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Kill Team Miniature painting Miniatures Tyranids Warhammer 40k WIP it good

Testing Hive Fleet Balaur color schemes

After an evening of assembling Genestealers and thinking about paint schemes, I spent the rest of last night leafing through back issues of White Dwarf for Tyranid content.

My initial idea for Hive Fleet Balaur’s color scheme was the bi pride flag: pink, purple, blue. Along with the symbolism and the colors, I also like that it includes 2/3 of the classic Genestealer colors.

But the more pictures of gorgeously painted Tyranids I looked at, the more I found myself drawn to Hive Fleet Leviathan’s paint scheme: off-white body with unsettling pink undertones, like a snake’s belly; deep purple carapace; and dark red claws/weapons. No surprise from GW, but that is an outstanding color scheme with fantastic contrast and perfectly matched tones.

This gorgeous spin on Kronos on DakkaDakka gave me the idea to try green weapons/claws. A CatgutPainting video on patterned Tyranid paint schemes sold me on mottling, which I first saw on Javier Del Rio’s stunning Hive Tyrant in White Dwarf #463:

Miniature painted and photographed by Javier Del Rio, from White Dwarf #463

So I started pondering making Balaur a splinter fleet of Leviathan, and using Leviathan’s colors as my starting point. GW has done Leviathan at least two ways for their studio paint jobs, so I blended ideas from both of them for the body and decided to test Wraithbone base > 1:3 Screamer Pink:Lahmian Medium shade.

Still thinking about bright colors (something I haven’t yet done for 40k) and wanting to see how that would look next to a vibrant purple carapace (with pink dots/mottling still in my brain) and medium-to-bright green claws, I slapped some paint onto a piece of terrain. (I’ll be repainting this area whenever I circle back to terrain, and conveniently it’s already primed with Wraithbone spray.)

Here’s Wraithbone base coat, the Screamer/Lahmian wash, Xereus Purple, and Warpstone Glow.

Test colors

And here it is with a quick and dirty Screaming Skull drybrush over the body color, bringing the body closer to Leviathan:

Getting closer to “snake’s underbelly” whitish-pink

Now to test out mottling the carapace. I did some research and found that some folks do this with a toothpick or a dotting tool; this Doctor Faust tutorial is a good demonstration of one approach. My kiddo has a stash of dotting tools, so I borrowed a few different sizes.

Small and his buddy Real Small

Here’s a Genestealer Purple base mottled with Genestealer Purple and then Fulgrim Pink, with purple done using the larger of the tools above and pink done with the smaller one:

Mottling

Genestealer Purple isn’t much of a contrast (although for adding depth to mottling, that’s probably good), but Fulgrim Pink sure pops. It’s also clear I’m not good at this yet! But I do like the effect.

I threw Khorne Red into the mix and polled my wife and kiddo, and we all liked both options (red or green) but agreed they each give the model a different feel.

(optometrist voice) Green, or red? One, or two?

The more I look at the toxic green, the more I like it. The Leviathan lineage is clear from the identical body color and the mottled variation on the carapace color, the toxic green (coupled with the mottling) cements Balaur as its own thing, and the whole scheme should contrast nicely with my basing recipe: Stirland Mud texture paint, Reikland Fleshshade wash, Astorath Red drybrush (from the ever-amazing White Dwarf Basing Cookbook in the November 2016 issue).

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Kill Team Miniatures Tyranids Warhammer 40k WIP it good

Hive Fleet Balaur’s first model

The best way to get stuck in is to get stuck in, so after noodling about Hive Fleet Balaur, I got stuck in and built my first nid.

I think this is an older kit, but it’s a really good older kit
At first I wasn’t sold on the 25mm base, but once I got rolling I started liking how nimble it makes the Genestealers feel
All done! No names (which feels super weird!), so since I want to always be able to identify my first Tyranid I added a unique skull to his base.
I went for a wide, sprawling pose; the posability with four arms is a ton of fun

And a little while later, I’ve got a whole Fire Team built: 5 Genestealers, including some equipment choices (Feeder Tendrils on second from left, Flesh Hooks on fourth from left). I built the first two without even realizing that the Rending Claws on normal Genestealers never appear on all four arms — but in 2021 Kill Team, they can! A happy accident, as Bob Ross would say.

5/8 of my Kill Team

I already love these guys. This is going to be fun!

