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Rules Lawyer

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

"You can move 100mm, not four inches!"
— Alleged quote from a historical wargamer disputing an opponent's movementExplanation 

In most games (and Real Life, too), players can often get by without knowing every single rule. Some rules rarely come up, after all, and it would be insane to memorize them all, particularly for something as complex as a Tabletop Game...

...unless you are the Rules Lawyer. Every gaming group seems to have one — that one player who memorized the entire rulebook cover-to-cover and is more interested in the rules than in the actual game being played with them.

Rules Lawyers can come in many different flavors, ranging from obnoxious, to helpful, to just plain dumb. What unites them all is a nigh-encyclopedic knowledge of every single aspect of the rules of the system. Where they differ is in their attitude and how they use that knowledge.

Three common flavors of Rules Lawyer are:

  • Obnoxious Rules Lawyer: Uses their knowledge of the rules to give themselves advantages, even if it would be a detriment to the game or to other players. As long as the rules say they can do it, they'll do it.
  • Dumb Rules Lawyer: Always insists on following the rules even when it's clear that doing so won't work.
  • Helpful Rules Lawyer: Always plays by the rules, even if that would put them at a disadvantage. They'll also often use their knowledge to help out other players.

The Obnoxious Rules Lawyer - also sometimes called a "Rule Shark" - is probably the most recognized kind and is the reason that the term "Rules Lawyer" is seen as a negative. They believe that if they can find a rule for something, the people in charge must allow them to do it, even if it doesn't make sense, would screw with what's going on, or just make the game worse to play. They will attempt to exploit every loophole, every odd circumstance, and every footnote they can. Most annoyingly, they tend to be deliberately selective in what rules they remember, and will conveniently fail to mention rules that don't benefit them. Such people will insist on Exact Words whenever necessary.

The Dumb Rules Lawyer is incompetent instead of malicious. They'll constantly grind play to a halt to make sure that everyone is following the rules, even if it makes no difference to the end result. They won't allow any technique to be used that isn't specified in the rules, causing the game to become rigid. If the Game Master decides to make some well-designed and balanced homebrews then this lawyer will start throwing a fit.

Usually, the first rule the Rules Lawyer conveniently "forgets" while making their arguments is Rule Zero: the Game Master is always right. Squashing them with this early is the best bet; attempting to argue about rules with them only encourages their behavior. If invoked, they might dare to argue that Rule Zero is an unwritten rule and is therefore not enforceable - fortunately, some rule systems are wise to this and do have a form of Rule Zero codified.

However, Rules Lawyers aren't always a bad thing - having one can be an real asset to a gaming group too. They can easily spot a cheating player and force them to play fair. They're also invaluable as game guides, since they can quickly explain any aspect of the gameplay no matter how obscure, which avoids the need to look up rules and helps the game to move along at a good pace. They may also know about the potentially-wonky interactions of various expanded and optional rules sets and how to handle these, which frees the GM to focus on creating a rich world, vibrant characters, and compelling narrative for the players to interact with.

Rules Lawyers can also keep a misbehaving Game Master in check by preventing them from changing rules mid-game, which might happen if the GM is trying to force their own preferences onto the group. A Rules Lawyer can help to police such game abuse by pointing out when the GM is overstepping the bounds of the game.

If a rule ever seems to be written rather verbosely, or explain things that seem like they should be common sense, it's the writers trying to stop people like this.

Rules Lawyers are among the few people who Read the Fine Print, and will always use Exact Words to their advantage. When two Rules Lawyers at the table decide to butt heads, see My Rule Fu Is Stronger than Yours. In Real Life, a person trying to be a Rules Lawyer is usually countered by an authority figure invoking Rule Zero, Screw the Rules, I Make Them!, or even simply a Big "SHUT UP!".

In fantasy, The Fair Folk, The Trickster, and the Literal Genie are often Rules Lawyers. See also Puzzle Thriller, a style of story which revolves around characters finding creative ways to exploit or circumvent the rules of their universe.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Lelouch vi Britannia from Code Geass often applies this to his Geass powers (mostly in season 1). Best example (in season 1) would be when he used his Geass on himself to alter his own memories, so the mind-reader he was fighting wouldn't grasp Lelouch's real plan until it was too late. In season 2 he just outright cheats. Or at least this is how he sees it. He starts commanding people to follow all of his orders. Basically wishing for unlimited wishes.
  • Sora from No Game No Life, often using the Ten Pledges to his advantage.
  • Light Yagami from Death Note is constantly exploiting the rules of the Death Notes in obscure and bizarre ways to accomplish his goals. Arguably, the entire series is about Rules Lawyering.
    • Example: a victim can't be made to write things about Death Notes before they die because they don't know about them and so wouldn't reasonably write about them. But what they can be made to do is write a poem where the first letter of each line "just happens" to form a message about Death Notes or just about anything else.
    • In the live-action movie adaptation, Light gets around the rule that says you can't use the Death Note to make someone commit murder by engineering a situation where murder is the only possible way a death could happen (writing "Person A will go to this isolated location and be accidentally shot dead at 10:05 PM" and "Person B will obtain a gun, go to that same location, and discharge their gun at 10:05 PM").
    • One rule that seems to be about stopping Rules Lawyering (and doesn't come up in the story): If you misspell someone's name they don't die, and if you do so by accident four times in a Death Note, they can no longer be killed by that Death Note. But if you misspell their name deliberately four times, then you die. Yeah, the book knows the difference.
  • Some rather impressive rules lawyering is used during the Frieza saga in Dragon Ball Z. Two sets of Dragon Balls exist; the Earth set grants one wish and only works while Piccolo is alive, and the Namek set grants three wishes and only works while Guru is alive. At the start, Piccolo is dead on Earth and all other characters are alive on Namek. The characters gather the Namek dragon balls and use their first two wishes to revive Piccolo and transport him to Namek, but before they can make a third wish, Guru dies. But with Piccolo's revival, the Earth dragon balls are back, so they are gathered and used to revive everyone killed by Frieza or anyone working for him. This brings back Guru, which brings back the Namek set with one wish remaining, which is then used to transport everyone on Namek, save Frieza and Goku (at his request), to Earth. End result: good guys get everything they wanted, villain utterly thwarted. For bonus points, Frieza got to the Namek dragon in time to steal the third wish for himself, only to be ignored... because Porunga only accepts wishes spoken in Namekian, and Frieza doesn't speak it (not to mention killed off most of the species).
  • The boys of Class-3E in Assassination Classroom get in on this during the sports festival. After Asano forces them to compete in a pole-toppling game, the boys memorize the rule book to outsmart Class A. Tactics included were using their own pole as a weapon and leaving the playing field by running into the stands since the rules never said they couldn't do it.
    • Four of the students also pull this at the end results of the first term finals — it wasn't stated that they couldn't place first in a subject outside of the main ones, so they studied to score a four-way tie in Home Economics. Koro-sensei is shocked, but impressed they thought outside the box.

    Audio Plays 
  • Kelly from We're Alive gets caught sleeping on guard duty and points out that, while there is a rule that everyone has to "pull guard duty," there is no rule against falling asleep in the guard room. She is an actual lawyer after all, so it shouldn't be a surprise.

    Card Games 
  • Parodied (naturally) in the card game Munchkin with the card Invoke Obscure Rules. This card has been translated as Regelneuker in the Dutch version, which is actually the Dutch word for a Rules Lawyer and literally translates as "rule fucker."
    • It is completely legal to play Go Up A Level cards on your opponents while they are facing monsters that have a "Will not pursue under level X" restriction. (This wasn't the original intention of the card when it was made, but the creators of the game officially confirmed it as a valid tactic, as it was in the spirit of the game.)
    • Or, after several cards have been played to jump to a level that can actually kill the enemy in question, dumping a "Friendly" on it. No treasure, no fight, no level up.
    • If you fail to defeat/run away from the Orcs, you lose levels equal to the number you roll on a die unless it's a one or a two, in which case you die. However, if you are "unlucky" enough to have a Chicken-on-your-Head (subtract one from all die rolls) you can actually roll a zero, which is neither a one or a two so you don't die, and you lose zero levels.
    • In Munchkin Cthulhu, the Cultist class gets a bonus for each other Cultist in play. It's possible to multiclass using Super Munchkin and become a Cultist Cultist, which gives you a +4 bonus for being yourself. Twice.
    • One card even specifies 'reveal your hand' as 'your cards, not the thing at the end of your arm'.
    • The rules actually include one very important rule for rules-lawyers. "If in doubt, the owner of the game wins." Meaning that it is always a better idea to be the owner of that particular copy of the game.
  • Similarly to Munchkin, much of the point of Magic: The Gathering is to find unusual ways to twist the rules to win. While any Game-Breaker will eventually be banned, Magic notably has no "rule zero" or "rule seven" enforcing the spirit of the rules or prohibiting things that don't make sense according to the game's story. If you can figure out a legitimate loophole in the letter of the rules, there's nothing to prevent you from exploiting it until the rules are officially changed.
    • Magic tournament judges can impose penalties on players who push their rules-lawyering too far if they deem to be disruptive to the tournament or as stalling to run out the clock. Over the years the tournament rules have changed a lot to give judges a lot of leeway when handling stuff like this.
      • A famous example of a judge cracking down on rules lawyers occurred at French Nationals when a few players discovered that the DCI (ruling body of sanctioned tournament Magic) made a mistake when posting updated card wordings on their webpage. One card was posted with an old, obsolete wording which allowed for an obscenely powerful combo. Since the wording on the webpage was considered to supersede any other wording, the players tried to use it in the tournament. The Head Judge disallowed the combo and when some of the players played it anyway, he expelled them from the tournament. The DCI backed him on it and upheld the penalties.
    • Famous (apocryphal) example: Player casts a spell with the effect "Target player loses the game," then points at a completely different table and says "That guy." The judge deemed this legal, as (at the time) there was no specific rule saying that a spell cannot target something in a completely different game.
    • One that was patched within a couple days of discovery: a player used an existing ruling on the Time Vault card to argue that mana generation cards could be used between turns as well as during them. A particular card had the limitation that it could not be used more than once during a single turn. Hello, infinite mana (with a card combo to prevent infinite damage from mana burn.)
    • Chaos Orb is a rather bizarre card that lends itself to rather bizarre interpretations of the rules—its effect is that you flip it up in the air, and it destroys any cards it lands on. One quick glance at the errata gives you an idea of the headaches it has caused but the example has to be the player who ripped the card into pieces and then scattered it over his opponent's cards.
      • This incident was immortalized in the Chaos Confetti card which demands that Chaos Confetti be used in this exact manner. Clearly, this is a single-use card.
    • In late 2011, a tournament rules document was revised to no longer penalize players for missing their own beneficial triggered abilities. The accompanying caveat was that even if you remembered the ability, you could choose to ignore it, and your opponent couldn't point it out and force you to resolve it either. This revision was quickly yanked when people realized that you could play the card Transcendence and refuse to ever gain life (a "beneficial ability"), making you effectively unkillable by damage.
    • It's worth noting that MTG Rules Lawyers are a legitimate demographic for WotC (they're referred to as "Melvin").
    • In one of the Un sets, a card by the name Rules Lawyer was added, with the following text:
      State-based actions don't apply to you or other permanents you control. (You don't lose the game due to having 0 or less life or drawing from an empty library. Your creatures aren't destroyed due to damage or deathtouch and aren't put into a graveyard due to having 0 or less toughness. Your planeswalkers aren't put into a graveyard if they have 0 loyalty. You don't put a legendary permanent into a graveyard if you control two with the same name. Counters aren't removed from your permanents due to game rules. Permanents you control attached or combined illegally remain on the battlefield. For complete rules and regulations, see rule 704.)
    And this means Exactly What It Says on the Tin, though there are several classifications and specifications, and they're actually found exactly where the cards indicates that can be.
    • Sometimes the rules-lawyering may be completely valid and legit, but still result in tournament rules changes when abused. For example, some time ago in a tournament a player played with a deck that was heavily based on Borborygmos Enraged. His opponent played a Pithing Needle and said "Borborygmos" in order to stop its activated ability from being used. The first player went to consult a judge and then came back and continued playing and at some point played the Borborygmos Enraged and proceeded to use its activated ability. When his opponent protested he said: "You said Borborygmos, not Borborygmos Enraged." Turns out there's a completely different card named Borborygmos (that wasn't used in that deck, or even that entire tournament by anybody), and technically speaking the Pithing Needle was hindering that card, not the Borborygmos Enraged card. Exact words are exact. This was confirmed by the judge. (Because of this incident tournament rules were changed afterwards so that naming a card partially, or even just describing a card, is enough to indicate the intended card if it's clear to both players.)
      • Another example is the infamous "Combat" incident. In a different tournament, a player had a Wildfast Engineer on the board, which had a mandatory beneficial effect that triggered at the beginning of Combat. The player said "Combat", and tried to crew a vehicle based on Engineer's triggered effect. However, his opponent called the judge, invoking an incredibly obscure rule which said that saying "Combat" meant the player was skipping the "Beginning of Combat" phase entirely and instead counter intuitively going to the "declaring attackers" step. It was seen as targeted Rules Lawyering, as the Wildfast Engineer player was not a native English speaker, and most of pros noted they had never heard of this rule and routinely declared "Combat" with the understanding they are going to the "Beginning of Combat" phase. Wizards of the Coast threw out the shortcut after this debacle.
    • The game's refusal of rule 7 and any requirement for interactions to make sense was immortlized in the silver-bordered (i.e. illegal in every official format) card "Flavour Judge". The card is played onto the stack when interactions are already happening, and the players turn to a third party outside the game to explain, in lore/narrative terms, what the cards and effects are trying to do to each other. If the third party "Judge" decides the interaction doesn't make logical sense, Flavour Judge counters the illogical spell.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! has a few ways of exploiting its very odd rules. For example, there's a card that requires you to discard a monster from your hand to summon it. The card can discard itself to summon itself.
    • There's also the Synchro Monster 'Colossal Fighter' which, when destroyed, can special summon a warrior-type monster from either player's Graveyard. Since 'Colossal Fighter' activates this effect while itself is in the graveyard, it can actually summon itself back onto the field.
    • One card (before it had its wording changed) called Magical Blast is a moderately useful card on its own. It deals damage to your opponent by an amount dictated by how many Spellcasters you have on the field, for a max of 1000 damage in a game where the players start with 8000 life. However, you could skip your next draw phase to get the card back into your hand. But if someone wanted to take it by the wording rather than the intent, then it becomes obvious you can do this any time, like right after casting it once, allowing you to do infinite damage (on turn one no less if you draw it and a Spellcaster monster) if your opponent doesn't have a way to counter and remove the spell from the game. The errata'd version of the card states that you can only return it to your hand at your draw step (instead of drawing) which is how it was supposed to work.
  • Ever played the Star Wars Customizable Card Game? You need to be a Rules Lawyer basically. Make sure to have a calculator ready if someone plays Brainiac.
  • Unsurprisingly, given its source material, several conditional modifiers in Hoyle's Rules of Dragon Poker were deliberately written to be vague so as to encourage rule lawyering.
    • Example:
    31. If the players are in constant and consistent motion for the duration of a hand, the values of the face cards are reversed.
  • The Pokémon Trading Card Game has had rule nitpicking on the scale of Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh! as well, resulting in a list of rulings a mile long despite Rule Zero applying to judges and tournament officials. One widespread case involved any attack Cast from Hit Points; the cards would reference self-inflicted damage by the Pokémon's name. For instance, Base Set Zapdos's Thunder attack could cause the effect described on the card as "Zapdos takes 30 damage to itself." The problem lies in Pokémon that can copy the moves of other Pokémon and use them as their own: those moves copy the card text word for word, leading people to put what should be self-inflicted damage onto the Pokémon that originally owned the move instead. In this case, if World Hobby Fair Mew copied and used Thunder from Zapdos, people would put the 30 damage onto Zapdos instead of Mew against all logic, turning a disadvantage into an advantage. The list of official tournament rulings promptly clarified that all self-inflicted effects on a copied attack would go to the attack's user regardless of the Pokémon named in the card text. The game would later put in an Obvious Rule Patch, using the phrase "this Pokémon" instead of the Pokémon's name to eliminate any ambiguity on this matter.

