Ann Arbor Game Day
Through the Breach - Malifaux RPG
Elevator Pitch: Confront your fate in the macabre gothic “western” setting of the Malifaux miniatures game.
Core Mechanic: Drawn card + Aspect + Skill vs. Target Number
Dice Used: One communal deck of cards, plus a 13 card deck per player
In the late 18th century, long-waning magic was revived by the creation of the Breach: a tear between dimensions that opened into another world, revealing an eerily abandoned city surrounded by a hostile landscape. In addition to simply increasing the magical powers of anyone who entered it, the other world also revealed a precious new resource: the Soulstone. Mineable in the strange other-world, these strange gemstones contain a remarkable amount of arcane power that can be used to fuel all manner of miracles, from powering constructs or pneumatic limbs, to fueling great works of sorcery. And they can be recharged . . . by the death of someone nearby.
This new resource, and the other treasures (magical and otherwise) to be found in the ruins of the city (or the outlying, similarly abandoned, towns) attracted a boom of travel through the gate and fueled a flowering of both magic and science (with the difference sometimes hard to discern), as more and more scholars, inventors, and laborers crossed through the Breach in search of the new world’s secrets. Eventually, they cracked the alien language in which the city was labelled, revealing its name: Malifaux.
But after a decade of relative quiescence, the dark things lurking in the new world returned in force: one day, the Breach began to close, with those near it able to hear the sounds of a great storm and a pitched battle, among other, more terrifying things. Just before it closed entirely, it disgorged a body, bearing a message from whatever had acted on the other side: the word “OURS”, carved into the corpse’s flesh.
Without a steady supply of Soulstones, the world quickly fell to war over those that had passed through before. When they ended, the supply was in control of the Guild, a massive organization that existed without national allegiance. It was they who controlled the site of the Breach when, a century after it had closed, it suddenly reopened. Travelers to the other side found Malifaux and its surrounding mining towns once again eerily empty, with neither corpses nor other scars from the battle that had apparently claimed all of the previous colonists . . .
With the road to Malifaux reopened, the Guild has seized control of the Earthly operations in this new world, running them with brutal, dictatorial efficiency. But they at least provide some protection against the dangers that lurk in the shadows. The Arcanists, whose sorcerous powers are enhanced, oppose the Guild with vicious and destructive brutality. The Resurrectionists, empowered by the dark forces lurking beneath the city with the ability to raise the dead into monsters and command the once-living for their own purposes, always need new bodies. In the bayous to the south, in addition to other beasts and horrors, dwell the Gremlins, vicious little creatures native to the world who’ve taken to a grotesque imitation of human backwater culture since their arrival. And the Neverborn, monstrous horrors that defy categorization, fight a war against the “invaders”, through means most foul.
Into this world come the Fated, people whose knowledge of their own destinies draws them to pass Through the Breach into Malifaux. There, they’ll be confronted with the chance to accept or deny their fate . . . or die trying.
Through the Breach uses a card system, similar to the miniatures game whose setting it shares (there are, in fact, rules for converting between the two found in the Fatemaster’s Almanac). While it’s based on the custom Fate Decks used in the game, which feature alternate suits and explicitly label the values of face cards, it’s relatively easy to convert using any standard card deck with distinguishable jokers.
Characters are generated using drawn cards in a tarot-like sequence, with each card saying something about both the Fated’s past and his or her eventual destiny: a five-part prophecy that will be fulfilled as the campaign progresses. The cards define the “spread” of points that the player can assign to the values of her Aspects (general attributes) and Skills, on top of which the player also gets to assign a few free points and talent selections. Characters also have a Pursuit, which determines starting equipment and offers a basic Talent as long as the Fated is on that particular Pursuit, as well as a ladder of Talents she’ll earn by completing adventures while following it. But characters can change their Pursuits at the start of every adventure, following different aspects as suits the situation. Each player also gets a Twist deck they can use to cheat fate, whose contents are determined by ranking the four suits and getting the appropriate cards from each. Players draw a hand of three cards from this deck, which replenishes after any conflict that goes into dramatic time.
When resolving actions of the sort that need a randomizer, the player draws the top card from the general Fate deck, adds her Aspect and Skill, and determines success or failure based on the target number (and, occasionally, any suit-based requirement or boost). Only players draw cards; the Fated are the ones who determine whether they can defy the fate placed before them, and in fact whenever the Fatemaster (GM) touches the Fate deck (usually to shuffle it when it’s empty or an appropriately dramatic event has occurred), the players all get to draw another card from their personal Twist decks. If the player isn’t happy with the card pulled from the Fate deck, she can usually Cheat Fate, by playing a card from her hand and using its value instead. There are also other abilities that can be powered by discarding cards from the player’s hand, making them an especially valuable resource! Particularly easy or difficult circumstances can require the player to draw multiple cards and take either the highest or the lowest; in the later case, she can’t cheat fate, making it especially dangerous.
Funeral Parlor Tricks
Drawn through the breach by both their own destinies and the lure of promised work, the Fated are on the trail of a woman who’s brought her grandfather’s body with her into Malifaux . . . an ominous quarry indeed in a city who’s dead don’t lie quietly in their graves.