Malifaux Faction Focus: the Ten Thunders

Welcome to the… jeez, it’s the seventh Faction Focus!  Today, we’ll be talking about the masters of deception, manipulation, and precisely metered violence: the crime syndicate known as the Ten Thunders.

Remember that you can also check out the accompanying video on Danger Planet, the premier source for Malifaux video content!

The Lore of the Thunders

The Thunders have grown to be a powerful force in Malifaux, but their origins are Earthside.  Long before the opening of the first Breach, the Katanaka family of Japan first began to build a reputations as thieves, cutthroats and bandits.  Their reach spread slowly, first through their home country and then into the lands of their neighbors.  Extortion, gambling, prostitution, drug trafficking, and assassination: the Katanaka crime syndicate flourished in the underbelly of society, all under the rigid control of their oyabun.  Little is known of their activities during the time of the first Breach, but when the path to Malifaux reopened and the Guild colonized the other world, the Katanakas were there.

People from all over the world flocked to Malifaux, but the Guild was based in Europe and had its own clear prejudices.  People from China, Japan and Vietnam– the Three Kingdoms– settled just like their European and American counterparts, forming a Little Kingdom in the heart of Malifaux City.  And bedded down among them like a viper in the grass was the Katanaka clan.

Perhaps they would have never become more than that, except for a chance discovery: a second breach in the mountains north of Malifaux City, much smaller than the first, but unknown to almost anyone.  The Earthside end opened in Katanaka territory.  Their oyabun, Baojun Katanaka, knew at once what we had.  The Katanakas took control of the breach and established a hidden base on the other side.  They smuggled soulstones and tech out of Malifaux, and guns and drugs in– along with desperate people who couldn’t get a ticket through the main Breach.  These unfortunates would have to work off their debt to the Katanakas on the far side.  Most importantly of all, Baojun dispatched his daughter Misaki into Malifaux to scout ahead.  She operated as a mercenary for a while, watching and waiting, then reported back: the time was ripe.  Plague was spreading through Malifaux (Hamelin was making his first play for ascension) and people were desperate.  It was time for the Ten Thunders to be born.

Ototo, Misaki’s chief enforcer. Credit: Wyrd Games

The Katanakas took advantage of their portal to smuggle in warriors and weapons, quickly amassing a force at least equal to any of the other gangs or syndicates operating in Malifaux.  But they were not simple thugs.  They used their vast wealth and influence to infiltrate the other factions; Mei Feng, for instance, joined the Arcanists and led construction of the rail lines, while Yan Lo joined the ranks of the Resurrectionists.  Lucas McCabe found employment with the Guild, never revealing that he was moonlighting for the Thunders, while the Brewmaster was sent to manipulate the Bayou’s gremlins.

The Thunders found themselves rapidly growing in power, and here Baojun made a fateful mistake.  A rebellion erupted on Earth, pushing the Guild out of the Three Kingdoms, and Baojun Katanaka decided it was time to take command of Malifaux for good.  His daughter opposed his rash action, knowing that as strong as the Thunders were, they were not ready to meet the Guild in open battle.  Baojun would not be dissuaded, and so Misaki challenged him for leadership.  The duel was quick: Misaki decapitated her father with a single strike of her bisento and seized control of the Thunders.

Since then, she has continued the slow, patient, careful strategy of before, shepherding her strength, acting only when necessary and only with the precise amount of force required.  The Thunders are the unquestioned masters of Malifaux’s underworld.  They rally forces both mundane and magical, and benefit from an unmatched network of spies and assassins.  They still trade in vice of every kind, but Misaki has learned that information and leverage are currency every bit as valuable as, well, currency.  You can win a war with bullets, blades, or brains, and the Ten Thunders have plenty of all three.  In their ruthlessness, though, they have made pacts with dark powers, powers every bit as sinister as the Grave Spirit or the slumbering Tyrants.

Why Should I Play Ten Thunders?

