Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part 1
Dark Heresy is an odd game. It's not a good game, though it is a game I have had a very good time with and that got me the RPG group I've kept for nearly ten years now. It is a game that absolutely did not give fans what they wanted, originally, and I don't think I ever would have enjoyed it if it had. It is a game about the Inquisition in Warhammer 40k, where you do not play as one of the all-powerful Inquisitors and their team of fellow supermen. Instead, you start out as a group of 3-5 rather bumbling but promising low-level Inquisitorial agents, people who are just competent enough that they might find something of value but who won't be missed if something happens to them while they poke around the darkness for clues and heresy. From there, your Sororita Initiates, Guardsmen, street thugs, gangers, and preachers slowly work their way up, becoming indispensable to their employer and possibly becoming Inquisitors or favored students (or finding a way to get out of this whole business with their necks intact and a healthy slush fund).
If that arc sounds a lot like the shitfarmer to hero arc of WHFRP2e, that's no accident. 40kRP is built on the bones of WHFRP2e, changed to account for the more bombastic setting, to try some new things, and to deal with the existence of automatic and anti-tank weapons. I generally find it to be the inferior system and game, but there were plenty of challenges in porting the system over to a setting where everything was ramped up to maximum screaming all the time. The Shitfarmer To Hero arc is still good, but it doesn't fit into 40k quite as well as it did Fantasy because 40k has generally never been all that concerned with ordinary people, both during its more satirical periods and the recent push towards 'no actually fascism is cool and fun' it's suffered. There is less space for the humble space rat catcher and their small but vicious space dog.
The game begins with the usual 'what is a roleplaying game' spiel and the bog-standard 'this is the 41st millennia and there is only war' thingy you get in every 40k Hams product. It also has a short example of play of some Acolytes (PCs) investigating a missing Inquisitorial agent and hitting Daemonhost (a bad thing), as well as a little disclaimer that no, Chaos and magic and all that isn't real, don't get too into this junk. From there, we're right on into PC creation, which will be very familiar to anyone who has read the WHFRP2e review.
To create a PC, you pick your homeworld (standin for species, all Imperial PCs are human, because 40k's maximum volume catholic space nazis are significantly less sociable than the Empire's 17th century Germans), pick your Career (The old Career system is gone, and also being from a certain world will prevent you from being from a specific career), roll stats (2d10 down the line, same as before, with the addition of a mostly-unnecessary Perception stat), reroll one stat that didn't turn out how you wanted (RAW, you MUST keep the second result, even if it's worse, which is stupid) in place of the old Shallya's Mercy rule (I prefer Shallya's Mercy), then roll wounds, fate, and Divination (giving you a minor statistical adjustment and a little bit of a fate-hook). One thing the astute reader will notice immediately is that stats are on a much tighter leash than in WHFRP. Characters who have a bonus to a stat from their homeworld only get +5 now, and penalties are only -5. Later, when we get to EXP, you can only ever add +20 to a stat over your career; gone are the +30, +40 etc stat advances from Fantasy. You also pay diminishing returns for your stat boosts, now; everything has variable EXP costs.
The homeworlds are pretty simple: The Feral Worlder has higher Str and Tough, lower Fellowship and Willpower, and can handle the wilds easier but hates formal social situations. The Hiver has higher Fel, lower Tough, acts faster in a crisis, can run through crowds of people like they weren't there, and goes a bit crazy out in the wild. The Imperial worlder has no penalties and only a +3 to Willpower, gets some basic knowledge of religion and education, and a penalty to dealing with WHAT MAN WAS NOT MEANT TO KNOW. The Voidborn gets a bonus to Willpower and a penalty to Strength, terrible Wounds, better Fate than anyone else, a chance to keep their Fate points when spent, and knowledge of zero-G and space living. You'll note the 'attractive to Fighters' homeworld gets a penalty to Willpower. This is going to come up a lot, but boy howdy does this game want your Fighter to be a puddle of whimpering terror on the floor all the goddamn time. There's also a misprint in my version wherein the Fate calculations are '1-4, 5-8, 7-10 on d10' which is, you know, impossible. Characters get 9+d5 Wounds as a Feral, 8+d5 as Imperial or Hiver, and 6+d5 as a Voidborn (brittle space bones). Feral Worlders and Hive Worlders have a high chance of only having 1 Fate. Ferals can only get up to 2, like WHFRP Elves, while Imperials and Voidborn have 2-3 and Hivers have 1-3. Considering how important Fate is, rolling a single Fate Point can really, really suck, and you don't even get the amazing stats of a WHFRP elf to make up for it. Characters also no longer have racial Movement. Your movement is calculated by the tens digit of your Agility (Just like Strength Bonus and Toughness Bonus in WHFRP) and boy is this not the end of Agility being one of the best stats in the game.
Your Careers are Adept (Scholar), Arbitrator (Tank/Cop), Assassin (Killing People, Skillfully), Cleric (Social/Jack of All Trades), Guardsman (Killing People, LOUDLY), Psyker (Overpowered, chance to kill entire party), Scum (Thief), and Tech Priest (Starts Out Innocently Enough, Will Become God-King Eventually With Enough Add-On Books). You get a few skills and talents (which work similarly to WHFRP) from your Career, but not enough to usually do what you hoped to do from the start like in WHFRP. For instance: Scum don't start with Concealment and can't actually learn it until they've spent enough EXP to get to Rank 2 in their career (admittedly, this will take 1 session). They also (for whatever reason) don't learn Silent Move (Ugh, seperating Hide and Move Silently, fuck you game) until Rank 4, which will be several sessions in going by the normal advance scheme. This can create a situation where your starting characters feel like fumbling idiots.
There are also little tables for rolling for what kind of Imperial world you were from, where in the Hive you came from, etc if you want them. They're fun enough, and don't have any mechanical effect, so you can drop them freely if you already had a concept in mind. Then comes divination. Your Divination is rolled on d100 and grants you a little spiel like 'Trust in your Fear: +2 Agility, +1 Fate Points' or 'Thought Begets Heresy, Heresy Begets Retribution: +3 Strength'. They almost all give bonuses, to the point that rolling one of the few that doesn't feels like a kick in the pants. If you're really unlucky, you can roll that you start with a mutation you have to conceal.
There's also big tables of male and female names, little questions about what all this means to your PC, and a bit on how much starting money and gear you get according to class. Every class also gets paid a monthly income, and depending on your GM, this is either going to really matter or go out the window in seconds. Your class still determines what you're permitted to buy, but it also determines how expensive it is, how quickly you'll get it, and how expensive raising various stats is for you. You start with 400 EXP to spend, and a 'good' stat costs 100 for the first +5 to it. Most classes have 3 Good stats (Cost 100, 250, 500, and then 500 or 750), 2 Bad stats (500, 750, 1000, 2500), and the rest average (250, 500, 750, 1000). We'll get into this more when we get to careers.
For now, tell me who I'll be rolling as our example acolyte.
Next Time: The Creation of An Acolyte
Chronicle of the Witchpuncher
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part 2
Chronicle of the Witchpuncher
Matilda will be an Imperial Worlder because I want to talk about a specific rules interaction with Imperial World. She'll also be fully random. She is a Punchwitch, of the line of Punchwitch, not because she is a witch who punches (that would be heresy) but rather because they punch witches (which is the opposite of heresy).
First, she's getting the full RAW treatment: Every stat starts at 20+2d10. Leading her to 34 Weapon Skill, 35 Ballistic Skill, 29 Strength, 31 Toughness, 25 Agility (ow), 27 Intelligence, 42 Willpower (19+3 for Imperial), 32 Perception, 38 Fellowship. She chooses to reroll Agility because ow and gets a 26, which is still bad. So Matilda is good with a weapon, a little noodly, not that smart, kind of clumsy, extremely persuasive, and incredibly brave. She has 11 Wounds (average), and 3 Fate (Yay). Rolling on 'what kind of planet are you from' she came from a Paradise world, with a 93; she's from one of the rare places that doesn't suck in 40k, where the people are described as having a 'naive optimism' that can be both endearing and infuriating for others. Her Divination is, appropriately, 'Violence Solves Everything' which gives her +3 Weapon Skill, for an excellent 37.
Being a Guardswoman, she has the advantage of starting with a free suit of Guard Flak armor. Guard Flak armor is some of the best starting armor in the game. It gives a character 4 points of armor on every location. 40KRP features an AP system, so that isn't nearly as good as 4 AV would've been in Fantasy, but when you're up against non-penetrating basic auto-rifles and lasguns in the early game, Guard Flak is steel. It's only when Pen4 Bolters and shit show up that your armor stops mattering. Her only starting Skills are being able to speak Low Gothic and either knowing how to drive or swim, so she's going to know how to drive. Her starting talents are knowing how to use low-tech 'primitive' weapons like swords and axes, knowing how to use lasguns and laspistols, and knowing how to use Basic (rifle/shotgun sized) Solid Projectile weapons. As you can see, she doesn't have a very impressive array of starting abilities compared to a WHFRP character. She comes with a basic sword, her flak armor, her lasgun, a double barreled shotgun, her laspistol, a uniform and her copy of the Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer (which by default she cannot read).
Being an Imperial Worlder, she also comes with the ability to treat Literacy and High Gothic as 'basic' skills (can make a check in them at 1/2 stat even if you don't have them), so depending on how you interpret it she might be able to read and speak a tiny bit of psuedolatin. She also treats a bunch of other basic lores about religion and the Imperium as Basic the same way. So she's had some public schooling.
She also gets her 400 EXP to spend, and immediately spends 300 on getting +5 to the 3 Good stats for a Guardsman, giving her +5 WS, +5 BS, and +5 Strength, making her start out a very solid 42 WS, 40 BS, 34 Str. She'll then spend her last 100 on Awareness so she isn't totally useless outside of combat.
So, compare her to a WHFRP character. Most of them would be competent at a trade, have a few specialized talents, maybe some stat boost talents to make sure they're good at what they do. Matilda knows how to use a couple basic weapons, has some okay stats, and can use her full Perception stat on Awareness tests. She cannot sneak, she has no skills to make use of her good starting Fel, she knows very little about the world, and it will be a couple thousand EXP before she's even properly a good fighter. Similarly, she will have an extremely hard time raising her Willpower; Guardsman is bad at WP with the full 500-750-1000-2500, meaning the party's primary heavy fighter is bad at resisting being rendered helpless by panic in combat. They're also bad at resisting being pinned by automatic fire. I mean why would your professional soldier need any of that, right?
Next Time: A Thorough Look At Careers
Nerd with an SMG: The hero we can believe in
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part 3
Nerd with an SMG: The hero we can believe in
The Adept is a class whose usefulness is going to be entirely dependent on your GM. They know everything. Even a fairly young Adept character is going to know a little about everything from administration to legend to occult wizard shit to science to tech. They are absolutely terrible in a fight, but we'll get to the reasons why this won't hurt them quite as badly later on when we get to combat mechanics; suffice for now that having one character whose job it is to hold down the trigger and scream SUPPRESSING FIRE! at the top of their lungs/lob grenades is helpful and idiot proof enough that even the team nerd can do it. They're good at Intelligence, Perception, and Willpower (The team nerd is usually going to be pretty brave) and bad at Weapon Skill, Strength, and Toughness. Fluff-wise, they tend to be college professors, bureaucrats, middle-managers, and other forms of nerd the Inquisitor has forced into service.
Now, how a career works is that you have various breakpoints, at 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, 6000, 8000, and 10,000 exp. Once you've spent that amount of EXP, you 'rank up' and can now buy a ton of new advances from that new level of your career, while still having access to everything you'd unlocked prior. You also get splits in your career line, where you have to choose between two advance schemes. Weirdly, Adept has 2 splits instead of one; they split between a turbo-knowledgable administrator and scientist advance pack at level 4 or the best doctor in the game, and because of the split, someone who takes the medic class will never get a bunch of useful talents and skills (like technical training), while someone who goes scientist never, ever learns to do even basic medical stuff or biology. Later on, the Adept splits between occultist or turbo-nerd, at rank 6. Most classes will only split once, at rank 6. The Occultist Adept learns a ton of hidden knowledge and even gains the ability to use psychic powers. The Sage (turbo-nerd) Adept instead gets even more mundane knowledge and an Unnatural Intelligence option.
Which means I have to talk about Unnaturals already. Sage is, by the way, the only class that gets one. Unnaturals were an attempt to deal with how, say, a really experienced Grail Knight or Demon Slayer or whatever might manage to get a Str or Tough higher than a dragon at base in WHFRP. They turned out pretty badly. If you have an Unnatural Stat, you double your stat for purposes of determining your stat bonus. So say I have a 40 Toughness, and Unnatural Toughness, I actually have an 8 Toughness Bonus and reduce everything coming at me by 8. Intelligence is not a hugely useful Unnatural (yet) since in DH, Int Bonus really only affects your ability to heal people with Medicae and you might not even have that. Unnaturals also get patched in as adding directly to your Degrees of Success on opposed checks by I think Inquisitor's Handbook, the first add-on book of the line.
Anyway, the usefulness of an Adept is going to come down entirely to how often your GM calls for knowledge tests or lets you use them to connect pieces of information to one another. They're adorable, sure, and my players always liked having an NPC Adept on call to ask questions whenever they could get him to stop hyperventilating, but as a PC class they're going to be very 'GM may I' in how much your degree is going to come up.
Arbitrators, being badass space cops, are much less nebulous in their usefulness. The Arbitrator is the start of a general trend in the design of DH: Most classes are actually fairly competent at combat and everyone is better at using a gun than melee. Unless you're good at both WS and BS, your BS will *always* have a better advance scheme than your WS. Arbitrators only have 2 bad stats, Agility and Strength, and they're great at Intelligence, Toughness, and Ballistic Skill. They also get a ton of cheap Wounds they can buy (It is fairly common to see an Arbitrator get above 20 HP eventually) and are clearly intended to be tanky gunfighters and competent investigators. They only have a single split, at level 6, between being an open and obvious Judge Dredd type or being a sneaky secret policeman. In either capacity, they have decent social skills, they're great at detective work, they're hard to kill, and they're good in a fight. Neither of their branching paths is useless, and both play to the class's overall strengths. You'll probably never be sorry you have a space cop on your team. They can either be actual Adeptus Arbites recruits, or local cops, or angry renegades who don't play by the rules and who thus end up with the Inquisition.
Assassins are one of the best fighting classes in the game. They don't get the extra cheap wounds of a Guardsman or quite the same facility with heavy weapons, but they get some degree of stealth and subtlety (so they can do things other than just kill people), they gain extra attacks in melee faster than any other class, they have very high Agility, BS, and WS growth (with poor Toughness and Fellowship. They aren't even bad at Strength), and they get a very powerful talent very early: Mighty Shot. You might remember Mighty Shot from WHFRP, where it was a great +1 damage with ranged weapons. Here, it's +2. Combine this with automatic weapons and the fact that Assassins learn it while you're probably still using fairly basic gear, and they'll put in a lot of work. Assassins eventually get a choice between a more social 'guildmaster' assassin, who probably isn't that great since you've still got dogshit Fellowship to work with AND they miss out on all the extra Dodge/Parry talents (you can get Talents to let you react to and active defend multiple attacks a turn), or the kill-crazy Death Adept who also suddenly gets the ability to use heavy weapons, too. Assassins are just your standard edgy killers for hire or death-cultists, in their normal fluff.
Next Time: Clerics? What's a Cleric doing here?
Surprisingly Competent Priests
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part 4
Surprisingly Competent Priests
The Cleric is a weird class. They're not bad at anything; literally. They get no poor stat advances at all, and they're good at Ballistic Skill, Fellowship, and Willpower. They also get a lot of talents that will help them with fear, they're pretty good investigators, they learn a lot about various occult and religious lore, and they can build a good reputation with a wide variety of social classes and populations. They're meant to be a jack of all trades class, but being sociable, brave, and not at all bad in a fight is actually a pretty great mix for the kind of game Dark Heresy is trying to be. As an added bonus, if you're using the RAW monthly incomes for your PCs in top of whatever else they earn, Clerics get more money than anyone else. They aren't supposed to be great at melee, but they get a ton of little boosters to it in having lots of access to Hatred talents (Hatred gives you +10% WS against a specific enemy type, and trust me, Hatred (Mutants) or Hatred (Cultists) are good bets for any DH game) and getting the Blademaster (Reroll one miss per round in melee, limited to swords and knives if your GM is going RAW but I don't think anyone does that anymore) talent by level 4. Their real prize is Unshakeable Faith coming early and cheaply: Unshakeable lets you reroll any failed Fear test. Unshakeable is fucking awesome in DH (where almost every really serious enemy causes Fear, and worse, causes it at -20 or so WP). The Cleric splits between the wise and even more personable (and better at gunslinging, weirdly) Bishop and the melee focused Zealot, who actually gets a full 3rd melee attack and most of the melee specialist talents, as well as the ability to let other PCs use their Hatreds, too. Zealots also eventually become Fearless, invalidating the likely thousand+ EXP you probably spent on trying to mitigate Fear before you got that talent. Still, a class that splits between being a wise, expert social character who is great at shooting people with twin pistols or a surprisingly tough paladin type is always going to be nice to have around.
