September 30, 2011

People of the Black Circle!

Given Google+’s way of doing things, there was really just one name for my closest cabal of gamer friends: The People of the Black Circle!  Still one of my top three Conan stories by Robert E Howard.

What are your Top 3 Conan stories?  Mine are A Witch Shall Be Born, People of the Black Circle, and Red Nails.

September 29, 2011

Gods of Gondwane is on RPGnow!


Ever since I talked about the sword-n-planet genre in my Speak Out Your Geek-Out, I’ve had a powerful hankering for a sword-n-planet game. 

So I decided to finally finish compiling my Gods of Gondwane project into a shareable PDF. 

Please check it out at and let me know what you think of it!

Swords.  Sorcery.  Dinosaurs.  Aliens.  And it’s FREE.

Now that I think about it, maybe I should’ve charged even a dollar for my writing and putting together the illustrations.  But my real object for this release is to drum up interest in my work and the Vivid RPG system.  Because Hari Ragat is coming.  Soon.

September 27, 2011

Recipes for Gamers: Coffee-Prune Glazed Ribs

Most of the gamers I know are confirmed carnivores, and there’s a possibility that when confronted with this fragrant barbecue even a vegetarian might fail his Saving Throw.  This is my own recipe, inspired by something I saw on a cooking show – it may or may not have been Jamie Oliver’s.

  • 1 kg pork ribs or pork belly
  • 1/2 cup pitted prunes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup black brewed coffee*
  • 2-3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp coriander seed
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • dash of cinnamon
ProcedureBrew the coffee.  If you don’t have brewed coffee on hand, I’ve done this successfully with instant, but brewed is more fragrant.  You want about 1 cup or a little more.

Grind the spices if you bought whole, then combine with all the other ingredients save the pork in a blender.  Whiz it all into a puree. How much sugar you add depends on how strong your coffee is; I like to brew mine punchy for the fragrance, then make up for the bitterness with a little more sugar.

Marinade the pork in this puree for at least 30 minutes, longer if you can; overnight in the ref is best.  

Bake the pork at 350 F for 20-30 minutes, turn, and bake for another 10-15 minutes.  This recipe reaches its full glory over charcoal or wood, though, so if you have the time and a charcoal grill or smoker, try making this the old-fashioned way.

September 25, 2011

Hari Ragat: Character Advancement

While characters in Hari Ragat do start out as heroes from the get-go, they do have opportunities to improve. 

You get +1 die to assign to any of your Roles on achieving the following milestones:

  • Your character comes of age*
  • Your character gets married
  • Your character is made a datu
  • Your character is made a lakan
  • Your character is made a rajah

Also, you may shift around your Role dice assignments once every game year, reflecting changing priorities and responsibilities.  For example, a hero who starts as Warrior 5/ Orang Dakila 2 in his youth may end up a Warrior 3/ Orang Dakila 4 on reaching middle age – he’s no longer a front-line fighter, but a tribal elder.

The way this works, Role increase will occur very seldom; this keeps player character power from ballooning out of hand, and keeps players focused on scheming to gain more Renown and increase their Assets.

*This is if you started your character as a minor.  You start with less dice to assign to Roles (5), but more chances at Divine Gifts.

You gain 1d3+1 dice to distribute to any Assets you wish, up to their maximum values, every time your Renown hits a multiple of 50.  Most hero growth will occur in Assets.

The GM may grant a direct increase to Wealth after a successful raid or trading expedition.

Bala, spiritual power, is permanently increased by +1 every time your Renown hits a multiple of 100.  In addition, there are certain deeds that can immediately increase Bala:

  • Eat a noble creature’s heart: +1 Bala*
  • Slay an enemy hero: +1 Bala**
  • Obtain a blessing from a diwata or nuno: +1 Bala
  • Sacrifice Wealth/Bahandi worth 5 dice: +1 Bala
  • Your character marries: +1 Bala
  • Your character is elevated in rank: +1 Bala
  • Eat a dragon’s heart: special***

*A noble creature is defined as any large game animal or naturally occurring predator with a Renown Value of 15 or more.  The entire heart must be consumed, meaning this cannot be shared.

**This award goes to the character who gave the finishing blow.  A hero is defined as any character with a Renown Value of 20 or more.

***It’s a risky but potentially highly rewarding move to eat the heart of a mameleu, markupo, bakonawa, or bawa; you could gain much power, or be killed.  This is decided with a roll; succeed and you get +3 Bala, fail and you have to Soak damage from the poisonous dragon blood.

September 24, 2011

Hari Ragat: Abomination Spell

I just had this idea last night for a terrible spell - Abomination. Cast on a pregnant woman or other mammal, it causes the target to give birth at the end of its pregnancy term to a horribly misshapen monstrosity.

Possible outcomes for human targets:

  • Fish-man
  • Snake-man
  • Snake with human intelligence
  • Two-headed snake
  • Two-headed human
  • Human with snakes growing out of his shoulders
  • Tiyanak

The abomination born, if it lives, is unnaturally strong, savage, and often, anthropophagous. Most such births however will be stillbirths.

Recipes for Gamers: Banana Oat Bars

Who says gamers can’t eat healthy? This looks pretty easy to prepare, and would make for great noshing during a session.

Sharing this recipe from

September 23, 2011

Hari Ragat: PC Bonding

Ideally, PCs should have some form of bond to make the want to adventure together and support each other.  I think I’ve done this by means of some random-roll bonding mechanics to be used before starting the game, every time a new PC is introduced.

First, each player must make a Bonding Roll vs. every other player.  The Role to use is Orang Dakila.  If the PCs are of different castes, +1 die to Orang Dakila vs. any other caste, +1 for Orang Kaya vs. Orang Malaya or Orang Dukha.

