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Deathskulls Orks Finished miniatures Lightbox photos Miniature painting Miniatures Warhammer 40k

Putting my finished Taurox Trukk conversion in the new lightbox

I finished my Trukk! I built Da Fancy Wun back in February, and worked on lots of other stuff at the same time (painted 11 Boyz, built two Kans and a Dread, converted my Warboss)…but it still feels like I’ve been working on this Trukk forever. Back of the napkin, I’d say it took me somewhere between 35 and 45 hours from sprue to varnished and ready for the table.

This is the final post in a five-post series documenting this Trukk. Assembly is in part one and part two, the color guide is in part three, and a few WIP shots are in part four.

Many thanks again to Hobbyistgirl for her conversion (build process and painted Trukk), which was my inspiration to try this and my guide for large portions of the assembly process. Her Trukk is awesome!

Regular readers might notice that there’s no shot of Da Fancy Wun in casual light. That’s because I got a new lightbox (full rundown later in the post), and can now take photos good enough that they abrogate the need for a casual shot.

Da Fancy Wun, my converted Taurox Prime/Trukk, at its golden angle
Front view
Left side
Rear view
Right side
Top view

The Emperor’s eye grows larger

After a year-plus of steady painting, and some struggles with my first lightbox — notably taking photos without the lower half of each mini in shadow, and straining to squeeze full 10-model squads into it — I decided it was time to upgrade. I went from 12″x12″x12″ to 16″x16″x16″, which doesn’t sound like a big jump but is actually so large that I’m very glad it folds up nicely, and from one fixed ring of lights in the top to two repositionable light bars.

This FOSITAN lightbox (paid link) cost about $60 (three times what my smaller DUCLUS box cost), and it’s totally worth it.

Every interior surface is shiny silver, but dimpled so that it provides reflectivity without hotspots. You can shoot from the front or top, and the two light bars can clip onto the edges in either shooting configuration. Those bars also tilt, and if you want to diffuse the light when shooting from above there’s a translucent white square (with a hole in the middle) you can add between the bars and the object you’re photographing.

Unlike the DUCLUS, it doesn’t offer multiple color temperatures — but it does offer a lovely neutral white, and that was the only temperature I used on the old box anyway. The bars are dimmable and it includes several rather nice plastic backdrops; after a few test shots, I’m currently using the lowest setting and the grey backdrop.

I couldn’t resist reshooting Thragg’s Deff Lads, who I felt got especially short shrift in their lightbox session, along with a mixed-unit group.

Thragg’s Deff Ladz
Da Fancy Wun, the Deff Dread “Facepeela,” a boy from Thragg’s Deff Lads (left), a Boy from Skrudd’s Krumpas (rear), and one of Runt-eata’s Grots (right)

The only problem is that now I want to reshoot every lightbox photo I’ve taken, and that doesn’t sound like fun just now. So I probably won’t! But I’m going to enjoy better lightbox pics going forwards.

Da Fancy Wun brings me to a pretty respectable 476 points (9th Edition rules), with 35 models painted (32 infantry, 3 vehicles). Next up is probably two more Killa Kans.

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Deathskulls Orks Miniature painting Miniatures Warhammer 40k WIP it good

WIP it good: Ripfist, Skraggit, Stikkit, smoother magnetization, endlessly kitbashing Moonkrumpa

I’ve learned some lessons about drilling, magnetization, and efficient assembly over the past 14 months, and I applied all of them to “Ripfist” Gorg, my second Deff Dread for Moonkrumpa’s Megalootas.

Had I done things this way with “Facepeela,” his build would have gone much more smoothly!

Ripfist the Deff Dread and the two Killa Kans I just finished building, Stikkit (center) and Skraggit (left, about to stomp on an adorable monster snail from the AoS Squig Herd kit)

Drill bullet holes before assembly

Yeah, it works fine afterwards — but doing it first allows me to exert as much force as I like on the piece, while holding it wherever I like, without worrying about breaking an assembled miniature.

Magnetize before assembly, too

Soooo much easier this way! It involves drilling, so the above applies here as well. But working with a single loose piece also means less stuff I might accidentally glue together — and I can clean up the inside of the holes before putting the model together. My first Deff Dread, Facepeela, still has a couple shavings rattling around inside his body.

Ensure cross-compatibility

The whole point of magnetizing my two Deff Dreads (two…so far!) is to enable weapon-swapping one each model, but by matching polarities on both models I can also freely mix and match between them. While building Ripfist, I carefully checked (and re-checked, and re-re-checked, and re-re-re-checked) each magnet against Facepeela and the component of Ripfist that I was magnetizing.

I also paid attention to what went where. So Facepeela has his KMB on the right and Ripfist has his on the left. If I want one of them to have two KMBs, they’re both ready to accept that swap.

Facepeela (painted) and Ripfist’s pieces, ready to check magnet compatibility and get underway (and one of my busiest work area pics to date!)

Trim, clean up, glue

With larger models, I’m in the habit of clipping pieces off the sprue, tidying them up, gluing them, and then starting on the next section while the first section dries. But with the two Killa Kans I just built, I tried clipping 100% of the parts, then sanding/filing 100% of the parts, then gluing the model all at once — and dang, but that’s both easier and more fun!

Ripfist trimmed, sanded, and ready for section-by-section assembly

Moonkrumpa: never actually finished

It’s becoming a bit of a running personal joke that I’m constantly tinkering with Moonkrumpa. This time around the impetus was building the other Warboss in my army, “Bigtoof” Skragga (to get a Morkanaut into my list, I needed two detachments), and this incredible, dynamic sculpt screams Warboss in a way that Moonkrumpa doesn’t.

Even with Moonkrumpa 3.0’s height, banner poles, looted wargear, bulk, and customized base, it isn’t immediately clear at a glance which of the two is my Warlord. Based on an idea I saw on Reddit, I starting tinkering with him again.

Bigtoof (left) and Moonkrumpa (right)

Having done more kitbashing — and a full-fledged conversion — since I first built Moonkrumpa, I’m a bit more confident about it now. My bits box has more stuff in it, too.

This kitbash does mark the first time I’ve significantly altered the silhouette of the original model, and you could certainly argue that I’ve strayed from WYSIWYG wargear by adding a second claw — and I’m not sure how I feel about that! The original Big Mek in Mega Armour mini is bulky, but doesn’t have a huge “wingspan,” whereas — by design — my version sprawls to the top, front, and sides.

It’s not “suddenly, he’s Ghazghkull,” though, and it feels consistent with a rule of thumb I saw on Reddit: Your Warboss should be the largest infantry model in your army. To boot, I can always take the stratagem Da Biggest Boss for 1 CP (making him literally a bigger boss), or give him Super Cybork Body to represent the Killa Kan arm in game terms.

More importantly, it’s a fun kitbash, it brings me joy, and it’s exactly what the Mek leader of a Mek-driven Waaagh! should have going on.

Moonkrumpa 4.0

Now there’s no mistaking who’s in charge here:

Moonkrumpa (left) and Bigtoof (right)

As I was wrapping up this revision and re-kitbash, I looked at the time and realized that I’d been at it for five hours! But I couldn’t have done it all up front, when I first built Moonkrumpa, because I didn’t know as much about Orks, my army, or kitbashing when I started this army. Even though it’s meant more work modifying him after the fact, it’s been a fun process.

Hulking update!

My bonsai tree, Hulking, dropped a few leaves during his first couple of days with me — which Alysia said was probably just because he was adjusting to the new environment. She was right. After a little adjustment period, not only is Hulkling not dead, he seems to be thriving.

A freshly watered Hulkling

I’ve had to prune new shoots several times, and more are always popping up. I’ve got a little routine for where to place him during the day for the right amount of sunshine, including rotating which side faces the window, and he seems quite content.

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Deathskulls Orks Miniature painting Miniatures Warhammer 40k WIP it good

WIP it good: Da Fancy Wun, my Taurox Trukk conversion

I finished Da Fancy Wun last night, so while the varnish is curing I figured I’d post the WIP photos I took along the way.

This is the final post in a five-post series documenting this Trukk. Assembly is in part one and part two, the color guide is in part three, and the finished product is in part five.

Bottoms of wheels base-coated, shaded, and varnished (so the paint won’t rub off the spikes while I work on the rest)
Clown car aesthetic coming together
The Squig is probably my favorite part of this Trukk
Fully base-coated, waiting for touch-ups (with my amateur green stuff kintsugi on the mug in the background)
Touched-up and ready for shading
With vehicles, I always start with the underside

There are three great milestones in any miniature-painter’s life: drinking your brush-rinsing water (I haven’t done this, but I’ve come closer than I’d like), shaking an open pot of paint (check!), and spilling an entire bottle of Citadel shade paint.

Inky ghost says hi
This was the point where I worried I’d gone too dark with my shading
Fully shaded, starting in on highlights

Overall I’m pretty happy with how Da Fancy Wun turned out. There are things I’d do differently on my next Trukk, but that’s always the case. I’m looking forward to getting it into my new, larger lightbox to see what it looks like up close.

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Deathskulls Orks Miniature painting Miniatures Warhammer 40k

Converted Taurox Trukk color guide

This Trukk — Da Fancy Wun — is an experiment in more than one way (it’s my first conversion!), and on the color front I’m trying two things: four recipes for blue on the same model (Trukk parts, Taurox body, the gunner’s armor bits, and the signature blue fender and gunner’s war paint); and splashes of colors that are uncommon or unseen in the rest of my army (so far), like gold and dark red, for a bit of a “rusty, ramshackle clown car” aesthetic.

This is the third post in a five-post series documenting this Trukk. Assembly is in part one and part two, a few WIP shots are in part four, and the finished product is in part five.

Da Fancy Wun fully base-coated and touched up, waiting for shading (March 2021)

I’ve pulled the Taurox Prime recipes straight from GW, twiddled a bit; most of the others are from GW’s site or White Dwarf. As always, shades/washes are in italics.

Worth noting: I painted, washed, and sealed the metal and rubber on the very bottom of all six tires (and let the sealant fully cure) before working on the rest of the Trukk, so as to avoid rubbing off the paint every time I set it down. This proved to be a good idea — and I wish I’d done the whole tire, not just the bottom, because I rubbed all the paint off many of the rivets on the tires over the course of painting the rest of the model.

Also worth noting: I highlighted the rubber portions of the tires before deciding how to weather them, and the weathering approach I chose basically erased all of those highlights. A step to skip next time!

  • Taurox body: Russ Grey > Agrax Earthshade > Thunderhawk Blue > Fenrisian Grey
  • Taurox gold: Retributor Armour > Agrax Earthshade > Gehenna’s Gold > Auric Armour Gold
  • Taurox red panels: Khorne Red > Agrax Earthshade > Wazdakka Red > Squig Orange
  • Trukk parts blue: Macragge Blue > Agrax Earthshade > Calgar Blue > Fenrisian Grey
  • Trukk tire rubber: Abaddon Black > Skavenblight Dinge > Stormvermin Fur
  • Trademark blue fender: Caledor Sky > Drakenhof Nightshade > Teclis Blue > Lothern Blue
  • Metal: Leadbelcher > Nuln Oil > Ironbreaker
  • Brass/bronze: Warplock Bronze > Agrax Earthshade > Brass Scorpion
  • White glyphs/decorations: Celestra Grey > Agrax Earthshade > Ulthuan Grey > White Scar
  • Ork gunner: From my Boyz color guide, skin #6 (Caliban Green base), blue #3 (Thousand Suns Blue base), black pants, brown shirt, and Zandri teeth/nails.
  • Squig skin and NOS tanks: Mephiston Red > Carroburg Crimson > Evil Sunz Scarlet > Wild Rider Red
  • Squig eyes: Averland Sunset > incidental but helpful Carroburg Crimson wash when I do the face > Yriel Yellow
  • Squig teeth and nails: Zandri Dust > Seraphim Sepia > Ushabti Bone > Screaming Skull
  • Squig gums: Screamer Pink > Carroburg Crimson > Pink Horror > Emperor’s Children
  • Fuel tank: Averland Sunset > Agrax Earthshade > Yriel Yellow
  • Headlights: Moot Green or Averland Sunset > Agrax Earthshade > Moot Green or Yriel Yellow
  • Roll bar wraps: Zandri Dust > Seraphim Sepia > Ushabti Bone > Screaming Skull
  • Severed head flesh: Rakarth Flesh > Druchii Violet > Pallid Wych Flesh > White Scar
  • Severed head hair: Dryad Bark > Agrax Earthshade > Gorthor Brown > Baneblade Brown
  • Weathering and embellishments: These steps all happen after the rest of the mini is 100% done (including highlights); not every Ork uses all of them:
    • Checks: Macragge Blue and Corax White; I wrote a little guide for these
    • Chipping: Apply dots of Leadbelcher on the high points, edges, and surfaces where paint would naturally have been worn off
    • Battle-damaged edges: Tiny dot/line of Rhinox Hide > mirror the same shape with a line underneath it of whatever blue base coat I used for that area (Warhammer TV reference video)
    • Bullet holes: Highlight the edges of the hole in the appropriate color (e.g. Calgar Blue), then apply Leadbelcher to make it look like the paint was blown away
    • Built-up rust In spots where it can accumulate over a long period, such as on and around bolts, apply thinned-down Skrag Brown
    • Rusty streaks: Thinned-down Skrag Brown > thinned-down Fire Dragon Bright (like I do on my 40k terrain)
    • Verdigris: Nihilakh Oxide
    • Grime: Sponge on Rhinox Hide
    • Caked-on grime: Typhus Corrosion
    • Dusty, dirty tires: Thinned-down 50/50 Dryad Bark/Zandri Dust > thinned-down Baneblade Brown in the deep crevices > Tyrant Skull drybrush > Seraphim Sepia pin wash to reestablish the crevices (I followed this Way of the Brush tutorial, but modified it based on my colors on hand and used water instead of Lahmian Medium; this approach isn’t ideal for the metal/rubber combo tires on the Trukk, though)

