Thursday, July 26, 2018

Malifaux 3rd Edition: A Malifaux Musings Special Report!

               Yesterday’s announcement of Malifaux 3rd Edition set the world of the miniature game on fire, to no one’s great surprise. Many people are excited, as I have been since I learned the news that change was on the way. Many have been griping for quite a while about a number of aspects of M2E that have not aged particularly well over the last 5 years (Vantage Point, Model Bloat, etc.) An edition change is always big news, but Edition Wars!TM are also a perpetual concern for game designers. No doubt they would like to create new rules to address problems in previous iterations (and, let’s be honest, having you buy new books/cards/models doesn’t hurt as an incentive either) every time they creep up but, inevitably, an edition change leaves a bad taste in some people’s mouths.

Sonnia's got yer "bad taste in your mouth" right here.

It’s a fact of life. The same thing happened with the transition from M1.5E to M2E. And, of course, no one at Wyrd is surprised that this announcement of M3E has left to the inevitable vocal minority declaring that this is the last straw, and they’re going to go play something else. There’s a reason that the URL for Malifaux 3rd Edition’s announcement is (and I give them props for lampshading it from the beginning.) But before we all start looting and rioting, why don’t we take a look at what’s coming in M3E and go from there?

               First of all, M3E is not a “throw out the rules engine and start over” rewrite. M2E’s a pretty good baby with a few glitches, and the designers don’t want to throw it out with the bath water. M3E is more of a streamlining effort. Towards this end, the number of conditions in the game are being trimmed down to a core set of 11 (pictured below) rather than the numerous, never ending variety of conditions that came about over the course of the game’s lifetime.

               There are a lot of familiar things in there, as well as some new ones. For one thing, Burning is more like inverted Poison now, as it only ever does one point of damage, but your value of Burning goes up every turn instead of down. Shielded is obviously meant to reflect the Arcane Shield that started to become ubiquitous on Arcanists later in M2E’s life, with it reducing the damage a model takes by 1 and then reducing the Shielded condition every time you take a hit. Distracted, Injured, Staggered, and Stunned are new conditions that inflict various forms of debuffs on enemy models. It’s a lot to track for now, but I’m sure the more we play the more we’ll learn them. I think it’s a good move. To offset the loss of unique Conditions that some masters impose (Blighted, for instance) we’ll have tokens masters put on models that the crew can use as a resource. I think this is an elegant solution to one of the things that have bogged own Malifaux over time, and I’m excited to see it in action.

               Beyond the explicitly detailed rules changes, there are a number of less clear indications of rules streamlining. The cards and the art are being updated to look more like those we’ve seen from The Other Side. There will be new sculpts of the models coming, but the ones you have will still be legal and the full rule set and stat cards will be released for free at M3E’s release date, meaning all you’ll have to do is download and learn the new stuff and you’ll be good to go! Otherwise, there are simply vague references to “ironing out wrinkles in the M2E engine” and “adjusting deployment zones and threat ranges to get you into combat faster”. *shrug* We don’t know anything about these, so we’ll just see what we learn as time goes on.

               Another big change are the hiring rules. We’re told that M3E will focus on hiring more thematic crews, both through more Keyword synergy and by imposing a penalty on hiring models form outside the leader’s theme. I don’t know that too many people will be upset about that, as I know many people have wanted to see more thematic crews in Malifaux. Another big change, of course, is the revelation that M3E will allow for the hiring of multiple masters into your crew. This is one that seems to be bringing in a bit more trepidation from people, but I’m personally excited for the idea. I know some of the coolest pieces of Malifaux fluff stories are when a pair or trio of masters team up to take down a greater threat. One assumes Masters will be quite expensive to balance this. We’ll see what it looks like down the line, but put me in the “fan” column.

New masters: Benicio del Toro, Dave Bautista, and Mark Hamill from The Last Jedi?

