Welcome back, Mali-folks! This is Part 4 in our Madness of Malifaux keyword review. We’ve already covered Damian Ravencroft and the Witness keyword, the Clampetts and the Angler keyword (sort of – we’ll be coming back to those guys), and Harold Tull and the
Aqualung Cavalier keyword. Today, we’re looking at the book’s first dual faction master, the Neverborn/Resurrectionist Kastore.
The humans just call any of Malifaux’s original inhabitants Neverborn, but that’s a massive oversimplification. The original original inhabitants are known as the Fae, and include Dryads (like Titania and her court), Gigants (like Euripedes and his followers), Dreaming Ones, Aua, Sirens and others. These people arose from the natural magical environment of Malifaux. They gave rise to the Tyrants, who in turn created the Nephilim, a “second generation” of Neverborn. Born during the Tyrant War, the Nephilim fought both for and against the Tyrants, but joined the Fae in breaking and binding the Tyrants after the war was done. The True Nephilim had a wide variety of forms, but that wasn’t to last – shortly after the end of the War the Tyrant Shez’uul freed itself and began to feed on the blood on the True Nephilim, growing unstoppably strong. In desperation, their shamans enacted a mighty Black Blood Ritual, warping their bodies into demonic forms and their blood into the corrosive black ichor that Nekima players know and love.
Not all True Nephilim became New Nephilim – some, like the Woes and Mimics, kept their old forms. Others, like Kastore, submitted to the Ritual, but it didn’t work as planned. Kastore is one of the oldest Nephilim Broodmasters. Broodmaster is a term for a tribal leader, bestowed on anyone who manages to master one of the ancient Living Blades. Bearer of the Living Blade Marathine, Kastore found himself uniquely cursed by the Ritual. Red blood doesn’t sustain him the way it does other Nephilim – he can only feed on black blood and Nephilim flesh.
Horrified at this curse, Kastore had his shamans put him into torpor. At the heart of his domain, the Hushed Copse, Kastore lay dreaming, guarded by the desiccated husks of his former servants, sustained on a tiny drip of black blood year on year. He slumbered, and Malifaux changed. Humans arrived, were repulsed, and returned; Titania escaped her prison and regained her throne; Nekima overthrew her sister and claimed the title Queen of the Nephilim. But though she accepted Titania’s help in her coup, Nekima chafes under the Autumn Queen’s reign. The Nephilim leader wants to be Queen of Malifaux, and so she sought out Kastore to aid her. She has broken all the old taboos and unleashed the Dread Art of necromancy; the ancient Kastore may be a shunned monster, but Nekima believes he can help her. For his part, Kastore is watching and learning, trying to understand how the world changed in his absence and what place he has in it now.
Kastore is a classic vampire, and his followers the Returned represent those Nephilim who dutifully followed their master into seclusion. They are caught between life and death, between rot and growth, but there’s one thing they have in common with their more virile fellows: the blood is their life.
So he’s awake. So what?
Kastore’s crew have a shared mechanical theme: overhealing. This crew heals a lot, and they have a variety of neat overheal triggers. In Awakened’s case, we’re starting simply enough: when he would overheal, once per activation, you can pulse out a single point of damage near either him or his totem Marathine. This is a surprisingly potent ability; it’s not hard to put Marathine where you need it to be, and once it’s there, it can just repeatedly pulse out ping damage without your opponent being able to do anything about it. You can rack up a lot of damage this way in a fairly uninteractive manner, and while your crew has a lot going on, you should never forget your ability to do this – tossing an errant heal on Kastore when either he or his totem is in a convenient spot will give you some good results.
Kastore is like many Ressers: bad Df, good Wp, with a decent chunk of health and Hard to Wound making it relatively tough to cheat against him. He’s not that tough, but the sheer amount of healing he has access to will keep him alive if your opponent doesn’t one-activation kill him.
