Welcome to the first in a series of Faction Focus articles! My goal with this series is to introduce new players to Malifaux’s eight factions. I plan to go over the lore, the aesthetic, and the playstyle. I’ll discuss the individual Masters and their Keywords that make up the faction.
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Each faction contains 8 Masters, their associated Keyword models, and a number of “Versatile” models with no keyword that can be hired at no additional cost by any Master in the faction. Each faction also has three Upgrades, representing special equipment or training, which can be purchased and attached to any model in your Crew.
I’d like to lead off with a piece of advice. In most wargames, you will pick a faction you like and start collecting it. Not so much with Malifaux. The best advice a new player can get is to find a Master that you like, and collect that master’s keyword. There are two reasons for this: first, because different masters within the same faction play radically differently, and liking one is no guarantee that you will like the others. Second, because Wyrd has gone out of their way to encourage in-Keyword play. While each faction does have Versatile models that are intended to go into a variety of crews, and there are certain all-stars who are frequently hired out-of-keyword, the expectation is that you will stick to using your Keyword most of the time—so owning all of the Guard keyword will not necessarily expand your options for playing with Marshals, for instance.
Malifaux tournaments require you to declare a faction but not stick to any one Keyword throughout, so if you plan to play in tournaments it might behoove you to stick with one faction and fill out your options. But to start off I would strongly encourage you to just pick Masters you like and stick with them. Most people have crews from more than one faction anyways.
With all that out of the way, let’s start with our first faction: The Guild
The Lore of the Guild
When the Breach into Malifaux first opened, the city was settled by a veritable gold rush of mages, savants, and treasure-seekers. The closing of the Breach and the loss of the Soulstone supply set off a devastating series of global conflicts called the Black Powder Wars, during which magic proved a devastating and decision weapon. Many of the world’s magic-users had not participated in the initial efforts that gave rise to the Breach and had found themselves on the outside looking in, denied the Soulstones they needed to practice their art. During the Wars, several such cabals dueled in the shadows, sometimes combining and sometimes combatting each other, all with the same goal: controlling the world’s Soulstone supply. One group, more clever and lucky than the rest, managed to consolidate power beneath itself, and as the dust settled from the Wars they announced their total control of the vast majority of the world’s Soulstones. This group, the Guild of Mercantilers, had cornered the market on the most powerful weapon in history. And they intended to use it.
The Guild is not a nation. They are, rather, a supra-national entity. Every government in the world has Guild envoys in their government, watching carefully to ensure that their nation doesn’t overstep its bounds. The Guild has enforced an uneasy peace on Earth, and in return for their cooperation, nations are granted a steady supply of Soulstones. If they defy the Guild, not only is their supply cut off, but their ambitious rivals are offered favorable terms and a tacit encouragement to go after their recalcitrant neighbor.
When the Breach reopened, the Guild was ready. They marched into Malifaux, secured the city, and waited for the Neverborn counterattack. When it didn’t come, they set to work: laying track, building mining towns, fortifying the city and exploring the wilds. They brought with them guards, frontier rangers, bureaucrats, doctors, prison wardens, engineers, clerks, lawyers, record-keepers, researchers, and of course a steady supply of convict labor. The Guild controls Malifaux, which means the Guild controls Soulstones, which means the Guild controls the world.
Of course, despite their pretenses to the contrary, the Guild doesn’t have it all its own way. They struggle constantly against outlaw Resurrectionists, the secret society of Arcanists, and the dangers of Malifaux itself. What’s more, their grip is slipping. The first Governor-General of Malifaux, Herbert Kitchener (a man named after, but not apparently the same as, the infamously brutal British Governor-General of the Sudan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries), was a madman who hid his insane, cosmic arrogance behind a mask of ordinary rich-colonialist arrogance. He discovered the history of the Tyrants and planned to become one, collecting artifacts from across Malifaux and enacting subtle rituals to bind the power structures of the Guild to his will.
He almost succeeded, too. In early 1906, he performed a grand ritual meant to grant him godlike power. It would have worked, except the Ten Thunders, warned in advance by their network of spies, used their inside man Lucas McCabe to replace one of Kitchener’s precious artifacts with a much more dangerous duplicate: the actual hand and finger bones of a deceased Tyrant during its mortal life. The Governor-General absorbed far more power than he’d expected, far too fast. His rapid ascension caught the attention of the tyrant Cherufe, whose aetheric form swept down onto Kitchener in an attempt to hijack his ritual and regain its lost power.