Poor Guardsmen. They're actually really good at their specific thing: They're the only class with a Good Strength advance, and they're good at both BS and WS, too. They get a ton of buyable Wounds (Second only to the Arbitrator), they're pretty tough, and they're loaded with heavy weapons talents. They also get the ability to carry around and hand-fire heavy weapons more easily and sooner than most, Crushing Blow (the melee equivalent of Mighty Shot) pretty easily (It requires a good Strength, and they can do that), and they can hit like a truck. However: They have a Bad Willpower, Fellowship, and Intelligence advance, limited skills that mean they usually won't be that useful outside of combat, terrible subclasses at level 6, and that poor WP means the Guardsman is going to curl up into a ball on the floor at the first sign of suppressive fire or demons. You know, the exact moment you'd really like the guy with the rocket launcher to keep their head. They, for some reason, split into 3 different subclasses. The Commander branch is worse than useless, since the social skills it gives are surprisingly costly (often 200-300 EXP for one, rather than a cheap 100) and it's sort of throwing good after bad after a full career of being useless at social matters, kind of like the Social Assassin. The Stormtrooper path is a solid close combat commando type that will, at max level, as your campaign is ending, finally get Fearless and stop panicking like an X-COM rookie. The Sniper gets some stealth and Mighty Shot, but putting it in Sniper means no other Guardsman can learn it, which really hurts HMG using characters. The Guardsman is an example of why the Fear system can really screw you. DH is also much more of a spy/mystery game at heart, so a pure fighter is going to struggle a lot more than they would over in WHFRP, especially as the whole 'buying non-combat skills might cost more because we want diminishing returns on the things your class isn't as good at' thing hurts them.
Oh, the Psyker. Psykers' class advances really don't get into the Psyker class, because their core is the Psy system, which we won't get to for a long time. Suffice to say Psykers are significantly more powerful, overall, than WHFRP Mages. They're good at Int, Per, and WP and bad at WS, Fel, and Agility. They can partly replace an Adept in any party, being good at learning stuff and general nerd stuff, and they've got their specific psychic skills to help them find the presence of demons, witches, and other problems that the party wants found. They also actually get Unshakeable even faster than the Cleric, and they're going to be buffing WP, trust me (It's the primary stat for all Psyker stuff). The copy I have (It's an early copy) also has the first levels of their split printed out of order (FFG is notoriously not great at editing) and they split much, much sooner than other classes. They split between warrior psyker (gets a bunch of weapon talents, never quite reaches the same level of Psy power or academics) and scholar psyker (ultimate wizard nerd) at level 4. Level 4 is also when they first start to get 'real' powers, equivalent to a WHFRP mage learning their Lore. Even the Minor Powers that come before are potentially extremely broken if chosen carefully, though, and the only limiter on wizbiz is that the Psyker can cause Perils of the Warp and potentially kill the entire party, which is much more likely than it was in WHFRP. You remember how a WHFRP wizard had to roll doubles, triples, or quads and those caused varying levels of trouble? Psykers, when they throw down Psy dice, cause a Perils roll (on the same tables, no adjusting for severity) for every 9 they roll on their dice. They can roll up to 6 dice. An individual Perils roll has a 25% chance to become much worse. The 25% chance to become much worse table has a 10% chance to cause the Psyker to turn into an endgame level boss monster and attack the party. Thus, each die you're rolling has a .25% chance that you probably kill your party. And that's not counting the explosions, Kill Your PC, social consequences, etc. This is not a good way of balancing magic.
The Scum doesn't really know what it wants to be. It's a sociable rogue and party face, but the Cleric already does that. It's an infiltrator and dirty fighter, but the Assassin already does that. The Arbitrator's Intelligence agent class can do a lot of their stuff better. On top of this, it takes several levels for a Scum character to learn how to actually do all the skills necessary to break and enter, talk their way through things, smuggle, etc. They're good at Agility, BS, and Fel, bad at Str and Tough. Hope you rolled well on those stats because you aren't advancing them. Scum get a weird grab-bag of survival skills, low tech skills, blathering and thievery, and gunslinging as they level, but they're not really especially good at anything. Which is a shame, because a class literally named "Scum" should be more fun. They're hardly useless (Social+Stealth is useful for a game with a heavy spy bent) but they never turned out to be as useful as you'd hope when I had them in my personal games. They split between the slightly more fighty but not fighty enough to stand up against any serious fighter class Gang Lord and the all-in-on-social-trickery Fixer. In general they're just kind of there.
Finally, the Tech Priest. The Tech Priest cannot advance their Fellowship stat. Ever. This was dropped in later books in the line. They're bad at Agi and Str, great at Toughness, Int, and WP, and they get all kinds of crazy cybernetic add-ons and techno-miracles to use. They're kind of the equivalent of WHFRP Priests, compared to the Psyker being the Mage, and get a ton of unique stuff like the ability to curse guns and make them jam, or whack a gun just right to unjam it instantly, or powers that let them talk to robots or shoot lightning out of their hands while flying. Techpriests are actually reasonably balanced in DH, and that is the last time this will ever be true. It will stop being true pretty much as soon as they get into the supplement books. Their tricks are cool, but most aren't gamebreaking, and they make great medics and tech specialists while being able to handle themselves in a fight. They split between the more combat and adventure focused Magos Errant and the hyper-knowledgable Magos, and they're really just a lot of fun to play and have around. Jump start stalled cars with your spine! Throw lightning at people! Yell on subsonic frequencies that terrify your enemies! Try a Techpriest today.
In general the Career system is a bit rickety and has a bunch of weird gaps in it, but it works. It gates power and gives players a good sense of progression as they go, there's room for multiple builds in each class, and most characters will (eventually) end up quite competent. They start a lot lower than their WHFRP equivalents, and I imagine many DH campaigns start at rank 3 or 4 to avoid the early game wobbles, but it's playable. It will get a lot crazier with the add-on books, and in future game-lines. A LOT crazier.
Next Time: Skills. All the flaws of the WHFRP skill system, intensified!
Skills. There's nothing interesting about Skills.
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part 5
Skills. There's nothing interesting about Skills.
Honestly, it's a bit of a debate just how much I even need to say here. Just look at the WHFRP2e review's section on skills. The main difference is that instead of needing to take a career that would also get a skill, and then having the option to buy that skill a second time in that career to get a +10 with that skill, you just get 'Dodge+10, 200 EXP' or whatever somewhere in your career advance table. As your stats are generally going to be lower in Dark Heresy, skill mastery modifiers, talents that give situational bonuses, equipment, etc all come into play quite a bit more. After all, take a Thief from WHFRP: The Thief, in their first career, gets +15% Agility and may be a Halfling or Elf for another +10%, or might've rolled Lightning Reflexes as a human for +5%. A totally average, couple-sessions-in Thief might have an Agility of 45-55 or more to play with depending on their species. In DH 1e, with only the core book, only the first stat advance on only some stats will be 'cheap' and the rest will be a longer term investment, often taking the EXP from multiple sessions to buy. So you're looking at working with lower stats on average.
This also means you're going to be really dependent on the people writing your career table being on the ball with pacing out skill masteries, and you're also going to be spending a lot of EXP buying them. Now, I played Dark Heresy first, and I can comfortably say that Acolytes do eventually become very competent under the DH system. But one place the line evolved a lot over time was stripping down the number of skills, adding in ways to learn whole groups of skills at once, etc because spending 300 EXP to have Scholastic Lore (Legend)+20 and then having the GM call for a Scholastic Lore (Occult) roll is a huge kick in the balls. Broadly, skills like Awareness, Charm, Inquiry (Oh gee, you think the 'go out and ask around' skill might be useful in the game about being the Inquisition?) Dodge, the two Stealth skills (Goddamnit when and how did RPGs first start separating 'Hide' and 'Sneak' and how did it take so long to stop), Tech Use etc are going to be the most useful. Skills like Carousing? Much less likely to be clutch. Same as in any game with a huge skill list.
There are simply too many skills, and with the new incentives and need to specialize in skills to make up for your lower base stats, you feel it way more than you did in WHFRP. For contrast, in WHFRP, a high tier PC can get to 70-80% in some of their stats. More, if you're playing with Chaos mutations/gifts, Vampirism, magic items, or whatever. Here, with your base stats generally capping at 68 if absolutely everything goes right, and that being much less likely, you really need the extra +20 or +30 from having skill specializations if you're going to be consistent. There's also more incorporation of the old Degrees of Success rule; for every 10 points you roll under your Target Number, you get +1 DoS. Or +1 Degree of Failure for every 10 you roll over. This comes up a lot in combat; for instance, automatic fire is handled by having Degrees of Success indicate extra hits, which you dodge by getting more Degrees of Success on your Dodge skill check. DoS was mostly only used for contested rolls in Fantasy, here it becomes a much more core part of the skill and resolution system.
I should probably mention at some point that the resolution system is basically the same as in WHFRP2e: d100 under target number set by your Stat+/- modifiers.
Also, because skills cost different amounts and are acquired at different times by different classes, you get to see some of the insanely weird logic of what the designers thought ought to be rare and cool skills. Like how it takes everyone forever to learn Wrangling and be able to ride animals. Or how it costs a shit-ton for a Guardsman to learn how to gamble, which they'll always be bad at due to their Int advance anyway. Or how Guardsmen and Scum need to pay like 300 EXP (on average, you get 200 EXP a session) to learn to read (later games will just assume everyone is literate).
After skills, you get Talents. Talents work exactly like they did in WHFRP with one asinine new addition: Talents have pre-requisites now. So, for instance, in WHFRP you could take Mighty Shot if your career allowed it. In Dark Heresy, you need your career to allow it, and you need a 40+ base Ballistic Skill. Extra melee attacks have been moved off into Talents (Swift Attack will let you attack twice in melee, Lightning Attack three times), extra Ranged attacks are solely the province of the automatic/semiautomatic fire system that will come up when we get to gear. Talents were important in WHFRP, they're even more important here. They do things like completely remove the penalties for firing at long range (Marksman) allowing you to easily use pistols and rifles at extreme ranges without a single penalty, add damage, let you reroll failed checks (Blademaster gives a single melee reroll every round and is exactly as great as it sounds), or let you resist a Psy attack so hard you explode the enemy wizard's head (literally, Mental Fortress is metal as hell; any time someone magics you they take a WP save, and if they fail they take d10+Your WP Bonus, reduced only by their WP bonus, to the head, with lethal damage blowing their head up like in Scanners). Talents also let you get extra Dodges and Parries per round, which is suddenly really important when you add heavy machine guns, plasma edged swords, and anti-tank rockets to combat because there is no way in hell a PC is tanking a Man Portable Lascannon hit.
There are also a bunch of Talents that require you to be a Techpriest. These include regenerative nanomachines in your blood (Heal faster), lightning hands (Not as powerful as it sounds, but extremely cool; a d10+WPB ranged attack you can use any time isn't a bad thing to have), recharging and jump-starting machines with your spine, magnetic levitation, various subsonic screeches, gun blessing, gun cursing, etc. Techpriests, I will reiterate, are fun. Psykers also buy their powers and Psy Ratings as Talents rather than stats, now. When you buy a new Psy Rating, it adds to the dice you can roll for Psy, just like Mag did in WHFRP. However, buying a new Psy Rating *also* gives you a bunch of spell picks based on your Willpower stat at the time you buy the new rating talent, without retroactively going back and improving it should your Willpower improve later. You don't just buy a 'lore', now, and you can learn multiple disciplines of psy, but every time you buy a Psy Rating 3 or higher talent, you can choose between learning a new discipline or getting a ton of powers in a discipline you already know. More on that when we get to wizbiz.
The Talent system, aside from having a bigger effect, having actual Talent Trees of sorts created by the pre-req system, and forcing you to invest in stats to meet pre-reqs, is still mostly like the WHFRP one, just a little clunkier, much like skills. Careers, Talents, and Skills mostly work, as do homeworlds. The game is fine up to this point; a little more awkward and I often find it feels like it was developed before, rather than after, WHFRP2e but that might partly be that I played DH for years before picking up Fantasy. Chapter 5: Armory is where things start going off the rails and never come back.
Next Time: Invest in the Dodge skill. Now.
I blame the Lascannon. Classic Lascannon
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy, Part 6
I blame the Lascannon. Classic Lascannon
So, for one, equipment matters a hell of a lot more than it did in Warhammer Fantasy, and it already mattered plenty there. Gear costs money, or you find it from killing people, or whatever, and Dark Heresy is the only game in the line that actually tracks your money on a coin-for-coin basis. The currency in Calixis (the sector this takes place in) is Throne Gelt, a sort of sectorial trade script backed against the Imperial tithe. An average PC will start with about 80-120 Thrones. A cleric has 300+5d10 because HAHA Clerics (I've always found the party Cleric bankrolling the others at low level kind of fun, actually).
One thing to note is that there's no abstraction in guns and armor and melee weapons anymore, and there's no such thing as the Ordinary category from WHFRP2e. Remember how everyone could handle a hunting bow, crossbow, or basic hand weapon and shield? How that was enough to get you through a whole campaign and 'better' weapons that cost EXP to know how to use all did something minor and special, like how Two Handers let you trade your free parry for rerolling damage and thus hitting harder/Furying more often? That's all gone. You need a Talent for every weapon type, and you need Pistol, Basic, and Heavy training, separately, for separate weapons. You need a separate talent for Shocky Sticks, Chain Weapons, Power Weapons, and basic knives and swords. You need a separate talent for Laspistols, Lasguns, Solid Projectile Guns, etc. I do not like this change, mostly. There is a good sense of progression in 'tiers' of equipment, at least. You're going to start out with flak armor and using the kinds of weapons flak armor protects against, like Lasguns (terrible) and Autoguns (excellent). You'll go up to boltguns and plasma (though plasma is terrible in WH40kRP DH1e, until the add-on books patch it) and meltaguns and stuff, plus heavy weapons for the Guardsman and heavier, stronger characters of other classes. You can also get Good and Best gear like in WHFRP2e, and Good gear finally actually does something. A Good ranged weapon becomes Reliable (Ranged weapons have pretty significant chances to jam, especially on full auto, unless they're Reliable) while a Best ranged weapon cannot jam, overheat, or fail on you. A Good melee weapon gets +5% to WS. A Best one gets +10 and +1 to damage rolls. Getting Good and Best gear at low levels is a big upgrade.
Guns, as mentioned before, do not gain extra attacks as you level UNLESS you use two-weapon fighting (in which case you get 2 separate attacks for the two pistols or carbines, at a penalty to each) but rely on a Rate of Fire system. This instantly makes guns an easier way to fight, because you don't need to get to level 5 to start hitting multiple times with a gun. When you fire, you can use a half action to fire a single shot, or a full action to fire Semiautomatic or Full Automatic if your weapon has those available. A Semiauto burst gets +10 to hit and gets an extra hit per 2 DoS that you roll, up to the weapon's listed rate of fire. It always uses the ammo listed in its rate of fire. So say the Lasgun is Semiauto 3, you could hit 3 times with 4 DoS on your shot, and getting 6 DoS wouldn't get you an extra hit. You'd use 3 shots from your magazine for firing semiauto, no matter how many hits you rolled. Full Auto gives +20% to-hit, and hits +1 times per DoS. As you can see here, Full Auto is objectively the best way to fire a gun if it can fire full auto. A weapon with full auto will almost always beat out a weapon without it. Full Auto also enables suppression, which we'll get to in the full combat chapter. Suffice to say when a Lasgun and Autogun both do d10+3 damage, the one that can hit up to 10 times in one turn and that has the crazy full auto mode is the better cheap, early-game rifle.
Weapons also have an armor penetration system now. Most early weapons like the Lasgun are Pen0, meaning people get their full Armor as DR against that gun. Autoguns can buy cheap armor piercing ammo that adds Pen3, which is effectively +3 damage against anyone with serious combat armor. Again: The autogun's talents are as easy to get as the lasgun, come at the same levels, and both weapons are cheap early game rifles. Bolters also introduce Tearing: Tearing is just Impact from WHFRP, letting you reroll damage. Bolters also do d10+5 Pen4. Bolters waffle in every book in the line on if they have a full auto mode or not. Bolters are meant to be balanced by their individual bullets costing 16 thrones a shot. Bolters are the classic silly gyrojet rifle, which the book takes the time to remind you 'is nowhere near as awesome as the godlike super-bolters the SPACE MARINES!!!! wield', which is funny because in the TT game Marine and Human boltguns function exactly the same. The AP system will subtract your Pen value from any armor it hits, including armor from cover. This means armor is rarely going to be as useful as it was in WHFRP.
