August 29, 2011

Vivid System: Risk Dice

I’ve a new idea for a mechanic, thanks to some rumination on how hunting could work in Hari Ragat. 

Risk Dice are bonus dice you can get for taking on additional risk.  These should be represented by differently-colored dice.  (I’ve a couple of deep red crystalline d6’s I call my ‘Blood Dice,’ which I used to roll for damage vs. the PC’s when DM’ing, that should be perfect for the job!)

When any of your Risk Dice turn up a 6, you get a complication in addition to the outcome of the roll (which will usually be good, considering you’ve got a 6).

In combat, Risk Dice could represent striking harder or with a flurry of wild blows; on a 6, your sword breaks, gets wrenched from your hand, gets stuck, etc etc.

In hunting, in Hari Ragat, Risk Dice represent how deep into the jungle you go.  Hunting within a few miles’ radius of your home gets you 0 Risk Dice.  Go deeper into the jungle, or up into the mountains, and you get increasing Risk Dice: you’re more likely to encounter big game, but you’re also at greater risk of stumbling onto a party of headhunters, or angering a Diwata!

I’m gonna try this on my players! 

August 28, 2011

My Mount & Blade Madness

Battle for Hindustan IIBattle for Hindustan IISmoke and SteelSmoke and SteelSword of Maciste

I can’t help it.  When I’m bored, I mod Mount and Blade.  I’m always looking for new worlds to play in, and if I can’t find it, I’ll make my own. 

August 24, 2011

Vivid: Guts Mechanic

I’ve been reconciling the way Vivid’s Fate Dice work with the way I want Hari Ragat to play, and I think I’ve got it.  I’m taking out Fate Dice and replacing them with Guts.

What is Guts?  Guts is a measure of the character’s willpower, confidence, and drive to win/succeed/survive. 

Mechanically, they still work very much the same way.  The definition, however, now works better for simulating something specific as opposed to the very metagame-y way that Fate works.  Luck in exchange for good role-playing is nice, but I’ve seen players gaming the system in ways that side-tracked the game. So I’ll be more specific, and have my SYA (save-your-ass) mechanic be related to something internal to the character.

Guts also gives me a handy fear-tracking mechanic, should I ever want to use monsters with some kind of ‘Terrifying’ power.

Uses of Guts
Guts can be spent to add bonus dice to a roll.  The rationale is you’re using up sheer willpower to try harder.

Guts can be spent to soak damage.  The rationale is, instead of taking serious injury, your confidence gets shaken, you get rattled, etc.

Guts can be spent to act in the face of terror.  When faced with something horrifying, ordinary persons will (in the game at least!) cower or freeze – but because heroes have Guts to spend, they can act.  If the player wants to act. 

(This means I’m not taking away player control with my fear mechanic, instead I’m asking the player, ‘Give me something in exchange for the ability to act, when everyone else around you is frozen.’)

Gaining/Restoring Guts
Now, because Guts is willpower/confidence, we can also tie it to acts that restore/increase confidence.  For a lot of us human beings, interaction with our loved ones is THE great confidence booster.  I’m thinking that in Vivid games, engaging in acts of romance or family bonding will yield Guts.

Similarly, engaging in acts that are pleasurable for the character can also yield Guts – aye, ye have license to carouse and wench all ye want, ye scurvy dogs!  I wanna run a Conan-or Three Musketeers-based adventure just thinking of the possibilities here! 

Another idea is that of taking Setbacks in combat.  Rather than roll, you narrate your character getting beaten up and humiliated by his opponent.  The effect is +1 Guts every round you do this, representing the gathering storm of rage and canned whup-ass.  And when you think you’ve had enough, you unleash it – pow!

How does this work in Hari Ragat? In Hari Ragat, Guts is replaced by Baraka, spiritual power.  The ways of earning it also change a bit, as now it’s not just interaction that gains it, but also performing sacrifices, slaying numinously powerful monsters, etc. etc. 

Starting Guts
Player characters start with 3 Guts.  They can add to this by spending Asset Dice on Guts instead of other Assets. 

In Hari Ragat, PC’s get 2 Baraka plus bonuses for being Orang Dakila, having supernatural ancestors, and so on.

A player character’s Guts/Baraka will always be in flux.  Hard adventures will result in heavy spending of Guts, so the players will have reason to call for opportunities to ‘recharge.’

