Most Malifaux played at my game nights takes place on my bayou board. Call it home court advantage for a dyed-in-the-wool Gremlin fan. My Grems eek out their existences in a half-dozen shacks and leaning hovels set on stilts over brackish swamp water and gator-infested bars of mud that shift from place to place, never in the same place twice and impossible to accurately map. There's also a pigsty, rainwater tank, crudely built fences, patches of sketchy-looking vegetables, and an outhouse.
But it was missing something. Something crucial. Something deeply entrenched in Gremlin culture, so central to their way of life that I'm frankly shocked I hadn't noticed its absence all this time...
...so I built a moonshine still.
Gremlins drink a lot of booze, and their pigs drink even more. As such, I planned on constructing a big still. No bathtub spirits here; quantity over quality. The still needed to fit my normal requirements: built by hand, using mostly found items, provide flavor and interest to my board and games, and work well with Malifaux's cover and vantage rules (read: 30mm bases must be able to fit on the terrain).
Before I jump face-first into breaking down this project so long foolishly procrastinated, it would help to have a basic understanding of what a moonshine still looks like, what its parts are, and how those parts work together to distill sauce strong enough to scorch the horns off a boar.
A. Ingredients are fermented in the mash tank. No living anthropologist has documented what comprises Gremlin moonshine. After fermentation, a fire or furnace below the mash tank heats the yeasty stuff inside until the alcohol evaporates.
B. The boozy steam travels into a pipe called a cap arm, leading from the top of the mash tank and into the thump keg.
C. Named for of the sound that stray bits of mash make when they fall into it, the thump keg is heated, re-evaporating the alcohol, leaving any chunks of debris on the bottom. The steam from the thump keg travels through another pipe, into the worm.
D. The worm is a long, coiled length of copper pipe inside a barrel with a hole at the bottom. The barrel is constantly filled with running water, which leaks out the bottom. Gremlins just form a bucket brigade, which is both inefficient and noisy. The running water cools the steam in the pipe, and turns it into liquid. That liquid is called moonshine.
Since Gremlins do their 'shining out in the middle of the swamp, it makes sense that their still wouldn't be uniform in material. Or clean. Or particularly safely constructed. They're brewing hooch using whatever junk they can pull out of the muck, is what I'm saying. As such, I wanted to create a cobbled-together, scavenged piece of terrain that fit with the existing pieces I've already constructed for my bayou board, and reflected the kooky flavor of the Gremlin faction that I love so, so much.
There are three main components for this terrain build: platform, tanks, and pipes. Once the piece at large is constructed, details like foliage, barrels, and graffiti are added.
On my bayou board, all the structures - save the pig sty and outhouse - sit on stilted platforms. Since my green buddies don't want to dig their shinin' still out of the muck every few days, it needed a platform, too.
Enter: popsicle sticks. What can't they do?
I cut ten sticks into 4" lengths, allowing the lengths to vary slightly because I'm not interested in a uniform edge. Then, I cut four more 4", one 3.75", and four 1.5" lengths. These would create the underside support beams and stilts.
Then I beat the crap out of them.
Using my fingers and trusty cutters, I chipped, dented, splintered, and cracked all the lengths of popsicle sticks. They would be stained with brown inks, so I wanted lots of textures for the wash to seep into.
The next step was constructing the platform using gel cyanoacrylate (super glue). I reserved four of the 4" lengths to use as supports beneath the platform. The sticks were arranged in a pattern and shape I liked (roughly square). I squeezed a line of glue down the entire flat length of two of the reserved 4" lengths, then pressed them perpendicular to the platform boards, one across the top, and one across the bottom. The 3.75" crossboard came next, laid diagonally across, between the two supporting beams. Voila! Now the platform could be elevated.
The two remaining 4" lengths lengths were placed flush against the support beams, then once they dried completely, the four 1.5" lengths, the stilts of the platform, were glued into place.
Once the glue had dried thoroughly - in this case, overnight, so as not to ruin a brush with half-dried super glue - I washed the platform with a 50/50 mix of ((INK COLORS)), then rewashed a few areas to darken them, adding dimension and contrast.
