There was a time while growing up that my friends and I were intensely into Warhammer miniatures. We collected a handful of armies and battled with each other, but we eventually had to stop when the cost to continually build our armies got a little out of hand. Fast forward to college, and another friend introduced me to the tabletop skirmish game of Malifaux. Here was a Western/Steampunk/Horror hybrid where undead zombie harlots fight lovecraftian mechanical monstrosities. One only needed to purchase a $20 to $30 box of minis to have a fully functioning squad ready to play. After we met, I introduced Courtney to the game, and we became very invested in the game. The small scale tactical game play paired with fantastic lore and world building grabbed us and wouldn’t let go.
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All Trademarks, including Malifaux, places, things and character names and their distinctive likenesses are property of Wyrd Miniatures, LLC.
In late 2012, Wyrd, the developer of the game, launched a Kickstarter called Malifaux: Through the Breach. This tabletop roleplaying game set in the world of Malifaux focuses on the “Fated”: player characters whose destinies are touched by the hand of Fate. I was just getting back into D&D and other roleplaying games at the time, so I (and a few friends) backed the project. Once we got the system in our hands, we fell in love with the game play and how drastically different it is from the other ttrpgs we had experience with.
So…what is Malifaux: Through the Breach?
Malifaux tells the story of an alternate Earth in the late 1700’s where magic is fading from the world. A coven composed of desperate magicians, engineers, and scientists create an experiment which results in opening a portal to another dimension. On the other side, they find a colossal abandoned city named Malifaux. Just outside the city, the early explorers also discover a source of magical energy called Soulstones–named for the way they recharge while in proximity to a dying person. These soulstones create a huge demand back on earth, and become the main export of a newly formed group of merchants called the Guild.
This goes on for a number of years as humanity begins travelling between dimensions via the Breach. Until, one day, the sounds of battle are heard earthside, but no one is able to travel through the breach. Despite the surprised and desperate efforts of the mages and engineers on Earth, the portal begins shrinking. Just before the breach disappears completely, a single corpse flies from the portal. Carved upon its chest is the word “Ours”.
The native inhabitants of Malifaux took back their world.
One hundred years later, the Breach suddenly reopens with no sign of the original humans who crossed over before. After some cautionary exploration, different factions begin to vie for soulstones and their own desires within the game. In the miniatures game, there are eight factions players can choose to play. Here are some of the most notable factions.
Faction images from Wyrd Games
The Guild: protectors of the people who maintain a stranglehold on the soulstone production in Malifaux.
The Resurrectionists: a loosely organized collection of magic-users who focus on using Malifaux’s magic to illegally resurrect the dead for their own means.
The Arcanists: a covert alliance that opposes the Guild, believing magic should be available to all rather than severely controlled.
The Neverborn: the monstrous original inhabitants of Malifaux, stalking humanity from the shadows and wearing twisted forms based upon humanity’s worst nightmares.
The Ten Thunders: a crime syndicate nestled within the populace that focuses on illicit activities to fund their exploits to take over Malifaux.
Even the process for character creation uses cards! Each player draws five cards, forming a tarot that informs them of what kind of stats they get to allocate and what skills their character learned in life. This includes what jobs their parents had, any vices, and if they had any life-threatening (or life-ending) accidents. It’s fun to try and mold a character concept after you see what your cards are, rather than the other way around. This tarot also provides a randomized “fate” for your characters, which the gamemaster (or “Fatemaster”) can weave into the narrative. Check out the examples below.
“If you are unmourned by the father
you will take up his sword
but his smile shall never fade.
The end will find him in the garden
and she bears the fruit of your absolution. “
“If you allow the hands to pull you down
an empty grave will fill with melody
but fear the shadow cast by no man.
Spirits run sour in your veins
and it cackles from the locket.”
Disclaimer: We didn’t write those fates! Those are all lines found in the book during character creation and randomly assigned via card draw. Pretty neat, eh?
When players reach these fate steps in game, their characters can either defy fate or accept it, depending on the circumstances, and will receive Through the Breach’s equivalent of a level up. During one session, the group’s reluctant doctor/resurrectionist decided to take a look inside a massive vat that contained sentient liquid flesh.
She flipped a Willpower save to resist its hypnotic call and she drew the Black Joker, this game’s version of a critical fail. Her character began walking towards the lip of the vat, ignoring the calls from her companions. It took the combined efforts of the rest of the party (plus a summoned NPC) to pull her away from the hands that began forming out from the liquid. She MIGHT not have died, had she embraced her destiny step at that point, but it was fun seeing what the player decided to do in those kinds of moments.
Gameplay is pretty different from the game master’s side as well. Rather than rolling die for every monster’s attack, damage or skill check, every NPC gets a defined value based on their Rank. Low level mooks get an overall lower value compared to master-level opponents. The party flips to see if they dodge or defend against the attacks, making combat much more engaging for the players. While some frequently occuring monsters can get a little predictable since most enemies have a set value that players can eventually anticipate, Gamemasters can certainly play with the skills and abilities to shake up encounters.
From my experience in playing Through the Breach as both a Fatemaster and player, I’ve found it to be engaging and thoroughly enjoyable. Courtney continuously reminds me that it’s her favorite ttrpg and that she’d much rather be playing it than most of the other rpgs out there. Any time I hear people are bored of whatever ttrpg they’re currently playing, we love introducing them to Malifaux.
To learn more about the world, check out:
- The Wyrd site
- Breachside Broadcast (This is a Malifaux story podcast. The sound quality is a little uneven in the early episodes, but I promise it gets better and is a great way to learn about the lore.)
To start playing the game yourself, we recommend you pick up:
- The Core Rules
- This book includes both Player and Fatemaster rules, and is the best way to begin!
- Character sheet pdf
- (Clicking this link will start a download of a zip file containing character sheets)
- A Malifaux Fate Deck
- (This is a 54 card deck, similar to a normal deck of cards, and there are a lot of other design options out there! Yes, you can use a normal deck, but it’s easier to have the correct suits when calculating your spell attacks and creating your characters. Malifaux uses Crows, Masks, Tomes, and Rams.)
- Penny Dreadful One Shot – Recruitment Drive
- Penny Dreadful One Shots are single session adventures for a party that are only released as PDFS. They often include pregenerated characters they are designed to work with, allowing Fatemasters to choose whether to insert them into an ongoing campaign or to run a quick and dirty session of Through the Breach. There are a lot of Penny Dreadfuls you can find on DriveThruRPG; these are just a few beginner friendly ones!
- Penny Dreadful – A Night in Rottenburg
- This is a bit longer than a one-shot, but is a fun multi-session campaign that is pretty self-explanatory and also good for players new to the Malifaux world.
So what do you think?
Hopefully, the next time you hear the question ” what is Malifaux: Through the Breach? ” you’ll be able to answer yourself. I hope you’ll check out the game. It really is a tremendous amount of fun.
As you delve more into this world with us, be sure to remember the mantra of Malifaux:
“Bad Things Happen.”