If the Autumn Bridge shakes in your bellows

Your every breath will be your last

For you must dredge the waters till the Just give up the Dead …

The sands of waters will make you clean

And you will hear the whispers beyond

I recently started playing in a short Malifaux campaign, with my regular group, that is intended to be a light-hearted relief from the dark and intense worlds we usually play in. You know you’re up to your neck in sinister gaming when Malifaux is light-hearted relief. The Malifaux RPG, Through the Breach, is an interesting and entertaining port of the Malifaux miniatures battle game to role-playing, and so far it has been a lot of fun. I am playing a character called Penitent Benny.

Were you seeking absolution?

Were you seeking absolution?

Penitent Benny was born in prison to a convict family, and has lived his whole life in prison, on the mundane side of the Breach. He was born before the Breach was opened, and in the world of his youth he was legally entitled to amnesty and freedom when he reached the age of 21. His whole teenage life in prison was lived in breathless anticipation of release at 21 into a world he had only ever heard about through rumour and prison gossip, but at 20 his one hope was snatched away from him: the Breach reopened, and the Guild discovered a sudden need for convicts to mine for soulstones in the new world. Benny’s release was cancelled and all children born into prison were doomed to stay in prison until they were fetched for labour beyond the Breach. Benny’s hopes for freedom destroyed, he was forced into the world of the adult prisons, and spent the next 10 years in the most brutal depths of the system, awaiting transportation.

With the reopening of the Breach many things changed in the world, and new religious movements formed. One of these, the Penitents of the Breach, saw the opening of the Breach as a consequence of humanity’s moral failings, and the use of soulstones as an abomination. They traveled the world scourging themselves to try and close the Breach through penitence, taking the whole world’s sins onto their own backs; and they also raided prisons and freed prisoners, in hopes of destroying the means of producing soulstones. Those prisoners they freed were killed or forcibly converted, and one day Benny found himself liberated to face this choice. Like most of his fellow prisoners he chose penitence, and for the next five years he too traveled the world, scourging himself, raiding prisons and “liberating” their inmates. But as time passed he found himself drawn to the Breach – his faith in penitence wavered, and in place of hatred he found a strange yearning for the mystical Breach. Eventually he left his Penitent sect, and traveled across the world to the Breach, looking for work on the other side. It is at the end of this journey, passing through the Breach, that Benny’s adventures began. Stepping onto the platform at Malifaux station, he felt himself a man reborn – purged of all the sins of his old world, scourged and free in the world whose existence had robbed him of his youth, and which had loomed threateningly over the last 15 years of his life. Repenant and scourged, Penitent Benny stood ready to face this new world and make himself anew.

Penitent Benny is a tall, powerful man in his late thirties, completely incapable of hiding his past. He dresses in leather chaps and wears only a harness over his torso, leaving most of his upper body bare to the elements. He is covered in prison tattoos, already fading, but over these tattoos are another layer of penitent tattoos, carved in complex lines in sepia and black. These tattoos are complex patterns of masks, tomes, crows and rams. His back is covered in a huge tattoo of a two-headed ram, carved in exquisite detail by one of the master tattooists of the Penitents and overlaid with subtle patterns of masks and crows. His back ripples with old scars, the visible and permanent marks of his many years of scourging, and the rest of his body bears the scars of years of hard prison life. His face is plain and scarred, topped by a mohican of red and a shaved skull decorated with subtle sepia tattoos. His prison number is tattooed on his arm and behind his ear, and past owner’s names on his inner thighs. Penitent Benny wants for nothing because he needs nothing, and has never known riches. He travels light, carrying only two bowie knives strapped to his harness, and a long and vicious spear that has a ring of rat’s heads hanging from coloured threads near the blade.

Despite his ferocious and outlandish appearance, Penitent Benny is blessed with a modicum of charm, rough and blunt though he might be. He speaks in the portentous semi-poetic absolutes of the fervent believer, and has the confidence of a man who cannot fall further, but will not bend or buckle. This gives him powers of leadership in moments of strife and conflict, though he is not the kind of man one would send to haggle over the price of beans, nor would one entrust one’s daughter to him. However, in a land of struggle and death, people naturally look to a man of Penitent Benny’s character and appearance for inspiration and leadership, and in his own rough and uneducated way he can sometimes provide it.

Penitent Benny’s class is Criminal, and he focuses on stealth and melee combat. His primary expertise skills are in medicine and wilderness skills such as tracking, so his character vision doesn’t quite match his pursuit, but this is of little matter at this stage in our campaign. Benny’s Resilience and Tenacity are terrible, indicative of his inability to remain penitent or to avoid the lure of the Breach. He survives primarily on his Cunning and his Might, and although he isn’t stupid he doesn’t really care to think things through so much. Penitent Benny likes to fight and to make strong declarations. Subtlety is for prison administrators and accountants, both of whom are best found at the bitter end of Penitent Benny’s well-used spear.

Penitent Benny is an ideal man to carve out a new world in the wilderness of the land beyond the Breach. He does not look back, and has nothing to lose, and what he lacks in bravery or toughness he makes up for in brashness and aggression. An ideal ally to have in front of you, but no one to rely on when the chips are down, because he has never known anything in life except thinking about himself and staying alive from day to day. Unfortunately for our little group of outlaws, he is the only one with any charm or leadership ability. To what ugly scourging will Benny attempt to lead his little band of misfits …?