December 31, 2011

Concept Conversion: Renown

In the Vivid RPG implementation of Hari Ragat, Renown is a measure of your character's fame and legacy, and is the sum of ratings of his assets.

For the Fate conversion, I decided to fall back on the original thematic purpose of renown, which is a measure of the character's fame and legacy. I then realized that since renown is a key part of the setting, it should be handled like an aspect.

But most aspects are static, Renown seems to drive the Orang Dakila to greater and greater acts of heroism and accomplishment. I decided to handle that by making renown a Future Aspect: an Aspect that has "conditions" set that the character must fulfill in order to achieve that aspect. Once the character has fulfilled the conditions, the aspect is reworded to reflect the new character's higher status and higher ambitions.

Here is an example of this progression at work.

Badong Amats of Hiyasan

Marked: Will marry a beautiful Binokot princess from a faraway place. 

          Three Plot Points:

                    1. Gain fame enough to feel worthy of a binokot princess

                    2. Travel to the faraway island.

                    3. Win the princess hand in courtship.

After Badong Amats achieves all 3 Plot points, his Renown now becomes Known and he must now change his Asprational aspect to the next level.

Known: Found the settlement of Salan and become Datu.

     Three Plot Points:

         1. Recruit the pioneer ruling council of Salan. 

         2. Locate a suitable island and clear out the enemies that live there.

         3. Defend the settlement from an enemy raid.

After Badong Amats achieves the 3 plot points, his Renown now becomes Honored and he is now Datu Amats of Salan. 

Honored: Grow the settlement of Salan and discover his Bayahari lineage.

Three Plot Points:

        1. Grow Salan into a walled City. (Salan -> Kota Salan
        2. Eliminate Red Sail Pirates that are choking trade in the region by building a power bloc.
        3. Rescue Sri Minaya from the Dalaketnon and find out his true heritage as a scion of house Tarhata and Datu Marawid by getting the true Diwang Lahi.

After Datu Amats achieves the 3 plot points, his Renown now becomes Esteemed and he is now Datu Amats Tarhata of Salan.

Esteemed:  Install the new Hari Ragat Hagibis I Matanglawin into power as part of the ruling council.

Three Plot Points:

    1. Lead the Tarhata coalition in winning support among the southern islands.

    2. Repel invaders from Tien Xia.

    3. Seize Penjan as the new seat of the Hari Ragat.

After Datu Amats Tarhata of Salan has achieved all 3 plot points, he is now Exalted and is Rajah Amats Tarhata of Salan, Guardian of the South, Admiral of the Yellow Fleet and father of Princess Adipura, Betrothed to Samajo, heir to the Hari Ragat Hagibis I Matanglawin. 

Exalted. The aspect remains as his title. This may change into something aspirational but renown will never increase. The character has already entered the history scrolls of the Jangalans and will be forever remembered in myth and legend.

December 30, 2011

The Fate of the Jangalans in your hands... Soon!

Hello everyone, Marc here. I've started collaborating with Dariel to bring the awesome world of Hari Ragat to the Fate RPG system.

Fate has many, many branches. And since I have done some published RPG work for the Cubicle 7 version of Fate, the Hari Ragat conversion will be to that branch. This is the system used in Starblazer Adventures and Legends of Anglerre. I intend the Hari Ragat Fate RPG to be fully compatible with the Cubicle 7 FATE rules.

Rather then present a suite of RPG tools as was already done in Starblazer Adventures and Legends of Anglerre, I have chosen to take the many, many rules from the books and assemble them in such a way so that a specific story is told when playing the Hari Ragat Fate RPG. This story will be the one about your characters going on raids to earn Renown, then progressing to run a community turning it from a small jungle hamlet into a walled metropolis, then finally, found great noble houses to vie for the title of Hari Ragat to usher in a new age of glory in the Jangalans.

It's a pretty ambitious task. But I'm up to it. I'll be posting to the blog at least once a week with updates on how the conversion is going, and some of my notes on translating Dariel's concepts into the Fate system.

December 27, 2011

Syrene: The Dollhouse Isle


A captain trading to the farthest East, named Jirem, recently brought back a most intriguing curiosity; a woman six inches high. He had found her on one of the Vanishing Isles, or rather she had found him while he was exploring the island. She was, she said, the victim of an evil deev's sadistic sport.

It was the pleasure and amusement of this deev, she said, to capture passing ships, shrink everyone on board to her size, and turn them loose in a miniature, labyrinthine city, like a huge dollhouse, that he had stocked with snakes, carnivorous lizards, wildcats, rats and other creatures - all of them small and mostly harmless to men, but a holy terror to the shrunken victims. She alone had found a way to escape, and seeing Jirem's sails, had gone in search of someone to rescue her. The captain and crew were so terrified at her tale that they immediately raised anchor and fled the isle.

Caliph Jadar in Barisa has offered a handsome reward to whoever can capture and bind this evil deev, and gifted the little woman with a generous dowry for her marriage to the captain - as soon as the royal sorcerers succeed in restoring her to normal size, of course.

Recipes for Gamers: Pickled Pork Belly BBQ


This simple recipe is quintessentially Filipino, but touched up a bit with a very minor ingredient tweak.  It’s probably the easiest dish I’ve ever poasted to my Fire n’Forget Cooking section.


  • 1/2kg pork belly strips
  • 1/3 cup red cane vinegar/white vinegar
  • 4 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp black pepper, coarse ground
  • 2-3 tbsp crushed garlic

For this recipe it’s important that you crush, not slice, your garlic.  You want all those flavors released into the meat.

Also, since each strip of pork belly is about 10in long, I usually halve each strip crosswise, as you can see above.

Combine all marinade ingredients in a glass or ceramic bowl and marinate the pork in it for at least an hour, preferably 2-3 hours.  Grill the pork til golden brown on both sides, or, if your gamers friends are already there, bake at 350F for 30 minutes, turn over, and bake the other side for another 15 minutes.  Spoon or brush the remaining marinade onto the meat every 10-15 minutes of cooking.

You can use a leaner cut of pork if you wish, as pork belly can be quite fatty (but that’s what makes it good!). If you do use a leaner cut, add 2 tbsp of olive oil to your marinade after putting the meat on the grill/oven, and baste as directed.

December 21, 2011

Syrene: Safiya and Roxellana

artwork (C) Victor F. Cabazor

Another fine piece of character design by Force Vector! These two ladies are pre-gen characters from my Sea Rovers of Syrene RPG, a swashbuckling, island-hopping fantasy game setting I’ve been developing for some time.  (Currently on the back burner as Hari Ragat has priority).

Roxellana (left) and Safiya (right) are sisters, born of of the great trading house of al-Husayri, but following very different paths.  Roxellana studied Tidesinger magic and is a follower of Ishtra, goddess of the sea and dolphins, while Safiya is a swordswoman and sailor who dreams of a captainship on one of House al-Husayri’s merchantmen. 

