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Screw the Rules, They're Not Real!

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"The world around us redunds with opportunities, explodes with opportunities, which nearly all folk ignore because it would require them to violate a habit of thought."

There are things you don't do, not because they're evil, nor because they wouldn't work, but just because you don't. Until this trope applies. Then you do them, and you win.

Your enemy is likely to accuse you of "cheating," but why should you care? He's your enemy. If you make a habit of it, you may take it as a compliment. Beware, however, because should you partake in this trope, your enemy may choose to stop following the rules themselves. Or whoever set the rules may get a bit upset. If this happens, the results may not be pretty.

Compare and contrast Outside-the-Box Tactic which requires more cleverness and gets respect. That trope requires "clever strategy" or "unintuitive insight", whereas this one only requires failing to block off some option as forbidden. Ironically, the trope namer for that is really an example of this.

Also compare and contrast The Unfettered, who takes the same approach to moral restrictions.

Furthermore, compare and contrast There Are No Rules, which is an in-universe stock phrase and generally not meant literally. When a fight promoter declares "The only rule is there are no rules" and is thinking of biting and ball-kicking, it's that trope. When one of the fighters hides a friendly sniper team in the audience, it's this one.

Contrast Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat, which is roughly the opposite — playing fair is the sort of thing Dick Dastardly doesn't do, but not for any good reason. If Mr. Dastardly were to play fair, laugh at the heroes' pointless attempts to foil his nonexistent cheating, win the contest and enjoy the prize, it would be this trope.

There are no-good-reason rules that show up a lot, so ignoring a specific one may be a trope in its own right, including:


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Assassination Classroom: Given the students are underdogs with below-par resources, they resort to breaking the rules frequently.
    • In the first episode, Korosensei threatens to harm his students' families and loved ones if they ever do something reckless like suicide bombing ever again, as nothing protects them from him.
    • Subverted early on when Nagisa fears Koro-sensei is trying to kill Sugino, since despite having an agreement with the government not to harm the students, there's nothing and no one who can stop him from just breaking the rules. Luckily, Koro-sensei turns out to have been analyzing Sugino, not performing murder.
    • During the pole toppling event, Class E is up against Class A, and must win or Asano will get Isogai expelled for having a job. Unfortunately Class A has a massive advantage in numbers and several well-built exchange students, so Isogai has his team defy every rule not directly stated in the rule book- using their own pole as a weapon, playing dead and charging into the stands. In the end, their unorthodox methods beat Asano's careful strategy.
    • Karma goes up against Grip for a fist fight. However, despite claiming they both want to fight with their hands, neither play fairly and both use Smog's gas, though Karma wins as he predicted Grip would use underhanded methods and surprises him with his own canister of poison.
    • During a game of cops and robbers, rather than try to sneak past Koro-sensei to get to the jail and free their classmates, the students simply bribe him into letting them go. Karasuma is not pleased.
    • While playing baseball, Class A decides to all stand in the infield which shouldn't fly, but the umpire happens to be on their side and doesn't call them on it. Class E then realizes the rules don't really matter at this point and utilizes intimidation tactics by standing a few feet away from the batter.
    • Dean Asano Gakuhou calls his son Gakushuu a fool for not playing this trope. When Class A and E hold a competition over sales during the cultural festival, after their loss to Class E's restaurant Gakuhou suggests that they should've just poisoned Class E's food.
  • Booty Royale: Never Go Down Without a Fight!:
    • The qualifiers for C-bracket in the Tournament Arc see Russian samboist Olga Zelenskaya face Filipino silat practitioner Michelle Batista. Batista breaks the tournament rules by striking at Zelenskaya's pubis and sticking her fingers up her nose, and gets away with it rules-wise because the referee misses it. However, she doesn't get away with it completely, because Zelenskaya gets her in a grapple and promptly breaks her arm, on the grounds that if she'd tried for a submission hold, Batista would probably have started trying to bite chunks out of her arm.
    • Maomao wins her round of 16 match against Nosaka Nagisa by pulling an I Surrender, Suckers. Grappled by Nosaka, she taps the oppposite side of Nosaka from the referee and murmurs that she's giving up, and then counterattacks the moment Nosaka starts to release her. She wins by a knockout that lands Nosaka in the hospital, and it's possible that Nosaka doesn't remember Maomao cheating due to how many blows to the head she took.
  • Bungo Stray Dogs:
    • During the Cannibalism arc, Fyodor has Fukuzawa and Mori infected with an Ability-created virus that will kill both of them unless one is killed within two days, saving the other, effectively forcing the ADA and Port Mafia into an all-out war. Ranpo decides to subvert the obligation to fight the other faction by using his deduction skills to go after the creator of the virus and avoid Fyodor's sick game. Unfortunately, Fyodor planned for this, and causes a conflict ending in the death of a little girl just to prove his rules cannot be broken.
    • Dazai is completely liable to do this, typically going for the most effective and efficient methods to get what he wants regardless of morality. In the Fifteen arc, he challenges Chuuya to see who can find the culprit behind the old boss sightings first, with the winner getting to order the loser around like a dog. However, Dazai omits the fact that he'd already solved the mystery and therefore Chuuya has no chance of winning.
  • Claymore: Clare's backstory with Teresa revolves around the fact that in order for the Organization to maintain the public's shaky trust, Claymores are absolutely forbidden from killing humans for any reason. The punishment is execution, regardless of any extenuating circumstances like self-defense. A group of bandits relies on this rule to try to rape Teresa, and while she convinces them to leave (by unbuttoning her shirt and showing them the Body Horror that half-youma warriors hide under their uniforms), one of them comes back later to try again, and attacks Clare after she hits him with a stick. When Teresa tries to step in, he tries to invoke the rule again. Then Teresa massacres their entire gang when they attack a town while she's staying there and goes on the lam from the Organization with Clare in tow.
    Bandit: What do you plan on doing with my sword, Claymore? You had better be careful, this is a deadly game you're playing. It wouldn't be wise to break your own rule. You'd be slaughtered for sure.
    Teresa: Then allow me to enlighten you about the rules, you idiot! Whether I choose to follow a rule or break it is entirely up to me, and no one else. I could kill you where you stand; then I'd gladly accept the consequences for my actions. Or you could vanish from my sight!
  • Drifters: The fight between Shimazu Toyohisa and Hijikata Toshizou in episode twelve. Both are samurai and firm believers in bushido... but Toyo is from the Sengoku Period and has never known anything but wartime, whereas Hijikata is one of The Shinsengumi from the Meiji Restoration period and grew up in peacetime. As a consequence, Toyo has no problem fighting dirty, using surrounding buildings to do a Dungeon Bypass around Hijikata's summoned ghosts and even throwing a bowl of soup in his face—and he considers pulling out all the stops like this a sign of respect for a Worthy Opponent. Truth in Television: while bushido was always important to a samurai's sense of discipline, they tended to get significantly more flexible about tactics during wartime.
  • Spelled out explicitly in episode 3 of Hell's Paradise. Yamada Sagiri rigidly expects the ten Boxed Crooks sent to the island to obediently follow the conditions of their release to earn a pardon from the Shogun, but her kinsman Kisho points out that they're criminals who were never exactly interested in following the rules to begin with. Conversely, despite the letter of the deal saying that breaking the Shogun's rules would invalidate it, the Shogun realistically isn't likely to be too picky about how they acquire the Elixir of Life for him as long as they succeed, and they'll be decapitated if they come back empty-handed so they don't exactly have much incentive to adhere to any rules.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans: Gjallarhorn harp on about order and tradition, but its members will readily ignore them at their own convenience. Both Iok and Rustal used banned weapons when they realize how effective they are, both framing their enemies for doing the same to justify it. When McGillis is able to pilot Bael, the rules of Gjallarhorn very explicitly state he is the organization's ruler, yet the overwhelmingly majority dismiss him offhand.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Buffy/Stargate crossover Return to Normal, Jack O'Neill is described this way:
    Fenton casually mentioned that in the real world, the only fighter he'd ever met — including [Buffy] — who truly scared him was Jack O'Neill.... O'Neill quite simply did not even believe in the basic concept of a "fair" fight. If his opponent had a knife, he wanted a gun.... Jack didn't give a damn about "honor" or "superiority" or any of that other "image" crap. If he was pushed into a fight, then only one of them would be walking away from it afterwards. O'Neill was adamantly determined that it would be him.... It was just Buffy's luck that she had been a witness to it on one of the extremely rare occasions when Jack had been forced to use his hands. She'd almost thrown up afterwards. It wasn't like two great jungle beasts doing battle, or honorable Japanese samurai settling their dispute the old-fashioned way. The closest comparison she could come up with was the insect world, where ambush predators did inhumanly disgusting things to their prey.
  • Checkmate (Anla'Shok): The 72nd Hunger Games are played as a series of elimination rounds, with some traps and some combats, rather than a straight up free-for-all, and sponsor gift breaks between each round. However, no one actually said the tributes couldn't attack each other during the breaks between rounds. When the final 5 becomes the final 3, Moire from 8 (who just tricked two other tributes into attacking each other and then pushed them off a cliff as they grappled) stabs another tribute as soon as the end of the round is announced and the others are relaxing. Since all three of those people are unrepentant multiple murderers and Moire's last opponent is a Death Seeker, no one minds too much.
  • Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality:
    • It spends so much time on this theme that there is a chapter entitled "cheating".
    • Quirrell is a big fan. Along with the page quote, he declares that "'Cheating' is what losers call technique." Later he says of himself "I cannot truly comprehend what drives others to break their bounds, since I never had them."
    • It's traditional in pure-blood circles: "Draco knew what you were supposed to do in this sort of situation. You were supposed to cheat."
    • Harry's Let's Get Dangerous! mantra is "censors off, do not flinch" and then he kills the third deadliest killing machine in the world with two cantrips and a nonmagical rock.
  • Harry Potter and the Natural 20. Milo lives by this trope. His magic is "more about the wording of the spell than the meaning" and the greatest compliment he knows is "that's so broken".
  • Miraculous (the whole world against us remix): Plagg sees the laws created by the Guardians or other humans as mere guidelines, not absolutes like the laws of physics. While he agrees with Tikki that secret identities are important for safety, he also thinks it's worth the risk to allow Marinette and Adrien to keep their Miraculous even after they found out each other's identities, especially since the two are decent wielders and can have each other and both Kwamis as emotional support.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Sword in the Stone: Archimedes openly accuses the Obviously Evil Madam Mim of "only wanting rules so she can break 'em!" In her Duel to the Death with Merlin, she first breaks her own rule against disappearing so she can reposition herself behind Merlin and blindside him (he turns into a turtle and hides in his hat), then breaks her rule against make-believe things "like pink dragons and stuff" by turning into a purple dragon. Merlin does her one better: instead of disappearing, he transforms himself into a pathogen—not "invisible", just too small to see—and makes her too sick to continue the duel.
  • Toy Story: In this world all toys are alive, but whenever they're in the presence of a human they immediately stop talking and moving. When Woody and Buzz need to escape from Sid's clutches, they, along with all of Sid's toys, drop the masquerade and reveal to Sid that toys are alive, scaring the hell out of him.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Atlas Shrugged a long-winded quote from the book is distilled into the succinct "What good are laws if the right people don't break them?"
  • Played for laughs in Attack of the Clones with Nute Gunray's complaints about Padme, Anakin, and Obi-wan refusing to meekly allow themselves to be torn apart by wild animals in the Geonosian arena. Upon seeing Padme climb up the pillar she's chained to, then swing on her own chain and kick the nexu pursuing her off of it:
    Nute Gunray: She can't do that! Shoot her, or something!
  • In one scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Butch is challenged to a knife fight by the enormous Harvey. As the latter whips out his knife and gets in a ready stance, Butch calmly strides toward him saying first he needs to explain some rules, Harvey protests: "Rules? In a knife fight? No rules!", distracting him long enough for Butch to walk up right to him and kick him in the crotch, winning the "fight".
  • In the John Wick franchise, the criminal underworld has a lot of rules, overseen by the High Table and its enforcers, which they argue are "the only thing that separates us from the animals." One of the most relevant rules is that "no business may be conducted on Continental grounds". They enforce these rules ruthlessly and have a lot of resources to do so, but...
  • This is basically the entire premise of the The Invention of Lying. In a World… where everybody doesn't omit anything to each other (even going so far as to openly discuss suicidal thoughts and waiters commenting on how they just took a really big dump before serving you food), one man finally decides to tell a non-truth, and after discovering the power of lies in a society where everyone believes everything you say, he begins to use this to his advantage.
  • In The Matrix, this is at the heart of what Morpheus teaches Neo. "It has the same basic rules, rules like gravity. What you must learn is that these rules are no different than the rules of a computer system... some of them can can be bent. Others... can be broken" Inside the Matrix, even gravity is a rule to be ignored.
  • Mean Girls: Regina tries to use this reason when the other plastics wouldn't let her sit at the table for wearing sweatpants on a Monday. It doesn't work.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Space Jam: A New Legacy has the villain Al G Rithm close the point gap between his Goon Squad and the Tune Squad by appending extra points onto the Goons' last goal. "Hey, that's cheating!" Lebron James protests. But in the server-verse, Al G Rithm has A God Am I status, which means he can tweak any quantity in the game on a whim.
  • In Star Trek, this comes up with James Kirk and the Kobayashi Maru scenario:
    • In the Backstory of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Kirk reprogrammed the simulator to make it possible to win, arguing essentially that there is no such thing as an unwinnable situation, only one with a non-obvious solution. Kirk says he received a commendation for original thinking.
    • Star Trek (2009): Kirk reprograms it less plausibly and Academy Instructor Spock brings formal disciplinary action against him for cheating. Kirk counters that "the test itself is a cheat: it's designed to be unwinnable," essentially arguing that he was only responding in kind. Later, when Kirk meets old Spock:
      Kirk: You know, coming back in time, changing history... that's cheating.
      Old Spock: A trick I learned from an old friend.
    • Of course, in both universes Kirk ends up running into a situation that he would consider truly "unwinnable" if only because the only way to beat it is a solution Kirk can only reluctantly accept: a Heroic Sacrifice (Spock in Wrath of Khan and Kirk himself in Star Trek Into Darkness). The moral here being that just because "no rules exist" does not means it will benefit you.