               While we’re talking about Masters, there are some new ones coming! Nekima is going to get the M1.5 to M2E henchman promotion and take over as leader of the Nephilim. The Guild get a pair of newbies, in the form of a frontier lawman named Cornelius Basse and Captain Dashel (who has to have flown the highest in Malifaux from his humble beginnings as a totem to a full Master!) One that’s been in Malifaux’s fluff for a long time that is finally coming into the game is Albus Von Schtook, a necromancer who lives in the sewers in his "University of Transmortis" and broadcasts necromantic lessons to burgeoning Resurrectionists throughout the city. The Neverborn gain something apparently related to the Cyclopses we saw as Fae from Titania’s crew named Euripides and Marcus is becoming dual faction with the Neverborn. Hoffman will make his “one foot in the Arcanists” official and become dual faction, and Jack Daw will become dual Outcasts and Rezzers. Zipp is becoming dual faction in the Outcasts as well as remaining in the newly christened “Bayou” faction (aka Gremlins 2.0) Finally, the Qi and Gong’s proprietor, Youko Hamasaki, is joining the game as well, making the Ten Thunders now the faction with the most hookers by capita of any faction in Malifaux.

               Now, the flip side of this comes with the loss of some options. For one thing, some of the Masters who have been eliminated in the fluff are also being eliminated from tournament legality, namely Nicodem, Lillith, and Ramos who are, for various reasons, either dead or incapacitated and are now no longer going to be tournament legal. For whatever reason Collodi is also in that list (he’s not dead or in jail as far as I know. The only reason I can think of why he’d no longer be around is if the weird paradox from the Through the Breach: Stitch in Time story where Collodi never ended up becoming evil. He instead evacuated from Malifaux to Earth at the end of the era of the First Breach and became a popular performer there. That would be weird if it worked out that way.) All of these will eventually be available in a special “Dead Man’s Hand” pack at some point in the future which your tournament organizer will be able to allow at their option, so they’re not gone forever but won’t be tourney legal officially. Additionally, McMourning, McCabe, Jacob Lynch, Misaki, Brewmaster, and Tara lost their dual faction status, so that could also shift which factions you play a lot, potentially.

               Now, I get it that this sucks. I really, really do get it. Believe me. I’ve spent the last couple of years playing primarily Lillith, Neverborn Lynch, Guild McCabe, and Collodi, and I occasionally splashed in some Guild McMourning for flavor. Hell, when I was scrambling for extra money while my wife was going through nursing school and our finances got tight, I started selling off models from factions I don’t play, liquidating all of my Rezzers (so now I can’t even play my McMourning in faction as I don’t have the models to do it anymore) and a Marcus crew that was one of the paint jobs I was proudest of, who I could now use with my Neverborn if I still owned it. So, yeah. I have reason to bitch. But I’m not going to. I’m embracing the change. I’m probably going to give the Neverborn a rest for a while since my most played masters either aren’t in the game or aren’t in the faction anymore. I encourage you to do the same, and put your salt away for now.

               Ok, rant over.

               If you’re still worried about M3E, you can help to make it better! There’s a sign-up online for the M3E closed beta and, much like with voting, if you don’t like the result but don’t do your part to make things better, you don’t get to complain. Go sign up for the beta! The more people join, the more data the designers will receive and the better the game will ultimately be. 

               Going forward, Malifaux Musings will take a walk through the various factions and take a look at what we know regarding their changes, paired up with our usual slew of articles (there’s not really enough info for full blog posts at this point.) In the meantime, I encourage you to check out each faction's page to get a blurb about what's happening in the future. If nothing else, it's worth it to see the awesome new faction banner art on them (and kudos to whichever artist did those. They're great!) 

                I hope you’re as excited for M3E as I am and, if not, I hope you’ll keep an open mind going forward. This is going to be good, you guys. Come along with us!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Why we kill your characters (and some news for Gencon.)

-We’re a couple of weeks out from Gencon, so it was time for the annual announcement of the Nightmare and Limited Editions available at the big show. As a result of their victory in the Worldwide Malifaux Event related to The Other Side, this year’s NE box goes to the Gremlins. It features an odd alternate version of the Ulix boxed set with Unicorns and Winged Horses in place of the pigs. I, uh, well I don’t necessarily want them. You might like them. I’m sure it’s nice for you. I don’t play Gremlins, and I don’t love crews that break the verisimilitude of Malifaux. Feel free to let me know I’m dumb and wrong for not liking it. I will accept this.

