December 15, 2014

Casting on Credit

When I first learned about Mana-based, that is, spell-point-based, magic systems I was all agog. Here finally was the organic-feeling, sensible limitation on magic that I craved, as I'd never been able to agree with the 'Vancian' paradigm of D&D magic. Then I ran into a wall.

My personal preference for dark, unpredictable and dangerous magic was not served too well by spell-point systems. Magic in such systems started to feel more scientific than mythic to me. I still liked the underlying idea of tracking how much energy you'd used, but I wanted a different paradigm. Now my subconscious is apparently some kind of closet bulldog, as it seems to like chewing on old ideas and questions I'd forgotten I ever asked, since this suddenly rose out of the murky depths of too much coffee and having to do one thing while wanting to do something else.

The gist: a system of freeform magic powered by accumulation of a randomized quantity of spiritual Debt, and discharged in random quantities also by acts of Submission. My preferences for pulp-style sword and sorcery made my treatment of this rather dark, but it can still work in a high-fantasy game where good/evil are more balanced. As is, this'll reek quite a bit of Howard, Moorcock, Lovecraft and Ashton-Smith ...

All magic requires a Patron to effect it. Mankind has no magic. Ergo, to have magic happen you must get something supernatural/extraplanar to make it happen for you. Sorcerers may have multiple Patrons, as each one has its own brand of magic.

Spells are called Invocations in this system, as you're calling on Something/Someone for your magic. Invocations are freeform; tell the GM what you want to happen, the GM warns you how many dice of Debt you'll get for it, decide whether you want to go ahead or not, and if you go ahead, make your roll to see if you get what you wanted. If you succeed, what you wanted to happen does so. If you fail, something unintended happens. For example if you wanted to summon a demon to devour your foes but blew your roll, the demon appears and makes a beeline for the fried chicken on the table.

Making an Invocation incurs Debt. The GM determines how many six-sided dice he's going to roll for your Debt; the roll should be open, and you should know before you commit to the Invocation how many dice the GM intended to roll. The result is added to your current Debt, if any.

You have a Debt Threshold; if you're using the 3-18 D&D stat scale, this could be INT + WIS + CON. As you accumulate Debt, you feel increasing psychic pressure to do something about it from your Patron/s. Your Threshold is how much Debt you can acccumulate before this psychic pressure grows too great for you to bear. If you go over it, Bad Things Happen: your Patron may show up in a bad temper, your spells may backfire, or worst of all, your Patron cuts you off for a while and you find yourself unable to work magic.

Debt is discharged by making acts of Submission to your Patron. These acts depend on who and what your Patron is. Submission may require offering blood sacrifices and participating in Grisly RitesTM, or if you Patron happens to be a holy type, meditation/prayer and doing Good DeedsTM. An entire quest could be made just to discharge a huge Debt. The more extreme the act of Submission is, the more Debt it can erase.

One way to discharge Debt is to study the Grimoire/s in your possession. Grimoires in this sytem are demon-inspired writings -- scrolls, books, ancient tomb inscriptions, and the notes of earlier researchers -- that name demons and discuss their natures. They're also vicious-cycle traps. To learn magic, read the Grimoire. But as you do magic, you need to keep studying the Grimoire for fresh insights; the demons who got that Grimoire written intended it this way, for as you understand a Grimoire better your mind becomes more and more like that of a demon, until you either crack, as most Grimoire owners do, or become a pawn of the demon.

One of the things you can ask for with a successful Invocation is a magical Gift; an item, or an ability, that you can use at will though usually for a limited time or number of uses. The greater the power and permanency of the Gift, the greater the Debt you'll accrue for it. For example, you could ask for a talisman that protects you against all iron weapons; this is worth a lot of Debt. It would be worth even more if it protected you vs. all weapons.

Examples of appropriate Gifts include: a Mesmeric Gaze, Regeneration, Animal Speech/Animal Command, Immunity to something, enchanting a weapon, and so on.

Another way of handling the Debt idea is to track the Favor of your Patrons instead. Favor can be positive, which means your patron powers kinda owe you, or zero to negative, which means any further magic increases the magnitude and urgency of what you must do to gain Favor back. For example, you had 5 Favor, but cast a spell that ended up costing 15; now your Favor is at 5 -15 = -10.

What's the benefit of positive Favor? Maybe faster access to magic? If your Favor is zero to negative, you may have to spend a round or more bargaining with your Patrons to get what you want.

December 4, 2014

Golden Writing Tip from Tim Powers


Found this absolutely golden writing tip from Tim Powers, courtesy of Mitch Wagner’s blog:

Getting Started
Powers says he wrote many first chapters of uncompleted books when he was in college.

“You come home at night. You don’t want to go to bed. You take out a piece of paper and you write CHAPTER ONE. And you write two pages, and you figure that’s pretty good. So you go to bed.

“And then the next night you’re in the mood again, so you pull out a fresh piece of paper and you write CHAPTER ONE. And you write a whole different thing.

“And eventually you realize, I’ve written a whole lot of page-and-a-halfs of various CHAPTER ONES. Add it all together, it’s a lot of words. But it’s not anything. What you’ve got to learn is: Every night when you’re in the mood, instead of starting something fresh, continue that previous thing until it’s done. Which was a tricky thing to learn, actually.

“And you need to remember that first draft work is supposed to be pedestrian and lifeless and stupid, and so if you write thirty or forty pages of first draft and you read it and find that it is in fact pedestrian and lifeless and stupid, you’ve got to tell yourself, good, we’re right on track, this is how it’s supposed to be. This leads to a finished book, which will ideally be good. This is one of the necessary steps. Rewriting and revision will make it, we hope, lively and interesting and suspenseful.”

November 26, 2014

Hari Ragat: More Viking Parallels


I’m branding Hari Ragat as “a game of Southeast Asian Vikings,” drawing on the obvious parallels of two maritime warrior cultures with similar reputations and values. Chinese annals telling of Malay raids on the Fukien coast sound a lot like the chronicles of British monks lamenting Viking activities. But I didn’t know just how strong that resemblance was until I saw this article in The Mirror online.


Not only were the Vikings far-ranging raiders and traders, they also valued bling (valuing the same kind of detailed workmanship), tattooed themselves extensively, and … decorated their teeth. Grooves were filed into the teeth and filled in with colored resin. Compare this to what W. H. Scott writes in Barangay: “The most impressive examples of Visayan dentistry was its goldwork … A common image is the flash of golden brilliance when the hero opens his mouth to speak or smile.” I never thought the Norse had practiced it too.