Note that Roxellana has both a sword and pistol.  She’s not very good with either, but she does have and use them – steel and gunpowder are not mutually exclusive with magic in Syrene.  Instead of using her magic as artillery, Roxellana uses it to know and control the elements she has affinity with – the wind and waves.  She can also use that magic to communicate with dolphins and seabirds. 

Safiya on the other hand was your traditional swashbuckler, feisty, hard-headed, a bit overconfident of her sword skills – to the point that she’s never bothered to become a good shot.

In the game Roxellana was played by my wife Cathy, and Safiya by Vic’s friend Bennylee. 

December 18, 2011

Hari Ragat: Blood and Honor


Much of Vijadesan law is founded on the warrior’s self-reliant, violent code and the need to reconcile it with the ideal of a peaceful and harmonious community. Thus the most basic tenet of the law: compensation or vengeance. A large part of the datu’s role is to mediate between conflicting parties, brokering meetings and helping to negotiate compensation terms.

The honor price of a person is set according to their status. Under the code of Rajah Matanda, compensation is measured in tahils of gold, or an equivalent in valuable commodities such as rice, porcelain, silks, etc. etc.

Refusing to pay compensation, or failure to deliver the agreed price, is grounds for the aggrieved to take matters into his own hands and seek satisfaction by slaying the offender, seizing the offender’s property, or seizing the offender and his dependents and putting them to slavery. When this happens, authorities are expected to stand aside and allow the offended to exercise his rights.

In practice, however, a datu or rajah must stand ready to put an end to the violence when they judge that sufficient satisfaction has been taken. Refusal to accept the ruler’s word on this is an insult to the honor of the ruler, who then has the right to demand compensation for himself – easily a ruinous amount – or take satisfaction from the recalcitrant party.

December 17, 2011

Gods of Gondwane: Travel in Gondwane


Here’s something for GM’s running Gods of Gondwane: how to get your adventurers from one place to another, with an obstacle course of dinosaurs!  Not only are the allosaurs and other carnivores extremely dangerous, even the herbivores can wreak a lot of havoc with their great size and strength.  The inhabitants of Gondwane have thus evolved the following methods for travel:

Sauropod Howdahs
The Thunderfoot Nomads enjoy one of the safest and best modes of transport in Gondwane: howdahs affixed to the backs of titanic sauropods.  Hardly anything dares to mess with a full-grown brontosaurus, and anything that tries it with the Thunderfoot Nomads will have to face their spears and lances in addition to the powerful lashing tails of their mounts.  Travel by thunderfoot is slow, however, as the thunderfoot’s pace is never very fast, and it has to be allowed to graze for one full day out of every three or four.

Drum and Torch Caravans
Merchants and military expeditions use noise from big kettledrums and the smoke of noisome herbs, bundled onto long torches, to keep dinosaurs away.  The processions are led by torchbearers, with drummers at one or more points in the middle of the column, and more torchbearers at the rear. 

Whenever a dangerous dinosaur is spotted the drummers begin pounding on their kettledrums, and the torchbearers touch coals they have kept ready to their torches.  This works well enough that regular caravan trade can occur between cities, but it’s expensive.  The caravans’ guards also often use pennoned lances, using the pennons to confuse and intimidate approaching dinosaurs.  (Sometimes it works, and sometimes the dinosaur just eats the pennon!)

The noise and smoke also make such processions detectable from miles away!  Armies marching using this technique lose all possibility of achieving surprise, unless they chance a last-stage stealth movement without the drums and torches. 


Highland Routes
One of the best ways to avoid encounters with the largest dinosaurs is to take the steep highland routes.  This is of course very slow going, requiring travel on foot, and there’s only so many places you can reach.  This is also the reason the mountains are haunted by savages like the Hargath – they’re the only places they can lair safely.


Stealth and Speed
A measure only for the desperate, it is possible to cross distances of dinosaur-infested wilderness by using all one’s craft and bursts of speed to get across vulnerable open areas.  When player characters do this, have them roll contests of stealth vs. varying difficulties; failure means a dinosaur encounter. 

Being mounted gives a bonus die to the players for  crossing open areas; give yourself a bonus die however if the PCs are mounted and crossing thick jungle!  Travel on foot is unmodified.

jurassic-voyage drq

Travel by boat or ship is a good and reasonably safe option along Gondwane’s large rivers and lakes, though less so by sea; with all of Earth’s landmasses on one side of the planet, storms are frequent and more severe at sea.  Voyagers should take care not to attract too many predators by throwing waste overboard, specially meats and animal parts, and it’s common for the crew to always have pikes and other weapons ready to hand at all times in case of monster attack.

December 16, 2011

Machaira: a Fantasy Race

machaira - art (C) Victor F. Cabazor

The Machaira are a warrior race I made up for my Twilight Age setting.

Humanoid creatures with the heads of saber-toothed tigers, they are the result of alchemical bio-engineering using alien technology combined with genes from Earth humans and animals.  They’ve no real ecology as such, being completely unnatural; instead, they’re doomed to life as fighting slaves, performing in the arenas, serving as bodyguards, or as elite shock troops. Their great size and strength is often paired with powerful two-handed weapons and heavy armor.

Special Abilities

Enhanced Senses – the Machaira have sight, hearing and smell much better than a human’s.

Great Strength – a Machaira stands about 7’4” and is stockily built for its height, and very muscular.  They’re as strong as 6-8 ordinary men.

Blood Frenzy – Machaira have been bred to react in violent, murderous frenzy to a specific stimulus: perceived threat to their ‘master.’ 

No Machaira is free of this; however, it has been found that Machaira do have the freedom to define who their master is.  This has led to a rather terminal form of surprise for some callous owners of Machaira slaves in the past …

Bite – the Machaira does have saber canines, giving it a very deadly bite.  The bite itself doesn’t have a lot of force, but the fangs make deep wounds.


Hungry Carnivore – Machaira require an almost all-meat diet, and lots of it. When denied sufficient meat, a Machaira grows increasingly sullen and possibly violent, and may take off unexpectedly to hunt and eat whatever it can.

Devotion – a Machaira must choose a PC or NPC to be the focus of its devotion.  It has a compulsion do everything in its power to protect that character.  This does not mean it will blindly obey the focus of its devotion though! 

[This is the first of a new series of blog posts featuring the art of Force Vector, a good friend of mine and a very talented artist.]

December 15, 2011

Flesh and Magic in Hari Ragat

The shamanistic style of magic practiced in the Hari Ragat milieu attaches great significance to human flesh, blood, and the act of sex.  This means that intercourse and consumption of human flesh or blood, particularly viscerae, can result in a transfer of spiritual power.  

We don’t need to go into too much detail on the act (nope, sorry!), but rather we dwell on the story leads this opens up, and the gameable effects.  Many of these details will serve as hooks for villains, leading to encounters with the supernatural.

Binokot Magic
The isolation and enforced virginity of the binokot maidens makes them into repositories of great spiritual power.  The binokot maiden’s first man will gain power from his first night with her, though at no loss to the binokot herself. 

