Dark Heresy Review part 2
Sunday 25th November 2012
In my local regular gaming circle I tend to fall into the role of Gamesmaster, mostly because it's where I'm happiest. I guess I am at heart a storyteller, plus I'm a massive control freak and also love being the center of attention!
I've run a few Dark Heresy games over the years, and am currently in the process of wrapping one up even now, so I thought that today I'd tell you about how I run my games and share a few anecdotes as well.
When I run Dark Heresy I tend to take a very similar route to when I run Call of Cthulhu, in regards to pacing, plot and tone. Really I see Dark Heresy as CoC in space; there are eldritch horrors lurking just beyond the physical world and learning of them can (and will) drive the average person insane.
The first long-term Dark Heresy campaign I ran lasted just over a year and centered around a small group of civilians who ended up as a senior Interrogator's preferred agents and eventually became his acolytes.
Those characters were Lupa the psyker, who had an affinity for stealth and a love of the brown-out power for breaking and entering; Octavius the tech priest, who just couldn't help himself when it came to forbidden lore; Albrect the arbiter, the party meat-shield who was mortally scared of females thanks to a close call with a daemonette; and Fraal the guardsman, a feral warrior from an oceanic planet with a love of sniper rifles.
The core plot of the campaign I ran for these guys concerned the dire machinations of Solkhan the Infernal; a Thousand Sons Space Marine sorcerer who was flooding the Hazeroth Abyss subsector with warp-tainted artefacts with the help of a corrupt noble house and their minions.
I ran the game weekly and broke it up into small chapters, with each chapter concerning a new mission the party had been given by their Interrogator handler, Septimus.
Many (but not all) of the missions revolved around either one of the many warp artefacts released into the subsector by Solkhan or the plots of the corrupt House Voross, Solkhan's unwitting but equally evil lackies.
Not every chapter concerned the main plot, of course, so the action was occasionally broken up by one-off investigations, such as one mission that concerned a number of young nobles who had been killed in a rash of bizarre accidents. Said nobles all belonged to the same gentleman's club and had won large amounts of money from another noble at cards. The noble had subsequently turned to sorcery to get rid of the men he owed money to.
I tend to run my Dark Heresy games with a heavy emphasis on investigation and leg-work, with short action scenes to break things up. With the above-mentioned sorcerous-murder mission, the party spent a lot of time talking to the victims' families, inspecting the crime scenes for clues and reading hand-outs (I always think giving the players a piece of paper to read to each other is infinitely better than reading it out yourself, it sometimes leads to them making some hilarious conclusions).
The only time the party got into an action scene was when they finally connected all the dots and went to confront the noble who was responsible for everything. The noble set his house guards on the party and, after a brief fire-fight in a well-appointed salon, the party captured the noble and brought
him to justice.
I do make sure that I occasionally mix up the formulae as well. Every now and then I run combat-heavy games, just as sometimes I run very social-orientated games where the characters who took Charm and Command get to hog the limelight.
When writing games I tend to look for inspiration in other media. I've run games based on episodes of the X-Files, the Relic (as in the 1997 horror film) and, of course, HP Lovecraft novels.
One of the best games I ran was a direct retelling of Lovecraft's "The Innsmouth Look", but substituting Deep Ones for Beastmen and moving the story to a remote feral world.
The party were sent to locate an Inquisitorial researcher who had suddenly vanished, and the trail led them to the remote village of Greenspire in the darkened forests of Dwimlicht. In this village; a vile, decrepit place, the party encountered a number of odd-looking locals who told them they'd never heard of the researcher, despite evidence to the contrary.
Forced to spent the night in the village, the party were forced to sneak out of their room in the local inn, evade hostile locals and managed to witness a host of twisted beastmen emerging from the forest to talk with the locals.
It turned out the researcher had, in his studies, learned that he was a descendant of the people of that corrupted village and that he too had the 'Greenspire Look'. Unable to resist his heritage, the researcher had returned home and fallen to Chaos.
The party were forced to evade the beastmen in a midnight dash through the forest, witness a horrific chaos ritual in the depths of the woods and survive until morning when they managed to locate friendly forces and arrange an Imperial Guard strike on the area.
I'm told it left a lasting impression on my party!
One last story. Many people who know me and my gaming group often assume Brianna is based on my wife (they have similar temperaments). However the character most inspired by my wife is actually Lyle. Rhi played Lupa the Psyker and there is one story concerning her that my friends often relate.
During a mission in which the party were sent into the underhive to trace shipments of heretical artefacts Lupa attempted, as she had many times before, to break a digital lock by using her Brown Out psychic power.
However, on this attempt, Rhi managed to roll a psychic phenomena which then turned into a full-blown Peril of the Warp. Rolling on the Peril of the Warp chart revealed that Lupa had called down a Ethereal Storm, causing 10 damage to every sentient creature within 800 meters.
Now in the underhive you can pack a lot of people into 800 meters and although 10 damage won't kill most people, it will kill anyone with a low number of wounds; namely children, the sick and the old.
So when the party gathered around Lupa to wait for her to break a lock in the way she'd done dozens of times before, they suddenly heard a cacophony of screams and yells as around them dozens of people suddenly keeled over dead.
