by Arkady English and Peter Suber
Some games merge with each other very well. Others less so. I’m sure you all remember the cross between Diplomacy and a live action GURPS: Time Travellers roleplaying session that caused the city Neva Ere to have never existed. However, some games share common themes if not common goals. Where the themes of these games can be used to reinforce each other you have good grounds to attempt to merge a game.
What is Nomic
Nomic is a game invented by the philosopher Peter Suber in 1982 under the title “Nomic: A Game of Self Ammendment.” The game is intended to model the paradoxical situation under which the power to enforce certain laws comes from the laws being enforced, much like any legal system in the world.
The rules of Nomic as proposed by Suber essentially do little other than lay a foundation for a game, describing how play passes from one player to another and how, on each players turn, the rules may be ammended. Although it is possible to end the game with the rules described, either by amassing points or by causing the game to become unplayable, the intention is that players create a more interesting win condition.
These features can cause Nomic games to have a similar ebb and flow to Diplomacy games. Co-operation with other players is essential, certainly at first, as proposed rule changes are voted upon. Without support from half the group you would never get anywhere. The notion of the stab also exists, as you must obfuscate the rule exploit you introduce such that no-one else exploits it before you in the same way that a Diplomacy player may obfuscate their troop movement with deliberate misorders while they set their “ally” up for a knife in the kidneys.
If Nomic has a weakness it is that the rules are the game. It requires quite a skill of abstraction to get into the feel of the game and to find the meat of what’s interesting. Rule changes can entirely lack context. This is a problem that Diplomacy doesn’t have, as it presents the abstraction of fleets and armies manoeuvring around Europe to give context to the diplomatic dealings that are the crux of the game.
Because Nomic is a game about rules it tends to merge neatly with other games. Often the two rulesets can be combined with few or no clashes. Previous versions of this have been done with chess, Monopoly and even Mornington Cresent!*
Merging the two
I put some effort into merging the two rulesets into something playable. I didn’t want to use the full Diplomacy rules straight off the bat as they are quite complex and appending the Nomic rules would lead to a hugely complicated ruleset to start with. To that end I stripped the Diplomacy rules of anything that was not absolutely required. Supply centres still existed but had no game effect and no owners, support was removed entirely. Convoys would have been removed were not for the unenviable position England would have started with in this case. The result was a version of Diplomacy were units could move around, but do nothing.
The hope was that players would create a replacement for support that was effective, but simpler. What actually happened was that support was proposed, approved of but the rule was found to be hopelessly arcane when actually put to use. The wording either caused every unit on the map to support every move (theirs and their opponants) or no units to support anyone. This caused a gigantic mess, several re-adjudications and in the end it took quite a while for support to appear in a workable form.
One interesting addition to the game is legislative alliances. For example – in normal Diplomacy England and Turkey cannot ally effectively near the start of the game. They are too far removed from each other. In Dipnomicy, however, they can create complementary rules and work together to pass or oppose legislation, thus getting an advantage that way.
The other thing that happens is some strange additions to the rules. Some things, like Wings (air units), an economy, assassinations and railroads have all been introduced. Some strange things happen by mistake. For example: fleets are not required to follow coastlines when moving around coastal areas. They are simply not permitted to finish their turn in an inland territory. When a rule was passed allowing a fleet to make two moves within a single turn this suddenly allowed such moves as “F Sev – Mos – Liv”! (Although passing through Moscow, the fleet doesn’t finish the turn there, so the conceptual impossibility isn’t a problem).
If anyone wants to run a Dipnomicy game, I recommend a few changes to the starting rules I used. Firstly, loosen the requirements on rule proposals (I eventually did this later on) as it actually keeps the ruleset simpler. Players no longer have to create convoluted rules to get round the restriction of only altering a single rule. Rules for dealing with NMRs should be implemented right from the start. It is probably worth reserving the right for the Secretary General / Gamesmaster to rewrite proposed rules for clarity, as this would avoid all sorts of problems I’ve had.
Anyone wishing to observe may find a full record of the game so far at the Dipnomicy website.
* For those outside the UK, Mornington Cresent is the name of an improvised sketch structure performed on Radio 4’s “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” programme. The players pretend to play a massively complex game set on the London Underground according to an arcane set of rules (which don’t actually exist). Blasphemously, the Mornington Nomic game – after several iterations – did actually produce a playable ruleset for Mornington Cresent.
0. THE METARULES (IMMUTABLE)
To describe the format of a rule. The title gives an unambiguous way to refer to a rule, the intention describes what the rule does, and the implementation describes how.
A rule has three parts: a title (given in capitals), an intention (given in italics) and an implementation (given in normal text).
The title must be unique, unambiguous and may not change once the rule is enacted.
