June 29, 2016

Mythic Archaeology for Hari Ragat


One of my personal goals for Hari Ragat was to stick strictly to pre-colonial material for the setting. Thanks to the works of scholars like Scott and Eugenio I was able to get into the epics pretty easily, but coming up with the bestiary was a bit more challenging.

A lot of Philippine lower mythology creatures acquired Spanish names and properties over time. Mermaids became sirena; dwarfs were duwende; evil spirits maligno; diwatas and wizards became encanto; ghosts were multo, from Spanish muerto; and so on. Popular Philippine culture has become so Westernized that Philippine dwarfs are often represented wearing Western-fairytale trappings, complete with pointy caps a la Doc, Grumpy, et. al.

Fortunately equivalent terms could still be found in different Philippine languages, specially the Lumad tongues, Tagalog and Bisaya. In some cases I went a little farther out, to the next closest culture which was Indonesian. Thus the replacement of sirena with duyung, which originally did mean mermaid. I guess the Spanish idea of the pretty Melusine-type mermaid was more appealing than the picture of the dugong, thus the switch!

Speaking of merfolk, the Philippine merfolk do seem more fearsome than the post-medieval Western archetypes. While the aspect of drowners and terrors of the sea became muted in Western merfolk stories as we remember them now, probably thanks to modern fairytale adaptations, Philippine merfolk definitely had a monstrous side. The siyokoy mermen were thought to be misshapen fish-men, more Lovecraftian Deep One types than Ariel’s pretty boys in the Disney movie. The twin-tailed mambubuno was  a drowner of fishermen, its very name evidence of its brutal nature: mam- “one who,” buno, “wrestles.” The marindaga of Bicol was a mermaid with eel- or sea snake-like tail that lures fisherfolk to her then eats them.

Though I’m actually done with the main rulebook of Hari Ragat (yes, it’s done!), I’m always on the lookout for more mythic creatures for possible expansions. And I’m having a ball doing so.

June 28, 2016

Epic-Heroic Scenario Guide

Since most potential players/GMs for Hari Ragat will already know Greek mythology, likely much better than they’d know Philippine mythology or epics, I’ve come up with a scheme for adventure design based on Classical heroes. Namely, we can model adventures on Hercules, Achilles, or Odysseus.

Herculean Adventures
Herculean adventures revolve around dealing with the monsters, spirits and gods of the wild. They involve exploration, epic monster hunts, battles with giants and dragons, and taming the enchanted wilderness to make it safe for mankind. Some sample scenarios:

  1. Village children have disappeared; who or what took them?
  2. A giant is ravaging the countryside, or demanding a ruinous tribute
  3. The Diwatas are angry and have sent a pestilence on the land
  4. Fishermen report something huge has been attacking their boats
  5. There has been a rash of merman raids along the coast; why?
  6. The heroes are given a chance to establish a new colony; they must lead the exploration and clearing of the new land

Achillean Adventures
Achillean adventures revolve around war and vengeance. The heroes are out to win glory in either hit and run raids or epic pitched battles, seeking out enemy champions to duel and vying with each other in performing crazy Heroic Displays to win Ancestral Favor in the midst of combat. Some sample scenarios:

  1. Tulisan bandits have been raiding the farms
  2. Guests from a neighboring kingdom commit treachery during a feast
  3. A royal wife or daughter has been kidnapped; this means war!
  4. A long-running blood feud is finally coming to a catastrophic climax
  5. An enemy has questioned or impugned a hero’s honor
  6. The ancestors demand for an ancient crime to be avenged

Odyssean Adventures
Odyssean adventures revolve around voyaging and exploring a wider world as heroic chieftains or kings. These adventures can have a very interesting mix of scenarios from sailing and survival at sea to fighting monsters to contests of courtesy and epic largesse at the exotic courts of various kings. Some sample scenarios:

  1. The heroes are invited to the courtship tournament of a famous binokot maiden
  2. The heroes are tasked with a sensitive diplomatic mission to a distant kingdom
  3. The heroes are offered a lucrative opportunity for a trading expedition
  4. The heroes learn that an enemy town will be unguarded as its chiefs sail off to another war
  5. The heroes get shipwrecked on an island ruled by a malevolent or eccentric Diwata
  6. The heroes anger a god after a successful raid; now they’ve got problems getting home with the loot

June 27, 2016

Grounding Hari Ragat NPCs

A Datu or Rajah character from the Amaya TV series

One of the ways a Hari Ragat GM can make an NPC come alive and give the players more ‘handles’ for actions and interactions is to give them interesting Ties. This is specially true if the NPC is of high status, which is to be expected from an epic-heroic kind of game. Such persons should be well-connected, with well-defined allies and enemies, so that their interactions with the PCs will have repercussions the way an orb-weaver’s web vibrates with every fly that gets into it.

