Our biweekly coverage of Malifaux continues! In today’s faction focus we’re looking at the weird nad wonderful warriors of the Arcanists. Remember that you can also check out the accompanying video on Danger Planet, the premier source for Malifaux video content!
Welcome to the second Malifaux Faction Focus article! Today we’ll be focusing on the working men and women of Malifaux—the Miners and Steamfitters Union. What? The Arcanists? Never heard of ‘em, bud.
Never heard of ‘em.
The Lore of the Arcanists
It’s impossible to talk about the M&SU without talking about the Arcanists, and vice versa. That chafes some good, honest Union men and women, who just want to put in a solid day’s work for a fair day’s wage without being wrapped up in shady magical criminality. But that’s just the way it is—the two organizations work in symbiosis, the Union providing legal cover to the activities of the Arcanists and the Arcanists providing magical muscle to the Union to counterbalance the might of the Guild.
The M&SU got their start in 1899, following the Northern Hills Mine Disaster. A Soulstone mine flooded after torrential rain, trapping the miners within and killing many of them. In the aftermath, a miner named Erick Ulish rallied the survivors and their peers to form the Northern Miners Union. Ulish and his fellows managed to scrape together enough money to hire mine safety engineers, and that was how Victor Ramos came into the picture.
Ramos was, and is, a genius beyond compare in all things mechanical. His innovations increased mine safety a hundredfold, and when he proposed integrating his engineering corps into the Union itself, everyone agreed—so the NMU became the M&SU. Ramo’s constructs worked alongside living miners, his pumps kept mines safe and dry, and his skill at organizing was second to none. He leveraged labor power to build the M&SU into an organization that could rival the Guild. When Ulish died in an unfortunate mining accident, naturally Ramos stepped in as the new Union president.
Unbeknownst to most, Ramos was living a double life. In addition to running the M&SU, he was also the head of the Arcanists, a criminal underground of mages who trafficked in smuggled Soulstones and provided shelter to magical fugitives. Of course, they didn’t think of themselves as criminals—they were freedom fighters, seeking to share the gift of magic with everyone outside the stultifying grip of the Guild. The Arcanists seek knowledge whatever the cost and count a dazzling array of mages within their ranks. The only thing they have in common is a desire to practice magic outside the auspices of the Guild.
The two organizations lived in uneasy harmony, with Ramos’s force of will and personal power keeping them alloyed together. This could not last forever. As Ramos grew increasingly confrontational with the Guild and increasingly ruthless in his pursuit of power—Toni Ironsides, the Union’s chief legbreaker and Ramos’s top lieutenant—made a fateful decision. She turned him over to the Guild. In exchange, the Guild relented in its persecution of the M&SU. Ramos now sits in a jail cell in Vienna, the Guild headquarters, and Ironsides leads the M&SU. However, all is not well within the ranks of the Arcanists. Ramos’s other top lieutenant, Anasalea Kaeris, took Ironsides’s betrayal badly, and the two women are at each other’s throats. If the M&SU and the Arcanists are to survive, they need to be of one mind, and right now their leaders are three steps from open warfare.
Why Should I Play Arcanists?
The Arcanists are one of the most diverse factions in terms of appearance. While the Guild are mostly some variety of cowboy, or cowboy cop, Arcanists can be anything from cannibal ice cultists to dazzling showgirls to animal-human hybrids to, well, robots. It’s a weird and wonderful lineup, and if you were drawn to Malifaux by the word “steampunk,” the Arcanists are where you’re going to hang your needlessly sprocketed top hat. In fact, sometimes it’s a little hard to justify why two Arcanist models would fight side by side– before, you at least had Victor Ramos’s force of personality, but now there’s not even that. (He’ll be back someday, folks, never fear). Insofar as the Arcanists have a unifying theme, it’s their quest for knowledge, although sometimes that’s knowledge of the forbidden sort. Their symbol is thus the Tome, the second of Malifaux’s suits.
The diversity in their appearance is matched by diversity in their playstyles. Perhaps no other faction does as many different things as the Arcanists, and your opponent will never know just from your faction declaration what to expect.
Play Arcanists if:
- You like synergy crews. Malifaux is a synergy-focused game, but the Arcanists take it to the next level, with most of their crews requiring interlocking parts to unlock their full potential.
