Dipnomicy (rc09)

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.

Immutable rules

1. Players may only interact with the game in accordance with the rules. Unregulated actions can have no effect on the gamestate.

2. The Secretary General of this game is [XXXXXXXXX]. The Secretary General is not a player.

3. The Secretary General is responsible for the overall well being of
the game.  They:
– Issue reports on the gamestate;
– Collate moves and votes;
– Distribute proposals;
– Keep records of information that affects the gamestate;
– Are the final arbiters in rules disputes and may issue rule clarifications and guidance;
– Must treat all players fairly and equally;
– May veto proposals that are obviously deleterious to the gamestate;
– May roll back the gamestate should the game end up in an unplayable state;
– Assign numbers to the rules;
– Should use these privileges as sparingly as possible;
– Choose a map suitable for the number of players at the start of the game; [Clarification – a map includes starting positions for units]
– Assign players to countries using a suitably random method at the start of the game.

4. In the event that the Secretary General has not fulfilled their duties in a timely fashion (i.e. they have not addressed any action required of them within a week of the date the action is required – either by performing the action or issuing a new due date for the action) the players shall elect a new Sec. Gen. If a player is elected then upon assumption of the role of Sec. Gen, the player’s units become neutral.

5. A proposal is a proposed single change to the rules in any one of the following ways:
– Enacting, repealing or altering a single mutable rule;
– Transmuting a single mutable rule to being immutable;
– Transmuting a single immutable rule to being mutable.

6. All proposals made in the proper way shall be voted on and adopted if they receive the required number of votes.

7. Every player must make a single vote on every proposal. Valid votes are for, against and abstain.

8. No proposal may have retroactive effects.

9. Proposals to transmute a rule require a unanimous vote to be adopted.

10. Proposals which do not transmute a rule require more votes for than votes against to be adopted.

11. Conflicts between rules may be avoided by explicitly deferring or taking precedence in the rule’s text.

12. In a conflict immutable rules take precedence over mutable rules.

13. In a conflict the rule which has existed in its current form longest takes precedence over other rules. This rule defers to rule 11.

14. In a conflict the rule with the most votes in favour of its last vote takes precedence. This rule defers to rule 11 and to rule 12.

15. There must always be a mutable rule and it must always be possible to change the ruleset within the rules. If it is not, the Secretary General should use their powers to intervene.

Mutable Rules

16. All players moves are resolved simultaneously.

17. Moves are submitted in secret to the Secretary General via the e-mail address they provide. This is the move submission. The Secretary General updates the gamestate and issues a move report.

18. Each move submission must contain a rule-change proposal. These proposals are distributed anonymously in the move report.

19. Each move submission, except that of the first turn, must contain that player’s votes on the proposals in the previous move report. Anonymised vote aggregates and results are issued in the move report.

20. Each move submission should contain a legal move for each unit that player controls. Whether each move was successful and the final positions of all units are issued in the move report. Illegal, missing or unintelligible rules will be interpreted as hold moves. Neutral units are not owned by any player. They always hold position. [Clarification: Conditional moves, such as “IF [CONDITION] [Legal move] ELSE [A different legal move]” will be accepted iff CONDITION can be evaluated to “true” or “false” before adjudication starts.]

21. The map is split into discrete territories. A territory may be a land territory or a sea territory or both – referred to as a coastal territory.

22. Each territory may be occupied by no more than a single unit.

23. If multiple units would end up in the same territory all movement into that territory fails.

24. Some territories have supply centres, which may be unowned or owned by a player.

25. Each unit may take one action per turn.

26. A hold action causes a unit to stay in the territory it occupies. It may be notated “[Territory] H.”.

27. A move action moves a unit from the territory it occupies and into a legal adjacent territory. A unit attempting to make an illegal move holds position instead. It may be notated “[Start territory]–[End territory]”.

28. An army is a unit. Armies must always finish a turn on a land territory.

29. A navy is a unit. A navy must always finish a turn on a sea territory.

30. A navy or group of connected navies may convoy an army. A convoy move specifies the start and end territory of the convoyed army. Both these territories must be adjacent to the territory occupied by the navel group. On that turn an army in the specified start territory may move to the specified end territory iff there is a path of navies making the required convoy move and that path connects the start territory and end territory. A convoy move may be notated “[Navy’s territory] C [Army’s territory]–[End territory]”.

31. Unit movement will be resolved BEFORE proposals are enacted unless the rules specify otherwise.