A creativity blog - including reviews, photographs and discussion on a variety of things; such as dragons and other things almost but not quite completely entirely unlike tea.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

"Dark dreams lie upon the heart." - Begin play with 3 Corruption points.

In this blog post I discuss mostly a Dark Heresy campaign I played in some years ago and the two characters I played as in the course of it - if you're not interested about my insights on things-gone-by, just read the second and third paragraphs, which discuss the system and the setting in general.

One of the longest-running regularly played role playing game campaigns I've ever played in was with the Fantasy Flight Games' Dark Heresy rules system, in the Warhammer 40'000 setting. During the campaign I played with two characters - the first one was a random-generated male Imperial Guardsman with loads of guns and a heck of an accuracy for firing them, another one was a more well-thought of and fleshed-out female psyker, who was a bit gun-nut too, to tell you the truth. Our party included another psyker, who was noble-born and thus all sorts of trouble ensued; a tech-priest with a strange affinity for doors; a cleric who was wont to do something silly like set himself on fire in order to climb a sheer cliff surface up and save us all from, well, flames; an assassin who didn't often talk much but could slice and dice any enemy in a matter of seconds and a bit later addition, a half-man, half-machine (the leg-half was the machine) guardsman, with big guns and not so big a brain. (We didn't of course all start out as competent as that, but things tend to occur, experience and levels pile up and suddenly you realise your character has evolved quite unexpectedly from what your initial idea for them was.)

WH40K is an old setting (at least to me as a role player), which means that there are loads of background materials for aspiring players; the system has gone through several rules modifications, changes and rebuilds and products available vary from miniature games to role playing games rules books to novels. Dark Heresy was the first, what I like to call new generation WH40K rpgs, published by Fantasy Flight Games - it was later followed by Rogue Trader, Black Crusade, Only War and Deathwatch, all set in the world of WH40K, but with a different focus within the imaginary. Dark Heresy (DH) places its players on the employ (or debt or whatever) of an Inquisitor, who are very powerful individuals working for the benefit of the God-Emperor, the Ecclesiarchy and the man-ruled space. The milieu is that of Calixis Sector, which was once lost and then rediscovered by the Empire, due to abnormal behavior in the warp. The sector is close by to the Golgenna Reach, which is the main setting for the Rogue Trader rpg (RT) and thus it is entirely possible to advance a DH game into a RT one - the characters in DH are pretty low-levels in the beginning, whereas RT starts with more advanced character-base. Black Crusade (BC) is set to the chaos-side of the setting, i.e. the enemies of the Imperium; Deathwatch  (DW) takes on the enchanced supersoldiers, the Space Marines; while Only War (OW) brings to the table exactly that, which it promises in its title. Having not played any of the other games except for DH (so far) I cannot really comment on them at all - also, DH is getting a rules update with a second edition, so for most part anything I have to say about it will in a while be obsolete too. But nevertheless, I wanted to write something, in the honor and memory of one of my favourite role playing games ever.

What I most liked about Dark Heresy, was the apparent simplicity of its rules - you throw a percentile die and try to get lower than you ability score and the possible bonuses from skils or earlier actions. A skill of 20 I believe was a human average and as for the PCs, it is quite easy to get most characteristics over 30 in the beginning of the game - thus you need to roll 30 or under to succeed in your action. Along with this, of course, is the overall setting of the game, which I found so different from the few other games (mostly adventure fantasy such as AD&D or Warhammer Fantasy rpg) - it is basically science fiction, in that everything happens in space; but there's also the element of medievalism in the way the church is portrayed; the technology is a mixture between steampunk and faith and the society is a dystopian caste-system, where those with power rule over those who work, and that with or without pay as well. The main way to control to huge Empire of Man is through its religion - as mentioned, the Emperor is also their God, lighting the way through the warp, which is used in faster-than-light space travel. The warp is also where the daemons and chaos lurk and sometimes it gets through to pester the mankind - there is corruption, mutations, insanity and worse yet - player characters who accidentally (or purposefully) summon daemons in the middle of delicate negotiations...

My first ever character, as mentioned, was a shrine world-born Guardsman. Stern was completely random-generated character, as I had no concept of the setting before starting to play it and thus, no biases for or against any sort of character. Stern was also maybe the third character I had ever made, so it was good that he started out simple - he had guns. Lots of them. Also, he liked to get drunk on people's birthdays (and since the Empire is vast, it's always someone's birthday) and that's how he actually found himself on anspaceship in the first place too; being woken up with a terrible hangover by a red-clad Tech-priest, who needed aid in something or the other... Can't remember what it was exactly, but as Stern was hungover in any case, maybe it doesn't matter so much. I do remember collecting some seals one maybe wasn't supposed to be collecting, killing a bunch of mutant rats or something or the other and always being just around the corner from the command center. I do believe there were also some doors that didn't want to open up.

