[ An Informative Guide to Every Facet of the Festering Snakepit ]
This guide shall walk you through the mechanics of the General Assembly forum, how to catch up on what we've been doing before you showed up, the long history of our international organization, and the rich community built upon a mixture of In-Character and Out-Of-Character interaction. You can always come back to this thread for help in navigating the General Assembly's many resources for budding and experienced authors alike.
WHAT IS THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY?
The General Assembly is the oldest branch of the World Assembly. Charged with presenting new legislation to member states, it can legislate on a wide variety of topics: human rights, trade, military policy, environmental regulations, healthcare, gun control, and so on. The General Assembly has passed hundreds of resolutions already, and shows no sign of stopping as of now.
The General Assembly's history extends beyond the World Assembly as well. While the World Assembly has existed since 1 April 2008, the very creation of the World Assembly was the result of a "particularly brutal collision with reality". For years before the sudden demise of the UNmentionable organization, many of the same authors--and many more who have since hung up their shiny authorship badges--worked in much the same way, drafting and debating on proposals before sending them to vote.
Many people just see the General Assembly in action when a new resolution reaches the voting floor. However, the GA is always active, with authors and debaters discussing potential legislation around the clock. The General Assembly has a long culture of drafting proposals on the forum before submitting them for consideration. In drafting threads, which you can find strewn all over the front pages of the GA forum, players put together proposals and ask others for input as they work to improve them. Some drafts only last for a couple days, while others go on for weeks. Those drafts with the most potential often spark excited discussion, and those that cannot be salvaged tend to sink out of sight rather quickly. As a result of this drafting culture, the GA tends to hold itself to a very high standard of authorship. If a resolution is sloppy, those who frequent the GA forum are unlikely to support it. If it meets basic expectations, people take it seriously.
HOW DOES THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY WORK?
Well, most of the General Assembly's work revolves around trying to get proposals to vote. For any good proposal, this starts with a drafting phase. Once the proposal is polished and ready to go, it is submitted to the General Assembly via the game side, where it can seek approvals by World Assembly delegates. If it gathers approvals from 6% or more of all regional delegates, it will reach quorum and go to vote on the next update. There, all member nations can cast their votes for or against the resolution, and after four (4) days, voting will end. Defeated resolutions will vanish from the game side, while passed resolutions will be forever enshrined on the General Assembly's passed resolutions page. Authors will also receive a badge for each resolution they write.
Participating in the gameside aspect of the World Assembly is fairly straightforward. Just go to the WA homepage, click on the title of a resolution at vote, and vote using the buttons located below the resolution text. Forumside, the WA can be far more complex. We have already spoken a bit on this, and we'll go over much of it in greater detail in this guide.
YOU PEOPLE ARE PRETENTIOUS WEIRDOS. WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?
Many, many things. The General Assembly community is known for its more straightforward approach to debate. Especially when discussing a draft In-Character, players can come across as caustic or even hostile. That's why the General Assembly's nickname is the Festering Snakepit. Don't worry, though. We're all very pleased to see new authors come into our little corner of the forums. Take criticism with a grain of salt, and understand that we've been exactly where you are before. We are more than happy to help you out, as long as you understand that our criticism is directed at your proposal, and not you.
For more seasoned players who have already gotten used to the GA forum, I highly encourage you to accommodate new arrivals and remember how much you stumbled around in your own first days on the forum. Be friendly, be helpful, and don't scare people away. We are a small community, and any new faces should be welcome as opportunities to maintain our ranks or even grow them.
For the purposes of accomodating all different types of nations, nowhere in particular. It most certainly is not on Earth. NationStates is not Earth, and the General Assembly will remind you so if you use information specific to Earth in an In-Character discussion. By the same token, not all nations have human populations. Assuming they are will often lead to an embarrassing reminder that non-human sapient beings exist in abundance in the WA.
WHAT'S WITH ALL THIS AMBASSADOR NONSENSE?
