Friday, October 13, 2017

Misery and Woe: A Pandora Tactica

It’s the strategy article this week, and it’s going to be an extra-long one. Why? Because you asked for it! Or, specifically, because one of our patrons asked for it. Patreon user CobalttheUnicorn requested an in-depth tactica for Pandora, so that’s what we’re going to do. Hopefully your recovery is going well, Cobalt. We at Malifaux Musings wish you the best, and let’s get on with the misery!



Background


The Mistress of Sorrow, Pandora carries a mysterious puzzle-box which contains one of Malifaux’s Tyrants, Despair, who grants her power while slowly corrupting her mind. She can use it to release some of her minions, spirits called Sorrows that inflect negative emotions on those around them. Her own powers amplify this, prying the insecurities, fears, and mental derangement from the depths of an enemy’s mind and using it to drive them mad. In 1st edition Malifaux, Pandora was probably the poster child for “This is why everyone hates Neverborn,” as she could chain together unlimited strings of her Incite action, giving her nearly unlimited movement on any given turn, and would take advantage of the way Terrifying used to work to essentially sweep enemy models off the board without letting them react in any meaningful way. It’s somewhat fitting that a master like Pandora would be a negative play experience, using her Misery ability on opponents, but a slightly reduced version was necessary in M2E to improve game balance.
There are a number of short stories featuring Pandora in the Malifaux canon, too many to mention here. One of my favorites is The Malifaux Orphanage for Sick Children from Storm of Shadows, which describes Iggy’s transformation from a normal (albeit troubled) young boy to become a Woe like Candy and Kade. She’s conspicuously absent from the action in Book 5, which may tell more about her allegiance in the Neverborn Civil War than is immediately apparent.

Base Abilities

Outside of her Willpower of 7, Pandora sports one of the least impressive stat lines of any master in Malifaux. Df of 3 is just pitiful. 10 Wounds is average (possibly slightly below, as Wd totals on Masters have started to bloat as the game’s gotten older). Wk and Cg 4 is pretty sad, too. But, as is often the case with the Neverborn, it’s what’s below the surface that counts.
Her abilities are what really define her playstyle. Misery creates a 6” aura around her where, any time an enemy model fails a WP duel, they then take 1 point of damage. This “death-by-a-thousand-cuts” ability is significant because it counts as a separate damage source than the action that initially triggered the WP duel and, as such, the damage isn’t reduced by Armor (as Armor can’t reduce damage below 1) and gets around Hard to Kill (as the initial action’s resolution would do the damage to put the enemy model on 1 Wd, and then Misery finishes them off.) This becomes more significant when you add in other models with overlapping Misery bubbles, as we’ll mention later, but it can add up more quickly than you would think. Because of Misery’s limited range, many Pandora builds revolve around bringing enemies within short to medium range to maximize the number of failed WP duels over the course of the game.
Her next two abilities work hand in hand in many cases. Expose Fears allows Pandora to resist with her WP instead of her DF in any opposed duel. Thus, her sad DF of 3 is much less significant, as any attacks your opponent throws your way will let you use the better stat. However, any Simple Duel will still require the use of DF, so watch out for those in the enemy crew. Additionally, she considers the duel to be a WP and, thus, succeeding at resisting an attack triggers the next ability: Fading Memory. Whenever she wins an opposed WP duel against an enemy model, Pandora immediately pushes up to 4” in any direction. So, if an enemy charges her and misses the first attack, you can push out of basically any model’s engagement range to prevent the rest of the attacks. If she’s getting shot, she can use the ability to get out of LoS or at least behind some cover for any subsequent attacks. Basically, if an opponent is going to come at the Queen, they’d best not miss. Her final ability is Martyr, and it doesn’t come up quite as often. It lets her pull a point of damage onto herself if it would affect a friendly Woe within her 6” bubble. She isn’t exactly overflowing with excess wounds and her crews typically don’t feature an excess of healing, but this can end up being a lifesaver for weaker Woes like her Sorrows.
All of these abilities combine to create a master who is very interested in getting to medium-short range, pulling as many enemies as possible within her sphere of influence, and inflicting Misery upon them (literally and figuratively.) Expose Fears and Fading Memory make her hard to hit, but brittle. Thankfully FM isn’t a trigger, so it can’t be negated by abilities like the Executioner’s Certain Death ability, but if an opponent can hit her she’s going to snap and break quickly.
Pandora’s two main Attack Actions are Self Loathing and Self Harm, both of which cause a target that fails a WP duel to inflict the damage of a melee or shooting attack on themselves after they fail (plus one additional point for Misery.) Self Loathing is slightly better with a Ca of 7 as opposed to Self Harm’s 6, which is of course off-set by the latter’s longer range. On the base card you’re stuck with the damage track of the target’s attacks but, with an upgrade, you can at least ensure that you have a 2/3/4 available in-case theirs is worse. Her (0) action Incite is one of her main mobility tricks, as it is an opposed Wp duel and succeeding at it counts for Fading Memory to give her an upfield push. Additionally, it places the condition Mood Swing on the opponent, allowing you to select that model to activate whenever it is able to do so, in place of the model your opponent chooses to activate. Being able to dictate your opponent’s activation order to them is very powerful, and can allow you to get away with leaving the Doppleganger at home from time to time, as forcing a sub-optimal model to activate first will often be even better than being able to cheat to go first. If you can flip a Tome for the Mass Hysteria trigger, you can immediately take the action again, giving you more mobility. Finally, she has a (1) Tactical Action called Inflict which forces all enemy models in a 4” pulse to succeed on a TN 14 WP duel or suffer 1 damage (plus 1 for Misery.) This one isn't utilized as frequently, but can be put to good use against clumps of low WP models to, at least, drain some cards from their hands.

Upgrades
 

               The second defining factor in Pandora’s playstyle comes from her choice of Limited upgrade. She will almost always bring one of them, and will more often than not fill all three of her upgrade slots. I’ll go through three common Pandora load-outs and describe how they’re typically built and played.
               The first Limited option is The Box Opens. This upgrade lends Pandora towards what has been described by many as her “melee build,” which focuses on taking her Misery aura and adding on more and more things to make it a bubble of bad for the opponent. TBO gives her Terrifying all 13 which, given that her melee range is a respectable 3”, lets her tie up a number of models in it at once. Often this upgrade is paired with the generic Neverborn upgrade Fears Given Form which forces any model that activates inside the bearer’s engagement range to take a TN  14 DF duel or take 3 damage immediately. You do have to be careful with this one, though, as friendly models have to take the same test, so Pandora will often be running around on her own when this upgrade is equipped. You may want to pair it with something like Aether Connection to give her some added damage prevention to offset the isolation, though this may fall under the category of “a good idea for newer players, but not necessary for the more experienced.” Often, you’ll find models working to fan out and stay out of her bubble, only feeding her non-essential models or those that are able to stand up to her punishment while the rest of the crew scores VPs, so pairing it up with something like Nekima or another heavy beater to support where she can’t go is typically a good idea.
               The next, and probably most hated, option is the Voices build, or Paralyze-Dora. Most of the M2E “negative play experience” commentary from Dora comes out of this build (for more on this subject, see the April 1st episode of the High Fauxdelity podcast.) The upgrade gives her the relatively innocuous ability “There is no shelter here” that makes the damage from Misery irreducible. That’s not such a big deal. However, it also adds a crow trigger to Self Harm and Self Loathing that reduces the damage to 0 and applies the Parlayzed condition to the target instead. In order to make this trigger more reliable, you also include the Depression upgrade, which gives her a (0) action to discard a card and add the suit to all of her duels for the remainder of her activation. Thus, for a low crow, you can now paralyze 3 models a turn. Players will often pair this with Fugue State, punishing models that take Interact actions within 8” of her by forcing them to succeed at a hefty TN 15 WP duel or take a point of damage (plus one from Misery, if they’re within 6”.) This is probably the safest of the builds for her, as Paralyzed models are incapable of hitting you back, but it can be vulnerable to crews with efficient condition removal like Ten Thunders Low River Monks and Sensei Yu or, if you’re unlucky, a turn where you fail multiple duels and only get a small portion of the enemy crew locked down. It is not, however, a great way to win friends among your play group. Most folks that bring their little plastic toys want to actually play with them, not activate and pass because you keep beating them at WP duels. Definitely not a friendly thing to do to someone who is just learning the game.
               The new Limited Upgrade Pandora got from Broken Promises, Woe is Me, lets her act as a summoning master. Because we Dora players weren’t hated enough already, apparently. Ok, it’s not that bad of a summon, as it “only” lets you call in Sorrows. Moreover, it can only be done by placing the Sorrow next to an enemy model with one or more conditions, and the enemy can subsequently choose to end any of those conditions they wish. On the plus side, this upgrade gets around two of the weaknesses of the Sorrow, their slightly-too-high soulstone cost and their limited mobility. Now you can just drop the nasty little blighters in the middle of the action where you want them and call it a day. Moreover, unlike most summoners, Dora’s Sorrows come in at full health, which is not insignificant. Base contact with an enemy is where a Sorrow wants to be, as they can then pull a Wd off of that enemy model when they activate with Life Leech. And, of course, there’s the fact that Sorrows bring their own Misery aura which stacks with Pandora’s, turning those little 1 damage slaps-to-the-wrist into 2, 3, or 4 damage wallops every time the enemy fails against Incite. This is even more significant when you consider the other ability from Woe is Me, Growing Woe. Any time an enemy is killed by the Misery Aura while the upgrade is in play you can summon her totem, the Poltergeist, for free. Any time you can swing 4 AP like that, it’s a good thing, and the Poltergeist is an underrated totem that didn’t see a ton of play due to the relative ease with which it can be killed and it’s relatively high cost (who ever heard of a 5SS totem, anyways?) You’ll probably want to bring Depression with this build as well, as the summons require an additional Mask. Moreover, it gives other friendly Woes within Pandora’s LoS (read: the Sorrows you just summoned) an attack targeting WP (meaning it triggers Misery) that can force a model that fails to activate last. Good stuff. It’s still pretty early in the Broken Promises era to come to any conclusions, but the limited testing I’ve done with this so far leads me to believe I may have initially underestimated Woe is Me. There are a lot of conditions in Malifaux. I mean, a WHOLE LOT of them. this upgrade doesn’t distinguish between positive and negative conditions, either. An opponent who spends an AP to give a model Defensive or Focus has now provided you with a summoning battery. It’s possible my experience with this isn’t typical (Phiasco typically plays 10 Thunders and they’re notorious for throwing Focus around like it’s candy,) but I've had no trouble having good targets with positive conditions they don't want to remove availabe. Two of the new strategies from Gaining Grounds 2017 place beneficial conditions on models that can’t be removed by actions, even if the model WANTS to remove them. And you can always use your Incite or condition applying actions to put them out yourself in a pinch. Iggy would be pretty clutch for this (more on him later.) And we already know how potent an effect summoning can have on the game. So, to be determined, but there may be some real meat to be found in this version of Dora. Time will tell if it’s good enough to replace Voices as the go-to Limited.
               In addition to these, she has a handful of other upgrades as well. Cry for Me gives her a (1) Ca 7 attack to hand out a condition imposing a negative flip to WP duels on enemy models that fail until the end of the turn, with a double Mask trigger to place a blast marker and spread it around. This used to see a little bit of play, particularly if you thought you were going to go up against something that had a decent chance of resisting your attacks, but as more upgrades are added to the game and slots get tight I’ve seen it fall out of favor. Her other new Book 5 upgrade, Rile Them Up, has a few more interesting possibilities. It costs 2 stones, which is a little hefty, but it gives her the ability Mania to discard a card and take the Incite action an additional time using one of her general AP. I could see this being useful for games where mobility will be at a priority or, if you’re feeling feisty, where you’re going to try for a late-game Undercover Entourage run for the opponent’s deployment zone. It also adds a Mask trigger (so, built in) to Self-Harm and Loathing that lets you replace the attack’s normal damage track with 2/3/4 and makes the damage irreducible. Potentially, this could be useful for any of the Limited builds, though the most obvious synergy goes with Melee-Dora (who could have some odd hiccups killing models that don’t have good attacks for her to steal) and Woe is Me (who can use the additional Incite either to throw out some more conditions for summoning or because she had to use her (0) for Depression to gain masks.) This one may end up being scheme pool dependent, where you bring it for the aforementioned Entourage run or to give her a better shot at Master killing in Neutralize the Leadership. Still, it’s got some decent utility.

