Rock the Casbah: A Reskin of Rock of Tahamaat by Vincent Baker

Vincent Baker’s Rock of Tahamaat is a fascinating little RPG. It also uses the word “concubine” way too much to be in what I consider good taste, and it’s missing a certain frisson of punk that would make my regular group enjoy it a little bit more. What follows is a reskin, not a hack: no game mechanics are changed, but the setting is different.

Inspired, if it wasn’t obvious, by Rock the Casbah by The Clash.

Rock the Casbah

The year is 1982. The place is somewhere in the Middle East. The Sharif has banned all Western music. You’ve got nowhere to be and nowhere to go, but what you do have is a guitar, a boom box, and a boatload of bootleg punk rock casettes. It’s time…

…to rock that casbah.

You’ll need at least two players plus GM; somewhere around four is best. One player plays the Sharif. The others play wannabe punks struggling under his tyranny.

Character Creation


Sharif don’t like it

He most certainly does not.

You are a giant of a man dressed in pristine and hugely expensive robes. From your palace you rule the state with an iron fist. You hold to the traditions of your fathers and their fathers before them like there’s no tomorrow – after all, without them, there might not be.

You are constantly surrounded by three scribe-officials, whose job it is to write down even the smallest command you might make and ensure it is put into action. You do not burden yourself with paperwork.

On your character sheet, rank the following from 10 (the absolute best) to 6 (merely very, very good):

  • Your cooks, interior decorators, event planners, and artisans

  • Your guards, army, and air force

  • Your spies and assassins

  • Your informers

  • Your overseers and police

You are far too important to care about trivialities. At the bottom of your character sheet, write “No individual person can hold my attention.”

While everyone else makes their characters, entertain yourself by mentally leafing through your secret stash of contraband movies.

Other Players

The local guitar picker

Got his guitar pickin’ thumb

You are a man or woman living in the capital city. First, choose your job from the list or pick your own:

  • Engineer

  • Laborer

  • Vendor

  • Landlord or -lady

  • Banker

  • Thug for hire

  • Layabout

  • Philosopher

  • Doctor

  • Teacher

  • Soldier

Describe how the Sharif’s tyranny is destroying your life, leaving you without community or free expression. This is your desperation and it’s your version of a character goal.

Now split up ten points between the following, rating each from 1 (very bad) to 4 (somewhat OK):

  • I got no power

  • I got nowhere to go

  • I got no luck

  • I got no chill

You’ll be particularly inconvenienced if you rate “I got no power” at 1, but you can if you want.

Note: these ratings don’t make you any more or less powerful or lucky. You got no power and you got no luck. The ratings represent how much you let that get you down.

List five names:

  • Your given name

  • Your family name

  • The name of your association, gang, branch of service, company, school, or group

  • The name of the district where you were born

  • The name of the district where you live now

The first of these can’t occupy the Sharif’s attention. The other four probably will. You can share any and all of these with other players’ characters.


Your job is to:

  1. Create scenes for each player’s character in turn, with the Sharif going last.

  2. Call for and ajudicate resolution whenever a player does something that needs it. (See the section on resolution further down.)


Scenes That Aren’t the Sharif’s

Between the minarets,

Down the casbah way…

Start by finding out where the character is now. If anyone’s going to stand up to the Sharif, it’s these people, so make them desperate and give them opportunities to strike back.

If any player says that their character takes some concrete action that might bring them into conflict with another character, or that might expose them to some sort of danger, go to the resolution section.

The Sharif’s Scenes

The king called up his jet fighters

Said, “You’d better earn your pay”

Find out what the Sharif is up to in his palace. Eventually, introduce his informers, who sum up for him what happened in the previous scenes.

The Sharif doesn’t care about individual people. Don’t use given names. Say “A group of railroad workers was causing trouble outside the mosque today.”

Ask what the Sharif intends for these people, and go to resolution.


Play until everybody’s desperation is resolved one way or another. If the Sharif dies, is deposed, or is converted to that crazy casbah sound, work together to give all surviving players epilogues and end the game right there.


