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.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

5 Pregenerated Characters for your Through the Breach Campaign

One of the hardest parts of doing a demo game is putting together pregenerated characters. It's a time consuming, but necessary part of putting together a quick demonstration game. To help with that, here is a party of mercenaries that can be plopped into most games as necessary. Feel free to use them for demos, drop-in or replacement characters, or if your players just like and want to use them for whatever. I created them for Gencon several years ago as a mercenary crew from a failed contract town named Revival. They have good story ties to each other, but are free to be useable in a number of different game settings. If you do use them, just let me know how it goes.


Thomas Burnham

The Burnham family spent the last three generations rising quickly in the ranks of the Guild through savvy purchases and political gambits. By the time the second Breach opened and the call went out for workers to travel to Malifaux to start collecting the wealth of Soulstones waiting there, Thomas Burnham was in a prime position to become one of the first overseers to cross over.

He was assigned to Contract Town #8 - later renamed to "Revival" - and for a time, things were great. Money was flowing like water and the town's renown was growing by the day. To everyone watching, Thomas Burnham was set to catapult into the upper rung of society once his time at the mine was finished.

Unfortunately, the Soulstone vein running beneath the town dried up earlier than expected and Thomas was out of a job. He applied for a position at a new mine, but the Guild wasn't interested in paying him even a fraction of what he made at Revival, so Thomas bought the last rifle in the general store and convinced the town's sheriff, Logan Dimmer, to join him as sellswords for the highest bidder.

Logan complains endlessly about his joints and his back and how he's only working until he can earn enough money to retire, but Thomas has seen the glint in his eye; he knows a born adventurer when he sees one.

Unfortunately, their first job (cleaning Neverborn out of a portion of the Quarantine Zone called Beggartree) ended up costing more money than it earned, and hurt his reputation with the Guild. To try and avoid future embarrassment, he thought he would fill out their crew's ranks. He hired a few other mercenaries and purchased the contract of a convict, Mary Finnegan, who he suspects might possess an affinity for fire magic.


Logan Dimmer

Logan is the sort of man who, from birth, has seemingly always been drawn to scenes of violence. Born the son of a Texas Ranger, he learned to shoot a gun and swing a saber about the same time he was learning to tie his shoes. He's seen action around the world: from exploring the darkest parts of Africa to traveling to the far east.

Logan came through the Breach and settled in the Contract Town of Revival as old age started to creep into his sword arm and arthritis into the wrist of his gun hand. He can barely fire a pistol straight anymore, but he can still swing a sword just fine, though he pays for it the next morning.

What he couldn't have counted on after becoming Revival's sheriff was the town's failure. Just when he was giving thought to setting down his guns and taking up a life as a farmer, the mines dried up and the people left. Forced to take up the mercenary life in order to fund his impending retirement, Logan is looking for one last job to get enough money to buy his land, and then he's going to retire.

He's joined up with the town's former mine overseer, Thomas Burnham, in the hopes that the two of them can watch each others' backs. The "Beggartree Incident," as the papers described the Revival Company's efforts to clear out the Neverborn from the Quarantine Zone of the same name, was supposed to be his last job, but the financial troubles it brought on them has only delayed the process. He's told Burnham he's only interested in getting the money he needs to retire, but the younger man keeps trying to convince Logan that there's plenty of work to be had for the two of them.

It's just like the young fellows to always be yapping their mouths and never listening to their betters...

Herman Wipple

Herman was abandoned on the steps of a London orphanage at a young age; exactly what happened to them or who they were is unknown. At the age of twelve, he was adopted by the local mortician and undertaker, Arthur Wipple, who needed someone with a strong back to dig graves. It wasn't what you would refer to as a loving home, but it was better than sleeping in the gutter (even if the occasional out-of-town gravedigging job actually required sleeping in a gutter from time to time).

Herman grew up strong but alone, and when his adopted father died, he decided to try his luck in Malifaux, reasoning that such a deadly place would have great need for a gravedigger. He was only on the job for a few days when his shovel started talking to him, telling him to travel to the badlands to a new contract town. Herman barely noticed the mine closing or the town going to ruin, as the demand for his services stayed constant throughout. When the town mayor, Mr. Burnham, asked him to start working for him personally, he thought of it as moving up in the world, even if it just meant smashing in the occasional head from time to time before digging the graves.