Victory means the other PC owes your character; Defeat means you owe the other PC; and a Stay means you are united by some common issue.

Possible common issues include a heroic rivalry for Renown, a shared experience like growing up together or being shieldmates in a battle, having a common enemy, or being blood brothers. 

Debts can be for material goods, favors, or a life debt made in gratitude for some great service.

September 21, 2011

Recipes for Gamers: Chicken Inasal

Feeding a pack of hungry gamers is usually a nightmare for whoever has to clean up, and a joy for the neighborhood pizza delivery or burger joint.  We used to eat out at various places in between gaming, way back then – Chinese food buffets in Binondo, Mongolian Barbecue grills, Japanese restaurants.  We tend to be more pragmatically tightwaddish now.

Which brings me to a new section on my blog, Fire n’ Forget Cooking – recipes for gamers.  As I like to cook, I’ll be putting up here the recipes for some of the things I feed my players.  Why Fire n’ Forget? These recipes are mostly chosen because they require just a little preparation, after which you can leave them to cook on some device with a timer switch.  Easy, tasty, convenient, and most of all, cheaper than going out to eat.  This entry is based on what I fed the Hari Ragat playtest group last Saturday.

Baked Chicken Inasal
This is based on my uncle’s recipe for Chicken Inasal, a pickled barbecue chicken from the Visayas region.  You’ll need:

  • 1.5 kg chicken pieces (preferably thighs and legs)
  • 1 thumb-sized nob of ginger, or enough to make a tablespoon of chopped ginger
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, or enough to make 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup cane vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder

Throw all the ingredients together in a bowl and mix; leave for at least 30 minutes to marinade.  Bake the chicken in an oven or turbo-broiler for about 30 minutes at 350 F, turn, and finish the other side with another 10 minutes.  Of if you’re lazy and you’re okay with chicken browned on only one side, give it 40-45 minutes.  The chicken tastes better if you pour the remaining marinade over the chicken midway during the baking.

Serves 5-6 persons.  Our traditional dip for this is a soy-vinegar dip with lime (calamansi) juice and chilies. The players also collected and finished the drippings; they go great over rice – if you’ve no cholesterol problems!

(Photo by me, shot for Good Living BF’s feature on Boss Chief Inasal restaurant.)

Hari Ragat: Coming of the Night Serpent

This is an idea for a Hari Ragat adventure, and a sort of experiment in monster design for me. 


The Night Serpent is inspired by Palawan folklore, about a snake so huge it leaves swathes of broken and fallen trees in its passage, but has never been seen.  That made me think of a gigantic snake/dragon that appears only at night, wreaks its havoc, then disappears into the earth at dawn – literally fading or melding into the earth.

A shocked and terrified child stumbles into the PCs’ village from out of the jungle.  No one in the village knows her, but gentle coaxing gets her to reveal that she came from a village on the same island, but her village was destroyed and everyone devoured – by a titanic serpent.  She’s convinced the serpent is following her, but it only chases her at night; there’s no sign of it by day.  The child then collapses from sheer exhaustion and hunger.

The Night Serpent will arrive in 1d3 nights; do not reveal to the players when.

The players can glean the following info from the child (before she collapses) and from either the village shamaness or the oldest person in the village:

  • The warriors of the settlement where the child came from did battle with the monster, but were all killed.

  • The child escaped only because she was wearing an unexpectedly powerful amulet of protection vs. snakes – no human work, but a diwata’s gift from long ago.  She herself does not know this.

  • The child relates the method of the serpent’s attack: It breathed vapor on its victims, who then fell paralyzed or asleep.  It did this many times.

  • Either the village shamaness or the village’s oldest person remembers a similar story.  A titanic serpent like this once haunted the kingdom of Maha Vijadesa, always eluding efforts to hunt it down, until a hero saw it melding into the earth at sunrise. 

    The hero stuck his spear in the earth where he’d last seen the serpent’s head, and since then the serpent never troubled them again.  A temple was then built over the spear.

Secrets of the Night Serpent
Night Serpent 8, Breath of Evil 8/6, Terrifying 3, Resistance 50*; Cannot Stand Sunlight, Afraid of Fire, Can Melt Into the Earth; Renown Value 75; Goal – to eat human flesh, even if it means leveling a whole village

  • Terrifying: the Night Serpent automatically causes a drain of 3 Bala (spiritual power) the first time one tries to face it in combat. As most common warriors don’t have this much, only heroes have the power to attack it – most if not all followers simply flee.

  • Breath of Evil: the Night Serpent breathes a gray-green vapor that drains its victims of Bala  equal to the Victory Points it won.

  • *Resistance: if reduced to below 0 Resistance, the Night Serpent melds into the earth, only to return the following night at full Resistance again.  (Note: If there are less than 5 PCs, adjust Resistance to #PCs x 10)

Though the Night Serpent can be struck with weapons, and can feel pain, it is effectively immortal.  It will react to being struck by trying to kill its attacker.  It is not intelligent; a raw force of evil, it only knows hunger and anger – and fear of the sun and fire.  The Night Serpent cannot abide sunlight, and will  meld into the earth at the first crack of dawn.

The only long-term way to get rid of the serpent is to pin its head with iron – either a spear or a sword – in the earth, as soon as it melds into the earth.  The heroes can either fight it until it’s at below 0 Resistance, or until dawn, upon which the serpent will automatically try to escape by melding.  Let dawn occur after 2d6+6 rounds of combat each night.

PC Preparations
As battling the Night Serpent is sure to cost a lot of Bala, the PCs should be encouraged to prepare themselves with means of increasing their power. 

