May 30, 2014

Reading Cutcliffe-Hynes’ The Lost Continent


I started reading C. J. Cutcliffe-Hynes’ The Lost Continent yesterday, and I’m hooked. (It’s a free e-book at Feedbooks, link leads there).

So far I’m at the fourth chapter, and our hero Deucalion, whose account was discovered by a slumming adventurer playing at archaeologist, has just been ejected from the Viceroyalty of Yucatan and summoned to Atlantis by the new Empress Phorenike for mysterious reasons. He’s been attacked by a rival Atlantean fleet and barely escaped alive, and he’s about to meet the Empress at the point where wifey threatened massive violence if I didn’t stop reading and go to sleep!

Things I’ve liked so far:

  • Heck, it’s about Atlantis. I’m a sucker for lost-world adventures, if it’s not obvious to you by now!

  • Nice nod by the author to proper archaeological practice. In the framing story, the first narrator helps an archaeologist on a dig in the Canaries, for a share of the find. He accidentally unearths a book but damages it in the process. He gets dressed down for that by the professor.

  • The hero of the story, Deucalion, starts out in a foreboding situation that immediately tells us a lot about Atlantis. He’s at the ceremony celebrating the accession of a new Vicerory in Yucatan, who turns out to be replacing him on very sudden notice despite his good performance there.

    We get a very good sense of his emotions at this point, including his forebodings over why he was so suddenly deposed from office, and the tension is quickly increased by the revelation that the Empress wants him to return to Atlantis to help her in something. This is made even more interesting by the revelation that Empress Phorenike is basically a usurper.

  • Atlantean decadence is nicely shown in passing through the interaction of Deucalion and his replacement, his friend Tatho. Deucalion embodies an honest ‘working man’s’ ethic, while Tatho openly admits he has to use his post to make money, to support his plethora of wives, slaves, cooks et cetera.

The Lost Continent definitely looks like it’s going to give me a lot of ideas I can use for Atlantis Fallen. And despite its age – first published 1900 – it’s very readable, not turgidly crawling as some older fiction tends to be to our modern tastes. By the way the pulp magazine cover above is making me think of shooting a bunch of pulp-fantasy inspired glamour portraits … hmmm ….

May 29, 2014

Atlantis Fallen: Atlantean Legacies for PCs

My main premise for Atlantis Fallen is that player characters are survivors of Atlantis. They are civilized people, used to a life of decadence and luxury, suddenly thrown into the a savagely primeval world of the mainlands, where they have to learn to survive.

However, each PC gets a choice of three Atlantean items to start with. The idea is these are the few personal treasures you were able to grab and bring along in the confusion of fleeing Atlantis as it sank. Initial ideas for the choices, in no particular order, include:

Also called the Ik’kharu, this is a wearable pair of wings and a liftstone powered by an orgolith, that enables personal flight. The liftstone provides the lift, and the wings are strapped to the arms; these are used for propulsion and maneuvering.

Orichalcum Weapons
Orichalcum is the special Atlantean form of bronze. Super-hard and uncorrodable, it makes for blades of superior sharpness and lightness for their strength. It’s also near-unbreakable. Ordinary bronze weapons by comparison tend to be brittle.

Orichalcum Armor
Armor of super-hard orichalcum, much harder and stronger for its weight than any other armor.

An orgolith (orgone + stone) that is keyed to your mind and body; you can tap it for extra life force, enabling you to perform great physical feats, resist fatigue, and recover from injury or disease far faster than normal.  Like all orgoliths, it can only be charged from the Mother Crystal which lies in sunken Atlantis. It’s meant to be an initial Atlantean advantage that will gradually be lost over the campaign as you get stronger in other ways.

Atlantean Bow and Arrows
The Atlantean bow is a composite bow, far more powerful and reliable than the cruder simple bows used by the peoples of Uropa and Azatlan. Its main benefit is greater range.