  • 1632 sequel 1634: The Baltic War
    Patrick: So, here we are in Southwark, about to test a legend. Is there really such a thing as a whore with a heart of gold?
    Leebrick: And after it's all over, you'll insist the test was false, anyway.
    Patrick: Why would I do that?
    Towson: You idiot, I'll be glad to set this great heavy thing down finally, I can tell you that. Patrick, you benighted Irishman, there's enough silver in here to offset any reward of Cork's. Halfway, at least.
    Patrick: You miserable bastard, Leebrick. You're cheating!
    Towson: That's why he's the captain, and we but his lowly lieutenants.
  • Alderamin on the Sky: After getting his figurative nose bloodied in his first clash with protagonist Ikta Solork in a training exercise, Sarihasrag Remeon is forced to fight him a second time at the exit to the training area. Knowing that he can't refuse this engagement because he'll lose if they can't leave the training area, but also that if any of Ikta's men go out of bounds, they forfeit the exercise, he orders his troops to pretend not to notice if they were "killed" and keep pushing—which attracts a bit of grumbling. He doesn't get the chance: right as he's about to order the charge, his brother Torway, Ikta's main sharpshooter, nails him in the head with a paintball, meaning he's "dead" for the rest of the exercise and throwing his troops into confusion long enough for Ikta to attack and win a decisive victory.
  • Alexis Carew: Alexis gets a lot of mileage out of Loophole Abuse of various rules and regulations, but even she is taken aback in The Queen's Pardon when another officer tells her that in the event of a slave uprising on Erzurum, the Space Pirates running the place could always just use Orbital Bombardment as a last resort. Alexis points out that doing so would blatantly break the Abbentheren Accords, and the other officer wryly replies that pirates are not exactly known for following the law.
  • Discworld:
    • Gnomes are particularly feared because "They had an inbuilt resistance to rules. This didn't just apply to the law, but to all the invisible rules that most people obeyed unthinkingly, like 'Do not attempt to eat this giraffe'."
    • Likewise General Tacticus: "He'd brought back heaps of spoils, lots of captives and, almost uniquely among Ankh-Morpork's military leaders, most of his men. Vimes suspected that this last fact was one reason why history didn't approve. There was a suggestion that this was, in some way, not playing fair."
    • Jonathan Teatime in Hogfather is a terror amongst the Assassin's Guild because he approaches all of his assignments with an "extreme prejudice" mentality (read: Leave No Survivors, in the goriest fashion possible) instead of following the Guild's rules (read: we kill the people you pay us to kill and no more, and there's people we won't kill no matter what). Lord Downey, the head of the Guild, dislikes him for this reason, although Downey's forced to admit there is technically no actual rule. To capital-A Assassins, being "not the done thing" is far more important than a mere rule. He's the same way with the unwritten rules of the criminal underworld. Played with, in that at times Teatime seems to be genuinely unaware of such conventions—but when he's informed of them, or does know about them, he cheerfully flouts them in the full confidence that they don't matter and he can do whatever he wants.
    • Carcer Dun in Night Watch is not, technically, insane. It's merely that he's realized that all those little rules that keep society ticking over nicely only apply to you if you let them, and therefore the only thing between him and murdering a coach full of accordion players for shits and giggles is his own inhibitions. He is, in fact, more in tune with objective reality than the average man on the street; a sort of inverse psychosis if you will.
    • Glenda Sugarbean in Unseen Academicals starts the book with a bad case of Tall Poppy Syndrome (here referred to as the "crab bucket"). Part of her Character Development is learning to be more audacious and assertive by unlearning all the rules she's been taught, consciously or not, about being helpful and "knowing her place". As she puts it, most people will not hit you with a hammer if you step out of line and will just be confused, which a smart person can use to take charge of the situation.
    • Many Muggles on the Discworld believe that wizards have a strict rule against using magic against them. Several who have pushed the point with Archchancellor Ridcully have been summarily informed it's "more of a guideline, really" before (or after) being hit with a Forced Transformation.
  • The Dresden Files. Harry Dresden lives by this trope.
    • From The Warrior: "Douglas was holding his lead as we sprinted down the beach, and I was tiring more rapidly than I should have. So I cheated."
    • He teaches Molly the same: "I had this teacher who kept telling me that if I was ever in a fair fight, someone had made a mistake."
    • Even Mouse, Harry's Big Friendly Dog, gets in on it:
      Leanansidhe: You are far from your sources of power here, my dear demon.
      Mouse: I live with a wizard. I cheat.
    • He does, however, tries his damnedest to game his role as Winter Knight the best he can within the purview of the rules set by the Fae and gets to gloat when doing so leaves Queen Mab powerless to punish him. This is because Queen Mab is quite clear that defying her by breaking the rules is not a good idea — flash-freezing Harry's eyeballs and leaving him crying blood is the least painful thing she can inflict on him.
  • Ender's Game:
    • Ender repeatedly breaks the conventions of Battle School's wargames through innovative tactics such as having his teammates use their stun guns on their own suits so that teammates can use them as Bulletproof Human Shields, or simply bullrushing a scenario the instructors deliberately slanted against his side to exploit the Instant-Win Condition, a tactic he ultimately repeats in (what he thinks is a simulation for) the final assault on the Formic homeworld.
    • Ender plays a puzzle video game where one region appears to be Unwinnable by Design: a giant offers him two cups to drink from, but no matter which one Ender chooses, his Player Character is poisoned and dies. (The liquids are a different pair each time; staff comments imply it's intended to test how many tries a student makes at solving this puzzle before moving on to more interesting and productive parts of the game world.) After far more deaths here than any of the other students, Ender gets frustrated and attacks (and kills) the giant instead of the purported puzzle, and things in the game go Off the Rails.
    • Mazer Rackham speculates that this is why he could get a clean shot at the queen of the second Formic invasion: "Maybe in their world, queens are never killed, only captured, only checkmated." If so, from their perspective he did the equivalent of pulling a gun in a playground shoving match. He's wrong, as it turns out: the queen intentionally left herself open to atone for killing other sapient beings. Only Formic queens are sapient—their drones are telepathically controlled—and they initially didn't realize all humans are individually intelligent and were horrified when they found out.
  • The Faraway Paladin: In the backstory, Will's adoptive family members Blood, Mary, and Gus made a Deal with the Devil: be turned into undead so they could guard the demon lord's prison forever, but become the servants of the god of undeath, Stagnate, if their attachment to this duty ever waned. They became attached to Will and so the Echo (avatar) of Stagnate came for them... only for Gus to spectacularly blow the avatar away with a Fantastic Nuke, on the grounds that a deal made out of desperation didn't count. It doesn't work—Stagnate had a second Echo prepared just in case—but it was worth a try.
  • In The Four Horsemen Universe, the Besquith are shown to frequently violate the setting's Fictional Geneva Conventions in such a way as to avoid getting caught. For example, mounting an Orbital Bombardment is illegal due to a law that says you can't use ordnance against a planet from more than ten miles up. The Besquith solution? Detonate a Neutron Bomb at high altitude and leave no witnesses.
  • In Derek Robinson's novels of World War I air combat, the best and most powerful aces are those who have realised there are no rules whatsoever in air combat. Major Wooley, in Goshawk Squadron, is aware his bunch of largely teenage pilots, recent graduates of British public shools, are full of romantic crap about "knights of the sky" and individual jousts bounded by rules of chivalry. Wooley knows better: he has survived nearly three years of the air war mainly by being the sort of bastard who has realised that most German pilots, too, have their heads stuffed full of nonsense about air fighting being governed by rules and gentlemen's agreements, and is effective because he fights to win. As he tries to get this through to his new pilots, he uses shock treatment.
    Major Wooley: You get close behind him, so close you can smell his Brylcreem, and you blow his fucking head off!
    • This attitude is Truth in Television: even Manfred "the Red Baron" von Richthofen believed that "the perfect kill was the one where they never even saw you coming", and would intentionally hunt for New Meat and shoot other planes In the Back as they tried to return to base.
  • The Hardy Boys Casefiles is a Darker and Edgier Setting Update of the classic Kid Detective series. In one book, the chief of police warns the brothers that The Mafiya doesn't adhere to anything like the codes of honor that homegrown organized crime gangs often do, because a stay in an American jail is comparatively lenient next to what would happen to them in their home countries.
  • In Nick Perumov's Keeper of the Swords novels, villainous mage Evengar of Sallador believes in this. As he puts it:
    "By thousands of unseen threads the law binds you. If you tear one, you're a criminal, if you tear several — you're marked for death, but if you tear all of them, you are a god."
  • Monster Hunter International: Vendetta: Earl counters a necromancer with darkness-linked powers by shooting the sky full of magnesium flares, leading to:
    Hood: That's cheating, Earl.
    Earl: My daddy always said that if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying hard enough.
Three chapters later, Earl's father's ghost shows up and tells Owen exactly this.
