August 11, 2017

Herculean, Achillean & Odyssean Epic Examples for Hari Ragat


Some time ago, I posted about using patterns from Greek mythology as helpful labels for Hari Ragat. A Hari Ragat GM could run adventures, and players make characters, that were either Herculean, Achillean, or Odyssean in theme. To help HR players and GM’s, and to give you a taste of what the source material is like, here are summaries of three epics with those themes:

Ibalong, a Herculean epic
The Ibalong of Bicolandia relates how Bicol was made safe for human habitation, just as Hercules went around the Greek world quelling all sorts of monsters. The heroes Baltog, Handyong and Bantong travel to the land of Ibalong, where like Beowulf they take on one supernatural threat after another.

First a giant demon-boar named Tandayag ruins Baltog’s crops, so he hunts it down. In an echo of Hercules’ encounter with the Nemean Lion, Baltog kills Tandayag with his bare hands, likely because no weapon would work. Baltog was later succeeded by Handyong, who campaigned across Ibalong taking on various enemies, including ‘Tiburones,’ giant flying sharks and mad buffalos. Handyong’s most formidable foe was the snake-goddess Oryol, but in classic sword and sorcery style she falls hard for the hero, and turns against Chaos to aid him.

As an aside, it’s interesting that the flying sharks have a Spanish name; Tiburon is shark in Spanish. What were they really called? Some suggest Pating Pakpakan, which literally means winged shark in Tagalog, but the Bicolanos speak a different tongue. But, what’s another Filipino monster that flies and has sharklike qualities? The Bakunawa. So I’m speculating that the Tiburones of Ibalong were based on the Bakunawa, and in Hari Ragat that’s how I’m rendering them: as Larval Bakunawa. I’ll need to find a native name, though.

The final enemy in the Ibalong is Rabot, which is only described as a half-man half-beast, which could turn its attackers to stone. It was slain by the youth Bantong, the young lieutenant of Handyong who by this time is the aging ruler of Ibalong.

Darangen of Bantugan, an Achillean epic
The Darangen (Lay) of Bantugan celebrates the most famous Maguindanao hero Bantugan. Like Achilles he’s a peerless champion and paragon of nobility, but he starts the story a wronged man. Bantugan’s elder brother is the Sultan of Bumbaran, but driven mad with jealousy at Bantugan’s popularity with the people, he orders the whole kingdom to shun the champion. Shamed by this, Bantugan exiles himself.

He goes out in style, though, taking up his shield and his kampilan hung with hawkbells and exiting the city dancing. His adventures in exile however get him mixed up with a sorceress who steals his soul, and his other brothers travel to the Underworld to get his soul back. They do so just in time, for Bumbaran is being invaded by its old enemy Miscoyaw.

Bantugan, newly awakened from his out of body experience,  summons his diwata/tonong spirit guardians to aid him in battle. The spirits fly him on his shield to  Miscoyaw’s armada which is about to land on Bumbaran, and the hero jumps onto the enemy deck with flashing sword. Miscoyaw and his giant guardsmen almost overwhelm Bantugan, forcing him overboard, but one of his spirits either takes crocodile form or summons a crocodile, and with one flip of its mighty tail sends Bantugan sailing right back onto the deck!

The enemy of course is routed, and Bantugan returns to a royal welcome in Bumbaran. He marries a bevy of princesses, including one the one who with her magic parrot helped find his soul. He doesn’t live happily ever after though. I’m not sure if the tragic ending of Bantugan was tacked on after the arrival of the Spaniards, or the Maguindanaos merely changed the villain to Spaniards later, but Bantugan gets into a rivalry with a Spanish general over a princess, and the Spaniards invade.

Bantugan goes out to meet them in his warship, but this time his spirit fail him and his ship is sunk. Their magic however turns Bantugan, the ship, and everyone on it into a rock. Bantugan and his warriors are said to still live in that rock, which is now Bongos Island in Maguindanao.

Hinilawod, an Odyssean epic
The Hinilawod is the epic of Panay, celebrating the exploits of the goddess Alunsina’s sons Labaw Donggon, Humadapnon and Dumalapdap. Like the Odyssey, this epic is full of fantastic journeys and magical encounters, and revolves around the theme of courtship. Odysseus should be glad the brothers never got near Penelope, though, for they were real Casanovas, able and willing to court goddesses who were already married, and get away with it.

