A Diplomacy Variant
for the Whole Royal Family

by John Pitre (pictured with heir)

Author's note: Royale was inspired by the out-of-print Games Workshop game "Blood Royale". Although the on-board mechanics of Blood Royale are quite different from Diplomacy, I liked the rules for families, marriages and binding agreements. The rules for families and aging are patterned quite closely after Blood Royale. The rules for titles and leaders were culled from other sources, but, if Royale interests you, I highly recommend you track down a copy of Blood Royale, as it is an excellent game and includes some twists and turns that I couldn't think of a way to include in Diplomacy.


So. You are starting to feel pretty confident about your Diplomacy ability. And why shouldn't you? You can keep your opponents running in circles with your fallacious promises and devious deals. Your military strategy ensures that you always make the best moves and take advantage of other's military weaknesses, and you can see the board several turns into the future. Its all pretty simple, isn't it?

Of course in Diplomacy, you don't have to contend with many of the problems that faced the rulers of the empires you so ruthlessly control. For instance: your family.

It has often been said that there are two routes for diplomacy, the battlefield and errr....the marriage chapel. Royale opens the game of Diplomacy to the second route. This is accomplished by giving each power a "family." The members of this "family" age, marry, bear children, and eventually die. They also enter ill-thought out marriages, lead troops in battle with varying degrees of competence, and demand more autonomy from their parents.

The rules to the game itself are the same as standard Diplomacy, with three exceptions:

One of the bragging points of Diplomacy is that there is no luck. (Any debate on that point I will leave to the more learned.) Royale does add luck. Births and deaths are not easily predicted. Neither the sex of children nor their number may be predicted in advance. And the abilities of the characters varies. This may put off some of the purists out there, but while luck is permitted a small role, there is plenty of room for ruthless ability to shine.

I'll explain the general principle of Royale first, then I will discuss each of the three changes. I hope to cover what the change entails and how it is implemented by the GM (for the present, I don't foresee this game being handled completely by computer). I will also briefly discuss how it was used in the test game Royale (currently running on the USEF judge). Fear not, I won't give away any player secrets. This discussion will include the changes that were made to the rules on the fly. If anything, this has been a good course in playtesting a variant. Elements that seemed perfectly clear-cut to me were shown for the thin fabric they actually where when my frighteningly devious playtesters started bending them to their purposes.

The specific rules (as they currently stand, and they are still changing) are available from me.

Happy Families

Prince Geoffrey: I know. You know I know. I know you know I know. We know Henry knows, and Henry knows we know it. [smiles] We're a knowledgeable family.
- from The Lion in Winter
Royale looks like standard Diplomacy. You still have the powers, map, and victory conditions of standard Diplomacy. (In fact, It is also perfectly applicable to variants like Modern, Youngstown, and possibly even Payola, although I shudder to think of the implications of adding in families and money). The major difference between Royale and standard Diplomacy is, in fact, found off of the board.

Royale starts out assigning each dynasty (power) a family: a King, a Queen, some children and possibly some relatives (the perfect starting mix hasn't been decided yet). Each dynasty receives the same number of characters, although the sexes may vary between dynasties. The number of starting characters can be set by the GameMaster. Our test game started with:

Each character has two defining characteristics. One is "constitution," which modifies the possibility of a natural death. The boys have "leadership," which determines how good a military leader they are. The girls have "guile," which can be used to modify their husband's leadership. The characteristics are assigned randomly and range from -2 (very sick or incompetent) through +2 (strong as a horse and a hero, or his brilliant wife).

The characters do not have pieces on the board, per se. They do, however, play a central role in that they interact with one another. They may (and to some extent must) marry members of other dynasties. They reproduce. They may be in line to inherit titles, when their parents die. They age, and eventually, they die themselves, passing on titles (if they have acquired any) to their children.

Male characters get most of the "goodies" in Royale. Women are mainly there to produce heirs and to secure treaties, which hardly makes them any less valuable. The males may be assigned to military units as leaders. And they may be granted titles to provinces. These titles can pass to the females, but only if there are no male heirs. Sorry, ladies, but life wasn't fair back then.