I have to varnish Da Fancy Wun in two stages — tires and undercarriage first, curing for 24-48 hours upside down, and then the rest — so it’s going to be a few days until I can get it into my (new!) lightbox for some photos. It’s been a fun ride!

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Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Building the Unlucky Isles: “The Region,” part four

Over the course of working through Worlds Without Number‘s steps for developing the Unlucky Isles as a region, I’ve thought a fair bit about national boundaries and how to make them interesting fuel for gaming. Worldographer’s snap-to-hex borders require a million little points and clicks, and I always fuck something up — so I went the quick and dirty route for now, good enough for all practical purposes.

The Unlucky Isles with borders, as of March 24

I haven’t named most of the islands yet, but a few points of interest jump out from this map:

  • In the northeast, the Arkestran Dominion and Brundir each claim half of one island.
  • In the south, not only does Ahlsheyan rule two islands just off the coast of Brundir, the two nations also dispute Slljrrn Isle, the holiest site in the Unlucky Isles (with Brundir controlling the significant half).
  • In the east, while all of Rasu Miar is part of Kadavis (with its mainland in the far east), a north/south split demarcates the boundary of “Kidav Taur,” a region that lost its bid to secede from Kadavis but which still asserts its independence.
  • No one claims Deathsmoke Isle, because that place is fucking awful.

The rad thing about those points of interest is that two of them didn’t exist until I rolled them on the historical events table in WWN and gave them a bit of thought (Slljrrn Isle, the divided Rasu Miar), and a third was planned — the island disputed by Brundir and the Dominion — but evolved into something interesting because of a roll on that same table.

Just like heaving the Unlucky Isles into existence in part one, the raw creativity required while developing historical events is taxing (but fun!). That’s why it’s taken me several days to finish, as I’ve been chipping away at it little by little. Anyhoo, on to the next question in the section “The Region”:

Make a sketch map of the region.

Done! Like, a bunch of times in different ways. Here’s the current regional map without borders but with all of the cities, roads, and region-scale geographic features in place (from part three):

The current state of affairs on my regional map of the Unlucky Isles

Assign two important historical events to each group or nation.

WWN includes a d100 table of historical events, and I love rolling for stuff this important and seeing where it takes me. I chose my first event — Diplomatic Coup, in Yealmark — but rolled the rest (often rolling a few times until I hit one that resonated). Several of the rolls matched up perfectly with something I already knew about the Isles, so I took them as opportunities to develop my half-formed ideas more thoroughly — which in turn led me in new directions, as any good roll-driven development process should!

Yealmark

  • Diplomatic Coup: Thirty years ago, in payment for a staggeringly large contract, Brundir granted the two islands that now form the kingdom of Yealmark to the Nuav Free Spears (buying Brundir an ally and a buffer against the Dominion — not a bad exchange, really).
  • Power Brokers: Thirty-five years ago, the Nuav Free Spears swung the tide of a conflict between Brundir and Ahlsheyan over ownership of Slljrrn Isle, the holiest site in the Unlucky Isles. Control of Slljrrn Isle cemented Brundir’s preeminence in the Isles.
    • Mortally wounded, Slljrrn crossed the middle of the island, his tears causing a forest to grow. On its northern shore, he pulled the horn of his slayer from his chest and thrust it into the earth, causing a mountain to spring up. As he died, he slipped beneath the waves; there he remains.
    • Even in a place called “the Unlucky Isles,” Slljrrn Isle stands out as an especially unlucky place.

Arkestran Dominion

  • Loss of Confidence: The last major push to expand the borders of the Dominion into the Unlucky Isles proper ran headfirst into the Brundiran navy. Ordained by the wraith-priests of the Dominion, the Falling Blade of New Flame (the name for this military campaign) involved many conscripts from the Dominion’s southern reaches. When Brundir utterly crushed their fleet, allowing the Dominion to gain only a small foothold (the disputed island between them), many southern Arkestrans began to question the sanctity of the wraith-priests and the divinity of the Dominion itself. This slow-burning rebellion is still afoot, and building up steam.
  • Terrain Change: When Slljrrn died, the coastline near what is now the southern extent of the Atrachian Wastes was a lush marshland. The waters of the now-unlucky sea leeched into the marshes, spreading Slljrrn’s curse to the land itself — and creating the Atrachian Wastes, which then spread in all directions.