-This year’s Miss model is not the male to female transition we’re used to. In this #metoo era, our Wyrd overlords have elected to go the other way and make a male Shikome. His name is He-kome, because of course it is. I dig this model. I don’t play rezzers so I don’t need it, but I dig it. Plus, all you Nico players are flocking over to Kirai after the nerf, so don’t say Wyrd never gave you nothin’.

-Probably the biggest info-bomb, however, was the revelation that this year’s Gencon will be the first since the game’s release where there is no new book (at least as far as I can remember.) So, no book 6. There are some kinda cool limited edition/alternate sculpt versions of models, and the usual slew of stuff from further down the release schedule will be available for your purchasing pleasure. I think the alternate Mr. Graves is kinda cool, though mostly as a Mature Nephilim rather than as the G man himself (bald is beautiful, ya’ll.) There’s some other good stuff in there. I definitely recommend the Through the Breach adventure Northern Sedition that they’re releasing there. It’s a continuation of the Northern Aggression adventure (though you can start with this chapter as well) that takes things to a whole new level and integrates some of Malifaux’s power players into the action. Also, the Guild sourcebook Above the Law is coming out. There's good stuff in there too. I like the sculpt of the alt Ototo better than the old one, but I don't play Ototo so it would just be a cosmetic thing if I got it. 

What this news about no Malifaux release means is, of course, a subject of much speculation. One assumes that the forthcoming The Other Side game and the departure of Aaron Darland from the design team likely has something to do with the delay in book 6. I’m not going to speculate, but it is certainly a bummer not to have anything new that I’m personally jumping up and down about. Probably better for my budget in the long run, I guess. On the other hand, the most traffic Malifaux Musings ever has comes from discussing Gencon previews, so that kinda sucks on a personal level.

I'll be taking your character sheet, please.
Those that follow RPG streaming online can’t help but have notice that, last week, something pretty significant happened. The whole RPG twitterverse was suddenly talking about character death all of a sudden. The Dungeons and Dragons stream Critical Role is a big part of why RPGs are currently undergoing a renaissance/golden age/other superlatives. The whole industry of streaming games comes from them. And, a couple game sessions ago, their Dungeon Master Matt Mercer killed one of the characters. The group was playing at half strength and made choices that put them in contact with a very dangerous group of enemies who were (in this GM’s view) probably designed to be fought by the full strength party rather than the partial group. 

One of the players used an ability that dropped them to 0 hps and knocked them unconscious. The adversary he was fighting made a choice to, rather than just wiping the characters out, make a Negan-esque example out of that character and killed him. It could have been avoided, though not without some obvious contortion from the DM to save him. Nevertheless, Mercer was not “Mercerful” as the audience often refers to him, and the character is dead now (disclaimer: I haven’t watched this week’s episode yet, but they’re too low level and have no cleric, so chances are they can’t fix it.)

It sucked. The character was cool and well-liked by the audience. He had an interesting and mysterious backstory that, most likely, will not be explored now. A certain amount of sadness is expected at this point. Lord knows I was a little bit shocked by it. However, as Mercer would suggest on Twitter in an address later in the week, some people got way more upset and were angry at him for not pulling his punch and saving the charcter.

To those people: you are wrong. You’re allowed to feel the way you feel, but you are wrong. Also, if you made Matt Mercer sad I’m not friends with you anymore. Just know that. I will fight you.

Seriously. You don't get to hate this guy.


The subject of character death is always a touchy one where RPGs are concerned. After all, your players build these characters. They invest their time and energy and emotions into making them unique and interesting. If they’re like me, they spend FAR too much time thinking about them when they’re supposed to be thinking about work or driving their car. And then, because some die rolls go awry, that character is gone. No more stories. No more adventures. Their tale is done, and sometimes they die in ignominious ways that don’t even help the story progress. We joke in my RPG games that my players are unbeatably dominant in important plot related combats, but random meaningless encounters are perpetually life-threatening.

Some suggest that this is an argument for finding ways around killing the character. Lord knows, in some games it’s nearly impossible to make someone permanently die as it is. Through the Breach doesn’t have this particular problem (no resurrection Magia, as far as I’m aware), but the inclusion of undead or augmented characters means that anyone with sufficient money or access to necromancy can’t really be killed forever outside of some very extreme circumstances. However, veterans of the game know that death can come on very fast in TTB, and is often quite gruesome. One thing the game does better than some other RPGs, in my opinion, is force characters to suffer mounting difficulties and disadvantages as damage accumulates, so that you tend to fall down very fast when things go awry. A few defense flips and/or a well-placed Red Joker can result in a character death coming out of the blue.

