April 26, 2012

Slayers and Junglewalkers

I’m thinking of replacing the Hunter Role with two different, more specialized ones: Slayer and Junglewalker.

The Slayer is a warrior who has come to specialize in hunting and killing monsters.  He knows tactics for taking on very large animals, maybe powerful  poisons for making his weapons more effective, or how to bait monsters into traps, and so on. 

The Slayer’s prey are supernatural versions of dangerous game, such as the wild boar – Hogzillas occur rather regularly in this milieu! – dragons and giant crocodiles, and giants.

The Slayer is usually of the Orang Dakila caste, and his focus is on hunting dangerous prey as a means to increase his Renown; though he certainly knows how to track and negotiate jungle terrain, he’s not as good at it as the Junglewalker.

The Junglewalker is a specialist in jungle travel and survival, as he makes his living as a hunter, tracker, guide and gatherer of forest products. 

Junglewalkers usually come from the Orang Malaya caste, often from the poorest families – those who cannot afford to farm, but must instead dwell on the outskirts of the settlement, or in the jungle itself.  Their constant exposure to this environment gives them their thorough knowledge of it.

In adventures, the Junglewalker’s fortes are in jungle travel, tracking, and jungle warfare.

The Forgotten Spear

Head of a spear from Mindanao, www.vikingsword.com

When was the last time you saw someone equip his FRPG character with a spear? The only time I ever used a spear in D&D was when I tried to create a Celtic-themed fighter, but I found it very unsatisfactory – just 1d6 damage, compared to heavier-hitting swords and axes, and range wasn’t very good. My friends share the same observation from their own games.

In the Hari Ragat setting, though, the spear is a premier weapon, fraught with symbolism.  Almost every fighting man will have one – the only ones who won’t carry a spear are archers.  Spears are used as messages – a spear left on the doorstep of a house means intention to court the householder’s daughter; a spear sent to allies means a call to war; a spear thrown onto an enemy shore means one is claiming the land for himself, by right of victory in battle. 

Since I believe most players in Hari Ragat will have come from similar gaming roots as myself – that is, they played D&D first – I’ll have to make the spear more attractive to them than it was in D&D.

So what are the spear’s selling points in Hari Ragat?

  • It’s free.  Every Orang Dakila character gets a pair at character creation, Orang Malaya and Orang Kaya characters get one.

  • Spears are effective weapons.  Since the Vivid system measures damage by the success of the victor, no one weapon stands out as being the obviously powerful choice, or being obviously ‘nerfed.’ There are also Secrets for the enhanced use of spears.

  • Spears have a Reach advantage vs. any kind of sword. You can also invoke this Reach advantage vs. large wild beasts.

  • Because of the religious symbolism attached to the spear, there’s extra Renown for making the first successful spear cast in battle (that is, the cast hits and injures or kills an enemy).

  • Spears can be used in overland travel, specially in climbing mountains, as effective walking sticks.  Steep, muddy slopes are a common terrain feature in the Hari Ragat setting, so a good alpenstock is always useful!

The Vijadesan Spear
The typical Vijadesan general-purpose spear is about 6 feet long, with a 6-to-8 inch head of iron and a ferrule or butt-cap on the other end of iron or brass. 


Below the head is usually a collar of iron or brass, or bindings of rattan, often quite ornate. The collars for very wealthy warriors’ spears might even be silver, incised with intricate designs.  (All the photos I’m showing here are of spears from various parts of Mindanao, and represent what Vijadesan designs will look like.)


3 Long Moro Spear-1 (Medium)



One curiosity about these spears: this photo (below) of a spear with a loop at the butt instead of the usual pointed or knobbed ferrule.  I’m guessing the loop is for attachment of a cord, so the spear is easily retrieved after throwing from a short distance:

7 Long Moro Spear-1 (Medium)

So, I’m going to create a Secret based on that idea!

Spear vs. Javelin
Metal is rather rare and expensive in the Hari Ragat setting, so spears will only be thrown at closer range, and only when there’s a good chance to retrieve them.  For distance fighting, Vijadesans throw javelins of wood or bamboo, often with only fire-hardened wood points.  Such javelins can be made in large quantities for very little cost, so warriors will pack a dozen or more on voyages.

New Spear Secrets
In the Hari Ragat game, martial arts techniques are taught as Secrets.  Each Secret is associated with a specific weapon or method of attack and defense, and lets the player ‘tap’ it for bonus dice. 