Kadavis

  • Desolation: The pall of smoke from the twin volcanoes of Deathsmoke Isle most often drifts northeast, darkening the skies over Rasu Miar. Ash falls from the sky; crops wither on the vine, or simply never take root at all. There’s less smoke some years than others, but over time this phenomenon has made whole swaths of Rasu Miar all but unlivable. The Miarans rightly blame Meskmur for this, as the sorcerers’ prayers to their volcano gods ensure the smoke never drifts south.
  • Secession: Kadavis has been exiling its criminals, ne’er-do-wells, and undesirables to Rasu Miar for at least 200 years. Condemned to live in a desolate, inhospitable place of ashfall and smoke, the Miarans have never been fond of mainland Kadavis. But 50 years ago, the southern half of the island (anchored by the three cities around the Sculn Hills) seceded from Kadavis.
    • The Kadavan army crossed into Rasu Miar via the narrowest point in the channel, in the north, paying and conscripting Miarans to form militia units and accompany them as they marched south. They crushed the rebellion, but because Kadavan society revolves around displays of wealth and power, and losing the ports and access to the inner Isles would diminish Kadavis, the army was quick to retreat back to the mainland.
    • The rebellion was never wiped out root and branch, and many southern Miarans maintain that they live in the nation of “Kidav Taur” (“KIH-davv torr”). The divide between northern and southern Rasu Miar, loyalists and rebels, persists — and Kidav Taur’s government in exile still formally asserts the region’s independence from Kadavis.

Brundir

  • Twist of Fate + New Rulers: Twist of Fate says to make a positive event negative and vice versa, but New Rulers is pretty neutral — so I just made up what interested me. Thirty-seven years ago, the majority of Brundir’s ruling class — the Silver Admiralty, whose members were determined by a mix of lineage, merit, politics, and skullduggery — died within the space of a few weeks. Many of the deaths were supernatural in nature, and speculation abounded as to why — was it the curse of the Unlucky Isles? Sorcery from Meskmur? An internal coup through magical assassinations?
    • The new government, the Red Admiralty, proclaimed that Slljrrn’s curse was to blame and declared war on Ahlsheyan to wrest control of Slljrrn Isle, ostensibly to pray away the curse but really to cement their dominance of the region. Thanks to the aid of the Nuav Free Spears, this two-year campaign was successful and the Red Admiralty still rules Brundir today.
    • Like the preceding Admiralties, membership is determined by various means — though in the Red, plotting is the surest route to power. Each Admiralty chooses a color by which to be known.
  • Noble Strife: Seemed a little on the nose at first, but it actually makes sense and gives some texture to the current political climate. The Red Admiralty is strong, but riven with internal conflict: assassinations (generally unproven as such), planting cursed objects in rivals’ homes or about their person, compelling ghosts on the haunted moors to assail political foes, bitter disputes over how stewardship of Slljrrn Isle should be handled, factions split over going to war with Ahlsheyan to wrest control of the boundary islands from them, etc.

Meskmur

  • Plague: After Slljrrn’s death, a plague swept through Meskmur which killed a third of the population within just a few weeks. Divinations by the ruling sorcerer-priests found that the Red Twins, the gods said to inhabit the volcanoes of Deathsmoke Isle, could cleanse the plague. Marathon services, sometimes stretching for days, a frenzy of temple-building, and pilgrimages to Deathsmoke Isle ensued…and it worked. Worship of the Red Twins became the state religion of Meskmur, transforming the island’s society in the process.
    • And, as the sorcerer-priests later learned, giving them a powerful weapon to wield against neighboring Kadavis — in the form of the pall of smoke constantly emitted from Deathsmoke Isle, over which they exert some control.
  • Good Wizard: Long ago, the great wizard Volkias oel-Mesk (“voll-KYE-uss OLL-messk,” who was non-binary, with they/them pronouns) brought sorcery to Meskmur. They taught magic to two generations of Meskmuri before their death (reputedly at the age of 207), and those sorcerers rose to power and became the current ruling class of sorcerer-priests. Volkias explicitly disclaimed their divinity and refused to be worshipped as a deity, a request that has been honored ever since. Meskmuri revere them as a legendary ancestor — the person who turned Meskmur from a scattering of towns into a nation, second only to the Red Twins in their importance to present-day society.

Ahlsheyan

  • Great Builders: Every major shipyard in Ahlsheyan is a holy place, built in reverence to the gods of water, wind, and stone, and over the centuries they have become massive, sprawling places. Part port town, part shipyard, and part temple, the shipyards of Ahlsheyan feature tall spires made of wind-worn rocks, twisting in unusual (though structurally sound) shapes; vast aerial “sculptures” composed of sails, kites, and flags; specially shaped vertical and horizontal structures which whistle and keen in the wind; sculptures shaped to capture and play with inrushing water from Dormiir’s unusually powerful tides; and thousands of runes etched on every stone surface.
  • Inefficient Rule: Ahlsheyan’s ruling triumvirate is chosen anew every time one member dies or is otherwise incapacitated, which often leads to instability and infighting. Compounding this, each member represents one of the three pillars of Ahlsheyani faith, and one always rises to preeminence over the other two — which shifts the triumvirate’s rule to emphasis tradition, opportunity, or impermanence.
    • For the past several generations, the triumvirate has been stable and dominated by the speaker for Ebren. With the triumvirate therefore dedicated to opportunity, Ahlsheyani policy and culture has been shaped by being “under the waves.” (Were stone or air dominant, they would be “under the stone” or “under the sky,” respectively.) But all it takes is one timely assassination to change this at any time…

Like a lot of Crawford’s work, the tech on display in Worlds Without Number is deceptively simple. The language is plain and the advice is straightforward; you could easily read this section of the book and think that it doesn’t look like anything special. But the proof is in the pudding: Guided by the advice in WWN, I’m doing the best, most coherent, most gameable worldbuilding I’ve ever done, and I’m having a ball doing it.

Next up are the last two items in WWN’s “The Region” section: relationships between groups (including what every group wants from each of the others, so we’re talking 30 relationships and 30 wants!), followed by assigning faction scores. Whether I do that last bit will depend on whether I’m going to start a second region or dive deeper into the Unlucky Isles, and I haven’t made that decision just yet.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number.)

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Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Building the Unlucky Isles: “The Region,” part three

Like all of the advice in Worlds Without Number, the stuff about cities gets straight to the point: put the capital in the center of the best arable land, on water; put other cities on water, and near resources; if you stick one in the middle of nowhere, assume there’s a kingdom-level water source not visible on the region-level map. Given that this slice of Dormiir is all islands and water, I figured most cities would be coastal.

Because of the cool natural-looking coastlines I’ve generated in Worldographer, a lot of my cities look like they’re floating in the ocean. But on a zoomed-in, kingdom-level map, they’d be placed in a sub-hex that’s on land.