Susie Quince

There are some who say that no Quince has ever done an honest thing in their life. When Fast Harry Quince was caught running a confidence scam in London, there were few who shed a tear over his arrest. His wife, Susie Quince, was one of those few.

Pregnant and with nowhere to turn, Susie scrounged as best she could before giving birth in an alley and giving her child over to an orphanage, where he could have a better life than what she could provide. She survived through desperate means, stealing food when she could and breaking into houses when she couldn't.

Eventually she ended up making her way to Malifaux, where she fell in with a bandit crew that had aspirations of joining the infamous Barrows Gang. Or rather, their leader had aspirations of being the  man to kill Parker Barrows and claim the bounty on his head, but that went south in a bloody way and Susie was the only one to escape.

She contemplated returning to Earth and was about to rob someone for a ticket out of town when she was approached by Thomas Burnham with the offer of a job. Susie didn't care about trying to make some coin by helping the Guild, but the young man next to him was the spitting image of her husband...with her eyes.

Feeling the long-dormant sting of maternal love welling within her heart, Susie reluctantly signed on with Burnham in order to watch over her offspring. She's still debating whether or not she should tell Johnathon that she's his mother, or whether it's better to keep that door closed forever.


Mary Finnegan

Born in Ireland, Mary came to Malifaux as a young woman with no aspirations beyond someday taking over the ownership of her father's pub. She was happy to ply her hand at bartending, cleaning, and preparing food, though she sometimes found small burn marks on things she touched.

Everything changed after she spent an evening entertaining some customers with her singing voice, which Mary (falsely) believed was quite lovely. The regular patrons suffered through her performances out of fondness for her and her father, but when a new patron made a joke about how she sounded like someone strangling a cat, Mary saw the awkward expressions of the patrons and realized they had been patronizing her for years.

The anger rose up within her, and with it came the flames that Malifaux had gifted to her upon her journey through the Breach. The tavern burned to the ground, killing seven people and severely burning just as many, including her father.

Nobody was quite sure exactly how the fires started, which is likely the only thing that kept her from the Witch Hunters' attention. People seemed confident enough that Mary was involved, however, and that earned her a quick trial at a Guild courthouse and a sentence of life laboring in the mines. She was shipped off to the small Contract Town of Revival, where she spent a few months laboring in the nearly dry Soulstone mine.

When the last vein finally dried up, Mary was surprised to learn that her contract had been purchased by the overseer, Thomas Burnham. Despite her attempts to keep her growing powers a secret, he seemed to have his suspicions about her...and worse yet, he planned to drag her into the deadly Quarantine Zone as some kind of mercenary. She managed to survive that first debacle, but any hopes of a quick release disappeared, as Burnham seems set on continuing in this line of work and throwing her into danger. If only she had her freedom...

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Overcoming the Dog Days

               The dog day doldrums of summer are very much upon me. That might be why posts have slowed down from Malifaux Musings. Or, it might be the fact that I’ve found a new job and will be relocating to Cedar Rapids, IA in a couple of months. Or it could be that the Malifaux I’m playing right now falls into the category of “things I can’t write about for various reasons, some of which rhyme with ‘Blen-Dee-Aay.’” Also, there’s the fact that Wyrd’s in Con season mode right now, but hasn’t started posting about whatever the new releases for Gencon will be, yet. I assume the big push will be The Other Side, which releases officially in July, but it would be weird if there was NOTHING coming for Gencon. There have certainly been a lot of pictures of new models coming on the Monday Previews every week, so I’m sure SOMETHING’s in the works, but I’ll be damned if I have any idea what it is. As such, it’s kinda tough to write about it (outside of “ooo, that looks neat.”)
                 I’ve got some ideas for posts on Through the Breach, one specifically where I give you some pre-made Fated characters you can use to for demos or a Wanted Poster Malifaux post about the Jack Daw-Lazarus-Guilty Spam list I’ve heard about, or Zip or Nellie crews. Additionally, I’ve been considering running a league over Vassal (though the pending move has made that less appealing at the moment. I’m about to have a lot on my plate.) If you have anything you’d like to hear about on the blog, feel free to mention it in the comments and I’ll pull out the good stuff.
                It did occur to me, however, that I may not be the only one feeling the doldrums. After all, we’re well into the Gaining Grounds 2018 season at this point, and we’re reaching the end of the Wave 5 season. The good stuff has more or less been found. Most of the models are at least on the release schedule, though not as many as one would hope, of course. And, much as I hate to write about it, I think that some of the top-level Malifaux competitive diversity is being stifled by some of the top-end masters which will hopefully be getting addressed with the July Errata. As the Flippin’ Wyrd team has espoused several times, the top-end competitive meta currently boils down to playing one of the top-end 2 masters, Sandeep or Nicodem, or playing an alpha-strike crew that can jump in and kill the opposing master on turn 1 or 2, which is the only reliable way to stop a Nico crew (you can play for early scoring schemes and win that way as well if Nico misses some of his, but the only SURE way to beat Nico is to take him down before he can get his snowball rolling downhill.) That doesn’t encourage list diversity and punishes players for experimenting, which isn’t great either. Ben Sime from Arcane Reservoir experienced a bit of this in a small tournament recently when he tried to bring out Marcus’ Venomancy upgrade and was rewarded with a first round pairing against Nico. Bad times, and not a great encouragement to keep trying new things rather than plop down the tried-and-true reliable stuff.