    Comic Books 
  • The ultimate Rules Lawyer is Brian Van Hoose of Knights of the Dinner Table, who is constantly digging up obscure rules to frustrate B.A.'s best-laid plans. Note that this trope works both ways for Brian: He will immediately call out anyone who outright cheats, and when the rules speak against him, he will abide by them to the hilt.
  • John Constantine from Hellblazer relies heavily on manipulation of rules to survive, playing with entities whose raw might would normally allow them to squash him like a bug, but the magical rules that bind them prevent it. Some of his most serious threats are from regular humans who can attack him directly without any concern for rules.
  • Darkseid. He'll always keep his promises, treaties, and deals, but he'll abuse every loophole, error, or precise wording to get his way anyway. One memorable story had him be forced into a deal with Superman that stated that Darkseid could never come back to Earth. Barely a day later, Darkseid showed up at Superman's front door and beat the ever-living shit out of him. As he explained, the Exact Words of the document stated that Darkseid could never come to Earth and attack Supergirl. He could still come to Earth to attack anybody else.
  • Reggie Mantle of Archie Comics, when he's not actually indulging in cheating himself. Put him in any kind of competition, and when the odds are against him, he'll just whip out a small book from which he'll quote an obscure, archaic rule that automatically defaults him to win. Jughead even lampshades this tendency by stating that Reggie must have the largest collection of rulebooks in town.
  • In Oliver Rameau, the ogg defies anyone who wants the McGuffin to ask him a riddle. If the ogg finds the answer, he eats you, otherwise you get the McGuffin. Olivier's sidekick Mr. Pertinent asks a very hard riddle, and they go to McGuffin room. In the meantime, the evil knight meets the ogg, asks a child's riddle. The ogg prepares to eat him, but Mr. Pertinent manages to Save the Villain, arguing that the ogg was no longer supposed to eat those who reached for the McGuffin at this time since Olivier's team already had it. Bonus point to Mr. Pertinent for being an actual lawyer as a job before moving to the magical world.
  • In Eight Billion Genies, the post-genie world has Exactitude, an enclave that is composed entirely of lawyers who write loophole-free wishes for their clients. They are paid entirely in genies and have become very powerful as a result.