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Kill Team Miniatures Tyranids Warhammer 40k

Fighting the mini-painting doldrums: Hive Fleet Balaur

I haven’t finished a miniature since May 20, 2021, when I wrapped up Stikkit and Skraggit for my Deathskulls army. Almost a year![1]

I’ve done “miniature stuff” since then, including assembling, priming, base-coating, and basing a 2,000-point Adeptus Custodes army, and made it about 80% of the way through my first squad. But pootling about isn’t the same as finishing models.

A big part of that comes down to losing a major motivator: In the two years since I started painting 40k minis, I still haven’t actually played the game. I could be playing it, pandemic notwithstanding, but I’d be simultaneously trying to learn the game, play the game, and make friends, all while wearing a mask for 2-3 hours. Maybe that’s what I should be doing, but my gut says I want my first 40k game in 20+ years to be played unmasked, which means waiting until I feel comfortable doing that.

So I’m trying something else.

I know the 8th Edition codex will be obsolete in literally a week, but having bought a couple codices in both editions I’ve found that I often like some of the 8e stuff that didn’t make it into the 9e version. (Also pictured is the Citadel bottle-holder, which will pay for itself in, like, two paint spills.)

I’ve got a few days off, and I’m going to ease back into things by working on a Tyranid Kill Team: 5 Genestealers and 3 Warriors (the latter of which hasn’t arrived yet).

Me being me, I picked Tyranids half on a whim and half because I’ve loved Genestealers for 30+ years; I have a tentative paint and basing scheme in mind; and I’ve spent a few hours finding a Hive Fleet name that feels right — one that sounds like it came straight from, say, an Eisenhorn novel: Hive Fleet Balaur.

The typical canon Hive Fleet is named after a mythological beast, a practice I love, and a balaur — pronounced like the “ba” in “bad” plus the word “our” with an L in front of it, “ba-lowr” — is a multi-headed dragon from Romanian folklore. They’re also associated with weather, and both metaphors, the multi-headed serpent and a force as inevitable as weather, feel particularly apt for Tyranids.

And, to the best of my searching abilities, it’s almost unique. I can find just one reference to someone else working on a Hive Fleet Balaur, from an abandoned forum thread in 2011. Given the relative paucity of names of mythological creatures which feel right to me for a Hive Fleet and which haven’t already been used in canon or widely used online, this is probably as close as I’m going to get to a unique name.[2]

The mists of time

Funnily enough, the first game of 40k I ever played, back in the early 1990s, pitted my Squats against my then-girlfriend’s (now ex-wife’s) Tyranids. For a myriad of reasons, my poor Squats didn’t stand a chance.

So while I wait for Squats to return — and they are, as the just-announced Leagues of Votann! — it seems fitting to come full circle and give Tyranids a whirl.[3]

Like every other GW faction I’ve explored, Tyranids are more interesting than they seemed at first glance. The longer I look at these ravenous space-bugs, as pure as the Xenomorph from Alien, the more I like them. They’ll also be a pleasant counterpoint to what I’ve painted so far — humanoids in armor, humanoids in fancier armor, and green humanoids with lots of teef. Maybe I’ll bring drybrushing back into the foreground, or take another run at glazing (for their claws and bony swords and whatnot), or trying feathering or stippling my carapaces.

Kill Team

But for now, at least, they’re just two things: a fun, simple way to try and jumpstart my miniature-painting engine again, and my first foray into Kill Team. I’d originally planned to use my boards, terrain, and a subset of my 40k armies for Kill Team, but the new edition of KT makes me want to branch out and explore small forces I haven’t painted for 40k.[4]

Eight rad minis (with 32 arms between them!) is a quantity I could paint in 2-4 weeks if I set my mind to it. I’m tucking into my Genestealers tonight, so that makes April 8 my official start date for Hive Fleet Balaur. Time to get snipping!

[1] I knew this would happen eventually, which is why I write down all my half-baked ideas, half-assed plans, and color guides.

[2] Which, of course, doesn’t matter at all — except that it makes me happy to feel like I’m carving out my little corner of the 40k universe.

[3] I suspect I will be all in for the Leagues of Votann. I’ve wanted to paint a Squat army for years, and if they’d been an active faction when I started up again I likely would have gone with them. I’ve told my wallet to start practicing weeping uncontrollably now so that it will be ready for preorder day.

[4] Like 8th Edition, which I bought into when I started painting, I picked up the previous edition of Kill Team as well. Both games changed editions before I got a chance to play them — in the case of 40k, that change also prompted some midstream rejiggering of at least one army. But as pandemic-related complaints go? That one is beyond minor.

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Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

A year of Godsbarrow worldbuilding

Today marks a year since I started working on Godsbarrow. It’s been a consistently fun process, and even when I’ve banked my creative fires I’ve still done something to make forward progress every single day.

