Original SA post
Dark Heresy Second Edition: Unpublished Beta
Part 1: Why?
So, I used to play a lot of 40kRP. That much came up in the 40kRP reviews. I don't anymore, for a combination of a lot of reasons. But one of them is found here, in the buy-in playtest for the 2nd edition of Dark Heresy. Specifically, in the way this PDF represents a road not taken, an interesting little footnote in RPG design.
If you've read my stuff about 40kRP, you know I take a lot of issues with the system. But the system is flawed in interesting ways, because it was inherited by Fantasy Flight Games after being designed by some of the people who worked on WHFRP2e, and designed very close to (but notably worse than) WHFRP2e. It also suffered from the fact that Dark Heresy was very much a 'space ratcatchers get up to horror' game, rather than the 'play Eisenhorn/badass Inquisitorial Agents' game that many fans had expected and hoped for. Now, I liked the horror part and the focus on playing low level human-intel agents, but at the same time PCs were pretty incompetent and limited even compared to starting WHFRP adventurers, and 40kRP had lots of weird balancing decisions that ended up shooting it in the foot. It also faced an issue where FFG wasn't interested in space ratcatchers, and wanted to run much higher power games. However, they were stuck with the original system, which was a worse designed and worse balanced WHFRP2e but with guns and heavy weapons and multiplicative stat scaling that could destroy the game's balance.
The reason this PDF is interesting to me is because it helps answer, definitively, whether or not FFG was actually aware of the issues with the system. They were. They even tried to fix them in this potential second edition. But it crashed and burned completely, and was discarded entirely during the public playtest in favor of switching the game to 'effectively the same system, but with some updates from the later games in the line bolted into DH'.
Why did this happen? Why did the avenue for changing the game and addressing its (significant) flaws close? Well, there are a lot of reasons, and they're the reason I want to cover this incomplete prototype document. The biggest is backwards compatibility. Despite changing significantly between games, 40kRP always sold itself on the illusion of backwards compatibility. I say the illusion because a lot of general changes to the system added up in ways that actually made it legitimately hard to backport later stuff into DH or to pull stuff from DH forward. But they were always technically the same system, and fans were upset that the new edition of DH might not be. There were other reasons, but at the time I remember that one being the single biggest. The prototype system was also more than a little messy (as you might expect from a prototype) and needed a lot of work. I also get the sense FFG was just getting kind of tired of working on 40k at this point; you have to remember, this was before GW switched CEOs and when they were still routinely making very bad business decisions. This was at a time when FFG being threatened with 'stop making Star Wars mini games or we'll pull the 40kRP license' was a pretty easy decision to make (honestly, it's fucking Star Wars, it would still be an easy decision, that shit sells). Dark Heresy 2nd Edition, the completed version that just ended up being Only War But In The Inquisition, was pretty much the last thing FFG made for 40kRP. So I get the sense the company was a little tired of working with the license and just decided to take the route of least resistance to get to publication.
It's interesting to me, though, because it shows that the designers were aware of the game system's flaws and really did make an effort to fix them. How they tried to fix them might or might not have worked, but it was never really put into practice due to vocal outcry during the playtest. I've always been a little sad FFG never got to make the 40k game they
actually wanted to make, and even this document still doesn't seem close to what they would have done if they'd been designing 40kRP themselves from the start. FFG isn't a bad publisher, and 40kRP's flaws have never been entirely their fault. And I still happen to have this document and on asking them about it, got a 'Meh, write up whatever' response, so here we go: We're going to look at where 40kRP could have gone. This is going to be all mechanics, all the time; there's basically no fluff to speak of since this is just a rules document. So strap in for yelling about balance and action economy, and wondering why the hell they'd add max agility bonuses to armor now
of all things.
Next Time: Characters
Characters and Careers
Original SA post
Dark Heresy 2nd Edition Unpublished Beta
Post 2: Characters and Careers
Careers are dead. Careers have been dead basically since Rogue Trader. Now, this is something I'm not at all unsympathetic to; the WHFRP Career System works great in a grounded game with a firm setting, but it's less of a fit for a game like 40k. 40k has a much less definite setting, since it's relying on you to make up the actual setting of your adventures more; one Feral World might not be anything like the other, and it's hard to make a one-size fits all Soldier career or whatever. The original Dark Heresy Career system was different than the WHFRP one precisely so you'd have more flex room in building your character and so they could get away with having broad categories rather than specific classes like in WHFRP, but that was clearly unsatisfactory to some due to the proliferation of ways around the basic Career system from DH, whether it be alternate advances or the eventual move to 'Aptitudes'.
Now, I don't actually think any of it ended up working out; in my experience both playing and observing the systems, the Aptitudes/Gods systems from Only War and Black Crusade mostly just removed any sort of gating progression while still leaving you with a solved system where the variable cost of advances made most characters rush 'must have' talents and abilities and actually reduced the variety of characters, but that's also just something that happens with purely point-buy systems with a lot of leeway in when and what you buy. Similarly, Rogue Trader basically killed the original Career system idea because Rogue Trader's Careers were massively poorly designed
messes; I'm not unsympathetic to this, I tried creating my own Commissar Career back when I was running DH and it was a massive headache to make Careers under the old DH system.
Now, 2nd edition's playtest document tried to chart a course between these two styles, actively trying to make it possible to play a wider variety of characters without mechanically screwing yourself over. I actually really like their new idea for 'high' stats from homeworlds vs. low stats. Instead of a static bonus to the stat, a character whose background makes them good at a stat rolls 3d10 and takes the best for their stat roll. If you're bad at it, you roll 3d10 and take lowest. Average? Roll 2d10+25. They also moved to a 25 base, for generally higher stats, but that'd been standard for most human characters in most of 40kRP for a long time at that point. Homeworld bonuses were also standardized to '2 good stats, one bad stat', which was also a positive development. I like standardization, okay? It makes it easier to keep things on the same level. A new stat was also added to the game: Influence. The designers wanted the possibility of PCs who had a lot of pull without being wholly reliant on Fellowship, I suppose, since Fellowship was doing a heck of a lot of work. Just ask anyone who played a Slaaneshi Apostate in BC what Fellowship could do for you. Your Fate was also determined by a d5-X, usually minimum 1 or 2, though notably the Noble could have from 0-4 Fate (Man, rolling 0 starting Fate would suck; that being a possibility was a bad idea).