    Fan Works 
  • In Long Road to Friendship, Student Council President Lyra serves this role. After Sunset Shimmer is tasked with putting on the Winter Ball, Lyra says that if it doesn't make enough money, Sunset will be banned from all other school events. At the Ball, despite managing to bring everyone together and being named Princess, Sunset still gets banned by Lyra, because the ball didn't turn a big enough profit. At least, Lyra tries to ban Sunset, until Principal Celestia outs Lyra as an Obstructive Bureaucrat. Turns out Lyra was lying, since the rule that would have let Lyra ban Sunset was revoked over ten years ago, and Lyra just did it out of a personal vendetta. When Twilight finds out, she promptly gives Lyra a slap to the face.
  • Discord in The Great Slave King uses his knowledge of the rules to allow the Slave King to take over as Lord of the Earth without any interference from the rest of the pantheon.
  • In The Parselmouth of Gryffindor, Hermione gains a reputation as a relentless finder of loopholes, to the point that Dumbledore calls on her when the Sorting Hat is being difficult about his pledge not to reveal what he sees in students' minds during a Sorting.
  • In The Wrong Reflection Eleya sidesteps any potential trouble with Starfleet Command (she's sort of on their shit-list at the moment) on her request to get a MACO unit assigned to her ship by cutting them out of the loop and going straight to the regional commander, which is allowed according to a strict reading of the regs.
  • In Harry Potter fanfic The Widower Maker (following only what Harry says the day he is to get married for the eighth time), after a Marriage Law is passed on a rush to force half-bloods and Muggleborns to submit to purebloods, Harry becomes rapidly adept at following exactly the (very poorly worded) letter of that law: in each of his seven consecutive marriages, he gets his wives and families to die in all kinds of "unfortunate accidents" while using the law to protect himself from being forced to actually prevent them from dying. Plus the use of a Time Turner to cause all the "unfortunate accidents" that befell them, since when he uses them he is officially not married.
  • In Becoming LŪfĢrasir, Gobber helps to ensure Hiccup will face no repercussions from trying to lead the defence against the Red Death while in disguise by observing that Hiccup can't demand that service as repayment of a debt as debts are only owed to outsiders, while Hiccup is free to lead as one of the heirs of the tribes and him wearing a mask and going by a false name could just be an elaborate joke.
  • Kimberly T's Gargoyles:
    • When a Quarryman infiltrates the castle and seriously injures Broadway's wing, Xanatos provokes him into leaving the city and not reporting his near-success to the Quarrymen by visiting the man in his cell and talking about his family in a manner that implies that the gargoyles would eat his children without ever actually saying that they would do such a thing, observers musing that Xanatos is very clever about never making an explicit threat.
    • Deadly Moon, Owen avoids telling Thailog about the nature of the geas placed on him that binds his powers as Puck (he has sworn an oath to Xanatos that he will receive a lifetime's service from Owen Burnett, and the geas prevents Puck using his powers unless he is training or protecting Alexander Xanatos) as Owen recognises that Thailog is smart enough to serve as this trope; a lifetime's service to Xanatos would end if Thailog killed Xanatos, and so long as Thailog threatened Alexander's life Puck would be bound to go along with his other demands.
  • Another Gargoyles example features in "Tricksters", after Xanatos offers to let Owen leave after he's nearly killed during an attack by a new enemy, Xanatos pointing out that Owen's heart stopped twice while he in a coma for the last few weeks so it could be argued that he already fulfilled the "lifetime of service" part of their deal. Owen in turn assures Xanatos that he could have always told his employer if he regretted any part of their arrangement, pointing out that the deal for a lifetime's service from Owen doesn't guarantee a lifetime of good service and Owen is perfectly capable of expressing displeasure with their dynamic if he ever felt Xanatos crossed a line.
  • In Blood Sisters, this is exploited to stop Dyson requesting sanctuary when he's called as a witness to Bo's recent activities, as he can't claim sanctuary if he isn't actually accused of a crime but there's equally nothing to stop the Ash's forces keeping him locked in a cell for a long time until they get around to him...
  • In "Harry Potter and the Ritual of Love's Memory", when Harry and his allies attempt to set up a more public study group on defence magic, Umbridge attempts to undermine them by booking the Great Hall for herself for a seminar on Recognizing and Rebuffing the Media's Lies on the same night that they had originally booked it, as teachers have first right of refusal for use of classrooms and the Great Hall. However, Harry and Ginny decide to exploit a loophole by holding their meetings in the Chamber of Secrets instead, as it's large enough for their purposes and isn't covered under the same rules that allowed Umbridge to book the Great Hall.
  • In the Pirates of the Caribbean fic "The Curse of the White Sword", Jack Sparrow invokes this when Gibbs points out that itís bad luck to have a woman on board; as Jack argues, itís not bad luck to have two women on board (Anamaria and Elizabeth).
  • "The Marrying Type"- a modern AU of The 100- sees Clarke and Lexa used this when they met despite being drunk. Lexa's parents are rampantly homophobic to the point that they tried to declare Lexa mentally incompetent so that they could ensure complete control of her life, but since she and Clarke married in Vegas before Lexa's parents faked Lexa's judgement, Clarke's relationship with Lexa takes precedent even though they didn't even remember it for over a year.
  • In the Lost in the Woods sequel No Good Deed, Picard is on trial for violating the Prime Directive while in Alliance space by making contact with Serenity and destroying the Reavers. Picard's defence counsel is Karras, a retired Klingon warrior renowned for his strong sense of honour and judgement of character, who clearly explains the various loopholes that justify Picard's choices in these matters, such as how Picard had no way to know if there was anywhere else for him to go in that universe and describing the potential horror the Reavers could have inflicted on the galaxy if they hadn't been stopped.
  • It's All in the Details;
    • During the time he believed that ĎCasí was a pagan god who would essentially Ďeatí Deanís soul, Sam assumed that he could save Dean from his fate by making Dean immortal so that he couldnít die in the first place.
    • Castiel muses that he drew up the contract for Deanís soul based on his experience of contracts from when he worked with Crowley, allowing him to include a few loopholes that the Winchesters only realise later on were intended to benefit Dean and Sam, most notably a rule that Cas would bring Sam back to life if he died at any point in the year before Deanís contract comes due.
  • Lost in Camelot;
    • In an interesting sense, Uther does this to himself; when Bo uses her abilities to convince Uther to let Lancelot remain in Camelot, the king appoints Lancelot Dyson's manservant rather than make him a knight.
    • Various characters attempt this after Morgause challenges Arthur to a duel, but all are unable to find a way out of the duel if both parties are willing.
  • "Martian Manhunter" sees Veronica Mars being sent into the reality of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as part of a bet with a higher-dimensional entity. While Veronica is aware of the entirety of what will happen in Sunnydale in the original series, having been sent back to early Season Two she is bound by the terms of her bet that she cannot inform anyone of events that will happen in the future. However, she soon realises that even if she can't tell anyone about the future, there's nothing stopping her from telling people information about their pasts, such as dropping a suitable trail of anonymous hints that lead to Angel learning about the clause in his curse before he triggers it.
  • In Lightning Only Strikes Once, Lexa demonstrates this when coming with the new rules for choosing a commander in place of the existing conclave, as she also wants to create a system that will prevent potential future obstacles. One rule she includes is that the ambassadors can vote on a new Commander if the previous one hadn't chosen an heir themselves before their deaths, Lexa recognising that the ambassadors at least need the illusion of more power. She also rules out the idea of a Nightblood becoming the Flamekeeper as that creates a scenario where a future Nightblood might be able to make themselves Commander rather than making a more practical choice, even if she trusts that none of her current Nightbloods would do such a thing.
  • In the Heroes/The Twilight Saga crossover "Dark Days", Bella and Peter rely on this to avoid a conflict between the Cullens and the Quillettes. The treaty between the two prohibits the Cullens turning anyone else, but although Bella was changed by Elle Bishop (who has become a vampire and Edwardís mate), she feels that this doesnít break the treaty as Elle isnít technically a Cullen, and Peter in turn feels that the Cullens arenít responsible for Bellaís change as it only happened because she suffered injuries due to Peterís own inability to control his powers causing the injuries that necessitated Bellaís change.
  • Queen of Diamonds;
    • Genie manifests duplicates to act as this, consulting various scrolls before concluding that it wouldnít cost Aladdin a wish to turn Abu back into a monkey as Aladdin only wished for himself to change rather than Abu.
    • He enlists them again at the end to point out that Aladdin arguably was the one to find Jasmine and thus could claim to be entitled to her hand in marriage, as was originally promised to whoever returned the princess after her "kidnapping" (in reality Jasmine left on her own).
  • In the Supernatural/Doctor Who crossover "Persistence of Memory", (named after Salvador DalŪ's "The Persistence of Memory") the Year of Hell when the Master conquered Earth takes place during the time when Dean's deal to save Sam would have 'expired', with Martha meeting the Winchesters during her travels around the world. As a result, after Martha is able to restore their memories of the Year, Sam is able to literally negotiate with Hell to argue that Dean has already gone to Hell, he can't be sent back as he hasn't actually done anything to merit going there aside from make the deal, and he's agreed that he won't make new deals for Sam's life as he has to accept that Sam will die some day.
  • In Spider-Man: Finding Home, the LARPers who helped Kate and Clint in the original series have become a semi-vigilante group essentially Ďledí by Kate's former stepfather, Jack, taking care to only react in self-defence rather than go around actively fighting people.
  • In The Search for Victory, when Daniel discovers tablets hidden in a broken statue, he observes that he isnít technically stealing them from the museum as the museum didnít even know the tablets were there.
  • In the Harry Potter/X-Men crossover "eXtra power twin", after Harry is entered into the Triwizard Tournament along with his brother Aiden, Harry decides to avoid the issue of having two Hogwarts champions when he studies the rules and finds an obscure clause where a champion can be entered under another school if two of the other schools agree with the decision. As a result, with the support of Karkaroff and Madame Maxime, Harry is officially entering the Triwizard Tournament representing Xavier's School for the Gifted rather than Hogwarts.
  • In The Confectionary Chronicles, Hermione demonstrates this on her first day at Hogwarts when she sits at the Gryffindor table rather than the Slytherin one at breakfast, observing that the House students are only to sit at their House tables during a formal feast and can otherwise sit where they want to encourage inter-house unity.
  • The Harry Potter fic ďWandwoodĒ features several versions of this after the presumed-squib Harry is abandoned by the Potters, only to be adopted by Sirius and taken to America;
    • Dumbledore asks Harry to return to Hogwarts to access the Chamber of Secrets as the only known Parselmouth, only to attempt to have Harry sent to Azkaban for using Ďdark magicí in the form of Parseltongue, when Harry didnít know it was considered illegal in Britain and Dumbledore explicitly asked him to use it. Later parties observe that Dumbledoreís legal authority is all that was required to give Harry permission, so the whole charge is irrelevant.
    • When Harry is sent to Azkaban as part of the initial arrest on his charge for using Parseltongue, Harry is able to escape as he is a fox animagus, and an American investigator observes that Harry canít be charged with breaking out of prison as nothing was broken and he just walked out.
    • When the Ministry attempts to seize Siriusís assets by invoking an old treaty with the goblins, Fudge and Umbridge are outraged to learn that they paid a fee of over fifteen hundred galleons to receive assets of thirteen sickles and a deed to a property that turns out to be an old outhouse. The treaty requires a fee to be paid based on the value listed in the last account statement, but since the last statement was issued Sirius withdrew most of his assets (over three hundred thousand galleons) from the British branch of Gringotts, so the goblins arenít responsible for the fact that thereís now basically nothing of value left in the Black accounts for the Ministry to seize.
    • When Harry is forced to compete in the Triwizard Tournament, the Daily Prophet is put out when Sirius reveals that under the terms of the contract that required Harry to compete, if any of the representatives of the visiting schools is attacked by a local party unrelated to the tournament the matter can be settled in the complainantís country, which means the Prophet can be sued in American courts.
    • After Dumbledore attempts to disadvantage Harry by pitting him against a cockatrice rather than a dragon for the first task, goblin lawyers inform Dumbledore that Hogwarts and the Ministry are now obliged to pay fines to compensate for the violation, particularly since they could have easily obtained other dragons from the reserves that provided the other four.
    • The Prophet attempts to get around the terms of the contract when the publisher suggests that the paper be placed directly under the authority of the Ministry for the duration of the tournament, preventing the Prophet being sued directly by the Blacks. Unfortunately for the Prophet, Sirius counters by buying up the necessary resources for the paper to print itself in the first place, such as a controlling interest in the ink supplier.
  • In Harry Potter and Fate's Debt, the Wizengamot attempt to charge Harry with crimes including violating the Statute of Secrecy by preparing potions to turn the Dursleys into animals (given to him by Fred and George and left in Privet Drive), depriving Lucius Malfoy of valuable property by freeing Dobby, and trying to cause a panic with his claims that Voldemort has returned. Dumbledore argues that the Statue of Secrecy and related accusations are irrelevant as the Dursleys know about magic and therefore knew anything in Harry's room would be magical, provokes Fudge into striking Lucius's charge from the record by using that same statue to challenge Fudge to a duel so Fudge will declare it null and void, and concludes by pointing out that it's only illegal to start a panic if the accused intends to start a panic and Dumbledore and Harry just want to alert everyone that Voldemort has returned.
  • Discussed in the Danny Phantom/Sabrina the Teenage Witch crossover "The Phantom and the Witch", when the Spellmans move in next door to the Fentons; as Zelda observes, considering that all of Amity Park knows that ghosts are real, the Witches' Council isn't going to make too big a deal about Sabrina telling Danny, Tucker and Sam her secret, so long as the Spellmans don't reveal their magic to the entire town.
  • In Pokemon vs. Digimon: When Worlds Collide, Misty invokes this when she speculates that the reason Ash had so much trouble getting Charizard to obey him is because he technically only won his Kanto Gym battle against Lieutenant Surge without any issues; his battle against Koga was interrupted which may have had an impact on Ash's final win, Blaine's battle took place outside the usual Gym, technically Ash never finished his battles against Brock, Misty and Erika and got those badges for other reasons, he didn't outright defeat Sabrina but just won by default, and for the eighth badge he defeated Team Rocket rather than the true gym leader.
  • Daphne Greengrass and the Boy Who Lived;
    • Snape demonstrates this approach to convince Daphne to be honest with him on certain occasions, observing that he would have no evidence against Harry for committing certain actions even if Daphne told him the truth so he would like to be sure why sheís defending Harry in the first place.
    • Also used by Sirius regarding the family visits for the final Triwizard task; while Sirius considers himself Harry's family, since he's also at the Tournament for security purposes he argues that the Weasleys and Greengrasses have equal rights to be there as well given their mutual close ties to Harry.
    • Used against Dumbledore by Fudge, who draws up a rule that forbids anyone teaching at Hogwarts if they have a previous criminal conviction, the rule phrased in such a manner that Sirius is prevented from acting as the Defence teacher and Hagrid has to be fired from his own teaching role even their "convictions" were overturned and both were proven innocent.
  • In the MonsterVerse fic "Wild Child AU", when Madison Russell admits that she's not ready to return to the human race after living with Godzilla for five years even if she wants to spend time with her father and brother, Doctor Serizawa and Andrew Russell each propose a suitable compromise. As Andrew observes, since "Madison Russell" is still legally dead (having been presumed killed in the battle against the MUTOs), all Mark has to do is leave that declaration valid so that Madison can choose to live where she wants. For Serizawa's part, he points out that the changes Madison has gone through due to prolonged 'exposure' to Godzilla, including growing scales in places and an ability to absorb radiation, mean that she can be legally classified as a Titan, putting her under Monarch's authority and free to come and go as she pleases.
  • In The Power of Seven, Susan Bones essentially fills this role, telling Harry, Hermione, Ginny and Luna about an old pure-blood rule that would allow Harry to take multiple wives given his status as the last heir of two pure-blood families (Potter and Black), as well as how Susan and Luna, as the last of their respective bloodlines, could marry a man and keep their names so that their children would continue their families rather than their husband's. In Chapter 30, Susan accompanies Harry to confront Dumbledore after Harry's multiple relationships go public, with Susan neatly dismantling every argument Dumbledore could use to prove that they're doing anything illegal by making it clear how much Dumbledore stands to lose if he takes legal action.
  • In the Jupiter Ascending fic "Rise", Titus falls victim to these when he is charged for his attempt to kill Jupiter and various other crimes. Despite Titus's own confidence, he is found guilty and stripped of his Entitled status and most of his existing assets. While he could theoretically appeal against the court, he was charged by judges who specifically deal with Entitled matters only, and since Titus is no longer an Entitled he would only have access to 'lower' courts who can't do anything about Entitled-related matters.
  • Ted Tonks shows his skill in this field when defending Harry in "We Are The Jack O'Lanterns in July", when he forces the Wizengamont (specifically Umbridge) to acknowledge that they are essentially charging Harry with a felony when an underage wizard can only be charged with a misdemeanour at worst. As Ted argues, if they charge someone with underage sorcery and expect the defendant to be charged as an adult, than they are required to treat him as an adult with all associated rights and privileges, and there's therefore no way for the court to do anything to Harry beyond a fine of at most a hundred Galleons as they can't even prove he did anything in the first place.
  • The Lucifer (2016) fic "Devilish Savior" introduces William Geoffrey, Lucifer's lawyer, when Lucifer and Chloe are trying to draw up a custody agreement for Lucifer's daughter Beatrice (Lucifer adopted Beatrice in the belief he was saving her from an abusive father and only learned years later that she was stolen from her biological family first). Geoffrey notes that it's unusual for the biological family to not demand custody, but Chloe explains that she recognises that Lucifer has been a good father to Beatrice and she doesn't want to take her daughter away from the parent she's known for years. With Lucifer and Chloe each in agreement that Dan Espinoza doesn't deserve contact with Beatrice when he's the reason she was abducted, Geoffrey notes that their best chance is to talk with the judge straight away, reasoning that they don't need to tell Dan about the situation in advance as he has no existing custody agreement anyway.
  • In Before The Dawn, Carlisle is able to point out to the Quillettes that no rules have been broken with Bella being turned into a vampire as none of the Cullens changed her and she wasnít even in Forks at the time.
  • The mass Disney crossover "TrueMagic" makes particular use of this during the story arc where Marcia and her allies are trying to earn the Muppets back the right to their name, as the villainous mayor of Muppet City passes various rules such as offering a mass charity donation to anyone who gets tickets for the 'Moopets' concert on the same night and prohibits anyone in town offering Marcia and her allies transport. For example;
    • Urchin is arrested for allegedly starting a riot, but is released as the judge observes that he was speaking in a public place, made no incendiary comments, and the riot was started by the police after Urchin finished his speech.
    • People buy tickets for the Moopets concert, but since it was only said that the seats had to be filled for the donations to be made, people left stuffed animals or other items in the seats rather than sitting there themselves.
    • Marcia and her allies are given a lift to their next destination by Lightning McQueen and his friends, as they are residents of Radiator Springs rather than Muppet City and offering the lift on their own merits.
  • In Did I Make the Most of Loving You?, when the rebel Cylons ask for asylum, Roslin observes that there is a precedent for this in 'Asylum after Defection', when refugees from one Colony could receive asylum from another (before the Colonies were united) so long as they could provide actionable military intelligence.
  • In The Mermaid and the Genie, Genie basically serves as one to himself when he "replays" an earlier conversation with Ariel and must concede that she didn't use her second wish to save Sebastian as Ariel never actually said "I wish".
  • Lady Delphine uses this exact phrase to describe the Fairy Godfather in The Bug Princess. She advises her listeners to never ever play Monopoly against him, as he refuses to even consider allowing the use of house rules.
  • In This Bites!, this is played right into the ground during the Davy Back Fight, especially Cross's insistence that Soundbite and Lassoo are full-fledged crew members so that Foxy can't get all three of them in the same round.
  • In The Emerald Phoenix, Ochako guarantees victory for herself and Iida in the Heroes vs Villains exercise by sneaking the bomb outside of the testing area. All-Might praises her outside the box tactics before saying such a move would not be allowed in future matches.
  • My Hero Playthrough: Izuku is the master of Loophole Abuse to the point that All-Might is glad he was on the hero side of the Heroes vs Villains exercise. When Izuku's partner balks at the idea of the villain team creating traps because they weren't in the rules, Izuku counters that they weren't not in the rules either. During the Lions and Gazelles exercise, Izuku is the main reason that All-Might has to keep adding new rules to cover strategies the class comes up with to get around the spirit of the game. Eventually, Kirishima remarks that Izuku is rubbing off on the rest of the class who start doing the same thing.
  • In the "Cell vs." spinoff of Dragon Ball Z Abridged, Cell uses the rules of competitive Yu-Gi-Oh! to frustrate Yugi into rage-quitting.
  • In Broken Bow, Hippolytus pulls this off on Athena, Goddess of Wisdom. While she is castigating the heroes for getting involved in historical events when they promised her they wouldn't, he points out that the promise was made just a few days before, while the events occurred centuries or millennia ago, ergo their interference technically predated the promise.
  • Equestria Girls: A Fairly Odd Friendship: As per canon, Timmy has learned from experience how to work around Da Rules to get what he wants from his wishes. During the Final Battle, he weaponizes this knowledge against the Dazzlings, repeatedly tricking them into making wishes that violate Da Rules so that they'll be rendered temporarily powerless. And afterward, he uses this same skill to keep Jorgen from taking Cosmo and Wanda and erasing the Rainbooms' memories.
  • Njal in Njal Gets Burned, who pulls all kinds of tricks to get Gunnar out of trouble. Shining examples include: balancing Gunnar killing Thorgeir's brother against Thorgeir having slept with Njal's niece, leading to Gunnar walking free in the homicide case; declaring that Norwegians weren't legally people, and disqualifying any jurors who disagreed with him after the panel was already selected. However, the losers don't simply accept his shenannigans, and things inevitably turn violent.

