February 29, 2012

Sword and Silk?

I was musing on the budding Sword and Soul movement, pioneered by Charles Saunders the creator of Imaro, and this got me to thinking about what I do.


If Sword and Soul is, to paraphrase the definition given by Saunders’ associate Milton Davis, sword and sorcery fiction based on African culture and mythology; that features African characters as protagonists, and as of now, is mainly contributed to by African-American writers; then what is its Asian equivalent, if any?

My irascible right brain immediately responded with Sword and Siopao.  Hmmm, much as I love siopao, I don’t think that’s it.  Let’s try again … (and ask wifey to buy siopao)

What is Sword and Sorcery Anyway?
Before delving into cultural distinctions, let’s dissect the roots of the genre itself.  Sword and sorcery was definitely born in the typewriter of Robert E. Howard (accept no substitutes, by Crom!), so it is to him – not Tolkien – that we should look for the genre’s defining tropes.  Among these tropes are:

  • Active, violent, larger-than-life, outsider or rebel heroes, often amoral, yet possessed of their own code of honor;

  • A dystopic* fantasy milieu removed from the real world by location, time period or both, where supernatural beings are real and magic works;

  • Magic is very rare, inherently dehumanizing, often grisly in its methods and effects, its practitioners tending to inhuman urges or madness; rarely is magic ever on the hero’s side;

  • The power of human will: sorcery, monstrous foes, and the challenges of a primeval environment are all there to showcase the grit and determination of the hero.

Taking all these tropes, we could say that sword and sorcery fiction is action-adventure stories with exotic settings and a touch of horror, where the hero’s human will is pitted against monstrous beings and sinister supernatural forces.

*While Tolkien-style epic fantasy or high fantasy often idealizes the ‘back to nature’ vibe of the fantasy milieu, sword and sorcery explores the seamy side: slavery, exploitation, repression, and the gritty, grisly horrors of war, among others.

Proposal: Sword and Silk
I propose the term Sword and Silk for sword and sorcery fiction that explores Asian characters, settings and themes, the Silk alluding to the Silk Road, which to my mind can be used as a literary device stringing the very diverse cultures of Asia together. 

There were actually two Silk Roads in history, the overland one threading from China through Central Asia to Persia and thence to Europe either via the Russian steppe, the Levant, or Egypt (there was once a canal from the Red Sea to the Nile, connecting the Arabian ports to Alexandria). 

The other is the Maritime Silk Road, which connects China to Western Asia and East Africa via Indochina, the Malay Peninsula and Indonesian Archipelago, through the Malacca Strait to Burma and India and thence to Arabia and the Persian Gulf. 

So taking the Silk Road idea as the jumping off point, we can cover a heck of a lot of Asian cultures and landscapes.  Enough that we can end this frustrating ‘Asia ends at China and Japan’ vibe I keep seeing in published products.  I am almost as tired of samurai and ninja and pugilistic monks as I am of knights and elves and orcs and hobbits. 

Not that I want to exclude Chinese and Japanese inspirations, of course, but I want to bring in more variety.  Indian sources. Malay sources.  Mongol and Turkic sources.

Does Sword and Silk Exist Already?
Good question!  I’m trying to find out as I write this.  If you can suggest any examples or sources, friend, please let me know in the comments!  Personally, I suspect it already does, but in a sort of neonatal stage just waiting for more authors to jump in and mature it, just as Leiber, Moorcock, and lately Gemmell did with the seeds planted by Howard.

I would like to think that my Snow Leopard, Datu Buhawi, and Pandara stories are Sword and Silk, but I’d hesitate to claim they’re the first.  (Happily my first Snow Leopard story, Lord of the Brass Host, was bought by Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, and I plan to self-publish an anthology including these sometime later this year). 

Some points of departure:

  • Eric van Lustbader’s Sunset Warrior series (Sunset Warrior, Shallows of Night, Dai-San) may be considered Sword and Silk; I personally found it too focused, though, on Japanese swordplay techniques to the detriment of the story – parts of it sound like gushing Japanese-sword-mystique-fanboy raving; points, though, for Lustbader’s extensive knowledge of Asian culture and atmosphere showcased in the books;

  • Raymond Feist and Janny Wurts’ world of Kelewan, apparently inspired by M.A.R. Barker’s Tekumel and by Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Meso-american culture (my friends and I used to call it the Empire of Tamale-Sushi!) is still high-fantasy, being part of a high-fantasy work, but I do like the way the authors made the culture an integral part of the story, and in a balanced way.  The character Mara of the Acoma’s struggles with tradition and society are particularly interesting;

  • Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori series looks interesting, using Japan’s Age of War as an inspiration, but adding in a secret society whose members possess magical powers; I’ve yet to read them, but descriptions and reviews are interesting;

  • Lafcadio Hearns’ Kwaidan collects a wealth of chilling Japanese ghost stories and folktales of the supernatural that can be used as basis for Sword and Silk tales;

  • Some Thai fantasy films also present interesting inspirations and themes: were-crocodiles, supernatural snakes, Buddhist themes of sin, karma and reincarnation, and the Thai martial arts; the Ong Bak series of films has spectacular fight scenes, particularly in the second and third installments; Queens of Langkasuka is a fantasy set in an ancient Malay kingdom in the south of Thailand, and is a real visual treat;

  • Ashok Banker’s Prince of Ayodhya and its sequels present a modernized version of the Ramayana as a series of fantasy novels; Speaking of Indian mythology, there are many characters and side stories mentioned in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata that can serve as good inspirations for Sword and  Silk stories, and many elements from Indian history – specially the tales of the Rajputs – make great departure points; (I’m currently polishing up a Snow Leopard story inspired by the jauhar in Chittor, the Masada of Rajasthan)

  • Indian supernatural themes can also be interesting, such as the notion of cobras as protector-spirits (having the villain die by cobra bite is a recurring theme in Bollywood movies), and there are darker aspects as well, of human sacrifice still occurring among some obscure cults;

  • Another interesting takeoff for horrific sorcery elements is a recent serial murder case from Indonesia, where a self-proclaimed bomoh, or shaman, murdered a number of women purportedly to absorb their spiritual power. There was also a similar case in Singapore in the 80’s;

  • Some Filipino comic artists have been coming up with fantasy sagas based on pre-Hispanic Filipino myths and history, under the Alamat comics line;

  • Is the Amaya telenovela series Sword and Silk?  I’d say it’s on the fringe.  The central protagonist, Amaya, fits the mold of an s&s heroine about halfway – she’s dispossessed and a rebel – but other elements point this interesting effort in other directions. 

    First, Amaya’s got some magic on her side, through her serpent twin; second, there’s a lot  more focus on romance and relationships in the whole thing, where an S&S heroine would focus on bashing in her enemies’ skulls. 

