Tabletop Game: Malifaux

"Bad things happen"
First page of the rulebook

Malifaux is a Miniatures War-game set in an alternate history/universe/dimension. The bulk of the story has taken place in an alternate dimension accessible through a magic gate known as "the breach", found in California.

In the setting magic has existed for centuries, as observers noted it was becoming weaker over time, in the late 1790s a portal was found in California that lead to another world where magic was still strong. On the other side of the portal the first explorers discovered an empty city; Malifaux. In adition to being a magic-heavy world, a resource was found in Malifaux: Soulstone, an ore that stored magical power and when used by mages back on Earth to supercharge, or even just use magic in Earth's magic-poor environment. After an initial colony was set up and a mining operation to extract and ship the soulstone to Earth had been running for some time, the breach that spanned the two worlds abruptly collapsed to the sounds of slaughter, and right before the portal slammed shut, a mutilated torso was flung out of it. One hundred years later the rift has reopened, with city found to be completely empty of any human presence. The game is set four years after the breach reopened, round about the year 1900, in the city of Malifaux where the ruling body, known as the Guild controls the mining and shipping of soulstone, and maintains the only "Safe" area in the city.

The game's setting is described by creator Nathan Caroland as "Steamvictoriohorrorwestpunk".

There are seven main factions, within them there are sub-factions that revolve around variations on the theme of that faction, leading to considerably variety between "Crews" and their Masters, the ones who lead the crews into desperate, violent battles in horror city of Malifaux:

The Guild: Currently in charge of running Malifaux, they operate the mines, deal with the convict labor and try to hold off the predations of the other factions. Predominantly themed on Fascism and cowboys, their sub-factions include the Witch-hunters who are basically licensed mage-cowboy fascists hunting unlicensed non-cowboy mages, the Ortega Family of facist Mexican gunslinger cowboys, and the Death Marshalls crazy coffin-wielding undead-hating fascist cowboys. Overall this is the Jack-Of-All-Trades, Masters Of Shooting faction and depending on which Master is taken can be capable of pouring ridiculous amounts of fire on models left in the open, spell-spamming their opponents into submission or just rigorously applying steel to rotting flesh.

The Arcanists: Comprised of several semi-secret groups led by mages that are opposed to The Guild's stranglehold, they form a very loose alliance aimed at fighting The Man. Their sub-factions include a Genetic engineering druid cult, an Ice magic worshipping cult and the Miners and Steamfitters Union (the guys who patch-up those steam-powered doom spiders, not a cult). The Arcanists are a trick-based faction that rely on spells to help get the job done, they are quite varied across the Masters in terms of play-style and have more spell-dependant Masters than the other factions.

The Resurrectionists: Token Undead faction, although each of Masters are a quite distinct flavor of necromancy. The Resurrectionists are mages who are fascinated with death, souls and unhealthy surgery, they stand apart from The Arcanists due to Ethical differences. Sub-factions include Undead Hookers led by a Jack The Ripper Ersatz, Punk-Samurai-Zombies, as well as a standardised Frankstein-type scientist with stitched-up Zombies. Recently the acquired star-crossed lover who weaves control over ghosts. Despite all sharing the common traits of Undead, a common theme is moderately sized crews rather than spamming hordes, although this is a viable for some Masters, a lot of the time they can replace casualties rather than simply increase their numbers, making them handle attrition better in longer games, in addition to their replaceable traits they tend to have slightly tougher models than the other factions, at the cost of speed and range firepower, the Mighty Glacier faction essentially.

The Neverborn: Unlike the other factions, this group is comprised of the original inhabitants of the dimension that Malifaux exists in, and they want their land back. Sub-factions are Voodoo ghouls, Demon-Vampire Hybrids, bizarre child-like entities of sadness and finally the sentient nightmares springing forth from a possibly insane 8-year old's mind. The Neverborn favor a hit-and-run strategy, lacking any real tough units they rely on sheer speed, morale affecting abilities and unusual tricks to strike and withdraw before any damage is sustained, veritably the Fragile Speedster faction.

