Thursday, January 29, 2015

My Blade Comes with Bells On

Visualizing your character’s arms and gear can add quite a bit to your game experience. You’ve a better idea of your character’s appearance. You can describe details that make him or her stand out. You can even describe details that say something about the character’s standing in society, wealth level, even particular exploits if that’s recorded somehow on the item.

And for Hari Ragat, a milieu drawn from a part of Asia that’s rarely covered by other RPGs, I’m sure players will appreciate more visual cues. Here’s a guide to customizing your weapons:

Heirloom Powers
Let’s get the power aspect out of the way first. If you want your weapon to be more effective, make it an heirloom item with a resident spirit. The nature of the spirit and its origins determine the power of the weapon.

Heirloom spirits are typically focused on a purpose, and will give benefits (Advantage, in the Vivid system) when used for that purpose. For example, a Kalis of the Justiciar only gives its benefit vs. opponents guilty of some crime that you know of. Want the Justiciar’s advantage vs. that enemy Datu? Find some dirt on him!

Feel free to craft a backstory for your heirloom weapon and how it came to you.

Kill Count
Some warriors have their kill counts engraved onto their blades. It can be in the form of simple lines or geometric figures, sometimes inlaid with silver, copper, or other fine material, or even the names of significant kills written in calligraphic Kudlitan script.

Blade Engraving
Blades, specially of noblemen’s kalis, are sometimes engraved with flowing serpentine designs that recall the power and sinuous grace of the naga. A finely engraved blade is a mark of great wealth and prestige, and may be applied to a weapon after it’s been recognized as a spirit-charged heirloom. The engraving may be enhanced further by inlay of silver, gold, copper or brass.

Kris with naga design inlaid; from the Viking Sword forum

Hilt Ornaments
The hilt and pommel of a sword, or the shaft of a spear, are naturally the parts that receive the most ornamentation because they’re always seen. The hilt designs of Vijadesan weapons follow a symbolic code derived from the gods and spirits they worship, and some families and regions have favorite designs.

Ornamental Banding
Ornamental bands of rattan, copper wire, or rings of copper, brass, silver or gold on the hilt of sword or spear serve a double purpose. They keep the pieces of the hilt together and reinforce it, and they also speak of the owner’s wealth and prestige. The more precious the banding material and the more of it, the higher the prestige. They’re usually arranged to create alternating patterns of color.

Kris with plain pommel, black nito palm fiber banding on silver hilt

A stylized cockatoo head (kakatua) pommel often ornaments the kalis or barong of noblemen. The cockatoo is considered a messenger of the god Galura and a symbol of wisdom, signifying one who speaks with divine authority. Kakatua pommels thus communicate social status. As such they’re often made of luxury materials like ebony, ivory, brass, or gold.

Maguindanao kris with kakatua pommel and silver inlaid dots along blade

Large, stylized gaping crocodile (buwaya) jaws are almost always used on the heavy kampilan, the long broadsword usually carried by battle champions and berserkers. Crocodiles symbolize power and fearsome aggression, feared and revered across the entire Janggalan archipelago. Thus a buwaya pommel is a statement that the wielder is a bad-ass.

Kampilan with buwaya pommel; from the Viking Sword forums

The bakunawa pommel design commemorates the titanic sea dragon that once tried to devour the moon. Like the buwaya, this symbol calls upon one of the deepest fears of the Vijadesans, and has a similar message. The bakunawa is sometimes shown just gaping, but often a ball or bell of silver or brass is placed in the mouth to stand for the moon.

Visayan tenegre with bakuwana pommel; from the Viking Sword forums

Visayan talibon with bakunawa pommel; from the Viking Sword forum

The rooster, specially the breeds kept for cockfighting, is also considered special to the god Galura and is a symbol of manly courage, and the flamboyant attitude of bravura a warrior should cultivate. Rooster heads or sometimes whole-body effigies of roosters are thus used in many pommels.

Other bird-head designs are also used by the Vijadesans: Bannog, representing the heads of hawks or eagles; and Kalaw, representing hornbill heads. Bannog designs commemorate the power of the bannog, a gigantic raptor, while Kalaw designs call to mind this bird’s place in mythology as a spirit guide, a favored form of visiting ancestor spirits, and for its devotion to its spouse.

The Maguindanao epic of Bantugan describes the hero dancing out of town on his way to exile, swinging his bell-studded kampilan over his head whose sound everyone knew. Bells are  a very prestigious decoration, being difficult to craft well, and they’re always used in sets of a dozen or more attached to the pommel by little brass chains.

