November 29, 2015

Preview: Folk Magic in Hari Ragat


There are many things, such as plants, minerals, and the viscera, specially the livers, of certain animals, that are held to have an innate spiritual power. Over the centuries the Vijadesans have become familiar with some of these and learned to use them, and this is the basis of Vijadesan folk magic Charms.

Knowledge and use of Charms enables any character, even those without shamanic talent or training, to cope with the supernatural though in a very limited fashion. Here are some sample Charms:

Wild Ginger
The roots of wild ginger are commonly used in cooking, but even more importantly, they have powerful purifying and warding properties. When you keep a knob of peeled wild ginger in your mouth, most evil spirits, and most witches and sorcerers cannot touch you or directly affect you in any way.

The challenge is to know when to use this charm, to find and prepare the ginger in time, and finally to tolerate the extreme heat long enough, as wild ginger is a very hot spice. You can resolve this by rolling 1d6 (Oracle Roll), on a 4 or higher the character manages to keep the ginger in his mouth. You may spend Bala or Ancestral Favor to reroll the die, one point per reroll.

If you fail the roll, you find the ginger too spicy to bear and spit it out.  Getting caught doing this however is considered a deadly insult to the host, as it’s a tacit accusation that she’s a witch!

There are many things, such as plants, minerals, and the viscera, specially the livers, of certain animals, that are held to have an innate spiritual power. Over the centuries the Vijadesans have become familiar with some of these and learned to use them, and this is the basis of Vijadesan folk magic Charms.

Knowledge and use of Charms enables any character, even those without shamanic talent or training, to cope with the supernatural though in a very limited fashion. Here are some sample Charms:

Salt and Ash
Salt mixed with wood ash is a charm against evil spirits. No evil spirit can cross an unbroken circle drawn of salt and ash; however, cunning beings often find ways to get this circle broken for them.

Evil spirits and tainted creatures such as Asuang are repelled by salt and ash thrown against them, and if you sprinkle salt and ash on the lower torso of a Manananggal or the neck-stump of a Pugot it will perish outright. The challenge is to hit the Asuang with the thrown salt and ash, or to find the body stump and use the salt and ash despite the monster’s interference.

Betel Chew
Betel chew — a wad of betel leaf with areca nuts and lime, often flavored with tobacco or spices — is also attractive to some of the most man-like supernatural beings.  Thus many Vijadesans will make betel chew offerings to local spirits and such when crossing their domains. (Note: betel chewing has been linked to oral cancer, so we do not recommend trying this!)

Alum Crystal (Tawas)
Alum is a mineral salt that is sensitive to spiritual influences and presence, and so is used in a variety of divination and curing rites. A non-shaman character who touches a lump of alum to their eyelids can see the normally invisible spirits and other enchanted creatures.

This ability however lasts only a very brief time, just enough for 2-4 actions (1d3 + 1 rounds),  as this salt irritates the eyes and will cause them to water until you can’t see at all. When you wipe away the tears caused by this, you also lose the ability to see spirits. (Note: we don’t know what alum will actually do to your eyes, but it is useful as a deodorant; GMs could use it cast Purify Player!)

The liver is the organ in which spiritual power is most highly concentrated. The livers of spiritually powerful creatures, including human beings, thus have great magical significance. Consuming them can restore lost Bala, and the livers of the most powerful creatures can outright increase your Bala if you survive the experience.

The livers of creatures ranked between Datu and Karanduun can automatically refresh all your lost Bala when consumed. The livers of creatures ranked Rajah or higher can increase your Bala, but only if you win a contest vs. the beast as if you were fighting it again. If you win your character’s Bala goes up by +1, but if you lose your character falls sick.

The bile of certain spiritually powerful animals, usually dangerous reptiles like pythons and crocodiles, is held by the Vijadesans to have powerful medicinal properties. Python, crocodile and king cobra bile may cure minor bewitchments and curses; roll 1d6, on a 5 or 6 a cure has been effected. On a failure, the character likely found the bile just too foul-tasting and spat it out before it could have effect!

(Note: we have no idea whether animal bile preparations really do any good, but we do know it’s often sourced from endangered species.)

Stingray Tails
Whips made from the tails of albino stingrays (which are very rare) have an innate ability to frighten and harm spirits. Simply cracking a stingray tail whip can repel most minor evil spirits, and even a non-shaman can attack an evil spirit or enchanted being with a stingray tail whip and claim Advantage to do so.

Whips are tricky weapons to manage, however. On a Flub (a roll of all 1’s), your stingray tail whip hits an ally, or if no allies are present, it hits your character. Mortal victims hit by a stingray tail whip become Poisoned.

