Big Book of War

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Accept no substitutes!
"A good soldier obeys without question. A good officer commands without doubt."
The Tactica Imperialis, Warhammer 40,000

War is a Matter of Life and Death. How do you go about it? How do you train your troops? What moral codes do you follow? How do you keep your morale up? What tactics do you use in battle? What strategies do you follow?

In Real Life, there's no easy answer. In fictionland, however, you can just ask the Big Book Of War.

A specific type of Fictional Document (and occasionally Encyclopedia Exposita), the Big Book of War is an oft-quoted, but rarely seen in its entirety, book or code which some military (mildly or otherwise) or other group follows. In addition to providing strategies for battle (and occasionally diplomacy), it frequently alludes to some kind of moral, chivalric code which its adherents are supposed to follow. Characters will frequently recite passages or rules from it when faced with some dangerous situation or conundrum. A Rules Lawyer may insist on "sticking to the code" no matter what happens, while a Military Maverick is more likely to shout "screw the code!" and do things his/her own way. The book in question might be Sun Tzu's Art of War but is at least as likely to be entirely fictional and specific to that organization.

Other organized groups, from ninjas to pirates to Girl/Boy Scouts to bands of space traders, frequently have their own codes that work the same way. Regardless of what it serves, it frequently has all the answers you need, right when you need them. It also makes an excellent citation source for your Badass Creed.

It can be Played for Laughs if a character tries to appear knowledgeable by quoting a rule, only to be corrected by someone else that he picked a completely wrong section of said document.

A subtrope of the Great Big Book of Everything.

Examples of Big Book of War include:

Comic Books

  • The Junior Woodchuck Guidebook used by Donald Duck's nephews. Later exported to animation via the original DuckTales series. Probably (in the planning stages, at least) a take on the Boy Scout Handbook.
    • A Don Rosa Uncle Scrooge story reveals the truth about the Guidebook: thousands of years ago, a scribe copied down all the knowledge in the library of Alexandria, shortly before the library was destroyed in a fire. That knowledge was compressed and summarized dozens of times over the millennia by various scholars, until it was discovered by the founder of the Junior Woodchucks and made into their guidebook. Of course, Scrooge only learns this after traveling all over the world in search of that same document...
  • Rogue Trooper carries around a copy of the Guide to the Nu-Earth War in Bagman.


  • Hercules has Philotetes' oft-quoted rules of conduct and engagement for heroes-in-training.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean features a number of references to the Pirates' Code until the physical book is actually trotted out and referred to. While Barbarossa claims that it's more a book of guidelines than rules, the pirate community seems to treat the book itself with quite a bit of reverence. Historically, Caribbean pirate ships, like all ships at the time, tended to have their own set of written rules to establish discipline and resolve disputes, even going as far as to state how many shares of the stolen booty each pirate would receive.
  • Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes): "But... how will I learn to fly, Herr Colonel?" "The way we do everything in the German army: from the book of instructions!" "Step one: Sit down."
  • Zombieland has Columbus' list.
  • The Thief and the Cobbler: "When in doubt...consult..The Brigands' Handbook!"
  • The Dragon Fighting Manual from How to Train Your Dragon.
  • The Christian movie Fireproof used a manual titled "The Love Dare" to save one of the significant marriages in the movie. After the film was released, the pastor-producers were deluged with requests for copies. Since the book was entirely fictional, the producers wrote it themselves... and it became a best-seller.