    Nevertheless, I’d consider this good thematic and visual reference, and not just for Marian Rivera …

  • How much of a part should martial arts play in a Sword and Silk story?  Personally I think there should be moderation here; martial arts stories are a genre in themselves, and it rather stereotypes Asian cultures to keep focusing on martial arts. what do you think?

A Personal Perspective
From Saunders’ writings, it seems one of the central issues that Sword and Soul writers are trying to address is the legacy of African-American origins in slavery, and their resulting cultural dislocation.  Sword and Soul writers want to link back to a body of myth that they can call their own. 

So what are the issues for Sword and Silk writers?  Personally, one of the issues that drive my writing is what I call The Tragedy of Asia: Western colonialism, and the home-grown rivalries and disorder that allowed it to happen. To me the Spanish occupation of my own country (300 years!) is a dark veil thrown over what was still in the process of maturing, denying me a fully developed, home-grown cultural identity such as the Thais or the Japanese have. 

If sword and sorcery is literary form of rebellion, then my rebellion is against the veneer of Latin civilization, digging for an identity I can accept as my own.  So in my writings I try to probe beyond this veil, into the past before Magellan, or outward, tracing back links to other parts and peoples of Asia. 

I look for the cracks, the fault lines where things went wrong and chaos reigned as a result.   This is why over-ambitious warlords and treacherous courtiers and servants appear often in my stories; it was people like those who created the disorders and made the betraying deals that would set the stage for the West’s carving up of Asia. And I won’t confine these character types to villains, either: rather than have it so clear-cut, I’ve made Orhan Timur, the Snow Leopard, one of those warlords.

In terms of geography, I’m shying away from Japan and China as setting inspirations, and instead turning to Central and Southeast Asia, as well as the Himalayas and India.  These constitute what I consider as ‘Forgotten Asia,’ since I see so few stories (or even FRPG material) based on them as compared to material based on Japan and China.

For characters, I’m  becoming more and more enamored of the redemption themes used by Gemmell.  Redemption or the quest for inner peace makes for a good core motivation, specially if it can be made to clash with more immediate goals.

Let’s see how this goes.  Will I get any further than just ‘Conan in a Kimono/ Conan in a Dhoti/ Conan in Bahag’? What excites readers about Asia?  What are the pitfalls of using Asian backgrounds?

February 28, 2012

Hari Ragat: Hunting in the Jangalan Isles

I was looking at Fire in the Jungle’s post on hunting, and decided that, since I use a different ruleset and have a different focus, I’d come up with my own hunting system for Hari Ragat.  Here’s a summary:

First, some premises.  While hunting is usually resorted to as a means of survival, we also have to consider the cultural background.  For the Vijadesans, hunting not only puts food on the table, it’s an athletic sport and training for warriors, and a means to increase Renown. 

Hunting is thus an Orang Dakila, or warrior caste, activity; if all you wanted was food, you’d simply trap your prey, an Orang Malaya (freeman caste) activity.  Trapping is far easier and more likely to get you something, but for our heroes that’s  not the point.

There is another aspect to hunting that is unique to Hari Ragat, and that is the continuous quest for spiritual power.  Certain beasts offer increases in Bala, spiritual power, if they can be caught and their flesh consumed. 

Lastly, there’s the potential of a hunt to serve as a springboard for further adventure, usually as the outcome of a complication.

So, what questions must our hunting system answer? 

  1. Where do we go?
  2. Did we find anything?
  3. What did we find?
  4. How much food did we get?
  5. What else did we find? (Complications)

Hunting Procedure
This is a highly simplified hunting procedure with only five steps:

  1. Players decide on hunt objectives
  2. Players decide on hunting ground
  3. Hunting Roll: Hunter or Orang Dakila + any bonus dice
  4. Combat vs. prey
  5. Resolve Complications, if any

The player who takes the role of tracker or guide gets to make one Hunting Roll per day; if anyone has hunting dogs, however, they may tap that Asset to make another roll.  If you had Hunting Dogs 3, for example, you could tap that to get 3 additional Hunting Rolls. 

Steps 4 and 5 can be switched in order, depending on the complication the GM rolled up.

Hunting Ground
The hunt begins with the choice of hunting ground.  This is where the mechanic of Risk Dice becomes really useful.  I’m tying Risk Dice to your choice of hunting location: the more dangerous the place you want to go, the more Risk Dice I’ll offer you.  For example:

  • Outskirts of the village: +0 Risk Dice
  • Way upriver from the village: +1 Risk Dice
  • The depths of the jungle: +2 Risk Dice
  • Mountain home of the diwatas: +3 Risk Dice

Risk Dice are bonus dice that add to your roll, improving the chances of getting a good result.  However if any Risk Dice come out 1 (these are d6’s btw), there’s also a complication.

Players may contribute to the game’s setting by suggesting hunting ground descriptions and how many Risk Dice they’re worth, as well as what they’re looking for there.

Risk Dice can also be given out to reflect conditions at different times of day instead of changing location.  This is also appropriate, since many game animals come out at dawn, dusk, or during the night, but hide during the day.  For example, here’s a profile of a single jungle clearing:

  • Daytime: +0 Risk Dice
  • Dusk: +1 Risk Dice
  • Dawn: +2 Risk Dice*
  • Dead of night: +3 Risk Dice

*Dawn is worth more Risk Dice than dusk because to get to your hunting ground by dawn, you’d be traveling in the wee hours of the morning. 

Game Types
The next question is what kind of game was encountered, if any.  Here we simply look at the dice rolled and find the best result:

1  -- Nothing in range
2  -- Nothing in range
3  -- Poor Game
4  -- Small Game
5  -- Small Game, swarm
6  -- Large game
Multiple 6’s – Noble Prey!

Poor Game:
small snakes, frogs, fruit bats, squirrels, civets, critters you’d rather not eat unless you had no choice!

Small Game:
spotted deer, ducks, pheasants, wild doves, monkeys, pythons 10’ long or less, monitor lizards 4’ long or less, etc. – not a lot of meat, but good eating!

Small Game, swarm:
you’re in luck, with a whole flock of birds or similar group of small creatures;

Large Game:
sambar deer, wild boar, anowang (wild water buffalo), large monitor lizards – big enough to provide for a small feast!

Noble Prey: 
wild boar or anowang of unusual size or supernatural nature, or supernatural beasts like bannog (the Philippine roc), etc etc.  Noble prey are not only worth Renown, they may also yield Bala.

The system is adaptable to both survival and sport hunting modes, and reflects the abundance of wildlife in the Hari Ragat setting.  If all you want is something to eat, a result of Poor Game is enough; if the hunt is for sport and Renown though, you may want to keep rolling until you find Noble Prey.