Support Models        

      

               Obviously, anything with Woe under its characteristics has potential to be added to her crew and used effectively. Her box set is one of the few that you can pretty much open, assemble, and run and have a relatively effective crew. Candy finds her way into a lot of Pandora crews to this day, mostly because of the potency of combining the Mood Swings condition from Incite with her Sweets ability to paralyze an enemy model. Kade falls in and out of favor, mostly due to his fragility. If you bring him and he can get a couple of his damage buffs running, his Carving Knife can dish out a horrific 5/6/8 damage track. If you can afford it, equip him with Depression instead of Dora to let him pitch a crow and make one of his triggers built in. Also, if you’re bringing Kade, bring Teddy. You wouldn’t make a sweet little baby go out without his Teddy, would you? What kind of a monster are you?

               Oh, right, the kind that plays Pandora. Never mind. Forget I asked.

               We already talked about Sorrows a bunch above, so let’s move on to other stuff to hire in. First of all, it’s the Neverborn, so I’ll just point at Nekima, the Doppleganger, and the Primordial Magic and assume you already know why you might want to bring those. Moving on.
Besides Candy and Nekima, there are a couple of other henchman options that can play well with Pandora. The Widow Weaver would be an interesting henchman to bring along if you could ensure her safety, as the Web Marker Willpower penalties can be devastating. The problem, of course, is that she can only place them within 6” of her and a stiff breeze will blow her over, taking her Webs with her. She’s not my favorite option, but if you’ve got some amazing defensive tech to keep her alive then by all means, bring her out. Barbaros is a little bit pricey, but I don’t think he gets the praise he deserves. I’ve written about how rude challenge is before, but that WP duel to target anyone but Barb is just disruptive as hell. I think he could be particularly useful in a Woe is Me build to help protect your newly summoned Sorrows. And if they fail the WP duel to target anyone else, their action fails AND they take damage. That’s just rude. Plus there’s something to be said for not entirely focusing your crew on WP attacks, as the wrong opponent will end up laughing at you since WP is, on average, higher throughout Malifaux than Defense. Opposing Nekimas, in particular, will be thrilled with your choice. So Barbaros and other DF targeting models can help broaden your focus a bit and offset some of those bad matchups.
The minion pool is actually a bit more shallow from a Pandora-oriented focus than you might think. Normally one would think Beckoners would be a natural fit, and they can be under the right circumstances, but their 7 stone cost puts them in direct competition with the enforcer Lillitu, and Lillitu’s just better in most cases. Some people don’t care for them due to their relatively low wounds, but I think Insidious Madness makes for a pretty good scheme runner that can change gears and support your offense in a pinch when necessary. If you’re playing Woe is Me Dora you can hire Guild Reporters, who have obvious synergy with Dora. It’s kind of your choice which scheme runner you prefer, and in some cases it may depend on the job you’re asking them to do, but the reporter is a stone cheaper and is better at removing enemy markers than the IM. And performers are solid mercenary hires, as Siren Song and Seduction both play well with what a Pandora crew is trying to accomplish. Not to mention we could all use a bit more "Don't Mind Me" in our lives.  
There’s a lot for Pandora to like in the Enforcer slot, by comparison. I already mentioned Lillitu, who has the Rotten Belle level Lure spell available on a sturdy enforcer’s body. Lure is especially important for melee Dora, as you need to draw models into her bubble so she can be fully effective and they’ll likely be trying to stay as far away as possible. Iggy is a workhorse enforcer that, for a measly 5 stones, gives you another source of Martyr, another (0) Incite, a Rg 12 attack to hand out Burning +2 (hurray for more conditions to use for summoning), and/or a pretty decent WP penalty on enemy models within 6 of him that haven’t activated yet. Having 2 Martyrs gives you a great deal of ability to manipulate wounds, as you can either pull 2 wounds off of a Woe and split them between Pandora and Iggy or chain one single wound down the line (IE if you can afford to put the wound on Pandora but she’s more than 6” away while Iggy is closer but on low wounds, Iggy can snatch a wound off with Martyr and then pass it on to her.) Teddy is a sentimental favorite that would see more play if he was a little faster and a little bit tougher to hit. He’s good for a themed crew and fun to use with Kade. Plus, if you’ve been playing as long as I have, you probably have at least three sculpts of him lying around. And Bishop can be an interesting Merc to hire in, as his melee attacks can target either WP or DF.
The last few books have been kind of a desert for new Pandora crew members, but the Crossroads Seven enforcer Lust is an exception. Nine stones with the merc tax is a little steep, but she brings a pretty solid suite of unpleasant abilities when combined with Pandora. Her “Now, Kiss!” Attack Action can potentially force the enemy to make 3 separate willpower duels in exchange for 1 single AP from Lust, which is some potent Misery activation on top of potentially disrupting the enemy’s plans and positioning. Pair two uses of that with her (0) action which also triggers a WP push, that’s a grand total of 7 potential damage per Misery bubble in which the targets are trapped when doing it. That can get nasty. Book 5 doesn’t have anything specifically for Dora outside of her new upgrades, but there could still be some useful tools here. One of the things you see often with most Pandora builds is a tendency by the opponent to spread out and stay away from her auras. Adding a Grootslang or two to your crew gives you a way to rapidly redeploy to counter this. I envision Pandora and team deploying in the center of the board with the two lair markers deployed in what you think will be high-traffic areas on the flanks, allowing your Groots to deploy rapidly to them and cut off the enemy’s retreat. Bultungins have interesting potential to serve as low-stone beaters and potentially to avoid shoe-horning your crew into being all WP all the time, but they’ll likely have more synergy with other masters like Titania or Collodi who can better exploit their abilities. There are a couple of mercs as well, though none immediately trip my trigger. Soulstone Prospectors have to compete with other 7 stone positioning models, and I don’t think they do well versus Lillitu. Bayou Smugglers are interesting as well, as 6SS is relatively low, can grant you some abilities to manipulate your hand, and their The Swap attack targets WP and either gives you a card or lets you screw with positioning. Don’t know if it’ll be an amazing addition at first blush, but there are possibilities here as a defensive flank holder to grab and position markers to mess up scheme completion.

Harvester of Sorrow: Putting it All Together





Pandora is a tough but brittle master that lives off of projecting auras of sadness and badness to the enemy anywhere near her. There are three main builds defined by which of her Limited Upgrades you bring along, and all of them are effective in their own way. The Melee Pandora wants to get up close and personal and force the opponent to take incidental damage for doing the things that they want to do in an average turn anyways. Voices Pandora is going to try to paralyze models at range, and it actually says on the Voices upgrade card that your opponent’s soul takes a point of damage every time you do this. And the new Woe is Me upgrade lets her summon her small Sorrow minions and, potentially, her Poltergreist totem off of models with conditions on them. Her crew has never historically had a set of “in every Pandora crew include X” type models outside of the standard Neverborn staples of Nekima, Doppleganger, and the Primordial Magic who, in several cases, have alternatives which can even make them dispensable. But it’s really more about building a crew to exploit the area of denial that she creates by her very presence and ensure that you can run down and foil anyone who tries to fan out to escape her wrath. Pandora really isn’t as nasty of a Master as everyone thinks she is (though don’t tell people that. 1) they won’t believe you and 2) it’s more fun to keep the mystique in place) and can be fun to play if you enjoy her style. So give her a try, already! 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Malifaux Book 5: Broken Promises Review

               

                   I’ve already written about Broken Promises extensively from a game perspective, and I’ll be writing about it more in the future (watch for this month’s Wyrd chronicles), but one thing I haven’t done yet is break down the actual physical product that Wyrd released. So, since it’s Review Week on our new Malifaux Musings publication schedule, let’s do a review of Book 5. But first, some Mini-Musings and a word from our sponsors.