With that in mind, this is my [draft] writeup for a Rajah NPC:

Here is a more or less typical Rajah opponent, a hero in his own right and by virtue of his ancestry, claimant to the throne of Hari Ragat. He is clad in brass mail-and plate-armor over rich silken clothes and a plumed brass helm, and carries two spears, a Kalasag shield, and kris. He commands a personal squadron of three Karakoas.

Vijadesan Rajah 6/8/28; Cunning Statesman, Tattoos of Sovereignty, Tattoos of Poison Resistance, Ancestor: Rajah Marawid; Vassal — Datu Sumanga of Balayan; Vassal — Datu Dailisan of Balayan; Reluctant Tributary — Lakan Tupas of Mancalon; Feud with the Bangkawils of Balayan; Renown Rank – Rajah

I don’t know who Sumanga, Dailisan and Tupas are yet, nor will I bother writing them up; instead I’ll let every GM make that up for himself. What’s important is this Rajah has other chiefs bound to him, that he’s got a potentially problematic underling, and an outright feud. And he’s in position to gun for the high kingship!

June 26, 2016

How Five Dragons Became Eight

In the Hari Ragat setting there is a powerful empire to the north of the Janggalan Isles with which the Vijadesans, the player characters’ people, trade with. I was originally going to name this the Tien Xia Empire, but got beaten to the punch by Vigilance Press’ Tianxia kung-fu RPG.

So my next idea was to name this the Five Dragon River Empire, and got Philgamer Jay Anyong’s help to translate. This translates to something like “Go Long Jiang” – and “Go Long” sounds too much like the Tagalog word for tires. I’d have too many of my players giggling over the name!

The next Chinese-y number that came to mind was eight, Wu, so this empire got named Wulongjiang, “Eight Dragon River [Empire].”

June 23, 2016

Using Your Followers in Hari Ragat

Scene from the Amaya TV series

Player characters in Hari Ragat can have followers, in the form of Dulohan points. These are some of the interesting things you can do in combat with your Dulohan:

Fan Out
By having your followers fan out and surround your foe, you gain Advantage to fight that foe. Your followers spread out and menace the foe with their spears and hem him in with their shields. However, it’s up to your hero to take the risk of actually going for the kill.

Fight Harder
You can Push a combat roll you have already won or tied by spending Dulohan points to redouble your assault, with your followers taking exhaustion and casualties as they fight more aggressively.

Shield of Blood
You can Push a combat roll you have lost by spending Dulohan points to represent your followers doing their utmost to save you, taking casualties and morale loss in the effort. This can be used in combination with Fight Harder, by spending enough Dulohan to turn a lost roll into a victory.

Close Ranks
You order your followers to close up with you, lending you and each other greater protection from their shields. This lets you claim Advantage to resist enemy attack, whether melee or ranged. However, it’s harder to move around while huddled together like this so while in Close Ranks you are at a Disadvantage to any contests of movement.

June 22, 2016

Preview: Trading Expeditions for Hari Ragat


Trading expeditions can make for interesting adventures, having a good mix of role-playing, combat and survival challenges. Setting out in small and rather fragile ships, the heroes must brave storms, pirates, sea monsters and greedy local rulers to trade their goods for treasure. Trade is handled very simply in this game, with minimal bookkeeping so you can focus on the adventure aspect.

Trade Opportunities
Trade opportunities rise from a constant demand for certain items in certain places, or from a temporary shortage of an otherwise common item somewhere. Exotic marine and forest products are in high demand wherever foreign merchants call. Locusts, typhoons and even the raids of giants may cause a rice shortage somewhere.

You can find out about trade opportunities by talking to travelers; this is a good reason to hang out at the Datu’s hall and join the conversation when he has guests. As a rule the best opportunities are on other islands — the farther they are, the less likely that they also have your trade goods. There may also be good opportunities inland, necessitating voyages upriver or trekking into the mountains.

Trade Returns
A trade opportunity is given in terms of a return rate for an item at a certain place: X Wealth points for Y item, at place Z.