They’re also pretty useless for stealth, which is part of their statement: I challenge you to open combat, I can take you without sneaking. Bells with distinctive sounds can become so recognizable that, like Orcrist and Glamdring in Tolkien’s stories, the weapon is instantly recognized by foes and held  in fear. (NB: That could be an heirloom power.)

Bells could also serve as kill counters, giving both visual and auditory advertisement of the wearer’s prowess.

T'boli tok with belled hilt; from the Viking Sword forum

Hair Tassels
Tassels of hair – usually horsehair, but sometimes the hair of slain foemen, perhaps in fulfillment of a vow of vengeance – may be added by warriors who have won significant glory. Again, these mark the warrior’s status and formidability. Brown horsehair or black human hair is the commoner form, but great heroes are given the right to use all-crimson hair.

Kampilan with tasseled buwaya pommel; from the Viking Sword forum

Shields may also be tasseled, and the significance is the same. 

Bagobo shield with tassels; from the FMA forum

The Vijadesans call anthropomorphic hilts or pommels nuno, ancestor, as these represent ancestor spirits. Vijadesan designs usually have a simple hilt with a stylized head as pommel, but some of the Iraya tribes of the highlands make hilts in the form of standing or squatting full figures.

Ilocano bolo hilt with sinan-kapitan pommel; from the Viking Sword forum

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Making Kabobs with Kochadaiiyan ROA


And so the new year begins with making kabobs – arrow kabobs, that is, of hapless warriors under the eagle eye of an acrobatic bowman. What’s interesting here is that my victims aren’t orcs, nor, as far as I can tell, are my character’s ears pointed. The game is Kochadaiiyaan: Reign of Arrows, based on a Bollywood fantasy action movie.

You play the eponymous hero of the title, defending your palace against an invading army single-handed with nothing but your bow. Instead of featuring full map movement, you navigate the environment solely by rolling from cover to cover (yes, rolling), looking for vantage points from which to shoot. Your opponents alternately send arrows, spears, axes and maces at you, or take cover. With the right vantage point, you can shoot even the covering foes.

You also have three support powers/items: healing potions, a catapult strike, and a quasi-magical rain of arrows (you shoot an arrow skyward, and it multiplies into a barrage coming down). There are also a variety of special shots you can buy, such as explosive and multi-shot.

I’m enjoying the game quite a bit for the casual archery action and the beautiful environments depicting Indian architecture, but I also get the feel that this is pretty much a game still in the making.

There are only two levels available on my Windows 8 version, I don’t know if the Android or iOS versions already have more. The controls are also aparently optimized for touch screen, as when using the mouse I keep inadvertently releasing arrows whenever I use a health potion or call in support. More support powers would also have been nice. Also, there seems to be a bug in how the game remembers money you’ve spent on upgrades; I put 2k plus gold in upgrading my bow, hoping to finish it off after the next session of play, but on logging in again I found that my gold was gone, and the bow upgrade cost reset to its original 5,000.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Casting on Credit

When I first learned about Mana-based, that is, spell-point-based, magic systems I was all agog. Here finally was the organic-feeling, sensible limitation on magic that I craved, as I'd never been able to agree with the 'Vancian' paradigm of D&D magic. Then I ran into a wall.

My personal preference for dark, unpredictable and dangerous magic was not served too well by spell-point systems. Magic in such systems started to feel more scientific than mythic to me. I still liked the underlying idea of tracking how much energy you'd used, but I wanted a different paradigm. Now my subconscious is apparently some kind of closet bulldog, as it seems to like chewing on old ideas and questions I'd forgotten I ever asked, since this suddenly rose out of the murky depths of too much coffee and having to do one thing while wanting to do something else.

The gist: a system of freeform magic powered by accumulation of a randomized quantity of spiritual Debt, and discharged in random quantities also by acts of Submission. My preferences for pulp-style sword and sorcery made my treatment of this rather dark, but it can still work in a high-fantasy game where good/evil are more balanced. As is, this'll reek quite a bit of Howard, Moorcock, Lovecraft and Ashton-Smith ...

All magic requires a Patron to effect it. Mankind has no magic. Ergo, to have magic happen you must get something supernatural/extraplanar to make it happen for you. Sorcerers may have multiple Patrons, as each one has its own brand of magic.

Spells are called Invocations in this system, as you're calling on Something/Someone for your magic. Invocations are freeform; tell the GM what you want to happen, the GM warns you how many dice of Debt you'll get for it, decide whether you want to go ahead or not, and if you go ahead, make your roll to see if you get what you wanted. If you succeed, what you wanted to happen does so. If you fail, something unintended happens. For example if you wanted to summon a demon to devour your foes but blew your roll, the demon appears and makes a beeline for the fried chicken on the table.

