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posted by Doc Hawkins Original SA post

Well, I finally caught up with this thread.

I don't want to go right back to Artesia. It's too depressing. Before that, I'm going to talk about some other obscure games for which I have, shall we say, a more straightforward admiration of.

Here's a neat one by Vincent Baker: Rock of Tahamaat . He never "published" it, per se. He actually just posted it on his blog, as a way of illustrating a point he was trying to make about the choices you make in game design around IIEE.

Yeah, he's like that. (Actually, he's not alone: I remember another game with a not-dissimilar premise called Empress or something like that, which was intended to teach you how to react to subtle cues in someone else's roleplaying...actually, I won't say more, I'll just write it up if I can find it again.)

Here's the two sentences you get for a setting, per se:


The Kaliste is an asteroid world, thousands of habitable asteroids and moons - hundreds of thousands uninhabitable - sprawling thick throughout the warm zone of a great smoldering gas planet. From his throne on Pium, at its heart, Rock of Tahamaat rules the Kaliste with iron, fire, blood and fear.

Damn, that sounds like a pretty sweet set-up, maybe someday my character will...


You'll need at least 3 players (4-6 is probably best). One player's the GM. One player plays Rock of Tahamaat . Each other player plays a character who is suffering under Rock of Tahamaat's tyranny. this Rock guy! I want to be him! Tell me more, GM!


You are an 8' giant of a man, moody, energetic, possessed of vast appetites. Whatever you achieve, whatever you consume, whomever you bring to heel, you are never satisfied for long.

Your rule in the Kaliste is accomplished, no one dares dispute or defy it. Now your restless hunger demands that you look outward, into the galaxy at large. Already your first fleets of raiding ships are bringing you the wealth of the nearest stars. Your closest galactic neighbors fear your ships' sinister silhouettes and only whisper your name. Soon you will bring war and terror to the greatest powers the galaxy knows, confederations and empires spanning star systems in the hundreds. You hope that perhaps, when all the galaxy lays its tribute before you, at last it will fill the ravening void in your soul.

But this isn't that story! This is the story of the people who don't dare dispute or defy your rule, here in the Kaliste. It's the story of ... what happens when they dare after all.

Let's hear a double- for a story about an awesome tyrant and the people who stand against him. I mean, he sounds cool, but the people who "dare after all," they must be incredibly brave and awesome, right?


Character Creation

If you're Rock of Tahamaat...
First, it's important to note you don't go out into space anymore. In fact, you don't even leave your "pleasure fortress" on Pium. You're too busy there, indulging your appetites in every possible way. You might think some of your time would be taken up by the details of running your empire. I mean, sure, you must have all kinds of subordinates taking care of the boring details, but you gotta at least tell them what's what, how you want things done, right?

Nah, that kind of pissy bullshit is for lesser tyrants. You are the Rock, so you are constantly attended by "three most astute psychics", who are charged on pain of death by pain to communicate everything you want to the palace, without you needing to say it out loud, or even, like, point and grunt. Now that's service!

That being explained, write down "Rock of Tahamaat" at the top of your sheet, and let's talk stats. All you gotta do for those is rank the relative strengths of your classes of servants from 10 to 6, where 10 is the best and 6 is really fucking good

Finally, at the bottom of your character sheet, write "the name of no mere person can hold my attention."

That's it. Now, while everyone else makes characters, sleep well, and dream of large concubines.

If you're anyone else...

So you're someone of the Kaliste. What's your trade? Pick one:

Next, Rock of Tahamaat's tyranny "is destroying or has destroyed your life, leaving you desperate and fearless." Briefly explain how, but make it good, because...


If you can't come up with something good enough to please the GM, your punishment is: instead, you have a beautiful 14-year-old daughter, who is the love of your heart and the pride of your soul, whom you have until this very day kept hidden from the eyes of the concubine-takers of Rock of Tahamaat.

Okay, now it's time for your stats. Again, we're gonna rank some stuff. This time, go from 4 to 1, where 4 is good for you and 1 isn't. Let's see what kind of cool rebels we can be!