November 22, 2015

I Got Lost in Jakalla


My wife’s cousins had their resort on Samal Island renovated last year, and one of their requests to the designers was a look that blended Balinese, Cambodian and Aztec. In the beautiful afternoon light, it looked like I’d suddenly been transported to the world of Tekumel …



November 6, 2015

Because the Ancestors Like Movies

There were points in writing Hari Ragat when I start thinking, ‘Daymn, these ancestor spirits really treat life like watching a movie.’ Proof? Check out these Heroic Displays, feats of daring in battle which can be performed to earn Ancestral Favor:

Dance of Defiance
If you dance within missile attack range of the enemy — bowshot if they have bows, a spear’s throw if they only have spears — and do it so well you do not get hit, add +3 Ancestral  Favor to the pool. Note that because a lot of foes will be attacking you at the same time they will be rolling with a +2 or even +3 Advantage.

If instead of shooting, the foe also sends out one or more dancers, resolve this as a contest of dance; if you win, you get the +3 Favor. If the contest rolls get tied two or three times in a row, one of the enemy dancers will usually challenge you to single combat.

Awesome Taunt
Warriors traditionally yell insults and other taunts at the foe just before combat is joined. If a player delivers a taunt in-character that reduces the GM to helpless fits of laughter, add +3 Ancestral Favor to the pool.

Heroic Divestment
The ancestors are pleased when a hero dares the foe by deliberately ridding himself of  his weapons and armor and exposing himself to attack in this state. Add  +3 Favor simply for dropping your shield, armor, and all but one or all your weapons, and +1 more every round that you continue fighting thus.  If you pick up and use a weapon or shield, or don armor again, you cease earning Favor from this feat.

If you fake your divestment by rearming yourself right after the bonus was given but before combat, however, you will anger the ancestors: for the rest of the combat and until you atone, you cannot gain nor use Ancestral Favor.

Duel of Champions
If you challenge an enemy champion to single combat and he accepts, add  +3 Favor to the pool.  If you win the combat, add another +3.

First Spear or First Kill
If before combat is joined you boast that you will be the first to strike a foe with a spear, or make the first kill, and you succeed at doing so, add  +3 Ancestral Favor to the pool. More than one character may make this oath, which results in the heroes racing madly toward the foe as they vie for the honor of first spear. 

In the Eye of the Storm
To display your skill and bravado, you stand within missile range of the enemy without a shield and spend an entire combat round just parrying the missiles launched at you with only a sword, spear, or even bare hands. If you win the roll you gain  +3 Ancestral Favor. Note that because a lot of foes will be attacking you at the same time they will be rolling with a +2 or even +3 Advantage.

Returning the Spear
The first time in any battle that a player character catches and throws back a spear, hitting a foe, add  +3 Favor to the pool. To attempt this feat, the character must have his weapon hand free and you must announce your intent to catch and throw back as your action. The most daring heroes often try to segue from the Dance of Defiance to this stunt.

Barehanded Kill
If your character began a round fighting barehanded and kills his opponent without recourse to any weapon, add +3 Ancestral Favor to the pool. This is assuming the opponent was a worthy foe, though — the Threat rating must be at least equal to your fighting Role.

November 2, 2015

Hari Ragat Update: Magic System Overhaul

I’m now in the final (I hope) rewrite stages of Hari Ragat, after overhauling character creation and the magic system. The ideas are flowing again, and I finally have the time and energy to write them!

Good news for those who want to play Baylan or Katalunan (shaman) characters, there are now a lot more options available for you. Specifically, I’ve detailed the Curse mechanics to be a lot more atmospheric and closer to the feel of Philippine folklore, and giving you ways to use it even at a moment’s notice.

One of the points where Marc and I were going round and round was the ability of shamans to contribute to combat. While I still refuse to budge on what I call ‘point n zap’ magic, I did recognize his concern as valid. Players will look for ways to solve combat problems with magic if that’s what their characters are about.

Magic options in combat now include:

  • Raising Ancestral Favor by chanting and dancing just behind the front lines – the most traditional option, and the safest; besides, every PC relies heavily on Ancestral Favor the way the game is built;
  • Calling upon environmental spirits to ‘attack’ the foe with powerful environmental effects such as storm, flood, earthquake or landslide, and the like;
  • Calling upon spirits to distract or hamper the foe;
  • Casting Sumpa curses, which make ‘accidents’ happen;
  • Casting Usog curses, which overwhelm a targeted foe with your own spirit’s aura;
  • Switching bodies with a powerful Totemic Twin creature, such as a crocodile, so you can fight in that form;

Each of these approaches comes with its own risks and rewards, and depending on how you built your character some may be easier for you than the others.

I’ve booked a playtest session on January 31 next year – alas, I’ll not be in Manila again any earlier – tentatively to be held at a game club in Makati. I can’t wait to have my players try these new things out!

P.S. I’m back to using Scrivener! I tried to continue using Open Office, but Hari Ragat has gotten so big that I just can’t keep it organized properly without a working outline view editor. Fortunately, Scrivener had exactly what I needed. Yay for Scrivener! I’ll just worry about my exporting and final formatting problems later.

