May 28, 2017

Daily Weather Tables for Hari Ragat

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Because weather can matter a lot in travel, hunting and combat, the Hari Ragat GM will often need to know exactly what the weather is like, rather than just relying on a rough season guide. Roll 1d6 as appropriate:

Dry Season

1 Thunderstorm
2 Hot and humid, thunderstorm expected
3 Warm and sunny
4 Warm and sunny
5 Warm and sunny
6 Sunny with cool winds

Wet Season

1 Typhoon
2 Day-long heavy rains (nonstop)
3 Periods of heavy rain
4 It just rained
5 Hot and muggy
6 Warm and sunny

Typhoon Season

1 Supertyphoon
2 Typhoon
3 Heavy rains
4 It just rained
5 Hot and muggy
6 Warm and sunny

As there are no roads in the Janggalan Isles, overland travel is simply impossible during heavy rains and typhoons, and most vessels at sea will seek shelter when the weather turns violent.

For combat, heavy rain (including typhoons) severely obstructs vision and renders bows useless until they dry. This is one big reason why the islanders prefer spears. Rain can cause rivers to swell and flood, and renders the ground very treacherous to footing. Characters who do not know the Secret of the Egret’s Dance will likely slip and fall on rolling a complication; this is even more likely if the character is wearing armor.

May 25, 2017

Tricks of the Jungle Spirits

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It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, thanks to RL distractions. Times have been kinda rough to us, what with all the terrorist incidents on our island playing havoc with our tour business. But I do owe you all something on Hari Ragat, so here are ideas for some trickster-spirit themed microadventures.


The wilds of the Janggalan Isles are rife with minor trickster spirits like the Kibaan. Rarely seen, they usually make their presence felt through their pranks. Most of the time these pranks are harmless, but these light-hearted, child-like beings never consider the consequences of their actions so they can accidentally trigger nasty surprises.

Trickster spirit encounters are not meant to be combat challenges – the tricksters will simply disappear and play even wilder pranks if attacked – but rather as roleplaying-cum-negotiation encounters or tests of the party shaman’s abilities. Sometimes the tricks are meant as means to get the party’s attention because the little folk need something from them. Or the GM can use these simply as reminders that the jungle is home to the supernatural.

  • The party is led astray. The appearance of the jungle and surrounding landmarks are masked by illusions, and everyone’s sense of direction becomes muddled. This can lead to unexpected encounters.

  • The party is pelted with fruit out of nowhere, followed by sweet, clear child-like laughter.

    Sometimes the tricksters do it while monkeys are present, tempting the party to try something against the monkeys; these will then reply with a great ruckus and pelting the party with even more fruit, including heavy or spiky ones capable of causing injury, and with their own feces. Only after the monkeys have done their worst do the real culprits break into laughter.

  • While at a river or spring, the party is startled by  almighty splashes and great gouts of water, as if big rocks are falling into it. Only after they have scampered to safety do they see that nothing has fallen into the water but some fruit, and then the tricksters’ signature laughter.

  • Food is stolen from the party, often done in such a way as to make it seem as though another member took it. The tricksters however, being spirits, will not touch any food that has ginger or much salt in it.

  • While hunting, the party’s hounds suddenly go crazy. They may go haring off after phantom prey, flee as if in terror, begin howling, or begin fighting amongst each other. 

  • The party hears the festive music of drums and gongs in the middle of the jungle. When they go to investigate there is nothing there. Or there may be something else there – like the lair of a big and very irritable wild boar. This works even better when the party is indeed headed for some jungle village for a festival.

  • Wild fruit that are unripe, bad-tasting or even harmful are made to look like perfectly ripe and delicious edible fruit, tempting the characters to pick and eat them, or worse yet take them home as presents. Only when bitten into is the deception revealed. 

  • Children playing outdoors disappear, only to be found somewhere else hours or even days later. The children have only hazy, but happy, memories of what happened to them.

    Sometimes children get picked as regular playmates of the elfin folk, but this constant mixing with the supernatural has ill effects: listlessness, loss of appetite, even catatonia or a wasting sickness.

  • Invisible presences tag along with a band of hunters, scaring off game with thrown fruit and noises whenever the hunters get within range.

  • An interesting or valuable object is spotted lying on the jungle floor, as though lost there long ago. On picking it up, the object turns out to be a dead branch, rotten fruit, a thorny plant, animal dung, or even a snake.

  • Domestic animals go missing. Sometimes they come back, and sometimes they don’t, but are replaced with something else.

