December 18, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Expansion


So. I finally got to see the first part of Peter Jackson’s new trilogy set in Middle Earth – and found it definitely worth the price of the ticket. Wifey and I saw it in regular 2D, so I can’t comment about the 3D or HFR experience.  What we did see, however, was more of Middle Earth than we’d expected from  an adaptation of a very short book. Plus or minus?

For a Tolkien and Middle Earth history geek, personally I found this a big plus.  I’m not sure that studios will fork over for a production of The Silmarillion or the many possible historical epics that can be mined from just Silmarillion and the appendices included with The Return of the King (then again I may be wrong, the franchise does seem to have proven profitable), so I like it that Jackson expanded the scope of the movie to include a lot of what was ‘off-camera’ in the book.

I believe a big factor in Jackson’s decision to do this (aside from Jackson really being just a big hobbit at heart) is the difference in experience between the books and the movies.  The Hobbit was written as a children’s tale, which grew in the telling so that its intended sequel became The Lord of the Rings, far grander, graver and darker in tone.  The thing is, as a reader, it’s pretty likely you’d have experienced The War of the Ring, from its opening moves to its finish, the way Tolkien presented it – as an innocent children’s adventure first, then a grand epic based on the previous material. 

Moviegoers, specially those who’d never read either The Hobbit or LOTR, have the experience backwards, since the chronologically later trilogy was produced and shown first. Thus The Hobbit adaptation was produced with people who’d already seen LOTR in mind, and Jackson uses the opportunity to show the story in the wider context of the coming War of the Ring.  Some of the treats from this expanded scope include:

(Spoilers will follow for those who’ve not seen the movie yet, so continue at your own risk … )

December 7, 2012

A twist of FATE in the Janggalans

Evil Hat has posted a new version of the FATE system called "Fate Core".

After backing the kickstarter campaign and reading the new rules, I think it is the most awesome thing that ever happened to the FATE implementation of Hari Ragat.

The original plan was to use the Legends of Anglerre system, (which I had a little hand in developing) but the problem was that to implement Hari Ragat properly in Anglerre, I would have had to develop lots and lots and lots of constructs, items of power, organizations, etc etc. The approach was because I felt that to do the setting justice using the Legends of Anglerre system, I had to model the world and stat as much of it as I could.

With FATE core it is now possible to streamline this, such that it would be possible to just get the essential Hari Ragat experience, since it was clarified by the designers that what really matters in FATE is the "narrative physics" of a story. I don't need to create constructs... the constructs can just be treated as "extras". This would simplify things a lot, and it is closer to how Dariel has expressed Hari Ragat in Vivid.

Now that I have freed myself of the constraints that I felt Legends of Anglerre imposed on me, I am now thinking, "what is the narrative gameplay experience that the FATE version of Hari Ragat should give to my audience?" I do not want it to be exactly the same as Dariel's Vivid version. I am of the opinion that if you want the "pure" Hari Ragat game experience you must play the Vivid system version. If you play the FATE version, you will be playing a slightly different game... a game that I'm putting my own twist on.

The game's settings will be identical. However the differences will be in the narrative priorities of the versions. At this time, I'm still forming how the FATE version, powered by the new Fate Core system, will be different from the Vivid version.

And that is my current challenge. Stay tuned for future updates!

December 6, 2012

Hari Ragat: Swords

[Edit: I mistakenly used an image not for public use in this post, so I've just replaced it with one of my own.]

The Vijadesans have many unique forms of swords, each with its own method of use. These are divided between the real fighting blades that an Orang Dakila should own, and the working blades that commoners normally wear to their fields and bring to war because they don’t have any other swords.

Fighting Blades

There are three classic blade designs for use in fighting: the kris, the kampilan, and the barong. Each has its own method of use, leading the martial arts masters, guro, to devise distinctive Secrets for each.
The kris is a short sword with a blade about 20” long and a curving hilt; it is adapted mainly for thrusting, but can also cut. It exists in two varieties, the kalis siko which has the famous wavy blade, and the kalis tulid, which has a wider, straight blade, somewhat resembling a Roman gladius. The kalis siko is thought to be specially significant to spirits, and so is the weapon most often found to be enchanted. Both variants of kris are usually very highly decorated, as they are the prefered weapon of the rich and noble-born..
The kampilan is a broadsword, sometimes made for both one- and two-handed use, and has the longest blade of any Vijadesan weapon, from 30” up to 40” long. The kampilan is considered the weapon of the serious fighter, and is often found among dedicated battle champions and the bodyguards of rajahs and datus.
The barong has a very short leaf-shaped blade, sometimes no more than 14” long; it is a very powerful slashing weapon that can be used at closer quarters than any other blade. Because of its compactness it is often favored by corsairs, who have developed an up-close-and-personal fighting style that turns the barong’s short reach into an asset instead of a liability.

Working Blades

Long, heavy knives are commonly carried by all Orang Malaya and trusted slaves for use in the fields and jungle. All are sturdier in design than the fighting blades, but usually forged of softer steel that doesn’t hold an edge as long.
The word bolo in the game is a generic term for any kind of long working knife such as a farmer or forester might carry every day. There are many varieties and forms – the tabak or gulok, short with wide, leaf-shaped or falchion-like blades wider toward the tip; the itak, which has a thick rectangular tip and no point; the cutlass-like sansibar; the talibon and ginunting, slightly incurved and slim; or the dahon-palay, with an elongated, pointed leaf shape like a blade of rice.
This two-handed weapon has a short, heavy, forward-curving blade on a long handle. It is used like an axe, plain types being used to cut wood and jungle vines. It is also used as an executioner’s beheading weapon.


Imported Blades

Some Vijadesans have acquired swords made elsewhere, as gifts, souvenirs from trading expeditions, or as war trophies. Possessing one of these is a status symbol, but no guro so far has developed Secrets usable with them.
This curved, single-edged sword is made and used by the warrior clans of the Lu Tzu kingdom, and numbers of them have found their way into the hands of warriors in the northern Janggalan states. It can be used one- or two-handed.
This curved, broad-bladed Tien Xia sword is widest about a third of the way from the point. It is a common soldier’s sword, and so usually found as a war trophy from battles with wako pirates.
This long, straight, double-edged sword is the weapon of the Tien Xia gentleman. Quite a few fine jian have been given as gifts to the rajahs and nobles of Penjan by Tien Xia merchants, and a massive two-handed jian with a gold-encrusted ivory hilt and ebony sheath inlaid with pearls is part of the Pahala Sina rajahs’ royal regalia. Jian come in one-handed and two-handed forms.
This long, heavy curved Mahanagaran sword has a disk-like guard and pommel. They are often souvenirs brought home by traders and corsairs who have ranged all the way to Mahanagara. They are made for one-handed use only.
This long, straight, double-edged sword from Mahanagara is widest at the tip, and hilted like a tulwar, but with a tusk-like extension of the pommel so it can be used two-handed when desired. Normally used by officers and nobles, it is very rare for a Vijadesan to acquire one.

December 4, 2012

Hari Ragat: Heirloom Weapon Properties

Heirloom weapons are doubly precious because of their age and history; the longer a weapon has been around, the more time there has been for its spirit to have awakened. It is this spirit that gives the heirloom weapon its properties, for better or for worse. The spirits of such weapons must be ‘fed’ in a manner appropriate to their nature at least once every month. Some possible properties of heirloom weapons include:

Bloodline Guardian
This weapon has been passed down from father to son of an illustrious bloodline, and its spirit remembers this. The weapon grants Advantage whenever it is wielded by a member of that bloodline in righteous cause, or to protect a member of that bloodline. Its spirit is fed by ritually presenting it to the ancestor spirits, along with minor offerings, once a month.