Remember how AV5 was a huge fucking deal in WHFRP? Most early combat characters will have Guard Flak armor in WH40kRP. It provides 4 armor. It will only really protect you from early game weapons; note the pen value on a bolter. Armor is extremely inconsistent in how it protects you in DH. Even Power Armor, with AV8, will get dinged pretty hard by any heavy weapon pointed at it. Take the Heavy Bolter, the HMG version of the Boltgun: It inflicts 2d10+0 with a penetration of 5. And also rerolls its lowest damage die once for Tearing. This isn't even an especially powerful heavy weapon (it would get switched to d10+8 Pen5 Tearing in later editions) and it will still do bad stuff to a human in power armor, especially with the potential to hit them a shitload of times with the whole autofire rule. You can also wear Primitive armor like leathers and stuff, but this halves its AV against 'modern' weapons and usually only has like 2 AV anyway, so very few characters will ever use it. For some reason, partial armors like gauntlets or helmets give 1 less AV than the full suit of Flak or Carapace, and putting together a full suit out of these parts will leave you under-armored. Why? Fuck if I know.
But this isn't even getting to the biggest problem, which was hidden in my description of the Heavy Bolter. Weapons are no longer purely d10+Damage Rating. Many weapons now use multiple damage dice. And much higher modifiers. The Lascannon in this update title? It deals 5d10+10 Pen 10. Note that the game doesn't actually have vehicle rules for an anti-vehicle weapon like that to be used against yet. I strongly suspect the damage rating on the Lascannon was because in the TT Game, a character who takes a hit with more than double their Toughness without a special rule to save them will die instantly. Thus, the Strength 9 Lascannon could kill a lot of special characters in one shot if it got a hit in. So I think they were trying to simulate that with a gun that does an average of 40 damage in a game where PCs don't get more than 25 or so Wounds even if they invest heavily. The problem is, the MP Lascannon is the sort of template for heavy weapon in WH40KRP. When you see stuff like Autocannons and Missile Launchers in the later books, they do stuff like 4d10+5 Pen6 damage, while being *automatic*. They eventually get toned down, but once you've got 3d10+8 Pen6 on the field, and PCs have TBs of like 2-6 and armor values of up to 8 or 9 at *best* (Best armor gives +1 AV), well, you just don't survive taking hits. And if you put in the ability to survive those huge top-level weapons, then suddenly lasguns and stuff can't do shit to you, and they start having to patch in ways to make '50 dudes with flashlights' able to mechanically damage a PC.
By letting the damage scaling get crazy out of hand, you end up with a system where the most efficient defense is dodging. Hiding behind cover will help (some) as Cover can give you extra AV (and a lot of it) but won't save you if you take a hit to the arm or head while firing back. Toughness and Wounds are very, very useful at lower levels (and remain more useful in DH than in later games, as DH's enemies don't get quite as insane compared to your durability) but won't save you later on. The weirdest thing is, the later games in the line all make buying Wounds excessively expensive and limited. And you still buy wounds 1 point at a time. In DH, an Arbitrator can get up to +15 Wounds over their career. Starting with 13, that'll give you 28 Wounds. That's enough to eat a fair number of basic bolter shots without dying (won't save you from Good Ole' Lascannon, though) and pretty reasonable for a class that's supposed to be tough as hell. Hell, the first 5 of those Wounds will only cost you like 500 EXP. It's very feasible to improve Wounds in DH. Later games? Wounds cost a shitload more, you actually start with *fewer* wounds on average in Rogue Trader, etc. So they never really improve your HP while increasing the liklihood of running into crazy heavy weapons that negate your armor and DR.
Also, let's talk Melee Weapons now. At low levels, you WILL spend 40 thrones to buy a Mono upgrade for your melee weapon, because otherwise all armor that isn't Primitive gets doubled against it (making basic swords that are d10+SB useless) and getting +2 Pen early is really worthwhile. So I assume all melee weapons have at least Mono on them because otherwise they're not worth discussing. Gone is the old Hand Weapon. An axe or hammer gives +1 damage for the penalty of -10 to Parry checks. A Sword is d10+SB AND gets a +10 to Parry checks. A knife is d5+SB and thus will never be worthwhile. Then you get to the real low-tech winner, the Greatsword. Remember how Greatswords in WHFRP just had Impact? These ones are 2d10+SB, instead. And come with a native Pen2. Add Mono, they're Pen4 2d10+SB and will shred early-game enemies. Greatsword Nun killed a Space Marine at low levels in my first campaign. Then you get Chainswords, which are d10+2+SB, pen2, can't be made Mono (and don't need to be), have the Parry bonus, AND give Tearing, letting you reroll damage. Then you get Power Weapons, which do d10+5+SB Pen6 and cleave through normal weapons used to parry them. As you can see, the damage scaling here is going to go crazy, too. Characters' ability to kill shit scales up way more than their ability to not be killed by shit.
And all this isn't getting into the thousand and one gadgets and tools you can buy for +10 to +30 to various checks, the special ammos that make SP weapons great, the many weapon modifications and scopes that will provide more bonuses, etc. Also, guns and things now give +10 to hit if you're under half their listed range, and can fire out to over 3x listed range. Characters move slower, in general, than in WHFRP2e while weapon ranges have exploded. Meaningfully maneuvering in combat is genuinely difficult and since movement ranges are measured in individual meters, I tell you from experience that making a tactical map (which you're going to want to do) is a fucking nightmare. I used this system as the base for my Norwegian Modern Fantasy Mining Town vs. Killer Transhumanist Robots game and my god was making maps big enough to make weapon range meaningful and putting in ways to have characters actually move around compared to those weapon ranges a headache.
I haven't even mentioned grenades yet! Grenades are an Adept's best friend. They require no training or skills to use for some reason, and they are AoE weapons that have a good chance of hitting even if you miss, since they have a 4-meter blast radius and roll d5 for how many meters it deviates off target (meaning you have an 80% chance to still put your target in the blast radius), do 2d10 damage (Pen0), and the average nerd can still *try* to throw one like 27m. Always have your pencil pusher laying down cover fire and throwing explosives like they're going out of style.
In short, gear is where things start going off the rails and they ain't comin' back. And gear porn is going to be a huge component of every add-on book, if I cover them, with a huge amount of it going to 'what if Techpriests were actually just God'.
Next Time: Exploding Space Wizard
Exploding the party does not balance magic
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy, Part 7
Exploding the party does not balance magic
The psyker chapter starts with the usual blurb about how psykers are very powerful but all extremely doomed and tormented, and how they've all been through ten thousand years torture or whatever to purify their souls but everyone still hates them. I hate the psyker fluff in 40k; back with our Fantasy wizards you stood out and might be a little weird, but you didn't have a couple pages devoted to 'Many people would kill you on sight, your life is awful, and endless torture has been visited upon you at all time'. As a Psyker you actually roll to see what kind of insane torture you've already endured, with results from 'gelded' to 'think part of your mind was cut out, has manifested in the world, and is trying to hunt you down and kill you', some of which have game effects and can even give you a bonus to Toughness or Willpower (you want Willpower. Badly.) Psykers also interact an awful lot with the Insanity and Corruption systems, which we won't get to for another half the book.
As I mentioned when going over the class, psykers use spells (I'm sorry, PSYCHIC POWERS, it's totally different and more sci-fi) by rolling dice up to their Psy Rating and then adding their WP bonus, so the tens digit of their Willpower. They can also spend a full round and make an Invocation (WP) skill test to add their WP bonus again, for double WP bonus, if so inclined. If you beat the power's casting number, you cast the power. If you roll any 9s, you roll on the get fucked table for each 9 you rolled. Some powers will mention that if you beat their CN by a lot, you will invoke increasing levels of power and the power will be more impressive. If you're sustaining a power that lasts a long time, you take -4 to Power checks made while sustaining it and have to roll again to keep it up every 10 rounds. If you sustain two, -8. Three, -16. It is impossible to sustain more than 3 powers at once. Note that the Get Fucked Table will not stop you from casting a spell successfully, unless the result you roll on it says it will. Also, if you know 10 or more powers from one discipline (Fire, Telekinesis, Telepathy, Life, Divination) you effectively get a +5 to all checks to invoke powers from that discipline, which is a good reason to specialize a little.
Now, I am not going to go over every single entry on the Get Fucked Table, and every single power. Most of the base 'I just rolled a 9' Get Fucked Table isn't going to hurt you. It's mostly spooky stuff like ethereal winds, statues crying blood, etc. A few could ruin your day, like the one that jams everyone's guns and fritzes out all tech devices within 5d10 meters, or the one that gives everyone a tiny amount of Corruption and drives them all to attack randomly for 1 round, but it's only when you roll a 75+ on the d100 that things get bad. That causes actual Perils of the Warp rather than 'Phenomena'. Perils automatically give you 1 Corruption every time you roll on the table, most of it stuns you, does damage to you, inflicts Corruption and Insanity, body-swaps you with a nearby ally, causes blood to rain from the sky that also makes all psy invoked cause more Perils automatically, causes mass minor possession that forces a WP save or be stunned for everyone nearby for 2d10 rounds, explodes every item you have on your person (and also you) and leaves you naked and smoking in a crater, flings you like you were shot out of a catapult, or, you know, Unbound Daemonhost.
Unbound Daemonhosts are one of the 'final boss' style monsters that players aren't really expected to fight directly until a long way into their careers. At any point, again, a Psyker has a .26% (forgot it was 75+, not 76+) per power die they roll to trigger this result. They get a WP-30 save to resist the possession, and after that if the daemonhost is defeated the Psyker takes 5d10 Corruption (that will hurt, trust me. We'll get into detail on corruption later) and 'may be dead if the body had to be destroyed'. If this happens early on it will kill your party, almost certainly. The even 'worse' 00 result just kills the Psyker, but many of the Perils effects can fuck the whole team. We had a psyker just try to see if there were living beings on the other side of a door, with 1 die, during a commando raid, and he almost turned into a daemonhost right there (I houseruled he could Burn a fate point to ignore the result, since it was going to kill him and the team). It absolutely sucks to have a class that has a statistically not-insignificant chance to kill everyone any time they try to use their abilities. WHFRP's 'magic is balanced by miscasts' at least focused the miscast problems on the caster.
Also, magic is straight crazy powerful in Hams. Let's take a look at a Minor Power that you can have from day 1: Chameleon. +30 to Concealment, -20 to enemy BS to hit you, for only CN 7 (which is trivially easy for a young psyker), sustainable as long as you want. Or Flashbang, an AoE stun with a 20m Aoe (Enemies do get a WP+20, but hey look at that poor Guardsman with his 30 WP who is now 50-50 stunned). You can give yourself Fear ratings, at a -10 to peoples' fear saves against you, further letting you fuck the poor low WP Guardsman. Low level psyker magic can heal people, cure them of fatigue (non-lethal damage), make people forget you, give you combat bonuses, let you inspire allies against fear and pinning, let you cheat at cards, and make you Shotgun Wizard.
That last one requires a little explanation. Scatter weapons like shotguns get the bonus from Semiauto fire no matter how many shots they fired, if you fire them at Point Blank (3m or less). One of the Minor Powers (Unnatural Aim) makes a shot at any target count as Point Blank. Technically, this allows your wizard with a semiautomatic shotgun to blow someone the fuck away as long as they can see them and focus the shotgun pellets into a single point of murder. Hardly the most powerful thing a psyker can do, but pretty hilarious. And these are the low level spells that aren't supposed to be all that great! Compare this stuff to a Fantasy apprentice, who can shoot a little magic missile, make people drop stuff, put a sheep to sleep, or make minor illusions.
And then you get to the actual Disciplines. A Biomancer can heal people from near-dead to full in a single easy spell every turn. Their actual buffing and crazy bio-lightning kind of suck (Though the Lightning spell does d10+WPB and always hits enemies in the head, bypassing cover, and can fire multiple bolts if you put a lot of juice into it, so you can Palpatine someone), but the heal is straight broken crazy as long as the person you're healing didn't get incinerated by good old Lascannon. They can regenerate destroyed limbs, undo critical hits, oh, and turn into a barehanded god of pure destruction. That's something they do. Hammerhands makes the psyker's damage go up to d10+SB with their bare hands. Then multiplies their SB by 4. Use with the 'buff a stat by 10' spell before hand and get Regeneration on and you can just run around punching people in half (or could if Psykers weren't dogshit at melee) which is not exactly broken, but rather just incredibly metal.
Pyromancy mostly suffers from the fact that a gun would do the job better and you're running around a setting full of lunatics with flamethrowers already. Most of it does damage on par with someone with an assault rifle, which is hardly worth risking exploding your party for. Then you get the Holocaust. Holocaust is a CN 23 spell that can be Sustained as long as the Psyker wants, but does d10+1 damage that cannot be reduced every turn to the psyker. Then d10 damage *per point of Willpower Bonus* that cannot be reduced by anything to everything else within 6m. It also has the extra bit of fluff that anything killed by it is eradicated. Including demons. It is explicitly the only way to kill, rather than banish, a warhams demon in the book. The other big Fire AoE is Fire Storm, which starts out doing d10+5 at CN 16 in a 6m radius, but does an extra d10 damage per 5 you beat the casting number by. A really powerful psyker can turn that into a hell of an explosion. And this is just the basic direct damage stuff.
Telekinetics get shielding spells, movement spells, and ridiculous storms of fully automatic force missiles that do d10+WPB and fire WPB shots, +1 per 5 you beat the 21 CN by. Or the ability to invoke a CN16 spell as a reaction to being shot to instantly catch WPB in projectiles and then let them hit the ground harmlessly on their turn (Note this will not stop lasers). Precision telekinesis lets them pull all the pins on someone's grenades by remote (this is the example the power uses!). They can summon a magic force sword that uses Willpower instead of WS to hit and does d10+2xWPB with Pen 2xWPB. Telekinetics are amazing at killing people.
Telepaths are as you'd expect. They can cause and defend against fear, they can read minds, and they can take over people and make them do stuff, with the usual 'slightly harder to tell someone to shoot themselves in the head (but doable)' caveat. Going into someone's mind can hurt you real bad, though, as if they have more Corruption or Insanity their Corruption or Insanity can bleed over and make you gain Corruption or Insanity. There's a lot of somewhat uncomfortable stuff saying telepathic contact like that is also roughly akin to rape, so have fun with that (DH1e generally has the edgiest fluff. More than even Black Crusade, which managed an entire Slaanesh book without being especially creepy).
Divination is basically 'Do you want to ruin this being a mystery game and/or be useless: The power set'. Good enough successes with its powers say that they will pretty much solve mysteries for you. It can also do some silly stuff like let the psyker make a gunshot that will automatically hit, with no need to roll, no matter the penalties. It does have a cool 'everyone gets -30 to hit you because you're playing bullet time' power, I suppose. We mostly never had diviners because prophets are kind of annoying to GM for.
So yeah. Wizards (Er, Psykers) are bullshit powerful, with the caveat that they have not-insignificant odds of making the game worse for everyone else if they use their powers a lot. Much greater odds than they had back in WHFRP, and much more impact and power compared to characters who can't use Psyker powers. They'll also later on get magic jedi classes that make them extremely good at fighting, etc. This book is actually one of the *low points* for Psyker power in the system; for the most part, they only get crazier from here as the casting system gets much less harsh on them and enables much greater power.
Next Time: Shooting people.
Where nothing is mentioned, assume it works like WHFRP2e
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part 8
Where nothing is mentioned, assume it works like WHFRP2e
My memory slipped up a tough; Chapter 7 is actually where the resolution mechanic is first introduced and all the meat of the game rules exist. However, most of those rules I've already covered in WHFRP2e. The Degrees of Success system, etc all work exactly the same. Fate is noticeably different, and in a way that kicks players in the balls: You can no longer spend Fate to get an extra dodge or an extra half action (and trust me, being able to toss fate at extra active defenses is really helpful when you fight a Bloodthirster or other high-tier enemies in WHFRP2e, and would be really helpful when more heavy weapons than you have dodges are aiming at you here!) and Fate is no longer regenerated per game-day, it is only per session. So you can't use it as freely. Like in WHFRP2e, the book tells the GM to use circumstantial bonuses (especially early on) to make up for players having base success chances like 32 or 40 (it's notable to me that many of the gameplay examples are of PCs with 35% or so chances at what they're attempting, and that most of those examples show them succeeding) but spoilers: The pre-made adventure in the back isn't going to do this any more than WHFRP2e adventures do. Also note that the book recommends doing permanent harm to a PC who Burns Fate, as opposed to just emphasizing that it lets them survive. Admittedly, this is in a setting with robot arms, so losing your arm is less shitty than in Fantasy.
One big change is that every stat has a stat bonus now, instead of just Strength and Toughness. Agility Bonus decides how far you can move (replacing Movement from WHFRP), Int Bonus does very little until later books, Perception Bonus is the same and honestly introducing a whole extra stat that is now separate from int for no reason is going to leave the later books in the line constantly scrambling to find some reason to justify Perception being a stat (seriously fuck Perception), Willpower Bonus helps with a bunch of Psy stuff (and you're going to really fucking want Willpower anyway), and Fellowship bonus tends to limit how many people you can use a social skill on at once. Really, only Agility, Strength, and Toughness bonus matter that much at this point, with WPB mattering a lot if you're a Psyker.