Atlantean Wingboat
This skiff-size vessel can carry 4-6 people, and is powered by an orgolith. It can only fly for a limited time before its energy crystal runs out of power – and because the Mother Crystal where it recharges from is sunk with Atlantis, you likely can’t get this to fly again after you use up the charges.

Atlantean Horse
The Atlantean horse, bred from spirited wild stock captured in Tartessia, is larger and stronger than the horses found elsewhere in Uropa and the Great Plains of Mictlan. You can ride it faster and for longer periods than the little Mictlan ponies, which are only good for pulling chariots.

Orgon Staff
The weapon of Atlantean priests and philosophers, the orgon staff is a weapon powered by an orgolith. When it touches flesh, it releases energy in a form like electricity, stunning the target. Again, though, limited uses: it will last pretty long, but not infinitely.

Ancient Grimoire
You have smuggled away a tome of dangerous, forbidden lore that allows you to contact the denizens from Beyond the Void, if you can follow the grisly rites described. Beware though, for this book was written by a madman, whose grammar fled with his sanity …

Prehuman Idol
This stone statuette depicts an obscene, horrific being from the dim eons before Man, and grants you Advantage to contact and summon that being, or borrow its powers. Beware, though, for it may be using you as much as you think you’re using it …

May 27, 2014

Atlantis Fallen: Legend and (Pseudo) History

I’m thinking of developing the Atlantis Fallen concept some more as a follow-up offering after Hari Ragat, again using Vivid, since the latter seems to work very well for pulp-style sword and sorcery play. Today I put together some notes on the history for the setting:

maya atlantis

In legend, the sinking of Atlantis is blamed on the moral corruption of the Atlanteans. The truth is the legend has cause and effect reversed.

When Atlantis first began to experience the increase in vulcanism that heralded its decline, the Atlantean demands on the continents sharply increased. More slaves were needed to repair the cities and temples, and replace those lost in the disasters. More captives were also required for the intensification of human sacrificial rites to appease the gods. More tribute was demanded, to replace the wealth that was lost.

These increased demands also led to the expansion of the Slave Legions, thus handing the balance of military power to the Legions as the Legions increased and the number of combat-trained and willing Atlantean warriors decreased.

Worse yet, the earthquakes also motivated no few Atlanteans to move to the mainlands, and whether their intentions were good or evil, their very presence weakened the Atlantean position vis a vis the natives of Uropa, Ophir and Azatlan. Many taught, or leaked, Atlantean technology such as bronze and military tactics. No few were corrupt sorcerers, whose evils quickly taught even the remoter tribes to hate and fear Atlanteans. And all of them, eventually, reinforced the heretical notion that Atlanteans weren't gods after all.

As the volcanic eruptions and earthquakes grew more frequent, so did these demands also increase. Atlanteans also began to fear the Legions, leading the Atlantean generals to get even tighter on disicipline. Dissatisfaction began to grow in the Legions' ranks. This was heightened even more after a civil war over the succession.

By the time the penultimate eruption was about to occur, Atlantis was a pressure cooker ready to blow its valve. Only one more incident was needed to trigger chaos. It was the eruption itself that brought it about, when one Atlantean general ordered his Legionnaires away from their galley to free it up for Atlantean evacuees. The general's own troops killed him, and this sparked the fighting, which quickly spread from city to city. The survivors of Atlantis would flee in confusion, hounded by marching rivers of lava, flying debris, blood-mad rebel Legionnaires, and a tsunami ...

You may note that I’m going for a less gonzo, grittier feel for this version Atlantis. While the Atlanteans will have some weird science and black magic, it won’t be too extreme. Solar concentrating lenses a la Archimedes. Gigantic horns playing harmonic tones that can shatter stone. That’s the flavor of weird science I’m planning to introduce.

May 26, 2014

Giving the Players a Direction

I’ve realized over time that I can appreciate, and want to design, games where the player has a very good idea what they should be doing. Other things may emerge during play, but this one thing is what drives the game. Players get it quickly, a very important consideration nowadays since available time for gaming is getting shorter for most players.