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Mini-Musings



-The biggest news, of course, is the beginning of block 1 from the Homefront campaign. It will run for 2 weeks, going from October 2nd to, presumably, the 15th. I like the tie-in between Malifaux and The Other Side, but I’m not as amped for this one as I have been in the past. The reason came to me when I saw that the Syndicate and Faction forums were up, I went to go read them, and realized “Wait, there’s no point. There’s no strategy for this other than ‘play as many games as possible.’” So I’ll still be playing and reporting my games (Sandmen all the way, baby, and not just because I’m a big Metallica fan.) I just won’t probably be spending a lot of time in my faction forum.

-Iron Painter rd. 1 voting is going on as we speak, and ends on Monday. The first round’s theme was OSL, and from what I’ve seen, there’s some very cool stuff out there to check out.

-We’ve completed one month on Patreon, so it’s time for our first drawing. *reaches into raffle box* And the Miss Ery model goes to….Kevin Tapper! Kevin just joined this month, and he’s won a prize already. You’re not trying to win from out of a pool of hundreds of contributors, folks. We’re a small blog right now, so the prizes have never been easier to win. Come on down to our Patreon and sign up now, and you can get an entry for October’s drawing, a Miss Terious! This model works as an alternate Death Marshal and will fit nicely into most Guild-y crews, particularly Perdita. And if you knock the casket off, she’d probably make a pretty decent Monster Hunter proxy until the model comes out. And because it’s Halloween, I’m going to throw in an All-Hallows Eve surprise for the winner, as well. Even a $1 a month contribution earns you an entry, so come on over to our page and supportMalifaux Musings!

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               The cover image on Broken Promises is something quite unique, as all of the covers for Malifaux books that I can remember have usually had some kind of action scene featuring full-body artwork of one of the models released in the product. Perhaps fittingly, since this features the first effort to go back and release new upgrades for old masters, this features a different style of cover image. It’s a collage of signature masters for each of the factions separated like a broken pane of glass, with a Guild seal at the center. The message is pretty clear: the Guild, and more specifically, the new Governor-General, is going to smash things up and make their presence felt. In response, the other factions are starting to fragment. It also gives Wyrd’s new graphic artists a chance to show their stuff. Lillith’s primal scream and McMourning’s trademark maniacal grin are really striking, and it makes for a sharp looking cover.

               The book itself weighs in at 257 pages of content, which feels like about par for previous Malifaux offerings. Each faction gets their own section with a new lore story, a special story scenario related to that short story, followed by the new content for the miniature game. The factions each received a new henchman, a selection of enforcers and minions, and the biggest change to the game, new Upgrade cards for each master. While I wouldn’t say that every single model in this book is amazing and going to find significant table time, there also don’t appear to be very many which make me say “This is a dog turd. Why would anyone play this?” This is a significant achievement, considering we’re in the 5th book of this limited-scale skirmish game. Anything new that the designers introduce has to compete with everything that’s come before and do it without introducing power creep, something with which many games can struggle. They’ve achieved this here in a number of cases by introducing models which explore regions of design where factions have previously had a weakness. As an example: the Guild previously had a reputation for strong top-end models but more lackluster low-soulstone stuff. To counter this, Broken Promises introduces a bevy of 6-stone models, all of whom perform different roles. This was done masterfully. Additionally, some models were very clearly intended to sit with masters that needed a power boost, like the Riotbreaker for Hoffman or the Cyclops and Bultungin with Titania. This was done subtly, by providing a model that is useable and effective with any crew that can hire them but which really shines when paired with the appropriate leaders. The approach varied in different factions, but the end result is the same: new options and new design space being opened up. The new models are a big win for Wyrd and, in my opinion, the most effective part of the book.

               Since the start of M2E, I’ve wanted to see them release new upgrade cards for the old masters. It was something that was promised as an option from the start and, especially where Limited upgrades are concerned, gave the Malifaux designers the ability to radically alter the way a crew works without having to release a new edition of the game or a new version of the model with redesigned or Errata’d rules. However, besides the occasional errata for severely gimped masters like Lucius or Ironsides, masters have lived with what they received at release. It’s easy to see why it took a while to try new upgrades, especially on this scale. You can’t very well just add new options for some masters but not for others unless you want a lot of community belly-aching, so you have to design for all of them at once. Much of a crew’s power runs through the master, so there’s danger that you can end up making much more drastic changes than you intended when you tweak them like this. And, tbh, Wyrd probably makes much more money off of new models than they do from decks of upgrade cards, which reduces the incentive to put them out. As such, I applaud the effort behind getting this work done.

Overall, I would call their effort successful with a few stumbles. A number of masters that needed help got it in spades with these upgrade cards. We’ll have to wait and see how many of them end up being as effective in the game as they look on paper, but just the fact that people are excited to play Toni Ironsides, Mah Tucket, and Lady Justice can only be considered good things for Malifaux overall. Other masters that were already pretty good got new tools added to their toolbox. Dreamer can play a melee oriented game. Pandora can act as a limited summoner. Dr. McMourning greatly expanded his hiring pool. I think this was the best part of what was done here, and I wish we would have seen more of it. It seemed like an effort was made not to take some of the already strong crews and make them stronger, but rather give them some different choices to try. This was for the most part effective, but there were some odd glitches. Both of Collodi’s upgrades have been dismissed by every reviewer I’ve seen, as adding a melee attack when he can already use his main attack, one of the best in the game, in melee is redundant and unnecessary. The teleportation/summoning upgrade he got feels janky. Contrast this with Hamelin, who is arguably one of the strongest masters in Malifaux Gaining Grounds 2017 (if, paradoxically, one of the least played due in part to the large number of models required and the general “uck” feeling he inspires in most people.) His new Plague Pits is a flat-out strong upgrade that is going to be played often, allowing Blight become a viable main attack strategy, and doesn’t seem to cost him a whole lot (Hamelin crews usually could afford dropping an upgrade to make room for it.) Add to that the ability to work around the “no-unburying-on-turn-1” clause of Viktoria’s Soaring Dragon upgrade using the Scion of the Void, and the top 2 Outcasts seem to have the majority of the potentially negative-play-experience upgrades in the book. This feels like a mistake, and I would expect that the Soaring Dragon thing will get fixed with an errata, but that won’t be happening until January. And, look, it’s early yet. Some of these things may end up being overblown. Plague Pits may not be such a big deal, and Collodi’s Doll upgrade may actually be really good and we’re all just not seeing it. I don’t know, and I’d be the last one to stake my reputation on theory-craft (as I’m, frankly, quite bad at it.) But, the thing to remember is that these are the exceptions, not the rules. Most of the new upgrades are at least interesting, and it blows open crew design from the end-of-GG-2017 funk I think many players have felt. It’s hard to consider this aspect of the book to be anything but a win, and I applaud the effort Aaron and the other designers put into this.

               One of the highlights of most Malifaux books (for fluff nerds like me) are the stellar short-fiction offerings included to advance the story of the game world. It seemed, however, like the fluff wasn’t as big of an emphasis here as we’ve seen in other Malifaux books. Where, previously, the factions sections would have been bookended with stories that incorporated elements of each of the factions and (usually) provided the big thrust of the story developments, in Broken Promises there were just the 7 short stories for each faction. The overarching theme was two-fold: the Guild cracking down in Malifaux and the other factions trying to endure while individuals advance themselves through acts of betrayal. Most of the stories were well-written, and I liked what they offered. The McMourning focused story from the Resurrectionist section felt a little odd, in that the doctor effectively threw his Guild badge in Lady Justice’s face but will remain a dual-faction master from the game’s perspective. The Outcast story, while feeling a little bit like fanfic in terms of the need to have major-character after major-character show up for a cameo, was at least interesting from the perspective of solidifying the faction and giving them a home-base in the Outlands in the wake of the Guild outlawing mercenary work. The Gremlin story was…well, it was what you expect from Gremlins. If you like it, you were probably delighted. If you don’t, this won’t change your mind. I’d like to see the Gremlins mix it up with some of the other factions more frequently, personally, as we’ve been told since the beginning of M2E that they were going to be important in the coming wars with the Tyrants but, apparently, seem content to sit in the bayou and argue amongst themselves rather than doing anything meaningful. But the story I found to be least in keeping with the overall aesthetic was the Guild story. I get what Mason was going for here: trying to craft a comedy piece featuring the masters of the Guild in their off-hours, mingling inside their Enclave’s break room downtown. It was reminiscent of shows like the Office, with only the individual confessional-style interviews missing. But it felt tonally incongruent with the rest of the book, and I don’t think it worked. Personally, I think something could have been done to explore a member of the Guild getting screwed over in the new regime (or vice-versa) and this story would have felt more at home in an issue of Wyrd Chronicles. Plus, how does Lady Justice play poker? She can’t see what’s printed on the cards?

               The graphic design of the new book is really strong. A number of masters got the sort of touch-ups and updates that we’d previously seen for Dreamer and (if you had access to Through the Breach’s Core Rules) Von Schill, leading to tantalizing speculation on whether some of these incredible redesigns are going to be converted to alternate sculpt miniatures. One assumes the Dreamer is coming for sure, as the kid in the nightshirt feels odd to play as the Cricket-Bat wielding sociopath he’s becoming. For whatever reason, the Ten Thunders masters got a number of updates, including a very cool image of Lynch with cards flying around him and burnt-out eyes, as well as a much more lithe-looking Yan Lo and a grungier McCabe in a duster. I wonder if they’re not in line for a refresh simply because they were released as Wyrd’s first efforts at plastic and, to be honest, many of the models don’t live up to the current sculpts. The only place that the art design falls down, in my opinion, is where they’ve recycled art from previous publications for use here, as the styles don’t always match with the newer, grittier pieces. It wouldn’t be as jarring if they were consistent (IE new art in the short fiction stories, old art with the upgrades) but when they switched back and forth it was a little jarring. It was particularly weird in the Resser section, where some art of McMourning and Nicodem were resurrected (fittingly) from the 1st edition days to represent them. Weird.