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

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Dodgeball: Gordon is a helpful example of this as he saves the day with the rule book.
  • The entire plot of Exam hinges on the characters becoming Rules Lawyers, as they realize that anything not explicitly forbidden by the Invigilator is fair game, up to and including murder.
  • In the opening scene of The Wild Hunt, Argyle and Bjorn's duel devolves into an argument over LARP rules.
  • Tin Cup: Roy, the hero, makes a bet with his smarmy jackass of an antagonist: the guy who hits a golf ball the farthest wins. Roy nails his shot, hitting it about 225 yards down the driving range. The antagonist smiles, turns around, and hits the ball out of the course, down a long asphalt road. It's still bouncing when the scene ends.
  • Heimdall in Thor is Asgard's resident badass Rules Lawyer. While he is bound by oath to serve whoever sits on the throne, he's very good at finding excuses to ignore orders he doesn't like.
    • In the first film, he cannot betray Loki as he sits on the throne at that moment, but the rules never said he had to be particularly careful. Cue him confirming the Warriors Three intended to betray Loki and then walking away... while essentially leaving the key to the teleporter in the ignition. He hasn't betrayed Loki, he was just not looking when others did. (Helped here that he was skeptical about Loki's claim to the throne.).
    • In the second film, this situation is given the Obvious Rule Patch by the much more legit Odin that Heimdall must now report any treachery to Odin the moment he becomes aware of it. This now allows Heimdall much more leeway in betraying Odin because now all he has to do is inform Odin of his own betrayal as soon as he realizes he is going to do it.
  • The Ticket Keeper in The Devil's Carnival serves this role, maintaining all 666 rules in the titular carnival.
  • The Big Lebowski: Walter Sobchak is a particularly extreme example when it comes to bowling. When a fellow bowler slips his foot over the line and attempts to record his score anyway, Walter threatens him at gunpoint to mark his score zero.
    Walter: [brandishing a pistol] Mark that frame an eight, and you're entering a world of pain.
  • In Fantasy Island (2020), Gwen in particular demonstrates this, as she is able to both argue that she should be allowed to change her original fantasy (accepting her then-boyfriend's marriage proposal) as she isn't redoing her true greatest regret (indirectly causing a man's death in a fire), and point out that Sloane should get her own wish, as Sloane wasn't brought to the island as a conventional guest but as part of Melanie's twisted revenge fantasy.
  • Senator Lott Dod of the Trade Federation in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. When Queen Amidala addresses the Senate about the invasion of Naboo, Dod tries to use every loophole and legal trickery available in order to prolong the invasion, including proposing a committee validate that the invasion is actually happening.
  • Star Trek: The main characters are constantly quoting regulations at each other to justify why they're not following orders, why other people shouldn't be following orders, and why their superiors should change their orders. McCoy even sneaks Kirk onto the Enterprise by making him sick on purpose with a hypospray and claiming that as Kirk's attending medical officer, he's allowed to take him aboard.

    Game Shows 
  • This is a big part of the series Taskmaster, to the point that construing the wording of the challenges to Cut The Knot is often necessary to succeed. The challenge is to score a hole-in-one without touching the red mat? Remove your shirt, place it on the mat, and stand on the shirt. The challenge is to transfer water from one bucket to another without moving the bucket? Pay Alex 80 quid to move the bucket for you. The challenge is to get three exercise balls onto the mat at the top of the hill? Interpret "at the top of the hill" as identifying the specific mat you must use and move the mat to the bottom of the hill. Depending on the mood of The Taskmaster, he may react with disgust to the person who bent the rules and put them last, or react with disgust to the other contestants for not trying such a stunt — notably for the exercise balls, they actually consulted a linguist who determined the contestant's specific interpretation of "the mat at the top of the hill" was valid and awarded 5 points. There's a reason this series is the only work to have a dedicated page under Loophole Abuse.

