I think this is now stable enough for other people to edit, to add clarifications that they are absolutely certain are correct. Please do not add questions/suggestions into the main text - they should go in the comments section at the bottom. Thanks.
WARNING: This guide is only valid for the initial ruleset. Rulesets change. Reader beware.
Elemental Oblivion is a game that combines a bit of diplomacy, a bit of roleplay, and a bit of thinking. It can be thought of as a strongly themed and intentionally increasingly stable Nomic (though it is 'TuringComplete' in the sense it could turn into the game of TiddlyWinks? if the players voted through the right rule changes).
However, because there is a theme (to encourage consistency and RolePlaying), some of the terminology used may be a little confusing (since the game does not admit, from within itself, that it is a game). Here, therefore, are some translations of some common terms (this being a strictly OOC - OutOfCharacter document).
the spirit of the game (ie what is considered fair play and what is not)
a player of the game
a single game. The equivalent to a match in Quake, a campaign in Stars, a rubber in Bridge.
Each player has 8 'pawns', each pawn being of a particular element. Each element has a number associated with it that is its 'strength'. A player's score is the sum of the strengths of the elements of their pawns. A player wins by having a score of 108 or above at the start of a heartbeat.
So for example, Louise (who plays the Mage Kitiara) has the pawns: E E E E A A A W Where: E = Earth, strength 14 A = Air, strength 13 F = Fire, strength 7 W = Water, strength 6
She has a score of (4*14) + (3*13) + (0*8) + (1*6) = 101
Five minutes before a turn is about to end, she phones up the Mage Senji (who has E E A A F F F F) and asks him if he still wants her help with raising the strength of the element of Fire at the expense of Water. He say yes and agrees that they are now Meeting. He enacts a Tertius rebalancing. Louise however says she is also going to use the Power of Quartus to swap her W pawn for one of Senji's E pawns. Senji has no Quartus and cannot stop her. The meeting ends, and Louise now has E E E E E A A A for a score of 109. Three minutes later the turn ends, Louise fulfils all the winning conditions and has won the game (epoch). The game ends and a new one starts.
A meeting is any near real time interaction between 2 or more players that the players mutually agree to be a Meeting of Mages (eg a phone call, IRC chat, a face to face meeting in RL?). "Near real time" implies that the majority of your concentration is on the meeting. So 30 seconds between ICQs or emails would count. 5 minutes would not. This may well imply that you may not be a participant in two different meetings at the same time.
To increase the sociability of the game, and encourage players to make the effort to talk to all the other players, not just the ones most easily contactable, there are certain restrictions on who you may meet. In particular, if there are mages A, B, C, D, E and F, and Mage A and Mage B have just met, then Mage A's next Meeting may not include Mage B as a participant. In fact no meeting until the start of the next heartbeat may involve both mages A and B, UNLESS both A and B have participated in other meetings in the mean time. (for instance if the meetings went, in order A+B, A+D+F, B+D then the meeting A+B+E would be legitimate)
The master of a particular element at a meeting is the player with the most pawns of that element present at the meeting. If no one player has a majority, then it is the group of players controlling a majority that mutually agree to be jointly the master for some particular decision required to be taken under that element.
Each element has a special ability associated with it, called a "power". The element that currently has the highest strength has the power labelled "Primus". In order of decreasing strength, the others are "Secundus", "Tertius" and "Quartus".
The power of Quartus is perhaps the simplest ability to describe. It lets you swap pawns. Here's how it actually works.
During a game of ElementalOblivion there are basically two types of activity regulated by the rules:
Meeting up to take actions
Voting on proposals
Making proposals is one sort of action you can take at a meeting. The other sort of action is for two players to exchange a pawn for a pawn.
At any meeting there may be (but does not have to be) one (and no more than one) pawn exchange. Which pawn gets exchanged and between whom is decided by the Master of the element that is currently Quartus.
So for example, if Water is currently the element with the lowest strength (and thus the one associated with the power labelled "Quartus") then whoever is the Master of Water at that meeting can announce that a Quartus exchange is going to take place. It does not require the consent of either parties involved in the exchange. The change is effective immediately the meeting ends. (However, one should still make sure you remember to update the wiki to reflect your new elemental alignings)
Note: you can't take a pawn from someone who isn't actually at the meeting. You can't change the total number of pawns a player has (they must always have 8). You can't formally state you are agreeing, then change your mind (agreements are binding) - which is why it is standard practice to wait until the end of the meeting and all diplomacy is finished before making formal statements of the agreements for the record.
The power of Tertius is the ability to alter the strengths of the elements.