The first heal is the most straightforward: Kastore’s Devour attack comes with a built-in Drink Blood trigger, healing him equal to the damage dealt. It’s only a 2/3/5, not the most impressive attack in the world, but it does target Mv (the only thing that can save you from Kastore’s claws is getting the hell out of Dodge) and you can choose to bake in a double positive twist for damage or forcing the enemy to discard a random card. This ability is sweet; the discard is probably better in general, but sometimes 5 damage will be enough to just kill a model, and/or sometimes Kastore will be pretty badly mangled. Charging some random mook, clawing their face off for 5 and healing 5 is a backbreaking play, since your opponent probably invested some pretty valuable resources and AP in inflicting that 5 damage in the first place. Also, it’s not enemy only – in desperation, you can munch on friendlies. In that case, you have Options. Kastore, on killing a friendly Returned model, can drop a scheme marker anywhere on the table. This is a powerful trigger, and while it’s not one you’ll use often, when you do use it it will probably win you games – or at least guarantee scoring or denying points.
Like all good vampires, Kastore has a hypnotic gaze: his Dominate ability will Stagger and Stun enemies (though Non-master limits its potential, and its TN is oddly high). The triggers are also very good, as displacing an enemy after Staggering and Stunning it makes it harder for its friends to rescue, and even a general-actions-only Obey is strong and flexible (this one more than most, since you can charge right out of combat).
Kastore’s tactical actions are, by comparison, pretty low-key. Bountiful Feast is yet another pulse forcing enemies to take a duel or take ping damage. Like most similar abilities this isn’t very reliable, since the damage is insignificant and the TN isn’t even that high. Just claw someone again. His bonus action, though, is quite interesting; it has infinite range and no LOS, instead just pushing Marathine its Mv and dropping a Scheme Marker. Who’s Marathine? Well…
Kastore’s Totem is one of the coolest and most unique in the game. It’s his sword, Marathine, a Living Blade that he directs by will alone. Like Remornia or the Sword of Skelos, Marathine can float around doin’ sword stuff without Kastore needing to wield it. Of course, it’s just a sword, so it’s only Df 3 (though Wp 6 is nice and high), and with no armor, it’ll die easily if…
Oh, I guess it won’t. Marathine has no health and can’t take damage.
This rules. It’s a sword! What are you going to do, shoot it? You can attack Marathine all you want – inflict Slow, Staggered, Stunned, push it around, bury it, whatever. You just can’t kill it, at least until Kastore dies. And you can’t lock it in melee – it moves right through models and right out of engagement range whenever it wants.
Marathine isn’t the deftest blade, with a mere 2/2/3 without triggers (though stat 6 is a bit higher than most Totems), and it only attacks once per activation, but it’s an attacker your opponent can’t do anything about, and that’s pretty solid. Plus it’s yet another source of healing for Kastore – all the damage it deals is directly converted into health.
It’s Insignificant, so it can’t scheme for you (though: see Kastore, Awakened’s bonus action). It can counter scheme with Remove Their Claim, which lets it gulp down enemy Scheme Markers within an inch. So that’s something. And again, it’s not like they can stop you.
It takes a lotta blood to get Kastore up in the morning. A lot. And, as you can see from the Kastore, Awakened card, he’s a scrawny lil’ thing. But when he really gorges himself, Kastore regains a shadow of his former glory. He joins the swole patrol, Hulks out, get “lorge” – however you want to call it, if Awakened is your typical scrawny, emaciated goth vampire, Fervent is an “oh shit, Dracula’s mad now” vampire. He vants to suck your blood and stuff your desiccated ass in a locker.
Predictably, becoming frenzied has dropped his Wp from 7 to 5, but he’s a bit faster at Mv 6 and has gained a point of health. He’s also huge, at Sz 4 with Towering Figure to ensure grottin’ snivelers and Severe or Hazardous Terrain can’t get in his way. He’s still Hard to Wound and, understandably, Terrifying (12) – and he’s Ruthless, since he’s far too berserk to notice how scary enemies are.