The party, sensing that the underhive would quickly become a very bad place to be, legged it; abandoning their mission and vowing never to speak of the incident again.
I really can see Lyle, Krin and co doing exactly the same thing!
Dark Heresy review part 1
Sunday 18th November 2012
So, Dark Heresy.
I'm not going to claim that it's a ground-breaking game in terms of game mechanics or setting, because it's not. However, what it represented to Warhammer 40,000 fans was pretty damn important.
I had been a Warhammer Fantasy and 40k fan since I was about 11 and one of my first experiences of roleplaying games was the original Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (known to most as WFRP, which we pronounced 'woof-rup') which my friends and I played avidly.
After a few years we began asking each other "Why isn't there a 40k version of this?"; we'd played other sci-fi RPGs and the idea of a game set in the grimdark universe of the Imperium was the holy grail for us. Like many 40k fans who'd played WFRP, I attempted to run a 40k roleplay game using the WFRP rules as a base. It wasn't great, but my friends and I certainly enjoyed it.
Then, finally, in 2008 Games Workshop and Black Industries released Dark Heresy. For those of us who'd been waiting almost 22 years for it, the game was near-perfect. Now we could finally play citizens of the Imperium and take on the vile threats of the heretic, the daemon and the xeno.
Dark Heresy's game system was very close to the WFRP version 2 system developed by Green Ronin and, as my friends and I were big fans of WFRP2, that was no bad thing. The stats were very closely related to the tabletop games and it's a nice easy system to master and allows you to cover a lot of situations simply. The only areas were the system falls down are handling two-weapon fighting, which is a nightmare of conflicting rules that still aren't overly obvious even today after multiple rules clarifications, and the lack of rules for action scenes such as high-speed pursuits (some house rules fixed this for my gaming group, what's a good RPG without a speeder chase?).
A major gripe many fans quickly had with Dark Heresy was the game's intended default style.
Dark heresy was intended as a investigation/ horror game, not an action/ adventure game; you start out as a lowly human operative of the Inquisition and, even after a fair bit of experience, that is where you remain. You're not a heroic champion, or an Inquisitor, and definitely not a Space Marine. Starting Dark Heresy characters are poorly-equipped, poorly-prepared and their best defence when encountering a daemon or some of the nastier xeno species is to run away, rather than fight.
Further more, the core rulebook lacked any stats for traditional enemies such as orks, eldar and genestealers, focusing instead on cultists and minor daemons.
Those wanting a more run-and-gun style of play could easily adapt the rules to include more action and allow characters more freedom, but the people itching to play a member of the noble Astartes would have to either wait 2 years until Deathwatch came out. Either that or make up their own rules.
Similarly the Gamesmasters who wanted to pit their players against an ork invasion or the threat of a Dark Eldar blood cult would have to make up their own stats.
Generally though the fans of 40k were overjoyed with Dark Heresy but, only three days after its release, Games Workshop announced that it was closing Black Industries and therefore killing off Dark Heresy before it could even get started. Shocked and betrayed was an understatement to describe how the fan-base felt. How could GW do this to us after we had waited so long?
However, less than a month later, Dark Heresy was saved when Black Industries revealed that Fantasy Flight Games had purchased the rights to continue publishing it and, better yet, to develop more games. The first few books FFG released, such as Creatures Anathema and Disciples of the Dark Gods, assured the die-hard fans who'd been muttering that a non-GW company could never do the games justice that FFG were worthy inheritors of Black Industries' legacy.
So now, four years later, there are over 20 books for Dark Heresy, including two adventure campaigns - The Haarlock Legacy and The Apostasy Gambit- and all of them are pretty damn good.
Dark Heresy opened the way for more Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying games to be developed and it introduced a number of people who'd only played the tabletop games into the world of dice and paper roleplaying.
Most dedicated Dark Heresy players and Gamesmasters have developed their own house rules and styles of play, and all of us have our own favourite stories of gaming sessions both good and bad. Next week I'll bore you all with a few choice stories from the various Dark Heresy games I've run and played in over
Sunday 11th November 2012
So I've had a LOT of responses from people about what to write about in these blogs and some really good suggestions. Also some really weird suggestions, but less about that.
By far the most common suggestion were requests for reviews of the various Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Deathwatch and Black Crusade series of roleplaying games, and stories from the various games I've alluded to before.
So, starting next week, I will be doing a weekly review of each of the four games (and possibly a review of Only War if I can get my hands on a copy as well!) and adding a few stories from the campaigns I've run over the years.
After that, who knows!
And now for something a bit more serious.
This year I've decided to join the Movember initiate and grow some extra facial hair in order to show my support for men's health. Some of you may know that I normally sport a goatee and, as I was loath to shave it off, I decided I had to aim to grow something extra. As such I'm going to try and grow a Souvarov so I can look like a Victorian gentleman of means!
I'd love it if my readers could show a little support (and help me one-up my work colleagues by getting more donations than them) and sponsor me to make myself look stupid for a month.
Even if each of you could spare only a single dollar, pound or throne gelt I think we could raise a fair bit of cash.
So, if you're interested in sponsoring me (and watching the progress of my facial hair) please visit my Movember page
and leave me words of support and maybe a small donation!
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