[Photos by Paul Raftery and the Trustees of the British Museum]

November 24, 2014

Wylz Gutierrez’ Pintados for Hari Ragat!


Announcing another Filipino artist on board for Hari Ragat, illustrator Wylz Gutierrez! Wylz specializes in images of the ancient Visayas, particularly its Pintado tattooed warriors. Here’s another piece, one commissioned specfically for the game, depicting a Karakoa warship sailing to battle:


He’s also done his research, which has resulted in the addition of another kalasagkalasag design: The shield with the ‘stem’ at the top is apparently the design used in the precolonial Visayas, while the ones we see more often such as those used in the Amaya TV seriesAmaya TV series are mostly BagoboBagobo and other Mindanao-originated designs.

Check out Wylz’ other artworks at his website!

November 20, 2014

Hari Ragat Micro-Adventures

Lapu-Lapu, Carlos Botong Francisco,1964

I’m now writing up a bunch of ‘micro-adventures’ for Hari Ragat that can be played in very short sessions to help introduce the game and its milieu. Ideally, a GM should be able to run one of these in just an hour or two, specially if using pregens. Here are some of my ideas:

Dawn Raid
Fight off a dawn raid that somehow slipped through the watchers. Introduces combat and the use of Dulohan. To thicken the plot, you may introduce an element of treachery to explain why the raid got through without warning.

Soul Thief
A man's soul is being stolen, likely by a sorcerer. The Baylan -- either a PC or GMC -- will lead the party in spirit combat to take the victim's soul back. Introduces magic and spirit combat. The spirit combat solution gets the entire party in on the adventure.

Playmate of the Fairies
A child has gone missing. Investigation of the place where the child was last seen shows diminutive footprints leading toward the scene, but none leading away! The child was in fact abducted by the Kibaan, playful fairies whose feet are on backwards. The child is being kept only as a playmate, and went willingly, but will soon start to miss her parents and real human food ... A roleplaying adventure. Introduces mythology of Hari Ragat, and ways to think of approaching supernatural beings.

Night of the Defiler
The community suddenly comes under an ancestral curse and haunting when the grave of a recently deceased Datu is desecrated. The heroes must find out and punish the defiler, and recover the heirloom Wu Long jar that is missing from the Datu's burial trove. The defiler could be a Balbal ghoul, human grave robbers, or a Kaon-Bangkay giant lizard that has accidentally ingested the vase! Introduces the concepts of ancestral reverence and the use of Bahandi goods, and ends in a quick monster or bandit hunt.

Anowang Roundup
The Datu plans a great feast and sacrifice, which requires a lot of buffalos (anowang). Since the village doesn't have that many, it's decided to capture a wild herd and fatten them up ahead of the feast. The heroes have to find and drive as many of the wary, ornery, dangerous beasts into a corral as they can. Introduces hunting mechanics with the added challenge of capturing the prey alive.

Night of the Spear Bride
The heroes have been asked to help a suitor carry off his lady love, who is being held against her will by her relatives who want to marry her off to someone else. They will have to extract the bride from the fortified compound where she's held and hold off the pursuers until they can reach safety. Introduces the Vijadesan concepts of love and marriage, the romantic themes of the genre, and running fight mechanics.

Storm Bride's Homecoming
The heroes are returning from a successful courtship, at which the groom beat a supposed descendant of the storm god for the bride's favor. Just as they are about to reach home a magical typhoon strikes. Their challenge is to land safely -- and keep the bride from being abducted by the jilted demigod who comes under cover of the storm! Introduces sailing mechanics and naval combat.

The Laughing Giant
The village is attacked by a Bungisngis, a cyclops with a penchant for demented laughing and only one weakness -- its single eye. The heroes must find a way to slay the cyclops. Introduces the concepts of scale and flea-hopping combat.

The Flower of Power
The party's shaman needs help to obtain an Agimat, which she has learned will appear in a magical jungle blossom some nights hence. The party needs to find the tree which will produce the blossom, deep within a Diwata's home territory, braving all the dangers along the way -- including the Diwata's attempts to scare or tempt them off! If the party can complete the vigil and catch the blossoming, the shaman can obtain the amulet and keep it. Introduces the concept of Agimat and how they might be won, jungle travel, and dealing with Diwatas.

November 19, 2014

Umalagad in Combat

In a previous post, I introduced the concept of Umalagad, spirit allies, which are the shaman’s counterpart to the warrior’s Dulohan warband. These spirit allies assist the shaman in subtle yet potentially powerful ways. Marc asked for clarifications in the way Umalagad work in combat, so I wrote this up:


Various kinds of Umalagad can have different uses in combat, according to their powers and nature.

Guardian Spirits are entirely defensive in nature; they are there to prevent you from coming to harm, but not necessarily to help you win. Therefore they can only be spent to Push to Save. Guardian Spirits work by manipulating your luck vis a vis your foes' luck to make you more likely to avoid attacks in physical combat. In spirit combat, Guardian Spirits interpose themselves directly vs. your spirit opponents.

Valor Spirits inspire your courage and will to fight, specially when the odds are against you. Spending Valor Spirits essentially gives you a confidence boost that helps you fight better, whether defensively or offensively. They do the same for you in spirit combat, with the same effect.

Wisdom Spirits are of no direct use in physical combat. Their function is to aid you in making more successful Invocations to your ancestors through their wisdom, lore, and connections in the afterlife. If you have Wisdom Spirits, you should be making Invocations in combat rather than trying to fight! In spirit combat, however, Wisdom Spirits help you 'maneuver' better, aiding you in making the most of your spirit abilities; you can spend Wisdom Spirits freely in spirit combat.

Storm/Wind Spirits are of no use in spirit combat, as their powers are very definitely oriented to the physical. Capable of generating powerful gusts of wind, you can easily imagine the havoc such spirit allies can cause at your asking whether for offense or defense. From the accounts, the epic heroes Agyu and Lam-ang must've had Storm Spirit Umalagad.

Bane Spirits are powerful but evil allies. In physical combat, you should use Bane Spirits to help you cast Curses on your foes -- that's their function. In spirit combat, Bane Spirits will help you attack, but not defend; you don't expect evil spirits to care about your fate, do you? Bane Spirits lend their malevolent will to you in spirit attacks, helping you to overcome your foe's will by overwhelming him with their cruelty and spite.