That's the In-Character community at work. The General Assembly has a strong roleplay element to it that often guides discussion and provides for a richer, more engaging atmosphere. Players often voice their support, opposition, commendation, or criticism through an In-Character mouthpiece. This sometimes comes in the form of a national leader, but more often forumgoers use "ambassadors" to express their nation's views on a proposal. Many of these ambassadors are more than just cardboard cutouts to make Out-Of-Character comments sound more official. GA regulars have fleshed out their ambassadors to the extent that they are fully defined individuals, roleplay characters that can carry a very different message than any Out-Of-Character debater.
Ambassadors also extend beyond the debate threads. Tucked away in a corner of the second floor of the World Assembly Headquarters, a Strangers' Bar waits for customers. Ambassadors frequent this establishment very often, whether to just have a drink, chat with other ambassadors, or conveniently reveal important information about their delegation's work. The Strangers' Bar is a very relaxed In-Character thread, and is an excellent opportunity to build a life and a story around your ambassador.
Of course, you don't have to make an ambassador, but responding to In-Character commentary with your Out-Of-Character perspective may not always go smoothly. Many member nations are not set in the 21st century. Many of them are not human. Many of them don't even exist in the same universe as Earth. As a participant in debate threads, you will have to understand the division between IC and OOC commentary. Ignoring this division will, at best, lead to a teasing response. At worst, it can produce serious confusion during debate. Nearly all regular forumgoers have some sort of ambassador available to them, even if they only use it when necessary.
BUT I DON'T LIKE ROLEPLAY! CAN'T I JUST IGNORE IT?
You can certainly try to, but it probably will not benefit you in any way. Again, many players do not appreciate it when another player ignores the IC/OOC division. Certainly, you can avoid In-Character conversation whenever possible, and politely point out that you do not roleplay if someone tries to speak to you In-Character. Nevertheless, the General Assembly culture depends heavily on its unique nature of roleplay. If you usually avoid roleplay like the plague, I encourage you to try to compromise a bit, as the In-Character aspect of the General Assembly is just as helpful as the Out-of-Character aspect.
WHO AND WHAT IS THE SECRETARIAT, AND WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?
The "Secretariat" is simply an In-Character analog of the members of the Moderation team that deal with General Assembly matters. In the spirit of IC/OOC division, players tend to stick with "Secretariat" when speaking In-Character, and "moderators" when Out-of-Character. The Secretariat enforces all General Assembly rules and monitors the proposal queue for illegal proposals. In addition, it hears legality challenges presented by member nations, and weighs them against the rules. Whenever the Secretariat must make an announcement on its legality findings with regard to a drafted proposal, a moderator will make an official post in the appropriate thread, announcing the Secretariat's decision.
WHAT ARE GNOMES, AND WILL THEY COME FOR ME WHILE I AM SLEEPING?
Gnomes are the General Assembly's bureaucratic staff. They provide the manpower behind all the World Assembly's committees and agencies. Presumably, they also run the World Assembly headquarters and make sure that everything runs smoothly for the ambassadors (although rumors have spread that golems have now replaced gnomes on the security staff). They are mostly benevolent and have done a good job guaranteeing compliance with World Assembly resolutions. Really, there's very little reason to fear them, apart from their tendency to occasionally abduct unruly ambassadors for short periods of time.
WHY SHOULD I JOIN THE WORLD ASSEMBLY?
There are many reasons to join the WA, and their relevance varies greatly from player to player. The most universal reason is to have a say in the international affairs of the WA. Every member nation can vote on World Assembly resolutions, and therefore can affect their success. Furthermore, WA members can endorse other members within the same region in order to raise them to the position of WA regional delegate. A WA delegate can approve proposals before they arrive at vote, and delegate votes carry more weight than those of other members. For every endorsement a delegate has, they get another vote in the WA. This allows regions with many WA nations to create very powerful delegates with hundreds of votes and a strong say in the success of a resolution. Endorsements are also required for submitting proposals to the World Assembly. No member can add a proposal to the proposal queue unless they have two (2) or more endorsements. However, you do not have to be a delegate to submit a proposal!
