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Soulstone Economics

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8 hours ago, Lithaine said:

As a new FM trying to acclimate my group to the game for the one-shot we tried, I can see where you are coming from. Opening a fantasy book that has magic as a core component, and reading right off the bat magic is illegal and will have you jailed or killed before you even get into is a bit of a shock. "Let me show you this awesome thing that I know you'll like, and you've been waiting for, but first a list of all the bad things that will happen to you."

Malifaux is a gritty, rough place as  @L3gion mentioned (and who I am piggybacking off). Coming from D&D as my only sizable tabletop experience with RPGs, it's quite a paradigm shift to understanding TTB that I still struggle with a bit (a TTB 1e oneshot is the only RPG I've run so far). In this regard, TTB seems more about players who are above-average making their way through a world that is a gritty 'realistic' dystopia - the government is corrupt and authoritative, pretty much everyone/everything is unfriendly, and scraping by for most people is more the norm. This is a big departure for my players because they have to shift from a swords&sorcery or dungeon crawl to a more cautious and consequential environment (depending on campaign/GM/DM/FM of course).

These things that 'Wyrd...do not want us to use" are things that are inconvenient for the player to deal with, but the character would want to have/use them (and would have to accept/plan for the consequences). Fated are operating in a grey area, and in order to be successful and/or powerful, your characters are probably going to be doing some illegal/shady stuff. Even if the Fated are 'good guys', it's more down to earth (down to Malifaux?) - some talented people step up (possibly reluctantly or for reward or because they were coerced) to save the day as best they can. Playing in those grey areas seems to be where the 'fun' is. Again, I haven't had much playtime yet, but that is the impression I get from reading the books and the forum, and it has been a mentality shift to craft the 'look and feel' of Malifaux for the players. Without approaching it that way, I can definitely see why it seems like you're not supposed to be doing x,y,z and would be frustrating. 

Thanks for starting this discussion, I've been picking up a lot of info from the comments, and your premise was sort of sitting in the back of my subconscious as I was trying to adjust to the ruleset. Teasing out the 'intended' approach has been helpful to me in trying to teach and run the game in my group. 

Playing in the grey area is exactly where the Fated and Fatemaster work together to create a story. Here's some cross-system comparison from my own observations over the years:

  • In later editions of D&D the heroes (PCs) are deliberately set aside as being above and beyond mere mortals. It lends itself to a more "heroic" or "epic" campaign, but the story value suffers for it. The focus becomes the acquisition of wealth and power at sword-point (hence one of its less flattering nicknames: murder hobo), often with players knowing that even the local law enforcement and military forces are merely mortals (read: 0 level characters). Older editions of this system were worse, as not only did you get treasure and gear at sword-point, it was the only way to gain levels (advance your character)--which turned the most cooperative/productive gaming sessions into a "how many mobs can we grind for exp and treasure before our game session ends?"
  • The game system that TTB reminds me of the most is Shadowrun (in terms of look&feel). The PCs are gifted and/or talented individuals who get picked up to perform special missions that require a certain degree of skill, certain degree of deniability, and a certain degree of expendibility. Your character abilities are largely seen as threats to the existing authorities, the existing authorities can bring a ton of weight to bear, but the existing authorities are also likely to turn a blind eye so long as you're more useful than threatening to them. You're surrounded by other people who, due to similar circumstances, also have some degree of talent or ability in shady areas (they just aren't Fated) as well as people who are simply just trying to make ends meet. Character growth comes from how you complete the mission or not (skills and experience) and whether or not you fulfill a Destiny Step (stats and powers), which has no bearing at all on whether or not you can even kill a fly. You could easily play an Overseer that completes the full pursuit and gets into an advanced pursuit without ever killing anything. The group's Convict might never actually steal anything or kill anyone (their criminal past is break and entering or forgery, not robbery or murder), yet they're an indispensable member of the group, complete their Destiny steps, and manage to get up to Henchmen-level power over the course of the campaign.
  • There are other game systems where the thing that many younger players (especially) were attracted to also happened to be on the taboo list. As an example, when the Star Wars MMO hit, a lot of people joined as Jedi-type characters and found themselves being hounded by other player characters who were looking to collect the Imperial bounty on Jedi. In Malifaux there's a similar kind of animosity from the Guild towards magic users in general; Resurrectionists and Arcanists in particular.

