For its players to ‘get’ an RPG, and hopefully get hooked into it, the designer must have good answers for the players first two questions: “Who are we?” and "What are we doing here?” It’s time for me to take a break from pure worldbuilding and address those questions.
Who Are We?
You are going to be playing the epic heroes of the Vijadesan people. Most characters will come from the warrior aristocrat class, called the Orang Dakila (translated, ‘People of Greatness’ or ‘People of Valor’).
By virtue of divine descent, wealth, and personal courage and prowess, the Orang Dakila are looked up to by all other Vijadesans to be their leaders and protectors against the many perils of the Jangalan Isles.
The Orang Dakila have three primary concerns: status, honor, and spiritual power. Spiritual power, termed Baraka in the game, is the key to success in combat and in working magic. It is gained through taking the heads of powerful opponents, hunting down and eating the flesh of powerful beasts, and as gifts or favors from supernatural beings such as the Diwata. Orang Dakila have the benefit of starting with more Baraka than characters from other castes.
Honor, termed Karangalan in the game, is a measure of personal reputation; it is gained through success in combat and hunting, and in other trials undertaken for the good of the community. Karangalan is also gained through marriage to a bride or groom of high status and honor themselves, and by the giving of extravagant gifts. As a character’s Karangalan increases, he attracts more followers and allies.
Status is a measure of the character’s importance in the community, and is based on a) number of followers, b) property, and c) titles awarded by the Datu or Rajah.
What Do We Do?
I’m thinking that by providing players with a good idea of what their characters can shoot for, they’ll become more proactive and can even go so far as to suggest adventures for themselves to the GM. Given that status, Karangalan and Baraka are the major goals a hero should pursue, I can come up with the following narrative structures that can be used in a game:
The heroes must protect their village or current location from a raid, from invasion, or from a monster. Yields Karangalan, and possibly Baraka.
The heroes must hunt down and kill a powerful beast or monster, e.g. a giant crocodile, that has been troubling the community. Yields Karangalan and Baraka.
The heroes organize a raid against some enemy, hoping to capture booty and heads. Yields Karangalan and Baraka. The consequences of the raid may also create new problems for the heroes, and thus more stories.
One of the heroes wants to court a famous maiden of high honor (or a youth, if the PC’s a heroine!) and needs the help of the other heroes to do it. The courtship quest can consist of several sub-quests:
- Getting there – the maiden’s home is far and the journey dangerous
- Getting the maiden’s favor – the maiden will aid you if you can win her favor; a roleplaying challenge
- Contest or tournament vs. your rivals – tradition calls for a warrior’s bride to be won through challenge, in the form of ordeals, games, and often duels with your rivals
- Bring the bride home – to the dangers of the journey are added the attacks of defeated rivals or their vengeful kin
The courtship quest is all about gaining Karangalan, as winning the noble bride (or groom) is itself a feat deserving honor.
The heroes must plunge into the enchanted wilderness to win a magical treasure from the Diwatas. The treasure may be an item, an animal or plant, or perhaps even the love of a Diwata. Success in this kind of quest should yield Baraka – lots of Baraka – or wipe away a Taint. A magic quest may also be divided into several subquests:
- Getting there – the realm of the Diwatas is mysterious, confusing and dangerous due to its magical nature
- Morality trials – the Diwatas will often test the heroes to find which one, in their eyes, is most worthy of the prize; there will be opportunities for the heroes to demonstrate their virtues, with the chance of gaining or losing the Diwatas’ favor
- Defeating the guardian – the magical treasures of the Diwatas are always well-guarded. The guardian may be a hostile dragon or giant, to be defeated in combat, or the Diwata herself, who engages the hero in a game such as riddle-guessing
A hero organizes a journey to some holy site for the purpose of gaining Baraka or wiping away a Taint. The quest can be broken up into the following subquests:
- Getting there – the journey will be long and perilous, the peril being directly proportional to the Baraka at stake
- Ritual – the hero who wants to gain Baraka or wipe away a Taint must perform a ritual at the pilgrimage site; incorrect performance of the ritual could mean even more Taint, or require staying there until the ritual can be performed correctly
- Getting home – the journey home can be as dangerous or even more dangerous than the journey out; for example enemies, having heard of the heroes’ pilgrimage, may try to ambush them on their way home
Exploration and Colonization
As befits the tropical, maritime ‘virgin wilderness’ setting of Hari Ragat, exploration and settlement of the isles is a major theme. The heroes must go forth into the unknown to find out what’s out there, and perhaps find a new home for their followers which they will then have to make safe for settlement. Yields Karangalan and Baraka; extra Karangalan can be given just for discovering things, such as new islands, new resources, and so on.
New mechanic! A Taint is a mark of spiritual impurity. It’s a way of tracking how much Baraka is locked up by impurity; when a character is Tainted, points are taken from his Baraka and added to his Taint. When the Taint is cleared, the Taint points are zeroed out and the same number of points added to Baraka.