Designer Diary: Variations on a Theme

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Incoming Astropathic Transmission

Greetings, Dark Heresy fans! As I write this, GenCon 2008 is almost upon us. I am greatly looking forward to the show, of course — it's a great place to see all that is new and exciting in this great hobby of ours. In addition to that, I am also anticipating meeting several Dark Heresy players and GMs. One of the things I love most is sharing stories, and hearing tales of amazing luck (or terrible misfortune!), derring-do, and creative moments that all come together into something I like to call "bragging rights." Every player has a moment he remembers well from a roleplaying game, and Dark Heresy certainly encourages some interesting moments…

Whether for comedy or horror, courage or the wildly fluctuating influence of chance, role–playing stories are a big part of the experience. So, if you're going to be attending the show, drop on by the FFG booth and look me up! We'll be at booth #321. I'm always interested in gaming, so things won't go amiss if you know of a Dark Heresy game or two that has an open seat during the weekend…

And Now, On With the Show

I promised in an earlier designer diary that I wanted to talk about different ways to play Dark Heresy. Naturally, the core experience of Dark Heresy is one where the player characters are Acolytes serving an Inquisitor, rooting out the enemies of the Imperium from within. But that's not the ONLY experience the game can offer. With such a rich and deep background of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, there are quite a few different ways to explore it, using Dark Heresy and the Calixis Sector as a framework. I'll list some examples below of campaigns that use Dark Heresy to create unusual opportunities for adventure.

There is Only War:
The player characters are all part of an Imperial Guard unit of infantry. The Cleric is the unit Confessor, while the roles of the Guardsman and Assassin are fairly obvious. The Arbitrator makes for a good hard-nosed squad-leader type, while the Adept could be re-imagined as a brains-over-brawn recruit from a University Scholam. The experience for these characters focuses on military action, with plenty of exciting raids and special operations behind the lines. The HBO Series Band of Brothers is an excellent resource for this kind of campaign.

Precinct Scintilla:
The player characters are all part of an Adeptus Arbites investigation or special crimes unit. Imagine this campaign as Law and Order, 40K-style. You could think of it another way as "Heresy Site Examination." Pretty much any police drama would provide a good place to start, and as a bonus, it's not difficult at all to adapt adventure hooks aimed at Inquisitors and Acolytes into similar avenues that the Arbites could explore. The downside here is that an Arbites team would be more limited in terms of range, mostly confined to a single planet or system rather than being able to range at will. On the flip side, some campaigns really benefit from a tighter focus and really digging into the details of a particular city or world.

Chainmail & Lasguns:
The Feral and Fuedal worlds of the Calixis Sector make really interesting settings for a group of player characters to interact with. The characters could all be the retainers of a particular Feudal World ruler or noble, dealing with the challenges of lower technology with the benefits of advanced skills and training. On a world where knights on horseback are the premier weapon of war, a hellgun or bolter can really make a group stand out! Perhaps the characters were merely stranded on the planet by a crash landing and are seeking either to escape back into the mainstream Imperial civilization, or perhaps the characters are instead seeking to bring the Feudal world up into a more advanced and contemporary planet.

Well, hopefully those ideas above can provide some inspiration for using Dark Heresy in unique ways. I think that Dark Heresy has a lot to offer, and like many role-playing games, quite a bit of those near-limitless possibilities are found beneath the surface. Like a still pool, one must gaze deeper to find the true depth.

The Next Step

Now that the reprint of the Dark Heresy core rulebook is on the shelf, it will soon be followed by the Inquisitor's Handbook, Purge the Unclean, and the GM's Toolkit (detailed in a previous Designer Diary). As an added bonus, the books are all hardcover and full color. And hot on their heels will be Disciples of the Dark Gods! I've mentioned this book a couple of times in designer diaries, but I will be giving you a much more detailed look in the next update. I just need to find some particularly juicy bits to showcase. Hmmm, perhaps the evil plots of the Logicians, or should I instead cover the horrific mystery of the Murder Room? Decisions, decisions…

Until next time, may the light of the Golden Throne show you the way!