Apart from the powers available through WA membership, some regions may require that you sign up to join the WA, or may highly encourage you to do so in order to improve regional security. If a region has no founder, its WA delegate holds absolute power. This may make it a target for invader regions, who can storm into a region with WA nations and endorse their own WA delegate until they have effectively conquered the region. Being a member of the WA in a founderless region can help to maintain regional security and guarantee that the regional government remains in natives' hands.
CAN I MAKE MULTIPLE WA NATIONS TO HAVE MORE POWER?
No! Making puppet nations and putting them in the WA breaks the rules of NationStates, and will result in a year-long ban from the WA for all involved nations. A player can only have one WA nation at a time, and may not try to give themselves more power than they deserve. And of you are thinking about violating this rule, please just don't. Moderation is smarter than that, and has been dealing with puppetmasters for years. You won't fool them.
IS THERE ANYTHING I MUST DO AS A MEMBER OF THE WA?
Apart from not breaking rules about World Assembly membership, you do not have many obligations at all on the game side of NationStates. However, many people--especially those in the General Assembly community--expect you to roleplay compliance whenever in-character. You see, following the mandates of WA resolutions is not optional (in fact, proposals that are optional violate the rules and can be removed!). Your nation must maintain "good faith" compliance with all WA resolutions. "National sovereignty" is not an argument or an excuse for noncompliance; you signed away your government's ultimate authority when you joined the WA. WA law overrides national law, no matter what that law may be.
WHAT COUNTS AS COMPLIANCE?
Even the most established members of the General Assembly community cannot reach a consensus on this. General Assembly Resolution #2 requires members to comply with all resolutions in "good faith", but members often have different ideas as to what "good faith" compliance entails. If you really have to, you can often get away with creative interpretation of resolutions, or exploiting loopholes in wording. However, outright noncompliance with WA legislation will quickly cripple your reputation among GA forumgoers. No proposal author will listen to the opinion of a nation that may not comply with their proposal anyway.
When it comes to the gameside of NS, compliance is generally considered a non-issue. You may answer your Issues however you want, even if it would violate World Assembly law to implement the policy you chose. Rest assured that the gnomes will diligently strike out whatever laws your nation passes that go against WA mandates.
DO I HAVE TO COMPLY WITH PREVIOUSLY PASSED RESOLUTIONS AS WELL?
Absolutely. Unless they have been repealed, resolutions passed before your entry into the WA stand just as strong as those passed afterward. By becoming a member of the World Assembly, you agree to comply with all WA legislation, not just the resolutions you voted on.
WHAT IS A PREAMBLE?
Most General Assembly resolutions begin with a preamble, a series of clauses that indicate the purpose of the resolution without actually having it do anything. Usually, the preamble can be ignored entirely for matters of determining compliance or the mandates of a resolution. This is not to say that preamble are unimportant; they guide the reader in determining what the resolution ought to do, and often cite WA principles or precedent in calling for additional legislation. They serve as an outline for the resolution as a whole. And they just look nice. Very few people want to read a resolution that immediately sets requirements of member states.
WHAT DO DEFINITIONS DO?
Definitions clarify clauses within the resolution by setting concrete meanings for words or phrases that a player could otherwise in a manner that goes against the intentions of the author. They can serve the author in two major ways. Definitions can keep nations from interpreting the resolution in a way that effectively reduces or eliminates the requirements of compliance. The author can also use them to keep members from thinking that the requirements of the resolution extend beyond where they really do.
Many definitions specify that they shall only be used "for the purposes of this resolution". Including this phrase guarantees that future resolutions may use the same word or words in a different way, and avoids issues of dealing with old definitions that do not work well in the context of new resolutions.
Not every word needs a definition. By the standards of "good faith" interpretation, players will gain no ground in interpreting "war crimes" as "vanilla flavored custard". We expect some level of reasonability when assessing the meaning of words. Most of the time, Oxford Dictionaries or a similar dictionary is adequate if you are unsure how a word should be interpreted.
MANDATES, SUGGESTIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS, WHAT DO THEY MEAN?
The effects of a resolution may vary in strength, and often rely on word choice to infer how much power goes behind the measures a resolution presents. On the mild side, clauses beginning with "suggests" or "recommends" tend to indicate policies that a resolution author believes member states would benefit from implementing, but that do not stand as the focus of the resolution, and are not important enough to make requirements of compliance. Often, these clauses serve to indicate ways that members can more easily achieve compliance, or introduce policy that logically follows the mandates of a resolution.
