I was first introduced to playing tabletop RPGs by my husband, Bill.
We started playing Dungeons and Dragons 3.5e., then Pathfinder 1e, Starfinder, Call of Cthulhu and so on.
Then recently, I learned other systems like Forged in the Dark, through the CHEW RPG by Imagining Games when I played a one-shot game that was run by Mitchell Wallace for our Halloween RPG Live stream.
My most recent favorite is the Powered by the Apocalypse system, which I learned through playing Magpie Game’s Avatar Legends RPG live stream game via The DAT Network Twitch channel, ran by our buddy Erik Frankhouse of Erik Frankhouse Presents.
* I will have a separate blog post on my character Jade Gan Lan, who is a decendent of the Cabbage Merchant from the Avatar Series.
And as I played RPGs through the past 8 years, I have come to realize that I can do more with customizing my characters beyond the usual narratives I have been using.
What playing TTRPGS has thought me is not only can I incorporate my personality into the characters I create, but I can also incorporate my Filipino culture into them, even in the smallest way.
Let me introduce you to my characters...
My first fully “Filipinized” character was Corvina Thorn. They are a Yuanti Warlock with a very interesting past. For this character, I made her have “Mangkukulam” vibes - which is basically Filipino witch who practices black magic. I used Cthulhu as my patron for this warlock character. And they have a sea snake familiar called Bakunawa, which is very familiar to those who know Filipino folklore as the huge serpent-like dragon who swallowed the moon. Bakunawa protects my abode, which is an abandoned ruin of a castle in the ocean. My character's look was even inspired by the woven clothing of the Ifugao people - the indigenous tribe of the Philippines who live in the north. I made my character’s “crown” headpiece similar to what an Ifugao princess would wear. You can see a sketch of her that I made below.
The premise I had for this character is that whoever DM’d my character in a game would incorporate some excerpts from the RPG book, The Island of Sinauna by Hitpoint Press - which is such an amazing book filled with Filipino folklore, traditions, and even plants and animals. Unfortunately it has yet to happen, but I am hoping someday whoever has a game willing to incorporate these aspects of my character, or if someone is running *Sinauna could include me so I can play Corvina in that setting.
The second character I have incorporated my Filipino culture is Pawi - which is short for Pawikan (translated as turtle in Tagalog). Pawikan Alun (“Alon” is “Wave” in Tagalog) is a BardBarian (a Barbarian and Bard multi-class character) who wields a giant wooden fork and spoon as a weapon. It has been a staple in most Filipino households to have a giant wooden spoon and fork in their dining room, along with a portrait of the last supper. And it has even been included in the newest Spider Man movie - No Way Home, at Ned’s lola’s (grandma's) house. Everyone close to me knows that I absolutely love to cook! So my character background is always cooking and in search of flavors.
The third and most popular RPG character I made is Mayumi Tendo. She is a Level 3 fighter. My hometown in the Philippines when I was growing up is known for and the origin of the ‘balisong’, or the butterfly knife. I always joked about how our part of the island was really made for tough people and warriors because Batangas was known for the fresh, strong coffee and the balisong.
Mayumi is a human fighter who has ties to the syndicate in the world she lives in and she is a spy that wields a dancing sword, shuriken and balisong. I picked the name Mayumi because it translates as modest, delicate, refined and gentle in Tagalog - just like a cherry blossom flower.
I was inspired by the Arizona Green Tea and Ginseng bottleneck design to create her aesthetic, so I created a cosplay of her as well. And not long ago, I was actually featured in their Instagram post.
You can find her character sheet ‘below’ and you can play this character, if you’d like.
TTRPG games have become more personal through the past few years, with many writers incorporating their culture into their games. It’s not just about being heard, but celebrating everyone’s traditions and culture. And for some, memories of things they grew up listening to in stories passed along through generations.
I highly encourage you to incorporate aspects of your culture into your TTRPG characters, because just like any other TTRPG player, we sometimes tend to hang on to our characters and get really attached and personal with them.
Here’s a few tips on how you can achieve this.
1. Incorporate what’s familiar to you within your culture.
For me, it was items such as the balisong, the wooden spoon and fork, and the Ifugao clothing. I grew up knowing these as “very Filipino” things, and I love knowing that I can somehow carry this with my character.
2. Find stories or folklore that speaks to you and find a way to include that in your backstory.
Philippine culture is so rich in folklore, especially in my favorite genre - Horror. I found inspiration for my characters in media like the Sina Una D&D sourcebook, and the Trese comic books and TV series on Netflix.
3. Traditions, cultural nuances and things that are a part of your culture adds a lot of character.
Filipinos are very superstitious, so incorporating superstitious beliefs as part of my character’s beliefs has helped add personality to my Filipino-inspired characters.
4. If you are borrowing from someone else’s culture, please realize that there needs to be a lot of research and cultural sensitivity put into the character creation process. Just like when applying a specific culture into a game or media that you’re not familiar with, you will need to consult with several people who are of that culture. This avoids appropriating other people’s culture and also shows respect for ‘borrowing’ aspect of someone’s culture into your creation.
I hope this article has helped you and encouraged you to create your next TTRPG character and add aspects of your culture into them. It has personally made my game play a lot more interesting and just warms my heart when I take a personal piece of my heritage into the game.
Happy AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Heritage Month!