Outcasts: Not a united faction but a loose group of models that have their own agendas - from steampunk Necromancers, to a possessed ratcatcher that is a dark Pied Piper, to professional German mercenaries. This faction is a grab-bag of the other elements that don't fit into the larger factions, very similar to the Mercenaries and Minions factions from the Iron Kingdoms games.

Gremlins: Another group of Malifaux's native inhabitants, the bayou-dwelling Gremlins are Malifaux's goblins. They ape human culture, and their lack of intelligence and self-preservation instinct is eclipsed only by their boundless enthusiasm and numbers.

Ten Thunders: A new faction that represents an ancient Clan from Asia working its way through the power structures of Malifaux. All masters bar one, who is a Bare-FistedMonk hosting an Eldritch Abomination, are joint faction models, representing their deep cover assignments to manipulate all of Malifaux, their number include a ninja assassin leader with power over thunder, a club-owning, drug-dealing, curse-spreading cardshark who hangs out with Neverborn skinwalkers while being haunted by his own literal personal demon, an Adventurer for the Guild with an interesting arsenal of relics and thugs, a kung-fu fighting railway construction unionist who uses a fighting style inspired by her industry and a not 100% intentionally reincarnated ancestral necromancer who can build up skill trees over the course of a game.

The game itself is thematically similar to Games Workshop's Mordheim skirmish game, and shares some similarity with Deadlands.