Labaw Donggon goes on adventure first, aiming to court the famed beauty Angoy Ginbitinan. When he reaches her kingdom, Angoy Ginbitinan’s father demands that as part of her bride price Labaw Donggon slays the monster Manalintad. This he does so with the aid of his magic belt. He then courts another beauty, on the way fighting and defeating the hundred-armed giant Sikay Padalogdog.

The hero’s next love is a married goddess, Malitong Yawa Sinagmaling Diwata, whose husband is Saragnayan the ‘lord of darkness.’ I seem to remember Theseus or his companion wanting to carry off Persephone from Hades, and this was the level of Labaw’s gumption. After a long voyage Labaw Donggon reaches Saragnayan’s island, and going into the god’s house, demands his wife. Saragnayan of course is enraged, so they fight, but this time Labaw Donggon is defeated and imprisoned.

But Labaw Donggon’s sons mature quickly – Philippine demigods tend to grow to adulthood within mere days or months, this theme repeating from Ilocos in the north with the Biag ni Lam-ang to Mindanao – and they go in search of their father. Abyang Baranugon, one of the sons, defeats Saragnayan and frees his father.

Meantime, Labaw Donggon’s brothers Humadapnon and Dumalapdap also swear vengeance on Saragnayan and set off on a voyage to his land. Along the way Humadapnon falls under the spell of the sorceress Piganun, just as Odysseus was enchanted by Circe  and Calypso. Fortunately Humadapnon’s comrade Buyong Matanayon remembers a charm against black magic: burning some ginger in the hearth breaks a witch’s power. He casts some ginger into the fire, knocks Humadapnon senseless, and escapes carrying him.

More wonders follow one after another – this story would’ve made a great inspiration for a Harryhausen flick. There’s a fight with an eight-headed serpent, the Balanakon a two-headed serpent, Uyutang a monstrous bat-thing with poison claws (makes me think of the Ropen of New Guinea), abductions, and a duel (over a woman of course), where the combatants find out they’re both sons of Alunsina and the goddess divides the woman into two new persons to satisfy them both.

Trade Patterns in Hari Ragat

balangay color

I’ll confess: I’ve always wanted to play, or GM, a Sinbad-inspired game of trading on the high seas, but I hate bookkeeping. Now, Hari Ragat is patterned after a setting that was on the Maritime Silk Road, so there will definitely be trading opportunities for the PCs. In game terms, trading is a way to gain Renown, Wealth, and the ceremonially important treasures that make up Bahandi.

To boil it down even further, trading in Hari Ragat is really about having to take a dangerous journey somewhere, then dickering for a good deal. Wealth and Bahandi gain are really just extra carrots; the experience of the journey’s the thing.

Trading Mechanics
Like I said, I hate bookkeeping. Nor do I want players to constantly be looking up tables of items and prices. Instead, trade is handled simply by offering a ratio of Wealth or Bahandi return for Wealth or Bahandi invested when you trade X item for Y item in location Z.

For example, I could say ‘Pearls are 3:2 Wealth in Penjan.’ this means for every 2 Wealth invested into pearls, you’ll get back 3 Wealth.

To go trading, you must first identify what to trade in and where to take it. There are both traditional markets, such as the northern ports for southern products like pearls, and markets of opportunity such as rice for an island that recently suffered a locust infestation or a town that’s about to throw a huge feast and is short on supplies for it.

Then determine how much Wealth to invest; this buys you a certain amount of the trade goods, or represents that amount of goods you’ve produced and will trade instead of using yourself.

At the location you can bargain with buyers for a more favorable exchange ratio.

Trading for Bahandi
What if you want Bahandi instead? Bahandi goods like porcelain are worth varying amounts of Wealth depending on their quality, history, and where you’re buying and from whom. Bahandi goods are usually imported, so they’re cheaper the closer you are to the original source.

Each unit of Bahandi is worth 1d3 Wealth at the source nearest to origin; for example porcelain would be cheapest from a Wulong merchant in one of the northern ports, which are the closest ones to Wulong.