When a resolution "urges" something or uses similar language, it indicates strong support for a certain policy and a clear WA preference toward that policy. Sometimes, a resolution will urge something if it is too important to ignore but not popular enough to make a mandate. Those clauses that "urge" action do not actually require compliance, but they very much communicate the spirit of the resolution and what sort of principles it rests on.
If a resolution "mandates" or "requires" an action or non-action by a member state, it has set criteria for compliance, and members may not disregard the policies laid out in the mandates. Similarly, if a resolution "bans" or "prohibits" something, it has set a mandate, and nations may not interpret that ban as a mere recommendation.
Words such as "allow" or "permit" have an opposite effect. They set requirements on the WA instead of its members, and keep it from exercising power in certain ways or under particular circumstances.
WHAT ARE COMMITTEES AND WHAT DO THEY DO?
"Committee" is a catch-all term for organizations created by the World Assembly to assist in its legislative efforts. Many resolutions establish committees or use previously established committees. Generally, committees make minor requirements of member nations or assist them in achieving full compliance with relevant legislation. Committees help to push for better enforcement of World Assembly resolutions. As committees are staffed by gnomes, they also offer a simple option for an impartial body to regulate or oversee member nations.
I HAVE AN IDEA FOR A PROPOSAL. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
First and foremost, do not run over to the General Assembly and submit it immediately. Once submitted, a proposal cannot be altered, and will just keep going until it either dies off with too few approvals or reaches vote. If you have already submitted a proposal without drafting it on the General Assembly forum first, submit a Get Help Request and ask for your proposal to be removed from the queue. Your proposal may very well be illegal, and if someone submits a Get Help Request to remove it for illegalities before you do, you could suffer a penalty.
Before you start working on the text of your proposal, you should definitely make sure that someone has not written another resolution on the same topic already. If your proposal contradicts the provisions of an already existing resolution, or significantly duplicates that resolution, your proposal is probably illegal, and most likely won't even make it to vote before the Secretariat pulls it from the queue.
If you have an idea for a proposal, and it looks original enough to you, let the community know first. Go to the General Assembly forum, create a new topic, and type up what you have planned. The community is more than happy to work with new authors who go to the forums first. By creating a draft thread, you can receive input on your idea. Other players can point out any potential conflict with proposal rules. In addition, they can make suggestions to alter the effects of your proposal and streamline it into a more appropriate piece of legislation. This input is absolutely essential to good proposal writing. Even the best GA authors seek others' input, and wait to submit their proposals until they have heard enough discussion and tweaked the text of their proposals to their satisfaction.
OKAY, I'VE POSTED A DRAFT ON THE FORUM. NOW WHAT?
Wait for input, and remain willing to make changes. No first draft is perfect. It may take some time to figure out how to best implement your proposal, and how to make sure that any potential illegalities or absurdities are dealt with. Whenever you want to edit your draft, make changes in the OP of the thread, rather than posting a new draft somewhere else. You may also want to keep a record of your previous edits, so that you may reverse changes if you wish, or review exactly how you have changed your proposal.
Most importantly, make sure that the general purpose of your proposal remains consistent. Stubbornly defending every word of your proposal will do you little good, but making too many changes to please other players' own wishes can cause your proposal to become weak or even toothless. Remember what you want your proposal to do, and make sure it stays that way while you make sure that it does not cause any peripheral damage.
MY PROPOSAL IS FINALLY READY. WHAT NOW?
If you feel that you are done drafting, make sure nobody else has anything particularly important to offer as advice or opposition to your draft. You don't want to have gone through all that work just for some last-minute problem to reveal a huge problem in your proposal. Double-check that your proposal is legal, so that it can't be challenged once it enters the proposal queue. If nobody has any further suggestions, and the proposal presents no legality issues, it's a good time to finally head over to the main page for the World Assembly and submit your proposal. Simply copy and paste your proposal from the forums and into the text box, fill in the different fields for your proposal, make sure the proposal copied over correctly, and click "submit this proposal". Now your proposal is available for all delegates to see and approve, and it is on its way to becoming a resolution.