November 17, 2014

Jerald Dorado on Board for Hari Ragat!


Announcing another fine Filipino artist illustrating for Hari Ragat! When I first saw Jerald Dorado’s treatment of the Bakunawa on his DeviantArt page, I knew I had to get the guy to do our monsters. He’s accepted the commission, and we now have some signature monsters on the way in this richly detailed B&W style that just screams sword and sorcery. (This by the way is how I interpret the Bakunawa for Hari Ragat – a real daikaiju in size and attitude!)

November 15, 2014

On Ancestral Favor in Fate

Ancestral Favor is a big deal in the Vivid version of Hari Ragat. It underscores and creates incentives to follow the game's lore and shapes your character's downtime, plus encourages you to take bigger and bolder risks all to earn more Ancestral Favor points to shape your story (and recover from really bad dice rolls)

The Fate version won't be using Ancestral Favor in that way, exactly. For the most part, I've tried to cleave as closely as possible to Dariel's Vivid mechanics to capture the feel of the game as much as possible. However Ancestral Favor is one mechanic I cannot simply up and translate as written into Fate.

Why? Because there is no Fate point economy in Vivid. Much of the mechanical effects that Ancestral Favor does overlaps with the Fate point economy. Simply lumping in Ancestral Favor points is going to cause confusion with ordinary Fate points.

So what do I do? Ancestral Favor is a really big thing in Vivid. The Fate version has to have it somehow.

The way I have thought to handle this is in Fate, Ancestral Favor becomes two things: Ancestral Compels and Ancestral Blessing Aspects.

Where the Vivid version has you doing certain things to gain Ancestral Favor points, Fate will have you doing certain things as Create Advantage actions to gain Ancestral Blessing Aspects. These will be things like "Amang Silayan is pleased." The players can then use these aspects using Fate points (or for free if they were the ones who created the advantage) justifying them as the favor of their ancestors inspiring them to do more or better. Sacrificing goods (Yaman or Bahandi) will make the Create Advantage roll easier, or allow you to create aspects that you can tag to make your Create Advantage roll easier. I actually have a subsystem in mind for this but it needs some refinement. I don't want to add too much complexity.

The flipside of Ancestral Blessing Aspects are Ancestral Compels. Vijadesan culture is very martial, focused on glory, and revering of the ancestors. There will be many times when the ancestral spirits will goad a character to possibly compromising on his or her goals in order to gain glory. An example is that the ancestors may resent an Orang Dakila sneaking away to avoid capture, and make the warrior realize this and complicate the Orang Dakila's escape plan since now he must try to fight at least one of his pursuers for glory, possibly compromising his escape attempt. (But he gets a Fate point for the complication)

Similarly, the Orang Dakila would know that the ancestors will reward bravado in battle, and the player may forgo the use of certain armors, shields, Secrets or even followers, complicating the original battle plans (and gaining a fate point in the process).

I tried to use the existing Fate mechanics to try to get the story effects of Ancestral Favor. I think I've done a pretty good translation. What do you think?

November 11, 2014

On Ancestral Favor


The Ancestral Favor mechanic is one of the defining features of Hari Ragat. It’s a very important resource, and the handling and acquisition of it will strongly shape play.

First, it’s a group resource. Experienced players will likely need it less, and newbies can use it more. It’s thus a way for experienced players to help the new ones. It’s also a great way to contribute to solving a problem, specially in combat, for players whose characters aren’t that good at the current activity. You can work on earning Ancestral Favor on the spot, for the purpose of passing it on to the other players whose characters are manning the front lines.

Second, Ancestral Favor has the potential to shape the way you play the game and add a strong, traditional Asian flavor into play. Ancestor worship is a common practice throughout Asia, and it was the major religion in the Philippine islands before Islam and Christianity were introduced. Even now a lot of our beliefs and folk superstitions are based on ancestral beliefs, though most of us have forgotten these roots. (For example, it’s bad luck for a family holding a wake not to keep a watch over the body round the clock.)

The need to court and keep Ancestral Favor should give you ideas for what you can have your character do during downtime, or in preparation for adventuring. Rather than shopping for gear, adventurers in Hari Ragat can make the most of time to prepare for action by trying to raise Ancestral Favor. Your character can do this through sacrifices, making heroic Vows, and through other gestures that please and honor the ancestors.

I’ve created some on-the-spot methods of raising Favor that highlight the heroic flavor of the game and can be done without a shaman. For example, Heroic Divestment lets you win Ancestral Favor if you lay aside your shield, armor, or even your weapons just before combat, provided doing so left you at a serious disadvantage. The easiest way to raise Favor, however, is through sacrifices with a shaman character officiating. A shaman has the best chance at winning the contest vs. the ancestor spirits, and you can spend Wealth resources to increase the Favor won.

The need to spend Wealth in sacrificing for Ancestral Favor should also drive the players to being proactive in trading and raiding adventures.  You need Favor to succeed in those epic adventures that win you great fame, but to get that Favor you need resources that lead you to other adventures and side quests.

Ancestral Favor is also a tool for the GM for encouraging immersion and role-playing to the standards of the genre. The GM can offer Ancestral Favor for actions that would please the ancestors, and levy points off the players’ existing Favor for actions that would insult or displease the ancestors. The GM can also create dilemmas involving Favor: will you make peace with the descendant of an old family enemy, in order to achieve greater things together but at the price of ancestral displeasure, or will you follow the ancestors’ directive for vengeance?

Hari Ragat Vivid: System Changes


Reports are in for the last playtest of Hari Ragat using the Vivid system, run by Fabs Fabon assisted by Marc.

The Adventure
The party encountered a six-headed giant named Gawigawen, who could return from the dead unless slain by very specific means. The party achieved this by Mira’s character Dimaraig taking on the name of the Dimalupi hero Kanag, who had been fated to slay the giant but had been slain by him instead.

Dimaraig was able to convince the spirit of the original Kanag to let him take the name, despite having no family connections with his line at all. The party then went to battle again with Gawigawen, roping his limbs to give them advantage, then the last blow was struck as fated by Dimaraig-now-Kanag.

The session ended with 250 Dimalupi warriors coming to the town of Rawis … not to fight, but to offer their spears and axes to the new Kanag.

