A Rulebook Dilemma

Can a Unit Ordered to Move Nonetheless Be Supported in Place?

By Mark L. Berch


What a ridiculous question, you say. Berch isn't going to waste pages in DW when IX.6 clearly states, "A unit ordered to move my receive support only for its attempted movement. It may not be supported in place in the event that its attemp­ted movement fails."

 As it happens, however, many GMs believe that there is an exception to this rule, a circumstance where a unit ordered to move can be supported in place. How common this view is I do not know;  my  guess would be  that  a  majority of GMs do hold such  a  position.. 

 In January 1984, Mark Larzelere ruled that a player who ordered F Mid-Hol (impossible), F Bre & F Por S F Mid did receive support for F Mid, so that the attack F NAt-Mid S by F Iri & F Eng failed. Larzelere stated, "Not all GMs would agree on how to rule regarding the French F Mid, whether it is 'ordered to move' and thus can’t be supported in place, or was given an 'impossible' order, and it is treated as holding.

 Also in January 1984, Bruce Linsey, in Voice of Doom 89, writing about a situation in which a player ordered A Swe-Kie, A Nwy S A Swe, and there was no fleet to convoy, said, “The move is impossible, and the army is treated as holding, and the support would therefore have succeeded.”

 Let’s start with the obvious: they've gotten the Rulebook slightly wrong.  What VII.4 says is, "An illegal order is not followed, and the unit so ordered simply stands in its place." Note: “Stands", not “holds.” This then raises the question of whether “stands” and “holds” mean the same thing. I say they do not.

 Alas, the Rulebook does not define “stands", and if you look through the rules, you see that the word "stands" does not appear anywhere else. The closest is IX.4: “While a country may net dislodge its own units, it can stand itself off by ordering two equally well supported attacks on the same space." The word here is "stand”, not “stands". It is my position that "stand" in IX.4 and "stands” in VII.4 are simply the transitive and intransitive forms of the same verb, and therefore they should be treated the same in the adjudication. It is striking how similar the circumstances of VII.4 and IX.4 are. In both cases, a unit is given a move order but does not actually move. In fact, one can even argue a second similarity--that in both cases, the player didn't even “intend" to move his piece (though I'm not relying on that argument). In both cases, we say that the unit(s) stands. A unit which is said to stand in the sense of IX.4 obviously cannot receive support in place, and I feel that the same ruling should be made for a unit which stands in the sense of VII.4.

 Thus my main argument is that the best guide for the meaning of “stands” is the word “stand", since they are virtually the same word and arise in very similar circumstances. In the absence of any other clear definition, that should be used, and thus such a unit cannot be supported in place.

 I have some secondary arguments as well. The first is from "realism". I realize that it is quite debatable whether “realism” has any role at all in such an abstract game as Diplomacy. This argument then has meaning only if you happen to be one of those who believe “realism” has some role. The Rulebook doesn't discuss the question directly, though there are places where Calhamer is clearly trying to give a ring of realism to the rules (such as the definition of fleets in VI.2, the reference to the use of waterways in VII.3a, restrictions on two-coasted provinces in VII.3b, etc.).

 In the real world, an order to “hold" would presumably involve actions designed to keep one in place. Trenches would be dug, anchors would be dropped, and the like. Other units could support this attempt to remain in place by helping establish a common defensive perimeter, mining the approaches.  A move order is exactly the opposite, and support for a move order would presumably take a completely different form. Here the supporting unit would possibly send spies into the province to be attacked, would provide “covering” or distracting fire, would try to protect the supply lines which lengthen in an attack, etc. These would be of little or no value at all in helping a unit stay in place. Thus, a unit ordered to provide support would not be doing the sorts of things that are helpful to a unit under attack in its own province. And a unit ordered to move is not in a configuration to receive such help.

 Second, if “stands" is supposed to mean “hold”, why didn't Calhamer say so? Why would he use a word which is essentially the same as a word he's already using, and have it mean something different? In other words, why would he pick a word (stands) that doesn't resemble the word (hold) he wants it to mean, and closely resembles a word (stand) that he doesn't intend. After all, he is usually very exacting, telling us, for example, that attack and move mean about the same thing, and instructing us on the differences between thin and thick lines. It seems inconsistent for him to have left out “hold” = “stands".

 Finally, it seems to me that a rule ought to stand unless it is clear that there is an exception to it. IX.6 is quite explicit, and no exception should be made to it unless we are sure that an exception was really intended. And we're not. Moreover, if this is an exception, why didn't Calhamer note that there would be an exception later? Note, for example, Rule VIII, where the fact that there are exceptions elsewhere is explicitly noted.

 Thus I believe that a unit ordered to move cannot be supported in place simply because the player has chosen an impossible order, and that IX.6 should be followed without exception.

 ((Rod Walker here. Although I agree with Mark's conclusion (with one minor exception), I am not sure about the whole argument about “stand". The term “stands" in VII.4 is really an anachronistic holdover from the older Rulebook. In the 1961 Rules, the terms “stand” and "hold" tended to be used interchangeably••• although I'm fairly certain that "hold" meant "ordered to hold" and "stand" meant "not ordered to move" (that is, ordered to support or convoy, or not ordered at all). But there was no practical result of this distinction. The 1961 Rules, for instance, called what is now Rule IX.6 "Standing and Receiving Support" (emphasis mine).

 ((Even so, the use of "stands" in VII.4 is quite possibly deliberate, indicating that a unit ordered to move, and which fails, isn't "holding" and can't be supported…that is, an illegal order doesn't translate to hold. Rule IX.6 really does seem clear that only a unit which is ordered to hold, support, or convoy, or is given no order at all, may be given support in place. A unit given an order to move, even an illegal one (e.g. F Mid-Hol), does not qualify for support under IX.6, period. This is regardless of the meaning of VII.4. The other order in question, by the way, A Swe-Kie (where there is no convoy), is not illegal anyway…it is merely a mistaken order (lack of a convoy should never make a perfectly legal convoyable order "illegal").

 ((Thus Rule IX.6 requires that if a unit is given an order to move anywhere on the board, it is not eligible to receive support in place. My "minor exception" is this: if a unit is given an order to move to a place not on the board or impassable (e.g. F Brest-Argentina, A Munich seek refuge in Switzerland, and such-like), I count it as a “joke” order and translate it, in, effect, back to "hold".))


Send Feedback On This Site or Any Diplomacy World Issues


Defray the costs for maintaining this site by visiting and supporting our advertisers



Support This Site
Design and Sell Merchandise Online for Free