wimp is a dominant maternal-effect mutation that interacts with a specific subset of early-acting maternal and zygotic Drosophila genes. We show that wimp is a change-of-function mutation, allelic to mutations of the 140-kD subunit of RNA polymerase, which causes reduced transcription of interacting genes. Loci that do not interact with wimp are expressed at normal levels. We discuss these results in terms of specific interactions between transcription factors and RNA polymerase. Embryos from wimp mothers show unaltered fate maps and develop normally, despite the reduction of transcript levels at least twofold. We suggest that spatial cues are determined by a balance of segmentation gene products rather than their absolute concentrations. We also demonstrate powerful genetic screens for otherwise undetected loci required for segmentation, sex determination, and other early functions.