November 13, 2012

Hari Ragat: a Nutty Tradition

preparing betel, Little India, Malacca

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

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

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

Hari Ragat: Calendar

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

sunset over the paddies, Bukidnon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 12, 2012

Now that’s a hauberk!

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

November 10, 2012

Hari Ragat:Sacrifices

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

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

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

November 9, 2012

An Interview with the PhilGamer

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

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

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

Me: That’s good to hear!

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

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

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

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

Jay: Swords and sorcery! :-)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jay: I am, as most people expect it.

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

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

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

November 8, 2012

Hari Ragat: Tropical Weather Table

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


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


Sea Travel

Overland Travel


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

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




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


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



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


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


Light Rains

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


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


Heavy Rains

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


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



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


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

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

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

Initial rolls are made at the following seasonal modifiers:

Height of the Habagat monsoon


Beginning/end of the Habagat monsoon


Height of the Amihan monsoon


Beginning/end of the Amihan monsoon


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

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

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

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

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

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

November 6, 2012

Hari Ragat: A Rational Split


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

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

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

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

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

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

Vivid System: Aces

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

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

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

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

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

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