June 30, 2011

Hari Ragat: Haunters of the Jungle III

More ideas on monsters, flora and fauna for the Hari ragat setting. Unlike my first two Haunters of the Jungle posts, however, this is not so much about what lurks out there as how I’m thinking of making these creatures more interesting to interact with.

Each Monster Can Be Unique
Uniqueness can be a big factor in making monsters more memorable.  In the Hari Ragat setting, there’s leeway to make unique individuals from a given creature type. 

The most varied lot are the Raksasas: each Raksasa will have a unique appearance, powers and personalilty. Some will be almost human, some may even be so beautiful and virtuous as to be angelic (but beware their touchy sense of honor!), and some will be a terrifying blend of demon and kaiju.

Enchanted animals may also have differing powers from one individual to another: one enchanted boar may be of titanic size, another be made of bronze and breathe fire, yet another may be invulnerable to metal weapons, and so on. I’ll probably have to provide customization templates, maybe random-roll tables, with these monster types.

Now You See It, Now You Don’t
Some monsters can have special abilities that let them disappear and escape at will, unless a means can be found to prevent it.  The night serpents, for example, can simply meld into the earth – or is it true that they transform into much smaller snakes as a disguise?  There could be conflicting rumors as to how or why a creature can disappear. 

Finding It is Half the Fun
Quite a few of the creatures I listed in the previous posts can be very elusive when they want to be.  Finding any creature in the jungle is hard enough; finding a secretive, wily, camouflaged, disappearing or possibly shapeshifting creature in the jungle will be a real challenge! 

Players will have to think of ways to track down their quarry, flush it out, or have it come to them.  In Vivid, I imagine this to take the form of an extended contest between the creature and the characters’ skills at Hunting or possibly Lore/Folklore. 

If the quarry is supernatural then a shaman (katalo – male, babaylan – female) may have an edge because shamans have lore and may also consult spirits for info.

It’s Not True, It Can’t Be!
Shapeshifters offer yet another form of mischief:  they can hide in plain sight, as otherwise respected and perhaps powerful members of the community.  What if the rumored aswang is also the village healer?  Or worse yet, the datu’s wife?  What if the Rajah is hiding a curse on his bloodline?

The trick now for our heroes will be to prove their accusations, most preferably by catching the monster in the act and exposing its duplicity.  Perhaps the monster is not truly the person they have accused, but rather one who murdered the person and then stole his or her identity.

Multiple Encounters Monster Movie Style
Many monster movies follow a distinct pattern of encounters.  Formulaic? Yes.  Effective? Interestingly enough, yes – because the formula allows the narrative to evolve. 

The first encounter is usually not experienced firsthand by the protagonists; it’s there to let you know there’s Something Wrong.  The PCs may find out there’s a new foe or infestation when a body is found.

The second and sometimes even the third and fourth encounters are destined to be failures.  The monster can retreat from an encounter, or force the heroes to retreat in realization that they are being overpowered, or the GM can use a save-the-villain mechanic that is built into Vivid’s combat system.  (Psst – don’t worry, monsters/villains that can do that are worth more Glory when you finally get em!)

The final encounter only occurs when the heroes find the key to renderiing the monster vulnerable to their efforts.  Perhaps they learn of a hidden weak spot, or acquire the weapon/item that will kill the creature. 

Why not shortcut the process and skip to the final encounter?  Because it’s in the act of striving that the necessary keys/maguffins will be earned, Grasshopper. 

You may even find ways to engineer the solution yourself.  For example, a Raksasa has been raiding your village.  The second time you fight it and it retreats, you tell the GM, “I’m going to chase the Raksasa into the Mountain Diwata’s sanctuary.  I’m hoping he causes so much ruckus there that she takes offense and helps me kill him!” 

I’d consider that.  And then build the Mountain Diwata as a recurring character the the heroes will now have to keep pleased, heh heh heh.

June 29, 2011

Hari Ragat: History (Draft)

The Vijadesans reckon their history from the date of the Ten Datus’ landing in the Jangalans, some 900 years ago.*

The Hari Ragat Stone

The sagas of the Vijadesans revolve constantly around the Hari Ragat Stone, a magical gem given to the first Vijadesan king by Apu Laut, god of the sea.

Long ago, it is said, when the first Vijadesan king was but a fisherman on the island-continent of Arundwipaya, he encountered a gigantic sea turtle.  “You are destined for greatness,” the turtle told him, “so I wish to give you a gift.  Choose one of the three gems on my head and take it.

“The sapphire, if you take it, will make your people great in wisdom; they shall build everlasting temples of stone and learn all the lore of the stars, but after a thousand years they will be conquered and ruled by another race.

“The emerald, if you take it, will make your people wealthy beyond their dreams; their harvests will always  be abundant, and they will never know hunger or pestilence.  But after a thousand years, they shall be conquered by another race.

“The ruby, if you take it, will grant your people great hearts, making them valorous, diligent and ingenious, so they will be inconquerable; but it will lead them to such strife that in time you and your line will be forgotten.”

“Then I choose the red stone,” said the future king. “For as long as my people have the traits you promise, they will have freedom, and that is all they need; everything else they can make or take with their hands as they wish.”

“So be it,” said Apu Laut, and the king-to-be took the red stone.  The stone was named the Hari Ragat, the Ocean King, and with its powers the fisherman founded the Amaron Kingdom.

When long afterward Rajah Samil went mad and oppressed his people into despair, the gem was stolen by Datu Bangsil who then led nine other datus and all their followings on a voyage to find a new homeland.

