary for their survival (for example, the Professor winning the mayoral election in a female-dominated society). This was Lampshaded later when Quinn ended up on a Jerry Springer-esque TV show alongside a fake Slider. The fake one cites this trope, only for Quinn to counter that their group interferes whenever they want and there's nothing enforcing any such rule.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • Deconstructs the Star Trek-style Prime Directive by putting our heroes on the other side of it. See Neglectful Precursors—and that's just the Ancients.
    • The Nox are perhaps even more into this idea. Both they and the Nox get incredibly annoying about it. ("You are very young," anyone?) The Asgard initially take this path as well, until they're just about to go extinct, at which point they dump the sum total of their knowledge on us, superweapons and all.
    • Both times Daniel ends up ascended, he finds himself frustrated and angry with the fact that he can't use his new knowledge and abilities to help anyone, since he has an all-loving personality but the governing body of the Ascended Plane enforces a strict code of non-interference. Ultimately he decides to do what he can to help and accepts the consequence of getting sent back to mortality.
    • Anubis is in somewhat the same situation, except in his case he wants to destroy the galaxy and he only manages to use his semi-ascended knowledge to further his goals for two reasons: first, he's really great at subverting the rules and finding loopholes; and second, he's being kept around semi-ascended instead of sent back entirely as a way to punish the person who helped him to ascend in the first place.
    • The Tollan also qualify. Despite being a younger civilization, they have advanced centuries beyond Earthlings. They refuse to give any of their technology to less advanced races. This is justified in their case, as their previous experience with giving technology to a less advanced civilization ended in an Earth-Shattering Kaboom and the desolation of their nearby home planet (they moved). Later, however, after the untimely death (read: murder) of one of their leaders, the Tollan offer to trade their powerful ion cannons to Earth in exchange for Unobtainium. This turns out to be a ruse, and the Tollan are wiped out as a result.
  • Star Trek is the most famous for this (and the Prime Directive being an archetypal example).
    "As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Star Fleet personnel may interfere with the healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes the introduction of superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Star Fleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation."
    • One of Gene Roddenberry's favorite aesops involved the distinctions between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. In particular, the "healthy development" phrase proved, on several occasions, to be a loophole big enough to fly the Enterprise through, while on other occasions, serious debate has been put up on the question of whether getting annihilated by the disaster-of-the-week is part of said "healthy development".
    • Currently, there are only two directives that are known to supersede the Prime Directive: the Omega Directive (which aims at protecting the galaxy from a phenomenon that, if left unchecked, would render interstellar society impossible) and the Temporal Prime Directive (don't mess with the timeline).
  • The Wheel of Time (2021):
    • Aes Sedai take three oaths: to never lie, to not make a deadly weapon, and not to use the One Power as a weapon against minions of the Dark One or as a last resort to protect themselves or their Warders. In the books, the oaths were introduced shortly after the Breaking of the World, but here they are connected to King Artur Hawkwing, about two thousand years later.
    • The Tua'than follow a philosophy called the Way of the Leaf which eschews violence even for self-defense, extending to not killing animals for food. Any person who shares a meal and fire with them too is considered Tua'than, whom they put their bodies on the line to protect.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Thunderbirds has their policy of maintaining strict secrecy about their organization and equipment when they could indirectly save many more lives licensing their vehicles to various emergency response services and militaries as standard issue equipment. One of the reasons is that they don't want the IR equipment to fall into the wrong hands- like their archnemesis, The Hood. But they take it really seriously- if anyone even takes a photo of one of their vehicles, they'll be sure to erase the evidence, either by destroying the film or even having Lady Penelope shoot out their tires. (The 2004 live-action movie dropped this, presumably because of how technology has advanced- it'd be far tougher to keep their type of stuff under wraps compared to the 20 Minutes into the Future setting of the original series.)