Neither man nor Tyrant got what they wanted. Instead, they were fused into the hideous Burning Man: a mindless, immolated spectre of unfathomable power. The Burning Man tore through the aether from Malifaux into Earth, leaving the Governor-General’s mansion (and much of the Guild’s power base) in flaming ruins.
The coming of the Burning Man was a tremendously destabilizing event. He exists still, wandering high overhead like a fiery comet, non-sentient but filled with terrible power. Where he passes, the fabric between worlds frays thin, and madness is the order of the day. A Cult of the Burning Man has sprung up, harnessing the portals he leaves in his wake and the terrible warping energies they emit. In the wake of this disaster, the Guild’s grip on both Earth and Malifaux has slipped, with several nations throwing off the brutal Guild yoke. The new Governor-General, Franco Marlow, is by all accounts a humane and competent man, but he has his hands full trying to put the pieces of Kitchener’s folly back together.
And that was before the Burning Man returned to Malifaux…
Why Should I Play Guild?
The guild has had a fairly strong and unified aesthetic since its inception, second only to the Bayou. The Guild is law and order and justice, but it’s frontier law and frontier justice. Cowboy hats and six-shooters are the order of the day. The Guild is mostly human, though they have perfected the art of crafting Constructs to assist in their duties. They often have recognizable jobs: doctor, say, or engineer. Or lawman. Lots and lots of lawmen. The Guild are the cops of Malifaux, with all that entails. Their symbol is the Ram (a vestige from the early days of Malifaux, when there were four main factions and each one was strongly associated with one suit).
Notwithstanding the above, the Guild are also definitely more towards the “good guy” end of the spectrum. They’re not nice people, but they’re not actively trying to destroy all life or enslave humanity to mad wizard-gods.
Play Guild if:
- You like having ranged attacks. The Guild has probably the strongest ranged focus of any faction, with every single crew at least having some powerful ranged abilities
- You like being tough. The Guild have more access to armor than most factions, and their troops tend to be durable and hard-hitting. They’re not as subtle and tricky as other factions (usually) but they don’t have to be.
- You like painting human figures. No other faction has as high a percentage of humans as the Guild.
This article is meant to be an introduction and so cannot possibly go into exhaustive detail about each Master. What follows is an overview of the Crews, their themes, their Keywords (in bold) and their playstyle.
Malifaux has 54 masters, of which 10 are dual-faction; in the interest of not repeating myself, I will only discuss the dual-faction masters in one of the faction-focus articles. So if you’re wondering why I keep mentioning that there are 8 masters per faction but only show 6 or 7… that’s why.
Perhaps no character in Malifaux is more iconic than Lady Justice. The blind swordswoman leads the Marshal division (short for Death Marshals), an elite anti-necromancer strike force. Resurrectionists commit crimes against humanity and nature itself, and Lady Justice is there to see them punished. Her Division wields the power of death itself against the Resurrectionists, and while this devil’s bargain sees them eventually consumed by the dread powers they harness, in the meantime they are the Resurrectionists’ worst nightmare.
Justice herself hunts with an enormous greatsword, and she is infamous for her skill with it—despite being blind, she inspires her followers with dazzling displays of bladework. At the climax of the Malifaux Second Edition storyline, she went toe-to-toe with Nicodem, the greatest of Malifaux’s necromancers. After a reader poll, Justice was victorious, slaying Nicodem (and removing his model from Malifaux’s active line) but losing her partner The Judge in the process. She has a new Judge now, and a more vengeful attitude.
While in the lore Justice is a dedicated undead-hunter, on the table she’s not monotask. Her Keyword has a few abilities that are more powerful against Undead, which naturally puts them in a strong position against the Resurrectionists, but almost every faction has some undead in their ranks—and against stubbornly living enemies, she has plenty of ways to make them count as undead. Death Marshals are tough as nails, epitomizing the Guild playstyle: they shoot hard, they punch hard, and they take effort to put down. They also carry magical Pine Boxes, into which they can stuff their most recalcitrant foes. A few years sitting in a nether void will make even the most unrepentant necromancer reconsider their career choices.
Play Lady Justice if:
- You really like getting in there with your Master and personally mixing things up
- You think the 2007 Nicolas Cage Ghost Rider is totally underrated
- You don’t want to have to choose between guns or swords.
Criid is the head of the Witch Hunters, a special division of the Guild intent on capturing unlicensed practitioners of magic. Magic is far more powerful in Malifaux than Earthside, and people who couldn’t conjure a candle flame at home find themselves creating roaring infernos in Malifaux… which is a problem, since half of these people can’t control their new powers and the other half can and want to do all kinds of sinister things with them. Thus, it falls to Criid to keep them in line.