You can find links to all of my Godsbarrow work, loosely organized, on the Godsbarrow handbook page.

Here’s my first Godsbarrow map:

My first map of the Unlucky Isles, done in Worldographer on March 17, 2021

Still a work in progress (as I’m re-drawing four regional maps, adding a fifth, and unifying them all at once), but here’s the map covering everything I’ve developed over the past year:

The current WIP five-region map as of today

It’s safe to say that without Worlds Without Number [paid link] and Wonderdraft, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near as far as I have this past year — nor had nearly as much fun.

Assuming I don’t forget to do some Godsbarrow work tomorrow, here’s to day 366 of my worldbuilding streak!

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
Life

Crock pot chili à la Ralya

I was in the mood to make chili today, but it’s been years since I’ve cooked it and I don’t think I ever wrote down my recipe. (If I did, it was on Google+. Sad trombone.) So here’s my chili recipe, archived on Yore so I won’t lose it again — and shared in case you’d like to try it out.

This chili focuses on flavorful heat over heat for its own sake. It’s hearty and, for me, on the mild end of the spiciness spectrum.

All mixed up and ready to cook

My slow cooker chili recipe

It takes me about 10-15 minutes to prep and cook the beef and onion, and I pour the other stuff into the pot while they’re on the stove. Crock pot cooking time is 4 hours.

1 lb. ground beef
1 large white onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained
1 15 oz. can pinto beans, drained
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 4 oz. can diced chile peppers
1.5 cups vegetable broth
2 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
0.5 tsp. Cholula hot sauce
  1. Chop the onions and mince the garlic.
  2. Sauté the beef in olive oil and the onion in butter, both on medium-high heat. The beef just needs to be thoroughly cooked; the onion is done when it looks “wet” and is slightly translucent.
  3. Toss everything into a large crock pot, give it a good stir to mix it all up, and then cook for 4 hours on low.
  4. If it’s convenient, stir once or twice while it’s cooking.
After four hours, everyone in the pot has gotten to know each other well

Notes

These days I make the vegan version of my chili, which just entails substituting plant-based ground beef and vegan margarine for the beef and butter. (Back when I used beef, it was generally 85% lean.)

I love making crock pot chili because it’s quick and fun to prepare, the ratio of work to payoff is extremely high, you can experiment with it pretty much endlessly, and it’s really hard to fuck it up too badly.

Want it to be milder? Take out or reduce the amount of diced chile peppers, chili powder, and/or Cholula. Hate black or pinto beans? Swap in kidney beans, or whatever kind of beans you enjoy. Prefer Tabasco to Cholula? I find it a bit too bitter in this chili, but you do you. Only have a yellow onion? It’ll still be great. Same goes for smaller cans of beans, different broth, or whatnot: Use what you’ve got, it’ll be fine.

Just to name a few examples, I’ve seen cumin, coriander, beer, tomato sauce, green peppers, and Worcester sauce in plenty of chili recipes — and some folks have strong feelings about whether beans should ever be in chili.[1] Make it your own; that’s half the fun.

Trust me on the cocoa powder!

[1]: I love beans, and I’d much rather have a philosophical discussion about what counts as a sandwich[2] than whether beans belong in chili. One True Ways are bullshit.

[2]: Warning shot: Is a Subway sub — where the bread isn’t cut on one side — a sandwich? If it is, then so is a hot dog. And if a hot dog is a sandwich, so is a taco. Shots fired: Is an open-faced turkey sandwich a sandwich? If so, then pizza is a sandwich. Please never talk to me about sandwiches again: If I put a slice of bread between two slices of turkey, is that a sandwich? No? Okay, how about if I put one crumb of bread under the slice of turkey, and one crumb of bread on top of it?

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Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

WIP Godsbarrow poster map, 13th anniversary of this site

Work on my first proper multi-region map for Godsbarrow continues apace. All of the settlements and roads are in place, I’ve tweaked a bunch of coastlines and island shapes and whatnot, and the center third has its mountains, fields, and most of its forests done.

Current state of the poster map

I also dialed the white back by 90% in the Ice Courts, and shrank the area of the Abvärwinter in the west. A few rivers have moved, and Ahlsheyan has more settlements now. And of course Middenglum is being worked on along the way. (The little triangle of forts along the Ahlsheyan-Middenglum border has been fun to write up.)

Once I get all of the symbols redrawn — and finish Middenglum — I’ll go back in and touch up the colors, add a scale, and then step back and see how things look. If it all feels right, the final step will be adding a couple hundred labels to the map.