And I’m here to convince you: that’s a good thing.

Here’s why. Winning feels good in an RPG. Your game master creates a challenge, and you overcome it. Evil is smited. Loot is acquired. Fair maidens are saved. It feels good. But the thing is, if there’s no risk involved, it doesn’t feel as good as it would have otherwise. If the threat of death isn’t there, the damage your character is taking becomes abstract numerical transactions rather than the ever-approaching tread of doom. And as soon as your characters start to feel like they’re immune to those dangers and free of those consequences, their achievements don’t matter as much anymore.

The temptation for game masters is to try and protect their players for the sake of the story. Don’t do it. The story is what happens when your players interact with the situations you create, not a set plot you devise from the beginning that your players are only allowed to walk through and observe. If the choices they make in game or the vagaries of the fate deck result in a player dying, you’ve just been given some of the strongest plot fodder you could ask for. These are the things players talk about. These are the stories they pass on. Don’t go out of your way to kill them, but don’t go out of your way to save them, either. I often say that the best GM I’ve ever played for is a completely merciless tyrant (literally, he’s had conversations with me about how he prefers monarchies to democracy) who once had a villain throw one of my characters’ young children off of a cliff to screw with me. And I’ll never miss an opportunity to play in one of his games, because I know that any achievements my characters make there will be earned.

For the Critical Role crew, they played a game into the epic tier in the first campaign of their show, and were still playing their new low-level characters like the bullet proof near-immortals they used to have. That will stop now, I would imagine. And, as a result of this character death, a game that has thus far had no clear antagonist has a legit villain for the party to overcome. Even as an audience member, I’m anxious to dig into the next episode ASAP so I can see how the group carries on. These are the benefits of character death. So, Fatemasters, go out and kill your characters. Even if they never say it out loud, they’ll thank you for it in the long run.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

July 2018 Errata: aka When Zombies Cry

Is that enough click-bait? Yeah, probably.

              Golly, what could we write about this week?

               Oh, right, there was a summer Errata. I’m sure we’re all reeling from the changes to Burn Out. This is really going to revolutionize how Lynch is played. Forget about Cheating Bastard, summoning Lynch here we come.

               What’s that? It doesn’t really change anything? People were already playing it that way? The real changes came to…

               Sigh. Ok. I’ll go get the Wanted Posters again.


               Apparently Wyrd decided to claim the Bounties I put out for themselves, as the focus of the summer errata were Sandeep and Nicodem. Sandeep got the lighter end of it, as I’m not sure I’ve heard any complaints about his changes other than, maybe, that more should have been done (and that has been a very, very small minority.) To quote the man Mason (who appears to be doing much of the design work at the moment. Is he lead designer now? I don’t know if I’ve heard an official announcement.) these are the changes:

For two years now, Sandeep has proven to be incredibly versatile, to the point where he has become something of a staple at tournaments. By itself that's not a problem, but Sandeep's effectiveness has pushed other Arcanist masters out of the spotlight, so we'll be reigning him in a bit.

- Cache reduced to 2. This new Cache is more reflective of Sandeep's power level.

- Beacon Ca penalty increased to -2. Sandeep's Beacon is a powerful tool, but his Crew was using it a bit too efficiently. This should apply a bit more pressure onto Sandeep's Crew when it comes to hitting the TNs of borrowed Actions.

- Removed Impossible to Wound. This loss will make Sandeep considerably more fragile and, thus, make positioning more important for Sandeep and his removal easier for his opponent.

               I’m far from a Sandeep expert, even after having written the previous article, but I think these changes are just the sort of "small adjustments" that I think we all like to see from errata. The combination of the reduction in cache and loss of Impossible to Wound makes him a lot more fragile. Deep players will have to keep him a bit Deeper (rimshot) during games, as a few swings from a beater could add up to a dead master in relatively short order. Admittedly, no soulstone users are exactly “easy” to kill in M2E, but being able to cheat damage flips against Sandeep will go a long way to helping players bring him down. Additionally, the increase in penalty for Beacon makes bridging his spells out to other models much more difficult. Path to Salvation is obviously the biggest effect here (as it already requires a mask, so a reduction of 2 removes one of the 6 cards the deck could have used to cheat that) but even having the push or the interact become more likely to require a cheat will increase hand pressure for Sandeep, potentially bringing his power down a bit and giving some other members of the faction a chance to shine.