Per yesterday’s post about population figures, I might reduce the number of cities a bit — but for now, here’s the current state of the Unlucky Isles.

I added a lake and two rivers to Kadavis, because it felt like it needed them

Next up is roads! Once I get my cities stitched together, I’ll have a better feel for how much wilderness is present in each kingdom (and where those wild places are).

I also added a few ports, so that well-connected places have connections that make sense

I tried to tell some basic stories with my road placement. Brundir is prosperous, populous, and the regional powerhouse: lots of roads, and the capital city is a true hub. The western edge of the Arkestran Dominion, and Kadavis proper, are also pretty well linked-up. Meskmur has sorcery and political isolation in its favor, so they’ve got roads galore.

But Rasu Miar (the island just off the coast of Kadavis, in the east) is sparsely settled and a pretty crappy place to live, so they don’t have a robust road network. And Ahlsheyan is a bit of a mix, with some logical connections missing — because those dwarves love to sail, so some overland trade routes just never really developed.

And looking at the current state of the map, I have to say that I’m not especially worried about reducing the number of cities — because there are tons of areas that aren’t even within a hex of a city or road. Even Brundir, where fully a third of the islefolk live, has lots of areas within its borders that could be wild, lawless, and dangerous.

What’s next?

Looking ahead, I’m now in a good spot to finish answering the rest of the questions in WWN’s “The Region” section: historical events for all six nations, their relationships with one another, and — optionally, but I’ll probably do it — assigning every kingdom its faction statistics. For folks who might be reading this and thinking that the amount of work I’ve already done is at odds with the “get to play quickly, but with a meaningful foundation for your setting” approach WWN advocates…you’re right!

I could easily have skipped several enjoyable hours of figuring out population sizes, placing cities, adding roads, and twiddling the terrain to suit — and instead just finished the rest of the region questions, picked Brundir as my starting kingdom, and moved on to answering the kingdom questions. Hell, I could have skipped making an actual map and just sketched out some vaguely island- and kingdom-shaped outlines on a piece of paper (as WWN suggests in the early stages).

But my goal isn’t to get to play quickly, or even in the medium term — it’s to create My World, one that I’ll be excited to continue to develop for a long time to come.

I might use WWN to gin up Brundir in more detail and then start a fresh map one “block” to the north, covering the Arkestran Dominion — and leave the rest of the Unlucky Isles exactly as they are at the end of “The Region” process. Or I might fully develop each kingdom in the Isles, and the sub-hex around a likely campaign start point in Brundir, so this whole region is richly developed and ready for play. I’m going where the wind takes me, doing whatever moves me.

Worlds Without Number is providing structure, keeping me on track so that I don’t drift off into stuff that won’t ever matter in play. It’s the tool I’m using to ensure a solid foundation for the Isles, and for expanding my worldbuilding to encompass other regions of Dormiir. I want to create a useful, gameable setting full of useful, gameable information — and devoid of cruft, wordy prose, or other stuff that often clogs up published settings. So far, WWN is perfect for that.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number.)

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Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Building the Unlucky Isles: “The Region,” part two

This morning in the shower it hit me that in a region called “the Unlucky Isles,” with six kingdoms, only three of those kingdoms were fully contained within the Isles (the other three stretch off the map) — and one of those is “fantasy Switzerland.” Would that generate enough local conflict to fuel adventures?

But sitting down and looking at my map again, I saw that I could expand my plan to have disputed islands — originally, just one or two between Ahlsheyan and Brundir — to include a Brundir/Dominion disputed island in the north. And I figured that Rasu Miar, while it’s part of a nation that stretches off the map (Kadavis, to the east), is basically an island kingdom — so that’s four, not three. I’m feeling good about all of that.

So this evening I tucked into finishing the regional map, which needs cities in order to match the example in Worlds Without Number, plus a few more non-major-but-still-sizeable geographical features, like scattered woods and whatnot, for visual interest. After adding some terrain where I planned to put disputed claims, and some more because I liked how it looked, I turned on grid numbers:

The state of play before dropping in my cities

Population figures

WWN presents some great back-of-the-napkin math for determining population figures, and then using those to back into number/size of cities, so I started there. I counted hexes by hand, ignoring the partial/ragged coastline hexes, and jotted down the ballpark population for each kingdom (or portion thereof which appears on the map, for the three that aren’t fully contained within the Isles).

  • Arkestran Dominion, 287,000: 215 hexes not counting the Wastes = 430,000 = 43,000 in cities, but the portion on the map is lightly populated hinterlands, so that’s too high. Let’s say 287,000 = 29,000 in cities = no capital city here, so one major city of 10,000, plus 19,000 in other cities.
  • Yealmark, 84,000: 41 hexes x 2,000 = 84,000 = 8,400 in cities = 2,800 in capital city, and 5,600 split between two other cities.
  • Brundir, 840,000: about 420 hexes x 2,000 = 840,000 = 84,000 in cities = 28,000 in capital city, 14,000 in second-largest city, 42,000 in other cities.
  • Kadavis, 248,000 on Rasu Miar, 266,000 in Kadavis proper: 165 hexes in Rasu Miar = 330,000 = 33,000 in cities, but the population is a little lower in this inhospitable place, so let’s say 248,000 = 25,000 in cities = no capital here, so 8,300 in major city, 4,200 in next-largest city, and 12,500 in other cities.
    • …and 133 hexes of Kadavis proper on this map = 266,000 = 26,600 in cities = no capital city on this map, so 9,000 in major city, 4,400 in second-largest city, 13,200 in other cities.
  • Meskmur, 230,000: 115 hexes x 2,000 = 230,000 = 23,000 in cities = 7,600 in capital city, 3,900 in second-largest city, 11,500 in other cities.
  • Ahlsheyan, 550,000: 225 hexes on this map = 550,000 = 55,000 in cities = capital city isn’t on this map, so 18,000 in major city, 9,000 in second-largest city, 28,000 in other cities.

That would make the population of the Unlucky Isles 2.5 million people. That’s roughly equal to the population of medieval England in the early 12th century, which seems like the right ballpark. I’m starting to get a sense for the scope of this region, which is exciting.

