[Philippine Genres] Urban Fantasy / Horror

Posted: July 20, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Local Scene, Roleplaying Games

Of all the genres that run as smooth as silk in the context of a Philippine setting, it would have to be Urban Fantasy or Horror.  The Filipino culture in general is one where superstition rubs shoulders with faith, and just about anyone can tell you two to three different superstitions that they follow.  Filipinos are well aware of the Chinese practice of Feng Shui, for example, while making certain to check the horoscope every morning, while making sure to hear Mass every Sunday.

This sort of open culture leads to a whole bunch of interesting scenarios.  Filipinos tend to enjoy the fantastic, from ghost stories, to urban legends to tales of creatures like the tikbalang or the kapre.  Majority of the supernatural types that are common to Philippine beliefs are mostly those of the Fae and Ghosts, but there’s always room for the creepy undefined stuff.

A World of Darkness game set in Manila would be a perfect fit.  The large socio-economic divide between the rich and the poor is nothing new here, and many crimes and deaths just pass unnoticed by the general populace, already far too numb to care anymore.  The Media is obsessed only with the next scandal, and businessmen and politicians tend to have other priorities than being of help the their fellow man.

Personally, if I were to run Urban Fantasy or Horror in Manila, I’d go for Changeling: the Lost.  The idea of being taken away and changed, before finally making it back is one that works wonderfully well in a Philippine setting.  There’s always talk of people being taken away by some form of fae creature or another, and every child is taught to never accept food or drink if one was ever taken away, or else they would never be able to leave.

Sadly, the Cthulhu Mythos is probably not quite so applicable here, unless you try and force it and correlate the siokoy myth with the Deep Ones.  If one veers towards non-fantastic horror, then serial killers and the like would be interesting in a Philippine setting.  We don’t really get reports of serial killers here, but that might just be because the people don’t recognize it as such.

Overall, an Urban Fantasy / Horror campaign set in the Philippines would be an interesting mix of Asian and Western sensibilities.  The fact that a lot of places here are ripe for some truly horrifying scenes makes it an even more fertile ground for bone-chilling campaigns.

  1. Loren says:

    Interesting in that in my almost 40 years of gaming this is the first thing I’ve read dealing with running a game from a non-Western point of view. Particularly when one has players who are “believers” in the supernatural rather than players who have to “suspend” their non-belief to get into a horror setting. Particular to the problem is that most Americans main exposure to the horror genre is really bad splatter flicks. And the popular settings are too well known to really “scare” anyone. To be honest other than Cthulhu pbm, I’ve steered away from running horror outside of a couple of Champions adventures with a mystical/horror motif.

    • Hi Loren!

      People here in the Philippines acknowledge that these things exist, but are perfectly willing to deal with them as antagonists in a work of fiction. It’s an interesting sort of situation as man people (myself included) believe in the presence of monsters in far flung provinces here. Perhaps it may seem silly and superstitious, but we’ve sort of gotten along quite well with paying a healthy respect (and maintaining a healthy distance) from dangerous locales.

      I’m actually considering expanding this series of articles to cover other genres in the context of Philippine culture. High Fantasy and Swords & Sorcery are obvious candidates, but Cyberpunk also lends itself well to many other interesting permutations if you take it out of the standard Western and Japanocentric worldview common to the genre.

      • Tallgeese says:

        Here in the U.S., irrational belief tends to express itself through things like free market ideology, the myth of meritocracy, white supremacy/white privilege, creationism, and the need to “protect traditional marriage.” 🙂

  2. Well Hunter and Mage would work too but if you take account culture, Changelings are your best bet. 😀

    Everyone I know has a story about fairies, elves, and “dwarves” they’ve either experienced or had someone else happen to them. Our generation grew up on stories and warnings: never accept food and drink from faeries, always says “tabi-tabi po” (“excuse me, please”) when passing through a termite hill or what we call “nuno sa punso”, or how we should wear our t-shirts backwards if we ever find ourselves lost in the woods.

    Then again, our culture is rife with a lot of superstitions, and beliefs of monsters and other critters. Sadly though Vampire doesn’t really fit the culture setting as well.

  3. Brian says:

    You seem like an intelligent, rational man, so it seems surprising that you’d believe in monsters. But I guess it’s like Stephen King once said. “I am certain that there are no monsters under my bed. But I am equally certain that if I don’t put my foot over the side, they can’t get me.”

  4. Hikkikomori says:

    Personally, a good PH Genre would be – Period Fantasy.

    Or alternatively, Alternate History.

    The history of the PH is a cornucopia of interesting events that is just waiting to be tapped. It’s just that the Filipino’s lack of Nationalism – unless faced with an all-encompassing political threat – makes it difficult for us to remember our historical roots.

    Thailand has made the right move by promoting their cultural and historical heritage by producing movies that involve their history. Films like Ong Bak have attained international acclaim just for being a martial arts flick in a tribal setting.

    And it helps that Thailand has elephants.

    But nevertheless, the PH has experienced different eras on its own. It has tribal roots complete with a primitive yet complicated monarchy and social structure. (Did you know that royalty was not allowed to step on soil.) Then came the Spanish occupation with its breastplate-wearing, rifle-bearing soldiers alongside their propaganda-weaving, faith-espousing hierophants. The country was involved in 2 wars – World Wars. Both of which the PH was controlled by the then current super powers – Spain, America, and Japan.

    We may not have knights and wizards, but we had warriors and shamans, then soldiers and priests.
    We did not experience a cultural renaissance ourselves, but having been dipped into by multiple super powers makes us an amalgamation of different cultures, making ours colorful, versatile, and unique.

    Period fantasy or alternative history are great themes to play up when considering the PH setting.

    And if all else fails, there is always Philippine Pulp.

  5. […] pointed out by Hikkikomori over at the previous article in this series, one of the most interesting ways to use the Philippine setting is in the context of […]

  6. Alex says:

    That’s why I used to run Fading Suns. It’s like the Philippines, but not so close that it makes you uncomfortable.

    And let’s not forget rumored history: like the one about how the slave trade galleons used to pass through the Philippines and dumped dead slaves (R.I.P.) here before moving on. Not sure where, but Siquijor comes to mind for some reason.

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