October 14, 2015

Hari Ragat Inspiration: Battle of Bubat


The Perang Bubat, or the Battle/Massacre at Bubat Square in Trowulan, Sumatra is a tragic tale of honor against ruthless ambition that I want to share as reference for making Hari Ragat campaigns.

This historical event happened in the 14th century, during the height of power of the Madjapahit Empire under the king Hayam Wuruk and his wily prime minister Gajah Mada. Here’s what happened in brief:

Under Gajah Mada, who had sworn an oath never to eat spiced food again until he had conquered all Nusantara (the Indonesian archipelago), the armies of Madjapahit had subdued all nearby kingdoms save Sunda Galuh. This was not because Sunda Galuh was that powerful or hard to reach – in fact it was very close – but because the Sunda Galuh royal family was closely related to the Madjapahit king. Gajah Mada simply would never get permission to campaign against Sunda Galuh as Hayam Wuruk would never commission war against these relations as his ancestor Raden Wijaya was a grandson of a Sundanese king.

But Aragorn-like, Hayam Wuruk was said to have fallen in love with the princess Dyah Pita Loka Citraresmi, daughter of Lingga Buana the current king of Sunda. A marriage was arranged, and Rajah Lingga duly arrived in Trowulan, the Madjapahit capital, with his daughter and an honor guard. They encamped at Bubat Square while awaiting the wedding ceremony.

But Gajah Mada had devised a plan to start war with Sunda Galuh by using Lingga Buan’s own sense of honor against him. Without Hayam Wuruk’s knowledge, Gajah Mada received the Sundanese and demanded that Lingga Buana make submission to Hayam Wuruk as a vassal, and hand over his daughter not as a wife, but as a hostage-concubine for the royal harem.

Of course this could not be borne. Lingga Buana refused, Gajah Mada insisted, and weapons were drawn. The Madjapahit army was thrown against the small Sundanese honor guard, who died to a man with their king. As the battle raged, Princess Pita Loka and her ladies in waiting all stabbed themselves dead. There were no survivors in the Sundanese party.

In the aftermath, Sundanese relations with Madjapahit turned icy despite Hayam Wuruk sending an embassy to apologize. Gajah Mada was discredited, and soon after was forced by the king to retire. The disgrace shook the fragile web of relationships that held this sea empire together, and thereafter Madjapahit would begin to decline. 

October 13, 2015

Recovered and Restored!


Hallelujah! After nearly two whole months of being sick, I’ve finally shaken off that blasted bug with the medicine that seems to work best for me – the sea.

Wifey and I have just returned from scouting out the beach city of Mati in Davao Oriental for our tour business, and yes, looks like there’s definitely potential there. That is, if sun, white sand, blue waters and wildlife are your thing.

Sunrise at Dahican Beach, Mati

Dahican Beach, Mati on a calm day. The waves here reach Hawaii-like strength and height later in the year. 

A dugong, spotted just 20 meters offshore. Sorry for the picture quality, the water was rather turbid at the time

The corals of Pujada Bay, Mati

The corals of Pujada Bay, Mati

I’m restored now, so back to writing …

October 11, 2015

Review: Terminal World


I was browsing through the neighborhood second-hand bookstore when this paperback all but called my name. I’d never read Alastair Reynolds before but airships on the cover will always intrigue me, and on cracking open the first page, the first several paragraphs had me hooked.

Terminal World is a most interesting blend of genres and tropes, with a quirky multi-zoned world of varying tech levels and unstable reality reminiscent of Jack Chalker’s Well World, a Damnation Alley/Mad Max-ish odyssey through a post-apocalyptic wilderness complete with drug-crazed marauders, a steampunk-ish rogue fleet of airships, all tied together with the breathless pace and mazy twists of a hardboiled spy thriller. One cute touch for a medieval geek like me is Reynold’s method of naming his characters for this one – most of them are named for swords, parts of swords, or armor. There’s Quillon (handguard), Tulwar, Curtana, Ricasso, Spatha … names that just roll off the tongue for this virtual sword collector.

The book follows the journey of Quillon, a post-human involved in world takeover conspiracy that he has turned against, as he escapes the weird city of Spearpoint with the original conspirators’ agents at his heels. Driving this conspiracy, and in fact the great concern of the world in general, is the increasingly unstable condition of reality. There is something in Spearpoint that is causing the ‘zones’ to shift, and not only does this play hob with technology, it also affects life directly to the point that drugs must be taken to survive zonal transitions.

Though his cover in Spearpoint is as a forensic pathologist, Quillon’s true expertise is treating this zonal transition syndrome. It’s a viewpoint that gives him a unique perspective and motivation for the story. It’s what drives Quillon to be the vector for addressing the world’s Big Issue, and yes, it ends with a real bang.

I did not put down Terminal World from the moment I bought it to the time I finished it a couple of days later save for meals, sleep, and a couple of shoots.

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