The Gremlins would need a way to clamber onto the platform, so I constructed a simple ladder from two 5" wooden skewers, and 0.5" steps cut from toothpicks. The ladder received the same ink washes as the platform. Then I cut it in half. One half would be used to access the platform, the other to bridge the platform and the lid of the mash tank. Sure, you could make two separate ladders, but I found this faster, and I like the uneven, splintered edges.
Remember, there are three tanks in a still: mash, thump keg, and worm. The mash tank is the largest, followed by the worm tank, with the thump keg smallest in size. I chose two empty and washed pill bottles for the mash and worm tanks, and scrounged up a small plastic container, originally a skin care sample pot, for the thump keg.
First things being, as they say, first, I glued the lids to their bottles, and washed and dried them. To the bottoms of the larger bottles (which would be the tops of my tanks), I glued a curved LEGO dish, sized appropriately for each bottle's diameter. Then I gave the bottles and pot a coat of primer.
A word of advice: brush-on primer won't hold up for this project. I tried. It was...disappointing. You'll need to use a spray primer that is designed specifically for plastics, as there will be a lot of brushing involved in weathering the tanks, and if the primer doesn't bond with the plastic, the paint WILL flake. I used Krylon Fusion in Flat White, and it was a dream.
I brushed two coats of Citadel's Hashnut Copper paint onto the large bottle (my mash tank), two coats of Vallejo Game Color's Tinny Tin to the smaller bottle (the "worm tank), and three coats of Runelord Brass to the plastic pot, and allowed the base coats to dry for an hour. Then came sloppy washes of Seraphim Sepia. I allowed the wash to drip down the sides of the tanks and generally look a total mess; I'd use the mess later to build my weathering and details around. After the Sepia washes dried, a few areas needed more depth and darkness - the seam between tank and lid, for example - so I followed with a wash of Nuln Oil in those places. Then I allowed everything to dry overnight so my coats and washes would be ready for weathering.
WEATHERING THE TANKS
My mash tank needed to appear well-used and dirty, the copper dull and dented, and the lower half burned and sooty, since the tank is heated over a fire to create the alcohol steam that gets turned into sweet, sweet swill. To achieve this, I slicked a thin coat of Nihilakh Oxide over the entire tank and immediately wiped it off with a dry cloth. Doing so allowed the technical paint to sink into the recesses of my tank and dull them completely, and gave the copper the slightly blue-green tint of patina. After it dried, I dry brushed copper along the top rounded edges, the edges of the LEGO dish that formed the domed lid, and in a few areas around the tank's belly, bringing the shine back up just the tiniest bit. I concentrated the dry brushing along areas that bordered darker edges of wash, which created the illusion of dents.
Then, a generous application of Typhus Corrosion was applied all around the bottom third of the tank. This technical paint has bits of grit incorporated with the pigment, and when it dries, leaves a rough, dull, and rusty texture. Over that, I applied two washes of Nuln Oil, concentrating each near the bottom and flipping the tank upside down so the wash would settle on the underbelly curve where smoke and soot would naturally accumulate. Then came a dry-brushing of Abaddon Black, which completed the scorched metal appearance.
The worm tank was simpler, since its base paint, Tinny Tin, is opaque and dark. Also, because the worm tank is stationary atop the platform and not heated, this tank wouldn't need nearly as much weathering as the mash. I dry brushed more Tinny Tin to raised areas, then followed with a careful application of Ironbreaker to create more depth and give a few areas the look of chipped metal.
I added a vertical "seam" down one side of the tank using a black felt tip pen, then used bronze paint to create rivets. The rivets were repeated around the top of the tank, as well.
Two holes the approximate diameter of the straws I'd be using for pipes were drilled into the top of the smallest tank, side by side. I did this after painting the base coat, and it worked out, but I'd suggest that if you're trying this terrain project, you drill first.
Very little needed to be done to the thump keg. I didn't bother including a heat source, because playing pretend is fun (and the terrain piece as a whole looked better without it). I chose to take advantage of the pronounced line between the pot's lid and bottom by pinwashing Typhus Corrosion all along the seam, letting it drop a little to create the look of condensation-induced rust. Then I added rivets around the outside of the tank's lid. Finito.
Now that I had tanks, I needed pipes to direct the steam from the mash tank to the thump keg, then from the thump keg into the worm tank. I've used bendy straws in other pieces of my bayou terrain, as chimneys and pipes, so it was an obvious choice for this project. They're cheap, very easy to work with, and really lend a junky flavor to the overall look: perfect for the still's pipes.