  • Reign of the Seven Spellblades: Despite being an openly and proudly dangerous Academy of Adventure where it's expected that about twenty percent of matriculating students will not survive to graduate in seven years, Kimberly Magic Academy does have some school rules (Oliver, Guy, and Nanao end up in detention in volume 1 for brawling with Katie's bullies in a classroom), but enforcement is haphazard and usually left up to the whims of upperclassmen (fortunately the current student council is of a mind to run a Campus Watch). Volume 2's Tournament Arc makes particular note of the school rules on Wizard Duels, which are a routine way to settle student disputes: on the school grounds proper, upperclassmen are supposed to referee all duels between underclassmen, and only upperclassmen are allowed to set their swords' dulling spells at half-strength, but protagonist Oliver Horn is challenged by Tullio Rossi in the labyrinth beneath the school, where there's nobody to enforce the rules, and Oliver is willing to go along.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: Lemony Snicket once recounts the legend of Alexander of Macedon and the Gordian Knot, sardonically noting that, really, using his sword on the knot was cheating, but Alexander had a much bigger army than the King of Gordium so there wasn't much protest that could feasibly be made.
  • In So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Arthur Dent describes an occasion when he thought he'd encountered someone who ignored the unwritten rule "You do not sit down opposite a stranger in a railway cafe and start helping yourself to their biscuits", and he realised there was absolutely nothing in his mental toolkit to deal with the situation because people just don't do that. It turned out his biscuits were under his newspaper; the ones on the table were the other guy's. This is apparently based on something that actually happened to Douglas Adams.note 
  • A Song of Ice and Fire (including Game of Thrones) makes a running theme of this, given that the setting is a medieval world before proper codification of the law, where social cohesion relies heavily on honourable conduct and I Gave My Word. When people start breaking these unwritten rules, everyone decides to break them and the world devolves into chaos.
    • In the Backstory, King Aerys II Targaryen—"Aerys the Mad"—ordered Rickard and Brandon Stark put to death when they protested Lyanna Stark's (Rickard's daughter, Brandon and Ned's sister) apparent kidnapping by Crown Prince Rhaegar. Rickard demanded a Trial by Combat, the traditional way to overturn a death sentence in Westeros; Aerys replied that "fire will be my champion" and burned Rickard alive with wildfire while having Brandon strangled. That disregard for the law alone was reason enough for the North to rebel, but when Aerys also demanded of Jon Arryn the heads of his wards Robert Baratheon (Lyanna's fiance) and Ned Stark, Lord Arryn called his banners instead and soon half the Kingdoms were trying to overthrow Aerys.
    • In A Game of Thrones, Ned Stark attempts to use King Robert Baratheon's last will and testament to take regency of Westeros so that he can prevent Prince Joffrey from being coronated, having realized that he and his siblings were conceived by Brother–Sister Incest. To Ned's shock, Queen Mother Cersei Lannister simply rips the will up right in front of him. Ned probably should have realized that the fact Cersei didn't care overmuch that she'd been caught when he confronted her about the incest earlier (before Robert was reported wounded) meant that she had no intention of playing by the usual rules.
    • In A Storm of Swords, Catelyn Stark strongly insists that Robb specifically ask Walder Frey for bread and salt, to invoke the Westerosi tradition of guest-right against Frey's known grudge over Robb having broken his engagement to one of his daughters. Walder, however, has conspired with Roose Bolton and Tywin Lannister to kill Robb and decapitate the Northern rebellion, and pretends to welcome him in only to ignore guest-right and slaughter him and his army during the following feast.
      • The Freys may actually serve as a deconstruction of this attitude. Sure, the rebellion crumbles, but the Freys’ blatant and appalling violation of sacred hospitality makes them reviled across Westeros. Across the North, it becomes open season for members of the Frey family, and not even their own allies like or trust them enough to care. Honor systems might not be “real”, but if you decide you can get ahead by breaking them, you’d better hope you can keep ahead.
  • The True Game: King's Blood Four: In the climactic battle, the Wizard Himaggery eschews all the traditional, chess-like warfare rules of the setting, in favor of setting up a series of gigantic lenses to burn down his opponent's castle. Called out by the combatants' Heralds before the battle starts, as per aforementioned traditions—and normally Heralds rise into the air to make their No Indoor Voice announcements, which Himaggery's declines.
    Mandor and Prionde's Herald: All within sound of my voice pay heed: I speak for Mandor of Bannerwell, most adored, most jealously guarded, and for the High King, Prionde, of the High Demesne, most puissant, most terrible. I speak for these two in alliance here assembled to call Great Game and make unanswerable Challenge upon Himaggery, styled Wizard, who has in treacherous fashion betrayed the hospitality shown his followers by the High King by stealing away one dependent, the Seer Windlow, and who has betrayed the good will of Mandor by sending into his Demesne a spy, the Healer Silkhands. For these reasons and others, more numerous than the leaves upon the trees, all reasons of ill faith and betrayal, treachery and all ungameliness, do my Lords cry Challenge upon this Himaggery and wait his move. We cry True Game!
    Himaggery: [waits for his preparations to finish]
    Mandor and Prionde: [get confused at the lack of response]
    Himaggery's Herald: Hear the words of Himaggery, Wizard of the Bright Demesne. The Wizard does not cry True Game. The Wizard cries Death, Pain, Horror, Mutilation, Wounds, Blood, Agony, Destruction. The Wizard calls all these and more. HE IS NOT PLAYING!
  • X-Wing Series:
    • In Wraith Squadron Falynn Sandskimmer challenges Wedge Antilles to a race in antigravity ore haulers (It Makes Sense in Context). Wedge wins by ramp-jumping his hauler onto hers and bouncing off, taking the lead. Falynn says he cheated, and Wedge laughs and has this to say:
      Wedge: Falynn, consider this. When an Imperial laser cuts through your canopy and hits you, the energy will superheat the water in your tissues. They will literally explode. If there's enough of your X-Wing left to retrieve, they'll have to hose down the inside. When that happens, will you complain that the TIE fighter pilot cheated?
      Falynn: No, sir.
      Wedge: What will you say?
      Falynn: I won't say anything. I'll be dead.
      Wedge: So to keep one of these bad boys from cheating until you're dead, what are you going to do?
      Falynn: I guess I'll have to learn to cheat, sir.
    • Starfighters of Adumar (by the same author) is a deconstruction of the Proud Warrior Race Guy. The Adumari dueling mentality and insistence on live-fire training means that a lot of Adumari pilots die before they gain much skill compared to the New Republic and Imperial Ace Pilots courting them for their governments. Wedge's Red Flight pilots openly disdain the honorable single combat mentality: Wes Janson inflicts an intentionally humiliating No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on a pilot in a hand-to-hand duel, Hobbie Klivian tells the group when they join forces with a coalition of other Adumari nation-states against Imperial-backed Cartann that after dealing with the Cartannese for so long, he just wants to kill something without "rules", and Wedge tells the allied pilots before they sortie against Cartann's alliance that if he catches a single one of them flying for glory instead of victory, he'll shoot them down himself.
      Wes: Here's the rules. I punch. You suffer.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Backstory of Babylon 5, Sheridan destroyed a Minbari warship by sending a false distress signalnote  and detonating a bunch of nuclear mines when they came to finish him off. All the "honourable" Minbari warriors in the series sneer at this, but he later keeps a fragment of the warship on his desk as an inspiration. Technically, what Sheridan did is a war crime, "perfidy", but the only reason it worked was because the Minbari weren't following anything resembling The Laws and Customs of War either: they liked to lie in wait outside debris fields to ambush search-and-rescue ships. The traditions and treaties that formed the LUAC in human history do not protect people who do not themselves adhere to them: they essentially run on a form of Mutually Assured Destruction where militaries obey them so that their enemies will reciprocate.
  • On Fargo, Lorne Malvo tells Lester Nygaard that the real difference between them is that Lester still thinks there are rules that he has to follow, while Lorne believes that the rules are just an illusion.
  • M*A*S*H: Much of the show's humor comes from transgressing military discipline, military regulation, and the reputation of the American military itself. The doctors figured that since they were already drafted and putting them in the stockade would leave the military down a doctor, the rules could be played with without as many repercussions.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: In "A Taste of Armageddon", Jim Kirk and his crew discover that the Planet of the Week, Eminiar VII, is conducting a Forever War with a neighboring planet, Vendikar, entirely by computer simulation, with the "simulated" casualties ordered to report to the government's Disintegration Chambers. They're horrified but aren't allowed to do anything about it under the Prime Directive... until the computer erroneously marks the Enterprise as a valid target and designates the ship and its crew "destroyed". Kirk refuses to abide by the Eminian-Vendikari rules, and instead starts blowing up the disintegration booths and ultimately the computer. The Eminian head of state complains that with the computer gone, their underlying civilizations will be destroyed by war instead of merely people's lives. Kirk counters that the simulated war has taken all the horror out of the conflict, and with it any incentive to make peace, and how about they try that instead.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Pathfinder: There's a slight rivalry between the god Irori, a Bare-Fisted Monk who ascended to godhood by achieving enlightenment, and Cayden Cailean (god of partying), Iomedae (goddess of valor and duty), and Norgorber (god of theft and murder), who attained divinity by passing the Test of the Starstone. Irori believes all new deities should find their own way to achieve divinity and that copying what Aroden did is cheating. The other three's default position on the topic is "whatever, man".

