I ran my introductory adventure, Hunters of the Burning Curse, last night and got some good insights as well as a lot of laughs. Here’s what happened:
The players found character creation easy, and the mechanic of weaving their characters into the community by establishing relationships with 6 ‘keystone’ figures helped generate back stories from the get-go.
It also got the hilarity started, as we had some really dysfunctional dynamics going on right from the start! Dimasalang, Gelo’s character, ended up with both datus pissed off at him, but was oathbound to both their children! And he had a bad relationship with the diwata of the pearl beds, because he wasn’t getting any from her …
Marc suggested afterward that this establishment of relationships should extend to the PCs as well, and I agree. Still thinking how to do the latter.
The Boar Hunt
The adventure started with Gat Dulan, son of Hiyasan’s ruler, Datu Awi, inviting Musang Hagibis (Bots) to a boar hunt. Bot then went around the settlement recruiting companions, getting Dimasalang (Gelo) – who being oathbound to Gat Dulan really had no choice but to come along – and Puri, a huntress and daughter of the former wise woman.
I introduced the concept of Risk Dice here. No Risk Dice for hunting the outskirts of the settlement, +1 for entering the deeper jungle, +2 for going into Lantapan Valley (later renamed Tabi-Tabi Valley by Bots), and +3 for going up the diwata-haunted Mount Galura. They chose Mount Galura. And rolled a 6 on one Risk Die. Complication!
Instead of the large but normal boar I was planning, they encountered the pet of Soraya, the diwata of Mount Galura. It was almost the size of a VW Beetle – and Gelo, making the worst roll when I did a 1d3 roll to see who would be attacked (Marc was not yet playing at this point) – was its chosen victim!
On the first pass, Dimasalang waits at the foot of a great tree and sets his spear to take the charge, but the canny boar, instead of charging straight, changes direction and comes in obliquely, making a vicious sideswipe with its tusks. Gelo rolled two sixes, I rolled one six. I ruled that the set spear failed to deflect the boar entirely, hitting the boar’s shoulder, but failing to stop the boar from goring Dimasalang. Gelo chooses to tap Dimasalang’s Tattoos of Ferocity to absorb the damage – the spiritual power of the tats enables Dimasalang to take the pain and stay standing!
Bots and Derek go next, and both fail to hit.
Next round, Puri (Derek) manages to transfix the boar’s hindquarters with a spear by diving down on it from a tree, and Musang (Bots) attacks to hamstring the boar, but instead of getting a hind leg, he hits a foreleg. The next attack, I rule, will be resisted with only half the boar’s dice.
Dimasalang gets another go, and this time, his spear already broken, he draws his barong and slides under the huge boar, stabbing upward. Gelo taps his character’s divine gift, Heroic Strength, to perform a mighty feat of butchery, laying open the boar’s undersides from gullet to groin! Then he rolls away, very quickly! (I rolled the boar’s fall as one more attack, using the boar’s full dice pool to represent its weight).
I was rolling very badly for the NPC, Gat Dulan, so in all that time I think he only got in one hit.
Musang’s spirit guardian, a musang (civet cat) warns him that his prey is no ordinary boar – like duh! Bots quickly declares that he’s making placatory offerings to whatever spirits they might’ve pissed off. Unfortunately, his efforts are not quite enough.
The diwata of the mountain appears, very angry. They manage to mollify her a bit, but her ire falls most on Dimasalang, who struck both the first and finishing blows. As blood price, she makes Dimasalang oathbound to her.
(At this point, the back story on Gelo’s character is getting really interesting – he’s on bad terms with the diwata of the pearl beds, Sangita, and now he’s pissed off, and is oathbound to, Sangita’s sister and rival, Soraya! O the possibilities!)
The hunters return empty-handed, as they dared take nothing from their kill. On the way back down the mountain, Gat Dulan suddenly falls, writhing in pain. Soon he’s unconscious, and dwindling fast. The hunters rush back to the settlement and crash through the door of Sri Minaya, the babaylan (shamaness).
Gat Dulan is now dying, his soul being torn from his body by an evil spell. They know by now it’s a spell, as none of the remedies tried by Musang (who knows herbalism) and Minaya work.
Gelo uses his character’s animal companion/spirit guardian, a cockatoo, to fly to the mountain and ask the diwata what’s wrong with Gat Dulan. Unfortunately the cockatoo lost some words in translation, making it seem as if Dimasalang’s accusing the diwata, and got her ticked off even more at Dimasalang! However, it’s established she had nothing to do with the curse.
Musang and Puri go back up the valley and find a termite mound (punso), and an offering of herbs and tobacco gets the Old Man of the mound to come out. In return for their courtesy and gift of tobacco, he gives them some stones that will help in divining the root of the problem.
The two PCs rush back to the village and give the stones to Minaya, who makes a more successful divination than I originally planned thanks to the stones. She pinpoints the source of the curse as Datu Makbarubak, a chieftain of Hiyasan’s old enemy Pulang-Bato (Red Stone) who’s notorious for his strong spiritual power and ability to use it.