  • General Tacticus' memoirs Veni Vidi Vici: A Soldier's Life in Discworld, featuring practical advice such as "When one army is within an impregnable fortress, well-garrisoned and well-stocked with provisions and the other is not - endeavor to be the one on the inside."
    • But not for nothing is Tacticus considered history's greatest warlord, and the man who lent his name to the art of large-scale combat. On the same subject, he notes that if you are not the one inside, then let them stay there.
  • In David Gemmell's The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend the Ventrians have a highly formalized way of making war, based on an ancient treatise. So slavishly do they adhere to this text that the defenders of a hotly contested city leave the walls after the fourth attack in one day because the book says that launching more than four attacks in a day should be avoided as it is bad for morale and as a result no Ventrian general would presume to launch a fifth attack.
  • "The Rites of Kanly", governing warfare in the Dune universe.
  • In Cold Comfort Farm, the heroine, Flora Poste, is guided by "The Higher Common Sense" as she extracts her relatives from their idiotic predicaments.
  • The New Bushido from Hyperion.
  • In Laurie J. Marks' Elemental Logic series, Mabin's Warfare.
  • The Wheel of Time has Fog and Steel. One character when he notes that the King of Murdandy thinks that it will make him a great general. The name of the book is probably a reference to "the fog of war," a term coined by Carl von Clausewitz's famous Big Book, On War.

Live-Action TV

  • Star Trek
    • The infamous Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, introduced in in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It's a list of maxims and advice on how to earn profit, which the mercantile Ferengi pursue with military ferocity. The document is no longer fictional, as some of the rules were gathered and published--as a bit of Star Trek merchandise, of course.
    • Starfleet's General Orders, which has rules for everything Star Fleet does. Various General Orders were mentioned in the series and films, and many have been compiled together in online list. General Order 1 is, of course, the Prime Directive. General Order 7, for example, is the command to avoid the planet that Captain Pike found in the original pilot, on the basis that the locals were the first God-like aliens that Starfleet had ever encountered.
  • Red Dwarf has the Space Corp Directives, which Kryten tends to quote at Rimmer (and Rimmer, in turn, tries to quote at Kryten - usually failing).
    • The Space Corp Directives are brilliantly organized, too, where (from memory) Section 132 Paragraph 24 Subparagraph 14 is a guide to the treatment of prisoners of war, and Subparagraph 15 is a list of how parking spots are assigned to the Chinese representatives of the conference. You can't blame Rimmer for getting it mixed-up.
      • That was actually from the "All-Nations Agreement" although the Space Corp Directives have a similar setup (for example the directive forbidding crew from wearing a ginger toupee on duty is next to the one requiring deflector shields before navigating an asteroid belt).
  • NCIS has, while it's clearly not in written form (which in itself is even referenced several times), Gibbs' rules. Several (but not all) have been named and numbered, most of which have been brought up multiple times.
    • It is revealed they are written down in the Season 7 Finale, but only Gibbs has access to them. They are revealed when he changes his rules, erasing his anti-lawyers rule, substituting it for "Rule 51: Sometimes you're wrong."
  • How I Met Your Mother has Barney's Bro Code and Playbook, both of which are seen as physical books.
    • Both have been published.
  • An episode of Sharpe has a guide to what a good soldier should be, written by an officer who's never been to the front. The men who can read - or know someone who can read it to them - find it hilarious.
  • The Big Bang Theory has The Roommate Agreement between Leonard and Sheldon. While often referenced (usually by Sheldon), it is never quoted in its entirety and is, apparently, hundreds of pages long. It covers such rudimentary things as who's stuff goes where in the refrigerator, as well as what happens if one of them should gain super-powers or invent time travel.
  • The Young Ones has a charter of various rules that cover the aspects of living together such as food and laundry. All of them have the universal exception "... except Mike."
  • The Argentine TV series Los únicos, about secret agents with superpowers, has a set of bylaws for the agents. The main rule is that agents shall not develop romantic relations among themselves (of course, they all defy the rule and get in trouble as a result), but other laws are mentioned from time to time.

Tabletop Games

This trope does not refer to the actual rulebooks for these games. Usually.

