October 30, 2011

Hari Ragat: Actual Play Session 2

I’ve just come home from the second Hari Ragat session, hoarse but totally stoked and happy with the results.  One of my design objectives of Hari Ragat was to allow the players to proactively follow their own adventure paths, at the same time providing a mechanic to get the other players on board.  Looks like it’s working.

The story picks up a week or so after the previous session’s events.  The pearling season is over and the rice harvest is in, and there are still a few weeks left of good weather according to the babaylan (shamaness).  Time enough for another adventure!  But what will the heroes do? I wanted to leave that question entirely in their hands to answer.

amaya-2-266x400Acting completely in-genre, Badong Amats (Marc) declares that he has been consulting with Datu Awi, ruler of the heroes’ hometown Hiyasan, and Datu Awi believes it’s time for him to seek a bride.  There are rumors that the Maiden of Kandako is a rare beauty and high lineage, a fitting mate for a hero such as Badong.  As the character with the most Bahandi, Badong is also in good position already to go a-courting. 

The photo above is a production still from the GMA TV series Amaya; it gives a good image of the kind of clothing and jewelry the Maiden of Kandako would’ve worn, and of course Marian Rivera’s really easy on the eyes!

Badong makes his declaration of intent to pursue the Maiden of Kandako at a feast celebrating the pearl harvest, and now it’s up to him to recruit the other PCs.  Mechanics-wise, a player may offer some of his character’s Wealth, Bahandi, favors or oaths to other PCs to get them to join his adventure.  Marc goes to the other players one by one and sees what they want; fortunately their demands are very light!  Musang Hagibis (Bots) wants a chance to go hunting on Mabannog, a legendary isle along the way; Puri (Derek) will come along to check out the men of Kandako, and simply because the expedition sounds like fun; and Dimasalang (Gelo) is raring to leave Hiyasan for a while because the diwatas Sangita and Soraya have it in for him!  Marc then uses the fact that Datu Awi owes him a favor to secure the loan of a biray to take them to Kandako.

The sailing route to Kandako will take them past Bannang, the island of their old enemies from Pulang-Bato, and past Mabannog – the latter so named for being haunted by bannog, gigantic eagle-like monsters great enough to carry a full-grown water buffalo or larger.  Musang Hagibis has heard of a legendary beast living on Mount Baling-Likod on Mabannog, so he’s extracted a promise from Badong that they will stop there on their way to Kandako. 

Before leaving, the heroes each consult the spirits for guidance.  Badong turns to Sri Minaya, the babaylan, who warns him that she has seen an alamid – a civet – eyeing him balefully from a tree as he comes ashore on Kandako.  She’s not referring to a civet, however, but a namesake – the corsair Gat Alamid, an enemy from the previous adventure!  

Musang Hagibis also gets the same warning from the Old Man of the Mound, whom he visits with gifts of tobacco.  (Some fun role-playing here, as the Old Man complains the tobacco isn’t ‘strong enough,’ upon which Musang gives him spiced tobacco, like an Indonesian kretek, which the Old Man says is too sharp.  Musang then mixes tobacco with another herb, of a particular leaf shape … and makes the Old Man really happy.)  Thus forewarned, they decide to keep a sharp lookout on their way to Kandako especially while passing Bannang, where Gat Alamid is currently based.

As for Dimasalang, he receives a summons to present himself to Soraya, the diwata of Mount Galura who’s literally got him by the smalls – he’s Oathbound to her for slaying her pet boar.  What does Soraya want? First she’s jealous that Dimasalang is going off to see the Maiden, and when Dimasalang convinces her he’s not the one going courting, she lays a vow of celibacy on him for the voyage!  Gelo then asks if she meant to humans only, or do diwatas and the like count?  Including diwatas, of course!  That almost got me dancing with malicious glee, as Gelo had just suggested a new complication …

As they voyage out, they sail over the pearl beds – and suddenly find themselves becalmed.  They make offerings to Sangita, the diwata of the pearl beds.  Sangita accepts the offering of Musang, but not of Dimasalang.  Nor does the wind return.  Musang dives into the water and encounters the beatiful diwata.  She kisses him to let him breathe water, and tells him it’s not him she wants, it’s Dimasalang!  And, oh yes, she’s been soooo nice this year, taking not a single life among the pearl divers, but she hasn’t been repaid yet … and this year, her price is Dimasalang. 