Honestly, I'm not so hot on rolled Fate Points in general, given how important they are to the game. That includes in WHFRP; I think 4e had it right to make them an 'assigned' thing. With the general standardization of Homeworlds, I think variable Fate by Homeworld was something of a relic. It's not like WHFRP 1e or 4e, where an elf has massive
stat boosts over other characters to justify why they don't get any luck abilities. If everyone's on an even playing field already, having uneven Fate (and the possibility of rolling 0 on one background) was probably something that should've been stripped out.
What you did before the Inquisiton also became one of the big cores of your character, assigning your starting skills, talents, and equipment as well as giving you a permanent background bonus. Background was a new category; you got a Background like 'I was in the Imperial Guard', but this didn't actually set your character class, so to speak. You could theoretically play a Guard Sage or an Administratum Warrior, for two different paths to being a combat clerk. Your Background affected the skills and talents you started with, but not the costs of skills and future talents; that went to Role, the actual character class. Background bonuses were things like 'Guardsmen can carry extra armor and gear more easily' or 'Ministorum characters get +10 extra when they spend Fate for a bonus on a test' or 'Astra Telepathica characters are Psykers'.
Instead of fiddling with an Aptitude system, you instead got a character class that gave you bonuses to certain actions, but also set your EXP costs to level skills and characteristics. The Skill list was cut down to the bone, and a good thing, too. An over-wide list of Skills has been a problem for Warhams games ever since the shift over to Basic/Advanced Skills in 2e WHFRP, and if you pay attention you can see the Skill List shrinks with every release in 40kRP. This is one place where FFG's designers were spot on. Also, every character now had basic access to every skill, and not at the same exorbitant rates you did in the Aptitude system. The old idea of Elite Advances (advances outside your Career) went on to become 'You've been promoted to Inquisitor, or discovered to be a Psyker' and big stuff like that, which was another positive step. You got stats for 50, 100, or 150xYour Character Stat Bonus (limited by your overall Rank, which went up as you gained and spent EXP, like DH1e) and Skills for 100, 150, or 200x the number of times you'd learned that Skill. Amusingly, they also did what I've been thinking would've been a better move for 'Basic' skills in WHFRP: All characters have every skill at Rank 1. You suffered a -10 to your check if you use a skill that is only Rank 1, but nothing further. Every PC could, under this model, attempt every skill. Skills were also uncoupled from strict adherence to 'this stat is always used for this kind of skill'. If you had a situation where you could potentially use Fellowship for Stealth and your Fellowship was way better, go ahead.
Honestly, the changes to the Skill system are entirely a positive development. Letting your players come up with ways to make their strengths apply, even if they're out of their element? That's how you keep everyone involved and keep more options open for the story. Cutting the list down to 21 skills, mostly skills that players used all the damn time? A good idea. They also removed the Dodge skill; everyone can just do that with Agility base. For the direction of 40kRP, and especially for a remade Dark Heresy, the changes to the skill system look really good.
The actual character creation changes are the sort of thing I'd need to see in action, an awful lot, to be comfortable commenting on firmly. But I also think they get at what I'm trying to show about this document; these changes identified an issue, and then tried to move things in a way that would fix it. Characters are ending up too siloed and hyper-specialized? Try to come up with a new advancement and leveling scheme that will give a little more freedom. I'm not entirely sure it would have worked; the variable costs still make it much more efficient to really specialize in your one thing, but the differences in cost are much less than they were under the Gods/Aptitude systems, which might have mitigated the issue somewhat.
At the very least, the issues actually being confronted was a good thing. Naturally, the DH 2e Beta 2 document I have (which convinced me not to buy DH 2e) goes back to just using the Aptitude system. We never covered Only War here, so I suppose I should at least discuss Aptitudes, and why they were a bad move. Aptitudes were an attempt to bring in something like the variable EXP cost by God thing from BC, but for a game not about playing Chaos and with more granularity. You had Aptitudes in various stats and sub-categories, and if you matched 2 Aptitudes with what you were trying to buy, you got it cheap. 1, medium. 0, unless you absolutely needed it don't buy it. The issues with them were many, but some of the biggest came from some classes getting more Aptitudes than others, and with some Aptitudes being much more useful than others. Aptitudes had serious balance issues and exacerbated the hyper-specialization problems from Black Crusade. Simply bringing them back wholesale in the second beta document and scrapping the original idea of class-based costs for things was a mistake. Also note the 2nd playtest document walked back on 'every character can try every skill', bringing back Advanced Skills (skill situations where you needed to know the Skill to even try it) and raising the untrained penalty back to -20, which is pretty hefty.
Yes, I have both playtest documents and I'll be comparing them at points. Still, the 1st playtest document really did show that the designers were trying to open things up, let player characters try to find ways to apply their strengths. Again, I didn't see it in wide practice at the time, so I can't speak for exactly how well the fixes would have worked, but the fixes were there. The fixes were consistently there; basically everything you've heard me yell about about 40kRP at least gets addressed
in this document, and I appreciate that much.