The basic shape of each length of each completed section of pipe is the same. I cut four 2" curved sections, and two 2.5" straight. To connect each section to another, I sliced a tiny slit in the end of the straw, which allowed me to squeeze the ends slightly smaller so they'd fit inside without any buckling or bulging. The pipe sections were secured with a small bead of super glue squeezed onto the inner portion of the straight sections. Two curved lengths of pipe were fitted together, making two curved sections; then one end of each curved section was fitted to a straight length.
Once the glue dried, the pipes were ready to be attached to the tanks and painted. I didn't bother priming them. I found in earlier projects that it wasn't a necessary step, but you certainly could if you felt so inclined.
BUILDING THE STILL
The mash tank would sit on the ground, separate from the platform, "atop" a stone-ringed firepit. I created a simple base from a scrap piece of cork and covered it with my trusty mud blend: 1 part dark brown acrylic paint, 2 parts basing sand, and 4 parts baking soda, with a smear of Ardcoat over the top when it dries so it looks sufficiently wet and squelchy.. When the mud dried, I glued the mash tank in place, then built up a ring of small stones (that I scavenged from my gas fireplace) around the lid of the bottle, gluing each in place and dry brushing them with Celestra Grey.
On the platform, the worm tank was glued nearly center, with the thump keg between it and the platform's edge. Then, the pipes were secured in place, the long straight sections extending from each hole drilled into the thump keg, with the curved ends connected to the tops of each tank, made easy by the raised "button" in the middle of the LEGO dishes.
Two coats of Hashnut Copper were applied to the pipes, with a wash of Seraphim Sepia, followed by Nuln Oil in the areas where the straws connected, and the bent lengths. I chose to paint one curved section with two coats of Runefang Steel and wash with Nuln Oil again, so that section looked scavenged from a different source. I tied some kitchen string around one section to make it look like a sloppy repair job, then washed that with sepia, as well. Around the edges where pipes meet tanks I applied a tiny bit of Typhus Corrosion, with small slicks of Ardcoat to make the connections look rusty and a bit leaky.
One of the ladders was glued securely to the leftmost edge of the platform; the other, from the right edge of the platform to the top of the mash tank, so the Gremlins could climb up and fill the tank with their super secret 'shine ingredients.
Now it was time to muck the whole thing up and give it some character to match my other terrain pieces! With more of my mud mix, I slopped up the platform's legs and top, splattering some along the steps of the ladders, too. I had some spare Reaper Bones barrels in my bits box, so I gave them a quick paint and wash and glued them down.
The worm tank's spigot is a LEGO "tap" piece, painted with two coats of Ironbreaker and washed with Nuln Oil, then glued near the bottom of the tank within easy Gremlin reach, a rusty-looking gear attached to the front as a handle. A big sloppy "XXX" was painted on the side of the worm tank, with tiny "chalk" hatch marks counting the number of batches in the tank (or Gremlin lives lost making THIS batch), and "booz" scrawled near the tap. I used Ardcoat to "wet" the platform around the worm tank.
The mash tank was hung with a sign made from a length of floral wire and scrap piece of ink-washed popsicle stick, then painted with an important warning. "Lenny wuz X" was written clumsily on its side, because that guy just learned to write his own name. I also added a small handle to the tank's lid, made from the scrolled end of a cocktail toothpick and painted with Runelord Brass.
Confession: I love vegetation, specifically Woodland Scenic's Light Green Foliage. It's messy, but my bayou wouldn't be home without it. The whole board, as well as my Gremlins' bases, is crawling with creeping marshy plant life, and it's incredibly useful to cover any small mistakes in my construction or paint job. This was all about making the moonshine still look as if it has sat, slowly decomposing in the humidity, for countless years, while the bayou gradually tried to overtake it. I trailed some foliage up two of the platform's legs and wound it around the boards and through holes, letting the edges hang down. It was also applied up the side of the thump keg and wound around a section of pipe. The flowers are JTT Professional Series O-scale Flower Bushes in Yellow. Some Army Painter Poison Ivy completed the swamp creeper effect, and the still was finished!