So Dimasalang dives in – and finds out just what the diwata wants.  Oh oh!  It’s either break his oath to Soraya, or the expedition is shot before it’s even begun!  Dimasalang and Musang try to convince her that Badong is more beautiful than they, and persuade her to take a look; but as Shania Twain would’ve put it, ‘that don’t impress me much!’  Musang then offers himself as substitute, and is rebuffed – but Bots declares he’s going to make a move on the diwata! And use his Tattoos of Virility!  

Amid the laughter, I call for a roll.  It’s Bots’ Orang Dakila rating plus bonus dice from his Tats of Virility, plus dice from his Perceptive asset – he’s gonna use it to find Sangita’s weak spot!  In addition, Bots calls for Risk Dice.  He wins the roll-off, but a Risk Die comes up one – complication!  I ask for another contest roll; this time, to see whether Musang will gain Bala – spiritual power – from this tete a tete with the diwata, or if she’ll drain him of Bala instead.  Epic win for Bots.  But there’s this complication … I turn to the other players and tell them, ‘Guys, the sea suddenly heaves beneath you – it’s a tidal wave!’  High fives all around, and Bots asks, ‘Ok, how much Renown do I get for this?’

I also ask for a roll on a single d6; low roll the tidal wave washes them back toward Mancalon, their home island, high roll it sends them on their way.  Bots rolls high.  They then check their lookout, and Puri, the keen-eyed huntress, spots a familiar forked banner way ahead of them.  It’s Gat Alamid, sailing his karakoa in the same direction.  They surmise that Alamid too is after the Maiden, and they have to stop him! 

Guessing that the karakoa, light and heavily manned as it is, will stop for water before reaching Kandako, they follow at a safe distance.  Marc wins a contest to avoid being spotted, and the next evening they see Alamid’s karakoa pulling it at a cove on southern Bannang.  Musang and Puri lead the rest in a swimming raid, and sneak up onto the karakoa while most of its crew are sleeping on shore.  Derek and Bots both roll so well that I rule the guards on board never got the chance to resist. 

Here followed one of the funniest moments in the game, as the players gleefully described the mischief they worked on board:  Stealing a hoard of spare arms as well as the Bahandi treasures Alamid had meant for use in wooing the Maiden, stealing the oars and spare sails, cutting the steering oars so they would snap in use, cutting all the lines, and finally cutting a humiliating figure and Gat Alamid’s name into the mainsail!  They then successfully sneaked away, and in the morning, as they sailed past the site, Dimasalang blows a derisive toot on his tambuli conch.  The toot sounds suspiciously like the Merrie Melodies theme … 

The players went into fits as I described how I was raising Gat Alamid’s Corsair rating when next he faced them, at the expense of his Orang Dakila rating.  In other words, he’ll be tougher in combat, but his extreme anger at our heroes makes him worse at everything else while they’re around!

The next day sees our heroes sailing past Mabannog Island.  Sure enough, a dark cloud suddenly obscures the sun.  They look up, and realize it’s no cloud – it’s a bannog, and it’s bigger than their biray!  Worse yet, it’s carrying a huge boulder in its claws and starting to dive. The crew goes into battle stations. 

Puri and Musang both hurl spears at the huge raptor, but their weapons bounce off its iron-like feathers.  Dimasalang throws at its eyes, but misses; the bannog drops its boulder, and I rule that since Gelo lost the roll, the splash from the massive near-miss washes him overboard.  Gelo claims his Heroic Strength asset lets him cling to the outriggers and thereby invent barefoot water-skiing! 