At a meeting the Masters of Tertius can make a proposal (not more than one), to raise the strength of an element by 1 (and lower the strength of a different element, also by 1, to balance). For example in the meeting between Kitiara and Senji, Senji has 4 pawns of Fire (which at that time had the 3rd lowest strength and was therefore Tertius), to Kitiara's 0 pawns of Fire. Senji was therefore the master of fire, and could propose that the strength of fire be raised from 7 to 8, with a balancing requirement that water be lowered from 6 to 5.
Elemental strengths cannot go above 15 or below 5. You cannot alter the strength of an element that does not have at least one pawn present at the meeting. You cannot increase the strength of element X at the expense of element Y unless there are more pawns of X than Y present at the meeting. (In this case there are 4 Fire pawns and just 1 Water pawn, so that is fine.)
Once the meeting has finished, with the formal claim having been made that the masters of Tertius have determined that the balance should be altered thus, the results of the meeting then need to be published by writing them up on the wiki. In the case of a Tertius action, the place to record the determined result is in the /PendingChanges and the /HistoryLog. The /HistoryLog says who was present at the meeting with what pawns, who was the master, etc, and should ideally be written up in a fun roleplay style way with as many additional details as you find fun to add (eg "And the Mage Senji stormed out, swirling his cloak"). The pending change just needs to say "Fire +1, Water -1" together with the heartbeat of the meeting
At the start of the next heartbeat that change then gets applied to /WorldState. The elements have changed!
The Power of Secundus is arguably the most powerful ability. It is how the ruleset itself may be changed.
A meeting is held and an action agreed (just like with Quartus). Like with Tertius, that action is to raise a proposal, which then gets listed on the Wiki and does not take effect until some time has passed. In particular, this being Secundus, the proposal is that a specific change be made to the rules. Unlike Tertius, however, it is not automatically determined that this proposal takes effect. Instead it must be voted upon, and will only take effect if it gets more pawns of the relevant element voting to support than to oppose.
the proposers have until the start of the next heartbeat to modify or withdraw it if they choose (or longer, if they ask)
once the voting heartbeat starts, the text being voted upon is frozen and transferred to the active vote wiki page, where votes are registered, and can only pass or fail
once the voting heartbeat ends, if it has passed, it gets put into effect
There are, however, a number of limitations on how the rules may be changed. The rules are organised into a hierarchy, with ones higher up taking precedance over ones lower down. Only rules in the bottom half may be altered at all, and only ones in the bottom quarter may have major changes made to them.
Also, you may not propose or vote for or apply to the ruleset changes with certain effects. In particular, you are not allowed to screw up the game, make it less playable, make it unwinnable, make it an instant win for someone, or make it too difficult to make future changes to the rules.
The thought behind the creation of the game is that it should encourage socialising (thus the real time meetings), and diplomacy. While machivellian strategic planning of rule changes and pedantic cheesy loop-hole finding are part of the game, it was not intended that they become the major focus of it. Reserve your machivellian instincts for working out how to get people to support your rebalancings and realignings, and use your Secundus proposals to close loop holes and make the game increasingly workable, interesting, and fun for all to play.
If Quartus are the military, Tertius the financiers and Secundus the Legislators, then Primus are the Judiciary, the Arbitrators, the Supreme Court and the Chairs of meetings.
The power of Primus is the ability to break ties, settle rule interpretation disputes and work out how to fix things when rules do get broken. The Masters of Primus also get to alter the ruleset a little, by making proposals in meetings (that then get voted upon under Primus, just like Secundus proposals) as to which rules to move up or down within the hierarchy.
Rules may only be moved once per heartbeat, and by a maximum of 8 places (out of 64).
It is intended to Primus be a force for stability, a check and balance to the power of Secundus. It is probably in the interests of the masters of Primus to keep things more or less as they are, since Primus is the strongest element, so those with the most of it are probably closest to winning.
Little is known, since this is the first game, but the following general principles from similar games may apply.
1. Knowledge is Power - talk with everyone as often as possible
2. Be Helpful, but not too Helpful - gain a reputation as a constructive player that is easy to contact and do deals with, and who keeps their word, but don't give away your crown jewels. Know how much what you are doing benefits the other player, and get value for it, so you build up favours.
3. When in doubt, role play it - not only does it make the game more fun, it also make it far easier for you to hide your real motives for various actions
4. Keep a little of everything, but try to get a strong position in one or two elements, and have a plan on how you are going to get their strengths raised right up, and who you are going to get to help you do it.
The section on Mages A+B not being able to meet together until they have both met someone else separately may well be the intent of the rules. But it's not the actual wording of the rules at the moment: rule 55 says " No particular 2 Mages may be at 2 successive Meetings in the same heartbeat." Note "successive". It seems perfectly legal under the letter of the rules for A+B to meet, then C+D, then A+B, then C+D etc. Personally I'm not sure I have a problem with this, but if the phrasing above is the desired behaviour then the rules need changing. --AC