For example, the GM may declare that “Pearls bring a 3:1 rate in Penjan.” This means for every Wealth point worth of pearls you bring to Penjan, you may bring back 3 Wealth.

This gives you the feel of actually doing trade without having to go into detailed and onerous bookkeeping.

Successful bargaining with a buyer can raise your profits, while bungling negotiations can lower them.

Continuing our example, Lawin-laut as the most experienced traveler does the negotiations. He asks for a 4:1 rate on their pearls, but his buyer, a canny Wu Long merchant, angrily insists on 2:1. A contest is rolled, but with Dimasalang and Hagibis scowling fearsomely at the Wu Long merchant, Lawin-laut gets enough Advantage to win the contest. The merchant reluctantly pays a 4:1 rate for the pearls.

Natural Wonders in Hari Ragat

Indangan Falls, also known as Hidden Falls, one of the little-known natural wonders of Cotabato province.

Impressive natural spots, often charged with spiritual power, add fame and beauty to your settlement, and may even yield income if they become pilgrimage sites. Many of them will have their own spirit guardians, often a Diwata. Some Diwata may ‘own’more than one wondrous site. Some possible wonders you may find while exploring include:

Visitation Peak
Some of the most majestic mountain peaks are habitually visited by gods. One god may favor particular mountains, or some peaks may host periodic gatherings of deities. These peaks should never be trespassed upon lest misfortune befall; on the other hand, this is one of the few means a Vijadesan hero might get to speak with the higher gods.

Pygmy Forest
This fog-bound, high-altitude forest consists entirely of trees and other flora at only a fraction of their normal size outside. Amongst them grow ferns, mosses and fungi found nowhere else in the world, and which may have unique magical properties.

Colossal Caverns
These huge caves are filled with the most impressive and otherworldly rock formations, and its depths practically reverberate with strong magic. They are the kinds of caves favored for royal burials, for the training and testing of new shamans, and for making offerings to the spirits of the earth and hidden places. Caves on the coast may have water-level mouths so big that warships can be rowed in — making it a great secret base site. Sea caves may already be occupied by pirates.

Hidden Valley
This beautiful valley has a well-hidden entrance; perhaps over a high and hidden mountain pass, or through a tunnel, or behind a curtain-like waterfall. Within is a natural paradise of lush, primeval growth, and the animals here, never having been hunted before, are unafraid of and even friendly to man. This could be a ‘navel of the earth,’ the source of the surrounding area’s fertility of plant life and game. What will you do with such riches?

Anthropomorphic Formation
Mountainsides, peaks and cliffs may suggest the face or body of a human being. Such anthropomorphic formations are signs that either a powerful Diwata or Tarabusaw dwells nearby. Formations of black basalt, or that have scowling or snarling features, almost always indicate Tarabusaw presence.

June 14, 2016

Player Roadmap for Hari Ragat

"What should my character be doing?"

Hari Ragat encourages proactive play, which means player characters can and should look out for themselves and act on their own agendas. If you're new to the game and the culture it's based on, though, you may want a sort of roadmap to get your character started in an interesting direction. So what should be in your agenda?

- You should be seeking adventures that you can boast about later. Accumulating such boasting points is how your character advances. The harder the adventure is for you, the bigger a boasting point it will be if you win.

- You should be seeking means to increase your character's resources, specially your wealth and your trove of ritual treasures, your Bahandi.

- You should be seeking to make or change Ties that will aid your character. Making friends and allies, making peace with (some) enemies, getting married, getting on good terms with the spirits, will all help your character grow in the world.

- You should be seeking to gain good Reputations for your character, and to erase your bad ones if you have any.

- During the adventure, you should be seeking for ways to gain the favor of the ancestor spirits for your group, because it's Ancestral Favor that powers your craziest, most epic-heroic stunts.

Note that I said seeking. That's because you're free to say to your Game Master, "Hey, I wanna do this." And if the other players like it, that's your adventure for the evening! Did you say you wanted to explore an uncharted island nobody's ever returned from? Sure! Want to find a bride or husband for your character? Go! Want to gather your hometown's young hotbloods to go a-pirating in enemy waters? I did say Hari Ragat is basically a game of playing Southeast Asian Vikings before, so yeah!

But what if the other players voted to do another adventure instead of the one you proposed? No problem. You've got a lot of possible goals from the start, so if you can't work on one on this adventure, you can find a way to work on another as part of the adventure. Feel free to suggest details for your friend's adventure that will test and reward your character. We've got a mechanic for that.

As for the rest – let the GM worry about it!

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