Capture the Flag with Stuff

A somewhat psychotic variation on a classic game
By Andrew Plotkin
Revised 2/7/2001 by Sean "Teki" Dobbs
Revised 11/14/2002 by David "dkitchin" Kitchin
Revised 3/10/2003, 11/7/2003, 3/25/2004, 11/19/2004, 3/24/05, 3/30/06 by Benjamin "Hey You" Gilbert

These are the official rules for the Spring 2006 game of Capture the Flag with Stuff.
Substantive changes relative to last semester's game are set in red.

These are the "classic" rules, in use at Carnegie Mellon until 2007.
If you're looking for the current rules, see Version Too Point Eau.

In Fall of '94, KGB ran a game of Capture-the-Flag, using the labyrinthine corridors of Wean and Doherty Halls at CMU. It was quite successful (modulo a few sprained ankles); a good time was had by all. But deep nasty things in my brain began whispering that perhaps more fun might be made available... by the addition of Stuff.

Stuff is a key concept in game design. Pong plus Stuff makes Arkanoid. Risk plus Stuff makes Cosmic Encounter. Rock-Scissors-Paper plus Stuff makes Magic: the Gathering. Capture-the-Flag plus Stuff makes... Capture-the-Flag With Stuff.

Herein are the rules.

Base rules

The game space is divided into some number of team territories and neutral space. (There may also be forbidden territory, which no player may enter at all during the game.) No two team territories may be directly adjacent; they must be separated by at least ten feet of neutral space. You are within a team's territory if any part of you is within that territory. Players in neutral space are ethereal, meaning (roughly) that they cannot capture, be captured or freed, free imprisoned teammates, use any Stuff, or be affected by any Stuff. If you touch an enemy, and both of you are in your territory, he is captured by you. You must lead him to your jail (see Glyph of Jail) at reasonable speed (you may not hand him off to a teammate). Once there, the captive must "enter jail" by touching either the Jail or another prisoner already in jail. A captor may not make any more captures until his captive has entered jail.

Prisoners may move around freely, as long as they all remain in constant contact with the Jail (either directly or through a chain of other prisoners.)

Every fifteen minutes, starting from the beginning of play, all prisoners are released from their respective jails. Released prisoners must return to their home territor(ies) at reasonable speed, by the most direct route. Released prisoners are ethereal until they re-enter their home territor(ies).

If you touch a prisoner in another team's jail, he is freed, as long as his freedom does not break the chain of captivity for any other prisoners. Both of you must then return to your home territor(ies) at reasonable speed and by the most direct route; you need not remain together. Both of you are ethereal until you re-enter your home territor(ies).

At the beginning of the game, there is a timeout, usually fifteen or twenty minutes long, during which no player may enter enemy territory; this is so that flags and other magic items may be placed. Flags have special restrictions on placement; see below. The initial placement of each flag must be approved or supervised by a judge.

The game ends after one hour, or when there remains only one team with uncaptured flags. The winner is the team with the greatest number of points. In the case of a tie, the winner is the tying team that reached its final point total first.

Magic items may be dropped or given away, but they may not be stolen or yanked away from other people.

Definitions of terms and supplementary rules

Flags are large pieces of cloth or felt; 18 inches square is a good size. Their magic is inherent; possession is all ten points of the Law. There are three flags per team. Before each game, the judges will secretly decide how many points each particular flag is worth.
You cannot move or touch your own team's flags once play has begun. If a player is captured with an opposing team's flag in his possession, he must drop the flag at the spot where he was tagged before being escorted off to Jail.

When initially placed, flags must be no higher than six feet above the floor (or at least within easy reaching distance) and at least half of the flag must be visible from every possible viewing angle; in addition, no more than one flag may be placed in a single hallway or corridor. If a flag is placed inside a container, there must be an obvious way to remove the flag in one smooth motion.
No flag may ever exist in a room or area with fewer than two exits, unless it is being carried. If a flag is dropped in an area with only one exit, a judge must move it the shortest possible distance which satisfies this requirement.
If you carry another team's flag to the judges' room, your team earns the number of points associated with that flag. That flag then drops out of play for the remainder of the game.