That’s not all for his front of card; this version of Kastore is blessed with Faith in the Flesh, which is the Returned Keyword ability (a little odd that OG Kastore doesn’t have it, but what can you do?). When he activates, he can take a point of damage to let a nearby Returned model heal for 1, and if he would overheal he can shift 2″ instead. That’s really, really strong; there’s a ton of healing in this keyword, and turning every single overheal into a 2″ move (not push), not even once per activation or anything, adds up fast. And to help trigger Faith, he has another, confusingly-similarly-named ability in Feast on the Faithful: any damage he suffers from friendly models and the Black Blood ability may be reduced to 0, and once per activation heal 1 as well. This is obviously enormous: you can safely charge him with friendlies to get their triggers without taking damage, and in fact you can push him 2″ each time. Kastore is going to spend a lot of time getting ferried around the board via swift kicks to the ass.
That’s a hefty front of card for our hefty boy; what’s on the back? The headliner is, of course, Blood Rush. His main attack is a 2″ Stat 7 v. Df with a 3/4/5 damage track; while there are a few masters with roughly equivalent attacks, the only one in the game that i’d say is clearly better is Kastore’s niece Nekima, and that’s not a shameful comparison. What’s more, if you charged, the attack gains two blasts, and Kastore gets to place himself in base contact with either one after fully resolving the attack. This is a strong incentive to charge as much as you can: you can smack someone, somersault over them into their backline and start cramming squishy support models into your maw. The triggers on this attack are good-not-great – he has Tear Off a Bite to heal himself and My Loyal Servant to heal a buddy, or Mutilate for some extra damage or Slow. Those are fine, passable triggers. There’s no Crit Strike or Onslaught to give him more attacks or reliable extra damage, but healing is never amiss.
His second attack would have to be very cool to compete with Blood Rush, but luckily it does something different and powerful enough that you’ll use it a fair bit. Visceral Rampage has a 2″ range but no melee icon (so you can’t Charge into it), and can only target a given model once per activation, but those restrictions are definitely necessary given its power. It’s a stat 6 targeting Mv that inflicts only 1 point of damage but lets Kastore push 6″ (remember he ignores models and terrain while doing this) and then place the model he targeted into base contact with himself. It’s a classic vampire move: swoop in and kidnap some unsuspecting bloodbag. The attack only does 1 point of damage, but the Necrotic Decay trigger lets him suffer up to 2 damage to deal that much more (and I think if you get the suit you always will spend 2, because Kastore heals so easily). More importantly, it has the Stagger trigger, which is HUGE: if you Stagger the enemy you just abducted, it’s almost impossible for your opponent to rescue them. You have to damage to Stagger, so enemies with Shielded or Soulstones will be safe, but against non-Masters or Henchmen without Shielded you can really put them in a bad spot.
This Kastore isn’t a very tactical guy, so he’s only got one tactical action, but it’s a doozy. The bonus action Broodmaster’s Blade lets Marathine Charge from anywhere on the board. Giving the sword an extra slice on its once-per-activation attack is very nice, and there’s a Tome trigger to let Marathine teleport to Kastore’s side before doing its charge in case there’s a nearby target you’d rather hit. This is great, and significantly buffs Kastore’s damage output, letting him make four attacks in an activation.
Fervent isn’t very complicated – he’s a huge shitkicker who will tear chunks out of anyone who gets close and drink their blood. He’s got a lot of fun movement tricks and abilities that will let him really dance around the board eating foes, and what more can you ask?
The spiritual leaders of the Nephilim are the Eta Kithae, a group of 14 elder shamans. Each one tends to a specific facet of Nephilim belief and ritual, and each one also has a super cool animal mask that probably smells musty as hell on the inside. Athorak is technically the youngest; he’s still decrepit compared to the sprightly young Nekima, but he’s active enough to have his own agenda to pursue. His mask is the bat (the VAMPIRE bat?) and his area of influence is Kastore-adjacent. When Nekima sought out the Eta Kithae, Athorak went with her to lead the ritual that awakened Grandpa Nosferatu. And now that he’s up, Athorak guides him… for the greater good of the Nephilim, of course.
The first of Kastore’s two Henchmen, Athorak is unique in that he’s also Nekima‘s Henchman. This book is an amazing shot in the arm for the Nephilim keyword (of which more later) and Athorak is a big part of that. He’s reasonably durable – only 5/6 defenses with 8 health, but Regeneration +1 is pretty strong alongside Hard to Kill, and in addition to Faith in the Flesh his Eta Kithae ability layers on a second bonus for overhealing to any nearby model. Shielded +1 is nothing to sneeze at. This crew is going to involve a lot of tracking of overheal triggers, especially since Eta Kithae affects all nearby models (not just Returned!) but it’s a pretty potent bubble.
