May 16, 2013

Mom’s Chicken-Pork Adobo

Funny enough, one thing my wife Cathy and I were really craving for after our long out-of-town shoot was pork. Partly because we’d spent part of the time in a Muslim-dominated area and were eating, out of curiosity, at Muslim eateries (great food BTW), and partly because fresh seafood was always available. But when we got home, we wanted pork. Since we also have to leave again in a day or two, I decided to combine my craving with a cooking method that will preserve the food for the time we’re away.  Thus, adobo.

Adobo is a classic sailor's/ traveller’s food, because it’s cooked in vinegar which helps it last longer, even without refrigeration if necessary. In fact it even tastes better the longer it’s been around. This time I went for the classic Filipino way of doing it, which is to combine pork and chicken in one pot.


  • 1/2 kg chicken
  • 1/2 kg pork belly
  • 2/3 cup red cane vinegar
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 6-10 cloves garlic (about 2 tbsp), crushed
  • 1-2 tsp black pepper
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp chili flakes (my personal preference)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1-2 tbsp cooking oil (2 if you’re using lean cuts)

The usual method of cooking adobo is to just throw all the ingredients together and boil em into submission. I’ve added a few touches learned from cooking Indian food that seems to result in a better adobo, so I now saute the garlic, pepper, chili flakes and bay leaves first in 1 tbsp hot oil, using a deep saucepan.

Then add the chicken and pork, and fry them until lightly brown, stirring constantly – you have to stir often enough to prevent the garlic from burning. Now add the vinegar and soy sauce. Turn the heat to high and let it boil, uncovered, until the sharp vinegary smell has mellowed to a sweetish-savory aroma.

Add water, let boil again, then turn the heat down and let simmer for about half an hour or until the meats are tender. Classic chicken-pork adobo is cooked until the chicken starts flaking off the bone, about 45 minutes or longer.

Then it’s time for my mom’s touch. When the meats are tender, I pour the sauce out, put the pot back on high heat, and add about 2-3 tbsp of sauce and oil. Since I was using pork belly, I could use the fat from the cooking instead of more cooking oil (uh, yeah, my heart, but trust me this is good!).

Fry the meats until you get a nice brown glaze on them, or even until crispy if you wish.  It’s this refrying step that adds in that kick of extra flavor that elevates this dish from survival food to heavenly favorite! Then add in the remaining sauce, and serve with hot rice (or bread, or potatoes; adobo makes for good sandwich material too).

May 15, 2013

Hari Ragat: Renown Values


Eureka! I’ve been mulling over how to set Renown values for various accomplishments in Hari Ragat, and finally hit on the solution. It was kinda under my nose the whole time, as solutions tend to be.  All I have to do is to key the Renown values to social ranks. So:









Hari Ragat


How does this work? Whenever a character accomplishes something, I just have to compare the deed vs. the ranks on the left. Was the deed something only a Rajah, or a Rajah’s champion, could have done? If yes, then he gets the Renown for the Rajah rank.

If our hero succeeded at a courtship quest, what was the rank of the wife or husband won? If she was a datu’s daughter, our hero gets the Renown for a datu’s rank, possibly plus a few points if the datu was more famous than most. Or if your hero threw a feast, I could check the rank of the most prestigious guest, and give Renown based on that. If your feast was good enough to draw a Lakan, you get a Lakan’s Renown value for it.

Exploits involving the supernatural will usually be considered a rank higher. So for example, if you slay a Raksasa lakan in combat, your Renown gain is equal to that for the next higher rank, Rajah.

Now it’s just a matter of tweaking the numbers …

Hari Ragat: Adventuring & the Gift Economy


Adventuring for  gain is a trope that Hari Ragat will have in common with a lot of other RPGs, and one of the things I like about the way it’s going is that the milieu itself exerts constant pressure to keep adventuring, through the custom of gifting.