Classic D&D gets this very well: it’s about raiding dungeons for loot. So did the first run of the Star Wars RPG, by WEG: it was about opposing the Empire. I think Pendragon got it too, but its core concept just doesn’t appeal to enough people: Pendragon was about exploring the ideal of chivalry.

The setting details provided, the character creation rules, and game mechanics should all dovetail with this desired core activity or story. This specially applies to world-building, as it’s too easy to get into a spree of adding more elements for their own sake, or because you’re trying to make sure suspension of disbelief will hold. This is my own personal bugbear, so it’s something I always have to be watchful of. Gotta remember that players and GMs as a rule are pretty creative folks, so they really don’t need that much info; just enough to get started, and after that it’s their own game.

The world info I provide, however, must do two things: it must give players and GMs ideas for what to do in the game, and it must have enough flavor or urgency of appeal that makes it appealing to engage. Villain? Has to matter to the player characters, and something that makes the players want to oppose him. Whacking orcs because they’re orcs can get stale pretty quickly. But whacking orcs because they’re destroying your hometown – that’s something else.

Which brings me to my insight for the day: I want my game settings to be worlds in crisis. Star Wars is the perfect icon for this – you want the Empire to fall (or the Rebel scum to be crushed, if you’re feeling Sith-y). Nobody gets to stay neutral in the end. This is also the reason why playing a Jedi in Star Wars, using the Rebellion-era setting, is so appealing to me: the character starts out under pressure right out of the box, which makes me want to do things.

Now this gives me an idea: what if the player characters are survivors of Atlantis, their civilization destroyed, and they are now forced to make their way in the savage lands of Post-Diluvial Earth? Hmmm ….

May 15, 2014

Hari Ragat: Encounter with The Sea God


The Vijadesan hero Sumakwel encounters the sea god Apu Laut, who would make him the first Hari Ragat. I just love artist Diwa Fernandez-Velez’ rendition of this scene, it’s even more awesome in visuals than I had imagined when I first wrote  it.

Looks like the Hari Ragat RPG is going to look good after all!

May 11, 2014

Hari Ragat: Bakunawa-class Warship?

Bakunawa-class warship top view

A bit of idle speculation here, and ultimately a question: should this be included in Hari Ragat?

Marc and I have been thinking of naval battles for Hari Ragat, and that led me to wondering how the Karakoa warship design might evolve, assuming larger kingdoms with more available manpower (but still without gunpowder technology). The answer I came up with was the Bakunawa – yeah, I really like the name – which is the ‘quinquireme’ to the Karakoa’s ‘trireme.’ That’s the rough schematic above. Note that this is pure speculation, with no historical basis at all.

Bakunawa-class warship front view

Like the Karakoa, the Bakunawa-class warship is essentially a glorified war canoe, but its outriggers have been replaced by two secondary hulls, turning it into a true trimaran. The length would not change much, as with Vijadesan technology the maximum length pretty much depends on how long the largest hardwoods are, because the keel is essentially a big dugout canoe made of a single log. The height and beam of the ship can increase drastically with this arrangement though. The big fighting deck in the middle will be much wider and higher, possibly two-tiered, so a lot more fighters can launch missiles like javelins and arrows from a height advantage at any smaller vessel or at shore targets.

Propulsion will be sail and paddles, as with the Karakoa, save that paddlers get the added safety of being inside the secondary hulls instead of precariously perched on the outriggers! Still, sheer bulk will likely make this ship slower than a Karakoa.

What’s it for then? Two main purposes – as a floating, mobile stronghold for open-sea battles, much as the biggest carracks served as flagships in galley and cog battles in the High Middle Ages, and to deliver, using its very shallow draft relative to carrying capacity, large numbers of men ashore. I imagine that like some kind of medieval LST the Bakunawa can deploy gangplanks from the front ends of its lower fighting deck so a lot of men can debark at once.