Now, I’ll say that this is probably an exaggeration (probably) but sometimes even the perception that the meta is stagnant can lead to it becoming reality. In any case, there are reasons why some folks may be experiencing their own version of the summer-time blues when it comes to Malifaux. So I thought I’d write about some ideas for how to get yourself around the ho-hums.

1)     Try a new crew/faction

This is probably what I’m going to be doing in the near future. If you’re in a rut with the crews you’ve been playing regularly, that probably means it’s time to try some new stuff. Malifaux does a pretty respectable job between factions of creating diversity and difference of feel. Neverborn move fast but are brittle. Guild hit hard. Ten Thunders have pushes and hand out focus. Obviously there are exceptions or models that don’t match up with the overall theme, and the last couple of waves have introduced a lot of models that have incidentally homogenized things more than they used to be (Kentauroi giving Rezzers speed, some of the new Fae stuff giving Neverborn some resilient models, etc.) But still, trying a new faction or even just a new crew within the faction you play can do a lot to reinvigorate your interest in the hobby. I’m personally getting tired of how fragile my Neverborn tend to be, as it makes every play and choice you make in the game potentially game-breaking, as you can accidentally walk into the deaths of your models by putting them in the wrong place or failing to anticipate your opponents’ moves. I’ve been looking at Perdita or Hoffman to try and switch things up, as a consequence.

2)     Try a new format

While the Standard Gaining Grounds tournaments have their place, tournaments using a different format can help to add some diversity and spice to your Malifaux experience. The success of the Iron Scorpius event at Capital City Meltdown speaks to how hungry many Malifaux tournament players are just to try something different. Grow leagues, fixed master, team tournaments. All of these can add some diversity to your game and get you thinking outside of the boxes we put ourselves in. Assuming I manage to get it off the ground, the Quick and the Dead format I’m going to try and use for my online Vassal League would be one example of this.

3)     Play for fun rather than victory points

Sometimes we just have to lighten up a little. I’m particularly guilty of this. You can lose track of the fact that we play these games for fun. While there are prizes/bragging rights on the line, ultimately we’re here to have fun. So, maybe it’s alright to bring out some suboptimal crews or play a meme list. It’s ok to occasionally pick less effective schemes to try and see if you can pull them off. How many times can your totem strike the killing blow on an enemy model in a tournament? Hoffman falls into this category for me. His W5 upgrade cards made him better, but he’s still in no danger of becoming a “top-tier” master, or even a crew that can compete with them. But, on the other hand, big stompy robots are fun, and they’re probably my favorite paint-job. Plus, I like the Breaking Bad style story Hoffman’s been undergoing over the course of the game. So, yeah, I might start giving him a go just to see what he can do.

4)     Take a break for a little while

If all else fails, there are worse things than stepping away from Malifaux for a while and letting the game sit for a bit. Much as I don’t admit it on this blog, there are other games out there. Step away for a while and try other things for a bit. Games Workshop has released some new skirmish-scale games that have been fairly popular. There’s always Infinity, or Blood Bowl. As I mentioned above, The Other Side is coming out next month, so you can keep that “Malifaux” feel while trying something different, an army scale game! You could turn over to the dark side and go play 40k, I suppose. Or you could give miniature games a rest all together and go do something else. Malifaux’s not going anywhere, and you can always come back to it when Wave 6 comes along, or if some future developments in Malifaux change your perception.