New Mechanic: Pushing
The main takeaway for us in this session was that we could improve Vivid’s dice mechanic. I deliberately designed it so that even at high levels you could still not be too certain of the results, unlike a dice + constant mechanic or additive dice pool mechanic where you knew that at a certain point you were practically undefeateable. This design however could be flukey, with player characters sometimes whiffing way too often.

To improve the experience, Marc and I retooled the damage-soaking mechanic into a more general one that gives players more control over their results, though at cost. I called this Pushing.

Pushing lets you buy Victory Points, whatever the result of the roll, by spending resources such as Bala (spiritual power), Ancestral Favor (which replaces Anito Dice), Wealth, or Dulohan, followers, whichever is appropriate. Even shields and armor points can be spent in combat. A Push means you were able to return to the contest somehow, or otherwise do something that improved the outcome for you; you have to narrate what your character did to Push the results.

If your opponent won the roll, the cost to Push rises by the amount of Victory Points your opponent won. Thus if I lost by 3 VP, and I want to Push this to a 3 VP victory for myself, I’d have to spend a total of 6 points.

Resources are now more valuable since they directly nudge your results, instead of giving you extra dice that may or may not give you the result you wanted. This new approach also means you only need to spend when you want to, or if you lose a contest you really don’t want to lose.

November 8, 2014

While Playtesting of Hari Ragat Goes On …


I work for a living. Fortunately my wife and I have a business that we really enjoy … and leaves me time to write games in between shoots! As I post this, though, I’m anxiously awaiting word from GM’s Marc Reyes and ‘Fabs’ Fabon, who should be wrapping up the latest session of playtesting with Hari Ragat Vivid in Makati B&B just about now.

For this weekend’s adventure I dug into Cordilleran mythology, and I’m introducing a Raksasa giant for the first time. The adventure revolves around the Tinguian legend of Gawigawen, a six-headed headhunting giant.

In the legend, Gawigawen is slain by a child prodigy hero named Kanag. I kept this element in the adventure, as Gawigawen has the particular destiny of not dying unless slain ‘by the axe of the man named Kanag.’ Problem is, the original Kanag is dead! How then can the heroes fulfill the condition for killing the giant?

My first draft of the adventure felt a bit railroady, as the giant’s Bane at first was only ‘to be slain by the man named Kanag.’ A chat session with Marc, Jay Anyong of Life and Times of a Philippine Gamer, and Fabs led me to change the wording of the Bane, thus allowing a scenario with multiple possible solutions. Now I’m very curious as to which path the players took, or if they did something I totally did not expect!

November 1, 2014

Antique Kris Photos

Work on Hari Ragat stalled for a bit because of work followed by a 48-hour bout of insomnia that left me woozy for yet another two days after! Marc and I have been hammering out some bug fixes and interesting additions though, among them a revised Renown system that commemorates PC deeds narratively. More on those in a later post, maybe in a day or two.

In the meantime, a collector friend asked me to shoot these newly purchased kris before she packed them off for shipping her collector friend who asked for them. Enjoy. I certainly enjoyed myself shooting them.


Kris, probably  Maranao or Tausug, and probably the oldest of the lot from the silver dots inlaid along the edges and the pamor patterns in the blade.


A short kris with silver and nito-palm fiber-wrapped handle, and what looks like a bone or ivory pommel.


Kris with silver hilt and ivory pommel.


Kris with fine silver and hilt, and what looks like an ebony-ivory kakatua (stylized cockatoo-head motif) pommel.

October 15, 2014

The Legend of Cagayan

One of the performances I enjoyed the most during the Sayaw Mindanao 2014 finals was this one below, which felt to me as if it had jumped right out of the pages of an epic. Or perhaps an epic session of Hari Ragat, because this is exactly the feel I want. The story, told in dance, tells of a Lumad chieftain in the wars against the expanding Moro sultanates and a star-crossed romance, a tale which supposedly gave rise to the name of the province of Cagayan (de Oro) in northeastern Mindanao.


Once upon a time, a brave Lumad chieftain led his people in war against the expanding Moros. Here the chieftain (center) offers to his ancestors before going to battle as the balian priestesses dance and chant prayers.


Our hero leads his war party out …


Their first raids are victorious, thanks to our hero’s valor …


But then he comes upon the party of the sultan’s daughter. Thunderstruck by her beauty, he falls madly in love.


His comrades try to restrain him, but he breaks free of them and professes his love to the princess. She returns his love, and entices him into deserting his tribe for her sake.


“For shame, for shame,” the chieftain’s women cried. Without their champion, the Lumads are worsted in the next battle. It’s said the name Cagayan sounds like the word for ‘shame’ in this tribe’s tongue.


There are two versions of how this story ends. In one, the chieftain is driven into exile with his princess, cast out from his tribe. In another, happier one, the couple becomes a bridge between the two peoples.


The troupe performed the happier version for the finals. Here the Lumad chieftain marries the sultan’s daughter, while the prince, the sultan’s son, takes the new chieftain’s hand in peace. I found this story really powerfully told, so I’m hoping to have similar ones happen in my game.

October 13, 2014

Genre/Milieu Reinforcement Mechanics

Enactment of an epic battle, Sayaw Mindanao 2014 Finals, Davao City

One of the design guidelines I set for myself with Hari Ragat is that the game should encourage players to play the setting’s tropes. I strongly believe game mechanics shape player behavior. I believe that players  want to have fun with as little fuss as possible, and are intelligent and will quickly figure out the easiest/most rewarding way of doing things. Most of all, rules will shape the way the players think. For example:

Anito Dice
Anito Dice are an adventuring essential, and a player reward that encourages thinking as an inhabitant of the milieu. Because you earn Anito Dice by working to please the ancestors, you start thinking in terms of what your characters’ ancestors want of you. And if you took a specific patron ancestor, you think in terms of that particular ancestor’s values. This gives room for some very different viewpoints and goals between PCs.

Renown = XP
Hari Ragat doesn’t use XP, or rather, its XP are entirely in the form of Renown, which is a social thing. True, you get Renown for kicking monster butts, but there’s more to it than that; your character must observe certain standards as well, because you can also lose Renown, or not rise to the next Renown Rank. (There’s a new Renown mechanic, by the way, which is rank-based and is even more grounded in the milieu’s culture.)

