Only War Review

Finally, the last of the FFG 40K RPG reviews!

Only War came out a little while back and I've only recently got a hold of the books and run a game.
Just to cover the basics, Only War is Gaunt's Ghosts the RPG. You play Imperial Guardsmen and the standard setting for the game seems to be a blend of Saving Private Ryan and the Dirty Dozen.

Players can choose from a number of Imperial Guard classes such as Heavy Gunner, Medic, Operator (that's a tank or sentinel driver) or a specialist class such as Engineseer, Ogryn, ratling or psyker.
As the system follows on from Black Crusade the skills and talents aren't bought from class-based lists but instead any character can buy any skill or talent. What has been added as 'Aptitudes' which are set by your homeworld and class. Each skill and talent now has 2 aptitudes listed and if you have one you get a discount to buy the skill; if you have both you get a further discount.
It's a nice way of doing things, although the only problem is there's no way of changing aptitudes or buying new ones, so once you've made your choice of class you're pretty stuck as for what your primary skills will likely be. That said, if you really want to play a heavy gunner with stealth you can still do so, just expect to progress slower than your squadmates who are happy to buy their cheaper skills.

A major part of character generation is deciding the player's regiment. All characters hail from the same regiment and the book provides a few examples such as Cadians, Catachans, Mordians and the Calixis-based Maccabian Janissaries. There are also rules for creating your own regiments, which work very well.
Regiments work like Homeworlds, setting the character's starting skills, equipment and abilities.

Another new edition are Comrades. Every character (bar a few classes) all have a pet NPC called a comrade (or Redshirt, as I like to call them). These guys are there to bulk out the rest of the player's squad and die at the drop of a hat. Comrades are controlled by the players and grant characters bonuses to hit, aid them with skills and so on. They're also expected to die fairly regularly, hinted to by the list on the character sheet by the long space with column headings of 'Comrade name' and 'Cause of death'.
Comrades are a nice mechanic, and really add flavour to the squad when you generate them thanks to a huge table of pre-set personality types. When running the game for my friends we managed to generate an Oblivious driver's mate, a psychopathic loader for the heavy gunner and an incompetent spotter for the squad sniper.

As Only War centres around the Imperial Guard the rules are heavily canted towards mass combat and war world stories. There are some nice rules for tanks and armoured combat, with a few examples of classic vehicles including the Leman Russ, Chimera, Hellhound and Sentinel.
As with Deathwatch, Black Crusade and Rogue Trader, there is an example mission layout to help gamesmasters quickly put together missions for their games, although I found it to be too heavily combat-orientated.
The appeal of the Gaunt's Ghosts novels is the inter-squad relationships, as well as the high-octane battles, and that is the kind of thing I'd want to have in my games. It's not a great stretch to add such encounters, but by the rules they're not standard fare.

One thing that surprised myself and my players when we started the game was the level of destruction a payer squad can unleash on the enemy. When you play Deathwatch and Black Crusade (and even Rogue Trader to an extent) you start out with the idea that your characters are above normal humans. In Only War you play bog-standard guardsmen, and we were kind of expecting them to act as such.
However, as I said earlier, this is kind of like the 40k version of the Dirty Dozen.

When we started the game I let my players generate their own regiment and they settled on the idea of an Armoured Company. That means the squad started with their own tank. Luckily they'd already mentioned this concept to me, so I'd written the game accordingly, but as soon as we got into the first encounter it quickly became apparent how badass a squad of troops inside a Leman Russ can be.
I think that, much like the Gaunt's Ghosts novels, the combat is almost secondary in Only War; a framing device against which to set the more personal drama of the story.

Black Crusade review

So before Christmas I started a series of reviews, giving you my views on the FFG range of 40k roleplay games. I went through Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader and Deathwatch but never finished the series. So now here's the much-delayed Black Crusade review, and next week I'll go onto Only War.

Black Crusade is the fourth FFG 40k RPG and it departs rather daringly from the other games in the series by staring not loyal Servants of the Imperium but instead the insidious minions of the Ruinous Powers!
In Black Crusade you play either Chaos heretics or Chaos Space marines, trying to earn the favour of the dark gods of Chaos and avoid mutation and death in the process.