Flags cannot be dispelled. Flags that are carried by a player continuously dispel the magic of all other items carried by that player. Each such item will remain ineffective as long as both it and the flag are carried by the same person, and for one minute afterward.
Armbands are narrow strips of cloth or felt, in the team colors. Each player must wear an armband indicating his team membership.
Belts are long sashes of cloth or felt; five feet long and five inches wide is good. (The ends will dangle.) The magic is invoked by tying it around your waist. Belts cannot be worn by multiple people at the same time (though Goombah's Belt can be shared, see below). No player may wear more than one belt at a time.
Potions are foam-rubber balls. Bonking the subject over the head with the ball invokes the magic. (Silly, but unambiguous.)
Wands are floppy two-foot lengths of foam rubber. Whapping the subject (anywhere) and shouting the keyword invokes the magic. Each use of a keyword invokes, at most, one wand on one subject.
Glyphs are large sheets of paper or posterboard marked with the spell (in big letters). A glyph is owned by a particular team, and will be marked with that team's color. It functions as long as it is taped to a wall or floor contiguous with that team's territory, and has no effect when carried. Only members of the owning team may move it, and it only affects members of enemy teams (with the exceptions noted below). Glyphs may not be carried into neutral or enemy territory and may not be placed on a neutral or enemy surface or within ten feet of a flag.

Glyphs may only be moved in the 60-second period following a jailbreak. When the 60 seconds are up, the glyph must be placed on the nearest wall which satisfies the placement rules. Players carrying a glyph are ethereal.

If a flag is dropped within ten feet of a glyph other than the Glyph of Jail, the glyph must be removed from the wall or floor until the next jailbreak, when it must be reinstated by the owning team under the regular movement rules.
One charge
An item with this attribute may only be used once; it must then be recharged by touching it to any Glyph of Charging. If you pass the item to a teammate, you should remember to say whether it is charged or not. If the item passes to an enemy, it is automatically recharged.
A captured player is called a "captive" until he enters jail and a "prisoner" thereafter. A captive must follow his captor to jail. A player, once captured, cannot drop magic items (other than flags) or give them to a teammate, and must give up any items he possesses, if asked. (To his captor or his captor's teammate.) Captured players (whether captives or prisoners) may not move or touch enemy flags except as described in the Flags section above. Captives may not use magic items, but prisoners may.
A stunned player must sit down on the floor and wait until the stun wears off. He is incapable of capturing or freeing anyone. He may easily be captured according to the normal rules, in which case he is unstunned and must get up to go to jail. If a player is stunned while leading a captive to jail, the captive is freed. A player may not be stunned again if he is already stunned. Captured players cannot be stunned.
Dispelling an item nullifies its magical properties; you may treat it as a mundane piece of foam. Exception: nullifying a Glyph does not give you the right to move it. Except where noted, dispelling an item does not cancel magical effects which have already occurred.
A player who is ethereal cannot be captured or freed, capture others, free imprisoned teammates, use magic items, or be affected by magic items. Ethereal players in enemy territory may not pick up magic items or move items not already in their possession.
Most items must be worn or carried openly. The only exceptions are items tagged "concealable". A concealed item must be brought out into the open to be used. A captured player must give up a concealed item if asked, but only if the asker really knows the player has it.
Some glyphs affect you when you see them, if you are close enough.
Every fifteen minutes, all prisoners are released from their respective jails. See the Base Rules.