Marriages tend to make themselves a requirement rather than an option, because without marriages there are no heirs, and without heirs the dynasty will fade away. Also, the characters don't sit quietly and wait for you to use them. They have a tendency to demand things. A son who is a good general will usually get assigned to a military unit right away. But when the King's incompetent son wants to lead the Tyrolian army, how can a father refuse? They are going to demand titles too. If your nephew is eighth in line to the crown with no hope of resting his bum on the throne, eventually he is going to start asking for something he can be in charge of...say, Wales, for instance.

The task for the GameMaster is keeping track of all of this information, including lines of succession. It isn't as difficult as it might sound. Character information tends to change in only one or two turn phases. I use a spreadsheet, which I periodically convert to text and sent to the players via email. I have found that lines of succession can be handled quite easily mathematically. The turns on the board are hand-adjudicated and then the Judge is "manipulated" into making moves such that the map ends up being correct. The on-board portion of Royale can probably be coded for the Internet judge eventually, as the only changes are armies of different sizes (as in Machiavelli) and the existence of new building sites (akin to Chaos).

The turn sequence is essentially the same, except that there are some additional "off-board" phases.

The build phase has been moved to the start of the year rather than the end. The period of years is still under some debate. The current plan has the spring-fall Diplomacy cycle being equal to five years. There has been some suggestion that to speed the characters along their life paths that each of spring and fall should represent five years, and there be Birth/Death and Treaty/Title phases in the "summer" as well. As most of the character information changes takes place in the build phase, character listings are sent in before and after that phase. Players also receive lists of eligible brides, grooms, military leaders, and characters who may be titled.

The Ties that Bind: Marriage

King: And the best way to cement an alliance, of course, is marriage. Therefore, I have decided that you shall marry the Spanish Infanta! (laughs)
Chiswick: (shakes King's hand) Oh, congratulations, Your Majesty!
Harry: Actually, I don't think I can.
King: What? Why not?
Harry: Well, I am already engaged.
King: (louder) What? Who to, boy?
Harry: Princess Leia of Hungary... and the Grand Duchess Ursula of Brandenburg; and Queen Beowulfa of Iceland; and, er (starts to read from a list), Countess Caroline of Luxembourg; Bertha of Flanders; Bertha of Brussels; Bernard of Saxe-Coburg; and Jezebel of Estonia. (Confused about the male name in there, he checks his list) No no no, sorry, that should be Bertha of Saxe-Coburg... (looks shocked at the list) ...and Jeremy of Estonia.
King: Damn, damn, damn, damn! But if I haven't got a son to marry her, then the whole plan falls apart!
- from Blackadder I
Marriage is a ceremony that joins a couple that loves one another and binds them together. In our case it is the binding that is important. Couples must be married before producing children. And each bride and groom must be from different dynasties (we tend to overlook the tendency to be working from a very small gene pool after a few generations). Such a happy occasion makes a good opportunity for forcing some agreements between the happy families.

When the couple gets married their dynasties may make agreements with one another. These agreements are placed on a writ which is administered by the GameMaster. These agreements are not normal Diplomacy agreements, in that they are binding on both parties and are enforced by the GM.

This is a pretty radical departure from the usual frivolous nature of promises in Diplomacy, and it can lead to difficulties. The agreements are in force as long as both members of the couple are alive. This may be a single turn. It may be many many turns. And, thus, agreements and their implications have to be thought out very carefully.

What can be agreed to? Anything that would normally be agreed to in Diplomacy: proxies, supports, DMZ's, neutral zones, future marriages. Anything within the normal bounds of diplomatic agreements. But once the agreement goes in the writ, it is a binding agreement. What seems like a good idea now may be the rope that hangs you 20 years from now.

Marriages and Writs: Mechanics

This started off being something that worked, and as it grew in importance, it also became trickier for the GM to administer. The original mechanism worked like this: negotiations would take place between the two dynasties. When a suitable agreement had been hammered out, the groom's family would mail the writ (proposed agreement) to the master who would send it to the bride. I made the rule that I would only accept a single writ per couple per turn. The bride could then accept it at her leisure. Once accepted, it was announced and was binding.

However, in keeping with the somewhat devious nature of the game, a groom could send out several proposals, and a bride could receive several. The first one accepted would nullify the other offers from the groom and for the bride. It would also be announced immediately. This seemed fair.

