Framework: Class & Sub-Classes

Bukana will utilize all of the standard player Classes available to 5e settings. However, we will not be publishing any of the Sub-Classes from those core rules. Instead, we will crafting 40 new ones that are anchored in the cultures that can be found in the Sea of Skulls. We believe that we have finalized that Sub-Classes…

Barbarian (Malupit)

Heroes of the ancient ways, barbarians possess a deep bond to their ancestors and to their homelands. This connection to timeless, primal forces opens up a wellspring deep within them of animalistic rage. When they choose to tap into this primordial fury, a barbarian is driven to fantastic feats of physical prowess. 

The Guided Path (Inapo)

  When a great warrior rises amongst the barangay of the wilds, they often draw the attention of the anitus of their tribe. These ancestral guardians watch over those who follow the guided path. A barbarian who has attracted such a spirit can harness its power for spells and other supernatural effects. Ultimately, they allow their anitu to possess them during rages, becoming a juggernaut of man and spirit.

Path of the Headtaker (Kalinga)

  For many of the Bukana tribes, their traditional ways of life are being eroded by the visitors that swarm their islands. Not so for those barbarians that walk the path of the headtaker. Whether they collect actual heads of their enemies or bind their souls to effigies, the Kalinga as they are called, practice the old rituals of vengeance that maintain their ancestral heritage and bring glory to their people.

Path of the Moon-Eaters (Laho)

There is no life without death. No joy without pain. There are barbarians who choose to become forces of destruction in the world. Many believe that in order for the mortal realm to thrive, balance must be maintained between civilization and the wilderness. Others just want to burn the world. For those that choose to emulate the fabled “moon-eater” epic beasts, this path leaves a wake of debris. In their presence, the intricate skeins of magic unravel and the best laid strategies fall to chaos.

Bard (Tagapalabas)

All of the people of Bukana have a rich oral tradition that is handed down through the generations. Even now that most tribes have adopted written languages, much folk knowledge is passed on by storytellers, poets, and through ritual songs. These performers seamlessly blend their art with the story of their people. With the arrival of foreign cultures and religions, many colleges and libraries have been established in some urban centers, but most bards in the islands rely more on loose societies of like-minded artists to exchange stories and find mentors. 

College of Fools (Panakawan)

  It is common in the heroic tales of certain cultures in the Bukana islands to include servants, apprentices, or sidekicks for the main character. Often used for comedic relief and to make the hero seem even more adept, these panakawan are popular characters with audiences. It is this tradition that has led to the creation of the so-called “College of Fools,” the tongue-in-cheek title of a fellowship of jesters. Panakawans serve many roles, they are performers like most bards, but focus their tales on their chosen heroes and comrades thereby increasing their renown. In combat, they trick their opponents into underestimating them while providing advantages to their fellows.

Storyteller (Paratawag)

  Traveling storytellers have always been a part of every Bukanese human culture for millennia. Even as baybayin script was being learned through communion with the spirit world, the oral tradition was still the most common way to tell stories, pass on information, and entertain folk across the islands. The arrival of a wandering paratawag is cause for a barangay to gather, learn, and interact. These storytellers are masters of the spoken word and through it, have become adept at learning about and acclimating to the widely disparate cultures throughout Bukana.

The Silver Road (Manunukso)

  The rarest of the bards are those that walk the enchanted road. These mesmerizing minstrels are somehow touched by the Feywild and are able to sway the hearts and minds of those who are enraptured by their songs. They either bear the lineage of one of the enchanted races or have in some other way been imbued with fae power. These enchanters can be found hypnotizing patrons of a tea house, manipulating bands of weak-minded bandits, or luring the unwary into their clutches.

Cleric (Katalonan)

Not all holy people of the isles use spirits to act as intermediaries with the gods. Some, particularly those of more organized religions, are chosen by their deity to act as their agent in the Middle-Realm. The katalonans often serve their barangay as babaylan, seeing to the needs of their clan. Each cleric is given access to a single aspect of the mortal realm over which their lord presides. 

Agriculture Domain (Lubus)

  Most barangays rely on the production of crops for their livelihoods. The priests that serve their communities as herbalists, protectors, and caretakers of the harvest choose this domain. Many gods that claim dominion over healing, life, nature, community, or protection offer this domain to their clerics.

Beauty Domain (Siyentipiko)

  Bukana is a land of unsurpassed natural beauty. Unsurprisingly, its people are deeply inspired by the grandeur of their homeland and produce a wide variety of art. The connoisseurs of this domain often act as patrons to artists, if not artists themselves, and work to inspire greatness in others and their communities. The deities that hold sway over nature, art, and the perfection of the self can bestow the Beauty Domain upon their clerics.

Creation Domain (Magbubuhat)

  The Middle-Realm is the product of the eternal struggle between the primordial forces of creation and destruction. Virtually any deity that resides in the Sky World has access to the creation domain. It’s adherents are crafters, protectors, and healers for their communities. Most importantly, they work endlessly to balance the destructive forces of the Under-Realm and its agents.

Destruction Domain (Taguba)
  You tap into the primordial forces of destruction. Almost any god of the Under-Realm can bestow the force of this domain upon their followers. You are able to channel the fundamental power of entropy to lay waste to your enemies. While most native cultures believe in the necessity of balance in the world, that does little to assuage the fear that you inspire in the common folk. 

Divination Domain (Pagalamat)

  The skeins of fate are written upon the mortal world. There are untold means by which the inhabitants of Bukana attempt to read the will of the gods and ascertain what destiny holds for them. None, however, are as adept at deciphering the unknowable as those clerics that have been given the perceptions of this domain. 

Glory Domain (Bayani)

  For some, the only true way to glorify your god is through daring action and heroic feats in their name. You are absolutely convinced that one day you will be spoken about in stories for ages to come. Your patron deity must reap some benefit from your great deeds because they grant you magnificent powers so that you may show all their glory and greatness.

Malice Domain (Pantak)

  There is little stigma placed on curses in Bukana. The concepts of balance, justice, and revenge are so ingrained in the cultures of the isles that placing maladies on those that have wronged you is a common occurrence. Those clerics that pray to the entities of the Under-Realm are often sought out by all manner of folk looking to right perceived wrongs. You specialize in all manner of hexes, necromancy, and powerful divinations.

Druid (Bantay)

Some shamans hold a deep appreciation for, and connection to, the untamed places of Bukana. Much as barbarians are the martial champions of the wilderness tribes, druids are their babaylan spiritual leaders. These priests hold the natural world in great esteem and harness its power. Druids council balance with the wilds and seek to protect both nature and those societies that live in harmony with it. Druids form secret alliances with fellows that share the same practices with themselves. These “circles” are widely scattered, but manage to communicate through traveling members and in annual festival moots. 

The Circle of Mist (Pedtompan)

  The largest of the hierarchies is the Unseen Circle. The mediums of this fellowship specialize in communing with the diwata nature spirits. These pedtompans bear many similarities with balian mediums and fulfill many of the same roles in both society and in an adventuring party. They frequently serve as babaylans for remote communities.

