February 27, 2013

Hari Ragat Vivid: Storms

A storm is treated as a combat opponent, with all characters on board the ship ‘fighting’ it to either stay on board or keep the ship from taking harm. Storms are thus given a T/R rating just like a monster.

While the storm rages, the assigned Pilot must steer the ship to safety, and away from dangers like massive waves and rocks on which the vessel can break. In the meantime, everyone else who can take an active role is either trying to stay on deck or keep the oars and/or rigging working, or bailing water out. This is a job for the Corsair, but defaults to the Caste Role for non-Corsair characters.

Defeats for the Pilot while fighting a storm may result in damage to the ship’s Hull or loss of a ship’s Trait, while for the crew Defeats mean getting washed overboard or injured by breaking structures or debris. Victories mean survival, and the Pilot’s Victories are applied against the storm’s Resistance; enough Victories by the Pilot means the ship has ridden out the storm and remained afloat.

The idea is to make the experience of a storm a cinematic, cathartic experience for the players. If nobody’s breathing a sigh of relief by the time the encounter is over, the GM wasn’t playing the storm hard enough!

February 26, 2013

Flavor Palettes


Another idea for making descriptions of your game world’s food is to build distinctive ‘flavor palettes’ for the different cultures. Every real-world culture has a certain set of flavor combinations that they use over and over again in different dishes, making their cuisine distinct.

Familiarity with a culture’s flavor palette makes it easier to understand – and for me, to cook – their food. I personally like to cook, and thanks to my family’s love for food and cooking from all over, I’ve learned to cook not only Filipino but also Spanish, Indian, Chinese, Korean and Moroccan, and I can now do some dishes without looking at a recipe because I know how it should taste, and what makes up that flavor palette.

A flavor palette can be built up from ingredients, cooking methods, and condiments used at the moment of dining. Here are some guide questions to helping you describe a flavor palette, with examples from my own culture:

1) What does it smell like?
Aroma is usually the first thing you encounter with food. Filipino food is often fragrant with the aromas of fried garlic, or tamarind, or coconut milk. What’s the first thing your PCs should smell at a feast? The sharp freshness of lemons? The woodsmoke aroma from roasted meat? Play to your players’ noses – but be prepared to resist demands that you feed them exactly what you describe!

2) What ingredients typically carry the flavor?
Certain ingredients become keystones to a regional style of cooking. Ginger. Lemongrass. Chilies. Herbs like thyme or mint. Often these are used in combinations and proportions that are typical to one place. For example, I distinguish between the Tagalog and Ilonggo versions of a favorite chicken dish: the Tagalog version uses more ginger, while the Ilonggo version uses less ginger but adds lemongrass.

3) What cooking methods add to the flavor?
Cooking method – specially traditional ones developed before the advent of gas and electric stoves and ovens – often impart distinct flavors and other characteristics to food.

We Filipinos often roast meat or fish over charcoal, and we often wrap fish in banana leaves before grilling, which gives the fish an added fragrance. Slow simmering not only tenderizes meats, it gives them a rich mellow flavor. One of my childhood favorites is a beef marrow soup that’s boiled all morning in preparation for the lunch crowd at a restaurant my family used to frequent in my hometown. The Spanish introduced wood-fired brick ovens, and we still consider the best bread to come from those.


4) What condiments are the dishes served with?
All over Asia, people often add condiments to their food at the table before eating; it’s just part of the experience, and it’s how we’ve always done it, as far as we can remember.

Once again, different regions tend to have signature condiment combinations. Here in Davao, where I now live, almost everything is served with little calamansi limes, soy sauce, chopped shallots, and chilies in little individual dishes; you’re expected to mix your own dip to your taste. In Cambodia, it was lime and black pepper. And I can’t have dimsum without the fiery, oily North Chinese chili paste to mix with soy sauce. And my wifey just can’t have samosas without a tamarind chutney sauce to go with them!

(All right, now I have a problem – it’s just two hours after dinner, but I’m hungry.)

Shocker Foods!