August 23, 2011

Playing to Our Hobby’s Strengths

James Maliszewski’s post at Grognardia had me thinking.  Maliszewski posits, very correctly I think, that one reason D&D rose so high in popularity in the early 80’s was because:
….  D&D appeared during that brief period when interest in both fantasy and interactive entertainments was on the rise but before home computers were both cheap and powerful enough to satisfy these interests. Consequently, the hobby swelled with many people who were became involved in it only because there was no viable alternative yet available. Tabletop roleplaying was the best thing on offer at the time. The advent of games like Wizardry peeled a lot of people away from the hobby and, I suspect, provided a better form of entertainment for many others who might have picked up gaming as a second best choice in a world that had not yet invented something they would have actually preferred.
I think he struck on a real truth there.  Our hobby has an intrinsic weakness: All the action happens in our heads.  Rules have to be learned to put everyone’s brain on roughly the same frequency, so to speak.  Every character, every action, must be created inside our heads and then – laboriously, for some – communicated to another person.  When we take actions that must be resolved using the game system, calculations and references are often needed. Playing a tabletop RPG is brain-work

Contrast this to the immediacy of a modern CRPG, with its flashy and sometimes downright stunning visuals (like the one above!), a world that’s been pre-imagined for you, all the character stats and math pre-done, and all you have to do to enjoy it is push some buttons. How are we tabletop gamers to compete?

By not competing on the same grounds, if you ask me. But first let me say what I think the real strength of the hobby is: All the action happens in our heads. ‘Hey, didn’t you just say that was tabletop gaming’s big weakness?!’  I did.  So how does it become a strength?  When you follow the strong suits created by this manner of play.  We’ll never compete with CRPGs in terms of immediate entertainment value, specially in terms of visuals and sound, or the way they sweep the rules under the rug so you can just go ahead and play.  But we can compete in terms of:
  • Flexibility: there’s nothing like a human game master and human players for richness of detail and freedom of action.  In a CRPG, there are only so many ways you can interact with other characters and the game’s environment.  With live players, imagination’s the only limit.

  • Unpredictability: as an outgrowth of our flexibility in tabletop games, a tabletop adventure can have a stronger unpredictability element, which can make for more engaging gameplay.

  • Immersion: with an inventive GM and players, a tabletop game can allow for deeper immersion in the game.  There’s no limit to the number of characters you could interact with, some even created on the fly, and the world can react to any action you take, even those that surprise the GM – the computer equivalent of which would hang the program!
  • Longer, More Elaborate Stories: a computer RPG will either have a finite story that will take you say 30-100 hours to play through after which it’s done, or as an MMORPG, it will have a simple framework story that leads you through the grinding routines.  A tabletop RPG offers potentially infinite stories – as long as the players and GM are interested the game can keep going in new directions.
My 2 cents.

Vivid: Roles, Refined

I’ve thought of simplifying Roles to make character creation even easier.  Since Vivid is a game system meant for cinematic play, it’s very acceptable to define characters in broad brushstrokes, and even better for players as they’ll have less rules to learn.

Some things to remember when defining a character’s Roles:

  • Your character can do anything possible for a normal human being, unless otherwise specified.  You’ll have one die to roll.

  • If you can apply a Role to the task, you get the die rating for that Role.  Think of Roles as ‘packages’ of skills and knowledges, or as character classes.

    In other words, define your Roles for what you want your character to do well.

  • You have 7 dice to divide between your Roles.  You may assign a maximum of 5 dice to any Role.  This means you can have 2-3 Roles, any more is quite a stretch and makes a rather clunky character.

    You will usually have a definite Primary Role – this is what your character is known for, and where you put most of your dice.  You may then have 1 or more Secondary Roles.

  • Roles are mostly player-defined.  In certain settings, some setting-specific Roles may be listed and described.

    Since Roles are player-defined, it’s appropriate and in fact highly desirable for players to add descriptions to their Roles.  (Tip o’ the hat to S. John Ross’ Risus system for this idea!)

    If I were to stat myself as a Vivid character, for example, I’d be a:

    Geeky Writer 3
    Madcap Photography Professor 3
    Struggling Game Designer 1

    In the Hari Ragat setting, your character’s caste is a Role in itself (and is a required Role).  An Orang Dakila has warrior, hunting and courtly skills, an Orang Malaya knows farming and fighting, and so on.

  • Race (in the fantasy/sci-fi sense, such ‘elf’) is part of your ‘main’ Role – the one you put the most dice in.  So you could be, in a typical high fantasy game:

    Elven Archer 5
    Dabbler in magic 2

Character capabilities can be fine-tuned using Assets.  So it’s very possible that in Hari Ragat you and I both have Spearman 4/Orang Dakila Warrior 3, but because your concept is to have a big tough bruiser with supernatural origins, and my concept is to have a lithe, cunning fighter deeply versed in the martial arts, we can have very different Assets. 

