Introduction to GM House Rules

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Introduction to GM House Rules

Postby Pedros » 04 Dec 2011, 20:05

One of the essentials before any game starts is the GM's list of "House Rules" - the procedures and policies by which he will run the game. It sounds a bit legalistic and unnecessary, but it's only fair that all players know before they enter the game exactly how it will operate. There are no standard rules - over the history of this site there have been huge differences in some areas, and different players and GMs have very different views on what works best (although at the moment, most GMs seem to operate in a similar way.) On other sites I've seen some very different ways of operating.

What I've tried to do here is to cover the main things which House Rules need to deal with, and to include a description of as many different approaches as possible. I haven't checked back through the records so it's quite likely that there are some I've forgotten (or remembered wrongly!) If anybody cares to point these out, I'll try to update this post. I'm also including at the end the current version of my own house rules - they aren't there to lay down anything like a law, but if a new GM wants a quick way to get started you're welcome to use them as they stand, or to alter them to suit your own (or your players') preferences.

Submission of orders, and other messages This one seems simple, but not quite! To me, it's vitally important to be able to recognise messages about the game which arrive (so they should certainly have the name of the game in the title), and also to be able to distinguish between sets of orders and other messages, which are often urgent queries. Some GMs don't care too much about this, a few are extremely strict. The worst is the player who gets a PM from the GM telling him that the Spring orders have been published and simply hits the "Reply" button - so youreceive a message saying "Re: Seismic - Spring 1901". That gives you no immediate clue about whether it's the orders for the Fall season, or an urgent message telling you there's a mistake in your map, an important rules question, or just a bit of gossip about the game; and it doesn't tell you what country it's from - maybe you should know off the top of your head, but when you're refereeing two or three games at once you might well not remember immediately.

If you check every message as soon as it comes anyway then it's less of a problem, but I prefer not to see orders until the deadline passes (so that when England asmed me a tricky rules question I'm not influenced by knowing what France is about to order).

The other, even more important issue about orders is how strict you will be over misorders and ambiguities. Most GMs here take the view that as long as it's absolutely clear what was intended then an error in the wording is OK - but if you're proposing to use the Diplomacy Judge to adjudicate your orders then the syntax is absoutely vital. Some GMs will correct them before entering them, but others I've known say they will enter the orders exactly as you wrote them, and if the Judge doesn't recognise them it's your fault. So make it clear!

I've learned the hard way to include a sentence about my response to rules questions - unless it's absolutely clear, give a health warning - I've seen several games (Deviant was the main one, but the current London Nights comes a close second) where there have been very heated debates about how the (unusual) rules should be applied. If the GM has told a player clearly that the rule means one thing, and then the arguments from other players convince him he was wrong, that can be a real problem

Deadlines These should be absolutely clear. The agreed deadlines are basically for the players' convenience - they need to be short enough to keep the game moving, but there also needs to be time for the fairly cumbersome private message system to cope with several messages backwards and forwards between players whose time-zones might be 12 hours apart! 3 days for movements, one day for retreats and builds seems to work well. And if you're playing speed deadlines then explain exactly what they mean and how you will know whether orders are to be interpreted as final or not. (Speed deadlines are particularly useful for retreat and build phases; it's fairly uncommon to have a complete set of final movement orders very far before the deadline).

And be clear when the phase will start. Some GMs run 72 hour deadlines from the previous deadline. That's OK if you can guarantee to process the orders very quickly after the deadline, but most of us don't have that kind of lifestyle, and to be fair I believe that they should run from the time the results are posted. Some GMs like to have deadlines at the same hour every time; that's fine, but don't let that shorten the deadline too much.

Will you notify players when the phase changes, and will you give any reminders? This will come up again under NMRs and "Grace periods", but your policy here will affect how the game flows enormously. By far the biggest problem in Forum Games is NMRs and surrenders; they can ruin a game, and also often slow it down considerably. Part of the game Manager's job is to minimise these as far as possible, and reliable reminders are very useful here. There are two kinds of reminders - one to all players, and another just to those who haven't submitted orders yet. Different players have said that they value each of them, so I now send both - slightly more work, but it seems to be paying dividends. And to be fair, all players should have an equal opportunity to make use of reminders, to about 24 hours in advance seems the best time to send them.

And when will you stop accepting orders? Some GMs will not allow an order which is time-stamped after the deadline at all; some (like the main site) will allow an order up to the point when they start processing (which may of course be immediately, but might not); some use the idea of a grace period (see below) whilst some previous GMs use Emergency Generals (again, see below), although these seem to have died out for the time being at least. In the Colonial Tournament Palin announced that after each deadline he would PM players to say that the turn was over, and that orders would be accepted if they had arrived by that time but not afterwards, even if he wasn't able to process them immediately.