The Bakunawa-class warship would be an exclusively royal vessel, only affordable to Rajahs and Maharajahs/Rajah Saripadas, and only used in major battles. It’d require too many men to crew and launch quickly as a fast-response raid interceptor, and would likely have problems handling in rough seas or contrary winds, so it’s likely usable only during fair weather.

What do you think?

May 5, 2014

Highland Southeast Asia for Your Campaign

B'laan dancers at El Gawel Falls

Shan. Hmong. Naga. Igorot. Kalinga. Ifugao. Kankana-ey. Bagobo. B’laan. Manobo. Tiboli. Mandaya. What do these strange names have in common? Ask a Thai, or a Lao, and he’ll surely recognize some of these names. Ask a Filipino, and if he’s worth his balut he should recognize some of these too. We urban Southeast Asians know them as our cousins, like us but also very unlike us, for they are our highlanders. They are the residents of Zomia.

Where is Zomia?
Zomia? You’ll find no such land listed in most geographies, nor even as a label on most world maps. It exists, and it does not. Do we Southeast Asians think it exists? I’m sure a lot of us have never even heard of it – but we also know very well that it’s there. Zomia and its peoples are many things to us – they bring us tourist dollars, their names are rallying cries for environmentalists trying to save our rain forests from loggers and miners, they’ve always been our crack troops, and they’re headaches for our industry- and corporation-oriented national governments.

Map of Zomia

The term Zomia was first coined by historian Willem van Schendel, who used it to refer to the highland regions of mainland Southeast Asia that have always been outside full government control, in large part because of the cultural divide between highlander and lowlander. It comes from the word Zomi, a Tibeto-Burman term for highlander. Different scholars define the extent of Zomia differently, some including even the Afghan highlands, while I think the Cordillera of Luzon and the mountains of Mindanao should also be included because of the many parallels to mainland Zomia. In this post I’ll refer mostly to the Cordillerans and Lumads, as these are the groups I’ve been able to research most.

A Tradition of Defiance
The great hook for FRPG worldbuilders to use Zomian concepts, I think, comes from the scholars’ central hypothesis about this ‘ghost’ region: that the highland peoples are who they are, and live the way they do, as a conscious act of refusing to assimilate into the lowlander-dominated nations surrounding them.

This ‘tradition of defiance’ shapes many of our local legends from history: how the Lumads and Cordillerans resisted Spanish conquest, the bravery of Igorot troops campaigning with the Americans against Japanese troops in Northern Luzon in 1944, how Lumads in Mindanao alternately allied with the Americans against the Moros, or with the Moros to preserve their freedom. And of course many Americans, specially Vietnam veterans, will remember their Hmong allies from the conflicts in Vietnam and Cambodia. The Hmong/Miao peoples have been at this independence thing for a long time, as they were steadily driven south into the highlands of Indochina by Imperial China beginning as early as the Han Dynasty. (Imperial China has inherited a tradition of being wildly imaginative in drawing their own borders.)

The Rice Terraces of Banaue

But are the Zomians really rebels, or are they refugees? The answer seems to be both. Moving to the highlands was in some cases a definite result of pressure from other peoples – for example, the Bagobos remember a tradition of seafaring, but they’re now highlanders, living deep inland. They were driven from their old coastal homes by either the Mandayas or the Muslims. The Ifugaos, on the other hand, apparently migrated to the Cordilleras as a deliberate choice, reshaping its mountains into stupendous arrays of rice terraces and tunneling into the upper slopes for gold.

Schendel and Scott, the main Zomia theorists, believe that the main draw of the highlands was freedom: once up there, the Zomians adopted cultural practices that helped keep them ‘out of the loop,’ resisting resettlement, conscription into the armies or into corvee labor gangs, and maintaining their solidarity as a political and fighting force through oral histories and distinctive tribal practices. This opinion seems to be borne out in the Manobo epic of Agyu, wherein Agyu, following conflicts with the Moros, moves his people to the land of Nalandangan, and where they have to resist several waves of invaders before they’re finally left alone.

