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Ask the Hobby Historian

The Rollins Rule

By Mark L. Berch
From Diplomacy World #32


(Hello!  As you've probably read elsewhere, I've recently won the 1996 election for Hobby Historian. My pre­decessor Bob did a good job (though I guess you might not have gotten that impression from some of my campaign ads -- sorry about that), but I’ve got some new ideas. One of them is going to be a semi-regular column in Diplomacy World.  My friend and ally in 1995CM (though it will be former ally by the time you read this) have suggested a question to start things off: What was the origin of the Rollins Rule?)


For those of you who don't play postally, or who just entered the hobby the Rule; (in its original form) states, “When submitting orders by telephone, telegraph, or other electronic means, or by third party, the player's own codeword must be used." The rule was named after, and by, Al Rollins, GM of 1984WF, which he ran in his zine Ill Gotten Gains.


To give the full flavor of the incident, it would be best to use direct quotations from the people involved.  We start with IGG #27:


"1984WF -- Summer 1901. The game is delayed. I have received the following from Dave Springer: 'You got my order wrong. I moved A Vie-Tri, not A Vie-Tyo as was in #26. Enclosed is a Xerox of my carbon in case you didn't keep it. Please try to be more careful in the future, as your dumb mistake has caused quite a lot of confusion.’ Apparently Dave sent Xeroxes to other players, since several mentioned this. Anyhow, his written orders did in fact say A Vie-Tri. However, the night be­fore the deadline I got a change of ­orders phone call, changing just that order to A Vie-Tyo. I should explain my procedure. I keep a spiral notebook and a pad of paper, with some carbon, by the phone. If I get a dippy call, I turn to the end of my last notes In the spiral notebook, slip a carbon and ano­ther sheet under the page, and take my notes. Once I'm done, the original stays in the notebook of course, and the carbon gets filed with where ever it is needed.  For this it was the WF folder with the orders. If the con­versation were for a game I was in, I'd file it with that game, 'cause I like to keep track of the lies I tell over the phone too! Anyhow, both the carbon and original show 'A Vie-Tyo'. I had also written 'Sounds nervous'. In fact, I remember the call. The person had a somewhat high pitched voice. I waited a few days, and then had my wife call Dave, so he would not be aware of what I was doing. Dave answered the phone and he definitely has a low pitched voice. I tried the stunt 2 days later with the same result. I've also checked with a friend who is in another game with Dave and he said yes, Dave has a low pitched voice. So the caller wasn't him. So it looks like a certain someone who had something to gain has pulled this stunt. Thus, unless I hear some objections, switch the Aus­trian orders to A Vie-Tri.  This of course means that A Ven-Tri and A Rom-Ven both fail for Italy.  Deadline is on page 1.”


Alas, things were not that simple. The following then appeared In TGG #28:


“1984WF --Very late summer 1901 - ­Another game delay. I have gotten the following from the Italian player, Nick Rizzo: 'I most certainly do ob­ject. Furthermore, I resent your crack about "a certain someone who has something to gain.”  You have no bus­iness making such comments, and your impugning my honesty can't help but harm me in this game. I most certain­ly did not phone in those orders you referred to, nor did I have someone else do it. Why do you assume that It wasn't an Austrian plot? He figures I'm going to attack, but he doesn't know whether it will be via Tyo or Tri. So he covers Tri with his writ­ten orders and Tyo with a phone call. If I move A Ven-Tyo, he just keeps his mouth shut; and if I open A Ven-­Tri, as I actually did, then he denounces the telephone order and again am foiled. The voice means zilch - he could have had a friend make the call. And as a bonus he makes me look like a cheat because obviously the call profited me…’ There was more, but that's the main points. Turkey sent me a Do Not Quote letter and I also heard from Germany, but these didn't shed any light on the matter. I'm really stuck here. I'm going to write several other experienced GMs and see what they have to say, and then I'll make a FINAL decision next issue.”

And so he did. IGG #29 had the following:


“1984WF -- Absolutely the last day of Summer 1901. I've heard from my friends. For the sake of completeness, I’ll print what they had to say on the issue:


Bruce Linsey: 'Accede to Austria’s request and switch to A Vie-Tri.  If you leave the orders the way they are, you are assuming that Austria is the cheater, i.e. you don't accept his word that the phone call was made by an imposter. This, however, involves no such assumption. Italy need not be the culprit if you make this choice. I feel you should take Austria's word as “evidence” unless you have reason to believe that Austria is lying.'