There is a way to gain even more power from a binokot, however, which involves rape and sometimes ritual murder. Such crimes are considered so heinous that its perpetrators, should they be caught, are never granted a swift death but rather impaled alive over fire ant nests or worse.

Congress with a diwata may result in either spiritual power gain or drain for the human partner, depending on who ‘wins’ the contest.  I had this happen in one of my playtest sessions, to the great delight of the winning player, Bots. 

The practice of celibacy, dedicated to the ancestor spirits, can increase spiritual power.  This is the root of the binokot’s power, and also for some sorcerer-hermits and babaylan shamanesses. 

Warriors may also practice celibacy in the days before battle, lest their spiritual power leak away through sexual congress.  Other traditions, however, encourage sex before battle, hoping for both increased power and of course for heirs which can later be claimed to have been conceived on the eve of a great victory.

The aswang fuel their shapeshifting abilities, youth and beauty, and magic by consuming human flesh or viscera.  Viscera yield the most power, but the pollution gained by doing so is much greater, thus the more monstrous and hideous forms of the viscera-eaters like the manananggal.

Babes and Fetuses
Newborn babies and fetuses are also held to be charged with spiritual power.  This makes them the preferred food of some aswang types, and motivates some evil sorcerers to steal them for their own nefarious purposes. 

Newborn children can be ritually slain and mummified to create tuyol, hideous homunculi who act as the slaves of their sorcerous masters.  Tuyol can turn invisible at will, climb like spiders, and are very adept at spying and stealing. Again, Vijadesans consider this crime so horrific that the punishments for it are made equally terrible. 

Women shamans (babaylan) are usually more powerful than males.  However they have a periodic weakness, for just as their blood runs every month during their menstruation, so does their power.  Old babaylan, those who have ceased to undergo this cycle, also cease to suffer from this periodic loss of power.

The rite of swearing blood brotherhood by sharing a drink mixed with the blood of the compact-makers is a time-honored custom.  Those who do this not only gain in Renown, but also each receive an extra point of spiritual power as long as they honor the oath.  When a blood pact is broken, all who participated in that pact lose one point of spiritual power.

December 13, 2011

Remembering Basil Poledouris

Say what you will about Ahhhnold’s acting, but John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian will always remain an iconic movie for me.  Not least among those reasons is the thundering, gloriously operatic score composed for it by Basil Poledouris.  Listen, ye mortals, and despair!

Enses, enses requirimus, requirimus saevos nos.
Swords, we seek swords, savage ones.
Nos ferrei reges, servi Fati.
We, iron kings, servants of Doom.
Vale caelum, vale terra, vale nivis, morimur!
Farewell, heaven; farewell, earth; farewell, snow; we die!
Vale, morimur servis Fati!
Farewell, for, the servants of Doom, we die!

December 12, 2011

Call of the Chained God in PSF7!

My story, Call of the Chained God, has been accepted for the Philippine Speculative Fiction #7 anthology!  Still awaiting word on when it’ll come out, but in the meantime here’s a teaser:

Issander pushed himself to quickly take down the two mercenaries who’d discovered him, desperation driving him to take extreme risks.

The sell-swords in their turn were no fools, and fought exclusively on the defensive to delay him, knowing they only had to last until the others arrived. Their swords rang like bells in the twilight, Issander at a serious disadvantage as he was attacking with a shorter blade than the falchion and saber the mercenaries carried. They had attacked so suddenly, there’d been no time to draw the longsword.

Out of the corner of his eye, Issander saw three more mercenaries running towards him. Must finish this, now!

Screaming an incoherent warcry, he launched an all-out attack, driving both his attackers against the wall of some ancient edifice, then played his gambit. He let one of the mercenaries slip aside, and as expected, the veteran fighters pulled a reversal on him, pinning him against the wall. Believing his prey caught, one attacked -- and died. The other gave back, waiting for his comrades.

Leaving his shortsword buried in the dead mercenary’s flesh, Issander ran. The four now pelted after him, hallooing for the rest of their party. But now, with room to maneuver, Issander’s agility and his knowledge of Calistorr proved decisive. He quickly lost them in the darkening maze of streets and arcades.

Years of being hunted had sharpened Issander’s evasive instincts, so that even as he ran he was formulating his plan for escape. To complicate things further for his pursuers, he planted the still-lit glowstick just beyond the entrance to a crumbling tenement. If his hunters were stupid, they’d enter – and meet the current resident, a twelve-foot arachnid of virulent temper and even more virulent fangs.

Issander took the course his pursuers couldn’t know, into a window of the same tenement and through a series of chambers sealed from the mutant spider’s reach, and out another window at the back. With the first two moons rising, there would be more than enough light to navigate the city streets. Now all he had to do was see if he could get back to the Upper City tower he’d appropriated as his personal castle, get his mount and gear, and ride out one of the other gates.

Nevertheless, thoughts of flying again filled Issander with smoldering anger. The months he’d spent alone in Calistorr had been the longest period of peace he’d enjoyed in a long while – never mind the brushes with the wildlings and other predators, who were only doing as their natures bound them; it was freedom from human enmity that he craved. When he was finally able to pause for breath, he ripped off the headcloth to let his sweaty head cool, exposing the root of his problems.

The phoenix glyph.

Images of the Recognition ceremony drifted behind his eyes like shards of a broken mirror - the singing, the pounding drums, the lines of Jerdaryan nobility standing disdainfully in archaic parade armor, the searing as the crystal focused the Holy Sun's rays on his forehead. The disbelief on the faces of the Sun Speakers, as they saw the glyph revealed on Issander's brow for the first time.

The Stone of Recognition never lied, for it read the psychic traces of a mortal's bloodline. And it had inscribed the Imperial Phoenix on him, the Powerless half-breed, the disfavored half-caste. Now he was Issander sa-Rayhar, blood of the very first of the God-Binder Kings. Issander wished he had received any one of the other eight House glyphs but this one. Better yet, he wished the Stone had never pierced the strange opacity of his mind to psychic touch, and given him no mark at all.

From the Slave Legions he had been elevated to the rank of jerdar-knight and prince, acknowledged son of Jeran Artanis of Thasaion. Artanis’ pure-blooded children had never forgiven him for it. And now they had sent Lord Tyrus to hunt him down.

December 11, 2011

Hari Ragat: the Patronage System


The Vijadesan system of patronage is similar in many ways to feudal European society in the Middle Ages, and one easy way to think of your Orang Dakila character is as an equivalent to a European knight; however there are some important differences between the two systems.

Unlike the European knight, who is invested as one by a higher authority such as a baron or king, an Orang Dakila is self-made; if by dint of wealth and renown he gains himself enough followers, he can claim higher titles at any time. Moreover, the basis of Vijadesan patronage is not grants of land but the oaths of voluntary followers.