Spear Secrets play often on the concept of fighting distance – what in kendo is called ‘ma-ai’ – the ideal range from which one can strike the foe, or be struck.  The spear, and the Vijadesan way of using it, allows for very dramatic changes to fighting range, as combat may begin with the spear held almost like a dagger, very close to the head, then suddenly an attack comes from greater range as the spear is thrust with a grip lower down the shaft, or cast as a projectile.

Secret of the Darting Hand
This Secret gives a bonus to suddenly throwing the spear in melee combat, usually after a feint, so as to strike the foe by surprise.  The spear is cast at a part the opponent has failed to guard, and the throw is meant to deceive the opponent’s sense of reach, so that he is struck from a distance where he believes he’s safe from a thrust.  The price of using this technique, however, is that once you use it the spear is out of your hands.  (If you have a spear with a cord loop, however, you can recover the spear immediately).

Secret of the Flying Feint
This Secret is a technique for throwing the spear and then very rapidly drawing sword and following up with a flurry of slashes, the whole sequence being considered a single attack move.  The spear will hopefully injure the opponent or stick in his shield, making it awkward to use, which renders him vulnerable to the follow-up attack. 

Secret of the Cyclone Spear
This Secret is used when fighting with a spear, sans shield; the spear is held two-handed, and used in wheeling strokes like a quarterstaff.  The blade is also used to deliver thrusts and slashes, while the ferrule can deliver stunning jabs, or if pointed, may pierce just as well as the blade.

Secret of the Long Serpent’s Tongue
This Secret is used with spears that have a loop at the butt, to which a cord has been affixed.  Knowing this Secret means you can throw the spear and recover it so rapidly you can make it flick through the air like a serpent’s tongue, making two or three casts at very short range in a single round.  (Maximum range for doing this is about 10 feet). 

Secret of the Shattering Point
This Secret lets its practitioner identify the weak point on a shield by observation and experience, and to make a powerful cast at very short range that will punch right through most shields and hit the man behind it.  When this Secret is used, the defender cannot block damage with his shield. If it misses, however, you lose the spear.

Secret of the Sliding Grip
This Secret teaches its practitioners to slide their grip up and down the shaft of the spear during combat, usually opening the fight gripping the spear very close to the head, then suddenly changing grip to mid-shaft to dramatically extend the spear’s reach when opportunity presents itself.  It is thus very difficult to gauge the right fighting distance against a practitioner of this Secret.  

April 24, 2012

Orang Malaya Characters

The Orang Malaya (‘free people’) form the commoner caste and the majority of the population in the Hari Ragat setting.  They do the farming, fishing, woodcutting, carpentry, and most crafts, most families living as retainers to an Orang Dakila noble.  They are the Orang Dakila’s companions in war, the hunt, and in voyaging.

As player characters, Orang Malaya embody the ‘peasant hero’ archetype: sturdy, knowledgeable in the practical matters that have to do with their rustic way of life.  The Orang Malaya Role has bonuses to rolls involving the lore of field and coast, which are the Orang Malaya’s working environment, and to rolls involving hard manual labor.

Orang Malaya characters may take Warrior, Corsair or Hunter as their career Roles, just like Orang Dakila.  A few may even become Shamans.

Elevation to Orang Dakila
If an Orang Malaya gains enough Renown in-game, he may be elevated to the Orang Dakila caste by the nobles of his community – if they favor him.  I also allow starting characters to be newly elevated Orang Dakila.  The latter have to take both Orang Malaya and Orang Dakila as Roles, usually with Orang Dakila at just 1D.

Elevation to Orang Dakila status means acknowledging that the character has divine/heroic ancestry somewhere in his lineage, even if he’s not aware of who that special ancestor was.  It is usual for a newly elevated Orang Dakila to commission a shaman to commune with the ancestors for him, to find out who his unknown heroic ancestor was.

It may even be that there isn’t one, but this remains the basis of Orang Dakila rank, even if only a fiction.  The acquisition of Renown is taken as proof positive that the person has the spiritual power and ancestral favor worthy of Orang Dakila status.

Orang Kaya
I may as well take up the Orang Kaya in this post as well.  Orang Kaya in the Hari Ragat setting refers to a new, rising caste in the wealthy kingdoms on the islands of Namaya, Tundok and Irayon. 

Orang Kaya – the words mean ‘man of means’ – are Orang Malaya, or descendants of Orang Malaya, whose wealth has given them a status higher than that of commoner.  They act in many ways like Orang Dakila – living in grandiose style, conspicuously consuming luxuries, and maintaining retinues of Orang Malaya and Orang Dukha – but do not cultivate a martial culture like the Orang Dakila.