The Zomian Warrior’s Environment
Whatever their reasons for moving into the highlands, the Zomians’ new environment made a life of freedom from lowland control possible. First, the mountains are of course formidable natural strongholds. Mountains in the tropical monsoon belt may not have snow, but they’re just as challenging to enter or cross: covered in thick jungle, cut by swift rivers prone to flash flooding, and with wetter, more violent weather than in the lowlands. When we go to the boondocks, we always plan to travel in the mornings because the heavy afternoon rains common here can cut off the river crossings.

Second, the effect these mountain environments have on their inhabitants is fearsome, militarily speaking. Living at this altitude, and with such terrain to cross on a daily basis, your typical Zomian is physically much fitter and more enduring than a lowlander of the same age, even if the lowlander is a farmer or fisherman who does hard manual labor every day too. I’ve been a ‘victim’ of highlander fitness and how it affects their sense of distance myself: during our shoots in the boondocks of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat, I learned to despair whenever our Lumad guides would tell us our destination was ‘just a short walk away!’

I’ve been to village festivals where the Lumads who danced for us would nonchalantly speak of walking three, four or five mountains, starting in the dark before dawn, just to reach the festival site. I also learned to trust our guides’ surefootedness in steep, muddy or rocky terrain, often entrusting them with my cameras to keep the equipment safe should I take a tumble. The first shot above, for example, was taken after a two-hour hike into the highlands, mostly through a rocky, slippery stream bed, to get to the waterfalls. And all through those highland marches, I was thinking how formidable these highlanders would be as a military force.  The qualities I saw in action  are the very same things that contribute to the legend of the Gurkhas serving in the British Army.

It’s not surprising then that the Zomian way of war is the guerilla way. They’re none too numerous, and too loosely organized, to form big armies; but they’re great at small unit operations. They’ve got stealth from years of experience hunting. They’ve the ability to cross terrain lowland generals would consider impassable. And their culture is a warrior culture, with weapons and weaponizable tools like bolos in every house, even now.

The Warrior Culture
Many Zomian tribes cultivate a tradition of vengeance, where wrongs – specially by lowlanders – would be immediately punished by a handful of raiders striking in the dark before dawn. An American missionary, working in Mindanao in the 1980s, recorded how the logging camp where he stayed at was thrown into panic one night because a logger had killed a Manobo in a quarrel over a woman and they were expecting a retaliatory raid. Indeed, there’s a Homeric tone to some of the tribal laws about women and women’s honor. The Manobos for instance have a rule of ‘ten for one’ – the honor of a Manobo woman is worth ten heads. 

When we visited the town of Lake Sebu, on the shores of that lake in the South Cotabato highlands, our guide Roy told us of the prevalence of Tiboli tribal law in the town. Their town jail, he noted, was always empty; offenders were encouraged to settle by arbitration and payments of weregild, rather than face the possibility of blood feud.

And some of the Zomian tribes were headhunters; might there have been an element of psychological warfare to the adoption of this practice? Spanish chroniclers of the 1700s and 1800s noted that there were vital passes in Zambales and the Ilocos region that had to be crossed at forced march, lest they be caught in headhunter territory at night. The Cordilleras were among the few parts of the Philippines never under Spanish control, despite the draw of its gold deposits. Headhunting was also a central part of the religion of the Nagas, Dyaks, Tinguians, Ifugaos, Ibalois, Wa, Sumba, and many other Southeast Asian highland peoples.

The net effect of these tribal traditions has been two-edged, though. On the one hand, they’ve fostered an air of forbidden territory to the highlands; one does not enter the highlands without permission, one does not mess with the highlanders. It’s helped preserve their unique cultures, and it’s helped preserve their environment, such that the most pristine rain forests are to be found in the ancestral domains.