These followers may put themselves under patronage as nunuwis, pure tributaries with no martial obligations, or as kadulohan, members of the dulohan warband. Followers attach themselves to Orang Dakila for protection, to gain access to the patron’s wealth and generosity, and to join in his trading or raiding expeditions for wealth and glory.

The chain of relationships is then built bottom-up, as commoners subscribe to the patronage of a warrior, the warriors to a datu, and possibly datus to a lakan or rajah.

December 10, 2011

Hari Ragat: Heroic Journeys


A lot of adventures in Hari Ragat involve travel, much of it by sea, some of it through trackless jungle.  Now it’s one of my design precepts for this game that the journey should be an adventure in itself, but exactly how do I do that?  Without overly complicating the game or burdening players with too many things to keep track of?

I think I just had a eureka moment.  The trick, I think, is to think not in terms of spaces on a map, but in encounter points, and to let the players help the GM out.  This is one more aspect of the game where player authorship will be encouraged.  The way I’ll do it is to offer Obstacles and Opportunities.

First, our base premise: the uneventful journey is boring.  There’s no Renown in just getting safely from Point A to Point B! 

Second premise: the players want to increase their characters’ Wealth and Renown, and will welcome opportunities to be in the spotlight.

Thus the Obstacles and Opportunities mechanics.  In every journey, one player character can be appointed Jungle Guide for overland treks, or Helmsman for voyages.  The journey itself is abstracted into rolls – 1 to 3 rolls or more – between the Jungle Guide’s or Helmsman’s ability vs. the environment.  The more epic the journey is supposed to be, the more rolls the GM may require.  Each roll represents a leg of the journey.

Victories allow the player to either declare Safe Passage – nothing eventful happens, proceed as normal – or to declare an Opportunity encounter.  Opportunity encounters pose challenges to the player characters, with the potential of good reward.  For example, a Victory in a voyaging roll may be used to declare fair winds, no problem sailing, or to declare that a trading biray from an enemy clan has been spotted; action stations, we’re taking that ship!  Opportunity encounters are optional – if the other players don’t want to take it, nothing happens.

Defeats on the other hand allow the GM to declare Obstacles – challenges that the players have to engage, with survival of their characters or the continuation of the adventure at stake.  Even if their characters do not stand to gain materially from these encounters, however, the encounters will still be worth Renown.  In other words, Obstacles are a good thing! Players may even voluntarily fail their rolls to be able to declare Obstacles of their own devising.

Here’s a preliminary list of Obstacles and Opportunities, conveniently listed in packs of six for random rolling:


  1. hunger* – must stop to find food
  2. reefs – seamanship challenge
  3. monster/supernatural
  4. typhoon – seamanship challenge
  5. pirates – hostile seafarers attack
  6. lost – where are we?


  1. treasure ship – woohoo! Prepare to board!
  2. mystery island – treasures and magic!
  3. hunting island* – good hunting
  4. castaway – rescue a castaway
  5. friendly encounter
  6. port of call – chance to stop and interact


  1. hunger – must stop to find food
  2. snakes
  3. lost – where are we?
  4. monster/supernatural
  5. dangerous river crossing – find a way across
  6. bandits/headhunters – ambush!


  1. holy site – chance for diwatas’ favor
  2. mysterious locale – a rewarding mystery to solve
  3. good hunting
  4. friendly encounter
  5. jungle haven – welcome to a jungle settlement
  6. unsuspecting foes – get the drop on some enemies

*What’s the difference between being hungry and being offered good hunting?  In the first situation, you’re out of food and must find something to eat – you don’t care what it is as long as it’s edible! In the second, you’re guaranteed a shot at choice but dangerous game – big wild boar, wild water buffalo – your only problem is to get it! 

December 7, 2011

Hubris as the Cost of Magic

My taste in magic for RPGs runs more toward my sources of inspiration, which are often the darker sword and sorcery works – especially Robert Howard and Karl Edward Wagner.  Magic is dangerous and mysterious, its forces governed by beings inimical to man.  The practice of magic carries the risk of turning the practitioner progressively inhuman.

I’m thinking one way to do this is to have a Hubris score that goes up with each successfully cast spell.  Hubris represents the character’s growing pride and readiness to call upon the supernatural, his disregard for the human costs – e.g. sacrifices, casualties, suffering, collateral damage, etc. – and the likelihood that he will overstep himself.

The rate at which Hubris increases depends on the spell and its effects. Flagrant violations of natural laws results in major increases in Hubris. Killing something directly with magic results in a huge increase in Hubris.  More subtle uses of magic results in a lesser increase in Hubris.

In D&D terms, subtle magics add the spell’s level in Hubris.  A spell that flagrantly violates the laws of nature, such as Fly, adds 2x the spell’s level in Hubris.  A spell that violates the laws of the cosmos, such as Resurrect or Summon Demon, adds 3x the spell’s level in Hubris.  And lastly, spells that instantaneously killed any intelligent creatures add the slaiin victims’ Hit Dice to Hubris. 

So if you cast a level 7 attack spell like Delayed Blast Fireball and killed 20 goblins with it, that’s 7x2 + 20 = +34 to your Hubris.

So what does Hubris do?  Every time a spell above a certain level is cast, roll d100 and check the result against current Hubris.  If the result is lower than or equal to current Hubris, a complication occurs.  Summoned creatures may not obey the caster.  A damage-causing spell may strike an unintended target, or do less damage than usual.  Spell durations may be unexpectedly shortened.  Spells may even be twisted, for example a shapechanging spell may not just turn you into an animal form, it makes you a lycanthrope as well.

When Hubris is thus triggered, current Hubris is halved. 

Hubris is also removed by spell failure or when the target successfully saves against it.  Hubris can also be voluntarily removed by rendering homage or service to one’s power patron – the gods for clerics and some wizards, or to one’s master in the arts, etc. etc. 

Another way to remove Hubris is to have a Terrible Revelation.  A Terrible Revelation happens when the character indulges in some excess due to his pride or decreasing humanity, and then realizes what he’s done after.  Players can collaborate with the GM to set up Terrible Revelations for their characters.

December 6, 2011

Hari Ragat: the Sarangay

The Sarangay is a demon of the wilderness from Filipino myth, described as having a hulking, shaggy humanoid body and the horned head of a bull, with a red gem depending from one ear.  It is said to breathe smoke or steam from its nose when angered.  It’s the local version of the minotaur.

(C) Morano.Vincent

This gave me two ideas for its treatment in Hari Ragat:

My initial idea was to take the account of the Sarangay breathing smoke and give the creature some fire-based powers.  If an angry Sarangay can gaze at an inflammable object uninterrupted long enough, or spit on it, that object catches fire.

The other idea was to make the Sarangay a truly savage brute in melee, by making it immune to forged weapons.  So long as the Sarangay retains its gem, it is immune to all metal weaponry.  The only way to kill it is to steal its gem, use wooden weapons, or crush it in bare-handed combat Beowulf-vs.-Grendel style. 