GMs can offer a straight Bahandi-for-Wealth-invested ratio, like 1:2 for pearls – 1 Bahandi point for every 2 Wealth in pearls.

Trade Routes
Trade routes are either inter-island or intra-island. Intra-island trade may be between coastal communities, but the most lucrative is between coastal communities and highland communities.

Highlanders produce, or rather extract from their environment, things like gold, exotic woods, wax, honey, and highland crops specially rice. In return, they want coastal products and imports from overseas: dried and smoked fish, iron both in worked form and ingots, salt, and imported Bahandi items. Coast-to-highland trade usually travels by river as far inland as possible before making the final leg overland. The overland trek is usually made with porters carrying the goods; horses are rare.

Inter-island routes serve both local needs and the grand trade routes spanning the ocean. Porcelains, silks, brassware, weapons, iron, and even horses are imported for redistribution throughout the Janggalan Isles. The interisland routes in turn funnel Janggalan exports such as exotic woods, incense, camphor, musk, pearls, trepang, and gold to the northern ports, whence they are taken either north to Wulong or west to the Mahanagaran or Sabaean kingdoms.

Renown for Trading Expeditions
I’m leaning toward a simpler per-adventure award of Renown, based on the difficulty of the adventure. For trading expeditions, the base Renown award is determined mainly by the distance to be traveled. After all, the farther you have to sail or trek the more chances there are for challenging encounters, plus the sheer buzz value of having gone farther than most would dare.

July 25, 2017

Hometown Creation Questions for Hari Ragat


I’m wondering if it’ll be easier for players and GMs to create the PCs’ hometown using a questionnaire?

To play a full campaign of Hari Ragat, all players sit down with the GM and spend time creating the hometown together, and only after that do the players make characters. This gives the benefit of chargen in a setting that the players already feel invested in, with some ready plot hooks to latch onto.

The GM should try to get as many of the questions answered as possible, but it’s ok to leave some blank until later in the campaign. Knowing players though, once their creativity’s been sparked it just keeps going.

Which island is the hometown on, and where there?
Is it a major or minor island?
What are its best-known landmarks?
What are its three most important resources?

What craft or trait are the people best known for?
What is the hometown's identifying color or pattern in clothing?
What is the hometown's signature shield shape or motif?
What is the hometown's signature sword type or hilt motif?
Who is the Diwata most worshipped by the people, and where is her/his sacred site?
What is the Diwata's price for allowing the people to live in this land?
Who is the hometown's most popular hero and what is his or her most famous exploit?
Is there a famous arts master in town, and what is their specialty? (Note that this can be martial arts, dance, chanting, tattooing, smithing, boatmaking, navigation, etc. etc) 

Who rules the town, and how do the people like their rule?
Who is most likely to succeed as the next ruler?
Does the ruler belong to any of the  royal lineages, and if so which one?
Who is the chief Baylan of the town?
Who is the greatest warrior in the town?
Who is the wealthiest person in town and how did they get rich?
Who is the the town belle and which family does she belong to?
Who is the most disliked person in the town?
Who is the town fool?

Who is the ruler's worst enemy?
Is there anyone in the town who threatens the ruler, and why?
What are the people most frightened of?
What do the people most look forward  to in the near future?
What might threaten this expected happy event?

Naval Combat Roles for Hari Ragat


To make running naval combat easier, I’m thinking of writing in these roles as tips for player and GM. I liked the way the new Star Trek RPG tries to give every player something to do in ship to ship battles. Hari Ragat of course has very different technological paradigms, but the principle that every player’s character must have something important to do still stands.

The captain is responsible for calling the tactics to the pilot and crew, and is stationed on the highest deck, sometimes near the pilot at the stern, sometimes near the prow.  The captain can roll contests against the enemy captains to out-think them and figure out which maneuver will work better in the given situation; victory gives Advantage to the pilot's next contest roll. Often the captain and pilot are the same character.

The pilot is responsible for maneuvering and positioning your ship, and is stationed at the steering oar at the stern. Contests of speed and maneuvering are rolled by the pilot; victories can be used to optimize the range to the enemy, or to gain Advantage for the combatants.