               In any case, I hope some of these ideas are useful to any of you who are struggling with your own Malifaux doldrums. As mentioned above, if there are any topics you’d like to see me write about in Malifaux Musings, feel free to pass them along.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

What To Do When Bad Things Happen: Failing Forward in Through the Breach

             One of the most frequent mistake RPG gamemasters make is tying the progress of the story to success of a skill roll or challenge. Admittedly, there’s no point in playing a game and having the characters test their skills if the possibility of failure isn’t present. However, unlike the real world, the objective of a TTRPG game is to tell a good, interactive story. If your hapless Bounty Hunter misses his search flip and fails to spot the key clue that solves the mystery, the game stalls and the fun stops as the players begin the “success shuffle,” where everybody takes turn searching or throwing out other possible solutions until eventually you get the result you want, them finding the clue that points them to the killer. The real tragedy of this situation is that the players know what’s going on, and so do you, but the social contract of “the game” makes it so Fatemasters feel like they’re required to go through this grind to do it “right” or to make their players “earn it.”

 Here’s a secret: you aren’t.

If failure isn’t interesting or entertaining, there’s no point in having them fail. No one will have a good time throwing flip after flip at a problem and hoping that one of them will finally be the severe you need to move ahead with the story and get them out of the stall. As such, I will often end up not having a player flip at all if I feel like there’s a bit of information they need for the story, particularly if I know one of the Fated is trained in the relevant skill, or at least tier the amount of information they can require so even on a failure they get something, but the primo information requires a greater degree of success. It’s not worth the risk of having everything grind to a halt. However, that isn’t really a fix all solution, either. If you’re not going to have flips in the game, it’s really just a cooperative storytelling experience rather than playing an RPG. 

Another tool I reach for (and which I’m going to discuss today) is the idea of “Failing Forward” or “Succeeding at a Cost.” In it, when the players fail a flip, you allow the success to occur but penalize them in some way for the failure or introduce a complication to go along with the success. Maybe the clue they were needing from the earlier example is found, but they end up compromising it in some way during the course of finding it. Possibly, they tilt the oil lantern they’re carrying too far forward during the process of picking up the clue and set it and/or the room in which the Fated are searching on fire! In this way, you keep the game’s story going forward but also introduce a negative consequence of flipping badly on the challenge. If they need a particular piece of specialized equipment for a mission that’s not available through normal vendors and fail the check to find somebody who has it, maybe you let them purchase the item from a shady vendor in an alleyway. Later, the Fated discover that the tool in question is stolen or illegal and buying it has put them in trouble with the law. It doesn’t always have to be that dramatic, of course. Maybe they’re looking for someone particular in the city, and the failure puts them in a situation where they find the information they need from their network of informants, but they either put themselves in debt or cancel a debt someone owed to them in the process.

To swing things hard in the other direction, at other times you’ll want to really put the screws to your players for failing at something. Fairly often, the most entertaining TTRPG stories come from situations where the players fail spectacularly and then have to find their way out of trouble. And, after all, this is Malifaux, and Bad Things HappenTM. While avoiding failure on a challenge with no consequence or which will stall the story and hold up the game is a good idea, making it hurt when your players fail at something important is just as important to make sure your players stay invested. The first example I can think of for this in RPG history was the use of critical fumble tables in D&D, an optional rule where you could end up hurting yourself or others when you rolled a 1 on an attack. Most players who’ve used something like this in a game remember the time they lopped off their hand with their own broadsword, or something similarly gruesome. Through the Breach already has some elements of this in place for combat, in the form of the critical damage tables. Not only did you just get shot because you failed your defense flip, now your arm has also gone numb and you can’t grip your weapon anymore. Further, any good Fatemaster will have something designed for Ongoing Challenges as the consequence for the Fated experiencing a Critical Failure. The best versions of this are something that lets the characters have an option to recover, if they can overcome some kind of complication or encounter as a result of their poor flips/efforts. Having the party all die because of some bad flips during an Ongoing Challenge to escape a collapsing cave isn’t a lot of fun, but having the players end up trapped in a side cavern with an angry Grootslang is, and when it’s done they can figure out how to escape the now collapsed tunnel, possibly leading to another whole adventure as they delve deeper into the mountains looking for a second way out.
Perhaps more in keeping with the “Fail Forward” ideology is a mechanism from Cypher System games called the GM Intrusion, wherein the failure happens and the gamemaster uses that opportunity to add a complication that makes things worse. I love this system, and I think having something like this happen when players incur a certain margin of failure on their flips and/or when they throw a Black Joker feels very in keeping with the tone of Through the Breach. When I was playing in a game that featured a Mad Max style boat race/battle royal recently, I flipped the Black Joker for my attack with a pistol at one of the other boats. Not only did I miss, but the Fatemaster ruled that I had accidentally shot the engine of OUR boat, crippling our speed and making it much more difficult to win. You don’t want to throw in TOO many of these (somewhere between 1 and 1 per Fated per session is usually a good benchmark) but they can be a fun way of raising the stakes on your players in unexpected ways and maintaining that feeling of “Why doesn’t anything ever go smoothly?” that is so much a part of the TTRPG experience.