The intention is used to guide interpretation of the rule. Where multiple interpretations are available, the SG shall choose the one that best fits the stated intention. The intention may not be changed.
The implementation describes how the intention is carried out. The implementation may be amended by proposals from the players but the SG may reject proposed amendments that cause the intention to be misleading.
A rule is assigned a unique, unchanging number when it is enacted by the Secretary General. Rules without a number are not enacted and have no effect on gameplay. Rules may be referred to by either title or number.
Rules may be marked as immutable. Rules not marked immutable are mutable. [See 2c for further information.]
1. THE SECRETARY GENERAL (IMMUTABLE)
Defines the powers and duties of the secretary general. Their first duty is to ensure the game runs smoothly. Their second duty is to ensure it runs at all.
The Secretary General (SG) is in charge of the game.
They may roll back the gamestate to a playable form if the game becomes unplayable for any reason.
The SG must treat all players equally and must not favour one player over another.
The SG shall not publish information sent to them by a player, except when explicitly allowed to. Players may consult rules interpretation with the SG. [This is in contrast to the previous game. I figure if a player spots an exploit and wants to use it they should be able to before the clarification becomes public. Checking on this is just good sense.]
The SG may also make “invisible” changes to rules. Invisible changes are consistent with all play so far under the rule, and so may be applied retroactively. These changes will typically be used to clarify situations that may be ambiguous, or to clean up spelling and grammar, or to make a rule work consistently with other rules. They may not alter the intention text. Invisible changes also include repealing rules that have been superseded by a new rule and no longer affect gameplay.
2. PROPOSALS (IMMUTABLE)
This sets out how players change the rules.
Changing the rules happens in three phases: proposal phase, discussion phase and enactment phase. These phases shall happen in that order once per turn.
2a PROPOSAL PHASE
During the proposal phase each player submits one proposal. Each proposal must contain one or more alterations and must contain an intent.
Alterations may enact a rule. To do this, the alteration must specify an intent. The title and implementation are optional at this point (although including an implementation is a really good idea).
Alterations may amend a rule by specifying clearly what changes are made to the implementation text or a specified rule.
Alterations may repeal a rule by specifying the rule they wish to repeal.
Alterations may transmute an immutable rule to be mutable or vice versa.
The proposal phase ends when the SG publishes a list of proposals sent to them by players.
2b THE DISCUSSION PHASE
During this phase the implementation text of all alterations may be changed in the following ways:
The Secretary General may change the implementation text of any proposal by announcement.
Any player may make any change to a proposal they are the author of by request of the SG, who will make that change on their behalf.
Any player may suggest a change to a proposal they are not the author of by sending it to the public group. All players may then support or oppose the change. If a proposed change gets more support than opposition, the proposal is changed. If the proposal’s author supports the change, the proposal is changed. If the author opposes the change than it is vetoed.
These changes may affect the implementation text of any alterations, create new alterations or remove existing alterations.
If the SG is not satisfied that a particular alteration in a proposal is in keeping with the intent of the proposal, they may ask the author of that proposal to justify that alteration. If this cannot be provided the SG may remove that alteration from the proposal. This also applies to rule amendments that frustrate the intent of the rule being amended.
No new changes may be suggested in the last 48 hours of the discussion phase.
The discussion phase ends at a time stated in advance by the SG or by unanimous agreement of all players and the SG.
2c THE ENACTMENT PHASE
The enactment phase starts when all proposals are published in the form they take after changes made in the discussion phase. Players vote once on each proposal. Proposals with more votes in favour than against are enacted at the end of the enactment phase. However, if the rule effected is immutable or the alterations transmutes a rule than the vote must be unanimous.
The enactment phase ends when the SG publishes the number of votes in favour and against each proposal and an updated ruleset.
3. THE RULESET (IMMUTABLE)
This puts some limits on the ruleset to keep the complexity of the game manageable.
Ruleset may not contain more than 25 rules. If, at the end of the enactment phase, the ruleset would contain more than 25 rules the new rules with the fewest votes in favour are not enacted
All numbers used within rules must be non-negative integers.
Specific rules takes precedence over general rules, newer rules take precedence over older ones.
This sets out what happens in each turn and when. It is more for the SGs reference than the players.
A turn shall happen in the following order:
Actions may be specified to happen between phases. Any action which does not happen in a specified phase happens in the clean-up phase.
The SG may choose to overlap phases that do not depend on each other and should aim for a turn to happen on a two week timescale, with the enactment phase happening halfway through.
During the clean-up phase, any numbers recorded in the gamestate are rounded to the nearest non-negative integer.
5. DIPNOMICY IS BASED ON DIPLOMACY (IMMUTABLE)
Dipnomicy uses the Diplomacy rules as a starting point. Except where otherwise specified, the diplomatic, movement, retreat and adjustment phases shall occur according to the rules of Diplomacy.