This weapon’s spirit was awakened by murder or the need to take vengeance. The weapon hungers for blood, and so it always scores one more Victory Point than normal if you win an exchange with it and you meant to wound or kill. However, you may not unsheathe this weapon then return it without letting it taste blood first, even if it has to be your own. Its spirit is fed by human blood – if you can’t make a kill once a month, you have to give it some of your own!

This weapon’s spirit was awakened in the slaying of a giant. It now gives Advantage to attacking giants. Its spirit is fed by singing to it the Song of Indarapatra and Lawana, or a similar epic involving battle with some giant, once a month.

This kalis tulid or panabas has been used for executions, but the upright nature of its user has given the spirit within a discernment of justice. The blade’s magic only works on those guilty of some serious crime. You gain Advantage when wielding the weapon against confirmed evildoers. Its spirit is fed by ritually washing then oiling the blade in perfumed water and then in aromatic oil, once a month.

This weapon’s spirit is strongly attached to you and seeks to avenge any hurts or wrongs against you. You gain Advantage when wielding the weapon against anyone who has previously struck you or insulted you. Its spirit is fed by making offerings and prayers to it once a month.

This weapon was tempered in the venom of a very ancient, magical snake when it was forged, permanently imbuing the steel with poison. Whenever you win an exchange in which you struck with the weapon, you gain an extra Victory Point. This does not work however on anything that is immune to snake venom. Its spirit is fed by an offering to the snake spirits once a month.

The first owner of this weapon was slain by foul witchcraft. The spirit of the weapon remembers this, and so grants Advantage to resisting spells and to attacking witches and sorcerers. Moreover, so long as you have the weapon in hand you can identify witches and sorcerers even when they’re in disguise. Its spirit is fed by making offerings and prayers to it once a month.

December 3, 2012

Hari Ragat: Ancestors Preview

From the Character Creation chapter, here’s a preview of some of the Ancestors you may take for your character:

once again I turn to Amaya for my visuals ...

Legendary royal ancestors include the Ten Sires and some of their descendants who became kings. Aside from the benefits listed below, only Vijadesans who can claim this ancestry may take the title of Rajah.

Rajah Marawid
Any living descendant of Rajah Marawid Magat Sikanda Bayahari inherits a truly epic opportunity – and a whole lot of trouble! This ancestor makes you a claimant to the title of Rajah Hari Ragat, but it also makes all other descendants of Rajah Marawid your rivals, and their supporters likely your enemies.

If you win enough Renown (GM’s call), the goddess Lalahon will reveal to you the location of the true Diwang Lahi stone, which will allow you to prove your claim and begin the quest to reunite the Vijadesan race. This ancestor brings no other benefits. (Check with the GM if he will allow this ancestor in the game.)

Rajah Sikanda Bayahari
Favored descendants of Rajah Sikanda are blessed with his eloquence and leadership. You gain Advantage to social contests where persuasive eloquence will help, and in situations where leadership is tested. These benefits however cannot be claimed to deceive anyone, even in a good cause.

Rajah Laksamana Bayahari
Favored descendants of Rajah Laksamana benefit from his consummate warrior skills, so long as they maintain a standard of honor similar to Rajah Laksamana’s own. This ancestor gives you Advantage whenever you fight in a formal duel vs. anyone other than a descendant of Rajah Laksamana or Rajah Sikanda his elder brother. This powerful spiritual advantage is very tightly focused, but it cannot be negated.

Rajah Mangawarna
Favored descendants of Rajah Mangawarna enjoy Advantage to resist any form of sorcery or witchcraft. However you must never kill or eat a monkey, as these are considered sacred to Mangawarna’s descendants.

Rajah Indarapatra Mangawarna
Favored descendants of Rajah Indarapatra inherit his righteous anger against the Raksasa giants, giving them Advantage whenever fighting a Raksasa. However you must never kill or eat a monkey, as these are considered sacred to Rajah Mangawarna’s descendants, Rajah Indarapatra being of that line.

Rajah Tulum
Favored descendants of Rajah Tulum the Bull-Slayer gain a strength Advantage whenever fighting bare-handed.

Rajah Baginda
Favored descendants of Rajah Baginda excel as corsairs, but also tend to be touched with some of that pirate king’s evil. This ancestor gives you Advantage whenever performing seaborne raids, as long as you always put your own benefit and purposes first.

Rajah Bangkawil
Favored descendants of Rajah Bangkawil inherit his righteous wrath. This ancestor makes you hot-headed, specially involving matters of honor, but you gain Advantage whenever you fight in defense of honor – whether your own or someone else’s.

Rajah Sumuron
Favored descendants of Rajah Sumuron inherit his prowess at hunting. You will never fail to locate your prey – no rolls needed. (You may still have to get into contests to actually reach your prey and and make the kill). To retain Sumuron’s favor, however, you must never hunt with anything but close-range weapons, such as spears.

Rajah Paduka Matanda
Favored descendants of Rajah Paduka Matanda inherit his wisdom and good judgment of men – but also his total inability to read women! You gain Advantage in any social contests vs. men, but this is reversed when dealing with women.

Rajah Sina
Favored descendants of Rajah Sina tend to have gold stick to their fingers. You gain Advantage in trading and bargaining, and in appraising goods, so that your profit is always greater. Moreover you also inherit Rajah Sina’s level-headedness – you may claim this as Advantage in any social contest where you are resisting someone’s attempt to make you angry or get you to fight when you don’t want to.

Rajah Dulay
Rajah Dulay Magat Sikanda Bayahari was king of both Kaliraya and the Taglawa state of Kaboloan in his lifetime, and had great renown as the most honorable of allies. He died in battle defending his queen’s claim to the throne of Kaboloan. Because of this connection you are entitled to claim three favors from the Rajah of Kaboloan during your lifetime.

November 13, 2012

Hari Ragat: a Nutty Tradition

preparing betel, Little India, Malacca

Chewing buyo, betel, is a universal custom in the islands. Areca nuts, lime and spices, sometimes including tobacco, are rolled in betel leaves (betel nut is a misnomer) and chewed for their mild euphoric effect, which the Vijadesans say makes hard labor easier and induces feelings of amiability and good cheer. A whole culture of etiquette has grown around buyo use:

  • Ingredients for making buyo are kept in finely carved containers: the fancier the container, the higher the status of the owner;
  • Offering buyo is the first, expected gesture of hospitality due to a guest;
  • Sharing buyo is a sign of friendship and goodwill, or if between man and woman, of romantic attachment;
  • For a woman to send buyo to a man not of her own family is a sign that she accepts his courtship; for a man to ask buyo of a woman is a sign that he desires her;
  • A man may send a woman not of his own family buyo as a sign that he desires her; when a woman sends buyo to a man not of her own family, it is a sign that she accepts his courtship, or wants a favor and is willing to have a romantic liaison to get it.

[Note: Please do not take this as an encouragement to chew betel. Recent studies have linked typical ingredients of betel chew, specially areca nut and tobacco, to oral cancer.]

Hari Ragat: Calendar

The Vijadesan year is based on the cycles of the moon, but is also linked to the cycles of life as dictated by the monsoons. Months are held to begin and end at the full moon.

sunset over the paddies, Bukidnon

The first month of the year celebrates the Creation of the world and the triumph of Aman Bathala over the Serpent, as well as the rice harvest. The month begins with the hard work of harvest, and ends with feasts, marriages, and gift-giving. Corresponds to November.