  • Blue Moose: When a game warden shows up and tells Mr. Brenton it is illegal to keep a tame moose, the moose argues that he is not tame.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In Tales Of The Slayer: The Rule of Silence knows the regulations of the Inquisition and tries on multiple occasions after being arrested to invoke what passes for due process at the time. Unfortunately, the Inquisitors are believers in Screw the Rules, I Make Them!
  • In the Robert A. Heinlein novel Space Cadet, one of the heroes early in the story attempts to exploit military regulations to make it too inconvenient for his superiors to give him orders he does not like. He is soon warned about what happens to "space lawyers".
  • Rhysling's final voyage in "The Green Hills of Earth" — spaceship regulations are getting more stringent about allowing him to catch informal rides, so he invokes the "Distressed Spaceman" clause entitling stranded spacers to a ride home, pointing out to the skeptical captain that there's no time limit on invoking the rule.
  • An entire alien race in Tom Holt's Falling Sideways. They managed to rip a gargantuan loophole in Thou Shalt Not Kill.
  • Celestine of Flawed is familiar with both the laws and The Guild's guidelines, and is aware that the Flawed guidelines have nothing to do with the actual law. So, when a cop tries to arrest her and two other Flawed for standing together in line, she boldly argues that not only is the cop enforcing something that isn't actually a law, but he's also not doing his job of protecting her as he should. It doesn't go well.
  • There is a good Vogon in And Another Thing.... He doesn't want to cause Earth Shattering Kabooms, but objecting on moral grounds on a Vogon ship is a good way to get Thrown Out the Airlock. He eventually decided that Rules Lawyering is a good way to obstruct the malicious Obstructive Bureaucrats without suspicion.
  • In the short story And Then There Were None, a ship from Earth lands on a remote planet that has been out of contract for centuries and starts trying to reopen contact with the inhabitants. They have a very hard time understanding the native Gands, but since they're not hostile by the regulations' definition, the men can't legally be denied leave. Problem is, so many like the planet they go AWOL. Too many Space Lawyers on his crew know the regs by heart, so despite much-attempted wrangling to make the natives fit the definition of hostile, they fail but find that leave can be postponed continually — though it only makes the crew more mutinous.
  • Harry Potter:
    • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Dumbledore acts as Harry's lawyer ... er, Witness for the Defense, during Harry's hearing. In a rather unusual take on this trope, Dumbledore is forced to play Rules Lawyer because the Wizengamot are deliberately ignoring their own laws.
    • When professor Trelawney is fired by Umbridge in the same book, Dumbledore takes on this role once again, telling Umbridge she has no right to banish teachers from the castle, only to fire them. After Umbridge tries to appoint a new teacher, Dumbledore interupts her once more, stating she may only appoint teachers when the headmaster is unable to do so himself. At that point, he introduces her to his new Divination teacher Firenze.
    • Harry himself is a rules lawyer in his final confrontation with Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In this case, he actually tries to be a Helpful Rules Lawyer, as he feels sorry for Voldemort and the fate that awaits him, should he lose the fight. According to the rules of wand ownership, the wand Voldemort uses actually belongs to Harry. Should Voldemort use it against Harry, it will backfire on him. Since Voldemort awaits a Fate Worse than Death, Harry explains the rules to him and offers him a chance to repent. Not taking said chance would result in his demise.
  • In The Saga of Darren Shan, when Darren has to undertake the Trials of Death, Seba Nile, a well-respected vampire, helps find some useful loopholes in the rules of the Trials to give Darren a better chance when he's competing in trials intended to test full vampires. One of the rules Seba brings into play is the Rite of Preparation where the vampire will have a couple of days before and after each trial to recover and prepare for the next one; most modern vampires do them all at once but there's no rule stating that they have to do it that way. Later in the novel, one of Darren's trials is even postponed because he needs more time to recover by having the Vampire Princes (at least one of whom has to oversee the Trial) all claim to be too busy to attend it themselves for a day or so.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • The Supernatural Community is rife with this kind of thing. Being a proficient Rules Lawyer is considered a necessary skill when it comes to keeping your head on your shoulders.
    • The Unseelie Accords, the rules that govern interactions between the supernatural "nations" were written by Queen Mab, who set them up so that there is no "spirit of the Law", just the literal wording. A note by one of the characters in the margins even calls Mab a Rules Lawyer. In Summer Knight, after agreeing not to try to use the threat of retribution to coerce Harry into accepting her job, Mab tweaks his injured hand; when Harry complains that she agreed not to do any of that, she points out that that wasn't coercion, that was just for spite, which was completely acceptable according to the terms of their agreement.
    • The Red King employs a Completely Unnecessary Translator for this purpose: when he reneges on a deal, he can truthfully say that he never agreed to anything.
    • At one point Harry needs to disrupt a ritual, and one of the better ways to get close is to use necromancy to create a zombie to escort him there. One of the Rules of Magic bans necromancy... specifically, against humans. So he creates a non-human zombie....
  • The Icelandic Sagas: A great deal of the plot of Njál's Saga revolves around playing with the legal code of the Icelandic Commonwealth, not always successfully. Njál is best at this, but many of the other lawyers in the saga are pretty good at manipulating the law as well. At a moment of climax in the saga, the wily Eyjolf gets the entire prosecution of the burners thrown out of court on a technicality, which angers Thorhall so much that he strides into the courtroom with a spear and ganks the first guy he sees. The biggest battle in the saga breaks out immediately after, which is all the more dramatic given that violence was taboo at the Althing.
  • In the Vorkosigan Saga novel Barrayar, the only person who has the authority to countermand an order given to a Count's Armsman is the Emperor. So when Cordelia needs to leave Tanery Base to rescue her son from Vordarian, the fact that Bothari, the Armsman seconded to her, is under orders to stay there is a problem. Then Bothari explains that when the Count's heir seconded him to her, he said to obey her orders as if they were his own. And since that heir, Aral Vorkosigan, was the Imperial Regent (even if he wasn't thinking of himself in that position when giving the order), that meant Cordelia has the legal authority of the Emperor as far as Bothari is concerned.
  • In Something Rotten, a professional croquet team includes a squad of lawyers, since Rules Lawyering is a significant (and expected) part of the game in that universe.
  • In the children's novel A Gift from Winklesea, at one point the Kane family enter the titular Gift- a mysterious creature that hatched from a stone egg and resembles a rapidly-growing dinosaur-like creature- in a local pet show under the category of "other aquarium pet", on the grounds that the Gift was initially kept in an old fish-tank before he outgrew it.
  • In Star Carrier: Center of Gravity, as the America battlegroup is preparing to leave for Alphekka to undertake Operation Crown Arrow, a message drone arrives from the colony at 70 Ophiuchi saying the Sh'daar have arrived. Based on past performance Koenig knows that the Confederation Central Command will scrub Crown Arrow in favor of sending him to defend the colony, so he has the battlegroup leave early before the orders can be transmitted.
  • Albert Haddock in AP Herbert's Uncommon Law is a rules lawyer for the actual law, able to twist any statute or precedent into supporting a completely ludicrous case, and leading unfortunate judges to have to rule on things like whether a motor car traversing a flooded road could be considered a boat.
  • In volume 6 of Cooking With Wild Game, the villains attempt to do this when they're brought to justice. The idea is that sleep-drugging a crowd of guests technically did not harm them, and was therefore kosher under the law of Sacred Hospitality. Also that it was okay to kidnap and rape some of those guests because, due to the The Cavalry's unexpected arrival on the scene, no rape actually occurred. The rest of the village — being Noble Savages to the core — are not convinced.
  • In Pact and Pale by Wildbow, magical practitioners and Others cannot lie or they will lose their power, with the amount of power lost proportional to the severity of the lie. In the worst case, if you break an oath and are called out on it, you will become Forsworn and will not only be permanently depowered but the universe itself will be actively hostile to you. As a result literally everyone who is awakened to the supernatural becomes both a Literal Genie and a Rules Lawyer, as failing to adhere to one's Exact Words would spell disaster.
  • Moongobble and Me: Urk is the helpful variety.
    • In book 1, after Moongobble tries to demonstrate three spells for Fazwad the Mighty and messes up the last one, Fazwad tries to forbid him from practicing magic... only for Urk to point out (complete with page number from the Society of Magicians Rulebook) that if Moongobble completes three Mighty Tasks, he can still join the Society.
    • In book 2, Urk points out to Fazwad that Moongobble can't complete his second Task because there is no Weeping Werewolf (anymore), but also informs Fazwad of a page in the Rulebook, pointing out that "if the Mighty Task turns out to be invalid, then the candidate shall receive credit for it as if he had passed it."
  • The Sunne in Splendour: Richard III is this, using the letter of the law to disinherit his nephews, Edward, Richard and Edward and taking the crown for himself. In the story, he has been given a Historical Hero Upgrade, and as such he doesn't murder two of his nephews because he's so confident in his legal maneuvering, he doesn't feel he has to. He unfortunately doesn't realize that the Duke of Buckingham doesn't feel the same.

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

    Live-Action TV 
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: In the episode "Chardee Macdennis", Frank becomes a Rules Lawyer for the episode's eponymous game after being trapped in a dog kennel with the rule book. He later uses it to catch Dennis and Dee cheating, giving Mac and Charlie their best-ever chance of winning the game. In a cruel twist of fate, Dennis and Dee win anyway.
  • Babylon 5: Several of the protagonists, but the biggest is undoubtedly Commander Sinclair, the character who gets the most focus in the first season. The most notable example is "By any Means Necessary", in which he is ordered to use "any military means necessary" to force striking workers to return to work, which he then does by going into the station's military budget and giving the workers the concessions they were asking for. (This example is a bit special, though, since we are outright told that the only reason Sinclair got away with bending the spirit of his orders like he did was that the voting public approved of his actions, so much so that the fascist political faction on Earth who desperately wanted a crackdown on the striking workers in order to Make an Example of Them didn't dare censure him or they'd risk losing popularity.) Captain Sheridan and Captain Lochley both had their moments as well, and all of the ambassadors were known to twist reality and language as far as the rules and circumstances would let them for their own nations' political gain.
  • Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory takes this trope to its fullest extent, not only in games but in the "rules" he expects in his everyday life. He even required Leonard to sign an extensive Roommate Agreement (and later Amy to sign a Relationship Agreement) which he sees as the final word on any conflict. He is also clearly an Obnoxious Rules Lawyer - when the rules go against him, he has told both outright that they are missing the point: that the agreements exist for his benefit.
  • Big Sky: Cassie and Legarski briefly engage in a dialogue over who would be legally in the right to shoot when she tracks him to the bar where he's keeping the captives. She wins and shoots him when he tries to draw his gun.
  • In the last season of Blackadder Captain Blackadder ignores a direct order to charge a German position on the grounds that the order is addressed to "Catpain Blackudder".
  • On Community, Asian!Annie tries to win by default, rejecting an offer of peace from her opponent. The moderator reminds her that the real UN appreciates impractical gestures, handing the victory to the study group.
  • Martin Bryce in Ever Decreasing Circles embodies the good version of this, obsessively following the letter of the law even if it works against him. For example, in "The Footpath", he discovers that his house is built over a public footpath, and takes it upon himself to put a sign indicating the footpath in his front garden and a stile over the fence in his back garden, ignoring his wife's concerns about a steady stream of ramblers walking across their property. It isn't until a member of the local Council tells him that only they can erect footpath signs, and they have no plans to do so since the footpath through the Bryces' garden became defunct when the house was built in the 1970s, that he removes the sign.
  • Friends: Played for laughs in Season 6. When Chandler and Monica decide to move in together, Rachel has to move out and Ross, who's secretly back in love with her, agrees to take her in. When she brings him the news that she's no longer moving because Chandler and Monica had a big fight over what do with her room and have called the whole thing off, Ross steps in to try and get them to make up and move in together so he can get Rachel. After trying to win them over verbally, Ross ends up resorting to some obscure New York contracting rules to enforce their agreement before storming off to find Rachel and tell her the move's back on.
    Ross: Okay! All right! Now, Chandler. You want to live with Monica, right?
    Chandler: Yeah, I do.
    Ross: And, Mon. You want to live with Chandler, don't you?
    Monica: Yes.
    Ross: Good! A verbal contract is binding in the state of New York! [storms out]
  • How I Met Your Mother: Barney tries to do this with The Bro Code to make himself feel better about sleeping with Robin, Ted's ex-girlfriend. Unfortunately for him, Marshall, who is an actual lawyer, cannot even find a suitable loophole because the rules are that well-written.
  • Captain Sharon Raydor of Major Crimes has this as one of the main weapons in her arsenal. Nobody has managed to outmaneuver her yet.
  • In Never Wipe Tears Without Gloves Paul told the tale of him getting a blow-job by an Orthodox Jew. When he pointed out the paradox of this the man said — in complete seriousness — that he had indeed "Never laid with a man as one lies with a woman" — he had been on his knees the whole time.
  • Odd Squad:
    • Oprah becomes a stickler for rules in "6:00 to 6:05" only, enforcing "no running" and "no walking fast" rules. This puts Olive and Otto at a disadvantage, as they need to find out who let the dinosaurs out of the dinosaur room in exactly 5 minutes.
    • The Task Force department, introduced in "Xs and Os", is designed to make sure that Odd Squad agents aren't breaking any rules. In the episode, Xavier and Xena, two agents who are part of "The X's", attempt to shut down Precinct 13579 for going over budget, while ignoring the fact that they are why the precinct's money is being sapped away.
    • In "Friends of Odd Squad", Mr. Fonts serves this role among the group that Oprah leaves in charge of Precinct 13579, almost to the point of being a Nervous Wreck.
    • Brutus becomes this in "Villain Networking", exploiting the trope in order to stop the villains that The Shadow has gathered from leaving.
    • Octavius, being a library-museum person who runs the Odd Squad Main Library, is very much a stickler for rules. He has shushed so many people that his throat has become dry, and the Mobile Unit decides to gift him a "shushing stick" in exchange for forgiving Orla's overdue book.
  • In The Office (US), Angela becomes this when she makes a highly abnormal sex contract with Dwight. It becames one of the show's main plot points
  • In The Phil Silvers Show, Sgt. Bilko is a master of the obscure rule. He's apparently memorized all the army regulations, dating back to the Spanish-American war. He has no interest in keeping the rules but finds it useful to be able to use them against his opponents.
  • In the Bubble Boy episode of Seinfeld, George and the Bubble Boy are playing Trivial Pursuit, when George draws a card with a misprint. The question is "Who invaded Spain in the 8th century?" The misprinted card reads "The Moops". George, eager to see his opponent miss for a change, insists that the Bubble Boy's answer of "Moors" is incorrect, leading to hilarity ensuing.
  • Will on Sons of Guns occasionally has to work around some legal issues for clients. Such as, you can't own a spring-loaded knife that shoots out. But you can own a knife-shooting gun that uses gunpowder as a propellant.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In "The Ensigns of Command", as Data tries to convince a colony to evacuate, Picard tries to navigate the Treaty of Armens between the Federations and the Sheliak, a race of aliens who are very anal about those terms and are ready to obliterate the colony. Thankfully Picard finds something to use to outmaneuver them.
    • In "Ethics", Worf is paralyzed by a falling cargo container. He intends to commit ritual suicide in accordance with Klingon tradition (by their standards, being disabled such that one cannot fight is a major dishonor), and asks Riker to help with the ritual. Riker is outright appalled at the thought of Worf killing himself, but does not want to disrespect his friend's beliefs. He researches the tradition in question, and discovers that it is the duty of a family member to assist, preferably the oldest son (in this case, Alexander). Worf says Alexander is just a boy, but Riker notes that Klingon males are considered men the moment they can hold a weapon. As Riker expected, Worf does not want his son to watch him stab himself in the chest, and so he instead opts for an experimental procedure to replace his damaged spine.

