Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Feel like rooting out heretics and mutants? Gimme a call.


I've got a lot of homework to do.

By popular request (well, from two people anyway) I will soon begin a Dark Heresy campaign (that's the Warhammer 40,000 RPG). The core rules are more-or-less similar to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, but they've tweaked it a bit to account for things like powered armor, fully automatic heavy bolters, and the like.

The Warhammer 40K universe is really interesting, because it's essentially a science fiction setting with a medieval outlook and attitude. Technology is poorly understood; even those who have the skill to repair technological items don't know how to create them. Most warp-capable (that is, faster-than-light) ships are literally thousands of years old, and are considered to be alive by their crews. Regular maintenance on high-tech items is ritualized: when a tech-priest fixes something, he doesn't conceive of himself as diagnosing and fixing a problem, but as performing a rite or catechism to ensure that "the Machine Spirit is within."

Like fantasy Warhammer, the concept of mutations, Chaos, etc., is fully formed here. The "Warp" (hyperspace) is a great scapegoat for all of this (after all, even in the fantasy game "warpstone" is considered the raw stuff of chaos). Denizens of this universe follow the Imperial Creed - that is, they worship the Emperor, to whom 1,000 souls are sacrificed every day. The Emperor is 10,000 years old, and only his pyschic energy (manifesting throughout the universe as a "Astronomican" beacon used by Navigators) keeps the Warp, and the unspeakable creatures within it, at bay.

All in all, the Warhammer 40K universe has a lot more in common with Dune or the silly Riddick movies than it does, say, Star Wars.

Characters in this dark future are Acolytes, agents of the Inquisition. Their adventures basically consist of rooting out heretics, mutants and aliens (all of which are equally despised by all right-thinking Humans). The adventures that have come out for this game so far are really well-done - rich, detailed, ultraviolent and ironic - the way any Warhammer game should be.

Players of the Dawn of War real-time strategy game for the PC will know at least a bit about the Warhammer 40K universe but it's a huge place. So huge that it's going to take three separate, stand-alone games to account for it all (Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, and Deathwatch, only the first of which is out). I'm not sure how to even begin to introducing this huge universe to new players. Even the "house" setting for the game, the Calixis Sector, is way too big for any single group to explore. And the culture is so richly detailed, with some 30 years of tradition behind it, that I'm worried about overloading players with "too much detail."

Product-wise the books look very good and they're packed with info (too much, maybe). If I have any complaint, it's that the designers clearly take themselves and the 40K universe very seriously. There's not even a tiny bit of what I think of as the "trademark" black humor of Warhammer. That's OK. I think the players and I will end up adding that ourselves, whether we mean to or not.

Nevertheless, if I said I wasn't looking forward to this, I'd be lying. I got the old rules for the Warhammer 40K miniatures game for Christmas in 1986, and at the time I wondered why there was no RPG version.

Well, now there is, and I'm set to play it with my son, who is now the same age I was then. If I can create some good memories for him this campaign will be worth it.

Let's just hope Cole doesn't play the rules-lawyer too much. There are a lot of damn rules in this game. :)

1 comment:

  1. hey. i got bored and read this here web log of yours. I'm going to lawyer your face off on Monday for that last line.

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