This she does with her big ol’ sword and her collection of confiscated lore. She ruthlessly hunts down outlaw mages with her sidekick, the expert tracker Samael Hopkins. The worst of them she brings to her Yellow Crypt, where she drains away their power in a terrible ritual from Old Malifaux and warps them into Witchlings. Her Witchlings are barely human anymore, but they’re experts at sniffing out and hunting down their former brethren.
And what do you do with witches? You burn them, of course. Sonnia is a master of fire magic. For a long time, she was the host of Cherufe, the Tyrant spirit bound into an iron mask that fused with Criid’s face. With the rise of the Burning Man Sonnia is free of its malign influence, and (her face having been repaired by plastic surgery), she is back on the warpath. More than anyone else, she is determined to put an end to the Burning Man and the madness he draws in his wake.
On the table, Criid is a powerful spellcaster who sets everything on fire and dances in the ashes. Her Crew gains all sorts of benefits when engaging flaming enemies, and she has several ways to shut down wizardly tricks.
Play Sonnia Criid if:
- You really, really like fire
- You’re sick of smart-ass wizards who think they have a spell for every occasion
- You play blue-red counter-burn in Magic the Gathering
In the early days of the resettlement of Malifaux, Neverborn were a huge problem. The monstrous inhabitants of Malifaux were not at all keen on the humans re-invading their territory, and though they couldn’t close the Breach, they were more than capable of fighting back against the Guild… especially on the frontier, where homesteaders and their families vanished with appalling regularity. To combat this menace the Guild deputized pretty much anyone who could afford a gun and a train ticket to Malifaux as “Neverborn Hunters.” Most of these would-be heroes died horribly, torn to pieces by the fangs and claws of Neverborn, but a few of the toughest survived.
Perdita Ortega was one of the latter—a pistolera from a poor family, she stole the money her family had pooled together to send her elder brother Francisco through the breach and went herself instead. Perdita soon proved to be one of the deadliest gunslingers ever to slap iron, and with her bounty money she brought her family through the Breach, one by one. They set up a sprawling ranch complex called Latigo, which serves as their home base and training center.
Perdita’s keyword is her Family, and more than one Neverborn horror has learned to their chagrin that the only thing deadlier than an Ortega is all the Ortegas. On the table, Perdita’s crew is a gunline extraordinaire. She herself is one of the deadliest pistoleers in the game, and her family work in concert, buffing each other and acting in concert to bring down enormous foes. Notwithstanding her backstory, she doesn’t have any particular bonuses against Neverborn, but that’s ok. Nothing is immune to bullets.
Play Perdita Ortega if:
- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is your favorite film
- Your have a Pavlovian response to the phrase “shooting phase”
- Your local gaming group doesn’t believe in too much terrain
Malifaux’s magic doesn’t just affect people—it affects metal, too. One of the greatest innovations to come from the discovery of Soulstones is the field of “construct engineering,” or the ability to build complex and self-directed automata. Naturally, people abuse this power as much as any of Malifaux’s other gifts, and the Guild needed a solution.
Enter Charles Hoffman. Young Charlies, afflicted by polio from a young age, arrived in Malifaux alongside his brilliant older brother Ryle (who had been summoned to apprentice for the brilliant Dr. Victor Ramos). An aetheric surge as they crossed the Breach ruined Ryle’s mind and body but granted Charles astonishing new powers over machines. Deputized by the Guild and strapped into a mechanical support suit to help his crippled limbs, Hoffman leads the Augmented keyword. He has little use for humans (though he begrudgingly tolerates cyborgs like his second-in-command Melissa K.O.R.E.) but instead leads an army of clanking, steam-belching robots into battle.
(Officially) unknown to his Guild paymasters, Hoffman has secret contacts with the Arcanists, as well. Ramos “saved” Ryle’s life with advanced bionics (though Hoffman later learned that his brother was truly dead, only kept mobile by the devices, and gave him a decent burial), and the Arcanists have provided him with access to their resources in exchange for a measure of protection from the Guild. Hoffman is a dual-faction master, able to be played by either Guild or Arcanists and drawing on the mechanical stables of both. His crews tend to be compact, with heavily armored robots fueled by Power Tokens that he can generate and hand out.