               So, overall, I think the crew at Wyrd really succeeded with Broken Promises, especially from the perspective of Malifaux the Game. There are no obviously dead models coming out (arguable, but it’s my review so you can deal with my opinions) and the new upgrade cards improve the game by expanding the options available to the masters. The production for Broken Promises had a few more rough edges than I’m used to seeing in Wyrd products, but if sacrifices had to be made somewhere, I suppose some hiccups with the fiction and art can be forgiven. Broken Promises is a fine product, overall, and keeps the strong tradition of Malifaux sourcebooks going. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Production Design: The beginnings of my Collodi Crew Painting/Overhaul

Mini-Musings

-The big news coming up soon is the Homefront worldwide campaign. Tying in the story of Malifaux with The Other Side, players will compete in games of Malifaux to help establish a new Syndicate, a small faction that can be hired by the main factions in TOS. One is the Council, built from the remainders of the cabal of wizards that opened the first Breach. The second is the Sandmen, who are effectively being driven by the Tyrant Nytemare. And, finally, there's the Order of the Chimera, an Egyptian syndicate led by Marcus. Players will report games on Wyrd's Website, with wins supporting one of the new syndicates as well as the Malifaux faction you used. More on this in later posts.

-If you're going to Pax Unplugged, Wyrd needs volunteers.

-Through the Breach core rules launched on DriveThruRPG, and Wyrd is running a raffle for anyone who buys it and puts in a review by the end of October. If you win, you get the entire Through the Breach catalog available on DriveThruRPG.

***

So, I'll briefly look at what hobby work I have in front of me for the Collodi crew I'm constructing. Per most of my crews, there's going to be a mix of metal and plastic here. I don't like rebuying models I already own, so this is unlikely to change anytime soon. I drug out what models I have that I think would be useful, and took a picture.


Taking a look at what's there, I have this list of models:

-Collodi-Needs repainting
-4 Marionettes-Need Repainting
-Brutal Effigy
-Shadow Effigy-Needs Painting and Basing
-Arcane Effigy-Needs to be remounted to a base, requiring drilling and pinning. Also, could use some painting.
Mysterious Effigy-Needs Painting
Lucky Effigy-Needs Paint
Primordial Magic
Nightmare Teddy
Mr. Graves
Mr. Tannen
Ronin x3 Need Painting
3x Evil Baby Orphanage Models-I use them as Changelings right now, but I have...
3x Changelings-Need assembly and paint. If I'm going to tournaments, probably best to avoid proxies if I can.
Doppleganger
2x Performers
2x Stitched Together
2x Depleted
3x Illuminated 1 needs painting
2x Sillurids
Mysterious Emmisary
Nekima-Because Neverborn
Hooded Rider
3x Wicked Dolls Need paint and assembly.

At some point, Lazarus would be a good addition to this bunch, as he and Collodi have fun together. Also, I need to find some proxies for Hinamatsu and Bultungins. Hrmm. I have a lot of work to do. If there's anything obvious that I need to add, let me know.

The paint job on the Collodi crew itself isn't terrible. At one point in time I really fell in love with Games Workshop's washes and tried to use them as the paint themselves to make a crew that looked like watercolor. It kinda worked, but I'm going to just do a normal paint job on them. As tends to be the case with most of my painting, they're too dark. So I need to work on that as well. Maybe I should just strip them and reprime them with white instead of black? I know that would help....

Trying to come up with more to write, but there's not much else to say at the moment. I'll be posting new stuff as I progress, once per month, so that'll at least keep me motivated. Now, if I could manage to not get my ass kicked every time I play him, that might help too...

***

Next week, I'll be doing a book review of Broken Promises, the new Wyrd book (because I haven't written enough about it, apparently.) After that will be a tactics article featuring the master everybody loves to hate, Pandora. And why am I writing about Pandora? Because I was commissioned by one of my Patreon supporters to do so, that's why!

Speaking of Patreon! This is the last post before the end of the month raffle for a Miss Ery, an alternate model for Teddy. Anyone whose pledged $1 or more a month gains entry to the raffle, and right now you've got an excellent chance of winning. Plus, it's a way to help this blog grow and prosper and can open up new opportunities for Malifaux Musings content. So head over to our Patreon page and sign up! 

Friday, September 22, 2017

By Any Other Name: Prelude

It’s fluff week, everybody! *waits for groans to subside.* So a few mini-musings, followed by a brief word on the continuing Collodi misadventures, and then I’d like to submit the beginnings of a short-story I was writing for the first round of the Storied Soundtracks competition (before running out of time. Whoops.)

“Wow!” you say, “I love fluff short stories. How can I read more like this?” Well, glad you asked. Enforcer level patrons on our Patreon (you’ve heard of our Patreon, right?) will get access to a shared Dropbox folder wherein I’ll be dropping off files for things I write that are related to Wyrd. I’ve updated Shadows and Void since last time I posted about it in here, and that’ll be going in there for patrons only along with versions of my Through the Breach modules published in Wyrd Chronicles. That level of support is just $3 a month. $3? That’s nothing! You spend more than that on Starbucks! And Starbucks doesn’t give you Malifaux related fiction and RPG content.

What I’m saying is, screw Starbucks. Give me your money instead.

Mini-Musings

-Everybody say hey to Wyrd’s new designer, Matt Carter! Welcome to the Wyrdness and Wyrditude.

-Malifaux has commissioned the creation of an official app! Nathan has updated later in the thread to reveal that their target release date is February. There are some preview images in the thread that seem to indicate you’ll be able to track your models owned and painted, have access to full stat cards, build encounters and, of course, create your Malifaux crews in it. Bummer for the guy that does Crewfaux (although there could maybe still be space for a free app if/when this ends up costing) but it looks pretty good.

How Not To Collodi pt. 2: The Double Deuce

               Started a second game with Collodi that I’m not going to actually write a full post on, as I’m pretty disgusted with myself for how it went. A lot of this is because I got on tilt pretty early when I realized that all the things my crew was built to do were just not going to work this game, but I think I also realized that the mistake I’m making right now with Collodi is trying to take ok to bad models and use Collodi’s Fated bubble to make them good, when I should be using good models and using Collodi to make them awesome. Beckoners are ok, and in a circumstance where I’m playing headhunter or the like I’ll want to use one to pull a model in for murderin', but otherwise they’re not that good even with free focus. And if I unchain her from Collodi and have her go do her own job, she’s just a regular old Beckoner that few people use. Marionnettes are good cheap activations, but they don’t do stuff. I’ve not been overly happy with their performance rather than what I could get out of a Primordial Magic. Plus, I don’t think there’s nearly as much of a focus on activation control in and having higher and higher model counts coming in GG2018 versus what we all saw in 2017. Ours! can be done just as well with high soulstone models as with low, there just isn’t as much flexibility in how granular you can get when dividing your crew among table quarters. And, finally, I need to understand how my models work before I put them on the table. Hinamatsu has a surprising amount of complexity to her, especially when you’re trying to run her in a Fated crew and gain buffs from the Puppet Master. He doesn’t block you from using My Will on your own models within her bubble like I thought, which helps, but I ended up totally misplaying her in the game and basically wasted her points. This, paired with my not realizing just how much a crew of Mei Feng, Fuhatsu, and a Katanaka Crime Boss was going to just flat out block my crew’s design and intent to use Lure and Snatch to pull enemy models out of position and block their ability to score the strategy led to a very frustrating game for me, and I’m annoyed that I let it get to me the way it did. I’m not giving up on Hinamatsu yet, but she’s basically in the same “high ss beater” slot that Nekima occupies, and a large part of the potential synergy between her and Collodi is blocked by “Without a Master.” Maybe it would be a different story in a crew where I could pull things to her, but right now it doesn’t feel like a good trade-off.

***


By Any Other Name



I would rather be almost anywhere than here, Charles Hoffman mused as he watched the snow drift down around his carriage. He wasn’t in any danger, as far as he knew. The hordes of gibbering fish-monsters had been driven from the city months ago, apart from the occasional discovery of nests hiding in the sewers. He didn’t have pressing business elsewhere, though as head of a Guild of Mercantilers Special Forces unit, busy work could always be found if one was properly motivated. He didn’t even resent coming back through the Breach to Earth, though he bitterly missed the intense feeling of connection to the machines around him to which he had grown accustomed since his arrival in Malifaux. He tried, out of habit, to force the harness strapped around his frail, weak frame to move on its own with a touch of his mind, but was again disappointed to find it unresponsive. He had hoped the change was permanent and that someday he could return to Earth and keep the new degree of autonomy he’d found, but this trip had refuted that completely. The manual controls he’d cobbled together before his journey were nowhere near as agile or refined as those to which he’d become accustomed, and he had cursed their clumsiness since the first minute of his arrival and the near-fall he’d experienced trying to disembark a train’s passenger car.

But no, all this he could have dealt with, if he had not known where he was going, the purpose of this visit. He held the envelope in his left hand, the cream colored paper wrinkled and dog-eared on the corners from its numerous openings. He swiped his thumb over the writing on the return address, “Ms. Tessa Beamont, 138 Vinton St., London, UK” as if trying to erase them. Tess, he thought, Who would have ever believed you’d be sending a letter to me?

***

There was a time when the girl wouldn't have spared him a glance. He was, after all, just the crippled kid brother of the true object of her desire, Charles’s brother Ryle. Those two… he mused, Well, there are poems written about love affairs like that. Ryle had never had trouble meeting girls, of course. Possessing an attractive, tall, broad shouldered frame, having your own fortune established, and being a brilliant scientist on top of it certainly had that effect. But despite the availability and relative ease he had with them, the fairer sex had never been a priority for Ryle. Between taking care of Charles, completing their educations, and constructing ever more elaborate and ingenious machines, there had never been a lot of time on his plate for romance, and not much interest on his part to seek it out.

But there was something different about he and Tess. Charles couldn’t remember when they’d met, though he didn’t think there’d been any sort of dramatic first encounter like you’d find from a novel. It seemed like their relationship fell from the sky, like it had always been meant to be and the world had been waiting to get the two of them together and make it happen. It was so natural, and it was the only time Charles had ever felt like he had come second in Ryle’s eyes.