He has passable ranged and melee attacks, though neither is especially nasty – though I’d call out Reward the Loyal, a very potent trigger that both activates all your overheal synergies and draws you a card. His bonus action is pretty unique, though: you get to drop two Wardstones, neither of which does anything individually, but which together block line of sight for enemy attacks. Combine this with, say, the Corpse Curator’s Drag Behind (if you’re running Kastore in Ressers) to create a long LOS-blocking curtain, which I think is a play cool enough to be worth trying. He can even use these Wardstones to make Corpses for Nekima, and his melee attack has a trigger that lets him push the target towards a Wardstone – though his melee isn’t great and he’s not that durable, so I think you’ll most often use this on Kastore himself to get truly obscene amounts of out of activation movement.
Gwyll’s had a rough few millennia. One of the few remaining Dryad Fae, he was once a member of Titania’s inner circle. The coming of the Grave Spirit withered the Autumn Court to dust; the Dryads saw hundreds of years of work shrivel in seconds, and it did a number on their sanity. Many let themselves die in misery and shame, but not Gwyll. He endured, driven by his hatred of Titania and his desire for revenge (and, probably, incipient madness). He used his knowledge of life and death magic to put Kastore into torpor the first time, and at Nekima’s urging he helped wake the old man up. Nekima promises to put her sword through Titania’s spine, and what could be sweeter?
Gwyll’s an odd one, to be sure. He’s quite durable: good defenses and Hard to Wound on a Soulstone user go a long way, and with Disguised he’s tricky to engage. Whisper in Their Ear is cute card filtering, but the real spice on his card is Cling to Death, which lets you trigger your overheal effects as much as you want without having to be at full health first. Given how much ping healing this crew has, you’ll get a lot of use out of this effect. A lot of the time moving 2″ will be more useful than gaining a point of health back, and the range on the ability is infinite.
His back of card isn’t too shabby either. Decay is a pretty common ranged attack, and like Asura Roten and the Domadors, Gwyll can use it to heal; the ideal situation is hitting an enemy and blasting onto a friendly for healing, but you’ll be perfectly happy just shooting your buddy in the back to heal him up. The Infested with Leeches trigger is quite good, too, turning off healing. You won’t always need it, but when you do, you really do. Gwyll can also remove conditions with Dispel Magic, firmly placing him in the “support model” role.
His Tactical Actions mimic Leveticus, another master of life and death. Sanguine Evocations stacks your deck, while Essence Transfer lets you damage one model to heal another (and sometimes get a free Scheme Marker). Neither of these actions is essential, but they’ll both sometimes be useful; 4 is a hefty amount of healing, and sometimes it’ll be nice to slurp up four wounds from Kastore (who can heal himself really easily) and give them to Athorak (who has a harder time healing himself up). Finally, you can just hand out focus with a bonus action, which is just as good here as in any other crew that can do it – especially when you’re Focusing a monstrous beatstick like Kastore.
What a little freak this guy is. Look at this weirdo! He’s covered in eyes, man! I don’t think there’s much story here: this is just a weird little creepypasta who hides in caves. God bless him.
He’s part Mimic, which is very strange (what is it with Kastore and sharing his keyword?) and I think you’ll see him in both crews. He has Stealth, Hard to Wound and a ton of health for his cost, which is good because he spends it on Racked with Spasms to pulse out ping damage. The synergy there is a bit odd; triggering Racked requires you to overheal, but it then damages you, which makes it less likely for you to overheal on the next heal… this creates some tempo issues, but free ping damage you don’t even have to spend an AP for are great. Sometimes you’ll be in a position to trigger this on 3-4 separate activations by pumping healing into White Eyes and it’ll just ruin someone. You can also just eat the damage with Shielded, which White Eyes gains every time he hits someone. His attack is otherwise not great, and it has no triggers at all which is very weird, but combined with Eta Kithae he turns into a real engine: overheal him, giving him shielded, then immediately lose the shielded to Racked with Spasms and pulse out damage.