In game terms, Orang Kaya are merchant-adventurers.  The Role can be used for rolls involving negotiation, appraisal of goods, trading, and haggling.  Orang Kaya  get bonuses to appraising and trading in the goods produced on their own islands. 

The recommended career Role for Orang Kaya is Corsair.  Ability to sail and navigate, and to fight for booty or defend against pirates, can only help an Orang Kaya gain more wealth.

As with Orang Malaya characters, it is possible for an Orang Kaya to become Orang Dakila if he or she gains enough Renown.

Perks and Limitations
I’ve come up with an idea to help differentiate the character Roles even more through Assets.  On creation, every player receives 6 Asset Dice that can be spent on any ‘normal’ Assets – this does not include Secrets (martial arts), Tattoos, Treasures, Bahandi, and Divine Gifts.

Taking the Orang Dakila role gives you an additional 6 Asset Dice that can be spent on Divine Gifts, Secrets, Treasures, Bahandi and Tattoos as well as normal Assets.

Taking the Orang Malaya role gives you an additional 6 Asset Dice that can be spent on Secrets and Tattoos as well as normal Assets.

Taking the Orang Kaya role gives you an additional 6 Asset Dice that can be spent on Wealth and Bahandi as well as normal Assets.

Taking the Orang Pandita role gives you an additional 6 Asset Dice that can be spent on Divine Gifts, Treasures, Bahandi, and Orang Pandita/Shaman-only Secrets.

Taking the Orang Dukha role on top of another caste role gets you no additional Asset Dice.  However if your character’s only caste role is Orang Dukha, you get an additional 6 Asset Dice that may be spent on anything except Treasures, Bahandi, Wealth, Tattoos, or Secrets.

April 22, 2012

Animistic Magic in Hari Ragat Part I

Ana Feleo as a babaylan in Amaya

Once again, I turn to the Filipino TV series Amaya for my visuals, because they’re just so nicely done in terms of costume and production design.  Kudos to the Amaya team for doing this despite budget constraints.

In this post, I’ll  lay down the framework of the Hari Ragat magic system as practiced by its main  proponents, the shamans. 

The Flavor of Magic
First off: spells like fireball don’t exist in this setting.  There was no ‘point-n-zap’ magic in the epics which are my source mterial, so there’s none of that here.  Nor will either the Western four-element division or the Chinese five-element division be used – neither exist in the source material.

Instead, magic will be all about the spirits.  Spirits fall into two broad classes, nature spirits and ancestor spirits. There are also supernatural forces that can be inimical to mankind, such as nagas and the demonic laman-lupa or halimaw, which necessitate magical defenses.

Role of the Shaman
The main role of the shaman is to intervene on man’s behalf vs. the spirit world: to cure disease, to fend off death, to defend against hostile spirits and supernatural monsters, to help mollify offended spirits and court the favor of potentially friendly spirits.  They can also use their powers to make spirits do their bidding, though this is costly.

Instead of ‘memorizing’ spells, D&D style, the shamans rely on a body of lore – chants, gestures, dances, sacrificial rites – to make the spirits do what they want.  At the same time, shamans are very aware that spirits are eternal and indestructible.

This opens up a very interesting avenue of magic use: on-the-spot spirit bargains.  You want something to happen? You ask the spirits on the spot for it, but offer them something in exchange.  The price could be a sacrifice, the promise to make a sacrifice later, or even a vow to perform some quest or pilgrimage.  (I’d save the last for campaign games where the quest/pilgrimage can actually happen). 

If the requested price is a sacrifice, the desired offering may be quite expensive or exotic, or both: chickens are common, hogs are expensive, cattle really expensive, horses are through the roof, and sometimes a specific kind of wild animal or wild flower or fruit is demanded, leading to a dangerous foray into the jungle.

Babaylan, Katalo, Asog
There are four types of magic-users in the Hari Ragat setting: female babaylan, male katalo, and the cross-dressing asog. All three fall under the term shaman.  I’ll go into the fourth type, the practitioners of kulam, in a later post.

As you’ve probably guessed by my using different terms, the  shamanistic tradition has gender-based specialties.  The babaylan embodies fertility and purity; she thus enjoys a bonus at healing and at driving away evil spirits. 

The katalo, as his title suggests (it translates as ‘amicable’ or ‘compatible’) is specialized in smoothing human-spirit relations; he gets bonuses at making sacrifices, interpreting omens and visions, and finding out what the ancestors want.

