Friday, 24 July 2020

Dark Heresy: Vindet Intro

Well it has been nearly a year since I posted and everything is so totally fucked worldwide that it seemed like a good time to come back and finish what I started, namely chronicling the tale of a Dark Heresy RPG that I ran through three major arcs over the course of most of a year. This is the second arc, with Spirebound being the first so go read that one if you care to proceed, the story will make more sense for it.

To briefly summarize, Spirebound saw our bumbling if stalwart group of Inquisition Interrogators attending a very high class party in the primary spire of a hive world at the incredibly vague behest of their unusually absent Inquisitor, Caspiel Rex. All they knew was that the nobles of this world had possibly been doing something bad and arrangements had been made in order for them to attend said party under cover and stop it, whatever it was. Through a little investigation, a bit of subterfuge and a whole lot of violence the group was able to foil a plot by the Planetary Governor's two sons to ritually sacrifice Gothic Sector High Commander Thaddeus Hale to the ruinous powers of chaos using a xenos artifact during a ball held in his honor, at the cost of their companion Sinric's life. In the aftermath of this who should show up but their Inquisitor, a couple new acolytes in tow and looking much worse for wear. He had been masquerading as one of the servant staff personally to try and find out who had given the Tarnells the alien artifact, suspecting the work of some great and shadowy adversary, when the brothers had divined his presence with warp trickery, beat the everloving shit out of him and tossed him down an elevator shaft. He survived with the help of his acolytes waiting in the wings, and while recovering in an Underhive hospital made arrangements for the party to handle the situation using his web of contacts.

Now in the aftermath he had another job for them. Just as vague unfortunately but much larger in scope.  Rex's investigations on Draxis Prime had cost him his hand and quite nearly his life, but it was not in vain. He had been able to confirm at least one critical clue, the xenos artifact the Tarnell brothers had used for foul warp augeries had in fact come from the Vindet system, a settled Imperial world on the edge of the Gothic sector, near the Halo stars. All he knew for sure was that whatever shadowy adversary had been eluding him all these years, they had recently spent some time in the Vindet system before granting the terrible artifact the forbidden knowledge required to use it to the Tarnell brothers. This was a more concise clue than he had ever been able to secure with certainty about this elusive and supremely clandestine foe. As he was in fairly poor shape and had other important tasks to attend to he commanded his acolytes to investigate for him, telling them that an Adept with the Departmento Munitorium on Vindet I would be meeting them to help them get their bearings and brief them with some intel he uncovered that may be useful. However Sinric was dead, and he required their Apostate Demios for a special task, and as such they would be assigned two new companions to fill the gaps, the same two that he brought with him.

As mentioned in the Spirebound finale Sinric's player was looking to try a new character concept he had come up with, which was the source of Sinric's heroic death in the first place. After Spirebound we all agreed that we wanted to keep playing and it was no longer gonna be a one-shot, and as such Demios' player decided that maybe a character who's gimmick was to roll perils of the warp as much as possible was not sustainable for long term play. Thus was the source of our two new characters, Sinric's player now playing Revalya and Demios' player now as Gamma Flair]

Gamma Flair had been standing in a casual yet disciplined at-ease stance during the debriefing. She was the model of military efficiency, having started her career as a pilot with the Imperial Navy and eventually becoming seconded to the Inquisition after witnessing the large-scale corrupting of a planet at the hands of the ruinous powers. She excelled within the strict operations of the Inquisition, and only recently was acquired as an asset by Rex. She looked at her motley crew of new companions with a mixture of disdain and disbelief, unsure how such an eclectic group could remain under cover for any duration of time. She was clad in a mostly unadorned dark Naval dress uniform with a set of Flak armour layered overtop, a black duffelbag containing her combat shotgun laden with tox-flachettes and her segmented electro-whip.

If Gamma Flair had an action figure it would have a button that, when pressed, would make the doll say "Is this really how an Inquisitor's primary cell operates?"

Completely in contrast was Revalya Teyatimei, who was leaned against one wall peering suspiciously at the party. She was draped in a deactivated cameoline cloak and matching hood, with only her face showing. Concealed under the cloak was no fewer than five different pistols in various holsters and pouches, ready to be slung out at a moments notice. Reva had struggled all her life, from her barely-remembered youth as a test subject in a lab to her subsequent escape to the harsh life in an Imperial Underhive and it had made her mistrustful but resilient. Her eyes had a peculiar quality about them that was hard to pin down, but her real shame was squarely atop her head and concealed by her cloak hood. A pair of small, sharp horns protruded from her black hair, a mutation on the holy human form forever marking her as a leper and outcast and ensuring a life of turmoil. She was picked up like many of the others in the party, a chance meeting with Inquisitor Rex while he was on the job saw him offer her a rare opportunity of employment, which she cautiously accepted. Now she served an organization that on the whole would prefer to see her dead, and she was acutely aware of this irony. During the introductions Rex alluded to the fact that it may be better if he informed the group of her condition, but she resisted and said in so many words that she would do it herself, only later.

I'd like to think the bumps on her head were a little less obvious than this, because the alternative is that poor Tancred Bram is both blind and not very smart (the latter I suppose was within the realm of possibility)


If you have read the first part of this tale you may notice an important point. Tancred Bram hated mutants. A lot, in fact, more than almost anything else. He spent all his pre-inquisition life battling against the mutant hordes that threatened his feudal homeworld and then after living with the bitter shame that a similar taint had gripped his own bloodline, right up until the Adeptus Mechanicus offered salvation in the arms of the Machine God. Both players were aware of the dynamic this character choice would cause, and not only did they go ahead anyways Reva's player elected to not have the secret shared in the relatively safe conditions made by the presence of their Inquisitor. I don't think any of us knew just how much this was going to effect the game moving forward but the shenanigans carried on right to the bitter end.]

And so their meeting with their Inquisitor ended. Rex went off to do Emperor only knows what with the party's erstwhile unsanctioned ex-deamonhost psyker and the group went off to make some acquisitions before they needed to depart. Thanks to a merchant who was hilariously bad at his job (and managed to roll over 80 on every single one of the opposed commerce checks he was called on to make) the group made away with a decent haul of acquisitions including a couple cybernetics. A couple days later and they were shuttled off to the belly of a merchant freighter arranged by their boss, very spartan but blissfully private quarters within its depths. Bram and Alycone both spent a bit of time under the knife on that voyage, Bram at the hands of Alcyone and Alcyone with the ship's medicae staff (much to the disapproval of Bram, who spent her entire three week recovery period in-transit pacing nervously outside her room). The rest of the group spent some time prying into Reva, wondering what terrible secret Rex alluded to her possessing that might require her to be under scrutiny. With some trepidation she finally relented, pulling back the hood to show Yarrow, Ceasar and Gamma her mutation. There was some uncomfortable silence, but eventually they relented that a secret mutant was overall probably less of a dangerous liability than an unsanctioned psyker. Yarrow however cautioned to not tell Bram until he had warmed up to her a bit, citing his usual rabid bloodlust against mutants as a reason.

At the end of it all the group had become mostly acquainted with their new members, Bram had added a manipulator mechadendrite arm to the list of limbs he could Punch with and Alcyone had a suite of augury and measurement tools hard-wired into the mechanical array of her head. A few days after Alcyone's surgical recovery was deemed finished the merchant vessel dropped out of warpspace in the periphery of the Vindet system.

As the ship began its five-day sublight transit to the capital world where they were to meet their contact Alcyone and Gamma got busy integrating as much information about the system as they could get their hands on, both through the planet's own noosphere networks and the merchant hauler's databanks. Vindet was a mixed bag of a system, home to a single major colony world, a bloated purple gas-giant with its mineral rich moon and a positively enormous and dense asteroid belt that ringed the system's white, angry sun. An abundance of resources in-system including valuable adamantium found in the gas giant's moon granted it a meteoric rise to prominence on the outskirts of the Gothic sector, and saw a significant Adeptus Mechanicus presence in Vindet I's capital city. The asteroid belt was ringed with countless installations such as mining platforms and had great swathes of unexplored or dark territory, where pirates were said to lurk. Vindet I also presently had a couple regiments of Imperial guardsmen stationed on-world, both Brontian and Cadian, deployed in order to help check the growing population of feral orks in the equatorial jungle regions had swelled and began to impact chemical refineries and mining interests in the area.

Eventually their ship merged with the great stream of vessels heading to and from Vindet I and began their final approach. The world itself had a number of orbital installations and a moderate shipyard, and once orbit with the planet was established the merchant vessel began to disgorge a massive number of shuttle and shipping craft, emerging like a brood of flies from a corpse and swarming towards the planet's surface. One such craft contained our squad of Interrogators and all their earthy possessions.

Nothing quite like a flying space cathedral orbital traffic jam

The world itself had very large regions of cold tundra, extending from the poles on either side of the planet with a verdant warm band around the equator and middling wetlands and stretches of desert between. The planetary Capital was known as Mecharius City after the Imperial Hero of the same name, and was a large metropolis situated in the frozen northern hemisphere of the world. As their shuttle rattled through atmospheric reentry and the frigid metropolis grew closer frost began to encrust the exterior windows. The small craft, one among thousands now ascending and descending to and from the chilly starport's snow-dusted tarmac, finally touched down. As the ramp descended a bitter cold wind blew into the shuttle interior with wisps of frost, and Ceasar loudly bemoaned their lack of appropriate cold weather gear.

Pulling their garments tight around them and hauling the bags containing their weapons and equipment, the party hurried across the landing pad to the warm inviting glow of the downport interior, determined to meet Adept Victris and get started on their vague and daunting task.

This picture was a gift from one of my players, and now that all the characters are present I can finally post the whole thing. Left to right is Inquisitor Caspiel Rex, Alcyone Saboris, Tancred Bram, Yarrow Able, Revalya Teyatimei, Gamma Flair and Ceasar Morroe

And so ends the introduction to the second act, with a modified cast aboard a diverse world and little in the way of leads or direction. This ended up being the second of three acts of the game, which ran for about a year in real time using very long 6-8 hour text-only game sessions through roll20 once every one or two weeks. I hope anyone other than me can find as much interest reading this as I do to write it, stay tuned for Vindet Part 1 coming soon!

Thursday, 25 July 2019

The Tragic Tale of the Argus 123rd Black Dogs

Welcome to another episode of Wyzack's tabletop storytime. This time I wanted to talk a bit about a one shot (which ended up being a two shot) of Only War, which I used as a way of convincing a few players skeptical about online tabletops that it could be a lot of fun. What ensued was a hilarious comedy of errors and a brilliant case study in how your players themselves can be a worse enemy than the most horrible machinations of Fate.