Landfall

Fleeing the tyranny of a mad king, ten Vijadesan datus take sail from Arundwipaya and are led by a giant sea turtle (the god Apu Laut) to the Jangalan Isles. 

The islands are divided into ten realms, each of the datus proclaiming himself a Rajah.  All the Rajahs however recognize the supremacy of Rajah Matanda of Bambaran**, as he possesses the Hari Ragat Stone.

The first hostile encounters with the raksasas, the shapeshifting giants, occur.  Many other ancient monsters must be slain so the Vijadesans can settle the new lands in peace. A pact is concluded with the raksasa king, Rajah Sanna, recognizing certain mountains and islands as sacred to the raksasas and forbidden to man; in return the raksasas would cease molesting the Vijadesans.

A few years after the landfall, Lakan Ibar, son of Rajah Matanda, steals the youngest wife of Rajah Baginda.  This sparks the first war between the Ten Kingdoms.

The War of Fire

There are now two branches of the Vijadesan people; the Vijadesans of the Amaron Kingdom on Arundwipaya, ruled by Rajah Palyava the grand-nephew of mad Rajah Samil, and the Vijadesans of the Jangalan Isles, divided into ten feuding kingdoms.  Rajah Palyava gets the location of the ‘renegade’ Vijadesans from traders, and puts together an expedition to bring them under his sway.

Thus begins the War of Fire, so named for the great burnings and sackings that ensued.  Rajah Palyava made seven great raids on the Vijadesans of the isles, and after his death his son Rajah Pandara made another three.  On his last raid, Pandara burned Bambaran and captured the Hari Ragat Stone.

The island Vijadesans retaliated with raids of their own, however, but on a smaller scale.  When Pandara captured the Hari Ragat Stone, Rajah Matanglawin of Bambaran pursued with forty ships, caught Pandara at sea, and slew him in a desperate battle within sight of Arundwipaya’s shores. 

The following year Matanglawin led a retaliatory raid against the Amaron Kingdom, allying with the kings of Dharupala, Uparaya and Mahambara on Arundwipaya. Rajah Salukya, son of Pandara, submitted to Matanglawin, giving him his sister in marriage and making Matanglawin his heir. 

When a few years later Salukya died fighting the Dharupalans, and Matanglawin became, briefly, king of both Amaron and Bambaran.  But another Dharupalan invasion struck before Matanglawin could set sail for Arundwipaya again, and before the expedition could embark news reached Bambaran that the Amaron Kingom was no more. 

Many Vijadesan refugees made their way to the Jangalans and were absorbed by the Vijadesans there; those who remained were absorbed into the Dharupalan nation, thus making the island Vijadesans the sole representatives of their race.

The Scattering

The end of the Wars of Fire sees a great increase in Vijadesan numbers.  This is partly from an influx of Vijadesan refugees from Arundwipaya, and partly because of the victorious island warriors gaining more wives and slaves.

Then a volcanic eruption destroys the kingdom of Irayon.  Said to have been brought about by Rajah Bagwisan’s spurning of a maiden who was the volcano goddess Lalahon in disguise, the eruption scatters the Irayonese and devastates so great an area that many go to seek new homes elsewhere.

The Vijadesans now continue spreading across the Jangalan Isles at an increased rate, straining the ability of the Rajahs to exercise their sovereignty over them.  Soon there are 12 Rajahs, then 20, then a hundred.  The Hari Ragat Stone passes through the hands of several different families, as it is inherited by the Rajah of Sambail, then the Rajah of Tambarang, before it is successfully reclaimed by the Rajahs of Bambaran.

Wars erupt, causing the Vijadesans to disperse even further. By the end of this age, only one of the ten original kingdoms, Bambaran, remains.  The other nine original kingdoms have fallen, replaced by other dynasties. 

In the meantime, the raksasas are growing increasingly hostile as the Vijadesan colonists encroach on their territories.  The details of the ancient pact have been largely forgotten by the Vijadesans, so violations of raksasa turf grow ever more frequent.

Raksasa Wars

The raksasa prince Lawana steals Isyana, the wife of Rajah Indarapatra of Bambaran, and demands the Hari Ragat Stone as ransom. 

Indarapatra meets Lawana carrying the stone, but both parties plan to trick the other to keep both princess and stone.  With his magical powers Lawana is able to get away with both, so Indarapatra calls on all the Vijadesan rajahs and datus to join him in war against the raksasas.

An epic conflict ensues, with the powerful raksasas having a great advantage against the Vijadesans.  So many kings and heroes fall that the time is known as the Age of Tears.  Even Bambaran falls, destroyed by Lawana’s magic arts.

But Indarapatra survives, and with a small company of heroes (and some timely aid from the gods and diwatas) he confronts Lawana in battle and kills him. 

The princess is recovered, but to his dismay Indarapatra fails to find the Hari Ragat Stone.  He sails away with his wife on a quest to find the stone, and is never seen again.

Indarapatra’s son Rajah Bima takes his place, but without the Hari Ragat Stone he is unable to enforce his sovereignty beyond Bambaran.  Eventually Bambaran is abandoned as indefensible and the descendants of Raja Bima establish new kingdoms of their own.

War of the Red Sails

Yamatora, lord of the Red Sail Pirates from Rushun, invades the Jangalans with the aim of founding a kingdom there.  With the Vijadesans disunited, he quickly subverts many chieftains to fight with him; those who resist are relentlessly attacked.