    Video Games 
  • Subverted in the Assassin's Creed franchise. The Creed reads in part "Nothing is true; everything is permitted". This does not mean there's no such thing as rules; rather, it means that there is no external force imposing rules on people, so they have to do it themselves for civilization to be possible.
    • Altaïr in Assassin's Creed initially thinks this means there aren't any rules, which he uses to justify murdering a bystander in the Action Prologue. Altaïr is severely punished for this, and following some Character Development, he realizes that "the Creed does not command us to be free. It commands us to be wise."
    • Ezio Auditore explains this in more detail to Sofia Sartor in Assassin's Creed: Revelations:
      Sofia: "Nothing is true; everything is permitted" is rather cynical.
      Ezio: It would be if it were doctrine. But it is merely an observation on the nature of reality. To say that nothing is true is to realize that the foundations of society are fragile and that we must be the shepherds of our own civilization. To say that everything is permitted is to understand that we are the architects of our actions and that we must live with our consequences, whether glorious or tragic.
  • Ghost of Tsushima: Mongols invade the Japanese island of Tsushima where the Samurai follow an honor code. When Lord Shimura sends Lord Adachi to take on the Mongols for a one-on-one duel however, Khotun Khan simply lights Lord Adachi on fire and beheads him to show contempt of the Samurai code of honor. The rest of the Mongol invaders are no different — easily outsmarting the samurai and defeating them effortlessly to conquer most of the island due to them not obligated to play by their rules and using tactics that are viewed as 'dishonorable'. Whether to adhere to the code or abandon it is the dilemma of Jin Sakai, the titular Ghost, throughout the game.
  • The Black Marketeer in Palworld openly admits that he sells illegal Pals. Given that the Palpagos Islands is untamed wilderness with no central government, there's probably not much that's "illegal".
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic:
    • Among the Sith, the general rule is that murdering other Sith to advance your goals is officially illegal, but tacitly encouraged if you can do it without getting caught. On Dromund Kaas, the Sith Inquisitor is tasked with assassinating their master Lord Zash's competitor Darth Skotia in such a way as to give them Plausible Deniability: Zash attends a party to give herself an alibi, and while the Inquisitor has no alibi, it shouldn't be physically possible for a mere apprentice to kill a Darth. Contrast Overseer Harkun's reaction to Xalek's Cutting the Knot solution to his trial: he's less appalled that Xalek murdered his competitor than that he did it right in front of himself and the Inquisitor.
    • One of the Sith Inquisitor PC's best weapons in general is that while they may appreciate Sith traditions depending on roleplay, they're not nearly as hidebound to them as other Sith, especially their Arch-Enemy Darth Thanaton. In fact, they can frequently make note of the last line of the Sith Code, "Through victory, my chains are broken / The Force shall free me," arguing that the entire point of being a Sith is not having to follow arbitrary rules the way the Jedi do. At the climax of the class story, Thanaton tries to rally support from the Dark Council against you after losing the Kaggath to you on Corellia. The other Lords of the Council have about had it with him, though: Darth Ravage insults the whole concept of the Kaggath and he and Darth Marr annoyedly wonder why Thanaton hasn't just had you assassinated instead of beating around the bush all this time. (He's tried; it didn't work.)
      Darth Ravage: The Kaggath is a playground game. Murder has no rules!
    • The normal and expected approach for aspiring Sith is for them to get gradually killed off by their Training from Hell, including by each other, until only one acolyte remains; the survivor is then apprenticed to a full Sith Lord. The future Darth Krovos took an alternative approach, going behind the overseers' backs to organize her class of acolytes to complete their training tasks as a group. The overseers were furious when they caught on and wanted Krovos's head, but the acolytes swore to kill them if they laid a finger on her, leaving the overseers with little choice but to graduate the whole lot of them (overseers generally being lesser Sith who are stronger than any individual acolyte, and who normally don't need to fight a whole group). Krovos became Darth Decimus's apprentice and eventually a Dark Councilor under Empress Acina, and kept the attitude in her subsequent posts.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 3: The beginning of the game clearly lays out the rules by which Aionios and its Forever War works: soldiers need to take the lives of others to survive, reincarnate after death with no memories of their prior life, and die for good if they survive for ten years. It then proceeds to have at least one character break every single one of those rules over the course of the game, in order to demonstrate that while the rules look like laws of physics, they aren't real: the creator of Aionios made them up and enforces them using an extremely advanced reality-warping machine.