The easiest way to do this is by sacrifice; for each die of Wealth and/or Bahandi given up, the babaylan (shamaness) gets +1 bonus die to roll for the ancestors’ favor.  Count the sixes in the babaylan’s roll; this is the amount of Bala each PC receives.  If no sixes are rolled, the PCs may attempt another sacrifice, and may spend more Wealth and/or Bahandi for it.

The PCs may also take vows to perform certain deeds, or make certain offerings, to their ancestors for more bonus dice to the sacrifice.

September 20, 2011

Hari Ragat: Caste Roles

In the full Hari Ragat game, playing characters of other castes can be made an option.  Character creation rules are a bit different depending on your character’s caste:

Orang Dakila
The warrior-aristocrats. The default caste for PC's, 7 dice to distribute and 1d3+2 Bala. Roles covered include warrior, hunter, sailor, and aristocrat.

Orang Kaya
The merchants and money-lenders, commoners who equal the Orang Dakila in wealth but not necessarily prestige.  5 dice to distribute and 1d3 Bala.  Roles covered include merchant and sailor.

Orang Malaya
The commoner caste.  5 dice to distribute and 1d3 Bala.  Roles covered are farmer, fisherman, hunter, laborer, craftsman, and warrior.

Orang Dukha
The slaves.  8 dice to distribute and 1d3 Bala.  Roles for Orang Dukha include laborer, farmer, and subterfuge – from telling lies to feigning illness to sneaking around! That’s how a slave survives. 

Orang Dukha characters are unique in their ability to get two caste Roles; Orang Dukha, and whatever their original caste before their enslavement. 

September 18, 2011

Hari Ragat/Vivid: More Tweaks

Slept most of the afternoon, after getting home around 1 a.m. then waking up at 5 a.m. to help wifey get ready for her trip.  Now that brain seems to be working again, I’ve got some more thoughts re. the system I used last night:

Bala Mechanics
Bots and Gelo were also recommending that the effects of spending Bala (spiritual power) be changed from adding bonus dice to actually letting you do a re-roll.  At first I was thinking this could be done by letting you re-roll your base dice pool, i.e. your Role rating, but I’ve had second thoughts.

I’m now in favor of retaining the bonus die mechanic, for two reasons: first, it keeps GM and players from having to remember two separate mechanics, and second, Bala is a resource that increases.  This is a challenge for players to find ways to gain more Bala.

Risk Dice
I’ve had two new ideas regarding Risk Dice and how their effects trigger. 

First, a Complication Roll by the GM: Whenever you take Risk Dice, the GM rolls that number of dice after your action to see if there’s a complication.  If any of the GM’s dice come up a 1, a complication happens.  This retains the low = bad, high = good mindset.

Second possibility: ‘Discharging’ the Risk Dice by either volunteering a complication, or letting the GM impose a complication.  Complications are worth varying numbers of Risk Dice.  So if you took 3 Risk Dice now, expect maybe one major 3-die complication later, or three minor 1-die complications, or any combination that adds up to three.

I’m kinda favoring the latter for its player authoring possibilities.

Role Ratings and Adversaries
Am wondering whether I was being too conservative with my rating of the PCs’ adversaries last night, or if the PCs were indeed really that powerful. 

I’m tempted to reduce the number of dice assignable to Roles from 7 to 6 or 5, the idea being that a lower base dice pool motivates the players to look for means to increase their dice pool on rolling.

On the other hand, the surprise performance of my villain, rolling only 3 to 6 dice vs. Gelo’s 10, tells me even a modestly-powered villain can be quite dangerous in a protracted fight. 

This also tells me I don’t want to go hog-wild in raising the dice pools of adversaries.  Freak rolls like last night can result in disaster for the PCs.  Also, there’s the basis of PC power to think of: player characters are only temporarily powerful, as running out of resources makes their power drop by a lot.

Compromise: what if I reduce Role budget to 6 dice, and make the maximum for any Role 5 dice?

Abstracted Bahandi
Players not so invested in the milieu won’t really care what items they’re getting as bahandi wealth.  They only want its utility.  The reason I was describing bahandi items in the table was to encourage players to describe their items.

So: instead of defining each bahandi item, we’ll abstract all this into a Bahandi rating, taken as an Asset.  When you offer gifts to important personages, or for courtship purposes, we’ll look at how many dice you’re taking from your Bahandi rating to judge the value of your gifts.

And – aha! Giving away Bahandi items gains you Renown equal to the rating that you’re giving away; but if you describe the items interestingly enough, you’ll gain some bonus Renown for it!

Hari Ragat: Actual Play session 1

I ran my introductory adventure, Hunters of the Burning Curse, last night and got some good insights as well as a lot of laughs.  Here’s what happened:

Character Creation
The players found character creation easy, and the mechanic of weaving their characters into the community by establishing relationships with 6 ‘keystone’ figures helped generate back stories from the get-go. 


It also got the hilarity started, as we had some really dysfunctional dynamics going on right from the start!  Dimasalang, Gelo’s character, ended up with both datus pissed off at him, but was oathbound to both their children! And he had a bad relationship with the diwata of the pearl beds, because he wasn’t getting any from her …

Marc suggested afterward that this establishment of relationships should extend to the PCs as well, and I agree.  Still thinking how to do the latter.

The Boar Hunt
The adventure started with Gat Dulan, son of Hiyasan’s ruler, Datu Awi, inviting Musang Hagibis (Bots) to a boar hunt.  Bot then went around the settlement recruiting companions, getting Dimasalang (Gelo) – who being oathbound to Gat Dulan really had no choice but to come along – and Puri, a huntress and daughter of the former wise woman.

