Hello again, Mali-folks! Both I and Wyrd thought that Madness of Malifaux was going to be out by now, but with it delayed for a couple more weeks at least, I’m a bit at loose ends. Rather than start a longer series and immediately pivot into Madness reviews, I’m going to take a week to examine Malifaux’s dirty little secret: the Dead Man’s Hand.
The Island of Misfit Masters
Malifaux has 54 masters (soon 60!) – 8 in each faction, with 10 dual-faction fair weather friends. But if you’re coming to the game recently, you may be confused? Wasn’t there a puppet? You distinctly remember being told about the puppet.
Well, my friend, Malifaux’s story moves. It advances. Things change. Masters are promoted up from the ranks (see Dashel going from Henchman to Master between editions) but sometimes they die, too. Or get critically wounded. Or thrown in jail in Vienna.
Four Masters from Second Edition have been removed from the board. In the story, these Masters met a reversal of fate that took them out of action. In the game, they’ve been relegated to the Dead Man’s Hand, a special collection of models with full Third Edition rules, but which are not legal for tournament play. Think of them a bit like silver-bordered Magic cards, maybe, but without the sense of whimsy. Each one has their Totem, as well, and there are a few odds and ends that I’ll cover separately.
A word of warning: these masters are not balanced. One is pretty weak, and two are gruesomely strong. (Nicodem seems fine). You can play them if you have the models, but calibrating expectations would be a good idea.
We’ll start with poor Ryle. Charles Hoffman’s older brother was a famed inventor, until the jealous Anna Lovelace sabotaged his crossing into Malifaux. A massive aetheric surge nearly killed Ryle and gave Charles his powers. Saved by the brilliance of Viktor Ramos, Ryle became his brother’s silent shadow: hulking, powerful, but apparently mindless. Charles believed firmly that his brother was still in there somewhere, and that he could bring him back to the land of the living… until another encounter with Anna proved that Ryle had been dead all along. The machines kept his body moving, but there was nobody home. Charles tearfully bid farewell to his brother and gave him a decent burial.
Ryle is a Guild model and… very much like Melissa K.O.R.E., actually, to the point where he could have just been an alt for her. She replaced him as Charles’s Henchman, after all. He’s Armored, Ruthless and Hard to Kill, with the standard Augmented Power Converter rule to let him gain and use Power Tokens and Creative Salvage to generate Scrap when he kills targets. He has Melissa’s Metal Claws and Gatling Gun, though slightly improved, with Stat 6 in melee and a +twist to hit at range. His triggers are a bit better too – Crit Strike in melee and Puncture, Quick Reflexes and Reposition at range.
His bonus actions are similarly straightforward: Field Repairs to heal a nearby Construct and Creep Along to get some extra mobility.
I think he’s fine. He’s a bit pricier than Melissa and losing Run and Gun hurts – he’s also less armored and slower, but Ruthless is pretty good tech. I don’t think he’s good or bad, really. Just fine.
This guy is very weird. He doesn’t have a faction, even nominally. He’s a model you’re supposed to use in special seasonal scenarios. He can’t suffer damage or be killed, and he ignores terrain and models while moving. All Corpse Counters in play are treated as copies of him, albeit ones that become Stunned when they activate. He has a Stat 6 2″ range 3/4/6 melee attack with Puncture, Spread it Around and a built in Siphon Essence (to make a Soulstone when he kills a model), a Stat 7 Hurl Corpse (i.e. hurl yourself, maybe?) with a trigger to take a melee attack at a +twist at the same target, and the Grave Robber bonus action to make corpses. Basically he’s just a giant scary unkillable beater that makes copies of himself. Very weird.
Alas, poor Lilith. She ruled the Nephilim as their Queen throughout First and Second Edition, though with the scheming Nekima ever at her heels. At the climax of Second Edition, Nekima launched her coup with Titania’s backing, leading to a brief Nephilim civil war. Lilith fought bravely but was badly wounded and on the verge of death when Zoraida, ever the loyal ally, spirited her away. Thanks to the manipulations of Nytemare, Zoraida wasn’t able to restore Lilith, but she was able to save her live by trapping her in Nythera – Titania’s empty prison. Barbaros, refusing to bend the knee to Nekima, slunk away to join the Outcasts, but the rest of the Nephilim serve a new mistress now.
And Lilith? Well, that is not dead which can eternal lie… though Titania’s stint in Nythera did not do wonders for her appearance or her personality. Who knows what’s coming back out from under the slab.