    Web Comics 
  • Aurora: Tynan, the Storm of Terror, was an incredibly powerful storm god who was defeated and banished by the city god Vash. When Vash dies, Tynan returns, and when the other gods angrily accuse him of breaking the terms of his exile, he generally responds by effortlessly crushing them, accusing them of being all talk, and saying that he could've returned whenever he wanted to: the only reason he didn't was because he knew Vash would defeat him again. He seems to hold other gods in contempt for pretending such agreements have any more power than they're given.
  • City of Blank: Stella Kingly started a system where, if a blank hunter catches a blank on another hunter's territory, they need to give that hunter part of the bounty. This isn't an actual rule, more of an honor code, and Stella demonstrates this when she refuses to honor it with Finze, only giving him half of what he's owed.
  • In Erfworld, Parson's specialty is Loophole Abuse, which first requires he ignore all the implicit rules of what fighting a war looks like. This is also deconstructed. His outside the box tactics are often very effective, but tactics such as false surrenders and mass Decryption mean he is seen as an untrustworthy monster and removed diplomacy as an option.
  • Girl Genius:
    • Baron Wulfenbach, rather than playing politics with the aristocracy, took over Europa by force and instituted the simple rule of "Don't make me come over there." Harsh, but by all accounts The Extremist Was Right and his approach led to relative peace. As Tarvek described it:
      Tarvek: Even at a distance, I still learned a lot from [the Baron]. If someone can't handle an unpleasant truth? Lie to them. If someone won't listen to reason? Make them. If people don't choose to live peaceably? Don't give them a choice. If you don't like the rules? [...] Change the game.
    • That said, there is a deconstruction. Martellus criticized the Baron for making unnecessary enemies by ignoring the nobility's rules:
      Martellus: The Fifty Families want a king — and the power the monarchy will return to them. [...] If the Baron had deigned to declare himself Emperor, the Fifty Familes would be his slaves. His mistake was that he refused to play the game. His obvious contempt insulted everything the noble houses are.
    • Further, the Baron refusing to build a legacy of empire and instead resorting to force meant that when he is incapacitated or even injured Europa devolves into anarchy as the vultures come out of the woodwork.
    • As the Jaegergenerals engage in a Body-Count Competition, one keeps asking questions about whether certain kills count, such as when the enemy is still dropping onto the battlefield or when they're retreating. He then clarifies that he didn't want to be accused of cheating when he blows an enemy airship out of the sky. One of the other generals responds that "Iz still cheating. But in der goot vay!"
  • The Order of the Stick:
  • Schlock Mercenary
    • In-Universe, this is Maxim 31: Only cheaters prosper.
    • Naturally, Captain Tagon lives by it, as does his crew. Fighting the much heavier and stronger Schlock with pugil sticks? Tagon'll use a hidden personal weapon to even the odds.
  • In Tales of the Questor, after the mess in Sanctuary the Council of Elders slaps a censure on Quentyn, which seriously gets him down. However, after he reads a little more of his predecessor's journal and one of the elders gets a little too cute trying to cut a deal, Quentyn comes back with the observation that the council is technically an advisory body with no legal authority, and that from now on he's going to be treating them as such.