  • Warhammer 40,000 has numerous examples, from the meditations of alien commanders to humanity's own military bibles, such as the Codex Astartes and the actually quite insightful Tactica Imperium, best conceptualized as Sun Tzu adapted for a Grimdark setting.
    • The Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer, on the other hand, is so full of propaganda, misinformation, and outright lies, that it functions best as a "Faux To" Guide. Though every Imperial Guardsman is required (on pain of death) to carry it, the bright ones quickly realize that Eldar technology is not antiquated and prone to malfunction, an Ork's bulging muscles are not just for show, and the Tau aren't likely to run away if you yell at them loudly enough.
      • The Uplifting Primer is more of a darkly humourous, satirical nature, however. Its status as canon is dubious.
    • The Codex Astartes, by the Ultramarines' Primarch, fills this roles for many Space Marine chapters. However, many Space Marines have gotten into trouble for treating the Codex as a perfect, unquestionable how-to manual, rather than a comprehensive set of guidelines. The author realised what his descendants haven't, namely that new enemies will require new tactical doctrines, and that no two battles are exactly alike. Which is why many Chapters are "non-Codex", especially those that specialize on a particular enemy and/or form of warfare.
    • The Soul Drinkers' Catechisms Martial is one part tactical meditations to two parts prayer book, used as often in religious ceremonies as in forward planning. Since Space Marines don't really differentiate between warfare and religion, it matters little.
  • Warhammer Fantasy Battle Fantasy has a book on tactics written by the High Elf General Mentheus that is referenced occasionally.
  • Forgotten Realms has The Steel Princess' Field Guide to Tactics of the Purple Dragon by Her Royal Highness Princess Alusair Nacacia Obarskyr of Cormyr. Yeah, she published it with her nickname right in the title.
    • Appropriately enough, the holy scripture of Tempus' faith is one of these, the Red Book of War. Same goes for Master Tactician, a holy book of the Red Knight's faith.
  • Exalted has the Thousand Correct Actions of the Upright Soldier. It is primarily used by the Realm, the major empire of the game setting, and is regarded as an excellent manual of war. Except, now that the empire is in decay due to the disappearance of its leader, politically-appointed officers who believe they know better just chuck the thing aside. Or abridge it, which is even worse. The latter is especially true because, unlike most examples on this page, the book is actually magical, and prayers to war gods and the Pattern Spiders are actually encoded into the practices described in the book.
  • Iron Kingdoms has (Supreme) Kommandant Irusk's book, How to Fully Subjugate Your Enemies.
  • The GURPS International Super Teams universe has The Metahuman in Combat, a Big Book of superhero combat.
  • Eberron has Karrn the Conqueror's Analects of War. Think Sun Tzu as a Blood Knight and you'll pretty much have the idea.
  • Paranoia Troubleshooters tend to have their little red survival books, full of notes, treasonous material, and other useful tips on survival. Typically, a great deal of information in the book will be wrong. This is Alpha Complex after all.


  • In Gilbert and Sullivan Ruddigore, the heroine of Rose Maybud was raised from birth by a "little book of etiquette", the contents of which are never known except that Rose herself is an expert in all matters of propriety as a result.

Video Games

  • The Carlson & Peeters military manual from Beyond Good and Evil. Double H's characteristic idiosyncrasy is that he quotes from it all the time, offering such advice as "If you can't go through a door, go around it!" and "W.W.T.A.O.! We Work Together As One!" You do eventually get to see a portion of the book in digital form, from a chapter that deals with "Defense and Detection".
  • The hints and tips on Battle for Wesnoth's main game screen are attributed to various Fictional Document sources, including tactical manuals and characters' journals.
  • Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri does this very well - buildings, secret projects, and technologies are all accompanied by voiced-over quotes from books in the game universe, mostly written by the faction leaders.
    • Adhering closest to the trope would be the Spartan Battle Manual and Planet: A Survivalist's Guide, both written by Colonel Corazon Santiago.
  • Icewind Dale 2 includes an item, the book How to Be an Adventurer, with such helpful chapters as "101 Uses for a 10' Pole", "Getting the Most out of Your Party's Thief", and "Face It, You're Actually Neutral Evil". Reading it grants a character 10,000 Experience Points and consumes the book.
  • Assassin's Creed's Assassins have their own Creed. (Well, duh...)
  • Star Wars Republic Commando—Rule number one: kill them before they kill you. Rule seventeen: never say no to bacta. Rule twenty-three: always make sure they're dead. Several other rules are also quoted, but no actual strategies or tactics are mentioned and it's unclear if Scorch is quoting an actual list they were taught, or just paraphrasing his training and throwing a number on as a joke.
  • In A Tale of Two Kingdoms, the Way of the Warrior by Moon Tzu. It explains how honorable it is to cast sand at the enemy's eyes during a swordfight.
  • The Unbroken Circle of Zerthimon in Planescape: Torment a device that party-member Dak'kon has from the start. Technically, it's a book on the history and religion of the githzerai people, but both subjects focus on the uprising against the illithids and the civil war that resulted. If The Nameless One is a Mage, he can help Dak'ron decipher the eight circles, eventually gaining experience, spells, and increased Scores for both party members.