There's also a very pointless section on using skills in an investigation context, which seems to just suggest you should...roll d100 against a difficulty but maybe also assign it a time to attempt. I'm not really sure what this part actually adds to the resolution mechanics. Then we're on to combat. Surprise is covered first, and Surprise is every bit as lethal here as in Fantasy, granting +30% to-hit and a free turn. If you jump someone you have a huge edge up, especially with the addition of 'I hit him more if I had a higher to-hit' autofire weapons. Initiative is much less deterministic now, rolling d10+Agility Bonus+Talent Bonuses instead of d10+Agility Score like in Fantasy's RAW, which my group prefers to the point of backporting this into Fantasy. Just like in Fantasy, you get 2 half actions or one full action, and most of the actions are similar. One difference: Half actions to move move you slower, now, as do full actions to move without running. You move about half as fast as you would in Fantasy, and with the average PC having AB 3, you're also slower than a Mv 4 Fantasy human in general. Tying movement to Agility was a stupid idea that only made a useful stat way more important. Combine this with guns that can fire without penalty at 100m or more, and it becomes really hard to meaningfully maneuver in combat compared to Fantasy.
This is exacerbated by the new cover system. Attacks still hit hit-locations like they do in Fantasy, but this matters a hell of a lot more if someone is behind cover. If behind cover, even if you're firing back, attacks that hit your body or legs (which have also been shifted to be more of the hit location chart, while in Fantasy they were pretty equally distributed) will hit your cover. Your cover provides extra Armor, with examples like a concrete wall giving you 16 AV. If an attack gets through the AV of the object you're hiding behind, even if it can't pierce your armor and TB behind it, the cover takes damage and loses 1 point of AV. In a gunfight, you generally get to the best piece of cover you can and stay there until and unless grenades start landing behind your cover or someone gets within flamethrower range (Flamers ignore cover. This being 40k, flamethrowers are fucking everywhere, and honestly I don't mind because they work well with the combat system at this level). If the movement and distance stuff was a little better, this would create a neat dynamic with flanking, cover ignoring weapons, etc being important. The potential is there. Cover also in theory reduces the effectiveness of full auto, but full auto hits walk up the body from the initial point hit...into the uncovered areas.
One important new action in combat is Suppression. Now I've been screaming that Willpower is Really Fucking Important for awhile. This is one of the reasons. A character with an automatic weapon (full auto only) can make a BS-20 test to lay down a 45 degree cone up to 1/2 their weapon's range. Note this test is only to see if they accidentally hit anyone within that zone. Every combatant in that zone needs to make a WP-20 test or become Suppressed. Yes, a -20. In a game where often, your soldier is going to have a 31 or so. And no easy way to buff this stat because Guardsmen don't get WP. Being Suppressed forces you to move into the nearest piece of cover and stay there. That wouldn't be so bad on its own; that's hardly a bad move as it is, and used as a means to make characters predictable it wouldn't be so awful. The character who is suppressed also takes a -20 on BS tests to shoot back. Very damaging, but not the worst effect. A character who is suppressed LOSES HALF THEIR ACTIONS and can only take a half-action a turn. Which also means they can only fire back on single shot at all. Also, suppression doesn't break until the character who is being Suppressed makes a WP test (the test becomes +30 if they are no longer under fire, but is not automatic) at the end of a turn, at which point they'll act normally next turn. Unless they get pinned again. You also break free of pinning if someone engages you in melee.
So yeah. Suppressing people and avoiding being suppressed is really fucking important! As if autofire weapons needed to be even better.
Guns jam, too. A lot. Guns jam, generally, on a 96+ to-hit. Or a 94+ if they were firing semi or full auto (or being used to suppress). If you jam, the gun stops working until you make a BS test to clear it, then you have to reload, having ruined all your prior ammo. Ruining a heavy bolter belt this way can cost an Acolyte months of salary, which is pretty hilarious (and kind of dumb).
Two-Weapon Fighting was so simple back in the Empire. A sword and dagger just granted you a free Parry without having to use actions to set one up. Two pistols just let you attack twice without reloading. Here? If you don't have Ambidexterity you take -20 with both weapons, and it actually isn't clear if you can full attack with both weapons, or just get one extra attack with your off-hand weapon. If you dual wield machine pistols, you can make two full auto attacks in one Full Action, after all. If you're Ambidextrous, you take -10 instead of -20. If you get the high-tier Gunslinger talent, you now get -0 when attacking with two pistols and should feel free to fire two machine pistols while diving through the air at all times (except you can't move while firing so forget the diving). Gunslinging with dual pistols or using a machine pistol in your left hand to fire a full auto burst while attacking with a sword with your right is pretty common at the upper ranks of 40k RP.
Injury has also changed a lot. Remember how you had varying severity Critical Hits, but never actually went below 0 Wounds in WHFRP2e? Here, every time you take a hit that reduces you past 0, you take Critical Damage. You add up your Critical Damage, check which type of weapon inflicted the latest hit and to what body part, then check just how badly you got screwed. So, say you take a hit that takes you to -1 Wound. You'd take Crit 1. Then you take another that does 4 more damage. You'd take Crit 4. No table to roll on, it just builds up until one of the results kills you. The critical hit tables are, uh, inventive and kind of awesome at times, if a little full of permanent stat damage at the high end. To understand why people liked the critical hit table, let me bring in an example from a game I ran.
During a fight in a warehouse with separatist rebels, the party's sniper headshot one of them hard with his laser rifle. This inflicted a Critical 10+ result, which according to the book, 'Explodes the target's brain and head, causing the headless, on-fire corpse to run 2d10 meters in a direction determined by the scatter die, with any unit the target passes needing an Agility test to avoid catching fire'. The flaming rebel ran down the gantry he was on, set half his own squad on fire, and in their own panic, they fell off to their deaths. The sniper had thus killed 4 people in one exploding brain fire headshot.
There are also plenty of results that set off a target's munitions or grenades, cause their gun to go flying while their now-severed arm pulls the trigger and accidentally shoots other people, all kinds of crazy shit. It's gory and weird and zany but hilarious. The critical hit system creates really weird, memorable moments, up until later games when every gun just kind of vaporizes you if you're hit solidly. It also makes, say, a weapon that does Rending more valuable because it's likely to cause more dangerous critical hits. A Bolter's Explosive damage makes its crits much more severe, much faster.
The various 'special damage' rules like suffocation and falling damage are literally copy-pasted from WHFRP2e. Movement is much more restricted, but so is healing. Remember how someone is Lightly Wounded (and thus easily healable) until they're at 3 or fewer Wounds in WHFRP? Or how you could cheaply get medical supplies that would let you use Heal on someone who is heavily wounded as if they were Lightly Wounded still? Gone. Characters are Lightly Wounded until they've taken more than 2xToughness Bonus wounds, then they're Heavily Wounded regardless of how many wounds they have left, healing much slower. There are talents that will make you always Lightly Wounded, and Medicae the skill can heal you by the healer's Int Bonus+Degrees of Success (if you're lightly wounded only), but in general if you take a serious hit expect to need weeks of recovery.
I harp on these things because a lot of these changes are A: Things that make things tougher for the players and B: Don't have a reason to be here. Take the healing stuff. Having a good doctor along in WHFRP2e is a huge boost to a party, but when is the last time anyone liked the idea of stopping investigation for weeks because one PC caught a bullet and another didn't? If these changes are here for 'realism', uh, I want to point your attention to the above head explosion flaming running man hyperkill.
Finally, we have a hilarious table for how much gear you can carry based on your TB and SB, and it can get nuts. We had one hyper-buff Guardswoman in one of our games who was so buff she could lug around an Autocannon as a rifle even outside her power armor. Then finally some copy-pasted stuff from WHFRP2e about flying and lighting conditions, and we're done.
Next Time: We get the GM's section, where we talk about the game's themes, GMing advice, and the other reasons you really fucking want a high WP.
The theme is that everything sucks, no-one can change anything, and everyone is evil.
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part 9
The theme is that everything sucks, no-one can change anything, and everyone is evil.
The basic GMing advice is simple but solid: Always give players a fair chance to succeed, tailor your game towards what your players like, work towards having a good time, and communicate with your players. There's also a bit on how, as GM, you'll be playing the Inquisitor and you should work with your players to develop their boss. They might not know everything about him or her to start and you should feel free to work in some twists, but your players should have some say in the person giving them their jobs. There's also a note on how PCs are meant to be people who are a cut above average from the start but oh boy do the mechanics not bear that out until about Rank 5 3000 EXP in. PCs normally aren't a group before their Inquisitor throws 3-5 random people into a balanced party comp, which the Inquisitor does because they would like to succeed at their job. Once the team successfully completes a case and survives together, most Inquisitors will declare that a good team and keep those Acolytes working together until some of them die/go insane/turn Chaos. This is a perfectly fine framing device for why 3-5 people from far-flung worlds and backgrounds all get tossed together, and really, the heterogeneous PCs it allows for is one of the really fun parts of the framing device. A party of a Paradise World college professor, a battle-nun from Armageddon who is the daughter of a great Guard General, a simple Guard sergeant, and a Tech Priestess who grew up on a space hulk? Great! Your group of weirdos sitting in a space coffee shop or space bar after clearing out a bunch of horrors and swapping backstory is legitimately one of the fun parts of the game.
The game then gets into its themes, which boil down to 'No-one can make anything better, the Imperium is fucked, and everyone is evil'. You play as people who don't quite fit in in a highly stratified society, fighting for an agency that is as likely to fight itself or destroy the innocent as it is to accidentally kill the guilty. You're basically working for significantly less competent Witch Hunters. There's a lot of stuff about all the various evils you might fight, from insane psychic cults to rebels to incompetent planetary governments that need to be quietly regime changed before they degrade defenses further, but none of it changes that one of the core themes is that nothing you do is really going to matter. There is, essentially, no making progress in the 40k setting unless you're willing to dump a lot of the 40k setting, at which point why bother playing a 40k game? Just make your own techno-feudal space future without so much fascist apologia. God knows that's what most GMs and players are actually doing when they play 40kRP as it is, because the setting is actually really thin and small. It tells you it's big, because it has huge numbers, but if you're sticking to actual canon it's an incredibly constraining setting to write and play in.
This is what I mean when I say 40k isn't actually that good of a setting for an RPG. The book admits that the scale of action is so high that your characters won't matter. Travel is extremely awkward and difficult. Actual playable setting details are very sparse. You'll end up writing whole planets and things anyway, so why use this setting at all? The setting tricks you into thinking that it's brought a lot to the table while demanding that the individual author or GM do most of the actual inventing, and the stuff you get from the setting isn't even very good. 40k started life as a joke, and was probably better left as a joke, but it doesn't even have enough to really sustain itself as a joke, because it only has one punchline and it's 'everything is awful, blam'. 40k just isn't very good at being anything that isn't a big, bombastic war game. Everything is, by canon, too constrained and tight to really allow much wiggle room or action by the characters, and again: Once you put all that in, why not just say 'Okay I've written this colony, and you know what, I'm just going to use it as the setting and stuff the Imperium.' The best games I've had all focused on single planets or a single system or sub sector anyway.
You're meant to get about 200 EXP a session. Somehow I stuffed that up when running and gave 400, and it turns out that makes the game a hell of a lot more fun and makes the advancement less of a crawl. One of the things that was good about WHFRP2e is that the average 100 EXP a session meant you got at least one new thing to buy every session. If you're saving up to, say, advance a Bad Stat at the basic rate of EXP, you'll be doing so for 3 sessions. That's quite a lot of time! This also means that to hit the 15000 EXP cap will take you 73 sessions (with the 400 you start with) which is, uh, optimistic about the longevity of a game. This is also a little unfortunate because the feeling of progression as you move up the ranks is actually quite good. There are also rules for giving EXP per encounter, but these will usually end up giving you less EXP per session and so we never bothered with them when I was playing.
There's also a bunch of unnecessary subsystems with the various social skills that actually just boil down to 'Set difficulty, roll check' in the end anyway. I'm not going to bother going into too much detail.
And now we get to one of the biggest mechanical bed-shittings in the line. Fear, Insanity, and Corruption. Remember how Fear was a simple thing in WHFRP2e? Just save with WP+Talent Modifiers or freeze for a turn, still able to parry and dodge but not fight back? Or run away if it's Terror? Well, here, everything causing Fear has a Fear Rating. The higher the rating, the more of a penalty you get to save vs. fear. Fear 1? +0. Fear 2? -10. Fear 3? -20. Fear 4? -30. If you fail the WP test, you then roll on a FEAR TABLE with +10 per Degree of Failure on the WP test. Most of the results will give you things like a -10 to all actions for the rest of the encounter, being unable to approach the Fear causing enemy, losing actions, or if it's bad enough (though this is unlikely) d10 PERMANENT WILLPOWER DAMAGE. That's right, if the GM puts down a Fear 4 monster and your WP 30 Guardsman fails bad enough and gets unlucky, you're now WP 30-d10! Which is potentially like 1250 EXP worth of damage! The other problem here? Most enemies who cause Fear are Fear 3! Remember: There are entire classes who will have a hard time advancing their WP or gaining anti-Fear talents. Fear also causes Insanity points.
Insanity is now a line from 0-100 instead of 0-6+ like in Fantasy. At 100 Insanity, your PC is too shattered to be a PC anymore and is lost, no Fate allowed. Many Fear effects cause d5 or more Insanity per go. You also gain Insanity from doing awful things for the Inquisition, and gaining enough Insanity forces you to save with WP or suffer a temporary trauma (every 10 Insanity). Every 30 Insanity, you get a mostly-roleplaying-and-annoying mental disorder. The one upside to insanity is that you start gaining immunity to Fear as it goes. For every 20 Insanity, you become immune to a new Fear rating. So Fear 1 at 20, 2 at 40, etc. Meaning an Insanity 80 character is actually completely immune to further Fear checks and can only gain Insanity by their actions or scenario gains, now. You can remove Insanity, but it's at the cost of 100 EXP per *single point* so uh, I don't think anyone has ever done that. Much like the IP system in Fantasy, Insanity doesn't really add much to the game and isn't that well thought out.
Corruption is even worse. You gain Corruption when you fail a Fear check against demonic enemies, when you witness unholy rituals (which you know, Inquisitor's lackey. You're going to), or when you dabble in bad stuff or have bad stuff happen to you. Or if you're a Psyker. Psykers gain a shitload of Corruption and Insanity from Perils. For every 10 Corruption you gain, you good old SUPER FUCKING IMPORTANT Willpower with a penalty based on how much corruption you have. If you fail, you take various permanent curses that do stuff like lower a stat by d10, or give you bouts of illness that cause -10 to everything in various situations, or other terrible problems. Every 30 Corruption, you pick 2 stats and roll tests against them. If you fail *either roll*, you mutate. Given you work for a bunch of paranoid secret police catholic space nazis, genetic impurity in your PC might be Really Fucking Bad if anyone finds out, not to mention most mutation is harmful and weird. You cannot use the same two stats for your second or third mutation test at 60 and 90, and naturally if you hit 100 CP your PC has fallen and you 'die'. Alternately, go play Black Crusade (This is, in fact, the intended explanation for most human Black Crusade PCs: They're DH/Only War/Rogue Trader characters who hit 100 CP).
Next we get a primer on the Dark Powers, but given I've already covered Fantasy's Tome of Corruption and that the Dark Gods really aren't at all different between games, we know Khorne, Tzeentch, Slaanesh, and Nurgle just fine, I think. Only difference being here that Slaanesh is *super into* eating space elves because they kind of caused her. There's also an actual system for Radicals and idiots to make pacts with demons. The pacts can grant some incredibly powerful abilities (Like Unnatural Toughness, regeneration, huge stat gains, enormous wealth, great knowledge, etc) and are actually mechanically hefty enough to tempt a player a little. They also represent a great way to make some scary boss heretics for your hapless investigators to find. The cost is, of course, you're now bound to a demon, it can make you do stuff to maintain your end of the bargain, and it costs a shitload of corruption (though amusingly, the demon slows down future corruption gain and makes it easier for you to hide yourself so as to keep its mole working in the Inquisition). You take 20 Corruption for making a pact. Ouch. If you betray the demon and deny it its price later, it withdraws benefits, causes one Malignancy (the Corruption curses), and steals a Fate Point, but you're free. Well, as free as you get with a powerful enough and intelligent enough demon to be making pacts running around waiting to do horrible things to you.
Legit, I like the Dark Pacts. They make for good enemies, and the complications they cause are the kind of thing you'd want to talk to the group and GM about before introducing, but they can give you huge stat gains, temporal power, etc that you might be really tempted to ask for in order to succeed. And you can still tell the demon to fuck itself and then deal with the fallout and a new, really pissed off rival for your group, which is really a pretty ideal ending to such an arc.