I'M DONE NOW, RIGHT?
Not yet. You need to get 6% of all World Assembly delegates to approve your proposal before it can even get a chance to be voted upon. 6% may seem small, but with over a thousand delegates scattered across NationStates--and many of them unwilling to spend time approving proposals, reaching quorum can be very difficult. In fact, just sitting back and waiting for approvals to come in is bound to result in your proposal's defeat. It only has four (4) days to get 6% approval, and delegates simply do not frequent the proposal queue enough to give you a chance at passively reaching that goal.
To get enough approvals, you'll need to run a campaign. A campaign is a large body of telegrams sent to WA delegates, asking for them to approve a proposal. Given the sheer number of delegates to be contacted, simply asking each delegate one-by-one is not a very realistic option. In order to speed up the campaign process, players may choose one of three options:
Buy telegram stamps and set the recipient of their telegram to "tag:delegates", which will spend one telegram stamp for every WA delegate, and send the telegram immediately to every single one.
Run a manual campaign, sending individual group telegrams to up to eight delegates at a time, until all delegates have been contacted.
Use the telegram API, and run a script that automatically sends the same telegram to every delegate, one by one. This can be rather tricky. While you do not have to buy stamps for this, you must have access to an API client key. A regional founder may request a client key from the moderators, but other WA nations must request the client key from their regional founder to be able to use the API as well. Once you have secured a client key, you can set up an API template for your telegram by writing your campaign message into a new telegram and addressing it to "tag:api". This will give you a template for your script to copy, as well as a secret key necessary to run the script. There are several scripts available to automate telegram campaigns, including Imperium Anglorum's Communiqué, a small and easy to use Java program.
With an active campaign, you have a good, solid chance of your proposal reaching quorum and, therefore, going to vote. Keep in mind that telegram campaigns may also be employed to discourage delegates from approving proposals, or to make arguments in favor of or against a resolution that has already reached vote.
MY RESOLUTION IS AT VOTE. WHAT DO I DO NOW?
You can try running a voting campaign to give it a more solid chance, but most authors choose to ease off once they have gotten their resolution to vote. At this point, it is best to keep an eye on the forums and address any concerns that WA nations present to you. In particular, try to convince the delegates of larger regions to support your resolution. These delegates have the most endorsements, and are known as "superdelegates" to many World Assembly veterans. If they vote one way, their regionmates are likely to follow suit. The weight of their votes can even carry beyond their own region, especially if several superdelegates vote in the same direction. If superdelegate votes "stack" sufficiently in one way or another, the general WA population is far more likely to agree with the majority, and thereby solidify whatever trend the vote shows.
MY RESOLUTION PASSED! YAY!
Congratulations, you are officially a General Assembly author, and your name will be forever enshrined in the law books of the World Assembly! Remember to be a gracious victor, and to thank those that have helped you along the way. Keep participating in the General Assembly, and become an even more significant part of it. You can always write more resolutions in the future, and in the meantime, we greatly appreciate your interest and effort here. You have established yourself as part of the community, and after passing a well-written and well-reasoned resolution, your authorship and input carry a new weight to them. We respect good writers, and are glad to have finally found one in you.
MY RESOLUTION FAILED! HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?
Not every resolution is meant to be. It's quite likely that people simply disagreed with the sort of change you were looking to implement, and decided that they did not want the World Assembly mandating what you wanted it to. It is even more likely that you overlooked some fatal aspect of your resolution, and the opposition effectively used it to keep it from passing. In either case, don't let your defeat define you. Not everyone wins on the first try, and not every resolution resonates with WA voters. You tried hard, and despite this setback, you will have undoubtedly learned more about how to write a resolution. You can learn from your mistakes and figure out how to write a better proposal next time, whether on the same subject or on another.
I'M LOST. WHERE DO I FIND WHAT I'M LOOKING FOR?
My guess is that it is down the hall and to the left. You can't miss it. If it isn't there, it isn't anywhere.