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.
ROCK OF TAHAMAAT, SPACE TYRANT a game about resolution
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.
Rock of Tahamaat
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.
Rock of Tahamaat
You don't go into the Kaliste anymore. You rule from your deep pleasure fortress on Pium, surrounded by your slaves, your informants, your functionaries, and your concubines by the twenties and fifties. At your feet kneel always three most astute psychics, whose duty - subject to death by torture - is to understand your every intent without your even speaking it, and to pass it by occult means on to your generals, your spymasters, your secret police, your overseers, your squads of murderers and infiltrators. Your intents, born here in your vast beds or at your vast tables in your pleasure fortress on Pium, become consequences in the Kaliste without so much as a glance or a crooked finger from you.
Consequently, rank the following from 10 (the best) to 6 (merely very, very good): Your concubines, cooks and slaves
Your guards, soldiers and enforcers
Your infiltrators and assassins
Your overseers and magistrates
Your attention is not occupied by trivialities. At the bottom of your character sheet write "the name of no mere person can hold my attention."
Now everyone else needs to make their characters, so entertain yourself imagining your feasts, your orgies, and your plans to bring the galaxy to its knees before you.
Other Players' Characters
You are a man or a woman of the Kaliste.
First choose your trade (or what used to be your trade). Choose 1: Engineer
Labor Gang Master
Landlord or -lady
Name how the tyranny of Rock of Tahamaat is destroying or has destroyed your life, leaving you desperate and fearless.
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.
Now divvy 10 points between the following, rating each from 1 to 4. 4 is best for you, 1 is worst: I'm craven
You'll be sad if you rate "I'm craven" at 1, but it's your choice.
(Briefly: the rating doesn't mean you're more or less craven or desperate or whatever. You are craven, simply and factually; the rating shows how good for you it is that you're craven. It's like in Dogs in the Vineyard: "I'm the best shot in the world 1d4" vs "I'm the best shot in the world 2d10." Either way you're the best shot in the world; what changes is how good for you it is that you're the best shot in the world.)
Now list five names: My own given name
My family name
The name of my association, gang, fellowship, caste, office, occupation, or service
The name of the city, moon or asteroid in the Kaliste where I was born
The name of the city, district, moon or asteroid in the Kaliste where I currently reside
Your own given name will never occupy Rock of Tahamaat's attention, but the other four names can, might and will.
You can share any or all of the other four names with any or all of your fellow players' characters. For instance, two of your characters might be both born on Vruk, and another two of your characters might both be of the Wren family. That's fine.
GM, your job is to:
1. Set scenes in rounds for each player's character in turn, ending each round with a scene for Rock of Tahamaat.
2. In free play, take the part of all NPCs and setting elements.
3. Call for resolution whenever a player has her character do the requisite things.
4. Adjudicate resolution.
5. Return to free play according to the outcomes resolution provides.
Scenes, not Rock of Tahamaat's
Start by finding out where the character is now, and who else is there. Let the character act and have NPCs present react and do their thing. 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.
If the players' characters get together, great! They still get the same number of scenes between them, it's just that now they're all in each of them.
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. Meanwhile just make like a GM and play free.
When you get back from resolution, keep playing free until, again, somebody says that her character takes a concrete action that might bring her into conflict or danger, or else it's time for the scene to end.
Rock of Tahamaat's Scenes
Once all the other players' characters have had their scenes, it's Rock of Tahamaat's turn. Find out whether Rock of Tahamaat is at his vast tables or in his vast beds. Free play as much as you like, and eventually introduce Rock of Tahamaat's informers. These informers sum up for Rock of Tahamaat what happened in the other character's scenes.
However, nobody here cares about individual people, not remotely, so don't use the characters' given names. Refer to them by trade or by one or some of their other four names. You can occasionally refer to them as sole actors, like "some freeworker was causing trouble in the Barant marketway today, majesty," but most of the time it's better to refer to them as a body, like "the Wren family overtook and murdered one of your concubine-takers on Vruk today, majesty."