Web Comics

Axel: All right chums, let's do this! LEEEEERRROYYYY JJJJJENKINSSSS!
Aerith: There is no way the book says to do that.
Zexion: That's the first thing the book says to do! What the fuck?!

Western Animation

Real Life

  • Sun Tzu's The Art of War, the classic Chinese text and possible Trope Maker in the public consciousness, beloved by military strategists and pretended to be read by Nietzsche Wannabes everywhere. Despite its reputation, The Art of War is quite small, particularly in the original archaic Chinese. Publications usually include explanatory commentaries that are several times longer than the original work.
  • Carl von Clausewitz's On War is the West's premier work on military theory. Clausewitz notably argues for the inherent superiority of defense over offense and stresses the moral and political aspects of war. Even though the work is unfinished, it was highly influential at the time of the First World War and remains relevant today. The book coined the concept of the "fog of war" and memorably defined war as "the continuation of politics by other means."
  • Machiavelli's The Prince, which covers military strategy as it pertains to ruling monarchs, and his Discourses on Livy, which devotes the second of its three sections chiefly to conducting war as a republic. Part of Machiavelli's intention is to convince his readers that the Italian city-states should not be reliant on mercenaries, and should instead build up militias. His tactics were gradually amended over the years and became the basis for linear tactics.
    • Machiavelli also wrote an Art of War
  • Summary of the Art of War was released in the 19th century by Baron Antoine Henri de Jomini, who served under Napoleon and was a professional rival to fellow theorist Clausewitz. Jomini's writing style is noted for his extensive use of historical examples and diagrams to illustrate his points, complete with a Lemony Narrator commentary. These days, most publishers shorten the title to The Art of War, which can lead to confusion.
  • The Book Of Five Rings, a martial arts and military strategy book written by legendary Samurai warrior Miyamoto Musashi at around 1645. The Japanese-inspired Tabletop RPG Legend of the Five Rings is named in reference to it.
  • The Dicta Boelcke by Oswald Boelcke is a list of fundamental aerial maneuvers of aerial combat that still has baring in aerial combat today.
  • Vegetius's De Re Militari (roughly, On Military Matters) was a major influence on Machiavelli and widely read for centuries.
  • The ancient Greeks produced several, including The Cavalry Commander by Xenophon, On the Defence of Fortified Positions by Aeneas Tacticus, Tactics by Asclepiodotus and The General by Onasander. The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides is 2000 years old and still a solid read for the conduct of war and international relations.
  • The Byzantines were very fond of writing military manuals, the most famous of which is the Strategikon of Maurice, allegedly written by the Emperor Maurice. The Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus also wrote a manual on campaigning and Emperor Nikephoros II wrote one titled Skirmishing and another titled Presentation and Composition on Warfare. But there are a number of others, such as an anonymous, early sixth century, untitled manual on strategy, an anonymous, late tenth century, untitled manual on tactics, and an early eleventh century work titled Taktika by Nikephoros Ouranos.
  • Mao himself wrote a book entitled The Art of War. His "Little Red Book" (Quotations from Chairman Mao) and On Guerrilla Warfare would also qualify as examples of this trope.
  • Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla by Carlos Marighella.
  • The US Army (and presumably the militaries of most other countries) have numerous field manuals and other publications that break down protocol for a very great many circumstances.
    • Especially notable is General David Petraeus' field manual on Counter-insurgency, for obvious reasons.