A long and bitter war follows.  Eventually Yamatora is slain, and the Red Sail Pirates are forced to flee.  Many of their number however are inadvertently left behind, and these disappear into the jungle.  Years afterward, villagers quake in fear of ‘sword-wielding demons’ terrorizing the countryside, cutting down innocents, raping maidens, stealing and burning crops, even devouring captives.

After the War of the Red Sails, however, there is a long period of peace and rebuilding.

The Thousand Kingdoms

A pearl diver finds a shipwreck while exploring a new pearl bed, and finds within it nine shards of what had once been a fist-sized red gem.  It is the Hari Ragat Stone, now broken into pieces. 

Through a series of misfortunes the shards are scattered and fall into the possession of various rival princes.  It is prophesied that the Rajah who can get all of the pieces will be able to reassemble the Stone, and thereby claim once again the title of Hari Ragat.

Even worse, the shards of the Hari Ragat Stone are multiplying, splintering into even more shards. Why, nobody knows.  But with more shards, each in different hands, chaos is assured.  Thus the name of the current era: the Age of the Thousand Kingdoms.

*I’m pushing back history a bit to have a larger timespan to play with. 

**Some names may still be changed before I go to the final draft. 

June 22, 2011

Hari Ragat: an Aversion to Aswang

I have a confession to make.  For all that Hari Ragat is a Philippine-inspired setting, I’m a bit leery of including that iconic Philippine baddie, the aswang.

My concern is a matter of desired game tone.  I’m trying to design Hari Ragat as a game of epic heroism, a game that’s much closer to The Iliad and Pendragon than to a Dragonlance novel and D&D dungeon crawling.  What I fear is that the addition of aswang to this game setting will orient players and GMs toward a ‘hunt the monsters’ style of play.

But don’t heroes in Hari Ragat hunt monsters? Yes.  But in my way of thinking, hunting down a giant or a dragon is epic; hunting down the neighborhood witch/vampire isn’t quite there.

What to do?  If I’m to remain true to my inspiration I should keep the aswang in there.  The material I’ve come up with so far for aswang-type monsters can give creative GMs quite a bit of material for doing a supernatural tragedy. 

Hm.  Two solutions come to mind.  First, make the aswang more epic in feel.  Build on the back story.  Make the aswang harder to kill, unless the heroes can find her secret weaknesses, which in turn involves investigating her back story.  Second, hold off on the aswang – and release it with a supplement.

June 21, 2011

Hari Ragat: Haunters of the Jungle II

Even more sinister denizens of the jungle …

Tiyanak
The tiyanak is an evil spirit that can mimic a person, often a child or woman known to the victim.  By imitating voices, the tiyanak makes the victim believe it is a person in need of help, and so draws the victim within its reach.  It then ambushes the victim and devours his entrails. 

It is believed that tiyanak are the spirits of stillborn babes; they are essentially the ‘wild’ form of the tuyol, a homunculus created from the body and soul of a stillborn child.

Cannibal Sorcerers
Some sorcerers have broken the ultimate taboo – they gain spiritual power by consuming human flesh, preferably that of virgin women.  Inevitably fleeing their homes in order to survive and keep their secret, they take to living in the jungle, periodically kidnapping villagers or ambushing hunters and travelers for their flesh.  (Inspired by a documentary I saw on Crime Asia, where a rogue bomoh became a serial murderer supposedly to gain spiritual powers.)

Undead Huntsman
Legends tell of an evil hunter who was possessed by evil spirits.  After committing a string of murders, he was eventually murdered in turn by his wife and son so they could escape his clutches.  Several nights later, however, the hunter reappeared and carried off his family from the village where they had sheltered.

The undead monster then disappeared into the jungle, but is said to turn up near villages ever so often to commit gruesome murders.  His hunting skills make him very stealthy, and he is deadly with spear and bolo. It is impossible to permanently kill this monster; it may be that some diwata holds the secret to undoing a curse or magical spell that allows him to keep coming back from the dead.

(Inspired by a ghost story related to me by a friend from Iloilo.)

Were-crocodiles
These are men who can turn into crocodiles at will, and harbor a secret hunger for human flesh.  Were-crocodiles will almost always be river fishermen or boatmen in their human guise, as they need to be in or near water to transform.

Poison Demons
Poison demons, sometimes called nabulit, are the spirits of men who died of snakebite and were not given proper funerals.  They return to life as hateful monsters, permeated with poison that contaminates everything they breathe upon.  A kind of human basilisk.

Demon Warriors
A long time ago, a pirate armada from far away invaded the Jangalan Isles and for a brief time established a kingdom there.  Their cruelty was legendary, and caused the warring Vijadesan chiefs to unite against them.  The pirate kingdom was crushed, but some of the pirates fled into the jungle and disappeared there.

In the depths of the jungle these stragglers were warped by their evil into undead, demonic monsters, eternally wandering to prey on humans and terrorize their ancient foes.  A demon warrior wears scraps of strange clothing and armor, rotting from centuries in the jungle, and carries a long curved sword.  They are very hard to kill.

They can however be laid to rest by a priest from their own land.  Fetching such a priest is an epic quest in itself, for the voyage to the pirates’ homeland is long and fraught with perils.  (Inspired of course by Japanese stragglers left in the Philippines after Word War II).

Hmmm, I’m seeing a trend here … humans warped after death. I think I’m going to take in the Buddhist belief that evil humans can  become demons and use that in Hari Ragat.

Aswang
Evil shapeshifters that feed on human entrails and life force.  Living as normal humans by day, aswang can transform themselves at will into an animal form, often a flying one. 