     Web Videos 
  • Cody from Some More News often points out that money and laws are made up, and things really don't have to be the way they are.

    Western Animation 
  • Masters of the Universe: Revelation:
    • A major theme in Part 2 is the fact that since there is truly no higher power or meaning to the universe, that means that the rules built around the power of Grayskull are arbitrary.
      • After Skeletor steals the power of the Champion, he chooses to stay in that form permanently, with very few consequences. Other characters, such as Man-At-Arms, claims that doing so was a choice that the Champions made. Skeletor, who has no intention of using the power responsibly, simply doesn't care.
      • Despite no longer having it, Adam calls down the power anyway, to see what would happen without the sword. Nobody was even aware that this was possible, and even scouring the reaches of the universe grants them no answers.
      • After Evil-Lyn tricks Skeletor into relinquishing the power, she takes the sword and becomes both Sorceress and Champion. This trope is justified by her newfound nihilism; after realizing that there is no higher power or meaning to the universe, she realizes that she can do anything she wants.
      • Sorceress explains to Teela that she will need to give up earthly attachments and stay confined to Grayskull for eternity once she takes up the mantle of Sorceress. Teela simply chooses not to do that after she does become the new Sorceress.
  • The Owl House: The Boiling Isles coven system forces people to join one particular coven which prevents them from using any form of magic outside of it. The only exception the this is the Emperor's Coven but they have very strict recruitment requirements and are effectively the Emperor's Secret Police. Eda simply never joined a coven and this allows her to use any form of magic.
  • Regular Show: Invoked in "House Rules". Mordecai and Rigby find themselves in a place without any rules after having many rules placed on them; the only rule is there aren't any rules. However, an issue arises which forces them to fight against that world's inhabitants. Because there wasn't a rule against rules, they were able to enforce several rules which altered the reality of the ruleless world, which allowed them to escape.