The Encounter
The actual encounter with the prey is resolved as combat, which I’ll not go into here.  Suffice to say success in the Hunting Roll means you’ve managed to sneak up on your prey, so the very first attack, if it’s ranged, is against the difficulty of distance/visibility only; after that, if the prey isn’t dead, it’s full combat.

For example, Dimasalang and Musang Hagibis go hunting for boar, and find one. Musang takes the first shot, being the better archer, and rolls vs. the range; Dimasalang’s  thrown spear however must be rolled vs. the boar’s ability, as it’s now alerted.

The GM may decide the complication, if one was rolled, based on the setting and story, or use the table below:

  1. Snake!
  2. Big Snake!
  3. Angered a Nuno!
  4. Ambush!
  5. Monster attack!
  6. Angered a Diwata!

Snake Table:

  1. Python
  2. Python
  3. Python
  4. Viper
  5. Cobra
  6. King Cobra

Big Snake Table:

  1. Big Python
  2. Big Python
  3. King Cobra
  4. Elder Viper
  5. Elder Cobra
  6. Elder Python

Ambush Table:

  1. Orang Bakawan hunters
  2. Tulisan bandits
  3. Raiders
  4. Dimalupi Headhunters
  5. Blood enemies*
  6. Invasion force

*Blood enemies being those someone in the  party has a blood feud with.

Monster Table:

  1. Busaw (ogre)
  2. Tikbalang (horse-headed demon)
  3. Hungry Trees
  4. Sarangay (minotaur-like demon)
  5. Giant
  6. Dragon*

*The Vijadesan definition of dragon includes any huge supernatural reptile of serpentine or crocodilian nature.  I’m still researching Philippine mythology dragons for inspiration, since the Bakunawa is too big for this kind of encounter (and is unique in the Hari Ragat setting). 

Dragons will thus include the Nono, a gigantic crocodile thousands of years old and grown into human or even superhuman intelligence; the Markupo, a serpent that breathes venomous vapors; and various kinds of Naga.

Got Meat?
To know how much meat you got, simply tot up the die ratings of the creature killed, not counting special abilities.  This rating x3 for big game, or x1 for small game, is the number of days it can feed one man, and the rating x3 for small game, or x5 for big game, is the number of men it can feed for one meal. 

For example, a Wild Boar 4/3 is big game, so it can feed one man for 21 days (7x3), or up to 35 (7x5) men at one sitting.

A Cobra 2/0, Poison 3, however is worth only 2 days’ food for one man (x1, because it’s small game).  The Poison 3 doesn’t figure in our computation.

Writing from the Deepest Gut

Most articles on writing focus on technical skills and discipline – having a schedule and sticking to it, doing your research, having checklists for your characters and plot, etc. etc.  Yes, you need all these.

I’m also finding out that there’s one more ingredient that’s very necessary: the ability to write out of conviction.  One must not only write what one knows – easy enough when there’s the Internet – but one must also write what one believes.

I’m realizing this as I analyze my own stories, winnowing out the weak ones (yes, I’m planning to put out an anthology), and finding out that the stronger ones, which at first I thought I wrote without a theme, actually do after all.  You see, I have a problem with themes: I don’t know what I believe anymore.  So when I consciously try to come up with a theme, it doesn’t work. 

But as I was re-reading my Snow Leopard, Datu Buhawi and Pandara stories, I realized something: there’s been a core belief behind the better of those stories all along.  All three characters are what you would call dark heroes, with troubled pasts or motivations we could call evil – Orhan Timur, the Snow Leopard, will use any means to regain his seat as Khagan of the steppe tribes, Datu Buhawi is animated by hate, and Pandara is a plundering pirate.  They are heroes only because they retain, and act on, a humanity that’s at least clearer than in those they consort with.

Which brings me to my realization: the theme that’s been running through my work all along is the futility of evil.  The evil schemes of my dark heroes come to nothing in the end, but they end up succeeding at another, more human goal. It’s something I still believe in after all – I don’t think it’s true, but in my gut I know it should be.  And that’s where I write from.

(I think I may owe this enlightenment to the spirit of David Gemmell.  Hail, Master!)

February 23, 2012

Syrene: Manda Zemba the Great

The hero-king Manda Zemba the Great united the northern Axuman tribes, performing many heroic feats and difficult tasks to win the trust of the chieftains, and led a crusade against the necromancers’ kingdom of Kuthaan, destroying it utterly and founding in the liberated lands the kingdom of Gran Zembar.

It is said Manda Zemba tamed a huge four-tusked bull elephant, and on this mount he taught his people the arts of fighting on elephant back. With an army of elephant riders, Merawid cavalry, and Shakanda spearmen and mail-clad infantry drawn from a score of Axuman tribes, Manda Zemba crushed the Kuthaanese armies at the Battle of Tamba Gorge. The surviving necromancers fled, and took over the kingdom of Taharqa in the highlands.

But to get the free tribes to fight, Manda Zemba had to offer pay - and in those days the universal measure of value in Axuma was the cow. The king needed great numbers of cattle to pay off his debts, but Kuthaanese depredations had left very few in the kingdom. The king turned to the Shakandas, who refused to give up as much of their herds as the king required, for such a reduction would cause hunger among them. Embassy after embassy returned empty-handed, and the northern tribes were threatening to revolt unless the king settled his debts. In desperation, Manda Zemba led a great raid into Shakandaland in the year 569.

The raid was a disaster. The Shakandas appealed to the beastlords of the Barangeti Plain, and there all the horses of Manda Zemba's cavalry were turned into untameable, unrideable zebras. Without these, his foot soldiers and the few elephants he dared to pull from the capital were defeated by the sheer bravery and prowess of the Shakanda impis, or spear-regiments, and the Zembari were forced to retreat.

Manda Zemba himself died during the retreat, some say of a wound, some say of a failed heart. He was succeeded by his son Manda Ignosi, who made peace with the Shakandas, and minted the first Zembari coinage to pay his chieftains. The rise of Gran Zembar and the destruction of Kuthaan opened up the trade routes to the south, and soon Palmarians were voyaging to Jennaro and up the Nuba, to Shakandaland, up the jungle rivers to the kingdoms of Oro and Tana, and by 800 CR had reached Ceram, in the Perfumed Isles.

The Zembari themselves came to rule the hinterlands and inland trade routes of the Nuba River, the Gondar highlands, and the gold-rich Cayori Hills. Soon they were making a reputation for themselves as traders and daring explorers, and for the wealth and high levels of art and craftsmanship gilding their great cities.

February 22, 2012

Loving YWriter5

I’ve always been prone to writer’s block in the middle of a story.  I can start with a bang, but somewhere along the way I’ll discover an inconsistent character, or that I’ve let the storyline gallop into a dead end.  Despite hours or even days spent doing notes, I still end up with a mess that requires major overhauls and cleanups.

