A visit to a secluded shrine

A lower angle view of the scene. (Tabletop terrain from Dwarven Forge is arranged to create a narrow rocky nook, crowded with trees, plants, roots, and stumps. A procession of people, some carrying baskets, winds through the tangle past the worn standing stone at the bottom of the picture toward the small stone brick shrine at the top. There are pink crystals on the shrine.)

Villagers from Millbake wind their way past the standing stone and through the tangled woods to pay their respects at the shrine of the Eminence Focus.

This ancient, sacred place is associated with earth element magic and the shrine is adorned with a large grouping of beautiful crystals. After the picnic, those who feel brave enough may touch the crystals to see if they receive a blessing (or a challenge). The crystals absorb wild magic from this area and may discharge it in interesting ways…

Tabletop terrain from Dwarven Forge is arranged to create a narrow rocky nook, crowded with trees, plants, roots, and stumps. A procession of people, some carrying baskets, winds through the tangle past the worn standing stone at the bottom of the picture toward the small stone brick shrine at the top. There are pink crystals on the shrine.

I’m enjoying the 12″ x 12″ December build challenge from the Dwarven Forge community on Discord. Definitely not going to get through twelve of them, but I like the constraint of painting a vivid scene in a small footprint.

On the game development front there is lots going on—both my long-standing hybrid game of homebrew and D&D 5e and my playtest game of Our Magic are converging on lots of key world-building decisions for Our Magic. But because some of them are spoilers for the players, I’ll hold off on writing about them for now. Suffice to say I contine to fine-tune and condense the game mechanics and the world details down their most playable form. An ideal mood for honoring Focus!

The first Our Magic playtest story has begun!

Small wooden trays on a tablecloth hold seven red beads, four fancy nautilus shell shaped beads with red as their main color, a red and a brown 10-sided dice, and a tiny gray animal about 20% the size of one of the dice. The edge of a red velvet bag can be seen at the edge of the picture and presumably contains the player's other three spent red bead tokens (to bring them to a total of 30 spellcasting points; 10 times 1 plus 4 times 5).
A player’s spellcasting tokens, two ten-sided dice, mini for their character’s animal friend, and spellcasting points bag.

Though the world of Kabalor has been in use through multiple campaigns using homebrewed/hybrid D&D rules, the big news this week is that after recent character creation and first sessions tests went well, we’re continuing on with these new characters in an ongoing story. (I’ll be using ‘stories’ instead of ‘campaigns’ for Our Magic because neither war nor advertising are good analogies for a group of players collaborating to create something new and magical.)

This story began in Waterborn, a town at the edge of the Mirror Nymioni and First Davuri areas in the southwestern part of the world. All the characters are Davur or Nymion as this story is set early in the world, when the peoples are more isolated from each other after weathering the dangerous period following the Eminences moving to dwell far away in their own planes. We are in the Early Period of the Independent Era and as the sports folk say, there’s everything to play for! I expect that this little group of recent graduates from the magic school in Waterborn will set in motion changes that echo down through the later periods and future stories.

Poem, pronounced “pome” and played by Lance, is The Face of the group. Davur kin of the First Davuri culture, he is a young bard/singer/entertainer, who is a decent drummer but a very bad songwriter. Thanks to above average Empathy and Banter he has still been quite popular at The Rosy Pot public house in Waterborn. Poem is also good at Analysis, which helps support his very low-key leadership which is more marketing than management. His constant companion is his pack-dog and magical focus, Binni, and he attributes his magical talents in Smoke (his speciality) and Metal element magic to her. He wears a floppy musketeer-style hat with the flat side in front and has a bit of skill in Hostcraft, Animal Lore, and Foodcraft.

Yarrow, played by Adriane, is The Guide of the group. Like Poem, Davur/First Davuri in kin and culture and often found at The Rosy Pot regaling someone (in trade for a refilled tankard) with a hair-raising tale of how they lost the two fingers on their dominant hand. The tales are all different and are any of them true? Yarrow’s from a family known for herbalism and foraging, though Yarrow’s abilities there are more due to the illustrated herb guide created for them by their sister than to their foggy grip on the details of number of petals, etc. They’re much more of an Attention than Information person, also above average in Cheer and Resilience. Through practice they have good skill in Plant Lore and some in Foraging, and a bit of experience with Doulacraft after assisting with the birth of their sister’s child. Yarrow is blessed with Rain and Wood element magic.

Taüschen, played by Joe P., is The Fool of the group, known for teaching people by jerking them out of their expectations. He is Nymion, of the Mirror Nymion culture, and a bit of a rebel in his family. Taüschen looks younger than he is and with his foolery and talent for Banter and Cheer, folk can easily forget his ability with Information. Scholarship and Arcana are his skills, along with a bit of Acrobatics to get him in and out of trouble. He has a ferret named Chinchilla which peeks out from beneath his soft, Nymion tentacles—like the arms of a sea anemone—or scurries unnervingly under his beautifully embroidered woolen cloak. He has Water and Air element magics.