The Ten Thunders made their debut near the end of First Edition. Uniquely, at first they had no single-faction masters– every Thunders master was an infiltrator of some sort, split with another faction.  This gave them unparalleled access to a variety of models and playstyles.  Since then, pure Thunders masters have appeared, and several masters have retrenched their loyalty (either leaving the Thunders or pledging to them fully), but the faction still reflects a wide cross-section of Malifaux themes.

They are, like the Arcanists, split between human and monster, though with an Eastern rather than Western aesthetic.  Moreover, they draw heavily from real-world myth and legend. You’ll find samurai, ninjas, and shaolin monks among the Thunders, but you’ll also find penanggalan, tanuki, wanyudo, komainu, katashiro, kamaitachi, tengu, jorogumo…

Ten Thunders crews tend to be extremely mobile and hard-hitting.  They can’t take a punch (typical of a bunch of ninjas) but they strike hard and fast, and they have plenty of ways to trip opponents up and leave them helpless, befuddled, and lost.  Their symbol is the head of the dragon– the feared brand of the Katanaka syndicate.

Play Ten Thunders if:

  • You like the Neverborn playstyle, but you’re not ready to give up on guns just yet.  The Thunders move fast and break things, but sometimes they do so from a safe distance.
  • You love wuxia films.  Next to Westerns and classic monster mash horror, kung-fu movies are one of the three cinematic pillars of Malifaux.
  • You want to test your painting skills.  Ten Thunders models tend towards the elaborate, with lots of flapping cloth and tiny, fiddly details.  They look gorgeous when done well, though!


Time was, the Thunders had all dual-faction Masters.  These days they have a comfortable 3, tied with the Neverborn and Arcanists, but we’ve already covered two of those and so shan’t be doing so again.

Misaki Katanaka

Misaki, Shang, three Torakage and Ototo. Credit: what.the.faux on Instagram

Misaki spent years in her father’s shadow. Baojun Katanaka was a arrogant, tyrannical, and cruel man, and he treated his daughter like a weapon from the day she was old enough to hold a wooden training sword.  He’s paid for his sins, though, and now Misaki is in charge.  And she learned a lot more from the old man than she’d like to admit. (Don’t tell her that to her face, though, unless you’d like a quick trip to the bottom of the river).

Sure, Misaki is much more respectful of her agents than Baojun was.  She’s given Mei Feng much more freedom, and she’s less prone to fits of temper than the old man.  Still, she’s by no means a nice person; under her command, the Thunders still traffic in vice and violence of all kinds, and their enemies tend to show up with mysteriously cut throats.  A decent percentage of those are Misaki’s handiwork.  She chafes at the burdens of leadership and longs for the days when she could get out into the world and solve problems with the tip of her blade.  Whenever she hears of a threat that needs a scalpel, she grabs her bisento and gathers her Last-Blossom retinue around her.  Stealthy Torakage sneak from shadow to shadow, while the unsubtle Ototo simply smashes the Thunders’ enemies with his massive tetsubo.  Misaki has one more ace in the hole: her fiery familiar, Shang, an imaginary friend conjured into existence by Malifaux’s wild magic.

Misaki embodies the ninja stereotype to a T.  She can drop Shadow Markers and vanish into them, popping out at unexpected angles to cut your enemy’s throat.  Her crew are likewise fast and deadly and her keyword rewards aggressive play– charging in and cutting down enemies before they get a chance to activate is one way to control the board.

Play Misaki if:

  • You want to dominate your opponents with Real Ultimate Power
  • You don’t like being pinned down to one area of the table, or even having to put your master on the table

Jakob Lynch

L-R front: Kitty Dumont, Jakob Lynch, two Illuminated L-R back: Two Beckoners, the Hungering Darkness, an Illuminated. Credit: @raxgeth on Twitter.

Jakob Lynch is possibly the luckiest man in Malifaux.  And probably the unluckiest, too.  A lifelong gambler, he had already made and lost a series of fortunes by the time he crossed the Breach.  Entering Malifaux was the start of the biggest winning streak of his life, capped off when he bet it all on one last hand and walked away the owner of his very own casino/brothel/general den of vice: the Honeypot.