There are many kinds, each with their own proper name.  Some devour their victims like predators, while others are like parasites, slowly leeching life force from various members of a community until the victims die a seemingly natural death.

There are however some commonalities between aswang types:

  • They are usually women;

  • Their alternate forms are always black in color;

  • Preferred alternate forms are a black bird of prey, a crow, a bat, a civet cat, a house cat, or a dog;

  • They prefer to prey on pregnant women and young children.

Aswang are the products of black magic, either worked on themselves, inherited from an aswang parent, or from a curse. The temptation to become an aswang is said to be particularly powerful for women born ugly, or entering old age; this because feeding off human life can give the aswang preternatural vigor and beauty. 

Once the foul rites making a woman an aswang have been done, however, the taint is permanently in her blood and becomes inheritable.  The female children of an aswang will be aswang themselves, and the male children carry the taint in their blood, such that it will resurface in their daughters.

June 18, 2011

Hari Ragat: Haunters of the Jungle

The world of Hari Ragat is a primeval realm, with Man perennially caught between the mysteries and perils of the brooding jungles on one hand and the fickle sea on the other.  Among the interesting and frightful haunters of the jungle, legend frequently mentions these:

Ancient Pythons and Crocodiles
While there are no lions, tigers or bears in the rain forests of the Jangalan Isles, there are some very large and mean land predators here.  Python and crocodile ‘ancients’ have lived for centuries, growing continuously, until they have reached prodigious sizes, up to 50 feet long or more.  Ancient crocodiles present an additional problem to the hero – an armored hide so strong the creature is invulnerable save in the eyes and mouth.

Raksasas
Raksasas are a race of demonic, shape-shifting giants who have inhabited the isles even before the coming of man.  They enjoy human flesh and torturing nubile captives, and will often lay traps for hunters and travelers. Each raksasa has a unique appearance and set of magical powers, in addition to giant size and strength. 

Night Serpents
Enormous serpents haunt the jungles at night, disappearing without a trace before sunrise.  These are not pythons – 30 to 40 foot long pythons are common predators in the Jangalan Isles – but creatures that dwarf even the raksasas.

Tales tell of great swathes of forest flattened into trails by their passage, and entire villages obliterated, all their inhabitants devoured.  It is believed that night serpents have either mesmeric eyes or a breath that causes paralysis and sleep, thus enabling them to catch multiple prey at once.

It is believed that night serpents magically sink into the earth, or into the bottoms of rivers and lakes, before sunrise, and that the rays of the sun will turn them into stone should they ever be exposed. Inspired  by stories a former maid of ours would tell me from Palawan, of snakes so huge they left tracks of fallen trees.

Hungry Trees
Trees possessed by evil spirits may become hungry trees.  An aura of evil magic permeates the area around these trees for several hundred yards, such that at night any person who strays near them becomes hopelessly lost, and wanders in circles until inevitably drawn to the hungry tree.  Once within reach, roots and branches animate to entangle the victim.  Victims are found either hanging dead in the branches or half-buried under the roots, their souls drained away.

Enchanted Boars
Wild boars that have fed on fruits from a diwata’s home grove will eventually grow to gigantic size.  While most such will also become demonically fierce to match their awful size and strength, some will gain near-human intelligence – to wreak good or ill.

White Deer
White deer are the pets of the diwatas, or sometimes may be the diwatas themselves sporting in animal guise.  The antlers and hides of white deer have magical healing properties, but slaying them is a serious offense against the diwatas.

Ahool
A bat-like creature with a wingspan of about 10 feet, the ahool is a nocturnal hunter powerful enough to carry off small children; it can bite and claw an adult to death, but as it prefers to carry its prey to the treetops to feed, it will only attack an adult human if it has no choice.  Its distinctive cry causes terror, and may be used to flush out prey or cause mothers to panic and let go of their children.

Orang Batutut, Amomongo, Orang Muwa
Small, hairy humanoids who raid crops at night, steal food or livestock, and sometimes abduct children to devour their flesh.

Tree Ghoul
This large lizard grows up to 7 feet long and lives in the trees.  Normally a peaceful eater of fruit, snails and birds’ eggs, the tree ghoul craves meat during the breeding season.   It will then seek out carrion, raiding village graveyards, and may even attack children, sick persons or the elderly in their homes. 

As it is a good climber, it is not deterred at all by the Vijadesan defense against wildlife of building houses on stilts. (This is a ‘monsterized’ version of the bitatawa, a tree monitor recently recognized as a new species).

June 17, 2011

Hari Ragat: Levels of Play

I’ve been trying to cross-index player preferences, as observed from reviews of other RPG products and commments on preferred levels for play in D&D, vis a vis my design for Hari Ragat.  Here’s something interesting that caught my eye: it seems quite a few players like playing in the mid-to-low levels.

How to map this to Hari Ragat? I’m thinking of giving playes and GMs a choice between 3 different levels of play: Mythic, Epic, and Heroic.

Mythic

  • Mythic characters all possess extraordinary abilities; they will perform rather more like fantasy wuxia or superhero characters;

  • Mythic characters may die only at the player’s choosing – this guarantees a fittingly ‘glorious’ and dramatic death;

  • Mythic games will focus on magical quests, encounters with the gods and diwatas, and creating or shaping a legacy – I’ll probably set such games very early in the history of the Vijadesans.

