February 17, 2014

Homeric Combat


While I owe a lot to REH for the way I describe battle scenes, whether in writing stories or GM’ing, I actually look to an even older source for details. Homer.

Passages from the Odyssey and the Iliad stuck in my head at a very early age – I’d read prose English translations of both even before I encountered Howard or Tolkien – and the way I describe the effects of weapons and the heroes’ tactics is very much patterned after these. Homer often describes exactly where a weapon went in, where it went out, and what it did in between! These feats are extraordinary, showcasing the strength and skill of the heroes who perform them. Check these out:

“On this [Odysseus] aimed a deadly arrow at Antinous, who was about to take up a two-handled gold cup to drink his wine and already had it in his hands. The arrow struck Antinous in the throat, and the point went clean through his neck, so that he fell over and the cup dropped from his hand, while a thick stream of blood gushed from his nostrils. He kicked the table from him and upset the things on it, so that the bread and roasted meats were all soiled as they fell over on to the ground.”

“Then Amphinomus drew his sword and made straight at Ulysses to try and get him away from the door; but Telemachus was too quick for him, and struck him from behind; the spear caught him between the shoulders and went right through his chest, so that he fell heavily to the ground and struck the earth with his forehead. Then Telemachus sprang away from him, leaving his spear still in the body, for he feared that if he stayed to draw it out, some one of the Achaeans might come up and hack at him with his sword …”

“He it was that now met Agamemnon son of Atreus. When they were close up with one another, the son of Atreus missed his aim, and Iphidamas hit him on the girdle below the cuirass and then flung himself upon him, trusting to his strength of arm; the girdle, however, was not pierced, nor nearly so, for the point of the spear struck against the silver and was turned aside as though it had been lead: King Agamemnon caught it from his hand, and drew it towards him with the fury of a lion; he then drew his sword, and killed Iphidamas by striking him on the neck.”

“First, Ajax son of Telamon killed brave Epicles, a comrade of Sarpedon, hitting him with a jagged stone that lay by the battlements at the very top of the wall. As men now are, even one who is in the bloom of youth could hardly lift it with his two hands, but Ajax raised it high aloft and flung it down, smashing Epicles' four-crested helmet so that the bones of his head were crushed to pieces, and he fell from the high wall as though he were diving …”

“Idomeneus meanwhile smote Oenomaus in the middle of his belly, and broke the plate of his corslet, whereon his bowels came gushing out and he clutched the earth in the palms of his hands as he fell sprawling in the dust.”

“Adamas then sought shelter under cover of his men, but Meriones followed after and hit him with a spear midway between the private parts and the navel, where a wound is particualrly painful to wretched mortals.”

My takeaways from these passages:

  • Extraordinary strength and skill at fighting should reflect in the way damage is described; in the last passage, Idomeneus’ strength is showcased in his ability to strike right through his opponent’s armor;
  • Occasional descriptions of the anatomical details of damage plays up the gruesomeness and desperation of combat, or the awesomeness of the hero;
  • Miscalculations, such as Iphidamas’ attack on Agammemnon, have serious consequences;
  • Fighting with anything that comes to hand – Ajax temporarily abandons his weapons to seize a big stone and throw it;

Homer also has a fine eye – or ear – for the details of how a combatant might cheat death:

“[Diomed] poised his spear as he spoke and hurled it, nor did he miss his mark. He had aimed at Hector's head near the top of his helmet, but bronze was turned by bronze, and Hector was untouched, for the spear was stayed by the visored helm made with three plates of metal, which Phoebus Apollo had given him.”

“Achilles in his turn threw, and struck the round shield of Aeneas at the very edge, where the bronze was thinnest; the spear of Pelian ash went clean through, and the shield rang under the blow; Aeneas was afraid, and crouched backwards, holding the shield away from him; the spear, however, flew over his back, and stuck quivering in the ground, after having gone through both circles of the sheltering shield. Aeneas though he had avoided the spear, stood still, blinded with fear and grief because the weapon had gone so near him.”