One of my favourite bits of Only War is the regiment creation, and I roped in the players to give me feedback and make something they thought sounded interesting. Since it was just to be a oneshot sort of game the longevity didn't matter much and we could basically pick whatever options sounded coolest with little thought for balance.

The players thought that a Death World would be a neat homeworld, but we were all sort of weary of the Catachan-style planet and opted for a terrible, inimical acid world where only horrible lifeforms could exist outside of the bio-domes. Stat-wise it would have probably been a better fit to use Hive World but whatever, they wanted a Death World so that's what we used. This had the twofold effect of allowing us to ape part of the Krieger/Armageddon aesthetic of gasmasks and greatcoats, which I really like, and the hilarious side-effect that the entire regiment was illiterate, as Death Worlders tend to be. The players were all sort of settling in to roles and in usual fashion I let the weapon specialist pick their favoured Basic weapon and the heavy weapon guy pick their favoured Heavy weapon (plasmaguns and mortars respectively. In spite of this the Weapons Specialist ended up dual wielding plasma pistols instead since i was being pretty permissive and it sounded cool). However the thing they became most fixated on during regiment creation was the Doomed drawback.

Like these guys but kind of dumb and with horrible luck rather than brainwashed murder machines

For the uninitiated in Only War regiment creation uses a points-based system to purchase special gubbins for your regiment, stuff like better standard issue gear and specialized training doctrines. There are also Drawbacks you can take that give you extra points to spend in exchange for certain penalties. Doomed is possibly the worst drawback you can have for the greatest point gain. Players can no longer burn fate points to survive lethal injuries, take penalties to all regimental logistics checks and the GM is encouraged to make other miscellaneous things go wrong at all times to make sure the penalty has teeth.

My players thought this was goddamn hilarious. They wanted it. They didn't even need the extra points, they were just certain they wanted to play some doomed troopers. We ended up blowing the extra points on gasmasks and a ton of extra grenades, and thus the Argus 123rd Black Dogs were born. Shortly after being mustered from their shithole acid planet and shipped off, the cruiser they were on suffered a catastrophic warp event in which 90% of all crew and soldiers completely and mysteriously vanished in transit, leaving the vessel crippled but mercifully in Imperial Space as it exited the Warp. Strangely enough, not a single member of the Argus 123rd was touched in any way during this event. Ever since they had been affixed with a black mark, a curse some said, and suffered a statistically unlikely string of catastrophes, bad luck and misfortune that caused terrible tolls on the regimental strength and morale as well as furthering their reputation.

I decided I wanted them up a little higher on the totem pole, so the party was going to be a Platoon Command Squad. We ended up with a heavy weapon mortar man, a medic, the aforementioned plasma pistoleer, a sanctioned psyker and a Sargent. A decent spread for an OW party. The Sargent player decided after some consideration that he thought it would be fun to play a completely inept noble sort of commissioned officer, the kind who has no business being on the field or in command of troops and was put there by nepotism rather than merit. It didn't quite fit with the regiment theme so we decided to make him be an outsider from another world, brought in likely as some form of punitive measure by someone he pissed off and shunted to the worst regiment that could be found. However the poor sod was too clueless to realize he was being punished and was quite excited about his new command job, likely because he didn't read any of the dossiers about the soldiers he would be commanding. The story was that the platoon was receiving a new Lieutenant after their last one died to an altogether unfortunate and unlikely plasmagun malfunction which caused it to explode.

Sort of like this except the blue explosion kept expanding and took poor Lt. Flower's organs and innards with it

The battlefield was a nothing world on the far edge of the Gothic Sector, a small pocket of space closed off for a few millennia by warp storms and recently reconnected only to reveal an isolationist human Empire of a few systems, clearly derived from the Imperium of Man at some point in the past few thousand years who's headstrong leader decided he was too good to rejoin the fold. Since unlike something like the Severam Dominate these secessionists were extremely small and not considered a significant threat only a token counter offensive was raised and the Argus 123rd was sent to assault a rather unremarkable temperate world with only a small enemy presence as the spearhead with a couple other regiments involved. Thanks to the shrewd politicking of the 123rd's ill tempered and weary Commander they had not only scored what should have by all right been an absolute milk-run of an invasion, he had actually convinced the Adminstratum to grant his beleaguered regiment custodianship of the planet should they succeed. The ultimate prize for an easy job, maybe their luck was finally changing. Of course the campaign had immediately been plagued by the usual string of horrid luck and misfortune, but even so they were slowly pushing back. The game started with the bulk of the Regiment gearing up for a mass offensive to finally take the last few secessionist holdouts, and 5th platoon was meeting their new CO Lieutenant Emilius Talbarne XXV for the first time, the replacement for the late Lieutenant Butch Flowers following his unfortunate plasmagun incident. The medic declared his official cause of death to be "Acute bodily redistribution".

  Emilius Talbarne's player was an absolute riot, and played the role of "clueless noble who has no business commanding soldiers" to an absolute T. He marvelled at the conditions they were living in and was quick to tell anyone who would listen about the various medals he had received for attending parties and dinners as the war-weary Deathworlders stared at him in a mix of horror and disbelief. As they all got comfortable and acquainted 3rd Company Captain Jovian shows up at the barrack to brief them and deliver the dossier for their mission. He is extremely nervous, mostly because the war seems to actually be going sort of well for a change and that can't possibly be good. The Regimental Commander and three companies of Infantry will be assaulting the Planetary Palace and capital city, while 3rd Company 5th Platoon got a pretty cushy objective. Take a small auxiliary base with a power plant and vox relay in it, couple guard towers and a chain-link fence with a dugout around it and roughly 20 enemies, a relatively easy objective for a full strength platoon. The dossier came with a few grainy pictures of said base and a list of mission assignment gear.

The players grabbed a bite in the mess and then went off to get their gear. Emelius thought that eating with the soldiers was a good bit of interesting fun, like going camping or something. The Medic and Psyker engaged in a spirited discussion about weather or not the regiment was actually cursed or not. The psyker swore he could see the blackness of the ruinous powers hovering over all of their heads, but the medic was certain it was just a bit of bad luck. There was no such thing as curses, after all!

Truly the Emperor's finest
Predictably, getting their mission assignment gear did not go well. The logistics roll was decent, but due to the penalties they had foisted on them from being Doomed they didn't get a single piece of the gear they were supposed to have (magnoculars, a targeteer for the mortar, a demolition pack for breaching and several smoke grenades.), instead getting only a single peculiar box that upon inspection contained several hallucinogen grenades. The party only narrowly managed to prevent the Medic from swapping the whole box for the Magnoculars, which he was utterly convinced were critical for mission success, but after that we were finally able to move on. (The main reason this took two sessions to play was because these players engaged with each other and any NPC they could chat up constantly. It made things move slowly but really added to the richness of the game world and we have a ton of fun doing it, so it was completely worth it.)

After a whole lot of fucking about, bickering and talking shit on their new CO who was too oblivious to notice they finally got the deployment underway. The lot of them were loaded up in trucks and dumped off in the middle of an eerily silent bombed out city and told their mission objective was a 20 minute march to the northwest. This was a little troubling given that the Dossier said their objective was supposed to be in the center of a field. Emelius had his vox operator call command and demand an explanation, but the overwatch operative simply stated the co-ordinates were correct as he had them and their orders stood, proceed to the objective and take it. This was not the end of their misfortune, however.

They picked carefully through the ruined city and finally got to the edge where the buildings thinned out. Across a 200 meter span of craters and rubble, squarely on the co-ordinates the mission objective had provided them, was a damned fortress with a rockrete perimeter wall, pillboxes and and outer trench. There also appeared to be more than twenty soldiers manning the walls. They considered radioing command again but had a feeling the answer would just be "The co-ordinates are correct, proceed to take the objective" (and to be fair they were correct) and didn't bother. Even so, their new untested Lieutenant began to panic. Likely both due to the precarious position they found themselves in and the prospect of an actual proper firefight so imminent.

Not willing to lose face Emelius snapped out of it and formulated a plan. The platoon's three mortar teams (plus the PC with the mortar, Margot Yu) would shell the base while the infantry squads took turns rushing across no-mans land and giving each other covering fire. It was not a terribly good plan, but it was a plan. Mortar salvos began launch across the no-mans land, and as the first shells fell Emelius ordered 6th squad out into the breach. Margot Yu managed to bullseye one of the pillboxes and cave it in, sustained mortar fire punched a small hole in a part of the fortress wall that had previously been patched and the rest of 3rd Platoon rushed out after 6th squad one at a time, both squads taking significant casualties from the withering incoming fire. After Emelius got dinged by a sniper thanks to the medals on his chest the poor sap decided to call a total charge and the rest of them headed out.

 This was pretty representative of everything Emilius attempted in the duration of this game

They exchanged fire with the remaining soldiers on the walls. Plasma, lasblasts and bullets flew all around and the group's psyker even managed to dominate the minds of a few enemies on the wall, causing one to throw away his gun like a javelin and one other to swan-dive off the parapet to his death. Against all odds (and no thanks to their leader's brilliant "plan") the remainder of 3rd platoon stacked up on the breached fortress wall. 6th squad was all but annihilated, 4th and 3rd were in rough shape, but they made it. The psyker, not willing to wait around and see what awful scheme their inept commander would cook up next, sprinted out into the breach without warning and caused his squadmates to pile in after him.

The base Interior contained several plan utilitarian looking buildings bearing dark green banners with the crest of the holdout regime. Many soldiers were milling about inside, moving crates for cover and starting to fire as the bald, gaunt visage of the psyker rounded the breach in their perimeter. Off to the left was a large ammunition dump, presumably full of explosives, shells, and ammunition for the various solid projectile weapons used by the secessionists, and trundling up next to it was a Chimera armoured transport, loaded for bear and tracking its multi-laser towards the breach in the wall.

[GM'S NOTE: I will fully admit here, I put that chimera in with no idea how my players were going to engage it. This was a one-off game and I was sort of hoping I could bag a player kill or two to up the tension a bit, and as far as I knew they didn't really have anything that could damage the front armor other than the rather unwieldly mortar. I will sometimes do this for games where I don't mind killing a player or two, drop something in that I have no idea how they will solve and see what they come up with. However this time, well, lets just say that the regiment may have been doomed but my players were fucking lucky as all hell.]