Hometown and Ties
Heroes in Hari Ragat aren’t homeless, penniless wandering desperadoes, but instead are the high-status protectors and providers for their community. Again, the game follows my source material which is the old pre-colonial epics. To reinforce this, we start all PCs with a common hometown, and ask the players to come up with Ties linking them to key figures in the hometown. This approach should be familiar to players who’ve played L5R or Pendragon or HeroQuest before.

Martial Arts Secrets
Heroes in Hari Ragat may have martial arts Secrets, special techniques based on FMA such as Kali/Eskrima and Dumog, and also on heroic feats mentioned in the epics. These Secrets are weapon-specific, some working for a whole family of weapons, while some only work with a specific kind of weapon. Following FMA philosophies, there are Secrets built around creating openings in your opponent’s defenses,  using the off-hand, wielding two blades, etc etc. Epic feats such as the Cordilleran hero Aliguyon’s catching his foe Pumbakhayon’s spear and throwing it back are also modeled.

Speaking of combat, we’ve also designed a bunch of mechanics that better reflect the source material and our desired cinematic style of play:

Shields > Armor
Armor is a better option than shields in most FRPGs, but since armor is rare in this milieu, and in fact many fighting Secrets are built around not using any, we made the shield provide more protection than even the best armor. There are also Secrets for using shields, such as one that uses the prongs on the upper and lower edges of some kalasag shields to pin your opponent’s weapon or limbs.

Spears are Cool (we hope)
Spears are very much used, and revered with almost the same respect as for swords, in the source material. I’ve found the spear rather short-changed in other FRPGs though, specially D&D, so we added some spear-wielding Secrets that will make you happy to specialize in this weapon too. I’ve mentioned the catch-and-return trick, and there are also techniques for pinning the opponent, throwing your spear to shock and prepare the way for an in-your-face blade assault, and more.

Mechanics for Fighting Very Large Monsters
There are quite a few extremely large monsters in this game, and I wanted a combat mechanic that draws you into visualizing a fight with such and encouraging daredevil stunts like leaping onto a dragon’s back to hammer your sword into the back of its head. Hari Ragat has mechanics for maneuvering your way into a very close position that lets you strike directly at a big beastie’s vitals, and rewards you for doing so.

And as for magic, that gets its own milieu-specific treatment too:

Spirit Magic
Magic in Hari Ragat as I’ve mentioned in previous posts is based on interaction with various kinds of spirits. Instead of spells that you’re more or less sure will go off when you want, magic is uncertain and somewhat dangerous, as every effect requires a contest with the spirit you’re bargaining with for that effect. How to get better at magic? It’s less ‘leveling-up’ than about cultivating relationships with the spirits you need. The more good spirit relations you’ve got, the more versatile and certain you are with your magic.

I’ll end this list of custom genre mechanics by going full-circle, as this one refers back to my first item, the Anito Dice mechanic. Both GMs and players have a way to introduce complications and enforce the flavor of the milieu more through taking Omens during play. Good Omens, usable only by the GM and shaman characters, point to opportunities to earn Anito Dice by doing something that pleases the ancestors. Bad Omens, usable by the GM and, I’m thinking, any other character, point to complications; do something that may be dangerous or unpleasant, or lead to a side adventure, else you will lose Anito Dice.

October 12, 2014

Hari Ragat: The Shaman’s Expanded Role

Interesting. I’ve just realized how powerful and versatile shaman characters can be in Hari Ragat, which means greatly expanded opportunities for the player to shine and explore the character.

A shaman can Invoke spirits to compel favors and effects from them, which includes coaxing Anito Dice out of the spirits, banish them, appease them if offended, and very importantly, ask them questions. A shaman can Spiritwalk, to roam the world in spirit form and interact freely with the spirit world including dreaming persons. There’s also a pretty powerful Curse mechanic, though right now I’m in a quandary whether to fold this in with the Invocations or maintain the current mechanic.

If this set off warning bells in your head, you can be sure it did the same in mine … but I think I’ve got the balance questions covered. Shaman magic in Hari Ragat is bounded strongly by difficulty and risk, both of which add to its resource cost; shaman players will have to choose when and how to use their magic carefully, because any working can end up costing more than planned if you roll badly. There are vulnerabilities built into the magic system; the more powerful the effect you want, the more powerful the spirits you’ll have to Contest with to get it done, which very likely means more Bala/Anito Dice spent.

The way the shaman plays, it’s much safer and surer to be a supportive team player than to try to hog the spotlight by scoring the most or the biggest kills. But don’t worry, there will also be times when it’s obvious you’ve got the winning strategy, and the rest of the group will have to support your character by running interference and sharing resources so you can pull off The Big One.

A shaman is also bounded by her need to maintain certain relationships with various spirits. All shamans are very dependent on the favor of the ancestors, for one, and may also have relationships to maintain with other spirits like the Diwatas of their homeland. If you want more power you need to have stronger relationships, but stronger relationships also mean more requirements and more taboos. This can present unexpected complications when you’re in action. For example, what if the villain you’re up against is of the same bloodline as you? Suddenly your ancestors aren’t as eager to help you, because hey, the person you’re fighting is their descendant too.

Playing a shaman should be an interesting role playing challenge.

Bala and it's Fate approach

Bala in Fate vs Bala in Vivid

One of the key differences between the Fate version of Hari Ragat and the Vivid version is how Bala is handled.

By definition though they're similar:

In Vivid, Bala is a depleting resource and a rated attribute that fuels magic and acts of heroism.

In Fate, Bala is a rated attribute with it's own stress bar that fuels magic and acts of heroism.

Functionally speaking, in Vivid, Bala adds directly to your dice pool when attempting to clear contests. However in Fate, adding dice makes this similar to modifying your roll, which overlaps with how Fate Points work. I did not want to add more complications to what I perceived as the "Core" of fate, so what I did was I took the definition of Bala back to it's story definition:

"Bala is a measure of your character's spiritual power."

I interpreted this as the ability of your character to perform acts of magic or heroism, and I treat this like a Skill in Fate. So you could have Bala of Good (+3), Fair (+2) etc.

Now Bala has a depletion track, to keep it somewhat compatible with Vivid, and this is implemented in Fate via the means of a stress track. This stress track is by default equal to your rating in Bala.