He’s got Terrorize, too, which is always a very powerful action, and On Your Heels can yoink him deep behind enemy lines. Once he’s there, he can use Nowhere to Hide, one of the rudest Tactical Actions I’ve seen in a while. You get to eat all the Shielded on all enemies within 3″, which can be a ton of Shielded, and heal up to 3 – and with a mask you can even pulse out damage, adding insult to injury, or just push your own dudes away. Finally, Inhuman Physiology is free real estate so you might as well use it. His Stat 6 attack is a lot more impressive when you can’t cheat to avoid it, and it also lets you Focus with much more confidence – nothing feels worse than spending two AP focusing and swinging, only for your opponent to throw down a 13 and no-sell your attack.
White Eyes is cool as heck. His central mechanic – stacking Shielded on himself – makes him surprisingly durable for an Enforcer, and he can put out a truly unholy amount of ping damage without much effort. If the enemy’s crew relies on Shielded (and at least one crew we’ll talk about in a subsequent article really does), White Eyes can ruin their day.
Kastore’s followers withdrew to the Hushed Copse to protect their lord as he slumbered. Over time, they withered into Blood Vessels: unliving, yet not fully dead. Black Blood still flows in their veins, but they’re more than willing to share it where necessary.
Once again, we are presented with 5 stone minions that I think are… reasonable? These guys have awful stats, but the Ready to Serve rule makes them punch well above their weight until they start taking damage. Hard to Kill isn’t much defensive tech, but it’s something, and it’s a lot better in a crew with as much healing as this one. Their Ceremonial Weaponry are pretty odd – the healing ability is neat, but sometimes you’ll just flip Weak and be sad. Much more interesting is Sacred Duty, which teleports them a long way without LOS and lets them either take a swipe when they arrive or give their target an effective +1 to all defensive stats, which is super friggin good.
Mostly, these guys are hypermobile scheme runners with some neat healing and bodyguarding utility. Their ability to Interact as a bonus action shores up this view, but beware – one use knocks them out of Ready to Serve range, making them crappy until healed again.
Nephilim are about as sexually dimorphic as humans, and their priesthood segregates roles in much the same manner as human religions. Most blood shaman are male, but Urnbearers are a special caste. Their ceremonial urns fill with black blood, which they offer to Kastore. The whole process freaks out normie Nephilim, not just because they’re committing ritual sacrifice but because they’re not respecting gender roles. Tough shit for them – Urnbearers kick ass.
Let’s start with the auras. Urnbearers have four separate aura effects on their front of card. Faith in the Flesh is shared, and Hemorrhage and Pools of Blood are basically both debuff auras – enemies that move nearby take damage, and enemies that start nearby get taxed a card if they want their first action not to suck. Of note, though, Pools of Blood also lets you ping out healing without spending AP, which is super super good: think of all the effects that trigger when you overheal, and now think about triggering those effects without spending an AP. For example, if you move the Urnbearer up once, all your other models get an effective +2″ of movement by just ending their first Walk action near the Urnbearer… but it also works to extend Charges, too.
Fill the Urns is the big ability, though, and it sets up an odd sort of minigame. As you’re triggering those Faith in the Flesh moves, you’re stacking Shielded on the Urnbearer, and once you get to 3 you can take the Empty the Urn bonus action to heal four on a nearby Returned model and also hand out focus. That’s a huge heal without any flip at all, and the free Focus is not to be sneezed at. It’s not particularly hard to top off Urnbearers’ Shielded between Eta Kithae and Faith in the Flesh, so it shouldn’t be hard to hand out that chunky heal when you need it… though since Shielded resets every turn, there are some awkward order of activation issues to consider. You can’t win initiative and immediately heal a guy 4 in order to save him from death, unfortunately.