The PCs volunteer to lead a retaliatory raid on Pulang-Bato. At first their objective is to take on and kill Gat Alamid, a corsair chieftain who’s taken up residence there; later they change their target to Datu Makbarubak.
As a final preparation for the raid, Dimasalang calls for a war dance. The PCs of course lead the dancing, and I make it into yet another competition; winner gets 2 dice of Bala, spiritual power, the rest get 1 die, as a temporary bonus (good only for this mission).
This kinda broke down into burlesque, as Gelo and Derek roll several ties in a row; to break the tie, Derek declares that Puri will use her spear to invent the pole dance! And rolls a crit!
The players decide to hit Pulang-Bato from the north, after carefully considering the possible approaches and initially favoring, then discarding the southern route because of the river crossing involved.
They sail first to Turtle Island, where they camp for the first night. Musang climbs a tree to scout for enemies and sees nothing, but Puri does the same, and spots a sail. Musang now tries taking some Risk Dice – he goes to the very top of a coconut palm, a precarious perch – and this time sees a line of karakoas and a biray strung out in a blockade line off Crab Island. Puri describes the three-forked banner she sees on the closest karakoa, and Dimasalang recognizes it as the standard of Gat Alamid. He’s waiting for them!
The PCs decide to evade the blockade, and set up for their attack, by looping far to the north and sneaking behind Gat Alamid’s fleet by night. Marc wins the sailing rolls against Alamid’s watch, thanks to his sea turtle companion (played by his girlfriend Meloy), and they land on a beach well to the north of Pulang-Bato. They then start sneaking toward Village #3, which due to its isolated location Gelo believes to be the home of Datu Makbarubak the sorcerer. (He turns out to be right).
On landing, they first tie, then lose, a contest of Hunting rolls vs. some Orang Bakawan trackers, who’ve been scouting the area; again, the enemy is quite well-prepared for this raid! On the tie, they and the Orang Bakawan both become aware of each other; on the loss, the Orang Bakawan get to ambush the strike team led by Musang (Bots).
A vicious skirmish follows. Dimasalang moves out to draw fire and takes some near misses, but exposes the hunters’ positions to Musang; however Musang also misses. Musang now sends his men in, but the Orang Bakawan win this roll and destroy the group Musang sent. The skirmish culminates in Dimasalang moving in and mowing down some of the hunters with his barong. He taps his martial arts skill, the Secret of the Fearless Blade, to make extra-powerful attacks from very close in.
There was a very strong Vietnam War feel to this, as the whole skirmish was happening in a rice field full of tall, uncut rice – and as I reminded them, before the modern dwarf rice varieties were developed rice was a pretty tall plant. Crouching, or worming their way over the ground, neither party could see each other at all until they were face to face. Gelo and I were also reminded of scenes from Beyond the Black River.
A little later, Puri’s strike team also meets its hunters. Puri takes down one Orang Bakawan hunter with an arrow, and Badong (Marc) charges in, using his favored weapon – a great wooden pestle for pounding rice – sending bodies flying left and right with his powerful blows. (Note that the rice pestle is a long, heavy implement, like those in the illustration above.)
The outer defenses have now been cleared, and as the fight happened in almost total silence – the Orang Bakawan raising no alarm, once they realized they were facing hunters almost their equal – so the raiders now moved in on the village. They now split into four teams, each PC leading a band of men, represented as temporary Assets (Datu Awi had lent them both his karakoa and some of his own warriors).
Puri and Badong come in from the southeast. Puri gets up on a rooftop, but her climb is heard by the men inside. They rush out and throw spears at her, but miss. Another of the game’s high points in hilarity ensues as Derek decides to tap his remaining points in Radiant Beauty, his divine gift, to declare the defenders surprised and dumbstruck as her vest flies open! The warriors under Puri and Badong wipe out the defending squad here.
Dimasalang circles around to the west and identifies the largest house, guesses that this is Datu Makbarubak’s dwelling, and launches first his men then himself at it. Suddenly a band of warriors emerges from the silong – the dark area underneath the house, which as typical is raised on stilts (actually, columns of whole logs – this being a datu’s house) – and engage Dimasalang’s force. The defenders take losses, but manage to hold the attackers at bay. Dimasalang however uses this distraction to attack the house itself.
Datu Makbarubak comes out, points a talisman at Dimasalang – it’s a dead man’s finger – and chants a malediction. Dimasalang feels the onset of the evil magic, but shrugs it off – Makbarubak just had to end up facing the one character who had magical protection! Gelo had taken a Barong Warded vs Witchcraft as one of his Assets, and though Makbarubak won the roll – Gelo’s to close in and attack, mine to cast the spell – Gelo’s warding absorbed the full force of the magic.
Meanwhile, Musang led his team to the northeast of the village. He was able to make his way to the roof of a house, saw the fighting at Datu Makbarubak’s house, and dashed there, spending from his Heroic Agility asset just to get there. He takes a shot at Makbarubak, but misses. This is the start of a really good series of rolls for me, to my surprise.
