Rules, Protocols, Orders, and Assignments

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Rules, Protocols, Orders, and Assignments. Over the years of teaching, I have often struggled to articulate my view of the difference between these in ways that were easily understood. But recently, an analogy occurred to me that I think clears it up a bit.

For the purpose of this explanation, we are only discussing things established solely by the dominant. Anything that is pre-negotiated or part of a contract is a separate issue and supersedes all rules, protocols, orders, and assignments discussed here.

My Motorola Razr Maxx (smart phone) provided the inspiration.

For those of you who don’t have a smart phone, the same analogy could be applied to a computer or any other automated system.

I don’t tend to name the inanimate objects in my life like some people, but for the purpose of this analogy, we are going to call my phone “Maxx”. And Maxx is my submissive.


Maxx has a security lock that requires a specific combination in order to activate the device. This is a rule. It is in place all the time and is Maxx’s default behavior, regardless of the specifics of the situation.  However, rules may have exceptions. In the case of an emergency, a button can be pressed that will allow someone to call 911 from the phone, even without knowing the combination. This exception is a component of the rule itself, even when the exception is not explicitly stated.

Similarly, a person’s submissive may be required to address their dominant as “Master”. This is their default behavior. However, there may be an exception in place when in the presence of non-aware family, or there could be a higher rule that bars explicit D/s speech around “vanillas”. It’s important when establishing rules to be clear about which rules take precedence when they contradict.

A rule is a directive that is always in place. It is not conditional, though may provide exceptions for specific circumstances. 


Maxx has a wonderful app called “Llama”. Using Llama, I can define certain situations and how I want my phone to act in those situations. For instance, when I arrive at work (indicated by my phone connecting to the wifi at my office), Maxx automatically switches to vibrate and the screen dims to conserve power. When I leave work, the ringer is turned back on the screen brightened. This is a protocol. Maxx is responding to the situation using parameters that I have defined.

A dominant may establish the protocol that when they arrive home from work, the submissive is to meet them at the door, kneel down, and kiss their feet. A specific response to an event. That event could also simply be the time of day or their dominant speaking a particular word or phrase.

A protocol is a pre-defined response to a specific event.

Together, Rules and Protocols establish a baseline of behavior that allows Maxx (or the submissive) to act the way I want him to with minimal input or direction from me.


But what good is a phone if I can’t call someone? When I decide that I want to talk to somebody, I order my phone to connect me to that person via a series of taps and swipes on the screen. The phone responds to these orders according to it’s protocols.

I can also override a protocol by manually turning my ringer on at work. If I want it to do something that it does not have a protocol for, then my instructions have to be explicit and complete (and I have to learn computer code).

When a dominant is thirsty, she may order the submissive to fetch her some water. The submissive does so and upon returning, bows and presents the drink according to their protocol. The dominant might also order a submissive to remain naked for the day, even though protocol dictates wearing a uniform, or could order the submissive to address him as “Sir” for the day, even though the rule is to use “Master”.

An order is a direct command which is executed within the boundaries of the established rules and protocols. However, an order is, itself, an exception and can takes precedence over other rules or protocols if they conflict. 


This is where Maxx’s tale ends, because there are no analogies for an assignment on a smart phone or computer or robot. An assignment requires independent intelligence and the ability to make a choice.

A dominant could give their submissive the assignment of reading the user manual for Maxx before 5pm Thursday, or could tell the submissive that they will be rewarded if/when they can locate a digital copy of Maxx’s user manual.

An assignment is a directed task with either a reward for completion or punishment for exceeding the time limit. (If there is no consequence related to he completion of the task, directly or indirectly, then it is not an assignment, it’s a suggestion.)

An assignment allows the submissive to make choices regarding the time and/or manner that the task is completed. If there is no choice to be made (besides whether or not to follow the direction), it is not an assignment, it is an orderprotocol, or rule. Choice is an essential element to an assignmentAssignments and the choices associated with them are what separates a submissive from Maxx the smartphone in this discussion of dominant directives. Because while Maxx cannot complete an assignment, a submissive can.

So if a robot could follow the direction without the aid of artificial intelligence (yeah, I’m on to you, geeks), it probably isn’t an assignment at all.

Read more about the Purpose of Assignments Here


Order: “Go get me a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.”

Rule: “There should be at least 4 Reese’s Cups in the house at all times, unless I am away from the house on business for more than 24hours.”

Protocol: “Whenever you purchase gas, you will also buy my a pack of Reese’s cups.”

Assignment: “Before I get home from work today, I want you to write me a 200 word essay on why Reese’s Cups are the best candy.”

This is a quick primer and doesn’t go into much detail, but I hope it helps you understand the difference between the terms, as many D/s people use and understand them.

Further Reading:

** See the Submissive Training and Development handout for more info on rewards and punishments.

** See the Creating Assignments handout for more information on the purpose of assignments.

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  1. Amber says:

    This was a very helpful article. Thank you.

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