I view 2.5 million as the upper bound. WWN notes that wilderness hexes don’t count, and until I have some cities in place and have drawn in some major roads, I won’t know even roughly how many wilderness hexes are in the Unlucky Isles. So I expect those stats (and maybe the number of cities) to go down a bit, at least in some of the kingdoms. (And I should note that WWN doesn’t have all this population stuff happening for the whole region at this stage — I’m electing to do it now because it’s fun, and because it keeps my map grounded so it can serve as a firm foundation for ongoing development.)

But for tonight I’m calling it here — after a surprisingly time-consuming amount of math and fiddling with cities — because it’s time to play Fortnite with the kiddo!

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number.)

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Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Building the Unlucky Isles: “The Region,” part one

In yesterday’s post I sketched out some high-concept stuff about Godsbarrow, and having finished Worlds Without Number‘s “The World” steps I’m moving on to “The Region” — the slice of Dormiir called the Unlucky Isles.

As with the first Dormiir post, large portions of this one are pretty raw — more or less straight from the Notepad file I’ve been massaging and into WordPress. (I’ve learned that if I obsess over polish at this stage of worldbuilding, I get bogged down and never get much further. The raw fire of creativity is where it’s at!)

The Unlucky Isles (as of March 17), with landforms, major geographical features, and nations in place

The Unlucky Isles

Name the region.

The Unlucky Isles, so named because the god Slljrrn (“SULL-jern”) died here, sinking into the sea and cursing this scattering of islands — and because the isles draw the ill-fated like moths to a flame.

An aside: names

Before I tuck into the next step, there’s some advice about names in WWN that I love and want to share here:

Conventional fantasy names tend to be random nonsense-syllables picked from the creator’s cultural phoneme stock, and places often end up as the city of AdjectiveNoun or the NounNoun river. While some of this can work perfectly well, it’s easier for the GM to pick some obscure or extinct real-world language known to nobody at the table and use it for names. Even if the words they use from it have no relation to what they’re naming, the consistent set of sounds and syllable patterns will help give a coherent feel to the work.

Worlds Without Number, p.119

That tracks with languages in Star Wars, which are (or were, anyway) often real-world languages not likely to be familiar to a primarily English-speaking audience; I’ve always thought that was a fun approach.

I decided to stick to dead languages. Paleolexicon offers dictionaries of long-dead languages, and browsing through them was a lot of fun. In coming up with names, I used dead languages where it felt right, and made up my own bullshit everywhere else (because I do enjoy making up my own bullshit).

That shook out to dead languages for some names associated with three nations — Etruscan for Brundir, Proto-Turkic for Ahlsheyan, and Thracian for Yealmark — and made-up stuff for the other three.

Choose about six major geographical features.

Before this step, I started working on my map. I used Worldspinner to cycle through arrangements of continents until I found one that pleased me, and then switched to Worldographer Pro to build my hex map. (I’ve been using Hexographer, its predecessor, for almost a decade; both are excellent, and both offer robust free versions.) I can’t think too much about a fictional place without a map of it, so I’m jumping ahead a bit, WWN-wise.

The Unlucky Isles in “raw” form, created in Worldographer

Armed with my landform map, I jotted down my major geographical features, adding them to the map as I went:

  • Ulscarp Mountains, a range of jagged, snowcapped peaks in Ahlsheyan
  • Vykus and Vnissk, the twin volcanoes of Deathsmoke Isle
  • The Ockwood, a vast, dense forest in Brundir
  • Sculn Hills, a rocky region on the island of Rasu Miar, in Kadavis
  • Atrachian Wastes, a region of badlands and dead forest in the Arkestran Dominion
  • The Vorga Forest, light evergreen woods that dot Meskmur
All six major geographical features of the Unlucky Isles

This step necessarily bled into the next couple, as kingdoms, gods, and other elements of the setting popped into my head, were iterated upon, and got plugged into the other region-creation steps.

Create six nations or groups of importance.

Brundir (“BRUNN-dihr”), the largest and most central of the Unlucky Isles. Brundir is rich in natural resources, including timber and arable land, and boasts a coastline full of protected bays. Brundir is a mercantile power with a large and powerful navy. It’s also a haunted place and a breeding ground for strange creatures, thanks to Slljrrn’s lingering essence, and Brundirans tend to have a pessimistic streak.

Arkestran Dominion (“arr-KESS-trun”), stretching off the map to the north. A militaristic, expansionist elven nation, the Dominion sits atop an entire pantheon of dreaming gods and makes extensive use of the Wraithsea to exert their influence across Dormiir. The southern reaches, however, are lightly populated hinterlands dominated by the inhospitable Atrachian Wastes; the Dominion’s main focus is to the north…for now.

Meskmur (“MEHSK-murr”), a small kingdom of sorcerers on the southernmost edge of the Unlucky Isles, is a secretive, isolated place. By and large, the Meskmuri stay out of the politics of the Isles, and so Meskmur serves as the de facto “neutral ground” for moots, summits, and other gatherings (collecting payment and tribute in exchange). Temples and shrines to Jiur and Sarrow, the Red Twins central to Meskmuri faith, dot the island.

Ahlsheyan (“ahl-SHAY-ahn”), a chilly, windswept dwarven kingdom which abuts the Unlucky Isles to the south. Ahl dwarves are equally at home deep underground and plying the waves. The three pillars of Ahl society are wind, waves, and stone (representing impermanence, opportunity, and the past, respectively), and Ahl relationships are often tripartite (polycules, business ventures, etc.). Ahl “wind sculptures” — made of stone shaped so as to change in interesting ways as they are worn away by wind and weather, and not sold or exhibited until decades after they were first made — are famous throughout Godsbarrow.

Kadavis (“kuh-DAVV-iss”), in the east, is notorious for the raiders who populate Rasu Miar (“ill-fated land” in Kadavan), the island that marks its westernmost territory. Between the rocky Sculn Hills and the pall of smoke emanating from Deathsmoke Isle, Rasu Miar is a harsh place; outcasts, exiles, and wanderers who don’t fit into Kadavan society often find their way here. Kadavis itself is a prosperous, decadent kingdom composed of dozens of squabbling fiefdoms. Kadavan culture places great value on ostentatious displays of wealth and glory.

Yealmark (“YALL-mahrk”) consists of two small islands wedged between the Dominion to the north, Kadavis to the east, and Brundir to the south, and is the youngest kingdom in the Unlucky Isles. Formerly part of Brundir, Yealmark was granted to the Nuav Free Spears, a large mercenary company, some thirty years ago as payment for a contract. The Free Spears are disciplined in battle but run wild between contracts, so Yealmark is a strange mix of organized martial society and raucous revelry, and attracts more than its share of pirates, ne’er-do-wells, and adventurers as a result.

