Wednesday, June 27, 2012

[Buan Faiths] Overview

One issue that I have been evading when it comes to the Buan Campaign Setting is the religious or spiritual life of its inhabitants. This appears to be doubly intriguing when we consider that Filipinos are, for the most part, a highly spiritual people, both before and after Christianity has been introduced in the archipelago. Oh, I have touched upon it before - the Taste Test article on Dian Masalanta comes to mind - but for the most part, I left it alone.

Paradoxically, I refrained from discussing Buan faiths, but at the same time I have always wanted to tackle it head-on. For one thing, the placeholder for my campaign setting name is one of the major deities that are worshipped in Kalupaan. In addition, I feel like any treatment of the babaylan, either as a class or as a theme, would not be set without first identifying the intricacies of the faith that they practice.

The main hurdle that prevented me from writing about the deities of Buan has been my desire to do the inspired material justice. This is especially difficult, because the religions of precolonial Philippines are as varied as the islands that make up the archipelago. Nevertheless, certain similarities exist, and by distilling these similarities a faithful, though inaccurate, representation of the  religious culture that existed can hopefully be derived.

Recently, however, I finally got Primal Power off of a bargain bookstore, and reading about the fluff in that excellent book has allowed me to rethink the complicated nature of precolonial religious belief.

A Game Tool, Not a Paper on Comparative Religion

The number of divine beings and beliefs in precolonial Philippines are legion, and sometimes the same name can refer to a deity with slightly different characteristics. For example, Mayari may be a moon god, but he could be male in one culture and female in another.

Image from Wikipedia.
It would surely be an interesting exercise to map out all the deities, codifying their portfolios and domains and setting up this big chart for them all, but I don't think such a table will serve well in a game. Basically, what I'm saying is that I will be taking a 4E approach. If you are the type of gamer who would be shocked to see Greyhawk's Pelor exist in the same cosmology as Toril's Bane, then you would just be as shocked to see the Visayan diwata Magwayen working as an exarch of the Tagalog deity Si Dapa. Nevertheless, there is a good possibility that this mishmash of deities is what you'll see once this set of articles has been completed.

Content Structure

In simple terms, there are three types of entities that the people of Kalupaan revered. These are the celestial gods, the spirits of nature and of localities, and their own ancestors. 

However, it is not as simple as assigning the celestials as divine while relegating ancestors and nature spirits as primal as 4E would have us do. For one thing, many primal spirits in the setting manifest themselves as nuno (gnomes) or diwata (eladrin/elves), which are fey creatures tied to the arcane power source that can also be player character races themselves. Another complication is the idea that diwata etymologically come from the Hindu term devata, which itself is tied to the divine power source. This is despite them commonly being attributed to fairies, as is the case with my friend Eliza Victoria's short story Fairy Tales.

Now, the question is why I would want to constrain myself to 4E D&D ideologies. It is arguably easier to just refer to fey as primal spirits and be done with it. But despite having been started in 3.5, the world of Kalupaan was built-up with 4E cosmology in mind. If it cannot conform to its parent cosmology, it becomes even more difficult to imagine them in subsequent editions.

So, to try to build up the faiths, I have decided to divide this series of articles to the following component parts:
  1. RL Inspirations - Again, this won't be a total academic treatment. I just want to explore the tools and themes that will help us understand what makes the precolonial faiths tick. (I'm not too happy with how it turned out, honestly)
  2. The 4E Power Sources - In my current Buan games, I intentionally blur the line between the arcane, divine, and primal power sources. After all, witches traditionally gained their power from supernatural entities, and the same can be said of priests and shamans. This has worked for me personally, and an example can be seen with my Snake Twin theme. But I think it will be better understood if it is well-defined as it pertains to 4E's power sources.
  3. Spellcasters of Buan - Babaylan, Mangkukulam, Mambabarang, even a type of Asuang... there are a multitude of characters who access their power through a patron. Which one is the priest? Which claims their power from dark forces? Are they all different types of the same class?
  4. Synthesis - In a nutshell, this is where I try to make sense of it all and create a Taste Test for what should be a workable in-game concept.
Additional Reading

I've developed quite a collection of online and print lore regarding Philippine mythology, but I cannot deny that one of the most accessible ways to transform the lore into something usable for a game is to visit similar ideas by other bloggers. What sets me apart is that my goal is to make the ideas work within D&D sensibilities, while I believe that these guys are trying to do their own thing. There is a significant overlap between the concepts, though. So here are links to some of the excellent work by Armchair Gamer and Hari Ragat:

(These links are by no means exhaustive. Feel free to check out their websites for more awesome posts on precolonial Philippine campaign settings!)

Enigmundia (by Armchair Gamer):

Hari Ragat: