Forged Orders and the Golden Rule

by Stephen Agar 

Nearly every set of House Rules I have ever seen includes a prohibition on attempting to deceive the GM - indeed, it is perhaps the only thing all House Rules have in common. As Richard Sharp notes in The Game of Diplomacy "There is one golden rule: 'Thou shalt not attempt to deceive the GM.' To forge orders from another player, for instance is absolutely taboo, and would normally result in your expulsion from the game. Quite right too - the GM has enough to do, and should not be required to master the study of handwriting, recognize all his players' voices on the phone, and so on."  Yet, in practice this Golden Rule has been relaxed in favour of the skilled forger, on arbitrary grounds, provided that the GM is sufficiently impressed with the quality of the forgery. That all GMs maintain that players must not attempt to deceive the GM and yet some have allowed forged orders on occasions just goes to show the sloppy logic that is sometimes applied to these situations. Before we look at some real examples, let me put forward some basic propositions: 

1.    A GM should not accept orders which he knows to be forged and contrary to the intentions of the player who is being forged, even though no actual deception of the GM takes place, there was an attempted deception. If the GM is prepared to accept forged orders in some circumstances he needs to set out in his House Rules the criteria which will be applied which will enable him to accept a good (but unconvincing) forgery and reject a crude (but unconvincing) forgery. 

2.    If a GM accepts forged orders because he does not realise they were a forgery then he has been deceived - indeed, he is the only person who has been deceived! If you believe that the GM should never be deceived then the forgery must be set aside in accordance with the Golden Rule; if you believe that GM's may be deceived in some circumstances you should state in your House Rules what these circumstances are. 

The first example I want to refer to is the forged orders sent in by Duncan Morris in 1974DG, discussed in Richard Sharp's The Game of Diplomacy at page 124. To cut a long story short, Dennis Love (playing Russia) sent Duncan (playing Turkey) a letter exhorting him to joint action against Austria, the first page of which was general chat, but which ended with the words "I think we should proceed as follows:" On the second page Denis wrote out his proposed orders, leaving the orders for his northern pieces blank (as none of Turkey's business) and left a space for Duncan to write in the orders for the Turkish units.. Unfortunately for Dennis he signed this page and wrote that "these orders replace any previous orders sent for the relevant Russian and Turkish units." Duncan therefore wrote in orders for Russia's northern units to attack Russia's ally Germany and sent the orders in to Richard Sharp, the GM!  Now, Dennis may have been foolish to leave himself so exposed, but without question the orders for the northern Russia units were forged - they did not come from Dennis.  When Richard received this document he admits that he "was puzzled, but one thing was clear: this was a perfectly valid set of Russo-Turkish joint orders, duly signed" which superseded the existing Russian orders. 

As Richard notes "a furore ensued. Dennis protested that the orders were a "forgery" and that I could see they were not completely in his handwriting; this was undeniable, but the signature was genuine, which was all that mattered" (my underlining). In this instance it is not clear if Richard was taken in by the forged orders - if he was, then he was deceived, but in retrospect he thought the deception was OK because "the signature was genuine." If Richard was not deceived, he accepted orders which he knew were not authorised by the player simple because another player had obtained a genuine signature. 

We can conclude that to Richard it was not his state of mind as a GM that mattered (i.e. was he deceived) but the skill of the forger in being able to use a genuine signature (instead of forging the signature as well as the orders). I don't say that Richard is necessarily wrong in his conclusion, but what he has done is to introduce a qualitative test as to when forged orders will be allowed (provided the signature is genuine, that's all that matters). This is all a far cry from "Thou shalt not attempt to deceive the GM."

This issue was thrown into relief with two forgeries that occurred a couple of years later in Fall of Eagles game FOE21. Bruce Foster (Austria) and Sam Moore (Turkey) were personal friends and Bruce contrived to obtain Sam's signature at the bottom of a blank piece of paper. Sam thought he was signing a birthday card, but this was all a ruse dreamt up by Bruce. However Bruce was not content to merely post the sheet (which now had a full set of  Turkish orders added) in case Sam sent a later set or orders in. So, to be absolutely sure he decided to drive up from South Wales to Nottingham on the day of the deadline and give Richard the orders at the last possible moment. After an eventful journey (which included having his car written off and a spell in casualty) he successfully delivered the orders, which appeared to be valid, bearing Turkey's signature. At every stage Bruce had told Richard what was going on and there was no question of the GM having been deceived. Richard accepted the orders with devastating results for Turkey. 

The plotting didn't stop there. When John Lee (France) found out what had gone on he decided to follow suit - he submitted orders from Italy (Richard Marsh) with a valid signature on them - but he had merely torn this of a recent letter and filled in the orders in the blank space underneath. Richard Hucknall disallowed these orders. 

In the following issue of Fall of Eagles there was quite a bit or correspondence as to what the punters thought. The end result was that 11 thought Richard Hucknall was right to accept the forged Turkish orders (but of these only two were existing GMs), while 11 thought he was wrong, and no one said he should have accepted both forgeries. Those in the GM was wrong camp included Rob Chapman, John Dodds, Clive Booth and Stuart Dagger, the latter of which made what I think is the pertinent point: John Lee's orders for Italy had to be illegal because they were a crude forgery that was immediately detectable by the GM as such, "but having decided that, it seems the only difference between these orders and Bruce's is that the latter was clever while the former crude." Quite. In both cases the GM knew they were forged orders and therefore in neither case was the GM deceived, and in both cases the orders had genuine signatures attached. Richard rewarded the clever fake (which may have fooled a GM who was not in the know) and rejected the bad fake (which would not have fooled anyone). Rob Chapman said in his contribution to the debate - "I think you were wrong to accept Bruce Foster's Turkish orders. You were well aware of what was going on and knew orders delivered to you were not Sam Moore's intended orders for Turkey."  

On the other hand Pete Birks defended Richard's arbitrary distinction on the grounds that Sam Moore "should have been a bit more careful"!  

So the Golden Rule is not an absolute prohibition on forged orders. Richard Sharp would accept forged orders provided the signature is genuine (would he have accepted both the forgeries in FOE21?). Richard Hucknall would accept orders he knew to be forged provided the forgery was clever enough. What should be the correct position? 

Well, I believe that to allow the GM to be legitimately deceived in this way could make the postal game unworkable. I would place an absolute ban on all forgeries of another player's orders, no matter how clever they are. If the GM is not fooled he should not use them in any circumstances, for what right has he to accept orders which he knows are not genuine?  Isn't that GM interference in the game? If the GM is fooled, but realises after the event that he has been hoodwinked, then the perpetrator should suffer an appropriate penalty, even if it is impossible to replay the season because of the affect on innocent parties. We shouldn't let our admiration for the likes of Duncan Morris and Bruce Foster cloud our logic for this is the thin end of the wedge - the name of the game is deceiving the other players, not the GM. 

After all, the next time you ring up to change your orders at the last minute, how will I know that it really is you?

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 30


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