This month is named Pagdayo, “arrival,” because it is the month when the northeast monsoon is expected to bring the first traders from the northern lands of Tien Xia and Lu Tzu. Corresponds to December.

Clear, cool weather and constant winds from the northeast make this the ideal season for trading expeditions and raids by sea, thus its name of Paglayag, “sailing season.” Sailing is relatively easy going south or west, a little more difficult going north or east. Raiders are most active during this month and the next. Corresponds to January.

This month is the peak of the deer rut, when the jungles resound to the challenge calls of stags, thus its name – “the calling of the deer.” Hunters take advantage of the deer’s distraction to harvest venison and enjoy the sport of the chase. Raiders active.  Corresponds to February.

Daung Habagat
This hot month marks the turning of the monsoons, as sometime during the month the weather becomes increasingly humid, heralding the rains to come. The month’s name means “arrival of the Habagat monsoon.” This however is the month for people of the southern Janggalans to sail north. Raiders active. Corresponds to March.

This hot, humid month is marked by frequent thunderstorms, thus its name, “the time of thunder.” It marks the start of the rainy season in earnest. Traders from the south visit the northern islands, specially the wealthy kingdoms on Irayon, Namaya and Tundok. Raiders start to return to their home islands. Corresponds to April.

Its name meaning “sowing,” this month marks the end of the dry season and is the time for planting rice. There are usually no wars at this time, as most of the available fighting men are busy planting.  Corresponds to May.

This rainy month is named for the main occupation of every community’s men and boys, that of watching over the rice fields. Birds, deer, and wild boar often try to eat the young rice shoots, and only a close watch day and night will keep the crops from disaster.  Corresponds to June.

This month typically sees at least five or six typhoons roaring through the islands, moving across them from the southeast to the northwest. This is the time of the heaviest rains and the most dangerous sailing conditions.  Corresponds to July.

The hungriest month, its name means “Father of Woe.” By this month the stores from the last rice harvest are usually running low, and bad weather often prevents fishing or hunting; hunger is thus a constant threat until the harvest. Corresponds to August.

Daung Amihan
The end of the rainy season, this month’s name means “arrival of the Amihan monsoon.” The weather starts to turn cool and clear, though rain is still frequent.  Corresponds to September.

The clear, dry Amihan weather has set in by this month, giving the rice a chance to ripen in the sun. Farmers pray the rain and storms have ceased, and look forward to the harvest. Corresponds to October.

The Vijadesans do not have the concept of the week, but instead refer to the day in relation to the phases of the moon. For example, a Vijadesan challenge to a duel may stipulate that the combat be held “at high noon on the fourth day of the waning moon in the month of Waisaka.”

[Note: this calendar is entirely fictional.  It’s not based on any of the native Filipino calendars, which are actually more complex as they’re entirely lunar.  I have however tried to maintain themes that evoke life in the pre-Hispanic era, such  as the importance of the rice harvest, raiding season, deer hunting season, etc.  The calendar’s still in the works, so comments and suggestions would be most welcome!]

November 12, 2012

Now that’s a hauberk!

Mail hauberk with brass plates from Mindanao. Similar armor will be very rare and expensive, but available to the highest-ranked warriors in Hari Ragat. (Photo from

November 10, 2012

Hari Ragat:Sacrifices

Vijadesans frequently make offerings to the gods and spirits, both on their festival days and also whenever they have a petition or need to appease an angered being. Fruits and flowers may suffice for minor spirits and minor occasions, but for more important events and requests, animal sacrifices are preferred, the more valuable the animal the better.

The sacrificial animal must always be a domestic animal of some sort. Wild animals are already property of the gods, and since they represent no value to the sacrificer – you only had to go out and catch it, as opposed to having raised and fattened a sacrificial buffalo for years – a wild animal sacrifice is considered niggardly. No Vijadesan dares let the gods or ancestors think he’s being cheap!

Anyone may perform a sacrifice, but a professional babaylan or katalo shaman is more likely to be successful at gaining the desired favor, specially if the sacrifice is to appease an offended spirit. Large animals are usually speared to death, while smaller ones like chickens are bled wth knives. After the sacrifice, the meat is usually shared out for eating, with a choice cut always going to the officiating shaman as part of the shaman’s fee.

November 9, 2012

An Interview with the PhilGamer

Jay Steven Anyong, author of Life and Times of a Philippine Gamer, is a good friend and has been my sounding board for ideas more than once.  As a fellow-Filipino and veteran GM, but one who’s not in my current Hari Ragat playtest team, I’ve been relying on him for an external point of view. This is the (edited) log of our chat from earlier today, as I was seeking validation of some new developments in Hari Ragat:

Me: Saw my blog post about splitting HR into multiple games?

Jay: Yep! I think it’s a reasonable one, one that will enrich the game.  I’d play either. 

Me: That’s good to hear!

Jay: Heck I’d promote the hell out of it! Too bad our work on Iron Outlaws is a bit stalled.

Me: Yeah, sorry ‘bout that. Overestimated my capacity to write.

Jay: No problem, we can come back to it later.  Hari Ragat would be interesting to playtest.  I’m amazed by HR honestly, and I really hope it becomes a commercial success when it comes out.

Me: Thanks, hope so too. Though I’m also afraid it’ll be too niche. Won’t stop me from writing on though.  But what makes you want to play HR, aside from being a fellow-Pinoy of course?

Jay: Swords and sorcery! :-)

Me: How much of a downside is it for you that you won’t be able to play a ‘magic user’ in the first HR game?

Jay: None. I don’t normally play magic users anyway.  And again, as an S&S guy I believe magic is for bad guys. Ha ha ha!

Me: Great, that sounds reassuring! As a GM, what would you be looking for the most in the HR books?

Jay: I'd be looking for the societal aspect. I'd look for factions and motivations for both player characters and NPCs to latch themselves on to. Sample ambitions like "become a legendary hunter by slaying the X monster of the mountain" or something would be nice to have just as something to inspire goals.

Me: I’ve a mechanic that might answer that - players get to record their PCs deeds as Honors. Character advancement is tied to it.

Jay: That's good. It answers the question of "So... what do we DO in this game?"

Me: What aspect do you think newbie players, or those new to the setting, will find hardest to absorb?

Jay: Probably the vocabulary. There's a lot of terms to get a hold of, but I'm sure that over repeated exposure they'll understand it.

Me: And as GM, how would you address that? How can the designers make it easier for you?

Jay: Repeated exposure in play. L5R had that same problem in Rokugan, but taking the time to slowly build up familiarity with terms in play tends to smooth things over. Consider adding pronunciation guides as well. Like our ‘ng’ is a very difficult sound to get across.

Me: Yeah, I’m trying to minimize words with ‘ng’ or find substitutes where I can. BTW, how open are you to a character development scheme of lateral instead of vertical growth? Instead of your character getting literally more powerful, your character increases in breadth of capability.

Jay: I'm actually very open to that scheme. As an S&S fan, I prefer the idea of people growing in skill rather than in "power." It's one of the reasons RuneQuest appeals to me, the idea that Characteristics (and hit points) never actually increase.

Me: Great! But you’re also open to ‘hit points’ increasing?

Jay: I am, as most people expect it.

Me: In HR hit points is Bala, spiritual power, and PCs are expected to quest to increase it.

Jay: Ah allright, since it's not a function of "health" it should be okay.