I’m not sure how to add region names, or if I’ll even be able to include them; I still need to wrestle with that one a bit more.

13th anniversary

As of today, martinralya.com has been online for 13 years. (It wasn’t a blog until 2012.) I can’t believe it’s been that long!

2022 will actually bring three anniversaries for this site: the 13th overall; the 10th anniversary for Yore, which launched on August 28, 2012; and the first anniversary for Godsbarrow on March 16th. I guarantee I will forget at least one of them when the day rolls around!

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

WIP: Turning five maps into one

While I’m creating Godsbarrow region by region, in “tiles” which are more or less square, I’ve also been stitching those tiles together into a larger map. As you can see on that map, it’s full of small and medium problems as a result of this rough-and-ready approach: almost nothing along the tile boundaries lines up perfectly, country names appear several times, roads begin or end at random because I forgot I had a road there on the neighboring regional map, etc.

The “let’s stitch these five maps together” map

And that’s fine! My main goal has been to safeguard my creative energy and preserve my forward momentum, and given that today is just 10 days shy of a year of daily work on Godsbarrow, that approach has been successful.

But I’ve always known there would need to be a cartographic reckoning, and I’ve kind of dreaded how much work it might involve. It hit me this morning that there would be more work if I continued working on the Middenglum map as its own entity, rather than slotting it into the multi-region poster map and finishing it there.

So I did a bit of poking around, found a Reddit post about copying and pasting landmasses, and gave that a shot. Wonderdraft’s polygonal lasso tool allows you to copy a landform on one map file and paste it into another map file, and it preserves any colors you’ve applied to the source landmass.

About 15-20 minutes later, I had this:

The starting point for my finished poster map of Kurthunar, the Unlucky Isles, the Gilded Lands, Middenglum, and the Ice Courts

There’s still lots of work to do, but this approach saved me at least a few hours of painstakingly tracing coastlines. It also affords me a fourfold opportunity, one element of which came as a surprise:

  1. Fix all the issues created by making these maps individually
  2. Settle on a scale
  3. Decide if I still like my mapmaking style
  4. Tweak the landmasses

#1 is covered in this post. #2 is sort of an offshoot of #1, but involves less work. I initially chose a scale that seemed too small, then too large, and then stopped thinking about it and just kept making maps. For a finished poster map, I need a scale. In terms of my mapmaking style, #3, I still like it. I’m obviously not a professional cartographer, but if I bought a book with one of my maps in it I wouldn’t be sad.

Item #4 is what surprised me. Seeing the landmasses with no symbols or labels makes it so clear that I created this map as four squares and a rectangle, and highlights how I got better about making it look more natural and organic later on. The earlier top half, especially my first region, the Unlucky Isles, looks more “squared off” than the bottom half.

There’s nothing sacred about my maps at this stage. Godsbarrow is a world still in development, and I’ve certainly come up with stuff in the past couple months that needs to be taken into account in the write-ups for earlier regions.

Take the Red Flag pirates of Middenglum, for example. Warriors from Kuruni, always looking for a way to prove themselves, would absolutely be raiding the pirate isles of Go Quietly Strait. And the Brundiri navy, despite having its hands full in the Unlucky Isles, needs to patrol the southern Alpan Sea to keep those same pirates at bay. But when I created Brundir and Kuruni, Middenglum and the Red Flag pirates didn’t exist.

That’s Future Martin’s problem, and it’s one I’ve known about from day one. I love the raw fire of creation, just Naruto-running through region after region and keeping that fire stoked — and I know that if I’d started with a blank version of this six-tile poster map, 1) I probably wouldn’t have gotten very far, and 2) even if I did maintain my momentum, it would have felt boring and same-y compared to the weird, vibrant stew of ideas that has emerged by doing it one region at a time.

For the second poster map, once Middenglum is done and I’ve polished the current poster map, I probably will start with a larger blank canvas and fill it in one region at a time. I have a year of experience following the Worlds Without Number approach, and a year of work upon which to build, and I think I can thread the needle of staying loose and creative while also avoiding the need to redo another giant map in 2023.

Updated later in the day to add: Even with the landmasses, water, and colors in place, redrawing all the symbols and paths is slow going. I’ve spent about four hours on this today, and I’ve got all the settlements and roads and about a third of the mountains/hills done.

I believe it’s possible to copy all the symbols on one map and paste them onto another, but only as a sort of “flattened” single image which cannot be edited. While redrawing everything is certainly slower, it also gives me the opportunity to tweak as I go (e.g., I said southern Ahlsheyan was more settled, but didn’t actually have that many towns; let’s add a few).