Most PCs will be in this role, stationed on the decks. Combatants attack enemy crewmen and combatants with ranged weapons, and make boarding attacks or repel boarders when boarding combat has begun. PCs may also attempt Heroic Displays to gain Ancestral Favor.

If there is a Baylan on board, she can perform Prayers for Ancestral Favor -- always a good tactic because it can aid any of the other PCs -- or work other forms of magic, or defend against the magic of enemy shamans. It's entirely appropriate for the Baylan to spend a whole battle chanting and dancing in Prayer for Ancestral Favor, despite the attempts of the enemy to interupt her.

If there is a chanter on board, she can perform inspiring epic songs that gain Ancestral Favor, which in turn can be spent to inspire the warriors. Only one shaman or chanter can perform at a time -- you cannot have both at once. As with the Baylan, it's appropriate for a chanter to spend the whole battle singing for Ancestral Favor, again despite the enemy's efforts to interrupt her.

If lantakas are available in your campaign, the gunner is in command of the gun crews, and makes the rolls to attack with the guns. A ship usually has only one or two cannon, if at all. Hm - this could be the avenue for a Panday class.

Sailors are usually NPCs, whose job is to work the rigging, bail and make emergency repairs, and drag the wounded to safety. Since most available men are assigned either to paddling or to fighting during battle, there are usually only a few free sailors on hand during a fight.

Paddlers are usually sailor NPCs, whose paddling propels and helps steer the ship. Theirs is a difficult task in battle, for while they paddle they are exposed and defenseless; only the efforts of the combatants on deck can keep the enemy busy enough not to target them. If a PC joins the paddlers, they gain Advantage to resist efforts to dislodge them from their stations.

Some nobles and wealthy men take NPC manservants with them to battle. Those not assigned to paddling may aid in battle by holding shields for their masters and bearing spare weapons and ammunition. A combatant with a shieldbearer gains Advantage to avoid missile attacks.

Noncombatants without any vital supporting roles like chanter or shaman stay out of the way as much as they can, below the fighting deck if on a karakoa where they’re safer from missile attack.

June 14, 2017

Island Generator for Hari Ragat

Since voyaging is a major part of Hari Ragat, and the setting is a huge archipelago, we can definitely use a random island generator. The Janggalan Isles can be divided into two kinds of islands: Major islands are large and nearly always inhabited, and they are named and known. Minor islands are smaller, ranging in size from tiny specks on the sea with a few trees at most, to landmasses that can take several days to sail around or trek across. Moreover, many Minor islands are uninhabited and largely, or even completely, unexplored. This gives us a near-infinite range of settings for adventure! This made me think of having a random Minor island generator on hand; this is the first draft.

To randomly create an island, we'll roll a d6 on several tables. Some are open, meaning the players are allowed to see the results of the roll and what they mean; and some are secret, for the players to find out. Feel free to invent alternatives for any roll result that doesn't seem to fit or feels repetitive after the last island.

1    Tiny islet -- don't roll for settlements; roll 1 landmark
2    Very small island, big enough to hold a village at most; roll 1 landmark and 1 settlement
3    Small island, big enough for a few villages; roll 1 landmark and 1-2 settlements
4    Small island, big enough for a few villages; roll 1 landmark and 1-3 settlements
5    Medium-sized island; roll 2 landmarks and 2-5 settlements
6    Surprisingly large island; roll 3 landmarks and 3-6 settlements

1    Sea cave; what lurks within?
2    Crater lake; what's at the bottom?
3    A shipwreck or abandoned/ruined settlement
4    Secluded cove, inlet or lagoon; what's in it?
5    A wondrous waterfall or spring; what virtue might the waters have, and who is its master?
6    A magnificent mountain peak, surely the home of some great Diwata -- or terrible monster

1    No settlement
2    No settlement, or an abandoned one
3    A tiny and impoverished hamlet, possibly fugitives from somewhere
4    A small village
5    A small town and a couple of dependent villages
6    A surprisingly large town, with its dependent villages

1    A Raksasa giant, man-eating, sorcerous and able to shapeshift, or a dragon
2    A lesser giant, or an Elder creature, huge, ancient, wise and with a taste for human flesh
3    Evil spirits or some other minor supernatural threat
4    Trickster spirits of the wild
5    A band of pirates has made their hideout here
6    A Diwata, powerful to help if pleased, but terrible in anger