Lilith is Neverborn and, in some ways, a bargain Nekima. Her Wp is a point lower and she has Unimpeded instead of Flight (representing her connection to Malifaux’s wild places – a connection now usurped by Titania). She’s also missing Frenzied Charge and Teach Them Fear, and instead of Spite has the Disappear trigger, which increases her Df by +2 for the rest of the activation after someone misses her. This would be a lot more impressive if it were built in or if her Df were higher than 5; most attacks will just hit and it won’t matter.
She’s lost Alraune, her Living Blade, and is just armed with a Greatsword like Lady Justice. She has the same Meat for the Young trigger as Nekima, as well as Bloody Fate to let her draw or cycle some cards, but with a lower stat and damage track she’s just not as impressive in combat as her sister. She’s also got Startle, a boring but serviceable bonus action that Staggers its target, and Tangle Shadows, which is worded somewhat weirdly but effectively lets her teleport a friendly model to where her target is standing and then yoink her target to her side. This is neat, especially with a crow trigger to let her attack immediately, but this is itself an attack that needs to hit (and has a fairly significant TN!) and the crow isn’t built in either.
For tacticals she’s got Black Blood Pustule, like the Shaman, and a second bonus action to make the area around her Hazardous. Neat, but Tangle Shadows is her only way to push enemies around, so not that impactful.
Overall she’s just… a weaker, crappier Nekima, easier to hurt and much less dangerous in melee. It’s a real shame, and I hope that when she does crawl out of Nythera she does so with a new card.
Lilith’s Totem is cute li’l Nephilim with a bow and arrow – basically a ranged Terror Tot. It’s a bit more fragile than a Tot, losing a wound and Protective, though at least it can actually Fly. It has the same bonus action to make the area near it Hazardous, as well as a crappy bow, but the one reason it’s actually interesting is Dispel Magic – condition removal is always good. Then again, it can’t grow like a Tot, which is the reason Tots exist, so… overall, not much here.
Nicodem was the game’s premier Summoner throughout First and Second Editions. He’s the classic Resurrectionist: a dapper gentleman in a top hat (he used to be the Guild’s chief mortician), robbing graves and raising a horde of vile undead monstrosities. His first attempt to conquer the city with a zombie swarm failed, and before he could try again, Lady Justice hunted him down to his lair. Wyrd ran a community poll to see who would live, and with Justice winning, Nicodem was cut down… though not before murdering the Judge. His soul was trapped in a Soulstone, which his loyal associated Mortimer pocketed before fleeing, so his return isn’t out of the question either… though it would take some doing.
Nicodem’s stats are much what you’d expect from his appearance and faction: low Df, good Wp, with a decent sized health pool and Hard to Wound. He’s also got Protected (Undead), which makes it easy to keep him alive. His keyword, Mortuary, currently consists of just him (+totem), Rafkin, Mortimer and Gravediggers, but his Necromantic Font rule lets him treat any Zombies as in-keyword when hiring, which expands his pool significantly. Beyond that, he has Accomplice (a very strong rule for a Master, since you can easily set up punishing chain activations) and Corpse Conductor, which gives all nearby Undead +twists on all Df duels and melee attacks. That is a hell of a rule, and works very well with Protected and Accomplice.
He technically has a melee attack, but you’re never supposed to use it. Instead, he can attack with Decay (the same attack Lady Justice has… I guess they have more in common than either wants to admit) or his unique attack Rigor Mortis. This ability has been toned down from previous editions but is still very strong: it’s just a ranged attack that makes enemies Slow and friendly undead Fast. It does have the fairly cute Zombie Horde trigger, which deals damage to the target equal to the number of Zombies engaging it, which… is rarely going to be above 2, but it’s still funny.
But the big thing Nicodem does is summon. Reanimator lets him summon any number of Zombie Minions, as long as he has a Corpse within range for each. The best you can do here is a Cost 7 Rabble Riser or Flesh Construct, which takes only an 11+ of Crows, but you can grab a couple of smaller things – say, two Guild Autopsies if you have the Red Joker in hand. His Summon Upgrade, Walking Dead, gives the summoned models Slow and requires them to stay within 8″ of Nicodem, Mortimer or Asura Roten (the three models with Necromantic Font) or take half their health in irreducible damage and drop a corpse marker. Sometimes you’ll want to do this, as taking a couple of damage to drop a corpse that can be raised into a fresh new monster is pretty good, but you’ll need to plan it.
Finally, Nicodem has a bonus action to just drop a Corpse nearby. Nice, simple, feeds his summons… you can even instantly turn it into a Mindless Zombie on a 6+ of Crows, which is neat.
On the table, Nicodem feels very fair. He’s an ok summoner but without any truly exceptional summons, and summons are of course very limited in Gaining Grounds games. He can make zombies, make your powerful out of keyword beaters Fast, and hopefully be a PITA to kill with Protected.