By taking stress on the Bala stress track, your character can either do an act of magic or an act of heroism. Here are the definitions:

1. The Bagani Surge - You perform an act of heroism, ignoring all fatigue and physical injuries. Unless a consequence makes an act physically impossible (like you lost a hand, or limb) you cannot be compelled by any consequence for this exchange. Furthermore your action gains the aspect "Heroic prowess" which can render certain condition aspects that affect your roll inapplicable. (more on this in a later blog post)

2. The Spirit Caller's Will - You shout your will into reality, allowing your voice to reach far and wide into the incorporeal world. This allows you to act as a conduit for spirits and the magic that they can work into the world for a single exchange.

When your Bala stress track is tapped out, you can't do either of the above actions.

Regaining Bala - The Stress track will naturally clear out after each scene that you do not use Bala.

Advancement of Bala - Your Bala is treated as an Approach rating in Fate Accelerated, and when a milestone allows you to raise an approach, you may opt to raise Bala instead. However, there is a story prerequisite to raising Bala. Since in general you must consume a more powerful source of Bala to increase it, you need to play this out in game in order to justify the Bala rating increase.

October 11, 2014

Philippine Armor, Part 2

Thanks to Waw Maw, and my ex-student Joey who gave me an excuse to poke around the Aldevinco antiques and crafts arcade, I was able to get some more material on Philippine armor. I cannot be sure of the antiquity of the examples below, or whether they were ever used in war, but we can surmise that they at least resembled real war gear.


In my last post, I noted that I hadn’t seen Moro helmets that were not based on the Spanish morion design. Well it seems I’m getting old. Here’s a pic from the vikingsword forum of Moro panoply, likely Maguindanao, showing plated mail shirt, round taming shield, budiak spear, kris, and … a kulah zirah type helmet. It looks like a South Indian type of kulah zirah, like the one below, but has no nasal.


There were quite a few examples in Omar’s Antique Shop in Aldevinco, but alas I didn’t have my cam with me so no pics. Most of them were shallow caps with metal side and back panels, linked by brass mail. However none had the long neck guard of the Indo-Persian kulah zirah, nor did any have nasals. I guess lightness was more a priority than full protection. That said, the helmets were heavy. Perhaps they’d have been lighter if made of steel? Might that have been the reason the morion design got adopted, the morion design having pretty good neck protection if you wore it tilted up?

We also saw quite a few hardwood salakot, conical hats that were common civilian wear but could likely stop a sword cut. Here’s a pic similar to what we saw, found in the vikingsword forum:

maranao salakot

Were they ever used in war? This pic of a salakot accompanying a padded suit of armor (looks like abaca) also from the Philippines (region not indicated) seems to argue for it:


Again, I keep noticing the ubiquity of brass and organic materials. Comparing the pretty good state of the brass items with the woeful rusting on the antique blades also on display, it looks like resistance to corrosion was a big factor in the choice of brass over steel for making armor. In this humid climate, you’d likely have to replace steel armor far more often than is economical. Below is a leather coat from Sulawesi – an Indonesian island quite near Mindanao, and very likely to have traded influences with it. It also looks similar to some of the items I saw in the Escudero Museum.


Speaking of organic material, Waw Maw sent me reference pics of two helmets, one from the Cordillera and another from Mabate. The wooden one below is credited as Ifugao.


And this one, made of porcupine fish skin, probably stretched over leather, gourd or wicker, is from Masbate:


Now that is one oddball helmet, reminds me more of the Polynesian ones. The decorated metal finial makes me think it belonged to some person of authority; however it looks very crudely made. Now I’m very curious about the story of this helmet! The quest continues …

October 8, 2014

Play Aid: ‘What Would My Ancestors Do?’

Playtesting of Hari Ragat continues, with Marc Reyes running sessions in Makati using his FAE conversion, and recently another Manila-based gamer, Fabs Bulwayen, running the test scenario impromptu last weekend. Thanks guys! Hoping to get after-action reports posted here soon.

One of Marc's players learns the 'Summon Stunt Double' technique of taking damage!

One of the lessons we’re learning from these playtests is that we need to help players navigate the milieu. The epic background we used in Hari Ragat is actually unfamiliar even to the typical Fiipino teenager (which points to a gaping hole in our educational program!), so sometimes they’re not sure how to proceed at certain points, or take actions with their characters that aren’t optimal or considered admirable in the setting.

Marc and I were discussing this earlier via Google hangout, and we came up with this: a ‘What Would My Ancestors Do/Know?’ card. It’s just a card, you could use a standard playing card or even a calling card. Holding it up signals the GM that you would like info that should be common knowledge to your character, or you’d like to know what the ancestors would’ve considered the proper thing to do in your character’s current situation. Likewise, the GM can hold up this card at anytime during play to impart such information to the group.

I’m getting old! I forgot to add that this: If you took a specific patron ancestor at character creation, the GM may give you an answer based on the viewpoint of your patron ancestor. So if your patron ancestor happened to be a notorious pirate, well, you’ll get a piratey reply! Arr!

October 6, 2014

Origins of Philippine Armor?

Surviving specimens of Philippine armor are rather few, and mostly rather recent, many of them from the 19th century captured by American forces in Mindanao. While there are sources stating that Philippine armor was copied from Spanish models, anyone familiar with Indo-Persian armor will immediately see that’s not the full story.


Here is a suit of Moro armor from Mindanao. It’s a plate-and-mail shirt of brass, designed to close in front so it would be very easy to don or doff quickly. It’s topped by a helmet that looks very much like a copy of a Spanish morion, and very likely is – which may have led to the assumption that Philippine armor is derived from Spanish. However, I’m quite sure the model for the body armor is something more like this:

zira baktar sindhi e2c54ed8d42584e32381a7fa4a24c74c

This is a zirah bakhtar from Sindh, in India. The design and construction techniques are very similar, save that this one is mostly steel, though the plates look like they have brass borders. It’s also long-sleeved and comes with bazu bands, arm protectors integrated with hand coverings. I’ve yet to see any long-sleeved suits of Moro mail, nor Moro armguards. I believe the prevalence of short sleeves and lack of arm or leg protections in Moro mail is due to the fighting styles and conditions here; less armor is better for amphibious operations in tropical, jungled terrain, and a lot of that action was in the form of raiding by sea.