The answer, my instinct and education both tell me, is organization.  And this is why I’m loving yWriter5, a beautiful little piece of freeware from Spacejock Software that I downloaded and started using just a few days ago.  The app was conceived and coded by an established writer, and from the looks of it, he knew just what writers needed.


The strength of yWriter5 is its openness to different writing methods.  You can start with characters first, or a story premise and build from there, or even jump in with an introductory scene and flesh out your details as you go. The app maintains a database of characters, locations, items (the creator’s speculative fiction writing background shows here), and very nicely organizes your work into chapters and scenes.


You can write scenes independently of each other, then string them together with a drag-and-drop interface.  With each scene editing window you also get handy tabs for detailing characters, locations, scene goals and conflicts, even four user-definable ratings for the scene’s content.  For example, in a sword and sorcery story I could rate each scene for violence, eldritchness, sex, and setting detail.

It’s also very useful to me that I can view a list of all my scenes or chapters with a word count breakdown for each, letting me check my pacing and target word count.  Reports for these can be exported as HTML files you can view in a browser.


The app even lets me project a total word count for each project, and by defining the project’s start and end dates I get a handy reminder of how many words I should write per day.  It’s a clearly defined goal that encourages discipline.

There’s also the option to import and install a dictionary, so you can do spell checks, and the dictionary can be customized with new words and to recognize character and place names (entered in your character and location databases) so it doesn’t flag exotic names as misspellings. 

I’m still very much an on the fly guy, so I’m not yet using all of yWriter’s available tools.  But even with a minimal set it’s working very well for me.  My workflow now is as follows:

  1. Conceptualization – done off-computer, accompanied by much circular pacing and way too much coffee;

  2. New Project – create a new project in yWriter5; fill in the project info, then go to Project Settings and define my word count targets and working dates;

  3. Preliminary Plotting – outline the plot in Project Notes;

  4. Characters and Starting Location – define characters and at least one location; make sure I write down goals for every character, and cross-check those goals to see if they cross nicely

  5. Draft – dig in and write!  Scene by scene, chapter by chapter, reorganize scenes if needed, with much jumping back and forth between scene content and the character and notes tabs;

  6. Editing – try not to start editing until all scenes are done, fail, resolve once more to finish all scenes first, then finally start editing;

  7. Wife Review – a truly vital part of the process!  My Cat is very meticulous and never hesitates to call me out on inconsistencies, wordiness, clumsy phrasing and murky narrative. 

The best part? All the info I want is now in a single application, all neatly bundled into an easily searchable index.  I can foresee using this app not only for stories but for my other writing projects as well.

February 21, 2012

Hari Ragat: Of Men, Gods and Spirits IV

Let’s talk about an aspect of the Hari Ragat setting that might get a little sensitive: sacrifices. 

Sacrifices are a fact of life for the Vijadesan people, but they don’t always involve blood.  Nor will including them in your game teach players any sort of working magic or give real-life  powers – yep, let’s get that hoary old disclaimer out of the way now, but I wanted to say it because some of what I’ll be writing below is based on actual beliefs held by people in the past.  I’m discussing the topic because it’s part of what makes this game world and playing in it different.

Reasons for Sacrificing
The Vijadesans offer sacrifices for different reasons, among them:

As payment or bribe:
By far the commonest reason for making an offering, whether it be to pass through a diwata’s territory without offending it, for the favor of the ancestors, or a good growing season for the crops and so on. 

As appeasement:
Offended gods and spirits may be mollified by the right kinds and amounts of offerings.  Similarly, troublesome ancestors may be calmed down by the right offerings.  It is the role of the babaylan shamaness to find out what the most appropriate offerings are and how much are needed.

As substitute victims:
Malevolent spirits may be made to leave or desist from harming folk by the offering of a substitute victim, always a live animal.  For example, the Vijadesans may try to stem an outbreak of plague by offering some suitably tempting host, such as a valuable cow or horse, which afterward is driven out or put on a raft and floated away to take the ‘bad medicine’ elsewhere.

Kinds of Sacrifices
Different beings may require different kinds of offerings depending on the sacrificer’s purpose and the recipient’s own preferences and attitudes toward the sacrificer.  The friendlier this relationship the less will be required, and the more adverse the relationship, the more the sacrifice will cost.

Fruits and flowers:
Easily the cheapest offerings, they can be picked right outside most Vijadesan homes.  They suffice for minor occasions such as the regular honoring of the family ancestors, or a pro forma thanks for a familiar diwata’s tolerance.

Food and drink:
Requiring more preparation and cost, offerings of cooked food and drink – usually rice wine -- have more weight and are also popular with the living because they can consume it afterward!  The more elaborate the food and its presentation, the more pleasure it gives to its recipient, who consumes only the ‘essence’ of the sacrifice, leaving the material stuff to be shared out afterward. 

The scent of burning incense is considered to be most pleasing to the spirits, so this too is a common offering in households that can afford it.  Incense is an expensive product, since the trees it is tapped from are rare, and the Tien Xia demand for it is so high that they drive the prices up.

Expensive goods such as porcelain, brassware, weapons and the like may be acceptable sacrifices to some beings.  The better the craftsmanship and ornamentation of the object, the more its recipient will be pleased.  Valuables are sacrificed by leaving them in sacred locales, such as a diwata’s  grove or pool, or in the graves of the dead.

Ah, now we’re getting to the part most associate with the word sacrifice.  How common is padugo, blood sacrifice, in the world of Hari Ragat?  Well, that depends on the animal.  The usual sacrifice is the ubiquitous chicken, while goats,  pigs, carabaos, and finally horses are rarer and more valuable. 

The ultimate in animal sacrifices is the rare white Sabani horse, acquired at great expense from the Mahanagarans; only a really rich rajah could even think about giving one to the gods.

When a live victim is offered to the gods or spirits, it is the life-blood that is really being given; the carcass is left for the worshipper to cook and eat afterward. When large animals are sacrificed, the division of the carcass is made according to ancient traditions, wherein the officiating shaman gets the choicest cut, followed by the sponsor, and then the guests in order of their rank.

Yes, there is human sacrifice in this setting.  No, your character does not have to do it, nor does your character have to condone it.  Instead, Vijadesans see human sacrifice as a very last resort, and if a hero can provide an alternative, most will take it.  Nor does human sacrifice always take the form of killing the victim. Let’s talk about some scenarios for human sacrifice and what our heroes can do about it:

  • Vengeance Victims
    Dying men and ancestor spirits sometimes request for an enemy to be slain over their graves, or for the enemy’s head to be placed over their graves.  Sometimes this is seen as an act of justice, and sometimes the victim is an innocent, someone the heroes can try to save.