The asog, which is a male transvestite, symbolizes standing between worlds by deliberately cultivating an aura of ambiguity.  Thus the asog stands between life and death, between mortal and supernatural.  This gives the asog bonuses to ‘call back’ the spirit of a dying character, to speak with the dead, and to ease difficult life transitions such as childbirth, or lay a troublesome ghost to rest with a funeral rite. 

Childbirth?! What kind of RPG gets anything to do with childbirth?! Imagine this scenario:

A rajah is under supernatural threat by an evil sorcerer (mangkukulam).  After the past few attempts have narrowly failed, the sorcerer decides to strike at the rajah’s posterity instead, sending evil spirits to attack the queen while she’s in childbirth. 

While our warrior-type heroes go off to track down the sorcerer, the party’s babaylan and asog team up to aid the queen, the babaylan fending off the evil spirits while the asog tries to keep the queen alive through a difficult birth …

For the two shamans, they’ll have an extended magical combat/magical contest running simultaneously with the physical battle at the sorcerer’s lair.

Some players will ask, I’m sure, whether an asog is supposed to be homophilic.  My answer: that’s a player choice! The source materials only mention that asog are tranvestites.

Shaman PCs and NPCs
Aside from personal preference, are there any guidelines for whether a shaman should be babaylan, katalo or asog? Loosely, yes: it depends on the community’s size and location.

Everywhere but the three major islands of Namaya, Irayon and Tundok, plus a few colonies ruled by members of the Bayahari line, babaylan are more common than katalo or asog.  This is because shamans in such communities are drawn from the Orang Dakila caste,  whose men usually become warriors or corsairs, thus leaving the shaman role to women.  There’s also a form of inertia and matriarchal tradition at work: since the existing shamans are women, they tend to recruit women apprentices to perpetuate power in the matrilineal line.

In the major kingdoms, katalo occur at about the same frequency as babaylan, or sometimes exceeding them.  This is in part because the shamans here are drawn from the newly rising Orang Pandita caste, an offshoot of the Orang Dakila caste that is growing into a professional priesthood.

Asog are rare everywhere, and are often sought far and wide for their unique powers.

Shamanistic Rites
Here are some ideas for what your shaman PCs can contribute in adventures (Readers please note, all this is imaginary! They won’t work in real life, or if they do, they require knowledge and powers I can’t give you!):

Call Back the Spirit:
Administered to the dying (perhaps even the newly dead), this is an attempt to get the subject’s spirit to return to his or her body, and may involve intercession with the ancestors, specially recent ancestors who want to be reunited with the subject already, or a struggle against disease spirits, or even against the spirit of a hostile sorcerer who is trying to steal the subject’s soul. 

The rite consists of chanting the subject’s name and appeals for the spirit to return, at the same time proclaiming dire warnings against any entities who try to prevent this, or beseeching the ancestors to let go and let the subject live a while longer, and is best accompanied by a sacrifice.

Restore Vitality:
Cure Wounds, Hari Ragat style! The shaman beseeches the ancestors to give the subject strength to heal faster than normal, sealing wounds, stopping bleeding, causing flesh and bone to re-knit.  (An interesting possibility: what if the ancestors refuse?)

A darker version of this rite is also known, but its practitioners are feared and suspected of having ‘fallen’ to doing witchcraft.  In this version, the subject’s wounds are transferred to a victim, usually a large-ish animal like a hog or goat, so that the subject is restored to health.  It’s obvious that a human will do just as well for the purpose as a hog, which is why people fear those who use this rite.

The shaman draws a circle on the ground or floor using salt – a substance considered to have purifying and evil-repelling powers – along with invocations to the ancestors and the gods friendly to man, specially the sun god, to keep evil spirits out of the circumscribed area. The rite can also be used to imprison a spirit within the circle.

In a world where a lot of man’s ills can be caused by spirits entering the body, exorcism is a very important rite.  The Vijadesan version involves casting salt upon the subject while chanting prayers and abjurations.  If successful, the hostile spirits leave the subject.

The same rite is also used against demonic creatures, halimawHalimaw of most types will take serious damage just from being hit with the salt thrown in the rite, sometimes enough to slay the monster outright if it’s one of the weaker kinds. Used in this manner, though, the rite is very dangerous for the shaman because the shaman has to get close enough to throw the salt accurately.

