Wednesday, 14 August 2019

CITY SPOTLIGHT(?): The Harrowmark and the Ironfang Fleet by Warboss Kurgan


We're only on the second instalment of City Spotlight, and the we're already taking a detour from its established premise. In a special edition of the column, only tangentially related to Cities of Sigmar, I interview the estimable Warboss Kurgan, aka Saul about The Harrowmark, the sprawling narrative project he's been running since AoS's inception, developing an area of the Realm of Death, that's spun into scenery, campaigns, art, and almost every other aspect of the hobby; as well as the Ironfang Fleet, the comparatively civilised (by Destruction standards at least!) group of orruks who live there, and the Harrowmark's few Order-fringing inhabitants...


Joe: Hi Saul, thanks for letting me showcase your incredible Harrowmark collection. I'm not sure that it  can even be called a  hobby project at this point - it feels more like a lifestyle! For uninitiated readers, bring us up to speed with the Harrowmark in as few possible words.

Saul: Flying islands, endless voodoo forests and sky-pirates.

Most of the Harrowmark is virtually impenetrable forest: Seemingly endless miles of dark, tangled, twisted and unnatural forest. It is a corrupted land: the dead trees are warped by dark-magic, skull-formed rock formations and other symbols and motifs of death are everywhere.


The villages of the Harrowmark are isolated by the vast and malignant forests that envelop them and cover most of the region. The dense, twisted woods are punctuated by rocky hills and outcrops that stand clear of the tangled trees like islands. A few gnarled and wind-swept trees cling to their sides and scrubby bushes and grasses hide in cracks in the stone. Some hills have clusters of houses or watch-towers huddled on the top or steep sides and most of these are accompanied by a wooden landing stage, used by flying ships to tie-up.

The villager's only connection to their neighbours is by the flying ship trade routes overhead. None dare to set foot in the forests, the risks are just too great: the creatures within too terrifying. But the galleons of the merchant fleets plot a wandering course over the treetops, stopping at as many villages as they can to trade, pick-up or drop-off passengers, deliver letters and pass on news.

Not only a talented hobbyist in the conventional sense, Saul
also creates custom gaming aides, like these tarot cards
The ships are propelled by a combination of wind and magic, bound into the very timbers of their hulls. But getting to a particular location takes a great deal of skill and no small amount of luck. Flying ships' captains must know their trade and the overgrown rotting hulks of shipwrecks that litter the forests are a constant reminder of the fate that awaits those who do not!

Another constant hazard the flying ships endure is piracy.

Where there are goods worth stealing there are those who will try to steal them and the pirates of the Harrowmark have taken to the skies to ply their dark trade. Villains of many races come together in uneasy alliances aboard stolen flying galleons. Orruks, grots, humans, ogors, duardin, aelves, and even Soulblight vampires on occasion have been seen rubbing shoulders among the pirate crews of The Harrowmark.


Joe: You've been developing the Harrowmark setting and its inhabitants more or less since AoS launched, how did it come about, what  inspired it, and has it snowballed organically?

Saul: Originally I made a small set of Sylvania (a Vampire-ruled region of the Empire in the Old World, for those unfamiliar with the older setting!) scenery for Warhammer skirmish games. It was an undead-haunted village I called Wortbad: a few decaying houses, and lots of tombs, crypts and mausoleums plus a couple of forests. When the World-That-Was ended and the Age of Sigmar began I started writing about a region in Shyish, the Realm of Death, that Wortbad could be placed in. To begin with it was a copy/paste of Sylvania but as my friends and I played through a few narrative campaigns the setting evolved and changed.

The Harrowmark was the name I chose (from a shortlist of about 10 other names) as it felt “right” to me.

Then John Blanche started sharing a series of black and white illustrations of a setting he called Voodoo Forest: 10,000 leagues of haunted woodland, flying pirate ships, the inhabitants of the forest and the pirate crews. This project became a self-published art book with a print run of about 300 copies. (I was lucky enough to snag myself a copy when they were released - an expensive purchase that I do not regret for a moment!)
I sent him a message on Facebook and asked if he minded if I lifted some of the ideas from Voodoo Forest for my campaign setting and happily he gave me permission.

I already had an extensive collection of Pirate Orruks, so the Harrowmark became an endless forest underworld of Shyish, blighted by sky pirates.

Over the years since then I have written about the Harrowmark in much more detail - the seasons (it is always Autumn!) and day/night cycle (basically just sun rise/set, twilight and night), the currency, the other inhabitants and the monsters that dwell there.

Members of the Court of Spades, one of the Harrowmark's
multitide of unusual warbands
Joe: Age of Sigmar has done a great job promoting narrative gaming and other styles of play that aren't a pair of 2,000 points armies facing off across a field for bragging rights. Have you always considered yourself a narrative guy before it was "cool" to do so? 

Saul: Definitely. I have always preferred smaller sized games, and I have always written narrative battle reports about them. The evolving story that emerges from games is my main motivation for playing (and building and painting for that matter).


Joe: I've always liked smaller games too; I think it's got something to do with my short attention span and unconditional hatred of anything beginning in "hard" and ending in "work." Of the Harrowmark's many factions the Ironfang Fleet seem to be the ones you keep coming back to, were they a carryover from your WFB days, and have you always been a big orc/ork/orruk guy?