I introduced the concept of Risk Dice here.  No Risk Dice for hunting the outskirts of the settlement, +1 for entering the deeper jungle, +2 for going into Lantapan Valley (later renamed Tabi-Tabi Valley by Bots), and +3 for going up the diwata-haunted Mount Galura.  They chose Mount Galura.  And rolled a 6 on one Risk Die. Complication!


Instead of the large but normal boar I was planning, they encountered the pet of Soraya, the diwata of Mount Galura.  It was almost the size of a VW Beetle – and Gelo, making the worst roll when I did a 1d3 roll to see who would be attacked (Marc was not yet playing at this point) – was its chosen victim! 

On the first pass, Dimasalang waits at the foot of a great tree and sets his spear to take the charge, but the canny boar, instead of charging straight, changes direction and comes in obliquely, making a vicious sideswipe with its tusks.  Gelo rolled two sixes, I rolled one six.  I ruled that the set spear failed to deflect the boar entirely, hitting the boar’s shoulder, but failing to stop the boar from goring Dimasalang.  Gelo chooses to tap Dimasalang’s Tattoos of Ferocity to absorb the damage – the spiritual power of the tats enables Dimasalang to take the pain and stay standing!

Bots and Derek go next, and both fail to hit.

Next round, Puri (Derek) manages to transfix the boar’s hindquarters with a spear by diving down on it from a tree, and Musang (Bots) attacks to hamstring the boar, but instead of getting a hind leg, he hits a foreleg.  The next attack, I rule, will be resisted with only half the boar’s dice.

Dimasalang gets another go, and this time, his spear already broken, he draws his barong and slides under the huge boar, stabbing upward.  Gelo taps his character’s divine gift, Heroic Strength, to perform a mighty feat of butchery, laying open the boar’s undersides from gullet to groin!  Then he rolls away, very quickly! (I rolled the boar’s fall as one more attack, using the boar’s full dice pool to represent its weight). 

I was rolling very badly for the NPC, Gat Dulan, so in all that time I think he only got in one hit.

Musang’s spirit guardian, a musang (civet cat) warns him that his prey is no ordinary boar – like duh!  Bots quickly declares that he’s making placatory offerings to whatever spirits they might’ve pissed off.  Unfortunately, his efforts are not quite enough. 

The diwata of the mountain appears, very angry.  They manage to mollify her a bit, but her ire falls most on Dimasalang, who struck both the first and finishing blows.  As blood price, she makes Dimasalang oathbound to her.

(At this point, the back story on Gelo’s character is getting really interesting – he’s on bad terms with the diwata of the pearl beds, Sangita, and now he’s pissed off, and is oathbound to, Sangita’s sister and rival, Soraya! O the possibilities!)

The hunters return empty-handed, as they dared take nothing from their kill.  On the way back down the mountain, Gat Dulan suddenly falls, writhing in pain.  Soon he’s unconscious, and dwindling fast. The hunters rush back to the settlement and crash through the door of Sri Minaya, the babaylan (shamaness).

The Council
Gat Dulan is now dying, his soul being torn from his body by an evil spell.  They know by now it’s a spell, as none of the remedies tried by Musang (who knows herbalism) and Minaya work. 

Gelo uses his character’s animal companion/spirit guardian, a cockatoo, to fly to the mountain and ask the diwata what’s wrong with Gat Dulan.  Unfortunately the cockatoo lost some words in translation, making it seem as if Dimasalang’s accusing the diwata, and got her ticked off even more at Dimasalang!  However, it’s established she had nothing to do with the curse.

Musang and Puri go back up the valley and find a termite mound (punso), and an offering of herbs and tobacco gets the Old Man of the mound to come out.  In return for their courtesy and gift of tobacco, he gives them some stones that will help in divining the root of the problem. 

The two PCs rush back to the village and give the stones to Minaya, who makes a more successful divination than I originally planned thanks to the stones.  She pinpoints the source of the curse as Datu Makbarubak, a chieftain of Hiyasan’s old enemy Pulang-Bato (Red Stone) who’s notorious for his strong spiritual power and ability to use it. 

The PCs volunteer to lead a retaliatory raid on Pulang-Bato.  At first their objective is to take on and kill Gat Alamid, a corsair chieftain who’s taken up residence there; later they change their target to Datu Makbarubak. 

As a final preparation for the raid, Dimasalang calls for a war dance.  The PCs of course lead the dancing, and I make it into yet another competition; winner gets 2 dice of Bala, spiritual power, the rest get 1 die, as a temporary bonus (good only for this mission). 

I haz invented pole dancing!

This kinda broke down into burlesque, as Gelo and Derek roll several ties in a row; to break the tie, Derek declares that Puri will use her spear to invent the pole dance! And rolls a crit!

The Raid
The players decide to hit Pulang-Bato from the north, after carefully considering the possible approaches and initially favoring, then discarding the southern route because of the river crossing involved.

map 3 pulangbato map

They sail first to Turtle Island, where they camp for the first night.  Musang climbs a tree to scout for enemies and sees nothing, but Puri does the same,  and spots a sail.  Musang now tries taking some Risk Dice – he goes to the very top of a coconut palm, a precarious perch – and this time sees a line of karakoas and a biray strung out in a blockade line off Crab Island.  Puri describes the three-forked banner she sees on the closest karakoa, and Dimasalang recognizes it as the standard of Gat Alamid.  He’s waiting for them!

Map showing Gat Alamid's sea ambush

The PCs decide to evade the blockade, and set up for their attack, by looping far to the north and sneaking behind Gat Alamid’s fleet by night.  Marc wins the sailing rolls against Alamid’s watch, thanks to his sea turtle companion (played by his girlfriend Meloy), and they land on a beach well to the north of Pulang-Bato.  They then start sneaking toward Village #3, which due to its isolated location Gelo believes to be the home of Datu Makbarubak the sorcerer.  (He turns out to be right). 