August 19, 2011

Wager of Battle

I’ve always liked the idea of players having input on the risk/reward aspect of their rolls in a game.  So I’m thinking of putting this back into Vivid (it was a component of Vivid’s ‘ancestor’ FLEX). 

In combat (and in non-combat contests where it’s appropriate), you can ‘wager’ how many Victory Points you want to win from an exchange.  The downside is, if you lose the exchange your opponent gets to win and apply the same amount of Victory Points against you. 

So if you’re very confident against, say, a squad of mooks, you can wager 3 or even 5 VPs.  Win them, and you’ve got enough to declare the entire squad defeated, the survivors running for their lives.  Lose, and – well, figure out how you’re gonna absorb that much damage. 

This mechanic will obviate having to codify such things as ‘all out attack’ or ‘cautious defense’ – such tactics are already implicit in the wagering. 

Now how to relate this to weapon/martial Secrets?  What if by activating the relevant Secret, you could get 2-for-1 on your VP wager if you win?

August 13, 2011

Hari Ragat: Sacred Animals

The Vijadesans revere and fear certain animals, some of them naturally-occurring denizens of sea or jungle, some of them touched by the supernatural.   Some of these are to be avoided, some sought out (at your own peril), and some are belived to give signs from the gods. 

  1. Gamecocks: gamecocks are the children of Galura, and the symbol of manly courage; killing a gamecock for food is bad luck, and slighting or injuring another man’s gamecock is considered a mortal insult.

  2. White Animal: any specimen of animal born white, where the species is not naturally white, is considered blessed by the spirits or may even be a spirit or Diwata in disguise.  This is specially true of white deer and boar.  It is considered bad luck to harm a white wild animal, and good luck to keep a white domestic animal, e.g. a white buffalo, a white rooster, etc. etc.  On the other hand, the  gods favor white animals as sacrifices.

  3. Hornbills: considered a symbol of matrimonial fidelity, the presence of a hornbill couple near a house is thought to signify a blessed union, while the killing of a hornbill will likely result in a spouse’s infidelity or a seduction attempt on her/him by a stranger.  Hornbills are also considered protectors of the community, so it is very bad luck to kill one.

  4. Limokon doves: these blue doves are considered messengers from Aman Bathala, giving omens by their calls and flight.  If on setting forth to a voyage or war you hear the limokon call on your right, or see one fly from your right to your left, fate will be in your favor; but should the reverse happen, your luck will be bad.

  5. Eagles: all eagles, but most specially the great sea eagles and giant forest eagles are sacred to Aman Bathala, as they are his watchers over the earth.  Killing an eagle or bringing harm to an eagle’s nest will bring serious misfortune.

  6. Black moths: Anitos, especially those of the newly dead,  sometimes take the form of a black moth that flutters around as if lost.  Harming it offends the ancestor spirits, who see the act as a sign of disrespect.  If a black moth lands on a person, that person is believed to be doomed to die within the year.

  7. Crocodile: the Vijadesans have a love-hate relationship with the savage saltwater crocodile.  It is said that crocodiles are reincarnations of the vengeful dead, so any adult victim of a crocodile is held to have been justly killed. 

    Because killing a crocodile is sure to anger the spirits of the dead, crocodile hunts are bookended by ceremonies and sacrifices to appease the spirits.

    Some families and tribes simply hold crocodiles sacred and venerate them, even making them offerings.  Strangely enough, these locales rarely ever suffer crocodile attacks.

  8. Cockatoo: the cockatoo is revered for its supposedly human-like or even ultra-human wisdom, as evinced by its ability to pick up human speech and its intelligence.  Cockatoos are also seen as harbingers of good luck and may warn against ill luck or evil spirits. Because of these beliefs, the cockatoo is often used as a symbol of protection against evil spirits, thus the frequent use of stylized cockatoo heads on weapon hilts.

  9. Snakes: snakes too are often believed to be, or become possessed by, the anitos.  Once again, the Vijadesans have an ambivalent relationship with snakes – part fear, part respect and religious reverence.  As stated above, any white animal is considered to be sacred to the gods or diwatas, so an albino snake will often be kept and fed as the sacred ‘luck’ of a household or village.

  10. Sharks: certain sharks are believed to be evil sea spirits in disguise.  Vijadesans tell tales, in hushed tones, of demonic sharks that haunted a particular fishing village or locale for years, sinking any small boats that ventured onto the water and devouring all their occupants. 