I played with Stern for quite a long time and got to know other PCs too, apart from the Tech-priest named Red; there was a Cleric named Barack who was initially the cook on the first spaceship Stern was on; a noble-born Psyker Tybalt and his bodyguard, the Assassin Scarlet joined up on a mission to some mine that was filled with yellow goo; and a later addition that was another guardsman, going by the name of Karl; whom Stern met only briefly as Xanthia has already surpassed him as my character.

Xanthia then I created myself and I liked playing her very much. The reason behind her creation was that Stern's levelling up started to get boring - he'd only get more weapons and more fighting skills and at some point I started to crave for something more than just that, seeing there were those nice quirky skills and techniques the Tech-Priest and the Psyker could get, plus the Assassin and the Cleric were far superiour to Stern in close-combat... Wanting to maintain some of the gun-ho attitude of Stern's, Xanthia originated from Gunmetal City on Scintilla, the capital planet of Calixis Sector, and always carried with her dual pistols, or autoguns, at a later stage. Which she kept losing on a regular basis, given that characters from Gunmetal City get a huge minus to several stats whenever they're not possessing a firearm... So then, she had to rely on the psychic abilities to get those damn guns back! Playing a Psyker was very much fun and I believe our GM enjoyed having two Psykers (Xanthia and Tybalt) in the fray, as it meant lots of psychic phenomena occurrences, daemons, chaos and insanity - and that just in the breakfast table, as we somehow almost always managed to not get any phenomena during the most critical moments... Don't know why that happened.

Xanthia's other quirks were her deep love for a young Cleric she knew during her training on Terra, hatred/fear for the actual trainer, affection for her whimsical brother and distrust towards her sister, whom she met for the first time after returning from the voyage with the Black Ships. She was also devoted to the God-Emperor and was proud to get to work for an Inquisitor; although she liked to keep her own head rather than just blindly follow commands given to her. She was a mind-controlling type of a Psyker, although her skills reached their full height slowly - but towards the end of the campaign she could kill a Sororitas from 10m away by having her head explode internally. She didn't last a lot of damage though, so she was often the first one to go down - most of her skills required her to get close-by and the pistol didn't have a huge range either, so she got mixed up in a melee a bit too easily, if she didn't use a rifle for the shooting.

Our campaign plot took us far and wide, but mostly towards the "north" if you look at a map of the Calixis Sector. Two of our characters at least were born on Scintilla, so we had plenty of adventures there too and this one time we even made a gruesomely long journey to Terra, because we felt we had to get counsel from the God-Emperor himself, as all his agents that we knew of seemed to be more or less untrustworthy... After some years of playing we left the employ of our Inquisitor, got a spaceship of our own and continued on our holy mission of fulfilling a prophecy about the destructions of Calixis Sector, being all the time vary for both the enemies of the Empire and our former employer, who might or might not have liked that we stole away with the prophesied Messiah-character in the middle of the night, so to speak. Things were starting to look grim and there was tech-heresy and dealings with daemons to spare, but eventually it all culminated in a high-level battle between a Mistress of Assassins, a daemonhost and a daemonspawn - and us, the PCs. Naturally we kicked all of their asses, but not completely without casualties - some from our midst were lured in by corruptive powers, while others stood fast defending those they loved, and still others, those they believed would be able to save to day. And saved it was too, although the two (or was it three?) approaching armies might have had something to say to our PCs once they got to the hill where we conveniently ended our campaign.

I enjoyed playing Heresy very much and the players who I played it with are still all very good friends of mine, even though it was already been some years since the campaign ended... Maybe, when the second editions rules come out, we could play an anniversary mini-campaign, or something such. I should definitely suggest it to the GM. Not with the same characters, though. I think it's good to leave things as they were left. That way the story can go on forever, in my mind.


  1. Running this campaign was a hell of a ride! My exasperation at trying to schedule the thing approached critical levels at times (as it does with pretty much every campaign), but the sessions themselves were always wonderful.

    Ever since the whole prophecy thing surfaced (i.e. pseudo-classical syllables I strung together because someone asked what a more-or-less random book was about, I think) and took a turn for the epic I've been of a mind to run a "next generation" sort of campaign: the Calixis Sector some time, say a century, after the events of the original campaign. The region would have changed quite a bit, not least because of the major cult you guys ended up founding.

    I doubt I'll ever return to the WH40k RPG system, but I'd love to get back to the world we created during those three fruitful years. There's at least one Apocalypse World hack for the setting, so there's hope yet!

  2. Just tell me when and where and I'll be there! And I'm pretty sure the others will too. Then we can make our own darths&droids. :D

  3. Oh, Heresy ♥ :D Scarlet still has a place as one of my favourite characters, not least because I was with her so long. I occasionally find myself missing her, and the others, but you're right; we've done everything we need to do with these characters, and the rest is up to our own imagination.

    Also, an anniversary mini-campaign is an excellent idea.