Jim Benes: 'Replay the season, allowing any player who likes to drop out of the game, full money returned. It's clear that somebody tried to dec­eive you, but it's unclear who. For all you know, it was a player other than Italy or Austria trying out a new­ly-thought-of technique. I'd also advise you to require all moves in this game to be written from here on out. You can't have an honest result if somebody tries to abuse the convenience you've allowed by accepting telephoned orders. After all, it did start out as POSTAL Diplomacy.'


Doug Beyerlein: 'I advise you to leave the adjudication as A Vie-Tyo. You had no protection mechanism set up to protect yourself from allegedly phony telephone orders and thus are forced to assume that all phone orders are real. Without a codeword system you have no other choice as you have no proof one way or the other about the phone call changing the order. Obviously this hurts the Austrian player's position (with Italy now in Trieste), but either way the GM decides someone is going to get hurt. It is impossible to know whether or not this is fair, as the Austrian player may have just outsmarted himself with this trick (if it is an Austrian trick as the Italian player claims), but at least this ruling is consistent with the above stated GM assumption that all phone orders are real and, if nothing else, a GM should be consistent in his rulings. Of course, in the future the GM should use a password system to prevent this problem from occurring again.'


“For those of you unfamiliar, Jim and Doug have been GMing since at least the early 70s, and Bruce since the late 70s.


"Fat lot of good that advice does me. Ask 3 GMs and I get 3 an­swers. No matter what I do, two of them --and presumably many others---will think I'm running the game wrong.. If I guess incorrectly here, the game could be called irregular. So: the game is cancelled, your fees are re­turned. This game is tainted -- I feel fairly sure it has a cheater in it. You can sign up for another if you want, though I won't put more than 2 or 3 of you into one game. I am very sorry, this may be the coward's way out, but my decision is FINAL."


Once his decision was made, Rol­lins promulgated the rule requiring the use of codewords except for ordin­ary letters. This was of course not the first use of codewords. GMs in the past had occasionally required them for all communications. The so­lution was more harmful than the problem, since it always engendered a stream of NMRs from forgetful players.


Other GMs had on occasion issued code­words, but had made them optional in all cases. However, that viewed code­words as a protection for the players. 1984WF made it clear that a, or even the, major reason for codewords was for the protection of the GM. As the 1986 GMing Handbook put it, "The GM is entitled to expel a player for deception of the GM; some even view this as a responsibility. However, he cannot effectuate this power if he doesn't know who is doing the deception. The use of codewords for phoned-in orders makes this easier, and more important it discourages the deception in the first place.  Preventing a problem such as this is always superior to any solution." It should be noted that the 84WF business got a great deal of pub­licity at the time, and that fact no doubt gave the incident more impact. A number of GMs at the time expressed sympathy to Rollins at the awful quandary he was in. Several of the players in 84WF were later to say that they felt that all of them had been tainted by suspicion from the hobby--the feeling that there was, in a way, one chance in 7 that any given player in the game was a cheat.


The Italian player found an in­teresting way to deal with the prob­lem.  He left the hobby about 5 years after the incident, but Diana Rivers managed to grab him then for one of her “Exit Interviews", where he said: "I didn’t make the phone call, and I don’t know who did.  But WF got a huge amount of publicity – everybody knew about it.  I was sure that people were suspicious of me, even if they didn't say anything. There was nothing I could do about that. So I figured I should try to make the best of it, try to turn it to my advantage. So if someone brought up the subject and even sometimes if he didn't, I hinted broadly that there was more to this than was generally known, things I hadn't discussed publicly. The im­plication was, of course, that if we became friends and allies, I'd con­fide in them. If they seemed inter­ested, I'd eventually come across. I had two lines I used. One was that it was Turkey's doing, not so much to affect the adjudication, but to poi­son the A-I relationship right from the start, and in general to besmirch both I and A. The second theory was that it was done by someone outside the game, an enemy of Rollins who wanted to screw up his game. Both theories were pure jive--but, hey, this is Diplomacy!  I didn't always go through this routine, only when I thought it might work, and I had to guess which story they'd find more plausible. In one case a guy told me much later that he had decided to al­ly with me in part because he was curious about this, and I'm sure there were others. I wish it had never happened, though."


So that's the story. The recent Poll of GMing Practices showed that 62% of all GMs use the Rollins Rule or some simple variant thereof.


((Note: Although the actual in­cident has not happened (yet), the statements attributed to Benes, Beyer­lein, and Linsey were actually writ­ten by them, at the request of the author and on the basis of the facts of the case as presented in the first portion of the article. The names Rollins, Springer, Rizzo, and Rivers are of course fictitious.))