IMG_0726On landing, they first tie, then lose, a contest of Hunting rolls vs. some Orang Bakawan trackers, who’ve been scouting the area; again, the enemy is quite well-prepared for this raid!  On the tie, they and the Orang Bakawan both become aware of each other; on the loss, the Orang Bakawan get to ambush the strike team led by Musang (Bots). 

A vicious skirmish follows. Dimasalang moves out to draw fire and takes some near misses, but exposes the hunters’ positions to Musang; however Musang also misses. Musang now sends his men in, but the Orang Bakawan win this roll and destroy the group Musang sent.  The skirmish culminates in Dimasalang moving in and mowing down some of the hunters with his barong.  He taps his martial arts skill, the Secret of the Fearless Blade, to make extra-powerful attacks from very close in.

There was a very strong Vietnam War feel to this, as the whole skirmish was happening in a rice field full of tall, uncut rice – and as I reminded them, before the modern dwarf rice varieties were developed rice was a pretty tall plant.  Crouching, or worming their way over the ground, neither party could see each other at all until they were face to face.  Gelo and I were also reminded of scenes from Beyond the Black River.

x5672e2dA little later, Puri’s strike team also meets its hunters.  Puri takes down one Orang Bakawan hunter with an arrow, and Badong (Marc) charges in, using his favored weapon – a great wooden pestle for pounding rice – sending bodies flying left and right with his powerful blows.  (Note that the rice pestle is a long, heavy implement, like those in the illustration above.)

The outer defenses have now been cleared, and as the fight happened in almost total silence – the Orang Bakawan raising no alarm, once they realized they were facing hunters almost their equal – so the raiders now moved in on the village.  They now split into four teams, each PC leading a band of men, represented as temporary Assets (Datu Awi had lent them both his karakoa and some of his own warriors).

Puri and Badong come in from the southeast.  Puri gets up on a rooftop, but her climb is heard by the men inside.  They rush out and throw spears at her, but miss.  Another of the game’s high points in hilarity ensues as Derek decides to tap his remaining points in Radiant Beauty, his divine gift, to declare the defenders surprised and dumbstruck as her vest flies open!  The warriors under Puri and Badong wipe out the defending squad here.

Dimasalang circles around to the west and identifies the largest house, guesses that this is Datu Makbarubak’s dwelling, and launches first his men then himself at it.  Suddenly a band of warriors emerges from the silong – the dark area underneath the house, which as typical is raised on stilts (actually, columns of whole logs – this being a datu’s house) – and engage Dimasalang’s force.  The defenders take losses, but manage to hold the attackers at bay.  Dimasalang however uses this distraction to attack the house itself.

I haz a Barong Warded vs. Witchcraft!Datu Makbarubak comes out, points a talisman at Dimasalang – it’s a dead man’s finger – and chants a malediction.  Dimasalang feels the onset of the evil magic, but shrugs it off – Makbarubak just had to end up facing the one character who had magical protection!  Gelo had taken a Barong Warded vs Witchcraft as one of his Assets, and though Makbarubak won the roll – Gelo’s to close in and attack, mine to cast the spell – Gelo’s warding absorbed the full force of the magic. 

Meanwhile, Musang led his team to the northeast of the village.  He was able to make his way to the roof of a house, saw the fighting at Datu Makbarubak’s house, and dashed there, spending from his Heroic Agility asset just to get there.  He takes a shot at Makbarubak, but misses.  This is the start of a really good series of rolls for me, to my surprise.

Puri also dashes toward Makbarubak’s house, followed by Badong and their men.  Puri shoots at Makbarubak and misses, and decides to switch to spear for the next round.  Badong charges and again does mighty work with his pestle, scattering the defenders like chaff.  Marc rolled 3 or 4 sixes on this roll, dramatically decreasing my pile of dice representing the defenders!

The four players now start competing to make the kill themselves, for Renown.  Again, Gelo goes first, engaging Makbarubak in a hammer and tongs duel, barong vs. kris, Secret of the Fearless Blade vs. Secret of the Serpentine Thrust.  Now I defined Makbarubak as Sorcerer 6/Orang Dakila 3, so he’s fighting with just 3 dice, plus another 3 for his Secret; Gelo was spending Assets like crazy, and rolling 10 or more, can’t remember exactly.  Guess what, Makbarubak wins.  Dimasalang is forced to give back, barely turning aside a thrust with his kalasag (shield).

Bots goes next, and attacks with a spear.  He hits, but scores only one Victory Point.  His Secret is unfortunately not usable here, as it’s meant for use in thrown spear combat.

Marc goes next, blowing the last of his dice invested in his mighty rice pestle – and to everyone’s surprise, loses the roll!  He has to take 2 points off his kalasag to soak the damage.

Derek goes next, and uses a hunter’s Secret: the Impaling Spear.   He scores 2 VP’s against Makbarubak, getting him through the guts.   But I’m tapping Makbarubak’s remaining Bala (spiritual power), to declare he toughs out even this wound.  However, I also declare that because Derek used his Secret successfully, Makbarubak is down to 2 dice for the next clash.

The action goes back to Gelo, who by now has used up his Heroic Strength and his Secret; he starts spending Bala.  To our surprise, I won the roll again.  Gelo soaks the damage with his Tattoo of Ferocity.  Bots attacks again, and gets a stalemate.  Marc’s next attack is also defeated, forcing him to sacrifice a ‘stunt double’ – he taps his Dalam, or following, to have one man intervene on his behalf and get killed.