After this point the conversation wandered into other topics, including a Mage adaptation that Jay is planning for modern Manila.  It was great to spend the afternoon geeking out with a fellow GM and game designer! Sanity kind of fell apart, though, when Jay asked me for a contribution of ‘otherworldly wrongness’ to his campaign and I took the request rather too literally …

November 8, 2012

Hari Ragat: Tropical Weather Table

Thanks to Brendan Strejcek’s post on his blog (see bottom of post), I’ve gotten an idea for random weather determination in Hari Ragat.


Weather changes may be determined daily or three days, with adjustments for the current season.  Effects are considered mainly from the point of view of a traveller.  Roll on the table below with 1d6 plus modifiers, if any.


Sea Travel

Overland Travel


Fine Steady winds, sunny with good visibility, warm conditions; do not roll for weather changes again until after 3 days

Very good travel conditions, warm to hot; do not roll for weather changes again  until after 3 days




Steady winds, sunny but with some cloud, warm to hot conditions; roll for weather changes again next day


Good travel conditions, warm to hot; roll for weather changes again next day



Roll 1d3: 1 – Becalmed, 2-3 roll for weather change again with –1 modifier at noon; warm to hot conditions


Roll for weather change again with –1 modifier at noon; hot to very hot conditions, and muggy


Light Rains

Sea travel unaffected; roll for weather change again at –1 next day; warm to cool conditions


Trails start to get muddy; roll for weather change again at  -1 next day; warm to cool conditions


Heavy Rains

Sea travel dangerous; roll for weather change at +1 next day and add 1 day to sailing time; cool to cold conditions


Trails very muddy, swampy and other flood-prone terrains impassable; roll for weather change at +1 next day; cool to cold conditions



Sea travel near impossible; cold; roll for weather change at –2 next day; roll 1d3 – 1d3 and add the result to the sailing time*


Land travel near impossible; cold; widespread flooding; roll for weather change at –2 next day

As you can see from this table, weather tends to cycle.  Good weather tends to hold for several days, while light rains tend to lead to rainier weather ahead, but heavy rains increase the chance of fairer weather after.

*Note that storms may actually speed up your travel, if you luck out with winds that blow in your desired direction!

Initial rolls are made at the following seasonal modifiers:

Height of the Habagat monsoon


Beginning/end of the Habagat monsoon


Height of the Amihan monsoon


Beginning/end of the Amihan monsoon


Do not use the seasonal modifier again after the first roll, only the modifiers provided by the results table. Consider the first roll for weather made as happening on the 2nd day of any journey, as of course any traveller would set off only on a pretty favorable day; consider each leg of a journey as a new cycle of rolls.

Dimasalang decides to make a voyage to visit some distant kinfolk on another island, hoping to recruit some of them into his following.  Circumstances however delay him, so he’s able to make the voyage only at the start of the Habagat monsoon.  The voyage is expected to last 5 days.

On his second day of voyaging (we assume he’d set sail on at least a Fair day!), he rolls 3 –1 = 2; Heavy Rain! Dimasalang must pit his seamanship against some rough water.

We have to do a weather change roll for Dimasalang the day after, but with a +1; 5 + 1 = 6!  The next dawn is Fine, and he’s granted 3 days of it! Dimasalang reaches his relatives’ island within this window of Fair weather.

When he sets off on the return voyage, we make a new roll with the seasonal modifier again for the 2nd day: 1, a Stormy day!  What hath Dimasalang done to offend the gods?! We roll 3 – 2 = +1, however, so the storm does  benefit our hero after all, shortening the voyage home by a day.

On the second day, we roll 6 –2 = 4; the storm has passed, but the skies remain Threatening, and we have to roll again at noon. It’s another 1!  The storm roars up again, and behold, Dimasalang gets his trip shortened by +2 days! If he can survive this storm, he’ll actually be surfing home on its surge tomorrow …

November 6, 2012

Hari Ragat: A Rational Split


Hello all! Couldn’t resist posting a pic from my trip with Hari Ragat partner Marc Reyes (and our respective SO’s) around Davao and Bukidnon.  It’s particularly appropriate that this pic is a sunrise, as we’ve something new dawning for Hari Ragat!

Over cups of strong Bukidnon coffee, we decided to split HR into multiple games.  The first is Hari Ragat: Dakila (Great or Valorous), which deals with the epic exploits of the warrior caste.  HR: D will revolve around raids, monster hunts, courtship quests and tournaments, and the politics of rising kingdoms. It’ll be the intro game, as it’ll be far easier to get into the setting with a warrior character.

The second game is Hari Ragat: Alamat (Legend, Myth) revolves around the supernatural dealings of the shaman class.  Why the split? Marc and I finally realized that the two character types simply don’t adventure together – their concerns are very different.  We could either shoehorn them both together into some kind of D&D-with-loincloths, but that’s been done before; or we could give them each the game they deserve.

HR: A will revolve around the shaman’s burden of being the intermediator and guardian standing between man and the spirit world.  Typical adventures revolve around supernatural disturbances, finding out what caused it, and solving it by putting the pieces of the puzzle together  until  the shaman can design a rite to end the problem. 

Sometimes the problem does concern a monster or evil creature like the mangkukulam (sorcerer) or aswang (vampire), so players who don’t want to play shamans can play Alagad – warriors dedicated to the shaman’s service.

The two games will of course share the setting and even characters.  Shamans are NPCs in Hari Ragat: Dakila, while warriors are NPCs in Hari Ragat: Alamat. Dakila will come out first, sometime around the first half of next year, and Alamat shortly after.

Vivid System: Aces

In the revised Vivid system, Aces are  used to save the character from damage.  Vivid’s default assumption is that any defeat spells the end for a character; but if you have an Ace to use, you can stay in the fight by spending points from it.

There are by default three Aces, to which beginning characters can assign 0-6 points: Guts, Wits, and Luck. Armor also acts as an Ace, if you have it. To see how this works, put it this way: Conan the Cimmerian survives his battles because of Guts, D’Artagnan because of Wits, and Bilbo Baggins because of sheer Luck.

In Hari Ragat, though, there is only one Ace – Bala, or spiritual power.  Every hero must quest to increase his Bala, and there are taboos to keep in order to maintain current levels.

Aces are refreshed by indulging in some activity relevant to the nature of the Ace.  Guts for example is recharged by carousing or by re-establishing ties with your source of inner strength – it could be religious for a cleric, a beloved for a knight, etc. etc. Wits is refreshed by indulging in something intellectually stimulating – a game of chess, a night in a salon gathering, reading, etc. etc. 

Luck has the broadest application among the Aces, so it’s also the hardest to refresh: to refresh Luck, you must volunteer a mishap to happen to your character! The mishap must be one that actually complicates the adventure, say by introducing new enemies or getting the party sidetracked.  (Yes, Lucky characters are meant to be annoying!)

October 10, 2012

Hari Ragat: Death in the Janggalan Isles

Vijadesan funeral practices are dominated by two concerns: first, to put the spirit of the dead to rest by sending it on the way to Sulad; and second, to pin the cause of death on someone who must either recompense the bereaved or suffer vengeance.

Contrition Gifts
The Vijadesans do not accept any death as natural, but always consider it an act of spiritual malice if not actual violence. It is the custom for anyone who may have aggrieved the deceased in their last days to come to the funeral with gifts, so as to clear themselves.

If a ruler dies in or because of battle, his surviving men are expected to offer his family contrition gifts. If a warrior or servant dies in battle, his master must send his family gifts plus his rightful share of any booty taken. When chieftains fight in alliance and one is killed, the surviving allied chiefs must all offer contrition gifts. Failure to do so is considered grounds for blood feud.

