There was, there always was, at the start and the finish ... the Code. They lived by the Code. You followed the Code, and you became part of the Code for those who followed you. The Code was it. Without the Code, you weren't a hero. You were just a thug in a loincloth. (...) Forget the Code, dismiss the Code, deny the Code ... and the Code would take you.
According to the Code:
- Dark Lords will always betray others, have stupid henchmen, and they always get away.
- One brave man against 7 will always win.
- A simple sword in the hands of a brave man will cut through magic swords.
- Kings in disguise will always win.
It doesn't just apply to Heroes, but to their mortal foes too. It has to, or what's the point? The old school Barbarian heroes such as Cohen the Barbarian, Truckle the Uncivil, Mad Hamish, Boy Willie, Caleb the Ripper and Old Vincent lived every minute of their (very full) lives by the Code. However, so did their enemies, such as Evil Harry Dread, Pamdar the Witch Queen and Ning the Uncompassionate.
In just the same way as the heroes have to find magical weapons and first aid kits in dungeons, have to rescue vestal virgins and have to overcome huge odds but have to allow the evil dark lords to escape along tunnels when they assail the Evil Dark Towers, the bad guys have their own constraints. They have to, for example, have incredibly stupid henchmen, leave a secret back entrance into any given Mountain of Dread and kit out their guards in expensive helmets that cover the entire face.
When faced with any situation, these old school characters know instinctively what the Code instructs - it's coded into their DNA. The upstarts you get these days...huh! Not only do they block up escape routes, or are vicious evil underhand bastards, but they read and write well, and organise committees rather than charge. Cohen and his mob have given up. Which is why they're on the way to return something to the gods...
This is very reminiscent of the Evil Overlord List, which contains commandments for every evil overlord aiming to prevent the clichéd methods of infiltrating the fortress/overcoming the Legions of Terror/overthrowing the overlord which heroes seem to use in so many films and books.