But those traditions have also reinforced some negative stereotyping in the eyes of lowlanders. This stereotyping of course leads to discrimination, to the point that my other photographer friends who’ve shot the Kalingas tell me young Kalinga women now forego the traditional tattoos because they don’t want to be marked as Kalingas when they go looking for jobs in the city. They fear they will not be given jobs should their employers find out who they are.

Highlander culture however is remarkably persistent. Even in the face of ever-accelerating modernization, the highlanders consciously cling to their culture. I met a Manobo Christian pastor who sees no conflict between his religion and his continued belief in the diwatas and anitos of the wilderness; these spirits, he says, have always been their neighbors, and they’re pretty powerful so they make sure to treat them right! There are movements to preserve the traditional arts and crafts, like tattooing, and many still hold their traditional festivals using the old lunar calendars to calculate the dates for these gatherings.

Highlander Economy and Organization
The highlanders of Southeast Asia share many similarities in their ways of life and the social organization built around those ways of life. Most are simple agriculturists, practicising swidden, or slash-and-burn farming, supplemented by hunting and fishing. The Ifugaos are among the exceptions who practice wet-rice cultivation, but they do it on their own terms, up in their highland strongholds and not as tenant farmers for lowlander landlords.

This form of livelihood, which persists up to now in many highland areas here, dictates settlement patterns and population density. As I mentioned in my previous posts about Southeast Asia, wet rice cultivation encourages concentration, but swidden farming encourages dispersal. Most Cordillerans and Lumads live in small communities, spaced widely apart from each other; and the pattern seems to hold for traditional Hmong settlements as well. Small communities encourage simpler political organization. Among the Cordillerans, for example, rule is not by Datu chieftains but by informal, yet very influential, councils of elders. The Lumads of Mindanao do have Datus, but they function in looser hierarchies than the royalty of the Maranaos, and are balanced by institutions like the Tiboli council of women elders, the Kesetifun Be. Here’s a pic of the women’s council at Lake Sebu, being entertained by a satirist:

A satirist chanting at the Tiboli's Kesetifun Be Lemlunay S'bung festival

The idea of communal ownership of land also seems to be widespread among the highlanders. I know both Cordillerans and the Lumads traditionally think this way, and in fact the many legal disputes over ancestral domain and encroaching landowners comes from this. In this system, no individual or family owns land; instead all land is held in common, with the tribal elders deciding allocations in council. There’s no question of who’s supposed to do what either; everybody just pitches in when a great effort must be made.

A photographer friend of mine, Tommy Hafalla, told me of a curious example of this tradition of communal effort. At Petsya, somewhere near Bontoc, there used to be a bridge of bamboo and pine logs built by the Bontocs and the people of a neighboring community together. With limited tools, they bridged the deep ravine by dragging logs to the site, laboriously stretching them over and weaving them together with bamboos, and the young men would jump on the bamboos to bend them into the desired shape. The bridge would have to be repaired every few years, and lives were often lost during this. Yet they persisted. That bridge has now been replaced by a steel and concrete one, but Hafalla says the tribal elders still proudly show pictures of the old bridge to the young ones so they will remember.

And that brings up another great point about highlander culture: they’ve got long memories. Their tradition of passing history may be oral, but they remember a lot.

Highland-Lowland Symbiosis
The isolation of the highlanders has never been total, though. Most highlanders did have periodic contacts with lowlander society, and these relationships could take several forms. In a way the Zomians could never be fully independent of the lowlanders, because they needed many lowlander products, such as salt, fish, cloth, tools and weapons, and livestock. This dependence has only gotten worse with modernization, something you could explore in a Victorian or Steampunk setting.

A Bagobo dish made using dried fish from the coast

Above is a picture illustrating the basic highland-lowland symbiosis in Mindanao: this dish is a Bagobo recipe, but it contains bulad, dried fish, from the coast. Bulad is a staple, and a treat, in the Bagobo diet, but it’s something they can’t produce themselves. All other ingredients in this dish were grown in the mountains.