Of course, that was his last stroke of luck for a while.  Taking money out of a casino was easy for Lynch; bringing it in was harder.  One night he found himself by the side of the river, drowning in debt and contemplating deleting the “in debt” part.  He was “saved” by an offer of financial aid from a wizened old man, who offered him very generous terms and only belatedly revealed that he worked for the Ten Thunders and would be collecting his money on pain on, well, pain.  The loan kept Lynch afloat, but it couldn’t turn his fortunes around, and soon enough he was once again flat broke and facing the prospect of paying with his life.

That was when Mr. Graves and Mr. Tannen found him and made him an offer.  Let them use the Honeypot’s basement, and they’d pay his debt to the Thunders.  All he had to do was keep the Honeypot open.  He accepted, having little to lose, and found his fortunes turning around– he couldn’t keep the punters away with a stick, and they seemed to like his booze and, uh, “companionship” as much as the tables.  One day, curiosity got the better of him and he descended into the basement… just in time to see a ghastly, ephemeral horror manifest out of the darkness and suck the life out of a customer while Graves and Tannen watched approvingly.

It turned out his new “friends” had a boss of their own: an ancient entity called the Hungering Darkness. The Darkness exuded an aura of addictive power known as Brilliance, which could be concentrated through human intermediaries or tainted whiskey.  Those subject to its effects felt a euphoric high, but soon found themselves craving more and more.  Brilliance saturation warped their bodies and minds, until eventually they were ready to be consumed by the Darkness.  That seemed to be Lynch’s fate, too, until the creature realized that, somehow, its new host was immune to its Brilliance.  The two of them sealed a pact, right then and there: souls for the Darkness, in exchange for business for the Honeypot.  Now Lynch wields his patron’s supernatural power at the behest of his Thunders paymasters, but like any good gambler he’s always looking out for numero uno.

The Honeypot crew centers on the Darkness and its Brilliance.  Your Beckoners, charming hostesses all, can spread Brilliance to the enemy, while your Illuminated mutants stack it on themselves.  The Darkness can spend Brilliance to gain bonuses on the attack and consume it to heal itself, and other models in the crew gain advantages against addicted enemies.  The Honeypot crew also play with luck– as casino owners, they know how to rig the deck and stack the cards in their favor.

Play Jakob Lynch if:

  • Kenny Rogers is your spirit animal
  • You’re good at card tricks and like to show off
  • You like to debuff enemies, but you reach a point where you just wanna finish ’em off yourself


L-R: Three High River Monks, Shenlong (front), two Aspiring Students (back), Sensei Yu. Credit: u/cagedtiger

The Tyrants wrought terrible damage during they heyday, and after the Grave Spirit shattered them and brought them low, the people of Malifaux were quick to bind and restrain their essences.  Most of the Tyrant spirits fell to cunningly laid traps and patiently built prisons, but a few escaped.  One, the Dragon, sought to flee farther than the rest.  In desperation it sundered its essence and flung half of it into the aether, where it fetched up on the shores of a strange new world: ours.

This diminished demi-Dragon found that it could bind itself to a host.  It possessed a shaman and for a long time she was its vessel, but even with the Dragon’s power unnaturally extending her lifespan she eventually died.  To the Dragon’s horror, it realized that it could not escape her corpse.  It lay there in a Tibetan river for centuries until by chance a new host stumbled along and freed it.  Once again mobile, the Dragon vowed never to be imprisoned that way again.  Rather than opportunistically seek out a new host, it would cultivate one.  So began the Temple of Four Rivers.  Twisting the tenets of Buddhism to its own ends, the Dragon founded four orders of Monks, each training in a different manner to perfect their bodies and hone their minds.  The Dragon chose its hosts from among these, picking only the best and brightest down the years.

Shenlong was one of the greatest students ever to pass through the High River temple.  In time, he discovered the Dragon’s former host, and sensing his strength the Tyrant spirit passed into him.  The Dragon has granted him great power, and kept him young– Shenlong is over eighty years old– but this power comes at a price.  Initially honored, Shenlong realizes that the Dragon’s goals are destructive and inimical to the Temples he values so highly.  But how can he free himself from such a powerful spirit… and what will happen to him if he does?