  • One character in the party keeps hearing strange noises, but no one else does.

  • While the party is near a river the water foams and parts as though furrowed by the prow of a large vessel; this may be accompanied by the music of gongs and singing, as though a wedding fluvial is passing by. However, there is no boat to be seen.

These hooks are derived from various Philippine folk-tales, including some that I heard during my assignments to the Lumad and Muslim tribes around Davao.

January 22, 2017

Like Dropping Coins Into an Arcade Machine

Eureka! I’ve been wrestling with the way I’ve written my contest mechanics for Hari Ragat for some time now. I think I have it.

The most basic structure of a contest is to declare actions, roll, compare to find the winner, and narrate the results.

But there are also many contests where you don't want to just give up if you lose the roll. Specially if it means your character got killed. So to continue the contest, you have to pay a cost.

Basically it's like feeding coins into an arcade machine. Game over? Not yet, not as long as you have coins and are willing to spend them. As long as you can pay the cost to continue, you can continue the contest, or try to negotiate, or try to turn the contest into another kind of contest where you're more likely to win.

Different resources can be used to pay the continue cost for different types of contests. Say you lose an exchange in lethal combat. Rather than let your character die, you pay points from your shield or armor, trading the usable life of those items for another chance to be the victor. Say you lose an attempt to resist a diwata's seduction. Rather than let your character do as the diwata wishes, you pay points from your willpower.

The GM's characters also have similar resources. The more important the character, the greater these resources, so contests against them will be harder to win.

January 21, 2017

Tattoos of Mystery

You woke up one morning with fresh tattoos on your body that had never been applied by human hands. You never felt anything during the night.

No one is familiar with the style of the tattooing, nor can anyone make out what the strange symbols mean.

Perhaps somewhere there is a Baylan who can tell you what they mean, what powers they confer, and what price, eventually, you will have to pay for them.

Hari Ragat: GM Code on NPC Ties

Finally, have an opportunity to work on Hari Ragat again after a long real-life imposed hiatus.

As I was musing on how to refine my Ties mechanic for the game, I recalled a discussion with other gamers about player reluctance to define relationships for their characters. The argument was that creating or implying an NPC important to the player’s character gave the GM practically infinite power to screw with that PC’s life.

Quite a few of these players on the other hand were eager to explore relationships; they added depth to their experience of the game. I still vividly remember Tommy’s reaction to his Red Branch character finding out from the chief druid that he was to be a dad. (His wife had concealed it from him.)

This got me thinking. Players can get a lot from relationships – and not just romantic ones – if they can trust the GM with them. So I’m thinking of writing in a little bit of GM’s ‘code’ on handling Ties. These are still rough ideas, but basically, they’re to help the GM and players build trust while empowering both to create more interesting stories.

  • The purpose of Ties is to make the character’s life more interesting by adding relationship-driven possibilities, opportunities, and challenges. Ties can be to family members, love interests, rivals, debtors, allies, enemies, and so on.
  • Player-defined NPCs are considered player property. Similarly, GM-defined NPCs are considered GM property. You have authors’ rights over the NPCs that you defined.
  • The GM may not kill off a character to which any player has defined a Tie unless that player consents. Similarly, the GM may not change the details of any NPC to which a player character has a Tie, without that player’s consent.
  • The GM may endanger any character to which a player has defined a Tie at any time; part of the challenge in having a (desirable) Tie is to preserve them so you can continue enjoying their benefits.
  • The GM may cancel a Tie if the player knowingly plays their character in such a way that the NPC involved would have strong reason to break the relationship. For example, if you insult an allied datu, don’t expect him to remain your ally for much longer.
  • The GM may award new Ties on the spot as rewards for good role playing. In fact they’re meant to be one of the ‘trophies’ of the game. If you’re playing to become or to set up the Hari Ragat (High King), you’ll want to collect as many allies as you can.

November 29, 2016

Of Battle Cats and Saddle Birds

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One of the coolest ways to say ‘You’re not in Kansas anymore’ is to have flying mounts in your world. Or if not a flying mount, some bad-ass horse-alternative like a giant flightless bird, or giant canine, or even a giant feline; in short, badass often means carnivore.

Done carelessly though, this can shoot a conworld’s believability full of holes. Let’s leave the questions of gravity and aeronautics aside for now, but focus instead on the factor that has the greatest impact on the rest of the setting; fuel. What does your big, badass, carnivorous, maybe flying mount eat? How much, and how often? And where do you get it?