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
Godsbarrow Tabletop RPGs

Middenglum, part 1: overview, geography, nations, and gods

After roughing in the map and concept for my fifth Godsbarrow region, Middenglum, I tucked into doing proper write-ups

Name the region.

Middenglum is the colloquial name for a region which encompasses the lawless, sparsely populated western hinterlands of Ahlsheyan and Myedgrith, which in turn bleed into territory claimed by no nation — Middenglum proper, home to all manner of ne’er-do-wells. Across the Agunune Sea (“AHH-goo-noon”) is an equally sparsely populated section of Kuruni, all but abandoned by the Kurun as it’s so far from Kura’s stomping grounds.

Long ago, the Ahl named this area Mē Dān Gēŋ (“mee dayne geeng”), which means “land of no opportunities” in Ahl. Despite its inviting protected bays, the whole area is so inhospitable and resource-poor than the early Ahl wanted nothing to do with it, and that has largely held true to the present day. Over time, Mē Dān Gēŋ became “Middenglum,” a dreary place full of society’s dregs and cast-offs. Bandits, pirates, fugitives, and scoundrels of all stripes wash up in Middenglum.

It is also, however, a secret “un-nation.” The territory bounded by the mountains on three sides and the sea on the fourth — Middenglum proper — is the birthplace of the null slimes. Null slimes are a species of sentient, psychic oozes, and they most often dwell underground. Most never leave Middenglum proper. But among those who do interact with the wider world are some of the most sinister threats to surface-dwellers in all of Godsbarrow.

Null slimes have no agreed-upon name for their species, and most slimes do not have or use names for themselves. The most prominent deity in null slime culture is the Absence. To worshippers of the Absence, voids of any kind are sacred: the tunnels they leave behind as they burrow beneath the earth, the absence of life caused by murder, the power vacuum created by an assassination, the black caves they hollow out to form subterranean temples.

Null slimes venerate the Absence in different ways. For many, using their bodies’ natural acidic secretions to sculpt holes and voids in rock, or seeking out places where there is no light or sound, are the best way to practice their faith.

But for others, nothing celebrates the Absence like causing voids out in the world. They plot and scheme, manipulating surface-dwellers to collapse governments, start wars, and hollow out people’s faith in their own gods. Middenglum is a perfect base of operations for them: Pirates and cast-offs come and go all the time, and people with little to lose are often more vulnerable to psychic manipulation. A telepathic whisper or two is all it takes to stow a null slime aboard (hiding, for all purposes invisibly, in the bilges) and begin a campaign of bloodshed on the high seas — and beyond.

Choose about six major geographical features.

  • Agunune Sea (“AHH-goo-noon”), notoriously rough, virtually always windy, and prone to long, frequent, and powerful storms
  • Jōkjār Mountains (“JOKE-jayre”), which hem in Middenglum proper on three sides
  • Go Quietly Strait, which connects the Alpan Sea to the north with the Agunune Sea, so named because sailors know it’s best to “go quietly” through the waters around Ghhol lest they draw the bloodthirsty attention of the Ghhola pirates
  • Slljrrn’s Footsteps, the collective name for the scattering of islands off the coast of Middenglum; legend has it that Slljrrn journeyed to the Unlucky Isles across the water, and wherever he paused on his travels an island sprang up from the sea
  • Twin Deaths Pass, which is the easiest way through the Jōkjār Mountains from a geographical standpoint, but actually the hardest way — because if the horrors from the range to your right don’t get you, the horrors descending from the left will
  • Umbreg Forest, a swath of bandit-haunted woodland notable for its sickly trees and poisonous flora and fauna; null slimes have carefully cultivated these woods as a source of deadly toxins, and many of Dormiir’s nastiest poisons originate here

Create six nations or groups of importance.

Middenglum is the heart of this region, and gives the whole area its name. It’s not a nation per se, as it includes portions of Myedgrith and Ahlsheyan — and its original inhabitants, the null slimes, do not use names. Most people, whether inside or outside of Middenglum, don’t know about the null slimes. Middenglum is a place where the dregs of Dormiir wash up, fight amongst themselves, raid neighboring kingdoms, and take to piracy on the high seas. But its true rulers are the null slimes: sentient, psychic oozes who most often dwell underground. Most never leave Middenglum proper. But among those who do interact with the wider world are some of the most sinister threats to surface-dwellers in all of Godsbarrow.