As the party's psyker rounded the corner he did not hesitate, digging deep and drawing heavily on the power of the warp to destroy his foes. The sky darkened, the air crackled, and the most massive barrage of fel lightning any of them had ever seen the psyker conjure arced and blasted across the landscape, causing all gathered there to squint at its vibrant fury. The Chimera was struck squarely, the multiple strikes arcing across its surface, scorching the hell out of it and slagging armor plates off the front. Smoke began to bellow out from the hatches but the gun somehow continued to track. The ground around the psyker quaked and buckled in protest of the massive power draw.

[GM'S NOTE: Defying all probability the psyker pushed, cast smite, and got 9 degrees of success. With a psy-rating of 5 this meant the Chimera took 5 damage rolls with a penetration of 4, generated Emperor's fury twice, and managed to put the machine on the brink of death even through its impressively thick front armor. My jaw hit the fucking floor, I could not believe it]


The rest of the platoon began to file in after the psyker at the sight of his suicidal charge and subsequent brutal assault on the armored vehicle. The pistoleer started to whip hot plasma across the field, the LT tried to rouse the men with an order of sustained fire (And failed. In fact I believe Emelius' player failed nearly every single check he made for the entirety of the game which was extremely on-brand for him) and the now-packed Mortar player whipped one of those fun grenades they received. Bodies on both sides started to drop as the firefight intensified, lasblasts and bullets whizzing every which way. A thin hallucinogenic mist wafted over a number of the enemy soldiers, causing one to fall to the floor scratching at his skin, one to start firing his rifle wildly at the wall, and one armed with a chainsword to fall to bloodlust and bisect the second one in a spray of gore. The Chimera fired a barrage of multilaser blasts at the pistoleer, who managed to dodge into cover. Moments later the Chimera exploded as the internal fires finally reached the promethium reserves. Fire from the exploding tank touched off some of the ammunition in the depot and it began to smoke and pop as bullets started to cook off.

The pysker, riding the high of his battle-lust, dug deeply from the warp once more and attempted to dominate the mind of an enemy sargent who had just filed out of the taller building in the compound. However this time the abyss gazed back. He poured his consciousness into the mind of the man and after a rather bewildering half-second blinked and looked around in surprise. Something had gone terribly wrong, he had somehow swapped bodies with the solider and was forced to duck into cover as his own team-mates began to pour lasfire in his direction. Back with the party, the psyker's body now piloted by an enemy soldier sort of stood dumbfounded and not understanding what had transpired.

The psyker, not willing to squander this opportunity he was presented with, waited for a couple more soldiers to come out of the base before pulling the pin on his only remaining frag grenade. Back with the squad the enemy in the psyker's body seemed to finally come to grips with what had happened and was levelling the psyker's flamethrower integrated on his staff at the rest of the group. Margot tackled him to the ground before it could active just as a WHUMP from across the way signified the enemy's original body getting turned to paste as well as a few of his pals. The psyker was violently slammed back into his own body (4 intelligence points stupider from the trauma) and wondered indignantly why everyone was looking at him like that.

As the firefight raged and they finally seemed to be turning the tide (in spite of yet another failed order from Emilius) they heard something crackle over the vox, the voice of the mortar crews that were shelling the base from across the way. the sargent major angrily declaring that they had a present for those traitorous bastards before the transmission cut to static and two mortar shells bulls-eyed the flaming ammo dump, causing the building to explode violently and scatter everyone in the courtyard. The enemy soldier still wracked with hallucinations of violent bloodlust was only able to turn and regard the building before it utterly incinerated him.

In the aftermath of the massive explosion it was clear the enemy soldiers had taken the worst of it given their proximity to the structure. The players had various levels of hearing loss from the proximity to the blast, the poor squad Medic with the Laud Hailer implant (they really wanted one, mostly as a joke. Who was I to deny them?) was completely deaf and shouting at maximum volume in an attempt to hear themselves speak. The enemy had been routed from the courtyard with the majority of their combat strength shattered and Emilius directed the rest of the squads to fan out and secure the buildings while the medic tended to the wounded, still shouting all the while.

Their mission objective was to secure any intel and take prisoners for interrogation, so when the players got a vox that their men had found what they believed to be a holdout enemy commander barricaded in his office they went to handle it personally. The medic, who could now hear at least a little, shouted through the door that their only hope for survival was to surrender peacefully, but all that returned was a string of curses. They looked to each other and shrugged before the pistoleer put a bolt of plasma through the door and the Mortar expert tossed a hallucinogen grenade through. There was some coughing followed by a series of shotgun blasts, the revving of a chainsword and then some awful sounds of cutting meat.(one of the party members later told me they had successfully guessed the hallucination results based on the sounds i described through the door, which I thought was hilarious.) The party managed to smash down the door in time to see two soldiers in an office next to a wooden desk that had seemingly caught fire from the plasma bolt through the door, incinerating any valuable intel within. On of the soldiers had a panicked, wide eyed gaze as he fired his combat shotgun wildly into the wall. The other, bedecked in an officer's finery, had just finished sawing off his own right leg just above the knee with a chainsword and was rapidly bleeding out. The medic tourniquetted the officer while the other players put a plasma bolt through shotgunner's dome.

And with that final bout of insanity the battle was won and the base was taken. Despite having no real good strategy and their commanding officer failing literally every single skill check he had made (attack rolls and command checks alike) 3rd Company 5th Platoon had taken the fortress that was not even supposed to be there. As their forces took stock of what they had managed to salvage (several prisoners including a commanding officer, none of the ammunition) and buried the dead the command squad once more received a vox from their men scouting the base. A network of tunnels connected the buildings to each other and the outlying pillboxes and they had found something under the center of the base that they did not know how to handle.

The party descended through tunnels littered with the occasional dead enemy soldier and wound up in an impressively large room containing an extremely large and venerable ancient arcane machine. The machine was humming away, and to their entirely untrained opinion it seemed to be generating a great deal of energy for the facility, although it was very obviously not a plasma reactor, promethium burning generator or anything else they had seem before. There were a small handful of men with heavy augments in green robes littering the floor here, and only one was still alive and being restrained by the Argus troopers who had found the room. Apparently the tech personnel had gone near-berserk trying to protect the device. The one that was still alive begged and pleaded to be allow to continue his rites maintaining the machine. These green-robed figures had iconography reminiscent of the Adeptus Mechanicus but long periods of isolation from their order proper in this splinter-empire had warped and changed some of the details.

Emelius did not think much of the thing and ordered the green-robed man to be placed with the other prisoners despite his protests. The rest of the party, on the other hand, were interested indeed. The psyker reached out with his psyniscient senses and detected a strong, steady signature of warp energy emanating from the machine. Not necessarily the taint of the ruinous powers, but certainly something not of this world. He was certain it was some sort of evil, dormant and malevolent, and when Emelius dismissed his concerns he conspired in secret with the rest of his squad. This thing was obviously evil, it had to be destroyed at all costs.

 Vaynes projecting so hard he could work in a movie theatre, and Tonto still refusing to believe their curse is real

Elsewhere in the base, rampant celebration had broken out. Vox-casts from the primary front had confirmed that the planet's last holdouts of secessionist regime had been taken in the Commander's large scale blitz-offensive. The planet was theirs! The Argus 123rd "Black Dogs" had finally against all odds managed to escape the gruelling life of warfare that was the Imperial Guard and gained custodianship of their new home. And it didn't even have an acid atmosphere! Emelius beamed, certain he would be highly commended for his mission-critical victory at the fortress.

However in the depths the rest of the squad had become convinced at the psyker's rhetoric, if only just, and agreed to help him destroy the machine. The men left to guard it were not willing to let them access it, but only a cursory convincing from the medic persuaded them to indulge in just a little dereliction of duty and join in the celebrations being held topside. Once they were gone the pskyer coldly regarded the machine once more as the rest of the team strapped it with every grenade they had left (other than the hallucinogen ones). Satisfied with their demolition work, they stood as far back in the adjoining hall as they could while still able to see the machine and the plasma pistoleer took careful aim and fired at the first set of grenades to set off the explosion.

[GM'S NOTE: I think at this point I need to step in and clarify some things. This device was not malevolent, at least not in its current state. I don't know if such a thing is actually possible but the device was an ancient, venerable power-generation device from the Dark Age of Technology, forgotten in this little nothing base thanks to its separation from the Imperium proper and therefore the Adeptus Mechanicus. I had designed it as something that generated and sustained a stable little rift into warpspace and bled energy from this rift into conduits, generating power. It was shielded in such a way that it did not act as a gateway for evil things as long as it was maintained, and an order of descendant techpriests had been maintaining it for the millennia since this place had been isolated. I only put it in that it might act as sort of a final desperate act of defiance in what was supposed to be the final part of this game, as when damaged it would explode with the effect of a Vortex Grenade (!!!!). I was not terribly subtle in my attempts to hint to them that this was a fucking stupid idea, blowing it up. I was relatively overt in fact. But in spite of my warnings they decided to string the fucker up with bombs and blow it to hell because the psyker felt some warp tingles and Emperor help them that was just not okay!]

At the resounding explosion the machine crumpled inward with a horrific screeching sound as the micro-rift sustained inside the machine ripped and widened into a full tear into the empyrean. The screaming Vortex hurtled towards those that had unleashed it, utterly destroying them before their minds had time to register the fact that they had been shredded asunder by the raw energy of the Warp. The Vortex ran amok, tearing up the base and killing nearly all of 5th Platoon before finally fizzling itself out as such Vortexes sometimes do. Despite all the best efforts made to dissuade them the party died to a TPK brought on entirely by their own stupidity.

Hindpsyniscience is 20/20, as they say

This horrific (and thanks to the death of all those involved, utterly unexplainable) event was unfortunately completely overshadowed by what was to come, a mere footnote in greater and more terrible events. Not five days after the liberation of Rhasis Prime all Imperial Astropaths reported the presence of a terrible shadow in the Warp. Not long after a mighty Tyranid splinter fleet descended on Rhasis Prime. However thanks to the presence of many more Imperial Guard regiments than would normally have been stationed on such a backwater world, what would have been a simple harvesting turned into a gruelling protracted campaign, the Argus 123rd especially galvanized to protect that which they had suffered so much to earn. Eventually Rhasis Prime fell, and it is said that the Argus 123rd Commander saw great swathes of the planet's biosphere razed rather than allow it to the enemy in one final act of spite.

