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.

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