How do I GM a game of Diplomacy?

by Steve Turner

Are you sure you want to GM a game?

You have to be more dedicated than the players - a player can be replaced or dropped depending on the houserules you are using. It might spoil the game the 6 other players can continue. If you decide to jack it all in because you haven't the time or you are bored, then you ruin it for all 7 players. And if you are running more than one game (and I am running 9 at the moment) that's a lot of players to think about.

When I first started playing by mail I had an urge to GM a game, but in those days all GMs produced a zine to run the games in. I'm no great writer and this was always going to be beyond me, never mind finding the equipment to print the thing. In the early 90's I subscribed to Spring Offensive and was going to ask Stephen Agar if I could GM a game, but my life changed and I dropped out of the hobby. A year ago I bought my computer and, through newsgroups, I got back in.

I started playing in Potemkin on Diplomacy 2000 and, because I have this habit of tweaking things that don't seem quite right, I started fiddling with the map Tom Tweedy used, e-mailing him so often he jokingly called me a 'troublemaker'. I then altered the adjudication program he used (what we all use) to produce a map which saved Tom loads of time. But Tom was getting snowed under with players and appealed for GMs and I immediately offered. I wanted to put something back into the hobby.

Where do I GM?

Well there are the Judges which are automatic adjudication programs. Details can be found at the Dip Pouch. All e-mails go through a Judge and the GM just has to set up the game and set deadlines, find replacement players and so on. The better GMs are also there to help players with their problems. The Dip Pouch has just about everything a player could want to read about the game. The newsgroup is also recommended for Judge play as there is always somebody to help newbie GMs and players alike. Judge play seems a little too impersonal for my tastes.

You could set up your own website and run a game for your friends. Or you could set up a site, get it on the Diplomacy Ring and advertise, as many people do, and hope that players sign on.

Or you could join a club like the Yahoo Diplomacy club or a community like cat23 or the only one I can recommend because I play and GM there, Diplomacy 2000. On Diplomacy 2000 new GMs either have to prove their reliability by playing a few games or have GM'd before. I think you now have to do your own website which has to be linked to and from the main site. When I offered to GM, in October '99 there were 9 games running and a 10th about to fill. Richard Hucknall, who used to produce his own 'zine, 'Fall of Eagles' in the 80's and who also volunteered just before me, got the 10th game which I then joined. I got the 11th. There are now 8 GM's running 38 games with another 8 finished.

Tom Tweedy, the webmaster, is running 5 games and putting the adjudications and maps on his site for a further 23. He cannot manage many more and the newest 2 GMs do there own websites. I was lucky in that I had never GM'd before, didn't know anything about HTML and hadn't been particularly active in the hobby.

So what do I need to GM?

I use an adjudication program, Dgmwin, because it keeps a record of the game, produces a map and very rarely makes a mistake. I could get my game out, set up the pieces, check everybody's moves and adjudicate. Then I'd have to write it out with all the failed moves and dislodgements etc. Richard Hucknall used to do this for 8 games in one day, and it took him all day. Then he would send the adjudications to me so I could produce the maps which then had to be checked for errors. He was threatened persuaded to use Dgmwin which he finds easy.

But you do need the game for a start. You must know the rules and these aren't available without the game. Somebody might ask a very simple question that can't be answered by the adjudication program. I have a player in one of my games that didn't understand the stand-off rule. He thought he could retreat from the stand-off space to another space from which his unit came. He had the game because he quoted the rule to me. If there is something you don't understand then is an excellent place to ask. On Diplomacy 2000 there are 7 other GMs that I can ask for help and have, though about interpreting peoples' orders rather than the rules.

If it's your site then set up some houserules that cover every eventuality you can think of. What will happen if somebody NMRs (no move received)? Are you playing 2 season or 4/5 season Diplomacy? (with 2 season all retreats and builds are sent with the moves, with 4/5 the moves are adjudicated and then the players can order their retreats after seeing this, and their builds/disbands after seeing the retreats). Which rules are you using? This may seem a daft question but there are three different versions of the convoy rule that I know of. What abbreviations do you allow? What if somebody orders F(EDI)-NOR? Or A(Den)-Liv when there are foreign fleets in BAL,NTH,NWG and NAO that all order to convoy your A(Den)-Liv? Take a look at other peoples houserules to get some ideas.

If you are on somebody else's site get to know their houserules. Diplomacy 2000 uses the 1971/1989 rules. If you don't have the site's rules then ask what the difference is to your rules. As far as I know the convoy rule is the only one to significantly change over the years. Diplomacy 2000 also has a different rule from the official one for disbands when none are ordered.

Get organised. Even with one game you have to keep track of orders, especially if they are changed. I am running 9 games at the moment and one player has sent 4 different sets of orders in a week. Try to keep the deadlines consistent so the players get into a routine.

Always remember you are there for the players not them for you. Your responsibility is to the players as a group, to help them have an enjoyable game. Be impartial. There are players who I consider friends because we correspond about other things, and there are players who just send their orders in. You can't tell a friend he has made a mistake unless you are going to tell everybody.

Having said that you might have complete newbies to the game. If you are playing 2 season Diplomacy and they forget to order a retreat or builds in Autumn 1901 and are down to 2 units they might just give up. I will now point this out in Autumn 1901 and maybe even in 1902. But you can't do it all the time, if they keep making mistakes then they aren't up to it.

You are providing a service, be friendly, be helpful and enjoy it. I love both playing and GMing Diplomacy. As a GM I follow some of my games closely. I also use Realpolitik to keep track of the games I'm playing and running because you can move the units about by clicking on them with the mouse. You can try various moves, go back, try something else like you can with the actual game. It also adjudicates. I sometimes try a few seasons of the games I'm running guessing what the players might do. If the players talk about the game then that helps me get involved.

How much time will it take?

The first season takes longer than the rest because you have to set everything up, including the HTML if you are doing this on a website. After that you get into a routine - you have to. I put the moves into Dgmwin as soon as I receive them. It could all be done just after the deadline but I like to get the adjudications out as soon as possible. Click the adjudication button, enter retreats, builds and disbands, copy and paste into the e-mail, add any press and any comments you want to, set the next deadline and send it out. 5 minutes if that.

The rest is optional for most GMs but needed for Diplomacy 2000. I then click the map button, copy it into Paint Shop Pro and turn it into a GIF for the website, and a copy for the archive. I alter the HTML, putting the new adjudication in (a simple cut and paste of the e-mail with the addition of HTML tags), make a copy for the archive (so when the game is over all the past moves and maps can be looked at). With checking this might take 5 to 10 minutes. Then you update the website.

A recent addition has been the new maps. I now colour in the provinces based on who owns the supply centres and the last unit in the non supply centre provinces. This involves looking at the adjudication map, opening the old bitmap into PSP, colouring the changed provinces, saving, clicking the Dgmwin map button again, copying into PSP, and then colouring in all the units before converting into a GIF for the website. This can take 15 minutes and the longest part is colouring the units. It's extra work but a lot of the players appreciate it. I'm hoping for an updated version of Dgmwin which allows for user definable units.

As I also use Realpolitik this gives me a double check. If the maps are different it's a matter of checking through everything. It is easy to click on the wrong thing by accident but thankfully mistakes are few and far between.


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