Identify regionally-significant gods.

  • Brundirθana (“THAH-nah,” the forest; the versatility of trees) and σethra (“SHETH-ruh,” good fortune), commonly referred to as the Mast and the Sail (the strong, well-made foundation that enables you to catch the winds of good fortune, taking you away from the ill luck of the Isles).
    • Etruscan is my source for some Brundiran names, including special characters like Sigma and Theta (used above).
  • Arkestran DominionTaur Kon Drukh, the Ceaseless Flame, who burns away the threads of fate woven by other gods, and soothes the slumber of the old pantheon (ensuring the Arkestrans don’t lose access to the Wraithsea).
  • MeskmurJiur and Sarrow (“JEE-oor” and “SAH-row”, the Red Twins, believed to live inside the volcanoes Vykus (Jiur) and Vnissk (Sarrow) on Deathsmoke Isle, and venerated in large part to keep them there — and away from Meskmur itself (ditto the smoke, which most often drifts north instead of south, fouling the air over Rasu Miar).
  • AhlsheyanKōm (“COMB,” wind, impermanence), Ebren (“EHB-run,” waves, opportunity), and Iāka (“ee-YAY-kuh,” stone, the past) are the cornerstones of Ahl faith and society.
    • Proto-Turkic is my source for some Ahl names.
  • KadavisIskuldra, the Golden Mask (“iss-KUHL-druh,” wealth, glory, recognition), principal deity in a pantheon that includes over 200 “small gods” (other aspects of prosperity, commerce, fashion, etc.) who are venerated in its many fiefdoms.
  • Yealmark — Pays obeisance to Brundir’s principal gods, θana and σethra, but also to Bruzas (“BROO-zoss”), the god of blood and revelry from their original homeland, Nuav (whose symbol is a blood-filled golden bowl).
    • Thracian is my source for some Yealmark names.

Many islefolk also pray to Nsslk (“NUH-sulk”), son of long-dead Slljrrn, who sleeps beneath the waves in the Unlucky Isles, in the hope that their prayers will keep him from dying — and thereby further cursing the Isles.

Make a sketch map of the region.

Mapping advice is scattered around the worldbuilding chapter, and doesn’t perfectly match the book’s setting, so I did some head-scratching and came to my own conclusions. WWN recommends a square 200 miles on a side, with 6-mile hexes, for the region map — but the example in the book is more like 300 miles x 360 miles, and I liked its size. So I went with 60 hexes by 50 hexes (widescreen monitor-shaped, not book page-shaped), for a regional area of 108,000 square miles.

That would make the Unlucky Isles the eighth-largest US state by area, and roughly the size of Colorado, Nevada, or Arizona.

WWN notes that rivers and (optionally) large lakes/inland seas come next, and to make logical rivers I needed to add some mountains and hills to my extant map (and fiddle with some of the existing features, too). That plus country labels gave me the map I used to open this post:

The current state of the map

Worldographer has a really cool feature called Child Maps that auto-generates a version of your current map on a different scale, with a number of hexes per parent-map hex that you determine. For example, I can take the Unlucky Isles at World level and step down to Continent level with 6 hexes per hex, and Worldographer will spit out that massive map.

WWN’s process doesn’t have you adding cities and other features to your kingdom-level map, but major features do appear on its example map. I want to see more detail than I currently have on my region map (at 6 miles/hex), so my next step will be to add cities and features to this map. (If I were about to start a campaign, I’d probably set it in a central region of Brundir, generate a 6-hexes-per-hex child map, and add villages, caves, dungeons, ruins, and so forth to those 1-mile hexes.)

I’ll do that as part of answering the three remaining WWN questions about the region — and in another post, as this one’s already massive!

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number.)

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Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Dormiir, also called Godsbarrow: worldbuilding using Worlds Without Number

Earlier today, a chance comment on RPGnet alerted me to the release of Worlds Without Number (paid link; there’s also a free version of the game), Kevin Crawford’s fantasy version of Stars Without Number (paid link; and again, there’s a free SWN), which I immediately bought. That in turn led me to think about how I feel like a bad gamer for never having had my own fantasy setting that I’ve tinkered with for years, and run games in, and the ways in which I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to setting creation.

For example, writing two paragraphs before getting lost in daydreaming about what accent colors I’m going to use the in the setting book I eventually publish…and then thinking about how difficult it would be to build up a brand, a company, and a potential audience again; or how I’m going to screw up and accidentally use a bunch of problematic tropes I don’t recognize as being problematic; at which point I abandon the project and go watch cartoons.

But I also realized that getting properly into miniature painting has given me a blueprint that works for my weird brain — one that I might be able to apply to worldbuilding: Pick a big goal, pick a small goal, pick a goal somewhere in between; work on it for at least a few minutes a day; blog about it, as the mood strikes, to help make it real (and because it’s fun if other people use it). I think I can use that model here.

So I sat down with Worlds Without Number, skipped to the worldbuilding section, and started reading. I’ve loved Crawford’s work for years, and we share a strong commitment to not making stuff that won’t have a direct impact on play at the gaming table (unless making it is fun in its own right). Brass tacks, realistic expectations, time spent well — I’m right there with him.

But first, the Larch

I didn’t want to abandon Bleakstone, or its successor setting, the Crystal Marches — but I also didn’t want to feel like I was retreading old ground. I didn’t build momentum last time, so why would it work differently this time?

I love settings with colloquial names formed from ordinary words, and I was thinking about my longtime interest in an island setting — when poof, the name “the Unlucky Isles” popped into my head. I wondered why they’d be unlucky — and hey, wouldn’t it be cool if they were cursed by the gods?

Or what if a god had died there, and bad luck was a lingering aftereffect?

“A world where gods can die” was the boom moment I needed to get my creative juices flowing.

(From here on in, this post is pretty raw — basically just straight from my notes, archiving my thoughts as they first came to me.)

Dormiir

I popped up Worlds Without Number and started answering questions, sketching in high-level setting concepts while I thought things through.