On the bannog’s next pass, Musang manages to get a rope around one of its talons.   He starts climbing.  Puri gets in a lucky shot, and blinds one eye.  The bannog screams and starts beating its wings with great fury; it’s gathering a storm.  Musang barely hangs on, and then ends up in the water.  However Dimasalang manages to blind the bannog’s other eye, and it crashes into the mountains on shore. But wait – this bannog was just one of a mated pair!

The other bannog now makes its attack with its boulder.  Puri manages to blind it in one eye, but like Dimasalang, the splash from the dropped boulder washes her overboard.  The bannog climbs again and swoops down for a strike with its talons.  It’ll try to snatch Dimasalang off the outriggers.  I tell Marc that they’re now entering a cove on Mabannog, and the terrain is like that of Ha Long Bay (Vietnam); lots of tall rocky islets studding the water.  He immediately picked up on my cue, and took the biray into the maze, keeping the bannog at bay with some crazy maneuvering.

After another couple of passes, the heroes manage to blind this one too.  It crashes into the ocean, and Musang cuts out its heart.  Musang, Puri,  Badong and Dimasalang collect some feathers before the body is attacked by scavenging sharks.  Musang shares the heart with the other heroes, for a permanent Bala increase. 

We broke for dinner at this point, and since I have work tom – er, later – we decided to postpone the rest of the adventure for next session.  Session winner in Renown was Bots, who got epic gains for his feats with Sangita and his combat with the bannogs.  As a parting note, I have to say I was able to run this on zero prep – I just let the players take their course, and it was Bots who decided which island the maiden of the quest would be on.  Everything then came from the setting material and the PCs’ back stories.

Stay tuned for Hari Ragat Playtest Session 3 – with the Diwatas of Mount Baling-Likod!  (And a hint as to our kind of craziness; Bale = broken, Likod = back).

October 28, 2011

Jungle Waterfall

Small but enchanting waterfalls like this dot the mountainous jungles in the world of Hari Ragat.  But beware, the pools beneath are the preferred haunt of bathing diwatas

October 23, 2011

Recipes for Gamers: Spiced French Toast

This is one of the easiest dishes to whip up, and even if there’s nothing else in the pantry it’s usually easy to find some bread and eggs.

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • dash salt
  • 1 loaf bread, or 1 dozen pan de sal, cut in halves

Herb and spice options
Curry French Toast:
1 tsp curry powder, dash black pepper, dash chili powder

Herbed French Toast:
1 tsp herbes de Provence mix, dash black pepper

Mexican Toast:
1/2 tsp cumin powder, 1 tsp chili powder, dash allspice

Indochina Toast:
1 tsp Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce (omit the salt), 1 tsp Thai red curry paste, 2 tsp brown sugar, and optionally, 1 tbsp roasted peanut, ground or chopped fine

Procedure
Choose your poison and dump the listed ingredients  into the beaten egg.  Dunk each piece of bread into the egg mix so both sides are lightly coated, then fry in a non-stick pan until golden-brown.

October 21, 2011

Queen of the Martian Catacombs

One of my favorite Leigh Brackett stories, Queen of the Martian Catacombs is also for me the quintessential Eric John Stark adventure.  First published in 1949, it was later rewritten and lengthened as The Secret of Sinharat, with a slightly different ending. 

planet_stories_1949sum

Whether you read one or the other, it’s still Leigh Brackett in her top form, delivering a fast-paced narrative in her gritty film noir style with the haunting and highly evocative images of Ancient Mars as the backdrop.  It begins with Eric John Stark, a mercenary of feral origins, making a desperate break for freedom into the Martian desert and failing – only to be granted reprieve if he takes on a dangerous mission.  The mission takes him into the ranks of a fanatical crusade, pits him against lethal rivals and the perils of Martian super-science, and culminates in a confrontation with the terrible secret of Sinharat, the City of the Ever-Living. 

Elements from this story inspire me every time I read it.  Among the gold nuggets you’ll find, as writer or gamer, are:

Eric John Stark
The hero of the story is a powerful and intriguing figure – great material for Hollywood, if only Hollywood executives would learn to stop tampering with good original material and give us the real thing.  Stark comes off as a blend of Tarzan and Conan the Cimmerian, with a touch of the tired old gunslinger as exemplified by Clint Eastwood’s signature Western roles.