Next Time: Talent Trees
Evil Apes Dukin' It Out On A Big Ball
Original SA post
Dark Heresy Second Edition Unpublished Beta
Post 3: Evil Apes Dukin' It Out On A Big Ball
So, I know I promised Talents, but there honestly isn't enough in them to make an update without going into their exact effects more than I'd like to; suffice to say they are as they always have been, but they're much more severely gated behind stat advances in this document. An important thing, though: That's the only way Talents are sectioned off. Any PC, of any type, can learn any Talent. Just the high stat requirements for some will make them painful for you if your class isn't good at that stat. For the most part, the actual changes to Talents are interesting; there are no more multiattack talents, for reasons you'll see shortly, but there are plenty that will limit you to a single blow or slow down your attacks in order to make them more powerful. There are also Talents to let you actually say 'I use Fellowship for Stealth' without having to play GM may I on the affair, which is interesting. Many of the social and investigation talents relate to our Half Baked FFG Subsystem of the game, Subtlety, which we'll get to later. Suffice to say it's underdeveloped; it's tradition to have at least one central but confusing or poorly developed subsystem idea in every WH40KRP game.
Combat received a tremendous number of changes. The first one you'll notice is that instead of the old Half Action-Full Action thing, they went with Action Points. There were ways to get more Action Points solely for Reactions or whatever, but for the most part everyone got 4. So effectively they made everything a quarter action. Instead of having Half Move Full Move Charge and Run, you just spend 1 AP to move Agi Bonus in meters. You can spend as many on that as you want. Instead of having Full Auto and Swift Attack and stuff, you just pick your weapon, spend AP to attack, and multiply the weapon's Rate of Fire by the AP spent to find out how many shots/swings you take in that burst, before resolving it like a Full Auto attack. Everything is now Full Auto, basically. Some really big or slow guns and melee weapons cost multiple AP to make even a single swing with, and you no longer get any way to ignore the 'unbraced heavy weapon' penalty; Bulging Biceps just reduces it and makes Bracing cost 1 AP instead of 2. They really
wanted to cut down on 'everyone and their dog uses a giant machine gun/autocannon', but I think they ended up going too far in most cases when you see how all of this interacts with the revamped damage system. Melee weapons that multiattack all base their rate of attack on your Agi Bonus, which sort of overvalues Agi.
Similarly, if you have a bad Agi, and you try using, say, a Sword with an RoA of AB-3 with your 22 Agi? Your sword now takes 2 AP to attack with even once. Like a heavy weapon.
Still, the basic idea of 'remove the old firing rate rules entirely' is a promising start, because they never worked great. Another promising bit: Damage variance has been toned down significantly, as has Armor Penetration. Even the best weapons are only Pen 2 or 3, to ensure that armor stays relevant. A Power Sword, for instance, is now 'only' d10+2+SB, Pen 2. That's what a 'high power' light melee weapon looks like now. That's a huge step in the right direction. One of 40kRP's big problems was how out of control numbers got, to the point that you'd have a pile of damage modifiers in Black Crusade so high that they started to feel meaningless. Similarly, making everything work like Full Auto is basically just an acknowledgement that that's the best option in the system and so might as well be your default. AP as a concept is honestly useful and interesting, because it permits them to build in things like 'spend 1 AP before making your attack to add a rider where you force the enemy to move or expose them to ally's fire' and stuff like that. It gives more space to add in moves other than 'kill man'. It would have needed a lot more balancing and examination and playtesting, but this is a public playtesting draft as it is; 'It needed some refining but seemed to be on a good track' is about where you want most mechanics in such a book.
One thing I do NOT like about AP is that you have to reserve AP to be able to actively dodge or parry. Also, full disclosure, I missed that they just changed the name of the Dodge skill to Evade to account for it accounting for Dodges, Parries, and
using your sheer Willpower to avoid wizard shit. Which is a good change in itself; bringing those skills together under one roof rather than having a separate Parry skill like Only War is a better idea and I appreciate the general commitment to cutting down on the skill list. I don't like the idea of having to reserve action points to do things like active Dodge because that kind of thing can lead to situations where the character who loses initiative gets pasted because guess what, you get your AP at the start of your turn, and if you have none because you haven't moved yet, you can't dodge. Biasing things more towards high agi shoot-first high init isn't a good look because it's already where 40kRP was, and it's not a great place. Still, you no longer have a limited number of dodges; you can evade as many times as you have AP. And gaining extra AP to use solely on Reactions is one of the main ways you can gain extra AP. So with some balancing it might have worked out.
But all this pales in comparison to the new damage rules. Oh man, the new damage rules. If you asked me how someone could design a damage system that would piss off existing fans (by undervaluing alpha strikes with high damage weapons/going for one-shots) and
annoy people like me who felt the system had PCs who were much too fragile for how long-term you seemed to be expected to play them, I would ask you why the hell you wanted that. And then I'd turn in this damage system. It's real bad, not going to lie. Back in the day, this was the single most complained about part of this document during playtesting, outside of meta-concerns like a lack of backwards compatibility with previous material. And with good reason. So, they responded to the way Wounds weren't very useful in 40kRP by cutting them out entirely. You no longer have a buffer of HP under the new damage system. Every hit goes onto a Wound Chart, assuming it does any damage past your DR. For every time a hit has gone onto the Wound Chart, you take 1 Wound. If an enemy was an Elite or better and got a 10 on damage, you get Furied and take a Critical Wound instead, though this has no direct effect on looking at the Wound Chart.
The Wound Chart consists of looking at the damage type that hit you (Rending, Explosive, Energy, or Impact), then how much damage you took, and matching it to the numbered entry. You also add +5 to the result for every Wound you've taken, and +10 for every Critical. You start taking permanent character damage at 26+, and die at 30+. You also start suffering stuns, debuffs, getting set on fire, etc well before that. Only the 8 or less results are 'you just take a harmless flesh wound'. So getting fucked up is going to ramp up really fast. The Wound system also means that you're better off using a high rate of fire weapon with acceptable damage; you're just not going to one-shot people from full health anymore, which is good and definitely intentional, though a high alpha damage weapon is probably still going to fuck someone up. But you're still weirdly fragile and there's still no acknowledgement that, say, getting Stunned generally means you're going to die next turn (especially as it keeps you from regenerating AP, so you can't try to Dodge or Parry while stunned). It still ends up being a very lethal system where you want to win init and alpha strike your enemy, you just alter what makes the most efficient way of doing that. In essence, it doesn't really solve the problems of 40kRP combat, it just makes more of the crit table results actually show up before someone explodes like a watermelon on the 3rd shot of the burst. It's also complex and requires a lot of chart flipping. It is a worst of both worlds change.