    Only when regular human sacrifices were offered did the demon sharks allow the villagers to fish in peace.  Of course if any heroes are available and willing, some villagers will be willing to sponsor them in a hunt for the demon shark.  But some villagers, those too afraid, or perhaps those who have benefited from the demon shark’s reign of terror, may try to sabotage their plans …

  11. Sea Turtle: sea turtles are sacred to Apu Laut, god of the sea.  However, Apu Laut also understands the needs of his favored people, and allows the taking of turtles and their eggs for food – within limits. 

    A turtle laying eggs is sacrosanct and must not be killed.  Likewise, when harvesting a turtle’s nest you may only take half the eggs, and must carefully re-bury the remainder with a prayer to Apu Laut.

    And lastly, harming turtles locked in a mating embrace is sure to trigger the wrath of the Old God of the Sea.  Bad enough that you must kill his children, it’s unspeakably wrong in his eyes that you must take them in the act of procreation.  (Of course, meat taken from turtles killed while mating has powerful magical properties in promoting fertility.)

So What Does It Mean for Us Players?
How might players interact with these sacred animals?  What situations might drive them into interesting conflicts or interactions? Off the top of my head, here are some ideas:

  • Roleplaying Rewards
    Many of these sacred animals may be encountered in the wild at any time.  They serve as another hook for you to engage with the wonderful and mystically exotic world of Hari Ragat.  Everyone knows the spirits, specially the diwatas, reward courtesy with courtesy, kindness with gifts, and insult with terrible sorcerous vengeance.  

  • Mistaken Identity
    A PC or NPC out on a hunt attacks and kills or injures what he thinks is legitimate game, but turns out to be a similar-sized sacred beast/bird. 

    In the depths of the jungle, it often happens that you’ll only have a glimpse of your prey through the shadowy undergrowth, and must shoot or cast at once lest you lose it. 

    Or it may be that you were following a herd of otherwise normal game, but one of them is enchanted or a diwata in disguise.  Alas, you just had to aim at the wrong one!

  • Ancestral Guardian
    A PC has an ancestral guardian spirit that has taken the form of an animal, often a snake.  It watches over him/her and may come to warn of danger or give aid when most needed.  The animal is not at the command of the player, but appears when the situation is truly dire or to serve as a plot hook.  (A similar idea runs through the GMA TV series Amaya).

    Another, similar possibility is for a PC to come across an injured or endangered sacred animal, and risk his/her life to save it.  In gratitude it pledges to guard the character for the rest of its (practically immortal) life.

  • Forbidden Prize
    Yes, it’s supposed to be bad luck to kill a white deer or a white snake or that wild buffalo that has an obvious glowing moon brand on its forehead – but there’s also much to be won from killing or capturing it.  For one, it will definitely give the slayer/captor Baraka (spiritual power). 

    Certain parts may have magically curative powers, and in fact may be the only cures for a magical curse.  Will you dare the gods’ wrath for your own purposes?

    For example, the fertility-enhancing property of turtle meat taken from mating turtles.  Your Rajah’s senior wife has been childless for years.  The forbidden meat is the only remedy.  If she fails to produce an heir, the scheming junior wife’s child will take the throne – and he’s as poisonous as a cobra.  Will you take the necessary measures to correct this imbalance, and explain to Apu Laut later?

  • Hunger
    You’re stuck on a tiny island and the only food source available right now is something you shouldn’t kill.  Will you starve, or take the prey and face the consequences later?

  • It’s a Military Target
    You have found that the luck of an enemy resides in a sacred animal secretly kept in or near their village, and tightly guarded.  The creature’s magic must be powerful, for in your last few encounters with this enemy you and your allies were badly worsted. 

    Now that you know the truth, you have the opportunity to strike at the  base of your enemy’s power …

This post was expanded from an earlier post on religion in Hari Ragat for the RPG Blog Carnival feature: Animals.

August 11, 2011

Hari Ragat: Secrets of the Guros

I’ve been wrestling for some time with the problem of differentiating weapons from each other by the way they’re used, as opposed to tacking on fixed properties like damage ratings or initiative modifiers.  This is my solution, inspired by D&D 3.x Feats, FATE Aspects, and most importantly Clinton R. Nixon’s Secrets from The Shadow of Yesterday.

Here’s a preview of the Secrets that will go into the game:

Many Vijadesan disciplines are passed on in secrecy from master to apprentice. A Secret is a technique that you have learned from such a master, or even directly from the spirits, and makes you better at certain activities.

Many Secrets are weapon-specific. Thus your choice of favored weapon should mesh with your choice of Secrets.

