Sunday, April 18, 2010

Musings: A Filipino Fantasy Setting

Many of the attempts that I've seen on a Filipino fantasy RPG setting tend to be this: a mostly historical setting dappled with mystical elements from local myth and folklore. While this approach tends to work for an urban fantasy setting, inspiration stemming largely from the example of White Wolf's World of Darkness, I find it odd that there aren't more varied takes -- especially with the variety present in local TV, films, komiks, and other locally produced fantasy media.

Of course, it's very easy to snipe from the sidelines, so since I've prepared the noose for others, I might as well start some work on what I'd like to see in such a setting.

1st Principle: Historical inspiration over historical accuracy
Don't be a slave to history; tweak, alter, and ignore history to make the setting interesting -- which is good considering that the history wasn't that pretty (especially for us Filipinos).

2nd Principle: Only the names have changed
There are some cultural and behavioral patterns that seem to repeat themselves a lot in our history, and -- big and small -- they should make their way into the setting. Otherwise, why'd we even call it one? Some things that come to mind are:
  • religious tensions and evolutions - before the Spaniards came over to disseminate Roman Catholicism, religion was a mix of animist beliefs, the muslim contingent (which was never completely eradicated in places in the Southern area), and whatever else came over with the traders from nearby countries (China, we're looking at you); this kind of religious diversity, openness, and intolerance must be an element.
  • cultural tensions - as an archipelago of 7,100 islands (give or take given the tide) with mountain ranges and valleys, and a host of caverns and other natural barriers and natural resources, there were a lot of varied clans/tribes/alliances that developed their own languages and customs, warred against each other, and even "betrayed" one another when the Spaniards came to invade; this kind of factionalism and divisiveness must also be an element.
  • adventuring tropes - with D&D as an inspiration, we look for adventuring sites. Wilderness adventures are an obvious choice, but cave-based "dungeons" may be done as well. City-based adventures would work, along with the smaller towns ravaged by a single creature or a small horde of 'monsters' attacking the town. There's no shortage of local creatures to fight: higantes, aswangs, pugos, kapres, tikbalangs, manananggals, engkantos, etc. Sadly, most of the big structures were built by the Spaniards (that we know of), so we'll have to be creative if we want some kind of break from this disparity. Magic systems will be interesting -- various types of local witchcraft, and local bits of color like anting-antings and oracions; these must be represented in some way as well.
3rd Principle: It's a game, man
Don't include all sorts of historical details that would make otherwise interesting characters and locales difficult or depressing to game in. While RPGs can, of course, illuminate our understanding of history, historical simulation is not the main goal.

Furthermore, there are other RPG-related concerns: game balance (or lack thereof), abilities that can consistently be represented by rulesets, thematic decisions, the ability to inspire a sense of wonder, and so on.

Okay, let's let this percolate a while before we take our first stabs at this. For inspiration, I'm gonna post pics of local fantasy film examples:

Ang Panday, immortalized by FPJ, a couple of characters from Engkantadia, and the Mulawin movie.


  1. Hello!

    I think your principles for developing a Filipino-themed setting are spot-on, and I'm very interested in seeing where you will be able to go with these. Is this a project you plan to expound upon, or is it more of a musing on how such a setting might be developed?

    We here at Nosfecatu Publishing focus on D&D 4E adaptations, and like the rest "of 4E-verse," we tend to adhere to principle #3 when we write. In our Buan Campaign Setting (when we finally finish it), we plan to focus on the myths over the history of the islands. So principle #1 will hold as well.

    Principle #2 is actually a very wide category, IMO. We agree with it for the most part, but religious tensions is something that we personally tend to minimize. Maybe it has something to do with it being too familiar - RPG's are somewhat a tool to temporarily leave real world worries, and religious tension is still very real to us Filipinos today. (Of course, with the D&D pantheons being polytheistic, this element will never truly be absent.)