Finally, what will your attitude be to players requesting a pause or an extension to the deadline? Long or frequent pauses can lead to loss of player interest and the collapse of the game, but on the other hand nobody wants the game filled with NMRs because of players being ill, on holiday, etc. And some players regularly leave their orders to the last minute without issuing provisionals, and then if something goes wrong put in a request for an emergency extension; will you allow that? (Talking of which, I encourage players strongly to enter provisionals; I don't mind how often they change them - I usually only look at the most recent set anyway!)

NMRs Probably the big one! Two basic questions - what happens when there is one, and how tough are you going to be on defaulters? There are three basic approaches when there is an NMR:-
  1. Process the orders you have, and it's tough! (Even if that's the official line, some GMs bend the rule a little just to try for a complete set of orders - remember that the NMR will spoil the game for the other players)
  2. Allow a "grace period" (see below)
  3. Use the services of an "Emergency General"( again, below)
You also need to be clear about whether this applies to all phases or just movement ones (or just retreats and builds). I used to say movement only - if you miss a retreat or a build it's basically you that suffers not the game. I've changed this to give retreat and build phases half a count; not because I've changed my view about the importance, but because it shows the player is losing commitment, and if that's the case then the game needs to replace him sooner rather than later.

Grace periods This is an extra period of time beyond the deadline to allow the player(s) to get their orders in. In practice this usually means a fairly indefinite period, when the GM is twisting the offender's arm to get some orders out of them. I've known this process to go on for four or five days, which obviously slows the game down enormously. It can also encourage all the players to start ignoring the deadlines in the knowledge that later will do.

On the other hand, I've played with one GM who had a very strict and formal policy. Once only during the whole game, each player was allowed one grace period. This came into effect on the first NMR and that player only was allowed to submit late orders; other players could do so, but it would use up their own grace period. If this is adopted, the length of the grace period needs to be long enough to give the affected players, in their different time zones, long enough to get their orders in (the only occasion I had to use it, the period was 8 hours and fell whilst I was asleep!)

I take the view that, with a 24 hours reminder of the deadline players get their grace period before the deadline not after it!

Emergency generals Many players and GMs will not be familiar with this, since it is quite a time since I've seen it even referred to (I believe there was one New game recently where it was proposed, but I don't remember which nor whether it actually happened.)

The emergency general is on a list similar to the reserves list, and when there's an NMR the GM asks the EG to submit orders on behalf of the missing country. Some GMs use this on all phases, some on movement only, and I've known one who used it only for retreats and builds. The EG obviously has no access to all the discussions and negotiations which have taken place, and unless they've been following the game closely have little idea which way things are moving. The general feeling amongst players other than the offender was that EGs tended to cause more problems for them than the NMR itself! As I say, this idea has fallen out of favour over the last year or so.

How tough will you be? Almost all GMs impose a limit on how often a player is allowed to NMR. The most common is that the third NMR in the game, or the second in succession, will see the player thrown out. And an NMR in the first turn usually means instant ejection - some GMs have a slightly tougher stance than this; few are more lenient. In general, only NMRs on movement phases count - failure on a retreat or build is up to the player - though this isn't universal. Incidentally, if it begins to look as though a player is losing interest it might help to PM them and ask quietly if that's the case. If so, better to find a replacement quickly. It's also worth checking the list of members to see whether a player has stopped logging onto the site - if so, you may decide to replace them directly.

Surrenders When a player surrenders, will you pause the game whilst you look for a replacement or let it run on with the risk of NMRs? I think all games on the Forum try to use replacements, but that isn't compulsory; I've played games where surrenders aren't replaced. That does tend to spoil the game though.

But what if no replacement is forthcoming in a reasonable time (again, stopping the game for several weeks more often than not leads to other players losing interest). Will you let the country go into Civil Disorder, with all units simply holding? One GM on the site reported that in some cases, where a country on one or two SCs was left without a ruler, he would himself draft orders for the country and circulate them in advance to the other players. These days, that probably contravenes the Forum's Fair Play rules.

The result Finally, an issue which I've only recently realised is important. How will the result be decided? Almost all diplomacy games have a clear victory target, and those that don't (like London Nights) have a clear statement about victory conditions. For games to end before this there needs to be definite agreement between all surviving players. If for any reason you want to put a time limit on the game (like Malevolence's suggested Christmas holiday game) then firstly you need to think about it several times, and if you go ahead you need to be absoutely clear about how the result will be decided.

Secondly, will you put any restriction on draws and concessions? Can the game be agreed to be over at any time (unlike main site)? And in the case of draws, will you accept any agreed draw, or will it be DIAS only?