Next Time: The Imperium of Man, and more yelling about the setting
Catholic Space Nazis
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part 10
Catholic Space Nazis
I imagine everyone here is, by nerd osmosis, a little more familiar with Warhammer 40k than they originally were with Fantasy. Most folks know about the soccer hooligan orks, the big lads in big shoulderpads who have had most of their personality surgically removed, the guardsmen who get killed by the dozen every time someone else needs to look cool, and all the screaming about heresy and flamethrowers. The big Space Marine in chunky power armor is (or rather, until Total Warhammer came out, was) a more common nerd symbol than the chap with slashed sleeves, a codpiece, and a halberd.
I still think it merits mentioning that the opening paragraph of the Setting chapter has 'No matter how heroic your death or how great your life, one thing is certain: You will not be missed'. 40k relies entirely on bombast and a sense of enormous scale. Everything in 40k is as far over the top as it can get. An assault rifle? Hell no. We use a rocket launcher that fires 25mm RPG rounds that pierce to an optimal point and then explode to rip you apart. A sword? Fuck no, it's a chainsaw! Religion? Mostly done via flamethrowers!
One of the problems of the setting, and one you're going to get a hell of a lot more of here in this book, is the way it slowly lost sight of the fact that the Imperium of Man, the main characters (let's be real, 40k is way more directly focused on the Imperium than Fantasy was on the Empire. Something like half the fucking TT armies are different flavors of Imperials), are basically idiots. They were founded by a murderous warlord who sent his posthuman warbands out into the galaxy to kill and convert everyone they encountered, then riven apart in a crazy civil war because he was a very poor father. Ever since then, they've been struggling along on dogma and throwing vast waves of men at their problems while killing anyone who suggests that maybe banging their heads against the brick wall isn't going to lead to prosperity and goodness forever. Now, playing as people trying to live and work inside of a fascist nightmare-state can be fun for gaming. But the book doesn't really remember this IS a nightmare state. There's a lot of 'Well this river of blood is a small price to pay!' and 'Men die so MAN endures!', and mind you, FFG is legitimately better at 40k fluff than GW is. There are still glimmers of humor and plenty of 'You know it sure is odd how you Inquisitor types end up fighting other Inquisitors who have gone crazy at least 50% of your job.'
We begin with a description of the various big organs of the Imperium you're going to interact with, and an assertion that the Imperium is feudal at heart, based on a large set of rigid, inflexible hierarchies that in theory all work together towards the common goal of human galactic domination. In practice, the Imperium is too goddamn big for anyone to govern, the Inquisition has nearly unlimited power, and almost everyone is bugfuck crazy. The Arbites handle matters of planetary justice and cosplay Judge Dredd. The Adeptus Astra Telepathica make sure people herd their Psykers into death-ships so that the weaker ones can be fed to the comatose Emperor to keep the unsustainable sustained a little longer and the stronger ones can become PCs and explode game balance. The Adeptus Astronomica handle intersetllar communications and the giant Emperor-shaped soul-navigation beacon for FTL travel. The Custodes are a bunch of golden oiled supermen who watch over the Emperor's physical form back on Terra, and if your game is interacting with the Custodes something really interesting has probably happened.
The Adeptus Mechanicus are the Techpriests of Mars, who absolutely follow a different religion but are so important to keeping everything working that everyone pretends this isn't the case as hard as they can. The Administratum is the enormous mass of nerds and middle managers that keep all the records of the Imperium, because it has to keep records, even though they fill entire planets with their scrolls and no-one ever reads the damn things. The Ministorum are the official church of the Imperium, dedicated to worshiping the Emperor as a God despite the fact that he was a new-atheist style 'haha sky wizard' type in life (primarily because he knew gods existed and hoped not worshiping any would kill them off). And finally, the Inquisition. The Inquisition was founded ages ago, shortly after the Emperor went down, and their job is to, uh, their job isn't very well defined and they like it that way. By being able to claim Inquisitorial purview in pretty much any and all cases, and with theoretically unlimited authority and the right to compel other Imperial citizens to do their bidding, as well as basically no oversight, the average Inquisitor is a powerful secret police tyrant unto themselves. You just work for one of these nutbars.
We also get a section on the many types of worlds in the Imperium, which I believe is copy-pasted almost directly from an old 40k core book. In short, there are a lot of worlds in the Imperium. At least 1 million inhabited planets, ranging from paradise worlds with an idea of civil rights and functioning societies to insane massive human hives of hundreds of billions of people held in check by a large supply of Judge Dredds. One of the selling points of the setting is that, as I said, you're free to just make up your own setting, at which point 40k will claim that was 40k all along. If you looked in my old college notebooks you'd be able to tell exactly where lecture got boring because you'd see pages of notes on the planet of Hanza and its three primary Hives, and the history lying down in the dark underhive where the Techpriests are trying to piece together how to get at the ancient stashes of knowledge the pre-collapse colonists left behind and how to purge demonic evil from the ancient climate control system to make the surface livable again. That's how a 40k campaign usually goes: You write your own techno-feudal sci-fantasy setting and then it pretends its 40k.
One of the other bugbears of the setting is its insistence that travel is nearly impossible, most people will never go to space, space travel will always be exceptionally difficult, and that every single ship is a massive multi-kilometer cathedral with an entire city in it. Nothing is ever small, and everything takes months or years or centuries to do. This makes popping your PCs down to a new planet of adventure this week a little bit awkward, and is mostly handwaved away despite the several pages devoted to it because going new places and solving mysteries is fun. Communication is also extremely difficult, relying on powerful psykers called Astropaths to send coded, dream-like messages to one another in ways that can be easily disrupted by space satan or other problems. Many worlds in the Imperium barely know the Imperium.
Naturally, one of the core threats is
the scourge of MUTATION! Much like in Fantasy, mutants are hated as tainted by the dark powers of Chaos. Accusing foreigners and offworlders of being mutant heretics and mutant traitors is common. Sometimes, they might even be actual mutants and not just people the locals wanted to have killed! Oddly, 40k has a little bit of fluff where the Imperium tries to pretend there is no such thing as Demons, and so for a long time had fluff about how any soldiers who faced them were executed afterwards to keep the secret (because mass killing is the main joke in 40k). This book still claims knowledge of demons is forbidden to any Imperial citizen who doesn't work for the Inquisition. God knows how they fight the stupid things that way. Psykers are hated and feared and the Imperium is really, really upset it can't just exterminate them, but it couldn't function without them. This only makes the Catholic Space Nazis hate them more, and endeavor to make life hell for sanctioned Psykers. The Imperium also hates and refuses to consider long term alliance or cooperation with any other species, believing the eventual destiny of humankind is to genocide every other race.
This isn't just distasteful, it's *boring*. One of the fun parts over in Fantasy is watching the various weird peoples and countries all end up having to tolerate each other to work together when Chaos comes knocking. While that still happens a fair amount in 40k off the books, the whole gleeful fanatic purifiers of genocide thing just gets old. Your only 'sanctioned' interaction with a ton of stuff in the setting is 'chainsaws, flamethrowers, and rocket pistols.'
Next Time: The people with the flamethrowers, chainsaws, and rocket pistols.
Screaming men in hats, potato men with shoulder pads, these are the overman
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part 11
Screaming men in hats, potato men with shoulder pads, these are the overman
"The Emperor asks only that you hate." is our start-off for the bit on the Imperium's armed forces, and they're a complete mess. When you control over a million worlds, some of which can field billions of people under arms from hives that have individual levels and decks that could qualify as nation states, everything was always going to be a mess. Combined with how slow and unpredictable travel is, and how unreliable communications can be, the Imperium regularly sends out armies that arrive long after the local forces have already won or lost their battles. Guardsmen, despite the name, could be men or women in equal measure. These expendable soldiers mostly exist to add to the death count and show off how brutal and grim the setting is, unless they're the main characters of a novel or RPG campaign, in which case they become exceptional badasses capable of defeating almost anything in the galaxy. They're primarily kept in line by a mixture of severe British discipline and Soviet blocking brigades led by men (usually depicted as men) in big hats who have the right to have any Imperial soldier shot for cowardice. They're kept popular by being the most grounded and hard-luck of the Imperium's troops, and by the (admittedly pretty great) novelty of an army where Vietnam era rambos pathfind for the Space 101st Airborne to take ground that'll be held by Space WWI Germans while a bunch of idiot Space British nobles sit back in their tents, have tea, and talk about how smashing it would be to do something horrible.
The Navy is even more British than the Guard on the whole, and is basically Nelsonian-age-of-sail ship-as-community stuff flying around with Masters and Commanders all over the place in their giant cathedral ships. Every ship takes centuries to build and can die in minutes in battle, taking thousands of people with it, and many more are lost in transit because the only human means of FTL goes straight through Event Horizon Hell. The Navy handles all transport for the Imperium of Man's ground forces, they handle gaining orbital superiority, and they also handle blowing up planets. The Navy is the single most important armed force in the Imperium, but no-one tell the Space Marines.
You won't see many Space Marines in Dark Heresy. The Adeptus Astartes don't have much of a presence in the Calixis Sector (the Sector DH is supposed to take place in) and the sector is remarkably clear of wars that are glorious enough for these propped up prissy showponies to fight in. Marines are organized into 1000 soldier Chapters, though most Chapters break the rules on force composition in some way or another, and are not technically allowed to form larger units because a larger unit could begin to threaten the other elements of the Imperium. You all know what a Space Marine is, but I'll describe them anyway: In canon, they're 6'6"-8' tall potato men who have been thoroughly indoctrinated into their Chapter, put through multiple 'kill a thousand children to produce one Marine' initiation rites to show you they're grim and hardcore, given transhuman augmentation to make them able to take wounds and deal with environments that would instantly kill normal humans, then armed with powered armor known for its immense shoulderpads and bulky nature and given a rocket rifle. They then die in droves, according to the Tabletop game, or else if they're in a novel, videogame, or RPG, an individual Marine kills several hundred people an engagement. They serve as the Imperium's elite special forces, except for the part where they aren't under anyone's command and tend to try to take over command of any situation they find, making them rather less efficient at their jobs than they could be. They are also generally the main characters of 40k, because if half of the armies in the TT game are Imperial, half of THOSE are varieties of Space Marine.
Two major Space Marine organizations are mentioned here, because they might come up for Inquisitorial Acolytes. The Grey Knights (And this is pre-Matt Ward writing them as burly men who will happily blend Sisters of Battle into a protective paste so they can go steal a daemon weapon) are elite among the elite, a chapter made entirely of Marine psykers trained for demonic combat. They are the Chamber Militant (special forces) of the Ordo Malleus, the anti-demon Inquisition. The liklihood that your PCs see a Grey Knight is pretty low, but it could come up. They're magic space paladins. Next you have the Chamber Militant of the Ordo Xenos, the Deathwatch. This is actually going to come up in the Space Marine RPG, Deathwatch; these are promising Marines sent from other chapters to form a kind of meta-chapter where they learn to work together with others and do elite commando work for the alien-hunters. Marginally more likely your Acolytes might get to call these guys in when they inevitably hit some kind of horrible alien infestation.
Why, you might ask, does it seem like the Imperium likes to keep all its forces piecemeal? Most of them are described as watching all the other forces of the Imperium with a paranoid eye at all times. Well, that'd date back to the last time someone was in overall command of all Imperial forces, under the ancient Warmaster Horus, one of the original Marines created by the Emperor. It went badly when he went off the reservation, discovered Gods existed, and then had the Horus Heresy and crippled his dad while getting annihilated. This is also why you've got Chaos-Warrior knockoff Chaos Space Marines running about, being the main characters of the Forces of Chaos, and generally being relatively boring like their loyalist brothers. The Imperium lives in constant fear of an individual gaining the ability to make drastic social change/take over the Imperium/whatever, and so everyone is encouraged to point a gun at everyone else's head, most units don't have all the equipment they need to operate so that if they rebel they'd have to convince their supporting units to come with them, and everything is clunky and grim to the extreme, as per normal for 40k.
Next Time: Faith and Inquisition.
Everyone expects the no-one expects the Inquisition joke
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part 12
Everyone expects the no-one expects the Inquisition joke
So, as a quick aside before we get to the Inquisition itself, there are two major faiths in the Imperium, both of which try to pretend the other is the same major faith. There is the Ministorum of the Emperor, which worships the Emperor and reminds everyone he is the only real God and should be worshiped as a God. They aren't especially picky about the particulars, because in a weird sop to practicality they understand that syncretism and co-opting local religious traditions are some of the most effective tools a missionary has. The Emperor is worshiped in many, many different ways and the Ministorum mostly cares that you continue to pay your tithes, keep their priests very wealthy, and do what you're told. The Adeptus Mechanicus, on the other hand, worship the Machine God. They believe most technology is holy, especially technology from the pre-Imperial Dark Age of Technology, which supposedly gave mankind a post-scarcity paradise. They spend ages in search of any remnant of this technology and have used the calcified, mystic approach to science as a way to ensure they monopolize production and complex machine operations in the Imperium. This means that even though they worship a very different god (though they'll say the Omnissiah of technology is obviously the Emperor if really pressed, to avoid civil war) no-one can afford to move against them. Without the Tech Priests of Mars, the Imperium couldn't build warships, jump drives, or giant mostly-useless-wasteful-ugly-battlemechs, er, God Machine Titans. An oddity of the Tech Priests is, they know the fall of the Dark Age was partly caused by true AI, and so while they love anything with a 'helper spirit', they abhor any true machine intelligence as Abominable Intelligence and consider it something that must be destroyed.
And now, the Inquisition. There's a lot in the book on the Inquisition's organization, but it really comes down to 'there isn't one'. There are few formal ranks once you hit Inquisitor and almost everything is done on a basis of personal preference, local tradition, and how much you can get away with. Every Inquisitor has theoretically unlimited authority, being able to declare individuals, organizations, or planets Excommunicatus Traitorus, effectively saying they are no longer human and thus should be on the receiving end of the Imperium's 'exterminate all non-humans' policy. They are also theoretically able to compel any Imperial adept, servant, or officer to assist them in an emergency. In practice, most can and do get away with a great deal, but the Inquisitorial Rosette has its limits. Space Marines have strong enough plot armor to get to tell them to fuck off most of the time. A sufficiently powerful noble, general, or admiral can do the same. Other Inquisitors might get involved if one of their number is going a little too obviously crazy (most Inquisitors are crazy). Your Acolytes will be working for someone of theoretically unlimited authority from an organization that is known for its brutality, excess, and tendency to spend a lot of its time fighting itself.
Speaking of Acolytes, while your PCs start out as minor agents, being an Acolyte means they have actually met and spoken to their master. They know they serve the Inquisition and are not employed by some cover agency or front. They have been specifically chosen because of their master's whims or personal preferences and they are at the beginning point of being considered to be Inquisitors, themselves. One of the other little secrets of the Inquisition that should be obvious is that most of its work is done by cover organizations, unaware informants, and Acolytes. The big chap in power armor covered in big stylized I logos? Not actually as important as the dozens of teams of 3-5 weirdos staking out cafes and infiltrating cult meetings.
Inquisitors tend to organize themselves into Ordos and Conclaves because when you have unlimited authority matched only by someone else of Inquisitorial rank, you tend to form blocs that can promote one another's interests among your galaxy-spanning secret police organization. There are three Great Ordos that tell you what an Inquisitor prefers to focus on, and then endless local Conclaves and organizations.
The Ordo Hereticus are the internal security force of the Imperium of Man. They handle gathering up psykers for the Black Ships, to be shipped off to be tested and sanctioned (or fed to the Emperor, he's kept on life support by murdering thousands of psykers who didn't make the cut every day, because GRIM) after proper torturing (because again GRIM). They also handle cults, rebellions, and all sorts of other internal affairs. Their Chamber Militant is the famous Sisters of Battle. The Sisters are human, but they're trained to the level of human special forces and about as well equipped as Space Marines, and they're much more numerous, making them the perfect armored boot for the Imperium's state-sec organization.
The Ordo Xenos handle aliens, as you might guess from the Psuedolatin. They investigate alien diseases and infestations, they advise Imperial forces fighting major alien empires, and they organize the pogroms and genocide campaigns that exterminate aliens who can't give the Imperium trouble. Yeah, if you come in peace and don't have an interstellar empire of your own, the Imperium just casually exterminates your species. This is why you don't hear much about minor sentient aliens in the setting; the Imperium's fondest hobby is genocide. Really, the main way to stop this is to be psychic space monkeys who can build a ring-sized lascannon or to have a massive empire that can kill Imperials by the billion.
The Ordo Malleus fights demons. They also enforce the bans on demonic knowledge. They are the Hard Mode Ordo for the RPG, because Demons are bastards between their fear ratings, Demonic aura, and other powers. The Malleus has a lot of problems with Radicals, Inquisitors who believe you can use occult knowledge and warp power against the warp. It also has a lot of problems with Inquisitors tending to think they're the overman, and so they tend to be surprisingly vulnerable to thinking 'well obviously I'LL be able to survive a dark pact with Vukhadulak the Destroyer of Minds, my mind is as sharp as a power sword, this will be easy- OH NO HE'S DESTROYING MY MIND THE HUBRIS!'