Epic

  • Epic characters have lesser or no extraordinary abilities, though spiritual power (Baraka) will remain an important aspect of play;

  • Epic characters live or dice as the dice decide; however with a high supply of Baraka death is less likely unless the player deliberately courts it for his character;

  • Epic games focus on grandiose undertakings – war, the founding of new settlements, great journeys, and so on. 

Heroic

  • Heroic games correspond to lower-level play in D&D;

  • Heroic characters have no extraordinary abilities, and Baraka is limited in supply;

  • Heroic characters live or die as the dice decide;

  • Heroic games focus on adventuring within and for the immediate community, with a smaller scale of action – destroying local threats like aswang, investigating crimes, fighting off raids, and so on.

June 16, 2011

Hari Ragat: Warrior Colors

Vijadesan custom recognizes a distinct set of color codes and their meanings in war.  Warriors choose and vary their getup in battle according to their status and intentions, making it easier to recognize leaders and compare ranks.  Below are my notes on Vijadesan warrior garb:

Battle Garb
Vijadesan warriors typically wear just three items of clothing, in peace or in war:

  • A headcloth;

  • A breechclout, or for wealthier Vijadesans, a pair of knee-length breeches;

  • An open-fronted vest.

Additional garments may include a sash, a mantle or short cape, and rarely, armor.  Only the wealthiest and highest-ranked Vijadesans will wear metal armor like chain mail or lamellar, while scale armors of brass, horn, and lacquered leather are more affordable.  If a helmet is worn, the headcloth is usually wound around its exterior, and plumes of pheasant, hornbill, gamecock, and other birds may be added.

Bare Torso
Warriors with great spiritual power locked in their tattoos advertise this fact by going to battle with bare torsos, the better to display the tats.  As tattoos often serve as a magical form of armor, a near-naked warrior may not be as defenseless as he looks.

Red
Only warriors who have killed a foe in battle may wear red garments of any sort. 

Most warriors will only sport a red headcloth, and wear breechclout or breeches and vest of another color.  Only heroes may dress all in red and  bear red-painted shields.

Many warriors skirt this restriction by wearing russet-brown clothes, signifying their status but without appropriating the heroes’ crimson.

Yellow/Gold
Yellow and gold clothing may only be worn by men or women of datu rank or higher. 

White
Pure white garments are worn only by those who have taken the  Mag-Sabil rite, pledging their death in battle in exchange for berserker strength and fury.  Beware the warrior in white!

Blue
Blue is the color of the Orang Pandita, the Wise Folk.  Orang Pandita are considered inviolate unless armed or taking an active role in the battle. 

Unfortunately for the priestly caste, this line has become blurred by the practice of working battle magic.  Any suspicion that a priest or baylan shamaness is working spells for her side during battle automatically makes them targets.

Undyed
Wearing coarse, undyed clothes – colored a dirty gray-brown – is the mark of slave status.  There is of course no glory in killing a slave, so those wearing such clothes will usually be ignored unless they attack.

Ornamentation
As to be expected, greater ornamentation = higher rank/wealth.  Wealthy, successful warriors will bedeck themselves with earrings, armbands and necklaces, fine patterned cloths, the longer the better, and decorate every available inch of space on their weapons. 

A great deal of time, effort and expense goes into the personalization of every item.  Vijadesans being of naturally artistic bent, many men will spend their free time decorating their arms and armor themselves.

As one king is supposed to have said, when his son asked why he spent so much time working on his kampilan’s hilt: “Son, we have so many enemies it is likely my fate to die in battle.  When that time comes, I want my slayer to make no mistake that it was I and no one else!”

June 15, 2011

Hari Ragat: Glory as Incentive

Rather than come up with a detailed but rather railroad-y scheme of Passions a la Pendragon, I’m thinking of encouraging the play style I want with Glory as both carrot and stick.  Players are free to act as they please, but with consequences.

Why should a player want Glory? Because Glory is your score.  Your character’s Glory is an indication of how well you’re playing.  I’m planning to encourage GMs to make their players compete for Glory, and find a way to celebrate high Glory scores.  Personally I’d even go so far as to buy the player who gets the most Glory in a game ice cream or something.

Having established the desirability of Glory, let’s go into how you win or lose it. 

  • Acts of courage gain Glory; acts seen as cowardice, even when prudent, lose you Glory.  The worse the odds you are willing to take, the higher the Glory award.

  • Acts of generosity gain Glory; acts seen as miserly, even when wise, lose you Glory.  The more lavish your generosity, the higher the Glory award.

  • Acts of aristocratic pride gain Glory.  In Vijadesan society, if you’re not aggresively asserting your status you must be too weak to do so! And if this is likely to lead to a fight, see the first item above!

  • Acts of courtesy and refinement gain Glory; acts seen as boorish lose you Glory.  When you visit a ruler’s court – something you’ll be doing quite often – you must be on guard against committing offense, deal with deliberate provocation, and perhaps even perform a song, dance or poem for your host. 

    Want to shift the game to a whole different level? Let this happen to the players, and tell them they can sing or dance for real!  Bring out the karaoke! (And that probably marks Hari Ragat as a truly Filipino game!)

  • And finally: acts of magnificent madness gain Glory.  Risk everything for true love? That’s glorious!  Court the raksasa king’s daughter? Yeah! 

    Steer your ship through a storm while laughing at the elements? Glorious! 

    Offer to make a suicidal last stand? Glorious! There’ll be a Glorious Death rule that gives a heap of Glory for deliberately sacrificing your character.