But I do appreciate that they actually did experiment with an alternate wounds system, because the old WH40KRP one did not work
. Yes, I would have liked to have seen this damage system get thrown out and a new one tried in its place; it's terrible. But that it exists is a good sign. FFG was willing to throw out entire foundational systems of the original system to try new things in this first playtest, and that's the level of experimental design they needed to be on. This idea didn't work, at all; it made pretty much everyone unhappy. But in an ideal world, that would lead to it getting tossed and some new ideas being tried. Oh, another thing: They threw out Unnatural Stats entirely, and good fucking riddance, that was a terrible idea at every point in 40kRP's design.
Then they kind of screwed it by giving some enemies 100+ stats. But you know, at least Unnaturals were gone.
Also, a really hilarious rules interaction I found: Because of the way rates of fire work, and because there is no longer an unarmed penalty, and because 'light' melee weapons like knives don't naturally add Strength Bonus but fists do? It's actually very possible to build an extremely formidable character who 'dual wields' their fists and feet. Get Crushing Blow (Add +SB to your melee again at the cost of -1 to RoA), Crippling Strike (All enemies suffer +5 to Wound Effect), and Furious Assault (If two attacks hit the same area, you can combine their damage vs. DR and for Wound Effect). Add Blade Dancer for dual-wielding to be without penalty. Dual-Wielding lets you make a second Attack action during a turn, you see; normally you can only make one. A character with those things has at least 5 SB, and so is punching people for d5+10, or if they double-up attacks on a body part, 2d5+20. And is attacking at Agi Bonus-1 per single AP spent. You can, with a little effort, build a melee character who is running around machine-gun punching demons like Ip Man and to be honest: This is good. That should be an option. It does have the unintentional hilarity whereby fists are effectively always better than a knife (knife is d10-2, fists are d5+SB, and even an 'average' character with d5+3 is better off than d10-2) but I am a-okay with martial arts being totally viable.
So, the damage system was a huge pile, but the AP system and the general trend of trying to make heavy weapons less dominant and trying to add more options in combat indicated steps in the right direction. This is one of those places where 'it's an initial playtest document' is doing a lot of work, but almost everything wrong here was fixable. Damage would have needed a full revamp, and they would have needed to really sit down and have a hard look at what they wanted damage to be like, I think. One of 40k's issues has always been the hyperlethality. It got built into the game's reputation, but in my experience, what players tended to enjoy was managing to survive despite it. But that meant the game had to give a ton of tools for evading damage, because PCs' ability to take it was ludicrously small compared to how much of it there was. It has always been at odds with the expectation that you will play a PC long term that's inherent in the EXP and advancement rules (and the existence of Fate Points), and with the fact that making PCs (especially for the later, higher power games) takes a lot of time. In short, lots of the system isn't really set up for highly disposable PCs, but the damage system of 40k and its reputation for hyperlethality are. That FFG was willing to re-examine the entire damage system is still a positive step, even if the solution they had wasn't a good one. I'm confident a better one could have been arrived at in time, given the willingness to experiment and the genuine improvements found in other areas of this document.
Next Time: Subtly? In 40k?
Subtlety and Influence
Original SA post
Dark Heresy 2nd Edition Unpublished Beta
Post 4: Subtlety and Influence
Dark Heresy 2e's new mechanic, Subtlety, and the new stat Influence are easily recognizable; at least, Influence is. Influence is Profit Factor/Renown/whatever they're calling your 'slowly goes up or down base level of resources' stat that's been in basically every game since Rogue Trader. However, Influence is an individual stat rather than a group stat, and it's also rolled for individually at character creation. It's also integrated much better than usual, in that it's absolutely open to be used like any other characteristic; you might not have great Fellowship on your Noble but if you have high Influence, you might be able to bull your way through things with your skull-covered rolodex and your holy, gold-plated checkbook filled with ink squeezed from the tears of heretics or whatever it is they use for paper money in the Imperium.
Influence also has another nice bit to it: You need it to get items and you can certainly use it to help your investigations, but you can also just burn influence, losing d5% of it permanently, in order to immediately get something done. You also lose 1 Influence if you mess up an Influence test by more DoF than your Fellowship Bonus, so even if you're playing a character who relies on their rep, their Fellowship is still important. A little weirder is that you lose 1 Influence per year you do no work for the Inquisition, but I can't imagine that would come up in most campaigns outside of serious, extreme long-term medical care or an enforced or agreed upon timeskip, so it seems odd to punish players for that. You also gain or lose Influence by doing things for people. Used your master's authority to divert a Guard regiment from its previous mission, which caused the sector to lose an Agri-World to Orks? -4 Influence. Got into a gunfight with the cops while actually being identified? -1 Influence. Missed a bolter shot and blew up a reliquary? -3. In general, either failing missions or being too much of a Standard Fluff Inquisitor guy is going to fuck your ability to convince people to work with you. At the same time, actually saving lives, protecting people, earning favors, succeeding at missions, and managing to publicize your achievements gets you Influence. You cannot buy it with EXP like a normal stat, either.
I like the idea of being able to sacrifice a small portion of it permanently to make absolutely sure you get what you need, right now. Especially when you pair it with being able to gain it by succeeding; it's a reasonable way to get a 'I'm staking my career on this!' moment.
This is all meant to interact with Subtlety, which is meant to push the game a little more towards spy-game stuff and to make you think twice before telling anyone who you really work for or bringing out big guns. In theory, it's meant to be a constant companion to Influence, especially as you can reduce your Subtlety to invoke the Inquisition and use your master's Influence stat in place of yours. Which is also meant to involve your Inquisitor more directly in the game; as actual Acolytes you have some ability to throw their weight around. The issue is that while Subtlety has a solid number assigned to it (you start with 50 per mission and it goes up or down; higher, you're more hidden, lower, you're running around with big Is on your pauldrons and accompanied by swarms of cherubs saying INQUISITORIAL ACOLYTES COMING THROUGH, STAND BACK, WE TAKE LARGE STEPS) outside of a few Talents and the aforementioned 'lose 2 Subtlety to use your master's Influence' ability Subtlety is entirely at the GM's discretion.
