Posted by: markfender | March 18, 2014

Malifaux Through the Breach: One Cool Thing

The Malifaux Through the Breach RPG has been released to Kickstarter backers.

malifauxbreachInstead of doing a full review (because there’s a whole slew of other reviews on here), I thought I’d just talk about the one cool thing this game does.

That is not to say that there’s only one cool thing. It looks like a very competent adaptation of the miniatures game to a roleplaying format. Following in the heels of Iron Kingdoms, the game takes the fundamental mechanics of the minis game, expands those into a roleplaying format, and provides cross-compatability between the two. That’s cool, especially considering Malifaux’s card-based format for conflict resolution. I have some issues with the placement of rules and some of the Pursuits seem a little lackluster, but in general, it looks they accomplished their goals.

The one cool thing I wanted to highlight is the Destiny mechanic. Each character is made with a Tarot-like spread from a deck of cards. Each portion of the cross provides a different set of attribute points, skills, etc. in a random character creation method. However, each card also provides a line from your character’s Destiny that will be pieced together after you’ve played all five cards into a somewhat obtuse Destiny for your character. This includes the sort of things you might read in a typical fantasy game prophecy: “When the moon runs red…” or “When the two become one…”

But that’s not all! The GM’s Guide talks about another cool idea related to the Destiny, that each session will complete one portion of that Destiny. There are five ‘bits’ to each Destiny, so you’ve got five sessions to figure out what all that prophetic talk means. Each session is designed to highlight one of the character’s Destiny progression, so with a 4 person group, you’re looking at twenty sessions before every character’s Destiny is fulfilled (or thwarted) and the game ends.

This is a cool idea because it deliberately bakes in the idea of a finite campaign. It’s so rare to see this talked about, with some mechanical considerations behind it. If anything makes me sad about the whole thing, it’s that Through the Breach doesn’t spend enough time talking about this. There’s a few paragraphs laying out the above math for the end of your campaign and that’s it. I wanted to see GM advice on how to work in a bit of a character’s Destiny into an ongoing campaign. I wanted examples. I wanted more guidance on how the Manifested Powers are integrated into that Destiny (Each character will gain a Manifested Power during the course of their exploration of their Destiny. There are decent rules on how to mechanically make up this new power, but not a lot of guidance on when/how/why, nor am I entirely clear on how many Manifested Powers a player should have). While there’s been games that provided advice on running a finite campaign, this game breaks it down into discrete steps, and I wanted more about that. And you could have totally skipped the part of providing an in-universe equipment catalog, complete with notes scribbled in the margins from in-universe NPCs about all the different guns. Malifaux isn’t Shadowrun and that part of the book didn’t really make any sense (nor did I need two pages on how rifles work, only to have the whole thing summed up in a five line table). There were places where I wanted things cut, in order to expand upon the unusual and unique mechanics the game is presenting.

If there’s a failure of Through the Breach, it’s that – the unique mechanics don’t get enough explanation. Because I think they’ve got some really cool new game ‘tech’ here, but not enough guidance on how it should work in play. Even so, I think it’s a cool idea and it’s cool to see this sort of innovation in what could ostensibly just be a staid, traditional combat-focused game.

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