This final act of defiance saw the Argus 123rd finally freed from their terrible curse in death, whatever black mark hung above their heads finally lost to oblivion. Their final struggle was not in vain however, as the delays they foisted on the Hive Fleet as it descended on what it assumed would be an easy meal allowed Battlefleet Gothic time to muster a devastating response and all but blunt the fleet's encroachment entirely. Whether the machinations of a cruel, malevolent god or the grand design of the Emperor himself, it seemed that all things worked out in the end.

Thanks for reading! The end bit there might seem a little confusing so I feel like I need to explain a little bit. It was entirely my intention to have the players see these latter events first hand. The way it played out in my mind was that they would take the base, there would be a small time-skip as they realized the weight of the victory they had won, and then there would be some strange happenings culminating in them having to defend the very same base they had just won from an endless stream of Tyranids, holding out as long as they could until they had all been killed and I could roll my Epilogue. I had everything planned out including lists of Tyranid stats and a vague idea of how I was going to organize the waves. The only stats available for Tyranids came from Deathwatch so I toned down their defences a bit while leaving their damage extreme enough to hurt Space Marines.

I only added the stupid warp generator into the base in the hope that when they realized there was no chance to hold their fortress from the onslaught of bugs they would try destroying it and release the fury of the Vortex Grenade into the swarm. I really did not expect the Psyker to fixate so heavily on it and convince the other players that if they didn't destroy it they would all be killed. I never told them it was not dangerous with my GM voice but I dropped several not-so-subtle hints through various In Character avenues to try and dissuade them from this course of action. Obviously it didn't work.

I really, really considered changing my plans, interrupting them or otherwise giving them an out to change the consequences they had dropped firmly upon themselves, but in the end decided to not interfere with their agency and allow them to lie in the graves they had so eagerly dug for themselves. The funniest part of all this was that I considered the fact that they might survive cursory exposure and allowed them to roll a die for scatter before they really knew what exactly it was that had happened, in order to determine where the Vortex went. The Medic's player rolled such that the Vortex beelined directly on top of them and killed them all instantly in a single round and that was that. Emelius was elsewhere on the base at the time but was assumed to have been killed by the rampaging rift before it dissolved. I offered them a retcon in case they wanted to play the Tyranid defence bit, but it was already getting late so we decided to let the chips lie where they fell.

In the end, we all had a good laugh about it. Despite the terrible curse that lingered over their regiment in the end it was free will and insubordination that killed the player characters, and it certainly made the game memorable. In fact the lot of them had so much fun they all agreed to be in the next game which ended up becoming Spirebound. I also sort of tentatively weave the events of all the games I run into a sort of unified personal canon, so when the Sector Commander showed up in Spirebound he was being commended for his resounding victory against the Tyranids that had showed up at the end here. There was even some small discussion about the Argus 123rd which the players used to belong to, which was a nice little touch.

As always thanks for reading. You can check out some of my other posts with the archive links in the sidebar there, mostly incoherent ramblings about Warhammer 40k RPGs and a few other storytimes. I am also part of a Podcast called Building Character where we fuck around and go through the process of making RPG characters step-by-step in various systems, if you are at all interested you can check us out on Soundcloud here. 

Proverb of the day: A questioning mind is a vulnerable mind

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Rogue Trader: A Post Mortem

Welcome to the latest instalment of "Shit I mentioned i would talk about in a previous blogpost because I love to complain." Today I am going to touch a bit on what is one of my favourite RPGs of all time, and go into great detail about why exactly it is a total pile of shit.

The Core Rulebook. Just look at those tassles

Rogue Trader is one of the tabletop RPGs released by Fantasy Flight Games using the Warhammer 40k license, and is probably the most ambitious of the bunch in terms of scope. It came out in 2009 and re-used the name Rogue Trader, which was also the name of the very first instalment of the Warhammer 40k Tabletop Wargame.

A simpler time when men were men, the Crimson Fists were the posterboys and everyone had a fist larger than their head

In Rogue Trader the players take the role of a Rogue Trader (no shit) and his or her entourage. Rogue Traders are extremely powerful and influential individuals who are mandated by a very special and rare document called a Writ of Trade to push back the shadowy borders of the Imperium of Man, flying into the dark places of the galaxy and plundering anything you can get your hands on. Rogue Traders are the figureheads of their house or dynasty, and while a Rogue Trader and his ship carry out the brunt of the hard work they are inevitably followed by an army of merchants, bureaucrats and diplomats under their employ that deal with the particulars of interstellar diplomacy and trade and leaving them free to pursue whatever harebrained scheme or adventure tickles their fancy. A Writ of Trade can be passed down by birthright, powerful dynasties and houses existing for untold generations, or else gifted by the Administratum as a reward for exceptional service and even occasionally as a tool of political exile.

Rogue Traders are especially eccentric individuals in the context of the Warhammer 40k setting. In a galaxy under the thumb of a comically totalitarian regime where billions toil in obscurity and most never leave the few square kilometres around where they are born Rogue Traders have unprecedented freedom. They are not only permitted but indeed mandated to operate outside the scope of the Imperium, doing things that anyone else would be executed for including obtaining warp-tainted relics and conducting diplomacy with Xenos races. They are above nearly all scrutiny thanks to the provisions of their Writ as well as the considerable power both economic and military most can bring to bear. Only the stern disapproving gaze of the upper echelons of the Inquisition have any power to enact punitive measures on them, and even then they would be unwise to do so without significant military backing. This extends to a lesser degree to their entourage, as Rogue Traders are of sufficient means that they are able to surround themselves with individuals at the top of their fields and that are often as eccentric and unhinged as they are.

From a game design perspective RT is still a real standout for a couple reasons. The players start off at an EXTREMELY high level of power compared to most games, and while some of this is personal power a great deal of it is political and economic. Even the most impoverished Rogue Trader house is still an imposing institution comprising of thousands of individuals. The fact that the players head a starship means they have the ability to go anywhere and do most anything, as well as having a crew of literally thousands of menial workers toiling in the lower decks to keep it running. RT is a game where tracking anything besides your rarest possessions is a waste of time, where you buy boltguns by the crate, attend a fancy dinner one week and then delve an unknowably alien ruin for artifacts the next. The Writ of Trade is all about freedom of choice, and the gameplay in practice usually reflects this.

Brunch with the Governor at 11, cleansing an alien world for colonization at 5

The main "Goal" of the game, such as it is, is to increase your Dynasty's Profit Factor. Profit Factor is an abstract measure of how much wealth and influence you can bring to bear at a given time, and the game generally revolves around completing Endeavours that increase it. There is no currency tracking because within reason a Rogue Trader can bring great deals of currency to bear without even denting his finances, and acquiring items is more focused around finding someone willing to give you stuff rather than having the finances to purchase it. Unlike in games like Dark Heresy 2nd edition I find that Profit Factor is a good fit for item acquisition both gameplay-wise and thematically, and a canny GM will let his players basically purchase anything they can find for sale worth less than say, a plasmagun without a roll.

Increasing your Profit Factor can look like well, basically anything at all. Delving ruins for artifacts, colonizing resource rich worlds and engaging in trade, meeting alien empires for the first time and setting up profitable arrangements with them, engaging in minor wars to liberate items of value from those that own them, trading favours with other Imperial or Alien institutions to better leverage your wealth, all this and anything else the GM or the players can think of. This brings me to my first nitpick. I actually think this is a point in the system's favour but something prospective players need to be aware of. The system is so open ended by design that the GM has to be flexible and willing to adapt to what the players chose to do, and conversely the players need to be invested and sort of make their own goals. A listless group of players who have a hard time making their own goals and proactively seeking out plothooks will likely frustrate the hell out of an invested GM and conversely ambitious players with strong ideas will likely be frustrated by a GM who has a really concrete set adventure they want to follow to the exclusion of all else. Even moreso than other RPGs Rogue Trader needs a strong understanding between players and GM to work properly.

It is however all of these eccentricities that pulled me into the game in the first place. The strong themes of unshackled player freedom in a normally oppressive setting, the focus on form over function (Why bother doing anything if you can't look good doing it?) and the extreme danger and adventure are all extremely appealing to me, and in fact Rogue Trader was one of the first expensive RPG books I ever purchased with my own money in hard copy (which made it hurt extra bad when my mom's dog decided to shred up the rear cover in a neurotic fit not two weeks later).

All of that out of the way and done, let's get to the bad stuff. The issues both large and small that finally made me vow to never use the system as-is ever again, and the major reasons why I lamented so hard the fact that Fantasy Flight Games lost the 40k license and will therefore never release an updated edition.

I griped about this a bit in my post on Dark Heresy 1st edition (found here) but one of the immediate issues you will run up against in RT is that the levelling system is not good. In fact it is pretty actively terrible. Like Dark Heresy 1st edition each character class is divided into levels, called Ranks. Each Rank for each class has a table of upgrades you can buy in the form of skills and talents, and you advance in rank when you have spent the requisite amount of XP. Unlike Dark Heresy however you do not rank up from Rank 1 to Rank 2 until you spend a whopping 1500 XP (its actually 2k but you start off with 500 to spend at chargen). This isn't really much of an issue on its own, the real problem is that on the whole the Rank 1 tables fucking suck. There is very little that is terribly interesting for most of the classes and a lot of the "options" are things you actually cannot buy because you already got them as part of your career's starting package so its really just wasted space added for posterity. By contrast Dark Heresy's tables seem to have better options and because it is far less XP between Ranks you can avoid or ignore the things you don't want. I have only used the Rogue Trader tables unmodified twice and both times players were kind of miffed that they had no choice but to load up on abilities they really didn't give a shit about like certain knowledge skills just to meet the seemingly arbitrary requirements to reach the Rank 2 table with a couple other things they actually wanted.

Sure I may be gross, bald and have no eyes but just you wait until I get Telekinetic Bolt in two to three years!

However the issues with the class Rank tables are not more apparent anywhere than the not so humble psyker. Psykers are terribly dangerous individuals who can cast magic of a sort by tapping into the raw energy of the warp, but this is always done at great risk. The archetypal Imperial Primaris Psyker is a maddened individual tossing around fireballs and maelstroms of lightning in the midst of combat. There is another type of psyker, extremely important but not as interesting to most. Astropaths Transcendent are an order of psykers specialized in the school of telepathy, and more specifically the art of casting messages over impossible distances through the warp. This is the only method of FTL communication, holds the Imperium together and makes the caster a glorified telephone. For reasons unknown this is the only type of psyker you can play in Rogue Trader, at least to start. The book also contains powers for Telekinesis and and Divination, but that's it. No fire or brimstone, no lightning, just the (in my humble opinion) most boring schools, unless you can convince your GM to let you use the Dark Heresy 1st edition pyrokinesis and biomancy. The Navis Primer splat added some new powers and a cryokinesis power tree, but even so its just not the same. Even getting something like an offensive Telekinesis power requires you to first reach Tier 3 (10,000 total spent XP, or 4500XP from game start), spend a further 500 XP on a new discipline and then you can finally spend 100XP on the force bolt technique. To clarify there is nothing wrong with playing a cool utility psyker who can do lots of neat non-combat things and then break out non-damaging combat moves like terrifying your foes, but I don't understand the decision to not include the less subtle psyker powers.