Nicodem’s bird bro is very thematic as a Totem, but somewhat low impact. It’s Mv 8 with Flight at least, that’s pretty cool. Hiring it gives you a corpse for free at the start of the game to help kickstart the summoning, and it can generate more of them from its melee attacks… but you never ever want it in melee, as it’s very fragile. At the end of the game all Corpses within 6″ are treated as friendly Schemes for you, but come on, this thing is never living to the end of the game. Beyond that it has a bonus action to carry corpses around with it, which is cute, and a tactical to pulse out a little heal on Undead, and that’s totally fine. Low impact, but not shameful.
Collodi. Oh, boy, Collodi. Collodi is a living puppet manufactured by some nameless artificer of Old Malifaux. It used to try to bring joy to children, but long isolation curdled its loneliness into homicidal madness. It still performed for children, traveling around in a strangely painted caravan, but every time it left a village a few of the little ones would vanish… and a few more puppets showed up on its shelves.
Pennywise the Puppet was a bit dark for Wyrd, because between Editions Lucius and Dashel tracked Collodi down and cut off its head. The head now sits in Lucius’s office (hopefully it didn’t get incinerated when the Burning Man blew up the Governor-General’s Mansion in Malifaux Burns), so Collodi could come back too.. but I honestly hope he doesn’t. At least not in this form.
The Neverborn Collodi has the Puppet keyword, and his entire card is bullshit. He has not-great stats and low-ish health for a Master (i.e. still 10), but Armor +2 and Protected (Puppet). Every time he Walks, all unengaged friendlies within 6″ get to push 2″ to keep up.
For attacks, he has Staggering Punch… not awful, despite the 0″ range, and especially good with Puppets because of the Staggered synergy. His has a built in +twist to hit, because of course it does, and the Beautiful Clothes and Coordinated Attack triggers. You won’t use it too often, though, because of his nightmarish second attack, Dangling on the Strings. This is a 10″ range stat 6 vs. Wp that does 1/2/4 damage and, oh yeah, just obeys the non-Master target. So it’s an Obey with no TN and slightly reduced range, but that also does damage, doesn’t require a suit, and can target the same model more than once per turn. And it has triggers! Delay to Slow the target and Pull and Drag to displace them!
The one downside is that you don’t want to damage your own guys when Obeying them, but don’t worry, Collodi has you covered – he also has Puppetmaster as a tactical action, which is a 10″ Obey that doesn’t even require a flip and allows you to take bonus actions if you want. And if the target is a Minion, it gets a +twist to any resulting duel.
What the hell?!
I could stop there, but I won’t, because the designers didn’t. The Show Must Go On lets him summon two Marionettes (his totem – he can have up to 4) within 3″ for a suitless 6, and with a Mask they ignore their Mindless ability. And his bonus action Fill With Stones, gives a friendly Construct +2 within 4″ Shielded and Staggered, with triggers to heal them or do it again.
But there’s even more!
Collodi has Act Upgrades: upgrades he attaches at the start of each turn. He only gets one at a time and he can’t have the same one two turns in a row, but reader, they’re all insane. Action Scene pulses out Focused to all friendly Puppets within 6″ when attached, gives all of Collodi’s Marionettes Know the Warrior, gives Collodi a triggerless Collier Revolver, and gives him Get In There as a trigger on his Dangling on the Strings. Love Scene pulses out Slow to every enemy within 6″ that’s engaging a friendly Puppet, gives Collodi a Lure, and adds the Unrequited Love trigger to Dangling on the Strings (letting him Distract an enemy model in his target’s LOS). And Soliloquy pulses out Distracted to enemies in 6″, gives Collodi Chatty, and gives him Boring Conversation.
This model is absurd. He has some of the nastiest attack actions in the game, has a great keyword in Puppet, summons shitloads of Marionettes, and the area within 6″ of him is a miserable tarpit. I never liked Collodi much, but I’d like him a lot less if this version was legal.
Considered in isolation, these guys aren’t great, but you never consider them in isolation. They’re a Minion (4) Totem, each one having bad defenses and low health (but Armor means you can’t take that for granted). They also get a +1 to all duel totals while within 6″ of Collodi, and a further +1-+3 on all duel totals during their own activation for being near other Marionettes, meaning it’s not that unusual for their Claws to strike at Stat 8. They can Delay enemy models or just yank them away from Collodi with Protect the Master, and for funsies they can use the Pluck the Strings bonus action to pulse out Distracted to enemies who fail a Wp duel.
Plus Collodi can summon two per turn. Totally unreasonable.