The Stuff


Glyph of Jail (labeled with the mystical phrase "Jail")
This is the jail; see the base rules for its definition. It may be moved only if there are no prisoners in jail, and cannot be dispelled.
Glyph of Charging ("Still Going")
Any magic item touched to this regains full charge. Unlike other glyphs, the Glyph of Charging may be used by anyone. It is still true that only the owning team may move it.
Glyph of Entrancement ("Gotcha")
If you see an enemy Glyph of Entrancement, and you are within ten feet of it, you are stunned. The stun lasts five minutes. Dispelling a Glyph of Entrancement wakes up everyone stunned by it.
Glyph of the Disgusting Doorknob ("Yukko")
If an enemy Glyph of the Disgusting Doorknob is on the side of a door facing you, you may not open the door or prevent it from closing. If the Glyph is mounted next to buttons controlling an elevator, you may not push any of the buttons or prevent the doors from closing. If the Glyph is mounted on one of a set of doors, you may not open any of the doors in the set or prevent them from closing.
Glyph of the Net ("Thanks")
If you see an enemy Glyph of the Net, and you are within ten feet of it, you must place one magic item on the floor next to it. If you have no items, nothing happens, and you cannot leave a flag even if you have no other items. The Glyph can only affect you once every five minutes. You may not pick up magic items sitting next to an enemy Glyph of the Net.
Glyph of Alarm ("Alarm")
If you see an enemy Glyph of Alarm, and you are within ten feet of it, you must shout "Alarm", "Warning", or "AHH!" (or something like that) as loud as you can for five minutes or until you are captured or return to neutral space.


Potion of Lubrication (brown; one charge; concealable)
A prisoner who has this item may use it by bonking himself on the head with it. He may then "slip out" of jail -- just walk away -- as long as this does not break the chain of captivity for any other prisoners.
Potion of Truth (blue; one charge)
A person may use this on another player by bonking him over the head with it. He may then ask six yes/no questions. The victim may lie no more than once. The victim may say "I don't know" if he really doesn't know (he may not lie about that), but then that question doesn't count against the six. This potion is recharged, not by a Glyph of Charging, but by a jailbreak. The Potion continues to affect the victim until it is recharged or all six questions are exhausted.
Potion of Jolt (green; one charge; concealable)
A stunned player who is bonked with this is awakened.
Light Grenade (red)
If you pick up this potion or voluntarily accept it from someone, you are stunned for five minutes. It has no effect if it is thrown at you (as long as you don't catch it). This item may safely be picked up during the initial "set-up" period.


Long Wand of the Law (blue; keyword "gotcha!")
If the bearer whaps a person or object with this, he is considered to have touched him or it, and they continue to touch while the Wand is in contact.
Wand of Stun (green; "stun!"; one charge)
Anyone whapped by this is stunned for one minute. Both ends of the Wand must touch the ground before it may be used again.
Wand of Vengeance (red; "toast!")
If the bearer whaps an enemy with this, in the whappee's home territory, the whappee is captured. The wielder must lead his captive back to his jail as directly as possible, and both he and his captive are ethereal until they enter the wielder's home territory. When this item is used, the whapper must immediately drop it in the whappee's home territory. You may not move or pick up this item if it is in enemy territory; you may only do so in your own or neutral space.
Wand of Dispel (brown; "dispel!"; one charge; concealable)
Whapping a magic item dispels its magic for one minute. Whapping a person dispels the magic of all the items he is carrying for one minute. See "dispelling" in the Definitions section, above.


Belt of Twofer (red)
The wearer may capture two enemy players at a time. At any time after capturing the first, the wearer may attempt to capture another. The first must sit down and wait; if the wearer captures a second, he must go straight back to the first, and then lead them both to jail. The wearer may make multiple attempts to capture a second player, but cannot spend more than a total of 60 seconds doing so; after his time is up, he must lead his first captive to jail.
Goombah's Belt of Humiliating Protection (green)
The wearer is totally immune to capture and stunning, as long as he is skipping and loudly singing "Yankee Doodle". Any number of teammates may share this protection by holding hands with the wearer, either directly or through a chain of other teammates, so long as they are all skipping and singing along, and so long as none of them is protected by a different belt. This item is not effective in elevators, for reasons that are probably obvious.
Belt of Chastity (blue)
When active, the Belt of Chastity makes the wearer immune to capture by members of the opposite sex, but also prevents them from having members of the opposite sex as captives. The Belt of Chastity is only active when the wearer is singing "I'm a Little Teapot."
Belt of Your Ninja Forces are Doomed to Obscurity (brown)
When the wearer of the Belt of Your Ninja Forces are Doomed to Obscurity is captured, the Belt serves as a captive in his stead. The captor must then escort the Belt to his jail, while the wearer remains free. The Belt reverts from a captive to a magic item when it touches the Glyph of Jail (and ownership transfers to the capturing team). If the captor is stunned or captured on the way to his jail, he must drop the Belt (which immediately reverts to a magic item) and cannot pick it up again for one minute. If the wearer is captured by someone with a Belt of Twofer, the captor gets two captives (the wearer and the Belt) and any previous captive is immediately freed. The Belt's magic does not work against a Wand of Vengeance or a Long Wand of the Law. The Belt is not dispelled by flags.