Making an Invocation incurs Debt. The GM determines how many six-sided dice he's going to roll for your Debt; the roll should be open, and you should know before you commit to the Invocation how many dice the GM intended to roll. The result is added to your current Debt, if any.

You have a Debt Threshold; if you're using the 3-18 D&D stat scale, this could be INT + WIS + CON. As you accumulate Debt, you feel increasing psychic pressure to do something about it from your Patron/s. Your Threshold is how much Debt you can acccumulate before this psychic pressure grows too great for you to bear. If you go over it, Bad Things Happen: your Patron may show up in a bad temper, your spells may backfire, or worst of all, your Patron cuts you off for a while and you find yourself unable to work magic.

Debt is discharged by making acts of Submission to your Patron. These acts depend on who and what your Patron is. Submission may require offering blood sacrifices and participating in Grisly RitesTM, or if you Patron happens to be a holy type, meditation/prayer and doing Good DeedsTM. An entire quest could be made just to discharge a huge Debt. The more extreme the act of Submission is, the more Debt it can erase.

One way to discharge Debt is to study the Grimoire/s in your possession. Grimoires in this sytem are demon-inspired writings -- scrolls, books, ancient tomb inscriptions, and the notes of earlier researchers -- that name demons and discuss their natures. They're also vicious-cycle traps. To learn magic, read the Grimoire. But as you do magic, you need to keep studying the Grimoire for fresh insights; the demons who got that Grimoire written intended it this way, for as you understand a Grimoire better your mind becomes more and more like that of a demon, until you either crack, as most Grimoire owners do, or become a pawn of the demon.

One of the things you can ask for with a successful Invocation is a magical Gift; an item, or an ability, that you can use at will though usually for a limited time or number of uses. The greater the power and permanency of the Gift, the greater the Debt you'll accrue for it. For example, you could ask for a talisman that protects you against all iron weapons; this is worth a lot of Debt. It would be worth even more if it protected you vs. all weapons.

Examples of appropriate Gifts include: a Mesmeric Gaze, Regeneration, Animal Speech/Animal Command, Immunity to something, enchanting a weapon, and so on.

Another way of handling the Debt idea is to track the Favor of your Patrons instead. Favor can be positive, which means your patron powers kinda owe you, or zero to negative, which means any further magic increases the magnitude and urgency of what you must do to gain Favor back. For example, you had 5 Favor, but cast a spell that ended up costing 15; now your Favor is at 5 -15 = -10.

What's the benefit of positive Favor? Maybe faster access to magic? If your Favor is zero to negative, you may have to spend a round or more bargaining with your Patrons to get what you want.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Golden Writing Tip from Tim Powers


Found this absolutely golden writing tip from Tim Powers, courtesy of Mitch Wagner’s blog:

Getting Started
Powers says he wrote many first chapters of uncompleted books when he was in college.

“You come home at night. You don’t want to go to bed. You take out a piece of paper and you write CHAPTER ONE. And you write two pages, and you figure that’s pretty good. So you go to bed.

“And then the next night you’re in the mood again, so you pull out a fresh piece of paper and you write CHAPTER ONE. And you write a whole different thing.

“And eventually you realize, I’ve written a whole lot of page-and-a-halfs of various CHAPTER ONES. Add it all together, it’s a lot of words. But it’s not anything. What you’ve got to learn is: Every night when you’re in the mood, instead of starting something fresh, continue that previous thing until it’s done. Which was a tricky thing to learn, actually.

“And you need to remember that first draft work is supposed to be pedestrian and lifeless and stupid, and so if you write thirty or forty pages of first draft and you read it and find that it is in fact pedestrian and lifeless and stupid, you’ve got to tell yourself, good, we’re right on track, this is how it’s supposed to be. This leads to a finished book, which will ideally be good. This is one of the necessary steps. Rewriting and revision will make it, we hope, lively and interesting and suspenseful.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hari Ragat: More Viking Parallels


I’m branding Hari Ragat as “a game of Southeast Asian Vikings,” drawing on the obvious parallels of two maritime warrior cultures with similar reputations and values. Chinese annals telling of Malay raids on the Fukien coast sound a lot like the chronicles of British monks lamenting Viking activities. But I didn’t know just how strong that resemblance was until I saw this article in The Mirror online.