This game contains examples of:
  • After the End: This is one probable way to describe what Malifaux was like when first discovered, and when humanity entered the city after the second breach.
  • Amazon Brigade: The Gremlins can field one, ironically, despite the fact female gremlins are rarer and usually hiding in the swamp making babies — Mah Tucket's Bayou Bushwhackers warband is made up of stealthy, gun-toting, guerrilla-trained females, though it can of course be bolstered by other gremlins.
  • An Ice Person: Rasputina, and most of the cult of December, including December himself
  • Anime Hair: Both Viktorias in 1E. In 2E, Viktoria of Blood (the Breachside one) retains the look, while Viktoria of Ashes (the Earthside one) has more of a punk rocker hairstyle.
  • Anti-Magic: Sonnia and the witch hunters are specialists in using this, especially against arcanists.
  • Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Lelu and Lelitu Nephilim may have what looks like a onesided, abusive relationship, with the more human-like and seductive Lelitu whipping and ordering their stronger brothers around, but the Lelu are genuinely happy to be serving, and the Lelitu become quite distraught - to the point of potentially wasting away to death from grief - if their brothers are slain.
  • Badass: Anyone who volunteers for night patrol outside of Downtown after surviving a prior experience. Anyone who fights Lord Chompy Bits and survives. Death Marshalls, the Outcast faction. Generally non-badasses are defined as Guild Guards, civilians or corpses that aren't trying to kill you.
    • Von Schill is regarded to be with Chuck Norris in levels of badass, lore-, fandom- and mechanics-wise.
  • Badass Adorable: The Student of Conflict is explicitly described as "a deadly and adorable mercenary" in the second edition manual.
  • Badass Family: The Ortegas, both story and game-wise. The La Croix are a gremlin family seeking to emulate them.
  • Badass Longcoat: Most humans wear coats or robes that look like coats, and the gremlin La Croix clan follow in the Ortega's example.
  • Bad Boss: The Governor General, gremlin society, Nyghtmare prior to meeting The Dreamer.
  • The Beastmaster: Marcus, who controls many kinds of creatures native to Malifaux, and even modifies some of them to best serve his needs.
  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: Tuco, ex-Ortega now Nephilim gunslinger.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: The bayou houses gigantic mosquitoes in it, and various splats depending on edition allow gremlin gangs to field them.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The Waldgeist (German for "forest ghost") are tree monsters, and many of the Ortega family's abilities have Spanish names.
  • Black Comedy: Heavily present.
  • Blind Weaponmaster: Lady Justice, armed with an especially big sword.
  • Blood Lust: All Nephilim share it to some degree.
  • Body Horror: Too many examples to list them all here.
  • Brother-Sister Team: Lelu and Lelitu.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Bishop.
  • Crapsack World: When the native inhabitants include things that regularly mind-rape your species on your home reality for sustenance, its hard to argue that this isn't a horrible, horrible place.
  • Creepy Child: The Woes, Baby Kade, and worst of all The Dreamer.
    • There is a lot more, this quite literally the only tabletop game where you will face off against a crew that is half comprised of children that are unsettling at the least.
  • Cthulhumanoid: Coppelius.
  • Cute Monster Girl: Some of the less repugnant female non-humans in the game qualify.
    • Best example is probably the Gremlin henchman Trixibelle. Her flavor text describes her as being one of the rare lucky draws from the gremlin genetic pot, so the end-result is a short but stacked girl who actually looks pretty sexy, if you can get past the green skin, elf-like ears, lack of a nose and mouthful of teeth. It's mentioned she's tried hitting on human men as well as enjoying the bevvy of gremlin guys who want to date, but none of the human men she flirts with tend to be interested — her features may be smoother and more symmetrical than is typical for her race, but she's still obviously a gremlin, so she tends to come off as a Butter Face to humans.
      • Ophelia LaCroix is also pretty cute, too, being basically a less busty and leggy version of Trixibelle.
    • Lelitu look a lot like the general idea of the succubus.
  • Cyborg: Some characters in Malifaux have mechanical limbs, like Ramos and Nicodem
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: When Viktoria crosses the Breach, her latent magical potential manifests. The description of the event could very well be describing an orgasm.
  • Doppelgänger: One of the Neverborn units. Also, Viktorias.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Neverborn and other natives, except for the Gremlins. The tyrants seem to be this even to the Neverborn.
  • Elegant Gothic Lolita: Candy's new look in the second edition.
  • Enfante Terrible: Everyone in the Creepy Child entry above. The Dreamer especially. A more mundane variant is The Little Lass, a daughter of Ma Tucket who wants to be just like her momma.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Welcome to Malifaux.