The key analogy is to use failure as a way of making your games more fun, rather than just frustrating. In a lot of ways, playing an RPG like Through the Breach is like doing improv comedy scenes. If the players say “I take an action to move the story along/attack the bad guy/introduce a new element to the game,” but the cards say “Nope, it doesn’t work,” that can kill the action. Your job is to introduce a “No, but…” outcome where the players either don’t solve the problem but have some way to go forward with the story despite this, or they succeed but in a way they didn’t expect and which makes their lives more complicated in the process. Your players may end up groaning at the time, but you’ll hear their thanks when they’re joking with each other later about how they had to save each other’s butts from the near-disaster you unleashed on them.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Quick and the Dead: Designing a new tournament format

               I have been experimenting with a format to try and conduct tournaments of online Malifaux since shortly after I moved to my current locale and realized how few players are nearby. Earlier efforts have led to mixed results. My first thought was to run a league with swiss style pairings. Early on, that looked to be working well. The problems began to creep up after a few rounds, when players started to drop off from lack of interest or motivation to keep playing after a few losses put them in danger of not winning. To address this, I’ve crafted a new ruleset, which I’m calling the Quick and the Dead format. It’s based on the single elimination tournaments that have been held off and on for a while now, particularly in the Gencon finals. I’ll post the ruleset here. My goal is to run a tournament this summer using this set. Any input from the community would be greatly appreciated.

Malifaux Musings Vassalfaux Tournament
The Quick and The Dead

Dates: TBD

Entry: $5 for general public, Free for Patreon supporters

Prizes: TBD

Rules: All rounds of this tournament will follow the Gaining Grounds 2018 ruleset, with the following exceptions:

-Crew Size and Composition: All players will, along with their entry, select a faction which they will play for the entirety of the tournament. Prior to Round 1, after strategies and schemes have been announced, players will construct a 25SS crew led by a henchman to use for their first game.
After round 1 has completed and round 2’s schemes and strategies have been announced, they will use the same crew from round 1 and will hire an additional 10SS worth of models and/or upgrades to it.
After round 2 is completed and round 3’s strats and schemes are announced, players will add a master to their round 2 crew, who will then become the leader. Any upgrades on henchman that are leader only may be switched to the master or discarded at this time. Any additional upgrades for the master must either be purchased from the remaining soulstones in the round 2 crew’s cache or by removing models/upgrades from the round 2 crew. No additional models or upgrades beyond the master or the master’s upgrades may be added.
Finally, after round 3 is completed and round 4’s strategy and schemes have been announced, players will add 15SS worth of models and/or upgrades to the previous round’s crew, bringing the total to 50SS.

-Tournament Format: The Vassalfaux Quick and the Dead tournament will be organized in a single-elimination format. Players will be randomly paired in round 1 into a 16-player bracket, and from that point on pairings will proceed down the bracket. The final winner will be the player at the end of the tournament with the highest overall tournament points, with victory point differential as a first tie-breaker and overall victory points scored as a second tie-breaker. If a player loses a particular round, their entry into the tournament is considered “Dead” and will no longer compile tournament points/differential/victory points. If players tie, both entries are considered “Dead,” and the opponent with which they would have been paired the next round will receive a bye. Those who wish to continue playing with others who are “Dead” will be paired up each round in a swiss style format. TP/Diff/VP will still be recorded for these players, and the one who finishes in first place will receive the “Golden Zombie” award (a mindless zombie painted gold.)  
At the beginning of a round, a strategy, scheme pool, deployment, and vassal map will be posted to the tournament dropbox, the Malifaux Musings facebook group, and into that week’s blog post. Players will then have 2 weeks to construct their crew, deposit it in the tournament dropbox folder, and play their game on Vassal with their opponent. If a game is not completed in that time, and one player can show a good-faith effort to try to schedule the game, the tournament organizer will elect to make the entry of the player responsible for the match not happening “Dead”. If neither player can demonstrate a good-faith effort to organize the game, or if both players made an effort but neither can be found to be responsible for the game not happening, the tournament organizer reserves the right to mark the entry of both players “Dead.” The tournament organizer will make every effort to avoid this outcome, if at all possible.
When a game is complete, players should submit their results to the tournament Dropbox folder, along with a screenshot of the Vassal board with the final score indicated (if possible.) If a rules dispute occurs and neither player can determine the correct ruling, players may either attempt to contact the tournament organizer to resolve the rules dispute immediately or, failing that, save the game, contact the tournament organizer for a ruling, and then resume play at a later date.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Through the Breach Bits: Introducing Soulstory and Presenting Three TTB FM Characters For Your Campaign