Not only were the Vikings far-ranging raiders and traders, they also valued bling (valuing the same kind of detailed workmanship), tattooed themselves extensively, and … decorated their teeth. Grooves were filed into the teeth and filled in with colored resin. Compare this to what W. H. Scott writes in Barangay: “The most impressive examples of Visayan dentistry was its goldwork … A common image is the flash of golden brilliance when the hero opens his mouth to speak or smile.” I never thought the Norse had practiced it too.

[Photos by Paul Raftery and the Trustees of the British Museum]

Monday, November 24, 2014

Wylz Gutierrez’ Pintados for Hari Ragat!


Announcing another Filipino artist on board for Hari Ragat, illustrator Wylz Gutierrez! Wylz specializes in images of the ancient Visayas, particularly its Pintado tattooed warriors. Here’s another piece, one commissioned specfically for the game, depicting a Karakoa warship sailing to battle:


He’s also done his research, which has resulted in the addition of another kalasagkalasag design: The shield with the ‘stem’ at the top is apparently the design used in the precolonial Visayas, while the ones we see more often such as those used in the Amaya TV seriesAmaya TV series are mostly BagoboBagobo and other Mindanao-originated designs.

Check out Wylz’ other artworks at his website!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hari Ragat Micro-Adventures

Lapu-Lapu, Carlos Botong Francisco,1964

I’m now writing up a bunch of ‘micro-adventures’ for Hari Ragat that can be played in very short sessions to help introduce the game and its milieu. Ideally, a GM should be able to run one of these in just an hour or two, specially if using pregens. Here are some of my ideas:

Dawn Raid
Fight off a dawn raid that somehow slipped through the watchers. Introduces combat and the use of Dulohan. To thicken the plot, you may introduce an element of treachery to explain why the raid got through without warning.

Soul Thief
A man's soul is being stolen, likely by a sorcerer. The Baylan -- either a PC or GMC -- will lead the party in spirit combat to take the victim's soul back. Introduces magic and spirit combat. The spirit combat solution gets the entire party in on the adventure.

Playmate of the Fairies
A child has gone missing. Investigation of the place where the child was last seen shows diminutive footprints leading toward the scene, but none leading away! The child was in fact abducted by the Kibaan, playful fairies whose feet are on backwards. The child is being kept only as a playmate, and went willingly, but will soon start to miss her parents and real human food ... A roleplaying adventure. Introduces mythology of Hari Ragat, and ways to think of approaching supernatural beings.

Night of the Defiler
The community suddenly comes under an ancestral curse and haunting when the grave of a recently deceased Datu is desecrated. The heroes must find out and punish the defiler, and recover the heirloom Wu Long jar that is missing from the Datu's burial trove. The defiler could be a Balbal ghoul, human grave robbers, or a Kaon-Bangkay giant lizard that has accidentally ingested the vase! Introduces the concepts of ancestral reverence and the use of Bahandi goods, and ends in a quick monster or bandit hunt.

Anowang Roundup
The Datu plans a great feast and sacrifice, which requires a lot of buffalos (anowang). Since the village doesn't have that many, it's decided to capture a wild herd and fatten them up ahead of the feast. The heroes have to find and drive as many of the wary, ornery, dangerous beasts into a corral as they can. Introduces hunting mechanics with the added challenge of capturing the prey alive.

Night of the Spear Bride
The heroes have been asked to help a suitor carry off his lady love, who is being held against her will by her relatives who want to marry her off to someone else. They will have to extract the bride from the fortified compound where she's held and hold off the pursuers until they can reach safety. Introduces the Vijadesan concepts of love and marriage, the romantic themes of the genre, and running fight mechanics.

Storm Bride's Homecoming
The heroes are returning from a successful courtship, at which the groom beat a supposed descendant of the storm god for the bride's favor. Just as they are about to reach home a magical typhoon strikes. Their challenge is to land safely -- and keep the bride from being abducted by the jilted demigod who comes under cover of the storm! Introduces sailing mechanics and naval combat.

The Laughing Giant
The village is attacked by a Bungisngis, a cyclops with a penchant for demented laughing and only one weakness -- its single eye. The heroes must find a way to slay the cyclops. Introduces the concepts of scale and flea-hopping combat.

The Flower of Power
The party's shaman needs help to obtain an Agimat, which she has learned will appear in a magical jungle blossom some nights hence. The party needs to find the tree which will produce the blossom, deep within a Diwata's home territory, braving all the dangers along the way -- including the Diwata's attempts to scare or tempt them off! If the party can complete the vigil and catch the blossoming, the shaman can obtain the amulet and keep it. Introduces the concept of Agimat and how they might be won, jungle travel, and dealing with Diwatas.

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