I'm pretty sure you can immediately see the problem here. The GM basically just decides whether what you did is worth +d5 or d10 Subtlety, or -d5 or d10. Also, Subtlety interacts with Influence gains and losses. Any time you gain or lose Influence for your deeds, you roll against Subtlety. If you 'fail', you gain or lose the full amount. If you succeed, you subtract 1 from the change to your Influence stat per 2 DoS on the roll. So if I was on an op where I waxed a popular local politician who was talking about redistributing some of the Imperial Tithe, I'd lose 3 Influence or something since this would piss people off. But say I'm being really subtle, and have a 70 Subtlety score; I roll against that and get a 30, and now I don't lose any Influence at all because there's nothing to even hint I did it. At GM's discretion, this can be waived if the Acolytes can be easily linked to the event; so if their master knows they took out a Greater Demon before it could be summoned, they'll still gain Influence, because that was the mission he assigned. At the same time, their Subtlety might shield them from losing it for doing awful things to make that happen. By the flip side, highly obvious Imperial agents doing good deeds is good PR and you'll gain fully for doing it.
But again, where your Subtlety score ends up is entirely up to the GM. Engage in combat? GM decides if you lose it. Tried to cover your actions? GM decides if you gain it. Also, aside from that stuff about Influence, Subtlety's actual mechanical effects are mostly undefined and it is purely narrative, despite having a full point score and Talents that can relate directly to its numerical value. It also affects tests, but again, this is purely up to the GM and varies from mission to mission and situation to situation. And since your score starts at the middle every mission, you don't really choose your approach and then work from there so much as the GM gets to direct where you end up. Also, players aren't actually told their current Subtlety score after a mission starts, and have to make attempts to suss out how well or poorly they're hiding their actions, which interacts poorly with a meta-stat that again, you have actual character resources to interact with (Talents can, say, trade Influence to increase Subtlety if you're skilled at cover-ups). So it's nebulous already, and hugely GM directed, and the GM doesn't even tell you what's up with it and is supposed to subtly hint at it by how people react to the Acolytes until they actively try to find out if they're under investigation or have been 'made'.
Well look here, we've found our interesting-in-theory-but-extremely-half-baked mechanic for DH2e. Also note: This and Influence are the main parts of this book that survived initial playtesting and got ported into the final product. I don't know why, but every single FFG 40kRP game has one of these mechanics in it somewhere. Something that sounds exciting on its face (the idea of having to manage how much you're a spy versus an enforcer and how much you rely on yourself or call in backup or whatever would introduce interesting gameplay and decisions to playing an intelligence cell) but that is woefully underdeveloped to the point of just being a handwave. It's a shame, too. Influence is a good implementation of the sorts of mechanics they've played around with since Profit Factor, but Subtlety is so underdeveloped it might as well not be a mechanic, especially with how completely and totally it remains up to the GM. At a certain point, if I have a stat the PCs mostly can't see, that is entirely at my discretion, and whose effects are entirely up to me, why even have the stat? At that point you don't need a number, you're just doing the things GMs have done for ages in traditional GM-and-PC style adventuring games. Where the GM just spot-modifies rolls and things based on circumstance and their own judgement. That's not really a mechanic in and of itself. Which is sad, because having benefits for going quiet vs. overt would have been a nice way to introduce more decisions for players to make and a good way to codify their 'style' and their interactions with their master and the wider organization.
Next Time: Wizbiz
Original SA post
Dark Heresy 2nd Edition Unpublished Beta
Post 5: Special Characters
So, I should cover Inquisitors as well as Psykers here, since they're the two sorts of character you get by taking an "Elite" advance tree. You can also be an Untouchable, someone who projects a soulless field of psychic blanking. Being an Untouchable is simple: You're extremely powerful against psykers (and speccing into it will also let you cover your allies against them), at the cost of making everyone withing WPB meters of you deeply uncomfortable. It really sucks to be an Untouchable, but then anything to do with Psy in 40k is fucking miserable from a fluff perspective compared to magic in Fantasy anyway.
Being an Inquisitor is actually mechanically interesting, especially as you're intended to actually make an Inquisitor for the group. Inquisitors' special advance tree requires you to have a 75+ Influence; you have to have had a hell of a career for your boss to consider making you an Inquisitor. The game warns that promoting a single PC to Inquisitor will change the group dynamic significantly, which is a bit of an understatement with the overblown authority 40k Inquisitors technically have. I'm always a little leery of a direct PC superior officer after reading horror stories on FFG's old forums about what people did with the PC Commissar class in Only War ("What do you mean it's bad play to shoot my teammates for not doing what I said? It's fluff accurate!") but it would probably work out fine for most reasonable groups.
What's actually cool is the stuff being an Inquisitor gets you; the ability tree they get does a good job of getting across their intended flavor without making them too crazy. The very first thing they have to buy is Shared Destiny, letting them spend their own Fate to bestow Fate Points on an ally. They can get the ability to spend Fate to completely no-sell Corruption and Insanity gains. They can gain the ability to spend Fate to automatically roll a 01 on a skill or stat test instead of just reroll it (this is their capstone). They can spend Fate to immediately gain a lead in their case. They can buy a single Talent that takes every Rank 1 (untrained) skill they have to Rank 2, and then another that takes any Rank 2 (Trained) skill to Rank 3. They can also mess around with Subtlety but eh. Still, a PC Inquisitor quickly becomes knowledgeable in just about everything (at least a little) regardless of their actual class, and all the extra ways to use Fate for themselves and others mean their abilities are impressive, but limited in how often they can use them. It's a good implementation; they're still human and can still get shot in the head no matter how much horseshit they spew about their indomitable wills, and they're much more reliant on their Warbands and Acolytes than their propaganda likes to admit, but they're widely skilled and just a little luckier than normal in ways that can make a big difference.