The next item on my list of grudges is the Ship mechanics, and more specifically space combat. A Rogue Trader's ship is at once his greatest tool, his most powerful weapon and his home. The game and its splats give support for a massive variety of options for creating your own ship, starting with a hull and reactor that will have limited Power and Space and balancing these to buy essential and optional components to customize it. This is balanced at game start with an inversely proportional balance between your party's starting profit factor and starting Ship Points. Higher profit factor means your dynasty starts more powerful but your starter ship will be smaller/weaker, and high ship points means your dynasty will be weaker but will have a beefier ship to begin the game. Ship creation is extremely involved and I would not even attempt it without using an Excel spreadsheet to track point expenditures and remaining space/power as you put it together. It is a shitload of work but exactly the sort of thing I love, what I consider to be "good crunch". Mostly because it takes place outside of the game, will usually be done by the GM, and will not take time out of a session unless you waiting till gamestart to do it.

Actually using said spaceship to battle other spaceships is another matter entirely. Space combat takes place in void turns that are abstracted to about a half hour each. There are a ton of specific rules for how the ships can move and orient themselves, how to fire the guns or use any other piece of equipment, you need to track void shields and armor any time damage is dealt and it does not work the same way as personal combat in that Strength is the number of hits cause and you find out how many hits go through before rolling damage and subtracting armor. You also need to track crew population and morale as both will go down as you take damage, components can become damaged or get depowered, and to top it all off some player archetypes like clerics and arch-militants will often not really have anything to do as all of this is going on other than take generic actions.

Rogue Trader actually tested an ambitious new concept in tabletop realism where a half hour in-game turn actually takes 30 real life minutes to resolve

All of this adds up to make space combat extremely fucking slow. What is often a really badass spectacle in sci-fi movies and TV shows ends up dragging on ages even when people know what exactly they want to do, has so many different things to track, and to top it all off getting your spaceship damaged is an expensive setback even for a Rogue Trader so from both an IC and OOC perspective you are better off avoiding it at all costs.

The final and in my opinion worst part of Rogue Trader core rules as they stand that I want to discuss is the Endeavour system. Fantasy Flight attempted to gamify the act of doing anything that raises your profit factor, likely in an attempt to streamline what is in my opinion the last thing that needed to be streamlined in this slow motion trainwreck of a wonderful game. Endeavours are any sort of business venture you undertake, are classified as Lesser, Greater and Grand based on how involved they are/how much profit you stand to gain and are split apart into a number of Objectives. The way the rulebook tells you to handle these is to assign a points value to each Objective based on how important they are to its success with the total value of all Objectives based on the scale of the Endeavour. You gain these Achievement Points that you put towards completing Objectives by overcoming challenges related to said Objective, and you complete the endeavour when all Objectives have been resolved one way or the other. Excess Achievement Points from one Objective can roll over into the next and extra Acheivement Points in excess of the total needed to complete the Endeavour can grant extra Profit Factor.

This immediately chafes me. I suppose I tend towards what game designers call "Fiction first gaming" So the idea of basing what is ostensibly the core part of your gameplay around this weird point abstraction system is bizarre and I don't like it. To illustrate what I mean let's take a look at an example objective from the rules

So here the players are tasked with rooting out a Slaugth infiltrator from a colony. They need a total of 300 points to complete the objective. Now it does not say how many Human Infiltrators there are. Assuming there are 6 or more it would follow that the objective can be "completed" by killing 6 thralls and then bing bang boom xenos blown the fuck out next objective please. Which seems a little fucking strange given that the actual Alien they were supposed to be killing is still out there and around. It is likely the intent here is that there are less than six and taking them out is supposed to be a way to net extra points on top of the 300 you need for killing the big lad. I get where they are coming from, in that accumulating these extra points can be a good way to incentivize doing a job completely and properly, but when you think about the WHY of things it sort of starts to break down. We don't know the exact Endeavour this Objective is a part of but lets say the Rogue Trader is taking over a down on its luck colony to leverage it for their own profit and the Slaugth is one of many things going wrong. They kill the monster and two of its minions which gives an extra 100 cheivo points. They can either take these through to the end for an extra point of profit factor, or else carry them over to help complete an entirely unrelated objective. The big question is, how does killing slaugth thralls actually contribute to the colony making more money? Perhaps they would run amok if left unchecked with their leader dead? More importantly how does killing Slagth thralls help with an unrelated Objective, such as say clearing out pirates from the surrounding asteroid belt? If you accumulate extra points doing these extra objectives this would theoretically allow you to completely skip what would otherwise be critical Objectives and resolve problems without actually dealing with them. Say in this Slaugth example what if the Party came in with 200 extra points, killed the two thralls and then called that an even 300. They have not solved the core problem, the Slaugth is still there, but the Objective has been completed according to rules as written, and it seems intentionally created to allow scenarios like this to be possible. Perhaps it is supposed to be abstracted as the party's successes elsewhere somehow convincing someone else to deal with the problem but this is extremely unsatisfying in my opinion.

Slaugth are literally just humanoid masses of evil worms and I am pretty sure this is how they make thralls. Gross.

I feel like this system of handling Endeavours relies on quite a bit of abstraction that does not at all hold up under scrutiny. I do not think it has any advantages over simply handling Endeavours like you would any other RPG adventure. Rather than giving the party a laundry list of tasks on a dossier why not let them investigate for themselves, perhaps a senschal provides a list of important people to talk to or possible issues that need to be handled. Slaugth are fucking gross and extremely evil, why not have the party slowly realize something is very wrong here, let them discover the alien on their own and not bother tallying points. Rather than the party missing out on points for not rooting out the extent of the xenos corruption have natural consequences for leaving behind corrupted humans loyal to an alien that is now dead. Perhaps one of these infiltrators gets press-ganged when the Rogue Trader recruits new lower decks crew and is now on the ship. Maybe years down the line there is a string of sabotages that threaten the Trader's investments in the colony. If the party takes actions that might increase the productivity of the planet, regardless if they are things you as the GM forsaw them doing, provide some sort of reward up to and including increasing the Profit Factor gain.

Now you might be thinking why not just not use the Endeavour system if you don't like it? Or use it in your notes where the players can't see it? Fair points, and trust me when I say that I did just that when I used them, but it is not really quite that simple. The biggest part where the argument that these things are optional and can be kept entirely behind the curtain for the GM's benefit falls apart when you consider that there are several things in the game that directly support the Endeavour system. There are a number of starship parts such as the Cargo Bay and Trophy Room that clearly have function but from a rules standpoint all they do is give you extra Objective Points when pursuing certain Objective types. Obviously a lot of the time a Rogue Trader player would want a Trophy Room just as a place to keep his cool stuff, or a cargo bay for a lore justification to all the piles of loot they yank out of an alien ruin, but I find it kind of sucks that the only mechanical support is to give some extra funny points that might sometimes push you over the threshold to skipping an Objective you don't want to do or getting an extra point of Profit Factor.

"Yes Milord it says right here we have enough points to skip the "Eradicate Genestealer Cult" Objective entirely"

Obviously these criticisms are by no means insurmountable, especially given the other Fantasy Flight Materials published since. I wrote a small, slightly incomplete guide about how to use Dark Heresy 2nd Edition to play Rogue Trader which you can find here. Not using the Endeavour system is a fairly simple affair, but would ideally include reworking the ship components that give Objective Points slightly. Space combat being a mess is another matter entirely and not one I am keen to undertake.

This ended up massively more long-winded than I intended. I promise the only reason I take such issue with these seemingly small problems is because I love the system and the ideas so much. Few other RPGs have the default expectation of players being given such massive resources and power right out the gate and then being set loose in one of the most hostile settings ever made to go turn a billion dollars into as trillion dollars by divine mandate. I have played several games with this system as well as playing Rogue Trader games using completely different systems, and it has always been an excellent time.

Wrath and Glory seems like an obvious choice for running Rogue Trader style games given that it has taken a Kitchen Sink approach as far as what players can be which is thematically a good fit, but other than me not liking the core mechanics very much I am extremely skeptical of a generic system capturing the same laser focused essence of a Rogue Trader game that made me come back to RT time after time despite the mechanical issues. Who knows though, with Cubicle 7 at the wheel (thank god) maybe we will in time get a comprehensive Rogue Trader expansion for Wang that completely shatters my expectations. Either that or maybe someone will make a good home-brewed Rogue Trader 2nd edition, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

As always thanks for reading and I would love to hear your own experiences, especially if you disagree with anything I have said. Check out Rogue Trader if you find any of this interesting at all, seriously it's fantastic!

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Fifty Shades of Heresy: DH1st vs DH2nd

If you know anything about the Warhammer 40k Tabletop RPG scene you almost certainly know what Dark Heresy is. I touched a bit on its origins in my Wrath and Glory post and I'm not going to bother repeating myself here, but for the uninitiated Dark Heresy is a game about working for the Imperium of Man's shadowy Inquisition, an organization with essentially unchecked power tasked with protecting the Imperium from insidious threats both within and without. The Inquisition is diverse as it is powerful, but in general works to uproot threats that can not be detected or properly dealt with by military might alone. This can range from going undercover in the local populace to eliminate a cult plotting to assassinate a high ranking official and summoning a demon, to delving into a freshly unearthed alien ruin found on an Imperial world to stop some ancient awakened doomsday machine from activating.

What I find most compelling about Dark Heresy and to a lesser degree the other Warhammer 40k tabletop RPGs is that they showcase parts of the Warhammer 40k setting that are for obvious reasons completely unrepresented in the most popular part of Warhammer 40k, the tabletop wargame. The fiction there paints the Imperium of Man as an impossibly vast fascist dictatorship where trillions toil in obscurity, corruption is rampant and life is cheap. We don't really get much more than that, other than the occasional snippet about life on planets where war is happening.