Circle of Nature’s Wrath (Ma-aram)

  The tempestuous ma-aram of the Circle of Nature’s Wrath are conduits for the destructive forces of the Middle-Realm. As fickle as a rainstorm and as mighty as volcano, these druids can banish a drought to save a village’s crop one day and raze it with lightning and fire the next. Wilderness communities take great pains to court a ma-aram’s favor and allay their fury. This circle is, at best, an informal affair; aside from the occasional student-mentor relationship, members tend to have little peaceful contact with one another. Conflicts amongst the ma-aram are usually settled with duels that rain down destruction all around the combatants.

Circle of the Sisters (Kapatid)

  Since their ascension to the heavens, the Sisters of the Sky have watched over the Middle-Realm. These druids focus on the protection of humanity and the natural beauty of Bukana. Their domain is that of the sky, moon, sun, and stars – the physical manifestations of the Sky-Realm in the world of mortals. As such, they grant powerful magic to those that aid them in their sacred duties.

Fighter (Pejuang)

While professional warriors are very common in Bukana, those that reach their potential as seasoned fighters are fewer and farther between. There are as many names for soldiers as there are languages in the islands, but in the common trade tongue, they are called “pejuang.” Depending on preference and the society from which they hail, fighters wield a dizzying array of weapons. Swords tend to be of the slashing variety such as the popular kapilan long sword and the kris. Bows, blowguns, and spears are popular ranged weapons amongst professional fighters. Armor varies, but shields and piecemeal protection is often worn due to the heat and humidity of much of the archipelago. 

Exalted (Kamaranan)

 Tattoo traditions are strong in many of Bukana’s societies and folks of all walks of life, ages, genders, and castes can be found with extensive body decorations. Some cultures have mystical practitioners of an artform called “Batek.” Through a series of rituals and sacrifices, spirits are petitioned by a tattoo artist and their warrior subject. If the rites are performed properly and a spirit finds the subject worthy, it allows itself to be bound within the flesh of the fighter, raising them to the title of kamaranan – literally meaning “improved.” For as long as the warrior lives, its power can be tapped to perform any number of miraculous feats of combat prowess from wreathing a sword with magic flame to launching the kamaranan into death-defying acrobatic strikes. If the fighter has continued to live a glorious life and has honored the spirits, upon their death those entities will ferry their soul to the lands of the gods where they will join the ranks of the honored dead.

Paragon (Maharalika)

  Warfare is not conducted in Bukana the way it often is elsewhere. Here, you will not see orderly ranks of hundreds of heavily-armored troops. Instead, small bands of skirmishers will engage in hit-and-run tactics as each side attempts to outmaneuver and bait their enemies. The paragons are the finest such combatants in the islands. They coordinate and train their allies to act as one, all while taking advantage of the skills of each individual. Whether conducting headhunting raids, repelling pirate boarding parties, or defending their barangay from marauding duwende, the bands led by these noble warriors are deadly indeed.

Twin-Spirit (Tonong)

  In some of the mythologies of Bukana, it is said that the greatest heroes and villains share a soul with a powerful spirit. These are the tonong. The so-called “twin-spirits” are accompanied by abyan companions with whom these fighters hold a sacred bond. As the warrior gains prowess and skill, so too does their soul-sibling. When they fight together, the twins complement one another flawlessly and are able to tap into each other’s energy to dramatic effect. 

Monk (Monghe)

Contemplative and focused, monks encompass a wide range of ascetics who are able to channel their divine essence, or “ki,” in extraordinary ways. Prior to the arrival of certain foreign cultures, there was no known tradition of monks in Bukana. However, since their introduction, native people have been quick to incorporate many of the fundamentals of these new practices into their own martial arts. Still many of the monks found in the isles are practitioners of foreign disciplines.

Way of the Dervish (Kamariya)

  First, by way of Zamatas merchants, then by the Church of Amethyst, this foreign discipline has made its way to Bukana. These monks are religious mendicants who have forsaken worldly possessions beyond the most basic necessities. Through a practice of repetitious physical exertion accompanied by continuous praying and singing, the dervishes are able to reach a transcendent state that allows them to harness the power of the gods. These monks are able to cast spells through their unique rituals which often incorporate dancing or yoga.

Way of the Predator (Maglilingu)

  In most cultures, there are those who hunt other people. Some ascetic orders have made it their sworn duty to pursue other sentient folks, either for vengeance, justice, or profit. The thugee cults of Bhodan, the Amethyst Hounds, and some amongst the insular Hunters’ Guild are all practitioners of this path. Through the Way of the predator, a monk is able to stalk their prey and deliver deadly or debilitating blows.

Way of the Stick (Mangangali)

  The most widespread martial art of Bukana is Kali which utilizes many weapons. In fact, its masters teach that any item or body part can become a weapon with proper training. Sticks, clubs, and staves are often used as they are readily available and can be improvised from everyday objects. Your ability to focus your ki through weapons is unparalleled even by other monks.

Paladin (Panatik)

Warriors that have sworn binding oaths become the holy warriors known as paladins. These champions are utterly devoted to their divine missions. Duty, honor, and debt are all fundamental virtues of the Bukanese peoples. It is no surprise that many choose to dedicate themselves to a righteous path.

Oath of Paradise (Manlalaban)

  Bukana is a paradise. Its beauty and wonder fills you with both joy and power. However, many foreign threats face this magnificent land. You have sworn to protect the archipelago and the independence of its people. You don’t necessarily hate outsiders or even their ways, but you will die to prevent them from compromising the diversity and freedom of Bukana. Paladins that have taken this oath can be found hunting down dangerous introduced beasts and thwarting foreign agents’ plots to conquer the islands.

Oath of Rebirth (Tagapagpalaya)

  A common throughline of Bukanese morality is that each person is capable of forging their own destiny. While dedication to one’s people, home, gods, and spirits are important, never should it truly dictate a person’s path in life. The Oath of Rebirth is the penultimate expression of this belief. The vows taken by these paladins prohibit letting another control any other and guarantee that as you have the freedom to live on your own terms, so should that freedom be protected for others. Many folks that have been marginalized or oppressed seek this path, as do those who have made poor choices and now seek to make amends. The otherworldly power that they focus maintains free movement and inspires others around you.

Oath of Revenge (Paghiganti)

  A popular oath amongst headhunting tribes and dwarves alike. The Oath of Revenge is an angry, dangerous path. A devotee to vengeance must not allow anyone or anything to stand in the way of claiming their rightful due. This is a particularly arduous mission for those of good heart, for rarely will they reach its end with their morality unblemished. Their seething focus allows them to locate the hated foe and their unrelenting anger is channeled into devastating strikes.

Ranger (Tanod-Gubat)

Warriors who make their homes outside “civilization” are known as rangers. Through the wilderness, these masters of both flora and fauna make their livelihoods. They are peerless in tracking, hunting, trapping, fishing, foraging, and countless other endeavors. Rangers possess a broader skill set than virtually any other of the martial professions.

Ghost Archer (Mamamana)

  The most ancient people of Bukana possess the knowledge necessary to hunt using empowered ranged weapons. The ghost archer is able to temporarily bind minor spirits when forging or firing arrows. The process imbues each of the projectiles with supernatural abilities for a short period of time. Ghost archers often serve as protectors of the most remote wilds and those that make such places their home. It is they who are often called upon to guard against the marauding dead and angry engkanto as their bolts can strike even incorporeal menaces.

