I just got some ideas from a discussion at Blog of Holding regarding some of the potential ‘hot buttons’ in Hari Ragat. One of the challenges in creating this setting is how to handle issues that can feel too strange or even repulsive to gamers, specially Western gamers who of course make up most of the gaming population.
It’s All Optional
I guess this is the first and most important rule in any RPG: anything written in the book is optional and may be altered for the sake of fun.
Slavery among the Vijadesan people is debt-based. Within the community, a debtor who fails to meet his obligations becomes the slave of his creditor.
In war, a captive is expected to pay ransom for his freedom; if he fails to come up with the ransom (or rather if his people don’t ransom him), he owes his captor the value of his ransom in slave labor.
The question then is whether the war was justified or not. Vijadesans consider war to be justified when the target community has murdered or mortally insulted a member of the offended community, or has raided the offended community.
This of course doesn’t mean I’m condoning slavery, but rather I’m providing a framework for it that’s different from the race-based premise that most people think of when slavery is mentioned. It remains a moral issue that the players will have to wrestle with in their own way.
The Vijadesans occasionally practice human sacrifice to propitiate the gods and spirits. There are two kinds of occasions wherein human sacrifice is called for: to appease the spirit of a spiritually powerful person who was murdered, and to appease a deeply offended god or diwata.
In the first case, the victim should come from the same tribe or community that the murderer came from, if the murderer himself cannot be found. The sacrifice is performed at the funeral or over the grave of the offended person. If it isn’t performed by the next Day of the Dead, the offended person’s spirit will begin haunting the community.
When such a sacrifice is required, the aggrieved community usually sends an embassy to the offender’s community, demanding the offender be handed over to them. If refused, they are justified in raiding the offender’s community to take a captive for the purpose.
In the second case, the sacrifice is required only when the community commits a very grave offense against a god or a diwata (nature guardian spirit). Failure to deliver the sacrifice results in a natural disaster, possibly one that wipes out the community or its land.
For this purpose, the victim must come from the community itself, the higher-ranking the better. Thus the familiar trope of the princess having to be offered as sacrifice.
You can also use this as an adventure hook, wherein the heroes must find a way to save the sacrificial victim – perhaps by identifying and offering up the true culprit, or negotiating with the offended being to accept some kind of substitute.
I’m going to change the game’s premise for head-taking. Instead of putting it under ways to gain spiritual power, I’ll put it under the customs of vengeance and propitiation of the dead. Enemy heads are taken to offer them to the anitos, the spirits of the dead, in particular great warriors and chieftains who had been offended by members of the tribe the heads were taken from.