Taiko, played by Hamish, is The Fixer of the group and has an adoring pack dog maddeningly named Kaito. Taiko is also Nymion/Mirror Nymion in kin and culture. Taiko, like many a Nymion, makes good use of those 8 feet of height and has great Heft and Resilience, but this imposing presence is offset by Cheer and being a decent hand drum player. Athletics are a natural skill for Taiko, but are joined by traditional skills of the region, Stonecraft and Clothcraft, and recently acquired skill in Doulacraft from accompanying Yarrow to help with their sister’s childbirth. Taiko attributes his element magics of Metal and Earth to playing in dirt as a kid (hooray for hippy-dippy parents), and also—as the generalist of the group with three element magics—has Air element magic.

Zuri, played by Lila, is The Heart of the group and has a rescued, somewhat problematic raccoon-cat named Rascal, who rides in a snuggle pocket in her plain but serviceable clothes, much of them made with alpaca wool from her family’s farm. Zuri is Davur/First Davur in kin and culture and has a twin sister. It was a great shock to them both when Zuri came into stronger magic last year and had to go away to magic school rather than them always doing everything together forever. Zuri’s cozy nature comes through in her great Empathy, but she is also above average in Heft and Resilience. A steady friend, and much appreciated in a group for her skills in Foodcraft and Massage, along with the Animal Lore she learned on the farm. Her element magics are Fire and Earth.

This wonderful group has just begun their first big adventure, setting out to the nearby village of Wellfield. (All but Taüschen who will catch up shortly.) It began when a young runner interrupted their post-brunch musings at the new Blossomtea Pie Patio on the east side of Waterborn. A terrible disaster had apparently just taken place and this youth was sent to fetch mages from Waterborn to help with a dark cloud that grew over the forest after the felling of a huge tree. They reported that one of the timberers said, “It’s all gone to charcoal in there!”

The proprietor, a young Nymion named Yooma Parfooma who graduated from magic school the year before them, hurried the group on their way to help, trusting that a proper trade for the multiple pies consumed would happen later. With this encouragement and the prospect of exciting and dangerous magic ahead, the group made the journey to Wellfield in a bit under the usual quarter-day’s walk.

When they arrived they could see the black cloud over the forest. At the first cottage—home to the young runner—they met three witnesses to the disaster, members of the logging team and a healer who they’d had on hand in case of problems. The Davur forester Rembrel sitting on a log bench outside was covered in cuts and small bruises, their body and clothes showing their headlong flight through the woods. In a harsh and raspy voice, they told of how the felling of the great, tall tree—future main beam of the new Musician’s Guild guildhall to be built in Waterborn—didn’t go as expected.

“The noise of the tree hitting the ground just kept going and getting louder and then the cloud of dust and leaves and birds changed to a dark cloud. I saw a bird drop out of the sky when that black cloud touched it and I shouted for everyone to run. We were racing away, deer and foxes and even a bear running beside us.” The group could see the  shadow of that fear and horror on Rembrel’s face. “We don’t know what happened to Oakleaf. I hope they ran into the clear somewhere, but I’m afraid they’re hurt and need our help.”

Entering the cabin they met the healer, Melody, a young Nymion, his voice also scratchy. “I was foraging between the logging site and the village, staying close enough to be called if there was an emergency but out of range of any falling trees. I heard the crash. It was much louder than normal and I saw dark smoke billowing upward from the source of the sound. Then I heard someone shouting to run. I ran towards that voice and saw animals running away, then the logging team came into view racing as fast as they could and I turned and ran with them. We probably ran farther than we needed to because when we couldn’t push ourselves any farther and looked back, the cloud had stopped expanding.”

In Melody’s care was the third witness, the Nymion lumberjack Titi. She lay in a bed, her face and arms covered in cuts and small bruises; her skin pallid and with dark, greenish circles under her eyes. In a rough, rasping voice she gave her account.

“I was final cutter on this one, so I was right there. Got the cut done, saw the fall direction and began backing up watching my work. There was a big cave-in under where its biggest branch hit and then a moment later the dark smoke started coming straight out of the ground. I turned and ran for my life. I swear the trees around me were trembling. I don’t know what gave me the idea, but I ran toward the old grove instead of the village, and when the smoke reached those blessed trees it weakened. I scrambled up the leafiest one and held on for my life, with my face pressed into an old knot hole. I almost passed out, but then the smoke blew away and my mind cleared. I climbed down and the ground was black where I’d come, plants all dead and black and some animals too. I’d dropped my axe—still carried it while I was running somehow; isn’t it funny what we do in a panic?—right at the foot of the tree and it was black as well. I was coughing from the smoke and scared to my bones so I headed toward the green ground I could see not far away. As I came out of the black area, my mind cleared a bit. That’s when I realized I could hear people calling for me from my left, toward the village. My voice was too harsh from the smoke, so I just staggered that direction until we met up. The healer saved me—I mean it; I wasn’t sure I’d survive and I certainly would have lost my good health without his skill and magic. I’ve been resting here in bed since.”