Dark Heresy not only explores what life is like on planets where there are no massive wars with beefcake space marines being heroic and Imperial Guardsman dying by the thousands for silly war goals, it also gives a framework for running proper adventures in them. The general loop is that you are a group of Inquisition goons called Acolytes, the most disposable and lowest rung on the Inquisition ladder. Your boss gives you a job, such as finding the source of an illegal relic trade, hunting down and unearthing a cult or covering up all trace of some alien sighting. You are then set loose, often with no proof of your authority as part of the Inquisition in order to keep you as disposable as possible, and told to get it done.

This guy walks up to you in the club and accuses your gf of heresy what do you do?

When I got in to Warhammer 40k RPGs Dark Heresy's second edition had not quite come out yet. At the time I didn't really care for the idea of the game, it is certainly the most familiar of the 40k RPGs to someone used to more popular titles like Shadowrun or DnD, but I wanted the new stuff, the crazy stuff. I loved Rogue Trader and as an Imperial Guard fanboy I also loved Only War.

By the time I decided I wanted to try my hand at a Dark Heresy game Dark Heresy's Second Edition had already been out for a while and had in fact recently met its untimely demise. Fantasy Flight Games, who had been making the 40k RPGs since shortly after the first Dark Heresy edition came out, had lost the license and there were rumours of a fun new game on the horizon called Wrath and Glory (you can find my thoughts on that one here). I was pretty upset by this, at the time simply because this meant that Rogue Trader was not ever going to see a second edition. Rogue Trader has, to put it bluntly, not aged well at all. It has a lot of problems that are not insurmountable but require a lot of work and willingness to compromise from the GM. I will probably make a post about this at some point all to itself, but I think it is important to mention here for reasons I will get into in a second.

Anyways after running a one-shot game of Only War with a new online group (which ended in hilarious tragedy, again a story for another time) we decided we wanted to try another one and moved on to Dark Heresy Second Edition. The game as it stands is the core rulebook plus three primary splatbooks, one focused on each of the three Ordos of the Inquisition. Enemies Within is about the Ordo Hereticus, tasked with stopping insidious cults to the ruinous powers, Enemies Without is about the Ordo Xenos who protect the Imperium from the more nefarious and difficult to engage effects of alien presence, and Enemies Beyond is about the mighty Ordo Malleus, who have the unenviable task of protecting the Imperium from the raw manifestations of the Warp, the direct influences of the gods of chaos and the machinations of daemons. The system is fantastic, all of the 40k RPGs share core rules that were updated as each new edition came out and DH2 has the best and most balanced/streamlined version of most critical rules like weapon rate of fire, fate point usage, and so much more.

Maybe...I could be your alien biomechanical monstrosity tonight...?

I ended up running this game for about a year and had a blast doing so (since i love to self promote you can check out the first part of my attempt to write this game up as an actual-play story here). After three general "arcs" the game hit a very natural conclusion and as much as we liked the characters and the story we agreed this was an excellent point to end the game and moved on to other systems.

At the beginning of all of this I hadn't even considered the first edition of Dark Heresy. I knew there were people who still absolutely swore by it and did not like the second edition at all, but with any multi-edition game you have a crowd that is comfortable with where things are and refuses to change, so I didn't put too much stock in it.  I never played it or Black Crusade and only a tiny bit of Deathwatch, so my entire experience with the older 40k RPGs was Rogue Trader and as I outlined above Rogue Trader is a goddamned mess. Why would I subject myself and my players to that?

There were some things about Dark Heresy 2nd that rubbed us the wrong way. One thing that kept coming up over and over was the difficulties a currency-less system provides. In Dark Heresy 2nd Edition there is no tracking of money, each Acolyte has an Influence attribute and they make tests using this to acquire things. Influence is supposed to be an abstract measure of contacts, reputation and actual physical wealth that you leverage in order to get people to give you things. It functions very similarly to Rogue Trader's profit factor, albeit on a much smaller scale. There are certainly good lore reasons for this to be the case, worlds in the Imperium are extremely diverse and the idea that all of them would have the same currency let alone the basics of capitalism in place for random offworlders to walk in and start buying stuff is a stretch to say the least.

The main issue we kept having was that the party was always under deep cover. So deep in fact that I think they only ever actually told people they were part of the Inquisition on maybe 3 occasions and these people were all either ranking Imperial Officials or close confidants they were protecting. This was despite that fact that each of them had a Rosette, an official badge of office only very high ranking officials have that are basically impossible to falsify (it was not until later I realized this technically made them all Interrogators and not Acolytes, but that's really a matter of semantics). Given that, how do you leverage your reputation and contacts on a world where no one can know you are there at all? And if it is a matter of having some abstracted amount of currency why would different members of the party have different values to roll against? How do you justify them failing a roll to acquire something not terribly rare if they ostensibly have some cash?

Hold my pistol I'm gonna go ask this guy if he has any spare change

After grappling with this for a little while in the second act of the game when it actually began to matter the most I simply fell back on implementing my own money system. The party obtained some untraceable cash and I let them spend it as an alternative to making Influence tests for certain things. Obviously on most worlds you can't just go to the gun store and buy a Godwyn-Diaz pattern boltgun for twenty bucks but it worked very well for more mundane things, and the acquisition of exotic stuff tended to be more concretely set into specifically questing for it. This seriously deincentivised the Influence attribute but no one seemed to really mind and the game ran better for it.

There were other things as well, such as the how generally obtuse the Aptitude system was to use, but I accepted it as a necessary evil of the system. After all it allowed much greater character flexibility compared to the older version's more rigid level-up tables which was certainly a good thing in my mind.

Back to the present, I am still in several games with said group but another few friends mentioned they wanted to run a game and one of the options that came up was Dark Heresy. I am not exactly a forever GM but I am certainly the only GM I know with the same fondness for the 40k RPGs and I never could find another person to run it so that I could actually play. I was thrilled about this, but a little surprised when the GM said he was most familiar with 1st edition so that was what he wanted to run. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and check out the core rulebook.

I was blown away. Everything about the first edition was better than the inexplicably horrible expectations I had built up in my head. It certainly shows its age in a lot of unpleasant ways, but after giving the character creation rules a solid once-over I became extremely excited. I think the most surprising thing to me was that the feel of the game was very different from the second edition. It felt more pulpy, more gritty and dirty and down to earth. Acolytes in 1st edition start at a lower power than in 2nd edition. They have less abilities and FAR less gear. And the money system oh lord the money system. Having throne gelt as a standard currency rather than an abstracted stat telling you your odds of getting stuff is a really damn nice change. As an underhive Scum ganger my character ended up with a single throne to his name after buying a very small amount of ammunition for my starting autopistol and autogun. Unless you are starting as one of the few classes that have a good amount of wealth to their name you will likely begin the game in poverty and be forced to scavenge, steal and save as you attempt to enact the will of your Inquisitor.

The impression that I got is that character death is more commonplace than in 2nd edition, and it is not unusual for characters to have only a single Fate Point. I was told to approach the game more like Darkest Dungeon than a DnD campaign. Obviously you want to nurture your best heroes and keep them stocked and equipped, but at the end of the day some of them are going to die and the group will carry on without them.

Another thing that surprised me was the level-up tables. The game works by a class and rank system, each class having different "levels" as you spend XP and each level having its own table of upgrades you can buy, relevant to their discipline. I went in knowing this was the case, and out of the gate I hated the idea of the system because of its implementation in Rogue Trader. In RT the level up tables for each class are extremely shallow especially at level 1, have very few good options to begin and require a whopping 1000 XP invested to reach the next rank (Writers Edit: I was wrong its actually 2000XP to reach rank 2 holy shit). Every time I ran Rogue Trader I hacked this to some degree in order to make the starting levels less shitty to play, and I assumed DH1 would be the same.

On the contrary DH1's tables, at least the ones I looked at, have much better options for starting levels. Additionally you only need 500XP per level, and since you start with 400XP to spend you will hit your second level after only one or two sessions depending on how stingy your GM is with Experience Points. And they are oh so easy to use. Look at cost of thing, pay cost, get thing. Simple. In DH2 you are technically free to buy any attribute, skill or talent but you need to cross reference your own aptitudes with the two aptitudes attached to whatever it is you want to buy, then look at the table that decides how much the upgrade costs based on number of matching aptitudes and that is how you determine the cost. You can technically take any upgrade at any time if you can afford it, but things outside your character's scope of focus will be very expensive.

The two systems are polar opposites, DH1's is very easy to use but confines you to your class table unless you can convince your GM to give you a special exception, and DH2's is a massive pain in the ass until you become very familiar with it but in exchange does not limit you nearly as much. I certainly see the merit in the second edition system, but after suffering with it for so long the simplicity of the DH1 tables is so refreshing.

There are still some things I am very leery about on the mechanical side. Dark Heresy 2nd edition struck a very good balance with how weapon fire worked. Single shots were more accurate, bursts were slightly less accurate but could cause multiple hits on very good rolls and full auto fire was the least accurate but could cause many hits easily on a good roll. It is a little counter-intuitive that spraying your opponent with bullets makes you less likely to hit than a single shot, but it makes some amount of sense when you consider the difficulty of aiming a gun firing full auto and always struck me as more of a balance decision rather than a realism one. One of the biggest complaints about DH1 I have found is that full auto fire gives a bonus to hit AND can cause multiple hits, so there is very little incentive to do anything besides get a bigass automatic and spray your enemies down over and over. Possibly realistic, but really misses out on the nuance of the roles different firing modes have in DH2 combat.

The face of a man who starts with 10+1d5 dollars to his name and rolled a 1

In spite of all this I find myself excited for the game. The feeling and tone of DH1 has pulled me in in a very powerful way and I can't wait to see if I manage to keep my Metallan Gunslinger Hive Scum alive past the first level. Obviously this is an incredibly lopsided introspective since once system I ran for a year and the other I have made precisely one character and fawned over the rules a bunch so take from it what you will. I'd love to hear your own experiences with the two, and anything to look out for in the 1st edition rules!

Monday, 24 June 2019

Dark Heresy Spirebound: Part 3 FINALE

 The stage was set for the end of, well whatever it was our gang of Interrogators had gotten themselves roped into. They were all seated in a large ballroom where an exclusive, lavish gala was being held in the honour of the Gothic Sector Military Commander Thaddeus Hale by the local Planetary Governor and his sons, the Tarnell family. After some unusually vague instructions, presumably from their boss Inquisitor Caspiel Rex, the group had perused this party undercover and uncovered some very dark and heretical things, all evidence pointing towards the Tarnell sons planning....well something bad for this party, likely involving the Commander himself.