  • Everythings Worse With A Teddy Bear: And that teddy bear is about to hug your guts and eat the gooey mess that remains.
  • Explosive Breeder: A single gremlin pregnancy can result in upwards of twenty offspring. Of course gremlin parenting being what it is, and the sheer lethality of the bayou, most won't reach adulthood. Still, they breed enough that they thrive even despite the dangers, parental neglect and the fact male gremlins outnumber females 10 to 1.
    • The gremlin minion known as the Sow sits somewhere between here and Mother of a Thousand Young. It's a mutated giant perpetually-pregnant three-headed sow that has the ability to give birth to free piglet minions during the game.
  • Expy: Seamus is an expy of Jack the Ripper, with a bit of Joker seasoning.
    • Hamelin is basically the Pied Piper.
    • McMourning is the mad doctor version of Frankenstein.
    • Killjoy is an Abomination from Warcraft, complete with cleaver in one hand and hooked chain in the other.
  • Eye Scream: Coppelius feeds on eyes, making him quite an outcast to his fellow nightmares. According to in-game mechanics its possible for him to remove more than two eyes from human skull.
  • Fan Disservice: Zoraida. Also, Rotten Belles.
  • Fanservice: Most female characters who don't fall into Fan Disservice instead are this.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Lord Chompy Bits, The Dreamer's "Imaginary Friend" actually Nyghtmare, the King of Nightmares, he tried to scare the boy who would become The Dreamer and devour his mind through the fear, but was in fact defeated and befriended/enslaved by the mysterious child.
    • Teddy, a giant teddy bear with a psychotic grin, teeth like kitchen knives, psycho eyes and a love heart on its chest.
      • Common in general with The Neverborn.
  • Food Chain of Evil: There are things that even The Neverborn fear.
  • Fragile Speedster: The Dreamer is the squishiest, fastest Master in the game.
  • Full-Boar Action: The Gremlin crews can field a variety of the bayou's lethal hogs in their forces, especially after 2e released "Crossroads". They get four Minions (Piglet, War Pig, Wild Boar and The Sow), two Peons (the Pigapult — a catapult that launches piglets — and the Stuffed Piglet), an Enforcer (Gracie), and a Henchman (Old Major) who are all based on being killer pigs. One Master, Ulix, specializes in fielding pigs, and there's a Minion called the Slop Hauler that is used for supporting pigs.
  • Gender Rarity Value:
    • Gremlins (10 males: 1 female) sit somewhere between the Revere and Exploit variants. Females are protected from having to go out hunting in the swamps (where they risk being eaten by everything) and can count on endless arrays of gifts from horny would-be suitors, but are expected to constantly pop out and look after litters of gremlin infants.
    • Silurids (10 males: 1 female) are of the Revere variety, where the "swamp mothers" are protected and doted upon by brothers, uncles and suitors.
  • Glass Cannon: Neverborn crews that aren't Fragile Speedsters
  • Good Wings, Evil Wings: Most of the Nephilim sport bat-like ones.
  • Green Rocks: Soulstone, it may in fact eat the souls of people as they die in its presence.
  • Half-Identical Twins: Lelu and Lelitu. Both are clearly cut from the same demonic mold, but one is a hulking male bruiser and the other is a seductive female dominatrix.
  • Hand Cannon: Despite not being a gunfighter, Seamus uses one of these for people he doesn't intend to raise for anything more complicated than expendable zombies.
  • Handicapped Badass: Hoffman and lady Justice, a paraplegic engineer and a blind swordswoman. Both can fight against the terrors of Malifaux and win.
  • The Hecate Sisters: The Neverborn leaders Pandora (Maiden), Lilith (Mother), and Zoraida (Crone) are modeled after this trope.
  • Heroic BSOD: The "Horrible Realization" ability of Hamelin's Creepy Child minions can cause this, when an enemy realizes that what they though was an Undead Child was really a living child controlled by a Mystical Plague.
  • Hollywood Voodoo: Some of Zoraida's abilities, including a voodoo doll
  • Horny Devils: Lilitu.
  • Hot Witch: Zoraida in her avatar form
  • Humanoid Abomination: With the exception of The Dreamer and Zoraida, who are human this applies to all Neverborn Masters and a few of their followers.
    • Also, Hamelin.
  • The Hunter: The Ortega family are a Mexican Cowboy variant.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: At first, it seems like Perdita Ortega is able to shoot bullets in a curve. Later it is explained that reality itself is changing so she hits the target
  • Improbable Weapon User: Seamus uses a bag of tools to butcher his foes, Death Marshalls use magic coffins they haul around to fight zombies. Sebastian, McMourning's assistant uses a steam-powered buzzsaw to harvest organs for his boss, Kirai uses a set of gardening shears, but is more likely to cut herself with them.
