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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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    Comic Books 
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • Boba Fett, the greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy, is a strong believer in the Bounty Hunters Creed. Even the rule he's most willing to ignore (No Hunter Shall Refuse Aid to Another Hunter) really depends on the situation: a fellow Hunter having a bit of bad luck is someone he might help out. A Hunter getting into trouble due to being incompetent or careless... not so much.
    • IG-88, being an Ax-Crazy Killer Robot, has no use for such silly rules. This was most famously demonstrated when he attacked Boba Fett in order to recover Han Solo. Other hunters also attacked Fett on that occasion, as the bounty Jabba the Hutt put on Han Solo was so big they were willing to make an exception.
    • Ignoring the Bounty Hunters Creed was what led to the death of Jodo Kast. Kast, wearing a suit of Mandalorian armour resembling Boba Fett's, had been presenting himself as Fett in order to get higher paying jobs. As Fett was presumed dead at the time (and it benefitted him for people to think that), it wasn't a big deal... until Kast began failing at hunts while using Fett's name, thus causing people to wonder if Fett had lost his edge. Worse, he held Dengar, a fellow Hunter (and one Fett was on good terms with...for Fett) at blasterpoint in order to steal Dengar's prey. Dengar let Fett know of this last insult and Fett set out to deal with the upstart Kast, leaving him to die in an explosion after delivering a "Reason You Suck" Speech.

    Fan Works 
  • 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."
  • Gambit: Jess gave Renée a set of thirty rules, dictating how she should act while working alongside various life lessons. Though she always wondered what Rule 10 was all about...note 
  • 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".
  • The Killer Rarityverse: Rarity promises to never hurt Sweetie Belle, the other five members of the Mane Six or foals.
  • A New World, A New Stage: The Fox gang started out striving to be Just Like Robin Hood, and has several rules for how they conduct themselves: "Fox never steals from the needy. Fox always returns what was stolen if it was for practice. Fox always announces their attempts first. And Fox always helps to bring down the bad guys."
  • Zigzagged in the One Piece fanfic Watashitachi Wa Roger Kaizoku Desu We Still Stand Proud; there is a formal pirate code, but it has largely been forgotten since the death of Gol D. Roger kickstarted "The Great Pirate Era"; the "youngsters" who have flooded the seas searching for the One Piece over the last twenty years largely either don't know it or don't care about it. Those who do follow the code regard it as Serious Business, though usually they ignore disrespect of it from those they know to be ignorant of the rules... usually. Some of the tenets revealed over the series include:
    • A child of the sea (pirate) is to be buried at sea so they can be returned to Davy Jones. Burying them on land is a grievous insult, one worth killing over. Garp himself earned the lifelong enmity of Portgas D. Rouge's crew by burying Rouge on land after her Death by Childbirth.
    • Claiming someone's life before Davy Jones means dedicating yourself to killing them. Only one person may claim someone's life and one must fulfill their claim before making a new one.
    • One must always ask permission before boarding another pirate vessel, preferably from the captain. Boarding without getting official permission is seen as an attack.
    • While not shown, there's official ways to welcome a new crewmember to the ship.
    • Anyone who learns of an allied pirate's death is obligated to inform said pirate's crew with a formal ceremony known as "the rumor on the waves".
    • A ship sailing a black triangle flag at half mast is one in mourning and any child of the sea is obligated to let them pass.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Captain Blood has a full scene of the crew agreeing on and signing a pirate code aboard ship.
  • 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.
  • Low Tide: The kids only rob the houses of wealthy out-of-town tourists and are reluctant to break into a dead local's house at first.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe: 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.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • 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). That being said, not all bounty hunters are actually part of the Bounty Hunters' Guild, which enforces these rules, and in The Bounty Hunter Wars, a civil war actually breaks out between feuding factions of bounty hunters due to power plays elsewhere in the galaxy's underworld.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Dexter has the "Code of Harry" which allows him to uphold a measure of control over his Serial Killer tendencies.
  • Hustle often refers to 'the Grifter's Code', and the team comes down hard on any grifter who breaks it, such as the Con Man who fleeced Danny's grandmother in "The Lesson".
  • 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.
  • In the Murdoch Mysteries episode "Honeymoon in Hampshire", the Victim of the Week in Murdoch's story is identified by Detective Watts as an informant of his, who used to be a conman with a strict rule about only cheating people who deserved it. He was killed by his former partner, who was horrified that his new partner had him running scams that preyed on generosity rather than greed.
  • 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 ("Never begin a business negotiation on an empty stomach", "You can't make a deal if you're dead.") to Sexist ("Wives serve, brothers inherit.") to Pet the Dog ("Good customers are as rare as latinum. Treasure them.") to economic ("Opportunity + Instinct = Profit.") and "economic" ("Never be afraid to mislabel a product"). It also includes contradictory ones (#34: "War is good for business" is immediately followed by #35: "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.

    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 Roleplaying 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 
  • The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries, in Schlock Mercenary. (see list here)
    • This list is somewhat particular because it gets referenced frequently in-universe by mercenaries, professional soldiers and politicians.
  • Sam Starfall of Freefall may have a variant on Blue-and-Orange Morality (though his morals are still pretty close to human norm by comparison with most Starfish Aliens), but he takes pains to stick to his own moral code: Stealing from the poor is wrong (and unsporting to boot), one doesn't steal from someone who's helping you, and so long as you're not actually hurting anyone by stealing — not exactly a difficult limitation to abide by in a Post-Scarcity Economy, but even back home he was like that, stealing information more than resources — it's all just a part of both survival and joie de vivre. When the robots start learning to become criminals (as there are a surfeit of police A.I.s and they want to maintain some parity), they ask him to teach them his ways, too.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Guardians of the Galaxy (2015) 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, Ponyatiya.
  • 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. Nine complete examples were preserved either in admiralty court records or in the 1724 book A General History of the Pyrates by Charles Johnson; some partial codes are also known. Contrary to popular belief, they tended to be quite draconian.