Like all the games before it, Black Crusade takes the previous game system (in this case Deathwatch) and updates and alters it slightly.
The BC system is pretty similar in many respects to its forbears, except that the rules have had a MAJOR tightening up. The Black Crusade version of the 40k RPG system is the best version to date; a lot has been stripped back and it makes running and playing the game so much easier.
There is also another major change. Gone is the skills-by-classes system; instead now any character can purchase any skill or talent they want. However, each skill, talent and even stat has an associated Chaos power; the more you buy of a certain set of skills and talents, the more into the sway of that god you fall. Subsequently the other skills in that set become cheaper, so the more you buy, so the more in the sway of that god you become. A deliciously downward spiral!

It's quite a clever system, in my opinion. If you want to play a close-combat specialist with a love of chainaxes and lots of strength you will invariably become a minion of Khorne. Social thinky characters are drawn to Tzeentch. And so on.
The only problem is, as we found in the Black Crusade game I ran, that this can lead to either one of two eventualities.
Eventuality one is that characters end up with very similar skill sets (i.e. all the Khorne worshippers become frenzied close-combat monsters), which I guess does synch up with the idea that most chaos worshippers end up very similar. The other possibility is that characters who spread their skills out across the skill trees end up with no allegiance to a god and thus end up paying a high price in exp for all their skills and talents.
Basically it comes down to deciding if you want to play a very specialised character and then dedicating yourself to a chosen god, or remaining a jack-of-all-trades and paying a high price for your skills. Again, I guess this does match up with how the fluff describes Chaos worship; you don't get anywhere sitting on the fence.

A new stat is also added to the game; Infamy. Infamy is a measure of how, well, infamous a character is. As you further your efforts to become a champion of the dark gods your Infamy increases, which can be used to cow lesser servants of Chaos, obtain equipment and so on.

One thing Black Crusade does marvellously is making Chaos seem like a damn good choice in the grimdark world of the 41st millennium.
Each of the Chaos powers is described from a very neutral standpoint; Khorne is laid out as the martial god of strategy, honour and skill in combat. Tzeentch is the god of freedom, wisdom and learning. Slaanesh is worshipped by idealists, artists and perfectionists and Nurgle is a caring god who lovingly watches all those in his care.
You can quite easily see people turning to Chaos for such reasons, only for them to slowly be twisted into the slavering heretics we know so well from the viewpoint of the Imperium.

One problem I did have when running Black Crusade for my friends is that the power level is on a par with Rogue Trader. Characters are assumed to be minor champions when they start play and as such can use their Infamy stat to obtain gear, weapons and services.
As I said in my Rogue trader review, I like my characters -whether I'm playing or running a game- to have to work to for their shiny toys. By just rolling against a stat to obtain new gear it feels a little too... easy.
I realise that the rolls are probably meant to be used in conjunction with some roleplaying to get gear, but I can't help feeling that there could have been slightly more added to the system to augment this.

The default setting for Black Crusade is the Screaming Vortex; a stable and massive warp-storm located between the Calixis Sector and the Kronos Expanse that is home to dozens of worlds under varying degrees of Chaos control. The characters are assumed to have come to the Vortex seeking glory and to eventually recruit enough followers to launch a titular Black Crusade into Imperial space.
While the Screaming Vortex is a very nicely detailed setting, with some cool proto-daemon worlds ripe for adventuring, I feel that FFG missed an opportunity. By default the enemies most Black Crusade characters will face will be other minions of Chaos, not Imperials. While this highlights the fractious nature of Chaos worshippers, most people I know would want to tear their way across Imperial planets wreaking havoc, rather than fight other Chaos worshippers.
Of course, there is a sense in having less powerful chaos characters limited to the 'safe zone' of the Screaming Vortex; a small group of heretics loose in the Imperium is quickly going to attract the attention of the Inquisition. But still, it would have been nice to have some more non-Chaos planets added to the setting.

All in all, Black Crusade is a great setting with a very nice system behind it. Never has playing a minion of the Dark Powers been so much fun!

Ka-bam!

Hah, I'm not dead! Here's a comic strip!

Yeah, I've managed to get back into the swing of things once more. Sorry for the completely erratic updates of late.

Later y'all!

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