Ramos was the head of the Miners & Steamfitters’ Union and secret done of the magical Arcanist mafia for most of its history. He was a brilliant inventor, known for the distinctly arachnid-flavored design of his creations, but he was also ruthless and power-hungry. His actions were putting the workers of the M&SU at risk, and his schemes threatened all of Malifaux, so Toni Ironsides turned him in. Betrayed and captured during his attempt to recover the Soulstone Geode, he now languishes in the Guild’s most secure prison in Vienna. Many of his followers have joined the M&SU or Augmented keywords, while others are just generally available as Arcanist versatiles. But he’s not dead, and surely he’s planning an escape in that brilliant mind…
Ramos (unsurprisingly an Arcanist) carries the Machina keyword, and while he doesn’t look as strong as Collodi I guarantee you he’s even more insane. He treats all Constructs in his faction as Versatile when hiring and has Protected (Construct), so his card doesn’t exactly bury the lede (also, what’s with these DMH masters and Protected?). He has meh Df and great Wp, with Armor +1, so even if you can’t Protect yourself he won’t go down too easily. He has Creative Salvage, so models he kills drop scrap, and Survival of the Fittest, letting him draw a card whenever a nearby friendly is killed.
For Attack Actions he has a bog-standard Clockwork Arm and the very interesting Electrical Bolt, a 2/3/4B that ignores both Armor and Sz 1 friendlies for Friendly Fire. The Arcing Shock trigger lets him make a second attack, too, against a different target – very handy. For Tacticals he has the bonus Field Repairs, but the big action is his summon: Arcane Assembly lets him summon any number of Machina Construct Minions with a high Tome. You can summon Soulstone Miners if you’re feeling cheeky, or Mecharachnids for Precise, but mostly you’ll be summoning Steam Arachnids, especially since if he stones for a Ram each summoned Steam Arachnids enters play with a Focus. Each summoned model gets Stunned and the Spark Shower ability, which causes all nearby non-Constructs to take a point of damage at the start of their activations.
Ramos’s last tactical action, Uncontrolled Detonation, ignores range; you pick a friendly, kill it, pulse 2 damage out from around it, and draw a card. Then, if you had a tome and the target wasn’t an Electrical Creation, you summon an Electrical Creation in base contact with the target before removing it.
Since the creations are key to why Ramos is so busted, I’ll discuss them now. They’re 4-cost Minion (3) Constructs, with 4 health, Armor 1, Mindless, and a built-in Spark Shower. They have a Demise that deals 2 damage to all nearby enemies when they die, two very weak attacks (melee and ranged), and a tactical action to kill themselves and either draw 2 cards or add two Soulstones
So why is Ramos so nasty? Imagine this line of play: you summon a couple of Arachnids into the middle of what your opponent is doing. You target one with Uncontrolled Detonation, dealing 2 damage in an aoe, drawing 2 cards (one for Survival of the Fittest and one for Detonation) and summoning an Electrical Creation. Then you target the Electrical Creation with Detonation, dealing 4 more damage in an aoe and drawing two more cards. You just drew three cards and dealt six damage in a 2″ pulse, and your opponent never had any opportunity to interact with that at all. They didn’t flip a single card.
You can even increase the damage if you already have a construct or two in place and don’t need to summon. Sure, Armor makes it a lot worse, but Ramos already has a ranged attack that ignores Armor. And Incorporeal doesn’t matter because none of the damage comes from Attack Actions. Collodi is strong because he has a lot of busted actions, but they’re actions and you can flip cards against him. Ramos just blows you to hell without you being able to do anything about it.
Ramos’s Totem doesn’t need to be good, but folks: it’s good. The Brass Arachnid has Armor +2, so it’s a bit tougher than its crappy stats and 3 health indicate (and there’s tons of in-keyword healing). It has Unimpeded, like most spiders, and Hunting Partner means that Ramos can ignore it for Friendly Fire even though it’s Sz 2. Its melee attack is nothing too special, though it does ignore armor. It has two bonus actions: Field Repairs will keep it or other constructs healthy, while Temporary Limb lets you eat scrap or schemes to get a +twist on all duels. But the real magic is Hasten; once per activation, you can just pick a friendly model. The TN of the action is set such that you have to flip a card equal to the model’s cost, and if you do, it just becomes Fast. This is pure AP transfer, a great ability for a totem to have, and a key part of Ramos’s kit.
And without further ceremony, that’s the Dead Man’s Hand! It’s a murderer’s row to be sure, and I wouldn’t worry too much about memorizing these cards – if any of these characters return (and I think each of the four Masters has a decent chance to come back), they’re likely to be significantly different from their DMH version. Still, I’m glad DMH exists; people who truly love these characters can still play a version of them, and the rest of us don’t have to deal with them!
Hopefully Madness of Malifaux will be released by the time the next column drops – I’ll see you on the other side of the Breach!
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