After a brief wake, the body, which has been sealed with wax in a wooden coffin or a large earthen jar, is buried and a carved grave marker placed over the site. Mourning continues for forty days after the death. During the mourning period, none of the deceased’s kin will wear colored clothes, instead adopting the undyed wear of slaves, and wear no jewelry or weapons unless necessary.

To show the depth of their grief, some Vijadesans will take extravagant mourning vows, from which they can only be released by some great service to the dead – by avenging him or her, or seeing their children reach some milestone in life, etc. etc. For example, a recent widower may vow to drink no wine nor touch any meat until all his daughters have married.

If the deceased was murdered, or suspected to have been slain by witchcraft, a vengeance posse may be formed by the deceased’s heir or designated avenger and set forth as soon as feasible. Vendettas undertaken in the name of the dead are formally ended by placing some trophy taken from the enemy – often a head – on the avenged person’s grave.

October 5, 2012

Hari Ragat: Courtship Tournaments

Sometimes a maiden is so famous that she is sure to have a plethora of heroic suitors vying for her hand. This occasions the most epic form of courtship, the courtship tournament, which brings in as many suitors as possible at the same time and pits them against each other in various contests. The maiden is both the prize and the judge! Courtship tournaments typically follow the sequence below:

1) Arrival and welcome of the suitors. Each suitor and his retinue of friends, kinsmen and followers will be formally welcomed with gifts of buyo, food and rice wine, and given their own quarters. The suitors get to know each other informally. It’s very possible that old enemies will meet each other here.

2) When all the expected suitors are assembled, or on the date appointed by the maiden’s father, an introductory feast is held at which all the suitors are presented to the maiden and the maiden’s parents, and all suitors are expected to give the maiden and her parents extravagant, impressive gifts.

The maiden now reveals what trials she has planned for the suitors during the feast. The feast is followed by an all-night drinking session at which the suitors usually try to outdo each other in boasting, which often leads to the first duels.

3) At least three or more trials, all aimed at making the suitors show their true character as well as their valor and prowess. There is at least one sport contest – usually sipa; at least one contest of grace or breeding and education, such as dancing, riddles, poetry, etc. etc.; and at least one anything-goes race to find some hidden item and bring it back to the maiden.

There may be variants based on region: for example the Kalataganons may include contests of horsemanship, while the Hiyasanuns may include a contest of diving. There will often be disputes after every contest, possibly leading to more duels …

4) The winner of the contests and the maiden’s choice are announced at another feast. Usually these are one and the same, but sometimes they’re not. In the latter case the adjudged winner of the contests receives rich prizes, which may not always be enough consolation!

5) The wedding is held with the maiden’s choice of suitor, gifts and the bride price are exchanged, and then the new couple sail back to the groom’s hometown. Ambushes by jilted suitors are a strong possibility along the way.

During courtship tournaments, the host’s house and lands are usually considered a truce area where any hostilities by guests against each other is considered a deadly insult to the host. Formal duels are allowed, though, and of course anything goes once outside the bounds of the host’s domain!

Some maidens may try to secretly aid their favored suitor, this being a practice known from the epics and secretly sought after by the suitors. In between the first feast and the trials, suitors may try to have meetings with the maiden, or serenade her from below her window, in the hopes of receiving such a favor.

(The above is a blend of my own creations and ideas taken from Philippine epics such as Indarapatra at Sulayman, particularly about the hero receiving secret help from the maiden during the courtship contests).

September 27, 2012

Exotic Temple Adventures


Hello all! Just got back from a photo tour of Malaysia that was worth every single penny.  Great company, great post-shoot critiquing, and most of all great photo ops.  The shot above is of the Hindu shrine at the Batu Caves, in the Gombak hills north of Kuala Lumpur.


Seeing this enormous shrine and the plethora of Hindu pilgrims thronging it, I started thinking about the role temples have in our adventures.  The place is majestic. The art is awesome. The devotion of the pilgrims is heartfelt and deep.


The thought of anyone vandalizing any part of this shrine is definitely disturbing to me, though I’m not a Hindu.  Yet all too often that’s what temples exist for in FRPG adventures: Steal that idol! Rifle the treasure vaults! Take out the Evil High Priest™ in a big honking battle with massive collateral damage!  Fun? Definitely. But a rather one-dimensional representation that can be expanded.  Adventures that pay respect to our cultural inspirations. So, what else might we be able to do with temple settings in FRPGs?

A) The temple is a remote place of pilgrimage that offers tangible spiritual/magical benefits to those who can get there, and make their way to the hidden innermost sanctum. This encourages exploration of the temple without despoiling it.

Nor would such a mission be boringly free of the danger we gamers vicariously crave. Saw the stairs in the first photo? That’s only the second set, another and much higher set lies without.  Now imagine if the temple were long-abandoned, and the ways inside crumbling from disuse.  Loose stones and moss-slick surfaces can be as dangerous as man-made traps. 

The Batu Cave shrine lies in a cave and sinkhole complex; the sinkhole’s opening to the sky is where my light is coming from in the pic below. What if, in a similar fantasy shrine, the only entrance left open was one you had to rope yourself down through the skylight?


Temples in the wilderness like this can also be inhabited by surprisingly dangerous forms of wildlife.  During our shoot, we saw a wild monkey – sacred to Hanuman – throw a half-eaten coconut down the stairs, almost hitting a pilgrim. An accidental ‘attack’ that could have injured, even killed, had the pilgrim lost her footing and fallen down the stairs. And because they’re sacred animals, you can’t just deal with them by shooing them away or attacking them!

B) Recover and reconsecrate a lost shrine.  A slightly altered version of the first plot seed, this one requires our adventurers to escort a priest or other holy person to the temple, past all the dangers in the way, and make sure that the reconsecration is in order. 

Perhaps a lost artifact or idol must be returned, or a sacred ritual performed free of interruption (lest disaster follow), or hostile forces want to prevent it from happening.  Heck, the villains could be a rival adventuring party that wants to steal and sell the McGuffin being taken to the temple by our heroes!

To make the adventure even more exciting and challenging, what if you put on some time pressure? 

C) Remember Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger? (Pssst, if you don’t want to admit your age just don’t say anything!) One whole sequence was devoted to the search for the sage Melanthius, who lived in an isolated island lair that was reminiscent of a wilderness shrine. 

Your adventurers may need to find such a shrine to learn something important there: a new spell or means to break an enchantment, the secret vulnerability of an otherwise invincible monster, etc. etc. And once at the shrine, they have to convince the resident sages there that they’re worthy of being taught! Pendragon-style tests of virtue and tenacity may be called for, perhaps a few requiring combat, but mostly not.

D) The PCs need to escort a party of pilgrims to the shrine. On reaching the shrine, however, they find that they and the shrine are in danger from some outside force – an invading army, a monster, a demon infestation, etc. etc. The temple becomes their temporary castle, and our heroes must make cunning use of every defensive feature they can find – without committing any form of sacrilege!

E) Turn the usual temple adventure premise upside-down: instead of going to a temple to rob it, our heroes are going to the temple to prevent its being robbed of some precious, holy artifact.  They have to get to the temple in time, figure out the thieves’ most likely modus operandii and find ways to block them – or failing that, catch them before they can disappear!

You could even pull a trick on your players, and have the temple’s treasure be something very different from what they expect; what if it’s not some idol or jewel, but rather the temple’s sweeper-boy, who’s actually the King’s long-lost son?