    Give away everything but your breechclout to a beggar? That’s glorious! But hang on to the breechclout though.  The alternative may not be so glorious …   

Ideally, with this setup, players will not only get into the act quickly but also become more proactive, suggesting and going off on adventures on their own bat to gain ever more Glory.  Let the players come up with their own struggles and quests!  Enjoy their creativity!  Played this way, Hari Ragat can become a sandbox style game that can go in so many different directions, but still retain an epic flavor.

June 12, 2011

Hari Ragat: Battle Feats

Now that I’m on the subject of Vijadesan warfare, here’s a list of daring deeds a player character may attempt for Glory.  I’m hoping this can help the players and GM envision the epic-heroic nature of Vijadesan warfare and spur the players into narrating acts of magnificent madness for their characters!

Pledge a Feat
You gain additional Glory for pledging to perform a specified heroic deed in battle to your sovereign, to your wife or betrothed or to a maiden you are courting, or to your comrades.
 
You gain this bonus Glory only on accomplishing the feat, in addition to the Glory for the feat itself. The pledge must be very specific, and if it involves slaying or capturing a foe, the foe must be named and of heroic rank equal to or greater than your own.

Other heroes (i.e. your fellow players) are honor-bound not to interfere with or try to pre-empt your pledged feat.  For example if you pledge the first kill of the battle, it’s a point of honor not to attack untl you’ve made your attempt.

Heroic Cast
You run out in front of the shield line, exposing yourself to massed missile fire from the enemy, to shoot or throw a missile.  A glorious act if you actually hit and injure or kill an enemy, specially if you hit a hero.  It is considered even more awesome if the range is longer than considered effective for your weapon – your extreme prowess should inspire fear in the enemy!
 
First Kill
You gain additional Glory if you make the first kill of the battle.  This is the impulse for warriors to take mad risks in running before the shield line to make a cast, and in charging the enemy at a dead run.

Call Out a Champion
You call out an enemy champion to a one-on-one fight.  The duel will be held in the no-man’s zone in between the battle lines. Aside from the enemy hero himself, other dangers you could face include:
  • A sudden charge by the enemy;

  • A treacherous volley of missiles when your back is turned to the enemy;

  • Your foe lures you or forces you into reach of the enemy line;
Take a Head
You encounter an enemy warrior of note and slay him; if you can take his head and get it back to your line, you and your people will gain his spiritual power.  His comrades of course will try to prevent this.

Recapture a Head
A comrade has fallen and the enemy have taken his head.  All is not yet lost, however, for the enemy will not benefit from the trophy until they have properly dedicated it to their ancestor spirits.  You must recapture the head for a proper hero’s funeral!

Rescue a Comrade
A comrade has been stricken and is no longer able to defend himself.  You gain Glory for fighting the enemy away from him, preventing them from taking his head, and getting him back to safety.

Capture a High-Ranked Foe
You defeat and capture a high-ranking warrior of the enemy.  This gains you not only Glory, but the prospect of a Wealth-boosting ransom.  Custom dictates that you receive four-fifths of of your captives’ ransoms, while your immediate superior receives the remaining fifth. 

Act of Mercy
After defeating an opponent, you show mercy by refusing to slay him or take his head, and set him free.  This is an act of compassion and generosity worthy of Glory in itself, but your Datu or Rajah may consider it an act of foolishness – you not only failed to capture or destroy an enemy, you deprived yourself and your sovereign of his ransom!

Mag-Sabil Rite
You undertake the ritual vow of the Mag-Sabil, gaining spiritual power in exchange for your pledge not to survive the coming battle.  You must fight without armor, wearing only the ritual white garments of the Mag-Sabil, and take the battle to the enemy in such a way as to assure your character’s death.  This gains your character a heap of Glory, and in addition cancels all your outstanding debts and any stains on your honor.

Hari Ragat: a Fistful of Spears II

The Vijadesan battle-line is formed with the Baganis and their shieldbearers in front, followed by their  spearmen, the rear being brought up by the archers.

Battle usually opens with the Baganis hurling taunts and challenges, then missiles, at their counterparts, after which individual champions may leave the line to duel with a chosen opponent or throw a spear.  Warriors step out to throw or shoot, then dodge behind their shieldbearers when missile fire is thick.

When the signal is given to charge, the shieldbearers and archers fall back and the Baganis surge forward followed by their spearmen. Sometimes the shieldbearers and archers follow – the former dropping their cumbersome rattan pavises – but more often they are under orders to hold ground, providing their masters a place to retreat to if injured or overcome by numbers.

Each side now tries to slay as many of the enemy’s Bagani warriors as possible, each Bagani’s spearmen trying to stay as close to him as they can to prevent his death and support him in attack. Should their Bagani enter into a duel with another Bagani, the spearmen stand back and guard against treachery.  Should a Bagani be stricken, his followers are expected to try to get his body away from the enemy and prevent them from taking his head.

Extended battles may be fought with repeated sorties from and retreats to the shield line, until one side is overwhelmed or breaks.

June 11, 2011

Hari Ragat: a Fistful of Spears

I’ve been thinking of how the Vijadesans fight, more particularly how they would organize themselves.  Given their loose social structure and rather rudimentary government system, they wouldn’t have truly organized armies; as a warrior society, however, I’d expect they have some kind of organization that makes them more effective.