Being a Psyker is no longer a character class of itself. Any character can, plot permitting, buy the Psyker advance and unlock psychic powers. Unless you started out with the Adeptus Astra Telepathica Background, though, a new Psyker is unsanctioned and gains 10+d10 Corruption (remember, that stuff is really bad). Still, all you need is a 40 WP and 300 EXP and your Guardsman or underhiver ganger or whatever can suddenly start manifesting psy powers. You could also just choose the Mystic Role, which makes your PC start with Psyker so you don't have to work your gaining wizard powers into the game. Gaining Psyker doesn't have a Talent Tree attached to it; instead you just gain Psy Rating 1. And the ability to up your Psy Rating for 250xcurrent level EXP. Similar to how Psy has worked since Black Crusade; gaining Psy Rating is a huge resource sink but has big benefits.
The big difference is that Psy is notably less powerful in this version of the game. Psykers have always been vastly more powerful than WHFRP2e mages ever were, but also much more likely to fuck up and kill the party/themselves. The chances of them fucking up went down as time went on and the Psy system moved away from casting dice to a WP check (and it was really, unacceptably high in the old casting dice system in DH1e), and the chances of them using their powers successfully skyrocketed. After all, you used to get a bonus to the Manifest test for every point of Psy Rating you had, and abilities like Pushing (intentionally causing a miscast to boost your Psy Rating) counted for increasing your casting chance. Similarly, Psykers were able to use powers Fettered, lowering their effectiveness to completely remove their miscast chance.
They can't do that in the playtest version of DH2e. You can still choose to cast spells at less Psy than you have, but doing that is how you raise your chance of casting the spell. Pushing actually lowers your odds of getting the spell off, now. When you cast a spell, you pick an effective Psy Rating. If it's lower than your actual Psy Rating, you get +10 to the casting check per point you downgraded your spell. If it's higher, you get -10 per point, and can only go up to Psy+2. Normally, you trigger a miscast when you roll doubles on the d100 for casting. If you Pushed, you trigger a miscast if you don't
roll doubles. Psy Phenomena/Perils of the Warp have also been changed significantly; they're now 2-30+ tables where you roll 2d10 and add the effective Psy Rating of your power to that to get what happened. Each magic school now has its own miscast table, so you'll see Biomancy powers triggering weird body warping and hormonal surges, Diviners going mad from their visions, Pyromancers catching on fire, etc etc.
Psy also no longer outdistances physical weapons on damage at high levels the way it used to. Battle-psyker powers are still pretty powerful (you can effectively get a much faster firing meltagun or a very powerful grenade launcher out of Pyromancy and that's not nothing). It isn't made clear if the Manifesting Time in AP for the battle-powers is how much time minimum making such an attack makes (and thus, if you have an RoA spell that costs 3 AP to cast, you get 3 shots minimum and 1 more if you spend another point) or if you have to spend additional AP to get your extra shots in; playtesting document, that kind of thing would probably have been clarified in a final release. Still, Psy is less able to give you 80 bajillion super attacks per turn the way it could in stuff like Black Crusade. Psykers in this document are more focused on utility, though they can still vaporize a guy with force lightning. Also notable is that you no longer need high Psy Rating to learn new powers, but you do need high stats. Most pre-reqs for Talents, Powers, etc seem to be higher, since players have much more room to increase their stats in this version of the game (You can buy +5 to a stat per overall experience rank you are, and there are 10 ranks, so PCs can get up to +50 in a stat, a significant chance from the norm). Note that would not carry over to the final version of the product.
I really think the change to how Psy Rating worked was a good one. The change to manifesting powers actually did carry over into the final product, and it was a needed nerf to Psykers. Not only could their abilities be crazy as hell, but they almost never failed to cast their spells anymore from Black Crusade onwards. Plus, when Psy Rating not only raised the overall effectiveness of your spells but also increased your cast chance, it was doing too much. The new system here is a good step towards trying to rein in Psykers from running away with the game. Also, removing the ability to cast Fettered spells means there's no more 'costless' magic. I still think 40k's general Perils table doesn't really strike the right balance as a miscast table, and balancing truly tremendous power with the chance to make the game worse for everyone is its own issue, but this is a place where not only did they make some needed changes, but those changes actually stuck through to the final product.
Next Time: Dudes to Shoot
Original SA post
Dark Heresy 2nd Edition Unpublished beta
Post 6: Bad Guys
One of the really interesting bits of the AP system was that they were going to make mook enemies move less than actual characters. The original playtest document had 'minion' enemies only gain 3 AP a turn, instead of 4. Minions AND Elites (Elites being standard, work-exactly-like-a-PC foes) could be killed instantly by a single Fury. Enemies who were Elite or more could Fury you right back, inflicting those nasty Critical wounds in the messed up damage system. Master enemies could have stats over 100, but Unnatural Stats as they'd existed before were out.
However, they still made the exact same goddamn mistake they made with them in the first place. Let's take a look at something that would normally have had Unnatural Stats, a Plaguebearer of Nurgle. Instead of granting it Unnatural Strength and Toughness, they merely gave it 82% Toughness and 71% Strength. Oh, and 49 Agility. And 61% WS. It's also Daemonic, so it gets another 2 DR against anything that isn't Holy or a Psy power. What's the issue here? Well, the thing still has goddamn insane stats. The general theme of a lot of enemies in 40kRP is that humans are the absolute bottom of the setting's totem pole. Unenhanced humans are absolute shit in Warhammer 40k. They're not better than any other major species at anything. They're physically weak, slow, poor shots, poor fighters, and very fragile. An Eldar might be fragile, but they're faster and better shots. A Marine is bigger than you and stronger than you. Daemons are beyond you. And in 40k, unlike in Fantasy, these have always been treated as unbridgable gulfs of ability. Just look at that lone mook demon, standing there with stats that would take a human thousands of EXP to equal. Your theoretical maximum being much higher in this version of the game seems to have led the designers to make most monsters have much, much higher base stats and chances to act than in the original Dark Heresy.