Pathfinder (Tagahanop)

  Bukana and the Sea of Skulls is a wild, untamed region. Despite its bustling cosmopolitan urban centers, much of the surrounding territory is uncharted and dangerous in the extreme. So it is that pathfinders are in much demand here. Explorers, guides, navigators, and treasure hunters all walk the trail of the pathfinder. These intrepid rangers are absolutely fearless and some of the most highly skilled wilderness adventurers known.

Warden (Tiglaban)

  The wilds of Bukana are exceptionally dangerous; none understand this more than wardens. These rangers travel the many roads and seaways in order to protect those under their care. Some wardens are self-appointed guardians of the wild, while others operate in the employ of communities, temples, or trade guilds. They roam the wilderness between settlements looking for signs of trouble and dealing with it. Many operate as bounty hunters tracking down their quarry and bringing them in for justice… or at least for the coins.

Rogue (Tampalasan)

The Sea of Skulls is a treacherous place. For those that are able to adapt and even exploit ever-changing conditions, great prosperity can be found. Civilization and its many laws offer a refuge for those willing to hide behind its walls. Rogues, however, are those quick-witted, intrepid souls that make their way in the fringes of that meager safety. Some have sought out the thrill, while others have been cast to the shadows by a cruel world. Rogues manage to thrive outside of the stifling confines of others’ rules by finely honing their particular set of skills.

Emissary (Sugo)

  Bukana is the gateway to the world. Already home to an incredible diversity of people, cultures, and religions, the myriad of travelers from far-off lands only adds to the bewildering multitude. Intermediaries flourish in this region as merchants, diplomats, and envoys. Able to navigate both the angry sea and a treacherous royal court with ease, an emissary combines survival skills with social prowess in order to maneuver any situation.

Pirate (Magalos)

  On the high seas, daring cunning is all that stands between you and the deep. Not always a true pirate, the swashbuckling magalos is the fearless master of the waves. These ship-borne scallywags can be found aboard many vessels both foreign and domestic as they try to pull fortune from the tight fist of fate. The southeastern portion of Bukana has always been a lawless place and the black waters surrounding the Serpent Isles have never known true civilization. Here and in any of the countless hidden coves and rough-and-tumble ports, the pirates hack and slash their way through a life of freedom.

Stormrider (Bagyo)

  Most diwata are known for their fickle natures, but those of the wind and waves are particularly capricious. In rare instances, these mercurial spirits will become enamoured by a mortal. The object of their infatuation is often either someone who embraces their freedom, or one who is in desperate need of said freedom. Once the elementals have chosen a mortal, that person is marked forever as kindred to flowing water – sibling of the typhoon. Until they draw their last breath, the bagyo will revel in their unbound spirit and seek greater and greater adventures and sensations. Now acting as a beacon to other diwata of air and water, these daredevils can conjure all manner of magics enabling them to fly and call down lightning. 

Sorcerer (Puyang)

Most mortal spellcasters are not, by their nature, magic creatures, but channel the power of other more powerful entities such as spirits, faeries, or gods. Sorcerers, however, each possess some form of innate ability to tap into the primordial reservoirs of the universe. With this power, you are able to bend both reality and lesser creatures to your will.

God-Born (Diwa)

  In ancient times, the gods of both the Under- and Sky-Realms took a much more direct hand in the lives of their followers. In fact, it was not uncommon for deities to take mortal consorts. Many of the epic tales throughout all Bukana cultures revolve around the exploits of the half-god heroes that such unions occasionally produced. Why all mortals in the isles can’t trace some distant lineage to one god or another is unknown, but perhaps it has to do with the propensity of such extraordinary folk to meet tragic ends. Regardless of what fate has in store for the god-born, until they rejoin their progenitors they write a magnificent adventure that is bound to be retold for generations to come.

Medium (Balian)

  Some mortals possess a simple, but powerful gift. They have the ability to pierce the veil that separates the spirits from the senses of humans. Through practice and ritual, these balians are able to hone this skill so that they can both perceive and communicate with these spirits. Those that master this art even gain the strength to enter the mysterious reflection that is the Ethereal Plane of mists. Once the medium establishes contact with the spirits, they are able to appease, bargain, and borrow the powers of the anitu for their own use. They often use these ancestral spirits to act as intermediaries to the gods themselves and gain their favor.

Enchanted (Dalagangan)

  Members of the enchanted races such as elves and dwarves, are spirits made manifest. As such, they have an inherently magical nature. Those of these people that can intermingle their lineage with humans or other mortals, pass down this power to their descendants. Even some folk who do not possess fae blood may gain a similar connection from having been exposed to intense fae magics. Dalagangans are able to harness impulsive, often unstable, energies to conjure illusions and bedevil minds.

Warlock (Usikan)

Some mortals are not content with their lots in life. For those seeking power, there are many otherworldly entities ready to oblige… for a cost. If a person is willing to bind their soul to such a patron and act as their catspaw in the mortal world, untold magical potential can be achieved. Although many desperate people in Bukana seek out barangans to harm their enemies (or to protect themselves against such magics), the warlocks are rarely loved, but always feared. 

The Adversary (Mamamarang)

  Death, disease, and corruption are integral parts of the earthly world. The gods of the Under-Realm have bestowed three powerful mortals to see to it that these forces continue to test the souls of Bukana so that they may drag those found unworthy into their infernal domain. The mamamarang have been gifted by one of these mortal servants, the Adversary, with powerful spirit familiars that they use to curse their enemies. These debased diwata often take the form of arachnids, centipedes, snakes, carrion birds, and swarms of insects. 

Dreams of Madness (Baliw)

  When mortals sleep, their souls enter the land of dreams. This is thought to be related to the Unseen Realm of the engkanto, so is both part and reflection of the Middle-Realm. However, there are those whose slumbering minds fall through cracks in the dream world and enter a place of madness and terror. In that nightmare tempest, a voice is heard and a question is asked. None can seem to recall the exact nature of the request, but they know that their unconscious mind answered “yes.” As the freshly anointed warlock comes to realize the new powers they have gained access to, they slip further and further into lunacy. As their gifts grow, they fall into maniacal fits of strength and witness prophetic visions. Now every morning they awake screaming.

Lord Aswang (Yanggaw)

  The Creator of Monsters is another of the mortal entities that acts as an agent of the Under-Realm gods. They tempt lesser mortals to give up their “humanity” in order to gain awesome… and terrible powers. Upon accepting their gifts, you have begun your descent into becoming a creature of folktales and myth. If you cannot, or will not, stop accepting these powers, you will one day become a True Aswang and your monstrous transformation will be complete.

Wizard (Sihirbas)

  There are ways of harnessing magic that are completely alien to the natives of Bukana. Amongst those brought to their shores by foreign practitioners, the methods of the sihirbaz are most incongruous with their own. The various shamanistic traditions beseech spirits to perform favors to work as envoys to more powerful deities. However, the spells of the wizards act as whips and chains to force spirits into a desired action. Some use spirits as conduits through which they directly tap the divine energies of the godly realms. They are seen as untrustworthy and cruel by indigenous casters and are called “mananakop:” invaders. They often form secret cabals to share mysteries and for mutual protection.

Geomancy (Alimatok)

  The world is laced with a series of energy conduits that form a latticework of primal power. Many druids are aware of this and seek to protect it from those power-mad fools that would steal the mana that surges within. You are one of those fools. Bukana is virtually pulsating with power and you have studied ways to tap into it. If you aren’t careful, you drain life energy from nearby too, but you’re careful… most of the time. Regardless, this place has so much mana that you don’t see why you can’t have some, there’s plenty for everyone.