Divining Bowl:
This rite is used to identify sources of supernatural disturbance. The shaman places consecrated water or oil, preferably the latter, in a bowl and chants invocations to the ancestors or the diwatas, and asks that the source of the disturbance be shown.  If the shaman succeeds, the spirits will show the answer as a vision reflected in the water or oil. 

This rite was used in one of our playtest adventures, where the shamaness Sri Minaya used it to identify the sorcerer trying to steal the soul of Gat Dulan, the datu’s son.

Speaking Trance:
The shaman prepares to go into a trance state while invoking a spirit to use him or her as medium to communicate with other people during the seance. If successful, the shaman is temporarily possessed by the target spirit and can speak directly to the séance’s other participants.

This can be resorted to when inexplicable events, specially accidents, happen during an adventure.  As often as not, the events will turn out to have been caused by some spirit which the adventurers offended somehow, and the séance can be used to have the spirit identify itself and reveal its  price for ceasing to trouble the party.

Spirit Surgery:
This rite literally lets the shaman act as a surgeon.  After invoking the ancestors and the god of healing, the shaman becomes empowered to plunge his or her hands into a living creature’s body in order to extract something troubling the subject: an embedded arrowhead, a cancer tumor, an infected appendix, etc. etc.  …

Fury of Heroes Past:
The shaman can only use this rite for himself or herself, or on a character related to the shaman by blood.  The shaman invokes one of his or her own heroic ancestors to fill the subject with the power to do battle, temporarily increasing the subject’s strength and fury.  It works only for the shaman and relatives of the shaman because ancestor spirits only give such gifts to their own descendants.

Prayer for Favorable Winds:
Exactly what it says on the box.  The shaman beseeches the ruling diwata of this part of the sea for a favoring wind, offering sacrifices in return. The rite will have to be performed anew when the voyagers reach another diwata’s domain.

Shamans learn the basics of all these rites.  None of them are specifically for babaylan only or asog only, or specific to a certain region or lineage.  However, the specific Assets taken by the player during character creation can make one shaman character more effective at some rites than at others.

Stay tuned for the next post, where I’ll talk about the various kulam traditions and the horrors PCs might face from it!

April 21, 2012

Validation for Depleting Assets

Thanks to Greg Christopher on Google+ for sharing this new finding: it seems willpower is indeed a resource that can be worn down as you exert it.

This is great news for me, as it validates my idea of the depleting (though usually renewable) Assets, which I often see as more psychological than anything else. 

For example, being Tough.  What exactly does Tough mean? Are your muscle fibers denser? Are your pain receptors fewer? For me, Tough means you’re good at applying willpower vs. pain.  But there’s only so far you can go with that.

I also like the idea that you can be powerful for a while, but there’s a price to pay after. This works better for me, game-wise, than a character with all bonuses pre-loaded and constantly ‘on.’

This Monster Could Go Anywhere!

Aquarists at the Blue Reef Aquarium in Newquay, Cornwall (UK) found this bizarre, four-foot long marine worm demolishing their coral exhibits. 

Not only is it enormous (for a worm!), its jaws bit through a 20lb fishing line while they were trying to catch it, and it is “covered with bristles which are capable of inflicting a sting resulting in permanent numbness,” according to the aquarium’s curator Matt Slater.

Isn’t this a critter worthy of joining your adventures?

April 20, 2012

Combat: Shifts

While I don’t like using miniatures for combat – I feel it makes players focus too much on the wargame aspect rather than play in what for me is the much more flexible ‘theatre of the mind’ – I do want to let my players have the positioning of their characters and their opponents matter in play.

Thus the idea of Shifting: to use your Victory Points to change your opponent’s position for the worse.  The classic example of course is the swordfight at the edge of a cliff, where instead of actually striking your opponent you force him off the edge.

A 1-point Shift gives you +1 die vs. that same opponent in the next round of combat.

A 2-point Shift gives you +2 dice vs. that same opponent in the next round of combat, or lets you take away the opponent’s weapon or shield.

A 3-point Shift gives you +3 dice vs. that same opponent in the next round of combat, or lets you end the combat in way that is not directly lethal – you render the opponent helpless, disarm him and hold your sword to his throat, or push him off the cliff (it’s not you who does the killing, it’s gravity! And he may survive!).

Shifts can be countered by Escaping them – that is, by tapping Assets denoting agility, perceptiveness or quick-wittedness, or fighting skill.  You can gamble on a battle-winning 3-point Shift, for example, when you think your opponent is likely to survive more wounds, but no longer has the speed to avoid your Shift.

