Nomic: The Self-Modifying Game

Nomic is the most Discordian rule-based game ever.  It was invented by Peter Suber in his book The Paradox of Self-Amendment, and if you understood the book “Godel, Escher, and Bach” then you’ll know exactly what this game is all about.  You can see what Peter has to say about Nomic here.  Also, this game has a huge following!  The major hub of Nomic freaks is at  There are many, many variants of Nomic initial rules.  The one we’re presenting to you here was chosen for us by Eris, who shamelessly ripped it off from a newgroup somewhere.

If you really cared about how to play the game, you probably checked out those links we put up here already.  If you didn’t, but still care, then here’s the scoop.

What You Need To Play:

  • 2+ Players (three or four is best)
  • Paper and Pencils for each player.
  • (optional) A printed copy of the initial rules for each player
  • A six sided die.
  • Snacks.

Now, follow the rules in the initial rule set below.  ‘Nuff said.  Here’s how the play begins: The starting player writes a proposed rule change down.  The rule change is voted on, and if it passes, then the rule takes effect.  The player rolls the die, and adjusts it’s value according to the rules.  Play passes clockwise.  That’s not so tough!  Although, you are making the game up as you go along, so we can’t really describe it past this point.

If you are playing with two players, then it’s advisable that one of the first rules changes be the creation of a “dummy” player, which never proposes rules and votes on rule-changes by some arbitrary method (rolling the die, maybe).

There is no physically mandated method of play, outside of the clockwise rule and the requirement to write the rule changes down.  Here, however, is a suggestion for how to do it.  Write the rules on a bunch of index cards, and lay them out on a playing surface in such a way that you can discern the mutable rules from the immutable rules.  New rules get written on new index cards, and added to the layout.


Immutable Rules.

Rule 101

All players must always abide by all the rules then in effect, in the form in which they are then in effect.  The rules in the Initial Set are in effect whenever a game begins.  The Initial Set consists of Rules 101-116 (immutable) and 201-213 (mutable).

Rule 102

Initially, rules in the 100’s are immutable and rules in the 200’s are mutable.  Rules subsequently enacted or transmuted (i.e., changed from   immutable to mutable or vice versa) may be immutable or mutable regardless of  their numbers, and rules in the Initial Set may be transmuted regardless of  their numbers.

Rule 103

A rule change is any of the following: (1) the enactment, repeal, or amendment of a mutable rules; (2) the enactment, repeal, or amendment of an amendment, or (3) the transmutation of an immutable rule into a mutable rule, or vice versa.  (Note: This definition implies that, at least initially, all  new rules are mutable.  Immutable rules, as long as they are immutable, may  not be amended or repealed.  No rule is absolutely immune to change.)

Rule 104

All rules changes proposed in the proper way shall be voted on.  They will be adopted if and only if they receive the required number of votes.

Rule 105

Every player is an eligible voter.  Every eligible voter must  participate in every vote on rule changes.

Rule 106

Any proposed rule change must be written down before it is voted on.  If adopted, it must guide play in the form in which it was voted on.

Rule 107

No rule change may take effect earlier than the moment of the completion of the vote that adopted it, even if its wording explicitly states otherwise.  No rule change may have retroactive application.

Rule 108

Each proposed rule change shall be given a rank-order number (ordinal number) for reference.  The numbers shall begin with 301, and each rule change proposed in the proper way shall receive the next successive integer, whether or not the proposal is adopted.

If a rule is repealed and then re-enacted, it receives the ordinal number of the proposal to re-enact it.  If a rule is amended or transmuted,  it receives the ordinal number of the proposal to amend or transmute it.  If an amendment is amended or repealed, the entire rule of which it is a part receives the ordinal number of the proposal to amend or repeal the amendment.

Rule 109

Rule changes that transmute immutable rules into mutable rules may be adopted if and only if the vote is unanimous among the eligible voters.

Rule 110

Mutable rules that are inconsistent in any way with some immutable rule (except by proposing to transmute it) are wholly void and without effect. They do not implicitly transmute immutable rules into mutable rules and at the same time amend them.  Rule changes that transmute immutable rules into   mutable rules will be effective if and only if they explicitly state their transmuting effect.