Occultism (Fangshi)

  Known as fangshi in Yudiguo society, these wizards practice an eclectic array of mystical arts. They are usually in the employ of some affluent individual or group and are common in court settings as experts and agents. They use systematic measurements and established protocols to study what they call the “Occult Sciences.” As such, they commonly utilize such practices as alchemy and ceromancy divination on the behalf of their patrons. Some mages of other traditions consider Occultists to be little more than hacks and charlatans, but few can argue with a true fangshi’s effectiveness.

Thaumaturgy (Maji)

  Some wizards believe that when the universe was created, the gods left behind evidence of their power. Through studying natural phenomena, ancient texts, architecture, and the movement of the celestial bodies, the magi believe that they can siphon off the divine energies that make up all of existence. This tradition is particularly prevalent within the Pahli-Cha religion. It is that church’s fundamental belief that all of creation, and their path in it, is a puzzle to be deciphered and mastered.

Storytellers: Family Reunion

Warning: This story contains vulgar language.

Name Pronunciation
Tanashyry = “TAHN na sheer ee”
Makysyg = “MAH kee see”
Kumagat = “KOO mah got”

The Feywild city is dark and seemingly composed of nothing but the aerial roots of impossibly large strangler fig trees that formed a latticework of narrow streets and alleyways. For the hundredth time today, Tanashyry reached up to reposition the jetblack feathers in her hair. 

“Stop fidgeting,” chastised her older sibling, “you know that tikitik feathers get shiny if you handle them too much.”

The young Dalaketnon simply combined an eye-roll, sigh, and head-tilt in a masterful show of sarcastic boredom that only a Bane Elf under the age of 100 could possibly accomplish.

“I still don’t understand why we have to attend this shit show,” she lied trying to bait Makysyg.

“Because it’s been over 500 years since Dalakit received a delegation from Biringan City,” the beautiful and handsome elf stated as if by rote. They wore an almost-white saya skirt with intricate red beadwork. Their turban-like headcloth was pierced by scrimshawed crocodile teeth. The only covering on their upper body was a loosely draped spidersilk lace shaw that possessed the characteristic yellow tinge of that material. The shaw was worn strategically so as not to cover up Makysyg’s favorite and most offensive tattoos. 

“So what? All of a sudden the ‘High Elves’ decide that we’re kin again and we have to go running for their approval?” Tanashyry didn’t have to feign indignation; she was truly put out by their presumption. Her pet sensed this and paused in its vigilant sniffing to offer up a huffing growl. Despite herself, a smirk formed at the corners of the elf’s mouth at the show of solidarity from the beast. Her attire was what she considered more feminine. A bright blue patadyong pattern wraparound skirt and a white baro blouse. The braided fabric headpiece that held the feathers completed the ensemble. From a wide silver ring, a purely-for-show thin chain ran down to the beautifully sculpted collar of her beloved pet sigbin, Kumagat. The nearly hairless creature was on constant guard against attack. Afterall, the perpetual gloaming of Dalakit City hid many dangers. The sigbin made certain that none of small forms flitting from root to root was anything more harmful than the little engkanto fairies that they likely were.

Makysyg knew that their little sister wouldn’t shut up unless distracted and they had too far to go for that nonsense. “You know that these delegates from House Duskwind claim that you and I share a common ancestor with them – that’s why we’re going.”

“Carabao Shit, three hundred and twenty generations ago! We’re no more related to them than we are to humans. We’re going because you won’t pass up a chance to recite your poetry at the Forum Caliginous in front of all of those rich Dalakit nobles up there.” She pointed up at the fantastic mansions stretching amongst the upper levels of the balete trees that made up the city. One of the moons made an early appearance tonight, but it was the boring human one.

“Rich and gorgeous Dalikit nobles,” The older one corrected with a lecherous smile. “It’s the after-court parties that I care about.” That was mostly true, they certainly could put any money they made from well off patrons to good use too. “And don’t you claim any relation to humans at court tonight, even in jest. You know why we split from them and they still take that garbage seriously.” 

“Actually, I never really paid that much attention to that story. Why would I care about some arrogant and paranoid elves on some far off island?” Tanashyry balked. “They kicked us out for being bad or something, right?”

“Wrong.” It was Makysyg’s turn to be indignant. “We weren’t ‘kicked out,’ we left those stuck up prudes.” The poet couldn’t let this lapse in their sister’s knowledge remain. So they composed themselves and continued, “We left because of the humans. After the Dark Eagle killed the first Bakunawa and its body created Bukana, that’s when our fae progenitors populated the islands. Eventually, some of us chose to take fully solid forms and live out at least some of our cycles outside of the Feywild and wholly in the material world. So the elves claimed the trees, the dwarves took the land, and those fish-tails took the sea.”

The younger rolled her eyes again, knowing her sibling’s dislike of the merfolk and wondered if there was any point to this story.

The elder saw and ignored the child’s irritation. “We’re not sure exactly how long we went on like that, but the Dalaketnon and the Biringanon were of the same tribe back then. Ours was the first civilization in all of Bukana,” the bane elf almost glowed with pride. “Anyway, that all changed when a bunch of ugly, hairy creatures started landing their quaint little boats all over the archipelago. At first, we ignored them, but eventually they started slashing and burning the forest to plant their dirty root crops. We fought them off and made sure they knew exactly what trees they needed to leave alone. A bunch of our ancestors started trading with the humans and found them rather interesting. Some even joined them in their villages and taught them magic… not the really good stuff, of course. The point is that they were new and fun and you know those are our two favorite things! But some of the stodgier Houses refused to accept their presence. They decided that we elves were just so much better than the humans that we needed to keep them out of our affairs entirely.

“Aren’t we so much better than humans?” Tanashyry asked, a bit puzzled.

“Of course we are,” Makysyg stated. “We’re also better than sigbins, does that mean we should roast Kumagat and eat him?”

“No!” Tanashyry put a defensive hand on top of her friend’s head. Makysyg was probably kidding, but with them you could never know, so she gave them a hard stare.

With a wry smirk, her sibling continued. “Well then we shouldn’t forsake the humans for the same reason. You know I’m oh so fond of the clumsy little folk. That’s why they still call us ‘unggoymaghindot.”

“They call us Monkey-fuckers?!” Tanashyry was aghast. “Then why are we going to meet these assholes?”

“Do you want to tell the Datu Council that we jeopardized their trade negotiations because the High Elves hurt your feelings?” they snapped, finally having to speak out loud the real reason for their attendance. Seeing their sister acquiesce, they continued. “Regardless, there was a heated debate. The hardliners refused to leave their ancestral palaces or give up their hold over the other engkanto in the region. Some skirmishes ensued as we tried to force the issue, but those keeps are just too well defended. So we left. We quickly found this place on Serpent Island. The dalakit trees had already grown huge and twisted on the back of the dead bakunawa and it was child’s play to open up portals to let us exist in the material world and the Feywild. For their part, they took a couple of centuries to formulate rituals that cut off Biringan City completely from the world of humans. That’s why you can’t get there without them letting you. That’s also why we let those adorable humans into our city and they don’t.” They gestured at a small mixed group of lowlifes in the courtyard that they were passing through. The human cutthroat looked away when they met the siblings’ gaze, but their elf master returned a hard look, daring them to continue their intrusion. When the siblings moved on, the nefarious pair went about whatever conversation they were having with a couple nasty looking duwende.