Conclaves are usually a sectorial organization, such as the Calixian Conclave for the RPG. They have a lot of silly local traditions, like waving around a golden chalice half full of clear liquid and then arguing about if it's the chalice of knowledge or corruption when in fact the question should be 'half full or half empty'. Conclaves can also appoint Cabals of Inquisitors sent to investigate specific, overarching problems. For the RPG, this is the Tyrantine Cabal, commissioned to investigate the dread TYRANT STAR, which, uh, will not be detailed much further. It's played up as the big sectorial threat, a weird stellar phenomena that occasionally appears and makes everyone on a planet go crazy for awhile, then vanishes, but there's never anything given to hint at ways to fight it or even potential origins. We never played with the Scarystar much because there's nothing to play with, which is why I haven't bothered mentioning it much. What I've said is about as much as you'll get.
Inquisitors can broadly be placed in two factions: Puritans and Radicals. Puritans believe you should shoot anything that looks funny and always keep a hand on your sacred flamethrower. Radicals believe that rules are for the underman, not the overman like them. Both tend to be idiots, but the Radicals have a pretty cool add-on book and one of the Radical positions is 'The Imperium doesn't work, we need to acknowledge this, and look at possible reforms' which, to the people of the setting, is up there with 'Well what if I possessed myself with a demon for infinite power, I can totally get away with this' in terms of crazy. This should tell you a lot about the Inquisition and Imperium. Which faction, and which faction within a faction, your Inquisitor belongs to is something you probably won't start out knowing and something you want to learn as fast as possible. If your Inquisitor is an Istvannian (we'll get to the subfactions when we get to the Example Inquisitors, because there's basically one of each) you really want to know because those people believe that war, disaster, and shooting yourself in the foot make you stronger and this is a sign you work for an even worse lunatic than normal.
There's another section detailing how Acolytes handle most of the gruntwork and that an Acolyte who moves up in the ranks may be considered a possible Inquisitor, but we've already been over that. Acolytes also do have the right to ask their master for favors, resources, briefings, and other things. Their master has the right to refuse. Most Inquisitors are more likely to listen if you make your request amusing or can explain why you can't get what you're asking for any other way, or if you've done a good job so far. Acolytes are also offered extraordinary rites of indulgence and forgiveness in the Emperor's eyes for sins committed in the completion of their duties, which to a highly religious society is a pretty good reward. They also get paid, may be permitted to do shakedowns and take kickbacks, and have a chance of moving up to become one of the nearly-unlimited legal-authority spy-tyrant Inquisitors themselves; it's not hard to see why someone offered the chance tends to take the Acolyte's life. Also, Inquisitors don't, as a whole, like the word 'no' very much. Also, if you die, they write your name down in skull-paste and gold glitter and eventually send it to be whispered to the Emperor. That's got to be a good fringe benefit, right?
So, yeah. You're working as footsoldiers for an insane organization that is chaotic in nature and spends most of its time shooting at itself and glaring at others in paranoia. Good luck, noble Acolytes!
Next Time: Calixis is mostly boring space victoriana, there, I spoiled it.
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Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part 13
Calixis is a bad sub-setting within a setting that is already going to be awkward for RPGs. I'd argue it isn't very good if you're a 40k fan, either. No iconic Guard regiments (nor any especially interesting or fun custom ones for the setting), few Sisters, a single Marine chapter (albeit a pretty okay one, the Storm Wardens aren't bad as far as Marines go), few major warzones, no Eldar presence, no Tyranids. If you like the iconic stuff from 40k, almost none of it is here. If you just want a good RPG setting, Calixis is a very lifeless place, with surprisingly little conflict. There's a lot of stuff described, but not a lot of actual plot hooks or characters.
Calixis is meant to be a large and populated sector, seemingly stable, out in the hinterlands of the Imperium. It's meant to be a bit lacking in overt conflict because this is a game about Inquisitorial Acolytes, so you're supposed to get up to intrigues. Now, possibly some of the eventual add-on campaigns and stuff add some life to the sector, but the core book sure as hell doesn't. Calixis was founded by a large crusade thousands of years ago, led by a man without a personality who we're assured was very impressive and very important called Saint Drusus. His main personality trait was winning battles and the fact that he almost died once, but didn't. Well, until you get to the Radical's handbook and it's strongly implied that he was an idiot social general who was killed and then reanimated as a controlled Daemonhost, but that's neither here nor there. The main source of conflict is meant to be the aforementioned Scarystar (I'm sorry, the DREAD HERETICUS TENEBRAE, KOMUS, THE TYRANT STAR), except that again we don't even get enough detail to start a mystery with it. When we get to the example Inquisitors, every single one of them has a completely different theory about what it is and not a single one of them has a scrap of evidence or observation to suggest whether or not they're right. So that's a wash from the start; any plot you write about Scarystar is going to be your own creation because there's nothing on it here, besides the fact that 2-3 months before it shows up the rate of psychic awakening ramps up and weird runes appear all over the place.
We start off with Scintilla, the capital and the biggest Hive World (big arcology/manufacturing planet of relatively high tech) in the Sector. Scintilla's description spends a lot of time to get to its very simple plot thread: It's a planet about nobles being jerks and wearing powdered wigs and having gothic space victoriana. There's lots of proper nouns and local terms thrown about but they come down to 'This is a pretty generic hive world but also Victorian'. And here we get to the primary problem I'm going to come back to over and over again: There's a lot of description of the local sights, but there's nothing about what to *do* on Scintilla's hives. No personalities, no adventure hooks, no 'here are some of the possible seething heresies and conflicts you might get up to'. There are no people and nothing to really hang an adventure on. Again, anything I put here to have my players deal with, I'm going to have to put here, and when that's the case, I'd rather write my own hive. There's a pretty walking hive on top of an archeotech moving machine. That's sort of neat, but again, there's nothing to DO there.
At least Icanthos has a conflict. It's a planet in a constant state of mad max craziness where the Imperium runs barter-town for a planet of 5 billion mercenaries, killers, religious fanatics, and nutjobs who all fight each other to collect ghostfire pollen, a local planet used in creating very handy bullet-time inducing combat drugs. The Imperial presence is literally just the spaceport run by a few Sisters Hospitaller, the local adepts, and enough forces to keep the raider tribes from getting ideas. The tribes then go and fight it out over who can collect and steal enough pollen to trade to the Imperium for supplies, lasguns, and fuel. The locals are totally dependent on Imperial offworld shipments for advanced technology, and so they mostly go along with the arrangement. Out in the wastes you've got a bunch of mercenary gangs and the great 'king' Skull, the most successful warlord, plus a weirdly successful disgruntled office worker turned fanatic preacher who is challenging him. There's actually stuff PCs could do here. Take out warlords who are getting too big for their britches, investigate dissent, etc. The main Sisters of Battle abbey is in Icanthos, and they mention there are only 50 or so fully trained Battle Sisters in the sector, and that they're regarded as the finest troops sector wide. This may make having a Battle Sister PC a little awkward.
Sephiris Secundus is Sadness And Grimdark: The Planet. It's a brutal mining world where the feudal order will not allow the miners any real tools and the cruel nobles enjoy whipping serfs to death and gosh isn't there just so much suffering. It's a primitive, inefficient world that is thus on purpose, so the people can be kept in place by the brutal stamping force of tradition and also lasguns. It's pretty much nothing but misery porn about how whole families have grown up working the same rock face for generations, terrified to step outside their station and on and on and on. The only minor hook is that the old queen is starting to realize that maaaaaybe she's killing millions of people while rendering her world mostly unproductive and that maybe she's been kind of stupid, as have her ancestors. Again, it's mostly just descriptions of how awful the place is and no real hooks for what to do. I'm sure you can come up with plenty, but still.
Then we get the Misericord, a big Chartist ship. Chartists travel at a very slow pace of FTL along well known routes in immense cargo ships, plying scheduled routes that won't require them to use an actual Navigator on board. The Misericord is a full, functioning community with its own zany customs and ridiculous mannerisms, plus a brutal caste system because this is 40k. They cut the ear off everyone born to work the engines! The ship's soldiers wear animal masks! Two guilds fight over who gets to change the lightbulbs! How zany and fun. The ship treats newly impressed crew better, because they don't want to run into massive inbreeding and they tell dark legends of the 'age of six toes'. Passengers and visitors are invited to watch the zany court goings-on of the bridge, and again, there's nothing to actually DO here as a PC. It's all flavor, but no plot hooks.
Which brings me to my point. You can run a campaign in Calixis. There'll be more stuff added in later books. But there's almost nothing there. What you run is going to be stuff you mostly wrote and added yourself. It's sort of the setting equivalent of 'Well rule zero will fix it'. And this is purely a matter of taste, but what's there isn't even interesting. It's just 'Victoriana in gothic sci-fantasy', 'zany ship', 'sadness planet', and 'generic mad max fighting'. None of this jumps out or inspires. Even if you like 40k's iconic imagery, there's almost none of it in Calixis. There's a reason I just went and wrote my own sector when I was running the game, and the fact that I had to is kind of an indictment of the setting that exists in this one.
Next Time: The Power Groups of Calixis
Do you work for the idiot or the lunatic?
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part 14
Do you work for the idiot or the lunatic?
I'll be honest, the organizations of Calixis bit has some actual plot hooks (the farmers are strange feudal world people who have wicker men and are slowly monopolizing sector food production, multiple evil banks) but I'd rather just get on to the Example Inquisitors, because they're more interesting.
These are your official 'we investigate the Scarystar' folk, who your PCs are expected to be working for unless you make your own. They're meant to run a bit of a gamut of the Imperium's various Inquisitor styles. They do a good job of hammering home that you are relatively unlikely to have a good boss as an Acolyte. Every single one has an assumption about what Scarystar is and naturally for every single one it's based entirely on their area of expertise with no actual evidence.
Inquisitor Lord Zerbe is the highest ranker in the group and a man who spends all his time sitting on a throne in gilded armor with a golden mask and powdered wig. No, I'm serious, that's in his description. As leader of the Cabal, he believes his role is to spend all his time ensuring his Inquisitors are at one another's throats and that none of them triumph over or kill the others. To this end, his Acolytes are employed to provoke, hinder, or assist the other Inquisitors. Note pictured: Him or his doing any actual work on the Scarystar issue. He is also noted as a powerful space wizard, something the other Inquisitors don't know.
Inquisitor Rykehuss is a violent idiot. His strategy is to hear there's a suggestion of heresy in a region, then descend upon it with his men and start demanding people undergo trials by ordeal while he executes massive numbers of people in an auto-de-fe. He is portrayed as more cunning than this makes him look, because you see, he calculates his mass random murders based on hearsay and rumor so that they will remind Imperials that witches exist and that people should fear both witches and the man running around in power armor covered in I symbols. Not pictured: Any actual progress on Scarystar, which he assumes is the work of witches. Dude hates those witches.
Daemonhunter Ahzammi is a crotchety old man who has decided over his 300 years of service that Chaos is probably going to win. He is deeply depressed, has fallen into Radicalism occasionally to try to understand if there's any embers of hope left in the galaxy, and he has come here specifically to see if Scarystar is the final blow against humanity for some reason. One would think he'd want to be closer to Cadia or the Eye of Terror if he wants to 'bask' in the eventual doom of humanity. He is torn between just letting himself die, or holding out that he will find a worthy cause to 'mount his mobile battle pulpit' against once again. The only thing he cares for in his acolytes is their courage against demons, even though he thinks all is lost in the long run and that the Imperium is a cruel joke about how the human race can't accept its fate. I could see PCs getting Ahzammi to mount up and go down fighting rather than sitting and waiting for death.
Inquisitor Astrid Skane used to be an Arbitrator and is still a tough cop who plays by her own rules. She is probably the sanest Radical you will ever meet, as her Radicalism extends to thinking the Imperium needs extensive legal reform because her time as a space cop showed her that a noble title or Inquisitorial rosette lets too many people skirt the law entirely, and that the law is often too harsh on those it can reach to compensate. She uses her Rosette to send her Acolytes and her own investigations against corrupt officials, failing Arbitrators, and other agents of lawlessness that hide behind the unjust laws of the Imperium. Most players would probably be pretty down with working for Skane. She thinks the most logical conclusion for the Scarystar is that it's probably a big cult working some kind of big magic ritual, and she'd like to investigate more to confirm or deny, making her the first Inquisitor at least interested in doing any Scarystar related work.
Inquisitor Van Vuygens is an Ordo Xenos fanatic, convinced that the Scarystar is a sign of the leading edge of a Tyranid Hive Fleet. He is a disciple and former Acolyte of the famous Inquisitor Kryptmann, who decided that the best way to deal with the all-devouring bug aliens was to divert them into the fungal soccer hooligans. A scientist at heart, he has his Acolytes running around trying to piece together just what the deal was with the various species the Imperium exterminated when it first took over the Calixis sector, to see if the Scarystar has any roots in these pre-imperial races. If you like poking around the cyclopean bones of mass extinctions, he could be fun to investigate for.
Inquisitor Globus Varaak is a Baron Harkonnen lookin' fellow who lost his legs and is now a fat old man sitting in a mobile chicken-walker pope throne. He is a dedicated Amalthian, a Puritan faction that believes the Imperium is the best of all possible governments and that hoping for anything better is foolish. He pushes his Acolytes to avoid declaring they work with the Inquisition so as to avoid stepping on the rest of the Imperium's machinery, and is noted as a mentor and relatively caring master who has realized he will have far more influence if he helps to raise the next generation of the Inquisition. He has no idea what Scarystar is, but the fact that it causes dissent has made him join the hunt for it so he can stomp it out, presumably with his silly little robot chicken legs.
Lady Olianthe Rathbone is a psychopath. She is an elegant victorian noblewoman who follows the Radical creed of the Istvannians. Istvaan is where the Horus Heresy started. Istvaanians believe that the Horus Heresy was super great and that it is actually very good to have massive strife, civil war, disaster, and deprivation because it will 'make you strong' and 'purge the weak'. To this end, she employs plenty of Acolytes, sends them off to commit acts of terror and spark civil conflict, then burns and betrays them to avoid being traced to the treason she had them commit. If you want your Inquisitor to turn out to be your main villain, Rathbone is your lady. She genuinely thinks this helps the political stability and prosperity of the Imperium, because she is dumb as all hell. She also believes the Scarystar sounds awesome, but does no actual work on it.
Inquisitor Soldevan isn't a psychopath, he's a lunatic. Also the token black guy! He is a powerful psyker who has gotten really into the idea that if mankind can just harness the energy of the warp in a controllable fashion, this totally won't end in daemonhosts and fire this time. He is completely obsessed with this end, and has his Acolytes running around finding him more blasphemous tomes and evil rites so he can compel more demons to make deals with him. At no point in any of this has he considered that this may be unwise; an Overman like an Inquisitor never makes mistakes! He thinks the Scarystar may be the key to communion with the Warp.
Inquisitor Kaede should just have 'Inquisitor Cliched Novel Protagonist' written all over him. He's an irrepressible rogue who bucks authority and always fights the good fight and he's a philosopher and a swordsman and a wizard and he's so nice and cool and great folks, really. He spends all his time messing with Rykehuss and believes that there's an optimistic future waiting where all of humanity is psychic, like him. He named his goddamn psyker sword the 'slight jest', for god's sake. He thinks Scarystar sounds like a fun adventure.
Finally, we have Inquisitor Al-Subaai, who believes literally everything that happens is an alien conspiracy because everything is fucking space aliens, man! He believes all non-human life is a galactic defense mechanism against the amazing superiority and purity of humankind. He is a crazy conspiracy lunatic, but that's certainly a new one for the setting. He spends his time sending his Acolytes out to kill people who try to talk with, study, or deal with aliens, because they could sap our vital essence if he does not. He assumes the Scarystar is an evil alien mind control device or something.
So yeah, those are our Inquisitors. Most of them are more concerned with various personal obsessions than their nominal Scarystar mess, none of them have any real evidence or inkling of what it could be beyond assuming it's got to be their Thing, and most of them sound rather awkward to work for.
We also get a bunch of short paragraph blurbs on a few other worlds, but not much of substance. The chapter I was dreading is now done, and Calixis can be safely ignored in the future.
Next Time: Ill Considered Stats
Heretical beasts and where to kill them.
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part 15
Heretical beasts and where to kill them.
Dark Heresy features a new wrinkle on the Talent/Skill system: Traits. Traits are exactly like Talents except they mostly represent inborn abilities. No longer would, say, Daemonic be a Talent. It's a Trait now. PCs don't usually get traits, until later in the line. Note that most natural weapons are primitive, which means non-primitive armor doubles against them, which means Guard Flak is like Power Armor if a giant dinosaur tries to bite you under this system. There are also actual size modifiers now, something that didn't exist in WHFRP. The bigger something is (or the smaller) the faster it can move and the easier it is to hit. I won't be going over all the Traits critters can have, and I already talked about Unnaturals, but I really need to emphasize how fucked Unnaturals were pre-Black Crusade. Unnatural stats doubling or tripling your stat bonus made them scale crazy, and for some reason it took them 4 games before they realized they could just replace the old multiplier with 'Unnatural X adds X directly to your stat bonus and doesn't scale up as you increase the stat'.