- You like a balanced approach. Arcanist crews can shoot and fight, and while individual crews tend towards one end of the spectrum or the other, it’s rare that you won’t have options for both.
- You really like the Weird West. Arcanist crews are aesthetically strong– a crew of striking miners, a cannibal cult, a cabaret. Your crew will present a powerful theme.
Remember, there’s one more master than I’m listing here– Charles Hoffman, who was covered in the Guild article and thus will not get a second bite of the apple.
Colette du Bois
Colette only ever wanted to be a star. She didn’t come to Malifaux to mine soulstone or make her living on the frontier. Prospectors and frontiersmen were out there, risking their lives and getting filthy rich, and when they got back to Malifaux City they were in the mood for entertainment. And that, Colette and her Performers can provide.
Not that kind of entertainment. They’re stage magicians, you pervert. But showing a bit of thigh helps bring in the punters.
Colette is a consummate showwoman, dazzling audiences every night with a cunning array of stunts and sleight of hand. In a reversal that would make Penn and Teller proud, it’s all real magic, of course– but cleverly disguised so as to appear to be merely a very tricky illusion. The magic is powered by Soulstones, and that’s Colette’s entrée into the Arcanists; she’s a smuggler par excellence, in charge of bringing illicit Soulstones through the Breach in both directions. The wealth this provides funds the Star theater and helps Colette protect her girls and keep their hard-won freedom.
On the table, Colette’s crew distracts and stuns the enemy with feats of skill, disrupting their attacks and moving them around. She herself is as slippery as an eel, and while Performer crews aren’t going to be stacking up bodies, they’re extremely adept at scoring the strategies and schemes that determine who actually wins the game. And while the showgirls themselves aren’t that dangerous, Ramos built some fairly deadly hidden blades into the mechanical ballerinas Colette sometimes uses…
Play Colette du Bois if:
- You’d rather Distract and Stun enemies than kill them outright
- It’s not enough to win games unless you look absolutely fabulous doing it
- You’re really into the “getting tabled but winning anyways” aspect of Malifaux
Anasalea Kaeris is not a particularly complicated woman. For a long time, she served as the Arcanists’ chief troubleshooter. When she saw trouble, she shot it. With fire.
Kaeris was Ramos’s chief disciple and right-hand-woman, and has taken his betrayal and ouster rather badly. Insofar as the Arcanists and the Guild have begun to fissure, Kaeris leads the Arcanist half of the split. I am far too sophisticated a writer to resort to cheap tricks like calling her “hot tempered” or “fiery” but she does have a certain… aggressive bent, and her anger at the Guild (and those members of the M&SU who she sees as betraying Ramos) does tend to boil over at the slightest opportunity. It’s surely not helpful that Elijah Borgmann and his Firebranded, an Earthside fraternity of anarchists and arsonists, have made their way to Malifaux and are stoking Kaeris’s worst instincts. And that was before the Burning Man appeared in the sky…
On the table, Kaeris is, unsurprisingly, a master of pyromancy. The Wildfire keyword likes to spread it around, both setting enemies on fire directly and dropping Pyre Markers onto the table that roast anyone who comes into contact with them. Fire isn’t picky, though, and while the primary goal of a Wildfire crew is to drop it onto enemies’ heads, many of them don’t mind being on fire themselves; they can cash it in for various effects, from preventing damage to healing. And of course the Fire Gamin and Golems, elemental creations of pure fire, don’t mind it at all. Kaeris herself is fast and mobile with her mechanical wings, and capable of tossing flames all over the place… or simply picking up a troublesome enemy, flying into the sky, and letting them drop.
Play Kaeris if:
- You think subtlety is for cowards
- You specced into PoM Pyro in vanilla WoW
- You really like fire puns
The other side of the Arcanist/Union divide is led by Toni Ironsides, current president of the M&SU. At the climax of Second Edition, she made the difficult decision to turn Ramos over to the Guild. His monomania had put them all in danger, and he had forgotten the working men and women who put him where he was. Not Toni– the daughter of escaped enslaved people, she never forgot her origins and always fought for the proletariat. She still stands up against Guild tyranny, but now she has her hands full keeping Kaeris and her die-hards off her back as well. Toni was the Union’s chief legbreaker before her promotion to President, and she’s used to doing things herself. She always protects her people, and they protect her in return.
