Observations of a Renewbie

Hasan Lascelle

I want to coin a phrase if I may. I am a renewbie. I get the impression that there are quite a lot of us about.

And what, you may ask, is a renewbie? Well a renewbie (as the name suggests) is someone who is renewing their accquaintance, rather than encountering the wonderful world of Diplomacy for the very first time. I make the distinction, not because the renewbie is likely to be significantly less clueless than the total novice; but because as we all know, "love is better the second time around." The renewbie tends to fall deeper, harder, and more passionately under the diplomatic spell. At least thats the way I'm explaining my own strange behaviour just lately.

My first diplomatic affair was twenty years ago, when someone gave my parents a game-set as a Christmas gift. It really wasn't their sort of thing though; so they passed it on to me, then aged sixteen. (God, the confessional style sounds like I'm in a 12-step programme: "Hi, my name is Hasan and I'm a renewbie, this is my first game for 15 years....") At that time I played Dip with my friends pretty regularly; but to tell you the truth I didn't really get it. Perhaps I was a slow developer; but I mean what sort of a wargame was this? No dice, no complex statistics or measurements, and worst of all no vividly imagined gore. Negotiations rarely rose above the level of neanderthal teenage grunting, and tended to run along the lines of "Get out of Silesia or I'll cream ya." Something about it kept me playing though. I didn't get it; but even as a testosterone-charged adolescent I could sense that there was something more there to get.

Eventually I went away to college and joined the Dip club. At last I began to get it. Not just a war game, but a strategy game, with role-playing elements, and a focus on interpersonal dynamics as well (yeah, I was studying psychology at the time). However, as is the way in life, no sooner had I begun to get it, than other things -- work, relationships, etc., began to take over. It became harder as well to get together on a regular basis with six other people for hours at a time. Inevitably the frequency of play declined and before long ceased altogether.

It may seem incredible to the many rabidly committed dippers who read this zine, but for the next fifteen years Diplomacy rarely, if ever crossed my mind. I was cured, I had kicked the habit, and relatively painlessly too.

Until now. Until fate took a hand.

Last month I broke my shoulder in an accident. I can't drive or get about too well, and I'm going to be off work for several months. That's a real trial for me, because my work is my life in many ways. Within a week, I could feel my brain turning into cabbage soup. I knew I had to find something to stimulate my mind, before I began chewing the carpet and wearing my underpants on my head. Suddenly, in the small hours of one sleepless night, the memory of Diplomacy popped straight up from my unconscious and grabbed me round the throat. Never mind that it was four in the morning; I was overcome by a craving that had to be satisfied now! But what to do? All my friends were asleep, and anyway my game-set could be practically anywhere. "The Internet!" I thought feverishly. "Maybe something there...anything to satisfy this burning need." Sure enough, when I did a search on the WWW there it was...thank God! More Dip sites than you can shake a stick at.

The first thing I noticed, once I had mopped the sweat from my brow and stilled my twitching hands, was how much the game had developed in the last twenty years. Not only has it been brought up to date with technology via PBEM, but there is an amazing number of variants; most of which I'm sure didn't exist last time I played.

It became pretty clear that as a renewbie I was going to have to take some decisions as to exactly how and what I was going to play, or risk drowning helplessly in the welter of different options, jargon, and technical discussion. This is possibly the place to offer the gentlest of observations about the Internet Dip community (what a nerve, huh?). To a newbie, or even a renewbie, fascinating though the in-depth technical articles and discussions undoubtedly are, they can seem pretty daunting at first. It would be good if alongside all the masterclasses, statistics, and abstruse discussions of the finer points, there could be a little more content aimed at the totally clueless. After all, you masters and champions were probably clueless newbies yourselves once. (To be fair, DipPouch is pretty good about this; but some of the other sites have left my poor head aching.)

The first decision I made was to play by e-mail. Mostly that's practical at the moment, not being able to get out of the house much; but there is also something about e-mail's ease of use and speed that lends itself to Diplomacy. Getting an e-mail always feels to me a bit like getting a telegram used to, and somehow that seems very much in keeping with the turn-of-the-century ambience. That isn't to say that I won't play FTF again when I can get around, I almost certainly will; but PBEM with its sense of urgent communication over long distances does appear to heighten the realism for me. I'm sure PBM is a wonderful way to play too; but anyone who knows me would tell you that if the fate of the world depended on me posting snail-mail on a regular basis, we might as well give it over to the cockroaches without a struggle.

The second decision was that, tempting though some of the variant games looked, I had better stick to the standard game until I'd played my hand back in. I'm practically drooling about the prospect of some of them, though. Especially the ones that deal with areas of history and mythology in which I take a particular interest, such as Heptarchy, Bretwalda, etc.

My third decision was to avoid playing on any of the judges for the time being. There are a lot of reasons for this. Many of them are given in Cait Glasson's article "All About Cat23," so I won't go over them again. Suffice to say that to this bewildered renewbie, by now sinking fast in the mire of a revisited obsession, the human-moderated, community-based game just felt warmer and fuzzier -- much more to my personal taste.

Well, there isn't a great deal more to say for now. I'm deeply embroiled in my first ever PBEM Dip game, about to begin another, and having to fight hard not to let myself get caught up in yet another (I mean, what harm could just one more game do?). Of course I'm loving every sneaky, manipulative minute of it; but hey, it's okay, I can stop any time I like. Honest.

What continues to puzzle me is how come, since I'm having such unholy fun, it could possibly have taken me so long to dip my toes back in the water (aren't puns as awful as that banned under the Geneva Convention?). Who knows, with all this time on my hands I may yet work it out, and (if I don't get lynched for using the pun as a weapon of mass destruction) I may send in a few more renewbie's observations on this most bewitching and seductive of games.

Hasan Lascelle
ICQ number 19154809
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