  • Musicians in countries that have major issues with censorship (whether at the business/corporate level with the record label or venues or whatever or at a government level where Moral Guardians are in power) often have to be this to get songs with some certain themes, whomever those censors may be. Some of the more common methods are changing the lyrics, going with implication instead of explicitness, or using Double Entendre or words with multiple meanings and then claiming the more innocent meaning of the Double Entendre or the word while the artists and actual listeners know the intended meaning.
  • In 1994 the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act was enacted in the United Kingdom, which attempted to ban raves where music was played. Music was defnied in the act as "sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats". British electronic music duo Autechre responded by releasing a track where not a single measure has the same sequence of beats.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • As the title character from The Merchant of Venice pointed out, The Devil can cite Scripture to his own purpose (he even has a debate over it with Jesus in the New Testament). Quoting individual lines or phrases devoid of context is generally a good indication of this behaviour, since if the full story or lesson was really saying that it would be more effective to use than just the quote.
    • Also in the New Testament, the Pharisees are portrayed this way about following the Law of Moses, causing Jesus to lambaste them for following the letter of the Law but ignoring the spirit of it. One example given is that one of God's commandments was "Honor your father and mother", while Jewish law also allowed people to declare possessions "corban", or dedicated to God so that they couldn't be used for something as mundane as, say, retirement pension. People were exploiting this to avoid supporting their parents, and Jesus called them out for using a law they made up to get around one that God Himself had given.
  • Islam attempts to prevent rules-lawyering by prescribing a hierarchy of which rules to follow in any given situation, starting from any directly related clause quoted in the Qur'an (if any are applicable), then the hadith (the Prophet's Traditions), then opinions of jurists, up until lastly, one's personal take on the situation. Some Muslims even believe in some sort of God's Rule Zero: "God is Perfectly Just and All-Knowing. Thus, He will know what circumstances you are in when encountering this type of situation; Inshallah, He will understand." Conversely, Rule Zero Corollary is thusly said as: "God will always know any attempts to Rules Lawyer for one's personal benefit. Don't try it."

  • As noted in the main article, The Fair Folk in numerous cultures are infamous for this because while they Can Not Tell A Lie, they routinely tell the truth in a very specific manner. Many folk-heroes manage to worm out of a bad deal by Rules Lawyering them back.

  • Shibuya from Roll to Breathe combs through metahuman law and manages to legally free an imprisoned teammate using only her AIGIS connections and a law over 50 years old.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • During 2016 when he held the World Tag Team Title belts with Frankie Kazarian and his run as World Champion in 2017, Christopher Daniels developed a reputation for stealing pin falls during three way+ dances (smartest man in the room!). When he retained this way against Cody Rhodes and Jay Lethal at War Of The Worlds, Rhodes actually hired a lawyer, who provided replays and timing down to milliseconds, to prove the pin fall should have been his in order to force ROH to give him a rematch at Best In The World.

    Tabletop Games 
  • An early edition of Champions had a section titled "Are you a powergamer?" featuring characters who bent the rules into a Gordian knot. Some examples included:
    • The Landlord. When purchasing a Base, for every +5 points your Base doubles in size. After spending a couple hundred points in this manner, you'll have a Base whose grounds cover the known universe. Furthermore, when purchasing Henchmen to man your Base, every +5 points doubles the number of henchmen you have; so at 170 points, you can have 8 billion loyal followers (the entire population of Earth and then some).
    • Nova Man. If anybody disturbs him in his private hospital ward, he explodes, doing 700d6 damage (to which he has personal immunity). He could afford such a big blast because he took enough physical limitations, vulnerabilities, and susceptibilities to be threatened by every molecule in the known universe.
    • Azathoth. He has X-ray vision, scads of Telescopic vision, and a powerful Mental Attack. Since mental powers suffer no range penalty and only require line-of-sight, he can attack anyone anywhere in the universe without moving.
  • Obviously, Dungeons & Dragons. People are fond of finding incredibly powerful abilities and combos that would allow them to create practically unbeatable characters. Two which stand out for being blatant chicanery that doesn't even follow the rules with loopholes are Pun-Pun, a character that starts with infinite stats; and the Locate City Bomb, a combination of metamagic feats from a few different splatbooks that turns a simple navigation spell into the 3.5 equivalent of a Kill Sat.
    • The Fastest Metal Man. Rules Lawyering = moving faster than the speed of light.
    • The most egregious example (although it is usually played for laughs) is the fact that while it has rules restricting what you can do while you are dying, there are no such rules for dead characters. By a completely literal interpretation of the rules, you could argue that there is no reason a dead player can't get right back up and continue adventuring without having to worry about hp anymore.
    • A rather famous (though not particularly serious and now outdated) bit of rules-lawyering is the "Villager Railgun", which abuses the mechanics behind "free actions". Basically, a free action is any action which takes so little time/effort, it can be done virtually instantaneously - examples include gestures, dropping items, and, of course, talking. Free actions are, well, free - a character can use any number of them, even if it's not their turn. Older editions allowed characters to pass suitably light objects to someone standing right next to them as a free action. Players with a working knowledge of physics quickly stumbled upon a loophole - line up a few thousand villagers in a straight line, all standing right next to each other, with one end of the line next to a pile of light objects and the other close to the designated target. Have the villager on one end of the line pick up a light object and, on the "firing" turn, have them pass it to the next person in line as a free action. Then have that person pass it to the next person as a free action. Repeat until it reaches the other end of the line. Option one: the receiver throws it at his target. Physics indicates that the object just travelled several thousand metres in less than six seconds (the length of a round in D&D), giving it enough kinetic energy to destroy pretty much anything it's thrown at. Unfortunately, there's no rules covering momentum in this way, so the DM is free to call shenanigans. Option two: put it down. In a completely legal-by-the-rules way, the object has just traveled an arbitrary distance in six seconds. The DM is advised to rule that 1.8x10^9 meters is the limit for this sort of stunt, as that is six light-seconds, but up to there...
    • Another amusing example is the "Chicken Infested" flaw. Only available to Commoners, it gives you a 50% chance to pull out a chicken from a container. Pulling things out of a spell pouch is a free action. Can you say instant infinite chickens?
    • In-universe, the Archdevil Glasya is a master at Rules Lawyering, with mortals most commonly calling to her to get out of a bargain with another Devil in exchange for pledging their souls to her instead.
  • In Nomic each turn consists of players proposing and then voting upon changes to the game's rules, so naturally it involves a lot of Rules Lawyering.
  • Paranoia encourages this! Theoretically, the rules recommend that the players aren't even supposed to read the rules. If they show any sign that they do, the GM is encouraged to kill their character's current clone (all Paranoia PCs have a series of clones so that they can be allowed to die many times without doing character creation each time). Some of the more successful strategies for manipulating other PCs involve using one's (secret) knowledge of the rules to either manipulate an "ally" into breaking a rule or make them look like they've read the rules. The rulebook encourages this, as "reading the rules and lying about it" is perfectly in the spirit of the game.
  • There's a saying among players of Star Fleet Battles: "Legal Officer, report to the bridge!" The fact that the rulebook is the size of the Manhattan phone directory doesn't help. Players have been spotted with buttons reading "Scotty, I need a rule in five minutes or we're all dead!" (From Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, suitably tweaked).
  • In one of the books for The Dresden Files RPG, there is a section on the Unseelie Accords, the rules that govern interactions between the supernatural "nations". The Accords were written by Queen Mab, who set them up so that there is no "spirit of the Law", just the literal wording. A note by one of the characters in the margins even calls Mab a Rules Lawyer.
  • Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000:
    • Some background states that the Chaos Gods do this when they fight each other. They are each basically omnipotent in their own universe, so they cobble together a set of House Rules for each battle and then proceed to bend them as far as possible in their own favor.
    • Due to a combination of poor proofreading and lack of common sense on the player's part, it's fully possible to successfully argue a hilariously long list of crazy rules. Namely, you can argue that Walkers without actual sculpted eyes cannot shoot or "see" things because they have no actual eyes, a model with Rage does not follow its rules because "visible" and "line of sight" are clearly two different terms, and it's perfectly legal to deploy my army on the bookshelf and not on the table. One of the Warhammer 40,000 army books has a weapon where the player has to draw a line from the gun to the target, and everything along the line is hit... The newer editions explicitly state that it's a straight line and that it's only 1 mm thick. Naturally, any tournament-level discussion board will devolve into insane rantings the minute new rules come out.
    • The Sisters of Battle are an in-universe example; the Ecclesiarchy is forbidden by law from maintaining men under arms. They decided to maintain women under arms instead. In some versions of the story, everyone involved agreed to the loophole before deciding on the wording.
    • "Creative" and/or "Extremely Literal" rules interpretations have given rise to some pretty odd (and occasionally game-breaking tactics. These tactics include the Devilfish Bunker, wherein Tau players could use their vehicles as mobile bunkers to shield their weak-in-close-combat units from assault, and the setup to the Monolith Phalanx Drop, where a player was once able to put a character right next to a building in the corner of the map and render both the character and the building immune to shooting (under older versions of the rules, you could only shoot a character if you had line of sight, and you could only shoot a building if it had an enemy unit inside it; thus a character behind, but not in, a building rendered both of them untargettable).
    • The Pyrovore - which already is considered one of the worst units in the game - has an odd quirk thanks to some sloppy rules writing. When shot, the Pyrovore can blow up, potentially taking out anything else that's nearby. Except the rule in question is poorly written and, if you're creative in your interpretation (the exact text is "All units take a number of hits equal to the number of models within d6" of the model"), you can claim that an exploding Pyrovore hits every unit on the battlefield. Rules Lawyers looking for a laugh will occasionally pack the Pyrovore in close to a number of other friendly units, blow it up on purpose and use the technicality to try and wipe out half of the opponent's army (it helps if your own army is in reserve if you try this).
    • Another poorly thought-out rule was Blood Angels dreadnaughts, which can be given jetpacks to fly around the battlefield. However, once again thanks to poor rules wording, the way the codex handled this was to change the unit's type from "Walker" to "Jump Infantry", the latter being a designation that's supposed to apply to roughly human-sized creatures with wings or jump packs (not a Mini-Mecha like the Dreadnaught). Unscrupulous players argue that this allows them to carry Dreadnaughts as passengers in a ship that's roughly the same size as they are (since the ship is allowed to carry Jump Infantry, but not Walkers).
    • This story is a particularly (in)famous one that describes a Tau player scoring a victory-by-default by spreading his battle-line extremely thin (one man deep, but spanning the entire width of the table) and deploying it on the opponent's table edge after his opponent opted to keep his entire army in reserve. By the rules as written, this meant that the opponent did not have a valid entry point for his army - units in reserve that cannot legally enter the table count as destroyed, scoring the Tau player an automatic victory on Turn 1.
    • The Codex Astartes places strict upper limits on the Table of Organization and Equipment permitted to an Astartes Chapter. But there is also a clause in the book stating that TOE restrictions can be temporarily waived during Crusades. Since the Black Templar Chapter was ordered to be perpetually on Crusade by their Primarch, Rogal Dorn, during its founding, the Black Templars have used that clause to completely ignore the TOE restrictions of the Codex for thousands of years, to the point where they'd probably count as a small Legion in their own right if they all gathered in one place.
  • Chess has had a few interesting interpretations of the rules over the centuries:
    • The pawn promotion rule is now specified very carefully to avoid certain abuses — such as remaining a pawn or promoting to an enemy piece. Yes, there are positions where those options are good, although it's vanishingly unlikely that they'd ever occur. See here for an example of when promoting to an enemy piece is more beneficial (to checkmate, blocking the king's escape with something he can't capture), and here for an example of when remaining a pawn is more beneficial (to run yourself out of moves and force a stalemate quicker than your opponent can force a checkmate).
    • There's one story where a student promoted his pawn to a king because his teacher, George Koltanowski, had forgotten to mention this was illegal. George says he responded by checkmating both kings at once.
    • To patch a serious Loophole Abuse, the rules were rewritten to specifically state that the move producing the checkmate must be a legal move. Before this change, some players argued that a checkmate could be performed with an illegal move and still achieve victory because of the rule that any violations cannot be reported after the game is over and, in theory, the game is over the moment you checkmate.
    • A chess puzzle revealed that castling could be done in three directions: queen-side, king-side, and filewise —that is, if a pawn was promoted to rook on the same file as the king, castling could then occur vertically if the new rook had not yet moved. The rules were clarified to say the rooks had to be on the same rank as the King.