Now, if Philippine armor were indeed copied from Spanish styles, what should it look like? When the Spanish invaded, they would’ve been wearing mostly breastplates, or jacks and brigandines. Here’s a brigandine from that period, c. 1500-1600:


There are American photos of Bagobos in padded armor, and W.H. Scott mentions padded armor along with breastplates of carved hardwood, batung. I’ve also seen scale armor vests in the Villa Escudero museum, some made with coins, most with lacquered carabao hide scales, and even one with oyster shell scales! There were probably a lot more of those than of metal armor, but they of course don’t last in this climate so few have been preserved.

The wet tropical climate and scarcity of iron seemed to be the main limiting factors in development of local armor, and the reason why Moro mail is almost always of brass. Use of zirah bakhtar-style vests wasn’t limited to Mindanao, though, as shown by this Bugis specimen from Indonesia:

Baju Perang BUGIS Inggris

But what about that very Spanish helmet? It is Spanish. Were there no local helmet designs? It’s also very interesting that Indo-Persian designs influenced body armor, but I’ve yet to see local helmets of the kulah zirah/kulah khud styles. Scott mentions Chinese-made helmets, probably of the Ming chapel de fer styles, called kupyangan, used by the Tagalogs:


There were also a wide variety of salakot, the pan-East Asian conical hat, which could be made of gourd, hardwood, lacquered leather, or tortoiseshell:



The Spanish design may have proven more practical than either, and if the Spanish had given away a few of the beautifully chased officers’ morions as gifts, there would’ve been a prestige motive to copy them. Here’s a European parade morion, followed by a Moro helmet:


The Moros further adapted the Spanish style by adding elaborate plumes of rooster feathers or horsehair:


It’s interesting that I’ve yet to see helmets that look more purely indigenous in design like these Nias and Poso helmets:

Helm Perang NIAS - Versi INGGRIS

Topi Perang POSO - Versi INGGRIS

Was it simply because none were preserved? Because all who could afford armor – and they were never many – converted to using the Spanish helmet design? Or was it simply because collectors ignored the plainer examples in favor of the flamboyant Moro brass helms? I’d really appreciate pics and links if you find more interesting pieces of Philippine armor.

Anyway, that’s it for this morning’s ramble. I’ll leave you with some more ‘mail pawrn’ …




September 25, 2014

Fated Bagani Warrior: FAE

Fated Bagani Warrior_Page_1

This is one of Marc’s pregen’d characters for the Fate Accelerated Edition playtest of Hari Ragat, which is coming in the next week or so. Marc modified the character slightly from the Vivid version, adding a Trouble that had me in stitches with glee over the sheer story potential for this character. Click to see a larger version (opens in new window/tab).

This Bagani has an interesting back story, he was born an Orang Malaya, a commoner, but has recently been elevated to nobility for his deeds. However, he’s also saddled with a Huge Extended Family, most of them quite poor, and they all think he’s wealthy now that he’s a noble! Glancing at his Wealth, though, it’s only rated Mediocre. This poor bastard will be dogged at almost every step by importuning relatives. On the plus side, however, a huge family could easily extend outside Hiyasan, so in the FATE game the player can just pay a Fate Point at any port and say ‘Hey, I’ve got a cousin here!’

Stay tuned for the actual play report!

September 22, 2014

Spiritwalking in Hari Ragat

Finally, inspiration again! Had a bad cold last night, but woke up much fresher this morning after an early sleep and with new ideas. For starters, I tackled the long-delayed section on Spiritwalking. Please have a look and let me know what you think!


All shamans also possess the Spiritwalking ability. This enables the shaman, while in trance, to detach their soul from their physical shell and wander about the world as an incorporeal, invisible spirit, able to move at the speed of thought.

During the spiritwalk the shaman can see and hear as though she were physically there; however, the senses of smell, taste and touch do not function. Moreoever being incorporeal she cannot hold, move or lift anything. The spiritwalker can only communicate with sleeping people by appearing in their dreams; to communicate normally with those awake, she must Manifest, see below.

During a spiritwalk the shaman's body lies an an inert state of suspended animation, and is incapable of moving or defending itself. Moreover, during the spiritwalk the spiritwalker is visible to all spirits, and can interact with them including being attacked.

Breaking Through Spirit Barriers

There are times when a spiritwalking shaman will want to do something extraordinary during the spiritwalk, which requires breaking through some kind of spirit barrier. These feats are rolled as Quick Contests as described below:


To communicate with a living, waking person the spiritwalker must Manifest, making herself temporarily visible and audible, though still incorporeal. Manifesting requires a Benchmark Roll vs. the barriers between spirit and matter, Target Number 4.

Entering Dreams

A spiritwalker can freely enter the dreams of any sleeping friend or relative she knows personally. To enter the dreams of anyone else, she must win a Quick Contest vs. that person's lowest Role rating, unless it's also a shaman, in which case the contest is vs. the target's Role rating as a shaman.

Penetrating Warded Areas

Sometimes a spiritwalker may want to enter an area that has been warded against other spirits, or specifically against her. This is resolved as a Quick Contest vs. the strength of the ward. For example, Liwanag wants to spiritwalk into a Raksasa's cave palace; the GM sets the strength of the ward here at 5 dice, so that's what Liwanag's player must roll against.

Travel to Sulad

Sulad is not warded, but is so far and so powerfully covered with an aura of holiness that spiritwalking into it is like climbing a high mountain. This is rolled as an Extended Contest to 3 Victory Points, Opposition 10 dice. While in Sulad, the spiritwalker may request audience with any of the gods or ancestor spirits, and cannot be refused.

Spirit Combat

A spiritwalker may engage any kind of spirit in Spirit Combat. Spirit Combat is resolved like ordinary person to person combat, using the Extended Contest mechanics. However, damage usually is taken straight to Bala or Anito Dice, as physical armor and shields don't work, nor do weapons without a quality that allows their use in the spirit realm.

A spiritwalker usually appears in spirit combat as herself, with her own clothes and weapons. However, certain Secrets or amulets may allow her to assume other spirit forms at will, which may give Advantage vs. certain kinds of spirits. For example, a manaul-feather agimat will allow her to take the spirit form of a manaul eagle, giving Advantage vs. serpentine spirits like a Naga.