We encounter him first as a desperado on the run, and immediately Brackett begins dropping tidbits about what makes Stark unique: His feral nature, from being raised by non-human hunting aborigines on Mercury.  He even carries a sort of double identity, with his most primal self defined by his Mercurian name, N’chaka – the Man Without a Tribe. 

Brackett also gives Stark a surprising weakness.  Stark, like a quintessential Howardian hero, normally fights just to live, but his deep sympathy for the native peoples of the outer planets drives him to accept the perilous mission.  One detail about Stark you never see in the covers though: Brackett consistently describes him as black-skinned, darkened by his years on Mercury. 

Colonial Earth
In Brackett’s future milieu, Earth has apparently united into a single government, and like the British Empire has established a paternalistic hold over the rest of the Solar System.  In Queen of the Martian Catacombs, Colonial Earth is represented by the benevolent Simon Ashton, Stark’s foster-father.  Some of Brackett’s later stories present Colonial Earth in a different light, still well-intentioned but blinkered by an arrogant missionary attitude. 

Nevertheless, we get hints of Colonial Earth’s darker side in Stark’s back story.  As in historical Asia and Africa, the colonial regime has coddled the unrestricted greed of big corporations.  Stark was orphaned when miners gunned down his aboriginal foster-parents in cold blood.  When the story begins, he’s on the lam for smuggling guns to Venusian natives oppressed by Terro-Venusian Metals.  James Cameron would end up re-using the theme in Avatar.

Shanga
One of Brackett’s most memorable creations of Martian super-science is Shanga, a ray that causes evolution to reverse, with pleasurable side effects.  That side effect has turned it into a vice, with Martians (and in another story, renegade Terrans) bathing in the ray to temporarily experience a more primal existence in Shanga dens.  Stark is pitted against a barbarian high on Shanga midway through the story, with his opponent made stronger and more aggressive by the ray’s effect. 

The Coral City of Sinharat
I find Brackett’s visualization of Sinharat to be one of the most alien and evocative aspects of her Mars.  Sinharat is a city carved into a mountain of coral, and its natural structure of pores and tunnels howls and moans in the Martian winds.  There’s a fitting Gothic ghoulishness to this vista, as Sinharat was home to the sinister Ramas – a Martian race that practiced serial immortality by stealing younger bodies from other peoples.

The Crowns of the Ramas
The Big Maguffin of the story, the Crowns of the Ramas are the last surviving devices that makes the Rama mind-transfer possible.  They are always used in pairs, one to ‘send’ the mind of an ageing or dying Rama, the other to receive it and plant it in a new host body. The host’s mind is obliterated as a result, making the act of mind transference also a kind of psychic murder.

The device is first displayed by the barbarian warlord/ messiah Kynon, Stark’s nominal employer, as bait for the barbarian tribes to join his crusade.  Of course, with the Crown of the Ramas on display, real Ramas are not far away.  Their sinister schemes bring the story to a head, and in the novel version (The Secret of Sinharat), force Stark to make a tough choice. 

The temptation offered by the Crowns echoes the temptation of a vampire’s kiss or Tolkien’s the One Ring – immortality, at the price of working evil. 

Brackett would revisit Sinharat and the immortal Ramas in 1963 with The Road to Sinharat (link to etext).

October 20, 2011

Steamed Chicken with Chinese Sausage

This is real fire-n-forget cooking if you have a rice cooker. It’s one of my go-to recipes when I’ve a guest coming and don’t have time to cook, or just don’t want to take the time to prepare something that requires more attention. The chicken comes out with no oil at all, flavored with the savory goodness of Chinese sausage and salted black beans.