“So that’s it? That’s why they don’t like us and never leave their boring little city?” Tanashyry asked, a bit incredulous.

“Oh Biringanon is far from boring, Tana!”

“You’ve been there?” the young one asked.

“A few times! Don’t let those haughty bastards fool you; I may have called them prudes, but they’ve got their own kinks! After we left, those hypocrites started handing out black rice to humans like it was a party favor,” they had that arrogance-meets-mischief look on their face again. “After all that shit about not associating with humans, what do they do but enchant a bunch of hapless mortals and take them as concubines! Now their whole city is filled with albino half-humans. They even put their offspring to work. They make up a whole caste of lesser nobles that run the day-to-day of Biringan City.”

Tanashyry let out a loud laugh. “You’ve got to be shitting me! Now I have to meet these fools.”

“Good, because we’re here.” They rounded a corner and entered a large square lit with numerous fly-lanterns. A couple of bound binangonan spirits also helped light the plaza. Small groups of courtiers gathered here and there. The outfits were exactly what you’d expect from one of the premier courts of Dalakit City. Ensorcelled garments of fine materials and ornate headdresses were everywhere. Gold, silver and even rarer metals glinted in the erratic light. A somewhat frazzled looking seneschal hurried toward the sisters, scroll and quill in hand.

“It’s about time you arrived; I expected you 7 minutes ago!” Tanashyry and Makysyg shared a look of humor and resolve while Kumagat snarled at the court minister. They turned and were ushered into the Forum Caliginous for what was sure to be an interesting night.

Collaborators: Moods of the Mad King

Unfortunately, we are having trouble getting quality audio from morning drive audio notebooks, so we will have to pause those for the time being. Luckily, we have plenty of other content to give you on Wednesdays. Today, we’ll have the first article discussing our collaborators and their upcoming projects.

Pine Box Entertainment presents Moods of the Mad King – Revised

The following describes the next project from the publishers of Doomtown (previously known as Doomtown: Reloaded) and the upcoming 7th Sea: City of Five Sails card game coming to Kickstarter in 2021. Moods of the Mad King is published by Pine Box Entertainment and designed by Gallant Knight Games.

Moods of the Mad King is a micro-game for 2 to 4 players, where the players assume the role of a playwright in the court of The Mad King. The Mad King demands a play to suit his current feelings. The King’s ever-changing moods and propensity for beheadings requires the playwrights to gather information and steal secrets from each other. Oh and by the way, the playwrights also have to please their Muse who actually inspires their efforts. The playwright(s) who please both the Mad King and their Muse will thus create the perfect play!

The King has 5 Moods, each corresponding to a different genre: Joyous (Comedy), Brooding (Drama), Lamenting (Tragedy), Passionate (Romance), and Operatic (Musical). When playing Moods of the Mad King, each playwright attempts to discern the King’s Mood and then create a play whose genre corresponds to that mood. At the same time, playwrights are also accountable to their Muse. Unlike the fickle Mad King, each Muse patronizes only one preferred genre. The playwright’s task becomes easier when their Muse’s genre aligns with the Mad King’s mood. Then again, a playwright often has to satisfy both a King and a Muse who have different ideas about what constitutes an ideal play. 

Each Playwright starts off with one each of a Mood and Muse card. Thus they begin the game knowing what genre will please their Muse. On the other hand, they only know which one of five moods will displease the Mad King.  Each Playwright receives between 3 to 5 action cards that they can use to either improve their own play or undermine the other Playwrights. Now the Playwrights can begin to create their masterworks.

For their turn, a Playwright first draws a Play card. They can either add the card to their play, or give it to another Playwright. If they choose the latter, they may then play an action card from their hand.  Each player takes turns until The Show Begins card is revealed. It’s that simple.

At this point, the King’s Mood card is revealed and each Playwright also reveals their Muse. A Playwright who has one of their acts match the King’s Mood AND their Muse’s genre wins. Otherwise the Playwright loses. Multiple Playwrights can win, but on the other hand, it is possible that nobody wins.

Overview of changes from the first edition of Moods of the Mad King:

Action cards no longer come from a shared deck (a draw one/play one style). Instead they are dealt out at the start of the game, so players have a “hand.” You draw Play cards, but never gain more Actions once the game begins.

Players are now dealt a Mood card (rather than drawing from an existing Mood deck), so they have insight into the game state. The remaining mood is the King’s Mood.

The “The Show Begins” card has been added to indicate the end of the game.

Players no longer start with three act cards.

The turn has been totally reworked. The previous edition featured a “draw one/play one” style akin to Love Letter. 

Now you draw a Play card, and you may keep it or give it to another player. If you give the Play card to another player, you may also play an action card.

Your action cards no longer refresh (e.g. you only have the actions you start with).

The win condition is totally changed. It used to be based on matching. Now a player wins only if at least one act matches the King’s Mood AND at least one act matches the genre preferred by their Muse.

Pine Box Entertainment plans to launch Moods of the Mad King Revised as a Kickstarter in 4th Quarter 2020

World of Bukana: Foreigners

Bukana means “Gateway.” That is because it is the trade hub of its world. The people of the Sea of Skulls have grown rich and powerful because of the influx of goods flowing into the region from far off lands. The waters off the coast of the islands witness a wide array of vessels both foreign and native.

Over the centuries, people from neighboring lands and beyond, have come to trade, adventure, and live. Some communities of Bukana have deep and long-established ties to certain outside cultures. There are six major maritime powers outside the region of the Sea of Skulls. Here, we will briefly discuss these people and their relationship with the Bukanese. It should be noted that while we discuss the people of these nations, they are part of larger landmasses and frequently bring folks of other cultures and ethnicities.


Inspired by ancient China, this nation is geographically closest to Bukana and it has deep roots in the archipelago. It lies north and west of the Sea of Skulls and some islands of the region nearest the empire have a significant population of ethnically Yudiguans. Just under a century ago, the Empress set her sights on bringing Bukana under her thumb. With the aid of a powerful lakan in the northwestern-most island, she sent her warships to conquer. Immediately upon arrival, her fleet was harried with a concerted effort by the Bukanese. After the vessels were herded into a tighter group, an unseasonal typhoon struck from clear sky and destroyed the invading force. The few remaining ships limped back to their ally’s port. Here, they established a perimeter and the treacherous lakan swore fealty to the Empress, establishing a small, but influential Wangdom in the Sea of Skulls. Today, the tiny nation acts as a base of operations for Yudiguo efforts to exert control in the region. Its magistrates, wizards, and cleric agents use fell magic and an army of terracotta automatons to spread their influence.


This nation shares a continent with Yudiguo, and like its larger neighbor, has close ties to Bukana. Based on feudal Japan, Ryama was once a proud and powerful country, rich in tradition and magic. Now it is a shattered land. Over the centuries, their monarchs had become increasingly paranoid and cruel. When the so-called Mad Emperor, was overthrown by a bloody coup led by the samurai caste two years ago, an apocalyptic prophecy was realized. The demonic Obsidian Lord tore a hole into the Middle-Realm and led his oni horde from Jigoku to take Ryama as its own. Most of the samurai perished buying time for the mass exodus of the once proud Ryami as they fled toward Bukana. Since then, they have become refugees. Most still live aboard their vessels as they eke a meager living from unclaimed seas. Some have found inhospitable islands to try and colonize, while fewer still have found places amongst the Bukanese.


