April 13, 2015

Ruins and Relics for Hari Ragat

Gratuitous picture of Khmer ruins, Cambodia

If there’s one FRPG trope that Hari Ragat will always be short of, it’s dungeons. They are, quite simply, few and far between in this setting. Partly that’s because the focus is on living communities and wilderness adventures, and partly because dungeons simply don’t appear in my source materials.

Indeed, some classic ‘delving’ tropes are inverted in Hari Ragat:

Manunggul burial jar, used to contain bones

Tombs and Grave Goods
Exploring ancient, underground stone tombs to plunder them of their treasures is standard fare in many FRPGs. Not in Hari Ragat. This form of burial isn’t practiced in the milieu, as grave sites are much simpler, and moreover the heroes are cast this time as the protectors of the tombs.

Grave robbing is a very serious offense against the ancestors, and allowing it to happen brings down the wrath of the ancestors on your folk. The heroic thing to do, therefore, is to keep those pesky grave robbers out. Specially if are enemy sorcerers, planning to steal the remains for necromantic purposes.

The biggest inversion of all is the way treasure is treated. In a typical FRPG, you steal shiny stuff from the dead, to finance your living; in Hari Ragat, you take treasure from the living in large part to give to the dead! Ancestor worship is a big thing in this milieu, with your ruler, relatives and even followers expecting appropriate gifts of treasure from you to accompany them to their graves when they go. Failure to do so results in disrepute in the society of the living, and disfavor from the powerful dead, which will impact your character’s fortunes.

Nasuli Spring in Bukidnon, an example of what would've been a sacred site

Again, there are no big stone temples in this setting. The sacred sites are found in the wilderness, because the people of the setting are animists who worship nature spirits. Once again, the heroes are cast not as plunderers of these sacred sites – an attitude I’ve always felt represented colonialist ethics – but as protectors, and occasionally as victims of the dangerous magic present in those sacred sites.

On the other hand, I love pulp fantasy and the old Hollywood adventures, such as Harryhausen’s Sinbad series, not to throw in some old school standards:

Lost Cities
Yup, there are lost cities in Hari Ragat. Not many, but they’re there, overgrown by jungle. Who built them? And why are they on islands the Vijadesans (your character’s race) believe they’re the first people on?

Another possibility for exploration is an abandoned Vijadesan settlement, deserted after it was destroyed or its inhabitants scared off by volcanic eruption, evil omens or hauntings, war, or the like. There will be little trace left of the buildings that were once here, as they were all of wood, bamboo and thatch, but here and there you may find markers of human presence: log pilings that once held up splendid torogan or astana palaces, pieces of finely carved wood, a grave marker of carved hardwood or even an entire buried ship, all overgrown by jungle.

There may be no extensive stone tunnel dungeons in Hari Ragat, but caves are very definitely part of this setting. Southeast Asia has quite a few big caves that we can use as models.

Batu Cave, Malaysia

There’s Batu Cave in Malaysia, which houses a huge Hindu temple complex; Han Son Doong Cave in Vietnam, now considered the world’s largest cave; the Underground River at Puerto Princesa, Palawan; Lagbasan Cave in Sultan Kudarat, whose innermost chambers were once used as tombs by the native Manobos; the mummy-filled caves of Sagada; and more.

Common characteristics of these tropical caves are the presence of water, sometimes entire lakes or underground rivers of it; lairing snakes galore; and a sacred status, regarding them as either the homes of Diwatas or other supernatural beings, or fitting burial sites for the most revered ancestors.

Special touches could include: albino crocodiles found only inside this cave; thousand-year old serpents capable of human speech and possessed of powerful magic; treasures hidden away for a fated hero to find; shapeshifting giants or dragons; ‘lost tribes’ who’ve sheltered in the cave for generations; or even an entire pirate lair hidden in a sea grotto.

Introducing the Pilandok

pilandok laughs

The Pilandok is a new character archetype for Hari Ragat, which the GM can use as an occasional NPC, and may be made available for play if the GM agrees.

Based on a trickster character from Peninsular Malay and Maranao/Maguindanao culture, with some admixture from the Tagalog figure of Juan Tamad, the Pilandok is a clever good-for-nothing who manages to live and have fun at the expense of the powerful.