The gem of course has magical powers, and in the latter version, will grant the same immunity to its wearer. 

The Sarangay’s motivations are to protect its claimed area of wilderness, usually centering around its cave lair, to feast on human flesh and ravish human women, and to protect its magical gem.

EDIT: This is a good example of why I shouldn’t blog when hungry.  My last sentence originally read ‘to feast on human flesh and devour human women …’

December 3, 2011

Hari Ragat: the Fall of Namwaran

These snippets of history are extracted from the Song of Namwaran:

The twelfth of the Hari Ragats from Rajah Bayan’s line was Rajah Marawid, also known as the Sower King. A very handsome and charmingly eloquent man, he was popular with the ladies and knew it. One day as he was hunting on Mount Tambura, he encountered a beautiful maiden who turned out to be the goddess Lalahon, diwata of the volcano.

No one is sure who seduced whom, but it is known that Marawid from that time on was Lalahon’s lover. However Lalahon was tempestuously jealous, a trait that would later doom Marawid and his house. When she asked him to leave his kingdom and stay with her, he refused. At this Lalahon was angered, and cursed his wives with barrenness.

To shore up the power of Namwaran, Marawid embarked on a two-year-long royal progress throughout the Jangalans, At many of his stops he courted and became the lover of a princess of the royal line, leaving her with his child. By the end of the royal progress, Rajah Marawid had thirty sons, all by different mothers! By not marrying any of them, Marawid had gotten around Lalahon’s first curse.

It was then that Marawid put into effect his ingenious plan to unite the Vijadesans. Acknowledging all the sons as his own, he set a date on which all would meet on the island of Pailah to participate in a contest that would determine who would be the next Hari Ragat after him. In the meantime, the children served as ties between the fractious chiefs and the royal house of Namwaran.

At this time, Lalahon appeared before Marawid and for the third time asked him to leave his other women and be hers alone. She had already demanded this twice, only to be put off with sweet words. This time, Lalahon threatened to end Marawid’s line if he refused. But Marawid saw no choice but to continue his plan to bring the Vijadesan chiefs closer to him, and so, for the last time, turned Lalahon down.

Lalahon departed, and for years it seemed all was well. Then came the time of the choosing, when all of Marawid’s sons assembled at Pailah. The games were held, with many events from archery to wresting to declamation and chess, until at last Marawid and his advisors had the name of the winner. Then Marawid departed for Namwaran, to ready the capital for the formal announcement while his sons continued to got to know one another on Pailah.

It was then that Lalahon unleashed her vengeance. Mount Tambura suddenly erupted, burying Namwaran in rivers of lava. None escaped from the royal compound. In a single day, the greatest kingdom in the Jangalans was gone, and the secret of the next chosen Hari Ragat was gone with it.

December 2, 2011

The Possessed of Hazrat Ali Mira Datar

This is a fascinating photo essay I came across while researching for an article on  travel photography. The photographer who posted this, Tewfic al-Sawy, has been documenting the ecstatic rites held at the tombs of some Muslim saints in India. 

(C) Tewfic al-Sawy

At these tombs both Muslims and Hindus, many seeking cures for chronic, untreatable ailments, work themselves into a hypnotic trance; as Tewfic al-Sawy describes, “violently throwing their hair about … rolling over the marble floor, bumping into people and pillars … writhing like snakes.  The rest of the pilgrims consider these wild manifestations as the women’s battle against evil, and [empathize] with them.” 

The existence of these shrines and the practices held there speak of the tenacity of these customs’ hold in many parts of the world.  The Philippines itself is considered a center for psychic healers, including some who are said to perform surgery barehanded, using their shamanistic powers to wrench malfunctioning organs and tumors right through the skin without making any incisions at all. 

Can this inspire elements in your games?  The typical pulp approach, which we’ll have to remember is grounded in a European-American, Christian, industrial society’s viewpoint, is to model a villain or a villain’s schtick on this.  Who doesn’t love to stomp down evil cults?  But hey, to these people it’s a good thing – mysterious and frightening, true, but a good thing.  What non-stereotypical plots and setting ideas can you come up with based on this?

Here’s an idea based on my Hari Ragat setting:

Mount Kinabaliwan was the home of a prophetic diwata who pined away from unrequited love.  Pilgrims who sleep on the mountaintop may be able to commune with the diwata in their dreams, receiving powerful prophetic visions, but in doing so they must share the diwata’s pain and sorrow, which can drive them into temporary catatonia or madness. 

It has thus become custom that pilgrims seeking visions here bring one or more companions who will not sleep while the pilgrim dreams, to aid the pilgrim through their temporary dementia and get them safely back off the mountain.  (The madness will cease as soon as the pilgrim leaves the mountain).

[In Hari Ragat, prophecies create pools of Asset dice that can be used in situations where the fulfillment of the prophecy is in crisis, thus making the prophecy more likely to occur.]

December 1, 2011

Hari Ragat: the Kinalakian


If you’re done feasting your eyes on the hawtness that is Marian Rivera, let’s talk about making a character like this woman warrior in Hari Ragat.

Again taking from Filipino history and legend, my model for the woman warrior is from the tale of Princess Urduja, ruler of the kingdom of Tawalisi, supposedly located in what is now Pangasinan. Urduja herself was raised to hold the sword, and led to battle a corps of women warriors, the Kinalakian – which roughly translates as ‘the Manly Ones.’ These amazons were said to have been so well trained in the martial arts that they gained the stature and physiques of men, and Urduja herself had taken an oath not to marry any man save he who defeated her in combat.  (Pre-dating Red Sonja by some 600 years!)

In the Hari Ragat setting, the Kinalakian is a woman of the Orang Dakila caste raised to become a warrior.   She is tutored in the arts of fighting, hunting, and seamanship, and because she is a noble, she may also learn how to command other warriors.  She is legally considered a man, and by dedicating her chastity to the warrior’s way, swearing not to marry or take a lover save one who defeats her in combat, she gains more spiritual power.  

Kinalakian are uncommon enough to be remarkable, their choice and upbringing always the subjects of tales.  Orang Dakila women are usually raised to be Binokot, virgin princesses highly sought in marriage, or as Sidayin, chanters of the ancestral epics, or as Kinatiwala, who learn to manage estates and trade.  A family may raise a Kinalakian amazon for the purposes of vengeance, to fulfill an oath, to take the place of a male heir, or in answer to a prophecy.  Sometimes adult women, such as the widows of datus and rajahs, may take the amazon path as well – and usually with vengeance as the motive.

November 30, 2011

Anne McCaffrey & Michael Whelan

In remembering Anne McCaffrey, who died last November 21st, I also ended up reminiscing over Michael Whelan and the impact his art has had on me. 

Dragon Flight (C) Michael Whelan

I picked up my very first Pern book, Dragonflight, partly because I’d read an excerpt from it in an anthology (Weyr Search), and partly because of the cover.  At the time I was not yet aware of Michael Whelan, only appreciative that the cover always gave me a good visualization of Pern’s dragons.