Remind Rock of Tahamaat's player about the three most astute psychics kneeling at his feet. Ask her what Rock of Tahamaat intends for such people, and take it to resolution.
When you get back from resolution, keep playing free until, again, Rock of Tahamaat has some intention for some group of people, or else it's time for the scene to end.
All of the scenes take real time in the fiction.
Some of the characters' scenes can "meanwhile..." with each other, that's fine. However, Rock of Tahamaat's scene comes definitely after the other characters', so his informers can tell him about their events. And as you'll see from Rock of Tahamaat's resolution rules, significant time might pass between the end of his scene and the start of the next character's.
Keep playing cycles of scenes until the characters' desperations all come to their ultimate conclusions.
If a character dies, she gets no more scenes, and that player is out of the game.
If Rock of Tahamaat dies, collaborate together to give all the surviving characters epilogues, and end the game.
Characters' Actions, not Rock of Tahamaat's
Recall that you're here because somebody said that her character takes an action that would bring her into conflict or expose her to bodily danger, and you interrupted her before it became so.
First have the player roll dice for "I'm craven." That many 6-sided dice, take the highest.
If the highest die is 1, 2 or 3, the character can't bring herself to take that action after all. Instead she must (player's choice, but choose one that applies) cower, flee, hide, back away, back off, back down, humble herself, give in, keep walking, hold still, or submit. Return to free play.
If the highest die is 4, 5 or 6, the player keeps it and discards the others, and the character does actually take action, as the player said.
Now GM, you have to judge. You can ask the player for more information about her character's action if it helps.
1. Is the character now making an attack upon someone? Either a direct attach upon their person or an indirect (but concrete) attack upon their life or livelihood otherwise? Then call for the player to roll for "I'm vicious."
2. Is the character now blocking someone, preventing them from doing what they otherwise would do? Then call for the player to roll for "I'm desperate."
3. Is the character now exposing herself to danger intent upon her, personally? Then call for the player to roll for "I'm desperate."
4. Is the character now exposing herself to insensate or indiscriminate danger? Then call for the player to roll for "I'm unlucky."
5. Otherwise, call for the player to roll for "I'm unlucky."
Start at the top, and stop when you get to one that's true! If others are also true further down the list, that's fine, ignore them.
Anyway, the player rolls that many dice, takes the highest, and adds it to her high die already standing. Now she has a sum from 5 to 12.
If her sum is 5, 6 or 7, something interrupts the character mid-action. Instead, she gets (your choice, but choose one that applies) thrown aside, pinned down, diverted, blocked, turned around, misled, caught out, parried, overthrown, pushed past, overruled, overwhelmed, undercut, brought up short, knocked down, put off-balance, or held off. Return to free play.
If the character's opponent was another player's character, have that player choose the interruption, and give that player's character the initiative when you return to free play, to follow through or respond with an action of her own.
If her sum is 8 or more, though, her character follows through, completing to concrete effect the action that started all this.
Time to make another judgment, GM. Look at the list below and choose 3 different effects that the character's successful action might have. Choose the worst possible effect, a good effect, and the best possible effect (all from the character's point of view). Again, you can ask the player for more information as you need.
It's fine to create standard sets of outcomes. Every time a character's in a rock slide, for instance, maybe she - jumps clear - manages to drag free - barely survives.
Now, looking at all three possible effects, what is the worst human harm that the character's successful action might inflict upon someone else?
1. If it might kill them, call for the player to roll for "I'm vicious."
2. If it might, at worst, cripple, maim, break, terrorize or shatter them, call for the player to roll for "I'm desperate."
3. Otherwise, call for the player to roll for "I'm craven." (If the character has no opponent, it'll always be "I'm craven.")
The player rolls that many dice, takes the highest, and adds it to her standing 2-die sum. Now she has a sum from 9 to 18.
If her sum is 9-13, the worst possible effect happens. If her sum is 14-16, the good effect happens. If her sum is 17-18, the best possible effect happens.