    Tabletop Games 
  • Vampires in the White Wolf's Tabletop RPG Vampire: The Requiem have three Traditions that they must follow or face the wrath of the elders:
    1- Masquerade: Vampires must not reveal their existence to mortals.
    2- Diablerie: Vampires must not devour the souls of other Vampires. Doing so gives them power, but drives them insane.
    3- Progeny: Vampires shall not create more of their own kind. When they do, the Childe's actions are the Sire's burden.
    • In short, rules one and three are barely considered loose guidelines. Rule 2 is obviously considered a bad thing, mostly because Vampires expect it to be done to them next. They're usually right.
  • The Camarilla from Vampire: The Masquerade had six Traditions which also needed to be followed to avoid the wrath of the elders:
    1- Masquerade: Pretty much the same deal as in Requiem.
    2- Domain: When a vampire has a domain, all others must owe that vampire respect when in it, and none may challenge their word. This is primarily used for princes.
    3- Progeny: Vampires may not create others of their kind without their elder's (read: the prince's) permission, or else both they and their progeny will be slain.
    4- Accounting: If you do create another vampire, you're responsible for them until such time as you release them, including any trouble they might get into.
    5- Hospitality: When traveling to a foreign city, you must present yourself to the prince of that city and gain his acceptance.
    6- Destruction: Vampires are forbidden to kill each other. The right of destruction belongs only to your elder (read: the prince), and only the eldest among vampires of a given city can call a Blood Hunt.
    • As you might expect, many of these rules get bent or outright broken with some degree of regularity. (There's a joke that the seventh Tradition is "don't get caught".) The Camarilla is especially hard on those who break the Masquerade.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The Paladin in many incarnations of the game has one of these by design. For starters, they must always maintain an alignment of Lawful Good, and if they ever stray from it, they must atone and perform penance as prescribed by a high-level priest before they can call upon their powers again — but if the breach was intentional, their paladinhood is lost forever, and they must ever after be a fighter. In particular, any intentionally committed evil act automatically forfeits your paladinhood. This often cuts off a wide range of traditional player character activities and can get the character into trouble when the choice is: damned if you do, dead if you don't. This is especially true if you have a Killer Game Master, who will often make paladins "fall" for such small things that it effectively becomes impossible to actually stay one for very long.
    • Paladins could become anti-paladins, depending on alternate rule sets.
    • The 1st and 2nd Edition paladin had several additional restrictions as well, such as not being able to own more than a few magic items. The 1E ranger was likewise limited in how many possessions could be owned and had to be Good-aligned.
    • Several other classes have alignment restrictions as well, although they aren't as stringent in that it takes a full-on alignment change to break this Code, not just a single act. Also, they don't lose their existing powers, they just can't advance any further in the class they've broken the Code of.
    • Monks can't advance any further in that class if they take a level in a non-monk class.
    • Removed in 4th Edition. Clerics and paladins can change their alignment and break codes later.
  • In Unknown Armies, the Taboo of any magick-user is basically this. There are some behaviors that you cannot engage in, ever, or you weaken your power in some way. The punishment for violating it depends on your type of magic: adepts lose all their charges, while avatars weaken their connection to their archetype (represented by losing points in their Avatar skill). For example, a Plutomancer loses all their charges if they spend too much money in one transaction, while an Avatar of the Healer weakens their connection to the archetype if they ignore a cry for help.
  • The Nobilis are bound by one of these, and risk being hauled in front of the Locust Court if they break it. There are five rules, ranging from the relatively mild (don't protect those from the justice of the Code) to the annoying and inconvenient ("treat no beast as your lord", which technically prohibits things like doing your mortal job), to the actively harmful (don't harm those who have done no harm, which sounds nice but also means you can't sort out Excrucians until they're engaged in an active flower rite), to the borderline impossible (thou shalt not love). Admittedly, that last one exists mainly to ensure that everyone is guilty of something.
  • Werewolf: The Forsaken: Every spirit has a ban, something they either must do or absolutely not do. Spirits have no ability to resist their bans - they're as much a part of them as breathing is to a creature of the physical world. For example, a raccoon-spirit may have to open any container that is left ajar, while a hate-spirit may be forced to leave the presence of someone honestly forgiving an abuser. Knowing a spirit's ban is often the first step in getting the better of it, either in negotiations or battle.