Not the Sharif

But the Bedouin they brought out

The electric camel drum

There are four stages to taking an action:

  1. Intent: Your character wants to do something.

  2. Initiation: Your character attempts to do something.

  3. Execution: Your character successfully does something (or fails).

  4. Effect: Your character’s success or failure affects the game world.

By deciding to take an action, as a player, you’ve already reached level 1. In Rock the Casbah, you now have to make three rolls, one for each of the subsequent stages.

First, roll “I got no power.” When you roll a stat, roll that many d6s and keep the highest.

If you rolled 1, 2, or 3, the Sharif has beaten you down so much you can’t bring yourself to do it. Instead, you give up, run away, submit, or something else.

If you rolled 4, 5, or 6, you actually do attempt the action. Keep the die.

If you made it, roll for the execution phase:

  1. If your character is attacking someone’s life or livelihood, directly or indirectly, roll “I got no chill.”

  2. If your character is keeping someone from doing what they want to do, or exposing themself to a force intent on hurting them personally, roll “I got nowhere to go.”

  3. Otherwise, roll “I got no luck.”

Add the result (which, to remind you, is the highest of that number of d6s) to your result from the previous roll. Now you’ve got a sum between 5 and 12.

If your sum is less than 8, something interrupts you mid-action. You get caught out, parried, overruled, knocked down, or something else.

If your sum is 8 or more, you successfully do your action.

Finally, and again only if you made it, roll for effect. The GM thinks of three different effects that your action might have (bad, good, and best). Looking at these actions, what’s the worst harm that your character might inflict on someone?

  1. If you aren’t directly hurting a person, or if you don’t have a human opponent, roll “I got no power.”

  2. If you won’t kill anyone but might cripple, maim, or shatter someone, roll “I got nowhere to go.”

  3. If you might kill someone, roll “I got no chill.”

Once again, take your highest die and add it to your sum, which should now be between 9 and 18.

If your sum is less than 14, the bad outcome happens.

If your sum is between 14 and 16, the good outcome happens.

If your sum is 17 or more, the best outcome happens.

Resolution does not automatically end scenes.

The Sharif

As soon as the Sharif was chauffeured outta there

The jet pilots tuned to the cockpit radio blare

The Sharif is completely sure of himself and has all the power he needs to cause any effect he wants. He rolls only once, to determine whether his intended action and his intended effects match up.

First, determine his intent exactly. An intent is a verb phrase plus a group of people. The Sharif can narrow groups by intersecting them as he likes, but no single person is important enough for him to care about. “Tax every carpet-seller in the eastern part of the city” is an intent, as is “Beat up the Taha family.”

Decide who would carry out this intent:

  • His cooks, interior decorators, event planners, and artisans

  • His guards, army, and air force

  • His spies and assassins

  • His informers

  • His overseers and police

The Sharif’s player rolls the number of dice for that group. Take the highest three dice and add the results.

If the result is less than 12, it’s gone horribly wrong. The officials have misunderstood the Sharif’s intention! Pick a new complication, exception, group, or verb more or less at random – you might go from “Beat up the Taha family” to “Befriend the Taha family” or “Beat up every American in the city.” Then treat it as if the Sharif rolled an 18.

If the result is between 12 and 15, the people fight back. The group he mentioned is now either embattled by his agents, thrown into chaos but not completely brought to heel. Resistance groups go to ground. Bands break up for a while.

If the result is 16 or more, the Sharif’s uncompromising will is done. It’s possible that individual characters, especially players, have escaped, but they’ve done so at enormous cost.

Whatever happens, the Sharif won’t even find out which it was until it’s his next scene. He’s too important to go out onto the streets himself, of course. He’s going to wait for his informants.

(Of course, his player will know.)

The Sharif in Action

If the Sharif is personally putting himself in danger, use resolution as for the other players, but roll five dice every time.

Written on May 13, 2024