White Dragon (C) Michael Whelan

My favorite Pern book was The White Dragon, as I found its young hero very sympathetic (I being also an adolescent at the time), the wilderness exploration angle and discovery by the Pernese that they’d come from another world getting my sci-fi adventure glands all a-tingle, and of course there was this astounding Whelan cover.  The Whelan covers did a lot to sell McCaffrey’s books to me then, and when I take them down from my shelf for an afternoon’s reading it’s often the cover that makes me do it.  Guess it’s all part of being very visually oriented.

The Many-Colored Land (C) Michael Whelan

I first realized that I was consistently getting Whelan-covered books when I got Julian May’s The Many-Colored Land, book one of the Pliocene Exiles series.  I was floored by the gorgeous artwork and incredible attention to detail as soon as I saw the book on the shelf, and on picking it up to skim through it, I got hooked on Julian May’s warm characterization and subtle wit.  This is the one Whelan painting I really really want to buy a print of, but for some strange reason it’s not even listed on his site.  I wonder why.

Vanishing Tower (C) Michael Whelan

Sailor on the Seas of Fate (C) Michael Whelan

I also began to find the M-rune, as my friends and I called it, on editions of Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone series and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series, the latter having been my very first introduction to the speculative fiction genres but with the Gino D’Achille covers.  I now set about buying as many of these books as I could.

Llana of Gathol (C) Michael Whelan

Princess of Mars (C) Michael Whelan

Whelan’s often cunningly-hidden monogram became a seal of approval for me when buying books.  With a Whelan cover, I could trust that what I was seeing was actually related to the stories and imagined worlds I would find between the covers – not always a guarantee with other artists!  Indeed, had Del Rey’s new release of the Pliocene Exile (non-Whelan cover) been my first contact with it, I may not even have looked at it!

Tarrant's Realm (C) Michael Whelan

Green Angel Tower (C) Michael Whelan

It was through Whelan also that I got hooked on two of my current favorite authors, Celia S. Friedman and Tad Williams. Whelan’s cover for Green Angel Tower, the conclusion of Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, is my second or third favorite Whelan painting (can’t decide between this and A Princess of Mars!). 

So.  I’ve been buying Pern books and Whelan covers since the late 70’s, and I’m still doing it.  Looking back, it’s amazing how much my tastes were guided and influenced by these two masters. Madam McCaffrey’s gone, but here’s hoping Michael Whelan will continue pointing us to good reads for many years to come.  Hope you enjoyed this visual trip!

Hari Ragat: Vijadesan Cities

Before describing the various settled terrains of the Jangalans, it’s necessary to get acquainted with the Vijadesan idea of a town or city. Unlike the well-defined, stone-enclosed cities you might find in a European-inspired fantasy world, a typical Vijadesan bayan sprawls across the land as a network of villages, waterways, and farmland.

Click to enlarge

Vijadesans refer to towns, cities and kingdoms with the same word, bayan. The bayan has no definite borders, but instead is defined by a web of patronage and alliances. Most cities are ruled by a lakan or rajah, who is patron to all the lesser datus in the area. Some cities however have no rajah, but instead are held by a coalition of datus, who have all agreed to settle the area together and run a cooperative community. The territory of a bayan is thus all the land contiguously occupied and used by its residents. 

This dispersed pattern of settlement means that cities can grow very big in terms of area, and yet have a pretty small population. Some coastal and riverside trading cities, however, are very densely populated, with most of the people living near the waterfronts. A few cities center around a stone fort, a kota, which usually figures in the city’s name – for example, Kota Batulao – but effectively includes a much wider area.

November 29, 2011

Hari Ragat: Agimat

Agimat are magical amulets or charms, which in the Hari Ragat setting are obtained as gifts from the diwatas (or, very rarely, the Busaw).  They may take the form of jewelry or clothes to be worn, or a fruit or seed that must be swallowed.  Their powers are usually protective – the ability to soak damage, immunity to a certain weapon or effect, longevity and health, etc. etc.

In Filipino folklore, it was possible to obtain agimat by performing certain rites at specific locations of power – often graveyards, or the wilderness – or by holding nocturnal vigil to be able to catch some enchanted object that only appears at midnight under certain conditions. I’m blending with this the Hindu concept of tapas, spiritual austerities practiced by heroes to gain gifts from the gods, as told in the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

In the Hari Ragat setting, a hero wanting to obtain an agimat must persuade a diwata into doing so.  This is done by making offerings to the diwata, and by undergoing an ordeal in the wilderness.  Diwata are loath to give out agimat, as these things are charged with their own life force; making and giving one away weakens them, possibly for years. 

Thus to convince a diwata to give one away means passing some difficult tests of temptation and fear.  The supplicant must endure repeated attempts to frighten him or her, or temptations to break a taboo, for nine straight nights; if this is accomplished, the diwata has no choice but to relent, for it is bound by the rite.  Sometimes the diwata specifies that an agimat must be returned to it after a set time, so the power may be enjoyed by a generation or so after the first hero who acquired it, and then it must be let go or the diwata who made it will turn it into a curse.

Of course, some diwata have given away agimat not because they were pressured into it, but for love.  Such treasures are of permanent benefit, and eagerly sought after. 

Because agimat often have a form that can be stolen, their possessors are usually secretive about them.  Sooner or later, however, the possession of an agimat becomes obvious, and then the possessor finds that his rivals increase as more and more people want to wrest the magic away from him.

November 27, 2011

Hari Ragat: Beware the Halimaw

Sumatran Tiger: image from Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been debating whether or not to include the tiger in the fauna of the Hari Ragat setting.  But wait, Hari Ragat is inspired by the ancient Philippines, and there were never any tigers in the Philippines, right? 

The Malay word for tiger, harimau, exists as halimaw in several Philippine languages, but here it is a generic term for ‘monster.’  Anything large, frightening, and usually supernatural in its nature can be termed halimaw.  Show the typical Filipino a picture of a tiger, and he’ll call it a tigre, using the Spanish word.

So, no tigers.  Until, motivated by a curious itch, I searched Tiger + Philippines on the net.  And came across this: archaeological evidence of tigers on Palawan from 10-12,000 years ago.  Apparently Palawan was connected to or very near Borneo in the Pleistocene, when sea levels were lower; for the same reason, it was also a much bigger island then. After sea levels rose at the end of the Pleistocene, Palawan shrank, and this loss of habitat plus perhaps conflict with man ended the tiger population there.

So – there will be one, possibly more, islands with tigers.  These islands will be ‘lost world’ environments.  Now this has got me thinking of including the Malay were-tiger (harimau akuan) as an optional member of the Aswang family.

Hari Ragat: The New Aswang

I’ve decided on a new take for the Aswang and similar shapeshifting banes of mankind in Hari Ragat.  I’m hoping this will make them feel creepier and at the same time add a bit of human tragedy to them.