I know, I've been over Unnaturals a lot. They fucked this system hard, but they didn't exist for no reason. There was, for whatever reason, a conscious effort to significantly narrow the range of stats in the original Dark Heresy. The designers wanted a 50+ to be a big deal, and they still wanted to show off the massive power differences at the heart of 40k. They were a bad idea, but the 'try to control the base to-hit and stats of the monsters' part of the idea wasn't a mistake. The mistake was having so much variance in a bunch of static modifiers that inflated a lot of the game's numbers past where a system built on the bones of WHFRP2e could take it. If, instead of a monster having a 40% stat and doubling their 'stat bonus', you just give them an 80%? You're actually making them more powerful. Similar for why making Unnaturals additive instead of multiplicative didn't really fix the issues they posed to the system. If you keep the numbers where they were
with Unnaturals, you haven't actually changed anything. And in making everything's base chances so high, you effectively make the PCs worse.
Which is a problem when you're trying to make a higher power version of your original system! It doesn't matter that you started players at 25+randomization in stats, or gave them higher theoretical caps, or whatever, when you're handing a basic Eldar Pathfinder a 74% BS. Hell, an Eldar Guardian (Remember: These guys are bakers given a rifle and some mesh armor) has most of their combat stats near 60. Many, many enemies in the playtest document have similarly inflated stats, all across their profiles. It doesn't matter that they dropped Unnaturals; most enemies are still running around with the numbers they would have had with one, plus a higher base chance to succeed at their actions.
This is a place where a development I'd normally celebrate (dropping the Unnatural rule entirely) is completely irrelevant, because after doing it, they still did the same damn thing. Yes, I know it's fluff-accurate. Everyone's fluff in 40k is so insanely overblown that yes, it's 'accurate' for an Eldar sniper to never, ever miss. It's also pretty shitty for a game. Especially one where the PCs are expected to take this stuff on, and especially one that tries to say the PCs are reasonably high power individuals. Even completely basic Minion enemies often have stats in the mid-high fifties. Lowly 'fleshbent' mutant cultists have 60% BSes. It's just nuts! It's like the goddamn hyper-terrorist stats in AdEva all over again.
The issue is that the writers are balancing for the PCs at mid-high levels. PCs' higher theoretical
caps are balancing these enemies, compared to normal DH, but those will take a party a long, long time to reach. PCs with thousands of EXP can deal, but PCs who haven't yet earned those thousands are left with enemy mooks with stats that exceed end-game player characters in the original system. It's simply overtuned. But again, playtest document, this is something that could have been fixed with feedback and time. As an added note to get across how long you'd have to play to match enemies, you're meant to earn 400 EXP a session. A PC who rolled as well as possible for BS and who was playing a fast-advancing Warrior would need to spend 700 EXP, and wouldn't be able to do that immediately since you can only buy 1 advance per stat per rank, to match a basic mutant cultist's skill with a rifle. They'd need to be at 2500 EXP spent to be Rank 3 to do this. That should be the perspective you view the enemy stats by: The best possible PC marksman, in the best possible situation, would take many sessions of play to equal these guys, who are meant to be shitty mooks!
Aside from the borked base statistics, there's an interesting attempt to use the AP system to give enemies more special powers and tactical abilities rather than just high damage weapons and lots of attacks. Social enemies get abilities to debuff PCs or buff their allies. Some monsters will mutate and change in combat. Some can mark you and set you up for allies (which PC Warriors can do, too!). The AP system and the new attempts at more interesting creature design opened up a lot of possibilities, the crazy base stats just mess everything up. This, at least, measurably changed between playtest documents and the final product: FFG did cut back on the inflated enemy base-stats quite a bit. So that got fixed up. Albeit they did that while putting Unnaturals back in, but whatever, they were going back to how things were.
I do appreciate trying to remove Unnaturals, really, I do. And the designers of 40kRP have always faced the challenge of how much greater the disparities in power are in 40k compared to Fantasy. So it's not an easy question to resolve. But the way they tried to do it in this original document was very wrong-headed and accidentally just made things exactly as they were with the original Unnaturals, but now with a huge percentage chance to hit you in the first place. Add that to the messed up damage system, and combat was still a wreck for much the same reasons it was in the original system.
While I appreciate the attempts to address combat issues, none of them really reckoned with a simple question: How often do you intend for people to lose their characters, and why? 40kRP has always had a reputation as hyper-lethal. It's combat has always struggled with being a form of rocket tag. But the rest of the system is built with the implicit assumption that PCs are actually pretty likely to survive. Fate Points, the very long-term nature of EXP advancement, the creeping Corruption and Insanity counters that are supposed to be slowly bringing you closer to doom, the complex character creation system...all these things point to PCs surviving long-term. But then combat has that reputation, and the weapons and things in the setting are so powerful, that it always seems to come back to rocket-tag and dodge-tanking. Fire is something you can either totally ignore, or it vaporizes you in a couple hits. The hyper-lethality and the whole 'humans are the absolute lowest power level of the main species' stuff have always been at odds with other parts of the game's design, though some of this is because the original was conceived as primarily a horror game. Still, the reason players have always built around masses of high damage weapons and trying to go first and smash the enemy is that that's just how the system shakes out.
Redoing the damage system in a way that doesn't actually address the issues of durability and doesn't really examine the assumptions of PC death or survival wasn't going to go anywhere, much as I'm glad they were willing to consider altering the damage system entirely. Giving enemies impossibly high stats and high damage weapons and stuff would just have led to the gameplay being similar, with a different coat of paint, without actually asking why it went that way. Which you can tell they were trying not to do! All the attempts to tamp down on heavy weapons and super high damage stuff in this book shows that the designers were trying to step away from the binary rocket tag system they'd accidentally built out of a pile of d10+34 Pen16 Hellblades or whatever. But without really sitting down and asking 'are PCs meant to be able to take a hit and survive' and stuff like that, combat was doomed to probably go the same way it always did. This area needed a lot more work.