Currently, Toni and Kaeris have reached an uneasy détente. The women don’t like each other, but Kaeris understands why Toni did what she did, and Toni understands why Kaeris is the way she is. It’s a fragile truce, earned only after the two of them nearly killed each other, but with the rising threats in Malifaux the Arcanists and Union need each other. They have to stand together, or they will all fall separately.
On the table, Toni is a brawler par excellence; once she gets stuck in and starts accumulating Adrenaline Tokens, she’s almost impossible to put down and savagely deadly in a fistfight. Her crew are fighters, too, and like any good Union man or woman, they are stronger when acting side-by-side. Many of them have abilities that trigger when they are at or below half health, and as long as Toni (or Amina Naidu, the Union’s chief lawyer) are around, they always count as being at that threshold.
Play Toni Ironsides if:
- You want to play as the objectively most morally upright and righteous person in the setting
- You get bored when your crew’s leader isn’t punching things
- You do your best work when there’s two outs and a full count
Poor Sandeep Desai. All he ever wanted was to study. Raised in a temple in his native India, Sandeep studied the arcane from a young age, mastering Elemental magic and summoning elemental spirits (or Gamin) to do his will. Unfortunately, the Guild would not leave him in peace. Sandeep’s teacher was executed by local Guild officials for speaking out against Guild tyranny, and in a blind fury, Sandeep took up his master’s cursed gada. Letting out his repressed rage, he unleashed Banasuva, the elemental spirit bound within the gada. The two of them took their revenge, but Sandeep realized he had burned his bridges and become a wanted criminal. He fled to Malifaux, partially to escape Guild justice, but partially to gain control of his rage and his elemental powers. Banasuva, imprisoned in the gada long ago by a nameless hero, is a fiery and destructive presence, and Sandeep is forever trying to repent for having set him free.
Now, Sandeep works with the Arcanists, training young magical talents and instilling in them the values of calm, control and serenity that he learned growing up. These Academics form the other half of his crew, and learn from their master the art of summoning and binding elemental Gamin. Fire, ice, wind, metal, poison… the elements bow to Sandeep and obey his commands.
On the table, Sandeep is a summoner with an unusual two-keyword crew. He can conjure elemental Gamin, and when he’s created enough of them, can combine them into massive, hulking Golems. The Academics, by contrast, support the Elementals with overlapping auras. Banasuva and his consort Kandara are deadly on the battlefield, but a Sandeep crew often has as many humans as spirits.
Play Sandeep if:
- You don’t mind buying every model you could conceivably field, since you’re gonna summon them all
- You are one of those sickos who enjoys the interlocking buff gameplay of Adeptus Mechanicus
- You can do a dead-on impression of Robin Williams in Aladdin
Many Arcanists are at least nominally members of the M&SU, if only for cover purposes, but Rasputina won’t even give them that. Brought to Malifaux as a convict laborer, serving time for a terrible crime, she escaped into the snow-capped Ten Peaks mountains. She would have frozen to death on the slopes, but for the intervention of a powerful evil from Malifaux’s past: the slumbering tyrant December.
December’s cult based themselves in the Ten Peaks, and the Tyrant himself lent his power to Rasputina, elevating her and molding her to his will. The cult is made up of vicious cannibals, and Rasputina soon proved herself equal to the task of taming them, killing the corrupt old high priests and taking their place. Her power, direct from December, is far greater than theirs was, and with her at their head the cult of December is far stronger and more active than ever before. December has made several attempts to ascend and regain his former power; each has been thwarted, and he has taken a back seat, letting Rasputina run the show. She is also starting to realize that perhaps he does not have her best intentions in mind. Still, without his power she’s just another escaped convict, and she won’t go back to that life. Not ever. Her alliance with the Arcanists is a strained one, mostly out of convenience, but for now she needs them and they make use of December’s frozen power.
On the table, Rasputina’s crew is a bit of a hodgepodge, mixing human cultists with inhuman ice spirits and monsters from the Ten Peaks. They make use of December’s control over ice, littering the board with jagged Ice Pillar markers and using them for various effects. Rasputina herself is a classic ice mage, hurling bolts of frost at opponents and chilling the blood in their veins. Enemies facing December find themselves slowed, staggered, and ground down into icy nubs. Also, I got through that entire writeup without saying “chill out” even once.