Where the highlands are more easily accessible, specially if there are river systems that can be navigated far upstream, as in parts of Mindanao and in the Pasig River-Laguna de Ba’I basin, the relationship was often tributary.  Highlander communities had to pay tribute in exchange for gifts and the right to trade in lowland towns, and of course to forestall attack by the militarily powerful lowland chiefs. Again I’ll refer to the story of Agyu in the Manobo epic as an example. The move to Nalandangan is triggered by a kinsman of Agyu slaying a Moro datu, who mistreated him when he came down to pay their tribute. In the Pasig-Laguna de Ba’I basin, highlander and lowlander were the same people; both were Tagalogs, though there were sharp social distinctions between the lowlander ‘taga-bayan’ and the highlander ‘taga-bundok.’

Where the highlanders were numerous and powerful, the relationship could become one of honored vassalage or alliance. This was what happened when a branch of the highland Tagkaolos converted to Islam and became vassals of the Maguindanao sultanate, thus forming the Kagan tribe. The Kagans under Datu Bago came to dominate the Davao River basin, apparently independent of Maguindanao, in the 1800s, pushing the Mandayas and Bagobos out. But in taking the river basin, though, they became lowlanders, with the lowlander vulnerability to attack by sea. Now the Kagans again live in the upper lands, still by the river but pushed back from the coast.

The Ilocanos and the western Cordillerans seem to have achieved an understanding that was almost like the troubled but peace-oriented relationship between two neighboring states. There are Spanish documents from the 1700s and 1800s recording peace treaties between governors and mayors in Ilocandia with the tribal elders of the Cordilleras (all Philippine official documents of the time were written in Spanish). The Spanish and Ilocanos wanted peace because military expeditions into the mountains were simply too costly, while Cordilleran religion seems to have been a driving factor to both peace and tension.

The Ilocano farmers were glad to have a ready market for their hogs and cattle, for the Cordillerans needed a lot of livestock for their periodic canao festivals, where sacrifices were required. Besides, the Cordillerans paid with something really desirable: raw gold dust and nuggets. Peace thus made acquisition of sacrifices so much easier and made farming much more profitable.  The Cordilleran religion however also required a periodic acquisition of human heads, so headhunting raids by young braves were always a sticking point of the negotiations. Here the very freedom and looseness of highlander social organization worked against them, for the elders really had limited authority to stop their braves from raiding where they wanted. Headhunting seems to have stopped only in the early 1930s, after the Americans established a strong military base in Baguio, though I suspect some trophies got taken in the 1944-45 campaigns against the Japanese.

Contact with lowlanders, specially the colonial empires of the West, also led to may sordid tales of abuse from both sides. Sometimes corrupt or just plain ignorant chieftains ended up signing away vast tracts of communal land to lowland ‘buyers.’ There was a time in Davao when 50 pesos could buy you acres of land. Now? I can’t even have a full lunch on that amount! There were even attempts by some honorable Spanish officials and clergy to prevent Spanish adventurers from acquiring tribal land by underhanded means, but they were just a few voices in the wilderness. As a rule, where highland tradition and modern law clash, modern law will win – save in the remotest heights.

Sometimes wealthy planters, loggers or miners even hire mercenaries to drive the highlanders from desirable tracts of land. This is going on right now in parts of the Philippines, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true elsewhere in the region. There’ve also been cases where mixed marriages also led to land conflicts, as lowland immigrants want title to their property, and would sometimes ask for land as dowry when marrying highlander women.

These troubled highlander-lowlander relationships can easily be adopted to your campaigns, whether your stories are set in a Southeast Asian setting or not. In a Southeast Asian setting, even a fantasy one, you can make your milieu much richer by adding the diversity and potentials for tension with highlander tribes.

Whew! This has been another very long post. Yes, it’s a bit short on the monsters and fantastic stuff, but that’s easy to research. I’m just hoping that when you make your own Southeast Asian setting it will have a truly Southeast Asian feel, and that this post helped a bit by providing a firm groundwork. Thanks!

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