At this Melody the healer said, “And I think I’ll have you back on your feet tomorrow.” To which Titi replied,“Incredible. Thanks be to The Chasm, bodymother of healing. And to The Loom for weaving my path to drop at your feet.”

During this exchange, Taiko took the opportunity to stealthily get a bit of the soot from one of the garments in the room in order to examine this threat. Unfortunately, Taiko also decided to taste it as part of this assessment. Yup. Definitely smoke element magic related and, uh, definitely not good for you. Knowledge gained, but also hoarseness.

With sober concern, the group entered the forest, their excitement about fascinating wild magic muted by all the evidence of the harm it could cause. They first approached the grove where Titi took shelter from the expanding cloud. They could see the line of smoke damage at its edge, beyond which all was crusted black charcoal. In that area it appeared nothing living remained.

A miniature landscape laid down the center of a table. Wooden trays with dice, minis, and spellcasting tokens sit beside the terrain. The front square foot of terrain shows a forest stained with black, the bright spot in it a ring of brilliant yellow mushrooms with some orange ones just peeking out from under the one healthy tree near the area of dead trees at one edge. That edge continues into a section of completely black land.
One of the great pleasures of this game was that thanks to an out-of-town player being in town, our group of players (all of whom have been in other Kabalor games) was able to rapid test and play together in person for only our second time during the pandemic.

As they approached the grove they could see that some trees at the edge were soot-stained and dead. However, two trees at the center of the grove with bright rings of mushrooms at their roots seemed to exert a force of life energy against the smoke-infused ground beyond. Within the mushroom circle under the healthiest tree a wild boar sow had collapsed. She wheezed hoarsely and had unhealthy looking foam dripping from her jowls, but within the mushroom ring she appeared to have been spared worse from the cloud’s effects.

A miniature scene showing black stained ground under living, but soot-stained trees, with two rings of brilliantly colored mushrooms, one of which is entirely filled with a black pig.

Zuri came forward with cautious, soothing sounds and though the sow leapt awkwardly to her feet, she did not charge. (Lila made a good Animal Lore roll.) At Zuri’s direction the party combined their magics to clean the soot off. Fire magic warmed a soft shower of raindrops as air blew the soot from the poor beast’s face and body, while the Resist Confusion knack brought calm into the spell. It was, in fact, about as great a spa experience as a traumatized wild boar could ever hope for and led to our title for the session: “I wanna be the pig now”.

The party’s combined magic greatly restored the ill creature, and it leapt out of the ring of mushrooms and ran away from the blackened ground. With a glance over their shoulders, perhaps of envy, the group moved forward to carefully investigate the scene of destruction. Zuri tucked Rascal more securely into her snuggle pocket and, concerned about them breathing the soot on the ground, Poem and Taiko suggested to the dogs Binni and Kaito that they wait on a rock outside of the charcoal zone to watch.

Proceeding with great care, they moved into the dark ground. To their relief, the small homestead they came to, its surrounding hedge completely dead and black and all within covered with soot, was empty. Apparently it was close enough to the felling site that the residents had gone into the village until after the tree cutting. Beyond it though, things turned very grim. They found cows, fallen dead and blackened, and sadly the body of the lost logger, Oakleaf, also felled by the toxic cloud. The rest of the group did their best to distract kind-hearted Zuri from the worst of these sights.

A miniature landscape about 4 feet long rests on a long dining table. character sheets, dice, pencils, and other player items surround the scene. In the blackened foreground of the landscape, two figures (one sheltering behind the other) look forward into the part of the scene we can't see. Beside them a soot stained body rests at the bottom of a blackened and rotted tree, horribly damaged by the cloud which blew through here. Behind the tree two more figure are approaching cautiously. In the distance, over a soot-stained small farm inside an oval hedge, on a rock with living green moss and below a tree which still has some leaves, the dogs watch from a distance.
The party (represented by the closest minis I had to the characters) face the cloud in the blackened land.

As they’d learned from the nearby folk, the cloud had expanded rapidly, given up its deadly soot and then begun to retreat slightly. Now they could see the remaining cloud had a diameter of about 20 feet, where it churned and roiled obscuring the place where the tree struck the ground.

Poem studied the cloud, considering all they’d learned, and reached out with his Rank 4 Smoke element magic as he did a spell incorporating the knack Investigate Magic. His high Analysis (and a good roll of the dice) helped him understand the current situation.

Poem’s assessment, as of the point where we ended our session, is that, though once much beyond their powers and still dangerous, the cloud has reduced to a level that the group can begin to influence it with their own spells. It’s here that the story will resume this week and continue with another two sessions after that within the next month.

A miniature landscape viewed looking over the backs of two animals in the greenery at the base of a living tree, looking out across black ground, through a blackened farmstead, and at the silhouettes of their people under a soot-killed tree beyond.
The dogs survey the wasteland from the last safe spot.

It feels fantastic to be playing an ongoing story at last. I still have a ridiculous amount to do to finalize the rules of Our Magic so that anyone but I could GM it, but at least the player side of things is starting to come together.