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head for temple adventures that don’t require you to trash the place. I’m sure you can come up with more, lots more! +5 Karma if you do! :-)

(Oh yeah, and this I believe is my first post where I actually managed to combine my love for photography and travel with my love for gaming! Woot!)

September 25, 2012

Gettin’ Some Two-Fisted Pulpy Love

JukePop-coverA deliberately kinky blog post title, but apt, I think, for what I’ll be talking about: James Hutching’s The Case of the Syphilitic Sister on JukePop Serials.

I earlier received Hutching’s The New Death and Others, which I liked for the Dunsany-ish vibe of its stories and poetry, but Case of the Syphilitic Sister surprised me by going in a very different direction, this time emulating the style and tone of 1930’s pulps. 

I’ll have to hand it to Hutchings – he got me where my weakness lies, but with enough modern touches that the reading feels new.  I particularly like Hutchings’ riff on the superhero crimefighter team, a la The Shadow and his confreres, but with a very modern twist in the handling of identities. 

That novelty and curiosity about the title case is enough to keep me following the serial, though I do have to say there are some rough spots in the writer’s changes of viewpoint character.  Well, it’s a serial, so it won’t be difficult to improve the suceeding chapters.  It’s really great fun to have pulp-style serials back though.  Yep, it’s 2012, an era has ended according to the Mayan calendar, and the good stuff is back.

September 8, 2012

Gods of Gondwane Reviewed by Armchair Gamer!

Thanks again to Alex at Armchair Gamer for his enthusiastic review of Gods of Gondwane!

It’s very encouraging to get this kind of feedback, now I’m thinking of what else to offer gamers who like Gondwane.  More Remnant civilizations to meddle with? More about the Shapers and the ‘Living Gods’? More NPCs and villaiins? More adventures?

September 3, 2012

S&S Comic Masters: Enrique Alcatena


If you’re looking for some of the most unrelievedly  grim and bad-ass representations of Conan the Cimmerian, check out the art of Enrique Alcatena


This Argentian artist worked on Conan the Savage in the early 90s, in  addition to doing work for the British F&SF magazine Starblazer and many other projects for DC, Marvel, and European publishers.




Alcatena’s work often dips into surrealist inspirations, and the guy is a masterful chameleon when it comes to  adding real cultural/historical details, be it African, Chinese, Southeast Asian, Arabian or Tibetan.  In sheer delirious detail, Alcatena’s art reminds me of Philippe Druillet’s.

tenebra 46


africa 37

Y 35

jinetes 02

jinetes 09

In one Conan the Savage story, he outfits Conan with a Villanovan-style helmet, a design I very rarely see in fantasy illustration but looks extremely cool. 


His rendition of a Japanese setting and characters could be mistaken for the work of a manga artist like Kentaro Miura!

schimpp 08

japón 38

Hindu-Buddhist mythology seems to have exercised a strong attraction for Alcatena, as evinced in his Shankar series loosely based on a Buddhist reincarnation story.

india 85

Recently he and Ashok Banker collaborated to adapt Banker’s Prince of Ayodhya series, a retelling of the Ramayana, into a graphic novel.

Prince of Ayodhya 07

Prince of Ayodhya 08

Alcatena maintains a blog in Spanish, here’s a link to the Google translation (English).

All images used here save miniature photo © Enrique Alcatena.

August 31, 2012

Maroto: Sword & Sorcery Artist Supreme

If there’s one artist I look to as having captured the epitome of sword-and-sorcery, I would say that for me it’s not so much Frazzeta as Esteban Maroto


Just as I like black and white photographs more, so I tend to prefer pen-and-ink art over paintings.  Maroto’s illustrations may never have been historically accurate, but he was rarely depicting history anyway; he drilled straight into that heady mix of violence, horror and eroticism that’s the heart of the sword and sorcery genre and made it his own with his lush detail and touches of the Art Nouveau style. 



I actually prefer Maroto’s Red Sonja to Frank Thorne’s, and only recently did I find out it was Maroto who gave Sonja her signature silver-coin bikini.  See what I  said about Maroto and historical details?  But really, tell me what boy in the 70’s didn’t buy Red Sonja for the chain mail bikini?  I know I did.


I also love Maroto’s way of ignoring the conventions of comic-book paneling, and instead designing his page as a single narrative canvas, echoing Renaissance-style religious paintings.  There’s so much detail for your eyes to trace that you can spend ten, fifteen minutes on a single page. 


Maroto was best known for his work on Savage Sword of Conan, and the Warren magazines Vampirella, Eerie and Creepy, specially for the serials Vampirella, Dax the Warrior, and El Cid.  A collection of his works was published in the USA as Xotica Volume 1 in 1995.  I’m not aware if there were any other volumes.

August 30, 2012

Swords of the Four Winds Preview

I’ve received the illustrations for Swords of the Four Winds, so now it’s just a matter of finishing and polishing off a few more stories.  Here’s an excerpt from one of them, In the Service of the Serpent King.

Thau Sang addressed the pirates in Nusaradyan, a language he spoke only haltingly, but his voice was clear, and his words compelling. Briefly he spoke of the rebellion that had overthrown him, sending him fleeing down the Annala River with only a few retainers, his attempt to make a deal with Datu Nagbuaya, encountered by chance at the river’s mouth, and Nagbuaya’s treachery. Then he spoke of his intention to return, of the chests of silver and rare spices that would be his to give if his throne was restored to him, and of the jewels and fine swords and horses that could be looted from the rebel nobles, with his royal blessing. He spoke of cities that must be sacked as examples to the wicked, and the pirates began to cheer and call out pledges.

But not all. Pandara quickly noted that no few of the captains looked skeptical, and as he feared, one of them garnered the courage to speak up. “Bah! How many of us here are princes and chiefs in our own homes, but can never return?” the dissenting captain challenged, swaggering to the forefront. “Many – even you, Pandara! Aye, even I, Matalam, would also promise you baskets of pearls and chests of silk for your blades to help me return – but I doubt I could ever deliver them, so I do not.

“I say, anyone with any pretension to royal blood may promise the moon, but there’s nothing like sure gold in the hand! Why risk our lives in a venture with such narrow chances of success, when there’s an easier way already? I say this king and princess are in our hands, let us take the certain path and offer them for ransom!” Matalam cried, and many of the captains growled their approval.

“Ransom, ransom!” the dissident captains began to cry, and their men echoed them. Those initially fired by Pandara’s words and Thau Sang’s promises looked uncertain, angry but still tempted by Matalam’s logic.

Nayyadi cast one pleading glance at Pandara.

“Enough!” the Pirate Prince roared, and a listener too far away to make out the words would have mistaken him for a tiger. He squared off before Matalam. “I lead here, and I say we take service with King Thau Sang, for the booty of a kingdom,” he growled, but pitching his voice to carry and remind the pirates what this was about. “Are you challenging me?”

Matalam spat at Pandara’s sandaled feet. “Aye!”

Some captains shouted for the formalities to be observed, but Pandara and Matalam wasted no time. With one accord they unsheathed their weapons, Pandara taking his father’s battle kris in his right hand and a dagger in his left, Matalam drawing a Quan saber whose hilt he manipulated to split into two blades. He grinned exultantly at Pandara. “I outreach you twice over now, Pandara,” Matalam gloated.

“You’re still fat and slow,” Pandara taunted back, and then the battle was joined.

Matalam was indeed a big man, not as tall as Pandara who was very tall for an islander, but his girth was enormous, his dark face round and his chins multiple. But weak and slow Matalam was most definitely not, and his Quan sabers rang like bells against Pandara’s blades. His blows were so powerful they drove Pandara back, and again and again they drove the Pirate Prince’s blades out of line, creating openings that Pandara could only deny by hurriedly leaping or twisting away. Matalam began to laugh.