Every significant occasion – courtship, birth, marriage, funerals, accessions, etc. – requires giving gifts, which in turn takes from your character’s Wealth. In the most important occasions, the gifts can’t be just any good, they have to be a Bahandi, or heirloom, item: jewelry, luxurious textiles, fine weapons, intricately worked brassware, ceramics from Tien Xia, etc. etc., which are worth more than normal Wealth. Generosity and extravagance are considered virtuous in this society, while acting the opposite way is very damaging to one’s prestige.

Thus PCs in Hari Ragat will continually be driven to go on raiding or trading voyages, lest they suffer a reputation for being niggardly!

The photo above illustrates one of the possible Bahandi types: these are inaul textiles woven by the Maguindanaos of Cotabato.  I was astounded to find out that each of these exquisite patterns has its own name, and often an associated story. One lightning pattern, for example, comes from a mother who once cursed her daughter, only to see her die from a lightning strike a few years later.  The sorrowful mother created the lightning pattern as a sort of homage to her dead daughter.

May 13, 2013

Harryhausen and the Giants of Hari Ragat


I came home from a long assignment to the sad news of Ray Harryhausen’s death. It was no big surprise, of course – the man was born in 1920 – but it marks the passing of yet another giant of F&SF. We’ve had to say farewell to quite a few of them in the last decade or so, so it’s a good time to reflect on how much we gamers and writers of the genre owe to those giants.

A lot has already been said about Harryhausen and his works, specially his fantasy collaborations with producer Charles Schneer. My imagination was permanently stamped with images of dancing goddesses, battling skeletons and rampaging unnatural beasties thanks to these two, as the Sinbad movies were a staple of my childhood. With so much already said, I guess the best way for me to personally give tribute to this great creator is to acknowledge how much he’s influenced my game designs, particularly for Hari Ragat.

Indeed, when I think of fighting giants in Hari Ragat I think of this particular sequence from The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. The choreography of this fight scene is simply amazing, specially in the light of the very primitive technology available to its makers, by today’s CGI-wiz standards. Here’s a clip of the scene:

Harryhausen also had a fondness for multiple heads as well as arms, as seen in this pic from Jason and the Argonauts:


Harryhausen’s visualizations work  specially well for introducing players to HR because many giants and monsters in my milieu are multi-armed or multi-headed.  In the terms of my Vivid rules system, multiple limbs or jaws count as an Advantage. You’ll have to think of how to counter this advantage, or a Raksasa with multiple arms like Harryhausen’s Kali may have as much as a dozen dice to roll against your three or four!


Another iconic Harryhausen scene that has significantly affected my game design is this one from the 7th Voyage of Sinbad, where Sinbad and his crew use a specially constructed ballista to shoot a dragon. My main takeaway from this scene: you do not just use swords or spears against a creature as badass as a dragon. Taking down something so huge and powerful should require special preparation and methods.

While ballistas could be constructed in the HR milieu – there’s historical precedent in the balatik crossbow traps used to take boar and buffalo in parts of the pre-colonial Philippines – there are also other methods for dealing with very big prey.  Our heroes could take a leaf from REH’s Valley of the Worm, and hunt down a special poison to use on their spears and darts; or make like Odysseus and sharpen a log into a stake for putting out a cyclops’ eye; or use a maritime people’s familiarity with nets and ropes to render a giant helpless. 

You don’t just roll to hit something like a dragon! As of now, the scale rules in Vivid allow me to rule that normal attacks do no damage vs. very large creatures, so there’s a real push for players to find alternative ways of fighting.

But the greatest gift Ray Harryhausen left to fans like me is something that I don’t think I can reproduce with rules. It’s a vision, a taste for mythic story elements and exotic, magical pageantry that all combine to evoke that most magical of feelings – a sense of wonder. It’s the reason I play RPGs, the reason I read F&SF, the reason I write. It’s even part of why I’m a photographer. Thanks, Mr. Harryhausen.

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