The Council

A Mafia/Werewolf game where any proposal is on the table
Monday the 20th of April 2020
The Aligned

The Council is a Mafia/Werewolf-style game in which members of the Council raise, discuss and vote on changes to the very rules of the game, with a shadowy Outsider having a veto over proceedings, and the support of secret Rebels in the Council chamber. The game takes place in whatever setting the players feel like exploring.

The game is intended as a simple Nomic variant with hidden roles that can still function despite being in the minority. Broadly, it's similar to regular Mafia except that instead of just voting on one elimination per day, players may put forward any idea for voting, with successful proposals changing the mechanics of the game. If the players want a prison, or bombs, or wiretaps, or magic spells, or a cure for lycanthropy, they just have to define how that would work, and vote on it. The narrator works with the hidden minority group and has a limited veto.

The game of The Council is still in beta. This is a living ruleset that's still being privately playtested. You are reading version 0.7 of it, last updated 7th July 2022.

The theme

At the very start of the game, the players should pick a situation for the Council, a theme for the game. This should consist of:-

For the purposes of explaining the rules, we'll use the terms "Council" for the Council members, "Rebels" for the players who have the secret role, and "non-Rebel Council" for those who don't.

Starting the game

The Outsider

One player is chosen as the Outsider, the leader of the Rebels. This will be ideally someone who has played the game before, or who is happy to take on the most important role in the game. All other players are Council members. The Outsider will be moderating the flow of the game and keeping track of the rules, but they are not a neutral moderator - they want the Rebels to win.

The Outsider starts the game by secretly and randomly assigning the Rebel role to two members of the Council, eg. by dealing out poker cards to players where two cards are red and the rest black.

The game now begins, progressing through repeated "day" and "night" phases.

Rebel conferences

At any time during the game, the Outsider can declare that they wish to hold a private conference with the Rebels. To do this, the Outsider asks all of the Council (Rebels and non-Rebels) to close their eyes, and then asks the Rebels to open their eyes. The Outsider can then ask any questions they wish, in both words and gestures, and Rebels can answer by pointing, giving a thumbs up or down, etc.

When the conference is over, the Outsider asks the Rebels to close their eyes, and then all Council members to open their eyes.

Before the first day begins, the Outsider should call a conference among the Rebels so that they are made aware of one another's identities.

Day phase

During the day phase, any player - including the Outsider - may offer a proposal to the group. A proposal can either change the rules of the game, change the current state of the game, or do both. (So a regular-Mafia elimination proposal is essentially a simple gamestate proposal of "I propose that Bob becomes dead".) To keep things moving, a proposal only goes up for a full vote once it's been seconded by someone other than the proposer.

Proposals can either add new rules, or change or repeal the existing ones. They should attempt to strike some balance between the game's two factions, as the Outsider has the power to veto any proposal they don't like, and will surely do so if something would only make the situation worse for the Rebels.

Some examples of new rules

The Outsider may offer the group an opening proposal when starting the game, typically limited to something uncontroversial like creating one or two objects which are initially carried by nobody.

As in most social deduction games, resolving decisions at random is frowned upon. Proposals shouldn't include random steps: if the group can't agree on who should start with the spacesuit, it's not permitted to avoid the dilemma by assigning it at random.

Outsider veto

The Outsider is a powerful figure, and can veto almost any proposal without explanation - typically they will veto any rule that they feel is unfair to the Rebels. However, the Outsider is only able to influence the laws and regulations of the game universe as it is constructed, and is powerless to intervene in the direct, physical actions of the Council within it.

As such, if a proposal is limited to changing the ownership of pre-existing physical objects, and/or eliminating a single, named member of the Council, and if that proposal is not dependent on any hidden information, then it is considered a physical proposal and cannot be vetoed by the Outsider.

For example: "eliminate Gogol" and "force MacReady to give his dynamite to Childs" would be physical proposals, as would a more complex combination of "eliminate Mr Grey, distribute his money evenly among the rest of the team, and give his gun to Mr Blue".

"A duplicate of the armoury keycard exists" is not a physical proposal; although the keycard is defined as a game object, this proposal would be creating a new instance of it. "Every werewolf who is carrying a candle drops it to the floor" is not a physical proposal (even though the Outsider would be capable of resolving it) as the Council members don't know who the werewolves are.

A veto will usually result in open negotiation over proposals, either of tweaks to suggested rules ("you can have your medbay, but only if it's limited to one use per game day") or of accepting one rule change if the Council accept another unrelated change at the same time ("you can only have blood tests if we get rid of the radio"). This can all be framed narratively, with the Outsider simply explaining how things are: eg. the medbay is running on reduced power, and the blood test can only be constructed using copper wiring taken from the radio.

An ideal, neutral proposal is one where neither side gains an advantage from it. In practice, that kind of perfectly-balanced proposal is all but impossible - but there is a significant grey area around that midpoint, where each side factors in secret information that the other lacks. The Rebels know everyone's identity; the non-Rebel Council members may have made deductions that they haven't revealed yet; both sides may have designed or discovered loopholes in the rules that they are yet to exploit. This makes it possible for both sides to walk away believing that they got the slightly better deal.

If the Outsider isn't sure whether to veto something, they can call a conference with the Rebels to ask their opinion, and get feedback. The Outsider may wait for voting to close on a proposal before vetoing it. They are never required to justify their reasoning.

Physical objects

If something in the game is clearly describing a physical object - such as a key or a fire extinguisher - then it can either be held by a single Council member, or be on the floor. A Council member can drop or give away an object they're carrying at any time at will, during the day phase, but objects can only be picked up or forcefully taken away from people by proposal.

When a Council member is eliminated, anything they were carrying is (unless otherwise specified) dropped on the floor.

Players should consider the difference between making something an object ("the Captain's keycard converts all votes on its holder's proposals to be in favour; Tichy starts with it") and making it an intangible effect ("all votes on the Captain's proposals are automatically in favour; Tichy is Captain"). An object is generally more useful to the non-Rebel Council as they can move it around later despite the Outsider's protests and eliminations, while an intangible effect tends to be better for the Outsider (who can negotiate its permanent effect onto a Rebel, or simply eliminate the effect's holder at night).

A warning to the Outsider

Be very careful about allowing any objects which would permit the Council to eliminate several players at once. If the group is very confident that one of their number isn't a Rebel (perhaps you let them have a blood test that proved it), they can win instantly by giving that player the object, and eliminating everyone else.


When a proposal is first raised, the Council can discuss how the rule would work, and should consider any unusual situations that might arise ("If we put handcuffs on the last undercover cop, does the game end?") - the player making the proposal can clarify the wording if they need to. The Council players who aren't Rebels should be careful to make their rules as unambiguous as possible, as any later ambiguity will be resolved at the whim of the Outsider.

When the Council are ready to vote on a proposal, they take a quick raised-hand vote to see who's in favour, and who's against it. (Eliminated players can't vote, nor can the Outsider.) A proposal needs more Council members in favour than against, to pass: if tied, the Outsider gets a tiebreaking vote. If a passed proposal is a change to the gamestate, then that change is made; if it's a new rule, that rule immediately comes into force, and the Outsider writes it down.

Each proposal is considered to cost a number of in-game hours. When exactly twelve hours' worth of proposals have been passed (or when the Council have agreed that they have no further proposals for that day), the day phase ends and the night phase begins, resetting the hour count. Physical proposals always cost 1 hour (or 6 hours if they include an elimination); other proposals default to costing zero hours, and their time cost can be part of the negotiation between the proposer and the Outsider. (For example, the Outsider may say that they would veto a zero-hour proposal to create a flashlight, as written, if they felt it was more useful to the non-Rebel Council than to the Rebels, but would accept it if the proposal also took the game 2 hours towards the night.) Proposals may not be made that would take the hour count past 12 hours.

Night phase

The Rebel

The night phase is simple enough: the Outsider selects a Council member of their choice, and that player is eliminated. The Outsider may optionally invoke a conference with the Rebels, to help them decide who to eliminate.

When a player is eliminated from the game, they can no longer talk to the group (including to other eliminated players), and are no longer considered to be a Council member, for the purposes of all rules and future proposals - excluding those which explicitly refer to eliminated players. The Outsider can never be eliminated.

Game end

The game ends when all Rebels have been eliminated (making it a Council victory) or all non-Rebels have been eliminated (a Rebel victory). If the entire Council is somehow eliminated at the same time, that still counts as a Rebel victory.

Given the way the voting process works, if the Council ever consists of an equal number of Rebels and non-Rebels, a Rebel can also simply propose to win the game - with the Outsider breaking the tie.

Of course, alternate victory conditions may be proposed during the game.

Ambiguous rules

It may be the case that an invented rule later proves to be ambiguous, or interacts in an unclear way with other rules. (For example, if you have a rule of "when a player dies, their items automatically go to the surviving player with highest rank" and it turns out that all remaining players have equal rank when that time comes, who - if anyone - is chosen?) In all such cases, the Outsider chooses how to clarify the rule, and may do so in whichever way is worst for the Council, with no regard to fairness. Their decision is final. If the Council disagree with the Outsider over whether something is ambiguous, the Outsider makes the call - but they should not abuse this power to pretend that something is ambiguous when they don't truly believe it to be.

If any player asks the Outsider to clarify a rule, the game is immediately paused until that clarification is made. The Outsider cannot choose to delay their judgment. If the Outsider privately resolves an ambiguity that only affects secretly-held information, this resolution must be immediately announced to the Council.

The Outsider's ability to resolve ambiguity in the worst possible way for the Council is a strong incentive for the Council to think carefully about how rules are phrased, when proposing and voting.

Useful mechanics

Playing online

The Council can be played online in any forum or chat software. To get things started quickly, select an Outsider at random from the group and allow them to set the theme. Conferences between the Outsider and the Rebels can be replaced with an ongoing discussion backchannel, where those players can just talk to each other. If you've got access to a wiki page, paste the rules and the gamestate there as play progresses.

The house rules we've been using for BlogNomic's Discord playtesting have been:-

Pending test rules

I still need to write this up properly in the live ruleset, but the latest round of playtesting concluded that:

Game history

The Council derives originally from a 2007 werewolf-themed round of BlogNomic, which started with a bare-bones Werewolf ruleset, and expanded to include professions, firearms, silver bullets, gaol cells, herbal poisons, written wills and hauntings. I wrote a generic rule-amending Mafia game up for Ludocity as Mafia Nomic in 2011 without settling on a clear fix for the mafia's disadvantage in not being able to propose things or to stop an unfair proposal from passing, and never tested it. In 2015 we ran another werewolf-style BlogNomic round where the hidden team could privately veto any proposal, which kind of worked.

In April 2020 I had a dream in which I recommended the game to someone, referring to it as Council of Talos, and that was enough of an inspiration to dust it off, turning Mafia Nomic's possible "godfather" role into a simple narrator-as-opponent, and giving it a proper name. It was tried out a few times on the BlogNomic Slack that year, and playtesting is ongoing. If you've played it and have any thoughts, get in touch.

Card artwork is by Viviane Schwarz, made available under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence.