The Analog Gamer: Heretical Review
I’ve made no secret that I’m a fan of the Warhammer 40K games, both digital and analog – though the cost of entry generally has kept me away from the tabletop versions of Warhammer 40K. I’ve lapped up reading materials, novels, and enjoyed the story put forth in the various video games that have graced both the PC and consoles over the last two decades but the one thing I’ve always craved was to bring the dark gothic universe of the Space Marines to life in a tabletop role-playing game session.
The process of conversion never went smoothly for me because I often found it hard to grab players the way the setting had grabbed me as both a DM and fan. When I first heard about the Warhammer 40K based RPG Dark Heresy I was jumping out of my seat in excitement.
Finally, an officially licensed and sanctioned RPG was coming!
Finally, I could hand a player a rulebook and let it sell the setting for me, I could work more on creating epic tales and framing character stories instead of worrying about the minutia of a rule conversion and balance!
Well Dark Heresy hit the street in a bittersweet event that has upset many fans of the game and those with high hopes for the continued expansion of the 40K universe outside the miniature rules or in video games. Not because of its lack of quality or faith with the setting but because of a business decision by Black Industries, the game’s publisher.
Immediately upon launch it was announced the line would end with just three books. Three Books? Would that be worth the investment or was I better off going back to the conversion drawing board? How could they possibly translate this system in three tomes? Well I picked up the core book with trepidation and began to read. Did they make a worthy game? Was it worth the $50 investment? Well let me tell you..
I’m going to break with standard review tradition here and just blurt it out:
YES, YES oh most definitely YES! Dark Heresy is an excellent work with high production values, beautiful artwork and a real sense of setting and tone ebbing from every description on every page.
The system is based on the core of the recently redesigned and relaunched Warhammer Fantasy system and while it may not be the mechanical ruleset I usually favor it is in its core very simple to grasp and suits the setting’s medieval meets magi-punk taints very well.
Initially I had expected to be disappointed – the game does not star Space Marines or many of the armies of the tabletop game, instead concentrating on the Inquisition and its Acolytes. The change of pace from the large-scale war zones of the minis game is fitting. Dark Heresy is a game about humanity and its fight against the corruption that infests the 40K universe. Players seek out chaos, unearth secret cults and fight the forces of the warp to protect the empire and do the will of the Emperor without all the fanfare of the Blood Angels or Ultramarines or even the Imperial Guard behind them.
Dark Heresy is much more a game of investigation and horror, an X-files style experience if you will that asks players in their varied roles to aid the forces of the Empire to root out secret cults and fend off the alien influences on the countess worlds of the Imperium.
In short while it may not be a bombastic combat heavy game in its core it does allow for a very diverse array of game styles that can be just as interesting.
The rules presented in the core explain the basic system and deliver players a number of interesting options. Beginning players, as is tradition in the Warhammer RPG settings, are nobody scum with limited ability and influence but can rise to become heroes quickly should they survive their experiences. Roles from Tech-priest to Scum allow players to customize skills and traits from a wide list of choices as they progress along their chosen career path.
Advancement ironically feels to me very similar to the system used in many MMORPGs today. Players advance in rank and are given points to purchase abilities and talents. These choices determine ultimately which path the player will take and since many classes offer diverging skills at the upper tier of progression there are a lot of customization options that make playing the same class vastly different multiple times depending on simple choices.
All the staples of the 40K universe are here but many go unmentioned in this book. There is nary a mention of the mechanics behind the Eldar or Dark Eldar. No Tau or Necron and Greenskins like the Orcs are mentioned in passing and players seeking to experience life in the Adeptus Astartes – or Space Marine Corps – will find even the most developed Acolytes of the Inquisition will hardly stand up to the pinnacle of warfare that are the Space Marines. Instead the focus is squarely on the subtle and secret corruptions of Chaos and Xenos on the average world of the setting.
The Calixis Sector serves as the core setting, being just a small part of the entire 40K universe but offers plenty of worlds and plot hooks for DMs to manipulate to tell the sort of tale their players might want. Those who prefer politics and intrigue will find the information on the politics of the Inquisition interesting and includes plenty of jumping off points for that sort of tale. Those more interested in research and discovery have a playground of exploration ready to go and if you prefer guns-ablazin’ action and eradication campaigns the system has plenty of support for that at well.
It is unfortunate that Black Industries, the publisher of this game has decided that the RPG industry is not profitable (despite the fact Dark Heresy sold out of its initial printing almost as soon as it was announced), and players can find some god support on the publisher’s website for now with free expansion rules and three major upcoming releases over the next year. Dark Heresy is nearly 400 pages of full color, well written setting material for Warhammer 40K and fans of the setting who don’t want to run the system should not think twice about making the purchase. Since the game is already discontinued however you should move fast picking it up as the print run will likely be exhausted with no more coming anytime soon and no PDF distribution in place.
Here are some web links to help you discover just why I’m so interested in the Dark Heresy game and its setting: