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Scoundrel Code

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Quark: The sixth Rule of Acquisition expressly states...
Zek: 'Never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity.' I certainly never have.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "The Nagus"

Do you want to join the pirates, thieves, less savory people, scoundrels in general? Then you need the Scoundrel's code. It teaches those that want to be scoundrels how to behave, at times only for their best gain, but at others how to maintain some semblance of morals. Its suggestions and rules are usually less than ethical, when not outright illegal, hence Scoundrel code. Less savory anti-heroes and other protagonists will often quote it. Antagonists will quote it less often, as there is often less need to be made more sympathetic or at least understandable.


Depending on the society in a Planet of Hats, this kind of list can be a central tenet of its culture. Due to its nature, the people that follow such a code tend to be amoral. Evil characters may consider it as advice, but will generally ignore the bothersome moral excerpts for profit. Unless they don't which generally implies at the very least a kind of honour. A chaotic character may lack the discipline to follow it or may prefer to improvise. Lawful folks won't usually follow such a code unless said code is the cultural norm. The Lovable Rogue and others of The Trickster stock are prone to following this kind of code. It is always dangerous to count on someone following the scoundrel's code and many even instruct their followers to ignore the rules for results. Again, this is a code for scoundrels and so they're not big on rules in the first place.


Compare Honor Among Thieves, which is a genuine moral code for how the criminal or unsavory should treat their colleagues. Also compare the Evil Overlord List, a meta/Genre Savvy version of this for Evil Overlords.


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    Fan Fiction 
  • The Killer Rarityverse: Rarity promises to never hurt Sweetie Belle, the other five members of the Mane Six or foals.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! story A Game of Masques, Yugi is an incubus who doesn't have much use for others' rules (for instance, he's on the run for seducing a Lord of Hell's consort). However, he has his own set of rules that he abides by, including that he will never break up an established couple (unless they are already on the rocks or established on false pretences) and he doesn't use his actual powers for seduction, because that would be "cheating".
  • In the Dusk to Dawn series, Catwoman will sometimes reference a thief's code, which she may or may not have made up herself. Some rules include "Murder is strictly last resort," "Don't steal from anyone with less than you," and "Robbing graves is off the table, but stiffs on the street are fair game."

  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Pirates' Code (or Pirata Codex) is one that governs the relations of pirates. For instance, if someone says "parley" you have to take them to your captain alive. However, there are a number of caveats to this code.
  • In Casino, Ace Rothstein talks about his soon-to-be wife Ginger following "the Hustlers' Code" — basically, making sure that she pays off everyone who is in a position to help her carry out her profession as a high-class prostitute, so they have an incentive to do so.

  • Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • Han Solo's mentor Roa has Roa's Rules: Never ignore a call from help, steal only from those richer than you, never play cards unless you're prepared to lose, don't pilot under the influence, and always be prepared to make a quick getaway.
    • Bounty Hunters in that universe also have an accepted code of conduct. No Bounty Is Worth Dying For; People Don't Have Bounties, Only Acquisitions Have Bounties (meaning that anyone you are being paid to shoot is just a target, not a sentient being); Capture By Design, Kill By Necessity; No Hunter Shall Slay Another Hunter; No Hunter Shall Refuse Aid to Another Hunter; No Hunter Shall Interfere With Another's Hunt (the rules of not sabotaging/killing other Hunters rule are not in play with the Great Hunt, where the goal is to compete with other hunters, however); and In the Hunt One Captures or Kills, Never Both (meaning you don't kill an unarmed target who has surrendered. If they try to escape is another story).
    • Hondo Ohnaka mentions "pirate's honor" in the young readers book Pirate's Price. According to him, it is highly malleable.
    Hondo: That is the wonderful thing about a pirate's honor. Conveniently, it turns on and off as needed. Turn on, turn off. Turn on, turn off.
  • The "Secret Peace" of the Gentleman Bastards books describes the terms under which organized crime can exist in Camorr without encountering vastly more organized resistance, most significantly that the noble families and the city watch are not to be targeted. This is cheerfully ignored by the few who worship the Crooked Warden, god of thieves and tricksters, who teaches that the wealthy should remember that their fortunes are never entirely safe.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Ferengi Rules of Acquisition from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which range from harsh ("A Ferengi without profit is no Ferengi at all.") to pragmatic ("You can't make a deal if you're dead.") to Pet the Dog ("Good customers are as rare as latinum. Treasure them."). It also includes contradictory ones ("War is good for business" is immediately followed by "Peace is good for business"), probably as a combination of being written by multiple people over a long time and a reminder to Ferengi that there isn't always one best way to get money.
  • Hustle often refers to 'the Grifter's Code'.
  • Dexter has the "Code of Harry" which allows him to uphold a measure of control over his Serial Killer tendencies.
  • Dennis Stanton, a Gentleman Thief who, after going straight, became a recurring character in Murder, She Wrote, maintained his own code of conduct; never steal anything his victims couldn't afford to lose, never steal anything of sentimental value, and only steal items that were insured by a specific insurance company. The last one's more for personal revenge, as the company in question refused to pay for a treatment that could have saved his wife's life.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dungeons & Dragons d20 System Reference Documents have variant rules for an "honour" system which can include this sort of moral code as guidelines for characters to follow. In said SRD are included the Thieves' Code and the Mafia's Omerta — both of which mix Honor Among Thieves and Scoundrel Code.
  • GURPS:
    • The core rules offer a Pirate's Code of Honor in addition to the more standard types. It is, needless to say, less restrictive.
    • The idea is parodied in the Discworld Role-Playing Game, wherein the rules followed by some pirates are complicated enough that they've been known to press-gang contract lawyers, and sometimes start arguing about a point of order in the middle of a raid.

  • Parodied in The Pirates of Penzance: The pirates' code entails that they will never hurt an orphan, so anyone who claims to be an orphan will be spared. Word gets around, resulting in some serious Flaw Exploitation. Frederic observes:
    "The last three ships we took proved to be manned entirely by orphans, and so we had to let them go. One would think that Great Britain's mercantile navy was recruited solely from her orphan asylums - which we know is not the case."

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • In the Guardians of the Galaxy story arc in which the Guardians are hired to retrieve ... something ... by Howard the Duck, Rocket keeps insisting that Howard wouldn't double-cross them, because that would be against the Scoundrel Code. It turns out the Scoundrel Code is very flexible on what you're allowed to do to save your own skin.

    Real Life 
  • Thieves in the USSR had a semi-official code.
  • Albanian mobsters follow the Kanun, a 500-year-old set of traditional Albanian laws, in their criminal dealings.
  • The many variations of the Pirate's Code.


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