  • Gods can die, and in its early days the world was a tomb to many of them.
  • Magic and other strange phenomena are attributed to long-buried gods, their essences leaking into the soil, water, and air.
  • The current gods will die someday, too — and every time a god dies, their death shakes the world.
  • When young gods die, their essence may only influence a small region — but entire kingdoms and continents are shaped by the essences of dead older gods.
  • Some gods don’t die, but go into a state of torpor much like death; their dreams can become real, and people can enter those dreams
  • Bleakstone, the Crystal Marches, and other setting concepts I have can become part of Dormiir.

After spending the evening answering the questions in the first section, “The World,” I wrote this post. (The free version of Worlds Without Number includes this entire section, so I’m not giving away Kevin’s farm here.)

The World

What’s the name of this world for people in your campaign’s scope?

Dormiir (“to sleep” in French, with an extra “i”), but most people in the Unlucky Isles call it Godsbarrow (with barrow being a tomb-mound; Goadsbarrow is a real place in England, which I also like).

Are natural physical laws mostly the same as in our world?

Yes, except that Godsbarrow has two moons. One in a stable orbit (providing Earth-like tides) and the other in a highly eccentric orbit, which causes wildly powerful tides at the two points where it passes closest to the planet. (Coastal communities must be built accordingly.)

The weird moon is believed to be the corpse of a titanic deity, curled up into a ball. Some religions hold it to be the source of all magic.

Are there any spirit-worlds, alternate dimensions, novel planes of existence, or other cosmological locales generally associated with the world?

The Wraithsea is the common name for the un-place composed of the dreams of sleeping gods. People can go there in their dreams — or be drawn there — and if they linger, they disappear from the physical world.

Are there any grand global-scale empires or groups that impinge on the campaign’s scope?

The Arkestran Dominion (“Arkestran” is an elven word for “eternal”) sits atop the tomb of an entire pantheon of dreaming gods, and uses the Wraithsea to extend its influence across the world while its military might expands the borders of their empire.

How interconnected are the parts of your world?

About like medieval Earth, where people have heard things about faraway places — but more often myths and legends than actual facts. Regional weirdness caused by long-buried gods tends to keep people close to home, but nothing stops folks from travelling.

Are there any vast global events that have happened recently?

Bakhmyut, He Who Holds Back Hell — the principal deity of the country of Duspira — died five years ago, plunging the entire world into darkness for three days (one for each thousand steps in the passage to hell guarded by Bakhmyut, the Three Thousand Stairs).

That darkness lifted everywhere but Duspira, which has remained under the night sky ever since. Bakhmyut’s death also unleashed strange magic and stranger creatures, which have been spreading outwards from Duspira — along with ordinary Duspirans, fleeing a land in which no crops will grow.

Up next is “The Region,” which I already have going in my little Notepad file on Godsbarrow.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number.)

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Deathskulls Orks Finished miniatures Lightbox photos Miniature painting Miniatures Warhammer 40k

At long last, Thragg’s Deff Ladz! Plus six variations on Ork skin

I built the first of Thragg’s Deff Ladz (my second mob of Boyz for my Deathskulls Ork army, Moonkrumpa’s Megalootas) on January 17th, and have chipped away at them slowly but surely for the past two months. Since I’ve mostly painted rank-and-file Orks so far, this 98-point unit brings me up to 356/2,000 points and 34 finished models.

Back in February, after I abandoned the notion that I was going to paint these lads in two batches; painting 11 minis at once kind of bogs me down, but I can’t argue with the logic of it

I’m not painting at the same pace in 2021 that I did in 2020. And that’s okay! Even if I only do 5-10 minutes in a given day, my hobby streak remains unbroken (today is day 387) and those few minutes are still more than the zero minutes I was putting in for many, many years.

Part of it is that after a year in isolation, the prospect of actually playing 40k still seems like it’s probably 8-12 months away. I’m still enjoying miniature painting as a hobby, but now I have one finished 2,000-point army — the goal of finishing a second feels less urgent. So I’m taking it easy, not gunning the engine and risking burnout.

Along the way, I also picked up a second paint rack. My whole paint library is now accessible, with room to spare. I’m an organized person, by and large, and this appeals to me greatly!

Man, I picked a weird-ass angle for this shot

Anyhoo, time for some Boyz! Let’s fire up the ol’ lightbox.

Get stuck in, you gits!

Thragg is in the center; my favorite in the mob is on the far right, biting that Space Marine dagger blade-in because Orks are not so bright
Rear view of the first five
The second batch; I also like the rightmost mini a lot
Rear view of the back six

And as always, a casual shot (a mix of natural and artificial light):

All 11 of Thragg’s Deff Ladz

Ork skin tones

With Thragg’s Deff Ladz complete, I’ve now used all six skin tone recipes that are currently in my main Ork color guide (plus 3/5 of the recipes I use for Deathskulls blue, and both of my teeth/nails options). The Ladz are a mix of two quite different schemes, one based on Castellan Green and the other on Caliban Green. I love the Caliban version; they start out super-dark green (with a black wash) and highlight up to a very cartoony look.

Now that I’ve tried them all, I took four photos showing each of the six colors, all in the same order (which is the order in which they currently appear in my color guide). So in terms of base paint > shade paint, that’s:

  1. Waaagh! Flesh > Biel-Tan Green
  2. Waaagh! Flesh > Athonian Camoshade
  3. Deathworld Forest > Athonian Camoshade
  4. Deathworld Forest > Biel-Tan Green
  5. Castellan Green > Athonian Camoshade
  6. Caliban Green > Nuln Oil
It took some doing to find one of each with no war paint on their left arms!
Same models, but in a full-body view
And again, but this time in a casual shot with different lighting
Same lighting, full-body view

Recipes 1 and 2 are almost identical to one another; ditto with 3 and 4; really, I have four major recipes with two variations. The variations only differ in which shade paint is used, and unless they’re side by side and you know to look for it that difference is hard to spot. But I like variety in my motley crew, and even just counting the four “main” recipes I’ve got quite a bit of it in my army (all tied together, I hope, by their shared palette of secondary colors and especially by their war paint).

Similarly, my blue recipe built on Kantor Blue is quite similar to the default Macragge Blue version (at least the way I wash and highlight them). But Thousand Suns Blue makes for a vibrant and quite distinctive finished product; I really like that one.

Next up is Da Fancy Wun, my Taurox/Trukk conversion, which is currently primed, partially painted, and waiting for the sealant on the bottom-most wheel spikes to cure.