  • Ultimate Appeasement
    You can tell when a diwata is really ticked off by what it asks for in reparations!  When the appeasement named is a human sacrifice, it can be a heroic quest to persuade the diwata to accept something else, or even to prove its cause in the wrong (without ticking it off even more!), or, simply, fight it into giving up!

  • Dedicated Lives
    Sometimes the sacrifice takes a nonlethal form, in which the sacrificial victim is not killed but instead made to dedicate his or her life to some kind of service.   For example, there’s the Flautist of Mount Kulindang, a virgin maiden whose duty is to play the flute night and day and so keep a temperamental volcano diwata asleep.

  • Unlawful Sacrifices
    There is a whole range of unlawful human sacrifices that practitioners of the dark arts may engage in for the power it gives them, which I touched on in a previous post

    The idea is to consume the greater spiritual power of certain kinds of people – immaculate binokot maidens, pregnant mothers or their fetuses, even consecrated royalty. 

    Such acts are universally condemned by the Vijadesans and are discouraged by extreme punishments: agonizing death, followed by denial of all funeral rites so the culprit’s soul never reaches the holy land of Sulad. 

    Of course, these can be great back stories for villains that the heroes must face.  The atrocities committed by these villains can help get a gut reaction from the players, and explain the villains’ powers as well.

February 20, 2012

Hari Ragat: Of Men, Gods and Spirits III

In this post I’ll talk some more about the beings worshipped by the Vijadesans, in particular the Lakandiwa, the ‘noble ones.’ 

The Vijadesan pantheon can be broken down into two divisions: the primal gods of nature and natural forces, comprising the great Batarahs and the local diwatas, and the gods of mankind, comprising the anito ancestors and the lakandiwa. 

The lakandiwa are literally hybrids, being descended from human-Batarah or human-diwata unions, and are also hybrids in their roles, for they are the gods of human activity.  Among the lakandiwa are the great culture heroes, the gods of love, war, childbirth, healing, etc. etc.  They are, in effect, super-ancestors whom everyone worships for their contributions to human life.

Some lakandiwas are also invoked for protection against malevolent or mischievous nature spirits, and their power is held to begin where nature ends and man’s domain starts – the raised edges of rice paddies, fences, the walls of houses, etc. etc.

Marc and I came up with the concept of the lakandiwa as we were finalizing the pantheon.  While gods like Bathala and Mayari were easily classified as nature deities, we had gods like Idiyanale and Lakanbakod who were clearly not. 

February 19, 2012

At the Long Hua Temple, Davao City


I love photographing Buddhist temples.  They’re beautiful, serene, and they’re from a culture that is at once alien yet so close to home.  This temple is literally ten minutes’ walk from where I now live.

February 18, 2012

Hari Ragat: Of Men, Gods and Spirits II

In this second post in the series, I’ll talk about making the supernatural really  part of the game’s landscape. 

In the typical FRPG, players pretty much have the option to ignore the supernatural until they need a miracle; we certainly did in all our D&D games.  Hari Ragat is going in the opposite direction, with the supernatural always lurking behind the corner.  

The potential for interaction with the supernatural is driven by three qualities typical of the spirits: they are territorial, they are passionate, and they are vengeful.

Nature spirits each have a territory they claim as their own; it may be an entire island or mountain range, or it may be as small as a single termite mound or tree. Whatever it is, the spirit will be jealously protective of the territory and whatever is in it. 

Passing through a diwata’s domain, living in it, or taking anything from it is considered a trespass unless permission was first sought and granted.  Failure to do so will call down some kind of curse.  In game terms, such curses usually take the form of reduction in Bala, spiritual power, or inability to regain lost Bala, or minor but annoying conditions like sores or swellings.  At the worst, they can result in shipwreck, monster infestations, or natural disasters.

This makes a good role playing hook, and a challenge for the party’s babaylan shaman if they have one.  The role of the shaman is to mediate between their people and the spirits, specially in negotiations to find out who was offended and what is required for appeasement.

Spirits can have very human passions: they can fall in love or feel desire, feel insulted, or have cravings.  Quite often these passions will clash with human wants and feelings: playful spirits can cause children to go missing, amorous diwatas have been known to spirit away beautiful youths and maidens, or leave them pregnant, etc etc.

GMs should use this as an excuse to introduce complications to liven up the game.  In my running playtest campaign, Gelo’s character Dimasalang is involved in a love triangle between Soraya, the diwata of the mountain, and Sangita, the diwata of Hiyasan’s pearl beds.  In our last adventure, Soraya laid a vow of celibacy on the warrior before he left to accompany Marc’s character Amats on a courtship quest, only for him to be waylaid on the voyage out by Sangita wanting a tryst!

The reason Vijadesans fear the spirits is, of course, their capacity and drive for vengeance.  The vengeance of a spirit may take a while to develop, but it can be devastating when it arrives: Lalahon, the diwata of Mount Tambura, destroyed the kingdom of Namwaran by volcanic eruption because its rajah jilted her.

Vengefulness is also a signature trait of ancestor spirits, who often demand satisfaction for past grievances, block attempts to make peace with old enemies,  or even demand that specific individuals be sacrificed over their graves!  This can set up interesting conflicts between heroes and their own deified ancestors.

For example, the Hari Ragat version of Romeo and Juliet: hero falls in love with maiden, only to find that his ancestors want her head!  Or, in the quest to become Hari Ragat, a hero must choose between making an honorable peace pact with an old enemy, or following his ancestors’ command to wipe them out, wrecking the network of alliances that he’s taken so long to build.

February 17, 2012

Hari Ragat: Of Men, Gods and Spirits I

We decided from the very beginning that Hari Ragat would be a mythically-flavored game, a game not of hardscrabble desperadoes grubbing for every coin in sight, but of mighty epic heroes in larger-than-life conflicts.  This series of posts explores one aspect of how we’re trying to realize this vision, through the nature of religion in the Hari Ragat setting and how it affects play.

In our first post, I’ll tackle the premise of the game itself: What are we playing for?  The universal carrot for heroes in Hari Ragat is Renown, and the quest for Renown is nothing less than the quest for a better Afterlife.

The Fate of the Dead
The Vijadesan people believe that heroes with great Renown and many descendants to make offerings to their spirits enjoy a better afterlife: They spend eternity on the ever-clear slopes of the sacred mountain of Madya-as, in Sulad, the land of the gods.  There they enjoy palatial homes, constant feasting, sports (including war), etc. etc. 

And what do they feast on?  What adorns their persons and palaces in the Land of the Dead? Why, the offerings they receive, of course! Marc and I envision an ‘economy of the afterlife,’ kinda like what the ancient Egyptians believed in.  The dead want offerings of food and goods because they have a use for them.

At the opposite end of the scale are those who die with little or no Renown at all: these unfortunates spend eternity on the plain below Mount Madya-as, where it is forever dark, cloudy, and dull. 