               Will this fix the problem with the Arcanists? The problem, as always stated, was never that Sandeep was somehow doing something ridiculous that required dramatic changes, but rather that he did almost everything too well and made him the “best” choice for most games. There’s always a bit of a stink on masters that get nerfed, so we’ll most likely see a temporary dip in Deep’s play for a short time. I know Rasputina has gotten a bit of a rumbling in the “this master is better than people are giving her credit) direction recently (I know she’s always given me fits, anyways) and the Max Value crew have been lobbying for people to use Ramos’ Vox Populi upgrade for the potential to do a silly amount of hazardous terrain damage with proper positioning. I think the key thing here is that players who love Sandeep should still be able to do so (possibly without as much groaning and eye rolling from opponents) but perhaps of the others will have a chance to outdo him now, particularly in scheme pools he’s less suited to completing.

               So, since they used such a measured, limited “try it and see” approach with Deep, we’ll probably see the same thing for Nicodem, right?


               Oh. Oh, my. It seems getting killed by Lady Justice really took the wind out of Nicodem. Let’s let Mason introduce the changes, again.

Nicodem was strong when M2E first released, and he has only gained in strength since then. His ability to use Undead models more effectively than other Masters has made him an increasingly strong choice, to the point where he has started to crowd out other Resurrectionist Masters and warp the design process. To that end, we will be reigning his power level in, both on his base card and his most popular upgrade.

- Wounds reduced to 12. This should make Nicodem a bit more vulnerable to assassination attempts.

- Re-animator now summons Undead in at one Wound remaining, rather than half their Wounds. This will make his summoned models more vulnerable and apply pressure on Nicodem by forcing him to either summon more fragile models or to spend AP healing them with Decay.

Undertaker (Upgrade)

- I Can Use That! now only affects non-Peon models, and it only functions when they are killed (not sacrificed). This should prevent the worst of Nicodem's abusive use of this Ability and bring it back in line with the Upgrade's cost.

- The Patchwork trigger now has reduced range and healing, which, when combined with Nicodem's Re-animator changes above, should prevent him from healing up his summoned models quite as easily.

               Yowzer. That was a bit heavier handed, wasn’t it? I can see why there’s so much salt flowing from Nico players, as his hits were comparatively much more impactful than what Deep got…or were they?

               Let’s look closer. First of all, the change to Undertaker’s card drawing needed to happen, and I’m not going to allow anyone to argue with me on that point (not that I think many realistic Nicodem players would.) For a bit of historical context, the first time I heard a version of the card draw engine Nico uses (Sebastian’s Those are Not Ours on Mindless Zombies) was with a Kirai crew, who was able to cycle those rotters for cards and stones to power her summons. This was before Asura came out to make getting the Zombies easier, and it didn’t have the cards from Undertaker. And the key thing is: it still worked to make Kirai's summons much more reliable. Was it the kind of draw that Nico gets now? No, but that’s the way it SHOULD be. It should feel like a Rube Goldberg device, not a perfectly greased, flexible machine. The whole idea behind summoning focused crews is that they have to expend their resources getting models on the table, potentially leaving themselves vulnerable to getting hit back. The Undertaker card draw engine was such that he could summon whatever he wanted at will and then still have more cards in hand than you to actually kill you with. So, you had a danger trifecta of having more models, more cards, and more activations than the opponent. That was simply unsustainable and needed to be changed.