Rule 111

If a rule change as proposed is unclear, ambiguous, paradoxical, or destructive of play, or if it arguably consists of two or more rule changes compounded or is an amendment that makes no difference, or if it is otherwise of questionable value, the other players may suggest amendments or argue against the proposal before the vote.  A reasonable amount of time must be allowed for this debate.  The proponent decides the final form in which the proposal is to be voted on and decides the time to end debate and vote.  The only cure for a bad proposal is prevention: a negative vote.

Rule 112

The state of affairs that constitutes winning may not be changed from achieving n points to any other state of affairs.  However, the magnitude of n and the means of earning points may be changed, and rules that establish a winner when play cannot continue may be enacted and (while they are mutable) be amended or repealed.

Rule 113

A player always has the option to forfeit the game rather than continue  to play or incur a game penalty.  No penalty worse than losing, in the  judgment of the player to incur it, may be imposed.

Rule 114

There must always be at least one mutable rule.  The adoption of rule changes must never become completely impermissible.

Rule 115

Rules changes that affect rules needed to allow or apply rule changes are as permissible as other rule changes.  Even rule changes that amend or repeal their own authority are permissible.  No rule change or type of move is impermissible solely on account of the self-reference or self-application of a rule.

Rule 116

Whatever is not explicitly prohibited or regulated by a rule is  permitted and unregulated, with the sole exception of changing the rules,  which is permitted only when a rule or set of rules explicitly or implicitly permits it.

Mutable Rules.

Rule 201

Players shall alternate in clockwise order, taking one whole turn apiece.  Turns may not be skipped or passed, and parts of turns may not be omitted.  All players begin with zero points.

Rule 202

One turn consists of two parts, in this order (1) proposing one rule change and having it voted on, and (2) throwing one die once and adding the number of points on its face to one’s score.

Rule 203

A rule change is adopted if and only if the vote is unanimous among the eligible voters.

Rule 204

If and when rule changes can be adopted without unanimity, the players who vote against winning proposals shall receive 10 points apiece.

Rule 205

An adopted rule change takes full effect at the moment of the completion of the vote that adopted it.

Rule 206

When a proposed rule change is defeated, the player who proposed it loses 10 points.

Rule 207

Each player always has exactly one vote.

Rule 208

The winner is the first player to achieve 100 (positive) points.

Rule 209

At no time may there be more than 25 mutable rules.

Rule 210

Players may not conspire or consult on the making of future rule changes unless they are teammates.

Rule 211

If two or more mutable rules conflict with one another, or if two or more immutable rules conflict with one another, then the rule with the lowest ordinal number takes precedence.

If at least one of the rules in conflict explicitly says of itself that it defers to another rule (or type of rule) or  takes precedence over another rule (or type of rule), then such provisions shall supersede the numerical method for determining procedence [sic].

If two or more rules claim to take precedence over one another or to defer to one another, then the numerical method must again govern.

Rule 212

If players disagree about the legality of a move or the interpretation of a rule, then the player preceding the one moving is to be the Judge and to decide the question.  Disagreement, for the purposes of this rule, may be created by the insistence of any player.  Such a process is called invoking judgment.

When judgment has been invoked, the next player may not begin his or her turn without the consent of a majority of the other players, taken before the next turn is begun.  If a Judge’s judgment is overruled, the player preceding the Judge in the playing order becomes the new Judge for the question, and so on, except that no player is to be Judge during his or her own turn or during that of a teammate.

Unless a Judge is overruled, one Judge settles all questions arising from the game until the next turn is begun, including questions as to his or her own legitimacy and jurisdiction as Judge.

New Judges are not bound by the decisions of old Judges.  New Judges may, however, settle only those questions on which the players currently disagree and that affect the completion of the turn in which judgment was invoked.  All decisions by Judges shall be in accordance with all the rules then in effect; but when the rules are silent, inconsistent, or unclear on the point at issue, then the Judge’s only guides shall be common morality, common logical, and the spirit of the game.

Rule 213

If the rules are changed so that further play is impossible, or if the legality of a move is impossible to determine with finality, or if by the Judge’s best reasoning, not overruled, a move appears equally legal and illegal, then the first payer who is unable to complete a turn is the winner.

This rule takes precedence over every other rule determining the winner.