Secret of the Serpentine Thrust
Weapon: kris. Tap this Secret for bonus dice to perform faster, deadlier thrusts that weave deceptively through your opponent’s defenses. This technique is defeated and therefore cannot be used against opponents bearing a kalasag shield; it does work against the smaller palisay shields.

Secret of the Fearless Blade
Weapon: barong. Tap this Secret for bonus dice to perform devastating attacks from very close range, where the shortness of the barong becomes an advantage. The agile movements required to do this preclude using this Secret when wearing armor.

Secret of the Sundering Stroke
Weapon: kampilan or panabas. Tap this Secret to destroy a shield or weapon or item of armor of your opponent. If the item is enchanted to be unbreakable, however, this Secret automatically fails. You cannot use this Secret while using a shield.

Secret of the Whirlwind Blades
Weapon: kris or barong. Tap this Secret to gain bonus dice when fighting with two blades, or to Save from a defeat. Fighting with two blades gains you great flexibility, but it keeps you from using a shield.

Secret of Arrested Flight
Weapon: spear. Tap this Secret for bonus dice to catch a spear thrown at you or someone behind you; at your discretion you may also cast the spear back as part of your action.

August 10, 2011

The Chola Invasions & Hari Ragat

One of the fascinating but little-known nuggets of history that has always fascinated me is the Chola campaign of King Rajendra Chola against the Srivijaya Empire, circa 1025 CE.

This is of great interest to me not only because it’s got the seeds of swashbuckling naval action in a Southeast Asian setting, it’s also got a connection to the Philippines. According to Visayan folk tradition, the Visayas got their name from Srivijaya, as people fleeing from Srivijaya’s collapse helped settle, or perhaps became rulers, of the Visayan islands.

Which raises some interesting questions. Did the Chola fleets ever make their way as far as the Philippines?  Does the common Tagalog practice of shushing children by telling them ‘kukunin ka ng Bumbay’ (the Indian will get you) have anything to do with this historical fact?

It’s interesting to look at what few details can be gleaned about this campaign from the few sources I can find about it and try to extrapolate what happened, and how it relates to our history. 

Item: The expeditions were undertaken by Rajendra Chola supposedly to curb piracy on the China-India route, which threads its way down the coast of South China, along the Philippine islands or across the coast of Indochina, looping around the Malay Peninsula and through the islands of Indonesia to Burma and finally Bengal and southeast India.

Item: The expeditions did not destroy Srivijaya, in fact the king of Srivijaya was later put in charge of the Khmer kingdom in Cambodia!  From this we can infer that the war was fought to secure the submission of Srivijaya, not destroy it.  By cowing the Srivijayan rulers, the Cholas put a stop, or at least lessened, their corsairing activities.  To effectively do this, they would have had to take hostages.  If that doesn’t smell like a story seed I don’t know  what does!

baybayin images

Item: To make sure the expeditions paid for themselves, the Cholas would have had to bring home some kind of booty.  Now there’s only so much material wealth you can get from archipelagic Southeast Asian settlements, which are dispersed and not quite as wealthy as mainland kingdoms like Siam.  So what would have constituted the most valuable portion of the Chola loot?  Most probably, slaves.  So does the practice of frightening children with images of ‘Bumbay’ taking them away reflect a distorted memory of Chola slavers?

One thing’s for sure – you can bet this nugget of history will find its way into the Hari Ragat world.

August 9, 2011

Hari Ragat: Book Lineup & Plans

I’ve been thinking of putting Hari Ragat up on Kickstarter for funding, so I can finally start going after that make-or-break ingredient – art.  This exotic setting needs art, lots of it, and good art at that.  Art that I think can best be provided by Filipino comics artists. 

I want the likes of Nebres or Nino or Alanguilan to do art for me – or at least the covers – but now that they’ve been published by US companies like Marvel, how can I afford their rates?

So this is what I’m thinking of doing with the concept:

  • Hari Ragat Playtest
    a one-shot adventure with pre-generated characters and just enough of the rules to run the game (free PDF);

  • Hari Ragat Players’ Guide
    Epic roleplaying in a setting inspired by maritime Southeast Asia;the full core rules and setting (PDF)

  • Hari Ragat Deluxe Edition
    Epic roleplaying in a setting inspired by maritime Southeast Asia; the full core rules and setting, plus exclusive additional content such as war game and empire-building rules (PDF)

  • Trials of the Godborn
    experience the world of Hari Ragat from a radically different perspective – as one of the giant, sorcerous Raksasas! (PDF)

  • God-Kings of the Volcanic Plains
    travel to the world of Hari Ragat’s past, for intrigue and jungle warfare with elephants and chariots in the legendary realm of the Nayyalinga kings!

