Turnip28: Interview with Max FitzGerald

Every so often a new trend grips the hobby community but it’s rare for one to arise quite so fast as what is known as Turnip28. Inspired by the Inq28 and Dark Age of Sigmar communities, part of the broad Blanchitsu aesthetic named for illustrator John Blanche, it’s a phenomenon that has sprung up almost out of nowhere. Within a few months it’s blossomed into a thriving community focused on creating a unique and extremely creepy aesthetic.

To find out more I caught up with the original creator of Turnip28, Max FitzGerald.

Edwin: So, what is Turnip28?

Max: It’s about turnips, that’s the line. That’s the answer to every single question. That’s the glib response I give everyone… but really it’s a post-apocalyptic Napoleonic root-vegetable themed wargame slash universe slash community weird project thing.

I’ll be releasing a sort of… mini magazine slash wargaming companion, with some rules, and then I’m going to release those relatively regularly. The first one is going to be a bit more comprehensive, but it’s only a dozen pages or so. The first issue is all about building your weird regiment, what the world’s like, a bit of community art, a lot of weird and wonderful art from my contributors, and lots of things about root vegetables.

Edwin: It’s not… necessarily an obvious pairing?

Max: It’s very odd isn’t it? I was on the train up to Nottingham, and I was stuck at King’s Cross for two hours, and I had nothing to do so I was just sketching away. And I drew a guy which was mixing the Perry Miniatures Agincourt Men at Arms with their Napoleonic things. Because I was thinking “Oh, I really like Napoleonics, and I really want to play them, but I don’t want to paint a million buckles and buttons, and all the bright red uniforms.” I was thinking how can I do this in such a really lazy way, and so I sort of knocked them together in my mind, sketched them down…

And I don’t know where the root vegetable thing came from. But it just seemed to fit. So I sort of designed them so they’re religious fanatics, trouncing through the mud, their helmets rusted shut, and then around them they’ve got sacred charms, tokens, and iconography of root vegetables. And there are these shriveled, disgusting… maybe semi alive?… roots growing around them and out of them. Maybe they’ve got one growing out of the slit in their visor, or they’ve got one full of nails stuck to their breastplate as a sort of lucky root vegetable to stop them being hit by musket balls.

And it seemed to take off? I don’t know! And I thought “Oh, I’ll just make a little magazine about this”, just something to do, and then it really took off. Then suddenly people are like “Ah yeah, we want rules and like a whole narrative here,” and I’m like “Oh God,” and now I’m doing that, and that’s really fun but yeah, you know… weird.

Credit Max FitzGerald

Edwin: It has really captured the imagination of a lot of people, and I think in a way that is unusual. I’ve made miniatures in the Blanchitsu style, been involved in Inq28 and that kind of thing, and it’s got a great deal of love and a huge community around it… but you rarely see a new cohesive “subgenre” spin off quite so immediately and successfully and become this incredibly vibrant community quite so fast.

Max: It’s weird isn’t it? I think the lockdown has made us all a bit odd. But I was talking about this with some of my Patrons, and they really like the fact that there’s no barrier to entry for this one. So, playing Games Workshop the barrier to entry is cost, really. You play Turnip28, or you start collecting it, you can just bash together two cheap historical box sets – Perry plastics, or Warlord or Victrix. They’re great models that are completely underappreciated, and you get loads of them, and you don’t mind cutting them up because they’re affordable. And then painting wise, you look at Inquisitor28 or AoS28 or any of the Blanchitsu groups, it’s so full of great artists you can feel really pressured to try and compete with them. So with this, the art is basically… cover in mud. It doesn’t matter if they look a bit rubbish, that’s the setting! And they do kinda look good?

And it seems… look, I don’t know why no one has ever thought of this before… someone must have? But it does seem to be a relatively unique setting, you know Napoleonics with some weird dark British humour oddities.

Edwin: I think what’s interesting about it to me is the way it blends elements of lots of things I find very familiar into something that’s very discordant and unusual and odd. Because you’re right it’s got the medieval element, and the Napoleonics stuff, but even the idea of the mud and all these people fighting through the mud, that’s kind of got that World War 1 overtone to a certain extent. It also makes me think of things like the 30 Years War… it has a lot of these things that pull on your ideas with it. It makes me interested to know about your background.

Max: I’m a concept artist – recently I’ve just finished some work on miniatures for Cult of Paint. They’re releasing larger scale miniatures for competition painters, and they’re amazing, and I worked on that and it’s really fun. I’ve done some work for Cubicle 7 on the Age of Sigmar and 40k Roleplaying games – I got to draw Khorne, which was amazing. But before that I was a sort of struggling 3D artist, doing adverts and things, incredibly boring stuff, and I just had to get out of it. It was soul destroying.

I try and do a bit more grimdark stuff, classic 90s and 2000s style, where everything is a bit more painterly, a bit grimmer, a bit weirder. But also what’s really inspired me are artists like Heironymous Bosch and Bruegel, and someone like John Blanche, who just fill everything with goblins. There’s always a little gremlin in the corner. Which I feel is somewhat lost in a lot of modern digital art. And that really feeds into the Turnipy style of artwork, where there’s always something strange going on.

Edwin: There’s almost a sort of doodle style to it in some ways which I like – I’ve seen some of the art you’ve produced, and it feels like medieval marginalia almost.

Max: Yeah, that’s kind of the idea we’re going for. If there’s a space, I’ll fill it full of… heraldry. Community members will sketch up a design, I’ll put it in, I’ll draw it. Which is nice world building. Or maybe like a weird helmet, or a little goblin, or root vegetable animal… if there’s a space or a border, just fill it full of it. Because I remember spending hours poring through the Mordheim rulebooks, or the Realm of Chaos books, and just staring at the illustrations and getting inspired.

Credit Max FitzGerald

Edwin: It definitely has the feel of those books. They always felt like this vibrant living document almost.

Max: They’re so cool – I’ve got them on my desk right now. 

Edwin: So were you playing games at that point, what’s your background in wargaming?

Max: It’s been almost two decades now. I started in the 90s collecting the random squigs and goblins that I’d get as presents, and then from there I started collecting dwarves, which are my favourite I think. And then I fell out of it for a while, as you do, and got back into it when Age of Sigmar started kicking off. Then recently I started playing Saga a lot, and I really liked that – it was such a change of pace from playing Games Workshop games, the rules system was really elegant and really well written. I got a real feel for trying out independent games, and that was really fun. So I’m at a stage where I still really love Games Workshop and all its miniatures, despite its flaws, but trying out little weird fringe games is so much fun.

Edwin: I’m a big fan of Saga, and I think it’s interesting that is what pulled you into a wider wargaming world. Because one of the things I like about Saga is it’s a sort of ahistorical historicals game – the battleboards definitely have touches of the fantastical, and it all feels slightly pulpy and movie-like. But it’s rooted in this historical feeling, and I think that comes through in the Turnip28 stuff – it feels like the foundations of it are historical, but fantastical elements grown into it.

Max: I guess I’m trying to get the theme of almost like crusader columns, so you get that flavour to them, where they’re all heavily religious, not mindless, but they’re incredibly dedicated. But they’re also like a parody almost of Napoleonic regiments. So while a Napoelonic battalion might have hundreds and hundreds of men all brightly coloured, trained in lockstep, facing down cannonballs, it’s instead maybe two dozen guys marching through a swamp proudly waving banners and thinking they’re great. And thinking they’re this historic regiment spanning back thousand of years, even though they maybe dug up an old banner from a bog that no one really cared about.

And you’re trying to get the flavour of the era. And it’s challenging – you mentioned it’s very aesthetically similar to World War 1, No Man’s Land, but that’s a very different style of narrative, or game, to what a Napoleonic style of battle is, where everyone marches up, forms ranks, and basically shoots each other. And the wider campaign is about maneuver and movement – you’re not stuck in trenches for years.

I set a hard limit of about 1812, maybe just about 1830, in terms of technology – before rifles really get too good, or machine guns or anything, it’s mainly terribly inaccurate weapons. Because these muskets are jammed full of mud and maybe leeches or whatever. So they’re hard to shoot anyway, and it’s really misty so you can’t see anything, and you’ve got a big visor over your face, and you’re probably malnourished, and slightly addicted to whatever you’ve been eating, and a mutant. So yeah, you’re not doing too good.

Edwin: It touches upon a lot of post-apocalyptic themes, but rerooted back into a historical setting. I keep using root puns, my mistake. I’m sorry.

Max: Oh God the number of root puns I have to deal with, they’ve taken over my life.

Edwin: I promise it’s not intentional. It’s almost an alternate history post-apocalypse, which is pretty unusual territory.

Max: It’s not an original idea – it’s definitely not original, because it’s just what I really like. It’s congealed into a solid form, all the elements I really like put together, in a way that’s consistent and open enough that I can constantly think of new things for it. I’m sure one day I’ll run out. I like that it’s a sort of very narrow setting, it’s super Euro-centric, in a muddy field. The main setting of it is in a county named Cyst, which is no bigger than maybe Rutland. I’ve just sort of nicked a part of Belgium, zoomed really close on Google Maps and changed some of the names.

If you can spot where the map’s from, I’ll send you a real turnip.

Edwin: We’ll hold you to that.

Max: No one’s done it yet. The trick is the castle. But yeah, it’s really zoomed in, but the room for expansion is pretty intense. You can have like, what are the oceans like, are they completely dried up, or are they just mud, or are they like giant writhing masses of rootwhales… what does America look like, or what does India look like? There’s so many weird things you can touch on.

Like, out of the blue, the community started working on, I think it’s called Rootshido, which is just Japanese style minis mixed with loads of weird bits of actual natural materials, and made some amazing miniatures. And so I was like I don’t care, these are going in. So we worked out a way of having them in – they’re on a giant walking island, that’s some sort of horrible turtle-toad creature that stumbles through the mist. And they’re incredibly isolationist even though their country walks over yours.