It’s a moment to celebrate, and—even more cause to celebrate—there’s a lot of good story ahead!

Thank you again to my fantastic players, my patrons, and to you for reading!

Location: the large town of Tunnelton

view of a miniature landscape: a cobbled road leads up the center to an area of stone and wood buildings, mostly with peaked roofs, and then through a tunnel under a craggy mountain. In the foreground is a three-story half-timbered building with a wagon and horses in the street on one side and a brick plaza on the other. The left and right areas before the buildings by the mountain are forested with a variety of trees.
View of Tunnelton from the south. The inn at the crossroads is known for good bard shows and dancing, as well as its fine top floor deck view of the tunnel entrance.

The northernmost town of the Nymion culture is Tunnelton. It is located on the northwest flank of the sacred Twin Mountains and is built around both ends of an amazing natural tunnel below a high, ridged section of the hardest stone. A cave of softer material underneath slowly eroded over centuries and was then respectfully shaped by the Nymioni into a passageway large enough for the tallest wagons. A good cobbled road now runs through it with sidewalks on both sides.

The town is built into each end of the tunnel with the majority of the residential area on the north end where there is more farmland, but the south featuring several strong attractions. The first is the excellent three-story Huzzon-style building at the northward turning, The Silver Reed Inn. The ground floor offers both a cookshop for hot foods and a general store for fresh produce and crafted things. Rooms to stay in can be rented on the middle and top floors. The upstairs deck, with its bright ceramic statue of a happy, striped beast drinking from a large bowl, has a great view of the southern part of the town and the tunnel entrance. It also overlooks the expansive patio which hosts bardic performances and dancing.

A three-story half-timbered building with a thatch roof stands beside a cobbled road. A loaded wagon drawn by two sturdy horses is parked outside where two people are trading, watched by the wagon-owner's dog. In the distance the road leads toward a town built into the face of a mountain.
The Silver Reed Inn rises over the crossroad leading to Tunnelton.

The Silver Reed Inn gets its name from a local legend of an underground lake hidden within the mountain, secreted away from prying eyes. Wild magic is said to imbue the herbs and other plants there with unusual abilities. The clear, cold pool lit by the phosphorescent cave mosses is ringed with tall, shining stalks, the silver reeds of the inn’s name. Bards and musicians who visit always check the pond nearby for reeds which have flowed out of the mountain. Those reeds allegedly make the best woodwind music, which can sway the reticence of even the most stubborn mule.

Travelers with horses, oxen, or other livestock should note the convenient alley beside the inn which adjoins that watering pond of fresh outflow from the mountains. Just look for the domed stone roof of the water tower which has the outflow at its base. Your beasts may not become musically or magically inspired, but it’s good healthy water for them regardless.

Water flows out of an archway into a pond. Above the archway is built a square mossy structure with concave sides and a domed stone roof. in the distance is a town square with a couple saddled horses tied to a hitching post.
The cold, clean outflow of mountain water, a supply of which is stored above in the tower and piped to the horse trough at the stable opposite the Bull Smithy.

The second attraction in this side of town is the greater access to southern goods and travelers. The region north, beyond Tunnelton, is that of the Four-Horns Huzzoni. Excellent for farm-goods and source of some of the best oxen, but not for the cloth and thread of the First Davuri, the pottery and plaster of the Gatekeep Nymioni, or the artwork of the First Nymioni. Traders bound not through the tunnel, but northeast through the edge of the Four-Horns Huzzoni area and on to the coastal settlements of the Festival Shafori at the Inland Sea will often lighten their load by trading statuary here in southern Tunnelton, their last chance at the lucrative Nymion market for such goods.

After passing the Silver Reed Inn and paying your respects at the shrines to The Memory Palace, The Masked Ball, and The Loom, you will see examples of the fine statue collection of the residents here. Most are not for trade, but it doesn’t hurt to inquire if you are interested in a piece.

A cobbled road transitions up via a rough stone slope to a flagstone plaza, then up another rough slope to a cobblestone town square surrounded by buildings with a mountainside in the background. Beside the bottom slope are two stone shrines. The left one has small bottles and bowls. The right one has a metal frame which holds a fabric hanging.
Wagon ramps taking you from the lower levels into the mountains are lined with shrines and statues.

This southern side of Tunnelton is a popular regional meeting place for scholars interested in the arcane. Local arcanists have a meeting room and private library in the building between the stables and the water tower, and use the flat roof for outdoor experiments. Spellcasters passing through are encouraged to visit and exchange knowledge.

An aerial view of a town square in which a closed wagon or carriage drawn by two horses is beginning to turn down the road leading into a tunnel under a mountain. On one side of the square is a huge forge where a red-haired and red-skinned person is working at an anvil. Behind them is a building with a wide arched opening and a tall narrow tower ending in a soot-stained vent and peaked top. At the right-side of the square, atop a small building, a group of four people are gathered around a table, with various objects resting on the cornerposts of the railings of its roof deck.