Ghhol (“GUH-holl”) is the largest island off the coast of Middenglum, a wind-lashed place that somehow always smells like vomit and death. Not a nation in any formal sense, it’s the domain of a sprawling extended family of ruthless pirates who bathe in its stinking pools, and whose diet consists of the mutant fish that dwell in the noxious surrounding waters — and the people aboard the ships they scuttle. They worship Ghhole, a titanic eel several miles long who slumbers coiled in the labyrinthine submerged tunnels that honeycomb the island (deep, deep down).

Consuming the polluted seawater in which Ghhole steeps is part of the Ghhola pirates’ religion, and it makes them fearless and bloodthirsty in battle. Anyone can become a Ghhola pirate. Anyone. You just have to be willing to walk the walk, and you’re in. Despicable folks of all species and walks of life wind up here. (Oddly enough, for the very brave and desperate, Ghhol is also an ideal place to hide. Assuming you can stomach living the life of a Ghhola pirate, that is…)

The Red Flag Isles are collectively claimed by the various squabbling clans that all fly the red flag of piracy. In keeping with the rest of Middenglum, this isn’t a nation in any meaningful way. Red Flag pirates prey on shipping through Go Quietly Strait, and often venture south into the Agunune Sea or north into the Unlucky Isles. The only thing they all agree on is avoiding Ghhol.

Binmeque (“binn-MEKK,” no linguistic touchstone) abuts Middenglum proper to the south. The Binme (“binn-MAY”) have learned how to thrive despite their proximity to the dangers on their northern border. The mountains help, but Binme culture is the key: Starting at age four, every Binme is supposed to learn soldiery and a trade, and one’s usefulness to Binmeque is the hallmark of one’s worth. When someone becomes too old or infirm to fight, they learn to perform other military duties: scouting, observation, logistics, cooking, etc. In essence, virtually the entire country of Binmeque is an army, and every soldier is also a farmer, trader, blacksmith, etc. (Like every society in Dormiir, Binmeque isn’t a monoculture; there are Binme who don’t follow the stereotypical “Binme path” in life.)

One avenue to Binmeque’s continued prosperity lies in providing safe passage through Go Quietly Strait to their neighbors to the west and north. Captains heading to or from the Unlucky Isles often hire Binme escort vessels to accompany them, and Binmeque maintains strategic outposts in Middenglum, the Red Flag Isles, and southern Kuruni to facilitate this business. These outposts are incredibly well supplied and defended — which they have to be, because they’re frequently attacked by pirates, monsters, and raiders of all stripes.

The sparsely populated hinterlands of Ahlsheyan, Myedgrith, and Kuruni are also considered part of Middenglum. Including Binmeque, all four nations bordering Middenglum proper have decided that none of them want this territory.

Identify regionally-significant gods.

The most prominent deity in null slime culture is the Absence. To worshippers of the Absence, voids of any kind are sacred: the tunnels they leave behind as they burrow beneath the earth, the absence of life caused by murder, the power vacuum created by an assassination, the black caves they hollow out to form subterranean temples.

The Ghhola pirates worship Ghhol, a titanic eel several miles long who slumbers coiled in the labyrinthine submerged tunnels that honeycomb the island (deep, deep down). Its body pollutes the waters on and around the island of Ghhole, and the tainted water and resulting mutant fish contribute to the depraved bloodthirstiness of the Ghhola pirates.

The pirate clans of the Red Flag Isles hail from all corners of Dormiir, and tend to worship the gods they grew up worshipping (to the extent that they care about gods at all). No god of the sea wants anything to do with the waters in this region, so no one god stands out among the many worshipped here.

The Binme venerate the Fourteen. This pantheon is composed of gender-neutral, human-looking deities whose apparent age ranges from four to a hundred, with none preeminent over the others. Each oversees an aspect of Binme culture, from various martial roles to farming, sailing, and trade. Most Binme feel closest to the members of the Fourteen who represent their chosen trade and military duties, and learning a new trade or martial role later in life brings them closer to new members of the pantheon. Well-made objects and well-grown crops (and so forth) are believed to contain the spark of a member of the Fourteen, so orthodox Binme strive to always produce their best work in the hopes of thereby attracting the divine.

The gods of Myedgrith, Kuruni, and Ahlsheyan are covered in their respective write-ups.

Unlike my recent previous regions, I haven’t mostly finished the next step — the map — at this point, so next up is putting some more elbow grease into cartography.

(This post is one of a series about worldbuilding with Worlds Without Number. I’m using the setting-creation approach detailed in Worlds Without Number [paid link], which is a fantastic resource.)