May 28, 2017

Daily Weather Tables for Hari Ragat


Because weather can matter a lot in travel, hunting and combat, the Hari Ragat GM will often need to know exactly what the weather is like, rather than just relying on a rough season guide. Roll 1d6 as appropriate:

Dry Season

1 Thunderstorm
2 Hot and humid, thunderstorm expected
3 Warm and sunny
4 Warm and sunny
5 Warm and sunny
6 Sunny with cool winds

Wet Season

1 Typhoon
2 Day-long heavy rains (nonstop)
3 Periods of heavy rain
4 It just rained
5 Hot and muggy
6 Warm and sunny

Typhoon Season

1 Supertyphoon
2 Typhoon
3 Heavy rains
4 It just rained
5 Hot and muggy
6 Warm and sunny

As there are no roads in the Janggalan Isles, overland travel is simply impossible during heavy rains and typhoons, and most vessels at sea will seek shelter when the weather turns violent.

For combat, heavy rain (including typhoons) severely obstructs vision and renders bows useless until they dry. This is one big reason why the islanders prefer spears. Rain can cause rivers to swell and flood, and renders the ground very treacherous to footing. Characters who do not know the Secret of the Egret’s Dance will likely slip and fall on rolling a complication; this is even more likely if the character is wearing armor.

May 25, 2017

Tricks of the Jungle Spirits


It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, thanks to RL distractions. Times have been kinda rough to us, what with all the terrorist incidents on our island playing havoc with our tour business. But I do owe you all something on Hari Ragat, so here are ideas for some trickster-spirit themed microadventures.

The wilds of the Janggalan Isles are rife with minor trickster spirits like the Kibaan. Rarely seen, they usually make their presence felt through their pranks. Most of the time these pranks are harmless, but these light-hearted, child-like beings never consider the consequences of their actions so they can accidentally trigger nasty surprises.

Trickster spirit encounters are not meant to be combat challenges – the tricksters will simply disappear and play even wilder pranks if attacked – but rather as roleplaying-cum-negotiation encounters or tests of the party shaman’s abilities. Sometimes the tricks are meant as means to get the party’s attention because the little folk need something from them. Or the GM can use these simply as reminders that the jungle is home to the supernatural.

  • The party is led astray. The appearance of the jungle and surrounding landmarks are masked by illusions, and everyone’s sense of direction becomes muddled. This can lead to unexpected encounters.

  • The party is pelted with fruit out of nowhere, followed by sweet, clear child-like laughter.

    Sometimes the tricksters do it while monkeys are present, tempting the party to try something against the monkeys; these will then reply with a great ruckus and pelting the party with even more fruit, including heavy or spiky ones capable of causing injury, and with their own feces. Only after the monkeys have done their worst do the real culprits break into laughter.

  • While at a river or spring, the party is startled by  almighty splashes and great gouts of water, as if big rocks are falling into it. Only after they have scampered to safety do they see that nothing has fallen into the water but some fruit, and then the tricksters’ signature laughter.

  • Food is stolen from the party, often done in such a way as to make it seem as though another member took it. The tricksters however, being spirits, will not touch any food that has ginger or much salt in it.

  • While hunting, the party’s hounds suddenly go crazy. They may go haring off after phantom prey, flee as if in terror, begin howling, or begin fighting amongst each other. 

  • The party hears the festive music of drums and gongs in the middle of the jungle. When they go to investigate there is nothing there. Or there may be something else there – like the lair of a big and very irritable wild boar. This works even better when the party is indeed headed for some jungle village for a festival.

  • Wild fruit that are unripe, bad-tasting or even harmful are made to look like perfectly ripe and delicious edible fruit, tempting the characters to pick and eat them, or worse yet take them home as presents. Only when bitten into is the deception revealed. 

  • Children playing outdoors disappear, only to be found somewhere else hours or even days later. The children have only hazy, but happy, memories of what happened to them.

    Sometimes children get picked as regular playmates of the elfin folk, but this constant mixing with the supernatural has ill effects: listlessness, loss of appetite, even catatonia or a wasting sickness.

  • Invisible presences tag along with a band of hunters, scaring off game with thrown fruit and noises whenever the hunters get within range.