The dead who get it worst are those who never received proper funerals.  These include those who were abandoned, or lived entirely alone, who had no one to perform the rites for them; and also some criminals, and persons who earned such ire from their datus that on their death, they were denied funerals by royal fiat.   These are doomed to wander the mortal realms as mournful ghosts.

The Will of the Dead
Vijadesans worship the spirits of their ancestors, with special attention going to the most famous ones.  It is these, after all, who have the most power to help or harm the living.  Worshiping the ancestors means catering to their desires, of which there are mainly three: offerings, vengeance, and more descendants!

How This Impacts Play
So how do these game-world beliefs impact play?

First, we want to foster a mindset of magnificent madness in our players!  You want your character to do crazy cool deeds because Renown is a necessity!  Indeed, to make Renown even more of a necessity, we’ve tied character advancement to it.

Second, we can use the ancestor religion as a plot driver.  GMs can use ancestor spirit NPCs to egg the player characters into adventures and complications, which can get really interesting if you end up with mortals and spirits at cross-purposes. 

Third, the presence of ancestor spirits can make generational play an interesting campaign option.  You’ve got incentive to win a family for your character, play your character to a glorious death, the option to play your original character’s descendants, and the kick of recasting your original character as a meddling god to his descendants!

February 11, 2012

Hari Ragat: Mount Bato-Balani

Mount Bato-Balani is the sacred mountain of Zabag island, rising from the sea to a height of 2,200 feet on the island’s southern tip; it is famous for the the entire massif’s being one huge lodestone. This unusual property of the mountain was used to good effect by Lakan Pandara Malang Laksamana during the Laksamana-Baginda Wars, when, outnumbered by a pursuing force of pirates, he led them past the mountain.

The pirates were astounded when their spears and arrows curved toward the mountain, followed by their swords and daggers leaping out of their sheaths and flying into the water; Lakan Pandara then turned around and assailed them with wooden javelins, and so routed them. It is also said that during the Red Sail War, a squadron of Red Sail pirate junks came to grief at the same spot, when the iron nails of their ships were torn right out of their planks, causing them to sink, along with all the men and treasure on board.

The lakans of Kota Bahari sacrifice a specially made kris to the diwata of Mount Bato-Balani once every year, as well as making more frequent offerings of wine and food. Thrice, the diwata has summoned a warrior of Kota Bahari to receive the gift of one of these kris, and each time the warrior saved the kingdom using the weapon.

February 10, 2012

Hari Ragat: the World of Irawat

The Hari Ragat game is set on the world of Irawat, which the Vijadesans also call Sankalikhaan, the One Creation, and Sankaragatan, the One Ocean. 

Irawat  is a flat ocean world studded with islands. There are no continents upon it, only some very large islands and many island chains. The world is innately magical, with its ‘natural’ phenomena driven not by what we would call physics, but by the actions of gods and spirits.

The world of Irawat has a single sun, a single moon, and a 24-hour day. What is visible as the sun and the moon are really glowing gemstones, torn from the eyes of the Great Serpent, and borne on the ships of Apolaki and Mayari, the gods of sun and moon.

Both sun and moon rise from the isle of Sulad, the home of the gods, which lies in the farthest east. When they set in the west, they sail invisibly back across the sea to return.

The skies are hung with stars, flung there by Inang-tala the goddess of the stars to be her divining board. The changing patterns of the stars can foretell the seasons and the workings of Fate, if one knows the secrets of reading them.

Hari Ragat: the Bayan

Vijadesans refer to towns, cities and kingdoms with the same word, bayan. Unlike the well-defined, stone-enclosed cities you might find in a European-inspired fantasy world, a typical Vijadesan bayan sprawls across the land as a network of villages, waterways, and farmland, following the natural lay of the terrain.

The bayan has no definite borders, but instead is defined by a web of patronage and alliances.  The bayan’s territory is defined as that which is occupied by people under the patronage of the bayan’s rulers.  This means that borders and claims can be very fluid, contracting and expanding with the prestige and military power of the bayan’s rulers.

Most bayan are ruled by a lakan or rajah, who is patron to all the lesser datus in the area. Some bayan however have no rajah, but instead are held by a coalition of datus, who have all agreed to settle the area together and run a cooperative community.

February 9, 2012

Hari Ragat: Murogan

With thanks to Bots Velez for some of the ideas used here …

Murogan is the fourth-largest island of the Bakonawan Chain, and has a reputation for being particularly wild and difficult to settle. It is known for its tigers, its savage ikugan – monkey-like giants, with fur and tails, who attack settlements in marauding packs – and the enormous crocodiles and serpents of the Maragusan Marsh.

Kota Pangil

Kota Pangil is a small but rapidly growing kingdom on the mouth of the Maragusan River, being the main trading post for Murogan’s natural wealth. It was founded by Lakan Tupas, of the line of Datu Ragasa, who killed a huge tiger here and named the place after his prize trophy, one of the tiger’s fangs.

Kota Pangil’s wealth comes from the sandalwood and camphor groves of Mount Karagan, the gold mined on the upper Maragusan River, and the pearls found in the Lumaya Gulf. These are traded with the kingdoms of the Sriratana Islands and Uparaya on the ancestral homeland of Arundwipaya; because of this, the language spoken here is quite different from the Vijadesan spoken in the islands to the north.

Kota Pangil is in constant, deadly rivalry with the kingdom of Kotaraya, which lies on the other side of the Maragusan estuary.


Kotaraya is a small but powerful kingdom on the mouth of the Maragusan River. It was founded by Datu Lumaya of the Matakutano Baginda line, and because of its connections to the Bagindas, has become a major pirate base in the south.

The rajahs of Kotaraya have become wealthy and powerful by leading raids into the Sriratana Island kingdoms and even to Arundwipaya, often choosing these over Vijadesan targets as they are actually closer and, being without navies, cannot retaliate.

Kotaraya is also in rivalry with Kota Pangil for mastery of the Maragusan River trade, and occasionally ambushes their traders travelling up- or down-river. The two kingdoms have fought several naval battles on the Lumaya Gulf and on the river, and Rajah Bantug, the current ruler, opened his reign six years ago with an unsuccessful siege of Kota Pangil.

Kota Nahalin

Kota Nahalin was a fort built by Datu Dilao of Kotaraya on the upper reaches of the Maragusan River. It was destroyed, supposedly by the ikugan giants, two years after its erection, with no survivors. Warriors sent to investigate found the tracks of many giants, but some swear they also found parallel ruts in the ground that they couldn’t understand. It has after all been centuries since any Vijadesan saw chariot tracks.

Ruins of Batawan

An ancient temple and idols of the Nayyalinga style have been found along the banks of the Maragusan River, near the village of Batawan on Mount Karagan. The ruins indicate that the Nayyalingas, or perhaps Vijadesans under the first Hari Ragats, were already settling the Janggalans even before the Exile.