Thus my devising of the Kamao or “fist.”  So called because it usually has five members, and can operate as an autonomous striking force, the Kamao is made up of a Bagani, a mature householding Orang Dakila warrior, plus his Orang Malaya (freemen) and sometimes Orang Dukha (slave) followers.  Every Kamao consists of:
  • A Bagani warrior, armed with shield, spear and blade, and possibly armored;

  • A shieldbearer, often a slave, who carries a large woven rattan shield and javelins in battle and acts as paddler and camp servant;

  • Two or more Orang Malaya followers, armed with shield, spear and blade, but very rarely armored.  In battle they act as the leader’s flank and rear guards, and as paddlers.

    (At minimum, a Kamao should consist of a shieldbearer and two spearmen.)

  • Possibly one or more junior Orang Dakila warriors, sometimes members of the Bagani’s family.

  • Possibly one or more hunters, who serve as archers and scouts.
Every datu has a Dalam, or ship’s company, made up of his own Kamao plus the Kamaos of his personal followers.

On land, each Kamao can function as a self-contained fighting team for raids and jungle warfare.  In pitched battles and defense, however, the Kamao becomes the basis of the Vijadesan battle formation.  Sound familiar? It should – this is really an adaptation of the Medieval European knight’s “lance”.

(Next post: Vijadesan Battles!)

June 10, 2011

On Gaming & Teaching

I was a GM before I landed my current day job as a teacher of photography, and reflecting on the past several terms and my students’ comments in their post-class evaluations, I’ve come to realize something; a great part of my effectiveness at teaching comes from my experience in GM’ing. This is only part of the debt I owe to the influence of RPGs in my life.

Among the GM’ing techniques and tenets I’ve found useful:

Engage and Entertain:
Make `em laugh.  Give everyone something interesting to do. Idle moments are dead moments. Keep it light and lively.

Encourage Expression:
Students are encouraged not only to take photographs, but to tell stories.  To think in terms of story. 

Make it a Game:
Free exploration is encouraged.  Competitiveness is encouraged.  Posing learning problems for the students to solve is very much like GM’ing a dungeon crawl.

Be Approachable:
Encourage a casual atmosphere where everyone’s comments and questions are welcome.  Nobody asks a question when they believe there are negative consequences for doing so. 

But like players in an RPG, students need to ask questions, and the GM/teacher needs to hear those questions.  Questions mean engagement.  Questions mean interest. Questions are springboards for going forward.

With my busy sked nowadays, I miss GM’ing games.  But here’s a compensation: I get much the same kind of fun I had running games from teaching my classes.  It’s not work, it’s play.  Much better than the Gandalf Method*!

*The Gandalf Method of teaching is summed up by these four words: YOU SHALL NOT PASS!

June 8, 2011

Lands of Syrene: Gran Zembar

The Empire of Gran Zembar is a vast nation covering much of northern Axuma, with its heartland lying in the valley of the great Nuba River.  The empire covers a wide range of terrain from desert and savanna to grassy marshes and jungle, and is inhabited by many different tribes all united under the banner of the Zembari kings, who are of the Ziyarid tribe.  The Zembari are a wealthy, erudite and artistic people, whose culture is a grand fusion of many Axuman tribes plus influences from Palmaria; in fact the Zembari language is written using a Palmarian script.  

The kings, or Mandas, of Gran Zembar are famous for their incredible wealth and opulent lifestyle: many tales speak of the pilgrimages made by former kings to holy sites in Palmaria, where they scattered so much gold that the value of the metal plummeted, of royal retinues numbering two thousand or more, of feasts where the king gave away a hundred dishes to the poor on platters of gilded ebony and mother of pearl. 

Zembari traders are also very wealthy compared to traders in other lands, even in Palmaria, partly because the Axuman trade routes are so lucrative, and partly because the Mandas shrewdly apportion trade monopolies to various regions of the empire among the merchant families.  Gran Zembar produces gold, iron, copper, tin, ivory, cotton, dyes, diamonds, spices, grain, groundnuts, and a strong, aromatic coffee highly prized in Palmaria and Ferania.

Gran Zembar is at constant war with the necromancers’ kingdom of Taharqa to its southwest, and also must protect a very wide network of trade routes from bandits, rebel tribes and wild animals, so it fields one of the most powerful armies in Axuma.  Slavery is illegal and considered repulsive in Gran Zembar, as it reminds them of the oppression they suffered under Kuthaan; up til now the Zembari army has a policy of pursuing any slavers crossing the realm and destroying them at any cost.

The Manda Dynasty
Zembari kings all take the first name Manda in honor of the kingdom’s founder, Manda Zemba the Great, and the land also is called Gran Zembar after him.  Manda Zemba united the tribes to overthrow the oppressive kingdom of Kuthaan, which was ruled by Sekhmetian necromancer-priests. 

Manda Zemba revolutionized Axuman warfare by introducing war elephants, and it is said the gods gave him a mount in the form of a gigantic four-tusked bull elephant, whose skull is now enshrined in the empire’s holiest temple. 

The current king is Manda Sujata, son of Manda Ilyasu, son of Manda Jimma.  However, there lives in the subsidiary kingdom of Geze’ir a family who claim descent from Manda Jimma’s first queen, a Geze’iran, and they insist they are the legitimate heirs to the Zembari throne.

Zembari Caste System
The Zayirid tribes, which make up the majority of the people of Gran Zembar, are organized into four castes for religious, taxation and military purposes. 

The poor and landless are termed the Keepers of Goats, and are expected to provide slingers for the army. The landowning farmers are the Keepers of Cattle, and are expected to provide armored spearmen – the famed Ironshirt regiments. Large landowners and the three resident Merawid tribes living in the Khurra Badlands make up the Keepers of Horses, and provide cavalry armed in the Merawid fashion, with lances and swords.  Lastly, the royalty and high nobility are the Keepers of Elephants, each family being expected to field at least one elephant rider and his steed at the king’s call. 