Why all PDF? Considering my circumstances, and the fact that I’ll be producing the books here in the Philippines with most buyers likely to come from the USA or Europe, going all-electronic media for now is probably the best option.  As I can do the layouting myself, my only out-of-pocket expenses should be the art and the initial playtesting.  I’ll consider a POD option later, if demand is good enough.

If I do go POD though, I’ve thought of a possible way to sweeten the deal; I can leverage my shutting back and forth between Manila and Davao to produce some goodies for buyers or higher-end backers.  Maybe something along the line of handcrafted ‘tribal dice’ with shell/mother of pearl/brass pips.  Hmmmm ….

One big hurdle to pass though; as of now Kickstarter will only take projects from US residents.  Wonder if they’ll let me ask a relative to open a project account/proxy for me?

August 7, 2011

Hari Ragat: Domain Creation

I’ve just realized something: there’s a way to help new players, particulary non-Filipino players, get more easily into the setting of Hari Ragat.  Let the player group create their own domain.

Instead of character creation first, the players must first sketch out, in pretty broad strokes, what their characters’ home and community are like.  This lets the players explore the tropes and adventuring possibilities of the setting, and create compelling reasons for their characters to matter in the setting. 

I could probably have two options for domain creation, method one being negotation and consensus with the GM, and method two can be using dice for random results.  The following details should result:

  • Homebase – where the characters live

  • Territory – what the characters’ community holds in terms of land and sea access

  • Key Figures – the Datu or Raja ruling the domain, community members of interest, which can then be taken as family, mentors, or even rivals of the PCs during character creation

  • Perks – what the people of this domain are known for.  Maybe they’re good with bows. Maybe they’re great navigators.  The players should feel their characters are cooler for being part of this domain

  • Issues – at least one, preferably more, issues that this domain must deal with.  Wild animal infestations, a marauding raksasa giant, blood feud with a neighbor – all is grist for the story mill.

August 6, 2011

Holy Cow!

Is this Fate? I was researching the look of the art I want for Hari Ragat, and I came across this page in the Philippine Comic Museum Online.  I’ll reproduce it as a screenshot here so you can see what I’m talking about.


That name circled in red?  That’s my family name.  I never even knew any of us got into publishing, much less publishing comics! Holy cow!

August 5, 2011

Hari Ragat: Haunters of the Jungle III

… or, Something Fishy This Way Comes! 

The jungles of the Jangalan Isles are cut with many rivers and lakes, both big and small, and giant crocodiles are only the most obvious creatures for the adventurer to worry about.  There are fish here as savage as anything you can imagine, such as:

Freshwater Sawfish
This relative of the shark lives in fresh water.  While not a man-eater, it is dangerous to encounter it as it may lash out with the saw-toothed bill on its snout if it feels threatened, causing horrible injuries.  They can grow up to 20 feet long.

Giant Mudfish
Also known as the Giant Snakehead, this pugnacious carnivore dwells on river bottoms and in pools of stagnant water, sometimes even entering flooded ricefields. 

Their smaller cousins and young are considered delicacies by the Vijadesans, but giant mudfish can and do prey on humans when given the chance.  Giant mudfish may also attack when guarding their eggs, as  mated pairs guard their nests and are specially aggressive during spawning season.

Giant mudfish can reach lengths of up to 6 feet, have very powerful jaws, and will attack anything without fear.  They can breathe air, so it’s easy for them to survive in very shallow, stagnant water or mud, and even crawl overland. 

Giant Eel
The larger rivers are also home to giant freshwater eels that can reach lengths of 20 feet or more.  These eels can and will attack anyone in the water, and like sharks are drawn to the scents of blood and carrion.  Some losses of men and livestock blamed on crocodiles are actually the work of giant eels. 

Worse yet, evil spirits sometimes inhabit the bodies of these eels, or manifest as giant eels.  Such spirit eels have powers of illusion, enchantment, and control over water and vegetation, and will use them to bring and keep victims within their reach.

Water Cobra
The water cobra is a colorful, agile aquatic snake that hunts fish and frogs in all bodies of fresh water.  Common throughout the larger Jangalan Isles, this snake is often caught by fishermen.  Water cobra meat is considered a delicacy, but their venom is even deadlier than a land cobra’s of the same size.  Water cobras grow to lengths of up to 4 feet.  Okay, snakes aren’t fish, but they just belong in this list, right? :)

Butcher Crab
This fist-sized land crab with its dark crimson claws is a dreaded scavenger of the jungle floor.  Able to smell blood for miles, swarms of butcher crabs will congregate over the helpless wounded, whether man or beast, and strip them to the bone – possibly while still alive. 