Okay, so first, it's important to note that the number doesn't actually affect how craven, desperate, etc. our characters our: they simply are all of those things. The numbers just affect whether it's good for them to be so. Which makes sense: you can definitely imagine a character whose viciousness bit them on the ass, and another who used it to achieve greatness.

Oh, the text notes that you can give yourself "I'm craven - 1", but if you do, then "you will be sad."

Now you choose a name. Actually, you choose five!

Of course, the first name will never hold Rock of Tahamaat's attention, but the others can absolutely will, as we'll see.

Oh, and it's fine, and even a good thing, for different characters to share one of those names. They can have the same clan or live in the same asteroid or whatever.

A five-point list of the GM's responsibilities tells us that we set scene's for each player's character in turn, ending each round with a scene for Rock of Tahamaat, as well as the usual duties of adjudicating resolution and playing NPCs. (Later it explains that when little people die, they're out of the game, but if the Rock dies, the game ends with an epilogue scene for everybody.)


Characters Who are Not Rock of Tahamaat

Ask them where they are, set the scene and go. Here's Vincent's advice for GMs:


If anyone's ever going to stand up to the rule of Rock of Tahamaat, it's these people, so see if they're going to. They aren't going to if they aren't desperate, so make them desperate. They also aren't going to if they don't have opportunities, so give them opportunities.

Just keep it all loosey-goosey, unless and until...


When a player says that her character takes any concrete action that might bring her into direct conflict with another character or an NPC, or that might expose her to any danger to her person, stop her and go to resolution.

I'll explain how resolution's done in a bit, but when it's done, just keep going until it happens again, or you decide the scene is over. That's it! Give all the peons a scene just like that, until finally...

Characters who are Rock of Tahamaat

Again, set the scene somehow, play around a little, then have Rock of Tahamaat's informers show up. They keep him appraised of everything happening in his domain and beyond, of course, but we only see them when they're announcing the shit the PCs have gotten up to in the previous round of scenes. But remember, no personal names or descriptions are allowed in this scene! Sure, they might say "a filthy freeworker was spreading anarchic leaflets in the Great Square of Barant today, majesty," but it's better most of the time to refer to them as if they were just a cog, like "the Wren family overtook and murdered one of your concubine-takers on Vruk today, majesty."

Remind the player of Rock of Tahamaat of the constant presence of his Three Potent Psychics, and ask him what he wills. This pulls us into resolution, which again, I'll explain in a bit. Just remember that he can't form commands relating to particular individuals, only groups or intersections of groups ("All freeworkers in the Wren family who live on Vruk," say).


Characters who are not Rock of Tahamaat

(Remember that this triggers whenever a player says their character takes concrete action which would bring them into conflict or expose them to bodily danger.)

Okay, first of all, roll a number of dice equal to their "I'm craven." If the highest die is a 1, 2, or 3, then surprise! They didn't have the nerve to do that thing after all! Instead they must choose to do one of the following:

If the high die is one of the other, more blessed numbers, the player takes it into hand and discards the rest, and the character actually attempts to do the thing the player wanted.

What happens next is up to the GM. They go down the following list, stopping when they reach a situation that fits (they're allowed to ask the player questions to determine it though)

Just like with the initial cravenness roll, you roll a number of dice equal to the stat and look for the high die. Add its value to the value of your high craven die, getting a number from 5 to 12.

If the sum is less than 8, then they get interrupted somehow. The GM chooses one of the following to happen to them:
Vincent likes lists.

But wait! If the sum is 8 or higher, then none of those things happen, and the character actually does the thing that they set out to do!

But does it have the effect they wanted it to have? Oh, well, that's not decided yet at all! Hold on to those two dice, cuz you're gonna need em!

So what the GM needs to do now is decide on three possible effects that might come about from this act: from the character's perspective, the best possible result, the worst possible result, and a merely good result. Oh, don't worry if you think you'll be lost at this step: there's a list for that.

Possible effects for the acting character

Possible effects for the opponent (oh yeah, who could be another PC I guess)

Once the GM's picked three effects from that smorgasbord, they've got to decide what the player should roll. To do that, they ask themselves "Among these results, what is the worst possible thing that could happen to another human being?"

Roll just like before, add the new high die to the previous two, and find out what happens! Finally!

Enjoy fucking up your life even further.