Another pair of important traits are Daemonic and Warp Weapons. Daemonic is for, well, demons and makes them double their Toughness Bonus (Triple, if they had Unnatural Toughness) against any attack that isn't psychic, demonic, or holy in nature. How do you get holy damage? There's no RAW way to do this in the core book. Similar, it notes 'force weapons' work to bypass this. There are no Force Weapons until Inquisitor's Handbook. Sure, it's easy enough to patch in 'You pay 200 thrones and a priest blesses your greatsword', which is exactly what we did, but the books are full of holes like this. Similarly, a Warp Weapon represents demonic weaponry that bypasses any physical armor unless it has been blessed (again, no way to do this RAW in the core book), is made of 'psychoactive material' (again, nothing in the Core Book), or you're protected by a Force Field (no Force Field rules in core!). Get to house-ruling. That's what you paid for, right?
This is also where we get the small mutation table available for this game, with all kinds of minor bonuses and penalties but also the small chance you get a major mutation that will be impossible to hide. The Major Mutations have lots of gameplay power, but you're an obvious mutant in the Imperium of Man. This is probably not going to go well for you. Major Mutations can get a PC Unnatural Stats, though. You have no control over what you'd get and you're unlikely to have many brushes with mutation, so trying to use them as superpowers is inadvisable. I also just can't be impressed with two small tables after the d1000 Tome of Corruption table.
We then get into the various basic NPC templates and enemies for PCs to face, and again, I can't list them all off. I'll point out some that really stand out, but on the whole, the average Imperial is weaker than a starting PC. Your usual Cult mook is just a character with 30s in most things and 25 in WS and BS. Even fairly elite human soldiers are only given BS 35 and WS 35; the lower stats on PCs are still generally higher than average for the various heretics they'll be gunning down. Most human enemies will be even more bumbling than the average starting Acolyte. Also notable: Very few things have more than 20-30 wounds at the upper level of power in the core book. Much of core seems balanced more towards the idea that players will be spending a lot of time with flak armor and autoguns.
Well, until you get to the Saurian Carnosaur, which is an angry t-rex. I just felt it merited mention that one of the alien monsters is just a T-Rex. A T-Rex with TB 10, SB 12, and 40 Wounds, whose bite does d10+14 Tearing (Thankfully, Primitive). I think that thing is more badass than any of the various demons they're going to trot out other than maybe the Unbound Daemonhost.
Demons are a weird mixed bag of disappointing and frustrating. On one hand, most of their gear is still Primitive unless it's Warp. Even the Budget Bloodthirster Knockoff they made up for this game, the Charnel Daemon, which is said to destroy entire populations to 'make the world more pleasing to the Blood God' has only a d10+10 Primitive Tearing attack (they forgot to label it Warp, I think). That T-Rex would wipe the floor with him. As would a shot or two from good old Lascannon. 30 Wounds, 10 TB if the Lascannon isn't blessed, 5 if it is, and no armor? Demons also cause Daemonic Presence, which gives -10% to WP for everyone within 25m of the demon. The Fear Rules are the demons' true weapon. Most of the mook demons will be in a weird place where the PCs are screaming and running in fear but at the same time the demon can't hurt a moderately well armored PC due to the poorly considered Primitive rules. d10+5 on a Daemonette's Crabclaw sure looks less impressive when it's hitting a PC in AV5 Carapace and suddenly they're DR 10+TB. What I'm trying to get across is that stats are kind of a mess and that Primitive was always a badly considered rule.
Finally, we get the Daemonhost. These beings are created by Inquisitors, cults, and accidents with Psykers and they're meant to be the big, apocalyptically scary demon threat for DH Core, being a powerful daemon who has managed to acquire a mortal frame, displace the soul, and use it to stabilize itself within reality. They roll for stats like a PC, and have tons of variation based on if they're Unbound, Once Bound, Twice Bound, or Thrice Bound. Bound Daemonhosts are still obeying their masters. Unbound Daemonhosts are not. The less binding, the more things can go wrong and the stronger the host is. Daemonhosts have all kinds of weird extra mutations you roll for and weird spooky happenings that they cause when nearby to warn players spooky stuff is going down. The mutations range from cosmetics, to things that give it significant stat buffs, to the ability to look completely human and normal. An Unbound Daemonhost seems scary enough when you see stuff like Strength 45+2d10 and Unnatural Strength x3, but then you notice its Psy Rating. Psy *8*. They also possess every minor Psy power and have a bunch more Discipline powers. This is the thing your Psyker can explode into at any moment. The sole saving grace is that aside from Daemonic, they don't have that much damage reduction. It is certainly possible to beat the things (God knows my various parties have killed plenty of Daemonhosts at high tiers), but as a low level party you'd be reeling from the Fear 4+Daemonic Presence and their offensive potential is explosive. Bring a lascannon and someone with Fearless.
Monster stats are all over the place in DH because it isn't sure, yet, how much it wants to let players fight vs. how much it wants to be Space Nazi Call of Cthulhu. The answer will be weighted much more towards the former than the latter later in the add-on books, but I won't be covering those in detail because there are tons of them and they aren't as interesting at Fantasy's. When we see the example adventure, we'll see things in full Space Nazi Cthulhu mode.
Next Time: Example Adventures, yay.
There have been reports of more obviously unnatural phenomena, like walls weeping blood.
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part 16
There have been reports of more obviously unnatural phenomena, like walls weeping blood.
The sample adventure is a good example of the kind of mission Acolytes find themselves tossed into when they start their careers. Their mission takes them to Icanthos, the planet where mad max people fight over beautiful flowers that are probably fed on suffering and death and that make awesome combat stimulants that the Imperium uses to force penal troops to fight to the death. They are to assist a more experienced psyker, Aristarchus, who is a favored Acolyte on the verge of becoming an Interrogator, in investigating strange goings on at the site of a new Imperial cathedral on world. The briefing notes that the locals have seen strange lights, a rise in animal attacks, unexplained deaths and other signs of malefic workings, and that the phenomena and hauntings are only becoming more severe as the cathedral nears completion. Something is wrong, and Icanthos is strategically important not just to Calixis but to the rest of Segmentum Obscura (the wider region Calixis sits in) because those combat drugs are essential to getting billions of terrified people to fight until they die. There are as of yet no signs this poses a serious threat to the whole planet, however, so sending a rookie team to back up an experienced Acolyte is standard procedure.
The players arrive aboard a regular freighter that brings in guns and finished goods and takes back tithes of ghostfire pollen. The time aboard the freighter is meant to give them a chance to get to know one another, ask the other passengers about the world they're going to (Charm or Inquiry +10, with varying rumors that are all useless) and generally piddle around a bit until a pointless Toughness+10 test to see if they throw up on the way down. They can get a sedative to help with the nausea of orbital drop, making it Tough+30 to not throw up, but also giving them a -10 to Intelligence for d5 hours. None of this affects the adventure or has any mechanical bearing. Down in PORT SUFFERING (oi), the only offworld port on all of Icanthos, they find a dusty little frontier town despite this place handling all commerce for a planet of 5 billion angry warriors. They get hassled by a customs official and his two toughs with shotguns, but there's no chance of violence unless the PCs actually make it so, as he has no authority over them and they're free to Intimidate him or whatever. Again, with no consequence and the official knows nothing of any of the goings on at the Cathedral, which is far off in the town of Stern Hope. They're then approached by one of the awful little lobotomized baby robot things the Imperium loves (more pointless suffering and edge, why not?) which tells them to come meet Aristarchus.
As they wander the port, the PCs will notice weird people in face-paint watching them as they go through the crowds. These are (if they succeed an Inquiry test) followers of 'the Old Ways', which the locals won't explain further. They are meant to be spooky. Next they run into a half-naked crazy person screaming about how doom is coming because of a CROW FATHER. If the PCs try to arrest him or anything, some locals attack them, equal to the Acolytes' numbers, +2. If you're freshly equipped and not kitted for combat, especially if your team skimped on armor, you might actually get into trouble here. Especially if the PCs draw guns, which attracts the local cops AND causes the locals to pull their own guns. The local cops will try to calm things down. If the PCs win without using guns at all (The enemy backs off after half their number are badly injured or killed) the local crowds cheer them on. If the cops show up and don't end up arresting the PCs (Charm or Intimidate +10) they'll mention the locals from outside town have been really riled up of late. The locals watching the PCs and causing trouble are Ashleen, the pre-Imperial inhabitants of the planet who were, being human, only enslaved and brutalized and not actually genocided by the Imperium when it conquered the world centuries ago.
Aristarchus is waiting at an actual (if small) Inquisitorial holding, where he sends for the PCs to be treated if they're injured (the book assumes the PCs got into a fight) and gets them food and drink to let them relax after their trip. Aristarchus is only really described as 'handsome' and then a lot about his various finery, and he is a noted seer and reader of the Emperor's tarot. He is also a Rank 5 Psyker with an actual Discipline, so he is well ahead of the PCs in power. Aristarchus is a distant descendant of St. Drusus, at least according to him, and he considers it a personal matter to see the great new cathedral constructed and constructed properly, without any more of this evil sorcery that's been going on. He dismisses the likely cause as an undiscovered psyker or possibly unusually active marauders drawn to the cathedral's possible wealth, but the party is still ordered to investigate and he will still accompany them. There's a big sidebar about how Aristarchus is being tricked by the abbot of the cathedral; he has given him a magic set of tarot cards and flattered his abilities as a seer, and the cards are tainted with warp-sorcery. There is some kind of dark demon slumbering beneath the Cathedral (as you probably guessed) and as you might imagine, it would really like a psyker to get into. The PCs are walking into a very nasty situation and have no hint at this time that the psyker they are meeting is already beginning his path towards being compromised.
Aristarchus is friendly and helpful, and has already prepared personal radios, food, and outdoor gear for the hike to Stern Hope. He also gives the PCs 100 thrones to share among them to go purchase necessities in the local market, where they can also ask around and get more mostly useless but sort of foreboding rumors about how Stern Hope scares the hell out of people. The book notes actual guns and advanced gear should be 'expensive' but doesn't give any further details, so I hope you brought your lasgun (or better, autogun) and any actual gear you're going to need before you arrived because you sure as hell won't get it on Icanthos.
On their way to Stern Hope, they don't encounter a single living thing in the barrens. During camp, Aristarchus will be fiddling with his tarot deck obsessively, and if the PCs notice this and ask about it, he'll grudgingly note it was a gift from Abbott Skae in Stern Hope. A very touching one; a family heirloom, given to a great seer for his aid. The game encourages you to make Aristarchus friendly and helpful, to try to encourage the PCs to see him as a bit of an older mentoring figure as he explains matters about being an Acolyte en-route, but also to let PCs notice that he's having a great deal of trouble sleeping and often seems a bit unwell. Then, at night, they see a robed figure standing out in the wastes. It will approach their camp, silently, whenever the PCs stop looking at it. Whenever they look, it will be closer, but stock still. If they approach or shout out to it, there is no response. If touched, the robes fall away and a body hits the floor; the robes contained a dead, decaying Ashleen man, who has been slashed collarbone to neck, and who seems to have been dead for several weeks. There is no sign of psychic disturbance on the body and no explanation for it walking.
Later, at the foothills of the mountains, PCs will spot a dark figure watching over them from an outcropping, and any psykers in the party will get a +30 Psychic sense test (Per) to see if they can feel that something very, very wrong happened at that outcropping at some point. If they have no psykers, fail, or don't try using Psyniscience, Aristarchus just does it for them so the test was pointless. He tells them to investigate. PCs need to make a Climb+10 check, or if they fail it, a Agi+20 check or take d5 damage (affected by TB but not Wounds) as they climb up to investigate, which is a very exciting use of the skill system trust me. They find no sign of the dark figure, but do find a pictogram of an eagle clutching a skull burned into the rock, which is still hot. A -20 Common Lore (Imperium) or a +0 Scholastic Lore (Legend) test tells them this is a rendering of the sign of St. Drusus. A success by 2 DoS or better points out the skull and starburst were the symbol of the 2nd Army Group, which conquered this planet. Aristrarchus will make the sign of the Aquila and mutter to himself a bit, but won't volunteer any of this information. If the PCs mention it, he says this is an 'age of miracles' and fingers his tarot deck nervously.
They then arrive at Stern Hope without further incident.
Next Time: Stern Hope.
The Black Cathedral
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part 16
The Black Cathedral
The Acolytes are met by an antisocial ex-special forces Guardsman serving as one of the chief guards for the colony at Stern Hope, and quickly frisked before being allowed into the settlement. The only industry the settlement has had for years is the construction of the cathedral, as well as serving as a watering place for nomadic herders. It has very little involvement with the main industry of the planet, the Ghostfire pollen, and it has a very monastic and religious feel to it. The few hundred people who live and work on the cathedral are a mixture of military vets who've settled down from the mercenary work and wars, offworld pilgrims drawn by the abbot, and converts from among the local Ashleen. The place has been here long enough for the people to put down roots and start families, and the community is both nervous about the weird phenomena and ecstatic that their years of labor are almost complete and the Cathedral is due to be sanctified soon. The PCs are then met by another ex-Guardsman monk, Brother Lamark, and he'll be their local buddy for the rest of this adventure. He's an honest, friendly, open man who has found peace in his religion and he'll happily serve as a guide and help out however he can while they're in Stern Hope. He says the Abbot is busy seeing to a sick local and her family, and leads the party to the inn to rest for now. Aristarchus retires to rest, and warns the PCs against going out at night: Icanthos has no moons and the nights are very, very dark.
In the morning, the PCs find Aristarchus looking like hell, though he brushes it off as just poor sleep, and then the Abbot Skae finally see them. Skae is a minor noble from Scintilla who has spent decades trying to build a real, official Cathedral for Icanthos, and who has finally seen success here. He insinuates he partly got funding by blackmailing his noble house, plus from donations from the pious in hopes of building a monument to Drusus on another world he conquered. He admits to the troubles, the signs and portents that have brought the Acolytes, but does his best to direct attention to the hills and away from the cathedral (Scrutiny -20 check to notice this, because PCs will easily make that, right?). He emphasizes all kinds of awful stuff in the hills, all but begging the PCs to go out there and waste a day. He will get cross with the PCs if they try to press any of these issues, but beyond that he tries to appear helpful and in good humor. Aristarchus continues to worsen, leaving the investigation to PCs as he retires to rest. If they check on him, he'll have gone to a 'private audience' with the Abbot and will not be seen for the rest of the day.
So obviously the abbot is both suspicious and trying to direct the PCs' attention to a specific area far from town. As per usual, you can use Inquiry/Charm (at +10) to get some rumors from the locals around town if you ask around, with a basic success telling them nothing they don't already know. One degree of success or better starts mentioning stuff like 'This valley supposedly contained some stuff related to the old Ashleen religion before the Imperium' or 'One of the other warlords who is also an Imperial fanatic claims this cathedral and region are cursed and has threatened to attack'. Or reports of people hearing strange, soothing voices in the cathedral. If the PCs go out to the hills, they get non-functional Toughness-10 tests to see how miserable the hike is, then get attacked by a big, scary alien monster that is made way less dangerous by the Primitive rule (I have no idea how Primitive ever got past playtesting) if they have any kind of armor, while finding absolutely nothing of use because the hills were a red herring. There is no chance to investigate the Cathedral itself, apparently, despite the fact that I'd assume players who have picked up on the hints would try to do so.
We then get a diversion to talk about the other NPCs. Abbot Skae is on track to become Bishop of Icanthos for his very real efforts at spreading the faith among the Ashleen and the warrior-tribes. He has spent decades making slow, painstaking progress with little aid from the Ecclesiarchy until fairly recently. His pride and ambition made him vulnerable to the whispers of Tsyiak, the Dancer at the Threshold, a demon long since defeated in this valley, and his attention was pulled to this site to build his cathedral. Skae believes the visions he's seen are legitimate visions of St. Drusus and that he is working to return the Saint to the living. Lamark is exactly who he appears to be: A decent man who means only well for the people around him, and who will do his best to protect his community and help the Acolytes against evil. Severus, the special-forces guy from entering town, never actually does anything in the adventure despite having a write-up here, which is basically 'he was an elite sniper, now he is a quiet man who is Skae's bodyguard'. We haven't met Esha Raine yet, but she is a local priestess from the Ashleen tribes, who is both a native shaman and a genuine believer in the Emperor. She has encouraged people to convert in hopes of improving life for the Ashleen, because she thinks the Ecclesiarchy would be a good friend to have. Warlord Kos'ke is the local Ashleen potentate, and he and his warriors will be showing up occasionally but not doing much unless the PCs pick a fight (and probably die). He's a smart man from a hard background. He protects Raine because he thinks she'll be helpful, but also because he agrees that the Ecclesiarchy would be a good friend for his clan. His soldiers also keep the other raiders from going after Stern Hope, so far.
