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"In short: there are no rules. And here they are."
Scott Mc Cloud, Making Comics.
"Nothing is true. Everything is permitted."
Hassan-i Sabbah, Alamut by Vladimir Bartol

Stock Phrase. When someone's describing a game unfamiliar to the audience - especially if it's a particularly dangerous game - they will say this. Usually preceded by "There's only one rule..." Occasionally, they will list two or three rules of the game which are easy for the audience to remember, and round it off by saying that "Apart from that, There Are No Rules!"

This is almost a Discredited Trope; if it crops up in media nowadays it'll at least have a lampshade hung on it. Although there are a few stray instances of it being played straight, even today.

When there's only a rule number 2, this is a Parodied Trope.

Compare Calvin Ball.

Examples of There Are No Rules include:


Anime and Manga

  • In Dragon Half, the Brutal Killer Martial Arts Tournament is like this. Any weapon or tactic is allowed. The winner must either kill his opponent or put the King's seal on his forehead.

Card Games

  • Real Life example: Mao (the cardgame, not the dictator.) The only rule I can tell you is this one.
    • Mao is definitely not an example. There ARE rules, but rule one says nobody is allowed to talk about rules two and higher. The point of the game is figuring out those rules for yourself (and then laughing maliciously at the next newbie who doesn't know them yet).
      • Mao is definitely an example. Given that one of the rules that you can't explain begets the creation of other rules during play, it counts.
  • Nomic games like 1000 Blank White Cards usually have very few permanent rules, although some player groups have house rules (like 'No writing "I win" on a card').

Film

  • The trailer for Leatherheads: "In the early days of Football, the rules were simple. There were no rules." Or something like that.
  • Parodied in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Logan has challenged Butch to a fight for leadership of the Hole in the Wall gang.

 Butch: No, no, not yet. Not until me and Harvey get the rules straightened out.

Logan: Rules? In a knife fight? No rules!

Butch: (Gives Logan a kick Groin Attack, disabling him)

Butch: Well, if there aint' going to be any rules, let's get the fight started. Someone count 1,2,3 go.

Sundance: 1,2,3, go!

Butch: (Knocks out Logan with a two-handed punch)

  • Fight Club: Members Only - "Fight Club has only ONE rule: there are no rules!" (Though Fight Club proper actually has eight rules.)
  • In Grease (1978), Leo says "The rules are... there ain't no rules!"
  • Out Cold:

 Luke: Good evening. You all know the rules of King of the Mountain. Rule number one: you do not talk about King of the Mountain. Rule number two: there are no rules.

Anthony: What about rule number one?

Luke: [Shines flashlight in Anthony's eyes] That's really more of a guideline than a rule. Do NOT interrupt.

  • Variant from the first X-Men movie, at the cage match:

 Promoter: Whatever you do, don't hit him in the balls.

Fighter: I thought you said anything goes.

Promoter: Anything goes, but he'll take it personal.

 Dr. Dealgood: I know you won't break the rules: There aren't any.

 Jack: The only rules that truly matter are these: what a man can do, and what a man can't do.

    • And then there's the pirates' opinion of the Pirate Code: "The Code is more what ya might call 'guidelines' than actual rules."
  • The live-action Popeye with Robin Williams has an organized fight, where the gamesmaster announces, "Now, you all know the rules: there are no rules."
  • This is the answer given in Rat Race when asking what the rules of the race were.

Literature

  • In Paul Robinson's Instrument of God, "The Sign by The Right of The Road" states "There is no law except the Law of the Jungle in the Frontier, anyone may do anything to anyone out there. Rule #1 doesn't apply there, there are no rules."
  • Said word-for-word in the Matthew Hawkwood novel Rapscallion, just before Hawkwood's duel with the Marmeluke:

 "What are the rules?"

"There are no rules," Matisse said

Live Action TV

  • Subverted in Friends in describing the Ultimate Fighting Champion tournament. At first Ross claims (in a very dramatic voice) "The only rule is 'there are no rules!'" When confronted with the absurdity of this, he admits that there are two rules: no eye gouging or fish-hooking (pulling out your opponent's cheek with a crooked finger).
  • Subverted in Corner Gas when Lacey describes her new bulletin boards. This phrase is met with complaints that if it has that rule then there are rules and it's decided that the new bulletin board is too confusing.
  • Happens in an episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers where the Monster of the Week makes Tommy and Jason hate each other. They almost end up in a fight arranged by Bulk, who says "The only rule is - there are no rules!"
  • Parodied in Malcolm in the Middle when Francis moved in with Richie for a while.

  Richie: Welcome to Chez Richie. Rule number 1: There are no rules. Rule number 2: No shoes on the sofa.

  Dochnovich: All right, here are the rules. Well, there ain't no rules. Hitting below the belt's allowed... eye gouging's allowed...

 Robin Wood: Welcome to Sunnydale High. There's no running in the halls, no yelling, no gum-chewing. Apart from that, there's only one rule: if they move, kill them.

  • The tournament in the Merlin episode "The Shadow of the Sorcerer":

 Merlin (watching a fighter knock a practice dummy's head off with an axe): Tell me he can't use that during the contest.

Arthur: He can use what he likes. It's an open tournament.

Merlin: What about the knight's code?

Arthur: It counts for nothing. The only rule is ... There Are No Rules.

 Announcer: Weeeell, boys and girls, I hope you brought your popsicles, because it's about to get SCALDING HOT in the Sun Chamber! You already know the rules... BECAUSE THERE AREN'T ANY!!!

[One of the other students storms down and snatches the microphone off him]

Replacement Announcer: Geez, Dennis, are you on coke? Take that crap off and sit down! [The original announcer dejectedly slinks away] Sorry about that. Of course there are rules.

New Media

Tabletop Games

Video Games

  • Played with in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, when Hades sets up a tournament to get Cloud and Hercules to fight each other so that Hercules will be weakened enough for him to take him to the underworld. When Sora steps in to fight him to save Hercules:

 Hades: Rule #6! There are no rules! Ha ha!

  • In the Dragon Age series, the rules of the Orlesian "game" (i.e. the cutthroat competition for power and prestige between Orlesian nobles) have been summed up as "Anything goes" in the Encyclopedia Exposita.

Western Animation

  • From The Simpsons episode "How I Spent My Strummer Vacation," in which Homer goes to a Rock 'N' Roll fantasy camp:

 Mick Jagger: Rule Number One: There are no rules! (Crowd cheers) Rule Number Two: No outside food.

 Cosmo:That's the first rule of Timmy Ball, Timmy wins.

Wanda:I thought there were no rules in Timmy Ball.

Cosmo:Well, that's the second rule.

  • In Regular Show, Mordecai exploits a literal lack of rules, including no rule against having rules.

Real Life

  • In ancient Greece there was a fighting sport called pankration or 'all powers', which had two rules: Rule 1: no eye gouging, number 2:no biting. You win when your enemy surrenders, is knocked out, or you die, whichever happens first.
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