Naturally, he and Tess had disliked each other from the start.

Whatever warmth shown in her blue eyes when she looked at his brother would melt away like the snowflakes on Charles’ carriage window when she looked at him. In a way it was a refreshing break from the detached pity he received from the majority of people he knew in daily life, but Charles had always quietly resented whenever Ryle had left to meet her at a cafĂ© for a quick afternoon tea that, inevitably, ended in his staggering back home in the middle of the night, cheerful, drunk, and not understanding the scowls Charles would flash at him from his bed. Charles wasn’t sure he’d ever been angrier with anyone than when, after one of these excursions, Ryle had showed him the tattoo he’d gotten in some dingy, back-alley shop of Tess’s name curled around the stem of a rose. It was an incredible clichĂ©, but one that confirmed what Charles had dreaded this whole time: that he was losing his brother, his protector, the only person upon whom he could rely, to this woman. He told himself it was because he needed Ryle, that he couldn't survive without him. He tried not to admit that it was because he hated how happy she made him, how carefree, and that seeing Ryle in such a state only served as a reminder that, without Charles, Ryle could have that all the time. 

“What about our studies?” Charles had raged, citing Ryle’s marks which, after meeting Tessa, had slipped from exceptional to merely above-average. “What would mother say if she could see that?” he’d accused, pointing at the fresh artwork on Ryle’s bicep, which was already beginning to show a red ring of inflammation flaring around it. The argument had gone into the night, with neither side willing to admit what was really at stake. Charles Hoffman didn’t want to be alone, and Ryle Hoffman was, for the first time in his life, considering a world that wasn’t dominated by caring for his broken brother. Finally, Ryle had stormed out, throwing an overcoat over the offending body illustration and driving across town to Tess’s flat to stay the night. He’d stayed away a week that time, longer than the two had ever separated, and Charles had finally started to admit to himself that Ryle might really be gone.

***

That was before the telegram, Hoffman thought with a regretful smile. He'd gotten by well enough on his own, which should have been an indication that he was more ready for independence than he'd previously admitted. Instead, it fueled his resentment to the point that, when he heard Ryle's keys in the door, he'd turned his wheelchair away and pushed himself back to his work bench without sparing his brother a glance.

When his Ryle returned, Charles had expected him to box up his things and move out for good rather than the whirlwind of activity that had blown through their door that morning. Ryle had heard from Doctor Victor Ramos, a preeminent machinist the brothers had studied for years. He had offered to work his technological magic to try and restore some mobility and quality of life to Charles. It was like their dreams ever since childhood had been answered: a remedy for Charles’ paralysis and a mentor to take Ryle’s prowess beyond the limited resources of the University. All they had to do was pack up their lives and come join his workshop in Malifaux.

Malifaux. It was like a fairy tale land back them, something from fiction rather than a real place. He knew too much now to see anything besides the transparency of the Guild's propaganda, but when Ryle told them about their coming journey to the Breach in America and then to a magical world far beyond the earth, Charles had felt like one of the old pioneers crossing the Atlantic to explore the new world.

The two brothers had packed up almost immediately, closing up their affairs and buying their steamer tickets before Charles had even thought to ask what had happened with his brother and Tess. Ryle had paused a moment, barely a heartbeat, before stating that it had been fun while it lasted, but it was over now. Charles was so caught up in the turn of events he had ignored the obvious lie and the flash of hurt on his brother’s face at the mention of her name.
 



Saturday, September 16, 2017

Coordinated Heist - Parker Barrows vs Collodi game 1

Greetings all.  So Adam and I recently finished our first game with our project masters (game 1 of 30 for me.  Uncertain if Adam has a number of games to play goal).  Without further ado... the quick and dirty rundown.

I took :
Parker w/ Coordinated Heist, Black Market, and Human Sheild
Mad Dog w/ Crate of Dynamite, and Lucky Poncho
Wokou Raider x 2
Doc Mitchel
Librarian
Hans

Vs.

Collodi w/ Fated, Strum the Treads, Breath Life
Emissary w/ Mysterious Conflux
Shadow, Brutal, Arcane, lucky effigies
Stitched x 2
Marionettes x 3

Standard Extraction
Claim Jump
Leave your Mark
Mark for Death
Eliminate the Leadership
Last Stand

Crew Selection limited to models owned (my Parker box was on order).

 I looked at the map but not close enough to realizes Hans is garbage on this map  My thinking is when I play into neverborn I like to have at least 1 ruthless model to mitigate Doppleganger and/or Barberos.  I picked up the Wokou to support a Misaki build I have yet to use mostly because I need to get the models painted.  So I threw a couple in to see what I thought.  Librarian because outcast.  Wasn't sold on the Bandidos because the look too squishy but with Run and Gun would have been gold on this map (I can picture Adam vs my Tau crisis suits and a little PTSD). So I threw Doc and Mad Dog in to round out the crew.

If I had it to play again I might have swapped a Wokou for a 4th qualifying model on Last Stand.  But considering Extraction was the goal I don't think a Parker crew is suited to do both.  And due to Adams list I was playing vs 4 schemes.  So basically you can look at this map as 3 parallel hallways.  I sent Doc and a Wokou off to my left, ignored the right and sent the bulk of my crew up the center.  My plan was to get the Wokou in the middle into melee to eat up cards or tie up model but she run into the pair of stitched and melted.  But that let mad dog slide into position to unload with his shotgun and blow up the cover at the entrance to the middle chamber.  I knew once the Wokou on the side started scoring Mark for me he would have to send something to deal with it or seed me 3 points and doc was over there to back her up and help score the strat for the one turn he could squeak in range.  He sent the shadow down my right side and his Emissary came to deal with my Wokou.  I knew the emissary could reach claim jump by turn 3 and if he did Doc could walk over.  Shadow was way out of range to hit Mark by turn 3 but he could have done part of claim if he could carve a spot in the main chamber.  So I ignored the shadow since I would have time to adjust after Adam scored a point with him.  He turned out to be a decoy to attempt to draw one of my more expensive models to go deal with.  Once I got into the Marionettes I was able to lock up 3 for Mark for death.  In return he got my Librarian with a mark.  Hans did slightly more than nothing but ended up being clutch for the 1.5 rounds of combat he got in.  And the Wokou on the flank got 2 Marks left via 0 action kick ball.  Not being able to cheat Ml vs defense works almost like agile. I was able to disengage, drop a scheme, and 0 punt it but the Emissary blocked the third one by walking around me.  And when the smoke cleared in the center Adam got 4 for the Strat to my 2 leaving the final 7-5 for me.

Things that worked.  I like the Wokou but I'm not certain 2 or more is worth it.  I will put them on the table some more before I give them a definitive rating.  Mad Dog was the MVP but it probably had more to do with the match up vs what he brings to the table.  Also this probably goes without saying Librarians are good.

Things that didn't.  I flipped 0 upgrades.  Didn't use 2 upgrades that I brought but I see a synergy with the Wokou and Dynamite that I need to look into.  Hans plus this map should have been complete fail.  Things that work in Thunders don't work for outcast.

I picked up some Ronin.  I own most of the outcast Mercs.  I need to learn what outcasts do better than other factions.  Maybe the leaders just tend to do more on average compared to Thunders so the support models tend to feel weaker by comparison.  If that is the case Parker will be an uphill battle. I think the wave 5 models will fit my play style a little better but they are down the line.  Crew has since been acquired, assembled, and primed.

Until next time...

Friday, September 15, 2017

Dress Rehearsal: How Not to Collodi

Greetings, Musers. With the launch of the patreon account and the signing on of some of our members, we have reached our first goal: commitment to a weekly schedule of posts here on the blog. I’m excited (and slightly terrified) of the prospects of having a regular schedule and deadline to meet on a weekly basis. Hopefully, I’m up to the challenge. I’ve laid out a rough preliminary schedule for the topics for the foreseeable future.

Week 1) General Hobby update: Thoughts on crews I'm working on, some pictures of painted models, etc.

Week 2) Book Review: Review of a physical Malifaux product of some kind. Likely to be Through the Breach related, as their publishing schedule is more frequent. 

Week 3) Tactics Articles: Tournament reports, crew list theory, etc.

Week 4) Story Article: A look at the fluff of the world of Malifaux. Could be some articles that, say, would break down one of the factions or masters through the development of the Malifaux story, or would include my efforts at writing some short fiction.

          I’ve also considered including “Musing on a Meme” articles, where I make a meme list that focuses on some oddity of the Malifaux game or fluff to make a unique crew that, perhaps, isn’t the most competitive thing out there. These posts would be in addition to material written by Phiasco, of course, so that’s even more content, all thanks to our Patreon Supporters!
          Speaking of which, our Patreon campaign is still going, and we’re still looking for more support. I don’t need to replace my income with Malifaux Musings or anything crazy, but it would sure make me feel better about taking time away from my family or job or free time (ha ha, like I have much of that) to write here when I know it’s going towards bringing in some cash for us. Plus, the money from it can go towards buying more Malifaux stuff to feed the blog. Enjoy the Through the Breach review last week? We can do more stuff like that in the future, even including some of the models, using the cash brought in through Patreon. I’m not asking for a ton of cash from you, either. Can you afford $1 a month? I’ll take it! With the new publication schedule, that’s literally .25 cents per post. I don’t even want to think how silly the word count payrate would be for that. If you want to give me more, I won’t stop you, but $! is all I ask. Let’s see what we can turn this thing into together.

***

          Ah, Autumn is here. And you know what that means, folks. It’s time for the Autumn Queen! With Lillith out of the way, no one can stand in her way as she ascends to power over the Neverborn and can begin purging the scourge of humanity from Mali-

*Marionette scuttles into the room*

          -faux. No more will our people be held beneath the oppressive heels of the Gui-

*Marionette scrabbles next to me, tugging insistently on my pant-leg*

          -ld. Um, excuse me. Hello, little man. I’m in the middle of a Malifaux Musings post at the moment. I’m going to talk about Titania. Can I help you?