  • Infant Immortality: Subverted, children aren't normally brought into Malifaux, so if you find any child alone and unafraid in the rough areas of the city letting them live could be the last mistake you ever make, except for The Dreamer, killing him is just as bad as letting him live His friends will pop into existence right in front of you and Mind Rape you before eating you.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Zoraida was, as evidenced by her Avatar of Fate form.
  • Japanese Mythology: Spirits invoked by the resurectionist Kirai tend to have the form of oriental creatures and ghosts
  • Last Breath Bullet: The "Slow to Die" ability some models have allows this.
  • Lethal Joke Character: Seamus, a well dressed dandy of a serial killer who loves to raise hookers to form his entourage, has a stupidly powerful pistol as his second most deadly attack. His most deadly attack is whacking someone with his carry bag of tools; it doesn't do damage, it just kills the model outright unless the player controlling it discards 2 cards or 2 Soulstones, considering he can't use the handgun more than once a turn, the tools are best way of making sure something dies.
  • Mad Scientist: Dr Douglas McMourning, who started as a coroner for the guild, and now is an insane necromancer who likes to combine body parts to create new kinds of undead.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: Colette Du Bois and some of her stage girls. Colette was a normal magician and illusionist before coming to Malifaux.
  • Mass Super-Empowering Event: Crossing the dimensional barrier between Malifaux and earth can awake the magical potential of and individual, if it doesen't kill you. Another example is "the Event" in Rising powers, who made already powerful individuals capable of assuming more powerful forms.
  • Mecha-Mooks: Used mostly by the guild and the arcanists
  • Mechanical Horse: Several chariots in Malifaux use horse shaped robots for locomotion. The mechanical rider rides one
  • Metagame: There is small tournament scene in the US and UK, currently its dominated by Ortega crews for their superior shooting and all the Neverborn crews for being able to Alpha Strike the enemy or put them in an unbreakable death-lock on the first turn.
    • Of note is Kirai, who is considered the only tournament viable Resurrectionist due to her huge utility and mobility that allows her to handle the overly powerful Ortegas and Neverborn crews.
    • Marcus has had a huge surge in 2012-2013 with several well-known tournament wins, despite being considered the worst master and the second worst crew leader at present.
  • Mind Rape: The Nightmare sub-faction of the Neverborn is entirely populated by creatures that feed on bad dreams, except for The Dreamer and Coppelius...
  • Murderous Mannequin: Mechanical version, used by Collete and her showgirls as dancers, assistants and bodyguards.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Malifaux has so many zombies and shapeshifters that most people naturally assume Hamelin's child minions are undead or monsters. They're actually living children controlled by a Mystical Plague. When one of them is killed, the "Horrible Realization" mechanic can cause their killer to go into a Heroic BSOD.
  • Mystical Plague: Hamelin started a epidemic in Malifaux after being possessed by a tyrant of disease. It's also part of his tactics for fighting enemies.
    • Pandora does this as a game mechanic to everything in her presence, whats worse is that a spamming passive ability and often proves fatal to anyone in range.
    • Jakob Lynch's "Brilliance" is both a drug, a curse and a disease.
  • Nice Hat: Gremlin leadership is based on the idea that the bigger your hat, the more important you are, and so their characters all carry the biggest, snazziest hats they can find. In the Gremlin fluff for the 2e corebook, Som'er Teeth Jones is seen grumbling he should be boss over all of the gremlins called together by Zoraida because he's got the biggest hat, and Ophelia LaCroix deliberately stole one of Perdita Ortega's hats to be her symbol of leadership.
  • Ninja: Misaki, Mistress of the Ten Thunders.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Leveticus, The Steampunk Necromancer. Also, others.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: Befitting his Slasher roots, Seamus' "Back Alley" action allows him to relocate IF no one can see him.
  • Oh Crap!: Seeing a child in the swamps around Malifaux is a prelude to it ripping your entrails out and/or calling for its Teddy...
    • Pretty much everything in the Neverborn would cause this reaction, they are after all likely to feed on your fear.
    • Being a regular Guild Guard as the first on scene to a M&SU rally turned riot...
  • Our Demons Are Different: Many of the Neverborn.
  • Our Gremlins Are More Inbred: They hang out in swamps, playing banjos... PADDLE FASTER!
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Nephilim, the vampire/demon Neverborn.
  • Perverse Puppet: Several of the neverborn are demonic toys, especially Collodi, a living puppet AND puppeter.
  • Plague Master: Hamelin the plagued. Lynch sort of qualifies, when he's not a drug pusher.
  • The Pollyanna: Outcasts faction has that cheerful minion girl named Taelor. Her optimistic demeanour is, however, very well justified.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: It is implied that soulstones absorv the soul of the recently dead. Using the stones energy may completely destroy the soul inside.