Then Derek attacks.  He too is out of most resources, but spends some Bala to power up, and this time, he rolls multiple sixes!  Makbarubak falls, transfixed by the spear of a young huntress.  Plus 4 Renown for Derek, on top of all the Renown he’s won for his victories!

Dimasalang takes Datu Makbarubak’s head to prove they’ve taken vengeance, and leaves the spear of Gat Dulan planted in the body as a calling card – don’t mess with the warriors of Hiyasan!  The last surviving defenders are ordered to take the body to their Lakan.  Then the raiders burned the rice fields.

I called for two more contests of Sailing vs. Gat Alamid, who again lost to the PCs; I ruled that this meant he sailed for the river mouth on seeing the smoke from the burning, hoping to trap the raiders in the river.  They returned in triumph to Hiyasan, displayed the head to Datu Awi, and found that Gat Dulan had started to recover now that the sorcerer who’d cursed him was dead.  The End – for now.

GM/Designer Notes & Player Feedback:

  • The players found chargen pretty easy, though for some players a little more introduction to the milieu might’ve helped

  • Marc suggested that relationships between PCs be established during chargen as well

  • Marc did not get to read the chargen brief and so missed the part about being able to set your relationships with the community keystones yourself instead of rolling them (within limits though – there’s a cap on how many favorable relationships you can get)

  • Gelo advises that the complication for Risk Dice trigger when Risk Dice roll 1, not 6, to entice players to use Risk Dice more often. Not quite sure I want to do it this way, but as Bots points out, the probabilities are actually the same

  • Bots found my allowing Role ratings of up to 6 too high; between lessening the Role dice from 7 to 5 and capping Role ratings at 5, the players  prefer the former

  • Because of the Risk Dice Bots took at the start of the boar hunt, they ended up with a really interesting – and serious – complication.  So serious I can actually do an adventure based on its consequences!

  • Marc found the system for running Mooks very easy. I too was surprised how easy it was to keep track, as all I had to do was physically set aside some dice and say ‘These represent the defenders.’ 

    Any losses were simply removed from that pile, and the players could enjoy the sight of my pile steadily growing smaller – specially after Marc’s epic attack.

    I was at first making marks on the battlemat, but found it much easier to double-purpose the dice as counters.  (I’d planned to bring some glass ‘stones’ for counters, but decided they were too heavy at the last minute :))

  • The adventure could’ve lasted longer and been made somewhat tougher for the players, but I had a hard time limit and needed to finish as soon as I could – my wifey’s flight back to Davao was this morning and I wanted to give her time to rest up for it

  • Because the PCs have yet to encounter Gat Alamid the corsair chief and Lakan Sawali, the ruler of Pulang-Bato, I’ve enough material for a follow-up adventure with little or no additional prep necessary.  Our heroes may have killed Lakan Sawali’s pet sorcerer, but they’ve barely dented the military power of Pulang-Bato …

  • There’s one more angle to this story that none of the players have seen yet.  Anybody wondering how Makbarubak, who had to physically point his talisman at Dimasalang to curse him, was able to curse Gat Dulan from across the sea? Heh heh heh …

September 17, 2011

Speak Out with Your Geek Out

Forgotten Asia

geekoutbasiclogoI’ve set myself another geek mission, to bring more of what I call ‘Forgotten Asia’ into fantasy fiction (mainly sword and sorcery) and role-playing games.  When you look at the material available, the concept of ‘Asia’ seems to stop at China and Japan.  D&D’s original Oriental Adventures was nearly all-Japanese in its inspiration.  Try counting the sourcebooks on samurai and ninja and kung fu in various RPG lines, and compare them to the sourcebooks on Ancient Persia, the Caliphates, Central Asia, the Rajputs, or the ancient Southeast Asian kingdoms, and you’ll find that that vast majority, both space and time-wise, is represented by the merest fraction of the former.


Of course, one reason why Japan and China make it to so many RPG products is because there’s no dearth of easily consumable material; books, movies, comics, games, all in English.  If you want material on the rest of Asia, you have to dig.  That’s good news for me, though – I’ve an open market niche!  My main focus for the next year or two will be on Southeast Asia – the region in green above.

There’s a lot about SEAsia that’s ripe for use in gaming and for sword and sorcery fiction – and I mean fiction written from the viewpoint of an insider, not a wandering barbarian who comes, kills stereotyped Oriental tyrant, and leaves with girl.  The successes of Legend of the Five Rings, Pendragon, and the loyal following of Tekumel tell me there are quite a few players who enjoy immersing themselves in milieus very different from their own.  And just looking at the map, and out my window – yep, I’m Southeast Asian too – I see so much adventure potential.  Vast stretches of ocean!  Islands of all sizes! Jungles! 

The historical periods from which I’m drawing most of my inspiration is from c. 400 CE to 1100 CE, a time of great flowering and epic conflicts as kingdoms rose in the ricelands of Java, Siam, Vietnam and Cambodia, and at key points on the Maritime Silk Road.  Southeast Asian ports became melting pots where Chinese, Malays, Khmers, Siamese, Vietnamese and Burmans mingled with Indians, Persians, Arabs, possibly even Greeks from Alexander’s empire and its successor states, or Romans, or medieval Venetians. 

It was a time of conquerors, liberators and unifiers, travelling scholars and pilgrims, pirates and soldiers of fortune.  In short, an age for adventurers.  Come, play in the jungles with me.

Operation Speak Out With Your Geek Out is an initiative to raise awareness of who “geeks” really are, and to destroy some hurtful negative stereotypes, by getting people to talk about the things we enjoy and why we enjoy them, in the hopes that others may learn to appreciate them too.