Return to free play.
possible effects: the acting character
She: jumps clear
holds onto it
gets rid of it
keeps it secret
gets away with it
arouses suspicion, but goes unchallenged
bears it without breaking
manages to drag free
she gets [specify] from the next list
Possible effects: the character's opponent
put off course
bruised and battered
forced to flee
robbed of goods
left for dead
they [specify] from the previous list
(It's possible for a player's character to die this way.)
Rock of Tahamaat's Intent
Recall that you're here because Rock of Tahamaat's player has told you what Rock of Tahamaat intends for a group of people.
Groups can be: everyone who shares a certain trade, everyone who shares a certain family name, everyone who shares a certain named association, everyone born in a certain named place, everyone residing in a certain named place.
Rock of Tahamaat can narrow groups by intersecting them as he likes (and he usually will): every freeworker born in Barant, everyone of the Wren family residing on Vruk, every philosopher who is a member of the Cult of Dena. However, remember that no mere individual person can occupy his mighty attention.
"My three most astute psychics" is a legit group.
Example intents: enslave
call to account
You can and should ask his player for more information, as you need, until you arrive at his clear intent.
Examples: "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."
Now, make a judgment. (You can imagine yourself to be his three most astute psychics, if you like.) Which of his agent bodies should best carry out his intent? his concubines, cooks and slaves
his guards, soldiers and enforcers
his infiltrators and assassins
his overseers and magistrates
Have Rock of Tahamaat's player roll dice for that agent body. Roll that many dice, take the highest three and sum them.
If the three highest dice sum to...
3-11: Oh no!
12-15: Embattled or in turmoil.
16-18: Thy will be done.
3-11 - Oh no: 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."
Then treat it as thy will be done.
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.
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.
Since individual people are beneath Rock of Tahamaat's attention, it's possible that individual members of the group in question have escaped the group's fate. If so, they've done it at tremendous cost and they (most likely) remain in tremendous danger.
Right now, turn to any player whose character falls into the group in question, and ask her whether her character's suffered the fate of the group, or else escaped it at tremendous cost and with tremendous danger. She can choose whichever she prefers. Remember her answer and use it when you set her character's next scene. (It's possible for a player's character to die this way, but not Rock of Tahamaat.)
For example, suppose that the Wren family has now been put to public execution, and one of the players' characters is a member of the Wren family. Say "do you want to be put to public execution with the rest, or do you want to escape public execution at tremendous cost and with tremendous danger?" Suppose she says "escape it. (Duh.)" When it comes around to that character's turn, you might say this: "you're in the crowd in the public square on Vruk, hoping nobody recognizes you, watching the blood of your mother, father, brothers, sisters, neices, nephews, cousins, uncles, aunts, and husband filling up the collecting tubs. What do you do?"
When you return to free play, strictly, absolutely and without exception, whatever effect happened, it's too late for anyone to do anything to change it. Even Rock of Tahamaat. Remember that he didn't even glance at his three most astute psychics or crook so much as a finger. In fact, he won't find out what's happened until his informers tell him about it, all the way in his next turn.
Return to free play now.
Rock of Tahamaat in action
If circumstances arise and Rock of Tahamaat's player says that Rock of Tahamaat takes action that would bring him into conflict or expose him to danger, do use the other players' characters' resolution rules. However:
Rock of Tahamaat is bold, not craven. Instead of rolling for "I'm craven," his player should roll 5 dice.
Rock of Tahamaat is decisive, not desperate. Instead of rolling for "I'm desperate," his player should roll 5 dice.
Rock of Tahamaat is energetic, not unlucky. Instead of rolling for "I'm unlucky," his player should roll 5 dice.
Rock of Tahamaat is ruthless, not vicious. Instead of rolling for "I'm vicious," his player should roll 5 dice.
THE GAME DESIGN POINT
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?
Thanks for reading!
1. On 2009-06-24, Vincent wrote:
I was talking to Rob and Troy the other night about space tyrants, and then I was thinking about how to illustrate I--E resolution to you all, and this is what came out.