    Anyways, it is always refreshing to see people thinking of Filipino settings. We believe that as more of us introduce Filipino elements in our RPGs, we get to show our culture to the wider world while also reviving our own interest on it.

    PS. I apologize for the plug... :D

  2. Hi! Wow, that was fast -- I only posted last night.

    I'm familiar with Tikbalang: Guardians of Kalikasan and have been waiting for the entire Buan Campaign Setting to come out so I could buy it as a set from RPGNow. Erm, when you finish it, eh? Okay maybe I'll get Tikbalang now then..

    On to your questions: I plan on doing several things:
    (a) creating a small setting ala D&D's early days (village/town, surrounding area, typical monsters, political situation of the nation-state it's in, nearby adventuring sites) -- yeah not nearly as ambitious as you guys;

    (b) looking at Filipino treatments in RPGs (fantasy and otherwise), so I'll get to yours as well;

    (c) looking at local fantasy properties and coming out with RPG stats for them (system unknown so far)

    My interest stems from being a gamer AND a writer of SF/Fantasy short stories. My writings have appeared in Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, and the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthologies.

    By the way, are you aware of the Hinirang cycle of short stories set in a fantasy Philippines (not by me, but by various authors?

  3. Well, instead of staying in bed all day from some late-night gaming/drinking, the hangover prompted me to get up early. That and the magic of RSS led to my early reply. :P

    As for Buan, the going is a little slow because Nosfecatu is powered by part-timers. So yeah, it might take awhile to complete the whole thing. >.> That's why we decided to release it in small bits instead. Incidentally, we're supposed to have a new release this week (Asuang: Shapeshifting Horrors), but the usual part-time delays seem to be kicking in.

    a) Village-building is a personal weak point of mine, so that's actually pretty awesome in my pov. I may be able to draw some inspiration from your work, too.

    b) Oh, cool. ^__^ We should really get to work so there are more material to look at. One interesting idea is to look at how non-Filipinos use Filipino material: I believe Changeling: the Lost has a supplement that contains a writeup dedicated to the Tikbalang.

    c) I would like to see these as well.

    Oh, you're on PSF? I think there's a book launching for PSF V this month - I'll be there for that one. I'm not a SF/Fantasy writer myself (outside of the ones I do for gaming), but reading them is always enjoyable.

    I have just realized that I don't have a clue as to who you are and what stories were written by you. <.<

    Hmm, I'm not familiar with Hinirang, but it sounds interesting. Do tell me more. :D


  4. Beej! I'm on the A.E.G.I.S. mailing list. Sent you an e-mail there...

    Yep, we'll see each other at the PSF V launch then! In the meantime, I'll hop on over to your blog and backread.

  5. Oh, about treatments of Filipinos in other RPGs -- I saw precious little in fantasy.

    Off the top of my head,
    1 - RIFTS killed off one of the 12 biggest nation in terms of population in one fell swoop;
    2 - Cyberpunk 2020 included us in their Asia sourcebook;
    3 - HERO's Champions Universe mentions a villain from the Philippines;
    4 - HERO came out with Asian Bestiary II: Japan, the Philippines, and beyond which had builds for 22 of our local creatures (Michael Surbrook did his research).

  6. Howdy,
    Sorry to comment on an old post, but I just discovered your blog today. I'm creating a fantasy jungle setting that has some filipino influences. Also, the cover art pieces for the upcoming supplement is by filipino artists. Not sure if it would be of interest to you...just thought I'd let you know about it. :)

  7. Yo, I linked to your blog today:

    Now that I read again this post of yours about a filipino fantasy setting, my jungle setting does follow some of the principles that you describe here. Maybe it could be a "filipino fantasy" setting after all. I'd like to send you the PDF of my book. Just need to know an email address of yours.

  8. Well, looks like you found my e-mail anyway. Thanks for the PDF by the way! Will peruse it soon and share what I liked!


That's my side of things. Let me know what you think, my friend.

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