But problems developed. As a hypothetical example, say Turkey (bride) and Russia (groom) have reached an agreement in the first year, long before the deadline. Now if they announce that marriage, then the 'Juggernaut' is seen and the defenses will fall into place quickly and with violence. Thus, they wanted to wait until the last minute before I would announce their marriage. My position is that 'waiting' to announce could be used as a ruse: Turkey could wait until the last moment and then tell Russia, "hey, sorry, I decided to accept the troth of Austria."

Finally, an understanding was reached. A groom could make a proposal to a bride. The bride could then inform the GM that she was accepting with what amounted to a "set wait." The concession to my sensibilities was that this "set wait" acceptance was clearly not binding. The bride could change her mind, and could the groom could field other proposals which could get accepted. The first proposal accepted was the winner. This put pressure on the players to accept sooner or accept the risk of being left at the altar.

As GM I have had to take a very literal interpretation of the agreements. An early worry about the agreements was that they would quickly escalate into twenty volume legal documents that would take the poor beleaguered GM days and days to sort through before moves took place. And this was the early trend. After a while, though, the number of terms calmed down to more general matters as players realized that either (a) someone would die and the whole thing would disappear before anything useful came out or (b) no one would die and agreements would turn from helpful to handcuffs.

A few standard things started going into writs unless otherwise noted:

Another wrinkle which came to light early was the concept that terms of writs would be private and what that meant. Obviously if you have made an offensive pact against Germany, there is no sense in this being broadcast ahead of time. (Although the marriage should be a clue.) Things which alter lines of succession or player properties must be made public. But anything else is considered a private matter, unless specifically denoted as a public term. I had initially ruled that private meant the terms couldn't even be discussed with outside parties, which turned out to be both silly and unworkable. A more sensible solution was to permit player to say anything they wanted about the agreements (true or not). The only provision would be that the GM would not say anything to confirm or deny the contents of the private terms of writs.

An administrative wrinkle was the possibility that, as an example, England has a writ with Germany saying that the two would not attack Belgium, and then England negotiates a new writ with France saying that they would attack Belgium. After some discussion, it was decided that the GM had to point out these inconsistencies, but only that the single particular term of the writ was currently invalid.

My Son the General: Leadership

Arthur: Any man who would be a knight and follow a king... follow me!
- from Excalibur
Males eventually have to join the military. It is their duty. For characters with good leadership qualities this is a great bonus, as the units to which they are assigned derive advantages from their presence. However, for every good general, there is the bad general, appointed to a position of power because of his family. They actually make the units worse.

There are five ways to hide a bad general:

So, what are the advantages and disadvantages of the generals? A General with a positive leadership rating turns his unit into an elite unit. These units support and hold normally, but attack with the strength of two. A General with a negative leadership rating turns his unit into a unit which can support and hold normally, but attacks with a strength of zero. All other units behave normally.

Leadership: Mechanics

Edward the Longshanks: The sight of my gentle son would only encourage an enemy to take over the entire country.
- from Braveheart
There was a lot of debate and discussion over how to handle this issue. The problem was not so much the elite units, but the "unelite" ones. In the original incarnation I proposed, they were utterly useless. The game would have been dictated by the elites.

In practice, the elites are reminiscent of "nine-hundred pound gorillas." They are pretty darn powerful. But that power comes with a price. They can be beaten back, and if they are forced to retreat, they may lose that valuable leader, thereby collapsing an offensive. Thus, while they carry a lot of offensive weight, this is offset by the fact that they are targets. So the elite units tend to move somewhat slowly and stay away from trouble.

And to complicate this further, once assigned, leaders are stuck with their units. They may not be reassigned, meaning that if things start going badly cannot be recalled to prevent their capture. A captured leader is held by the captors until they deem fit to either return them to their families or to eliminate the captured noble.

There is also the complication that leaders "die," as do their guileful wives, which can leave powerful units stranded without their leader. An elite unit may suddenly find itself very ordinary and surrounded by the very enemy they were pushing around like a schoolyard bully just last season. It makes for more dynamics on the board as the relative strengths of pieces changes.

One Day, My Lad...