However, the Vijadesans preserve no memories of this settlement at all. Even more mysterious is the state of the lost colony – from the ruins, it seems to have been abandoned at the height of its wealth.

Batawan village, twenty miles from the ruins site, is a community that lives entirely in tree houses at least forty feet from the ground. This, they say, is the reason they have survived the attacks of the ikugan giants, who despite their monkey-like appearance cannot climb too well. The people of Batawan are tributaries of Kota Pangil.

Mount Dapala

Mount Dapala is a sacred mountain and said to be the home of the ikugan giants. The rulers of Kota Pangil and Kotaraya have both send expeditions to extirpate the giants, but to no avail; some expeditions returned without seeing a single ikugan, and some never returned at all.

Mount Karagan

Mount Karagan is a mountain in the interior of Murogan that is famous for its sandalwood and camphor groves, where they grow so thickly that the scent of the air is intoxicating, and for the enormous game animals that haunt its slopes. The wild boar of Mount Karagan are said to be, on the average, nearly twice the size of boar anywhere else in the Janggalans. It is thus no wonder that the tigers here are also huge.

Maragusan River and Marsh

The mighty Maragusan is the largest river in all the Janggalans, nearly a mile wide along much of its meandering course, and is surrounded by impenetrable jungle on both sides. At its terminus the river splits into many channels as it passes through the Maragusan Marsh, which divides the kingdoms of Kota Pangil in the west and Kotaraya in the east from each other.

The marsh is a vast labyrinth of channels, lakes, and low islands overgrown with thick reeds and jungle. It is known for its incredible variety of waterfowl and colorful fish, and for the enormous crocodiles that haunt its muddy waters. Tigers sometimes venture into these wetlands to hunt water buffalo, and occasionally, man.

There are also persistent rumors of large gray beasts, with snake-like appendages on their snouts and long white tusks, traveling in herds through the remotest parts of the marsh.

Old Iron Back

Old Iron Back is an ancient crocodile, said to be a thousand years old, so ancient it has become quite intelligent and spiritually powerful. This seventy-foot long monster haunts the inner reaches of the Maragusan Marsh, where it is worshiped by the Katalong-Buaya community as a god.

The Katalong-Buaya say Old Iron Back protects them from other crocodiles, ikugan giants, and human invaders; his price, a youth every year. Old Iron Back has a skin so tough it is impenetrable by ordinary weapons.

The Katalong-Buaya

A people that call themselves the Katalong-Buaya, the ‘befriended of crocodiles,’ lives in the Maragusan Marsh. Their community is made up of outlaws, exiles, escaped slaves, and other fugitives, from all over the Janggalans, come here to escape persecution.

Anyone who wants to join the Katalong-Buaya may do so, on condition that they follow three laws: worship Old Iron Back, renounce all former ties, and swear an oath of brotherhood with all other Katalong-Buaya. The community lives by hunting and fishing alone, shunning all contact with the outside world, but resisting any invaders with deadly guerilla warfare tactics.

The Katalong-Buaya acknowledge no rajah, lakan, or datu: their ruler, they say, is Old Iron Back himself.

February 8, 2012

Might-Have-Beens of the Great Game

The Great Game was a ‘cold war’ between Britain and Tsarist Russia, played out over the vast expanse of Central Asia from the borders of Iran in the west to the borders of China in the east, from 1813 to about 1907.  At stake was the British dominion of India, influence over Persia and China, and mastery over the peoples of the ancient Silk Road.

This region and period have exercised a great hold on my imagination ever since I first started reading about it, and maybe earlier.  I remember watching The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936 version) as a kid, followed shortly after by my discovery of Robert E. Howard’s El Borak, and later the movie The Man Who Would Be King, based on Kipling’s novel.  Add to that the fact that I stayed in Delhi for a year and was totally bowled over by the history and culture of the place, and I’ve been totally fascinated ever since.

The Great Game offers enormous potential as a backdrop for pulp-style adventure.  There’s a powerful built-in conflict, exotic locations to explore, and interesting, volatile cultures to interact with.  Aside from the Russian-British imperial rivalry, there’s a lot going on; here are some of the historical events and might-have-beens that you can easily tie into an adventure:

  • The Dungan Rebellion in Xinjiang: Chinese Muslims rebel against the Qing Dynasty; the unrest that broke out throughout western China would have provided many opportunities for foreign adventurers to make their mark here.

  • The Secession of Kashgar: following the Dungan Rebellion, Yaqub Beg of Kokand enters Kashgar and makes himself its Amir.  Historically Yaqub Beg died in 1877, supposedly poisoned by hakim of Yarkand in collusion with the Qing: What if he hadn’t? What if someone had stopped the assassin?

  • The Russian invasions of the Central Asian khanates: from 1865 to 1868, Tashkent, Khodjend, Djizak and Samarkand fell to Russian troops; Khiva and Bukhara were forced to submit and become protectorates.  Could the Russians have been stopped?  What really happened to the riches of these khanates, hoarded since the days of Genghis Khan and Timur the Lame?

  • The Indian Rebellion of 1857: widely known as the Sepoy Mutiny, this was an uprising of Indian colonial troops of the British East India Company, accompanied by the rebellion of several of the princely states.  What might Russian agents have done during this turbulent time?  Which of the rebel rajahs secretly received Russian aid, and how?

  • The 1857 Rebellion also saw an attempt to reinstitute the Mughal Empire, as the mutineers tried to unite themselves under the titular leadership of Bahadur Shah II, last of the Mughal Emperors. After the rebellion was crushed, Bahadur Shah was exiled to Rangoon; several of his sons were also executed. 

    What’s interesting here is the possiblity that the Indian states would have supported a renewal of the Mughal Empire … What if there were a conspiracy to try raising the Mughal Empire once again? Russian agents might try to do it, to split British India apart …

  • The Anglo-Afghan Wars: a direct result of British efforts to take control of the Afghan government, to block Russian expansion in Central Asia, the First Afghan War ended in disaster for the British Raj.  It would be very interesting to set an adventure on the eve of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, before 1878;

  • The Crimean War, 1853-1856: Britain and France aid Ottoman Turkey against the expanding Russian Empire; though technically a victory for the allies, Russian expansion did not stop for long.  What’s interesting here is how the secret action might have gone in Central Asia, where Britain, Russia and Turkey would have strong interests.  What if Ottoman agents could stir the Turkic tribes into jihad against Russia while Russia’s strength was committed to the Black Sea front?