Organization and play

(Note: This space used to contain general notes on running a game of Capture the Flag with Stuff. However, most of you are probably most interested in how we play the game at CMU, so we've moved these notes to their own page for those of you who want to run your own game.)

At CMU we play in Doherty and Wean halls. Doherty is smaller and more complicated; Wean is just big. Teams swap buildings after each game. Neutral territory includes the Great Outdoors, the space between the two buildings (including the elevator between Doherty and Wean), and the bridge to Newell-Simon. Where there are double sets of doors (as with the front entrances of both buildings), the space between them is considered part of the building (i.e., not neutral space). However, for the players' sanity, restrooms are neutral space. Forbidden territory varies from semester to semester, depending on building construction and the like; at a minimum, it includes labs, clusters, the Doherty machine shop, and the Engineering and Science Library.

Before play, we meet in Wean 7500 to go over rules and divide up teams. We do not keep that room after the start of the first game, so you must bring your belongings to the judges' room after the rules presentation. Thus, the fewer belongings you bring, the less hauling you'll need to do while the game timer is running.

Each team will receive at least one of each type of glyph, wand, belt, and potion. Items that are more valuable, such as Goombah's Belt of Humiliating Protection and the Belt of Chastity, will be distributed one to a team. Less valuable items such as the Long Wand of the Law and the Potion of Lubrication will have multiple copies per team. Each team will also receive some number of flags.

All this nonsense obviously takes a lot of familiarity with the rules. It takes even more tolerance to play "at speed". Pay attention to people; see what magic items they're carrying so you won't be surprised if they seem to violate the rules. Cheat sheets will be distributed before the game.

If it impossible for you to know something, don't worry about it. For example, the Potion of Truth may only be used once per jailbreak; but if you come across one and don't know if it's been used recently, assume it hasn't. Make every reasonable effort to tell people about time limits and countdowns. It helps to wear a watch.

After each game, players should return to Doherty 2315. The final score will be announced, the judges will make any announcements, and teams will be rebalanced for the next game. There will also be time for players to ask questions. If you know the location of any Stuff, you should go collect it before returning to 2315. We can't start the next game until all the Stuff has been returned, which invariably leads to a lot of sitting around while people go find it.

The judges' room is Wean 8427, right on the boundary between Doherty and Wean. A neutral corridor is marked on the floor in masking tape, allowing Doherty team members to safely reach the judges' room. If you come late or leave early, report to 8427 to receive or relinquish your armband. If you capture a flag, you'll want to bring it here too. There will also be judges wandering through both buildings; they can answer questions but cannot accept flags.

We generally have time for three games in a night and finish around midnight or 1 AM.


The point of the game is to have fun. Strategy, cleverness, and... um... close readings of the rules are encouraged. Excessive competitiveness is strongly discouraged. There are some interesting strategies that are made possible by cooperative effort, but players shouldn't necessarily feel that they have to go along with a large group. Solo, independent exploration is a viable tactic.

Players should exhibit good sportsmanship. Physically impeding or blocking other players (e.g., maintaining physical contact with an opposing Goombah chain or preventing them from passing, or placing obstacles in players' paths) is a major offense and may cause the Wrath of the Judges to come down upon you. In addition, while deceit is an integral part of the game, you may not conceal, obfuscate, or lie about:

You also may not fabricate or replicate game items or interfere with official timekeeping.

This game only works if people actually follow the rules. Some of this stuff is very hard to enforce, and the judges have a hard enough time dealing with legitimate questions of interpretation (and misunderstandings) without being your mother. Do everyone a favor: respect the judges and don't cheat.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, judges must sometimes make rulings outside the strict scope of these rules (for example, if the rules do not cover a particular situation, or if a player violates the principles of sportsmanship in sufficiently creative ways). For this reason, judges have the authority to make and enforce any ruling related to gameplay, including the authority to eject players from the game.