*Marionette shakes his head and points at his chest.*

          Well. Yes. I know. But it’s Autumn now. Thematically, I should be playing the Autumn Queen. And, you know how she gets when she feels like I’m not paying enough attention to her.

*Marionette makes an angry face, pointing sternly at himself.*

          Look, tell your master I’m sorry, but he didn’t get anything good in Broken Promises. It’s hard to get excited for a master who is essentially not changing and didn’t get any new toys-

*Marionette holds up picture of Hinamatsu.*

          Ok, ok. He got one new toy. But I don’t know how it works! And I wa-

*Crosses arms. Taps foot impatiently.*

          Sigh. Alright. Let’s go play some Collodi.

*Marionette does a quick cartwheel, grabbing me by the hand and skip as we head to the laptop for some Vassalfaux.*

***
          *ahem* Take two.  It’s Autumn, and you know what that means, time to honor the Autumn Queen by playing her loyal servants, The Neverborn! This of course includes (presumably) the Puppet Master Collodi, the master you voted for me to build! My opponent was Phiasco trying out Parker Barrows (who, you’ll recall, won the poll. Phiasco agreed to pick him up and give him a whirl.) We were playing in Vassal and I randomly picked a map, which turned out to be one of the interior maps for which that platform is (in)famous. My goal was to play a minion-heavy crew with the Mysterious Emmisary and Collodi providing support, so I went with the Fated limited upgrade, lots of Effigies, a couple of Stitched, and some Marionettes. This was really a trial-run/dress rehearsal, since I had never used several of these models before. I learned a lot of lessons this game, though I don’t remember exactly what happened all the way through (for reasons that will become apparent shortly.) Rather than go through it turn by turn breaking down every (in)correct decision I was making, therefore, let me put up a visual aid and walk you through the lessons I learned from this game.





Lesson 1: Don’t Drink and Malifaux.

          Ok, I know that people like to have a drink or two while they’re playing. That’s fine. What I’m saying is don’t get hammered as the game goes along if you’re interested in actually winning. Refilling my double gin and tonic at the beginning of every turn seemed like a good idea early on. It didn’t play out that way by the finish. And it definitely didn’t seem like a good decision the next day (a Wednesday) when I had to get up at 6:15 to get my kids to school and go to work. Make good choices, folks.

Lesson 2: Keep Your Crew Together

          This is probably the most “drunk-faux” thing I did in the game, but for some reason I decided to send my Mysterious Emissary, who was carrying the generic conflux to feed all my puppets + flips, off by himself to go hunt down an enemy Wokou Raider. I know why I did it (to stop Phiasco from scoring Leave Your Mark) but the whole point of this crew was overlapping buffs and to summon Changelings to copy strong attacks from the other crewmembers (Stitched, Lucky Effigy). Neither of those things were happening with him all the way out on the flank like that. On the other flank, there’s my dumb Shadow Effigy, also out where he can’t help the fighting or score points. If I had taken Leave Your Mark, of course, he could have been scoring that. But like a dummy, I thought “Well I try that every game. Why don’t I mix things up?” You do them every game because they’re reliable points, stupid. Go with what works!

Lesson 3: Puppets Aren’t That Good at Killing Stuff

          I mean, I kind of knew this one already, but for this game I wanted to just throw some things up against the wall and see what stuck. It turned out that very few of the puppets were all that sticky. The Effigies don’t do a ton of damage, so sinking 20ish points into them is not a good move, as almost half your crew is basically just there to buff Collodi and the other little minions who are also kinda puny. I had thought Lucky was a good choice for the silly damage buff he receives, and he still might be since he got popped pretty early in this one, but it wasn’t enough. On the other hand, Stitched Together are real good. Most of the damage you see on Maddox and Hans came from the two Stitched I brought along. Again, this isn’t exactly a revelation, but it was good to see what they can really do. I seem to have some fairly horrendous Gamble Your Life luck when I’ve used them, and they mostly just seem to blow themselves up. If I had been trying to complete Leave Your Mark, the Shadow Effigy would have been a fine inclusion. But I wasn’t, so there was no reason for it to be there. I hear a lot of fanfare for the Arcane, and I can see where it would be useful, but it did nothing at all in this game. So, basically, I need to build crews where I include puppets because they have a specific job that they do well, not just because they say “puppet” on them. And, also, the ME was probably again not the best choice for this crew. Sigh. Someday, Mysterious Emissary. Someday.

Lesson 4: Pick Better Schemes

          I thought that with all the activations in this crew I’d be in good shape for Marked for Death, and I thought that Parker wouldn’t be an especially tough model to at least knock down to half wounds. Neither of those things really turned out, mostly due to my opponent having me out-ranged. By the time I got close enough for melee most of my puppets had been shot to death. I needed to use Collodi and the Stitched’s Creepy Fog to better effect and shield their advance by disrupting the opponent. I was trying to keep Collodi back as a support piece, which meant that I couldn’t bring his strong attack actions to bear until turn 4, which was too late for them to make a difference. If I wanted to play a killy scheme pool, I needed to bring killy models. Illuminateds work well with C because he can toss out his focus and his effigy buffs to them, as Minions. Basically, pick a lane and stick to it. Don’t try to do all the things.

Lesson 5: Get Collodi into the Game

          The best I did in this happened after the puppet master got involved. He’s just so disruptive! Passing out slow or Obey type effects to the enemy or, worse, combining the two is so strong. That attack action is the reason you play this master. He can’t do that when he’s trailing along behind his puppets trying to play it safe and stay out of the fray. Now, obviously, if your opponent is playing Pandora or something you don’t want to be mixing it up with things that can attack your WP if you can help it, but still. Not getting him into the action was a big tactical mistake. I don’t know if it would have been enough to swing things, but it certainly would have made it closer.

Summation: Learn to Play, Newb.

          So I ended up grabbing the last point for extraction and blocking it from Phiasco again. I could have possibly made this competitive on the last few turns if I could have either started marking and killing things or knocked out Parker, but there just wasn’t enough time to recover from the way the game started. I’m relatively pleased that I at least was able to take the strat points, but I had to deny schemes somewhere if I was going to get into this thing (surprise, Adam occasionally forgets to play defense. This is not a new occurrence.) I need to get some real hitters into this list and get some of the useless puppets out of there. I was not super blown-away with the Marionettes, either, but I think their best work comes when they’re able to take hits for Collodi, which didn’t become necessary here, or pass out points of Burning from the Arcane’s (0). I’m looking at my Illuminated, obviously, but I think Ronin could be interesting as well. I’ve heard good things about incorporating Lazarus into the crew, but I’m trying to stay with things I actually own for the time being. If/when that alternate Lazarus they teased ever comes out, maybe I’ll pick it up and he can join the puppet show.

          I’ll ask Phiasco to (if he has time) come in and add his thoughts on Parker at the end of this. I think our next games with these masters will be not facing off head to head (IE I play Collodi versus him with someone else, and then we play another game where he has Parker and I play someone else) to keep the diversity up. But, in any case, we had our first rehearsal. It was ugly, but you don’t get better without practice. The show must go on! 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Through the Breach Core Rules Review

-This post is going to be long enough, so I'll give the mini-musings a miss for this one. But let me take a second to thank our Patreon sponsors, and encourage anyone out there to join in supporting our blog's efforts.

-Also, special thanks to the folks at Wyrd, particularly Kai, who helped make this review happen. 

***
  

           Since nearly the beginning of Malifaux’s time as a miniatures game, there was one recurring thread that would appear over and over on the forums: there needs to be a role-playing game set in this world. It has a rich background steeped in earth history and arcane lore. It integrates a number of genres that the fans of Malifaux and RPGs in general enjoy like Western, Gothic Horror, and Steampunk. It has a great story and vibrant, interesting characters. The only question was, how do we do that? What game system could people use to represent it? There were some Weird-West options out there at the time like Deadlands, but it was always more a matter of folding and patching the systems to make them fit rather than playing something designed whole cloth to feel like a Malifaux RPG. Then in late November 2012, Wyrd launched their Kickstarter for Through the Breach, a roleplaying game set in Malifaux based on the rules of the miniatures game. The goal was to make the games so compatible that you could port between the two freely, taking your characters to games on the tabletop or bringing any of the wargame’s rules or models into your RPG. It wanted to let you play characters that were reminiscent of the ones you used on the tabletop, be they spellcasters, melee specialists, ranged experts, or even everyday people like gamblers or workmen. It was ambitious, and like any effort to create something from whole cloth, there were bumps. Parts of the game worked well, but other parts fell short. While the general feel of Malifaux was there, the characters didn’t really feel like they had the same level of power or ability as even some Minion level Malifaux characters. At the same time, making things challenging for these characters was difficult as well, as the rules for accruing injuries and dying made actual character death a rare thing. And, like most 1st editions of games, there were rules that were clunky, awkward, or unnecessary.
After creative control passed to the current head designer, Mason Crawford, some of the philosophy began to shift and newly created character options began to reflect the lessons learned from some of those earlier bumps. The character options presented in the Arcanist book Into the Steam, the Resurrectionist book Under Quarantine, and the Gremlin book Into the Bayou were better right out of the gate, due in large part to characters gaining new abilities when they first enter a character class (called Pursuits) rather than after completing the first session with them. However, introducing newer and more effective Pursuits made some of those presented in the original Fated Almanac feel underpowered enough to be borderline unplayable. And some of that rule and skill clutter was still there, bringing down what was otherwise a strong game. It seemed like it was time to go back and create an updated version of the rule set incorporating the lessons learned from the first trial run. Thus, the project that would become Through the Breach: Core Rules began. The final product is a tighter, more characterful revised edition of the original rules which is fully compatible with all published Malifaux products to date (a rarity in today’s world of new RPG editions) that I recommend highly.