    • "One of the serious problems in planning against American doctrine that the Americans do not read their manuals nor do they feel any obligations to follow their doctrine."
  • In The Thirty-Six Stratagems, there are Nine Principles of War.
  • In the US Navy, ancient wisdom has it that there are three ways of doing anything: "The right way, the wrong way, and the Navy way." "The Navy way" is, in many ships and shore commands, written down and collected (usually in three-ring binders) in volumes called "turnover guides" which are handed over by one person (department head, division officer, etc.) to another when officers and senior enlisteds rotate to different jobs within the command.
    • Famously mentioned in Wouk's "The Caine Mutiny" where (right after "Navy way") the captain appends "and my way. On this ship, things will be done my way." It does not end well.
  • Alfred Mahan's The Influence of Sea Power upon History (1890) is one of the most obscure and yet most influential books of the twentieth century, it basically set U.S. naval policy to where it is now. It's also a current favorite of China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
    • It also was one of the favourite textbooks for Wilhelm II and Tirpitz's expansion of the German navy and thus was a major influence on the British-German naval armament race that helped bring about World War I.
    • Julian Corbett wrote Some Principles of Maritime Strategy in 1911. It was essentially the British answer to Mahan and was also incredibly influential. While Mahan wrote mainly about old school fleet battles Corbett focused on things like disrupting lines of communication and power projection which means that his work also aged a bit better. Though both are still studied today.
  • Italian General Giulio Douhet and his Command of the Air (1921) exerted a similarly big influence on the air forces of the inter-war years, especially in Britain and Germany.
  • The Law of Land Warfare (aka The Geneva Convention)[1] explicitly states laws of war; unlike most other Big Books of War, it tells you only what not to do if you wish to conduct war like a civilized country and expect other countries to do the same. It's also binding, and is what gives tribunals like the Nuremburg Trials the justification for trying people for war crimes, among other things.
  • The Defence of Duffer's Drift (written in 1905 about a fictional skirmish in the Boer war) and The Defense of Hill 781 both lay down principles of warfare (the former for infantry, the latter mechanized combined arms operations) through similar narrative devices. Both are near-required reading for U.S. Army officers.
  • The Apache traditionally had a very complex set of rules for raiding and warfare (two distinct operations in their culture), passed down orally. One rule was not letting men whose wives were pregnant come on expeditions (they'd be distracted); another was an argot, "warpath words", consisting of using different words for nearly every action ("dragged something" rather than "walked", for instance), so that even enemies who knew Apache wouldn't understand plans.
  • Every team in American Football maintains a "playbook" full of dozens of Attack Patterns Alpha.
  • Just and Unjust Wars by Michael Walzer, which deals more with the moral/ethical dilemmas.
  • Guerrilla Warfare by Ernesto "Che" Guevara, based largely on the tactics he used in the Cuban revolution.
  • Jim Dunnigan and associates have written books over the years including How To Make War, A Quick and Dirty Guide To War, and Dirty Little Secrets: Military Information You're Not Supposed To Know, not to mention They amount to the equivalent of a fairly comprehensive Big Book of War for the modern layman.
  • Överraskning och Vilseledning: Sovjetiska och ryska vilseledningsprinciper i krig och fred (near literal translation to English: Surprise and Deception: Soviet and Russian principles of deception during war and peace times) is a book written by the Swedish military historian Lars Ulfving that tells of the history, the ways and tactics of Maskirovka, the term used for the Russian art of military deception.