The party was now in full swing, with all the local and visiting nobles seated at a great ring of tables in an opulent marbled ballroom consuming a decadent array of food and drink and waiting for the main assembly to begin. In the centre of it all, Governer Albertus Tarnell and his sons Siris and Dimitrius were seated next to Sector Commander Thaddeus Hale and two of his bodyguards. The speeches were about to start and our party of heroes such as they were waited eagerly for the brothers to make a move, hoping they could save the Commander from whatever scheme they were planning.

An example setting picture of the Governor's Palace

At this point everyone at the Governor's table was now standing, and Siris took out a small silver bell and chimed it. As it chimed the live orchestral music stopped and the conversations in the room settled to a low murmur before quieting entirely. Siris cleared his throat and spoke, but it was not what anyone was expecting.

["Please remain calm. It is with no pleasure that I do this. Sector Commander Thaddeus Hale and Governor Albertus Tarnell, for crimes against the Imperium and the Emperor I have no choice but to sentence you both to death. Emperor have mercy on your souls."]

Several things happened concurrently.  Dimitrius pulled an extremely ornate pistol from its holster and fired it at the Governor, who had a glazed over look and could barely stand thanks to Caesar's drugs. The weapon hissed and a powerful melta beam erupted from it's barrel, utterly vaporizing his father Governor Albertus Tarnell from the waist up. Thaddeus Hale and his armsmen at the table both looked shocked but began to choke and cough as they attempted to act, collapsing on the table. As if on cue a troop of Tarnell house guards marched into the room, and the Naval Armsmen at the door were cut down in a fusillade of lasgun fire.

The assembled nobles, especially those from offworld, looked terrified. The house guard that had entered the room swept their lasguns across the assembly and the few bodyguards that attempted to make any sort of move were shot. This included the bodyguard of Lady Forscythe of Mordia, her attending guard was shot do death after drawing his power sword and it clattered to the floor next to his corpse.

However many of the nobles (all ones Yarrow saw as tainted in his vision, he was quick to point out in the aftermath) instead grinned and stood as well, ripping the tablecloths from their tables to reveal the surfaces had been engraved with the foul runes and iconography of the ruinous powers. Indeed the entire circular assembly of tables was a cleverly concealed and very large ritual circle for dark magic!


Now this may seem like an incredibly brazen act of treachery, and very shortsighted, but behind the curtain it did all follow a certain pattern for me. Firstly, the Tarnell brother's plot hinged nearly entirely on the artifact that was stolen. It had granted Siris great premonitions after he had inadvertently used it to contact dark warp entities, although the artifact itself was not born of Chaos. The planned ritual required the artifact to be done properly, but without it the Tarnell brothers were operating blind. Even so, they were unwilling to squander the schemes they had spent so long preparing and decided to attempt their plan without it. Their greatest folly, however, was assuming that the Rogue Trader Aleri was the architect of this theft and that their plans would be uncontested except by a few paltry bodyguards. Unfortunately for them both if there was one thing our gang of Interrogators knew how to do, it was ruin a nice party]

Our heroes however were not simply sitting idle. As soon as the shooting started they sprang into action. Caesar fired his laspistol at Siris, although the shots went wide and caused him to face the party in rage. Bram flexed his massive bulking muscles and attempted to flip the table towards the squad of soldiers who were leveling lasguns at them, exerting more effort than he was expecting when it became clear the table was actually bolted to the floor. Even so the legs shattered against his might and lasblasts began to smash into its blessedly thick surface rather than our heroes.

Siris himself, his face twisted in a dark and ugly grin, cast off the amulet he was wearing. It slammed into the marble floor far heavier than it had any right to be, and as it fell Yarrow and Demios became acutely aware of a terrible dark psyonic presence in the room. Siris' arm began to crack, twist and morph, his flesh reshaping into a horrifying appendage lined with small toothed mouths that were dripping and oozing white hot flame. He started walking towards Caesar, screaming about how they had ruined everything.

Caesar, ever the self-preservationist, dived to the side behind another table and fired twice into the back of one of the nobles who had stood and began chanting in spite of all the violence around. She slumped forward with a wheeze thanks to the new hole in her lung just before a swath of warp-flame burst from Siris' arm and consumed the whole table, narrowly missing Caesar.

Caesar Morroe, Hero of the Imperium

Yarrow, feeling equal parts vindicated at his vision and horrified at the tainted warp energy now swilling and swirling around the ballroom, took drastic action. He cast his heavy metal helmet to the ground with a clang, exposing his pallid and horribly burned visage to the glinting light. He drew energy inward before standing at full height over the edge of the table he was sheltering behind. His face locked in a snarl, he let out a battlecry and a massive swath of white-orange purifying flame began to flow from his mouth and sweep across the small troop of soldiers in the room. The first soldier hit fell immediately, his flesh burned to ash, but three more caught on fire and began to either shoot everywhere in a panic or run around trying to put it out. Demios, not to be outdone, once more added his own purple-chaotic flame to the mix killing another soldier, and once again the Warp turned back on him. This time however it simply locked him into his own mind and tormented him with awful visions, and he fell to the ground behind the table whimpering.

In the center of the room, seemingly oblivious to the carnage all around, Dimitrius had hefted Thaddeus Hale onto the massive symbol etched into the centre table and pulled a wicked ritual knife from his ornamented jacket. Tancred and Alcyone looked at each other before both sprinting into the fray. Alcyone's metachandrite autogun peppered one of the nearby soldiers with bullets and dropped him, as Bram clashed with the giant man. Dimitrius, not expecting such a brazen attack, took Bram's first blow to the chest and managed to parry the second. Alcyone was taken aback, normally a single blow like that would drop any normal human. She made an internal memo to tinker with Tancred's synthmuscle implants and see if more power could be added. Dimitrius snarled and once more hefted the ornate and ancient pistol. Bram BARELY managed to turn the weapon aside before it discharged, it's powerful anti-tank melta beam cutting a deep furrow into the marble floor.

At these brazen acts of violent defiance the several of the loyalist nobles still alive in the ballroom became emboldened. Two more bodyguards were shot down exchanging fire with the Tarnell soldiers in the room, a ruddy faced noble clad in furs and finery of Valhalla smashed an amasec bottle and drove the jagged glass edge into the neck of one of the chanting Draxis nobles laughing like a madman all the while, and even Lady Forscythe grabbed a dinner fork and stabbed it into the hand of the Draxis noble next to her, pinning the traitor's hand to the table and causing her to stop chanting and start screaming.

Sinric saw that two soldiers near the lovely Lady Forscythe were leveling their weapons at her and made his move. He scooped the powersword from the floor and dived in front of her, catching a lasblast to the gut and another grazing the side of his face and his arm, but leaving her miraculously unharmed. His body screamed out in pain, but even so he staggered towards the two soldiers, hacking and slashing at them with all the energy he had left even as they continued to fire into him in a panic.

Yarrow directed a second blast of fire at Siris, the flames scorching and blistering his fair features. Before Siris could retaliate a second set of laspistol shots whipped towards him, blasting a small hole in the side of his neck. Even with his newfound otherworldly resilience Siris was beginning to come apart at the seams. He turned to Caesar, screaming. "NO NO NO IT WASN'T SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THIS!" and fired a massive gout of warpflame at the hapless Interrogator. This one found its mark, and Caesar's skin began to blister and burn as his uniform caught fire and he started to panic. The flames would likely consume him in short order.

In the centre of the room the two giants Tancred and Dimitrius were locked in a flurry of unarmed combat as Alcyone, having finished off the other soldier, had dropped low to investigate the health of Thaddeus Hale. Despite his lavish upbringing Dimitrius had trained extensively in unarmed combat and was masterful at bringing his significant strength to bear. Tancred however was fueled by faith and fury, not to mention the positively massive amount of synthetic muscle bolted to his frame below his archaic platemail. Dimitrius struck a telling blow to Bram's helmet and dented the side, only for Bram to fake left, go right and deliver a punishing jab that cracked Dimitrius' ribs. Below the clashing titans, Alcyone had determined using her diagnosticator implant that Hale had simply ingested a powerful sedative and would likely live. This concluded, she quickly dodged over to where her loyal bodyguard was locked in an intense struggle and struck out with the only melee weapon she had, a small but vicious chain scalpel attached to her medical metachandride protruding from the side of her head.

Dimitrius, reeling from Tancred's latest blow, was utterly unprepared for the small scalpel as it dug into the side of his head squarely. There was a whirring of adamantine teeth and a visceral spray of gore and cartilage as the little tool found its mark. She wrenched down on it with mechanical efficiency, nearly entirely removing the front part of corrupted and brutish noble's face. Dimitrius tried to scream but only a ragged gurgling came through. Not one to leave such an opportunity unclaimed, Tancred brought his massive hand up in a vicious backhand slap to what remained of Dimitrius' shattered face, eliciting another spray of blood and knocking him prone on his back before committing the traitor his just sentence.

"In the name of the Holy Inqusition, I pronounce you Excommunicate Traitoris. The sentence is death."

Mercilessly, Bram brought down one large plate steel boot hard onto his head. There was a wicked crunch and spray of brain and bone as the senior Tarnell brother and cultist conspirator paid the ultimate price for his crimes, his head crunching like a rotten melon.

Alcyone took a half second to indulge in a short moment of pride at the work of her prized creation, when all of a sudden she was startled by a gunshot coming from below. Thaddeus Hale had, by great force of will, drawn a sidearm and fired at a solider that neither Bram nor Alcyone had noticed was was sighting on them. The small caliber bullet tore into the soldiers shin and sent him sprawling to the floor screaming. The last of his strength spent, Hale collapsed once more.

Alcyone Saboris and her hulking bodyguard Tancred Bram

This was entirely unplanned and all thanks to the wonderful Dark Heresy critical tables. Dimitrius was very badly wounded from Bram's powerful blows. Alcyone's character joined the fray with her little chain scalpel mostly just to give Bram the team-up bonus, but her first attack hit and generated Emperor's Fury (basically a critical hit, I was running them old-style where it causes exploding damage dice.) As such the little tool did a lot of damage despite its profile only being like, 1d5+1. Because the Tarnell brothers were important foes I was using the player crit damage tables for them, and this fortuitous blow to the face had the following entry on the table:

In a splatter of skin and teeth, the attack removes most of the target’s face. The strike might not have slain him, but the target’s words are forever slurred as a result of this vicious injury. The target is Stunned for 1 round and suffers Blood Loss. He is permanently Blinded. Permanently reduce his Fellowship characteristic by 1d10

Worth noting this is the worst rending critical effect to the head that does not cause death, so he was literally on the brink when Bram executed him via Boot] 

On the other side of the room Caesar was in a very bad spot as the blaze of warpfire threatened to consume him. Then, something strange happened. The fire, seemingly for no reason, completely receded and went out as if by the hand of the Emperor himself. In that moment Siris knew for certain his dark gods had abandoned him and all his plotting and planning had been entirely for naught, undone by these meddlers. He attempted to scream, giving in to the hopelessness that washed over him. Even so, his fel arm readied another gout of flame as if unbidden.