Physical Design


               One thing that is obvious straight away is that Through the Breach: Core Rules is the first hardcover sourcebook Wyrd has published (at least, to my knowledge). It features a high quality matte finished look with a glossy logo that stands out on the shelf. After a number of readings and perusals I see no sign of damage to the spine despite the book’s weighing in at a hefty 415 pages, and it comes with a trio of attached ribbon bookmarks for tagging frequently utilized sections (two of mine are permanently placed on the Skills table and the Critical Wounds charts.) The art design for the book is for the most part consistent with other Malifaux products, with a number of pieces recycled from previous offerings but with an equal number of new pieces as well. The cover art features a battle between Witch Hunters and what are likely Arcanists or Outcast spell-casters and includes something that has not previously had a large presence in Malifaux outside of the Gremlins: a sense of wry humor. Namely, one of the Witchling Stalkers has been backhanded by the Hannah-esque suit of steampowered armor one of the rogue magic users is wearing and is flying backwards, wide-eyed with its weapons trailing behind it. This feels like a bit of a departure from the grimness that the setting can sometimes convey, but it manages to not go over the top and doesn’t dominate the rest of the book’s art. The one thing present in previous Wyrd publications that I do miss is the high quality short fiction, as this book has none. This is a mixed blessing, as it means there is more room in the page count for the detailed information contained within the book, and it also means the numerous revelations regarding the background and history of Malifaux are delivered directly rather than having to be cribbed from the short stories. But still, it almost doesn’t feel like a Wyrd book without them.

Background Material


               The first section of the book contains 56 pages of information on the world of Malifaux and its history. For those that are new to the world and have maybe arrived here after looking up reviews online, Malifaux is a game set in an alternate earth history. Events progress roughly the same as in our world until the end of the 18th century, with the variation that magic is a real thing but works about as well in this alternate Earth as it does in our real one because there just isn’t much of it here. When the world’s magic users realize that the last of the magic is about to run out, they pool their efforts together and punch a hole into a parallel world, Malifaux, in search of a new source. What they discover is a place where magic flows almost tangibly through the air, where a magic user who could barely light a match on Earth can set an entire room on fire with their flame. And, best of all, they discover that the magic can be stored in stones called Soulstones that can be transported Through the Breach back to Earth, allowing magic to be used there as well. All was going well for about a decade, but suddenly the natives of Malifaux banded together, threw the humans back through the Breach they had opened between worlds, and sealed the portal behind them. The last thing to pass through the first Breach was a human body with the words “Ours” scratched into the chest, hurled through just before the Breach sealed.
               In the ensuing panic, the Earth is plunged into an early version of World War I, called the Black Powder Wars, as the great powers of the planet vied for control of the now limited resource of Soulstone. The result of this is the seizing of power by a collection of Soulstone dealers known as the Guild of Mercantilers (or Guild for short) out of the ruins of the cabal of wizards that created the Breach in the first place. This new power gains control of the world by seizing the global Soulstone trade in an iron grip. So things remain until about 100 years after the closing of the first breach when, spontaneously, the Breach reopens, allowing humans to once again travel to Malifaux. Prepared for trouble, the Guild brings a small private army with them, only to find the city once again sitting empty as was the case when the First Breach opened. Relieved, they nonetheless use the ever-present threat of Malifaux’s natives to establish a military dictatorship and monopoly controlling Soulstone mining and trade with Earth. They are opposed by rebels called the Arcanists who resist their efforts to control the study of magic. Meanwhile, the humans who have travelled through the Breach to try and make their living in Malifaux are constantly menaced by necromancers called Resurrectionists and the various natives of Malifaux, including the Bayou pests known as Gremlins and the nightmarish Neverborn who twist the human’s fears against them. And in the shadows of it all, a Far-Eastern crime syndicate known as the Ten Thunders slowly spreads their influence through all the other factions, quietly stealing power and wealth for themselves.
               The background section next discusses the city of Malifaux itself, former capital of the Neverborn which is now occupied by the human forces. It goes into a great deal of detail regarding each of the districts of the city, including the well-developed Downtown district where the Guild keeps their headquarters, the Slums where most of the city’s people try to eke out a living, and the Quarantine Zones walled off by the Guild that serve as sanctuaries for The Guild’s enemies. This section is dripping with potential campaign or adventure hooks. It then goes on to describe some portions of the world outside of the main city in slightly more general terms, as much of this material is described in greater detail within the other Through the Breach sourcebooks. Finally, the background chapter finishes up by offering information about the seven factions operating within Malifaux, including some new revelations regarding the early history of the Miners and Steamfitters Union that the Arcanists use as their front, the methods by which the Ten Thunders rose from humble street gang to become one of the most powerful factions in Malifaux, and some information regarding the true form of Lillith, leader of the Neverborn vampiric-creatures known as the Nephilim.

Character Options


               The next six chapters detail the numerous character options offered in the book. As with the 1st edition Fated Almanac, the only character race available is humans. Options for playing undead, gremlin, or partially cybernetic characters are presented in the other sourcebooks. Presumably, players who want to play as Neverborn will be able to do so once the appropriate book is published at some point in the future. This section begins by detailing the very unique method of character generation used by Through the Breach: performing a Tarot reading that simultaneously provides you with information on your character’s background, skills, and attributes as well as spelling out a Destiny for your character to embrace or resist over the course of the campaign. This Destiny serves both as a source of plot hooks for your gamemaster (called a Fatemaster in TTB) to use, as well as a means of character advancement, as the most potent increases in abilities for your character will come when they face part of their destiny. Once all your players have completed their destinies (presumably in one big-blow out final adventure) players are recommended to wrap up that campaign and start a new one with new characters. One consequence of this is that Through the Breach campaigns are, by their nature, more linear and limited than what some players may expect from other RPGs they’ve played. While not impossible, a sandbox style game where a Fatemaster simply drops his players into the world of Malifaux and turns them loose to see what happens is more challenging than one with clear adventure hooks, follow-up, and resolutions. I like to think of my TTB campaigns as being episodic, very much like a western like Gunsmoke or Bonanza with a cold-open prologue that gives the players an idea of what’s coming for them in that game session, the meat of the adventure itself, and an epilogue that wraps up some of the action and possibly sets up the next episode.

Next, the book details the various Pursuits which Fated characters can follow over the course of their adventures. The fourteen basic pursuits available in the Core Rules cover a number of roles in the world, ranging from Dabblers who craft magical energy to produce powerful spells, Tinkerers who animate robotic constructs to serve them, Gunfighters, Mercenaries, Gamblers, Performers, and even every-day laborers like Drudges and Pioneers. One of Through the Breach’s most unique rules compared to other RPGs is the ability to choose which pursuit your character will be on at the beginning of each game session based on information presented in the game’s Prologue. To help encourage switching, each Pursuit includes a Rank 0 talent which Fated characters receive when initially embarking on a Pursuit, allowing even new characters to have a taste of the flavor inherent in each. Additionally, the book contains five Advanced Pursuits: the Death Marshal, Freikorpsmann, Grave Servant, Steamfitter, and Torakage, giving your character the ability to become a member of some of the iconic organizations in the world of Malifaux.
Next, the book details the skills your character will use during their adventures. Almost everything you do in the game involves flipping a card from the Fate deck and adding your ranks in a skill and a relevant attribute (the equivalent of Ability Scores from other RPGs) to overcome the various challenges and obstacles put in their path by the Fatemaster. The list of available skills is the same as in the previous edition of Through the Breach with some trimming to remove and consolidate some of the redundant skills together (a sidebar includes information on which skills should sub for some of those that were deleted out.) One addition to the Core Rules is the inclusion of skill triggers, bonuses you can use for skills with which your character is particularly adept based on the suit of the card you flip from the Fate Deck (explained in more detail later.) Every character who gains three ranks in a skill becomes eligible to add a trigger, and each skill has an example trigger listed in the book for each of the four suits.

His skill trigger is: Come at me, bro!
 Following the skills, the next chapter details Talents, abilities that further help to flesh out and define your character. One of my favorite parts of the original Through the Breach was the inclusion of a number of talents that require you to have a poor score in one of the game’s core attributes, representing means your character has developed over the course of their life to get around some of their deficiencies. Next, the equipment chapter contains a much more concise list of the various weapons, armor, prosthetic replacements, and gear available to Through the Breach characters in the Core Rules. While I appreciated the numerous historically accurate options for, in particular, the guns in the first edition of TTB, trimming the lists down makes it a lot more useable and removes a great deal of redundancy. If someone has a particular antique weapon they’d like to see represented, they can always just reskin one of the guns presented in the book and say it’s the one they prefer. I think it was a great change.

"I cast Magic Missile at the Darkness"-A thing that can actually happen in a TTB game.

               Finally, the Magic chapter describes how Fated characters are able to manipulate the magical energies available within Malifaux itself. Magic use in TTB is not limited to characters from one of the magic using pursuits (though they have the easiest time getting into it.) Each character who uses magic must acquire a magical theory detailing their means of accessing these energies. Some of these are familiar to players of the Malifaux miniatures game, including the Oxford Method used by some Arcanists, the Whisper that teaches necromancers to raise the dead, and the Thalarian Doctrine used by the Guild to suppress other forms of sorcery. Others are unique to Through the Breach (at least as far as I’m aware.) The Lifewell Doctrine is a theory that enhances a character’s ability to use restorative magic at the cost of their ability to use magic to do damage. The Darlin theories (named, presumably, with a tongue-in-cheek reference to Aaron Darland, head designer of Malifaux) focuses on animation of mechanical constructs. The Balanced Five is focused on the balance created by the five elements in Malifaux (Air, Earth, Fire, Metal, and Water) and creates magical effects by throwing this balance out of whack. Additionally, magic use for the Core Rules characters involves the acquisition and utilization of Grimoires, which can range from your traditional spellbooks to the writings of madmen on sanitarium walls to a special magical shovel that whispers the secrets of the spells to its wielder. Spells themselves are crafted by the players by combining Magia, the base spell effects, with Immuto, modifiers to the spells that allow for the alteration and manipulation of the magical effects to increase their range, change the types of creatures they can target, cast them faster, etc. etc. etc. Each Grimoire contains a selection of Magia and Immuto with which the Fated character can craft unique spell effects on the fly during the game, at the cost of making them more difficult to cast for each positive modifier they tack on. Finally, the magic chapter discusses Soulstones, the reason humans are in Malifaux in the first place. The rules for these are very much trimmed down from their previous iteration. Soulstones are given a Lade based on their size and clarity which affects their monetary value, but ultimately the only effect this has in game is to increase the range at which they can be recharged by someone’s death. Otherwise, each stone carries one charge which can be used for specific functions: augmenting the casting of a spell or manifested power, animating magical constructs for a number of weeks equal to the lade of the stone, or healing the bearer. It’s a vast simplification, and Tinkerers and Graverobbers in particular will miss being able to use stones that would recharge faster than their creatures would consume them in order to keep their creations alive into perpetuity, but I suppose sometimes sacrifices must be made for the sake of clarity and ease of use.