The word Pilandok means Mouse Deer, referring to the tiny chevrotain of Southeast Asia. Malays have always had a special regard for this creature, regarding it as a paragon of cleverness and spunk because it can survive a world of pythons, crocodiles and tigers despite being so tiny and weak. It’s known as the Sang Kancil in Malaysia, and the Pilandok and Sang Kancil stories are very similar. Here are summaries of some of the tales:

The Sang Kancil and Prince Parameswara
Prince Parameswara fled his kingdom of Singapura after a Madjapahit invasion, and while despondently pondering his future from under the shade of a Melaka tree, he saw his hunting dogs corner a mouse deer. He was sure the mouse deer was a goner, but the little animal suddenly kicked the lead hound in the nose, halting it, and then sprang away into the jungle. Parameswara took hope from the mouse deer’s spunky gesture despite its weakness, and decided to found his new kingdom on the spot. He named the new kingdom Melaka, after the tree where he had received the good omen. This legend is why Malacca has a mouse deer on its coat of arms.

Pilandok and the Crocodiles
This tale exists both in Malay and Maranao folklore. Pilandok wanted to cross a mighty river one day, but there were no boats or bridges for him, and he dared not swim because of the crocodiles in it. Then he thought of a trick. He called to the crocodiles, summoning them all to shore, where he told them the sultan had sent him, Pilandok, to count the crocodiles so the sultan could send them gifts. The crocs duly lined up under Pilandok’s direction, arranging themselves in a line from one bank of the river to the other. Pilandok then skipped across the river from the back of one croc to the next, pretending to count aloud, but when he had safely reached the far bank he called to the crocodiles and revealed the trick. The crocs were furious, but what could they do?

Pilandok and Prince Sumusong-sa-Alongan
Pilandok, the son of a poor family, was sleeping hungry beneath a tree where hung a large beehive, when Prince Sumusong-sa-Alongan came riding up with a bag of gold. The prince asked Pilandok what he was doing, and the trickster answered that he was guarding a magical gong in the tree for the sultan. He emphatically repeated that no man save one worthy was allowed to beat the gong. The proud prince, nettled, immediately demanded the right to beat the gong, until finally he offered Pilandok the bag of gold for the privilege. Pilandok agreed, but on condition that the prince wait until Pilandok was far away lest the vengeance of the sultan fall upon him. The prince did so, then beat upon the gong – which of course was the beehive! Pilandok got away with the gold, and Prince Sumusong-sa- Alongan was stung almost to death.

In this story, we see that Pilandok can have a ruthless side; he doesn’t care for the consequences of his tricks, so long as he gets what he wants.

Pilandok and the Kingdom Beneath the Sea
Datu Usman had gotten tired of the tricks played on him by Pilandok, so he had the trickster arrested, meaning to throw him in a cage into the sea. While his captors are resting, however, a merchant passes by and Pilandok begins weeping. The merchant of course asks why he’s in the cage, upon which Pilandok cries that he doesn’t want to marry the princess. The foolish merchant says that Pilandok is a fool he’d gladly change places with, for who wouldn’t want to marry the king’s daughter? Pilandok changes places with the merchant, taking the merchant’s clothes and goods, and of course it’s the merchant who gets drowned.

Later, Datu Usman encounters Pilandok again and is very suprised that he’s not dead. Pilandok then whips up a tall tale, telling Datu Usman he did not die because he was thrown right into the kingdom beneath the sea, where he found favor and riches. This incites Datu Usman’s curiosity and greed, so he agrees to be locked in a cage and thrown into the same spot. The end is predictable, and Pilandok is permanently freed from Datu Usman’s persecution.

The Pilandok in Hari Ragat
The Pilandok archetype can be used as comedy relief in a game of Hari Ragat, or more seriously, as a counterpoint to the idea of the epic hero. The epic hero in Hari Ragat does have a dark side, enjoying power and privilege at the expense of the common folk. A raider may be a bringer of wealth to his own folk, but to his victims, he’s a destroyer.

Enter the Pilandok. The Pilandok is an Everyman response to being victimized, by turning the tables around through guile. The GM can alternately cast a Pilandok as a victim who needs the protection of the heroes when he gets in over his head, or as a danger to society who must be stopped, or as a provocateur who gets the heroes in trouble with the powers that be.

For example, say the Pilandok in your game is a player character’s servant. The Pilandok insults a visiting, unpleasantly high-handed Datu, who of course wants to punish the trickster. Now the player may have to choose between punishing the Pilandok or losing honor, or if the datu tried to harm Pilandok directly, Vijadesan honor demands that the PC defend or seek redress for his own servant. Either way, it’s a pickle!

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