Saturday, December 23, 2017

Malifaux Musings 2017 Christmas Special: I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas!

Your humble bloggist has been somewhat slack at the wheel of late. Life's been kind of nuts these last several weeks. Hopefully we'll get back on track for 2018. To make up for it, I threw in a little extra this time. In addition to the standard Mini-Musings, we've got an article on 5 tips to improve combats in the Through the Breach RPG, followed by a Story Encounter themed around a...non-traditional Christmas story. 

Mini-Musings

-To no one's great surprise, the Sandmen won the Homefront event for The Other Side. As an aside, if you're trying to bet on who's going to win a worldwide event for Wyrd, just figure out where the Neverborn fans, particularly the Dreamer fans, are going and bet that way. It's a thing. Along with it, the Gremlins managed to pull out the victory Malifaux side, so the Nightmare box will be themed around them at Gencon this year. What could it be? Well, my family and I were watching the aforementioned unorthodox Christmas movie last night, and I might have some ideas...

If Phoebe Cates is included in the boxed set, that'd move a lot of units all by itself.

-In other TOS news, an image was released of the Guild models that will be joining their Syndicate for the game, including a familiar face. Looks like Nytemare isn't the only Malifaux resident with an interest in how the war is going Earthside.




-Iron Painter has moved into the fifth and final round. The theme is Snowpocalypse. Best of luck to all the competitors. 

5 Ways To Improve Your Through the Breach Combats!

Through the Breach doesn't always get the love that it deserves, and I'm going to do my best over the next year or so to try and correct that. To start, I thought I'd mention a few tips I use to make combats better for my groups. Enjoy!

1)     Include more variety!
One of the things that I see newer referees for RPGs do is line up a series of encounters where the party faces, essentially, a squad of guardsmen, followed by another squad with a few more guardsmen, followed by even more guardsmen, this time with a boss of some sort. While this horde of faceless minions works great for action movies, if you don’t do something to break up the monotony it can get stale pretty fast. Repetition leads to dull, bored players most of the time. Mix your encounters up. Throw in some other stuff. Maybe that second encounter is with a team of riflemen, and the third features a Riotbreaker or a Peacekeeper. Adding in varieties of opponents helps to offset the monotony and keep your players engaged figuring out what is coming for them next.  

2)     Describe the action!

Way too often, I see combats turn into players and fatemasters quoting numbers at each other. If your players’ attacks keep turning into “I shoot my gun at him. I do three damage,” it falls on the Fatemaster to spice it up. After they tell you how much damage they did, describe the action back to him. “You drive the edge of your saber along his side, gashing his ribcage,” is much more exciting than “you hit him with your sword for two.” If you do it well and are gently encouraging to your players, you’ll notice them start to do it on their own. The critical table helps a lot with this, as they tell you A) where you hit and B) the effect it causes when dealing crit damage, but you can always punch up the narration from there. And the absolute best way of using this I’ve found comes from the Dungeons and Dragons podcast Critical Role. Expert DM Matthew Mercer hands narrative control over to his players when one of them kills the last enemy in a combat or the main villain of an adventure by letting them describe how their character delivers the final blow. The positive effect of this “how do you want to do this” technique is to add some personalization to the action and to give your players a chance to add some characterization to their Fated, by showing if they’re quick, efficient killers or brutal, sadistic monsters that take pleasure in dealing out the gore.

3)     Location, location, location!

This one probably doesn’t need as much explanation to the miniature gamers that make up the vast majority of the Through the Breach playing population, but the terrain in which a combat occurs can make a huge difference in increasing its memorability. A fight against Jacob Lynch’s Hungering Darkness is going to be scary, but it’s made that much more intimidating if it happens in a storm sewer on the edge of a rushing torrent of sludge headed out to one of Malifaux’s rivers (especially when he starts compelling your drug-addled minds to jump in for a swim.) Bandits running down your wagon is a pretty standard wild-west encounter, but the most memorable versions of it usually involve the stagecoach driver getting shot and killed, causing the horses to run out of control while your characters try desperately to fend off their attackers and stop the carriage from going over a cliff. How much more epic is the final struggle of the Lord of the Rings between Frodo and Gollum that it happens on the lip of a giant pool of magma? The knowledge that one wrong step could lead to certain doom will always ratchet up the tension!