Game Rules


               The Core Rules contains all the information one needs to run a game of Malifaux, combining all of the material that previously would have been found within the Fated and Fatemaster’s Almanacs. As previously stated, the rules for Through the Breach are based very closely on the Malifaux miniatures game. All interactions are resolved by flipping cards from a central deck of cards, the Fate Deck. The number flipped on the card plus a modifier from the character is compared to a target number set by the game’s Fatemaster to determine success or failure. If a situation delivers particularly positive or negative circumstances for the action, players receive + or – modifiers and flip additional cards to reflect this. And, much like the miniatures game, players are not stuck with the result of the card flip. After generating their characters, players build a 13 card Twist Deck that they can use to replace cards flipped from the Fate Deck, allowing them to Cheat Fate and seize control of their own destiny. Since everything is done with static target numbers, the FM never actually flips any cards, as resisting attacks or effects delivered by non-player characters (or Fatemaster Characters) is done instead by the players (Fated) flipping a card and adding their relevant defense versus a static number. This can lead to a few head scratchers early on when odd interactions occur (for instance, remembering that FM characters receiving a + modifier to their attack actually results in the Fated character receiving a – to their defense flip) but, from experience, it usually takes about one game session for everyone to learn the ins and outs and get a feel for the mechanics. After that, everyone plays like a pro.
The suits on the cards are used for triggers as previously mentioned or, in the case of spellcasting, are usually a required part of the Target Number for casting a spell. In the updated Core Rules, effort was made to tie each of the schools of magic (Sorcery, Prestidigitation, Illusion, and Necromancy) to one of the four suits and keep that consistent throughout, while at the same time reducing the number of effects which allow Fated to build a suit into their relevant skill and negate this cost early in their careers. So, no skill mastery as your first general talent to let you ignore the suits required for your spells, an overall positive change. This change leads me to recommend that most groups bring an Overseer, as its ability to discard Twist cards and add their suits to their party members’ Challenge flips can be huge early on. The Red and Black Jokers in the deck represent incredibly good or bad twists of fate, as per usual. The Red counts as a 14 with any suit, while the Black counts as a 0. If you flip the Red Joker out you may always use it, even if you have a negative modifier to your flip. If you flip out the Black, you have to use it even if you have a positive modifier. And, of course, if you flip both you have to use the Black, because this is Malifaux and Bad Things HappenTM.
               Damage also works the way it does on the tabletop. Characters’ attacks have 3 damage values, Weak, Moderate, and Severe, corresponding with the three ranges of cards (1-5 for weak, 6-10 for moderate, 11+ for severe.) After you make a successful attack flip you receive a modifier based on the amount by which you beat the opponents’ defense, flip cards, and the relevant fate card leads you to deal the damage. The Red Joker deals severe damage as well as an immediate critical effect (more on these in a moment) while the Black, as per usual, deals 0 damage (other than the crushing of your soul, of course.) Characters have a number of wounds that represents their ability to take and/or shrug off damage. Once they drop to 0 wounds, any additional damage they take results in an immediate Unconsciousness Challenge to avoid passing out and a flip on the Critical Effects table. Depending on the severity of the injury, these can result in as light of an effect as the character being rattled and incurring a minor reduction to any actions they take next time or as harsh as losing a limb or, eventually, their life. Any time you take damage past this point results in another flip on the Critical Effects table until, eventually, the character expires. Facilitating this, the tables themselves have been revised, compressing them and removing a number of the less impactful critical effects to make them really hurt when you suffer one. Since characters usually don’t have a ton of wounds to lose before these critical effects start happening, the end result is that combats in Through the Breach are quick, brutal, and vicious. It can still seem, at times, like some combat-oriented characters are nearly unkillable, particularly later in their careers. But then you run into the wrong group of opponents that match up poorly with their defenses, or you fight a lot of opponents with Black Blood or another passively damaging ability, or you just flip badly, and you find out how quickly things can go wrong in Malifaux.
               One of the things I like best about this game system is the use of Ongoing Skill Challenges. Most Challenges require only a single skill flip to resolve. However, larger activities like searching a library for a lost tome, crossing a desert, or presenting a case in a court room require a bit more of an extended effort. In these cases, you use an Ongoing challenge to represent this, introducing a list of skills that apply and giving a static target number to hit along with a number of successes required before a certain number of failures. If you succeed, the challenge is overcome and the Fated meet their goals. If they fail catastrophically, typically a consequence is introduced that they will need to overcome before the adventure can continue. This basic framework can serve in and of itself, but I find the best Ongoing Challenges involve modifications that crop up as the Fated go along. One of the most memorable Ongoing Challenges came from the first chapter of the Nythera event where the Fated get caught in the middle of a firefight between two Masters in Malifaux’s streets while trying to fetch the head of Phillip Tombers. After every round of action, a new complication would creep up (fireballs raining down from the sky on them, someone summoning ghostly spirits in their path, etc.) that would have to be overcome or taken advantage of before the Ongoing Challenge could progress. Between this and the combat rules, the game offers a variety of challenges for the Fated to overcome on the path of their destiny.


Bestiary and Sample Adventure

Two opponents from the Bestiary. Oh, you don't have the core rules? Then you don't get to find out who they are! Ha ha!

                The final section includes the last of the tools required for the game, a Bestiary. Trying to cram a comprehensive bestiary for the world of Malifaux into 87 pages would be next to impossible, but the creatures provided do an admirable job of presenting a cross-section of the flora and fauna of that Fated characters will face, and if a particular critter from the tabletop game isn't in here yet, you can usually just use their stat card from the mini to at least pass as a Through the Breach creature. Representative creatures are presented for each of the seven factions so no matter what antagonist your campaign is built around, you can always find something to use for it. Additionally, the system of assigning models to their stations in life (peon, minion, enforcer, henchman, master, and tyrant) allows for built-in scalability of the bestiary contents. Have a game involving rogue spellcasters and enjoy Witchling Stalkers as enemies but not sure if they’ll be a challenge for your higher level players? Just increase them to Enforcers or higher and adjust their station accordingly. As Fatemaster Characters’ stations increase, so does the card they’re assumed to flip for every action, so all the things these new elite Witchlings do will scale up along with them. Additionally, to counter the disadvantage at which FM characters are placed due to not flipping cards or having a Twist Deck to cheat with, FM characters receive a certain number of Fate Points based on their station to spend to either give themselves a + modifier to a challenge, add in a suit of their choosing, or heal some damage, making fighting a Master or higher level opponent a truly intimidating proposition. Speaking of which, the final entry in the Bestiary is a master level character, Leopold Von Schill, leader of the Freikorps and general all-around badass. Included mostly, I think, to give a ball-park range for what Fatemasters should shoot for in the capabilities of other masters (though it’s not like an adventure where the Freikorps have a contract to take out one of your characters would be boring) it’s still nice to see the old man in action. And if you're thinking "But, I have Von Schill's stat card. Why would I need a new one?" Well, Mr. Smartypants...this Von Schill has a rifle. So there! But seriously, some of the mini game abilities don't translate well to the RPG every time, so it's usually worth the effort to redesign them slightly to iron out those wrinkles.

               After the Bestiary, the Core Rules contains a very short adventure meant to serve as an introduction to a game of Through the Breach. Fittingly, it features your characters doing just that: boarding the Iron Ram and travelling from Breachtown (built in what was Santa Fe until the first breach opened and destroyed it) to Malifaux. Of course this is a role-playing game so the Bad Things from the title of the adventure end up happening, and the Fated end up having to step in and save the train from getting stuck in the ether between the two worlds. As I said, it’s very short, and it features a skill challenge that, if failed, ends the adventure (and the career of your newly minted Fated characters) which is a personal pet peeve, but otherwise it’s a good introduction to the game and to the world of Malifaux itself.

Final Thoughts


               Through the Breach isn't always going to fit with every gaming group. I know of at least one local group in particular that likes the campaign world but chafes at how it lends itself to linear versus sandbox storytelling due to the idea of your characters’ destinies being spelled out at the beginning of the game (for clarity, you get a vague idea of the important events in your characters’ careers with the Tarot, but nothing says you have to go along with what Fate has in store for you when the time comes.) Some may find the system of flipping and adding in a skill and an attribute while remembering various Talents and building spells from Grimoires to be too complicated. Paradoxically, others may find the game to be too rules light, preferring a more tactically oriented system. What Through the Breach does have, however, is tons of character. Malifaux is a fantastic world in which to run a campaign, as I’ve previously effused. The diversity of the character options presented in the Core Rules makes it possible to build any character a player might want, honestly. The “heroes” are larger than life and characterful, and the “villains” are grotesque, stylish, and terrifying. It ranges through a number of different genres from steampunk to gothic horror to the Wild West, so it shouldn’t be tough to find something to pique your players’ interests. And the bottom line is, when you play Through the Breach it feels like you’re playing a Malifaux RPG. You’re flipping cards. The jokers and the suits are all there just like you expect. You’re cheating fate and trying to embrace or outrun your character’s destiny. I recommend it highly. The changes to the Core Rules are nothing but improvements, and my hat is off to the game designers for making the choice to keep everything backwards compatible so as not to invalidate previous Through the Breach publications. If you like Malifaux and you want to try an RPG set in the world, you enjoy episodic style storytelling, or you want to find a new RPG that plays differently than anything you've previously tried, I think this is the best way to do it. Some come join us Through the Breach!