Another interesting takeaway – even a staunch hero like Aeneas can be unnerved by narrowly missing death. Also note that the shield did not save Aeneas by completely blocking Achilles’ spear, instead it covered him just enough that Achilles mistakenly threw where Aeneas’ body was not. On such little mistakes and miscalculations can the tides of combat turn.

I believe war was frequent enough in Homer’s Greece, and that the bard met enough warriors – may even have been one himself – that his words ring true to a good extent. The Iliad and the Odyssey may not have been strictly historical, but their combat details were very likely inspired by real-life soldier’s stories, heard first-hand by Homer himself. There’s a lot of lessons and techniques to pick up from these old epics, and of course they’re mighty fine reading on a gray and rainy day.

February 15, 2014

Food for Gamers: Suabay Herb Pancakes


I just made these Suabay herb pancakes for dinner (first time!) and since they were quite a hit with wifey, I’ll post the recipe here. They’re pretty fast and easy to prep, quite healthy, and make a great snack for games since they’re spicy and can be eaten with the fingers. We had them with kesong puti, cottage cheese made from buffalo milk, rather like Indian paneer. The cooling, creamy cheese went very well with the warm heat of the Suabay.

You will need:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 tsp baking soda (or 1 tsp baking powder)
  • 1 cup thick coconut milk (fresh or canned)
  • 1 egg
  • about 1 cup+ water
  • pinch of salt
  • dash of black pepper
  • 2-4 Thai chilies (siling labuyo)
  • small sprig green onion shoots
  • handful of Thai basil leaves
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh turmeric, chopped, or 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tbsp cooking oil


Chop the spring onion, ginger, garlic, onion, chilis, basil and turmeric root fine. I whizzed them all in a food processor.

Combine the chopped vegetables with coconut milk, flour, and egg. Thin with water until you have a rather thin batter, it should pour like maple syrup at room temp and be about as thick. You want to make really thin pancakes. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat a pan, brush with oil, then lower heat to minimum.

Pour about 1/4 cup batter or less, enough to make 4-6” pancakes when spread. Turn when top is almost dry and very bubbly.  Repeat. I was able to make about a dozen pancakes with my batter.

Serve plain, with cream/cottage cheese, butter, or even a salsa or cheese dip. The next time I cook this I’ll try adding some cream-style corn, and adjust the batter accordingly. Mmmmm …

February 11, 2014

Swords of the Four Winds Reviewed!

Thanks to fellow pulp author Davide Mana for the first review of Swords of the Four Winds! Here’s a capsule of his review:

sofw-cover“I’m currently reading – and very much enjoying – Dariel R.A. Quiogue’s Swords of the Four Winds, a highly satisfying collection of sword & sorcery stories set in the East.

The ebook lines up eleven stories which remind me of the classic Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock tales which I read as a kid, with a dash of Karl Edward Wagner to spice the lot.

Quiogue’s adventurers are tough, competent and ruthless, with that shard of nobility that is both their redeeming feature and the reason why they get involved in so many adventures.

The stories have it all – dark sorcery, huge battles, duels, escapes, beautiful women in need of help, ancient cities and strange legends coming alive.”

You can catch the rest, and read about Mana’s own stories as well, at his blog, Karavansara. This review came as such a delightful surprise, by the way (he purchased the book blind, i.e. I didn’t know him before this), that I promised Mana a free copy of Swords of the Four Winds Volume II!

February 7, 2014

Hari Ragat: the Odto-odto (High Noon) Viper

Continuing my thread of having a bestiary that’s well-integrated with the milieu’s folklore, and a different sort of challenge. This time, the challenge is less combat and more to the healer who must race against time to save the victims of this snake. There’s no Renown to be won for killing this snake, but there is Renown for healing someone of its poison.