Pedros' current House Rules wrote:Please note especially my approach to deadlines and NMRs. I'm pretty tough on NMRs - I find it's the only way to keep the game moving.

Orders Please title your orders "(game NAME) - England - orders/retreats etc Spring 1901" (or something similar that I can recognise!) And send them to me by PM. Please don't just hit the reply button! (if you do I don't know what you've sent me!) If you title your orders wrongly and I don't find them it's your fault and the NMR will stick. I always check to see whether missing orders are floating around somewhere unexpected, but if I don't find them you have no cause for complaint.

It's up to you to make sure they're accurate. I won't read orders in detail until the deadline (this is so that if somebody else asks a question there's no chance of me betraying your secrets! - also because it's the way original Dip rules worked) If it's clear what they mean (I'll accept any recognisable abbreviations so long as they aren't ambiguous) then no problem; but if they're at all ambiguous they're invalid (issues like not specifying a coast when there's only one option I'll accept, but an argument like "You could see from my convoy order what the army was supposed to be doing" I won't!) If you spot an error in my adjudication please report it publicly as soon as possible. Any error not reported before the next movement deadline will not be corrected.

If two different orders are given for the same unit, then I will use the last order and ignore the others, [i]except
when too many builds are ordered, in which case the corect number from the beginning of the list will be allowed.

Other messages Please title them something different, so I know which is which - otherwise I'll probably assume they're orders and not read them before the deadline! If you ask a rules question then if it's clear I'll answer it; if it's something not clearly covered by the game rules I'll do my best, but in the light of argument from other players I might change my mind after the adjudication. If you think I'm wrong, I expect you to say so loudly and with clear reasons; if you do, I'll listen and consider the arguments (and allow an extension whilst it's sorted out). If a question is asked privately then it will be answered privately.

Deadlines 72-24-24 from the time the new map goes up. I'll send a PM at the same time so there's no excuse for not noticing! but I recommend you subscribe to the new sub-Forum as soon as it's in place so there's no chance of you missing a new topic. And post provisional orders early, just in case!

For phases longer than 24 hours I'll also send a reminder about 24 hours before the deadline (give or take a few hours), and a separate message (BCC) to those players who have not yet submitted orders.. This is because I'll then be strict about NMRs - see below. nb: after a recent case in Zeus, if at any time I fail to send one of these reminders and I don't realise that but post the orders, an NMR will stand. You will have had two PMs about the deadline, and after all it is up to you to know the deadline and get orders in.

Speed deadlines: Once I have orders from all players I will process them as soon as possible, unless they are marked 'Provisional' or similar. (I encourage provisional orders where appropriate to reduce the risk of NMRs, and I don't mind how often you change them - I will only open the last ones I receive.) But if you do send in provisionals, please let me know once you're happy to finalize them, just to move the game along. I may write to check if yours are the only orders waiting to be finalized, but if I do, then this is a reminder not a hassle! Don't feel pressurized into finalizing before you're ready!

Requests for delays: Where there's a good reason I'm happy to accept a delay of deadline, but I don't want this to happen too often - one of the biggest reasons for games failing is that they don't move along quickly enough and players lose interest. But please give as much notice as possible for everybody's sake! In particular, extensions will not be granted at the last minute on 72-hour deadlines simply because access is difficult. Get your provisionals in early!

Finally, please note: if you want a substitute whilst you're away it's your job to find one!

NMRs I will usually aim to process the orders fairly soon after the deadline, though there may be exceptions. I take the same view as the main site software - if you get orders in a few minutes late but before I begin, you'll get away with it. Once I start opening up orders, it's too late. No exceptions.

NMRs on retreat and build phases I don't count, but I do take notice of and if they mount up together with your main NMRs I will be thinking about a replacement anyway. When your NMR total reaches three you're out. Two in successive movement phases and you're out. Any NMR on the first phase and you're out and the game will hold for a replacement, after which the first phase will run again. For retreat and build phases I take the view if you don't submit it's your problem - you've missed the chance but that's all. If somebody's NMR leads to expulsion then there will be a pause while I try to replace them, and the new player gets a day minimum to talk and post orders. If replacement is difficult I reserve the right to put the faction into Civil Disorder (although I don't like doing this).

I also check a player's last logon time when they NMR. If it's several days ago it makes me wonder whether they've left the site altogether, and I'll try to contact them. If this doesn't work then I reserve the right to replace them without further warning.

Errors in adjudication I'm only human, so check the map after orders to make sure I have it right! If there's a substantial error it will delay the deadline, so I'll try to be perfect! Any error not reported by the next movement deadline will stand.[/i]

And, as always, the GM's decision is final
"Sooner or later, one of us will stab the other. But for now we're both better off as allies" (kininvie)
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