The third attraction is the Bull Smithy which has a staff representing all types of metalworking and also does smelting. They serve a wide area and produce quality goods which are traded even farther. The stables opposite the smithy, in addition to shoeing horses, have leathercrafters on site making and repairing bridles, reins, stirrups, and other stable gear. (Note that since a retirement, the wheelwrights are somewhat inconveniently all located on the north end of the tunnel.)

A closer view of the closed wagon or carriage heading into the tunnel and the smith at the anvil. The buildings opposite the smith have closed double doors and the stone and plants of the mountainside are visible behind the roofs of those buildings.
The Bull Smithy with its double anvils at the south end of the tunnel. As you enter the tunnel you can only just see the glimmer of light where you’ll emerge to the north.

Whether your travels are taking you to the main part of Tunnelton or you’re passing the crossroads by the Silver Reed Inn, the southern part of Tunnelton is well worth a visit.


(Thanks to Lance Arthur for his help getting the build started and the history of the Silver Reed Inn, to Nathan Anderson for a public domain image used as a base layer near the caves on the left side of the build, and Simon Burchell for the CC A-SA image used as the view down the tunnel.)

Location: the small town of Waterborn

A landscape showing a mountain with a steep waterfall of multiple sections ending in a round basin and exiting und a narrow natural rock bridge to flow away in a more placid little river. Beside the pool and accessed by the natural rock bridge is a rough stone plateau with a long building with a gabeled roof and slate tiles. A Nymion with a gold-topped staff stands before the wooden double doors of this building, the Magic School. The arched windows of the buildings downstream (eastern) end look over the river to a rural area where the forest at the foot of the mountains meets the river edge and several roundhouses with thatched roofs are located. Signs of farm life surround these buildings with more wildlife amongst the trees. A cut stone bridge with heavy rope railings leads over to the edge of the very small town of Waterborn. Three round stone buildings with conical roofs of matching stone form the north edge of a open green space, with subtle signs of past floods in the area. The center building, with its notice board in front, is larger and taller, and has a large ceramic rosy-brown colored teapot atop the lantern post near its front steps. In the foreground, the river flows south with a marshy area and pond to the east. At the eastern edge, the curving stone wall of another round building can just be seen.
the west edge of the small town of Waterborn, looking north toward the Magic School

The mountain homeland of the Mirror Nymioni meets the farmlands of the First Davuri here in the very small town of Waterborn. A waterfall pours forth from a cave at this eastern edge of the mighty twin mountains, and forms one of the many small rivers which eventually join and flow to the Inland Sea far away.

In spring, as the snows melt, the land is prone to flooding, so those of the Nymion culture here build on rock above the flood lines. Their neighbors of the Davur culture build on high ground when convenient, but generally prefer the convenience of good farming soil to the risk of a damp ground floor. Some even choose to simply rebuild a simpler home every year or two, as needed.

The large public house, The Rosy Pot, and some other buildings in the town have their main entrance on the second floor, reducing the inconvenience of the brief high water season.

A view from the signpost at the west end of Waterborn looks past the three round houses, including The Rosy Pot public house toward the river and waterfall in the distance. A tall Nymion bard holding a lute gestures in greeting from the steps of the public house to a Nymion carter leading their draft horse. The Nymion carter, at a typical 8' tall, towers over the sturdy horse.
a bard greets a carter coming to stay at The Rosy Pot after unloading their delivery

Like public houses anywhere in Kabalor, The Rosy Pot provides food, shelter, and community support to any who want them, and always has a mix of long-term and short-term residents who cook, clean, repair, and bring good cheer. Its huge second-floor room with its graceful windows is one of the hubs of community activity. The top floor has sleeping accommodation, with storage in the attic above, while the ground floor has the kitchen, bathing area, and other essentials.

The Rosy Pot was once a musical hotspot a generation ago when the great Nymion drummer Everywhere-Fun was in his prime. Now his memory and enthusiasm lives on, if not his skills.

Davur buildings in Waterborn are round in their traditional style, but the Nymion influence is felt in their decorative plasterwork and arched windows. Likewise, the Nymion buildings here are more likely to show the Davur preference for displaying the natural colors of the stone rather than plastering them over in pale pastels as Nymion culture tends to elsewhere.

Waterborn is rich in resources: stone and wood for building, good soil for grazing, mushrooms from the forest, fish and greens from the river, and herbs from the marshland along the riverbank.

This west end of town is known for The Rosy Pot, the smithy opposite it across the central green, and the sturdy home beside it with its two public shrines—to The Masked Ball and The Crossroads—raised just above the high water mark as the land begins to slope up to the northeast toward the rest of the town.