When it comes to regional influence, none can match the Bhodani. While Bukana enjoys great prosperity from trade, the great nation of Bhodan to the north combines a massive merchantile fleet with a navy second to none. Add to that the efforts of their missionaries who spread their belief system throughout the region, this India-inspired country is a true powerhouse. They supplement their military and magical might by employing odd lizard-like birds which they seem to hold in some esteem. While not overtly warlike, the Bhodani are held with some trepidation in other nations. However, in Bukana, they and their lavish commondities are welcomed with opened arms. So it is that this powerful kingdom use the archipelago as a way station in order to conduct business with otherwise hesitant partners. The northern rajanate of Bukana is subject to much cultural influence from Bhodan and has adopted the worship of that land’s god of puzzles as its national religion.


To the southeast of the Sea of Skulls lies the rugged nation of Zamatas. While they maintain steady trade with Bukana, their most significant influence on the islands is definitely cultural. The sultanates of the south are major strongholds of the Zamatasian Amethyst Church. Here, the clerics, advocates, and warriors of Order act as a foil to keep the rampant piracy of the region in check. It is from this land that the Fire Elf originate. Over the centuries, these Jinn have flocked to Bukana for its free, adventurous way of life as well as its fiery volcanic peaks. Through their unique approach to the sciences, many new ideas and tools have made their way from Zamatas to Bukana; these include innovations in roadwork, irrigation, and various implements.


Inspired by the ancient Nubian kingdom of Kush, these proud people journey from the distant south to bring riches back to their pharaoh god-rulers. Their understanding of the realms of the dead, ancestor spirits, and the nature of the soul makes them welcome guests in many academic circles of Bukana. Many dispossessed of that land find a home in the Sea of Skulls acting as mercenaries, healers, and bounty hunters without equal. Their kingdom’s name means “Land of the Bow” (like Nubia) and their archers are the finest in the known world. In fact, they follow their own tradition of ghost archery and its preactictioners find amble use of those skills in spirit-laden Bukana.


The last of the major foreign nations is Wayurqu. They are by far the furthest from Bukana and although the trek is long and perilous, they are still relatively common visitors to the islands – even if they rarely venture past the western-most ports. Their travels are facilitated in part by their mastery of wind magic. Apparently their homeland is incredibly mountainous and their devotion to their sun god gives them agency over the spirits that serve them. Not much is known about their nation or even their customs, as they are consummate business-people interested only in trade. A few remain in Bukana to oversee their merchantile endeavors, but even they keep largely to themselves. If the grisly totems that can be seen on some of their warriors are any indication, they too practice some form of ritual headhunting.

Other Visitors

Many smaller groups also travel to the bustling trade hub that is Bukana. Numerous islands lay between the Sea of Skulls and the continent of Yudiguo and Ryama. These are home to a host of smaller nation-states who can make the shorter journey. Additionally, the largely uncharted Sea of Stars lies to the west and fills the waters between Bukana and Wayurqu. All manner of tribal cultures are scattered throughout its expanse. These are to speak nothing of the many vast merfolk kingdoms that encompass Bukana and all of the known depths surrounding it.

Bukana Illustrated: Spirit Masks

This is the first part of a series within a series. We’re going to look at how we adapted somewhat obscure creatures from Philippine myth into a player bloodline (‘subrace’). Very briefly, we need to discuss the devastating impact that the Spanish had on the indigenous beliefs when they claimed the islands for themselves. While the variety of myths and creatures is what appeals to us about the region, the Spanish found it confusing and unacceptable. Therefore, they bent a lot of the local creatures toward their European sensibilities. Therefore, so many mysterious spirits became variations of elves, dwarves, and faeries. The damage was so thorough in some cases that the native words for some spirits have been lost and Filipino identify these entities as the elves and dwarves that the Spaniards designated them as. Therefore, in order to make ancestries and bloodlines for Bukana, we were able to keep some of the existing options from the 5e game. Of course, we aim to make the new bloodlines much less European and as unique and magical as the myths from which they are inspired.

Our research led us to look at elven people of the Philippines. I found two accounts rather interesting: the Tamahaling and the Mahomanay. They are mentioned together in the literature and they offer very little information for us to work with. The Tamahaling are red-skinned guardians of wild animals and they are all women. The Mahomanay are pale-skinned protectors of the land who are all men. You find a fair amount of this in the mythology, the idea that a spirit/creature is only one gender. Of course, the sources don’t distinguish between sex and gender at all, so I knew that we had some room to interpret. We decided early on that we would be giving a lot of space for folks to explore sex, gender, love, and sexuality and we wanted to create opportunities in our setting for that exploration. So it was that we thought it would be interesting to illustrate how outside preconceptions regarding someone’s gender do not dictate their own identity. Enter the Spirit Elves (Tamahaling/Mahomanay). These people are the children of twin nature deities. Each is a tribe that venerates one of the twins who act to guide their offspring and bestow their gifts upon them. When a spirit elf from either tribe reaches adulthood, that elf undertakes a spirit walk where their minds enter the Ethereal Plane. There, they are met by their patron who assumes a visage distinct for each individual. Each of these is generally grouped into aspects of each god. For instance, the Nurturer, the Venger, and the Hunter are all aspects known to the Tamahaling. Once the young elf returns from their journey, they fashion a mask for themselves depicting their guiding aspect. That mask is then imbued with divine energy and bound to the elf. These are “Spirit Masks” and each holds power when worn by its owner. It is one of the benefits of the Spirit Elf bloodline. The Tamahaling and Mahomanay are generally reclusive folk, and these masks are not understood by outsiders. This has led to many superstitions and misunderstandings that claim that what they see as the “masculine” masks of the Mahomanay indicates that they are all men and that the “feminine” look of the Tamahaling masks shows them to be women. The reality is, that like many elven cultures of Bukana, the Spirit Elves are largely gender-fluid and pansexual, but even that is far from universal and individuals have the freedom to find their own truth.

We took again to Artstation (I swear that they’re not paying me) to find a Filipino artist with the right style to show these folks to the world. For a magical race of mask-wearing elves, I though that a juxtaposition of pretty and creepy was the target vibe. I found Daphne Gragera, whose work was just the thing.

We decided that she would develop the Spirit Elves from start to finish. This began with a double spread of spirit masks that would likely appear in the equipment section. It doesn’t appear that there is a strong tradition of masks in the Philippines, so we searched Indonesia and other Autronesian cultures for carved masks. After sending her some examples, she sent back an impressive number of sketches from which to choose.

We picked two that we wanted to reserve for the next stage of development and three for each of the Tamahaling and Mahomanay. I included the idea of adding feathers to the keepers of the animals and leaves to the wardens of the land. Daphne sent us these fantastic sketches:

Oh yeah, that’s what we were looking for. These were only supposed to lightly colored sketches, but Daphne went above and beyond with coloring them.

Damn. Yup, she was the right person for the job.

We’ll look at path we took to full body images when we revisit the Spirit Elves. In the meantime, check out Daphne’s impressive work at Artstation.

New Rules: Rote Checks

One of the things that we’d like to do for our players is to address some of the issues that we think infringe upon game play in 5e. Our intent is to either make new mechanics either optional, or to make an optional rule not to use them.