All Aswang were formerly human beings, more frequently female than male, who acquired the power to transform into the shapes of beasts or monstrous  beings through black magic, or inherited it from an Aswang forebear.  The temptations to become Aswang can be very powerful: longevity, youth, beauty, and increased spiritual power, which of course is useful for a lot of things.  Another possible motivation for a person to seek to become Aswang is revenge, often for crimes against women such as rape.

There are many kinds of Aswang; some transform into animals like dogs or crocodiles, some take on a ghostly, immaterial shadow-form, some simply grow hideous fangs and wings.  An Aswang’s ‘monster’ form depends on the ritual used to initially become Aswang.  Each form also prefers a different kind of ‘food’ – some prefer human corpses, some prefer unborn fetuses, some children, and so on.

Aswang can masquerade as ordinary people most of the time, with few if any signs of their supernatural aspect.  Cunning predators, they employ many tricks to keep their nighttime forays secret, and to cast doubt as to why their victims disappear or die.  For example, an Aswang that feeds on unborn fetuses may choose sickly mothers to victimize; when the child is lost, or if the mother dies during pregnancy, no one is surprised.

However, the longer an Aswang lives, the greater its hunger becomes.  New Aswang may feel the need to feed on human flesh or viscera only once in a year; as they grow older and more evil, they may start needing to feed monthly, then weekly, then nightly.  At this point their presence in a community can no longer be hidden, and the hunt for them begins. 

The hunt for an Aswang can be an intriguing whodunit type of adventure, with multiple suspects and the need to find out which is the real culprit without harming any innocents, and keeping the body count from getting any higher.

November 25, 2011

Hari Ragat: Sign of the Monkey

These snippets of history are extracted from the Song of Namwaran:

Rajah Mangawarna was vouchsafed a secret oracle by a diwata, who foretold that one of his descendants would do mankind a great good if he were to sail south until he saw a sign foretelling that future.

When he encamped on the island of Bannang, Mangawarna saw a monkey, the leader of its troop, battling and defeating a monitor lizard twice its size. Believing this was the sign, he settled on Bannang. His descendant Rajah Indarapatra would later conquer the Busaw giants, just as the monkey had conquered the monitor lizard.

November 23, 2011

Hari Ragat: Fall of Maha Vijadesa

These snippets of history are extracted from the Song of Namwaran.  The following takes place after the end of  the Burning Wars, when Rajah Matanglawin conquered Maha Vijadesa and forced the Samil kings to submit to him.

Some forty years after the death of Rajah Hinayon Samil, his kingdom of Maha Vijadesa was a fragmented land divided between several rival rajahs. These often raided into the kingdoms of Dharupala and Uparaya, until King Darmadewa of Uparaya led an allied army into Maha Vijadesa and extirpated them all.

This left the Jangalan Vijadesans as the only independent remnants of their race, the inhabitants of Maha Vijadesa either being enslaved or fleeing west to join with their Jangalan kindred.

The last surviving Samil, a boy named Isah, was spirited off to Namwaran by some loyal followers. There he was placed in the protection of Rajah Bagwis, son of Rajah Matanglawin who had conquered the Samils. Rajah Bagwis Namwaran Sikanda Bayahari* received Isah Samil into his court, but never allowed Isah the title of Rajah, instead giving him a small settlement to rule and the rank of Datu.

It was said that Rajah Bagwis denied Isah a rajahnate because Bagwis too had a claim on Maha Vijadesa, and wanted no rivals for it when he was ready to advance his claim. Bagwis’ mother was Bai Lila Mayari, who had married Rajah Matanglawin a few years after the war’s end, and she too was a Samil closely related to the main Samil line. Thus his claim was both by conquest through his father, and by blood through his mother. Isah on the other hand was only distantly related to Rajah Hinayon, and so was held to have a lesser claim.

This slight however never to be forgotten by Isah or his descendants, and would lead to much evil later.

*This long name indicates that Bagwis is of the line of Namwaran, of the line of Sikanda Bayahari.

Hari Ragat: Mount Kumintang

Mount Kumintang is a volcano in the south-central region of Balayan Island, and is the home of a male diwata which the people keep asleep through a curious custom.

To keep the diwata from being angered and thus causing an eruption, there is always a maiden who serves as the Flautist of Mount Kumintang. She must be a virgin, and she must of course be good with the flute, for she must spend her days lulling the diwata to sleep with music.

Spellbinding, Take Two

In a previous post, I talked about an alternative magic system for D&D where, instead of a fixed spell list, player characters could come up with spell effects on the fly, based on found items.  Now Trey’s post on using a flavor of magic closer to what’s described in medieval literature got me back to this idea.

To reiterate what the Spellbinding system is all about, it’s a system whereby player characters build their spells based on associations with a found object.  For example, an eagle feather might let you summon an eagle, talk to an eagle, or grow eagle’s wings and fly, whichever is more useful to you at the moment.  Now for my new ideas on this:

Gathering Foci
Spell foci must be gathered for use, and because by default the focus is consumed in the casting, there’s always a need to gather more. 

Numinous Items
Player characters may find Numinous objects, which grant bonuses to the spellcasting because they are of an innately magical nature. 

For example, an eagle’s feather gives me a normal casting roll to do any of the above effects; but a feather from Gwaihir Windlord gives me a big fat Tolkienic Bonus for the same effects!  Now if you want an even bigger bonus, try questing for a feather from Thorondor himself.

Starting Spell Foci
GMs should work with players to determine what their starting spell foci are.  To give new, low-level characters some versatility I’d suggest Level + 3 foci, to be chosen from a list of items provided by the GM, or worked out based on character background.  (Level + INT modifier also works)

These first foci are presumed consumable; players can have a permanent focus, but it costs 2 slots. 

Let’s say I want to play a disciple of Radagast the Brown, a wizard who had an affinity with birds: given this theme, the GM lets me pick 4 consumable foci related to birds, or 1 permanent focus and 2 consumable foci related to birds, since I’m starting at first level. 

I pick an eagle’s feather, which I associate with combat uses, a crow’s feather for wise and wily scouting or trickery, a  plover feather because plovers have this neat trick of decoying predators away from their nests, and I think I can associate this with a spell for escape, and finally an owl’s feather, for finding things in the dark and maybe fighting rodents. 

November 22, 2011

Dice Dynamics in Vivid

Based on the last playtests, it looks like the dice dynamics of my Vivid system are falling into place.  The players have found it very easy to grasp the rules, and it’s been very easy to run the games – fast, good action pace, and according to players Bots and Gelo, even though they finished the combats quite quickly they felt a healthy fear of defeat.

So what works and what doesn’t? 

Replacing bonus dice for description with Risk Dice, which also require additional description to use, has worked well.  I no longer feel I’m handing out freebies or being subjective, and the players were cool with the idea of proposing their own complications or negotiating them with me before the rolls. 

The Risk Dice also reinforce a dynamic I like, which is that the players must feel they are gambling.  Games of chance are innately appealing to the human brain it seems, even to the geek  brain, as long as there is the perception that the odds can be swayed in one’s favor.  The fact that either they or I could roll multiple sixes at any time also heightened this feeling of playing for high stakes.