An overhead view of the smithy opposite The Rosy Pot. It is a round stone farmhouse in the Davur style with its entrance on the second floor to avoid flooding in the wet season. The smith, a red-skinned and muscular Davur stands in front of a hefty stone table piled with a jumble of crafted objects, holding their hammer and a long tool of some kind on which they are working. Their anvil with a bucket of cold water beside it is just the other side of the stone steps from the table of their wares. Beyond them, at the marsh edge of the open green space in front of The Rosy Pot, a small flock of chickens browse near a Davur farmer with a pitchfork who is talking to an attentive seated hound dog. Behind them are a small cart and a plow. The steps of The Rosy Pot, the approaching Nymion carter, and the top of the signpost can be seen along the righthand side of the image.
the central green of the west side of Waterborn

What draws visitors to this spot from both the local area and the villages beyond is the Magic School. This finely restored, Nymion building is situated on a plateau at the base of the waterfall, constantly serenaded by the rushing waters tumbling down the cliff and churning in the pool below before passing under a rock bridge to calm themselves in the little river. (Daring locals know of a bathing pool partway down the cascade where the chilly waters can be enjoyed at only a moderate risk of a painful and possibly dangerous ride down the rapids.)

Lush green against mossy stone colors the western side of the little river, framed by the source of its misty good health: the waterfall emerging from a mountain cave in the distance above the Magic School on its rocky promentory over the river. A rough trail leads through the woods and up a stony, climbing path into the mountains where the trees chance from rounded deciduous shapes to pointy conifers. In the foreground a very large dark brown pig wallows in the puddles of the start of the muddy path near the river crossing.
the Waterborn Magic School in its dramatic setting beside the waterfall and river, with teacher Littletree at the door

It is the quality of the teaching, though, rather than the scenic architecture, which gives this school its allure. Littletree, the Nymion instructor, is exceptionally skilled in Earth and Water Element Magics, also having well above average knowledge of the Element Magics of Air, Smoke, and Fire. They may be short in stature for a Nymion, but their reputation as an instructor stands tall in the region. Not only do many of the magical merchants of the area owe their ability to manage their magic to Littletree, so too do a few other teachers at smaller Magic Schools in neighboring areas.

As soon as the weather permits travel in the spring, Waterborn starts to welcome students whose magic has begun to come in—most of them at that cusp between adolescence and adulthood, but some who have gained magic later. Many are accompanied by a relative or close friend who will remain at least for their first few months of study and perhaps through their entire stay. The majority of students learn to control and direct their magical talents by the time the autumn winds begin to chill, but some—whether through lack of diligence or due to possessing more complex magical talents—remain through the cold and blustery winter to complete their studies. Many life-long friendships are formed amongst those who overwinter at a Magic School, as the classic tropes of song and story attest.

The eastern portion of the town is more typically First Davur culture, though still bearing elegant Nymion windows in places. It has a market square and a petite guildhall of the Farmers’ Guild, along with a variety of craftsfolk and other services. A quieter public house, The Wren’s Nest, is down a lane from the square, a little ways past the cheesemaker and the pie shop. The accommodations there are in a circle of small one to three story little towers surrounding a community garden.

Thanks to the natural dye ingredients found in the moor and marsh south of the town, there are many colorful fabric decorations in Waterborn, along with a thriving trade in the bright embroidery threads so important to that traditional art form of the Mirror Nymioni.

Waterborn’s population is about 1200 residents. It is supported by the farming village of Wellfield a quarter day’s walk to the northeast and the herding village of Rattle about the same to the southeast. Along with those two settlements, there are many small farmhouses and foragers’ huts in the area.

Waterborn in winter is buffeted by cold winds off the mountain and in springtime is soggy, but its great natural bounty from late spring through to the first snow makes up for the inconveniences.

Whether you’re choosing a location for a magically talented relation to understand their new gifts, traveling east or west between the mountains and the plains, seeking materials or tools for your craft, or just looking for a lovely spot to simply be, Waterborn awaits!

(learn more about the making this terrain build)

A postcard from Kabalor: visiting a port city of the north

I absolutely love this plein air sketch from Nala Wu of the Urdesh city of Tama’al by the Northern River, upstream of the Inland Sea.

A well-dressed, dark honey skinned person with upswept orange hair and a very very long soft tail pauses on a pleasant dock area to admire a ship with triple fan-like sails and a wooden balustrade around its deck. In the distance are multi-story terra cotta colored buildings with archways and decorative top edges. One has wide stairs leading to a massive set of tin-plated doors. Nearer to the figure is a street lit by lanterns suspended from many ropes between the buildings. The colors are mostly warm browns and golds except for the figure's fuschia doublet (split for their tail) and blue breeches.
Ready for a city adventure and dressed to impress, a crewmember walks along the docks toward central Tama’al, admiring the other ships in the harbor (Artwork by Nala Wu)

The Urdeshi culture builds the tallest buildings, but work mainly in mud brick and plaster over poorer quality wood and stone than most peoples use. They save the good wood for their ships. This with the triple fin sails is a particularly fine one, with the added flashy touch of lots of carved balustrades around the deck. A head-turner even for a well-traveled sailor.

In the distance are the great doors of the Shipwright’s Guild, but I think our well-dressed Urdesh, Longtail the Navigator, is actually on their way to the restaurants and other entertainments down that many-lantern-lit street. They’ve got some fine stories to tell from their latest voyage and a few old friends to look for in this city of chance meetings.

Another postcard from Kabalor and the name of the game!