An animal large and strong enough to carry a human in flight is certain to require lots of food. If it’s a carnivore, it needs a lot of meat; if a herbivore, it needs a lot of fodder, an even greater mass of it since plant matter contains a lower calorie concentration than meat. There’s also the issue of a herbivorous digestion requiring a larger stomach or constant feeding, or both. It’s why a cow spends more time eating than a tiger does.

Carnivorousness creates another problem: territoriality. Eagles, which weigh far less than a dog and would have difficulty carrying even a small child any distance, require huge hunting ranges just to feed themselves. This makes them highly territorial, and thus, rather antisocial among their own kind. How can we then keep giant eagles or the like in a stable?

In Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, the pastoral economy of Pern revolves around providing the dragon-weyrs with a tribute of livestock. The dragonriders are few, but their mounts consume a large proportion of their world’s food production. The weyrs’ requirements are so high, that in Dragonriders of Pern one of the lord holders threatens to rebel against the system.

In James Cameron’s Avatar, the Na’Vi tame giant raptors for hunting. Their entire planet is a jungle, and the Na’Vi are few, so as long as they keep their planet a jungle, there will be enough meat to go around. Avatar also offers a solution to the eagles-in-a-stable conundrum: the mountain banshees nest in rookeries like seabirds. They’re already social by nature, despite their carnivorousness.

In S.M. Stirling’s In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, a few elite Martians keep stables of genetically engineered giant eagles, Paiteng. At first I found this really odd by the lights of the setting – how do you get enough feed on a  dying planet? But then you remember that the Martians are master biotechnologists, and their main source of meat is renewable; their domesticated, or rather genetically engineered Rooz bird grows a neck-flap of meat that regrows after harvesting. The Paiteng are very few, reserved only for the elites. As for their territoriality, again they’ve likely been genetically engineered to be social.

Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel offers a very valuable insight for world-builders in the section where he compares animal domestication patterns worldwide. Why, of all the animals large enough to carry a human being, did the horse end up our main carrier by such a huge margin? Diamond cites a host of factors that all came together in the horse that were lacking in other ungulates, even in its close relatives the zebra and the wild ass.

The horse had just the right mix of anatomical build, sociability and disposition, genetics (which allowed the development of different breeds for different purposes), dietary requirements, hardiness and adaptability to suit our needs. Zebras, donkeys, antelope, the South American camelids, buffaloes and oxen did not. Charles Saunders’ vision of African tribal cavalry on Cape Buffalos kicks ass, but it’s very unlikely; the Cape Buffalo is simply too badass to be tamed that way.

Finding the right balance between Rule of Cool and plausibility is always a challenge. I’m currently mulling over a new sword-and-planet novel, and yes, I want flying mounts in it; but coming up with a believable premise that hasn’t been done before is not easy.

Giant, social flying piscivores won’t work because the setting is a desert planet. The genetic engineering/advanced biotech angle doesn’t work for me either, because the setting is post-apocalyptic. That environmental premise also knocks out the Avatar-style notion that there’s simply enough to be hunted.

I think I have my idea down for the terrestrial riding animal though: A fleet desert-dweller, warm-blooded dinosauroid, lives in small herds, scratches insects and roots from the desert floor with its big foreclaws rather like a meerkat. Rears up into bipedal stance to fight with those same claws, thus battle mounts are fitted with thoracic armor.

Since I’ve a fascination with Asian history and war elephants, I couldn’t resist coming up with a giant-size war beast: A big ape-like creature, normally walks on four limbs but switches to bipedal mode to fight. Its hands are often armored in steel, because its favorite attack is to smash down with doubled fists, a la the Hulk. In sieges, it throws big stones and tears gates from their hinges. A living tank, catapult, and wrecking machine all in one … and yes, it’s a herbivore because otherwise it’d be too much to feed.

PS. I started writing meaning to say something about Tolkien’s wargs and He-Man’s Battle Cat, but I guess I said all I needed to about predators as riding animals already.

November 6, 2016

Hari Ragat Art Previewed in Wellington NZ!

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Thanks to Ambassador Jesus Gary Domingo, Philippine envoy to New Zealand, for including Hari Ragat art posters in his recent Diwata-themed exhibit at the Pistang Pilipino in Wellington!

Some of you may have been wondering if I’m dead. I’m not, heh. But a bad back has kept me from writing at all the past few weeks, so progress on readying Hari Ragat for release has slowed.

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