  • In Jasper in Deadland, Ammut has to let anyone who can confess their greatest misdeeds enter Elysium, and gets to eat the heart of anyone who fails. It's not clear if anyone else is enforcing these rules, but Ammut makes it very clear that the only thing she cares about is eating people's hearts (and/or the rest of their bodies), and she will gladly engage in Loophole Abuse if she loses (such as crushing her victim's heart instead of eating it).

    Video Games 
  • There is one in Kingdom Hearts: do not meddle in the affairs of other worlds except to protect them from The Heartless, but it has been so blatantly violated through BOTH games that no one really cares anymore. Donald and Goofy care throughout the first game; at the end of the first game, they get ready to leave Sora for good, never to see him again (and can't bring themselves to say goodbye, opting to sneak away as Sora unites with Kairi and his own homeworld). But things happen and they still stick together; the beginning of the second game has a subtle moment where Donald and Goofy decide to disregard it completely and no one brings it up again.
  • The gods of Mortal Kombat abide by a highly restrictive set of rules set forth by the Elder Gods. This greatly limits the options available to the heroes, as the Elder Gods are often willing to stand idly by in the face of great evil. Made a bit simpler in Mortal Kombat 9. There is one rule for the Elder Gods. "Do not attempt to merge the realms, without winning Mortal Kombat." Everything else is okay. The climax is convincing Shao Kahn to break this ONE RULE.
  • Metroid: Other M: The "Authorization" imposed by Adam Malkovich toward Samus Aran to explain how Samus "lost" almost all of her powers, as the game is clearly a sequel to Super Metroid.

  • In El Goonish Shive, Immortals are not allowed to do more than empower and guide humans when they deal with matters on the physical plane of the universe or they incur the wrath of other Immortals. It's also been revealed that as long as they follow this code they get certain perks, like being invisible to anyone they don't want to see them including other immortals, as long as they stick to this code. Of course one strip later it was pointed out how broadly one could interpret "empower and guide".
  • Members of the Sapphire Guard from The Order of the Stick follow the paladin code that's standard for Dungeons & Dragons but also swear a separate vow not to interfere with the stewardship of the four other reality-buttressing Gates that hold in The Snarl.
  • In Kill Six Billion Demons according to legend angels had the Law hammered into them upon creation, and cannot violate it. The degree to which this still binds them after the invasion of heaven and Universal War varies, but though Metatron 1 has the power to scour Throne clean of life with a word, they're still bound by the Old Law, forcing various subterfuges and proxies to achieve their ends.

    Web Original 
  • In Battle for Dream Island: The Power of Two, Fanny and Black Hole clash over the latter's mission to prevent death, which caused their team to lose two challenges. In the first challenge, the team opts to kill their funny plant when Puffball sticks Ice Cube in the soil next to it, so that the latter avoids a slow, painful death (forgetting the fact that Death Is Cheap in the BFDI-verse and the fact that if Ice Cube shrunk enough, he could be pulled out of the hole easily). In the second challenge, the team creates a fish roll to serve to Two, but they decide to revive the fish, which proceeds to eat Two twice, much to his bemusement. In addition, Black Hole's aversion to killing results in his friend Tree getting stuck in a canal and later causes a zombie apocalypse in Episode 9 (Instead of killing and respawning Barf Bag, he insists on using lava infused vomit, causing her to come back wrong). Episode 10 justifies his code - he explains to Fanny that if he didn't take death seriously, he could be a danger to everything and everyone, and Fanny - having just lived through Black Hole's nightmare - sees where he is coming from. The two come to an agreement that while Black Hole himself won't partake in any killing, he won't stop his team members or anyone else from killing if necessary.
  • One episode of Mr. Deity has the titular god refusing to help out on Earth because it would violate the Prime Directive. Larry spends most of the episode trying to convince Mr. Deity that he's getting his own rules confused with Star Trek.
  • The Caretaker Gods of Orion's Arm have an active version of this. They prevent terragen lifeforms (anything with an ancestry going back to Earth) from contacting various planets, moon, and solar systems that they have declared to be protected. This includes Old Earth itself.