    Video Games 
  • Arbitrary code excecution is taking this to the extreme. Instead of playing the game normally, the player takes incredibly specific actions at very precise times to execute their own code, using only valid game inputs. You read that right, instead of bending the rules, you're bending the very fabric of the game itself, allowing you to skip to the credits or even reprogram the entire game!
  • Donkey Kong Country
    • In the first Donkey Kong Country, the player "puts the controller down" (which counts as finishing) when K Rool still has one hit point. The Kongs stand there for a few seconds before K Rool runs into them, hitting one Kong and triggering the other to tag-in... right on top of Rool's head.
  • Metal Gear Solid:
    • Several super soldiers were "created" due to the Government and military splicing their DNA with that of Big Boss's DNA. When Snake mentions that such an act is supposed to be banned under international law, Naomi Hunter explains that it is, but they don't apply as they were merely declarations and not actual treaties.
    • Also with the Metal Gear launching nukes. Since it uses a rail gun and not fuel, it technically wasn't launching a rocket, so treaties wouldn't cover it.
  • Monokuma in the Danganronpa series has a strict set of rules for his Killing Game that he enforces to the letter, ranging from "No littering" to "No killing more than two people at once". This actually gets used against him in the second game's second trial, where Fuyuhiko Kuzuryu gets himself mortally wounded trying to save the killer from execution. Because the rules state that if the correct person is voted guilty in a trial, they alone will die, letting Fuyuhiko die would be a violation, thus Monokuma has to allow him to survive.
  • The final boss in Shadowrun: Hong Kong can be defeated via rules-lawyering if the player did the appropriate research beforehand.
  • Tyranny encourages this. As an enforcer of the Evil Overlord Kyros and agent of Tunon, Archon of Law, you must do what the law says...but the law is often a little vague on the particularities. Some highlights include:
    • The quarreling armies of the Scarlet Chorus and Disfavored must conquer Vendrian's Well by the next Kyros' Day of Swords after the Edict is proclaimed. Kyros' Day of Swords falls eight days after you are expected to proclaim the Edict, leading to a mad dash. Unless you lollygag in camp for at least eight days; the Edict dishes out consequences on Kyros' Day of Swords, but doesn't specify a year, only that it's the next one, giving you, the Chorus, and the Disfavored much more time.
    • The Edict of Storms will rage until the enemy's royal line is ended. By the time you reach the palace, the last in the line is an infant. Planning on committing infanticide? But here's the thing; the kid is a bastard, adopted by the late king. His commoner mother is his regent, and has the authority to rescind his adoption, meaning the royal line ends, but the baby doesn't.
  • In Beyond Skyrim: Bruma, Neremus Agrecian, the chief minister at the Cathedral of St. Martin in Bruma, is getting grief from local Thalmor agents, lead by Armion, that him worshipping and proselytizing about a descendant of Talos constitutes a violation of the White-Gold Concordat. Neremus refuses to be intimidated:
    Neremus: If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times! The Chapel of St. Martin does not violate the terms of the White-Gold Concordat. There is no Talos worship going on here.
    Armion: It violates the spirit of the White-Gold Concordat. I must urge you to cease and desist at once!
    Neremus: Oh? What is the "spirit" of the White-Gold Concordat?
    Armion: The "spirit" of the White-Gold Concordat is that men are not, and can never be, gods. Just as Tiber Septim is not a god, nor is Martin Septim.
    Neremus: But what does the Concordat actually say?
    Armion: The Concordat forbids Talos worship.
    Neremus: No mention of Martin Septim worship, though?
    Armion: I... no, there isn't. I must consult with my superiors. Perhaps we will have to petition for a slight amendment to some... unfortunately specific wording within the Concordat.
    • Even then, Neremus is even more in the right from the fact that Martin Septim isn't actually worshipped as a god, but as a saint of Akatosh, the perfectly legal god Martin was a priest of.

    Visual Novels 
  • Umineko: When They Cry treats Knox's 10 Commandments as rules enforced by a heavenly court. In Episode 6, Erika is demoted from the role of Detective, which limits her ability to investigate the crime and disprove the existance of magic. This also means she's no longer prohibited from killing (Knox's 7th). She uses this to completely derail the plot, causing the Gameboard to end after only the First Twilight.

    Web Animation 
  • Discussed by Puffin Forest. He differentiates between Rules Lawyers and what he calls Rules Traditionalists. Rules Traditionalists are just out to have fun and thinks that you should follow the rules in order to have fun, which is ultimately just one way of playing, and nothing inherently wrong. Rules Lawyers, on the other hand, are out to exploit the rules. They're not trying to be fair, they're trying to win.

    Web Comics 
  • Crystal Heart: Guy is one. Seen especially in one case when he helps Lily's character to get a crystal she wants from another agent of their organization by citing a probable interpretation of the rules - when making his argument, he is portraited with a wig like british lawyers wear them and stops his argument with an "I rest my case".
  • Happens a lot in DM of the Rings between the players and the DM, a few appearing as instances the DM is surprised the players paid attention to the material given to them, and was the main focus on one strip where Gimli realizes both he and Legolas, in-character, have morals that were opposed to disturbing the dead or otherwise side with them when the party reached the point of entering the caves, and another strip when Aragorn not only successfully argued to keep their horses (as in the ones they would have left in the camp site way back before the army of the dead note ), but all the equipment the horses were left with and spoils gained from the last few battles.
  • Pete from Darths & Droids is usually more of a conventional Munchkin in trying to stack his stats to his own advantage, but isn't above trying this now and again. Towards the end of the Return of the Jedi arc it turns out he's an actual lawyer. He does it just as aggressively when the rules are against him, most dramatically with his Rogue One character.
  • Erfworld is what happens when a Rules Lawyer gets summoned by the denizens of an RPG Mechanics 'Verse. Most of the natives instinctively know and follow the Rules as Intended, but Parson and the few natives creative enough to experiment have figured out that the Rules as Written aren't all that well thought out...
  • Lewis in Full Frontal Nerdity. Nelson technically does this a lot more than Lewis does, but tends not to do the 'assumption' part and instead water-proofs most of his acts from DM (and other players') intervention beforehand.
  • Homestuck: undyingUmbrage/Caliborn manages to "beat" his sister uranianUmbra/Calliope at chess by putting a set of decorative crowns on his king and queen so that they looked like each other, even going so far as to play both pieces as kings and to ask to have their starting positions swapped. There's no rule against decorating one's pieces - which is good for uranianUmbra because she apparently does it all the time.
  • Repeatedly in The Water Phoenix King — justified in that one of the heroes is a lawyer, and the story largely hinges on questions of rightful authority and jurisdiction, which means Bureaucracy. It's still hilarious every time it happens. (Especially when it's in the middle of a battle with a cyborg.)
    Anthem: Is everyone but me a damn lawyer?
  • Grrl Power: Sydney argues that a laser can pass through a force field because light can pass through in a tabletop superhero RPG in the first three comics, setting up just how savvy she is.
  • The Whiteboard: A badger abusing paintball rules regarding broken balls counting a person out takes his complaints to several refs at Red's field. In retaliation, the staff arranges a game with everyone else against the one badger, which in spite of the badger's complaint isn't prohibited by the rules.
  • The character of Dave, in Canadian tabletop wargaming strip Larry Leadhead, is a guy who spends a lot of time with the rulebooks looking for ways to exploit Loophole Abuse. in fact, this appears to be his greatest reason for playing.
  • In the Team Fortress 2 webcomic, it's revealed that the Medic sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for incredible medical knowledge. Fortunately, the contract specifies that it's only valid if Hell owns the majority of the Medic's soul - and he put that knowledge to good use and managed to surgically implant himself with eight other souls, rendering the contract invalid.
  • In The Handbook of Heroes, Cleric will interrupt combat to complain about the exact letter of the rules not being followed, even if it's to his allies' detriment. It's a trait that first appears in "Lawful Pedantic" and is used in a number of subsequent jokes.

    Web Original 
  • Things Mr. Welch Is No Longer Allowed to Do in an RPG: Mr. Welch seems to be a loonie Rules Lawyer. Many of the things he has tried are legal within the rules, which are indicated when he says he can't do something "even if the rules allow it." For example, making a pistol belt fed.
  • In SCP Foundation SCP-738 is a supernatural entity that can grant wishes in exchange for suffering, naturally granted to the letter. Eventually they send the installation's legal counsel to bargain with it, and they engage in an extended bout of My Rule Fu Is Stronger than Yours, ending only when the legal counsel, having human limitations the entity doesn't possess, collapses from exhaustion. The last thing he remembers is that they were discussing the technical definition of the word "shall", and the document had reached 900 pages. He received a letter from SCP-738 inviting him to come back any time, as he hasn't had that much fun in ages. The worst part is that SCP-738 usually takes on the appearance of something that makes you uncomfortable: the legal counsel saw the entity he was bargaining with as his old college law professor.
  • Rules Lawyers on The Other Wiki are popularly known as "Wikilawyers", as they tend to know how to use policy and guidelines to their advantage to the point that they can, and will, argue till everyone else gives up on really obscure points only they would care about, generally as part of advancing an agenda. As you can imagine, everyone else looks down on so-called wikilawyers, the site officially discourages this, and their behavior is one of the factors most commonly cited for driving newbies away from the site.
  • Though not to the extreme as The Other Wiki, TV Tropes often suffers this as well. A common one is users trying to avoid Word Cruft by trimming down examples to the point they no longer sound like an example of that trope, then having another user remove the "Zero-Context Example", and then accusing the person who tried to restore it of Edit Warring.
  • Whateley Universe has Elaine Nalley, codenamed "Loophole". She earned her codename days into her first term by constantly abusing loopholes in the school rulebook. Her lawyering is so extensive that her Mutant ID has no actual details beyond "Homo Sapiens, Further notations pending court trial." She doesn't fully manifest her powers until her sophomore combat final because she'd managed to talk her way out of everything that could cause her to manifest up to that point. Even then, it only manifests because her coach tries to murder her by flinging a car at her.

    Web Videos 
  • In The Guild, Vork sees himself as heroic because he's a rules lawyer.
  • 1 For All has Pat become, for that session, a rare example of a DM being the Rules Lawyer, despite Eva trying to invoke Rule of Cool. Eventually, they decide to use some malicious compliance to make him realise how much of an ass he was being. (He still wouldn't let them take the loot, since they were approaching encumberance.)
  • Judge Dead from the Noob franchise is the Game Master for a MMORPG and seems to lean on the By-the-Book Cop side. This trope can be easily assumed to be part of his job description.