When I asked the question “What don’t you like in 5e?” to our Rules Duwendetm , the first response was that some ability checks just shouldn’t be as “swingy” as a d20 roll makes it. I took to the web and found that this is a common complaint. After all, if your character is an expert in a skill that they have performed thousands of times, would they really fail when in a totally calm situation with all of the time in the world? We don’t think so. Sure, when in the heat of battle or when enemies are in hot pursuit, you can fudge up something you’ve done a million times. That’s the way it should be. But if you have performed a task countless times, you aren’t under duress, and time is not of the essence, then with that comes the ability to move cautiously and do what you do best.

So we’re introducing a mechanic called “rote.” Some Background traits and feats will allow a character to perform a certain ability check by rote. What this means is that instead of rolling a d20 then applying modifiers, you can roll 2d10, add the results together, then apply modifiers. If you have advantage on a rote check, you will roll 3d10 and drop the lowest value before adding up the dice. Of course, you can only do this if you have a trait that allows it and even then it has further stipulations. First of all, the check takes twice as long; you are being careful. Secondly, you cannot be under duress. That means no combat, no being chased, no threat of direct physical harm if you fail. The stakes simply are not imminently deadly. Lastly, the check cannot be contested. If someone (or some thing) is actively opposing you, then you cannot perform a check by rote. Very rarely, a trait can allow you to perform a rote check ignoring one of these conditions. These will be quite limited, though.

As an example, the Recluse background provides the Self-Sufficient trait. This allows you to take make Survival checks as rote so long as you aren’t under duress and take twice as long to do what you need to. That’s it. Your character is used to going out into the wilderness and foraging for what they need day in and day out. The adding of two dice changes the statistics of the roll, of course. Instead of a 5% chance of any given number being rolled, we now have a bell curve with the majority of results closing in on the 11 average. Again, since you are operating with plenty of time, you lose the risk of rolling a 1 all together and reduce the chance of rolling very low (2-5) quite significantly. However, because you’re not attempting anything innovative or ground-breaking and just doing that thing that you always do, you also reduce the chance of rolling very high too. Inspiration can still strike, but without the risk of trying new things, you’re less likely to crush the task at hand.

Next month, join us for the next New Rules and see what we’ve done with the rather uninspiring 5e inspiration mechanics. Spoiler: it’s cool.

Storytellers: The Sisters of the Sky

This week, we explore the trinity of demigods that is inspired by the Daughters of Bathala. In Philippine myth, one of the most powerful gods sired three daughters by a mortal woman. These entities seem to really resonate with modern day Filipinx for whom they are symbols of feminine empowerment and energy. This is one of the reasons why we’ve decided not to use existing deities in Bukana, but to allow those spirits to inspire new gods. So we have the Sisters of the Sky. They do not take their moniker from their father, but of their chosen domain. It is they that are the patrons of the druidic Circle of the Sisters, a sub-class that is unique to our islands.

“Gather ‘round, children! Today you will hear the tale of Malawo’s three most beautiful daughters. Many generations ago, the mighty Malawo – protector of our people – married a mortal woman. We do not know her name, so we call her simply “Mother.” Well, her name was forgotten because she died giving birth to our patron’s three children. But you’re making me get ahead of myself. Now be still! Where was I? Oh yes. The day was getting late as the mother went into labor. As the sun approached the horizon, the first of the children was born and our lord held the little female in his hands. She opened her eyes and they beamed with radiance! ‘I will name you Sikat because you are fierce and brilliant.’ The small girl spoke, ‘Thank you, father. I will help you to protect the mortals under your care and give their crops life.’ Her mother smiled.

  The last rays had gone and the first constellations painted the night sky. Then the next child came and was a male. Our great patron did not even wait for the child’s eyes to open before he named them. ‘I call my first son Palabba for surely he will follow in my footsteps!” Just then the baby’s eyes opened and Malawo saw them twinkle like far-off lights. The demigod spoke, ‘Father, you are great and powerful, but you have erred. I am not your son, Palabba. My name is Lakad, and I am your second daughter!” The High Father replied, ‘I see now my mistake. You will guide humanity to find their true selves and forge their own destiny!” Lakad and her mother smiled.

  When a shadow fell across the moon, the third and final child was born. But Malawo became distraught as the baby was not breathing! ‘Do not fear, my love, our little one will live,’ said the exhausted mother. She put out her hands and the fearful deity placed their still child into their mother’s embrace. She held her baby close and whispered, ‘You, Aninaw, whose little eyes have beheld the world of the dead, will be a light to mortals in their darkest time.’ With these final words, the triplet’s mother smiled and breathed her life’s breath into her daughter’s mouth. Malawo gently bent over to lift his little baby. Just then, the eclipse ended and Aninaw opened her eyes and spoke. ‘Father, my mother’s sacrifice has shown me the delicate balance of mortality. I will guide the souls of the dead to your grace and offer light in the blackness of night.’

  ‘My beautiful little girls,” Malawo spoke, “without your mother to take care of you, I must take you back to Kaluwalhatian with me so that you may join me in my court.’ The sisters looked at each other and conferred without words. At last, it was the shining Sikat that addressed him. ‘You are our father and our lord, but we are half human and to honor our mortal mother and our vows, we must protect the Middleworld.’ Lakad spoke next. ‘Your kingdom is simply too far for us to watch over humanity.’ Aninaw whispered, ‘we will ascend to the Skyworld, father, but the mortals must still see us, so we look down upon them from the sun, the moon, and the stars.’ Malawo nodded stoically. ‘I respect your wisdom and your honor, but I will miss my daughters too much!” The children spoke in turn. Sikat assured him, ‘Fear not, father, at night when the sun is hidden, I will visit you.’ ‘And I will join you when the moon sinks below the horizon,’ little Aninaw said. However, Lakad looked off in the distance, and with a solemn look, she spoke. ‘I love you father. But I must help humanity walk a winding and dangerous road along their destiny. I cannot promise that I will ever attend your godly court.’ The great spirit closed his eyes and spoke. ‘I know our paths will cross again someday, my beautiful daughter. Until then know that you have made your father proud.’ With a final embrace, he lifted his babies into the sky where they look after us to this very day.”

– The tale of the Sky Sisters as recounted by the storyteller Dalisay the Wanderer

World of Bukana: Headhunting

There are a number of problematic aspects of early tribal life when taken from a modern day perspective. The first that we encountered when developing Bukana was that of headhunting. Like many cultures, head-taking played a role in warfare; the Irish did it, eastern Europeans did it, and there were Indian tribes still doing it in 1960’s. And it was really big in what is now called the Philippines and Indonesia. However, when it came time to decide what role the ceremonial severing of human heads would play in our setting, we were… uneasy. Our initial thought was to remand it to savage and violent cultures designed to act as antagonists to the typical adventurers. But that didn’t feel right either, since it was such an important part of life for so many filipinx cultures. So we decided to do some more digging and get a handle on what exactly that role was and try not to bring our modern, largely western worldview into the process.

What we discovered, like so much of Indonesian & Philippine history, was that there was a lot of variability from region to region and tribe to tribe. The real breakthrough for me was when I found accounts of certain tribes who would grow their hair in order to facilitate the display of their heads should they be taken by an enemy. What? I would have shaved my head and greased it to dissuade someone from chopping off my dome! That very much opened my eyes to the notion that this was not an act of evil to those participants, like such grisly dismemberment would be to us today. We found that it was a highly ceremonial and spiritual tradition. Rarely were heads taken if a tribe was not at war, but only if they had enemies on whom rightful vengeance was due (in their eyes). So we took inspiration from historical accounts and shaped what headhunting would look like in Bukana.