The next day sees the planned consecration of the cathedral. Anyone with psy has an Awareness+20 test to feel that the Warp is shuddering and drawing close that morning. As they have breakfast, they hear cries and ululations from the town, signaling the arrival of Warlord Kos'ke and his soldiers. They have come to attend the consecration, and an Inquiry+10 test gives the PCs an impression the locals see him as an ally. Kos'ke and his six warriors are escorting an old woman, Esha Raine, and it is clear that many of the Ashleen locals regard her as holy. Aristarchus wakes late, worried about the readings on his cards, and mentions he won't attend the ceremony on account of illness. The PCs have about an hour to conduct last minute interviews, introduce themselves to Kos'ke, try to find out who Raine is, etc before the ceremony. However, as the ceremony begins, gunfire erupts at the settlement walls. Raiders have arrived and battle is upon Stern Hope, as fanatical religious soldiers from the army of Seth the Voice (the aforementioned other fanatic pro-Imperial warlord who thinks this place is cursed) have arrived to make a suicidal, mad attack on the town! The PCs get a taste of battle against the screaming mad-max madmen, who wear no body armor and are fairly chumpish soldiers at 25 skill each, with relatively poor equipment. There are a bunch of different places they can assist, from dueling a slightly more powerful Voicer officer to preventing a bombing to defending the non-combatants of the town, and the fights are pretty well-balanced for a rookie party. It's very likely the PCs will come out looking like heroes. If they do, the people will trust them completely for the rest of the adventure.
When the battle is over, the locals note that the Voicers are fanatics, but would never attack in so few numbers and with such poor equipment normally. One of the Voicers is captured, and he is speaking in tongues and showing signs of demonic influence. The abbot wants to finish the ceremony, while Raine cautions that this has to be investigated and is a sign of a dark curse on the region. Before they can argue further, Aristarchus pulls his laspistol and shoots the prisoner in the head. He then screams that Raine is a heretic who is trying to disrupt the ceremony and generally has an uncharacteristic fit. She tells Kos'ke this place is being led to ruin and that there may be no saving it, and asks him to get her the hell out of here before anyone is crazy enough to start shooting. The Abbot returns to his ceremony, everyone shaken by the argument. If the PCs were heroes in the battle, they can get medical treatment and are given gifts by the locals; nothing serious, but enough to show them that they are appreciated. Aristarchus has calmed down and will rationalize his actions as a fit of temper in the face of evil. Lamark was wounded in the battle and cannot help tears over the lives lost. He will mention to the PCs that there is a strange secrecy to the Abbot and Aristarchus, and that they and Severus visit the temple in the deep of the night to 'protect it from evil'.
Then the Abbot comes stumbling out of the temple, bleeding, claiming a manifestation of a woman, a witch, shaped like Esha Raine wounded and attacked him. Aristarchus tells the PCs she is a heretic and a witch and demands that as Acolytes, they go out and kill her, or bring her back as a prisoner. At this point, PCs should both realize something is really wrong here, and also realize Raine knows more about it than they do. A smart party sets off to go and ask her what the hell she was talking about earlier about this region being accursed and 'these people led to ruin'. A stupid party goes 'BURN THE WITCH!' and sets out to lose the adventure.
Next Time: Oh, Crows.
Multiple 20% checks in quick succession doesn't spell fuck you, does it?
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part 17
Multiple 20% checks in quick succession doesn't spell fuck you, does it?
The PCs can get a truck, but have to make a Drive+0 check or it breaks down and they hoof it anyway. Hoofing it or taking the truck has no bearing on the adventure. When they arrive, Kos'ke and his men are armed and ready, but not hostile. Raine obviously refuses to come back with them, because she knows some spooky evil is going on in Stern Hope and she doesn't want to be at ground zero. If they try to arrest her and do as Aristarchus said, not only will they get into a gunfight with six experienced, dangerous Ashleen soldiers (and their surprisingly nasty mounts) they'll almost certainly fail the scenario anyway since despite all the possible investigating they could do earlier the whole plot is getting dumped on them by Raine here. Which brings up one of the big problems with this adventure: It doesn't account for any chance the PCs actually solve the mystery early, they can't go and investigate the cathedral at any point despite there being a bunch of hints they should, etc. There's very little room for them to actually investigate, so much as they get led around through a bunch of set pieces.
If they're willing to talk at all, Raine is ready to plot dump like hundreds of lives depended on it. Before that, though, spooky crows show up! Two flocks of the native shale crows attack the PCs and Kos'ke and they're a complete joke of an enemy because they do d10+3 Primitive. They take half damage from anything not a shotgun, flamethrower, or grenade, but A: Your PCs probably have one of those, especially as they could loot shotguns off the dead Voicers from the battle and B: They have Kos'ke with them and he's got a shotgun, and the crows aren't that tough even if they're taking half damage. This is, amusingly, the easiest fight in the module despite being a big horror event (the Fear 1 is probably the most dangerous part of the encounter). They also take -10 to BS for spooky storms and lights and howling laughter, as if it wasn't obvious enough a demon is trying to kill them. The book acts like the Ashleen, who again, would've been a rough fight for the entire PC party, will have been badly injured and shaken by sudden birb attack.
Raine then goes and tells the PCs the plot, but only if they have some obscure skills they aren't likely to have, otherwise they get a vastly abridged version. They'll still get enough information to maybe win the final encounter, but goddamn. She gives them a book that, if they have High Gothic, Literacy, or Forbidden Knowledge (Warp) they can try to read at -20. -10 if they have two skills. -0 if they have all three. There's something in the hills and valleys, an ancient monster that Drusus' army fought and defeated that used to delight in making the Ashleen prey on one another. The Crow Father, Tsiyak, the Dancer at the Threshold, absolutely loves messing with and tempting the proud and the desperate. She tells them about Tsiyak if they fail the test, but not the bit about Drusus fighting it which might come up later. The book will also tell PCs that the highest ceremonies only occur at dusk after a day when people were forced to battle their coreligionists to survive. Gee, those obviously-insane Voicers attacked yesterday, didn't they? And acted like they were being controlled by something? It should be clear now that the PCs need to get back to Stern Hope as soon as possible. If the PCs seem willing to face a demon or resolve the problem, Raine drops one more plot-essential hint: The Crow Father is said to fear the torment he inflicts on others.
When they return, Stern Hope is a mess. There are a dozen dead by suicide, and a few survivors huddling in their homes, babbling in terror. The rest of the congregation has gone to the temple, drawn by demonic power to await the pleasure of the monster that is planning to consume their community. If the PCs search Aristarchus' belongings in their inn before they go, they can unlock his space i-pad (Search+20 to find it, then Tech Use+10 to open it) and find him babbling about how the Abbot showed him St. Drusus in the cathedral and how he's been chosen to be the vessel of his ancestor's rebirth. Him being a Psyker, and them knowing what they know now, this is a Very Bad Thing. A demon can stabilize itself in reality indefinitely if it possesses a reasonably powerful psyker like Aristarchus. At the foot of the priory they find Brother Severus and a few other security clerics dead, their eyes torn out. This is a very important detail to remember. Lamark is there, as well, badly wounded and dying, and he tries to tell them a little about what happened and pleads with them to save the people of Stern Hope, in the name of the Emperor. If they have the Medicae skill, a Medicae-20 test (Or, I'd rule, a Psyker using Healer) can actually stabilize him and save his life, which is a nice touch. Even if he dies, his soul is still protected; the demon could find no purchase against an honest and decent man.
Now the unending torrent of bullshit begins. First, the cathedral is full of insane energy and is extremely spooky, requiring a Fear-10 test to even go inside. Inside, the enraptured congregation is watching as Aristarchus floats above an altar strewn with Ghostfire flowers, amidst his swirling tarot cards, while a mad, distorted Abbot Skae has become a minor daemonhost and a terrible swirling mass of darkness is slowly pouring into the psyker from up in the domed ceiling. It is safe to say that things have gotten pretty bad! If they open fire on Aristarchus, he is protected by a shield of impenetrable magic, and then the Abbot-monster attacks immediately. Otherwise, the Abbot-thing greets them, gloats about how easy it was to blind these people with their visions of the saint, and then forces a WP save at +0 for each PC. If they fail, they drop their weapons, walk up to the Abbot, and present themselves for murder. If a PC with 'a religious background' succeeds the first WP test, they can call out prayers that let the others retest WP. How generous.
Now the PCs are under attack by a minor daemonhost, and their only chances are A: Plot killing it and B: That they have a little time because it has Primitive weapons. It is also 'only' Fear 2, but still has the -10 WP test aura (Oh, right, this also would've affected the previous mind control tests! Fuck you, WP rules), so the PCs also need to make a -20 WP test effectively to be sure they can act fully, and plenty of fear results will give them -10 to everything 'for the remainder of the encounter'. Keep that in mind when we get to what they have to do. There are two options: One, if a PC manages to 'roleplay just right' to try to reach out to the remains of Aristarchus' soul, you can make a -10 Charm or Intimidate test and if they succeed, he realizes he's been played and explodes himself, banishing the demon and thwarting it. This is by far the best option. Second: PCs have to realize the Crow Father really likes eyes. This means it hates blinding. This means called shots to its eyes. At *-30%* BS or -20% WS. Both eyes have to be hit separately, and while each has no DR, each also has 6 wounds. If both eyes are destroyed (requiring 2 hits at what is likely 10-20% at-best chances) the demon is destroyed and sent back into the Warp. The book smugly declares there's a good chance that the PCs will figure out what they have to do, then fail to do it because the rolls are hard, because 'this is a full daemonic manifestation, after all!' and suggests that if that happens, you start a new adventure about looking into what happened to the last PCs. Fuck you, book. The climax has cool imagery and a cool concept, but 'I make a -10, then a -10, then a -20, then a -10' is just absolute bullshit in a system where you have 30-40% base chances. The worst part is, this is the best odds they get. This is them KNOWING WHAT TO DO. The game is obsessed with this being 'hard' and equates that with 'roll low'. There's no way to even the odds, which you'd expect to be a constant in a system with low base chances (You know, 30-50 is what you get if you blunder in unprepared, while lore and investigation can give you, say, 50-70 or 70-90; that sort of thing would've been helpful).
If they succeed somehow (liberal use of Fate, good luck), they will at least manage to save the congregation and defeat the Demon. The Ashleen do not lose their faith in the Emperor, and the Inquisition will follow up, but thankfully isn't written as killing everyone in Stern Hope just to be sure. Lamark can live if they saved him. The PCs become heroes to the Ashleen people, especially if they were brave in the Voicer fight, and they recover only a single, weirdly altered Tarot card from Aristarchus' deck. They can now follow up on how and why it was corrupt, and Tsiyak is likely to become a recurring enemy because you can only Banish demons, and it is extremely mad that they managed to thwart it.
The book suggests 50-200 EXP per game session during this Adventure (God, I can't imagine how mad my players would be if I gave them 50 EXP for a 3-4 hour session), +100 if they win, +50 if they figured out the plot some before the plot dump, and a single Fate point but ONLY for the PC that struck the killing blow or made the Charm test to win, everyone else gets fucked.
So, I wanted to cover this in detail because you can see the flaws and the strengths of the game clearly in this very adventure. There's some cool imagery and neat moments, the atmosphere is pretty good, the scale of action feels significant but small enough to be personal, the PCs have a chance to do some real good, and it has that feeling of being in over your head but having to soldier on through a gothic nightmare that the game is at its best with. At the same time, the use of the skill system is broken as hell, the final confrontation is a torrent of unending bullshit mechanically, and there's this ludicrous obsession with 'well it has to be Hard, that's how it'd be in fluff', not to mention surprisingly little chance to meaningfully investigate.
If I were to do the final conflict of this, I'd have it so that if the PCs know what they're facing, they've had time to steel themselves and don't have to make the Fear test to enter the cathedral. I'd have put an old Ashleen charm or something somewhere in the plot that they can find that will protect them from the mind-influence WP test, since that's a save or die, basically. Have that be the reward for being heroic to Raine or the locals. Then I'd have the -10 Charm/Intimidate be the 'base' test to talk Aristarchus down, with significant bonuses if they found out he considers himself an heir to Drusus and had more tailored arguments from investigating. I'd also just give them significant combat bonuses against the boss for knowing they need to target the eyes, maybe give it a toned down and more easily defeated profile if they declare its weak point. Basically, I'd actually go through and give them better odds for each step of progress in their investigation. I'd also insert a possibility they figure out what's going on and prevent the manifestation because why the hell are they even investigating if they're not allowed to figure out the contours of the truth early? The book has a sidebar about the possibility, but it's all about reminding them they have no chance against a superior officer in the Inquisition and blah blah so just walk right into what they see coming.
Next Time: Conclusion of Heresy.
So where does this leave us?
Original SA post
Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay: Dark Heresy: Part Final
So where does this leave us?
Dark Heresy is a broken mess of a game. It's full of holes, and I strain to think of a single major change from the system it was derived from that worked for the better. It's set in a setting full of fascist apologia, has the players working for the secret police of a genocidal lunatic regime, and the sub-setting given has very little of interest going on. If I had to give a recommendation now, I would say to skip the game, because the amount of work you'll have to put in to fill in the holes in both narrative and mechanics mean the game isn't worth you 40-50 bucks, since that's work the designers should have been doing for you. The damage mechanics probably doomed the line's balance and combat system from the start. Fear is a broken mess that makes Imperials, who are facing these monsters with much more powerful tools, look like absolute cowards next to the chaps in puffy sleeves with halberds from Fantasy. The game has a lot of 'I will generate difficulty by giving you only a 10-20% chance to succeed' design, which isn't really difficulty so much as tedium.
When I bought DH as a birthday present for myself nearly 10 years ago, I was a fan of Warhammer 40k. I liked Relic's Dawn of War series a lot. I'd written and run my own somewhat silly 40k RPG with its own mess of a system the year before. I was also a hell of a lot more forgiving of needing to fix the games I bought. I will always regard the game a little fondly because again, it got me the RPG group I still play with today. And there's some real good there: I consider DH the best of the 40k Roleplaying games. It's the only one with an actual sense of progression; you gain power in most of the others, sure, but you always feel like you end where you start, just with higher numbers. In DH, you go from an unknown to an able and competent agent, to possibly an Inquisitor or other potentate of the Imperium. There's a real sense of escalation and progression, and a great atmosphere of being in over your head. One of the greatest and most terrible truths you get to find out working for the Inquisition is how fallible and weak the Inquisition really can be.
One of the best parts of DH is that it wasn't what fans wanted. Fans originally wanted to play as an Inquisitor, and instead they got put into the shoes of a bunch of nobodies who do the footwork of the Inquisition. I don't think I would remember DH fondly if you played an Inquisitor. An Inquisitor is tremendously insulated from the events around them; yes, you can write one who goes and does everything personally, you can have stories about them, but at the end of the day they're still a person with unlimited authority and tremendous power. In DH, you are a representative of one of the most powerful organs of a galaxy spanning fascist state and yet you may be forbidden from even overtly proclaiming your association, let alone trying to wield its authority. You are the small people that prop up the Overman wannabe giving you orders. In a setting so usually focused on the exploits of the supposedly great and powerful, playing as the smaller folk who make everything work is surprisingly compelling. Similarly, you avoid one player being overtly in charge according to the game fluff, which I know is not a problem for many groups but I've seen cause trouble in the past.
Similarly, the sort of gothic nightmare atmosphere can be fun, especially for a horror game. Being among all this pointless grandeur in a dying Empire is, in itself, a sort of compelling look. The techno-feudal fallen Empire is full of powerful images as a concept, I'd just prefer those images weren't also quite so gleefully fascistic. Which is why I say a lot of people write their own techno-feudal setting, put some elements from 40k into it, and then tell themselves that's 40k and so they have to keep more of the bad in with the good, if that makes sense. You already have to make up so much of your own material for 40k games, I simply see no reason to remain strapped to the setting. Keep post-human manufactured heroes, keep an insane inquisition, keep the strange sense where the individual is all and yet everything crushes the individual, just remove whatever you don't like because you've been doing all the legwork all along anyway. I am no longer a fan of Warhammer 40k, in its canonical and present state. Especially not with the whole 'The Imperium just needed a powerful enough man of Will to get it all moving again!' direction it's taken of late. There are ideas in it worth salvaging, but they are worth salvaging from a fresh start, without a world ruled by potato men in massive shoulderpads. Next time, we shall examine the surprising fun you can get out of the aforementioned potato men, if you'll join me for Deathwatch and concurrently, its add-on book Rites of Battle.
You have to include Rites of Battle, after all, or you miss the most fun part of character creation: Making a Marine Chapter of your own so you don't have to bother with the canon losers.
Next Time: Plan Your Game Assuming PCs Will Win Every Fight; The Interesting Part Is Which Fights They Have: Deathwatch.