Ingredients (recipe for 3-4 people)

  • 250g chicken breast, cut bite-size
  • 2-3 Chinese sausages, sliced thin
  • 2-3 tablespoons salted black beans
  • 1/2 cup shiitake or  button mushrooms, sliced thin
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • 1 green bell pepper, julienned (optional)
  • 1 tsp Chinese chili-garlic paste
  • salt and pepper to taste

Procedure
Prepare rice for cooking in the rice cooker.  Combine chicken with all the other ingredients in a steaming dish (I usually use a porcelain soup plate that just fits my tiny rice cooker – we’re only three persons in the house).

Place the steaming dish on the steaming rack on top of the rice, cover, and cook.  The chicken will be done at the same time as the rice, about 20 minutes.  If this isn’t fire and forget cooking I don’t know what is!

If you don’t have a rice cooker or need to cook more than will fit in your rice cooker, you can also do the steaming in any pot of suitable size.  When the whole family is in I do this dish in our big wok. 

And … stay tuned for the next AP report on Hari Ragat! Our next session is October 29.  I can’t wait!

October 18, 2011

Recipes for Gamers: Chinese Chicken Wings

This lecipe fingah-leekin’ good, yes?  My sister in law is half-Chinese, and this is one of the recipes she got from her dad and passed on to me.  Caution: after serving this recipe, herd all  players to washroom and insist they completely de-gunk their hands before resuming play!  I love the sticky glaze this leaves on the wings, but not on my dice!

Ingredients
For the chicken wings:

  • 1.5 kg chicken wings
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • dash black pepper
  • 2 tbsp corn starch/corn flour

For the glaze:

  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 tsp ginger, chopped fine
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp red cane or rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice wine, or rum, or scotch, or cognac*
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
  • oil for deep-frying

*My dad often receives gifts of scotch or cognac, so we’ve always got some on hand.  This is just to say any strong spirits seem to work with this dish, as long as they have some sugars.

Procedure
Coat the wings with salt, pepper and corn starch/corn flour.  Deep-fry until light golden brown.  Drain and set aside.

Combine vinegar, soy sauce, rice wine and sugar in bowl and set aside.

Saute garlic and ginger in a wok until fragrant.  Add sesame seeds, let toast for about a minute, then add the liquids you mixed earlier.  Allow to reach a rolling boil without stirring, and allow to boil at high heat until the sauce no longer smells too vinegary.

Add in the chicken wings and toss in the wok at medium-low heat until the glaze dries on the chicken wings.

Even Simpler Method
There’s an alternative and even faster way to make this.  I prefer the first method, but when in a hurry, this also works.  Combine the glaze ingredients and marinade the chicken wings in it.  Then bake for about 30 minutes at 350 F.

October 13, 2011

Lands of Syrene: Inyo, the City in the Banyans

The treetop city of Inyo, capital of the Tana kingdom,  is said to be one of the oldest settlements in the Induna jungle, but remains a great mystery and source of speculation for all outsiders as no foreigner has ever been there.  The Tanans jealously guard the location of Inyo from all outsiders, and the penalty for entering their lands without permission is death.  Otherwise, however, the Tanans are friendly to sea rovers, and house any visitors to their land in specially built guest-villages built on the ground.

It is said that Inyo is built on the giant interlocking branches of a grove of giant, immortal banyan trees, with narrow rope bridges criss-crossing between them at many levels to form its streets.  It is also said that by an ancient covenant with the gods, the trees of Inyo will never fall or die so long as every king and queen of Tana is buried there, and iron nails are never driven into the living wood. For these reasons the Tanan royal family is barred from ever leaving Inyo, lest they die far from it and cannot be buried there, and no foreigner is allowed into the sacred grove lest they maliciously or unknowingly hammer a nail into one of the trees.

For most sea rovers, the highest-ranking Tanan personage they will ever see are the ‘talking chiefs,’ nobles handpicked from the royal retinue to serve as diplomats and traders with the outside world.  Aside from gold, Tana produces spices, medicinal herbs, aromatic woods, and cotton cloth woven in distinctive geometric patterns.

October 12, 2011

Are you my daddy?

Art by Joe Jusko, from the Art of Barsoom blog.  Wonderful to see the inspiration still generated by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ iconic world.