These differences help make memorable stories for some people. For them, the most successful stories don't revolve around some super-powerful being who has no weaknesses kicking ass nonstop. It gets old and predictable when there is nothing that challenges the protagonist. Instead they're along the lines of:


The group of Fated ran afoul of the University of Transmortis while retrieving an artifact; five years from now the stories that will still be interesting and compelling enough to share won't be about how many zombies were killed in a single activation.
They'll likely be about how the Fated were cornered by a Student of Viscera and only managed to escape because the group's demolitions expert accidentally collapsed the sewer pipe underneath them, dumping the Fated into a hidden river. Everybody nearly died because the demo expert flipped a black joker while throwing a stick of lit dynamite. When they finally drew themselves out of the water near the Docks, half drowned, cold, and mildly poisoned, they had to figure out a story to tell the approaching Guild Guards that wouldn't get them arrested or killed. Especially since they would only get paid if they actually deliver the artifact that.. oh crap, the Guild will definitely seize if the guards have reason to search them and find it.

Not all gaming groups go for that flavor, and that's why it is there exists a Game-/Dungeon-/Fate-master fiat. The FM works with their gaming group to see what they want to get out of the game, and it falls on the FM to figure out how (if) they're going to go about it. You'll note that there's no hard and fast "if you're caught with a soul stone you will be questioned, arrested, and possibly summarily executed by the Guild" in the rules anywhere (yet, the upcoming Guild book might provide guidance along these lines). It's in the flavor of the game world, sure, but that's the character of Malifaux. Even if guidance along these lines does come along, it's up to the FM to enforce it if they want it.

If the questions regarding accessibility and legality of soul stones in Malifaux are because you're looking to run a Malifaux campaign, then as the Fatemaster it falls on you to figure out how you want to handle it in the stories you shape with your gaming group. You may find that your group just wants to go zombie/monster hunting and not deal with any of the grey areas that come with the turf war between the major factions. If this is the case and you want to ramp up your group's power level so that you can play big game hunter until it's no longer interesting, you can design your game to facilitate this quite readily by using a game mechanic; for instance: the Fated are affiliated with the Guild and get special dispensation for equipment and magic usage. You might also find that it makes it very hard to get your group to follow a planned story line or greatly upsets the balance of the game, frustrating your efforts as the Fatemaster to run an interesting campaign.
Prior to running a campaign, you (as Fatemaster) will want to sit down with your gaming group (the Fated) and talk about expectations and desires for the campaign. This Session Zero is a great time to introduce new players to the creation process and talk to them about what they would like to get out of the campaign and expect out of the Fatemaster. This will also be where you describe your expectations of the group and make notes on what types of characters were created and what aspects of the Malifaux world most interest the players of your group. This is also where you and the players talk about how you (as the Fatemaster) will be handling the world of Malifaux, to include Guild/Union reactions to open use of magic and availability of things like weapons, ammunition, constructs, artificial limbs, grimoires, and soul stones.

If the questions are because you have a Fatemaster that is being strict with soul stones, that's a conversation for you to have with your Fatemaster. A number of us feel that struggle makes the story, scarcity adds value, and difficulty adds flavor. It may feel harsh and restrictive if you're not used to this kind of storytelling, but the stories and the game sessions tend to be very rewarding in ways that cannot be recorded on a character sheet.

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I am really enjoying this discussion, and there many valid points to why people should not have magic or soulstones.  But here is my last thought.  I get that magic and soulstones can harm people and that is why it is illegal, but you can only get so many spells off do to card mechanics.  In the mean time you are a loud to have steam powered crossbows that that have a great fire rate, souped up shotguns, and bombs!  You can have a bomb, but not a simple soulstone for healing?  Is the guild missing the big picture?  LOL


Thanks for the great discussion guys. I understand this is not D&D, so I am giving up unbridled power for ambiance.  Thanks for not flaming the top and all the great ideas!