In those instances where you’re too spread out to benefit from Empty the Urn, you can use Down to the Last Drop to ping out some unresistable damage, a great action on the Spelleaters and a great action here. Beyond that, Urnbearers have Lure, always a reasonable action (though probably less necessary here than in other crews given the Returned keyword’s speed) and Exsanguinate, which is very similar to Marathine’s attack (though Stat 5 is a little unimpressive). Still, getting them into melee isn’t the worst idea, since their auras make nearby enemy models very sad… it’ll just make stacking Shielded hard since you’ll be losing it to damage.
I like Urnbearers a lot and I think the passive healing by itself makes it very hard to justify a list without them, though I doubt I’d take two. Emptying the Urn is fun and probably not that hard to pull off, but it’s also very easy to disrupt, so don’t count on getting it when you really need to.
I don’t wanna say I saved the best for last, since Fervent is a spicy meatball, but these guys are incredibly cool and poster children for good design. They’re basically degenerate Nephilim, skulking in caves making weird clicking noises rather than flying around biting off heads the way God intended. As such, they have classic Nephilim traits: Black Blood, slightly better Df than a Mature because they’re slinky and sneaky, slightly worse Wp and health because they’re scrawny and spindly. They have Expert Getaway instead of Flight, which is really a sidegrade (but identical in lots of circumstances), but they have both Faith in the Flesh and Regeneration, which is a hell of a combo. Stealth keeps them safe from shooting, always a Nephilim’s biggest weakness, and Blindfighter keeps them safe from Distracted, which is very corner-case but when it matters it matters.
Having skipped arm day, their attacks are significantly less impressive than a Mature Nephilim (that min 3 really matters, as does a 2″ engage, and Matures have much better triggers), but they’re blessed with a ranged attack. Echolocation is extremely cool: low range is mitigated by ignoring LOS (and thus effectively ignoring Cover and Concealment in addition to Friendly Fire), and low Stat is mitigated by targeting Mv. The damage track isn’t much to speak of, but those blasts are great, and the ability to teleport to anyone you damaged gives them insane mobility. The attack comes with free Distracted, just because, and sometimes inflicts either aoe Stagger (always good) or does its best Draw Out Secrets impression. That’s always a very strong trigger, and the sheer amount of versatility in one 8″ projectile attack is impressing me.
They even have two separate bonus actions – both of them are pretty situational, but two options gives you good coverage. Forage is neat but narrow, since there won’t be that many enemy Scheme Markers laying around in this GG, and Ambush is powerful but somewhat resource-intensive when you’re not able to generate your own Concealing Terrain. At least Expert Getaway means you can toe into a forest and then Ambush through it. And remember you can Ambush into an Urnbearer aura, give the Urnbearer a shielded, and get an extra 2″ push.
The most interesting line of text on their card, though, isn’t a rule or an action: it’s their Keywords. In addition to returned, they’re Nephilim. That is enormous for one simple reason: they are a second Sz 3 Nephilim for grow lists.
That by itself opens up a universe of strategic possibilities for both Nekimas. You now have 4 “Sz 3 Nephilim” slots. You can, e.g., hire Matures and then grow your Young into Cavern Nephilim – which is useful because Mature Nephilim wear both Mobile Warrior and Ancient Pact very well, but you can’t grow a Young into a Mature without losing its attached Upgrades. Or you can hire none of the above and go all-in on growth with a double Black Blood Shaman list; with Nekima, Broodmother, it’s not hard at all to hand out 6+ Grow Tokens on turn 1.
You can even run a Barbaros-led crew and hire all four Sz 3 Nephilim, giving two of them Servant of Dark Powers and two of them Wanted Criminal. Is that good? Probably not. Is it cool as hell? You better believe it.
I love this kind of thing. Adding new models to old Keywords always spices up the game. It doesn’t always work – Dabblers got the Wizz-Bang keyword but don’t really do anything for the crew. But Hex Bows play pretty nicely with Sonnia, and I think all the dual-keyword models in Returned are hits. I can see White Eyes showing up in Lucius lists, and Athorak and Cavern Nephilim are likely to be star players in Nephilim lists. Well done Wyrd!
That’s all for this week. Stay tuned – next time around I’ll be returning to the swamp to visit the rest of those frantic and foolish fishermen, the Clampetts.
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