Play Rasputina if:
- You like to grind your opponents down one piece at a time
- You like puns, but prefer them cold instead of hot
- You like Sandeep’s crew’s aesthetic but want to paint half as many models
Looking at Marcus, you wouldn’t think that he was the oldest (fully) human character in the setting. He came to Malifaux a feeble septuagenarian, hoping to study the flora and fauna of the amazing new world. A few months on this side of the Breach and he looked 30, in the peak of health. Marcus has cast aside his books and studies and decided that the only way to learn about nature is to experience it, especially the “red in tooth and claw” kind. The order of the Chimera has formed around him, seeking to learn from the master and master the wilds.
Marcus, like Rasputina, is only tenuously connected to the Arcanists; he is an unlicensed magic-user practicing without Guild oversight, and so has goals in common with them, but does not really have any strong affiliation with either the Union or the Arcanist organization proper. Even more than Rasputina, he has been tempted by the wilds of Malifaux, and in fact is dual-faction with the Neverborn. He’s “gone native” (not the first human mage to do so) and he uses Malifaux’s magic to shape flesh and bone to create new creatures, hitherto unknown in Earth or Malifaux
On the table, Marcus’s crew is mostly made up of various beasts, and can in fact use any beasts from his declared faction without penalty. His apprentice/lover Myranda and the Order of the Chimera provide support, but beasts are where it’s at. Marcus can upgrade himself and his followers with Mutations that add new abilities, letting you swap out what your crew can do on the fly. Beasts can do many things, but mostly they’re melee brawlers, and Marcus’s flexibility gives you lots of options.
Play Marcus if:
- You like animals: Malifaux’s got a lot of weird animals
- You played second edition Malifaux and miss the upgrade system
- You know that face is the place
Mei Feng is a woman torn. She came to Malifaux under the auspice of the Ten Thunders, sent to infiltrate the M&SU. There, she runs the Foundry, the division of the Union that builds the railroads. Malifaux’s wilds are vast and dangerous, and the only safe way to travel long distance is by train– but in addition to the ordinary dangers of dynamite, rockfalls, and malfunctioning machinery, rail workers in Malifaux have to deal with predation by voracious creatures, banditry, and Neverborn attacks. Not to mention tyrannical Guild bosses! Mei is still dual-faction, split between Arcanists and Thunders, but recent events have made her reconsider her choices.
Mei Feng takes care of her railworkers, and they take care of her. Her ability to shape metal is nothing short of supernatural, and she personally crafted the prostheses used by many railworkers. She takes an active role in defending them, too, using the power of solidarity and kung fu to kick enemies through brick walls. She still serves the Thunders, but is increasingly feeling the pull of her divided loyalties. The Arcanists and Thunders both see the Foundry as a tool: a weapon to wield against their enemies, whether directly or in the form of sabotage and work slowdowns. Caught in the middle are the rail workers, who put their bodies on the line to lay track and build bridges and tunnels. Mei Feng came to blows with Misaki Katanaka, head of the Ten Thunders, and relented only when Misaki promised to treat the Foundry as people rather than a means to an end. In the end, though, Mei Feng’s dual loyalty is really just loyalty to her people.
On the table, Mei Feng’s crew is hyper-mobile, laying down Scrap Markers that they can use as “tracks” to quickly cross the table. Mei Feng herself is an uber-beatstick who can chain moves into each other to form brutal combos (though not to the extent she could in first edition, when you needed a flowchart to figure out all the combos she could do). Rail Workers are resilient and tireless, and enemies who get too close may find themselves bashed to pieces by a giant Metal Golem wielding a piece of track as a club.
Play Mei Feng if:
- You came to Malifaux from fighting games and miss jamming those buttons
- You don’t mind carrying a tackle box full of tokens and markers with you
- You want to field the coolest looking alt-sculpt crew Wyrd has.
That last one requires some explanation. Every year Wyrd puts out a Nightmare Edition of some kind, a collection of thematic alternate sculpts for a keyword. Mei Feng’s Nightmare Edition came out in 2020, and uh, it looks like this:
Mei herself has the roller blades, her loyal assistant Kang has a giant crowbar, and the other rail workers look like the results of a crossover between Borderlands and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Also, her totem is a fish.
That’s 2/8 factions down. Next time, we take a look at the spooky scary monster faction, the Neverborn!
Have any questions or feedback? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.