This gives me some added ideas for martial arts Secrets in Hari Ragat.  There can be Secrets for being more effective in Shifting the opponent – very appropriate for a Corsair character, imagine the results of a nicely-timed Shift on board a narrow karakoa, with the waters beneath roiling with sharks – and Secrets for avoiding or countering Shifts.

Marked by the Spirits: Tattooing in Hari Ragat

Upper arm tattoo
The raiders strike at dawn. Roaring their fierce battle-cries, shipload after shipload of men jump into the shallows and splash shoreward.  The hastily assembled defenders meet them in knee-deep water, which quickly turns crimson. The air fills with flying spears, thick as hornets stirred from the hive. 
Then two champions meet.  Both are totally unarmored, clad only in loincloths so the tattoos crawling all over their bodies are proudly displayed.  The warriors of both sides stop fighting to watch the duel.  From the markings on the two champions, they know these two are exceptionally favored by the ancestors, it would be death for any lesser man to face either of them …
Tattoos are very important in the world of Hari Ragat.  They celebrate lineage and heroic deeds, and special ones can channel the power of the spirits.  The latter kind are of course the most prized, being very difficult to acquire – not all tattooists can do them, sometimes necessitating quests – and will only be given with the approval of the ancestor spirits.
Tattoos are highly varied, designs varying according to lineage, region of origin, and the individual art and spirit-given visions of the tattooist.  There are different tats for men and for women, tats for warriors, for sailors, for fishermen, and so on. 
Tattoo locations also vary, but follow a definite code.  When men come of age, they receive their first tattoos on the arms; women get theirs on the hands.  When a warrior makes his first kill, he is granted an additional tattoo on arms or body; afterward, each memorable deed is commemorated with more tattoos.
With magical tattoos, location follows function: tattoos that increase strength will be on the arms, tats that increase agility on the legs; tats that protect vs. weapons on the breast, tats that protect vs. magic on the back; and tattoos on the face, designed to make the warrior look and be more ferocious, are reserved only for the bravest. 
Men and women may also receive more tattoos based on the guidance of the ancestor spirits, the tattoo choice being based on the character’s perceived destiny.  For example, if it is foreseen that one warrior will have to deal with evil sorcerers, he is given tattoos of protection vs. magic.
In the Vivid system, magical tattoos are Assets that can be tapped to make certain actions more effective, or to help soak or escape unwanted effects.  For example, in our first playtest Gelo’s character Dimasalang was gored by a huge boar, but stayed in the fight by tapping his Tattoo of Toughness.

April 19, 2012

Encounters on a Budget

I’m enamored with the idea of being able to customize an encounter by using a ‘budget’ of points, instead of cherry-picking creatures and stuff from a list. 

So for Vivid, encounters will be created using a budget of Threat and Reserve dice.  This budget is also the measure of reward the players can expect from winning the encounter, whether in Renown or treasure.

I’ve still to come up with exact formulas, but for now I’ll be working with this guideline:

  • Minor encounter: ~3 dice per player
  • Challenging encounter: 5-6 dice per player
  • Major encounter: 8-10 dice per player

Say I have 3 players, and I’m doing the climactic scene for the game: this means I get 3 x 10 = 30 dice to play with.

I can now divide this 30 dice between one or more Threats, and the rest is a Reserve I can spend to keep the encounter going/make it challenging. 

Let’s say we decide on the climactic encounter being a fight with a sorcerous giant (Dalaketnon/Raksasa in Hari Ragat).  Its Threat ratings are Giant 8, Sorcerer 5, and I’ve got 17 dice of Reserve.

Reserve is spent to a) absorb damage, and b) to fuel spells, special attacks, and the like.  With 17 in my Reserve pool, I can make this fight last quite a while.

For rewards, I take the same 30 dice and divide it as 21 Renown and 9 Wealth, so that each player gets 7 Renown and 3 Wealth. There’s extra Renown for being first to hit, and for being the one to deliver the finishing stroke. I could also ditch the Wealth and give all 30 dice as Renown, giving 10 per player.

And if for any reason I want the encounter to end sooner, or be easier for my players, I simply lower the budget – with corresponding, automatic adjustment in rewards.

April 18, 2012

Hari Ragat in D&D Terms

Let’s face it, there’s a 75% or higher chance that any player I recruit into a Hari Ragat game will already be a D&D player.  So one of the ways to introduce Hari Ragat effectively is to be able to explain the game in D&D terms.  Here’s my take on it:

What do we do in the game?
Think Vikings in a primeval, tropical island setting; you’ll be voyaging around, raiding, pillaging, slaying monsters, trying to move up by gaining wealth and fame.

