How To Be A GameMaster Without Really Trying

By John Barringer

The great thing about PBEM diplomacy is that you needn't go through the bother of finding six loyal friends who can spend 5 or more hours in the same place at the same time to play a game. So you log onto ready to play a game and look at what's available. Dang! No ordinary public games available right now. They're all either full of weird rule variants you're not sure of or worse - they're private. No problem, you say, I'll just get in the queue. But the queue, good as it is, does not have the instant gratification that you crave. After all, you logged onto the website, precisely to avoid the scheduling hassles that you seem to be experiencing now

The reason public games exist on this or any other diplomacy sites, is that a number of volunteers create them. They do this to give back to a hobby which they enjoy. And the secret is, that it's not that difficult. A simple email to with the following content will get you started. Copy and paste the example below into the body of your email. Then edit it before sending. (Don't worry about the subject-line. It's unnecessary.)

Mastering Mechanics

CREATE mygamename masterPassword
desc A standard game on the standard map.
map standard
timing Next 1d move 3d
Days -MTWTF-
Rule smart_CD must_order
rule power_choice
Private privacyPassword
  1. Begin by using the CREATE command and choose any name and password that suits you. If you, like me, often use the same password for multiple occasions, I suggest that you find a special one just for being Master. The GameMaster sees the passwords of all the players. I have not heard of a Master abusing this privilege, but why give someone with whom you frequently cross swords the opportunity to guess your password and interfere with your game. In this case, it's perfectly safe to write your password next to the computer as presumably players would not have access to it.
  2. After the desc command write any description you see fit. Some get kind of long. Some GameMasters also insert an Origin line which explains why they chose the name they did for the game.
  3. Any map can be used. I suggest you start with a standard game with few if any variations and branch out from there after cutting your teeth. To select a different map replace the word standard with whichever map you choose.
  4. Timing. You can ignore this line or specify the timing you wish. If you only use the next command, all phases (movement, retreat, build) will be the same amount of time. Many GameMasters give more time for movement and less for retreats. The Move command designates the amount of time for movement specifically. Put a little thought into this. How often do you expect players to place orders. Three days is considered standard. Two, one, and seven are also popular choices. A good GameMaster will get a feel for his players and adjust the timing if necessary.
  5. Days. The default is for seven days of play, but many GameMasters designate Monday -Friday as game days. No deadlines will be on Saturday or Sunday but instead be bumped to Monday. Sometimes I wonder if --TWTFS might be better. This gives those who don't play on the weekends a chance to do something on Monday before the deadline.
  6. Rules. You can add as many or few rule variants as you wish. For the first game I suggest none or just a one or two if you need them. I personally like smart_cd, must_order, and sometimes use eavesdrop. You can look at the rule variations and pick and choose.
  7. Sometimes you may wish to create a private game for your friends. That's fine. Use the Private command and any password you choose (different from your own password). When your friends email to join they add the privacyPassword after their own chosen password.
  8. The Form command simply tells the game to start once all the players have signed up. Do yourself a favor and just use it. Some GameMasters may wish to delay the game start, usually for vacations. But this can also be handled with the set absence command.
  9. Signoff should be used at the end of every email to the judge. It tells the judge to ignore all the tags at the end of many emails and will avoid you receiving an error email.
The mechanics of creating a game are fairly simple, especially for the standard no frills public game. You can add all the bells and whistles you like as you gain more confidence. You can find a lot more information by following these links. From the Pouch's Judge page click on the email commands link (left side). Then click on the Create command. This information was used to write this article. You can also click on the status file directive list link(about half way through the Create explanation)

GameMastering Advice

Just Do It

If you even think you might like to try your hand at being a GameMaster. Go ahead and give it a try. You have nothing to lose. You don't need to understand all the coding or even all the commands. In fact, you probably never will. Just start a standard game on the standard map with no extra rules. You'll pick up things along the way. Once you've done a couple of these, you can add rules or variations as you have the time and the inclination to do so.

Make Mistakes

If you make a mistake don't worry about it. We all do. Think of mistakes as learning opportunities. I've found that players have great tolerance for a concientous GameMaster who is learning the ropes. First click around on the links suggested above. If you still need help, there are members of the hobby who are willing to give a hand to a stuck GameMaster. Try the discussion board or you can send me an email. (I might take it to the discussion board) Just ask.

Provide Leadership

As GameMaster you will have two jobs.
  1. Help new players understand rules or PBEM mechanics and
  2. Keep the game moving and fun for all.
Inevitably someone will ask how to set_absence for their vacation or can a certain rule be added. You'll need to learn how to answer reasonable requests. It's part of becoming a better GameMaster.

Also you'll need to deal with the bane of PBEM - tardiness and abandonment. Someone will be habitually late with their orders, and someone will quit the game because they're losing or they have a paper to write or there was a death in the family. The excuses people come up with. So you will need to include rules or make rulings. For example: After 1 week the position is considered abandoned. Then you resign the player.

Have Fun

Being a GameMaster has its perks. Did I mention password access? (Just kidding) Sometimes I turn on Eavesdrop and read players press. I always let them know that I have done so and often gain insights. It's a different perspective seeing things from an omniscient point of view rather than a single player. And you get to give back to the hobby. I find that I am able to keep one or two games going most of the time as GameMaster. Most players are thankful for your effort in setting up the game. And the more games there are, the more likely there will be an open one for you the next time you look.

John Barringer

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