    Western Animation 
  • During the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episode "A Trivial Pursuit", Pinkie Pie has put herself and Twilight Sparkle way behind in Trivia Trot due to being such a Cloud Cuckoolander. In order to get back in the lead, Twilight starts using her in-depth knowledge of Trivia Trot regulations to nitpick the other teams' minor infractions. Subsequently, Twilight is able to have Pinkie disqualified, allowing Twilight to partner with the much smarter and more level-headed Sunburst, as allowed by the rules. Eventually, Sunburst throws this back at her, trying to get Twilight disqualified and making Twilight realize what she's done.
  • King of the Hill - Hank teaches Bobby to play baseball:
    Hank: You can't get on base if you don't swing.
    Bobby: You can get a base on balls.
    Hank: Do you want to play baseball or lawyerball?
  • Dana from Wayside fits this trope to a T.
  • In a particular Futurama episode, both the Professor and his son, Cubert, are in danger of being convicted in court. The prosecution drops the charges against Cubert because he is a child. Bender then points out that because Cubert is the Professor's clone, they are technically the same person. Therefore, the Professor must not be found guilty, since he cannot be tried twice for the same crime.
  • In The Fairly Oddparents, when faced with devious genie Norm, realizing he wasn't a match for the 5,000-year-old trickster, Timmy wishes for a literal lawyer to help him get what he needs. It works.
  • In one episode of American Dad!, after a sketchy Jenga move, Roger tells Hayley that he called Hasbro in advance and they told him that what he was doing was against the spirit of the game, but technically legal.

    Real Life 
  • Debaters will, on occasion, delve into arguing about the process and rules of debate itself rather than the topic (either because they have no evidence that is on-topic to the specific case their opponent is running, or because they simply dislike the topic itself). The judges of a debate are supposed to score this tactic down, but being sufficiently audacious, amusing, or clever at it can earn their mercy.
    • In the specific subdiscipline of policy debate, this is so highly developed, several of these arguments are taught as standard. The most common is Topicality: The Affirmative (the guys proposing a solution to the official problem, called the resolution) are actually off-topic. This usually rests on abuse of the dictionary, but if the Negative (the guys trying to shoot the Affirmative down) can prove it and convince the judge that it's worthwhile to consider, they win: if the Affirmative is off-topic, then they haven't "Affirmed" the resolution, and thus failed. Weird enough for ya? Other rules-lawyer arguments (called "Theory" in the jargon) are weirder. Somebody once nearly won by arguing they should lose and then backing it up with cogent arguments on theory; they only lost because they actually were trying to throw the round, and brought in a different argument to ensure defeat.
    • Thankfully not allowed in debates with the "World Schools" (three speakers per side, with one making two speeches) and "British Parliamentary" (four speakers per side, one speech each) formats, where the rules and conventions are very clearly defined and rules-lawyering or breaking will get you marked down by the judge.
  • In college and high school Mock Trial under the AMTA rules, Rules Lawyer is one personality many attorneys play on defense when attempting to beat a team that is made up of big personalities. This often leads to lengthy objection battles, particularly when introducing evidence and putting it on the record. If they're poor at tactics (or checking the clock), the Rules Lawyer can ruin everyone's day by making the trial run over the allotted time, which results in a loss for both teams regardless of how they are doing in the trial.
  • Carried out twice by Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
    • In late 2008, with a minority government, due in large part to questionable tactics he'd tried during budget planning, he was facing a motion of no-confidence that would bring down his government. So he prorogued Parliament, preventing the vote. Proroguing is only supposed to be used at the end of a parliamentary session when the government has completed the agenda it set in the throne speech; using it to shutter Parliament is distinctly not on. When the new Parliament reconvened sometime later, the opposition unity had fallen apart.
    • In late 2009, facing calls for an inquiry on Canadian involvement in torture in Afghanistan, questions about the economy and a bunch of other issues, he did it again (having gotten away with it the first time), claiming it was because of the Olympics distracting everyone (although the government seemed to manage okay the last time the country hosted the Games). His eventual reward for all this rules-lawyering? A majority government.
  • Union General Benjamin Butler was a general... and a lawyer... and a politician, so he was awfully good at this. A full year before the Emancipation Proclamation, he made it policy to never return runaway slaves who made it into Union lines. It was a sort of "emancipation lite" for the area. When Butler was scolded for playing with the political powder keg of slavery, he logically, and with tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek pointed out that slaves were no more than animals, and like any animal being used by the enemy, were legitimate contrabands of war. The ex-slaves stayed in Union lines, often took paid jobs, and got a basic education. This logic was eventually adopted by the whole Union Army and was made general policy in the Emancipation Proclamation. Yes, this is what Lincoln's famous freeing of the slaves is based on: rules-lawyering. (Everyone forgets this, but before he was a politician, Lincoln was a top-flight and very successful lawyer.) It also made this massive change easier to swallow in the slave states that stayed in the Union.
    • It's often said that since the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to slaves in states that had seceded (so as not to offend loyal slave states) it freed exactly no one at its time of issuance. This is not precisely true; the Union Army already held substantial swaths of Southern territory—including the Confederacy's largest city, New Orleans—and in areas where the Union commanders hadn't already done what Butler had started doing, the slaves were freed. On the other hand, it is true that most slaves freed by the Proclamation were freed after it came into effect.
  • The Westboro Baptist Church mixes this trope with a fair amount of cherry-picking to justify its founder's hatred for Jews, homosexuals, and pretty much every sentient being that is not part of the church. It doesn't help that the founder was actually a (disbarred) lawyer, and a peculiar number of his followers are members of the Bar as well.
  • President Bill Clinton did not have sexual relations with that woman. She just gave him a blowjob. Which was not sexual relations, by the legal definition of that place and time. So Clinton told a legal truth that pretty much every layperson (cough) would consider a lie. To show how meticulous his Rules Lawyering went: before issuing that statement, he requested a legal definition for every single word he might use, even the legal definition of "the".
    • He also quite famously managed to tie people up with the now-infamous statement: ďThat depends on what your definition of Ďisí is.Ē
  • As pointed out by the Dutch Formula 1 commentator Olav Mol: if the car ahead of you is faster, then you can spend a lot of time, effort, and money developing new innovations that make your car faster as well, or you can spend just as much time but far less money finding a rule that forbids some aspect of your opponent's car.
  • Henry "Smokey" Yunick was the king of this trope in NASCAR. He did everything from lowering the roof of the car (to improve the aerodynamics) to using an 11-foot coil of 2-inch tubing in lieu of a standard fuel line (to add 5 gallons of gas to the car's capacity). His reasoning was that everyone else was cheating at least 10 times as hard as his crew was, so it was self-defense.
  • American tax protesters often attempt this trope with <ahem> non-standard readings of many laws, such as claiming that their salary is not "income" since it is only paper money and not gold or silver, or that the tax bill is for JOHN DOE, who is a totally different person from John Doe. The most famous being that paying income taxes is optional because the U.S. code uses the word "voluntary" to refer to the system. In this case, though, "voluntary" does not mean "optional"; it means "You are going to volunteer (i.e. provide) your information to us. The IRS is not going to compute your taxes for you and send you a bill. You have to do your own paperwork."
    • Similarly, the 'birther' movement surrounding Barack Obama's eligibility for the presidency. Most of the movement centred the argument around his birth certificate and the claim that he wasn't born in the United States. When Obama produced his birth certificate, they largely either backed down or claimed the certificate was a fake. But an even more extreme section of the movement insisted that the birth certificate was irrelevant because according to the constitution a president must be a natural-born citizen, whereas Obama is only a native-born citizen (yes, legally these are different things). This is apparently because Obama's father was from Kenya, then a British colony, and British law at the time said that all colonial subjects and their children were British citizens. Apart from this not in any way affecting Obama's US citizenship (as many people have joint nationality), Britain retroactively repealed the British citizenship of colonial subjects after those colonies became independent (unless they were eligible for British citizenship on other grounds, which neither Obama nor his father was). However, the definition of natural born as used in the US constitution is not universally agreed on and has never been addressed by the US Supreme Court. It is not likely they will ever touch that subject with a 10-foot birth certificate.
  • Capon was originally conceived by the Romans to get around a law forbidding the fattening of hens (the law was intended to conserve grain rations). The Romans simply castrated roosters and fattened them instead... with delicious results.
  • If an animated show goes past a certain number of episodes (around sixty) then the regular voice actors are entitled to a share of the profits under guild regulations. This is why many cartoons are cancelled after two seasons, so the networks can avoid paying out the extra money. However, technically, Ben 10 (52 episodes), Ben 10: Alien Force (46 episodes), Ben 10: Ultimate Alien (52 episodes) and Ben 10: Omniverse (80 episodes), all count as different shows; Cartoon Network keep reworking and retitling the series before it qualifies. This may also be why Justice League was retooled into Justice League Unlimited, why Batman: The Animated Series became Batman and Robin and then then New Batman Adventures, why Scooby-Doo keeps getting rebooted, and so on.
  • The deed of gift governing the rules of the America's Cup yacht race is governed by the New York State Supreme Court (which is actually a trial court in New York). Disputes are argued by actual lawyers and have gone before actual New York state judges. The most recent time the courts got involved occurred in 2010.
  • Barney Curley was apparently so good at abusing the rules of horse race betting, he made over ten million dollars off it.
  • In civil suits in the United States, jury verdicts in cases where the dispute is over something exceeding a given dollar value are not typically subject to judicial review. However, there is a type of judgment called "judgment notwithstanding the verdict", which requires that a motion for judgment as a matter of law had been filed and denied during the trial. The logic behind judgment notwithstanding the verdict is that it is not a reexamination of the verdict, but rather of the previously-rejected motion. Judges like this for varying reasons, not least of which is ass-covering: they will often deny a motion for judgment as a matter of law during the trial even if he/she has already made up his/her mind that the law is clear and that one side should win. If the jury's verdict is in favor of the party that the judge thinks should win, the opposing party's motion after the verdict will be denied. If the verdict goes the other way, though, the judge will simply grant the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. This means that the judge gets the result he/she thinks is right no matter what, but also gets the advantage that if the jury finds for the side the judge was going to rule for, it has the added legitimacy and finality of a jury verdict.
  • Bronwyn Bishop when she was the Liberal member for Mackeller was notorious for this role, spending Question Time reading through every book on standing orders and decorum to challenge not just the opposition but the Parliament officials themselves. Then she ignored the rules that were not in favor of her party when she became Speaker.
  • Expect any sporting referee/umpire/judge to behave this way. Ideally the Helpful, Lawful Good variant.
  • This trope is how the National Football League signed its first Black player of the modern era. In 1946, NFL teams were barred from signing UCLA star player Kenny Washington, due to segregation (George Halas and the Chicago Bears first among them). Then the Cleveland Rams - who were about to become the Los Angeles Rams and wanted to sign the local star Washington - used the very law that established Segregation (Plessy v. Ferguson) to force the league to allow them to sign Washington. When they were about to move into to the LA Colosseum (a publicly-funded stadium), Rams officials asked when the accompanying blacks-only stadium would be built. Since that wasn't about to happen, and the law said there had to be an equivalent organization to justify the exclusion (such as Major League Baseball and the Negro Leagues), the NFL couldn't use the law to enforce their own segregation policy (unless they wanted to start a full Negro Football League).
  • Technology and science are essentially this, learning the rules by which nature operates and using them to do things that are useful to us.
  • There is a road sport in some American cities called "gimmick rallye", wherein participants must drive around, following a set of very carefully worded instructions to the letter; the instructions are worded in such a way as to catch participants out without them realising. For instance, one might be given the instruction "turn right at any uninstructed T junction", and must note that this instruction not only applies if one is travelling up the stem of the T, but it also applies if one is travelling in via the left entrance of the T. Or one might be told to make a U-turn at all "stop signs", but the instructions might define a "stop sign" as "a red HEXAGONAL sign with the word STOP on it" (i.e. do not follow the instruction at normal octagonal stop signs) or "any sign with the word STOP on it" (which includes signs like "Bus Stop" and "S Stop 12 Rd").
  • John Haigh, better known as the Acid Bath Murderer, unsuccessfull attempted to be this to save himself from being convicted for murdering 6 (he claimed 9) people. He believed that a murder conviction would be impossible if the bodies of his victims could not be found, in spite of the otherwise air-tight evidence against him and a confession (he pled insanity). This wasn't the case, it took the jury mere minutes to unanimously find him guilty, he was convicted of murder, and hanged on August 10th, 1949.


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The Rules Lawyer

The Rules Lawyer is a type of tabletop gamer who becomes so wrapped up in the semantics of the rules of the game that they are incapable of actually playing the damn thing, often to the detriment of the entire group.

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Main / RulesLawyer

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