What characters do we play?
The basic game of Hari Ragat is played with Warrior, Corsair and Hunter characters, all of the Orang Dakila caste. You can also play Shamans (Babaylan/Katalo), or Amazons (Kinalakian).

The Orang Dakila are the noble warrior caste, corresponding to D&D’s Aristocrat. They get a bonus in social contests where their prestige and authority can be brought to bear.

Warriors are equivalent to Fighters, of course; the protectors and the bashers.  They’re the best character for taking on human opponents in the game, as that’s where they have a bonus.

Corsairs are a combination of sailor and fighter, good at navigation, sailing, and fighting at sea.  Corsairs get a bonus when fighting on a ship or leading an amphibious assault.

Hunter characters are equivalent to D&D’s Rangers, good with hunting weapons such as bow and spear, and with a bonus to fighting animals (but not humans).

Shamans are the equivalent of the Cleric class, of course. They speak with various spirits, and work magic by controlling spirits.

Amazons are women warriors who have devoted themselves to the sword, vowing to take no husband or lover save one who has defeated them in combat, or until they decide to retire from being Amazons. They have a bonus against all non-Amazon human opponents.

Two other caste roles are available: Orang Malaya and Orang Dukha. 

Orang Malaya characters are peasant heroes, strong, sturdy, and gifted with common sense; they get a bonus to tests influenced by the local lore of farmers, hunters and fishermen, or to tasks involving building or obtaining food.

Orang Dukha characters correspond, roughly, to the D&D Thief.  They get bonuses to being sneaky, stealing stuff, and using deceit.  More on Orang Dukha characters here.

Orang Dukha Characters

I'm writing this to address one of the hot buttons in the Hari Ragat concept, and to open up an option for play that may intrigue some immersive role-players -- though I'm quite aware it may also turn off others.  I'm going to open up the Orang Dukha caste as a playable role.

What are the Orang Dukha? The term refers to the bottom caste of Vijadesan society, and means 'the suffering ones' or 'the pitiful ones.'  The easiest term to use would be slave, though bondsman or serf are also applicable.  Three factors distinguish the Orang Dukha concept from the popular understanding of the word slave:

First, the basis of bondage is different: one owns not the person of an Orang Dukha, but his or her labor.  In Vijadesan society, the state of being a slave is temporary by default, set to a term of years based on what the slave owes his bond-holder.  One becomes a slave by incurring debt; failure to repay a loan, as gage for a loan, failure to pay ransom if captured in war.  The default value for the latter is 20 years, or tuig; in Vijadesan, tuig is both a word for a year and a measure of value.  An Orang Dukha always has the right to purchase his or her freedom, the price depending on how many tuig he or she has left to serve.  Also, one cannot just sell an Orang Dukha -- you don't own the person.  This is also why I'm using the word bond-holder instead of owner.

Second, Orang Dukha are also Vijadesans, of the same race and religion as their bond-holders.  There are thus no prejudices against Orang Dukha as being alien or intrinsically inferior to their masters.  They have rights under the law, and their treatment is a matter of honor for their bond-holder. Sometimes Orang Dukha even belong to the same extended family as their bond-holders -- these are the ones who incurred heavy debts, either to their wealthier relatives, or were ransomed from debt by their relatives and now have to repay it.

This is not to say the Vijadesans lay no stigma on being a slave -- to a Vijadesan, an Orang Dukha is in that state because of some serious personal failing.  Perhaps one wasn't valorous enough to fight his way free.  Or one was foolishly imprudent with wealth. Or offended the ancestors.  A proud datu will certainly not welcome his daughter becoming involved with an Orang Dukha -- though he may reconsider when that same man has bought back his freedom.

Third, because Orang Dukha are of the same race and culture, they can actually occupy pretty interesting roles and accumulate wealth like free people do.  It's very possible for an Orang Dukha to become an honored warrior, a wealthy merchant or corsair, a master craftsman, etc. etc.  Such careers make exiting the Orang Dukha status easier, as the wealth gained can be saved up and used to ransom oneself back to freedom.

The Challenge for Orang Dukha Players
Orang Dukha characters can adventure with Orang Dakila characters; their main limitation is that any wealth gained goes mostly to their bond-holder.  The challenge in playing an Orang Dukha character will be in gaining freedom from that state, deal with the stigma attached to it, and avoid or fend off an unscrupulous bond-holder's efforts to abuse or extend his term of servitude. 

