Having decided on the tone I wanted, this setting was originally going to be a weird take on the Mortal Realms of Age of Sigmar. In order to isolate the setting and make it a self-contained sandbox, I thought of the idea of the Mortal Realms leaking their excess magical energy out through the other side of the universal plane, cross-pollinating with each other and producing tiny "Domains" that combined the elemental traits of many realms into separate isolated pocket dimensions. The Realms are mutually unaware of the Domains, which are inaccessible, clinging to the underside of the universe like drops of condensation on the roof of a cave. The Domains would have elemental themes based on combinations of the Realms' elements, with a skew towards effluent materials like ash, smoke, earth, fog. This way I could pick and choose exactly what elements from AoS I wanted to exist in this setting. It could also be a cool way of developing new micro-settings in future.
Two things made me give up this idea. Firstly, I learned that almost exactly the same idea already exists in Dungeons and Dragons as the "Para-Elemental Planes" (ash dimension and all). Secondly, I decided that I was already isolating the setting from pretty much all Age of Sigmar lore, so why not go the whole way and make it its own thing altogether?
So instead, the Domain of earth became Mori. A foggy, ill-defined setting that might be a world, or a country, or a single large forest. Mori means forest in Japanese, and also appears in the West in "memento mori". It's a self-contained sandbox to make Age of Sigmar-esque miniatures that borrow design cues from ancient Japan and thereabouts. I want to avoid the standard samurai / ninja / geisha tropes (no shade to anyone who does that, it can be cool in its own right) and go for more primitive folkloric, low-fantasy themes. So peasant-bandits clad in straw, strange masks, spirits, yokai and so on. I haven't yet developed lore of this setting, and will probably only explore it by making the miniatures themselves. Princess Mononoke is one reference point, and also a lot Japanese folk horror from manga and movies.
The Teppō Bandits - a band of peasant highwaymen of the woods armed with matchlock rifles and an impressive cannon.
The models are based on the Corvus Cabal kit, which is nice and dynamic - the characters look like they're leaping and running. The crow-feather cloaks were filled out just a little with greenstuff to look more like a Mino straw coat. I think these particular bandits mix feathers into their Mino for extra warmth.
The hats and woven sandals are scratch sculpted from greenstuff. I based the hat design on simpler peasant Kasa hats instead of the refined Kasa that soldiers or nobility might wear.
The cannon design is inspired by historical South-East Asian cannons, like this "Cirebon cannon" displayed in Jakarta. It's one indication that this project is not going to be strictly drawing only from Japanese history. The barrel is completely scratch built from Aves Apoxie putty around a sprue core, but the mouth of the cannon is a Dwarf dragon-head gun barrel, and the ornamental cannon frame is cut down from two of the Blood Bowl Amazons marker.
Next, a sinister outcast - known as the Wolf-Bat-Rat sorceror. This model is completely unmodified from the Askurgan Trueblades kit, because I loved the base model so much. The colour scheme is muted; in Mori, I'm trying to push each faction towards their own monochrome theme that is still naturalistic. For example the Teppo Bandits are all in warm brown hues.
Mad Butoh Dancers
Thirdly, a troupe of mad Butoh dancers. Although Butoh dance is a modern avant-garde artform, I think it fits pretty well in a dark fantasy setting. This troupe dances the dance of Utter Darkness, I guess it has some sort of harming effect in place of real weapons.
Finally, the model that pushed me to start this project when I first saw it previewed. It's the Curseblood from the Askurgan Trueblades kit, here standing in as some form of Yokai or Bakemono. If the Wolf-Bat-Rat sorceror is a cool model, this one is one of my all time favourite Games Workshop sculpts. I think it's due to that mouth with curving fangs and lolling tongue accompanied by bulging eyes - a set of features that commonly appears in East Asian folkloric monsters that I've tried to replicate a few times (without much success) prior to the release of this model. It's lovely to see this face on a GW sculpt, and I hope they branch out into this direction more often.
On top of the face, the pose and proportions are also fantastic. An excellent monster to fit into the dark forests of Mori. I already have some plans for more unaligned yokai-like creatures.
A note on the scenery. The bamboo pallisades came with the same Warcry box set as the Askrugan Trueblades, and contributed to my rare decision to buy a new box set. The two large trees were also made from trees in this set. However, the original trees are meant to be fleshy. I cut away their clawed branches, and replaced them with spare leafy branches I had left over from the Sylvaneth Endless Spells. They are perfectly gnarly and work well as "normal" trees (but the bigger trees in the kit are sculpted with fleshy muscles and wouldn't work so well without some extra sculpting on top).
The bent stump is from the base of the Orruk Vulture monster. And the tiny tree is a basing detail from a Lumineth kit. Unlike my normal approach to scenery, I've based each of the trees with normal GW bases. I plan to add more.
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