Hunters tell tales of losing deer and boar they have wounded to swarms of crabs, and it is well known that butcher crabs grow fattest at the sites of battles.  Because they have very heavy bodies, however, butcher crabs cannot climb well.  If you ever have to travel through the Jangalan rain forest while wounded, spend the night in a tree.

Butcher crabs spawn in rivers and streams, preferring clear, fast water.  During their spawning season the Vijadesans avoid the rocky streams the crabs prefer, and as this is where most Vijadesans wash their clothes, crab spawning season is also a season for grubby clothes!

Water Monitor
A large monitor lizard with webbed feet that can grow up to 9 feet long.  The Vijadesans were familiar with the species on Arundwipaya, but there it only grew up to 4 or 5 feet long.  Jangalan water monitors are definitely large enough to prey on children, and may attack adult humans if hungry enough.   

Water monitors are powerful but cowardly hunters, easily spooked and preferring prey much smaller or weaker  than themselves – most of the time.  However there are aggressive individuals that are harder to drive off, and these are the man-eaters. 

Water monitors are as at home on land as in water, but prefer to attack large prey in water where they have the advantages of bodies built for swimming and the capacity to hold breath much longer than a human can.  Water monitors have a weak venom, non-lethal to humans but enough to make a victim sick for days.  Human victims however are usually killed by mauling and drowning.

There are mixed accounts of the origins of the sirinan, the water maidens.  Some claim they are diwatas, natural spirit  beings who guard and rule particular locations, while some believe the sirinan are the restless ghosts of drowned young women.  By almost all accounts, however, it is agreed that sirinan appear as beautiful young women, clad usually in white, wet clothes, who lure men to death by drowning. 

Sirinan are always found by forest pools and waterfalls – the latter coincidentally known as popular places for maidens to commit suicide for unrequited love or to escape undesired marriages.  They are said to have incredibly sweet and alluring voices, and once a man hears a sirinan speak his name he can no longer resist her.  Sirinan will thus linger around camps, invisible, until they learn someone’s name, upon which they will then endeavor to catch him alone.

August 4, 2011

Thundercats is Back!

And it looks epic!


Hari Ragat: Other People II

Some encounter and adventure ideas based on my earlier post.

An allied but ambitious datu’s enemies are falling one by one, each killed under mysterious circumstances, but there is no way to tie the deaths to their obvious enemy the datu.  The secret: the datu long ago secured the services of an Orang Bakawan hunter who now acts as his assassin. 

The assassin is incredibly stealthy and skillful, equally adept with bow, blowgun and spear.  It would be best to take him alive, so his master can be accused with proof and brought down without triggering a feud. 

The Princess of Pasai
The race is on to marry the princess of Pasai, the remote and legendarily wealthy Taglawa kingdom on Lake Inangbuan.  The journey is perilous, for not only will the suitors have to cross the sea to Namaya Island, they will have to travel far inland and past the mountain home of the Dimalupi headhunters to reach Pasai.  And when they reach it, they will eventually find that the princess’ most favored suitor is a raksasa in disguise!

The Headhunters’ Lure
A young woman descends into a Taglawa town and, finding the heroes, begs for their help.  Her father, she says, is an old hermit who has gotten injured; he has to be helped down the mountain and into the town for healing. 

This is not the whole truth, however – the old hermit is not injured, but rather held captive by the Dimalupi, who have charged the daughter to bring them warriors worthy of being ‘harvested.’  If a PC can win the woman’s heart, however, she reveals the truth. 

As an extra attraction for rescuing the hermit anyway, despite the deception, the hermit can teach the PCs some new magic or give them a magical tattoo as a gift.

The Victim
An innocent man has been sent into the mountains to die at the hands of the Dimalupi.  When the mistake is discovered, the heroes are asked to go into the highlands and bring the exile home before the headhunters can find him! Or her!

This could lead to an investigation type adventure afterward when our heroes try to find out who was behind the innocent’s being charged and getting the wrong verdict. 

August 3, 2011

Hari Ragat: Other Peoples

The Vijadesans are not the only humans on the Jangalan Isles.  When the ten founding datus and their followers arrived, they soon encountered earlier human settlers.  Most notable among these were the Orang Bakawan, the Taglawa and the Dimalupi Highlanders.