Shenlong’s crew is made up of Monks of various styles, each specializing in a different aspect of combat. High River monks harness the destructive power of fire, Low River monks heal with the soothing power of water, Wandering River Monks can fly as fast as the wind, and Fermented River monks giggle at nothing and then fall over.  Shenlong can harness all four Styles, cycling through them to adapt to whatever situation faces him, and his monks can generate Chi Tokens as they meditate which they can use to increase their duel totals or trigger other powerful effects.

Play Shenlong if:

  • You’re all-in on the wuxia theming, but more Hero than Crouching Tiger
  • You want your master to be throwing hands
  • You like drawing cards.  Holy crap, does Sensei Yu draw a lot of cards.

Asami Tanaka

Asami, Amanku, three Yokai and Ohaguro Bettari. Credit: Wyrd Games

Poor Asami.  She never wanted to be anything more than a miko, like her mother before her.  She was a shy child, kept away from others for fear that they might find out about the lights she saw and the voices she heard.  Her mother had died giving birth to her, but she swore that she would have a child one day, and she would never leave its side.  She passed her time maintaining the family shrine and dreaming of the child she’d have one day… while dark eyes watched her from Beyond.

Her dreams came crashing down one day, when brigands raided the shrine to steal the mystical gem kept there.  They murdered her father and stabbed her, leaving her for dead.  The belly wound was dreadful enough, but when she realized that her dreams of a child were now gone forever, even if she survived, something broke in Asami.

That was when Amanjaku made his move.  The oni had been watching Asami for ages, patiently preparing her to be his vessel.  He had to rush now, with his pawn on the brink of death, but it was worth it.  He reached out to the dying Asami and offered a bargain.  She could live.  She could avenge her father.  And she could have the children she’d always dreamed of.  All she needed to do was let him in.

Of course she agreed, and Amanjaku manifested on Earth for the first time.  In truth, he’s a dreadful little imp, but the power he offers is real.  Asami is a living portal to the Beyond, the massive, fang-fringed maw in the back of her head constantly spewing out monstrous, demonic spawn.  Her “children” cannot exist for long in our reality, which is a blessing.  Asami regrets her hasty bargain, but she has a stubborn, defiant streak.  Amanjaku tried to make her a monster.  Maybe he succeeded.  But she’s not his monster… any more than the Thunders’.

Asami is a summoner, spawning all manner of horrid Oni from her head-maw.  Around her, reality warps and bubbles, and her demonic offspring flicker in and out of existence.  They can stack Flicker Tokens on themselves to empower their attacks, but too many and they’ll fade right out of existence.  Only by consuming souls can they preserve their time in Malifaux.  Asami’s oni run the gamut from sneaky schemes to powerful beatsticks, and she can place them wherever she needs them, but overuse of her powers drains her life force and forces her to feed the maw to heal back up.

Play Asami Tanaka if:

  • You love Japanese myths and legends.  Tangu? Kamaitachi? Jorogumo? The gang’s all here.
  • You like speed, but hate getting bogged down in terrain.  The enemy is just one reality warp away.
  • You want to summon lots and lots of gribblies, but don’t mind if they’re not here for long.

Lucas McCabe

Lucas McCabe, Dismounted McCabe, Luna, Sidir Alchibal and two Ruffians. Credit: Dave Taylor Miniatures

Lucas McCabe had it all– wealth, power, a family name that commanded respect.  He could have lived in the lap of luxury.  All he had to do was have the slightest modicum of respect for authority.

You probably know where this is going.

Shunned by his wealthy family, McCabe traveled the world with a gang of Wastrels— toffs like him who preferred looting and plundering to honest work.  They garnered quite a reputation as tomb robbers and thieves– a reputation that caught up with McCabe in Cairo, where he and his fiancee Karen were captured by bandits.  She died, but he lived, using a stolen Soulstone (empowered by Karen’s death) to slay his captors and escape.  Broken by the experience, McCabe became ever more reckless, pushing his luck until it finally snapped somewhere in the Three Kingdoms.  The Katanaka family made it clear that McCabe’s ability to keep breathing depended on his working exclusively for them.  His first stop?  Malifaux.