  • Reality Warper: The Dreamer.
  • Robot Master: Hoffman, Ramos and Leveticus
  • Rock-Paper-Scissors: The original Masters were designed as a balanced counter system with one master to counter a specific faction, as the number increased this has shifted a bit, especially with the introduction of The Dreamer and some buffs to Lilth and Pandora. The Ortegas were an exception to the originals as they're good against everyone.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: Malifaux Rats.
  • Shout-Out: Probably needs its own page:
    • Hoffman and Coppelius are a shoutout to "Der Sandmann", a German horror story.
    • Seamus is an Irish Jack the Ripper.
    • Nicodem is an undertaker and necromancer whose manner of dress evokes Baron Samedi.
    • Pandora, Lilth and Zoraida meet together in the first rulebook like the Fates or the witches in Macbeth.
      • They also reference figures from Greek, Jewish, and Russian folklore, respectively. Pandora carries a box of Woes, Lilith is the Mother of Monsters (and quite possibly the Lilith), and Zoraida lives in a chicken-legged hut like Baba Yaga.
    • The gremlins are all swamp dwelling rednecks who like banjos, they even had a special rule called Deliverance in 1st edition, and retain another called "Squeel!"
    • Sue's name, description and ability list are one long shout out to Johnny Cash.
    • Collodi the living puppet is named after the author of The Adventures of Pinocchio.
    • Jakob Lynch runs a casino and brothel. One of his upgrades is "The Rising Sun," referring to a traditional song about gambling and prostitution.
    • Hans the sniper has the ability "Smile, You Son of a..." that quotes the famous Pre-Mortem One-Liner from Jaws.
    • In Crossroads (2nd Edition's first expansion), the Resurrectionist master Molly has two upgrade cards that have powers named after lyrics to the Of Monsters And Men song "Little Talks" ("I'll Walk With You My Dear," "I'll See You When I Fall Asleep" and "The Screams All Sound The Same.")
  • Sibling Rivalry: Lilitus are rather abusive towards Lelus.
  • Sibling Team: Lelu and Lilitu. They can be downright scary when used right.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: See above.
  • Spider Tank: The leviathan, capable of destroying ancient temples and creatures made entirely of death.
  • Squishy Wizard: Rasputina and Nicodem aren't going toe-to-toe with anyone any time soon. The Dreamer technically is one but is disqualified due to the mechanics of his interaction with Lord Chompy Bits. Leveticus is squishy but subverts it by coming back to life constantly, in fact its best if his controller makes sure he dies every turn to take advantage of refreshing their hand every turn.
  • Steampunk: 25% of the game is Steampunk, 25% Magic, 150% Horror and 200% Awesome.
  • Surveillance Drone: The watcher, a bat like machine used by the guild as form guarding certain areas
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Two cases actually, Deadlands and Mordheim
  • Swamps Are Evil: They are full of gremlins, murderous pigs, evil witches, giant mosquitos and dirt golems. Of course, in Malifaux every single place is evil
  • Swarm of Rats: A favorite of Hamelin even before becoming the plagued
  • Technopath: Hoffman, who can control robots with his mind, in his sleep, even if the machines in question don't even have brains
  • Took a Level in Badass: Meta example. With enough care Nephilim Terror Tots can grow into a mighty Mature Nephilim. Usually, Awesome but Impractical, but viable with some masters.
  • Was Once a Man: The Neverborn were normal people before the end of old Malifaux
    • Bad Juju was a man who learned the hard way why you don't go back on a deal with Zoraida.
  • We Can Rebuild Him: Ryle, Hoffman's older brother, who was caught in a magical explosion when crossing the breach, great part of his body and mind were destroyed during the incident, and to survive Ramos had to transform him into a almost mindless cyborg.
  • When Trees Attack: The Waldgeist are tree monsters that are born from forests devastated by humans.
  • Wicked Witch: Zoraida, an old witch who lives on the swamp and walks around topless
  • Wolverine Claws: Executioner.
  • X Meets Y: Horror meets steampunk.
  • Zerg Rush: Surprisingly not the main tactic of the undead faction, but the Neverborn like this; The Dreamer is infamous for his ability to start with just himself on the board, fly right into the enemy's face and then drop the entire crew onto his victims and transform into Lord Chompy Bits, one of the most powerful models in the game, kill whatever the player chooses, transform back into the little boy and withdraw all nightmare models, removing them from the table, bar The Dreamer himself... in the first turn. Albeit this does leave the kid vulnerable to being murdered, in which case all those models drop out again and can attack again...
    • Jones can work similarly too, using his spells and mosquitoes to constantly swarm the enemy with expendable piglets, mosquitoes and gremlins
  • Zettai Ryouiki: A very common look, usually with stockings. Examples include Colette Du Bois and her showgirls, Mc Mourning's nurse assistants, and various mercenary swordswomen.