Characters Who Are Rock of Tahamaat

So, the player has expressed an intent about a group of people, or an intersection of groups of people. This intention can actually be anything expressible, though of course, there is a list of examples:

The text is explicit that the GM can ask more questions to narrow down exactly what Rock of Tahamaat's intent is, and that the above list really is just a set of examples. Sample final intents: "tenfold my taxes upon the freeworkers of Barant," "put the Wren family to public execution," "infiltrate the Cult of Dena; any philosophers among its membership, make them disappear."

Once an intent is settled on, the GM decides which of Rock of Tahamaat's servants would be the natural choice to carry it out (I hope you can scroll up because I'm not listing them again) and Rock of Tahamaat's player rolls that many dice and sums the three highest. Let's start at the top.

If the total is 16-18, Thy Will Be Done :


Rock of Tahamaat's intention becomes certain and overwhelming effect out in the Kaliste. The taxes upon the freeworkers of Barant are now tenfold, and the freeworkers are toiling under them. The Wren family has been put to public execution. The philosophers within the Cult of Dena have disappeared.

Now of course, since individuals are beneath Rock of Tahamaat's notice, they might have escape any nasty fate set aside for them. Whenever another PC would be targeted by Rock of Tahamaat's intent, the GM asks the player of that character if they have suffered that fate, or else "escaped it at tremendous cost and with tremendous danger," and remembers their answer when setting a scene later. As an example, the text says that if their family is put to death, and they (naturally enough) choose to not die, then you might open their scene by saying "you're in the crowd in the public square on Vruk, hoping nobody recognizes you, watching the blood of your mother, father, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, uncles, aunts, and husband filling up the collecting tubs. What do you do?"

If the total is 12-15, Embattled or in turmoil :


Rock of Tahamaat's intention comes to partial effect out in the Kaliste. Make the details be as you like, but the real effect is the same: the group in question is now either embattled by his agent body, or else thrown into turmoil by its incomplete efforts. For example, the freeworkers of Barant are now embattled by Rock of Tahamaat's overseers and magistrates, fighting back against the overwhelming new tax. The Wren family is now in turmoil, each member racing to be the first to turn on the others, each torn between going into hiding and revealing the hiding places of the others. The philosophers in the Cult of Dena are now embattled, having noticed their fellows beginning to disappear and so barricading themselves against assassins into their stronghold on Far Ka-ooth.

Finally, if the total is 3-11, Oh no , it's just like They Will Be Done, except:


The three most astute psychics have misjudged Rock of Tahamaat's intent! Arbitrarily choose a different intent from the examples above (and pass its execution on to the appropriate agent body), arbitrarily ignore one component of the group in question, or else arbitrarily insert an exception into the group in question. For example, "tenfold my taxes upon the freeworkers of Barant" might become "massacre the freeworkers of Barant." "Put the Wren family to public execution" might become "Put the Wren family to public execution, but spare its psychics." "infiltrate the Cult of Dena; any philosophers among its membership, make them disappear" might become "infiltrate the Cult of Dena, and make its entire membership disappear."

Oh, one last thing: if Rock of Tahamaat actually does do stuff directly and in person, he uses the little people rules, but he rolls five dice for every step, no matter what. He's not craven, desperate, unlucky and vicious: he's bold, decisive, energetic and ruthless! He's just the greatest, and his death will be the greatest too.

At the very end, we get the Koan at the heart of this delightful fortune cookie of a game:


When you're resolving a non-Rock of Tahamaat character's action, the player rolls...
  • First, to see whether the character really does initiate action based on her intent. I>IEE.
  • Second, to see whether the character really does follow her initiated action through to its full execution. II>EE.
  • Third, to see what effect the character's executed action really has. IIE>E.
When you're resolving Rock of Tahamaat's intent, the player rolls...
  • Only to find out what effect follows from the character's intent. I--E.

Intent-to-effect resolution, with no mechanical attention to initiation or execution, no mechanical attention to the action itself, is very good for Rock of Tahamaat, Space Tyrant, with his three most astute psychics and his agent bodies and his vast impersonal attention. It's not so good for characters who take real action on their own behalf. Is it good for your game?

I hope this works as a peace offering for my long absence.