4)     Don’t be afraid to be cruel but fair!

For people that are new to roleplaying games, the first time you take the helm and serve as Fatemaster you’ll be tempted to go one of two ways: crush your players underneath the weight of your killer encounters or try and protect them by fudging dice rolls and shifting things in their favor. The former is just you being a hateful kid frying ants with a magnifying glass, and will likely end with you not having any more players. The latter is harder to do in this game, since everything happens off of the same fate deck and no actions get resolved behind your Fatemaster’s Screen, but you can always nudge down the damage on an attack or a creature’s acting value to help your Fated out in a pinch. And I’m here to tell you: don’t. Don’t do it. If the encounter is fair and things are just not going in your players’ favor, let them struggle. Let them fail. Besides creating D&D and, more indirectly, roleplaying in general, the thing that E. Gary Gygax is most famous for is being an absolute killer Dungeon Master. You’re not the players’ friend when you take your seat at the head of the table, you’re the referee. And, trust me, they will remember the game more fondly if it feels like they had to overcome real challenges to succeed. The best DM I ever played with was an absolute bastard who once had a possessed NPC throw my character’s five your old child OFF OF A CLIFF IN FRONT OF ME, and believe it or not that isn’t the worst thing I’ve seen him do during a game!
               Now, to temper that message somewhat, I don’t like that DM because I’m some kind of masochist who enjoys being punished at the RPG table (I enjoy that sort of thing in an entirely different context…I’ve said too much.) I like him because the stakes feel real. His monsters are REAL monsters, who REALLY have evil intentions and will cause the characters REAL harm if given the opportunity. If you screw up, there will be no grey-bearded wizard flying down from the sky on a deus ex machina to bail you out. You’ll deal with the consequences, no matter how dire they turn out to be. However, his games are not inherently unfair. Challenging? Yes. But not unfair. Just as often, we’ve mopped up his encounters faster than he’s expected because we rolled well or did something he didn't expect.
                 In Through the Breach this can be a real issue, as the damage system and low numbers of wounds for both Fated and Fatemaster characters can make combat very swingy. A Red Joker for damage at the right time can spell disaster for a character who was otherwise succeeding valiantly, and as a Fatemaster it is up to you to recover from it. Red Joker for damage, followed by a 13 on the critical table? That character’s in bad shape. Sometimes you get unlucky. That’s combat for you. I promise you, however, even if they never tell you this to your face (and possibly curse you for being such a jerk), they will appreciate a game more where they feel real danger than one where it feels like they’re always buckled into their seatbelts with an airbag ready to deploy in case of emergency.

5)     Run with your players’ ideas.

This one ties in a bit with the previous entry, but it’s really about working with your players rather than against them. The real magic of an RPG comes from the interplay between the encounters you create and the ideas your players devise on their own. All of the best stories from tabletops come when the characters wander off the route you had charted for them and come up with something you never anticipated. At the base level, playing a roleplaying game is very much like participating in an improvised theater scene. Learning the basics, particularly learning to “Yes, and…” or “No, but…” the other players’ ideas can increase the enjoyment a hundred fold. If your players ask a question like “Is there any rope nearby?” it probably means they had a creative idea they want to try out, and they need you to give them permission to put it into action. In those circumstances, even if I had absolutely no intention for there to be any rope handy when I wrote the encounter, if I can rationalize it for the setting where the combat is occurring, I try to do it. IE: You’re in the middle of a Knotwood forest. Sorry. There’s no rope…but maybe you can use a vine?
Of course, the standard caveats apply. If it doesn’t really fit with the theme of what you’re trying to create in your game to allow someone to use a Mind Control Magia to force a Cerberus to shove its heads up its butt (you can laugh, but watch a game with comedian Brian Posehn and you’ll probably hear something equally silly before the game is over), then maybe you’ll have to step in and do something to discourage it. Maybe the creature just gets stuck trying to twist and contort in an odd shape for a round, until it shakes it off and realizes how ridiculous its being and goes back to mauling you to death. But, again, don’t just say “No.” Work with your players. They’re as much a part of creating that vaunted story and theme as you are, possibly moreso (they do outnumber you, after all.) If they’re trying to play one kind of game and you’re trying to play another, then maybe you need to find your way to some kind of middle ground.
Hopefully, these tips will help people improve their Through the Breach combats, and help you create memorable games your players will be talking about afterwards.