Orang Bakawan
The Orang Bakawan (mangrove people) are a short, dark-skinned race of hunter-gatherers living a nomadic life along the coasts of most Jangalan islands. They are renowned for their archery and stealth, and for using poisoned arrows.

Orang Bakawan live in loose family groups of up to thirty or forty individuals, migrating with the seasons – to the lowlands in the dry season to fish and gather shellfish, to the highlands in the wet season to hunt and avoid the seasonal floods. 

The Orang Bakawan have a love-hate relationship with the proud Vijadesans, sometimes warring against them, sometimes fighting for them as mercenaries, but increasingly dependent upon them for iron weapons, pottery, cloth, and agricultural produce.  The Vijadesans in turn have sometimes enslaved Dumagats or demand tribute of them, but at the same time fear them – for as good as the Vijadesans are at jungle warfare, the Orang Bakawan are even better.

Despite their reputation however, the Orang Bakawan are a gentle people, preferring to avoid conflict as much as possible. Among themselves they have no true leaders or government, but defer to their elders.  If they cannot resolve a dispute among themselves, the dissidents simply split off from the group and go live elsewhere.

The Taglawa, or Lake People, are a race akin to the Vijadesans found on the island of Namaya, the largest in the Jangalan archipelago.  They live on and around Lake Inangbuan, a great lake lying between the Bontok and Kalinga mountain ranges.  Many Taglawa dwell in villages built on stilts out on the shallows of the lake, partly because they are fishers, and partly for protection against the Dimalupi headhunters. They grow rice on the swampy lakeshores and farm fish in pens on the lake.

Taglawa legends hint at their mysterious origin, for they say they are descended from people carried off by the raksasas long ago and made to farm and fish the lake for them.  A family of giants would come every year to demand a heavy tribute of fish and rice, this practice ceasing only after the Taglawa joined the Vijadesans in the Raksasa Wars and destroyed their oppressors.  The Vijadesan and Taglawa languages are very similar, as is their caste structure, so most now believe that the Taglawa’s ancestors came from Arundwipaya, the ancient Vijadesan homeland.

The Taglawas are divided into three kingdoms – Nilad, Sabag, and Kaboloan.  The Vijadesan rajas have made treaties with these inland kingdoms, recognizing their power and wealth, and there have been several royal intermarriages.  The Taglawas also control a major source of wealth – the rich gold veins of the Malawin and Alamid mountains.  They trade with the Dimalupi for gold, which they then trade down the Pasai River to the Vijadesans for ceramics, spices, and cloth.

Dimalupi Highlanders
The name Dimalupi comes from the Vijadesan word for ‘unconquerable,’ as they have never been able to subdue these fiercely independent tribes.  They dwell among the Malawin and Alamid mountains on the island of Namaya, from where they often raid the Taglawa kingdoms and the Vijadesan settlements on the coast.  Vijadesans know them as the People of the Axe, for they prefer axes to swords, and as the Mountain-Hewers, for they have carved great swathes of their mountain range into terraces for farming.

The greatest reputation of the Dimalupi, however, is as headhunters.  Head-taking is a central aspect of the Dimalupi religion; the mountain gods are constantly leaching away their spiritual power, so they must replenish it by acquiring more heads.  Often hot-headed young warriors, eager for a trophy to prove themselves – for taking a head has been made a prerequisite to marriage – will cause the breaking of the latest treaty.

Treaties are particularly difficult to enforce among the Dimalupi, for they have no set leaders or government.  Instead they have a rough sort of democracy, where elders, renowned warriors and the best orators are free to try to sway their people in council meetings.  As is usual in a democracy, the loudest clamor wins – and the usual clamor is for war. 

On the other hand, the Dimalupi are not very particular about whose head they take – unlike the Vijadesan practice, which is to concentrate on the heads of enemy leaders and heroes.  This has led to a curious practice among the Taglawa: instead of executing their criminals, the Taglawa usually sentence them to exile into the mountains, for the Dimalupi to find and ‘harvest.'  And if within a year not enough criminals are exiled, the kings of Pasai, Sabag and Kaboloan will exile a number of slaves as well. 

The Dimalupi say they were settled in the mountains by the raksasas, who picked them up and put them there to grow rice for them.  The Dimalupi fought on the side of Raja Lawana, the raksasa king, during the Raksasa Wars; however after Lawana’s defeat, they joined with the Taglawas in extirpating the oppressive giants. 

The Dimalupi have a curious custom of mummifying their dead by smoking them before a fire.  The mummies are then laid up in deep caves high in the mountains.  These caves will be sources of strong magic.

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