Odto-odto (High Noon Viper)
This tiny snake's name literally means 'noon to noon,' for anyone bitten by it is said to die by noon of the next day. In game terms, this snake is a challenge to the heroes' best healer, or the heroes' ability to find a healer in time: odto-odto venom will knock out its victim within 1d6 rounds, that is within a minute or so of being bitten, after which the victim's companions have until noon the next day to get the victim treated. The snake is recognizable by its diminutive size – it rarely even grows beyond ten inches – and its coloration of black and yellow bands.

Odto-odto 3/1, Small and Easy to Miss, Common, Venom (Kills by Noon the Next Day), Renown Value 0; note that this snake is so small it does no damage except through its venom

Odto Venom 3/5, Renown Value 8; this Renown can be won by a shaman/healer who successfully treats an Odto-odto victim.

The awesome power of the Odto-odto's venom has made this snake a symbol of fear and reverence to the Vijadesans. It's said the ancestors will sometimes send warnings in the form of an Odto-odto appearing inside one's house; if it appears at the door it means one should stay in and cancel whatever venture he was about to embark on, if found in the bedchamber it means one's spouse or family is about to betray him. Sometimes shamans make pets of this snake, as a sign of their power.

February 5, 2014

Hari Ragat: the Bidadali

Apsara dancers in Kulen II Theatre Restaurant, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Sick at home and my shoot delayed, dangit, but at least this gives me time to continue writing the Hari Ragat bestiary. Only this and the sample adventure remains to be done!

The apsara photo above is meant to introduce a new creature for Hari Ragat, the Malay/Philippine equivalent of the apsara celestial dancer the Bidadali. Yep, it’s the Sanskrit Bidadari, but the Malay tongues have a thing for swapping L- R- and D- sounds (thus Hari Ragat, the better known Tagalog form being Dagat).  Anyway, here’s the Bidadali, a being you gain Renown from not by slaying and looting, but by marrying her.

The Bidadali are incredibly beautiful nymphs of the upper airs, who sometimes come down to earth to bathe in the purest forest or mountain springs and to dance for the greatest kings and heroes. Every Bidadali possesses a gossamer silk scarf which contains her magic; when she wears this she gains the ability to fly, go invisible, and turn into a bird at will. Bidadali have no other magic save their incredible charm and beauty, and the ability to speak with birds.

Bidadali are benign and have truly sweet, kindly natures, but they are dangerous beauties nonetheless because the mere sight of one can cause a man to fall violently in love with her. It requires the utmost concentration, aided by great spiritual power, to resist a Bidadali's aura of charm. Those who fail fall in love with the Bidadali whether they wish to or not, and they will do anything to obtain the Bidadali, using fair means or foul.

A man could win great fame by taking a Bidadali bride home, but there’s always the risk that someone will try to take her away. Moreover Bidadali who take human husbands will always miss their homes in the clouds and the freedom they enjoyed in bird form, so if ever they find their magical scarf they cannot resist the temptation to put it on to transform and fly away, often never to come back. It's also said that a bath of Bidadali's blood unfailingly confers ageless beauty, so witches and jealous women sometimes seek them out to murder them for this purpose.

Bidadali 6/9, Irresistible Beauty, Dancer for the Gods, Gossamer Scarf of Flight, Secret of Bird Speech, Renown Value 15

Aside from the deserved notoriety in-game that winning a Bidadali bride would bring, consider that these celestial maidens have Renown Values higher than a typical Binokot princess, and their dads don’t charge a ruinous bride price …

NB: This is my interpretation of the Bidadali myth, and does not follow any particular mythology exactly. Guess I’ll have to use this disclaimer in the book too, since I’m dealing with mythologies that are still part of existing religions and traditions …

February 2, 2014

Bakonawa, Minokawa, Mikonawa

Artist unknown -- if you recognize this image please contact me!

In Visayan mythology, the Bakonawa is a titanic dragon-fish that tries to swallow the moon; in some versions, there were originally seven moons, and the Bakowana was able to eat six before the gods and mankind stopped it.