The head-taking ceremonies were once much more widespread in Bukana than it is today. While it is still practiced by those highland people who have maintained their tribal ways, it has largely been cast aside by the more cosmopolitan folks of the lowlands. This is largely due to a shift of morality and move away from traditional ways caused by the influx of outsiders and their world views. Some interior tribes still conduct similar rituals, but use head effigies as surrogates to actual human heads. These are usually carved and painted totems and coconuts. Even those mountain tribes that still maintain the practice, it is not done lightly and only the Barbarians of the Way of the Headtaker can truly be said to exalt in it. There are a few exceptions, of course. Some dwarven cultures take great pride in collecting the heads of those that they feel have violated their territories or stolen what they see as theirs. Additionally, some Chaotic Evil cultures, particularly those of some duwende warrens or minotaur herds never pass up a chance to wrench the power of their enemies’ souls from their bodies and proudly display their gruesome trophies for all to see and fear.

To really get an idea of the place this practice has in traditional Bukanan culture, here is the description of the Path of the Headtaker Barbarian Primal Path:

For many of the Bukana tribes, their traditional ways of life are being eroded by the visitors that swarm their islands. Not so for those barbarians that walk the path of the headtaker. Whether they collect the actual heads of their enemies or bind their souls to effigies, the Kalinga as they are called, practice the old rituals of vengeance that maintain their ancestral heritage and bring glory to their people.

Bukana Illustrated: The Markupo

I mentioned Last Time that one of the first things I did upon starting the Bukana project was to trawl Artstation for Filipinix artists. I discovered an illustrator that was already making truly stunning images of indigenous creatures. I quickly recognized the name Brian Valeza from Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons artist. Brian is a freelance illustrator for even more big names like Paizo’s Pathfinder, Elder Scroll Legends and other tabletop and mobile games.

As you can see: his creatures are straight fire. I was ecstatic when he was available for work. The first piece that I assigned him was one of the many serpents of the islands: the markupo (aka marcupo, magkupo).

Said to dwell on the volcanic Mount Kanlaon, the markupo dwells in and/or is attracted to a flowering “Kamandag tree.” Apparently, this is some sort of balete (ficus/fig-family) tree, whose shadow kills all life. There certainly seems to be some potential for a lair ability for this snehk.

The beast is said to have a red crest, rooster’s crow, forked tail, and tusks. Here’s what Brian sent us:

At the time, I wasn’t aware of its connection to the balete, so I asked him to add some dank tree.

I think that it’s safe to say that we’ll be using Brian for as much work as we can get out of him. No wonder they got him to do the moon-eater beasts in the Sina Una 5e book – I’m so jealous of that spider!

Check out his art at Artstation!

Storytellers: The Beginning

In this series, we will listen to some of the countless storytellers found in Bukana. Just like the real world Philippines, the Sea of Skulls has a strong oral tradition and there is never a shortage of tales: truth, lies, and sometimes both.

“None of what I’m about to tell you is true. How could it be? All of the characters in this story are dead; well… except for Them. With no one to color that which they witnessed, perhaps that makes this account even more true. Regardless of whether it is the truth or not, it is what happened. This I know. 

  Before there was anything, there was nothing. There was nothing, but there was also one. It could not be, but it was. In the quiet womb of oblivion, the One gestated. How long it was there, how long it grew, is irrelevant – time did not yet exist to arbitrarily decide when something started or when it ended. Eventually, the One had its first thought; rather it was more of a feeling than a thinking. With that first act of consciousness, the peaceful state of non-existence was forever sundered. The One became two as everything flooded into the Nothing that had always been. The newborn gods (for if they were not gods, then what were they?) sprang into being separated by a seething torrent of reality. The upper god found itself near the source of the river where pure possibility gently bubbled up from a wellspring of what could be. The lower god was cast down to the mouth of the course where, having spent its rage, the flow drifted impotently back out into the void. Between them lay an endless storm where the river became a turbulence of conflict as tributaries split, formed rapids, then crashed back into themselves. The twins sought to quiet the cacophony of unchecked power; they longed for the calm they only vaguely remembered from before.

  The upper realm was a place of potential and its god saw what the raw energy of being could become, if only it were nurtured and crafted into a perfect form. This twin became Order and sought to tame the chaos into structured boundaries. In contrast, its sibling witnessed the end result of the maelstrom and came to realize the ultimate futility of its furor. It knew that peace could only be found with the utter eradication of reality and so it became Destruction. Sadly, despite their common goal, the twins were now at cross purposes. Order built its Skyworld around the source and Destruction fashioned its Underworld from the flotsam of the tempest. Here they sat each without the means to overcome the schemes of the other. It was Order that attempted to break the stalemate. It sought to harness the limitless power of the maelstrom, but when it reached in, something stirred. Unbeknownst to the siblings, the raw stuff of pandemonium had congealed into entities of utter madness. Awoken from their birthing slumber, these aberrations tore forth to threaten the gods and their domains. In desperation, the twins worked together to vanquish this new threat. They gave these Old Ones names: Tsathoggua, Ithaqua, Hastur, and many more besides. This weakened them and gave the Two power over the beasts. Order fashioned a net from its most rigid rules and formulae and cast it around the maelstrom. As it drew the net tighter and tighter, Destruction encased the entirety in a shell of detritus until it was thick enough to force Them back into sleep. Thus the Middleworld was formed – the realm of mortals.

  Ignoring any lesson that could have been learned from its previous attempt, Order once again sought to gain the upperhand against the agenda of its twin. The sky god fashioned a myriad of forms from the inert material that made up the Old Ones’ prison, but this time imbued them with a minute wisp of its divinity. This new life grew and populated the Middleworld. In an attempt to protect its creation from its dark twin, Order fashioned humans as wardens and defenders. Destruction looked on and saw its own opportunity. Although it could not create, the lower god warped the creations of its sibling by insinuating a sliver of its own being into their souls. Soon eternal summer gave way to harsh winter, day became night, organisms killed and consumed each other, and disease ran rampant. Some living things, once pure and just, were perverted into new, hideous forms and a multitude of stygian creatures were birthed. The most intelligent mortals, humans and the races formed from them, immediately began to worship their creators and through them the hidden power of their realm was channeled back to the twins. However, in giving their creations a portion of their selves, the gods erred. The very existence of the twins now rested with the beliefs of the mortals that venerate them. It was not long before humanity and other peoples fractured and sought new lands to settle. In their journeys, each group of people began to alter their worldviews and thus their perceptions and understanding of their gods deviated from one another. Once again the gods were torn apart. Over the millennia of migration and dispersal, the substance of what was once Order and Destruction have been divided again and again as new gods are conceived by mortal impressions. Now with only an uncertain notion of what they were before, these young gods carve the Sky- and Underworlds into petty fiefdoms and call their chosen souls back to them in order to wage neverending war amongst themselves for dominion; each unknowingly seeking a tranquility they no longer remember.”

– translation of cave wall carvings; Ministry of the Most Holy Thought and Word, Llang Dynasty – Date Unknown