    Real Life 
  • Miyamoto Musashi never lost a duel in his long samurai career. One of the reasons for this was his willingness to completely break the normal rules of swordfighting at the time, such as fighting his opponent with a weapon carved from an oar, showing up late to anger them, and developing a sword style (Niten'ichi or "Two Heavens as One") that used both the katana and the shortsword together.
  • The nine dots puzzle consists of nine dots in a square, the object being to draw straight lines between all nine without lifting the pen or exceeding four lines. The most common solution requires one to violate the unspoken assumption that one's pen must stay within the square, i.e. literally "thinking outside the box"; other solutions exist that also follow the spirit of this trope, e.g., no actual rule dictates the size of the dots or that the lines have to go through the center of them, no actual rule says that the paper the dots are on cannot be curved or rolled to make a non-euclidian plane so that one line can be drawn through all nine dots by looping around.
  • Part of the reason World War I's most famous Ace Pilot, "the Red Baron" Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, scored so many kills was that he didn't believe in the "knights of the air"-style chivalrous romanticism that many people of the time believed of fighter pilots—and that popular culture ironically attributed to Richthofen himself. In actual practice he would deliberately lay ambushes targeting New Meat, shoot planes attempting to return to base In the Back, and even Kill Steal from his own wingmen.
  • Sovereign Citizens are a group based mainly in the United States, who believe the government and the law do not apply to them thanks to misinterpretations of concepts like common law. In reality they're a major headache for both normal citizens and law enforcement, due to their entitlement to disobeying the law without consequence causing a lot of trouble.


Video Example(s):


"Torway, you bastard!"

"Watchdogs of the Spirit Tree". Ikta Solork forces the opposing team in the exercise, led by Sarihasrag Remeon, to engage his unit at a disadvantage, and then to add insult to injury, has sharpshooter Torway Remeon -- Sarihasrag's brother -- positioned in the treeline. Torway nails him in the back of the head with a paintball, throwing the chain of command into confusion, and Ikta immediately takes advantage as Sarihasrag helplessly screams, "Torway, you bastard!" into the trees. His second-in-command takes over at Yatorishino Igsem's urging, but can only order a fighting retreat.

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