Pandara was forced onto a patch of soft sand, where his feet sank with every step and slowed him down. Matalam, laughing even louder, closed in for the kill. But he had failed to reckon the true depth of his opponent’s warcraft. Pandara made to back away again, luring his opponent into deeper, softer sand, and then suddenly he dodged sharply to the right. Following him, Matalam dug his feet into a hole Pandara’s feet had made earlier, floundered, and then was knocked over by a shrewd kick. Before he could recover, Pandara flicked the sabers out of his hands then knelt over him, holding the kris to his throat.

“Submit!” he demanded.

August 28, 2012

Heroic Fantasy: Age of the Warrior

I found my copy of this book sometime in the ‘90’s, at a bargain bookstore selling second-hands from the U.S. It even had the stamp of some town library on one of the inside covers – which town, I can’t remember.  (I’m old, and the book isn’t with me.)


The book, which sadly I couldn’t take with me when we moved because the paper’s gone mildewy, which, gives me asthma, contains some gems of sword and sorcery and was my introduction to the work some authors I’d never read before.  Chief among the new discoveries was Charles Saunders, as there was an Imaro short here, E.C. Tubb, whose Dumarest novels I’d read but never knew he’d dabbled in sword and sorcery, and Hank Reinhardt.

The best story for me was far and away Reinhardt’s Age of the Warrior.  It lovingly takes the standard, practically cliched tropes  of the genre and extrapolates them forward.  The protagonist Asgalt, was a barbarian very much in the Cimmerian mold, ‘able to fight all day and drink all night,’ now in semi-retirement as a Duke after rising through the military of a kingdom. 

The story though catches up with him as a crotchety old man, but a barbarian invasion forces him to take up the sword again and race through enemy-occupied territory to get a vital message through.  As a foil he gets a younger warrior to go with him, and there are several hilarious passages where the old barbarian huffily measures his prowess against the young protégé.  In the end, though, they’re cut off at a bridge by the enemy, and Asgalt makes the only decision an old but still hale barbarian hero can.

Age of the Warrior really hits all the right notes for me – the indomitability of a barbarian spirit, the code of self-heroic sacrifice, and embracing doom with style. This story is a real gem.

On top of that, Saunders’ Death in Jukun is a fine gritty thriller, there’s a deliciously ironic Cyrion adventure by Tanith Lee, The Mistaken Oracle by A.E. Silas ends on a fine note of grim laughter, and there are three interesting essays on the genre by Reinhardt.

August 26, 2012

Tribes of Bronze: Nature of Magic

cloaker_smlThere are two forms of magic on the world of Melkor, Mysticism and Sorcery, and they are closely related. Mysticism develops the innate psychic powers, allowing one to touch others’ minds, create an astral projection, and most importantly, to contact beings from other dimensions. This last is the foundation of Sorcery, which is the art of contacting, summoning and compelling alien beings from other dimensions to do the sorcerer’s bidding.

Unfortunately for mankind, all the beings sorcerers have contacted so far have been utterly abhuman in nature, taking joy only in violence, fear and torment; thus all such beings are termed demons. Sorcery relies very heavily on knowledge unearthed from Ancient sources, as it seems Sorcery was extensively practiced in many previous civilizations. Ancient records and grimoires provide valuable information about the various demon types and how to contact them, and what astrological signs to watch for in determining which dimensions are easier or harder to reach at any time.

Magic is rare, and because people violently fear it and its practitioners, is usually practiced in great secrecy thus making it seem even rarer. Sorcery is illegal in nearly all kingdoms, and Mysticism usually allowed only to priests. Getting into magic is a slippery slope, for once a Mystic begins opening his mind to the other dimensions he also opens a door for demons to either attack him or tempt him into practicing Sorcery as well. Few can resist the seemingly easy power Sorcery offers.

Sorcerers also know a terrible truth about the gods of Melkor: they know the gods don’t exist. There are no true gods, no good gods, in this world or any of the other dimensions sorcerers have reached, and any that seem real are merely demons in disguise.

Sorcery Game Mechanics
Summoning a demon requires that you win a Quick Contest vs. the demon.  Victory means it comes to the earthly plane and is willing to do your bidding.  Anything else means it ignores or resists your call, and on a critical failure, it may decide to turn against you. 

Ritualized summoning requires extensive preparations which you must describe to the GM.  The main benefit of ritualized summoning is that you get three tries to obtain a Victory.

Demon Types
I’ve still to set the demon types’ names in stone, but these are what I’ve been thinking of so far.  Nearly all magical effects require the agency of demons.  I want magic in Tribes of Bronze to be really ghastly in nature, thus the designs:

Illusion Demons
Can use their powers to distort perceptions over a  place, object, creature or person.

Reshaper Demons
Demons that can temporarily possess an indicated victim (this will require a Contest of course), and warp the victim’s body with unnatural modifications.  The modifications may be positive or negative, but they will always look unnatural and at least mildly horrifying or sickening. (This replaces polymorph-type spells in the setting)

Melder Demons
Melder demons can possess the bodies of dying humans or animals, filling them with new life and warping them in unnatural ways to make the body stronger for combat.  The Melder then uses the body to inflict pain and terror by attacking and consuming people.

Reanimator Demon
Reanimators possess corpses and reanimate them with a sick, horrid semblance of life. The Reanimator can stay in the corpse until the corpse is totally destroyed, say by fire, or it is banished.  (This replaces all kinds of undead creation spells in the setting)

Whisperer Demon
Whisperers are weak but malicious manipulators, who can be summoned and interrogated for their preternatural knowledge.  Whisperers will deliberately use the opportunity to tempt, provoke, and otherwise manipulate the summoner into causing as much trouble as possible.

Screamer Demon
Screamer-type demons inflict terror and madness with their eerie vocalizations. 

Primordial Demon
A gigantic, slimey, shapeless, multi-eyed and multi-tentacled horror that likes to play with its food. Its favorite dish of course is  people.  The go-to for every sorcerer with a private dungeon to guard …

Brute Demons
Demons that can manifest with solid bodies and fight effectively, delighting as they do in blood and violence.

Mysticism Spells/Powers
For Mysticism, I want a selection of psychic powers that feel like they could really come from the mystic’s mind alone, but avoid the science-fiction-ey feel of standard FRPG psionics.  I’ll be working out the rationales for why these things work the way they do later, but for now:

Oneiric Whispers
The mystic can enter the dreams of a sleeping person and hold a conversation with that person’s mind.  When the person awakens, he will remember the message and believe the mystic talked to him in a dream.  This spell requires some form of psychic link between you and the subject.

Oneiric Visitation/Oneiric Assault
A development from Oneiric Whispers, the mystic now enters the dreaming person’s mind and gets to play with it.  The caster can trigger sensations, such that the dreamer believes he or she is physically interacting with him.  Beware, though, many wizards have died from attempting this on a barbarian’s main squeeze …

Silent Howl
The mystic sends a purely mental howl straight into the mind of a victim, causing confusion and terror. Basically a mind-blast, but with the requisite horror trappings for a true sword and sorcery feel.

Astral Projection
The mystic can send out an astral form, which can fly and pass through solid barriers. Doing so, however, opens him up to assault from other dimensions. The character’s body remains in a catatonic state during this time, and so must be protected from all threats.

Astral Guide
You may not only project yourself in astral form, you can aid others in doing so. Without an Astral Guide, non-mystics cannot do astral  projection.