Only the king can change a man’s caste, but it can be done if a suppliant gives the king a traditional gift of a hundred cattle.  Some of Gran Zembar’s most prominent merchant families are descended from ancestors who made their way up from the bottom in just this way.

The Nuba River
The long, looping Nuba River is the longest river in Syrene, running from the Mountains of the Moon in Shakandaland, north around the Gondara Highlands, and then northeast through the plains of Gran Zembar and out through the Olavango Delta.  It is the main highway for trade in Axuma, and from their capital of Jennaro near the estuary the Zembari control most of the inland trade routes through northern Axuma.  The sheer variety of peoples, creatures and hazards found along this river route makes it difficult for travelers and explorers to follow it without the guidance of an experienced Zembari trader or boatman.

Jennaro, City of the Ivory Gates
The city of Jennaro is the greatest trade emporium in Axuma, for through it passes nearly two thirds of all the goods sold in Axuma to foreign traders.  The city lies along the Nuba River, just above the Olavango Marshes – the perfect spot for mariners, rivermen, and caravaneers from the hinterlands to meet and trade.  Just about anything can be bought or sold here, except slaves: Zembari law forbids slavery, and slave trading is punishable by death. 

The city is famous for its unique mud-brick architecture, and is the site of several universities, grand temples and palaces.  Among its most remarkable structures are the Kola Tower, which forms part of the prestigious Toure University, the Plaza of The Teeth, a square dotted with stelae commemorating the ancestral heroes of the war against Kuthaan, and the Ivory Gates, whose arch is made up of forty great elephant tusks. 

Toure University
This university, founded by the scholar-king Manda Toure II, is renowned throughout western and southern Syrene for the quality of its education in law, literature, astrology, and languages, including some extinct ones.  Scholars flock here to learn tongues and scripts from all over the world, including Palmarian, Nusaradyan, Khamsaran, ancient High Axuman, Nimmurite – which is closely related to the script of Meranya, and is used to translate Meranyan texts, Zandracothan, and Merouenic, used by the ancestors of the Merawids. 

The university’s library is housed in the great Kola Tower, so called because scholars studying the scripts here are infamous for their habit of chewing the stimulant kola nut.  Manda Toure is supposed to have jested that with so many  texts, he must fill half the tower with kola nuts to be able to read them all – and the name has stuck ever since.  The tower’s true name, usually known only by the university’s students and teachers, is Astarre’s Tower of Celestial Wisdom, Astarre being an ancient Mekranite goddess revered by Palmarians and Zembari for teaching the art of  writing.

Temple of the Tusks
The skull of N’gila, the four-tusked bull elephant that carried Manda Zemba the Great to victory, is enshrined in the Temple of the Tusks, a grand war memorial on a hill not far from Jennaro.  The skull is said to be a powerful charm of luck for the Zembari people, blessed by Manda Zemba as a bringer of victory.  Some say however that the original skull is missing, stolen by agents of the Taharqan Priest-King.  To regain the favor of Manda Zemba’s spirit, the skull must be found and brought back, or a suitable substitute – another four-tusked elephant skull - found.

Olavango Marshes
The Nuba River empties into the Sapphire Sea through the Olavango Marshes, a reed-choked labyrinth of  channels and small islets rich in game, birds and fish.  Only one channel is wide and deep enough for ships to sail up to Jennaro.  The rest of the delta is inhabited by the Olavango pygmies, an Axuman race that make their living here as nomadic hunters and fishermen, and are famed for their use of poisoned arrows.  The marshes are also notorious for harboring enormous crocodiles.

Fasilis, the Blue City
Fasilis, along the south bank of the Nuba River,  is the center of Gran Zembar’s trade in indigo and indigo-dyed cotton, and is also rumored to harbor the largest crocodiles out of the sea.  The city belongs to the M’fasi tribe, who hold the crocodile sacred and keep several extremely ancient ones in the stone-walled tank of a temple by the river.  It is said that the Mandas punish the most heinous crimes by ordering the offenders fed to the temple crocodiles of Fasilis. 

The city also marks the highest navigable point of the Lower Nuba, as upstream of it the river curves sharply south into the Gondara Highlands and becomes much faster and more rocky as it is constricted to a much narrower channel.  The city is thus the jump-off point for caravans and travelers going into the Gondara Highlands, and cloth from here is carried by Zayirid merchants across the river to Meremma, whence it is taken to Elsayal.  Only Zayirid merchants can do this, for the M’fasi of Fasilis have a long-standing enmity with the Afura people of Meremma.

Meremma, the City of the Brawling Herds
Meremma is a city at the confluence of the Nuba and Ouati Rivers, and is considered the horse, camel and cattle trading capital of Gran Zembar.  It is held by the Afura tribe, who for centuries have held the grazing lands between the Upper Nuba and the Khurra hills to the north, bordering Elsayal.  It is the jump-off point for caravans and travelers going north to the Khurra Badlands and Elsayal to the north. 

The Afura have had a long-standing enmity with crocodiles, losing a heavy toll from their herds to the carnivores every year when they cross the Ouati River bringing cattle to Meremma to trade.  Because the Afura kill crocodiles on sight, while the M’fasi across the river revere them as messengers of the gods, there has always been bad blood between the two tribes.  Only the Zembari army can keep the peace between the two tribes, who used to clash in great naval battles on the river. 
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