  • End of the American Civil War, 1865: Veterans of the war from both sides go seeking adventure and respite from their inner devils in the far corners of the world.  Who knows who might’ve made their way to the wilds of the Taklamakan, or the crags of the Hindu Kush?  There’s no shortage of opportunities here for someone skilled with saber and revolver …

February 7, 2012

Secret Wars of the Foreign Devils

Henry Savage Landor in the Forbidden Land of Tibet

The Great Game, 1876:

British officials in Rangoon and Delhi are in panic, as Mirza Babur, the fiery grandson of the deposed Mughal Emperor, has escaped …

Rumors abound that the ancient Hashishin cult is back … 

American millionaire Lamont Cranston, who disappeared in Kashmir last year, is now  thought to be in the hands of opium warlord Yin Kho …

An enormous golden Buddha has been found in Kashgar, sparking a renewed contest between British, Russian and Chinese secret agents for the favor of Yaqub Beg, Amir of Kashgar …

Dinosaur bones have been found deep in the Mongolian wastes.  Bones, not fossils.  The Royal Geographical Society is sending a mission to investigate … with ex-Texan gunfighter-gone-native Francis Xavier Gordon as their guide.

This is Secret Wars of the Foreign Devils!

February 6, 2012

Mount Apo from my bedroom window


Mount Apo, the Philippines’ tallest mountain, as seen from my bedroom window.  I loved the way the heavy clouds wreathed the mountain.  There’s a forest of exotic ferns and dwarf trees near its summit, which my wife and I will be going to sometime around March.  I can’t wait!

In the meantime, it’s already inspired a part of the Hari Ragat setting:

The cooler, wetter highland forests from 3,000 feet and up consist of different trees than in the lowlands, many of them various kinds of pine. Vines and bamboos are also very abundant. Because of the wetter conditions, tree trunks are often coated with moss and fungi, and many unique herbs grow hidden in the underbrush. Because of the elevation, terrain and lesser availability of food, the animals here are smaller than in the lowlands.

The higher altitudes are covered by cloud forests, dominated by dwarf trees, tree ferns, and mosses. A swirling mist blankets these cloud forests for much of the year, so that moisture drips from every leaf and branch all day. Strange animals make their homes here, and it is said that these are also the preferred homes of the mountain diwatas.

February 5, 2012

Hari Ragat: Vijadesan Ships

The Vijadesans have always been a maritime people, and use a wide variety of sailing craft.  Because of their environment – tropical climate, riverside settlements, a profusion of shallow coral reefs – their ship designs tend to light, shallow-drafted, but amazingly fast craft.  Here are some of the vessels Vijadesans commonly use, along with a wokou pirate junk for comparison, all statted up in the Vivid system:



The karakoa is the main warship of the Vijadesans, the equivalent of a Viking longship.  Like the Viking longship it’s built to be fast under both sail and oars, able to enter very shallow waters, and carry a lot of men.

  • Hull 4H
  • Sail 4
  • Oars 6
  • Draft 4
  • Seaworthiness 2
  • Gimmick: Fighting Deck
  • Hook: Exposed Rowers
  • Length: ~80 ft.
  • Beam: ~18ft. (hull only)
  • Crew: 100+ rowers and 30+ warriors on fighting deck

The karakoa’s elevated fighting deck (burulan) gives an Advantage in ranged and boarding combat vs. any ship of equal or lesser size that does not have a fighting deck of its own.



The balangay is the workshorse vessel of the Vijadesans, used for trade, fishing, exploration and carrying settlers, even as a raiding craft if no better vessel is available.  It can be compared, in its function, to a Viking knarr.

  • Hull 2H
  • Sail 4
  • Oars 1
  • Draft 5
  • Seaworthiness 3
  • Length: ~50 ft.
  • Beam: ~15ft.
  • Crew: 4-10+



The biray is a voyaging and trading ship, but large enough to be used as a raiding ship.  Many pirates use it instead of a karakoa because they cannot afford the latter; there’s also a better chance of catching prey off-guard because the biray can masquerade as a trader, while the karakoa is too obviously a fighting ship.

  • Hull 3H
  • Sail 4
  • Oars 2
  • Draft 4
  • Seaworthiness 3
  • Length: ~60 ft.
  • Beam: ~18ft.
  • Crew: 6-20+


A small, very fast craft, much used in fishing and voyaging, but also favored for fast raids by small groups, or as support vessels in a fleet led by karakoas.  They can be compared to the ‘snake boats’ or skute the Vikings used on the rivers of Ireland and Russia.

  • Hull 2H
  • Sail 6
  • Oars 3
  • Draft 5
  • Length: ~30 ft.
  • Beam: ~8ft.
  • Crew: 2-10+

Wokou Pirate Junk

The wokou are pirates from the southern Tien Xia Empire and the Lu Tzu Kingdom; outlaws and outcasts who have taken to living on the outlying islands and preying on traders and settlements as far south as the Jangalan Isles. Pirate junks are light merchantmen with some warship capabilities.

  • Hull 6H
  • Sail 3
  • Draft 2H
  • Seaworthiness 5H
  • Mantlets 4
  • Length: ~70 ft.
  • Beam: ~24ft.
  • Crew: 10-40+

February 3, 2012

Recipes for Gamers: Spicy Chicken Wings

This is a super-easy recipe and great for dinner or as a snack.  (No picture this time, wifey and I got too hungry to take a pic!)


  • 1kg chicken wings

Spice Rub:

  • 2-3 tsp salt
  • 2-3 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper powder
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds

Combine all the spice rub ingredients and mix well.  Wash chicken wings, drain, and pat dry.

Sprinkle the spice rub over the chicken wings and massage into the flesh. 

Bake the wings at 350 F for 30 minutes, turn over, and bake for another 10 minutes.

I get about 12 pieces of wings per kilogram, so it’s up to you to scale this recipe up or down based on your players’ appetites!

February 2, 2012

Syrene: the Latter Valsung Wars

After the war of 704, the Dark Forest frontier was quiet for a full century. In 812, however, civil war was raging in the Imperium again, and exploiting the weakness of the Varantines, King Herubrand of the Valsungs allied with King Geirrod of the Balmungs to raid into Brandelmark. The Valsungs and Balmungs then raided Narvenne in 813, sailed in longboats down the Brandelin to sack Oriendo and Isellas in Cerrania in 814, and captured Riganne, capital of Brandelmark, in 815.

Successful as it was, however, the alliance of tribes was short-lived. It is said Herubrand and Geirrod had a falling out over the spoils, while others say Geirrod quarreled with his son; but Geirrod was found murdered in the winter of 815, and in anger the Balmungs burned Riganne to the ground before returning to the Dark Forest. Loss of the food stocks at Riganne forced Herubrand to retreat also, and the Varantines re-entered Brandelmark.

The last Valsung invasion of the Imperium occurred in 820 CR. Herubrand was killed, and his son Herugerd made peace with the Varantines. As part of the settlement after the war, Herugerd pledged mercenaries for the Varantine army, thus creating the elite Northguards cavalry units.
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