Next Time: The Sum Of The Changes
Original SA post
Dark Heresy 2nd Edition Unpublished Beta
Post 7: Wrapping Up
So, it should be pretty clear by this point that this document isn't some secret 'Dark Heresy had a perfected form that got buried in the name of backwards compatibility' savior of the line. It had its problems. The new damage system was a poor compromise, and new subsystems like AP needed a lot more refinement and work. Subtlety needed more definition. Enemy stats needed a balancing pass and a lot of work. EXP costs and 'rank' would probably have needed some adjustment. The thing is, that's not a bad place for a draft document that you're exposing to public playtesting to be in! All of these issues were fixable problems, and considering the level of rework the team was willing to consider in this first document, I think things could have gone in a very positive direction.
Which gets to why I wanted to cover this. I talked a lot in the 40kRP reviews about the system's holes and flaws, and it's easy to mistaken that for saying FFG has poor game designers. I don't think that's the case, and I think this document is proof of it. It's also just interesting to talk about a road not taken, especially because we can go into the reasons it might not have been taken; this is a neat little bit of RPG history about a game-line that really was pretty significant and successful. 40kRP did good for itself for its run; the books were lavishly well produced and illustrated, a lot of the fluff writing was genuinely good by the standards of the setting, and while the system had a lot of issues it worked well enough to be mostly playable. I mean, I only got sick of its issues what, 5 games into the line? And there's the whole history of the line being developed by someone else, with a troubled and long development history, which saddled FFG with a base system they weren't especially fond of but pretty much had to keep using.
DH2e represented a chance to maybe redo some of the glaring flaws in 40kRP, and the fact that every serious flaw (armor being useless, heavy weapons being overvalued, psy being too powerful, characters being too easily siloed into single roles or unable to contribute outside of narrow specialties, character costs creating strong incentive to hyper-specialize) received some attention is actual vindication that the designers knew these were problems and were actively trying to solve them. Inertia is a powerful force. Especially when you have a reasonably successful RPG line that also has early 2010s GW breathing down your neck. You have to remember that all of this took place while GW was in kind of a rough spot; 2013-2014 were not a good time for them. There are also other historical reasons FFG might have been gunshy about changing too much in one of their games; the overall issues that WHFRP3e faced meant that FFG had actually experienced a serious backlash for diverging too much from what came before. A company that actually directly got hit with that stuff would have reason to be wary about it, especially when they were producing a game for a company they were having a rough time with.
Also, I was on the playtest forums at the time all this came out, and it's hard to overstate how angry the fanbase was about this document. I think it's mostly full of steps in the right direction and represents the level of rework that would be necessary to produce a much better 40kRP product, but at the time, the public they exposed this to was livid. There was an awful lot of outcry about 'but I can't use all my other books with the new game!' (despite actually doing cross-play always being a pain in the ass in 40kRP; they've never been as compatible as they say they are), complaints about how hard it was to one-shot people, and general outcry that anything had changed significantly. If you're facing an overwhelmingly negative reaction from a committed fanbase that is probably going to buy your product, what do you do?
Because let's all be honest with ourselves here. Here in F&F, we talk about rules. A lot. But you know what? Rules-quality is not the main thing that moves products in this industry. Having good rules is definitely a bonus, but attractive art, good writing, an evocative or popular setting, good advertising, an active player base so people can find games to play in; all of these things move copies. And if you produce 'better' rules that make a more playable game, but your audience wanted something else, you can still run into trouble. FFG had a template their fans were saying they wanted, and that would take less effort and less risk to produce. So they went back to that template and produced a quick 'Only War but in the Inquisition' edition change with some minor tweaks, instead of continuing to refine the changes this document contained. I get it. I don't bear them any ill will for it. There are a lot of good reasons it happened.
At the same time, if I was going to try to make a 40kRP that I actually wanted to play again, I'd start from this document and work on hacking it together from there. It needs a lot of work, but it's full of decent first steps and moves in good directions, even if it has a few missteps. For a playtest draft, that's not a bad place to be in! I especially like the changes to the skill system and think the compromise solution on EXP costs could have worked; there's simply no way to port the original Career system from 1e and 2e WHFRP into 40k. It doesn't work with the fluff; characters in 40k don't really change jobs, for one, and it would be near impossible to cover everything from 'feudal world knight given a laser cannon' to 'hypertech scribe from a rare paradise' to 'literally lives in a hollow world turned into a cathedral, full of skulls, and is a terrifying battle-nun' with the same kind of system. The old Career system is for a much more grounded setting, so it was inevitable they'd move towards a broader EXP system; reducing how much you get kicked in the junk for buying something that's expensive for you to buy is probably the best route to keeping that from hyper-specializing every PC.
One of the saddest things to me is seeing the old Availability rules come back. Availability has always sucked, damnit. Yes, I know, Very Rare is -30 to your acquisition test to get the item; why not just do what the playtest document did and make Availability -30 instead of bothering with putting words that mean the same thing, but require you to look them up on a table? The return of Unnatural Stats, which I consider one of the original sins that doomed 40kRP (but existed for understandable reasons) also saddens me, even if the original playtest didn't really break the spirit of why they messed up game balance.
Still, I think the designers deserve credit for having made the attempt, even if backlash and a dozen other understandable reasons made them back off from it. There's no saying there would have been a much improved 40kRP at the end of this, but it was a step in the right direction. FFG's story with 40kRP is the story of a decent company doing their best with a difficult license, producing games that weren't mechanically great, but that had a lot to be proud of. That they also made at least one genuine attempt to fix the mechanical side of things is only further to their credit. Even if it didn't work out.