[The King gestures to the window.]
King of Swamp Castle: Some day, lad, all this will be yours.
Prince Herbert: What, the curtains?
- from Monty Python and the Holy Grail
The final deviation from standard Diplomacy is the granting of titles. Some characters are not going to become King but they are going to want something to control. Thus, any "non-heir" (not first in line to the crown or another title) male character may be granted a title to some province currently controlled by the dynasty. For instance, Walter, fourth in line to the British throne, may be made the Duke of Gascony (assuming England currently controls Gascony). However this title is more than just a way to keep Walter from loafing around the castle. It allows him to raise armies in Gascony. In short, the granting of titles creates new building sites. These new building sites are not supply centers (unless they normally were). They just allow armies to be built there.

There is a potential drawback to this benefit, as you may have suspected. Armies raised in Gascony belong to the Duke of Gascony. As long as the Duke of Gascony is a member of the English dynasty all is well. But, as the title of Duke of Gascony is passed down from generation to generation, it might not stay in the original dynasty. Thus if Walter should pass the title of Duke of Gascony on to his Turkish nephew, then Turkey would permitted to build in Gascony (provided Turkey controls it). Even more importantly, any units previously built in Gascony are now controlled by the Turk. These rules of succession work for Kings as well. The importance of maintaining the line of succession within your family is of great importance if you want to continue to control your own country. Conversely, getting a foot in the door (so to speak) of one of your rivals can have huge benefits in the case of some untimely deaths in that dynasty.

Title Mechanics

King Henry II: The Vexin's mine.
King Philip of France: By what authority?
King Henry II: It's got my troops all over it; that makes it mine.
- from The Lion in Winter
This area has by far caused the most confusion among the playtesters. There are two separate concepts, and though they sound similar, they are not, and they both require caution.

The first concept is lines of succession. When a character is born, it inherits its line from its parents. Thus if Cesare, King of Italy and Lilith, Princess of England, have a child, that child joins the lines of succession for both England and Italy. This means the child is in line for any titles that may be passed down by the death of the current holder. Parents cannot deny this to their children. If the parent is in line for the throne, so is the child.

The second concept is control. Only one dynasty may "control" a character. Typically this is the father's dynasty, but it does not have to be. The dynasty that controls the character gets the benefit of that character. Thus, if Kadazan VIII, controlled by Turkey, is, through lines of succession made King of England, then Turkey controls England (except for the units controlled by English title-holders).

For each of these concepts there is an "out." Succession may be dodged by giving up a character's claim to the throne. Note that this can only be done before a title is acquired and once a claim is renounced, it can't be gotten back. By renouncing his or her claim to a throne, the character is removing himself from consideration for a title. Renouncing of claim is routinely done in marriage writs. Similarly, the control of children produced by a marriage is set out in a marriage writ.

This is an area in which players tend to be very cautious. No one wants to lose the war simply because they weren't careful about making sure that their side of the family raised the kids who were in line to the throne. This generally tends to be the first order of business in marriage writs. But, occasionally, when you really are desperate for an alliance, this point can be pressed.

The ability to build directly in the far off corners of your empire is a great advantage. There is the risk that you can lose those armies at a later date, but the ability to build fleets in far-off oceans should spell the demise of stalemate lines in Royale (as if the variable strength of armies hadn't already fired a cannon at it. Of course, these territories will quickly become targets (much like the leaders) and once again the dynamic changes.


Well, that's an overview of Royale. There is still some tuning and revision to be done, and this will probably continue through a few more games. While I have used many people as sounding boards for my ideas for Royale, my playtesters have done a wonderful job of helping me hammer my ideas into a working game, and I want to thank them here. Without their never-ending quests to find holes in my logic through which to mercilessly stab one another, Royale would have been a poorer game. I salute and thank all of them.

Currently, the outstanding areas of dispute in setting a final version of the rules revolve mostly around the off-board issues: how many characters to start with, and how quickly to age them. There has also been some thought given to "handicapping" the positions. That is, making the families known ahead of time and perhaps "giving points," to the players who are forced to take the less "blessed" families. It will probably take a few fine-tuning runs before we have answers to keep everyone happy.

Questions and comments will be happily addressed by me.

John Pitre
([email protected])

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