Puri also dashes toward Makbarubak’s house, followed by Badong and their men. Puri shoots at Makbarubak and misses, and decides to switch to spear for the next round. Badong charges and again does mighty work with his pestle, scattering the defenders like chaff. Marc rolled 3 or 4 sixes on this roll, dramatically decreasing my pile of dice representing the defenders!
The four players now start competing to make the kill themselves, for Renown. Again, Gelo goes first, engaging Makbarubak in a hammer and tongs duel, barong vs. kris, Secret of the Fearless Blade vs. Secret of the Serpentine Thrust. Now I defined Makbarubak as Sorcerer 6/Orang Dakila 3, so he’s fighting with just 3 dice, plus another 3 for his Secret; Gelo was spending Assets like crazy, and rolling 10 or more, can’t remember exactly. Guess what, Makbarubak wins. Dimasalang is forced to give back, barely turning aside a thrust with his kalasag (shield).
Bots goes next, and attacks with a spear. He hits, but scores only one Victory Point. His Secret is unfortunately not usable here, as it’s meant for use in thrown spear combat.
Marc goes next, blowing the last of his dice invested in his mighty rice pestle – and to everyone’s surprise, loses the roll! He has to take 2 points off his kalasag to soak the damage.
Derek goes next, and uses a hunter’s Secret: the Impaling Spear. He scores 2 VP’s against Makbarubak, getting him through the guts. But I’m tapping Makbarubak’s remaining Bala (spiritual power), to declare he toughs out even this wound. However, I also declare that because Derek used his Secret successfully, Makbarubak is down to 2 dice for the next clash.
The action goes back to Gelo, who by now has used up his Heroic Strength and his Secret; he starts spending Bala. To our surprise, I won the roll again. Gelo soaks the damage with his Tattoo of Ferocity. Bots attacks again, and gets a stalemate. Marc’s next attack is also defeated, forcing him to sacrifice a ‘stunt double’ – he taps his Dalam, or following, to have one man intervene on his behalf and get killed.
Then Derek attacks. He too is out of most resources, but spends some Bala to power up, and this time, he rolls multiple sixes! Makbarubak falls, transfixed by the spear of a young huntress. Plus 4 Renown for Derek, on top of all the Renown he’s won for his victories!
Dimasalang takes Datu Makbarubak’s head to prove they’ve taken vengeance, and leaves the spear of Gat Dulan planted in the body as a calling card – don’t mess with the warriors of Hiyasan! The last surviving defenders are ordered to take the body to their Lakan. Then the raiders burned the rice fields.
I called for two more contests of Sailing vs. Gat Alamid, who again lost to the PCs; I ruled that this meant he sailed for the river mouth on seeing the smoke from the burning, hoping to trap the raiders in the river. They returned in triumph to Hiyasan, displayed the head to Datu Awi, and found that Gat Dulan had started to recover now that the sorcerer who’d cursed him was dead. The End – for now.
GM/Designer Notes & Player Feedback:
The players found chargen pretty easy, though for some players a little more introduction to the milieu might’ve helped
Marc suggested that relationships between PCs be established during chargen as well
Marc did not get to read the chargen brief and so missed the part about being able to set your relationships with the community keystones yourself instead of rolling them (within limits though – there’s a cap on how many favorable relationships you can get)
Gelo advises that the complication for Risk Dice trigger when Risk Dice roll 1, not 6, to entice players to use Risk Dice more often. Not quite sure I want to do it this way, but as Bots points out, the probabilities are actually the same
Bots found my allowing Role ratings of up to 6 too high; between lessening the Role dice from 7 to 5 and capping Role ratings at 5, the players prefer the former
Because of the Risk Dice Bots took at the start of the boar hunt, they ended up with a really interesting – and serious – complication. So serious I can actually do an adventure based on its consequences!
Marc found the system for running Mooks very easy. I too was surprised how easy it was to keep track, as all I had to do was physically set aside some dice and say ‘These represent the defenders.’
Any losses were simply removed from that pile, and the players could enjoy the sight of my pile steadily growing smaller – specially after Marc’s epic attack.
I was at first making marks on the battlemat, but found it much easier to double-purpose the dice as counters. (I’d planned to bring some glass ‘stones’ for counters, but decided they were too heavy at the last minute :))
The adventure could’ve lasted longer and been made somewhat tougher for the players, but I had a hard time limit and needed to finish as soon as I could – my wifey’s flight back to Davao was this morning and I wanted to give her time to rest up for it
Because the PCs have yet to encounter Gat Alamid the corsair chief and Lakan Sawali, the ruler of Pulang-Bato, I’ve enough material for a follow-up adventure with little or no additional prep necessary. Our heroes may have killed Lakan Sawali’s pet sorcerer, but they’ve barely dented the military power of Pulang-Bato …
There’s one more angle to this story that none of the players have seen yet. Anybody wondering how Makbarubak, who had to physically point his talisman at Dimasalang to curse him, was able to curse Gat Dulan from across the sea? Heh heh heh …