September 16, 2011

Speak Out with Your Geek Out:

Sword & Planet Fiction


In 1977, two events made an indelible impact on my impressionable young brain; the release of Star Wars: A New Hope, and my sister’s gifting me with three paperbacks.  These were, in the order I read them, Conan the Swordsman, edited by Bjorn Nyberg and L. Sprague de Camp, A Fighting Man of Mars, and Llana of Gathol, both by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  I didn’t know the terms sword-and-planet and sword-and-sorcery yet, but I was incurably hooked on them both from that magical moment onward, with a slightly stronger leaning toward sword-and-planet.

John Carter & Dejah Thoris vs. a Martian White Ape: art by Boris Vallejo & Julie Bell

‘What’s so great about a genre with such blatantly unrealistic settings?’ you might ask.  Or, ‘What’s so great about a genre that’s so juvenile?’

First and most important to me, sword-and-planet fiction awakened my mind to a world of imagination.  I’m a professional photographer and writer; I don’t think I would’ve become either, specially the latter, without that spark.  In a time when we’re so jaded by negative messages from mass media, sense of wonder is still a great way to refresh both mind and soul. Sense of wonder stretches the mind and sparks curiosity, prompting exploration and learning.  I’m sure my interest in science was in no small part due to my yearning to discover something as cool as Barsoom’s Eighth Ray so I, too, could fly!

A fighting Man of Mars: cover by Gino d'Achille

The other great thing I picked up from sword-and-planet fiction was its heroic theme.  Every child needs heroes, and we carry our childhood heroes with us into our adult lives.  I was specially influenced by Tan Hadron of Hastor, the hero in A Fighting Man of Mars.

Even as a ten-year-old, I liked Tan Hadron much more than I did John Carter.  Somehow John Carter’s always pulling some kind of superiority on the Martians because he was an Earthman never appealed to me that much.  But Tan Hadron made for a great learning story. 

A poor padwar, or under-officer, in Helium’s army, Tan Hadron falls in love with a woman who later turns out to be shallow and self-serving, finds love through the path of friendship, and in his quests to rescue first one then the other, is forced to rely on his ‘normal-human’ courage and wits all the way.  While captive in the city of Ghasta, Tan Hadron had to make a difficult choice – how difficult, I realized only some years later when my hormones started surging – between a beautiful woman willing to do anything he wished, at the cost of losing his honor, and a painful end. 

There’s a lot to pick up from this tale: the value of self-reliance, of choosing what is right over what’s just easy, of thinking your actions through, and that external beauty is not the only thing we should look for in the opposite sex. And yes, I found my own Tavia: my dear Cat was my friend almost ten years before we became an item.

5543507-LAs I matured, I found myself looking for the same flavor, the same sense of wonder, as Burroughs’ stories, but with grittier and more complex themes.  I found it in the stories of Leigh Brackett, a science fiction author who wove the themes and styles of  film noir into her fantastic visions of Mercury, Mars and Venus. 

I thrilled to the adventures of outlaw Eric John Stark, the lone wolf whose deeds decided the fates of planets, even as I made my way through college as a loner-geek.  Brackett’s work resonated so strongly with me because her protagonists were scarred misfits, loners, and frustrated dreamers like myself.  There was another reason I resonated so well with Brackett’s work; her tackling of the themes of colonialism.

5543542-LI found Brackett’s anthology, The Coming of the Terrans, in a second-hand bookstore during my first year of college – the very years when just about every Filipino youth was burning with renewed, outraged nationalism. 

Brackett perfectly captured, to my mind, the rage and pain of Asia and Africa under the colonial yoke – the tragedy, the well-intentioned yet wholly stupid mistakes made under the banner of White Man’s Burden, the costs of failing to understand a foreign culture. 

Deep themes, eh, from ‘juvenile fiction?’

Other authors who’ve made enjoyable forays into the field of sword-and-planet fiction include: Robert E. Howard with Almuric, L. Sprague de Camp’s very human and witty Krishna series, Lin Carter with his Callisto series, Kenneth Bulmer with his sprawling Dray Prescott series (writing as Alan Burt Akers), Michael Moorcock, and Otis Adelbert Kline, to name but a few.  David J. Lake lovingly parodied the conventions of the genre and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom with his Xuma series, and recently, S.M. Stirling did a homage to the genre with In The Courts of the Crimson Kings.  (I posted a review of the latter here.)  The genre has also made it into comics, with Mike Grell’s The Warlord being the best-known and probably one of the best-drawn.

Operation Speak Out With Your Geek Out is an initiative to raise awareness of who “geeks” really are, and to destroy some hurtful negative stereotypes, by getting people to talk about the things we enjoy and why we enjoy them, in the hopes that others may learn to appreciate them too.

September 14, 2011

Hari Ragat: Ancestors

This isn’t the preview list of ancestors yet, but refinements on my ideas for how ancestors work in the game.

First, Ancestors are Assets; they give you a resource of bonus dice for activities in which they were renowned themselves.  So if your ancestor was a rajah famed for his eloquence, you’ll also be gifted with eloquence.  But why take an Ancestor instead of just the quality you want? 

First, because taking it as an Ancestor lets you have a higher rating; you could be Strong 4, or Descendant of Rajah Tulum 5 – Rajah Tulum being known for his feats of strength. 

Second, because having a distinguished ancestor adds to your starting Renown.  And Renown helps determine how NPCs react to and treat your character.

Having an Ancestor is not always a bed of roses though.  Some Ancestors hold hatred for the descendants of their ancient enemies.  Some want their descendants to reoccupy territory lost to old enemies.  Some pass on to their descendants their own weaknesses – an eye for the ladies, a compulsive addiction to gambling, wanderlust, etc. etc.  Some even bear a curse that continues to plague their descendants.

Whenever you go against an Ancestor’s desires, you lose –1 from that Ancestor’s rating.  You gain it back when you accomplish a task the Ancestor approves of.