The idea for this post came to me as I nursed a burnt tongue with a glass of cold yogurt drink. I was the author of my own predicament, as usual, by overdosing on a local condiment called pinakurat

Pinakurat is a spicy vinegar dip that derives its name from the Cebuano kurat, ‘to surprise,’ or ‘to shock.’  Which got me thinking – one way to make locations in your world feel more unique is to give them signature, ‘shocker’ foods. Something that is so strongly and uniquely flavored, or so unusual in description, that it tends to shock visitors.

There are a lot of real-world inspirations you can draw from (and if you can’t think of any, see an episode or two of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern). From the balut – duck egg embryos – from my own country to the rotting shark meat of Iceland’s hakarl to crispy crickets in Cambodia, there’s a lot of stuff people eat that many of us will find unusual enough to make a lasting impression.

Ideas for ‘shocker’ foods:

  • Unusual animals
    • Insects, worms, arachnids, etc.
    • Poisonous animals, e.g. puffer fish
    • Animals considered vermin, e.g. rats
    • Animals considered pets
    • Extremely rare animals
  • Internal organs
    • Brains, guts, gonads, eyeballs, etc. etc.*
    • Blood
  • Unusual flavors
    • Extremely spicy, sour, salty foods, etc.
      • The most extreme flavor of its kind in the known world, e.g. Thailand’s chili peppers
    • Flavors that may be disgusting to some
      • e.g., fish sauce, shrimp paste**
  • Foods that break common taboos

*Another funny local tradition we have here is an obsession with barbecued chicken extremities, to which we’ve given funny street names.  ‘Adidas’ refers to grilled chicken feet. ‘Isol’ is chicken butts, or rather, the chicken’s tail; the name’s likely a joke on a local’s pronunciation of ‘a** hole.’

**Because these are made from rotting fish/shrimp, and the odors can get really … ripe.

February 22, 2013

Return to KeyNote

I used to be a fan of Evernote, mainly because it could sync my work (or so I thought) seamlessly from PC to PC to tablet. Today I’ve determined to return to my old note-taking program, KeyNote, or rather, its new version KeyNote NF. From now on, I’ll only be using Evernote to jot down quick thoughts and to clip stuff from the web.

Why the change? It’s not because Evernote is a bad product, but rather I was looking for a way to work that’s more in synch with the way my brain works. And my brain seems to like compartmentalizing projects and having a good way of dividing stuff into organized chunks.

Thus, KeyNote. Where Evernote keeps all my jottings, whether it be under photography or cooking or writing, all in one place with only minimal subdivision into folders, and no multilevel folders, KeyNote allows me to keep discrete files for each project and multilevel folders. So when I want to work I can open only the file related to that project, allowing me to focus more strongly, and break my ideas into modular chunks.

The only thing KeyNote can’t do for me at this time is work on my tablet, which is what I take with me in lieu of a laptop when travelling. Easy enough – I can copy/paste any KeyNote notes I made into Evernote, and anything I do on Evernote on the tablet can be synced to the Evernote on my PC.

February 2, 2013

Playing 0 AD Sans Crashes

0ad 1

A few days ago I mentioned my discovery and enthusiasm for Wildfire Games’ Classical Era RTS, 0 AD. The game was really fun to play, even in its incomplete form (no campaign yet, the AI still ‘forgets’ to do certain things) mainly because of the great variety of civilizations and unique units to play with, and the gorgeous graphics. 


The problem was an annoying bug that would sometimes totally crash the game and render my PC catatonic. Well, it seems I’ve found a workaround. Pending the release of a more stable version, here’s a way to keep enjoying 0 AD:

When you set up a game, click on More Options and reduce the population cap from 300 to 50. Yes, 50.

The bug is apparently caused by the pathfinding script, which is what tells units how to reach a destination while maintaining formation.  When a very large command group is on the move, the game slows down and becomes unresponsive, and then it takes just a little more to tip it over and make it crash. 

To make pathfinding even easier for the program, don’t create big command groups.  My limit is about 20+, more than 30+ the game starts to lag a bit. 

In a way the workaround to the bug has made the game more challenging, because you don’t have a lot of numbers to respond with.  Smaller command groups also means more complex maneuvering, since you’ll likely have more groups.

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