Play Hoffman if:
- You worship the Machine God and believe that the flesh is weak
- You heard Malifaux was a steampunk setting and that was what drew you in
- You really like saying “ok, after armor I take 1 damage”
The Governor-General’s secretary, Lucius Mattheson, is the picture of professionalism. A holdover from the Kitchener days, Lucius has found himself a bit adrift under the Marlow administration, but a man of his talents can always find a way to keep himself indispensable. With impeccable manners and an ironclad command of the Guild’s Byzantine laws and rules, Lucius leads the Elite Division, commanding secret police, special agents, and most dreadfully of all, lawyers. He can get his own hands dirty, but prefers to order his minions to do the work instead, and enemies trying to attack him find their assaults bogged down in an ocean of red tape. Lucius would be the consummate gentleman except for the mask he inexplicably wears all the time.
Well, it’s not totally inexplicable. Lucius is our second dual-faction master, a Neverborn Mimic who has infiltrated the humans’ power structure so convincingly that not even the other Neverborn really trust him. Alongside the lawyers and spies of the Elite Division, he can call on the shapeshifters and skinchangers among the Neverborn. Sinister, regal, and mysterious, you can never quite tell what Lucius is up to.
On the table, Lucius specializes in disruption and control, making it harder for your opponent to complete their objectives while supporting his own crew’s ability to do the same. He isn’t much of a brawler, but his hidden snipers can strike from anywhere and he can order his followers to get in there and get their hands dirty.
Play Lucius if:
- You’ve always really wanted to slap someone in the face with a white glove
- You like saying “well, actually…” when your opponent goes to do something.
- You have a gigantic, swollen, pulsing brain and you want everyone to know about it.
Captain Dashel is, in many ways, Lucius’s polar opposite, which may be why the men get along so well. Dashel Barker avoided promotion for many years, serving happily as a captain of the Guild Guard, but unfortunately he did his job too well and now acts as their overall commander. He is a tough, brutal man who really likes mixing things up with his axe, but these days he mostly mans a desk. When he takes to the field, it’s to shout orders to his Guard and call in reinforcements through the aethervox radio on the back of his long-suffering Dispatcher. Still, he’s always pleased to get into combat, so don’t make the mistake of thinking that he can’t hold his own.
The Guard are the closest thing to a professional army the Guild has. They come in all shapes and sizes: ordinary patrollers, mounted outriders, snipers, sergeants and even specialists like the beclawed Executioners or Taggart Queeg, the Guild’s prison warden. They are not too strong individually, but there are often a lot of them, and they support each other well.
On the table, Dashel is the guild’s only summoner—a master that can add new models to his crew midgame. This gives him a lot of versatility, as there are lots of different types of Guard and you can reach for the ones you need in any given situation.
Play Dashel if:
- You love Terry Pratchett but wish Sam Vimes was like 50% more violent
- You are the kind of sicko who has a fully painted Astra Militarum army
- You like horses, but not sideburns (the payoff for this joke will come much later on)
Nellie Cochrane, editor-in-chief of the Malifaux Tattler, fancies herself a Journalist. What she really is is more of a propagandist, but don’t tell her that. In fact, try not to get sucked into a conversation with her at all—it’s really hard to escape. Nellie made her name writing the sensational story of Phiona Gage, a Guild miner badly injured in an accident and augmented by bionics that occasionally cause fits of uncontrollable rage and yes she’s just a gender-swapped Phineas Gage, Malifaux does this kind of thing a lot. With Phiona as her bodyguard and the Malifaux Tattler’s crack journalistic team behind her, there’s no story Nellie can’t get to the bottom of, and no story she can’t twist to make the Guild look better. After all, they pay her bills.
Nellie’s very different from the rest of the Guild masters; while they tend to be killy, or at least dangerous, Nellie’s crew will usually do very little damage (but there are combos you can set up to do massive damage, so look out for that!) However, they are incredibly good at strategies and schemes, and a nightmare headache for your opponent. You won’t do too much damage, but you can often disrupt your opponent so much that they don’t do much to you either, and in the meantime you’re running up the score. Nellie’s crew specializes in blackmail, confusion, and if all else fails, outright slander… but you can’t argue with results, especially when they show up in bold 48 point type above the fold.
Play Nellie if:
- You believe in playing with your food rather than going for the kill
- You like to announce the names of your abilities as you trigger them
- They have a dude hiding in a barrel! What more do you want?!
Next Time: The Arcanists
That’s it for the Guild’s faction focus. Join us next time for a deep look at the faction that won’t cross no picket lines and didn’t hear no bell, the Arcanists.
If you have any questions or comments comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.