(Vincent: "nobody counts as a space tyrant unless they have HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS OF SPACE CONCUBINES." Rob, Troy: "there there, Vincent. There there.")
Interesting. I've been messing with an oddly similar game for a while, but my resolution for the PCs or the omniscient Regime is very similar. So far the gist of the revisions had been to make Regime (GM) resolution and player resolution more similar, this kind of makes me wonder if that's a good decision. I like the differing feel of the all-powerful opposition and the small-scale PCs.
There are other places to grapple on to IIEE too, of course.
Classic example: "Roll your Perception." Where does this roll happen? Right here: *IIEE. Before Intent exists.
And something like one of those systems where every time you use a skill you get a point, and at character advancement time you get to roll based on points to see if the skill improves, that sort of looks like this: IIEE*. A deferred long-term effect.
I like the Gilgamesh-like physical and psychological proportions of the Tyrant.
I'm sure the informants are toadying, manipulative slime, so their summaries may not align at all with how the players perceived events. This could lead to the Tyrant taking apparently unjust or illogical actions, or reacting out-of-proportion. (In other words, even if players do nothing incendiary, the Tyrant might end up punishing them directly or indirectly. You know, he might act all tyrant-y.)
"3. Otherwise, call for the player to roll for "I'm craven." (If the character has no opponent, it'll always be "I'm craven.")" Would you want this to be true even if the character were taking a physically risky but unopposed action like climbing up the outside of a tower to sneak in through the window of the concubines' room?
The flow-chart form of resolution is fascinating.
The psychics remind me a bit of the oracles in Philip K. Dick's Minority Report. Of course in that instance the Tyrant is really The State, so it's much less personal.
Yes, "I'm craven" is the stat for avoiding the consequences of exposing yourself to danger. You can understand "craven" to mean careful, cautious, patient, painstaking, or with planning and forethought.
You can also think of a high roll as your character overcoming that attribute, or else as that attribute serving her well. She overcomes her cowardice, or her cowardice serves her well. Both can be true, depending on the circumstances.
Player: I climb up the outside of a tower- GM: Stop! 1: roll craven. Player: [rolling] 5. GM: Great! You start up the tower. It's really high, you're clinging to the side. 2: roll unlucky. Player: [rolling] 4. Sum: 9. GM: Cool. There are enough handholds and little edges you can wedge your fingers and toes into. You can climb up. Where are you going? Player: To the concubines' window. GM: Oh, of course! Cool. So the possible outcomes. Worst, that you'll get stuck on the side of this terrifying kilometer-high tower. Good, that you'll barely manage to drag yourself to the window. Best, that you'll make it easily. 3: roll craven.
Meaning: if you're a chicken-heart you'll get stuck. If you're careful and smart, you'll make it. Roll!
Mathieu: I'd expect Rock of Tahamaat's informers to be basically reliable, not liars. After all, Rock of Tahamaat's player knows what really happened, and can choose to have Rock of Tahamaat torture his informers to death any time, for any reason or no reason whatsoever, no in-character justification required.
I think for the first round or two, Rock of Tahamaat's player will be kind of idly interested, watching what happens with a detached and superior air. But when the other characters get serious, she's going to find that Rock of Tahamaat doesn't have quite the right tools to deal with them, and it's going to become super important to her to catch every last detail of what they do, in case they inadvertently give her an angle she can use. Rock of Tahamaat's life and rule is on the line here, after all.
If the main GM sets up situations and helps with the rules in general (BTW, is it really necessary? It seems quite easy to discern which abilities to use on your own), then the Rock picks up the other side of the equation, by creating Situation.
Or rather, creating the basis for the Situation that either a GM or a player creates during their turns. The Rock to me seems like those board-game mechanics which each turn the crocodile takes another path and advances a random number of turns, basically.
Ben: Well, by the book, you have to have concubines "by the twenties and fifties." You have to have multiple fifties.
You could make a case that 51 concubines would give you multiple fifties: the fifty excluding concubine #1, the fifty excluding concubine #2, the fifty excluding concubine #3... - so, in that case, at least 51.