In honor of the launch of, to my knowledge, one of if not the first Through the Breach actual play podcast, I decided to go through some random bits and bobs I’ve been tinkering with for the roleplaying game. But before that, let’s mention the thing that inspired this, the Soulstory podcast.
Soulstory is, at first blush a standard Through the Breach game (I haven’t listened to all of them yet. They’ve put out a lot of content in the first couple weeks of life to try and push themselves up on itunes new podcasts ratings.) There are four Fated, whose stats are not currently revealed to the listeners, including a bounty hunter who fancies himself a ladies man, a guild fighter with a dark past, a doctor with PTSD and an ability with fire magic, and a murderer on the run. They are thrown together in the initial game session by being tied to the same mission to cleanse Malifaux rats from the city. If you’ve never heard of an actual-play cast, the crew runs an RPG session and records it before publishing it to the wide world. Some of them can be just raw audio, but SoulStory is edited and produced to make for a smoother listening experience. Also, they’re putting the rules behind the story for the time being, particularly the intricacies of the + and – flip mechanics which can be a bit intimidating for newer players.
I’ve been listening to actual-play pods for a very long time. They’re a good way to hear new adventures and pick up some game mastering tips. Since then, the introduction of the wildly successful Critical Role Dungeons and Dragons show and the advent of twitch streaming has caused them to explode in both quantity and quality, which thrills me to no end. I have been thinking for some time that Wyrd needs a Through the Breach version of these, and had considered throwing my hat in the ring, but ultimately decided that I didn’t have the time or technical knowledge to make it happen. I’m excited, then, to see Soulstory making the first moves into this venue. If you’re interested, go to and give them a listen and, if you like what you hear, give them a rating on itunes or whatever pod rating things are out there.


So, some Through the Breach quick hits. A while ago I started tinkering with ideas to put into a Through the Breach game at some point in the future. As of this writing, most of my time playing the game is spent playtesting upcoming Through the Breach stuff (wait till you see what’s coming in part 4 of the worldwide event, folks. It’s pretty cool.) This, of course, is not something I can write about. Also, Phiasco’s using the rules engine to run a game of Firefly, but that doesn’t always make for great fodder here either. As such, the detritus has collected in a notebook. Time to share some of it with the world.
I’m more of a fan of the Badlands area than Malifaux proper, if I’m being honest. It’s not that I hate the city or anything. More that the frontier is more of a blank slate in which I can paint. That’s the reason for the original creation of my campaign hook, the Phantom Line, being set out there. I’ve since come up with some other stuff from the wilderness I’m workshopping. Here’s what I’ve got so far.