  • An interesting or valuable object is spotted lying on the jungle floor, as though lost there long ago. On picking it up, the object turns out to be a dead branch, rotten fruit, a thorny plant, animal dung, or even a snake.

  • Domestic animals go missing. Sometimes they come back, and sometimes they don’t, but are replaced with something else.

  • One character in the party keeps hearing strange noises, but no one else does.

  • While the party is near a river the water foams and parts as though furrowed by the prow of a large vessel; this may be accompanied by the music of gongs and singing, as though a wedding fluvial is passing by. However, there is no boat to be seen.

These hooks are derived from various Philippine folk-tales, including some that I heard during my assignments to the Lumad and Muslim tribes around Davao.

January 22, 2017

Like Dropping Coins Into an Arcade Machine

Eureka! I’ve been wrestling with the way I’ve written my contest mechanics for Hari Ragat for some time now. I think I have it.

The most basic structure of a contest is to declare actions, roll, compare to find the winner, and narrate the results.

But there are also many contests where you don't want to just give up if you lose the roll. Specially if it means your character got killed. So to continue the contest, you have to pay a cost.

Basically it's like feeding coins into an arcade machine. Game over? Not yet, not as long as you have coins and are willing to spend them. As long as you can pay the cost to continue, you can continue the contest, or try to negotiate, or try to turn the contest into another kind of contest where you're more likely to win.

Different resources can be used to pay the continue cost for different types of contests. Say you lose an exchange in lethal combat. Rather than let your character die, you pay points from your shield or armor, trading the usable life of those items for another chance to be the victor. Say you lose an attempt to resist a diwata's seduction. Rather than let your character do as the diwata wishes, you pay points from your willpower.

The GM's characters also have similar resources. The more important the character, the greater these resources, so contests against them will be harder to win.

January 21, 2017

Tattoos of Mystery

You woke up one morning with fresh tattoos on your body that had never been applied by human hands. You never felt anything during the night.

No one is familiar with the style of the tattooing, nor can anyone make out what the strange symbols mean.

Perhaps somewhere there is a Baylan who can tell you what they mean, what powers they confer, and what price, eventually, you will have to pay for them.

Hari Ragat: GM Code on NPC Ties

Finally, have an opportunity to work on Hari Ragat again after a long real-life imposed hiatus.

As I was musing on how to refine my Ties mechanic for the game, I recalled a discussion with other gamers about player reluctance to define relationships for their characters. The argument was that creating or implying an NPC important to the player’s character gave the GM practically infinite power to screw with that PC’s life.

Quite a few of these players on the other hand were eager to explore relationships; they added depth to their experience of the game. I still vividly remember Tommy’s reaction to his Red Branch character finding out from the chief druid that he was to be a dad. (His wife had concealed it from him.)

This got me thinking. Players can get a lot from relationships – and not just romantic ones – if they can trust the GM with them. So I’m thinking of writing in a little bit of GM’s ‘code’ on handling Ties. These are still rough ideas, but basically, they’re to help the GM and players build trust while empowering both to create more interesting stories.

  • The purpose of Ties is to make the character’s life more interesting by adding relationship-driven possibilities, opportunities, and challenges. Ties can be to family members, love interests, rivals, debtors, allies, enemies, and so on.
  • Player-defined NPCs are considered player property. Similarly, GM-defined NPCs are considered GM property. You have authors’ rights over the NPCs that you defined.
  • The GM may not kill off a character to which any player has defined a Tie unless that player consents. Similarly, the GM may not change the details of any NPC to which a player character has a Tie, without that player’s consent.
  • The GM may endanger any character to which a player has defined a Tie at any time; part of the challenge in having a (desirable) Tie is to preserve them so you can continue enjoying their benefits.
  • The GM may cancel a Tie if the player knowingly plays their character in such a way that the NPC involved would have strong reason to break the relationship. For example, if you insult an allied datu, don’t expect him to remain your ally for much longer.
  • The GM may award new Ties on the spot as rewards for good role playing. In fact they’re meant to be one of the ‘trophies’ of the game. If you’re playing to become or to set up the Hari Ragat (High King), you’ll want to collect as many allies as you can.
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