Categories
Miscellaneous geekery

ALL HAIL WHITE DOT: MST3K season 13 premiere

Tonight I got to do something really fun: I attended the livestream of MST3K’s season 13 premiere, Santo in the Treasure of Dracula, as part of their soft launch of the new Gizmoplex. This screening for Kickstarter backers was the first time I’ve ever watched an MST3K livestream, and it was a hoot.

I rarely get to watch MST3K with anyone else. My wife and kiddo aren’t into MST3K, and outside of a few episodes during college — when I was introduced to the show — I’ve mainly watched it as a solo experience. Being “there” with thousands of other MSTies and feeling that connection was awesome.

We’ve got movie sign!

The episode was superb (as was the movie itself; here’s my Letterboxd review), and after some technical difficulties the rest of the stream went great.

My other favorite onscreen message was “We really did test this”

But the breakout star of this whole launch experience was the white dot. (Or egg. Or ellipse. But dot really does sound best.)

Nothing NSFW in the livestream chat, it’s just pixelated to placate my inner privacy fetishist

While they were fixing the projector, several thousand MSTies spent a lot of time looking at the white dot. The livestream chat — already about as legible as a page from a novel taped to a whirring drill bit — was on fire with dot references, and that stayed true throughout the episode and on into the post-episode chat.

The most-voted viewer question was about whether the dot would be returning in future episodes. I sincerely hope it will.

DOT IS LOVE. DOT IS LIFE.

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Miscellaneous geekery RPG community Tabletop RPGs

11 years, 175 projects: Kickstarter noodling

Back in 2016, after 5 years of backing Kickstarter projects, I wrote one of my favorite Yore posts — a personal sniff test for what I back and why (or why not). I missed the golden opportunity to do a 10-year version of that post, but today I’m writing the 11-year version instead.

Kickstarter projects I’ve backed from 2011 to 2021 (look at that correlation between the pandemic and backing stuff that works well from home)

Kickstarter has changed a lot in the past six years. I still primarily use it for preordering RPG stuff, so that’s generally the lens through which I view it — and the RPG community and industry has also changed a lot in the past six years. Those changes have affected how, whether, and when I back stuff on Kickstarter. (Here’s my Kickstarter profile.)

Notes on data neepery

The chart above doesn’t quite match my full list of backed projects (184), since I don’t count projects I backed for $1 unless I later upped my pledge, and there are a couple other uncounted oddballs. It’s also a bit fuzzy in some places; for example, I count most dice projects as “RPG,” because I tend to buy dice to use during play, but not all dice projects. “Other” also isn’t a super-useful category, but it reflects my approach to Kickstarter: I rarely go there planning to back anything but RPGs or board games, but comics and movies/TV have a small but significant throughline so they get their own buckets. But for getting a big-picture view, this chart is more than accurate enough.

It was also a pain to create, because at some point Kickstarter stopped foregrounding when a project funded. It used to be on the main page for each project; now you have to scroll through updates until the funding date appears. In my cynical view, this is because seeing projects which funded years ago but still haven’t delivered could scare potential backers — and revenue — away from other projects.

By the numbers

Of the 175 projects that made the cut to be included in my chart, 62 are things I wish I hadn’t backed for one reason or another. That includes a few projects that never panned out (though I don’t believe their creators intended them to be scams), and a few campaigns that were run quite poorly — but the bulk of those 62 are projects I wasn’t excited about anymore once they arrived.

With success defined as 1) the project delivers and 2) I’m excited when it does, my success rate is about 65%. That’s quite a bit lower than my success rate for purchasing RPG products at retail, which is probably closer to 90%, but it’s about the same as my success rate with board games. I’m generally an enthusiastic person when it comes to RPG stuff; I want to be excited about new games. But this tells me I should back 2/3 as many RPG projects in 2022. Of course, picking the right 2/3 is the real trick!

Revisiting my 2016 sniff test

The star of my 2016 list is the maxim that still applies with the most force in 2022: Have your shit mostly done. I stand by everything I said about this one in 2016:

This mainly applies to gaming books, and comes back to skin in the game. If all you have is an idea, whoopdedoo. I have lots of ideas, everyone has lots of ideas, fuck your idea. Write the damned book. If you can’t invest capital, invest time and energy and then start the KS. I make rare exceptions to this rule for people/companies whose work already lines my shelves; I know they’ll deliver.