The Orang Dukha Character
Orang Dukha characters are made with 1 extra Role die.  This is because Orang Dukha can have two Caste roles, not just one: Orang Dukha, plus the character's original caste  before becoming a slave.

For example, Makisig is the son of a noble warrior who died untimely, leaving the family in desperate straits; to help them out, Makisig offered himself as a slave to the ruling datu.  He is Orang Dakila 2, Orang Dukha 1, Warrior 3.

What's the Orang Dukha role used for?  It's for rolls involving hard manual labor, building things, and interestingly, for acts of stealth and subterfuge -- stealing things, lying convincingly, feigning illness -- whatever a slave needs to do to get more food and live easier!  In D&D terms, the Orang Dukha role can lead to play as a rogue-type character.

If an Orang Dukha character is freed, he keeps the Orang Dukha role but may no longer improve its rating.

Now, let me ask -- what do you think?  Are the story potentials of this character 'class' interesting?  How much does the idea of having slavery and slave characters in your game turn you off, if it does?

April 17, 2012

The Perfumed Undead & Other Wordplays

As I was putting rosewater in my coffee – a vice I’ve picked up ever since discovering we had a lot more rosewater than we needed for baking – I had a gaming-related idea. 

In Persian, the word for this:


Is very close in pronunciation, and very easily misspelled, as the Arabic word for this:


In Persian, rose is Gul; the Arabic Ghul, on the other hand, is exactly our inspiration for the iconic Ghoul, that unclean devourer of corpses and low-level adventurers. And this got me thinking how easy it can be for someone translating a script in another language to mis-record a word as something else.

Imagine your (low-level) adventurers finding a scroll with a cryptic reference to ‘roses that might awaken … if the treasure vault is opened.’

The theme of mis-translation is very apt for games in which digging around ancient ruins is the basis for many adventures.  There can be many words in different languages that seem similar, but a slight misspelling can mean a world of difference.  Heck, even in English we often have a stick of lipstick (rouge) breaking into crypts and stealing stuff! (And yes, that rogue-rouge thing really gets my goat when I see it!)

Sometimes you can even get the word right, but misattribute it to a similar language.  For example, in my cradle tongue, Tagalog, our word for ant is the same as the Ilonggo word for bird; and in Tagalog, our word for rat is the same as the Bicolano word for earth.  Our word for ‘hill’ and for ‘lie in state,’ as for a funeral, are spelled the same, burol. And our word for rice cake, puto, is spelled and pronounced exactly the same as the Spanish word for a male prostitute!

Which brings me to my next mischievous suggestion for GM’s: you can compound a mis-translation with the translator’s own biases and concerns, so that instead of merely translating the word, the translator resorts to euphemisms and circular references. 

Imagine this situation: a scholar-priest has discovered some secrets of an ancient, vanished civilization, but in describing it, he has come across words which in translation can be misconstrued by his superiors as evidence of heresy.  To guard himself, our scholar muddles up his own records by very obscure wordings and references.  Three hundred years later, his book is re-discovered, launching a quest for treasure …

You could do something like this in your game by preparing two versions of the same document – one a wrong translation, and a correct one that you can hand to the players if they can get at the right clues.

Have fun!

April 13, 2012

KFC = Kerala Fried Catfish!

Okay, so this recipe may not exactly be from Kerala, but it is Indian in inspiration. 

My wife doesn’t like chickpeas, save in hummus, while I’ve always loved the flavor – I love chickpeas in the tripe dish we call callos, in stews, I even like the chickpea-based desserts we had in Delhi. 

But what I really like to do with chickpeas is to use them as breading.  And they’re perfect with catfish.  Wifey loved it! They made a thick, crunchy, nutty-flavored crust on my catfish.


  • 1/2kg catfish, cleaned and filleted
    (cream dory/pangasius is also good)
  • 1 cup besan flour*
  • 1 tsp cayenne powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • salt to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • oil for deep frying

*I couldn’t find any besan flour here in Davao, so I made my own: bought dried chickpeas, ground them up in my trusty food processor.

Wash and drain the catfish fillets.  Dry with paper towels.  Sprinkle salt and half the spices on the fillets, and mix the remainder with the besan flour. 

Heat oil to about 350-375 degrees.  Dip catfish fillets in egg, then dredge in the chickpea flour and spices mix.  Fry until golden brown.

We had ours with a banana ketchup/hot sauce mix.

If you don’t like catfish, this will also work with any white-fleshed fish, and even chicken.

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