               The change to his wounds number I consider cosmetic. Yes, he’s more vulnerable to being sniped now, but he still has Impossible to Wound so the opponent has to brute-force it by weight of attacks rather than through cheating in big damage. The biggest other change is the combination of his summons coming in on one wound and reduction in efficacy of Reanimator’s ability to discard extra corpses to heal the summons when they come in. That one hurts, as Nico really doesn’t want to be using his AP to heal disposable summons. Part of what made summoning Punk Zombies so effective was the fact that they have Hard to Kill, ensuring the opponent has to spend 2 AP to get rid of them (potentially giving Nico an AP advantage, since he only had to spend one to get the model onto the board in the first place.) I personally would look to play his summons more like one-shot “fire and forget” missiles than by using his AP to heal, but maybe the preponderance of corpse markers the crew can get out could be used to augment the heals on critical models, or the Malifaux Child could use Decay to heal. I’m not sure, but it most likely leads to a fundamental shift in the approach of these crews. One possible upshot of this, however, as it takes the focus away from Hard to Kill Rezzer minions, who were the preferred summons previously, and gives some of the other stuff a chance for tabletime. I know that’s kind of cold-comfort, but seeing something besides Punks Zombies, Necropunks, and Kentauroi would be a welcome change.

               So where does this leave Nicodem? Well, I think the knee-jerk is going to be to put him away and get out Kirai. Nerfs tend to have that effect in general, especially when they’re painful like this one. There’s every chance that Nico will end up being tossed in the same hole as Summoning Dreamer and forgotten. I think that would be a shame, though. Nicodem still has the most diversity of summons of any master in Malifaux. Compare that to the very limited summons Dreamer can do, and Nico is in a much better spot. He can still summon Kentauroi, albeit requiring a bit more finesse to keep them from dying straight away (though that may not be the worst thing, either, as it will result in more corpses on the board for subsequent turns.) He still has the Lampad summoning engine, which operates independently of the rest of the crew. You can do a stripped down card-cycle with Asura and Sebastian. Put all of that together, and the comparison to summoning Dreamer seems more and more ridiculous.

               So, unlike his in-world counterpart (thanks again, Lady J), I don’t really think Nicodem is dead. If players give him a chance and are flexible enough to try some things from outside the old archetype, I think you can still use him to win games. There’s no doubt, however, that he got a harder hit than Sandeep, and I would definitely expect to see Rezzer players looking elsewhere at least in the short term, if only to get the salty taste out of their mouths. That’s not necessarily awful, either. Those wanting to stick with summoning can still play Kirai, who is arguably better in some matchups. I know some have mentioned playing more Reva. Personally, I think it’s criminal that the new and improved Seamus terror build isn’t seeing more play.

But, I think the biggest reason this needed to happen was simply this: while Sandeep was just a very good Malifaux master, Nicodem changed the game into something different. Opponents of Nicodem had to stop playing a normal game and had to either build for a first-turn alpha-strike which would result in you winning or losing at the top of turn two or had to sprint for schemes that could be scored in the early turns before you inevitably ended up getting overwhelmed by turn 4. The test games I played when writing the Wanted Poster article for Nicodem were one of the few times I looked back after a game and had to honestly say to myself “I don’t think there’s anything I could have done differently to win that game. This was over before it started.” So something absolutely had to be done. Did these go too far? Maybe. But one of the biggest complaints people have had recently on the competitive scene is that the meta is stale. This reminds me of the first instance I can remember of a collectible game’s designers having to step in and use errata on their product: the Black Summer in Magic the Gathering. To shorten the history lesson down, this was a period early in MTG wherein a card called Necropotence was so powerful that, to play competitively, the only realistic choices were to either play Necropotence decks or to play the specific things that could beat them. M2E’s 2018 season wasn’t that bad (the fact that Deep was good enough to also require nerfing proves that), but a meta of “Nico or thing that can beat Nico” is going to naturally lead to stagnation of crew construction. By cutting down the prevalence of these crews, it frees things up for others to step to the forefront for a little while. Now, there’s also the possibility that these alpha-strike lists could potentially have their hands freed to run rampant without a nerf, and I’ve heard this concern as well, particularly with the Viktorias paired with Marlena Webster (who just HAS to be on the concern list for January’s errata.) I don’t know what kind of list Roger Yohn typically runs, but his victory at TFL with Ten Thunders probably involved some version of fast Yasunori getting lobbed up the board, as that’s basically in every Ten Thunders crew at the moment. This is another pretty effective alpha-strike, especially if Misaki is with it. However, increasing crew diversity also opens the door for people to learn crews that are more resistant to alpha-strikes. At least in theory, this should lead to a healthier meta overall. We’ll have to see how it plays out, I suppose. I, for one, remain hopeful.

Until next time.