The Guild had been looking for treasure hunters, and McCabe fit the bill.  For a time, he pulled double duty, looting Old Malifaux ruins for the Guild but bringing the choicest pieces to the Thunders.  That changed the day the Burning Man lit up the sky.  Herbert Kitchener’s ritual of ascension required many, many artifacts of power, and McCabe had provided most of them.  The Thunders, sensing something amiss, had told him to swap one out– the bones of an ancient denizen of Malifaux traded for the hand bones of an actual tyrant.  We all know how that went.  In the aftermath, nobody outside the Thunders actually knew what had happened, but the new Governor-General had no use for McCabe’s services.  Turfed out and looking for work, he quickly found it with the newly founded Explorer’s Society, and now hunts for treasure under their banner… while still reporting back to the Thunders, of course.

Lucas McCabe is a dual faction master, obviously, serving the Thunders and the Society.  He can convert Corpse or Scrap Markers to powerful Relics, which give their holder new abilities and actions.  Lucas uses these Relics to keep his Wastrels loyal and can pass them around, making sure the right model has the right ability at the right time.  He’s also extremely fast on horseback and can tangle enemies up with his netgun.  When he takes enough damage, the horse dies and he continues on foot with a new weapon loadout.

Play Lucas McCabe if:

  • You wish Hugh Jackman had played Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider movies
  • You like your crew to be slippery as an eel and as hard to pin down
  • You like horses and sideburns (there it is!)

Youko Hamasaki

L-R: Three Geishas, Bill Algren, Youko Hamasaki and Chiyo Hamasaki. Credit: Wyrd Games

The Little Kingdom has plenty of teahouses.  Some of them even serve tea. Some are squalid little establishments meant for little more than extracting scrip from soulstone prospectors and mercenaries. Others are sprawling, beautiful palaces, full of the soft sounds of zither music and the hushed murmur of stimulating conversation.  The Qi and Gong falls into the latter category, thanks largely to the efforts of its beautiful and brilliant proprietress, Youko Hamasaki.

Youko is witty and urbane and sophisticated, beautiful, musical, good at mah-jongg… the perfect companion.  The Qi and Gong’s patrons feel safe there, safe enough to let down their guard and maybe even brag a little.  After all, who will hear them?  A bunch of giggling geishas?  But Youko hears all, and she’s taught her girls well.  More information passes through the Qi and Gong than most Earthside intelligence agencies.  And Youko isn’t just a scribe– she processes, cross references, collates, draws connections and inferences, and filters everything she learns.  No wonder the Thunders think so highly of her– she’s a rarity, a non-Katanaka trusted with this much power.  And what does Youko think of her position?  You could ask her, but I wouldn’t count on a straight answer…

Youko’s crew is, unsurprisingly, heavier on scheming and misdirection than on combat.  Their signature Leverage ability generates Pass Tokens once the opponent has revealed a Scheme, giving them unparalleled activation control in the lategame.  They can cash those tokens in for bonuses, too.  Youko herself is a queen of disruption, controlling enemy activations, handing out Slow and Distracted, and wrecking your opponent’s hand.  Just having her on the table shrinks your opponent’s maximum hand size.  And if you have to kill something, just send in the Qi and Gong’s bouncer, Bill Algren… that giant polearm ain’t just for show.

Play Youko Hamasaki if:

  • The alternating activation thing kind of freaks you out and you’d rather just activate your whole crew at once when your opponent is done.
  • You play Stax in Legacy, you absolute psycho
  • You are a peaceful soul who prefers bribery to violence

Bonus: This is a bit of a cheat, really.  Lucas McCabe used to be dual-faction Guild/Ten Thunders, and his Nightmare Box is still Guild-branded.  Thus, I present to you: the Wild Ones!

Rollins Black, Iggy Pup, Cherri Bomb, and the Ramones. Credit: Zargooran on Deviantart

Rollins Black, Patti and Elli Ramone, and yes, Iggy Pup… this box has it all.

That does it for the Thunders! Join us next time for the very last Faction Focus, after which I will die and go immediately to hell without stopping.

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