October 9, 2011

Haunted Visions

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Dauis Church in Bohol.  My lens fogged up and as I was cleaning it I saw how the condensation was giving it this effect.  So I let the lens dry (allowing the condensation inside the camera, if any, to also dissipate), then breathed on the lens to fog it up again for this shot.  I like the pictorialist, ghost-story feel of this image – makes me want to do a story based on it.

October 7, 2011

Recipes for Gamers: Easy Lamb Koftas

There’s only one supermarket in my area that offers ground lamb, so ever so often my wifey and I make the pilgrimage there to stock up on some.  This is one of the dishes I usually make with it, and it’s something so easy I consider it appropriate Gamer Food™.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg ground lamb
  • 1 raw egg
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 2-3 pieces loaf bread, torn to small pieces
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp coriander seed
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • chili powder to taste
  • dash cinnamon
  • dash clove

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1/2 lemon or several calamansi
  • 1 handful mint leaves, chopped fine, or
  • 1 tbsp mint sauce, or
  • 1 handful coriander leaves, chopped
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste

Procedure
Chop the onions, grind the spices if whole, and tear up the bread.  Combine with all the other ingredients.  Form into  balls of about 2in diameter and arrange on a baking pan.  Bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes.

Combine the ingredients for the sauce and serve with the koftas.

October 1, 2011

Pawn of the Omphalos

e-c-tubb-pawn-of-the-omphalosPawn of the Omphalos is a science-fantasy novel by E.C. Tubb, a departure from his Dumarest cycle in content and genre but retaining the gritty storytelling style and character themes.  I love the Dumarest stories, so I picked this up at a used bookstore a few years ago.

Why talk about it now? Because I just realized this should’ve gone into my Gods of Gondwane bibliography too.  That’s an oversight I’ll fix in the next version. 

Pawn of the Omphalos begins with intergalactic gambler and skimmer pilot Mark Carodyne being lured into a high-stakes race where he has to run near the perilous space enigma called the Omphalos.  This being an adventure story, he of course winds up in it, and appears before two sibling gods who will use him as a piece in some kind of game.  The prize: his freedom. He is then transported to a planet of pre-gunpowder technology and magic.

Carodyne ends up escorting a fat merchant to a fateful rendezvous, fighting pirates on triremes, and finally leading an assault on a walled city where he battles a Cthulhuvian-like being in a temple and wins.  One of Tubbs’ themes for this novel seems to be the power of human will and daring; Carodyne, possessed of no particular skills or powers, is thrown into a savage world and survives by sheer guts and wits.

Some memorable moments include Carodyne’s saving the merchant caravan from a limnic eruption like those recorded at Lake Nyos.  Using his basic scientific knowledge, Carodyne correctly surmises that a campsite has been blanketed with carbon dioxide or other poisonous gas, and knowing it hugs the ground, gets everyone to stand up.  Those who don’t die.  Good reason not to fall asleep in science class, hey?

Pawn of the Omphalos doesn’t let up with its action and makes a good rainy day’s read.  However, if you’ve read some of Tubbs’ short sword and sorcery fiction you may be surprised, and a bit put off, by his importing entire scenes from other stories wholesale into this work and just changing a few lines. 

Were I not aware of this it’d have been fine, but since I am, reading Spawn of the Omphalos makes me wonder if Tubb spun this out to make a quick buck when he needed it.  (Of course, it may have been the reverse, with Tubb scavenging parts of this novel to make his short stories.)

Thanks for the feedback …

Hi all! Thanks for the feedback! For some strange reason I can’t access any Blogger sites at all, though I can get into the Blogger Dashboard.  So I’m replying to your comments via post, let’s see if Live Writer can upload this successfully.

@Curt Meyer: Thanks for the comments!  Hari Ragat is due to come out next year.  We’re now looking for illustrators among the Filipino comic  book artists’ community.

@Kaiju and Trey: Yup, love those stories too!  I was wondering why I couldn’t remember Xuthal of the Dust, then found it was published as The Slithering Shadow.  Missed my Howardiana Lore Check :)

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