I’m always shocked by it – I just tune into my discord or on instagram, and someone made something I would never have thought of, and it’s incredible and I love it.

Edwin: Can I ask you some details about the game?

Max: We’re working on the rules at the moment. I’m working with One Page Rules, who are great. What was really good about them was that they created a really nice tight ruleset. I was drafting up my own stuff and I found that my ability to write elegantly… I just couldn’t do it. I would go on for pages waffling on about random conditional things that no one cared about. So we’re trying to get a nice Saga-esque ruleset, in the sense that it’s got alternating activations, not too many units… I like the way they do their abilities. They have a sort of battleboards, where you have essentially magic, and you can take a standard unit and pump it up to be incredibly powerful and impactful, and that’s really fun. But we’re trying to make it a bit more creative, where you can pick your abilities out of a big set, almost like how magic worked in Warhammer Fantasy. So you can combine those together.

Edwin: So how many models are we looking at for each side?

Max: So we’re trying to get it so you can get two boxes of historical miniatures and combine them, from like Perry, and that would be your army. So we’re trying to get it to work for about 30 figures.

You generally work it out by the number of heroes you get. There’s a Toff, who’s your sort of aristocrat religious cult leader. Then you’ve got his toadies, which are the subcommanders, they’re sort of sniveling suckups. But maybe they could be themed like maybe a priest, or a sergeant, depending on what sort of things you choose for them.

Then you’ve got a standard array of units. For the first rules we do we’re only going to focus on infantry to get the core working. So we’ve got a unit of what we call Fodder, which are your line infantrymen, your pathetic, rubbish people. They come in I think units of 12, you want a lot of them. Then you have Brutes, which are kind of elites, but they’re really just better equipped, they’re not better at anything, they’re just… bullies. Maybe they’re a bit tougher.  Then you’ve got your Chaff, which are like your skirmishers, they’re like long-beaked, nasty arrogant bastards that scout ahead. They think they’re a great shot, but they’re not actually that good at it. And that’s what we’re focusing on.

And then hopefully when we’ve got that down the second issue will be about cavalry, the third issue will be about siege and cannon and artillery, and mutants and we’ll go from there.

Credit Max FitzGerald

Edwin: Do you know when it’ll be released?

Max: [laughs] Well, I’d hoped to do it in like three weeks, ages back. But then people started paying attention to me, and I wanted to up the quality, and that turned into months. I’m hoping to get it down in the next week or two, the rules might take a bit longer – it’s not that large, it’s just a lot more work than I ever thought it would be. Because once you step up the quality and start adding more stuff in… and I found out I’m a very slow writer. 

But I’m hoping once this first issue is done it’ll give you a little insight into the world, that you can hand over to other artists or writers or rules designers, and go look, here you go, you experiment with this. Because I’ve found the best way is to give at least the artists who come a bit of freedom, let their minds wander, don’t be too dictatorial, and you always get the weird things.

Edwin: One question that’s come up – there’s a few people who want to build boards…

Max: Is this the size of the board question?

Edwin: It’s the size of the board question I’m afraid.

Max: I think it’s just going to come out of testing. Because the game is focused more about… so, your shooting attacks push other regiments backwards, and you’re trying to force them to retreat as you capture objectives, rather than kill them. Combat is where you kill people, you push them in the mud and jump up and down on them. But… yeah, so it’s… it’s just going to be testing. I’m thinking 4’ x 4’ or 3’ x 3’.

I’m trying to eliminate that first movement step where you’re sort of not doing anything. I’ve played a lot of black powder era wargames, and a lot of it is positioning and moving and… time wasting, to be honest. I get it’s a simulation, but for me, I don’t have to do that! So I want to get straight to the action, so it can allow me to have a smaller board.

I think the trick with the boards is not the size, but the colours. Because you’re working quite a lot with browns, your units can get quite easily lost in them. So I would recommend board makers to look up wetlands and moors and things, and look at the colours you can get from them – you can get bright oranges and purples and violets and all sorts of strange colours that will really allow you to make an interesting world.

Also, terrain. Terrain is a laugh. We’re making sunken houses – imagine like a French house sunken up to the roof in the mud, and that’s a hill. The hardest part is trying to get terrain interesting and thematic, it should be a bit iffy, a bit dangerous, a bit weird. But that’s a real struggle, ruleswise, so we’re churning away at that.

Credit Max FitzGerald

Edwin: I’m looking forward to it immensely. The number of people who have mentioned it to us, and who are enthused and excited by it, is kind of astonishing considering it is quite a new thing. I wish you all the best with it, and I know several of our writers have gotten kits ready to start working on their own projects. Thank you so much for giving us the time.

More about Turnip28

If you want to get involved in Turnip28 you can contribute to Max’s Patreon or follow him on Twitter. If you want to check out his professional artwork, then the best place is on his ArtStation profile.

Let us know if you are thinking about getting involved with Turnip28, and set us photos of your creations at contact@goonhammer.com.