Past Martin, 2016

Here are the maxims from my full 2016 list, with 2022 notes:

  • No board/card games: This remains my initial position when I run into a board game project that looks like fun. I consider an unplayed board game a failure on my part (unlike unplayed RPGs), but my track record has improved — and these days, so many major publishers use Kickstarter that I’m generally just preordering a game I would have preordered somewhere else in the past.
  • No FC0B: I’ve softened on this one for zines, since the investment is usually ~$10 and it’s a great way for new creators to get into publishing. But outside of that, this one holds up.
  • No at-cost fulfillment: No longer a factor. Shipping is such a fuckfest, especially during the pandemic, that I don’t care how a project plans to do fulfillment (unless they appear to have no plan for it at all). By all means, farm out your shipping and/or production and charge me for it later.
  • No spreadsheets: The only exception I can recall making is for Car Wars 6th Edition, because that project was understandably massive (and worth it). So this one has held up well for me.
  • No paid autographs: I can’t remember the last time I even saw a paid autograph option in a project, so this is largely irrelevant these days.
  • There must be a print option: It’s complicated. In 2016 I barely used RPG PDFs, but in 2022 I use them almost exclusively (and have for several years). If I’m going to preorder something, though, it’s almost always because I’m excited about it enough to give it shelf space, and/or the use case for it benefits from print (RPG modules, for example). I don’t get excited about preordering PDFs. And just to finish muddying the waters, I can’t remember the last time I saw a PDF-only RPG project.
  • Have your shit mostly done: 100%. I’ve taken chances on this front a couple times in the past five years, and they were mistakes. “Fuck your idea” is still a useful maxim.
  • Have actual risks and challenges: Kickstarter is such a known quantity now that I never even read this section anymore. I can generally tell whether a project is risky just from reading the rest of the project page.
  • Limited clutter: This is part of my holistic risk assessment, so it still holds true. Like some of my other 2016 guidelines, though, it seems to also be a lesson most creators have learned; I rarely see cruft in projects anymore.
  • Some sort of sample: Still true, but these days it’s basically universal for any project I’d even consider backing — so it’s kind of a non-issue.

2022 sniff test additions

As Kickstarter and the RPG and board game industries have changed, I’ve added to my sniff test.

Back sure things, unless they’re inexpensive

This is a corollary to “No FC0B,” I guess? I don’t need your game, so unless it’s inexpensive (e.g., zines) I’m not taking a flyer on your ability to produce it. So why not just wait for eventual publication, since I’m mainly backing sure things? Because I enjoy contributing to a project’s success and supporting creators, I like Kickstarter exclusives, and preordering is a convenience for me. Which brings me to…

Kickstarter is 100% a store for preordering stuff

Kickstarter itself has stepped further and further back from this over the years, insisting that it’s not a store, but it’s more of a store for preorders now than ever before. These days, I bet the list of established publishers who don’t use Kickstarter to sell preorders and generate hype for projects they’re already planning to publish is shorter than the list who of those who do.

Almost nothing is urgent

I can’t possibly play all the RPGs I already own in my lifetime, and I have enough board games. This means I don’t worry too much about how soon a project will deliver — although I do care if your timeline sounds reasonable, and isn’t more than about 12-18 months out. It also means that if I’m on the fence about backing something, I just won’t back it.

Follow people, don’t browse

I follow folks on Kickstarter who have similar tastes, make cool stuff, and/or consistently back projects I like, and by default I “follow” creators I’ve backed before. That’s where 85% of my backed projects originate. (The remaining 15% is 5% Twitter, 5% BoardGameGeek, and 5% occasional browsing/random emails from Kickstarter.) In 2016, Google+ was my filter, but I’ve never successfully replaced G+ in my life, so now I use Kickstarter’s own tools to accomplish something similar.

I don’t know if Kickstarter’s heyday is behind us, but nowadays it just feels like infrastructure: useful, but rarely exciting. My crystal ball says Kickstarter’s recent stumbles, including their response to unionization and the whole weak-ass blockchain thing, and the rise of itch.io and Gamefound (and probably other sites I’m not even aware of), certainly haven’t helped. And despite Kickstarter being — in my experience — a more solid source of projects I actually like when they arrive than it used to be, the bloom is off the rose. Kickstarter isn’t a cool new thing anymore. Instead, it’s just a part of the process; it’s one more store I visit.

And that’s not a bad thing. As a store, it’s generally worked out pretty well for me over the past few years. But will I care enough about Kickstarter as A Thing in five years to write a version of this post in 2027? I wouldn’t take that bet.

But hey, what the hell do I know — I’m the guy who gets 1/3 of his RPG Kickstarter purchases wrong despite 30+ years of figuring out what I like as a gamer.