A sturdy house of large wooden boards with a stone foundation and a green grassy sod roof, with an equally sturdy brown-skinned, brown-haired, and dark-brown-horned person in a red sleeveless doublet and black pants tucked into knee-high boots feeding something to one of a pair of tan oxen with reddish backs. There are flowers in the grass in the foreground and tall trees in the background.
A Huzzon feeding their red-backed oxen in the First Huzzoni region (Artwork by Nala Wu)

Hooray! Nala Wu continues their plein air sketching journey north in the western parts of Kabalor and sends us this picture from the western edge of the plain west of the southwest corner of the Inland Sea. This is the area initially settled by the First Huzzoni and the forest boundaries are dotted with their farmsteads, villages, and towns.

Meanwhile, in our world, the trademark process has advanced far enough for me to announce the actual name of this collaborative spellcasting game…

Our Magic!

We are moving forward towards active playtesting at the steady pace of a strong Huzzon Redback ox. I have draft rulebooks I can share with my first group of testers for feedback as I perform the final pre-playtest synthesis and tidying up.

It’s not cake yet, but it’s getting closer to being ready to serve… 🍰

First scenes of the world of Kabalor: a Nymion town

Our first postcard from Kabalor has arrived!

I sent artist Nala Wu on a trip west of the inland sea to do a little plein air sketching. They’ve posted back this beautiful image of a rainy evening in a Nymion mountain town, with a local resident showing off the finest jewel-tone embroidery of the Mirror Nymioni.

A tall green-skinned figure in a dress of purple, blue and red emerges from the doorway of a stone building with smooth plastered walls. Decorative tile rooftops, window frames, wall tops, and foundations form a dark contrast against the pale gray walls of the rain streaked street. Warm lantern light is reflected in puddles on the narrow street that leads into the distance.
Artwork by Nala Wu

This image will illustrate the rulebook for the game, on which I’m making very good progress. The core rules are all in place after considerable synthesis and improvement. I’ve done a revamp of the character creation process and a substantial iteration on spellcasting rules and the core mechanics of what happens when the Game Mediator (GM) calls for a dice roll. The musculature of the game is in excellent shape!

My current activity is to resolve any questions raised in early playtest sessions of specific rules and handle other to-do’s noted during the development process. As I do this, the rough draft of the player guide, needed for alpha playtesting coming soon, is approaching completion.

All this attention to detail is important and rewarding, but it sure is a lift to my spirits and a reminder of why I’m so excited to bring Kabalor to a wide audience when I receive an amazing image from a talented artist.

It’s the story we tell together, hearing each others’ ideas and adding to them, that fuels our souls.

New Art From Li Didkovsky!

A fantastic action shot of a cocky Lissam guide mounted on their noble capybara steed. Artwork by Li Didkovsky.

Where to begin with how fabulously Li has captured this moment of adventure for us?

The capybara confidently leaping over the fallen log. The guide beckoning to those behind encouraging them to follow, and likely taking them out of terrible swampy peril. And is the guide’s cane magical? There’s certainly something special about it. I like to think it’s enchanted to always return to the guide’s hand if dropped.

This glorious illustration will accompany the rules on Movement:

Movement reflects your ability to get around, through the power of your own body, mounts, assistive gear, and learning how to travel more efficiently.

An ordinary adult has the ability to travel all day from one village to the next or to move 5 squares (25 feet) in a moment-to-moment situation. This can be impacted by bonuses and constraints.

The first Bonus you might have is if your Finesse is particularly high.

Learning from playtest 1 on Altercations

This past weekend I was able to sit down on my back porch and playtest altercations with Lance and Daniel. Thanks so much for your time and insight, gentlemen!

As with the first playtest of spellcasting, this test was really to find the big weak spots in my draft version and to scope how major a rework it would need. Working on this with smart, experienced players and gamemasters like these two was a huge asset. We not only found the flaws, we spent a good long time pulling back to my goals and talking through various options.

The highest level takeaways I have are

  1. for a game focused on storytelling and character, avoid mechanics that zoom in on the nitty-gritty detail of discrete actions;
  2. for a game focused on collaboration, avoid mechanics that emphasize the individual’s options over the team’s.

So, for the next playtest we’ll be working with these concepts:

  • How successful the players are (in this context of a dice-decided Altercation Situation) is based how well they roll. (The GM is not making a set of rolls for an opponent and then comparing the two results.)
  • There’s no initiative roll; again, the advantage of a high roll there is moved into the story the players and GM tell about the results of the players’ rolls. (“We rolled so well we must have been able to reach the high ground first…”)
  • There’s not a fixed number of rounds. Instead, the GM will frame each set of rolls by the players as representing the unfolding of the Situation, and will probably default to a “beginning” and “middle” description for the first two and let the next particularly good or bad roll represent how it turned out at the end.
  • In a set, all the players roll, adding the Aspect they’re bringing to bear and any bonuses or constraints that make sense to the group. They and the GM can see how well or poorly they did as an average in relation to the goal the GM has told them applies in this situation. (That goal will be either a default norm or a particular Complexity Number (Cx)). They will all also be able to see how varied their results were and use that to represent the range of what happened to the individual party members.
  • Using their results each player tells the story of what they did and how it went well or badly, with the GM suggesting or modifying as appropriate.
    Player 1: “We averaged really well thanks to you two, but” {turning to another player} “your roll was not good and I got a wild failure.”
    GM: “I think maybe that loose railing you noticed earlier must have given way.”
    Player 2: “I was distracted by you falling, I guess.”
    Player 3: “But so were the gang members, so maybe we two were able to get the bags over their heads as they came out the doors onto the balcony.”
    GM: “Yes, and* then dance them over to the side away from you so they fell down into the street too.”
    Player 4: “cha cha cha!”
    GM: “OK. So the start went well for all but one of the party; what do you think happened as a result of your fall?”
    Player 1: “I’m pretty resilient and hefty; and I’m Nymion so I’m 8′ tall. Not as bad a fall for me as a Lissam like you.” {grins at other player} “I think I got the wind knocked out of me and will spend the next roll getting back on my feet.”
    GM: “Your average was very good, so I think the gang got the worst of the beginning of this situation. The ones you bagged and pushed down will probably not get back into the action before its over. You’ve got open doors and no other gang members visible through the doorway. What do you do next?”

Note how the player who had a wild failure still has an opportunity to make their failure reflect what’s special about their character. They’ll be limited in the next roll in how much impact it has on what they do—even with a fantastic roll, the most they’ll be doing is clambering back up to the balcony to rejoin the rest of the party—but they will contribute to the team average.

Turning the focus to the storytelling and the team lets the players make their characters distinctive and important, without bogging things down in lots of individual actions and the specialty mechanics for them. Whether you succeed with that bow shot is not about range and your skill and the type of bow and the target’s armor or lack of it, but about how well you and your teammates rolled in general.

Sometimes the most successful playtest is the one where you throw out most of what you came in with. 😄

*This post was edited to reflect further conversation with Lance where he pointed out the old example didn’t keep players just telling the story of what happened with the action they said they were trying to do (before rolling their dice to see how well it went). I’ve switched it to have the additional benefit—dancing the bagged foes over the balcony edge—coming from the GM. Thanks, Lance!

Pre-Pre-Alpha Playtesting a Success!

It’s been a busy five weeks of testing and iteration since my last post. Thank you so much to my testers—Rice, Daniel, Lance, Lila, Adriane, Jinx, Joe, and Paul—for their sense of fun and smart feedback!

The spellcasting system has been radically improved and streamlined. The resulting core concepts and method of assembling spells from a variety of “Knacks”, including in collaboration with other spellcasters, have been demonstrated to work with players at the table.

The character creation process has also been streamlined, incorporates the essentials needed to play, and is possible to complete with a group of new players in a reasonable amount of time for a Session One game.

The world details are generating player fun and prompting great creative ideas which expand the story beautifully. Kabalor is “Yes, and…” compatible!


So, what comes next?
Pre-Alpha Testing!

  • Test the Altercations mechanics and Situations mechanics (for non-combat moment-to-moment scenes)
  • Test the Challenges mechanics (for connected activities toward a goal which take place over a longer stretch of time)
  • Test the Healing mechanics
  • In conjunction with all testing, confirm the Complexity (Cx) mechanics for dice rolls (These are already looking pretty good from testing so far.)
  • Run a Session 2 in which characters will have some adventure and at the end advance to Level 1 (from Novice to Apprentice), gaining new magic
  • Synthesize all the existing rules content into one place (my website content master draft in Scrivener) and make sure everything is consistent
  • Synthesize all the existing spell content into one place (ditto) and make sure everything is consistent
  • Synthesize into one place all the existing world-building which I want to carry forward from the past D&D homebrew setting into this new indie-rpg Kabalor
  • Create a starting map for new GMs of Kabalor (which will be used in playtesting)

And after that is all tested, iterated, and improved, it will be on to actual Alpha Testing. This will start with a short story of probably 5 sessions to bring the characters to Level 2. (This might only take 4 sessions if players decide to continue with a character they already made.) The second phase of Alpha Testing, after iteration from that short story’s lessons, will be beginning an ongoing story with a group of regular players.

Opening up to a broader group of testers—including other GMs—will come after that has been underway for enough time to learn the lessons of play at Levels 2 and 3 and to begin building out the official website, thus probably not until the end of the year at absolute earliest.

The worsening situation with regard to COVID-19 (and my continued concerns as an immunosuppressed person) suggests that I’ll probably need to spend some time on the necessary references for remote players sooner rather than later. Those may wind up needing to be password-protected parts of the future public website, so my sequence of work on Kabalor may get slightly shuffled as I go. On the one hand, that’d be a further delay, but on the other, it would open the possibility of easier scheduling with a wider pool of potential players.

As with planning stories as a GM, the way it actually unfolds is always going to throw you for a loop, but you can still end up roughly where you thought you were headed. 😉