Caesar seemingly having just witnessed a miracle and seeing the utter despair on the face of his adversary, fought through the pain of his scorched flesh and leveled his laspistol once more. There was a series of cracks as a pair of lasblasts found their mark, the first striking Siris right in the centre of the throat ending his babbling screams and the second impacting him squarely in the left eye, blowing the top of his head apart into smoking chunks.

At Siris' death a few of the Tarnell armsmen fell to the ground convulsing and bleeding from their eyes and mouth. The rest began a full route in complete panic, and gunfire could be heard out in the hallways. Behind the table nearly disintegrated from lasfire, Yarrow attending to his dark, foolish counterpart, having done his part in the battle saving Caesar's life from the fire about to consume him by controlling and dousing it with his own power.

The battle was done, and the ballroom had become a charnel house. The place was covered in ash and bullet holes, the air stunk of cordite, ozone and charred flesh. Bram, bloodlust still pumping in his augmetic veins, began systematically stamping the life out of the Tarnell armsmen who were caught in the throes of convulsion on the floor, and indeed killed the rest of the nobles who had been chanting in the ritual other than the one Forscythe had pinned to the table with a fork. Alcyone, after verifying the Sector Commander was not in imminent peril, carefully collected the extremely rare and valuable Inferno Pistol from next to the massive corpse of Dimitrius Tarnell. It was an exceedingly old and venerable design, far too good for the filthy heretic that had owned it, and she did her best to comfort its no doubt traumatized machine spirit.

Forscythe herself was found sobbing over the lifeless corpse of Sinric Allone, Inquisition Interrogator and Career Wastrel. Caesar was utterly crushed at the loss of his companion and was the first to discover it, his eyes cast downward at the marred and bloody floor in sadness despite the victory they had won. Although the two incessantly needled at each other and Caesar often got the worst of it due to Sinric's sharp wit, Caesar considered him to be like a brother.

Yarrow approached the remaining cultist who was trying to yank the fork out of her hand with little success. She cowered at the implacable expression on his scarred face.

"Please, you have to believe me! Siris was insane, he didn't give us a choice!"

"That's alright." Yarrow responded, his voice incredibly level and calm. "None of us were given a choice today."

He once more conjured his power. The noble coughed a small cloud of smoke, and then began to hack and scream, clawing at her chest cavity. Fire exploded from here eyes and mouth, and she fell to the ground as the internal inferno burned outward and melted her skin.

This grizzly work done, the combatants in the ballroom had all been killed. The surviving loyalists all looked to the party of Interrogators, unsure what to do. As they collected themselves they were astounded and a little saddened by Sinric's final fate. Yarrow always hated his guts, but even he begrudgingly admitted that he had against all odds managed to die a good death committing a selfless act and vowed to keep the woman he had died for safe in the aftermath of this crisis. Caesar was still inconsolable and didn't say much at all.

This lead to probably one of my favorite exchanges from the whole game when Yarrow tried to give Caesar the powersword Sinric had died wielding, possibly in a misguided attempt to cheer him up.


Yarrow picks up the power sword from sinric's side and hands it to Caesar. "You always did want a fancy sword."

Caesar Morroe stands up and makes his way over to Sinric's corpse, picking him up with a Fireman's Carry and starting towards the door.

Caesar Morroe:"I've got no use for it, that's a hero's weapon"

the song i was playing at the time was The Price of Failure by Perturbator and it made for a very emotional moment]

As Bram began to pile up the corpses and heretically engraved tables to form a mighty pyre for the heresy that had gone on, the sounds of conflict grew closer and a small squadron of Naval armsmen stormed in, presumably having fought their way through the routing Tarnell house soldiers to get there. There was a momentary tense standoff but a combination of the party finally flashing their Inquisitorial rosettes, the nobles all vouching they had saved the day and Hale himself managing to give an order for them to stand down convinced the soldiers that the party had indeed saved Hale's life.

Our "Ballroom Blitz" Roll20 sheet after the killing was done and the wanton doodling began

What followed was a far more typical investigation, the Sector Commander's forces assuming rudimentary control of the Draxis Spire and assisting the party in cleaning up any dangling threads, including thoroughly purging any suspected of involvement within the local nobility, scouring all of the Tarnell brothers possessions for additional heretical artifacts and purging all records of what they had done.

After roughly a day of this, they received a rather unusual message from the Commander's personnel manning the front gate of the palace. There was an unusual looking man demanding to see the Inquisition Interrogators stationed there, and he knew all their names. When the party gathered to see the man as the guards brought him up they received quite a surprise.

Approaching them was a bald man with bland features wearing an absolutely ragged uniform of one of the palace servants, stained brown with old blood. His right arm ended in a stump covered in bandages, he was deathly pale and limping along assisted by a woman in a black cloak and another in a neatly pressed naval uniform, a noisy medical servitor trailing behind them and hooked up to the man with IV drips. Unmistakably this was their boss and Inquisitor, Caspiel Rex of the Ordo Hereticus.

In spite of his apparently horrific injuries he seemed in remarkably good spirits, congratulating the party and saying that based on what he was able to glean from the filthy Underhive chop-hospital where he had been recuperating they had performed admirably. The group was shocked, to say the least. This mission was extremely unorthodox from the get-go and seeing that their boss was indeed here the whole time begged many questions. Rex promised to tell them everything as soon as they had a secure private room to do so, and they relocated.

Starting from the beginning, Rex told his Acolytes that he had taken a personal vested interest in the plot of the Tarnell brothers when one of his countless informants and spies let him on to the fact that they had come into possession of a peculiar artifact and had raised a couple red flags of deviant behavior. Obviously this was an issue in and of itself worthy of attention, but the manner in which they had come into possession of the artifact, seemingly out of nowhere and with no warning signs of deviant interest struck Rex as quite odd.

Rex had been working as an Inquisitor in the Gothic Sector for many decades now, and despite the utterly clandestine way he tended to operate he always had a sort of unusual feeling, like there was always something working in opposition to him in the shadows. Something moving between the grinding gears of Imperial society and delivering small parcels of forbidden knowledge in precisely the place where they would cause the most damage, and yet done with such utter detachment and carefully calculated randomness that anyone suggesting a planned effort would be laughed at for lack of proof. Based on this and some other factors he declined to mention he became convinced said actors were indeed real and had influenced the Tarnell family, likely without them even knowing they had been manipulated.

As it turned out he was right, and working undercover as part of the Tarnell house servant staff gave him a valuable clue. However he underestimated Siris' control of the artifact, and using it Siris was able to divine the traitor in the midst of his staff. Dimitrius carried out the sentence with his utter fearsome ruthlessness and strength, beating Rex to a pulp and throwing him down an elevator shaft. (the very same incident Bram was told about by the servant he bribed) However this display of brutality ended up being incredibly short-sighted and likely saved Rex's life. He managed to survive the fall, barely and through sheer force of will, and his Acolytes he had waiting on standby managed to get him to a no-questions-asked hospital in the Draxis Underhive. During his bouts of consciousness as the chop-docs worked fervently to keep him alive he worked through his Acolytes, pulling strings like a spider in the centre of its web and arranging for his group of Interrogators to attend this party in secret and put an end to the heresy there.

Somewhat sheepishly the party admitted to giving the artifact to Aleri, but Rex did not seem particularly bothered by this. Better she have it stored in her collection than the Tarnell brothers have it for their nefarious plans. He also mentioned that the Governor dying when he was likely not guilty of heresy was regrettable, but that saving Sector Commander Hale was a massive boon and rooting out more or less the entire nobility cult here rather than just apprehending the leaders was likewise a good outcome.

He then, predictably, told the party not to get too comfortable because he had another assignment for them. He had his own critical leads he needed to follow up, but they would be sent to the planet he was relatively certain the artifact the Tarnell brothers had been using for their divinations came from, a system on the rimward edge of the Gothic Sector called Vindet. This world was distant, and yet vital for its rich stellar mineral deposits and promethium reserves beneath its equatorial regions jungles. This time he had very little idea what they might find and no certainty of what exactly it was that they were looking for, all he knew for sure was that the artifact Aleri left with came from there and this meant that Rex's shadowy adversaries had to have operated there at some point. He told them he would arrange for their transit and once there they could meet a contact of his, a high ranking adept-scribe in the local Adminstratum branch that had reported some oddities he had found.

Finally, Rex mentioned they would be undergoing some team composition changes. Sinric had died and Rex needed Demios for a special task he declined to elaborate on, which left them short. To fill these vacancies he would be assigning them his two current companions, the straight laced career Navy armsman and operator Gamma Flair and the rougish and mysterious Revalya Teyatimei, still swathed in her cloak.

As they concluded the debriefing and made some quick introductions Rex warned them all to exercise the utmost caution on this assignment. If this adversary had really orchestrated so much while exposing nearly nothing of themselves they likely were masters of spycraft and manipulation, quite like Rex himself. Because of this they should trust no one with certainty, and expect treachery  everywhere. The worst, he theorized, was almost certainly yet to come



This marked the end of Spirebound, the "one-shot" that actually took three sessions to run and the group (me included) ended up enjoying so much that we all collectively agreed to keep the game going. Sinric had died (on purpose at the discretion of his player) and Demios had been reassigned, which allowed their players to make new characters that made up the rest of the main cast for the second act. They will both get proper introductions at the start of the next arc.

I hope you enjoyed the read, assuming you made it through this whole thing! I have a couple other projects on the go (a rules like 40k RPG system and a podcast) that will take up a bit more of my time but I am basically locked in to seeing this tale to its end. If you have any comments or criticisms on the way I write I would love to hear about it.

Believe me when I say that the next arc gets crazier, and is quite a bit longer!]

Special Thanks to Alcyone's player who made our custom charart (and doodled all the dolphins in the ballroom) check them out on tumblr HERE

Dark Heresy: Vindet Intro

Well it has been nearly a year since I posted and everything is so totally fucked worldwide that it seemed like a good time to come back and...