Leech Life
Your character can psychically leech life energy by touch. When you do so, your character’s injuries heal by the same amount that your victim loses life force.

August 25, 2012

Swords of the Four Winds: Frontispiece

(C) Raymund Bermudez. All rights reserved

Concept sketch by Raymund Bermudez, meant for the frontispiece of my Swords of the Four Winds anthology. I am soooo glad I got this artist!

Tribes of Bronze: Kharzond


Closeup of the super-continent of Kharzond.  The area between the Cymrael Mountains and the Gryphon Mountains is a rain shadow, so the land here is arid. I’ve decided to add a desert where the lack of rain is worst, just west of the Gryphons, as all the rivers from the Gryphon flow east. (There could be underground rivers flowing west …)

PS – this map was  made with the aid of Tiffany Munro’s excellent pack of Tolkien-style fantasy map brushes

August 24, 2012

Tribes of Bronze: World Map

world of melkor v01

First draft of a map for the Tribes of Bronze setting. A lot of the place names are tributes to some of my favorite S&S authors. Click to open a larger image in a new tab.

The world is at the ending of an Ice Age, so the edges of the continents are severely affected by flooding. Kharzond is meant to be a supercontinent, with civilization concentrated in Omphale, the fertile region surrounding the Amrian Sea.

August 23, 2012

The Sorcerer as Terrorist

What is a sorcerer’s role in a sword and sorcery RPG’s setting? I think the selection of spells typically presented for a sorcerer in FRPGs, D&D in particular, tend to obscure what a sorcerer really should be doing in the world. That is, to live off fear.

Yup, that’s right.  A sorcerer uses their arts and powers to live off peoples’ fear of them.  In myths and folktales, from sources as widely spread apart as Russia’s koldun and the mangkukulam from my own country, the sorcerer or witch is depicted as making demands backed up by threats of curses, essentially blackmailing the community.  In other words, terrorism.

Classic sword and sorcery stories follow the theme, with the sorcerer often shown as scheming his way to greater power by controlling or supplanting monarchs, as in REH’s Hour of the Dragon.

Quite a few ‘adventuring’ spells fit this purpose very well.  Anything that can cause physical harm, or affect the mind, or call up an agent to harass or threaten a victim, have very obvious uses in the sorcerer’s private campaign to achieve dominance. 

What’s lacking is rules for their use in non-combat situations, but this is something any experienced GM should be able to handle.  Easy enough to say, “All right, so you want to cast Influence on the Duke. If he fails his save, he’ll do exactly what you tell him and exile your rival Viridis of the Green Tower.”  What’s important is that you know you can do this, and that you can get concrete game or story  benefits from it.

But the real strength of magic, as it’s depicted in our source fiction, is the sorcerer’s ability to use it remotely, and to hit their victims where it hurts the most – sustenance and posterity.   Blights and murrains on crops and livestock can bring a population to its knees.  Infertility, or finding ways to kill off an important person’s heirs, will also be considered a nightmare in a society where inheritance of lands and titles plays a major role.

Granted, such spells should be rare – but they should be available, perhaps in the form of single-use scrolls or as very resource-intensive rituals. 

Also, like real-world terrorists, sorcerers would do best to operate in secret, or to surround themselves with such mystery and security in some remote stronghold that it’s almost impossible to get at them.  That, or protect themselves by openly seizing power, as revolutionary groups have done from time to time in Third World countries.

So far, these ideas have been more suited for NPC, especially villain, sorcerers.  What about the PC sorcerer? How to take this idea for your character and still be a hero? My idea is to take the Batman route – your sorcerer is the dark power on the side of justice, feared by other sorcerers because you know all their dirty tricks.

August 22, 2012

In a Maranao Antique Shop


After shooting the street parade during the Kadayawan Festival, I retreated from the enervating heat into the Aldevinco native crafts arcade.  Spotting some beautifully incised brassware, I entered a shop called Omar’s Antiques – and this rack of vintage kris  was staring me right in the face! Note the use of old coins to decorate the scabbard of the kris at top right.


Wonderful carved scabbard for a kampilan, 5th from left.


Ivory pommel on a silver hilt, brass collars on the scabbard. This kris must’ve belonged to a noble, or a successful warrior.


I don’t know what the sword above is, it looks like some kind of saber but the hilt seems to be the tip of an elephant or walrus tusk. 


A selection of kris hilts. I just love the art of the southern Philippine peoples.

August 21, 2012

Tribes of Bronze: a Campaign Idea

The idea of Volkerwanderung has always interested me.  Imagine, if you will, entire nations of barbarians relentlessly marching toward civilization’s heartland, their return cut off by some catastrophe, hell-bent on gaining new lands or die trying.  Add the haunted ruins of past civilizations, scheming sorcerers, and increasing monster infestations, and you’ve got a heady sword and sorcery brew.

(Note - All illustrations below are merely to illustrate my intended flavor for the campaign; I make no claim that they’ll be used should I release this commercially – much as I’d have loved to commission Frazetta)


In Tribes of Bronze, I’m setting this Volkerwanderung on a fantasy world that’s still in the Bronze Age, a Chariot Age, with the pre-Classical Mediterranean Basin as my peg for civilization.  The campaign’s premise is that all the PCs belong to a tribe, which the players get to create together, and their goal is to ensure the tribe’s survival. 

Each tribe will have, among other distinguishing details, a Signature Weapon and an Expertise in which characters of that tribe have bonuses.  For example, if you want to model a tribe after Howard’s Cimmerians, you could give them swords as their Signature Weapon and Mountaineering as an expertise.

In addition, I’m thinking of creating a Cold War-like split between the dominant civilizations of the world, so that tribes get pitted against each other constantly in proxy wars and shifting, polarizing alliances.

Adventure Ideas:
Some adventures I’m thinking of for this include:

1) A powerful monster or colony of monsters is denying a vital resource to the tribe.  Maybe it’s occupied the river, thus preventing fishing, or it’s driving off the game, etc. etc.  Only the heroes can deal with it – everyone else is just too frightened. (REH fans will probably recognize echoes from Valley of the Worm here …)

9cf0re22) The tribe has been attacked by another, formerly friendly tribe.  The new enemy is numerically superior or has some other powerful advantage on its side.  Our heroes must find a way to ensure the tribe’s survival against this new threat. Finding out the cause of the attack will likely lead to more adventures.

3) The tribe encounters an abandoned city in its wanderings.  The heroes are elected to explore it, possibly after others have tried, but failed to return.

4) Slavers have kidnapped members of the tribe.  Our heroes have to get them back.

5) Imperial envoys arrive, bearing rich gifts and promising more if the tribe will mount an expedition against another tribe.

6) A sorcerer is gathering a barbarian horde by a combination of tempting promises and threats backed by his armies and his command of demonkind.  He regards anyone not with him as against him. Now his envoys are visiting the tribe,  demanding total submission.

Epic Achievements
The campaign will celebrate the achievement of epic, history-making milestones for the tribe, such as:

1) Eliminating another tribe, by either complete extermination or absorption.

2) Conquering a province of either of the world’s two empires, and keeping it for the tribe, whether as a truly independent state or as a vassal or ally of an empire.

3) Sacking an imperial city, or destroying an imperial army in battle.

4) Elimination of a titanic-scale monster.

5) Establishing a kingdom, and gaining its recognition by all neighboring tribes and at least one of the civilized empires. While anyone can declare themselves king at any time, it really matters only if you can take on all challengers and make them say ‘Uncle.’

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