I’m still fine-tuning the amount of resources available to player characters and the die ratings I give their opponents.  Because to my mind, more formidable = longer to defeat, I’m starting to think of defining my encounters in terms of how long they should ideally last, rather than giving concrete numbers for how much Resistance (hit points) an opponent has.  Minor encounters should last 1-2 rounds, major encounters 3-4, epic encounters should last quite a bit longer, maybe 6 rounds or more. 

Perhaps what I’ll do is simply arm the GM with whatever is needed to keep the encounter going to the target range of rounds.  On the other hand, this could make players also metagame by simply calculating how many rounds they need to last.  Is this bad? Or is it good because it gives them a guide for how they should manage their resources?  What if the GM secretly rolls for the length of a challenge as 1d3+n rounds, or 1d6+n for more epic encounters?

If I do this, this means that the Resistance for major monsters will be open – it’s whatever the GM wishes.  The players however will not be short-changed in this, as a longer battle, requiring more Victory Points to win, simply gives more Renown afterward as the Victory Points are translated directly to Renown.  Which should end up posing the players the question, is the fame worth it or should I run now?

November 21, 2011

Hari Ragat: the Sikanda Brothers

These snippets of history are extracted from the Song of Namwaran:

The first three sons of Rajah Sikanda – Namwaran, Magat and Dakila – all had strong followings already by the time the exiles sailed from Maha Vijadesa. When Sikanda decided to remove from Irayon, his three sons spearheaded the founding of new settlements on Namaya’s rich coast.

While exploring, Namwaran encountered and slew a titanic python at the mouth of the Lakansawa River, to which he gave its name – the River of The Noble Python. On slitting its stomach open to recover the body of a follower it had devoured, Namwaran found a quantity of exquisite gold jewelry. Concluding that there must be a wealthy, cultured people living upriver, Namwaran made an expedition and so eventually met and befriended the Taglawas of Kaboloan and Maysapan.

Along the way back from Kaboloan, Magat and Dakila fought off an ambush by headhunting highlanders and then led a retaliatory raid. This was the Vijadesans’ first fight with the Dimalupi, who then were calling themselves the I-gadda. The early years of Namwaran, Tinagong-Dagat and Kaliraya were rife with wars against the Dimalupi, who despite the Vijadesans’ efforts always threw them back; for this reason Namwaran later named the highland tribes Dimalupi, the Unconquerable Ones, and they, liking the meaning, have identified themselves thus to all Vijadesans ever since.

Namwaran and Magat later married the daughters of the Rajah of Kaboloan, and Dakila married the daughter of a lakan in Maysapan. The friendship with the Taglawas also established the wealth of the Sikanda line, for the highlands of Namaya were very rich in gold, and the Taglawas spent it like water. Namwaran founded the settlement of Namwaran on the mouth of the Lakansawa, and Magat, following a Taglawa request, settled in the northwest, in Kaliraya.

November 15, 2011

Hari Ragat: Battle of the Cockpit

A snippet from the history of the Vijadesans:

Shortly after the settlement of Irayon, Lakan Ibar, son of Rajah Liyabtala, stole Dayang Bulanadi, the youngest wife of Rajah Matanda.  This began a conflict that threatened to destroy the confederation created by the exiles, so Rajah Sikanda Bayahari brokered a judicial combat.

It was agreed that Lakan Ibar and Lakan Makisig, son of Rajah Matanda, would duel for who would keep Dayang Bulanadi. The duel was to be held in the cockpit at Niladan, Rajah Sikanda’s capital.  All the other rajahs were invited to the cockpit at Niladan, Sikanda’s capital, to witness the event.

But memories of old feuds were stirring. The rajahs had started to align themselves with one camp or another, based on conflicts carried over from before the exile. Rajah Baginda, remembering an old slight against him by Matanda, had openly sided with Rajah Liyabtala and was urging him to abort the duel, by force if necessary. Rajah Bangkawil, in turn, was suspicious of Rajah Baginda’s intentions after noticing that many of Baginda’s men were staying outside the cockpit, despite their love of gambling.

Matters came to a head when, in the middle of the duel, Bangkawil saw Baginda’s men outside getting torches. He threw his spear at one of them and killed him, which caused a great uproar. In the distraction, Ibar slew Makisig with a treacherous blow. Matanda then fell upon Ibar, but was speared in the back by Rajah Liyabtala before he could kill Ibar. Thus began the tragic Battle of the Cockpit.

On one side were the men of Matanda, Bangkawil, and Tulum; on the other, the men of Liyabtala, Baginda, Mangawarna, and Sumuron. Rajah Sikanda and Rajah Laksamana tried to stop the fighting, but were powerless to do so. Sikanda and Laksamana then ordered their men to attack both the warring parties, to eject them from Niladan. 

The fighters retreated from a ruined Niladan, and the island of Irayon came to be divided between two camps: Liyabtala with Baginda, Mangawarna and Sumuron on one, Dimaranan son of Matanda with Bangkawil, Tulum, and later Laksamana on the other.  Thus began the Confederation Wars, which would later cause most of the rajahs to remove from Irayon and settle on other islands.

November 9, 2011

Recipes for Gamers: Rosemary-Crusted Roast Pork

"Sometimes, when you're a man, you get this urge to wear stretchy pants." -- Jack Black, Nacho Libre.


And I say, sometimes, when you're a man, you get this urge for Meat.  Specifically, roasted meat.  This urge is always swimming just at the edge of my consciousness, ready to surface like a Great White when I smell a barbecue on a charcoal grill, or, as happened earlier, I saw a nice cut of meat.  When I saw these ribs earlier today, I knew just what I wanted to do with them.  And yes, a diet of this will eventually necessitate stretchy pants.  What the heck.  It's good.

1 slab baby back ribs/other roasting cut (about 600+ g)
1 tsp+ rock salt
1 tsp black pepper, coarse ground
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried rosemary leaves
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp Italian Seasoning herbs
2 tbsp panko bread crumbs
2 tbsp olive oil

Wash and pat dry the meat.  (There are some barbecue gurus who say don't wash meat.  I say, wait til you see the overfed flies in a typical supermarket, even the good ones, and you'l change your mind.) 

Combine all the rub ingredients in a bowl, mix thoroughly, and rub onto the meat.  Make sure to massage it in well.  Drizzle the meat with olive oil; this will help keep it from going dry, and make the rub crust up nicely.

Bake for 1 hour at 300 F, and for a final 15 minutes at 450 F to brown. 

Seems the panko was really effective in keeping the juices in.  This was good without garlic, which I avoided because I was afraid garlic in the crust would burn and go bitter.  Next time, and when I have a big enough stock of olive oil, I'll make some garlic oil for cooking.  That way I can get the garlic flavor without fear of burning it.

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.


  • 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

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. 


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.

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).

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