A cursed ancestor on the other hand will lead to a lot of problems, but also represent a rich reward of Renown for breaking the curse.

September 12, 2011

My wifey made me do it!


My wife’s finally home after a three-month stint in Davao City, and she asked for one of her favorite dishes – chicken tikka.  Of course I complied. Trouble is, now I’m too full to write! 

Nevertheless, all is set for the first Hari Ragat session this Saturday!

September 6, 2011

Hari Ragat: Scaled Map

Finally decided on a scale for the map.  The Bakonawan Chain extends for about 3,000 miles on a straight northwest-southeast line, and the entire archipelago including the outliers spans an area about 2,500 miles wide from west to east.  That’s a lot of room for adventure!

September 4, 2011

Hari Ragat: Jangalan Isles Map

This archipelago constitutes the main arena for Hari Ragat adventures.  I’m bad at scaling so I’ve no exact idea just how big this map is in miles or kilometers, but it should be quite big.  Larger than the area covered by the Philippines or even Indonesia.  After all, it’s supposed to be made up of 10,000 plus islands.

Some notes:

  • On most islands, the Vijadesans only occupy a few points along the coasts; population density is extremely low, as the seafaring Vijadesans simply find it easier to settle new landings rather than try to expand into the forbidding jungle;

  • The Vijadesans came from the kingdom of Maha Vijadesa, far to the east;

  • The first Vijadesan settlers landed at Bannang, but after a brush with its giants, sailed north until they reached Irayon; from thence colonists made their way to Tundok, Namaya, and so down the chain to the south and west;

  • The Bakonawan Chain is named for the shape of the archipelago, said to have come from the sinuous skeleton of a colossal bakonawa dragon-fish;

  • There are two great powers the Vijadesans occasionally have dealings with, the Singawarna Empire to the west, and the Tien Xia Empire to the far northeast;

  • The main trade routes run south to north from Murogan to the great kingdoms on Namaya, Irayon and Tundok, who then trade with merchants from Mahanagara and Tien Xia;

  • The Bantuan Chain, named after the Rajah Bantuan, became notorious as a base for raiders from Maha Vijadesa until they were quelled during the Burning Wars; now, however, the pirates are gathering power again;

  • Pirates from the Bantuan Chain, specially Pirai, are notorious for ambushing merchantmen as they thread their way up the Bakonawan Chain;

  • Kasumuran means ‘watering place,’ and is the first island encountered by sailors en route from Mahanagara that has reliable sources of fresh water;

  • Save for Kuta Galura, Zamba’il, Kasumuran, Lakambaran and Tabon, the Upper and Lower Mapawikan Islands have little water nor vegetation; they constitute the most sparsely inhabited region of the Jangalans;

September 2, 2011

Vivid System: Anti-Mook Tactics

Eureka!  I’ve been wrestling with how I handle large numbers of faceless minions, not quite satisfied with how I’ve been doing it. 

A single Mook has Threat of 1 and Resistance of 0; he falls with one hit. 

A group of Mooks has a higher Threat, but still has Resistance 0.  Why? Because a single roll can represent an entire action sequence – so if a hero defeats 20 goblins in one balletic wire-fu sort of kickassery, because the dice said so, that’s how Vivid plays!

When the GM has a bunch of minions to throw at the player characters, he gets a bunch of dice.  The GM can roll these dice more or less as he sees fit, but if the player wins the roll, the GM loses the dice rolled, representing the mooks taken out. 

For example, if I represent a band of hunting orcs with 12 dice, and there are three player characters, I can resolve the combat very quickly by rolling 4 dice against each player. 

Player A wins his roll, defeating all the orcs coming after him; Player B gets a tie, locking him in a tense stalemate; while Player C loses his roll, and takes damage.

This now brings a new layer of tactics into play: maneuvering to limit the number of opponents you have to take on.  The maximum number of Mook dice the GM can throw at any one PC at a time should be roughly 3-5 + 1 for every side that can be attacked; thus a max of about 9 or so for a totally surrounded character.

If you want to roll vs. less Mook dice, you want to get obstacles between you and your attackers; weave through the trees, fight your way retreating up a narrow staircase, etc etc. 

On the other hand if you’re feeling like a Cimmerian, you can plunge right into the thick of the foe, even if the GM grins evilly and scoops up eight or nine dice …

September 1, 2011

Hari Ragat: A Little Cartography

Maps I plan to use in the introductory adventure, Hunters of the Burning Curse! 

Hari Ragat: Heritage Tables

I’ve been coming up with the Heritage tables for players to roll on when creating a character.  Here’s a preview:

    Bahandi item          1d3
    Weapon                 1d3
    Armor                   1d3

    Oath of vengeance
    Oath of brotherhood
    Oath of love/fidelity

    Ancestral guardian    1d3
    Radiant beauty         1d3
    Heroic strength         1d3

    Tattoo of Glory         1d3 location - shoulders   
    Tattoo of Ferocity     1d3 location - face
    Tattoo of Vitality       1d3 location – breast

You’ll be rolling 1d6 three times to determine category, then roll 1d6 again for the results under that category.  I didn’t include everything yet, but this should give you an idea of how it’s taking shape. 

The 1d3 and 1d6 rolls indicated with some entries determine the rating of the Asset you just acquired. 

Bahandi items are precious goods such as brass gongs, ceramics, and wares of gold or silver that make up your treasure trove.  In their case, the rating is their value – both commercial and social.  The main function of bahandi items is to show prestige; you gain prestige for receiving them, and you gain prestige also for giving them away.

Entries in italics are Hooks, and not rated.  They act as spurs and opportunities to gain Renown.

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