Now imagine they could shapeshift into hawks or...*shudder*...bears 

                  The New Chiricahua is a tribe of Native Americans that relocated to Malifaux to live in the wilderness rather than accept relocation to a reservation. The idea came from one of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History casts called Tears of the Apche, detailing the numerous conflicts the US army came into with that tribe, leading up to the last break-out Geronimo led in the 1880s. I was a little stunned that the Apache were still such a threat even that late in our history, and I was more than a little sad that these knowledgeable frontiersmen and warriors eventually lost simply due to lack of numbers and resources. I wanted to give their story a different ending.
In the history of Malifaux, Neverborn refugees transferred to Earth long in our world’s past through one of the lesser known breaches, intermixing with the native American tribes and crossbreeding with them. Over time, this Neverborn blood has become diluted, with only a few of them showing any inclination towards magic. Some of this was awakened with the opening of the first Great Breach in the 1790s, leading to many of the local tribes regaining some of these latent powers. Still, the Black Powder Wars and the strength of the US army (backed with Guild resources, of course) were more than these Apache rebels could handle. Eventually, led by the famous medicine man Geronimo, the Chiricahua broke out from their reservation and ran into the hills, guided by a vision to a small breach in Arizona near Skeleton Canyon. With the Guild’s troops hot on their heels, they knew their only hope lay in escape. The small breach, however, wasn’t large or stable enough for them to pass through. Seeing this, the ancient leader channeled his life force into a ritual to temporarily force it open, letting his people pass through before he collapsed. The Chiricahua found themselves in an ancient, unknown land, and Geronimo died a free man, saving his people in the process.
Meanwhile, the Chiricahua had to learn to survive in Malifaux. The ancient Badlands are honestly not that different than their homeland, and the awakened magics in their blood helped them to adapt and thrive by channeling the elements or shifting their bodies to take on aspects of the creatures they’d long worshipped. They’ve come into conflict with the Neverborn over time, but have since made an uneasy peace with the locals. Both sides raid each other periodically, but both understand that this is done culturally as part of avoiding escalation to a larger conflict, rather than as inevitable steps towards a battle that would only end in grief for both. They have spent the intervening years making a new home for themselves, and have watched with some trepidation as humans have returned through the “second” breach. Hostilities seem inevitable, and the Chiricahua find themselves trapped between their own species and their erstwhile Neverborn “allies,” trying to find the best ways to survive and protect their new way of life.


Herman Wipple came to Malifaux, a penniless nobody floating from one scheme to the next with no prospects. He soon found himself on the wrong side of some ill-advised investments with the Katanaka Organization, on the run from debt collectors. One evening he found himself in a place that is always welcome to those who are down on their luck but with a glimmer of untapped talent: The Honeypot Casino. After one evening with the good stuff, Wipple could be found standing on a tabletop in the saloon, expounding on the many merits of his particular brands of tonics and snake-oils to a delighted audience until the earliest hours of dawn, and the establishment’s proprietor found himself a new sales opportunity.
The Honeypot is a fantastic way to channel Brilliance into the community of Malifaux, but the outlying towns and districts are another matter. To spread the Hungering Darkness’s influence there, Lynch has taken the man into his employ and given him a store of the drug to peddle in the contract towns of the Northern Hills or the Badlands. “Professor Wipple’s Cure-All” is thus sold out of the back of the man’s wagon to unsuspecting rubes as a means of easing their various maladies, facilitating work crews to put in extra overtime and work more efficiently, and inspire the intellectual to greater feats of creativity or magical alacrity. When, weeks later, the cure-all runs out and Professor Wipple’s cart has proceeded down the road to the next stop, a voice in their ear directs them to the Honeypot to get some more of the good stuff, with none the wiser as to the source of this debilitating addiction.
Wipple’s success has so-far managed to keep his debtors at bay and keep the Hungering Darkness from coming to claim him. The more he sells, the longer he gets to live. But, he knows in the back of his mind that he’s living on borrowed time, and a bad week of sales could end him forever.


It takes a lot to make a tribe of Nephilim particularly notorious. The average human probably couldn’t tell one of the purple-skinned creatures from another if their life depended on it, so the fact that the Pale-Mark tribe is whispered of in taprooms and stagecoaches near the Far Peaks should give an indication of the level of savagery to which they have descended.
Nephilim attacking humans is not a new thing. Nephilim drinking blood or consuming flesh also is nothing new. But Nephilim descending on livestock, horses, wild animals, or even other Nephilim and consuming them entirely is something else. Rumor has it that they wandered off from their people’s forests to live in the mountains at some point in the distant past, either being driven off as exiles or choosing to make a break with the other tribes. Eventually, they found themselves trapped by a severe winter that drove them to the brink of death and forced them to turn to cannibalism to survive. And, in doing so, they accepted a deal with an ancient entity of hunger and cold, which has since driven them nearly to the point of madness and cannibalism. There are other whispers that members of the Pale-Mark have been seen working with some of the wild-men from the northern mountains, though these are almost too ridiculous to be believed. What is known is that something has started to drive them down from their mountains, and they’ve been preying on stagecoaches and settlements ever since. What’s caused this is unknown, but it seems like someone is going to have to go deal with them before more innocents are sacrificed to slake their endless hunger.