September 21, 2014

Using Magic in Hari Ragat


I was having a discussion with Marc over converting the Hari Ragat magic system in Vivid to Fate Accelerated Edition, and as we were at it I realized something; it may have been the first time for me to concretely articulate some core premises of magic in Hari Ragat, and how different it is from the baseline assumptions of D&D magic. (You’ll be in more familiar territory if you’re a Glorantha/HeroQuest player, though.) This got me to thinking of how to help players play magic-working characters in HR, be it the Vivid or FAE editions.

Uses of Magic
Magic usage is expected to fulfill certain functions in most FPRGs, the most common of these expected functions being:

Attack/Blast – deal direct harm to a foe, usually in combat;

Defend – mitigate or prevent harm, or an unwanted effect, usually in combat;

Trick – deceive or delude another character or creature, thus making them do/not do something you want;

Compel – make another creature or being do as you wish by force of will or by virtue of greater power;

Trap – control the terrain or environment so as to hamper or harm someone or something;

Buff/Heal – strengthen a character or creature in some way,  recover damage, or remove debilities;

Know – obtain knowledge not otherwise available to the magic-worker, such as the far past or future, or something in the present but removed in space.

How do these approaches map out to Hari Ragat’s magic system? Let’s take a look:

Dealing direct damage is not a primary function of the shaman in Hari Ragat, in contrast to D&D’s approach. You cannot treat your magic like a gun, specially since it’s not you doing the magic, but rather as a shaman you’ve the ability to convince or compel spirits to do things for you, and besides the price and risk of magic are quite high.

Yes, you can still do things to damage your foes, but through the agency of a spirit, usually in terms of a natural effect that ‘coincidentally’ happens: for example, instead of shooting lightning from your fingers, you could use the Invocation of Wrath directed to a sky spirit to get lightning from the heavens to strike your foe.

By calling on the appropriate spirits, you can avert harmful or unwanted effects on yourself or others. For example, you could invoke wind spirits to cause a volley of arrows aimed at you or an ally to miss. Again, the emphasis is on natural effects that coincidentally work to your benefit.

Illusion is a power of the diwata nature spirits, so if you want an illusion you have to ask the diwata of the place to do it for you. Different spirits are also capable of a wide range of tricks – mimicking voices, creating distractions, invisibly pulling pranks, and so on.

A lot of Hari Ragat magic revolves around compelling – you compel spirits to come to you and do as you ask. That’s why most Rites and Prayers require you to roll a Contest vs. the spirits addressed. The greater the effect you want, the more formidable the opposition will be as you have to compel a more powerful spirit for it.

The inherent danger of magic in Hari Ragat comes into play here, as there are consequences for losing Contests vs. spirits. Every time you suffer a setback while working a Rite or Prayer, you suffer fatigue and psychic ‘damage’ in the form of Bala loss (Bala being your spiritual power, and also your hit points). That’s right, working magic can damage your character. This encourages limiting your magic use and spending of magic resources so you can be more effective when you do decide to use your powers.

You’ve a lot of options for creating environmental ‘traps’ by contacting the right spirits. Want a Web? Get a hold of a spider spirit. Want a Wall of Thorns? Get a hold of a thorn tree spirit, or a thorny vine spirit. Earth to Mud? Yup, get the local diwata to do it for you. You can even create really awesome terrain or weather effects, if you can win a Contest vs. the spirit in charge; typhoons at sea, landslides, even earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are possible, if you dare the risk.

You should always be thinking in terms of ‘what can the local spirits do for me?’ and ‘what spirits owe me favors/what spirits do I have good influence with?’ Magic in Hari Ragat is very much about your relationships with different aspects  of the supernatural and how you can turn these to your advantage.

Again, buffing and healing in Hari Ragat is all about working with the spirits. Instead of Cure Light Wounds, however, your go-to heal is the same as your go-to buff; an invocation to the ancestors for more spiritual energy (Anito Dice). Instead of healing party members one by one, you instead try to assure the supply of Anito Dice for the whole group, letting each player draw as much from the Anito Dice pool as they need for either power or defense/damage soaking.

There are, again, a lot of options for acquiring knowledge by supernatural means in Hari Ragat. You could perform a Rite to contact any god or spirit, the difficulty based on how powerful or remote that entity is; gods of course are the hardest to interrogate! You could perform a Rite that gets the ancestors to grant you oracular visions.

You can scout distant locations by using your Spiritwalk (astral travel) ability, or a Familiar if you have one, or again do it firsthand by switching souls for a while with your Totemic Twin creature. (Caution is advised with the latter, as a) you will suffer any harm dealt to your Twin; and b) Totemic Twins are usually snakes, and thus likely to invite attack if spotted).

Tips for Playing a Shaman Effectively
If I were to play a Baylan or Katalunan shaman in Hari Ragat, I’d do the following:

  • Identify a strong relationship with specific entities, or with the ancestors, which gives me more power in that area;

  • I may buy Umalagad spirit allies that I can call upon at any time when I need their help; depending on my concept, I may get Umalagad that can help me with some kinds of magic, or Umalagad that can help protect me in combat;

  • Take up some perk that gives me an edge in defending myself, if ever I’m forced to fight in physical battle;

  • Use magic more during the preparatory stages of an adventure and the lulls between action scenes to prepare ahead; for example, before casting off on each leg of a long voyage I’d perform Rites for fair winds; or before engaging in a monster hunt, I’d try to locate it by Spiritwalking, or quiz the ancestors about how best to fight the thing;

  • During combat, I’d stay away from melee, and instead concentrate on working magic that’s relatively easy and will help my warrior allies – Prayers to the ancestors for more Anito Dice would be a top priority;

  • In a truly desperate battle, I may gamble instead on a difficult and dangerous battle-winner, such as an Invocation of Wrath to the diwata of the mountain where we’re fighting so as to bury the foe in a landslide, or to the diwata of the river to raise up a flood a la the Ford of Bruinen in Fellowship of the Ring;

And lastly, I’ll keep in mind the taboos that keep me in good graces with my spirit allies.


Here’s a sample Baylan template from the Minneapolis playtest. This Baylan is set up to be mainly a conduit to the ancestors, so she’s great at channeling in Anito Dice for the party, her Diwata Blood gives her more spiritual power than normal for a human, she has a Familiar that can extend her capabilities in imaginative ways, including gaining information, and lastly she’s set up to be effective vs. evil witches and sorcerers. Lastly, she’s got a Medicine Bag 2, which means I can draw 2 bonus dice total from it when needed for my Rites.

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