Saul: Yes, as I hinted earlier I had around 3,000 points of sea-going Pirate Orcs and Goblins for Warhammer 8th edition (I built a couple of ships too!). Orcs and Goblins (and their accompanying beasties) have always been my “thing”. Orks and Orruks too, obviously.

When Age of Sigmar dropped I rebased them onto round (or oval) bases as quickly as I could. Each pirate crew was built and painted in the style of a Mordheim warband - every model has a name, they are all individually converted and each group as a whole has a collective backstory. I also have a couple of “Rumguzzler” Gargants, half a dozen Fellwater Troggoths, some grots and some looted cannon (that I used as “counts as” Rock Lobbers).

This blog has never been know to shy away from featuring any
kind of cannon - even one in this nick

Joe: Destruction put to one side for a minute, obviously this is a Cities of Sigmar blog, so special attention has to be drawn to your Realmgate Wardens and Selachii pirates. What were the seeds of these two warbands, and has the impending Cities of Sigmar battletome inspired you to expand them?

Saul: I haven’t thought about them much recently to be honest! They both came from a need to explore the humans that inhabited the Harrowmark, to find out what they looked like at the polar opposite ends of the social spectrum.


The Realmgate Wardens are well equipped and well trained Azyrite soldiery, sent out into the Mortal Realms to map ad monitor Realm Gates. The re-growing civilizations since the end of the Age of Chaos need to be able to freely travel and trade, and since Realm Gates are the main method of travel they need to be as safe as possible. The Wardens job is to make the hazardous journeys to untested Realm Gates and report back to their superiors. Unfortunately they have been exposed to a lot of corruption in their time in the wilds and the taint of Tzeentch is creeping in. They try to hide it and continue with their duties but it is becoming harder and harder. Small mutations are growing and becoming more difficult to conceal!


The Selachii were a merchant skyship crew who fell on hard times and became pirates as a means to feed themselves and their families. They are a close-knit group with brothers and sons in the crew, and they still carry legitimate cargos and passengers when they can, but they are not averse to boarding other merchants and taking their cargos by force when there are no paying customers available!

Joe: Totally serious question, why no duardin pirates?

Saul: Orc player! I’ve never really been into Dwarfs / Duardin. One of my friends in the Shadows and Skirmish group (David, from Darker Days Radio) has a Kharadron warband though - the crew of sky-galleon The Raidho Othala - and he has used them in Thy Soul To Keep, a Harrowmark skirmish campaign we played in the Time of Tribulations (with the Malign Portents additional rules). I’m sure we’ll see them again at some point.


Joe: As staggering as your various warbands are, they're almost eclipsed by the volume of your amazing scenery, your Wortbad Skyship Dock even featuring on the Warhammer Community site a while ago. Any advice for first time conversion architects?

Saul: I never build a kit “straight out of the box”. I always add something from another scenery kit, combining two (or more) scenery pieces into something new. For the Harrowmark scenery this can be as simple as adding trees or Sigmarite Mausoleum parts. I base everything as well as using a consistent colour scheme for everything, so each piece has character and makes the separate parts feel grounded and part of the same “place”.

He's not lying, even his endless spells get special treatment!

Joe: If I put an  Aethershock Rifle to your head and said you had to name a single favourite model you've converted and painted over the span of the project, what would your answer be?

Saul: Probably the Olshovilaag. I wanted to make a really horrible monster to plague the forests, so I gathered parts from a dozen or more different bits boxes and organically built a bird-feathers-bone-and-earth-beast. I didn’t have a fixed idea of what it would look like at the end and I selected parts for it as I went along. It shouldn’t work but it does!


Joe: I think I see the Talisman dragon's tail in there! You're not only a master painter and converter, but also an incredibly talented artist, your blog is littered with tarot card designs and concept sketches, Do you have any formal training, or are you just that good? 

Saul: Ha! Thanks. Yes, I have a Fine Art degree. Four years of full time art education - I’m not sure any of my tutors would approve of what I’m doing with it!!

Joe: You've converted several (greenskin obviously) Warcry warbands recently, have you had a chance to play any games yet, and how do you think it will lend itself to outside the box narrative play?

Saul: No, I haven’t had a go yet - though everyone else in the Shadows and Skirmish group has! They all love it. We are currently gearing up for “Shadows of Commoragh” a narrative Kill Team campaign set entirely within the webway, in the lower depths of the Dark City of the Drukhari. Once that wraps up I’m sure the next campaign will be in the Harrowmark and Warcry will be our rule-set of choice for it.


Joe: Thanks again for agreeing to appear on my humble blog. Before you go, if you could add any one new unit, hero or monster to AoS, what would it be?

Saul: A pirate orruk sky-ship! A flying wooden sailing ship, crewed by orruks and grots, like the ones John Blanche drew in the 1980s.

Goblins on kangaroos are also a cool kit
that I would like to see GW

Be sure to check out Saul's seriously content-heavy blog, and to follow him on Instagram and Twitter to keep abreast of the latest comings and goings in the Harrowmark:

warbosskurgan.blogspot.com
www.instagram.com/warbosskurgan/
twitter.com/warbosskurgan


If you've got a Cities of Sigmar or Cities of Sigmar-adjacent collection that you'd like to show off and chat about, then please contact me, I'd love to feature you on City Spotlight.

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