                                                                        ***

So, as alluded to previously, I watched Gremlins with my kids yesterday. I like to throw in something Christmassy to honor the season (here’s a link to my version of the three ghosts from A Christmas Carol. I’m still particularly proud of the Ghost of Christmas Present.) This year I decided to try something new: a story encounter. 

               Is it fair or balanced? Probably not. Have I playtested it? Nope! Does it make sense that these Gremlins aren’t friendly to models from the Gremlin faction? Definitely not. But here it is anyways. If it’s chaotic, that’s sort of the point, right? Hope some people have fun with it.

Gremlins!




It’s Holiday time in Malifaux, but some mysterious creatures from the Three Kingdoms have gotten loose. Stop them before they spread havoc throughout the city!

Special: After both crews have deployed, both players take turns (staring with the player who deployed first) placing 6 30MM Mogwai markers on the board. Mogwai markers must be placed within a piece of terrain on the board, and may not be deployed within 6” of either player's deployment zone or another Mogwai marker. Any model may make a (1) Interact Action to push a Mogwai marker 4”. Any push performed by a Mogwai marker stops if it comes in contact with a model or impassable terrain.

At the end of turns 1 and 2, after both players shuffle their discard piles back into their decks, players take turn activating the Mogwai markers. Select a marker and flip a card from the fate deck, resolving them as described below.

Ram: Yum, Yum!-Push the Mogwai marker 4” towards the nearest scheme marker. If the                    Mogwai marker ends the push in contact with the scheme marker, remove it.
Crows: Bright Light!-Push the Mogwai marker 4” away from the nearest model.
Masks:-It's singing. It does that sometimes.-The model nearest to the Mogwai marker draws                 a card.
Tome: Don’t get it wet!-Immediately place 3 Mogwai markers within 4” of the Mogwai                       marker that was activated.
Joker: You let him listen to the Aethervox?!?-Make a Sh: 4 / Rst Df/ Damage 2/3/4 attack on               the nearest model.

At the end of turn 3, players take turns (starting with the player who won initiative) placing a Gremlins! special model on a 30mm base in base contact with each Mogwai marker on the board and then removing the Mogwai marker. Gremlins! special models have the following stat line and do not count as friendly to any model other than Gremlins! special models. Any duels performed by the Gremlins! special model are performed by the player activating the model, and any resist flips are performed by the owner of the model doing the resisting. 



Gremlins!

Df 5 Wp 4 Wd 4 Wk 5 Cg 7 Ht 1
Abilities:
Reckless: At the beginning of this model’s activation, it can suffer 1 damage to gain one additional General AP.
Unimpeded: This model ignores penalties for severe terrain when moving.

Attack Actions:
(1) Scratching Claws: Ml 5/ Rst: Df/ Rg: (Claw) 1: Target suffers 2/3/4 damage.
Triggers: Mask-Maniacal Cackle- After resolving, this model immediately takes this action again on the same target or another legal target.
Ram-Yum, yum! : After resolving, push this model 4” towards the nearest scheme marker. If it ends in base-to-base with the scheme marker, discard it and heal 2 damage.
Crow-Where’d it get a gun?!? : After resolving, the closest model that isn’t the original target of this action suffers 2/3/4 damage. 
Tactical Actions:
(2) Time for dress-up!! (Ca 6. / TN: 10) Gremlins! special models within Aura 6 are treated as having the Disguised and Manipulative 12 abilities.
Triggers: Mask: They’re watching Snow White. They love it! - Gremlins! special models within Aura 3 cannot be the target of actions from enemy models and cannot be pushed, buried, or placed.

At the end of every turn (including turn 3) players take turns activating Gremlins! special models, starting with the player that won initiative, until all Gremlins! special models have activated once.

Victory Points

At the end of every turn after the second, if a crew has no Gremlins! special models on their half of the board, that crew scores one victory point.

***

Merry Christmas, to those that celebrate. Happy Holidays to the rest.