Personally, though, I think that's nit-picking. I take the text to mean that you must have multiple discrete fifties of concubines - 100, 150, 200, 250... - so, at least 100, or pff, say I. Pff to you, alleged "space tyrant."
Guy: I see it the opposite way, actually, quite strongly. Rock of Tahamaat's player is precisely the same as all the other non-GM players in every way that matters. The GM takes input from every character's actions, including Rock of Tahamaat's, and uses it to set scenes; the GM's responsible for overseeing every character's actions, including Rock of Tahamaat's, and making their effects real in the game's fiction.
Rock of Tahamaat acts at a different scale in the game's fiction than the other characters do, but Rock of Tahamaat's player acts at the same scale as the other players (except the GM). She says what her character does, and abides by the GM's arbitration and the results of the game's rules.
The GM's job in this game is as crucial as the GM's job in Dogs in the Vineyard. Try to share it out, try to have every player do a segment of it, and you'd be better off designing a new game from scratch.
Guy : I see the Tyrant's player the other way : he is playing a piece of the classical GM's part. Indeed, in most of the games the GM also plays the evil tyrantTM. See MLwM or any Dungeon crawling game.
Vincent : Thanks for the clarification. I understand the game much better now. Still without playing I have difficulties to imagine how it is to play Rock of Tahamaat.
By the way, how long (how many sessions) does this game takes ? Is there a possibility to compress it to a single session game ?
I haven't playtested it! I thought of it the day before I posted it.
I expect it to play in a session or 2. With GM+3 you can play a round in 45 minutes easy. Keep the scenes short and let the scenes accomplish things.
This "second GM" talk is plain nonsense. You know how a magic user has a batch of different rules at her disposal than a fighter does? That's all that's going on here too.
Also, crucially, Rock of Tahamaat is a space tyrant, not an evil tyrant. He's a PC anybody would be proud to play, a successful and powerful mid-level PC looking forward to the challenges of the higher levels.
I love the comparison with usual rpg's PC. The nuance between space and evil tyrant is understood. Thanks for the pedagogy.
Anyway, the scale difference between Rock of Tahmaat's rules and the other PC's rules introduces something new I have difficulties to imagine. That's why I asked about total duration of the game.
Another question : what would be a typical endgame ? A PC killing the Rock of Tahamaat ? A mob irrupting into the vast beds rooms and tearing him into peaces (consequence of PCs actions) ? All the non Rock of Tahamaat PCs being killed without the Tyrant having ever used his "in action" rules ?
Endgames: yes, those. In the section "until," it should say this:
If Rock of Tahamaat dies or gets overthrown, collaborate together to give all the surviving characters epilogues, and end the game.
So there's that one too, where Rock of Tahamaat loses his rule but keeps his life (and, presumably, his ambitions).
There's also the endgame where Rock of Tahamaat makes (some of) the other PCs his generals, friends, allies, advisors, wives, etc, and they go forward together to bring war and fire to the whole galaxy.
The GM's agenda is to find out what will happen between Rock of Tahamaat and the other PCs, without throwing it one way or the other.
Of course great Rock is bold and not craven, he has telepaths!
I love the interaction of the two scales. I also love the idea of trying to use my cooks and concubines for everything, by the way I phrase my intent.
(Is there something psychological about my total focus on playing Rock?) :P
One suggestion for an important rules change; Rock of Tahamaat should not touch mere dice, until he has to roll them himself in extremis. He should spend most of his time folding his arms and being magnificent! The GM should roll for Rock's player.
As for players scenes, I suspect expanding this to a full game you'd need to flesh out two things; help towards the structure of the oppressed's scenes and how often they turn into something deserving of Rock's attention.
Secondly what it means for their desperations to conclude. Is it just that they are no longer desperate and have found some stable sort of life? If so that could be pretty interesting, with the players resolving their characters story all while remaining within the shadow of Rock of Tahamaat. How very ominous!