    Western Animation 
  • Da Rules from The Fairly OddParents! restricted the unlimited magic of fairies, and just as in Aladdin, they disallow them from making people fall in or out of love, or die, or to maim, crush, cut, etc. (directly, anyhow; it was theorized on the show one could turn someone into an ice sculpture then "poof" them into the sun), and bringing something dead back to life leads to horrific results. They also can't break the law, such as asking for money (as they can't make more, which is counterfeiting, or get some from others, which would be stealing), and the same applies to legal documents. Some of these rules seem like simple incapabilities on the fairies' part; others are breakable but have huge consequences, such as revealing the fairy godparents to anyone who isn't already aware of them. They are frequently broken as comedy requires.
    • One rule specifically applies to Timmy Turner, forbidding him from time travelling to the month of March 1972. He's still allowed to visit other months of that year on the proviso he doesn't interfere with the election of President McGovern.
    • Because of the mess caused when Timmy wished it'd be Christmas Every Day, a new rule has been passed against wishing for that.
      • Strangely, you'd think that there would be a catch-all rule for the above about messing with how the world as a whole works since it very often would cause a catastrophe of the same magnitude. Compare this to one of the first episodes where Timmy turned everyone into grey blobs and his fairies couldn't locate him anymore, you'd think that Fairy World as a whole would take notice that all fairies can't find their kids anymore.
    • Making secret wishes became the most egregious violation of Da Rules ever since Joshua Applebee used one to wish for a fairy-eating giant cockatrice.
    • Genies have no rule other than having to grant their master's wishes in any way they can interpret the wish's wording. When asked, genies usually claim their masters can't use any of their wishes to wish for more wishes, knowing this is a lie. The only exception was when Crocker became Norm's master. Norm and Crocker shared a common interest (Timmy's destruction).
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, at the beginning of the second season, Aang wants to skip his Prime Directive of learning the four bending arts and go straight to the Fire Lord and take him out with the all-powerful Avatar State, however he soon learns without control of this state he could easily hurt those around him and decides to take the traditional way by learning the bending arts first.
    • Another unwritten rule seems to be that the Avatar should learn the elements 'in order', starting with their natural element. In Aang's case, it was air, water, earth, and fire. Aang tries to learn Firebending before even starting on Earthbending or mastering Waterbending, but that doesn't really work out. That said, he's on a bit of a time crunch compared to his predecessors, so one can understand him wanting to accelerate things. His successor has similar problems when they don't stick to the rule themselves.
  • One episode of Super Secret Secret Squirrel had Secret tasked with apprehending One Ton, a Giant Panda causing destructive mischief. However, Secret is not allowed to actually physically harm One Ton in any way, as he's an endangered species and has legal protection. After a lot of thinking about what to do, Secret comes up with a loophole: Secret provokes One Ton to accidentally attack himself, allowing One Ton to be arrested and sent to prison due to harming an endangered species—himself.

    Real Life 
  • Mining Magnate Gina Rhinehart's attempt to buy out Fairfax Newspapers in Australia in order to promote her views (something which left-wingers feel Rupert Murdoch's papers do for free). She is now the largest shareholder but is unable to take a seat on the board unless she signs a clause guaranteeing the papers' editorial independence, which she refuses to do.
  • Depending on whom you take as the protagonist, the rules of engagement during military action.
  • The Sentinelese, island-dwellers (in the Bay of Bengal) who are one of the Earth's last uncontacted primitive races, are protected by one of these. Besides the hostility of the Sentinelese themselves, their borders are guarded by the Indian military, and visitors are turned away.

Alternative Title(s): Plot Device Directive