Running Newbie
E-Mail Games

Jamie Dreier

The e-mail version of the Diplomacy hobby is seeing a surge of interest these days. Each week a few newcomers post to the newsgroup asking for information on how to become involved. As a consequence, there is a growing need for games catering to newcomers. Herein a few notes on my experiences GM'ing such games.

Any GM ought to read the help file, available from the judges, on Mastering a game. Since I assume all potential GM's will be experienced in obtaining judge files, I'll just leave this part to you (or, to make it easy on you, you could click on the hotlink found in the previous sentence)!

I first distinguish between newcomers to the game of Diplomacy, on the one hand, and newcomers to the e-mail world, on the other. If you're GM'ing a game for people who have never played Diplomacy, or who have played only a game or two, you'll need to explain a good deal more than you have to say when the players have some Diplomacy experience but are somewhat dazzled by the judges. Most of the notes below are aimed at helping newbies to the net or at least to the play of Diplomacy through it.

Setting Up And Signing On

CREATE a game, BECOME master, and SET a COMMENT for the game, explaining (briefly) that it is intended for newcomers.

Personally, I like to SET ALL PRESS. For one thing, it's always fun to watch. But for a newbie game, it can be functional, too. You'll be able to keep an eye out to see whether anyone's negotiating past the deadline (which is against House Rules).

Notices of forming Newbie games should be posted to r.g.d. It would be unwise to expect newcomers to know how to list forming games from the judges. It's helpful to scan the newsgroup for recent requests from newbies, and write to each poster announcing the formation of your game. In your mail and in your newsgroup posting, include your e-mail address explicitly and tell anyone interested to write to you directly if they don't know how to SIGNON.

Explain to all interested parties just how to REGISTER, how to SIGNON, and also how to SET PREFERENCEs. Thereafter, explanations can be via BROADCAST.

The Gamestart

I strongly urge GM's of newbie games to keep a list of players' addresses. If the judge goes down (cf. below), newbies are not likely to know what's happening.

Write a BROADCAST, saying hi, and explaining the basics of press. Also explain how to GET HELP (and other) files from the judge. Point out the deadline, and the period which you SET for the DEADLINE calculations for future moves.

Don't assume that anything is obvious from the help files. Newcomers to the e-mail world are going to be confused, as a matter of course, by lengthy explanations of syntax. I recommend giving short, basic introductions to the main topics, oversimplifying if necessary. For example, to explain how press works, give a very simple example of how to send press to France. I got several requests for clarification of how to send press to the GM, so it's wise to explain that too. In particular, one player thought that

   press to gm
would do it. Fortunately, he realized that there was a possibility that the press would go to Germany!

A simple, basic example will get them started. Once they've internalized the simple case, the rest of the HELP file will be vastly more comprehensible.

Similar remarks apply to order syntax. Giving an example of a move order, and a convoy order, and a support order will prove much more helpful than the big help file for syntax.

Answering the Frequently Asked Questions

How do I interpret that confusing mass of garbage that's supposed to indicate the deadline calculation?
The main thing to explain here is the NEXT parameter. If anyone is interested, explain the CLOCK parameter, too. (This is likely to come up, because at some point a deadline will be set further in the future than expected. I didn't really understand this myself! I bet few GM's do. Suppose the NEXT parameter is set to 72 hours. When a move is processed after 23:30 [the default for CLOCK], say on a Monday, the judge won't set the next deadline for Thursday 23:30, but rather for Friday. GM's can work it all out from the deadline file and explain it.)
What is a Dedication Rating?
The short, sweet explanation is that everyone starts with a dedication of zero, gains 3 points every time he or she submits a move on time, and loses a point for every lateness day. Abandoning costs 100 points, a deficit difficult to recover from. Mention that it is reasonable to ask for deadline extensions, and that most GM's will grant any reasonable request.
How can I find out the current position?
It might be good to mention the LIST command right off the bat, without waiting for someone to ask.

Some Things They'll Never Think To Ask About

It's a good idea to explain the following three things, maybe during a lull in the game, or between the game start and the processing of the first move.
  1. The HISTORY command
  3. SET WAIT (actually, some people do get the idea on their own)

The First Move

When more than one of the players is a newcomer to Diplomacy, I think it's very valuable, and worth the effort, to post a short discussion of all of the opening moves. I used the Gamers' Guide second edition. If you stick to fairly standard analysis, you're in less danger of ruining someone's carefully planned surprise. It ought to go without saying that comments on play should not influence the outcome of the game any more than you can avoid.

When The Judge Goes Down

First, write to the players. (If you have newbie observers, write to them, too. I forgot to do this in my games. Stupid of me.)

Explain that the things usually come back up in a few hours.

Ask them not to send tons of mail to the judge testing to see whether it's back. When a judge goes down, it will come back up to find a very large queue of mail, and its first priority will be to empty that queue. The judge won't process moves until it gets through its mail queue. So sending lots of mail will only postpone the processing of moves. It would be just great if experienced judge-users would pay attention to this rather obvious fact. Let's try to educate a new generation, shall we?

Point out that they can continue to negotiate via direct e-mail while they await the return of the judge.

This would be a good time to spring any amusing pastimes you've saved up. I like to pose some map questions, such as the following

Players seemed to enjoy these.

In Closing....

As this goes to press, both of my newcomer games are still in progress. No doubt some important new issues will come up. I will keep you posted.

In a short separate contribution to this issue, I explain, in a way intended to be understandable to newcomers to the game (not merely to the net), why there is no opening theory to speak of in Diplomacy. Players in my games seemed to find this interesting. It's a good deal more controversial than the banal and mundane notes above, but I hereby release it to the public domain.

Jamie Dreier
Brown University
([email protected])

If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, and clicking on the mail address above does not work for you, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface, which is located here....