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18 minutes ago, Guyon said:

In the mean time you are a loud to have steam powered crossbows that that have a great fire rate, souped up shotguns, and bombs!  You can have a bomb, but not a simple soulstone for healing?  Is the guild missing the big picture? 

I believe in the northern regions of the real world people are allowed (and encouraged) to have guns, maybe not with them at all times, but at home - definitely. Because bears. Same thing in Malifaux: because Neverborn, and zombies, and bandits, and whatever. I still don't think it is a good idea for some random guy to flash a shotgun or a bomb in the more civilized parts of Malifaux City, but closer to the outskirts, or in mining towns, - why not? Same with westerns: guns are pretty much a neccessity, but a gatling gun under the bar stand is a bit of a stretch. Like I said, Malifaux is full of contrasts, thin lines and delicate balances, and that's the beauty of it. So many possible conflicts, so many possible stories... So much potential for both players and FMs.

As for soulstones for personal "peaceful" use, I would suggest attaching a crapton of paperwork to soulstones sold by the Guild: permits to buy, permits to carry, to keep, to use, etc., with specific mentions of their intended use (e.g. healing). Maybe a tad smaller crapton for soulstone dust. And some bureaucratic procedure to recharge/replace them. I think it should work nicely for characters who need the stones - after all, they are free to choose not to follow the requirements of those documents.


Thank you for starting this discussion! It is an important one to have, I believe, given how different TTB is from the usual heroic fantasy. I think this RPG will go well with people who enjoy playing, or just the concept of, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (Dark Heresy will not do - characters there are still too over-the-top) and storytelling games. That's what this system is best for - telling stories.

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11 hours ago, Guyon said:

Thanks for the great discussion guys. I understand this is not D&D, so I am giving up unbridled power for ambiance.  Thanks for not flaming the top and all the great ideas!


11 hours ago, L3gion said:

Thank you for starting this discussion! It is an important one to have, I believe, given how different TTB is from the usual heroic fantasy.

Signed. ^_^

In our group, we follow this (possibly not very helpful ;)) rule of thumb when in doubt about the use of magic or Soulstones: You can do everything you like, BUT you often have to do it smartly or live with the consequences. In some situations, however, you won't even get anywhere with smart: As the others already stated, TtB is about grey areas – so these (immediate) consequences may not always be perfectly obvious (which constitutes most of the fun, actually :D).

You may decide to use a Soulstone to heal a deadly wounded Guild officer or cast a fireball to save his hide from an attacking Iron Zombie: Maybe you gain a new best friend (and helpful ally) in doing so; maybe the saved officer thanks you kindly – and later reports you to the nearest Witch Hunters nevertheless. I think that’s the beauty of it. :)

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I've been running TTB for six months now. My players just got their first soul stone. My players with magic haven't had any difficulty with their spells unless they made the decision to not get better at them for character reasons. You really don't need a soul stone to do awesome things or use magic. They just make it a little easier. Really you just need the right talent.

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Soulstone economics were super wonky in 1st Ed. Now at least, soulstones have a value based on actual utility. If a Fated wants a soulstone, it should not be unattainable, but a challenge just like any 'reward'. Denying Fated soulstones because 'economics!' runs thin when so many citizens seem to possess them. Also, soulstones don't only come from the mines of the Guild and M&SU, but also from the Necropolis beneath Malifaux and the tombs in the Quarantine Zone. 

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  • 1 year later...

I killed my first group about 5 sessions in because they used magic to steal a pnuematic arm after they sold it to a guy. they got the arm while helping a death marshal hunt undead and he was nice and provided a bill of aquirement since it would look like they killed a guy or dug up a grave to get that arm otherwise. it had all their names on it and the deathmarshals name. so they sold it and an hour later used the conjure spell to teleport it out. the death marshal gets informed about this and has to report it to the witch hunters and then thinking they might be innocent demands to handle the interrogation. he casts interrogate on them they confess their guilt and they all die to the witch hunter forces waiting outside. They had seen him use the magia beforehand as well. i say i killed my first group but really they chose to suicide instead of surrender. while im honestly no happy with the result it did show them what kind of world this is and i think the next run will fair better. 

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