In Bagobo mythology – the Bagobos being a tribe of southeastern Mindanao, and possibly a coastal power before the coming of Islam and the rise of the Maguindanao – the Minokawa is a titanic bird that ‘lives beyond the sky’ and tries to eat the moon.

I’m starting to suspect that the proper rendition for the latter is Mikonawa, as I’m finding on some webpages, because it’s the same creature. The myth is very similar, and later highland Bagobos turned the dragon-fish into an eagle because they were no longer living on the coast and so could form stronger associations with eagles, such as the large Philippine or Monkey-Eating Eagle, than with large fish or sea serpents. The early American missionaries who recorded these Bagobo legends however got it down as Minokawa, which may have been a transcription error. I don’t think they had tape recorders in 1916 :-).

For Hari Ragat, though, I described them as entirely different creatures. Both try to eat the Moon because of their legacy of hostility against the gods and man, being children of the Serpent Goddess who was slain at the creation of the world when she attacked Aman Bathala.

Hari Ragat: Beasts with Legends

As I round off the bestiary for Hari Ragat, I’ve noticed yet another theme that I hope will help this game to stand out and provide more entertainment to its players. A lot of these creatures after all are also standards in other FRPGs, and in fact many have rather bland entries in the Monster Manuals of D&D since they’re ‘ordinary’ wildlife.


Not in Hari Ragat. I’ve been weaving my bestiary descriptions with hooks and variants based on Filipino legends and folklore, and from other related sources like the Ramayana. It wasn’t exactly a conscious decision, but rather something that just came out on its own, a reflection of the stories my mom used to tell me when I was a kid (it helped that as a grade-school teacher, my mom kept a huge trove of local fairy tales and such, and borrowed books on them from the library for me even before I started school myself.) In other words, even the ‘ordinary’ wild animals in this setting will feel different because they’re linked to the setting’s unique culture.

Here’s an example, the humble deer. Usually treated just as meat on the hoof, it can be a lot of things to the Hari Ragat hero:

Usa (Deer)
A small species of spotted deer is found on all the larger islands, wherever there is sufficent forest growth for their food and shelter. They are a major source of meat, and their skins and antlers are much used in arts and crafts, such as for drumheads and sword hilts. Deerskins and antlers are also traded to the Wu Long and Lu Tzu for porcelains and other imports. Because deer are extremely timid creatures, however,  their flesh is taboo to warriors on the warpath; it is said those who eat venison, specially the heart, become timid as deer during battle.

Usa 2/1, Fleetfooted, Silent Forestwalker, Timid Heart, Common, Renown Value 0

Albino deer are considered special pets of the diwatas, born of does that ate fruit from the diwatas' enchanted trees, and are thus walking repositories of spiritual power. The flesh of white deer, specially the strong and virile stags, is said to cure any disease and unfailingly ensure success in siring children, while their horns are charms against poison and evil magic. Moreover, white deer are so rare and hard to hunt that they're worth quite a bit of Renown. Hunt them at your own risk, though, because slaying one might anger a diwata!

White Stag 7/3, Fleetfooted, Silent Forestwalker, Born Enchanted, Renown Value 10

Another interesting possibility for white deer is that they may be kept by Raksasa giants – not as pets, but as bait. Knowing that human hunters are likely to find white deer irresistible, the Raksasas keep the deer near their cave homes, knowing hunters chasing the creatures will likely end up violating Raksasa territory and thus make themselves fair game for capture, torture, and devouring.

The Raksasas may also breed black, crimson-eyed deer by sorcery, and these are savage, malevolent creatures that tempt unwary hunters only to turn around, gore them, then eat their flesh. Hunters usually can't tell the color of the black deer in the deep gloom of the forest at night or early morning, which is when deer are usually hunted.

Black Stag 7/3, Fleetfooted, Silent Forestwalker, Appear as Ordinary Deer, Renown Value 10

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